After Jarod and I finished changing into our costumes, he looked over at me, a goofy grin spreading across his face, and said, “Wow, man. Just ‘wow’. Have you looked in a mirror? You look like the real deal! I mean… I could imagine you casting spells and everything!” The touch of irony in his voice at the end was priceless. Laughing, I told him “Look who’s talking. Your costume is rather fantastic as well, and I know you’re extremely dangerous even unarmed!” We both went over to the room’s large mirror and posed before laughing again. I never had dreamed that I would be so psyched about dressing up for something, but I never had imagined having friends like the ones now in my life. Life was so different now than it was at the beginning of the year, and things didn’t seem to be slowing down at all. With the very recent addition of Portentia, I already had seven employees, five of which were Best Friends to be hired out. Wait. Did Mila count as an employee? What about the maids? I still needed to find out who did the cleaning. I was glad my parents never asked about who cleaned. Father didn’t say much, but I could tell he was as shocked as I was over how well my crazy idea was working out. I might actually fill that enormous estate within a few years…
“Excuse me. Who are you?” I asked the costumed girl standing in Bradon’s doorway. She jumped and spun around, dozens of replies seeming to form and vanish unsaid on her lips. Her costume looked as familiar as it was revealing, easily competing with a bikini on that front. Jarod was laughing when I looked questioningly at him, and I could hardly believe my ears when he asked “Brandon? Is that you?” I quickly looked back to the girl. Her freckles looked remarkably like Brandon’s, but he couldn’t change sex. Could he? “Well… I… Umm…” came the husky voice from the girl. “You are Brandon.” I muttered in disbelief. I stared even harder as I watched her neck seem to move a bit. “This is weird, isn’t it. I should go change. Forget you saw this, okay?” she asked, turning to the door. “Oh no you don’t, buster!” yelled Brenna from behind me. Spinning around, I watched as she caught up to her brother… sister? Well, sibling. “You’ve been practicing for days! You can’t just duck out now.” she told him. “So you knew he could do this?” I asked.
“I am his sister, you know. It’s not like a guy can hide this sort of thing. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’d catch him at in high school,” she explained. Brandon, quickly jumping to cover her mouth, quickly said, “Brenna likes to exaggerate. I was just curious one day, and well.. things happen. If you could change your shape to some extent, you’d try things too. Besides, you’ve gotta admit I can make one incredible rack!” The last was said while shaking his chest, causing Brenna to roll her eyes and shove his hand away. “Yeah-yeah. Convince yourself of whatever you like, but I’m just being honest. At any rate, you’re not chickening out now. You’re the one who wanted to play as a girl.” she replied. “So Aaliyah’s forcing you to dress as your character?” I asked in shock. “Of course not, boss-man, sir. I gave him two different costumes, so he could choose.” she explained, now dressed as her character as well. I still didn’t get how the strange, red hat or bow tie fit into the game, but who was I to argue with its creator. Jarod started laughing anew, but I just shook my head, not really understanding Brandon’s choice. Portentia was staring at him curiously. The crimson outfit she wore made her snow-white skin stand out dramatically. Emma walked over to Brandon and seemed to be giving him a critical inspection.
She started giggling as she asked “So umm.. are you able to change all your parts?” I quickly covered Brandon’s mouth and said, “Some things are best left unknown.”, which only served to make Emma giggle more. When I moved my hand, Brandon still told Emma “I’ll tell you later!” in a loud whisper. “We gotta get moving, people! It’s makeup time! Then we’ve gotta get your wigs on, and some of you need new ears!” exclaimed Aaliyah, as she pulled a large box from her backpack. I didn’t even remember her bringing her backpack, but she did seem to bring it everywhere. We all sat on the floor, and Aaliyah crawled around, working magic on each of our faces. Well, Brenna didn’t actually use makeup. Instead, Aaliyah held a mirror for her while telling her what adjustments to make. Though I didn’t truly envy Brenna’s magic, I still found it completely fascinating. Brandon’s shape altered slightly, when Aaliyah told him to fix his ears. I was betting he could win some sort of award at the convention for most realistic Elf ears around, considering his were as natural as they come. I felt a bit uncomfortable when my turn came, but I had to admit I looked remarkably different when she held up the mirror for me. Not only did the wig give me Ashenwake’s hair perfectly, but I had the small details, like the scar on his forehead. No one in my guild could possibly doubt who I was. The only detail that was arguably off was my height. Even Aaliyah’s remarkable skills with makeup couldn’t make me as short as my character, who was of a more average height.
When we were all finished to Aaliyah’s satisfaction, we set off back to the “booth” as Aaliyah called it, though her company’s spot seemed far too extraordinary for such an average-sounding word. Emma, Brenna, and Portentia were all distractingly beautiful in their outfits, and Brandon’s suited him all too well. Seeing him as a girl was strange for me. I wasn’t certain whether to still say “him”. “Wait a sec. What are we calling you during the convention?” I asked as the elevator took us down. Brandon pulled his convention badge out of his cleavage and showed me what was written on it. “‘Elf Hottie’. I should have known.” I told him, earning an eerily girl-ish smile. How much did he practice? Did I perceive the smile as girl-ish due to him being, for the moment, a girl? Magic really did complicate life. There was no way for me to ever be certain what was real anymore. Too much had changed for me to be confident in what I once “knew” to be impossible. Stepping off the elevator, I was surprised to see Alma and the twins standing in front of it. “Who’s watching our stuff?” I blurted. Alma smiled up at me and gently patted my arm. Then she walked into the elevator, followed by the twins. I almost asked where they were going, but I realized that they needed to get in costume as well. I didn’t want to see her go.
Waiting with the others would’ve seemed boring if we were just standing around, but Aaliyah had us warming up our voices while “running tests” on the various systems, which merely meant playing Ancient Tribes of Earth for a bit. I was completely shocked to find that the show would be streaming in the guild hall later. Aaliyah had set a very large “magic mirror” in the hall, which allowed players to click it and “scry” on the Global Princess Entertainment events from within the game. Everyone online seemed interested in watching, and a number even claimed to have called in sick for work. When I checked Brandon’s channel, I found him explaining that his character would be played by a stand-in for the live performance, which seemed like a fair enough cover story. Voice chat, when used, did make out-of-game gender a bit more obvious for people. “How do you do it?” asked Brenna. “Do what?” I inquired. “Multitask so well. You didn’t seem to miss a note even while replying to people in the game.” she claimed. “I dunno. It’s just something I’m decent at for the most part. I honestly am not always paying as much attention as I should to some things. Maybe that gives me more time for the others.” I explained. She laughed, saying, “No, you’re definitely not always paying attention.” She didn’t have to agree with me so readily.
“Well?” asked Alma. I spun around to see her and probably was gaping like a fool. She seemed slightly taller, which brought me to realize her white boots had very high heels in addition to being elaborately designed. In-game, I never really noticed how her character was dressed in a mix of cold-weather attire and fabric more suitable to hot weather. Most people would freeze wearing that in the winter or sweat in the summer. Alma somehow made it look perfectly natural. Only next to Portentia did Alma seem to have much color to her skin. Her violet eyes seemed even more surreal with blue hair, and her lips, normally near to red in hue, were of a blue matching her hair. As I saw her smile, perfectly white teeth appearing for a moment, I wondered if any girl would ever be born to compete with her in beauty. Then she said, “Most people would be kind enough to at least give a compliment. Is something off?” Ai patted her shoulder and said, “The outfit is perfect, Lady Pendreigh.” Mai then added “James is just horrible at giving compliments.” While I was trying to find words that could actually capture how beautiful Alma was, Jarod smoothly said, “Well, I think you all look beautiful. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Ai and Mai were dressed as twins!”
Mai strangely pulled down her lower eyelid with one hand while sticking her tongue at him. Ai, on the other hand, attacked him. Alma looked mildly amused as the two fought. “Just don’t ruin your costumes!” exclaimed Aaliyah, not bothering to look up from the game. She was biting her tongue as she did when she was really concentrating on something, so I glanced at her screen to find her character chasing after a white rabbit named “The Cousin, Twice-Removed, of Caerbannog’s Guardian”. “Isn’t that name a bit long?” I inquired. “That’s not the problem, boss-man, sir. It’s protesting its lack of a cave again. I need to stick it back in its hat before someone tries doing that quest.” I was tempted to ask why there was a quest involving a rabbit in a hat, but decided instead to inquire “How did it escape prematurely? I mean… why would you make that possible?” Aaliyah sighed and told me “It used magic, duh. I’m not such a mean designer that I’d force the poor bunny to stay in the hat ALL the time. It’s supposed to go back in the hat after it feeds, but the silly bunny is obsessed with caves. Don’t worry though. It’ll get a cave after someone gets far enough in that quest line.” The last was said conspiratorially to me. Alma sighed, and I caught her rolling her eyes. She logged into her account on the computer next to me, and I spent the next hour very distracted as I played and did more vocal exercises with the others. Before long, the convention would open, but I was happy enough already.