Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 188

“Okay. Time to spit it out. You’ve been dodging for over half an hour already.” I stated, having just glanced at the time. James continued spacing out as I stared at him, so I said, “Yo! James! Come back to me. Seriously, what’s eating you?”

He exhaled suddenly and took a deep breath. The he looked at me and told me “I’m sorry. This has been bothering me for a while, and I have been trying to think of a way to tell you ever since my birthday, when Aaliyah revealed some things to me.”

“Whoa.” I replied, holding up a hand. “This isn’t one of her secrets, is it?”

If he was about to put my life at risk, I wanted to accept it with full knowledge of what would happen, but he looked at me questioningly.

“Huh?” he asked. Then his expression suddenly changed as he said, “No. Of course not. By the way, how does it feel knowing you were trained by the world’s only assassin?”

I shrugged and said, “Bit strange, really. Makes sense when I think about the forms she taught me, but don’t get sidetracked.” Keep James focused on one thing was proving exceptionally difficult tonight.

He nodded before saying, “Yeah, well… Aaliyah unloaded a bunch of secrets on me. Remember how she promised me answers if I gave her the ‘right cake’? Turned out that I was supposed to give her ‘birthday cake’. Figures, doesn’t it?”

“That’s Aaliyah for you. She’s very good at telling you things and not telling you a thing at the same time.” I agreed as I laughed.

“Well, Aaliyah somehow figured out why I absorb residual energy. My body utilizes it in a number of ways, apparently. Unfortunately, I can’t control how I use the stuff. I just do… and… I’m sorry.” stated James, looking glum.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Sorry for dragging this out? Say it already!”

“Yeah. Sorry. One of the things my body does is to… umm… make people like me.” he muttered.

I laughed, thinking about how useful that was. “That’s great stuff!” I exclaimed.

“Jarod! Seriously. I don’t know the specifics, really, but I give off some sort of enchantment that grows more powerful as I absorb energy. Anyone affected by it is forced to view me more favorably.” he insisted, sounding disturbed.

I couldn’t stop laughing. Only James would worry about having such an incredible gift. “Dude, that’s the coolest ability you could ever want!” I argued. “That’s great! Seriously, you have the perfect magic for your job.”

“But I don’t want to manipulate people!” he complained.

I stopped laughing as I looked at him. He was really being eaten up by this revelation. “I know.” I assured him, still smiling. “That’s one of the great things about you.”

“How do you know you don’t feel that way simply because my magic’s messing with you?” he asked.

James had probably thought through every last possible negative aspect of his ability dozens of times, but he wasn’t able to consider the good. Nodding, I said, “First off, that doesn’t matter, James. Relax. You have magical charisma. That’s just part of you whether you like it or not. Your actions, however, are made by your own choices. I know you’re a good person because I’ve been your best friend for years. I’ve seen the things you do to help people. From the day we met, you’ve always helped me, and I’ll always be grateful for it. If you weren’t such a great person, Aaliyah probably would’ve been hired to take you out by now, since you’d make one exceptional villain. Think about it… no judge or jury would want to find you guilty!”

I couldn’t resist teasing him a little more. His ability was sooo cool! James still looked a bit glum, but he seemed to be slightly more relaxed. “So what else can you do?” I questioned.

“Huh?” he asked, having obviously been lost in his thoughts again. Catching up to what I asked, he exclaimed “Oh! I can tell if people are lying.”

“Wow. Really?” I asked, but times James never seemed to notice someone lying to him popped into my mind. “I think that power’s broken.”

“Huh? Why?” he asked.

“You rarely say anything even if people are obviously lying.” I pointed out.

“Calling people out all the time would be a bit rude, and I haven’t always trusted my gut, although I have more often of late.” he explained.

James did worry about manners a great deal more than most. He had tried to correct mine a number of times over the years, but there was only so much propriety that I could stomach. Nodding, I said, “I take it that there isn’t some flashing warning light in your head then.”

“I just get these feelings when people are talking with me.” he stated. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think it’s how I tell the twins apart. After some time with them, I just developed a feeling of which was which.”

I laughed again, caught up in the utility of such a gift. “Wow. That’d be handy and yet is so odd.” I insisted. Knowing the minds of the twins were very closely connected, James could be said to know the truth of their bodies, which could lead to all sorts of funny conversations. Then were the games I wouldn’t want to play against James, knowing what he could do.

“Jarod, what’s up?” he asked.

“Nothing really.” I assured him. “Just thinking about all of the games I don’t want to play against you now, like poker.” I teased with a laugh.

James’ expression had changed. Did he sense something?

“So was I telling the truth?” I probed.

He shrugged and said, “No clue. Seemed partly true.”

“Yep. Was also thinking about how to test you.” I told him, though there were plenty of other thoughts as well. “This is pretty awesome!” I exclaimed, considering more things James could pull off.

“Oh great. I’m going to be a lab rat now.” he stated.

“You bet! At least you know you’ll be treated well, since everyone will like you!” I teased.

“Har har. Very funny.” he replied, attempting to be dry even as he started to laugh.

“I knew you wouldn’t mind! Now let’s cut you open and see how this works!” I suggested with a grin.

“Okay, okay, okay!” he exclaimed. “I’m relaxed now.”

“About time. You have these wonderful, useful abilities which make me insanely envious, so please don’t make them a burden. That’d drive me nuts! I would absolutely love to be able to use magic. I’ve sought the supernatural for most of my life and can’t quite be a part of it even now that I know it’s real.” I confessed.

“Sorry. I really don’t mean to rub your face in it or anything.” he insisted, looking all too serious.

Please, just relax.” I ordered, interrupting him before he said anything more. “I’m not all brokenhearted over here. I’m glad to be part of your business, and I love getting to see all the cool spells people do. I was just wanting to emphasize the point that you should appreciate what you have, not let it drag you down. As I showed Duncan, I’m not precisely defenseless anymore, and I’ll be even less defenseless after I create a suit to my liking. If you manage the magical defenses for me, my second suit should give me the strength needed to keep up better.”

“I’ll do what I can. Mind if I consult with Alma some?” he asked. “She has been teaching me of late.”

“Not at all. I’ll gladly take whatever help I can get.” I assured him. “Besides, she might be willing, since you can magic her into liking you more if she refuses.”

Shaking his head, he said, “No, not really. Alma can block that enchantment to some extent. She’s known about it longer than I have.”

I nodded but said, “Still, she obviously likes you. That’s gotta help your chances.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I have a horrible time understanding her. Seriously, why would someone that incredible see me as anything other than a… a… well, lab rat to be studied?”

“Maybe she likes good people?” I suggested. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain what you see in her either.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, seeming surprised by the idea. “I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with her on a number of things, but I really thinks she means well. You should see her talk about saving people. That’s really what she’s into. Kinda like Portentia, but with a different outlook on who needs saved. I know you may not have noticed with a twin on each arm, but Alma’s incredibly beautiful. When I look in her eyes, I have trouble looking away.”

Laughing, I said, “I’ve noticed. You can’t seem to take your eyes off her half the time.” I do my best not to look at her at all. Someone other than James staring too much would probably offend her, and offending her was dangerous. Besides, she probably would figure out that I was examining her.

“I’m not that bad.” insisted James. “I’m being serious here! I believe Alma’s a good person at heart. She just has to deal with far more than an average person.”

“I’m being serious too. You’re obviously into her. Admit it to yourself at least. For me, she’s a bit creepy. I’ve seen werewolves and werelions. I commonly hang out with a guy who can change his shape to some extent. Brenna can change her hair, skin, and eye color. Emma’s practically the goddess of plants. Yet I still feel that Alma is the most inhuman ‘person’ I’ve ever met. Her eyes and skin don’t look natural at all. She barely seems to have a sense of humor. Plus, her movement seems to defy physics with her speed and strength. Oh yeah. She also has a temper and tends to combust things when annoyed.” I explained, hoping I hadn’t gone too far in my rebuttal.

“Yes, she has a temper and doesn’t always keep it in check. I know she’s extremely fast as well as strong. Though not a shade of violet I’ve seen in nature, you have to admit that her eyes are quite remarkable to behold. As for humor, she’s British aristocracy. You can’t expect her to laugh at the same things we do, but I assure you that she’s quite beautiful when she does laugh. I’m not planning on dating her or anything. Even if she is still willing, there’s just so much of a gap between us.”

I laughed and said, “Keep telling yourself that, but she doesn’t seem like the type to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

James was completely hooked on her. Yes, Alma was inhumanly beautiful, but she was very much inhuman in mind as well as body from what I had seen. Her temper was her most relatable aspect, and even that had a fierceness rarely seen in humans. Furthermore, she was incredibly dangerous. The little the twins told me revealed that the show Alma had put on for us when James had gone to fight her was nothing more than that, a show. All I could think to do was consult with Aaliyah on ways to protect James if his relationship with Alma turned sour. There had to be a solution.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 187

“Aren’t you going to take it apart?” asked Portentia, looking as if she was ready to rip the giant, metal fist apart with her bare hands to see what was inside.

“Eventually, sure.” I assured her. “I’m going to have Mila scan it first for explosives, tracking devices, et cetera. Don’t want to risk breaking anything, and a tracking device might be useful if there is one.”

“Aren’t you worried about her tracking it here?” asked James.

I nearly sighed, but instead said, “Ha. You’re joking, right?” He, of all people, should realize that we take jobs from all sorts of clients. Explaining away the hand would be easy if Maxine came peacefully and somehow managed to find her way down here. As I looked between him and Portentia, they obviously weren’t thinking things through, so I told them “Imagine what Alma would do if Maxine tried to start something here. Besides, the estate’s defense system is absolutely incredible from the little I’ve seen, and no signal’s getting out of here in any case.”

James pulled out his phone and looked at it. Then he turned it to me and said, “I think elevators block signals better, Jarod.”

He had full bars? “Oh. Mila’s probably relaying it as she does for mine.” I told him, realizing she probably did that automatically for him.

“No, I’m not.” she replied. “In fact, I can’t even find a signal coming from his phone. The princess must have installed some technology I don’t understand in it.”

I smirked, turned back to James, and asked “You say an elevator blocked your reception?”

He nodded, saying, “Yeah. When Portentia, Alma, and I got stuck in that elevator at convention.”

I barked a laugh before telling him “I have the strangest feeling that Aaliyah chose to ignore you for some reason.”

James looked shocked at first, but his expression quickly changed to consideration.

“Maybe we should take a look at your phone instead.” I suggested.

“But… but the fist!” exclaimed Portentia, sounding exasperated. “Who knows what we can get out of it! You might be able to find some weakness in her suit or find some way to hack it. You’re the tech master!”

I felt for her as she was practically pleading, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes before explaining “More than likely, I’ll just see the finger mechanisms and possibly a weapon of some sort. I really doubt she conveniently placed something in the fist to reveal her secrets. However, being able to transmit a signal that can penetrate this garage could have many uses.”

Seeing Portentia’s disappointment saddened me, but there was nothing I could do about the truth.

“Master, I don’t recommend examining your phone too closely. The princess is superb at keeping her secrets, and she keeps them very well.” insisted Mila.

“Yeah, she’s right.” I agreed. “I really wish Aaliyah would share more of her tech, but I can’t really complain to her when she does so much for us already. Oh well. So what’s this job you’ve hired me for?”

“I missed part of that. What job?” asked Portentia.

James looked between Portentia and I before turning to her and saying, “I’ve hired Jarod for the next few hours. Sorry, but there are a few things we need to do.”

“Oh. Okay.” stated Portentia glumly. “Promise to tell me what you find when you get around to examining the fist?” she asked, looking into my eyes.

I nodded and vowed “I promise. I’ll even give you the details if you want.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she said, “Yeah. As if that ever does any good.” Turning to James, she told him “Be sure to hire me next time. You know I’m a great listener!”

He laughed and said, “I never doubt that you’re paying attention. Sorry for stealing Jarod away. I’ll try to make it up to you soon.”

Grinning and grabbing his hands, she told him “It’s a date!” Then she spun around inhumanly fast and skipped to the lift.

“I’d call that another win for Portentia today.” I stated, watching her head up the lift. “Tired of your endless string of girls yet?”

“Asks the guy who seems to be playing with the twins.” he retorted.

“I’m not playing with them. We’re going to start dating.” I admitted.

“Which one?” he asked.

“Don’t know. Can’t tell them apart.” I replied.

James’ look of disbelief was incredibly amusing. Surely he figured out that the twins were telepathic by now. Didn’t he? Well, they were more than telepathic. They shared each other’s feelings. When I had nearly stopped the heart of one, the other felt it as if it were her own heart. The two weren’t physically conjoined, but they certainly were mentally.

James was just staring at me for a while. He eventually asked “That doesn’t bother you at all?”

“Should it?” I teased.

“Jarod! They’re two different girls! You know you’ll have to figure out which is which and pick one to date, right? As close as they are, there’s no way they’d want to share you.” he claimed.

He really didn’t know. I shrugged and said, “I offered to implant chips into their arms, but they refused. Not my fault if they don’t want me to know who I’m speaking to at any given moment. Relax. Breathe. If things get serious, I’m sure Ai will figure something out without forgetting Mai feelings.” I did my best to emphasize their names as a joke, but he still seemed worried.

“Okay.” he replied. “Just be careful. I don’t want any of you getting hurt over this, and you know those two can really hurt.”

“Did they tell you I managed to make Ai’s heart skip a beat the first time we sparred?” I asked.

“As I recall, you nearly killed her by stopping her heart.” he stated quite seriously.

“Yeah, but her heart still skipped a beat.” I replied with a shrug. If I hadn’t come that close to killing her, our relationship probably wouldn’t have progressed at all. The twins were significantly beyond humans, and I needed to be their equal, despite my humanity, to warrant attention.

James seemed to be considering what I said all too seriously. What was eating at him now?

“So I’m sure you didn’t hire me to talk about my budding romance. What’s up?” I asked.

“Want to take me for a spin? I haven’t seen your Mustang in a while.” he suggested.

“Sure, but my boss makes me charge for gas.” I teased.

“Well, you’re a best friend for hire, not for free. Losing money on a job would be silly.” he replied, still serious.

“So would be charging gas money on an electric car.” I retorted. “You haven’t gotten a ride since I reworked the old girl.”

He followed as I started walking to the lift. I fought the urge to let him take the lead. I still didn’t understand why being in front of him always had bothered me, but it did. Everyone always looked to James, including me.

“Don’t expect too much.” I cautioned. “I don’t have Mila incorporated into the Mustang or any of the digital works you have. I honestly haven’t decided what all I want yet. Aaliyah provided me with a power source when I inquired about buying one. No charge even. That’s another problem with my first suit. I haven’t figured out a good way to power it yet. Got it running with a power line at the moment. I wish Portentia could have cut that out of Maxine’s monster. I was really tempted to stick the power source Aaliyah gave me in there, but Mila would probably rat me out.”

“Would not!” she exclaimed indignantly.

“Sorry, Mila!” I apologized. “We both know she’d find out somehow though.”

James laughed, finally loosening up again. I felt as if tension just left the air, like I had finally started breathing again without knowing I held my breath. I mean, I hadn’t been, but the feeling was similar.

James seemed to be appraising my baby as he walked around her. Then he hopped in her like he had hundreds of times before. We spent so many hours together working on this car, and I still sometimes felt shocked that James was my best friend. Everyone wanted to spend time with him, but he chose me for some reason.

I eased us back out of the garage as I considered where to go.

“Whoa. You didn’t shift. Did you disconnect the stick without removing it?” asked James, sounding shocked.

“Yes and no.” I replied. “You see, I cheated a bit on your Aston Martin. Mila handles the transition between gears to smooth things out. The torque from my engine is enough to seriously damage things if there’s any misalignment, so I felt more comfortable with an outrageous computer handling it. For this, I decided I really didn’t need as much top speed, although I gained some back from a lighter car, so there’s no shifting. The shifter now controls the noises the car emits through the speakers to simulate a combustion engine. Pretty sweet, huh?”

“Yeah. You’re amazing as ever.” he insisted. “Wow. Sorry that I didn’t help out at all.”

I grinned at his sincere apology. “Don’t sweat it. I know you’re busy. Besides, I have a great job, an awesome place to live, and some cool new friends thanks to you.” I explained. “Things are going great for both of us, so relax. You stress way too much.”

He nodded, but still seemed to be stressing out. What could possibly be tearing him up this badly?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 186

<Are they here yet?> I asked again, signing to Mila. I wasn’t sure how many times I had asked already, nor could I really care. I was bouncing with excitement, having fought off Maxine and taken a trophy off her suit.

<They’re almost up the drive.> she replied. < I should warn you that James and Jarod both have plans, so they won’t have long to hear you out.>

<They always have plans. If James worked anymore frequently, he wouldn’t sleep.> I insisted. I already wasn’t sure how he found the time. He wasn’t like me, so he needed his sleep.

<Don’t worry. I monitor his sleep cycle to ensure he receives adequate rest each day.> she assured me as if reading my thoughts.

I nodded, trusting Mila’s judgement. She knew a great many things that I didn’t, some of which she couldn’t reveal to me. I still wondered at times how I became so lucky to have such a home. The answer was always James, of course. Without him, none of this would have happened. He was such an incredible person, and I needed to get his attention before he slipped away tonight.

<Turn around.> ordered Mila, vanishing from the mirror.

I spun to find James stepping into the house. “James!” I exclaimed. “We need to talk. Is Jarod with you?”

He watched as Alma walked off, and then opened his mouth to say something.

Before he could answer, I saw Jarod stepping in with one of the twins holding his arm. The other twin and their brother followed. Jarod was saying something, but I missed it.

“Jarod! I need to show you something.” I insisted. “Are you free?” I asked, hoping that his plans weren’t starting immediately. Mila implied they weren’t.

“Jarod will be indisposed all night.” claimed the girl on his arm.

The other twin was saying something as well, but I couldn’t see her well enough past the others to know what exactly. I didn’t bother looking around to see if Mila transcribed what she said. They rarely spoke without harassing someone, so they were probably just teasing me. I became slightly more interested when I noticed Duncan looking startled by what was said.

“No, I don’t. I haven’t even finished healing from the last match.” he was insisting.

I hoped they weren’t trying to get him to fight me. With him already injured, I might hurt him too much.

The girl who was on Jarod’s arm had turned around to bug her brother. Duncan was quick to remove her hand, but I couldn’t see him speak past her head. Didn’t anyone understand this was important? I needed James and Jarod! The twins started hugging one another and staring at their brother. What were they doing now?

As they turned around to grab Jarod, they said, “Jarod, please save us from our perverted brother!”

What!? Those two had to be half villain. I felt sorry for their brother. Jarod seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t see what now. I was running out of patience. I needed him to come see what I had before he was forced to leave. The girls seemed to be fighting over Jarod, pulling him back and forth between them. James was turned, watching the exchange. Was I really going to lose my chance here? No. I needed to do something. I started to formulate a plan of attack when everyone suddenly looked off to the side. I turned to see Alma there, serene as ever.

For once, I was quite glad to see her when I realized she had called off the twins and their brother. The three followed her away, leaving Jarod and James with me! She might be part saint after all.

Someone touched my shoulder, so I turned to find Jarod looking at me.

“What’s so urgent? I have half an hour before a job James hired me for, something rather vague I might add.” he informed me, signing as he spoke.

His sign language wasn’t perfect yet, but he was sweet for bothering to learn at all.

“I have part of her suit!” I exclaimed, finally getting to tell them.

“What?” they both asked in surprise.

“While you were out being duped at the villain’s party, I was fighting her. Well, I was too late at most of the scenes, but I got some help from a friend getting to the last one. I didn’t manage to stop her from breaking in, but I did take her arm and send her running!” I explained. Mila didn’t want me to mention her aid yet. She seemed concerned about how James would take it.

“Maxine was actually there the whole time.” stated James.

Nodding, Jarod said, “She must have an accomplice or some clever type of control system.”

I hadn’t considered that she might not actually be in the suit.

“So where’s the piece?” he asked.

I smiled and said, “In the garage, of course. I wanted you to be able to work on it.”

I started walking that way and explaining how the fight went. Jarod seemed impressed by the lasers, but I insisted that they were nothing compared with my staff, Midnight. Dodging missiles was pretty intense, but I related what happened as best as I could up until we arrived. James, noticing the fist, immediately knelt down to look at it. He was interested! I hadn’t been sure with how impassive he seemed as I told my tale. Maybe he was spending too much time with Alma.

James jumped when we started descending into Jarod’s work area.

“There’s a subfloor?” he asked, looking around.

I didn’t know how to take him not being aware. How could he not have known? I missed most of what Jarod was saying, but he just seemed to be explaining what was down here to James.

“Whose is this?” asked James as he walked over to the old Volkswagen that was being repaired.

“Oh. Brandon asked for an oil change the other day, and I noticed some other problems. This is a 1987 Silver Volkswagen Quantum Syncro Wagon. Bit old, but it’s in reasonably good shape now. I just have a bit more that I want to do to it.” explained Jarod.

“I have no idea how you find time to do anything.” replied James, looking completely sincere.

“I actually have more room in my schedule than you on most days.” insisted Jarod. “I had Mila give me an analysis on a whim one day. Hey, Mila, would you mind moving this over by my suit?”

I knew Jarod had been constructing a suit as well, but I hadn’t seen it in action yet. Well, I hadn’t seen it at all. He was keeping the whole project hidden. I missed part of what they were saying, but Mila was transcribing for me on the far wall.

James had asked “Is your suit behind the sheets?”

Then Jarod told him “Nah. That’s a little project for Mila. It’s not ready yet. My first suit’s straight ahead, though I doubt I’ll be using that too much.”

“Oh? Why’s that?” asked James.

“I was mulling over a new idea during the… umm… auction. The problem with a suit like Maxine’s or my first one is that they’re too bulky. Even if I figure out the power supply, I couldn’t use the suit in many parts of the city without risking collateral damage like Maxine constantly causes. I was reading up on some tech the other day that could potentially replace muscle for electronic arms. Thinking through the tech used in creating a cyborg, I’ve realized I might be able to make a less intrusive interface to communicate our thoughts to a durable fabric that could enhance our strength by acting as additional, external muscle while also providing support to save our joints.” explained Jarod.

“The general idea is nice, but that’ll take a bunch of research and development if it’s possible.” insisted James.

With a shrug, Jarod said, “I think I can manage. Thanks to Aaliyah, we have access to resources that most people don’t. Plus, my assistant is top notch, right Mila?”

“Not having to sleep does have its advantages, but I am still learning a great deal from you.” she replied.

“The biggest part I’ll need your help with, James, is finding a way to enhance the design with magic.” stated Jarod.

James stared at him, looking surprised.

Jarod smiled as he said, “I know you have a ways to go, but Ai and Mai don’t know how to enchant things like Midnight there. Alma, if she does, hasn’t been interested in aiding in my endeavors. For now, there are some spells that Mila’s chosen from her database which should give temporary boons.”

“I’ll try, but I have a long ways to go.” replied James.

I was growing impatient again. Yes, everything said was important enough. Jarod could come act as my sidekick if he finished any sort of suit to help him keep up, but we had something important to do at the moment! Weren’t they interested in what was in the mechanical hand?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 185

The night started off wonderfully. Plenty of influential witnesses arrived at the gala, so no one could reasonably accuse me of the robberies taking place. The first couple stops went without incident. Calamity, the would-be hero, arrived at the scene of the third stop just as I was leaving, which gave me a nice laugh. I wondered what she hoped to accomplish.

I set my machine, Theophany, to autopilot for a couple minutes as I went on stage to announce the next performer. When I returned to my seat, I focused on Theophany to resume manual control. The slight lag in this interface was always a bit disconcerting, but I didn’t even have ideas on how to further reduce it.

Within a minute, I was landing, almost finished for the night. Most of these stops were just for show, but a few were supposed to house some dirt in safety deposit boxes that I could leverage. I easily brushed aside the door and started cutting through the vault door. As I was sifting through boxes, a motion alert triggered, so I turned, finding Calamity charging at me. I shot her through the chest with my machine’s laser, but it was ineffectual as I suspected it would be.

I tried to grab her, so I might pin her down. The lag was making things difficult. Damage warnings started appearing. She was hitting my suit hard enough to dent the armor!? I fired Theophany’s thrusters, jumping back toward the entrance I had made. I needed more space to move. I didn’t have time for this. The cops were surely rerouting to here by now. Deciding to give up on this bank, I fired a missile at the entrance.

Calamity dodged, flipping back from it and actually kicking the missile into the air. I was impressed. I tried a series of smaller missiles, but she dodged well enough that the explosions only knocked her back for a moment. More disturbingly, I wasn’t getting any useful readings of that staff. Was it really just a big hunk of metal? How strong was she!? I used my laser to cut it in half, but there wasn’t any damage to it. Worse yet, she had used the time to get on top of me.

Theophany was actually taking substantial damage.I needed to escape. I swung to knock Calamity away, but there was a hull breach. The entire hand had been severed! I took flight immediately, smashing into a building as I attempted to level her out from the awkward takeoff. I was half afraid Calamity would give chase into the air. She had too many surprises for me this night.

As I did my best to maintain flight with the damaged and missing components, I considered this encounter. Half of that staff had changed into a blade, but what kind of blade could cut through this armor? I needed to make improvements if I were to ever come back here, but I wasn’t entirely certain where to begin. Instead, I started thinking through ways to capture an opponent, focusing on ones that’d completely immobilize them. Not only did Calamity have a dangerous weapon now, but she seemed to have learned how to fight extremely well.

If we met again, I wouldn’t want to be in my suit, so my plans would have to account for the lag. If she managed to disable Theophany entirely, I’d use the self-destruct and be nowhere near her to avoid capture. I knew I couldn’t handle her hand-to-hand. She seemed faster than me and had to be significantly stronger. I’d make more suits and work on software to help them act somewhat independently.

By the time Theophany was parked, I needed to do a last farewell. Taking to the stage, I said, “I do hope you all had a wonderful time tonight. Sorry for all of the disturbances. I never would have guessed this would be such a busy night in the city.”

Rushed, but I wanted to get out of town just in case. There was so much to be done. I still made a point to approach James one last time. I didn’t want to leave without speaking to him one last time.

“The evening was delightful. Thank you.” stated James II.

He wasn’t as tall as his son, but he was a competent businessman as well. Unfortunately, Lady Pendreigh was making a move on his business according to my sources.

I smiled at him and said, “We’ll be able to help so many children with the funds we’ve raised. Thank you all for your contributions.” Then I turned to James III and told him “James, I’m afraid that I’ll be leaving even sooner than I expected. Please do come visit anytime you wish. I’d love to show you around my city.”

“The packing is complete.” whispered Aengus.

I nodded and said, “Sorry, but I must be off. Thank you all again.”

I let Aengus guide me away as I considered what sort of bait might lure Calamity to my city. I needed time to build a suitable trap, but I had time. No one knew the true identity of Marvelous Max.

,,,^._.^,,,

I walked with Ai and Mai on my arms towards the limo, but all I could think about was how Maxine could be controlling her suit from the gala. She must have invented some sort of interface that could communicate directly with the brain, but how did it work? Any sort of transmission and scanning devices had to be extremely small if they were to be incorporated into her glasses. The long-ranged transmissions could be done by some device hidden in the area, but her goons probably moved it already.

My thoughts had carried me into the limo and part of the way home. I almost stood when James asked Mila to stop the car. I looked around for what caught his attention as he stepped out of the car.

“Are you okay?” asked James, calling out to someone across the street.

The man did seem injured by his gait, but that could be an old wound. What was James doing?

“Oh. I see how that must look to you.” stated Alma. “Let me show you the truth.”

The man suddenly flew toward her, but no one in the area seemed to care! She had to be using magic on them of some sort. I was glad she excluded me in whatever spell messed with their heads.

I saw why Alma acted as she did when the man was close. His flesh was rotting. His arms stretched out toward James as if wanting to grab him.

“A zombie!? Are you serious!?” I exclaimed. On my list of things I hoped to be confirmed as real, zombies weren’t toward the top, but they were still on the list. This was incredible!

“You could call it that, yes.” stated Alma.

I blinked and turned my head, unprepared for the flash of light surrounding the zombie. The man was gone when I looked back. Alma apparently incinerated him instead of wanting to investigate further.

“Let us be off then.” she stated.

“I didn’t realize you were having problems of that nature. My family has a specialist in these matters if you care for assistance, Lady Pendreigh.” offered Duncan.

“Thank you, but there’s no need. I’ll manage.” she replied.

“A zombie specialist? Are there so many in Japan that you need one?” I asked, still feeling excited.

“Of course not.” he stated, looking slightly offended. “We like to deal with these matters quickly, so we trained someone toward that end.”

I nodded glumly, having my short-lived dreams of seeing this specialist in action bashed.

“Most families destroy that sort of knowledge for good reason. Many of the practices are unsavory.” insisted Alma, apparently put off by word of the specialist.

Duncan was quick to assure her “We do oversee our specialist, Lady Pendreigh. There’s no need for you to worry about him doing anything unpleasant.”

I understood why he didn’t want too much of her attention in his family’s territory. The twins had told me enough to know that Alma could easily sweep everything they owned into her pockets on a whim.

“How long has this been happening?” asked James.

Alma stared at him for a moment before saying, “I encountered the first zombie nearly a week ago. Whoever is creating them seems to abandon them after he’s done with them, so I can’t simply follow one back to him.”

I nearly smirked at hearing her say “zombie”, since her accent even made zombie sound posh, as the twins occasionally put it. I started asking for details as the limo continued on its way. Ai and Mai kindly answered. When they told me of zombies marching on a town, I grew excited, imagining how that would look here. Unfortunately, the creation of so many was tedious enough to be impractical for most people, so I couldn’t look forward to z-day.

“I guess I’ll have to tell Aaliyah we don’t really need all of those provisions for it. She’s going to be so disheartened.” I informed them.

I still asked a few more questions on the way back, since my excitement wasn’t completely deflated. As horrific as a zombie apocalypse would have been, seeing it still could have been incredible, given my allies.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 184

I watched James closely as his limo drove us toward the gala. Lady Pendreigh was openly showing affection for him, but I never heard rumor that the two were actually courting. There were numerous games she could be playing, and I was certain to only be seeing what she wished if a game was in play. Her affection for James seemed quite real to me, and I still had no clue what all he could do. His assets, however, were remarkable.

Over the past two days, I found myself captivated with his home. Great wealth was casually displayed with no apparent security, but his entire staff was formidable. Jarod regarded Mila as a person, not just a machine. If she was as sentient as she seemed, he was right to do so, and her value would be incredible.

Even Mila’s value was nothing compared with the discovery of living fey. How James found them and gathered them in his forest was a mystery. Had he really let the little one indoors on accident, or was he showing more of his power? The tiny creature seemed to regard him as an ally, possibly even a friend. Even a handful of fey was a very dangerous force, and I believed James had many. Just who was he?

“Since you’ll be with us longer, I was wondering if there was anywhere which you wanted to visit? I’d feel remiss as a host if I didn’t manage to spend some time with you away from my home.” stated James, noticing that I was watching him.

Did he now want to deter me from viewing more of his home, or did he have other assets to unveil? A straightforward approach might serve me best, so I said, “Thank you for the consideration, but I have seen more wonders in your home than I ever would in the city. I simply wish to visit that remarkable forest and see the creatures within at least once before I go.”

He casually nodded as he replied “I’m sure we can manage, though my secretary will likely require a contract. The creatures there are quite rare and precious.”

A contract from her was not a mere trifle. I worried over what this might entail. His words might even be taken as a threat. Who was I, after all, to argue with the one with Lady Pendreigh on his arm?

“I see.” I stated. “I’ll have to discuss this with my family after I peruse the documents then.”

Lady Pendreigh smiled slightly as she said, “I found the contract to be pretty standard fare for her, Duncan.”

I nodded and tried to fight the wave of fear which brushed over me. Aaliyah’s contracts included many, many ways to forfeit one’s own life, and I had imagined too many times what having her come for me would be like.

Turning to Lady Pendreigh, James asked “Did mother ever finish that painting for you, Alma?”

He was incredibly relaxed next to her, a man of power regarding her as an equal at best. He possibly saw himself above her.

“Yes. Her talent is quite extraordinary. I was very impressed by her work.” she replied.

I had looked into James’ family, but I didn’t find out anything remarkable. His parents were talented humans as far as I knew.

“Oh, so you’ve already picked it up? Mother never mentioned that you stopped by again.” he replied, a hint of disappointment in his voice.

Lady Pendreigh turned from him. Her face was still a porcelain mask, but she seemed slightly uncomfortable to me. What did he have over her? Was this some sort of code?

“No, I haven’t. I made arrangements for her to hold onto the painting for now, as I don’t feel the timing is right to have it publicly displayed.” she claimed. “Ah. Let’s have a stroll through the park, since we have some time. I do like this one.”

I glanced out the window but saw nothing particularly interesting. Did she want space from us to discuss something with him? I surmised as much when the two set out walking without waiting for my sisters and Jarod. Normally, I’d use spells to enhance my hearing and listen, but such a trick around Lady Pendreigh was dangerous. If she felt insulted, I could die. I dissuaded the others from trying to approach with idle conversation. As I spent more time around Jarod, I couldn’t deny his intellect. How was he chosen to be the apprentice of Death? Perhaps there was even more to him than I had guessed.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Did mother ever finish that painting for you, Alma?” asked James.

I was certain James didn’t realize how much he distressed me at times, but did he have to bring up that bloody painting right now? Every time I thought of that visit I paid to his parents, his anger at me came fresh to my mind.

“Yes. Her talent is quite extraordinary. I was very impressed by her work.” I assured him.

“Oh, so you’ve already picked it up? Mother never mentioned that you stopped by again.” he commented.

I released his arm and turned from him. I couldn’t look at him right now. “No, I haven’t.” I admitted. Then I quickly explained “I made arrangements for her to hold onto the painting for now, as I don’t feel the timing is right to have it publicly displayed.”

I could feel Duncan watching us, studying. I knew everything said around him would surely be relayed to his mother. Must James prod sore points right now? The Williams-Wynn Memorial Park came into view, so I gave into a whim and said, “Ah. Let’s have a stroll through the park, since we have some time. I do like this one.”

The limo pulled over, and I quietly thanked Mila for not questioning me. James stepped out and offered me his hand after the door opened for him. I stared up at him and found myself wondering again how a human developed such a perfect face. He was unusually attractive.

After briefly enjoying the view, James asked “What is your home in England like?”

I stared up at him, trying to discern how he came around to ask such a thing. Still uncertain, I told him “My father owns a castle, but I wouldn’t really call it my home. I only visited the place a few dozen times in my life. I should go see father again soon.”

He nodded, looking thoughtful and took a few more steps before asking “Where did you call home then?”

“Nowhere, really.” I replied with a shrug. “Up until coming here, I spent most of my life traveling. At first, I was traveling with my mother and learning the family trade. Then I took over. Mother probably wouldn’t have approved of me staying here this long, but Adelmar, my cousin, does.”

I was thankful that my cousin wasn’t intruding at the moment. He’d surely say something highly inappropriate about my stay.

“Wait. Was Adelmar the one who sent the tiara to Aaliyah as a birthday present?” he questioned.

I nodded, saying, “I do apologize about that spell I used on you. I hadn’t meant for you to feel unwell, but that spell affected you differently than it should have. I’m guessing your magic threw things off a bit. Otherwise, I would have stayed longer.”

I did feel quite guilty over that affair. James had done nothing to deserve such treatment.

“You were the one who delivered the tiara? I suppose that makes sense, given that the tiara looks extremely valuable. Why would your cousin give something like that to a young girl?” he asked.

I stopped and stared up at him. He knew enough about her to know she was far more than a young girl, but, I supposed, he apparently didn’t know enough. I wasn’t in a position to explain either. I started walking again as I said, “I do wish I could explain. I am sorry, James, but I am privy to a great many things which I cannot share, at least not yet. Hopefully, someday. Hopefully, soon.”

Taking hold of his hand again, I gently squeezed it. There was so very much I wished I could convey. I had many secrets that I needed to keep, not all of which I’d even be able to tell after we were wed. If we ever were to wed… Would James be able to survive if I were to court him? I had plans prepared to protect him from the worst of the opposition, but the wisdom of them was questionable.

I turned our conversation to Ancient Tribes of Earth to distract myself from my other thoughts. There were many events I had considered which could help keep our guild lively. With thousands of members, we needed plans that could involve everyone in one way or another, and I didn’t feel James fully considered them enough. Too often, people were simply glad for his presence. He wasn’t accustomed to having to work to entertain.

All too soon, the count in my head ran out, and I announced that we should be off. Arriving too late wouldn’t be any more acceptable than too early, and we all had to maintain our image. The gala was perfectly acceptable, much to my ire. I would have enjoyed seeing Maxine slip in her execution. Even I could admit that she was talented, despite her unsavory nature, but being knocked down a few pegs might help her realize that the world wasn’t her toy.

Chad was quick as ever to greet me when we made our way to him. Aaliyah was there, of course, grinning in that insufferably adorable manner. In part, I wanted to hug her like some exotic pet. I also wanted to throw her as hard as I could against the wall, but she’d only come back and execute me for making a fuss in front of her father. I wasn’t remotely amused by her choice of donation for this auction. Where I was giving a priceless wedding dress that had belonged to an ancestor, she chose to donate the very gun which killed that ancestor. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if she had pulled the trigger herself after forcing someone to enchant the bullet.

After the initial exchange of pleasantries, James’ parents joined us. They didn’t seem particularly glad to see me, but I could understand why. We conversed for a time before the lights dimmed. Maxine took to the stage, greeting everyone and explaining how the auction would proceed. Then we were treated for music before getting our first viewing of the items up for auction. I made note of what I would acquire as well as what seemed to please the others, just in case. Knowing the tastes of James’ parents particularly interested me, so I might find something suitable for each of them at a later time.

Some time later as we ate, a table near us went vacant in a hurry. I had overheard their discussion, so I was the first to hear of the robbery. Given the timing, I was certain this was Maxine’s handiwork. She couldn’t simply raise money for children without committing some nefarious act. Her reputation would be ruined.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 183

I was being shown countless things by my grandmother, the lovely fey girl still embracing me. She looked so young and precious, but I could feel the bond between us. There was no sense of time in the images she showed me as she shared countless things she had done, but I knew she was old. Very old from what Alma told me.

I wondered what my ancient grandfather was like. She knew. I saw him. He looked so young… Young and lost. I probably blushed as she showed me a bit much of their encounter. She sensed that I had gotten uncomfortable and stopped, staring at me curiously. I hugged her, amazed to be getting this chance to know her.

“Alma…” stated James, sounding concerned.

With a sigh, she said, “I know. Shut your eyes.”

The world blurred around me and my stomach lurched. I fought against retching in front of these two. I didn’t get to say goodbye…

“I apologize for the discomfort, but those creatures would have impeded us if we moved more slowly.” explained Alma matter-of-factly. Looking to me, she asked “May we go in then?”

I only then realized that we were standing in front of the door to my wing. I nodded and opened the door, letting them go in first while I decided whether or not I was safe from retching.

James was staring around the room, looking curious.

“Oh. I’ve been redecorating a bit.” I told him after realizing he hadn’t seen how I had grown out my furniture. “Do you like?”

“It’s remarkable. I’d worry about staining my clothes if I didn’t sit perfectly still though.” he admitted.

I laughed and then took a moment to fight the sudden urge to vomit. My stomach still wasn’t fully settled.

He shrugged.

Noticing the time, I said, “I probably should get changed.”

James nodded and followed Alma out. I nearly stopped him, not wanting him to go, but I collapsed on my bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking of what I had seen and felt. The fey were beautiful and completely incredible, but I had never imagined there could be any alive. I never thought that I might one day meet my grandmother. I smiled, thinking of how life was full of surprises.

,,,^._.^,,,

“James, I appreciate you taking us there and would be extremely grateful if you would do so again soon.” I insisted as I turned around to face him just outside Emma’s door. “I’m sure the others are desperately wanting a chance as well, and I’ll gladly see that no one gets hurt if the fey get too rambunctious.”

He stared down at me, looking to be studying me. I felt uncomfortable under that gaze, but held my ground. James was human and frail, but he could easily keep my family from interacting with the fey at all. Anyone who dared violate those grounds would face Death. I sometimes found myself wondering if she’d kill us all at his whim.

“When you say ‘no one gets hurt’, you’re including the fey as well, right?” he asked.

His words stung, showing he still doubted me. I had a long way to go still to prove myself to him. I nearly reached out to him, but resisted the urge. He wasn’t nearly as saturated with magic as he had been last night, but he was still filled with far more energy than he normally allowed himself. I quickly placed my protections back over myself to dull the effect.

“Of course.” I assured him. “They’re far too precious. I keep telling you that my family made a mistake with them.”

He stared into my eyes longer, and I had to fight the urge to turn away. I wanted to hold him and feel his arms around me, not to be under such scrutiny. We stood that way for an uncomfortably long time before he nodded.

“I’m going to make myself presentable.” he stated. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Smiling, I said, “You’re always presentable, James. That’s one of the things I like about you.” I hurried to my rooms, not wanting to risk being around him any more at the moment.

I considered getting more work done, since I had left abruptly earlier, but I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to focus at the moment.

:Cousin, I had lost you for a time: stated Adelmar.

:I know. Let me show you.: I told him, instantly guiding him through what I had seen.

I could tell that he was every bit as shocked as I had been by his comments. He too regretted our ancestors’ actions, cutting me off as I showed him what I had seen of the war. He had been far enough in my head to feel what I had, witnessing the murder of one of my ancestors by another.

I took my time preparing for the auction as thoughts of the fey continued to fill my head. They were still so open about what they could do, urging us to play with them and demonstrating their magic in our minds.

James was right about them fearing me. I had felt it. They also accepted me as one of their own, instantly feeling my heritage. I had felt something too, but I wasn’t sure that I could explain it well enough to chronicle. Maybe in time, assuming James gave me the time, I would fully understand how I had felt there.

I thought again of that spiraling vortex of energy and wondered at its creator. What purpose did he have to make such a thing? How did he have such incredible knowledge of magic to pull it off? I only knew of three who were likely to surpass me in magical knowledge by that much, and those three would never provide me with answers.

I allowed myself to pace for a time after I finished changing. I felt restless. Then Mila informed me that James wished to leave soon. I frowned, wondering what the urgency was now. I went out into the hall to wait, forcing myself to maintain my poise.

Ai, Mai, Jarod, and Duncan came striding my way minutes later, looking quite lively as they approached.

“What did you see?” asked one of the twins.

“Were there very many?” asked the other as she clung to Jarod’s arm.

I could tell Duncan and Jarod were curious as well.

Nodding, I informed them “You all have something incredible ahead and no words of mine will justly express the experience.”

That, of course, was not enough to satisfy any of them, but I was being perfectly honest. I didn’t know how to express the feeling of that place adequately to them. Instead, I turned our discussion towards the upcoming auction, reminding them that Maxine might have a surprise in store for us.

I turned to the empty hall when James was finally approaching. The moment I saw him, I asked “Why do you wish to leave quite this early? We’d surely be the first ones there if we leave now.”

“Sorry to rush everyone, but a certain little fairy was just fluttering around the house.” he explained. “I really would prefer to leave her behind.”

“I see.” I replied, agreeing that she shouldn’t follow us.

As adorable as the creature was, I didn’t wish to see her wrath unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd. Even I couldn’t react fast enough to stop a laser.

“Mila is the fairy still around?” asked James.

“She’s still around back, master, chasing after fireworks I’m displaying on the windows. The limo is ready out front.” she replied.

I followed him out as the doors opened for us, wondering what other surprises he would give me in the future.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 182

Beautiful images and feelings danced through my head as I skipped beside James. He and Alma seemed far more calm than I felt. Were they not listening to this fairy as she showed us her world? I felt like I was flying, though I knew my feet frequently touched the ground. The images and emotions with them were so very vivid. If I closed my eyes for a moment, reality could be forgotten. This was beautiful, though I wouldn’t really want to escape reality for long, not with how close James and Alma were.

James was charming as ever, and I honestly hadn’t gotten over him even knowing he wasn’t really interested in me. I knew I’d never compete with Alma. She was a flawless, otherworldly beauty with enough talents for dozens of people where I was passably cute and barely had enough talent for one person. I couldn’t really complain, since I’d date her in a heartbeat too. I knew I could dazzle away from Somerset Estate. The competition level here was just far too high. The most human of us was mind-bogglingly brilliant.

“What’s bothering you, James?” asked Alma.

He stared at her, leaving me to admire how his hair looked from the back. After a moment, he said, “Please don’t be offended, but I’m worrying about your temper. I only spent one night around these creatures, but I already feel they can be taxing.”

Her smile made my heart jump, though she was looking up at him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll leave if they annoy me too much.” she assured him after taking hold of his hand.

I felt a stab of jealousy, completely left out next to these two lovebirds, but for all the sorrow poking at my heart, I still was immersed in the joy flowing through my head. Our new little friend loved flying, and the world seemed so large from her perspective. She could easily hide behind the leaf of a tree to play tricks on her friends. I saw some of them in her visions, giving me a better idea what to expect inside the forest.

I couldn’t believe I had spent so long here, even becoming the groundskeeper, and I had never wandered into the forest. At least, I had forgotten for the moment what being next to the forest was like. Standing there on the brink of entering was suddenly a bit frightening. There was an eeriness that sent a shiver down my back, and I still couldn’t feel a single plant on the other side. I wanted to run away.

James bravely stepped forward, comically stopped by Alma’s grip on his hand. She was so tiny next to him with well over a foot of difference in their heights. She was also perfectly thin, like a well-crafted doll with an hourglass figure. I seemed petite most places, but Alma made me feel tall and big-boned. I wondered again what holding her hand was like.

Suddenly releasing James’ hand, Alma said, “Oh. Sorry, James. I needed a moment to disperse my typical protective spells. When I did, I started seeing these images of Emma and that fairy frolicking around the woods. I knew of how the fey communicate, but experiencing it is fascinating. She’s so happy… and ignoring me. I must say that I’ve never had anyone give me the cold shoulder quite like this before. It’s more of a sensation than anything in the image.”

A bright light flashed between us all, leaving a spot dancing in my vision.

“What was that about?” asked James.

“Sorry. I thought about grabbing her, and she seemed to know. Don’t look at me like that, James.” demanded Alma. “I wasn’t going to hurt her. She seems to believe that I’ve been ignoring her since we met. She knows you’re ignoring her, but isn’t mad at you? That’s not fair.”

I didn’t get as much from the little fairy’s images as Alma seemed to but I barely resisted the impulse to hug Alma. I didn’t manage to stop the giggles. She was so adorable on the verge of pouting, but I didn’t want the lecture about not giving in to such desires. Totally had that one before.

Realizing James and Alma were staring at me as I laughed, I tried to explain “She’s been complaining about you both for half the walk. I didn’t realize you two honestly didn’t know. How could you not!?”

“I actually have to work at hearing them. My magic seems to block out their form of communication.” explained James.

“That’s new. How much do you know about your magic, James?” asked Alma, staring at him again.

I wasn’t surprised. James seemed to have an abundance of tricks with his magic. He had learned so very fast.

“A fair amount, I think, but being certain is hard when I’m constantly seeming to learn new things about myself.” he explained.

Alma laughed, a beautiful pure sound, and said, “Well, I’m defenseless now, so try not to be too charming.”

James glanced at me, smiled, and said, “I may have failed to mention that I have a number of magical abilities, but, in my defense, I’m still learning about them as I previously mentioned.”

I smirked and said, “Man-slave, you just keep getting more incredible, don’t you.”

Alma grabbed us both by the hand and pulled us with her into the forest. She gasped just inside.

I stared in wonder at the seemingly endless energy here, and I finally could feel the plants. There was so much life here, plants and others as well. “Whoa. It’s like a magic whirlpool!” I exclaimed. I could feel dancing in the distance as various sorts of feet rhythmically hit the grass. Animals roamed freely, not even alarmed when something bipedal dashed through a bush nearby. There were a few plants I didn’t recognize, which was extremely rare for me. I’d have to investigate eventually, but now… now wasn’t the time.

“They’re coming.” I announced.

“I know.” replied Alma. “How could they not with this little one calling for them though?” she asked.

I had been too engrossed in the plants to notice, but Alma was right. Our little friend was practically singing in our minds, announcing James’ return. She also was warning of Alma’s presence and… I grinned, feeling her excitement about me.

I stepped back, shocked when a naked girl jumped James. I hadn’t felt her approach. “She can become invisible!” I exclaimed. She looked like… an elf. She really had a nice body too, but her ears were larger than normal and came to distinct points.

“More than that, I’d say.” replied Alma. “Were you able to feel her in the grass?” With a gentle ease, Alma pulled the girl off a James.

“You’re right. I can’t.” I admitted.

“I thought not.” stated Alma, staring the girl down and maintaining her grip.

I didn’t know whether to pout or laugh when Alma made cloud-like clothing appear over the girl’s form. She really knew what she wanted from James and seemed confused by why Alma pulled her away.

“James, we need to have a talk about you coming here later.” stated Alma.

More were approaching, but these I could feel distinctly as they touched the plants. Alma clad them with her magic as well. I stared down in shock as a walking tree hugged me. I could feel someone inside the plants! Not just inside… connected. A girl… family. Her thoughts. I felt so much love from her. The bark pulled away, and I saw her. She had beautiful, green hair and skin the color of oak. Her eyes were a light, leafy green.

“She’s your grandmother.” stated Alma in shock. “Well, with a good hundred ‘greats’ thrown in for good measure.”

The girl looked my age, but I knew what Alma said was true. I could feel the recognition in the fey’s thoughts. I hugged her tight against me and felt the strange sensation of knowing her from head to toe. Her body was plant-like enough that I could feel her distinctly. The bark had been physically connected with her until she let it go.

She was showing me the forest, and I watched as plants grew to her whims. I knew these feelings well. I could easily empathize with her love for them. I realized after awhile that I was probably stronger than her. She could only reach a couple thousand feet at best. I could stretch my magic over miles. How could I possibly be stronger than one of the fey… my… my great grandmother?

I nearly let go of her as an image came to me of plants tearing through men in armor. I realized there were other images from those around us. There was a man of fire burning his way through an army, melting their armor into their flesh as they screamed. I watched as a shirtless man grabbed the burning man. The fiery man screamed out just before his head was crushed in the shirtless man’s grip. I could see images of the others fleeing. I felt my great grandmother’s fight. The stench of death was unbearable.

“I shouldn’t have asked.” stated Alma, looking shocked. “These poor creatures were there, James.” She gripped James’ arm and said, “I’m so sorry. I had asked if there were any like me here, and they showed me the last they knew. That was likely one of my ancestors killing another. I hadn’t realized how far these creatures had come, but I recognized that man. We just saw Europe nearly two thousand years ago at one of my family’s battles with the fey.”

I felt sad, angry, and so disturbed at first, but then there was joy as images of life in this forest came to my head. The fey were so very happy here. I let their joy wash over me, cleansing me of what I just witnessed.

“James. James! Listen to them. Listen.” urged Alma, shaking his arm.

I wondered for a moment at the flowers around me, trying to think of when they appeared. Were they mine or my great grandmother’s? Both of ours? They were beautiful. I could easily picture us skipping along with a flower garden appearing in our wake. She obviously knew what I was thinking, picturing it as well. I wanted to spend more time with her. What would mom think of this? I needed to show her someday.