Best Friend For Hire, Entry 331

With the ceremony complete, Aaliyah joyously took Alma and I to do an incredible amount of signing. When that was finally finished, we went out for pictures. The photo session took longer than I hoped, but I was sure that was all part of Aaliyah’s plan. She was on stage again, entertaining the guests while Mila took pictures with the cameras in her eyes. Alma insisted on looking at them from time to time on my phone, and I couldn’t deny her when I was curious as well.

When Alma suddenly gathered her dress and ran, I followed her without question. She seemed worried. I sprinted ahead when I spotted Adelmar doubled over near the house with Anwen looking afraid. His breathing was incredibly fast, and he seemed to be in pain. He stood, taking a swing at me the moment I stopped.

Catching his hand, I said, “Adelmar. It’s me, James. What’s wrong?”

“When did you get this strong?” he snarled, staring at his fist in my hand.

Alma arrived, stopping just behind me. “Is it time already?” she asked.

I thought he was going to attack me again, but I felt a number of his defensive spells being dropped. The anger quickly left his eyes.

“Cousin, I wasn’t aware that your husband was holding back so much during his challenges.” stated Adelmar as he casually straightened his suit.

“I did inform you that he was much faster and stronger than I originally believed.” she replied.

“YOU SHOULD HAVE SHOWN ME!” he yelled, taking a step toward her.

I put my arm out, blocking his path, and to my surprise, he hugged me.

“I’m sorry, James. I’ll be fine soon.” he told me as he stepped back.

“What’s wrong?” I asked again.

“His time’s coming soon.” replied Alma as she leaned against my arm.

“Time?” I asked.

“There’s something I haven’t told you yet.” she stated, holding my arm and looking up at me.

“I imagine there are many things you haven’t told me yet.” I teased.

“Just tell him.” ordered Adelmar.

“My family is descended from dragons, and each member of the Slayer family is destined to become a dragon. My mother didn’t die. She became a dragon and went… elsewhere.” explained Alma.

“Elsewhere?” I inquired, knowing I couldn’t reveal that I had seen her mother not too long ago.

“She doesn’t know. None of us do.” asserted Adelmar. “Welcome to the family.” he added with a smile.

“Yes. Welcome, James. We’re thrilled to have you.” agreed Anwen as she hugged Adelmar’s arm.

“Would you two care to come back for more photos?” I asked. “We were just about to send for you, so your timing is rather great.”

Smiling wryly Adelmar said, “Timing on almost turning into a dragon and disrupting your party? I think my timing needs improved. Then again, I don’t know that I could have stopped were you not here. Despite the other effects of your magic, there is a very calming effect to it.”

“I’m glad I decided to attend my wedding today then. Alma certainly would have been fired up if I had skipped out, and you apparently would have been as well.” I teased.

Alma lightly hit my arm and then said, “Sorry, Adelmar. He can’t take anything seriously at times.”

“All part of his charm, I’m sure. I still cannot believe your strength and speed.” he stated, reaching up to roughly squeeze my shoulder as we started to walk. “If you had struck Hyun-woo full force, the man would have died on the spot.”

The chipper way Adelmar talked about how I could have killed a man bothered me, but I wasn’t going to argue with him today, especially not if his change really was coming soon. The little I had seen of dragons was enough to show me that they were as dangerous as they were beautiful, and Adelina’s temper seemed quite volatile as one.

The rest of the pictures were taken without interruption, posing with various friends and family. Adelmar and Anwen seemed quite disturbed when Ariadne, Vito, Papak, and Zachary joined us for a couple shots, but they didn’t protest.

When pictures were finished, Alma and I went out to perform a little dance number we had rehearsed. Then we took to the stage and welcomed everyone to the reception, encouraging them to join us in dancing until food would be served.

The seven course meal that Marco prepared along with Carl and his staff would surely be remembered fondly by everyone, leaving them envious of my chef. He was quite superb. After the dinner was finished, a large number of speeches were given. Adelmar was certainly long-winded as ever when he took a turn. Given that the sun hadn’t set while he was still talking, I wondered if Carl was playing with time again.

When the speeches were over, there was a great deal of dancing and eventually an enormous cake. Alma and I did our best to visit the hundreds of tables to greet everyone, but missing someone would have been easy in the crowd.

After a final speech encouraging the guests to enjoy themselves in our absence and thanking them once again for attending, Alma and I departed to the limo. Having her hugging my arm and smiling so beautifully, my happiness was on a new level.

“Mila, you missed the turn. Where are you taking us?” inquired Alma a few blocks later.

“I have a surprise for you, so please forgive this little stop before we fly out.” I told her.

“Oh. Does the pilot know?” she asked.

“Yes, he was given the correct schedule rather than what you were given.” replied Mila.

“Lovely. Our marriage has already started with more secrets.” teased Alma.

“Actually, this is to be a bit of explanation.” I assured her.

“Oh?” she inquired. Her face suddenly took on a look of shock. “We just teleported.”

“You didn’t really want us to deal with traffic, did you?” I teased as I opened the door.

“I’m not allowed in there.” stated Alma as she gazed out at the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.

“As one of the primary shareholders, I give you permission. The others have already confirmed.” I assured her, offering her a hand as she stepped out.

Alma sighed and said, “Of all the places to go first, you had to pick one of the most plain-looking buildings around.”

When we passed through the second set of doors, her expression became one of shock. The room was enormous, easily ten times the size of the building. Furthermore, there were numerous species dining here.

“What sort of illusion is this?” she asked.

“No illusion. The Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce is present on thousands of worlds, offering the best fine dining services in all of time and space.” insisted Evanna.

“You weren’t there a moment ago.” stated Alma as she looked to our host.

Smiling, Evanna said, “No, I wasn’t. Please follow me, and I’ll show you to your room.”

Taking Alma’s hand, I followed Evanna three feet to our right where we were instantly transported to a lavish room with only one table.

Motioning into the room, Evanna then told us “Please wait here for your next host to attend to you.”

“You won’t be taking us around?” I asked.

“No. Sorry, James. As much as I would like to give you another tour, Carl has me assigned elsewhere today.” she replied, waving before she disappeared.

“How is this possible?” asked Alma.

“Stabilized passages through space-time with radiation buffers, annoying people buffers, and other fun buffers.” explained Aaliyah as she stepped out of nowhere. “Buffers… Don’t you love buffers? Along with some other useful tech I designed, they allow the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to simultaneously exist throughout all of space and have room for all. Pretty slick, isn’t it?”

Shaking her head, Alma said, “You’re just messing with me, aren’t you.”

“She really isn’t. Where would you like to go?” I asked with a smile.

“When and where, really. The ‘when’ is just as important. I’m calling first choice though. See ya!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

Alma and I found ourselves staring up at a very familiar dragon who was munching on a large creature I didn’t recognize.

“Mother…?” asked Alma.

“Alma!” exclaimed Adelina, jumping over to us. “You’re married?”

Alma hugged her mother’s face as she said, “Yes. Just today. Father was there. He misses you.”

“No telepathy today?’ I inquired.

Adelina snarled but didn’t attempt to attack me this time.

“Today? You two have met?” asked Alma.

Shrugging, I said, “Of course. How do you think I decided on a ring design? I forged your engagement ring in a volcano on this planet.”

“We’ve been fools, Alma. After I attacked James, the dragon queen told me a great many things that I would like to share with you. Why can I not see your thoughts?” asked Adelina.

“I was given something that protects my mind from intrusion. Adelmar approved of its use on Ai and Mai as well.” explained Alma. “There are many things I would like to share as well.”

“I’ll hang out over that way and give you two a bit of time to catch up. We’ll probably be on this planet for a while.” I told them. When Alma nodded, I jogged off to do some exploring, since I didn’t have the chance last time I was here. This would certainly be an interesting honeymoon.


Best Friend For Hire, Entry 330

“Feeling nervous yet, son?” inquired father as he approached me.

“More excited, really.” I replied, stepping over to hug mother.

“I am. This is quite a gathering. We weren’t sure we’d be able to find you, but Mila called and told me where you were.” stated mother as she casually looked around.

“You should see what some of them really look like.” I teased.

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

“There’s a large series of spells in place that alter perceptions, so those on bad terms with one another won’t be inclined to cause mishaps.” I explained.

“James, dear, I recognize the prince over there. Are you sure it’s working?” she asked, looking concerned.

“Does the man behind him appear twice his height to you?” I questioned.

“No. Twice his height!? You must be joking.” she accused, staring up at me.

Papak, who was standing several feet behind the prince, gave me a grin, obviously overhearing the conversation.

“I’m really not. If you wish for proof, I’m sure he would accommodate you.” I told her, earning a wink from Papak.

“What is he then, son?” asked father.

“One of the eldest vampires in the world. He and his brothers have been around for thirteen thousand years.” I explained. “If ever you two are on Poenari Island again, I’ll gladly talk them into giving you a tour of their collection of antiquities. The stories they told me were incredible.”

Nodding while sounding a little shocked, he said, “We might have to go there specifically for it eventually.”

“We’d be quite honored by your presence.” stated Vito as he and Ariadne walked up behind my parents.

Mother jumped, but father casually wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him.

Holding out a hand, Vito said, “I’m Vito Sanguinem, that one’s brother.” He nodded toward Papak. After my parents each shook his hand, he motioned to Ariadne and said, “And this is Ariadne, Aaliyah’s aunt.”

“Pleasure to meet you both.” replied mother.

“Just Ariadne?” asked father.

“Surnames weren’t common if they existed anywhere when I was born, and unlike the brothers, I never bothered making one up.” she replied.

“I suppose I should have said ‘great aunt’, but only Aaliyah can say how great of an aunt she is.” teased Vito.

“He lies, of course. I can name every last one of my brother’s descendents through the years.” argued Ariadne as she pointedly ignored his joke.

Looking confused, mother asked “So… he wasn’t… um… “

“No, he never became a vampire.” she told us, projecting an image into our minds of a black-haired boy with eyes as green as hers who was probably not much older than me. The emotions that came with the image seemed incredibly strong to me, even by fey standards.

“I simply can’t grow accustomed to seeing things in that manner.” claimed mother.

“Remind me to thank Zachary later.” stated Vito as he looked over to where Zachary had intercepted Adelmar and Anwen when they started approaching us.

“He probably wanted to greet my parents.” I suggested, trying not to smirk at Adelmar’s obvious discomfort.

“Yes, that does seem likely.” agreed Vito. Turning to my parents, he said, “My condolences for the loss of your sanity if he catches you too long.”

“I’ve got one more song for everyone, but first I’d like to inform you that the ceremony will start in thirty minutes” announced Aaliyah from the stage after finishing another song. Please find your way to your seats in that time. If you need assistance, just ask any of the staff. After the wedding, the reception will begin back in this area, so you’ll be able to catch me for more music! I hope you enjoy!” The next song started with a soft, beautiful melody performed on her violin.

“How many people are here?” asked father.

“I’m not honestly certain if you count the security details and other staff, but there are twenty-three-hundred seats.” I replied.

“At least your yard is large enough to accommodate everyone, or you would have us sitting in a stadium.” teased Vito

Father laughed and said, “I did wonder why my son needed quite this much space when he purchased the place, but things are going quite well for him.”

Nodding, Vito told him “After admiring your son’s house, I feel that I might need to look into modernizing more rooms. Mila explained that she can be hired to assist me at any time. James’ business is most intriguing.”

“I completely agree. When he first pitched the idea to me, I never believed he’d come this far, especially so quickly.” replied father. Turning to me, he said, “I’m very proud of you son. I don’t know if the staff mentions it ever, but I highly approve of the changes you’ve made to Somerset Suites. I must say you’re doing an excellent job.”

I leaned down and hugged my parents as I said, “I’m glad you approve. Ready to see me take my next big step?”

Father nodded and mother hugged me tighter.

“Well, then. Ariadne and I best find our seats. I hope we may speak again soon.” stated Vito after Ariadne gestured for him to move.

As they walked away, I stood, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then I told my parents “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to visit during the reception with all the mingling I’ll need to do. Mila will help you get in touch if you need anything.”

“How long will your honeymoon be?” asked mother.

“Two weeks is what’s scheduled, but I have trouble imagining Alma keeping away from work that long. She typically works throughout most days and into the night.” I explained.

“Marriage can change people. I don’t feel I know her well enough to even guess how things will be for a while, but I imagine she’ll take more time off if you two end up having kids eventually.” suggested father.

“I doubt we’ll have children too soon, but I actually did ask her. She seemed shocked that I needed to ask and promptly explained that heirs are expected from someone in her position. You two should expect grandchildren eventually.” I assured them.

We headed to our places and the wait began. As I looked over the crowd, I was amused by the reactions my friends from high school were having. They obviously recognized some of my guests with how they were attempting to snap photos with their phones. No one else was likely to notice though, not with how the illusions were masking sections.

My head ached slightly as the memory of casting the spell came to mind. The spell was simply too massive for me to really consider well without using that room to enhance my abilities. I felt for my other friends who were acting as part of the staff today. I didn’t really want to make them stand through the ceremony, but I agreed that having them participate in that function would help things run smoothly. All of them were so skilled these days.

Alma had been quick to approve of Aaliyah’s plans for there to be no groomsmen or bridesmaids. Apparently, having others stand with us would be frowned upon by some parts of her family given her station. Jarod had taken the news that I wouldn’t be having a best man fine. The twins had warned him before I even found out. We still had a little bachelor’s party last week, hogging the theater and snacking like maniacs.

I looked over to Aaliyah as she waited to perform the ceremony. Adelmar had apparently felt miffed over the decision for Aaliyah to preside over the wedding, but he had ordered Alma not to try bringing Aaliyah around, making me wonder what she had said to him.

Music started at Alma’s approach ― another part of the spell I had cast ― and my eyes instantly found her. I wondered how Aaliyah’s wedding present to her was going over. I had mixed feelings myself, since temporary sanity for Duke Gruffydd Aiden Pendreigh seemed almost cruel to me. I trusted my little friend though, so things would work out. I could see Alma smiling through her veil as her father walked her down the aisle. My heart was racing. Well, racing by my current standards.

Throughout the ceremony, I probably smiled more than I should have, but I felt an unending happiness every time I looked at her. When we kissed to a tumultuous applause, I felt her heart racing through the spell on my wedding ring and knew she was every bit as happy as I felt.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 329

I should have expected that more vampires would be attending my wedding than just the brothers, Ariadne, and Cosette, but their presence worried me. I feared that the large number of vampires would encourage the Slayers and family to act out. Then again, Carl and Aaliyah could handle the lot if necessary without anyone getting hurt. The ability to manipulate time was an incredible advantage, which was surely being done for the arrangement with the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to help Marco for the reception.

Introducing Jarod, Ai, and Mai to the assembled vampires was entertaining. Ai and Mai were on their best behavior, though they were obviously uncomfortable. They had strong opinions about the bride not being seen on her wedding day. Even with so many hours to go, they protested Alma’s presence and escorted her away. Jarod was equally quick to ask questions about the vampire’s lives as soon as the twins were gone. Not all of the vampires were forthcoming, but Vito, Papak, and Zachary seemed happy to sate his curiosity.

The moment Portentia approached us ― apparently home from her nightly patrol, Ariadne called to her. “Portentia! James mentioned that you’ll be tending to our needs if we find the sun too inhospitable after a time.”

Smiling and nodding, Portentia said, “Of course! If any of you would like to get your fill in preparation, a room has already been set aside for your needs. Mila will ensure our privacy.”

“Mila?” asked David.

“Yes?” replied Mila, her voice emanating from the speakers hidden throughout the walls in a loud whisper.

“Mila is the artificially constructed daughter of Aaliyah, my secretary.” I explained. “She has complete control of the house and four bodies now. Sorry that I didn’t introduce her sooner, but I was waiting till one of her bodies happened by.”

“Oh, master, you need only have called.” she cooed. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“No need, Mila. I’m sure you’re already engaged in something important.” I told her.

“Nothing’s more important than you, master.” she teased.

“And how is she supposed to ensure privacy?” asked David.

The wall opened behind him and a gun was deployed at his back. “I’m fully armed for minor inconveniences, and Raine is on call for anything major.” she explained.

“R-” started David, jumping back into the gun as Raine appeared in front of him.

Looking over to me, Raine, barely speaking above a whisper, asked “M-mila said I w-was… n-needed. Is… s-something wrong?”

“No. Sorry, Raine. Mila merely wanted a demonstration to assuage David here of his worries.” I assured her.

She nodded and ran off quicker than I could see. Papak started laughing, a deep rumbling sound filled with glee.

“I can also help with minor inconveniences.” announced Portentia, waving her hand as if to volunteer.

“As the brothers can assure you, I have a formidable staff, perfectly capable of helping my guests from disrupting one another.” I stated, hoping to enforce David’s feeling of security here.

“You forget, David. Death herself has sworn to claim anyone who would disrupt James and Alma’s wedding. There will be no problems here.” insisted Zachary.

I frowned. Aaliyah failed to mention that to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent out contracts to everyone attending, having them swear their good will.

“Unlike you, I haven’t met her.” muttered David.

“What’s she like? James doesn’t like speaking of her.” commented Jarod.

Zachary shrugged.

“You really want to know?” asked Papak with a grin.

“Sure!” exclaimed Jarod.

Ariadne rolled her eyes while shaking her head.

Papak looked around, the grin diminishing on his face into a somber expression. Then he said, “Imagine feeling nearly invincible in a time when the wheel was rare, new tech for humanity. You’re exploring the world, drunk on your own power, when you come across an incredibly large monster that makes me seem beautiful in comparison. You, in your arrogance, try to fight the beast just to test your strength, certain that you can escape. To your horror, the creature not only proves faster and stronger than you, but its touch sucks the energy out of you, allowing you no means of escape. For the first time in years, you understand stark terror, realizing the futility of your situation. Your dying and there’s nothing you can do to survive. As you fail to scream due to lack of strength in mind and body, your entire body manages to seize up as you’re suddenly very aware that something far more terrifying exists. The nightmarish terror which easily vanquished you is brushed aside as insignificant dust in a summer’s breeze. Hours later, you might still be on the ground where you dropped, shaking uncontrollably while knowing in your heart that you certainly would have died of fear were you merely human. That is what Death is like, an absolute fear that strips you of all rationale with her presence while somehow instilling inside you the idea that your existence is very mortal.”

As he spoke, Papak had slowly crept toward Jarod till he was towering over him at the end, blocking out the light with his massive wings. He quickly backed off after he finished, grinning widely again.

Jarod nodded and smiled, though I could tell he looked nervous. “She must make a fortune at Halloween events.” he teased.

“Oh, yes. Screams to die for.” wryly replied Vito.

“Personally, I find she just needs a firm rebuke when she just goes too far.” claimed Ariadne.

“For you, that might work. In over thirteen thousand years, my arguments have ceased to change her mind.” insisted Vito.

“She listens to James just fine.” argued Ariadne.

Everyone listens to James.” teased Jarod.

I sighed and said, “They might listen, but not everyone agrees with me. I am rather young, after all, so there’s much to learn.”

Azizah, who had been quietly watching the exchange with the other vampires, spoke up, asking “What sort of magic are you using on us? I know why I’m here, the significance of your marriage, and next to nothing about you, but I am inordinately attracted to you.”

“Azizah, did I not say James was charming?” teased Zachary.

“Sorry, but my body emanates a magical field of sorts, compelling people to like me. I can’t stop it without completely depriving myself of energy.” I explained. “I can show you the spell Alma uses to help reduce the effect if you like.”

“Unfortunately, I lack any magical gifts outside what’s in my blood.” she replied. “That being said, I accept the brother’s judgement about you, affected as they may be.”

“Awesome.” mumbled Cosette, who had been watching the brothers with starry-eyed glee since their arrival.

“I think I’ll take you up on that snack if you truly don’t mind.” stated David to Portentia.

“Very, very small sips.” warned Ariadne. “Vito and I will accompany you, just in case. Her blood is… potent.”

Vito nodded and followed Portentia and David out with a couple of the other vampires in tow. The strange relationship between Vito and Ariadne still amused me, given their appearances and actual age difference, but the brothers were obviously quite fond of Ariadne.

“When do you expect Adelmar to be arriving?” inquired Zachary.

“Given the plane’s current velocity, Adelmar and Anwen will be landing in just over three hours.” stated Mila before I could admit my ignorance. “Numerous relatives of his will be arriving sooner, so the pre-wedding entertainment will begin around eleven if you wish to socialize.”

“Lovely. Let’s hope Adelmar does not wish to speak with us before the wedding. With only hours to spare, his grand speeches might delay the wedding if he does.” he teased, earning a few laughs from those assembled.

I smiled as well, not particularly fond of Adelmar’s speeches. Still, the current company was excellent, and this seemed like a fine start to my day.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 328

“I was putting in place the enchantment to help you three and others blend in with my guests. Sorry if I startled you.” I replied to Papak.

“And what are you insinuating?” asked Alma as she stepped around me to glare at Papak.

He grinned.

“You can come out, Raine. They’re fine.” I called, having felt her presence in the bushes.

Papak moved to grab the tiny kitten from the bushes, but found himself clutching air. “Illusion?” he asked.

“No. Half-demon. She’s that fast.” I replied.

“Half-demon?” inquired Vito, finally joining us. “Yes. I remember Ariadne mentioning her.”

“My brother didn’t mean to startle you, Raine. Would you mind joining us?” asked Zachary.

I suddenly felt her pressed behind me, shaking slightly. The poor girl was all nerves about today.

“Raine, this is Vito, Papak, and Zachary, eldest of the vampires. Gentlemen, this is Raine.” I announced, gesturing to each in turn.

“We would never try to hurt a friend of James.” stated Papak as the giant man leaned to look around me.

“Raine, please don’t cling to my fiancée on our wedding day. Rumors will spread.” suggested Alma as she gently guided Raine out from behind me.

“You’re a pretty one, aren’t you.” cooed Vito, possibly admiring Raine’s dress.

Seeing Raine out from under her hoodie was quite rare. I hoped no one attempted to get too friendly with her during the reception. The poor girl might forget herself and run. She probably was trying to work up her courage by wearing it already.

As he spoke, Aaliyah appeared behind him with Ariadne, winking and vanishing a moment later.

“Vito, are you hitting on this child?” inquired Ariadne as she stepped up behind him.

“No. I was merely acknowledging that she is pretty. I expected a demon’s spawn to be more like Papak.” he replied, gesturing to his brother for emphasis.

“What are you trying to say?” asked Papak as he lifted his brother in one hand. Then he pointed at Raine and asked “Why’s she shaking?”

“S-sorry.” mumbled Raine in a whisper. Her position suddenly shifted.

“What!? I… I… I…” started Cosette, staring around wildly.

“Gentleman, this is Cosette Bourbon. She obviously knows who you three are.” I explained.

“Cosette! Lovely to make your acquaintance.” stated Zachary as he held out his hand in greeting.

I gently took Cosette’s arm and guided her into action. She continued without me.

“I’m… I’m sorry. Mila told me you were here, and I was attempting to figure out how to greet you. I’ve heard so much about you.” she explained, sounding and looking more confident as she spoke.

“Y-your win-window was… open.” mumbled Raine.

“Well, I’m glad I was dressed.” she teased as she turned. Then she guided Raine to stand next to her, denying the girl cover once more. “I love your dress, but why are you wearing it already?”

“I… W-well…” mumbled Raine as she fidgeted and stared at the ground. “P-practice.”

Papak barked a laugh and said, “I know the feeling! Takes me ages to find something I’m comfortable wearing.”

“And he literally means ages. The man is never in touch with the times.” remarked Vito with a smug smile, despite his position.

Papak blew a raspberry at Vito, but then he finally set his brother down. I felt Papak’s suit looked surprisingly fashionable considering the man’s odd proportions.

“Thank you. Ladies, meeting you all is a pleasure, even you, Lady Pendreigh.” stated Vito with a bow.

“I’m surprised you three could attend with how rarely you get out.” she replied.

“Rarely? Aren’t you told that we devour people by the hundreds each night?’ teased Vito.

“Hundreds?” asked Papak. “That hardly sounds dramatic. You’d find hundreds in a single block these days.”

“In a single building with some of the taller ones.” corrected Zachary.

“Fine, but Vito should have said thousands!” insisted Papak.

“Yes-yes, I see your point.” snapped Vito.

“You do get out then?” inquired Alma looking at them with her typical unreadable face.

“Well, I like to go jogging each morning, personally.” replied Papak with a grin.

I smirked, picturing him out for a jog and casually waving at people. Though he was typically squatting, Papak was probably twice my height when he fully stood.

Alma, however, rolled her eyes and said, “Jogging must be a great workout for you.”

“If James isn’t opposed, I wouldn’t mind letting you try giving me some pointers for exercise. I’ve heard you’re a pretty decent fighter.” suggested Papak.

“B-be nice.” stated Raine as she looked up at him.

Papak smile as he said, “I am! I was just offering. Care to try yourself? I must admit I’m curious how strong you are.”

“Please, Raine. That would be most entertaining.” insisted Alma.

“No. Please, don’t.” pleaded Cosette as she gently grabbed Raine’s arm.

“J-James?” asked Raine, looking up at me.

“I don’t want this place devastated, so I expect you to guard everything you throw him at if you choose to accept.” I replied.

“She’s that good, huh?” asked Papak, rubbing his chin.

“No. Her technique is still terrible, but her natural aptitude is far beyond me. I doubt even you saw her fetch Cosette.” admitted Alma with a smile.

“True. She’s easily faster than me.” he replied, looking even more uncertain.

“She could toss him straight up.” suggested Vito, a slight smile playing at his lips.

“Maybe the three of us together should try? We haven’t faced a demon for many years.” suggested Papak.

“I’m not inclined to try.” replied Zachary, holding his hands aloft as if to ward him from the thought.

“I must concur. Though I do remember the spells we’ve used in the past, she seems much stronger, judging by her speed.” mused Vito. “I still think you should try, dear brother, to keep your honor intact after issuing such a challenge.”

“Children, behave.” ordered Ariadne. “James, I would like your permission to enter the forest with these three before your other guests arrive. They’ve been itching to see my family ever since I told them of the survivors.”

“Sure. Let’s head there now then.” I replied. “Sorry, Raine. No tossing Papak yet.”

She nodded. I guided everyone into the forest and let the vampires see the fey once more. A couple thousand years apart meant nothing to the fey. Their feelings were as bright and vibrant as ever, greeting the brothers warmly, though they seemed more excited by Ariadne’s return. I hoped to share such joys many more times this day when my wedding truly began.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 327

“Boss-man, sir, how are you feeling?” asked Aaliyah as she stepped into my office.

“Excited and a bit nervous. Alma won’t be too forgiving if I make any mistakes.” I told her.

“You’d be surprised at how forgiving she can be where you’re concerned.” insisted Aaliyah.

“Perhaps. What brings you here this early in the morning?” I inquired, noticing the time.

Nodding happily, she said, “Your first guests will be arriving shortly, and there are still some last minute preparations to make.”

I almost asked who would be arriving before dawn, but I could easily imagine the vampire envoy wanting to miss the sun. How were we going to keep them in the shade?

“That’s part of the preparations you must make, boss-man, sir. You need to prepare the magic to protect your guests.” she told me, obviously reading my mind again.

I shrugged and said, “Oh. Sure. Mind showing me which spell or spells?”

Aaliyah smiled, flipped over my desk, and landed seated on my lap. Then she pointed to a spell on the screen that hadn’t been there a moment before.

I zoomed in, hoping to get a better idea of what needed to be done, but zooming in several times still left the image looking like some incandescent, crystalline structure. When I was finally close enough to make out the individual parts, the spell seemed enormous in the way skyscrapers felt from the ground, but stretching multiple directions.

“I can’t do this.” I told her, thinking of how much energy I’d be utilizing at once.

“There’s plenty in the forest.” she replied.

“Fair enough, but I still couldn’t control all of it precisely enough. This too big. Isn’t there a simpler way?” I asked, looking through more and more of the spell.

“Sure, if you want to spend a day casting and maintaining spells, but you were too busy for doing that sort of prep, even if Alma had helped.” she told me.

“I like when you call her ‘Alma’ instead of ‘Alpy’.” I admitted. “You must have some sort of plan. What is it?”

“You know.” she told me.

“No. I’m not using that thing again.” I replied instantly when I realized to what she was referring.

“You are, boss-man, sir, because you don’t want to ruin the wedding. This is necessary, and you aren’t the type to shirk your responsibilities, especially not to your guests on your wedding day.” she told me.

“Why don’t you do this for me? I’m actually fairly certain that you could.” I told her.

She grinned at me and said, “Easily. Effortlessly, but I will not. Unless you’re commanding me…?” She looked at me with wide-eyed curiosity and a small smile as her mouth hung partly open.

I frowned. She always seemed too happy about the idea of me giving her orders, and her giddiness made me nervous. She spoke about rending time and rewriting the world with childlike innocence that only made the malevolence of the deed more prevalent in my mind. I didn’t understand the ramifications of having Death cast the spell herself and thus could not command her to do it, even if she’d listen.

“I always listen, boss-man, sir.” she told me, hugging me.

I shuddered, thinking about what I was to do. I needed to control myself better than last time, not let my mind wander. I needed to keep from seeing Aaliyah again and really focus on the task at hand.

“You’ll manage.” she assured me, still hugging me.

I scooped her up with one arm as I stood and walked to the stairs. I descended and continued down the hall, stopping when a shadow detached itself from the entrance to Alma’s wing. I felt Alma’s magic and realized that was her.

“What?” she asked. “Seeing the bride on her wedding day is bad luck.”

I nodded. “Need something?” I inquired.

“Just you. You’re not running off, are you?” she questioned, a bit of worry creeping into her voice.

“No. Of course not.” I told her, sounding more terse than I intended. “Sorry. I need to do a very difficult enchantment, so our guests won’t take issue with one another.”

The disapproval in her voice was obvious as she said, “Adelmar will want to know the full extent of what you do, since he’ll be attending.”

I hesitated as I considered what I was doing again. Aaliyah had warned me of the side effect of using that room. Hoping that she might get Carl to alter time again, I looked to her, only to find her shaking her head.

“If you don’t mind standing in the wedding area, you can easily watch and report.” stated Aaliyah with a smile for Alma.

“Really? James, is that true?” she asked. “You’ll let me see?”

Nodding, I said, “Sorry in advance. I’ll be using a great deal of energy, so your protections will be taxed.”

“Yes, I suppose I should gather the household to protect them as well.” she commented.

“There’s no need to wake them. You’ll see.” I told her glumly. As I considered her words again, I found myself smiling. Protecting the household from my gifts would probably seem easy to me while using that room, even while performing such a difficult enchantment. On the other hand, I’d be using the room for longer than necessary that way and might affect them more than if I just took care of the enchantment and stopped.

“James, what’s bothering you?” she asked.

I wanted to tell her, but was I allowed? We weren’t married quite yet.

“Don’t worry! James is just going to do something marvelous, but he’s struggling with his Jamesness again.” stated Aaliyah.

I sighed. Then I told Alma “You’ll see what’s bothering me shortly. Try not to worry. I’m certain this will help our wedding go smoothly.”

“James, what are you doing, really? I’ve never seen you like this, especially not regarding a spell.” she stated.

I laughed wryly, thinking of how this must seem to her. “The spell isn’t what bothers me, being mostly illusion. What bothers me is how I need to cast it.” I told her. “Hurry outside. I want to get this over with.”

She hesitated for a moment before running off. I didn’t want her to wait long, but I couldn’t help walking at a slower, more human speed. I really didn’t want to do this. My step quickened as I thought of Alma waiting out there expectantly. I was taking too long. She could be patient, but she shouldn’t need to be, not today. Aaliyah hopped out from my arm just before I was inside the room.

“How will I know the spell?” I asked her.

“You’ll know.” she replied.

I stared at her, hesitating again. She looked so tiny, so fragile. Things could be so different than what they seemed. What was the greater purpose in having me do this? I forced myself to look at the wall and push thoughts of Aaliyah out of my head as I connected. I found the spell instantly, still shown on the screen in my room. Casting it was equally fast, and I forced myself to disconnect, trying to ignore my senses as I felt the world at beyond once more.

I took a deep breath simply for the feel of the air in my lungs, the feel of being more human once more. As briefly as I had used the room this time, I knew I had done other things beyond my intended goal, even though I wasn’t precisely sure what.

“Well, people will be ‘inexplicably’ happier today all over the world, so that’s a good thing, right?” she asked.

“Is it?” I questioned, wondering if some negative effect could come from it.

“You better go see Alma. She’s entirely flabbergasted and wouldn’t even appreciate how fun that word is right now.” stated Aaliyah, vanishing before the last word was even spoken.

I hurried out to my fiancée and easily found the deeper shadow in the night.

“James? Did you feel that!?” she exclaimed, embracing me as she asked.

“Sorry. I didn’t really know what to say to warn you properly.” I admitted.

“That was you?” she asked, holding my arms as she looked up at me.

I looked away as I said, “You just cancelled out your spell.”

“Enough with superstitions for now. Was that really you? There was a surge of energy, and then…” she stopped speaking as she hugged me again.

“And then what?” I asked her.

“I felt suddenly alone, very alone.” she told me.

“Sorry.” I replied.

“Don’t be. I feel happy, honestly. I see why you didn’t want me to bother the others. I couldn’t have protected them from that. The loneliness was just odd, as if something beautiful vanished from this world. I’m fine. How did you do… whatever you did?” she asked.

I kissed her head and said, “I’ll explain after the wedding.”

“What am I supposed to tell Adelmar about this?” she asked.

“Just tell him that we put in place an enchantment which will keep guests from seeing one another as what they really are, so everyone will feel more comfortable.” I explained.

She nodded, but then said, “He’ll probably have felt that, you know.”

“Yes. Everyone with magical potential on the planet just felt it.” I told her, hating the thought.

“Then how did you…” she started, stopping before finishing.

“Yes, time was…” I stopped and moved Alma behind me as I accelerated my body and mind. Something was coming. I relaxed, smiling as I saw Vito, Papak, and Zachary come into view.

Vito stopped at the edge of my yard, staring around cautiously, but his brothers rushed to me.

“James! Did you feel that?” asked Zachary after he stopped a few feet from me.

Papak’s enormous nose sniffed the air as he said, “What are you two doing out here on your wedding day? Getting a head start?”

I felt Alma’s magic pulse within her and hoped she’d stay calm. Though I was certain to be in for a long day, I wanted this to be a pleasant one as well.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 326

“Finally found time for me?” asked Maxine after stepping into my office in front of Mila.

I found out last night that Maxine shared her birthday with Alma and Portentia. Though I considered the shared date with Alma to be a coincidence, I wondered if being born on the exact same day as Portentia showed another connection between the two. Mila was searching through old records for me, but many documents from that time were still kept on paper, slowing things down considerably.

“Depends on how you want me to take the question.” I replied as I perused through some documents on a purchase Aaliyah wanted to make for my company.

“Your tenant agreement is outlandish and nearly incomprehensible. I doubt I’d fully understand it even if I were to study law for several years before returning to it.” she stated.

“Given your intellect, that really is saying something, but what is your point?” I inquired.

“Signing a document under duress invalidates it, so you can’t possibly expect me to abide by it, especially with how convoluted the thing is. I could violate it without ever knowing.” she insisted.

“Though you could make a wonderful argument in court if you were allowed to open the case, you will be expected to uphold your end of the agreement while staying here. Alma was confident that she covered what you are and are not allowed to do while staying here in enough detail for you to understand. Certain violations, as you were informed, are punishable by death, which I’m confident can be carried out. Please don’t put that contract to the test.” I replied, frowning as I realized what I was to be purchasing.

“You are aware that I heal just as quickly as Portentia?” she inquired.

I nodded out of habit as I said, “Yes, but I believe someone I know is capable of killing you both. Trust me when I say that you do not want an introduction.”

“And you’d be willing to kill me?” she asked, sounding doubtful.

“My staff is very efficient, but you’d probably be dead before I even heard of the violation. On a more pressing note, my company will be acquiring a large part of your holdings soon, and I wish to assure you that I’ll return things to you if ever I feel you are rehabilitated.”

“That is not amusing. None of my assets are for sale.” she stated.

“Mila, am I correct in assuming that Alma is already pressuring for a quick transition?” I asked.

“Yes, master. Maxine’s position as CEO of her family’s corporation is already under scrutiny. Evidence will be found, showing criminal activity through the company. Her shares will then be sold off, since Maxine won’t be available to make an innocent owner claim to the courts after the asset forfeiture. Within two months, you or Lady Pendreigh will have control of her estate, since proceedings are being pushed forward.” explained Mila.

“My lawyers will…” started Maxine.

Interrupting her, Mila said, “not do a thing, given that Lady Pendreigh is purchasing their firms. You are willfully ignoring Lady Pendreigh’s influence in all branches of the government as well as her ability to purchase what’s in her way. Mother put a word in with the vampires on James’ behalf to influence other sections. This will happen.”

“Sorry. I assure you that your company will stay afloat. Before you make any more angry remarks, do understand that I’ll have to give my fiancée news she won’t like, since I’ll be intervening on your behalf. You know as well as I do that she would not be so kind.” I stated, hoping to deflect Maxine’s anger.

She stood still enough that she might as well have been a statue. I had moved onto other documents when I caught motion in my peripheral vision. She was smiling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes, James. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Sorry to intrude.” she told me, turning around and stepping toward the door. Her voice sounded flat… controlled.

“Did you ever play Ancient Tribes of Earth or did you merely try to crack it?” I asked.

“Yes, I played. The programming behind it is truly extraordinary.” she replied without turning to face me again.

“I’ll hire Jarod and Mila to recreate your visual apparatus if you wish to play again. You could pass some time and possibly ingratiate yourself with some of my friends here.” I suggested.

“Thank you. I’ll consider your offer.” she truthfully assured me.

A while after she left, I asked “What’s Maxine doing?”

“Thinking, I assume. Since we returned to her room, she’s been standing completely still.” explained Mila.

“Didn’t you order some furniture for her?” I inquired.

“No, master. She refused to assist in the choices, claiming that her cell might as well feel like one.” replied Mila.

I sighed, curbing my impulse to try reasoning with Maxine. As far as I knew, she might be plotting her escape. Given her abilities, she had little reason to take my warning about the risk of death seriously.

“Is Iris here?” I asked.

“Master, five in the morning is a bit early to expect her arrival.” replied Mila.

“Oh. True. I was just considering a break and thought I might convince her to do a bit of gaming again. She rarely logs on from home, despite having a laptop now.” I commented.

“I know, master. She really does prefer being outside. Don’t forget that your parents will be visiting today.” insisted Mila.

“I know. How’s Dejon acclimating?” I inquired.

“There have been no complaints from his clients, he is dutifully completing coursework, and I have seen no signs of him attempting to control others.” she reported.

Nodding, I said, “Thank you, Mila. Are Jemal and Kayla still doing well?”

“Of course, master. Though Kayla is not as diligent as her brother in her coursework, she is a very gifted girl, getting well ahead for her age. Jemal has a one hundred percent return rate from his current clients.” she explained.

“Wow. He has me beat in that regard.” I admitted, knowing I was just resisting the urge to pester Alma.

Our wedding day was steadily growing closer, and I felt a sense of excitement for it. I knew I was probably being naive to some extent, but my own parents made marriage seem so wonderful. Jarod’s relationship with the twins certainly benefited from it. For me, I’d finally be able to relieve myself of a seemingly endless stream of secrets. Keeping as much from her as I did didn’t feel right, despite knowing she kept things from me as well. I wanted to be open and honest with her even though I’d never get to be so open with others I care about. There were only ten more days to wait.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 325

As the doors to my home opened, party favors exploded, sending confetti and streamers everywhere. Jarod was using his custom party gun again. The “welcome home” died partly after “welcome” though as people realized we had an extra guest.

“Maxine?” asked Jarod.

“You brought her here?” inquired Mai.

“Do we get to keep her?” asked Ai with a wicked grin.

“Have you and Portentia been hanging out, Ai? That’s precisely what she had asked.” I stated.

“You’re Ai? You said you were Mai!” complained Deyanira, who apparently had shown up for the party.

“Never trust the twins.” muttered Brandon.

“She obviously just had me confused with my sister.” replied Ai.

Grabbing her sister’s hand, Mai then pouted and said, “I can’t believe you were hanging out with Portentia and not telling me.”

“Who’s Maxine?” asked Kayla.

“Her, obviously.” stated Jemal as he nodded toward Maxine.

“Yes, but who is she!?” exclaimed Kayla with a grin.

“What does she… like to eat?” inquired Marco.

“Who’s she?” asked Portentia, pointing to Iris.

“Hi! I’m Iris.” replied Iris with a wave. “I started part-time here while you were away.”

I raised my hands and motioned for everyone to be quiet. “Due to unfortunate circumstances, Maxine will be staying with us indefinitely, so there will be plenty of time for questions later. Let’s just get on with the party for now.” I suggested.

Aaliyah was smiling at me excitedly. Breaking the momentary quiet, she said, “Boss-man, sir, we should have Maxine sign her tenant’s agreement before the party.”

“I don’t sign anything without my lawyer.” stated Maxine warily.

Placing her hand on Maxine’s shoulder, Alma said, “I’ll go over the terms with you if you wish, but I can already assure you that there won’t be room for debate.”

“Fine, but I want to go through every detail.” insisted Maxine.

Seeing Aaliyah’s grin widen, I said, “No, you really don’t. That would probably take years.” I almost stopped mid-sentence when I felt magic off to my left, but my little fairy friend simply removed the spell concealing her.

I heard Maxine gasp as my little friend started showing us what I had missed in her day. What was this like for her? I doubted her tech had allowed her vision to match that of my little friend, and now she got to see a vibrant world with all the wonder of a fairy. I managed to cut my little friend off at the point she entered the house, uncertain of how much I wanted Maxine to see.

“Boss-man, sir! She hadn’t gotten to finding the cake yet!” complained Aaliyah.

“Yes, well, we don’t need spoilers.” I argued.

“But it’d be like eating cake without the calories.” insisted Aaliyah.

“I like the sound of that.” agreed Brenna.

Nodding, Deyanira said, “Me too. Marco, your cooking’s too good. I had to start working out more since I started dating Brandon.”

“Brandon has a girlfriend?” asked Maxine incredulously.

“You know me?” he inquired. “Wait. Were you interested?”

“Hey now!” exclaimed Deyanira as she grabbed his arm.

I sighed as Emma started encouraging my little fairy friend to relay what she was seeing to Maxine.

“Maxine does not need help.” I stated.

Maxine sounded curious as she said, “I’m not opposed. There was something different in the image that time. How are you doing this? What is it I’m seeing?”

You don’t know?” teased Portentia.

“I wanted to see if you could have a seeing-eye fairy!” exclaimed Emma.

“A what?” she asked.

Emma projected what she was seeing into all of our heads as she watched the little fairy. Then she said, “I’m getting better, but I can’t keep this up for too long.”

“Sight through magic? Camila would be most interested in learning that as well.” commented Maxine.

“I love your hair. It’s so fluffy!” exclaimed Kayla, who had wondered closer to Maxine.

I was trying to decide how to warn Jemal that Kayla probably shouldn’t spend time with Maxine when Kayla was suddenly repositioned back by her brother.

“Sh-she’s… d-dangerous.” warned Raine, who was standing by them now.

“Wow!” exclaimed Kayla. “Can we do that again?”

“Dangerous!?” exclaimed Jemal, eyeing Maxine as he hugged Kayla. “How so?”

“I’m not surprised. Everyone here is dangerous.” stated Dejon.

“But when has Raine ever called someone dangerous?” argued Jemal.

“Fair point.” he agreed.

I quickly told them “Maxine has a nefarious background, so you should be wary of her motives, but I doubt she’d try to harm anyone here. She’s like Portentia in that she heals instantly, but she can’t utilize any sort of magic.” Looking to Portentia, I then asked “Can she fight?”

Portentia grinned and said, “Not really. She needs her gizmos.”

“Do I get extra meals?” teased Cosette, who had been quietly observing everyone.

“No!” exclaimed Portentia. “There’s something weird about how she heals.”

“No. You’re the weird one.” argued Maxine. “Don’t think I missed the strange shadows that follow you.”

“Sh-she’s like… l-like… Ariadne’s m-magic.” muttered Raine. “I feel it.”

“Really?” inquired Alma. “What do you feel from Portentia then?”

“M-myself.” replied Raine.

“Oh!” I exclaimed as realization hit me. “Raine, would you mind doing a few hundred laps around the city for me?”

She shrugged as Mila opened the doors behind me. Raine was gone too quick for even my eyes, and I confirmed my suspicions. For a while now, I had felt something from Portentia, not just when she healed. I never knew what I was feeling till now. When Raine moved, some sort of energy inside Portentia moved as well. Perhaps, the energy just moved more than normal. The difference was very faint, but I could tell if I was focusing on it.

“B-back.” stated Raine, stopping by me.

Sighing, Maxine said, “Ha ha. Trying to prank the blind girl?”

“No. Raine is that fast.” stated Alma. “Let’s be off and take care of your tenant agreement before I’m late for the party.”

“If we must.” replied Maxine.

“Oh, we must! I’m not missing the cake twice in one day!” insisted Aaliyah.

Seeming to sense Aaliyah’s plight, the little fairy projected her experience when stealing some cake earlier. The taste was exquisite as expected when Marco was involved.

“James, can we talk for a bit?” asked Jarod.

I nodded and followed him out, down a hall, and into one of the side rooms. “What’s up?” I asked when we arrived.

“Are you sure having Maxine here is a good idea?” he inquired.

Shrugging, I said, “No, but I don’t want to cover her in iron and bury her somewhere either. I doubt a jail would survive her even if they tried keeping her in solitary confinement. Here, Mila will keep tabs on her, and plenty of us can easily overpower her physically if necessary, though I very much doubt she could get around Mila.”

“I understand that, but… I suppose you’re right.” he admitted, obviously thinking things through.

“You might even enjoy chatting with her, given her expertise.” I suggested.

“Yes, I’m sure Ai and Mai will love that idea. I will admit that Maxine’s brilliant. I’m surprised you’re okay with this.” he told me.

Shrugging, I said, “I assure you that I’ll be considering other options and will gladly take any from you as well. Portentia didn’t give us warning before bringing Maxine home, but I can understand why when she didn’t feel comfortable leaving Maxine to the police.”

“James, there’s a supervillain in your home.” stated Jarod with a straight face that quickly became an ear-to-ear grin.

I nodded. “Crazy to think how much has changed in a year. I keep thinking about it and still find myself amazed.” I admitted.

“I know. Dude, I’m married already! You’re going to be married soon. We haven’t even been out of high school for a year. We could have kids in another year. Ever think about that? Some little baby with superhuman powers wanting your attention. How do you even go out with kids like we could have? Imagine one throwing a tantrum in public. Did you know they might not have their parents’ abilities?” he asked, rambling away.

“Hold on. What’s that about their abilities?” I asked.

“So the Slayer family has some crazy lore, but Duncan can control air while Ai and Mai control water. That’s not because of their parents, it’s apparently random. The twins showed me some books discussing the abilities from different lines of the family.” he explained.

“I wonder what the limits are. Alma seemed interested in Jamal, Kayla, and Dejon’s abilities.” I commented.

“Yeah, but those are from fey magic. People descended from the Slayer family and fey typically get one or the other for magic, not both, but having that fey ancestry gives a high probability for the magic to reoccur.” he replied.

“Lovely. I wonder if my magic can be passed along.” I pondered, hoping for my children to be protected.

“No idea, but having a kid who’s impervious to magic might be a bit of a pain if he or she also has Alma’s knack for magic.” warned Jarod as if he was reading my mind.

“I can’t imagine that I’ll have kids for quite some time yet, so I’ll worry more about it after I see yours.” I told him.

“Ever talk with Alma about it?” he questioned.

“Well, no, but I don’t really think we need to yet.” I replied.

“If you start thinking about something, you probably should start discussing it. Seriously, man. Better to find out if they’re ready to discuss something than to make assumptions and have it bite you.” he insisted, rubbing his arm.

I nodded and smiled, wondering what Jarod had gotten himself into this time. Things with Alma would probably progress more slowly on the kid front, but we would get there eventually. What if she already had started planning baby names? There was only one sure way to find out.