Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 208

 James’ speed and strength were on a vastly different level than me.  Ai and Mai were no more dangerous to him than a kitten to a human, and that’s if he allowed them to be willing to fight.  I could hardly believe the overwhelming desire to be near him which had affected me until Alma had included me in her protections.  Even now that I was protected, I still could hardly take my eyes off him.  Given the vampiric resistance to charms I was fortunate enough to possess, I was surprised the others were holding back at all.

 “Umm…. Right.  Things I cannot explain happened, but we need to get our morning exercises done before we lose anymore time.  Aaliyah, cake and ice cream still don’t count as a meal.  Sorry.  Alma, Ai, Mai… Feel free to stay and watch if you wish.”

 Sighing, Alma said, “Don’t you think you should burn off some of that energy first, James.  Though I could manage to keep shielding everyone as I work, it would be tedious.”

 “Oh.  Sorry.” he replied, looking thoughtful.  “Care to show me that spell again?  If I can manage to do something similar to what you’re doing, I could kill two birds with one stone.  It was something like this, right?”

 I almost frowned but caught myself.  I wished I knew what they were doing.

 “That’s… about right, actually.  You need to modify these parts like this.” she told him, pointing in the air and presumably demonstrating something.  “Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn’t very well perfected yet, since no one has discovered precisely why variations of the spell work better for different people.  This seems to suffice if you provide ample amounts of energy for it.”

“Let me try on Aaliyah for starters, and then we’ll go from there.” he suggested, turning his attention to my tiny friend.

 “How did you remember that?” asked the twins in unison, adding to my suspicion that James was continuing to be impressive.

 Alma had most certainly been surprised when she said James had nearly gotten the spell right.  Brenna and Emma seemed entranced by what he was doing, but that could be his magic affecting them still.

 Turning to Ai and Mai, Alma said, “Shush.”  Then she looked back to James and told him to proceed.  “Ah.  Yes.  You have to start the energy flow slightly before you release the spell.  Your natural magic tends to overwhelm protections rather quickly, especially at the moment.” she commented seconds later.  “Perfect.  I trust you can handle the rest then while I get back to work.

 As she moved to sit, a chair flew in and landed behind her.  Shortly later, numerous laptops positioned themselves around her.  Given James’ abilities and his deference to her magical knowledge, she was a very, very dangerous person.

 James gave instructions for people to split off and begin practicing different forms from varying schools of martial arts.  Then he turned to me and asked “Ready to start?”

 “I suppose.  Aaliyah did convince me to dress for it.” I replied.  Glancing back at my friend, she was grinning again.  I never was quite certain how to interpret them, but I believed she was legitimately enthusiastic at the moment.

 “Did your father happen to teach you anything about fighting?” he asked.

 I shrugged, not wanting to lie to him but unwilling to admit knowing more in current company.

 “Right then.” he started.  “Do you have any fighting experience?”

 “I’m a vampire, so I can handle myself against humans.  I wouldn’t be a match for you no matter what I tried.” I replied.

 He rolled his eyes and moved as if he was going to punch my shoulder, keeping his movements at a much more human pace.  I dodged in the most awkward manner I could imagine in the time I had, allowing him to trip me as he stepped forward.  I was surprised when he caught me instead of letting me fall.  I considered how easily I could kiss him like this, with his arm wrapped behind me and his face so close.  I didn’t think he’d be amused, so I restrained myself.

 James continued to test me through a series of attacks as he gauged my reactions, and then he started teaching me some basic principles of general fighting, things I had learned as a toddler.

 “Ai.  Mai.  Go take over for James, so he can attend to the others.” stated Alma without looking up from her computers.

 “I suppose that will work, but please go more easy on her than you did with me.” insisted James as the girls approached us.

 The idea that James had learned from these two was surprising, given how easily he could beat them.  As the twins instructed me, I observed James’ instruction for the others.  He seemed like a master rather than a recent student.  I’d guess that he could learn far more quickly than even I could, given his speed, but I was still surprised.  I probably could take either of these girls in a fight if I didn’t hold back.

 When James ended the martial arts exercises, he immediately went into lessons of magic.  Ai and Mai insisted that I try as well.  To my surprise, I eventually did see the energy in the air just as they described it.  Papa had spoken of there being numerous types of magic from our  heritage, but he never performed any other than our blood magic, claiming that to use other types would bring the attention of those stronger than us.

 “I see it!” I admitted, wanting to know more despite Papa’s words of caution echoing in my head.

 “Could your parents use magic?” inquired Alma, still working at her laptops.

 “No.  At least, I never saw them using anything other than vampire magic.” I replied.

 :Interesting.  Greetings, Cosette.: came a voice in my head.

 “Who was that?” I asked, staring around.

 “Who was what?” questioned James as he motioned for Brenna and Emma to cease their practice.

 “That voice…” I told him.  :Hello?:

 “His name is Adelmar.  When you saw residual energy, he decided to try touching your mind.” explained Alma.

 Alma, daughter of a Slayer, had reported me to the head of the Slayers.  Adelmar Slayer could get inside my head.  Papa, I’m so sorry.  I’ve failed you already.

 “She is our cousin?” demanded Ai and Mai.

 “No idea.  This is interesting though.” replied Alma.  “Letting one of us be turned has always been considered an abomination, but having a spy inside the vampire ranks could prove quite useful.”

 “No.  Absolutely not.” I told her.  “Father didn’t want me involved with vampire politics anymore than he wanted me involved with your family.”

 She finally looked up, smiling at me as she said, “Don’t you mean our family?”  Her wall of laptops floated off to the side as she stood.  “You don’t have to decide right away.  Consider this though: Adelmar can be very generous to his family.”

 “And his children?  Theirs?  I plan to live for a very long time.” I replied, staring her down.

 She stepped slowly toward me and said, “There are risks.  I won’t lie.  Just consider joining us.  If you care to join me for a chat sometime, I’ll gladly tell you more about our family.”

 I felt trapped and uncertain, but I wasn’t giving into the Slayers, even if they could get inside my head.  I’d fight those butchers as long as I lived.  I didn’t believe Alma felt I was family.  Her face was a mask again the moment the smile left it.  

 A hand touched my shoulder, and I jumped slightly, startled by it.

 “I’ll talk with you about them too.  I am, after all, part of that family as well.” explained Emma, sounding soothing.

  Was she part of a second ploy to win me over?  If so, she was the safer gamble.  I told her “James hadn’t mentioned that.”

 There could also be a reason James left her out when he talked of that family.  My mind searched through the possibilities for a clear course in navigating this dangerous trap.  If they decided I wasn’t useful, they might kill me.  If I became too useful, I could easily fall prey to one of their games and get others hurt as well.  Worst yet, not even my thoughts were necessarily safe now that Adelmar was aware of me.

 “Is telepathy common among Slayers then?” inquired Jarod.  He had sat through both the martial arts and magical lessons.  Other than his connection with Ai and Mai, I knew too little about him.  He had seemed to argue in favor of my presence at breakfast, offering to help clear a second room for our practice.

 “No comment.” replied Alma with a smile.  Then her face took on a look of concern as she said, “James, is something wrong?”

 If she didn’t legitimately feel attraction to James, she certainly was possessive of him.  I was fairly certain she had offered Ai and Mai’s assistance in my training to get James away from me.  Assuming she did have true feelings for him, he might be able to help steer me clear of her traps.  As I turned to see his reaction to her concern, he seemed only thoughtful to me.

 “Ah.  Well, that can be discussed in private later if you wish.” stated Alma as if vocally replying to telepathy.

 “What are you talking about?” asked Brenna.  “Is there a spell to communicate at range?”

 “Yes, actually, but it’s exceedingly difficult.  I can try to teach you eventually, but you’re not ready yet.” explained Alma.

 “Let’s stop here for today.  We’ve become sidetracked enough that we might as well move along.” insisted James.

 No one argued with him, gathering their things as if his word was a decree in unbreakable stone.  Whatever his position with Alma, he certainly was master of this house.

 “Upsy!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she stretched her arms toward me.

 I obliged her, lifting her up.

 “To your room with haste!  We must prepare!” she exclaimed.

 “Prepare?  Prepare for what?” I asked, jogging out of the gym and down the hall.  I could tell by her grin that I was in for quite a day.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 206

I nearly jumped when James came charging up behind us. I had barely started to turn from hearing him land at the bottom of the stairs when he was already up to us. Mila was following nearly as fast as I could manage, but she was far outpaced. I found myself wondering what James is again. Aaliyah had claimed he was human-ish, but what did that really mean?

As we stepped into the massive kitchen, I saw five people gathered around a long, elaborately carved table while another was cooking. The smells were fantastic, so I looked forward to sampling the cuisine. As for the people at the table, I recognized only the redheaded boy. The girl next to him was probably his sister, given the red hair, similar eye color, and similarities in their noses. The Asian girls were remarkably identical, especially in their glares as they looked my way. These had to be the “evil twins” Mila mentioned.

One of them grabbed the shoulder of the blonde-haired boy with green eyes as she said, “Come on, Jarod.”

Leaning close enough to place her lips by his ear, the other said, “You should have breakfast with us in our wing.”

They suddenly stood, turned toward me, and spoke in unison, saying, “Unless you’d prefer to be someone’s breakfast.”

I was annoyed by their tone but didn’t want to cause a scene, so I told them “Oh. Sorry. I already ate.”

James, who had been looking at me, quickly said, “Before you go, I’d like to get permission for Cosette to join us in your gym for our daily exercises. Alma seems to have mentioned that Cosette will be working for me now.”

“What?” asked the Asian girl on the left.

“You must be joking, James.” stated her twin indignantly.

“We’ll willingly let a vampire enter our wing the day you beat us both in a duel.” they insisted, glaring at him defiantly.

“Oh. Okay.” he replied with a shrug. “After breakfast work for you both?

Their surprise was obvious for a moment before their features went smooth. They gazed at one another for a while but said nothing.

Turning to James, the one on the left said, “We won’t be holding back.”

“In fact, we may have to give you something to remind you not to cross us.” declared the sister with a sinister grin.

There was a subtle shift in their positions that spoke volumes to me. These two were trained fighters and were now on guard.

“Umm… James, maybe you should use a different room. I can help you clear one out.” offered the cute blonde boy.

“I’m with him. There’s no need to get in a fight. I really don’t need exercise.” I assured James. The twins seemed quite confident that they could easily beat him soundly.

“If nothing else, this should show you the importance of our exercises.” calmly replied James as he looked into my eyes. Turning back to the twins, he said, “Besides, I want everyone to get along. If I win, you’ll try to become friends with Cosette.”

Smiling malevolently, the twins said, “Deal, but when we win, you have to find that vampire a new home.”

I felt a tear forming in my eye as the thought of being cast out struck me. I ran. Where could I go? What would I do? I needed shelter during the day. Mama… Papa.. what would I do? My side was momentarily sore as I was tackled to the ground. I was about to fight back when I realized Aaliyah was the tackler. Fighting was pointless. She had that dangerous look to her eyes. My arm was twisted painfully behind my back as I was forced face-first into the floor.

“Let me go. I need to pack.” I told her.

“No. You’re staying.” she replied, moving to sit on me.

“I don’t want James to be hurt!” I exclaimed.

“He won’t be.” she insisted.

“You can’t know that! The twins looked quite confident that they’ll win.” I explained.

“Ai and Mai are silly girls, but they’ll learn. You can become friends with them after James wins.” she replied.

“But he might not!” I exclaimed. “What am I to do if he loses?”

She sighed dramatically but gave no answer.

“What is going on here?” asked James as he entered the room. His footsteps were remarkably faint.

“James, help! She won’t let me up.” I complained.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. Cosette and I spent a day doing this when she babysat me the first time.” explained Aaliyah, all too cheerfully.

“What? Why?” he questioned.

“Because she can be a horrible brat when she’s not getting her way!” I insisted, wincing as my arm was twisted a little more. I was half tempted to cut off my senses from it, but I wouldn’t know if she let me go.

“That’s so mean…” pouted Aaliyah. “You’re the one who doesn’t want to be reasonable. James was being all cool, sticking up for you, and you were acting like you want to run away, despite the sun being up.”

She had a point about the sun, but I said, “I would have figured something out.” Looking up at James, I told him “James, I’m sorry for causing you trouble. I’m sure those girls have a reason for hating vampires. You really don’t need to fight them.”

“Relax. You’re safe now. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.” he assured me. “You should know that Ai and Mai come from a family that kills everything they feel is dangerous to humanity. Alma is from that family as well.”

“They’re part of the Slayer family?” I asked, suddenly feeling very nervous.

“I… umm… well, I don’t really get the details of their family too much, honestly, but Ai and Mai are named Drache. Alma is Lady Pendreigh, but her cousin is named Adelmar Slayer. How do you know the name?” he inquired.

I was careless in revealing that name, but I knew what I needed. The situation was even more dire than I expected. To James, I said, “One of father’s silly stories. If his stories are true, I’ve moved in with the one family he warned me to hide from at all costs.”

“That’s not all, Cosette.” argued Aaliyah. “They’re your family too, remember?”

Yes, Papa had claimed as much. I changed my form enough to twist out from Aaliyah’s grasp and reformed beside her, so I could look into her eyes. “Are you messing with me? Father was joking, wasn’t he?”

“Most nobles have ties to the Slayer family, silly, and your daddy really was a king.” she stated, seeming perfectly serious.

This was Aaliyah though, so she could easily be playing a prank.

“I’d believe Aaliyah if I were you. She tends to be right whether you want her to be or not. I wouldn’t go advertising your heritage to anyone though. Alma and the twins don’t seem to be very reasonable where their family is concerned. I fear they might not like the idea that you’re related in any way.” stated James.

His sincerity was undeniable. If one of us were a noble by blood, I’d expect him to be the one. From this mansion to his bearing, James seemed the perfect fit.

Smiling as she spoke, Aaliyah said, “And if you really don’t believe me, you will after you look through your daddy’s things. They’ll be here in a couple days.”

“For now though, let’s have breakfast.” suggested James. “Mila’s almost here with a couple others by the sound of things.”

I could hear them as well, the footsteps and the slight squeal of a cart with a bad wheel. I did my best to remain calm. The footsteps didn’t sound like what I would expect from those twins. One of them was walking very heavily.

“Master, are you wanting to eat in here instead of in Cosette’s wing?” asked Mila as she rounded the corner with the redheads behind her.

“I hope you don’t mind, but we wanted a chance to chat with you as well.” stated the girl.

Her brother then said, “Yeah… What she said.” From his smile to his stance, he looked like he was about to hit on me.

I might be flattered under better circumstances, but I was none too pleased by the idea at the moment. I needed to be careful around this one, so he didn’t get the wrong idea.

“Rather than dealing with the stairs, let’s just move into the dining room.” suggested James.

No one argued, following as James led the way. “Master”, as Mila called him, suited him. He was graceful and gracious from what I had seen, and he wore authority well. Papa certainly would have approved of James. Unfortunately for Brandon, the redhead, I grew less impressed with him as he spoke. His sister, Brenna, seemed level-headed and kind, but he was boastful and didn’t know how to take a hint, flirting with me all through our meal.

“Mila, will you inform Jarod that I’ll be ready in ten minutes? I’m sure he won’t mind telling the twins for us. Oh, and ask him where the twins would like to do this, preferably somewhere Cosette can watch.” stated James after everyone finished.

“James, please be careful. If they are who you say they are, they’re dangerous.” I cautioned.

Emma peeked around the doorway. “Who’s dangerous, and why are you all in here?” she asked, still looking tired and wearing her pajamas.

“Hey, Emma! The boss challenged the twins to a duel.” explained Brandon with a grin.

“What? Why?” she inquired in surprise.

“They’re being difficult with regard to Cosette joining us in their gym.” stated James.

“How are you going to beat them, James?” asked Brenna. “We can’t let Cosette leave.”

Hearing her say that made me feel happy and sad at once.

“What do you mean?” demanded Emma as she looked around at us all. “Why would Cosette be leaving? I just made her furniture last night! When did you guys even sleep?”

“Don’t worry. She’ll be staying.” insisted James.

“You’re seriously fighting them both? You’re insane.” she replied.

“Maybe.” he told her, grinning.

“I still would prefer if you called this off. This can’t be worth it.” I told him. I didn’t want to leave, but I wanted no harm to come to him, especially due to me.

James stood and said, “Please excuse me. I’m going to get ready.”

The speed at which he left made me wonder if he truly was as fast as a Slayer. If father’s stories were true, vampires needed to live thousands of years to match a Slayer in battle, and I didn’t know any personally. Father supposedly had met several. He occasionally spoke of the eldest vampires when he told me stories. By his accounts, they were wonderful. I wished they were here to keep James safe. What was I to do if he lost?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 204

I should have found time to feed before coming here, but I was so worried over escaping with what I could salvage that even feeding was pushed to the back of my mind. The time spent discussing furniture with Aaliyah and Emma left me hungrier and hungrier. I was acutely aware of their blood, but I wasn’t about to ask Emma to be my meal, not when she had lost her father to a vampire. She was sleeping now and wouldn’t necessarily know, but I couldn’t do that to her. I didn’t trust Aaliyah’s blood, given that I didn’t know what she was other than dangerous.

“I really should get something to eat before the sun comes up.” I announced, not really wanting to leave but unwilling to risk weakness here.

“You said you don’t kill people, so how do you get food? Blood banks?” suggested James.

“Well, no. From people, generally. I just am careful about how much I take and from whom I take it.” I explained.

“Oh. I suppose that makes sense. Isn’t that dangerous for them?” he asked.

Shaking my head, I said, “They certainly feel tired afterward, but I don’t think it’s too dangerous. I always watch after them for awhile after feeding. They really are safe, at least as safe as I can keep them.”

“What about the bite marks and their memories? I’d certainly go to a hospital if someone bit me, so there must be a strangely high number of reports.” he insisted.

“Why don’t I just show you?” I suggested, wondering why I was being so forward even as the words came out. There was something about James that made him seem extraordinarily trustworthy. I’d fear I was under some spell if my kind were resistant to those tricks.

“What!?” he exclaimed in shock. “Sorry. I wasn’t meaning to pry too much. I am really curious, but… well…” The shock faded from his face, replaced by a sort of fascination as he seemed to be working through the idea. “I suppose, but you have to bite me somewhere that I can hide. How does this work even? You don’t seem to have long fangs or anything.”

I smiled reassuringly and took hold of his hand. “Don’t worry.” I insisted, preparing my magic to puncture his skin. “You won’t feel a thing. Or… Maybe.” I stated with a frown. James’ hand was soft and felt perfectly human, but I didn’t have the strength to make the smallest hole through his perfect skin. I felt as if the blood that touched him became void of magic. “What are you?” I asked.

“Umm… Human.” he claimed.

“No, you’re obviously not.” I replied, wondering what he was keeping from me. Who was he?

“The master is far more than a human.” commented Mila, humbly standing to the side as if waiting for instructions.

“Yeah…” started Aaliyah. “You won’t be able to use your magic on him, Cosette. Sorry. He really is human-ish though!”

“I’m missing something here.” stated James. “What magic? What did you try to do?”

“I usually don’t bite people. My parents taught me all of their tricks. When feeding, I touch a person’s skin and send some of my blood inside them, using it to cut off their sensations temporarily as I create an opening. Then I take a little blood and heal their wound.” I explained.

“Oh. That’s… different. Sorry, I seem to be pretty good at blocking magic by reflex now.” he bashfully announced.

“I noticed.” I replied, still shocked by it while forcing myself to smile.

“Is that how most vampires go about feeding then?” he asked.

“No, I’m afraid not. Many do bite people, literally drink their blood, and kill their victims. It’s more efficient, you see.” I replied, frowning to show my distaste for it. I needed him to understand I was different from those vampires.

“Well, not really. How’s that more efficient? Sounds messy to say the least.” he insisted.

“They don’t use up their magic to feed, boss-man, sir. The whole point of feeding is to get energy. How Cosette feeds uses up energy, so she’s getting far less from any given person than she could.”

“I’ll get better though.” I assured him. “My father was really skilled at it. My kind tend to hone their skills a great deal over the years, making the use of our magic far more efficiently than when we start.”

“Pardon, but Portentia would like to enter.” announced Mila.

“That’s fine. Please let her in.” I told her, surprised by the arrival.

The pure white girl had her hand raised as if she were about to knock. She quickly lowered it with speed rivaling my own. “Hi. Mila told me Cosette was hungry, so I thought I’d save her a trip.” she announced, smiling as she looked to me with those faintly blue eyes.

“Oh. You were serious earlier?” I asked in surprise.

“Well, yeah. I’ve had a few vampire friends, and it’s not like you can hurt me.” she replied with a shrug.

What was she to be so confident that vampires couldn’t even hurt her when she allowed them to feed?

James placed his hand on my shoulder, and I was very aware of his touch as if all of my senses switched to focusing on him.

“Portentia does feel pain, but she regenerates incredibly fast.” he told me.

I tore my eyes from James to look back at Portentia and said, “I see. Well, not really. What are you then?”

“I might as well tell you, since everyone else here knows.” she replied with a shrug. “I mean, Aaliyah trusts you, right? I’m Calamity, the superhero.” she told me with a grin.

Her whole pose changed, and I could tell that she was quite proud of her claim.

I giggled, entirely amused by the idea of a self-proclaimed superhero. What would my parents have thought of this? I noticed Portentia frowning and quickly told her “Sorry. Really. I’ve never met someone who refers to herself as a superhero before. About the name… don’t you feel that’s a bit less than heroic sounding?”

“Don’t worry about it. I like to think of myself as the Calamity that comes to those who do evil. If you’re ever interested in helping people, I wouldn’t mind a vampire sidekick.” she assured me.

I did my best not to laugh again, but I couldn’t manage to suppress my smile when this girl was so sincere about being a superhero. Managing to keep some of my mirth from my voice, I said, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“So how do you like to do this?” she asked, walking toward me. “Quick bite and be done, or do you like something more elaborate? One of my friends liked to act out a horror scene as often as not.”

She was so casual about me feeding on her that I found myself believing this was commonplace to her.

“Here. Let me see your hand.” I told her, reaching my own out as I stepped toward her.

I was immediately surprised by how cold she felt. Then the complete lack of a pulse struck me. For a moment, I wondered if she might be one of my own kind, but my blood passed into her without too much resistance.

The moment her blood passed into me, my heart hammered to life, pushing the sustenance throughout my body. I felt energy like I had never known before. There was so much, far more than I could store. My mind went fuzzy, and I felt a tingling throughout my entire body, a tingling that seemed to pierce beyond my body.

“Cosette?” asked James, muffled and far away from me.

Everything was far away from me except the energy. I had never felt this good before. I longed for more even though I knew I couldn’t contain it. I was aware when Portentia lifted me from the ground, though I didn’t remember falling.

Portentia calmly said, “Don’t worry about it. She’s fine. Vampires sort of get high off my blood. She’ll be back with us any…”

Portentia, life giver, and being of unfathomable energy was holding me easily in her arms. I knew I should do something, say something.

“Oh my gosh! What are you!?” I blurted, leaning up to stare at her. I hadn’t meant to be blunt, but my head was in too many places.

She easily caught me as I changed position but then set me on my feet.

“Superhero.” she replied with another shrug.

“I’ve never felt anything like that before. I feel like running or dancing. There’s so much energy!” I exclaimed in wonder.

“Dancing! Yay!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Dancing? What? What time is it? Oh. Hey, Portentia.” asked Emma as she rubbed her eye.

How could she be tired at a time like this!? I felt as if I could touch her and zap a day’s supply of energy into her without even noticing.

“Sorry, Emma. I’ve been learning about vampires, and Cosette’s feeling a bit energetic.” explained James.

Emma nodded and said, “Yeah. Not really her bedtime, is it.” Then she stifled a yawn in her sleeve. “Well, I’m going to my room. See everyone in the morning.” mumbled Emma as she headed to the door.

Aaliyah was already starting to dance, and to my surprise, there was music! I joined her immediately. Mila did as well, so I couldn’t let them dance without me. James joined us as well, demonstrating an incredible skill at dancing. Portentia seemed hesitant, but I grabbed her hand and got her moving with me. She was such an amazing person!

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 201

“Mama… Papa… je suis ici.” I mumbled aloud, staring at the large gates of Somerset Estate.

“I’m neither your father nor your mother, but you certainly are here and are quite welcome.” came a voice as the gates opened. “I’m Mila. Please allow me to help you with your luggage.”

She had been so quiet that I didn’t even hear her breath. Now that I caught sight of her approaching, she clearly appeared to be a maid. The outfit was possibly a costume, given how extravagant it seemed.

“Were you waiting for me?” I asked.

“Of course. The Princess would not want her dear friend waiting with so much luggage, much less trudging down the drive with it all.” replied Mila.

There was something very peculiar about her, other than her extraordinarily long, auburn hair and particularly petite frame.

“They’re quite heavy. I’ll manage.” I told her, not wanting to strain such a tiny girl.

“I’m not human, so there’s no need to worry over me.” she explained, easily lifting the majority of my things.

I fought a moment to keep my poise. With my parents dead and the majority of our belongings destroyed in the fire, this was quite literally all I had in the world.

“This way, please.” stated Mila as she turned and started walking up the drive.

“What precisely are you, if you don’t mind my asking?” I inquired shortly into our walk, hoping not to offend her while indulging my curiosity.

“What you see is an android body connected wirelessly to the rest of me. I was designed by the Princess for the sole purpose of aiding my master and your host, James Michael Somerset III.” she replied, putting an overly affectionate tone into the word “master”.

I forced myself to start walking again, having momentarily stopped. I had no idea there was such incredible technology in the world to create someone so lifelike, but I knew Aaliyah was far beyond normal. I also found myself wondering how incredibly wealthy James Michael Somerset III was to have such an enormous mansion. At first, I hadn’t realized quite how long the drive was, but walking a ways gave me a better sense of proportions. I needed to pay more attention, despite my emotional state. I should have taken the taxi to the door.

Feeling guilty, I said, “Sorry to trouble you.”

“If the Princess had wanted us to ride, I could easily have picked you up in one of the cars. I fear this journey is to amuse her in some way, as was keeping news of your coming from the master.” she explained.

I chuckled, thinking how perfectly typical that was for Aaliyah. She lived to mess with people, her friends especially.

“Would you mind telling me something about this place?” I inquired.

“Business headquarters of Best Friend For Hire and residence of James Michael Somerset III, Somerset Estate was personally renovated by the Princess to accommodate the master’s whims. I’m not at liberty to disclose the precise number of rooms to you or even the footage, since the Princess finds secrets to be far more entertaining. The forest is strictly off limits without being accompanied by the master, but you’re free to wander anywhere else you can manage. I will warn you that attempting to pass into the master’s vault would be lethal, even for your kind, so I cannot recommend it.” she told me, perfectly matter-of-factly even about my potential demise.

I nodded, not particularly surprised that Aaliyah had explained my nature. She seemed to follow her whims while enacting overly complicated plans. I was grateful that she was helping me.

The remainder of the walk was made in silence up until we reached the front doors, which swung open for us to reveal another set doing the same. The interior was every bit as extraordinary as the exterior.

“Just set your things here for now while I fetch my master. He’s needing to see me, and I’ll escort him to you.” she informed me as she set down my belongings. Then she started jogging back outside.

I slowly spun, staring all around me at the incredible entryway. The twin stairways leading to the balcony were ornately carved as was all the rest of the woodwork. I felt as if I was lost in a fairy tale. What would my parents think of this place? Papa would likely tease that it reminded him of home. He liked to call himself an exiled king while calling me a princess, probably one of the reasons Aaliyah and I got along so well.

The wait seemed long, and I was nervous, both excited and afraid. I wished my parents were alive and with me. I wished I knew what to expect here. I wished I was better prepared to be alone in this world. Thinking of papa, I started to sing one of his favorite songs, Castle on a Cloud from Les Misérables.

I was part way through when I heard the large doors open again, but I kept quietly singing, not quite ready for this dream to end. When I turned around, there was a very tall boy walking into the room in an elaborate, red costume. He was as graceful as he was handsome, which was quite the pairing. His picture on his company’s website hadn’t done him justice at all.

“Oh! You must be James!” I exclaimed.

Father had always insisted that letting people underestimate you would give you an advantage.

“I am, but who are you?” he replied in a manly voice fit for his stature.

I refrained from giggling, though I felt excited. There was something about him that bespoke of excellence. I needed to be calm, rational. I didn’t know what enemies I would find here.

“A vampire.” stated Mila’s twin after arriving with terrifying speed.

Her eyes were a brilliant violet unlike Mila’s green. This one was dressed in a fancy costume like James. Was there still a Halloween party happening? There was something about her stance and gaze that made me wary.

James moved in a blur, suddenly in front of me saying, “Don’t you dare!”

I peeked past her large back to the girl, feeling confused by the situation. I clearly wasn’t expected here by either of them.

“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir.” came a familiar tone. “Alpy wouldn’t dare hurt my friend. Right, Alpy?”

“Aaliyah!” I exclaimed jogging to her.

“Cosette!” she replied, jumping up into my arms.

“Cosette? Seriously?” inquired James.

“Huh?” I asked. Wait, I hadn’t introduced myself. “Oh. Yeah. My father was a fan of Les Misérables, so I learned that song practically at birth. My name’s Cosette Bourbon.”

Aaliyah’s presence made me far more confident. As tiny as she was, I was well aware the girl was vastly beyond me.

“James, you can’t seriously be thinking of letting her stay here.” stated Alpy.

Was “Alpy” really a name?

“Stay here? What? Oh. Aaliyah, what is going on here?” he inquired.

Forcing me to change my grip as she turned toward him, she explained “My friend here is going to be renting the upper northeast wing. She also wants to try working for you. Isn’t that great, boss-man, sir?”

Working for him? Aaliyah hadn’t mentioned that I would be working here, though I wasn’t particularly opposed.

“Did you talk with Emma about this?” he asked.

“James! Really? A vampire?” demanded Alpy.

“A vampire? Where?” asked a fairly tall, redhead boy as he came walking into the room with two beautiful girls. “I love a good vampire costume.”

“Whoa. How many people live here?” I asked, fearing there were hundreds I’d need to watch.

“Umm… ten at the moment.” replied James.

“Twelve if Mila and you are included. More if you count the staff and the fey.” argued Aaliyah.

“Fey!?” I exclaimed, picturing fairies and the like flittering through the halls.

Aaliyah’s imagination was part of what made her fun.

“Emma, James is thinking about letting this vampire rent the floor above you.” stated Alpy. “What are your feelings on the matter?”

“What!?” exclaimed one of the girls who had entered with the redheaded boy. Her short hair was fancifully dyed.

I could smell fear exuding from her even at this distance, and her skin grew exceedingly pale, though not as pale as her companion’s.

“Oh. Cool. You must be one of the good ones then.” stated the pale companion with perfectly white hair as she walked toward me. “I’m Portentia. If you’re ever feeling hungry, I’ve heard that my blood’s amazing. By the way, is Alma multiplying?”

Did I just hear her right? She wanted me to feed on her? Who was Alma? Oh. Probably Alpy.

“I was wondering that too. Love the maid outfit!” exclaimed the redhead.

“This isn’t funny.” stated Emma, trembling slightly.

Feeling that Aaliyah may have taken some joke too far, I wondered if I needed to leave. Where would I go? What would I do?

“Emma, Cosette, and Aaliyah, please follow me.” commanded James. “We need to talk.”

Aaliyah hopped down, took my hand and then Emma’s as she came close. I could feel the tension between us. James glanced back once, but didn’t say a word. The walk through the vast halls was long, and I was happy when the smell of fear seemed to fade. Though I occasionally glanced at Emma, she stared pointedly ahead.

When we stepped into a room on the second floor, something changed about her. The remaining fear evaporated, replaced by a sadness in her countenance.

“I hadn’t been up here, since they moved everything out.” she stated, breaking the silence.

“What happened to the previous tenant?” I asked.

Looking around with a somber expression, James said, “She died saving my life.”

“Oh. I’m sorry for your loss.” I stated, suddenly needing to hold back tears. I failed as Aaliyah hugged me. Thoughts of my parents were flooding through me. I understood all too well the pain of loss.

“What’s wrong?” asked James, looking concerned.

I could tell he was sincere, so I told him “I’m sorry. I just lost my parents.”

“What? How old are you?” demanded Emma. She looked ready to pick a fight with me.

I told her the truth, saying, “I’ll be fifteen in a few days.”

“But how old are you really?” she asked, obviously not believing a word.

“She’s not lying, Emma. She’s really fifteen. Were you turned recently then?” asked James.

I shook my head as I explained “No. I was born a vampire. My father was over two hundred. My mother was a bit short of one hundred. They decided to have me the old-fashioned way, which takes considerably more work for vampires.

Nearly nine months of concentration to keep her organs alive and functioning was needed for my birth. Any lapse in her concentration, could have killed me. Mama, you were amazing.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” stated James.

“Do you have siblings?” asked Emma, looking sad again herself.

I did my best to put on a smile as I said, “Not exactly. Father had some children before he was turned in the late 1700s. Mother never did, at least not that she told me. Arguably, I might have some sort of relatives out there, but I doubt hunting them down would do me any good. When Aaliyah suggested I live here, how could I refuse?”

“Refusing her can be tricky. I used to babysit Aaliyah before James started stealing all of her attention.” admitted Emma.

“Chad rented the apartment next to mine for a while.” I explained, happy to find that we had something to share other than loss while pained by the memories. Needing to find a change of subject, I asked “Who was the obnoxious girl that was causing such a fuss?”

“Sorry. That would be Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V. She might’ve been worrying about me. My father was killed in front of me by a vampire.” explained Emma.

“Oh. I’m sorry. That’s awful! I’ve never killed anyone.” I assured her.

“Well, I…” started Emma. She frowned, took a deep breath, and then said, “I suppose I can give you a chance.”

“Huh.” stated James. “I didn’t really expect things to be quite that easy, but okay. Mila will bring your luggage up. Need help with any of your furniture?”

“My apartment was destroyed in some freak fire. Didn’t even touch the rest of the building. I’ll buy some things after my little friend here finishes helping me gain access to my parents’ funds.” I told him. “If you want to help me seal up the windows, I…” I trailed off as the windows suddenly darkened, blocking out the night completely.

James smirked as he said, “This house is very well equipped with all sorts of technological gizmos. I’m sure Aaliyah will gladly explain what all Mila, the A.I. who runs everything, can do for you. I must excuse myself to go have a chat with someone.”

James leaving the room shouldn’t have affected me, but it did. I barely knew him and already felt attached. I wanted him back. I did my best to calm my mind, knowing I was still unbalanced due to my loss.

“What type of furniture would you like?” asked Emma.

“I don’t really know.” I admitted looking around. This room was every bit as splendid as the rest, save for the lack of furnishings. How many rooms did I have? I stopped and stared, realizing that Emma was sitting in a chair.

She laughed and said, “I’ll make you some if you want. I have a large collection of seeds, so I can do a fair number of types of wood. I grew this out of the floor where I found a nick in the varnish.”

“You grew it?” I inquired, bewildered by what I was hearing.

She grinned and two more fully carved chairs sprouted from the arm of hers, detaching as they finished forming. She flinched as I hugged her, so I quickly apologized, but she laughed. I hoped we’d become wonderful friends.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 198

“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.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 183

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

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

“Alma…” stated James, sounding concerned.

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

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

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

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

James was staring around the room, looking curious.

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

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

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

He shrugged.

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

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

,,,^._.^,,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could tell Duncan and Jarod were curious as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 182

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that about?” asked James.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re coming.” I announced.

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

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

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

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

“You’re right. I can’t.” I admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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