Best Friend For Hire, Entry 314

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“James, help me here.” demanded Alma.

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

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

Aaliyah giggled.

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

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

“Pardon?” I replied.

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

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

“I am not a fey.” stated Alma.

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

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

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

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

“Not you.” stated Aaliyah.

“How can you be certain?” demanded Alma.

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

She sighed, frowning at me.

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

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

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

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

Alma looked uncomfortable for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. His were exceptional.” she agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Much better.” I acknowledged, smiling back.

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

“What!? Really?” asked Alma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.” apologized Mila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded, saying, “Yes, dear.”

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

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

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

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

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 313

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” replied Alma. “Never again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Are you serious?” asked Alma.

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

“But what about…” started Alma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her father seemed amused, but she did not.

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

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

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

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

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

“What sort of information?” she inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 311

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sighed, pressing her cheek into my shoulder.

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

“Say you love me.” she insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aaliyah, if you will.” she whispered.

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

“Excalibur.” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Redeem yourselves?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t stay here.” I stated.

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 310

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

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

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

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

“No. I’ll talk with her.” I insisted.

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

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

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

Mai held out a hand bearing a wedding ring.

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

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

“That isn’t nice.” I stated.

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

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

Ai sighed and said, “The engagement ring.”

“We’re already engaged.” I told them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello.” I greeted her.

“Aww… you didn’t jump.” she pouted.

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

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

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

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

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

:Who are you?: asked the creature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rings?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 309

A week had passed, but Dejon was still here. I would love to say that he was fitting in nicely with the others, but I hadn’t been persuaded to hire him and could only guess what he thought of my friends.

Why was he still here? I had initially said he could stay one night, but each day I kept coming up with another reason to let him stay longer. Thanks to Alma’s “errands”, he surely had the funds to rent a place. She always was generous in her pay. Mila had informed me that he was looking at possible places daily, but he hadn’t gone to visit any yet. He hadn’t left the house at all, usually not even leaving his room.

Over the weekend, Dejon had mostly kept to himself despite being in the ballroom, only speaking when someone spoke to him. The more relaxed he appeared, the more disinterested in everything around him he became, at least at a glance. He was watching and listening. Of that, I was certain.

He obviously avoided Kayla, shrinking into his chair more whenever she came bounding into the same room as him. I thought he was going to use his magic on her at one point when she tried talking with him, but he managed to restrain himself, probably because I was present. He was perfectly polite with Jemal, though he simply seemed curious about how Jemal felt about the job when he found out that Jemal was new here.

Brandon and Brenna were as nice as ever around Dejon, but they didn’t really make too much effort to try making conversation. Portentia wasn’t very proactive in trying to befriend him, but I didn’t really expect her to be. She had a pretty large secret to keep. Raine had avoided Dejon entirely up until Wednesday where she snuck into the room, dashing to the seat farthest from him with such insane speed that I took a moment to realize she was there. She hadn’t spoken with him yet.

Emma, however, seemed frustrated that she couldn’t even get Dejon to crack a smile. She kept trying daily, but she tried in vain. Despite her beauty and flirtations, he was nothing more than politely indulgent towards her. Perhaps he saw, like I did, that she wasn’t really interested in him.

The most reaction I saw from him since the day he arrived was when Aaliyah first came strolling into the room. He logged out of Ancient Tribes of Earth the moment she stepped into the room, obviously recognizing her. He didn’t try talking with her though, watching as she discussed my schedule and asked for a number of signatures for business deals she was making on the company’s behalf. When she waved and smiled at him, he waved back, logging into the game after she left the room.

Later, I asked Aaliyah if they knew each other. She smiled and told me that she knows everyone, which I didn’t doubt. Her “job” required it. I was almost tempted to press her further, but I knew she would’ve told me anything else she wanted me to know if there was something.

Was I keeping him around because I was curious about him? Perhaps. I wasn’t certain that he would fit here, but I had trouble picturing him in any job. Cosette had offered to keep an eye on him for me. Vampires were “highly resistant”, as she put it, to having their minds affected by magic. I turned her down, feeling Mila could keep tabs on him with even greater ease. I did wonder how Dejon would react to finding out there was a vampire living here. He probably didn’t believe in them anymore than he had believed in magic.

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira after strolling into the room with Brandon.

“Dejon. He’s not actually working here, just freeloading at the moment.” replied Brandon.

“What!? Why hasn’t James tossed him out?” she asked.

Brandon shrugged.

“I think he’s still deciding on whether or not to hire me.” stated Dejon as he stood and faced them. Then, holding his hand out to Deyanira, he said, “As Brandon said, I’m Dejon Powers.”

Deyanira snorted as she replied “Powers!? Seriously? You’ve got to fit in here. I’m Deyanira.” She shook his hand, still smirking. “So what powers do you have, Powers?”

“Excuse me?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

Pretending not to be paying attention, I quickly put a protective spell on Brandon and Deyanira, just in case.

“He can mess with your head if you make eye contact.” explained Brandon.

Annoyance flickered across Dejon’s face but quickly disappeared. “And what can you do?” he asked. “I feel like I’m the only one being kept in the dark.”

“Sorry, buddy, but you don’t work here.” stated Brandon, shrugging again.

I hadn’t told anyone they had to keep Dejon from learning their abilities. They simply did.

“Tell me.” ordered Dejon.

I was surprised that he didn’t attempt to use his power.

Deyanira playfully gave Brandon a shove and said, “Oh, Brandon. Give him a break.” Then she turned to Dejon and told him “I’m just an ordinary person. No fancy magic. Brandon can transfo…”

Brandon quickly covered her mouth, yelping a moment later. “You bit me!” he exclaimed.

“Serves you right for trying to shush me up!” she retorted. Then she quickly said, “He can alter his size and shape. Pretty nifty, huh?”

“Really? So does he use that energy stuff?” asked Dejon.

“Nah. I’m like you. Fey magic.” replied Brandon.

Looking curious, Dejon inquired “Fey?”

“Yep. Magical folk.” Brandon smugly stated with a nod.

Unless Alma had tested Dejon’s DNA, the source of his magic was still just a guess, albeit a good one, given that he wasn’t descended from the Slayer family. Alma had checked with Adelmar, given the usefulness of his gift.

“Care to meet one?” I asked.

Dejon turned to me and questioned “Can I?”

“Yes. I’ve decided that I’m too curious what she’ll think of you to not know.” I told him, creating a series of flashing lights behind my home with a spell. My little friend would notice and come to me. Keeping her away from Dejon had been somewhat of a chore this past week.

“Is Mila fetching her or something?” he asked.

“No, but she’s coming. Don’t worry.” I assured him.

“Do you still want to work here?” I asked, after I observed him getting nervous.

“Of course.” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Good pay, flexible hours, and an abundance of perks.” he told me.

“What about the people?” I asked.

Looking somewhat curious, he inquired “What about them?”

“You really don’t care with whom you work?” I questioned.

“Come on, James. You have a great group here.” stated Deyanira. “Dejon’s gotta like them, right?”

“I really don’t think he does.” argued Brandon.

“I could try finding out.” offered Cosette with an unnervingly dangerous smile.

I assumed she was offering to use a vampiric form of compulsion on him, since she had mentioned knowing one before. Her typical silence in things was probably a measured step in making her words have greater impact when she wanted to make a point. Alma had mentioned to me several times that Cosette seemed very well educated, and Alma tended to be a harsh judge on such things.

“You’re all fine.” stated Dejon, looking around to everyone. “Maybe a bit noisy, but the rooms are soundproof.”

Only to his ears. Raine would argue the point even more easily than I would, and I often heard things echoing from the halls.

“A little noise helps you realize you’re not alone.” encouraged Deyanira.

“I know.” he replied glumly.

Did he really prefer being alone? “What would be appealing about working as a best friend for hire if you prefer being alone?” I inquired.

“I like people in a general sort of way. Now and then, I just need time alone is all.” he stated.

He was being honest, which surprised me. I really had been getting the impression that he didn’t care for company at all, coming out here just to study us. Jemal and Kayla stopped in the doorway, looking into the air as my little fairy friend flew past them. I nearly laughed when Dejon suddenly went slack-jawed as she started projecting her day into all of our minds. Deyanira was grinning. She always seemed to enjoy the sensation.

“What… what are you doing to me?” asked Dejon.

“That is how the fey communicate.” I told him. “Unique, isn’t it?”

Dejon’s mouth was hanging open again as he nodded.

My little fairy friend was showing us a fairly typical day, flying quickly through the trees as she dodged leaves and branches, chasing after other fey, and using her magic at whim.

“Those creatures… what are they? What is that place!?” he inquired in a hushed whisper.

“The land of the fey!” exclaimed Deyanira.

“Also known as part of my backyard. As you’ve been told before, don’t enter the forest alone. You might never leave if you do.” I cautioned, though I’d go looking for him if he somehow managed to get himself into the forest.

“This is all real?” he asked.

“This place takes some adjustment. Trust me, man. I know exactly how hard that was to believe.” stated Jemal. “The forest is like a thousand times more intense. You really don’t want to be there without James.”

“Emma never seems to mind.” I argued.

“Yeah, but that’s Emma. She’s… you know. One with them.” he insisted.

I laughed, easily understanding Jemal’s point of view. Seeing Emma’s magic for the first time impressed me greatly, and her abilities have grown greatly with greater use. Watching her ancestor and her at play could convince most people that Emma truly was wholly one of the fey.

“I really do want to work here.” stated Dejon.

“Let me think about it for a while longer. I’ll let you continue to stay here while I’m considering.” I replied. He had submitted a formal application as well as an apology the day after he arrived, but would he really be able to convince someone he was their friend without using his gift? “Friendly” certainly wasn’t the first adjective which popped into my mind when I considered him. I needed to put him to the test.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 308

“Is this everyone?” asked Dejon as we entered the ballroom for a bit of gaming.

He had met around half of the household in the time since unloading his stuff in his room. There was simply too much to fit easily, so he was left with a bit of a mess. I was certain that would get him through the night well enough. I did approve of how he greeted everyone with a firm handshake.

“You really should at least read through the website before you start making assumptions.” I warned him. “But no, there are several more.”

I was going to say more, but Kayla came rushing into the room, saying, “James! James! Jemal lifted me up with his powers!”

“Really?” I asked. “Did you feel like you were flying?”

“No. The zoomies are way better for flying.” she replied. “It was really cool though! His arms were full, and I was trying to sneak out, and he just lifted me!”

“Just don’t let me catch you flying a zoomie through the house again.” I warned her.

“What if Mila catches me?” she asked, all too sincerely.

“Don’t let her catch you either.” I stated.

“But what if it’s not one of her bodies?” she asked.

“Kayla, don’t fly zoomies through the house.” I told her.

“Yes, sir.” she told me, lowering her head.

I patted her head and said, “There are too many things which could easily be broken in this section, and you might run into someone in your wing.”

Grinning and looking up at me, she said, “I’d love to have feathery wings! Can you give me wings?”

“Sorry, but no.” I told her.

“Aww… okay.” she told me before skipping over to tell Emma about Jemal lifting her.

“You allow kids here?” asked Dejon.

“My secretary’s twelve years old, so yes.” I told him.

“But isn’t this a business?” he asked.

“Businesses can’t involve kids?” I inquired.

“Well, they can… but shouldn’t this be a kid-free zone? Like you said, there are so many things that could break.” he replied.

“Kayla lives here, and Aaliyah’s more capable than any of us, so no.”

“So employees don’t have to live here?” he asked.

I laughed and said, “No, I don’t really care where someone lives, as long as they have a place that suits them.” Looking him in the eye, I then said, “If you have somewhere you’d rather go, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow. I’m sure I can get you there this night.”

“What? No. I mean to say that’s not what I meant. I was just curious. I’ll look at your website if you don’t need me for anything.” he told me. Sitting down, he looked around before asking “How does this work?”

Before I could answer, the keyboard illuminated and Mila provided the chair tutorial on the screen. Feeling he had ample help, I took a seat to get an hour of work done in my guild before Marco would be serving dinner.

“James?” asked Alma as she walked over to me some time later.

“Hmm?” I replied.

“Would you be upset if I were to enlist Dejon for a few errands?” she inquired.

I stopped what I was doing and turned my chair to face her, suddenly feeling on edge. “What sort of errands?” I asked.

“I hardly see why that matters, since he isn’t in your employ.” she replied. “He’s just staying for the night, correct?”

“Yes, but I don’t really like the idea of you forcing him to mess with people’s minds.” I admitted.

“You are well aware that I’m perfectly capable of affecting the minds of others without the aid of someone like him. I simply thought of a use for him which might help us see if he’s trustworthy as well as let him earn a small wage.” she insisted.

“Would him earning this wage involve him using his ability?” I asked.

“Not necessarily, though I wouldn’t discourage him if that is how he wishes to proceed.” she replied.

I wanted to argue against it, but he wasn’t in my employ. I would hardly be dictating his life even if he was. I nodded and said, “Please let me know how things turn out.”

She smiled, walked over to him, and asked him to come with her. I didn’t feel easy about this, but she’d hopefully give me better details afterward. I probably should have had her sign a contract guaranteeing me information. She might have even approved of my foresight if I had, but I wasn’t going to start utilizing contracts with my girlfriend. We could discuss things without them.

Dinner passed without seeing either of them again. I could guess that Alma was stalking Dejon on his “errands”, but I still felt uneasy. Perhaps I should have argued more strongly against this.

By midnight, I found myself pacing in my office. Yes, Dejon wouldn’t be involved in whatever he was doing if he hadn’t shown up here, looking to use his magic on me, but he probably wouldn’t be involved with some mysterious errand had I not suggested that he stay here tonight.

“Master, what is troubling you?” asked Mila.

“Dejon. I still don’t know what to think of him, and I’m worried about what Alma has him doing.” I replied.

“He’s working as a bouncer for one of Lady Pendreigh’s clubs.” she replied.

“What? Are you sure?” I asked.

“Of course, master. Look.” she stated, displaying a video feed of the club next to me.

“Then what happened to Alma?” I asked.

“She’s in her wing, working and watching the same feed.” she replied.

“How is this an errand?” I asked.

“The errands came first, master. Lady Pendreigh had Dejon escort a package across town, assist in unloading a truck, and convince Eddie Clarke to sell his store. Then she set him up as a bouncer for tonight.” explained Mila.

Extra details as well as video footage displayed for me as she spoke. What bothered me the most was that Eddie Clarke was an elderly man, and Dejon quite likely used his magic to persuade the man. The contract was signed within a few minutes of his arrival.

“Master, you look disturbed. I assure you that no harm was done.” stated Mila.

“No harm? That elderly gentleman just lost his shop!” I exclaimed, shocked that she wouldn’t consider that harmful.

“Yes, he did, but he was in debt and the bank was probably going to foreclose soon, given that Eddie’s nephew had transferred. In the long run, this deal will let him have an easier retirement. Lady Pendreigh’s offer was more than generous.” she explained.

I still didn’t like it. At least, I didn’t want to like it. Mila was more than likely correct about the upcoming foreclosure, and Alma could’ve purchased the building at a far lower price had she let that happen.

“Do you think he’ll be happier this way?” I asked.

“I cannot say for certain, master, but he will at least be able to pay his bills. From what I have seen in the past year, Eddie Clarke was quite stubborn where his business was concerned, and he’ll probably wonder why he sold it for quite some time. I can monitor him for a while if you wish.” she replied.

I nodded and said, “Thank you, Mila. Please do. I’m sure Alma will be curious as well.” I already knew I didn’t always approve of Alma’s business practices, but she did have a good heart. I was certain she did. As I looked back to Dejon, I hoped he had a good heart as well, but seeing what he did only made me question it more.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 307

“How are you feeling?” I asked, offering Jemal a hand to stand.

“I’m good. I’ll get this.” he insisted.

“I have no doubt.” I assured him. “You and your sister both seem to be fitting in well here.”

Emma was working with Kayla on how to do some simple acrobatics, though Kayla was obviously cheating a little, given that she jumped off thin air a few times. Well, I could feel her magic whenever she did.

“Ready to start on a little magic work as well?” I asked.

“Sure thing, boss.” he replied.

Using residual energy was a struggle for Jemal and Kayla, but I had hope for them. They were doing well enough for now. Alma was helping them learn to harmlessly use their natural magic to draw energy for spells in case they ever found themselves with not enough on hand.

“Master, you have a visitor.” announced Mila.

“Who?” I asked, not remembering anything on my schedule.

“Dejon Powers. I’m still verifying a few things, but I believe he wants to work here.” she replied.

“Has he applied?” I inquired.

“No, master. Shall I walk him through the application for now?” she questioned.

“Sure.” I agreed. “I’ll see him after I finish if he’s done with the application by then.”

As I continued with today’s lessons, I was curious who this brazen person was, marching in here and demanding to see me without any notice. I started worrying over Alma taking notice of him a little while later. I’d hate to see what she does to someone she found to be discourteous. I doubted she’d actually leave her work just to see who’s calling, but Mila might inform her. I ended the lesson a little earlier than normal, giving in to my curiosity.

I used magic to clean myself and quickly changed into something a bit more formal. Then I perused through what Mila had found out about him before going to join him. She had escorted our visitor into one of the first floor rooms I rarely entered. Judging by the furniture, I could only guess this was meant to be a type of sitting room.

When I entered, Dejon was facing away from me, quickly pointing to answers as they appeared with questions on the wall. He had blonde hair, was of average height, and seemed fairly well dressed. I watched for a time before pointing out a mistake.

He turned, looking angry for a moment, but he then seemed to recognize me. “Mr. Somerset, I am here to work for you.” he stated. “I am Dejon C. Powers. I realize you probably haven’t heard of me, but you want to hire me.”

I felt magic flowing from him as he spoke, attempting to affect me.

“Sorry, Dejon, but using magic to gain employment is a poor tactic at best. If you can’t even manage to fill out an application, I have little need for you.” I informed him.

His shock was amusing, but I did my best to keep the amusement from my face.

“M-magic?” he asked.

“What you just attempted to do there.” I replied.

“How did you know about my gift?” he asked, stepping away from me.

“I have my ways. A background check has already been performed on you, and I now believe you’ve used your magic a bit frivolously, perhaps to slack around in school.” I suggested.

“Of course not!” he protested, but he was lying.

I allowed myself a smile as I said, “Sorry, but your lies are wasted here, Dejon. Get out. You can finish your application from home if you are sincerely interested in joining us, though I do hope you’ll write a proper apology as well.”

“Master, he’s being evicted today.” stated Mila.

“I’m certain he could manage to apply from a library if his Internet service has been disconnected.” I replied. “He also seems to have a phone in his pocket.”

Dejon was staring between us, looking completely baffled.

“The phone’s been disconnected, but he could make use of free Wi-Fi.” she informed me. “Look at this, master.”

I felt my phone buzz and pulled it out. Dejon had been fired from his last job for absenteeism, but I couldn’t fault him too much. He had been trying to bail out a local charity. Unfortunately for him and the charity, Alma was behind shutting it down. I recognized the man in the video I was watching as one of her employees in the area. He had a decent singing voice as he had demonstrated at the karaoke event I attended with my parents and friends. Dejon’s magic had likely failed due to protective spells on the man.

“Did Mila send this to you as well?” I asked, turning to see Alma.

“Yes. This pest has been causing some problems for a while now.” she stated.

“A charity though?” I asked.

“As well as a front for some illicit activities.” she replied. “Portentia’s the one who had turned me onto it.”

Nodding, I said, “I didn’t realize you were aiding her now.”

“I’m not. Our goals just happened to coincide in this matter.” she told me.

“Who are you people!?” demanded Dejon.

“You should have looked into us before applying. Why were you trying to help that charity?” I asked.

“My girlfriend volunteers there.” he replied.

“No, she doesn’t. Try again.” I told him.

“Fine, she’s a co-… was a co-worker.” he told me.

“And?” I asked.

“I just wanted to help out.” he admitted.

“Good. Let’s grab your stuff. I’ll let you stay here tonight, though I’m still not certain I’ll hire you.” I told him.

“James, is that really such a good idea?” asked Alma.

“Who knows?” I replied with a shrug. Then I kissed her head as I walked past her. When I heard Dejon catch up to me, I said, “If you attempt to use your magic on any of my employees, I will be most displeased.”

He nodded.

Mila had pulled our company truck around to the front, and I let her do the driving as we headed to Dejon’s place. He seemed a bit disturbed by the sight, less so after I explained about Mila.

“Do you really believe what I can do is magic?” he asked, perfectly serious.

“Yes. I know many people with many sorts of magic.” I informed him.

“But… why do you call it magic?” he asked.

“Manipulation of energies drawn from other dimensions through acts of will seems magical enough to call magic.” I replied. “My teachers all seemed to feel the same.”

“What can you do?” he asked.

“I can teach my friends, those in my employ at least, and try to make this world a slightly better place through my company.” I replied.

“So if you hire me, you’ll teach me?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Teach me what exactly?” he inquired.

“Martial arts and ways of manipulating what we call residual energy, a type of excess energy brought to this world by use of gifts such as yours. You may not realize it, but you sparkle to the eyes of anyone who can see the energy.” I stated.

“Sparkle?” he asked, looking at his arms.

“The energy sort of clings for a time before drifting into the air. Every time you use your magic, you also give yourself away to others.” I explained.

He stared at me for a moment, and then asked “What precisely can you do with magic?”

“Many things, such as blocking yours.” I replied with a smirk. I couldn’t possibly explain the number of things I knew how to do in a reasonable sort of time.

Something still put me off about Dejon. He always seemed to be hiding something just behind his icy blue eyes, and I couldn’t say what precisely. I considered for a time as we continued to chat. If I were to be reasonable, I probably seemed to be hiding things from him as well, since I was. I didn’t feel any obligation to reveal precisely what sorts of magic were common in my household, and I wasn’t going to start demonstrating what I could do here in the open. If I decided to hire him, Dejon would learn plenty in due course.