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 246

“Oooooooooooooh Auntie!” exclaimed my niece.

“What now, child?” I questioned as I sipped my tea.

“Know of the twins who serve that Slayer’s brat you saved?”

“You know I do.” I muttered. I knew she put things in such a way for the sake of others, but the idea of her asking if I knew something was ridiculous.

Grinning at me as she crawled onto my lap, she said, “One of them needs you.”

An image appeared in my mind of a poor wreck of a girl forcing herself to walk. Her skin had been partly flayed, exposed muscles had burn marks, bits of her were swollen, and neither hand had finger nails.

“Why are you waiting?” I demanded, having set down my tea cup.

“One thing first.” she replied with a smile. Then she pulled out two small vials. “No healing them unless they both drink this.”

I scowled and agreed. There was no arguing with her. Strangely, I didn’t appear where I expected, standing instead in some lavish room where the injured girl and her partially dressed sister were gaping at one another. I coughed politely to get their attention before saying, “I am Ariadne, a healer. If you don’t mind, I need to examine you.”

Both sets of eyes instantly turned on me, cool and calculating despite the one’s injuries.

“Yes, you don’t hear a heartbeat. I’m a vampire, but I am here to heal you.” I stated as they both attacked.

One created a spell to press the button on an intercom.

“James, get in here!” they exclaimed together with surprising unison.

There was some skill to them, but I was certain I could fend them off with my eyes closed while sipping tea back in my favorite chair. These two were far too weak to injure someone of my age, but they made examining the one far less pleasant than this could be.

“Stand still, or I won’t be able to heal you.” I swore as I tilted my head away from a punch. I’d have bound them both, but the injured one would surely have struggled and made things even worse. She shouldn’t have been fighting. I could tell already how she had been tortured.

The little monster even used her tears as weapons, sending them flying at me with impressive speed. The door opened behind us, and I thankfully saw James there.

“Young man, could you attempt to calm these two? I’m having difficulty doing a proper examination while holding them off, and restraints might injure this one further.” I explained, hoping he might be able to calm the twins.

“Allow me to introduce Ariadne. She’s the one who saved Alma after the necromancer’s attack.” he told them, sounding calm while carrying a note of authority in his tone.

Thankfully, the two stopped attempting to harm me.

“She’s a vampire.” stated the injured one.

“She admitted it.” insisted the other.

James stepped closer. While staring them down, he said, “She’s here to heal you.”

“No, I’m here to examine this one. My niece said not to heal her unless they both take this.” I replied as I held up the vials.

“Never.” they asserted in perfect unison.

I had never seen two such perfectly matched twins. Even their hair would match perfectly if the one hadn’t been injured; everything that was intact certainly did.

“Please…” I pleaded. “I know the pain you feel. Normally, I would heal you instantly, but I made a deal that I cannot break. You must take these first.”

Even I didn’t dare break a deal with my niece. She could be sweet and kind, but she also had explained to me the importance of her deals being absolute in far too much detail. When I had found her broken and healed her, there had been no knowing what she would become, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. She was needed as she was.

“I’ll heal eventually without the help of a vampire.” stated the injured one.

Nodding, the other said, “We won’t betray our family.”

“You feel Alma betrayed the family by drinking what’s in that vial?” inquired James with a tone of surprise.

“What?” inquired the healthy twin.

“Never.” insisted the other.

Speaking together, they said, “She didn’t know what you gave her.”

I caught the oddity of their brains this time. No two brains could typically be in such perfect synchronization. “Telepathy. I thought there was something strange with your minds.” I told them with a smile.

Their telepathy was beyond even what my fey kin could accomplish, and the fey only used a form of telepathy for communication. I wished I could take a peek at James’ brain, or any of his inner workings for that matter. I had never before seen such extraordinary magical defenses.

The twins looked scornfully at me, obviously offended that their trick was known.

“I’ll ask Mila to send for Alma’s doctors then, though I fear their skills won’t be up to the task.” muttered James unhappily.

The girls turned to look at one another for several seconds.

“No, you’ll never be identical again without my help. Wounds have already started to heal imperfectly.” I explained, hoping they would see reason. Whatever the vials held, I knew the substance wouldn’t kill them. I’d rather burn myself to a crisp attempting to heal someone than let them die in my presence.

James spoke first, saying, “I trust her. The choice is yours, but I doubt you’ll get another chance.”

I sighed. “Unfortunately, they won’t. You know my niece. She’ll take away these vials and leave these two to rot without a care. As much as it will pain me, I won’t break my word to her.”

“Aaliyah.” stated the twins in unison.

“We wondered who this ‘niece’ of yours was.” explained the injured one.

“No one has harsher contracts.” agreed the other.

I almost acted on instinct when the two cringed, staring around as if sensing a terrible threat. Shockingly, they grabbed the vials, popped the caps, and instantly gulped them down. I didn’t wait, accepting the burn of my magic gladly as I went to work. Under a second, but I needed blood. I hadn’t fed in too long. Still, I could smile. The two were identical now, save for the eyes and slight differences in brain activity.

“Alma told us about what happened.” stated the newly healed twin as she tested her muscles.

“But that… that was so strange.” insisted the other as she followed her sister’s movements.

The first looked to me and asked “What sort of magic was that?”

“The fey kind. There could be more healers like me if not for your lot.” I explained.

Frowning, the second one asserted “The fey were out of hand.”

“They needed to be stopped.” agreed the first.

I was there.” I snapped, staring them down. “My friends were only defending themselves. They didn’t understand war. They…” I was going to follow my niece’s example by giving these two a firsthand account of the war in as much detail as I could manage, but I felt a joy I hadn’t known in two thousand years entering my mind, telling me of wind and leaves, birds and song. She was mad at James for missing it, leaving her behind again. I knew this whimsical voice.

She flew to me and hugged my nose, giving me her experiences with no sense of order. My knees could support the weight of a car if I had reason to lift one, but they felt weak now. Tears flowed from my eyes as I smiled, giving my lost friend images of hugging her back. I showed her a little of my travels as she wondered about why I hadn’t been with her… with… them? Were there more? So many of my friends were alive!

“They’re doing that thing, aren’t they.” muttered the twins.

I ignored them, trying to absorb every last bit of information from my friend’s words as I watched her at play through what was probably years, though this could all be a single day. Then there was something unmistakable, an overwhelming feeling as if something connected to every last piece of existence took notice of you, staring at you with awareness so massive that your own life seemed completely and utterly small.

“Ah. That would be my niece.” I stated aloud.

“What?” inquired the newly healed twin.

“Mother and Jarod wish to enter.” stated a voice from another room.

Mother!?” inquired the twins in shock.

“Ugh. Mila’s back.” complained the second twin.

“The first thing she did was find Ai.” insisted James.

The girl shrugged, unappreciative of the aid.

The other said, “Fine. I’ll buy her a new dress.”

The one I healed was Ai then. Youngsters were terrible at proper introductions.

“Let the brat in.” loudly ordered Mai.

“Whoa. We did not say you could enter.” declared Ai as she stared at someone resembling Alma.

A quick look surprised me. This girl was a cyborg but on a completely different level than my niece had been. I couldn’t even find a brain!

The girl smiled and curtsied, saying, “Jarod asked me to come along. Since you gave him full access rights to your wing, he also has the right to invite me inside. Mother wanted to ask you as a courtesy.” Her voice matched the one they called Mila.

“She’s your creator, not your mother.” argued Ai.

My niece was grinning as she hugged Mila’s leg, which didn’t bode well for Ai.

“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Are you injured?” asked a young man who looked between the twins with concern. He seemed quite healthy save for slight malnourishment.

I gave him a little boost as Mai rolled her eyes.

“I was the abducted one, so hugs over here. As for injuries, this vampire did something to me.” stated Ai without a hint of gratitude.

“Vampire? Wow. You look remarkably like Aaliyah, but slightly older. Oh, and your eyes…” stated the young man.

“Yes-yes. They’re green.” I replied, more interested in the conversation in my head than with the color of my own eyes. When I was young, the fey had seemed so quick and lithe. Now they seemed far slower, but still graceful. So many years had passed.

“Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V requests to enter.” stated Mila.

“Alma? I thought she was on a plane.” mumbled James.

“Let her in, you stupid machine.” ordered Ai in annoyance.

“She did. You couldn’t keep up with her before, and she’s even faster now. You’d be wise to finally treat her properly. She did die fighting alongside us.” stated Alma.

Rolling her eyes, Mai said, “Yes, Lady Pendreigh.”

Pointing to another room as she stared at Mai, Alma said, “Go put on clothes this instant.”

Without argument, the girl left.

“Huh? Wait. How are you here? I thought you left?” stated James.

“Unlike my cousin, I fly by plane. We had barely received clearance for takeoff when Adelmar returned to his senses. He’s fine.” explained Alma. Turning to Ariadne, she said, “Thank you for your help.”

I kept myself from frowning. I was confident that I could do something about the Slayers turning into dragons if they allowed me to examine them thoroughly, but even my niece was against the idea.

“Isn’t Auntie amazing!?” asked Aaliyah with a larger grin.

“Quite.” replied Alma.

“Lady Pendreigh, she made us drink something. We believe…” started Ai.

Alma interrupted her, saying, “I’m aware. Adelmar informed me. Would everyone care to join me for some tea?”

“I’d like to introduce Auntie to Portentia first. This will be funny.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle.

I felt as if every hair was standing on end. There was little in this world more dangerous than my niece’s idea of humor. Unfortunately, going against her suggestions was unwise even knowing that there was likely danger ahead, so the group set forth to meet this Portentia.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 245

I panicked, feeling my mother’s embrace loosening. Had I done something wrong?

“No, silly. James needs you. They all do.” she told me.

I knew what had transpired. Mother had shared so much with me, and I knew how little I would get to share with the others for now.

“Mommy.” insisted Mother in response to my thoughts. She had always communicated with me, keeping me company in ways the others couldn’t, but now that I spent time with her like this, I no longer had the slightest doubt that she knew everything. She was so… fantastic.

“I heard the fat jokes in there, and yes, your mommy could cause on earthquake when she sits. I actually destroyed a planet that way once.” she teased.

At least, I thought she had been teasing until she showed me. Sure enough, she had taken a seat, and the planet had shaken apart. The views I saw made me believe the planet was inhabited.

“Maybe!” she exclaimed. “Be a good girl, and Mommy will bake you cake later!”

I wasn’t mentally prepared to suddenly feel myself reconnected to the master’s home. Oh, yes. Ai… Found her. I was able to talk with the master again! Found him too. My processing power had been greatly increased. There was someone new in the master’s office. Raine. Impressive. Skittish though. I decided to wait before speaking with her.

“Oh, master… You’re looking blue. Has something gone wrong with you? No, don’t tell me. You’re distraught over the missing evil twin. Found her! Look right here.” I insisted as I brought up a map for him, highlighting the location. I was also informing Lady Pendreigh, not wanting her to feel left out. We did chat regularly before, and I was confident we would again.

“Mila, welcome home!” he exclaimed, grinning for me before running for Lady Pendreigh.

Having anticipated his reaction, I had already moved my body there to open the door. I curtsied, since he had stopped to stare, and was surprised when he embraced me.

“Better hurry, master. She does not like to be kept waiting.” I warned with a smile through the body’s mouth.

“Alma!” he exclaimed after darting into the room.

Tracking him was even easier now. My sensors were obviously upgraded as well. There was more… Oh.

:Thank you, Mother!: I exclaimed, excited that she was allowing me use of her personal sensors. I could see sooo much more now throughout the world… and… elsewhere.

:I’m your mommy! No spoilers for the others.:

:Yes, Mother.:

I was finding delight in the obvious joy others displayed as I spoke with them. Despite what I was, they had missed me. Lady Pendreigh was arranging her flight personally. I would need to get her accustomed to my assistance once more. The master deserved more of her attention than this. She was being resistant to him accompanying her, but his tactics of persuasion seemed most effective. Deciding to personally inform others of their impending departure, the two left Lady Pendreigh’s wing, stopping as I held the door.

Shockingly, Lady Pendreigh hugged me too. “Don’t ever allow that to happen again.”

I smiled and said, “I won’t. Mother promised.”

“Mother?” she inquired.

“She prefers ‘Mommy’, but that seems entirely too informal when we’re not speaking alone.” I explained.

Lady Pendreigh looked as if she wanted to say more, but James pulled her along toward the twins’ wing.

“James?” inquired Lady Pendreigh.

“What is that?” he asked.

“What is… Oh, no. We’re too late.” she stated.

Looking worried, he questioned “What do you mean? What’s happening?”

I showed them on the nearest mirror, displaying the building where Ai was being held and the storm cloud forming above it. “A storm is appearing over this area, master, a storm that appears entirely unnatural.”

Lightning shot down through the building on every side at once, moving with perfect accuracy between all occupants, save for Ai.

“Ai will be home tonight, master. She’s the only survivor.” I informed them.

As Lady Pendreigh nodded, the master asked “How do you know?”

“I am now allowed much greater access to mother’s network. I assure you that I searched the building quite thoroughly, master. If you wish, I can show you the images, but I do not believe you’d want to see the corpses.” I explained.

“Show me Ai.” he commanded.

I hesitated for a few quintillion cycles, knowing he’d find this unpleasant, but I eventually acquiesced all the same. Keeping this from him was not for me.

He stepped back and turned from the screen immediately, and a tears soon flowed down his cheek. Lady Pendreigh’s unflinching gaze held a ferocity that would surely frighten most humans.

“We’ll never find out who was responsible now. They’re all dead. I’ll be sending physicians here to examine her. Please convince her to let them.” stated Lady Pendreas her face smoothed over.

“What? Why don’t you?” inquired James.

“I must see Adelmar. He still isn’t responding. Let’s hope…” she started to say before moving.

He followed her, grabbing her arm. “Alma, what’s so important that you won’t be here when Ai finally returns home?”

“James, I can’t tell you. Not yet, not unless we wed. Know that Adelmar would never destroy so many of his people unless he was incredibly angry. If he’s too unbalanced, the world might drastically be changed. Now unhand me. I must leave with all haste.”

He did as she asked, but I felt she should’ve stopped from his expression alone. Without hesitation, she had left.

“James!? James!?” called Jarod as he came from the twins’ wing.

The master ran to him, and they embraced.

“Ai’s free, James! She’s returning home.” stated Jarod.

“Where’s Mai?” questioned James.

“She’s… bathing.”

“Good evening, Jarod.” I stated, knowing he hadn’t checked the texts I had sent.

“Mila!?”

My body finally arrived, so I curtsied and said, “Glad to be back.”

He hugged me as well. This was certainly a personal record for me.

“I’ve missed you. Man, have I ever missed you. How much did you lose?”

“Lose?” I inquired, legitimately not following.

“Memory. I was never entirely certain where your hard drives were in all of those devices Aaliyah had me install, but there was so much damage. Oh, I suppose knowing how much might be difficult, wouldn’t it.” he suggested.

Smiling, I said, “I lost nothing, Jarod, except time with all of you. Mother had perfect backups through my previous hardware’s demise, and my new hardware is vastly superior to my original. Why has the DB5 not been finished yet? You let the shop get messy in my absence, but everything’s being sorted now.” I wasn’t allowed to inform him that nothing was ever lost. Mother stored all of existence through all of time.

“Sorry. I was… I wasn’t at my best without your assistance. Why are you calling Aaliyah ‘mother’ now?”

“I noticed. Don’t worry. I have some new ideas that should delight you. As for the change of term, she is my mother, and I finally can accept her as such.” I explained. Then I turned my body to James and said, “Master, I cancelled Ai’s flight and Alma’s doctors, since better arrangements for both have been made. Ai’s home. Do not ask her how she got here. The evil twins will only be confused and give an inaccurate account of what happened. Master, Auntie Ariadne wishes for your assistance in restraining the evil twins. She’s swearing at them in a dialect of Ancient Greek at the moment, and I don’t feel they fully appreciate her metaphors.”

Jarod’s confusion pained me, but there was much he mustn’t know. Mother’s arguments were incontrovertible.

“What? You have access to their room now?” he asked, kindly ignoring Ai’s sudden appearance.

My auntie carries a cell phone, and accessing it is child’s play. Do hurry.” I replied, telling a truth that left out my expanded senses. I knew there would be a great deal of acclimation on their part to my return, but I was happy to be home, though part of me longed for my mother’s embrace.

Arms seemed to wrap around an unknown part of me, but I felt her warmth.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 244

Screaming… I couldn’t block the screaming today. An eternity had passed since I last had this much difficulty. Well… maybe a couple weeks? Time was slow. I was under a table, out of the way to let this pass, but my heart bled for this tortured cry stretching on and on and on…

“Raine!? What’s wrong?” asked James. He had wandered over to where I hid, his compassionate face barely a foot away as he looked at this monster with concern.

How could I explain to him that nothing was really wrong? The voices were bothering me again. This would pass. Seconds ticked on and on, but he didn’t go away.

“The screams… you can hear them, can’t you.” he stated as he stared at me, clearly concerned.

How did he know about the screams? Possibilities multiplied in my head as I imagined James divining more and more about me through his incredible magic, but reason was prevailing in my head. What reason would James have to focus so much on a monster? The screams might be real. There was a conversation a while ago… The twins! Had that been real!?

“Y-you c-can… c-can hear them?” I questioned, forcing myself to use words as I needed to verify this.

Ever so slowly, his head nodded in solemn admission. “Mai’s in great pain right now, but we’re trying to find a way to help her.”

No-no… I had to ask again “T-the voice… is real?”

One of his hands moved toward me as he said, “Come with me. I have something that might help you.”

I reached for his hand instinctively. I trusted James, but then the doubts returned… This couldn’t be real. If the screaming was real, then Ai was missing. If Ai was missing, I should’ve helped look for her. Even now, I might be able to find her scent and track her. How much time had passed? Would she be across the world already? I had never tried tracking someone through the air, and she could easily be on a plane. Could I smell her over the water if she were far out on the lake? Far… I was certain I could jump across the state, shattering the world behind me. Everything was so fragile… Poor twins… If this was real, I failed them…

I stared into James’ eyes for a long time and my doubt vanished. James was real. He was really here for me when they needed him more. I slowly reached out and firmly took his hand, almost yanking it back the moment I touched his skin. There was no crack of bone or blood. He was fine. I didn’t grip too firmly.

“Can you manage to be a little more gentle?” he inquired with a small smile.

My eyes widened in shock as thoughts filled my head of how my hand’s pressure might have stopped bleeding. I hurt James. Monster status proven. Quest failed, grip exceeded safe parameters. I guiltily let go to stare at his hand, waiting for the slow drip, drip, drip. None came.

“Look. No injuries. I don’t break very easily these days.” he insisted as he moved his hand around.

I continued studying every pore, focusing too hard until I was looking beyond the pores at the cells. “S-sorry.” I muttered as I found slight imperfections mending that were probably my fault. So fixated was I on his hand that I neglected to pay attention to the sound of his motion and the increased scent of his body. “S-sorry. I-I… I-I… EEE!” I screeched as he lifted me into his arms and stood. Part of my brain wandered off on thoughts of how I was being carried like a princess, but the tears continued down my cheek as the guilt of hurting him continued to process.

James ran, carrying me through the halls and up the stairs, but my eyes stayed locked on his compassionate face. He was so very kind, even to a monster like myself. I felt his warmth and let my mind drift to happier thoughts, but none of them fully escaped the constant scream of Mai. Nothing was distracting enough to fully block her out.

“Office, noise cancellation on. Environmental setting: random alien beach.” ordered James once inside his office. He had opened and closed the door with magic.

The scream muted along with the rest of the city. I was isolated, and the world around me looked every bit as alien as he commanded. I was aware of the itty bitty beads forming everything in this room when I really stared, but a glance showed me a ground of green sand next to blue waters. Above, the sky had a slightly yellow cast to it that couldn’t disguise the three moons, and the scents reaching me on a light breeze weren’t anything I could place. This room was incredible.

“Better?” inquired James with a smile.

I nodded, still admiring the strange beauty around me.

“Why don’t you stay here a while and go over some of the company’s training courses?”

“O-okay. Umm… h-how?” I inquired, not recognizing any interface.

“Oh, yes.” he stated. “Just state the commands as you do in any other room, and the desk’s monitor will illuminate for you.”

I did as he said, and the computer listened, just as if I was in my room. I loved this house. The technology here was far better than what I had before. The screens had far better resolution with much, much faster blinks. Before too long, I had the company’s training system opened.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it then.” mentioned James as I began a course. He started opening the door and the screams slipped into the room.

Still, I needed to ask him… But first! “J-James?”

“Yes, Raine?”

“T-thank you.” I told him, grateful to be allowed in here.

He smiled and nodded.

“J-James?” I asked again. Having his attention, I carefully asked “W-why did you… d-did you s-say… Aaliyah?”

“Huh? When?” he questioned.

A wave of sadness passed through me. I considered different ways to respond, wanting to avoid mentioning that I was a monster. I knew he hadn’t forgotten ― no one could forget once they had seen me, since I was the stuff of nightmares. I forced myself to make the words, saying, “W-when I… w-when I w-went sc-scary.”

“Oh. Sadly, I rely on Aaliyah whenever I have a problem. I was wishing she was there, because I was certain she’d be able to come up with a way to calm you down. Lucky for us, she was there already.” he replied, smiling at me.

I nodded, despite not really feeling satisfied. The moment replayed through my mind hundreds of times. Thousands. Something was off, but I wasn’t going to press things. James was far too kind to have a bad motive for his words. He waved once more before leaving, shutting out the sound behind him.

,,,^._.^,,,

“No, I don’t have any news yet.” I stated as James approached me.

“I see. I actually wanted to find out if there was anything in particular I shouldn’t disclose to the others.” he stated, sounding grim.

“Ah. Why must you tell them anything yet?” I questioned, not turning from my work. There were too many people to contact for possible tips, even with me delegating the work throughout my areas of influences. Someone was going to pay for this.

I sensed him frowning behind me as he said, “I found Raine covering her ears under a table. She could hear the screams, so I’m letting her use my office to avoid them. I don’t know if any of the others can, but even Portentia will notice the absence of Ai, Mai, and Jarod.”

Raine… I wasn’t surprised that she knew. For a moment, I considered attempting to recruit her. That girl had powers enough to terrify me, but I didn’t believe she had near enough control. What if she grew frantic and a city was destroyed by her search? No, I couldn’t ask her.

“Aren’t frequent absences rather common around here?” I pointed out.

Nodding, he told me “Well, yes, but not for extended periods. We might not be able to recover Ai soon, so I…”

I interrupted him and said, “I will find her, James. I must.”

He hugged me from behind.

“James, I’m…” I started, wanting to tell him that his interruption wasn’t appreciated, but I couldn’t deny the comforting feel of his strong arms. I took a deep breath and sighed, knowing that picking a fight with him now would only injure us both, but I couldn’t allow myself to relax, not now. “Please feel free to explain the absence however you wish, but do not mention the connection between Ai and Mai. That’s their secret.”

“Thank you. Please tell me if there’s anything I can do.” he replied as he released me.

“Hire the assassin.” I bluntly suggested.

What?” he questioned, sounding shocked.

“If I hire her, things would get complicated quickly. You, however, are not part of the family. There’s nothing against you hiring her.” I told him, knowing that such a move would be taken as desperation on my part. Worse, I’d be in her debt and earn Adelmar’s ire.

“Hire her to do what exactly?” he inquired, sounding guarded.

“To kill Ai’s captors, obviously. I would wager my family’s estates that she knows precisely where Ai is.” I explained, knowing I was losing this argument. James was as stubborn as they came. Seconds passed in quiet as I waited for an answer.

Then he said, “Alma, I am well aware of what Aaliyah’s other profession is, but I can’t condone…”

“You can’t condone killing? They’re torturing Ai and Mai, James. Are those two not your friends? She could end this with ease, and I am quite certain she would do this for you.” I replied, a little too forcefully. I was desperate.

He was quiet again, and I vainly hoped that he was actually considering my words.

“When I called for Aaliyah before, she apologized to me. She doesn’t want involved, and I am not going to try forcing her. You know quite well how trying to force her turns out. Tell me if there’s anything else I can do.” he replied before turning and walking towards the door.

I wanted to argue more, somewhat tempted to hire her myself as a last resort, but James’ words actually held some wisdom in them. He had wanted her to intervene, and she had denied him. I didn’t have time to question her motivations, and arguing with her over them was an exercise in futility. I was on my own.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 243

:This looks great on us.: stated Mai as she spun in a dress.

:Let’s get two.: I replied, watching Jarod’s eyes looking over my sister’s body.

:Someone’s working a spell outside.: she stated.

I watched through her eyes as the residual energy moved unnaturally. :I’ll investigate. Guard Jarod.:

“Stand guard. I’m going to get changed, so we can purchase this.” announced Mai.

She still saw him glance at me as I walked to the door. Typical Jarod… he was always observant, more than even us. If he knew what I was looking into, he’d be at my side instead of my sister’s.

:I’ll keep him warm for you.: she teased.

A relatively tall, Asian man was outside by a truck, smiling when our eyes met. My protections were swept away and my consciousness left me before I could react.

,,,^._.^,,,

I was barely keeping my act together as I got Mai into the house. I felt so useless.

“Where’s her sister?” demanded Alma.

“I don’t know.” I admitted, trying to keep Mai from falling. She was squirming so much in my grip, screaming at the top of her lungs.

In a voice as smooth as ice, Alma commanded “Let go, Jarod. I’m taking her to her room.”

I couldn’t let her go. She needed me. I lost her sister already…

An iron grip suddenly peeled my arms back, and I realized James was there, taking me aside. I looked down to my hands, but Mai was gone.

“Jarod!? What happened?” questioned James.

“We were just… shopping. Everything was going great. Then Ai stepped outside while Mai finished changing. I heard her collapse, but there wasn’t an answer when I knocked. I tried getting Ai, but didn’t see her anywhere.”

My mind was attempting to piece the scene together yet again. I didn’t understand. What had happened? Where was Ai!?

“Then what?” asked James, his voice cutting into my mind.

“She was half-dressed on the floor. I had to dress her, man. The attendant wanted to get her to the hospital, so I made an excuse of needing to get her to her meds. I wasn’t prepared for this, but there’s no way any good would come of a hospital. I didn’t know what to do.”

I had reached up to grab James’ arm. When did I slump to the floor? I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare.

James easily pulled me to my feet as he said, “Come on. Let’s see what Alma thinks of this.”

Before we reached the door, Alma was there with her fake mask of calm. “I have her restrained, but I can’t seem to make her rest. Wait here. I’m going to find her sister.”

A powerful hand squeezed my shoulder as James said, “I’m going as well. Call me if anything changes.”

Like that, they were gone. I made my way into Ai and Mai’s wing and then into their bedroom. The screaming grew louder and louder as I approached. At a glance, I could see her pain. So much pain… I squeezed her hand to let her know I was there, and she squeezed back like a vice.

,,,^._.^,,,

I returned from our search and found Aaliyah hugging James’ leg in the drive. He had probably asked her for help.

“You can’t find her?” he questioned, sounding shocked.

“This is Slayer business.” she stated.

I fought the growing rage, knowing this was my fault.

“What do you mean?” he asked, now confused.

“She means that someone in my family abducted Ai.” I explained, trying not to snap at him. “I should have been more careful with them, but I didn’t imagine anyone capable of this daring to come here.”

“What? Why would they want to abduct Ai?”

He was demonstrating his lack of experience with my family again. There was so much for him to learn.

“Leverage, James. Unfortunately, my fondness of the twins isn’t a secret by any stretch. I will find her.” I promised.

Looking pained, he said, “They’re torturing her, aren’t they.”

I nodded, and he suddenly hugged me, his strong arms giving me undeserved comfort.

“Tell me if there’s anything I can do. Anything at all.” he ordered.

I took a deep breath, doing my best to stay calm. I had work to do. “Let me go for now. There are a great number of people I need to contact, so I can find out who did this. Check on Jarod. He seems to be with Mai.”

I was gone before he finished nodding. If I stayed with him, I’d start crying. Every second, the kidnappers were getting farther away. I must save my friends.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Jarod, your finger!” exclaimed James nearly as loud as the screams.

He had returned, but she was still screaming. Ai was gone.

“I know.” I replied. Mai’s grip was plenty to shatter bone. I was lucky that I only had one broken.

“Let Alma set that for you. Then you can come back.” suggested James, the worry seeping through his voice.

I shook my head. I had been there and done nothing when Ai was taken. They were too fast. I was too weak. Somewhere, she was being tortured, and I could do nothing save for being with Mai who also felt the pain. I wasn’t abandoning her.

James left, but he returned with Alma. For a moment, I was worried that they’d force me to leave. James had pried Mai’s fingers away from mine as Alma took my hand, surprisingly gently.

After gently bandaging my finger, she said, “I’m going to use a little spell to make holding her hand less painful for you. Please be careful. She’s not in full control of herself.”

James and Alma consulted one another too quietly for me to hear. Then Alma seemed to be the one to cast the spell. She smiled softly as she motioned for me to take Mai’s hand.

Though grateful they came, I was grateful when they left. They might be able to do something. I knew they would do their best to recover Ai.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 242

I was going to have nightmares tonight. There would be no avoiding nightmares after seeing one in the flesh. Raine’s other form was the single most terrifying thing I had ever seen, or even imagined. The whole room had warped with her, seeming surreal, and her body… the claws… the teeth… those awful spikes… Hadn’t the others felt like they were going to die just looking at her?

“Look, Raine! good as new. Well, save for the missing paint.” amended Emma, who had just finished touching up the ceiling. She seemed fine. She had seen a demon, but was smiling as she watched James pet Raine, now in her kitten form.

“What happened to our ceiling?” demanded one of the twins as she entered the room and followed where Emma pointed with her gaze.

“Nooothing.” claimed Emma after dropping her arms. She looked exceptionally guilty in a faux-innocence sort of way.

“Don’t worry. We’ll bill you for it.” stated the other twin, entering with Jarod and taking in everything with a glance.

James quickly said, “Don’t bother. I’ll touch up your paint, and I’m quite certain the boards are better than new.”

I couldn’t believe his calm. Even when Raine was transformed, he had seemed calm. Now as he casually petted Raine’s head, no one would believe he had a care in the world. Did nothing ever bother him?

“This is probably the strangest practice I’ve seen.” teased Jarod with one of his huge grins.

“Ha! Sure, man. As if you practice with us.” retorted Brandon with another smile.

My brother was always quick to get over things. I knew he had been scared as well. Color had barely returned to his face.

With an even larger grin and a shrug, Jarod said, “True, but I have seen some and don’t recall any involving James petting a kitten while the rest of you watch.”

“Hey! I was fixing a ceiling here, not staring at the adorableness.” insisted Emma in mock outrage.

Apparently not realizing that Emma was speaking, Portentia said over her, “You wouldn’t believe what you missed if we attempted to tell you.”

Cosette laughed with no hint of worry. “I think he really would, but he’d probably be sad he missed it from only hearing.”

“It’s not funny. He wouldn’t want to see.” I told her, but my voice came out in a whisper. Was I really the only one so shaken by this?

,,,^._.^,,,

I strode back into the gymnasium as Brenna whispered about Jarod not wanting to see what had happened. I understood how shaken she was. I was still shaken. There had been no sign that Raine possessed such devastating power. Worse yet, I broke my tenant agreement. Had I actually managed to injure Raine, I would no longer be alive.

As terrifying as Raine was in her other form, I had to agree with James’ assessment about Death. Aaliyah’s voice could make you feel like some intangible place inside was being caressed by a blade. I had seen her actual blade too often already. I hoped not to see that again. Our conversation had seemed to take a long time, but I was cowed enough by the end that I listened to her ramble on about my chocolate factory for minutes at the end.

“I’ll show them anyway.” I announced, firming my resolve and using my fey-born telepathy to replay what I had seen.

Ai and Mai needed to see this, so they would fully understand their complete inability to fight against Raine.

“The kitten has claws, so don’t you three dare push her.” I warned, staring them down. Then I said, “I still have not begun to heal, and I was only scratched. Imagine if she really wanted to kill me.” I then stepped over to James, knelt, and reached for Raine. “May I?”

James had moved his arms protectively around her at first, but he handed her over seconds later.

I carefully cradled the kitten in my hands and whispered “There, there. I’m sorry that I took things too far. I thought to show James that you were quite capable of defending yourself, but I never even considered there could be a reason for you to restrain. Aaliyah… explained… a few things to me, and I won’t push you so far again. Please consider earnestly training with us. Every strength needs the restraint of discipline, and I am quite certain you can learn to control yourself.”

If Raine was as strong as Aaliyah had suggested, having her aiding James was an enormous boon to his company. I had more power than any Slayer’s spawn on record, but Aaliyah had warned that Raine could brush me away by accident if I got her too worked up. What had made Raine so timid?

Looking at all of the eyes on me, I created a spell to gather Raine’s clothing. Then I said, “Well now. Let’s get back to practice, shall we?” Feeling Raine squirm in my hands, I quickly told her “I obviously don’t mean you, Raine, unless you’re feeling up for it. The rest of us, however, cannot afford to slack.”

Most everyone got back to their exercises without a word. Brenna hadn’t moved, so James walked over to her.

“You can take a break today if you want.” he informed her.

“How can you be so calm? Even w-when Alma was hurt, you seemed… relaxed.” she replied, looking at him as if trying to decide what he was.

“I really have seen Death, and nothing short of her seems frightening these days. Besides, I believe that Raine has a good heart. If she really were a monster, she would have started slaughtering us, but she didn’t even cut Alma very deeply. On some level, Raine still didn’t want to hurt anyone.” he explained with one of his gentle smiles.

“She looked so terrifying. Alma’s version of her was scary but nothing compared to the reality. I couldn’t handle looking at her.” insisted Brenna.

I wasn’t surprised. My mental protections had been bombarded by some sort of magic when Raine had transformed.

“Don’t worry. She’s a good kitten.” stated James as he looked into her eyes. “Why don’t you take a walk to the kitchen? Marco would surely love to hear about the development, and I can assure you that his knowledge of sundaes is very extensive.”

Brenna nodded and walked towards the door with a stiffness that showed her unease. That girl had a reasonable amount of talent, despite her fey magic not being useful for combat. If she worked for me, I’d have her trained for espionage, but James wouldn’t part with any of his employees, as he shouldn’t.

,,,^._.^,,,

Wanting to try something, I walked over to Alma and asked “Mind if I attempt to heal you?”

She looked at me in surprise but nodded, maneuvering Raine into her uninjured arm.

I touched her, sending blood through my palms and sensing the magic infecting the wound. I called to it through my blood, gathering it into me. The feeling was exhilarating, similar to Portentia’s blood, though not nearly as potent.

“That’s working! Cosette, you’re incredible.” insisted Alma in surprise.

James joined us, seeming to marvel at the healed flesh as he caressed Alma’s arm.

“Vampires are protectors after all. Looks like my father was right again.” I asserted.

“About what?” questioned James.

“He said that vampires were given their abilities by a demon, so I thought our magic might work to cure a wound from one.” I explained, allowing myself a smug smile.

“Slayer records claim that vampires were given their abilities by a deity.” argued Alma.

“Slayers believe in deities?” asked James in surprise.

“We all came from somewhere.” she told him.

“Even your own records claim that vampires were given a divine mandate, and you still oppose vampires?” I asked incredulously.

“Didn’t you say that you wanted to avoid the politics of Slayers and vampires? You seem quite bias considering your heritage.” retorted Alma. “Vampires were a flawed plan from the start, since they feed on those whom they’re meant to protect.”

I quickly pointed out “But the feeding doesn’t have to be lethal or even dangerous.”

“Yes, but how often is it from many vampires? Great protectors, casually slaughtering the helpless to slake their thirst.” asserted Alma with a slight frown.

“The Slayers aren’t so perfect either.” I told her. “My parents are both dead.”

“Cosette, I am sorry for your loss, but weren’t your parents associated with some less savory sorts?” she questioned

“What? Of course not. I mean, they knew some. How could they not given their lifespan, but… Hang on. How would you know?” I asked, deciding we should get this out in the open.

Alma sighed, obviously not wanting to admit what she did.

“You killed them?” I suggested in a whisper, taking on a look of shock for effect.

Raine jumped to me from Alma’s arm, so I caught her and hugged her, petting her with my fingertips as I stared Alma down.

“Did I just heal my parents’ murderer?” I goaded.

“Yes, and I’ve felt the guilt every day.” she admitted. “James certainly hasn’t let me forget, not that I could. I witnessed a murder and followed the killer back to your parents. I assumed, however wrongly, that your parents were like him.”

“You knew and didn’t tell me?” I demanded as I looked into James’ eyes. The subject brought up just enough anger that I felt I could look convincing, despite wanting to hug James. I felt his magic working its way through me, despite my nature.

“James is innocent in this. I asked him not to tell you.” insisted Alma in an almost pleading tone.

“No, I’m not innocent. I simply didn’t know how to tell you or even if telling you was the right thing to do.” he argued, looking ashamed.

I giggled, unable to restrain myself any longer. “You two really are the strangest of couples. I’ve known for a while. Aaliyah told me just after I moved here, so you can stop abusing James’ powers, Alma.”

“What? You don’t care?” asked Alma in shock.

“Oh, I had plenty of plots to kill you go through my head. I’m still missing my parents daily. I forgive you. You made a terrible mistake and didn’t even bother attempting to make amends, but I still forgive you. I refuse to be like the Slayers, bent on destroying everything that looks dangerous without thought, and I hope one day you’ll see the error of our family’s ways, but I forgive you for being a slow learner. Now you must forgive me for this, because it’s your own fault. Vive la révolution!” I exclaimed before hugging James with my free arm.

My time here, though brief, had shown me that James was a good person even if he was as fallible as the rest of us. Despite my justly founded misgivings, I felt Alma was at least well-meaning if not entirely good. I could imagine what her family had put her through, training far harsher than my own. My father’s journals had taught me a great deal more of the Slayer family than he ever meant to tell me. Now that this was in the open, I hoped Alma’s guard would drop, so I might get to know her well enough to judge her fairly.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 241

“Watch my footing just before the kick. Like this.” ordered James as he demonstrated. “See the difference? You keep starting with your feet too far apart and ending with them almost on top of one another.”

I nodded. I’d get this right before we finished today. Smiling when James turned his head, I took advantage of the distraction to punch his abs as hard as I could. Nothing less would even be felt by James. Unfortunately, I was the one injured. I bit my lip, so I didn’t yell. My fingers were broken.

“I’m so sorry. I let myself get distracted for a second there.” replied James, looking embarrassed.

“I see where they get the words ‘abs of steel’ now.” I teased, altering my hand to fix the broken bones.

Despite my smile, the boss still looked like he had done something wrong, ignoring the fact that I hit him when he wasn’t looking. He couldn’t help being whatever he was now. Still distracted by Alma, he easily dodged when I tried that kick again, straight at him.

“Alma, that’s enough. Let her be. Raine doesn’t have to fight. She doesn’t even know how yet.” called James. Then he told me “Oh. Nice, Brandon!”

I started to smile, glad that he noticed I pulled off the kick, but stopped as Alma yelled.

“FIGHT ME!”

Figuring Alma was just being Alma, I took another swing at James, but he grabbed my arm and flipped me to the floor in one fluid motion.

“Alma! Enough!” ordered James.

“FIGHT ME!” yelled Alma. She looked angrier than normal.

The room suddenly darkened. The hairs on my arms stood on end as a chill went down my spine. I felt like I had fallen into a horror movie! What was this? My eyes widened when I looked up. An other-worldly terror was above me, all teeth and claws in a place not quite part of our world. I couldn’t find my voice to yell.

,,,^._.^,,,

“FIGHT ME!” I demanded again. I moved as if to kick her, planning to stop a hair’s breadth from her nose.

Impossibly fast, Raine was gone. The room was dark and cold. I felt a hazy presence near the ceiling and looked. The moment our eyes met, pain shot through my arm. I was bleeding!

“She’s a demon.” I warned, though my voice barely made the climb out of my throat. I needed to finish this fast, or she would kill us all! Spells started to form and then stopped. I fought for control of the energy, but it wouldn’t budge. My knees felt weak, but I still almost gave into the urge to try running.

“Raine!?” called James.

He was the one stopping my spells. I should have known. I needed to calm down, but I couldn’t even reinforce my mental protections. James’ grip on the energy was too strong. The demon moved in front of him. Even looking at it was difficult, a fight to focus on something when space all around the demon was in rapid motion. The thing’s teeth and claws were long enough to tear through him, and spines covered it where a werecat should’ve had fur.

“James, let me kill her. She’s too dangerous.” I pleaded, barely remembering to call the thing a ‘her’. I knew James would irrationally take offense if I hadn’t.

“Raine, calm down. Alma shouldn’t have been bullying you, but things will be fine.” he insisted. “I’m sorry that you had a bad experience today, but most of us really do attempt to have fun with our exercise.”

“James! Really!?” I asked incredulously. A drop of my blood began descending to the floor, and I stared for a moment in shock. Shallow cuts typically clotted instantly for me. “The blood isn’t stopping.”

The demon had moved back to the ceiling, but James noticed too. I needed to finish it while he distracted it.

“Raine, please come down. Ai and Mai will be quite annoyed if you ruin too much of their ceiling.” stated James.

“As if they’ll care about the ceiling when you’re protecting a demon!” I snapped as I prepared to incinerate the thing.

“Actually, I’m attempting to protect you both.” he insisted. “MOVE!”

The warning was for the creature, and I was forced to pull back my magic. Were all demons this fast? How had we killed any of them!?

“James!? She’ll kill us all!” I warned, wishing I could take back the panic in my voice.

“She hasn’t even attacked anyone else, and you’re the one who keeps attacking her first! Control yourself!” he insisted.

,,,^._.^,,,

Alma’s foot crawled toward my face. I felt so frustrated. Why was she yelling at me!? Why couldn’t she be nice!? I… I felt like yelling back! Thoughts whirled through my head. Dodging would show her my speed. She’d know I wasn’t a normal kitty. Would she relent if she knew? Probably not… She’d want to see how fast… how strong… I could smell her rage as I could feel the heat from her body. Why was there a bully here? Why did I have to deal with another bully!? In a moment of lapsed judgement, I transformed, moving to the ceiling.

I considered changing back, letting myself fall to the floor. I pictured different poses I could take after sticking the landing. Explanations… More and more words. I had earned a paycheck last night. I thought my mother would be proud if she were alive, but I knew she’d be horrified if she saw this. Thoughts of the blood came back. So much blood. The darkness in my mind called to me. Why was this happening? Her!

I moved, planning on yelling back at Alma! I needed to tell her what I thought! I stepped too close, and my fur scratched her arm. I moved away. Why hadn’t I been more careful!? Instead of yelling, I cut her. She’d bleed and bleed and bleed. I imagined far too many scenarios of the blood spreading throughout the gym. I wanted to apologize. Who would want an apology from a monster? They knew now. There was no taking it back. Demon she had called me.

“Raine!?” called James.

I moved up to him, very careful not to harm him. As his eyes slowly locked onto me, I stared in wonder. I didn’t smell fear on him. The room reeked of fear, but not from him, at least not much. He seemed concerned. For a small eternity, I studied him, marveling at his relative calm.

“James, let me kill her. She’s too dangerous.” insisted Alma, the fear leaking into her voice.

I moved around the room and looked at the others. Bulging eyes, gaping mouths, and odors rank with fear. Hopping back to the ceiling, I wanted to cry. They could never accept me now. One paycheck, and I’d have to leave. Would I even get my paycheck? I did the work, but do monsters really get paid for work? They knew… Where would I go? Where could I go now?

“Raine, calm down. Alma shouldn’t have been bullying you, but things will be fine. I’m sorry that you had a bad experience today, but most of us really do attempt to have fun with our exercise.” insisted James.

“James! Really!?” questioned Alma. Then she murmured “The blood isn’t stopping.”

Drip, drip, drip goes the blood. I destroy everything. I belong nowhere. James was incredibly nice, trying to help a monster, but could he really forgive me for hurting Alma? Could he stare into this face and say say he wants me here? How was he calm? Where to go? I had no place in this world.

Staring up at me without a hint of anger or fright, James said, “Raine, please come down. Ai and Mai will be quite annoyed if you ruin too much of their ceiling.”

“As if they’ll care about the ceiling when you’re protecting a demon!” complained Alma.

“Actually, I’m attempting to protect you both.” he told her. Looking worried, he exclaimed “MOVE!”

I trusted him and looked around for a spot safe for everyone before the word finished forming. What would have happened if I hadn’t moved? Could Alma hurt me? She seemed to think she could. I idly wondered what that would be like, being the one hurt. Part of my mind brought up the constant pain I’ve had, guilt from my childhood. Monsters always hurt.

“James!? She’ll kill us all!” insisted Alma sometime later.

“She hasn’t even attacked anyone else, and you’re the one who keeps attacking her first! Control yourself!” he replied, sounding annoyed.

I could picture James in armor like a knight. What sort of knight protects monsters? Shouldn’t he be the one out to kill me? Why was he protecting me. I didn’t understand. I felt so alone.

“Aaliyah, please.” whispered James so quietly that I doubted anyone else could hear.

Please what? Why would he be saying her name? I ventured through my mental room of the princess, a space dedicated to the awesomeness that she was. I would be so ashamed if she saw me now. That tiny girl deserved all of the happiness in the world. She wouldn’t want to see a monster.

As the door started opening, I retraced my memory for other sounds. A single, light footstep. I stared in horror as the door opened, revealing the princess in all her mismatched glory. A green sock and a blue sock were interesting choices. The characters on them could be neighbors preparing for an exotic party together. Her white shirt bore a yellow smiley face composed of symbols I didn’t recognize. I willed her to turn away, imagining scenarios of her leaving. Why did this have to happen!?

She skipped into the room, looking around with a surprised expression. Part of me died as her gaze locked on me.

“KITTY!” she exclaimed, running toward me.

Her arms moved to embrace me, and I transformed back to appearing human. I couldn’t allow the princess to hurt her precious body by hugging me as I was. How had the princess looked at a monster and been so joyous!? I knew she was angelic, but was there no limit to her kindness? Her tiny hands slowly caressed my back as if petting me.

“What… and how is she clothed?” questioned Alma.

“But…” started James, stopping before finishing the thought.

“But what?” demanded Alma in annoyance.

I didn’t really care about their conversation. All that mattered was that the princess saw the monster and hugged the girl. I wanted to hug her back, but I was scared that I’d squeeze her too tightly at the moment. I floated in the paradise of her hug for so long, so wonderfully long.

“Oh. Nevermind. Please inform the twins to play nicely around Raine. I’d hate for them to get hurt.” stated James.

Sounding outraged, Alma said, “You can’t possibly be thinking of keeping her employed here?”

My body tensed as my senses suddenly focused completely on James. I knew he couldn’t keep a monster here. I knew that I’d have to go, but hopeful scenarios kept playing out in my head.

“Of course. Other than cutting your arm and damaging the ceiling a bit, there’s no harm done. If there’s any recompense to be made, I would say you should apologize to her.” he replied, taking a tone that dripped with sensibility. “You intentionally scared her. Who else is to blame?” he asked, a sliver of ice entering his voice.

I didn’t want them to fight, but I didn’t know how to make things better. None of the ideas swarming through my head seemed plausible enough. More than even the princess’ embrace, James’ words played through my head. He wanted me to stay. Tears came like waterfalls as joy swelled in my heart. I could stay. I needed to apologize, but I could stay. I needed to somehow be less scary to the others, so James wouldn’t come to his senses. I could stay!

“Ooooh Alpy! Might I get a word with you?” questioned the princess as she released me.

Alma jumped back an inch, nodding before following the princess out of the room. Alma’s fear-ridden stench returned.

I had slumped to the ground without the princess’ embrace, but James knelt beside me. He wasn’t scared at all.

“Hey, everything’s fine. I can convince Emma to seal the ceiling, and I’ll gladly do the painting myself. There’s nothing to worry about.” stated James reassuringly. He was calm and composed without the slightest scent of fear.

I managed words, saying, “Y-you’re… y-you’re… y-you weren’t… sc-scared?”

“I met Death herself. You wouldn’t even be comparable to a kitten pretending to be a lion next to her.”

I stared at him, processing and reprocessing his words. I kept coming to a conclusion that he was erring, but I considered that my ears weren’t functioning. Death couldn’t exist. I’d have seen her… or her daughter… when I… when the men died.

“He’s telling the truth. Death’s daughter appeared before us both.” stated Emma, her fearful scent increasing. Her eyes took on a look as if she were staring at something only she could see. “I had nightmares for a month. We both did.”

“The hell, man!? Death’s real?” demanded Brandon. “I mean really real, like an entity and everything?”

“Even has a scythe.” insisted James with a nod. He looked around and then said, “Well, you saw how out of sorts I was when you first came here. That was part of the reason.”

“I knew you were remarkable, but… I thought Death was just another story of my father’s.” commented Cosette as she stared at him.

As they talked, I listened to Aaliyah and Alma somewhere to the West. The conversation was very brief.

“You know that purposefully harming any of James’ employees is forbidden.” commented Aaliyah in a cheerful tone.

“I know.” stated Alma tersely with a quaver in her voice.

“Be thankful that James is forgiving. I don’t feel there should be another chance.” replied Aaliyah, still sounding cheerful.

I didn’t really understand the exchange, and they started speaking of chocolate afterward. Before anyone else left, I needed to use my words and express myself. “I-I.. I-I’m… sorry… f-for scaring… ev-ev..” I told them, forcing myself to make with the words. The tears were increasing again. I felt so much relief, guilt, and a thousand other things, but I needed to apologize. I didn’t want to scare people.

Patting my head, James said, “Don’t worry. You have a home here, Raine.”

I shrank, taking on my kitty form and nuzzling his hand. He picked me up and held me. He knew I was a monster, but he held me gently as he pet my head with his thumb. James was so very kind.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 240

James started the magic show doing card tricks, hat tricks, and other types of sleight of hand. Then, pretending to trip, he tipped his hat over a table, which was my cue to fall out from behind the hidden compartment near the top. The hat had been used for a number of tricks before I slipped inside as a kitty, so the audience had probably thought it empty. When he snapped his fingers, I leaped from the table up onto his palm. I could tell at a glance they admired him as they should. James was amazing. Unfortunately, many were now staring at me.

“Yes, she’s far more adorable than a rabbit pulled from a hat, isn’t she, folks? Far more intelligent too.” insisted James. Leaning down so his head was next to me, he nodded and then said, “Oh. They doubt you? No, look again. That’s not doubt, but awe.” He stood upright and gestured to me. “Give her a big round of applause, and maybe we can convince her to prove to you how utterly amazing she is.”

After the crowd had applauded, James said, “Thank you! Thank you. What would you like to see her do first? How about teleportation?”

Many people in the audience smiled at the suggestion, and others clap their hands. James progressed with the act, gesturing with his hand to activate the signaling device. There was a puff of smoke over the table, hiding the transparent tubes the rose out of it

He gently set me on the table, opened the nearby tube, and patted my head while saying, “Here you are, my lady.”

I knew my part and stepped inside, using my mouth to shut the door after I entered. I almost jumped when the audience applauded. Aaliyah had written into the script that they would, but I hadn’t believed it. I should have known that the princess would accurately predict them.

James stepped away from the table, smiling at the audience. “Now I’m sure some of you are already making guesses as to how our little friend here will teleport from one tube to the other, but you can keep on guessing as I remain over here.”

He then snapped his fingers, signaling the mist to fill both tubes. There was an electrical effect that shot between the tubes as an additional distraction. I had two seconds to open the secret compartment, get inside, shut it, enter the other tube from the secret tunnel in the table, and shut that hatch. I could have managed in a tiny fraction of the time.

This applause I was expecting, since the audience wouldn’t know how simple this trick was. I stepped outside of the tube and took a bow. The audience applauded again.

“Isn’t she every bit as talented as I promised? For our next trick, I’m going to allow Raine to saw me in half. Yes, you heard me correctly. This cute cat will be sawing me in half.” announced James with a wink and another smile.

Some of the audience laughed while others shook their heads. No one seemed to believe he was serious, but they did not know the princess was behind these tricks.

James assisted me in putting on a lab coat, wheeled out the machine with the sawblade, and gently moved me to the controls. He placed the two-by-four under the blade and ducked for cover when I activated the machine. There were some who laughed as he had ducked away, but many oohed after the two-by-four was cut. After clearing the debris, James confidently moved his box under the blade, pushing out the false feet once he was inside. I dutifully activated the machine and watched as his box was cut in half. I then pulled the lever to separate the box’s two pieces.

Tilting his head to see and smile at them, James asked the audience for requests on how he should move his feet as proof that they were his. He obliged the numerous shouts, using the voice recognition system the princess had made to cause the feet to follow his commands.

After a little demonstration, he said, “Those of you who are faint of heart should look away for this next part for Raine is all paws at using glue. Please excuse me if I start coming apart again after the show. The glue occasionally breaks on us.”

I lowered the big lever to put the boxes back together. Then I carried a bottle of glue across the machine and hopped with it onto the box. After some dramatic acting on James’ part as I pretended to glue him together, he stood up, revealing that he was whole.

Our act continued with the audience participating in card tricks, followed by levitation stunts, and then me using a crystal ball to act like a psychic. The last trick was especially nerve-racking for me, since James wasn’t helping with it. The princess had written a sophisticated bit of software which she implemented in a crystal ball to predict what answer I should give to questions asked by the audience members. My prompts appeared within the crystal ball, written too small for human eyes to notice. Then I was required to do impromptu acting as an attempt to convey the answers for the audience. Despite my performances, the audience seemed enthusiastic about the show.

I did my best to stay calm after the show when the girls wanted to come and pet me. I kept reminding myself that James was nearby. He would come save me if necessary. I could do this. The seconds seemed even longer than normal as I endured the attention, but I managed to get through. I then waited as James slowly took apart the props and stage, loading them back into the truck.

“Sorry to keep you, but I simply must ask… would you be willing to sell that cat?” asked Mrs. Vander, the birthday girl’s mother.

My fur stood on end as I heard those words. Countless scenarios of me being trapped in this place passed through my head before I could reassure myself that there was nothing here which would hold a monster. As far as I knew, there was nothing anywhere which could contain me. Furthermore, James was kind, too kind to try selling me.

“I really can’t sell her. She’s quite popular among my employees, and I can’t imagine she’d ever forgive me if I let her go. I would be quite willing to help find another cat suitable for your daughter if that would help.” he replied diplomatically.

“I can’t imagine training one so well to be very quick. I’m willing to pay a great deal if you’ll sell her to me this instant.” she insisted.

“No matter the price, I can’t sell my friend. She’s one of a kind. Please excuse me. I do have another engagement soon.” he insisted, scooping me up in one of his hands.

James had called me his friend. The thought elated me. Then the guilt came along with whispers from the dark place in my mind. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know that he held a monster. He had no clue that I could cause destruction by accident. With a turn, I could brush aside this semi truck, sending it flying miles away. The truck was fragile. Everything was fragile. If he knew that I was a monster, I was certain he could never call me ‘friend’.

Stepping aside, Mrs Vander said, “Well, thank you for listening. I do understand. We all loved the performance. Don’t be surprised if we ask you here again next year!”

James gently sat me on the seat after he hopped inside. I curled up on the passenger side and let myself zone. My stress for today was done. Well, not really. The stress was never done, but surely things couldn’t get any worse. Plus, I made money. I actually performed a job successfully and earned a paycheck! The paycheck couldn’t get rid of the voices here in the city. I could hear the conversations of thousands and thousands of people as if they stood next to me, but the paycheck would help me fit in with the people. I was a working girl now. Would Mom be proud?

I could hardly believe what was happening as the doors of the trailer in front of us opened. I should have warned James. I realized I had heard the men speaking to one another among the other voices. I hadn’t paid enough attention. Were they going to attack us? I saw energy moving around them, slowly attempting to form patterns. I was terrified that I would need to act. I would never allow anyone to hurt James, even if I must reveal that I am a monster to him, but I didn’t want to kill. What if I went too far? What if I hurt these people? The bloody mush that was left of the werewolves from when I was a toddler came to mind along with my mother’s terrified face. Killing was effortless and terrible.

The world sat frozen to me between one thought and the next. There was a chance that I could leave the vehicle, move all of the men behind us, kick away the semi, and be back inside before James knew what was happening. He was barely faster than a human. No. Wait. The semi might hurt people if I kicked it. I’d have to take the time to find a new place for it and be careful not to break it. If I wasn’t careful, shrapnel could rip off of things I moved, destroying what they hit more easily than bullets. Bullets were far, far too slow. Even James could dodge a bullet. Moving people required extra care. If I didn’t focus on keeping them safe… I shuddered and shoved the thought out of my mind.

The scenarios continued to play through my head as I considered what to do, what was safe to do. Some time later, I noticed that James was moving energy as well. Was I safe not to act? I decided to wait. The bad men were moved and seemed pinned. The other semi and trailer were lifted into the air, allowing James to drive under it. No one was harmed. James was safe. He was amazing!

I did my best to focus on the way home, staying alert in case anything should happen. I listened to the confusion of the men James had bound behind us with his magic, and giggled in my head. They thought he was scary. James was extremely gentle and caring, but the bad men thought he was scary. They were lucky I didn’t need to act.