Best Friend For Hire, Entry 332

As Mila drove the limo down my driveway, Dani was practically bouncing in her seat, looking around at everything with obvious excitement. I hoped she was ready for this; I hoped I was ready for this. Explaining how Alma and I went on a honeymoon for two weeks and came back with a daughter who appeared to be near our age ― a girl with taffy-colored skin and cobalt blue hair tipped in black dye ― would be a bit of a shocking tale, even in my household. We all had agreed not to give a full account though. We couldn’t, at least not yet.

“Is that really the house? It’s huge!” exclaimed Dani after Alma gave her a nod.

“Your father and I will be occupying the second and third floor of the center part. We’re letting you have your way with my old wing in the West.” explained Alma, pointing toward the wing.

Grinning, Dani asked “And the first floor is for everyone, right?”

“Sure is.” I told her, smiling.

When I left here, I wasn’t that many years older than Dani. I couldn’t even guess my age now. Aaliyah offered to tell me, but I had told her not to make me feel old. As far as most people on this planet knew, I was still nineteen, and I needed to act the part as best as I could.

Dani led the way to the doors, practically running the moment the car stopped. Alma and I followed behind her, taking things slowly. We had spent the last two weeks on our island, attempting to finish acclimating Dani to the world, since Aaliyah didn’t want to “spoil our fun” with a more efficient course. Things would work out one way or another. Our lives were guaranteed to go well for many years.

“Z-, er… daddy, what’s with all these umm…” started Dani, spinning as she looked around.

“Engravings. They’re telling a story about a wonderful woman.” I explained, almost through the door.

“Who are you?” called Emma from down the hall as she jogged toward Dani.

I was about to reply when I felt someone tug my shirt from behind me.

“D-daddy?” asked Raine, staring up at me with wide eyes.

Adjusting to her speed again would take some time. She let me grab her shoulders, lift her, and deposit her inside next to my daughter.

“You must be Emma!” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Emma and gave her a kiss. “I’ve heard so much about you!”

Emma smiled and blushed as she inquired “Good things?”

“Emma, Raine… meet Dani.” I told them, releasing Raine from my grip.

Dani turned at Raine’s name, exclaiming “You’re the fluffy one!”

Raine was shaking slightly as Dani hugged her and kissed her forehead, but that was to be expected.

“Y-you… sm-smell good.” mumbled Raine.

“Guys, James and Alma are back, and they brought someone new!” exclaimed Brenna from the ballroom doorway.

“Sooo fluffy!” exclaimed Dani, still hugging Raine and playing with her hair.

Alma and I stepped out of the way as Mila brought our luggage inside. Portentia, Maxine, and Cosette were coming out of the ballroom behind Brenna. I spotted Jarod, Ai, and Mai coming down the hall, so Mila apparently notified them as well.

“Dani, don’t upset Raine.” cautioned Alma.

“Sorry, mom. I’m just excited!” she exclaimed as she released Raine from her embrace. “Raine’s hair is spectacular. Of course, so is yours, Emma!”

Dani couldn’t smile without it seeming flirtatious, and I would need to warn Emma before she got her hopes up too high. I didn’t care if the two had some sort of relationship eventually, but I wasn’t going to have Emma’s hopes crushed by Dani’s nature. Dani’s entire species was beautiful, empathic, capable of magic, and completely incapable of monogamy. The concept was far too alien for them to really believe. We knew quite well from our brief visits to their world and our attempts to get the idea through to Dani. Like the fey in my forest, they were a species of whim and strong emotions, though Dani’s species could show remarkable focus when passion drove them to a task.

I quickly grabbed Dani before she went around hugging every last one of them. Then I said, “Everyone, this is Dani Lyshaa Somerset. Alma and I adopted her while we were away.”

“Adopted!? Isn’t she around our age?” asked Jarod.

“Yes, but adopting her was the easiest way to get her into the country. Aaliyah assured me that all of the paperwork has been pushed through already, so she’s officially our child. Please help her as she acclimates to things around here and tell me if she gets into too much trouble.” I explained, doing my best not to smirk at the looks of shock.

If they knew how many years Alma and I spent raising Dani, they would really be in for a shock, but that was a story I would never share with everyone here, despite how much they might enjoy being regaled by our adventures.

“Can I be there when you tell your parents?” inquired Cosette with a smile.

“They’ll be here this evening, so any of you who aren’t working might be around.” I replied. “One last announcement that my parents will soon be privy to as well…”

Everyone looked at me expectantly, so I glanced at Alma to see if she wanted the honors.

“James, really… I thought we’d tell your parents first.” she stated, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Then she sighed and said, “Fine. I suppose they might as well find out first. I’m pregnant.”

Following shouts of shock, several of them quickly congratulated us. Alma and I thanked everyone, happy to be home. The baby had certainly been a shock when Aaliyah informed us that the time was coming for us to return home. We declined letting her tell us the precise date of birth or gender, preferring the surprise, but we actually did know the month. Alma was already four months pregnant and starting to show slightly, but she had another eight and a half to go.

Dani was practically bouncing under my hand. She couldn’t be expected to contain her excitement when feeling the excitement of everyone around her. I let her go, knowing that I couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.

She hugged Brenna, kissing her cheek as Brenna turned her head. Then she looked over to Maxine for a moment before rushing her.

“Daddy, is this the criminal!?” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Maxine.

“Yes, so you should be careful around her.” warned Portentia, looking confused as Dani pulled her into the hug.

“And you’re Portentia. Your skin is sooo beautiful.” she insisted.

“Lady Pendreigh…” started Mai.

“Girls, just call me Alma. I’m married. Let’s drop titles and formalities while at home.” insisted Alma.

Ai and Mai stared at her in wide-eyed shock, glancing at one another in obvious bewilderment.

“A-Alma…” started Ai.

“Not to be rude, but…” continued Mai as she eyed Dani.

“What’s with my skin?” asked Dani, interrupting them.

“And hair.” stated the twins.

“All natural! Be jam.” replied Dani, releasing Portentia and Maxine to approach them.

“Jelly.” I corrected.

At the same time, Alma said, “Jealous.”

“Pleased to meet you all. Mom told me not to kiss you because you’re married.” explained Dani as she held out a hand to each of them while standing all too close to Jarod.

He took a step back between Ai and Mai, reaching a hand between them when Dani went to shake his hand.

Smirking, Alma said, “I actually warned you against kissing people at random, since many will find it confusing and even disturbing, married couples especially.”

“But they’re all so pretty…” complained Dani.

“Behave.” I chided. “Let’s get you set for playing that game I’ve been telling you about before my parents arrive.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, hugging my arm as I showed her into the ballroom with several of my friends in tow.

I wasn’t certain how well she’d be able to sit still at the moment, but the others might calm down enough to help Dani calm down with a bit of gaming. Introducing my daughter to my parents was going to be interesting enough without her feeling rambunctious.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 329

I should have expected that more vampires would be attending my wedding than just the brothers, Ariadne, and Cosette, but their presence worried me. I feared that the large number of vampires would encourage the Slayers and family to act out. Then again, Carl and Aaliyah could handle the lot if necessary without anyone getting hurt. The ability to manipulate time was an incredible advantage, which was surely being done for the arrangement with the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to help Marco for the reception.

Introducing Jarod, Ai, and Mai to the assembled vampires was entertaining. Ai and Mai were on their best behavior, though they were obviously uncomfortable. They had strong opinions about the bride not being seen on her wedding day. Even with so many hours to go, they protested Alma’s presence and escorted her away. Jarod was equally quick to ask questions about the vampire’s lives as soon as the twins were gone. Not all of the vampires were forthcoming, but Vito, Papak, and Zachary seemed happy to sate his curiosity.

The moment Portentia approached us ― apparently home from her nightly patrol, Ariadne called to her. “Portentia! James mentioned that you’ll be tending to our needs if we find the sun too inhospitable after a time.”

Smiling and nodding, Portentia said, “Of course! If any of you would like to get your fill in preparation, a room has already been set aside for your needs. Mila will ensure our privacy.”

“Mila?” asked David.

“Yes?” replied Mila, her voice emanating from the speakers hidden throughout the walls in a loud whisper.

“Mila is the artificially constructed daughter of Aaliyah, my secretary.” I explained. “She has complete control of the house and four bodies now. Sorry that I didn’t introduce her sooner, but I was waiting till one of her bodies happened by.”

“Oh, master, you need only have called.” she cooed. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“No need, Mila. I’m sure you’re already engaged in something important.” I told her.

“Nothing’s more important than you, master.” she teased.

“And how is she supposed to ensure privacy?” asked David.

The wall opened behind him and a gun was deployed at his back. “I’m fully armed for minor inconveniences, and Raine is on call for anything major.” she explained.

“R-” started David, jumping back into the gun as Raine appeared in front of him.

Looking over to me, Raine, barely speaking above a whisper, asked “M-mila said I w-was… n-needed. Is… s-something wrong?”

“No. Sorry, Raine. Mila merely wanted a demonstration to assuage David here of his worries.” I assured her.

She nodded and ran off quicker than I could see. Papak started laughing, a deep rumbling sound filled with glee.

“I can also help with minor inconveniences.” announced Portentia, waving her hand as if to volunteer.

“As the brothers can assure you, I have a formidable staff, perfectly capable of helping my guests from disrupting one another.” I stated, hoping to enforce David’s feeling of security here.

“You forget, David. Death herself has sworn to claim anyone who would disrupt James and Alma’s wedding. There will be no problems here.” insisted Zachary.

I frowned. Aaliyah failed to mention that to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent out contracts to everyone attending, having them swear their good will.

“Unlike you, I haven’t met her.” muttered David.

“What’s she like? James doesn’t like speaking of her.” commented Jarod.

Zachary shrugged.

“You really want to know?” asked Papak with a grin.

“Sure!” exclaimed Jarod.

Ariadne rolled her eyes while shaking her head.

Papak looked around, the grin diminishing on his face into a somber expression. Then he said, “Imagine feeling nearly invincible in a time when the wheel was rare, new tech for humanity. You’re exploring the world, drunk on your own power, when you come across an incredibly large monster that makes me seem beautiful in comparison. You, in your arrogance, try to fight the beast just to test your strength, certain that you can escape. To your horror, the creature not only proves faster and stronger than you, but its touch sucks the energy out of you, allowing you no means of escape. For the first time in years, you understand stark terror, realizing the futility of your situation. Your dying and there’s nothing you can do to survive. As you fail to scream due to lack of strength in mind and body, your entire body manages to seize up as you’re suddenly very aware that something far more terrifying exists. The nightmarish terror which easily vanquished you is brushed aside as insignificant dust in a summer’s breeze. Hours later, you might still be on the ground where you dropped, shaking uncontrollably while knowing in your heart that you certainly would have died of fear were you merely human. That is what Death is like, an absolute fear that strips you of all rationale with her presence while somehow instilling inside you the idea that your existence is very mortal.”

As he spoke, Papak had slowly crept toward Jarod till he was towering over him at the end, blocking out the light with his massive wings. He quickly backed off after he finished, grinning widely again.

Jarod nodded and smiled, though I could tell he looked nervous. “She must make a fortune at Halloween events.” he teased.

“Oh, yes. Screams to die for.” wryly replied Vito.

“Personally, I find she just needs a firm rebuke when she just goes too far.” claimed Ariadne.

“For you, that might work. In over thirteen thousand years, my arguments have ceased to change her mind.” insisted Vito.

“She listens to James just fine.” argued Ariadne.

Everyone listens to James.” teased Jarod.

I sighed and said, “They might listen, but not everyone agrees with me. I am rather young, after all, so there’s much to learn.”

Azizah, who had been quietly watching the exchange with the other vampires, spoke up, asking “What sort of magic are you using on us? I know why I’m here, the significance of your marriage, and next to nothing about you, but I am inordinately attracted to you.”

“Azizah, did I not say James was charming?” teased Zachary.

“Sorry, but my body emanates a magical field of sorts, compelling people to like me. I can’t stop it without completely depriving myself of energy.” I explained. “I can show you the spell Alma uses to help reduce the effect if you like.”

“Unfortunately, I lack any magical gifts outside what’s in my blood.” she replied. “That being said, I accept the brother’s judgement about you, affected as they may be.”

“Awesome.” mumbled Cosette, who had been watching the brothers with starry-eyed glee since their arrival.

“I think I’ll take you up on that snack if you truly don’t mind.” stated David to Portentia.

“Very, very small sips.” warned Ariadne. “Vito and I will accompany you, just in case. Her blood is… potent.”

Vito nodded and followed Portentia and David out with a couple of the other vampires in tow. The strange relationship between Vito and Ariadne still amused me, given their appearances and actual age difference, but the brothers were obviously quite fond of Ariadne.

“When do you expect Adelmar to be arriving?” inquired Zachary.

“Given the plane’s current velocity, Adelmar and Anwen will be landing in just over three hours.” stated Mila before I could admit my ignorance. “Numerous relatives of his will be arriving sooner, so the pre-wedding entertainment will begin around eleven if you wish to socialize.”

“Lovely. Let’s hope Adelmar does not wish to speak with us before the wedding. With only hours to spare, his grand speeches might delay the wedding if he does.” he teased, earning a few laughs from those assembled.

I smiled as well, not particularly fond of Adelmar’s speeches. Still, the current company was excellent, and this seemed like a fine start to my day.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 316

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

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

Raine was frowning at me.

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

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

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

“Yes. That one.” I assured her.

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

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

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

“We will!” they exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The twins glanced at each other.

“Who were the spies?” asked Mai.

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

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

“No.” lied Ai.

“We are just curious.” insisted Mai.

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

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

They elbowed him, making him wince.

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

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

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

“You made her ring?” inquired the twins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora kept hugging her.

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

“S-so?” asked Raine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh. Thank you, Mila.” I told her.

“Thank you!?” demanded Ai.

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

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

“We want a list!” exclaimed the twins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“B-be nice.” stated Raine.

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

“Always, Raine.” claimed Mai.

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

“Her expression was priceless!” they exclaimed.

Aurora reached up and started feeling their heads.

“What’s she doing?” asked Mai.

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

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

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

Mai sighed dramatically.

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

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

She was lying, though her face seemed perfectly inquisitive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosette pouted at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 315

“Welcome home.” stated Alma as I walked into the room. She was busily working on several computers via spells while texting on her phone with one hand and holding Caladfwlch with the other.

“Aren’t you supposed to be taking the day off, so you don’t appear to be in two places at once?” I asked.

“Mila’s routing this through my home network for me, and I’m being careful not to cross paths with my past self. I do remember what I’ve done, darling.” she replied. “Before you ask, no, I haven’t made any real progress determining what to get Portentia yet. I am looking.” The last was said while holding her phone for me to see.

“I don’t know if we’d be able to find clothing that Portentia actually likes. Her tastes are a bit unique.” I told her, remembering how she reacted to the dresses she had tried for my birthday party.

“Yes-yes, but I could could always make a variation of these designs to better fit her needs. I’m sure she won’t protest to looking less like a hermit as long as the clothing is comfortable, durable, and allows for movement.” she argued.

“I suppose. If we fail to provide something she likes, we can always do something else for her.” I suggested.

“I will find something. Just let me know if you come up with any good ideas.” she insisted. Then she suddenly thrust Caladfwlch toward me.

“Already tired of your family’s sword?” I asked.

“We were fine until you returned. As we’ve been speaking, the sword’s been growing heavier. I can also feel it wanting to go to you. I’ve tried communicating with it off and on, but all I ever receive are somewhat vague impressions from it.” she explained.

Taking hold of the sword, I sighed before telling her “And here I hoped we’d be able to get it to sing.”

Alma frowned, staring up at me.

“Sorry. I’m not the one who is disappointed that a sword won’t speak to me.” I teased. Seeing her cross her arms, I quickly told her “I am glad that you tried. At least we can guess that it can’t speak.”

“Right. Well, I have much to do. The others haven’t seen Caladfwlch yet. I’m leaving that to you.” she informed me, turning back to her computers.

I leaned down and kissed the top of her head. Then I said, “Let me know if you desire any company while you’re avoiding time off.”

“Thank you. I will.” she told me, sounding happier.

Instead of heading to the ballroom to see if anyone was gaming in there, I checked with Mila to see where Jarod was as soon as I was out of Alma’s wing.

“He’s in the lab, master.” she replied.

“Is Aurora with him?” I asked.

“Yes, master. He’s having her look over the design for his new power converter.” she explained.

“Ah. I can’t imagine her telling anyone about my new friend here, so I guess that doesn’t hurt.” I admitted.

“If she tried, very few are likely to guess what she means.” agreed Mila.

I jogged over to the lift and jumped down, since Mila already had it descending for me.

Jarod glanced up and then stared at me. “What is that he asked after a moment?” he asked, pointing to the sword.

“Caladfwlch.” I replied, pulling it out. The flame from the chimeras blazed forth, igniting the blade into its extraordinary glow.

“Master, Aurora knows.” stated Mila, sounding amused.

“Knows what precisely?” I asked.

“She brought up stories of Arthur and Excalibur when Jarod asked about the sword.” replied Mila.

“Is Aurora interested in myths?” I asked, looking over at Jarod.

“Myths!?” he exclaimed. “How can you hold that sword and call it a myth!?”

I shrugged and said, “Some myths were based on fact, but that doesn’t mean they get the details right.”

“Neither does the news, but people still quote it as fact.” he retorted wryly.

“Touché.” I replied. “Still, I wonder how she figured it out that fast.”

“She’s brilliant and has an incredible memory.” explained Jarod. “How did you get that? Can I hold it?” he inquired, shielding his eyes as he tried looking at the sword.

I nodded, handing the sword over to him. The light went out, and he dropped it immediately. For a fraction of a second, there had been a sort of pressure against my mind, like something trying to communicate telepathically, but the feeling was gone. I quickly caught the sword before it hit the ground.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, stepping back as Aurora ran up to him.

“I heard something like a growl in my head. Maybe not a growl, really, but the same sort of malice was there.

I found the idea that Caladfwlch didn’t like Jarod to be preposterous, but I wasn’t coming up with any other theories.

“Hello?” asked Jarod, answering his phone. “Really!?” he asked, absently patting Aurora’s head.

She was hugging him while periodically squinting at the sword in my hand.

I sheathed it. Having heard Mai telling Jarod that Muramasa was glowing, I wondered if Caladfwlch somehow knew that Jarod had Muramasa. “Interesting.” I commented.

“Yeah. We’ll come up.” stated Jarod before hanging up. Then he told me “I don’t think our swords like each other.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you.” I admitted.

“Aurora, go back to work. I’ll be back.” stated Jarod as he pointed to her station.

She stood there, staring at him.

“Oh, fine. I suppose it is time they meet you.” he told her.

“I seem to recall Alma needing something.” I teased, looking away from him.

“Ha ha.” he muttered. “You’ve gotta be interested in seeing what’s happening.”

“Yes. I do.” I replied, following him onto the lift with Aurora close behind.

As we rose, Aurora tentatively poked Caladfwlch. I moved the sword, positioning the hilt toward her and was surprised she actually drew it. A faint light emanated from the blade, so I guessed my sword liked her. I quickly snatched the sword, returning it to my sheath, when she moved to poke the ground. I didn’t really want a hole there. I shook my head when she looked up at me with a frown, but I didn’t have a clue how to explain to her how dangerous this blade could be. I was going off rumor, of course, but I had no doubt that the sword’s ability to cut would match Muramasa or Midnight. We jogged over to the East wing and headed inside.

Ai looked ready to say something when the door opened, but her mouth snapped shut as she stared at Aurora. When she glanced at me, she suddenly curtsied.

With a groan, I said, “Please don’t.”

“Lady Pendreigh would be displeased if I failed to meet basic propriety, your worship.” she insisted with a mischievous grin.

“Aurora, this is my wife, Ai.” stated Jarod, gesturing toward her. “Aurora’s my lab assistant.”

Aurora saluted, and I found myself wondering again what being inside her head was like.

Mai came running around the corner and grabbed Jarod, pulling him away.

Ai stepped closer to Aurora, took the hand that was pointing at Mai, and said, “You’re beautiful, aren’t you. I want to hear everything you do with my husband in the lab.”

“Aurora doesn’t talk.” I informed her.

“Oh? A lab assistant that doesn’t talk. Care to explain?” she told me, sounding like she was giving me an order.

I pulled out Caladfwlch and said, “I must be off. I’m on a mission.” When Ai looked away from the light, I grabbed Aurora, lifted her in one arm, and ran after Jarod.

“James!” called Ai as she chased us.

Muramasa was sitting on the table in the war room. I wouldn’t have said the sword was glowing precisely, but the area around it seemed untouched by Caladfwlch’s light. The distortion from Muramasa actually reminded me of Raine. Perhaps the Slayers weren’t far off when they called it The Demon Blade.

Jarod picked the blade up, and I could hear its song of battle. As always, Muramasa was ready to kill. Equally apparent was the calm of Caladfwlch, a sense of patience.

I wasn’t prepared to see Jarod toss Muramasa toward me. What was he doing? Should I dodge? No. Ai sounded too close. What if she touched the blade!? I quickly set Aurora to the side. Then I grabbed Muramasa’s handle, turned to Jarod, and asked “What are you doing!? This sword’s too dangerous.”

“Huh?” he asked looking at me like I was being crazy. “I knew you’d catch it, and it wouldn’t hurt you even if you stopped it with your palm. I wanted to see what would happen if you held them both. Seems like they’re both happy enough to me. Show off.”

He wasn’t wrong about how the swords were reacting in my hands, but I still felt that was reckless. I handed his sword back to him as I said, “Don’t offend the sword either. They obviously can be touchy.”

“Fair point.” he replied, nodding as he set Muramasa back on the table.

“Is that really safe?” I asked.

Jarod hugged Mai and said, “My wife likes keeping it close to hand.”

“The whispering can be a bit distracting at times, but I think the sword’s happier nearby.” explained Ai.

“Now tell me about Aurora.” stated Mai.

I turned to see Aurora looking back and forth between the twins.

“Pardon, but Cosette is asking if she and Raine may enter.” stated Mila.

“Whoa. You two reintegrated Mila?” I asked the twins.

“Jarod insisted.” stated Ai.

Then Mai said, “Please let them in.”

Guessing those two had noticed us running past the ballroom on our way, I felt there were quite a few questions about to be asked. I quietly apologized to Alma, thinking I’d be quite a while before stopping in to visit her.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 303

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Late night?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“That smells amazing.” she stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yay! The fairy!” exclaimed Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you!” she replied

“It’s your birthday?” asked Deyanira.

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

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

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

“Don’t you dare.” stated Alma.

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

“Kayla! Kisses!” exclaimed Emma.

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

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

“You’re welcome!” replied Kayla.

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

Alma rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

Swearing and pointing, Deyanira stood and stepped back.

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

“Vampires are real!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” exclaimed Emma.

At the same time, Jemal exclaimed “No!”

“But Jemal…” complained Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He dodged, looking confused.

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Portentia hiding?” questioned Emma.

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

Emma grinned and asked “Which door?”

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

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

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

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

Portentia nodded and said, “I see.”

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 302

Kayla came running around the corner towards us, stopping and staring at Jarod when she got close. “Hi! Are you Deyanira’s boooyfriend?” she asked. Quickly turning to Deyanira, she asked “What about Brandon!?”

“Hi there. My name’s Jarod. I live here, and I’m actually married to someone else.” he explained. “Who are you?”

“I’m Kayla. IIII live here, and I’ve never seen you before.” she insisted.

“I’ve been on my honeymoon for a couple weeks.” he told her.

“Jarod lives past that gym we were in this morning.” I informed her.

“Really!? Emma told me there’s a pool on the roof of that section! Is it amazing!?” she asked.

“I enjoyed it. There’s also an underground pool that looks like a cave. I can see if Ai or Mai will show you sometime.” he suggested.

“I don’t know if leaving her alone with the twins is the best idea.” I told him. Then I said to Kayla, “Jarod’s the one who invented that flying machine you’ve been using.”

“He is!? Those things are awesome!!!” she exclaimed.

“Flying machines?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. They’re these small platforms you stand upon and control with a wireless device.” I explained.

“Wow… That sounds interesting.” replied Deyanira. “Are they safe?”

Jarod shrugged and said, “Relatively. The board will auto-adjust to some extent if you seem to be trying to balance, but I didn’t want that taken too far, or you’d be dramatically limited on maneuverability.”

“I assure you that they turned out marvelous. No injuries as of yet.” stated Mila.

“They’re super fun!” exclaimed Kayla. “I can’t believe you built them!”

“Well, Mila usually does most of the actual building. I didn’t even fully design them myself, just the basic layout. Aurora did all the fine-tuning, and I heard James helped out with a little modification of his own.” explained Jarod.

I quickly said, “I really didn’t do too much.”

Jarod’s wry smile seemed like an argument, but we couldn’t say too much in front of Deyanira.

“Kayla, want to check out my lab?” offered Jarod. “I’m going to check on Aurora.”

“Awesome!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Who is Aurora?” asked Deyanira.

“Jarod’s lab assistant.” I informed her.

“Can I see this lab too?” she asked.

“Sure. Come along.” replied Jarod. “Hey, Brandon! I’m stealing your girlfriend.”

“Hey, now! No stealing girls. We’re not exactly dating yet.” stated Brandon. “I mean… we’ve gone on dates, but… it’s not… well.. you know…”

“Do I!?” exclaimed Deyanira, looking a bit perturbed.

“Well, I mean… we didn’t exactly ever talk about making anything official, and I didn’t want to assume anything. So… are we dating?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll need to talk. Later.” she stated, turning to follow Jarod.

Brandon was looking wildly between his monitor and Deyanira, obviously struggling to focus on both as he took a hit in the game that he should’ve been able to avoid.

After a few steps down the hall, I asked “So are you two dating?”

“We’ll see.” she stated.

“Wasn’t that a little mean though?” I asked.

She smiled and said, “Isn’t he adorable when he’s flustered?”

“I can’t really say I’ve thought of him as adorable ever.” I replied.

<Master, a moment.> signed Mila.

<Yes?> I asked.

<Aurora’s rather active in the lab. This may not be the best time for Deyanira to visit.> she informed me.

<I see. Thank you.> I told her.

“I’ve just been informed that Aurora is in the middle of an experiment, and we’d best not interrupt her at the moment.” I announced.

Jarod turned to look at me curiously for a moment, but his expression changed after a moment. <Is she using one of the suits?> he asked.

I nodded, since Deyanira was looking at me.

“Sorry, guys. Next time. I suppose I should’ve asked Mila about that first.” stated Jarod. “Care to play around on the… hmm… I really should name those. How about…”

“ZOOMIES!” exclaimed Kayla.

Grinning, Jarod said, “Sure, why not.”

“Mila, can you spare a body for safety?” I asked.

“Anything for you, master.” she told me. “I’ll bring four right up.”

“Uh… Maybe I’ll just watch.” stated Deyanira.

“Mila, mind bringing an extra and getting Brandon out back?” I asked.

“As you wish, master.” she told me. “Lady Pendreigh will be joining you as well. Oh. Ai and Mai will be coming to yell at Jarod. I’ll bring a couple zoomies for them.”

Jarod laughed and nodded. Then he said, “Kayla, I might require your help naming more things in the future.”

“Really!? Sure thing!” she exclaimed. Grabbing Deyanira’s hand, she said, “Race you there!”

I was worried for a moment, knowing Kayla was wearing her suit, but she kept her pace somewhat reasonable as Deyanira chased after her.

“Is her brother as excitable?” asked Jarod with a grin.

“More anxious than anything. I’m sure he’ll relax eventually.” I replied.

“I’m glad to be home. As beautiful as the island was, I missed being able to tinker. Seeing everyone is good too, of course. This place can change so much week-to-week. Even Brandon’s probably catching my stats on Ancient Tribes of Earth now.” he told me.

“I somehow doubt it. Glad to have you back.” I told him.

He suddenly grabbed my arm. Then he said, “You’re really not wearing a suit, are you. Was there a problem?”

“Oh. My magic interferes with the enchantment I place on them. Turns out that I don’t really need them.” I told him.

Jarod barked a laugh and said, “I’ve noticed.”

“Umm… really. Turns out I can move faster than Alma when she’s wearing a suit. Some things happened, and I found out how to control my magic a bit better.” I explained.

“Wow.” he stated, shaking his head. “You really get more amazing all the time. What are you going to do next? Realign a planet?”

I adamantly said, “No. Of course not. I wouldn’t even begin to know what would be safe. Even if I did the math and everything, there’d be no explaining it. Besides, why would I want to do that? I’m sure there’d be consequences, other than the entire world wondering what happened. I suppose I could give a giant meteor a shove if one was coming toward the planet, but even then, there’d probably be a cost…” I realized I had been rambling, lost in my thoughts about the details of doing such a thing while trying to avoid the memories I had of feeling such power. I said too much.

“You can really do it, can’t you…” he stated, stopping and staring at me.

“I… sorta discovered something while you were away.” I admitted.

He nodded and waited.

“Remember that stone room with all of the engravings?” I asked.

“Yeah…” he stated.

“I know how to use it now.” I explained.

“Use it? What do you mean exactly?” he asked.

“You can’t tell your wives about this, okay?” I demanded.

He nodded, frowning.

“I haven’t told Alma either, but that room allows me to access a powerful source of magic. Overwhelmingly powerful. The things I could do from there are frightening.” I insisted.

“Such as moving a planet.” he replied with a nod. “Wow. Can anyone use it?”

“No… From what I gather, most people would die if they somehow managed to start it.” I told him.

He nodded again and said, “You probably absorb enough energy to counter its negative effects. I wonder if its creator could do something similar? Even worse, someone might have figured out how to create it, tried it, and died. Still, useful thing to have in your arsenal, isn’t it?”

“I never want to use it again.” I stated.

“What? Why not?” he asked.

“Jarod, power like that is too much for me. I could accidentally wipe out our planet. I don’t really want to talk about it.” I admitted.

He looked like he was about to argue, but then he shrugged. “Okay. But wow… seriously. That’s incredible. I hope you can muster the courage to use it if there is some sort of catastrophe. Great power, great responsibility, and all that.” he teased with a wink.

I nodded, still feeling glum. I wished I could convey to him how frightening the experience was. How could I really get the point across without bringing someone else in on the secret?

Jemal ended up joining us as well, claiming he wanted to supervise his sister. I could tell he was having fun. Deyanira seemed to enjoy herself as well. I was glad we convinced her to try one, until I heard her gasp and watched her fall.

Mila easily caught her, but my little fairy friend was plainly visible, eagerly telling me about her day. Alma could probably take away the last couple minutes of memory from Deyanira, which would probably be the simplest solution, but would that really be the correct one? I wasn’t sure.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 301

Only a week had passed since Deyanira’s first arrival, and this was already her third visit. I felt bad for everyone having to restrain themselves this often, but Alma insisted that this was good practice. I didn’t really feel anyone here needed practice, they needed a place to be themselves. I did understand why Alma encouraged her more magically-inclined employees to only reveal their abilities when absolutely necessary, even keeping the secret after marriage, but I wasn’t going to encourage my friends to go quite that far.

If Deyanira was anything other than human, I didn’t really see signs of it. There wasn’t any distinct odor to suggest she was a therianthrope of some sort. She certainly hadn’t manipulated residual energy that I had seen, so she might not be able to use that sort of magic. If she had some other type of magic, I hadn’t felt its use. I still wasn’t entirely certain what to make of her.

She had started playing Ancient Tribes of Earth last time she was here, apparently wanting to see why we all played it so often. I thought she enjoyed it, but seemed to limit her time on it, stopping just after an hour to make Brandon go out with her. At the moment, she seemed content to watch Brandon, Brenna, Cosette, and me play.

For all Brenna’s teasing the other day, she hadn’t seemed too surprised when she met Deyanira. They seemed to get along fine, trading pleasantries about each other’s attire and places they shopped.

Her relationship with some of the other girls seemed a bit off to me so far. With Alma and Cosette, Deyanira almost seemed deferential to me. She didn’t believe Emma could have a doctorate yet until she quizzed her on botany, and still seemed shocked by the idea. She seemed careful around Portentia. Maybe I shouldn’t have verified that Portentia could beat up Brandon, or maybe Deyanira worried about misstepping around the hearing-impaired. I wasn’t certain.

Raine hadn’t worked up the courage to speak to Deyanira yet, running before Deyanira even made it to the front door these last two visits.

Jemal had barely exchanged more than greetings with her, but he’s been working hard to “catch up”, even though I told him there was no rush. His first martial arts lesson this morning proved him to be a complete beginner, but I was certain he’d get the hang of everything soon enough. His skill with magic might progress more quickly. He took most of an hour before he was able to purposely move something with his natural magic, but then he took to it almost as quickly as his sister.

Kayla attended both lessons as well. Her enthusiasm for martial arts greatly surpassed her skill, but magic came easier for her than for her brother. Using her natural magic barely took her ten minutes to start showing real promise. I got Brenna to start working with her on using residual energy within half an hour.

I found myself suddenly focusing on footsteps approaching. Then I stood and went to the hall. Jarod was home.

Smiling, he said, “So I hear Brandon’s got a girl.”

“Maybe? She might just enjoy bullying him.” I replied.

“Come on… Brandon probably enjoys that about her.” he teased.

“Still doesn’t mean she’s actually going to date him.” I stated.

“Do you not like her or something?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t say that I don’t like her…” I started.

“Of course not, but do you dislike her?” he asked with a grin.

“I’m not certain what to make of her yet.” I admitted. “She really does seem to bully Brandon.”

“Brandon’s fun to bully. You can’t hold that against someone. You know how they say playful hits from a girl are a good sign? Might be something similar. I’ll have to see.” he told me.

I shrugged and inquired “How was your trip?”

He grinned widely and asked “How much detail do you want?”

I rolled my eyes. “You know I would never ask for details of your honeymoon.” I stated.

“But the island is beautiful! You really should check it out sometime.” he replied, still grinning.

“Good to hear. I might. Are the twins back as well then?” I asked.

“Of course. They’re unpacking. We did a bit of shopping while in Japan, and now they’re talking about doing additional renovations to their… er… our… wing. Guess I’m not quite used to that yet.” he told me.

“That’s probably for the best. Father always told me that you might as well give up any delusions that the house is yours immediately after marriage. He was joking, of course, but… you are outnumbered.” I teased.

“Is that her?” asked Jarod.

I didn’t need to look, having heard the footsteps as she approached the ballroom doors. I nodded.

Walking towards her, Jarod waved and said, “I’m Jarod, one of Brandon’s friends.”

I followed him over to her.

“Oh. He told me about you. You’re the one who built his car, right?” she asked.

“Well, Mila helped with design and building, so I can’t take all the credit.” he told her.

“And you were on a honeymoon?” she asked.

“Yep! My wife and her sister are currently unpacking, but I’m sure they’ll be out soon enough to yell at me for something.” he replied.

“They both live with you!?” she inquired, seeming startled by the idea.

“Yep. Identical twins. They can’t stand being apart.” he stated. Then he leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Just don’t get them mixed up, or they might get mad.”

I laughed.

“James! I totally had her!” exclaimed Jarod.

“My apologies.” I told him.

“So… wait. They’re not twins, or they don’t get mad?” she asked.

“Oh, they are twins who get mad, just not about mixing them up. I am quite confident that you’ll never know to whom you’re speaking.” I assured her.

“Umm… okay.” she muttered. Then she told Jarod “Congratulations on your marriage. I was hoping Brandon might introduce us, but he’s too busy on his game!” The last was yelled back into the ballroom.

“What? Not my fault he showed up while I’m fighting some things.” replied Brandon. “Jarod, your timing sucks!”

“Sorry!” called Jarod.

“I was wondering if you might be willing to work on my laptop. It died, and Brandon told me that asking you for help would be better than taking it to a store.” explained Deyanira.

“Oh. You could’ve just hired Mila for that. She’s got a few advantages over average tech experts.” he told her, looking amused.

“Mila, you can do that?” asked Deyanira.

“Of course. I can probably fabricate damaged components as well if you want the laptop repaired.” explained Mila, appearing on the nearest mirror.

“That would be incredible. Can I drop it off tomorrow?” she asked.

“I’ll be happy to go collect it for you if you wish.” suggested Mila. “Then I can get started immediately, possibly even finishing by tomorrow.”

She quickly said, “Yes, please! If you don’t mind.” Then she pulled out her keys and told Mila “This one’s to my dorm. The laptop’s still on my desk. You’ll see my name on the bottom. If my roommate’s there, just tell her I sent you and to call if she has any doubt.”

“No need for the key. A copy is already printing.” stated Mila.

“A copy!? We’re not supposed to make copies.” insisted Deyanira.

“No, and you still haven’t. Nor did you request one. If it will help put your mind at ease, think of this as an artistic demonstration of sculpting, where I saw something and wished to recreate my own version.” suggested Mila.

“I guess… just make sure you destroy it afterward.” ordered Deyanira.

“If you wish, I’ll destroy the key now. Having seen it, picking the lock would take me less than a second.” replied Mila.

Jarod laughed and said, “Pretty easy, aren’t they.”

Looking toward the nearest mirror, Deyanira said, “You’re a bit scary. You know that, right?”

“No, but I know some who are.” teased Mila.

“Riiight…” replied Deyanira.

“Don’t worry. She’s too good to be bad.” I assured her.

“Oh, master… you know I’d be bad for you.” teased Mila.

“Please don’t say such things in front of our guest. She might believe you.” I stated.

Nodding, Mila said, “Sorry, master. I will only tease you behind Deyanira’s back, since that’ll be so much less confusing for her.”

I sighed and said, “I assure you that I do not do anything indecent with my friend.”

“Despite her best attempts.” teased Jarod.

“Did you design her?” asked Deyanira to Jarod.

“No-no.” replied Jarod. “Someone far more clever did. Ever hear of Aaliyah T. Sypher?”

“Yeah. She designed that game they’re all playing. Youngest self-made millionaire and youngest practicing attorney in the world, according to one of my professors. He’s brought her up in lectures a few times. I think he’s a fan of her games.” replied Deyanira.

“Mother’s also the secretary here at Best Friend for Hire.” stated Mila.

“Whoa… What!?” exclaimed Deyanira. “She’s joking again, right?”

I shook my head and said, “No. Aaliyah does work for me. She designed most of the tech throughout the house and acts as my secretary. Never got around to looking at the company site?”

“No… my laptop’s dead.” she stated.

I was certain her college had other computers she could use, but perhaps my company’s site was blocked on them for some reason. Still, she could have just used her phone. Whatever the case, there were a great many surprises ahead for her.