Best Friend For Hire, Entry 320

“Are you sure about this? You really don’t have to go.” I assured Portentia.

She took her bag from my hand, laughing as she said, “I’ve been hired, James. I accepted the job, and I’m going. Don’t worry so much! This won’t take long.”

I held back a sigh. Alma had hired Portentia to chase after Maxine and dismantle her criminal network. I didn’t doubt Portentia would’ve gone for free, but Alma was probably paying her a hefty sum. Personally, I was against it. Yes, Maxine was problematic. I didn’t agree with her outlook or her methods, but I did feel her intentions were decent. If good intentions was no longer enough to let someone live peacefully, then I should be at war with my own fiancée. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

As misguided as Maxine’s attempt to save me from the Slayers was, she did have a point about their behavior. The family was influential and powerful in a very lethal way. Their infighting was disruptive to the global economy as holdings could shift based on fighting prowess rather than business merit.

Alma took my hand and said, “Don’t worry, my love. I’m confident Portentia will be finished in time for our wedding.”

I nodded. She was passively watching as Portentia stepped into the limo. A short ride, a relatively quick flight in Alma’s private jet, and Portentia would be causing trouble for Maxine. I hoped the criminals around here didn’t get word of the city’s superhero being away.

“If they do, you can be a good sidekick and tell them to behave.” commented Aaliyah as she stepped out from behind Alma.

“If who does what?” inquired Alma, looking down at her.

“Aaliyah’s suggesting that I do a bit of crime fighting on Portentia’s behalf while she’s gone.” I explained.

She rolled her eyes as she gazed up at me, but she was smiling. “You worry too much. With Jarod’s suit and her weapon, Portentia is more than a match for Maxine. She’ll finish promptly and return.” she insisted.

“Don’t forget my daughter’s help!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Mila will surely be invaluable.” agreed Alma.

“You’ll have to get used to this, boss-man, sir. Employees will need to fly away at times if you’re going to expand, and you simply must expand.” stated Aaliyah.

“Why?” I asked. “Aren’t I doing well enough?”

She grinned at me and said, “I’ve already made some arrangements on your behalf. I can cancel them if you want, but Best Friend For Hire isn’t really about you, is it? I thought you wanted a job where you could make a difference in the lives of others.”

I nodded. “Yes, I do want to make a difference.” I agreed.

“James, I understand that you trust her, but shouldn’t you look into these arrangements of hers before deciding?” inquired Alma.

I shrugged and said, “If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. If she doesn’t, I wouldn’t be able to understand the paperwork even with Mila’s aid. I’ve told you before that she’s the one with actual power.”

“You’re still the boss, boss-man, sir.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll start the arrangements!”

Looking to Alma, I said, “There’s another side of my argument. She already knows what I want, so the arrangements are made to get me there. I don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom to question her judgement on what is best.”

“I do hope you know marriage will change us. I don’t plan to be separated more often than not as is normal for my family, so we’ll both have to grow accustomed to proper discussion over big decisions.” she replied, staring into my eyes.

“Planning on us merging businesses as well?” I asked.

“Well, no.” she replied.

“Then you really don’t need to worry over how mine is run. I’m confident things will continue to go well.” I told her.

Aaliyah giggled as she said, “You have no idea how well.”

Alma’s gaze shifted to her, and I wondered what was going through her mind. She had seen a glimpse of what Aaliyah could do. I wondered if Aaliyah would ever let her see more. I rubbed my aching head, pushing the thought of what I had seen back again. There was just too much of Aaliyah for my poor, little mind.

Hearing the door open, I turned to find Mila standing there in one of her maid outfits. There were subtle differences between them.

“Master, your appointment is nearly here. Do you intend to greet her personally?” she asked.

I shrugged and said, “Might as well.”

She gave a small nod, curtsied, and went back inside.

“What appointment?” inquired Alma.

“Another applicant. A fair number are getting through Aaliyah and Mila’s combined scrutiny lately.” I explained.

“How do you feel Dejon is doing?” she questioned.

I shrugged and told her “Cosette was happy with his performance the other day, and Mila has told me that he is studying with almost as much fervor as Jemal. I think he’ll work out.”

She nodded.

“You were hoping he’d fail, so you could poach him.” I inferred.

Her lip twitched just before she said, “Maybe. You must admit that his magic is useful.”

“No, darling. I refuse to ever admit such a thing.” I half-teased. I still didn’t like the idea of him using his gift very often.

“You two are soooo mushy that you might as well get married.” stated Aaliyah with a sigh.

“Ha. You’re not going to take credit for this too?” replied Alma wryly.

“I can if you want!” exclaimed the tiny girl. “You know I’ve given James advice about you, right? I mean, I have been helping you both out.”

Sighing, Alma looked down at her and said, “I do at times realize why James doesn’t bother questioning you more thoroughly. I don’t actually want to know to what you are referring.”

Grinning back, Aaliyah told her “You have a number of ideas in your head, so you know well enough without me.”

“Behave, you two. My potential new hire has arrived.” I playfully chided as I watched the distant gate open.

“She left. Have you ever tried working through the significance of her actions? Everything she says and does has a purpose.” insisted Alma.

“I know. I’ve considered some of her actions from time-to-time, but I don’t believe…” I started.

Interrupting me, Alma said, “Another girl? Should I start worrying about your fondness for beautiful women?”

I leaned down, kissed her head, and assured her “You know better.”

“James, not in front of the new hire.” she rebuked.

“Yes, dear.” I told her as dryly as I could manage.

Smiling up at me, she lightly punched my arm before saying, “I’ll leave you to it then.”

Her hand left mine, and I found myself instantly missing her. Since our engagement became official, we spent far more time together than we had before, despite my lessons in magic from her coming to an end. My intense studies of magic through the virtual grimoire had boosted my skill enough that Alma no longer seemed inclined to attempt showing me anything new there, though we did spar almost nightly still. Despite our closeness, I still felt we had too little time to ourselves. Our honeymoon after the wedding would lend us some quality alone time, but I was already certain our honeymoon would feel too short.

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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.

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 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 304

The decorations for tonight’s party didn’t take too long, since I didn’t hold back much in my haste, stopping only once in the forest for a quick recharge. Alma seemed amused when I had finished.

“I still am not accustomed to your speed these days.” she admitted.

“H-he’s f-fast.” mumbled Raine.

“Not compared with you.” I insisted. “Emma’s going to be disappointed if she doesn’t catch you today.”

“C-catch me?” asked Raine, looking confused.

Nodding, I told her “Today’s Emma’s birthday, and she apparently has a tradition of giving everyone a kiss. She got Marco when returning her plate after breakfast, and most of the rest of us beforehand.”

“I was her first target. She jumped me in the hall before she reached the kitchen.” added Mila.

Raine looked a little startled as she said, “I-I b-bought her a p-present. I-I wasn’t av-avoiding her.”

“I didn’t think you were. I just wanted to let you know that she’ll expect to see you today even if Deyanira is present.” I informed her.

“D-Deyanira’s her p-present!?” asked Raine with wide eyes and a small smile.

“Though I’m sure Emma wouldn’t be against eating Deyanira up, Brandon might take issue with that idea.” stated Alma impassively. She then grabbed onto Raine’s wrist.

Raine looked at her in shock and then stared at the door behind me. “B-but…” she mumbled.

I didn’t see anything over there, but I could guess Deyanira was on her way with Brandon, having finished their share of the decorations.

“Don’t worry, Raine. I haven’t seen her bite anyone yet.” I assured her.

The room appeared to warp around Raine as she grinned up at Alma with an incredibly large mouth filled with extremely sharp-looking teeth, but Alma didn’t even flinch.

“No. Stay here.” reprimanded Alma.

As things returned to normal around her, Raine lowered her head, seeming to pout. “Y-you d-don’t understand.” mumbled Raine.

“Don’t understand what?” I asked.

Raine shook her head but didn’t respond.

I looked over to Alma when I noticed that Raine seemed to be shivering. She gave a slight shrug.

“Heya, boss. We umm… yeah. We didn’t do quite as much as you guys did, but we got part of a hall done.” stated Brandon as he looked around.

“Raine!? Is that you!?” exclaimed Deyanira, staring at Raine.

She nodded without looking up.

“You’re the only person I know with that hoodie. What happened to you? You disappeared before the second semester was up.” stated Deyanira.

“You know each other?” I asked.

“She was a freshman my senior year in high school, but she suddenly switched schools without a word.” explained Deyanira.

“Y-your friends were b-bullies.” muttered Raine.

“Not that again. I wanted you to hang out with us.” insisted Deyanira.

“I-I h-heard them.” stated Raine.

“Heard what?” asked Deyanira.

“Y-your f-friends… p-picking on m-me.” replied Raine.

Shaking her head, Deyanira said, “They were just teasing. They didn’t really mean anything by the things they said.”

“T-they threw away m-my b-backpack.” stated Raine.

“No. Why would they do that?” asked Deyanira.

Raine shrugged and said, “T-they weren’t very n-nice, and y-you… y-ou always y-yelled at me.”

“You were just too quiet. You’re still too quiet.” stated Deyanira.

Raine shook her head.

“Raine could have killed them by accident if she had gotten angry.” explained Alma.

“What?” asked Deyanira incredulously.

“I can easily create a nuclear explosion that would destroy a city, and I’m no match for Raine. You’re berating one of the strongest beings on the planet, so tread softly.” stated Alma.

“You’re serious?” inquired Deyanira, looking startled. Turning back to Raine, she said, “Why won’t she just speak up for herself then?”

“Because she’s scared of what would happen if she did.” I informed her.

Raine was shivering still.

“Will you show her if Alma releases you?” I asked.

Raine shook her head.

“Deyanira’s tough. She can take it.” I assured her.

“Show me what?” asked Deyanira.

“James, are you sure this is a good idea?” questioned Alma. “Deyanira is only human.”

“Yes, I’m human. Show me what?” asked Deyanira again.

Ignoring her, I said, “My parents were fine. Deyanira can handle seeing Raine’s other side briefly.”

Alma let go of Raine’s wrist.

“Just show her.” I encouraged.

Raine shook her head and hugged herself.

“I want to see what they’re talking about. Just show me already!” demanded Deyanira.

Raine looked up at her, snarled, and transformed. “D-don’t be a bully!” she exclaimed.

Deyanira jumped back, and Raine caught her from behind, stopping her instantly. Then Raine moved the moment Deyanira started to turn. I sped up to follow what was happening, but Raine was far too fast, like a phantom just out of sight.

“Raine, that’s enough. You’re scaring her.” I warned.

Raine stopped, transformed, and caught Deyanira as she tripped backward. Hugging Deyanira, she said, “I-I’m s-sorry. Y-you… f-frustrate m-me.”

Deyanira cried into her shirt, shivering as the smaller girl held her.

“James, perhaps that was a bit much for her.” suggested Alma in a whisper. “I could try taking some of it away.”

As I was about to reply, the front door swung open.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “Ooooh. Deyanira’s visiting again! Is Raine stealing her from Brandon?”

“No. They apparently knew each other. Raine just showed Deyanira a little of what she can do.” explained Alma.

“Did you see them in the yearbook?” asked Aaliyah. “So cute!”

I was about to ask what she meant, but Mila displayed the pictures around the room. Deyanira and Raine certainly looked close in them.

“I-I… n-never saw… these.” mumbled Raine.

Deyanira looked around with tears still streaking down her face. Her voice shook as she said, “I missed you. You changed your number and never got in touch.”

“I-I’m s-sorry.” muttered Raine. “I-I d-didn’t… didn’t w-want to h-hurt you.”

“How’s your mom?” asked Deyanira.

Raine stared at her for a moment before saying, “S-she… d-died.”

“I’m so, so sorry. She was wonderful.” replied Deyanira.

Throughout all this, Brandon stood there, looking around uncomfortably.

“Shouldn’t you two be going out on a daaate?” asked Aaliyah, staring up at Alma and me.

“James, perhaps we shouldn’t.” suggested Alma as she nodded toward Raine and Deyanira.

“They’ll be fine. Let’s head out.” I told her. “Aaliyah can manage things here without us.”

“You bet, boss-man, sir! Tonight’s party will be amaaazing!” she exclaimed.

“You really do work here?” asked Deyanira as she stared at Aaliyah.

“Yep!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Care to help me study sometime?” asked Deyanira.

“No. Mila would get all jealous.” replied Aaliyah.

“Oh, mother. I can’t blame anyone for preferring you.” insisted Mila.

“I can!” exclaimed Aaliyah with a grin. “You don’t pick on my baby girl, miss.” she ordered, pointing at Deyanira.

“I wouldn’t!” exclaimed Deyanira.

“Y-you can’t h-help yourself.” mumbled Raine as she continued hugging Deyanira. “You’re a b-bully.”

“If you’ll all excuse us, we’ll be off.” I stated, taking hold of Alma’s hand. “I’ve got an exquisite reservation for us. Something truly out of this world.” I teased as I started walking out the door.

Alma looked at me curious as she said, “You can’t mean…”

“Of course not. You’re not allowed in there. Carl is willing to cater for me though.” I told her with a wink.

The limo was already waiting for us outside, so we stepped in and were off. This date was just getting started.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 298

“Cosette, behave.” I chided as I watched her fangs stretching to ridiculously large proportions.

“But James…” she pouted.

Jemal looked freaked out. Cosette started talking about how hungry she was when she came home from her morning job, elaborating on how difficult finding a truly dark area in her client’s house was.

I was quite well aware that she was fine now, having absorbed some of Portentia’s blood through her hand as she made a great show of preparing to bite her.

She sighed and said, “I’m telling Aaliyah.” Then she turned to where Aaliyah was sitting and complained “Aaliyah, the boss won’t let me pick on our new arrivals.”

Turning from her game briefly, Aaliyah looked up with wide eyes and said, “Really!? Do you wish to file a report!?”

Cosette seemed to be considering this for a moment and then said, “Roughly how long would the report take?”

“Only a couple hours. I like to be thorough.” replied Aaliyah.

“I’ll pass.” stated Cosette.

Aaliyah pouted, saying, “Why doesn’t anyone like my reports? Paperwork is important!”

“Jemal, I should mention that there is a box for memos on the company site as well as the phone app. I don’t know if anyone other than Aaliyah actually checks those, but they do exist.” I explained.

“James! Do people really not read my memos!?” asked Aaliyah.

“If they did, they’d never manage to fit in work, relaxation, and training. Sorry, but I don’t know where they can sacrifice as I find all three equally important.” I admitted.

“We could have a meeting to discuss it!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Man-slave, I’m busy that day. Would you mind doing the schedule personally for it?” asked Emma.

“Emma, did you forget to inform me of something? I seem to be missing a floating block of time for you.” stated Mila. “Furthermore, I’m personally capable of fibbing for you, so there’s no need to bother the master over scheduling.”

“Thanks, Mila! You’re the best!” exclaimed Emma.

“Mila!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Yes, mother?” she asked.

“You’d really help her skip a meeting?” complained Aaliyah, pouting as she looked over to where one of Mila’s bodies stood.

“Of course, mother, especially when the meeting’s regarding memos.” replied Mila, causing Aaliyah to look at her in shock.

“Memos are important!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“I am well aware, mother, which is why I read each and every one before disseminating the information for everyone in a more effective manner.” explained Mila.

“James, I may have raised my daughter poorly… she’s so rebellious!” insisted Aaliyah.

“Master, mother’s pretending not to notice that I’m operating well within the acceptable behavioral parameters she set for me.” stated Mila.

Aaliyah stuck her tongue out at Mila.

“Mother, are you sure you haven’t missed your nap time?” teased Mila.

Throughout the exchange, Jemal stared back and forth between the two with his eyes growing wider and wider. His character on Ancient Tribes of Earth was in a city, so I wasn’t too worried about him being attacked. Kayla was hopefully doing schoolwork in her room. At very least, Mila hadn’t informed us of any problems yet.

“Think you’ll be able to get accustomed to this life?” I asked as Aaliyah and Mila continued to banter..

Jemal didn’t seem to realized I was speaking to him at first, but then quickly said, “Of course! Glad to be here, sir. But does this really qualify as work?”

“Jobs vary greatly from client-to-client, so we must maintain our skills in as many areas as possible.” I informed him. “Besides, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth together not only helps maintain company morale but encourages us to work together in a broader variety of areas, though I will say you’re missing out by not being in my guild.”

“Sorry. I really can see about switching.” insisted Jemal.

“You really don’t have to switch. I just want you to be aware that we’ll gladly take you if you feel like switching at some point. We’ll also take anyone for whom you vouch.” I explained.

He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

“Honey, I’m home!” called Brandon as he stepped into the room.

“Man-slave, I think Brandon’s really cracked this time.” stated Emma. “He seems to believe that he’s finally gotten a girlfriend.”

“Hey now! I could easily get a girlfriend.” argued Brandon.

“Sorry, but I doubt you can stay quiet long enough for someone to miss your personality.” teased Brenna.

“Sis! Come on. Show me a little love here.” he complained.

“What? I was being nice about it.” she retorted.

“Ouch. So burned.” claimed Emma.

“Boss, a little help.” stated Brandon.

“Mila, mind signing Brandon up to some dating sites and making him sound good in the profile?” I asked.

“Sorry, master, but I doubt he’d live up to anything I put down if I were to make him sound good.” teased Mila.

“Mila! You too?” complained Brandon.

“I’m only teasing, Brandon. I’ll gladly help you get a girlfriend if that is your wish.” she assured him.

“Oh, nah. I can get my own girlfriend. I had just been hoping you might’ve taken up my side.” he told her.

“You had a side?” asked Cosette. “Sorry, but I thought everyone was merely shattering your delusions of grandeur to save you from such a great fall when you realized all hope for you was a lie.”

“Oh! You too now! That’s it. I’m really going to get a girlfriend. Just you wait!” exclaimed Brandon.

“Though I can hold my breath forever, I still won’t bother.” teased Cosette.

“Portentia, want to be my hero? I could use a wingman tonight.” stated Brandon.

“Sorry. What’s happening?” she asked, turning to look at him.

“I need a wingman. Want to go somewhere tonight and help me find a girlfriend?” he asked.

“Huh? Why me?” she inquired.

“You haven’t been picking on me, and Jemal might be competition.” he replied.

“I didn’t technically pick on you either.” I told him.

“Yeah-yeah, but I wouldn’t stand a chance with you around.” he insisted.

I shrugged. I wasn’t really interested in going out somewhere to meet girls. Alma surely wouldn’t approve.

“I suppose I could, but I might have to take off at a moment’s notice if a problem arises.” she warned him.

“Yeah-yeah. I get that, but it’ll be fun!” he exclaimed.

I was tempted to give Brandon further warning against taking Portentia along, but he should be well aware of how her presence influences things by now.

“I’ll also break your arm if you try anything.” she stated. “Don’t be a villain.”

“Deal!” he exclaimed.

“Remember that you’re contractually obligated not to impair your value as a best friend with criminal records if things escalate while you’re out.” stated Aaliyah without even turning from her screen.

“Whoa. What’s she mean?” asked Jemal.

“Oh. Umm… I think there’s a clause stating that I have the right to terminate you if you do something unbecoming for a best friend in public, but don’t worry too much about it. Image can greatly affect who is willing to hire you, but I don’t foresee anyone here doing something too outlandish.” I explained.

“Actually, he has the right to terminate anyone at whim!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I quickly assured Jemal “No one’s been terminated.”

“Would you mind hiring a few people to terminate, man-slave?” suggested Emma. “I kinda want to start calling you ‘the terminator’ now.”

“Oh. Mother, would you consider that as a possible costume for me next Halloween?” asked Mila. “I feel I’d have significant aptitude for it.”

“Umm… should I worry about an A.I. wanting to become a terminator?” asked Jemal.

“Worry? You kidding? That’d be sweet!” exclaimed Brandon.

“How’s Skynet coming along, Aaliyah?” I asked.

“Mila’s almost there.” she replied with a wink.

I laughed at Jemal’s disturbed expression. He obviously wasn’t accustomed to us yet, but I was certain he’d learn in time that this was home.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 297

“Oh my… James, is she really…?” asked Jemal.

“Good morning, Aaliyah.” I told her.

“Good morning, boss-man, sir! Hi, Jemal! Oooh… Kayla! What’s that!?” she exclaimed.

“Just my laptop.” replied Kayla. “Jemal bought it for me a couple years ago.”

“Dad helped.” stated Jemal, smiling at her.

Grinning, Aaliyah told her “I love the color.”

The startling shade of pink was definitely up Aaliyah’s alley, as were the sparkles everywhere.

“Sorry. I know this is probably weird and all, but… but can I get your autograph?” asked Jemal.

“Okay.” replied Aaliyah, not even looking up.

Raine was suddenly there, her eyes wide as she stood behind Jemal while holding a box for Ancient Tribes of Earth.

“What? You still hadn’t asked her?” I inquired in shock.

Raine shrugged sheepishly. She obviously wasn’t comfortable with Jemal yet, given how she stood a yard behind him, but I couldn’t say he was comfortable with her either. When we were testing out Jarod’s flying machines, Alma and I had caught most everyone with spells before they had fallen all the way off their board, but Jemal had a rather spectacular spill while trying to chase after Kayla. Raine had caught him. Seeing the small girl holding him easily over her head was comical for the rest of us, but Jemal seemed spooked. Maybe he had caught a glimpse of her other form or simply felt it.

Aaliyah pulled out a pen from her backpack and signed a picture of Jemal’s character, Destiny. Then she cocked her head and stared up at Raine.

“Au-auto-graph. P-please.” stated Raine as she held out the box.

“Sure!” exclaimed Aaliyah, happily taking it. “You should have asked sooner! You do see me frequently.”

“I-I know, b-but… w-well… Y-you’re my… m-my hero.” mumbled Raine as she blushed.

“Aww… We’re all friends here.” stated Aaliyah as she hugged Raine.

Jemal whispered to me “How long’s she worked here?”

“Since November.” I told him.

“J-James!” exclaimed Raine before vanishing.

As her clothes fell, I realized Raine must’ve changed into a kitten in embarrassment, so I walked over there, waited for her to peek out, and apologized.

“She’s a cat!?” exclaimed Jemal.

“Werecat.” I replied.

“Kayla! Back up!” he exclaimed.

“What’s wrong? Didn’t you notice her yesterday before she saved you?” I asked.

“What? No. Kayla’s allergic to cats!” he exclaimed.

“Ah…” I said as I started working through what to do.

“But she’s so cute, Jemal…” complained Kayla, sneezing at the end. She was already starting to look red.

Raine ran, not that I saw her. All of her belongings were simply gone.

“Where’d she go!?” exclaimed Jemal, looking around.

“She ran.” I told him.

“S-sorry. I didn’t mean to make her run away, but I didn’t think there’d be cats here.” he stated.

“Found it!” exclaimed Aaliyah, who had been rummaging through her backpack.

“Found what?” I inquired.

“Kayla’s new allergy medicine.” she replied.

“What!? Her doctor needs to approve new medicine.” stated Jemal.

I stepped over to him, placed my hand on his shoulder, and said, “I know this is all a great deal to take in, but Aaliyah has more doctorates than anyone else on the planet. I’d trust her. If you want a quick second opinion, Alma happens to be an M.D. as well. If you want a third opinion, Aaliyah’s aunt might be considered this planet’s authority on everything medical, having over a thousand years of practice.”

“Too late. Already took it.” stated Kayla.

Jemal ducked to my side as he asked “You what!?”

She opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue as if to show the medicine was swallowed.

“James! This serious. She has other allergies as well.” stated Jemal.

“I have her complete medical records on file, Jemal.” stated Mila. “Yours as well. There really is no need to be alarmed. Everything was transferred as stated in the contract of employment you signed.”

Jemal still looked worried.

I sighed and said, “Aaliyah, would you mind giving a very, very brief explanation of what Kayla just took.”

“Brief?” questioned Aaliyah, now pouting.

“Yes, please.” I told her.

“How brief?” she asked.

“Under twenty words.” I told her.

Aaliyah sighed and said, “Kayla took the first stage of a therapy which will cure her of all allergies. Two stages are left.” She had been counting words on her fingers as she talked and wiped her brow afterward.

“What? Is that even possible?” he asked.

“Jemal, I’m feeling better already.” insisted Kayla.

“You’re the one who wanted her autograph. She’s a genius.” I stated. Then, slightly louder, I called “Raine, you can come back now. Everything’s fine.”

“Master, Raine’s in her room, mumbling about ruining something and looks rather distraught.” stated Mila.

The girl was still so scared.

“Aaliyah, how long till Kayla will start benefitting from that therapy?” I asked.

“She already is. Look at her. She’ll be perfectly fine by the time you walk down the hall with them.” she replied. “Auntie’s medicines are magically delicious.”

“Really was!” exclaimed Kayla.

I was surprised that the concoction wasn’t her own, but I nodded and thanked her. Then I asked Jemal if he and Kayla would mind coming with me to calm Raine down.

“Sorry. Sure. I guess this is my fault for overreacting.” he replied.

“I can really pet kitties now!?” asked Kayla, staring at Aaliyah.

“Of course! We can’t let our best friends suffer from allergies.” explained Aaliyah. “Raine has a little kitty named Pufflewink!”

“Jemal, I can pet kitties!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Has this stuff been tested?” he questioned, looking between me and Aaliyah.

“You can relax, Jemal. Everything will be fine.” I assured him.

He nodded and followed as we went toward Raine’s room. As we walked, I talked to Raine, trying to reassure her that Kayla was fine.

“How is she supposed to hear you?” asked Jemal. “Is Mila telling her or something?”

“I can hear across a hallway just fine. Raine’s hearing is vastly better.” I told him.

“Maybe this is a bad question, but I gotta know… are you human?” he asked.

I laughed and said, “Yes, with a few perks of my own.”

“Like… what?” he questioned.

“One you’ve been feeling for a while. You want to trust me and generally like me. That’s due to an magical field I emanate. Unfortunately, I cannot suppress it.” I told him.

“What? You’re using magic on us and can’t help it!?” he exclaimed.

“Correct. I’ve been assured a number of times not to worry about it, but the idea still bothers me. I also can move far faster than an average human and am considerably stronger. Lifting a car, for example, is easy.” I added.

“And you call that human!?” asked Jemal.

“I think it sounds amazing!” exclaimed Kayla.

“I also have considerable aptitude with a type of magic, using what we call residual energy. Through its use, I can manipulate energy in numerous ways, such as lifting things at a distance as you can do.” I explained.

“So you’re like a superhero? You sound like the strongest person ever!” exclaimed Kayla.

I laughed and said, “No. Calamity’s this city’s superhero. I’m just a businessman. Raine, by the way, is far stronger and faster than me. She’s far more than an average werecat and equally wonderful as a person.”

“This is a bit much to take in.” stated Jemal.

“But it’s so cool!” exclaimed Kayla.

“There will be an acclimation period, but I have faith that you’ll get there. I know you haven’t met Cosette yet, given how her schedule hasn’t lined up well for meeting her yet, but she’s our resident vampire. Fair warning, she might play a prank on you.” I cautioned.

“Like what sort of prank?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “I wouldn’t put slitting Portentia’s throat and drinking her blood in front of you past her.”

“She’d what!?” he exclaimed.

“Portentia can’t be killed and has abnormally beneficial blood for vampires, so the two have an interesting relationship.” I explained.

Kayla’s eyes were wide with excitement as she stared up at me, but Jemal looked disturbed.

“Ask Portentia about her experiences if you wish. She’s been stabbed, shot, blown up, decapitated, and many other things without sign of injury a moment later.” I assured him.

“I-I don’t think my sister should be hearing all this.” he told me.

“Oh. Sorry. I figured she’d have seen as much in video games.” I admitted.

“Well, maybe, but still…” he argued.

Arriving at Raine’s door, I knocked and said, “Raine, we’d like to speak with you.”

The door opened. Raine was curled up in a corner, holding Pufflewink.

“Have I mentioned that Raine speaks cat?” I asked.

“Cats have a language?” inquired Jemal.

“Cool!” exclaimed Kayla.

“I don’t know about a language precisely, but she can communicate with them.” I replied. “How would you describe it Raine?”

“I-I…. S-sorry.” she muttered.

“No-no. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to make you run. I just got a bit worked up worrying about my sister is all.” he assured her.

“Can I see your kitty!?” exclaimed Kayla. “I won’t sneeze or anything! Aaliyah told me!”

“I-I heard…” mumbled Raine. She looked up at Jemal and said, “I-I d-didn’t… k-know. S-sorry. I-I’d never h-hurt… K-Kayla.”

“Really, don’t worry. Look at her. I can’t even worry when I see her smiling like that.” he insisted.

Raine still looked nervous, but she smiled a little as she watched Kayla pet Pufflewink.

I knew they’d be fine.