Editors: genericIntent, Jack Vanatis, Scott
Author’s notes: Surprise!! This one has returned! Actually, my internet returned 5… now 6 days ago. I am guilty of loving literature and netflix so have been going back on some of my greatest hits! It’s strangely difficult to turn off! (For me, at least) Anyway, a pleasure to be back and will be getting stuck into writing! The end of volume 5 is currently at my fingertips and I am excited to keep writing. ^.^
I currently owe 2 chapter plans for to be available on my Patreon page for everyone who supports me there (Donates $1 or more a month) – The 2 chapters have now been posted on Patreon so feel free to go over and have a look! ^.^
Chapter 33: Sphinx
It’s late. I’m feeling strange and uncomfortable in my wheelchair after so many hours running through the sand in End Online. I reflexively attempt to curl and stretch my toes, but nothing happens except to inject some bitterness in with my discomfort.
After a brief meal and attending to personal hygiene, I turn on my computer. After an agonizingly slow start up, I open a popular search engine and input a single word: university.
The site automatically searches based on my location and prioritizes the local universities. By local, I mean the entire east section of the city I live in, Taile. I open up the top result on the web page, Saint Peter’s University.
As with all universities, it is privately owned so there is no funding or subsidies. A select few may get scholarships and fee reductions granted by the school board, but that is impossible for someone of my social standing.
Navigating through the pages available, I find the current list of courses offered. Saint Peter’s University has an extensive list of options available. Science, art, medicine, and many other options are available if you can afford it.
The cost of each course is in the tens of thousands of dollars, some even nearing a hundred thousand dollars. I can’t afford the tuition fees, and the campus is located in the Middle District, three districts above me. Equal opportunity still exists in the current day and age, but I’m sure the school board will find some excuse to reject my application.
Returning back to the search page, I look through the next three universities only to find they are similar to the first. By the seventh search result, I finally find something that looks promising.
Cambridge University, located in the Downtown District and charging very reasonable course fees. The only downside is that it doesn’t offer many of the more sophisticated courses that the more prestigious universities do.
Fortunately, it still offers the only course I am interested in: Philology and Semiotics. This is the study of ancient languages and the usage of pictures as language. The two-year course costs a total of thirteen thousand dollars. The price and thoughts of job placement after course completion make me hesitant to proceed. An expensive piece of paper will look pretty on the wall, but a respectable job will help me get my sisters back from my aunt.
Bringing up a new page on my browser, I search for work relating to the study of ancient languages. To my surprise, there are several companies searching for experienced people to help decipher texts in many of the ancient ruins throughout the world. Apparently they will hire redundantly as each person will often translate old texts differently.
Returning to my application, I press the ‘Sign Up’ button. The next class begins in January, which happens to be four months away from now. I fill out all of my personal details, but I also have to pay a twenty percent deposit upon signing up. The loss of money is a bitter one, but I cannot turn back now that I have found what I want.
Another benefit is the option to do the majority of the course via correspondence, allowing me to not strain myself by trying to wheel to school every day. All lectures are recorded, so I can watch them from the comfort of my own home.
My bank account is currently running extremely low on funds, but if my application to Cambridge University is rejected, the deposit will automatically get refunded.
Once the money has been paid, a confirmation email is sent to me with my application details. I look everything over then close the page.
“Arghhhh!” I place my hands over my face and shout. “Why did I have to sign up now?! The course starts in four more months and now I have no money! The student loan system is completely corrupt with massive interest rates so I don’t want that! What am I going to do?!”
I was completely lost in the moment and only now do I realize I should have waited until I had more money. Either way, I still have to pay a minimum of fifty percent by the beginning of the course regardless of when I sign up. However, if I had waited another month, I would have had the opportunity to sell a couple more items from End Online through the auction house.
My phone beeps, so I lower my hand from my face to check it. On the phone, the screen is lit up with a message from Markus Forz, also known as Sir Laurence.
End Forums - Mason published a video.
The message is short and abrupt. I fail to understand why he cares to inform me that Mason uploaded another video. He has plenty of them uploaded already so that is nothing new.
‘Perhaps it is a surprisingly good video,’ I muse as I log on to the End Forums.
I am wide eyed with shock as I see Mason’s video on the front page of the site. The title is, ‘A new raid found – Sunken Rock, Mermaid’s Lair’. The post has an astonishing number of comments and views, so much that I cannot believe it.
A little nervously, I load the video and let it start playing. Everything from entering the dungeon to encountering the first group of mermaids are as I remember. Then, just as I recall, the lustful effect of the mermaid’s glare takes hold on most of our party members. Everyone awkwardly turns and faces the nearest player, approaching steadily.
Several long and passionate kisses take place soon after. While some of the people are not under the effect and are fighting back at those with glazed eyes, kisses are inevitable. The mermaid’s charm attack caused us much pain and suffering before we realized it can only affect you if you look them in the eye.
There are other monsters in the raid that we encountered later, but I don’t watch that far. With an expression of shame, I scroll down the page and inspect the comments.
GoldHound | What an incredible raid. Such a shame they didn't have any more players or we might have been able to get to see further in the raid. Viore | What a dangerous raid! As a female, I vow to never enter that raid! Jayolus | I know this party. Where is Fen, our goddess?! HumbleFollo | Jayolus, you're right! I want to see Fen! SolemnSword | Where is this raid!? I have three girls in my party. I must take them to try out this raid! *Wink* Viore | SolemnSword, that's wrong, your party now has two girls. Goodbye! Kimbal | I am more interested in who this other party is. We all know Lost and his party, I even had the opportunity to see them while they were still in Swordbreak after the Royal Summer Tournament. But who are these other weak idiots who are trying to use our stars to raise their popularity? TooCold | Kimbal, I don't know who they are, but I don't think we should be calling them weak. They aren't as strong as Lost's party(+new guy?), but they seem pretty strong compared to us mortals! They are most likely from some big guild.
The comments continue in an endless stream. The video has been posted for a couple of hours and there are thousands of comments and tens of thousands of views.
I now know why Sir Laurence informed me of Mason’s post. It is something which should never have been posted and we will need to give him a stern talking to. I would ask him to remove the video, but it has been up long enough now that it would only result in someone replacing it with a copy they made.
Trying to ignore that, I focus on other recent threads. Titles such as ‘Gladox: Level 470 Confirmed!’, ‘New area/dungeon found!’, ‘Epic grade class skill discovered’ flood the forum. It is mostly rubbish and gossip though. All the useful information is over at the section of the website where you must pay for information.
Nothing else catches my eye. I double check Mason’s account and all the videos he has posted. A small sense of relief comes over me when I realize that there is a lot that he hasn’t posted, but I still think he could be a little more selective.
As it is already late, I am extremely tired and craving sleep. Resting on my bed, I rapidly lose consciousness.
Logged back into End Online, Sir Laurence and I look at each other gloomily.
“He’s not here.” The shining knight’s face darkens as he looks around for Mason.
I look at him with a similar expression. “Perhaps he knows that we know about the video?”
“Then he will never log on.”
Before I realize it, Fen is standing next to me. She is looking at my face with curiosity. Glancing at her causes me to forget some of my more depressing thoughts and blush slightly. Seeing her wear such a revealing top only reminds me of the time I saw her dress pulled down, exposing her forbidden fruit.
Just at this moment, two people log on near us. Glaring at the figures materializing, I expect it to be Mason and Matrix. Surprisingly, it is only Verde and CaptainGordon coincidentally logging in at the same time. They both look at Sir Laurence and I and ask what’s wrong. CaptainGordon shamelessly laughs when we explain the situation while Verde appears to be considerably angry.
Shortly after, Mikhail and his party log in. While everyone is conversing with each other and minding their own business, Verde comes up to Sir Laurence and I.
She plays with her thumbs and avoids looking us in the eye. “Sir Laurence, Lost, can I please umm, have a word with you?”
Unsure how to respond, I casually nod my head. Prince Charming spouts off a cliche line with ‘my lady’ attached.
Following Verde, we leave CaptainGordon behind to draw the saber he never uses and futily polish it. Fen attempts to follow us, but I suspect this isn’t something she needs to hear so I ask her to stay behind. She doesn’t take too kindly to that, staring daggers at me, but still stays behind.
Once we are far enough away from the group to avoid prying ears, Verde says gently, “Umm, there’s something I want to discuss with you two.”
Neither of us say a word, waiting for her to continue.
“I don’t know if you were aware, but for some reason I suffered a form of amnesia. Thankfully that is over now. My parents forced me to continue playing the game in hopes of helping me recall my memories and also locate the source of the amnesia.”
“My lady, we were aware. We tried to discuss past experiences with you that might trigger some memories.”
“I am aware of that now. They made me feel like I was forgetting something, but I couldn’t figure out what.”
I feel like something is amiss and can’t help but ask, “Umm, I am glad you have got your memories back, but why are you telling us now?”
“Ever since it happened, my father has been watching over me in the game and I have not had the chance to bring it up without him knowing. He and my mother are currently out at an important meeting so I can talk without them prying.”
“Is this something your parents can’t know about?”
“Sort of. He is simply too overbearing and often causes more trouble than it is worth. Also, I don’t want him to know about the kiss.”
Sir Laurence turns serious and he looks at me before turning back to Verde, “The kiss from the raid?”
“Yes, it was such a shock that I remembered the first time it happened. After that, everything came back to me.”
Sir Laurence’s face becomes ugly to behold and is giving off an enormous amount of bloodlust, “Excuse me my lady, I suddenly remembered something important I wanted speak with CaptainGordon about.”
“W-wait!” Verde calls out as the knight turns and is about to leave. “I want to speak with the two of you about this. I-I have already forgotten about what happened previously.”
Verde doesn’t mean she has literally forgotten about it, but moved on and no longer worries. Sir Laurence stops, sighing before turning back around. He seems calmer, but his gaze still causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise.
“What is done has been done,” Sir Laurence’s serious voice resound in my head and mine alone, “You should know that Verde in real life comes from somewhere extremely high up. Practically the top, in fact. I’m not saying don’t overstep your bounds, but the people around her will never stay silent.”
I am taken aback by his words, and a little unsure as how to respond. I don’t have any particular feeling for her in that regard, so it isn’t a problem. I want to explain that it was nothing intimate, but Verde speaks before I have the chance to reply to his private message.
“We have been through quite a lot together, the three of us… and that wolf!” Verde continues speaking. “The cause of my condition was indeed from the game. It terrifies me to the point I want to log off and never play again!”
“My lady, what do you mean your memory loss was caused by the game? The VL is supposed to be one of the safest pieces of hardware available. I don’t understand how it could malfunction and cause mental damage.”
As he says that, I recall all the times that I got a headache from using ‘Peripheral Sight’ and wonder if it could be a problem with the hardware. If it is, it is a serious fault that the creators of the device and this game need to know about.
“It wasn’t a fault with the hardware. When my memory returned I was so afraid. That wolf girl. S-she’s not normal. This was all caused by her back in Grenton!”
As Verde recounts her story of what happened in Grenton up to the point Fen grabbed her head, causing mind-splitting pain and unconsciousness, I am shocked time and time again. All of this happened from the girl next to me and I never had a clue. I don’t know what I should think about Fen after learning what she is capable of.
Sir Laurence also appears confused and astonished. I can imagine him recalling the first time he met her in human form and tried to flirt, only to be squashed into the ground. Such an incident could have gone much worse.
“Sir Laurence, Lost, we need to get rid of her. Lost, I know she is classified as your companion in the game, so you should be able to do something. I want to keep playing with you two. You are the only friends I have, despite one of you being clueless and the other having a horrible personality.”
“Verde, I’m afraid it isn’t that simple. The only way to get rid of her is for her to die.” I am pained to think it, but knowing how dangerous she is I try push my feelings for her aside.
“We can’t beat her,” Sir Laurence speaks the truth and Verde agrees with him. “There are a lot of other games we can play together. I will pay for everyone if it means we can play together.”
I am conflicted as to how to respond, and decide to reveal my biggest secret about Fen. “As I said, it isn’t that simple. After Fen became my companion, something strange happened. She is technically no longer a part of the game and resides within my V-Link. She can log into any game I play.”
Sir Laurence and Verde are taken aback, not believing what I’m saying about Fen. It takes me assuring them multiple times of the situation and even recounting how I met her for them to finally believe.
The prince offers to purchase a new V-Link for me and to destroy my current one, but I turn him down. I explain to him that I currently use the sale of equipment in this game as my only source of income and that I need to continue playing this game.
“I am going to log off and speak with Fen. She is difficult, but she isn’t completely unreasonable. I want us to play this game together so I will take responsibility for her and keep her beside me, ensuring she doesn’t do anything she shouldn’t. I-I also somewhat… care for her.”
My face turns completely red from admitting my feelings out loud and the other two look at me strangely. They agree that we should keep playing together as long as I keep Fen’s behavior in check. However, we also make a pact to meet outside the game and talk further about what to do.
I am nervous about revealing my incapacitation to them and decide to wait until we meet before letting them know. Finding out about Fen’s dark side is enough of a shock so I will leave the information about me being in a wheelchair for later. I do manage to have them agree to meet me at a cafe near my house with the reasoning that I can’t travel very far.
Walking back to the others, I whisper to Fen to log off and return to my locker ahead of her. When I leave End Online and return to my locker, Fen somehow manages to be there before me as usual.
Staring at the shamelessly dressed wolf girl, I speak in a serious voice that I didn’t know I had, “Fen, I know what you did.”
“What… I did?” She tilts her head sideways and gives me a confused look.
“With Verde, you caused her memory loss, didn’t you?”
“I don’t… understand.”
“Back in the city of Grenton, you grabbed her head and did something to her.”
“I told… her to… stay away,” Fen says in a neutral voice as if she didn’t do anything wrong.
‘Can this girl not even understand what she did?’ I ask myself with both astonishment and concern. ‘If she doesn’t even know what she did, that only makes her more dangerous!”
“You did something else to her at the same time.”
“No… I only… forced my words… in her head. That way… she wouldn’t… forget… to stay away.”
I stop to think for a while before I feel like lightning strikes me, fully understanding the situation. Fen tried to force a single thought into Verde’s mind, and presumably caused damage to her memory. This girl clearly has no clue about the human mind, yet tried to touch it.
This is extremely bad. Being able to do something like this, she is clearly capable of much more. If she truly has malicious intentions… I can’t think about it, the thought is too frightening.
For the first time, I am torn between reporting the AI known as Fen, likely causing her destruction, and keeping her close to me. I am aware I have already developed feelings towards her. Otherwise, I would not hesitate to remove this dangerous entity.
“Are… you going to… leave me?” Fen asks, crouching down into a ball with a small crystalline tear forming.
The sight of Fen with her knees to her chest tears me up inside. I realize that there is no way I can bring myself to get rid of her. I must protect her and keep her from making any further mistakes.
“Fen, listen to me. What you did was wrong. If you do anything like that again, I will immediately leave you. From now on, you will stay directly next to me at all times.”
“Y-yes,” The wolf girl’s voice trembles, her usually crystal clear voice making a sound like glass breaking.
I walk up to the girl and hug her. For the next half hour we sit together as I attempt to explain right and wrong. Like a young child, she has no concept of the difference and doesn’t seem to be able to understand.
“Well, you will eventually learn,” I say with resignation. “Let us log back in. Everyone will be waiting for us. Remember, do not leave my side.”
Fen gives me a genuine smile as I turn away and I only catch a glimpse before it vanishes as if it was never there. With a light sigh, I access the terminal and log back into End Online.
Back in the sand-strewn landscape, I am greeted by a scene which is quite satisfying. Mason and Matrix have logged back in, but are currently on their hands and knees, bowing with their heads nearly buried in the sand. In front of them, Sir Laurence has drawn his sword and is pointing at the back of their heads in a menacing way. Verde stands next to him, looking down on them equally angry.
“..Waz wrong, I’m zorry!” Mason’s apology comes out completely muffled due to his face in the sand.
“How dare you! You have tarnished my honor!” Sir Laurence shouts, pulling off one of his gloves and throwing it in the sand in front of Mason. Of course, Mason cannot see this.
It is strange to see Sir Laurence taking on his role as a knight so seriously every time. I begin to realize that Sir Laurence and CaptainGordon aren’t so different from one another.
Fen wraps her arms around me as I watch the spectacle between the shining knight and the brothers. The pressure of her chest on my arm is much more intimate thanks to the bikini top.
Sir Laurence and Verde look over at Fen and I. I nod toward them to let them know everything is under control, which they return and go back to tormenting Mason and Matrix.
Ten minutes later, after Mason also apologizes to me, we head off to the south. Fen’s new clothes definitely have a strong effect on both her speed and attacks. Her speed is definitely above mine, and she can easily climb sand dunes that we can’t despite being in human form. Her bolts are now made from ice even clearer than usual and give off a light blue luster in addition to doing greater damage.
We travel for seven days. I am relieved that there are areas other than pure sand in this land, else I would have lost my mind a long time ago. There are areas which are more of a sandy dirt, with small creeks and a few palm trees around. They offer a respite from the sun and a cool place to rest.
In the latter part of the week of travel, we get further south and to our surprise we start to run into a few players. They keep their distance and don’t bother us, so naturally we don’t attack them either.
Climbing atop one particularly large dune, I see a large city in the distance. It is too far to make out any distinguishable features, but it’s size is truly impressive. Behind that city, a sky-shattering mountain range blocks our view of the horizon.
Walking or running to the city in real life would normally take a full day or two. If it was just Fen and I, we could possibly get there in less than an hour, but with everyone else travelling together, the journey takes three hours.
The city is mostly made from sandstone with brown sheets hanging down several walls for immediate purchase. Pole torches stick up from the ground at odd angles along the main streets to provide light at night. I see a rolled up sheet on one building that reveals a hole in the wall.
‘Ah, so the sheets are to cover the windows! For a place so abundant with sand, I would have thought they could manufacture glass, though.’
The players are more condensed inside the city and I notice several strange traits about each of them. First, the insignia on the back of their right hands is different than any of the three kingdoms. The symbol here is a scorpion inside of a circle.
Second, they have tattoos. Many NPCs and players reveal a lot of skin to combat the heat here. On that skin, nearly every player and NPC has at least one tattoo. Tribal patterns in black and dark blue ink, skulls, dragons, daggers, a few partially naked women, and other, more plain, tribal insignia.
I wonder whether this city is the capital for some unknown kingdom and how these players acquired their insignia. I know for a fact it is impossible to select this place as a starting city when creating your character. Could it be possible that ‘Compact Soul Gems’ can be acquired here?
We traverse a full ten miles within the city and still don’t even reach the center. The size of this place is comparable to any of the major cities of the three kingdoms, albeit a little smaller and there is no towering castle in the center.
Asking a nearby player where an inn is, we get directions to a double story inn called the Desert Plume. Once we reach the inn, we find that everything is dusty. Cleaning has been attempted on most of the major surfaces, but traces of dust are still everywhere.
Considering this is a game, cleanliness isn’t a major concern and there are several players already sitting at another table. Looking up at a board over the bar with what drinks are available, they have all the usual ones and a new kind that I haven’t seen before. It is called a Yatta.
Unsure about this new drink yet curious, we all decide to order one. Yatta looks very similar to beer, only it has a slightly yellowish tinge to it. I am curious how it is made.
After taking a sip from the cup, my face twists in disgust. The taste of the drink is thick, warm, and it stings the tongue and throat. Everyone else adopts the same look when they taste the drink. Everyone except for CaptainGordon, at least. He appears to be truly enjoying the drink, taking large gulps before woozily slouching in his seat.
Whether he liked the drink or not, he drank the whole thing. Sitting back in his chair, his eyes close and he falls unconscious.
‘So he couldn’t handle the taste after all.’
When a bar maid comes around our table again, we hastily hand back the drinks and order five large cups of the strongest rum to wash the taste of the Yatta away. Glancing over at Mikhail’s party around another table, they are secretly conversing about something that arouses my suspicions.
The entire party, apart from the slumbering CaptainGordon, downs half of the cup of rum immediately upon receiving it. At about the time I begin to feel tipsy, someone comes and sits down at our table.
I glance at a completely bald player roughly the size of a bear standing up on two legs. His physique is covered with rippling muscle and sturdy-looking leather armor which covers most of his torso. Picking a fight with him is the last thing I want to do.
The person is one of the local players with the insignia of this city on his right hand. Several pitch black tribal tattoos around his shoulders and neck only enhance his aggressive demeanor. He looks at us with a smile that doesn’t reflect in his eyes.
“You players mus’ be new to the city of Sphinx,” the player says in a gruff voice that makes me wonder if he actually was a bear in a previous life.
Despite our surprise, we introduce ourselves. It turns out his name is MasterLon, a player who specializes in hand-to-hand combat. He enthusiastically pulls out a pair of blood-stained gauntlets to show us. After I hastily turn down his request for a duel, he begins to introduce the city.
“This city was firs’ discovered abou’ six months ago. Since then, not a whisper abou’ the place has lef’. How did you end up finding it?”
“One of the players from our other party over there heard rumors about something being to the south. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was though.” I look over at Mikhail’s party while speaking, and notice that one of the local players has approached them as well.
“Tha’ no’ be a problem,” MasterLon unexpectedly lets out an enormous laugher with no warning, causing me to edge away in my seat. “There is another concern with you players here. We accep’ all new players to this city, bu’ there be rules.”
“This whole area is an excellen’ hunting ground. The monsters give a lo’ of experience and there is also a local auction house so we can sell all the good loot to others. There are only several thousand players here so there be plen’y of space for everyone. Wha’ we don’ wan’ is for every eager player from Dalbe and the o’her two kingdoms coming down here. If you get wha’ I mean?”
I seem to have gotten confused about what he was saying halfway through and now feel completely detached from the conversation, “Sorry, I’m a little confused. What do you mean?”
“He means that he doesn’t want us telling anyone about this city and land,” Mason says to me with a frown.
I understand why he is displeased and unwilling to keep a lid on the information. Such a great story about a new city would be a massively popular video. I look at Sir Laurence, who nods as if reading my mind and I turn back to Mason.
“Mason, I’m sure you want to make a video on this city which we normally would have no problem with. Then again, you made an extremely popular video recently that we do have a major problem with. How about we forget about the video which is already posted, and you forget about making a video of this place?”
“Urgh, fine,” Mason reluctantly agrees after some thought.
“MasterLon,” Verde speaks up sternly, “I have no interest in keeping your secret. However, I am not someone to spite several thousand people for no reason. We will not expose your secret, but at the same time, we will not help you keep it.”
“Tha’ is fine. No’ spreading it is all we ask. Also, to avoid more of us coming up to you to repea’ this conversation, you should get at least one tattoo. People who have one are recognized as keepers of the secret.”
Shortly after, he gives us directions and a description of what the shops of many local tattoo artists look like. I ask him about the different kingdom insignia on his right hand as well, which has an interesting explanation.
In the center of Sphinx, there is a governor’s mansion where you can follow a series of chain quests and acquire the right to become a part of the city. This way, if a player dies, they aren’t transported all the way back to the three kingdoms. Although Sphinx is a large city, it doesn’t classify as its own kingdom and is more of a duchy ruled by the city’s governor.
There is also the news of an auction house within the city. I eagerly get directions to it and head off immediately with Fen, leaving the rest of the party to continue drinking. Under the evening sun, I notice that Fen’s attire actually fits in with the local community. Many people are scantily dressed due to the heat, many of the males completely topless, revealing hardened muscle and suntanned skin.
The auction house looks extremely familiar, with a similar design to the ones in the three kingdoms. It is a little more sparse and with less staff than I am used to, but that is because there are only a fraction of the players here compared to everywhere else.
Entering one of the rooms, Fen curiously inspects everything before sitting down and staring at me as I put my items up for auction. Seven days, minimum bid starting price. I place all of my currently available items up for sale and a small list is created in front of me.
Violet Flame Shamshir Inflammation Axe of Carnage Venomous Scorpion Tail Whip Emperor Rahad's Sceptre
My inventory is full of equipment and nearly over the limit of what my strength will permit, so I add a lot of low- to mid-tier weapons to the list of items as well. None of these are noteworthy items, but since I’m entering university in four months, I need every penny I can get.
This being my first time selling so many items at once, I worry that perhaps it will oversaturate the market and they won’t sell very well. I try to stagger the beginnings and ends of the auctions for the more common items so as to sell them in separate batches.
By the time I return to the Desert Plume, the sun has set and everyone is completely drunk. A few more local players have entered, but the inn is still mostly empty. There are clearly enough people to shout and create a rowdy atmosphere in the room though.
We end up renting three rooms between us and splitting up for the night. Mason and Matrix to one room, Fen and I to a second, and, most surprisingly, Verde and Sir Laurence to the third. I am shocked sober when I see the two staggering up a set of stairs toward their room on the second floor.
I lead Fen up to our room and am pleasantly welcomed by a bed that doesn’t have an ounce of dust or sand in it. Without hesitation, I climb in and close my eyes to sleep. In a semiconscious state, I am vaguely aware of Fen sliding into bed and curling up against my chest. I place an arm over her, feeling the tender skin on her back before pulling her closer as sleep completely takes over.
Down in the common room, the morning sun shines in through an opening in the wall I can only refer to as a window. Fen sits on a chair unnaturally close to me, but all of our collective attention is on Verde and Sir Laurence.
Verde is avoiding looking at Sir Laurence, while the knight himself has bags under his eyes that show he didn’t get a wink of sleep. I would have suspected illicit activity to have taken place all night if it wasn’t for the fact that Verde appears to have slept well. They only got a room with a single bed, same as Fen and I, so my interest is piqued.
“So, what happened?” Mason asks the very question I am thinking, his eyebrows raised.
“I-I stood guard over my lady all night to ensure no misfortune befell her.” The shining knight stammers through an obvious lie.
Verde looks at him and explains the whole situation with a single sentence and a shrug, “I slept on the bed and he sat in the corner.”
I can’t help but laugh out loud as Prince Charming’s face turns as red as a tomato.
Once the morning antics are done, we leave the inn and search through the city for a tattoo artist and a bazaar to sell all of our junk items. Our current total toward starting a guild is twelve thousand gold coins. We need a total of twenty thousand to charter it.
We find a tattoo parlor first. The price for a single tattoo is actually quite expensive, the cheapest being fifty gold coins. We brainstorm several ideas and draw a few designs for what we could get.
My design is the one that everyone accepts. It is just the silhouette of three people, a shorter female with long hair, a tall man and another with a hood on. Those three people are walking forward, with a small wolf at the front.
When the tattoo artist receives the design, he redraws it with more tribal pattern worked around it and makes it look much more tattoo-like. Mikhail’s party watches as we all get the same tattoo, and decide to get one of their own design as well. They are all in the same guild after all.
We emerge from the shop at noon, everyone looking at the new tattoo on their left shoulder. Unlike a real tattoo, there is no pain, redness, or bleeding. Our clothes cover the tattoos quite effectively, except for Fen, Verde and Mason who currently have their shoulders exposed. Verde deliberately changed to a sleeveless leather cuirass in order to show hers off.
“Hey, how about we just make this our guild symbol and save our money?” I jokingly ask, but everyone seems to take it seriously.
“It would be difficult,” Mason ponders while counting something with his fingers. “A guild is entitled to purchase land, set up a base, and has numerous other benefits. If we give up on that and recruiting more players, we can do it.”
Verde also has a concern with the formation of a guild, “We also need a guild name.”
“We shall be known as Knights of Salvadore!”
“Nay, we be known as ‘he Fortuitous Com’atriots!”
Everyone gets heated up discussing our guild name. At this point, I can’t tell them that I wasn’t being serious, but this bickering is giving me a headache.
“All your name choices are horrible!” Verde calls out aghast. “It needs to be something simple that relates to us. We have explored all over and continue to move from one place to another. The Wanderers. There, that is a good guild name.”
‘That’s actually a pretty good name,’ I think to myself.
Everyone finds it difficult to refute, and before I know it, The Wanderers has become our guild name. Another squabble breaks out over who is the guild master, vice-guild master, and so on, but we end up agreeing on all six of us being the senior guild members. If we get enough money and officially form our guild, any new players will become junior guild members.
We explore in high spirits while keeping an eye out for a bazaar to sell our items. I am still troubled over the fact that I was only joking earlier and wonder what would happen if they found out.
The streets of Sphinx are all quite wide and have a hot wind blowing through them. I place my hand on the sandstone wall of a nearby building and feel the coarse material. An illusory heat haze hangs above the ground that causes the air to ripple.
With only several thousand players residing within the city, there are numerous areas completely devoid of them. In these residential streets, the NPCs carry about their daily lives as they normally would: hanging wet clothes to dry, applying some form of heat resistant clay to cracked sections of the houses, bringing home shopping, and even children playing joyfully on the street.
Doubling back several times and asking a few stray players for directions, we eventually find a great big bazaar full of various players and NPCs hawking their wares. Everyone splits up, and we enter the area as three groups of two.
The bazaar is a large open square with NPCs who continually sweep sand into the four corners. There are a few large stalls around, but the bazaar mostly consists of fortified sandstone kiosks. One of the players I spoke with earlier warned me about the sandstorms that sweep through the city and surrounding area every week or so. Most structures are built quite sturdily to withstand them.
I sell most of my junk items to an NPC who pays handsomely for them. Just over twelve hundred gold coins for the lot. It is only after the transaction that I realize exactly how many pieces of ‘Common’ and ‘Rare’ tier equipment I have been carrying around.
Walking through the bazaar, I come across one particular kiosk that gives me a feeling of nostalgia. The prices are slightly higher than normal, but the weapons and armor are extremely similar to those you would see in Swordbreak.
While looking over the weapons, a familiar voice greets me, “Well, if it isn’t the famous Lost! What a coincidence meeting you out here.”
“What a coincidence indeed, you stalker!” I shout in surprise at the man behind the counter. It is none other than Mouse. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I was here first, who are you calling a stalker?! I just happened to be doing some travelling in search of new items and ended up here.”
“Just happened to end up here my arse! This place is so far out of the way you can’t just happen to end up here!”
“Oh, so how did you get here?”
“Several things happened and I… happened to end up here…”
“Hah! That’s what I thought!” Mouse gloats triumphantly, sticking his nose up in the air.
Mouse being in a place as remote as this is completely shocking, but he does have some useful information he has collected from the local rumor mill. Apparently, the nearby mountain range is home to a myriad of powerful monsters. Most of the local players will go to the outskirts there or venture into some caves at the base of the mountains to power level. As a result, nearly every player in this area is levelled above 300. Some are even nearing level 400.
The only downside to this desert, much to Mouse’s dismay, is the limited crafting materials. This includes ores, herbs, and other useful crafting items. There is the possibility they may exist in the mountains, but no one can safely enter to find out.
The rest of the ingame day passes relatively peacefully. The following day, the city is ravaged by a sandstorm and we are forced to remain in the inn all day. Verde, despite my original opinion, turns out to be quite the alcoholic.
On the third day, both parties head south out of the city to see just how powerful these monsters are. Halfway there, a shocking notification appears before us.
Alert: Battle For Supremacy With ‘The Seven Realms’ update coming soon, six brand new realms that any player above level 50 can explore will be added to the game. The original three kingdoms will enter a battle for supremacy where only one will remain and become the seventh realm. The rules for the battle are as follows: ~ Any player who is killed may not revive for 72 hours. ~ A city is considered to have 'fallen' if all local players have perished. ~ A city is considered to have 'fallen' if the enemy successfully invades the city and reaches the central castle. ~ All player kills will yield 2x the normal experience and have a 2x chance to drop equipment. ~ All players who acquire the title MVP will receive special rewards at the finale of the battle. ~ Have fun! The battle has already begun and all players of the three kingdoms will automatically be teleported back to their own city 60 minutes from now. Please use this time to finish your current activities and prepare. The Battle For Supremacy will take place over the next 31 days. At the end of the battle, if there is more than one kingdom remaining, the system will decide the victor based on most enemy players killed and friendly forces remaining. Kind Regards, - Idea Imagine
The notice takes me, and everyone else, by complete surprise. That means in exactly one hour, Verde, Sir Laurence, Fen and I will be teleported back to Grenton.
“Seeing that we will be teleported back within an hour, I have an idea,” Mason says over party chat.
The archer explains how Mikhail and his group have been far too suspicious for a while now. Even after the boat trip to this land, they have followed us around for no discernable reason. His plan is to shake them off for good by killing them and sending them all back to Swordbreak.
CaptainGordon is against this initially as he is also from Swordbreak and will be teleported back shortly, but when Mason explains that there is a strong possibility they won’t be able to log back in for the next three days and he can easily leave the area, he agrees.
Sending a silent signal over party chat approximately thirty minutes before the teleportation begins, we turn around and attack Mikhail’s party without warning. They must have been expecting this since they unhurriedly prepare to receive our attack.
I attack Mikhail the Stalwart first. He raises his weapon to defend and counter while I am ten paces ahead of him, but unfortunately for him that is only my after-image. I am already directly beside him, my real body exposing itself the moment my blade cuts through his neck, causing a critical hit.
Mikhail turns in shock, and I click my tongue when I see that a critical hit practically ignoring all his armor didn’t even manage to take twenty percent of his health. Moonkite and the other two members make a move to flank me, so I beat a rapid retreat from their encirclement.
A thunderous boom sounds in the area and Mikhail is blown back ten meters, his health falling to a dangerous state. He sits up and glares at CaptainGordon and the smoking gun in his hand.
“A gun?! That can’t exist in this game!” he shouts in shock.
His party members react slowly, disbelieving what just happened. They move to both attack us and protect the nearly dead guildmaster while he recovers health. Mason fires off arrows to cover us while Matrix acts as a meatshield in the face of MoonKite’s attacks.
SomaHealer supports the enemy with healing spells and passive buffs while Lockon, having witnessed her strength, focuses his volley of arrows on Fen. The wolf girl is forced to keep moving and doesn’t have a chance to counter-attack.
“Mason, CaptainGordon, attack Lockon. Do that and we will win,” I order my team mates over the party chat with victory in sight.
It isn’t that the other side is weak. In fact, they are exceptionally strong, but so are we and they are lacking in numbers.
Mason changes targets to focus on Lockon, taking the other archer off-guard and causing him to stagger backwards. CaptainGordon fires another round from his pistol cannon. Unfortunately, the bullet only glances Lockon, but it is still enough to allow us to quickly kill him before SomaHealer can heal him.
As Lockon dies, I am pleasantly surprised to see that none of us have gotten a player killer’s mark. This validates that the Battle For Supremacy has already begun and he will not be able to log back on for the next three days.
Mikhail stands back up with over half his health restored and joins the fray. His attacks are not strong, but skillful enough to force Matrix into a corner and nearly kill him.
Fen comes to the rescue, no longer under the barrage from Lockon. She forms several glowing ice bolts, which screech through the air before piercing SomaHealer from all directions and killing him instantly.
With only Mikhail’s elementary healing skills, they don’t have enough stamina to battle us equally. Sir Laurence has a few higher-tier healing skills that he casts on Matrix and Verde when they are hurt, rapidly recovering their health points. He stubbornly refuses to use his healing skills on me though, which is frustrating and causes me to ‘accidentally’ hit him with a few throwing knives. The damage is minor, and he pretends as if the little knives do not even exist, infuriating me further.
The surviving Mikhail and MoonKite glance at each other and attempt to flee. They are quite quick, and against anyone else they may have a chance of success. It is unfortunate they are comparing speed with Fen and myself. We catch up to them with a flash and quickly cut them down. I even use my Dire Flame to kill them in case they escape.
The battle is over twenty minutes after it began. I can only imagine how angry Mikhail and his party will be after not being able to log back in for the next three days.
We all sit down on the sand and I break out a few cooking tools. I begin roasting a slab of meat similar to pork with a moderate application of herbs and some homemade broth to ensure tenderness.
Before teleporting back to our respective kingdoms, we may as well enjoy one more good meal together.
“To The Wanderers!” Mason calls out enthusiastically once the roast is served.
“To The Wanderers!” Everyone apart from Fen shouts back the words, confirming the bond between us.
The wolf girl stares at the grilling meat with lust and casually says, “The… Wanderers…”