Best Friend For Hire, Entry 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mila, how did she do?” I asked.

“Perfectly satisfactory.” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. All done.” she lied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The what?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This place is so weird.” she stated.

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

“Because it’s awesome!” exclaimed Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portentia then said, “I had… work.”

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

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

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

“So.. about Brandon…” started Deyanira.

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

“Huh?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

“No. I teach them.” I replied.

“I… see.” she muttered.

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

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

“Oh?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. It’s Brandon.” stated Kayla.

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

“Aww… but James…” pouted Kayla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you married or something?” asked Deyanira.

“What!? No.” he assured her.

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

“Umm… you?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

“Called?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh… sorry about that.” stated Brandon.

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

“Get anything good?” asked Deyanira.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You cook?” she asked, sounding surprised.

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 298

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

“But James…” she pouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll pass.” stated Cosette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mila!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Yes, mother?” she asked.

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

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

“Memos are important!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

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

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

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

Aaliyah stuck her tongue out at Mila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ouch. So burned.” claimed Emma.

“Boss, a little help.” stated Brandon.

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

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

“Mila! You too?” complained Brandon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Why me?” she inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deal!” he exclaimed.

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

“Whoa. What’s she mean?” asked Jemal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 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 296

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Where’s that?” he replied.

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

“It’s working!” he exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled and said, “I can hope.”

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

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

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

I replied.

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

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

“Yeah. Don’t try that.” he replied.

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

“No idea.” he admitted.

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 295

“W-Wow.” stated Jemal as he stared up at me.

“Yes?” I asked, releasing his hand from our handshake.

“Nothing. Sorry.” he quickly stated.

“Take a deep breath, have a seat, and relax.” I told him, walking around my desk to have a seat. The room currently looked like a more typical office with wood walls and flooring, a bookshelf on one side, and leather chairs.

He took a breath, sat, and immediately said, “Whoa.”

“The seats feel a little different than they look.” I stated with a smile.

“No kidding, but they’re really soft. What is this?” he asked.

“It’s complicated. Why do you feel you’d be an excellent addition to Best Friend For Hire?” I asked.

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Well… umm…” he started.

He was definitely nervous. I already knew I was going to hire him, having had a thorough briefing from Aaliyah, but I wanted to work on my interview skills.

“I-I’m a hard worker, fast learner, and I won’t let you down.” he blurted.

“What if I ask the impossible of you?” I questioned.

“P-pardon?” he stuttered, staring at me with eyes wide.

“What if I ask you to do something beyond your limits?” I teased.

“I dunno. I mean… well, I-I’ll try anything you say.” he replied. “That’s what we do here, right? Try to please people no matter their request?”

Smiling, I said, “No, actually. We try to act as a best friend for our clients, always pursuing their best interests but never being afraid to tell them if they’re in the wrong. Part of your schedule as an employee here will be training in numerous things, such as martial arts. I would want you to be the type of best friend who can protect yourself as well as those around you, but I never want you to feel you have to be a hero, just the best possible friend you can be. The skills of those here vary greatly. Aaliyah, my secretary, is the president of Global Princess Entertainment which made Ancient Tribes of Earth, currently the most successful video game on the market. Emma is the best gardener you’ll ever meet. Our chef, Marco, has yet to make a meal that is less than exceptional. Jarod is a self-made millionaire due to his engineering prowess. Mila is a self-aware Artificial Intelligence capable of tending to everyone’s needs with exceptional skill and care, often foreseeing a need before it even arises. What can you bring to the team?”

“Umm… uh… P-perseverance. I don’t have any skills as incredible as those sound, but I will stick to the task at hand until I see the job done right.” he assured me. “You’ll never find anyone with more determination than me.”

“You might be surprised.” I told him, thinking of Portentia. If he could compete with her on determination, I’d be impressed.

“Can you juggle?” I asked.

His jaw went slack for a second before he said, “What? No. Sorry. Is that something I’ll be doing? I’m sure I can learn.”

I shrugged and told him “Sorry. I really need to work on my skills as an interviewer, having never needed to be interviewed for a job myself. I wasn’t inclined to get a more typical job, so I made this company.”

“I know, sir. Er… umm… I read about you founding the company on the site when I applied, not about your interview skills. T-those seem fine.” he assured me.

“You failed to place an emergency contact on your application, and your résumé could use some work on the formatting.” I informed him. “We can help you on both accounts. I’m sure you’ll fit in here just fine.” I held out my hand to him.

He looked at it and then to me. “Y-you’re hiring me?” he asked.

I nodded, and he quickly grasped my hand in both of his.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you! I won’t let you down!” he exclaimed.

“Please, just call me ‘James’. Everyone does. Well, not everyone, but there’s no need to call me ‘sir’ all the time.” I assured him.

“But master, mother loves calling you ‘sir’.” insisted Mila.

Jemal looked around as if he were confused.

“As I told you, Mila’s a sophisticated A.I. She’s integrated throughout the house, many of the vehicles, and phones as well as the body who greeted you at the door.” I explained.

“Welcome to Best Friend For Hire, Jemal.” she told him.

“T-that’ll take some getting used to. When do I start?” he asked.

“After you move in, assuming you will want to live here. I suppose you could start immediately if you don’t. There’s a wing dedicated to employee housing, and Marco provides exceptional meals.” I replied.

“Oh… umm… How do you feel about kids? Ya see, I’ve got a kid sister whom I need to look after.” he told me.

I nodded and said, “Kayla can live here too. The second floor of the employee wing has some accommodations for families. They’re not large, but the entire first floor of the main building is open for everyone’s use. There’s also the employee rec center where you can get some exercise if you feel like a swim, lifting weights, or anything of that nature. If you have any questions, Mila’s always available to help out.”

“What… umm… How did you know my sister’s name?” he asked.

“Aaliyah does a thorough background check on everyone who applies. Though use of magic on these grounds is encouraged, I do ask that you don’t ever use magic in front our clients, save as a last resort to protect someone.” I informed him. “Come along. I’ll give you a tour.”

“Magic!? What?” he asked.

“Yes, you’re able to create telekinetic effects whenever you’re emotional or really focused. That’s a result of inborn magical ability. Such things are perfectly normal here.” I explained.

Mila was physically awaiting us in the hall and quietly followed.

“You’re joking…” he told me, looking more than a little shocked when a light appeared over my hand.

“Though not a requirement, most people here have ‘gifts’ of this nature. My fiancée can create enormous amounts of heat, enough to vaporize a city from what I’ve heard. Emma’s skill with gardening is aided by her ability to manipulate plants in a very large area, causing them to grow and flourish or even revert to seeds at her whim. You’ll see.” I assured him. “Along with lessons in martial arts, I give lessons in magic every morning. Your sister’s welcome to join us. I understand she has similar abilities to your own, though slightly stronger.”

“What kind of background service did you use!?” exclaimed Jemal. “Sorry, sir… er… James. T-that’s just not the type of stuff on public record.”

I stopped on the stairs, looked him in the eye, and said, “Trust me on this: Aaliyah’s explanations are so incredibly thorough that everyone will question your sanity if you attempt to even read your employment contract in full. I can only imagine the weeks you’d spend listening if she were to explain her background check process.”

“Oh, master, you’ll spoil all of mother’s fun!” complained Mila.

Jemal glanced at Mila and then stared at me a moment before nodding. Then we proceeded down the stairs.

“Is Cosette in?” I asked.

“She’s currently on a job, master.” replied Mila.

I nodded and led Jemal onward. Cosette was popular with all of her clients, going by the reviews she received. Day jobs took so much extra care for her that I felt a tad guilty for not working out the changes for her new suit yet. I didn’t bother inquiring after Emma, since she had talked about visiting the fey not even an hour ago.

Upon arriving in the kitchen, I introduced Jemal to Marco, who was thrilled to have another person with whom he could converse in Italian. Marco then insisted that Jemal and I try some of the stracciatella semifreddo he had made for tonight’s dessert. Who could refuse?

Introductions with the others went well enough before Jemal needed to get back to his apartment. I insisted that he let us help him with the move when he was ready, knowing that Aaliyah had already scheduled everyone for that day.

Jemal had gone through enough troubles after his father died eight months ago, so stressing over a move wasn’t one he needed. His half-sister was abandoned with him three months ago when her mother took off without even leaving a note. He was desperate and needed a hand, and I could give him that much with ease. With how highly Aaliyah spoke of his character, I had no doubts that he’d be a magnificent fit here. He was quite welcome.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 294

“10… 9… 8…” counted Aaliyah.

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

“7… 6.. 5…” she continued.

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

“3… 2… 1…” she stated.

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

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

“James!?” she asked so slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosette’s toothy grin looked a bit ferocious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frowning, she said, “I see.”

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I-I win.” she stated.

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

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

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

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

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

“N-no.” stated Raine.

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

Raine shook her head negatively.

“Why not?” Alma asked with a sigh.

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

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

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