Best Friend For Hire, Entry 379

“James, have a moment?” questioned Dejon from my office doorway.

“For you, certainly. What’s up?”

He stepped nervously into the room, looking around as he did. The office currently looked like my favorite part of the Whimsical Woods of Gadregarn. The alien creatures and vegetation were probably throwing him off.

“My office has a variety of settings to depict alien worlds. Convincing, aren’t they?” I commented with a smile as he stepped over some roots. “Mila, mind changing the room to match Charles Dickens’ office? The one from Gad’s Hill Place.”

Dejon grinned, quickly stepping over to the bookshelves. “This is almost like the pictures!”

“Probably slightly more accurate to what Dickens preferred.” I admitted. “I thought I remembered you liking his work.”

“Who doesn’t? These books are real!?” he exclaimed, running his fingers over the covers.

“Depends on how you want to define ‘real’. Though they’re not made of paper, you could pick one up and read it while in here, but I have a feeling you came here for something other than reading.”

He nodded, his fingers lingering on the covers longingly. Then he turned around and said, “I want to use my ability on an employee, on… Noelle.” He stepped closer to my desk, looking determined. “I could help her, James, in ways even Mila couldn’t. If I told her to remember a name, for example, she’d actually remember it. I’m certain it would work.”

“Her memory issues are a bit unique, so I can’t guarantee that such a tactic would give permanent results. Have you talked with her about it?” I asked.

Shaking his head, he told me “No. I didn’t want to get her hopes up if you were against the idea.”

“On the condition that you discuss things with her before each attempt, I’m fine with it, but don’t go through with anything if Mila recommends against it. You know she’s always watching.”

“Really? We can try?” he questioned, sounding surprised.

“Sure! This will give you a safe way to practice more and Noelle really could stand to benefit if things work well.”

He smiled a little but seemed to think of something. “Don’t you want to at least be present when I try, in case something goes wrong?”

“Mila is my eyes and ears. She’s also even better at pure logic than I am, so she’ll be more capable of helping you to word the commands, not that an avid reader such as yourself will have problems in that area. I look forward to hearing the results.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much. I’ve met her a few times now, and each time has worried me more than the last. How does she even make it from one day to the next without remembering…” He motioned with his hands as if trying to grasp all the things Noelle forgot in a day. “Everything! I know Mila helps her now, but…”

“Yes, do remember that she has made it this far in life without us before you get too carried away.”

“Oh…. Yes. Sorry. She just seems so helpless, and I want to help make her life easier. I’m sure this’ll work.” he assured me. “Did you know she doesn’t even remember her birthday!?”

“Christmas.” I replied. “Probably why her parents named her ‘Noelle’, don’t you think?”

“Yes… I suppose that would make sense, but she doesn’t even remember that she was born on Christmas!” he exclaimed.

“Actually, she does, according to her sister, but only around that season. The decorations are enough to help her remember.”

“Still, James… that has to be hard.” he insisted.

I nodded and said, “Yes, but she also forgets her worries frequently, leaving her happier than most.”

Dejon frowned. “I can see the appeal, but I also find the idea horrifying.”

I laughed. “I certainly wouldn’t care for it either. Did you know that you’ve frequently been affected by her magic?

“What? She has magic?” he questioned.

“You still have considerable spellwork to practice. I know using residual energy is difficult for you, but you’ve seen the benefits as well. Do your best to focus next time you’re around Noelle.”

“But what… what does she do?” he inquired, looking concerned.

“She continually wears her emotions on her sleeve, literally showing everyone how she feels. Pay attention, and you’ll catch the magic, especially if she’s extraordinarily excited or nervous.”

“Can I get more of a hint?”

Smiling, I said, “I can’t see them, so I truly am not the best person to provide hints. Emma’s noticed, so you should ask her. Cosette probably has as well. That girl doesn’t miss much.”

Dejon nodded. “Okay. Will do.” He stood there, seeming to be thinking through what I said.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Oh! Sorry. No. I’ll go. Thank you for seeing me and granting me permission. Sorry to take up your time.” he replied, speaking quickly.

“Relax. I’m happy for a small break.” I assured him.

Dejon smiled a little before walking out. I knew he had a good heart, despite having my doubts when I first met him. Sighing as my mind started tracing back through the years that passed for me since then, I did my best to refocus.

Aaliyah had drafted a proposal to be submitted to the city council as part of our endeavors toward the start of my company’s taxi service. Through our app, Mila would be contacted to provide travel services throughout the city. The proposal also included plans for a Wi-Fi blanket provided by a subsidiary that Aaliyah had purchased for me a few months back. The two were tied by claims that the automated taxis would make use of the Wi-Fi for traffic updates, better guidance, and oversight to demonstrate the safety of the system. I had no doubts that everything was in order, but Aaliyah insisted I memorize some details for when I’m questioned on it.

I pressed through the material, making sure to utilize the overly technical tutorial she had written as well. Recognizing that the taxi designs were based off some of the work Jarod and Aurora had done, I started reading through how their percentage would work as well. Unsurprisingly, a note toward the end informed me when I was scheduled to give the sales pitch to Jarod. Checking the time, I saw that I was right on schedule.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 378

The past week on Earth was interesting. Raine helped Marco in the kitchen for the first time, attempting to replicate finished dishes with her magic. Marco took to teaching her even better than I had hoped, tasting each dish she made and telling her if anything was off. “Fort Raine” had been used in a dozen mock battles after Jarod and the twins attempted to claim it as a joke, which led to Raine getting practice patching it up after a little damage was done. There’s occasionally a moat around the fort at Ai and Mai’s request, though Emma was not entirely satisfied with Raine’s ability to fix the grass, but she was being extraordinarily picky as per my request. I knew Raine could get the details perfect.

“James! I hope you don’t mind playing against my team first. Bit of a tradition to test out the new blood.” claimed Grayson with a grin as he held out his hand.

“I had time to protest since your notice arrived. Sorry in advance.” I replied, smiling back.

“Sorry? For what?”

“You’ll see.” I promised. “We’re already warmed up, so feel free to take the field and get prepared.”

“Been practicing have you?” he asked, seeming amused as he watched Kayla and Aaliyah playfully swing their bats.

“We’ve managed to do a bit.”

“I saw you aren’t pitching. Surprised me.”

“No, I’m not. Raine needed to practice her throw, so I made her pitcher.”

“Is she going pro?” he teased.

“She could, but no. She’s going to be hired as a practice partner for some professionals in the near future.”

He shook his head and laughed. “I’ll never get used to your business. Obviously works though! I did a bit of research after you visited the house. Surprisingly hard to find anything that’s not available to public record.”

“As best friends for hire, we like to keep our noses clean.” I assured him. “Sure you still want us to bat first? We do have a bit of an advantage in youth.”

He brushed off my warning and said, “First game for you. You probably don’t know what you’re getting into yet, unless Iris has been telling you stories.” He looked a bit hopeful.

“She’s told me some. Your daughter seems to be enjoying herself. I’m looking forward to seeing you pitch for her, so she’ll be our leadoff hitter.”

He sighed and said, “Can’t go easy on her. Wouldn’t be fair to my team.”

“Oh, I’m hoping you give it your best. Starting the game with a homerun might make your team nervous.” I replied.

He laughed and said, “She is pretty good, but I’ll show her not to underestimate her old man. Let me get my guys in order and we’ll get things started!”

I smiled and nodded. Heading over to my friends, I called for them to gather around. “Grayson’s in for a surprise. Just remember not to be too extreme. We’re here to practice being exceptional in a more human capacity.”

“I dunno, James. I’m feeling rather super today.” teased Jarod.

I rolled my eyes at his joke and then told the triplets “No cheating. Got it?”

Achille and Heloise nodded, but Babette asked “Aren’t our uniforms cheating?”

“No, since we’ll be wearing something similar all the time. As I said, this is practice.” I reiterated. “Oh, Iris… Your father is going to show you what he’s got. I warned him that you might get a homerun right off, but he laughed.”

She sighed and said, “Homerun. Got it.” Then she shook her head and said, “My poor dad.”

“Everyone, remember the miss order. We’re not here to hit every single swing. I’m certain he can’t pitch quite like Raine.” I reminded them, hoping Noelle didn’t forget again by her turn to bat. Aaliyah had a complete schedule for when everyone would miss a swing, and Noelle was continuously confused by it. I was also going to signal people to strike out at times, so we didn’t dominate innings too excessively.

Around ten minutes later, the game started off with a missed swing followed by a homerun. As Iris jogged the bases, Grayson stared off to where the ball had crossed the fence. We only scored five points before Aaliyah, Achille, and Brandon struck out, but I could see how startled Grayson was.

My amusement only continued when he saw Raine’s pitching. No one managed to hit a thing. The innings continued with our carefully planned hits and misses. Aaliyah’s precise grounder through Grayson’s leg and across second base really caught them by surprise too, but she only ran to first, making the distance seem extreme for her tiny legs. Dani and Kayla still weren’t as convincing as I would have liked, too enthusiastic about the game, but I planned to get them in line by the end of the season.

By the end of the game, we had forty-two points, and Grayson’s team had only managed to graze the ball a couple times when they were up to bat. Grayson and I had agreed to have the winner buy dinner afterward, so I took everyone out to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce as a treat. The triplets and twins were a bit shocked at first about going inside, but Alma managed to assure them everything would be fine. We ate together, shared some laughs, and helped Grayson’s team cheer up about the loss.

As his team was heading to the door after our meal, Grayson shook my hand and said, “Great game, James. The meal was worth the loss, but don’t think you’ll beat us by as much next time.”

“Gave up on winning?” I teased.

He shrugged and said, “I don’t know what you’re feeding your employees, but Iris never hit a homerun in her life before joining your company. I know my daughter. She was holding back this game.”

I smiled and nodded. “She’s probably in the best shape of her life. You have to realize that our athletics program has to be top notch, so we can be hired to help wherever needed. I hope you’ll let us know if you or your company ever have need of a best friend. I assure you that we’re equally skilled outside of athletics.”

“Yes. Yes, I will.” he replied, smiling now. Then he called to his daughter. “Want a ride home?”

“I left my car at work, so I’ll see you later.” she replied.

Grayson nodded, shook my hand again, and headed out. All in all, things went well.

“Iris, you should invite your family over for dinner sometime. I feel your father should get a better look at who he invited to his league. Besides, he has to see that you weren’t overstating Marco’s cooking.”

She nodded. “My brothers are going to go nuts.”

I shrugged and smiled. All in all, things went well today.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 377

A couple weeks passed on Earth in relative peace. An embarrassingly large amount of my time here was taken up between Ancient Tribes of Earth and Fall of a Perfect System, but I was having fun. My wife was as well, though I could tell the gradual forfeitures of assets she experienced at Godric’s whim were annoying her. Before our honeymoon, she probably would have charged off to argue with him, but she was letting things slide, since she knew what would come.

“Master, are you busy?” questioned Mila as she stepped into the room.

Raine was behind her, practically hiding.

Signaling my screen to close, I said, “Not too busy for you two. What’s up?”

“I-I…” started Raine, seeming even more nervous than normal. She was running her fingers through the big wave of her voluminous hair that went off to one side. “W-Well, I… Oopsed.”

“Oopsed?” I inquired.

“She means to say that she created a fortress in your backyard.” explained Mila with an amused smile.

“Wow. Sounds neat. Mind if I go see it?” I questioned, finding myself standing in front of it as I completed the sentence. I stared up a good twenty feet at the stone walls. This side was at least eighty feet wide. If the sides were the same, this thing was fairly large. Knowing Aaliyah, she probably already had the paperwork in order for this to be built, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone complaining to me about unauthorized construction.

“Man-slave! Isn’t this awesome!?” shouted Emma from above the gate.

“May we have permission to enter?” I questioned, bowing afterward.

She pretended to consider for a few seconds before saying, “I suppose. Just leave your weapons outside the door.” Then she flipped off the top straight at me. After I sidestepped slightly and caught her, she told me “Nice catch! Raine built this. You’ve gotta see the inside!”

“Know why she called it an ‘oops’?” I inquired.

“Probably because she didn’t have permission. Could be because she didn’t meant to do it, but who accidentallies a castle!?” she teased.

“M-Me.” muttered Raine. She was blushing and turtling into her hoodie.

“Raine, this is fine. I’ll get the paperwork in order to have it, and we can all enjoy periodic vacations in a keep.” I assured her, patting her back. “What cause you to do this?”

“Oh! That’d be me. I dragged her out here earlier to discuss a new theme for the bushes. I was thinking of doing knights in battle this time around, but I was tempted to pay homage to Star Wars as well. Raine wasn’t being particularly decisive, which is a shame when you’re as cute and talented at design as she is.” teased Emma as she came around to hug Raine’s side. “Anyway, she was trying to tell me about this keep idea she had, but I wasn’t really getting it. Then this appeared, fully furnished!”

Smiling and opening the door, I saw a small courtyard before the main building, which seemed built into the back walls. “Very impressive. I expected your first intentional creation to be something… well, smaller. I suppose your clothes could count, but those seem more like a reflex for you.”

“W-Wasn’t… I… I d-didn’t mean to.” mumbled Raine.

“Fine, but you did mean to get your point across with Emma. You’ll just have to practice, so you don’t do something like this without full intent again.”

“You seem waaay less surprised than I was.” stated Emma, crossing her arms and seeming to appraise me.

“Raine’s half demon, so I knew she could do this sort of stuff. She could actually revert everything again just as easily.”

“I-I c-can?” questioned Raine, sounding legitimately surprised.

“Of course. Remember how Ariadne did it, cleaning up after her party?” I asked, waiting for her to nod. “Same type of thing. You just wield the opposite magic of hers. If you want, I could get her here to give you lessons, but you’d have to put up with the um… ‘ickiness’ of her magic.”

Raine mumbled something so quiet that even I couldn’t make it out. Then she said, “M-Maybe… eventually.”

“I can try to at first if you’d like, though I’d prefer not to do any demonstrations.”

“Wait. What!? You can do,” Emma waved her arm up and down toward the keep, “this!?”

“No, not on my own. If Excalibur was made to be more than a weapon, I could demonstrate with it. Unfortunately, I have to access the node here, like I did to create the illusions at my wedding.” I explained.

“All I can do is play with plants.” she complained, pouting.

“Neither of us can do what you can do, and your pout’s too cute to be convincing.” I informed her.

“Hey!” complained Emma.

“W-Will you really…” started Raine. Stopping and taking a deep breath. “Will you help me?”

I picked her up and hugged her. “You silly person. I just said I would. We’re friends, Raine.”

“Wife’s pregnant, and you’re messing around with another girl. For shame, man-slave. That’s my job!” teased Emma with a mischievous grin.

“Messing around with me or with another girl?” I questioned. I set Raine down as Emma considered, and then asked “You didn’t happen to build a dungeon, did you? I think we might have to trap Emma with her fantasies for a while.”

“What type of dungeon!?” exclaimed Emma, still grinning in a trouble-hungry manner.

“W-Well…” mumbled Raine.

Mila who had finally caught up with us a moment ago, said, “Yes, master! She actually broke some of the tunnels for your vault, though none that really mattered.”

Patting Raine’s head, I said, “No matter. This will be fantastic come Halloween. The guests will be even more shocked than last year.”

“H-Halloween…” mumbled Raine. “I s-saw it… on T.V.”

“You should’ve stopped by. Maybe you could’ve been hired sooner.” I informed her, knowing that couldn’t actually have happened. “Mila, would you mind asking my wife if she’d like to explore a castle?”

“Anything for you, master.”

To the other two, I said, “She’ll probably be just a moment. She’ll tease me horrendously later if I let her miss this. This really is beautiful, Raine. Is this for Ancient Tribes of Earth?”

She nodded. “C-Custom order.”

“Did they design it then?”

“N-No.”

“Excellent. I’d recommend coming up with a new design for them, maybe just a slight variation off this, in case this gets televised in the Fall.”

Coming to a stop just behind me, Alma said, “Good thinking. Wouldn’t want them thinking the design is unoriginal later. Raine, you did fantastic work here. I love the layout.”

“You too!? Did everyone else know Raine could do this!?” complained Emma as she hugged Raine again. Looking to Alma, she said, “Don’t go ruining any secrets for us while we’re in there. I haven’t even seen everything yet.”

“No promises.” teased Alma with a smile.

I made the Raine lead the way, asking her questions about the architecture as we went. She had apparently studied medieval design quite thoroughly before creating this. I liked the gothic touches along the outer walls and covering the keep. The gargoyles were particularly gruesome instead of the cats I expected from her. Despite the small size, the keep hosted two secret passages, one to escape the hall and another leading from the dungeon to the yard. I looked forward to seeing what Jarod would say when he returned home today.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 376

“That insufferable young pup is worse than his father if you can believe that.” stated Zachary as he came strolling into the room. “Who are our… guests?” His eyes darted around the room. Then he smiled and said, “I should have recognized the scent immediately. That should tell you how frustrated I am at the moment.”

I nodded and said, “Godric does seem a bit…”

“Infuriating?” questioned my wife with a smile.

“I probably would’ve gone with ‘childish’, but sure.” I replied.

Zachary shut his mouth without commenting, staring at us instead. “You’ve changed. Your posture is entirely wrong. Whatever happened to you two?”

I glanced to where Portentia and Cosette were, nodding slightly. Then I told him “We visited Carl, but marriage has been good to us. The pink one on Papak’s back is our daughter, Dani.”

“Oh! Marvelous. She really is pink, isn’t she.” He watched her for a moment before turning back to us and saying, “Your cousin tried giving me orders after he proclaimed his greatness and claimed that he was going to lead the family into a new era that his father had dreamed of.”

“He kicked down my door and expected to make it inside.” I replied.

“Ah. I imagine that didn’t go as he planned.”

“James had Raine deposit him home. I would have loved seeing his expression.” teased Alma.

We had asked Aaliyah to show us later that evening. She had obliged, providing us with commentary as a video of him destroying part of his own house had played. The kid really was his own worst enemy.

“Well, I am sorry to have left you in the hands of my brothers all this time. The tour must’ve been terrible with their embellishments.

“Did you really engage in a drinking contest with the Romans to upset the next day’s battle?” questioned Alma with a smile.

Zachary glared at Vito for a moment before saying, “Look, they hadn’t proven themselves on the field at that point. I couldn’t have known that a dozen hungover officers wouldn’t really affect the battle. That tactic had worked brilliantly a bit earlier.”

“Around six hundred years.” replied Vito.

“Yes-yes, but did Vito happen to tell you about that time he spent years micromanaging the people of the Indus Valley only to pick the worst time in hundreds of years for a vacation?” questioned Zachary.

“How was I to know that the rivers would shift course that much while I was away? Besides, there would have been only so much I could have done about the diseases that spread in my absence. They might have fallen apart even if I had been there.”

Papak joined in within minutes, expanding the history lesson for the rest of us even more. Listening to the three argue about who helped most in shaping the greatest civilizations of ancient history was fascinating, especially considering that many of the details they knew hadn’t even been discovered yet by archaeologists.

Ariadne pointedly ignored them, chatting with Dani, Cosette, and Portentia.

Sometime later, Dani wandered over to me and said, “Daddy, let’s get them to play Fall of a Perfect System.” She smiled sweetly at me in a manner she often used when instigating trouble.

“As you wish.” I told her, nodding and smiling in return. “Gentlemen, would you mind indulging my daughter’s wish and join us in a little game that can serve as a test for each of us?”

“What’s this?” questioned Vito warily.

“No clue.” replied Cosette, stepping closer.

Portentia followed her, remaining quiet as she watched everyone.

“A good friend of mine wrote a little game to help Dani study the repercussions of various actions. When used as a multiplayer game, we each can try our luck in creating the most prosperous civilization in a binary solar system with three habitable worlds. The game allows you to micromanage to the extent of having meetings with advisors and reallocating sums daily. If war happens between us and/or the NPC civilizations, you can choose to enter individual battles as generals to make the most of your military’s training regime. The game ends after twenty thousand years if any players are still in the running by that point.”

“I doubt all of us will still be around by that point, unless you plan on having us turn your daughter.” stated Vito with a smirk.

The idea had certainly crossed my mind periodically, but I said, “No need. We’ll just choose in advance how many hours to play per day with extensions granted for those of us who can’t move as quickly as well as adjustments for battle lengths, so those can be tedious. I hope no one is against Mila handling the time adjustments?”

“How long does this game typically take in real time?” questioned Zachary.

“Depends on how well we manage to keep our civilizations flourishing.” I replied.

“I think I’ll sit this out.” stated Portentia. Then she sighed and said, “Nevermind. Mila’s insisting that I try.”

I shrugged. “I think I’ll invite Maxine too. I’m curious what type of civilization she’d create.

Papak laughed. “She’ll probably think hers is Marvelous.”

“This game is computerized, yes?” questioned Zachary. When I nodded, he said, “Should I get it downloading then? These things can take some time.”

I pulled out my phone and said, “Mila, please ask Raine to bring us what we need. Tell her that she’s invited to play too.”

“Of course, master.” replied Mila. “She’s setting up on floor eighty-two on recommendation from mother.”

“Not my card castle!” complained Papak, rushing off.

“Finally. That thing is an eyesore.” stated Vito.

“He uses a whole room for a card castle?” questioned Cosette.

“Half the floor. He keeps rebuilding it, smashing it, and repeating.”

Zachary smirked and said, “Don’t forget the laughing to himself. He’s actually creating cities he misses and finds how quickly they vanished amusing.”

“So… cards because they’re flammable?” inquired Cosette.

“No-no. He simply enjoys them.” replied Vito. Holding out a hand to Ariadne, he asked “Shall we?”

The rest of us followed them out, chatting on the way. When we arrived, Papak was hurriedly boxing and stacking thousands of cards.

Raine stepped out of an adjoining room and said, “F-Finished.”

“Oh! In there!?” questioned Papak.

“Aaliyah said y-you… d-don’t use it.” mumbled Raine.

Zachary laughed. “No, he doesn’t. That’s his storage room for the cards. Er… was.” The last was said as he peered into the room.”

Papak was looking between his stacks and the room with annoyance. “I didn’t have to dismantle Vijayanagar.”

“Looks like most of it still stands.” argued Cosette as she looked down the long room.

He smiled and said, “If you want, I’ll tell you what it was like back when I was first there. Beautiful place for its time.”

“Sounds delightful.”

“No, don’t get him started or we’ll be here for the rest of the day. I want to see what this game is like to come so highly recommended.” stated Vito.

I showed him. The brothers took to the game even better than I had hoped, which led me to suggest that they do a second game among the three of them between turns with the main one, since most of the rest of us wouldn’t be keeping up with their pace. If I were to be honest, I was quite curious to see if they’d beat my high score.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 375

Portentia was satisfied to see that the prisoner was still here, despite the lack of locks. Papak had assured that he’d devour the poor man if an escape was attempted. Some of the younger vampires as well as a couple older ones went blood drunk when they fed, so I stayed behind and watched over them while the others got started with their tour. I had seen a fair amount of the tour before and would surely visit again many times over the years to come.

Time could seem to pass incredibly quickly for me these days. As I watched over the vampires, I reminisced about the past years as Dani grew, since I wanted pleasant thoughts for company after seeing the vampires overact their feeding. Papak had bit one of Portentia’s arms off to try shocking my daughter. I barely had touched upon Dani’s tenth birthday when Vito and Ariadne popped in to visit.

“James, you’re not here to steal our staff, are you?” questioned Vito with a small smile. “I know perfectly well that they’ll never want you to leave, having met you.”

“Sorry. Papak is giving my family his part of the tour, so I volunteered to watch over this lot. They had a bit much of Portentia’s blood.” I explained.

“Ah. Yes. I do appreciate your consideration. Sorry to have left you alone with Papak, but we didn’t realize you’d be here quite so soon. That was quite the quick flight.” he told me. “Is Portentia still around? I thought I smelled her. on the way in here.”

“She’s here. I hired her for the duration of the visit, so she could help feed everyone. Feel free to get a snack before stopping to talk.” I told him.

“Is my niece with you?” questioned Ariadne.

I used a spell to mute the area around us, not wanting the other vampires to hear. “Always. You know her. She’s not officially here though, so Portentia and my daughter don’t know.”

She nodded and said, “Vito, would you mind tying them up, so James can join us? We brought souvenirs from our trip.”

“I’m surprised you don’t just…” I snapped my fingers and created a small flash of light around them. “I can’t imagine a reason you’d need to shop.”

“Need, no, but I do like to get out occasionally.” she insisted.

As she spoke, Vito unleashed a spell he made. From what I saw, I estimated that the vampires here would be trapped for half a week if they didn’t know how to undo the spell. Vito surely wouldn’t leave them quite that long, but I did appreciate his skill at spellwork.

Smiling, Ariadne said, “Thank you, dear. Let’s catch up with the others before Papak makes up too much about Vito and Zachary. They’ll be fighting for weeks if he gets too carried away.”

I followed as they leisurely walked out.

“How’s Raine coming along?” questioned Vito.

“Still skittish.”

“But how’s her magic?” he questioned.

“She doesn’t consciously use any yet.”

“What?” asked Ariadne, turning around in surprise. “She could handle all of your shopping with ease if my niece didn’t. What I do doesn’t hold a candle to what she could do.”

I nodded and said, “I know. I need to work with her more, but I’ve been waiting for the right time.”

“I’d tell you that there’s no time like the present, but my niece is probably involved. That girl…” stated Ariadne, shaking her head.

I grinned, catching the momentary smile on Ariadne’s face. “Keeps life interesting, doesn’t she.”

“That is certainly one way of putting it. Has she ever made you watch her use that scythe of hers?” questioned Vito with a shudder.

“Too often. I don’t even get the bad memories anymore. You do know the scythe’s just for show, don’t you?” I questioned.

Vito frowned and said, “I’ve guessed, but that is still a terrifying weapon. She could no doubt devour the world with it.”

“She could snuff out a galaxy on a whim if she tossed it into a star, told it to conserve its energy, and left it for a while.”

“She speaks to it?” asked Ariadne, surprised again.

“You could say that.”

“Aren’t you worried about saying too much? You obviously know more about that thing than we do at this point.” stated Vito with obvious warning in his voice.

“She’d just kill me again if that were a problem.”

“Again?” questioned Ariadne.

I shrugged. “She’s Death. There’s really no difference to her whether someone is alive or dead. We might as well have on/off switches.”

Ariadne gently touched my arm and asked “What happened to you on your honeymoon?”

I smiled and patted her head. “Much. I can’t tell you a hundredth… well… less than that.”

“You’ve aged, James.” stated Vito with a tone of surprise. He was staring into my eyes as if he were trying to peer into my soul.

I smiled. “Just don’t go calling me ‘old man’ yet. My daughter’s only fifteen.”

“Most people will think you’re still going on twenty. If I didn’t know Carl, I’d be at a complete loss. As things are, I’m still very curious.”

“I know you’re patient. Give me a hundred years from your perspective, and I should be allowed to tell you a great deal more.” I replied.

“How long will that be for you?” he questioned.

Ariadne elbowed him and said, “Be nice.”

“I honestly don’t keep count. If I knew my age, I’d probably brood about it.” I told him.

He grinned wickedly as he said, “Maybe Aaliyah will let us throw you a party when you pass us.”

Ariadne punched his gut. “Be nice!”

“Yes-yes. Always. I’d invite you.” he assured her.

She sighed dramatically.

Papak charged down the hall toward us, grabbing me with one hand and scooping up Vito and Ariadne with the other as he flipped around. We let him carry us to where he left the group.

“Got them!” exclaimed Papak with a grin. “You’re up, Vito.”

“I see.” stated Vito as he straightened Ariadne’s shirt for her.

“Are you two dating!?” exclaimed Dani with a grin.

Vito raised an eyebrow as he appraised my daughter.

“Dani, this is Ariadne and Vito.” I told her. Turning to them, I said, “And this is my daughter, Dani.”

“She’s pink!” exclaimed Papak with a big grin as he pointed to Dani.

“Really?” questioned Vito, feigning surprise. “Are you certain?”

Papak stuck his enormous head up next to his brother and said, “Yes.”

“Well, thank you for informing me. I would never have figured that one out.”

Dani quickly ducked under his arm, tapped on his cheek, and asked “Are they dating!? They feel like they’re dating.”

“Do they?” questioned Papak as he eyed Dani.

“Sorry. She’s exceptionally energetic today.” explained Alma, as she ducked around Papak to grab Dani.

“But Mom…” complained Dani as she was being pulled away.

Ariadne smiled and said, “Yes, Dani. We’re dating.”

“See!” exclaimed Dani as she bounced on her feet.

“You are… quite interesting, aren’t you.” stated Ariadne, looking at Dani curiously.

“Still doesn’t have Portentia beat.” stated Cosette with a smirk.

Dani frowned and tried to move toward Cosette despite Alma holding her arm. “You don’t think I’m interesting!?”

Cosette smiled, stepped forward and patted Dani’s arm. “You’re very interesting, but Ariadne’s an incredible healer. She was examining your physiology. You can tell by the soft glow around her.”

“Ooooh.” stated Dani. She quickly turned to me and exclaimed “Daddy, don’t kill her!”

I sighed, walked over, and hugged her. “Dani, you know I don’t randomly kill people, even if they give random medical exams. Besides, Ariadne is Aaliyah’s aunt.”

“Is she really!?” asked Dani as she stared up at me. “That’s so cool! No wonder they look similar! She must know all sorts of things!”

“Let me apologize in advance. I can’t compete with my niece for knowledge.”

“Does Aaliyah really know that much?” questioned Portentia. Seeing everyone’s gaze turn to her, she said, “What? Aaliyah’s a super genius, but she’s… what… thirteen now?”

“Tell me what you think in a couple hundred years.” stated Vito with a smile.

“Did James tell you that Portentia’s here as lunch?” questioned Papak.

“He mentioned it.”

“Wait. You think she’ll be around in a couple hundred years?” questioned Portentia.

“I thought you had found out that she doesn’t age. Interesting medical condition.” I explained.

She nodded and said, “Life’s so strange. Just a year ago, I thought I’d be wandering the streets alone forever. Half a year with James, and I’m surrounded by immortals.”

“I’m not!” exclaimed Dani with a grin. “Immortal that is. I’m going to grow old, sooo old. There will be wrinkles and everything! It’ll be so cool!”

She knew quite well that her species didn’t get age wrinkles, but she became obsessed with them after seeing “through the years” collections Mila had shown her while expanding her knowledge of this planet’s art.

I was still against my daughter aging. Aging wasn’t even a tricky thing to prevent for Aaliyah, but Death would claim her one day. Dani would smile and grab my hand just as her heart stopped. The faded color of her hair was ingrained in my mind. I had been too young to watch my daughter die, but she had been so very happy in her new world, excited for the next adventure in a younger body. When she died, I’d be the one smiling as I escorted her to her new world this time, not the one sobbing at her side. For now, we had time.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 374

The day after Godric’s visit, the invitation to visit the Slayer estate for his “coronation” was withdrawn. Alma smiled and shrugged when I gave her the news, but Dani was a little disappointed. She wanted to see somewhere new, so we decided to still fly in and visit the vampire brothers, bringing Cosette and Portentia along as well. Jarod had been invited, but his schedule was booked.

“James! Family! Oh, and you brought my favorite snack!” exclaimed Papak, eyeing Portentia when we stepped inside the building.

Portentia walked over to him and asked “Hungry?” as she held up her arm. “James hired me for the weekend as dinner.”

Seeing Papak’s enormous mouth drop open as he stared at me was hilarious. Even Alma snickered.

“Good to see you, Papak.” I told him, stepping forward and offering my hand.

He gently grabbed my hand with two of his enormous fingers, shaking it as he said, “She can really be hired to help vampires?”

“I am hired regularly back home for the ones James approved.” replied Portentia with a shrug.

Cosette, who had excitedly stared around without even attempting to hide her enthusiasm, turned to us and said, “Please don’t try taking her for weeks at a time. I’d starve.”

Papak nodded. “Don’t worry, little one. I wouldn’t want that. Ariadne would give me hell.” He grinned, showing the sharp teeth in his enormous maw. “My brothers will be a few hours. Vito’s currently out, shopping with Ariadne in Europe. Zachary’s attending that Slayer thing as our representation to maintain the truce. We were surprised to find out you wouldn’t be attending, but your secretary explained everything.”

I laughed and said, “I’m sure she did. Sorry.”

He shrugged and said, “I’d wager on Vito returning first if Godric’s as much of a talker as Adelmar. For all his faults, he was better than many we’ve seen over the years.”

“Adelmar’s not dead.” stated Alma.

Papak glanced at Portentia and Cosette before saying, “We know your beliefs. No offense intended.” There was a fraction of a second where he seemed surprised as he stared at Alma’s smile, but the expression faded as quickly as it appeared. Then he stuck his large face closer to Dani as he said, “I don’t believe I’ve met you. Are you the famous daughter?”

Practically bouncing, Dani said, “I’m Dani Somerset! Pleasure to meet you! Can I hug you?”

Alma smirked and dismissed the illusion which had covered Dani’s skin tone.

Papak pulled back slightly, moving his whole body as he looked her over. Then he shrugged and said, “Sure!”

Dani rushed forward and hugged one of his arms, saying, “He’s enormous!”

Papak smiled and gently patted her back with his free hand. “I’d give you all the tour, but my brothers honestly do their parts better. Don’t tell them I said that, but floor-by-floor with each of us doing our part is the only way to go if you want to keep things in order.”

“That sounds amazing. I’ll go thrice.” stated Cosette.

Papak laughed and said, “Not an amusement park.”

She frowned.

“You’re welcome here whenever you want to visit, so there’s no need to fret. As a vampire, you should have a very long life.” he assured her, still chuckling.

“She will.” I promised.

“Me too.” stated Portentia.

“I am most looking forward to that.” replied Papak. He glanced at Cosette and said, “Sorry, but I’m sure you understand.”

Grinning, she nodded.

“I’m surprised you’re willing to come here, leaving your city unprotected.” stated Papak as he watched Portentia.

She shrugged. “Crime’s been slow of late. Besides, Raine will step up if something big happens.”

“Ah. Yes. Should have brought her along. I never did get a match with her.” he boasted, flexing his arm.

“Daddy, he looks so strong!” exclaimed Dani.

“He is.” I assured her.

“I can toss a house.” stated Papak with a wink.

“Daddy could destroy a planet.” replied Dani with a shrug.

I nearly facepalmed.

Papak laughed and said, “He probably could with all he has. I’ll never forget that illusion he created for his wedding. Vito almost had a fit.”

“If you really want to attempt fighting Raine, we could give her a message.” suggested Alma with a smile. “She’d be here in a second flat if she’s not busy.”

Papak shook a large finger at her and said, “You… you’ve changed. Your smile’s much friendlier.”

“Marriage has been good to her.” I replied.

He laughed again. “Obviously! When is the baby due?”

“December!” exclaimed Dani excitedly. “I get to be a big sister!”

“Just be good to one another. Most families don’t get along as well as mine. Such a shame, really. When I was a child, tribes couldn’t afford friction. Every day was a fight for survival.”

“Which of you tells that story best?” questioned Cosette.

“Me, of course!” boasted Papak. “Come along. I suppose we might as well get you all started with the first floor if you’re interested.”

“I’m on the clock, so I should probably get to feeding your brethren.” stated Portentia.

“There’s really no rush.” I assured her.

She nodded and said, “I know, but I want to see a certain prisoner here.”

I took a few seconds, searching through my memories. “Oh, yes. The one we caught.”

“Oooh!” replied Papak with a grin. “By all means, let’s start with the feasting!”

“Can I watch!?” exclaimed Dani excitedly.

“If your parents don’t mind, I’m sure some of my fellows won’t care.”

“I’ve let you watch before. Why would you want to see again?” questioned Cosette.

Dani frowned. “No offense, but yours doesn’t count. You don’t even use your teeth! How am I supposed to learn to act like a vampire in the game from only watching you!?”

Cosette laughed and said, “We watched some vampire movies too!”

“Were they terrible!?” asked Papak with a grin.

Cosette nodded. “The worst I know.”

Dani kept frowning.

“Dani, the important part of role-playing your character is coming up with a personality that you’ll enjoy acting out. You really should talk with Maple about it. She’d probably be thrilled.” I told her.

“Fiiine, but I still want to see them feed. The game has sooo many animations to choose from, and I’d like to get a really cool one that’d be a little realistic.”

I patted my daughter’s shoulder and refrained from sighing. I was happy so few things bothered her, wanting her to keep an open mind, but I had far too many memories of blood and battles. I preferred happier thoughts.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 373

“Will I have to learn that?” inquired Noelle as we headed back upstairs.

Emma patted her head and said, “No. If you manage to keep up with Jarod talking very often, you’ll be doing better than me. I’m not even going to attempt learning engineering to his standards.”

I felt Emma was underestimating herself, but her educational preferences remained with the natural world for the same reason the twins studied the ocean, a harmony with their magics. I doubted any other botanist alive would keep up with Emma. Her advantages were too extreme.

Noelle sighed in relief and smiled. “I was panicking just listening to him, but all that stuff sounded amazing! Can you really do magic?”

I nodded and said, “Yes, Noelle. You can too. In fact, you’ve been doing it.”

“Huh?” she questioned.

“Wait. She has?” asked Emma. “I mean… there’s obviously the residual, but…” Emma squinted, staring at Noelle. “Oooooh. Good catch, man-slave!”

“I can’t see it.” I admitted. “What’s she making you see?”

“Makeup? Not sure how else to put it simply. I mean, she looks stunning.”

“I have magic makeup!?” exclaimed Noelle in shock.

“No, but that’s what Emma sees. From what I understand, you subconsciously project images into the minds of others. I’ll never get to see it due to my own magic canceling it out.” I explained.

Nodding, Emma said, “So it’s kinda like how the fey communicate, but constant… and not really communication.”

“Not a type I can let through for sure, but I’d still consider it communication. Noelle probably wants to be looking good for her interview right now, so you’re seeing makeup. If she was having a bad day, you’d probably see something to reflect it.”

Noelle looked to each of us before asking “Are you two messing with me?”

I gently squeezed her shoulder and said, “No. We’re not.”

“But… like… am I doing something wrong?”

“No, you’re not. You’re perfectly wonderful as you are.” I assured her.

“I like you!” exclaimed Emma with a smile.

“I… I should probably tell you something. I’m a bit forgetful at times. I might not remember your names tomorrow…. or in an hour… Well, actually… umm…” she started.

Emma smiled and said, “You told me. Don’t worry. My name’s Emma.”

“Oh… sorry.” mumbled Noelle.

Emma hugged her. “No need to be sorry.” Then she looked at me and asked “Who are we seeing next? The triplets? Cosette?”

“Mila’s choice.” I replied with a smile.

“Fine, master. Dump all responsibility on me. I see through that smile.” she replied teasingly before stepping off the lift to lead us onward.

“So many names…” mumbled Noelle worriedly.

“How did you manage to remember mine?” I questioned.

“Oh! I repeat a name aloud several times when I first hear it, and then repeat it in my head a bunch. I sorta forget whose name it is at times, but Mila reminded me when she brought me here and even showed me a picture!” explained Noelle.

“I’ll gladly help you with the others as well.” stated Mila, glancing back with a smile.

“That would be sooo nice!” she exclaimed.

“Did you talk with Jamie about moving here yet?”

“Oh! No!” exclaimed Noelle, looking excited. “I forgot I can move here!”

“I talked with her, master. She’s going to talk with Noelle about it later. Our tentative date is this weekend, but Jamie does wish to at least see our home first. Friday, maybe?” asked Mila.

I nodded. “Sounds good. Make sure Jamie knows we also act as a moving service and would be happy to help her with a family rate.”

“Of course, master.”

“You’ll help Jamie move in after her wedding!? You’re amazing!” insisted Noelle as she hugged me.

“Probably not me personally unless I happen to be free on the right day, but yes.” I replied, patting her head.

“Is the family rate expensive?” she questioned.

I gently removed her arms and said, “No. Free, unless we think they’ll insist on paying us.”

“By ‘free’, he means that he covers the expense for his employees and their families, allowing us to volunteer to work. The rest of us get paid if we help.” asserted Mila.

I shrugged as Noelle hugged me again. “Really isn’t a big deal. Moving tends to be very efficient with our help. You’ll see.”

I heard a loud crack from down the hall that made me frown.

“Master, we have an uninvited guest. Raine’s now restraining him.” stated Mila.

“Was that her?” I asked.

“No. He kicked the doors in before I could open them. Raine must’ve heard and investigated.”

I nodded. “Noelle, Mila will continue with your introductions. Emma, meet me at the front when you catch up. The doors will need repaired.” I told them. Then I sprinted, enhancing my speed as I moved. I recognized the intruder at a glance and sighed internally.

A second later, Alma was at my side, frowning as she watched Godric demand to be released. He was obviously terrified, eyes bulging as he stared at Raine in her hybrid cat-demon form.

I sighed and said, “I’ll take him.”

“Take me!? Do you not know who I am!? I am Godric Slayer. You are to obey me. This is my world.” he claimed.

I rolled my eyes, not wanting to deal with him today. “Fine. No lunch for you. Mila, please give Raine his address. Raine, please deposit him safely home. I’m sure his mother’s worried. This’ll count as work for you today.” She glanced at me, then to her phone, and they were gone.

“He’s gotten even worse.” muttered Alma, still frowning as she shook her head.

“Hopefully, he learns not to kick down my door. Why do you think he came here?”

“To try asserting his dominance, surely. Adelmar must’ve spoken of you fondly, so Godric will want to crush you. He was always jealous of his father’s attention.” she replied. “Aaliyah’s been helping me to make some preparations. My work load here will be decreased dramatically soon, since Godric will be decreasing my assets now that he’s head of the family.”

I hugged her and said, “I’d apologize, but you’ll want more time with our kids.” Then I gently rubbed her belly.

She nuzzled my shoulder as she said, “A few more months, and I’ll be able to talk with this one. I hope to have our child prepared to meet our parents at birth.”

Such a notion would probably seem absurd to my parents if they didn’t take us into account. Our child’s brain would develop far, far more quickly than a human. The temper tantrums could be as catastrophic as the magical potential was great. A newborn who could break an adult’s arm needed training, and Alma’s fey heritage would give her a tremendous advantage in that regard. Aaliyah had assured us things would work out. I looked off to the tall building where her second child was growing and wondered what sort of playmate my child would have.