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.

Advertisements

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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 298

“Cosette, behave.” I chided as I watched her fangs stretching to ridiculously large proportions.

“But James…” she pouted.

Jemal looked freaked out. Cosette started talking about how hungry she was when she came home from her morning job, elaborating on how difficult finding a truly dark area in her client’s house was.

I was quite well aware that she was fine now, having absorbed some of Portentia’s blood through her hand as she made a great show of preparing to bite her.

She sighed and said, “I’m telling Aaliyah.” Then she turned to where Aaliyah was sitting and complained “Aaliyah, the boss won’t let me pick on our new arrivals.”

Turning from her game briefly, Aaliyah looked up with wide eyes and said, “Really!? Do you wish to file a report!?”

Cosette seemed to be considering this for a moment and then said, “Roughly how long would the report take?”

“Only a couple hours. I like to be thorough.” replied Aaliyah.

“I’ll pass.” stated Cosette.

Aaliyah pouted, saying, “Why doesn’t anyone like my reports? Paperwork is important!”

“Jemal, I should mention that there is a box for memos on the company site as well as the phone app. I don’t know if anyone other than Aaliyah actually checks those, but they do exist.” I explained.

“James! Do people really not read my memos!?” asked Aaliyah.

“If they did, they’d never manage to fit in work, relaxation, and training. Sorry, but I don’t know where they can sacrifice as I find all three equally important.” I admitted.

“We could have a meeting to discuss it!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Man-slave, I’m busy that day. Would you mind doing the schedule personally for it?” asked Emma.

“Emma, did you forget to inform me of something? I seem to be missing a floating block of time for you.” stated Mila. “Furthermore, I’m personally capable of fibbing for you, so there’s no need to bother the master over scheduling.”

“Thanks, Mila! You’re the best!” exclaimed Emma.

“Mila!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Yes, mother?” she asked.

“You’d really help her skip a meeting?” complained Aaliyah, pouting as she looked over to where one of Mila’s bodies stood.

“Of course, mother, especially when the meeting’s regarding memos.” replied Mila, causing Aaliyah to look at her in shock.

“Memos are important!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“I am well aware, mother, which is why I read each and every one before disseminating the information for everyone in a more effective manner.” explained Mila.

“James, I may have raised my daughter poorly… she’s so rebellious!” insisted Aaliyah.

“Master, mother’s pretending not to notice that I’m operating well within the acceptable behavioral parameters she set for me.” stated Mila.

Aaliyah stuck her tongue out at Mila.

“Mother, are you sure you haven’t missed your nap time?” teased Mila.

Throughout the exchange, Jemal stared back and forth between the two with his eyes growing wider and wider. His character on Ancient Tribes of Earth was in a city, so I wasn’t too worried about him being attacked. Kayla was hopefully doing schoolwork in her room. At very least, Mila hadn’t informed us of any problems yet.

“Think you’ll be able to get accustomed to this life?” I asked as Aaliyah and Mila continued to banter..

Jemal didn’t seem to realized I was speaking to him at first, but then quickly said, “Of course! Glad to be here, sir. But does this really qualify as work?”

“Jobs vary greatly from client-to-client, so we must maintain our skills in as many areas as possible.” I informed him. “Besides, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth together not only helps maintain company morale but encourages us to work together in a broader variety of areas, though I will say you’re missing out by not being in my guild.”

“Sorry. I really can see about switching.” insisted Jemal.

“You really don’t have to switch. I just want you to be aware that we’ll gladly take you if you feel like switching at some point. We’ll also take anyone for whom you vouch.” I explained.

He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

“Honey, I’m home!” called Brandon as he stepped into the room.

“Man-slave, I think Brandon’s really cracked this time.” stated Emma. “He seems to believe that he’s finally gotten a girlfriend.”

“Hey now! I could easily get a girlfriend.” argued Brandon.

“Sorry, but I doubt you can stay quiet long enough for someone to miss your personality.” teased Brenna.

“Sis! Come on. Show me a little love here.” he complained.

“What? I was being nice about it.” she retorted.

“Ouch. So burned.” claimed Emma.

“Boss, a little help.” stated Brandon.

“Mila, mind signing Brandon up to some dating sites and making him sound good in the profile?” I asked.

“Sorry, master, but I doubt he’d live up to anything I put down if I were to make him sound good.” teased Mila.

“Mila! You too?” complained Brandon.

“I’m only teasing, Brandon. I’ll gladly help you get a girlfriend if that is your wish.” she assured him.

“Oh, nah. I can get my own girlfriend. I had just been hoping you might’ve taken up my side.” he told her.

“You had a side?” asked Cosette. “Sorry, but I thought everyone was merely shattering your delusions of grandeur to save you from such a great fall when you realized all hope for you was a lie.”

“Oh! You too now! That’s it. I’m really going to get a girlfriend. Just you wait!” exclaimed Brandon.

“Though I can hold my breath forever, I still won’t bother.” teased Cosette.

“Portentia, want to be my hero? I could use a wingman tonight.” stated Brandon.

“Sorry. What’s happening?” she asked, turning to look at him.

“I need a wingman. Want to go somewhere tonight and help me find a girlfriend?” he asked.

“Huh? Why me?” she inquired.

“You haven’t been picking on me, and Jemal might be competition.” he replied.

“I didn’t technically pick on you either.” I told him.

“Yeah-yeah, but I wouldn’t stand a chance with you around.” he insisted.

I shrugged. I wasn’t really interested in going out somewhere to meet girls. Alma surely wouldn’t approve.

“I suppose I could, but I might have to take off at a moment’s notice if a problem arises.” she warned him.

“Yeah-yeah. I get that, but it’ll be fun!” he exclaimed.

I was tempted to give Brandon further warning against taking Portentia along, but he should be well aware of how her presence influences things by now.

“I’ll also break your arm if you try anything.” she stated. “Don’t be a villain.”

“Deal!” he exclaimed.

“Remember that you’re contractually obligated not to impair your value as a best friend with criminal records if things escalate while you’re out.” stated Aaliyah without even turning from her screen.

“Whoa. What’s she mean?” asked Jemal.

“Oh. Umm… I think there’s a clause stating that I have the right to terminate you if you do something unbecoming for a best friend in public, but don’t worry too much about it. Image can greatly affect who is willing to hire you, but I don’t foresee anyone here doing something too outlandish.” I explained.

“Actually, he has the right to terminate anyone at whim!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I quickly assured Jemal “No one’s been terminated.”

“Would you mind hiring a few people to terminate, man-slave?” suggested Emma. “I kinda want to start calling you ‘the terminator’ now.”

“Oh. Mother, would you consider that as a possible costume for me next Halloween?” asked Mila. “I feel I’d have significant aptitude for it.”

“Umm… should I worry about an A.I. wanting to become a terminator?” asked Jemal.

“Worry? You kidding? That’d be sweet!” exclaimed Brandon.

“How’s Skynet coming along, Aaliyah?” I asked.

“Mila’s almost there.” she replied with a wink.

I laughed at Jemal’s disturbed expression. He obviously wasn’t accustomed to us yet, but I was certain he’d learn in time that this was home.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 296

“James! Who’s that!?” exclaimed Emma as she excitedly grabbed my arm and pointed at Aurora.

I sighed while wondering what would be the best way to protect Aurora from Emma. Then I said, “Everyone can be introduced shortly. First off, step up beside one of the devices on the ground.”

I had spent a large part of the past week enchanting the flying contraptions Aurora had tweaked for me, but she was rather determined to demonstrate them. At least, that seemed to be her plan with how she was showing the device to everyone and pointing to parts.

“Is Jarod already having an affair?” teased Brandon.

I didn’t bother dignifying the question with a response and certainly wasn’t going to stop Brenna from hitting him.

“Ow!” he exclaimed. “I was only joking, sis. Chill out! Boss, my sister’s using her suit to abuse an employee.”

“Oh?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything. Mila, do you have any record of abuse?”

“No, master. I surely would have filed such a thing immediately.” she replied.

“Come on… You both saw her hit me!” exclaimed Brandon.

“Just pay attention.” snapped Alma. “Aurora’s already starting her demonstration.”

“Are we supposed to do what she does?” asked Jemal.

He and his sister just moved in yesterday. I already had enhancement suits prepared for them, though Aaliyah had to convince me that his sister needed one already. The thought of an unnaturally strong ten-year-old running about the house didn’t seem safe, but Aaliyah pointed out that she’ll be safer in a suit than out of one if she falls victim to someone else’s horseplay.

“Yes. Please, follow along.” I told him.

“Jemal! Jemal!” whispered Kayla excitedly. “There’s a fairy!”

“Pay attention. You know better by…” he started to say, but his words cut off as he caught sight of my little friend. “J-James… There’s a… There’s really a…”

“Yes. Don’t mind her. Just try to pay attention.” I told him. “Oh. You may start to feel like you’re daydreaming due to images and sensations coming to mind. That’s just how she communicates.”

He nodded, but Kayla was quite obviously too distracted to watch Aurora’s instructions, not that the instructions were exceptionally helpful without narration. Alma seemed to agree with me on that point, suddenly giving voice to how the latch mechanism grabbed ahold of shoes. Well, she also pointed out the potential for scuff marks and mentioned how to disable the mechanism if one were to try using the device with bare feet.

Oh. I had missed that Emma’s shoes were missing. I wasn’t particularly surprised, not even when plant matter rushed around them to form a sort of shoe with a wooden sole. Typical Emma. She even added a tree-shaped emblem on the side.

Unabashed by the mixed attention she was receiving, Aurora took hold of the control and lifted into the air. She then stared at the rest of us, possibly wondering why we weren’t flying yet.

I carefully used the controls to rise into the air as Alma finished her explanation of the control parts. Portentia and Emma were quick to do the same.

“Jemal! They’re flying!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yep. Let’s see if we can too.” he told her, looking determined.

Before he even lifted off the ground, Aurora was demonstrating the mobility of the craft, flying circles in the air.

“Yo, boss. Mine seems broken.” stated Brandon.

“Did you hit the ‘on’ switch?” I asked.

“Huh? Where’s that?” he replied.

“Twist the bottom of the remote, doofus.” stated Brenna.

“It’s working!” he exclaimed.

“Hey, James. How fast can this thing go?” asked Portentia. “I could probably make use of this for my…” She glanced at Jemal and Kayla before saying, “For my nightly activities.”

“I should mention that flying outside of my yard is probably illegal for the time being, but Mila informed me that her mother is already negotiating a law to be passed in the city to allow use of these devices for testing purposes. We could save a great deal of time getting to our jobs if we bypass traffic, and I’m sure any of you who are interested will be able to master the use of these devices.” I explained. “Besides, they seem like fun.”

“Kayla look! I’m flying!” exclaimed Jemal.

“Can’t catch me!” she replied, shooting into the air.

I was surprised by how easily she took to it, slowing and spinning around thirty feet off the ground.

“Careful! It’s not…” started Jemal as he tried to pursue her, but he lost his balance, veering even farther in the opposite direction when the machine tried to adjust for his positioning.

I didn’t bother moving, seeing Aurora already diving toward him. Besides, Raine was watching with one sleepy eye open as she napped in her cat form. I was certain that she could catch him if he was an inch above the ground before she moved. Furthermore, he was only around ten feet in the air when he lost balance. A drop like that was insignificant while wearing the enhancement suit.

I hadn’t expected him to catch himself with magic before he spun all the way over. Aurora still pushed him upright and started demonstrating movement again when he was watching.

“Did you see that?” asked Alma, flying over to me.

My little friend seemed interested in what was happening as well, darting over to investigate.

“Yes. I told you about their abilities.” I replied.

“His expression though. I don’t think he realized he could do that.” she told me.

“I’m not surprised. He seemed dubious about magic existing when I interviewed him.” I explained.

Kayla dove down by her brother, nearly falling herself, and started teasing him.

“Would you be offended if I did a bit of matchmaking?” asked Alma.

“I’m afraid so. You want him to marry into your family.” I stated, guessing at her intentions.

“His magic’s strong enough to lift his own weight. Imagine how such magic could be utilized with the strength of my family behind it.” she suggested.

“At least allow him to get acclimated here before you start meddling.” I told her.

“He might not be interested in leaving then.” she claimed.

I smiled and said, “I can hope.”

“James, my family really isn’t as bad as you seem to believe. We do protect this world.” she insisted.

I was well aware that she believed what she said, but I believed in the eldest three vampires more than Adelmar Slayer by the end of one night with them. I had no intention of idly letting the Slayers do as they wished, at least not in regard to my friends, and I was certain Jemal could be my friend.

Our discussion was interrupted by Portentia rushing over to me and signing

I replied.

She grinned, obviously hopeful. Then she said, She flew over to the side, jumped to the ground, and maneuvered the flying machine higher into the air as she ran beneath it. Then she leaped into the air, flipped backward, and landed on it again before spinning around with a grin.

“Jemal! Did you see that girl jump!?” exclaimed Kayla.

“Yeah. Don’t try that.” he replied.

“But Jemal… how did she run so fast?” she asked.

“No idea.” he admitted.

“I did warn you that everyone here had abilities.” I told him, speaking loudly enough that he might hear.

Jemal barked a laugh and said, “Yeah, you did.” His mouth went slack as giant plants grew from the yard.

“Obstacle course, everyone! Let’s really test these things!” exclaimed Emma as she rode one into the air and hopped back on her flying apparatus.

I really needed to get Jarod to name these things, but I approved of Emma’s initiative. This could be fun.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 294

“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.

I looked around, finding that we were back in my yard with time still frozen.  Raine was in mid-leap toward Alma.

“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.

I had topped off on energy before coming back, so I quickly positioned myself  near them.

“3… 2… 1…” she stated.

When time lurched forward, I was suddenly back to the position I had been in prior to her freezing time.  Aaliyah was gone.  I focused on my speed, rushing to Alma.  I still wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Raine, but I saw her look over at me in surprise before darting back in mid-air.  She could fly!?  Alma was so slow, attempting to react to my approach, so I scooped her up despite feeling her magic preparing an attack.

By the time she fully turned her head to me, we were in my forest, and I was absorbing more energy while slowing my pace.

“James!?” she asked so slowly.

I could guess that she was talking at a normal human pace, but my timing felt off now.  I slowed down more as I left the forest, taking a long route around my yard.

“How?  You’re not even wearing a suit!” exclaimed Alma.

“Turns out I don’t need one.” I replied.

“That is completely unfair.” she stated, though she was smiling at me.

“No more unfair than creating a wonderful enchantment only to find that I cannot benefit from it.” I argued.

“Touché.” she agreed, still smiling.  “How magnificent you are, my love.” she told me as she brushed her fingertips along my hair.

I still wasn’t accustomed to her blatantly showing such affection and found myself kissing her as I stopped.

“Go, manslave!  Can I go next!?” exclaimed Emma.

“Eeeeee!” shouted Raine, suddenly falling to the ground.

Alma pulled back and whispered, “Not in front of everyone, James.”  Turning toward Emma, she said, “No.  We’re not in that sort of relationship.”

“Aww… but sharing is caring where James is involved.” claimed Emma with a grin.  Then she looked to where Raine had landed and asked “What happened to you?”

“I-I…” she started, only to shrug a half second later and fall to back onto the ground.  She stretched out by some catnip, smiling.

“She was flying.” stated Alma in a somewhat bewildered tone.

What!?  That’s amazing!” exclaimed Emma.

“When am I going to discover some awesome latent talent?” complained Brandon.

“Probably right after I discover mine.” teased Brenna in a pouting voice.

Cosette sighed and said, “Just be glad that any such abilities won’t take a thousand years to develop.  Mine will.”

“Emma, might you regress the catnip for now?” suggested Alma.  “I think Raine’s had enough.”

Emma feigned a pout as the plants retreated into the ground.  Then she said, “I like drugged-out Raine.  She’s so cuddly!”

“I… see.” stated Alma, looking down suddenly.

Raine had turned into a cat and was rubbing against her leg.

“Nooo!  She can’t like you better!” whined Emma.

“Don’t worry.  I’m sure she likes me best.” teased Cosette before oozing out of her suit and becoming a black panther.  “Ugh.  That will take some adjustment.”

“What will?” I asked.  “Other than watching a panther talking.”

“Removing the suit does funny things to my head, save for the laugh of humor in them.” she explained.

“Ah.  I know what you mean.” replied Alma with a nod.  “That is an odd sensation with everything suddenly seeming slower.”

“I’m never taking mine off.  You guys can just clean me with magic if I start to stink.” proclaimed Brandon.

“So forget about making a suit that can expand with you?” I jokingly asked.

“What!?  NO!   That’d be incredible!” he insisted.

“Even with clever engineering, there would have to be considerably more material involved without a reduction of thickness.  I doubt even Jarod can make the suits that much more streamlined, though I’m certain he’ll be able to reduce the bulk some.” suggested Alma.

“Actually, I was going to adjust my enchantment to create a metamorphic suit.” I explained.

“What?  James, magic such as you’d need doesn’t exist.” stated Alma.

“Neither did an enchantment such as I created.” I teased.

“Fair point, but I’ve seen the results of attempting to alter form with magic.  The results aren’t pleasant.” she insisted.

“I beg to differ, but Cosette makes quite a nice panther.” I told her.

Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.

“That is an entirely different case.  I do realize that certain types of creatures can alter their forms, but you’re talking about causing such an effect with residual energy.  We simply don’t know enough about it to manage such a feat.” she argued.

“I realize the Slayers are thought to be experts on magic, but I have access to other, much older experts.” I explained while watching Brandon, Brenna, Emma, and Portentia go back to playing around.

“The vampires…” she whispered.  “We long have wondered how they managed to create Poenari Island, but you surely aren’t suggesting they’d teach you on a whim.”

I listened as she talked about various disagreements the Slayers and vampires had over the years.  I also watched my friends play.  Portentia was far too fast for Brandon, Brenna, and Emma.  Cosette could keep up if she were pried away from Raine, but she didn’t have Portentia’s skill yet.

Holding up my hand to cut Alma off, I said, “Hold on.  I thought you said the Slayers knew about the spell that created the island.”

“We knew of it, not specifically how the spell was performed.  The one I would be able to discuss with you is of an entirely different nature.” she informed me.

“Oh.  Well, Vito already gave me an explanation on turning lead to gold, so I do believe he’ll gladly assist me in other endeavors if I ask.” I told her, avoiding an explanation of the true source I intended to use.

She looked at me in disbelief before saying, “Really?  James, the potential for such spells is virtually limitless!  I urge you to fly there this night if you really think he’ll show you.”

“I don’t really need to fly anywhere to learn.” I stated.

“I… suppose not.  Still, you should learn all you can from them.” she insisted.

“I won’t be able to show you yet.  Sorry, but I made a promise in that regard.” I explained.

Frowning, she said, “I see.”

I took her cheek in hand as I gazed into her eyes and said, “Try not to worry so much.  I assure you things will work out.”

Alma looked dubious, but she really did not understand Aaliyah as well as I did.  She hadn’t seen Aaliyah the way I had.  My mind shied away from the enormity of my tiny secretary.  Even thinking back to how I had perceived her greeting the fey was still overwhelming.  Such an entity could do what she wanted no matter who argued, and I was certain that she was always looking out for us.  Things really would work out.

“Master, might I engage Portentia in a fight more on her level?” asked Mila after approaching us.  She had changed out of her maid outfit and into a spandex one similar to what Emma often wore.

I nodded.

“Surely you can fight in something less revealing.” stated Alma.  “Besides, even you won’t keep up with her in that suit.”

“Lady Pendreigh, everyone here is quite well aware that I am not you, despite how similar we look.  Given such admirable proportions, should I be so reluctant about having them admired?  I think not.” she retorted.  “Furthermore, the master granted me enchantments that might well surpass the suits, so I feel plenty confident in this endeavor.”

I felt a surge of magic in Alma as Mila spoke, but she simply sighed as Mila rushed Portentia, throwing her backward a moment later.  Portentia gracefully caught herself with one hand and flipped backward.  As the two continued to fight, Mila’s greater skill was quite evident.  Her mind vastly outstripped her body’s speed, giving her far more time to respond, and she had full access to every last course on fighting.

Watching the two fight was unique in that pressure points were being completely ignored.  I understood why, given who was fighting, but I was still amused by the difference in style.  Though far more skilled in the use of her staff than unarmed, Portentia still had a fair understanding of how to fight now.

“I’m surprised Portentia hasn’t pulled out her staff yet.  She really has learned restraint and might well study unarmed combat with greater enthusiasm after this.  She’ll become even more of a nightmare to criminals in this city.” stated Alma as we watched.

“I’m a little worried that there isn’t enough energy back here to keep things going at this rate.  Would you mind helping things along?” I asked.

There was an intense surge of magic from Alma, causing her to glow as residual energy covered her.  I hastened the dispersal throughout the air and thanked Alma when she finished.

“Shouldn’t you two practice some as well?” she asked, looking down at Cosette and Raine.  “Even Brandon and Brenna are putting up a fair fight against Emma.”

Brenna had started using magic as well as hand-to-hand fighting, but Emma was quick to respond with her own.

“Fiiiine.” replied Cosette before sauntering back to her suit.

Raine, who had been curled up against Cosette, merely rolled onto her back and stretched before curling up once more.

“Brandon has to feel restrained without being able to change size.” I commented.

“I do look forward to seeing how you’ll fix the problem.” replied Alma.  Then she leaned down and petted Raine while saying, “I do understand that you avoid fighting, but look at them.  They’re having fun.  Even Mila is out playing today.  James and I will gladly be your partners.”

One of Raine’s eyes opened slightly, and I suddenly found myself on the ground next to Alma, staring up at Raine who was back in her human form wearing her typical cute hoodie.

“I-I win.” she stated.

Alma laughed and said, “I will never grow accustomed to that, but let’s try things a bit slower.”

“Just think of this as a game.  You’re limited by rules and attempting to outmaneuver us without moving faster than us.” I suggested.  “Everyone knows you love a good game.”

She nodded as she stepped back.  I stayed in pace with Alma as both of us attacked.  Many of Raine’s blocks shouldn’t have been effective, but she was incredibly strong, often shifting forms and back at the instant of impact.  Luckily, she always blocked with her palm when she shifted, so neither of us took needles through our arms.

I wondered at how fast her mind must race.  There were plenty of times when Raine failed to react quickly enough, given the restrained movement, but the same attack never worked twice.  She adjusted and adapted incredibly quickly.

Alma backed off and said “Though I’m grateful you don’t fly when you fight, I must ask… Were you aware that you can fly?”

“N-no.” stated Raine.

“I’d like to see you practice if you don’t mind.” admitted Alma.

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.

Raine glanced over to where the others were practicing and said, “I… They…  N-no.  P-please, no.”

Seeing Alma look annoyed by the response, I quickly said, “We all have our own issues, but you’re doing well, Raine.  I’m still quite thankful to have you here.”

She smiled at me with such earnest joy that I felt like hugging her, but I resisted, not wanting to risk making Alma jealous.  Life was much easier with peace at home.