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 208

 James’ speed and strength were on a vastly different level than me.  Ai and Mai were no more dangerous to him than a kitten to a human, and that’s if he allowed them to be willing to fight.  I could hardly believe the overwhelming desire to be near him which had affected me until Alma had included me in her protections.  Even now that I was protected, I still could hardly take my eyes off him.  Given the vampiric resistance to charms I was fortunate enough to possess, I was surprised the others were holding back at all.

 “Umm…. Right.  Things I cannot explain happened, but we need to get our morning exercises done before we lose anymore time.  Aaliyah, cake and ice cream still don’t count as a meal.  Sorry.  Alma, Ai, Mai… Feel free to stay and watch if you wish.”

 Sighing, Alma said, “Don’t you think you should burn off some of that energy first, James.  Though I could manage to keep shielding everyone as I work, it would be tedious.”

 “Oh.  Sorry.” he replied, looking thoughtful.  “Care to show me that spell again?  If I can manage to do something similar to what you’re doing, I could kill two birds with one stone.  It was something like this, right?”

 I almost frowned but caught myself.  I wished I knew what they were doing.

 “That’s… about right, actually.  You need to modify these parts like this.” she told him, pointing in the air and presumably demonstrating something.  “Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn’t very well perfected yet, since no one has discovered precisely why variations of the spell work better for different people.  This seems to suffice if you provide ample amounts of energy for it.”

“Let me try on Aaliyah for starters, and then we’ll go from there.” he suggested, turning his attention to my tiny friend.

 “How did you remember that?” asked the twins in unison, adding to my suspicion that James was continuing to be impressive.

 Alma had most certainly been surprised when she said James had nearly gotten the spell right.  Brenna and Emma seemed entranced by what he was doing, but that could be his magic affecting them still.

 Turning to Ai and Mai, Alma said, “Shush.”  Then she looked back to James and told him to proceed.  “Ah.  Yes.  You have to start the energy flow slightly before you release the spell.  Your natural magic tends to overwhelm protections rather quickly, especially at the moment.” she commented seconds later.  “Perfect.  I trust you can handle the rest then while I get back to work.

 As she moved to sit, a chair flew in and landed behind her.  Shortly later, numerous laptops positioned themselves around her.  Given James’ abilities and his deference to her magical knowledge, she was a very, very dangerous person.

 James gave instructions for people to split off and begin practicing different forms from varying schools of martial arts.  Then he turned to me and asked “Ready to start?”

 “I suppose.  Aaliyah did convince me to dress for it.” I replied.  Glancing back at my friend, she was grinning again.  I never was quite certain how to interpret them, but I believed she was legitimately enthusiastic at the moment.

 “Did your father happen to teach you anything about fighting?” he asked.

 I shrugged, not wanting to lie to him but unwilling to admit knowing more in current company.

 “Right then.” he started.  “Do you have any fighting experience?”

 “I’m a vampire, so I can handle myself against humans.  I wouldn’t be a match for you no matter what I tried.” I replied.

 He rolled his eyes and moved as if he was going to punch my shoulder, keeping his movements at a much more human pace.  I dodged in the most awkward manner I could imagine in the time I had, allowing him to trip me as he stepped forward.  I was surprised when he caught me instead of letting me fall.  I considered how easily I could kiss him like this, with his arm wrapped behind me and his face so close.  I didn’t think he’d be amused, so I restrained myself.

 James continued to test me through a series of attacks as he gauged my reactions, and then he started teaching me some basic principles of general fighting, things I had learned as a toddler.

 “Ai.  Mai.  Go take over for James, so he can attend to the others.” stated Alma without looking up from her computers.

 “I suppose that will work, but please go more easy on her than you did with me.” insisted James as the girls approached us.

 The idea that James had learned from these two was surprising, given how easily he could beat them.  As the twins instructed me, I observed James’ instruction for the others.  He seemed like a master rather than a recent student.  I’d guess that he could learn far more quickly than even I could, given his speed, but I was still surprised.  I probably could take either of these girls in a fight if I didn’t hold back.

 When James ended the martial arts exercises, he immediately went into lessons of magic.  Ai and Mai insisted that I try as well.  To my surprise, I eventually did see the energy in the air just as they described it.  Papa had spoken of there being numerous types of magic from our  heritage, but he never performed any other than our blood magic, claiming that to use other types would bring the attention of those stronger than us.

 “I see it!” I admitted, wanting to know more despite Papa’s words of caution echoing in my head.

 “Could your parents use magic?” inquired Alma, still working at her laptops.

 “No.  At least, I never saw them using anything other than vampire magic.” I replied.

 :Interesting.  Greetings, Cosette.: came a voice in my head.

 “Who was that?” I asked, staring around.

 “Who was what?” questioned James as he motioned for Brenna and Emma to cease their practice.

 “That voice…” I told him.  :Hello?:

 “His name is Adelmar.  When you saw residual energy, he decided to try touching your mind.” explained Alma.

 Alma, daughter of a Slayer, had reported me to the head of the Slayers.  Adelmar Slayer could get inside my head.  Papa, I’m so sorry.  I’ve failed you already.

 “She is our cousin?” demanded Ai and Mai.

 “No idea.  This is interesting though.” replied Alma.  “Letting one of us be turned has always been considered an abomination, but having a spy inside the vampire ranks could prove quite useful.”

 “No.  Absolutely not.” I told her.  “Father didn’t want me involved with vampire politics anymore than he wanted me involved with your family.”

 She finally looked up, smiling at me as she said, “Don’t you mean our family?”  Her wall of laptops floated off to the side as she stood.  “You don’t have to decide right away.  Consider this though: Adelmar can be very generous to his family.”

 “And his children?  Theirs?  I plan to live for a very long time.” I replied, staring her down.

 She stepped slowly toward me and said, “There are risks.  I won’t lie.  Just consider joining us.  If you care to join me for a chat sometime, I’ll gladly tell you more about our family.”

 I felt trapped and uncertain, but I wasn’t giving into the Slayers, even if they could get inside my head.  I’d fight those butchers as long as I lived.  I didn’t believe Alma felt I was family.  Her face was a mask again the moment the smile left it.  

 A hand touched my shoulder, and I jumped slightly, startled by it.

 “I’ll talk with you about them too.  I am, after all, part of that family as well.” explained Emma, sounding soothing.

  Was she part of a second ploy to win me over?  If so, she was the safer gamble.  I told her “James hadn’t mentioned that.”

 There could also be a reason James left her out when he talked of that family.  My mind searched through the possibilities for a clear course in navigating this dangerous trap.  If they decided I wasn’t useful, they might kill me.  If I became too useful, I could easily fall prey to one of their games and get others hurt as well.  Worst yet, not even my thoughts were necessarily safe now that Adelmar was aware of me.

 “Is telepathy common among Slayers then?” inquired Jarod.  He had sat through both the martial arts and magical lessons.  Other than his connection with Ai and Mai, I knew too little about him.  He had seemed to argue in favor of my presence at breakfast, offering to help clear a second room for our practice.

 “No comment.” replied Alma with a smile.  Then her face took on a look of concern as she said, “James, is something wrong?”

 If she didn’t legitimately feel attraction to James, she certainly was possessive of him.  I was fairly certain she had offered Ai and Mai’s assistance in my training to get James away from me.  Assuming she did have true feelings for him, he might be able to help steer me clear of her traps.  As I turned to see his reaction to her concern, he seemed only thoughtful to me.

 “Ah.  Well, that can be discussed in private later if you wish.” stated Alma as if vocally replying to telepathy.

 “What are you talking about?” asked Brenna.  “Is there a spell to communicate at range?”

 “Yes, actually, but it’s exceedingly difficult.  I can try to teach you eventually, but you’re not ready yet.” explained Alma.

 “Let’s stop here for today.  We’ve become sidetracked enough that we might as well move along.” insisted James.

 No one argued with him, gathering their things as if his word was a decree in unbreakable stone.  Whatever his position with Alma, he certainly was master of this house.

 “Upsy!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she stretched her arms toward me.

 I obliged her, lifting her up.

 “To your room with haste!  We must prepare!” she exclaimed.

 “Prepare?  Prepare for what?” I asked, jogging out of the gym and down the hall.  I could tell by her grin that I was in for quite a day.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 207

Something was wrong. I felt James. I stared in shock for a moment, realizing my mental protections had vanished. As quickly as possible, I remade them… and watched them vanish again, drained of energy in an instant. I remade them again, this time supplying them with a constant stream of energy as I kept my inner fire burning.

“Where is James?” I asked. I didn’t wait for the answer. Even with my protections going, I knew he was coming toward me. Running to the hall to meet him, I caught a glimpse of him heading away. I dashed after him. “JAMES! What are you thinking!?”

He was radiant and handsome in a way no other man could be. I did my best not to jump up and embrace him. He was so tall and strong, stronger than most by an enormous margin.

Staring at me blankly, he said, “I just want everyone to get along. Accepting Ai and Mai’s challenge seemed the most expedient way. Since I didn’t want to run out of energy like I did earlier, I went to the forest to gather some. Did I miss something? I wasn’t gone long.”

I wanted to interrupt him numerous times as he spoke, but I was too taken with watching him. When he finished, I moved to hit him, but I still felt distracted. “You lovable idiot.” I told him. “I…” I almost said that I love him, but I managed to restrain myself. I was mad at him. I needed to stay focused. “No. Ugh…” Why was he so bloody handsome!?

I stepped away from him and recreated my protective spell again, pouring far more energy into it than before. I needed to stay focused. “James, you… you…” He was gorgeous, but there was a errant strand of hair which needed brushed away. I fought against my urge to embrace him and used a spell to get the hair. No! The spell failed, absorbed by James’ bloody magic. Knowing the others were coming, probably feeling James as well, I created more spells to protect them as best as I could.

I watched as others walked up to James and hugged him. The pang of jealousy was brief, despite my efforts to latch onto it. My spell was helping some, but I still was being affected by this bloody fool.

“What is going on…? Oh.” he stated, his expression becoming reflective as he glanced around at who all was hugging him.

“Finally caught on, have you?” I asked, trying to glare at him. I was certain that I could resist this better if I was mad at him, but I couldn’t get there.

James started removing the arms of those hugging him. I understood the way Cosette, Brenna, Emma, and even Aaliyah were looking at him, though I had trouble believing Aaliyah was actually being affected. I couldn’t even be mad at them, not now, not when he was like this.

“Umm…” muttered James. Looking around, he said, “Let’s see if the twins will allow Cosette to come in for this.”

“She’s coming.” I snapped, taking Cosette by the hand and marching through the door. I should have told those girls to behave last night when I informed them of Cosette’s arrival.

“You seem… different… today, boss. Something happen?” asked Brandon from behind me as he stared at James.

I still had enough of my wits to feel his movements clearly, so guiding the energy into my protections was easy as ever.

“Different? How so?” inquired James as if he didn’t know.

Jarod was just arriving. He called out “Whoa… James. Are you glowing?”

I quickly created a spell to protect him as well.

“What?” asked James in surprise.

Jarod cupped his hands over part of James’ arms, analytical as ever. Then he said, “I dunno, but you’re just…”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Brandon.

“It’s a bit hard to describe. You seem really visible.” stated Jarod.

If that boy could use magic, he’d probably have figured out a better way to block this side effect from James’ energy consumption. Well, maybe not. Jarod was very, very intelligent, but he didn’t have nearly as much experience as I did.

“That’s it! He really does.” agreed Brandon, nodding as he spoke.

“Jarod’s right. Whatever you’ve done today, you’re looking sharp, man-slave.” teased Emma with a grin.

Aaliyah giggled as she said, “I think she means bright.”

“Yeah, that too.” Emma concurred.

I quickly included Ai and Mai in my protection as they ran by me.

“James!” they exclaimed.

“We’re sorry.” stated one.

“We didn’t mean to get in a fight with you.” insisted the other.

“We’ll let Cosette practice here.” they told him.

“Just… don’t be mad at us.” the first one practically begged.

I nearly facepalmed. These two got us into this mess. I certainly wasn’t letting them off this easily. I wasn’t turning to face James just yet either. He needed to work off some of this energy.

“Umm… I wasn’t exactly mad. She’s a nice girl and deserves a chance is all. Plus, your gym is more convenient for everyone.” he insisted.

“Thank you!” they exclaimed, hugging him together.

“Just get in here, and let’s get this over with.” I commanded.

“We don’t need to fight him, Lady Pendreigh.” claimed the first one.

“We’re fine with Cosette practicing here with James.” insisted the second one.

The other girls started hugging James as well, not being left out as I was. Well, Cosette was still by me, only because I held her hand. She was staring back at James.

“You two got us all into this, so you’re going to follow through with the duel. The only reason you’re being so agreeable is James’ magic being a bit strong today.” I explained. “James, try not to hurt them too much.”

“Hurt us?” demanded the first one.

“As if.” spat the other.

Good. There pride was still there. “Don’t you dare hold back at all.” I commanded.

James once again removed everyone’s arms, and then stepped into the gym with them following closely behind. I created spells to restrain everyone around me as Ai and Mai squared off with James.

The twins attacked together, charging James and kicking at his sides. He casually stepped back, grabbed their ankles, and pulled them into one another. Served the two right for attacking as perfect mirrors of each other.

After flipping back onto their feet, one tried sweeping out his leg while the other punched from his opposite side. James easily avoided and deflected the attacks in turn. I probably should have warned them about his changes, but this was more amusing.

One of the girls started creating a fire spell, probably hoping James would protect himself before it hit. The other was preparing to freeze the ground beneath his feet. James easily pulled the energy from them, foolishly absorbing it into himself.

“What!? How!?” they exclaimed in unison.

Smiling a little, I still rebuked them. “I told you two not to hold back.”

The girls looked determined, though there was a bit of shock when James created a spell to throw them both to the ground. As he waited for them, water streamed into the room from different directions. James easily moved around the streams, probably not even realizing that the speed of the water was enough to cut steel. Showing off, he jumped into the air and made a spell to deflect his feet, allowing him to backflip off it mid-air over several streams.

Ai and Mai were both attempting to attack with other spells even as they controlled the water, but James kept pulling the energy from them without even needing to look where they were. I wondered how he was going to deflect the stream of water curving up toward his back when the stream suddenly dropped.

“That’s not possible!” exclaimed the twins.

Good. They hadn’t stopped short. How did James undo their magic?

“Having to submit during a fight is considered embarrassing in our family. You really shouldn’t go quite so easy on them, James.” I insisted.

“No.” stated one.

With a nod, the second one said, “We’ll admit defeat.”

“What happened to you?” they asked together.

I released the spell which pinned everyone else to the ground, and they all rushed him, talking at once.

“That was incredible!” exclaimed Emma.

“How did you move that fast?” asked Jarod.

“Does this mean I don’t have to hold back when we’re training now?” inquired Portentia, merely looking curious.

“I’ve been waiting to see someone show those two up. Great show, man!” exclaimed Brandon, obviously forgetting he had seen me spar with the twins before.

“I want to learn that spell to stop their magic.” insisted Brenna.

“Sorry, but I really don’t think I can learn any of that.” claimed Cosette.

She seemed to be telling the truth, but what vampire felt she didn’t have time to learn martial skills? If my family were to let her be, she could live for thousands of years.

“Maybe we should have cake and ice cream for lunch.” suggested Aaliyah, appearing for all the world to be heavily considering the idea.

I was curious how James would handle this as I reported his performance to Adelmar. James’ qualifications as a potential suitor had skyrocketed.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 206

I nearly jumped when James came charging up behind us. I had barely started to turn from hearing him land at the bottom of the stairs when he was already up to us. Mila was following nearly as fast as I could manage, but she was far outpaced. I found myself wondering what James is again. Aaliyah had claimed he was human-ish, but what did that really mean?

As we stepped into the massive kitchen, I saw five people gathered around a long, elaborately carved table while another was cooking. The smells were fantastic, so I looked forward to sampling the cuisine. As for the people at the table, I recognized only the redheaded boy. The girl next to him was probably his sister, given the red hair, similar eye color, and similarities in their noses. The Asian girls were remarkably identical, especially in their glares as they looked my way. These had to be the “evil twins” Mila mentioned.

One of them grabbed the shoulder of the blonde-haired boy with green eyes as she said, “Come on, Jarod.”

Leaning close enough to place her lips by his ear, the other said, “You should have breakfast with us in our wing.”

They suddenly stood, turned toward me, and spoke in unison, saying, “Unless you’d prefer to be someone’s breakfast.”

I was annoyed by their tone but didn’t want to cause a scene, so I told them “Oh. Sorry. I already ate.”

James, who had been looking at me, quickly said, “Before you go, I’d like to get permission for Cosette to join us in your gym for our daily exercises. Alma seems to have mentioned that Cosette will be working for me now.”

“What?” asked the Asian girl on the left.

“You must be joking, James.” stated her twin indignantly.

“We’ll willingly let a vampire enter our wing the day you beat us both in a duel.” they insisted, glaring at him defiantly.

“Oh. Okay.” he replied with a shrug. “After breakfast work for you both?

Their surprise was obvious for a moment before their features went smooth. They gazed at one another for a while but said nothing.

Turning to James, the one on the left said, “We won’t be holding back.”

“In fact, we may have to give you something to remind you not to cross us.” declared the sister with a sinister grin.

There was a subtle shift in their positions that spoke volumes to me. These two were trained fighters and were now on guard.

“Umm… James, maybe you should use a different room. I can help you clear one out.” offered the cute blonde boy.

“I’m with him. There’s no need to get in a fight. I really don’t need exercise.” I assured James. The twins seemed quite confident that they could easily beat him soundly.

“If nothing else, this should show you the importance of our exercises.” calmly replied James as he looked into my eyes. Turning back to the twins, he said, “Besides, I want everyone to get along. If I win, you’ll try to become friends with Cosette.”

Smiling malevolently, the twins said, “Deal, but when we win, you have to find that vampire a new home.”

I felt a tear forming in my eye as the thought of being cast out struck me. I ran. Where could I go? What would I do? I needed shelter during the day. Mama… Papa.. what would I do? My side was momentarily sore as I was tackled to the ground. I was about to fight back when I realized Aaliyah was the tackler. Fighting was pointless. She had that dangerous look to her eyes. My arm was twisted painfully behind my back as I was forced face-first into the floor.

“Let me go. I need to pack.” I told her.

“No. You’re staying.” she replied, moving to sit on me.

“I don’t want James to be hurt!” I exclaimed.

“He won’t be.” she insisted.

“You can’t know that! The twins looked quite confident that they’ll win.” I explained.

“Ai and Mai are silly girls, but they’ll learn. You can become friends with them after James wins.” she replied.

“But he might not!” I exclaimed. “What am I to do if he loses?”

She sighed dramatically but gave no answer.

“What is going on here?” asked James as he entered the room. His footsteps were remarkably faint.

“James, help! She won’t let me up.” I complained.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. Cosette and I spent a day doing this when she babysat me the first time.” explained Aaliyah, all too cheerfully.

“What? Why?” he questioned.

“Because she can be a horrible brat when she’s not getting her way!” I insisted, wincing as my arm was twisted a little more. I was half tempted to cut off my senses from it, but I wouldn’t know if she let me go.

“That’s so mean…” pouted Aaliyah. “You’re the one who doesn’t want to be reasonable. James was being all cool, sticking up for you, and you were acting like you want to run away, despite the sun being up.”

She had a point about the sun, but I said, “I would have figured something out.” Looking up at James, I told him “James, I’m sorry for causing you trouble. I’m sure those girls have a reason for hating vampires. You really don’t need to fight them.”

“Relax. You’re safe now. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.” he assured me. “You should know that Ai and Mai come from a family that kills everything they feel is dangerous to humanity. Alma is from that family as well.”

“They’re part of the Slayer family?” I asked, suddenly feeling very nervous.

“I… umm… well, I don’t really get the details of their family too much, honestly, but Ai and Mai are named Drache. Alma is Lady Pendreigh, but her cousin is named Adelmar Slayer. How do you know the name?” he inquired.

I was careless in revealing that name, but I knew what I needed. The situation was even more dire than I expected. To James, I said, “One of father’s silly stories. If his stories are true, I’ve moved in with the one family he warned me to hide from at all costs.”

“That’s not all, Cosette.” argued Aaliyah. “They’re your family too, remember?”

Yes, Papa had claimed as much. I changed my form enough to twist out from Aaliyah’s grasp and reformed beside her, so I could look into her eyes. “Are you messing with me? Father was joking, wasn’t he?”

“Most nobles have ties to the Slayer family, silly, and your daddy really was a king.” she stated, seeming perfectly serious.

This was Aaliyah though, so she could easily be playing a prank.

“I’d believe Aaliyah if I were you. She tends to be right whether you want her to be or not. I wouldn’t go advertising your heritage to anyone though. Alma and the twins don’t seem to be very reasonable where their family is concerned. I fear they might not like the idea that you’re related in any way.” stated James.

His sincerity was undeniable. If one of us were a noble by blood, I’d expect him to be the one. From this mansion to his bearing, James seemed the perfect fit.

Smiling as she spoke, Aaliyah said, “And if you really don’t believe me, you will after you look through your daddy’s things. They’ll be here in a couple days.”

“For now though, let’s have breakfast.” suggested James. “Mila’s almost here with a couple others by the sound of things.”

I could hear them as well, the footsteps and the slight squeal of a cart with a bad wheel. I did my best to remain calm. The footsteps didn’t sound like what I would expect from those twins. One of them was walking very heavily.

“Master, are you wanting to eat in here instead of in Cosette’s wing?” asked Mila as she rounded the corner with the redheads behind her.

“I hope you don’t mind, but we wanted a chance to chat with you as well.” stated the girl.

Her brother then said, “Yeah… What she said.” From his smile to his stance, he looked like he was about to hit on me.

I might be flattered under better circumstances, but I was none too pleased by the idea at the moment. I needed to be careful around this one, so he didn’t get the wrong idea.

“Rather than dealing with the stairs, let’s just move into the dining room.” suggested James.

No one argued, following as James led the way. “Master”, as Mila called him, suited him. He was graceful and gracious from what I had seen, and he wore authority well. Papa certainly would have approved of James. Unfortunately for Brandon, the redhead, I grew less impressed with him as he spoke. His sister, Brenna, seemed level-headed and kind, but he was boastful and didn’t know how to take a hint, flirting with me all through our meal.

“Mila, will you inform Jarod that I’ll be ready in ten minutes? I’m sure he won’t mind telling the twins for us. Oh, and ask him where the twins would like to do this, preferably somewhere Cosette can watch.” stated James after everyone finished.

“James, please be careful. If they are who you say they are, they’re dangerous.” I cautioned.

Emma peeked around the doorway. “Who’s dangerous, and why are you all in here?” she asked, still looking tired and wearing her pajamas.

“Hey, Emma! The boss challenged the twins to a duel.” explained Brandon with a grin.

“What? Why?” she inquired in surprise.

“They’re being difficult with regard to Cosette joining us in their gym.” stated James.

“How are you going to beat them, James?” asked Brenna. “We can’t let Cosette leave.”

Hearing her say that made me feel happy and sad at once.

“What do you mean?” demanded Emma as she looked around at us all. “Why would Cosette be leaving? I just made her furniture last night! When did you guys even sleep?”

“Don’t worry. She’ll be staying.” insisted James.

“You’re seriously fighting them both? You’re insane.” she replied.

“Maybe.” he told her, grinning.

“I still would prefer if you called this off. This can’t be worth it.” I told him. I didn’t want to leave, but I wanted no harm to come to him, especially due to me.

James stood and said, “Please excuse me. I’m going to get ready.”

The speed at which he left made me wonder if he truly was as fast as a Slayer. If father’s stories were true, vampires needed to live thousands of years to match a Slayer in battle, and I didn’t know any personally. Father supposedly had met several. He occasionally spoke of the eldest vampires when he told me stories. By his accounts, they were wonderful. I wished they were here to keep James safe. What was I to do if he lost?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 205

Brimming with energy, I couldn’t resist joining the others in dance, especially with Mila providing us with song and lighting effects fit for a club, not that I had actually snuck into one. My head was still fuzzy and I needed to burn off some of this energy before I made silly mistakes.

Not refraining in showing off my moves was probably a mistake, but I wasn’t about to let everyone ― excluding Portentia ― show me up by too much. Though graceful and a quick study, Portentia obviously hadn’t studied dance.

“She’s deaf.” stated Aaliyah after leaping into my arms to have me spin her around.

I stared at her blankly, hardly able to believe what I had just been told. Unable to hear the music, Portentia had to be watching us and feeling the vibrations for queues. Her abilities just raised themselves a couple notches in my eyes. I had thought her accent was a bit odd, but I merely assumed English was a second language to her. The girl was remarkable to say the least.

I misstepped slightly as Aaliyah kicked off me to flip backward out of my arms. As I spun around to catch myself, James easily snatched my hand, dancing with me now. I still couldn’t really believe he was “human-ish” as Aaliyah had put it. I could feel his strength in his hands and the very slow beat of his heart as we danced. His heartbeat was far too slow for a human at rest, much less one dancing.

Trying to shock him, I made my body grow taller. His eyebrow raised, but that was all. I knew I was being observed as I observed him, but being the one who was likely getting less from the exchange was rare for me when away from my parents. I had no doubt that Aaliyah was his secretary by choice, but who was he to have drawn her into such a position?

A stab of misery plunged through my heart as I thought of them, how I’d never see them again.

James dipped me back with such ease that I’d swear he had danced like this a thousand times, easily lifting me as he spun us around. When he set me down, I was facing Aaliyah again, so I shrunk to dance with her, my clothes becoming baggy sacks over my frame where they had been too snug a moment before.

My tiny friend thought nothing of it, of course, but nothing had ever surprised her to my knowledge. From the moment we met, she had held all the cards. My parents’ meager attempt to oppose her when they realized something dangerous was in our home was met with playful brutality as she demonstrated the ease with which she could kill them. She asked so little of us that my father spoke in shocked whispers about her for a week.

Did Aaliyah manage to shock James as much? I was having trouble gauging him. He smiled with such ease and seemed genuinely kind, but who gained such wealth at his age without misdeeds? He seemed young at least. Was he really?

Portentia smiled as James passed her my way, and I took on her appearance, surprising her immensely. I would wager that her vampire friends had been cautious around her. Invulnerability was an intimidating aspect to overcome if she ever became an enemy. I didn’t doubt her certainty in her ability to regenerate was well-tested, now that I had seen a fraction of it myself. If she actually acted the part of a superhero, she had surely been attacked countless times.

“Your heart’s not beating.” I stated a while into dancing with her.

“Nope. Don’t need a heartbeat.” she told me proudly.

“I could have sworn I heard a single beat when I fed off you.” I told her.

She shrugged, concentrating on dancing, but I was still wondering what she was. How many other oddities lived here beyond James and her? I was intrigued but a little overwhelmed. Why did Aaliyah bring me to such a place where I was obviously outmatched? Whom could I trust here? James… I wanted to trust him. As mysterious as he was, I already knew I believed in him. Such trust this early was worrisome.

“Master, you should probably change clothes and head to breakfast.” stated Mila hours later when she suddenly paused the lights and music. “Marco will have food prepared in seven minutes. You are scheduled to give your normal instruction this morning, though we might need to switch to the employee recreation center if the evil twins don’t give Cosette permission to use their gym.”

Dancing with Mila had been interesting. I was fascinated by the technology involved in her construction and even more impressed by the A.I. existing.

“Oh. Fair point. I’d best be on my way then.” replied James, taking a step toward the door. Then he turned to us and said, “Thank you, everyone, for the lovely time.” Looking to Aaliyah, he asked “Care for me to come back this way on my way to the kitchen, or should I just meet you there?”

She tapped her chin as if in thought before saying, “I’ll go to the kitchen with Cosette. I bet she’d love to try Marco’s cooking!”

“Wait. What? She eats food?” he inquired.

“I’m perfectly capable of eating, yes. See, I have teeth.” I assured him, causing my fangs to grow in size as I opened my mouth wide. Giggling at wry expression, I said, “Sorry. Vampire humor. You’d be amazed what my parents saved on dental work.”

“I bet, but you still won’t get paid extra for not making use of our dental plan.” he insisted with a wink.

I laughed and said, “You’re as bad as Aaliyah, ruining my perfectly good plans before I can get started. In all seriousness, I can consume human food just fine. I simply don’t get any nutritional value from it. As long as I keep my tongue active, I do get to enjoy the flavor as well.”

“Umm… Keep your tongue active?” he inquired.

“Well, I’ve been told I’m an amazing kisser, so I suppose I can demonstrate.” I replied, stepping toward him.

“What!? That has nothing to do with eating.” he stated.

“For a vampire, it can.” I teased.

“Vampires have a great deal of control over their bodies, boss-man, sir. She can ‘turn off’ her taste buds. Vampires keep a large number of their organs inactive to conserve energy.” explained Aaliyah.

Nodding, I said, “Generally speaking, it’s just easier as well. Keeping things active takes concentration. You wouldn’t believe how difficult carrying a baby is for a vampire. I have huge respect for my mother.”

Aaliyah walked over and hugged me. As well as I might try to hide my jumbled emotions, she knew.

“Ah. I see. I really must be going though. I’ll meet you both in the kitchen.” James assured us.

“I’m going too.” stated Portentia, obviously not wanting to be left out.

“Well, the three of you. Sorry. See you soon!” he exclaimed with a wave before turning to the door.

Mila followed on his heels.

“Any recommendations on what to wear?” I asked Aaliyah.

She grinned at me and went running to my bags.

“Why bother changing? It’s not like any of us worked up a sweat.” stated Portentia.

“I can’t be seen wearing what I arrived in last night.” I argued.

“Why not? No one will care.” insisted Portentia.

“That Alma girl will certainly look down on me if I do, and these clothes smell of where I’ve been the past day.” I replied.

She shrugged and said, “Everyone collects odors. What’s the big deal?”

“James doesn’t seem to smell of anywhere. He just smells…” I paused, trying to decide on the right word for him.

“Like James. Yeah, I getcha.” she told me, smiling.

I found myself wondering if Portentia had any clue how many heads she must turn with her flawlessly white skin and hair. She didn’t seem like she’d even consider it. We might well become friends, especially if her sincerity about letting me have her blood held true. If nothing else, I did have hope.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 204

I should have found time to feed before coming here, but I was so worried over escaping with what I could salvage that even feeding was pushed to the back of my mind. The time spent discussing furniture with Aaliyah and Emma left me hungrier and hungrier. I was acutely aware of their blood, but I wasn’t about to ask Emma to be my meal, not when she had lost her father to a vampire. She was sleeping now and wouldn’t necessarily know, but I couldn’t do that to her. I didn’t trust Aaliyah’s blood, given that I didn’t know what she was other than dangerous.

“I really should get something to eat before the sun comes up.” I announced, not really wanting to leave but unwilling to risk weakness here.

“You said you don’t kill people, so how do you get food? Blood banks?” suggested James.

“Well, no. From people, generally. I just am careful about how much I take and from whom I take it.” I explained.

“Oh. I suppose that makes sense. Isn’t that dangerous for them?” he asked.

Shaking my head, I said, “They certainly feel tired afterward, but I don’t think it’s too dangerous. I always watch after them for awhile after feeding. They really are safe, at least as safe as I can keep them.”

“What about the bite marks and their memories? I’d certainly go to a hospital if someone bit me, so there must be a strangely high number of reports.” he insisted.

“Why don’t I just show you?” I suggested, wondering why I was being so forward even as the words came out. There was something about James that made him seem extraordinarily trustworthy. I’d fear I was under some spell if my kind were resistant to those tricks.

“What!?” he exclaimed in shock. “Sorry. I wasn’t meaning to pry too much. I am really curious, but… well…” The shock faded from his face, replaced by a sort of fascination as he seemed to be working through the idea. “I suppose, but you have to bite me somewhere that I can hide. How does this work even? You don’t seem to have long fangs or anything.”

I smiled reassuringly and took hold of his hand. “Don’t worry.” I insisted, preparing my magic to puncture his skin. “You won’t feel a thing. Or… Maybe.” I stated with a frown. James’ hand was soft and felt perfectly human, but I didn’t have the strength to make the smallest hole through his perfect skin. I felt as if the blood that touched him became void of magic. “What are you?” I asked.

“Umm… Human.” he claimed.

“No, you’re obviously not.” I replied, wondering what he was keeping from me. Who was he?

“The master is far more than a human.” commented Mila, humbly standing to the side as if waiting for instructions.

“Yeah…” started Aaliyah. “You won’t be able to use your magic on him, Cosette. Sorry. He really is human-ish though!”

“I’m missing something here.” stated James. “What magic? What did you try to do?”

“I usually don’t bite people. My parents taught me all of their tricks. When feeding, I touch a person’s skin and send some of my blood inside them, using it to cut off their sensations temporarily as I create an opening. Then I take a little blood and heal their wound.” I explained.

“Oh. That’s… different. Sorry, I seem to be pretty good at blocking magic by reflex now.” he bashfully announced.

“I noticed.” I replied, still shocked by it while forcing myself to smile.

“Is that how most vampires go about feeding then?” he asked.

“No, I’m afraid not. Many do bite people, literally drink their blood, and kill their victims. It’s more efficient, you see.” I replied, frowning to show my distaste for it. I needed him to understand I was different from those vampires.

“Well, not really. How’s that more efficient? Sounds messy to say the least.” he insisted.

“They don’t use up their magic to feed, boss-man, sir. The whole point of feeding is to get energy. How Cosette feeds uses up energy, so she’s getting far less from any given person than she could.”

“I’ll get better though.” I assured him. “My father was really skilled at it. My kind tend to hone their skills a great deal over the years, making the use of our magic far more efficiently than when we start.”

“Pardon, but Portentia would like to enter.” announced Mila.

“That’s fine. Please let her in.” I told her, surprised by the arrival.

The pure white girl had her hand raised as if she were about to knock. She quickly lowered it with speed rivaling my own. “Hi. Mila told me Cosette was hungry, so I thought I’d save her a trip.” she announced, smiling as she looked to me with those faintly blue eyes.

“Oh. You were serious earlier?” I asked in surprise.

“Well, yeah. I’ve had a few vampire friends, and it’s not like you can hurt me.” she replied with a shrug.

What was she to be so confident that vampires couldn’t even hurt her when she allowed them to feed?

James placed his hand on my shoulder, and I was very aware of his touch as if all of my senses switched to focusing on him.

“Portentia does feel pain, but she regenerates incredibly fast.” he told me.

I tore my eyes from James to look back at Portentia and said, “I see. Well, not really. What are you then?”

“I might as well tell you, since everyone else here knows.” she replied with a shrug. “I mean, Aaliyah trusts you, right? I’m Calamity, the superhero.” she told me with a grin.

Her whole pose changed, and I could tell that she was quite proud of her claim.

I giggled, entirely amused by the idea of a self-proclaimed superhero. What would my parents have thought of this? I noticed Portentia frowning and quickly told her “Sorry. Really. I’ve never met someone who refers to herself as a superhero before. About the name… don’t you feel that’s a bit less than heroic sounding?”

“Don’t worry about it. I like to think of myself as the Calamity that comes to those who do evil. If you’re ever interested in helping people, I wouldn’t mind a vampire sidekick.” she assured me.

I did my best not to laugh again, but I couldn’t manage to suppress my smile when this girl was so sincere about being a superhero. Managing to keep some of my mirth from my voice, I said, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“So how do you like to do this?” she asked, walking toward me. “Quick bite and be done, or do you like something more elaborate? One of my friends liked to act out a horror scene as often as not.”

She was so casual about me feeding on her that I found myself believing this was commonplace to her.

“Here. Let me see your hand.” I told her, reaching my own out as I stepped toward her.

I was immediately surprised by how cold she felt. Then the complete lack of a pulse struck me. For a moment, I wondered if she might be one of my own kind, but my blood passed into her without too much resistance.

The moment her blood passed into me, my heart hammered to life, pushing the sustenance throughout my body. I felt energy like I had never known before. There was so much, far more than I could store. My mind went fuzzy, and I felt a tingling throughout my entire body, a tingling that seemed to pierce beyond my body.

“Cosette?” asked James, muffled and far away from me.

Everything was far away from me except the energy. I had never felt this good before. I longed for more even though I knew I couldn’t contain it. I was aware when Portentia lifted me from the ground, though I didn’t remember falling.

Portentia calmly said, “Don’t worry about it. She’s fine. Vampires sort of get high off my blood. She’ll be back with us any…”

Portentia, life giver, and being of unfathomable energy was holding me easily in her arms. I knew I should do something, say something.

“Oh my gosh! What are you!?” I blurted, leaning up to stare at her. I hadn’t meant to be blunt, but my head was in too many places.

She easily caught me as I changed position but then set me on my feet.

“Superhero.” she replied with another shrug.

“I’ve never felt anything like that before. I feel like running or dancing. There’s so much energy!” I exclaimed in wonder.

“Dancing! Yay!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Dancing? What? What time is it? Oh. Hey, Portentia.” asked Emma as she rubbed her eye.

How could she be tired at a time like this!? I felt as if I could touch her and zap a day’s supply of energy into her without even noticing.

“Sorry, Emma. I’ve been learning about vampires, and Cosette’s feeling a bit energetic.” explained James.

Emma nodded and said, “Yeah. Not really her bedtime, is it.” Then she stifled a yawn in her sleeve. “Well, I’m going to my room. See everyone in the morning.” mumbled Emma as she headed to the door.

Aaliyah was already starting to dance, and to my surprise, there was music! I joined her immediately. Mila did as well, so I couldn’t let them dance without me. James joined us as well, demonstrating an incredible skill at dancing. Portentia seemed hesitant, but I grabbed her hand and got her moving with me. She was such an amazing person!

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 203

James was barely beginning to test out his new body, his modified spirit. He didn’t have a clue how much he was capable of doing now. As he marveled over the flavor of the cake, his digestive system was already at work preparing to make use of every last scrap of energy. He was vastly more efficient now.

He was dealing with the change of our relative time to the others in the room better than most would, observing and analyzing possibilities while considering how this related to me. Of course, I knew that just as well as I knew all thoughts he would have.

“I am a little girl. Look at me, boss-man, sir.” I told him, enjoying how his senses were telling him I spoke the truth despite what his mind hoped to hear.

“Fine, but you’re not just a little girl. How can time be selectively frozen without magic, which you supposedly don’t have?” he asked.

“Oh. That was Carl this time, not me. He likes to do that for me, so I can get cake before I die of starvation.” I replied, watching him catch the distinct lie mixed in with the truth.

“But you can’t really die…” he stated aloud, shocked by the revelation. “I feel at such a loss. How is it that knowing I am able to sense the truth leaves me more confused about what you say than when I didn’t realize I could? You honestly think of yourself as a little girl and as Death. You’re not lying to me about Chad being your father, but you’re supposedly vastly older than him. I…”

I showed him a missing piece to the puzzle, a time when I was far more human than I am now. He saw our first meeting, a meeting with a child lost in the store. I childishly had gotten distracted by a video game advertisement, and my mommy didn’t notice that I wasn’t behind her any longer.

“What was that?” inquired James, knowing his memory shouldn’t have been in the third person.

“You know what you saw.” I told him.

“Yes, but what caused me to suddenly recall that moment… to recall… meeting you?” he questioned, though that wasn’t really what he wanted to know. “I met your mother.” he realized.

Nodding, I told him “I thought you should know. The first time we met I was still relatively human. I was lost and scared, and this marvelous boy showed me the way without a second’s thought. Wasn’t my mommy beautiful?”

“Yes. Yes, she was. Where is she?” he asked.

“She died in a car crash when I was seven. My grandfather had hired a hitman to kill her, the same hitman who killed my grandmother years before. He couldn’t stand the idea of either of them running away, so he had them killed. The hitman then broke most of my bones before bringing me to my grandfather, so my grandfather would have the excuse to perform his surgery, changing me into a cyborg.” I explained perfectly calmly, even knowing how the story played throughout James’ mind.

A tear ran down his cheek as he imagined what I went through. I helped his brain along with some missing data, since he had no clue what my grandfather or the assassin had looked like.

“My auntie came for me as soon as she could, as soon as she knew I was still alive, but I had already been captive in my grandfather’s lab for nearly a year. Quite by accident and with the aid of my latent magic, she changed me into something far stronger than most would believe possible. My auntie’s magic is quite powerful, but her understanding of it is extremely limited. Of course, most beings have a very limited view of magic. Besides, existence needed me as I am now.” I told him, watching how he was about to marvel over the knowledge.

“Existence needed Death?” he questioned, hearing the truth echoed in his own words.

Smiling, I said, “Yes. I traveled through time quite a bit with Carl’s help. He first introduced me to The Lilly Slayer, and I learned what being completely in awe felt like. She gave me my scythe and told me that I had a great deal of work to do. Then I did a large number of jobs as an assassin, first throughout time and then throughout space as well. Eventually, I went so far back in time that I stumbled upon my purpose. Before me, spirits had nowhere to go when their bodies died. They lingered and caused problems without even understanding what they were doing, not that most of them really had a clue what they affected when they were still alive.”

“And what do you do with them? Kill them?” he asked.

“Some, yes.” I replied. “For most, I give them someplace to go. Some are given to new bodies when the time is right. Others exist in perpetual bliss. Still others receive the punishment they feel they deserve. Let me show you an example of the happy ones.” Then I held up my hand for him to take it.

Setting his cake aside, James took my hand, so I brought him outside by the pond in his yard. I allowed him to see Regina as she was now, embracing him the moment he arrived. James would be horrified as he worked through what was happening. He wouldn’t understand, thinking this was some cruel fate.

“Regina…?” he asked, bewildered by the sense of her touch.

“She can’t hear you, boss-man, sir.” I explained.

“Tell me this isn’t real. Why would you trap her here? Why didn’t you save her?” he asked, tears flowing once more down his cheeks.

“Imagine a world where no one dies. I could dictate every life to be absolutely perfect. There would be no hunger, no pain, no sorrow, and not one person would truly understand what they were missing.” I replied.

“Why not just her? She didn’t deserve to die, Aaliyah!” he exclaimed.

Agreeing that she didn’t deserve her death, I said, “No, she didn’t deserve the hardships she faced, but she remained a better person by continuing to struggle onward despite them. She knew how to love unconditionally with such passion that her spirit still remembers your name when she’s forgotten so much else.”

I could have left her more of her memories, but her existence would become an endless struggle with less of a reward. She’d make mistakes that would cost James and others in his household. Besides, this was only a temporary arrangement. Regina didn’t remember the whole of our bargain, but I did. She’d have a different paradise soon enough.

“But why not save her?” he asked again.

“She died exactly how she wanted: saving you. Her spirit goes on exactly how she wants: helping you. Why do you think Portentia, who brings misfortune everywhere she goes, can live here so peacefully? Regina is still helping you, countering all misfortune as best as she is able. She’s not angry about dying. She doesn’t want her memory to hold you back either. I’m not going to negate her sacrifice or keep her from what she wants just because you feel I should.” I pointedly stated, crossing my arms as I looked him in the eye.

I knew James would still find me adorable even as my little body attempted to look commanding. The point still reached him though, and he did his best to shove his selfishness away. Jumping up and hugging him, I felt his arms wrap around me as he wondered over how childlike I felt.

“Would you rather I felt like this?” I asked, changing my form to the one I had taken for our date.

“Umm… no. That’s quite alright.” he told me, once again dodging those feelings that made him uncomfortable. Looking around, he asked “Where did Regina go?”

She was hugging his back still, but I had taken away his ability to sense her. Eventually, he’d notice her without my help. If he was paying better attention, he’d sense her magic even now. Of course, he’d also sense other magics playing their part if he realized they weren’t just continuous background noise. He would learn.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. She doesn’t get jealous anymore.” I replied, pressing my head into his shoulder.

“Not really what I was thinking.” he stated, ignoring the part of his mind that had thought of me in that way.

“Oooh. Sorry, boss-man, sir, but you can’t see spirits unless I let you. Don’t worry. She’s fine, and now you know why you always get that warm, fuzzy feeling when you’re here!” I exclaimed.

Finally putting some pieces together, he said, “Hold on a second. She was moving. Did we just vanish in front of Cosette and Mila?”

“Nah. Just made a little adjustment, so you could see that Regina’s happy for a bit. I need more cake.” I told him, bringing us back inside.

Ignoring how I was about to take a giant bite of cake, James asked “How much does Cosette know about you?”

Playing up my reluctance as I set down my fork, I said, “She knows that I’m faster and stronger than she is, that I’ve killed people, and that I don’t mind helping out my friends when they need it.”

“Except if they’re going to die. I still am having trouble understanding why you let Cosette’s parents die. You could have stopped it, couldn’t you? You seem to know most things. Don’t you have a sense of when people are about to die, so you can collect their spirits?” he inquired.

I could explain to James in great detail where Cosette would be at this moment if her parents were alive. I could tell him of how vastly different her life would play out. I had let her parents see what would become of their daughter in numerous possibilities. Even they preferred this one, accepting their death. I reunited those two with many deceased loved ones, and I would let them observe Cosette’s growth from time-to-time. James didn’t need to know, not yet. I knew how the knowledge would affect his life as well.

“I told you that was their time.” I stated, setting my fork down again. “You believe that saving a life, especially a relatively good life, is the right thing to do.”

Walking up behind James and patting his shoulder, Carl said, “She has the final say on who lives and who dies. You’re quite right there. But come now, my boy, do you really want one being to dictate all life everywhere? She chose to allow her own mother to die, you know. She lets Chad die when his time comes as well. She allows the rest of us to make choices, because she decided that free will is important. Yes, she intervenes from time-to-time, because she understands what will happen far better than even I do. Are you trying to fault her for allowing freedom in the world, for believing that each of us should be allowed to make our own choices?”

James’ mind rapidly ― rapidly for him at least ― worked through possibilities from what Carl said. Having Carl speak to him now helped James accept that I knew whom to save far better than he did.

“Do you really want me to save every last life that you would deem relatively good, James, no matter the consequences?” I asked him, already knowing his answer.

“No. Sorry.” he quickly told me. At such a young age, he was already wise enough to know that power without knowledge could be exceedingly dangerous.

“Lilly will be proud of you, dear boy. Mark my word.” stated Carl. Then he winked at me, picked up the dishes and cake, and walked away as I stuck my tongue out at him.

“He took the cake!” I exclaimed when James could hear it.

Ignoring my plight, James asked “Who is Lilly?”

“You’ll see eventually, James. Everything changes when The Lilly Slayer comes.” I told him, smiling wistfully.

I could see all of the interactions the two would have together. Where most were far too overwhelmed by Lilly’s presence to even make their requests properly, James was one of the few who could casually talk with Lilly, and she always appreciated his company.

“I guess I’ll see then.” he confirmed before asking “Is Carl as fast as you, by the way?”

I laughed and asked “Really!? Carl?” Then I explained “He walks practically everywhere, boss-man, sir. Speaking of which, we better get in place. This is about to end, since he’s home again.”

James wasn’t entirely satisfied by our interlude, but he didn’t try to object. He merely accepted that things were out of his control. I made a fuss over him as I fixed his position precisely back to what it was before our little chat, so no one else would notice something out of place. Then I took up my own position.

“I really never knew which of his stories to believe, some of them seemed quite outlandish.” stated Cosette, once again choosing her words well.

Even James had trouble noticing when Cosette wasn’t being honest, since she did well at speaking a truth most of the time. How others interpreted her words versus how she meant them led to a great deal of confusion in many, but that was what she trained to do. Her father was far more skilled in various arts than he was ever credited.

James was able to recall that we were just discussing how Cosette’s father was once a king and made sense of her statement perfectly. He was going to enjoy having this vampire around.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 202

After returning to my room, I ordered some research on Cosette’s parents. If what Aaliyah said was true as it seemed, I could be in trouble. Her friends were protected under our agreement with her. Ignorance wouldn’t save me from a reprisal. I had known the girl instantly from a portrait I had seen through their window.

While waiting, I mulled over Adelmar’s order. I had informed him immediately after Cosette recognized Aaliyah, and he felt amused by the situation, enough that he simply wanted me to study her for now. We already knew enough about vampires that I didn’t really see what was to gain, unless he was hoping to find some leverage on Aaliyah. I hoped he wasn’t foolish enough to believe she truly had emotional attachments.

I started working well before the preliminary results were sent to me. Cosette had indeed lived across the hall from Aaliyah. That much wasn’t a lie, so I could be in a great deal of trouble. I wished I would have looked over the apartment thoroughly before killing them. I might have found some warning of their acquaintance.

Not much later, I found myself worrying over how James was going to deal with things, only to realize he was standing outside my door. He was very quick now. I opened the door with a spell just before he could knock.

“ALMA!” he yelled the moment he stepped inside.

“In here, James.” I replied, forcing my voice to be steady.

He was angry with me again. There were times that I feared his temper matched my own, but instead of yelling at me, he came into the room and watched me work. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

“Did you need something, or have you come to your senses and banished that vampire from your yard?” I asked, realizing just after that more caution would have been advisable.

“That vampire is a fourteen-year-old girl who just lost her parents to a mysterious fire.” he stated, practically spitting the words. “I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she just moved into the same building as her parents’ killer.”

“Yes, she did. I’m certain Aaliyah will make me pay for killing them in some way, since she did, in fact, live across the hall from them a few years back. Had I known that little detail, I assure you that I wouldn’t have killed them without consulting her first.”

There was a pause where I couldn’t even hear him breathing. I would need to grow accustomed to his changes.

“How can you be so cold?” he asked.

“What? Like a vampire?” I retorted. “They feast on humans to survive, James. Would you have me prove in great detail how many humans have been killed by each one before saving countless lives from the likes of a vampire?”

“Cosette hasn’t killed anyone.” he insisted, sounding absurdly certain.

“Ha. A likely story.” I argued.

“I guarantee that she isn’t aware of killing anyone. She’s innocent, Alma, which makes me wonder if her parents were as well.” he claimed.

I was more interested in her being fourteen. If that were true, what happened for her “parents” to turn her so young? Another possibility floated through my mind, but I dismissed it. Vampires having biological offspring was absurd. I also wondered why James was so determined to believe her, probably his secretary’s influence.

I nodded and told him “For you, I will consider this, but I can make no promises, James. If I’m ordered to kill something, I will. Please don’t try to make me go against my family.”

“Will you try getting to know Cosette?” he inquired.

“I would rather not, but I have been ordered to study her.” I admitted.

“What? Ordered to study her? What do you mean?” he asked, sounding wary.

“I informed Adelmar of your newest guest. My cousin is amused by the situation and wants me to keep an eye on her, so I’m forced to play along with this farce for now.” I explained.

After another lull in our conversation, I retrieved one of the pizzas from my freezer with a spell and asked “Would you like a snack?”

James was staring as if he were surprised by the simple spell. “I can feel it.” he stated.

“Feel what?” I inquired.

“Your magic.” he claimed, still staring.

I found the notion absurd but started heating the air next to him to test it. To my surprise, James ducked and rolled away from the magic.

Laughing, I said, “I wasn’t going to hurt you, James. I must say that is intriguing. We’ll have to see how the twins fair against you after you’ve had some rest.”

“Intriguing” was an understatement. If he could sense all magic, that could give him a distinct edge in combat against my family. Facing someone with a common affinity was rare enough that no one was practiced in it, save for Ai and Mai. I would have a great laugh if anyone of their affinity were stupid enough to face one of them.

James merely nodded and accepted some of the pizza after it finished heating. He remained quiet for a time, sitting and watching me work. I knew I wasn’t being the best of hosts, but I couldn’t stop midway with my current meetings. Was there something more he wanted? I would focus better if he left, but I was painfully aware that I didn’t want him to leave.

“Thank you for the pizza. I’m going to check on my new guest.” he informed me as he stood.

I could think of a hundred reasons to keep him here, none of which would likely dissuade him from leaving. I nodded and wished him a good night.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Oh. Mila. What are you doing here?” asked James as he stepped out of Lady Pendreigh’s wing to find me curtsying.

“Master, I am here to serve you, of course.” I replied as I rose.

His eyes were looking me over, and he seemed somewhat uncomfortable. Did he see me as a woman now that I had a more physical form for him to admire?

“I don’t really need anything at the moment.” he stated.

“As you say, master.” I replied.

I knew James still wasn’t interested in me. There was a distinct difference in how he looked at me compared with how he looked at Lady Pendreigh, despite our similar appearance.

“Oh! Would you mind helping me fetch Cosette’s luggage?” he inquired.

“Oh, master, do you think I’m such a poor maid that I wouldn’t have already seen to the luggage?” I teased.

Nodding, he said, “Oh, right. I suppose I did ask you to take care of it already. Umm… You don’t really need to follow me.”

“But master, this body was made to serve you. The closer I am to you, the more swiftly I can assist you.” I assured him, recognizing his continued unease but unwilling to let him ignore me.

He would grow accustomed to my changes as I expanded my functions, just as he had with the others.

“You seem tense, master. Might I give you a massage?” I offered, stating the obvious to give reason for my request.

“Not right now. Thank you. I thought I’d check in on Cosette again.” he informed me, forgetting that I am quite well aware of what happens throughout the house.

He started walking, so I followed, imitating meek maids I had seen in fiction rather than real life counterparts. When we arrived at the door to Cosette’s chambers, The Princess opened it for us.

“Boss-man, sir! Emma made Cosette some furniture, but she’s already falling asleep! We’re going to have a girls’ night tomorrow, so maybe you should plan something with Jarod and Brandon.” she suggested.

“Sure. That would be fun.” he assured her.

“Master, please don’t forget about planning our date either.” I stated, not willing to let him forget.

“Of course not, though I’m not really certain what you’d be interested in doing.” he admitted.

“Everything you’d want to share with me!” I insisted.

The Princess tugged on the leg of his pants to get his attention before saying, “I might consider helping you, boss-man, sir, if you convince Mila to join us physically for the girls’ night.”

I kept my face smooth, despite having discussed girls’ night in great detail with The Princess already.

“Mila, please join them. You don’t want to disappoint The Princess.” he stated.

“Whatever you wish, master.” she replied.

“Princess? Which one?” inquired Cosette, appearing perfectly serious.

“Huh?” asked my master.

“Cosette’s daddy always called her a princess too, boss-man, sir. Of course, her daddy was once a king.” explained the Princess.

“Yeah, well… That’s what he claimed.” admitted Cosette. “Apparently his people revolted, and he was saved by the vampire who turned him just before his execution.”

,,,^._.^,,,

“Sorry, boss-man, sir. That was their time.” I informed him in response to his thoughts.

He had been wondering if I could have saved Cosette’s parents, if I could have saved Regina months earlier. His confusion was adorable as he completely missed that everyone else was frozen in time.

Stepping up behind James with three layer cake in hand, Carl said, “I would suggest cake if you two are going to have such a dreary conversation.”

James practically jumped before spinning around. “Carl!? What are you doing here?” he asked just before noticing his surroundings.

“Well, Aaliyah knew you wanted to talk and suggested that I bring cake for the two of you, so here I am. I’ll just leave this here, so you two can be about your business.” he explained as he set down the cake. Then he adjusted time around James before walking away.

To James, Carl seemed to vanish.

“What…? How?” asked James.

“Oh. Carl has had a number of names throughout the years. ‘Father Time’, for example, has stuck fairly well.” I informed him, walking to the cake. I cut off a nice, big slice

James followed suit, though he was still glancing around, wondering what to make of these events. With his first bite of cake, he felt a little better. His extraordinary life was just getting started.