Best Friend For Hire, Entry 332

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

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

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

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

“Sure is.” I told her, smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady Pendreigh…” started Mai.

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

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

“A-Alma…” started Ai.

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

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

“And hair.” stated the twins.

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

“Jelly.” I corrected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 329

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

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

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

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

“Mila?” asked David.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zachary shrugged.

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

“Sure!” exclaimed Jarod.

Ariadne rolled her eyes while shaking her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone listens to James.” teased Jarod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 324

Alma’s birthday was a success, though remarkably low-key. I knew the party would be low-key, but I thought low-key for her would involve a much larger number of guests, considering the piles of gifts that were sent throughout the day. Even with all of our friends gathered, the room she had picked seemed spacious ― she had insisted on having the party in her wing, probably to keep us from going overboard with the decorations.

Today, the other birthday girl was returning home. I had caught a little of Portentia’s exploits on the news. Mila was being rather tight-lipped about what all happened, claiming that Portentia insisted on telling me everything herself, which I couldn’t doubt. Portentia loved talking about her adventures when she felt safe to do so. When we returned home, we were going to have a welcome home slash belated birthday party for her, mainly as an excuse to give her the presents from everyone.

For Alma, I had handcrafted a large necklace out of platinum and gems that Aaliyah had procured for me. She seemed to like it well enough. Alma and I ended up designing a new backpack for Portentia with concealed compartments for her superhero costume. When inserted properly, the costume would just seem like padding. To be honest, Alma had done most of the design work. I merely made an enchantment on the backpack to help protect it and improve the concealment aspects.

Well, there was also a little spell that helped people ignore the backpack existed. I had tested it on Brandon, who tripped over the backpack repeatedly without realizing why he was tripping. I did explain to him what was happening afterward. He playfully hit me. I probably deserved worse for putting him through the ordeal, but I was happy the enchantment worked properly. With his enhancement suit worn, he was able to notice the backpack just fine, so the suit’s enchantment was working as well.

Noticing Alma frowning, I asked “What’s wrong?”

She pursed her lips before stating “I don’t know that you’ll approve of Portentia’s souvenir.”

“Souvenir?” I inquired. Did Portentia bring back part of Maxine’s armor again? “Oh. I see.” I stated when Portentia rounded the corner with Maxine in tow. She was wearing one of Portentia’s hoodies with the hood up and white-rimmed sunglasses, but that was obviously her. I stepped out of the limousine to greet them.

“James!” exclaimed Portentia, running over to me and giving me a hug.

Maxine, who had been holding onto Portentia’s arm, stayed where she was. “Hello again, James.” she told me.

“Why isn’t she in prison awaiting trial?” I asked, mouthing the words.

Mila had stepped out and taken their luggage cart to the limousine’s trunk.

“Can I keep her?” asked Portentia in a whisper.

“What!?” I replied, not expecting Portentia to say that of all things.

“James, let’s discuss this in the car.” called Alma.

She was right. There had already been enough people periodically watching for who’d step out of the limousine. I didn’t want anyone to realize Maxine was with us, though no one should be looking for her here.

“Lady Pendreigh, I should have known you’d be here as well.” stated Maxine.

I stepped back into the vehicle to sit by Alma and waited as Portentia guided Maxine into the other side. What had happened to Maxine’s glasses or even her cane?

Once they were situated, I asked “What’s this about?”, pointing to Maxine.

“I don’t believe I can age, so prison would raise numerous questions.” stated Maxine.

Oh, yes. She was apparently like Portentia.

“You’re colder than normal.” observed Alma.

“Portentia confiscated all of my tech. I assured her that some of it was perfectly harmless, but she doesn’t trust me.” explained Maxine.

“No one trusts you.” argued Portentia.

“Camila does. You know they don’t really have enough evidence against her to keep her very long. My lawyers will see to it.” stated Maxine.

“Even a year apart will do you two some good. Besides, you only have one lawyer left practicing in that area. We did our research.” insisted Portentia.

“Oh, yes. The mysterious ‘we’ again. I can’t imagine that James supplies your intel.” commented Maxine.

Grinning at the blind girl, Portentia said, “No, he’s my sidekick at times.”

As the two continued to bicker, I considered what to do. They were right about Maxine being in prison if she bothered staying very long. If she truly shared Portentia’s abilities, I had no doubt that she’d break out long before people could notice her lack of aging. Even if she didn’t, Maxine was intelligent enough to earn Jarod’s grudging respect, and guards would probably underestimate a blind girl even after hearing about her criminal career. Mila, however, could watch Maxine’s every move continuously.

“You could seal her away in your vault, James.” suggested Alma. “Even I couldn’t escape it for a very long time if I ever did manage to figure out those bloody enchantments.”

“Coarse as ever.” muttered Maxine with a small smile.

“I wouldn’t want any of my collection damaged when Maxine grew bored.” I replied.

“Maybe I should keep her under my personal supervision.” teased Alma.

At least, I was hoping she was teasing.

“Oh, yes. That would be marvelous. I’m sure neither of us would grow bored, even when you’re old and gray.” replied Maxine.

“Funny, but I don’t seem to age either. We’ll have a very long relationship.” stated Alma.

Maxine scowled as she said, “This is the most insufferable run of bad luck in all of history.”

“Maxine’s used to being lucky. Very lucky. I think… we may be opposites in that regard.” commented Portentia.

“Do things really go wrong for Portentia all the time?” asked Maxine. “Some of the stories she told me seem highly improbable.”

“No. Portentia’s learned to be meticulous in many areas to avoid problems in advance.” I argued, thinking of how careful she’s grown with her gear.

“I help too, master.” stated Mila.

Maxine tilted her head, facing her ear toward Mila as she said, “That voice… you’re the mysterious informant.”

“I’m the one who crippled your communication throughout the city and performed the DDoS attacks against you.” happily replied Mila. “You are a skilled techie for a near-human. Mother found your attempts to fight me adorable.”

“And who’s your mother?” she asked.

“Aaliyah T. Sypher.” stated Mila.

“What? That child!?” exclaimed Maxine.

“I’m an artificial intelligence designed by Aaliyah to assist James in all his needs. The master allows me enough free time to aid in other endeavors as well.” explained Mila.

“What? You’re a machine?” inquired Maxine, sounding mystified by the notion.

“You’re hearing my voice from an android body that was a joint project between mother, Jarod, and me. The upgraded versions will be deployed in the near future. When we arrive, you should thank Jarod for his part in your machines.” teased Mila.

“I suspected he was the one after I saw some of his car designs. He’s very gifted.” replied Maxine.

“He also designed the physical part of Calamity’s enhancement suit. The master handled the magical end.” explained Mila.

Smiling, Maxine said, “Camila would love to learn from you, James. She was quite confused by how Portentia seemed to ignore her spells.”

“I’ve seen Camila’s attempt at spells. She lacks the capacity to even understand James’ enchantment, much less cast it.” argued Alma.

“Disappointing, but understandable. The little escape trick James pulled on me was extraordinary by itself.” she insisted.

I didn’t bother telling her how simple that was. As well-meaning as I felt Maxine was, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of her staying in my home. I was half-tempted to see if Aaliyah would take her off planet, but I worried what mischief she’d cause unobserved. Using sign language, I informed Mila that I wanted Maxine’s quarters to be as far removed as possible from the others. Whether or not she’d be confined to them would depend on how well Maxine behaved. Mila would need to be physically with her at all times, just in case.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 320

“Are you sure about this? You really don’t have to go.” I assured Portentia.

She took her bag from my hand, laughing as she said, “I’ve been hired, James. I accepted the job, and I’m going. Don’t worry so much! This won’t take long.”

I held back a sigh. Alma had hired Portentia to chase after Maxine and dismantle her criminal network. I didn’t doubt Portentia would’ve gone for free, but Alma was probably paying her a hefty sum. Personally, I was against it. Yes, Maxine was problematic. I didn’t agree with her outlook or her methods, but I did feel her intentions were decent. If good intentions was no longer enough to let someone live peacefully, then I should be at war with my own fiancée. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

As misguided as Maxine’s attempt to save me from the Slayers was, she did have a point about their behavior. The family was influential and powerful in a very lethal way. Their infighting was disruptive to the global economy as holdings could shift based on fighting prowess rather than business merit.

Alma took my hand and said, “Don’t worry, my love. I’m confident Portentia will be finished in time for our wedding.”

I nodded. She was passively watching as Portentia stepped into the limo. A short ride, a relatively quick flight in Alma’s private jet, and Portentia would be causing trouble for Maxine. I hoped the criminals around here didn’t get word of the city’s superhero being away.

“If they do, you can be a good sidekick and tell them to behave.” commented Aaliyah as she stepped out from behind Alma.

“If who does what?” inquired Alma, looking down at her.

“Aaliyah’s suggesting that I do a bit of crime fighting on Portentia’s behalf while she’s gone.” I explained.

She rolled her eyes as she gazed up at me, but she was smiling. “You worry too much. With Jarod’s suit and her weapon, Portentia is more than a match for Maxine. She’ll finish promptly and return.” she insisted.

“Don’t forget my daughter’s help!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Mila will surely be invaluable.” agreed Alma.

“You’ll have to get used to this, boss-man, sir. Employees will need to fly away at times if you’re going to expand, and you simply must expand.” stated Aaliyah.

“Why?” I asked. “Aren’t I doing well enough?”

She grinned at me and said, “I’ve already made some arrangements on your behalf. I can cancel them if you want, but Best Friend For Hire isn’t really about you, is it? I thought you wanted a job where you could make a difference in the lives of others.”

I nodded. “Yes, I do want to make a difference.” I agreed.

“James, I understand that you trust her, but shouldn’t you look into these arrangements of hers before deciding?” inquired Alma.

I shrugged and said, “If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. If she doesn’t, I wouldn’t be able to understand the paperwork even with Mila’s aid. I’ve told you before that she’s the one with actual power.”

“You’re still the boss, boss-man, sir.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll start the arrangements!”

Looking to Alma, I said, “There’s another side of my argument. She already knows what I want, so the arrangements are made to get me there. I don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom to question her judgement on what is best.”

“I do hope you know marriage will change us. I don’t plan to be separated more often than not as is normal for my family, so we’ll both have to grow accustomed to proper discussion over big decisions.” she replied, staring into my eyes.

“Planning on us merging businesses as well?” I asked.

“Well, no.” she replied.

“Then you really don’t need to worry over how mine is run. I’m confident things will continue to go well.” I told her.

Aaliyah giggled as she said, “You have no idea how well.”

Alma’s gaze shifted to her, and I wondered what was going through her mind. She had seen a glimpse of what Aaliyah could do. I wondered if Aaliyah would ever let her see more. I rubbed my aching head, pushing the thought of what I had seen back again. There was just too much of Aaliyah for my poor, little mind.

Hearing the door open, I turned to find Mila standing there in one of her maid outfits. There were subtle differences between them.

“Master, your appointment is nearly here. Do you intend to greet her personally?” she asked.

I shrugged and said, “Might as well.”

She gave a small nod, curtsied, and went back inside.

“What appointment?” inquired Alma.

“Another applicant. A fair number are getting through Aaliyah and Mila’s combined scrutiny lately.” I explained.

“How do you feel Dejon is doing?” she questioned.

I shrugged and told her “Cosette was happy with his performance the other day, and Mila has told me that he is studying with almost as much fervor as Jemal. I think he’ll work out.”

She nodded.

“You were hoping he’d fail, so you could poach him.” I inferred.

Her lip twitched just before she said, “Maybe. You must admit that his magic is useful.”

“No, darling. I refuse to ever admit such a thing.” I half-teased. I still didn’t like the idea of him using his gift very often.

“You two are soooo mushy that you might as well get married.” stated Aaliyah with a sigh.

“Ha. You’re not going to take credit for this too?” replied Alma wryly.

“I can if you want!” exclaimed the tiny girl. “You know I’ve given James advice about you, right? I mean, I have been helping you both out.”

Sighing, Alma looked down at her and said, “I do at times realize why James doesn’t bother questioning you more thoroughly. I don’t actually want to know to what you are referring.”

Grinning back, Aaliyah told her “You have a number of ideas in your head, so you know well enough without me.”

“Behave, you two. My potential new hire has arrived.” I playfully chided as I watched the distant gate open.

“She left. Have you ever tried working through the significance of her actions? Everything she says and does has a purpose.” insisted Alma.

“I know. I’ve considered some of her actions from time-to-time, but I don’t believe…” I started.

Interrupting me, Alma said, “Another girl? Should I start worrying about your fondness for beautiful women?”

I leaned down, kissed her head, and assured her “You know better.”

“James, not in front of the new hire.” she rebuked.

“Yes, dear.” I told her as dryly as I could manage.

Smiling up at me, she lightly punched my arm before saying, “I’ll leave you to it then.”

Her hand left mine, and I found myself instantly missing her. Since our engagement became official, we spent far more time together than we had before, despite my lessons in magic from her coming to an end. My intense studies of magic through the virtual grimoire had boosted my skill enough that Alma no longer seemed inclined to attempt showing me anything new there, though we did spar almost nightly still. Despite our closeness, I still felt we had too little time to ourselves. Our honeymoon after the wedding would lend us some quality alone time, but I was already certain our honeymoon would feel too short.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 319

”Maxine, why are you doing this?” I asked, deciding on being straightforward.

There was no answer for several seconds. Then mechanical-sounding voice said, “I am Marvelous Max, and I’m here to rescue you. Who is this… Maxine?”

“Rescue me? From what?” I asked.

“You have been deceived James Michael Somerset III. Your fiancée isn’t what she seems. She isn’t even human.” she replied.

“She might incinerate you for making accusations like that.” I replied wryly. “I know who Alma is, probably better than you do.”

“I see.” she stated.

I waited for her to say more for a time before asking “Is that all you had against her? If so, please place this thing somewhere near the city.”

“Are you aware of the types of business dealing your fiancée has?” she inquired.

“She’s cutthroat to say the least. Did you know she tried buying out my own father’s business?’ I questioned.

“No, but I was aware of your acquisition. Your fiancée is a very dangerous woman who associates with other dangerous people. You’re not safe around her.” she warned.

“Then if I prove capable of defending myself, you’ll stop with this absurd heroic pretense and leave?” I inquired.

The voice morpher stopped when she asked “James, are you really so determined to be rid of me?”

“Maxine, I believe you mean well, but I’m going to marry Alma. Nothing’s going to prevent me from marrying her.” I insisted. “On another note, you really should consider changing your methods. Calamity is very against your methods, seeing you as her nemesis. Kidnapping me isn’t going to sit well with her.”

“My methods? I only ever do what is necessary, James. What I’m doing will save the world in the long run. What does she do? Stop petty crimes?” demanded Maxine.

“She’s bagged drug lords too.” I told her.

“Drugs will always be supplied. She’s stopped nothing. James, I’m trying to save the entire world. Alma’s family and their associates are the ones really behind the terrible things in this world. They manipulate governments, control the businesses, and strip every last freedom from anyone who’s not one of them.” she insisted.

“You’re also helping them in various nefarious activities from what I’ve heard. Mila has quite an extensive file on you.” I replied, pressing a finger into the side of the cylinder in which she held me. I probably should hop out soon.

“They can’t be beaten from the outside. I needed to get into their network to stop them. I’m getting closer to stopping them. You’ll see.” she told me.

“No, I won’t. Maxine, you can’t win. Do you really think Alma would take issue with destroying your suit while you’re in it if she heard what you told me? She probably would, honestly. She’s actually one of the nice ones. You’ll just get yourself killed if the others tire of you.” I explained.

She confidently told me “They can’t kill me, and I can protect you.”

I was surprised that she actually believed what she said. What sort of ability did Maxine possess? Could she be like Portentia?

Intrigued, I asked “Why do you say you can’t be killed?”

“The same way that Calamity can’t. I was very surprised by her. How is it that you know her?” she inquired.

“We’ve spoken numerous times. She did save me from you, remember?” I teased.

“You weren’t in any danger from me, and she hardly knew how to fight at the time. I could have captured her easily.” she stated defensively. Then she sarcastically said, “I doubt she checks on everyone she ‘saves’.”

“She saved some of my family from some of Alma’s, so I’ve been grateful to her.” I admitted. Checking my phone, I said, “Well, thank you for the chat, but I see we’re outside of the city now. I’ll be leaving now.”

Foam seeped out of the walls of the capsule, hardening around me.

“I built this unit to capture Calamity, James. I didn’t want to immobilize you, but I can’t have you hurting yourself by attempting to escape.” she informed me.

I laughed and said, “Thank you for the consideration, Maxine. Goodbye.”

I used a spell to blow open the bottom of the capsule and another to cut the foam free. There was a small grove of trees beneath me, and I wasn’t seeing anyone on the ground near the grove to startle with my landing.

The sound of Maxine’s engines changed, so I glanced up and found her diving toward me. I rolled my eyes as I created a series of spells to speed me toward the ground while giving her turbulence. I had some inner debate over how to land. My body would certainly handle the impact at this speed, but I didn’t want to disturb the forest too much. Using air again was simple enough and wouldn’t be destructive.

Unfortunately, slowing my descent gently gave Maxine more time to catch up. As she reached for me, I grabbed the mechanical arm, maneuvered my legs to kick off the machine’s chest, and tore the arm in half as I kept my grip.

I tossed the glove to the side as I landed but felt bad about Maxine’s crash. I didn’t really want to hurt her, even if she healed like Portentia. There was a flash of light by her, and I briefly worried about an explosion. None came. With a small jump, I landed by her. “Sorry.” I told her. “I imagine you can still fly, since this isn’t the first time your machine lost a hand.”

“This is a new model, so the take off won’t be as shaky. What are you?” she inquired.

“I’m just a guy trying to help people through my business.” I replied.

“‘Just a guy’ wouldn’t be able to rip apart my machine with his bare hands. Are you like Alma? Part of that family?” she asked, pushing herself off the ground.

“No, not even distantly. You’d find me remarkably human if you checked my DNA.” I assured her. “I trust you’ll take my word that I’m in no danger now.”

“No, I won’t. That family is only part of the problem, James. I’ve heard rumors of beings that are even stronger.” she warned me.

“The eldest vampires? They’re attending my wedding. Or do you mean Death? She’s a friend as well.” I replied, wishing I could see Maxine’s face through her battered machine.

“You’re messing with me. Why? Can’t you see that I care about you?” she pleaded. “I could be so much more helpful to you than Lady Pendreigh.”

“No, you really couldn’t. I’m in love with her, Maxine. I’m going to marry her. You can’t stop this and really shouldn’t try. If you make a scene at my wedding, you’ll make far too many enemies. The eldest of the vampires really will be there. I imagine Adelmar will be attending as well. Though she might not be seen, I’m confident that Death will be watching. I know that you and Calamity feel invincible with your healing, but don’t push Death. She earned her name. If you don’t believe me, ask your contacts in Alma’s family. They’ll certainly tell you to stay away.” I warned her. I braced myself as Maxine suddenly launched into the air.

“James! Grab her!” called Portentia as she ran up behind me.

“Hi, Calamity. Is your day going well?” I asked after turning to face her.

She stopped by me, staring up at Maxine’s diminishing form. “Why didn’t you catch her?” she demanded. “She kidnapped you!”

“I did let her.” I admitted. Than I said, “You two might be related. She apparently heals like you do.”

“What!?” exclaimed Portentia, grabbing my arms as she stared up at me.

“She admitted it to me as she was explaining that she could protect me from Alma.” I explained.

Portentia laughed and said, “What a doofus! I couldn’t protect anyone from Alma, and I’m a superhero. Does she really think her fancy suits could do something to Alma?”

“Probably not, but she is creative. I’ll tell you about what she built to capture you when we get back to the house.” I replied. “Want a lift?”

She shrugged, so I scooped her up before sprinting home. I hoped Maxine would take my advice about not coming after me again, but I felt she had already gone too far. Portentia certainly wouldn’t let this go, and Alma had probably been informed already. If either of them decided to go after Maxine, Mila certainly would join them as well. Poor Maxine didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 303

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Late night?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“That smells amazing.” she stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yay! The fairy!” exclaimed Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you!” she replied

“It’s your birthday?” asked Deyanira.

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

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

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

“Don’t you dare.” stated Alma.

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

“Kayla! Kisses!” exclaimed Emma.

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

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

“You’re welcome!” replied Kayla.

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

Alma rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

Swearing and pointing, Deyanira stood and stepped back.

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

“Vampires are real!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” exclaimed Emma.

At the same time, Jemal exclaimed “No!”

“But Jemal…” complained Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He dodged, looking confused.

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Portentia hiding?” questioned Emma.

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

Emma grinned and asked “Which door?”

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

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

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

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

Portentia nodded and said, “I see.”

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 300

“You’re that girl!” exclaimed Deyanira just after she entered the room. She had slept in one of the guest rooms shortly after getting clean clothes.

“Good evening! Welcome to our home.” replied Portentia without looking away from the game. She had been playing ever since this morning’s training, which Brandon had slept through.

“Were you able to sleep well?” I asked, standing to face her.

“Huh..? Yes. Thank you.” replied Deyanira. “Is Brandon around? Your A.I., Mila… she said to come in here.”

“Brandon should be back soon. He had a quick job at eleven.” I explained.

“Wow. He must not have slept much.” she stated.

“James! I’m all finished!” exclaimed Kayla, running into the room before I could respond.

“Mila, how did she do?” I asked.

“Perfectly satisfactory.” she replied.

“Good job, Kayla.” I told her, holding my hand out.

She gave me a high five and said, “My old school didn’t have nearly as many tests. I feel like I’ve taken a bijillion and I just got here!”

“Seems that you’re handling the new routine wonderfully.” I told her. “Besides, we needed to know how much you knew before we could teach you, right?”

“I guess so. Can I play now?” she asked.

“Were you supposed to do anything for Jemal today?” I inquired.

“Yep. All done.” she lied.

“You still haven’t picked up your room.” stated Mila.

“Tattletale!” exclaimed Kayla before sticking her tongue out at a wall.

“You probably should do that first.” I told her.

“But Jemal’s studying, and I don’t want to bother him.” she replied.

At very least, she felt she was being honest, so I said, “Okay, but don’t blame me if he yells at you later.”

“I won’t!” she replied before running to take a seat and start playing.

“I am so confused right now. Are you her teacher or something?” asked Deyanira.

“No. In a sense, Mila is, but the courses are really about being self-taught.” I explained.

Shaking her head, Deyanira said, “You can’t be self-taught at her age. Doesn’t she go to a real school?”

“The Institute of Autodidacticism is quite well renowned, I assure you.” I informed her.

“The what?” she asked.

“Mila, how is the institute ranked worldwide?” I asked.

“The very best, of course. You know Adelmar wouldn’t tolerate his family utilizing something second-rate, though I doubt he’s fully aware of how greatly improved our versions are.” she replied.

“There you have it. Kayla’s receiving the very best possible education through college.” I stated.

“Through college? Shouldn’t she play with kids her own age?” asked Deyanira.

“Jemal’s going to let me visit my friends this weekend!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Ah… I see. So does Brandon attend the institute thing?” inquired Deyanira.

“Courses are available to everyone, and I expect my friends to learn a certain amount just to expand the types of work they can do.” I explained.

“This place is so weird.” she stated.

“I like to think it’s fun enough for everyone. At very least, I haven’t had complaints yet.” I told her.

“Because it’s awesome!” exclaimed Kayla.

Deyanira watched as Kayla played Ancient Tribes of Earth for a bit, and then she stepped over to where Portentia was playing and watched her. I got back to my game while casually observing what she was doing. Everyone knew to behave while we had company, but I couldn’t be certain Deyanira was as human as she appeared.

“So… what’s your relationship with Brandon?” asked Deyanira. “What? Why’s what I’m saying being posted on the game?”

“I’m deaf.” stated Portentia. “Mila transcribes what’s said around me, so I don’t miss if someone’s talking to me. It’s not really going into the game, I think.”

“Oh. Sorry. I was just surprised.” she replied.

“As for Brandon, he wanted a wingman, so I went along.” explained Portentia.

“You’re not supposed to abandon your friend as a wingman.” argued Deyanira.

Portentia then said, “I had… work.”

“You people take jobs that late?” asked Deyanira.

“Some of us do. You could say I’m a Nite Owl.” replied Portentia with a smirk.

I doubted that Deyanira would catch the Watchmen reference, but I had to roll my eyes at the joke.

“So.. about Brandon…” started Deyanira.

“Nope. Not interested. I think I intimidate him a bit.” stated Portentia.

“Huh?” she asked.

“I can beat him up.” explained Portentia with a shrug.

“No way. He’s pretty big… and strong.” argued Deyanira.

I chimed in, saying, “Everyone here learns martial arts. Portentia’s very advanced.”

“Is that self-taught too?” asked Deyanira, sounding dubious.

“No. I teach them.” I replied.

“I… see.” she muttered.

Smiling, I turned and told her “I’m sure Brandon demonstrated that he knew how to handle himself when the brawl broke out. I was surprised he got injured.”

“That… was sorta my fault.” she admitted.

“Oh?” I asked.

“I sorta hit him with my drink after he got pushed into me.” she explained sheepishly.

“And then you went home with him?” I asked incredulously.

“I felt guilty!” she exclaimed. “All he did was smile and apologize after I hit him. Then he helped get some people out of there while acting as a wall. It was kinda cool.”

“I think you liiiiike him.” teased Kayla, now looking over her seat.

“Maybe. Did you call dibs or something?” asked Deyanira.

“Eww… no. That’s gross.” replied Kayla before ducking back behind the seat.

“Gross? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” asked Deyanira.

“No. It’s Brandon.” stated Kayla.

I laughed and said, “I might have to tell the others to watch what they say around you.”

“Aww… but James…” pouted Kayla.

“Fine, I’ll just blame Emma.” I teased.

“Emma’s… the one with the multi-colored hair?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. She’s out doing some carpentry today.” I replied.

“Carpentry? She doesn’t look like a carpenter.” she stated.

“No, but she’s the best, better than me in fact. I do believe I mentioned that we fulfill a variety of needs here.” I told her.

She nodded and said, “Yes, but… I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing something. Before I just thought I was tired, but…”

“Baby, I’m back!” exclaimed Brandon as he stepped into the house.

“Baby!?” exclaimed Deyanira. “Are you married!?”

“She’s still here!?” he exclaimed, sounding panicked.

I could see why. He had shifted his size a bit for today’s job. He shrank back down enough before she rounded the corner that I doubted she’d notice.

“Are you married or something?” asked Deyanira.

“What!? No.” he assured her.

“Then who are you calling ‘baby’?” she demanded.

“Umm… you?” he asked.

“He actually just does that sort of stuff frequently.” I called.

“You can’t just say things like that!” exclaimed Deyanira, hitting him in the arm.

“Why not? I’m glad to be home. I was working, you know.” he stated.

“So? You didn’t leave a note for me or anything. What would you have done if I just left?” she demanded.

“Called?” he asked.

“You don’t have my number.” she stated.

Mila quickly informed her “Actually, we do. I performed a full background check on you when you entered the premises.”

“What!? I didn’t agree to that.” she stated.

“No, but as a law student, you are probably well aware that you don’t need to agree to anything for someone to perform a background check. Given that you may seek to enter into some sort of relationship with Brandon, I felt looking into you was in the best interest of the company as well as Brandon. We wouldn’t want him bringing home a dubious person, would we?” explained Mila.

Deyanira didn’t seem to know how to take what was being said.

“Uh… sorry about that.” stated Brandon.

She hit him without looking at him, but now was looking thoughtful.

“Get anything good?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. Apollo is quite adorable. Your mother uploads videos of him frequently.” replied Mila.

“She does love that dog.” agreed Deyanira, still looking thoughtful.

“How well do you know the law?” asked Deyanira.

Mila sounded amused as she said, “Enough to know that your current textbooks have a number of errors. I sent out erratas to your professors and the publishers to review as a courtesy.”

“Quiz me for my next test, and I’ll forgive you.” offered Deyanira.

“Agreed, though I really don’t believe you’re as offended as you’re acting.” replied Mila.

Deyanira laughed and said, “A good lawyer has to be able to act. Looks like I need some work.”

“So does this mean you want to come back here?” asked Brandon.

“No. I’m assuming a fancy A.I. can quiz me from anywhere. She has my number. I still might though if you buy me breakfast.” she told him.

“I’m hungry too, but… umm.. mind eating here?” he asked.

“You cook?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“A little, but Marco’s the man. You’ve gotta try his cooking before you go.” insisted Brandon, as he guided her towards the kitchen.

If things actually did evolve between those two, Deyanira would need to find out about magic. After a bit of consideration, I decided to talk with Alma about how she deals with such things. She might be able to provide some pointers before I had a group discussion. Things were always evolving, but I wanted to guide this evolution in my home if I could manage.