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.

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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.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 181

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

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

Luckily, the little creature ignored her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smiling and nodding, Marco seemed to agree.

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

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

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

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

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

:Seems we were right…: mumbled Mai.

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

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

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

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

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

:That’s amazing!: exclaimed Mai.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s her name?” asked Emma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:Wacky, but brilliant.: admitted Mai.

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire reprise, Entry 174

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

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

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

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

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

,,,^._.^,,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

:True.: I replied.

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

:Or tactful.: added Ai.

:Or courteous.: I thought.

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

“What’s eating you?” asked Jarod.

“Whatever do you mean?” replied Lady Pendreigh.

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

Ai quickly covered Jarod’s mouth with her hand.

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

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

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

“No, she really doesn’t.” I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, she seemed irritated.” he replied.

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

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

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

,,,^._.^,,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

“I get carried away.” I admitted.

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

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

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

“We could take a peek.” he suggested.

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

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

,,,^._.^,,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was quick to respond… attentive.

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 173

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.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 163

Maxine Montgomery… even Alma thought of her as a villain. Mila would help me look into her and confirm her misdeeds. I had to admit that something about her set me on edge even before I knew she was a villain. Was she actually blind? I saw the cane and sunglasses indoors, but those could be part of a cosplay, right? I had my doubts. If she were blind, could she really be much of a villain?

I sighed. There were people who thought a deaf girl couldn’t be a superhero, and I certainly showed them otherwise. I just didn’t understand how someone could manage overseeing crime without their eyes. What was hearing like?

When I was little, Mama Vera tried explaining sound to me. I remembered her talking about being able to hear me coming and constantly telling me I needed to “be quieter”. She taught me to move carefully and pointed out the differences in vibrations, my bare feet feeling her music through the floor. The idea of shutting my eyes and still knowing what was happening around me still seemed strange, like most of the world had a superpower which I did not. They could sense the vibrations in the air with ease. A blind girl might be capable of being a supervillain…

I was surprised by James suddenly moving away from me. Alma was holding up a hat with gizmos on it. James looked at the hat for a moment and then put it on over his costume’s wig. Seeing Aaliyah and Alma take out their phones, I was confused for a moment.

<Pictures!> signed Aaliyah.

Oh. Oh! I had a phone now too. I quickly joined them in snapping some pictures of James. Other people seemed to like the idea as well, but that was how things worked here. If someone in costume posed for a picture, everyone who liked the costume would stop to get a picture. We all had many pictures taken of us this weekend.

Seeing Aaliyah and Alma start trying on hats for pictures too, I decided to join them. Though many of the gears didn’t even turn, I could easily imagine them having a purpose, like a superhero’s gadgets. I could use some gadgets…

After several minutes of posing and pictures, James bought a hat for each of us and a cane for himself. My hat was large with a broad brim. Metal bands stretched across one side with interlocking gears leading to an antenna going up the top. I couldn’t imagine where I would wear the thing, but I appreciated the thought. We started walking along to revisit more shops. The others had many things they wanted to get, but I could tell what was being said.

I tapped James’ sleeve to get his attention and asked what was being said.

James explained “Alma and Aaliyah want to dress up in steampunk next convention. Aaliyah’s planning on fixing our hats to actually function first. Alma wants to design some clothes.”

I nodded, easily imagining how they could look. What did a blind girl imagine? Darkness? Worries over Maxine hadn’t left me. Someone Alma considered a villain was probably very dangerous. Did Maxine have an army of minions carrying out her diabolical schemes? What if she had incredible magical powers? I needed information.

When we left the show floor to go to a panel, I considered leaving. “The Dances of Ancient Tribes of Earth” panel certainly didn’t need me, but I ended up staying to watch. I was tempted to try them, but I could barely feel the music and didn’t have lights to follow this time. Maybe James would be willing to show me the dances later. I enjoyed dancing with him.

More shopping soon came after the panel finished. James seemed pretty excited when we reached the artists. He talked with many and bought a number of pictures, but the shopping came to an end for me too soon. Aaliyah and I needed to get back for another shift at the booth.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Man-slave!” I called, finally spotting James as he entered the suite. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. We’re at a convention together, and yet we’ve hardly spent any time together, other than working. You and I are doing some shopping.”

I could see by his bags that he had been doing some shopping without me. It was fine. I mean, sorta fine. I wasn’t totally okay with him shopping without me, but he was in high demand and our shifts didn’t line up well for us.

“Sure.” he replied. Then he turned to the others and asked “Are you all up for more?”

“Sorry, boss-man, sir, but Portentia and I have a shift.” replied Aaliyah.

I picked her up and gave her a big hug before letting her escape to work. She was soooo adorable! Watching Portentia walk away wasn’t so bad either. That girl had a body, and she seemed sweet too.

“Was there somewhere particular you were looking to go?” asked Alma.

One glance, and I was certain; Alma was hotter. I didn’t just mean in the “I can burn the world!” sense either. She seemed surreal in her beauty, like an incarnation of beauty from another dimension that just happened to look more-or-less human. I never got tired of looking at her.

After both of them deposited their bags, I took their arms and pulled them to the elevator. We were going to buy all the things!!!

“There’s this suuuper cute store with some really frilly dresses I wanted to visit. Alma needs to try some things on too.” I insisted, pulling them along.

I imagined them fighting back, easily lifting me in the air for a second. They easily could do it even if I fought. Alma wasn’t beatable, and James was beyond me with magic and martial arts these days. That boy was freaky good at picking stuff up. Well, maybe not compared with Jarod. I still couldn’t believe Jarod had only started martial arts months ago. He was straight up dangerous now.

“Ta da! What do you think!? Aren’t these the cutest?” I asked when we arrived.

Alma’s face was unreadable, but she definitely seemed to be checking the dresses out. James seemed amused.

“Try one on with me!” I insisted, taking Alma’s hand.

She didn’t look amused.

“I’ll look forward to seeing them.” stated James.

Alma was in! She totally didn’t play fair though. Claiming that she didn’t trust the booth’s fitting room, she used a number of spells. Suddenly, I was isolated in a some black field. Totally. Not. Fair. Alma was sooo bashful.

She still beat me changing even though I was certain she took her time. James’ eyes were locked on her when I stepped out. He did notice me eventually, blushing when I grinned at him. I loved his blush.

I bought my dress and a pair of killer heels that matched them. Alma was all “Where will I ever wear this?” at first. After a bit of convincing, she purchased a dress too. By convincing, I totally pulled the James card, pointing out how much he seemed to like her in the dress. Win for me. We could totally be gamer princesses together in the house if nothing else. She didn’t have to worry about money.

I was surprised when James insisted on going to a shop of his choosing next. He was really getting into this. We pretty much took turns, though I cheated a little. We all purchased enough that Alma had to call someone to take our bags to the room. I had been on the verge of suggesting we head up to drop things off. James was doing all the carrying and looked overburdened.

We continued shopping until the show floor was closing. Even Alma and I ended up carrying a couple bags to manage everything, but we had a blast. I was going to make a shrine to this day in my room. I sighed, thinking of Regina. She would have been a blast here. I missed her, painfully aware of the vacant floor above me.

“What’s wrong?” asked James in the elevator.

“Wrong? We can’t do anymore shopping until tomorrow, and then I might not even catch you because of shifts and things! One evening just wasn’t enough!” I insisted, not wanting to mention Regina. I knew he still missed her too.

James laughed and said, “I’m sure we’ll get some fun.”

Once settled in the suite, everyone gathered to watch a couple movies before crashing. None of us were prepared for Sunday. All of us were scheduled from the start. We had a long work day with no time for goofing off at other booths. There were children everywhere, little cuties in costume as often as not. I wanted to hug them all!

Aaliyah was easily stealing the show. In the name of her company, we were getting children involved in numerous games, helping them design their own action figures, and getting them organized for quizzes and prizes. No child was left without at least one free toy, and many of the parents were talked into buying more. Global Princess Entertainment dominated children’s day, and the convention was over all too soon.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 155

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.