I hugged my pillow, not wanting to move. James had been tense the last couple weeks after the catastrophe at that amusement park, and everyone felt it. I didn’t want to get up for a birthday full of tension. I wanted some fun. Brandon offered to take me out to some bars, since I was turning twenty-one, but that wouldn’t be till late.
“Mila, know what Marco’s fixing for breakfast?” I asked.
“No time for breakfast yet. The master’s waiting for you and your brother. Brandon’s nearly dressed.” she replied.
“James is waiting for me?” I asked, bolting upright and wondering what he had planned. I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach. Then I started worrying if something bad had happened.
“Don’t worry. Just get ready. The master is waiting!” insisted Mila.
I nodded and hurried to pick out an outfit. Then I carefully used a spell Ai and Mai had taught Emma and me on my hair, since there wasn’t really time for brushing it. Looking into the mirror, I smiled. I loved magic.
Pounding the door, Brandon called “Sis, you up yet? James wants to see us.”
“I’M COMING!” I yelled, marching over to the door.
He grinned at me when I opened the door, and I did my best to maintain my scowl. He didn’t need to be quite so happy. Twenty-three was just another year for him. At least, last year he had claimed twenty-two was just another year. I felt like that was so long ago now. This summer and fall had been incredible.
“The master’s in the front hall.” stated Mila.
“Race you there!” he exclaimed as he started running.
I chased after him even knowing I didn’t stand a chance. He’d never let me live it down if he beat me by too much, despite cheating. Anyone watching could see the difference in his legs through his jeans.
When we arrived, I was on the verge of sweating and quite thankful I knew a spell to clean myself. I would help Brandon too, but he didn’t care. James was looking handsome as ever as he smiled at us.
“I hope you two weren’t busy, but I wanted to show you something before you were out and about today.” he announced, walking toward the door.
Brandon glanced at me, and I shrugged before following. Two beautiful cars I didn’t recognize sat outside.
“The keys are in the ignition. Happy birthday.” he casually stated.
My mind went blank and then tried to comprehend what he just said.
“What!? Are you serious, dude!?” exclaimed Brandon before I could even fully grasp what was said.
“Of course. If there are any problems, please let Jarod know. He put them together and maintenance will be covered by the company, so no worries there. Mila’s fully integrated into both cars. I hope you like the colors. Aaliyah chose for me.” he explained.
“Hmm… do I want green or black?” asked Brandon with a grin.
“I-I… ugh…” I mumbled, having trouble believing this was happening.
“Fine with the green one, sis?” he asked, still grinning.
I nodded and started walking toward the car. I had never seen anything like it and didn’t recognize the logo. BHILL2 was on the green one’s license plate. What were these? The door opened for me when I was a few feet away.
“Welcome, Brenna, to your new car. We can complete the registration process as you drive.” announced Mila.
I didn’t recognize the material on the black and green seats as I touched them, but it was very soft. The whole dashboard looked extremely high-tech, glowing with a soft green trim. “Is there a manual?” I asked.
“Of course, though I can’t recommend it. The princess did her usual job of ensuring each detail was covered.” replied Mila. Then she said, “Would you like to accept a call from Brandon?”
His face appeared, smiling at me from the center of the windshield. “Hey, sis. Ready for a second race?” he asked.
I glanced at the speedometer and wondered if this thing really went over two-hundred. I grinned back at my brother, started the car, and took off.
“Whoa! Easy there! These things are brand new!” exclaimed Brandon as I reached the gate.
The acceleration was incredible, and the seats were so comfortable. Brandon hung up shortly into the drive, and Mila started asking a few questions. I felt like I was in a dream the whole time, hardly believing this car was mine. Our dad would never have believed this if he were still alive. I wasn’t sure how long we had been out when we pulled back through the gate and came up the drive.
James was still standing outside, waiting for us. Alma was there too now with laptops floating all around her. I hoped we hadn’t been out too long. I let my fingers trail along the side of my car as I walked toward them.
“Do you like your car?” asked James as if there could be a doubt.
I nodded and said, “That drives so much better than our wagon!”
“Yeah. I can’t wait to see how many tickets she gets driving like that.” teased Brandon from behind me. “Seriously, man. Thank you. You just saved me a bundle. I had been planning on getting something soon, so Brenna could have the wagon.”
I smiled at him. He had told me his plan. We both had enough money to get cars now, but both of us were following Aaliyah’s advice on savings and investments as well. Getting a car just kept getting put off.
“Even my brother has a good bone or two in his body, but yes, thank you, James!” I exclaimed.
James smiled and the world seemed brighter. “I’m glad you like them. What would you like to do next?” he inquired.
Glancing at Brandon, I asked “There’s more?”
James shrugged and said, “Well, today is both of your birthdays. I figured I’d spend the day with you two if you don’t mind.”
Brandon and I looked at each other in disbelief. James had taken the day off for us!?
“Want to go paintballing?” asked Brandon.
“Ugh. No. Let’s go shopping!” I told him.
He scrunched up his face and said, “You shop plenty. What about hitting a movie?”
“We could just watch one on the theater here. Maybe go out to eat?” I suggested.
“Boring. Marco’s a better cook anyway.” he insisted.
He was right. Nothing tasted the same after trying Marco’s cooking. I sure didn’t bother cooking anymore, unless Marco was teaching me.
We each tried several more ideas but got distracted by a car pulling up behind us. Aaliyah was here! Her father didn’t really look all that old, smiling and waving as he got out of the car. He was still handsome for sure. I was surprised when Aaliyah came up behind him, bumping into him with two large, wrapped boxes blocking her view.
“Hey! Happy birthday, you two. Aaliyah insisted on carrying your gifts.” he explained.
“Boss-man, sir! You already gave them the cars!?” she complained. “Shouldn’t presents come after the cake?”
“My mistake.” replied James. “I’ll remember to check my schedule first next time.”
“Well, I need to get going to catch my flight. Thanks for looking after my princess again.” stated Chad, patting Aaliyah’s head as he spoke. Then he leaned down and kissed the top of her head before walking toward his car.
Aaliyah quickly shoved the presents at James, ran after her dad, and latched onto his leg, hugging. He looked so happy as he bent down, hugged her, and spoke to her. I wished I could’ve had that type of relationship with either of my dads. I never really got to know the first one, and the second had an awkward transition phase.
As Chad pulled away, Brandon said, “I don’t know, boss. Sis and I aren’t really agreeing on much.”
“Neither of us really expected to have the day off.” I told him Mila had informed us both in our cars about today’s jobs being bogus.
“Don’t worry!” exclaimed Aaliyah, skipping back to us. “I’ve got you covered! We just have to be back by five, so we can get all of the prep for the Halloween party done on time.”
I looked from her to James, but he seemed confused.
“Halloween party?” asked Brandon.
“What Halloween party?” I questioned, looking back to Aaliyah.
“There’s an open house tonight at seven followed by a masquerade ball at ten. The invitations went out weeks ago.” explained Alma out of nowhere. She had been so silent this whole time, typing away on her phone with the laptops still hovering around her.
Walking up to James, Aaliyah stared up at him and asked “You didn’t forget, did you, boss-man, sir?”
“I might not have mentioned it to anyone due to circumstances and stuff.” he replied unconvincingly.
With a big sigh, she told him “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. I’m sure we’ll manage.” She then pulled a phone up from somewhere and said, “Mila, will you get everyone to the ballroom?”
Brandon looked at me and shrugged before following the others back into the house. This was one crazy day. I nearly jumped as I heard the cars start from behind us. I felt my pocket, but the keys were still there. Both cars started driving to the back of the house by themselves. Despite seeing James’ cars do that many times and being assured Mila was a great driver, I still wasn’t accustomed to it, especially not with knowing my car did that now.
Once gathered, Aaliyah started explaining everyone’s agendas. As she spoke, I was getting more and more excited. I really didn’t have high expectations for my birthday this year, but I probably should have. This day was already incredible.
“Whoa. What’s all that?” I asked, staring at the semis taking up part of James’ drive.
This day was insane! I still couldn’t believe sis and I had new cars. Sports cars, really. The things were tricked out in the most absurdly awesome way! Most of the day was spent going from place to place in the limo by Aaliyah’s agenda, and I felt like I was having the most intense birthday of my life. This day was making my twenty-first birthday seem tame, and Brenna hadn’t even taken her first drink yet!
“The yard decoration crew!” exclaimed Aaliyah. Then she pointed at the house and said, “The interior decorations should already be waiting inside. Much to do!”
I laughed. She was the best kid ever. Everyone headed inside and the decorating began. I was grateful that Jarod and I were working together when I took a look at the schematic for our assigned rooms. This whole place was being turned into a haunted mansion, and the explanations were typical Aaliyah, meaning virtually incomprehensible for more normal people. Brenna was working with Emma, so I figured they could figure things out with a bit of help from Mila. I didn’t know how we were going to finish in time till Alma came sweeping around the house. The moment she arrived in our fourth room, everything seemed to hop up into place perfectly. Her magic was still intimidating to me. The girl was scary. Incredibly beautiful, but scary.
We all split up to get dressed and I changed my bod a bit to fill out the caveman look better. Aaliyah had even provided me with a hollow, wooden club ― or maybe Emma had made it? Literally thousands of people came through the mansion as the night went on. I toured the haunted mansion once myself, and Mila got me good. She had control of all the sound effects, lights, and electric gizmos throughout it. Her timing was phenomenal on the jump scares.
I was careful around the security in the area, not wanting to make enemies with any of the local police James had hired, but I still got my drink on before joining in on the dancing out back. I wanted to keep an eye on my sis in case any of the guys she danced with got handsy. I was sure Mila would inform security, but that might take time. My worries only lasted until she smoothly flipped a guy onto the ground and kicked him in the stomach. I had to admit my little sis was much tougher than she used to be.
Spotting James, I made my way over to him. He really stuck out with his intensely red costume and stark white skull, especially near the bonfire as he was.
“I think you win for scariest costume, boss. The skull is freaky by the fire.” I informed him.
“Did you have a good birthday?” he asked.
I laughed. Only James would feel the need to ask if this was a good birthday with a live band playing on the stage for what had to be the largest party in the city. “This has been the wildest birthday I can remember. Thanks a million. Brenna’s been having a great time as well, not that I’ve caught her much with all the guys trying to dance with her.” I informed him.
“I’m just glad you managed to have a good time. This was a bit more than I was expecting.” he admitted.
I nodded and grinned. James was the most modest, good-natured guy I knew, and he continued to seem oblivious to how he affected everyone. Anyone in his costume would probably catch attention, but there was obviously more people in this area than farther away and not just because of the bonfire.
Not long after getting back to dancing, I lost track of James. I was certain I could find him if I just looked for the thickest crowd, but I didn’t want to take up all of his time. Besides, there were a number of girls who needed the attention of a caveman.
“James…” I stated, undecided on how I would continue the sentence. The guests were gone and the security team was dismissed. At my request, James was walking the grounds with me, but I found myself nervous. I was one of the wealthiest, most powerful women in the world, but I found myself completely hesitant about what I wanted to say. What if he refused?
“Yes?” he asked after too long of a pause.
I took a breath and forced myself to inquire “Would you be interested in dating me?”
Foolish. I should have asked if he would date me, not if he’d be interested. I already knew he was interested. At least, I assumed he was. Looking into his eyes, I doubted myself. Would he be willing? I considered running.
“You…” he started, staring down at me with his gentle grip loosening slightly in my hand. “want to date me?” he finished, sounding completely surprised.
Was he playing with me? “If you are interested, I would very much like to formally declare that we are dating exclusively.” I explained, trying to be perfectly frank about my intentions. Why was I so nervous?
Why did he look so shocked? He had to know how I felt, didn’t he?
“I…” he started, letting the word hang far too long.
“No.” stated Aaliyah, her voice seeming to come from nowhere at first.
Then I spotted her and asked, “What? Why are you here?”
“He’s not ready.” she told me, stepping towards me from the shadows.
“How dare you!?” I demanded, feeling my anger rising. “I’m perfectly capable of deciding whether or not someone is worthy to date me.”
I found myself shoved up against the house, and I struggled desperately not to move even a hair despite the fear suddenly enveloping me. I didn’t dare look down despite knowing what was there, a hair’s width from my throat. I felt the scythe-shaped void in front of me. One touch, and part of me would be gone. I might even be dead. Endless rumors floated throughout my family about that weapon. I struggled to think, to be calm, but endless despair washed over me ― a pale emotion compared with the stark terror inside. I fought with all I had to keep in control, but I was somehow still aware of what transpired in front of me, an insurmountable distance in those few feet.
“And I said ‘no’.” stated Aaliyah. Turning to James, she said, “James, you’re not her equal. You don’t understand what dating her entails. Her family has rites of which you haven’t been made aware. You’ll face dangers that you can’t surmount as you are. You’re not ready, no matter what she says.”
Tears were flowing down my cheek, but not just because of the struggle with my fear. An even worse despair was settling into my heart as I considered that Death might keep us apart.
“Alma? What’s she talking about?” he asked, looking towards me, but our eyes didn’t meet. He couldn’t even see me with this thing between us. He turned on his phone and shone the light in my direction.
I wanted to keep him from seeing this, but I didn’t dare interfere. I watched helplessly as Death gripped his hand in the form of a little girl.
“Don’t fear the reaper, James. I won’t harm you.” she claimed.
“All this time, you’ve been terrifying me? You’re Death’s daughter?” he asked, surprisingly calmly.
“I’m known by many names throughout all of time and space. Death’s daughter is just one.” she replied.
“Then who is Chad?” he asked.
“My daddy. Even Death had to come from somewhere.” she insisted. “I’m not lying, boss-man, sir. There’s just a bit you don’t know about me. I am ancient and young. Don’t worry about defining me, boss-man, sir. I’m your friend and your secretary. Well, technically I’m also the little girl you’re babysitting till daddy’s home. As your friend, I want to help you.”
James had started shaking as she spoke. He fell to the ground and shut off his phone’s light. I desperately wanted to help him, but still locked in my own battle I could do nothing.
“Help me how?” he asked, staring up at her.
“If you truly want to date Alma, drink this.” she stated, holding out a black vial.
“What is it?” he questioned.
“It’s not pumpkin juice.” she teased with a wink.
Then he asked “What will it do to me?”
“It will give you the strength you need to stand at Alma’s side.” she claimed.
James started reaching for the vial, and I fought to find my voice. I wanted to warn him not to trust her, to leave. I wasn’t worth his life. For a moment, I found the will to move, but seeing the thing between us froze me. New waves of terror suffused me, binding me in place. There was nothing but the endless void of that scythe waiting to devour me.
As I finally tore my eyes away, I heard Aaliyah ask “Or was that the poison?”
He was lost, and part of me would die with him.
“The master will return shortly. He will apprise you of the situation once he’s arrived.” announced Mila.
“Mila, what do you mean?” I asked, suddenly feeling worried. Mila never sounded so flat.
“Patience, please.” she replied.
“What’s wrong? You look worried.” commented Portentia.
“I don’t know. Something’s wrong.” I told her.
“Why do you say that? James might want to announce a new flavor of ice cream. Perhaps someone named one after him. James flavored… I wonder what they’d call it.” she considered.
“Somerset Delight?” I suggested. I didn’t know where to begin explaining the difference in Mila’s tone to Portentia. She could probably understand the gist of it to some degree, but having never heard a sound in her life, I didn’t believe she’d fully be able to relate.
She shrugged and said, “Sounds about right. He is a delight.”
“Something wonderful happen on your date that you’re not telling me?” I asked, hoping for a bit of distraction while we waited.
Brenna looked over to us and insisted, “She wouldn’t leave us in the dark if something did.”
I wasn’t too certain. Nearly a week had passed since their date, and Portentia certainly seemed even happier than normal when James was mentioned. I’m sure too much couldn’t have happened between them, not with how James was, but she obviously had a wonderful time.
“Emma…” started Portentia, touching my shoulder.
I heard the front door open and ran to it with Portentia on my heels. “James, what’s wrong?” I demanded, watching as the little fairy flopped onto his head.
Ai and Mai passed us without a glance, steering Jarod along with him. Everyone looked so grim.
“Is he alright?’ asked Portentia, looking between everyone inhumanly fast.
Ignoring her, I asked “Where’s Alma?”
Alma had left with them, so her absence was worrisome, given how she treasured her time with James as much as the rest of us. He ignored my inquiry, motioning for us to follow as he walked into the ballroom.
“Mila, were you inside the park’s surveillance systems when the explosions took place?” he asked the moment he entered.
I stared at him, horrified by that one word, “explosions”. What happened!?
“Of course, master. Shall I show you?” she replied.
James nodded, and the mirrors that weren’t in use lit up, displaying a theme park. Explosions from countless video feeds appeared, showing people ripped apart by the blasts. Men, women, and children were killed in an instant. The lifeless pieces of the ones who were closest to the blast made bile rise in my throat. Others were moving slightly, despite their horrible burns. Fires went out on every feed simultaneously. Then there was Alma, appearing from nowhere in one of the feeds and starting to tend to a victim. That feed suddenly vanished.
“Sorry, master, but the camera was destroyed at that point.” stated Mila.
Shaking his arm, Portentia demanded “James, who did this?”
When he looked at her, his pained face stung my heart. “I don’t know, but I want to find out. When the first zombie blew up right next to me, Alma seemed to think someone was attempting to target her. She got me out of the park, fetched Jarod and the twins, and then went to search for more of the zombies. That’s all I know.”
I half expected Portentia to dash out of the room in search of the one responsible. Instead, she merely nodded. I brushed the tears on my cheeks, realizing I had started crying. We needed distraction. There was nothing for us to do at the moment.
“Let’s go find a dungeon.” I suggested, forcing my voice to be as calm as possible.
James stared at me blankly for several seconds. “I don’t really feel like playing right now.” he admitted.
I nodded and said, “Neither do I, but we need to be distracted for a bit, unless you know something useful we can do.”
I thought he was going to argue, but he walked over to his usual seat and sat down. I followed suit, logging back into the game. We picked a direction and headed off in a group with Brandon and Brenna catching up while we were picking fights with some troglodytes in a cave. Hours passed in exploration before I realized that others were in the room. Ai, Mai, Jarod, and even Alma were with us.
I almost gave into an impulse and ran over to hug Alma, but I controlled myself, not wanting to test her mood. She was surely hurting right now, and she was even more dangerous than I was in pain. I was thankful nothing seemed to be melting. I was being careful to keep my emotions in check as well, not wanting my clothes or the cushion under me to suddenly surge with malevolent life.
I kept playing, doing my best to focus on the game even after Marco brought us food. I wanted peace. Alma left us some time later without a word. I was certain she was going to do more investigating, trying to find the one behind the explosions. Alma would never let something so terrible go unpunished, and I had faith in her ability to find the one responsible.
The image of Brenna laughing as Brandon hit his head by growing too large under a tree entered my head. There was such warmth and life in that image that I found myself smiling. Another image came to mind, equally silly. The little fairy was trying to cheer us up. I smirked, thinking she was probably just trying to cheer James up. We were just fortunate enough to join in the merriment. I was glad James allowed her in the house. As mischievous as she could be, she was a joy as well.
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.
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.