Editors: Vincent, genericIntent, Scott
Authors notes: First of all, I am so incredibly tired atm! But, I was determined to get this done and out for all of you so here is the next chapter. I am actually quite proud of this one if I do say so myself. I have also taken note of some of the feedback I got from my book sales and starting from this volume and hopefully getting better with each one. We will get a little closure at the end of each book. But not complete closure, I need to have you wanting… no, needing to get the next one ^.^
weakwithwords is currently have some internet connection issues so I am not entirely sure how long he will be out of commission for, but I hope we can expect him back soon. Then again, he may have run away from the large amount of editing I have for him, hue hue,
As with this being a full chapter, please do take a moment of your time to click on the following link to go to topwebfiction.com and vote for End Online. For all the new people who haven’t explored my little corner of the web yet, there are also other ways you can support my work as you will see on the ‘Support the Author’ page. Please do keep in mind, I do not wish for anyone to offer monetary support if it will considerably inconvenience them. I would feel really bad! That is all for now, I will update the ‘Weekly Update’ page tomorrow as now it time for me to get some zzzzz……
Editor’s notes: …
I rent a room upstairs for Fen and I, confirming with the innkeeper that the room indeed has two separate beds and not one double bed. Waiting in the lobby afterwards, I am considerably confused by Fen’s absence.
‘She is normally hovering around me, so where did she go?’
About ten minutes later, the wolf girl enters through the front doors and walks straight towards me. It is as if she already knew where I was before entering the room.
“Where did you go?” I ask as she arrives in front of me.
“Outside…” She answers in her usual tone with a small smile on her face.
I try not to press any further. It isn’t like she can’t go outside or anywhere without me. Honestly, I feel somewhat more at peace when she isn’t around, almost as if a metal band that had been constricting my chest suddenly loosens its grip.
Still, her disappearance just now feels rather odd. Even though the smile on her face doesn’t falter or show any signs of deceit, something inside of me feels uncomfortable when I wonder about where she went.
“Well, it is nighttime now so let’s head upstairs to our room.”
The girl gave a little affirmative ‘unn’ sound before happily following behind me as I lead us to the third floor.
Inside of the room that I paid one gold and fifty silver coins for, there is a small round table near the wall. Two chairs on either side of the table have the same intricate bronze framework and decoration as the table, completing the set.
Along the opposite side of the room, two single beds are positioned up against the wall. Each appear to be of a relatively simple make, yet they have extravagant cloth sheets laid across them with a thick woollen blanket folded up at the end of each bed to provide extra warmth if required.
The first thing I do is walk directly across the room, and exit through a pair of bronze and glass double doors onto a balcony overlooking the streets below. The entire balcony balustrade is made out of maple hardwood. With a slight reddish tinge, it appears to be both stable and warm at the same time.
The streets below are still bustling with players, all happily haggling with each other underneath the paper lanterns that emanate a warm and gentle glow.
Fen reveals her presence behind me by leaning on my back, entrusting her body onto mine. Heat rushes to my face as I feel the curves of her body, and I quickly maneuver myself in a circle around the girl and back inside the room, leaving her to either remain outside or follow me in.
She returns to the room, closing the balcony door behind her with a displeased face, yet not saying anything.
“Goodnight, Fen.” I say to her as I climb into one of the beds, unequipping my armor.
As I close my eyes, it is only a few minutes before the system assistance helps to induce a sleeping state and my consciousness fades away.
The morning sun shines through the glass on the balcony doors as I open my eyes. The light fills me with a warmth that seems to nourish me down to my bones.
‘No, wait. That isn’t what this feeling is.’
My mind gradually begins to function normally, giving me a better perspective of my surroundings. The warmth I feel isn’t produced by sunlight, but by a body that managed to slide under my arm and was firmly attached to me.
Pulling off the bed sheet, I see Fen, who has wiggled her arms around me and pulled her body completely against mine. Her dress has also been ruffled, with the hem lifting up and revealing a slender, milky white thigh resting across my hips.
She would be the perfect girl in any man’s dreams, except for the drool that is coming out of her mouth and soaking into my tunic.
I’m not even sure why I asked for a room with two beds, I had already known that this would be the result.
I silently slip out of her grasp and leave the bed. Despite my efforts to keep her asleep, as soon as I stand up her eyes slowly open.
“…Mmm.” Fen grumbles sleepily, stretching her body under the sheets before getting out of bed as well.
“Why do you always have to climb into my bed? It isn’t good for a man’s heart, in more ways than one.”
Even though she is visually beautiful, she is also incredibly dangerous. Even I don’t know the full extent of what she is capable of.
‘I think I will have to explain to her the difference between what is okay and what isn’t one day soon. Drooling is okay. Drooling on me is not.’
“Because I… want to.” She states matter-of-factly, as if it is perfectly natural.
“Let’s go downstairs, that prince of no virtues is already online and probably waiting downstairs for us,” I say with a sigh. There is one idiot more than likely already downstairs and another one that is lacking common sense in front of me.
As I think about it, if Fen’s existence began with the game, does that not make her less than six months old? Well, the program known as ‘Fen’ would have been running for nearly six months at least.
She doesn’t respond, but she does quietly follow me out of the room and downstairs.
In the common area downstairs, there is a small fire burning off to the side, eliminating the morning chill while multiple serving girls run around handing breakfast menus to the many players present.
I spot a player off towards the back of the group. It was not hard to find the person I was looking for; his steel armor is polished to a near mirror finish which is frankly a little hard to miss.
“I see you are up nice and early,” I said to him.
Prince Charming may only be a head taller than me, but he has a strange way of looking down on me. He clearly doesn’t have anything to say back to my attempt at starting a conversation and simply stares at me.
‘At least he acknowledges I am here all on his own. That is a significant improvement from how it used to be.’
“I guess not… Are you waiting for Verde?” It is a stupid question. Of course he is waiting for the only person he seems to pay attention to. At least now we may start up a conversation.
“I am.” Short and to the point. His response carried nothing more than it needed. He does, however, throw a prolonged glance at Fen.
“It appears Mason and Matrix just logged in. We are nearly all here.”
At least I tried.
Five minutes pass by and the two brothers show up at the barrel-like table we are gathered around.
“Lost, looks like our adventure is about to begin once again.” Mason seems highly excited about exploring the forest.
“Well, I wouldn’t expect for it to be too much of an adventure. We are only searching through a beginner’s hunting area.”
“It may be small right now, but I am sure with you it will turn into something interesting.”
“You seem to be in a rather good mood today,” I laugh. “Did something happen?”
“Well, not to brag, but my latest video hit seventy thousand views when I wasn’t paying attention, and I received an offer from an advertiser to pre-order the first advertisement slot on my next video.” Mason says with a big grin.
“That’s incredible!” I exclaim. “How much was the offer? Did you accept?”
“The offer was for two hundred dollars. Of course I accepted it.”
All of a sudden the whole conversation in my mind seemed to skip like a broken record.
‘And all your excitement is over this?’
Seeing how cheerful he is, I had thought the payout would be something considerably higher than two hundred dollars.
Our conversation continues for the better part of an hour. Mason was his usual quiet awkward self, while Prince Charming showed minimal interest in the group, interjecting sporadic comments from time to time.
As the hour passes, however, the conversation slows to a stop. An uncomfortable silence overcomes the group as we begin to grow tired of waiting.
“Where is Verde?” Mason asks, his earlier good mood ruined.
“I’m sure she is coming.” I respond, not even convincing myself.
“Well, we can’t wait forever. We are simply wasting time waiting for someone who clearly has more important things to do.” Mason says in an overly ridiculing tone.
“Mind your tongue! I’m sure she has a reason why she is delayed!” Prince Charming raises his voice at Mason, clearly angered by the sarcasm in his comment.
“Why? I’m sure we all know she is probably currently-” Mason begins to sarcastically insinuate something unbecoming before the prince grabs him by the shirt and shoves him backwards.
“I will defend my lady no matter what. I will go find her, and be back only after I do so!” With those words, Prince Charming storms out of the inn in large strides.
I give Mason a criticising stare until he starts to look guilty.
“You went a bit far there, don’t you think?”
“I’m sorry, Lost. I think I am a bit high strung from sitting around and doing nothing. I play this game full time and am trying to make a living out of it. Pointlessly wasting large amounts of time puts me in a bad mood.”
“Don’t let it happen again. We are a team so there should be no infighting whatsoever.”
“I understand. I won’t let it happen again.” Mason casts his eyes towards the ground in regret.
I know I am partly at fault, too. As the leader, I should be better at controlling the situation. It simply happened so quickly that I was as stiff as a statue with my mouth hanging open.
With the situation now calming down, I leave the inn with the others meekly following behind me.
A gentle knock on the door sounds from outside the room.
“Verity,” a female’s voice comes from behind the door, “it is time for dinner, can you come eat with us?”
I don’t say anything back. I am so terrified at the moment that I can’t even open my mouth. In response to my silence, I hear a sigh from outside of the room.
A man had come knocking earlier as well. He left shortly after I didn’t reply, just like this lady hopefully will.
“Oh, you must be on that V-Link thing again. How many times do I have to tell you that you need to use it a little less?” The door slowly opens and what must be the most beautiful woman in the world walks in.
She has dark auburn hair waving down to her shoulders and a tight fitting blue dress, which reveals her voluptuous figure. The most striking part about her image though, is her face. Her skin is like silk, with a natural color that emanates femininity. Her facial features are so perfectly symmetrical that there could not possibly be another person who could rival her beauty.
The lady stops in her tracks as she sees me pressed up against the back of the bed, absolutely terrified.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“….” I try to speak, and my mouth opens and closes, but words refuse to form.
The lady takes another step towards me before I finally manage to speak.
“S-s-stay back. I-I don’t know w-who you are, j-just stay a-away.” My voice croaks as I speak and nearly falters, but I manage to get the words out.
The lady is clearly quite intelligent. She immediately realizes something is seriously wrong and hurriedly leaves the room in shock, calling out to the man that was knocking earlier.
“Dear! Come quick! Something has happened to our Verity!”
Thundering footsteps follow quickly as a slightly chubby man in a suit with short hair and reasonably good looks appears in the now open doorway. He speaks immediately without wasting any time.
“I’m not sure, she is either experiencing a delusion or has lost her memories!”
“What are you talking about?! What could possibly cause such a thing?!”
“I don’t know, dear. But it seems serious.”
“Call Doctor Petroni immediately! Have him meet us at the hospital!”
As the woman gradually starts to calm down, the man correspondingly begins to get more worked up.
“Darling, please don’t be alarmed. We are going to take you to someone who can help.”
A small part of me tells me to trust them. With a short nod of my head, I extend one of my slender arms towards the woman who grabs and embraces me. I feel a strange comforting feeling inside my chest. A feeling of safety.
“It is completely abnormal. I don’t know what could have caused this,” the family doctor, Petroni, said while shaking his head.
During my trip to the hospital, I learned that the woman, Honya Lee, is my mother while the man, Lucas Lee, is my father. At first I thought they were speaking nonsense when the lady introduced herself and the man. I only began to come to terms with it and understand after I tried to think about who my parents were. I know I have parents, but when I try focus on who they are, the knowledge is just on the tip of my tongue, just out of reach.
I met a middle aged man at the hospital who was well dressed and absolutely handsome.
He gave me a few quick general checkups before having me lie down on a bed which slowly moved into a humming machine.
“I am having a hard time understanding it,” my father says very sternly to the doctor. “Please explain it to me again.”
“Memories are stored in the brain as clusters of neurons,” the doctor starts explaining the problem once again. “We each also have an indexing key that our brain uses to locate and read this information correctly. It appears that indexing key has been damaged, causing her to be unable to read her memories correctly. This may recover over time, but I cannot say for certain. This is what’s causing her amnesia.”
“If her memories are all still there then why exactly can’t she seem to recall at least a single one?!”
“It is because the map the brain uses to find them is damaged. Right now, I assume her brain is still analysing them, just unable to decipher them into conscious thoughts. You can think of the memories right now as data that while still being there, is unreadable. Everything from here is entirely up to your daughter and her mental ability.”
“So there is nothing that we can do!?”
“Nothing that can give a definite cure, so to speak. You could put her in situations that are related to her damaged memories. The familiarity should help her mind jolt some of these memories.”
“Fine, I will do that.”
“Thank you for allowing me to be of assistance today, Mr. Lee. I will now be off for the night, I also have a wife and daughter to attend to. Please sign yourself out when you leave.”
My father nods to the doctor who then hurriedly walks off.
“I have been speaking with your mother. I hear you have been playing some online game?” Father gives me a stern reprimanding stare.
I’m not exactly sure what he means when he says this. Why would my mother know about me playing some game that my father doesn’t? Also, why does he appear to be so very disappointed about it?
Unable to recall anything about an online game, I can only give him a blank stare with a twinge of fear.
“Tch, I will be in contact with the game company in the next few days to sort this out. I don’t necessarily need you to go back and waste your time with the filth that play it. I will organize video footage of your entire game time to try and trigger your memories.”
I can’t seem to think of a response. Consciously, I have no problem with what he wants me to do. Yet, a hint of sadness appears from a dark corner inside of me.
Mason, Matrix, Fen and I arrive in front of Grenton’s beginner forest, located only a five minute walk from the city’s eastern gate. There are a few parties of newbies around hunting wild boars and other low level creatures.
A lot of eyes seem to follow us after seeing what appear to be high level players coming through. There are some angry glares whenever a nearby monster falls victim to my auto-taunt. I don’t know if it is because Grenton is different from Iceridge, but a few angry looks is all I get. People seem to get over it and quickly move on to the next enemy.
With lush green grasslands to our rear, the trees in the forest in front of us all look exceptionally similar, with branches twisting up to where the canopy from all the trees produced a solid shield against the world, barely letting any sun shine through and completely blocking off the view of the sky.
Strangely enough, the small rays off the sun that broke through to the ceiling of the trees came directly down, removing all indications of where the sun is in the sky.
“There is no point in delaying any further. There is apparently some kind of illusion in this forest that causes all invaders to return back to where they entered from. From what folklore I know in regards to ancient magic, it could be anything from a natural misleading ensnarement to a full blown glamor,” I say to share my suspicions with the others. They aren’t necessarily correct and some of the others may have thought the same thing anyway, but my position as the leader of this party requires me to take this role.
“Do you all have the ‘Clearsight’ scrolls I bought for us earlier?”
“Yep.” “Sure do.” The two brothers respond immediately.
Scroll of Clearsight A scroll with the ability to cast the spell 'Clearsight'. Clearsight will immediately disperse any visual illusions currently assailing the target. Requirements: - Level 50 Grade: White Duration: Instant Incantation: "My mind is as clear as the fresh spring. My eye sees through the spring that has no impurities. Clearsight!"
Fen doesn’t have to hold onto one of the scrolls as I will cast one on her myself. She is a companion and not a player, so she doesn’t have a personal inventory like the rest of us.
Taking the first step forward, we all enter the forest.
Entering ‘Lush Grass Forest’
‘Interesting.’ I think to myself over that fact that the forest has a name, meaning it must have some kind of treasures within.
I dismiss the thought considering the area is likely to be for new players who have graduated from hunting those odd green boars and are ready to move onto the next type of enemy. Being a low level hunting ground means it will probably have low level rewards.
There is definitely no shortage of monsters out here. I used my ‘Creature Analysis’ on some of the local wolves, revealing that they are only level 15. They are different from the wolves I remember from outside Iceridge. I spent a long time battling the light grey wolves and despite them being of a lower level, I can clearly tell the difference compared to these black ‘Forest Wolves’.
When these wolves attack, their movement speed is only slightly faster than that of the snow wolf. Yet, they are multitudes more agile. Every single wolf that fell under my passive aggravation weaved in and out of the trees in such a fashion they were extremely difficult to follow with the eyes, and before I knew it, they were right in front of me.
For a level fifteen player to hunt these wolves, they would need incomparable natural talent or considerable prior knowledge in martial arts. The experience the wolves provide is significantly less than their difficulty warrants.
‘No wonder this forest seems so empty of people. Nobody would go to this much effort for so little experience.’
I continue to casually walk through the ankle high grass with everyone else following closely behind me.
“This forest is maddening,” Mason speaks up after a twenty minute period of silence. “I have lost all sense of bearing. Everything looks the same no matter where I am.”
“I understand what you mean,” I sigh while agreeing with him. “But we have been walking in one constant direction this entire time. We must be making some sort of progress.”
Fen gives me a strange look, but continues to stroll along side me without so much as a word. She isn’t attached to my arm, but neither is she particularly far away from me.
I have seen plenty of wildlife in the forest, especially elk with large antlers of ivory. I break off from the party at one stage to kill one of these creatures. While I manage to kill it and harvest a few meals worth of meat from it, I am surprised to find that their antlers are classified as shields under the game system. I can’t use my speed to nullify their defenses, just like with the ‘Thèr Deer’.
I also get the innate feeling that an area with herbs is nearby a few times, but I refrain from harvesting them for fear I would completely lose my bearings and end up walking back the way I came.
Another half hour passes with absolutely no change to the surroundings. Occasionally we walk up slight hill and other times down them, yet the ground and the forest around us refuses to show any signs of changing.
Suddenly, I notice a bright yellow light shining through the trees in the distance revealing a clearing in the trees.
“Finally, we can look at the sun to reorient ourselves.” I breath out slowly, relief spreading through my chest.
It only takes us five minutes to reach the light shining through the trees. As soon as I enter it, I and everyone else halt in shock.
We have exited the forest exactly where we entered it.
Turning around stupefied, everyone except for Fen is staring back at the forest in confusion.
“I think I understand why everyone assumes there is some spell on the forest,” I speak my thoughts aloud. “It isn’t just that the forest is misleading and causes you to get lost. To exit out of the forest exactly where we entered from is simply inconceivable.”
“I agree,” Mason says while staring into the trees, “there is definitely something amiss here, but I don’t know what we should do. I doubt that these scrolls we have will work considering that we couldn’t even tell when the illusion began. It must be a top tier illusion to be able to do that.”
“Hmm.” I think about what he said for a moment. At the very least, there must be some way to get past it. The issue is that with a million players in the game and three hundred thousand of those in the kingdom of Forste, anything we try has more than likely been attempted before. And that is only on my server. There are an additional sixty three servers out throughout the country as well.
“We may as well try what we can. This forest is our best lead for finding that boy so we have to discover its secrets somehow.”
“Umm. How do we do that?” Matrix shyly asks in confusion.
“We will mark the trees with a knife as we pass by them, marking our way,” Mason answers his brother moments before I respond.
“We will also use our ‘Scrolls of Clearsight’ halfway through the trip. This time it took us about an hour to end up back here, so we will use the scrolls at thirty minutes in. There must be some way to succeed after all.”
“Pretty sure everyone thought that way at some point.”
I don’t respond to him. I know that this is probably a vain attempt.
Unfortunately, it is all that I have to go on right now with no alternatives.
Drawing both my ‘Reinforced Steel Kodachi’ and ‘Fire Imbued Meridium Scramasax’ I lead the way back into the forest cutting into trees as I pass by them. When I stop and look behind me, I can see all the cuts lined up in a straight line.
I continue doing this for another half an hour, continuously looking back to ensure I am travelling in a straight line. If I am heading in a straight line, there is no possible way I can end up back where I started.
I turn around once more to check on the cuts, but to my astonishment, they are gone. Frantically looking all around, I can’t find a single one. They have completely disappeared.
“That’s strange. Maybe, if the illusion confused my senses and made me unconsciously change directions, I would understand. But this is almost like a teleportation disguised as an illusion.” I mumble to myself trying to find reasoning behind the tree cuts suddenly vanishing.
“Could it be the illusion is masking the cuts as well as confusing us?” Mason asks.
“It’s possible. At least, we now know we are under its effects and it is definitely here. I personally feel reassured to know that we were simply not getting lost ourselves in this forest where everything looks the same.”
“I guess we should use our scrolls now then.”
The three of us players each pull out a ‘Scroll of Clearsight’. Calling out the incantation, we all cast the spell that should dissolve the visual illusions. However, looking around, I still can’t see the sword cuts I made on the trees.
‘Strange,’ I think in my head. ‘Perhaps we need to have everyone in the party cleared of the illusion.’
“Fen, stay still for a minute,” I say to the girl as I pull out another ‘Scroll of Clearsight’ and cast it with her as the target.
Even after having all of us clear of visual illusions, the sword cuts we made to track our way still refuse to return. Perhaps this is a teleportation technique instead of an illusion.
“Well, we had best move on for now. The light shining through the canopy is starting to dim, meaning the sun is setting.”
They all nod their heads. Whether we return to where we entered or break through the illusion, either would be fine at this point.
We start walking but stop as soon as a girl’s voice catches our attention.
“Why… are we… going back?” Fen asks curiously while looking directly at me.
“What do you mean, Fen?” I respond while furrowing my brow.
“I thought… you wanted to… keep going… forward,” she states monotonously.
“F-Fen. Are you saying that you know which way we came from and how to keep going forward?”
The wolf girl gives my words some thought before nodding her head. Just like me, the others are also at a loss for words.
“Fen,” I say into the stunned silence, “can you please lead the way?”
“…Okay.” She turns and walks back the way we came.
Without anything else to rely on, we all follow behind the wolf girl. After about five minutes, she is suddenly walking off to the left. I hurry to change my direction and catch up with her.
This process repeats every minute or so. She will be walking in one direction and then a blink of the eye later she will be walking in another direction completely. Through the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a cut on a tree, the scorch marks around the incision show that it was made by a blade with a fire attribute. Strangely enough, the moment I focus on the tree the mark disappears, as if it was never there.
A low groaning of wood stretching reverberates throughout the trees and even Fen stops in her tracks, looking around her. I spot a glimpse of movement off to my right, but when I turn my head I only see trees and grass. The only movement is that of a few leaves drifting down through the air.
Behind me, Mason moves to a nearby tree and quickly scales it and sits in the low branches, looking around for danger. Matrix is looking around him as if he had seen a ghost or something.
Everything turns eerily quiet as I focus my concentration on the surroundings. I can’t hear, see, or smell anything wrong, yet a strange foreboding is telling me otherwise.
With a few cracking sounds, four of the nearby trees suddenly rip up their roots and start travelling over the ground towards me at a speed that completely takes me by surprise. It isn’t necessarily all that fast, but these are trees we are talking about.
One of those trees is the one Mason is currently situated in. The rapid movement causes him to lose his balance and be flung off.
“Creature Analysis,” I quietly call out, focusing my sight on one of the moving trees. The ‘Creature Analysis’ skill may have been absorbed into my class skill, but it still has the same activation words.
Name: Forest Guardian Level: 75 Health: 1450 Magic: 100 Stamina: 200 ??
The bad feeling from before dissipates as I see the stats of the enemies coming towards me. This would definitely be an issue for a low level player or perhaps even someone my level who didn’t train their stats at all, but this tree is completely out of its league.
‘I wonder if it even has a consciousness, or simply attacks anyone nearby? No, surely there must be some kind of thought going on. They are all clearly affected by my aggravation aura after all.’
Leaning forward, I dash towards the closest guardian at top speed. Fen launches some large ice bolts at a second one at the same time.
Raising my ‘Fire Imbued Meridium Scramasax’ in front of me and holding it horizontally, I use my speed as the driving force to cut through the forest guardian.
The creature clearly doesn’t have a mouth to cry out in agony as the short sword makes a deep smoldering groove on its body, but the forest guardian’s roots start to thrash about in a defensive mechanism as over half of its health is removed. One of those long roots happens to unexpectedly land across my back as I pass by, causing me to lose balance and collide heavily with a nearby tree.
In my carelessness, I even manage to hit my head against the tree with enough force to cause a five second ‘Dazed’ status to appear and my head to spin. I also lose nearly a quarter of my health from that one attack.
‘The monster is of a lower level, yet still does so much damage in a single attack!’ I think desperately. I definitely need tougher armor so I can take a hit or two.
I look back at the battle to see Fen dancing around and launching her ice javelins at one enemy while Mason and Matrix gang up on the other.
The monsters are still under the effects of my aggravation aura and heading in my direction. Unfortunately,they have roots between five and ten meters in length, which they use to attack the others despite still travelling in my direction.
Almost as if they had somehow communicated with each other and preplanned, all four nearly dead forest guardians simultaneously light up in an earthy green color, particularly in their roots.
“Not good!” I call out as my dazed status effect wears off. “They are using a sacred art, get back! Multi Mirage!”
Every single root dives straight into the ground. They instantly resurface anywhere up to twenty meters away attacking everything within range. I use my own sacred art in time to create multiple mirages of myself and prevent the roots from converging on my real body and killing me. I may be fast but even I know that a perfect omnidirectional attack like this one could easily be my bane.
The others get off rather lightly as well, considering the attacks were mostly focused on me from the beginning.
With the daze effect gone and still fifty percent health left, I lunge back into the fight. Being less reckless this time, I quickly finish off two enemies while Fen finishes hers and the brothers do the same.
“They drop half-decent experience and move relatively slowly. I only wish they weren’t so well suited for surprise attacks.” Mason laughs off the battle now that it is over.
“They may have a slower movement speed than most monsters their level, but their attack speed is incredibly high. Those roots were fast enough to catch even me,” I state with a mild surprise. They wouldn’t have touched me if I took my hood off, but I can’t say for certain I would be able to fight properly if I did take it off.
“Indeed. I would hate to be a low level player who just accidentally ran into one.”
“That would be a terrible encounter for the player.” The image of some newbie getting whipped by countless tree roots suddenly enters my mind. “Fen, do you still remember which direction we were heading in? I would like to continue if we can.”
The now dead trees left holes in the canopy of the forest, allowing us a clear look at the sky and to get our bearings. It should work like that at least, except that the sun is slowly sinking onto the horizon where we cannot see it and the fading light still somehow shines directly down through the gap. We simply stand under the open sky while a soft golden light falls down on us.
“I… know where… to go.” Fen nods her head while speaking in a monotonous voice.
We go back to following the wolf girl and encounter three more groups of forest guardians. Being more aware of the creatures and their attacks, we aren’t as surprised when they suddenly appear from the forest, though we each take a little bit of damage when they reveal a new skill. The guardians can launch innumerable leaf blades in a forty five degree arc which cannot be blocked, but thankfully that only catches us unawares once.
Before my eyes, the forest abruptly comes to an end.
In the dying light of the sun, I stand at the edge of a clearing approximately two hundred meters in diameter with a reasonably-sized river winding through it. The strangest thing is that inside of this clearing is a large town. There are no pathways through or around the town, yet the grass in the entire clearing is short enough that one could comfortably walk on it.
Each of the houses in the town are made out of a strange arrangement of wood and foliage. Each and every one appears to have been made out several different sized trees that seem to grow into the house with a thicket of sticks forming the rest of the walls. The roofs are formed by the trees’ foliage, which creates a perfect blanket over the top of the house and stretches out into a slight overhang, creating an small area of shade around each house.
Throughout the village, there are a lot of NPC’s walking around with laundry and other goods. Some are smoking freshly caught fish while others were sitting around and talking to each other. There were even a few kids picking on a smaller kid off behind one of the structures.
My eyes widen as I focus on the group and see a familiar face. The boy that the others are picking on is the ‘Mysterious Boy’ we have been looking for!
I also take note of the appearance of the townsfolk. The men are tall and slender, with narrow shoulders while the females are slightly shorter and have petite bodies with natural, elegant curves. They all have hair of gentle greens, except for the elderly whose hair is silvery white.
The most notable feature beyond anything else though is their narrow pointed ears that stick out horizontally from their heads.
“E-E-E-ELVES!!” Matrix cries out behind me without any warning.
All the movement and noise in the village comes to a halt as everyone looks over at us.
“HUMANS!” Multiple melodic shouts echo throughout the village in alarm. People who hear it start running away as fast as possible. Some try to grab some personal belongings while others hastily grab their children before fleeing in the opposite direction. A few of the men grab their bows but they all have complete and utter fear on their faces.
“Everyone, I don’t know what is going on, but we need to quickly capture that boy and get out of here before anything too bad happens. Don’t worry, we will shout back at them that we will bring him back. Unfortunately, this is the only way I can think of solving the quest right now,” I hastily call out to the rest of the party.
“Lost. I think kidnapping the kid is a little bit much, isn’t it?” Mason frowns behind me in disagreement with the plan.
“I know, it is, but if these elves flee from here, they will probably not only never return but we will never find them again. The continent in this game is enormous and we are not likely to find them ever again. If that happens, we will fail the quest.”
“I still don’t quite feel right kidnapping a child. Can we not just give up on this quest?”
“I don’t know about you, but I am not in a position to simply abandon quests. Don’t forget that this is only a game.”
“I know, I know. Well we better hurry up about it, I still feel uncomfortable though.”
Mason finally gives in, but by now half the residents of this town have already disappeared into the forest. There are around twenty bow wielding guards nervously prepared to defend the outskirts of the town but the other half are frantically still trying to gather up their kids.
“You guys wait here, they look prepared to fire those bows and everything I have ever heard about elves states they are highly adept with them. They shouldn’t be able to hit me though.” I tell the others as I dash towards that small group of children who are now in a panic.
Just as I suspected, those few guards are incredibly adept with their bows. Each and every arrow converges to a single point on my chest. Unfortunately for the elves, they are only firing at an illusionary afterimage. As soon as the image of me is pierced and dispersed, I immediately create another one, confusing the archers even further.
I reach the kid I want in a few seconds, throwing the now terrified child over one shoulder as my afterimage merges with my real body now that I am no longer moving. I prepare to escape when a stunning middle-aged elf lady blocks my way. She doesn’t hesitate to drop to her knees before prostrating before me.
“P-please. Spare my son! Take me instead if you must! I will do whatever you want!” She cries in a high-pitched, distraught voice. Seeing the child I have over my shoulder, the guards also hesitate to fire any more arrows, probably afraid I will use the kid as a shield.
I have a sudden flashback of when I was told that my two younger sisters were taken away from me and custody was given to my distant aunt. I don’t even know where she lives.
“Forgive me.” I say gently to the lady. “I understand exactly how hard it can be to have someone taken away from you, but please don’t think that this is the case.”
The female elf slowly lifts her head, her teary eyes filled with distrust and fear.
“There is a small matter that I need him to come with me for. I promise I will bring him back in a day or two.” If this mother adamantly refuses to let me take him, I’m not entirely sure I will be able to follow through anymore with completing this quest.
“H-he has done n-nothing! Please, I will give you anything!”
I notice that the guards have drawn nearby, listening to our conversation as they prepare to attack at a moments notice.
“Unfortunately he has done something.” The woman’s eyes slightly widen in shock at my words, but still completely fearing me. Of course, this is the effect of my intimidating aura.
“He has been making contact with a young girl in the nearby city of Grenton.” I continue, “I have been asked by her father to find this boy. I promise no harm will come to him, the girl’s father is just a little overprotective.”
The boy on my shoulder suddenly overcomes his fear and in a panic, starts to struggle in my grip while screaming “Let me go!”. However, he is only a weak child and cannot break free or cause any damage.
The mother shows more fear than ever before. Not just at me, but also at her son for some reason. At the same time one of the guards fearfully steps forward. “H-human, are you s-saying this boy has been contacting other humans?”
At these words, the kid’s mother looks between the elf male and I as if her whole world just came crashing down on top of her.
“That is the case, but please don’t think I mean to take this child away permanently or harm him.”
“I’m sorry,” The elf bites his lower lip and tilts his head towards the ground as tears begin to well up in his eyes, “What happens to this child and the mother are no longer our responsibility.”
“Hon’ar! Please, no! He is just a child!” The lady cries out to the male elf with her whole body shaking, fresh tears streaming down her face
“He is, meaning he is your responsibility. You both must be punished for breaking our law against willingly coming into contact with the humans. I really wish there was another way Shai’en, we have been a couple for six years, but as long as we remain exiles from humanity we must maintain this law. As by my authority as the leader of the Eldenweiss Community, I Hon’ar, banish Shai’en and her son Shai’lan.”
The woman remains on all fours on the ground, as still and silent as if she was made out of stone. I catch a glimpse of her face and see her eyes painfully squeezed shut.
“Excuse me,” I speak up and interrupt the two. “I promise I won’t let other humans know about you elves if you are currently hiding, so there should be no need to exile them.”
I honestly feel incredibly guilty right now for causing this entire mess.
“Human,” Hon’ar speaks, starting to overcome his fear after realizing I mean no harm. “This is not about whether you will tell others about us or not. After today we will not be returning to this place anyway now that it has been discovered. The problem is that this is a law decided by us all after we were forcefully removed from our home by the humans.”
“Surely there must be some way! You said you are a couple so you should do everything you can to stay together!”
“The only way to accomplish that would be for me to accept exile along with Shai’en.”
“NO!” Shai’en calls out, “You can’t Hon’ar! Your responsibilities are too great, this whole community depends on you.”
“As you see,” Hon’ar says to me, “I cannot leave this community, and as long as we have no home and are on the run from humans, I cannot turn a blind eye to this law. Even for the person I love.”
“Then what if we get back your home for you? According to what you have said, then it should be fine, right?!”
All the elves look at me, their eyes wide with shock.
“Yes,” Hon’ar nods slightly, “That is agreeable. If you can get back our home for us, then we can take her back. No, I can take her back, and finally get married to her beneath the reclaimed ‘Tree of Pink Blossoms’. Human, what is your name?”
“M-my name is Lost.” I stammer in shock, seeing where this is leading,
“Lost, as the leader of the Eldenweiss Community, I Hon’ar, request you to liberate our home of Eltreant in the northern forest from the vile bandits occupying it.”
Quest: Liberate Eltreant Hon'ar has requested for you to liberate the elves home of Eltreant from the human bandits that stole it from them. The city is located in the far northern forest of Forste. Failure will lead to Shai'en and her son forever becoming an exile. Grade: Purple
‘A legendary quest!’
“I accept your request. I honestly do not wish for these two to be exiled, but if I can have them rejoin your community then I will be truly happy.”
You have accepted the quest.
“Mikhail, get over here! Now!” Henry calls out to me while I am sitting in my small office and staring at the white ceiling.
“Y-yes boss,” I call back as I hurriedly get out of my seat and rush over. “What is it?”
“We have a serious problem.” Henry’s brows furrow more than I have ever seen before. “I just received a call from a very powerful man. Apparently something related to our game has damaged his daughter’s mind. Scrambled her memories, or so he said.”
“Henry, could he be making this up?”
“People of his calibre don’t just ‘make things up’.”
I feel my face turn ashen, thinking of what the consequences could be.
“He has demanded we hand over all recorded footage and data of his daughter’s in game experiences in hopes of finding out exactly what happened. Neither he nor I think this is a simple hardware fault.”
“S-sir, could it be-“
“I don’t know!” He cuts me off, “But it is your job to find out before we hand over any footage. The daughter’s name is Verity Lee, so go find her player name and locate all related game data. You got that?”
I rush off to the server room where I plug in my portable computer to access data storage. The server itself has such a massive database that it can store a total of twelve months worth of data that can be turned into full scale footage of the entire continent, allowing us to locate players and find out what they have been up to and where they have been.
I input the player’s real life name. A few seconds later, I receive her in game information.
“Hrmm. Her in game name is Verde, level 94, practically a street thief built class.”
I run a query on the game server to collect her past six months of activity into a video file that I can export and run through after.
ERROR! Data cannot be found.
Surprise shows on my face. This should be technically impossible. Unless…
“Xilbril, are you hiding something from me?” I whisper while staring at the two hundred cube server array.
Knowing I am not going to get anything further from here, I head back to see Henry and let him know the situation.
“Henry, it appears Xilbril won’t let me access the video footage in regards to this person for some reason. It is the same kind of denial I got when trying to find out where that child AI went.”
“Mikhail, tell me honestly. Could they be related?”
“I suspect they are, but I have no proof. I think this girl may have had contact with the child AI. It could have been that AI itself that caused this mess.”
Henry pulls out a cigarette and lights up, inhaling a few deep breaths before speaking again.
“Okay, I got it. Leave this one to me for now. By the way, have you played ‘End Online’ much?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“Take the day off, go buy a copy and study up on playing it. You may need to really go ‘into the field’ shortly.”
“What are you saying?”
“No questions, now go.”
I leave Henry’s office, and make sure to grab my coat and bag before heading out to buy the game our company produced and maintains for some odd reason.
“Mr. Lee, sorry for calling you back so soon. I have something to quickly discuss with you.”
“What would that be?” Mr. Lee speaks in a rather unfriendly tone right from the start.
“I am truly sorry to say this, but we are unable to provide you with the footage you requested.”
“Excuse me, are you saying you lost it? Or you never had it in the first place when you should have?”
He may have been on the other end of a telephone call, but I still feel the temperature of the room around me drop a few degrees from his frigid tone.
“N-no, that isn’t it. It is simply company policy that prevents us from handing it out.”
“How much will it cost?”
“I said, how much will it cost? Give me a number and I will make it happen.”
I am perfectly aware of how filthy rich this man is. He could probably buy the entire city of Taile if he wanted to.
“I’m sorry sir, but this is not a matter that can be solved through money.”
“Well why don’t I buy your company then? I will even begin a hostile takeover if that is what it is going to take.”
The man speaks in a tone even colder than before, sending a shiver up my spine. I am a fully grown man who is actually quite tough, but this man is giving me chills even over the phone.
Well, he couldn’t buy this company even if he wanted to. Idea Imagine is a subsidiary of Virtue, which is not a publicly listed company. When Virtue wanted to raise capital for its goals, instead of turning to the stock market, it started selling the V-Link. Without shares to sell or buy, nobody can buy this company unless the owners decide to sell.
“However, Mr. Lee, I do have a thought that can help. How about we have her rejoin the game and send in experts to monitor her?”
“Do you expect me to let my daughter go back into a game that caused her current state?”
“Please understand, this is the only solution I can think of. We will personally send in some employees to constantly monitor her. You can have your own bodyguards join her as well for safety. At least until she recovers her memories. We consider this to be a very serious incident.”
A period of silence comes from the other end of the line, which causes sweat to trickle down my forehead.
“Very well. You will send in your moderators and I will send in my bodyguards to protect her. If anything even looks like it could go wrong, I will personally hold you accountable and take every penny that you and your company own. You have my word on that.”
“W-we will definitely not let anything happen.”
“Good. Now, I have arrangements to make. You have two weeks to arrange things on your side. Goodbye.”
I make a quick phone call to Mikhail and let him know the situation, and that he is to play the game for two weeks stopping only for food. He is to focus on raising his level to a sufficient point where he can play the game as this girl’s helper.
I let out a sigh that everything has worked out. All I need to do now is track down that rogue AI before it causes any more damage. That is my number one priority.