“Boss-man, sir! Let’s go in that one next!” exclaimed Aaliyah, who was happily bouncing in Mila’s passenger seat while pointing at a store on the GPS. When we set out, Aaliyah explained the plan she and the twins made. In the past six hours, we had hit only a handful of stores but were greeted with tremendous enthusiasm for our quest. I thought we would just go inside and ask if we could leave a stack of flyers. Aaliyah hadn’t warned me that she sent out mass emails to subscribers in the area mentioning that the developer of Ancient Tribes of Earth would be stopping by various stores and giving away codes to order free merchandise from the Global Princess Entertainment website. After the first store, I read through a flyer and found that each one briefly explained the event and had a random code at the bottom for a participation prize, which ranged from free merchandise, like t-shirts, to free subscription periods. I wasn’t entirely sure how Aaliyah could have thrown such prizes together so fast, but I was betting she had prepared to do giveaways months ago as part of her marketing strategy. The girl always seemed to think of everything.
At each store, Aaliyah had me lift her up onto my shoulder, so she could talk with the crowd some. Then she had me explain what was transpiring, where to meet up in the game, how to join the guild we were forming, and other relevant information. After that, she would do a Q&A for a bit before announcing we had to leave for the next store. The luckiest group, in my opinion, was in the store we hit around lunch time, since Aaliyah had preordered over a dozen pizzas to share. The employees there were very helpful, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the store’s manager was one of the subscribers who had shown up, since I didn’t want anyone getting in trouble on account of us bringing a mass amount of food into the store. Of course, the manager was probably more than slightly pleased to see the number of people who were purchasing time cards and even other games while at his store. If I had more time, I very well might have looked around some myself, but my life seemed to be getting busier all the time.
Being a Friday, the outdoor mall’s parking lot was rather full, so we ended up parking on the outskirts. Despite being at this for hours, Aaliyah still seemed energetic as she skipped along past the cars with her pink backpack bouncing away. I wasn’t remotely prepared to see the hundreds of people standing around as we turned a corner to approach the game store. Aaliyah turned toward me and said, “Upsy-daisy,” while lifting her arms toward me. I obliged her, setting the box of flyers down, lifting her with one arm, and holding her while she hugged my side. I wondered if she suddenly gained a fear of crowds upon seeing such a gathering. “You brought your tiara along?” I asked after noticing the gold and gems catching the light. “Duh, boss-man, sir. I’ve worn it at all the stores. How else are they going to recognize the princess of Global Princess Entertainment?” she stated. I attempted to reassure myself that I could act reasonably well as a bodyguard against humans, but the thought was hardly comforting as I looked at the mass of people. Looking at Aaliyah as she grinned and waved, I smiled and decided that most of these people would probably rush to the adorable girl’s defense if something were to happen.
“Ask them to get in lines, boss-man, sir!” whispered Aaliyah into my ear. I raised my free hand and was going to call out to try being heard, but I was caught off-guard by the sudden hushing of the crowd. I stared for a moment into the countless eyes on me and felt my nerves on the rise, so I quickly reproduced a spell the twins had shown me for amplifying my voice and said, “The princess would like all of you here in regard to the development in Ancient Tribes of Earth to form neat lines, so we can make sure everyone gets a flyer with their code.” To my amazement, everyone did as I asked with remarkable speed. “Start explaining things while I tell anyone in the store that we’ll be staying out here.” whispered Aaliyah before jumping to the ground. I started talking about our need for an army in the game as I handed stacks of flyers to the first person in every row. I never felt myself to be that great at speeches, even though I was always graded well in school. Nothing I said should have had anyone here hanging on my words, but, nonetheless, the crowd seemed completely transfixed as if their very lives depended on my next word. I felt in awe of the situation and more than a little frightened by it.
More people flowed out of the game shop, and I could see Aaliyah directing them into lines. When I asked if there were extra flyers, people calmly passed them forward, smiling at me as I received them. The twins would be overjoyed by the numbers this outing was producing, but I remained dumbfounded when Aaliyah, once more upon my shoulder, started answering questions. There were as many eyes on me as there were on her, even though I was merely acting as a chair. Quite some time passed as she talked, and I was more than a little surprised when Carl came out of a nearby store with a bottle of water for each of us. I gratefully thanked him and gulped it down. The summer heat was as bad as ever, and I didn’t know how he wasn’t dying of heat in his strange robes. “If there aren’t anymore questions, please do browse through the selection of games inside the store. This event wouldn’t have been possible without their support,” said Aaliyah as giddy as ever. Unlike me, she wasn’t even sweating and told me to drink the second bottle as the crowd was applauding. Then she jumped to Carl and gave him a hug.
I told Carl “I never would have pegged you for a gamer.” He laughed and said, “I’m not one. I just happened to be shopping for sandals and saw you two here. Given the heat, I thought you might want a drink after all that talking.” Sometimes the world truly did seem quite small. Oddly enough with Carl owning the best restaurant around, he asked us to join him for hot dogs at a stand he knew just a few blocks down. Feeling famished, I was disinclined to turn him down, and Aaliyah enthusiastically debated with herself about what toppings she should have. Though I offered to drive us, Carl said that walking would be easier, since there was little parking around the stand, which proved quite true. After finishing a single hot dog, Carl said, “Ah. That was appetizing. Thank you for joining me, but I fear I must get back to the restaurant. Please come visit soon!” Then he walked away as I stared after him, my second hot dog only half gone while a third sat on my plate. “He’s always like that when away from his restaurant.” explained Aaliyah with a giggle.
We were partway back to Mila when a man stepped out of an alleyway, blocking our path. “Hold on there a moment, lovelies. I need to ‘ave a word with you.” he told us as he slowly pulled out a large knife. I paused and considered ways to disarm him, but Aaliyah darted into the alley. The man motioned for me to follow her, and I did, slowly backing toward her instead of daring to turn my back on him. “Now ye see, I was gonna put up a lovely ‘chantment on those folk all gathered around, so I could get meself a bit of money for the night. Then I saw you makin’ a spell of ye own and figured best not draw too much attention. Now I figure you can just hand over that shiny crown the girl’s got, and we can be square for the money I lost.” he claimed. “Or you can turn around and walk away without broken bones.” I promised as I gained focus on the magic in the air. Then I saw he had already been preparing spells while we were talking. To make matters worse, a sharp clang made me turn enough to realize there was another man behind me.
I was about to move when I heard a sickening crunch behind me and the knife wielder’s face went pale. I was frozen in shock as magically propelled knives leapt from the man and went flying past me. The man turned quickly as if to run, but fell backward a second later. Little Aaliyah was somehow there with three knives in her tiny hands. “I found your knives, mister. Your turn to catch,” she said. I didn’t see her move. The knives might as well have teleported from her hands into the man’s chest and head. Then she skipped over to me and suggested “Maybe we should go to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce for dessert. Carl has the best cheesecake in the whoooole world!” I looked from her to the man with the knives in him. Then I looked to the other man and felt sick. Where there should have been a head was a bloody pulp. I was shaking when I looked back to Aaliyah. She placed her hand on my shoulder and started to sing “Nothing’s going to harm you, not when I’m around.” I recognized the song from Sweeney Todd, which didn’t make me feel more comfortable at all. Who was this girl?