Editors: genericIntent, shieldbasher, Vincent, Scott
Author’s notes: There is some news from my and the editors. genericIntent, our editor in chief, is going on holidays for two weeks. I have taken it upon myself to start working like crazy from today onward in an attempt to welcome him back with an excessive amount of paperwork on his desk and a pack of multi-coloured highlighters ^.^ Seriously though, we hope he has a good trip and enjoys himself! Also, that much needed chapter 22 edit on a couple of points is coming in about 12 hours, sleep must come first!
As another full chapter release. It is greatly appreciated if you can show your support to take a minute of your time to follow the link and vote for End Online at TopWebFiction.com!
I hazily wake up to a cry of pain as the early morning sunlight begins filtering in through the window. My mind is still a little sluggish from just waking up, so it takes a moment to comprehend whose voice it is. After a few seconds, I realize it belongs to Matrix.
“Brother? What happened?” Mason asks, seemingly as confused as I am.
“I was just stretching when my arm touched Fen, and she stabbed me!”
The wolf girl is still resting half her body on top of mine, in the same position as when I fell asleep. Disturbing her as I sit up, she slides off me and manages to wrap her slender arms around my waist at the same time.
Looking to the person on the other side of Fen, I see Matrix holding his arm which has a small dagger of ice embedded into it.
“Hey, cut it out.” I say, poking my finger into Fen’s temple.
The girl needlessly pulls herself close against my body as the crystal clear dagger evaporates. I furrow my brows, feeling helpless against her actions. I consider trying to explain that she is just an NPC, but decide that explanation wouldn’t help matters.
“Lost,” Mason begins, “just what in the world is she? I have noticed before that there is something strange about your companion.”
“How would I know? She is just a companion that I picked up during my journey.”
“What quest did she join you for? All other companions are part of a quest, yet she has been with you since we met. I haven’t heard her complain or remind you of the quest once.”
He is right, companions are known to be quest-specific NPCs. Such as a NPC guard for an escort mission, or the quest-giver joining the player to exterminate a particular group of monsters they hold a grudge against. The latter of these two scenarios is the most common quest where a companion will join the player; like Shai’en and the liberation of Eltreant.
“It was a quest to find her missing father, or find out what happened to him at least. It isn’t that I am avoiding finishing the quest; travelling throughout the continent is a part of looking for leads on information.”
A complete lie, but I don’t know how else I would explain it to him.
‘Oh, Mason, she is technically a boss monster who can morph into a girl and joined me on a whim after a week of fighting each other. Oh, that can’t be right? But I still haven’t told you how this crazy girl has somehow left the game and invaded my V-Link.’
Had I not been part of this bizarre situation, I know I would never believe it myself.
“That makes sense, why didn’t I think of that? Although, I have never seen you gathering information.”
“You’re not always with me you know. I do it on my own time.”
“Haha, of course.”
Cursing at how nosey this guy is, I look down at Fen who is still nonchalantly clinging to me half asleep like this has nothing to do with her.
The others slowly awaken and we all start stretching ourselves. It isn’t that the game leaves us feeling sore, but stretching after waking has a euphoric effect on the joints and muscles.
Fen woozily gets up when I stand, resting herself on my back until we begin to leave the room. A few of the others give the wolf girl curious looks after overhearing the conversation between Mason and I.
The downstairs common room still has a large amount of players in it, but only half as many compared to last night’s full house. I notice a few familiar faces that have clearly been here since last night, but most of the players appear to have come in throughout the night.
Some of the players who witnessed us last night call out some lewd comments that shock us all and cause our faces to flush with embarrassment. Even the noble Prince Charming suddenly breaks character as his cheeks turn pink. The only one of us that doesn’t seem to be fazed is Fen.
Feeling quite embarrassed, we leave the inn and head out into the street.
The morning sun shines on me and I can feel its warmth reach all the way down to my bones. The air is quite humid, but this is what summer is like in the real world so it isn’t unbearable. Looking up at the sky, I can see a few storm clouds on the horizon, but they appear to be quite far away still. I estimate that they won’t reach us before nightfall.
We join a small crowd of people filtering out the town’s western gate. There are a few groups of people, but most seem to be solo players vying to find a good spot to hunt for themselves.
West of Firz is a boggy area devoid of trees. Knee high tufts of luscious green grass sprout up from random locations while loose infertile soil covers the rest of the ground. Large, blue and black, meter high water strider-like creatures awkwardly move about; sometimes walking sideways with their four thin, two meter long, spider-like legs while other times jumping distances of up to fifteen meters.
The entire area is enormous, stretching to a group of hills near the horizon. I take note of how few players there are in this area compared to everywhere else I have been.
‘Strange, why is the grass so green in this area? Everywhere else it is dry and yellow.’
My first step into the area answers my question as my boot sinks a full inch into the ground. The ground is full of moisture from past rains. There is possibly a large deposit of clay under the ground which holds the moisture close to the surface. The moist dirt clings to our shoes and actually has an effect of slowing down our movement speed.
I now understand why there are so few players in this area. With movement speed slowed and the water striders having no such detriment, it would make fighting them incredibly difficult.
We make our way over toward the nearest water strider, where I use ‘Creature Analysis’ to gather information about it.
Name: Fierce Strider Level: 127 Health: 2265 Magic: 0 Stamina: 390 ??
The low level strider doesn’t seem very attractive to hunt. With my level slightly over 200, I would have to hunt these for days without rest before I could gain another level. Although I may gain another point in one of my stats if I am lucky.
As I approach, my intimidating aura envelops the water strider. It seems the skill doesn’t take effect at first, but almost without notice, the creature leaps toward me. Its legs lift up, poised to thrust at me as soon as I am within the attack range.
I lunge to the side to avoid the strider’s attempt to pierce me with its long legs. The soft ground causes my feet to sink in and have my leap fall short. Thankfully, it is still far enough to avoid the attack. I stand up and get ready to initiate my counter attack, but Fen’s ice bolts make short work of the ‘Fierce Strider’ before I get a chance.
‘Well, that was a little anti-climactic.’ I think to myself.
We begin passing through the plain at a steady pace, at least until lunch. By noon, the storm clouds I saw on the horizon earlier have completely covered the sky. The once blue sky is now dark grey, some parts appearing almost black, and the wind has gradually picked up to become a fierce howl.
If only I had known that the clouds would travel much faster than those in real life. Every time it had rained in the game before, I didn’t pay attention to how fast the clouds travel.
With the sky looking full of menace, it is only moments before the first drop of rain falls. It is only a light drizzle at first, but suddenly the rain comes down like a hammer blow as the volume of falling water triples.
All our clothes begin to weigh down and cling to our bodies. Everyone except for Prince Charming, at least. The prince is in full armour so the rain makes heavy pitter-patter sounds as it collides with the metal. For once, I am feeling envious of the heavy armoured players.
The next concern is the ground. The already moist dirt can only hold so much water, so the downpour of water starts to sit on top of the dirt. As far as the eye can see, the dirt disappears and is replaced by an ankle-deep lake.
With my feet sinking into the soil below and the water dragging on my feet, my movement speed is cut in half. At this point, a nearby ‘Fierce Strider’ approaches us.
I don’t wait for the strider to arrive, but move to engage it. While my movement speed is halved, it is no different from when my hood is on. My boots easily tear through the water, sending water cascading in all directions. It feels like there is no resistance from the liquid as it parts to allow me to pass through.
The strider jumps five meters in the air, aiming its legs to pierce through me. Ignoring the spray around me, I launch half of my throwing knives at the underside of its body, four of which hit. My aim is helped by being underneath the monster as its body stops the rain from falling into my eyes. The force of my attack causes the strider to lose balance and fall back in a large, messy splash.
Upon closer inspection, the strider has only lost ten percent of its health. My knives are too weak if this is all the damage they will do. Drawing my shortswords, I close the distance between us and begin to engage in close combat with the strider. While the strider recovers from the fall, one of its two meter long legs thrusts out at me with inhuman reflexes, catching my shoulder as I attempt to dodge.
The blade of my scramasax, the stronger of the two swords, sizzles with every drop of rain that falls on it. I use the steaming blade to cut through the extended leg and cause it to recoil away from me. This allows me to cross the final gap between me and the strider.
Cutting into the other legs causes them to buckle and the strider’s main body falls to the ground. Not missing the golden opportunity, I activate ‘Backstab’ to instantly appear behind the creature and deal the fatal blow.
Checking my experience points, I see that I did receive a decent amount, but it still isn’t even enough to put me one percent closer to the next level. If I am to level up, I will need to find higher-levelled creatures which give more experience points.
I turn back to the others, hesitating the moment I see them. They all have bitter expressions and are dripping wet from head to toe, and not from the rain. Even Fen is sporting a sour expression.
“Lost, you are not to attack anything else while we are in this area. We will deal with it.” Prince Charming says with a vein on his forehead ready to burst.
“Sorry… I should have been more careful.” I say shamefully.
I understood from the moment I saw them. When I took off to attack the ‘Fierce Strider’, I kicked up an enormous amount of water from my speed. I didn’t realize at the time because I was at the front of the party, but they clearly fell prey to the onslaught of the water.
From then on, during each strider attack the water around my feet would freeze, locking me in place while the others moved to engage the threat.
Night falls on us by the time Swordbreak comes into view. Standing on top of a small hill, we can see the capital of Dalbe in the middle of a dusty plain. The scene is too dark to make out any fine details of the ground below, but there are an insurmountable amount of players in the plains with swords and torches lighting up the area like fireflies.
“Even at night it is still packed. How on earth do they play if all the hunting grounds are picked clean?” I ask dejectedly after looking at the sight.
“Dalbe has the lowest average level thanks to overpopulation,” Mason explains. “But there is some form of stubborn competition where all the players are constantly trying to come out on top of others. People keep playing simply because of the large numbers. Perhaps the challenge interests them.”
I shrug my shoulders, unwilling to concern myself with it any more.
The capital city itself is dimly lit in the distance, but still acting like a beacon for the countless, minuscule fireflies around it. Swordbreak is shaped like a pyramid, with the outer perimeter on the ground level, and every subsequent section raised one height above the rest.
At the pinnacle of the capital, a large stone castle pierces the sky. Each turret of the castle is well lit and has a flag with the symbol of Dalbe: a ring around two swords crossing blades.
I take the lead while we descend the hill and make our path toward one of the city gates. Upon entering the plain full of players, I am struck with a familiar feeling. The players are battling a myriad of wolves, warthogs, and a few other vicious and spiked creatures. In one hand they have poor quality iron swords which are chipped and battered, and in the other they hold a wooden stick with one end tightly wrapped with an oiled rag and set on fire. The large number of players and flickering lights around me give me the impression of being at a festival, only without the music.
We make a beeline for the city, weaving in and out of the players. The eastern sky begins to lighten by the time we finally manage to reach the city gate.
The frame of the gate catches my eye, it is the early 16th century type of construction where there is no mortar in between the stones. The entire arch is sustained by a single keystone at the apex. Of course, this doesn’t mean the wall will be easily penetrated, as there are more stones built on top to finish the wall and prevent the keystone from being displaced during an invasion.
Dawn approaches as we enter the city, the sun gradually shedding light on the dusty brown brick and sandstone buildings and vivid red shade cloths stretching between buildings. Clearly it must get considerably hot here during the day, so the shade cloths are used as a respite from the sun.
The streets are lined with players sitting along the walls of the building, covered in rags and wearing forlorn expressions. They hold out their hand and beg for a just a single piece of gold. Some of the better off players passing through will flick a coin or two at them. And by flick a coin at them, I mean they ‘discard’ it from their possession so anybody can pick it up. This results in four or five hands clammering to get the gold at once.
“How disgusting.” Prince Charming looks down on them in scorn.
“What is wrong with them!? They are just trying to eat!” Verde raises her voice in displeasure at him.
“No, they are putting on appearances to scam players for money to enjoy the game.”
“How can you say that?!”
“It’s true,” Mason interjects with a sigh, “Why would players possibly be willing to play a game where they are forced to grovel and beg? I have heard about this in Swordbreak before. There is such a large number of players in Dalbe that there is no room for players in the better hunting grounds. As such, there are some players who sport dirty clothes and become beggars for gold. It is something of a game of amusement for them.”
“No… that can’t be…”
“Nearly everyone already knows it, and the players who actually throw gold at the beggars do so to watch them for sport. And the beggars only move for gold. Try flicking a silver coin, they won’t even pay attention to it.”
Following his words, Verde pulled out a silver coin and flicked it toward a group of beggars. The sound of the coin bouncing on the pavement reverberates through the street, followed by a deathly silence as the beggars don’t even make a single move toward it. They only stare at Verde, unsure whether to hate or to fawn.
From that moment on, Verde doesn’t mention anything about the beggars anymore. Even I am surprised by how the players play the game in Dalbe. We head deeper into the city and I notice a large amount of players heading toward the large battle colosseum that Swordbreak is famous for.
“Two silver coins,” Mason says, following my line of sight. “With that, you can get a day pass into the colosseum to watch any fights that take place for the whole day. Of course, some of our fellow players are going to do the fighting.”
I bob my head in understanding. The colosseum is this city’s most famous attraction so naturally there are a lot of players coming and going.
“Anyway,” Mason continues, “Matrix and I will be going to sell all the loot we picked up on our way here. Our inventories are completely full from the ‘Lords’ Cathedral’. Shall we meet back at in 24 hours, as usual? There probably won’t be any available inns nearby so just meet at the gate.”
Everyone agrees to the proposal, and we split into the usual three sub groups. Mason and Matrix head off in one direction, while Verde leaves to go sightseeing in another with Sir Laurence close behind her. Only Fen and I are left standing in our original position.
“Come on Fen, I have a fair bit of loot to sell as well,” I beckon to the wolf girl and we make our way off in the same direction as the brothers.
I don’t know where Matrix and his brother went because I don’t spot them again, but I find a decent market place by midday. Off to my right, I can see over the tops of the houses and beyond Swordbreak thanks to the natural shape of the city. On my other side are NPC shops lining the road; not a single one with less than ten players bartering for goods inside.
Considering how to sell such a large amount of items without increasing my infamy, I have Fen enter a general goods store and purchase a large bag. When she returns, I fill it with enough items that it looks like it could burst open at any moment. To my surprise, I manage to fit all the items in the bag. Oddly, the bag doesn’t appear to swell a great deal, but the weight increases accordingly.
‘Well, this IS a game.’
I then have Fen return to the store to sell all my general goods and monster products; like ‘Wraith Cloth’, ‘Devil’s Ear’, ‘Clump of Old Hair’ and other various items. I watch from a distance as she waits her turn to see the salesperson, a middle aged housewife with a tired expression. When Fen reaches the front of the line, there are far too many items to place on the counter so they are shown as a list of goods to sell.
The shopkeeper studies the window for about ten seconds before saying something back to Fen. The wolf girls nods her head and the sack deflates as if it is full of air. She then returns to me and hands over a gold coin with a small number next to it.
“Fen… are you sure you sold everything?” I frown as I look down at the gold coin with the number seventy next to it in my hands.
“Yes… I did…”
“Surely there must be some mistake. All that loot must be worth at least five times this.”
I know the NPCs will always offer a fair price, only influenced by a person’s bartering skill. This is why I can’t understand why it is so little.
“No matter, let’s go to the weapon store next. I have a few tridents, thin rapiers, and black steel armour to sell.”
The weapons are uncommon drops from the monsters back in the cathedral. They take up at least half of my inventory and, if I have learned anything from past games, are worth more than the standard loot.
The weapon store is located two buildings over, next door to the armor store. At least, that’s what the signs hanging above the doors say.
Following the same process, I fill the bag with all the items I want to sell at each and have Fen enter the shops. I can’t see inside these two due to there being a door blocking the way, but the wolf girl spends about ten minutes in each before returning to me.
She hand over two gold coin this time, one with the number 100 next to it and the other with 13.
“No, this definitely can’t be right. Again, I expected at least three times this amount. Fen, you aren’t keeping some of the money are you?”
Of course I don’t mind if she wanted some money as she helped me collect it all, but two-thirds is a bit much.
“No… that is… all of it.” She says while seemingly confused at my question.
I doubt she is lying, she is simply not the type. She also has no interest in gold. Scratching my head, I can’t seem to understand why everything is worth so little.
Setting my concerns aside, I decide to visit the player’s market. Walking around in the sweltering heat, I don’t find it until late in the afternoon. I find a large square full of players’ stalls two tiers higher into Swordbreak. A hundred standard red shade cloths are propped up over the stalls, each cloth supported by three and a half meter tall timber posts on each corner.
I selectively look for weapon stalls. One of my short swords is too weak for my level, and if it wasn’t for my speed neglecting near the entirety of an opponent’s defense, would be as useful as a toy sword.
I find a decent stall selling swords of all shapes and sizes. My eyes are drawn to a particular sword made of some kind of deep blue metal. The most desirable thing to me is that it is another scramasax of similar size to my current one. I take a closer inspection and reveal its item information.
Ocean Steel Scramasax A scramasax made from ocean steel. A fine craftsman took great care in creating the perfect edge on this blade, resulting in an improved durability. If close attention is paid, the weapon contains the smell of the ocean. The blade is 45cm long. Requirements: - Level 145 - Dex 69 Weapon Type: Single Edge/Short Sword Attack: 97 - 108 Durability: 45/45 Weight: 4.8 lbs Abilities: - 5% chance to be able to block 20% of fire damage.
It is only slightly better than my other scramasax, but it will without a doubt raise my attack to a whole new level.
“Excuse me, how much for this?” I ask while pointing at the short sword.
“That is 7,800 gold.” The middle aged man responds.
I take a moment to comprehend his words. I feel my heart stop momentarily the moment I understand how much gold that is. This is my second time being at a player stall to upgrade my equipment, and I refuse to let myself be swindled again by a high price on an item that I can’t buy elsewhere.
“That’s ridiculous! I can buy another short sword just as good anywhere else for a tenth of that price!”
My current gold is 923, nearly at the point where I need to deposit it or purchase a second money sack from the bank.
“The price is the price. No discounts.” The man shrugs indifferently.
“How much is that sword then?” I point to a standard steel sword for players level 40 and up.
I walk away, my anger boiling. There is no way anyone would agree to such exorbitant prices, let alone myself.
Almost like a wave of cold ice water washing over me, I see an incredibly familiar person. With black hair swept back, a steel plate breastplate over a tawny brown shirt.
“Mouse!” I shout in surprise as if seeing a ghost.
“Oh, Lost! What a surprise to see you here!” He replies with the usual smile that doesn’t reflect itself in his eyes.
“I can say the same thing! Are you stalking me or something?!”
We both laugh at my joke, but he shortly replies in a serious tone.
“Come now, I’m quite sure I was here first. I think I should be the one questioning if I am the one being stalked.”
“Yes, yes. So we both just happen to be here then. Anyway, weren’t you running your business in Grenton?”
“I was, but I have already moved on. Speaking of which, you are quite the wanted man over there. A bounty of several thousand gold is on your head for wanton arson. It was quite the surprise when I heard.”
“Oh god, it wasn’t on purpose! I swear it wasn’t!”
“Hah, don’t worry about me. A friend of mine isn’t someone I would turn in.”
“I’m glad to hear. Speaking of which, you wouldn’t happen to have any short swords hiding away for sale would you?”
“Apologies. As a seller of both weapons and armour, I only have a few of each item type. Short swords, I am currently out of.”
“Such a shame, someone tried to rip me off 7,800 gold for a decent one.”
“Oh, for you to say it is decent must mean it is quite good! Which stall was it? I may go over and buy it myself.”
“What?! How can you possibly consider buying something for that price?”
“That is actually a pretty good price for this market. Have you never been to Swordbreak before?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Don’t worry, information is free. The markets throughout Dalbe are all the same. The massive amount of players beyond what was planned are the cause between the market prices. There is a massive influx of items from the fields, resulting in every merchant, NPCs included, only paying rock-bottom prices for them. At the same time, item sales are exponentially higher due to the demand. The players will buy all the weapons at standard price faster than they can be made. NPCs will sell the stock standard items at their usual price though.”
“That sounds quite complicated…”
“Well, the population is simply too large and has skewed the economy.”
Like tumblers of a lock falling into place, I suddenly understand why everything I sold was only for about a third of what it should have. I inwardly curse at every player around me, it is their fault I only got scraps for my items.
“Well, it looks like I won’t be able to buy a new weapon here after all.”
I start to walk away from Mouse and his stall dejectedly, when he calls out from behind me.
“You should go see the colosseum, you may find the answer to your problem!”
I wave my thanks to him, not particularly interested at the moment in the most crowded place in Swordbreak. I leave the market with Fen in tow, visiting this city’s auction house before logging off.
Tomorrow is the first day of the weekend, so I expect to get a call from my sisters sometime in the morning. I would also like to find a way to see them again, but I need to be careful and not ruin what I have right now.
My face doesn’t betray my emotions, but my heart beats three times as fast as normal as I stare at the computer screen. I mechanically press the refresh button two to three times a minute, watching the view counter of my latest video rise. With every press of the button, between two and three hundred new views appear.
The video is that of ‘The Liberation of Eltreant’, where the existence of the elves is revealed. The video is two hours long and already has over a hundred thousand views; now closer to two hundred thousand with the last refresh.
The ad blocks were set for every twenty minutes when I begun uploading it. The first three sold relatively quickly while the latter took longer due to the bidding war that began. The final ad block still hasn’t sold, with the highest bid currently at $1,250. If no one outbids that price in the next hour, they will secure the spot. The other five ads cumulative are only slightly higher than that at a total of $1,530.
My father works all day, every day, just so we can afford to pay the rent and eat. This money will help ease the stress on our lives for quite some time. I can barely contain my excitement and anticipation of compiling the footage of the ‘Lord’s Cathedral’ into another video and creating more advertising spots to sell.
The number of people who have subscribed to my channel and will receive a mail every time I post a video has also multiplied tenfold. Like a swarm of fireflies, everyone is gathering to share their thoughts on the video. Out of the nine thousand comments, there are many claiming the video to be a fake, but they are by far the minority.
My brother starts talking to me about something, but my mind is fixated to the views and comments constantly increasing.
GenerationHero - This is incredible! I can't believe such a small group of people got to take part in such an adventure. Grand August - Don't be fooled. This is clearly a fake aimed to make people believe in lies. If Elves existed, someone would have found them sooner. John Regent - Where is this??? I don't know about all of you, but I want to go visit the elves! Iliris - Someone has to be first GrandAugust. Just because it hasn't happened sooner, doesn't mean you can just pass it off as fake. BrandonFake - I know this place! They may have tried to hide it in the video, but I have been to the northern forest before. I simply couldn't get in for some reason. Violet Rose - That hooded player is a mystery as well. I can figure out all their abilities except for him. What exactly could his skills be?! FateDivider - I recognize that hooded player! His in game name is Lost and that white haired girl is his girlfriend. GavinH - I remember him! Lost is wanted in Grenton for arson with a bounty of 5700 gold. Iliris - I don't have anything against the guy, but that is quite a lot of money for the average player! I for one am looking to cash in!
The comments continue with no end in sight. I even see links to wiki pages on each of our characters in the mix. Following them leads to tens of thoughts and speculations about each of us and what our skills are. Lost has the most popular page, with nearly two hundred guesses on his skills ranging from ninja arts to the stuff out of science fiction.
Thankfully, most of the ridiculous suggestions have been marked as false, crossed out and placed at the bottom of the list. Not even I am aware of exactly what his skills are, and find some of the suggestions to definitely be plausible solutions.
I start to feel bad for Lost and all the troubles I have caused him. But I have things I must do, supporting my brother and father as best as possible. Living in the slums is already difficult enough, and I will do anything to protect my family. Even if that involves betraying my friends in the end.
“Why do you girls have to be so stubborn?!” I say sternly, ready to start pulling my hair out.
“I just want to see Hollis again!” Shari screams back at me while stamping her foot on the ground.
“No! That child is dead weight you are better off without.”
“How can you say that!?”
“I have allowed you to call him once a week. That is more than generous.”
I slowly calm down, taking deep breaths to loosen the angry tightness in my chest. I feel like I’ve lost this battle, letting a child get to me enough that I raised my voice.
Raising my chin up, I resume my elegant manner and speak much more calmly.
“I will make a deal with you. Work hard at school, use whatever means necessary to rise above the others, and I will consider it.”
I give the girl some genuine advice, but perhaps she is not mature enough to understand it just yet. This world is tough, where the ruthless always come out on top. I have high expectations of these girls. With the right guidance, they may be able to rise above the commoners and be able to take pride in their family.
I went to extreme lengths to acquire custody of my two nieces. I had originally tried to take them after I heard that my sister and her husband were involved in a plane crash somewhere over the middle-east, but no court would hear my plea. I live in the lower district, and this is all my influence can amount to.
But after an endless stream of bribes and twisting fingers, I finally managed to arrange for the girls to come under my wing.
The Silvester family was once from the middle district, the beginnings of what can be called the upper class. Falling down to the lower district is a shame that weighs upon my shoulders. To make it worse, that sister of mine moved two districts lower to happily live with the man she loves. How could she possibly be happy living in such a depreciate state?
Hollis, her eldest and only son, also wasted his opportunities away. All I could do was watch from a distance as he never contended to be better, never tried to achieve more for himself or his family. By living in complacency like that, he doesn’t deserve the Silvester name.
I am well past my prime and have little options left to me, but if I can raise Shari and Joelle to where they belong as Silvesters, I will have restored our family pride and be able to find peace.
I wake up at 6:15 A.M. Saturday morning, as per normal. I power walk along a set route for twenty minutes and return to settle down with a cup of black coffee and the latest news on a tablet. With no abnormalities to my morning routine, I feel everything is under control.
Routine is strength, and it nourishes the mind and determination.
I am a lot gentler on Joelle and Shari than I am myself. Being a weekend, their alarm is scheduled to go off at 8:00am, ten minutes from now. Once they are awake, I will prepare their breakfast and listen to them recite what they have learned throughout the week.
Once I am happy with their report, they will be permitted to call their elder brother and talk about whatever they would like. Just to ensure that man doesn’t try to influence them or sabotage my hard efforts, I will be silently listening to the conversation through the spare phone.
As I hear the alarm ringing the girls awake, someone knocks on the front door. The knocking is casual, not urgent or in a rush, but the knock of someone who has all the time in the world. I frown slightly; I am not expecting any visitors today. I don’t dislike people coming over, as a matter of fact, I quite relish the opportunity to bring out some of my finer beverages: imported teas or aged wines, depending on the occasion.
What I dislike, however, is when people show up unannounced.
My house is two story, wallpaper covering the walls which in turn is framed by dark mahogany architraves and corner posts. The ceiling is pure white, with decorative cornices and polished brass chandeliers dangling down in each room. Placing my cup down, I briskly walk toward the front door.
Ignoring the nineteenth century decor lining my path, I reach the front door and peer through the eye hole to see who has the gall to appear unannounced. Confirming the man on the other side, I suppress my dissatisfaction and open the door with a smile.
“Mr. Johnston, such a pleasure to see your bright face so early in the morning.”
The man is dressed in a grey suit of the finest quality, only one button of the jacket done up to appear casual yet smart. He lifts his arm to glimpse at the time on his watch, causing his jacket to tighten on his body and show off his firm build.
“Please Jude, how many times have I asked you to just call me Liam?” He says with a slight chuckle.
“I like to stick to formalities. It is much more suitable. Shall you join me for a coffee? I have recently acquired a batch of robusta coffee beans of high quality. They were grown in the far east and strongly infused with fruity essences. It has a slight sweetness while not compromising the thick, fervent taste of the coffee.”
I invite him in with a curt nod of my head, which he responds to with a short flawless bow before entering through the front door.
“It sounds like such a treasure. How could I turn you down?”
“It is more than a pleasure. Think nothing of it.”
Leading him towards the pergola out back, I flick a glance at his reflection in one of the mirrors along the hallway. He has a strong jawline, which stands out against his short trimmed hair. Liam Johnstone is a single divorcee, and an attractive one at that. I’m not the only person in my close group of contacts who have given him some affectionate considerations.
“Jude. I say, your house is as stunning as ever.”
“It is nothing you have not seen before. But you on the other hand, I have heard a few rumors of your moving up in the world.”
“Oh? Would you care to enlighten me? I don’t believe I have heard these rumors.”
“A little friend of the neighbour’s happened to be over for tea the other week. She mentioned the fact that you have recently acquired quite the contract for work. I believe it was some restoration works on cultural heritages.”
“You really do need to share your contact’s information with me one of these days. They truly are too insightful. The projects haven’t even been approved yet.”
Allowing our conversation to stall temporarily, I bring out another cup from the kitchen. Lifting up the still simmering pot of coffee, I feel the heat singe my fingertips slightly as I pour it evenly into two cups. Looking up at the man who was giving me a gentle smile, I started up the conversation again.
“Merely paperwork of course. You really are impressive, you know. To be able to get the government to spend it’s taxpayer’s money.”
“It gets much harder by the day. I just happened to be in contact with the right people this time.”
This is the type of man Liam Johnstone is. As cunning as a fox, yet striking with the ferocity of a lion as soon as his target’s guard is down. This has allowed him to maintain a high position in the lower district. But that is soon about to end.
“And those people surely must have had a hand in helping you rise to whole new levels?”
“Your contacts truly are formidable. It hasn’t been very long, yet you already know about that.”
“It’s not that surprising. Half the town knows you are moving up to the middle district. What I don’t know, is how soon.”
“July; two months away.”
“So soon!” My façade cracks momentarily and I show my surprise. “You had best come visit afterwards. Your company brightens my day every time.”
“Of course, how could I not come visit?” He chuckles lightly in response, but I know that as soon as he leaves, I will most likely never see him again.
“Speaking of which, I came here today for a purpose, Jude.”
“If there is anything at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I happened to hear the other week that you are acquaintances with a certain lady from the middle district. Grace, I believe her name was.”
“I-I certainly do know a Grace. I can assure you, I will spare no expense in arranging a meeting of sorts.”
“You have my gratitude and my debt. Should you ever require assistance, I am always available.”
Liam gives me smile so charming that I cannot not accept it and return one myself. With our conversation over, we briskly shake hands and I show the him to the door.
Once he is gone and out of the way, I turn my attention toward my nieces who have been permitted to sleep in far too long.
Lost is gone and I lie face down on the brown leather couch, bored. There is the thing he calls a ‘Teevee’, but I have come to somewhat dislike it. Everything it shows is too weird, almost alien. If I had to live in an existence like that, I don’t know how I would stop myself from going insane.
I roll over, unintentionally falling off the couch and onto the floor. I lie there, completely still, staring at the ceiling. Apart from the wooden beams running across, the ceiling has a textured white surface, something like paper. The lights are paper lanterns too, but this is different.
‘Strange…’ I think to myself.
The ceiling has a different texture than the lights, yet it looks just as fragile. If I could reach the ceiling from where I am lying, I reckon I could poke a hole in it with my finger. I start to wonder what is on the other side of the ceiling. Is there another room? Is there the sky? Is there nothing?
I think about climbing up on something to test it and see, but the thought soon escapes me. An unknown amount of time passes as I start following random thoughts; counting my fingers one by one, drawing little imaginary pictures in the air with my fingers, even poking my body in random locations just to feel the pressure of my touch.
I suddenly feel Lost coming and eagerly stand up, straightening my dress as I do so. Mist condenses at one end of the room and forms into Lost. I have tried to follow him through it when he leaves, just like when I followed him here, but my attempt ended in failure.
I suspect he left and went into the world shown on the ‘Teevee’, but no trace of him was left. It wasn’t like he passed through some strange portal to get there, he simply vanished like he was never there. I still can’t figure out how he does it.
“I’m back, Fen.”
“Thanks. Well, I have a few things I want to do, so let’s go.” He smiles gently and I eagerly follow him back to where we left what he calls ‘End Online’.
Stepping through a shimmer in the air, reality warps around me. When my surroundings stabilize, I am in the middle of a bustling street. The stench of body odor and dust surrounds me before Lost arrives and distracts me from my overloaded sense of smell.
“I want to take a look at the colosseum. I have nothing better to do until everyone else arrives and apparently I will find the solution to all my problems there.”
I feel a little confused. Is he talking to me, or is he talking to himself? Sure, he is looking at me, but I get the feeling he is simply voicing his thoughts.
With my nose slightly scrunched up, I follow alongside him. While grabbing his arm, I pull myself closer and allow his scent to overtake all the other smells assaulting my nose. They say that snow has no scent, but Lost smells like snow. It is a comforting fragrance that makes me feel bliss. I never noticed it at first, but when we left the snow and entered the grass, the smell of snow still lingered on him.
Soon, we arrive at one of the largest buildings in the city. The battle colosseum, second only in size to the castle overlooking the city from the central, highest location.
The main entrance we are looking at is overcrowded with people who are nearly fighting each other to get in. I think about forming some ice to create a path for Lost and I, but I know he gets irritated when I recklessly cause trouble.
He starts walking around the building away from the crowd. We continue travelling around until we reach another entrance. This one is much smaller than the last one, and has only a few people crowding around it. But unlike the other large group, these people look much tougher. The jagged armors and even fiercer weapons make me feel cautious. I can tell at a glance that these players are strong, enough so that Lost and I may have trouble fighting them.
They look over at us, murmuring something so quietly that I can’t make out more than a few sparse words.
Lost ignores them as he passes through so I do as well. He approaches a much larger man standing next to the door, fully equipped in heavy bronze armour with a medium round shield in one hand and a spear in the other.
“Excuse me, I would like to register as a gladiator.” He says politely to the guard.
I see the man visibly swallow, and sweat a little on his forehead. Just like most of the people Lost approaches, he reeks of fear.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me when I say, not just anyone can register as a gladiator.”
“Oh? That’s fine. What do I need to do?”
The man tightens his grip on his spear and adopts a frantic look in his eyes. He seems to wish to be anywhere else but here, except for some reason can’t leave. It is a strange dilemma to see someone in.
“Y-you need slay north… no… slay two hundred ‘Antril Soldiers’ and bring their horns back here as proof.”
“Okay, I accept, I will bring you the horns of two hundred ‘Antril Soldiers’. Do you know where I can find them?”
“Up north. In the Scorched Plains.”
He names a place that I am unfamiliar with, but I understand where north is.
“Thank you, we will be off then.”
“B-best of luck.”
The man looks extremely relieved as we turn and walk in the opposite direction. I don’t understand why he is so nervous, I’m not about to hurt him and I don’t think Lost is either. Some of these people are simply too strange. I miss the simplicity of my home back in the snowy mountain cave. Sometimes I wish Lost and I could just go back there and be happy.
The other, tougher people standing around give us looks of bewilderment and surprise, but I can’t seem to discern why. Still clinging to Lost, we leave the big colosseum and start walking towards the outskirts of the city. As we walk, I hear him mutter under his breath.
“Another twenty points of infamy gained. But, it doesn’t matter anymore.”