Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 192

The door opened as I reached for it. That sort of thing happened frequently around here when Mila was being helpful. I realized I was even luckier this time as I saw James. He was home!

“James, we have to talk!” I exclaimed, signing quickly as I spoke.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as he looked down to me.

He always made me feel so tiny next to him with his broad soldiers and greater than average height.

“The matter?” I asked. “What would be the matter? It’s not like I’ve been waiting two weeks for the date you promised only to find out that you went out with her instead as soon as you were free.”

Alma said something to him. She didn’t seem to be very happy either, running off with her incredible speed. I still wasn’t used to someone moving that fast.

“Umm… I think I hear my daddy…” started Aaliyah, turning before I could catch all of it. She had followed James and Alma inside. After a couple steps, she turned back to face me. Then she signed and said, “By the way, why are you in your hoodie?”

I fidgeted as I replied “Oh. I was getting frustrated waiting, and thought I might bump into James if I was out on patrol.”

“What happened to your other outfit?” she asked with wide-eyed innocence.

“I sorta lost part of it when Maxine hit me with a missile.” I explained.

She face-palmed before saying, “You’re not supposed to let missiles hit you, silly. If I were you, I’d ask Mila to print you a new outfit. See ya!”

New outfit!? I turned to James, grabbed his hands to get his attention, and asked “Was she being serious? Mila can do that?”

He shrugged said, “Mila ,are you capable of printing a superhero outfit for Portentia?”

Appearing on a nearby mirror, Mila signed as she said, “Oh, master. I would have no idea what you’re speaking about, though I do have a design in my database for Calamity’s outfit, strictly for cosplay purposes, of course. I think Portentia would be able to fit into it if she wished to cosplay as the city’s greatest superhero.”

James was saying something back to her, but he had turned to face her, blocking my sight. Oh! Mila was transcribing again.

“Are you saying she’s not the only one?” he had asked.

“If there are others, none have been successful enough to catch my attention, but I don’t claim to know everything.” she insisted.

I’d argue on her behalf. Mila certain seemed to know everything when asked. She wouldn’t always tell what she knew, but she knew.

“Please, get started with it!” I pleaded, nearly bouncing in my excitement. “I’ll put off going on patrol until after my date with James.”

I never dreamed getting a new outfit could be that easy. If only they could be as durable as me. Noticing Mila frowning, I felt a moment of unease.

“As you wish, but don’t let the master forget he still owes me a date as well, though I’m not quite ready for it.” she insisted.

I snapped my mouth shut, realizing it had dropped open. Then I turned to James and asked “You’re going on a date with Mila? James, why didn’t you tell me!?”

He seemed to be thinking too hard about what to say.

“Ugh. Now I’ll really have to show you that I’m more fun.” I insisted, grabbing his hand and pulling him back through the door.

Was I though? Mila was incredible. She was beyond incredible. I had no doubts she’d come up with some incredible date specifically designed for their needs.

James tugged back, so I stopped and looked at him.

“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” he asked. “I’m not entirely certain that I’m even done babysitting Aaliyah for the day.”

He quickly pulled out his phone to check.

I said, “She’s gone, so you must be. I have to grab you before you promise ten other girls dates before me. You’re not forgiven for giving Alma a date first.”

“Actually, I owed Alma a dress, since one of hers was ruined when she was helping me.” he stated.

I stared up into his eyes. He seemed to be perfectly sincere… When he wasn’t teasing someone, he was usually sincere. He was a good person.

Grinning, I said, “Sorry! I should’ve known better than to have doubted you. I’m still questioning this date with Mila. How is that even supposed to work?” I couldn’t get past the part where Mila was stuck in mirrors and phones.

He shrugged and told me “I have no idea, but she cornered me into it. Mila’s extremely bright.”

I nodded and pulled him forward again. “I know!” I assured him. “I’ve spent enough time watching Jarod and her talk to realize that they’re amazing.”

“So… what do you do with Jarod?” he asked, trying to be casual.

Was he jealous? I tried not to grin as I said, “Just hang out and talk about ways to stop Maxine, really. I’m not into him, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Why are we walking?” he suddenly asked.

“Sorry. Are you cold?” I inquired. “I can’t really help with that. I don’t get cold, so I generally don’t think about it.”

“No. I dressed for the weather when I left this morning. I merely meant that we could be taking my car.” he explained.

“I don’t have one of those either, so that’s not the first thing that comes to mind. I have borrowed Mila a few times when she’s free. You don’t mind, do you?” I asked, feeling embarrassed by asking after the fact. Mila always seemed fine with the idea, and she was actually reliable, unlike most cars.

James laughed and said, “No, not at all. She needs to be kept entertained, so she doesn’t end up finding trouble.”

I found myself wondering if Mila’s idea of a date involved her using the car to be out with James, but I quickly said, “Thank you! You wouldn’t believe how difficult hiding the fist off maxine’s machine was. If not for Mila, I wouldn’t have managed getting it all the way here.”

James put his phone to his ear and said, “Mila, could you give us a lift?” After a moment, he looked down to me and said, “Mila’s bringing the car.”

I nodded and said, “I know. I was watching.”

Mila would never turn James down. Her admiration of him was obvious whenever we talked about him. She could seem so… human. I found myself wondering again what I was. I never really had this problem before. Meeting Alma changed things. She forced me to consider that I might not really be human. Most people certainly couldn’t keep up with me, and they certainly didn’t heal as I do.

James waved to get my attention before asking “So what do you have planned for this date of ours?”

“Huh?” I asked, blinking. “You don’t have anything planned?”

He sighed before saying, “Of course not. I didn’t realize we were doing this today.

I shrugged and admitted “I guess I just thought you’d have done some planning already. You had two weeks. Don’t worry though. Let’s just go down to the triangle and roam around.”

“Sorry, but I’m not familiar with that area. What’s ‘the triangle’?” he asked.

“It’s a bit of a slum, really. I’ve been trying to clean up the streets some now that Maxine’s not keeping me busy. Since you don’t have plans for us, I figure we might as well check if anyone needs some help today.” I explained.

He nodded and seemed to get lost in thought again, standing there silently. He never seemed to understand how incredibly handsome he was. One way or another, I was going to show him a good time.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 191

“Please, boss-man, sir? I want a dress too!” begged Aaliyah as she stared up at James.

Shrugging, he said, “Sure.”

Was he forgetting that we were here for me, since one of my dresses was destroyed by that fey he refused to restrain? I turned to him and said, “James! Really. You shouldn’t give into her begging so easily. Who knows what your amicable attitude will cost you when she’s involved. You know good and well that she can easily afford her own dress, so must you indulge her in such a manner?”

He really needed to learn a modicum of caution when dealing with Aaliyah. If he had the slightest clue what she really was, he’d be horrified all over again by her. I still hadn’t worked out why she displayed herself to him again, killing a man right in front of him in her true form, but she always had a plan. If her plans didn’t often cause difficulties for others, I wouldn’t feel quite so worried about his attachment to her. Why was she grinning at me with such apparent glee?

“Why should you get one from him and not me?” she asked, looking at me with such earnestness that I almost believed her confusion despite myself.

“You know very well that his little friend cost one when I was simply trying to persuade her to go home.” I snapped, annoyed that I couldn’t figure out what game she was playing with us.

“I really do appreciate what you did, but I have mentioned before that my friend knew you wouldn’t get hurt. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s not more intimidated by you, like the rest seem to be.” stated James.

I knew at a glance that he meant well, but that didn’t stop the anger in me from lashing at its cage. I turned away from him, trying to calm down. He was far too trusting. That was the root of the problem, but I couldn’t deny my own frustration at knowing I couldn’t protect him from Aaliyah. Okay, so there might be some small part of me disheartened by knowing the truth of his words too. I had felt the fear within the fey. Most of them feared me even as they accepted me as one of their own. Were they scared of my power or the other part of my heritage? I couldn’t say.

James took my hand as he said, “Alma, please don’t be upset.”

I wanted to squeeze his hand in turn, but I also wanted to pull away. I did neither, just letting myself enjoy the feel of his hand around mine. I never wanted to hurt him in any way. I basked in my memories with him. There were plenty of disheartening ones, but I wasn’t anymore immune to James’ charms than anyone else, despite my protective spells. He was an incredible person with a heart far too big for his own good, and I would protect him as well as I could.

“Aaliyah has worked incredibly hard for me, so showing a little gratitude to her isn’t unreasonable. Besides, you know she can look perfectly cute when she’s not completely mismatched.” he claimed.

And he was right. As she was now, Aaliyah appeared as cute as she was terrifying in her normal form. The girl was disarming, helping James in countless ways toward some plan I could not fathom. Would he survive her schemes? I hoped.

“Boss-man, sir! Are you saying I’m not always cute?” asked Aaliyah, seeming to plead with him through her large, blue eyes.

“Oh, enough of that.” I snapped. “Let’s just proceed.”

Aaliyah’s grin to me was disarming. She climbed up on my lap as if that were perfectly normal, and I indulged her as we started using the store’s tablet to peruse and modify dresses. I also made mental notes on where the software could use a little work. The U.I. was fairly elegant in this version, but I felt the utility of it could be improved. As Aaliyah and I worked, I tried not to be too competitive in my redesigns, but the girl’s skill was formidable as ever. If James were to participate, he’d surely help us both keep in line.

“James, which style trim do you prefer?” I inquired as I showed him the original, my own, and Aaliyah’s.

He studied them all intently but said, “I find them all to be perfectly lovely, so why not trust your own instincts and go with the style that suits you best?”

He couldn’t have given a more typically noncommittal answer, and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes as I told him “The twins always spoke about how much they enjoyed shopping with you. Is your current company so much worse that you can’t be more interested?”

“What?” he asked in surprise. “No. Of course not. I simply know next to nothing about dress design and would hate to lead you astray.”

“Then let us teach you.” I suggested, wiping the current project into storage.

He didn’t argue, so Aaliyah and I commenced with explaining the high and low points of current fashion as well as the nuances in detailing which could make or break a design. James proved to know more than he had admitted, but I always knew he had good sense in fashion. When I brought back the previous project, he still wouldn’t commit to a favorite between the designs, but he at least explained why this time. I resisted the urge to argue for mine, knowing I was simply being biased against Aaliyah’s.

After the orders were placed, we discussed where to eat, but Aaliyah and I couldn’t agree. James declined to state a preference even as he suggested possible courses when he knew the restaurants.

Several minutes into the conversation, he told us “I’m sure Marco could have something prepared by the time we arrive if you two don’t mind just eating at home.”

Her home is on the opposite side of the park.” I pointed out.

I couldn’t argue against Marco’s meals being the best we could find even if we were to include the whole of the world as possibilities, but I wasn’t ready to return home quite yet, not with knowing James’ time would be taxed by the others there.

“You don’t really want to go back already, do you, boss-man, sir? Alpy’s actually taken time off work for once.” explained Aaliyah.

“Well, more or less.” I replied, having been in constant communication with some of my employees via text on my phone.

I was both grateful and nervous about her statement. Did she have plans for us nearby? Was there something happening at Somerset Estate that she was keeping from us?

“I only suggested it because I adore Marco’s cooking. Why don’t we just go to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce?” inquired James.

“No, sorry. That won’t do.” I stated. Part of the binding contract between the Slayer’s and Aaliyah was to avoid entering that restaurant in all of its locations, one of the many parts that contract which often had me on edge. What was Aaliyah hiding there?

“There’s a pizza place around the corner that has great reviews!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she stared at her phone.

Nodding, I said, “Oh, yes. I haven’t tried that one yet.”

James looked at me in surprise.

“What?” I asked. After some thought, I decided he was confused as to how I knew which one Aaliyah had meant. “I’ve memorized every street of this city as well as the suburbs.”

“What!? That’s incredible!” he exclaimed.

I shook my head and explained “No. You simply don’t give me enough credit. Knowing your way around is important.”

We then proceeded to the restaurant, making idle conversation along the way. I found the place a bit quaint, given the appearance. At a glance, most consumers would probably feel the place hadn’t been updated in sixty years, but the registers were actually computerized, despite their appearances. In the heat from the oven, I could easily picture the entire kitchen, which utilized a large number of modern implements. By the designs, I’d guess the place had been refurbished within the past two years. I allowed myself a wry smile as I realized why this place seemed familiar. This place would have needed refurbished after the massacre Aaliyah had committed. Fifteen people were found decapitated. Weapons were found on all of them, and not one managed to get off a shot. Adelmar had thought someone was trying to send our family a message. If he would have known then what we do now, would he have wanted my mother to come here at all?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 190

I looked around in wonder, amazed that these primitive giants had even managed to colonize this world. During my brief stay, I quickly realized that they do not deserve the planet. Pollution was rampant and very few seemed to care. My kind would thrive here and easily repair the damage, though it would take some time.

I suddenly froze, sensing danger. I couldn’t see anything threatening, at least not at first. A shadow loomed over me, and I prepared to release my venomous cloud. The fear increased as I stared up. Something terrible and vast was looming over me. I named her Death as a voice penetrated my mind.

:Wrong planet, little one.: she stated.

I wanted to respond. I wanted to assure her that my people could better care for this place. I wanted to explain that my own planet was too populated for my offspring to really thrive. I wanted to say so many things, but I could only nod.

:You’ll be a good girl and leave now, yes?: asked the voice.

I knew to my core this wasn’t a request. I quickly thought :Yes. I’ll leave this night. I won’t leave anything behind.:

The feeling of terror instantly abated as she vanished from my sight, but something dreadful remained just past what I could see. I felt it there, watching me, waiting. I was frozen, fear building inside me again. Humans passed me, unaware of how close my family was to colonizing this planet ourselves. I wanted to look at the thing near me, yet every fiber in my being warned against turning. I ran as fast as I could. This planet was guarded by Death herself and possibly something worse. We would never come back here.

,,,^._.^,,,

“I don’t see why she needed to come along.” I stated, resisting the urge to tap my foot as Aaliyah crouched over some type of large beetle. I didn’t recognize the species, so I was guessing the creature was rare. I wasn’t going to admit my ignorance, not with how gladly Aaliyah would surely give me an overly detailed explanation which would undoubtedly tell me little of actual interest.

“Sorry, but you know my schedule is pretty tight. How was I supposed to know that Chad would desperately need a babysitter today?” asked James.

I rolled my eyes and said, “You could have pawned her off on Emma. Emma would’ve been overjoyed.”

James was quite well aware that Aaliyah was an exceptionally dangerous being who didn’t need “babysitting”, but he took the role seriously, as if what he did could make any difference to her. Would he still believe himself a babysitter if he ever found out that Aaliyah was Death herself? He had seen her true form once already, a fact that gave him nightmares for a month. Would he even be able to handle that knowledge?

Aaliyah looked up at me with her wide, blue eyes as she said, “Emma’s modeling for one of her favorite brands. You wouldn’t really want to have her be distracted on such a big day, would you?”

Was she threatening me? There was just enough variance in her tone toward the end that she might have been. I was surely over-thinking the situation.

“Are you quite finished now?” I demanded.

The girl looked too adorable as she excitedly nodded and said, “Yep! She’s promised to return home tonight, so all is well! Crisis averted!”

Was she protecting the beetle, knowing it was rare? Could she actually communicate with it? I shook my head as I started walking. I would get nowhere if I allowed myself to continue this line of thought. Aaliyah would kill me in a heartbeat if I revealed her secret to anyone, she might well kill me just for discovering another one.

“You do know that as the owner of the company you do have a say in the schedule.” I pointedly told James, settling on a safer line of thought. “I realize that Aaliyah is a marvelous secretary, but don’t you rely on her a bit heavily?”

I was dramatically understating things, but telling James he was being deceived wouldn’t get me anywhere. Unfortunately, his trust in Aaliyah grew by the day.

“You do realize that I can’t keep up with her at all, don’t you?” he asked. “The amount of work Aaliyah does in her free time is mind-boggling.”

“Quite, but aren’t you making enough to spend more time managing and less time in the field, babysitting your employee?” I pointed out, perfectly well aware that I couldn’t come close to keeping up with her either.

“But the boss-man likes his job, Alpy!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I really disliked that nickname.

“You shouldn’t bully him when he’s finally having some fun with his life.” she continued.

I started to argue, pointing out that James had been having a sufficient amount of fun merely playing her game, but he was being oblivious when I tried to get him to confirm the point. What was distracting him now!?

Gently squeezing his hand, I asked “James, are you even listening?”

“Sorry.” he stated, blinking and looking at me. “Was thinking about stuff. You wouldn’t believe how strained my head’s felt of late, having to communicate with a fey so frequently.”

I nodded and said, “I actually appreciate the fairy’s company during your lessons. I never would’ve guessed quite how skilled you are with multitasking without seeing you attempt to fight, chat with her, and maintain a spell. You’ve been improving quite satisfactorily. However, I do still maintain that the fairy should not be allowed off your yard, particularly out of that forest. Can you imagine what she’d do to some daft bloke that attempted to mug you?”

If someone managed to harm the little creature, we’d both be quite devastated. She was probably the last of her kind. As pointless as her conversation regularly was, she always brought smiles and laughter. I really would miss her if she were gone.

“I am getting better at communicating with her, you know. I might be able to persuade her to stay out of it.” argued James.

“Alpy, want to hire a mugger and test it!? We can place bets and everything!” suggested Aaliyah.

“I’ll never speak with either of you again if you hire a criminal to attack me.” he told her, attempting to appear quite put off by the notion.

“Come now, James. We would just be having a little fun.” I teased.

He stared at me in that way which encouraged an urge to embrace him. I wished he wasn’t so fragile… I could literally hug him to death with next to no effort. I refrained from further acknowledging the urge and instead started speaking of his staff, gently pointing out ways he might be able to guide them more.

“Here we are.” I stated, having walked another block. “This will only take a few minutes, but please make yourself comfortable.”

Anna worked for me, using her antique business to aid in finding non-humans to investigate. She barely started discussing this month’s leads when I realized James seemed to grow cold in the other room. Whatever could be troubling him? He was shivering!

“Boss-man, sir? What’s wrong?” asked Aaliyah.

The way James grabbed her protectively against his chest worried me too much. I dashed into the room and inquired “James, whatever is the matter?”

“I’m… well… I’m fine, so far as there’s nothing physically wrong with me.” he assured me with a tremor in his voice.

I didn’t think he was lying, considering I could find no wound.

“Anna, might I trouble you for some tea?” I asked loudly enough for Anna to hear from the other room.

“I want some too!” exclaimed Aaliyah, her voice muffled behind James’ arm.

He released her, saying, “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t trying to suffocate you.”

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. Everything’s fine!” she assured him.

Everything was most certainly not fine. What happened!? I needed to be more delicate. James looked on edge, and his mind was quite obviously not with us at the moment.

I gently touched his shoulder to get his attention before saying, “James, you can talk with me. What happened?’

He looked from me to Aaliyah. Was he not wanting to say something in front of her? He seemed to be considering a long time and concern was clearly on his face.

“Aaliyah, will you cover your ears until the tea is out?” I asked, knowing she’d hear us from half a block away with ease. “I’ll give you the last of my chocolates if you don’t listen to us for the next couple minutes.”

She grinned and nodded, looking every bit the adorable child she pretended to be. She might well be gouging out her own eardrums at the moment, though I didn’t sense anything of the sort. A deal was struck though, so she would adhere to it.

“I really don’t see how covering her ears will stop her from hearing us.” stated James.

I sighed and explained, “Due to her condition, she is quite capable of turning off her hearing. We made a deal some time ago that she’d do so for me whenever she covered her ears. Now please explain what happened to frighten you.”

I was well aware of some type of machinery inside her, but the entire form was a ruse. The machinery seemed nonsensical at best and changed periodically.

James looked embarrassed as he said, “I saw Death’s daughter when I looked in one of the mirrors. She killed someone outside, and I just started shaking. I couldn’t help it.”

What was she playing at!? Was she purposefully messing with us, or was there a bigger game afoot? I had no doubt she could seem to be in two places at once to James. Aaliyah was the fastest being known to me by an incredible margin.

Trying to console James, I said, “Don’t feel bad. You’ll meet few who aren’t traumatized by the sight of her.” Then I inquired “Sorry, but I have to ask, were you holding Aaliyah the whole time?”

“No. I grabbed Aaliyah the moment I managed to look away.” he told me.

I smirked and tried my best not to laugh. I was relieved that James hadn’t gone completely crazy from the sight of her and amused that he was trying to protect the very being who terrified him.

“Sorry. Truly. I’m terribly sorry.” I insisted, unable to explain to him why I was having difficulty containing my mirth.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, looking as if he might laugh now.

I started laughing, unable to keep the mirth inside any longer. He was completely adorable.

“I can’t help it. You’ve seen some of what she can do, yet you were trying to protect her of all people? James, I am sorry for laughing, but you’re ridiculous!” I explained, trying not to laugh anymore.

He was laughing too hard to reply, possibly realizing how absurd the situation was to some degree.

“Would you do the same for me if I would have been the one close at hand?” I asked after he calmed down some.

He shrugged and said, “I’d probably hide behind you, honestly.”

“Somewhat more sensible, but a bit less chivalrous, don’t you think?” I replied, not that I was disappointed in his response. The idea of having him pull me protectively to his chest was simply at the forefront of my thoughts.

Grabbing my hand, he said, “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you either.”

I smiled as I gazed up at him. His sincerity and kindness were admirable, even if they led him to rash judgements at times. James was undeniably a splendid person.

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 181

I nearly dropped my fork halfway to my mouth when I noticed a light out of my sister’s eyes. Hovering over James’ plate with a slice of his bacon bigger than her held aloft by tiny little hands was an actual, luminescent fairy. I quickly looked to verify with my own eyes as well.

“Man-slave! A fairy! A fairy is eating your bacon!” exclaimed Emma.

Luckily, the little creature ignored her.

“Is that some sort of magic?” asked Brandon.

“She’s so cute!” exclaimed Brenna right over him.

“I thought all of the fey were dead. She is one, isn’t she?” questioned Jarod at the same time.

Possibly to himself over the fuss, Marco said, “I’ll have to figure out what she likes to eat and order doll-sized dishes.”

:This is really happening.: stated my sister and I at once, still disbelieving what we were seeing.

:I’ll text Lady Pendreigh.: agreed Mai, understanding my thoughts on the matter.

If this really was what we thought it was, we were all in danger.

James raised his hands for silence, staring all of us down until the loudest noise was the fairy fighting with the bacon. I was impressed by how much she was eating and how quickly she was eating it.

“She lives in the woods on my estate and followed me home.” he announced.

“You are a man of many surprises, James.” replied nii-san in his thick Japanese accent.

If not for Lady Pendreigh, we would worry what he would tell mother about this discovery, but mother wouldn’t dare encroach as long as Lady Pendreigh was here.

As the little fairy wrestled a sausage, James smiled and said, “I don’t think you’ll have to try too hard to find something she’ll eat, Marco.”

Smiling and nodding, Marco seemed to agree.

“After my leg heals a bit more, would you allow me to stroll through your woods and see if there are any more like her, James?” inquired nii-san. “This is quite the discovery.”

James looked hesitant as he said, “Give me a few days to think on it. Oh. Wait. Weren’t you leaving after the auction?”

“Due to my injury, and now this discovery, I feel a need to extend my trip, as long as you don’t mind me taking advantage of your hospitality a while longer.” he replied.

“Oh. Of course. Stay as long as you like.” insisted James.

“James, don’t move.” ordered Lady Pendreigh the instant she arrived. She was staring intently at the fairy.

:Seems we were right…: mumbled Mai.

I was just as distracted as she was, having watched as the fairy glanced at Lady Pendreigh before diving into James’ shirt, still holding what remained of the sausage.

“She really does find you scary, doesn’t she.” commented James as he smirked at Lady Pendreigh.

He might as well have struck her with the brief moment of distress that showed on her face.

Then her emotions washed away, and she said, “Funny, considering she’s one of the most dangerous creatures my family ever encountered. She could kill most of you before I could react.”

Before she was finished speaking, my jaw dropped. Images were flooding through our minds. In them, we saw Lady Pendreigh wreathed in fire and pointing at James’ food. As the little fairy hid, Lady Pendreigh swept up the last piece of bacon, devouring it as she smiled down at the little creature. We continued watching as the image went through other possible ways that Lady Pendreigh might take the food away.

:That’s amazing!: exclaimed Mai.

:I know… Why didn’t we think to take James’ bacon in such a manner!: I teased, despite being equally awed at the fairy’s telepathic abilities.

“Apparently, she believes you’re here to steal her food.” explained Emma.

Nii-san and Lady pendreigh looked confused, so we told them “She has telepathy!”

The fairy’s thoughts suddenly changed, picturing James angrily waving his finger at Lady Pendreigh. Outside of her thoughts, she flew out of the pocket and up to Lady Pendreigh in a most defiant manner. Then she dove back down at James’ plate.

“Charming, but she’s dangerous, James. We need to find a place where she’ll be safe away from people.” stated Lady Pendreigh.

“She has a place. She lives in my forest.” insisted James, staring her down.

“But she… the forest. How many are there?” she asked, closing her eyes. “I always wondered why there wasn’t so much as a bird there. Who did this? How?” She was quiet for a moment, casting numerous spells, when suddenly she winced before sitting down. She rubbed her temple as she said, “I can’t advise anyone to study the enchantment around the forest. There are defenses I’ve never seen before.”

Mai and I glanced at one another. The forest was off limits, so we avoided it. We never considered what might be in it. The idea that there was an enchantment there beyond Lady Pendreigh was frightening. Who could have made such a thing?

The fairy suddenly darted off into the hall with another of the sausages, and we wondered what startled it. A moment later, we saw the fairy fluttering around Aaliyah as she entered the room.

“Marco, could I get another plate?” asked James.

“Me too!” exclaimed the diminutive girl, wearing her secretary glasses and munching on the stolen sausage. She finished chewing and then asked, “What?” Pointing the sausage at the fairy, she said, “She offered.”

The little fairy ignored the sausage pointed at her, already eating other things.

“Busy day today, everyone!” announced Aaliyah, crawling onto James’ lap. “Boss-man, sir, you’re going to be late for training if you don’t hurry. Alpy? What’s wrong?”

“Hmm? Nothing. James, will you let Ai and Mai handle training everyone today and take me into the woods?” inquired Lady Pendreigh.

We sighed, having intended to spend the morning with Jarod and nii-san.

“Why? What do you want to do?” asked James.

“I suppose we can make time, but as your tenant agreement states, you’ll have to sign a visitation form to enter the forest and be escorted by the boss-man.” muttered Aaliyah as she looked at James’ phone.

“Emma, will you join us as well?” offered Lady Pendreigh.

“Of course!” exclaimed Emma, grinning at her.

We could guess that Lady Pendreigh wanted Emma’s company because of the exceptionally strong fey blood running through her veins, but we still felt put out by being given work and left behind.

“I’m sure most of you want to see them after meeting this little one.” stated James as he motioned to the fairy. “I’ll see how we can manage after gauging how the fey react with these two.”

Jarod was obviously feeling disappointed as well, but at least he might join us. He obviously had much he could teach in the martial arts lessons.

Everyone finished their food quietly while watching Lady Pendreigh creating balls of light and sending them toward the fairy. Residual energy poured off the little creature as she caught the lights and sent them back. The entire time, images danced in our heads, showing us different ways to maneuver the light. There was a questioning tone to it.

“What’s her name?” asked Emma.

James paused with his fork halfway to his mouth as he said, “Apparently, they don’t use names.”

“You’ve gotta name her.” insisted Brenna. “We can’t just call her ‘fairy’ all the time.”

Smirking, Brandon said, “Unless that’s her name.”

Brenna hit him, but he kept grinning. We agreed with Brenna that a name was appropriate.

“We could name her ‘Lucia’.” suggested Mai.

Nodding, I said, “Or perhaps ‘Lucita’, since she’s so small.”

“I like ‘Glimmerwing’, because she glimmers and has wings.” offered Emma.

“Could just call her ‘Laser’, since that’s how she’ll kill you.” stated Lady Pendreigh, though she was still smiling at the fairy.

“That’s horrible! You can’t name a girl that.” protested Brenna.

Looking intrigued, Jarod asked “Can she really create lasers?”

“According to what I’ve read, which is admittedly one account, these little ones created ‘beams of divine light which burned through scores of men’. The author is credible though.” replied Lady Pendreigh.

Jarod was grinning instantly, probably considering wacky ways to make use of such magic.

:Wacky, but brilliant.: admitted Mai.

We could never argue against his brilliance. He really was remarkable.

“You can’t tame them or reason with them. There’s no trusting fey. They feel, and they react. If you’re going to give her a name and admire her like a pet, you should realize that she’ll probably outwit you and destroy you in a moment of anger. Though I feel my family went too far when they attempted genocide against these creatures, I’m not going to tell you I approve of keeping them in the house either.” explained Lady Pendreigh.

Despite her warning, the rest of us continued debating on what the best name would be, at least until the plates were taken away. Then we demanded everyone, at least those who were coming, to get to practice. If we were ordered to act as instructors, we wouldn’t let Lady Pendreigh down.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 180

I wasn’t accustomed to the master sleeping away from the house. I couldn’t monitor his vital signs very easily as he slept in the forest. I couldn’t guard him against possible threats. I knew the Princess had been with him, but she left before he woke. The most I could possibly do for him was attempt to rouse him through his cell phone. I couldn’t even send one of the others to fetch him, since that would be a violation of contract for most. Emma could come, but would she ever leave again if she came here? I wasn’t certain. No matter the case, I doubted the master would want her to be wandering around alone here, despite the great power which she possessed. The forest was, after all, home to the fey.

I was aware when the master awoke by the difference in his breathing. Then there was the crinkling sound of paper, though I had no idea from where he would have received paper in the woods.

There was the sound of a kiss, and the phone rose, probably from the master standing. I doubted he would be holding his phone aloft, expecting the fey to bow before it. The idea did amuse me enough for a few simulations on what that might be like.

As the phone moved through the forest, I followed the its position, knowing the master was still in possession of it by his breathing, though I had no idea why he was heading in that direction. I realized he had fallen at one point, but there was nothing I could do to help him. His slowed movement worried me, but he didn’t ask for help immediately. After a time, he finally spoke.

“Home.” he stated.

“Of course, master!” I replied. “Breakfast is being prepared for you as we speak, so please don’t delay. Marco hates serving a meal that’s sat for too long.”

I displayed a large blue arrow on the device, so he could easily know which direction to go. I never would have guessed that the master was lost in his own backyard. Shouldn’t the fey have shown him the way? Maybe he didn’t know how to ask them. Nonetheless, he was coming home now, so I informed him of the day’s schedule.

,,,^._.^,,,

When I decided to return home, I left the boss-man a note explaining how I couldn’t miss my daddy’s pancakes and asking the boss-man to tell our friends “goodbye” from me. I even left a P.S. on the back, knowing he wouldn’t notice until after thinking I was being as tricksy as the hobbitses. The P.S. did, of course, baffle him further, making him wonder at the brilliance of my mind.

Mila’s worries over James were perfectly adorable. She longed to protect him but didn’t know what the best approach would be any better than my fey friend knew how best to seduce him. The fey was being as forward as ever, making James quite nervous as he tried to gently force her away. Had she used her full strength, he wouldn’t stand a chance. Luckily for him, our little fairy friend intervened, creating a flash of light while chewing out our amorous friend.

Another of the fey started examining James’ pants. They had a vague understanding of clothing, tending to remove and discard them when people were “trapped” in them. As James attempted to communicate with our friends, I also watched the distant past where auntie first learned of the fey’s tendencies toward clothing. She was most adorable in her stern rejection of their aid, keeping her clothes from moving through use of her magic.

James learned how disheartening his absence would be for our fey friends as he tried to explain that he needed to leave but would return to visit. They were creatures of the moment, so his explanation was a bit confusing to them. He would improve greatly over time. In the future, James conveyed more complex ideas to our friends without the slightest difficulty. He was far older there, casual ruler of a vast empire that stretched across the stars. I loved watching him grow.

In the present, James’ wandering mind let him learn of how fey saw familial bonds, though he didn’t fully understand it yet. There were too many nuances for him to catch for now. Then he got to see Emma and learn of how the fey would watch when she came to play. His embarrassment at seeing her skinny dipping in the pond through their vision was sooo cute. Most boys his age would have held onto the image with all they had, but James pushed the thought out of his head as he did too many things. He didn’t feel himself ready yet to think on such things, even forgetting his own dreams quickly.

James attempted to instruct our little fairy friend to guide him through the forest, but she grew distracted far too quickly by her desire to play. She wanted to show him every part of her home and share the joys she knew.

When he stumbled, the fey were all confused. Tripping was entirely unnatural for them, and they didn’t know what James was doing. Had he simply asked for help, his little bruise could’ve been healed in under half the time, but he wouldn’t have wanted to be there that long.

I was already smelling Marco’s cooking and even enjoying the tastes of the meal. My daddy’s pancakes were made with love and perfectly reasonable skill for a human, but his best day as a chef couldn’t compete with Marco’s worst back when Marco was only ten. Marco was a prodigy in the kitchen with a true love for food that helped him surpass the works of others by leaps and bounds. Now that he had a home, he knew a happiness that he hadn’t known he was missing.

James did that to people often. His magic affected emotions greatly, helping others to feel what he felt. Unfortunately for those others, his anger seeped into them as something distinctly foreign and terrifying in its presence. No one gave furious speeches quite like my boss-man, and no one who heard one wanted to do so again. I could do worse, but that wasn’t my shtick.

Finally realizing that our little friend wasn’t being entirely helpful, James asked Mila for help. She gladly showed him the way, wanting to pick up his presence on all of her sensors.

James underestimated our little friend as he made his way toward the house. He thought he had sent her away, but she wouldn’t leave him if she could help it. The fey were intensely emotional about everything and could seem to forget those emotions in the blink of an eye if distracted. The full intensity of the emotions would return with a reminder and be lost just as swiftly again. Our little friend was as bright as she was tiny, capable of focusing on more than even the average fey, and James never would leave her thoughts.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 179

“When you say ‘tenants’, do you mean these creatures actually pay rent?” asked James.

The master was on the edge of the forest. Just a few steps, and I would be unable to detect him. I didn’t understand the nature of the field around that place, but there was something which blocked me. Would his phone work in there?

“The fey? Not in money, but they do tend the forest for you.” she replied.

:Fey still survive?: I asked.

:You’ve seen them.: she replied.

:I have them labeled as ‘unclassified life forms’, given the variety of creatures I’ve caught lurking at the edge of the forest. The one disappears from all sensors at whim.: I explained.

:Wow! That’s amazing!: she exclaimed.

:You say they’re tenants, but I don’t have any record of them as tenants.: I told her.

:Oh! You’re looking through the house records. The forest records aren’t in the same place.: she replied.

:Oh? Where are they then?: I asked.

:You know that storage area forty feet north of the ballroom’s first sublevel? In there.: she replied, sending me a marker on the mansion’s layout.

:Princess, that section is filled with paper files that you had said I don’t need to worry about.: I stated, trying to express my distress in my tone.

:Why would you have to worry?: she inquired.

:Having incomplete data might cause me to err and inconvenience the master!: I exclaimed, knowing my concerns to be perfectly legitimate.

:Hmm… Maybe you should start scanning those then. They’re pretty old and might keep better digitally.: she admitted, sounding as if she were actually needing to consider the idea.

I sighed and said, :You already have them scanned, don’t you.:

:I do!? That’s awesome! I guess I could share that with you then!: she told me, sending the files.

:I still don’t understand why you kept these from me.: I stated. The most unusual part of the paperwork was that the tenant agreements all spoke of ‘service to the land’ as the sole means of payment, but even that was considered in Emma’s agreement once she became the official groundskeeper. :You didn’t want me speaking to the master about the fey, did you. Why not just inform me not to speak with him about them then?:

:Good question. I’ll have to think about it.: she told me.

:Do the fey actually count as one species?: I asked.

A massive file was uploaded onto my drive, containing an extraordinarily detailed analysis of their genetics. I started perusing the data as the Princess and James stepped into the forest. I didn’t like that my sensors weren’t penetrating the forest. James’ phone, however, was still working perfectly fine. I could hear their footsteps as well as those of others. I resisted the urge to ask the Master to pull out his phone. Inconveniencing him simply to satisfy my own curiosity was wrong.

“Are the fey dangerous?” asked James.

The Princess seemed amused as she said, “That would depend how you want to define ‘dangerous’, boss-man, sir. If someone were to attack your land, they would learn how dangerous fey can be. If you don’t harm them, they won’t intentionally harm you.”

“Alma seemed to harm the land a bit with her fire. Do they only guard the forest?” he asked.

“They can feel her magic and recognize her as one of their own, albeit a scary one.” explained the Princess.

The master then asked “If the fey can’t talk, how do you know all of this?”

“I’m the daughter of a linguist, boss-man, sir. Communication is easy for me.” she cheerfully replied. “That being said, most people can communicate with the fey easily. Very easily, in fact. You’re just blocking them out.”

Blocking them?

“What? How?” he asked.

The silence seemed to stretch as I yearned to hear the reply.

“She’s been sitting there, pouting, for months.” stated the Princess. “They’re really emotional creatures.”

That was no answer. Was she not going to explain?

“How do I communicate with them?” asked the master just before I asked her myself.

“You tend to block everything out, ignoring the world as best as you can. You need to stop. The habit of yours has guided your magic to block out certain types of communication.” she told him, still not answering the question clearly.

I could guess what she meant though, but I found the idea discouraging.

“Are you saying the fey are telepathic?” he asked as if voicing my thought.

“Not as most people think of it, but yes.” she answered. “Just relax, boss-man, sir, and pay attention to this girl. She wants to know you. They all do.”

How was I going to communicate with telepathic creatures? Well, ones that didn’t communicate verbally at all. The twins did seem telepathic. I had no organic brain for them to read. At least, I was fairly certain my mind wasn’t organic in any part. I didn’t actually have full specs for my systems yet.

“Hello.” stated James as if he too were troubled by this revelation.

There was silence, save for the breathing of numerous creatures including the master and Princess. Was he managing to communicate? I wondered at what these strange creatures might say.

“Stop fighting, boss-man, sir. Just relax. The flickering images in your head aren’t your own.” stated the Princess.

Flickering images? I easily could manage a poor video stream, struggling to unveil a movie. Was that what he was experiencing? Data streams were more intimate for me than for humans. I was far more aware of what was happening at any given moment, though I couldn’t claim a greater knowledge of their functionality than all humans. Jarod was quite remarkable.

“Ouch!” exclaimed the Master.

“Wrong sort of meditating, boss-man, sir. Don’t look inward. Look out.” commanded the Princess.

I wished so much that I could see what was happening. How had he been injured? What were they seeing?

The Princess explained :I pinched him to get his attention.:

An image stream suddenly became available, and I found myself watching the master, surrounded by creatures. The clarity was incredible. There was so much to follow. The master suddenly looked disturbed as if he didn’t like what was happening.

“That one does like you a bit much I suppose.” stated the Princess.

“You… you saw that too?” he asked.

I realized I was seeing through the Princess’ own eyes as the image jerked. She was nodding. From the vantage point when she looked up at the master, I guessed that she was sitting on his lap.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. She’s just like that. Ever since she snuck into the house during the ghost hunt, she’s been crazy about you.” she explained.

I recognized the one to which she referred. She had been barely more than a sensor blip during the event, but I had detected her around the edge of the forest on multiple occasions. She was one that frequently visited the pond outside of the forest as well.

“How do you make sense of all that?” asked James. “I felt so overwhelmed.”

“You’ll be able to handle it much better with a bit of practice.” the Princess assured him.

“Well, I’m glad the fey aren’t so overly affected by my magic.” he stated.

“Actually, they are.” she replied.

“What!?” he asked, looking quite startled.

“There-there, boss-man, sir. They don’t get emotionally overwhelmed, and they’ll always give you space when I’m around.” she assured him.

“Why do they give you space?” he asked.

“The fey see me differently than you do, boss-man, sir.” she teased.

He stared at her for a while as if considering something. Then he asked “Why did they all gather here on my land?”

“They’ve been here for as many years as the ghost stories surrounding this place, boss-man, sir. They stay here because they’re safe in these woods. You literally have an enchanted forest in your backyard. Pretty cool, huh!?” she exclaimed.

After some more consideration, he asked “Does Alma know about this?”

“You’d be surprised what that girl can miss, boss-man, sir. Someone a bit more clever even than her placed the enchantment here. No offense, but you could search for years and never notice it even now that you know about it, boss-man, sir.” she informed him.

“Good thing I have a secretary far more clever than me. How did you find out about it?” he inquired.

I heard the sound of a yawn, and her eyes shut for a moment.

Then she said, “I know who placed the enchantment.”

“Any chance you’ll introduce me to this person some day? I could obviously learn a thing or two from someone capable of this.” he declared.

The image was starting to fade. Was she falling asleep? Well, pretending to fall asleep would be a more accurate assessment. Even when the Princess appeared to be asleep, her mind was racing far beyond anything I could process. As the data stream ended, I wondered at how much I still had to learn.