Best Friend For Hire, Entry 386

Spotting Keira’s father, Colby, flying into the keep as a raven, I hurried inside, so he could follow me down into the dungeon. Lifting the torch I had stashed earlier, I used a spell to ignite it before walking through the gate.

Mila had shown me the path to the dungeon on a map earlier, but she hadn’t warned me that the door wouldn’t be obvious. I quickly used a spell to find gaps in the area, smiling when I noticed that Raine had gone with a classic rotating sconce.

After waiting a few seconds for Colby to pop around the corner, I headed down the stairs, taking my time. Raine had done a fantastic job in making the dungeon look eerie, especially for something she added in under a second. Of course, she probably had dozens of possible dungeon designs in her head, but her abilities still impressed.

“Who’s there?” called Keira.

“Sorry for the late introduction. My name’s James. You’re in a keep on my land.” I explained.

“This is kidnapping!” she exclaimed.

“Well, not exactly.” I replied, before turning to look at her father as he landed. “Hello, Colby.”

His form grew and shifted, giving him the height and bearing of a man while he remained covered in feathers. Instead of arms, he still had wings, and his long beak looked rather sharp. He lunged at me.

I dodged and used a spell to shut the door at the top of the stairs. “Don’t worry. There’s no conspiracy here. I suppose having one might seem like a boon to you, but I’d consider it an unkindness. Surely we can both agree that it’s better than a murder, right?”

The quick movements of his head were certainly those of a bird as he watched me warily. When he lunged again, he spread his wings to try to block my escape. I jumped over him, flattening my body to slip between him and a ceiling, and then pushing off the ground with my hands to land on my feet again. He swung his wing around to hit me. I sighed and let him, bracing myself to show him the difference in strength while holding the torch away, so he wouldn’t be burned.

Advancing, I said, “I’m really not here to fight you. You are trapped for the moment, but that’s just so you’ll speak with me before fleeing to get help. All of the therianthropes who don’t work for me wouldn’t be enough to storm this place, so please try to calm down.”

“Dad, they have a… monster!” exclaimed Keira.

“Half-demon, actually. Her name’s Raine, and you might hurt her feelings if you call her a ‘monster’. Please don’t.” I stated, glancing at the door. To her father, I added “Raine’s a werecat. She’s very good at catching birds, so let’s be reasonable.”

Before I had finished, Raine appeared behind Colby in her hybrid form. He seemed to sense her, falling backward after he caught sight of her.

“Please, don’t hurt my daughter!” he squawked.

I smiled compassionately and said, “We haven’t, save for capturing her. Your daughter bit Mick Storm, apparently wanting to turn him. Mick, being a bit freaked out, stunned her with a strong jolt of electricity, nearly getting himself killed. Your daughter will be a prisoner here while she comes to understand that forcing someone to switch species isn’t acceptable. I’m sentencing her to help Mick adapt to the changes.”

Colby started to shift forms, so Raine gave him a small changing area behind a curtain, hopefully with clothing, and reverted to her human form as well. I heard him jump, but who could blame him there. Growing accustomed to having things materialize around you took some adjustment.

“M-Mick had said… h-he was… attacked.” mumbled Raine.

“Well, from his point of view, sure. I’m under the impression that Keira was trying to force a longer relationship on him.” I replied.

“Keira, is that true?” questioned her father from behind the curtain. He sounded somewhere between angry and scared.

“No! Sorta… Mick thought changing forms was cool, and we had been seeing each other for a while. I just…” she started, stopping before she finished.

“Really liked him and felt impulsive?” I suggested.

“More or less.” she muttered.

“Keira!” exclaimed her father, sounding purely angry now.

As they bickered, Raine let Keria out of the cell, so Colby and Keira could yell at one another face-to-face. Raine stood between them, probably wanting to keep things from coming to actual blows. Colby had apparently already found a boy he wanted his daughter to date. Keira wasn’t about to date a guy simply for being the same species.

I made an illusion of a table and chairs along with refreshments. Raine made them real, so I took a seat and ate with Raine while waiting for Colby and Keira to settle down. Several minutes later, Keira shut herself in the cell, holding the door shut as her father continued to yell and push on it.

First creating spells to mute them, I waited several seconds for them to realize they couldn’t hear anything. Then I dismissed the spell and said, “This is another reason why Keira will be remaining here for a time. You both need time to settle down. Keira, I’ve had one of the employee apartments furnished for you, so you can stay in the house. I would hope you know not to try running, but seriously don’t. Mick will need help adapting from what you did to him, and your assistance is mandatory. My wife is a daughter of a Slayer, I imagine you both have heard of that family.”

“They exist!?” questioned Colby, looking every bit as startled as when he saw Raine.

“Yes, and they live up to the name. She’s pregnant and can get a bit touchy at the moment, so please behave when you come to visit. Every single person here is dangerous when provoked, but they’re good people. Behave and everything will go smoothly.” I assured him.

“How often can I see my daughter?”

“That’s up to her. Just call first. She still has classes. One of my friends will take her to get her car tomorrow, but she’ll be getting a ride to and from school each day. If she tries to run, I’ll ask Raine to fetch her and put a more restrictive sentence on her. I’m certain you know what the change is like for those newly turned. Let her help Mick, and she’ll be free from there.” I explained.

“Can I meet him?” questioned Colby.

“That would be wonderful. His parents want to meet Keira as well. I’ll be requesting that everyone is on their best behavior. As your daughter found out, his family isn’t quite normal either.”

He nodded and asked “What are you?”

“A best friend for hire.” I replied.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 385

“Master, it’s time. He’s been bitten.” stated Mila.

I nodded and finished reading through the terms of the trade agreement Aaliyah had written up for me. She had made a number of minor changes to what I had suggested, but I was sure all parties would agree to it. If not, she wouldn’t have made the changes.

“Raine has Mick in the infirmary now.” she informed me, bring up a map and highlighting the room. “She stuck the assailant in a cage for now.”

I had seen the infirmary before, not that I paid much attention to it. The room would be one of the least used, thankfully, but Alma had wanted it, just in case. “A cage? Where?”

“Her keep now has a dungeon. Don’t worry. She probably won’t even think of escape for a while, and I’d require several months of work to break out of the cell without tools.”

I jogged down, confident that my wife already had things in hand.

“Mila, open the door!” exclaimed Iris, crying as she hit it, breaking the facade and revealing the metal beneath. Small arcs of electricity were shooting everywhere from her body.

“Not yet.” I told her, coming to a stop. “Your brother’s being treated. He’ll be fine soon.”

She hugged me. “James, how can you know?”

“First, control yourself. You’re damaging…” I motioned with my hand. “Everything, really. You’d damage the equipment if you stepped in there, not that my wife’s likely to be using any.”

Iris looked around, completely shocked. She hadn’t even noticed her power going unchecked.

“You’re lucky you didn’t start a fire, though this will give Raine plenty of practice fixing things for at least a minute I’d think.” I commented. Looking into her eyes, I said, “Deep breaths. Come on.”

She listened, and the intensity of her magic soon lessened, though static still leaped from her skin here and there. “Mick really will be okay?”

“Of course. You’re not trying to insult my wife’s medical expertise, are you? Alma is a very capable doctor.”

“No… I mean, I’m sure she is. No, I wasn’t doubting her. It’s just… my brother’s in there.” she replied.

“Yes. He’ll never be the same again.”

“What!? What’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know that ‘wrong’ would be the right term. He’ll be able to fly now. That’s something, right?” I suggested, attempting to break this to her gently.

“Huh?”

“I suppose Mila didn’t tell you anything more than he was ‘gravely injured’ or that she was calling your parents. You did call her parents, didn’t you?” I asked.

Speaking from the walls, Mila said, “Of course, master, and I had said ‘seriously injured’, not ‘gravely’ as you put it.”

“Ah. Well, he could’ve died, but he won’t. Victory, right?”

“Y-you shouldn’t… t-tease.” stated Raine, having stepped through the metal door.

“Raine! How is he?” questioned Iris.

“N-No scars.” she replied.

“Scars take weeks! Is he awake?”

Raine nodded and said, “Alma’s t-talking… with h-him.”

“Oh, I forgot to mention that Mick will heal very fast by human standards. He’ll get all of the perks, such as greater speed, strength, and flying! I love flying, though I need spells to do it well.” I admitted, watching her reaction.

“What my master is not telling you is that Mick was bitten by a therianthrope, a wereraven would be one term. The genetic change had already started by the time he called. He would’ve completed the change and been fine if he hadn’t lost so much blood. People really should know to stop the bleeding before attempting to escape too far.” explained Mila.

“M-Mila!” exclaimed Raine.

“What? They should.”

“Is Raine the only one taking this seriously?” demanded Iris.

“Iris, what’s done is done. Nothing we can do will change the past, so you’ll just have to help Mick learn the joys of being what he is now. He’ll find there are many perks once he acclimates.” I informed her. “Oh, I might need your help in convincing your parents that Mick should stay here for a few weeks, minimum.”

“What? Why?” she questioned.

“M-Mick needs t-time.” stated Raine, looking worried as she fidgeted.

I nodded. “Yes. Until his body chemistry fully adjusts, he’ll probably be a bit volatile. Then there’s the increased appetite as well as occasional confusion between hunger and… other emotions.”

“What about his attacker?” questioned Iris, anger appearing as she asked.

“In the dungeon. Talk with your brother before you meet her.” I replied.

“There’s a dungeon!?”

Raine nodded, looking up at me sheepishly. “Y-Yes.”

“I don’t mind.” I assured her.

The door opened, and Alma stepped out, covered in what looked like blood.

“What happened!?” exclaimed Iris.

Mick started laughing from in the room.

“Sorry. He insisted.” claimed Alma as she dispelled the illusion.

“Mick, I’m going to…” started Iris, stopping and grunting. “That wasn’t funny!”

“I wish I could’ve seen your face!” he exclaimed.

“Mila, mind showing him?”

“Of course not, master.”

Mick kept laughing, even as Iris started hitting him.

The two talked for a while as Alma and I stood back, discreetly listening. Mick had been lured into an abandoned building by Keira, a girl from his college that he had been hanging out with recently. She had transformed in front of him, which he thought was cool until she bit him. In his panic, he had managed to stun her with a strong shock. Hearing the girl’s version of events would be interesting. I was under the impression that Mick had been more intimate with Keira than he was admitting to his sister, though that wasn’t terribly surprising.

Iris informed him that I felt he should remain here for a time, just to acclimate. She also warned that their parents were on the way, so he’d need to pick a side for that argument. Both seemed certain that their father would argue against it.

I was honestly looking forward to that conversation more than the one I’d have with Keira and her father. He would be furious and even less reasonable than Grayson, but I was confident things would work out well enough. The future was set, and I already knew an unfair amount of what would transpire.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 384

“James! Thank you for having us. This is quite a place you’ve got here. Sorry if we brought the storm.” stated Grayson as I descended the stairs. There was a thunderstorm in progress outside.

“There’s plenty to see. Thank you for accepting the invitation. I thought you might be interested in seeing a little more about my company than most, since you seemed curious during the game. Mick was supposed to stop by a while ago but apparently didn’t get the time.” I explained.

“This place is awesome!” exclaimed Matt.

“Sorry, James.” muttered Mick.

“No need to apologize. We’ll just review with your family today what I wanted to tell you before.” I told him, creating several spells as I spoke. The family, save for Iris, was lifted off the ground and gentle breeze blew against them. “Magic is real, and your family can use it.”

Grayson’s eyes were bulging, but Mirabella didn’t seem surprised. Three of the boys were grinning, but Mike seemed worried.

“Wh-What…” started Grayson.

My spell gently lowered them to the ground as he tried to decide what he was asking.

“You wanted to know what I was feeding my employees. I train them physically, mentally, and in magical arts. We didn’t use spells at the baseball game, but we have numerous advantages that are completely unfair.” I informed him. “For example, I can physically lift your family’s van, though using spells is easier to ensure I don’t compromise the frame.”

Grayson swore, looking at me in disbelief.

I smiled and said, “If you don’t mind coming out back, I’ll ask the wonderful gardener to demonstrate something people tend to grasp more easily.” No one argued, despite the storm, so I started leading the way. “Mirabella and Mike can’t create the electrical discharges like the rest of you. She has a different heritage, and Mike took after his mother.”

“How could you possibly know that?” asked Mike.

“My secretary ran a background check on Iris prior to her being hired, and she’s so thorough that I feel like she knows everything. You wouldn’t believe how long she takes to brief me on things.” I replied, glancing back and smiling. “My concern with Mick is that he and Iris tended to play games with their ability, which caught enough notice for my secretary to file it in the report. There are some out there who prey on those with abilities such as yours, so being a little more cautious tends to be wise.”

“You claim you can lift cars, and you can obviously lift us. What else can you do, James?” questioned Grayson.

“So many things, Dad. James is like a wizard combined with an overly strong fighter from some fantasy novel.” insisted Iris.

“I’ve also learned to make a great cup of tea. My wife can be picky.” I added.

“What’s that smell..?” questioned Mike longingly.

“We’re almost to the kitchen, and Marco’s making you quite the treat. I’m sure he won’t mind us passing through. Just be prepared for a few samples.” I warned.

Marco had more than a few things ready for sampling, which took several minutes before he was satisfied enough for me to lead the group onward. Instead of continuing on through the house, I used the kitchen exit to the garden there, creating a spell to form a protective spell from the wind and rain.

“I don’t suppose you worry about getting struck by lightning.” commented Grayson.

“Worried, no, but I didn’t find that to be pleasant either.”

He seemed shocked by the idea that I had actually been struck by lightning, as did a couple of his boys.

“If your magic were stronger, you’d actually be able to guide a lightning bolt around you. Iris has practiced enough that she could knock an assailant down with just the shock.”

“You can?” questioned Mick excitedly.

She nodded, grinned, and said, “Yep, though I could take you in a fight without one.”

“All trained up now, are you?” questioned Mark, the eldest sibling.

She laughed, shaking her head. “You wouldn’t believe the standards here.”

“I take it that James is the strongest, being the boss.” suggested Mike.

I shook my head and said, “Not even close.” Pointing ahead and asked “Do you see the keep over there?”

A couple of them nodded.

“The strongest best friend created that with a stray thought.”

“What!? No way!” exclaimed Mike.

Nodding, I said, “She showed up in my office to tell me that she ‘oopsed’ a second after. She’s been training recently to avoid that type of mistake. I imagine she’ll be capable of creating a large city in a day on a whim within a few years. I’d probably spend at least a week on a small town, and that’s if I collected the resources ahead of time.”

Catching the conversation as she jogged over to us, Emma argued “You’d take at least a month, man-sla-… er… boss? You get too distracted. I could handle a village in an hour!” She was soaked, but grinning.

I used a spell to dry her off. “Emma, I’m sure you remember Iris’ father, Grayson. This is her mother, Mirabella. From oldest to youngest, her brothers are Mark, Mick, Mike, and Matt. Everyone, this is my gardener, Emma.”

“Shouldn’t I be your favorite gardener?”

“Sure.”

“Hear that? I’m his favorite!”

“Do you create villages with a stray thought?” questioned Mike.

“Nah. I do this.” she replied, several seconds passed before wooden buildings shot up from the ground between the fort and the house.

I playfully told her “Mine would have functional electricity, plumbing, and the other luxuries people expect these days.”

She stuck her tongue at me before saying, “My plumbing would work if I created a water tower. Plants can be very good at guiding water. As for electricity, I’ve been talking with Jarod about ways to generate a current with plants. We have plans and stuff!”

“You mean he had a crazy idea and chatted your ear off.”

“I thought the idea was cool and agreed to try eventually!”

“The idea was actually Maxine’s. She has some experience with bioengineering from when she considered creating a cyborg army.” corrected Mila.

I was thankful that never came to fruition.

“You can create cyborgs!?’ questioned Matt.

I had encountered cyborgs off-world during my honeymoon, so I imagined Alma and I could help get the kinks out relatively quickly. Unwilling to admit that, I said, “There has been some tech created here which could be used toward that end, but we’re not experimenting on people.”

“I didn’t know you were in the tech industry.” commented Mirabella.

“My company dabbles in many things to help prepare our best friends for a very large variety of jobs.”

Grinning, Emma said, “He means to say ‘Yes. Yes, we are.’ Mua ha ha ha ha!” She attempted to look menacing while drumming her fingers against each other.

I sighed and said, “Emma, mind getting rid of your starter village and showing the Storms how you help the kitchen?”

“Fiiiine, but I might use some buildings to compliment the topiary when I change things up again.”

“Sounds fun.” I agreed.

Emma’s demonstration was relatively brief, for her, due to knowing that Marco was nearly done preparing our dinner. Nevertheless, the Storms seemed impressed. Over dinner, I told them a little more about my employees, since none of them had protested yesterday when I explained my plan to introduce the Storms to magic. The ones who were available for dinner helped demonstrate. Impressing the importance of being careful upon them would be a longer conversation. I knew I couldn’t prevent Mick from being attacked next week, but I also knew he’d survive due to this intervention, giving him a place to call for help.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 383

“Not tired are you?” questioned Ariadne. She and Raine had been working together for several hours now.

Raine looked confused. “P-Processing.”

My lip twitched as an idea popped in my head and fought down my smile, which had nothing to do with my current conversation. I knew Raine couldn’t handle showing us her mind as she had for my wife and me, but wispy illusions of it were probably fine by this point. Still, I resisted the urge to walk over and suggest for Raine to show us. If one of her wayward thoughts became too real, someone could be in danger. The idea of Ariadne witnessing the vastness of Raine’s mind simply amused me.

“No, Dani, I don’t think you should make requests of Raine quite yet. Let her keep practicing.” I stated in response to her question.

“But Daddy! This would be practice!”

Switching to her native tongue, I said, “Practice and something not of this world, right?”

Realizing that she had been caught was showing on her face in the way she smiled. Still speaking in English, she said, “Maybe…”

Alma came up behind her and hugged our daughter. “Dani, behave. Birthday girls get to make the requests here.”

“I… d-don’t mind.” stated Raine. Her figure was blurring between here and where she had stood by Ariadne.

Vito, Zachary, and Papak all looked intrigued, surely not keeping up with her transitional movements much better than I was, which was not at all. Ariadne started walking toward us with the second Raine, still instructing as they went.

As my daughter’s mouth moved, I stared her down.

She smiled even more broadly as she said, “A playmate for Alberich!”

My wife sighed before saying, “She probably shouldn’t attempt life yet.”

“Is that really possible?” questioned Maple.

“Of course, though creating life takes far more energy than you’d probably expect.” replied Ariadne. “I certainly can’t recommend doing it until Raine is very confident in her abilities. Getting something slightly off is very easy and potentially lethal for the new creature.”

“What about creating an enhancement suit for Pufflewink?” I suggested, feeling the world wasn’t ready yet for Raine’s other pet.

That idea got Raine to smile. “I c-can?”

I nodded, saying, “As long as Jarod doesn’t mind.”

“That’s an awesome idea, man-slave!” insisted Emma.

“I’ll admit that I’m intrigued to see what spells go into these things.” commented Vito.

“Suit design is a trade secret, so no giving it away to anyone.” stated Jarod loudly to be heard over everyone. “Mila, would you mind adjusting the design for felines?”

“Already optimizing the fiber configuration.” she replied, sounding amused. “Master, mind if we borrow your office briefly?”

“Feel free. Raine, I think she wants you upstairs.”

Raine glanced at me, nodded once, and disappeared.

I then turned to Jarod and said, “I hope you know that she’ll never forget the designs.”

Jarod grinned broadly. “And I hope you realize that I have many, many plans that could use her aid.” He certainly knew that she’d probably help him at the drop of a hat, but he liked to play the villain at times lately.

“If she comes back with a finished suit, I’ll be most disappointed.” stated Vito with a frown.

“No need to be disappointed. I’ll gladly show you the spell.” I told him. “I just ask that you don’t utilize it for your kind yet.”

He seemed to study me briefly before nodding. Since he nodded, I created the spells, holding them in place for him to inspect. All three brothers seemed interested, moving around the room to get a better view of parts as they focused on it.

Emma sighed and said, “You guys really know how to bring down a party.”

“We’re partying?” questioned Noelle, seeming to have forgotten the conical hat on her head.

“Yes. Today’s Raine’s birthday.” replied Dejon.

Noelle’s eyes brightened. “I should tell her Happy Birthday!”

“She’s off making something for her cat at the moment.”

“She has a cat!? I love cats!” she exclaimed.

“Me too!” exclaimed Kayla, lifting up Alberich, who had been leaning against Alma’s leg for the past minute.

The small, white lion looked indignant, but didn’t attempt to attack her, thankfully. Noelle excitedly went over to pet him, talking about how she never saw anything like him… again. She really did get to relive her happy moments regularly.

After informing us that Raine would be indisposed for several more minutes, Mila suggested moving to the ballroom for some dancing, saying that she had finished preparing it.

I always felt the sight of my ballroom without the computers was odd, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to dance with my wife, especially not when the vampire brothers were visiting. Having seen them dance at my wedding, I’d happily encourage their dancing for many years to come. After all, who else would be trying to keep dances from thousands of years ago alive?

When Raine returned, I only noticed because of the spotlight Mila pointed at her, highlighting Raine dancing with her cat at the side of the room. Alma and I made our way over to her.

“Were you successful?” I questioned.

“M-Maybe.”

I grinned and said, “We should test it later before Alberich and Pufflewink play too much together.”

She nodded. Then she said, “I-I should… visit… with… Ariadne.” She was speaking even slower than normal, as if forcing herself to complete the words more smoothly than normal.

I understood how tough she had it far better than I had when we first met. The movements of most were very slow to me now, but they weren’t practically frozen as they were to Raine. I really wished I could tell her how easy she’d make things look eventually. Casually talking and laughing… Even overcoming the fear of herself which had crippled her for years now.

On an impulse, I hugged her. Alma did as well, letting herself enjoy hugs far more freely than she once had.

“I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday, Raine.” I told her.

She nodded, smiling at us both. “B-Best ever.”

“No.” I stated. Catching her concern, I quickly said, “We plan to make each one better.” There were many terrible things throughout the universe, but my company would always stand as a light in that darkness, helping things to be better in whatever way we could.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 382

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” exclaimed everyone when Raine nervously entered the hallway, first peeking around the corner..

She had obviously known we were there, but she seemed surprised nonetheless. Her mouth worked open and close a few times before she said, “Th-thank you.” The blush on her cheeks deepend but was gone again when her image seemed to blur.

I could only guess that she had actually gone to her room to change clothes, because the outfit she had worn to her job today had been a gift from Alma, not something she’d destroy and recreate on purpose. Papak looked particularly comical as he glanced between Raine and the door to her room as if wondering how she had slipped by him. Being the fastest of the vampires left him unaccustomed to beings other than Death who could outpace him so easily.

We had decided to ambush her here after some discussion with Mila over where Raine usually slows down. Mila wasn’t entirely certain how Raine normally came into the house. She could go straight through the walls if she wanted, but we knew she’d be aware of us outside of her bedroom even if she did.

“The k-keep…” muttered Raine.

“You didn’t explore it already, did you?” questioned Ariadne.

Raine’s eyes wandered across the floor and up one of the walls. “M-maybe?”

“You’re almost as bad as these three.” replied Ariadne as she motioned to the three brothers, who dodged the motion with grins.

Raine risked a glance upward “Th-thanks?”

“Well, let’s go open presents then! You had to see them in the keep! How do you like the kitties!? Ariadne and James outdid themselves! I did the bushes, of course, but…” Emma took a breath to shrug. “That’s me.”

“I love th-them.” muttered Raine. “Y-You did P-Puss in Boots!” Raine was smiling shyly from under her hair, making her seem all the more adorable.

“Presents!” exclaimed Kayla as she took off running, glancing back at me to grin when she found herself floating.

Dani, who had been on Kayla’s heels, was already undoing the spell, but she complained “Daddy! I was going to watch her.”

“And who would be watching you?” I questioned.

“I’ll do it!” exclaimed Papak, leaping over everyone

I sighed and released the spell before he attempted to wrench them free.

“Last one there fights Papak!” declared Aaliyah as she jumped onto Ariadne’s back.

We all ran. I gently collected my fairy friend before dodging past people, not wanting her to be considered the last to arrive. Vito had created a thin wall of light in the gate of the keep, which briefly changed color to match the position of the person running through to help show when someone passed through. The colors changed per person, but I was left unregistered as normal.

Brandon came in second to last due to taking the time to adjust his muscles for more speed. The race was too short for this crew to not get a huge lead that way. Raine came in last, having slowly skipped behind. The way Zachary smiled at Papak showed how much he’d be enjoying this.

“Why!?” questioned Papak.

“S-Safer.” replied Raine.

“I can be gentle!” he protested.

She shrugged easily maneuvering around him as he attempted to dodge her. I had to speed up my senses to keep up with all the times Papak grabbed at where Raine had been. When she grabbed him, he had started to shift his form but ended up in the air before he finished. He used his incredible wingspan to change his flight before diving. Vito quickly created spells to muffle the sound over a large area of the sky. I couldn’t blame him for not bothering to use any visual trickery, since I couldn’t follow what was happening up there. As soon as I caught sight of Papak, he went flying again.

“Raine, I think he’s had enough!” I called after a few minutes, hoping that she’d hear me through the spell.

“Okay.” she mumbled from right in front of me.

Even Zachary and Vito jumped.

Patting her head, I said, “I don’t think he’ll boast about being able to take you for a while.”

“H-He wants to try?” she questioned.

“Oh, yes!” insisted Zachary. “I don’t think he’s really had enough yet. I mean, look. He’s coming straight for us!”

I hadn’t noticed and barely caught sight of him before he was knocked far into the sky again. This time the strike was under the sound-muffling spell, creating an incredible noise, loud enough for half of the group to cover their ears. An orb of darkness formed far above us, and I took several seconds to realize that Raine was moving in a sphere around Papak, bouncing him around like a ball.

Papak suddenly appeared on the ground next to us with Raine, now transformed, pointing a single claw toward him. “I surrender!” he stated, holding up his hands submissively to the small girl.

Zachary and Vito both started laughing with such enthusiasm that their voices kept our friends covering their ears.

“Laugh it up! She broke my bones multiple times!” exclaimed Papak.

“S-Sorry.” muttered Raine. “Aaliyah said… I-I should…” She gestured to the sky. “Y-You know.”

Papak moved over next to Aaliyah, warily when Raine was suddenly between them. Then he leaned down and kissed Aaliyah’s head before saying, “You win.” Looking back to Raine he told her “I’m sorry. I’ll stop claiming I can beat you up.”

“I d-don’t mind.” she replied with a shrug.

Laughing, he said, “I’m glad. I’d hate to see what happens when you don’t pull your punches!”

“It’d be amazing! You’d detonate!” exclaimed Aaliyah with an enormous grin.

“Let’s not try that.” replied Zachary. “Vito might miss him eventually.”

“Are you certain? We’d have such an interesting memory. Think of the stories we could tell.” encouraged Vito.

“Gentleman, please behave for a few minutes. The birthday girl still hasn’t opened her presents, and I’ve been wanting to try that marvelous cake Marco made all day.” insisted Ariadne, crossing her arms to stare down Zachary and Vito.

“As you wish.” replied Vito.

Zachary shrugged. “I’m always well-behaved.”

“Ha! Like a fox in a henhouse.” argued Papak.

“You know that phrase isn’t very modern.” commented Vito.

Papak scoffed. “The U.S. hasn’t been around long enough to have anything old yet. Now Egypt… that grew into something interesting.”

“He means Ancient Egypt.” corrected Vito with a small sigh.

“Egypt is Egypt!” insisted Papak.

“Gentleman! My niece may want to chat with you at this rate about who’s more correct.” suggested Ariadne. Then she turned to Raine and said, “Sorry. They really do need a keeper. I might just hire you when I’m feeling overwhelmed. How long would it take you to visit Poenari Island from here?”

Raine shrugged. “A b-blink?”

Smiling, Ariadne said, “That sounds perfect. I might hire you at the drop of a hat if you’re available.”

Raine nodded. “W-We give… f-family… d-discounts.”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 381

“James! So nice of you to invite us.” stated Vito, smiling and bowing slightly. “Might I inquire as to the nature of these spells around the yard?”

“Simply things to assist with our privacy and the decorations for today. You four are always welcome.” I replied.

“Excellent. Zachary, mind seeing that my things are mailed here? Might as well move while the offer is good.” teased Papak, his enormous mouth stretching to show his many pointed teeth.

Zachary looked up at him, feigning surprise as he said, “Sorry. My things were mailed last week. They should arrive soon. I’d have sent yours as well had I known you were interested.”

“Oh, good. Ariadne and I will finally have some peace.” claimed Vito, smiling at his brothers. Turning to Ariadne, he asked “Any thoughts on how we should remodel things?”

She tapped her chin in consideration before saying, “I’m sure my niece would love to see Papak’s rooms turned pink and decorated as her second suite for visiting. We would, of course, have to make sure everything is fit for a princess for her to be satisfied. Maybe sell off whatever they leave behind to cover the expense.”

“No. I’ll live there for another thousand years before I have her defile my rooms with pink.” insisted Papak.

“Going to fight her on that point?” asked Ariadne sweetly.

“Well…” he started, looking around for help—or possibly checking if Aaliyah were nearby with how he glanced toward her condo. Fixing his gaze on me, he asked “James, where is your lovely wife? We came bearing gifts! They’re stored in Ariadne’s head, but we each thought them up ourselves.” He looked as if he had considered tapping her head as he spoke, but had quickly withdrawn his arm before continuing the motion.

Ariadne seemed amused, still smiling at Papak.

“She’s finishing some work at the moment, but I’m sure she’ll be around soon. Though she has considerably less now that Godric has taken over, she still has more than a reasonable amount.” I explained. “Come, join me around back. I want to show you what my friend did by accident, so you can see why I’m seeking Ariadne’s instruction for her.”

I started jogging back there but rolled my eyes when Papak, seeming impatient, lifted me in one oversized hand and sprinted. His large mouth drooped in an obvious gape as he stopped in front of the elaborate fort. The others weren’t far behind us, but Zachary seemed impressed.

“She did this by accident?” questioned Ariadne.

“From what I was told, she was struggling to find words to explain her idea to Emma, and this happened.”

“That is impressive. Seems she destroyed some tunnels with her own.” she mentioned, using her magic to examine her surroundings.

I nodded and said, “I’m certain you can see why I thought a little extra instruction was in order.”

“Yes, I would say she has talent, but something this size should never be an accident.” commented Vito. “Tell me, does Rai…”

I quickly covered his mouth, earning a questioning look. “Sorry, but if you say her name, she might well notice, given that the weather is nice.”

“Really? I find that to be even more impressive.” he replied.

“Yes. I have absolute faith that she’ll become truly extraordinary in time, but even now—with her still scared of her own power—she’s remarkable.” I agreed, wishing I could get away with telling them some of the things I saw Raine do in her future. Despite their combined age, I was certain none of them had witnessed such creations yet.

Still gazing at the front gate as if studying the relief around it, Ariadne said, “You know I’ll try to help. For now, why don’t you and I get out of this sun while the trio admires the rest of the fort. Portentia wouldn’t happen to be around, would she?”

“I took the liberty of securing her day once you sent notice that you could come. Cosette’s been anticipating your visit as well, so she’s probably with her too.” I told her, turning and starting toward the house.

We barely had crossed the yard before the brothers caught up with us. The backdoor opened as we approached, and Noelle looked out, seeming confused.

Noticing me, she smiled and exclaimed “James! How are you?”

“Hello, Noelle.” I replied with a smile. Motioning to my guests, I introduced them each. Then I said, “Noelle is my newest hire. She’s still getting her bearings. What brings you out here, Noelle?” As I spoke, i could feel Ariadne’s magic at work.

“Uh…”

“Feeling hungry for that tart you saw Dejon eating?” questioned Mila from the hall’s speakers.

“Maybe! That sounds right.” she replied, nodding and smiling.

“Just follow the lights to the kitchen.” instructed Mila. “You know you can always ask me for help.”

“Of course!” exclaimed Noelle as she took a step. Seeming to remember that I was there, she turned and said, “Catch you later, James!” Then she continued on her way.

“Sorry.” I told the others once we were inside and Noelle was far enough along not to hear us. “Mila allows her to wander at times when Noelle seems to have a purpose in mind.”

“Doesn’t seem like she’s all there.” commented Papak.

Ariadne spun and thrust her finger into his chest. “Don’t you dare say a thing about that poor girl.”

“What!? You all saw…” he replied, looking for support from his brothers.

“What’s wrong with her?” questioned Zachary.

“Nothing, according to Aaliyah. Noelle was simply unfortunate in how her fey heritage affects her memory.” I explained.

“That is certainly one way to put it. The way her magic passes through her mind must help keep her happy, but parts of her brain get altered by it. She wasn’t even doing any of that on purpose.” muttered Ariadne.

“What did you see?” I asked, feeling curious.

She looked at me in surprise, sighed, and shook her head. “I suppose there are even downsides to your abilities. The moment tarts were mentioned, they seemed to float around her head with heart signs.”

“Before the tarts, I had the impression she was trying to have an unreadable expression to cover her confusion, but overlapping image didn’t quite keep up with her movements. Would not using her magic help her? I’m sure you could seal it.” suggested Vito.

Ariadne shook her head, looking saddened by her thoughts. “My niece could. She won’t, but changing what I’d need to change in Noelle’s brain might well alter her personality completely. Might’ve been a mercy when she was still a babe, but I won’t make that choice for her, not with her being at least a teen now.”

I nodded and said, “Nineteen. Dejon’s going to try to help her remember certain things she really wants to remember using his magic.”

“Could work for short periods.” acknowledged Ariadne. With one last shake of her head, she asked “Mila, where’s Portentia hiding?”

“Great Auntie, she’s in the billiard room, doing trick shots against Cosette.”

Ariadne nodded and started walking down the hall at a very human pace, so the rest of us followed her.

A few steps along, she asked “How’s your sister doing?”

“Exactly as Mother wishes, but I don’t have direct access to the womb, only able to bring up images as the screen is engaged.” explained Mila.

Ariadne continued nodding and said, “I’ll just have to visit and look. She’ll let me. I am almost curious what my niece is thinking, but I still have more common sense than to go down that rabbit hole.”

I smirked, knowing exactly what she meant there. I was surrounded by some of the few people who might well have listened to more of Aaliyah’s explanations than me, which was really saying something. I unfortunately knew that Zachary would eventually call me an old man, but I couldn’t possibly be older than him yet.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 380

I took a seat, watching as Jarod, Maxine, Aurora, and Mila worked. Maxine was arguing with Mila over the merits of a new type of resistor to be used in Aurora’s car, unaware that Mila was simply helping her to bounce ideas. The technology Mila could access was vastly beyond Earth, so she was heavily restricted in what she could admit to knowing. Her mother did allow her to help others toward ideas.

Jarod, Mila, and Aurora were currently assembling the revised prototype. By most standards, I was quite certain the original prototype would have garnered tremendous acclaim for its innovations, but these four were always looking for improvements. Maxine actually helped redesign Portentia’s headset for the superhero suit recently, increasing Portentia’s effective hearing range again and updating the display to the latest specs.

Jarod hadn’t admitted it yet, but I believed he was enjoying having Maxine around. She debated with him on his level, came up with brilliant designs on her own, and surpassed his hectic work schedule to keep herself entertained, since she didn’t need sleep. Mila did tell me that the twins have grown a bit jealous at times lately when Jarod was discussing his work, but Maxine hadn’t actually tried anything… yet. I was certain she would eventually, given that she probably found his brilliance attractive as well. He’d handle things well.

Aurora was doing incredibly well. I’d had some misgivings when we first met, but the girl had proven herself to be born for engineering. Her ability to understand schematics at a glance surpassed even Jarod, from what he and Mila had told me. There were times that Jarod would present her with a new idea, and she’d instantly point to flaws or things that excited her about it. Even if her ability to communicate would barely improve, she was an asset to the world, though I had faith that she’d make significant progress in communication.

“James? When did you get here?” questioned Jarod after he turned around.

“Several minutes ago.” replied Maxine.

Speaking over her, Mila said, “Three minutes and twenty-two seconds.”

Aurora ignored them, still assembling part of the car.

“Sorry to interrupt. I’m scheduled to chat with Jarod about an upcoming project, but I didn’t want to rush you.” I explained.

He seemed to think for a second before saying, “Oh! That’s right. Mila had mentioned that a few days ago. Let me clean up, and we can go…” He hesitated as he looked around.

“Let’s go for a drive.” I suggested.

“Sure! Yeah. Meet you up top after I clean up.”

“He can wait. He should look at the upgrades.” argued Maxine.

“Sounds good, assuming we can keep Jarod from getting too distracted.” I teased.

He pushed my comment away with his hand, smiling as he walked away.

I listened as Mila and Maxine walked me through the changes they had made since last time. I didn’t bother telling Maxine that Mila tends to give me briefings as work progresses, since she seemed rather happy about her contributions. Scaring her into giving up crime had worked better than I expected, but Aaliyah has whatever effect she wants on people.

When Jarod was ready, we took the lift up and hopped in his Mustang, though little of the original car was left under the exterior. He let Mila take over driving at my suggestion. “So what’s up?”

“Well, we hadn’t really sat down and talked by ourselves for a while, but let’s get to business first.”

He looked slightly concerned as he asked “Is something wrong?”

“No, other than my desire to appropriate parts of your latest car design.” I explained with a smile.

He blinked and stared at me. “Wait. What? You know there’s typically no discussion when something’s appropriated, right?”

My smile widened as I said, “Thought you might get hung up on that part, but Aaliyah suggested an automated taxi service a while ago. She’s been getting things prepared with the local governments for use in the city and suburbs. After glancing through your current work, she modified things slightly to a design we could present for the general public.” Mila put the display on the windshield. “With your consent, this will be Best Friend For Hire’s taxi design for the next ten-ish years.”

“Taxis, eh? Mila driving them all?” he asked.

“Of course. Don’t worry. This won’t stretch my processing power. This section”—a section of the screen highlighted—”will give me an unnecessary boost for a small portion of myself to control the vehicle even in the event of a power outage disconnecting the Wi-Fi.” she explained.

“You’ll also get a percentage from the Wi-Fi network.” I told him.

“What about Maxine, Mila, and Aurora?”

“Maxine’s not officially doing the work, but her family’s accounts are being compensated. Don’t tell her. She’s still on community service in her mind.”

‘Yeah, I guess. She’s… surprised me.” he replied with a shrug. “For the first month, I was triple checking everything she did out of paranoia, but something changed in her. She’s really trying to help out as far as I can see.”

“I concur.” stated Mila, though she sounded amused.

“Fine, she still picks fights with Portentia whenever Portentia comes through the garage, but she’s helped Portentia too.”

“I’ve heard. That doesn’t make up for all the damage she’s done… or the lives lost.” I pointed out.

“No, but I’m glad she’s trying.”

I nodded in agreement and then asked Mila to bring up the details of how the profits would be distributed.

Jarod looked through the terms and asked a few questions as I went through them. Shaking his head and smiling, he said, “The other cab companies are going to hate you.”

“One won’t. I bought it already.”

“What about their employees?” he questioned.

“They’ll each be driving the version you saw with a steering wheel until they retire. Unfortunately, a few were retired early due to unsavory habits, but the drivers will drive, the office people will keep busy.”

Jarod looked at me in surprise. “You had them killed!?”

“Not how I’d put it, but there were a few whose information was given to the Slayer family. Most who were retired early have been compensated, probably too generously, and fired. Of those, I have to admit that a few won’t actually receive their full compensation due to current legal predicaments, but I didn’t make them break the law. The drug dealer had quite a surprised expression when the police took him away.”

As I talked, Jarod seemed to be appraising me. When I finished, he said, “James, you’ve really changed, man.” Holding up a hand, he quickly assured me “Not in a bad way, really, but… wow. I never thought I’d hear you talk about people dying or being arrested so casually. When did you get used to all this?”

“When I got married to someone who could aptly be described as a living weapon and adopted a former slave.” I admitted.

“Whoa. What? Dani was enslaved!?”

“When she was quite young. Luckily, that situation was rectified before too much harm came to her. Best not to mention that part to anyone. Hate for bad memories to be brought up if she hears them.” I explained, dancing around the truth.

“I knew slavery still existed in the world, but wow… She’s so cheerful and energetic. I’d never have guessed. I don’t understand how you three grew so close in two weeks.”

“You will one day.” I promised. “Unfortunately, I can’t explain. My honeymoon seemed rather long and was extremely busy, but good things came of it.”

He nodded. “I get the secrecy. With Ai and Mai, I’ve learned a great deal, but I can’t even begin to guess at the secrets Alma must keep. Our new relatives are something else.”

Smiling, I said, “They really are, but things will work out. I won’t let them cause us trouble.”

Jarod laughed. “I still can’t believe you had Raine deliver Godric home. Ai and Mai were horrified, but Mila showed me the look on his face. I couldn’t stop laughing!”

“Well, she’s more than a match for his whole family together. Imagine if she had formed that keep in midair and let it drop.”

“That thing’s amazing! I still can’t believe she called that an ‘oops’.” Catching my glance, he said, “Mila told me. I wish I could ‘oops’ things into existence. You’ve got to get her to help me in the lab occasionally.”

“She’s a best friend for hire.” I replied with a shrug.

“Fine-fine, but can you imagine the possibilities with power like that? I’ve been wanting to tie Ariadne down and get her to help me, but I think we both know the odds of that ever happening. Mila thinks Raine might be even stronger, which I can’t doubt after seeing that keep.”

“Ariadne wouldn’t struggle too much with creating a keep, but I agree that Raine could do far more. She’s practicing. Ariadne will be visiting soon to help provide some encouragement, so I’ll try to get them both into the lab during the visit.”

“Really!?” he exclaimed, excited before I could get another word out. “Dude, I’m going to start planning for it. With their help, we could have things created spontaneously inside a vacuum. Then there’s this energy idea I had where…” he started going deeper and deeper into his thoughts on low-energy nuclear reactions.

I stopped him partway through. “When you do those experiments, please let me be present, just in case.”

“Sure! You’re always welcome.”

“I’m planning on acting as a safety net, in case things get out of hand. I’ve actually studied control of radiation through magic and have faith that I could handle a small nuclear blast, if containment were to fail.”

“What!? That’s amazing! If I had known that, I’d have tried this other idea I had much sooner.” he stated, looking at me as if I should have told him months ago.

“Sorry, but you could’ve asked my thoughts on it.” I argued.

He laughed and nodded. “Life’s just so busy for both of us these days.”

“Really is. I know we just celebrated the triplets’ birthday before the baseball game, but we’ll be having another celebration soon.” The triplets’ party was small by my company’s standards, but they just wanted to visit France and spend time with a few people they knew there. I covered the expenses, at least the legal ones.

“Whose?”

“Raine’s on the fourth, and then Jemal’s on the twenty-third. I was thinking we could do something cat themed for Raine and make use of her fort. This will be her first birthday since her mother died.”

“Yeah… that’s rough, but she seems happier these days. I wonder if she can hear us this far out.” he commented, looking around.

“If she’s paying attention, probably, but I doubt she is. Being able to hear everything in a city and wanting to are completely different.”

“Oh, master. Just one city isn’t bad at all.” argued Mila.

“Well, you have certain advantages in that regard.” I argued, knowing that Aaliyah had expanded Mila well beyond the technologies of any world.

“Maybe a few…” she agreed.

Laughing again, Jarod said, “I’d be happy to keep up with a single room. There’s just so much happening all the time.”

I wished I could tell him what my day was like off-world, but Aaliyah didn’t want me to spoil the surprise. There would eventually be a day where Jarod and I could discuss aliens, but I had quite a wait. Still, I enjoyed spending some time cruising around with my best friend.