Best Friend For Hire, Entry 351

“This is the employee wing.” I stated, guiding Maple inside. One of the nearby doors to an unused room opened, so I gestured inside and said, “Mila is integrated throughout the house. She provides security, information, and company as you want it. The mirrors on the walls are actually very advanced computer screens with various sensors built into them.”

“They track movement?” asked Maple.

“They give Mila a large amount of information, such as variations in air pressure, light, sound, and heat. They also allow her to act as a computer for you, connecting you to the rest of the world.”

Maple looked a little nervous as she inquired “They don’t record video, do they?”

“They can record and play video. Mila decides what is recorded and when to ignore what you’re doing. If you decide to stay here and feel uncomfortable with Mila’s surveillance, you can ask her to shut off the mirror in your room.” I assured her.

“Who is Mila?”

“Me.” stated Mila as she walked towards us.

“You’re a maid!?”

“Yes.” replied Mila. The mirrors around us illuminated, displaying her on there as well. Then from the nearest speakers, she said, “I’m also what you’d consider an artificial lifeform.”

“Huh?” asked Maple, looking between the mirrors and Mila’s body.

Mila stepped forward and held out her hand expectantly. Maple hesitantly reached out and touched her. As time passed, I pulled out my phone and started looking through tonight’s schedule. I’d be gone for several months again. I would be inspecting one of the new Best Friend For Hire branch offices in the second week, so that was something to which I could look forward. Meeting new employees had grown fun over the years.

“Where do you get technology like that?” inquired Maple as she stared up at me.

“The lab under the garage. Jarod’s a genius. Mila might as well be a set of geniuses. Maxine is a genius. Then there’s Aaliyah, with whom none of them can keep up.” I explained.

“Mila can’t keep up with someone?” asked Maple incredulously.

“Aaliyah is my mother. She made me.”

“Well… I mean… I know you were made, but…” started Maple as she pointed around. “There’s so much of you.”

“Is this a fat joke? Mother warned me about those.” replied Mila, looking perfectly serious.

Smiling, I informed Maple “She gets her sense of humor from her mother. Mila probably knows every joke on the planet.”

“Master, you could have let her worry a little.” insisted Mila with an amused grin.

“My apologies.”

“Apology accepted.” she told me. Then she faced Maple and said, “In all seriousness, I don’t even anticipate Jarod and Maxine’s ideas consistently. They both are quite creative and prone to very large mental leaps when searching for solutions. I’m far more methodical in my search. Mother, on the other hand, seems to know everything. She’ll have a solution and an elaborately planned package for it before I know a problem exists.”

Motioning through the door, I said, “As for the rooms, they come like this with no extraordinary features save for Mila’s assistance. If you want specific furnishings, Emma and Mila are adept at fabricating furniture in house, so you can have practically anything you might want.”

Maple nodded, still a bit wide-eyed, as she entered the room and looked around. I then took her upstairs and knocked on Jemal’s door.

“Boss!” exclaimed Jemal the moment he opened the door. “Where’s Kayla? Is she alright!?”

“She’s in the ballroom, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth with Dani, Isis, and Raine.” replied Mila.

“Jemal, this is our newest friend, Maple.” I told him, motioning to her.

I was amused at how awkward Jemal became as he looked at her, realized he was staring, and quickly presented his hand to shake.

“Jemal Castello.” he told her.

Maple reached out, stopping short of touching his hand, and then pulled back. Looking to me, she asked “Should I warn everyone here?”

I nodded.

“W-what’s wrong? Are you sick?” questioned Jemal, looking overly concerned.

“I have psychometry, so if I touch your hand, I’ll know what you’ve been doing for the past several minutes.”

“Girl, you don’t gotta worry about that. I’ve just been working.” insisted Jemal, brushing away her concerns with his hand before holding it out again.

I considered casting something to help him relax, but I knew there was no need. Aaliyah had already told me of these two. She just hadn’t warned me how awkward Jemal would be.

“Maple Apple Wood.” replied Maple as she took his hand.

“Your parents must love trees.” he stated, still shaking her hand.

“They just love terrible names.” she teased.

“At least they didn’t name you ‘Maple Syrup Wood’. That’d just be ridiculous.” he replied. Realizing he was still shaking her hand, he suddenly released it and leaned awkwardly against his doorway.

Maple laughed and said, “Yeah, that would have been terrible.”

“Care to join us, Jemal? I don’t want to interrupt your studies, but I thought you might like to join us in checking on everyone in the ballroom.”

“S-sure, boss! Whatever you say!” he replied. He glanced down, looking at his battered t-shirt and sweatpants. “Umm… can I get a moment?”

“We’ll be down saying hello to Brenna.” I replied.

He nodded and slipped back into his room, shutting the door.

“Is he always so…” started Maple after a few steps down the hall.

“Jemal’s been responsible for his little sister ever since their father died. He’s had a bit of a fight managing all of his new responsibilities up till he came here. Now he works three times as hard as needed, fearing something will go wrong.” I explained.

She nodded and said, “This place does seem surreal. Is he studying to be an electrician?”

“He’s a best friend for hire, so he studies a bit of everything to help wherever he can.” I explained.

Mila then added “What you saw was the wiring for a car. His next job today will have him switching out a fuse box for a client who’s trying to modify his car, but Jemal wants to be able to explain what’s wrong and understand why there’s a short without relying on me.”

“Did I mention auto services as a perk here? Jarod and Mila are excellent at switching cars to electric too.” I stated.

“No, you hadn’t, but I’ll keep that in mind.” she told me.

When we arrived at Brenna’s door, she nearly bumped into me, watching her phone as she stepped out of her room.

“James! I’m sorry.” she told me. Noticing Maple she quickly said, “Hi! I’m Brenna Underhill.”

“Maple Apple Wood. Nice to meet you.” she replied.

“Applewood? Haven’t heard that last name before.” commented Brenna. “Are you from around here?”

“I’m from…” started Maple, visibly wincing as she said, “The Grove. My last name’s ‘Wood’. Apple is my middle name.”

Brenna looked at me as if asking if Maple was being serious. Then she said, “Sorry. Are you starting here today?”

“Yes? Maybe? I was just hired.” she replied, glancing at me for confirmation.

“Welcome to the family!” exclaimed Brenna. Then she whispered “Beware my brother, Brandon. He’s dating Deyanira, but he comes across as flirtatious. He means well most of the time. His sense of humor just sucks.”

“Oh. Umm… okay. I love your dress.” stated Maple.

“Think it’s too much? I was given it for a party tonight for this modeling agency which occasionally hires me, but I have a meeting just before the party with this film producer who’s shooting a short downtown. I figured I might as well use the dress for both instead of trying to switch between.” she explained, speaking rapidly. “So what do you do?”

“Pardon?” asked Maple.

“What sort of magic do you have? Mine’s lame. I just can alter my skin tone. Brandon can change his whole body. Watch out for him pretending to be a girl, by the way.”

“I can see the past of anything I touch, as in a small area around it.” replied Maple.

“So if I shook your hand right now, you’d see me changing?”

“Well, I suppose.”

“I’m so glad you’re not a guy.” declared Brenna. “No offense, James. I know you’d be safe, but I can unfortunately imagine what Brandon would do.”

“None taken.” I assured her.

“I really must be off. Nice meeting you, Maple. Bye, James! Bye, Mila!” exclaimed Brenna as she hurried down the hall toward the employee parking garage.

“Mila, would you tell Jemal that…” I stopped, mentally examining the magic in use nearby. “Strike that. Mind guiding my little friend our way?”

“Little friend?” asked Maple.

“There are fey in the woods I pointed out to you earlier, which is why no one is allowed in there without me present. One of them is particularly small.” I told her.

She opened her mouth to speak and left it open once the little fairy flew between us. My little friend seemed quite excited over a particularly exquisite, red acorn she discovered today. I’d have to ask Aaliyah about it later. A single red acorn seemed peculiar. Given how Maple was still gaping, she obviously needed a moment. I hoped Jemal wouldn’t be long.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 350

“Hi, Maple! Glad to have you here. I’m James Michael Somerset III.” I told her, reaching out to shake her hand.

She looked from my face to my hand and then quickly shook it, saying, “Pleased to… meet you.”
She stared at my hand as she gripped it, obviously shocked and forgetting to release it. She didn’t understand why her ability wasn’t working.

“Mind touring the yard as we talk?” I inquired.

“Uh… no. Not at all.” she told me, quickly releasing my hand.

Since she was wearing heels with her suit, I decided to stick to the sidewalk, taking her around past the garage and then by the gardens between the kitchen and Dani’s wing.

“What about my company attracted your interest?” I inquired as we walked.

She thought for a few steps and then said, “I first heard about your company through a friend of my mother, Melissa Robertson. She hired someone named… Emma, I think.” Maple looked at me questioningly, relieved when I nodded. “Emma really impressed her and mentioned the business has a wonderful educational program as well.”

“Yes, we have a deal with the Institute of Autodidacticism to provide a fine education in whatever fields interest you.” I replied. Then I pointed to the kitchen’s gardens and said, “We also employ an incredible chef for those who reside here. Marco’s cooking is absolutely incredible. Emma insures that he receives the best produce all year round. In addition to being an active best friend, she’s the groundskeeper.”

“Wow. Is everyone that busy?” inquired Maple, looking worried.

I smiled and said, “Emma makes keeping the grounds in order look easy, but no one is busier than they want, despite how Brandon might complain. Iris Storm, for example, works part-time and still lives with her parents. Everyone else just submits what hours they’d like to work, and the schedule is made based off their availability and the availability of work suited to them that week.”

“That sounds amazing. How do the benefits work then?” she asked.

“If you work here, your medical needs are fully covered. There are also paid vacations, such as an upcoming trip to France. You’ll be quite welcome if you join us. I’ll make sure you can get a passport in time if one’s needed.” I informed her, knowing she had one from her trip to Italy last year.

“What!? Really!?” she questioned, stopping and staring at me.

I nodded and said, “Of course. Retirement packages are based off what you earn over your time with us, but I assure you they’re quite lucrative. You also will have access to all training utilities here. Past the bend and far off to the left is an employee gym. There is also a large pond we like to use for swimming if you prefer swimming outdoors. If you enjoy video games, you’ll have access to all games from Global Princess Entertainment.”

“Sorry, but can we go back a minute? The medical benefits. Were you saying you cover insurance entirely?” she inquired.

“No. We provide complete medical services that are better than you’ll find in general hospitals.” I explained, not wanting to say too much just yet.

Her eyes widened as she listened. “But… how does that even work? I mean… say I was on a job, got injured, and was rushed to a hospital… how would I get help?”

“We’d cover any medical fees and get our own people involved as soon as possible.” I assured her. Stepping forward again, I warned “Everything is spelled out in the employee contract, but teams of lawyers can get lost in that thing.”

“Got any of those on hand for employees?” teased Maple.

“Yes, actually. My secretary covers most legal matters and might as well be a team.” I replied, amused as she stopped again.

“Sorry.” she muttered, walking again. “My dad’s not going to believe this.”

“Both of your parents will be welcome to see the place if you do decide to join us. We just like a little forewarning is all. Marco is rather particular about having food prepared just right for everyone. How do you feel about magic?” I inquired.

“What?” she asked, stumbling just after.

I carefully caught her and waited for her to get her balance. Then I said, “Some might say that looking into the past of whatever one touches is magical. How do you feel about it?”

“I… umm…” she mumbled, obviously startled.

“Watch.” I told her as I pointed ahead. The spells I created made mist form, spelling the words “Magic is real,” Fire burst through the mist and wrote “and you have it.” Water sizzled, forming around the fire and extinguishing it. The water froze after shaping into the words “How do you feel about magic?”

Maple’s eyes were bulging and her mouth hung open. I waited and watched as she took in what she just saw. Residual energy slowly accumulated on her as she watched the history of something she wore. She wasn’t touching anything else, and she had to be in contact to see the history.

“You know what I can do?” she asked, a quaver in her voice showing her nervousness as much as the other tells.

“Yes.” I stated.

“How?” she inquired.

I smiled and told her “The background checks we run are far more detailed than most. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. You’ll find many things are different here, such as most of us using magic. Some of your potential coworkers can transform their bodies. One needs the blood of others to survive. Two people living here are impossible for most to kill. Work for me, and your world will seem to change as you learn more about others who, like you, possess superhuman abilities.”

“But…” she whispered as she stared down at her own hands.

“Here. Touch this.” I told her, taking off my watch and handing it to her. By this planet’s reckoning, the watch was only a week old. I had been very careful where I wore it, so Maple would only glean what I wanted her to know. She’d see around the house, my friends, my wife, and my daughter, but she wouldn’t see anything about clients or other planets.

She gingerly took the watch and rubbed it between her fingers. More energy poured off her. “Your friends love being around you.” she stated several minutes later. A smile slowly spread across her face. “I want to work here.”

“Excellent. You’re hired.” I told her. “I’ll show you the rest of the grounds, and then we can head inside to introduce you to everyone who’s home. Welcome to Best Friend For Hire!”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 349

When Dani’s Luxa started to dance around the altar as depicted on the cave wall, a hauntingly beautiful song started playing with a rhythm matching her steps. Iris and Kayla were chanting the words from the altar as their characters circled it behind Dani.

The wall beyond seemed to melt away, soaking into the ground, revealing a large, carved room with another door beyond. A quest appeared on their screens after they searched around the room, asking them to find a way into Llarneth’s Keep.

Watching between the screens I wondered how long the girls would take deciphering the clues in the hall. I had faith in Dani’s abilities, of course, but her lack of experience in the game and my world’s myths might inhibit her. Kayla was probably decent with riddles. She seemed the type that would enjoy them. I wasn’t sure if Iris would be too keen on them, especially since she wasn’t as into the game as the rest of us.

“Daddy, any ideas?” asked Dani after a few minutes.

“Yes, but I’m not there on my character. We don’t want Aaliyah claiming you cheated, right?” I teased.

She rolled her eyes and then smiled at me. “I should go tell mom what we’ve discovered, unless Mila’s showing her.”

“You caught me.” admitted Mila.

“What’s mom think this means?” inquired Dani as she pointed to one of the depictions.

“That’s a unicorn, and that mean man is making something with its horn.” explained Kayla. “This one looks like something made from a dragon’s tooth.”

“Is Raine home? She’s the guild crafter, right?” asked Iris, waiting for Kayla to nod. “She can probably make what we need.”

“Dragons are so pretty.” commented Dani in a wistful tone. She had met Alma’s family a few times and enjoyed her time with them. At least, she probably was thinking of them and not the one which recently attacked her group. She jumped as Raine appeared next to her, staring at the screens.

I had heard the front doors open and immediately close, but I wasn’t expecting her. How far was she when she still heard them talking?

“Wh-where are y-you?” inquired Raine.

“I thought you were on a job.” I mentioned.

“I-I finished.” she mumbled.

“She’s also gotten another fantastic review. Mr. Common is quite impressed with how quickly she reorganized his coin collection and thought the new displays are remarkable.” added Mila in a neutral tone.

“Excellent.” I replied with a smile. “How many coins were there?”

“Three th-thousand seventy-f-four.” replied Raine in a whisper.

“So how long did that take you to plan out? Half a second?” I teased.

Raine shook her head.

“I actually had images from the collection’s previous displays and designed the new displays based off them with the improved security features. She installed them and moved the coins.” explained Mila.

“Well, I’m glad he’s happy.” I assured them.

“We found a cave!” exclaimed Kayla. “Then Dani did this dance thing while Iris and I chanted, and it opened! There was music and everything!”

“But now we’re stuck.” complained Iris. “We need some sort of items as keys.”

Raine nodded and seemed to be studying the designs. She asked the three to change their views as she watched, then she said, “I-I’ll deliver.”

“Really? It’s quite a walk.” I warned her.

Raine shrugged and said, “I w-want to come.”

“You’ll join us!? Really!?” exclaimed Dani as she hopped out of her seat. She ran over to Raine, who was nodding, and hugged her, petting her hair. “You’re the best!” She glanced at me and quickly said, “Don’t worry daddy, you’re the best daddy.”

“Thank you.” I told her with a smile.

Raine apparently understood the instructions at a glance, because she was quickly combining materials and forging… something. I really had no clue what at first.

“Did you just make a new anvil?” I inquired when she cracked open a mold.

She nodded and said, “I’ll n-need to make k-key molds there.”

I almost asked how she’d smelt the materials, but Raine knew far more about the crafting in the game than I did. She surely had everything covered.

Kayla created a tracking marker after Dani invited Raine to the group. The distance which seemed so far with the three girls running took mere minutes for Raine to traverse, chugging only two speed potions.

When she got down there, she put together a workshop from the items she had whipped together. Dani, Iris, and Kayla gathered around Raine’s chair, watching as she started measuring the key slots and making her molds from them.

“How did you get a unicorn horn?” asked Kayla, sounding worried. “You didn’t… kill it… Did you?”

“I… t-traded for it.” replied Raine.

“What about the dragon tooth?” asked Iris.

“K-knocked it out.” stated Raine.

I knew knocking out a tooth was possible, but I hadn’t realized Raine pulled that off on a dragon. She might have a skill boost for it from crafting, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she was simply that skilled. I knew from experience that she didn’t mind blowing however many potions was needed for a valuable crafting material, since she constantly made the potions in bulk.

The girls continued asking Raine about the ingredients, how she attained them, and what she was doing with them. Raine kindly answered their questions as she masterfully continued her craft.

Alma casually walked into the room just as the second key was being crafted. She kissed my head and then took a seat on my lap.

“You stopped replying in the game.” she told me.

“Sorry. I find this,” I told her, waving at Raine’s screen, “distracting.”

“Remember what happened last time we fell into a cave?” she asked me, staring into my eyes and smiling.

I was tempted to ask her whether she meant in game or the time we fell through the ice into the lost ruins of Anaskera. I was quite thankful that day for being virtually impervious to being cold. Alma probably meant in game, but I wasn’t too worried. There were guilds hunting the last demon lord, and I was glad to let them deal with it. My guild hogged enough of the glory from that quest.

Dani and Kayla each took a key with their characters, and Iris counted down for them to insert the keys together.

“It’s opening!” excitedly whispered Dani, practically bouncing.

Even Iris seemed excited. The doors swung open to reveal a beautiful foyer which seemed made of ice.

“Master, the applicant has arrived.” stated Mila.

I sighed, lifted my wife, and kissed her before setting her in my chair. Her violet eyes watched me as a playful smile appeared on her lips. I had a great many wonderful memories of where that smile could lead, but I turned and walked, ignoring my urge to postpone things.

“Thank you, Mila.” I told her as I walked to the front doors. I was certain Mila would provide me a replay later upon request. Work came first.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 348

As I observed Dani, Kayla, and Iris play Ancient Tribes of Earth, I considered that I might have been a bit hasty picking Ignus’ race. All three had chosen to play pixies, giving them flight, bursts of invisibility, and faster growth in agility, but they were slow to increase physical strength, ground speed, and durability. Ignus was simply human, granting him a slight increase in all skill growth without any specialties.

If I had gone with one of the fire races, my fire magic would certainly be even higher by now. Sure, I might’ve taken a hit elsewhere, but nearly all of my attacks were fire-based. I had dipped a little into shadow magic primarily for the cool-looking fire combinations, but it did help when facing fire creatures as well. What would I make if I were to design a character at this age?

“Duck!” exclaimed Kayla as Dreamdust did a flying kick over Luxa straight into a goblin.

“I would’ve had him!” insisted Dani, her pout evident in her voice.

Personally, I enjoyed seeing the customized martial arts for each race in the game. A flying kick from a Pixie seemed to utilize their wings for more momentum. They also had the advantage of executing the move from a dive.

“I still don’t know why you two are fighting from the ground. Goblins don’t fly, so we might as well stay above them and dodge their javelins.” suggested Iris as she threw lightning bolts.

“But I can’t skill up melee stuff against them from the air, and I want to learn the tornado kick Blitzer did in his vlog.” explained Kayla while making Dreamdust stab a couple goblins with her punching daggers.

Luxa hit one goblin with an enormous warhammer, releasing it a second after impact, and pulled her short sword as she spun, slicing into a second goblin. Dani explained “I’m still just trying things. Mom told me about how daddy used to carry a bunch of weapons around till he figured out what he liked.” She then had Luca knock over a third goblin with a burst of air.

I nodded to myself, realizing that Dani might be taking after me instead of stories of Raine. Smiling, I decided I liked that idea. I did help her learn to fight in real life and the tactics carried over to the game well enough.

Before long the girls had finished off the goblins, even chasing down those that had tried to escape. Seeing the lake in the distance after they traveled a bit farther, I realized they were going for the dragon lotus now. As they traveled, Dani and Kayla were giggling as they competed in dramatic takeoffs, having their characters run and dramatically leap into the air. Whether intentional or not, they’d be building up their skill in three types of movement: flying, running, and acrobatics. Iris was building up Trixie’s invisibility racial skill, idling tapping it whenever it came off cooldown.

These days I spent a great deal more time walking in the game. There was an amusing quirk to the system where running would give a slight increase to walking skill, but walking would give a comparatively larger boost to running. Aaliyah had explained that she coded running speed to be based off the character’s walking speed. Since I had rarely walked early on in the game, my walking speed had been low enough to skill up quickly, granting a noticeable boost to my running speed. Incidentally, Raine’s walking speed was enormous from walking back and forth between crafting tables before she attained the skills to do it faster.

I tried not to stare as the girls reached the lake, but I was certainly paying less attention to guild chat. The three seemed to know about the dangers in the water; even Iris was now sneaking along the ground toward the shore. Dani was the first to find dragon lotus, and my jaw dropped when she successfully gathered it, earning six skill points at once. Ours eyes met when she suddenly looked my way.

Smiling at me, Dani said, “Daddy, did you know Portentia is on a job at the moment? Mom said we might pull this off with Maxine in the house. Mila’s supposed to send mom pictures of your expression.”

I laughed. Those two knew me well. “Sounds suspiciously like cheating to me.” I told her.

Mila quickly assured me “Mother says there are no rules against using your real life advantages to enhance your gameplay.”

“Dani, I hope you realize that your voice is carrying over into the game.” I cautioned, spotting a fin break the water on her screen.

Her head whipped back to face the game. “Guys, hurry!” she whispered as Luxa quickly snuck away.

Before long, a dragon flew out of the water and began gliding around the lake. The girls were quick to use their invisibility racial whenever the dragon was over their characters, but I doubted the couple seconds of invisibility could be timed well enough to make much difference. Still, they finished the quest and boldly pressed their luck to do the bonus. The dragon suddenly dove toward their characters.

“Stay still. It’s probably trying to flush you out.” I warned, having had some experience with dragons.

The skill-based system of Ancient Tribes of Earth pitted skill versus skill in cases like this, but the incredible number of modifiers, such as the tall grass granting a bonus to stealth and the dragon’s cone of vision limiting it’s view, could make a difference with enough luck. As part of Alma and Dani’s plan, the group had a great boost to luck at the moment.

Iris let out the breath she was holding too soon after the dragon passed, and it roared as it turned back around.

“Follow me!” exclaimed Kayla. Dreamdust charged toward the distant forest.

She had to know it was too far away, didn’t she? They couldn’t fly, given the dragon was much faster, but their ground speed was subpar.

I watched as the three demonstrated surprising skill in their dodges and good use of their invisibility power as they ran. They were still taking damage from glancing blows, but their characters weren’t skilled enough to dodge as well as the girls in real life, at least not as well as Dani.

“Master, don’t you feel Kayla should turn another seven degrees Northwest?” asked Mila.

“Why’s that?” I asked, legitimately curious.

Kayla didn’t hesitate, immediately turning as Mila had suggested. Ten seconds later, she fell into a hole, flying just before she reached the bottom.

Dani casted a light spell as she fell, illuminating the large cavern. The cavern was too large to protect them if the dragon followed, but all three were alive.

“Run to the side!” I warned them, hearing the faint sound of the dragon preparing its breath weapon.

Shortly after, a mist-like cone shot down into the cavern. I knew from experience that the mist was a poison with a chance of paralyzing its victims.

“Thanks, daddy!” exclaimed Dani as Luxa flew along the Southern wall.

“What’s behind Trixie?” inquire Mila, sounding perfectly curious though she obviously knew.

“Guys, a tunnel!” called Iris, sounding excited as she guided Trixie into it.

Above, the dragon could be heard clawing at the entrance. Debris fell down between Luxa and the tunnel, forcing her to fly around.

“I’d hurry. The dragon’s breath weapon is going to be ready again soon.” I informed them, having been counting the seconds in my head.

The girls hurried through the tunnel, fearlessly delving deeper underground despite the occasional attack of creatures which burrowed through the walls.

“Okay, so I see why learning some melee might be useful.” admitted Iris, barely shocking a creature before it bit Trixie.

“Let’s heal up.” suggested Kayla. “The dragon wouldn’t follow us this far, right?”

“Probably not.” I agreed with a smile. I was proud of how well they did.

“Master, mother says she’ll spank me if I give any more hints. I’ve been keeping her apprised of the situation.” explained Mila while Kayla used healing magic. “You, however, can continue giving hints. She won’t try to spank you.”

“Thank you, Mila.” I told her, shaking my head as I pictured Aaliyah giving a spanking.

After healing and a bit more fighting, the girls found themselves in a much smaller cavern with no other tunnels. As I was thinking their little adventure had come to an end, I caught sight of something on Kayla’s screen.

“Kayla, mind turning left and looking up?” I asked.

She did, revealing cave paintings. “Neat drawings! Think they’re worth something?”

I almost asked Mila to decipher them, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble.

“Probably a clue, right, daddy?” suggested Dani.

I nodded as I considered their placement and what the figures seemed to be doing. “Dani, you picked up dancing with Luxa, didn’t you?”

She nodded.

“Try to learn a dance from those pictures.” I told her. “Iris and Kayla can help to find that if they’re interested in unlocking this cave’s secret.” I stated, using a spell to circle what I thought was an altar. This was interesting.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 347

“Iris, please!” begged Dani, gripping the older girl’s hand in both of hers.

Iris frowned at her before saying, “Haven’t we been inside enough? I helped you with guitar for an hour before band practice. We could go for a run or play basketball.”

“The basketball court is indoors as well.” stated Mila.

“And I promised Kayla that we’d play with her. She’s working hard to finish her courses early today!” exclaimed Dani.

“Why not get some of the others to help? James and Brandon are already in game.” suggested Iris.

“Daddy’s character is waaaay stronger than Luxa or Dreamdust.” replied Dani with a pout.

“How do you know Trixie isn’t level fifty already?” teased Iris.

Dani rolled her eyes and said, “There aren’t any levels in Ancient Tribes of Earth.”

“Oooh. No wonder I’ve been taking so long to level up.” replied Iris with a smirk.

“Mila, how long will Kayla take to finish her coursework?” I loudly inquired after turning back to the game.

“At least an hour, master.” replied Mila.

“Why not go do something with Iris first, and then drag her back for gaming?” I suggested.

“Neither of our characters have skills as good as Kayla’s. We need extra game time.” complained Dani.

“I tried, Iris.” I told her, glancing over my shoulder.

“Daddy! You were taking her side!?” asked Dani, sounding shocked.

“I was simply trying to find a mutually beneficial alternative.” I replied.

Dani pleaded with Iris for another couple minutes before Iris gave in. As I managed my guild and conversed with numerous guild mates, I considered my daughter’s character. Trixie, Iris’ character, was focused in electrical attacks similarly to how I focused on fire magic with Ignus, so she was getting her skill up relatively quickly. Dani’s Luxa was all over the place. She picked up some crafting skills, such as painting and architecture, while also trying to learn several types of weapon forms, every type of elemental magic, two types of enhancement magic, and a large variety of social skills. Before she made her character, I had warned her that every last base skill had multiple branches unlocked through combining skills. She would take far, far longer to get anywhere without focusing some, but she still couldn’t decide on just one thing.

I looked forward to seeing what crazy combinations she would make if she stuck with her current paths, but I worried that she’d grow frustrated. Dani had likely been inspired in her choices by my story of Raine holding off a demon lord single-handedly, but Raine had the greatest number of skills in the household. She also had more hours logged than any of us and was very focused on the incredible multitude of crafting skills. Well, Aaliyah was likely to be the true record holder, having designed the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aaliyah gave her character the effective experience of every player combined, simply trying to be a closer approximation of her real life self.

Raine had a tremendous number of advantages over most players that helped her gain skill ranks. Even before joining the guild, she had a great reputation for her crafting prowess and could level skills without losing time on traveling, since she did so many commissions with materials provided by the commissioner. She also seemed to have everything memorized, so she never had to check her crafting logs to see how something was made. Her incredible reflexes and superhuman awareness helped her achieve a one hundred percent success rate in creating the most perfect example of the item her skill would allow on every given thing she crafted, granting her huge bonuses on leveling the skill. In addition, Raine’s workshop allowed her to do certain types of crafting simultaneously, since some skills such as cooking had wait periods between steps. My daughter was superhuman, but she couldn’t compete on Raine’s level. Even if Raine loaned her the workshop, Dani probably wouldn’t have the incredible sense of timing needed to multitask as Raine did. I didn’t feel Dani fully appreciated how great of an undertaking her choices were, since Ancient Tribes of Earth was so unlike the games she played before.

I watched as Iris and Dani set off on a gathering quest and a kill quest in the same direction. Did either of them have high enough herbalism to even gather dragon lotus? Did they realize the plant got its name due to needing ambient energy from water dragons to grow? I was tempted to warn them, but this could be a good learning experience. Considering for a moment if they were likely to look at my screen, I decided to stalk them, so I’d be close enough to help if needed. I stopped my character seconds later, sighed, and headed back into the guild hall. If they died, I could gather a group to help them reclaim their gear. I had a bad habit of being overprotective with Dani. I did my best to fight the urges. Alma and I trained her to be very capable in the real world, and she could surely handle herself in a game.

“I’m ready!” exclaimed Kayla, bounding into the room. She looked around, gasped, and pointed at Iris’ screen. “You started without me!”

“Kayla, stop by the guild hall before you chase after them. I’ll give you a couple potions to help catch up.” I promised.

“Thank you, James!” she exclaimed, literally jumping into her seat.

“Be careful with the furniture.” I warned.

She sheepishly looked over at me and said, “Sorry, James.”

I looked back to my screen and smiled. Dani was easily as rambunctious at Kayla’s age. Everywhere we traveled, she’d sprint all over, trying to take in as much as possible. Well, unless there was someone with whom she thought she could flirt. Jemal didn’t know how easy he had it. Dani’s species made human teens seem calm and reasonable. I sighed, feeling old as thoughts of the years I spent away flooded my mind.

“Ready and waiting, sir” announced Kayla, making her character, Dreamdust, salute.

I had Ignus return the salute and handed over the potions. Raine would make me more as soon as I mentioned I was low. She saluted again after the trade, drank a potion, and ran off, clipping the door on the way out. Another day, another adventure. I smiled.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 346

I let the lift carry me down to the lab as I listened to the sound of water running from below. Soon after, I could see Aurora, Jarod, Maxine, and Mila sitting around Portentia, who was reclining on a table with her eyes shut.

When I arrived at the bottom, I asked “How are things going?”

Portentia looked uncomfortable as she opened her eyes. Seeing me, she said, “James, is that you?” As she spoke, she seemed uncomfortable.

“We’re acclimating her to hearing. She’s getting all these sounds for the first time.” explained Maxine.

“Well, not the first, really. Portentia could hear through the fey’s visions, but she never had time to figure them all out. She’s still lip reading at this point to understand what we’re saying.” added Jarod without turning from Portentia.

“Ah. Sorry. Perhaps the concert was a bit too optimistic.” I admitted, signing as I spoke.

“No. I can do this.” insisted Portentia. She had that firm resolve I remembered from when she learned to use a staff.

“Just don’t overdo it. There’s no real rush. I merely thought this could be nice for you and wanted to give you the option.” I insisted, wondering if I should have waited before guiding her toward this. My arguments now were probably futile, given that Portentia was likely to push herself continuously until she was accustomed to every sound Mila could share.

“James, I’m doing this. Maxine can do it, so I can as well.” stated Portentia.

“I’d love to see you design your own equipment.” whispered Maxine to the floor.

“Let’s see you beat me in a fight.” taunted Portentia.

Maxine’s head snapped up as she asked “Did you understand what I said!?”

“Look behind James. Mila’s still helping me.” she replied.

I glanced back to see that Mila was displaying the conversation as we spoke.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to fine-tune the input to her brain as quickly as we did, but Alma came down and helped us. Portentia was able to compare what she was hearing to what Alma projected into her head, and we adjusted accordingly.” commented Jarod. “ She’s really calmer now, isn’t she?”

“Oddly calm. She didn’t threaten me once.” agreed Maxine.

“She knows you’re working with us now.” replied Portentia.

Maxine flatly stated “Hooray for letting tyranny reign while you stop petty theft and gang wars.”

“You’ll eventually see that we’re doing far more than you currently think. I promise you.” Knowing how Lilly Slayer would improve this world made me perfectly comfortable with the wait.

“What’s that?” inquired Portentia, looking around as the water sound changed to the sound of wind through leafy trees.

“I’ll show you.” replied Mila.

I could tell by the shift in light that the screen changed behind me, so I looked back and watched briefly. Turning back to face Portentia, I signed and said, “Good luck. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

She smiled and nodded, so I departed, jumping back to the garage level the moment the door opened.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani after taking a step back. “Mila told me you were down there. Are you busy?”

I shook my head and said, “Never too busy for you. What’s on your mind?”

“Mila’s taking me to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce soon, and I wanted to know if you would ride along.” she asked.

“Sure. Let’s go.” I replied with a smile.

“Mom’s busy. She’s on a con-… um… group call, so I just told her I was heading out. I didn’t know she worked.” stated Dani as we walked out of the garage.

I laughed and said, “Before our honeymoon, all she did was work. She’s missed it, though her perspective on it has changed a bit. She’ll gladly come along too if you ask.”

“Nah. That’s okay.” she told me. Stopping and staring at my DB5, she asked “What’s this?”

“A remake of my first car. You’ll find a few more features than in the limousine, though there aren’t refreshments.” I explained.

She nodded, walked around, and hopped inside after Mila opened the door. “Sure is tiny in here.”

“You’ve seen smaller vehicles.” I told her.

“Yeah, but they flew.” she pouted.

I created an illusion over her to hide her alien features. Then I said, “I know, but you can visit your friends as often as you like. Life isn’t so bad here, is it?”

She stared out of the window as Mila drove us along. After a few seconds, she said, “I like it here. Everyone’s friendly, and my band is going to be amazing! I’m not… umm…”. She stopped, biting her lip as she thought of what to say.

“Cheat.” I told her in her native tongue. “Mom’s not around to know.”

She grinned and said, “Accustomed to this world! The technology is quaint! I’m amazed Marco makes such incredible food using that weird kitchen. How does he know when to remove the implements from the heat? What are those things he sprinkles? How does Emma change the size of the uncooked stuff with a touch!?” She spoke more and more rapidly as she went along.

“Emma can control vegetation, even if it’s been dead for years. She was born with the ability, so I can’t teach you to do it as she does. As for the cooking, Marco was a traveler of this world for years and learned various ways to cook wherever he went. You should try it. Cooking here isn’t as expedient as some other planets, but many find the process enjoyable.” I assured her.

“Do you think everyone likes me? I mean really likes me?” she asked, looking adorably serious as she stared into my eyes. “I know they feel happy when we’re playing around, but… what if they’re just happy about something else and I’m misinterpreting something?”

“Dani, you’re adored.” I told her.

“Not like you.” she stated. “Even people you’ve bullied like you.”

I frowned and said, “I try not to bully anyone.”

“I know. You help people, but even my friends know your reputation. Businesses have collapsed when they’ve caused you to frown.” she stated, believing her words to be entirely true.

“I don’t know that things have been that extreme recently.” I assured her. “I simply cannot make everyone happy.”

“What’s ‘recent’ when you’re a time traveler?” she inquired with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Fair point, but you know what I mean. Are you happy?”

She smiled at me and said, “Of course! I’m with you and mom.”

I reached over and hugged her before saying, “I don’t want you to feel you’re missing out. We can always go traveling for a bit when you need to escape.”

“Daddy, I’m fine!” she insisted as she rolled her eyes. “Mila’s perfectly capable of helping me study and reminding me of what’s out there. Don’t worry.”

Pretending to be serious, I told her “And you better still be fine when you’re done visiting your friends. If I find it that you’ve caused unnecessary trouble, I’ll… umm…”

“Be grateful I’m fine and hug me till you’re certain!” she exclaimed.

“Probably.” I agreed, knowing she wasn’t likely to get too out of hand. The last time they got too wild, I went a bit overboard in expressing my displeasure, and the lot of them have been exceptionally well-behaved in the years since the fire.

We continued to chat until I dropped her off. She warned me not to come inside, claiming her friends would be too distracted for hours if I did. I nodded and drained the spell on her, so she’d return to her normal colors by the time she stepped inside. I looked forward to hearing what she did.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 345

Between chatting with the twins, Jarod, and the others who gathered in the hall, I watched as my daughter roamed the yard, interpreting clues to understand puzzles and find her gifts. She was up to four now, but my parents were parked already.

I created a telepathy spell based off the design my wife made during our travels and told Dani to join us. She sighed dramatically, but I saw her run toward us on the screen.

“What was that?” inquired Mai.

“Just a little spell I taught him on our honeymoon. He was letting Dani know his parents are here.” explained Alma. “You’d be amazed how much he’s taught me as well.”

Ai flatly asked “What?” as she stared at Alma incredulously.

“Mila, mind showing me of what Jarod’s buckle is composed?” I inquired.

She obliged me, so I studied the compounds and created a spell to alter the composition.

“Have a problem with my… Whoa! Is this real gold!?” questioned Jarod.

“That has to be an illusion. Transforming substances accurately is impossible.” stated Ai.

“You’ll have to change if he doesn’t dismiss it. That doesn’t work with your outfit.” insisted Mai.

“I’ll take some bling!” exclaimed Brandon.

Dejon, who had leaned forward to look, turned to me and asked “Is that how you became so rich?”

“No. I wasn’t nearly so capable with that type of magic before my honeymoon.” I assured him.

“I’ll do an analysis on it later.” stated Jarod to Mai, who was gripping his buckle.

“Should be roughly fourteen karat. I didn’t feel too much gold would be good for a buckle, but I wanted to pay for the inconvenience.” I explained with a wink.

He laughed.

Waving his hand to get my attention, Brandon said, “Seriously. I don’t mind pure gold.”

“And where would you sell it?” asked Brenna.

“Sell it? I really want the bling. I figure Jarod or Mila will probably help touch it up as needed.” he told her as she rolled her eyes.

“You can afford your own bling without troubling my husband.” stated Alma.

“Troubling? He made that look easy!” claimed Dejon.

“The spell was incredibly complex and took a large amount of energy, so not easy by any standard I recognize.” argued Ai.

“You really must get used to watching magic around you.” insisted Mai.

Both sets of doors opened, revealing my parents.

“Good morning.” stated father as he looked around over the present he held.

Mother waved and asked “Where’s the birthday girl?”

I turned to look back at the mirror which had been displaying her to find that she was intercepted by my little fairy friend. When I turned back, Mila was relieving father of the gift. I looked to my wife, who gave me a slight nod. She’d be able to interrupt the excitement with the fairy before Dani became too caught up.

“She has apparently been distracted. Alma and I hid her presents throughout the yard and house with clues where to find them.” I explained.

Grinning, Alma said, “I blame Aaliyah. She’s the one who told us that simply handing over gifts from us was too boring for our daughter.”

“Dani enjoys the puzzles.” I assured my parents, not wanting them to think we were making her do something she found arduous on her birthday.

“Jarod, dear, that buckle really doesn’t go well with your shirt.” stated mother, having apparently caught sight of it.

“Blame your son.” complained Ai and Mai in unison.

“Yeah, well… I felt like demonstrating a spell the twins would find difficult, and turning his belt buckle to gold qualified in my mind.” I explained.

Shaking his head as if he didn’t know what to think, father said, “Your mother’s right, you do have the golden touch.”

Several of us laughed, and Dani finally arrived with my little friend.

“Happy birthday!” exclaimed mother, embracing Dani.

From there, we all went to the dining hall for breakfast. Marco had prepared a feast in breakfast dishes and even ate with us.

With a little pleading, Dani convinced father to join her in finding the rest of her gifts as soon as they both finished eating. He would certainly be getting his exercise today. Kayla joined them as well, not wanting to be left out.

Mother chatted with the rest of us as we watched the trio in their adventure. Well, quartet if Mila wanted to be counted as she arrived periodically to collect gifts as they were discovered.

When they finished, quite successfully, Dani opened her presents from everyone else, thanking them each in turn. Brandon did not understand what he set in motion by giving her a jack-in-the-box gag gift. She enjoyed it, but I looked forward to seeing her retaliation on his birthday. I needed to teach her about Halloween in advance, but we had time.

We then started Star Wars: Episode IV in the theater just after Aaliyah arrived, since Dani was interested in seeing those movies. Jarod had known in advance and had given Dani a fitting costume, though Mila had to help him adapt the design to Dani’s tastes. I had gone too many years without them. Her reactions throughout the movie were priceless, given that her planet was part of an intergalactic community. Thankfully, she didn’t say anything she shouldn’t.

My parents opted out on joining the lightsaber fight which ensued afterwards, but they were happy to act as referees. Far more of my friends were adept at simulating Force Powers this time around, but I still covered for Jarod, Brandon, Dejon, and Jemal while Alma helped Aaliyah, Kayla, and Mila. Dani was a quick study, but she was called out a number of times for cheating when her magic went outside the realm of the Force.

By the time we finished, lunch time was nearly upon us, so we moved back to the dining hall after Marco kicked us out of the kitchen for being a tad disruptive. My parents were going to head out after eating, but Dani persuaded them to stay for the next movie.

After a bit more persuasion, they stuck around for Episode VI as well, but they really did take off when dinner was over. Instead of kicking off the prequels, we then headed to the ballroom. Dani wouldn’t have been satisfied without dancing on her birthday. Her people’s parties were the most energetic in her galaxy, given how they heighten one another’s emotions, and dancing was always a part of them. Several hours later, I felt confident that she had enjoyed her birthday.