Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 216

Mila, James, and I started walking to the room I was using after deciding on Star Wars for guys’ night.

“Sorry, master. I must excuse myself and prepare for the girl’s night.” announced Mila, looking as if this was the last thing she wanted to do.

“Oh. That’s not a problem. Isn’t it a bit early still though?” asked James, looking surprised.

Shaking her head, she said, “Of course not, master. We’re starting off our girls’ night with a little shopping followed by dinner.”

Ai and Mai had already told me what the girls had planned. James really needed to talk with Alma more often if he was really going to date her.

“Well, have fun!” he exclaimed.

Mila frowned and said, “I’ll try, master. the princess is ignoring my protests, so I’ll do my best to manage.”

“Protests? What’s wrong?” asked James, obviously worried over Mila’s lack of enthusiasm.

He just didn’t get how attached to him she was.

“I don’t feel I should be having fun without you, master, but Aaliyah insists that I should.” she explained.

I laughed behind my hand. I couldn’t help it. An Artificial Intelligence vastly beyond any other software on the planet, except maybe Ancient Tribes of Earth, was pouting.

“Your life truly doesn’t need to revolve around me, Mila, and you’ll still be here even while you’re away.” insisted James.

He had that right. Running Mila’s body wasn’t at all taxing for her hardware. I asked about details on it a few times, the last being when she started explaining the layers of a single processor by chemical compound. Though I do appreciate the relevance of the compounds used in producing the incredible speed, my memory and imagination wasn’t on par with understanding the arrangements she described by mathematical formulae.

“But… It’s just not the same. We’ve barely spent any time together in the flesh.” she complained, caressing her cheek with one hand.

Nodding, I said, “I still want to know how Aaliyah synthesized her skin. For some strange reason, they didn’t want me involved with that part.”

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time in the years to come, and I am taking you on a date in the near future.” stated James after a moment’s thought.

Smiling now, Mila told him “Maybe the girls will want to discuss my outfit for it.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy yourself. Catch you later.” he replied.

“Thank you, master!” she exclaimed, practically bouncing as she turned and left.

“So… you’re going on a date with Mila?” I inquired with a grin.

James sighed before saying, “She had me promise her a date before she even had a humanoid body.”

“Yeah, I know. I was already working on the body’s design when she told me. How does Alma feel about it though?” I asked, getting to the more important part. Making Alma jealous immediately after talking about dating with her could be lethal for most people. Luckily for James, he wasn’t just anyone.

“Well, she was fine with the notion until Mila showed up in that body. Now, I’m not too certain.” he admitted.

“Just make sure you plan this momentous occasion with fireworks and everything.” I told him.

“Calling a date a ‘momentous occasion’ might be a bit much, even being Mila’s first date. Aaliyah’s going to help me plan it, so I’m sure everything will be in order.” he stated.

I nodded and said, “Aaliyah does have a way with organizing things. In all seriousness though, you do realize this will be the first date with an Artificial Intelligence in the history of humankind, don’t you? No one else is even close to creating sentience like Mila, and she’ll have the entire thing documented for… well, forever!”

James opened his mouth as if to respond, shut it, and thought for a bit. As I expected, he hadn’t really considered that aspect yet.

When he finished thinking, he looked up and asked “Have you thought much about how the twins aren’t exactly human?”

“That’s pretty much a prerequisite for dating them. You’ll find out when you start dating Alma.” I replied, knowing I couldn’t say too much on the topic.

“Do you really think I should?” he inquired, just above a whisper.

“Well, you do like her still, right?” I asked.

“Yes, but… some of the things she’s done don’t sit well with me.” he admitted.

I stared at him, wondering if there was any conceivable way he could have put that more blandly. Alma was a mass murderer. Only she knew how many beings were on the tally, but there were many. Ai and Mai defended her actions, pointing out that she only murdered those believed to be murderers, but mistakes happened.

Nodding, I said, “I’m not surprised. I doubt I know as much about what she’s done as you do, but the stuff I do know about is pretty terrifying. Someone with her temper having tremendous influence throughout the world seems risky on a good day, and Alma’s far more than a politician. She’s a superweapon with a temper.” I was tempted to say more, but James was already frowning.

“So you don’t think I should date her.” he stated glumly.

I thought about saying, “No.” I knew how hard fighting my own feelings had been before, and I wasn’t sure that I really felt the same way about Laura as James does toward Alma. If his feelings for her could match how I felt about Ai and Mai, how could I really judge him for dating her? Ai and Mai had blood on their hands as well and possibly less remorse.

“I don’t really know, man. Sorry, but you might actually be a good influence on her. You’re fine with being a martyr for humankind, right?” I teased, not knowing what else to do.

“Did you know Alma studied medicine?” he inquired after thinking a bit.

“I’m pretty sure she’s studied about everything, but yes. I remember how she was helping tend people after the zombies blew up at the amusement park.” I explained, still feeling haunted by that day. I had been introduced to a new level of feeling helpless.

“Oh. Of course. She also created a more efficient system for cleaning and sanitizing the air in the new children’s hospital.” he added, obviously wanting to defend her.

“She also takes samples from people to look into their DNA on whim. The girl has some interesting pastimes.” I wryly replied. Then I reached into the closet and pulled out my Sith bathrobe. Hearing the sound of a lightsaber, I turned, finding Brandon there with a brown robe and an ignited lightsaber. “Whoa. You bought the Obi-Wan Force FX Lightsaber?”

He stood there smiling with more swagger than ever as he turned the lightsaber for me to see better.

“Would you two mind starting our guys’ night in a truly manly fashion: building a weapon?” I asked as I looked between them.

“Aww… no need to be jealous. We can go out and buy you one. Brenna said the girls are starting their night with shopping too.” replied Brandon in a mocking tone.

“Oh, it’s not that at all. I just don’t want James to be entirely left out. I mean… look at him.” I stated as I gestured to James. “How is this a guys’ night if he’s barely participating. I can get some costumes going too, and they’ll be far better than what we could buy.”

“Hmm… You do have a point.” stated Brandon, rubbing his chin. “How long will it take?”

I put on the glasses for my tablet, grinned, and said, “If Mila’s willing to help, an hour tops.”

“Of course, Jarod. You know I’ll do anything for the master.” she replied after appearing on the nearby mirror.

My smile widened as I started sorting through designs. Then I said, “Mila, please show these two various lightsaber styles as we walk.”

While James and Brandon discussed the designs they like, Mila and I worked out what to use for durability with the right amount of transparency. James was incredibly strong now. I knew I couldn’t make anything that would withstand his swing if I wanted to be able to lift it up myself, but I wanted to do the best I could manage in case he accidentally did get a bit enthusiastic. Mila and I had some debate over gyro sensors, light emission, and audio boards, but we were satisfied enough by the time the group got down to the lab.

“This place always looks so impressive. What do you need to do first!?” asked Brandon as he looked around.

“Mila’s already fabricating circuit boards. I’ll just need you to confirm which styles you want and figure out costumes.” I replied.

He grinned and said, “That’s so cool…” He walked over to one of the tables, nodded to himself, and then told us “Yep. You’re right. This feels much more manly than shopping, not to mention far more worthy of Star Wars. Shopping is for girls.”

“Oops. I think I just destroyed Brandon’s board, Jarod. I am, after all, going out on the girls’ night, shopping. I don’t see how I was supposed to concentrate on your manly endeavors at the same time.” stated Mila with sarcasm flowing through each word.

“Seriously? You know I was only joking, right?” insisted Brandon.

“Oh. Looks like it survived.” she assured him.

Brandon looked up at James, shook his head, and whispered “Women. I tell ya.” Then he loudly proclaimed “I was all for using the theater, but I wouldn’t mind starting the movies down here if you don’t mind creating a serving droid as well.”

I laughed and told him “I fear Mila would take offense. Help James pick out a costume.”

If he actually did manage to offend her, only James and Aaliyah could convince her to help us, and I knew James wouldn’t take the offender’s side in such a case.

“Jarod, can you make this?” inquired James, pointing at the screen after briefly perusing costumes. He was pointing at Darth Vader.

I nodded and grinned. That certainly would suit James’ build.

“You do have the height for it.” admitted Brandon. “I mean I could and all, but I make everything look good anyways.”

“Mila, mind making a voice enhancer for the helmet?” I asked, signaling which base module to use via the display from my glasses and a gesture.

“Already started.” she replied.

I grinned again, excited by what we were doing. If I could convince James to mimic Force powers with spells, the movies might be put off for a while.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 215

“Hey, man. What’s up?” I asked as I strolled into James’ office. The technology throughout this place still baffled me, despite my attempts to understand all of it. This office was one of those cases where I only had vague notions on how the furniture formed. On the other hand, Mila’s body was a fine piece of craftsmanship which I did help build.

She nodded politely to me as I entered.

“Nothing really. I just wanted to talk with you about something.” replied James as he watched me.

Rolling my eyes, I told him “Well, yeah. I got that idea when Mila told me that you want to talk.”

James laughed and said, “I suppose that would be a slight giveaway. I imagine that you’ve noticed I’m a little different now.”

Despite his laughter, James was obviously nervous. I knew his expressions too well to be fooled.

“Mysterious potions of unknown origin will do that.” I suggested.

His surprised stare was hilarious. “What? How?” he asked.

“Oh. Aaliyah texts like a fiend. I asked her what happened earlier today. Sorry, but I was curious.” I explained.

“I see.” he stated with a nod, but his eyes were studying me.

I laughed and said, “I see the potion hasn’t helped you relax. Chill, dude. Everything’s fine.”

James sighed. “How am I not supposed to worry at times when everything keeps changing? We barely graduated high school five months ago. Now I’m about to buy my father’s hotels off him. At the beginning of the year, I would’ve laughed at the suggestion of magic being real, no offense. Now… well, you know. Did I tell you Alma thinks we should start dating?” he asked.

“She’s wanted to date you for a while now. I think all of them still do.” I pointed out.

“No, I’m pretty sure the twins are more interested in you now.” he argued with a smile.

I shrugged and kept grinning. Ai and Mai were certainly attracted to James still, but their advances toward me were unmistakable. “You got me there.” I admitted. “But still… Most girls you meet want to date you.”

“Only because I have inherent magic that I can’t suppress.” he suggested.

“Nah. You’re just that likeable. Seriously. Even if you didn’t have any magic, I’m sure you’d manage to do fine.” I insisted. “Look at me… I’m not half as attractive as you, not as wealthy, and not half as charming. I’m still dating twins.”

His magic certainly played a part in his relationships, but his personality was a obviously a winning factor. People often responded to sincerity when they believed it, and James was certainly sincere in his good intentions.

“Wait. You’re dating both of them?” asked James, looking startled. “What if they… No, they have to know. Don’t they?’ He shook his head and then said, “No, define ‘dating’ for me.”

I nearly laughed as I said, “Umm… I’m worried that your brain will hemorrhage at this rate.”

“Seriously. You can’t date two girls. That’s just…” he started before stopping to consider. “Awkward.”

“Not as bad as you might think.” I replied.

“Due to their telepathy?” inquired James.

Now was my turn to be surprised. “Oh. Wow. You knew?”

Shaking his head, James said, “Not until you asked if telepathy was common in their family.”

I nodded. James could be surprisingly perceptive at times for someone who generally didn’t want to know. “Ah. Oops. I probably shouldn’t say anything else about it. Sorry, but it’s their secret.” I explained, holding up my hands to show the ball was out of my court.

He nodded and said, “I understand. Just was a bit of a surprise.”

“Not as much as you were this morning.” I argued. “When you showed up looking all glowy, I knew something had happened. I didn’t expect you to handle Ai and Mai like kittens though. I thought I was having a bizarre dream for a moment there. How fast are you now?”

“No clue. I’m not quite as fast as Alma still, but I’m much closer.” he replied.

“Is that why she brought up dating again?” I inquired, winking at him.

He shook his head, sighed, and then said, “No, actually. She brought that up before I took the potion. Apparently, dating her would be dangerous in some way. I really don’t know the specifics, but Aaliyah was adamantly against it unless I took the potion.”

“Huh. I’ll have to ask Ai and Mai what they can tell me about it.” I promised, hoping I’d be able to find out something useful for him. There were many, many secrets in their family.

“Can you tell them apart now?” he inquired.

“Nope. Well, I can if they let me get a good look at their eyes, but that’s a rarity. I just sort of go with it.” I admitted.

“That really doesn’t bother you?’ asked James, looking concerned.

I waved away his worries and said, “No, man. I’ve got two beautiful girls who actually get me. I mean really get me. If I want to run an idea by them for optimization of heat distribution in a nuclear reactor, they hold up their end of the conversation most of the time. I can’t fault them for their lapses, given that it’s not really their focus. I didn’t do any better discussing underwater ecosystems with them.”

“I really need to make time for studying more. I managed a little today, but I haven’t really had much alone time despite not sleeping last night.” he claimed, frowning as he looked down at his desk.

“You don’t need to sleep?” I asked, surprised by the idea. James would have a great deal more time if he didn’t.

“I haven’t felt tired yet, but I might just crash for a day at any point. No clue yet.” he replied.

“Wow. That will really free up some time, assuming you don’t do whatever you did last night.” I assured him, feeling a bit envious. I could do so much more in a day if I didn’t have sleep taking up my as much time.

“Oh.” stated James, finally looking up. “I was hanging on Cosette’s floor. There was an impromptu dance party.”

“James and a bunch of girls dancing the night away. Sounds about right.” I teased, knowing James was an incredible dancer.

He sighed and shook his head, looking down as he traced some pattern on his desk.

“I really want a chance to speak with Cosette. I have so many questions, but I don’t want to make Ai and Mai jealous either. Probably will have to wait until the girls are better acquainted, but dude… we’re living with a vampire. Isn’t that crazy?”

James looked up and smiled before saying, “Really is. She’s got some pretty interesting magic.”

“Oh?” I asked, wanting to hear more.

“I’ve seen her shapeshift, and she can apparently heal wounds. At least, she said that she heals the opening after she feeds. Hard to tell, since I only saw her feed on Portentia.” he explained.

“Wow. She just let you watch her?” I asked in surprise.

“Sure did. Portentia’s blood seems somewhat like a drug to her. She was a bit hyperactive for hours afterward.” he claimed.

Just that much already delighted me. Vampires always seemed like a cool myth to me. Then Emma related how her dad was murdered by one, and they seemed a bit more terrifying. Cosette didn’t strike me as terrifying, especially not if she was as careful as James claimed. Of course, the girl could have put on a ruse for him.

“I can’t believe she’s related to the twins. Their expressions were priceless.” I mentioned, thinking back on how that news struck them.

“I wouldn’t call it a close relation, since her father was over two hundred years old. You’ll probably talk the girl’s ear off when you get a chance.” he teased.

Barking a laugh, I said, “You’re probably right, assuming she won’t run off.”

“She won’t. She knows Aaliyah wouldn’t be happy with her, and she doesn’t have anywhere else to go. There’s something you can ask her about later.” suggested James. He seemed to remember something and said, “Before I forget again, we’ve been instructed to have a boys’ night tonight.”

“Well, yeah. Ai and Mai told me they would be indisposed, and Mila already posted the times on the company calendar.” I told him, wondering if he ever actually looked at the thing.

“Oh. I don’t have to inform Brandon then?” he asked.

“Of course not, master. I wouldn’t dream of shirking my duties simply because I’m helping you study.” insisted Mila, making “studying” sound suggestive with her tone.

“Helping you ‘study’, eh?” I teased, quoting the word with my fingers as I glanced at Mila.

“Oh, yes, Jarod. The master enjoys my assistance immensely.” she teased with a playful smile.

“Whoa. Stop there. No dirty innuendos in my office, you two.” ordered James.

“I suppose Mila and I can continue our conversation outside if you need to do some more work. Oh, but you’ll need her assistance, won’t you.” I teased with a wink.

“Well, now I know your ulterior motive for creating Mila’s body.” suggested James with an unconvincing frown.

“What? Are you suggesting that I had an ulterior motive for pouring so much effort into helping Mila? For shame, James. I’m merely working toward sainthood.” I insisted.

“Says the guy who’s dating twins.” he argued.

“Someone had to help those poor, lost souls.” I assured him.

James rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t want to know what sort of help you’re giving them. You can keep those details to yourself.”

Sighing, I complained “My own best friend has no interest in how my relationships are going.”

“You’re right. I should talk with them about how our would-be saint save them.” he agreed, standing and stepping around his desk.

“Whoa now…” I told him, blocking his path. “What’s said in your office should stay in your office.”

“Oh? You’re sure?” he asked with a smile.

“Nah.” I admitted, waving the thought to the side. “They’d probably be up for discussing things. Let’s just see if they’re busy.” I pulled out my phone and watched in surprise as it jumped out of my hand, floated into James’, and was set on his desk.

“No need. I changed my mind.” he told me, taking a seat again.

“Dude… Let’s watch Star Wars tonight.” I suggested.

“Huh? I suppose we can. I haven’t seen it for a while. What brought that up?” he asked.

“The way you did that reminded me of a Jedi recovering his lightsaber.” I admitted, envious as ever of magical abilities.

“Oh. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Mila, mind checking if Brandon would be up for watching any of the Star Wars movies?” he asked.

“Not at all, master. I’ll let you know the moment he replies.” she assured him.

“Can you make this room look like Tatooine?” I hoped.

James shrugged and glanced at Mila. The walls immediately appeared to be rolling dunes of sand, and I could feel a dry wind hitting my face.

“Actually, let’s go with Alderaan.” I told them as I rubbed my eyes. “The dry air gets to me.”

I could instantly feel the difference in the nice, cool air. The scenery was beautiful, and I could see a starship flying up in the distance, the perfect subtle touch for that Star Wars feel.

“Master, Brandon is asking if we get to use the theater for our movies.” stated Mila.

James shrugged and said, “Sure.”

“He’s going to wear his Jedi pajamas then.” she reported.

“Oh… I’m bringing my Sith robe then. It’s on!” I exclaimed, liking how quick Brandon was to get in on the fun. This was going to be one awesome night!

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.

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 196

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Must she come too?” asked Alma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 189

James and I continued talking for quite some time as I drove us around. His worries kept appearing each time magic re-entered the conversation. I was far more impressed than I was concerned. If anyone could be trusted with extraordinary abilities, James could. He’d probably argue that I was just being affected by his enchantment, but I could think of far too many examples of James’ good nature and fair judgement for some enchantment to be the only reason. He was incredible.

James looked down in surprise as his phone started ringing. Considering his phone was generally muted, I could see why.

“Hello?” he asked, answering the call.

I could see the worry on his face as he listened. Something bad had happened.

“Oh no. Jarod and I are on our way. I honestly forgot about her. What happened?” he asked.

Her? Ah. The fairy was the most likely candidate. He wasn’t accustomed to her presence yet and left her out back earlier. I started heading home, assuming that was where the trouble was happening. James seemed to be listening intently. What happened?

“I’m terribly sorry. I truly did forget about her. Who would have thought that she’d still be out there after so many hours? I’ll hurry back there as soon as we arrive.” he assured the caller.

“What’s going on?” I inquired, having been accelerating for most of the caller’s monologue. If there was a situation the twins and Alma couldn’t handle, something seriously bad was happening.

“See you soon.” stated James before ending the call. Then he turned to me and said, “Apparently, the little fairy tried blasting her way into the house, got in a disagreement with Alma, and attacked her.”

I eased off the gas a little as I nodded. “Don’t forget to get the other side of the story before you start chastising someone.” I cautioned.

“I have a feeling that no amount of chastisement would faze the fairy.” he suggested.

“You’re still going to try. Besides, Alma has a tendency to be a bit forceful with people.” I reminded him, trying not to be too critical of her. “Do you really believe she didn’t provoke the attack?”

James frowned. “I’ll do my best to appease everyone.” he assured me.

I laughed and then said, “Don’t get me wrong. They both might need chewed out a bit. I was just thinking that this isn’t a time to leap to a conclusion, not with your volatile girlfriend involved.”

James sighed loudly. Staring at me, he replied “Jarod, we’re not dating. I don’t know that we will ever date, though I do like her company. We’re just… friends? I’m not even sure. She’s complicated.”

I laughed some more. James was obviously head over heels for her. I had no doubt that the two would end up dating. I wished I knew if that’d be a good thing, but I let the matter drop. There was nothing I could do at the moment, and James did have something to worry about at the moment if the fairy actually did attack Alma. Most people couldn’t survive being hit by a powerful laser, so he’d need to come up with safety measures against the fey in that scenario.

James hopped out of the car the moment we arrived in the driveway.

“Good luck!” I called, not wanting to follow. There was nothing I could do if the fairy or Alma was angry. However, I could come up with contingencies for various outcomes and consult with James should he ask. I had a feeling things wouldn’t get that far.

,,,^._.^,,,

I fought my temper, unwilling to harm this creature even by accident. James wouldn’t forgive me if I did, and I’d never forgive myself. As dangerous as the fey was, she might be the last of her kind. I hadn’t sensed any others quite like her when I was in the forest.

I sensed James jogging toward me just after the car arrived. His slow, human motions seemed to take an eternity to bring him here.

“Alma?” he called, looking around as if to find me in the mist.

He was unreasonably handsome, and I moved to him, taking his arm. That fairy should at least come to realize that James was with me. He looked down at me, concern clearly visible on his face, at least until the fairy flew up to him and hugged his nose with her entire body.

“James, letting her do that really isn’t appropriate, especially considering there isn’t a stitch on her.” I informed him.

“Huh? She’s… well… I hadn’t even thought of that of all things. None of the fey seem to feel a need for clothes. What of the fighting? Why is there fog everywhere?” he demanded.

“The fog makes destroying things with lasers much more difficult at any range. That was Mila’s doing, not mine in any case.” I explained, wishing again that he was better educated. We needed to rectify his ignorance. “Imagine what your mother would say if she were to find out that you let naked girls cling to you simply because they’re of a different species.”

He laughed, telling me “I’m sure mother would simply be in shock that there was a fairy hugging me.”

I let go of him, not feeling comfortable holding onto him in my current mood. Why was he being so dense? I decided to alter my approach slightly.

“Oh? And what about the taller one who is difficult to detect?” I inquired, wishing the fey would accept names. If nothing else, we could label them. No, they deserved better than to have our ways force upon them. Fey couldn’t be domesticated in any case.

He seemed to be considering my words, but he was taking quite some time to do it.

“Well?” I asked. Seeing that he had no reply, I stated “I thought as much. No, I’m not suggesting that we introduce your parents to these creatures, but I do feel you should be a little more sensitive to proper decorum around them. Having met Emma as well as her grandmother, I’m sure you can see that these creatures don’t always have innocent intentions.”

A smile played at his lips as he said, “Aren’t you descended from one as well?”

I crossed my arms as I told him “If anything, that proves my point about their intentions. If you don’t respond soon, that one might grow violent again.”

I could see the change in his expression as he listened to the fey. What did he tell her that made her so exuberant? Probably nothing of importance. James had that effect on people, and the fey weren’t above his gifts. Neither was I.

After some time, he said, “As far as I can tell, she just missed me. I don’t see what is so improper about her intentions.”

“James, you’re… you’re…” I started, having the earlier images the fairy had shown me still playing in the back of my mind. She was far from an innocent creature. “You’re being hoodwinked!” I exclaimed. “You have no idea of what she was thinking about just moments ago, and I am not going to repeat it.”

I spun around to leave. “When you finally come to your senses, will you please at least attempt to reason with her about staying in the forest for the sake of your employee.” I insisted, too upset to safely remain here. “Goodnight!”

I hurried to my domain to calm myself down. I was not going to lower myself to discuss that creature’s suggestive thoughts with him. Couldn’t he understand that she desired him as a man, not merely as a friend? She might well be able to change her size. Though there was obviously some record of interactions between my family and the fey, we hardly had a detailed catalogue of the means such creature possessed to take a lover. Besides, what made him believe fey even understood the difference between friendliness and something more? They weren’t like us!

I unclenched my fist and sighed. There was work to be done, and I couldn’t do anything more to alter James’ views at the moment. If the fairy grew too enthusiastic, he would grow uncomfortable and reprimand her. Despite how terribly slow he could be to analyze a situation at times, he was of excellent character. James wouldn’t fall victim to the whims of a fey.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 188

“Okay. Time to spit it out. You’ve been dodging for over half an hour already.” I stated, having just glanced at the time. James continued spacing out as I stared at him, so I said, “Yo! James! Come back to me. Seriously, what’s eating you?”

He exhaled suddenly and took a deep breath. The he looked at me and told me “I’m sorry. This has been bothering me for a while, and I have been trying to think of a way to tell you ever since my birthday, when Aaliyah revealed some things to me.”

“Whoa.” I replied, holding up a hand. “This isn’t one of her secrets, is it?”

If he was about to put my life at risk, I wanted to accept it with full knowledge of what would happen, but he looked at me questioningly.

“Huh?” he asked. Then his expression suddenly changed as he said, “No. Of course not. By the way, how does it feel knowing you were trained by the world’s only assassin?”

I shrugged and said, “Bit strange, really. Makes sense when I think about the forms she taught me, but don’t get sidetracked.” Keep James focused on one thing was proving exceptionally difficult tonight.

He nodded before saying, “Yeah, well… Aaliyah unloaded a bunch of secrets on me. Remember how she promised me answers if I gave her the ‘right cake’? Turned out that I was supposed to give her ‘birthday cake’. Figures, doesn’t it?”

“That’s Aaliyah for you. She’s very good at telling you things and not telling you a thing at the same time.” I agreed as I laughed.

“Well, Aaliyah somehow figured out why I absorb residual energy. My body utilizes it in a number of ways, apparently. Unfortunately, I can’t control how I use the stuff. I just do… and… I’m sorry.” stated James, looking glum.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Sorry for dragging this out? Say it already!”

“Yeah. Sorry. One of the things my body does is to… umm… make people like me.” he muttered.

I laughed, thinking about how useful that was. “That’s great stuff!” I exclaimed.

“Jarod! Seriously. I don’t know the specifics, really, but I give off some sort of enchantment that grows more powerful as I absorb energy. Anyone affected by it is forced to view me more favorably.” he insisted, sounding disturbed.

I couldn’t stop laughing. Only James would worry about having such an incredible gift. “Dude, that’s the coolest ability you could ever want!” I argued. “That’s great! Seriously, you have the perfect magic for your job.”

“But I don’t want to manipulate people!” he complained.

I stopped laughing as I looked at him. He was really being eaten up by this revelation. “I know.” I assured him, still smiling. “That’s one of the great things about you.”

“How do you know you don’t feel that way simply because my magic’s messing with you?” he asked.

James had probably thought through every last possible negative aspect of his ability dozens of times, but he wasn’t able to consider the good. Nodding, I said, “First off, that doesn’t matter, James. Relax. You have magical charisma. That’s just part of you whether you like it or not. Your actions, however, are made by your own choices. I know you’re a good person because I’ve been your best friend for years. I’ve seen the things you do to help people. From the day we met, you’ve always helped me, and I’ll always be grateful for it. If you weren’t such a great person, Aaliyah probably would’ve been hired to take you out by now, since you’d make one exceptional villain. Think about it… no judge or jury would want to find you guilty!”

I couldn’t resist teasing him a little more. His ability was sooo cool! James still looked a bit glum, but he seemed to be slightly more relaxed. “So what else can you do?” I questioned.

“Huh?” he asked, having obviously been lost in his thoughts again. Catching up to what I asked, he exclaimed “Oh! I can tell if people are lying.”

“Wow. Really?” I asked, but times James never seemed to notice someone lying to him popped into my mind. “I think that power’s broken.”

“Huh? Why?” he asked.

“You rarely say anything even if people are obviously lying.” I pointed out.

“Calling people out all the time would be a bit rude, and I haven’t always trusted my gut, although I have more often of late.” he explained.

James did worry about manners a great deal more than most. He had tried to correct mine a number of times over the years, but there was only so much propriety that I could stomach. Nodding, I said, “I take it that there isn’t some flashing warning light in your head then.”

“I just get these feelings when people are talking with me.” he stated. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think it’s how I tell the twins apart. After some time with them, I just developed a feeling of which was which.”

I laughed again, caught up in the utility of such a gift. “Wow. That’d be handy and yet is so odd.” I insisted. Knowing the minds of the twins were very closely connected, James could be said to know the truth of their bodies, which could lead to all sorts of funny conversations. Then were the games I wouldn’t want to play against James, knowing what he could do.

“Jarod, what’s up?” he asked.

“Nothing really.” I assured him. “Just thinking about all of the games I don’t want to play against you now, like poker.” I teased with a laugh.

James’ expression had changed. Did he sense something?

“So was I telling the truth?” I probed.

He shrugged and said, “No clue. Seemed partly true.”

“Yep. Was also thinking about how to test you.” I told him, though there were plenty of other thoughts as well. “This is pretty awesome!” I exclaimed, considering more things James could pull off.

“Oh great. I’m going to be a lab rat now.” he stated.

“You bet! At least you know you’ll be treated well, since everyone will like you!” I teased.

“Har har. Very funny.” he replied, attempting to be dry even as he started to laugh.

“I knew you wouldn’t mind! Now let’s cut you open and see how this works!” I suggested with a grin.

“Okay, okay, okay!” he exclaimed. “I’m relaxed now.”

“About time. You have these wonderful, useful abilities which make me insanely envious, so please don’t make them a burden. That’d drive me nuts! I would absolutely love to be able to use magic. I’ve sought the supernatural for most of my life and can’t quite be a part of it even now that I know it’s real.” I confessed.

“Sorry. I really don’t mean to rub your face in it or anything.” he insisted, looking all too serious.

Please, just relax.” I ordered, interrupting him before he said anything more. “I’m not all brokenhearted over here. I’m glad to be part of your business, and I love getting to see all the cool spells people do. I was just wanting to emphasize the point that you should appreciate what you have, not let it drag you down. As I showed Duncan, I’m not precisely defenseless anymore, and I’ll be even less defenseless after I create a suit to my liking. If you manage the magical defenses for me, my second suit should give me the strength needed to keep up better.”

“I’ll do what I can. Mind if I consult with Alma some?” he asked. “She has been teaching me of late.”

“Not at all. I’ll gladly take whatever help I can get.” I assured him. “Besides, she might be willing, since you can magic her into liking you more if she refuses.”

Shaking his head, he said, “No, not really. Alma can block that enchantment to some extent. She’s known about it longer than I have.”

I nodded but said, “Still, she obviously likes you. That’s gotta help your chances.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I have a horrible time understanding her. Seriously, why would someone that incredible see me as anything other than a… a… well, lab rat to be studied?”

“Maybe she likes good people?” I suggested. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain what you see in her either.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, seeming surprised by the idea. “I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with her on a number of things, but I really thinks she means well. You should see her talk about saving people. That’s really what she’s into. Kinda like Portentia, but with a different outlook on who needs saved. I know you may not have noticed with a twin on each arm, but Alma’s incredibly beautiful. When I look in her eyes, I have trouble looking away.”

Laughing, I said, “I’ve noticed. You can’t seem to take your eyes off her half the time.” I do my best not to look at her at all. Someone other than James staring too much would probably offend her, and offending her was dangerous. Besides, she probably would figure out that I was examining her.

“I’m not that bad.” insisted James. “I’m being serious here! I believe Alma’s a good person at heart. She just has to deal with far more than an average person.”

“I’m being serious too. You’re obviously into her. Admit it to yourself at least. For me, she’s a bit creepy. I’ve seen werewolves and werelions. I commonly hang out with a guy who can change his shape to some extent. Brenna can change her hair, skin, and eye color. Emma’s practically the goddess of plants. Yet I still feel that Alma is the most inhuman ‘person’ I’ve ever met. Her eyes and skin don’t look natural at all. She barely seems to have a sense of humor. Plus, her movement seems to defy physics with her speed and strength. Oh yeah. She also has a temper and tends to combust things when annoyed.” I explained, hoping I hadn’t gone too far in my rebuttal.

“Yes, she has a temper and doesn’t always keep it in check. I know she’s extremely fast as well as strong. Though not a shade of violet I’ve seen in nature, you have to admit that her eyes are quite remarkable to behold. As for humor, she’s British aristocracy. You can’t expect her to laugh at the same things we do, but I assure you that she’s quite beautiful when she does laugh. I’m not planning on dating her or anything. Even if she is still willing, there’s just so much of a gap between us.”

I laughed and said, “Keep telling yourself that, but she doesn’t seem like the type to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

James was completely hooked on her. Yes, Alma was inhumanly beautiful, but she was very much inhuman in mind as well as body from what I had seen. Her temper was her most relatable aspect, and even that had a fierceness rarely seen in humans. Furthermore, she was incredibly dangerous. The little the twins told me revealed that the show Alma had put on for us when James had gone to fight her was nothing more than that, a show. All I could think to do was consult with Aaliyah on ways to protect James if his relationship with Alma turned sour. There had to be a solution.