Best Friend For Hire, Entry 296

“James! Who’s that!?” exclaimed Emma as she excitedly grabbed my arm and pointed at Aurora.

I sighed while wondering what would be the best way to protect Aurora from Emma. Then I said, “Everyone can be introduced shortly. First off, step up beside one of the devices on the ground.”

I had spent a large part of the past week enchanting the flying contraptions Aurora had tweaked for me, but she was rather determined to demonstrate them. At least, that seemed to be her plan with how she was showing the device to everyone and pointing to parts.

“Is Jarod already having an affair?” teased Brandon.

I didn’t bother dignifying the question with a response and certainly wasn’t going to stop Brenna from hitting him.

“Ow!” he exclaimed. “I was only joking, sis. Chill out! Boss, my sister’s using her suit to abuse an employee.”

“Oh?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything. Mila, do you have any record of abuse?”

“No, master. I surely would have filed such a thing immediately.” she replied.

“Come on… You both saw her hit me!” exclaimed Brandon.

“Just pay attention.” snapped Alma. “Aurora’s already starting her demonstration.”

“Are we supposed to do what she does?” asked Jemal.

He and his sister just moved in yesterday. I already had enhancement suits prepared for them, though Aaliyah had to convince me that his sister needed one already. The thought of an unnaturally strong ten-year-old running about the house didn’t seem safe, but Aaliyah pointed out that she’ll be safer in a suit than out of one if she falls victim to someone else’s horseplay.

“Yes. Please, follow along.” I told him.

“Jemal! Jemal!” whispered Kayla excitedly. “There’s a fairy!”

“Pay attention. You know better by…” he started to say, but his words cut off as he caught sight of my little friend. “J-James… There’s a… There’s really a…”

“Yes. Don’t mind her. Just try to pay attention.” I told him. “Oh. You may start to feel like you’re daydreaming due to images and sensations coming to mind. That’s just how she communicates.”

He nodded, but Kayla was quite obviously too distracted to watch Aurora’s instructions, not that the instructions were exceptionally helpful without narration. Alma seemed to agree with me on that point, suddenly giving voice to how the latch mechanism grabbed ahold of shoes. Well, she also pointed out the potential for scuff marks and mentioned how to disable the mechanism if one were to try using the device with bare feet.

Oh. I had missed that Emma’s shoes were missing. I wasn’t particularly surprised, not even when plant matter rushed around them to form a sort of shoe with a wooden sole. Typical Emma. She even added a tree-shaped emblem on the side.

Unabashed by the mixed attention she was receiving, Aurora took hold of the control and lifted into the air. She then stared at the rest of us, possibly wondering why we weren’t flying yet.

I carefully used the controls to rise into the air as Alma finished her explanation of the control parts. Portentia and Emma were quick to do the same.

“Jemal! They’re flying!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yep. Let’s see if we can too.” he told her, looking determined.

Before he even lifted off the ground, Aurora was demonstrating the mobility of the craft, flying circles in the air.

“Yo, boss. Mine seems broken.” stated Brandon.

“Did you hit the ‘on’ switch?” I asked.

“Huh? Where’s that?” he replied.

“Twist the bottom of the remote, doofus.” stated Brenna.

“It’s working!” he exclaimed.

“Hey, James. How fast can this thing go?” asked Portentia. “I could probably make use of this for my…” She glanced at Jemal and Kayla before saying, “For my nightly activities.”

“I should mention that flying outside of my yard is probably illegal for the time being, but Mila informed me that her mother is already negotiating a law to be passed in the city to allow use of these devices for testing purposes. We could save a great deal of time getting to our jobs if we bypass traffic, and I’m sure any of you who are interested will be able to master the use of these devices.” I explained. “Besides, they seem like fun.”

“Kayla look! I’m flying!” exclaimed Jemal.

“Can’t catch me!” she replied, shooting into the air.

I was surprised by how easily she took to it, slowing and spinning around thirty feet off the ground.

“Careful! It’s not…” started Jemal as he tried to pursue her, but he lost his balance, veering even farther in the opposite direction when the machine tried to adjust for his positioning.

I didn’t bother moving, seeing Aurora already diving toward him. Besides, Raine was watching with one sleepy eye open as she napped in her cat form. I was certain that she could catch him if he was an inch above the ground before she moved. Furthermore, he was only around ten feet in the air when he lost balance. A drop like that was insignificant while wearing the enhancement suit.

I hadn’t expected him to catch himself with magic before he spun all the way over. Aurora still pushed him upright and started demonstrating movement again when he was watching.

“Did you see that?” asked Alma, flying over to me.

My little friend seemed interested in what was happening as well, darting over to investigate.

“Yes. I told you about their abilities.” I replied.

“His expression though. I don’t think he realized he could do that.” she told me.

“I’m not surprised. He seemed dubious about magic existing when I interviewed him.” I explained.

Kayla dove down by her brother, nearly falling herself, and started teasing him.

“Would you be offended if I did a bit of matchmaking?” asked Alma.

“I’m afraid so. You want him to marry into your family.” I stated, guessing at her intentions.

“His magic’s strong enough to lift his own weight. Imagine how such magic could be utilized with the strength of my family behind it.” she suggested.

“At least allow him to get acclimated here before you start meddling.” I told her.

“He might not be interested in leaving then.” she claimed.

I smiled and said, “I can hope.”

“James, my family really isn’t as bad as you seem to believe. We do protect this world.” she insisted.

I was well aware that she believed what she said, but I believed in the eldest three vampires more than Adelmar Slayer by the end of one night with them. I had no intention of idly letting the Slayers do as they wished, at least not in regard to my friends, and I was certain Jemal could be my friend.

Our discussion was interrupted by Portentia rushing over to me and signing

I replied.

She grinned, obviously hopeful. Then she said, She flew over to the side, jumped to the ground, and maneuvered the flying machine higher into the air as she ran beneath it. Then she leaped into the air, flipped backward, and landed on it again before spinning around with a grin.

“Jemal! Did you see that girl jump!?” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yeah. Don’t try that.” he replied.

“But Jemal… how did she run so fast?” she asked.

“No idea.” he admitted.

“I did warn you that everyone here had abilities.” I told him, speaking loudly enough that he might hear.

Jemal barked a laugh and said, “Yeah, you did.” His mouth went slack as giant plants grew from the yard.

“Obstacle course, everyone! Let’s really test these things!” exclaimed Emma as she rode one into the air and hopped back on her flying apparatus.

I really needed to get Jarod to name these things, but I approved of Emma’s initiative. This could be fun.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 295

“W-Wow.” stated Jemal as he stared up at me.

“Yes?” I asked, releasing his hand from our handshake.

“Nothing. Sorry.” he quickly stated.

“Take a deep breath, have a seat, and relax.” I told him, walking around my desk to have a seat. The room currently looked like a more typical office with wood walls and flooring, a bookshelf on one side, and leather chairs.

He took a breath, sat, and immediately said, “Whoa.”

“The seats feel a little different than they look.” I stated with a smile.

“No kidding, but they’re really soft. What is this?” he asked.

“It’s complicated. Why do you feel you’d be an excellent addition to Best Friend For Hire?” I asked.

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Well… umm…” he started.

He was definitely nervous. I already knew I was going to hire him, having had a thorough briefing from Aaliyah, but I wanted to work on my interview skills.

“I-I’m a hard worker, fast learner, and I won’t let you down.” he blurted.

“What if I ask the impossible of you?” I questioned.

“P-pardon?” he stuttered, staring at me with eyes wide.

“What if I ask you to do something beyond your limits?” I teased.

“I dunno. I mean… well, I-I’ll try anything you say.” he replied. “That’s what we do here, right? Try to please people no matter their request?”

Smiling, I said, “No, actually. We try to act as a best friend for our clients, always pursuing their best interests but never being afraid to tell them if they’re in the wrong. Part of your schedule as an employee here will be training in numerous things, such as martial arts. I would want you to be the type of best friend who can protect yourself as well as those around you, but I never want you to feel you have to be a hero, just the best possible friend you can be. The skills of those here vary greatly. Aaliyah, my secretary, is the president of Global Princess Entertainment which made Ancient Tribes of Earth, currently the most successful video game on the market. Emma is the best gardener you’ll ever meet. Our chef, Marco, has yet to make a meal that is less than exceptional. Jarod is a self-made millionaire due to his engineering prowess. Mila is a self-aware Artificial Intelligence capable of tending to everyone’s needs with exceptional skill and care, often foreseeing a need before it even arises. What can you bring to the team?”

“Umm… uh… P-perseverance. I don’t have any skills as incredible as those sound, but I will stick to the task at hand until I see the job done right.” he assured me. “You’ll never find anyone with more determination than me.”

“You might be surprised.” I told him, thinking of Portentia. If he could compete with her on determination, I’d be impressed.

“Can you juggle?” I asked.

His jaw went slack for a second before he said, “What? No. Sorry. Is that something I’ll be doing? I’m sure I can learn.”

I shrugged and told him “Sorry. I really need to work on my skills as an interviewer, having never needed to be interviewed for a job myself. I wasn’t inclined to get a more typical job, so I made this company.”

“I know, sir. Er… umm… I read about you founding the company on the site when I applied, not about your interview skills. T-those seem fine.” he assured me.

“You failed to place an emergency contact on your application, and your résumé could use some work on the formatting.” I informed him. “We can help you on both accounts. I’m sure you’ll fit in here just fine.” I held out my hand to him.

He looked at it and then to me. “Y-you’re hiring me?” he asked.

I nodded, and he quickly grasped my hand in both of his.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you! I won’t let you down!” he exclaimed.

“Please, just call me ‘James’. Everyone does. Well, not everyone, but there’s no need to call me ‘sir’ all the time.” I assured him.

“But master, mother loves calling you ‘sir’.” insisted Mila.

Jemal looked around as if he were confused.

“As I told you, Mila’s a sophisticated A.I. She’s integrated throughout the house, many of the vehicles, and phones as well as the body who greeted you at the door.” I explained.

“Welcome to Best Friend For Hire, Jemal.” she told him.

“T-that’ll take some getting used to. When do I start?” he asked.

“After you move in, assuming you will want to live here. I suppose you could start immediately if you don’t. There’s a wing dedicated to employee housing, and Marco provides exceptional meals.” I replied.

“Oh… umm… How do you feel about kids? Ya see, I’ve got a kid sister whom I need to look after.” he told me.

I nodded and said, “Kayla can live here too. The second floor of the employee wing has some accommodations for families. They’re not large, but the entire first floor of the main building is open for everyone’s use. There’s also the employee rec center where you can get some exercise if you feel like a swim, lifting weights, or anything of that nature. If you have any questions, Mila’s always available to help out.”

“What… umm… How did you know my sister’s name?” he asked.

“Aaliyah does a thorough background check on everyone who applies. Though use of magic on these grounds is encouraged, I do ask that you don’t ever use magic in front our clients, save as a last resort to protect someone.” I informed him. “Come along. I’ll give you a tour.”

“Magic!? What?” he asked.

“Yes, you’re able to create telekinetic effects whenever you’re emotional or really focused. That’s a result of inborn magical ability. Such things are perfectly normal here.” I explained.

Mila was physically awaiting us in the hall and quietly followed.

“You’re joking…” he told me, looking more than a little shocked when a light appeared over my hand.

“Though not a requirement, most people here have ‘gifts’ of this nature. My fiancée can create enormous amounts of heat, enough to vaporize a city from what I’ve heard. Emma’s skill with gardening is aided by her ability to manipulate plants in a very large area, causing them to grow and flourish or even revert to seeds at her whim. You’ll see.” I assured him. “Along with lessons in martial arts, I give lessons in magic every morning. Your sister’s welcome to join us. I understand she has similar abilities to your own, though slightly stronger.”

“What kind of background service did you use!?” exclaimed Jemal. “Sorry, sir… er… James. T-that’s just not the type of stuff on public record.”

I stopped on the stairs, looked him in the eye, and said, “Trust me on this: Aaliyah’s explanations are so incredibly thorough that everyone will question your sanity if you attempt to even read your employment contract in full. I can only imagine the weeks you’d spend listening if she were to explain her background check process.”

“Oh, master, you’ll spoil all of mother’s fun!” complained Mila.

Jemal glanced at Mila and then stared at me a moment before nodding. Then we proceeded down the stairs.

“Is Cosette in?” I asked.

“She’s currently on a job, master.” replied Mila.

I nodded and led Jemal onward. Cosette was popular with all of her clients, going by the reviews she received. Day jobs took so much extra care for her that I felt a tad guilty for not working out the changes for her new suit yet. I didn’t bother inquiring after Emma, since she had talked about visiting the fey not even an hour ago.

Upon arriving in the kitchen, I introduced Jemal to Marco, who was thrilled to have another person with whom he could converse in Italian. Marco then insisted that Jemal and I try some of the stracciatella semifreddo he had made for tonight’s dessert. Who could refuse?

Introductions with the others went well enough before Jemal needed to get back to his apartment. I insisted that he let us help him with the move when he was ready, knowing that Aaliyah had already scheduled everyone for that day.

Jemal had gone through enough troubles after his father died eight months ago, so stressing over a move wasn’t one he needed. His half-sister was abandoned with him three months ago when her mother took off without even leaving a note. He was desperate and needed a hand, and I could give him that much with ease. With how highly Aaliyah spoke of his character, I had no doubts that he’d be a magnificent fit here. He was quite welcome.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 294

“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.

I looked around, finding that we were back in my yard with time still frozen.  Raine was in mid-leap toward Alma.

“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.

I had topped off on energy before coming back, so I quickly positioned myself  near them.

“3… 2… 1…” she stated.

When time lurched forward, I was suddenly back to the position I had been in prior to her freezing time.  Aaliyah was gone.  I focused on my speed, rushing to Alma.  I still wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Raine, but I saw her look over at me in surprise before darting back in mid-air.  She could fly!?  Alma was so slow, attempting to react to my approach, so I scooped her up despite feeling her magic preparing an attack.

By the time she fully turned her head to me, we were in my forest, and I was absorbing more energy while slowing my pace.

“James!?” she asked so slowly.

I could guess that she was talking at a normal human pace, but my timing felt off now.  I slowed down more as I left the forest, taking a long route around my yard.

“How?  You’re not even wearing a suit!” exclaimed Alma.

“Turns out I don’t need one.” I replied.

“That is completely unfair.” she stated, though she was smiling at me.

“No more unfair than creating a wonderful enchantment only to find that I cannot benefit from it.” I argued.

“Touché.” she agreed, still smiling.  “How magnificent you are, my love.” she told me as she brushed her fingertips along my hair.

I still wasn’t accustomed to her blatantly showing such affection and found myself kissing her as I stopped.

“Go, manslave!  Can I go next!?” exclaimed Emma.

“Eeeeee!” shouted Raine, suddenly falling to the ground.

Alma pulled back and whispered, “Not in front of everyone, James.”  Turning toward Emma, she said, “No.  We’re not in that sort of relationship.”

“Aww… but sharing is caring where James is involved.” claimed Emma with a grin.  Then she looked to where Raine had landed and asked “What happened to you?”

“I-I…” she started, only to shrug a half second later and fall to back onto the ground.  She stretched out by some catnip, smiling.

“She was flying.” stated Alma in a somewhat bewildered tone.

What!?  That’s amazing!” exclaimed Emma.

“When am I going to discover some awesome latent talent?” complained Brandon.

“Probably right after I discover mine.” teased Brenna in a pouting voice.

Cosette sighed and said, “Just be glad that any such abilities won’t take a thousand years to develop.  Mine will.”

“Emma, might you regress the catnip for now?” suggested Alma.  “I think Raine’s had enough.”

Emma feigned a pout as the plants retreated into the ground.  Then she said, “I like drugged-out Raine.  She’s so cuddly!”

“I… see.” stated Alma, looking down suddenly.

Raine had turned into a cat and was rubbing against her leg.

“Nooo!  She can’t like you better!” whined Emma.

“Don’t worry.  I’m sure she likes me best.” teased Cosette before oozing out of her suit and becoming a black panther.  “Ugh.  That will take some adjustment.”

“What will?” I asked.  “Other than watching a panther talking.”

“Removing the suit does funny things to my head, save for the laugh of humor in them.” she explained.

“Ah.  I know what you mean.” replied Alma with a nod.  “That is an odd sensation with everything suddenly seeming slower.”

“I’m never taking mine off.  You guys can just clean me with magic if I start to stink.” proclaimed Brandon.

“So forget about making a suit that can expand with you?” I jokingly asked.

“What!?  NO!   That’d be incredible!” he insisted.

“Even with clever engineering, there would have to be considerably more material involved without a reduction of thickness.  I doubt even Jarod can make the suits that much more streamlined, though I’m certain he’ll be able to reduce the bulk some.” suggested Alma.

“Actually, I was going to adjust my enchantment to create a metamorphic suit.” I explained.

“What?  James, magic such as you’d need doesn’t exist.” stated Alma.

“Neither did an enchantment such as I created.” I teased.

“Fair point, but I’ve seen the results of attempting to alter form with magic.  The results aren’t pleasant.” she insisted.

“I beg to differ, but Cosette makes quite a nice panther.” I told her.

Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.

“That is an entirely different case.  I do realize that certain types of creatures can alter their forms, but you’re talking about causing such an effect with residual energy.  We simply don’t know enough about it to manage such a feat.” she argued.

“I realize the Slayers are thought to be experts on magic, but I have access to other, much older experts.” I explained while watching Brandon, Brenna, Emma, and Portentia go back to playing around.

“The vampires…” she whispered.  “We long have wondered how they managed to create Poenari Island, but you surely aren’t suggesting they’d teach you on a whim.”

I listened as she talked about various disagreements the Slayers and vampires had over the years.  I also watched my friends play.  Portentia was far too fast for Brandon, Brenna, and Emma.  Cosette could keep up if she were pried away from Raine, but she didn’t have Portentia’s skill yet.

Holding up my hand to cut Alma off, I said, “Hold on.  I thought you said the Slayers knew about the spell that created the island.”

“We knew of it, not specifically how the spell was performed.  The one I would be able to discuss with you is of an entirely different nature.” she informed me.

“Oh.  Well, Vito already gave me an explanation on turning lead to gold, so I do believe he’ll gladly assist me in other endeavors if I ask.” I told her, avoiding an explanation of the true source I intended to use.

She looked at me in disbelief before saying, “Really?  James, the potential for such spells is virtually limitless!  I urge you to fly there this night if you really think he’ll show you.”

“I don’t really need to fly anywhere to learn.” I stated.

“I… suppose not.  Still, you should learn all you can from them.” she insisted.

“I won’t be able to show you yet.  Sorry, but I made a promise in that regard.” I explained.

Frowning, she said, “I see.”

I took her cheek in hand as I gazed into her eyes and said, “Try not to worry so much.  I assure you things will work out.”

Alma looked dubious, but she really did not understand Aaliyah as well as I did.  She hadn’t seen Aaliyah the way I had.  My mind shied away from the enormity of my tiny secretary.  Even thinking back to how I had perceived her greeting the fey was still overwhelming.  Such an entity could do what she wanted no matter who argued, and I was certain that she was always looking out for us.  Things really would work out.

“Master, might I engage Portentia in a fight more on her level?” asked Mila after approaching us.  She had changed out of her maid outfit and into a spandex one similar to what Emma often wore.

I nodded.

“Surely you can fight in something less revealing.” stated Alma.  “Besides, even you won’t keep up with her in that suit.”

“Lady Pendreigh, everyone here is quite well aware that I am not you, despite how similar we look.  Given such admirable proportions, should I be so reluctant about having them admired?  I think not.” she retorted.  “Furthermore, the master granted me enchantments that might well surpass the suits, so I feel plenty confident in this endeavor.”

I felt a surge of magic in Alma as Mila spoke, but she simply sighed as Mila rushed Portentia, throwing her backward a moment later.  Portentia gracefully caught herself with one hand and flipped backward.  As the two continued to fight, Mila’s greater skill was quite evident.  Her mind vastly outstripped her body’s speed, giving her far more time to respond, and she had full access to every last course on fighting.

Watching the two fight was unique in that pressure points were being completely ignored.  I understood why, given who was fighting, but I was still amused by the difference in style.  Though far more skilled in the use of her staff than unarmed, Portentia still had a fair understanding of how to fight now.

“I’m surprised Portentia hasn’t pulled out her staff yet.  She really has learned restraint and might well study unarmed combat with greater enthusiasm after this.  She’ll become even more of a nightmare to criminals in this city.” stated Alma as we watched.

“I’m a little worried that there isn’t enough energy back here to keep things going at this rate.  Would you mind helping things along?” I asked.

There was an intense surge of magic from Alma, causing her to glow as residual energy covered her.  I hastened the dispersal throughout the air and thanked Alma when she finished.

“Shouldn’t you two practice some as well?” she asked, looking down at Cosette and Raine.  “Even Brandon and Brenna are putting up a fair fight against Emma.”

Brenna had started using magic as well as hand-to-hand fighting, but Emma was quick to respond with her own.

“Fiiiine.” replied Cosette before sauntering back to her suit.

Raine, who had been curled up against Cosette, merely rolled onto her back and stretched before curling up once more.

“Brandon has to feel restrained without being able to change size.” I commented.

“I do look forward to seeing how you’ll fix the problem.” replied Alma.  Then she leaned down and petted Raine while saying, “I do understand that you avoid fighting, but look at them.  They’re having fun.  Even Mila is out playing today.  James and I will gladly be your partners.”

One of Raine’s eyes opened slightly, and I suddenly found myself on the ground next to Alma, staring up at Raine who was back in her human form wearing her typical cute hoodie.

“I-I win.” she stated.

Alma laughed and said, “I will never grow accustomed to that, but let’s try things a bit slower.”

“Just think of this as a game.  You’re limited by rules and attempting to outmaneuver us without moving faster than us.” I suggested.  “Everyone knows you love a good game.”

She nodded as she stepped back.  I stayed in pace with Alma as both of us attacked.  Many of Raine’s blocks shouldn’t have been effective, but she was incredibly strong, often shifting forms and back at the instant of impact.  Luckily, she always blocked with her palm when she shifted, so neither of us took needles through our arms.

I wondered at how fast her mind must race.  There were plenty of times when Raine failed to react quickly enough, given the restrained movement, but the same attack never worked twice.  She adjusted and adapted incredibly quickly.

Alma backed off and said “Though I’m grateful you don’t fly when you fight, I must ask… Were you aware that you can fly?”

“N-no.” stated Raine.

“I’d like to see you practice if you don’t mind.” admitted Alma.

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.

Raine glanced over to where the others were practicing and said, “I… They…  N-no.  P-please, no.”

Seeing Alma look annoyed by the response, I quickly said, “We all have our own issues, but you’re doing well, Raine.  I’m still quite thankful to have you here.”

She smiled at me with such earnest joy that I felt like hugging her, but I resisted, not wanting to risk making Alma jealous.  Life was much easier with peace at home.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 293

“How did you manage to get so many suits enchanted already?” asked Alma as she came up beside me.

The others had barely started testing out what their suits could do. Well, Emma was practically cuddling Raine now.

While wondering if I should attempt to free Raine, I replied “More secrets. Sorry. I’ll be able to tell you soon.”

“Showing me will probably be easier if the spell’s as complicated as you had said.” she suggested.

“No. Sorry. I never want to do that again.” I replied.

“James, did you kill someone?” she asked, sounding shocked.

“What? No! Why would you think that?” I inquired, equally shocked by the idea.

“There are ways to use people to power spells. You almost got caught in one before.” she told me.

I remembered. How could I not remember such a terrible plot being carried out at a school dance? “I know, but I swear I didn’t do such a thing.” I assured her.

“I didn’t really think you would, but I don’t have a good guess as to how you pulled it off.” she told me.

“Sorry.” I told her.

“Is Raine actually affected by catnip?” asked Alma.

Nodding, I said, “Surprisingly, yes.”

She laughed, and I enjoyed the pure beauty of it.

“Emma really shouldn’t have taken the risk.” she stated, still laughing.

“Risk?” I asked.

“Catnip essentially gets cats high, so Raine’s self-control is likely weakened at the moment. If she had a less amusing reaction, everyone could be dead.” she explained. “Still, I’m glad things worked out. This was worth seeing.”

“Ever try catnip on Alberich?” I asked.

“Maybe.” she replied coyly.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“He may or may not be in the percentile affected. Seeing a miniature lion being cozy with a plant might well be entertaining.” she claimed.

She ran, much faster than me with her own suit worn. I watched as she toyed with our friends, putting them off-balance with ease. There was a moment of fear as Raine rolled away from Emma before suddenly pouncing.

Time was frozen, and Raine had transformed. Her needle-like fur was more plainly visible than I had ever seen it. The distortions typically around her cat-like form were frozen as well. The claws coming from her hands seemed far too large to ever retract and came to very sharp points. Even frozen, I couldn’t wrap my head around the teeth in her mouth. What I was seeing didn’t seem possible, for there were far too many.

“Do you trust her?” asked Aaliyah.

I nodded and said, “Raine won’t hurt Alma. As bizarre as her eyes are, there’s still a playfulness to them.”

Aaliyah smiled and asked “Would you like to enhance yourself?”

I knew the spells. I could probably maintain them for a while.

“There’s an easier way, boss-man, sir.” she told me.

“Oh?” I asked.

“The potion that changed you placed limits on you, but they can be removed.” she stated.

“At what cost?” I asked.

“If you slip, you could burn through all your energy in an instant. On the other hand, you could keep up as long as you keep drawing more energy into yourself fast enough. You’ll need to focus, boss-man, sir. Really focus.” she told me.

“If I try this and then decide it’s a bad idea, is there a way to go back to how I am?” I asked.

“Of course, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do it for you.” she warned.

“What if I ask really nicely?” I inquired.

“You know I’ll do anything for you, boss-man, sir.” she replied with a smile.

“But that doesn’t mean you should.” I stated glumly. Many of her offers were far too outlandish to be considered. I really didn’t want to watch Alma speed beyond me, not anymore. “I accept, but would you mind letting me have a bit of a test run before life continues onward?” I asked.

She grinned and said, “Sure.”

“Ready when you are.” I told her.

“For?” she asked.

“The change.” I stated.

“Happened when you accepted.” she replied, looking adorably confused.

I moved, but I didn’t see any difference. “I don’t think it’s working.” I admitted.

“Want an instruction book? I pride myself on instruction manuals.” she claimed with a grin.

“A pointer perhaps?” I suggested.

“Fiiine. Just take the fun out of everything.” she replied with a very cute pout. “Focus on moving faster, pushing your limits. You just tried to move before, so you moved at your typical pace. You want to be faster, boss-man, sir. Be faster. Remember all of the times you’ve been too slow, and don’t be too slow this time.”

I couldn’t forget being too slow. I remembered Regina dying, because I was too slow to save myself… to save her. I remembered when I was human and thought Alma was an unbeatable force of nature. I remembered how she took me into the sewers to fight minotaurs. She killed them all when I was too slow to dodge. I remembered when she almost died, and I could do nothing to save her. Had I been faster to stop the necromancer, he wouldn’t have escaped. Had we found him more quickly, Mila’s original systems wouldn’t have been destroyed. I remembered the first time Raine transformed and how helpless I felt. There was no way to catch her.

I hadn’t even realized how fast I was moving till I tripped. Aaliyah caught me, running with me held over her head for a moment before slowly coming to a stop. I felt so weak as she set me on the ground.

“Aww… so fast, boss-man, sir. You were really moving!” she exclaimed. “I bet you would’ve made a nice splatter if I didn’t catch you.”

“Sorry.” I told her. I took a moment to realize she had carried me into my forest. I strained to pull energy to me. The strain reduced rapidly as I absorbed more and more. I hadn’t gone without energy in so long. I had forgotten that feeling of frailty. I absorbed more and more till I had far more than I usually allowed myself. Then I ran.

“Focus, boss-man, sir.” she told me, easily running alongside me. “Feel the energy draining. You need to stay focused and draw in enough to balance out your body’s use. Just like your enchantment, your body needs energy for the movement, it needs energy to counteract the friction between you and the air, it needs energy to keep you well-grounded, and it still needs energy to protect you and your clothing. Well, Emma might argue about the clothing.”

I tried, but there simply wasn’t enough once we left the forest. I slowed down till I could keep up with my usage.

“Where are we?” I asked, coming to a stop.

“Well, you ran for a good minute while decelerating, so roughly thirty-five point two three eight miles from home if we were to go straight there.” she replied with a grin. “Think of the sonic boom you’d be creating without the magic to cancel it out! The boss-man runs down a street and BOOM!”

“That would be quite terrifying.” I admitted.

“You seem to be getting the hang of things though. Wanna have a quick race?” she asked.

“Ha! I can’t win.” I stated.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t race!” she argued.

“Fine, but there isn’t enough energy around here to even push myself as hard on the way back.” I replied.

“Who says we have to stay here to race?” she asked with a grin.

I found that we were no longer on the highway where we had stopped, though we still seemed to be on a road of sorts. The sand around us looked purple, and three moons hovered in the sky. There was an incredible amount of energy throughout the air, nearly as dense as in my forest. Did she run me through the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce and onto another world? My thoughts veered away from a memory I didn’t want.

“Oh! You just thought of something neat!” she exclaimed.

“Well, we’re not on the same planet.” I stated.

“Not that. The bit about the restaurant that you didn’t want to think.” she replied.

“I had considered that the restaurant might not need to be entered by the door. It could sorta collect people from anywhere.” I told her.

“Yes! That part! Wouldn’t that be neat!?” she exclaimed.

“In a way…” I admitted, though I didn’t want the knowledge that brought about the conclusion. Those memories of my time spent using that room bothered me greatly. Power such as I had there was far too dangerous, since I didn’t have the wisdom to use it. What if I accidentally did something?

“You did!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“What!? What did I do?” I demanded.

“Helped people. You felt them in need, and you subconsciously helped them. You never like worrying about the details, so don’t. We’re here to race!” she insisted.

“Where’s the finish?” I asked.

Grinning even wider, she said, “One thousand miles ahead.”

I gaped. That distance seemed insane for a “quick race”.

“Really push yourself.” she told me, taking position to run.

“I’ll fire the gun!” exclaimed a… different Aaliyah? Her clothes were entirely different at least, and the gun she held was bigger than she was.

I took position, feeling there was no point in arguing with what I was seeing. I pulled in more and more energy as I prepared for the gunshot. The boom of the shot was incredible, but I passed it shortly after I started running. Aaliyah was easily keeping pace, so I pushed myself harder, thinking of nothing but the road, my footing, and the flow of energy through me. I hadn’t ran for fun like this since I quit the track team.

I saw a finish line ahead with at least a hundred Aaliyahs cheering. Was this really a thousand miles already? In that moment she passed me. Then she passed me again, and again, and again. As I reached the finish line, she passed me once more. Looking back after I slowed to a stop, I guessed I had taken over a mile just to come to a full stop.

“How does Raine do it? She feels like it.” claimed Aaliyah, looking ready to go again. “Thanks! You look perfectly energetic too, boss-man, sir.”

“Is that how you do it as well?” I asked.

She brushed away the thought with a wave of her hand and said, “Nah. My feelings are for you, cake, my daddy, other friends. No need to waste feelings on stopping.”

I laughed and shook my head. Aaliyah was always amazing.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 292

“Blame Mila if the size is wrong, but each of you have one suit for the moment.” I stated once most everyone had gathered in the ballroom.

“Man-slave, this isn’t remotely cute.” complained Emma.

“Come on… looks kinda badass to me.” argued Brandon.

“Only you would think that.” stated Brenna.

Staring at me intently, Portentia said, “I prefer my other suit. What are these even for?”

“They’re prototypes of enhancement technology designed by Jarod and enchanted by me. They should make each of you faster and stronger. Alma, Jarod, Mila, and Aurora have already tested their suits and found them quite satisfactory.” I explained.

“Who’s Aurora?” asked Emma and Brandon nearly simultaneously.

Oops. I needed to focus more instead of letting my mind wander. I had been wondering what Alma was doing that she’d miss this and considering when Jarod and the twins would be back from their honeymoon. “Aurora’s a student through Best Friend For Hire who has a great deal of potential. For those of you who are willing, I’d like you to get changed and meet me out back afterward. You’ll find getting there much quicker, but please don’t injure yourselves or anything else goofing around.”

“What does Aurora look like?” inquired Emma with a grin.

“A girl.” I stated, frowning at her. “No, Emma, you can’t date her, and I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t be interested.”

“But man-slave…” started Emma.

“No, woman-slave. This really isn’t up for discussion.” I told her.

“Woman-slave? Are you calling me some sort of tramp who sells out her body and mind to the highest bidder?” she teased with a grin.

“Sharing a profession that started your nickname for me, I thought it appropriate. Just go get changed if you’re willing.” I told her.

“We could all just change here.” she suggested. “I’m sure no one would peek.”

Raine had been using her suit as a pillow, but Emma, Raine, and their suits were now gone. Arguing with Raine when she’d had enough was difficult, so I didn’t really think Emma would pursue her course any further.

Cosette giggled and said, “Raine’s so adorable. I sometimes wish she’d stay a kitten all the time, but then she does something so cute as a human.”

“Can you become a kitten?” I asked.

She winked and asked “Wanna see?”

“I was merely thinking that would give you another way to bond with Raine, given that she really does seem to adore cats.” I explained.

“You’re no fun.” she pouted. “But yes, I can become many sorts of cats.”

“I hope the suit’s effective for you. If I figure out how to tweak the enchantment’s design a bit, you and Brandon should be able to transform while wearing it.” I told them.

“Cool. Why aren’t you wearing one if these are so great?” asked Brandon.

I sighed before saying, “The magic gets cancelled out by my innate abilities.”

“Ouch. Sorry, dude.” he replied.

Cosette’s form seemed to melt and then jump into her suit where she became her normal self again.

“This… James, this is amazing!” she exclaimed.

“Huh? You’re just standing there.” stated Brandon.

“You’ll see!” she exclaimed, suddenly darting to him.

She was much faster than she had been. The suit worked on vampires! I had thought everything should work fine, but I was very pleased that it did.

“Whoa.” stated Brandon, leaning back from her.

“I’m convinced. Brandon, you should forget about yours. You don’t need one.” teased Brenna as she hurried out the door at a jog with her suit under her arm.

“Psh. She wishes. I’m totally trying one of these things.” he replied as he followed after her.

After seeing Cosette move, Portentia seemed to be caressing hers.

Moving to her, Cosette said, “You need to try this. The difference is too incredible to miss.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she muttered.

I stepped over to her and waved my hand to get her attention. “What if it does?” I asked. “I assure you that we can make one to suit your nightly activities.”

Her smile was beautiful. I knew that was bothering her. Portentia absolutely adored her Calamity costume.

Mila appeared across from Portentia on the mirror and started signing as she said, “The enchantment works for me. If something’s a bit off, the master can always tweak it further until everything’s working as it should.”

“Let’s be off then.” I told them.

Cosette quickly grabbed my arm before saying, “We’ll be a bit. I need to feed if we’re going outside.”

“Yes. Sorry. Good point. I’ll tweak the lighting a bit out there for when you arrive.” I assured her. “Meet us when you can.” Then I paused again, turned to her and said, “I think I have an idea that might help. I’ll see about making the next version for you count sunlight to some extent. I don’t think I’ll be able to make one that won’t cause an odd visual effect, but we’ll see.”

Smiling, she told me “Thank you, James.”

“I’m going to go take Marco his.” I told them, before grabbing the suit and walking off.

Marco was in the kitchen, working on something that smelled of lemon.

“Ah! Boss, sorry I did not make the a meeting, but I cannot stop in the middle.” he told me.

“I understand completely. Mila had told me that you were indisposed. I’m not sure if you’d be interested, but Jarod and I did some interesting things for enhancement technology. I think you could get use of it as well.” I told him.

“Oh?” he asked, looking up.

“You’ll be able to move faster, which might allow you to work on multiple things with even greater ease. You also won’t need to use a potholder ever, since there are spells that will protect you from heat. You’ll just have to be careful not to break anything, since the increased strength is substantial. If you decide not to keep it, I’ll dispose of it for you. I just thought everyone might get some use out of it.” I explained.

“Sounds impressive!” he assured me. “I will be sure to a give it a test.”

Smiling, I said, “Thank you. Feedback would be appreciated. If you have any trouble with it, I can attempt to adjust the enchantment on it. Jarod can probably make some more adjustments for a better fit if necessary.”

“No problema. I am always grateful to be here. You have made a wonderful home.” he told me, grinning.

“I’m glad. The rest of us will be out back if you finish early and care to join us.” I told him.

He nodded and thanked me again, so I headed out. When I stepped outside, Raine jumped up from the ground, her suit was shredded on the fresh snow. I walked over to her while watching Emma do acrobatics across the yard.

“I-I’m sorry. I-it… c-couldn’t… k-keep up.” she told me.

“No need to be sorry. Looks like your fur did a number on it when you transformed. I should’ve guessed.” I assured her, patting her shoulder.

“S-sorry.” she stated.

Smiling, I said, “Don’t be. Really. I wouldn’t have troubled you with it, but I didn’t want you to be left out. Mine didn’t work out for me either.”

She nodded, saying, “I-I heard.”

I wondered how far away she was by the time that was mentioned. Her hearing was so incredible.

“So why did you take Emma away earlier?” I asked, feeling curious about her motives.

Raine blushed as she mumbled “I-I… s-she… B-b-but w-what s-she… N-no. W-we c-can’t.”

“Don’t panic. I was just a little surprised. I can try getting her to restrain herself a bit more around you.” I suggested.

“B-but… s-she w-wouldn’t be Em-Emma.” muttered Raine.

“Fair point, I suppose. I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.” I told her.

“G-good luck.” she told me with a small smile.

Emma ran over and hugged us both, saying, “You two are adorable! I mean, Raine’s obviously more adorable, but you’re really not so bad yourself, man-slave.”

“Thanks?” I asked.

“Don’t mention it.” she told me with a wink. “I’m loving this suit. I obviously can’t keep up with you still, but I feel sooo fast!”

“Care to do a little exercise while waiting then?” I asked.

“Only if Raine’s up for it.” she replied.

Raine fidgeted, obviously uncertain of what she wanted.

“Please, Raine. You need to practice too.” claimed Emma.

“F-fine.” agreed Raine.

The two of them started play-fighting, and I dimmed the light in the area for Cosette’s arrival. Anyone who was able to see them clearly could tell. Even with Emma enhanced by the suit and Raine in her human form, Raine wasn’t putting in any effort. I was happy to see that she was implementing proper technique for the most part.

Plants started growing up through the snow in a large area around the two, and Raine started giggling.

“N-no f-fair!” she exclaimed as she laughed. She fell to the ground.

“Emma, what did you do?” I asked.

“Would you believe someone spread Nepeta cataria seeds every few feet throughout your yard?” she inquired.

Staring at her, I said, “Huh? What’s that?”

“Catnip. There happens to be a number of other plants with similar effects as well. I wonder who would’ve done such a thing?” she asked.

“Gee. I wonder.” I stated, trying not to smile. Only Emma would have tried catnip on Raine. I turned around to see who was coming out, and found Brandon and Brenna looking nervous.

“Sorry, man. We kinda goofed.” stated Brandon.

“Sorry, James.” muttered Brenna.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We kinda broke a wall.” explained Brandon.

“Don’t worry, master. Replacement panels have already been ordered, and both culprits will be docked pay until the expense is covered.” stated Mila from my phone.

“Oh. I’ll cover the replacements. I could’ve been more clear about needing to be careful.” I told them all.

“As you wish, master.” replied MIla.

“You really don’t need to!” exclaimed Brenna, waving her hands as if to tell me to stop.

“It was our bad.” stated Brandon.

“I’m not worried about the money. Everyone slips up occasionally. Just come out here and start really testing those suits out.” I told them.

“Thanks, man!” exclaimed Brandon.

“We really are sorry.” stated Brenna.

“Relax and have some fun. Oh, and try not to step on Raine.” I warned them.

“What happened to her?” asked Brandon.

“Emma’s using biological warfare.” I explained.

“Come on… she’s enjoying herself!” exclaimed Emma, now tickling Raine.

“S-stop, y-you b-bully!” exclaimed Raine, though she didn’t even attempt to push Emma’s hands away.

“James!” exclaimed Portentia as she ran out of the house. “It works! Can you have my new suit ready for tonight?”

“That may be a little difficult. I need a little break before I enchant another one. The spells were a bit complicated, and I… I really just don’t feel up to it at the moment. Sorry.” I told her, unwilling to mention that I didn’t want to think on how I enchanted most of them.

“Oh. It’s okay. I might do something with this one for now.” she told me, obviously disappointed.

Cosette put her hand on Portentia’s shoulder and said, “Don’t feel bad. You’ve already taken out so many baddies without the suit, so the city can wait for bit.”

“I’ve also been late at times. Even with Mila guiding me, I’m just not fast enough all the time.” complained Portentia.

I lifted her chin and said, “I can’t be fast enough all the time either. We can’t save everyone, but be thankful we can save some.”

Just keeping the ones closest to me safe helped make my world a better place.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 291

“Master, this will increase my efficiency dramatically!” exclaimed Mila.

“Well, more bodies does tend to have that effect.” I replied, leaning against the wall. I was still feeling shaken by the experience. The memories were too much, giving me a momentary headache if I thought too much about them.

“You didn’t increase the number of bodies, master, only the speed. Are you feeling okay?” asked Mila.

“I’ll be fine. I hadn’t realized you had four bodies.” I told her.

“I don’t, master. Only two, unless you’re including the cars, but I am not seeing any difference in those.

What? I know I enchanted four… I cringed away from the memory. As effortless as enchanting those bodies had been, thinking of all I had done was too much right now. There were four though.

Aaliyah winked at me, grinning.

I wondered what she was thinking, but knew I couldn’t take it. The memory of seeing more of her was far too much for me; her mind would be even beyond what I saw. A thought occurred to me as Mila danced around her mother with incredible speed and grace. Maybe I enchanted future bodies as well. Aaliyah knew I didn’t want to use that room again, so she might have saved me some future effort. When Mila did want more bodies, she wouldn’t want them left without enchantments after growing accustomed to the increased abilities of her current ones.

“I think I’m going to try on my own suit.” I announced, wanting something to take my mind off what had happened.

“Sorry, boss-man, sir.” replied Aaliyah.

“I’ll be fine. I know you mean well.” I assured her.

“About your suit.” she stated.

I stared at her blankly, not sure what she meant. I enchanted one for myself as well. I knew precisely where the suit was and moved to grab it. As my hand touched the fabric, things clicked. I sighed.

“I can’t use it, can I.” I told her.

“Well, you can wear it.” she replied.

Nodding glumly, I said, “But the enchantment is worthless on me. My own magic will counter it.”

“I’m sorry, boss-man, sir.” she stated again before coming over to hug me.

Mila hugged me as well. “Now I feel bad for complaining about not getting an upgrade. Had I known you couldn’t, I’d have been less pouty.” she told me.

“I’m glad I was I able to help you, Mila. No need to feel bad.” I told her, though I was greatly disappointed. The gap between Alma and I would be rather large when she wore hers. “I guess I could use Carnwennan to destroy this.”

“Boss-man, sir, that’d be quite wasteful.” stated Aaliyah, sounding disappointed that I’d suggest such a thing.

“No one is my size, so this’ll just take up space. We can’t exactly resize it.” I argued. “Oh. I suppose Brandon could resize himself to fit.”

Aaliyah flicked the suit, causing its shape to ripple and shrink. “Boss-man, sir! This suit’s perfectly sized for Aurora!”

“I guess the suit could be resized, but how is giving Aurora a suit wise? Wouldn’t that cause issues when she’s at home?” I asked.

“Not if she’s only allowed to wear it here.” replied Aaliyah. “You won’t have to worry about her stripping this way, since the suit will keep her comfortable.”

That truly would be a tremendous advantage. Ai and Mai would certainly have less to complain about when they did find out about Jarod’s lab assistant. “Point conceded.” I told her.

“Another option would be to give the suit to our sleepy friend there. I could totally do fairy size.” suggested Aaliyah.

I looked at the tiny fairy resting on a workbench and felt she was perfectly fine as she was. Having her be any more dangerous could be extremely hazardous to others. Looking back to Aaliyah, I said, “No, I think Aurora will enjoy it more. They fey don’t really seem to enjoy clothing.”

Aaliyah shrugged and grinned as Mila took the resized suit over to Aurora. There was a bit of an exchange between the two, and I quickly turned around as Aurora started to strip. The girl had no sense of modesty at all.

“She was easily convinced.” I mumbled.

Aaliyah giggled and said, “Aurora’s been wanting one, silly. She really is observant, boss-man, sir.”

I supposed the girl would take interest in what else was being done down here, considering the sorts of things Jarod normally did, but I didn’t think Aurora and a semi-thick suit meshed well without knowing what all it did.

“You’re focusing on the wrong train of thought, boss-man, sir.” suggested Aaliyah.

I took a moment to consider before saying, “She really does just want to fit in?” I had also been considering how much quicker she’d be able to complete her project, wondering if I could get Brandon’s suit to adjust to his abilities in some way, and pondering what Alma might be doing.

Nodding, Aaliyah said, “I can also point you in the right direction to improve Brandon’s next suit, but I’ll tell you upfront that letting the Slayers learn about magic to transform matter is a bad idea.”

I could think of far too many ways they might abuse such magic if they learned of it, so I couldn’t argue. “I don’t really see them finding out the specifics of how to accomplish it.” I admitted.

“They won’t, but that’s another spell you should hold off on showing Alma till after you’re married.” she insisted.

“Do you have some insane prenuptial agreement written up?” I asked.

“Of course, boss-man, sir!” she exclaimed with a grin.

I found myself briefly hugged by Aurora before she ran back to her station and started moving her arms around very quickly. She seemed to have mastered the gesture interface already.

Aaliyah informed me “Hers is custom, of course, as is her schooling. Aurora will end up living here eventually.”

“What? Is something going to happen to her parents?” I asked.

:They die in a car crash and Aurora is hospitalized on a family vacation.: she replied.

I took a moment to realize that Aaliyah hadn’t spoken aloud. Aurora was staring over at us now.

:The suit enhanced her hearing as well due to those spells you added, and she can’t know in advance.: explained Aaliyah.

:Won’t you save them?: I asked. I knew she could.

:That’s their time, boss-man, sir.: she stated.

I knew by her tone there was no arguing. When Aaliyah said someone’s time was up, nothing I said could change her mind. :Doesn’t she have other family?: I asked.

:Yes, but she wouldn’t be happy with them.: she insisted. :She’ll have all the family and friends she’ll ever want here. You bring so many people together.:

:I’d argue that you do, and I am just blessed by it.: I told her.

She smiled and said, :If you hadn’t saved me, I wouldn’t have helped you find them. I can show you how many people you’d personally have found and saved then. There would still be many, boss-man, sir. In all the realms of what could have been possible, you were always magnificent.:

I laughed and gave her a hug. I made far too many mistakes to really be that amazing, especially without her help, but no one could compare with my tiny secretary.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 290

“Oh. I should have asked if Aurora was down here.” I muttered. Between jobs and spending some time with my friends, I had managed to get two more suits enchanted over the past couple days. I came down into Jarod’s lab to work on another.

“I was going to warn you, master, but mother told me not to say anything.” explained Mila.

“What?” I blurted. Why would Aaliyah… I grinned as I watched Aurora float off the ground on the latest test model of the flying contraption. “I see.”

“Oh?” inquired Mila.

“I just realized I want to enchant more than the suits. Would you be able to apply the battery compartment adjustment you planned for the suits to those flying devices?” I asked.

“You’ll have to adjust your spells for the different power requirements.” she warned. “But yes, although Aurora will probably want to make adjustments on the rest of the design to take advantage of the lighter weight.”

“I suppose I can wait. Mind running the idea by Jarod before you get her on it?” I inquired.

“I wouldn’t proceed any other way, master.” she replied. “After his approval, I’ll try to get Aurora to work on the new design. If she’s not comfortable with the change, I’ll make the adjustments myself.”

Nodding, I said, “Just let me know the specs when you have them, so I can work the spells out. Oh! Tell me if you want to cheat a little with the propulsion. I can do some fancy stuff with air now.”

“If Ai and Mai get mad, I’m laying full blame on you.” stated Mila.

“Why would they be mad? I think they’ll enjoy these.” I insisted.

“Master, the honeymoon’s started.” replied Mila.

“Oh. That’s great! You could postpone telling Jarod until he’s back.” I told her.

“I believe Jarod will want to know about your idea immediately, so I’m not deleting the message from his phone.” she replied.

“Are you upset about something?” I asked.

“Why would you think that, master?” she inquired.

I sighed and said, “If I’ve done something to offend you, I really have no clue what. Please tell me.”

“Oh, master. I was just hoping you’d offer to give me an upgrade as well.” she admitted.

“Huh? What do you mean?” I asked.

“My bodies use similar muscle structures to the suits, so enchanting them for me shouldn’t be difficult, though certain adjustments to the bodies and the spells would be necessary, I’m sure.” she explained.

“Ah. Sure. I can get working on that when Aurora’s finished. I don’t really want to get enough energy while she’s here, due to the side effect.” I told her.

“You’d make my baby girl wait for such a silly reason?” complained Aaliyah, now staring up at me.

Mila picked her up and said, “Yes, mother… Not only did he fail to consider that I might want to benefit from his work as well, but he wants me to wait for an indefinite future.”

“Oh, please. You both know why.” I told them.

“Who does he think is protecting Aurora from his magic when she’s away from here?” inquired Aaliyah.

“I don’t know, mother.” replied Mila.

True. Was Aurora simply not affected by me for some reason?

“Oh, boss-man, sir, Aurora’s been affected by your enchantment since before you met her. Alma wasn’t too far off when she suggested half the state was affected when you worked on the suits.” claimed Aaliyah.

“She doesn’t really pay attention to me.” I stated.

“Sure, she does. Remember when she saved you from being electrocuted?” asked Aaliyah.

“The imaginary electricity, sure.” I replied.

Grinning, Aaliyah explained “She’s always watching you when you’re around, but she has no idea how to express her feelings. She really, really likes you even though you don’t talk with her.”

“Well, glad I have a new reason to feel guilty.” I mumbled. I really didn’t know how to communicate with Aurora.

“Wow. Under a second, and you already thought of one. Brilliant!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“I don’t really think it’s that good of an idea.” I insisted.

“What?” asked Mila.

“He realized he could relay messages through our friend there.” explained Aaliyah as she pointed at the little fairy.

I almost asked when she got down here, but Aaliyah probably brought her. I never meant for Aurora to see her. If Aurora actually noticed, she gave no sign of it.

“That could work. Otherwise, I could probably relay things for you, master.” stated Mila.

“Onto upgrading my baby!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she hugged Mila.

“I don’t even know where to begin yet.” I admitted.

“I’m already fabricating materials for mother to install on my bodies, master” stated Mila.

“Just study the wall there, boss-man, sir.” ordered Aaliyah.

I didn’t recognize a number of the spells being displayed and saw no explanation for how they worked. This wasn’t going to be easy considering these spells were even more complicated than what I had used for the suits.

“You’ll manage, boss-man, sir. Have some faith in yourself! If you really want an explanation, there’s a full course now available. Jarod had based Mila’s skeleton off my grandfather’s designs, so some of the enhancements will be affecting that instead of ‘human’ flesh. The other adjustments for her muscles are more similar to what you did to the suits, but I tweaked things a bit.” explained Aaliyah.

I nodded and started committing everything to memory. Aaliyah had also made adjustments to the spell I designed. I wasn’t completely certain, but I believed she streamlined the spell a bit more for me. I took a while to realize I was being hugged and nearly jumped to find Aurora was the one doing the hugging.

“Told ya.” stated Aaliyah as she used some device on Mila’s skin to reseal it.

Before I figured out what I should do, Aurora wandered off back to her work area.

“Are you certain she wasn’t simply feeling cold again?” suggested Mila. “She does that with me often.”

“She was cold, but she also picked James. No, she didn’t pick him because he seemed less busy, staring at the wall.” replied Aaliyah.

“As you say, mother.” stated Mila.

“We’re all set, so let’s go!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Go?” I asked.

“Yep. You’re going to enchant four bodies for Mila and the rest of the suits at once.” claimed Aaliyah.

“I can’t. Doing a single suit’s a struggle, and a single body’s even more complicated.” I argued.

“First off, you don’t really struggle enchanting a suit. That’s just concentrating, boss-man, sir. Furthermore, you’re going to do it all at once.” insisted Aaliyah as she stepped onto the lift.

I didn’t see how I could possibly live up to her expectations, but I couldn’t win an argument with her either. Somehow, this was going to work. I stepped onto the lift, turned around as it started rising, and realized Mila wasn’t following. My little friend was frozen mid-flight. between us.

Before I could jump off, Aaliyah grabbed my hand and said, “She doesn’t need to be there, boss-man, sir.”

I nodded dumbly, feeling more and more confused. As I followed Aaliyah back into my house, I spotted Brandon grinning in the hall. I was tempted to take a picture of him as we passed, so I could show him his goofy expression later. I could always claim Mila took it.

“Mila’s going to love that one! She’ll actually take it, so you won’t even have to lie!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“We’re not going to the forest?” I asked, feeling even more surprised.

“No need. In a sense, the forest will be coming to you.” she stated.

That wasn’t an entirely pleasant notion. Aaliyah led me through the house and down into a passageway beyond a hidden door. I remembered these stairs. I once thought Jarod died down here. The eerily glowing room was entirely made of stone. Countless engravings covered the sphere.

Aaliyah quickly assured me “Not countless, boss-man, sir. You could easily count them if you took the time.”

“True, but I doubt I’ll ever bother. Why are we here?” I asked.

“First, a precaution. If you ever use the room with someone other than me inside, you’ll kill them instantly, so you probably want to make sure to seal it first thing.” she informed me with a grin.

“Lovely.” I replied sarcastically. “How do I seal it?”

“Open your mind to the room like you would to the fey, boss-man, sir.” she told me.

The idea sounded odd, but I did as she instructed. The door instantly closed. I could feel my entire mansion. I knew where everyone was, though I wouldn’t say I was seeing them. I was just aware. I was aware of the army of “dolls” who did the cleaning. I was similarly aware of Marco’s cooking in the kitchen. I wondered if this was how Emma felt her plants, since I felt as if every blade of grass in my yard was a part of me. The energy of the forest moved at my whim, and I could feel every last fey. I didn’t realize quite how many there were. I hadn’t met them all yet.

My vault sat below the forest. I hadn’t known quite where before. There was so much energy around it, but not the type I could use. This was something else, like a white star burning under the forest.

“You could put a star out with that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.” whispered Aaliyah, directly into my mind.

I felt so tiny as I focused on her. She stretched on and on past the farthest stars.

“Look away, James. You’ll go mad.” she ordered.

I instantly did. Part of me yearned to keep looking, but the presence of her voice in my mind was overwhelming. I felt like I could touch planets. If I thought about any given one, I grew more and more aware of it. Many were lifeless, but I found ones that weren’t and saw beings like I had never imagined.

“Focus, boss-man, sir. You know why you’re here.” stated Aaliyah.

“But there’s something odd nearby. I don’t know how to describe it, but I can sense the thing throughout the world. Throughout many worlds… so very many worlds.” I told her.

“That’s the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.” she informed me. You can eat later, boss-man, sir. Focus.”

I resisted the urge to look at the thousands of interesting things I was sensing. I found the suits. I found Mila’s bodies. Enchanting them was easy. Practically effortless. I suddenly felt scared. I shouldn’t have this kind of power.

I was on the ground, trembling. I heard the sphere’s door slide open. Aaliyah knelt beside me and hugged me. “How long have I been in here?” I asked.

“To most everyone else, no time has passed, but you experienced nearly an hour. You got a bit lost for a while there.” she replied.

“Aaliyah, can you destroy this thing?” I asked.

“Of course, but why would I?” she inquired.

“I shouldn’t have that kind of power, Aaliyah. What if someone else figured out how to use this? It’s so simple… terrifyingly simple.” I warned her.

Squeezing me tighter, she said, “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. No one else can use it. Well, I mean… I could if I really wanted, but…”

“You don’t need it.” I whispered. Even remembering what I felt when I focused on Aaliyah started to make my head ache. “Is there no end to you?”

“To me? That’d be boring. Besides, everywhere needs a little Death!” she exclaimed, winking and smiling cheesily as she pointed her fingers at me.

“Will you destroy this?” I asked again.

“Of course not. You’ll want to use it again someday.” she insisted.

“That’s what frightens me. I felt like I could do anything.” I told her.

“But you can’t. You can do some really amazing things once you get the hang of it though.” she replied.

“I don’t want to get the hang of it, Aaliyah.” I argued.

“No, but you will. You’ll never enjoy it, boss-man, sir, but you’ll use it to save people. Another thing you should know is that you’ll get attention when you use it. Everyone capable of using magic throughout the world would have sensed what you did if they could feel anything right now. Now let’s get back to see how my baby girl likes her upgrade!” exclaimed Aaliyah, lifting up her arms to be carried.

I picked her up and started to move. I was still trembling, but the shaking subsided as I walked. Aaliyah had frightened me before in many different ways, but never so intimately. I was scared of myself.