Eseld was dueling with the twins when I logged into Ancient Tribes of Earth last night. She couldn’t beat both of them at once, but she did manage to take one of them out and injure the other significantly before losing the duel each time she tried. Knowing that my character’s skills weren’t nearly a match for either Ai or Mai yet, I was certain that Eseld could beat me with ease. I was betting the girl – assuming she was a girl, not a “Guy In Real Life” like Brandon – had been playing since release to be so good. Though the initial twenty points in fire magic had been gained fairly swiftly, each progressive point took longer to get than the previous one. From what I saw of my comrades, their most used skills were just as difficult to increase, even more so for the twins who had put the most time into the game thus far. Well, I supposed Aaliyah actually won on most time spent in the game, considering that she single-handedly created it. Having Game Master privileges, I was fairly certain that she could set her skills to be whatever she wanted on whim, so comparing any of her stats with someone else was pointless. The A.I. responses to some of the things she said were truly spooky, like the NPCs were actually conversing instead of following preset dialogue possibilities. She fell asleep just before we got the fifth rare material for crafting.
After putting Aaliyah to bed, I went back to my study and did a little more training. I was tired, but I really wanted to catch up on the coursework my employees had already mastered. If only I had paid more attention to the time and my next day’s schedule, I wouldn’t have been woken up with only five hours of sleep. This time I woke to Aaliyah forcing my lips into a smile while saying, “Boss-man, sir! Smile! Morning’s here! We get to see your parents today!” The past month was still such a blur in my head that I could only guess I hadn’t seen my parents since Regina’s funeral. They deserved better. Aaliyah, who was already wearing her secretary glasses, started listing off my schedule. I patted her head, lifted her off my chest where she was sitting, and set her on the side of my bed after I stood. I wasn’t surprised to find that she continued talking over the intercom even after I stepped into the bathroom to clean up. Aaliyah had apparently been awake for a couple hours already, despite still being in her pink princess pajamas. I was grateful that the twins had kept her entertained, considering I was babysitting the girl this week, but I still felt bad over leaving her alone with the girls who called her “twerp” and other such things.
My shower completely failed to make me feel even remotely more awake. Too many days with little sleep couldn’t be remotely healthy, but I was still glad that the nightmares hadn’t returned. I wasn’t sure what precisely happened to change things, but Emma and I both appeared to be cured, even though the memories that brought the nightmares remained. Nonetheless, I stepped out prepared to train Brandon and Brenna more. When we went down for breakfast, I found that the twins were eating in the kitchen with Brandon and Brenna. “We told you he is late,” said Ai and Mai in unison as they smiled at Brandon. He ignored them and remarked “Heya, boss! I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to eat before our workout today. My little sis overslept.” She rolled her eyes and explained “Brandon’s never grown past using me as an alarm clock, so he’s shi-…” Glancing down at Aaliyah, she finished “er.. out of luck if I have an off morning. Ai was pushing me to work on my crafting in A.T.O.E. more, so I could refine some of that monster’s carcass from the other day into better leather. Stayed up a bit late.” I shrugged and told her that I didn’t sleep as much as I should either.
Brandon, Brenna, and I ate hurriedly when Aaliyah told us we only had ten minutes left, despite Marco complaining that rushed meals ruined the satisfaction of his cooking. Ai and Mai tried talking us into skipping a day the whole time. As they each held one of my arms, walking with us to the gym, I told them “Sorry, but I don’t stand a chance against either of you in a fight. I obviously need training. Brandon and Brenna barely know how to stand, so they definitely can’t afford to miss days already. I promise we’ll play more this weekend.” The twins stopped me in my tracks so fast that Brenna walked into me from behind. “THIS WEEKEND?” they exclaimed together. I explained “Yeah. Well, I’m sure we’ll play tomorrow some too, but I don’t think I’ll have any time today. “ Ai and Mai truly had iron grips. Still holding me, Ai said, “But we’re making so much progress! I thought you wanted my sister and I to get into gaming.” I smirked, but couldn’t remark before Mai said, “Besides, you don’t want us to get too far ahead of you, do you?” I was tempted to try releasing their grip with magic, but I knew they vastly outstripped me at magical skill as well.
Looking over my shoulder at Aaliyah, I asked “Do Brandon and Brenna have jobs immediately after training today?” She shook her head negatively, so I told the twins “We can all play for an hour and a half if you two promise to train Brandon and Brenna afterward while I’m out with my parents. Gently though. I don’t want to come home to find out they have broken bones.” Brandon scoffed and said, “Wow. Seriously, man? I know Emma’s a freak, but you can’t seriously think those two could fight me without weird magic stuff.” The twins let go of my arms, turned, and smiled sweetly at him before asking in unison “Care to try, oh soulless one?” I quickly grabbed ahold of their arms and said, “If they’re willing, we can give you a little demonstration. Then I’ll gladly let you give it a shot at your own risk.” Ai and Mai sighed together. Then Mai said, “We wouldn’t hurt him,” followed by Ai saying, “too bad.” Brandon just laughed, but Brenna looked reasonably nervous about the idea. Emma was already in the gym when we arrived and started laughing at Brandon when he asked if she thought the twins could take him.
After Brandon, Brenna, Aaliyah, and Emma took a seat by the wall to watch, I squared off with Ai. When Mai stepped up behind me, I started regretting my suggestion of a demonstration. When I tried to sweep out my legs, I jumped to the side, not wanting Mai to hit me in the air. I wasn’t even on my feet when she kicked at me, but I managed to push off the ground as I caught her leg. My heart sunk as she cartwheeled backward with apparent ease, and I found myself knocking Ai’s punch to the side a second later. As they started attacking even faster, I focused even harder, attempting to survive without a broken rib. Before long, I was soaked in sweat and my muscles were burning. I was slowing down and hadn’t found a single opening to make an actual attack, but each of their blows that I was forced to block instead of dodge felt like a sledgehammer. I was surely bruised from head to toe, uncertain how much longer I could even stand, when I realized they had stopped attacking me. The cruel beauties looked ready for a fashion shoot for sweats and tanks without a drop of sweat on them or a hair out of place.
Aaliyah brought me a glass of water, and I let myself drop to the floor before accepting it. I didn’t understand why Emma was clapping and cheering. I did my best, but my best obviously wasn’t good enough. The twins could still easily defeat me. Perhaps I wasn’t yet prepared to hunt Alma, but each day I went without stopping her was another day for her to murder innocent people. There wasn’t enough time, but Aaliyah was right to get me back to working again. I felt horrible for how much I neglected my business and employees over the past month. First thing I needed now though was a nap. A hard workout with little sleep didn’t help me at all. “That was amazing, man-slave! I can’t believe you can hold your own that well!” exclaimed Emma as she walked toward me. I took another moment to think about the fight I just had and realized that I never saw Emma block all of the hits from Ai or Mai without magic. I vaguely remembered sparring with each of them off and on over the past month, but I only remembered feeling the need to improve, not the actual improvement itself. Though I still had room to grow, I WAS getting better. Maybe I would be able to face Alma soon with the help of my friends.