Best Friend For Hire, Entry 299

“Master, Brandon is bringing a girl here.” stated Mila.

“What?” I asked, surprised by the announcement. “Please warn everyone who’s awake.”

“Does she really seem interested in him?” asked Cosette with a grin.

“The circumstances are a bit unusual from the conversation they’re having. Apparently, a fight had broken out in the bar he visited just after Portentia left. The girl he is bringing, Deyanira, is soaked in alcohol and is blaming Brandon for it. He has some minor injuries, so he probably didn’t use his abilities in the fight.” explained Mila.

“Is she attractive?” inquired Cosette.

“I believe you will feel she is.” stated Mila.

“Maybe I should wake Emma.” considered Cosette. “She wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Mila nodded and said, “I’ve already taken the liberty. She is hurrying out here. She probably would be nearly here had I not insisted that she put on her robe first.”

I was honestly more surprised that Brandon would be injured even without using his transformative abilities. He was a capable combatant these days. Was he not wearing his enhancement suit? If some of his opponents were more than human, I might want to investigate before Alma found out.

“Wasn’t there a video feed?” I asked.

“No, master. The bar’s security is very poor, and I hadn’t hacked into any cell phones inside. Brandon had left his in the car.” she replied.

“James. Brandon’s bringing a girl home. Aren’t you the least bit excited for him?” asked Cosette as she grinned at me. Then she turned to Mila and inquired “Did you wake Brenna?”

“No. She has a job early this morning and her ability to function might be impaired if she gets up this soon.” stated Mila.

“What about Raine?” asked Cosette.

“Raine’s been deciding whether or not to come in here for the past minute.” I told her, having heard Raine’s pacing quite clearly.

“I’m n-not spying!” insisted Raine after darting over to me.

“I figured. Can’t decide from where you want to spy on Brandon?” I teased.

“M-maybe.” she stated, lowering her head.

Cosette hugged her and said, “With me! We have to gossip with Emma. She’d be terribly disappointed if we did not.”

Raine looked at her for a moment and then hesitantly nodded.

“How soon!?” exclaimed Emma as she ran into the room.

“They’re coming up the drive now.” replied Mila.

“Guys, we have to act natural! Raine, get on Ancient Tribes of Earth. Let’s all try to meet up somewhere before they get inside.” stated Emma.

I rolled my eyes but went ahead with her plan. Wouldn’t hurt to look like everyone was having a late night gaming session instead of just Cosette and me. “We’ll be entering the city from the South.” I informed her.

I glanced up as another monitor lit up only to see Alma hurry into the room.

“You too?” I asked.

“Whatever could you mean?” she replied.

“Felt like a little late night gaming.” I suggested.

“Of course.” she lied.

Before I could say anything more, the front doors opened. The girl who entered in front of Brandon was a bit taller than his sister and had dark brown hair with blonde streak on her left side. Her large brown eyes looked completely unimpressed as they gazed around the room.

“Brandon.” called Alma. “Why are you not wearing a shirt?”

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira.

“Uh… I guess I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.” he replied. When he walked into the room, he said, “I didn’t have a spare and kinda owed Deyanira here one. Deyanira, this is Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.”

Alma, who had stood to meet them, merely nodded.

“Oooh. So smooth. What happened to your shirt?” asked Emma, kneeling on her seat to lean on the back and grin at Deyanira.

“This jerk spilled his beer on me.” she replied.

“Brandon, are you even old enough to drink?” teased Cosette.

“Duh.” he stated.

“Portentia isn’t. How did she get in?” I asked.

“Oh. Well, they didn’t actually check her ID.” he replied.

Alma looked over at me and said, “James, dear, relax. You know how she is.”

As Alma spoke, Deyanira elbowed Brandon in his gut and asked “You snuck someone underage into the bar?”

“Hey, I didn’t know!” he exclaimed.

“And you two live together?” she demanded.

“All of us do. I told you that. Whole company living under one roof.” he replied.

“The employee wing is similar in design to an apartment complex.” I informed her.

“And who are you?” she demanded.

“Umm… he’s my boss.” replied Brandon.

“What?” she asked, glancing at him. Then she walked over to me and stared down at me till I stood to face her. “You’re awfully big.”

“I am somewhat tall.” I admitted.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Nineteen. And you?” I inquired.

“Twenty-two.” she told me before turning to face Brandon and saying, “You work for someone younger than you?”

Brandon shrugged.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” asked Emma. “I’m going to be nineteen soon if you’re interested.”

“Are there no adults here?” demanded Deyanira.

“Depends on how you care to define ‘adult’. I would argue that most of us, Brandon excluded, are more mature than average for our age.” stated Alma.

“Hey!” exclaimed Brandon. “I can be pretty mature.”

“Why, might I ask, did you decide to come here with Brandon?” asked Cosette, standing and walking over to Deyanira.

“He owes me a shirt and wouldn’t leave this one with me. Said he got it at some convention.” she replied.

She wasn’t telling the whole truth, but I wasn’t too surprised. She might actually like him.

“Given the length on you, I wouldn’t qualify that as a shirt to begin with, more of a dress. I’m sure Mila can come up with something that will fit you better if you wish to get cleaned up.” suggested Cosette.

“How many girls does he live with here!?” asked Deyanira.

“How many times do we count Mila?” replied Cosette with a grin.

“Huh?” asked Deyanira.

“I’m an Artificial Intelligence with two fabricated bodies which I use to better fulfill my duties.” explained Mila.

“What? No way.” stated Deyanira.

“No, really. She could pick you up with one arm if you want a demonstration.” suggested Brandon.

Deyanira looked between Brandon and Mila for a moment. Then she looked to Alma and asked “Isn’t she your sister?”

“No. She is what they say.” replied Alma.

“What is this place!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

“I told you. I’m a best friend for hire, which is also the name of this company. James is the owner and boss. Most of us work for him. Lady Pendreigh there is his girlfriend.” explained Brandon.

“And you live here?” asked Deyanira, still sounding doubtful.

“Yes.” stated Brandon, sounding exasperated.

“Why, are you looking for a job?” I asked.

“No! I’m in college, studying law.” she snapped.

“Ah. I hope that’s going well for you.” I told her.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” she demanded.

“No reason.” I stated, feeling the girl was a bit on edge. “Mila really can assist you if you want to get cleaned and changed. We can offer a car to get you home as well.”

“No!” exclaimed Emma. “She should stay here tonight. There are plenty of guest rooms, right? If not, she can totally stay in my room.”

“No. Definitely not.” stated Brandon.

“What? Don’t you want me to stay the night?” demanded Deyanira.

“Huh? Of course. Just not in Emma’s room. There’s no telling what she’ll do to you.” he warned her.

“I’m not staying in your room either.” she pointedly told him.

“I never suggested that you would.” he replied.

Turning to me, she asked “Can I really hire him?”

Nodding, I said, “Assuming you can afford his rates, sure.”

“To do what?” she asked.

“Anything you’d ask of a best friend as long as Brandon is comfortable with the job.” I told her.

“What if a girl wanted to go on a date with him?” she inquired.

“I’ve taken a couple jobs that could be interpreted as dates.” I told her.

“But no one would hire Brandon for that!” exclaimed Emma.

“Why not?” asked Deyanira.

“He’s too… Brandon.” stated Emma.

“Thanks, Emma. You’re a real pal.” he told her, sounding sour.

In a sing-song voice, she told him with a grin, “You’re welcome!”

I could be wrong, but I thought Deyanira appreciated Emma’s response. Her face seemed to lighten a bit at least.

“I’ll take you up on that shower and clean clothes.” stated Deyanira.

Mila motioned toward the door and said, “This way, please.”

“I for one am glad we didn’t take bets on Brandon getting a girl tonight. I would have lost.” stated Cosette.

“Me too!” exclaimed Emma, jumping over to Cosette and excitedly taking her hands.

“M-me too.” mumbled Raine from the chair in which she was hiding.

“I woudn’t bet on his success quite yet.” warned Alma.

“Is it really pick on Brandon day?” questioned Brandon, practically pouting.

“I-Isn’t it always?” asked Raine.

He laughed. “Maybe, but what did you guys think of her? Pretty cute, isn’t she?”

“Totally!” exclaimed Emma.

“I think you could find someone nicer.” stated Cosette.

“I don’t know if ‘nicer’ is what he needs.” argued Alma.

I didn’t feel we had enough information to make any conclusions. Most people would be thrown off by this place as Jemal would certainly confirm. I did feel that Deyanira seemed a bit aggressive, but she might not be a particularly bad person. Maybe we’d learn more in the morning.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 297

“Oh my… James, is she really…?” asked Jemal.

“Good morning, Aaliyah.” I told her.

“Good morning, boss-man, sir! Hi, Jemal! Oooh… Kayla! What’s that!?” she exclaimed.

“Just my laptop.” replied Kayla. “Jemal bought it for me a couple years ago.”

“Dad helped.” stated Jemal, smiling at her.

Grinning, Aaliyah told her “I love the color.”

The startling shade of pink was definitely up Aaliyah’s alley, as were the sparkles everywhere.

“Sorry. I know this is probably weird and all, but… but can I get your autograph?” asked Jemal.

“Okay.” replied Aaliyah, not even looking up.

Raine was suddenly there, her eyes wide as she stood behind Jemal while holding a box for Ancient Tribes of Earth.

“What? You still hadn’t asked her?” I inquired in shock.

Raine shrugged sheepishly. She obviously wasn’t comfortable with Jemal yet, given how she stood a yard behind him, but I couldn’t say he was comfortable with her either. When we were testing out Jarod’s flying machines, Alma and I had caught most everyone with spells before they had fallen all the way off their board, but Jemal had a rather spectacular spill while trying to chase after Kayla. Raine had caught him. Seeing the small girl holding him easily over her head was comical for the rest of us, but Jemal seemed spooked. Maybe he had caught a glimpse of her other form or simply felt it.

Aaliyah pulled out a pen from her backpack and signed a picture of Jemal’s character, Destiny. Then she cocked her head and stared up at Raine.

“Au-auto-graph. P-please.” stated Raine as she held out the box.

“Sure!” exclaimed Aaliyah, happily taking it. “You should have asked sooner! You do see me frequently.”

“I-I know, b-but… w-well… Y-you’re my… m-my hero.” mumbled Raine as she blushed.

“Aww… We’re all friends here.” stated Aaliyah as she hugged Raine.

Jemal whispered to me “How long’s she worked here?”

“Since November.” I told him.

“J-James!” exclaimed Raine before vanishing.

As her clothes fell, I realized Raine must’ve changed into a kitten in embarrassment, so I walked over there, waited for her to peek out, and apologized.

“She’s a cat!?” exclaimed Jemal.

“Werecat.” I replied.

“Kayla! Back up!” he exclaimed.

“What’s wrong? Didn’t you notice her yesterday before she saved you?” I asked.

“What? No. Kayla’s allergic to cats!” he exclaimed.

“Ah…” I said as I started working through what to do.

“But she’s so cute, Jemal…” complained Kayla, sneezing at the end. She was already starting to look red.

Raine ran, not that I saw her. All of her belongings were simply gone.

“Where’d she go!?” exclaimed Jemal, looking around.

“She ran.” I told him.

“S-sorry. I didn’t mean to make her run away, but I didn’t think there’d be cats here.” he stated.

“Found it!” exclaimed Aaliyah, who had been rummaging through her backpack.

“Found what?” I inquired.

“Kayla’s new allergy medicine.” she replied.

“What!? Her doctor needs to approve new medicine.” stated Jemal.

I stepped over to him, placed my hand on his shoulder, and said, “I know this is all a great deal to take in, but Aaliyah has more doctorates than anyone else on the planet. I’d trust her. If you want a quick second opinion, Alma happens to be an M.D. as well. If you want a third opinion, Aaliyah’s aunt might be considered this planet’s authority on everything medical, having over a thousand years of practice.”

“Too late. Already took it.” stated Kayla.

Jemal ducked to my side as he asked “You what!?”

She opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue as if to show the medicine was swallowed.

“James! This serious. She has other allergies as well.” stated Jemal.

“I have her complete medical records on file, Jemal.” stated Mila. “Yours as well. There really is no need to be alarmed. Everything was transferred as stated in the contract of employment you signed.”

Jemal still looked worried.

I sighed and said, “Aaliyah, would you mind giving a very, very brief explanation of what Kayla just took.”

“Brief?” questioned Aaliyah, now pouting.

“Yes, please.” I told her.

“How brief?” she asked.

“Under twenty words.” I told her.

Aaliyah sighed and said, “Kayla took the first stage of a therapy which will cure her of all allergies. Two stages are left.” She had been counting words on her fingers as she talked and wiped her brow afterward.

“What? Is that even possible?” he asked.

“Jemal, I’m feeling better already.” insisted Kayla.

“You’re the one who wanted her autograph. She’s a genius.” I stated. Then, slightly louder, I called “Raine, you can come back now. Everything’s fine.”

“Master, Raine’s in her room, mumbling about ruining something and looks rather distraught.” stated Mila.

The girl was still so scared.

“Aaliyah, how long till Kayla will start benefitting from that therapy?” I asked.

“She already is. Look at her. She’ll be perfectly fine by the time you walk down the hall with them.” she replied. “Auntie’s medicines are magically delicious.”

“Really was!” exclaimed Kayla.

I was surprised that the concoction wasn’t her own, but I nodded and thanked her. Then I asked Jemal if he and Kayla would mind coming with me to calm Raine down.

“Sorry. Sure. I guess this is my fault for overreacting.” he replied.

“I can really pet kitties now!?” asked Kayla, staring at Aaliyah.

“Of course! We can’t let our best friends suffer from allergies.” explained Aaliyah. “Raine has a little kitty named Pufflewink!”

“Jemal, I can pet kitties!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Has this stuff been tested?” he questioned, looking between me and Aaliyah.

“You can relax, Jemal. Everything will be fine.” I assured him.

He nodded and followed as we went toward Raine’s room. As we walked, I talked to Raine, trying to reassure her that Kayla was fine.

“How is she supposed to hear you?” asked Jemal. “Is Mila telling her or something?”

“I can hear across a hallway just fine. Raine’s hearing is vastly better.” I told him.

“Maybe this is a bad question, but I gotta know… are you human?” he asked.

I laughed and said, “Yes, with a few perks of my own.”

“Like… what?” he questioned.

“One you’ve been feeling for a while. You want to trust me and generally like me. That’s due to an magical field I emanate. Unfortunately, I cannot suppress it.” I told him.

“What? You’re using magic on us and can’t help it!?” he exclaimed.

“Correct. I’ve been assured a number of times not to worry about it, but the idea still bothers me. I also can move far faster than an average human and am considerably stronger. Lifting a car, for example, is easy.” I added.

“And you call that human!?” asked Jemal.

“I think it sounds amazing!” exclaimed Kayla.

“I also have considerable aptitude with a type of magic, using what we call residual energy. Through its use, I can manipulate energy in numerous ways, such as lifting things at a distance as you can do.” I explained.

“So you’re like a superhero? You sound like the strongest person ever!” exclaimed Kayla.

I laughed and said, “No. Calamity’s this city’s superhero. I’m just a businessman. Raine, by the way, is far stronger and faster than me. She’s far more than an average werecat and equally wonderful as a person.”

“This is a bit much to take in.” stated Jemal.

“But it’s so cool!” exclaimed Kayla.

“There will be an acclimation period, but I have faith that you’ll get there. I know you haven’t met Cosette yet, given how her schedule hasn’t lined up well for meeting her yet, but she’s our resident vampire. Fair warning, she might play a prank on you.” I cautioned.

“Like what sort of prank?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “I wouldn’t put slitting Portentia’s throat and drinking her blood in front of you past her.”

“She’d what!?” he exclaimed.

“Portentia can’t be killed and has abnormally beneficial blood for vampires, so the two have an interesting relationship.” I explained.

Kayla’s eyes were wide with excitement as she stared up at me, but Jemal looked disturbed.

“Ask Portentia about her experiences if you wish. She’s been stabbed, shot, blown up, decapitated, and many other things without sign of injury a moment later.” I assured him.

“I-I don’t think my sister should be hearing all this.” he told me.

“Oh. Sorry. I figured she’d have seen as much in video games.” I admitted.

“Well, maybe, but still…” he argued.

Arriving at Raine’s door, I knocked and said, “Raine, we’d like to speak with you.”

The door opened. Raine was curled up in a corner, holding Pufflewink.

“Have I mentioned that Raine speaks cat?” I asked.

“Cats have a language?” inquired Jemal.

“Cool!” exclaimed Kayla.

“I don’t know about a language precisely, but she can communicate with them.” I replied. “How would you describe it Raine?”

“I-I…. S-sorry.” she muttered.

“No-no. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to make you run. I just got a bit worked up worrying about my sister is all.” he assured her.

“Can I see your kitty!?” exclaimed Kayla. “I won’t sneeze or anything! Aaliyah told me!”

“I-I heard…” mumbled Raine. She looked up at Jemal and said, “I-I d-didn’t… k-know. S-sorry. I-I’d never h-hurt… K-Kayla.”

“Really, don’t worry. Look at her. I can’t even worry when I see her smiling like that.” he insisted.

Raine still looked nervous, but she smiled a little as she watched Kayla pet Pufflewink.

I knew they’d be fine.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 293

“How did you manage to get so many suits enchanted already?” asked Alma as she came up beside me.

The others had barely started testing out what their suits could do. Well, Emma was practically cuddling Raine now.

While wondering if I should attempt to free Raine, I replied “More secrets. Sorry. I’ll be able to tell you soon.”

“Showing me will probably be easier if the spell’s as complicated as you had said.” she suggested.

“No. Sorry. I never want to do that again.” I replied.

“James, did you kill someone?” she asked, sounding shocked.

“What? No! Why would you think that?” I inquired, equally shocked by the idea.

“There are ways to use people to power spells. You almost got caught in one before.” she told me.

I remembered. How could I not remember such a terrible plot being carried out at a school dance? “I know, but I swear I didn’t do such a thing.” I assured her.

“I didn’t really think you would, but I don’t have a good guess as to how you pulled it off.” she told me.

“Sorry.” I told her.

“Is Raine actually affected by catnip?” asked Alma.

Nodding, I said, “Surprisingly, yes.”

She laughed, and I enjoyed the pure beauty of it.

“Emma really shouldn’t have taken the risk.” she stated, still laughing.

“Risk?” I asked.

“Catnip essentially gets cats high, so Raine’s self-control is likely weakened at the moment. If she had a less amusing reaction, everyone could be dead.” she explained. “Still, I’m glad things worked out. This was worth seeing.”

“Ever try catnip on Alberich?” I asked.

“Maybe.” she replied coyly.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“He may or may not be in the percentile affected. Seeing a miniature lion being cozy with a plant might well be entertaining.” she claimed.

She ran, much faster than me with her own suit worn. I watched as she toyed with our friends, putting them off-balance with ease. There was a moment of fear as Raine rolled away from Emma before suddenly pouncing.

Time was frozen, and Raine had transformed. Her needle-like fur was more plainly visible than I had ever seen it. The distortions typically around her cat-like form were frozen as well. The claws coming from her hands seemed far too large to ever retract and came to very sharp points. Even frozen, I couldn’t wrap my head around the teeth in her mouth. What I was seeing didn’t seem possible, for there were far too many.

“Do you trust her?” asked Aaliyah.

I nodded and said, “Raine won’t hurt Alma. As bizarre as her eyes are, there’s still a playfulness to them.”

Aaliyah smiled and asked “Would you like to enhance yourself?”

I knew the spells. I could probably maintain them for a while.

“There’s an easier way, boss-man, sir.” she told me.

“Oh?” I asked.

“The potion that changed you placed limits on you, but they can be removed.” she stated.

“At what cost?” I asked.

“If you slip, you could burn through all your energy in an instant. On the other hand, you could keep up as long as you keep drawing more energy into yourself fast enough. You’ll need to focus, boss-man, sir. Really focus.” she told me.

“If I try this and then decide it’s a bad idea, is there a way to go back to how I am?” I asked.

“Of course, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do it for you.” she warned.

“What if I ask really nicely?” I inquired.

“You know I’ll do anything for you, boss-man, sir.” she replied with a smile.

“But that doesn’t mean you should.” I stated glumly. Many of her offers were far too outlandish to be considered. I really didn’t want to watch Alma speed beyond me, not anymore. “I accept, but would you mind letting me have a bit of a test run before life continues onward?” I asked.

She grinned and said, “Sure.”

“Ready when you are.” I told her.

“For?” she asked.

“The change.” I stated.

“Happened when you accepted.” she replied, looking adorably confused.

I moved, but I didn’t see any difference. “I don’t think it’s working.” I admitted.

“Want an instruction book? I pride myself on instruction manuals.” she claimed with a grin.

“A pointer perhaps?” I suggested.

“Fiiine. Just take the fun out of everything.” she replied with a very cute pout. “Focus on moving faster, pushing your limits. You just tried to move before, so you moved at your typical pace. You want to be faster, boss-man, sir. Be faster. Remember all of the times you’ve been too slow, and don’t be too slow this time.”

I couldn’t forget being too slow. I remembered Regina dying, because I was too slow to save myself… to save her. I remembered when I was human and thought Alma was an unbeatable force of nature. I remembered how she took me into the sewers to fight minotaurs. She killed them all when I was too slow to dodge. I remembered when she almost died, and I could do nothing to save her. Had I been faster to stop the necromancer, he wouldn’t have escaped. Had we found him more quickly, Mila’s original systems wouldn’t have been destroyed. I remembered the first time Raine transformed and how helpless I felt. There was no way to catch her.

I hadn’t even realized how fast I was moving till I tripped. Aaliyah caught me, running with me held over her head for a moment before slowly coming to a stop. I felt so weak as she set me on the ground.

“Aww… so fast, boss-man, sir. You were really moving!” she exclaimed. “I bet you would’ve made a nice splatter if I didn’t catch you.”

“Sorry.” I told her. I took a moment to realize she had carried me into my forest. I strained to pull energy to me. The strain reduced rapidly as I absorbed more and more. I hadn’t gone without energy in so long. I had forgotten that feeling of frailty. I absorbed more and more till I had far more than I usually allowed myself. Then I ran.

“Focus, boss-man, sir.” she told me, easily running alongside me. “Feel the energy draining. You need to stay focused and draw in enough to balance out your body’s use. Just like your enchantment, your body needs energy for the movement, it needs energy to counteract the friction between you and the air, it needs energy to keep you well-grounded, and it still needs energy to protect you and your clothing. Well, Emma might argue about the clothing.”

I tried, but there simply wasn’t enough once we left the forest. I slowed down till I could keep up with my usage.

“Where are we?” I asked, coming to a stop.

“Well, you ran for a good minute while decelerating, so roughly thirty-five point two three eight miles from home if we were to go straight there.” she replied with a grin. “Think of the sonic boom you’d be creating without the magic to cancel it out! The boss-man runs down a street and BOOM!”

“That would be quite terrifying.” I admitted.

“You seem to be getting the hang of things though. Wanna have a quick race?” she asked.

“Ha! I can’t win.” I stated.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t race!” she argued.

“Fine, but there isn’t enough energy around here to even push myself as hard on the way back.” I replied.

“Who says we have to stay here to race?” she asked with a grin.

I found that we were no longer on the highway where we had stopped, though we still seemed to be on a road of sorts. The sand around us looked purple, and three moons hovered in the sky. There was an incredible amount of energy throughout the air, nearly as dense as in my forest. Did she run me through the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce and onto another world? My thoughts veered away from a memory I didn’t want.

“Oh! You just thought of something neat!” she exclaimed.

“Well, we’re not on the same planet.” I stated.

“Not that. The bit about the restaurant that you didn’t want to think.” she replied.

“I had considered that the restaurant might not need to be entered by the door. It could sorta collect people from anywhere.” I told her.

“Yes! That part! Wouldn’t that be neat!?” she exclaimed.

“In a way…” I admitted, though I didn’t want the knowledge that brought about the conclusion. Those memories of my time spent using that room bothered me greatly. Power such as I had there was far too dangerous, since I didn’t have the wisdom to use it. What if I accidentally did something?

“You did!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“What!? What did I do?” I demanded.

“Helped people. You felt them in need, and you subconsciously helped them. You never like worrying about the details, so don’t. We’re here to race!” she insisted.

“Where’s the finish?” I asked.

Grinning even wider, she said, “One thousand miles ahead.”

I gaped. That distance seemed insane for a “quick race”.

“Really push yourself.” she told me, taking position to run.

“I’ll fire the gun!” exclaimed a… different Aaliyah? Her clothes were entirely different at least, and the gun she held was bigger than she was.

I took position, feeling there was no point in arguing with what I was seeing. I pulled in more and more energy as I prepared for the gunshot. The boom of the shot was incredible, but I passed it shortly after I started running. Aaliyah was easily keeping pace, so I pushed myself harder, thinking of nothing but the road, my footing, and the flow of energy through me. I hadn’t ran for fun like this since I quit the track team.

I saw a finish line ahead with at least a hundred Aaliyahs cheering. Was this really a thousand miles already? In that moment she passed me. Then she passed me again, and again, and again. As I reached the finish line, she passed me once more. Looking back after I slowed to a stop, I guessed I had taken over a mile just to come to a full stop.

“How does Raine do it? She feels like it.” claimed Aaliyah, looking ready to go again. “Thanks! You look perfectly energetic too, boss-man, sir.”

“Is that how you do it as well?” I asked.

She brushed away the thought with a wave of her hand and said, “Nah. My feelings are for you, cake, my daddy, other friends. No need to waste feelings on stopping.”

I laughed and shook my head. Aaliyah was always amazing.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 292

“Blame Mila if the size is wrong, but each of you have one suit for the moment.” I stated once most everyone had gathered in the ballroom.

“Man-slave, this isn’t remotely cute.” complained Emma.

“Come on… looks kinda badass to me.” argued Brandon.

“Only you would think that.” stated Brenna.

Staring at me intently, Portentia said, “I prefer my other suit. What are these even for?”

“They’re prototypes of enhancement technology designed by Jarod and enchanted by me. They should make each of you faster and stronger. Alma, Jarod, Mila, and Aurora have already tested their suits and found them quite satisfactory.” I explained.

“Who’s Aurora?” asked Emma and Brandon nearly simultaneously.

Oops. I needed to focus more instead of letting my mind wander. I had been wondering what Alma was doing that she’d miss this and considering when Jarod and the twins would be back from their honeymoon. “Aurora’s a student through Best Friend For Hire who has a great deal of potential. For those of you who are willing, I’d like you to get changed and meet me out back afterward. You’ll find getting there much quicker, but please don’t injure yourselves or anything else goofing around.”

“What does Aurora look like?” inquired Emma with a grin.

“A girl.” I stated, frowning at her. “No, Emma, you can’t date her, and I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t be interested.”

“But man-slave…” started Emma.

“No, woman-slave. This really isn’t up for discussion.” I told her.

“Woman-slave? Are you calling me some sort of tramp who sells out her body and mind to the highest bidder?” she teased with a grin.

“Sharing a profession that started your nickname for me, I thought it appropriate. Just go get changed if you’re willing.” I told her.

“We could all just change here.” she suggested. “I’m sure no one would peek.”

Raine had been using her suit as a pillow, but Emma, Raine, and their suits were now gone. Arguing with Raine when she’d had enough was difficult, so I didn’t really think Emma would pursue her course any further.

Cosette giggled and said, “Raine’s so adorable. I sometimes wish she’d stay a kitten all the time, but then she does something so cute as a human.”

“Can you become a kitten?” I asked.

She winked and asked “Wanna see?”

“I was merely thinking that would give you another way to bond with Raine, given that she really does seem to adore cats.” I explained.

“You’re no fun.” she pouted. “But yes, I can become many sorts of cats.”

“I hope the suit’s effective for you. If I figure out how to tweak the enchantment’s design a bit, you and Brandon should be able to transform while wearing it.” I told them.

“Cool. Why aren’t you wearing one if these are so great?” asked Brandon.

I sighed before saying, “The magic gets cancelled out by my innate abilities.”

“Ouch. Sorry, dude.” he replied.

Cosette’s form seemed to melt and then jump into her suit where she became her normal self again.

“This… James, this is amazing!” she exclaimed.

“Huh? You’re just standing there.” stated Brandon.

“You’ll see!” she exclaimed, suddenly darting to him.

She was much faster than she had been. The suit worked on vampires! I had thought everything should work fine, but I was very pleased that it did.

“Whoa.” stated Brandon, leaning back from her.

“I’m convinced. Brandon, you should forget about yours. You don’t need one.” teased Brenna as she hurried out the door at a jog with her suit under her arm.

“Psh. She wishes. I’m totally trying one of these things.” he replied as he followed after her.

After seeing Cosette move, Portentia seemed to be caressing hers.

Moving to her, Cosette said, “You need to try this. The difference is too incredible to miss.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she muttered.

I stepped over to her and waved my hand to get her attention. “What if it does?” I asked. “I assure you that we can make one to suit your nightly activities.”

Her smile was beautiful. I knew that was bothering her. Portentia absolutely adored her Calamity costume.

Mila appeared across from Portentia on the mirror and started signing as she said, “The enchantment works for me. If something’s a bit off, the master can always tweak it further until everything’s working as it should.”

“Let’s be off then.” I told them.

Cosette quickly grabbed my arm before saying, “We’ll be a bit. I need to feed if we’re going outside.”

“Yes. Sorry. Good point. I’ll tweak the lighting a bit out there for when you arrive.” I assured her. “Meet us when you can.” Then I paused again, turned to her and said, “I think I have an idea that might help. I’ll see about making the next version for you count sunlight to some extent. I don’t think I’ll be able to make one that won’t cause an odd visual effect, but we’ll see.”

Smiling, she told me “Thank you, James.”

“I’m going to go take Marco his.” I told them, before grabbing the suit and walking off.

Marco was in the kitchen, working on something that smelled of lemon.

“Ah! Boss, sorry I did not make the a meeting, but I cannot stop in the middle.” he told me.

“I understand completely. Mila had told me that you were indisposed. I’m not sure if you’d be interested, but Jarod and I did some interesting things for enhancement technology. I think you could get use of it as well.” I told him.

“Oh?” he asked, looking up.

“You’ll be able to move faster, which might allow you to work on multiple things with even greater ease. You also won’t need to use a potholder ever, since there are spells that will protect you from heat. You’ll just have to be careful not to break anything, since the increased strength is substantial. If you decide not to keep it, I’ll dispose of it for you. I just thought everyone might get some use out of it.” I explained.

“Sounds impressive!” he assured me. “I will be sure to a give it a test.”

Smiling, I said, “Thank you. Feedback would be appreciated. If you have any trouble with it, I can attempt to adjust the enchantment on it. Jarod can probably make some more adjustments for a better fit if necessary.”

“No problema. I am always grateful to be here. You have made a wonderful home.” he told me, grinning.

“I’m glad. The rest of us will be out back if you finish early and care to join us.” I told him.

He nodded and thanked me again, so I headed out. When I stepped outside, Raine jumped up from the ground, her suit was shredded on the fresh snow. I walked over to her while watching Emma do acrobatics across the yard.

“I-I’m sorry. I-it… c-couldn’t… k-keep up.” she told me.

“No need to be sorry. Looks like your fur did a number on it when you transformed. I should’ve guessed.” I assured her, patting her shoulder.

“S-sorry.” she stated.

Smiling, I said, “Don’t be. Really. I wouldn’t have troubled you with it, but I didn’t want you to be left out. Mine didn’t work out for me either.”

She nodded, saying, “I-I heard.”

I wondered how far away she was by the time that was mentioned. Her hearing was so incredible.

“So why did you take Emma away earlier?” I asked, feeling curious about her motives.

Raine blushed as she mumbled “I-I… s-she… B-b-but w-what s-she… N-no. W-we c-can’t.”

“Don’t panic. I was just a little surprised. I can try getting her to restrain herself a bit more around you.” I suggested.

“B-but… s-she w-wouldn’t be Em-Emma.” muttered Raine.

“Fair point, I suppose. I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.” I told her.

“G-good luck.” she told me with a small smile.

Emma ran over and hugged us both, saying, “You two are adorable! I mean, Raine’s obviously more adorable, but you’re really not so bad yourself, man-slave.”

“Thanks?” I asked.

“Don’t mention it.” she told me with a wink. “I’m loving this suit. I obviously can’t keep up with you still, but I feel sooo fast!”

“Care to do a little exercise while waiting then?” I asked.

“Only if Raine’s up for it.” she replied.

Raine fidgeted, obviously uncertain of what she wanted.

“Please, Raine. You need to practice too.” claimed Emma.

“F-fine.” agreed Raine.

The two of them started play-fighting, and I dimmed the light in the area for Cosette’s arrival. Anyone who was able to see them clearly could tell. Even with Emma enhanced by the suit and Raine in her human form, Raine wasn’t putting in any effort. I was happy to see that she was implementing proper technique for the most part.

Plants started growing up through the snow in a large area around the two, and Raine started giggling.

“N-no f-fair!” she exclaimed as she laughed. She fell to the ground.

“Emma, what did you do?” I asked.

“Would you believe someone spread Nepeta cataria seeds every few feet throughout your yard?” she inquired.

Staring at her, I said, “Huh? What’s that?”

“Catnip. There happens to be a number of other plants with similar effects as well. I wonder who would’ve done such a thing?” she asked.

“Gee. I wonder.” I stated, trying not to smile. Only Emma would have tried catnip on Raine. I turned around to see who was coming out, and found Brandon and Brenna looking nervous.

“Sorry, man. We kinda goofed.” stated Brandon.

“Sorry, James.” muttered Brenna.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We kinda broke a wall.” explained Brandon.

“Don’t worry, master. Replacement panels have already been ordered, and both culprits will be docked pay until the expense is covered.” stated Mila from my phone.

“Oh. I’ll cover the replacements. I could’ve been more clear about needing to be careful.” I told them all.

“As you wish, master.” replied MIla.

“You really don’t need to!” exclaimed Brenna, waving her hands as if to tell me to stop.

“It was our bad.” stated Brandon.

“I’m not worried about the money. Everyone slips up occasionally. Just come out here and start really testing those suits out.” I told them.

“Thanks, man!” exclaimed Brandon.

“We really are sorry.” stated Brenna.

“Relax and have some fun. Oh, and try not to step on Raine.” I warned them.

“What happened to her?” asked Brandon.

“Emma’s using biological warfare.” I explained.

“Come on… she’s enjoying herself!” exclaimed Emma, now tickling Raine.

“S-stop, y-you b-bully!” exclaimed Raine, though she didn’t even attempt to push Emma’s hands away.

“James!” exclaimed Portentia as she ran out of the house. “It works! Can you have my new suit ready for tonight?”

“That may be a little difficult. I need a little break before I enchant another one. The spells were a bit complicated, and I… I really just don’t feel up to it at the moment. Sorry.” I told her, unwilling to mention that I didn’t want to think on how I enchanted most of them.

“Oh. It’s okay. I might do something with this one for now.” she told me, obviously disappointed.

Cosette put her hand on Portentia’s shoulder and said, “Don’t feel bad. You’ve already taken out so many baddies without the suit, so the city can wait for bit.”

“I’ve also been late at times. Even with Mila guiding me, I’m just not fast enough all the time.” complained Portentia.

I lifted her chin and said, “I can’t be fast enough all the time either. We can’t save everyone, but be thankful we can save some.”

Just keeping the ones closest to me safe helped make my world a better place.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 285

I had forgotten how vile the lands looked when a demon inhabited them. I was only human when last I fought one, and my eyes surely did not pick up on all the minute details. Even knowing Aaliyah as well as I did now, I was deeply impressed by what she created. The idea of even brushing up the sickly looking foliage was unpleasant, and I could imagine the faint odor of death all too well, having faced a real life necromancer.

I could barely see Raine with how she had pushed farther and farther into her chair. Cosette was still all cheer, untouched by any horrors in her past. I worried about Raine. I would never forget her cowering, hiding under a table from the screams of Mai and being surprised that the screaming wasn’t in her head. I never asked her why, why would she think that the screams weren’t real. Was she plagued by the voices of another place?

“Yes, she is.” stated Aaliyah.

Things were frozen again as Aaliyah casually lounged across my lap, resting her head on the arm of my chair.

“What is she hearing?” I asked.

“She feels the suffering of a god and the cries of his demons, so full of rage and despair that they have no concept of happiness or beauty.” she casually explained in a sing-song voice.

“Have you been there, where they are?” I asked.

She laughed and said, “Of course I’m there, silly. Even demons die.”

“Can you do something to help Raine?” I questioned.

“I have. I brought her to you. You’re doing wonderfully, boss-man, sir.” she claimed.

Shaking my head, I said, “Ha. There’s so little I can do for anyone. I’m just lucky Cosette isn’t holding a grudge against me for trying to keep knowledge of her parents’ deaths from her.”

“You’re right about one thing: Cosette doesn’t hold a grudge against you, not even a little one. I wouldn’t call it luck though. You’re just too charming, boss-man, sir.” she teased. “You do help people, all the time. The ‘little’ you do helps in big ways.”

I looked down into those big, blue eyes of hers. She was too adorable. “Why do you choose to look as you do?” I asked.

“Prefer me like this?” she teased, suddenly older and wearing far too little.

“As much as I enjoyed your company as Trix, no.” I firmly told her.

She reverted back to the tiny girl in her mismatched clothes much to my relief. Then she said, “I was born, I grew, and I became a cyborg. You remember. This is me. I’m my daddy’s little girl.”

“And so many other things.” I stated.

Sitting up, she poked my nose, looked me in the eye, and said, “But always my daddy’s little girl. He needs me, boss-man, sir.”

“What do you think of this area?” I asked, nodding toward the game.

“It’s gross!” exclaimed Cosette, sounding quite giddy.

Aaliyah was gone. Things were moving again.

“T-the animals are m-missing.” stated Raine.

“Ah. Yeah. They’ve probably been warped and are now following the demon, wherever he is.” I told them.

“Is he as cute as Raine?” teased Cosette.

I chuckled and said, “No, not even close. He’s quite horrific to behold.”

“That’s good. I don’t think I could summon up the will to attack Raine, except for hugs.” claimed Cosette.

“Att-attack hugs are qui-quite vi-vicious.” mumbled Raine, but she sounded like she was smiling.

“Oh, you know it!” exclaimed Cosette, just before leaping out of her seat at Raine.

There was much giggling, so I did my best to defend their characters.

“You’re lucky she didn’t pull the smithing hammer like she did on that goblin.” I teased.

“She uses the frying pan on me. Doesn’t hurt nearly as much.” claimed Cosette.

Giggling more, Raine said, “M-makes a n-nice sound.” She abruptly went silent.

I looked over at her in concern, realizing a moment later that she was hearing something. There was movement around us.

“C-Cosette! En-enemies!” exclaimed Raine in a loud whisper.

Cosette hopped into her seat with casual grace, instantly on the move as she landed. Without a word, all of us started sneaking along. We couldn’t talk. Talking in real life would carry through into the game and alert our foes. I made my character cast one of his few utility spells, further muffling the sounds of our passage. I wished I had powerful illusion magic at the moment. I might be able to incinerate the bears, but there was a chance the demon had granted these ones high fire resistance.

Raine’s character uncorked some sort of vial and dropped liquid behind us. Text appeared on my screen describing a pungent stench. I hoped she knew what she was doing. I caught sight of giant, mutated bears a couple times over the next couple minutes, but we continued avoiding them, not wanting to alert their master of our presence. He might well remember me.

The front doors of my home swung open, and I heard someone enter. Portentia was home. I could tell by her footsteps.

“Oh wow. Where are you, guys?” she asked shortly after walking into the room.

I turned to her, explaining briefly in sign language. The game had voice recognition along with other features to ignore extraneous sound, so Portentia’s voice shouldn’t alert enemies, though mine would.

I rapidly signed to my screen, asking Mila to explain in more depth. She was always watching. I should’ve thought of asking her sooner. Another of the large mirrors lit up, showing Mila’s avatar signing away.

More minutes stretched by before the bears finally wandered off. Cosette breathed out loudly before saying, “I never thought I’d feel so tense playing a game.”

Portentia laughed and said, “The game is pretty awesome. I never thought I’d get into a video game till I started. Looks like you guys are too far away for me to catch up.”

“Oh. Go to the guild hall. You can use the traveling stone to come straight to us.” I suggested.

“Nice!” she exclaimed. “I’ll be right there!”

Glancing at the time, I said, “You’re home early.”

“Quiet night. Captured a mugger, but that’s it.” explained Portentia.

I just nodded. A single mugger would be a quiet night for her. Feeling relatively safe where we were, we waited for Portentia to join us. Once she arrived, the four of us continued toward where the meteor had landed.

“Meteors can be pretty small. How are we going to find it?” asked Portentia.

“Cr-crater.” stated Raine.

“Yeah. I guess that makes sense if it’s a big one.” replied Portentia.

“I think we’re almost there.” asserted Cosette. “We’ll show you!”

I stopped, catching something out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and saw the enormous demon walking toward the same place as us.

“Guys, we need to run.” I insisted.

“Noooo!” whined Raine.

I could see that she had turned to face it as well.

“Gather around, and I’ll use the stone.” I told them.

“No!” exclaimed Raine. Her character was shoving her backpack at mine, offering a trade.

“What!?” I asked.

“G-get my m-mats. I-I’ll show him a r-real d-demon.” stated Raine.

I accepted the trade and opened my mouth to talk her out of it, but she was gone. Her character was far, far faster than mine. I couldn’t believe how quickly she was gone.

“Let’s go!” I exclaimed, running toward the meteor site.

Portentia and Cosette followed. We weren’t even halfway there when the sky became even darker. I could see spells flying from the demon and explosions even after. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on Raine’s screen.

The raid boss who wiped over twenty thousand people was getting hit by garden tools, smithing tools, kitchen tools, and a number of things I didn’t even recognize. The damage was laughable compared with its health but impressive for a single person. No doubt she had enchanted every last implement.

I hadn’t doubted that Raine’s reaction time was far beyond what any character could manage, but the way her character moved was really bizarre. She had strange sidesteps that moved her great distances nearly instantly, allowing her to avoid area of effect attacks that I could never dodge. She had some sort of instant duck move that allowed her to dive under swings at her head with ease. There was some roll move she used that ended in her character raising its arms as if presenting something.

“James, that’s a tree!” exclaimed Cosette.

Oops. I hoped I hadn’t been running into the tree for long. Bit distracted. Incredibly, Raine was still alive when we finally reached the crater where the meteor had landed, though the demon had called in its minions for reinforcements.

“Raine, can you make it to us?” I asked.

“J-just g-go.” she ordered.

I told the other two to hug the meteorite

“It’s too heavy to come with us. Give me a sec.” stated Cosette. She used a spell to boost our strength.

“U-use a p-potion too. In m-my b-bag.” muttered Raine.

I did as she said, passing out strength potions. I needed to get Raine to make me a new bag. Hers was vastly larger, mostly filled with crafting materials, but also holding potions, elixirs, and tools. Still, we were lucky Portentia came home. Cosette and I wouldn’t have been able to carry the meteorite without her, despite the boosts. Only items carriable by the group being transported could be taken along.

“I think that’ll do it. Hug the stone.” I ordered.

Nothing happened. I quickly typed in guild chat asking who online had the stone from our guild hall. I really should’ve given the guild a heads up several minutes ago.

“No, I’m not mad. I’m in a hurry. Nekopawpaw’s soloing a raid boss. We found the last of the demons, and I need to get her mats to safety.” I explained in guild chat.

That was the first time I saw guild chat stop moving for any length. There were several seconds with no response at all. Then chat erupted back to normal with several people saying they were “on it”, and many more asking if I was messing with them.

“Hey, Mila, could you put Raine’s fight on the guild’s magic mirror?” I asked.

“No, master, but I can instruct you how to scry with it.” she replied.

“Good enough. Let’s do this.” I told her.

Several of the nearby guildies were already staring at the meteorite, but Cosette and Portentia were guarding it.

In guild chat, I typed “No one goes near the meteorite, or you’ll earn Nekopawpaw’s ire. I’m putting what that entails on the magic mirror for any who doubt me.”

I was pretty sure most people in the area had hurried over, since the hall was filling quickly. Guild chat was alive with talk about our prized crafter facing off against a demon.

“J-James, I-I’m almost… almost out of p-potions.” stated Raine.

“I wondered what you were using to heal. I would’ve given you mine had I known you needed some.” I told her.

“I’ve u-used several h-hundred.” she mumbled.

Ouch. That was expensive.

“Think you can run away?” I asked.

“I-I… only had o-one speed p-potion, b-but I-I can… try.” she told me, weaving through enemies to dodge a giant fist.

The demon had killed countless of its own minions just trying to kill Raine. The thing was lucky her character couldn’t keep up with her in real life. Watching her bonking heads with hammers, pans, and other non-combat implements was somewhat comical as she took off.

“You’re heading the wrong way.” I mentioned.

“N-no. I d-don’t want it… f-following me h-home.” she stammered.

I guess that made sense. I had no idea how far this thing would try following her now. I’d muster our army, but there simply weren’t enough of us on at the moment to kill it. Most of our guild wouldn’t even be awake.

“What have you guys been doing?” asked Alma just after running into the room.

I nonchalantly told her “Raine’s been demonstrating how to solo a demon.”

“I hardly believed the messages I was receiving, but seeing her… what are those moves?” she asked.

Nearly at the edge of the demon’s horde with it on her tail, Raine started explaining where various things she was using were obtained. The strange roll maneuver she had was “Present the Dish.” from cooking. “Check the Oven” and “Stove Dash” were also from cooking.

As she continued, every last move came from one type of crafting or another, but her crafting skills were far higher than even my combat skills, granting her huge boosts to the effectiveness of the moves.

“For someone who abhors violence, you certainly understand it.” stated Alma.

“W-why else would I ab-abhor it.” replied Raine.

I chuckled even as Alma rolled her eyes.

Cosette and Portentia were both standing by Raine, watching her screen and cheering her on.

Several tense minutes later, Raine was still running, but the demon was too fast. Luckily, all of its horde was left behind, allowing her to dodge more easily.

“You should’ve stayed behind for her.” stated Alma, gripping my hand.

“Then the meteorite couldn’t have gone through.” I told her.

“Oh. I see.” she replied. “We could go meet her.”

“Even if everyone drops what they’re doing and comes to join us, do you think we’d stand a chance?” I asked.

She sighed and said, “No, we would not.”

“I-it’s okay. W-we have m-my mats!” exclaimed Raine.

“You mean that I have your mats!” teased Cosette, trying to laugh villainously.

“Don’t worry, Raine. I wouldn’t let Cosette steal from you.” stated Portentia.

Cosette lunged at Portentia, who easily dodged.

“James! Help! My food is avoiding me!” exclaimed Cosette, fangs now evident in her mouth.

I caught Alma’s mouth twitch while I started laughing.

“Shh… y-you’re startling Pufflewink.” warned Raine.

A quick blast of energy partially caught Nekopawpaw, damaging her again.

“A-all out.” muttered Raine. Then she turned and attacked the demon with a giant frying pan. “B-bad demon.”

“It’s..” I started, hardly believing the stars now floating around the demon’s head.

“You dazed it! Run!” exclaimed Alma, gripping the back of Raine’s chair.

Mila then said, “Wow. There’s a less than one percent chance of that move ever effecting this demon at your current skill level. If you dive into the cave northwest of you, the demon won’t be able to follow.”

“There’s a cave?” I asked.

“Oops. Mother’s going to yell at me for giving away spoilers.” claimed Mila.

Raine hadn’t hesitated at all. She quickly veered northwest and took off into the cave, using some sort of charm to create light as she hurried deeper. When she looked back, the demon was clawing at the entrance, ripping it apart and causing part of the cave to collapse.

Guild chat was still busy with people talking about what just happened. People were cheering her on.

“What!? You’re logging off there?” demanded Alma, upon seeing Raine hit the logout button.

“I-I w-work soon.” she mumbled.

“Oh. I can try distracting your boss if you like, so you can call in sick.” offered Alma.

“Th-thank you, but I-I’ll be okay. We g-got it!” she exclaimed.

“I’ll see that the meteorite makes it to your shop.” I told her.

She got up, thanked everyone again, and headed off toward her room.

“I must say that I am most impressed.” stated Alma.

“Think you could really distract me?” I teased.

She rolled her eyes before staring up into mine and saying, “You, my darling, are quite easily distracted.”

I had to admit that I felt distracted already.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 284

As Raine purred to Pufflewink, I worried that she might fall asleep before we even headed off, but Raine merely yawned and started on her way. Cosette and I quickly followed on our characters.

Listening to Raine ramble on about the different types of materials we might find was priceless. She was obviously quite excited at the prospect of getting any of them. “Eternite”, a stone harder than any steel, was my favorite of the possibilities, since she’d be able to craft a new type of forge which would grant bonuses on all things she crafted or repaired at it. “Stardust” was actually a possibility. Stardust was an irradiated mineral that could be used for many types of fire enchantments on weapons. “Celestine” was a metal that granted “heavenly properties” to any items forged with it.

There were so many times I was tempted to ask Aaliyah for spoilers, but I wasn’t going to give into that temptation, not with how unfair that would be to other players. Running the largest guild on the server, I had considerable impact on the world with everything I did already. If I started using spoilers to boost my guild further, the other guilds would be left too far behind, spoiling the fun for everyone.

“Are you two ready for this?” I asked as we reached the edge of the civilized area.

“Of course.” insisted Cosette.

I heard Raine take a deep breath and looked over to see her nodding. Had she been out this far even since the beginning?

The wilderness of Ancient Tribes of Earth could be a dangerous place with such a small group. The farther from civilization one adventured, the more dangerous the creatures that would lurk around.

We hadn’t traveled very far when a group of goblins set upon us. I easily incinerated them on sight.

“T-that was… t-that was kinda… m-mean.” mumbled Raine.

“Huh? They were going to attack us.” I replied.

“B-but w-what if… if t-they w-wanted to… to t-talk.” she suggested.

“I’ve never seen goblins wanting to talk before, and we need to be careful.” I insisted.

She huddled down more in her chair, not looking very happy.

“I’m sorry. I’ll try talking first next time.” I assured her.

Cosette was doing her best not to laugh, which was somewhat disturbing to see. Her lips had vanished entirely. The idea of altering one’s own body in such a way was bizarre to me, but I kind of envied the ability. Having seen Cosette turn into a bear in real life made me wonder how it felt. Could a person sleep more comfortably as a bear?

We pressed onward, eventually encountering another group of goblins. I dodged their first couple attacks while trying to speak with them quite unsuccessfully when I heard something strange coming from Raine’s mouth.

“Whoa. You actually speak goblin?” asked Cosette, having a mouth again.

I caught Raine nodding out of the corner of my eye as I continued avoiding attacks. Surprisingly, several of the goblins stopped to scratch their heads, staring at Nekopawpaw, Raine’s character. Some dialogue was exchanged between Nekopawpaw and one of them.

“T-they… t-they…” muttered Raine. “w-want to eat us.”

“I guess we kill them first then.” I stated, preparing to strike.

“N-no!” exclaimed Raine. “I-I’m g-giving them food… i-instead.”

“Oh. Sorry.” I told her.

After the exchange was made, most of the goblins cautiously backed away. One little fellow lunged at Nekopawpaw though. I panicked, knowing my character wasn’t that fast even though I was.

I found myself staring, replaying what just happened in my mind. Nekopawpaw had stepped backward, drawn out a giant smithing hammer, and bonked the goblin on the head midair. Stars swirled around its head, indicating the creature was dazed.

“B-bad goblin.” rebuked Raine.

“How did you learn to speak goblin?” asked Cosette.

“T-the l-library. M-most languages c-can be f-found there.” she explained. “Aalilyah t-told me. H-her c-character always t-talks her way out of t-things.”

“I honestly had assumed that was just some GM ability.” I admitted, watching warily as the goblin stood and ran off.

“N-no. I-I’ll get b-better.” insisted Raine.

“I’m sure you will.” I assured her.

“Know any of the other rare languages?” asked Cosette.

“All t-that are in the g-guild library.” mumbled Raine.

Looking impressed, Cosette said, “Whoa. You’ve been busy. Mind showing me sometime?”

“I-I’ll g-glady show you.” replied Raine with a smile.

“Mila, how many books on languages are stored in our guild library?” I asked.

“Three hundred and one, master. I would be happy to teach them to you.” she replied.

“Not right now.” I told her.

“Three hundred and one!? That’s crazy!” exclaimed Cosette with a grin. “And they’re really full languages?”

“Y-yes.” stated Raine.

At the same time, Mila said, “Of course. What else would you expect from mother? Her father is a linguist, you know. I will warn you that their use in everyday life will be slightly cumbersome, since she created no words for things that are not found outside of the game. Some of the languages are limited even within the game. Goblins, for example, have no word for ‘door’. They don’t use doors, make doors, or care about doors, so they never bothered with naming it.”

“Aww… I still feel we could have fun with it.” insisted Cosette.

“I should also warn you that learning the language yourself doesn’t count as your character learning it.” explained Mila. “If you were to speak goblin as Raine did, your words will sound like nonsense to those around you unless your character has the skill.”

“Why did you offer to teach me then?” I asked.

“Because you know I’m far better than a book, master.” she teased.

Cosette giggled and said, “Who can argue with that?”

I certainly wasn’t willing to try. We continued farther and farther into the wilderness, letting Raine talk down numerous creatures on the way. Though even Raine couldn’t talk to giant frogs we encountered near a river, she actually didn’t complain about killing them. She did, however, insist on us killing them without magic, since she wanted their meat for cooking.

Hours after we set out on our journey, we were finally getting close. Seeing what was ahead, I wanted to turn back. The land was corrupted precisely like what had happened when demons entered the world.

“We’re so close though! Can’t we just be careful?” asked Cosette.

“We can try, but we’re goners if we encounter the creature. This might be the one that escaped last summer.” I told her.

“Wasn’t playing yet. How bad was it?” she asked.

“The guild formed to fight them, and every last one of us died during the last battle, trying to fight two demons at once. We did manage to kill one of them though.” I explained.

“What!? How much of the guild was there?” she asked.

“Over twenty thousand members.” I stated. “Ancient Tribes of Earth somehow manages full army combat without crashing the server or causing low end PCs to freeze.”

“I kinda want to see this. That sounds so cool!” she exclaimed.

“Y-you d-didn’t have to d-do so many r-repairs for people.” muttered Raine.

“Oh. Yeah. I suppose we did make you a bit busier than normal even.” I admitted. “Sorry!”

“I d-don’t mind.” she replied.

“Let’s do this!” exclaimed Cosette, heading onward.

I sighed, hoping I didn’t lose all of my gear. Worse would be losing the traveling stone I carried. Even the loss of one would make conquering this demon harder. Following Cosette into the tainted lands, I felt we most certainly were having an adventure.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 283

“Pufflewink? What are you doing here?” I asked, bending down to pet the small, black kitten.

She nuzzled my hand briefly and then started walking away.

Where was Raine? She rarely let Pufflewink out of her sight. She would even take the kitten with her on jobs when possible, but I didn’t see her anywhere.

Pufflewink had stopped and looked up at me. My little fairy friend darted over to Pufflewink, and a vision entered my mind of me following the kitten. Who was I to argue with a fairy? Well, I did frequently, but not today! Pufflewink actually did start walking again once I took a couple steps behind her.

I quickly looked to the side, thinking I saw something there, but the curtains in the room we were passing were moving in the breeze from the vent. I really wasn’t good at taking things slow anymore. There were numerous times when I’d find myself partially distracted in the middle of listening to someone and had to take a moment to register what was just said.

Exceptional eyesight being a detriment at times was not something I ever would have considered before my change, but I could get distracted by a missed stitch in someone’s shirt that I vaguely noticed before focusing on it. When away from home, I could get startled by dust in the air if something seemed to be blowing toward me. The fighting over the last couple months had left its mark on me.

Pufflewink was obviously burdened by a sense of distraction as well. She’d happily march several feet with her tail flicking in the air, and then suddenly pounce at my little fairy friend, who easily dodged the kitten.

I pictured my little friend straddling the kitten, riding her like a mount. A confused feeling came to me along with an image of the fairy flying through the air. I tried again, trying to impart a sense of happiness with the thought. More confusion. This time I tried showing how happy I would be at seeing the little fairy with a kitten mount. No luck. The faint smell of food from this evening’s meal lingered near the kitchen, which gave me an idea. I pictured the fairy being fed if she were on the kitten, since I had never seen my little friend without appetite.

She finally granted my wish! I darted into the kitchen, grabbed some bacon, and used a spell to start cooking the bacon in air. My attempt at even cooking was blasted by a laser from my little friend, scorching part of the meat. Poor Pufflewink jumped at the flash of light, but my little friend easily soothed her, promising her bacon as well. Great. Now I felt bad. Raine had taught me that bacon wasn’t good for cats, though she’d eat plenty even in her kitten form. Poor Pufflewink would have to be denied.

“Mila, please say you’re recording this.” I stated.

“Of course, master. Mother, Lady Pendreigh, Cosette, and Raine are already watching.” she replied.

“Tell your mother it’s past her bedtime. Chad wouldn’t approve.” I teased.

“Quite right, master.” agreed Mila. “Mother wishes for me to inform you that she does what she wants. She hashtagged the response, reiterating that she does what she wants. There are also a very large number of GIFs attached if you wish to view them. Mother will surely complain if you don’t, but I warn you that the substantial sum would even take you a good minute to view in their entirety.”

I laughed, causing the pair before me to look back. An image came to mind of my little friend being fed, so I used a spell to feed her the burnt part first. Pufflewink’s attempts to catch the bacon were anticipated, but quite amusing to watch with a fairy on her back.

“Uh oh… Master…” started Mila.

Too late. Raine jumped through the air as a kitten, eating the rest of the bacon mid-leap before darting away.

“I should’ve known I was teasing two kittens.” I laughed.

Raine had proven capable of smelling food cooking from any part of the house. After she became more familiar with Marco’s dishes, she was even able to tell us what he was cooking. without Mila’s help.

My little friend flew off the kitten and up to my face, demanding to know why her bacon was gone. I pictured Raine’s theft in my mind, trying to leave out my sense of amusement by it. Raine had been moving slowly for her, but my little friend probably only caught a blur at best. The tiny fairy crossed her arms and mounted the kitten again, much to my delight. She projected an image of charging after Raine, but there was a question to it, asking for Raine’s location.

“Mila, where’s Raine?” I asked.

Pufflewink charged ahead.

“In the ballroom, master. Pufflewink knows. She was sent to fetch you.” explained Mila.

“Raine sent Pufflewink to fetch me?” I questioned, surprised by what I was hearing.

“She speaks cat, master. You’ve seen it.” replied Mila.

“Well, yes, but why wouldn’t she just ask you to call me or come find me herself?” I asked.

“Master, we’re speaking of Raine. You can’t really expect her motivations to be like most.” she stated.

“Fair point.” I acknowledged.

Though Raine was reasonably acclimated to living here now, she still was hesitant when speaking with most of us. Luckily, the jobs she took for my company all had shining reviews, though they were a bit more scarce than average.

I took off to the ballroom, dodging past Pufflewink on my way. Cosette and Raine were playing Ancient Tribes of Earth together. Raine, back to human, sank into her chair upon my arrival.

“I-I… I w-wanted Pufflewink t-to h-have an… an adventure.” she mumbled.

Oh. Right. She probably heard Mila and me speaking. Raine’s senses were beyond me by a very considerable margin.

“That’s fine. I was just surprised is all.” I assured her. “So what’s up?”

“Raine and I saw a meteor fall and thought you might help us go check the crash site.” explained Cosette.

“I suppose I can play for a bit. Why are we interested in a meteor?” I asked.

“M-materials.” muttered Raine.

“According to an old book she found, meteors occasionally bring rare ores to the world. She might be able to make some fancy weapons, armor, or jewelry from it!” exclaimed Cosette.

Cosette focused on healing magic in Ancient Tribes of Earth, but she had some combat skills as well. Her character, Madeleine, was a blonde halfling vampire whose face seemed to be modeled after Cosette’s own. Being part of the small vampire clan within our guild seemed to amuse her greatly, but I didn’t really see the appeal. Vampires had to use their magic or magic items to protect themselves from the sun during daylight hours and had penalized stats in bright light. They were pretty lethal in the dark, especially at night.

Given that Raine’s character still didn’t have any combat-related skills, I could see why the two wanted help. Alma was surely working, like always, and Portentia was probably out patrolling the city. There were plenty of guildmates on even this late, but many of them would probably be begging for Raine to craft something for them in exchange for help. She was still our best craftsman by far.

“Quest accepted.” I told them, sitting down as Mila logged me into the game. There was nothing quite like adventure to pass a night.