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.

Advertisements

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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 309

A week had passed, but Dejon was still here. I would love to say that he was fitting in nicely with the others, but I hadn’t been persuaded to hire him and could only guess what he thought of my friends.

Why was he still here? I had initially said he could stay one night, but each day I kept coming up with another reason to let him stay longer. Thanks to Alma’s “errands”, he surely had the funds to rent a place. She always was generous in her pay. Mila had informed me that he was looking at possible places daily, but he hadn’t gone to visit any yet. He hadn’t left the house at all, usually not even leaving his room.

Over the weekend, Dejon had mostly kept to himself despite being in the ballroom, only speaking when someone spoke to him. The more relaxed he appeared, the more disinterested in everything around him he became, at least at a glance. He was watching and listening. Of that, I was certain.

He obviously avoided Kayla, shrinking into his chair more whenever she came bounding into the same room as him. I thought he was going to use his magic on her at one point when she tried talking with him, but he managed to restrain himself, probably because I was present. He was perfectly polite with Jemal, though he simply seemed curious about how Jemal felt about the job when he found out that Jemal was new here.

Brandon and Brenna were as nice as ever around Dejon, but they didn’t really make too much effort to try making conversation. Portentia wasn’t very proactive in trying to befriend him, but I didn’t really expect her to be. She had a pretty large secret to keep. Raine had avoided Dejon entirely up until Wednesday where she snuck into the room, dashing to the seat farthest from him with such insane speed that I took a moment to realize she was there. She hadn’t spoken with him yet.

Emma, however, seemed frustrated that she couldn’t even get Dejon to crack a smile. She kept trying daily, but she tried in vain. Despite her beauty and flirtations, he was nothing more than politely indulgent towards her. Perhaps he saw, like I did, that she wasn’t really interested in him.

The most reaction I saw from him since the day he arrived was when Aaliyah first came strolling into the room. He logged out of Ancient Tribes of Earth the moment she stepped into the room, obviously recognizing her. He didn’t try talking with her though, watching as she discussed my schedule and asked for a number of signatures for business deals she was making on the company’s behalf. When she waved and smiled at him, he waved back, logging into the game after she left the room.

Later, I asked Aaliyah if they knew each other. She smiled and told me that she knows everyone, which I didn’t doubt. Her “job” required it. I was almost tempted to press her further, but I knew she would’ve told me anything else she wanted me to know if there was something.

Was I keeping him around because I was curious about him? Perhaps. I wasn’t certain that he would fit here, but I had trouble picturing him in any job. Cosette had offered to keep an eye on him for me. Vampires were “highly resistant”, as she put it, to having their minds affected by magic. I turned her down, feeling Mila could keep tabs on him with even greater ease. I did wonder how Dejon would react to finding out there was a vampire living here. He probably didn’t believe in them anymore than he had believed in magic.

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira after strolling into the room with Brandon.

“Dejon. He’s not actually working here, just freeloading at the moment.” replied Brandon.

“What!? Why hasn’t James tossed him out?” she asked.

Brandon shrugged.

“I think he’s still deciding on whether or not to hire me.” stated Dejon as he stood and faced them. Then, holding his hand out to Deyanira, he said, “As Brandon said, I’m Dejon Powers.”

Deyanira snorted as she replied “Powers!? Seriously? You’ve got to fit in here. I’m Deyanira.” She shook his hand, still smirking. “So what powers do you have, Powers?”

“Excuse me?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

Pretending not to be paying attention, I quickly put a protective spell on Brandon and Deyanira, just in case.

“He can mess with your head if you make eye contact.” explained Brandon.

Annoyance flickered across Dejon’s face but quickly disappeared. “And what can you do?” he asked. “I feel like I’m the only one being kept in the dark.”

“Sorry, buddy, but you don’t work here.” stated Brandon, shrugging again.

I hadn’t told anyone they had to keep Dejon from learning their abilities. They simply did.

“Tell me.” ordered Dejon.

I was surprised that he didn’t attempt to use his power.

Deyanira playfully gave Brandon a shove and said, “Oh, Brandon. Give him a break.” Then she turned to Dejon and told him “I’m just an ordinary person. No fancy magic. Brandon can transfo…”

Brandon quickly covered her mouth, yelping a moment later. “You bit me!” he exclaimed.

“Serves you right for trying to shush me up!” she retorted. Then she quickly said, “He can alter his size and shape. Pretty nifty, huh?”

“Really? So does he use that energy stuff?” asked Dejon.

“Nah. I’m like you. Fey magic.” replied Brandon.

Looking curious, Dejon inquired “Fey?”

“Yep. Magical folk.” Brandon smugly stated with a nod.

Unless Alma had tested Dejon’s DNA, the source of his magic was still just a guess, albeit a good one, given that he wasn’t descended from the Slayer family. Alma had checked with Adelmar, given the usefulness of his gift.

“Care to meet one?” I asked.

Dejon turned to me and questioned “Can I?”

“Yes. I’ve decided that I’m too curious what she’ll think of you to not know.” I told him, creating a series of flashing lights behind my home with a spell. My little friend would notice and come to me. Keeping her away from Dejon had been somewhat of a chore this past week.

“Is Mila fetching her or something?” he asked.

“No, but she’s coming. Don’t worry.” I assured him.

“Do you still want to work here?” I asked, after I observed him getting nervous.

“Of course.” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Good pay, flexible hours, and an abundance of perks.” he told me.

“What about the people?” I asked.

Looking somewhat curious, he inquired “What about them?”

“You really don’t care with whom you work?” I questioned.

“Come on, James. You have a great group here.” stated Deyanira. “Dejon’s gotta like them, right?”

“I really don’t think he does.” argued Brandon.

“I could try finding out.” offered Cosette with an unnervingly dangerous smile.

I assumed she was offering to use a vampiric form of compulsion on him, since she had mentioned knowing one before. Her typical silence in things was probably a measured step in making her words have greater impact when she wanted to make a point. Alma had mentioned to me several times that Cosette seemed very well educated, and Alma tended to be a harsh judge on such things.

“You’re all fine.” stated Dejon, looking around to everyone. “Maybe a bit noisy, but the rooms are soundproof.”

Only to his ears. Raine would argue the point even more easily than I would, and I often heard things echoing from the halls.

“A little noise helps you realize you’re not alone.” encouraged Deyanira.

“I know.” he replied glumly.

Did he really prefer being alone? “What would be appealing about working as a best friend for hire if you prefer being alone?” I inquired.

“I like people in a general sort of way. Now and then, I just need time alone is all.” he stated.

He was being honest, which surprised me. I really had been getting the impression that he didn’t care for company at all, coming out here just to study us. Jemal and Kayla stopped in the doorway, looking into the air as my little fairy friend flew past them. I nearly laughed when Dejon suddenly went slack-jawed as she started projecting her day into all of our minds. Deyanira was grinning. She always seemed to enjoy the sensation.

“What… what are you doing to me?” asked Dejon.

“That is how the fey communicate.” I told him. “Unique, isn’t it?”

Dejon’s mouth was hanging open again as he nodded.

My little fairy friend was showing us a fairly typical day, flying quickly through the trees as she dodged leaves and branches, chasing after other fey, and using her magic at whim.

“Those creatures… what are they? What is that place!?” he inquired in a hushed whisper.

“The land of the fey!” exclaimed Deyanira.

“Also known as part of my backyard. As you’ve been told before, don’t enter the forest alone. You might never leave if you do.” I cautioned, though I’d go looking for him if he somehow managed to get himself into the forest.

“This is all real?” he asked.

“This place takes some adjustment. Trust me, man. I know exactly how hard that was to believe.” stated Jemal. “The forest is like a thousand times more intense. You really don’t want to be there without James.”

“Emma never seems to mind.” I argued.

“Yeah, but that’s Emma. She’s… you know. One with them.” he insisted.

I laughed, easily understanding Jemal’s point of view. Seeing Emma’s magic for the first time impressed me greatly, and her abilities have grown greatly with greater use. Watching her ancestor and her at play could convince most people that Emma truly was wholly one of the fey.

“I really do want to work here.” stated Dejon.

“Let me think about it for a while longer. I’ll let you continue to stay here while I’m considering.” I replied. He had submitted a formal application as well as an apology the day after he arrived, but would he really be able to convince someone he was their friend without using his gift? “Friendly” certainly wasn’t the first adjective which popped into my mind when I considered him. I needed to put him to the test.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 303

Most of yesterday was spent introducing Deyanira to magic, though Alma hadn’t seemed too thrilled by my plan. After Deyanira saw my little fairy friend by accident, I didn’t feel there was too much choice. Yes, Alma probably could have taken away the memory, but she’d just end up finding out again if Brandon continued to date her… or whatever they were doing. I wasn’t even sure.

I was certain today was going to be interesting. We had an absurd number of decorations to put around the house while Emma was out with her mom this morning, and I needed to hurry the moment she left, since Alma and I were going to have a Valentine’s Day date.

To start the day, I was waiting outside Alma’s door. She was probably finishing up some work. When she finally opened the door, I gave her a single red rose and admired how the color matched her gown. She was dressed in a beautiful, rose-red dress with touches of black lace around it.

“Thank you, James. This is lovely.” she told me as she accepted with a smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I was shocked for a moment as she casually tossed the rose behind her, but a stream of spells brought water around its stem and placed it in a vase that flew out from a distant room. I was more happily surprised when she pulled me down to her and kissed me.

We proceeded into the kitchen where the smell of breakfast added to my happiness. Marco was preparing heart-shaped pancakes that smelled of chocolate as the main course today. Some of the others were already joining us before we took our seats.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed Kayla as she skipped over to us, holding up cards.

“Thank you, Kayla. Did you make these?” I asked as I examined the cards. They appeared to be drawn in colored pencil, but the art was fantastic. The chocolate at the bottom looked expensive. Smelled expensive too.

“Aaliyah helped me!” she exclaimed as she nodded.

Well, that explained the art and candy. I wondered what Kayla actually did. “They’re wonderful.” I assured her, though she was already turning to hand a card to Marco.

“Good morning.” stated Jemal as he slumped into his seat. He looked tired.

“Late night?” I asked.

He nodded and said, “Yeah. I’m still going through courses. I never thought I’d study so much for a job.”

“I’m sure we can get you out there more quickly if you want.” I offered.

He helped up his hands as he said, “No-no. Thank you, but I’m actually liking it. I know how to build most of a house from scratch now. This is pretty cool.”

I smiled and said, “Some of us do a fair amount of that type of work. The wages vary greatly, but you’ll hopefully always be entertained by the diversity of work here.”

He looked like he was about to say more, but stopped as Deyanira joined us, still wearing the baggy sweats and big t-shirt in which she probably slept.

“That smells amazing.” she stated.

“Here’s one for you!” exclaimed Kayla, handing her a card.

“Wow. Thank you! This is pretty amazing.” insisted Deyanira as she examined it. “I’ll try the chocolate later.”

Kayla grinned and then ran to Jarod and the twins as they entered the room.

I was somewhat surprised to see the Ai and Mai graciously accept the cards with smiles. Maybe Alma had talked to them at some point about being nice to children? I almost laughed as I pictured Jarod trying to have that conversation with them.

My little fairy friend flew in and stole the first bite of my pancake off my fork.

Deyanira’s eyes grew wide, and she asked “Does she eat here often?”

“Yay! The fairy!” exclaimed Kayla.

I didn’t bother answering. My little friend was showing Deyanira a number of breakfasts she ate here, each of them seeming enormous from her perspective. Kayla had apparently made a card for my little friend as well.

The little fairy stared at it intently for a moment before diving at the chocolate. She tried biting the wrapping at first, so I tried picturing how to open it. She seemed to love the chocolate once she got to it, hugging it with her whole body as she ate.

“One day, I will a get her to use her plate.” proclaimed Marco, glancing at the dollhouse in the corner near me. “Then I will a make the most amazing fairy food.”

“I have no doubts.” I assured him, though I secretly doubted he’d successfully domesticate her.

“I should go change.” muttered Deyanira, apparently realizing that she was the only one at the table not dressed.

“Change!?” asked Emma, entering the room. “You’re perfectly adorable as you are!”

“Happy birthday!” I exclaimed at the same time as several of the others.

“Thank you!” she replied

“It’s your birthday?” asked Deyanira.

“Yep! So kisses for everyone!” insisted Emma just before kissing Deyanira’s cheek.

Deyanira blushed, but Emma was already moving on to Jemal. He looked like he wanted to argue, but Emma was too fast, ducking around his hand as she kissed his forehead. He didn’t seem to really mind, smiling as she walked toward me.

“Pucker up, man-slave!” exclaimed Emma.

“Don’t you dare.” stated Alma.

Emma grinned impishly, wrapping her arm around my neck. Then she kissed the top of my head.

“Kayla! Kisses!” exclaimed Emma.

Kayla stood tall, holding her cheek up expectantly. Then she gave Emma a card.

“It’s adorable! I’ll keep it forever!” exclaimed Emma as she hugged the girl.

“You’re welcome!” replied Kayla.

Emma then moved to Alma, kneeling, taking her hand, and kissing it. “Were I to try for your cheeks, I’d surely hit your lips.” she teased.

Alma rolled her eyes.

“Good morning. Am I missing something?” asked Cosette as she entered.

“You’re next!” exclaimed Emma. “My birthday is a global kissing day!”

“Careful, I’m said to have a very deep kiss.” teased Cosette, her fangs elongating as she smiled.

Swearing and pointing, Deyanira stood and stepped back.

“Sorry. I guess we didn’t inform you that I’m a vampire yet.” apologized Cosette.

“Vampires are real!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

“And so cute too!” insisted Emma as she kissed Cosette.

“That wasn’t my cheek.” stated Cosette, looking amused.

Emma shrugged and said, “I miss at times.”

As Emma moved toward Mai, she was stopped by our little fairy friend flying up to her and kissing her cheek.

“Thank you!” exclaimed Emma, watching as the fairy moved on to kissing everyone else. “Looks like she understands the day!”

“You’re a terrible influence.” stated Alma.

“Should I give everyone kisses too?” asked Kayla.

“Yes!” exclaimed Emma.

At the same time, Jemal exclaimed “No!”

“But Jemal…” complained Kayla.

“Get it over with.” stated Mai, moving her hair out of the way.

Emma gladly obliged her. Then she happily kissed Jarod’s cheek.

“Ah! Not my neck!” complained Ai a moment later.

“Sorry. Cosette inspired me.” replied Emma, grinning widely.

“Sounds extra lively today. What’s for breakfast?” asked Brandon, walking into the room and looking around.

“You are!” exclaimed Emma as she jumped at him.

He dodged, looking confused.

“Fine. Hand then.” stated Emma as she took his hand and kissed it, giggling afterward at Brandon’s confusion.

“Wait. Were you going to kiss me? Like kiss me kiss me?” asked Brandon, sounding disappointed.

“Easy there.” stated Deyanira, glaring up at him.

“What? I was just asking!” insisted Brandon.

“Where’s Portentia hiding?” questioned Emma.

“I’m walking towards you with her at the moment.” replied Mila.

Emma grinned and asked “Which door?”

Mila appeared on a mirror and pointed, winking as she vanished again.

When Portentia was about to enter the room, Emma jumped her, wrapping her arms around her and kissing her.

“What was that for?” asked Portentia, looking surprised.

“My birthday! Kisses for everyone!” exclaimed Emma.

Portentia nodded and said, “I see.”

Yes, this certainly was going to be an interesting day.

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 298

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

“But James…” she pouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll pass.” stated Cosette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mila!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Yes, mother?” she asked.

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

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

“Memos are important!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

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

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

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

Aaliyah stuck her tongue out at Mila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ouch. So burned.” claimed Emma.

“Boss, a little help.” stated Brandon.

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

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

“Mila! You too?” complained Brandon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Why me?” she inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deal!” he exclaimed.

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

“Whoa. What’s she mean?” asked Jemal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 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.