I eventually managed to eat something, despite several of the girls continually stealing my food. I marveled at how quickly everyone got in costume compared with what I remembered of plays in high school, dance recitals, and other such things. Before being part of it, I never would have imagined such a coordinated group. We were down in the main showroom with half an hour before the floor would open to the public. With everything being closed properly last night, there wasn’t really any prep to be done, which led several people to goof off. Jarod and the twins were mock fighting as were Brandon and Emma. Brenna was laughing as she watched Emma hitting her brother. “So what are you going to do if they tear their costume?” I asked Aaliyah, wondering if I should ask the lot of them to stop. She replied “Ai and Mai could manage to tear one if they tried, but I wanted these to be realistic, boss-man, sir. Portentia, will you hit the boss-man for me?” Turning around, I saw Portentia blink. I wasn’t sure if she managed to read Aaliyah’s lips or not, but she looked surprised. “You want to try the outfit, don’t you?” asked Aaliyah from behind me. I shrugged and told Portentia to go ahead. She hesitated a moment before punching my stomach.
I couldn’t say how much force Portentia put into her punch, but I hardly felt a thing. Something in the armor had moved as she hit me, but I couldn’t see what. There was a look of excitement in Portentia’s eyes when I looked back to her, and she started to come at me extremely quickly. Before I could react, Alma was holding her arm, saying, “Not in public. Remember where we are.” Portentia nodded and rubbed her arm. Apparently, the armor couldn’t protect against Alma’s grip, though I didn’t see any damage to the costume either. “Oh, yes. Perhaps we can test out the costumes more after the convention when we’re back home,” I said, resting my hand over Alma’s to try getting her to release Portentia. I wasn’t expecting her to blush. I also wasn’t expecting for Portentia to hug my arm and say, “Whatever you say, boss.” Alma spun around and walked off, saying, “I’m getting a drink.” Was she upset? The storefront opening startled me, drawing my eyes away from Alma. “Emma, Ai, Mai, and Jarod are up first for running the store today. The rest of you be sure to watch your phones for your schedules!” announced Aaliyah before grabbing my hand and giving it a tug. I followed her with Portentia still holding my arm as people started filling the showroom.
“I want some pocky, boss-man, sir! We need to beat the crowd!” exclaimed Aaliyah. I laughed and followed. The girl really did have a sweet tooth. “Where are we going?” asked Portentia. The pale blue of her eyes really stood out under the mask she wore. “Aaliyah wants some pocky, apparently.” I explained. She grinned and said, “I love pocky! A friend of mine used to buy it for me occasionally. There were also these chocolate filled cookies that were really good. Panda-something I think.” Wait. I had those. “Emma actually made me try those before. Hello Panda cookies, I believe. Those things are pretty amazing.” I replied. Aaliyah turned around, smiled at us, and said, “Let’s get some of those too!” Then she started pulling me along some more. Passing a corner between stores, I was able to see the main entrance. People were getting pretty close now. The crowds looked even bigger today, but that could have just been the large number waiting to get inside. I also noticed some stores I might want to visit. Though I didn’t wear t-shirts too often, I did appreciate the humor on some. Then there were all sorts of neat figurines of characters from comics, movies, and other such things, which I wouldn’t mind browsing through. I knew father would have been searching through the books being sold in a heartbeat. He and mother both would want to join me in checking out the large section filled with various artists.
Where Aaliyah took us for the pocky turned out to be a specialty vendor for Asian sweets. I didn’t have a clue what even a tenth of the items were, but most were very cutely packaged. Portentia was every bit as excited as Aaliyah about all of the different snacks. “James, is there any way I can take a loan against my first paycheck?” she asked. I hesitated a moment, caught off-guard by the question. Portentia didn’t even have a phone when we met. The one she used now was technically my company’s. How did the girl survive? “Sure. I don’t mind.” I told her, though Aaliyah insisted on paying for both of their snacks. When I turned around, I bumped into a curly-haired boy. He looked up at me in shock for a moment before looking down to Aaliyah when she said, “Hi, Hugh!” His mouth worked open and shut for a moment, but he didn’t say anything. I seemed to recall seeing him a few times before during the convention, but I wasn’t certain when right off. Hugh started sweating heavily, his face flushing. “Are you alright?” I inquired. Then he fell over, so I did my best to keep the crowd back, yelling “Someone’s collapsed! Make room!” I would’ve tried calling for help, but Aaliyah was already on her phone.
Portentia checked Hugh’s pulse, but she looked up at me and shook her head. I nearly jumped when someone squeezed my hand, but I found that Alma was there. She patted my arm before pointing to some people in the crowd and waving her hand as if for them to move, which they did, allowing staff through to Hugh. I felt so helpless. This wasn’t the first time I saw someone die, but I wondered if I could have somehow saved him if I only knew something about CPR. I explained to one of the staff members what I saw, and he just nodded. What killed Hugh? How did Aaliyah know him? I reached over to her and picked her up, though she didn’t seem upset. Instead, she was opening a box of pocky. Most people would’ve been in shock I felt, but Aaliyah was an assassin. I continually forgot that she was more accustomed to death than most people. Alma was on that level as well. Portentia seemed to be more on level with me, saddened by witnessing a death, but she munched away on pocky when Aaliyah offered it. “Any clue what that was about?” I asked the tiny girl. Nodding, Aaliyah told me “He wanted to know what was on my mind, so I let him see.” Alma went stiff for a moment, and then started laughing of all things.
I really didn’t understand the joke, and wasn’t entirely certain that I wanted to understand. A boy who couldn’t be much older than me was dead. How was that funny? “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. Hugh wasn’t a very nice hacker. He was trying to find a way to hack my games. If you knew how terribly naughty he was, you wouldn’t be upset by his passing.” claimed Aaliyah. I kissed her head and said, “Okay.” I believed her, but seeing someone die like that was disturbing to me. Did Aaliyah assassinate him? I didn’t even see her twitch. If she did, who hired her? I really doubted Aaliyah would tell me if I asked, since contracts were probably confidential. Portentia was looking at Alma like she had gone mad, but I found some joy in listening to her even under such a circumstance. I found some distraction in the various stores we visited, especially when Alma and Aaliyah tried on steampunk top hats. They looked ridiculously cute together in them. Portentia tried one on over her mask, which fit almost too well. Then we found our way back to the Global Princess Entertainment booth in time to put on our first show. The crowd really was bigger than yesterday’s. I was feeling a little better, despite fatigue from dancing and singing in the costume. Alma had helped everyone stay cool with her magic again, though half of us were still sweating afterward.
Taking a turn as a vendor at the booth blew through a couple hours easily. I was busy enough selling merchandise and greeting people that time seemed to fly. Alma was kind enough to bring me various refreshments throughout the shift, and I delighted in trying everything available. I still managed to wonder more about Hugh through it all. Aaliyah was no doubt being honest about him not being a nice guy, but I still wished I could have saved him somehow. I knew people died every day, but I wanted no part of it. I wondered if seeing Death’s daughter was part of the reason. When Regina died, I was too shocked to think, and yet I still knew a profound terror the moment Death’s daughter appeared. Even now, months later, the thought of her sent my mind running. She was the nightmare too terrifying to remember. I was aware of her, but I still felt like crying if I thought about her with any more depth than a vague notion. “Shift’s over, boss-man, sir!” exclaimed Aaliyah. If she did kill Hugh, I hoped with all my heart that she always managed to stay a step ahead of Death’s daughter. I never wanted Aaliyah to lose her enormous smile and her bright outlook. She was too dear a friend to lose her.