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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 266

Watching Jarod and Alma fight was incredible. Following their movements was quite easy, given that Jarod was human, but his skill was all the more obvious due to it. I wondered if Izumi was keeping up as well. Some of the counters Jarod performed were very subtle.

Alma, of course, was going to win. He couldn’t injure her, and she had ample time to plan graceful landings when he would have knocked her to the ground. They had been exchanging blows for at least five minutes, and Jarod was sweating profusely. On the other hand, I would have hated to see the mess Alma would be if she were human. Every hit against Jarod had a consequence that would leave most people with a broken bone or worse, and even Alma hadn’t found a real weakness in his defense.

I glanced toward the door when a rattling sound jarred me from my concentration. “Raine!? Are you alright?” I asked.

“J-James… i-is…- is s-she r-really… d-did she… c-come to t-take… the t-twins?” she asked.

Her eyes seemed narrower than normal, and there was an edge to her voice that worried me. She seemed tense. I glanced back at Izumi, surprised to see Ai and Mai standing in front of her. They were scared. Izumi seemed even more surprised.

“Ah. Raine. Thank you for delivering us our tea. Was Marco busy?” asked Alma as she walked over to us.

“W-we can’t… c-can’t let I-Izu-m-mi… A-Alma… t-the wedding…” complained Raine.

“Why don’t I take these for you?” stated Alma as she used a spell to set the tray Raine carried on the table. “Word does travel fast around here, doesn’t it. Lady Izumi, how do you feel about your daughters’ engagement?”

“To whom am I speaking?” she inquired.

“Oh. My apologies. Allow me to introduce Raine Vance, possibly the most timid werecat on the planet. Raine, this is the mother of Ai and Mai, Lady Izumi.” explained Alma.

“I think I better have a word with Raine in private. Please feel free to continue in my absence.” I stated, tentatively stepping toward Raine. I reached to place a hand on her shoulder, despite seeing residual energy pouring off her, but I might well have attempted to grab a shadow.

I looked around, trying to spot her. The smooth facade was gone from Alma’s face, replaced by wariness. Everyone looked concerned as they searched the room with their eyes as well.

I did a double take at the far corner. I didn’t really see Raine exactly, but there were glowing feline eyes in the shadows. Wait, there shouldn’t even be shadows there. The way the room seemed to be twisting around that area made me certain. I took a step toward her, saying, “Raine! Please, just calm down! I know you don’t want to hurt anyone. I promise you that things will work out.”

She was suddenly next to me, staring up at me. I hated to see her so distraught. Even covered in needle-like fur, I could tell she was scared.

“Y-you p-promise?” she asked, her voice sounding distorted.

I slowly reached out to her, saying, “I promise.” My hand touched a very human shoulder, and I relaxed.

There were tears in her eyes as she continued staring up at me for a moment. Then she looked to the floor and said, “I-I w-was… I-I’m sorry.”

I gave her a hug and told her “Don’t be sorry.” Then I tilted her chin up and told her “Just go find something to distract you for a bit. I seem to recall you being behind on your orders for the guild in Ancient Tribes of Earth.”

“I-I was w-working… l-last n-night. W-well, I-I f-felt… I… n-napped. S-sorry. I-I’ll get… f-finish t-them.” she muttered before running out of the room.

I turned to apologize again to Izumi, but was somewhat surprised to find her mouth silently working. She still looked scared.

“Sorry about the interruption, but Raine can be rather forceful in a way. “ I admitted.

“F-forceful? You’re harboring a d-demon.” she replied, speaking in Japanese now.

“She’s only half-demon. She really is half-werecat. Don’t worry. Adelmar keeps himself apprised of my staff.” I informed her in English.

“He is well aware that I am a vampire and still offered me France.” stated Cosette with a smile. “He can be quite generous, don’t you think?”

Izumi seemed to unconsciously step away from Cosette as she turned toward Alma and asked in English “Adelmar is aware of this?”

“Of course. Are you insinuating that I would keep things from my cousin?” asked Alma.

“N-no.” she blurted. Turning to me, she said, “You have interesting companions, Mr. Somerset.”

I nodded, but told her “Call me James, please. I still think of my father as ‘Mr. Somerset.’” Then I smiled and asked “What did you think of Jarod’s performance before the interruption?”

“He is a remarkable man, and I would be quite happy to accept him as the husband of one of my daughters.” she stated.

I sighed, not wanting to believe I just heard what I did.

“Okaasama, careful!” urged Ai.

“She’ll hear you.” warned Mai.

Alma used a spell to serve everyone tea as she said, “Your daughters are trying to keep you alive. I am quite certain that Raine has better hearing than James and me.”

The blood that had been returning to Izumi’s face seemed to depart again, and I refrained from informing her that Raine probably wouldn’t kill her over the matter, being a gentle person at heart.

“Even knowing your daughters as you do, how can you insist on marrying separate people?” I asked.

“They are two people, and polygamy is illegal.” she replied.

Alma sighed dramatically and then said, “Adelmar has just granted James permission to challenge you over the matter with me presiding over the challenge. James, please leave some life in her. A light flick will probably be enough.”

“But… James isn’t one of us, not yet.” she muttered before closing her eyes. She quite visibly winced.

“My cousin is having a little talk with Izumi. Her stubbornness failed to amuse him in this matter.” explained Alma with a wry smile.

Quickly handing her tea to Mai, Izumi dropped to her knees, placing her palms and head on the floor in dogeza style as she said, “I concede and ask your forgiveness.”

“Please rise. I’m happy that we could reach peaceful settlement on the matter.” I told her.

Izumi rose and nodded, but she seemed fatigued now, as if all her energy were spent.

“If you’ll excuse me, I want to check on Raine. Mila will inform you when dinner is ready if you’ll dine with us.” I stated before walking toward the door. I had enough with Slayer business for today, though I was relieved that I didn’t have to press the issue further.

Raine was curled up in her chair, looking almost as if she were napping with the game running, but one of her hands deftly moved around the keyboard. Her character was hammering away at a sword, each stroke under her command. She apparently had crafted enough to memorize every position on the screen. If she peeked to find the bucket when she doused the blade, I didn’t notice.

I told her “Izumi has conceded on the matter of her daughters’ engagement. Hopefully, there won’t be any other opposing parties.”

Without looking up or even opening her eyes, she said, “T-thank you. I-I’m s-sorry… about…”

“Don’t worry about anything, Raine. Just talk with me if you have a problem. We’re friends, right?” I insisted.

She smiled as she looked at me, and I found myself hoping that I really would be able to help her.

“Everything will be fine.” I assured us both.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 261

“Why don’t I use up some of this excess energy, so someone else can have a turn showing off?” I suggested.

Without waiting for a response, I started forming several spells, loading each with an abundance of energy. I had pulled in too much earlier for such a short demonstration. Oh. Alma’s protections were down… I sighed, pausing for a moment midway through the spells. Now I would wonder if…

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. Yes, you affected her, but she already loved you. The love she projected to everyone was no less real.” insisted Aaliyah as she hugged me.

Everyone was frozen in place, except for Aaliyah and me. I knelt down and hugged her.

“Thank you. Do you think we’re getting through to my parents?” I asked.

“You always do just fine, boss-man, sir. Don’t worry. Your parents aren’t as adventurous as you. They won’t get in too much trouble.” claimed Aaliyah.

“That doesn’t sound too reassuring.” I admitted.

Letting go of me, Aaliyah walked over toward my father. “Well, there is this…” she stated, reaching up toward him.

I lifted her and asked “What?”

Her hand seemed to pass through my father’s chest, emerging a moment later, covered in something.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Alpy noticed your father’s heart beating a bit irregularly. She’s planning on talking to you about it later. I just pulled out some clogs. Icky, aren’t they!?” she exclaimed, grinning at me as she held her hand toward me.

“What!? Is there something I can do?” I asked.

Aaliyah stared into my eyes and said, “Most everyone dies eventually, James.”

Looking into her eyes, I became aware of something vast before me, an endless ocean with unfathomable depths. Yet, I was holding this tiny girl who stretched on and on for eternity. I wasn’t ready to lose my father. Not yet. I knew she was right, but… Was she taking him soon?

“Are you kidding, boss-man, sir? I just put many years of happy eating back on his life!” she exclaimed. Leaning closer, she whispered “I may have done a bit more than you just saw.” Then she grabbed my face in her tiny hands, somehow clean again, and said, “When the time does come, I’ll still be taking care of everyone. You worry too much, boss-man, sir. I took care of your mother too.”

“What was wrong with mother?” I asked.

“Nothing yet, and now that ‘yet’ is fixed. I’m an expert at parental health.” she told me with a wink. “Just take a deep breath, and get on with the show!”

I did as she said and heard the others come back into motion while I finished my spells.

“Oh. That looks eerie, dear.” stated mother. “What did you do?”

“I redirected light around the area, and then created a dim light within. There’s also a spell that will light up the ground wherever it’s touched.” I explained.

“I’m guessing you wanted me to demonstrate a bit more then.” surmised Cosette. “Very well. Even this shade’s been difficult on me though, so let me just check on Portentia first. I’ll be right back.”

“Let’s show them what we can do, sis. No need for an intermission.” suggested Brandon.

Brenna rolled her eyes and said, “Fine, but I’m going to cheat too.”

As he walked away from the group, Brandon grew in size till his clothes were taught again. His giant footprints glowed as he passed into the area of my spell. Brenna followed, preparing a spell as she went.

Brandon attacked, bringing two giant fists down toward his sister. She flipped backward, and unleashed her spell on Brandon’s legs, knocking them out from under him. He managed to catch himself with his hands enough to turn his fall into a roll. Brenna cartwheeled out of the way, and then quickly created a fire between them.

Even knowing that Brandon could heal himself from a burn, I felt a little uncomfortable with that spell present. At least she hadn’t used it on him.

As Brandon stepped around the fire, Brenna created a flash of light in front of his eyes and ran behind him. When Cosette and Portentia sprinted out of the house toward them, Brenna fell backward as she tried stopping herself.

Brandon turned around to find Portentia staring up at him and visibly gulped. “Emma! Tree me!” he yelled.

“Fine! Just a sec!” she replied, throwing a seed toward him and creating a gust of air to blow it farther.

Portentia, however, didn’t wait. She ran to Brandon’s side and kicked the back of his leg. Then she jumped at his descending arm, and used it to toss him. I had to admit that watching someone her size throw a ten foot tall man was very impressive.

Brenna and Cosette were doing more traditional martial arts against one another, but Brenna was too outmatched physically. She couldn’t really even harm Cosette with a physical blow. When she knocked Cosette back with a spell, Cosette leaped back at her, twisting out of her clothes and changing into a black wolf midair. Brenna was so startled that she fell backward, allowing Cosette to land on her, baring her fangs.

“Is that what you do, Raine?” asked mother.

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Raine’s transformation is even quicker and more dramatic.” I told them.

“Her clothes tend to shred instead of slipping off. Therianthropes don’t have the type of control Cosette’s showing.” explained Alma. “Ai. Mai. Go help the redheads.”

“Yes, Lady Pendreigh.” they replied.

As they sprinted into action, they started casting spells to melt the distant snow. Then Ai created a force to push Cosette off Brenna while Mai used a spell to trip Portentia. Brandon used the distraction to dive for the branchless tree Emma had grown, attempting to pull it out of the ground.

Emma giggled.

“Oh, stop teasing the poor boy.” ordered Alma with a smile.

“Fiiine.” replied Emma.

The tree tore free, and Brandon immediately tried clubbing Portentia with it, almost hitting Mai.

“Careful, soulless! I’m helping you if you didn’t notice!” exclaimed Mai as Portentia flipped over the tree at her.

Water surged through the air into the fray, slamming against Portentia. Cosette seemed to melt before the water hit, but then appeared as an exceptionally quick bear, swiping at Ai.

“Just put your clothes back on already.” snapped Ai as she dodged the swipe.

I never had thought to see a bear shrug before, but this one did. Then she dove at her clothes, her shape contorting into them. Even more surprising to me was Midnight being pulled out from nowhere, severing Mai’s control over the water as it connected.

“James, did you see that!?” asked Alma.

“Yes. She just touched the ground and pulled out her staff.” I replied.

“We probably should stop this if that’s involved.” stated Alma.

“Have a little faith. She’s very skilled now.” I told her.

“Yes, she is, which is why the twins might do something rash.” she cautioned.

The light diminished around me, and I barely glimpsed Raine before she moved. A deeper darkness briefly moved throughout the area I had darkened. A large circle formed from everyone who had been fighting, with each of them staring around.

“T-that’s e-enough.” muttered Raine from the center, back to her human form.

“Whoa.” stated father, looking shocked.

Alma was peering at him inquisitively but said nothing.

“Did you feel that?” asked mother, looking startled.

“If you felt afraid for a moment, don’t be too alarmed. That was just Raine. She can’t help it.” I told her. Was this why Aaliyah had appeared, why she helped my father?

“Maybe.” came her voice as a whisper on the wind.

I smiled, grateful for my friend.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 251

The snowball fight ― which commenced after Ai, seeing Brenna hit her brother with a snowball, magically formed one to strike Jarod ― would probably be the stuff of legends for future generations, but I expected such antics to ensue many times throughout my company’s future.

Instead of retaliating against the twins, Jarod threw a snowball at me, and I redirected it at Mai, knowing that not just one of the twins was ever guilty. Hundreds of snowballs flew toward me, but I ducked behind Alma, who created a wall around us from the snow on the ground. She cheated a bit, in my opinion, reinforcing the wall with a telekinetic spell.

After impact, the wall exploded into snowballs, aiming at everyone in the vicinity, excluding me. Aaliyah seemed to unknowingly duck at just the right moment to dodge, obliviously picking up a decoration from the ones her aunt had made. Ariadne, on the other hand, was able to create a very decorative-looking wall of ice from nothing, despite her close proximity. Portentia acrobatically dodged several with incredible grace, not getting hit once. Mila blocked hers with the umbrella she carried out, and Cosette seemed to reflexively block one with her arm, knocking it to the side. I found myself wondering at how she developed such a reflex, given her novice performance at our daily exercises.

Raine, seeming to be asleep in the snow near Cosette’s feet, barely even twitched when she was hit by some of the snow from the snowball Cosette blocked. Ai and Mai caught theirs with their natural magic while Jarod caught the one aimed at him during a spinning dodge. Brandon, who was still making his snowball to attack his sister, was hit soundly in the back as Brenna took one to the arm. Emma, grinning, just let herself be hit. I couldn’t tell if my little fairy friend was disappointed nothing came at her or simply confused by the situation. Either way, she was excited when the retaliation came at Alma and me.

Vines erupted from the snow covered ground, using leaves to pack snowballs as they grew. The barrage they threw would have been considered quite formidable by most if that were all, but Ai and Mai were easily matching Emma as they caused snowballs to leap from the ground at us. Brandon was a little disturbing to watch, barely fitting in his clothing as he grew and threw something more akin to a snow-boulder than snowball. Brenna managed to magically hurl two snowballs at us while throwing a third. Portentia, Mila, and Cosette weren’t holding back their speed, rapidly lobbing snowballs at us as well.

As Alma and I were busy dodging, blocking, and redirecting snowballs, Aaliyah calmly worked away at the base of her snowman, appearing completely engrossed in the task. I felt Ariadne’s magic as I saw the flash of light just above me, but I wasn’t quick enough to dodge the snowballs that appeared already in motion. Alma didn’t do any better, an obvious hole was in her latest snow wall. How did one fight Ariadne? We found out a moment later when one of the fey appeared from nowhere, striking Ariadne from behind as she turned.

Alma, looking somewhere between amused and annoyed, created a mist to cover the creature and said, “If she’s going to come play, would you mind providing her with clothing?”

“I don’t mind, but I make no promises about her keeping anything on.” replied Ariadne, creating the clothing as she spoke.

“There aren’t any footprints.” I stated, realizing what was missing.

“She is a mystery.” admitted Alma.

Meanwhile, my little fairy friend was emulating Aaliyah and rolling a tiny ball of snow across the ground. Then she laboriously lifted the ball in her arms, flew to the other fey girl, and dropped it on her head.

With the others continuing to attack us, I called for a time-out, feeling we should divide into teams and establish some ground rules, mainly assigning a “fort” to each team and setting a victory condition in a capture the flag sort of manner. We also decided on preparation time to reinforce each base. Ariadne was kind enough to provide actual flags.

For obvious reasons, both sides wanted the newly arrived fey girl. Ariadne, thankfully, was interpreting for me, so the fey might better understand what I was meaning. Alma created a second little village for her team’s fort, including the fey girl, Brenna, Ai, Mai, and Mila. I was with the rest in the original village.

With Ariadne’s help, I created an enchantment around our flag that might keep Alma from detecting it too easily.

Once resumed, the snowball fight quickly escalated again. Aaliyah, still making her snowman, agreed to be the arbiter and timekeeper for when people were allowed back into play after being hit.

My little fairy friend proved more useful than I expected. Given her exceptionally tiny stature, the other team didn’t often notice her until she was dropping a tiny snowball on them. Of course, she still got distracted pretty easily and the beams of light when she blasted snowballs out of the air were very obvious.

The battle raged back and forth with both teams scoring. Many methods of victory were eliminated after the point, such as Emma pulling the the flag through the ground to our base with a plant and Alma vaporizing any snowball that came near her as she casually walked our flag back to her base.

Things took an unexpected turn when Raine was hit with one of Brandon’s stray snow-boulders. At first, I thought she was angry, transformed as she was. She looked around for a moment, and then started rapidly making piles of snowballs. I was quite certain nobody managed to dodge as Raine actually fought back, seeming to appear next to people as she attacked with snowballs. Even Alma was too stunned to even move. Maybe “startled” would be more appropriate.

When Brandon protested being out, Aaliyah declared “Fair game! Two points for team Raine, since you don’t have a snowball’s chance of guarding your flags with no players to defend against her. Boss-man, sir, our little fairy friend’s looking for Raine over there.” She pointed to one of the snow buildings.

“Okay, but Raine… You fought back!” I exclaimed.

She transformed back to her human form. “I-I… D-don’t h-hit me when… wh-when I-I’m napping. I-it’s r-rude.” she mumbled.

“Yeah, Brandon!” exclaimed Brenna as she punched him. “No picking on the kitty.”

“Why so nervous, child? We’re all friends here.” stated Ariadne.

Raine backed away from her, saying, “I-I’m s-sorry. I… I… I…”

“You probably wouldn’t guess how frustrated and amused you make me. I’ve spent over two thousand years healing people, and I can’t do a thing to help you.” replied Ariadne.

Raine seemed to fight with herself for a moment before taking a step forward and assuring Ariadne “D-don’t worry. I-I’m f-fine. I… I just… y-your m-magic feels i-icky.”

Laughing, Ariadne replied “I suppose that would be the case for you.”

Life here was never dull. That was my certainty.