Best Friend For Hire, Entry 299

“Master, Brandon is bringing a girl here.” stated Mila.

“What?” I asked, surprised by the announcement. “Please warn everyone who’s awake.”

“Does she really seem interested in him?” asked Cosette with a grin.

“The circumstances are a bit unusual from the conversation they’re having. Apparently, a fight had broken out in the bar he visited just after Portentia left. The girl he is bringing, Deyanira, is soaked in alcohol and is blaming Brandon for it. He has some minor injuries, so he probably didn’t use his abilities in the fight.” explained Mila.

“Is she attractive?” inquired Cosette.

“I believe you will feel she is.” stated Mila.

“Maybe I should wake Emma.” considered Cosette. “She wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Mila nodded and said, “I’ve already taken the liberty. She is hurrying out here. She probably would be nearly here had I not insisted that she put on her robe first.”

I was honestly more surprised that Brandon would be injured even without using his transformative abilities. He was a capable combatant these days. Was he not wearing his enhancement suit? If some of his opponents were more than human, I might want to investigate before Alma found out.

“Wasn’t there a video feed?” I asked.

“No, master. The bar’s security is very poor, and I hadn’t hacked into any cell phones inside. Brandon had left his in the car.” she replied.

“James. Brandon’s bringing a girl home. Aren’t you the least bit excited for him?” asked Cosette as she grinned at me. Then she turned to Mila and inquired “Did you wake Brenna?”

“No. She has a job early this morning and her ability to function might be impaired if she gets up this soon.” stated Mila.

“What about Raine?” asked Cosette.

“Raine’s been deciding whether or not to come in here for the past minute.” I told her, having heard Raine’s pacing quite clearly.

“I’m n-not spying!” insisted Raine after darting over to me.

“I figured. Can’t decide from where you want to spy on Brandon?” I teased.

“M-maybe.” she stated, lowering her head.

Cosette hugged her and said, “With me! We have to gossip with Emma. She’d be terribly disappointed if we did not.”

Raine looked at her for a moment and then hesitantly nodded.

“How soon!?” exclaimed Emma as she ran into the room.

“They’re coming up the drive now.” replied Mila.

“Guys, we have to act natural! Raine, get on Ancient Tribes of Earth. Let’s all try to meet up somewhere before they get inside.” stated Emma.

I rolled my eyes but went ahead with her plan. Wouldn’t hurt to look like everyone was having a late night gaming session instead of just Cosette and me. “We’ll be entering the city from the South.” I informed her.

I glanced up as another monitor lit up only to see Alma hurry into the room.

“You too?” I asked.

“Whatever could you mean?” she replied.

“Felt like a little late night gaming.” I suggested.

“Of course.” she lied.

Before I could say anything more, the front doors opened. The girl who entered in front of Brandon was a bit taller than his sister and had dark brown hair with blonde streak on her left side. Her large brown eyes looked completely unimpressed as they gazed around the room.

“Brandon.” called Alma. “Why are you not wearing a shirt?”

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira.

“Uh… I guess I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.” he replied. When he walked into the room, he said, “I didn’t have a spare and kinda owed Deyanira here one. Deyanira, this is Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.”

Alma, who had stood to meet them, merely nodded.

“Oooh. So smooth. What happened to your shirt?” asked Emma, kneeling on her seat to lean on the back and grin at Deyanira.

“This jerk spilled his beer on me.” she replied.

“Brandon, are you even old enough to drink?” teased Cosette.

“Duh.” he stated.

“Portentia isn’t. How did she get in?” I asked.

“Oh. Well, they didn’t actually check her ID.” he replied.

Alma looked over at me and said, “James, dear, relax. You know how she is.”

As Alma spoke, Deyanira elbowed Brandon in his gut and asked “You snuck someone underage into the bar?”

“Hey, I didn’t know!” he exclaimed.

“And you two live together?” she demanded.

“All of us do. I told you that. Whole company living under one roof.” he replied.

“The employee wing is similar in design to an apartment complex.” I informed her.

“And who are you?” she demanded.

“Umm… he’s my boss.” replied Brandon.

“What?” she asked, glancing at him. Then she walked over to me and stared down at me till I stood to face her. “You’re awfully big.”

“I am somewhat tall.” I admitted.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Nineteen. And you?” I inquired.

“Twenty-two.” she told me before turning to face Brandon and saying, “You work for someone younger than you?”

Brandon shrugged.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” asked Emma. “I’m going to be nineteen soon if you’re interested.”

“Are there no adults here?” demanded Deyanira.

“Depends on how you care to define ‘adult’. I would argue that most of us, Brandon excluded, are more mature than average for our age.” stated Alma.

“Hey!” exclaimed Brandon. “I can be pretty mature.”

“Why, might I ask, did you decide to come here with Brandon?” asked Cosette, standing and walking over to Deyanira.

“He owes me a shirt and wouldn’t leave this one with me. Said he got it at some convention.” she replied.

She wasn’t telling the whole truth, but I wasn’t too surprised. She might actually like him.

“Given the length on you, I wouldn’t qualify that as a shirt to begin with, more of a dress. I’m sure Mila can come up with something that will fit you better if you wish to get cleaned up.” suggested Cosette.

“How many girls does he live with here!?” asked Deyanira.

“How many times do we count Mila?” replied Cosette with a grin.

“Huh?” asked Deyanira.

“I’m an Artificial Intelligence with two fabricated bodies which I use to better fulfill my duties.” explained Mila.

“What? No way.” stated Deyanira.

“No, really. She could pick you up with one arm if you want a demonstration.” suggested Brandon.

Deyanira looked between Brandon and Mila for a moment. Then she looked to Alma and asked “Isn’t she your sister?”

“No. She is what they say.” replied Alma.

“What is this place!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

“I told you. I’m a best friend for hire, which is also the name of this company. James is the owner and boss. Most of us work for him. Lady Pendreigh there is his girlfriend.” explained Brandon.

“And you live here?” asked Deyanira, still sounding doubtful.

“Yes.” stated Brandon, sounding exasperated.

“Why, are you looking for a job?” I asked.

“No! I’m in college, studying law.” she snapped.

“Ah. I hope that’s going well for you.” I told her.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” she demanded.

“No reason.” I stated, feeling the girl was a bit on edge. “Mila really can assist you if you want to get cleaned and changed. We can offer a car to get you home as well.”

“No!” exclaimed Emma. “She should stay here tonight. There are plenty of guest rooms, right? If not, she can totally stay in my room.”

“No. Definitely not.” stated Brandon.

“What? Don’t you want me to stay the night?” demanded Deyanira.

“Huh? Of course. Just not in Emma’s room. There’s no telling what she’ll do to you.” he warned her.

“I’m not staying in your room either.” she pointedly told him.

“I never suggested that you would.” he replied.

Turning to me, she asked “Can I really hire him?”

Nodding, I said, “Assuming you can afford his rates, sure.”

“To do what?” she asked.

“Anything you’d ask of a best friend as long as Brandon is comfortable with the job.” I told her.

“What if a girl wanted to go on a date with him?” she inquired.

“I’ve taken a couple jobs that could be interpreted as dates.” I told her.

“But no one would hire Brandon for that!” exclaimed Emma.

“Why not?” asked Deyanira.

“He’s too… Brandon.” stated Emma.

“Thanks, Emma. You’re a real pal.” he told her, sounding sour.

In a sing-song voice, she told him with a grin, “You’re welcome!”

I could be wrong, but I thought Deyanira appreciated Emma’s response. Her face seemed to lighten a bit at least.

“I’ll take you up on that shower and clean clothes.” stated Deyanira.

Mila motioned toward the door and said, “This way, please.”

“I for one am glad we didn’t take bets on Brandon getting a girl tonight. I would have lost.” stated Cosette.

“Me too!” exclaimed Emma, jumping over to Cosette and excitedly taking her hands.

“M-me too.” mumbled Raine from the chair in which she was hiding.

“I woudn’t bet on his success quite yet.” warned Alma.

“Is it really pick on Brandon day?” questioned Brandon, practically pouting.

“I-Isn’t it always?” asked Raine.

He laughed. “Maybe, but what did you guys think of her? Pretty cute, isn’t she?”

“Totally!” exclaimed Emma.

“I think you could find someone nicer.” stated Cosette.

“I don’t know if ‘nicer’ is what he needs.” argued Alma.

I didn’t feel we had enough information to make any conclusions. Most people would be thrown off by this place as Jemal would certainly confirm. I did feel that Deyanira seemed a bit aggressive, but she might not be a particularly bad person. Maybe we’d learn more in the morning.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 296

“James! Who’s that!?” exclaimed Emma as she excitedly grabbed my arm and pointed at Aurora.

I sighed while wondering what would be the best way to protect Aurora from Emma. Then I said, “Everyone can be introduced shortly. First off, step up beside one of the devices on the ground.”

I had spent a large part of the past week enchanting the flying contraptions Aurora had tweaked for me, but she was rather determined to demonstrate them. At least, that seemed to be her plan with how she was showing the device to everyone and pointing to parts.

“Is Jarod already having an affair?” teased Brandon.

I didn’t bother dignifying the question with a response and certainly wasn’t going to stop Brenna from hitting him.

“Ow!” he exclaimed. “I was only joking, sis. Chill out! Boss, my sister’s using her suit to abuse an employee.”

“Oh?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything. Mila, do you have any record of abuse?”

“No, master. I surely would have filed such a thing immediately.” she replied.

“Come on… You both saw her hit me!” exclaimed Brandon.

“Just pay attention.” snapped Alma. “Aurora’s already starting her demonstration.”

“Are we supposed to do what she does?” asked Jemal.

He and his sister just moved in yesterday. I already had enhancement suits prepared for them, though Aaliyah had to convince me that his sister needed one already. The thought of an unnaturally strong ten-year-old running about the house didn’t seem safe, but Aaliyah pointed out that she’ll be safer in a suit than out of one if she falls victim to someone else’s horseplay.

“Yes. Please, follow along.” I told him.

“Jemal! Jemal!” whispered Kayla excitedly. “There’s a fairy!”

“Pay attention. You know better by…” he started to say, but his words cut off as he caught sight of my little friend. “J-James… There’s a… There’s really a…”

“Yes. Don’t mind her. Just try to pay attention.” I told him. “Oh. You may start to feel like you’re daydreaming due to images and sensations coming to mind. That’s just how she communicates.”

He nodded, but Kayla was quite obviously too distracted to watch Aurora’s instructions, not that the instructions were exceptionally helpful without narration. Alma seemed to agree with me on that point, suddenly giving voice to how the latch mechanism grabbed ahold of shoes. Well, she also pointed out the potential for scuff marks and mentioned how to disable the mechanism if one were to try using the device with bare feet.

Oh. I had missed that Emma’s shoes were missing. I wasn’t particularly surprised, not even when plant matter rushed around them to form a sort of shoe with a wooden sole. Typical Emma. She even added a tree-shaped emblem on the side.

Unabashed by the mixed attention she was receiving, Aurora took hold of the control and lifted into the air. She then stared at the rest of us, possibly wondering why we weren’t flying yet.

I carefully used the controls to rise into the air as Alma finished her explanation of the control parts. Portentia and Emma were quick to do the same.

“Jemal! They’re flying!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yep. Let’s see if we can too.” he told her, looking determined.

Before he even lifted off the ground, Aurora was demonstrating the mobility of the craft, flying circles in the air.

“Yo, boss. Mine seems broken.” stated Brandon.

“Did you hit the ‘on’ switch?” I asked.

“Huh? Where’s that?” he replied.

“Twist the bottom of the remote, doofus.” stated Brenna.

“It’s working!” he exclaimed.

“Hey, James. How fast can this thing go?” asked Portentia. “I could probably make use of this for my…” She glanced at Jemal and Kayla before saying, “For my nightly activities.”

“I should mention that flying outside of my yard is probably illegal for the time being, but Mila informed me that her mother is already negotiating a law to be passed in the city to allow use of these devices for testing purposes. We could save a great deal of time getting to our jobs if we bypass traffic, and I’m sure any of you who are interested will be able to master the use of these devices.” I explained. “Besides, they seem like fun.”

“Kayla look! I’m flying!” exclaimed Jemal.

“Can’t catch me!” she replied, shooting into the air.

I was surprised by how easily she took to it, slowing and spinning around thirty feet off the ground.

“Careful! It’s not…” started Jemal as he tried to pursue her, but he lost his balance, veering even farther in the opposite direction when the machine tried to adjust for his positioning.

I didn’t bother moving, seeing Aurora already diving toward him. Besides, Raine was watching with one sleepy eye open as she napped in her cat form. I was certain that she could catch him if he was an inch above the ground before she moved. Furthermore, he was only around ten feet in the air when he lost balance. A drop like that was insignificant while wearing the enhancement suit.

I hadn’t expected him to catch himself with magic before he spun all the way over. Aurora still pushed him upright and started demonstrating movement again when he was watching.

“Did you see that?” asked Alma, flying over to me.

My little friend seemed interested in what was happening as well, darting over to investigate.

“Yes. I told you about their abilities.” I replied.

“His expression though. I don’t think he realized he could do that.” she told me.

“I’m not surprised. He seemed dubious about magic existing when I interviewed him.” I explained.

Kayla dove down by her brother, nearly falling herself, and started teasing him.

“Would you be offended if I did a bit of matchmaking?” asked Alma.

“I’m afraid so. You want him to marry into your family.” I stated, guessing at her intentions.

“His magic’s strong enough to lift his own weight. Imagine how such magic could be utilized with the strength of my family behind it.” she suggested.

“At least allow him to get acclimated here before you start meddling.” I told her.

“He might not be interested in leaving then.” she claimed.

I smiled and said, “I can hope.”

“James, my family really isn’t as bad as you seem to believe. We do protect this world.” she insisted.

I was well aware that she believed what she said, but I believed in the eldest three vampires more than Adelmar Slayer by the end of one night with them. I had no intention of idly letting the Slayers do as they wished, at least not in regard to my friends, and I was certain Jemal could be my friend.

Our discussion was interrupted by Portentia rushing over to me and signing

I replied.

She grinned, obviously hopeful. Then she said, She flew over to the side, jumped to the ground, and maneuvered the flying machine higher into the air as she ran beneath it. Then she leaped into the air, flipped backward, and landed on it again before spinning around with a grin.

“Jemal! Did you see that girl jump!?” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yeah. Don’t try that.” he replied.

“But Jemal… how did she run so fast?” she asked.

“No idea.” he admitted.

“I did warn you that everyone here had abilities.” I told him, speaking loudly enough that he might hear.

Jemal barked a laugh and said, “Yeah, you did.” His mouth went slack as giant plants grew from the yard.

“Obstacle course, everyone! Let’s really test these things!” exclaimed Emma as she rode one into the air and hopped back on her flying apparatus.

I really needed to get Jarod to name these things, but I approved of Emma’s initiative. This could be fun.

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 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.