Chapter 16 – In Search of ‘The Mysterious Boy

Editors: Vincent, weakwithwords
Authors notes:So finally chapter 16 is done! Surprisingly enough I managed to write… I think it was about 70% in the past five days. And this is through my work and other distractions. Anyway, now it is time for me to go find some food at the local supermarket. After I eat, I will be going back to change chapter 15 to present tense and hopefully finish planning out chapter 17 today as well! I also plan on updating as many of my sites pages as well. If there are any questions you want to add to the FAQ and ‘Info about inside the game.’ Please leave a comment on that page and I should be able to get around to it today!
As with the new chapter, please to take a moment of your time and show your support by following the link to vote for End Online at TopWebFiction. Remember, your vote will only last a week, but I will only ask you to do so with each full chapter release. More motivation for me to write faster! Also, this is weakwithwords’s first day on the job, so make sure to give him a warm welcome!
Anyway, that is all from me. So, for now… To Avalon -( O.o)/
Editors Notes:…

-Lost-

As soon as I complete my quest, my world fills with shock. I worked so hard to do a good deed for another person. Yet the reward was not only worthless, it was detrimental.

+5 Infamy

I read that one point over and over again. At the same time, I notice everyone else’s faces darken. I have no doubts in my mind that they are feeling exactly the same as I am.

With the new quest that he offers me, however, another piece of my heart seems to blacken. Not only can I not refuse the quest, but it may potentially end with another negative reward if I am not careful.

“H-how could I possibly refuse you?” My voice stutters a bit, still feeling dismay.

“Good, now go find him,” Rix speaks in a low threatening tone before turning around and returning to his duties.

I face the rest of my party members and inhale a deep breath.

“So, what now?” I ask them without any expectations.

“Well, you’re the leader. Is it not up to you to decide where we go next?” Mason gives me a wry smile, forcing the responsibility of decision making solely onto me.

I forcefully resign myself, accepting that I will need to give everyone a direction to move in.

“We need to find that boy somehow,” I sigh, thinking how difficult it is going to be. “Do we have any clues as to where he is?”

“I also don’t know what he looks like.” Matrix appears somewhat shy as he speaks out. This is a serious issue, how can we find this kid if we don’t know what he looks like?

“He is the same height as Rix’s daughter. He also wears cheap brown clothes and a beanie on his head.” Verde gives a rough description of the boy. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough for me.

“There are bound to be a lot of boys with that description. Also, there is no guarantee that he will be wearing the same clothes when we find him right? The fact that he appears to be from a poor family does narrow our search down slightly. However, we can’t assume his looks based off what he was wearing. Did you notice anything unique about him, Verde?”

She pouts slightly as I explain to her that we need more.

“Not that I saw.”

“My lady!” Prince Charming raises his voice, cutting off everyone else mid thought, “The VL automatically records the last six hours of gameplay from your perspective. It isn’t much good for making a video, but you should be able to get a picture of what this boy looks like from it.”

That is an excellent idea. If we have a picture of the boy it will make recognizing him all that much easier.

“But how am I supposed to show it to everyone?” Verde asks. “I can’t exactly bring the image into the game.”

Mason suddenly raises his hand, bringing it to be next to his head while extending one finger up.

“There should be two options to do that. The first is utilize one of the ‘friend’ functions of the VL. By registering us as friends you can invite us into your personal locker. From there, we should be able to view the image from the memory unit.”

Verde shows some awkwardness about the idea, but Mason then raises another finger.

“Option two. You get the image of the boy and upload it to the End Forums. From there, the rest of us will be able to look at your post with the picture. It shouldn’t matter if half the players on the internet see it. They have no information on our quest so they will probably ignore it.”

Verde seems to ponder, casting her head down as she thinks.

“I will upload the picture to the forums,” she exclaims. “It will probably take a bit of time before I manage to though. Once I do, I will post it as ‘The Mysterious Boy’.”

“I guess that is it.” I produce a clap of my hands to get everyone’s attention. “The time in real life should be quite late. Shall we meet back here tomorrow morning at nine?”

It is a fair opinion, the current time in real life was currently well past midnight. It is actually surprising how everyone is still online. That prince has university that he apparently attends and Verde doesn’t exactly play full time either.

Everyone nods their head as I offer to meet up at nine in the morning. The good thing about this game being eighteen plus is that there is little need to worry about school times. It would be incredibly inconvenient trying to play with someone that could only put in about four to five hours a day.

I open my game menu and select to log out. Back in the real world, I slowly open my eyes to the darkness in my room.

Next to my bed, my clock is faintly ticking away. It is currently 1:47am. Strangely enough, I don’t feel tired. Sitting up on the bed wide awake, I wonder what I should do next.

My computer has a small LED blinking, indicating that it is currently in sleep mode. Using both my hands to shift myself, I drag my body off the bed and into the chair.

A few minutes later, I am in front of my computer, the End Forums open in front of me.

On the main page is simply the most recent popular posts. There is one about a player caller Uldermaen, one of the current top players. He is at a massive level 251 and currently exploring some high level dungeon that most people would require a full party to safely enter.

Second is some form of news show about what is currently happening in the game. The coverage seems to be centered on the main cities, but it includes information from the entire continent that we play on.

“Currently, in Swordbreak, the guild ‘Silver Blades’ has been rising in popularity at a tremendous speed. For a guild that only started a month ago, it now has over two thousand members and is still getting bigger. It is simply unfortunate that they are accepting simply everyone who applies.”

“Next on the agenda, is a bounty in Grenton, the capital of Forste. A player started a fire in some small alley, which in turn led to a total of five and a half buildings being burnt down. The bounty is for fifty gold, a massive amount for most bounties. Apparently, the high bounty is due to it being a special case. The first was incredibly slow spreading and no matter what people tried, they simply could not put out the fire! It raged for a full six hours according to witness reports.”

I stop the video, guilt tracking through my mind. I do not look at the footage of the fire, but I can recall the kind of fire that it must be. If only someone had thought to use a burn remedy, then they would surely have been able to extinguish it.

I only wanted to test out my new skill, but I can’t believe how careless I was!

I search for ‘The Mysterious Boy’ in hopes that Verde has already made the post. A lot of posts involving the word ‘mysterious’ or ‘boy’ show up, but there were none with that exact title.

Expecting to be waiting for at least an hour, I read through the general in game news while I wait.

***************************************************
***************************************************

-Mason-

I sit in front of my computer with a bowl of rice noodles with beef in front of me. I search through the End Forums for Verde’s post with the picture of this boy that we will be looking for.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been posted yet.

I open my account and follow a link to my most recent video. The recording took me an entire day to edit, but it was worth the effort in the end. The finished product gave me more pride than anything of mine that predates it.

Mostly due to the fact that I have been so busy with playing the game, but up till this point, I haven’t had a proper chance to check up on the video.

As I open the link to it my stomach drops. It is not the feeling of dread that would usually cause this reaction, but one of complete and utter disbelief.

My last few videos were the ones that received the highest views, a little over a thousand each. But this current video so far has just hit forty eight thousand views, with over a hundred comments already.

Horderz | My god! How can a player possibly move that fast?
        Does he have some kind of equip that triples his speed??
Trezz   | Hacker alert! This guy is clearly using hacks to up his
        speed.
Hack    | Trezz, are you serious? It is impossible to hack this
        game. You should get your facts right before you start
        accusing people of nonsense.
Pope    | That lost guy is amazing! Although, I am a completely
        envious of that Fen girl. My party needs a good mage,
        come join me!
Gulsen  | Pope, I second that motion. She can even cast magic
        silently which next to nobody has figured out how to do.
        If you can get her, you can count me in that party as
        well.
Pope    | No way! I won't be sharing her with anyone else!
Hilhen  | Did anybody notice that other new girl. I only got a
        short glimpse at about half her face, but she was a real
        beauty as well. Why can't I get any cute girls to play
        with me? So unfair.
Yureena | You guys can't get pretty girls like us because you are
        always staring at other girls! Geez, you never learn.

The conversation that started in the comments just kept on going with no end. A lot of people were wondering about where this new dungeon was and such. But most of them were curious about Lost, who showed his incredible speed, and Fen, the stunning girl who could silently cast magic.

But there is one thing that is a definite, having Lost and the others in my videos is an incredible thing.

Next, I look up the revenue that this video has made. There are three advertisement slots on this video as usual and they are all sold. Each spot sold for about a hundred dollars each which is surprising. But I know that if they had sold when the video had gained this much interest, then surely it would have been a lot more.

I go back to the main page of the site and run another search on ‘The Mysterious Boy’. The post I am looking for comes up directly. It was even posted by the player Verde. This is definitely the post I have been waiting on.

There is no text or message with the image. It is simply the title of the post with the image of the boy in the body of the message.

I get what Verde meant when she said this boy looks like he comes from a poor family. His clothes, while stitched together excellently, are made from some low quality material.

Now that I understand what this boy looks like, I head off to bed. Our parents can’t really afford much and we have sold off a lot of things, so my brother and I share the same bed.

‘Fortunately, it is a decent sized bed’ I think to myself as I climb into my side of it.

***************************************************
***************************************************

-Lost-

As soon as I wake up in the morning, I have some cereal for breakfast before putting the VL on and entering virtual reality.

I receive a bit of a shock when I enter my locker. Fen is sitting cross legged on the couch watching some breakfast news show on the tv. She is so intent on watching it that she doesn’t even notice that I am there.

I have started taking the habit of taking my hood off when I’m in my locker. Mainly because lately Fen gets grumpy about me wearing it for some strange reason. She hasn’t prevented me from logging off again, but the fear of that moment still remains buried inside of me.

“Fen, what are you doing?” I casually ask her.

The girl sitting on the couch doesn’t show any sign that she heard me, as she stays seated in the exact same position.

I stroll around the side of the sofa and notice why. Her eyes are glued to the tv like some child watching their favourite cartoon. She is completely unable to look away.

Raising my hand, I place it between her and the tv, blocking her line of sight.

Finally registering that I am right next to her, her whole body visibly jumps in shock and she nearly falls sideways.

“Why… did you… do that?” She asked in somewhat of a lifeless voice.

“Hmm, I suppose I wanted to get your attention.”

Fen gives me a quizzical look, still unsure of my intentions.

“It is time for us to log back on. We are all meeting up in an hour and I have a few things I want to do beforehand.”

“You’re… asking me… to come?” Her eyes widen slightly, showing faint hints of surprise.

“Of course. I mean, aren’t you always there next to me?”

If I were to tell the truth, I’m a little afraid of making her mad. And asking her to leave not too long ago was what started the last incident.

I don’t dislike or hate Fen for what she did. Nor do I have an impenetrable fear of her. It is more that I feel cautious around her, fully aware of what she is capable of.

With a quick shake of my head, I clear my mind of thoughts about being permanently trapped in virtual reality and log on to End Online.

***************************************************

Once the fog in my vision clears and reveals the interior of the Gold Run Inn, Fen shortly grabs on to my arm and pulls herself tightly against it.

My body tenses up slightly and I frown a little under my hood.

She also stares intently at the hood on my head, but she hasn’t pressed for me to take it off again since we went on that ‘date’. I don’t even know if she understands what a date is to be honest.

“Let’s go. We need to collect some herbs.” I speak to the girl next to me who nods in return.

According to the time, I should have a little over an hour before everyone planned to meet up.

Heading out into the streets of Grenton, I travel to a few parks I had knowledge of containing some green medicinal herbs.

Arriving at the first one, however, I feel my earlier hopes sinking. I had thought that if I logged on early I would be able to get a some of the herbs from some parks before everyone swarmed in.

I was wrong. Currently, the park in front of me was as full of players as it had been the very first time I walked into Grenton. Thanks to the information about being able to get herbs in Grenton’s parks, everyone, whose knowledge does not extend past that information, coalesces here.

Opening up my inventory, I notice that not only do I have 732 gold coins, but I also still have fifty green medicinal herbs and twenty five yellow medicinal herbs. I can always leave town to collect more if I ever need. I would definitely rather not buy more of them though.

Deciding to use what herbs I have, I pull out the ‘Tunix of Toxication’ from my inventory and quietly sit on the side of the main street.

As soon as the item is equipped, my head starts to spin and I receive an incredibly sick feeling throughout my body. The tunic will take off twenty points of health every ten seconds. Considering I have to wear it for ten minutes straight to receive its benefits, I will lose 1200 of my health. I only have 1254 health points to begin with, naturally increasing the danger to me.

Fens sits down next to me and rests her head on my shoulder, seemingly unaffected by the tunic’s toxicity.

Five minutes of wearing the tunic and my health is nearly at halfway, the feeling of the poison causing my mind to not only feel dizzy, but also somewhat feverish. I pull out my first green medicinal herb and force myself to chew on it.

A ‘Green Medicinal Herb’ currently heals three health points every second for ten seconds. It has a much stronger effect than ever due to the existing ‘Herbalism’ being a part of my class skill.

This means that every ten seconds, after the poison affects me, I gain ten health points. I also consume an ‘Antidote Herb’ to help relieve the effects of the poison.

I also have a thirty percent chance of removing minor poisons with this. But this isn’t a minor poison and I am lucky enough that it still has a small effect when I try it. My mind clears a little, but the poison comes back when the ten second cycle of poisoning recurs.

Fen starts dozing off on my shoulder after another five minutes. Around the same time, a message appeared in front of me.

You have resisted a potent poison repeatedly for ten
minutes. As a result, your body has developed a small
resistance to toxic impurities.

- Poison resistance has permanently improved by 1%
- Acid resistance has permanently improved by .5%

I feel a small delight at the message. While it is only a minute increase to my resistance, it is permanent. If only I could make more of these shirts.

‘I know where to get more of rotten tattered leather! Why can’t I make more of these shirts and get a 100% immunity to poison and acid?!’

The thought occurs to me while I stuff more medicinal herbs into my mouth to keep up my health regeneration.

I am only a little saddened that while I have slightly over nine hundred health I have already used an entire third of my ‘Green Medicinal Herbs’.

Standing up, Fen also wakes from her half asleep daze. I beckon her to follow despite her still trying to find her bearings.

Players and NPCs alike move out of my way down the street, holding their noses as if smelling something vile. This poisonous clothing must give off some pungent odour. Alas, I cannot smell anything.

A full half hour passes in which I use all of my herbs and have still not found a herb shop like the one in Iceridge. Due to not constantly eating herbs, however, my health usually remains between seven and nine hundred.

I decide to try one of the ‘Yellow Medicinal Herbs’ for their healing effects. I had previously avoided it over how difficult they seemed to come by, but I need to find out how good or bad the effect is. I will just avoid mixing it with another ‘Solar Stem’, which according to my findings with Fen, turned out to taste exceptionally bad.

The herb itself tastes quite nice and seems to fill me with new life. I notice my health climbing much faster than before. I open up the information window and look at the herb stats.

Yellow Medicinal Herb
A medicinal herb that has absorbed the natural energy of
the earth and become more refined than the standard
'Green Medicinal Herb'.

Requirements:
- Adequate herb proficiency. 

Item type: Herb
Health Recovery: 20HP
Time: 8sec
Weight: 0.1 lbs

It says the health recovery is twenty health points over eight seconds, but that is for someone with the ‘Herbalism’ skill at level 1. Thanks to the effects of my ‘White Warrior’ class skill, this herb recovers approximately seventy health points. I must make it into a potion at the next opportunity to test the potions effects as well.

Through the crowd parting in front of me, a few shops come into view. One of those shops is exactly what I have been looking for – The apothecary.

I enter the shop and head straight to a very discreet pile of green medicinal herbs. There is a price in front of the pile saying they are ninety silver each.

“Ninety silver each!” I practically shout. “What a ridiculous price for a herb that you can get just about everywhere!”

“F-forgive me, herbs are in h-high demand currently.” A shop keeper standing next to me turns pale when speaking to me. “B-but I could s-sell them to you for eighty silver each i-if you prefer.”

‘Not good,’ I panic inwardly, ‘Why did I come into this shop myself? Was I not thinking properly because of the feverish feeling I am having? What should I do now?’

I could only think up one possible solution to avoid gaining more infamy. Grabbing Fen by the arm, I drag her along with me as I walk straight out of the shop. That’s right. Considering that all my infamy gains are after transactions or when related to quests, if I cut off my contact with the NPC immediately, I’m sure there will be nothing bad to say about me.

Once I’m outside the shop and around the corner, I turn to Fen.

“Fen, please go buy me some of those ‘Green Medicinal Herbs’.”

“Okay…”

“Thanks, Fen. Here is fifty gold. Buy as much as you can with it. I will wait here.”

I am relieved when she agreed to purchase the stuff for me, but it is still painful to part with the gold.

The wolf girl turns and strolls off towards the apothecary in order to purchase my herbs for me. I guess I truly am lucky to have such a companion that can take care of all my NPC relations for me. I know I could possibly have another player do it, but that would also cost me more than what is fair.

Even with the use of the sparse ‘Yellow Medicinal Herb’, I still lose another two hundred health points.

“… I’m back.”

Fen stops in front of me, clutching a large pile of medicinal herbs to her chest in her hands.

‘Hmm, does she not have a personal inventory? Is it because she is a companion? Or because she technically isn’t human?’

As I start to wonder a little more about her, I notice a few players tracking her through the crowd. Through the enhanced vision of my hunter’s eyes, my sight scopes in on them.

There are three players in total. They all appear relatively average in height and build, and they are wearing a dark green tunics and brown leather pants. Even without seeing the lack of Grenton’s symbol on the back of their hands, I can tell they’re newbies from the full suit of beginner equipment.

I bring my right hand out from under my cloak, showing that I am from the kingdom of Glace. But that isn’t the main purpose of my actions. I plan to let them know I am a lot stronger than them, hopefully deter them from causing any trouble.

The three seem to be intent on Fen for some reason. They don’t even notice I am there until I take the herbs from her.

I notice mixed feelings stirring in their eyes. I would like to be able to tell what they are thinking of doing, but there are too many emotions there to tell: curiosity, outrage, wariness, envy, sadness, disgust. What I feet from all three is extremely confusing.

They finally reach us and stop before Fen. One glances at my right hand but doesn’t say anything about it. They all, however, turn their noses away from me.

“Excuse me,” the apparent leader speaks first. “Would you be interested in joining a party with us. We plan to go out and level up to level fifty. We will guarantee your safety and even help you level with us.”

I feel slightly sick listening to this player. It was the typical sexism within a game, where the males offer to give the females everything they need for next to no effort at all. They even use the opportunity to try and flirt with them more often than not, too.

Unfortunately for these players, they don’t know Fen very well. She usually doesn’t show any interest in others, especially this type of guy. If they knew her better, they probably would know the best way to get her interest is with meat. With this kind of approach, she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence.

“You should definitely come party with us, not this guy. I mean, we are all under level fifty and haven’t even got our kingdom’s insignia yet. This guy clearly already has, and he’s not even from around here!”

The player that speaks up this time is the one who had looked my way and noticed I was from Glace when they arrived.

She looks their way when this guy speaks up, saying she shouldn’t party with me. An angry expression comes over her face momentarily, but it shortly passes and she turns her attention back to me.

“Let’s… go.” She has already forgotten about those three next to us.

With her grabbing my arm once again, I start to walk off from the three players.

They start to try to catch up and continue their persuasions, but one icy glance from Fen over her shoulder stops them in their tracks.

I find a quiet spot away from the majority of players to continue battling the poison of the tunic without their disgust at the smell of the clothing.

Another forty minutes pass and with the sun at high noon and the durability of my shirt is down to two. At this point in time, everyone else logs on as well.

“Lost, it’s Mason, we are all here at the inn. Are you coming over to form the party so we can search for this mysterious boy?”

“Sorry, can we do it in twenty minutes? I am a little busy with something at the moment.”

“That should be fine, I will let everyone know. But don’t be any later than that!”

“Haha, of course.”

It is something that I noticed with the ‘Tunic of Toxication’. You need to wear it for ten minutes straight to have your  poison and acid resistance permanently increase. But you do not need to wear it for ten minutes straight for it to lose one durability, just ten minutes accumulatively.

This means if I do not wear it for the entirety of the one hundred minutes of lifetime that it has without taking it off, I will not gain the maximum benefits.

In no time at all, my medicinal herb supply starts to run low, but the final two points of durability on the tunic disappear and it literally falls to pieces. Bits of rotten, tattered leather fall off my body and land on the ground, nothing more than scrap.

As I get my final bonus from wearing it, I also get another nice surprise.

- Poison resistance has permanently improved by 1%
- Acid resistance has permanently improved by .5%

You have gained the maximum possible resistance increase from
this item. For wearing the item for so long, you have gained
further bonuses.
- Poison resistance has permanently improved by 2%
- Acid resistance has permanently improved by 1%
- 5% chance to completely resist all minor to intermediate 
poisons.

I most certainly can’t complain about those benefits! I get a little curious about exactly what stats I currently do have, and while rummaging through my game option, I find a way to make it visible at the bottom of my player stats along with my skills.

‘This should hopefully help me keep track of them!’ I thought to myself,  not being able to remember too many skills and such was the reason why I never made a good mage in the older role playing games.

Name: Lost(Man in the Hood)
Health: 1252/1252
Stamina: 441/441
Mana: 467/913

Lvl: 97
Lvl UP: 54%

Str: 59 +20
Agi: 191 +55
Dex: 61 +33
Int: 11 + 20
Mnd: 40
Lck: 23

Infamy: 195
Alignment: -5
God: Grael
Belief: 10

Equipped Skills:
Class Skill: White Warrior  (SLvl 13, 18%)
[Unavailable]
Potion Production           (SLvl 16, 39%)
Mining                      (SLvl 1, 0%)
Smithing                    (SLvl 1, 0%)
Grael's Essence             (SLvl 1, 0%)
Origin of Dire Flame        (SLvl 1, 0%)
[Empty]
[Empty]

Reserve Skills:
[Empty]
***************************************************
Non-skill resistances and bonuses
Impact resistance: 5%
Poison resistance: 12%
Acid resistance: 6%
- 5% chance to completely resist all minor to intermediate 
poisons
***************************************************
Skills
Sacred Art                Cost
Triple Thrust          13 Stamina
CrossX                 22 Stamina
Backstab               84 Stamina
Pincer                 112 Stamina
Multi Mirage           197 Stamina

Magic Cost
Minor Dire Flame       800 Mana

My player stats window does feel a little packed all of a sudden, but I try not to be too bothered by it.

Setting my thoughts aside, I head off to the Gold Run Inn.

***************************************************

I arrive at the inn and greet everyone inside. Within moments, I also form a party with all of us in it.

“Now that we have all seen what this boy looks like, we need to go find him,” I state to everyone in front of me.

“We don’t know where we should be looking though.” Strange as it is, it is Prince Charming who speaks up while furrowing his brow.

Everyone else also looks as shocked as I am right now. For this man to actually input something into the group as a whole is completely out of his character.

“W-well,” I continue on, “that is why we will split up, just like when following Rix’s daughter. Although this time it will be in teams of two, I will go with Fen and explore the smaller second floor and even the third floor. Verde and the prince can search the east side of Grenton, where the meeting actually took place. Lastly, Mason and Matrix will look around the west side of town.”

“Surely, there are plenty of places that this boy would definitely not be. Why not localize the search to the most likely places?” Mason lifts one finger up while raising the idea.

“It’s not a bad thought,” I sigh before pointing out the flaw, “except we know nothing about who this boy is. For all we know, he could be a rich kid dressed up poorly to sneak around and see the girl he likes without his parents knowing he is friends with someone from the lower class.”

“How very cliché,” Verde giggles while commenting, with Mason speaking up again next.

“I understand. There is no point debating this further. Let us spread out the net and find this boy!”

Almost like a declaration of war, we all stand up and start to head off.

“Umm, Lost?” Verde speaks quietly into my ear when she is near me. “Is it possible to have a few words later. After all of this… There is just something I want to talk to you about.”

She whispers it quietly enough that nobody else near me should hear, even Fen who is standing on my other side.

“Ok?” My heartbeat is certainly accelerated and I feel nervous, but I don’t know exactly what it is she wants to talk with me in private about.

Verde almost skips away to catch up with the prince and start looking in their designated area.

Meanwhile, I take Fen and head towards the second floor.

There are a few rope ladders that head up to the second story of Grenton, but what I want is one of the ramps that climb up.

About five minutes of searching, I finally find one hiding in between two buildings.

The light brown wooden path up is wide enough for four people to walk abreast. The railing of the ramp is made of the same dark wood as the buildings of Grenton.

Once Fen and I reach the second floor, we both stop. I know at least I’m dumbstruck. The entire area is completely upper class from the ground floor. Each and every building is immensely larger than the ones below.

Even the wood itself seems to be intricately carved, seamlessly flowing from one piece to the next. This area must definitely be where the upper echelon reside.

I spot a few guild buildings here. Each and every one of them must have invested a fortune to have their base here.

With me leading the way, Fen and I start exploring the area in a search for the mysterious boy. I walk past a few high level players and some people that could either be players dressed in fancy clothes or NPC aristocrats. I would not be surprised to find them here.

‘Now that I think about it, didn’t Icebreak have a castle? The place where the king of the country resides.  Shouldn’t Grenton have something similar?’

I look across the city and the other platforms only to have something catch my interest. It is not the sight of the stunning city, with its patches of greenery showing through. instead, the sight of one of the few third tier platforms on one of the many enormous tree trunks stretching up into the sky.

It is around the world tree in the center of the city, the biggest tree of them all. On the third story is an enormous palace of wood and stone seven stories tall. The structure was built directly onto the world tree, stretching around and behind it.

‘Of course I never noticed it before. When I arrived here, the building would have been behind the world tree. Now that I have moved around a bit, I can see it!’

Bringing my attention back to the platform I am currently on, I realize this is not going to be an easy task. I have about forty platforms throughout the city that I need to search, and the other teams each have an enormous area of approximately three square miles.

“Unfortunately,” I look down at Fen next to me, “you don’t know what this boy looks like. So you just look for any suspicious children.”

She nods to me as we head off in a manhunt for one person in a population of a hundred thousand players and NPCs.

As I finish searching my third platform, I see a familiar face looking back at me. The person immediately runs up to me upon recognizing me. Not that I would be hard to miss with the large white fur hood that I wear.

“Lost! Funny running into you here! What are you doing here? I still see you have that lady with you, are you two dating?” The man gives me a sly wink.

“Haha, no, we are not, Mouse. But I could ask you the same thing. Should you not be minding your stall? It is still day after all.”

“I need a day off sometimes too you know.” He shrugs his shoulders, “I am level one hundred and fifty, remember? I didn’t get to it by standing around at my stall all the time.”

“True enough. Are you just out to explore the city then?”

“Something like that.” Mouse puts on a smile that I couldn’t label as anything other than sly.

‘Well, he is a businessman after all. Being sly would only be natural.’

“Say, Lost. You are doing a quest right now, am I right?”

“That I am. Speaking of which, I should possibly get back to.”

“May I join you?”

“Wait, what? Why do you ask that?”

“Just being a merchant is somewhat boring. I do get to go out and procure goods to make half of my goods that I sell, but I still miss out on all the adventure. I thought if I join you, then maybe I would get to have that for a bit.”

“Mmm… Unfortunately, I don’t think this quest is exactly what you want though. We are basically searching all of Grenton in hopes of finding this one particular child. It doesn’t have much in regards to adventure.”

“I’m sure there is some there. I would have fun being a part of it regardless.”

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this guy seems rather earnest to join me.

“Well, look up ‘The Mysterious Boy’ on the End Forums. There is a post under that name with an image of the boy I am looking for.”

“That sounds great. Add me to your contact list so I can contact you if I happen to find him.”

With that our conversation comes to an end, and I gain one more person in my friends list. I only worry a little bit about how I would split the reward. If there is a reward, that is.

For two full hours, I searched. Not only did I not find any children that even remotely looked like the boy in question, but I noticed there is a surprising lack of kids in Grenton. There are still kids, but they only number about one in every hundred people.

Throughout my search, I covered seven platforms, and neither of the other teams covered even a quarter of their areas as well. As soon as the sun started to fall below the horizon, we all decided to meet back at the inn.

“This is going to take far too long!” Prince Charming complains to everyone. “There is no way we are going to be able to do this. By tomorrow the boy could be in an area we have already searched!”

“I hate to admit it, but he is right. Even if we split into six I’m not entirely sure we would be able to cover the entire area. He could also be spending the time in a residence as well.” Mason frowns while Matrix nods his head next to him.

“I understand.” A long sigh escapes me. “But there has to be some method to finish this quest. Is it simply reliant on luck?”

“I’m sorry. If only I wasn’t caught back then. That way we would know where the boy would be at any morning.” Verde hangs her head.

“It’s not your fault my lady. That innkeeper is simply being unreasonable.”

A short pause comes over our group, no one knowing what to say next. The first person to speak up, strangely, was the quietest of the group, Matrix.

“Umm. I kind of thought it was the obvious answer… But, umm, could he perhaps live outside the city walls? I mean, could he live in that forest where he would meet the i-innkeeper’s daughter?”

“Sorry, brother, but there are no NPCs that live anywhere near the city that are not already in it. There are a few small communities around, but none close enough that a small boy would be able to walk here alone.” Mason instantly rejects it.

“Could they, umm, perhaps just be a group of bandits or something living in the forest… Like, Robin Hood or something?”

Matrix has a childish gleam in his eyes, clearly infatuated with the fictional character. But his idea does give me a thought.

“You could actually be onto something Matrix! There are people that usually tend to live outside city walls. Like various hunters, farmers, or even just recluses.”

“I suppose that could be it, if you put it that way.” Mason gives in to the new thought.

“After all,” I continue on, “they were meeting outside of the city. It could be that for some reason he can’t come inside.”

“Why not just ask the girl. She would surely know something,” the prince interjects, bringing up the most obvious point. Except he isn’t the only one who thought of it.

“I have already tried that.” Mason seems to recount the incident, “Rix, her father, would have nothing to do with it. He even started screaming at me in front of everyone in the inn. I was utterly humiliated.”

“We can look in the forest tomorrow then. There is no point going out after dark. Is there anything about the location we don’t know?” I look at Mason as I ask the question, directing it at the leader of the two residents of Grenton.

“Not much,” he replies. “I do know it is not only full of low level monsters but also incredibly easy to get lost in, to the point where everyone ends up coming out of the forest right where they started. But before you think it, it isn’t an illusion spell or anything of the kind. There have been plenty of people who have tried various dispels and ‘clearsight potions’ with similar thoughts. But there is apparently no magic at work in that forest.”

“Well, we will head off tomorrow. I will sleep in game at the inn. It is up to all of you what you want to do, but shall we meet here again in three hours?”

Everyone nods and we slowly disband. Only Verde remains at the end as she approaches me quietly.

“Mm, Lost. Do you have a minute?”

“Oh I’m sorry, I forgot! Yes! What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to know what you were doing next weekend? If you were interested. Did you want to meet up in real life!?” She is a bit frantic towards the end, almost fumbling her words.

I am shocked at her question, yet somewhat sad that there is no way I could possibly go see her. Especially not with my legs the way they are. Nobody in the game knows my situation in real life, and I plan to keep it that way, for now at least.

“I am sorry,” my words come out softer than a whisper. “But I can’t.”

“Haha, it’s okay. It’s okay. I don’t know how I was going to get out of my house unseen anyway. For now, I will be logging off till morning so I will see you then.”

She waved me off as she leaves the inn. I didn’t even have a chance to say anything back to her before she was gone. Well, tomorrow I will apologize and tell her that there are some circumstances that prevent me from meeting up outside virtual reality. Surely, I can tell her the truth some day. But that day is not today.

Now that everyone has gone, I walk over to the innkeeper and ask for a room.

“Evening lad. Will that be just for you?” Rix asks me.

“No, it is for me and my co-“

I break off mid sentence as I realize Fen is no longer next to me. It is strange because she usually never leaves my side.

“Just give me a room with two beds, please.”

***************************************************
***************************************************

-????-

I meet with the shadowy figure behind an unidentifiable house as we had earlier arranged.

“So, what do you have to report? Surely you must have something. You have been following the man for god knows how long.”

“Sorry, guild leader. Up until he arrived here in Grenton, he had completely disappeared off the map. Every time I thought I was getting close, he would all of a sudden appear somewhere else.”

“Go on. It sounds like there’s more.”

“Indeed, there is. I found him here in Grenton once he arrived. He currently has five other party members, two locals, two from Glace, and one unidentified. He is also carrying out a quest that involves him trying to locate some child. I heard there is apparently a picture under the name ‘The Mysterious Boy’ on the End Forums.”

“Interesting! Very interesting!” The guild leader bellows with a cruel laughter.

“Excuse me. Was there anything else you needed, Chronix?” the first shadow said to the second.

“No, nothing at all! I am going to make that man pay for humiliating me so!”

With the conversation over and Chronix now gone, I stealthily leave the alley and return straight to my bed at the Barker Inn.

***************************************************
***************************************************

-Verde-

It took a lot of courage to finally ask Lost to meet up in real life. My heart was pounding in my chest at every moment. Although I honestly had no clue how I was going to get around my father and out of the house to meet him. But it was the only method I could think of to get a little closer to him without that meddling wolf girl interfering.

Then he said he couldn’t. The moment that seemed to drag on forever suddenly became rocks crushing my chest.

The emotional control I have always been so fond over started to become undone. I only invited him to meet in real life, but it had meant slightly more than that to me. I really like him, and I wanted him to know.

I hastily leave the inn and enter the cool night air. Paper lanterns illuminate the entire surroundings in a pretty array of golden yellow hues.

There are quite a lot of players strolling along the main streets, a few breaking off into the smaller paths as they travel towards inns, or even their personal house if they are wealthy enough.

I walk down the road outside of the inn and into a few side streets as well. I pass a few stalls selling fried food and a couple of other delicious night time snacks, but food is the last thing on my mind at the moment.

I can’t possibly give up on the guy after he said no to meeting up one time. I simply have no idea on what to do next.

I feel a shiver run up my spine and glance over my shoulder. A short “Yeep!” comes from me as I get frightened by the person standing barely three feet behind me.

They are standing there in a red halter dress, the frills on the dress swaying in the night wind around the long slender legs extending from it. The girl wearing the dress has snow white hair and crystal blue eyes that give off an incredibly intimidating aura.

“Fen!” I gasp, “Why are you-“

Before I can finish what I am saying the girl suddenly appears in front of me, her eyes almost glowing.

“I told you… again and… again… Stay away.”

“Y-you are completely unreasonable! I like him you know! How could I possibly stay away?!”

This girl, as frightening as she can be is once again threatening me. Although after having my hopes crushed by Lost, her intimidation is slightly less effective.

My words seem to cause her to be taken aback, shock showing in her eyes. She raises one of her hands in a motion that seems slow but is actually incredibly fast, grasping the top on my head.

“You have… no… right.” Each word Fen spoke seemed to carry an enormous weight behind it. I only had a moment to think before a splitting pain ran between my ears, burning everything it touched.

WARNING! 
Device functionality has breached operational 
standards.

Safety procedure is currently non responsive.
Emergency release is currently non responsive.
Emergency shutdown of all device hardware 
commencing...Failed

The wolf girl disappears from my sight as a warning message appears in front of me. It runs through a long list of commands. It comes so quickly that I barely have any time to read what it says.

My knees wobble and give out, causing me to collapse onto the hard packed dirt. I can feel a few tufts of grass pressing against my ear as reality around me appears to distort, crack, and then shatter.

Everything finally goes black and I feel like I am swimming in oblivion. There is absolutely nothing around me, yet this nothingness feels like it is made of mud. I struggle to move my arms and legs, only to feel my consciousness fading with my strength.

***************************************************

I open my eyes and feel that there is something strange on my head,  something like a jet helmet with a large clear visor covering my face at the front. Raising my head, I grab it with two hands and yank it off. Holding it in front of me, I don’t recognize what it is at all.

In my hands is a helmet made out of some kind of pink synthetic material. It appears to be a fairly advanced piece of technology but as to what its function is, I do not know. Placing it on the the bed, I pay more attention to my surroundings.

The room is finely decorated, from the royal purple curtains draped over half the windows to the sparse. but expensive mahogany furniture. There is only a single desk, with a computer, a wardrobe, a few upright chests of draws but nothing out of the ordinary.

I can’t spot anything that would strike me as odd, but I still back up into the corner of the bed with my knees tightly pulled against my chest. I feel my bottom lips trembling as the words come out of my mouth almost unintentionally.

“W-w-where am I?!”

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44 Comments

  1. I am enjoyng the story, can spoil myself guessing Verde ended in an administrator’s ‘lounge’, either a human or the system A.I administrator, the Grandfather of Fen. And ugh that tavern keeper…will keep giving more bad aftertastes, I learned myself not to easiliy accept quests from difficult persons..or NPC. Thanks for the hard work. This is a first seeing not only troublesome to deal own abilities, even negative quests, even items that induce agony for positive gains, looking forward to moar negative stuff that can milk honey from poison! It seems in many cases a negative condition may prove useful in the long term with a higher reward than neutral or positive situations maybe even triggering special (irl) abilities under certain rewuirements.

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  2. Honestly Verde was a bitch at first, while Fen was very likeable. Now its almost like the roles have reversed. Fen is going all creepy on us, and I’m actually starting to feel sorry for Verde.

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  3. i do not see why everyone keeps bitching about the subtle changes in fen like the first chapters we read about her she killed verde in cold blood i actually liked that because of how loyal she is to lost. but yall are taking it out of proportions like i can honestly see none of you have been in a relationship with a girl like i know my girl wouldnt want no random stealing wanna be friend keep trying to get up on me like that aint right. i also feel as though people can get second chances but they need to know their place you can steal from someone then later try to fall in love cause he gave you mouth to mouth to damn save your thieving ass. also with fen assimilating with her body its kinda cool that she did that if she did but i dont care let fen enjoy her irl body cause all verde thought she was was an a.i program which has self learning so of course she could fall in love and get lost im out

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    1. I think while Fen held onto Verde she somehow infiltrated Verde´s VR-helmet and caused it to malfunction.
      That´s the reason for the warnign Verde got.

      And then due to the malfunction the one who woke up isn´t Verde but Fen in Verde´s body while Verde´s consciousness is still imprisoned in the darkness.

      Why do I think it is Fen in Verde´s body instead of Verde?
      Simply because of the line of ********.
      These lines of ****** only appear whenever there´s a change in the POV
      So if it was Verde waking up then there wouldn´t have been those stars.

      Btw. my guess is that Fen isn´t supprised by things like computers and such because she knows of them from the TV in Lost´s personal VR locker.
      But she probably never saw the VR-helmet on TV and that´s why she describes it as “something strange on my head, something like a jet helmet with a large clear visor covering my face at the front”.

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      1. The line of stars, as you put it, may represent a change in the POV. Yet, you must understand. Memory is an essential part of the human condition. It is the culmination of our experiences, or our choices. It is the foundation on which we build an identity. If it is indeed Verde, and as suggested, the AI known as Fen implemented the unlimited possibilities of the VL/VR headset to alter/erase or supplement the person known as Verde then it is wholly possible that D. Wolfin is using his characteristic style to make this point. That we are either meeting a new character that he is unwilling to name, or has already has named but in which the identity, the person, behind that name has now been changed sufficiently to require a note of that change. As such I find it unlikely to be Fen. Especially seeing as she has already gave a short mention of her lack of understanding on the matter of ‘going’ to the ‘real’ world in chapter 8. Nonetheless, both of us could be wrong and the asterisks you mentioned could have simply been the common use of a nontraditional character to break the story apart within narrative and therefore communicate the passage or passage of time.

        Couldn’t help but weigh in.

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  4. I think Verde had her memory erased because the admins that were looking for the piece of missing cod for the rogue AI said that no human hacker could get past the safeties hard-coded into the hardware but something as different and powerful as the programming and functionality of an AI that learns and can expand its capabilities could cut through the safeties built into the VL like butter and use the hardware to either kill, erase or rewire someones brain. The reason I don’t think fen took over Verde is that the warnings she has been able to cause aren’t even under her conscious control yet because they have all happened when she is under a lot of emotional turmoil and she doesn’t think of what she is doing as manipulating code yet. What I think will be really scary is when she is able to start using Lost’s locker to access the internet and learning about how computers, code and the internet works because then she will know what exactly she is and how powerful she really is, although I think Lost could possibly (and that is a bit of a stretch because she seems a little unstable, it could also set her off on a murder/hostage spree) avoid having her turn into skynet+the matrix if he explained to her himself how the 2 of them differ.

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  5. Umm, did i miss something again or weren´t mouse level 150 a couple chapters ago and not 120?

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    1. Indeed it should. He also already told him before about his level so shouldn’t be speaking like it is the first time telling his level. Nice pickup and it’s all fixed!
      I’m currently compiling a database of all skills, items, current player data and so forth to try and avoid these slip ups in the future ^.^

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