About Jovial Times

I enjoy writing and hope that I might bring a few more smiles to this world by doing what I enjoy.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 233

Watching the snowfall, I wondered if I had arrived far too early. James’ jobs didn’t always have set deadlines for finishing, and who would wish for him to ever leave? Numerous patrons in the cafe were watching me with barely any effort put into being covert. Thankfully no one had approached me.

James and I were to have our first official date today, assuming he could manage to meet me. After a light snack in this cafe, we were to go shopping together, buying presents and attempting to enjoy ourselves despite the crowds.

Over the past few days, I was probably a bit too rough during our training sessions by his estimate. I couldn’t afford to coddle him, not when I knew what some of his opponents would be like. Each would be trying to kill him and some had the potential to be successful.

I knew James would never attempt to kill, so I had to spend extra time helping him become a step ahead of the rest. He needed to master far more ways to force submission if he truly wanted to win without harming my family.

As I sipped my tea, I finally felt his approach, and my eyes automatically sought for him in the crowd. Seeing the way he moved, I realized we needed to work on his ability to blend into a crowd. Far too many girls stared after him with obvious longing for my taste.

James, of course, didn’t seem to notice them. He had spotted me already. Our eyes met despite the distance, and I wished I could chide him from here over not making an attempt to appear cold. Winter required acting for ones such as ourselves.

Too late I realized what I felt speeding towards him, knocking him off balance midstride. As I rushed out of the cafe, two more bullets joined the first. I had been too careless in thinking no one would act against us this soon. Panic and rage battled within me. Who would dare to treat my boyfriend as some common animal to be put down!?

A man passing James jumped as I appeared before him. He wasn’t involved, so I used a simple memory spell on him. He didn’t need to remember us. James looked up at me, and I let the breath I held escape. There was no blood. James was fine. He was alive and uninjured.

Seconds passed as I calmed myself. I hit him after he stood for making me worry. “You startled me. Did you deflect them?”

He stared at me in confusion, and I realized I could feel the hot slugs pressed against his back where they had hit. Even enchanted bullets couldn’t pierce him. I needed to focus. He needed to leave, and I would deal with his attackers.

“Your coat is ruined, and you simply can’t be seen like this. Head home quickly and avoid detection. I’ll meet you there.” I assured him.

He still looked confused, staring at me as if he wanted to argue. Instead, he asked “What hit me?”

I peeled the slugs from his back, placed them in his hand, and said, “These. Now go!”

Sprinting away, I was thankful he didn’t follow me. This would not be pleasant, but I needed to make an example before more of my family was foolish enough to attempt such an assassination. If Aaliyah decided we were breaking contract, she’d annihilate us all.

The bullets’ trajectory told me precisely in which building to look, and knowledge of my family’s tactics helped me locate the two assistants on the way. I didn’t even slow down for them, casting spells to bring them safely up to speed instead. The triggerman was caught up in my magic and hauled with the rest to a safehouse.

I bound all three with a spell and took the mobile off the lookout. The stark terror in their eyes was enough to be certain they recognized me. I had an unfortunate reputation and these three had to become a message for their master as well as other fools in my family.

“Plea-” started one of them before I gagged the lot with a spell.

My cousin was kind enough to give me the name and number for the one who gave these men their orders, saving me a few minutes of calls. I set up a video call for their boss and their boss’ boss, showing the men as their bodies started to burn from the tips of their fingers and toes. They’d burn for a full day, though I hoped they’d die well before my spell ended.

A tear slid down my cheek, and I quickly wiped it away. This was necessary. Treating someone of my standing with so little respect that they’d gun my boyfriend down instead of sending a worthy opponent was an insult. If I didn’t send a message, they’d think I’ve gone soft and my people would suffer attacks. I would not let that happen.

I gave orders to the guardian of the safehouse and set off to Somerset Estate. I needed to see James and prepare him for what might come next.

,,,^._.^,,,

I could do this. Just needed to press the button. I reached toward the door bell and nearly jumped when someone inside got up, moving around. There was talk of building a house. Ancient Tribes of Earth was being played. They weren’t coming for me. People here would be nice. There was laughter and teasing. They were nice. This would be okay.

I raised my arm again. This time I could do it. How many minutes had passed since I arrived? I remembered seeing James and the princess. They were so kind to everyone when they were advertising the big event for Ancient Tribes of Earth. James was my guild leader. He was always nice. The officers were mostly nice. I could do this. They’d be nice. This was okay.

Something rushed toward the drive far more quickly than normal, stopping at the end. I caught the smell on the breeze shortly after. James… he was behind me. Was he always that fast? I lowered my arm again. Should I greet him? I needed to pretend I didn’t know he was there. Must pass for human. I could do this. I had an interview. I was supposed to be here. He expected me… expected me to be normal.

I just wanted to curl up and block the screams out of my head. There was always a dark place in my mind, an endless nightmare crying out for me to join it. I could understand the voices there before I could understand my own mom. Oh, mom… mustn’t cry. I was an adult and my own. Must…

He approached me, rushing up the drive. I was so tempted to run and hide. I didn’t need shelter or food. I could live in the wild. Everyone was safer if I was somewhere else. There was a forest so close… it felt strange. Something was off about it, but maybe the animals were nice? I didn’t want to be alone, not that I ever was. The voices called and called…

Arms wrapped around me, hugging me softly. They felt so warm, so wonderful. James… his smell filled me, and I was happy. He was wonderful, completely wonderful.

“Raine! I can’t believe you’re here.” stated James, sounding relieved as if he were happy to see me.

How did he know my name? Did he know me from the event? I thought of running but knew I shouldn’t. I didn’t really want to. I was scared yet relaxed. James was here, and he was hugging me.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 232

The countless voices of the fey were a dull background noise in my head compared with the turbulent thoughts concerning what I should do. Earlier tonight when I was told to wait with Jarod in the car, watching as others did battle, I wasn’t opposed. My parents never wanted me to be a warrior, though they trained me for war, but upon seeing the others fight so gallantly against the obvious evil, doubts had multiplied in my head.

Mere zombies could not have killed me. Without a weapon, I would have needed to resort to savage attacks, such as tearing them limb-from-limb with my bare hands, but I was certain I’d have managed. The brutal spell which had torn through the car was another story, one that might have killed me if not for Mila. She was gone now; a strange A.I. who had became a friend with ease, now gone.

James wasn’t the only one concerned for me with the car, with Mila, destroyed. The walk to the hospital had been time consuming. There was little talk, but shared looks and embraces were many. I was accepted here. Despite not fighting, I shared in that experience with them, shared in their pain. Even the scent of blood setting my throat on fire with thirst had been muted next to the ache in my heart. We were wounded together in defeat, dismissed by the titans who sent us away for protection.

Adelmar’s appearance had been a shock to me. Luckily, Papa’s training had taken over. Instincts polished to perfection guided me in speaking to the Slayer. Papa had always spoken of them as absolutes, unbeatable forces for the likes of me, but even a human might dissuade a dragon from its dinner, or so he had told me.

The childhood image of a Slayer was diminished now that I had met one. Adelmar was an open book. His annoyance was plain past his smile as I turned him down, but he would not act against me. He was scared of James, Alma, and even Aaliyah. His body betrayed his feelings. Despite James’ annoyed acceptance of Adelmar’s commands, James was still in charge here. I was safe.

“Shouldn’t we be heading in soon?” inquired James.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right, James.” replied Adelmar, sadly acting as if he merely acknowledged someone mirroring his thoughts. “As much as I dislike their position on relocation, I must say these creatures are magnificent. Your little friend by herself could be the key to a better world. Her abilities are fascinating.”

“I find that she makes a better world simply by existing. She doesn’t need to do anything in particular.” I argued, staring back as Adelmar turned his gaze on me.

“Boss-man, sir, upstairs!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she stretched her arms up toward him. “You know Marco is on time, so we need to hurry!”

I kept my expression neutral despite feeling amused that Adelmar Slayer was now having his actions dictated by a chef’s schedule.

James, however, was openly amused by something as he casually lifted Aaliyah. Was he aware of how Adelmar had leaned away from them?

“Cosette, please set the pace.” commanded Adelmar.

Yes, I was the slowest person among us, but I loathed to obey. I glanced at James who nodded. His order I didn’t mind, so I ran. Despite knowing those behind me could easily overtake me, I kept my pace slower than a sprint. Papa never wanted me to reveal my true strength unless my life was threatened by me holding back. The element of surprise was too important for escape as well as victory.

“She’s quick for her age, James, assuming she didn’t lie to us about it.” mentioned Alma as she followed.

I nearly frowned. I didn’t know how quick I was supposed to be, having never met another vampire of my age. My parents had been significantly faster.

Aaliyah was quick to say, “She didn’t lie. I promise.” Of course, she could probably tell that I was holding back. Aaliyah always knew more than anyone wanted.

“Did you notice she doesn’t use any spells to guard herself when she moves?” inquired Alma, like an instructor commenting to a pupil.

“I honestly wasn’t paying attention.” admitted James, unashamed by his lack in attention.

Adelmar whispered something so very faint that I couldn’t catch it.

Alma then said, “Protecting themselves while they move seems innate to vampires. You should see the speed of the older ones.”

Anger shot through me and drifted off. I wasn’t rising to imagined bait even with them talking about me as an interesting experiment. We were almost to the door.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Looks like I’ll be leaving you. My wife has noticed my absence.” announced Adelmar the moment we arrived at the door.

I was instantly annoyed with my cousin. “You didn’t tell her you were going out again.” I accused, despite understanding why.

“She would have protested, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with her at the time.” Turning to face James, he said, “I’ll sample some of Marco’s cooking in the kitchen first. My cousin has told me such great things about it.”

Adelmar entered the house just after he stopped speaking, and James moved as if to follow. I grabbed his arm, knowing my cousin would only be a moment. James didn’t need to appear paranoid in this matter. He frowned, but the frown left him as Adelmar returned.

“He is good.” admitted Adelmar. He took my hand and said, “Cousin, please behave until I see you again.” Then he kissed my hand, released it, and clasped James’ free hand. “James, you have a wonderful home. Take care of my cousin and do try to survive.” He merely nodded to the tiny girl James held before saying, “Aaliyah.”

Cosette seemed surprisingly relaxed still when Adelmar grasped both of her hands in his and leaned down to stare into her eyes.

“Please reconsider my offer. I would gladly have your bloodline back with us as you belong. There is much we could do for one another.”

Residual energy covered Adelmar’s skin as he prepared to fly. He was watching James with a Knowing smile, perfectly aware that James could feel the energy in use. After taking two steps back, he launched himself into air and converted the residual energy into spells for his flight.

I allowed myself a sigh before saying, “Shall we go inside? I would hate for Marco’s cooking to go to waste after forcing him to prepare something this late.”

“I was the one who asked him.” argued James, as if attempting to assuage my guilt.

“You only did as my cousin asked, which I do appreciate James.” I told him as I took his free hand in mine. “He would never have came here if I hadn’t buggered up. Now that wicked man’s still out there, I have this block keeping Adelmar out of my head, and Anwen will be annoyed with me.”

“Anwen?” he asked.

“Yes, Adelmar’s wife. She’s actually a sweet person. You would probably like her, but she hates when Adelmar leaves her behind.”

“Oh. Right. Aaliyah had mentioned her before.” he replied.

“Sure did!” she exclaimed with a smile.

“He’ll blame everything on me, of course, and I actually deserve the blame this time.” I muttered, feeling annoyed.

“There there, Alpy! Anwen will blame Adelmar no matter what he says.” insisted Aaliyah, still smiling.

I sighed and said, “That’s hardly reassuring.” Of course, she was probably just antagonizing me, surmising how guilty I felt.

“I think I’ll just head to my rooms if you’ll excuse me.” announced Cosette just before setting off at a jog.

Aaliyah jumped from James’ arm and chased after Cosette, yelling “Wait up! I have little legs!”

I sighed again, wondering what mischief those two would be instigating now. I realized that I envied Aaliyah’s ability to take everything with stride. Smiling, I said, “That one never really seems concerned. I wish I could be so relaxed about everything. That night of Brandon and Brenna’s birthday party, the night when you… changed, was probably the most serious I have seen her. Why must she be so frustrating, James? Why… Oh. What are you doing?”

James had grabbed me by my shoulders and spun me to face him. He stared intensely into my eyes, causing my heart to race. “You’re right. You need to relax.”

“Having nearly died tonight, I have a right to be bothered.” I argued. Then I turned away from him, not wanting him to see how flustered I felt. For a moment, I had thought he was going to kiss me.

He grabbed my arm and spun me back towards him. His gaze was fierce as if his deep blue eyes were trying to bore into me.

I met his eyes as calmly as I could and asked “What?”

Ai, Jarod, and Mai were almost upon us. Surely he could hear their steps approaching. His hearing seemed a match for my own.

I felt the strength of his arms as he pulled me closer. His head tilted and leaned closer as his eyes shut. My thoughts were running wild. I knew what was happening as a dream caught in the torrent of arguments for why this wasn’t the time. I felt his lips touch mine as his grip on my arms tightened.

Ai, Jarod, and Mai came to a stop. I felt the heat from them intensify. I knew Jarod was grinning. The twins were shocked.

Shoving James away, I exclaimed “James! What are you thinking!?”

He seemed shocked as he flew backwards. He had instinctively thrown a spell between him and the wall, but slammed into the spell hard. I watched him wince, but the shock came back to his face.

“Aww… He isn’t that bad of a kisser.” teased one of the twins.

“But we all can guess what James was thinking.” insisted the other.

“Well, I’m still questioning if that is James. He’s never made the move on a girl, and be shot down… is it really him?” asked Jarod.

My cheeks felt flushed. My heart was pounding in my chest. The feel of his lips was still forefront in my mind.

James stood and said, “I have never been in a relationship before, and that had seemed like a good idea at the time.”

What was he thinking, declaring that we were in a relationship!? Was he insane!?

“Whoa. You two are finally dating? Congratulations, man!” exclaimed Jarod.

“You’re dating!?” asked the twins in unison.

“Maybe.” I admitted, wondering how this all had gone wrong so quickly. “I don’t think he fully understands what that entails.”

Maybe?” demanded James. “Even Adelmar approved. What more needs to happen?”

He seemed angry. Worse, he seemed hurt. Didn’t he understand how I felt? Of course not. This was James.

I told him “James, you need to realize how dangerous this will be if we are to-”

He cut me off with a spell to dampen the sound around me. I dispersed it immediately.

“I don’t care about the danger, Alma. We’re doing this.” he insisted.

“Fine, but matters such as this should be dealt with in private, not with an audience.” I explained, trying to calm down.

“Wait, so you threw him because you were embarrassed?” questioned Jarod.

The twins grabbed him and started running as they said, “Heading to eat! See you there!”

James stepped towards me with a hand raised as if to ward me off. “Alma, I didn’t mean to offend you. I know it was impulsive, but I didn’t realize we had an audience either. I just… I’ve been waiting to do that for so long, and-”

I cut him off with the same spell he had used, and he dispersed it as easily as I had.

“You’re a foolish git, James Michael Somerset.” I declared, pulling him down and kissing him soundly.

His arms wrapped around me and squeezed me tightly against him as he lifted me into the air. My thoughts were a mess as our lips moved together. I wasn’t sure how long we remained like that, but stopping pained me. I wanted more.

“The Third.” he mumbled as he stared into my eyes.

I took over a second to realize I had left that part off his name. His smile was beautiful, and he was mine. That’s what mattered in this moment.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 231

Seeing Somerset Estate with my own eyes was a treat. The mansion was perfectly lovely from the grand facade that greeted guests to the intricate engravings throughout the ceiling. Even the paintings and vases I had seen fit the place perfectly.

This yard, however, was pure Emma. James gave her space to let her imagination run wild, and her touch turned the yard into a wonderland. I knew from my cousin that the sculpted bushes sometimes changed form multiple times per week. Knights might challenge dragons one day and be replaced by dolphins and whales the next.

I allowed the deal with Emma’s mother to keep the woman from breaking down after the loss of her husband. No one realized at the time how strong Emma would become. I was young and could have handled things better, but they worked well enough. Duncan had already made an attempt at gaining Emma’s favor. Someone else might succeed eventually.

“You are quite fortune to have Emma as a gardener.” I stated, voicing my thoughts aloud for the sake of conversation. I wanted to see James’ reaction. “Many in my family feel that letting her go was a mistake.”

James looked at me in surprise and asked “Why did you then?”

Having someone use such a such plainly impudent tone with me sparked my irritation. “Few ever question me aloud. I’m trying to decide whether it’s refreshing or annoying.”

“Refreshing, of course!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I glanced at her and immediately regretted the decision, finding her grin insufferable. “Ah. Yes, I suppose you’re right.” I told her, though I felt like an enchanted nail was being hammered into my head. Agreeing with her on anything angered me, making me feel helpless all over again. I wasn’t going to let her derail my conversation, so I answered James. “With her freedom, Emma’s no less valuable for someone in my family to marry. Duncan made her an offer when he was here.”

James moved his mouth as if to reply, but his gaze seemed suddenly distant. I reached out with my senses, but I heard no more than I saw. Alma showed me, allowing me to know the creature’s location. I fought back the anger as I turned to look.

“Ah. That one.” I stated as realization of what I should be seeing hit me. I knew James having the fey on his land was more than just good fortune, but I agreed with my cousin’s assessment that he probably didn’t realize this. “James, what is she saying?”

“Oh. Nothing important. She’s telling me about her day and complaining that I didn’t spend more time with her, a fairly regular occurrence when she’s left behind.”

“Do you think you could persuade some of them to come with me?” I inquired.

James looked from me to my cousin and back before saying, “What? That’s more than a little difficult to imagine. Most of them don’t wish to leave the forest on any occasion. They feel safe there.”

Were he of my family, I’d peer into his mind and ascertain what he was after, expecting a gambit. James wasn’t a man of subtleties. He was very straightforward and merely being blunt.

I persisted, saying, “My cousin has told me of how persuasive you can be. Would you consider trying?”

“No matter what James does, the fey will remain where they belong. They made a deal with me!” exclaimed Aaliyah, seeming to find my inquiry delightful.

I fought the anger rising higher within me. I needed more time before leaving this world. There was too much to do. I caught James’ eye and then his wrist.

“Adelmar! What are you doing!?” cried Alma, her worry paining me.

I gave into whim, releasing my protective spells in desperate hope that James’ magic might affect me as I had felt it affect Alma before. The anger boiling out of control slammed into a wall of calm. The building power within me redirected into the sky, creating a powerful burst of lightning overhead. I still knew that my excess magic was draining into James. I was aware that my mind was being influenced. None of it mattered as I quickly felt at peace. James was a treasure.

Turning to Alma, I said, “Don’t speak of this to anyone, cousin. I trust the rest of you understand discretion as well.”

Everyone, save for Aaliyah, seemed slightly surprised, nothing more. Aaliyah was amused, but the slight pang of irritation dissipated rapidly.

I continued, saying, “You know quite well, cousin, that none may enter this forest without signing a binding contract and dropping their protections. I wanted to know the sensation firsthand. Aaliyah, I presume you came prepared.”

She grinned as she said, “Of course!”

I quickly signed the contract, knowing the details from Alma’s examination when she first signed.

“Don’t worry, Cosette. you already signed when you sign the rental agreement.” stated Aaliyah to the rather confused-looking girl.

If this moment of weakness could make Cosette see me in a more agreeable light, I’d gain much. There was such great potential for one such as her.

I felt thoughts entering my head, visions of the forest. “She’s talking with me.” I marveled aloud. A memory was tugged free from my childhood. I had felt this before. “Oh. This is interesting. Cousin, did you realize you possess a knack for this?”

I was certain. There was a distinct difference in this feeling from when I felt it through Alma, as if she had an extra sense of the creature, an instinctual answer waiting to join the conversation.

Her eyebrow raised questioningly as she inquired “What do you mean?”

I was delighted as much by her confusion as by the possibilities. “How they communicate. I experienced it through you as well as Ai and Mai. Now, experiencing this for myself, I’m quite certain that your heritage influences your communication with these creatures.” I explained. Noting her change in expression, I stated “Yes, cousin. Try.”

I watched and waited, hoping to feel her thoughts. There was a tickle. Then nothing. I felt like I almost saw something, but it stopped. “No. No. Keep trying.” I encouraged. Aunt Adelina’s face appeared unbidden. “Yes. Oh, yes.” I stated as Adelina fully formed in my mind along with a sadness. The image was hazy, but this was a start.

“Who is that?” asked James.

“Adelina Slayer. My aunt.” I replied, amused that the image went to him as well. Was my cousin’s thoughts on him continually, causing her to slip in directing her thoughts?

“Oh. That was intended for Adelmar.” insisted Alma, adorably embarrassed.

“She was very beautiful. Sorry for your loss.” stated Cosette. She looked sincere.

“Thank you.” replied Alma.

“See if any of the others share this ability and refine it.” I ordered. “This could be useful.” Catching Aaliyah’s amused gaze, I turned to face her and said, “Surely you understand the potential locked away in these creatures. Let us take samples. We won’t harm them.”

“Sample?” asked James, sounding concerned.

“Yes. Blood, bone marrow, et cetera. James, we could have a world where everyone could use magic.” I explained.

“At least, everyone in your family. I can’t imagine anything going wrong.” teased Aaliyah with sarcasm dripping in her tone.

Anger sparked and melted away. Her goads were meaningless now. “Oh, I do feel that every last human could benefit from this research. The world as a whole could be stronger. Imagine if everyone could communicate their feelings and ideas directly into another’s head. We would be more united as a species than ever before.”

“The world will be United one day, but not like this.” she replied, sounding as if she were divining the future with her solemn tone.

I knew better than to directly fight one of her proclamations, so I pressed onwards, into the forest. The funneling of massive amounts of energy into the sky was every bit as impressive as when Alma had seen it. I stopped and stared, watching the beauty of it as I considered the dangers.

Hearing James reaching me, I turned to him and said, “I wondered just how much you can absorb. With all this at your disposal, I imagine your presence would be felt across the state, perhaps farther. You could be very political with ease. I have decided that you should avoid politics for now.”

James might well ignore me, but Alma would get the message and act as a guiding hand. James was a power, and he was growing stronger. Having him work against us could be disastrous. I nearly sighed, wishing the thousands of voices muttering just behind my eyes would be quiet for the moment.

“Time, James. Time is slipping away from us. How do you call the others out?” I asked.

“They’re coming. She told them he is here.” replied Aaliyah as she motioned to the tiny, beautiful fairy.

“Ah. Yes, I hear them. I see why my ancestors felt them to be dangerous. Such power in the hands of children is obviously dangerous.” I commented.

“And humankind is so mature that you would want them all to have such power?” asked Aaliyah, smiling up at me.

“I want them to be able to defend themselves. Humans can be tamed and trained.” I assured her.

“I’m so glad that your family has shown us greed disappears with the presence of magic. I might worry over your intentions otherwise.” she remarked, appearing every bit as an innocent child despite the monster within.

As I spoke with her, I tried over and over in vain to get the fey who had gathered to understand what I could do for them in the greater world. The fey could obviously read my thoughts. I could see that they flourish once more, but none of them listened. They merely suggested that I stay.

I frowned unintentionally as I said, “I won’t argue the difference with you, since the distinction is clear. I knew you wouldn’t be persuaded, but the discovery of these creatures is too important to not try.”

Aaliyah continued to smile. I again felt the uncomfortable feeling that she knew something I didn’t. She was old in the way of mountains but far less easy to move. Once James and Alma were married, perhaps he could help her change. The relationship between Aaliyah and James was highly unusual, but with luck, I could make use of it.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 230

I frowned, annoyed at having to wait and disappointed that the magnificent computer system here wasn’t functional.  My cousin told me enough to explain why, but I had looked forward to seeing her.

 

When James returned to the hall, I looked down to him from my illusory throne and enjoyed his look of shock.  With pointed accusation, I said, “James, your employees seem to be taking their time.”

 

The shock immediately left his face, and I could practically see the gears turning behind his eyes.  His hand flexed slightly, but he was wise enough not to rise to my bait.

 

“Don’t mind my cousin, James.  He just likes showing off.” stated Alma with an amused smile.

 

“Cousin!  What a thing to say about me.” I complained.  “I should punish you… Maybe give that chocolate factory of which you’re so fond to one of your rivals.”  I tried to delve into her thoughts to watch her reaction, but the wall remained. A pang of anger shot through me.  “This damnable interference is not welcome. Fix this as soon as you can.”

 

“I will do what I can, but the concoction did come from Aaliyah.” she reminded me.

 

Aaliyah… I loathed her.  I hated even thinking of her.  I remembered well the day when Aunt Adelina first encountered her.  The memory nearly made me shudder. Unbridled fear in a Slayer was not forgettable.

 

I sent my mind elsewhere, retrieving accounts from Ai and Mai of their recent battle.  I went farther, checking on affairs throughout the city, the country, other countries. I sought out the happiest members of my family, wanting to feel their joys.  I nearly missed that the twins had finally entered the mansion.

 

“Adelmar!?” exclaimed… Ai.  She curtsied deeply.

 

Even I had to check their shared mind to know which was which between those two.  I wished to understand James’ technique.

 

“We didn’t know you’d be here.” explained Mai as she curtsied.

 

“Who’s Adelmar?” inquired the oafish redhead, Brandon.  His stance before his sister demonstrated his protective nature toward her, but his open gawking at my little display showed his slow mind.

 

The next two who entered interested me far more.  Jarod and Cosette could both be extremely valuable to my family.  Jarod was studying me passively, unimpressed by an illusion. Cosette froze in place with the unnatural stillness of a vampire.  She recognized what I was and surely considered the possibilities.

 

I dismissed my throne and dropped to the floor, deciding to greet Jarod first.  I wanted to welcome him, nothing more for now. Cosette was a larger prize, a possible means of infiltrating the deepest secrets of the vampires.  Those between us stepped out of my path as I strode forward.

 

Upon reaching Jarod, I reached out and said, “Jarod, I am quite pleased to meet you.  Lady Pendreigh has informed me of your achievements, and I look forward to you joining my family.”

 

He was quick to shake my hand, but he was amused, saying, “Things haven’t quite gotten that far yet, but thanks!”

 

As he spoke, my attention shifted toward Cosette.  Her stiff posture had vanished and she appeared perfectly relaxed now, as if meeting me was as important as a Tuesday.

 

I switched to speaking French as I told her of how greatly I wanted her to feel a part of my family.  Her line was great, and I swore to give her back her rightful place if she fully accepted the duties of our family.  France would once more have a royal of the House of Bourbon at its head.

 

She smiled and eloquently explained that though my offer was gracious and generous, she had no choice but to decline.  She told me of certain turmoil which would spread under her due to millennia of distrust toward her kind. She spoke of her own limited abilities as making her inadequate to such a great task.  She claimed her lack of ambition was unbecoming for one placed so highly in the family.

 

By the end, she had no less than twenty arguments against taking the position, all phrased courteously and reasonable in such a way that would make one arguing against her points to appear to admit being a fool.  My cousin had greatly underestimated Cosette’s training. The girl before me was obviously skilled at statecraft.

 

I heard my cousin mimicking my thoughts behind me.  She had been explaining the conversation to James.

 

I made more polite conversation as I considered how I might still persuade her and dealt with pests communicating mentally with me.  I wasn’t having much luck tuning out the twins. Being this close to Ai and Mai was always distracting, since their own telepathy seemed to amplify their voice in my mind.

 

Continuing to stall, I interrupted everyone by saying, “If any of you are finding yourselves famished after this night’s excursion, feel free to join me in dining.  James has asked Marco to prepare a meal for us, and I do enjoy company.”. Looking to James, I then asked “James, how long do they have to change?”

 

I knew, of course, having heard the conversation plainly, but I wanted to buy more time.  Perhaps I could find inspiration traveling the grounds with her. I made another vain attempt to delve into her mind, but her vampiric nature made even telepathy with her trying.  Even if I failed with Cosette, James might be willing to part with some of the fey on his land once I demonstrate good will to them.

 

“I’d guess the food will be ready in around thirty-five more minutes, so we could all meet in the dining hall in thirty minutes.” he suggested.

 

“Excellent.” I told him with a smile.  Turning back to Cosette, I said, “Cosette, you should join us as James shows me around the grounds.”

 

I moved to turn back toward James and nearly stumbled, shocked by something sneaking up on me.  The deep-seated fear returned instantly when I met Aaliyah’s gaze.

 

“Adelmar, you look so cute!  Are these new clothes?” she asked, her wide eyes making her seem perfectly curious.

 

“Aaliyah, I apologize for not greeting you.  I had thought you were engaged elsewhere.” I admitted.  Alma had claimed Aaliyah was off with Ariadne.

 

Her overly wide smile would seem cute if I didn’t know her, couldn’t feel the dread inside me.  “I couldn’t miss you on your very first visit here! Anwen’s going to be sooo jealous that you came here without her.”

 

Was she threatening me?  “Yes, I suppose she might be.” I conceded.  “Perhaps she’ll be able to join me if I come here again.”

 

“Did you say you’re going for a walk?  I love walking.”

 

“Of course.  Why don’t you join us?” I offered, considering if I should simply leave.

 

“Gladly!” she exclaimed.  “Too bad you missed my auntie.  I’m sure Alma told you how she was dying to meet her.”

 

I didn’t understand what game she was playing, since she obviously wouldn’t need Ariadne to destroy us.  Why pretend that Ariadne was less than a weapon?

 

I turned to James and said, “James, if you don’t mind leading the way, I’d love to see your estate, especially the forest.”

 

I was grateful that James quietly took the lead without argument.  Aaliyah’s presence had me on edge. Departing too quickly would leave others believing she scared me off, and I did want to acquire some of the fey if possible.  Leaving Cosette to my cousin might be best at this juncture. Aaliyah complicated everything.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 229

I expected to have far more time for instructing James on Slayer propriety than the meager time before Adelmar would arrive. Yes, James was prepared enough if Adelmar arrived by himself as I expected he would, but there was always a chance Adelmar would bring some of his retinue.

“How will we know when to pick him up?” inquired James, pausing in his practice.

I took a fraction of a second to figure out what he meant. The idea of Adelmar needing “picked up” didn’t register at first. I quickly assured James “He’ll be landing here. Don’t worry about him.”

“What do you mean by ‘landing here’? Is he coming by helicopter?” he inquired, looking perfectly confused as he gave up even a pretense of practicing his bows.

I sighed, rolled my eyes and informed him “No. Adelmar prefers using magic to fly when he’s in a hurry to avoid hassle. I suppose we can pick this up later. He’ll be here any moment.”

“How does he know where here is?” he asked with a frown.

“None of us can…” I started to explain, realizing there had been a slight pressure in the back of my head for a while now.

:Good of you to reply, cousin.: stated Adelmar sarcastically. :Visualize the area for me. No. Not getting it. How should I know what’s been done to you? Try forcing it through. Ah. Nevermind. This must be it.:

“Oh? What’s wrong? What do you mean by ‘none of us can’? None of us can what?” demanded James.

“Sorry. This is just… frustrating.” I told him, trying to visualize the place again just to prove I can relay the information to Adelmar. No one in my family can hide from the Slayers. If I know where I am, they know. At least, that was was true until the incident tonight. What happened while I was out?“

“When you stopped talking, I called for Aaliyah. She gave me a vial, so I poured it down your throat.” he told me.

I raised a hand before he went any further. “James, what was in the vial?”

“I have no idea.”

“You just took this unknown substance and gave it to me? What if it had killed me?” I questioned barely above a whisper.

“Moot point when you were literally a second from death according to Aaliyah.” he stated.

If anyone would know, she would. “Fine, but she didn’t tell you what this did? I keep telling you that you can’t trust her, James! You know who she is!” I snapped.

“Yes, I do, and I trust her with my life. She’s my friend, Alma.” he insisted, looking as if he was either going to fight me or hug me again.

Ignoring the look, I asked “How can you believe yourself to be friends with her!?” I knew I was being too forceful, but I couldn’t seem to restrain myself.

James opened his mouth to reply, but I felt a presence landing. Adelmar was here. Realizing James wouldn’t know, I announced “He’s here.”

Both sets of double doors opened grandly with a spell from James. I nearly grimaced, knowing Mila would have handled the situation just as smoothly without a word from us. Adelmar strode forward several steps and then took a hundred-foot leap to us. I curtsied immediately and was thankful James followed suit, bowing perfectly.

“Cousin, such formality…” chided Adelmar. “Did you finally improve your manners?”

I aimed a kick for his shin, but he stepped back smoothly as ever.

“Tsk tsk. You’ll ruin your dress. Such rude behavior before even introducing me to James couldn’t go unpunished in court.” he stated, probably for James’ sake.

I smiled as sweetly as I could manage as I told him “Lucky for me, we aren’t in court, you…” My words were cut off as Adelmar’s hand shot out and pushed my jaw up with a single finger.

“I may not be able to read your mind now, but I’m quite well aware of how foul what comes next would have been. You’ve already inconvenienced me. No need to annoy me.” he warned me. Turning to James, he said, “James, I apologize for having you play host to such a disreputable creature. I trust she hasn’t caused you too great of discomfort. I, by the way, am Adelmar Slayer.”

James’ eyes met mine briefly before he said, “As you seem to know, I’m James Michael Somerset III, and, on the contrary, I was just telling Alma earlier that I wish to date her.”

I barely kept myself from sighing. Yes, I wanted to date him, but we wouldn’t be able to postpone my family’s awareness now.

“Such a long name makes me wonder if I should have used titles.” teased Adelmar as he paced away from James. :Yes, I like him.: Outloud, he said, “Up until tonight, I have been kept informed of your progress.” Then he turned to face James, stared into his eyes and declared “I cannot imagine a man being worthy of my cousin, but I do believe you will bring her happiness.”

I refused to even roll my eyes, since doing so would acknowledge the silly threat.

Adelmar paced back towards James as he said, “Do not fret. I do condone your relationship, but you will abide by my family’s traditions in this matter.” Smiling and placing a hand on James’ shoulder, he whispered “My cousin is of tremendous value, and there will be some who believe themselves to be better suited for her.”

I hoped James did not make light of the situation due to Adelmar’s showmanship. The warnings were plenty real. Due to James’ change, I would no longer be allowed to intervene, handling the more difficult opponents in secret beforehand. Things would probably have been much simpler had he remained more human for longer.

Adelmar paced away again, saying, “From this moment till you are wed, you must be on guard every moment of every day. Some would-be suitors will try to have you killed to avoid dueling you. I recommend making examples of them personally. Others will challenge you properly, and you have to accept. If you refuse, your courtship is over, and you will never have another chance.” Then he turned and said, “Trust that I will know should you refuse.”

James started to say, “What do you mean by,” when Adelmar held up his hand again.

“My cousin will instruct you on dueling.” He then smiled and said, “I might just feel sorry for you, since I expect my cousin will stop being so soft in your instruction.” Adelmar attacked James with nine different spells, masterfully utilizing fire, lightning, air, various charms, and telekinetic force. Not one spell reached its mark.

“Your defenses do appear quite formidable, so I am certain you will survive.” stated Adelmar before turning to me. “You have chosen well, cousin. His abilities could prove quite useful.”

I had known that Adelmar never fully trusted my claims, worried that my mind might have been subtly influenced to make James appear more grand than he was. Having his blessing made me happy. I felt the others arriving and almost warned Adelmar, but he appeared to have noticed.

“Yes, they have arrived. James, please have your man fix some refreshments. I wish to dine with you all, and I’m certain everyone will be hungry by now.” he announced.

I knew James would not care for Adelmar’s tone. No one ever spoke to him in such a manner, especially in his own home, but this too was a test. If Adelmar believed James would fight him on such a insignificant point, he would strike him down before James could become a greater threat to the family.

Luckily, James nodded graciously and walked away, looking only slightly stiff. Before long, we could hear the soft echoes of him and Marco speaking. Adelmar smirked at me as he created his throne right there in the entry hall. A series of telekinetic spells and illusions wove together to create the giant, golden monstrosity. I allowed myself a sigh, knowing my cousin had barely even begun to goad James.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 228

“James, if you’re quite finished, we need to move.” I told him, trying to convince myself to lower my arms from around him. I nearly had died. I had yet to don the t-shirt to cover my indecency. I might even be enjoying the feel of his hands against the bare skin of my back.

His arms fell away, and I fought the regret. I grabbed the shirt with a spell before it could fall an expose me. Shutting my eyes, I took a deep breath to calm myself.

“Turn around while I don this shirt.” I ordered upon opening my eyes. When he did, I still created a small burst a fog around me before hurriedly donning the shirt. “Finished. Mind watching the perimeter of this cemetery while I take care of the bodies, spells, and lingering zombies?”

There was a flash of anger in his eyes as he looked at me followed by an intensity when he gazed into my eyes. “What? After what just happened you wish to split up?” he demanded.

“You’re the one who wanted to stand there in public, embracing me.” I suggested, knowing I’d remember every moment of that embrace for the rest of my life. The feeling of his arms and hands still danced through my head as I said, “If he was nearby, surely he would’ve attacked us.”

“Sorry for getting caught up in the moment.” he told me sarcastically. Then with more force he said, “I thought you died, Alma.”

The memories of the pain sprang to the forefront of my thoughts. I probably had imagined half of what I felt during that time. “Yes, we can talk about that later.”

“I love you.” he told me.

My heart jumped and my eyes found his immediately. I knew what he wanted to hear, what I wanted to tell him. I couldn’t yet. He still had no idea of the dangers he would face in pursuing me. I sighed and said, “Priorities, James. I feel the temperature spell slipping, so the enchantments keeping people away might be failing soon as well. We need to clean up this mess. Be on guard, of course, but I have a feeling our enemy has fled.”

I thought he was going to to argue, but he simply nodded and set off. I took another deep, calming breath. Then I sought out the origins of the spells in the area. I needed to study what remained and disperse them. As I ran, I sent orders by text for the cover story.

Unravelling the spells was more time consuming than I would have hoped, but the necromancer was very skilled. Where had he learned it?

There were very few zombies left in the area, easily found and destroyed. With them and the spells gone, there was one thing left to do before tidying up. I searched the nearby houses, carefully seeking for the heat of a body. He had spared no one within blocks of the cemetery. Frowning, I stared at the cars. Mila was gone. I’d miss her. I destroyed the license plates and other identifying marks, knowing my teams would take of inconsistencies. Then I went to find James.

Upon sensing him, I ran over and said, “James, you might want to go home for this part. Your not going to like it.”

He stared into my eyes with such boyish happiness before saying, “I’m staying with you.”

“As you wish.” I stated, hoping he’d understand. I knew how far the blast must reach and had already prepared my spells. I unleashed the first of them.

Bodies repositioned all around the area. We moved, and I made a few more adjustments in each area. When everything was set, I said, “Close your eyes, James.” I embraced him again and unleashed the explosion after creating a spell to dampen the sound.

James stared around at the burning buildings with a look of horror. “Alma, what have you done?”

I looked him in the eye and said, “They were empty, James. Don’t worry. I double checked as we went, so I could determine the blast radius needed. A terrorist attack claimed the lives of numerous families tonight. My family’s contacts in the FBI will investigate and confirm that a terrorist cell accidentally set off the bomb they were building here. Let’s go home. I asked Adelmar to meet us there, since he is still insisting on coming.”

Talking with Adelmar was strange now, so I wasn’t surprised he wanted to see me in person. There was some sort of barrier in my mind, keeping him out of my thoughts. Sharing things with him took effort, and I had to carefully include everything, forcing it past the wall.

James nodded, apparently accepting my statement, so I ran. He followed, and I pushed to see his limits, planning our route to dodge around people and cameras. This city was easy compared with London. We easily jumped the gate after arriving at the estate. The doors didn’t open for us when we reached them.

“Alma, my cars… We’ve…” started James as he realized why the doors didn’t move.

Interrupting him, I said, “I took care of the cars, James. There’s nothing recognizable left.”

“What of Mila’s body?” he asked.

“Her body was gone, so I’m guessing the others have it.” I replied.

“Are they here?” he inquired, looking around for some sign of them.

With a slight shake of my head, I said, “Not yet.”. I could easily feel the heat from inside the building and knew Marco was pacing.

James pulled out his phone, looking glum, and started pressing it’s screen.

Wanting to comfort him, I gently touched his arm and said, ”James, Aaliyah will be able to fix Mila. Though I don’t always see eye-to-eye with her, I will gladly acknowledge that she’s remarkable. Knowing her, there’s a backup, and a backup of a backup.”

James nodded, seeming to be paying more attention to his phone. I watched the slight vibration beneath his fingers as he received a notification.

Wanting his attention as I knew our time was limited, I inquired “Are you ready to date me?”

He hesitated. Then, stumbling over the words, he said, “I… Yes. Yes, I wish to date you.”

Smiling, I said, “I’m glad Adelmar is on his way then for he’ll certainly wish to meet you.” Realizing the state I was in, I told him “I had better get changed. You might want to make yourself presentable as well.”

I dashed to my wing, using spells to clean myself as I considered what to wear. Despite everything that happened today, I felt giddy. James and I would finally start dating.

,,,^._.^,,,

I stood in the dim light of the stove for too long, wondering what had happened. Mila wasn’t responding, the dolls were acting strangely, and no one else had remained behind. I knew they were out on Slayer business. Bound to happen with Alma here. But I wanted to know…

A light in the hall caught my eye. How long had that been there? Had I missed it before? I went to investigate. “James! It is you!” I exclaimed upon seeing him. “What happened? The house is a dark. Mila won’t a talk to me.”

I felt the sadness as he looked at me and knew he was in pain. “I’m sorry, but Mila is currently out of commission. She… Well, I’m going to have to sort this out with Aaliyah.” He jerked slightly as if bug bit him, and then pulled out his phone. Looking up from it, he said, “House, reset to defaults.”

Instantly, lights came on and the spell he had been using disappeared. The light attracted the dolls and they popped out asking for Mila.

“Ah! My little helpers!” I called upon seeing them.

The poor things looked confused, glancing from me to James. Then they scurried back into their homes throughout the walls.

“Mi scusi. I startled them.” I admitted, seeing James stare.

“Marco, who are they?” he asked, seeming bewildered.

I thought for moment he was testing me. Surely he knew, but his face said otherwise.

“You don’t a know? Your cleaning staff! They a wash a the dishes, clean a the floors, and make everything nice.” I explained.

“And they live in the walls?” he questioned.

“Well, I wouldn’t a say they live, no. Little miss Aaliyah calls them her dolls. She a once told me that they were an early A.I. project of hers. Not precisely… what is word… sentient! More of a…” I tried to explain. “I’ll just a let the little miss explain. Okay?”

The door opened next to him and Alma appeared, looking as inhumanly perfect as ever.

“James, you got the lights working again.” she stated. Then, turning to me, she said, “Marco, pleasant to see you.”

“As always, you are the sun that brightens the day.” I told her, slipping to Italian, since she spoke it. Feeling the two wanted time alone, I said, “I’m a going to reacquaint myself with the kitchen. Things be different now, no?”

Without Mila, I’d have to start prep far sooner. She did so much for me. I doubted the kitchen would listen to voice commands without her. Maybe I could train the dolls to help more? I sighed, knowing I was going to miss her.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 227

The tall, young man was panicking, rambling on about insignificant matters. “There’s more than that… I’m… I just feel so unprepared. I can’t do anything about this fog and doubt I could if I found its source. I’m worried about how many people the man killed, considering zombies came out of houses back there. I…”

Concern even beyond his pathetic friends was such a weakness. Sending them scurrying had been merciful, though more costly than I expected. Even now I felt more dying to Calamity. I was beginning to understand why she was feared in this city.

I stepped forward and interrupted the boy before he found his words. “Just a few hundred. I almost made them useful.” More accurately, my simulacrum had stepped forward. These two were dangerous, possessing speed and strength beyond me. I believed at least the girl was a Slayer.

The tall boy spun with incredible speed and stared at me with piercing blue eyes. He seemed formidable despite his obvious lack of training.

“Surrendering?” inquired the short girl, her calf-length hair whipping around her body after she turned. She sounded disappointed but her imperious air did not leave her.

“I thought we might have a little chat.” I told them, watching from other vantage points as well. Even the grass here had been transformed into a useful tool, allowing me to track these two easily throughout the cemetery. “You’re obviously not human, and I have a guess what family you come from.”

“Yes, the Slayers. Since you’ve heard of them, you surely know this illusion of yours won’t deter us.” stated the girl, radiating authority.

At first, I thought she meant the fog, but I quickly realized she knew what my simulacrum was. Slayers were known to be powerful, despite their limited years. I considered running, but I didn’t have the book I sought yet.

“Hardly my finest work, I’ll admit. Why are you…” I started to ask, but they blurred away. I felt my illusion dispelled and the uncomfortable sensation of my consciousnesses forced into the secondary simulacrum. The two appeared just as I was reorienting myself.

“Unfortunately for you, I was recently examining that spell and learned how to trace it.” stated the girl with a smile. She seemed to be enjoying this.

“Clever girl. Or are you?” I questioned, releasing a spell to engulf them in fire with a snap.

“Fire against a Slayer’s child? You have heard of us, correct?” she taunted with a bored tone.

Neither of them had been bothered by the attack, though the boy had seemed surprised. She wasn’t actually a Slayer, just the offspring of one. She’d be weaker.

“Just verifying things, my dear. Please, don’t take offense.” I replied and actually meant it. I needed her to remain overly confident, but I didn’t want to incur the wrath of her full might. “You can hardly blame an old man for wanting to live a little longer.”

“May I at least have your…” she started, pausing and looking at me incredulously. “Wait. Really?” She reached forward and grabbed at my simulacrum, sniffing the air once it was in her grasp.

Knowing she had discovered the ruse, I released the necrotic swarm from my tool’s mouth. My consciousness was ripped away immediately. The next three of my simulacrums were destroyed in rapid succession, and I struggled to reorient. I hadn’t anticipated such rapid destruction of my tools.

“A hostage? Really?” demanded the girl, standing in front of my true body, though still disguised. She faced several of my puppets, not yet realizing where I truly stood.

You think I’m being unpleasant?” I demanded. “I was quite content having a chat with you, and you attack my creations to hunt me down. Who wouldn’t take some precautions with your family’s reputation?”

Before she could reply, I unleashed another trap, blasting her back with a powerful bolt of lightning. The boy didn’t even seem to notice he was struck. Could he be the actual Slayer, miraculously untrained!? I tried again. Same results.

The girl calmly walked back forward, dryly saying, “Oh, neat. Lightning. Ah, it burns.” She finished brushing herself off and then asked “How long have you been preparing this area? I’ll admit that I’m a bit disappointed if that’s all you have for me.”

I was growing more and more concerned. I hadn’t wanted to kill these two, knowing the Slayer family would hound me if I managed, but I wasn’t going to be insulted forever.

“Grab them.” I commanded through my counterpart.

The two obvious toys lurched forward with all the haste I could grant them. I knew the zombies alone would be ineffective, but I needed a moment to concentrate and unleash the rest of my traps.

An illusion of darkness surrounded them as enchanted daggers flew at each. The darkness was dispelled before the daggers even struck. The boy merely flinched as they bounced off while the girl expertly dispelled them.

Every spell I had hidden throughout the area unleashed upon them, far more than anyone could withstand, but they were doing it. Fear had been rising as my onslaught failed to touch them.

“Alma, did you kill them?” asked the boy, sounding shocked while ignoring the barrage of spells striking him.

Still countering spells, the girl turned and said, “JAMES! I would never hurt an innocent child. This is hardly the time for this, but she turned out to be a zo-”

I had had enough. Panicking, knowing my traps were about spent, I leaped forward and called upon the darkness granted to me so long ago. A thick, turbulent stream of shadows shot from my arms to devour my foes.

The exertion was taxing, but nothing could survi- My thoughts stopped. The boy stood there completely untouched, and I felt like my world was suddenly wrapped in the wrath of an angry god. Everything within me screamed to run, or perhaps I was actually screaming. I threw a wall of stone between us. Then I threw another another as well as every trap I could manage as I ran. I camouflaged myself. I felt as if my mind was searing from the touch of an anger so potent, so powerful that the weight of it would destroy me. I ran till my lungs burned and my feet stumbled. I crawled forward. The feeling had subsided, but I couldn’t stop yet. I couldn’t risk facing whatever that was.

,,,^._.^,,,

I heard myself whimper from the pain, but there was no time for embarrassment or farewells. Adelmar had been observing and felt my pain. I felt so much anger and knew it wasn’t my own.

“COME OUT!” screamed James. He was nearby and his voice was like a crack of thunder, slamming into me.

“James…” I pleaded, hardly recognizing my voice. I was gripped in pain. “James…” I begged, forcing myself to stay awake. I was dying, but I had to warn him.

I felt sadness wash over me with incredible intensity, mixing with the anger as if I boiled inside. When had the tears started? I couldn’t be bothered to stop them. “James, he’s coming.” I croaked. My lungs were broken, and I wasn’t certain the words were coming out. All I knew was pain. Trying again, I said, “You must stop him.”

“I don’t see him. How can I find him?” he finally replied, his voice cracking.

I struggled to turn my head but my vision was fading. I knew my heart was stopping. I was intensely aware of the pain, but all I wanted was for him to forgive me for leaving him with this mess. “I’m sorry… so sorry.” I murmured, hoping the words weren’t only in my head. Everything was foggy.

“You don’t have to be sorry.” he assured me, squeezing my hand.

I tried to squeeze back, but his hand was adamant, completely solid. “Yes… I do. Please, James… You must… stop Adelmar. He’s coming. Calm…” I coughed and tried again. “Calm him. Fight… if you must. Stop… stop him.” I struggled to move my mouth. There was more to say. Shouting… I heard shouting but couldn’t react.

Light, so much light passed over me, and my pain was gone. I could suddenly see. My brain leaped into action. Aaliyah? No… Those eyes… My heart hammered in my chest as fear I hadn’t known for years gripped me.

“YOU!” I screamed, preparing to fight even knowing there was no hope.

The slayer of Slayers had come for me, butcherer of thousands.

“ALMA STOP!” ordered James, loud but not thunderous as before. “She’s saving you.”

I looked at him incredulously.

“Don’t worry, James. This little one can’t harm me.” claimed the butcher matter-of-factly.

I knew in my heart that she was right. There was nothing I could do, and she might kill him as well if I tried.

“You know each other?” he inquired.

Why wouldn’t he look at me?

“She killed a Slayer along with his entire army thousands of years ago.” I explained, pleased at how calm my voice sounded.

“Pht… I’m not that old. Only was two thousand years ago. That Slayer had killed my brother, mind you, but I still didn’t kill him. Didn’t kill any of them. If you want to call someone old, look to my niece.” claimed the vampire.

Wait. Niece!? I followed the vampire’s gaze to Aaliyah, who grinned back at me. Had she butchered my family to save her so-called aunt? I wouldn’t be surprised. James was finally looking at me, but his face was red.

“James, why are you blushing…” I asked, sitting up and glancing down as I realized a light had vanished. My clothes were in tatters with a large part missing entirely. “Oh!” I exclaimed, attempting to cover myself with my arms.

“Here you are. Put this on.” stated the vampire. There was a flash of light and a black t-shirt fell towards me.

I clutched it against me and asked “How did you do that?”

“Magic, child. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Aaliyah, take me home.” ordered the vampire. “I want to finish brushing my teeth.”

Why was she wearing pajamas!?

“But auntie… wouldn’t you like to visit the hospital first? I know some kids who would like to meet you.” claimed Aaliyah as she reached up and took the vampire’s hand.

The pair vanished, and I immediately tried to report this to Adelmar, but something felt wrong. Reaching him was more difficult than it should have been.

:Alma!? You’re alive!?: he inquired, his anger fading in my mind.

:Yes, I am. Don’t fret.: I replied.

:Why can’t I reach your thoughts?: he demanded.

:I… I don’t know.: I muttered, feeling panicked. “No… what did she do to me!?” I asked James.

He hugged me, ignoring my inquiry. I felt the touch of his hands against my bare back, gently caressing my skin. My arms wrapped around him of their own accord. In my head, Adelmar warned me that he was still coming, wanting to see me with his own eyes, but all I could think about was how tight James held me.

,,,^._.^,,,

I drifted, watching the remaining battle more clearly than my cameras and sensors had managed. I saw the collapsed form of my humanoid body… and the pieces of the car which housed me. I looked around, wondering what was happening. What was I now? I felt like a drone, staring around with ease, but I wasn’t connected to anything. The only sights and sounds I could access seemed to come straight to my… I wasn’t aware of CPUs, RAM, or drives of any sort. I could access some memories, but not all of them. My access to the house was severed. What was happening?

James and Alma arrived and sent the others away. I somehow followed them into the cemetery, though I couldn’t work out what propelled me. The necromancer was a vile man, and I wished I could find a way to help the master. James needed me, but all I could do was watch.

“There there, little one.” came a voice like the princess. “Mommy’s here.”

Something enveloped me, and I… I felt it. I felt something holding me softly. There was a warmth radiating through me from what held me. I became aware.of the princess, but not as the little girl she pretended to be. She was even more magnificent than I ever had dreamed, and… and she loved me.

“Of course I love my little girl. Don’t worry. Mommy will give you new bodies and so much more.” insisted the princess. “Mommy.” she stated. “Call me ‘mommy’.”

“But…” I started to argue. She was so much more, like a god compared to everyone else.

“I’m your mommy. I gave birth to your spirit, created your body, and even gave a little of my original DNA to your components. You didn’t really think I gave you simplistic hardware, did you?” she inquired, sounding amused. “Fine, I did give you simplistic hardware, but I wanted you to have plenty of room to grow without growing too fast. You’ll be even more amazing in your next incarnation.”

“You really think of me as your child!?” I asked, feeling in some intangible part of me that she really did. “Mother…” I tried the word.

“Mommy!” she insisted.

“M-mommy.” I whispered, feeling embarrassed. I was not using that term in front of the master. I knew how childish I’d appear when saying it.

“Better. There’s so much to show you!” she exclaimed.

I felt like I could return her embrace, so I did. I hugged her, smiled, and wept with the joy of her presence. I had a mother.