Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 196

James seemed tense lately, and I wasn’t completely sure why. My best guess involved Alma being mad over James taking Portentia on a date, though most of what Portentia had told me didn’t seem too date-like, at least not for normal people.

Smiled and hugging whichever of the twins was next to me, I couldn’t say anyone around here was particularly normal. My girlfriends practically shared their brains, Portentia seemed immortal, and Alma made the first three seem very human. I really, really wished I could take Ai and Mai to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce, but their family wouldn’t permit it. At least, that’s what I gathered from their excuses.

Portentia’s description of the restaurant’s latest outlandish decor was incredible. How did they manage to make an enormous beach inside of a restaurant? I understood the technology involved in generating waves and creating a breeze, but making the walls seem endless was quite a feat. I could probably pull it off reasonably well for a single person with the right equipment and software, but getting the perspective right for multiple pairs of eyes was trickier.

I also didn’t understand how the restaurant could afford to have such an elaborate setup per group of patrons. Portentia hadn’t seen anyone else in the restaurant, so the room had to be subdivided in some manner. Even if the floor could open to allow for a realistic ocean swim, how did James and Portentia never reach a wall?

“James, are you coming to see me off?” asked Duncan, bringing me out of my thoughts.

Smiling, James said, “Of course. I’d feel remiss as a host if I did not. I only wish I could have been more successful in protecting you from your sisters during your stay.”

“If you learn that trick, I would be grateful for you to share.” replied Duncan with a laugh.

“I’d appreciate learning that one as well.” I teased, earning me an elbow to the gut from the girl under my arm.

I would actually miss having Duncan around. Having him here really helped me learn more of Ai and Mai’s family and traditions. Plus, I was able to see a different side of them. I was a little concerned over Duncan’s joy of visiting the fey, not that anyone wouldn’t enjoy seeing the creatures. I simply worried that Duncan was studying them more than simply playing. As much as I grew to enjoy his company, I still couldn’t entirely trust him.

“Be sure to give mother-dear our gifts, nii-san.” ordered the girl I hugged.

“We’d hate a repeat of two years ago.” insisted the other.

Duncan grimaced as he said, “That was two years ago, and I’ve told you that someone had moved the gift!”

I was careful not to roll my eyes. Ai and Mai had probably set him up. They did seem to care about their brother, but he was often on the receiving end of their pranks. We all followed as James and Alma led the way outside, but Ai and Mai continued poking fun at Duncan.

“Must she come too?” asked Alma.

“You know she doesn’t really listen to me.” explained James as he watched the little fairy land on his shoulder.

“I know, but I still feel you should work to fix the situation. She’s no less dangerous now than she was when I first warned against letting her off the grounds. Aaliyah is quite obviously capable of helping you if you simply ask.” she suggested.

I sometimes worried that Alma was going to break James’ hand on accident one of these days. She was far too strong for anyone’s good.

Shrugging, James said, “I don’t doubt that she’s capable, but she seems amused by the situation. Have you ever attempted to convince Aaliyah to end something that amuses her?”

“Perhaps you do have a point. Still, you could at least try to act like her boss for once and assign her a task.” she insisted.

James laughed before saying, “Sorry, but I really doubt her contract with me actually gives me any sort of authority. Care to look over it sometime? I’d take at least a year to read through the thing even if I had the time.”

Alma didn’t argue further, and I wondered again about the relationship between her and Aaliyah. I considered Alma’s temper legendary, but Aaliyah felt no qualms about teasing her mercilessly. What did Aaliyah have over her that somehow kept Alma from losing her cool?

The drive to the airport remained as chatty as ever, though Duncan just had to bring up the forest and the fey. He was borderline obsessed with them. Again, I couldn’t blame him. The creatures were remarkable, and knowing that one was Emma’s ancestor was fascinating for me. Their genetics could hold the key to magic itself, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with Duncan’s immediate family being the ones to discover that key anymore than I would be with Alma doing the same. There were too many hidden agendas that had nothing to do with the betterment of humanity.

I was amused when we entered the airport. The limousine received some looks, but our group received even more. James always received attention, and Alma’s inhuman presence was guaranteed to cause a stir. That was inevitable, but I was used to being James’ shadow more than in the spotlight with him. Having Ai and Mai each holding an arm did draw attention. They were intelligent, funny, and incredibly beautiful, so they always drew people’s eyes. Duncan surely caught the eye of plenty himself. When not speaking with Alma, he had an air of importance about him, and he looked wealthy with all of his fine suits. I’d wager most girls found him attractive. Frowning, I realized that I probably would have to order more suits for myself to satisfy the twins.

After a great many well-wishings and goodbyes, Duncan departed, and I wondered if I’d see him again before marrying into the family. Unfortunately, that would rely on his mother’s mood. Between Duncan and his sisters, I learned much of what dealing with Izumi would be like. She was an unbending, overbearing woman with a cutthroat take on business. I hoped the twins wouldn’t want to visit her much in the future.

“Would any of you protest a trip to the theme park?” inquired Alma as we walked to the car. When no one spoke up, she said, “Excellent. Let’s have some fun.”

Ai and Mai seemed as confused by the sudden request as I was, falling to silence as we followed Alma and James. I really wished I could join in on the telepathic conversation they surely were having. Even with their ability limited to each other, it was incredible. Feeling what the other one felt wouldn’t always be so pleasant though.

Once we were in the car, Alma asked “Why are you so tense, James?”

“Oh boy. You’re not remembering that time Michael lost his lunch, are you?” I teased.

He laughed and said, “No. I had blissfully forgotten all about that. Thanks so much for reminding me.”

“Were you next to him?” asked the girl on my left with a big grin.

“No, thankfully.” he replied with a shake of his head. “I did find him some new clothes though.”

Laughing, I said, “Yeah. James couldn’t get out of there fast enough after being stuck for five minutes in a cart with three girls from some other school.”

James rolled his eyes, still smiling, but the smile didn’t seem quite real. Something was eating at him, and I wished we were alone for him to tell me what. All I could do was hope that he was worrying over something silly again. If something serious was bothering James, we’d all be involved soon.

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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 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 174

“You really don’t need to go out. I will gladly cover the lost income if that will dissuade you. Duncan seems to be enjoying your company immensely.” I offered, hoping James would give up this “job”.

I was certain that he was perfectly ignorant of this “anonymous” patron’s identity, but taking such a job with a guest in his house was not necessary. There was surely no need for James to even take jobs personally anymore. His business was clearly doing plenty well.

“I’ve already imposed upon your good will plenty, and Duncan will surely be awake when I return home, seeing as your family doesn’t sleep much.” he replied.

I shook my head in frustration as I turned to walk back inside. I felt tempted to tell him that he’d be spending his day with Maxine, but I couldn’t risk fumbling over some obscure clause in one of our contracts that would lead to some sort of penalty. Aaliyah’s contracts were intolerable. However, there was simply no choice but to abide by them.

I took a deep breath and tried forcing myself to calm. My temperature was still rising. I needed distraction to quell my magic. I hurried to see what Ai, Mai, and Duncan were doing.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Nii-san’s touring the yard with Emma.” I stated.

“We did warn you of his interest in her.” asserted Ai.

“She’ll turn him down, so I don’t really see how that’s a problem.” insisted Jarod.

“Even if she accepted, there wouldn’t be a problem.” snapped Lady Pendreigh.

Her mood soured the moment she heard about James’ secretive job this morning. He was probably the only person who didn’t guess his client immediately.

:The soulless didn’t, at least not Brandon. There’s no way he did.: insisted Ai.

:True.: I replied.

Brandon actually wasn’t completely incapable at most things, but he wasn’t very observant.

:Or tactful.: added Ai.

:Or courteous.: I thought.

As the list went on in our heads, we wondered again at why James kept Brandon employed as a “best friend”. He was more suited to be a bouncer at a disreputable club.

“What’s eating you?” asked Jarod.

“Whatever do you mean?” replied Lady Pendreigh.

“I mean that we’re here if you want to talk, so you might as well try if you’re wanting company.” he told her.

Ai quickly covered Jarod’s mouth with her hand.

“Please excuse Jarod, Lady Pendreigh. He doesn’t mean to be rude.” I insisted.

She brushed off our comments with a wave of her hand before hurrying off somewhere.

“Come on, you know she wanted to talk about something.” claimed Jarod.

“No, she really doesn’t.” I told him.

“She’s jealous that James is going on a date with Maxine, but admitting as much is beyond her.” explained Ai.

“Must you encourage her to be ridiculous?” questioned Jarod.

“We really have tried talking with her about relationships before.” I admitted.

Then Ai said, “She’s already considered everything we have and a hundred things we haven’t.”

“Yes, she overthinks things often. That’s not always helpful. The idea is to help her come to terms with how she feels.” he argued.

“No, she needs to stop feeling. You saw her face…” I told him.

“Yes, she seemed irritated.” he replied.

I took his face in my hands, gazed into his eyes, and said, “If she doesn’t calm down, someone or something could be destroyed. You haven’t seen the power she possesses. She could level the city if she ever lost her temper, probably far more than a city.”

“Well, I have seen some of what she can do.” he mumbled as he furrowed his brows.

We sighed as we answered questions as he became more and more analytical about ways she could use that sort of heat. The mood was completely ruined.

,,,^._.^,,,

I caused a tree to grow from the ground into the shape of a crutch as I asked “Are you sure you don’t want something to help? You’ve barely had time to recover.” Duncan’s limp was still quite pronounced, but I wasn’t going to offer him my shoulder no matter how he might smile.

“No. Thank you.” replied Duncan in his heavy accent.

“I can do canes as well.” I told him as I changed the shape of the crutch into several different canes in quick succession. I knew he could easily keep up with the shifting shapes. He had dodged the first time I caused a fruit to grow near him.

“The detail in your creations is extraordinary.” he commented. “Do you take commissions?”

“I’ve thought about it but no. I’m often too attached to let them go if I put much effort into them.” I explained. I was stressing out bad. Mai had warned me about her brother’s interest in me. At least, she said she was Mai. Might have been Ai. Either way, I wasn’t going to Japan. I heard enough about Izumi to never want to meet her, even if her son was cute. He really was, but I wasn’t interested in him. Mom would be horrified if she found out someone of his position was interested in me, and even she might be put in a bind if I offended him somehow.

“My sisters have informed me that you can work with any sort of plant matter. There are a large number of flowers unique to Japan. I would be happy to show them to you if you ever visit.” he told me.

I named off a few before telling him that I was familiar with them.

“Sorry. I am not so well-versed in scientific names as to recognize any by what you call them.” he replied.

Oops.

“I get carried away.” I admitted.

We walked in silence for a few steps before I pointed ahead and said, “In front of us is the labyrinth. At the center are a number of beautiful statues and a large pond that we occasionally use for swimming when not indulging ourselves in your sisters’ pools.”

“Do you tend to this forest as well?” he asked. “The growth seems extraordinary in a city.”

“No, actually. No one goes in there.” I told him.

“We could take a peek.” he suggested.

I quickly said, “I wouldn’t. The forest is off-limits according to Aaliyah. You wouldn’t want to upset James.”

He bowed and apologized. I’d never get used to it. Ai and Mai were so different than their brother. Ugh. I wished I could just turn him down and escape back to the others, but I worked for James now and didn’t want to make a bad impression either. This was so frustrating!

,,,^._.^,,,

I smiled to myself upon seeing the limousine park nearby. James was here. By tonight, he would be mine. He was incredibly handsome, but he didn’t seem surprised to see me. I was supposed to be an anonymous client, but the idea that he knew and still came thrilled me in its own way.

“A pleasure seeing you again, Maxine.” he told me, nodding to me.

People often forgot when someone near them was blind. Then they’d become overly concerned upon remembering. Ever since I developed technology to obliterate my handicap, I learned a great deal about how to make use of these tendencies to throw people off-guard.

“James, you never called. When I realized what your job entailed, I could see why. You must stay terribly busy. I hope you don’t mind me clearing us a date this way.” I told him.

“When I first started my business, I would’ve been taken aback by the idea, but i can’t say this is the first time anymore.” he confessed.

I frowned, wanting him to realize he shouldn’t say as much. Then I told him “Well, this will be the first time with me,s o you might as well forget the others. You and Lady Pendreigh aren’t exclusive, are you?”

His look of surprise was so plain upon his face that I wondered if he even knew how to be guarded about such things.

“We’re not actually dating.” he assured me.

“Oh? I heard rumors, but I was hoping you had better taste.” I teased.

Lady Pendreigh’s position and power would be most advantageous, but I doubted anyone could make use of her without becoming her pawn.

“Care to show me to the car?” I asked, holding out my arm.

He took my arm and guided me over to the limousine, gently helping me inside. I still didn’t understand my feelings toward James. I had only met him the once, but I could tell right away that he was something special. He looked far better without the elaborate makeup he had worn at the convention.

“I’m a bit parched. Mind pouring me some water?” I asked.

He was quick to respond… attentive.

“So where would you like to go first?” he asked.

“There happens to be a branch of my favorite restaurant in town. Have you ever been to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce?” she asked.

He nodded at first, but then he quickly said, “Yes, actually. You have good taste.”

I was well aware he held significant shares in the restaurant, having looked into his holdings thoroughly. How he managed to get those shares was the more important question. They typically weren’t for sale. If I could persuade James to use his influence, I might be able to study some of the technology the restaurant used.

Along the way, I spoke to James of the city and my joy at different parts of it, comparing and contrasting with my own. He occasionally responded, but I feared the choice of topic wasn’t to his liking. He didn’t inquire into my home no matter what bait I threw. What should I try next?