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.

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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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 294

“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.

I looked around, finding that we were back in my yard with time still frozen.  Raine was in mid-leap toward Alma.

“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.

I had topped off on energy before coming back, so I quickly positioned myself  near them.

“3… 2… 1…” she stated.

When time lurched forward, I was suddenly back to the position I had been in prior to her freezing time.  Aaliyah was gone.  I focused on my speed, rushing to Alma.  I still wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Raine, but I saw her look over at me in surprise before darting back in mid-air.  She could fly!?  Alma was so slow, attempting to react to my approach, so I scooped her up despite feeling her magic preparing an attack.

By the time she fully turned her head to me, we were in my forest, and I was absorbing more energy while slowing my pace.

“James!?” she asked so slowly.

I could guess that she was talking at a normal human pace, but my timing felt off now.  I slowed down more as I left the forest, taking a long route around my yard.

“How?  You’re not even wearing a suit!” exclaimed Alma.

“Turns out I don’t need one.” I replied.

“That is completely unfair.” she stated, though she was smiling at me.

“No more unfair than creating a wonderful enchantment only to find that I cannot benefit from it.” I argued.

“Touché.” she agreed, still smiling.  “How magnificent you are, my love.” she told me as she brushed her fingertips along my hair.

I still wasn’t accustomed to her blatantly showing such affection and found myself kissing her as I stopped.

“Go, manslave!  Can I go next!?” exclaimed Emma.

“Eeeeee!” shouted Raine, suddenly falling to the ground.

Alma pulled back and whispered, “Not in front of everyone, James.”  Turning toward Emma, she said, “No.  We’re not in that sort of relationship.”

“Aww… but sharing is caring where James is involved.” claimed Emma with a grin.  Then she looked to where Raine had landed and asked “What happened to you?”

“I-I…” she started, only to shrug a half second later and fall to back onto the ground.  She stretched out by some catnip, smiling.

“She was flying.” stated Alma in a somewhat bewildered tone.

What!?  That’s amazing!” exclaimed Emma.

“When am I going to discover some awesome latent talent?” complained Brandon.

“Probably right after I discover mine.” teased Brenna in a pouting voice.

Cosette sighed and said, “Just be glad that any such abilities won’t take a thousand years to develop.  Mine will.”

“Emma, might you regress the catnip for now?” suggested Alma.  “I think Raine’s had enough.”

Emma feigned a pout as the plants retreated into the ground.  Then she said, “I like drugged-out Raine.  She’s so cuddly!”

“I… see.” stated Alma, looking down suddenly.

Raine had turned into a cat and was rubbing against her leg.

“Nooo!  She can’t like you better!” whined Emma.

“Don’t worry.  I’m sure she likes me best.” teased Cosette before oozing out of her suit and becoming a black panther.  “Ugh.  That will take some adjustment.”

“What will?” I asked.  “Other than watching a panther talking.”

“Removing the suit does funny things to my head, save for the laugh of humor in them.” she explained.

“Ah.  I know what you mean.” replied Alma with a nod.  “That is an odd sensation with everything suddenly seeming slower.”

“I’m never taking mine off.  You guys can just clean me with magic if I start to stink.” proclaimed Brandon.

“So forget about making a suit that can expand with you?” I jokingly asked.

“What!?  NO!   That’d be incredible!” he insisted.

“Even with clever engineering, there would have to be considerably more material involved without a reduction of thickness.  I doubt even Jarod can make the suits that much more streamlined, though I’m certain he’ll be able to reduce the bulk some.” suggested Alma.

“Actually, I was going to adjust my enchantment to create a metamorphic suit.” I explained.

“What?  James, magic such as you’d need doesn’t exist.” stated Alma.

“Neither did an enchantment such as I created.” I teased.

“Fair point, but I’ve seen the results of attempting to alter form with magic.  The results aren’t pleasant.” she insisted.

“I beg to differ, but Cosette makes quite a nice panther.” I told her.

Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.

“That is an entirely different case.  I do realize that certain types of creatures can alter their forms, but you’re talking about causing such an effect with residual energy.  We simply don’t know enough about it to manage such a feat.” she argued.

“I realize the Slayers are thought to be experts on magic, but I have access to other, much older experts.” I explained while watching Brandon, Brenna, Emma, and Portentia go back to playing around.

“The vampires…” she whispered.  “We long have wondered how they managed to create Poenari Island, but you surely aren’t suggesting they’d teach you on a whim.”

I listened as she talked about various disagreements the Slayers and vampires had over the years.  I also watched my friends play.  Portentia was far too fast for Brandon, Brenna, and Emma.  Cosette could keep up if she were pried away from Raine, but she didn’t have Portentia’s skill yet.

Holding up my hand to cut Alma off, I said, “Hold on.  I thought you said the Slayers knew about the spell that created the island.”

“We knew of it, not specifically how the spell was performed.  The one I would be able to discuss with you is of an entirely different nature.” she informed me.

“Oh.  Well, Vito already gave me an explanation on turning lead to gold, so I do believe he’ll gladly assist me in other endeavors if I ask.” I told her, avoiding an explanation of the true source I intended to use.

She looked at me in disbelief before saying, “Really?  James, the potential for such spells is virtually limitless!  I urge you to fly there this night if you really think he’ll show you.”

“I don’t really need to fly anywhere to learn.” I stated.

“I… suppose not.  Still, you should learn all you can from them.” she insisted.

“I won’t be able to show you yet.  Sorry, but I made a promise in that regard.” I explained.

Frowning, she said, “I see.”

I took her cheek in hand as I gazed into her eyes and said, “Try not to worry so much.  I assure you things will work out.”

Alma looked dubious, but she really did not understand Aaliyah as well as I did.  She hadn’t seen Aaliyah the way I had.  My mind shied away from the enormity of my tiny secretary.  Even thinking back to how I had perceived her greeting the fey was still overwhelming.  Such an entity could do what she wanted no matter who argued, and I was certain that she was always looking out for us.  Things really would work out.

“Master, might I engage Portentia in a fight more on her level?” asked Mila after approaching us.  She had changed out of her maid outfit and into a spandex one similar to what Emma often wore.

I nodded.

“Surely you can fight in something less revealing.” stated Alma.  “Besides, even you won’t keep up with her in that suit.”

“Lady Pendreigh, everyone here is quite well aware that I am not you, despite how similar we look.  Given such admirable proportions, should I be so reluctant about having them admired?  I think not.” she retorted.  “Furthermore, the master granted me enchantments that might well surpass the suits, so I feel plenty confident in this endeavor.”

I felt a surge of magic in Alma as Mila spoke, but she simply sighed as Mila rushed Portentia, throwing her backward a moment later.  Portentia gracefully caught herself with one hand and flipped backward.  As the two continued to fight, Mila’s greater skill was quite evident.  Her mind vastly outstripped her body’s speed, giving her far more time to respond, and she had full access to every last course on fighting.

Watching the two fight was unique in that pressure points were being completely ignored.  I understood why, given who was fighting, but I was still amused by the difference in style.  Though far more skilled in the use of her staff than unarmed, Portentia still had a fair understanding of how to fight now.

“I’m surprised Portentia hasn’t pulled out her staff yet.  She really has learned restraint and might well study unarmed combat with greater enthusiasm after this.  She’ll become even more of a nightmare to criminals in this city.” stated Alma as we watched.

“I’m a little worried that there isn’t enough energy back here to keep things going at this rate.  Would you mind helping things along?” I asked.

There was an intense surge of magic from Alma, causing her to glow as residual energy covered her.  I hastened the dispersal throughout the air and thanked Alma when she finished.

“Shouldn’t you two practice some as well?” she asked, looking down at Cosette and Raine.  “Even Brandon and Brenna are putting up a fair fight against Emma.”

Brenna had started using magic as well as hand-to-hand fighting, but Emma was quick to respond with her own.

“Fiiiine.” replied Cosette before sauntering back to her suit.

Raine, who had been curled up against Cosette, merely rolled onto her back and stretched before curling up once more.

“Brandon has to feel restrained without being able to change size.” I commented.

“I do look forward to seeing how you’ll fix the problem.” replied Alma.  Then she leaned down and petted Raine while saying, “I do understand that you avoid fighting, but look at them.  They’re having fun.  Even Mila is out playing today.  James and I will gladly be your partners.”

One of Raine’s eyes opened slightly, and I suddenly found myself on the ground next to Alma, staring up at Raine who was back in her human form wearing her typical cute hoodie.

“I-I win.” she stated.

Alma laughed and said, “I will never grow accustomed to that, but let’s try things a bit slower.”

“Just think of this as a game.  You’re limited by rules and attempting to outmaneuver us without moving faster than us.” I suggested.  “Everyone knows you love a good game.”

She nodded as she stepped back.  I stayed in pace with Alma as both of us attacked.  Many of Raine’s blocks shouldn’t have been effective, but she was incredibly strong, often shifting forms and back at the instant of impact.  Luckily, she always blocked with her palm when she shifted, so neither of us took needles through our arms.

I wondered at how fast her mind must race.  There were plenty of times when Raine failed to react quickly enough, given the restrained movement, but the same attack never worked twice.  She adjusted and adapted incredibly quickly.

Alma backed off and said “Though I’m grateful you don’t fly when you fight, I must ask… Were you aware that you can fly?”

“N-no.” stated Raine.

“I’d like to see you practice if you don’t mind.” admitted Alma.

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.

Raine glanced over to where the others were practicing and said, “I… They…  N-no.  P-please, no.”

Seeing Alma look annoyed by the response, I quickly said, “We all have our own issues, but you’re doing well, Raine.  I’m still quite thankful to have you here.”

She smiled at me with such earnest joy that I felt like hugging her, but I resisted, not wanting to risk making Alma jealous.  Life was much easier with peace at home.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 293

“How did you manage to get so many suits enchanted already?” asked Alma as she came up beside me.

The others had barely started testing out what their suits could do. Well, Emma was practically cuddling Raine now.

While wondering if I should attempt to free Raine, I replied “More secrets. Sorry. I’ll be able to tell you soon.”

“Showing me will probably be easier if the spell’s as complicated as you had said.” she suggested.

“No. Sorry. I never want to do that again.” I replied.

“James, did you kill someone?” she asked, sounding shocked.

“What? No! Why would you think that?” I inquired, equally shocked by the idea.

“There are ways to use people to power spells. You almost got caught in one before.” she told me.

I remembered. How could I not remember such a terrible plot being carried out at a school dance? “I know, but I swear I didn’t do such a thing.” I assured her.

“I didn’t really think you would, but I don’t have a good guess as to how you pulled it off.” she told me.

“Sorry.” I told her.

“Is Raine actually affected by catnip?” asked Alma.

Nodding, I said, “Surprisingly, yes.”

She laughed, and I enjoyed the pure beauty of it.

“Emma really shouldn’t have taken the risk.” she stated, still laughing.

“Risk?” I asked.

“Catnip essentially gets cats high, so Raine’s self-control is likely weakened at the moment. If she had a less amusing reaction, everyone could be dead.” she explained. “Still, I’m glad things worked out. This was worth seeing.”

“Ever try catnip on Alberich?” I asked.

“Maybe.” she replied coyly.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“He may or may not be in the percentile affected. Seeing a miniature lion being cozy with a plant might well be entertaining.” she claimed.

She ran, much faster than me with her own suit worn. I watched as she toyed with our friends, putting them off-balance with ease. There was a moment of fear as Raine rolled away from Emma before suddenly pouncing.

Time was frozen, and Raine had transformed. Her needle-like fur was more plainly visible than I had ever seen it. The distortions typically around her cat-like form were frozen as well. The claws coming from her hands seemed far too large to ever retract and came to very sharp points. Even frozen, I couldn’t wrap my head around the teeth in her mouth. What I was seeing didn’t seem possible, for there were far too many.

“Do you trust her?” asked Aaliyah.

I nodded and said, “Raine won’t hurt Alma. As bizarre as her eyes are, there’s still a playfulness to them.”

Aaliyah smiled and asked “Would you like to enhance yourself?”

I knew the spells. I could probably maintain them for a while.

“There’s an easier way, boss-man, sir.” she told me.

“Oh?” I asked.

“The potion that changed you placed limits on you, but they can be removed.” she stated.

“At what cost?” I asked.

“If you slip, you could burn through all your energy in an instant. On the other hand, you could keep up as long as you keep drawing more energy into yourself fast enough. You’ll need to focus, boss-man, sir. Really focus.” she told me.

“If I try this and then decide it’s a bad idea, is there a way to go back to how I am?” I asked.

“Of course, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do it for you.” she warned.

“What if I ask really nicely?” I inquired.

“You know I’ll do anything for you, boss-man, sir.” she replied with a smile.

“But that doesn’t mean you should.” I stated glumly. Many of her offers were far too outlandish to be considered. I really didn’t want to watch Alma speed beyond me, not anymore. “I accept, but would you mind letting me have a bit of a test run before life continues onward?” I asked.

She grinned and said, “Sure.”

“Ready when you are.” I told her.

“For?” she asked.

“The change.” I stated.

“Happened when you accepted.” she replied, looking adorably confused.

I moved, but I didn’t see any difference. “I don’t think it’s working.” I admitted.

“Want an instruction book? I pride myself on instruction manuals.” she claimed with a grin.

“A pointer perhaps?” I suggested.

“Fiiine. Just take the fun out of everything.” she replied with a very cute pout. “Focus on moving faster, pushing your limits. You just tried to move before, so you moved at your typical pace. You want to be faster, boss-man, sir. Be faster. Remember all of the times you’ve been too slow, and don’t be too slow this time.”

I couldn’t forget being too slow. I remembered Regina dying, because I was too slow to save myself… to save her. I remembered when I was human and thought Alma was an unbeatable force of nature. I remembered how she took me into the sewers to fight minotaurs. She killed them all when I was too slow to dodge. I remembered when she almost died, and I could do nothing to save her. Had I been faster to stop the necromancer, he wouldn’t have escaped. Had we found him more quickly, Mila’s original systems wouldn’t have been destroyed. I remembered the first time Raine transformed and how helpless I felt. There was no way to catch her.

I hadn’t even realized how fast I was moving till I tripped. Aaliyah caught me, running with me held over her head for a moment before slowly coming to a stop. I felt so weak as she set me on the ground.

“Aww… so fast, boss-man, sir. You were really moving!” she exclaimed. “I bet you would’ve made a nice splatter if I didn’t catch you.”

“Sorry.” I told her. I took a moment to realize she had carried me into my forest. I strained to pull energy to me. The strain reduced rapidly as I absorbed more and more. I hadn’t gone without energy in so long. I had forgotten that feeling of frailty. I absorbed more and more till I had far more than I usually allowed myself. Then I ran.

“Focus, boss-man, sir.” she told me, easily running alongside me. “Feel the energy draining. You need to stay focused and draw in enough to balance out your body’s use. Just like your enchantment, your body needs energy for the movement, it needs energy to counteract the friction between you and the air, it needs energy to keep you well-grounded, and it still needs energy to protect you and your clothing. Well, Emma might argue about the clothing.”

I tried, but there simply wasn’t enough once we left the forest. I slowed down till I could keep up with my usage.

“Where are we?” I asked, coming to a stop.

“Well, you ran for a good minute while decelerating, so roughly thirty-five point two three eight miles from home if we were to go straight there.” she replied with a grin. “Think of the sonic boom you’d be creating without the magic to cancel it out! The boss-man runs down a street and BOOM!”

“That would be quite terrifying.” I admitted.

“You seem to be getting the hang of things though. Wanna have a quick race?” she asked.

“Ha! I can’t win.” I stated.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t race!” she argued.

“Fine, but there isn’t enough energy around here to even push myself as hard on the way back.” I replied.

“Who says we have to stay here to race?” she asked with a grin.

I found that we were no longer on the highway where we had stopped, though we still seemed to be on a road of sorts. The sand around us looked purple, and three moons hovered in the sky. There was an incredible amount of energy throughout the air, nearly as dense as in my forest. Did she run me through the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce and onto another world? My thoughts veered away from a memory I didn’t want.

“Oh! You just thought of something neat!” she exclaimed.

“Well, we’re not on the same planet.” I stated.

“Not that. The bit about the restaurant that you didn’t want to think.” she replied.

“I had considered that the restaurant might not need to be entered by the door. It could sorta collect people from anywhere.” I told her.

“Yes! That part! Wouldn’t that be neat!?” she exclaimed.

“In a way…” I admitted, though I didn’t want the knowledge that brought about the conclusion. Those memories of my time spent using that room bothered me greatly. Power such as I had there was far too dangerous, since I didn’t have the wisdom to use it. What if I accidentally did something?

“You did!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“What!? What did I do?” I demanded.

“Helped people. You felt them in need, and you subconsciously helped them. You never like worrying about the details, so don’t. We’re here to race!” she insisted.

“Where’s the finish?” I asked.

Grinning even wider, she said, “One thousand miles ahead.”

I gaped. That distance seemed insane for a “quick race”.

“Really push yourself.” she told me, taking position to run.

“I’ll fire the gun!” exclaimed a… different Aaliyah? Her clothes were entirely different at least, and the gun she held was bigger than she was.

I took position, feeling there was no point in arguing with what I was seeing. I pulled in more and more energy as I prepared for the gunshot. The boom of the shot was incredible, but I passed it shortly after I started running. Aaliyah was easily keeping pace, so I pushed myself harder, thinking of nothing but the road, my footing, and the flow of energy through me. I hadn’t ran for fun like this since I quit the track team.

I saw a finish line ahead with at least a hundred Aaliyahs cheering. Was this really a thousand miles already? In that moment she passed me. Then she passed me again, and again, and again. As I reached the finish line, she passed me once more. Looking back after I slowed to a stop, I guessed I had taken over a mile just to come to a full stop.

“How does Raine do it? She feels like it.” claimed Aaliyah, looking ready to go again. “Thanks! You look perfectly energetic too, boss-man, sir.”

“Is that how you do it as well?” I asked.

She brushed away the thought with a wave of her hand and said, “Nah. My feelings are for you, cake, my daddy, other friends. No need to waste feelings on stopping.”

I laughed and shook my head. Aaliyah was always amazing.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 291

“Master, this will increase my efficiency dramatically!” exclaimed Mila.

“Well, more bodies does tend to have that effect.” I replied, leaning against the wall. I was still feeling shaken by the experience. The memories were too much, giving me a momentary headache if I thought too much about them.

“You didn’t increase the number of bodies, master, only the speed. Are you feeling okay?” asked Mila.

“I’ll be fine. I hadn’t realized you had four bodies.” I told her.

“I don’t, master. Only two, unless you’re including the cars, but I am not seeing any difference in those.

What? I know I enchanted four… I cringed away from the memory. As effortless as enchanting those bodies had been, thinking of all I had done was too much right now. There were four though.

Aaliyah winked at me, grinning.

I wondered what she was thinking, but knew I couldn’t take it. The memory of seeing more of her was far too much for me; her mind would be even beyond what I saw. A thought occurred to me as Mila danced around her mother with incredible speed and grace. Maybe I enchanted future bodies as well. Aaliyah knew I didn’t want to use that room again, so she might have saved me some future effort. When Mila did want more bodies, she wouldn’t want them left without enchantments after growing accustomed to the increased abilities of her current ones.

“I think I’m going to try on my own suit.” I announced, wanting something to take my mind off what had happened.

“Sorry, boss-man, sir.” replied Aaliyah.

“I’ll be fine. I know you mean well.” I assured her.

“About your suit.” she stated.

I stared at her blankly, not sure what she meant. I enchanted one for myself as well. I knew precisely where the suit was and moved to grab it. As my hand touched the fabric, things clicked. I sighed.

“I can’t use it, can I.” I told her.

“Well, you can wear it.” she replied.

Nodding glumly, I said, “But the enchantment is worthless on me. My own magic will counter it.”

“I’m sorry, boss-man, sir.” she stated again before coming over to hug me.

Mila hugged me as well. “Now I feel bad for complaining about not getting an upgrade. Had I known you couldn’t, I’d have been less pouty.” she told me.

“I’m glad I was I able to help you, Mila. No need to feel bad.” I told her, though I was greatly disappointed. The gap between Alma and I would be rather large when she wore hers. “I guess I could use Carnwennan to destroy this.”

“Boss-man, sir, that’d be quite wasteful.” stated Aaliyah, sounding disappointed that I’d suggest such a thing.

“No one is my size, so this’ll just take up space. We can’t exactly resize it.” I argued. “Oh. I suppose Brandon could resize himself to fit.”

Aaliyah flicked the suit, causing its shape to ripple and shrink. “Boss-man, sir! This suit’s perfectly sized for Aurora!”

“I guess the suit could be resized, but how is giving Aurora a suit wise? Wouldn’t that cause issues when she’s at home?” I asked.

“Not if she’s only allowed to wear it here.” replied Aaliyah. “You won’t have to worry about her stripping this way, since the suit will keep her comfortable.”

That truly would be a tremendous advantage. Ai and Mai would certainly have less to complain about when they did find out about Jarod’s lab assistant. “Point conceded.” I told her.

“Another option would be to give the suit to our sleepy friend there. I could totally do fairy size.” suggested Aaliyah.

I looked at the tiny fairy resting on a workbench and felt she was perfectly fine as she was. Having her be any more dangerous could be extremely hazardous to others. Looking back to Aaliyah, I said, “No, I think Aurora will enjoy it more. They fey don’t really seem to enjoy clothing.”

Aaliyah shrugged and grinned as Mila took the resized suit over to Aurora. There was a bit of an exchange between the two, and I quickly turned around as Aurora started to strip. The girl had no sense of modesty at all.

“She was easily convinced.” I mumbled.

Aaliyah giggled and said, “Aurora’s been wanting one, silly. She really is observant, boss-man, sir.”

I supposed the girl would take interest in what else was being done down here, considering the sorts of things Jarod normally did, but I didn’t think Aurora and a semi-thick suit meshed well without knowing what all it did.

“You’re focusing on the wrong train of thought, boss-man, sir.” suggested Aaliyah.

I took a moment to consider before saying, “She really does just want to fit in?” I had also been considering how much quicker she’d be able to complete her project, wondering if I could get Brandon’s suit to adjust to his abilities in some way, and pondering what Alma might be doing.

Nodding, Aaliyah said, “I can also point you in the right direction to improve Brandon’s next suit, but I’ll tell you upfront that letting the Slayers learn about magic to transform matter is a bad idea.”

I could think of far too many ways they might abuse such magic if they learned of it, so I couldn’t argue. “I don’t really see them finding out the specifics of how to accomplish it.” I admitted.

“They won’t, but that’s another spell you should hold off on showing Alma till after you’re married.” she insisted.

“Do you have some insane prenuptial agreement written up?” I asked.

“Of course, boss-man, sir!” she exclaimed with a grin.

I found myself briefly hugged by Aurora before she ran back to her station and started moving her arms around very quickly. She seemed to have mastered the gesture interface already.

Aaliyah informed me “Hers is custom, of course, as is her schooling. Aurora will end up living here eventually.”

“What? Is something going to happen to her parents?” I asked.

:They die in a car crash and Aurora is hospitalized on a family vacation.: she replied.

I took a moment to realize that Aaliyah hadn’t spoken aloud. Aurora was staring over at us now.

:The suit enhanced her hearing as well due to those spells you added, and she can’t know in advance.: explained Aaliyah.

:Won’t you save them?: I asked. I knew she could.

:That’s their time, boss-man, sir.: she stated.

I knew by her tone there was no arguing. When Aaliyah said someone’s time was up, nothing I said could change her mind. :Doesn’t she have other family?: I asked.

:Yes, but she wouldn’t be happy with them.: she insisted. :She’ll have all the family and friends she’ll ever want here. You bring so many people together.:

:I’d argue that you do, and I am just blessed by it.: I told her.

She smiled and said, :If you hadn’t saved me, I wouldn’t have helped you find them. I can show you how many people you’d personally have found and saved then. There would still be many, boss-man, sir. In all the realms of what could have been possible, you were always magnificent.:

I laughed and gave her a hug. I made far too many mistakes to really be that amazing, especially without her help, but no one could compare with my tiny secretary.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 290

“Oh. I should have asked if Aurora was down here.” I muttered. Between jobs and spending some time with my friends, I had managed to get two more suits enchanted over the past couple days. I came down into Jarod’s lab to work on another.

“I was going to warn you, master, but mother told me not to say anything.” explained Mila.

“What?” I blurted. Why would Aaliyah… I grinned as I watched Aurora float off the ground on the latest test model of the flying contraption. “I see.”

“Oh?” inquired Mila.

“I just realized I want to enchant more than the suits. Would you be able to apply the battery compartment adjustment you planned for the suits to those flying devices?” I asked.

“You’ll have to adjust your spells for the different power requirements.” she warned. “But yes, although Aurora will probably want to make adjustments on the rest of the design to take advantage of the lighter weight.”

“I suppose I can wait. Mind running the idea by Jarod before you get her on it?” I inquired.

“I wouldn’t proceed any other way, master.” she replied. “After his approval, I’ll try to get Aurora to work on the new design. If she’s not comfortable with the change, I’ll make the adjustments myself.”

Nodding, I said, “Just let me know the specs when you have them, so I can work the spells out. Oh! Tell me if you want to cheat a little with the propulsion. I can do some fancy stuff with air now.”

“If Ai and Mai get mad, I’m laying full blame on you.” stated Mila.

“Why would they be mad? I think they’ll enjoy these.” I insisted.

“Master, the honeymoon’s started.” replied Mila.

“Oh. That’s great! You could postpone telling Jarod until he’s back.” I told her.

“I believe Jarod will want to know about your idea immediately, so I’m not deleting the message from his phone.” she replied.

“Are you upset about something?” I asked.

“Why would you think that, master?” she inquired.

I sighed and said, “If I’ve done something to offend you, I really have no clue what. Please tell me.”

“Oh, master. I was just hoping you’d offer to give me an upgrade as well.” she admitted.

“Huh? What do you mean?” I asked.

“My bodies use similar muscle structures to the suits, so enchanting them for me shouldn’t be difficult, though certain adjustments to the bodies and the spells would be necessary, I’m sure.” she explained.

“Ah. Sure. I can get working on that when Aurora’s finished. I don’t really want to get enough energy while she’s here, due to the side effect.” I told her.

“You’d make my baby girl wait for such a silly reason?” complained Aaliyah, now staring up at me.

Mila picked her up and said, “Yes, mother… Not only did he fail to consider that I might want to benefit from his work as well, but he wants me to wait for an indefinite future.”

“Oh, please. You both know why.” I told them.

“Who does he think is protecting Aurora from his magic when she’s away from here?” inquired Aaliyah.

“I don’t know, mother.” replied Mila.

True. Was Aurora simply not affected by me for some reason?

“Oh, boss-man, sir, Aurora’s been affected by your enchantment since before you met her. Alma wasn’t too far off when she suggested half the state was affected when you worked on the suits.” claimed Aaliyah.

“She doesn’t really pay attention to me.” I stated.

“Sure, she does. Remember when she saved you from being electrocuted?” asked Aaliyah.

“The imaginary electricity, sure.” I replied.

Grinning, Aaliyah explained “She’s always watching you when you’re around, but she has no idea how to express her feelings. She really, really likes you even though you don’t talk with her.”

“Well, glad I have a new reason to feel guilty.” I mumbled. I really didn’t know how to communicate with Aurora.

“Wow. Under a second, and you already thought of one. Brilliant!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“I don’t really think it’s that good of an idea.” I insisted.

“What?” asked Mila.

“He realized he could relay messages through our friend there.” explained Aaliyah as she pointed at the little fairy.

I almost asked when she got down here, but Aaliyah probably brought her. I never meant for Aurora to see her. If Aurora actually noticed, she gave no sign of it.

“That could work. Otherwise, I could probably relay things for you, master.” stated Mila.

“Onto upgrading my baby!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she hugged Mila.

“I don’t even know where to begin yet.” I admitted.

“I’m already fabricating materials for mother to install on my bodies, master” stated Mila.

“Just study the wall there, boss-man, sir.” ordered Aaliyah.

I didn’t recognize a number of the spells being displayed and saw no explanation for how they worked. This wasn’t going to be easy considering these spells were even more complicated than what I had used for the suits.

“You’ll manage, boss-man, sir. Have some faith in yourself! If you really want an explanation, there’s a full course now available. Jarod had based Mila’s skeleton off my grandfather’s designs, so some of the enhancements will be affecting that instead of ‘human’ flesh. The other adjustments for her muscles are more similar to what you did to the suits, but I tweaked things a bit.” explained Aaliyah.

I nodded and started committing everything to memory. Aaliyah had also made adjustments to the spell I designed. I wasn’t completely certain, but I believed she streamlined the spell a bit more for me. I took a while to realize I was being hugged and nearly jumped to find Aurora was the one doing the hugging.

“Told ya.” stated Aaliyah as she used some device on Mila’s skin to reseal it.

Before I figured out what I should do, Aurora wandered off back to her work area.

“Are you certain she wasn’t simply feeling cold again?” suggested Mila. “She does that with me often.”

“She was cold, but she also picked James. No, she didn’t pick him because he seemed less busy, staring at the wall.” replied Aaliyah.

“As you say, mother.” stated Mila.

“We’re all set, so let’s go!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Go?” I asked.

“Yep. You’re going to enchant four bodies for Mila and the rest of the suits at once.” claimed Aaliyah.

“I can’t. Doing a single suit’s a struggle, and a single body’s even more complicated.” I argued.

“First off, you don’t really struggle enchanting a suit. That’s just concentrating, boss-man, sir. Furthermore, you’re going to do it all at once.” insisted Aaliyah as she stepped onto the lift.

I didn’t see how I could possibly live up to her expectations, but I couldn’t win an argument with her either. Somehow, this was going to work. I stepped onto the lift, turned around as it started rising, and realized Mila wasn’t following. My little friend was frozen mid-flight. between us.

Before I could jump off, Aaliyah grabbed my hand and said, “She doesn’t need to be there, boss-man, sir.”

I nodded dumbly, feeling more and more confused. As I followed Aaliyah back into my house, I spotted Brandon grinning in the hall. I was tempted to take a picture of him as we passed, so I could show him his goofy expression later. I could always claim Mila took it.

“Mila’s going to love that one! She’ll actually take it, so you won’t even have to lie!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“We’re not going to the forest?” I asked, feeling even more surprised.

“No need. In a sense, the forest will be coming to you.” she stated.

That wasn’t an entirely pleasant notion. Aaliyah led me through the house and down into a passageway beyond a hidden door. I remembered these stairs. I once thought Jarod died down here. The eerily glowing room was entirely made of stone. Countless engravings covered the sphere.

Aaliyah quickly assured me “Not countless, boss-man, sir. You could easily count them if you took the time.”

“True, but I doubt I’ll ever bother. Why are we here?” I asked.

“First, a precaution. If you ever use the room with someone other than me inside, you’ll kill them instantly, so you probably want to make sure to seal it first thing.” she informed me with a grin.

“Lovely.” I replied sarcastically. “How do I seal it?”

“Open your mind to the room like you would to the fey, boss-man, sir.” she told me.

The idea sounded odd, but I did as she instructed. The door instantly closed. I could feel my entire mansion. I knew where everyone was, though I wouldn’t say I was seeing them. I was just aware. I was aware of the army of “dolls” who did the cleaning. I was similarly aware of Marco’s cooking in the kitchen. I wondered if this was how Emma felt her plants, since I felt as if every blade of grass in my yard was a part of me. The energy of the forest moved at my whim, and I could feel every last fey. I didn’t realize quite how many there were. I hadn’t met them all yet.

My vault sat below the forest. I hadn’t known quite where before. There was so much energy around it, but not the type I could use. This was something else, like a white star burning under the forest.

“You could put a star out with that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.” whispered Aaliyah, directly into my mind.

I felt so tiny as I focused on her. She stretched on and on past the farthest stars.

“Look away, James. You’ll go mad.” she ordered.

I instantly did. Part of me yearned to keep looking, but the presence of her voice in my mind was overwhelming. I felt like I could touch planets. If I thought about any given one, I grew more and more aware of it. Many were lifeless, but I found ones that weren’t and saw beings like I had never imagined.

“Focus, boss-man, sir. You know why you’re here.” stated Aaliyah.

“But there’s something odd nearby. I don’t know how to describe it, but I can sense the thing throughout the world. Throughout many worlds… so very many worlds.” I told her.

“That’s the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.” she informed me. You can eat later, boss-man, sir. Focus.”

I resisted the urge to look at the thousands of interesting things I was sensing. I found the suits. I found Mila’s bodies. Enchanting them was easy. Practically effortless. I suddenly felt scared. I shouldn’t have this kind of power.

I was on the ground, trembling. I heard the sphere’s door slide open. Aaliyah knelt beside me and hugged me. “How long have I been in here?” I asked.

“To most everyone else, no time has passed, but you experienced nearly an hour. You got a bit lost for a while there.” she replied.

“Aaliyah, can you destroy this thing?” I asked.

“Of course, but why would I?” she inquired.

“I shouldn’t have that kind of power, Aaliyah. What if someone else figured out how to use this? It’s so simple… terrifyingly simple.” I warned her.

Squeezing me tighter, she said, “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. No one else can use it. Well, I mean… I could if I really wanted, but…”

“You don’t need it.” I whispered. Even remembering what I felt when I focused on Aaliyah started to make my head ache. “Is there no end to you?”

“To me? That’d be boring. Besides, everywhere needs a little Death!” she exclaimed, winking and smiling cheesily as she pointed her fingers at me.

“Will you destroy this?” I asked again.

“Of course not. You’ll want to use it again someday.” she insisted.

“That’s what frightens me. I felt like I could do anything.” I told her.

“But you can’t. You can do some really amazing things once you get the hang of it though.” she replied.

“I don’t want to get the hang of it, Aaliyah.” I argued.

“No, but you will. You’ll never enjoy it, boss-man, sir, but you’ll use it to save people. Another thing you should know is that you’ll get attention when you use it. Everyone capable of using magic throughout the world would have sensed what you did if they could feel anything right now. Now let’s get back to see how my baby girl likes her upgrade!” exclaimed Aaliyah, lifting up her arms to be carried.

I picked her up and started to move. I was still trembling, but the shaking subsided as I walked. Aaliyah had frightened me before in many different ways, but never so intimately. I was scared of myself.