Editors: genericIntent, Vincent, Scott
Author’s notes: Only one more chapter (And also writing short chapter 22.5) and we have finished volume 4! Once again, this will probably be the longest volume yet. I have a few other pages here to update later today, and also make a start on chapter 26! I have also updated chapter 25 with all the final edits.
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! Votes are reset weekly so even if you have voted before, please do so again! ^.^
I eat a large bunch of medicinal herbs, switching from the higher quality herbs to the lower quality ones. At least this way my health will continue to slowly increase once the match begins.
A large-busted female player walks up to the ring, wielding a small round buckler and a rather long kris that emits an eerie purple glow. Long brown hair flows down and her tight heavy-orc leather cuirass hardly does anything to hide the curves of her body. She has an hourglass figure which constantly attracts my eyes and makes it hard to concentrate on the fight. I take note of the red-stained cuirass which has a plain white gladiator’s insignia on it.
‘Either she is weak, or new to the arena like me.’
“You must be the infamous Lost.” She says while gently smiling at me and lowing her wavy blade towards the ground.
“Apparently I am. But I am really not fond of the term ‘infamous’, you know.”
I hope to be able to stall her long enough that my health will continue to increase and reach a safer level. She starts walking to the side and I match her step for step, resulting in us circling one another.
“You have a bounty on your head for wanton arson in the Kingdom of Forste. Everyone knows who you are and many want to interrogate you for information on the elves. There have also been a few hate posts on the forums from the guild leader of ‘Swords of Light’. I think that confirms your infamy, don’t you?”
“The arson wasn’t my fault. I only… no, nevermind. Explaining probably won’t help anymore.”
“You’re right, it won’t. And I think you have stalled for enough time. Consider my patience an appreciation of who you are.”
Suddenly, her smile drops and her feet glow white as her speed triples. The sudden movement takes me by surprise and I barely manage to dodge the blade before it passes through where my chest was moments ago.
Next, something strange happens. The blade changes directions with such a sudden turn it is almost as if it bounces off an invisible wall. The attack is completely unavoidable and it cuts deeply into my chest. The attack isn’t nearly as strong as Firecore’s, but I still can’t afford to take any more of them with my slightly less than half-full health bar.
I take the next opportunity to activate ’Backstab’ while retreating. This isn’t the combination which I would normally use, retreating while using an attack skill, but it serves its purpose. The ploy completely fools her, right up until the moment the false image in front of her vanishes.
Her defense is clearly much lower than the previous red team member, since my attack crits and takes a full quarter of her health. She pales from the attack while turning around and backing away from me defensively.
The crowd roars from excitement. A myriad of voices saying what I should do to her enters my ears, cries of hidden techniques I should use and shouts of how long she has left. My last battle with Firecore must have had a big impact on the crowd. Of course, I still make out some voices that are directed at the other arenas, but they have no effect on me.
“Not bad, I really should have seen that one coming. Not many men manage to sneak up behind me, the mighty AmberMoon, and sink their fangs in like that.” Her eyes are livid and her smile twists wickedly.
I find her words to be somewhat disturbing and take a careful step back. From here on, I will need to use my speed to its full advantage. AmberMoon’s body sways from left to right and she dashes directly at me with her shield and kris raised. My heartbeat doubles when I see her chest swaying from side to side dangerously. With each step, the particular objects in question threaten to expose themselves, naturally drawing not just my eyes but many of the crowd’s as well. I find myself unable to avert my eyes, awaiting the moment all is revealed to the world.
I break out of the trance at the last possible moment and find her already upon me. The blade of her kris once again cuts into me, this time across my upper arm with a slightly numb and stinging sensation. A small, square status symbol with twin purple lightning bolts over the silhouette of an arm indicates that my arm is paralysed. Reflecting this, my arm drops down limply like it has suddenly fallen asleep.
A hint of doubt toward whether I can win this or not forms in my heart. I try to dispel it as I move away and add more distance between us, but the feeling lingers. I dash forward, moving fast enough to leave a false image of myself along my trail while I attack her from two steps ahead of where I appear to be. The first attack is a massive success, even if I am only capable of attacking with one arm. The second is a glance, while all other consecutive attacks end up being intercepted by her shield somehow.
I can not even tell how she is seeing through me and reading my moves. Despite having a greater speed than her, she is constantly one step ahead. She doesn’t bother chasing me, but she would not be capable of catching me even if she tried. AmberMoon is simply standing in the center of the ring, constantly facing me to intercept my assaults and launching her own counter-attacks at the same time; each one getting more and more accurate.
I take off half of her health, but at the same time am only left with fifteen percent myself. The lack of health takes its toll on my body. My breathing becomes heavier, my mind becomes dazed, even the roar of the crowds starts to become distant. I launch a vain attempt at distracting her with ‘Haunting’, but she completely ignores it and manages to cut into me again. The weapon appears to have quite a low chance at causing paralysis as I still haven’t had anything else paralysed.
“H-how?” I ask, stupefied.
“You are far too predictable. You would be fine against any monster or creature out there, but this is two real people fighting. It is completely different.” AmberMoon sighs with vindication, starting to lose interest in the match.
“But you still shouldn’t be able to see me most of the time.”
“No, but I can hear you. And I can block your attacks because like I said, you are too predictable. It’s all about the element of surprise. I will show you as I end this.”
At that moment, the familiar white glow sprouts from her feet and her speed increases exponentially. I don’t stay still either, skipping off to the side to avoid her. She approaches within ten feet of me, still beyond both of our attack range, when she swings her weapon at me.
I don’t quite understand why she would swing through the empty air, but I recall the cartoons about a character releasing a wave of sword energy with the swing of the weapon and try to duck. If it is a wave of sword energy being released, I have nothing to worry about now that I am out of the line of fire.
I am wrong, the originally wavy kris straightens mid swing and becomes nearly three times as long. I dodge the first swing, but my eyes widen as the blade seems to bounce off another invisible wall and slashes my throat. It is a critical hit that removes the final section of my health. A small smirk appears on the girl’s face before my entire screen goes dark.
My vision returns to me and I find myself staring up at a dim sandstone ceiling. Relief flushes through me as I realize the information about respawning in the battle colosseum is indeed correct. I had feared being sent all the way back to Iceridge at the final moment.
I can’t help but recall the battle just now. It was so completely different from what I am used to that I could not adapt. My speed is also severely limited due to the size of the arena, and apparently ‘Haunting’ is a stealth-only skill. I still don’t know why AmberMoon didn’t turn around when I used it. She knows I can appear from behind her so why did she not register the noise and turn. Could she have known it was a desperate ploy?
I open up my player status to gauge how bad the death penalty is for dying. I read that arena deaths only incur half of the normal death penalty, but I have never seen any proof. I gasp and chuckle a bit upon seeing the penalty.
I had lost much less than what half the death penalty would have been; one point from each stat to be exact. The person who put up that information either has incredibly low stats and only lost a little, or is trying to hide the information.
Looking around at my surroundings, I appear to be back in the underground rooms of the colosseum. However, this is one room that I have not been in before.
I am on a bed against the wall of a long corridor. I can easily see to both ends, but it is still quite long. The walls have recesses in them where beds are stacked two high and run the entire length of the walls. A sparse number of torches are attached to the walls at no particular interval, providing just enough light to be able to comfortably see.
I can see a few other people peacefully resting in some of the beds, but not many. Something about the place reminds me of an old mausoleum.
I get up out of the bed and walk to the end of the corridor. At the far end, there is another passage that extends from left and right. More corridors lined with recessed beds just like the one I woke up in. At the far end of the passage is a door leading to another area.
I walk straight to the door and go through it. On the other side is an area I am much more familiar with: the central room under the arena where the off-duty gladiators are practicing their ‘Smithing’ and selling their wares between one another. The door I come out of is the only room I didn’t inspect earlier.
A player catches my eye as he waves me over. It is the same player with curly brown hair and freckles that I talked to before entering the arena. Fen is also in the room, awkwardly sitting in front of some player playing with a few throwing knives he has for sale. Seeing that she is busy, I first approach the male player still trying to signal me over.
“You came out of the resting room? Looks like you died while in the arena. Did you at least get one win?”
“I did. Lost the second one though.”
“You went for two in a row? That’s gutsy! Hahah!”
“What do you mean? It’s either that or step down.”
“You can just return to the waiting bench. You will have plenty of time to recover your health that way as well.”
I almost hit myself for not thinking of that. But at the same time, I really wanted the consecutive double fame points.
“Hahah! I see you didn’t know that. Well, at least you won a single match. Who did you lose against? I know a few people around here.”
“Some girl by the name of AmberMoon. She has long brown hair, a small buckler shield, considerably large-” I use my hand to correspond with my description of her, indicating the length of her hair and size of the shield. Thankfully, the other player cuts me off before I make a truly incriminating posture.
“I know her! She is quite famous you know. While she is new to the arena, she has been a name passed around for quite some time. AmberMoon is a prodigy when it comes to fighting against other players. There is no shame losing to her.”
“I suppose it’s acceptable if you put it that way. Say, I collected the two hundred horns to become a gladiator so I know how difficult it is to become one. Is it just me or are there a lot of players here who seem a little… weak.”
“You collected them by yourself? I have to say, I am impressed. Most people simply buy them.”
“What? Buy them?”
“Yeah. There are a lot of people who would pay good money to be a part of a competitive arena like this one. Antril horns are harvested in such large quantities for resale that if this wasn’t a game, it would be outlawed.”
“How much do they sell for?”
“You can get them with gold, but you are aware what Swordbreak’s market is like. They usually sell for anywhere up to a dollar each, depending on the day and how many are available.”
“Oh well, I will leave it at that for now. Thank you for your time.”
The price causes me to instantly lose interest. The money is not bad, but nowhere near what I can live off considering the extreme amount of time I would have to invest for little return. I still make more by selling my items. When I checked this morning, the ‘Grand Elven Highbow’ auction had reached $427, while both the ‘Quicksilver Boots’ and ‘Quicksilver Gauntlets’ were around $110 each. This is only 24 hours after posting the items with a $50 starting bid!
“Go collect a few of the Antril horns and see how it goes for yourself. Get enough and you can probably pay for a month’s worth of the game subscription. Also, the quartermaster hands ores out as compensation for death. It isn’t much, but we players should take everything we can.”
“Thank you for the advice, I guess I can try collecting the horns once.”
I turn around and leave only to collide with Fen, knocking us both over. She emits a short chirp as she falls down while I make a disgraceful grunt. The player behind me who I just finished talking with lets out a jolly laugh at the sight.
“Fen! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” I offer the disgruntled girl a helping hand up.
She stares at my hand, almost unsure what to do, before getting up herself. A sharp intake of breath and several smirks come from a few of the players nearby at the sight. I am probably the only one that realizes that Fen most likely doesn’t understand the meaning behind extending a hand to a fallen person. For her to not know common courtesy… Perhaps I should try to teach her after?
“I’m thinking of going up north to collect more ‘Antril Horns’, are you interested?”
‘Hang on, why am I asking her if she is interested. Aren’t companions NPC’s that simply follow the player around?’
“If that is… where you wish… to go.” Her indifferent response almost confirms my thoughts.
‘But then again, there have been times when she has told me of things she wants. Can it be a part of her programming?’
I immediately shake my head to clear the off-topic thoughts and walk toward the room with the quartermaster. Past all the notice boards, the burly quartermaster looks up and addresses me as soon as I arrive in front of him.
“You died? WAHAHA! PATHETIC! WEAK!” His voice reverberates in the enclosed room and countless echoes of his voice linger.
A blood vessel in my temple nearly bursts. I recall the toxic memory of the centurion from back in Iceridge and my fury mixes with the bile in my stomach and threatens to erupt.
My body releases the ‘Dragon’s Bloodlust’, and a few people around take a couple of steps away. My temper is so out of control I don’t even realize that the special skill seems to affect nearby players below my level the same as it does enemies. All I do is grit my teeth and force my next words out.
“I thought that you would give me some compensation for my loss. Not mock me…”
“OF COURSE! Say, I know a great training instructor that can help you become stronger! I will give you a personal recommendation for him!”
‘Of course this person knows that fool! By the way he speaks, I don’t doubt they are bloody related!’
“I will pass. I would prefer something helpful, if you would be so kind!”
“It would be helpful! FINE! Have this ore, you will regret not taking the letter though!”
“I very much doubt that!”
The conversation ends with us practically yelling at each other before I storm off, Fen following closely behind me. My body is still seething with ‘Dragon’s Bloodlust’ and polluting the air around me. Nevertheless, the wolf girl still occupies my space and attaches herself to my arm. I notice she seems to have a calming effect on me, as my anger vanishes by the time I leave the colosseum.
The quartermaster had given me a piece of silver ore, which is more useful in crafting jewellery than weapons. I don’t hold any strong interest over the crafting material at the moment and leave it in my inventory for later.
Fen and I leave the city and use our high speed to travel to the ravines in the north. I’m sure the area has some name like ‘Antril’s Nest’, but I do not know what it is. The journey only takes two hours. Along the way, I private message the rest of the party who have been busy exploring the city and drinking in all of the inns. I ask them if they are also interested in becoming gladiators and participating in the battle colosseum. To my surprise, they are interested and I offer to collect ‘Antril Horns’ for them, but they say there is no need as they can get them themselves.
It is nearly dusk when I enter the first ravine, with Fen following me into one of the closer caves to start hunting ‘Antril Warriors’. The whole area above and below ground is much more crowded than the last time we were here. Fortunately for me, there is still plenty of room to comfortably hunt below ground without crossing anyone else’s path.
An hour quickly passes by. I collect a total of seventeen horns and am so engrossed in battle that I fail to notice the number of players around me starting to dwindle. By the time I turn and look around, there is not a single player to be seen.
‘Strange, where did everybody go?’
Just as I was questioning the emptiness of the tunnel, a few players appear from around the both sides of the cave. Something about the situation is odd and alarms are going off in my head. I look but don’t see a single player-killer amongst them. However, I recognize one person walking in the center of the small crowd.
His blonde hair stands up like porcupine quills. It is hard to make out the build of the man considering he is covered all the way up to his neck in a strange silver armor that seems to be both smooth and coarse at the same time. Chronix; the guild leader of the Swords of Light who I burned to death back in ‘Eldenweiss Forest’. He is looking directly at me with cold eyes and a twisted grin.
The gathering players, nearly twenty in total, gather around Fen and I to prevent our escape. Each and every one of the players around us is brandishing sinister weapons with even more imposing auras.
“What do you want?” I try to say with confidence, but I’m not sure how much I succeed.
“You know, the last time I tried to confront you, I was met with such violence. I seem to recall burning to death from an attack by you.”
“You attacked me first!”
“I don’t believe things happened like that. Don’t all of you agree?” Chronix looks around at the group of thugs, who all chuckle and nod their heads.
“Fen, we need to break out of here, you in particular. When I give the signal, follow my lead. Once you are free of all these people, hide. If you are caught, please don’t fight them and just do what they say. Stay alive and I will rescue you.” My heart is pained with worry and I feel like everything around me is crumbling.
I also feel a strong desire to not lose Fen, to not lose the presence that is somehow always with me.
“Are you forgetting?” Chronix begins, tapping his left ear with a finger. “I have supersonic hearing, speaking your plans aloud only gives them away. Everybody-”
“Now, Fen! Dire Flame!” I currently have enough mana to cast the fire spell three times before I run out, and the first is used straight away.
I throw the condensed ball of flame directly at Chronix and leave him no room to dodge. Before the attack lands on him, another player steps in the way and takes the attack to the chest.
Chronix whispers a few things to the player, before he quietly leaves the battlefield and disappears from sight.
“I already know all of your moves Lost, you cannot win. Just accept your fate and die.”
You have successfully killed a player utilizing your dire flame. - Belief has increased by 2 - Alignment has decreased by 1
A red skull symbol suddenly appears in my vision and I know I have just received player-killer status.
‘That player I set on fire died!? Already!?’
Chronix’s smirk only widens once he sees the large red skull fluttering about on the back of my cloak.
“Dire Flame!” I throw another flame at the leader, and yet another person intercepts it with their body before leaving the cave.
As soon as as I throw ‘Dire Flame’, Fen creates large stalagmites of ice in the air which hurtle toward the enemy players. At the same time, they are all trying to dodge the ice attacks while closing what little distance there is between us.
You have successfully killed a player utilizing your dire flame. - Belief has increased by 2 - Alignment has decreased by 1
I curse my bad luck, how could both of those players who were hit by my ‘Dire Flame’ have died so quickly?
I throw my third and final ‘Dire Flame’ not at Chronix, but at the group of players engaging Fen. Unlike when I launch the attack at the leader, this time they hastily move out of the way to dodge the fireball. The players must have been pre-warned about the attack and how it cannot be extinguished. It actually can be quenched with the right potion, but they are not aware of that.
An opening in the wall of players blocking Fen presents itself, but she does not take the opportunity to escape like I told her to. She turns her head and looks at me with sadness, trying to tell me she can’t leave me here. Knowing that this chance will not happen again, I take an attack to the back as I rush over to Fen.
My parents had once told me how a woman must be treated with care, but this moment was not the time to concern myself over it. I grab Fen’s wrist with one hand while the gripping her thigh with the other. I use my momentum to twist my body and launch her through the small opening in the players. It is far from my most graceful move, but it works. Fen soars through the air and out of the encirclement, landing on her feet thanks to her high agility.
“Run!” I shout at her in hopes that this time she will listen.
“I… can’t,” Fen stands as still as a statue, staring at me helplessly.
A couple of the players break off from the group to pursue Fen and she finally begins to escape, if still slightly hesitant.
“Such a shame, you won’t get the chance to see her die as well,” Chronix smirks cruelly at me while dragging his thumb across his neck to mime slicing it open.
“You will never catch her, you will not live to,” I say surprisingly calmly, as I am seething with rage. My eyes turn red as I glare at Chronix with hatred.
He chuckles at my piercing stare while I use ‘Backstab’ to catch him unaware. Just as I appear behind his back however, a large black zweihander swings at me from the side. I have no means to dodge the attack so I make every effort to at least attack Chronix.
The large zweihander hits its target before my daggers connect, resulting in my attack failing. Additionally, I am dealt heavy critical damage and blown away from Chronix by the two-handed sword.
I only have light armour which is still far from optimized, so the attack nearly kills me. I find that it is a struggle just to stand up again. Nevertheless, my fury forces me to stand and raise my weapons at him once again.
My body sways slightly and I know I am surely dead the moment another sword appears in front of my chest, before being withdrawn as fast as it appeared. My anger is temporarily suspended as disbelief and wonder overtake my emotions. I somehow survive with my health bar so far depleted it appears to be empty; I can see my health points are in the single digits.
“You are so used to stabbing others in the back. Tell me, how does it feel to have a taste of your own medicine?” Chronix roars with laughter. This entire time, he did not even raise his sword once. Merely watching while all his cronies do the work for him. He walks over to my limp body and looks down on me.
“You must be wondering about that player-killer status, so allow me enlighten you. The two players you killed were only level 55, with already low health as well. How could they possibly survive such an attack? A couple of the others are in a similar situation, as I was not sure how many of those things you could fire off. All I had to do was have you throw them at me, which they could then easily intercept. I’m telling you this because there is something you need to understand; I am smarter than you, and I always will be. The next time we meet, I will remind you of that.”
I mumble out a few curses at him, but he only reveals a satisfied smirk as he stabs his sword down into my chest.
Rather than immediately reviving, I log off and return to my locker. I am full of concern for Fen; whether or not she managed to escape riddles me with anxiety. I sit on the sofa in the locker for a full hour, each minute seeming longer than the previous.
A pair of slender arms suddenly appear from behind and wrap themselves around me. The unexpectedness causes me to jump in fright.
“You’re… alright. I am… glad,” The crystalline voice enters my ear and entrances me.
“Of course I am you idiot. You know I will just revive if I die, so you should not have stayed earlier,” I say while letting out a dismayed sigh.
Raising one of my hands, I gently touch my fingertips to one of the arms crossing over my chest, unsure of what I should do next.
“I… couldn’t. I couldn’t… leave you behind.”
“Next time, you must. Do you understand me, Fen?”
I break her embrace and turn around on the couch to look at her standing behind me. She was leaning forward and leaning on the rear of the sofa to bring her arms around me so when I turn, my face is barely an inch away from hers. I am close enough to clearly view her slightly rosy complexion and her biting her lip nervously. Her clear blue eyes stare directly into mine and a few strands of her hair tickle my nose as I breath in.
Turning my head, I abruptly stand up and move to the console on the side of the room.
“Where did you escape to? I need to know so I can get there before you log back on.”
“It will take some time, but please wait here for me until I arrive. It will probably take me a few minutes,” I say to her with unease. “Hopefully, the others aren’t too angry.”
Just before I log back in, I notice my heart beating rapidly and can’t help but think back on how close my face and Fen’s were. All it would take is for me to move just an inch, and we would have-
‘No, I shouldn’t be thinking about such things! It is preposterous!’
Once in the game, I open my eyes to the nostalgic church ceiling covered in icicles and frosted glass. I sit up and look around at the various pieces of rubble spread around as I exhale, filling the air with fog.
At least, that is what I had expected. When I open my eyes, I find myself to be staring at a massive opening in the sky with the midday sun glaring down from the center. My senses are momentarily stupefied as I try to work out where I am, and why I am not back in Iceridge.
‘The walls are made of some kind of stone. They are also covered in gashes from a set of extremely large claws. Where am…!’
I sit up at full alert. Much to my chagrin, in front of me there is an enormous dragon covered in black scales. I would sneak away before it notices me, but its tail is extended over where I remember the exit to be. To make matters worse, its violet irises are fixated directly on me.
“Why… how are you here?” The deep voice of the dragon causes the entire mountain to tremble.
“I-I’m not sure. I died, and instead of going back to Iceridge, I awoke here.”
I don’t hide anything from the dragon. The last thing I want is to be helplessly killed again.
“Hmmm…” His rumbling voice passes straight through me and shakes my very core.
All of a sudden, the dragon turns insubstantial, eventually fading away like smoke in the wind. What is left is a man, six foot two and facing away from me as he finishes pulling on a black leather overcoat. This is the human form of Grael I am more than familiar with.
Grael turns to face me, his violet pupils still locked onto me. He takes a few casual steps forward which almost seem to bend space, travelling ten meters with each one. He reaches out and touches one of his fingers onto my forehead. The finger seems to pierce into my skin, but I feel nothing and receive no damage from it doing so.
“Hmm,” he appears to be deep in thought on the problem. “It appears to have something to do with the minute amount of my essence that I left inside of you. When you died, it tried to return to its place of origin, dragging your soul along with it. This will probably repeat in the future as well, how irritating.”
“W-what do you mean, happen again?”
“Worm, keep your mouth shut unless told otherwise. It means that wherever I am, is where you will revive.”
My jaw drops in surprise. I also have a faint fear of being summoned into danger practically every time I die. Just as I am thinking about it, I notice Grael’s eyes staring at me with a different kind of interest.
“There is something strange about you. Whenever I see you, I start to get an incredible desire to beat you down. I wonder, have you become any stronger than last time?”
I have become stronger, but I still have no interest in fighting this dragon. I reach down to grab my swords in my belt, but only grasp onto the one hilt. With dread rising in me, I open my cloak and search for the other sword.
‘I must have dropped it with the death penalty…’
To make matters worse, it is my main weapon as well, the ‘Fire Imbued Meridium Scramasax’. At the same time I quickly check my stats to view the loss. I have lost a considerable amount of points in my stats due to the higher death penalty awarded to player-killers. While my lower stats are only two or three points less, my highest stat, agility, has lost a grand total of fifteen points.
“What, is something wrong, worm?” Grael frowns when he sees me despondent.
“My main weapon is gone. It must have dropped when I died.”
“A beast without its fangs is a cripple. Forget it, leave this cave and be gone. Don’t die again, or you will perish ten times over by dirtying my presence.”
Just as I go to walk out of the cave, a large black tail lands down in front of me, sealing off the exit.
In a voice as strong as the mountain, Grael asks, “Tell me, where about in the West were you?”
“Speak, worm! Before I change my mind!”
“I-I was in Swordbreak, participating in the arena. T-there is a tournament coming up in a week with a prize that I want.”
“What prize? Perhaps it is worth adding to my collection.”
“Ah! The prize isn’t that good! It is only a few gold coins and some old, ancient tablet.”
Grael’s large dragon form head swings around at a blinding speed, coming to a stop less than a meter away from me.
“Did you say an ancient tablet?”
“Interesting, I wonder which one it is…” Grael seems to trail off his own thoughts in pondering.
“Which one?” I ask him, but he completely ignores my question.
“You will go enter this competition and win this stone tablet for me. I will wait here for you to return”
“I… I can’t.”
“Are you telling me you won’t do it?”
“No! I simply can’t do it. Not only have I lost one of my weapons, but the competition is in less than a week. If I was to rush, it would take me at least two weeks before I could get there.”
Grael’s eyes narrow, glaring daggers at me. He doesn’t respond, only stares into my eyes. After a long period of time, he slowly lifts his head and looks up at the sky, deep in thought. I use this as an opportunity to send a private message to the rest of the party members. Considering I logged off, I have been forcefully removed from the party and the mantle of party leader was passed on to one of the others.
“Mason. I’m sorry, I died. I was killed by another player and did not even have the chance to escape. I know this is entirely my fault, but I will not be able to return to Swordbreak for at least another two weeks. If the rest of you wish to leave Swordbreak, I wouldn’t blame you.”
“This is your fault Lost! We all received the notification not only when you received the player killer status, but also when you died. Everyone is furious, especially Verde, and we were already planning on leaving Swordbreak without you. Your selfishness has set us all back!”
Our conversation comes to an abrupt end, not only because Mason stops talking, but because Grael starts.
“Very well, I will resolve that for you. Just this once, I shall permit you to witness this one’s greatness. Don’t fall.”
Just as I was beginning to ponder what exactly he means by those words, one of the dragon’s claws flashes behind me. The tip of the claw catches on my cloak, and with one swift motion, throws me into the air. I land face first on a hard, warm surface, covering my vision with darkness. I raise my head and see an enormous, menacing spike wide enough that it would take three men hand in hand to encompass it.
The fact that I am on the dragon’s back is obvious, yet I cannot seem to completely believe it. I touch the scales and feel warmth entering through my fingertips, my ears pick up the rasp of of scales rubbing against one another. Off to my sides I see a pair of wings so large that they could cover the sky in darkness. It is not until I notice the wings raised well overhead before my senses return to normal.
In a moment of panic, I lunge forward and grab hold of the spike on the dragon’s back. Unfortunately, the enormous pillar of bone is simply too large to properly grasp. The wings around me flash towards the ground, creating a violent hurricane in the cavern and causing the intensity of gravity on my body to multiply as I ascend from the cave at breakneck speed.
The forces around me are too great, and with such a poor grip on the spike, I slip backwards. The sensation of free-falling takes hold, but it quickly disperses as I hit another spine on the dragon’s back.
The weight of my body begins to lighten as Grael stops ascending and begins flying west. I brave crawling over to take a peek over the side and see the world ten thousand meters below. The people are like dots and the numerous minor towns are small enough that I could fit them in the palm of my hand.
I move back and rest against one of Grael’s spines for support as the world below slowly rolls past.
“Direct me when we get near. I only know it is to the west.”
The dragon’s voice is much gentler than earlier, almost as if the exercise has him in a good mood.
The sun falls down beyond the horizon and night encompasses us by the time Swordbreak comes into view. I call out to Grael and point to the faint lights of the city far off in the distance, but I’m unsure if he can even hear me. He must have, as he curves his body to change direction toward it and nearly causes me to fall off in the process.
We fly a single loop around the city before descending in the darkness. Just before the lanterns of the city shine their light onto the massive dragon, he turns into a black mist while descending.
My footing suddenly evaporates and I fall into the smoke. I feel nothing as I pass through it, only suffering the blindness of not being able to see anything around me. The mist disperses and something grabs my cloak behind my neck. The fully clothed Grael has me firmly in his grasp, stopping my fall a foot away from the ground. I speculate about how he manages to be clothed every time he transforms, but soon pay it no thought. He must obviously get dressed in the darkness before his human form is revealed.
“Good, we are here. Ugh, the scent of all these humans is horrid. I should just burn this city to the ground.” He speaks while scrunching up his nose.
“No! You can’t do something like that!”
“Why not, hmm? Don’t test me, worm. I won’t do it, because all large cities like this have a special corp of soldiers stationed in the castle which are a true pain to deal with.”
“What special corp?”
“That’s none of your business. If you ever run into them, however, you will probably be dead before you even get the chance to run. Stop distracting me! You said you lacked a weapon.”
“Ah, yes, I did.”
“I notice that the power I left in you has grown, even if only slightly. That is good. It means you should be able to make good use of this.”
Grael lifts up one of his hands, and a thick black essence, darker than the night sky, forms above it. I glance around and see more than one curious player staring at us. Trying to ignore the eyes around me, I watch as the dark essence floats towards me with a steady bobbing. It stops right in front of me, quivering slightly before separating into two halves.
Each half then begins to solidify, extending longer and thinner by an unnatural force. The darkness starts to condense further, suddenly seeming less of a gas or liquid, and more of a solid substance. After the space of a few more breaths, it coalesces into a twin set of short swords.
Each blade is identical to the other. The handle is made of what appears to be black leather twining around the hilt and interlocking with itself. The crossguard shines with a black metallic gloss, showing a hint of violet. The straight double-edged blade is only three fingers wide, three hand spans long, and made of steel darker than the night sky. I stare intently at the blades of the swords and I can almost make out some sort of faint runes carved into the surface of the steel, yet they disappear like illusions that were never there.
“As the power I left in you grows stronger, so will these weapons. They are formed to suit the best weapon for you, and cannot be dropped or lost unlike the last ones.”
His voice is like background noise as I am entranced by the swords. I reach out my hands and grab onto the hilts, taking them into my inventory and opening up their stats. The most interesting thing about the weapons, is that the two swords are a single item.
Twin Nightingale A twin set of swords formed from the power of draconic amber essence and infused with the power of a higher being. This is the sacred weapon of the Religion of Grael. The swords resonate with the your religious 'Belief'. The higher your 'Belief' is, the stronger the weapons. The swords cannot be dropped or stolen. The blades are 47cm long. Requirements: - Level 110 - Dex 52 - Belief 10 Class 1 (Class up: Belief 20) Weapon Type: Double Edge/Twin Short Swords Attack: 70 - 82, 70 - 82 Durability: Indestructible Weight: 3.4 lbs, 3.4 lbs Abilities: - Increase movement and attack speed by 7%. - Mana cost of religious skills is halved. - Cannot be dropped on death or stolen. Any attempts to steal this weapon will result in receiving the curse of the dragon. - The swords can be used as wings to glide for up to 10 seconds. - Strength + 10
The item in my inventory also has a gold border around it to signify the rarity.
‘D-don’t tell me, this is a ‘Divine’ rarity item?!! It even has the ability to get stronger!’
Whether there is a link between religions and divine items in this game, I can’t say for certain. But I do know that the weapon currently in my hands is unparalleled. The damage of each blade is slightly less than my previous ‘Fire Imbued Meridium Scramasax’, but this weapon has yet to level up.
I equip the new weapons and they automatically appear in my hands. Strangely, they maintain their darkness and don’t turn into a shade of white like everything else. I tuck them away in my belt, ready to be drawn at a moments notice.
“Don’t waste any more of my time. Hurry and go get me that stone tablet.” Grael growls at me.
“Thank you,” I offer my gratitude while bending my head in front of him. My impression of him has grown immensely in the past few hours.
“You have a fragment of my power inside of you. Do not bow your head. I will take my time in this town until the tournament is over, come find me to give me the stone tablet.” He snorts and begins to walk off in the other direction.
I wonder if what he is telling me to do is supposed to be a quest or not. While he is technically and NPC similar to Fen, I don’t receive a quest notification with his request. Nonetheless, I will get that stone tablet and bring it to him. Unless it has some value to people outside the game, it means nothing to me anyway. I may even receive more items from bringing the tablet to Grael as well.
I raise my head and see him disappear into the crowd, unnaturally passing through with ease. Before doing anything else, I log off and return to my locker.
I look around, and find that Fen is nowhere to be seen in the living area. I stroll over to the bedroom and open the sliding doors, finding a lump under the bed spread. Pulling back the sheets, the wolf girl is curled up in a ball, looking up at me wide awake. Before I get a chance to react, one of her arms shoots out, grabbing mine and pulling me down.
Due to the unexpectedness, I lose my center of gravity and topple forward on top of her. It is nothing picturesque like one would imagine, my head banging into hers and causing me to go dizzy. She fares no better, rolling up further while clutching her own head and making a sulking noise.
I stand back up and frown down at her, allowing her time to recover. As a player’s avatar under certain restrictions, I do not feel pain, except under the rare circumstances relating to her; but even then it is still not at a level where it is completely unbearable and quickly passes. I wonder whether she feels genuine pain, considering she is an NPC.
“That wasn’t very well thought out, was it?” I ask the girl.
Fen only stares up at me teary eyed with a sulking expression. Her mouth moves, but no words come out.
“By the way, I’m back in Swordbreak already.”
Her expression turns to one of happiness so fast I begin to doubt whether she was genuinely hurt.
“We should… go then.”
“Yes, we should. Where about in the city are you?”
“I don’t… know. I will… come find you.”
“Okay?” I mean it as a question, but it doesn’t sound like it.
We both log back into End Online. I return to the middle of some random inner city street while Fen is in some unknown corner of this massive city.
“Mason, I have great news. I am back in Swordbreak!” I send a private message to Mason, hoping he is still in the city.
“What? How could that be possible? You died just earlier today didn’t you?”
“I did. Umm, well, it’s kind of a long story. Are you still in Swordbreak?”
“No. Everyone shared their thoughts and decided it was better to leave. Nobody wanted to wait for you.”
“…Oh, I see…”
An uncomfortable silence follows the conversation. I don’t know what else to say while Mason maintains radio silence. After a few minutes, however, Mason sends another message.
“I’m kidding. We are all here right now because of you. How could we possibly leave without you?” He chuckles at the end of his message, finding his joke to be amusing.
I sigh in relief, but at the same time feel an immense desire to hit him.
“I am lost for words…”
“Well, you are ‘Lost’, after all.”
“That’s really not funny…”
“It is to me, which is what counts!” The private message from Mason contains more laughter. “By the way, we are at the Honey Tree Inn. It is in the Northeast sector of the city, about a fifteen minute walk inwards from the wall.”
“I will be there soon. I am just waiting for Fen.”
“Oh, she is safe? I’m glad to hear. I was afraid she shared the same fate as you. I hear companions that die are dismissed. Hurry over already! We are all curious as to how you got back so quickly.”
Just as I am about to say something back, something collides with the back of me. I fortunately manage to stand my ground and avoid falling over. Turning around in anger, I see Fen, grinning broadly while staring into my eyes.
“That was quick.” I remark, only receiving a quick nod of her head.
We set off for the Honey Tree Inn. After talking to many players in the area and receiving directions from far fewer, I eventually find the inn. The sun begins to rise over the eastern horizon as I finally push my way through the dusty, double-door entrance.
The rest of the party are sitting off at a table along the edge of the room, eagerly talking to one another. To my surprise, I even see the obnoxious prince joining in more actively than I have ever seen him do before.
They notice me the moment I enter the room, waving me over with curious gazes. The first to speak up, also to my surprise, is Sir Laurence.
“You fool. You go off on your own and get yourself killed. I should beat you down and kill you again!”
“I told you not to go be so selfish!” Verde also says while scowling at me. “What are we all to do if the leader suddenly up and dies! Think about the rest of us as well, will you!”
Guilt wells up in my stomach. I did not want to involve the others in my selfish plans, so I had left them out. As it turns out, this is the main reason for their anger and frustration at me.
“I’m sorry. Truly.” I bow my head to them with sincerity.
When I lift my head back up, I see that they are all smiling at me.
“It’s fine, as long as you understand,” Mason says, nodding his head to himself. “But include us from now on. We are all here together. If you forget that, next time we really will leave.”
It appears that in my absence, they have all come to an understanding together. I can only feel like a failure as a party leader as a result.
“Well, I have a sort of quest to participate in the tournament coming up in… three days, I think. I will have to check again when I register.”
“A quest? To participate?” Sir Laurence looks at me strangely, almost as if he doesn’t believe me.
“I need to obtain an ancient tablet which is currently a part of the prize. There is also ten thousand gold, but that is unrelated to this.”
“That does sound interesting!” Mason calls out. “Fortunately, we all became gladiators today, so we will also participate!”
“What? All of you?”
“You can thank Sir Laurence here. Collecting ‘Antril Horns’ proved to be too slow and difficult, so he simply purchased eight hundred of them so we could all become gladiators of the arena. Of course, we have yet to participate.”
“Thank you, Sir Laurence.”
The man himself harrumphs, treating the matter as a trivial thing. I know that each horn is quite cheap, but to purchase eight hundred of them is a considerably large figure.
“About the other matter,” Verde perks up her eyebrows and stares at me intently. “How exactly did you get back here so quick?”
Just the one word causes Sir Laurence to show a look of complete shock, while Mason and Matrix are only puzzled. I glance toward Verde, who is looking at me with a neutral expression. Her lack of a reaction reconfirms my suspicions of her suffering from some form of amnesia.
I explain the full situation to them, from when I respawned in his lair to the moment we arrived back here in Swordbreak. The entire story was received with much surprise to the rest of the party, and even a few curious ears nearby.
“Umm, isn’t that dangerous? Grael being in the city, I mean.” Matrix asks after I describe the type of entity he is.
“It is possible.” I can’t help but think back to the town of Leaz which was razed to the ground by him in a single night. At the same time, I recall him saying that there were a few people in the castle which are a pain to deal with, so I feel we should be relatively safe for now.
We finally leave the inn around midday and go to register at the colosseum for the tournament. It is difficult getting there as it is quite far away and there are many packed paths and roads in between, but we finally manage to get there by early afternoon.
The guard pays us no attention as we pass through and into the massive structure, entering the dim interior where all the gladiators gather. A few players off to one side of the room call out to me to get my attention, but I ignore them and travel directly into the inner bowels of the building.
“You wish to register for the ‘Royal Summer Tournament’?” The quartermaster asks us in a neutral voice. His eyes look over all of us, lingering on me for a moment longer than the rest. “There are six of you total, so that makes three teams of two. Who will be registering with who?”
“What?! We have to fight in pairs?!” I shout in shock. “I don’t recall reading anything about this!”
“Yes! FOOL! It is a competition of pairs!” He shouts back in a voice which completely dwarfs mine.
“Didn’t you know that?” Mason asks me, a small smirk on his face. “I will be participating with Matrix. Verde and Sir Laurence will also be together.”
Verde looks toward me and mouths an apology; it appears everyone else has already decided on the teams.
“Besides, if you’re worried about Fen being killed,” Mason raises a finger while speaking, “You can always forfeit in a match if it becomes dangerous.”
“I want… to fight… To protect you…” Fen gently pulls on my arm, her blue eyes staring desperately at me.
“Fine,” I say after much thought. “If things do become dangerous, however, you are to immediately move away and forfeit. If I can’t win from there, we both fail. You must agree to do that.”
“Fen and I will participate together.” I turn to the quartermaster and state my intentions.
“HAH! GOOD! Consider it done!” He shouts and bellows out a hearty laugh, causing a long forgotten headache to return.