Best Friend For Hire, Entry 317

“Reporting for duty, sir!” exclaimed Cosette, snapping to attention after she marched into my office.  She was wearing some sort of science fiction type military outfit with glowing insignia.

 

“At ease.” I told her with a smirk.

 

“Yes, sir!” she exclaimed.  “Ready for the briefing?”

 

“Yes, please.  I would love to know from where this charade came.” I told her.

 

She laughed and said, “Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  Dejon and I were requested to fill in the ranks at a sort of LARP.  Our commander was desperate for replacements, since a couple members of his crew were out sick.”

 

“Sounds entertaining.  How did things go?” I asked.

 

“Dejon was stiff as ever, but I must say that actually worked for him.  He was a perfectly uptight soldier all night.  We each received a commendation for best kept uniforms, by the way, and our commander awarded me with a VIP medal.” she announced.  “You’ll be happy to hear that he wanted to make us official members of his crew, even offering immediate promotion if we were to join.”

 

“Oh?  The uniforms weren’t supplied?” I questioned.

 

Shaking her head, she said, “No.  They paid extra for us to bring our own, and Mila fabricated these instead of buying them in town.  They’re far more durable and tailored to fit.”

 

“Did Dejon cheat?” I asked, hoping he didn’t employ his abilities during a LARP.

 

“Not that I noticed, but I did.” admitted Cosette with a big grin.

 

“What!?” I asked, shocked that she’d use her abilities in public.

 

“Don’t worry.  No one caught me, even  the other vampire.  I only cheated because he did.  I noticed that he occasionally grew an extra finger to respond faster without moving faster, so I modified my palms to hit keys under them where people couldn’t see.” she explained.

 

Nodding, I told her “I’ll admit that seems fairly safe and relatively harmless, though I am having trouble picturing this game.”

 

“Each group acts as part of a fleet.  If you win the aerial maneuvers, then your team gets to attempt boarding maneuvers.  Dejon desperately needs to learn how to fight.  He was terrible at that part, but we did well enough.  The commander had me leading the charge by the end.  I’d wager the other vampire guessed at our shared nature at that point.  He should have if he didn’t.” she mused.

 

“You kept up with him fine then?” I questioned.

 

“Kept up with him?” she asked, looking insulted.  “I could mop the floor with ten of him.  He was obviously fairly young for my kind, and he lacked combat training.”

 

“Sorry, but you’re younger than me, and I’ve met vampires that are thousands of years old.  You’re still quite young for your kind.” I told her.

 

“You still have no idea how much that letter from Zachary Blood meant to me.  I can’t believe you met him!” she exclaimed, grinning at me.

 

“Don’t forget his brothers.  They’d be quite disappointed to be left out.” I teased.

 

“I know!  I’m so jealous that you’ve met them.” she insisted.

 

“Don’t worry.  You’ll have your chance.  I believe they’re attending my wedding.” I informed her.

 

“Are they really!?” she exclaimed, leaning on my desk as she grinned and stared intently at me.

 

“Aaliyah mentioned they were invited, so I imagine they’ll come.” I assured her.

 

“What am I going to wear!?” she exclaimed, turning and pacing.  Then she stopped and looked at me before saying, “James, thank you!  For me, this is like meeting a rockstar.  You have no idea how many stories my father told me about them.”

 

“True.” I told her, nodding.

 

She laughed and said, “Many.  A great many, and he hadn’t even met them personally.  I wish my parents could be alive for this.  My father would probably worry about me getting dragged into politics, of course, but I know he’d want to meet them as well.  The way he spoke about them was riveting.”

 

“I’m glad to have given you fair warning of their arrival then, but can you understand my confusion in regard to you and this other vampire you met?” I asked.

 

She looked at me, seeming perplexed herself for a moment, before saying, “Oh.  Yes.  Sorry.  Having been born instead of created, I’m significantly stronger than an average vampire my age.  Furthermore, I have Slayer blood.  Where Ai and Mai could easily outmatch a newly turned vampire, possibly even one approaching a hundred, I’m already physically their equal.”

 

“Considering that you always hold back in practice, I’d wager that you’re a little stronger than either of them separately and even better at fighting than I had first guessed.” I stated.

 

Smiling, she said, “Maybe.  A girl deserves her secrets.”

 

“True, but I would enjoy seeing Joyeuse eventually if you’re ever willing to give that secret up.” I told her as I returned her smile.

 

She laughed and said, “I slipped, didn’t I.”

 

“I believe you fooled the twins.  Your act was very convincing.” I assured her.

 

“Still, my father would be disappointed in my lapse.  He could be rather strict regarding secrets.” she stated.

 

“I believe you.  From what I’ve heard, Alma’s mother was incredibly strict with her regarding everything.” I shared.

 

“No doubt.  Father wasn’t that strict.  He simply wanted to help me perfect everything he knew, so he taught me constantly.  I think you would have liked him, honestly.” she told me wistfully.

 

Smiling again, I said, “Going by you, I’m sure I would have.  I hope he’d be happy with your new home.”

 

“He would.  He’d marvel at everything just as I do.  This place is amazing, James.  Only you could bring such different people together with such success.  I’m very grateful that you let me stay here.” she replied, smiling as well.

 

“You’re welcome as long as I live.  Considering that I don’t appear to be aging anymore, that could be a very long time.” I insisted.

 

She looked at me, seeming shocked.  “You’re not aging?  Are you certain?” she asked.

 

“Having taken one of your secrets, I felt I should give one of mine as well.  Don’t tell anyone.  They’ll notice in time.” I told her.

 

“Friends forever?” she replied with a grin as she held out her hand.

 

“Friends forever.” I confirmed, shaking her hand.

 

“In that case, I’ll show you Joyeuse right now if you have the time.” she offered.

 

“Certainly.  The more of these weapons I see, the more impressed I’ve been with them.  I have spent long periods just imagining the skill crafting such weapons would take.” I admitted.  Though I had no intention to ever make a weapon myself, I greatly admired the skill needed to craft the ones I’ve seen.

 

I followed Cosette to her rooms and was immediately taken by the distinct change in decor deeper into her suite.  Where her initial furniture was some of Emma’s handiwork, several of the rooms now contained much older furnishings, probably part of her inheritance.  Almost to the back, we stopped at a wall that slid open at our approach.

 

“Mila’s kind enough to watch over my things.” explained Cosette, though there was no need.

 

I nodded, but I was surprised by the blatant display of wealth.  This was a fairly large vault with gold coins covering a quarter of the floor.  The weight alone had to be immense, but the floor beneath was obviously designed to support the vault itself.  Numerous displays contained jewelry, documents, precious gems, and paintings.  Small statues and vases each had their own display.  One wall even hosted a large bookshelf filled with old volumes.  I smiled when I noticed the copy of Les Misérables that I had given her for Christmas.

 

“Please excuse the mess.  Aaliyah likes to play pirates.” she told me.  She then pulled open a large drawer to reveal Joyeuse next to its sheath.  As she grasped the handle, the blade illuminated in a crackling, azure light.  Noticing my gaze, she told me “Joyeuse produces different types of energy around the blade depending on the wielder’s mood.  I imagine the creator wanted the sword to be difficult to defend against beyond its obvious sharpness.”

 

I nodded my agreement, admiring the delicate details in the blade.  Most people would probably need a magnifying glass to notice them.  The golden hilt was equally elaborate.  Cosette certainly had a weapon worthy of a queen had she wanted the title.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 316

Raine hissed as she entered the room, and Cosette’s arm sizzled as it passed the corner in front of her. I quickly sheathed Caladfwlch and put the sword on the table.

“Cosette, are you okay!?” I asked, moving toward the door.

Raine was frowning at me.

“What was that!?” she demanded, rubbing her arm as it healed.

“Excalibur.” I stated, feeling they wouldn’t recognize the name Caladfwlch.

“Ex-Excalibur!? The sw-sword in the st-stone!?” exclaimed Raine, grabbing my arm as she stared up at me with wide eyes.

“Yes. That one.” I assured her.

“We still don’t understand when you found the time to hop over to England.” mentioned Ai.

Nodding, Mai said, “Lady Pendreigh should’ve invited us for the trip.”

“Sorry. You should ask to see her engagement ring too when you complain to her. I decided she needed it after you two visited me.” I told them.

“We will!” they exclaimed.

“En-engagement… r-ring.” muttered Raine, dashing out of the hall.

“Uh… yes.” I stated, looking after her.

“I can’t believe Excalibur destroys vampires.” complained Cosette.

“Sorry.” I told her. “I didn’t realize the light from it would have that effect on you.”

Nodding, she said, “Father never mentioned that part when he told me the tale. Of course, the sword was already dormant long before his time.”

“How did you know the sword was dormant!?” exclaimed the twins.

“My father was the king of a rival nation. Do you really think he lacked spies? He knew of all the weapons the family possessed at that time.” she informed them.

The twins glanced at each other.

“Who were the spies?” asked Mai.

“Did he give you a name for any of them?” inquired Ai.

Cosette smirked and asked “Wanting to make sure the descendents aren’t still active?”

“No.” lied Ai.

“We are just curious.” insisted Mai.

“You’ll forgive me if I can’t quite seem to remember at the moment.” replied Cosette.

“Don’t you just hate when you conveniently forget information that could expose someone?” teased Jarod as he hugged Ai and Mai from behind.

They elbowed him, making him wince.

“Well, I don’t think it…” I started to say when I caught the door opening at the end of the hall.

“It’s gor-gorgeous! D-did you… really m-make it!?” asked Raine, having ran back to us.

“Thank you. I’m glad you approve. Getting the shape right took some time.” I replied with a smile.

“You made her ring?” inquired the twins.

“Yes. Then Alma and I made our wedding bands.” I admitted.

“C-can… I see?” asked Raine, practically bouncing on her feet. Suddenly, she moved again. “QUIET!” she yelled from the war room.

Everyone around me was covering their ears, but my jaw dropped. Muramasa listened to her. The whispering had stopped.

“S-sorry.” she muttered, timidly walking back out.

“I hope you didn’t break it.” stated Jarod as he uncovered his ears. “I didn’t know you could yell so loud.”

“N-no. S-sorry. I j-just sh-shook it. It’s m-mean.” she mumbled, staring at her feet.

I laughed and then told her “Yes, it’s not the kindest of weapons.”

“Hey now. Don’t make fun of my sword.” stated Jarod, crossing his arms.

Raine looked ready to apologize more, but quickly spun as Aurora reached toward her. She looked shocked when Aurora hugged her. “S-sorry. Aur-Aurora.” she told her.

Aurora kept hugging her.

“You grabbed it’s blade though! I saw you setting it down.” stated Mai, stepping up to Raine.

“S-so?” asked Raine.

“The sword kills anyone who touches the blade.” explained Ai as she took to Raine’s other side.

“It kn-knows b-better.” mumbled Raine. “W-we talked.”

“You talked, as in an actual conversation?” I asked.

Rained nodded. “You d-didn’t hear?” she questioned, looking up at me.

“No, not until you yelled.” I replied.

“It’s b-been talking to m-me. C-constantly… s-since it a-arrived.” she informed me.

“Really?” I asked. “Alma will want to hear about this.”

“I’ve been keeping her informed, master.” stated Mila.

“Oh. Thank you, Mila.” I told her.

“Thank you!?” demanded Ai.

“That’s spying!” insisted Mai. “What else do you tell her about us?”

“I assure you that I only inform her of conversations that I deem relevant to her and public. Given the number of people involved at this time as well as the nature of the conversation, I felt she would want to be informed.” explained Mila.

“We want a list!” exclaimed the twins.

“Show us every last thing you’ve relayed to her from our quarters.” demanded Ai.

“Or we’re going to disconnect you from here again.” insisted Mai.

“Ignore them, Mila. I’ll show them the log later.” stated Jarod.

“What!? You knew she was doing this?” asked Ai.

“Yes, dear. I talked to her about this before you reconnected her panels here, since I knew you two would take issue.” he assured them.

“Says the guy who was hiding this!” exclaimed Mai as she grabbed Aurora’s shoulders.

“If I was hiding her, why did I bring her with me here?” he asked.

Ai and Mai stared at each other from across Aurora’s shoulder.

“Fine, but you still could have told us when you got an assistant.” stated Ai.

“How does she assist without speaking?” asked Mai, turning Aurora’s head toward her.

“B-be nice.” stated Raine.

The twins all-too-casually stepped away from Aurora to cling to Jarod.

“Always, Raine.” claimed Mai.

“We’ll never forget how you stood up to our mother.” insisted Ai.

“Her expression was priceless!” they exclaimed.

Aurora reached up and started feeling their heads.

“What’s she doing?” asked Mai.

“She’s going to ruin my hair.” complained Ai.

“Checking for a loose screw?” suggested Cosette with a grin.

“Trying to figure out how you two work, I’d guess.” replied Jarod. “Don’t be surprised if she tries to corner you in the lab sometime. She’ll probably want to run tests.”

Mai sighed dramatically.

Ai then turned to Cosette and asked “Did you know that Joyeuse in France is a copy?”

“Oh really? I wonder how that happened.” replied Cosette.

She was lying, though her face seemed perfectly inquisitive.

“So your father never heard about that?” inquired Mai.

“I suppose not.” agreed Cosette. “I’d be more interested in hearing what happened to Durendal, personally. Imagine a sword said to be indestructible which was known to easily slice through stone and to be wielded by kings.”

“There are many of those.” stated Ai as she rolled her eyes.

“There are two in the room next to us, of course, but not all of them are suggested to be the ‘master of stone’ or a ‘sword of fire’.” insisted Cosette. “Though I suppose you could argue that sitting in a stone for years might make Excalibur its master.”

“We know what you’re implying. There’s no way that Excalibur could’ve been stolen after Arthur’s time. We’d have a record of the theft.” argued Mai.

“I’m sure you would. That’s an interesting idea though. Who would place Excalibur back there if the sword was stolen by an angel to give to Charlemagne? I do love the tales.” replied Cosette wistfully.

“M-me too!” agreed Raine, smiling excitedly.

“Are you quite finished?” snapped Ai to Aurora, who had started feeling down her back.

Jarod kissed her head and then said, “Be nice. If you’ll take a look at her work, I’m sure you will appreciate her talent.”

“Ai, your husband wants you to appreciate a girl’s… talent.” stated Mai.

“Whatever should we do with him, Mai?” inquired Ai.

“Behave in front of company!” exclaimed Cosette, grinning at them. Then she turned to the nearest mirror and asked “Mila, when is Portentia returning? I’m hungry.”

“No talking about drinking blood in our wing!” protested the twins.

“Then no searing me with fantastic weapons!” replied Cosette.

Mila’s avatar, which had appeared on the mirror, said, “Portentia still has over two hours on her current shift. Provided that she doesn’t get distracted, I estimate that she’ll return in roughly two hours and thirty-six minutes.”

Aurora moved over to the mirror and stared at Mila. I wondered if she had actually seen Mila like that much, considering that Mila was often assisting her in one of the bodies Jarod had built.

“James, would you mind holding Mai still, so I can have a snack?” asked Cosette.

Mai ducked away from Jarod and said, “What!? No. Sorry, but no. Not happening.”

Cosette pouted at her.

“I-I’ll help.” muttered Raine, holding up her hand.

Cosette jumped at Raine with elongating fangs, but she just hugged Raine without even pretending to bite her. “You’re so sweet! I’m not really that hungry. I just wanted to tease the twins. They can be so squeamish regarding my meals. I have a feeling I couldn’t even pierce your skin.”

“S-sorry.” mumbled Raine. “I c-could probably g-get some out.” she suggested.

I was surprised to see a single, long claw grow out from her index finger, stretching toward her hand. Even like that, there was a distortion around the claw, a wavering bit of space that shouldn’t be in our world.

“When did you learn to partially transform that well?” I asked.

“I-I’ve… practiced. Y-you said I sh-should.” she replied.

“I’m simply glad that you’re making progress.” I assured her even as I noticed Ai’s grip on Jarod tightening.

Jarod didn’t look too composed himself. Aurora actually ducked behind the twins to stare.

Looking slightly uneasy herself, Cosette gently pushed the clawed hand away from Raine’s other hand as she said, “I really appreciate that you’re willing, but I’m fine. No need to hurt yourself.”

“Since you’re all here, would you like to sit down, have a snack, and maybe watch something with us?” asked Mai, turning to face me.

I agreed along with the others. Well, Aurora was sort of dragged along. As I followed the twins to another room, I found myself wondering if exposure to Raine’s blood was even safe for any of us. When she took on a hybrid form, every part of her seemed exceptionally dangerous. Even Muramasa seemed scared of her. Considering possibilities of how her blood might interact with things, I was very, very thankful that she was such a sweet, wonderful person.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 315

“Welcome home.” stated Alma as I walked into the room. She was busily working on several computers via spells while texting on her phone with one hand and holding Caladfwlch with the other.

“Aren’t you supposed to be taking the day off, so you don’t appear to be in two places at once?” I asked.

“Mila’s routing this through my home network for me, and I’m being careful not to cross paths with my past self. I do remember what I’ve done, darling.” she replied. “Before you ask, no, I haven’t made any real progress determining what to get Portentia yet. I am looking.” The last was said while holding her phone for me to see.

“I don’t know if we’d be able to find clothing that Portentia actually likes. Her tastes are a bit unique.” I told her, remembering how she reacted to the dresses she had tried for my birthday party.

“Yes-yes, but I could could always make a variation of these designs to better fit her needs. I’m sure she won’t protest to looking less like a hermit as long as the clothing is comfortable, durable, and allows for movement.” she argued.

“I suppose. If we fail to provide something she likes, we can always do something else for her.” I suggested.

“I will find something. Just let me know if you come up with any good ideas.” she insisted. Then she suddenly thrust Caladfwlch toward me.

“Already tired of your family’s sword?” I asked.

“We were fine until you returned. As we’ve been speaking, the sword’s been growing heavier. I can also feel it wanting to go to you. I’ve tried communicating with it off and on, but all I ever receive are somewhat vague impressions from it.” she explained.

Taking hold of the sword, I sighed before telling her “And here I hoped we’d be able to get it to sing.”

Alma frowned, staring up at me.

“Sorry. I’m not the one who is disappointed that a sword won’t speak to me.” I teased. Seeing her cross her arms, I quickly told her “I am glad that you tried. At least we can guess that it can’t speak.”

“Right. Well, I have much to do. The others haven’t seen Caladfwlch yet. I’m leaving that to you.” she informed me, turning back to her computers.

I leaned down and kissed the top of her head. Then I said, “Let me know if you desire any company while you’re avoiding time off.”

“Thank you. I will.” she told me, sounding happier.

Instead of heading to the ballroom to see if anyone was gaming in there, I checked with Mila to see where Jarod was as soon as I was out of Alma’s wing.

“He’s in the lab, master.” she replied.

“Is Aurora with him?” I asked.

“Yes, master. He’s having her look over the design for his new power converter.” she explained.

“Ah. I can’t imagine her telling anyone about my new friend here, so I guess that doesn’t hurt.” I admitted.

“If she tried, very few are likely to guess what she means.” agreed Mila.

I jogged over to the lift and jumped down, since Mila already had it descending for me.

Jarod glanced up and then stared at me. “What is that he asked after a moment?” he asked, pointing to the sword.

“Caladfwlch.” I replied, pulling it out. The flame from the chimeras blazed forth, igniting the blade into its extraordinary glow.

“Master, Aurora knows.” stated Mila, sounding amused.

“Knows what precisely?” I asked.

“She brought up stories of Arthur and Excalibur when Jarod asked about the sword.” replied Mila.

“Is Aurora interested in myths?” I asked, looking over at Jarod.

“Myths!?” he exclaimed. “How can you hold that sword and call it a myth!?”

I shrugged and said, “Some myths were based on fact, but that doesn’t mean they get the details right.”

“Neither does the news, but people still quote it as fact.” he retorted wryly.

“Touché.” I replied. “Still, I wonder how she figured it out that fast.”

“She’s brilliant and has an incredible memory.” explained Jarod. “How did you get that? Can I hold it?” he inquired, shielding his eyes as he tried looking at the sword.

I nodded, handing the sword over to him. The light went out, and he dropped it immediately. For a fraction of a second, there had been a sort of pressure against my mind, like something trying to communicate telepathically, but the feeling was gone. I quickly caught the sword before it hit the ground.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, stepping back as Aurora ran up to him.

“I heard something like a growl in my head. Maybe not a growl, really, but the same sort of malice was there.

I found the idea that Caladfwlch didn’t like Jarod to be preposterous, but I wasn’t coming up with any other theories.

“Hello?” asked Jarod, answering his phone. “Really!?” he asked, absently patting Aurora’s head.

She was hugging him while periodically squinting at the sword in my hand.

I sheathed it. Having heard Mai telling Jarod that Muramasa was glowing, I wondered if Caladfwlch somehow knew that Jarod had Muramasa. “Interesting.” I commented.

“Yeah. We’ll come up.” stated Jarod before hanging up. Then he told me “I don’t think our swords like each other.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you.” I admitted.

“Aurora, go back to work. I’ll be back.” stated Jarod as he pointed to her station.

She stood there, staring at him.

“Oh, fine. I suppose it is time they meet you.” he told her.

“I seem to recall Alma needing something.” I teased, looking away from him.

“Ha ha.” he muttered. “You’ve gotta be interested in seeing what’s happening.”

“Yes. I do.” I replied, following him onto the lift with Aurora close behind.

As we rose, Aurora tentatively poked Caladfwlch. I moved the sword, positioning the hilt toward her and was surprised she actually drew it. A faint light emanated from the blade, so I guessed my sword liked her. I quickly snatched the sword, returning it to my sheath, when she moved to poke the ground. I didn’t really want a hole there. I shook my head when she looked up at me with a frown, but I didn’t have a clue how to explain to her how dangerous this blade could be. I was going off rumor, of course, but I had no doubt that the sword’s ability to cut would match Muramasa or Midnight. We jogged over to the East wing and headed inside.

Ai looked ready to say something when the door opened, but her mouth snapped shut as she stared at Aurora. When she glanced at me, she suddenly curtsied.

With a groan, I said, “Please don’t.”

“Lady Pendreigh would be displeased if I failed to meet basic propriety, your worship.” she insisted with a mischievous grin.

“Aurora, this is my wife, Ai.” stated Jarod, gesturing toward her. “Aurora’s my lab assistant.”

Aurora saluted, and I found myself wondering again what being inside her head was like.

Mai came running around the corner and grabbed Jarod, pulling him away.

Ai stepped closer to Aurora, took the hand that was pointing at Mai, and said, “You’re beautiful, aren’t you. I want to hear everything you do with my husband in the lab.”

“Aurora doesn’t talk.” I informed her.

“Oh? A lab assistant that doesn’t talk. Care to explain?” she told me, sounding like she was giving me an order.

I pulled out Caladfwlch and said, “I must be off. I’m on a mission.” When Ai looked away from the light, I grabbed Aurora, lifted her in one arm, and ran after Jarod.

“James!” called Ai as she chased us.

Muramasa was sitting on the table in the war room. I wouldn’t have said the sword was glowing precisely, but the area around it seemed untouched by Caladfwlch’s light. The distortion from Muramasa actually reminded me of Raine. Perhaps the Slayers weren’t far off when they called it The Demon Blade.

Jarod picked the blade up, and I could hear its song of battle. As always, Muramasa was ready to kill. Equally apparent was the calm of Caladfwlch, a sense of patience.

I wasn’t prepared to see Jarod toss Muramasa toward me. What was he doing? Should I dodge? No. Ai sounded too close. What if she touched the blade!? I quickly set Aurora to the side. Then I grabbed Muramasa’s handle, turned to Jarod, and asked “What are you doing!? This sword’s too dangerous.”

“Huh?” he asked looking at me like I was being crazy. “I knew you’d catch it, and it wouldn’t hurt you even if you stopped it with your palm. I wanted to see what would happen if you held them both. Seems like they’re both happy enough to me. Show off.”

He wasn’t wrong about how the swords were reacting in my hands, but I still felt that was reckless. I handed his sword back to him as I said, “Don’t offend the sword either. They obviously can be touchy.”

“Fair point.” he replied, nodding as he set Muramasa back on the table.

“Is that really safe?” I asked.

Jarod hugged Mai and said, “My wife likes keeping it close to hand.”

“The whispering can be a bit distracting at times, but I think the sword’s happier nearby.” explained Ai.

“Now tell me about Aurora.” stated Mai.

I turned to see Aurora looking back and forth between the twins.

“Pardon, but Cosette is asking if she and Raine may enter.” stated Mila.

“Whoa. You two reintegrated Mila?” I asked the twins.

“Jarod insisted.” stated Ai.

Then Mai said, “Please let them in.”

Guessing those two had noticed us running past the ballroom on our way, I felt there were quite a few questions about to be asked. I quietly apologized to Alma, thinking I’d be quite a while before stopping in to visit her.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 314

“What’s the time?” I asked when Aaliyah dropped us off in my office, having given our farewells at Alma’s home.

“Two minutes after you left, boss-man, sir.” replied Aaliyah, grinning up at me.

“What? How can I possibly explain doing work from there and here at the same time?” inquired Alma.

“Celebrate your day off!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she raised her hands in the air as if she was cheering. “James, on the other hand, has a job soon.”

“Oh. I figured that would be cancelled.” I admitted.

Alma looked shocked as she said, “Day off? I can’t possibly afford a full day off. There is still so very much to do.”

“Master, should I place your rings in the vault for now?” asked Mila.

“Oh, sure! Thank you.” I told her as one of her bodies walked into the room.

She took each of our rings, placing them into a container she carried, and then left without another word.

“James, help me here.” demanded Alma.

“What? You have a day off. You can’t possibly complain about gaining time. Read, play some games, or anything else that entertains you. I’ll join you when I return home.” I assured her.

“If this happens too often, we’re going to look ancient far before our time.” she complained.

Aaliyah giggled.

“Well, perhaps I will. Going off Hyun-Woo, I’m sure you’ll still look young for many years.” I argued.

“You don’t really expect to grow old, do you?” asked Aaliyah.

“Pardon?” I replied.

At the same time, Alma stepped backward as she said, “I should hope we have long lives.”

“Oh, you will, but aging… that’s funny. How old do you think the fey in the forest are? Any of them seem old to you?” inquired Aaliyah.

“I am not a fey.” stated Alma.

“Your fey blood is far stronger than you realize. Emma will age very slowly compared with most everyone here, but your connection is even stronger.” argued Aaliyah.

“I don’t have any fey blood.” I stated, finding myself imagining what it’d be like to watch Alma stay young as I grew older and older.

“Aww… don’t worry, boss-man, sir. You’d have to drain yourself of energy to pull off aging even a second.” she assured me.

“This can’t be true.” argued Alma. “Yes, some of my family have lived into their hundreds, but they do die in time.”

“Not you.” stated Aaliyah.

“How can you be certain?” demanded Alma.

“Because Death really does know when everyone will die.” I told her. “You should accept it.”

She sighed, frowning at me.

“I can’t tell you why I’m certain, but I have good reason.” Turning to Aaliyah and patting her head, I asked “Am I right?”

“Of course, boss-man, sir. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I didn’t know simple things like when someone will die. Imagine how late I’d be running all the time!” she exclaimed, smiling up at me.

“You are aware that Aaliyah has no qualms about lying, are you not?” asked Alma. “She could simply sense when someone dies. You’re quite well aware of how quick she is.”

Aaliyah grinned at Alma as she said, “Admitting that there’s a reason for me to visit the dead?”

Alma looked uncomfortable for a moment.

“I’m also aware of when she lies, just as I’m aware when anyone else lies.” I admitted. “I thought you had figured that out.”

“I admit that you do seem rather good at determining who’s lying these days. You weren’t always.” she insisted.

“When I… changed, the ability was vastly heightened.” I told her.

“She has ways of avoiding magic.” argued Alma.

“Yes, and I’m sure she can avoid mine as well. Still, I believe her. How will we even go in public ten years from now?” I marveled. My parents would certainly be shocked by this.

“Illusions?” suggested Alma. “There are spells my family members have used for such purposes.”

“They do work for that necromancer.” I admitted, frowning as I thought of him.

“Yes. His were exceptional.” she agreed.

“Well, you two have time to get even better!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I nodded, still wrapping my head around the idea of an exceptionally long life. Would I grow as old as Ariadne? What of Zachary and his brothers?

“Zachary’s actually the youngest.” pointed out Aaliyah. “You have to admit that they’ve seen some marvelous things throughout their years.”

“Oh? Did they show you anything of interest?” asked Alma.

“Nothing that you can report to Adelmar.” I replied.

She frowned. “James, we are to be married. Do you really trust me so little?” she asked.

“I’ve learned that you are very loyal to your family, and don’t always wish to burden you with more secrets.” I replied.

“I’d rather know than not, but I can appreciate your warnings on what cannot be shared.” she told me, not fully being earnest.

“See, you weren’t entirely honest there.” I teased.

“I’ll have to be more careful around you, won’t I.” she stated, but she smiled beautifully as she did. “Perhaps I should have said that I can grow to appreciate the warnings.”

“Much better.” I acknowledged, smiling back.

Aaliyah sighed and said, “You two love birds need to confirm plans for Alma’s birthday, although I should point out that Portentia’s birthday is on the same day.”

“What!? Really?” asked Alma.

“Yes. She was born four years before you.” replied Aaliyah. She then looked up at me and said, “While we’re on the topic of birthdays, Adelmar sent a card, thanking you for the gift we sent. His birthday was on the seventeenth.”

I was very glad she had taken care of sending him something, but I didn’t want to admit that I had missed not only the day but sending the gift in front of Alma. “I’m glad he was pleased with it.” I told her.

“You should save it, James.” suggested Alma. “Mail from the head of my family is exceedingly rare, especially these days.”

I did my best not to frown as I wondered what I was going to get Alma. I had forgotten her birthday was coming up. I needed to get something for Portentia as well.

“Will you mind spending part of the day with Portentia?” I asked.

“Of course not. We do get along.” insisted Alma. “Any idea what to get her? Mila normally gives me more notice.”

I would admit that Alma seemed less judgemental of Portentia’s role as a superhero these days.

“Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.” apologized Mila.

“No need to be sorry. I am just surprised is all.” replied Alma.

“Like a birthday surprise type of surprised?” asked asked Aaliyah.

“Ha ha.” stated Alma, rolling her eyes.

“We could go with more tickets to sidekick for her.” I suggested with a shrug.

Alma sighed and said, “Though I have no doubt she would be perfectly happy with such a gift, I cannot approve of it. Surely we can come up with something she’d enjoy which would not have us frolicking about the town in a costume.”

“Are you planning on us always sending gifts as a couple from here on out?” I inquired, enjoying the idea.

“Oh. I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.” replied Alma, actually blushing.

“No. You really aren’t.” I assured her, taking her hand as I bent down to kiss it. “I love the thought of having you tormented with me over what to buy.”

“I see. My fiancée is already plotting to have me tormented.” teased Alma.

“Just a bit when you’re in the mood.” I replied, attempting to sound sincere.

Arching her eyebrow, she asked “A mood to be tormented? What a strange person you think me.”

“Strange enough to marry me for sure.” I told her. “Any suggestions, Aaliyah?”

Mila quickly spoke up, saying, “Master, mother felt you two weren’t in need of a fourth wheel while flirting and took off. Luckily for you both, she didn’t deny me the opportunity to join you if you’re fine with a third wheel.”

“Do you have any suggestions, Mila?” asked Alma.

“Of course, though I’m disinclined to reveal them until I’ve settled on what I’m getting her.” she replied.

“I see.” replied Alma, twisting her lips in thought. She then pulled me down to her and kissed my cheek before saying, “You best be off, or you’ll be late. I can use my… day off… to consider our options.”

I nodded, saying, “Yes, dear.”

She must have noticed my put-upon tone, because she hit my arm just after I said it.

I took off Caladfwlch and handed it over to her. “Mind holding onto this while I’m working? I don’t believe it wants left alone again.” I told her.

She nodded, staring at the sword in surprise as she held it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“James, Caladfwlch still shines!” she exclaimed, staring up at me. “Not as brightly by any means, but the sword shines!”

“Why wouldn’t Caladfwlch accept Arthur’s descendent, especially one as splendid as you?” I inquired. “Besides, you shouldn’t feel bad. That’s about how the sword looked when Arthur held it.” I assured her with a wink.

Her mouth actually dropped open, and I ran out before she could say anything more. I was certain now that Aaliyah wouldn’t mind me saying that much. Something had changed between the two of them, or Aaliyah wouldn’t have allowed Alma to skip signing a contract. Things were looking magnificent.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 313

By the time the sun was rising, Alma had given me the basic tour of her home, though I was certain a great number of hidden passages were left out. After the tour, she insisted on doing some work to “clear her morning”. I excused myself to wander the grounds a bit, not wanting to try playing games on her backup computer. I was sure the machine was considered top of the line, but everything seemed far too slow, having grown accustomed to Mila easily keeping up.

Everywhere I had gone, the land was vibrant with plants bearing fruits. I wondered if Alma would bother with some cover up or if she would just let people jump to their own conclusions. I was quite certain there would be some very confused botanists visiting the area.

“Your majesty, the items you required are ready for your inspection.” stated Sebastian.

“Thank you. Please, lead the way.” I told him, still feeling annoyed that he refused to stop calling me that. Before I even stood, I felt a buzzing in my pocket, so I took a look at my phone after rising.

“You should take one of my bodies along next time, so we can really have fun with the staff.” declared Mila in a text. “I would gladly demonstrate the type of service to which you are accustomed.”

I told her “That would be amusing.” I wasn’t sure Alma would be too thrilled with the idea of her staff seeing Mila dressed as a maid, given the acute similarities in their appearance. Furthermore, I worried that Mila’s flirtations might get out of hand and cause all sorts of gossip. Alma would not be amused if that were to occur.

When we reached the materials, I was plenty happy with them, but I had no doubt that I would be. Alma’s standards were exceedingly high for many things, and her staff was surely aware of it.

After thanking Sebastian, I excused myself to check on Alma, but she was still typing away with spells on numerous keyboards as she fiddled with her phone by hand. “Have much left?” I inquired.

“Always, darling, but I can excuse myself if you are ready to begin.” she replied.

“Well, Sebastian has already procured everything we’ll need, so we might as well.” I informed her.

She smiled and said, “Excellent. Give me thirty seconds. I’m quite interested in seeing what sorts of spells are utilized in your craft.”

“About that… will you be completely disappointed if there is something for you to sign?” I inquired. Seeing her smile fade, I quickly told her “Sorry, but there are reasons, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

“This is precisely why I worried about her getting involved in your life.” she stated.

“Still worried about her?” I questioned, surprised by her statement. I felt Aaliyah more than proved herself to be our ally.

“Always. As fantastic as she can be, I know her mood can be mercurial, and there is nothing that will withstand her wrath.” stated Alma.

I smirked as I said, “I find her perfectly adorable.”

“You’ve seen her other side.” replied Alma, not amused.

“As I recall, everyone was a bit put off by her presence when I was fighting for your hand. She seemed fine by me.” I told her.

“Has she actually shown you what happens to someone killed by her scythe? I know she’s generally too quick, but she’s not above demonstrations.” explained Alma.

“Want one!?” asked Aaliyah, suddenly grinning up from between us.

“No.” replied Alma. “Never again.”

“No promises.” replied Aaliyah with a wink. “I brought the paperwork for you!”

“Lovely. Was I saying too much?” she asked.

“No, Alpy. James is more aware of who I am than anyone else alive today, including Carl, and that’s really saying something.” she replied, sounding giddy.

“Please excuse my disbelief.” stated Alma as she started perusing the “paperwork” on the tablet Aaliyah had brought.

“I can’t explain yet, but I’ve seen her. Really seen her, not how she is now or as Death. She’s magnificent, I assure you.” I insisted, though my head started to ache just thinking back on it. My mind was burning through energy to move faster and faster, but it wasn’t enough.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. She’ll know well enough one day.” promised Aaliyah as she smiled at me.

I felt at peace as I saw her smile, and I stopped thinking about what I had seen. The headache left me.

“If she’s truly that magnificent, then why must her infernal contracts be quite so complicated?” demanded Alma. “Surely, she could have me promise not to tell and accept that my word would suffice.”

“As you wish.” replied Aaliyah, taking the tablet back.

“What? Are you serious?” asked Alma.

Aaliyah nodded and said, “Uh huh. We’ll be boring this time.”

“But what about…” started Alma.

“I trust you.” stated Aaliyah, interrupting her.

“I haven’t even promised anything yet.” argued Alma.

“And I trust you.” replied Aaliyah. “Have fun!”

“She’s messing with me again.” insisted Alma as she looked around. “The bloody girl is playing another of her games.”

Aaliyah was gone in Alma’s mind. I knew otherwise. I had seen part of her, stretching on and on beyond my senses. I turned my mind to the task at hand as the headache was coming back again. There was simply too much information for my mind in its current state, and I was not remotely capable of processing everything when I was greatly enhanced.

I hugged my fiancée and kissed her head. “Shall we get started?” I asked, taking her hand and pulling her along.

As we ran past the materials Sebastian had brought, I used a spell to pull them after us. Alma sealed the room with spells before she opened the entrance to the subterranean home of her father. We descended, greeting him upon arriving.

I started explaining what precisely we’d be doing and quickly found that Alma had more knowledge than I initially had regarding metalsmithing and metallurgy. She was a bit dubious about the alloy I proposed, but she let that slide. When I demonstrated spells, however, she had a great many questions.

“This part here looks like something I’ve seen in a book on the dark arts.” she insisted as she pointed.

“I’m sure it’s similar, but we’ll be using that bit to identify one another.” I explained.

“James, this probably isn’t wise.” she argued.

“I swear on my life that this is perfectly safe. I know in great detail what every part of these spells does.” I assured her.

“How could you possibly know what every part does? No one does. We simply know the rough purpose of any given pattern we use, but I’ve demonstrated to you the disastrous results that can happen when attempting to alter patterns as well as combinations we know to be disastrous.” she told me.

I sighed, dismantled my spell, and recreated her demonstration. Then I went about explaining the differences between the subtle alterations she had made when demonstrating this to me. To seal the point, I told her precisely what would happen when I altered part of the symbol in another way and unleashed the spell, causing waves of fire to erupt from a point in a plane above us.

Her father seemed amused, but she did not.

“You’ve obviously done that before, so knowing what will happen isn’t that impressive.” she argued, being stubborn.

“Yes, but I’ve also studied, as I’ve told you before, from a book of sorts which I can’t share with you yet. Trust me. These spells we’ll be using are perfectly safe for this use.” I insisted. “I’ve been studying magic a great deal since I enhanced Jarod’s suits.”

I didn’t want to explain that these particular spells had Aaliyah’s assurances, knowing that she still seemed to have a grudge against my tiny secretary. She still had no clue how much Aaliyah knew about magic, and I couldn’t tell her that yet either.

“Fine. What is this supposed to do?” she asked.

“We’ll be using the part that reminds you of necromancy to identify one another, so the rings will react to us. If you prefer, we could tie the rings to each other and leave things at that, but I thought a little extra information would be nice.” I told her.

“What sort of information?” she inquired.

“We’ll not only know precisely in what direction the other is, but we’ll have a sense of distance as well. The rings will also pulse slightly in time with our heartbeats, so you’ll know if I’m alive and calm no matter where I am. Furthermore, the rings won’t function for anyone else.”

“All that from a bit of necromancy?” she asked.

“Well, more that the bit of necromancy will allow for it.” I told her.

“I can easily imagine some saying that feeling your partner’s heartbeat through a ring is a bit much.” she stated.

“Are you one of those people? Personally, I’ll find knowing with absolute certainty that you are alive to be wonderful.” I told her.

“You’ll also be able to avoid me when I’m angry. Nothing gets my heart pumping quite the same.” she muttered.

“I’ll know where to find you, so I can find out what’s wrong. Besides, I always know when you’re angry if I’m nearby. Your magic gives that away.” I replied.

“And what if I don’t want to be found because I might lash out at you?” she asked.

“Marriage isn’t a perfectly smooth ride for anyone. I’d rather know where to find you than be left wondering where you are.” I insisted. “There are also a number of protective spells I’d like us to place on the rings. I do need to warn you that undoing these spells is far more difficult than placing them. You could consider this an eternal bond if we go through with it.”

“I figured as much. Let’s do it. All of it. I find myself amused by the idea of always having your heart.” she teased.

“Well, there’s that too, but you don’t need a ring for it.” I assured her.

She smiled, so I continued explaining the plan. Then we started discussing patterns, coloration, engravings, and gemstone possibilities.

When we actually began our practice rings, I felt that Alma took to forging rings much more easily than I did. Unlike me, she was working with her eyes closed, relying completely on her ability to feel the heat. I had that advantage in having crafted this ring many times at Aaliyah’s insistence. Alma wasn’t the only one with extremely high standards.

Aaliyah was the one who told me how the spells would interact, tying our rings to the node of magic here, another spell I wasn’t to explain fully to Alma yet. I found the warnings against explaining certain things disheartening even after seeing Aaliyah let Alma get by without a contract. One month was all I had to wait before I could tell Alma everything. One more month of secrets.

Letting all of my extraneous thoughts drift away, I poured my concentration into getting the final ring absolutely perfect, since she’d be wearing it for the rest of her life. When I finished, I looked to see how she was progressing, smiling as I watched her work. The decorative engravings in the dark metal would be hard for most to notice at a glance, but I could see them clearly, a small depiction of herself dancing with me around the band, an eternal dance. To match her engagement ring’s flame, my ring had twin bands of rubies along the outside. I set sapphires in hers to match those in her engagement ring.

When at last she finished, she smiled up at me and said, “I think that went rather well.”

“Let’s hope you got the sizing right.” I teased. “They won’t come off easily, so we can’t try them on.”

Aaliyah had revealed to me more details as to how these rings would function, a way to circumvent the protective magic of my body. The “bit of necromancy”, as Alma had put it, tied these rings to our souls. Once accepted as part of me, my body wouldn’t try to counteract the spell. If I wanted, I could even enchant a suit to work for me now, but there was no need. Besides, Aaliyah had been very clear about the dangers of magic such as this, and I was certain that I’d never want to utilize it again. If Alma ever did want to leave me, Aaliyah would have to personally undo these spells.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 311

When the engagement ring was at last forged, I felt I should be sweating on principle. No one should labor that long within an active volcano and not sweat. Well, maybe the dragons, but I still felt they should acknowledge the heat in some way.

Before I could even admire the view for long, I found myself back in my office at home. “How much time has passed?” I asked.

“We were gone for a second here.” Aaliyah replied, grinning up at me. “Are you going to go give her the ring, or did you have something special planned?”

I stared into her big, blue eyes and wondered if I should be trying to plan something grand. “What do you think?” I asked, feeling a bit pathetic.

“You’re the boss, boss-man, sir.” she told me with a wink. Then she disappeared.

I frowned, staring at where she had been. What should I do? I looked down at the large ruby in the ring. “The Dragon’s Flame” I had dubbed it, having positioned it in the dragon’s mouth. Hopefully, Alma would approve. I designed the dragon to look somewhat like her mother, with miniscule sapphires throughout the scales.

I couldn’t even decide on whether or not I should be feeling nervous. I was nervous, certainly, but should I be when Alma and I were already engaged? Even if she rejected the ring, she wouldn’t be rejecting me. At least, I was fairly certain she wouldn’t be.

“Master, I can suggest numerous romantic places nearby if you’re wanting to take her somewhere. I’ll also quite gladly practice with you if you wish.” stated Mila in a flirtatious manner.

“Thank you for the offer, Mila. Should I really attempt to hide this from her? She might be somewhat aware of it already.” I confided.

“I feel she’s waited long enough, master. Besides, you two have work to do.” she replied.

Placing the ring in my pocket, I nodded and then hurried down to Alma’s wing. The door opened before I even knocked, so I walked inside, feeling expected.

“Good evening, my darling. Was there something you… What’s in your pocket?” she asked, her eyes widening as she spoke.

Knowing she probably could feel the shape, I knelt down, kissed her hand, and then looked into her eyes, taking in their beauty once more. “Keeping anything secret in this household is impossible.” I told her, pulling out the ring and holding it up.

“James, this is…” she started saying, stopping as a tear came to her eye. She shut her eyes and took a breath before asking, “Is this for me?”

“Yes, if you’ll have it. The twins chastised me for having not given you an engagement ring yet, but I forged this especially for you.” I explained, feeling a touch guilty that I was implying the ring had already existed. I couldn’t explain to the twins that time had been manipulated for me to forge the ring in a mere second though, so the story had to be that the ring was already made when they had chided me. “Do you like it, will you accept it?” I asked in one breath.

She nodded and embraced me, slipping out of her chair. I hugged her, hoping she was truly happy. I hadn’t meant to make her cry, but crying could be a good thing from most girls. What did crying mean for Alma in this circumstance? I failed to refrain from laughing when she casted a spell to keep her tears from my shirt. She hit my back, but I couldn’t contain my laughter.

“I’m sorry.” I told her, still laughing.

“You don’t sound sorry.” she replied somewhat indignantly.

“If those are tears of joy, they’re a treasure to me, not something to keep from me. If they’re not, I would know how I offended you, so I don’t make the mistake again.” I explained, finally containing my mirth.

She sighed, pressing her cheek into my shoulder.

“You hardly sound pleased, my love.” I stated.

“Say you love me.” she insisted.

“I love you, Alma Lucy Pendreigh. Have you really doubted it?” I asked, feeling hurt by the idea.

“Never, but I still enjoy hearing it. The ring reminds me of my mother. I cannot tell you how, but I’m certain she would enjoy seeing it, even if the ring wasn’t magical.” she explained. Then she asked “How, by the way, was this done?”

“I’ll show you some of it when we forge our wedding rings. We’ll need them in a month, you know.” I replied.

“You want to personally forge our wedding rings?” she inquired.

I couldn’t tell if she liked the idea or not, but I explained “I cannot honesty take credit for the idea, but I really like it. I’ll forge your ring, and you can forge mine. Both rings will be perfectly unique that way, and, I feel, more meaningful. What do you think?”

“I think Aaliyah put you up to this.” she replied.

I felt her create a spell to take the ring from my finger and was glad to see the enchantment I made was working properly when her spell failed.

She leaned back, looked me in the eye, and asked “Was that you?”

“In a sense, considering I placed the spells into this ring. Might I place it on your finger instead of having you take it from me?” I inquired.

She smiled as she said, “As you wish.” She held up her left hand and allowed me to slip the ring onto her finger. Staring at it, she told me “James, this is really excellent work. How long have you studied jewelry design?”

“I can’t say for certain, but I will admit that there were numerous attempts before I even could get the shape right. Learning to cut and fit the gems took some effort as well. Then there were the spells. I thought the heat from the ring would be a nice indicator for you to find it should you need to put it down, not that you’d forget where you put it.” I quickly assured her. “If someone were to attempt walking off with it, you’d know.”

Alma jumped to her feet and held out her hand to me. “Come along. There is something we must do.” she told me.

I left the ground completely with the force by which she pulled me up but landed easily enough.

“Aaliyah, if you will.” she whispered.

We were instantly in a cave. I could sense magic ahead of us. Alma created lights, and I stared in wonder. There was a sword in a stone ahead of us, and I knew that blade.

“Excalibur.” I whispered.

“Yes.” she stated, glancing at me. “The sword was never tossed back into the lake as some stories will tell. After Arthur’s death, the sword was taken here and placed back into the stone from which Arthur had drawn it. To my people, this was Caladfwlch. Though Rhongomiant, his spear, performed nicely for the next in line, Caladfwlch wouldn’t. No one has even been able to draw the sword from the stone in the years since, but we’ve kept a tradition of having each in line attempt it. As we are engaged, you get your chance as well.”

“You’re descended from King Arthur?” I asked, not seeing the resemblance between my petite fiancée and the man who had given me Carnwennan.

“Obviously. Was my name not enough of a clue?” she asked.

“I suppose Pendreigh and Pendragon are similar.” I admitted.

“My family left the name Pen Draig behind when we abdicated the throne, leaving our country in the care of relatives. We’ve been attempting to redeem ourselves ever since.” she explained.

“Redeem yourselves?” I asked.

“Yes. My ancestor killed one of his sons, and things only got that far due to carelessness. You should read the account of the damages he caused someday, but for now, take your turn with the sword. Caladfwlch is waiting.” she insisted.

“One more thing first. Did Kyduan make it to see his father?” I asked.

Her eyes opened in surprise. “You were there, weren’t you.” she stated. “Carnwennan wasn’t lost. Arthur gave it to you.” she stated, stepping closer to me as she stared up at me. “I wondered at how that dagger came to be in your possession, but given your friends, I believe I now know.”

I frowned, not sure if I should answer. I already said too much. “Did he make it?” I asked again.

“Yes, James. He did.” she told me with a smile. “He also recounted how his father had seen a glorious man whom he warned could prove capable of taking the throne, should he wish it.”

“An interesting tale. You should tell me it in full someday.” I told her. Then I turned and walked to the sword. There was an impatience radiating out from it, sinking into me. This sword remembered, just as I remembered the feel of its hilt in my grasp that day. Excalibur easily slid free, igniting once more with a greater brilliance than before.

“Are you here to claim the throne now, James?” teased Alma as she stared at me through the light.

“Obviously not, though I would trouble you for a sheath. Our friend here is a little excited, and there is no way I can hide this radiance.” I told her.

“Bear with it for a while. We need to make our way over to my home, and there is something you should see.” she told me, smiling brightly.

I followed her up and out of the cave, watching her suppress various traps along the way. When we came outside, there was a vibrance to the land which I found to be rare away from my yard, especially in February. I was accustomed to plants that looked entirely healthy out of season due to Emma’s work, but what was happening here?

Barely away from the cave, I stared in wonder as an old tree regained life in its dying limbs. “What is happening?” I asked aloud.

“Having drawn the sword, you’re technically the King, and the King is one with the land here. This should be spreading across my family’s ancestral lands. My people will be impressed with the crops this year.” she claimed.

“I can’t stay here.” I stated.

“No one said you should. As long as your claim to Caladfwlch remains, the land will be as healthy as you are.” she replied, still smiling.

I loved her smile as I loved her, but I couldn’t help wondering if she suspected this would happen. If she did, had she planned for it? Alma might well have purchased additional land, knowing the crops would be bountiful. As far as I knew, I couldn’t get sick. Did that mean this land could never falter while I lived? I knew Caladfwlch wouldn’t leave me. These ancient weapons were affected by my magic, so it had no choice but to adore me. I let out a deep breath and hugged Alma’s shoulder as we walked to her estate. I couldn’t hold clever business against her, even if she might have used me in a sense.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 310

“What about sending Dejon out with Jarod on a job?” I asked.

“Sorry, master, but Dejon doesn’t have the knowledge to be of any real value to Jarod, and Jarod hasn’t been taking any low salary jobs recently. The twins keep him… occupied.” explained Mila.

“Cosette! She said she’s resistant to his ability, and you could monitor things for me.” I suggested.

“I’ll speak with her about it on your behalf, master.” she replied.

“No. I’ll talk with her.” I insisted.

“Sorry, master, but the twins have a more urgent concern for you.” stated Mila as she opened the door and stepped out of the office.

Ai and Mai rushed into the room, crossed their arms, and glared at me.

“I see you’re displeased about something.” I stated.

Mai held out a hand bearing a wedding ring.

“What? Did Ai lose her ring?” I asked. “I’ll gladly ask…”

“Baka-yarō!!!” they exclaimed in unison.

“That isn’t nice.” I stated.

“Where’s Lady Pendreigh’s ring!?” they asked.

“I don’t believe the wedding rings have been made yet.” I explained.

Ai sighed and said, “The engagement ring.”

“We’re already engaged.” I told them.

Mai slapped her forehead with her palm and said, “Yes, but aren’t you going to give her a ring?”

“Your wedding is in one month!” exclaimed Ai.

“Are you certain she wants one?” I asked. “I’m not really familiar with Slayer customs.”

“You’re in the U.S., aren’t you? It’s expected here!” exclaimed Mai.

“The wedding invitations have already been sent out, so everyone knows! People will wonder if she’s caught without a ring now.” insisted Ai.

“She’s British aristocracy, so they might not.” I feebly argued, realizing I made a serious mistake.

“Yes, they will!” they exclaimed. “Do you realize who all has been invited to your wedding!?”

“No, honestly, since I didn’t take part in the guest list.” I replied.

“You’re going to have one of the most high profile weddings of this decade, so get Lady Pendreigh an engagement ring already!” they insisted. Then they turned and stalked out of the room.

“Right.” I muttered to myself. “Mila, will you please scroll through images of engagement ring designs, preferably exotic ones.”

As I perused the designs, I was very grateful that Mila’s systems were as fast as they were. This would take far longer otherwise. As minutes passed, I still didn’t feel any closer to deciding what to get.

“BOO!” exclaimed Aaliyah, jumping up from behind my desk!

“Hello.” I greeted her.

“Aww… you didn’t jump.” she pouted.

“You knew I wouldn’t without you really trying to scare me.” I replied. “Any suggestions on what Alma would like for an engagement ring?”

“Of course, boss-man, sir. I’ve got a model all set to inspire you.” she replied with a grin.

“Oh?” I asked. Suddenly, I found myself standing elsewhere. Looking around, I decided I was far elsewhere. The trees nearby were enormous as were the creatures. A shadow was all the warning I had that something was swooping in toward me from the sky. I could hardly believe my eyes when I looked up and saw a dragon. An enormous, winged dragon with cobalt scales glinting in the sunlight was descending toward me. I could see residual energy pouring off the creature and couldn’t help smiling. Jarod would be so jealous right now.

Wind whipped around me as the dragon caught the air with its massive wings, slowing its descent to land right in front of me with an audible thump. The creature’s huge muzzle was mere feet away as it eyed me.

I felt a pressure that I recognized and allowed to enter my mind.

:Who are you?: asked the creature.

“James Michael Somerset III.” I replied with a small nod. “Who are you?”

:You’re from my world. How did you get here!?: she asked, moving her head to look at me from different directions.

“Oh. Sorry. I thought I was expected. My secretary had said she arranged for a model to inspire me.” I replied, not seeing Aaliyah anywhere.

:A model!? Here? For what purpose?: she inquired. :You seem incredibly calm for someone seeing a dragon. Most would reek of fear:

“Well, I don’t really frighten easily these days. I’m trying to come up with an idea for an engagement ring. Alma and I are already engaged, but she apparently wants a ring…” I explained, hesitating as the dragon drew back. “Is something the matter?”

:Tell me Alma’s full name.: stated the dragon.

“Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.” I replied.

The dragon snarled as it said, :You think yourself worthy of my daughter!?:

“Pardon?” I asked, shocked by the truth in her words. This was Alma’s mother. How!?

:I am Adelina Slayer, and I do not find you worthy.: she declared, opening her maw. :Scared that your little spell didn’t bedazzle me, mortal?:

“Oh. Sorry. I can’t do anything about that enchantment. Please don’t attack. I really don’t want to hurt you.” I told her, frowning as she snarled and lunged at me. I moved, sucking the energy away from her body.

Adelina seemed surprised snapping her head to the side to find me hundreds of feet away.

“Sorry, but I don’t want to be eaten either. Your daughter’s doing well, by the way.” I told her.

She rushed to attack me, but something far faster came down from above, pinning her down with a single claw and casting a spell to redirect the air as it filled the vacuum she left in her wake. I was impressed by the complexity of the spell. Where Adelina was easily fifty feet long, this new dragon was easily two hundred.

:Manners, little one.: stated the larger dragon.

“Adelina!” exclaimed Aaliyah, sliding down from the larger dragon’s back. “I wondered where I misplaced James.”

:Death.: snarled Adelina, wincing as the larger dragon squeezed her.

:My apologies, James. This one is young and impudent. She’ll learn.: stated the dragon. :I am known simply as ‘mother’ for my mate and I were the first of our kind and no other intelligent life dwells here, save for Death.:

“Meeting you is a pleasure.” I told her, feeling awed by her presence.

Her scales were pure white and the largest was easily taller than me, but she also had enormous spines stretching down her back where Adelina did not. There was a distinct difference in the ridges of her face as well.

She smiled as she said, :Meeting you is a pleasure as well. You are known far and wide.:

I saw my shock reflected in Adelina’s expression as well.

“Isn’t he wonderful?” stated Aaliyah as she nodded. “We’ll be back soon to talk, but his day will be busy as ever! We’ve gotta get these rings done before the wedding. Adelina’s daughter will come with us next time, so that’ll be a treat, won’t it?”

:Wedding?: asked the dragon mother. :I look forward to welcoming you to the family, James. Please, enjoy your time here.:

Adelina stared at us for a moment after the dragon mother leaped into the air, but then she followed without a word.

“Rings?” I asked.

Nodding, Aaliyah said, “Yep! Gotta teach you how to make rings, so you and Alpy can make your own wedding rings. We’ll be making your engagement ring too, of course.”

“I see.” I stated, knowing Aaliyah had a plan. “What did the dragon mother mean when she said I am known ‘far and wide’?”

“Pretty self-evident, isn’t it, boss-man, sir? Everyone knows you!” she exclaimed.

I took that to mean I wasn’t getting an answer yet. I followed Aaliyah to a cave in a mountain. The heat coming out of it was immense, and I smirked when I saw lava flowing far beneath us deep inside. Was I to craft the Ring of Power out of Lord of the Rings now? The feeling only grew as she started instructing me on spells I’d need to use. I quickly realized this would certainly be a one-of-a-kind engagement ring.