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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 289

“Do you know what the point of this is?” I asked.

“The seisen, or holy war, is a traditional part of Slayer weddings in Japan. The first time a Slayer chose his bride from Japan, he had admired the samurai and wanted to be further entertained by them, so all who opposed the wedding were to send their best warriors to face him.” explained Alma.

“What about that makes it a holy war?” I asked.

“He was whispered to be an evil demon even before the wedding, and he fought against many armies before the proceedings.” she replied.

“Then why would anyone accept such an invitation?” I inquired.

“Some were honor-bound. Most weren’t even warned of what they’d be facing. The ‘invitations’ came as warnings of a threat, requests for aid, and various other ruses. The bride’s father was too terrified to refuse. His own men had been slaughtered when he tried removing the Slayer from his lands. Thousands of samurai died. Since then, a ceremony came into being which romanticized the occasion by having the groom go through the numerous steps that my forebear took before his wedding.” she informed me.

I frowned, wondering if there were any stories of the Slayers where they had been decent people. Aaliyah’s giggles did nothing to belie my suspicion that there weren’t such stories

“Relax, James. No one has died during this display since that day, not that anyone’s gone through with the full ceremony in hundreds of years to my knowledge, but Izumi wouldn’t risk Jarod dying at this point. I’m sure he won’t even be fighting that many people, and he doesn’t even seem fatigued from his earlier trials.” claimed Alma.

I felt there was some doubt in her statement, as if she questioned its validity as well. When ten men dressed in ceremonial-looking armor hustled onto the stage carrying hoko yari, I wasn’t remotely relieved by the sheen of their blades. The weapons looked far too sharp for a mock battle.

Jarod, however, looked completely calm, standing boldly with his arms at his sides. Why didn’t he wear muramasa? Was he not allowed a weapon? The men pointed their polearms at Jarod as they started to approach. As they stabbed at him in unison, he fell back onto his hands and kicked the polearms up and away from him just below their blades. Then he flipped backward, landing on his feet again.

The men, undaunted, started to circle him. Jarod rushed one, dodged the thrust of the man’s polearm, snapped off the blade, and held it at the man’s throat before he could react. As Jarod pulled the blade away, the man bowed and walked off the stage. Surprisingly, Jarod was holding back his newfound speed.

The other nine seemed more wary now, slowly approaching in a tighter formation. With a blade in hand, Jarod moved straight at them. As the first one started to attack, Jarod knocked the weapon aside and quickly slid into the gap between it and the nearest polearm. He stopped short of stabbing the second man’s chest while simultaneously kicking the back of the first man’s knee. After a tiny pause, he maneuvered the weapon back at the first man’s throat. He then flipped over an attack from a third man, kicked him to the ground and stabbed at a fourth. The other half quickly followed suit.

I was faster and stronger than Jarod even with the enhancement he now had, but I doubted I’d ever consider myself as dangerous. Where I would have knocked men down repeatedly until they stopped fighting, Jarod quite clearly would have killed these men had he followed through with his attacks.

Before the last two men had even left the stage, five more stepped onto it, drawing swords immediately. As they charged Jarod, I was certain one of them wasn’t human. He was too graceful, too at ease. Jarod dodged the first attack, disarmed the man and sliced open the front of his armor while twisting the sword around to block two attacks. A faint line of blood could be seen through the severed armor, but the wound didn’t look deep to me.

Jarod then stepped over a blade aimed at his leg as he pushed the attackers back. He slipped around one and brought the hilt of his sword into the man’s head. The second attacker took another swing, but his wrist connected hard against the back of Jarod’s sword, breaking bone.

The remaining two advanced, but Jarod made a slashing motion across the two injured men as if he was finishing them off. He didn’t hesitate as he pushed the right man’s blade into the attack of the left one’s and stopped short of stabbing through the first man. I then realized that Jarod had also noticed which of his opponents was strongest. He had purposely been picking off his weaker opponents first.

The last attacker pulled a tantō from his belt as he spun around his comrade, aiming the knife at Jarod’s waist as his sword came for Jarod’s head. The tantō was moving faster than I believed a human was able to stab while the sword moved at a more believable pace. I winced as Jarod used the arm of the man he stopped short of stabbing to block the tantō while slamming the back of his blade up into the attacker’s wrist.

As another attack came with the tantō, Jarod twisted the man’s arm, broke it, and grabbed the tantō out of the air. He continued under the man’s arm, tripping him and falling with him while moving the dagger to the back of the man’s throat.

Unlike the others, the man didn’t bow and retreat after he stood; he attacked again, kicking at Jarod with inhuman speed. Without hesitation, Jarod stabbed the tantō into the back of the man’s ankle while stepping forward and thrusting his sword through the man’s stomach. I grimaced as the man yelled out in pain and fell.

Without another glance at the man, Jarod left the weapons in him and walked to the edge of the stage. After a bow, Jarod proceeded off, following a path away from where I could see.

“I would consider that a decisive victory.” stated Alma.

“Is that man going to die?” I asked.

Alma quickly assured me “No, of course not. Those are skilled physicians rushing to him.”

At the same time, Aaliyah said, “Yes, but not today!”

As thankful as I was that Jarod hadn’t killed anyone, I didn’t feel inclined to watch him fight again if anyone was foolish enough to force him into one. Watching my best friend cold-heartedly injure others was unpleasant at best. I couldn’t deny the efficiency of his method, but I could take no pleasure in the sight of anyone injured.

“James, relax. They’ll all be fine.” insisted Alma.

“Sorry. I will never understand why things have to be so brutal with your family.” I admitted.

“I would hardly call this brutal, especially compared to that one.” she argued, pointing at Aaliyah.

Aaliyah grinned in a most adorable fashion as she said, “I’m brutal!”

“But what’s the point?” I asked.

“You’re right. My family should go back to playing chess with the lives of others, pitting army versus army to decide a victor.” teased Alma.

“Not funny. Aren’t there enough resources for people to live peacefully?” I suggested.

Alma frowned and seemed to be considering how to answer.

“This has to happen, boss-man, sir. I promise to show you why relatively soon.” replied Aaliyah.

“Are you admitting to scheming against my family?” asked Alma.

“No. I simply know which Slayer’s plan this is. Everything will happen as it should.” insisted Aaliyah.

Alma looked troubled by the statement, but I really didn’t get any of it. What sort of person would think this is necessary and why would Aaliyah agree? Would I ever really understand?

Aaliyah tugged my sleeve and smiled again when I looked at her. Then she said, “Yes, boss-man, sir. Yes, you will.”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 288

“Boo.” I stated as Jarod walked into the room.

He didn’t seem surprised at all. Smiling, he said, “I’m still not married yet according to Izumi. Technically, you’re not supposed to be in here, by the way.”

“Aaliyah mentioned it, but I have another wedding present for you.” I told him.

“Ah.” he said as his eyes scanned the room. “Mila had mentioned that you wanted to do some work on my suit.”

I knew he spotted the suit already with how he kept glancing over in its direction. Nodding, I asked “Have time to try it?”

He hesitated a moment, but then he jogged over to it, saying, “You know I’m making time! What did you modify?”

“Nothing much, though you might consider modifying your power source plans. I believe I have you covered. I did a significant amount of research, created a new spell, and then ended up modifying it slightly after a bit of testing with Alma. I’m sure there will be more changes in the future, but I assure you that I’m off to a good start.” I told him.

“Whoa. Dude! I can tell. I really can tell. I felt like your speech slowed down by the end. This is incredible!” he exclaimed, speaking rapidly. “I’m talking really fast right now, aren’t I.”

I nodded.

“How did you get used to speaking slowly so quickly? How do you even know how slowly to speak?” he asked.

“You can gauge off general chatter if you’re worried about it. Listen to some music or watch part of a slow. You’ll probably need some practice, honestly. I think I was gifted a natural instinct for it with my change.” I admitted.

“Ah. That’s convenient.” he stated as he jumped, rolled, and sprang back to his feet. “You made some sort of sound-dampening spell for this, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I felt a quiet step wouldn’t hurt.” I told him. I then threw fire at him, smirking as shock came to his face.

“Whoa! What was that?” he asked.

“I did some variants off what Mila had suggested and found a few spells I liked better.” I replied.

“How long will this last?” he asked. The worry in his voice was obvious.

“I believe the suit will stay enchanted indefinitely as long as you wear it frequently. If left in one place too long, it might well absorb all the energy in the area and eventually run out. I’d occasionally wear it into my forest if I were you.” I told him.

“Mila said you wanted extra suits made. Why the backups then?” he asked.

“Oh. Sorry. Not backups. If you don’t mind, I’d like everyone in my company to get one. Then we’d be able to do more testing and protect our friends.” I explained.

“I suppose that does make sense. I’m cool with it.” he stated. “I don’t know how much this’ll be able to help some of them.”

Smiling, I said, “Alma was my guinea pig. I should also mention that I might be able to provide a similar spell to power your larger suit.”

Jarod’s mouth was hanging open as he stared at me. “Alma was your test subject? She was enhanced by this? I admit the speed is far more than I expected from my design, but I don’t see how she could’ve benefited.”

“I came across these spells meant to enhance the subject’s overall structure, granting heightened strength, speed, and durability. I tweaked them a bit and used one set to enhance the suit itself and another to enhance the wearer. Then I put in some spells to regulate both sets, supplying more energy where needed.” I explained. “Things seem to work as intended.”

Jarod barked a laugh and said, “Yeah. I’d say so.”

I watched as he balanced on one hand, pushed off the ground, and caught himself on a single finger. He seemed to be getting far more of a boost from the suit than Alma had. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jarod was as fast as the twins now. With his skills, he’d be more than a match for either of them, despite their years of training.

“I still can’t believe how fast you learn.” I admitted.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Martial arts, engineering, languages, acrobatics, and everything else seem natural to you.” I stated.

“Please. Even before your change, you learned just as fast when you actually applied yourself.” he claimed.

Strangely, he actually seemed to believe it. “No, I don’t think so. When we first started learning from Emma, I had a huge lead on you with martial arts. You weren’t even in shape for it at the time. Within months, you were deadly.” I argued.

Jarod shrugged and said, “I learned martial arts from the assassin. I don’t know of anyone beating my trainer at anything, including teaching methods.”

No, no one ever beats Death. “You’re still remarkable. How many people make millions off an engine design they thought up in high school?” I teased.

“Yeah, well… I did get help selling the design.” he replied with a smirk.

“True, but you’re still very good.” I stated.

“Still not as good as your timing. I’m supposed to face off against a few people in a ceremonial battle soon. Knowing Izumi, she’ll have some of her best in play this time.” he informed me.

“She can’t still be trying to oppose your marriage. That’d be crazy.” I stated in disbelief.

“Not openly, but she can hardly be blamed if there’s an accident. Her family would never accept someone who allows an accident to get in their way.” he replied.

“I… see.” I told him, not feeling very pleased about the situation.

“When does your flight leave?” he inquired.

“As soon as I leave here.” I claimed. I couldn’t tell him how I actually got here.

“Gotta love private jets… I don’t really know when I’ll be back yet. Ai and Mai might have some convoluted scheme in place for our honeymoon.” he stated.

I smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. I assure you that our home will still be there when you return. Tell me if Izumi gives you too much trouble.”

“I’ll tell her you said that.” he teased.

Jarod started putting some ceremonial-looking outfit over his suit.

“Are you sure they won’t disqualify you somehow if you’re wearing that?” I asked.

“Is it visibly magical?” he inquired.

“Well, no.” I told him.

“Good. No one can be mad about me wearing some high-tech thermal underwear. I’m only human.” he claimed with a grin.

I was certain Alma would be able to help him sort out any mess that came from this, but I didn’t really think wearing the suit would be considered acceptable. On the other hand, the suit might save his life if Izumi really was planning something.

“How do I look?” he asked.

“I actually like the outfit, but seeing you in anything other than a t-shirt and jeans is a bit strange.” I teased.

“Yeah-yeah. I start wearing suits, and you’re still not happy. I put on a ceremonial garment, and you tell me I look strange. Some friend you are.” he replied sarcastically. He sighed when a distant bell rang. “I need to be off. I’ll make sure to tell you how it goes!”

“Good luck!” I told him. “Oh, and you might want to slow down a bit”

He looked at me in confusion for a moment before saying, “Ah. Yeah. Thanks.”

I probably should’ve warned him about still talking too fast, but I was certain he’d catch on as quickly as he did with everything else. I stood and found myself back at home in my study with Aaliyah sitting on the desk.

“He seemed happy.” she told me.

I nodded and said, “Thank you for the lift.”

“I’ll start having to charge you massages. What if I pull a muscle!” she exclaimed.

“I somehow doubt that’s an issue for you.” I replied.

“Are you joking? I can pull all the muscles, boss-man, sir.” she insisted.

“No doubt, but I don’t believe you pull anything you don’t want to be pulled.” I told her.

She shrugged and said, “I should at least charge you cake.”

“As many as you want.” I replied.

“Yippee!!!” she exclaimed, jumping off the desk and hugging me.

“Jarod’s going to be fine, isn’t he?” I asked.

Smiling up at me, she said, “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. He’ll put on quite a performance. Mila! Bring up a video feed for your mommy!”

“As you wish, mother.” replied Mila.

The room changed to display a stage. Around us appeared to be stadium style seating made from interlocking stones and tiny wooden planks that served as a long, curved bench. Izumi and Duncan sat to my left with a few people I didn’t recognize under an elaborate canopy. Numerous others were seated throughout the area, quietly chatting between their groups.

“Popcorn?” offered Aaliyah, holding up a bucket filled with it.

“Have anything to drink?” I asked.

She sighed and gestured to my desk with her head. Three large drinks sat there.

“Are you drinking two?” I asked.

“Alpy, I’m sorry. I guess James isn’t inviting you.” stated Aaliyah.

“James! How could you forget your fiancée?” teased Alma from where she now stood beside Aaliyah.

“Oh. Sorry.” I told her, surprised that she had no complaints about being brought here from wherever she had been.

She grabbed my arm, pulled me down, and kissed my cheek before stealing the popcorn bucket from my hand.

“Forgiven for now.” she declared. “Was Jarod happy about his suit?”

“Extremely.” I assured her.

“He’s wearing it still, isn’t he.” she stated.

“Yes. Will that be a problem?” I asked.

“No, but this will be most amusing.” she replied with a smile.

Extra seats rose from my floor to accommodate everyone, and we all sat back to watch. This would be interesting.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 287

“James.” came some distant voice. “James!?” The voice sounded urgent. “JAMES!?” exclaimed Alma.

Alma… I lost track of my thoughts, turning from what I was reading to see her. Wait. Nothing was in front of me. Alma looked… worried.

“Is something wrong!?” I asked, standing and moving to her.

She seemed relieved as she grabbed my hands. “What have you been doing? I haven’t heard from you in days. By the end of the second, I asked Mila to contact you, but she claimed that you seemed to be sleeping. She failed to mention that you were sleeping at a desk.”

“Sorry to offend you, Lady Pendreigh, but my master was indisposed.” replied Mila.

“I’ve heard quite enough of that, thank you.” stated Alma, sounding annoyed.

I could feel her magic pulsing through her body. How angry was she?

I gently squeezed her hands as I said, “I truly am sorry for worrying you. I’ve been working something out.”

“Oh? Something for our wedding?” she asked, smiling at me.

“No. Sorry.” I replied.

She frowned.

“Please, don’t be upset.” I begged. “I don’t even know what day we’re on now. I hope I didn’t miss any clients.”

Mila quickly assured me “No, master. Don’t worry. Your schedule was cleared ahead.”

I sighed in relief and said, “Well, I’m thankful for that at least.”

“But what has kept you so preoccupied?” demanded Alma.

“I can finish Jarod’s suit. There are still some things I’d like to refine more, but he’s going to be thrilled!” I exclaimed.

“Finished? What do you mean?” she asked.

“Oh. Remember how he had asked me to enchant his suit for him? I know how now.” I told her.

“I already showed you how such a thing could be done.” she replied.

“What?” I asked. Oh. I remembered what she had shown me. “No. That would never do. The enchantments as you do them can never hold on their own, and the spells you demonstrated are too inefficient.”

She looked offended as she said, “And you can do better?”

“Sorry. Please, don’t be mad. I really can do better. Far better.” I insisted. “Give me a couple hours, and I’ll show you.”

“Now what are you doing?” she asked.

“I need to stop in my forest for a minute, and then I’ll get to work.” I explained.

“You expect this to take you a couple hours? Let me watch.” she commanded.

“I can’t, not yet.” I replied.

She was frowning at me, obviously displeased.

“I promise this will be worth the wait.” I told her before kissing her hand. “Please, just a little longer.”

She rolled her eyes, but a smile tugged at her lips for a moment. “You’ll pay if I’m disappointed.” she warned.

“No doubt. See you soon.” I told her. I only took a step before turning back to her and asking, “Would you do your best to protect everyone’s minds for a bit?”

“How much are you planning on absorbing?” she asked.

I smiled and said, “You’ll soon feel it.”

She took off, hopefully to help the others.

I ran to my forest and then waited several minutes, pacing in my impatience. There was so much to do. Fey had started gathering around me, so I started making spells to protect them a bit as well. Then I pulled at the energy around me, drawing all I could to me. I moved, casting spells to protect fey I saw as I went, and then I pulled more energy to me before repeating the acts several more times.

I took off to the garage, jumping down inside, since Mila had already lowered a lift for me. I smiled, seeing Jarod’s suits. He really did amazing work, and Mila had fabricated extras for me, one for everyone. I was only going to enchant one for now though. I started, layering spell after spell into the suit and continually feeding them all energy as I worked. Then I started working on the big spell.

In the past few days, ― Had it really been that long? ―my understanding of magic had grown tremendously. I knew the meaning behind a great many of the symbols formed to make spells after seeing them repeated over and over and over again. I eventually was able to piece together what I knew as Aaliyah had hinted, creating a spell capable of creating other spells.

In addition to feeding the spells in place, my spell would react to a large number of triggers, creating spells based off the templates within it to further strengthen the wearer or redirect dangerous magic. Heat applied against the suit would automatically be redirected toward the ground. Strong winds would pass around the wearer. Well, both effects actually varied by other conditions. If the wearer’s body temperature were to change after donning the suit, the spell would help balance it. If a breeze created by the wearer were to affect the suit, the spell should still work.

That last part might not work quite as intended. Despite the vastness of the database, certain symbols only appeared once, and I had to make guesses at their purpose based off their use. Whatever the case, I’d be able to refine my spells more in time. With Jarod’s permission, I’d be able to get a suit to all of my employees and make use of them in our sparring sessions. Then we could test both the suit and its enchantments with relative safety.

All other thoughts left me as I focused on the trickier parts of the spell. More and more concentration was needed as I held the enormous creation in place till completion. I checked and double-checked my work, making sure everything was in place. When released, I sensed nothing from the suit. I waited patiently, smiling as I watched energy drift into the suit and disappear.

In my research, I came across a spell for hiding residual energy. I had attempted to refine it further with knowledge of other spells I found. From what I saw, the spell worked perfectly. Despite the enormous amount of magic this suit could contain, the only sign of it would be residual energy disappearing when coming in contact with the suit.

“You did receive Jarod’s permission for this test, correct?” I asked.

“Of course, master, though I failed to mention that we were testing the magic of the suit and not the suit itself. Knowing Jarod, he probably is guessing at our purpose, but he didn’t say.” replied Mila.

“Well, I don’t intend to keep him in suspense for long. Let’s get this one to Alma. Mind summoning her to her chambers?” I asked.

“As you wish, master.” stated Mila.

I jumped onto the rising lift and jumped from there to the surface level before running to Alma’s wing. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling, despite my efforts.

“James? Are you finished? You would not believe the amount of energy I had to expend simply to maintain my spells. I dare say half of the state might have been affected by you.” she stated in a rather accusatory manner.

“I can’t help being myself.” I told her, though I did feel a touch guilty. I still didn’t believe affecting the minds of others was right, but I knew of no way to isolate my effects. Perhaps if I did more research…

“Did you fail?” asked Alma, staring dubiously at the suit. “You don’t expect me to wear that, do you?”

I pushed some nearby energy toward the suit and watched Alma as it disappeared. She seemed… slightly quizzical.

“Yes, I do expect you to wear this. Aside from Raine, you’re the most durable person here.” I stated.

“I would have suggested Cosette to be your guinea pig, since she might actually get some use from this thing.” retorted Alma.

I failed to suppress a smirk. If my spells worked as I thought they would, Alma was in for a surprise.

“I’ll wait for you out back.” I told her.

“Race you there.” she teased, dashing off to change.

She did beat me, much to my surprise. Stopping in front of me with a look of shock on her face. I could’ve ran faster, but I would never match her speed with the suit’s enhancement.

“This accelerates the mind as well as the body.” she muttered. “Oh, James… this might well be addictive.”

“Mind if I try a few spells against you?” I asked.

She took a defensive stance and smiled.

“No, don’t defend yourself. The suit should handle these by itself.” I told her.

She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. I quickly created a spell to attack her from four directions with fire. The flames seemed to be sucked under her feet.

“If you wanted to test fire, all you needed to do was ask.” she stated.

“No! Don’t!” I warned, thankful when I felt her magic stop. “You should be able to affect yourself with spells that the suit would stop from others, so you could probably burn it off and ruin our tests.”

“I see.” she replied.

“Try running without your usual spells.” I suggested.

She acquiesced, and my magic seemed to be working. She wasn’t displacing the air. I didn’t sense any heat as she passed me. I created a spell to reduced friction under her feet, but she didn’t seem to slip.

“What was that!?” she asked.

Oh. Oops. I quickly explained “A variation of one of the spells you use when you move. I created a slick spot in the grass, and the suit countered nicely.”

Nodding, she said, “Mind showing me that spell? I only caught a glimpse.”

“Sorry. I can’t show you any of what I used in the suit until we’re married. Aaliyah gave me access to a… spellbook of sorts.” I explained.

She frowned but nodded again. Then she said, “This is absolutely remarkable. I don’t believe I could keep up with Raine for an instant, but I feel stronger.”

My smile broadened as I told her “I think the suit will work for Raine as well, though I’m not certain. Hopefully, she’ll give it a try when hers is enchanted.”

“Did you prepare your own?” she asked.

“No. Not yet.” I replied.

She sighed and then asked “Whose then? Surely not Jarod’s when he’s not even here.”

“No, but I plan on doing his next and delivering it to him in Japan. I only finished yours.” I admitted.

“Only mine!?” she exclaimed, obviously surprised by the idea.

“Well, yes. The spell which holds everything together is… complicated. I’ve done nothing but work toward this for days.” I explained.

“I’ll be quite interested in seeing this spellbook once we’re married.” she told me.

The way she had said “married” made me smile even more. She sounded quite happy with the idea.

“You won’t find the spell in there. I made it.” I announced.

“James, experimenting with magic is dangerous… You should’ve asked for help at very least.” she chided.

I nodded and said, “I remember. I just… “ I stopped thinking about why I had just gone through with it. I hadn’t even asked Aaliyah if I had things right. “I felt really confident in it. I know each part very well, having been quite careful in my design. Most of the time I spent enchanting the suit was spent on that one spell. It’s enormous. You won’t believe the size of it. Just creating it is a bit of a strain for me.”

“I can’t say that I’m surprised given the amount of energy you must have used, but I’ve never heard of a spell that massive without global implications.” she stated.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I can’t actually tell you much until we are wed, but I will say that there have been only a few spells of such magnitude created in the history of mankind, at least to my family’s knowledge. One such spell was used to create Poenari Island.” she explained.

The idea of creating an island was amazing to me, but I had to wonder what affect that spell had on the world. Currents could have shifted, a large mass of water was displaced. The sea level must have risen some. I didn’t know the specifics, but I believed the effect on the ocean might well have altered the weather of the world to some extent. Of course, there were ways to counter the side effects if they were predicted ahead of time. Well, even after they were felt, some could be reduced.

“James, is there anything else you’d like to test?” inquired Alma.

“Oh. Sorry. Yes, actually.” I told her.

I wasn’t sure how long we spent goofing around, but I was at a much larger disadvantage than normal when we started sparring a bit. I didn’t mind. I was just excited to see my spells worked. Jarod was going to be thrilled!

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 285

I had forgotten how vile the lands looked when a demon inhabited them. I was only human when last I fought one, and my eyes surely did not pick up on all the minute details. Even knowing Aaliyah as well as I did now, I was deeply impressed by what she created. The idea of even brushing up the sickly looking foliage was unpleasant, and I could imagine the faint odor of death all too well, having faced a real life necromancer.

I could barely see Raine with how she had pushed farther and farther into her chair. Cosette was still all cheer, untouched by any horrors in her past. I worried about Raine. I would never forget her cowering, hiding under a table from the screams of Mai and being surprised that the screaming wasn’t in her head. I never asked her why, why would she think that the screams weren’t real. Was she plagued by the voices of another place?

“Yes, she is.” stated Aaliyah.

Things were frozen again as Aaliyah casually lounged across my lap, resting her head on the arm of my chair.

“What is she hearing?” I asked.

“She feels the suffering of a god and the cries of his demons, so full of rage and despair that they have no concept of happiness or beauty.” she casually explained in a sing-song voice.

“Have you been there, where they are?” I asked.

She laughed and said, “Of course I’m there, silly. Even demons die.”

“Can you do something to help Raine?” I questioned.

“I have. I brought her to you. You’re doing wonderfully, boss-man, sir.” she claimed.

Shaking my head, I said, “Ha. There’s so little I can do for anyone. I’m just lucky Cosette isn’t holding a grudge against me for trying to keep knowledge of her parents’ deaths from her.”

“You’re right about one thing: Cosette doesn’t hold a grudge against you, not even a little one. I wouldn’t call it luck though. You’re just too charming, boss-man, sir.” she teased. “You do help people, all the time. The ‘little’ you do helps in big ways.”

I looked down into those big, blue eyes of hers. She was too adorable. “Why do you choose to look as you do?” I asked.

“Prefer me like this?” she teased, suddenly older and wearing far too little.

“As much as I enjoyed your company as Trix, no.” I firmly told her.

She reverted back to the tiny girl in her mismatched clothes much to my relief. Then she said, “I was born, I grew, and I became a cyborg. You remember. This is me. I’m my daddy’s little girl.”

“And so many other things.” I stated.

Sitting up, she poked my nose, looked me in the eye, and said, “But always my daddy’s little girl. He needs me, boss-man, sir.”

“What do you think of this area?” I asked, nodding toward the game.

“It’s gross!” exclaimed Cosette, sounding quite giddy.

Aaliyah was gone. Things were moving again.

“T-the animals are m-missing.” stated Raine.

“Ah. Yeah. They’ve probably been warped and are now following the demon, wherever he is.” I told them.

“Is he as cute as Raine?” teased Cosette.

I chuckled and said, “No, not even close. He’s quite horrific to behold.”

“That’s good. I don’t think I could summon up the will to attack Raine, except for hugs.” claimed Cosette.

“Att-attack hugs are qui-quite vi-vicious.” mumbled Raine, but she sounded like she was smiling.

“Oh, you know it!” exclaimed Cosette, just before leaping out of her seat at Raine.

There was much giggling, so I did my best to defend their characters.

“You’re lucky she didn’t pull the smithing hammer like she did on that goblin.” I teased.

“She uses the frying pan on me. Doesn’t hurt nearly as much.” claimed Cosette.

Giggling more, Raine said, “M-makes a n-nice sound.” She abruptly went silent.

I looked over at her in concern, realizing a moment later that she was hearing something. There was movement around us.

“C-Cosette! En-enemies!” exclaimed Raine in a loud whisper.

Cosette hopped into her seat with casual grace, instantly on the move as she landed. Without a word, all of us started sneaking along. We couldn’t talk. Talking in real life would carry through into the game and alert our foes. I made my character cast one of his few utility spells, further muffling the sounds of our passage. I wished I had powerful illusion magic at the moment. I might be able to incinerate the bears, but there was a chance the demon had granted these ones high fire resistance.

Raine’s character uncorked some sort of vial and dropped liquid behind us. Text appeared on my screen describing a pungent stench. I hoped she knew what she was doing. I caught sight of giant, mutated bears a couple times over the next couple minutes, but we continued avoiding them, not wanting to alert their master of our presence. He might well remember me.

The front doors of my home swung open, and I heard someone enter. Portentia was home. I could tell by her footsteps.

“Oh wow. Where are you, guys?” she asked shortly after walking into the room.

I turned to her, explaining briefly in sign language. The game had voice recognition along with other features to ignore extraneous sound, so Portentia’s voice shouldn’t alert enemies, though mine would.

I rapidly signed to my screen, asking Mila to explain in more depth. She was always watching. I should’ve thought of asking her sooner. Another of the large mirrors lit up, showing Mila’s avatar signing away.

More minutes stretched by before the bears finally wandered off. Cosette breathed out loudly before saying, “I never thought I’d feel so tense playing a game.”

Portentia laughed and said, “The game is pretty awesome. I never thought I’d get into a video game till I started. Looks like you guys are too far away for me to catch up.”

“Oh. Go to the guild hall. You can use the traveling stone to come straight to us.” I suggested.

“Nice!” she exclaimed. “I’ll be right there!”

Glancing at the time, I said, “You’re home early.”

“Quiet night. Captured a mugger, but that’s it.” explained Portentia.

I just nodded. A single mugger would be a quiet night for her. Feeling relatively safe where we were, we waited for Portentia to join us. Once she arrived, the four of us continued toward where the meteor had landed.

“Meteors can be pretty small. How are we going to find it?” asked Portentia.

“Cr-crater.” stated Raine.

“Yeah. I guess that makes sense if it’s a big one.” replied Portentia.

“I think we’re almost there.” asserted Cosette. “We’ll show you!”

I stopped, catching something out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and saw the enormous demon walking toward the same place as us.

“Guys, we need to run.” I insisted.

“Noooo!” whined Raine.

I could see that she had turned to face it as well.

“Gather around, and I’ll use the stone.” I told them.

“No!” exclaimed Raine. Her character was shoving her backpack at mine, offering a trade.

“What!?” I asked.

“G-get my m-mats. I-I’ll show him a r-real d-demon.” stated Raine.

I accepted the trade and opened my mouth to talk her out of it, but she was gone. Her character was far, far faster than mine. I couldn’t believe how quickly she was gone.

“Let’s go!” I exclaimed, running toward the meteor site.

Portentia and Cosette followed. We weren’t even halfway there when the sky became even darker. I could see spells flying from the demon and explosions even after. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on Raine’s screen.

The raid boss who wiped over twenty thousand people was getting hit by garden tools, smithing tools, kitchen tools, and a number of things I didn’t even recognize. The damage was laughable compared with its health but impressive for a single person. No doubt she had enchanted every last implement.

I hadn’t doubted that Raine’s reaction time was far beyond what any character could manage, but the way her character moved was really bizarre. She had strange sidesteps that moved her great distances nearly instantly, allowing her to avoid area of effect attacks that I could never dodge. She had some sort of instant duck move that allowed her to dive under swings at her head with ease. There was some roll move she used that ended in her character raising its arms as if presenting something.

“James, that’s a tree!” exclaimed Cosette.

Oops. I hoped I hadn’t been running into the tree for long. Bit distracted. Incredibly, Raine was still alive when we finally reached the crater where the meteor had landed, though the demon had called in its minions for reinforcements.

“Raine, can you make it to us?” I asked.

“J-just g-go.” she ordered.

I told the other two to hug the meteorite

“It’s too heavy to come with us. Give me a sec.” stated Cosette. She used a spell to boost our strength.

“U-use a p-potion too. In m-my b-bag.” muttered Raine.

I did as she said, passing out strength potions. I needed to get Raine to make me a new bag. Hers was vastly larger, mostly filled with crafting materials, but also holding potions, elixirs, and tools. Still, we were lucky Portentia came home. Cosette and I wouldn’t have been able to carry the meteorite without her, despite the boosts. Only items carriable by the group being transported could be taken along.

“I think that’ll do it. Hug the stone.” I ordered.

Nothing happened. I quickly typed in guild chat asking who online had the stone from our guild hall. I really should’ve given the guild a heads up several minutes ago.

“No, I’m not mad. I’m in a hurry. Nekopawpaw’s soloing a raid boss. We found the last of the demons, and I need to get her mats to safety.” I explained in guild chat.

That was the first time I saw guild chat stop moving for any length. There were several seconds with no response at all. Then chat erupted back to normal with several people saying they were “on it”, and many more asking if I was messing with them.

“Hey, Mila, could you put Raine’s fight on the guild’s magic mirror?” I asked.

“No, master, but I can instruct you how to scry with it.” she replied.

“Good enough. Let’s do this.” I told her.

Several of the nearby guildies were already staring at the meteorite, but Cosette and Portentia were guarding it.

In guild chat, I typed “No one goes near the meteorite, or you’ll earn Nekopawpaw’s ire. I’m putting what that entails on the magic mirror for any who doubt me.”

I was pretty sure most people in the area had hurried over, since the hall was filling quickly. Guild chat was alive with talk about our prized crafter facing off against a demon.

“J-James, I-I’m almost… almost out of p-potions.” stated Raine.

“I wondered what you were using to heal. I would’ve given you mine had I known you needed some.” I told her.

“I’ve u-used several h-hundred.” she mumbled.

Ouch. That was expensive.

“Think you can run away?” I asked.

“I-I… only had o-one speed p-potion, b-but I-I can… try.” she told me, weaving through enemies to dodge a giant fist.

The demon had killed countless of its own minions just trying to kill Raine. The thing was lucky her character couldn’t keep up with her in real life. Watching her bonking heads with hammers, pans, and other non-combat implements was somewhat comical as she took off.

“You’re heading the wrong way.” I mentioned.

“N-no. I d-don’t want it… f-following me h-home.” she stammered.

I guess that made sense. I had no idea how far this thing would try following her now. I’d muster our army, but there simply weren’t enough of us on at the moment to kill it. Most of our guild wouldn’t even be awake.

“What have you guys been doing?” asked Alma just after running into the room.

I nonchalantly told her “Raine’s been demonstrating how to solo a demon.”

“I hardly believed the messages I was receiving, but seeing her… what are those moves?” she asked.

Nearly at the edge of the demon’s horde with it on her tail, Raine started explaining where various things she was using were obtained. The strange roll maneuver she had was “Present the Dish.” from cooking. “Check the Oven” and “Stove Dash” were also from cooking.

As she continued, every last move came from one type of crafting or another, but her crafting skills were far higher than even my combat skills, granting her huge boosts to the effectiveness of the moves.

“For someone who abhors violence, you certainly understand it.” stated Alma.

“W-why else would I ab-abhor it.” replied Raine.

I chuckled even as Alma rolled her eyes.

Cosette and Portentia were both standing by Raine, watching her screen and cheering her on.

Several tense minutes later, Raine was still running, but the demon was too fast. Luckily, all of its horde was left behind, allowing her to dodge more easily.

“You should’ve stayed behind for her.” stated Alma, gripping my hand.

“Then the meteorite couldn’t have gone through.” I told her.

“Oh. I see.” she replied. “We could go meet her.”

“Even if everyone drops what they’re doing and comes to join us, do you think we’d stand a chance?” I asked.

She sighed and said, “No, we would not.”

“I-it’s okay. W-we have m-my mats!” exclaimed Raine.

“You mean that I have your mats!” teased Cosette, trying to laugh villainously.

“Don’t worry, Raine. I wouldn’t let Cosette steal from you.” stated Portentia.

Cosette lunged at Portentia, who easily dodged.

“James! Help! My food is avoiding me!” exclaimed Cosette, fangs now evident in her mouth.

I caught Alma’s mouth twitch while I started laughing.

“Shh… y-you’re startling Pufflewink.” warned Raine.

A quick blast of energy partially caught Nekopawpaw, damaging her again.

“A-all out.” muttered Raine. Then she turned and attacked the demon with a giant frying pan. “B-bad demon.”

“It’s..” I started, hardly believing the stars now floating around the demon’s head.

“You dazed it! Run!” exclaimed Alma, gripping the back of Raine’s chair.

Mila then said, “Wow. There’s a less than one percent chance of that move ever effecting this demon at your current skill level. If you dive into the cave northwest of you, the demon won’t be able to follow.”

“There’s a cave?” I asked.

“Oops. Mother’s going to yell at me for giving away spoilers.” claimed Mila.

Raine hadn’t hesitated at all. She quickly veered northwest and took off into the cave, using some sort of charm to create light as she hurried deeper. When she looked back, the demon was clawing at the entrance, ripping it apart and causing part of the cave to collapse.

Guild chat was still busy with people talking about what just happened. People were cheering her on.

“What!? You’re logging off there?” demanded Alma, upon seeing Raine hit the logout button.

“I-I w-work soon.” she mumbled.

“Oh. I can try distracting your boss if you like, so you can call in sick.” offered Alma.

“Th-thank you, but I-I’ll be okay. We g-got it!” she exclaimed.

“I’ll see that the meteorite makes it to your shop.” I told her.

She got up, thanked everyone again, and headed off toward her room.

“I must say that I am most impressed.” stated Alma.

“Think you could really distract me?” I teased.

She rolled her eyes before staring up into mine and saying, “You, my darling, are quite easily distracted.”

I had to admit that I felt distracted already.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 281

I felt a touch guilty in the morning when so many people headed groggily to the airport. We had been up fairly late, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth together. Our visiting guildmates loved seeing the setup we used after the ballroom had been cleared of the wedding supplies. I hoped the lack of sleep didn’t cause them issues as they headed home.

Jarod and the twins departed as well, already leaving for Japan. I was certain Ai and Mai would take advantage of his sleep-deprived state in some way, but he wouldn’t mind. He married them after all. Well, I didn’t really know if this counted for marrying both yet or not. Only one went through the ceremony as a bride so far, but with minds linked as theirs were, they both would have experienced it. The idea still seemed a bit odd to me. I didn’t really think I’d like experiencing multiple bodies, but that was all they knew.

“James, are you ready?” asked Alma as she stepped into my office.

“Ready?” I asked.

“We need to start planning our wedding.” she stated.

“Here you are, Alpy!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she ducked around her and handed her paperwork.

“What are these?” asked Alma, already looking through them. “Oh.”

“Yep. All the paperwork you need to sign as well as a few for your father. Everything’s booked and ready to go.” stated Aaliyah.

“Wait. What? You picked a date for us?” I asked, feeling a bit startled. I did want to marry Alma, but was I really ready to be a husband? I hadn’t been ready to become a fiancée just yesterday. I could feel Alma’s magic boiling within her hidden away from most as her temper was hidden behind the impassive expression she bore.

“Aren’t you getting a little presumptuous?” demanded Alma, her temper coming through in her tone.

“Want to fight about it?” offered Aaliyah, cracking her neck and knuckles simultaneously as she turned to Alma.

For a moment, I thought Alma might try, but good sense apparently won out. Fighting Death would always be a terrible plan.

After a long pause where Alma stared down Aaliyah, she said, “Did you even bother considering how much I’ll have to rearrange make this date work?”

Nodding, Aaliyah said, “Yep! I started preparations for you months ago. You’ll find the day and following week surprisingly clear, the perfect day for a wedding.”

“What? That’s preposterous. How could you possibly have known that…” started Alma, before being interrupted.

Aaliyah spoke over her, saying, “If you really want to know the variables that could be considered in determining that exact date from the moment I started preparations, you’ll need to clear your schedule for the next month. I assure you that you’ll give up trying to follow along by that time.”

“James! Help me here. You simply cannot be okay with this.” insisted Alma.

“What’s the date?” I asked.

“March twenty-third.” snapped Alma.

“Oh, look. My schedule’s free.” I told her, not bothering to actually check. I knew Aaliyah would have taken care of whatever was needed.

She sighed and stated “You’re incorrigible. You’ve let her control your life for too long.”

“No, I simply trust her to know what’s best far better than I’d ever manage. We traveled in time yesterday to make Jarod’s wedding. How often do you think Aaliyah takes advantage of Carl’s abilities? I imagine that Aaliyah’s already seen our wedding.” I told her.

Aaliyah nodded enthusiastically and asked “Want spoilers!?”

“No!” exclaimed Alma, though her anger was subsiding.

“She’s tempted to ask for a peek.” teased Aaliyah.

“I most certainly am not!” snapped Alma as she blushed.

“Oh, Alpy… I said you were tempted, not that you’d give in to your temptation.” explained Aaliyah, reaching up to pat her arm.

“There’s that as well.” I stated. “Knowing what everyone is thinking has to make planning easier.”

“James, she cannot possibly know what everyone is thinking. There are far too many people in this world.” she told me.

“No spoilers, boss-man, sir.” stated Aaliyah.

I had been thinking about the other worlds I had visited, considering if Aaliyah could read each civilization’s thoughts. Wait… spoilers… did that mean Alma would see them eventually? I would love to share them with her.

“Spoilers? What do you mean?” demanded Alma.

“Spoilers!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “I know a great guy who has trouble resisting spoilers. You wouldn’t believe in him either, Alpy! He’s a time traveler.”

“Lovely. Another one.” stated Alma with a frown.

“Oh, no. He’s not like Carl. He’s just a youngin’. Wonderful person though.” claimed Aaliyah.

“Great. Now she’s coming. I really was hoping she was heading elsewhere.” muttered Alma.

“Who?” I asked.

“Portentia, boss-man, sir. She wants to use a ticket tonight.” explained Aaliyah.

“Oh. Do I have plans?” I asked.

“Yes, master. Mother scheduled you to be out with Portentia tonight, so you have plans with her.” Mila stated over the speakers.

I had no clue where her bodies were at the moment. I hadn’t seen her since she brought me tea a bit ago.

“She’s cooking with Marco and instructing Aurora.” replied Aaliyah.

“Correct!” exclaimed Mila.

“Aurora? Is that Jarod’s lab assistant?” asked Alma.

“Also correct!” exclaimed Mila.

“I still haven’t met her. Jarod had mentioned her to me a while ago. He apparently thought I might be concerned about a girl frequenting the garage. Surely, he knows I trust him by now.” stated Alma.

Knowing Jarod, he probably figured out that Alma had some means of sensing people. I wasn’t surprised that he’d be a step ahead of any assumptions Alma might make, but how would Alma take Aurora’s tendency to remove her clothing?

Alma then went on to say, “I’m quite interested in meeting her at some point. Anyone Jarod would accept as a lab assistant simply must be fascinating.”

I wasn’t certain Alma would approve.

“She’s quite fantastic, I assure you.” insisted Mila.

“Oh. You’re busy.” stated Portentia disappointedly from the doorway.

I waved for her come in and said, “I have a moment. What do you need?”

“I was just wondering if tonight would work for you to be my sidekick. I wanted to use one of my tickets.” she told me.

“Sounds wonderful.” I assured her.

“Thank you! Mila’s fabricating a costume for you.” she informed me.

“Oh, this I simply must see. Shall we all head to Jarod’s lab?” inquired Alma.

I quickly tried coming up with an excuse not to go there, since I wasn’t inclined to have Alma meet Aurora when Jarod wasn’t around.

“Only if we get to force James into his costume! I want to see it!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

Well, maybe things would work out.

She winked at me.

Standing, I said, “Fine-fine. Let’s go.”

We all headed down to the lab under the garage, and I was quite thankful that Aurora was fully dressed for the moment, though I wondered if Mila somehow managed to get her that way in preparation for our arrival. If Aurora noticed us, she made no sign of it.

“How old is she?” asked Alma.

At nearly the same moment, Portentia inquired “Who is she?”

“She’s sixteen.” stated Mila. At the same time, she signed

While the group of us coming down the lift didn’t catch Aurora’s attention, Mila signing did. The girl started making hand motions herself, though nothing that had meaning to me. At that point, Mila turned her to face us. Aurora’s only reaction was to tilt her head as if trying to figure out what we were.

Smiling, Alma said, “Hello, Aurora. I’m Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.”

No reaction.

Portentia introduced herself as well.

Aaliyah held up a paper, but I couldn’t see what was on it.

Aurora walked over to her, picked her up, and went back to working on something.

“Did Jarod mention that Aurora’s not socially adept yet?” I asked.

“No, but I guessed as much” replied Alma.

“Is something wrong with her?” asked Portentia, sounding concerned.

“I wouldn’t say anything was wrong, but she is different.” I told her. “She’s an autistic savant who Jarod says has remarkable potential.”

Alma, who had walked over to where Aurora was working, said, “I’m inclined to agree.”

“Oh?” I asked.

“Do you see what Aaliyah drew?” she asked.

I looked and said, “Some sort of schematic.”

“Aurora understood it at a glance and is implementing the design into her own work already, some sort of propulsion system going by the arrangement of the fans.” stated Alma.

“Correct!” exclaimed Mila. “Aurora’s helping Jarod design a lightweight flight system. Mother just pushed things forward a bit with her suggested revision to the power control circuit.”

“Couldn’t you do this even faster?” asked Alma.

“I certainly could do some of it faster, but Aurora’s also here to learn.” replied Mila.

As she talked, Aurora walked over to me, seeming to examine me. Then she grabbed the front of my shirt and walked back to where she was working, pulling me along. She let go the moment we were back at her computer, so she could move the mouse with her free hand.

“Does she want me to see something?” I asked.

Aaliyah looked up at me and said, “Nope. You were in the wrong place is all. She didn’t want you electrocuted.”

“Huh? By what?” I asked.

“She’s picturing a very large version of the machine in the room.” explained Aaliyah.

“Master, your suit’s finished!” exclaimed Mila.

I wasn’t honestly looking forward to tonight’s excursion, but looking like a superhero might be fun. Things could be worse.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 279

 When I finished changing back into my normal attire, I hurried to catch Alma, so we could leave.  To my surprise, the large room was filling rather than emptying.  Adelmar beckoned me toward him.  Great.  What now?

 Adelmar took my hand and Alma’s, placing them together as he said, “And here is our champion.  As I can sense no further rivals willing to face James in honorable combat, let me officially declare the engagement of James Michael Somerset III to Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.  May your coming year…”

 Engagement?  Adelmar continued droning on with pleasantries, but I was stuck on that one word.  I knew he had said that we would be required to marry, but I had imagined us dating for a while before being engaged.  I also had certain thoughts concerning a ring and a proposal.  I was not prepared for this.  Alma was smiling beautifully, so I did my best to appear pleased as well.

 Embarrassing Alma in front of her family would anger her greatly, and I didn’t want any of them to think me unwilling.  I was in love with her…  I just didn’t really know if I was ready to be married.  I’d have to talk with her about how soon we’d be expected to marry.  I would certainly need to inform my parents.  Please, let my wedding not be here and today.  I needed to attend Jarod’s still, assuming I could arrive before the wedding was completely over.

 I felt a wave of relief when Adelmar finished speaking, since there was not one word about a wedding today in his lengthy speech.  I was even more surprise when, after guiding Alma and me out, Adelmar apologized for keeping us.

 Then he went on to say, “I do know of your friend marrying into the family today, and I do not wish you to miss it entirely.  Please excuse me.  I need to have a chat with Hyun-woo about his recent behavior.”

 Alma surprised me, jumping up to kiss me.  The moment was all too brief.  She pulled back and stared into my eyes as I held her.

 “James, we must be off… the wedding.” she stated.

 I sighed and set her down.  Then I took her hand, and we ran from the Slayer estate.  Just after passing the gate, we both came to a stop, shocked by our surroundings.  Where were we?

 “My home?  How?” asked Alma.

 “As the future Mrs. Somerset, you will be granted certain privileges, such as better traveling arrangements.  You will, of course, need to sign this confidentiality agreement.” explained Aaliyah as she held up an electronic tablet.  She looked like her typical self again, no longer appearing as Death.

 Alma stared at her for several seconds before even touching the tablet.  Then she took time reading through it.  I was more preoccupied by my surroundings.  The hallway looked very well kept but still seemed very old due to the style.  The floors were stone and had elaborate, red carpet runners stretching across them.  Paintings decorated many areas similar to my own home, but there were large tapestries here as well.

 Dishes dropped nearby after a maid rounded the corner.

 “I beg your pardon, my lady.  I wasn’t aware you returned.” she stammered.

 Alma smiled and looked up, saying, “Good evening, Poppy.  Don’t worry about making any arrangements.  I won’t be here for long.”

 Poppy curtsied and then started cleaning up the mess.  I used a couple spells to give her a hand.  Cleaning up liquids from carpet could be tricky without magic.  She smiled and curtsied again after everything settled on her platter.  Then she hurried around the corner.

 “Sebastian, James and I are going to visit my father.” stated Alma as a man rounded the same corner as the maid earlier.

 “Very well, my lady.  Might I have a word with you in private after you are finished.” he replied.

 “No.  My fiancée and I must attend Ai and Mai’s wedding, so we’re more than slightly pressed for time.” she informed him.

 Fiancée… I felt I grew accustomed to the idea of Jarod being wed more quickly than I was acclimating to my new position.

 Nodding, he said, “Very well, my lady.”  Then he stood there, waiting expectantly.

 Alma sighed and signed Aaliyah’s contract.  Aaliyah had wandered over to Sebastian and seemed to be inspecting him.

 “I’m terribly sorry, miss Aaliyah, but I do not have any sweets on me today.” he informed her.

 She pouted adorably.

 “Come along, James.  We’re here so that you may meet my father, given our engagement.” explained Alma as I followed her through the halls at a very human pace.

 “Eventually, I would like a tour of your home.  This place seems magnificent.” I told her.

 “I’ll arrange a tour on our next visit.” she assured me.

 After passing through several halls and greeting a large number of staff, we came to a stop in a very large library.  Sebastian locked the door after we entered.  Alma walked over to a worn copy of Inferno by Dante and pulled it off the shelf while casting a number of spells.

 “Traps?” I asked.

 She smiled and winked.  Then placed the book on a pedestal near the far wall.  Part of the wall dropped into the ground, revealing a passage.

 “Your home isn’t the only one with secret passageways guarded by spells.” she informed me.

 “The only spells I recall are on the vault.” I replied.

 “There are others.  You probably just set them off without a care, don’t you.” she claimed with a frown.

 I couldn’t deny the possibility, although there was also a chance that Alma had actually done more exploring than me.

 Sebastiaan stood by the passage as if he meant to guard it.

 “I’m going to stay here with Sebastian.  I smell chocolate.” stated Aaliyah as I followed Alma into the passage.

 Just past the first turn, the passage ended in a hole descending into the earth.  There was a surprising amount of heat coming up from it.  I could feel the spells in the area which cooled and purified the air.

 “Your father’s in a hole?” I asked.

 “My father spends all of his time guarding what we believe to be a magical focal point, or node.  I’ll protect you from the heat, so don’t worry.  Please try not to absorb too much energy.  My father’s staff wouldn’t be able to get anything done for half a day.” she explained.  “Just follow my example and descend carefully, since my spells won’t affect you.”

 I nodded and created the spells as she did, following her down into the earth.  I wasn’t sure how far we went, but I felt a great amount of surprise when a familiar pressure came to mind.  There was a fey here?  Alma hadn’t seen one before coming to my home though.  I opened my mind to it.

 Fire… fire everywhere!  I saw a man dancing through it with tremendous joy emanating from him.  He hugged me and wanted to dance.  The image suddenly changed, showing me years of isolation… pain.  His mouth moved when he saw Alma, but he couldn’t remember the words he wanted to speak.  There was a wildness to his mind beyond that of most fey i encountered.  The image changed again.  The man was crying.  I felt his pain, his loss.  Someone had died.  Left?  Something was missing from him.  Alma was there, but she left immediately.  Over and over.  There was little sense of time.

 “Your father…  The Duke… is a fey?” I asked, surprised by the notion.

 “What?” she demanded.  “He’s…”  Then her face went slack…  Numerous protective spells left her.  Tears started flowing down her cheek.

 “I am so, so sorry…” she muttered.  “Tad…  Yr wyf yn dod.”

 I knew she wasn’t talking to me.  She was telling her father that she was coming.  She hadn’t known.  Her father had been trying to speak with her for a while, and she never knew, always sealed away behind her spells.  Alma sprinted through the inferno ahead of us the moment we landed, and I followed.  The man we encountered was naked, save for the soot covering his skin.  Alma quickly covered him in smoke.  

 No more words were spoken, but I knew everything being exchanged between them.  Years of silence were finally broken.  Images and feelings were flickering between their minds.  I felt for them both.  I didn’t know how much time passed as the two caught up with one another.  The fires raging around me had no need for time.

 Eventually, images of me fighting my challengers appeared.  Then Adelmar’s speech was shown, seeming even longer the second time.  Alma thought of herself in a wedding gown, and I wondered if that was the type of gown she’d really be choosing.

 I wasn’t entirely certain the concept of a wedding got through to the Duke.  He seemed so confused in his thoughts, but he was happy.  When we did leave, his sadness at our departure was quite evident.  Alma had tried telling him that we would return, but I wasn’t certain he understood.  I wiped another tear from her cheek as we ascended back up the tunnel.

 Alma stared up into my eyes and said, “I might have been able to help him, to save his mind…”

 “Don’t blame yourself.  You couldn’t have known.” I told her.

 “Adelmar had tried communicating with him several times for me, but he said it was hopeless.” she explained.  “He never got a response and said he couldn’t pull anything intelligible from my father’s mind.”

 “Be thankful.  You can be there for him now.” I assured her.

 “Unless you want to move to England, I can’t be here often, James.” she argued.

 “Why not?  You just signed a confidentiality agreement that allows for swift passage anywhere.  I’m rather certain that Aaliyah will take you here daily if you wish.” I insisted.

 She shook her head and said, “No, you still don’t understand her.”

 “I understand her far better than you do.  I’ve become more and more certain of it.” I admitted.  “If I’m understanding her intentions with that last agreement, we might soon be able to speak of things I haven’t revealed to you.  There are reasons I put so much trust in Aaliyah.  You’ll see.”

 “She will!  It’ll be exciting and new!  Fun for everyone!” exclaimed Aaliyah, suddenly floating beside us.

 Alma looked disturbed.

 “Aww… come on, Alpy.  You always believed I could fly.” claimed the tiny girl.

 “I suspected, but I didn’t expect proof.” replied Alma.

 “Stop right there.  No reporting.  You agreed.” stated Aaliyah.

 “You can read my mind.” commented Alma in a whisper.

 Aaliyah rolled her eyes and said, “Duuuh.  How am I supposed to fulfill my duties as Death if I don’t know everything?  I can’t misjudge folk.  It’d be improper, and I know you wouldn’t want me to be improper!”

 “Shh… Sebastian might be listening!” exclaimed Alma in a whisper.

 Aaliyah shook her head and sighed dramatically.

 “She’d know if he were.” I told her.  “She’d probably prevent him from hearing one way or another if there was the possibility he might hear something she didn’t want him to hear.”

 “She’s not all powerful, James.  Even Death has her limits, and I do not want Sebastian murdered over something he cannot help.” argued Alma.

 “Oh, Alpy… you’re so adorable.” replied Aaliyah as she gave Alma a hug.

 “I am not being adorable.  One of us has to at least attempt being sensible.” insisted Alma.  “James, she kills people over infractions of a ridiculously complicated agreement that most people could never even hope to understand.”

 “I’ve never taken anyone before their time.  Some people just die younger than others.” stated Aaliyah.

 “And you should get to choose when everyone dies then?” demanded Alma.

 “Yep, unless you can find a better judge of it.” replied Aaliyah.

 “Might we table this for now and get onto the wedding?” I suggested.

 “What time is it?” asked Alma.

 “After two.  We’ve got plenty of time!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

 Alma grimaced before saying, “We missed it…  I’m so sorry, James.  I didn’t realize we had been talking quite that long.”

 “Oh, Carl!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

 “Carl?” asked Alma.

 “Yes?” inquired Carl.

 “Oh.  You.  How did you get here?” questioned Alma as she stared at him.

 He was standing at the top of the hole as we finished the ascent.

 “I walked, of course.  Not everyone has incredible means of transportation.” he replied.

 “Carl, would you mind putting us back to the wedding?” asked Aaliyah.

 “Back to the wedding?” demanded Alma.  “What are you… talking about…” she asked as she stared around.

 We were back at my home, obviously earlier in the day by the light.

 “Welcome home, master!” exclaimed Mila.  “Lady Pendreigh needs to change into her dress if she’s to help the twins.  I’ll gladly help you change, master, if you need help with your tux.”

 Time was still frozen.  There were people already seated in the ballroom.

 I gently pushed Alma’s chin up, closing her gaping mouth while saying, “Carl is also known as Chronos, if that helps.  He runs the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.”

 “I knew that he ran that infernal restaurant.” she snapped.

 I could tell by Alma’s expression that she was having difficulty in believing what she was seeing.  I was sure she’d catch on soon enough, but she had all the time in the world.