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.

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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.

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.