My sisters were completely disrespectful, dragging me out to all manner of places and treating this Jarod as if he were worthy of our company. I never had imagined that they’d fall so far as to openly display affection for a human. Mother was not going to be pleased.
I glanced at Jarod, disgusted by how he showed tiredness on his face after a mere night of frivolity. He couldn’t keep up with them, and I would never approve of my sisters dating beneath themselves, even if he could make them smile.
He also proved quite skilled at dancing and had a talent for languages. I wished I could get a close look at his engine design to see if his work actually did deserve the merit its price suggested.
James’ work, odd as it was, earned the respect of Lady Pendreigh. When I left my home, I was still surprised that she would move to this country, even temporarily, but meeting James showed me a man of great worth. He was obviously well-bred but made his own fortune, enough to have such a garish home. The computer, Mila, was astounding. My family’s companies couldn’t match her software, and I could only imagine the processing power behind such a machine. Mother would be most interested. My sisters told us far too little.
I followed them into the gymnasium at the front of the wing they rented from James. He was there, already making his employees train despite the early hour. They all seemed most capable, showing good form as they followed his instruction. Noticing us, he approached.
“James, nii-san was curious how soon you’d be awake, since he was interested in sampling one of Marco’s breakfasts.” stated one of my sisters.
I still grew irritated that they never bothered letting me know which was which. Despite mother’s intentions, I knew the connection between them made the two inseparable. Feeling everything the other did made any intimacy shared. There could be no secrets between them. They should show me respect enough to at least reveal to whom I was speaking when we did meet. If I asked, they might lie. They might tell the truth to throw me off as well. There was no way to tell. Yet James, they had revealed, knew some way.
“Mila told us you were in here, so we just had to come watch.” insisted the other one, smiling at him.
I might not have minded were they to gain James’ affections. He seemed a man of great principle.
James looked surprised as he said, “Oh. Sorry, Duncan, but we need to fit practice in right now. Brandon and Brenna” ― he gestured to the red-headed siblings ― “have work early today.
Nodding, I told him “I like that you teach your employees discipline. All four have excellent posture. Too bad that one doesn’t seem to participate.” I had looked over to Jarod as I spoke, appalled that he couldn’t even be bothered to train properly.
“Jarod actually has a different teacher. He’s quite…” started James.
I interrupted him, saying, “What? He can’t keep up with your class?”
James wasn’t even working on any advanced techniques in here at the moment.
“Jarod, get changed.” came a voice from behind me.
I shivered, knowing the sound. Aaliyah was here.
“Nii-san, I hope you packed something fit for an exercise.” teased one of my sisters as she lightly touched my arm.
“We wouldn’t want your clothes torn.” agreed the other.
Their glee troubled me.
“Well, this should be entertaining.” stated Lady Pendreigh, though no amusement showed on her face. No interest either. She seemed, as always, perfectly serene.
What would be entertaining though? I reasoned that they wanted me to fight Jarod, but how would that even be worth my time?
Then Lady Pendreigh said, “You just insulted Aaliyah’s sole student in front of her.”
Fear coursed through me. I knew what was beyond that innocent child’s face. I knew her true form and could never escape having seen it. I dropped to the ground, bowing in dogeza style, as I adamantly apologized and prayed for my life. She could take life at a whim, so disrespecting her was absolutely forbidden. Why hadn’t my sisters warned me?
“Rise and prepare. I will tell my student to go easy on you.” she replied when I was finished.
The child-like face and cheerful demeanor did nothing to ease my inner suffering. Lady Pendreigh would not have even raised an eyebrow if had I been slain in front of her, too great was my mistake.
As I dressed, I tried to ease my tension. I was alive and possibly forgiven. I could not argue with Aaliyah, but I felt insulted by her words. No human was a match for me in any sense. In my veins ran the blood of the great ones, a strength which has protected humanity for millennia.
I hurried back, easily beating Jarod. I watched James training his students, unwilling to risk a glance at her. My sisters were blessed by their ignorance, all smiles and jokes. Had they known what I knew, they would run in horror from this place. How did James ever procure her help as a secretary? He might be even more dangerous than he seems.
When Jarod returned, James called his students to the side of the room, telling them to watch. Jarod and I stepped to the center, facing one another. He looked completely calm. I never noticed his eyes before. There was an intensity to him, an inner fire I had missed. Still, I would end this quickly.
I punched at his chest, intending to shatter his ribs. He flowed around my first like he was made of water, slamming his fist into my throat. I found myself falling to the ground, gasping for air. How could a human hit with such strength!? I took far longer to rise than I intended, but my breathing was off. I felt bruised.
When I rose, he was still standing there, completely calm. I attacked faster to match my opponent’s speed. I had underestimated him, but now I tested him. I faked hit after hit, trying to find his weakness. I couldn’t. His skill was very impressive. When he kicked at my head, I found my opening, so I kicked at his knee.
Jarod jumped into the air, kicking me solidly in the head. I needed more caution. Time passed in a continuous stream of near hits as both of us danced around the other. I wasn’t sure how much time has passed when I realized he was mocking me. He hadn’t been trying to attack yet, just toying with me.
In my rage, I attacked in full haste. He anticipated my attack, slamming his palm precisely across my knee. Through my rage, I felt the pain as my kneecap slid out of place. I dropped instantly, screaming out in defeat. The fight was over. I had lost.
As nii-san clutched his leg, Jarod calmly bowed and walked away. James was quick to go after him, probably worrying over something silly again. Lady Pendreigh, my sister, and I hurried over to nii-san.
“Nii-san, did you get a boo-boo?” I asked.
“Want us to kiss it better?” teased Mai.
“Out of the way, girls. Your brother needs aid.” ordered Lady Pendreigh.
“Hai!” we exclaimed, stepping to the side.
“Isn’t that a bit harsh?” asked Emma.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Nii-san needs a little teasing.” insisted Mai.
“I have to agree with Alma. That’s like when one of you went all crazy on my leg.” claimed Brandon. He grimaced as Lady Pendreigh repositioned nii-san’s knee.
“Oh, soulless… you were fixed in seconds.” I told him.
“Much to our despair.” teased Mai.
“Duncan will probably take a couple days, but he’ll be fine.” stated Lady Pendreigh as she stood.
:Our tips paid off!: exclaimed Mai.
:Jarod’s execution was incredible.: I insisted.
She didn’t argue. Nii-san’s pride would take longer to heal than his leg. He always did have a temper, and Jarod played it like a master musician.
“How did you find my student?” asked Aaliyah.
Nii-san grimaced before saying, “He is very formidable. Please forgive my misguided insult.”
“Nii-san, are you feeling okay?” asked Mai.
“Obviously not.” he replied.
“Oh. I knew you couldn’t really mean to say something nice about Jarod.” I told him.
“No, I did mean what I said.” he insisted.
“If you’re crippled for life, do we get all of your stuff?” I teased.
He laughed and said, “You two should show some sympathy for your brother. I’m injured!”
:James is back without Jarod.: pouted Mai, watching him come toward us.
“Sorry for getting a little excited there.” apologized nii-san. “It’s embarrassing to have so much trouble with a human. I’ll have to thank him later.”
“Thank him for what?” asked Jarod in shock.
“For saving him from me. Cheating is forbidden, especially when it puts someone so valuable at risk.” explained Lady Pendreigh.
Nii-san’s humor died as he nodded, ashamed of his transgression.
Aaliyah leaned close to him and giddily whispered “I didn’t appreciate you cheating either.”
Lady Pendreigh actually laughed.
My sister and I nearly laughed as well. Nii-san’s somber expression was priceless! He almost seemed scared. The assassin was certainly dangerous, but she wasn’t going to kill him without a contract. No one would be crazy enough to put a contract on him. Mother would call in every favor she could seeking revenge.
:She certainly doesn’t want us succeeding her.: teased Mai.
We didn’t really care, not anymore.
My sister and I pointed out “We did warn you, nii-san.”
“No one around her is normal, even the humans.” expounded Mai.
“James has a most interesting household.” I reiterated.
Nodding, Lady Pendreigh said, “So you can tell your mother one of the reasons I’m here.”
Nii-san attempted a smile, but he looked worried. He quickly turned to Brandon and asked “What can you do?”
Brandon smiled and caused his arms to grow in length and muscle mass, making him appear even more like the monkey he really was.
Not wanting to be shown up, Brenna changed her hair to black while tanning her skin.
“She thinks she’s only quasi-soulless.” I teased.
Nii-san then turned to Portentia and asked “And you?”
Shrugging, she told him “I’m invincible.”
Nii-san laughed, but we frowned, knowing she healed far too fast.
“That’s untested, but she does heal far more quickly than anyone else I’ve encountered. She also mastered the staff well enough to keep up with your sisters in a week.” stated Lady Pendreigh.
Our frown deepened. She didn’t have to tell him that much.
Nodding, nii-san told Portentia “Perhaps I can duel with you in a couple days after I’ve healed.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned to Emma and said, “I’ve heard remarkable things about you. I would love getting a tour of the gardens if you don’t mind.”
My sister and I sighed. Mother was probably wanting to steal Emma away. James wouldn’t have it if he were told.
“Umm.. sure. Okay.” replied Emma.
:Emma’s not stupid. She wouldn’t give up this to be mother’s tool.: stated Mai.
:She’d be more interested in us anyways. We’re more fun: I teased.
:Oh! Great idea! You can chase after Emma while I take Jarod.: replied Mai in an equally teasing tone.
If we swung that way, we might actually consider it. We did enjoy Emma’s company, just not like that.
James helped nii-san to his feet before saying, “If you’re still hungry, we usually eat in the kitchen, honestly, but we can eat in the dining hall if you’d prefer.”
“As the saying goes, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’.” replied nii-san.
We each took one of his arms to help him along, but he started speaking to us in Japanese, asking us to help him court Emma. The larger problem for us was that he claimed this was his own intent, not mother’s. We were certain mother would approve if Emma could be persuaded. Emma’s magic was potent and immensely useful, so mother would gladly claim her. We didn’t really believe Emma would be interested and had no idea how to let nii-san know. He was too enthusiastic about this. Hopefully, Lady Pendreigh could help.
I smiled, thinking of a story and saying, “I’ll never forget the time I chased a mugger into an elevator. He shot me five times after we fought a bit. The bullets passed through me and broke the controls behind me. You should have seen the look on his face when he realized that he was stuck in the elevator with me kicking his ass! I knocked him out, busted the hatch open, and left him there while I took the belongings back to the victim and called the cops. I heard that the cops were totally confused when they got to the scene, since my blood kinda splattered all over from the bullets, but the victim was able to identify his mugger who got sentenced to seven years!”
“I imagine those poor officers were on the search for a dead body still quite some time later.” stated Alma.
Nodding, James then said, “I would hardly count that as a typical reason for an elevator to fail. I doubt they’re shot too often.”
“Well, most of my experiences weren’t quite that interesting.” I assured him before relating to him a number of the other times. Most of what I experienced ended in talking with whomever was stuck with me. “However, there was this one time when I had to help give birth, not something I ever expected to be doing. There was just me and this pregnant lady, Mary, stuck together, and her water broke.”
“Did you panic?” asked James.
“Nah. I was nervous, but I’ve been in my share of rough situations. We managed. I went with her to the hospital after we were out, and the baby was in good health. We got really lucky, honestly.” I assured him.
Alma looked dubious.
“We did! I felt a little bad after though. She wanted contact information to thank me later, but I didn’t have any. She probably thought I was lying.” I admitted. “Anyways, there was also this time with a guy who had claustrophobia. We were stuck in there for a long time, but I got him through it.”
“How?” asked James.
“Just talking. I kept assuring him that we were safe. Got him thinking about a beach he went to on a vacation when he was younger. It was rough going, but we did manage.” I insisted. “That wasn’t nearly as bad as this other time when a bunch of high school boys had squeezed in with me on an elevator. There were far too many of them for me to have a clue what was being said, but several of them were hitting on me the entire time. Even worse, a number of them kept ‘accidentally’ bumping into me. I did not take kindly to being felt up, so I got a bit violent. They worked really hard at squeezing away from me afterward. I really hate guys acting like that.”
“I can imagine. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with things like that.” claimed James. He looked completely earnest.
I shrugged and said, “A superhero has to deal with all sorts of unusual situations.”
“The police must have a room filled with your DNA samples by now though. Don’t you ever worry about cleaning up?” he asked.
I was about to try explaining why I didn’t, but Alma started talking.
She said, “I couldn’t get a viable sample from her hair, skin, or blood, so I can’t imagine that being a problem for her.”
James turned to her, but I could see he wasn’t talking in the mirror, just looking at her.
“What?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
He looked like he was thinking hard about what to say.
“Oh, please. Portentia doesn’t even know what she is, so I made an attempt to check.” stated Alma before James could find the words he wanted.
I didn’t really want these two going at it, so I quickly took hold of his arm and told him “I don’t mind, James. Really.”
“Did you give her your consent?” he asked, staring down at me. He was so tall.
I shrugged and said, “No, but had Alma been able to get a DNA sample from me, I would need to start being more careful about that sort of thing, so she was, in a way, helping me.”
“I gather that you were already aware that your cells are exceedingly odd.” stated Alma, looking irritable.
“Well, yeah. A number of doctors have tried doing tests on me before. A couple weren’t very friendly about it, but all of them said my cells are weird in one way or another.” I replied.
“That is the understatement of the year.” she snapped. Looking to James, she asked “How much do you know of genetics, James?”
“Well, about as much as you’d expect from high school biology.” he told her.
She sighed and said, “You really need to read more. Simply put, Portentia’s cells look as if someone made an extremely crude model of a human cell. There’s no way for them to receive any sustenance by normal means. They’re dead, meaning you’re letting something akin to a zombie hug your arm.”
Zombie? Nah. I was perfectly alive.
“Wait. So you’re saying she’s a zombie?” asked James.
Alma shook her head and said, “No. I clearly said ‘akin to a zombie’ if you’d pay more attention. She’s obviously distracting you. Zombies can’t heal like her, and they’re not nearly so unlucky.”
Unlucky!? There were few things I liked being called less.
“Pardon, but are you saying that zombies are real?” he asked.
“Yes, James. There are ways to animate flesh with magic, but practitioners of such disgusting arts are fortunately rare.” she explained.
Seeing her glance at me, I said, “I’m not that unlucky.”
“Yes, you are. Getting stuck in as many elevators as you’ve claimed is highly improbable. I’d have called you a liar had I not witnessed your misfortune for the past couple days.” she boldly asserted.
I let go of James’ arms and resisted the urge to punch her. A superhero couldn’t give in to violent impulses. Instead, I said, “I admit that my life has been harder than most in a number of ways, but there’s no reason to blame my luck. There are many bad people in this world that cause misfortune to others. If I manage to rid this world of its villains, you’ll see far less people being ‘unlucky’. Besides, I met James. How much luckier could I be?”
Why did people try blaming the many terrible things that happened on bad luck so often? I hated it, especially coming from her. She could do so much, but she just stood by, letting bad things happen to others. I wasn’t the cause of those bad things. I was the one who fought to set things right.
Alma rolled her eyes as she said, “You two are completely oblivious, aren’t you. Since we’ve arrived, Aaliyah has gone out of her way time and time again to subtly help people. I’ve never seen her bump into anything by accident, but she maneuvered at least twenty people yesterday alone while pretending to stumble in one way or another. She saved several from falling objects, one man from being impaled, and another from getting his hand smashed between a trolley and a display. I stopped the strangest case of accidental magic I’ve seen to date just this morning. As James, at least, should be aware, residual energy, when left alone, floats about until it reaches a state of equilibrium. Over the course of the night, drifting energy from Ai and Mai’s water buffoonery nearly formed an explosive spell which could have destroyed the entire suite. The odds of such precise patterns being formed on accident are ridiculously poor.”
James touched my shoulder. He was staring down at me. He said, “I think Alma has a point. Aaliyah has been up to something.”
I felt betrayed. “How can you take her side?” I demanded. “Little girls trip all the time!”
He shook his head and told me “Aaliyah can dance acrobatically on a curved footboard that’s not even two inches wide while playing music on her violin that’d make angels weep from its beauty. She doesn’t trip. Get to know her better, and you’ll believe me. I promise. I can’t, however, agree that you’re definitely the cause of these mishaps, since nothing has happened at home during your stay.”
The sense of betrayal was still there, but lessened. James was a wonderful guy. He wasn’t blaming me like she was, and he was right; things rarely went poorly in his home. Life there this past week was incredibly peaceful.
“I do have reason to believe Portentia’s the cause, James.” claimed Alma.
I glared at her.
“Oh? What?” he asked.
“I’m not going to say. You’ll figure it out if you keep her in your employ.” she told him.
Ha! She just wanted to blame things on me. Luckily, she dropped the subject. I knew I couldn’t really do anything to her, but the temptation to try stuck with me through the next half hour as we all stood mostly in silence.
There were the usual apologies when we were finally freed, but getting a discount on the rooms was well worth the trouble. I told my companions as much as we made our way to the booths. We weren’t even late. Fortunate, I’d say.
Aaliyah hopped up onto the counter, waving vigorously at us. She started explaining what we missed. I did have to admit that most little girls couldn’t have jumped like her. I turned toward Brenna when I felt her hand on my shoulder.
“What’s bothering you?” she asked.
Brenna was a great girl. I wasn’t into fashion like she was, but she was really nice. Thoughtful. I wanted to be her friend.
Aaliyah slipped! I dove to catch her, grabbing her out of the air and rolling to land on my back. As I looked up, I caught sight of the halberd slamming into the counter and breaking apart. I quickly covered the tiny girl in my cape to protect her from the debris. Brenna had stepped back and was safe.
What? I had been standing there. That halberd would have slammed into me. What if my costume had been torn? I stared at the tiny girl hugging my chest and grinning at me. She winked.
No way. This was a coincidence, wasn’t it? Aaliyah had just slipped. Alma couldn’t be right. Something else was at work here.
James had helped the halberd’s owner back onto his feet. The armor of the man’s cosplay came apart as he was walking, causing him to trip. Aaliyah helped ease his mind, giving him a sticker of his character and posing with him for a picture. The others around us seemed to appreciate my group’s good humor about the accident. This would probably be good for public perception of us.
As James and I worked a shift together, Aaliyah took to the stage, dancing and singing. I found myself watching her every chance I got. She really was acrobatic. Going by the crowd, her singing was probably great too. Everyone seemed really moved by the performance. What if I really was affecting things just by being here?
I smiled as I looked at myself in the mirror. Callan’s armor suited me well, and I looked forward to James’ opinion, not that he’d probably notice. I knew I didn’t stand a chance with him, not with how he looked at Alma, but I still liked the occasional compliment from someone other than my brother. I frowned, thinking I should probably make sure Brandon figured out his costume, not that there was much to it. He had interrupted my lessons over and over this week to ask my opinion how he looked as a girl. Only my brother would play a female character, decide to dress up as her, and still panic over how he looked.
I smiled again when I turned around and saw Portentia trying to catch herself in the mirror again. Prying her away from it had been tricky. She was beautiful, but I doubted she saw anything but that costume. Even I had to admit she looked like a hero in it, at least more so than she did walking around in a hoodie. When I met her and saw her in that dress she wore for James’ party, I thought Alma might have some competition, but Portentia didn’t even seem to care how she looked most days, it was obvious. I stepped out of her way, but Emma squeezed in front of her.
Emma pulled off her character, Toxi, well, but she always looked cute. I wasn’t into her style, but I couldn’t deny that she pulled it off. Months living together, and I still wasn’t used to the way she’d occasionally look at me. I did enjoy her company. Emma was never against watching movies with me, discussing makeup, or any of the other things I couldn’t do well with the others. I did watch movies with the others, but always “boy movies”. Emma was up for watching things with more depth.
“Onward!” called Aaliyah from by the door. She looked precisely like her character, but that was to be expected when she designed her character to look like her. Resisting the urge to pick her up and hug her was a constant chore, but she never cared when I gave into impulse. I just knew I couldn’t do that to her all the time. Despite her looks, she was twelve. I hated when Brandon would treat me as a little kid at that age when he was only two years older than me.
Following Aaliyah out into the hall, I sighed. My brother looked ready to run.
“You are Brandon.” stated James in a loud whisper.
“This is weird, isn’t it. I should go change. Forget you saw this, okay?” he asked.
“Oh no you don’t, buster!” I yelled at him.
I grabbed him by the arm and said, “You’ve been practicing for days! You can’t just duck out now.”
“So you knew he could do this?” asked James.
“I am his sister, you know. It’s not like a guy can hide this sort of thing. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’d catch him at in high school.” I informed him.
Brandon quickly covered my mouth. In a rush, he said, “Brenna likes to exaggerate. I was just curious one day, and well… things happen. If you could change your shape to some extent, you’d try things too. Besides, you’ve gotta admit I can make one incredible rack!”
I knew that was his hand, but things still felt a little strange with his breasts pressing into my back. He was usually taller and all muscle. I might be able to take him in a fight right now. He couldn’t be that used to his current body.
I shoved his hand away and told him “Yeah-yeah. Convince yourself of whatever you like, but I’m just being honest. At any rate, you’re not chickening out now. You’re the one who wanted to play as a girl.”
I could totally take him right now, till he cheated. I knew he’d cheat if I tried.
“So Aaliyah’s forcing you to dress as your character?” asked James in disbelief.
“Of course not, boss-man, sir. I gave him two different costumes, so he could choose.” explained Aaliyah.
I rolled my eyes as Emma started checking out Brandon. No matter how he looked, she had to know that was still my doofus brother’s brain in there.
Giggling, she asked “So umm… are you able to change all your parts?”
James quickly covered Brandon’s mouth with his hand and said, “Some things are best left unknown.”
Emma giggled harder at how obviously embarrassed James was by the question. He was too cute.
When James released him, Brandon loudly whispered “I’ll tell you later!”
Great. My brother might try hitting on Emma as a girl now.
“We gotta get moving, people! It’s makeup time! Then we’ve gotta get your wigs on, and some of you need new ears!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she pulled out a large box from her backpack.
I found myself watching carefully as Aaliyah did makeup. The girl knew tricks I never had seen before. She was good. She might as well have been a professional makeup artist with how dramatically she could change a person’s face.
For me, she just held up a mirror and told me what to adjust. I often wore makeup despite being able to change my looks without. Going without made me nervous, because there was always a chance of something going wrong. A girl whose makeup never runs gets attention I didn’t want, but I wasn’t going to argue with Aaliyah. I didn’t doubt James would listen if Aaliyah thought I needed to be sacked, and I loved my job.
When Aaliyah was finished with us all, we looked incredible, as if all of us had stepped directly out of the game and into the room. The girl was absolutely amazing. We all followed her out to the elevator.
Speaking to my brother, James asked “Wait a sec. What are we calling you during the convention?”
Brandon pulled up his badge and showed it to James.
“‘Elf Hottie’. I should have known.” stated James.
When we reached the ground floor, Alma and the twins were waiting outside of the elevator.
James blurted “Who’s watching our stuff?”
Alma patted his arm as she walked by him without saying a word, followed by the twins.
The rest of us went back out and started playing Ancient Tribes of Earth on the computers there. Aaliyah told us we needed to “test” them, and none of us had anything better to do. She was the boss this weekend, paying for everything. I still wondered at times how rich that little girl was already. She had to be loaded.
I couldn’t concentrate. Aaliyah had us doing vocal warmups as we played, and I couldn’t really pay attention to the game’s chat while singing. James, on the other hand, was perfect as ever.
“How do you do it?” I asked aloud.
“Do what?” he replied.
“Multitask so well. You didn’t seem to miss a note even while replying to people in the game.” I insisted.
“I dunno. It’s just something I’m decent at for the most part. I honestly am not always paying as much attention as I should to some things. Maybe that gives me more time for the others.” he suggested.
I laughed and said, “No, you’re definitely not always paying attention.” At least he knew it.
Alma, Ai, and Mai were already on their way back, coming up behind James.
“Well?” asked Alma.
James spun around, and even from behind him I could tell she had his attention. She was every inch Eseld now. Seconds of silence ticked away as he stared.
“Most people would be kind enough to at least give a compliment. Is something off?” she asked.
I couldn’t tell if she was actually worried or not. Reading Alma was impossible.
One of the twins patted her shoulder and said, “The outfit is perfect, Lady Pendreigh.”
Then the other said, “James is just horrible at giving compliments.”
“Well, I think you all look beautiful. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Ai and Mai were dressed as twins!” exclaimed Jarod.
The second twin made a face at Jarod as the other rushed him.
“Just don’t ruin your costumes!” exclaimed Aaliyah as the two fought.
This was going to be one crazy weekend.
I didn’t patrol as long as I could have last night, despite having help. I discovered a phone in my bag last night with the words “Property of Best Friend For Hire” clearly engraved on the back, and Mila would chat with me whenever I pulled the phone out. Having her to help navigate made learning the streets much easier. I didn’t usually even have a map.
I learned a great deal from Mila, but before the sun was even rising, I found myself roaming the halls of my new home. I already felt attached to the people here, which worried me greatly. Something always happened to force me to move. My entire childhood with Mama Vera was spent moving.
There were buildings that became condemned shortly after we had unpacked. Several times a fire claimed our home. Mama Vera was hospitalized once by a freak explosion due to multiple faulty safety devices in a natural gas oven, and the apartment was no longer livable afterward. Luckily, she had survived.
Something about Somerset Estates made it seem permanent. The enormous home looked brand new from everything I had seen, but it had the presence of something that had been there for quite some time. Perhaps the wings were part of what made the building seem older. I hadn’t even heard of a modern building have wings before.
Of course, James was probably a large cause for my feelings about this place. He had warned me about some nifty magic of his, making everyone like him. As a superhero, such an ability would be extremely useful. I could see him talking down villains that would normally never surrender, and he’d be able to calm scared citizens with far more ease than I could. Being kind, thoughtful, and exceptionally handsome helped too.
A nearby mirror lit up and Mila appeared on it. “Breakfast will be ready soon. I understand that you don’t need to eat, but the social aspect is every bit as enjoyable as the food from what I’ve seen.” she told me, signing as she spoke.
<Thank you.> I signed before walking toward the kitchen.
Alma was already seated with Ai and Mai when I arrived.
“Good morning.” she told me as she signed.
The twins smiled at me, but there was a eerie viciousness to their eyes.
“Sorry. Mila suggested I should join everyone for breakfast.” I explained.
Alma motioned toward the chef, who was waving at me.
Seeing that he had my attention, he said, “I’m Marco. Always glad to see a new face. You are going to love this. I promise.” Then he smiled and winked.
The difference between his smile and that of Ai and Mai was as great as night and day. He seemed incredibly friendly where the twins seemed openly villainous. James kept very interesting company.
Others gathered before too long. Jarod and Emma were the next to arrive, with Jarod being first by a small margin. Then there was Brandon and his sister, Brenna. The atmosphere seemed far more relaxed with those four present. After introductions, they shared some stories about jobs they had done here. Brenna suggested that I could do modeling with her easily, but I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea. Emma seemed to agree with Brenna, but I could more easily picture her modeling than me.
Where Brenna was often quiet, Emma was talkative and very animated. She asked me if I ever thought about dying my hair and told me about how she could never stick with a color for too long. Even her outfit was vibrant, though I didn’t know why she was wearing spandex.
I remembered seeing them both dancing with James last night. Emma was the more graceful of two, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Brenna had lessons at some point. Both of them made dancing look so easy. I wanted to get better as well. Dancing with James was incredible.
Honestly though, I doubted I’d make the time unless James offered me lessons. I had a job to do, and I was quite confident there would be plenty of work here. Every city had crime, but I heard rumors of this place having more than its fair share. That’s what drew me here. I’d be able to help people.
Most of us had eaten more than our fair shares by the time James arrived. He must have been very tired to have slept so long. I often wondered what feeling tired was like. Day after day, I saw people yawn and grow listless. They’d go to bed and have dreams while I was vigilant as ever.
I caught dreams being portrayed on television several times, not that I often had opportunity to watch something all the way through. Dreams seemed interesting, like getting to live another life each night. Mama Vera had told me that time moved differently in dreams, and days could be felt in those short hours.
I didn’t exactly envy people their sleep and their dreams, but I was curious. For unknown reasons, I was different, and that difference kept me apart from others in many ways. I was stronger and faster than most I met, and even the ones who could keep up with me for a while wore down eventually. I couldn’t be just a normal person, so I became a hero.
James, barely having woken up, looked happy to see me. He saw me fight, saw me bleed, and wanted me to be here, even promising not to get in the way of my work. I still felt there was a dreamlike quality to him, but his abnormality seemed to make him more a part of society.
Everything changed once James was seated with us. Instead of random conversations all around me, everything gravitated to James, not that I could keep up with them all any more easily.
“I’m really looking forward to my first lesson today.” I told him as he checked his phone.
He looked up, staring into my eyes, and then smiled at me. “I’ll try to keep things entertaining.” he assured me.
He kept looking toward Alma, and I wondered what she was saying when I wasn’t looking. Eyes in the back of my head would have been so useful, but I was thankful for the advantages I did have.
Before James was even done eating, he told Marco to stick his plate in the fridge. Marco protested but did as instructed. Then we all made our way to a gym that was apparently in Ai and Mai’s wing.
James told me that I would be sparring with Brandon and explained where I needed to hit Brandon to score “points”. Apparently, we’d be done after I had enough. I admitted to never playing at fighting before, but James insisted that practice would only make me a better hero. When we were told to start, I let Brandon have it, trying not to hurt him too bad.
I was surprised when Brandon’s body physically altered. His muscles bulged, and I needed to hit him harder to move him at all. He was far too slow to keep up, though he did seem to guess a few of my attacks.
James waved to get my attention and I moved back, smiling when he declared me the winner.
“Without the points, I think Brandon and I would be here all night.” I told James. Then I turned to Brandon and said, “You really can take a blow!”
I missed one of the twins talking, but James explained that she wanted a turn. I didn’t mind taking a villain down.
I moved to punch her in the gut and end this quickly, but she moved around my arm and threw me! I stood and attacked her faster, but found myself on the ground. Again and again, I attacked, but she threw me each time, barely even moving.
Admitting to myself that I wasn’t making any headway, I stopped and asked “What are you? I’ve never seen anything but old vampires keep up with me.”
Alma caught my attention as she signed and said, “You are quite swift, but there are plenty who are swifter. If you want to get the most out of lessons from James, you’ll have to do your best to hold back. Moving more quickly than your opponent is wonderful in an actual fight, but you will better utilize your time if you work toward honing your skills in these walls. I suggest for you to try mimicking the speed of your opponents much like you move more slowly when walking and talking.”
“You wouldn’t believe how hard that is.” I told her, not wanting to be lectured by someone who couldn’t know.
She suddenly blurred, and I felt a tap of my shoulder. I spun so fast I tripped over my own feet, falling backward and staring up at Alma. She was far too fast. I never had seen anything like her before.
“Wouldn’t I?” she asked, passively looking down at me.
“Really. What are you?” I asked.
“Perhaps if we become friends one day, I might explain. Until then, you have a great deal to learn.” she replied.
I accepted Alma’s hand and was taken aback by the strength of it. She was tiny, but her grip was unyielding. I never would have expected her speed. The self control she and the twins possessed was amazing to me, never even hinting that they were anything more than graceful humans by their motions.
Emma turned out to be stronger than I would have expected, but not intimidatingly strong like Alma. I did my best to stay at her pace as she started explaining the basics of the fighting done here. I would learn this. I couldn’t let Ai or Mai toss me around if I was going to continue being a superhero. James was right, this could help me.
“Mila, will you take over driving and bring up all you can on Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V?” asked James after driving in silence for a while.
Articles covered the windshield in an instant, and Mila began reading one aloud. I wasn’t pleased by what I was seeing. What the twins had told me of “Alpy” ― when they were still calling her that ― made her sound incredibly skilled. What I was seeing showed her to be very, very connected as well.
Alma was seen with the Queen of England on numerous occasions. She also met with the heads of various other countries. The fact that I wasn’t seeing anything remotely negative in any of the articles was very disturbing. Someone this influential would have cameras on her whenever she was out, but I didn’t see any mishaps, misunderstandings, or misadventures. Of course, Mila was showing articles from very popular sources. I’d have to do my own digging as well.
James didn’t even seem to be paying attention anymore, staring out the window instead of reading. Was he even listening to Mila? I couldn’t imagine him yielding to prudence right now. He still looked angry with how rigidly he sat. What would happen if Alma decided Best Friend For Hire needed to go? All of our hopes would rest with little Aaliyah. She was smiling at me when I glanced back at her. Yes, I did imagine she would keep up quite well. Unfortunately, even a genius like her might have difficulty given the difference in resource. On the other hand, I didn’t really know what resources Aaliyah had. She seemed to be able to procure anything.
“But yeah… James seems pretty much done with the twins.” whispered Brandon. He had been explaining to his sister what all went down, since she missed most of it after stepping outside Mila.
“Does that mean we’ll no longer be practicing magic?” asked Brenna.
Surprisingly, James noticed and turned toward her, saying, “Whatever their reasons for teaching me, being competent enough not to blow ourselves up makes sense, but I feel we should go beyond that still. Even though this threat wasn’t what we thought, there truly are werewolves, werelions, and countless other dangers out there. I want everyone in Best Friend For Hire to be able to defend themselves and our clients if the need arises. Aaliyah would probably pout if we let all her hard work in training programs go to waste.”
Aaliyah grinned at him, and I found myself smiling too. James could be incredibly inspirational with ease. Just hearing him talk made me feel a little better about our circumstances. Whatever was to come, James didn’t seem like he’d slip into a depression again. He didn’t speak again for the rest of the drive.
When the car stopped, I wasn’t ready to get out. Not really. Everyone outside of the car might be our enemies. My brother was worried, and that never boded well. He was usually so good at just taking things as they came and accepting situations despite how horrible they seemed.
James was barely out of the vehicle when he asked “What are you doing here?”
I looked up, but I couldn’t see with Aaliyah crawling over me.
“Alpy rents the west wing, boss-man, sir.” stated Aaliyah.
I didn’t want to look. I saw Alma all too well as she had approached the car before we left. My ego hadn’t even begun to heal. The girl looked completely flawless even after fighting four people. Sure, I could hide the blemishes in my skin with magic, but I didn’t think this Alma was even wearing makeup. I’d love to know how she dealt with split ends. Managing her hair would be beyond me. How could James ever look at me after seeing her?
“Wait. I thought that wing wasn’t finished yet.” admitted James.
“I moved in around the same time as the twins.” claimed Alma, her perfectly proper accent hitting my ego once again.
“So you’ve been living under my roof all this time and didn’t even bother saying anything to me?” demanded James, sounding ready to pick a fight.
Could he really hate her?
“Says the man who wouldn’t even give me a lift.” she retorted.
Still angry, he asked “Why would I help a girl who’s been playing with my life for months?”
“Do you really think I wanted to go without seeing you for months? I’ve been doing my best to help you prepare!” she exclaimed, sounding injured.
I almost felt sorry for her. I didn’t like seeing James angry, and the receiving end had to be even worse.
“Prepared? FOR WHAT!?” yelled James.
I winced and looked around. I was the last one in the car, so I forced myself to step out and look at her, only to quickly turn my head and go around the back of the car to my brother.
“Don’t be daft! Prepared to date me, of course.” she stated, sounding upset.
I felt physical pain as those words sunk into me like a dagger. She was planning to date him.
James told her “If someone is not good enough for you, leave them alone! Don’t go trying to change people at whim!”
I listlessly followed as Brandon pulled me along with him into the mansion. This wasn’t something any of us wanted to watch. James was angry, and that girl was devastating to behold. Part of me wanted to grab little Aaliyah and save her, but I couldn’t even save myself. I didn’t have any energy.
I was halfway to our rooms before I realized I was still holding onto my sister. I let go. She wasn’t the greatest at dealing with stress, so I knew she needed to get out of there. I was still having trouble wrapping my head around what happened tonight.
I didn’t know what to think, what to believe. This was all some elaborate training exercise, and none of the ones in on it thought informing the boss was the right move? Plus, the girl really was a killer. If she really killed those people to protect James, was it even wrong? Weren’t we there thinking to do the same sort of thing?
The girl was hot, really hot, but she was hot in a surreal way that made me wonder if she was actually there even as I stood nearby. Not really my type.
“How you dealing?” I asked as I walked. “Brenna?” I turned around to see that she hadn’t moved. Great. I walked over to her and tapped on her head as I asked “Anyone in there?”
She hit me in the gut, and I tried not to wince too hard. My sis really knew how to throw a punch anymore. Part of me was just happy that she moved.
“You okay?” I asked her.
She nodded and said, “I need sleep. I… I really don’t know how to take all this.”
“The great thing about being lackies is that we don’t have to think for ourselves. We just show up for work, collect our pay, and get on with our day.” I teased.
She rolled her eyes and said, “You know James would never think of us as lackies.”
I nodded and did my best to smile. “I know. I also know that he’ll figure things out. We need to try getting some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
“Huh? What’s happening?” she asked.
“No clue, but every day is a big day here, sis.” I claimed with a wink.
She shook her head but smiled. Things would work out somehow.
“Must you do that?” came a quiet voice over the speaker.
“Hugs are like cake. They’re necessary. They make you feel warm and loved, and they simply make the world a better place.” replied Aaliyah, perfectly giddy.
“Mila, drive us close to the building.” I ordered.
She got us turned around and took off quickly.
“By the building!?” asked Brandon. “Are you nuts?”
“This isn’t a good idea.” stated Brenna.
“Guys, do you hear any fighting?” I asked.
“You may rise, James. We are quite obviously done here for the day.” stated the girl whom I thought must be Alpy.
She had one of those British accents that made everything sound extremely proper.
There was silence for a time, but Mila had us close enough. Without another word, I grabbed my tablet, hopped out of the car, and headed toward the building, having to climb up some rubble to see. I positioned myself behind a pallet that was partly on the pile. I heard Brandon behind me, muttering about how stupid this was, but his sister was still back in the car when I looked.
“Are they dead?” asked James, speaking loudly enough to be heard plainly.
Ai, Mai, and Emma were floating toward James and the other two.
“Dude, what’s going on?” I asked through my tablet.
The British girl looked tiny next to James, though she was considerably larger than Aaliyah, whom she was holding. James didn’t reply.
“These two are my cousins, and Emma is the daughter of a valued employee. Why, precisely, would I wish them dead?” asked Alpy.
No. Alpy was Alma. That was the only explanation for what I was seeing. The British girl had to be Alpy with how Aaliyah was hugging her and how she had said the twins were her cousins. James would have no reason to be aggressive toward her if she wasn’t also Alma, the girl all of them had been fighting. This was messed up.
“We came here to kill you, and you seemed like you were trying to kill us as well.” stated James, confirming my belief.
Alma started laughing, and I was stunned at how out of place such a heartfelt, beautiful laugh sounded. What was with this girl?
Smiling, Alma said, “Oh, darling, that’s rich. This was simply a training exercise, so I might see how well my cousins have learned these past several months. They are awake, you know.”
My eyes darted over to the twins who were now moving. I felt a rush, like my heart just started beating again.
“Alpy!” exclaimed Ai and Mai as they hopped to the ground. They paused and curtsied before saying, “Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.”
“My dear cousins truly mean well, even if their manners need some polish. Speaking of which, won’t someone introduce me to the gawkers in the corner? I have been looking forward to meeting your employees, James.”
How did she spot us? James looked over to Brandon and me. He looked so pissed that I considered hiding. He motioned for us to come, so I did. There was no hiding now.
When I was only a dozen feet away, one of the twins leaned against me, saying, “Jarod Roland Davis, I would like to introduce you to my esteemed cousin, Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V, daughter of Duke Gruffydd Aiden Pendreigh.”
The other twin motioned to Brandon with a thumb over her shoulder, and said, “And this is one of the redheads, soulless of Somerset Estate. No clue what he did with his sister.”
I waved with my free hand, not knowing what else to do. The twin on me didn’t seem like she wanted to let go, and I was honestly just happy she was alive.
“A pleasure, truly. I’ve heard great things about you, Jarod, and I look forward to seeing more in person. Brandon, you and your sister are rare finds. I look forward to seeing what you can do in person.” stated Alma, looking regal save for the tiny girl squirming in her arms.
I couldn’t tell if Aaliyah was fighting for a comfortable position or just goofing off. Alma didn’t seem to know how to carry a child. Behind me, James had walked over to Emma, who was sitting up now.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Other than a pounding headache and a really sore spot, I’m fine. I see Alma’s in fine form.” she told him, nodding toward Alma at the end.
“You knew!?” yelled James, causing me to jump. “You really are working for her?”
Emma winced, suddenly looking even worse for wear as one of her hands gripped her head.
“All this time that I’ve been talking about hunting down Alma, you were working for her? Did you not listen to me when I told you about the people she killed?” demanded James.
“I killed Georgina Martin. I killed those girls at the dance you attended. I’ve killed countless people for you ever since I arrived.” admitted Alma as she stepped toward James.
For him? What? I had never seen James angry like this before. He looked on the verge of fighting her with how his hands were in fists. He looked… unhinged.
“For me? Why would I want any of those people dead? Georgina was a client of mine, a friend.” he yelled at her.
Alma calmly replied “They were going to kill you, James. Georgina was obviously hairy at the heel, but you carelessly let her drug you. She planned to sacrifice you in a spell to increase her power. The girls at the school were on the verge of killing off everyone at the dance. There have been many others who were out to kill you. You know the world is a dangerous place, yet you still stumble around looking for a right royal night out without considering what could happen.”
James seemed to go limp as Alma spoke. “I suppose you knew as well.” he asked, looking at Aaliyah.
“Boss-man, sir, every transaction Alma has made with Best Friend For Hire is written in the books. She’s hired you anonymously numerous times. Even tonight is being paid for at her expense as training. You’ve never turned her down.” she explained.
James nodded and reached his hand toward her, saying, “Let’s go home, princess.”
Alma let Aaliyah go, and the tiny girl quickly reached up to take James’ fingers ― her hand was too small to hold more. The twin on my arm let go and stepped up to Alma with her sister, looking concerned. I followed James. He needed a friend right now. Unsurprisingly, Brandon was coming with us. The girls did as well.
A few steps out from the building, James asked “Hey, Jarod, why didn’t you flee?”
I chuckled lightly as I thought of how ridiculous this whole situation was. One word from a girl too small to even hold James’ hand was all it took for me to turn back. “We started to but only got half a block before we heard Aaliyah, so we decided to pull up here instead.” I explained.
“You abandoned our bikes!?” exclaimed the twins.
Obviously. The car was in plain sight from here, while the bikes were a couple blocks away. I turned to reply and saw them wince. They weren’t looking at me though. They were looking at James. He was still so angry. If he slipped into another depression, I didn’t know what I would do.
“Well, we’ve been had, guys. I’m sorry. Alma is right about me needing to pay more attention. I’ll try to do better.” he stated.
Actually, I did know. I’d be there for him, even if I was helpless again.
“Hey, man, Aaliyah said we’re getting paid, and everyone needs a friend at times, right?” asked Brandon, attempting to be optimistic.
James looked at him but didn’t reply. I was worried. Partly, I was still in shock from what I had seen. The building was such a mess. What was Alma that James, Emma, and the twins couldn’t keep up with her?
When we got to the car, Brenna was standing outside of it, looking nervous. James opened the door for her, so she crawled back inside without a word.
Turning to Emma, he asked “Are you coming? I’m not going to leave you stranded while you’re staying in my house.”
“I’ll get a ride from Mai. Thank you though.” she told him.
She looked injured, not physically injured now but hurt by James’ glare. I couldn’t blame her. No one ever knew how to deal with James when he was angry. There were times when he had broken up fights at school where even the football players backed down without a word. There was something about James that made his anger tear into you unlike anyone else.
James picked Aaliyah up and handed her to Brenna, saying, “Make sure she stays buckled up.”
Brandon shrunk, making his clothes sag as he stepped into the back. A DB5 wasn’t really made for hauling very many people. I took the passenger seat and started worrying over how to talk James down. Should I even try yet?
“Aren’t you going to offer me a lift, James?” asked Alma.
“Sorry. Full car.” he replied as he walked over to the driver’s side. Then he stepped inside and took off fast enough to slam me into the seat.
“Well, he’s being perfectly unreasonable.” stated Alma after James had driven off. Then she was gone.
“What if he doesn’t forgive us?” I asked the space where Alma had been.
“We’ll move on.” stated one of the twins.
“Oh, please. I’ve seen how you look at Jarod.” I told them.
Ai and Mai stood there, staring at one another with the saddest expressions I had ever seen on them.
I grabbed an arm on each of them and said, “Let’s find your bikes.” Then I pulled them forward.
“We’ll have to follow Lady Pendreigh.” stated one of them.
“We don’t really have a choice in the matter.” claimed the other.
I wanted to tell them there was always a choice, but I knew better. These two were too deeply involved with Lady Pendreigh to ever escape.
“I’m out of a job.” I blurted, suddenly realizing it. “I knew this was coming but… Wow. I’m out of a job.”
I found myself sandwiched between the twins as they both hugged me.
“You’ll be fine.” claimed one.
The other said, “We can find you a new one if you want.”
Normally, I would love this position, but Ai and Mai sounded like they were on the verge of tears. Alma’s plan was a mess in the end, and all of us were in pieces. More than ever, I felt like our lives were swirling around James. He could bring us together or send us flying on whim. Luckily, he was a good person.
“That’s it. I’ve decided. We’re going to make things work out.” I declared.
“How?” they both asked.
“No clue.” I admitted.
“Great.” stated one of them.
“You’re a master schemer.” asserted the other.
“Oh, I am. First, we need ice cream and a movie. Then sleep. James is our friend. He’ll come around.” I assured them, hoping I was right. “We just need to remind him that we are friends.” This wasn’t going to be easy.
Lady Pendreigh stood and spun toward James. “I am happy to finally see you again, James. Sorry for the circumstances.” she told him.
“As am I.” he replied.
Our attack was flying at Lady Pendreigh with enough speed to cut the building’s supports. She noticed. A spell formed and turned our stream of water into steam. Heat was useless against Lady Pendreigh, but we hadn’t warned James. She didn’t want the game spoiled.
James created a flash of light in her eyes and kicked toward her head, but she easily sidestepped. Meanwhile, my sister and I shattered the windows as we brought our floating pond into the building. Right on queue, Emma’s plants rent the walls, tearing deep into the building.
We used spells to turn some of the water into ice and hurl it at Alma’s head while Emma’s vines attacked her legs. She didn’t even bother using magic as she gracefully dodged through our attacks.
:Ugh… this is so hopeless.: complained Ai.
:Well, this is mostly a show for James.: I replied.
Sighing inside, Ai said, :She’s a poor actress then, because she’s making this look too easy.:
:No arguments, but she’ll be impressed we dispelled her protections.: I assured her.
:True. I wonder if she’s noticed yet.: pondered Ai.
Seeing Lady Pendreigh throw a ball of fire at James, we sent our water crashing down toward her to buy him time. She vaporized a chunk of it and jumped at him, kicking at his head.
:His block was sloppy.: I commented.
Ai agreed. We were surprised Lady Pendreigh wasn’t going easier on him. Despite James’ ability to use magic, he was still human. Emma seemed to agree with us, attacking Lady Pendreigh violently with her plants as we pulled our water out of the way.
:I’m glad Emma never did that against us.: stated Ai.
We were more impressed by the onslaught than by Lady Pendreigh’s ability to block it. She was, after all, a Slayer’s daughter. We jumped down to engage her as well, trying to find some sort of weak point in her defenses. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one. She made fighting the four of us seem dull.
Apparently bored, Lady Pendreigh threw James backward with a blast of air. Ai and I dove for cover as fire started raining down on us while Lady Pendreigh leaped on top of a nearby pallet. Then we brought down a wall of water to block the fire while sending the majority of it straight at Alma.
She, of course, turned our attack to steam again, but we had to try. If she decided we weren’t trying, we’d be punished. Neither of us wanted to see what she’d do to us this time. Emma, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be holding back at all. Thick branches were battering down at Lady Pendreigh. She dove between them, but I had to jump to the side as the pallet she had been on flew toward me from the force of Emma’s branches. The girl was really dangerous. Unfortunately for her, she had gotten Lady Pendreigh’s attention. The walls of plants she grew weren’t enough to keep Lady pendreigh at bay.
“Emma!” exclaimed James as he threw fire at Lady Pendreigh.
My sister and I decided we better join Emma’s defense as well. Ai created spells similar to what Lady Pendreigh was using to cut through the plants she wasn’t burning, but aimed them at the Lady herself. She easily blocked them, but we felt the thought counted. James would appreciate our efforts even if Emma didn’t. I turned a large block of the water over Lady Pendreigh to ice and let it fall. James created a spell to boost its speed. At the same time, Emma wrapped vines around Lady Pendreigh’s legs.
:They do have some talent for this.: admitted Ai.
Lady Pendreigh threw the block at Ai with a spell, so my sister changed it back to water, allowing it to pass her and fly back into the air. I pulled more water down, shaping it as a fist to punch Lady Pendreigh, but she dodged, letting my spell crack the floor. Enjoying that I made her move, I continued my assault with Ai joining the effort.
James boxed Lady Pendreigh in with walls of fire as one of Ai’s fists descended at her, but she shifted the fire over her head, intensifying it enough to turn the fist to steam.
Lady Pendreigh’s voice boomed through the air, saying, “You need to be careful when playing with fire, James, and I see someone has been playing with my enchantments.”
The fire above her grew and grew, spreading into a large sheet that prevented any of our water from reaching her.
:So not fair.: I muttered.
“She can control fire like you control water!” exclaimed James.
:DUH!: we thought.
My sister grabbed my hand, and we brought our full power to bear, creating a vast vortex above us to suck in Lady Pendreigh’s flames. We boosted our effort with intense winds and spells to directly move the heat. Simultaneously we pushed as much heat as we could out of vortex, making it the most natural area for the heat to flow. Our efforts were working! The fires were flowing up!
If I wasn’t using my plants to suck up my sweat, I’d be dripping with it. Never had I fought so hard. Of course, I never had had opportunity to fight someone who outmatched me by so much. Alma was amazing. Seeing her in action reinforced the reason the Slayers became known as they did. Who could stand up to this?
After breaching the walls, I had used my plants to carry me into the building. Seeing as well as feeling was helpful in a fight. I was really impressed by the amount of magic Ai and Mai brought to bear, countering Alma’s fire. I tried taking advantage of the moment when I saw James telekinetically throw a pallet at Alma. I grew a tree behind it and used its branches to hurl the pallet with more force. At the same time, I sent vines around Alma’s feet.
Her strength was incredible. In one quick motion, she ripped through my vines, jumping into the air. She managed to angle her feet toward the pallet, kicking off it. I sent a branch tearing through the pallet to grab her, wrapping around her legs before she reached the ground, and then attempted to smash her into the floor.
She easily caught herself on the ground, flipping back to her feet as my branch became ash. I jumped as fire exploded out from the vortex above us, dispersing the water. Alma was suddenly in front of me, shoving straight through my protective plants. I screamed, and the world went dark.
:Looks like this show’s about over.: we stated together.
The room was too dry for us to do any tricks with water, and Emma was down. She wouldn’t be able to help us. Lady Pendreigh motioned for us to come, and we only hesitated for a moment. She’d be upset if we ran from her. We couldn’t hold back now.
From experience, we knew that we couldn’t hit hard enough to injure her just as our combined strength in magic was no match for her. This was a show. We needed to hold back initially, so James could feel useful. Now we needed to do all we could to help show Lady Pendreigh’s strength.
We attacked with spells and our bodies, trying to keep Lady Pendreigh between us to get some form of advantage. Even with her keeping to our speed, we couldn’t touch her. She anticipated our every attack as easily as she avoided or deflected it. Ai got sloppy, wanting to get this over, and Lady Pendreigh obliged.
My… head. Must… think… Ai?
“No…” I mumbled.
“GET US OUT OF HERE!” yelled Brandon.
“No. Not yet.” insisted Jarod.
My brother told him “She took out the twins, man. We’re screwed if we stick around here.”
I couldn’t believe we lost Ai, Mai, and Emma. We were going to lose James.
“Mila, get us out of here!” demanded Brandon.
“No.” stated Jarod in a whisper.
“We can’t help him, Jarod.” I told him, unable to hold back my tears.
James… was going to die. Was he dead already? The silence was unbearable.
“Jarod, if you can hear me, run.” stated James through the speaker.
“Do..” started Jarod, but something stuck in his throat. “Do it, Mila.”
The car lurched into motion.
“ALPY!!!” came a voice.
“STOP THE CAR!” yelled Jarod.
We stopped so suddenly, that the seat belt tore into me.
“Was that…” asked Brandon.
“Aaliyah.” stated Jarod. “Ai and Mai’s cousin is called ‘Alpy’, so things aren’t over.”
I didn’t think I could take any more.