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 289

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that man going to die?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what’s the point?” I asked.

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

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

Alma frowned and seemed to be considering how to answer.

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 288

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

“Whoa! What was that?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When does your flight leave?” he inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it visibly magical?” he inquired.

“Well, no.” I told him.

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

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

“How do I look?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“He seemed happy.” she told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As many as you want.” I replied.

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

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

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

“As you wish, mother.” replied Mila.

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

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

“Have anything to drink?” I asked.

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

“Are you drinking two?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Extremely.” I assured her.

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 280

I took my time dressing, making sure everything looked right. I knew I wouldn’t be late, time was still frozen for most. When I finished, I had Mila show me to Jarod, since she had waited outside my door. Well, she had tried coming in at first, but I was still against her help for a number of reasons. Luckily, her other body wasn’t already in my room. She was with the twins, having been assuring them that Alma would be there shortly when time was frozen. Aaliyah must have let her in on the plan ahead of time.

Alma had insisted that Aaliyah came with her after noticing that Aaliyah was also frozen in place in the other room. Two Aaliyah’s was far too much for Alma to take at the moment. She had a great many questions, and I didn’t really blame her. I just hoped that she could eventually allow herself to go with the flow ― a far safer course for one’s sanity concerning the things Aaliyah did.

Partway down the hall toward the kitchen, I could suddenly hear voices, meaning time was proceeding normally once more. Hmm… Carl might not really see anything he did as abnormal. I probably should stop avoiding the topic with him, considering how much he did for me. Perhaps he’d enjoy talking about it with someone other than Aaliyah.

When Mila stopped to open a door, I took a moment remembering what was in that room. I never used it. Jarod was in there now, looking relaxed, save for the sweat. A number of the guildmates from the bachelor party were in there as well.

“How is everyone?” I asked.

“Dude, you made it!” exclaimed Jarod, grinning ear-to-ear.

“With a little help, I managed to get here on time.” I replied.

“How’s it going?” asked Damien.

“The master is engaged now!” exclaimed Mila.

A number of them congratulated me.

“Thank you, but try not to tell anyone else yet. I haven’t had a chance to tell my parents.” I told them. “Alma’s not even wearing a ring yet.”

“Whoa. Stop right there. You got engaged without even putting a ring on her finger!?” questioned Jesse.

“Her family’s complicated, and things happened to play out that way.” I replied.

“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame her for accepting and all, but wow… Rich people are weird.” stated Jesse.

I almost argued, but I found myself unable to come up with an argument that sounded valid even to me. I was wealthy now, and my life was certainly not normal. Normal people didn’t have to fight through death matches as part of a courtship. Normal people didn’t have Adelmar announcing an engagement that the couple never discussed. I hoped Alma didn’t mind this group knowing. Luckily, our chatter turned toward other things for a while.

“Master, the time.” whispered Mila.

“Ah. Yes. Looks like you’ll need to be taking your seats. Jarod and I are supposed to be entering soon.” I informed everyone.

A number of them started giving Jarod last minute encouragement as they headed out the door.

Marlin put her hand on Jarod’s shoulder and said, “Just relax. You’ve got this.” A spell slowly formed by her for creating a small gust of air on Jarod.

The footsteps of the others were continuing down the hall, so I felt reasonably safe using a little magic as well. I created one to clean Jarod of sweat and salt, watching Marlin’s reaction. The shock was evident as she jumped backward with her eyes wide.

“You don’t use magic much, do you.” I stated, thinking she should have noticed some of the spells around Alma and the twins when we were out on ATVs together.

She shook her head, appearing speechless.

Jarod looked from me to Marlin and seemed to be putting things together, but he said, “Wedding, guys. You can discuss what just happened later.”

“Yes. Sorry, Jarod.” I told him. Turning to Marlin, I said, “I’ll be happy to discuss things with you later if you’re up for it.”

She stared for a moment before quickly nodding and hurrying out. Mila shut the door behind her.

“Exposing yourself as a wizard now?” teased Jarod.

“I have a feeling that she could use a teacher. I wish you could have seen her spell.” I replied.

“Me too. How did things go with Hyun-woo though? The twins made the guy sound pretty tough.” he commented.

“Things could have gone better, but they worked out.” I told him.

“He actually was able to put up a fight then?” he inquired.

“He’s stronger and faster than I am, and I believe him to be far more experienced with magic as well.” I admitted.

“Then how did you win?” he asked.

“Hyun-woo was distracted during the fight. I ended up cutting off his hand and claiming his weapon.” I replied.

“Oh.” stated Jarod, his face scrunching as he gripped his right wrist with his left. “Can I see his sword later? The Demon Blade… that has to be amazing!”

“You can have it as an extra wedding present as far as I’m concerned.” I replied. “I bet the twins will love it as well.”

What!? Are you serious?” he asked, jumping to his feet.

“I need to make sure there is no strange family custom against it, but sure. I never want to use that sword.” I told him.

“Oh, man… That’s… Thank you!” he exclaimed, brushing his hand through his hair.

“Jarod, you need to look presentable for your wedding.” chided Mila as she stepped over to him and pulled him down enough for her to run a comb through his hair.

“Yeah. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” he replied.

I checked the time again. We needed to get to the door before I got in trouble for having the groom late. The moment Mila finished, we all headed out. The time had come.

I was surprised when we had done the rehearsal that Jarod had forgone most groomsman, but I supposed that was easier than having to pick between friends. I had expected Alma to be Ai’s Maid of Honor, but Mai had that spot, walking in at my side. Alma sat near Izumi, who came for the sake of appearances.

Izumi didn’t consider this to be her daughters’ real wedding. She only counted the one they were to have in Japan next week, one which I wasn’t to attend. Jarod would probably tell me about it later, but Alma had already given me the gist of what will transpire, a mix of Slayer traditions along with Japanese customs.

Today’s wedding had an emerald, cream, and gold theme. The twins insisted Jarod looked great in any green, and I was opposed to their thoughts on remodeling my ballroom for their wedding, which has small amounts of gold trim. The mirrors were certainly going to be used to interesting effect. After everyone entered, they would switch modes to display an ocean view from a cliffside for the ceremony. I found the image quite spectacular during the rehearsal.

Once Mai and I were in place, Jarod’s turn to walk the aisle came. I wondered if all the time he spent in suits of late helped him feel more comfortable in a tux. He seemed more relaxed now than he had waiting.

When Ai’s turn came, she easily stole the show. Alma had designed the gown, and she did beautifully. There were some gasps in the audience when the mirrors changed, but I was certain that was precisely the effect Jarod and the twins wanted. The ceremony was beautiful and seemed quite well received.

The reception thereafter took place in the back yard. Emma had prepared additional flower beds specifically for it, matching the theme with cream and gold colored flowers that certainly couldn’t be grown elsewhere, at least not without her gift with plants. I wasn’t certain if the cream-colored wood of the chairs and tables were more natural or not, but she had done a fantastic job with engravings on both. The twins had opted not to use the table cloths after seeing Emma’s initial tests.

Cosette sat in the shade of some trees Emma had grown specifically for her and was able to attend the reception easy enough, though she did excuse herself occasionally to “freshen up” with Portentia. Marco’s cooking held its usual place of honor, and his cake had Aaliyah’s full approval.

Marlin and I chatted a little about magic during the reception, which was interesting. She had learned a little from her grandmother, whom she obviously admired. Her mother had been against her learning magic at all, feeling it brought nothing but trouble. She was shocked to hear that I only started under a year ago, since the spell I had used to clean Jarod was quite beyond her. I admitted to a need for constant practice, though I didn’t elaborate on the need.

When Alma approached us, Marlin excused herself, probably thinking we couldn’t discuss more at the time. I used the opportunity to inform my parents about my sudden engagement. Mother was overjoyed, and father took the news well enough. He had been expecting it.

During the dance, I quietly questioned Alma about giving Muramasa to Jarod and the twins. She seemed surprised that I would give up such a weapon, but assured me there was no rule, custom, or otherwise that prohibited me from doing it. Ai and Mai embraced me while practically yelling their thanks when I informed them.

As the sun set, bioluminescent plants surprised the guests again, but the party soon drew to a close. Surprisingly, Izumi wasn’t even staying the night, leaving immediately after the reception with excuses of business that needed handled, though she did congratulate me on my latest victory. I wasn’t disappointed. All of the guildmates who were in attendance were staying the night, so we had the freedom to indulge ourselves in virtual adventure to end the night. Overall, I felt the wedding was quite a success.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 277

“Dragons? You’re certain?” asked Jarod.

“That’s what Vito claimed, and his brothers seemed to agree with him.” I assured him. I had been gradually explaining some of what I saw and heard going through the brothers’ building to Jarod over the past hour, but there was just so much…

“Wow. That’s really hard to imagine. How could we have not… Oh. Hmm.” stated Jarod. “I suppose the Slayer family would probably cover up any dragon remains found.”

“I got the impression that dragons rarely died.” I told him

“That’s scary. If they could eat as much as they could in legends, which I easily could believe with such large bodies, then they could’ve became a burden to their areas quickly.” he postulated.

I nodded, but said, “Perhaps, but their magic probably helped sustain them to some degree. I certainly feel capable of going very extended periods on just magic, and Portentia’s said before that she never has to eat, drink, sleep, or even breathe.”

“But you still experience hunger. Why wouldn’t they give into theirs?” he asked.

“True, but Portentia goes extended periods without food despite Marco’s protestations. At least some of the dragons could have been that altruistic.” I argued.

“Maybe. I doubt it. Portentia’s rare in a great number of ways.” he insisted.

“I know. Their eating habits might have played a part in why the dragons left the planet back then.” I suggested.

“Quite possibly. They were thought of as guardians from what you said, so they might well have been careful not to starve the ones under their protection.” he agreed. “Dragons though… the idea’s crazy, but I love it.”

Jarod sat in silence for a moment before saying, “The seven wonders are much easier to explain now that I know without a doubt some of what magic can accomplish. Do you know how easily Ai or Mai could have maintained the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? I’m sure you could pull it off with your magic pretty quickly as well. Then there’s Emma… she could keep a garden alive in space. The world’s changed so much for us in under a year.”

“I know. Who would have thought that you’d be married within a year of graduating.” I teased.

Jarod grinned and said, “I am pretty lucky.”

Feeling the time was right, I told him “I’m sure Ai and Mai told you about the challenge…”

“And about a magical dagger Aaliyah apparently had sitting around.” he replied.

“Care to see it?” I asked.

“Let me think… Would I like to see an old, magical weapon barely even mentioned in myth. Come on, James! Is that really even a question!?” he demanded, grinning ear to ear.

I pulled the dagger from the back of my belt. Jarod had probably guessed where I had stuck it, since he already knew about it.

“Wow. That’s obviously not normal.” he stated. “Portentia’s staff can pass for normal at a glance, but this… this is not very subtle.”

“Oh…” I replied, trying to sound disappointed. “I hoped to wear it everywhere I go.”

Jarod laughed and said, “Sure, James. I probably would, just to make people wonder. May I hold it?”

I shrugged and offered him the hilt. The light diminished somewhat.

“That’s odd.” I insisted.

“Nah. The dagger just likes you better. No surprise there.” he told me.

I rolled my eyes.

“No, really. From what Ai and Mai have told me, the weapons like this and Midnight actually prefer certain users, doing far more for them than for those they don’t like.” he insisted.

“You have plenty of friends.” I insisted.

“Thanks to you.” he retorted. “James, I don’t have your magical ‘you must like me’ aura. I’m fine with this. You need to accept it.”

I sighed. I did accept it, didn’t I? I haven’t complained to him about it for months.

“You put up with it. You don’t accept it.” he insisted. “Hey, Mila. What sort of readings are you getting from this thing?”

“The dagger is radiating heat and light, but nothing else that I can detect. I believe there is magic causing interference with some of my more sensitive equipment.” she replied.

“Have you tried cutting anything with it?” asked Jarod.

“What? No. Why would I?” I questioned.

“No curiosity at all? This is a magic weapon like something out of a fairy tale. You might be able to cut through stone, steel, or even your own hair! Well, I doubt it’d actually work on your hair. How do you get a haircut?” he asked me, looking dead serious.

“Aaliyah’s been cutting it. I never actually paid attention to what she uses.” I told him.

After handing the dagger back to me, Jarod walked over to a pile in the corner and started sifting through things as he said, “Magic scissors. Really wouldn’t surprise me. She seems to be able to get her hands on anything. The twins told me your dagger was once King Arthur’s. Can you imagine King Arthur being real?”

Yes, far more easily than I could admit, so I said, “The world’s getting crazier.”

“You mean ‘even more amazing’! That opens up the possibility for Excalibur, James. Imagine if that sword is real!” he exclaimed. “Ah!” He held up what looked like a steel pipe. “Try to cut this!”

I shrugged and tried to make a small cut with the dagger, jumping back when there was a flash of light. Jarod gaped at me, holding up the two pieces of the pipe. Soon, he was grinning again.

“I bet you could cut open a tank with that thing! Let me give it a try.” he insisted.

I was hesitant, but I wasn’t going to disappoint him. I quickly stepped back after handing Jarod the dagger. The same thing happened again when he used it, but the severed end fell to the ground.

“Wow. Didn’t really expect that, not with the dagger liking you better. This thing’s amazing!” he exclaimed.

I was about to respond, but became even more shocked when I noticed a girl wearing nothing but a t-shirt coming toward us. I looked over to Jarod, but he didn’t seem surprised.

“James, aren’t you excited?” he asked.

The girl didn’t even seem to notice us, walking between us and grabbing a screwdriver before heading back towards wherever she originated.

“Jarod… you’re getting married.” I stated.

“Huh? What does that have to do with anything?” he asked.

“There’s a girl with no pants on in your lab.” I told him.

“She might have shorts under there. Didn’t check.” he replied.

“I suppose I’m glad of that, but who is she? Why is she here?” I asked.

He looked confused as he said, “My lab assistant, Aurora.”

“When did you get a lab assistant?” I inquired.

“About a week ago.” he replied. “Mila, why doesn’t James know about Aurora?”

He handed the dagger back to me.

“No one told him.” she admitted.

“But why didn’t someone tell me? Can she use magic? I hope… I mean… we were just demonstrating a magical dagger in plain view.” I told them. Then I asked Jarod “What do your fiancées think of you having a potentially pantless lab assistant?”

“Haven’t told them. You know how they can get.” he informed me.

“But… won’t that just make matters worse when they do find out?” I asked.

“They don’t come down here that often. The odds of them running into Aurora anytime soon are pretty slim. Besides, Mila’s my witness that this is all very professional. There’s a contract and everything.” he explained. “Aaliyah wrote it.”

“Of course. She would, wouldn’t she.” I stated as I tried figuring out how to get across that this could end very badly. Jarod had to realize this, didn’t he? He was brilliant! Why would he take the chance of upsetting Ai and Mai? “Let’s start over. How did you meet her?”

He grinned and said, “She’s the daughter of a client. They were trying to find a new tutor for her, since Aurora doesn’t fit into schools very well. She’s an autistic savant. Makes me look slow at math, but she has incredible potential as an engineer. I made a deal with her parents to have her work part time with me in exchange for a top notch education provided by the Institute of Autodidacticism through Best Friend For Hire.”

“Considering everything that goes on around here, isn’t that a little dangerous? What if she starts mentioning strange things she sees, like a magical dagger, to her parents?” I asked.

“Her parents don’t know how to communicate with her effectively, so that can’t really happen. Aurora’s doesn’t speak much. She prefers… arrangements, you could say.” he told me.

“Arrangements? What do you mean?” I asked.

“She’ll reorganize an entire room to try representing an idea that she doesn’t know how to put into words. When I first met her, her bedroom was set out to resemble a circuit. I had to stop her mother from picking up the clothes before I got a good look at it.” he informed me.

“Okay, so what was she trying to say?” he asked.

“She wanted someone to complete the circuit, which I did with my shoe. I believe she realized she was missing something, but didn’t know what. She needed help, but didn’t know how to ask. Mila wrote an interactive program for her that gives her another medium to use for communication.” he explained.

I was going to ask more, but Aurora was walking back our way. She went straight to Jarod and hugged him, closing her eyes.

“Strictly professional… I see. What does this mean then?” I asked.

“No idea. Still trying to figure things out, honestly. She’s complicated.” he replied.

“I imagine she’s feeling chilly and doesn’t know where her jeans are. I’ll fetch them for her.” stated Mila as one of the mechanical arms came down from the ceiling.

“Why would she have taken them off in the first place?” I asked.

“She gets hot.” replied Mila.

I hoped Jarod really knew what he was getting into, since I felt the situation could get very messy. Aurora looked all too happy snuggled against Jarod’s arm. I didn’t think Ai and Mai were going to like this.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 272

I sat on the yacht, watching many of the others swimming by the beach. Alma didn’t come last night, much to my disappointment. I had gone swimming with the others earlier but quickly gained a crowd after someone recognized me from Ancient Tribes of Earth advertisements. Gaming seemed a safer plan for me at present, though my gaze kept checking on the others. I knew nothing was likely to go wrong, but Portentia might well be nearby. Considering her, I felt vigilance was a better option.

“People die at their time, boss-man, sir.” stated Aaliyah.

I quite nearly jumped, having just watched her dive under the water near the beach, but I said, “Is it their time?”

“Nope. You can relax, boss-man, sir! This is a vacation!” she exclaimed, smiling at me.

I sprawled out on the seat and told her “I’m the picture of relaxation. Happy?”

Aaliyah seemed to be considering when she tripped, falling behind the table. I knew better than to check on her, but I was out of my seat in an instant, finding the bikini-clad form of Trix there.

“I could help you relax.” she told me with a grin.

I did not feel relaxed, thinking a hundred ways this could turn out badly. I turned, hearing Shaurya approach. Aaliyah was already gone again when I looked back.

“Were you talking with someone?” he asked.

“I sometimes feel I’m never alone. Gets me mumbling to myself at times.” I teased.

He smiled and sat at his laptop.

I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t done anything with my own Lieutenant Generals now that I was getting to know Jarod’s this well. Should I invite them to my wedding? Wedding… I might well get married in the near-ish future. The idea still seemed strange to me. On this day a year ago, I was trying not to think about class. My senior year in high school was only halfway through.

A chance meeting with Alma had drastically changed my life forever. Would I have met Aaliyah again if hadn’t met Alma? I tended to think I would have, simply because I had actually met Aaliyah years before. She made a point to show me that moment, so I had to think it was important to her. Still, I was grateful for meeting Alma. I could no longer imagine a life without her and have any sense of happiness. Marriage still seemed an odd idea in my mind. I never thought of myself marrying shortly after high school. Well, my plans for the future were never very solid if I could claim any real plans at all.

My thoughts continued circling around my head as the gaming and beach watching stretched over several hours. The others arrived back for a late lunch, which I found somewhat shocking in its form.

“Evanna!?” I blurted when a boat pulled up to our yacht.

“We deliver!” she replied.

“Huh?” I asked.

“You’ve seen it before, right?” she questioned, handing several brown bags with the logo of the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to Aaliyah.

“Ummm… yes.” I told her.

“Then you know!” she claimed with a wink. “Enjoy!”

As she was driving off, Jarod exclaimed “Oh! I do remember her. Crazy that she got a job here now.”

“I’d say she was lucky, but I really wouldn’t give up my current job to come work for the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce here.” stated Brandon. “No need to worry, boss!”

“Oh, Brandon, you’d still be working for James even if you did switch to here, remember?” asked Mila.

“Yeah-yeah, but you wouldn’t get to see me every day!” he retorted.

“I do have access to the restaurant’s security feeds, so you could never be certain.” she teased.

“Well… uh…” he mumbled.

“Whoa there, Mila. Getting a little creepy, aren’t you?” claimed Marlin.

“Puh-lease!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “Mila has way better things to do than stalking Brandon!”

“Hey now! I’m totally worth stalking!” insisted Brandon. “I’ll challenge everyone who says otherwise to a duel.”

Aaliyah grinned.

“Except Aaliyah.” stated Brandon.

She pouted.

“Well, I wouldn’t particularly be interested in stalking you either.” I pointed out.

“Except Aaliyah and James.” he stated.

“You know I must accept your challenge.” stated Mila.

“Except Aaliyah, Mila, James, any of the girls from the bachelorette party…” started Brandon. Noticing Jarod smirking, he quickly added “and Jarod. Wait. I’ll take on my sister, so she’s back in.”

“You’d want your sister to stalk you!?” asked Jesse.

“She’s my kid sister. She was born to stalk me everywhere.” he insisted.

“I wouldn’t really call her a kid.” stated Lake.

Smiling, Mila informed him “I may have informed Brenna you said that. She’ll be logging into the game shortly.”

“The girls have internet? Oh, she’s welcome to try taking me on!” exclaimed Brandon.

“You didn’t say you’d be taking people on one at a time, so she has plenty of help. Right, guys?” asked Aaliyah.

Alec laughed and said, “You know I wouldn’t stalk Brandon, so I’m in.”

“Me too.” stated Shaurya.

Frowning, Brandon told them “Guys, come on… I know you wouldn’t stalk me.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t stalk you either.” insisted Lake.

“You’re gonna be eating your words.” added Jesse.

Smiling, Marlin said, “It is so on.”

“Guys, this just isn’t fair!” claimed Brandon.

Brandon futilely tried putting up a fight once everyone was ready, but there really wasn’t anything he could do, other than laugh and protest the unfairness of this little event. Poor Elf Hottie took a brutal beating. We continued gaming into the evening up till Aaliyah insisted we made our way to Bay Street.

The crowds gathering were enormous, and we saw a parade coming down the streets. New Year’s Eve in the Bahamas was apparently a big event. Fireworks started early, and the celebration was everywhere. We ended up hopping around between clubs for a while before we ended up on a beach party that lasted long into the night. Tomorrow, we were heading home. Given the smiles and laughs Jarod had, I deemed his bachelor party a success.

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.