End Online: Chapter 38

Editors: Templar, Jack Vanatis, genericIntent
Author’s notes(Readme): Update on all that is happening. First of all CotE Decision. After constantly rereading all of your input in the comments, I have decided to remove energy weapons from the novel. What will be used to achieve a variety of effects however, is a combination of countless different bullet types and alchemy engravings that can be placed on the weapons (and combinations of the two) Thank you all for the comments, it really helped me reach a final decision.
Next, two pieces of news. Volume 1 of EO has finished it’s professional editing finally after going back between me and the editor a bit. That will be updated to Amazon in about 24hours – and available in 48. I have also secured an artist (the very best, mind you) to create the cover for Chronicle of the Eternal: Volume 1. I had wanted to add another name for the book 1 specific (like Chronicle of the Eternal: Sixty Academia (Volume 1) ) but I couldn’t think of anything that really stands out.
Lastly, I’m going to focus 100% on CotE for April, hoping to finish the book by the end of the month. As a result of this, no EO will be written, so I will release 2 or 3 chapters of CotE. I will focus 100% on EO to finish Volume 6 after that, so I hope I can release 2 books in 2 months.
P.S. If you find that nothing has been updated here and I have seemingly vanished, you can guess with a 99% accuracy that I have just gotten addicted to reading or re reading a book/webnovel. I’m far too easily distracted, and I can’t write properly unless I flush it out of my system. Tonight is my last night of “renegading”, I will speak to you all soon ^.^

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Chapter 38 – University

-Lost(Hollis)-

A knocking sound wakes me up. There is no sunlight filtering through the bedroom window, but that is because I spent last night sleeping in my locker with Fen again. The first time was extremely nerve-wracking, but the second time was much more peaceful.

Fen is lying on top of me this morning, her head resting on my chest with her hands over my shoulders, and both of her legs wrapped around one of mine with a vice-like grip. Her face is incredibly peaceful as she sleeps, gently inhaling and exhaling in synch with me. While I can’t see them, I can feel her breasts pressing against my stomach. It is the kind of feeling that makes one happy to be alive.

I made another shocking discovery last night. Resting my hand on her hip, I realized that she was completely bare. I didn’t dare move for a while after that, my heart pounding in my chest as I start debating ‘should I, or should I not?’. This also led me to lie awake much longer than usual and oversleep in the morning.

I hear another knocking sound and realize that it is coming from the real world – someone is clearly knocking on my front door.

Despite Fen being light, I can’t seem to pry her loose as she wriggles around and latches onto me tighter. I log out from directly beneath her, forfeiting the struggle and leaving an extremely displeased wolf girl to have a short fall onto the bed.

“Coming!” I call out, moving into my wheelchair and rolling toward the front door, while attempting to straighten my hair in the process.

I can’t even imagine the sorry sight I must present as I open the door to see Markus (Sir Laurence) standing there preparing to knock a third time. He is wearing a thick black coat and matching scarf to ward off the frost. Even dressed casually, he has the bearing of a prince.

“Don’t you look lively this morning,” he says amusedly. “If we don’t leave soon, we will be late, you know. Not good for the first day.”

“Ah, yes, give me a moment.”

As I turn around and head toward the bathroom to clean up, Markus lets himself into my house, peeking around where he doesn’t belong. I want to say something, but he isn’t doing any harm. He is also the person taking me to school so I shouldn’t be too rude.

It isn’t until I am in the middle of brushing my teeth that he calls out from another room, “Hey, why isn’t there a certain white haired beauty in your bed? I was hoping to see her all wrapped up in the bed sheets, one leg sticking out, her nipples within an inch of being exposed… Exhausted after a long night of-“

“Wha tha ‘ell are ‘ou ‘aying!” I shout with a mouthful of toothpaste after almost choking on the toothbrush itself.

A mellow laughter comes from my room, shortly followed by silence. Feeling nervous, I quickly finish up and return to my bedroom. I barely make it in time, stopping Markus from putting on my V-Link and witnessing Fen in the bed.

“Why are you so different compared to when you’re playing the game?”

“Because I am hoping to meet girls. If I can find my next girlfriend, that would be even better,” Markus shamelessly says, as if his behavior is the most natural thing in the world.

I have a headache trying to understand this person.

“I don’t get it.”

“Listen, right now it is just us guys so we can have fun. But if you want to meet girls, you have to be serious. No girl would ever date a guy who isn’t serious. Well, in your case, you seem to have one literally hanging from your arm so you probably wouldn’t understand.”

I have never had a girlfriend, and ever since dropping out of school I was busy working to support my two sisters and this house, so socializing was a very minor part of my life. Despite this, even I know that Markus’s approach is completely wrong for finding love, or at least a meaningful relationship.

Refusing to comment on the subject when he presses me about what’s happened between Fen and myself, I push him out of the room and get dressed. There is no school uniform as it is university, so I pick out some casual clothing. It is still winter, so I also don a thick coat.

After I am done changing, I meet Markus out in front of my house. He didn’t come in the same chauffeured car as he took me home in last time, but instead brought a limousine.

“Isn’t that… a bit much?” I nervously ask him as I point at the vehicle.

“Nonsense, it is best to enter university grandly. It is also the first day, when all the introductions will take place, so we need to leave a good impression.”

I think that I understand Markus a little better now. Whether it is in the game as Sir Laurence, or real life as Markus, he really likes to show off.

Trying to put aside the embarrassing thought of being the only people to arrive at the university in a limousine, I get into the car with Markus’ aid and his butler places my wheelchair in the trunk.

The limousine engine is the latest model, turning on without a single vibration. It soon leaves and I look through the tinted windows to see the neighbors staring flabbergasted from within their homes.

“So Hollis, we are just two guys here. Tell me, how far have you gone with Fen?” Markus stares at me with prying eyes.

Knowing that no answer will be in my favor, I hold my silence. Markus takes no heed of this and continues talking about the subject.

“Come on. I won’t tell anybody you know. I’ve been with a few girls myself, but none as hot as her. What was it like?”

“That is completely none of your business!”

“Oh! So something has happened, huh.”

Markus’ eyes seem to pierce through me and I instantly regret opening my mouth. I’m screaming in my mind at him that nothing has happened, but I know that isn’t entirely true.

“What about that Verity? She’s stunning as well. But she’s mine, you hear? No two-timing and going after her as well.”

I bite my tongue for the next twenty minutes of the trip. Markus doesn’t stop talking the entire way to university and I start to think I prefer him as Sir Laurence.

Even though we left late due to my sleeping in, there is still half an hour before the welcoming ceremony for all the new and returning students begins. However, nearly all of the students have already arrived. Markus is grumbling beside me that he wanted to be here earlier so he could approach the new female students before anyone else. I would hit him if he was within arm’s reach at the moment.

Seeing the limousine stop at the front of the university, many students look over as they whisper among themselves. I don’t have much time as to try and figure out what it is about before the butler opens the door and helps me out and into my wheelchair.

Many of the students see me as a cripple, and a hint of pity shows on their expressions. This changes quickly when Markus steps out of the car and dazzles everyone. The guys throw looks of envy and hate his way while the girls seem to be instantly infatuated. Seeing the hateful glares directed at someone other than me when I have Fen on my arm is a refreshing feeling.

Yeah, this definitely feels good.

Markus is like a stone wall, not even recognizing the glares as he dismisses his butler and starts pushing me toward the gate.

Even from out front, the university is huge. A massive sliding gate of steel bars is wide open, revealing the paved paths, freshly maintained gardens, a small recreational park, and four large white buildings. Half the view is blocked off, however, by a large group of male students gathered together.

From inside the crowd, I hear a familiar voice, “Excuse me. My boyfriend is here now so can you all step back?”

The crowd makes way as Verity (Verde) steps out and walks toward us, her hair swaying with each step. All of the boys glare at Markus as she heads over.

To Markus’s, the onlookers’, and especially my surprise, rather than going to stand next to Markus, she bends forward, wraps her arms around my neck, and kisses me on the cheek.

“Just go along with it,” Verity coquettishly whispers into my ear.

Without waiting for anyone to react, she quickly nudges Markus aside and takes control of pushing me in the wheelchair.

It isn’t until we are within the university gates that Markus catches up. Verity hums to herself as she pushes me around the campus so we can look around. Sporting a look of defeat for the first time today, Markus is silent.

I meet many students along the way. One of the senior returning students even joins us and becomes a tour guide. It isn’t until he asks for Verity’s number and she responds that I am her boyfriend that he quietly disappears. I start to feel a little sorry for Markus, who looks more and more depressed with every person she tells that I am her boyfriend.

After exploring the university, we arrive at a large outdoor amphitheatre used for drama productions and acting classes. I can’t ascend the stairs, so the three of us sit along a space in the bottom row.

It isn’t long before a man in his late forties arrives onstage with a microphone. Clearing his throat a few times, he taps the microphone to test it and pretends that there is no one else in the amphitheatre.

Finishing his business, he looks up at the students and begins his introduction.

“A welcome to all the new students. Everyone who is returning after the long break to continue their studies, you already know who I am. For those who don’t, I am the vice-principal of Cambridge University, Sandy Lauder.”

I listen to him prattle on about everything the university offers and the benefits of studying here. His speech is incredibly dull and I’m not the only one who starts nod off.

After the welcoming speech, Lauder dismisses us with instructions on where to find the schedules for each course. Verity pushes me to the location, where a large electronic board is displaying the schedules.

It doesn’t take long to find the schedule for Philology and Semiotics mixed in with the others. It only consists of three half-day classes each week. There is one on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Verity’s and Markus’s courses have the same schedule as each other, three half-day and another full-day class. The half-day classes conveniently coincide with mine, but there is the other full-day class on Fridays.

“We all have our own classes to go to. Shall we separate here?” I ask Verity and Markus nervously. I haven’t been to school in a long time, so I feel a little out of place.

“Yeah. Hollis, shall we meet at the front gate at lunch before we leave?”

Verity stares daggers at Markus before saying, “How can you just leave like that. Hollis, as your girlfriend, allow me to take you to your class.”

“Ah, thank you, but really, why do I have to play the role of your boyfriend? My first day here and I already have so many guys hating me.”

“They wouldn’t dare touch a man in a wheelchair. You are practically immune to them, isn’t it great? And, well, it keeps them from bothering me too much. Let me continue on with my little white lie?”

“Argh, fine. I won’t tell anyone that you’re not my girlfriend, but I won’t be telling everyone that you are either.”

“That’s fine, just leave that to me.” Verity gives me a confident smile that makes me feel like I am missing something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but she’s definitely acting suspiciously.

I silently listen to some of the random conversations around us as Verity takes me to class. It isn’t until I arrive in front of a large classroom on the first floor of the university’s second building – often just referred to as the second wing – that it occurs to me.

‘Why didn’t you just have Markus be your fake boyfriend? He would jump off a bridge if you asked him to, let alone be the target of all the boys’ hate. Could it be that you actually like me? Or just like me more?’ My thoughts continue to circle around and around. Whether I’m right or completely wrong, I’m unable to come up with a better reason.

It is too late to ask Verity, as she has already left, so I can only enter the classroom and ask her later as to why she doesn’t just have Markus be her fake boyfriend.

There are eleven other people in the classroom – eight female and three male students. A large digital white board is installed on the wall at the front of the classroom. The teacher’s podium is connected to this display, and anything they write on the top of the podium displays on the wall.

I greet half of the class one by one, but regardless whether they are male or female, each one turns away and ignores me. I don’t feel like arguing after an already exhausting morning, so I find a table near the front of class and move the chair aside so I can wheel myself into place.

My next big shock arrives in the form of my teacher. The teacher is none other than my aunt who completely loathes me: Aunt Jude. She is equally shocked to see me here, her lower jaw becoming unhinged in the process of recognizing me.

It doesn’t take long for her to regain her composure. Jude stares daggers at me as she stands behind the teacher’s podium at the front of the classroom.

“Good morning class. I will be your instructor for first year Philology and Semiotics. You may refer to me as Miss Sylvester. The university board of directors requested that I come teach you so I will do so to the best of my ability.”

“Today will be an introduction into Philology and Semiotics. I will discuss the meaning of the two and how they relate. Make sure to write as much down as you can and study it again later.”

I feel like Jude is speaking to everyone except me, but regardless I still take out a notebook and diligently start writing down as much as possible. This is a subject that makes my blood boil and I can’t seem to calm myself.

“Philology is the study of ancient languages. They are forgotten languages with no known way to decipher them. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols in the process of communication. The two are related in that a language is merely a compilation of signs and symbols. You all take your knowledge of communication for granted, but you will soon understand the difficulty of communication when you try to decipher an ancient language.”

“Here is one example of an ancient language from primitive times. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is indeed true.”

Jude places the photograph down on the podium and it is reflected upon the white board. The picture is of a cave wall with various drawings scratched into the stone and overlaid with some sort of paint or pigment.

“This form of communication cannot be directly translated into our language, which makes it all the more difficult. In fact, most forgotten languages can’t be translated solely because they are far too different in origin. However, we can summarize the intent, the meaning within the picture, in words that others can understand.”

The picture is removed from the podium and another one replaces it. The new photo is of a torn manuscript of unknown origin. It is covered with countless small symbols, nearly every single one of them different from another.

“This is the language of a forgotten civilization that was far more advanced than we are today. It has a more precise meaning than a picture on a wall and can be used to store information on a much higher level. However, it also cannot be translated back into our language directly. Can anyone tell me why?”

One of the students at the back of the class, a pretty girl with glossy black hair and appears to be fresh out of high school, raises her hand and answers, “Miss Sylvester, is it because their method of communication was too different from ours?”

The girl’s answer appears to be the general consensus, but I had a different thought as to why. As I raise my own hand and am about to speak, Jude ignores me and starts talking herself. Ironically, the conclusion I had come to was indeed the correct one.

“That is incorrect.” Jude glares at me as if to say don’t speak in her class and just listen. “There are already tens of languages with different dialects within our world, yet they can all be directly translated even if they are structured a little differently. The reason the forgotten languages cannot be translated is because they had words for things and techniques that we have never encountered before. How can you translate a concept that does not exist in our current language?

“To be able to understand it, you must understand what it is that the word or symbol is used for. Even if you cannot transcribe the name into our current language, as least we can comprehend it.

“Translation follows comprehension. Forget about translating each and every symbol or word as you go. Read and understand the sentence in the language that it is written in. Once you know what is being expressed, you can begin translating it into English or any other modern language. This is the basis of Philology and Semiotics.”

Several more questions are asked by the students and Jude quickly and concisely answers each and every one. I have to admire her efficiency as a teacher, but I still cannot bring myself to like her.

The entire morning is spent discussing theory and philosophy of the study. There is no bell for lunch, but Jude packs her belongings up at half past twelve and bids the students farewell. Some of the other students seem tired and weary from trying to understand the intent behind her explanations, but I am wide awake and feeling enlightened.

Just as everyone starts to leave the classroom, Verity arrives at the door with a smile that entrances both male and female students alike. Only briefly greeting the other students, she quickly moves over to me, calling me “darling” before pushing me out of the room. Everyone stares in disbelief, especially Aunt Jude.

Classes for all three of us are finished for the day, so we have no plans to stay at school any longer. CaptainGordon, Mason, Matrix and Fen are waiting for us after all. As Verity and I are heading toward the front gate where Markus is waiting, I can’t help but recall my thoughts from this morning.

“Oh, Verity, I almost forgot. Why not just ask Markus to be your fake boyfriend? Surely he suits you better than I do. Could it be that you-”

Before I can finish speaking, Verity hits me on top of my head from behind. She didn’t hit me hard enough to actually hurt, but I wasn’t expecting it so I flinch in surprise.

“You have no tact, do you? Hmph, encouraging that idiot will only cause more problems. Besides, aren’t you happy to have me as a fake girlfriend?”

She tenderly rubs the top of my head where she hit me, and I forget to reply in the moment of bliss. Before I realize it, we are already outside the university and Markus is helping me into the car. Verity waves goodbye before heading off to where another car is waiting to pick her up.

After Markus follows me into the limousine, he gives me a reproachful stare.

“W-what?” I ask him warily despite already knowing it is about Verity.

“I told you that she was mine and you still went after her. What a horrible friend.”

“I didn’t do anything and you know it! She just went and did that on her own…”

“But you didn’t refute it, did you? Happily playing along despite knowing how much I like her.” Markus gives me a glare that is full of enmity.

Getting a little angry at his stubbornness, I coldly respond, “If you care for her so much, why don’t you stop flirting with every girl you see? Of course she ignores you.”

“Hmph, have you even had a girlfriend before? No? How unsurprising. I have had plenty and it is because I treat all women equally. How can I be nice to one and not another?”

“So why don’t you have a girlfriend now?” I glare at him and he awkwardly turns his head to look elsewhere. “No way… You’re unbelievable. You treat all of them equally, meaning you treat other girls just like your girlfriend, don’t you?”

Markus remains silent and avoids discussing the topic any further. My anger dissipates with the sense of victory, and I am in a good mood by the time we arrive at my house.

Markus helps me out, also having forgotten about the discussion earlier. We bid each other farewell, and he says he will pick me up Wednesday around the same time as today before leaving for his house.

Once he is gone, I send a message to Mason and CaptainGordon, letting them know I will be logging on now and that Sir Laurence and Verde will do the same within the hour. Without waiting for a reply, I lie down on my bed with the V-Link on my head and log into End Online.

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-Sydney Lee-

“Dear, Verity needs her own personal space. This is going too far,” my wife, Sarah, says to me disapprovingly.

“She is my daughter. This sort of measure is absolutely necessary. If she wants to keep playing her game with her friends, this is needed.”

This discussion concerns a certain electronic microchip I had installed into my daughter’s V-Link while she was attending the first day of university. I had some specialists look at a duplicate of the device some time ago and design this chip. My daughter lost her memory from a malfunction of this device, and even if those memories have returned, I will not allow her to continue using it if there is even an inkling of danger.

I don’t want to force her, so instead I had this unique chip designed. It is a sort of physical limiter on the device. My wife doesn’t disapprove of that part, and in fact strongly supports it. I learned the benefits of her approval through her affection late last night.

What she does not like is the second feature of this chip. Not only does it protect her as a limiter, it replicates and transmits exactly what she is seeing to any mobile device I link it to. Call it fatherly instinct, but I want to watch over her and see her being happy. Sarah is extremely angry about this, the proof displayed in the form of the broken phone on the table in front of me.

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-Lost-

Arriving on top of the Forgotten Ruminu Temple’s roof where I logged off, I find that it is currently night time in the game. CaptainGordon, Mason and Matrix are lying down stargazing while Fen is quietly standing near me. To this day, I can’t figure out how she logs in faster than I do. I saw her in my locker mere moments ago, yet here she is waiting.

It will still be about half an hour before the final two people log in, so I join the others in star gazing. In real life the sky is full of light pollution, so only the most prominent stars can be seen shining in the sky. Above this temple however, the sky is an ocean of stars, each one vibrantly full of life.

By the time Sir Laurence and Verde log in, the sun is beginning to rise over the eastern horizon and the night sky is rapidly being overtaken by dawn.

“I have been doing some thinking recently,” I say to everyone on top of the temple, scratching the side of my head awkwardly. “Now that three of us are attending university, we will have a little less time to play End Online. I plan to make up for this with hard effort, but there are still times we won’t be on.”

“I want you all to consider what you want to do in the future. I think we should officially form our guild first. I have already thought of the perfect location to set as our base; we can head over there after formally creating our guild.”

“Where is this place?” Mason asks, confused.

I grin mysteriously at Mason and say, “It is a surprise. I guarantee it’s a good place.”

He looks at me suspiciously, but doesn’t question me any further. If anything, there is a hint of regret and worry in his eyes that attracts my attention. I wonder if something is going on with him that is causing him to be nervous.

“Well, we still need to go back to Kano City first.”

I grab the rope that is hanging inside of the temple and consider pulling it out, but leave it alone after deciding that we are so high up that the rope won’t reach the ground. Looking inside one last time, I notice that the boss has not returned and probably won’t. I’m a little curious as to how the other party descended through the temple, but it shouldn’t have been too difficult.

The final vestiges of night are erased as the sun fully rises above the horizon. The other party members are also looking for a path descending from the top of the temple.

“Hey, umm, we could get down here, I think,” Matrix nervously calls out from the rear of the temple.

I walk over and furrow my brow when I see where he is pointing.

“How, exactly, are we supposed to get down here?”

“Well we could, umm, jump down to there, then there, umm… and then that spot-”

“No, there is no way we could do that. Fen, would you be able to create some ice steps or something on the side of the temple we can use to get down?”

“I… can.”

“Excellent, please do. Everyone, we will get down from here!”

Once everyone arrives, Fen extends her hand and a frosty blue light emanates from her fingertips. The lights seem to weave together before creating a ramp of ice leading all the way to the ground. It is quite steep, but we can safely slide down.

“You’re the leader, you can go down first…” Verde looks at the slide and suffers a severe case of vertigo.

I look at her as she leans over the edge and get a sinister idea.

“You’ve been pushing me around all day Verde, allow me to return the favor,” I whisper in her ear as I wrap my hands around her, push forward and jump onto the deadly looking ramp.

Verde screams as we quickly slide down, descending nine floors of the temple before the ramp tapers off, curving up from the ground to prevent any crashes and sends us flying toward one of the buildings. The landing is much rougher than I expected, with both of us crashing through the roof of one of the little buildings and losing a quarter of our health.

The fact that there are no ‘Stone Guardians’ in this house is the only bit of relief I get. It isn’t long until Mason, Matrix, Sir Laurence, CaptainGordon, and finally a grumpy Fen come falling in through the roof to land on top of us. Acting as cushions for the falling people, Verde and I are nearly killed, with ten percent of our health remaining. I bring out some of my best homemade health potions, but she adamantly refuses them, pulling out her own instead.

Fen grabs onto my arm and pulls me away from Verde, her nails digging into my arm in the process. It stings and I lose some health, but there is no actual physical pain.  However, she gives me a frigid stare that sends a shiver up my spine.

I feel like I should apologize to Fen for making her mad. At the same time, after what happened between Verde and I at school with the fake relationship, I can’t seem to apologize to Fen in front of her. I have come to realize the true meaning of ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’.

Haphazardly trying to change the focus of everyone’s attention, I quickly say, “We still need to check all the buildings in these ruins for a mysterious stone tablet. I don’t think that there is one here, but missing it because we didn’t search properly would be depressing.”

I lead the party through the ruins to search every building for a mysterious stone tablet, or even just some hint of it. By the time we finish searching, the sun is already sinking into the western horizon. Just as I suspected, we find no traces of such a tablet, but at least I can leave the ruins with confidence that it is not here.

We don’t leave immediately, but set up camp in an abandoned building without any ‘Stone Guardians’ in it instead. A small fire crackles in the rear room, a pot of boiling broth resting over the top. I grind up some herbs with a mortar and pestle and throw it in the pot with some meat to cook. Half the roof of this building has collapsed, so the smoke from the fire is properly vented.

Behind me, I hear Mason talking to Sir Laurence and Verde. “That’s no good. Have you heard about the sighting of the lost girl in the Potolmy Woods Reserve?”

“I have never heard of such a thing. Some cheap ghost story isn’t going to scare me,” Verde nonchalantly responds.

“I would like to accept that challenge, but this isn’t some ghost story.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a true event that has happened several times, each with eyewitnesses.”

“…Of course.”

“No, listen. Mav, a young girl only sixteen, went into the Potolmy Woods Reserve with three of her friends one late Friday near midnight as a test of courage. They were two girls and a boy. The male friend, Lux, from the same class as her, took the lead. One of the other girls, Laurie, used a pocket knife to etch into the trees as they went along so they wouldn’t get lost.”

“Boring.”

“Don’t cut in. Just after the clock struck midnight, a faint mist began to rise from the ground. It wasn’t very thick, so it was still easy to see, but it brought a chill that they could feel deep in their bonesmade all their bones creak.”

Verde, still unimpressed, cuts him off once again and says, “They got scared and turned around to leave, but surprise surprise, the cuts in the trees marking their path are gone.”

“Damn it, would you cut it out! And no, that’s not what happens. Argh, why do I even bother?”

“Mason, I want to hear it,” CaptainGordon says enthusiastically.

“Fine, but you,” Mason points at a smug Verde, “keep your mouth shut.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Verde makes a hand gesture of zipping her mouth shut.

“Okay… Now, where was I? Right. After the mist rose, the trees in front of them had cuts on them exactly like the ones behind them. Confused at first, they turned around and saw that the markings on the trees detailing the way back were still there. Back in front of them, the fake cuts in the trees had vanished, but all of a sudden, so had the ones behind them.”

Trying to create a dramatic atmosphere, Mason lowers his voice and begins to speak each word clearly and slowly.

“Frightened, Mav and her three friends quickly go back toward where they came from. The mist had other ideas, however, twisting and swirling, sending illusions at the four people and causing them to become lost.

“At the height of their fear, the markings on the trees came back, signalling their path. But the markings pointed in the direction behind them as well. Lux, putting on a brave face, suggested that they should split into two groups of two, explore both paths and meet back there in an hour. That should have been enough time to reach the edge of the woods and return.

“One of the girls, Laurie, cried that they shouldn’t split up, but Lux ignored her, dragging Mav off to travel down one path. Laurie tried to follow after them, tears in her eyes, but the other girl, Kate, held her back. No one knows what happened to Laurie and Kate after that. Some say they are still there, lost in the woods, but others say that they died already. Mav’s story is the only one that ever left those woods, however.

“Mav followed behind Lux closely, practically hanging off his arm in fear. She keeps talking to him, ‘Lux, when are we going to get out?’ ‘Lux, I’m scared, please tell me everything is going to be alright,’ ‘Lux, please… take me away from here’. Seeing him not replying at all, she brushes up against him one more time and glances at his face before letting out a shrill scream that the residents of the nearest town, Potl, could hear.”

Dipping his fingers in some black ink he had prepared, Mason paints his face with the ink to replicate his words.

“Lux had blood, as black as the night, pouring out his eyes… nose… mouth… and ears. Mav fell backwards, curling into a ball screaming in terror, but Lux didn’t notice, continuing to walk through the trees as if he was possessed by something. Mav, hyperventilating, hears some short, quick footsteps. Someone, or something, is about twenty feet away.

“Mav instinctively ran away, constantly collapsing as her legs kept giving way beneath her. She still moved quickly, but the footsteps followed a strange rhythm. They kept walking the same pace, but never got any further away from Mav than when she started. In fact, the footsteps gradually got closer.

“Fifteen feet…… ten feet…… five feet… four feet… three feet, two feet… one foot away…” Mason gets closer and closer to Verde as he says this, practically speaking into her ear by the end of it.

“In a panic, Mav turned around and swung her hand at whoever was behind her. Alas the culprit was a little girl, so Mav’s arm passed well over her head.

“The little girl was the epitome of horror. Her eyes mere hollow holes in her face with small pools of black blood inside. Hair that was knotted and falling out adorned the top of her head. She wore a pure white dress that was once pristine, but by then was smeared with large amounts of dried blood.

“Mav’s legs completely gave way at that point and she collapsed on the ground with no strength to even move. The little girl reached out and opened her mouth as if to say something, but only blood poured out, staining her dress even more. Her outstretched hand was placed on Mav’s jaw, like a mother to a child.”

Mason places two fingers on Verde’s jaw, imitating the girl’s actions. I doubt anyone else notices, but I spot Matrix sneakily leaving the room for some reason. I pay him no heed and continue listening to Mason’s tale while cooking dinner.

“Where the hand touched Mav, her skin became festered, bubbles of pus forming before exploding and leaving bloody, concave holes of red and yellow in her skin. The agony was like being set on fire while having her skin torn off of her face at the same time. The little girl’s hand continued around her face, a bloody grin forming as Mav’s beautiful looks were destroyed, inch by inch.”

Verde tilts away from Mason’s hand in disgust, a hint of her being flustered showing on her face.

“Mav’s wails echoed throughout the night, and half of the townsfolk from Potl were woken up. A small group of townsmen grabbed their rifles in a fury and stalked into the woods. They found Mav lying in a pool of her own blood and pus, wailing has her hands continued to claw at her own face. It wasn’t until one of the hunters saw the mysterious girl that they hurriedly grabbed Mav and dragged her out of the woods.

“A search party was formed the next day for the other three kids, but nothing was found of them – not even corpses.”

Verde, her voice faltering slightly says, “Is that it? That story’s fake and not particularly scary.”

It isn’t until Verde looks over at the entrance to the room that she notices the figure of a little girl covered in blood, and she squeals and covers her eyes, her shoulders shaking. I follow where she is looking and see Matrix hiding behind and holding a doll shaped like a little girl and covered in black ink. The doll isn’t even well made, but he is hiding within a shadow with it so it is difficult to see details.

“Okay, that’s enough, dinner is ready,” I sigh resignedly as I hand out the now cooked food.

Later on, we all camp out in different sections of the house. Fen and I have the rear room where the ghost story was told to ourselves, the moonlight shining in through the broken roof. I’m not sure about the others, but they appear to have separated into three or four of the remaining rooms.

The humidity is bad here in the jungle, so Fen and I sleep in a tent with one side fully open to allow cool night air in. Late at night, to my complete surprise, someone comes crawling into the tent. I initially think it is Fen, but she is already wrapped around my left arm so it can’t be her.

“V-Verde?” I stammer when her features are revealed under the moonlight.

Gone are the cloak and thick clothes, and instead she is wearing the thin shirt and shorts that she usually sleeps in. Her cleavage is presented in full as she crawls toward me on all fours. Her swaying mounds threaten to fully reveal themselves at any moment through the loose collar of her shirt.

Of greater concern though is Fen, glaring murder at Verde. Verde notices and visibly falters, but continues moving until she is next to me. I notice that her face is a little pale and I can’t help but ask.

“Scared?”

Her face pales further and she curtly nods her head. I’m surprised at how timid and girlish she can actually be, unlike how she normally acts in front of me.

“Not alone. Just for tonight,” She whispers to me, a small amount of color returning to her face as she blushes in embarrassment.

Fen obviously has no intention of letting her stay, as the temperature in the tent drops dramatically and an ice dagger forms in her hand. Fen reaches past me to stab at Verde.

I hastily catch her hand before she her attack connects. I don’t know what to say to mediate the situation and feel terrible inside. I understand she must be scared, but I can’t understand why Verde came in here. She had to know it would provoke Fen.  And as for Fen… I guess I could say that I’m in love with her. I can’t do anything but look helplessly toward Fen whose eyes can’t seem to express enough anger.

Seeing my look, Fen averts her eyes, snorting onto my shoulder and causing a small area to become covered in frost. At least she doesn’t continue trying to attack Verde.

Verde grabs onto my other arm tightly, and I feel a heavenly pleasure as the figure of her body is pressed against me. With a beautiful girl on either side of me, I am in a situation that most men would envy. Despite this, inside I am crying.

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

The next morning there is only one person clinging onto me: Fen. The wolf girl is half sprawled out on top of me with one leg extended, pushing Verde half a meter away.

Finally realizing that it is morning, I hurriedly wake Verde up and plead for her to leave here before anyone else notices. It is early so they shouldn’t wake up for ten or so minutes at least.

Verde looks at me in confusion at first, but soon blushes before hurriedly leaving.

There is no Mason or Sir Laurence waiting outside the room so I feel like I have dodged a metaphorical bullet. If they saw… I shudder to think about it.

When Fen wakes up, she is angry at first, but calms down when she sees Verde has left. She pecks me on the cheek a few times and bites my ear, distracting me until I turn my head and return her kisses. Pressing my lips against Fen’s, my mind becomes blurry and all stray thoughts are lost.

An hour later, we have all packed up our belongings and begin to head back toward Kano City. Our speed is much quicker than the way here so I suspect we will reach it by dusk.

During the journey, Mason edges over to me before whispering words that only I can hear, “Lost… How, was last night?”

“W-what do you mean?” I ask him, but the intent behind his words was clear.

“You know. Fen, Verde… It’s exciting right? A scared girl moving closer to the-“

“You! You set it up from the beginning, didn’t you?!” I practically shout and all eyes fall on me.

“Shhh, not too loud. Listen, Lost… I have some stuff to tell you, no, everybody later on. That was my apology to you.”

“What? Apology? Are you saying that Verde is an apology? What are you talking about Mason?”

“Setting up such a thing is the apology. It is all I could do. I will tell everyone and say sorry later on.”

“Later on? For what?”

Instead of answering, Mason falls back to join his brother. Everyone else notices the exchange and is curious as well. I guess we’ll all have to wait.

Back at Kano City, the city lights are just coming to life when we walk through the gate. We head directly to the castle and find the place to register our guild.

“Good evening, how can I help you?” a bespectacled nekomata NPC greets me when I approach.

“Ah, yes, I would like to register a guild. Am I at the right place?”

“Indeed, you are. Registering a guild will cost twenty thousand gold and you must also have six initial members. Do you have these things?”

“Yes, here is the gold. We have seven members, too.”

I indicate the party members behind me, Fen included. The gold was thankfully prepared by all of us beforehand. I pitched in six thousand while everyone else split the remaining fourteen thousand between themselves. My winnings from the ‘Royal Summer Tournament’ were ten thousand gold, and with my personal savings I still have around five thousand gold left after contributing to the guild creation fund.

“Apologies,” the nekomata with glasses indicates toward Fen, “but a companion cannot join a guild. Shall I form it with the remaining six of you?”

“Ah, yes, please.”

I look at Fen beside me, but she is unfazed by being told she cannot join the guild. I guess as long as she is beside me, she will be happy. She has the guild tattoo so she may as well be a part of the guild anyway.

A window appears in front of me asking to provide the guild name and emblem. I immediately write ‘The Wanderers’ and use my tattoo as the guild emblem. The guild name was thankfully not already in use, otherwise we would have had a big problem.

I let out a sigh of relief, since all the formalities are complete and our guild has officially formed. A guildstone appears in my inventory that can be placed in our guild base to serve as a resurrection point for all guild members.

All our tattooed guild emblems suddenly shine with a golden light that catches all of us by surprise. I look at the others, who are as lost as I am in this situation. I quickly ask the nekomata with glasses about it, but he acts as if he can’t see anything.

The golden light soon fades, and our previously black tattoos have suddenly become a dark golden color. This is something I have never seen nor heard of before. I ask Mason, who is usually the most knowledgeable, but even he is at a loss here.

We decide to ignore it for now. There are no benefits from it, but there are also no detriments. I notice Fen’s tattoo has also become golden, but she isn’t in the list of guild members, so perhaps it doesn’t have anything to do with a guild.

Heaving a sigh, I lead everyone out of the castle and toward the teleport point at the church.

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

“And this will be the location for our guild!” I exclaim extravagantly, waving my arms through the air like I saw some notable game show host do a year or so ago.

Apart from Verde, everyone’s jaws almost drop off their faces. We did just leave the snowy region around Swordbreak, follow a hidden cave and emerge into a large cavern where it is spring inside. There is green grass, and hundreds of apple trees are bearing fruit.

This is precisely where I first met Fen, but the others don’t know that. I also checked with PeachStar, and she has already lost interest in the cave. She is happy as long as she can occasionally come and pick some apples for her personal consumption. She has done an excellent job of keeping this place a secret so she deserves at least that much.

“Why is there such a place?” Mason asks in a mixture of admiration and confusion.

“I found this place a long time ago. I thought it would make an excellent base for us.”

CaptainGordon’s face is so red it is almost purple in excitement, “T-t-to ‘ave such a ‘idden base… I-I-I c-can’t wa-ait!!”

“Now, I hate to put a dampener on the mood, but we still need to decide on what to do in the future. Sir Laurence, Verde, and I will be away three or four times a week. It is up to everyone if you are happy to wait for us, or go off and do your own thing. We don’t want to hold you back, so it is your decision.”

Sir Laurence and Verde nod their heads, acknowledging their views. Mason looks at us and the troubled expression once again appears on his face. He eventually musters up enough courage to speak.

“Everyone, there is something I have wanted to tell you for a while… But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I re-really didn’t want to be left out of the guild so I didn’t say anything… The thing is… I used to be a part of… ‘The Swords of Light’.”

For some reason the name sounds familiar, but I can’t seem to place it so I ask Mason, “The what?”

“The guild. The guild ‘The Swords of Light’. The man, Chronix, keeps finding us because I was the one telling them where we were…”

Everything seems to click into place at that moment. Chronix is the person that has put Fen’s life in danger multiple times. I glare coldly at Mason while remembering every time Chronix happened to find us. I had suspected that someone was telling him where we were, but I never suspected Mason.

Noticing my glare, Mason started sweating before hastily saying, “I-I’m sorry. I know he has been causing trouble. I’ll do anything, but please, let me keep being a part of this guild!”

“Why?” I ask, my opinion of Mason plummeting.

“Money. My family is really poor in real life, and I needed the money. I couldn’t turn down what he offered me.”

Some of my anger abates upon hearing his rationale. I can understand because I was also in the same situation as him after the accident, in desperate need of money but nowhere to turn. Verde and Sir Laurence aren’t angry in the least. After all, for them this is just a game for fun.

“…Fine. You are already one of us anyway. But you must be absolutely honest from now on. Tell me, can I expect to run into Chronix again soon?”

“Ah, that. No, the last time I spoke with him, I said we were nearly at Koga City, so he should be waiting near there for us. Although I am nervous with having our base so near Iceridge. If he was to use a scroll to search for your location, he could find this place.”

“We should be safe for a while, and I won’t be spending a lot of time in the base anyway.”

Clearing my throat, I address everyone once more and ask them what they will be doing.

“I’ll stay ‘ere an’ make the best base ye e’er seen!!” CaptainGordon even starts to lose his pirate accent while panting. I worry about him, but his enthusiasm is good at least.

“Matrix and I will take a different path. We want to advertise the guild and hopefully bring in a few new members. Of course, only the upper members will get to know our secret base location. We will need to block them from respawning at the guild base as well.” Mason speaks with a lot less tension, clearly feeling like the pressure on his conscience is now relieved.

I nod and agree with their decisions. I hadn’t planned on recruiting new guild members originally, but after some thought decides that it is for the best. I instruct Mason that the guild objective for now will be locating and collecting the mysterious stone tablets. If any guild member is to acquire one of them, he or she will immediately be promoted to an upper guild member and permitted residence in our secret base.

I shake my head to myself, wondering why I didn’t think of such a brilliant idea earlier.

‘Wait, if Mason was the spy, then what is the deal with Mouse always appearing wherever I am? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he appeared in the secret base to sell some of his wares,’ I silently think to myself in confusion.

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27 Comments

  1. Hey really into this book and was just wandering when the next chapters are coming out. I see that you said it would be about 2 months. Is that still right? Thanks

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