Best Friend For Hire, Entry 322

“Iris, this is Dejon and Jemal. This one who bumped into you yesterday is Kayla. They’re going to be learning some basics with you while the others are practicing some more advanced techniques.” I announced once everyone was gathered for the morning exercises. “I realize that you won’t always be able to attend these classes every morning, since you’re not staying here, but I hope you can at least make your way here four times a week.”

“Sorry, but… I mean… Is martial arts really necessary for the job?” she asked.

Nodding, I said, “We actually have had several clients request sparring partners a few times now, and we’ve also had clients request guest instructors at dojos in the city. Cosette and Dejon were able to demonstrate some of their abilities at a LARP recently.”

Dejon fidgeted, but I pressed onward.

“However, the primary purpose is for you to be able to defend yourself while out on jobs. There may be a time when you feel comfortable defending a client as well, but you are never under any obligation to do so.” I explained.

“Which one’s Cosette?” inquired Iris.

“The one playing with the short blonde with the poofy hair.” I explained.

“P-poofy?” asked Raine, suddenly in front of me.

“You like to tease your hair.” I replied. “Sorry if poofy is not the proper adjective. Your hair is marvelous.”

“Poofy.” she murmured, smiling to herself before running back to Emma.

“Wh-what?” asked Iris.

“Raine’s quite quick.” I informed her.

“Kayla’s quick, incredibly quick.” argued Iris as she pointed at Kayla. Then, pointing to Raine, she exclaimed “She teleported!”

“No, actually. Raine’s heritage is a bit unique, and she’s the last person in this room with whom any sane person would want to pick a fight. She comes here to spar more as an exercise in controlling her gifts than a need to learn how to protect herself. We don’t actually have the faintest idea what Raine’s limits are.” I explained.

“This place is really different. I think of it as a different reality than the rest of the world.” offered Dejon.

Laughing, Jemal said, “He’s kinda right. Kayla and I have been here a month, and this still seems like some sort of dream.”

“Jemal’s all dreamy.” sang Kayla with a grin.

“You know you agree with me.” he stated defensively.

She just kept grinning.

Dejon had seemed annoyed the first couple times Kayla was at practice with him, but he’s loosened up a bit already. Kayla reflexively throwing him with her magic had really caught him off guard a few days ago.

I was about to start the lesson when Iris’ mouth dropped open and was quickly covered by her hand, so I glanced back to see what was happening. I laughed, seeing Cosette act like she was about to bite Raine’s neck with enormous fangs. The technique behind her hold was quite well executed, even though Raine could escape practically effortlessly.

Turning back to Iris, I said, “Yes, there is a vampire living and working here. You’re not racist, are you?”

“Racist?” she questioned, looking like she was too dumbfounded to fully work out how I came to that word.

“You’ll find that most of us here have at least one nonhuman ancestor, including you. Quite likely, your magic stems from a fey some time ago. You’re about to see what I mean. Our little friend will be joining us.” I informed her. “Sorry in advance. This will feel a bit odd.”

“Wh…” she started, not even finishing the word as we suddenly felt what dodging through the leaves of a tree after a bird was like.

My little friend had caught up and rode the bird similar to how she had rode Pufflewink before. The relationship between the fey and the animals was still odd to me. The fey tended to the animals in a fashion, helping the injured and ill, but they would just as quickly kill and eat one with animalistic ferocity. Feeling what she did, no one could question whether or not my little friend enjoyed food of many types.

“That is so cool!” exclaimed Iris before she suddenly went stiff at my little friend’s approach.

“Though you might not always understand their motives, you’ll never doubt how the fey feel. They can also feel surface thoughts of those around them, so something you were thinking about caught our little friend’s attention.” I informed her.

“How could I possibly be descended from her? She’s so tiny.” inquired Iris.

“Don’t be silly. She controls lights.” I teased before telling her “You’re probably descended from a more human-sized fey that manipulates electricity.”

“How many types are there?” asked Dejon. He hadn’t been in the forest yet.

“No clue. Alma would be far more capable of discussing the variety of fey, since she continually updates her catalogue on them for her family’s interests and has read her family’s tales about them.” I replied.

“You should take them into the forest sometime. Kayla and I can’t be the only new people who experienced that.” insisted Jemal.

“Does that mean I can start working here!?” asked Kayla excitedly.

“What? No.” he told her. “You’re too young.”

“But Jemal…” she complained.

“No buts. There are laws and stuff dealing with kids working. Maybe when you’re sixteen if you learn to behave.” he told her.

“James, Jemal’s being mean.” she insisted.

“His word’s the law where you’re concerned.” I informed her.

She sighed and hugged her brother while still pouting.

“Think you can focus while our little friend’s chattering away?” I asked.

Iris shook her head negatively, Dejon gave me a little shrug, and Jemal nodded.

“Let’s try before Alma catches wind of someone slacking. She doesn’t approve of slacking.” I stated.

“Alma’s your fiancée, right? Does she run this place with you?” inquired Iris.

“Yes, she’s my fiancée, but she doesn’t work for Best Friend For Hire, though she did attend a convention with us.

“So why…” she started.

Interrupting her, I said, “Alma is still teaching me martial arts. She’s studied her entire life and has mastered an impressive number of styles. She also assists me in teaching at times, so you might well get her as your instructor one of these mornings. Sorry in advance. She’s a bit strict.”

Kayla laughed and asked “A bit?”

Jemal quickly covered her mouth and said, “She just wants us to do things correctly.”

“Properly.” stated Dejon with a small smile.

“Did Dejon just make a joke!?” exclaimed Emma as she ran over to us.

“Was it painful?” asked Brenna on Emma’s heels.

“Are you feeling okay? We can get you a cot if you want to take a nap.” offered Brandon.

“I knew he could do it!” called Cosette.

“We’re training, so should you be.” I stated, which was enough that they let us be, jogging swiftly back across the room.

“How did they even hear that!?” wondered Iris.

“They’re each wearing suits that enhance their bodies in numerous ways. Kayla was wearing one yesterday, which is why she seemed so fast to you. We’ll make you one if you ever become full time here or even remain part time for an extended period.” I told her.

“Are you making one for me?” asked Dejon.

“Yes, sorry. The suit’s made, but I need to enchant it, which will require Alma’s help. I need some time when we’re both free for an extended period.” I explained.

“Oh. Thank you.” he told me, looking surprised.

“They’re soooo fun, and you can get soooo much more done when wearing them.” insisted Kayla.

Rubbing her head, Jemal told her “Now if you’d commit yourself to your studies more while wearing one, you’d be flying through classes.”

“In her defense, she is actually ahead for her year already.” I replied.

Nodding, he said, “I know, but she’s got so much potential. She could finish college and have a degree by the time her friends finish high school.”

I laughed and said, “I’m sure she will. Not everyone can be as dedicated to studying as you though.”

“I guess. I just want the best for her.” he told me.

“As I keep telling you, everything will be fine. No matter what profession Kayla decides to pursue, we have the resources to help her get there.” I insisted.

“I can be a wizard!?” she exclaimed.

“Not if you don’t study spells with more enthusiasm.” I replied.

“But it’s haaard.” she whined.

“You really aren’t messing with me about magic?” asked Iris.

“Well, here’s a fairy. How much more magical do you want?” I asked, pointing to my little friend. “Perhaps this.” I suggested, using a spell to darken the room, another to create a somewhat strong breeze, and others to write a decree in the air using flaming characters, stating that we should all focus on our training.

As I ended the spell, Iris just nodded, still staring at the air where the decree had been. I was certain that she’d catch on soon enough.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 321

After realizing that the silver Altima wasn’t going to stop, I stepped in front of it, perfectly willing to pay for the damages if I happened to get hit.

“What are you doing!? That’s dangerous!” exclaimed Iris as she jumped out of the car. Her light brown hair was in a loose ponytail. She was wearing a loose, black sweatshirt under a jacket and loose blue jeans, a unique choice for an interview. Judging by the widening of her eyes as she stared up at me, she probably recognized me now.

“Sorry. I didn’t want you to miss the house. You’re Iris Storm, correct?” I asked.

She nodded but said nothing as her mouth worked open and close a few times.

“I’m James Michael Somerset III. Ready for the interview?” I asked.

“Well I… I guess?” she asked, looking back at her car.

“If you need a minute, we can step inside out of the cold.” I assured her.

“Would that be weird? I mean if I change clothes. I didn’t expect you to be standing out here.” she blurted. Then, looking around, she asked “Is this really even the business? Looks more like a mansion. I didn’t see any pictures of it on your website. I shouldn’t even have applied. I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

“Nonsense. We’re both here, let’s get inside and start this interview. I’m sure whatever you brought to wear would have been marvelous, but there’s no need to change. I half-expect some of my friends to still be in their pajamas.” I admitted.

“Pajamas? You have friends living with you?” she asked.

I gently touched her upper back and guided her toward the door as I said, “We at Best Friend For Hire are all friends, though not everyone who lives here works for me. I understand that you graduated early and wanted to get working to save for college.”

“Huh? Yeah. How did you know?” she inquired.

“I do read applications that make their way to me. There has also been a background check already, so any information that wasn’t in your application is from that, such as your tendency to literally shock your brothers.” I told her.

“Wh-what!?” she asked.

“I would advise you and Mick to be more careful out in public, but that quality will help you fit in here.” I insisted.

“Who are you!?” she asked, coming to a stop.

“As I told you, my name is James. I’m the owner and chief executive of Best Friend For Hire. You do understand what we do here, correct?” I asked

“Umm… You act as people’s friends.” she guessed.

“Working here, your job will be to take on whatever role is necessary to be the best possible friend for whoever hires you. You’ll be required to do some studying here specifically for your job, but you can also study on your own toward degrees instead of attending the university as you had planned.” I explained. “If you ever intend to step up from part time to full time, you do have that option. A room is already set aside for your use if you ever decide to move in or simply stay the night. We also have a company truck that we use to help clients and employees move.”

Shaking her head, Iris said, “I’m confused. Am I already hired?”

“Sorry. I’m completely terrible at giving interviews. Simply stated, my company needs more people, and I didn’t see any red flags in your profile. If you’re interested, Mila will show you to where you can complete the paperwork, not that we really use paper for much.” I explained. Hearing Emma running toward us, I sighed.

“James! Who is she?” she asked.

“Iris, this is Emma. Emma, Iris. Please be warned that Emma will quite likely try to hit on you. If you need to file a complaint, Mila will assist you.” I stated.

“Hey!” exclaimed Emma, punching my arm. “Don’t listen to the man-slave. He’s just jealous that I stopped flirting with him after he got engaged.”

“Have you?” I asked.

“Obviously!” she insisted without a hint of honesty behind the word.

“Can I give her the tour?” she asked, ignoring Iris’ bemused expression.

“I’m taking Iris to fill out some forms, but I can notify you when she’s finished.” stated Mila as she stepped up to us.

“Iris, this is Mila. She runs the house and numerous other things. You’ll quite likely get her confused with my fiancée at some point, since they look nearly identical. The maid outfit should help you tell them apart, since Alma wouldn’t ever wear one.” I explained.

“She might if you ask nicely.” teased Mila. Turning to Iris, she said, “This way please.”

I started walking to the ballroom, but Emma grabbed my arm.

“Can I keep her?” she asked.

“No. Sorry, but she’s straight. My secretary’s background checks are incredibly detailed.” I told her.

I felt her grip loosen, so I hugged her shoulders. “I’m sure we’ll find you someone eventually, assuming you don’t find someone yourself first.” I assured her. “That being said, please let people get hired before you hit on them.”

“I’m not that bad. This was just a special case. I bet she skates.” insisted Emma, nearly bouncing.

“If not, you can probably get her to try. Maybe you could teach her how to use the zoomies.” I suggested.

“That’d be fun!” exclaimed Emma.

“I imagine you’ll get along just fine. She’s very much the outdoors type, so I doubt even Ancient Tribes of Earth will keep her inside for long. Just don’t scare her off. We actually have been turning away a fair number of potential clients lately.” I explained, unable to tell Emma how many times Aaliyah let me cheat this past week to help multiple clients simultaneously.

“Jaaaaaaaaames!” exclaimed Kayla, running up to me.

“Yes?” I asked.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” she told me.

“Didn’t mean to…?” I encouraged.

“I was going to the kitchen, and I scared some girl that was here. Mila told me to slow down, but I didn’t listen. I’m sorry. I didn’t know someone was here! Are you going to make her forget now?” she asked, staring up at me with wide-eyed excitement.

“Mila will give a perfectly satisfactory explanation, won’t you, Mila?” I asked.

“I didn’t explain a thing, master.” she replied.

“You’re taking after Aaliylah.” I stated.

I heard a smile in her voice as she said, “Thank you, master.”

Looking back down to Kayla, I said, “Please mind Mila’s instructions in the future, but there’s no harm done. Iris will be working here.”

“Oh! I’ll go apologize then!” she exclaimed.

I quickly lifted her off the ground before she ran off. Handing her to Emma, I said, “Why don’t you wait to give the tour with Emma a bit later? Iris has forms to fill out.”

“Okay!” she exclaimed with a grin.

“And make sure to get back to studying afterward. I’ll know if you don’t.” I warned her.

“Yes, sir.” she replied glumly.

“While we’re waiting, want to come with me to get a few zoomies?” offered Emma as she set her down. “James said we can show them to Iris.”

“Sure!” exclaimed Kayla, running with Emma toward the garage.

I hadn’t actually meant for them to show her those today, but I was confident Emma would handle things well. Changing my mind about logging into Ancient Tribes of Earth, I went instead to Alma’s wing, wanting to enjoy a bit more of her company before I needed to head out. She’d probably chide me for not giving a proper interview, since she’d surely ask how it went. I doubted I would have even seen the application if Iris wouldn’t work out, so I wasn’t too concerned. Things would work out just fine.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 320

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mila will surely be invaluable.” agreed Alma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, no.” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged and said, “Might as well.”

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

“What appointment?” inquired Alma.

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

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

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 319

”Maxine, why are you doing this?” I asked, deciding on being straightforward.

There was no answer for several seconds. Then mechanical-sounding voice said, “I am Marvelous Max, and I’m here to rescue you. Who is this… Maxine?”

“Rescue me? From what?” I asked.

“You have been deceived James Michael Somerset III. Your fiancée isn’t what she seems. She isn’t even human.” she replied.

“She might incinerate you for making accusations like that.” I replied wryly. “I know who Alma is, probably better than you do.”

“I see.” she stated.

I waited for her to say more for a time before asking “Is that all you had against her? If so, please place this thing somewhere near the city.”

“Are you aware of the types of business dealing your fiancée has?” she inquired.

“She’s cutthroat to say the least. Did you know she tried buying out my own father’s business?’ I questioned.

“No, but I was aware of your acquisition. Your fiancée is a very dangerous woman who associates with other dangerous people. You’re not safe around her.” she warned.

“Then if I prove capable of defending myself, you’ll stop with this absurd heroic pretense and leave?” I inquired.

The voice morpher stopped when she asked “James, are you really so determined to be rid of me?”

“Maxine, I believe you mean well, but I’m going to marry Alma. Nothing’s going to prevent me from marrying her.” I insisted. “On another note, you really should consider changing your methods. Calamity is very against your methods, seeing you as her nemesis. Kidnapping me isn’t going to sit well with her.”

“My methods? I only ever do what is necessary, James. What I’m doing will save the world in the long run. What does she do? Stop petty crimes?” demanded Maxine.

“She’s bagged drug lords too.” I told her.

“Drugs will always be supplied. She’s stopped nothing. James, I’m trying to save the entire world. Alma’s family and their associates are the ones really behind the terrible things in this world. They manipulate governments, control the businesses, and strip every last freedom from anyone who’s not one of them.” she insisted.

“You’re also helping them in various nefarious activities from what I’ve heard. Mila has quite an extensive file on you.” I replied, pressing a finger into the side of the cylinder in which she held me. I probably should hop out soon.

“They can’t be beaten from the outside. I needed to get into their network to stop them. I’m getting closer to stopping them. You’ll see.” she told me.

“No, I won’t. Maxine, you can’t win. Do you really think Alma would take issue with destroying your suit while you’re in it if she heard what you told me? She probably would, honestly. She’s actually one of the nice ones. You’ll just get yourself killed if the others tire of you.” I explained.

She confidently told me “They can’t kill me, and I can protect you.”

I was surprised that she actually believed what she said. What sort of ability did Maxine possess? Could she be like Portentia?

Intrigued, I asked “Why do you say you can’t be killed?”

“The same way that Calamity can’t. I was very surprised by her. How is it that you know her?” she inquired.

“We’ve spoken numerous times. She did save me from you, remember?” I teased.

“You weren’t in any danger from me, and she hardly knew how to fight at the time. I could have captured her easily.” she stated defensively. Then she sarcastically said, “I doubt she checks on everyone she ‘saves’.”

“She saved some of my family from some of Alma’s, so I’ve been grateful to her.” I admitted. Checking my phone, I said, “Well, thank you for the chat, but I see we’re outside of the city now. I’ll be leaving now.”

Foam seeped out of the walls of the capsule, hardening around me.

“I built this unit to capture Calamity, James. I didn’t want to immobilize you, but I can’t have you hurting yourself by attempting to escape.” she informed me.

I laughed and said, “Thank you for the consideration, Maxine. Goodbye.”

I used a spell to blow open the bottom of the capsule and another to cut the foam free. There was a small grove of trees beneath me, and I wasn’t seeing anyone on the ground near the grove to startle with my landing.

The sound of Maxine’s engines changed, so I glanced up and found her diving toward me. I rolled my eyes as I created a series of spells to speed me toward the ground while giving her turbulence. I had some inner debate over how to land. My body would certainly handle the impact at this speed, but I didn’t want to disturb the forest too much. Using air again was simple enough and wouldn’t be destructive.

Unfortunately, slowing my descent gently gave Maxine more time to catch up. As she reached for me, I grabbed the mechanical arm, maneuvered my legs to kick off the machine’s chest, and tore the arm in half as I kept my grip.

I tossed the glove to the side as I landed but felt bad about Maxine’s crash. I didn’t really want to hurt her, even if she healed like Portentia. There was a flash of light by her, and I briefly worried about an explosion. None came. With a small jump, I landed by her. “Sorry.” I told her. “I imagine you can still fly, since this isn’t the first time your machine lost a hand.”

“This is a new model, so the take off won’t be as shaky. What are you?” she inquired.

“I’m just a guy trying to help people through my business.” I replied.

“‘Just a guy’ wouldn’t be able to rip apart my machine with his bare hands. Are you like Alma? Part of that family?” she asked, pushing herself off the ground.

“No, not even distantly. You’d find me remarkably human if you checked my DNA.” I assured her. “I trust you’ll take my word that I’m in no danger now.”

“No, I won’t. That family is only part of the problem, James. I’ve heard rumors of beings that are even stronger.” she warned me.

“The eldest vampires? They’re attending my wedding. Or do you mean Death? She’s a friend as well.” I replied, wishing I could see Maxine’s face through her battered machine.

“You’re messing with me. Why? Can’t you see that I care about you?” she pleaded. “I could be so much more helpful to you than Lady Pendreigh.”

“No, you really couldn’t. I’m in love with her, Maxine. I’m going to marry her. You can’t stop this and really shouldn’t try. If you make a scene at my wedding, you’ll make far too many enemies. The eldest of the vampires really will be there. I imagine Adelmar will be attending as well. Though she might not be seen, I’m confident that Death will be watching. I know that you and Calamity feel invincible with your healing, but don’t push Death. She earned her name. If you don’t believe me, ask your contacts in Alma’s family. They’ll certainly tell you to stay away.” I warned her. I braced myself as Maxine suddenly launched into the air.

“James! Grab her!” called Portentia as she ran up behind me.

“Hi, Calamity. Is your day going well?” I asked after turning to face her.

She stopped by me, staring up at Maxine’s diminishing form. “Why didn’t you catch her?” she demanded. “She kidnapped you!”

“I did let her.” I admitted. Than I said, “You two might be related. She apparently heals like you do.”

“What!?” exclaimed Portentia, grabbing my arms as she stared up at me.

“She admitted it to me as she was explaining that she could protect me from Alma.” I explained.

Portentia laughed and said, “What a doofus! I couldn’t protect anyone from Alma, and I’m a superhero. Does she really think her fancy suits could do something to Alma?”

“Probably not, but she is creative. I’ll tell you about what she built to capture you when we get back to the house.” I replied. “Want a lift?”

She shrugged, so I scooped her up before sprinting home. I hoped Maxine would take my advice about not coming after me again, but I felt she had already gone too far. Portentia certainly wouldn’t let this go, and Alma had probably been informed already. If either of them decided to go after Maxine, Mila certainly would join them as well. Poor Maxine didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 318

“Thank you, James! I never would have managed without you!” insisted Mrs. Coleman.

“You are quite welcome. Do call again if ever you need something.” I replied with a smile before stepping into the elevator to leave her floor.

Mrs. Coleman had purchased a new painting and hired Best Friend For Hire to aid in displaying it. Mila used a scan of the room from my initial visit to take measurements and fabricate an airtight display system to match the condo’s aesthetics after sending a simulation to Mrs. Coleman. I merely had to install it.

Now I had an hour until my next job for a “new client”. I sighed wondering what Maxine wanted. She was hiring me through one of her employees this time. Well, the man’s company was a subsidiary of a company where she sat on the board of directors, so there was a small chance that this wasn’t Maxine’s doing, though I wholeheartedly agreed with Mila’s assessment that Maxine was probably involved.

I found myself sighing again as I walked. Being engaged felt all the more real to me now that I had given Alma a ring. The wedding seemed at once too soon and too far away. I was nervous, despite being certain I wanted to marry her. We had yet to thoroughly discuss the details of what we wanted married life to be, or at least I felt there was more to discuss. In addition to worrying over what marriage was going to mean for us, I still was worrying over Dejon.

I hired Dejon yesterday, despite my remaining doubts about his character. Working for me, I’d likely know if he did something truly evil with his ability. If I sent him away now, he’d probably be using his powers to stay afloat, given his need of a job. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t consider how his actions would affect others if that were the case, possibly the very thing which troubled me about him. A lack of solid moral values could be very dangerous with a gift like his.

Furthermore, I felt behind in my studies again. There never seemed to be enough time to read all that I would want to read, even with Aaliyah and Carl helping me cheat a bit. If I really wasn’t aging, did it really hurt to give me a few extra years of study? I found myself smirking at the thought of it. Even I realized that would be suspicious to those in my household. No one questioned how quickly I learned these days, but everyone was perfectly aware of what my schedule was like. There was only so much I could fit into my day, and I had some very intelligent friends who would surely see something amiss if I suddenly knew far too much.

Despite what I’d like to believe, I knew I wouldn’t be willing to study too much without breaks. I’d miss my friends. I’d miss Alma. I’d want to visit my parents again. I already went too long between visits at times. At least they visited the house often enough that I saw them more than I otherwise would. I smiled to myself as I considered again how my parents didn’t seem ready for me to be married. How long would Alma and I wait before having children? I believed she wanted children… What would they even be like?

I rounded a corner and found a couple police cars with their lights flashing. Glancing around, I guessed that the man in the back of one of the cars was apprehended after attempting to rob the pawn shop where one of the officers was asking questions. Hearing someone walking toward me, I looked over and saw Officer Tracy out of uniform.

“James Michael Somerset III. Were you here for this one?” he asked.

“No. I just finished helping Mrs. Coleman with her painting back that way.” I replied, pointing toward her house.

“Hear anything new about Calamity?” he inquired.

“Calamity?” I questioned.

Nodding, he said, “Oh yeah. The city apparently has a vigilante using that as her name. Strange choice if you ask me.”

“I agree. Sounds ominous.” I told him.

“It does. It does. This is the second… no, third time you just happened to be walking by a crime scene after she appeared.” he informed me.

“She? I thought this umm… Calamity, was it?” I asked, waiting for him to nod. “Was a he.”

“No. Calamity is definitely a she. Hard to miss in that new suit she has. White hair from what we’ve been told.” he stated.

“White hair? Not a wig?” I questioned.

He laughed and said, “Would you believe people claim to have seen part of her head shot off? Well, not recently. Lately, they’ve claimed she’s bulletproof. Whatever the case, she has to have some expensive tech to survive some of the things she’s supposedly been through.”

“I bet she would.” I admitted, knowing that she was using some very state-of-the-art technology.

“I also noticed that you have an employee with white hair. Portentia, I believe her name was. Unusual name. Your website says she’s deaf though.” he told me.

“She was born deaf from what I was told. Very friendly girl. Would you like to meet her?” I suggested.

“I would. I really would, but I’m afraid I can’t. People might believe I’m investigating into your business.” he told me.

“That might look bad if my business was associated with criminal activity, but I’ll gladly help law enforcement where I can.” I assured him.

Portentia really seemed to be making a large difference in the city, and I did help her a little not that long ago.

He smirked and said, “Funny. Would you believe I was called immediately by my boss’ boss right after I ran your plates that day we met? He directly ordered me not to investigate you and informed me that investigating into your business was considered investigating you.”

“You’re a detective now, aren’t you. Sorry. I had been wondering why you weren’t in uniform. Congratulations on the promotion.” I told him.

“Thank you.” he replied, frowning.

“Though I find what you just told me somewhat surprising, I can’t claim any knowledge as to why he would tell you that. Perhaps there could be some sort of international problem considering that a foreign dignitary resides in my home.” I suggested.

“Your fiancée.” he stated. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you. For someone who isn’t investigating me, you’re very well informed.” I told him.

Shrugging, he said, “Your wedding is a big event. I heard that the mayor and even the governor are going to be attending.”

“I honestly haven’t seen the guest list, but I would imagine it’s quite extensive.” I replied, wondering how much Detective Tracy actually knew.

“You obviously don’t have to answer, but do you know sign language, James?” he asked.

“Yes. Several forms, actually. With someone who is deaf working for me, I felt obligated to learn. If you ever run into Portentia, don’t worry. She can read lips just fine. Make sure she’s facing you when you’re speaking though. She has a tendency to turn her head when you’re saying something she doesn’t want to hear.” I admitted, not wanting to have him feel I was withholding anything.

“Sorry if I’m keeping you from anything, but I appreciate your time, Mr. Somerset.” he told me, holding out his hand.

I shook it and said, “No trouble. With an hour between jobs, I thought a nice walk would be a good way to kill some time. I might have to call a taxi if I take too much longer.”

“Would you want a ride? I don’t have a DB5 like yours, but my car still runs.” he offered.

“I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” I replied.

“No trouble, not after I took up your time. I’m the green one just up the street.” he insisted, starting to walk as he spoke.

“There are green taxis around.” I teased.

He smiled and led me to his car. Noticing a folder on the passenger seat, he said, “Let me get that out of your way.”

I read enough snippets of the pages when the folder flopped open from being raised that I was certain the entire thing was devoted to researching Portentia. The picture of her at the convention we attended probably confirmed his suspicions about her, but he didn’t have a way to approach her as long as long as she worked for me. I wondered if I had Alma or Aaliyah to thank for that bit of protection.

After getting the address and driving a little ways, Detective Tracy said, “Sorry if I might have seemed a little suspicious of your employee, James. The Calamity thing is a bit of a thorn in our side. She’s a criminal, breaking the law, we’re required to catch her, but she’s also busted a large number of cases open for us. The amount of evidence left for us at some of the crime scenes is staggering. Full videos of crimes in action on microSD cards sitting on top of pictures. There are even printed reports at times connecting the dots easily enough for kindergarteners.”

“That sounds incredible. I’m a little concerned though. If you do pin her down eventually, how are you supposed to bring her in if she’s capable of taking on large groups who don’t play by a rulebook?” I inquired, ignoring the vibration in my pocket. If he caught a glance at my phone’s screen when the wrong message was up, he’d certainly have more questions.

“Can I get your word that you won’t mention this?” he asked.

“Of course. Confidentiality is in my contract.” I informed him.

He laughed and said, “I can imagine, given the people you rub shoulders with. No one even organizes the evidence we have on her. It’s just a bunch of reports from witnesses. She’s officially a myth, since few of the reports sound remotely credible.”

“Even though she’s been seen multiple times?” I asked. “That sounds hard to believe.” I insisted, though I knew he wasn’t lying.

“Fighting crime is tough. Even the people we protect are against us half the time. Having someone actually working to help us doesn’t make any of us prone to bringing her in.” he admitted.

“So what are you after?” I inquired.

He shrugged again before saying, “I’d like to meet her and understand how she does it. Collecting the evidence as she does might revolutionize police work.”

I nodded and kept myself from frowning. I doubt anyone would be pleased to find out how much Mila spies on the city. If the government had a clue how much she spies on countries, they’d want to possess her.

“Here we are. I’ve got a new card if you want one, just in case you hear something.” he told me.

“Sure. Thanks for the ride!” I told him, shaking his hand once more. As I did, I felt my phone vibrate again, so I pulled it out as I got out of the car.

“Marvelous Max is heading toward you. Calamity is also on her way as well.” wrote Mila.

I sighed.

“Is something wrong?” asked Detective Tracy, leaning to look at me.

“Just looks like my day is going to be even busier. Thanks again.” I told him with a wave.

Barely a few steps away, I frowned, hearing the faint sounds of familiar thrusters. I considered running, but there were a large number of people around, and Tracy knew who I was. What was Maxine playing at? Was she really coming straight to me? If so, why? Not wanting to seem unusual in front of the detective, I walked to the most open area I could, pretending to read my phone as I did. If Maxine was coming to me, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

I glanced up and caught sight of Maxine descending straight for me with some sort of cylinder held in her arms. Causing her engines to fail would be relatively easy, but preventing her from crashing into anything or anyone without things seeming unnatural wouldn’t. I waited and wondered.

She flipped around and slowed her descent barely twenty feet from the ground, still landing hard near me. Then she grabbed me with one of the giant machine’s hands, pushed me into the metal cylinder, and launched back into the air just as cylinder closed. Surprisingly, the cylinder was very well padded. I could hear the sound of air coming into it. I did not look forward to explaining this to Detective Tracy if we ever crossed paths again.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 317

“Reporting for duty, sir!” exclaimed Cosette, snapping to attention after she marched into my office.  She was wearing some sort of science fiction type military outfit with glowing insignia.

 

“At ease.” I told her with a smirk.

 

“Yes, sir!” she exclaimed.  “Ready for the briefing?”

 

“Yes, please.  I would love to know from where this charade came.” I told her.

 

She laughed and said, “Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  Dejon and I were requested to fill in the ranks at a sort of LARP.  Our commander was desperate for replacements, since a couple members of his crew were out sick.”

 

“Sounds entertaining.  How did things go?” I asked.

 

“Dejon was stiff as ever, but I must say that actually worked for him.  He was a perfectly uptight soldier all night.  We each received a commendation for best kept uniforms, by the way, and our commander awarded me with a VIP medal.” she announced.  “You’ll be happy to hear that he wanted to make us official members of his crew, even offering immediate promotion if we were to join.”

 

“Oh?  The uniforms weren’t supplied?” I questioned.

 

Shaking her head, she said, “No.  They paid extra for us to bring our own, and Mila fabricated these instead of buying them in town.  They’re far more durable and tailored to fit.”

 

“Did Dejon cheat?” I asked, hoping he didn’t employ his abilities during a LARP.

 

“Not that I noticed, but I did.” admitted Cosette with a big grin.

 

“What!?” I asked, shocked that she’d use her abilities in public.

 

“Don’t worry.  No one caught me, even  the other vampire.  I only cheated because he did.  I noticed that he occasionally grew an extra finger to respond faster without moving faster, so I modified my palms to hit keys under them where people couldn’t see.” she explained.

 

Nodding, I told her “I’ll admit that seems fairly safe and relatively harmless, though I am having trouble picturing this game.”

 

“Each group acts as part of a fleet.  If you win the aerial maneuvers, then your team gets to attempt boarding maneuvers.  Dejon desperately needs to learn how to fight.  He was terrible at that part, but we did well enough.  The commander had me leading the charge by the end.  I’d wager the other vampire guessed at our shared nature at that point.  He should have if he didn’t.” she mused.

 

“You kept up with him fine then?” I questioned.

 

“Kept up with him?” she asked, looking insulted.  “I could mop the floor with ten of him.  He was obviously fairly young for my kind, and he lacked combat training.”

 

“Sorry, but you’re younger than me, and I’ve met vampires that are thousands of years old.  You’re still quite young for your kind.” I told her.

 

“You still have no idea how much that letter from Zachary Blood meant to me.  I can’t believe you met him!” she exclaimed, grinning at me.

 

“Don’t forget his brothers.  They’d be quite disappointed to be left out.” I teased.

 

“I know!  I’m so jealous that you’ve met them.” she insisted.

 

“Don’t worry.  You’ll have your chance.  I believe they’re attending my wedding.” I informed her.

 

“Are they really!?” she exclaimed, leaning on my desk as she grinned and stared intently at me.

 

“Aaliyah mentioned they were invited, so I imagine they’ll come.” I assured her.

 

“What am I going to wear!?” she exclaimed, turning and pacing.  Then she stopped and looked at me before saying, “James, thank you!  For me, this is like meeting a rockstar.  You have no idea how many stories my father told me about them.”

 

“True.” I told her, nodding.

 

She laughed and said, “Many.  A great many, and he hadn’t even met them personally.  I wish my parents could be alive for this.  My father would probably worry about me getting dragged into politics, of course, but I know he’d want to meet them as well.  The way he spoke about them was riveting.”

 

“I’m glad to have given you fair warning of their arrival then, but can you understand my confusion in regard to you and this other vampire you met?” I asked.

 

She looked at me, seeming perplexed herself for a moment, before saying, “Oh.  Yes.  Sorry.  Having been born instead of created, I’m significantly stronger than an average vampire my age.  Furthermore, I have Slayer blood.  Where Ai and Mai could easily outmatch a newly turned vampire, possibly even one approaching a hundred, I’m already physically their equal.”

 

“Considering that you always hold back in practice, I’d wager that you’re a little stronger than either of them separately and even better at fighting than I had first guessed.” I stated.

 

Smiling, she said, “Maybe.  A girl deserves her secrets.”

 

“True, but I would enjoy seeing Joyeuse eventually if you’re ever willing to give that secret up.” I told her as I returned her smile.

 

She laughed and said, “I slipped, didn’t I.”

 

“I believe you fooled the twins.  Your act was very convincing.” I assured her.

 

“Still, my father would be disappointed in my lapse.  He could be rather strict regarding secrets.” she stated.

 

“I believe you.  From what I’ve heard, Alma’s mother was incredibly strict with her regarding everything.” I shared.

 

“No doubt.  Father wasn’t that strict.  He simply wanted to help me perfect everything he knew, so he taught me constantly.  I think you would have liked him, honestly.” she told me wistfully.

 

Smiling again, I said, “Going by you, I’m sure I would have.  I hope he’d be happy with your new home.”

 

“He would.  He’d marvel at everything just as I do.  This place is amazing, James.  Only you could bring such different people together with such success.  I’m very grateful that you let me stay here.” she replied, smiling as well.

 

“You’re welcome as long as I live.  Considering that I don’t appear to be aging anymore, that could be a very long time.” I insisted.

 

She looked at me, seeming shocked.  “You’re not aging?  Are you certain?” she asked.

 

“Having taken one of your secrets, I felt I should give one of mine as well.  Don’t tell anyone.  They’ll notice in time.” I told her.

 

“Friends forever?” she replied with a grin as she held out her hand.

 

“Friends forever.” I confirmed, shaking her hand.

 

“In that case, I’ll show you Joyeuse right now if you have the time.” she offered.

 

“Certainly.  The more of these weapons I see, the more impressed I’ve been with them.  I have spent long periods just imagining the skill crafting such weapons would take.” I admitted.  Though I had no intention to ever make a weapon myself, I greatly admired the skill needed to craft the ones I’ve seen.

 

I followed Cosette to her rooms and was immediately taken by the distinct change in decor deeper into her suite.  Where her initial furniture was some of Emma’s handiwork, several of the rooms now contained much older furnishings, probably part of her inheritance.  Almost to the back, we stopped at a wall that slid open at our approach.

 

“Mila’s kind enough to watch over my things.” explained Cosette, though there was no need.

 

I nodded, but I was surprised by the blatant display of wealth.  This was a fairly large vault with gold coins covering a quarter of the floor.  The weight alone had to be immense, but the floor beneath was obviously designed to support the vault itself.  Numerous displays contained jewelry, documents, precious gems, and paintings.  Small statues and vases each had their own display.  One wall even hosted a large bookshelf filled with old volumes.  I smiled when I noticed the copy of Les Misérables that I had given her for Christmas.

 

“Please excuse the mess.  Aaliyah likes to play pirates.” she told me.  She then pulled open a large drawer to reveal Joyeuse next to its sheath.  As she grasped the handle, the blade illuminated in a crackling, azure light.  Noticing my gaze, she told me “Joyeuse produces different types of energy around the blade depending on the wielder’s mood.  I imagine the creator wanted the sword to be difficult to defend against beyond its obvious sharpness.”

 

I nodded my agreement, admiring the delicate details in the blade.  Most people would probably need a magnifying glass to notice them.  The golden hilt was equally elaborate.  Cosette certainly had a weapon worthy of a queen had she wanted the title.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 316

Raine hissed as she entered the room, and Cosette’s arm sizzled as it passed the corner in front of her. I quickly sheathed Caladfwlch and put the sword on the table.

“Cosette, are you okay!?” I asked, moving toward the door.

Raine was frowning at me.

“What was that!?” she demanded, rubbing her arm as it healed.

“Excalibur.” I stated, feeling they wouldn’t recognize the name Caladfwlch.

“Ex-Excalibur!? The sw-sword in the st-stone!?” exclaimed Raine, grabbing my arm as she stared up at me with wide eyes.

“Yes. That one.” I assured her.

“We still don’t understand when you found the time to hop over to England.” mentioned Ai.

Nodding, Mai said, “Lady Pendreigh should’ve invited us for the trip.”

“Sorry. You should ask to see her engagement ring too when you complain to her. I decided she needed it after you two visited me.” I told them.

“We will!” they exclaimed.

“En-engagement… r-ring.” muttered Raine, dashing out of the hall.

“Uh… yes.” I stated, looking after her.

“I can’t believe Excalibur destroys vampires.” complained Cosette.

“Sorry.” I told her. “I didn’t realize the light from it would have that effect on you.”

Nodding, she said, “Father never mentioned that part when he told me the tale. Of course, the sword was already dormant long before his time.”

“How did you know the sword was dormant!?” exclaimed the twins.

“My father was the king of a rival nation. Do you really think he lacked spies? He knew of all the weapons the family possessed at that time.” she informed them.

The twins glanced at each other.

“Who were the spies?” asked Mai.

“Did he give you a name for any of them?” inquired Ai.

Cosette smirked and asked “Wanting to make sure the descendents aren’t still active?”

“No.” lied Ai.

“We are just curious.” insisted Mai.

“You’ll forgive me if I can’t quite seem to remember at the moment.” replied Cosette.

“Don’t you just hate when you conveniently forget information that could expose someone?” teased Jarod as he hugged Ai and Mai from behind.

They elbowed him, making him wince.

“Well, I don’t think it…” I started to say when I caught the door opening at the end of the hall.

“It’s gor-gorgeous! D-did you… really m-make it!?” asked Raine, having ran back to us.

“Thank you. I’m glad you approve. Getting the shape right took some time.” I replied with a smile.

“You made her ring?” inquired the twins.

“Yes. Then Alma and I made our wedding bands.” I admitted.

“C-can… I see?” asked Raine, practically bouncing on her feet. Suddenly, she moved again. “QUIET!” she yelled from the war room.

Everyone around me was covering their ears, but my jaw dropped. Muramasa listened to her. The whispering had stopped.

“S-sorry.” she muttered, timidly walking back out.

“I hope you didn’t break it.” stated Jarod as he uncovered his ears. “I didn’t know you could yell so loud.”

“N-no. S-sorry. I j-just sh-shook it. It’s m-mean.” she mumbled, staring at her feet.

I laughed and then told her “Yes, it’s not the kindest of weapons.”

“Hey now. Don’t make fun of my sword.” stated Jarod, crossing his arms.

Raine looked ready to apologize more, but quickly spun as Aurora reached toward her. She looked shocked when Aurora hugged her. “S-sorry. Aur-Aurora.” she told her.

Aurora kept hugging her.

“You grabbed it’s blade though! I saw you setting it down.” stated Mai, stepping up to Raine.

“S-so?” asked Raine.

“The sword kills anyone who touches the blade.” explained Ai as she took to Raine’s other side.

“It kn-knows b-better.” mumbled Raine. “W-we talked.”

“You talked, as in an actual conversation?” I asked.

Rained nodded. “You d-didn’t hear?” she questioned, looking up at me.

“No, not until you yelled.” I replied.

“It’s b-been talking to m-me. C-constantly… s-since it a-arrived.” she informed me.

“Really?” I asked. “Alma will want to hear about this.”

“I’ve been keeping her informed, master.” stated Mila.

“Oh. Thank you, Mila.” I told her.

“Thank you!?” demanded Ai.

“That’s spying!” insisted Mai. “What else do you tell her about us?”

“I assure you that I only inform her of conversations that I deem relevant to her and public. Given the number of people involved at this time as well as the nature of the conversation, I felt she would want to be informed.” explained Mila.

“We want a list!” exclaimed the twins.

“Show us every last thing you’ve relayed to her from our quarters.” demanded Ai.

“Or we’re going to disconnect you from here again.” insisted Mai.

“Ignore them, Mila. I’ll show them the log later.” stated Jarod.

“What!? You knew she was doing this?” asked Ai.

“Yes, dear. I talked to her about this before you reconnected her panels here, since I knew you two would take issue.” he assured them.

“Says the guy who was hiding this!” exclaimed Mai as she grabbed Aurora’s shoulders.

“If I was hiding her, why did I bring her with me here?” he asked.

Ai and Mai stared at each other from across Aurora’s shoulder.

“Fine, but you still could have told us when you got an assistant.” stated Ai.

“How does she assist without speaking?” asked Mai, turning Aurora’s head toward her.

“B-be nice.” stated Raine.

The twins all-too-casually stepped away from Aurora to cling to Jarod.

“Always, Raine.” claimed Mai.

“We’ll never forget how you stood up to our mother.” insisted Ai.

“Her expression was priceless!” they exclaimed.

Aurora reached up and started feeling their heads.

“What’s she doing?” asked Mai.

“She’s going to ruin my hair.” complained Ai.

“Checking for a loose screw?” suggested Cosette with a grin.

“Trying to figure out how you two work, I’d guess.” replied Jarod. “Don’t be surprised if she tries to corner you in the lab sometime. She’ll probably want to run tests.”

Mai sighed dramatically.

Ai then turned to Cosette and asked “Did you know that Joyeuse in France is a copy?”

“Oh really? I wonder how that happened.” replied Cosette.

She was lying, though her face seemed perfectly inquisitive.

“So your father never heard about that?” inquired Mai.

“I suppose not.” agreed Cosette. “I’d be more interested in hearing what happened to Durendal, personally. Imagine a sword said to be indestructible which was known to easily slice through stone and to be wielded by kings.”

“There are many of those.” stated Ai as she rolled her eyes.

“There are two in the room next to us, of course, but not all of them are suggested to be the ‘master of stone’ or a ‘sword of fire’.” insisted Cosette. “Though I suppose you could argue that sitting in a stone for years might make Excalibur its master.”

“We know what you’re implying. There’s no way that Excalibur could’ve been stolen after Arthur’s time. We’d have a record of the theft.” argued Mai.

“I’m sure you would. That’s an interesting idea though. Who would place Excalibur back there if the sword was stolen by an angel to give to Charlemagne? I do love the tales.” replied Cosette wistfully.

“M-me too!” agreed Raine, smiling excitedly.

“Are you quite finished?” snapped Ai to Aurora, who had started feeling down her back.

Jarod kissed her head and then said, “Be nice. If you’ll take a look at her work, I’m sure you will appreciate her talent.”

“Ai, your husband wants you to appreciate a girl’s… talent.” stated Mai.

“Whatever should we do with him, Mai?” inquired Ai.

“Behave in front of company!” exclaimed Cosette, grinning at them. Then she turned to the nearest mirror and asked “Mila, when is Portentia returning? I’m hungry.”

“No talking about drinking blood in our wing!” protested the twins.

“Then no searing me with fantastic weapons!” replied Cosette.

Mila’s avatar, which had appeared on the mirror, said, “Portentia still has over two hours on her current shift. Provided that she doesn’t get distracted, I estimate that she’ll return in roughly two hours and thirty-six minutes.”

Aurora moved over to the mirror and stared at Mila. I wondered if she had actually seen Mila like that much, considering that Mila was often assisting her in one of the bodies Jarod had built.

“James, would you mind holding Mai still, so I can have a snack?” asked Cosette.

Mai ducked away from Jarod and said, “What!? No. Sorry, but no. Not happening.”

Cosette pouted at her.

“I-I’ll help.” muttered Raine, holding up her hand.

Cosette jumped at Raine with elongating fangs, but she just hugged Raine without even pretending to bite her. “You’re so sweet! I’m not really that hungry. I just wanted to tease the twins. They can be so squeamish regarding my meals. I have a feeling I couldn’t even pierce your skin.”

“S-sorry.” mumbled Raine. “I c-could probably g-get some out.” she suggested.

I was surprised to see a single, long claw grow out from her index finger, stretching toward her hand. Even like that, there was a distortion around the claw, a wavering bit of space that shouldn’t be in our world.

“When did you learn to partially transform that well?” I asked.

“I-I’ve… practiced. Y-you said I sh-should.” she replied.

“I’m simply glad that you’re making progress.” I assured her even as I noticed Ai’s grip on Jarod tightening.

Jarod didn’t look too composed himself. Aurora actually ducked behind the twins to stare.

Looking slightly uneasy herself, Cosette gently pushed the clawed hand away from Raine’s other hand as she said, “I really appreciate that you’re willing, but I’m fine. No need to hurt yourself.”

“Since you’re all here, would you like to sit down, have a snack, and maybe watch something with us?” asked Mai, turning to face me.

I agreed along with the others. Well, Aurora was sort of dragged along. As I followed the twins to another room, I found myself wondering if exposure to Raine’s blood was even safe for any of us. When she took on a hybrid form, every part of her seemed exceptionally dangerous. Even Muramasa seemed scared of her. Considering possibilities of how her blood might interact with things, I was very, very thankful that she was such a sweet, wonderful person.