After the movie, the group and I headed back upstairs to check on how our guild in Ancient Tribes of Earth was going. “Boss-man, sir,” exclaimed Aaliyah, “look at all the new friends we have!” while Emma said, “I can’t believe you guys watched that without me! How could you, man-slave?” Emma’s hair resembled a blue, purple, and pink flame on her head, and I couldn’t help thinking she looked “hot” with it. “You look beautiful, Emma. Please give my compliments to your stylist!”, I told her, earning a grin from Aaliyah who stood by her chair, “As for the movie, I must blame the twins, who couldn’t sit idly by while waiting for the guild requests to stop flooding their screens.” Emma shrugged and said, “I suppose I might forgive you this time, since Aaliyah’s invited me to go with her and Chad tomorrow, but don’t let it happen again!” When I glanced at the twins, they pointedly raised their hands to me, looked the other way, and walked to their seats. Jarod and Brandon both expressed how much they loved it and thought Emma would as well. Brenna shrugged and said, “It was alright. Not really my thing.” Before our conversation got into too many spoilers, Ai and Mai demanded that we focus on the mission at hand, saving Ancient Tribes of Earth from the demon we unintentionally set loose.
Normally, the guild interface in games was straightforward and didn’t allow too many options. Hours passed as I played with the possibilities as a guild leader in Ancient Tribes of Earth. I could divide my chat window into regions of the world. If players purchased guild merchandise, I would be able to see their locations clear across the world. Also from the map, I could assign objectives to be completed, from killing certain enemies to moving along a desire route. Jarod confirmed that those options literally appeared like quests on his screen. The guild rank system allowed me to assign commanders and place different members under them similar to an army. There were countless customizations available for uniforms, formation of guild strongholds, and guild NPCs. When I made available the guild coffers and asked for donations toward implementing these things, I was amazed by the quick response. With thousands of members, small donations from each became a huge revenue stream, though not nearly so massive as to afford amazing strongholds clear across the globe. The magnitude of the possibilities was overwhelming as I tried to consider what would be best suited to our task, but my friends all volunteered ideas.
Ai and Mai insisted upon me first organizing the ranks, so I made everyone in my household plus Eseld, who had logged in and joined us, generals, giving them the power to assign ranks to those under them. Then I assigned them each an area of the globe, which, to my pleasant surprise, automatically assigned those in the specified region under the general’s commands. They were then able to further divide their respective regions, allowing me to get on with other things. Aaliyah sat on my lap and helped walk me through some of the item possibilities, saying that being able to guide the army like a strategy game was important for defeating the demons, so I needed to be able to see troop locations. For our first guild item, I decided upon a ring with the guild sigil I selected, a shield with a tribal sun pattern on it. I liked the idea of a ring not being too flashy, so enemies wouldn’t recognize us at a distance. I named us “The Garde” and purchased our first stronghold, which I named “Ashengarde” after my character. I let Aaliyah design the fortress, though she attempted to explain the interface as she went. I was fairly certain she could have made a fortune in real life just selling the in-game tools she had made. Making her treasurer as well as a general in the guild seemed only natural to me.
The hours we spent at organization still left much undone by the time Aaliyah fell asleep. The others didn’t seem much better off, save for the twins, who didn’t seem remotely tired yet. I still had some energy left, so I returned to the ballroom after tucking Aaliyah in her bed. Ai and Mai were the only ones left, diligently working at our guild still. “I hear you know about Aaliyah’s job.” I told them. To my surprise, they both logged out of the game immediately. “Are you insane?” asked Ai. “That game has a built-in voice chat.” whispered Mai, looking around. “I… wasn’t thinking about that. But….” I started saying, feeling confused. Ai covered my mouth, and looked around much as Mai had done. Then they started walking me to their wing. When I tried saying something, they both told me “Not here.”, so I remained quiet in my confusion until they deposited me in their office, both standing over me. “What do you know about Aaliyah’s work?” they asked together. “I, well, saw her kill two men, which she explained were marks. She’s an assassin,” I said, startled by the dubious expressions they both bore. “You’re saying that she let you witness her executing two people and live?” asked Ai. “And you’re crazy enough to mention it aloud? Do you want to die?” inquired Mai.
This was not remotely how I expected things to go down. The twins seemed angry, scared, shocked, and other emotions I couldn’t place. Ai was pacing now, while Mai stood, biting her lower lip. “She said I could talk with you two about it.” I told them after a moment. “Never, and I mean NEVER, mention anything about her work unless you are absolutely certain that you won’t be overheard.” stated Ai. She looked dangerous as she spoke, like she was ready to beat me bloody. “Please, James, you can’t be so reckless,” begged Mai. “What on earth are you going on about? We’re in my own house! Who here would betray us?” I asked, feeling a bit upset. Ai through her hands in the air and walked away. Mai squeezed my shoulder, tightly enough it hurt, and told me “If Aaliyah decides that we let anything slip to the wrong person, she’ll kill us and our family. This isn’t a game. She will kill every last person who hears a whisper her identity to protect it. It’s in her contract.” Aaliyah had been so casual about saying I could talk with the twins that I never would have imagined such a reaction. I balked at the idea of her killing off an entire family, but then I thought of Chad and how her face brightened even mentioning him. What wouldn’t she do to protect someone she loved so much?
“We have permission to speak of anything we know to him,” said Ai, turning away from a computer on the wall. “First though,” said Mai, “we would like you to tell us exactly what happened when The Princess and you were out.” I didn’t see how doing so could hurt, so I told them about our trip, about the attempted mugging, and about how Aaliyah confessed to setting the criminals up somehow. “She wasn’t disguised then?” asked Mai. “I suppose she didn’t want you to have any doubts,” said Ai. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “The Princess usually disguises herself for her jobs, so she’d be unrecognizable. Black wig, contacts, and that sort of thing. She must really trust you.” remarked Mai. Then she asked “She made no threats about what would happen if you revealed her secret?” I shook my head negatively and said, “She just asked me not to tell, but said I could talk with you two if I felt the need.” Ai sat on the table next to me and said, “That must have been quite a shock for you. Cousin Alpy had warned us never to cross The Princess.” Mai nodded from where she stood and added “If Alpy says something is dangerous, we don’t doubt her. For the right price, The Princess is said to be able to kill virtually anything.”
“Umm… does your family contract her often then?” I asked, feeling morbidly curious. “Yes, they find need of her more often than they’d like.” said Ai. “The Princess works on an escalating rate, or she would get far more jobs than she already does.” explained Mai. “What could you possibly need killed?” I inquired while attempting to convince my stomach that Aaliyah wouldn’t harm anyone pointlessly. “Vampires, mostly.” they said in unison. Vampires. From what I could remember, Emma had said vampires were extremely dangerous with extreme speed and strength. With how I hadn’t even seen Aaliyah move when she killed those men, I could imagine her keeping up. “There are occasionally others though.” stated Mai. “Other ancient evils still roam this world, though few enough in number not to be discovered easily.” added Ai. I could almost picture Aaliyah wearing a cape and being a superhero with those descriptions, destroying ancient evils that would threaten humanity’s existence. Then I thought again of that mugger’s missing head. “Almost a superhero” was still far closer than most people would ever meet, even if I wished she would stop killing. In the end, Aaliyah was still my friend.