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 296

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Where’s that?” he replied.

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

“It’s working!” he exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled and said, “I can hope.”

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

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

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

I replied.

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

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

“Yeah. Don’t try that.” he replied.

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

“No idea.” he admitted.

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 294

“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.

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

“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.

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

“3… 2… 1…” she stated.

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

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

“James!?” she asked so slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frowning, she said, “I see.”

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I-I win.” she stated.

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

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

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

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

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

“N-no.” stated Raine.

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

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 293

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry.” I told her.

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

Nodding, I said, “Surprisingly, yes.”

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

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

“Risk?” I asked.

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

“Ever try catnip on Alberich?” I asked.

“Maybe.” she replied coyly.

“How did it go?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Do you trust her?” asked Aaliyah.

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

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

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

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

“Oh?” I asked.

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

“At what cost?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She grinned and said, “Sure.”

“Ready when you are.” I told her.

“For?” she asked.

“The change.” I stated.

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

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

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

“A pointer perhaps?” I suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That would be quite terrifying.” I admitted.

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

“Ha! I can’t win.” I stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You did!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“What!? What did I do?” I demanded.

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

“Where’s the finish?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 271

Before everyone was up, Mila started the Yacht and took us over to Freeport where we were to start the day with an ATV tour. Well, breakfast on the way there was arguably the start, but the ATV tour was fairly early.

“Would sitting this one out be horrible?” asked Shaurya.

“Of course not.” I assured him.

Just as I did, Marlin said, “Yes. Completely.”

Looking a bit worried, Shaurya explained “I’ve ridden on ATVs before. They’re simply not my thing.”

“Have you ridden ATVs on a tour in the Bahamas before though? Mila tells me we’re going to have some great stuff to see.” argued Jarod.

“Well, no…” replied Shaurya.

“Ha!” exclaimed Marlin, pointing her fork at him. “You know you’d rather be part of the story than the one simply hearing it.”

“Yeah, man. This is going to be great!” insisted Brandon, still chewing his food.

Putting a hand on Shaurya’s shoulder, Jesse said, “If you have a terrible time, I’ll pitch in toward that new armor you wanted.”

Shaurya looked at her for a second, sighed, and said, “Fine, I’ll go.”

Mila had cross-referenced everyone’s social media as part of the planning process. I wondered if she misinterpreted pictures of Shaurya on an ATV or something similar when deciding he’d enjoy this.

“Yes! This’ll be awesome. The guild’s going to be so jealous when we tell them about this.” stated Damien with a big grin.

Brandon laughed and told him “They’re already jealous. Are you sure you’ll live through them getting even more jealous?”

“Bring it!” exclaimed Damien pointing at Brandon.

“No time, guys.” I told them as both started opening their laptops. “We’re almost to the island, and the limo will be waiting for us.”

“Come on… beating him will take under a minute.” claimed Damien.

“Ha! Elf Hottie would take Sinister and his buddies out in one swing.” replied Brandon.

She actually might if Damien were really careless, but he’d more than likely goad Brandon into doing something reckless.

“I’ve been wondering… who was that model you got to play your character when you guys did that convention?” asked Lake.

Brandon choked mid-swallow and coughed out the drink he was taking.

“Why? You interested?” asked Jarod, smiling suggestively at her.

“Maybe.” she told him.

“I’m sure Mila has her contact information, but there’s probably a great number of legal restrictions against us releasing it, given that my company was technically being employed by Aaliyah’s at the time.” I explained.

“Laws take the fun out of everything.” she complained with a sigh.

Aaliyah looked ready to cry as she said, “But… but… but…”

Mila was quick to assure her “Don’t worry, mother. I always read every line.”

“Did you know Aaliyah’s an attorney?” I asked with a smile.

“No way!” exclaimed Jesse.

“Really?” asked Marlin.

Still pouting, Aaliyah quickly nodded.

“We’re here!!!” exclaimed Aaliyah, jumping off her seat.

“You have time to finish eating if you hurry.” stated Mila. “I’ll take care of cleaning up while you’re out.”

“You’re not coming with us? I was looking forward to seeing what an android can do with an ATV.” complained Damien.

“Put you to shame.” teased Marlin.

“Well, yeah!” he exclaimed.

After a little more excitement and some rapid eating, we disembarked and walked over to the limo.

“David, I presume.” I stated, offering to shake his hand.

“Yes, sir. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Somerset.” he replied.

“How did you know his name?” asked Jesse.

“I read his mind.” I told her, doing my best not to laugh when she looked shocked.

“Come on, come on. Are you really surprised the man paying for everything would know the name of the driver he picked?” asked Jarod.

I laughed and winked at David, who gave me a polite smile.

“Ooooh.” stated Jesse.

The trip from where we landed wasn’t terribly long. After introductions to our tour guide, Mario, there was some discussion about everyone needing to be twenty-one to drive an ATV. He had looked terribly surprised when he saw Aaliyah, but her Slayer ID was apparently as good to him as a driver’s license after he scanned it. To his surprise, there was also a modified ATV with a smaller seat waiting for her.

The ones in our group less familiar with Aaliyah seemed entirely confused by the exchange, and I couldn’t blame them at all. Their expressions at seeing her mastery of the vehicle were equally hilarious, but I tried not to laugh, unlike Jarod and Brandon.

“Excuse us, but you’re obviously in our way!” yelled the twins after sneaking up on Jarod.

He smoothly turned around and said, “Heya, girls. Aren’t you supposed to be off on a bachelorette party, instead of bugging your fiance?”

We have a tour scheduled for this morning.” stated Ai.

Mai leaned against him and said, “You wouldn’t want to interrupt our fun, would you?”

“You must be Ai.” stated Marlin. “I’m Marlin. I don’t know whether to congratulate you on pinning Jarod down or warn you about what you’re getting into… He seems like a handful in game.”

“Pleasure to meet you. He’s hopeless, but I’ll try to bring him around.” claimed Mai.

“You two really are identical, aren’t you.” stated Jesse.

“Not quite.” argued Mila, making Jesse jump.

“Whoa. I thought you were back on the yacht!” exclaimed Damien. “Couldn’t stay behind?”

“I am on the yacht. This is my second body.” she replied.

“Second body!?” exclaimed the twins. “Jarod!”

“How could you make a second one without telling us?” asked Mai.

Poking Mila in the chest, Ai asked “How could you be at Jarod’s bachelor party without telling us?”

“I helped too!” exclaimed Aaliyah, smiling at them.

“This is so odd.” stated Lake. “But really incredible!”

Emma hugged her from behind and said, “Isn’t she!?”

Lake looked distinctly uncomfortable for a second before taking a look at Emma. Then she looked intrigued.

“Oh. Sorry. I’m Emma. You’d know me as Toxicodendron Radicans.” stated Emma, releasing Lake and offering her hand.

“Toxi!? That’s you!?” exclaimed Lake, taking Emma’s hand with both of hers.

“Third Mila incoming?” asked Damien, looking excited.

“No. That’s my girlfriend, Alma, whom you know as Eseld.” I informed him.

“Just look for the smile.” stated Aaliyah. “Mila has one. Alma likes to look like this.” Aaliyah’s face went completely expressionless in an instant.

I had no doubt Alma could hear her, but there was, surprisingly, no burst of magic.

Upon reaching us, Alma introduced Portentia and Raine by their game names and actual names.

“If everyone’s ready then, shall we depart?” asked Mario.

“No training course for them?” asked Alec, looking surprised.

“Oh, they went through the course earlier. They’re good.” stated Mario with a reassuring nod.

“Where’s Cosette?” I asked under my breath.

“For obvious reasons, she’s staying at the ship with Marco. Don’t worry. We planned numerous activities within her limits.” explained Alma. “Mila is actually transmitting everything for Cosette to watch, so she’ll at least get to see this part.”

I nodded, hoping she was having a good time. Being a vampire certainly had disadvantages. The rest of us certainly were having a wonderful time as we race through roads and trails. We saw beaches and gardens. The guide was friendly and funny as well as informative, telling us about the various types of protected wildlife. Emma openly complained about how the plants weren’t included, explaining to the guide about certain rare specimens she noticed. There were numerous times I mused over how much more quickly Alma and I could traverse the distance on our feet, but the slow pace was pleasant and relaxing. We were having a splendid time, even Shaurya. Also, I believed this to be a personal record for Raine going without a cat nap.

After the ATV fun, the two groups split up again. My group ate a late lunch on the yacht and did a bit of gaming while heading back to Nassau. Then we went on a private tour of the forts, since I couldn’t imagine Jarod coming this close to actual historic forts without seeing them. He certainly won at geeking out over the place, especially when Aaliyah slipped in some information about hidden rooms that our tour guide doubted.

For dinner, we had a walking tour, guiding us through different restaurants and numerous types of rum. Even the chocolate at the chocolatier turned out to have rum. Being of legal age to drink was odd for me, considering I was only nineteen, but no amount of alcohol could get me drunk, banishing any need to worry. Keeping the others in line wasn’t too much trouble, although Jesse was certainly not at her best by the third restaurant. Even knowing my effect on people, I was certain Alma wouldn’t appreciate how clingy Jesse became. Still, we all made our way back to the yacht as a group and might even have kept everything alcoholic from Aaliyah, not that I believed she could get drunk anymore. All-in-all, the day was good.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 262

“Tell me when either of you wants to leave, and I’ll get you out of here immediately. The fey can be a bit overwhelming, especially when they’re excited.” I instructed, worried that my parents might not really be ready for this. On the other hand, they took a glimpse of Raine in her other form fairly well.

“Umm.. son… who is this?” asked father.

“James!” exclaimed mother. “What are you doing!?” she demanded of father, having actually called him by his name for once.

Though Alma was quick to clothe the elven girl in fog, she hadn’t noticed the girl’s presence soon enough to save father from having her press against him. I did my best to instruct her to release father, but she wasn’t being very cooperative.

“I’m terribly sorry, Rachel, but this one can be particularly difficult.” stated Alma as she physically removed the elven girl from father.

“She’s practically impossible to detect when she wants to hide.” I informed them.

“Even my sensors fail to locate her when she’s fully invisible.” commented Mila.

“I like her.” stated Brandon. “She’s friendly and doesn’t cheat too much at games.”

“Uh huh…” replied Brenna, crossing her arms and giving her brother a disapproving look.

“Whaaat? I’m being serious here!” he claimed.

I felt he almost meant his words. Almost.

Emma punched his arm. “Don’t worry, Brandon. I totally believe you.” she assured him, though her wink belied her words.

I felt confusion from the elven girl along with an image of her hugging father. She apparently knew that he was my father, and I also go the impression that she was simply greeting him as the image showed her hugging the rest of us in a similar fashion, as she often did despite Alma’s admonishments.

“I know for certain that they’re over two thousand years old, so you can’t really hope for them to learn any better quickly.” I informed my parents.

“What? Really?” asked father.

“She looks… young.” stated mother, still eyeing the girl.

“A two thousand year old vampire knew them from when she was young, so there can be little doubt.” I told them.

“And one of them is my grandmother… sorta.” stated Emma. “No clue how many ‘greats’ should be thrown in there, but she’s my ancestor.”

“You’re joking.” replied mother.

“She generally looks a lot like a small tree, but she can appear pretty womanly.” insisted Emma.

I was about to reply, but more images were entering my mind, and I doubted my parents would be able to pay attention to my words with the distraction they were surely getting as well. More and more of the fey started gathering around us.

“They always come out in the greatest numbers when James is in the forest.” claimed Alma.

She wasn’t lying, but I had to ask “When have you come here without me?”

“I’ve visited a few times with Aaliyah and Emma.” she replied.

Emma nodded and said, “We don’t want them getting lonely when you’re too busy for them.” She grinned at me, looking all too mischievous.

“Is it safe for Aaliyah to come here?” inquired father, looking at the various creatures with a hint of trepidation.

“You’d be quite surprised. She somehow manages to make them heed her words.” replied Alma.

I wished I could tell her what Aaliyah’s “voice” was like to the fey. Even remembering the immense sensation was incredible.

“Do you know how she does it, dear?” asked mother.

“Well, yes, but it’s not something I can put into words.” I insisted, knowing I shouldn’t explain too much on that end.

I quickly caught a small rock that came flying toward my parents. “Careful!” I warned, picturing my parents getting injured as a warning to the fey.

Brandon had already engaged some of them in a game of catch.

“Use this instead!” suggested Emma as bushy, round plant sprang into being.

“Sure! Thanks!” exclaimed Brandon as he grabbed the plant and gave it a toss.

A small bird and my little fairy friend were chasing each other around mother’s head when a beautiful bird of fire sprang into being, flying away from them. Both chased fiery bird as Alma made it dart around the trees. I could feel her magic pulsing through it.

“That’s beautiful. What is it?” asked father.

“One of my ancestors was once with them, and he used to create these for them to chase.” explained Alma.

“Wow.” he whispered. “I wouldn’t have thought them capable of creating anything that complex. They seem so…”

“Simple, but they’re not. They’re flighty, for certain, but they actually have sharp minds in general.” she told him. “The problem between them and humans lies more in cultural differences. The fey don’t understand greed or lust for power. The concepts are alien to them. They understand death and aren’t opposed to killing, but I don’t believe they’ll kill for revenge, not when their mood changes so rapidly. Though they can show you things that happened thousands of years ago, they don’t seem to hold grudges. They will, however, protect the land and each other with great ferocity.”

Nodding, father said, “I’m amazed we managed to subdue them. Even the little I’m seeing would have been overwhelming in a fight just a hundred years ago.”

“You didn’t. My family nearly wiped the fey out just over two thousand years ago, one of our great mistakes I fear. You can travel hundreds of miles without seeing land as lush as your son’s.” stated Alma.

“But that’s thanks to Emma… isn’t it?” asked mother.

Emma shook her head and said, “Not in the forest. I only tend the land outside of here. Besides, my magic seems to come mostly from my fey heritage.”

“Mostly?” questioned father.

“Emma’s part of my family, though distantly related.” explained Alma.

“My sister and I are much more closely related.” stated Ai as she hugged Jarod’s arm.

“The magic is similar.” added Mai.

“Yes, though the twins’ magic doesn’t seem so strongly affected by their emotions. Mine, unfortunately, can grow quite dangerous if I’m not calm.” admitted Alma.

Emma giggled and said, “You should see what happens when I’m in a bad mood. Picture an angry briar patch looking for a fight.”

Laughing with her, Brenna said, “I can’t imagine it without you looking cute.”

“Aww.. thank you.” replied Emma, giving Brenna a hug.

“I don’t have to imagine it. I’ve seen pictures of her old house from after her father died.” stated Alma.

Emma stuck her tongue out at Alma, saying, “You didn’t have to mention that.”

“Sorry, but I’d compare your ‘bad mood’ to a forest out of a nightmare.” insisted Alma.

I never thought to ask more about what happened around that time. I had guessed that Emma and her mother moved at some point, since I couldn’t imagine any male wanting to live at her mother’s current residence. How did Emma manage the yard after Regina died? There was a great deal I didn’t remember from that time.

Conversation turned back to more pleasant topics as my parents grew distracted once more by the conversations of the fey wanting to play. I was fortunate that entertaining them was easy. Little displays of magic could go a long ways to entertain, and my parents seemed to enjoy a great deal of what they saw.

Though my parents planned on returning home, I convinced them to stay for the night at least, feeling they’d keep what they learned closer to heart if they stayed to watch our morning exercises. The demonstrations earlier were a bit chaotic to say the least. I just hoped they’d stay safe and not carelessly look into the extraordinary world around them. Sitting at my desk as the others slept, I wondered if Aaliyah had truly meant my parents had years ahead of them.

“Hmm… Maybe!” came a whisper from a giggling voice by my ear.