“Enough of this. Quiet.” commanded Izumi in Japanese, looking between her daughters. She seemed to ignore Jarod entirely.
Speaking in English, Alma stated “I don’t believe the master of this house understands Japanese.”
“Actually, I do now.” I commented in Japanese. Then, in English, I said, “But I would prefer if we all were to stick with English while around my staff. I believe introductions are in order.”
A smile had flickered across Alma’s face. Was she pleased that I learned Japanese or that I insisted on introducing my friends?
“I believe you already know Mary Wilson. This is her daughter, Emma.” I explained, placing a hand on Emma’s shoulder.
She performed a small curtsy, and Izumi nodded in reply.
“Emma tends to the grounds with her magic, and I can assure you that you’ll find our vegetables exemplary if you dine with us this evening.” I insisted. Noticing my little fairy friend entering the hall, I went on to say, “I regret to say that the forest is off limits without first signing a contract. I’ve been informed trespassers meet an untimely demise, but feel free to negotiate with my secretary, Aaliyah T. Sypher, if you wish.”
Izumi paled slightly at the mention of Aaliyah’s name. Did she quarrel with her before, or was she simply informed of Aaliyah’s other names? Duncan certainly had seemed informed, so I would imagine his mother was. His sisters, on the other hand, merely knew Aaliyah as an assassin.
I heard Aaliyah’s voice, as if she whispered in my ear, “She’s seen Death, boss-man, sir.”
“That… will not be necessary.” stated Izumi. Her tension seemed to turn to fascination as she caught sight of my little friend.
“Ah. This little one’s a dear friend of mine. Unfortunately, she seems a bit perturbed, having been left behind in my office. Meeting the rest of the fey truly is an interesting experience, so please do consider the contract. Adelmar seemed to enjoy the experience.” I confessed, though I was mentally trying to appease my little friend.
“Oh, my cousin most certainly would recommend the experience.” insisted Alma.
“I will certainly consider your suggestion.” replied Izumi.
My little friend took a seat on my shoulder, leaning against my neck. She seemed happy enough to behave, so I moved onto Marco, saying, “This is Marco Rossi, our phenomenal chef. I have yet to find a meal he doesn’t create exquisitely in a multitude of variations.”
“Too kind. Too kind.” insisted Marco as he smiled.
I then stepped behind Cosette and said, “This lovely lady is named Cosette. She’s fairly new to my company, but she is showing tremendous promise.”
“Enough promise that she was offered France, though she has yet to accept.” interjected Alma.
Izumi’s head jerked to look at Alma with her eyes wide before turning to take a longer look at Cosette.
“Well, I am just as happy to keep her here.” I declared as I stepped over by Portentia. Signing as I spoke, I said, “Portentia has been with my company since September, and she has proven to be quite gifted as a best friend in my company.”
“Her skills with a staff and unarmed combat are very formidable. I can attest that you would be most impressed with a demonstration.” added Alma.
“This would interest me.” replied Izumi with a nod.
As she spoke, Portentia signed to me, saying, “You know sign language now?”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” I told them, as I signed to Portentia, saying, “Sorry for the delay.”
“You’re amazing.” she insisted. “I could have taught you if you had asked.”
“Sorry. Bit late now.” I replied. Noticing Izumi watching our hands, I quickly said aloud, “My apologies. Portentia is deaf, so I was translating and grew distracted.”
Izumi told me “No offense taken.”
“Next is Brandon. He joined my company last June with his sister, but I believe she’s out on a job at the moment.” I explained.
“Sure is, boss. I’m pretty amazing too, by the way. Check this out!” exclaimed Brandon as his arm tripled in size.
Izumi seemed less than impressed.
“He and his sister have different talents, but they’re both valued friends here.” I assured her. “Jarod has been my best friend practically since we met and joined my company soon after Aaliyah. She personally taught him how to fight, as Duncan surely mentioned, and he has great expertise in numerous fields. He easily could have retired already if he was a much lazier sort.”
Jarod grinned ear to ear and kept his arms around Ai and Mai while saying, “Thanks, man.”
Izumi didn’t seem to being paying attention, watching my little fairy friend instead.
“Allow me to introduce Mila.” stated Alma, gesturing toward her. “Though she could easily pass for my sister, you surely realize I’m an only child. Mila is quite possibly the most accomplished and capable maid you’ll ever find, Adelmar’s staff included. Being multiple places at once certainly has advantages.”
“Thank you, Lady Pendreigh.” replied Mila as she curtsied. “Your kindness is always appreciated.”
“Multiple places at once?” inquired Izumi.
“I’m an artificial lifeform. Duncan’s description of me was quite inadequate, I’m sure, but I didn’t have this body when he was here.” explained Mila. Then her voice came from the walls as she said, “I am quite capable of running the house, cars, and numerous other devices without the slightest stress. In fact, my current hardware is sufficient to quite easily electronically isolate your country without the slightest lag in any of my duties, so you can imagine how difficult swatting a company is for me.”
Was Mila threatening her? I could understand the temptation when dealing with Alma’s family, but that seemed a bit extreme.
“Thank you, Mila. I am certain she’s not exaggerating even slightly, Mrs. Drache, considering the things I’ve witnessed.” warned Alma. “We try to stay on Mila’s good side.”
“I would not have even known you were artificial.” stated Izumi. Turning to me, she asked “Who constructed this android?”
I motioned to Jarod.
He told her “Mila and I did a large amount of the design and construction, but Aaliyah took care of her skin, eyes, and hair.”
“You had some great insights for hair growth.” argued Mila.
Jarod shrugged, but Izumi looked surprised.
“Jarod has his own lab under the garage here, since he’s also kind enough to do some mechanic work for everyone. His engine design is absolutely incredible.” I informed her.
“Yeah. The boss got Jarod to hook up my sis and me for our birthdays. Our cars are amazing!” exclaimed Brandon.
“I don’t want you to merely take our word on Jarod’s accomplishments, of course, so I’ve arranged a little demonstration for you if you’ll be kind enough to follow us into the east wing.” stated Alma as she motioned toward Ai and Mai’s domain.
“I would not doubt your word, of course, but I will gladly accompany you.” replied Izumi, though she didn’t seem remotely glad.
In fact, I would say she was halfway lying on the second part.
“Marco, would you mind serving us tea there?” asked Alma.
He winked at her and headed toward the kitchen. As she started walking, Izumi followed at her side. Ai and Jarod walked behind them, but Mai started chatting with Mila, surprisingly, coming behind the rest of us as we walked.
“What did you think of James’ latest fight?” asked Alma on the way.
“Impressive.” stated Izumi. “I would not have thought to see a fight such as that.”
“What’d ya do, boss?” asked Brandon. “You punch some guy’s face off?”
“What!? No. I didn’t strike him at all. There wasn’t really any fighting, precisely. Walis Shiqatafatu demonstrated his prowess at magic, and I suggested he surrender, which he did.” I replied.
Brandon guffawed and said, “Oh man… I bet he was shocked.”
“Quite.” stated Alma, turning her head to speak to us.
“I’m sure James would grant you a friendly sparring session if you get in the mood.” suggested Alma.
“No.” blurted Izumi. “Thank you, but I must decline.”
“James, you’re planning on expanding your company to Japan one day, aren’t you?” inquired Alma.
“I’m open to the possibility, yes.” I replied.
“If he and I were to wed, he’d have the right to challenge for his pick of land there. Do you think anyone would oppose him?” she asked Izumi.
The woman didn’t respond, but I noticed her stiffen slightly. Was going this far really necessary? I couldn’t imagine myself purposefully entering into that sort of dispute if my chances with Alma weren’t at stake. I could only assume that Mai discussing wedding dress designs with Mila was also part of Alma’s ploy, since the twins were definitely not that attached to Mila. I’d wager Izumi’s hearing was even better than the twins’.
Once we arrived, Alma said, “Please excuse me for a moment while I get changed. Emma, would you mind providing some seating for us while I’m away?”
Alma ran toward her wing without waiting for a reply.
“Oh… Well, I didn’t bring any seeds with me. Care if I ruin a bit of your varnish?” asked Emma, looking to Ai.
Ai rolled her eyes and pulled chopsticks out of her hair, causing her bun to come apart. Then she said, “Let’s see what you can do with bamboo.”
“Hmm… I’ve a few ideas.” claimed Emma with a grin. The chopsticks rapidly grew into chairs for each of us as well as a table. Giant leaves formed over layers of smaller leaves, creating cushions over the chairs. “Should be cozy!” exclaimed Emma as she hopped on one. “Don’t worry. I made super thick cuticles over the leaves, so nothing should stain your clothes.”
Though similar in structure, there were distinct differences in the frames compared with Emma’s usual work, as if she wanted to highlight the type of wood used.
“Your thoughtfulness is appreciated. My son had spoken well of you, but seeing your gift in person is a delight.” stated Izumi.
“I’m honored to be of service to my friends’ mother.” replied Emma. “That’s what we do here at Best Friend For Hire: take care of our friends.”
“These look quite comfortable. Thank you, Emma.” commented Alma after arriving a moment later, now wearing a form-fitting outfit covered in some sort of armored plates.
I vaguely remembered seeing that outfit before. Given the blurriness to the memory, it was from before my change.
“Shall we begin?” she asked with a smile.