Editors: Templar, Jack Vanatis, genericIntent
Author’s notes: I know many of you have waited for End Online to be resumed and are not happy with the time in between releases. I have been stuck with writing for a while – not writers block, but everytime I start writing I end up falling asleep! Quite frustrating, but I spent all of today cleaning the house, doing the washing, and redoing the chapter plan to give me fresh motivation for writing. Some of you may not understand what I mean, but imagine I currently have 80% motivation. I need to have 100% motivation to write otherwise I end up counting sheep.
I’ve got a bunch of pages on this site to update, which I have held off from to try focus on writing EO directly, but I will update them in the next day or two as well. Next and Previous Chapter links updated tomorrow, it’s late and I require rest.
Lastly, it been a while but as a full chapter release, please show your support but taking a minute of your time to follow the link and vote for End Online at TopWebFiction.com! Votes are reset weekly so even if you have voted before, please do so again! ^.^
Chapter 39 – Separate Paths
– Lost –
After making the decision to take on different roles for our new guild, ‘The Wanderers’, we all travel to Iceridge before parting ways. I take the lead with Fen and Mason on either side of me, with Verde, Sir Laurence, Matrix, and CaptainGordon following close behind.
The south-eastern area of the new Kingdom of Dalbe, also known as the former Kingdom of Glace, or south-east-most Human Realm, is currently going through a light snowstorm. A few small snowflakes land on my face, but quickly melt away. I am not discomforted from the cold thanks to my cloak blocking the effects of nearly the entire storm, but I do feel a lingering dampness.
The distant walls of Iceridge can be seen after a few hours of walking. Everyone, apart from Fen, is slightly miserable from walking through the storm. Perhaps it was due to the other night when Verde crawled into our bed, but she is closer to me than usual. She somehow gets under my cloak and presses her body against mine, transmitting a pleasant warmth. The downside is that it is incredibly difficult to walk like this, and the wolf girl violently refuses to stop.
Finally arriving and entering the gates of Iceridge, quite a few players entering and exiting take note of our party. Or, more accurately, they take note of Fen, whose head and shoulders are emerging from within my cloak. Some looks contain blatant jealousy, while others seem to be surprised.
“Lost, now that we’re here, Matrix and I will go and find a place to start recruiting some guild members,” Mason says politely next to me.
I have never been good with goodbyes, so I awkwardly say, “Ah, yes. Please send me a private message if you need anything.”
“Will do. Matrix, let’s go!”
Mason gives Fen and me a smile free of burden as he leaves, even hinting toward Verde with his eyes. The gesture isn’t missed by Fen, whose grip on me tightens considerably and makes the already difficult walking posture now impossible.
“Fen… can you please let me walk?”
Fen turns her head and gives me a chilly look, but maintains her silence. Seeing that no progress is going to happen, I sweep an arm under her and pick her up in a princess carry. The movement breaks her grip on me, but she isn’t displeased in the least. It is actually the opposite, with Fen kissing my cheek and jaw several times before nestling her head against mine and enjoying being carried.
Quite a few players around stare as we walk past. One particular party rushes toward us and the party leader, a man wearing leather armor, excitably says, “Lost! My name’s ForgetTomorrow, I have been a massive fan of yours for a long time! Can I take a screenshot of us together?!”
Still holding Fen in my arms, I feel like I am in an awkward situation, but I still try to reply to ForgetTomorrow positively while smiling amiably.
“Ah, yes, of course. Feel free to do so.”
ForgetTomorrow, and all of his party members, group around me before several camera snaps sound from the air. Verde, Sir Laurence and CaptainGordon join in for the last few screenshots before the other party leaves excitedly.
CaptainGordon also leaves the party to purchase metal and other materials to build the guild hall with. I hand over a thousand gold which should be able to buy a large quantity.
The snow on the ground in Iceridge has thickened from the snowstorm, so there are a large amount of NPCs and low-level players patrolling the street with shovels. It is a strange sight to see as I never took on such a job when I began in Iceridge. Of course, I couldn’t talk to NPCs without gaining infamy so I didn’t accept much.
I lead the way for the remaining three members and companion in my party. We all began playing in this city, so all the sights are somewhat nostalgic.
There are a couple of locations I want to go to now that I have returned to Iceridge. The first is the player’s bazaar where I first met Mouse. I notice Sir Laurence walking beside Verde and glaring at any players who look at her.
‘He really likes her, doesn’t he? I feel worried that he may go crazy if he finds out about the other night… I’m sorry Sir Laurence, Markus, I will never mention it,’ I discreetly think to myself.
When we arrive at the player’s bazaar, I can tell nearly all of the merchants have changed to different players. I stroll through and have a look at the items for sale, but most of them are not suited to my level as this is an area for newer players. I do notice that there is a much wider variety of light armors and shortswords compared to what there used to be.
Verde and Sir Laurence disappear at some point while I’m looking through the stalls which helps me convince Fen to walk beside me without getting in my way.
After exploring half of the bazaar, I meet the friendly face of Peachstar behind an unremarkable stall. She looks exactly the same as when I first met her – a short girl with pink hair that flows like water tied up in twin tails.
“Peachstar, I thought I may find you here.” I smile at the small girl who beams when she sees me.
“Looost! It’s been sooo long! How have you been? Haaave you been well? I was juuust thinking ‘bout you the other day!”
I groan inwardly after hearing her talk. It has been so long I forgot how much of a headache she can be. Just remembering the previous conversations is already enough for me to become dizzy.
“Umm, Peachstar. Yes, I have been well. Actually though, I want to get straight to the point today. I was curious about Mouse. Do you know who he is or where he comes from?”
“What do you meean? Mousey is Mousey, a trader juuust like me! I don’t know wheeere he comes from more thaaan any other merchant.”
“Urgh, Peachstar, how did you meet?”
“Nooot telling unless you have sooomething for me!”
“I collected some of those apples you can have if you like.”
“Nooo!! I ate tooo many of them and now I caaan’t stand them!”
“…So that’s why… Nevermind, I have some meals I cooked and kept in my inventory if you prefer?”
“OooOOhh, hurry up and give them then!”
I hand over several meals of meat and vegetables to Peachstar before rubbing my temples to try and abate the accumulating headache from talking with her.
“Now, please, how did you meet Mouse?”
“Yayyy! Ahem, I met Mousey because he was a merchant near me!”
“What?! That’s it?!”
“Yeeep. Although it wasn’t looong before I met you, and strangely I nevvver heard or saw him before that.”
I shake my head and walk away from Peachstar after a curt goodbye. Fen looks at me strangely while I am holding my head and tries to help by hugging me. The wolf girl only succeeds in creating an awkward situation in the middle of the bazaar that doesn’t help and is instead detrimental.
With one hand still on my forehead, I hold Fen’s hand and lead her away from the bazaar. There is still one more place I want to visit in the city, but it is late and that place is also headache inducing, so I decide to visit it tomorrow. After sending a private message to the rest of the party bidding farewell, I log off with Fen to rest.
Inside the locker, I unequip all of my clothing and climb into bed. Fen finds her way into bed only a few breaths later. With a throbbing pain in my head, I wrap my arms around Fen and pull her close to me. The warmth she gives off with her arms grabbing onto my back creates a pleasant sensation that numbs the pain I am feeling and helps me fall into a deep sleep.
The next day, I have class at the university, but I am up early enough that there are still a few hours before Markus comes to pick me up. I leave my locker and remove the virtual head gear, glancing at the pre-dawn sky outside my window, making some food and returning to End Online where the sun is currently high in the sky.
‘Yeah, I should have enough time,’ I think to myself while determinedly walking through the streets of Iceridge with Fen at my side.
My destination is the Iceridge Military Academy, where I did the tiresome beginner’s training and received the ‘Advanced Military Arts’ skill. The instructor, Centurion Markus, told me back then to return when I was stronger, but I have pointedly avoided it so I would not have to deal with him again.
The military academy and the stone monuments of soldiers out front are blanketed in fresh snow just as I remember from when I first started playing. Hesitating and having second thoughts about coming, I decide it is better to put up with any situation that may arise if it benefits me. Even being just a little bit stronger would make it a little easier to collect items to sell for real money.
Just inside the main entrance, there’s a prim and regal receptionist with glasses and blond hair tied up in a bun. I notice that her signature white uniform has changed slightly, most likely due to losing the grand war between the kingdoms. There is now a yellow and red patch on each shoulder with the design of two swords crossing. It is definitely the symbol for the Kingdom of Dalbe.
“Can I help you?” The receptionist briefly looks up to glance at me before returning to the paperwork in front of her, ignoring Fen as if she didn’t exist.
“Ah, yes, I’m here to meet with Centurion Markus.”
“He is not currently on duty.”
“Umm, may I ask where he is?” I feel incredibly nervous at the frigid stare this receptionist gives me in response to my question.
The receptionist seems to consider for a while before stating, “He is in his quarters. Should you know where that is, you may go see him.”
“I do. Thank you.”
Not bothering to see me off, the receptionist goes back to completely ignoring me. I glance in her direction a few times as I walk toward one of the rear doors. Not being stopped for one reason or another, I feel assured that it is fine to go see the instructor.
Centurion Markus is indeed in his quarters, the same location where he rewarded me with the cloak that I still use. His angry glare turns in my direction the moment I enter the room after knocking.
The centurion instantly recognizes me, stands up and speaks with a voice loud enough to make the windows rattle.
“LOST! IT HAS BEEN TOO LONG! HAVE YOU FARED WELL?!”
I secretly wish for a player item that replicates the effects of a pair of earplugs, but sadly none exist. I immediately try to change topics to shorten my conversation with the military leader.
“Oh, yes, and I have come back now that I am stronger as you requested.”
“Yes, you did. It was after I did that quest for you.”
“HAHAHA, I DID, DIDN’T I?!”
“Yes! You did!”
“No need to yell! Well, I wonder what I should do now?!”
“Could you teach me how to become stronger? Like you said you would.”
“NO CAN DO!”
My patience is starting to run short with the man, but I forcefully restrain myself as much as possible for the greater cause.
“Umm, why not?”
“Because you don’t have ‘Advanced Military Arts’ anymore!”
“What? Yes I do.”
“That’s a part of your Class Skill, isn’t it?!”
“It did become a part of my Class Skill.”
“Then it isn’t a skill on its own anymore. I CAN’T TRAIN IT!!”
Thinking about what he just said, despite the incredible volume, I begin to understand what the purpose of returning was.
‘So returning was to evolve the skill and have it grow stronger. I would expect him to evolve my Class Skill instead as ‘Advanced Military Arts’ is a part of it, but I think my Class Skill is already of the highest grade so what could it possibly evolve into?’
Just as I am about to leave, Centurion Markus’ booming voice stops me. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! It has been so long, stay awhile!”
I try to excuse myself with different reasons, but the instructor moves with surprising dexterity as he maneuvers between me and the door, preventing me from leaving with his bulky body.
Perhaps it is a privilege of being an NPC, or he is simply at a level I cannot fathom, but he easily intercepts me when I try to use my speed to escape past him.
Instead of falling back to my last resort and using ‘Partial Draconic Transformation’, I turn my head and quietly ask Fen, “Can you please help me out?”
“Okay,” the wolf girl says bashfully as the air surrounding her sharply drops in temperature.
Centurion Markus also notices the chill pervading the air and his previous happy expression turns to one of fury.
“I know this! THIS IS THE MAGIC OF THAT WRETCHED WOLF THAT GAVE ME THIS SCAR! CUR. BEAST. WHERE?”
Grasping his scarred face with one hand, Centurion Markus glances at the walls of the room as if he is looking for something beyond them. It is during his momentary lack of attention that Fen grabs my hand and drags me out of the room before the centurion can notice my absence.
While escaping the Iceridge Military Academy, I can’t help but think that the situation was strange and ask Fen, “Fen, is it just me, or could they not see you?”
“What? Why couldn’t they?”
“I did not wish for them to.”
“Hang on, I think I am going to need a little more explanation to understand. You can make yourself invisible?”
We stop running in a quiet corridor of the academy and Fen looks at me with her intelligent eyes. There seems to be a chill deep within her irises that feels alien to me and makes me a little afraid.
“I cannot. I only wish for them not to notice me, even if looking at me. Only works with some. Invisible, no.” She says it sternly and I feel like I am speaking to someone other than Fen.
“Fen?” I cautiously ask.
The wolf girl looks at me when I call her name, and the alien chill recedes from her eyes. She smiles slightly before moving to wrap her arms around one of mine, closing the distance between us. Her warmth spreads into my arm, giving me a pleasant feeling that makes me absent minded.
‘No, wait. Just WHAT was that?’
Before I can voice my thoughts however, the pleasant sensation becomes stronger and my worries start to fade away. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore. She is still my Fen after all.
“Hollis! Are you awake?!” Markus angrily bangs on the front door while shouting at the house. If I wasn’t already awake, it would have been an incredibly rude awakening.
I roll myself through the house and open the front door while wondering why he is angry. Seeing me ready to go, he harrumphs and immediately moves to push the wheelchair without my consent. I intend to object, but before I can gather my thoughts, he is already helping me into his car.
“Markus, is something wrong?” I ask cautiously.
“Damn right!” He glares at me accusingly. “I was speaking with Verity last night and when it came to talking about you, she started avoiding my questions and became incredibly shy. First was that fake boyfriend act, and now this! What exactly is going on between the two of you?!”
I pause in thought as I also try to figure it out. My memories stop on the unforgettable night in the game when she climbed into my bed, even pursuing through Fen’s rejection and anger.
Markus seems to notice something and asks me in a slow voice, “Well, what is it?”
“I’m… not too sure.”
No matter how I predict the scenario playing out, there is no way I can possibly tell him about that event. I have a strange mix of fear and guilt towards telling him that which holds me back.
Markus seems determined to find out and repeatedly interrogates me about various things. Even worse, he seems to get an inclination that Verity and I are closer than he thought. Despite everything, I am glad that he is my friend no matter what.
‘It’s not what you think. I, too, am confused about many things.’ My final thought remains unheard as we arrive at Cambridge University.
Getting out of the car with Markus’s help, we find Verity waiting at the gate along with several female friends she has made. There are several boys lurking in the area, occasionally sending a longing glance her way, but no one moves to approach her small group.
Seeing us arrive, Verity bids farewell to her group and walks up to us. Markus has his usual charming smile plastered on his face, almost as if his anger back in the car was a work of fiction.
“Thanks, Markus. I will help Hollis from here.” She gives us a charming smile that no ordinary man would be able to refuse.
Markus, however, seems to be diligent in keeping her away from me and stubbornly refuses. “No, us guys have to stick together at times. I will help him out today.”
“What kind of girlfriend would let someone else help her boyfriend when she is around?”
“And what kind of best friend would want anyone else to help him?”
“How about we let Hollis decide? Hollis, would prefer if Markus or I, your girlfriend, helps you?”
“Hollis, surely you won’t put a girl in between our relationship as best friends, right?”
Seeing the banter go back and forth between the two of them whose motives I cannot fathom, I am at a loss for words. I decide not to answer them, casually looking away from the two.
Verity eventually wins the argument, forcing Markus aside and taking control of helping me to my lecture. Markus, still discontent and suspicious of the two of us, leaves us half way to go to his own lecture.
With just Verity and I alone, a tense atmosphere forms that is difficult to break. It isn’t until we are near my class that Verity breaks the tension with a few words.
We speak about a few random aspects of our life and awkwardly try to avoid speaking about the events that happened the other night in the game. Seeing Verity, who is normally a confident and independent woman, being bashful, I can’t help but think her nervousness is incredibly adorable.
We reach my class, where my Aunt Jude is impatiently waiting for all the students to arrive. She turns her gaze toward me and Verity inquisitively and seems to ponder about something. However Jude doesn’t say anything nor give any signs as to what may be on her mind.
‘I’ve never been able to understand her,’ I helplessly muse to myself.
“I’ll see you later, darling,” Verity charmingly says, bending over and kissing me on the cheek before rapidly exiting the room.
As soon as the door closes, the entire room is overcome with an eerie silence. There isn’t a great deal of people studying Philology and Semiotics, but the atmosphere given off is comparable to a full auditorium. I can feel everyone’s surprise, inquisitiveness, and even some despair and envy. Having a girl as beautiful as Verity call herself your girlfriend is definitely a pleasant feeling, but it can be a double-edged sword.
Even Aunt Jude shows a clear reaction, betraying her usual hidden motives. Aunt Jude’s eyes open wide in a state of clear shock and surprise. She mumbles something under her breath, but I am too far away and can’t make out the words.
“Lost, I heard something happened at school today…” Markus, now Sir Laurence back in End Online, looks at me sternly while trying to get more details on when Verity, currently Verde, kissed me on the cheek.
I remain silent as Verde, Sir Laurence, Fen and I head toward the teleportation circle in Iceridge to return to the Beast Realm. Verde tells the knight in shining armor to mind his own business, while Fen gives me an inquisitive glance that makes me guiltily avoid eye contact. Perhaps Fen’s wolf instincts detect something, as the hands grasping my arm emit a frightening chill that makes me feel a significant stinging pain.
The pain isn’t enough to make me cry out, but it does make me cringe. I look at Fen and see a strange ethereal chill in her irises. It has a sense of familiarity that I can’t quite put my finger on.
I don’t think about it for long because the painful coldness in my arm is replaced with a warmth that makes me feel incredibly pleasant. Any thoughts I held before become irrelevant at that moment.
“Your mine, and I’m yours,” Fen says as she brings herself closer to me, mirroring the loving feelings I have inside of me for her.
Taking pleasure in Fen’s closeness, I pay little attention to Verde and Sir Laurence, but I do notice Prince Charming dropping down to one knee in front of Verde and stopping our group from walking.
“My lady, perhaps if you could bestow me with the grace of your lips as well,” the Prince speaks with a noble etiquette I have seen so many times before. This must be his final plea.
Verde looks down on him with a deadpan face, choosing to completely ignore him and walk around his kneeling figure. I’m also incredibly embarrassed to see such a sight, pretending like he is someone I don’t know and walking past him.
We reach the church where the teleportation circle resides ten minutes later. Prince Charming, after failing at every attempt to gain Verde’s interest, returns to being her shadow and sending glares at any players who look toward her.
There is a queue of players lined up in front of the teleportation portal. We join the end of the line, and I estimate that it will be our turn in a few minutes at the pace the players are being processed.
“Where would you like to go?” A humble middle-aged male NPC presiding over the teleportation portal politely asks us when we stand at the front of the queue.
“Beast Realm, Kano City.”
“Very well, please step into the portal.”
The teleportation portal shines brightly as we step on it. The winter atmosphere is whisked away as we are instantaneously brought to Kano City.
“Let’s split up and see if we can find any information of strange places or ruins. We need to locate those stone tablets to complete my quest.” I look toward Verde and Sir Laurence, who will be one team while Fen and I will be the other.
This task would be easier using our new guild that Mason and Matrix are managing, but we have yet to even accept any new members.
Verde nods her assent before asking, “What about if any other quests come up? Should we accept them?”
I think for a while before replying, “Yes, we should. I need to get more equipment to sell so perhaps finding a different quest or two will be for the better. It also may lead us toward the stone tablet.”
Happily deciding our next move, we part ways in search of information or quests. Verde and Sir Laurence log off for the time being to look through the End Forums for any information or quests that have been posted by players.
Only Mason and CaptainGordon have the skill required to read books, so the library is not currently an option. I could learn the skill at the local church or a relevant quest, but it would be level 1 – too low to be of any use other than reading some simple picture books.
I lead Fen around to various NPCs, instructing her to find and accept any quests from them as long as they can lead to obtaining rare equipment or exploring ruins of any sort. It is extremely difficult to have Fen respond to most NPCs as she has an extreme lack of interest.
I almost risk the gained infamy from talking to them myself after many of Fen’s failed attempts. We do find some quests, but they are only small collection quests and monster exterminations. Fen lacks the delicacy in talking to NPCs to find any quests more intricate than those.
Just as I was about to give up and return to our meeting point, a strange quest is prompted to us by a library NPC.
Quest: Investigate the ancient Buddhist Temple An ancient temple that was once used by the reclusive Buddhists remains atop a mountain peak in the Hirya Region north of Kano City. The librarian’s assistant requests you to inspect the site and survey the condition of the temple. The librarian’s assistant requests that you destroy any demons that have invaded the sacred land to honor the temple. Grade: Rare(Orange)
Fen turns to look at me and I give her a massive thumbs up, signaling for her to accept the quest.
I’m not sure on how the game system values Companions and how much they are capable of, but being able to accept quests is a massive aid to me.
Fen and I return to a central area where Verde and Sir Laurence have just logged back on. They both have troubled expressions as they recount the small and useless amount of information they found on the internet. There are countless notes on enemies, hunting grounds, dungeons and any infamous player killers who have made someone angry enough to post information about, but there is nearly no knowledge relevant to what we need.
Contrary to that, I happily invite them back into the party and share the quest Fen accepted for us. Verde smiles wryly after realizing I had Fen find and accept the quest because I couldn’t, but we all prepare to set off and complete it.
I go through a small local market of players selling herbs and other ingredients they have collected, purchasing items I need for creating meals and replenishing any of my stores that are running low. I still had a dozen gold coins after handing everything I could spare over to CaptainGordon, so I have more than enough money for my shopping.
I also travel to some of the known locations to collect herbs and add more to my stock. I find myself attracted to a certain female player also collecting herbs who has neither cat or dog ears, but instead those of a striped raccoon. I ask her for the details, but she refuses to tell me her secrets.
After preparing all the items I will need, I find that Verde and Sir Laurence had long since finished their preparations and have been waiting for me.
“Let’s go,” I say cheerfully as I lead the way toward the north city exit.
Outside the city is the same grassy plain I remember. Off to the east is the ocean, which carries a salty scent over the flat plain. There are other players walking in the distance, some heading toward the city while others are leaving, but not many are fighting the monsters around. They are only weak monsters in the end, so most players choose to go around them rather than fruitlessly crushing them.
Our party is of the latter, avoiding any fights in order to proceed through the plain as fast as possible. It is more difficult than when others do it though, because my skill automatically aggravates any monsters in the nearby vicinity to attack. We have to give a wider berth around the monsters than anyone else, or charge right through them.
An hour after walking and crushing the odd monster that attacks, we finally leave the grassy plain. To the north of the city is a new area I have not been to, an area where countless hills and mountains take shape across the landscape.
I spot a party of players hiding in a small bush getting ready to ambush a group of four half-man half-wolf enemies that are probably related to the werewolves seen on tv. This entire area is swarming with these level 150 werewolves. They give a lot of experience, which makes this entire area popular for many players, but they are also equally dangerous so the weaker players tend to do their best to ambush them.
We ignore the party hiding and walk into the hills. The mountain we are looking for should be deeper inside this region, but there is more than one mountain that reaches the clouds so we can only guess which one is the correct one before climbing it.
It is strange exploring without Mason, Matrix, and even CaptainGordon. Their absence makes the party quieter and lonelier than normal. Just as I am thinking about those three, I receive a private message from Mason.
“Lost, how is everything? Reporting in to let you know we already have ten new players for the guild! It has only been a day of recruiting and we already have ten!”
“Hah, well, you must be doing a good job at recruiting then. Are they strong players?”
“No, not really. They are all the same type of player as you though. Low armor and focusing on speed. I can’t even claim to have done a good job, they were all attracted because it was your guild,” Mason laughs.
I pause speaking to Mason as a small group of grey werewolves charges toward us, no, toward me in particular. Sir Laurence steps forward to defend while Fen uses her ice magic to quickly dispose of them, leaving me with little to do. I have no use for their experience points at my level, but the werewolf fangs are worth a decent amount of gold which I do need.
I only speak with Mason for a short while longer before finding myself in a position where I have nothing more to say and end our conversation.
Our party of four enters deeper into the region and finally reaches the first mountain. There are eleven more as far as I can see, and each peak is beyond the clouds, making it impossible to calculate which mountain is the correct one for our quest.
“Let’s try this one first,” I mention to the rest of the party as we stand at the base of the first mountain.
There are no objections to the plan of eliminating the possibilities, so we start ascending the first mountain at what appears to be the least steep point. I immediately notice that the air seems to have a shift in scent once we enter the mountain. While before it was a pure smell of pollen on the spring breeze, it now seems to have a chilling scent similar to the chest rub I used to use when I was sick.
The monsters also change. There are still the werewolves that I already knew about and some strange wildlife, but now there are a few new varieties that I have not seen or heard of before.
“Creature Analysis,” I quietly say while looking at the first unknown enemy on the mountain, a strange armored goat with two curved horns that are more likely to impale someone rather than be used to ram them off the mountain.
Name: Devil Goat Level: 160 Health: 1480 Magic: 300 Stamina: 450 ??
Seeing it as an easy kill, I lead the attack as I move like a ghost across the precipice of a rock before digging my weapons, the ‘Twin Nightingale’, into its flank.
The ‘Devil Goat’ reacts violently, letting out an ear piercing screech that makes me feel dizzy and discharging lightning magic from its horns. I am a step too slow and the sudden counterattack strikes me. Two lightning bolts hit me square in the chest, taking away a surprising twenty percent of my health. Meanwhile, my attack also did the same percentage of damage to the goat.
The ‘Devil Goat’ doesn’t give me a chance to take the initiative for a second attack. It charges toward me at a frightening speed. I react only as it is about to impale me with its horns, using the Sacred Art ‘Backstab’ to avoid the frontal charge.
The goat seemed to have expected to use me to stop its charge, but my sudden vanishing act seems to have ruined those plans. Not far behind where I was, the mountain has a sharp drop. The ‘Devil Goat’ has too much momentum in its charge and can’t stop in time, incidentally falling off the precipice.
I move to the end of the ledge, seeing the goat fall down the mountain, hitting countless rocks and other objects along the way. It dies before it can even reach the base of the mountain, or another flat area along the way. I sigh depressingly at the drop items and money appearing out of my reach. The amount of time it would take to get down there and then back to where we are is not worth what I would gain.
At this moment, Sir Laurence, Verde, and Fen, who were not far behind when I charged forward to engage the ‘Devil Goat’, catch up to me and also stare at the tiny floating drop item window above the goat corpse that is rapidly approaching the base of the mountain. Verde giggles lightly while Sir Laurence expresses sympathy. Fen, of course, has absolutely no interest in the goat and completely ignores it.
“Come on, let’s keep going,” Prince Charming says, clapping me on the shoulder before glancing toward the mountain peak that doesn’t appear to have gotten any closer despite how much we’ve climbed.
“Yeah.” I give one last resigned look toward the ‘Devil Goat’ corpse before resuming my lead in climbing up the mountain.
Half an hour later, I exhaustedly climb over a final ledge and into a cave on the mountain. The sun is already setting in the game so it is time to set up camp. Fen arrives second, not a single bead of sweat on her. Verde takes a little longer to arrive, her breathing heavy as she enters the cave. Meanwhile Sir Laurence is the last by far, wheezing and panting while lying on the floor of the cave as if death could welcome him at any moment.
I look at the prince who is completely out of strength and say with a frown, “That’s why I told you that you should take off that obscenely heavy armor while climbing the mountain.”
“Nonsense! A knight… never… reveals his… weakness!”
“Yeah, yeah. Well you look pretty weak to me at the moment.”
“Anything that dares… approach my lady… will have to step… over my dead body!”
“I’m afraid they will just step over your body, actually.”
I turn away from the pitiful knight who currently only has his good looks going for him and enter a little deeper in the cave. I had collected and prepared some firewood in the forest before climbing the mountain, so I should have enough for several days of cooking.
Removing all my cooking equipment and materials, I start the fire to boil a pot of water while all the ingredients are prepared. I’m still depressed over losing the ‘Devil Goat’, and settle with using the meat from some rabbits that Fen caught while climbing the mountain instead. I rarely purchase much meat and always prefer to cook fresh meat as it tastes better.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much rabbit meat, so I end up adding a larger than normal amount of vegetables with extra spices to compensate. Sir Laurence soon recovers from his weakness as the smell of my cooking wafts out of the cave and down the mountain, enticing any number of wild beasts.
Fen sits behind me and wraps her arms around my chest while resting her chin on my shoulder. Her chest presses tightly against my back as she stares intently at the seasoned rabbit meat grilling over a naked flame.
Noticing her gaze, I pull off a small piece of meat that has finished cooking and feed it to Fen. The wolf girl eats it directly out of my hand, her teeth grabbing onto one of my fingers. She seemed to be about to release my finger when her tongue brushes against my finger and catches the taste of the grease still on my fingers.
Fen’s eyes roll back in delight as she sucks on my finger, her tongue moving vigorously to savor all of the juices left on my finger.
‘Perhaps next I should put a small piece in my mouth and- No! Forget those thoughts!’ My imagination runs wild with various scenarios, each making me more embarrassed than the last.
“Please, for all us single guys, have a little mercy will you?” Sir Laurence stares painfully at what appears to be Fen committing a profane act on my finger.
I would have been embarrassed at having something like that pointed out, but after the most recent ideas running through my head, it lacks impact.
The prince continues looking before sighing and mumbling, “I need to get a hot Companion too.”
His voice was low, but not low enough since Verde and I both heard him. She shifts the unhappy expression she has been giving me and gazes at Sir Laurence with disgust. She opens her mouth and is about to say something to the Prince, most likely some new insult, before changing her mind and closing it again.
Instead, a mischievous glint appears in Verde’s eyes as she playfully asks Sir Laurence, “What, so I’m not enough for you anymore?”
“No! Of course- NO!” Sir Laurence frantically replies, stumbling as he rushes to kneel in front of Verde, who starts taking advantage of him.
I return my attention to cooking the meat, reclaiming my finger while taking full pleasure in Fen’s constant embrace. It is at this moment that heavy footsteps sound from the cave entrance.
“Enemy coming!” I immediately warn the others before charging forward to engage whatever beast it is and protect my cooking.
“Woahh! Hold on there!” A deep voice shouts in surprise when the enemy sees me coming.
I make out the features of the enemy in the shadows of the cave as I approach. It isn’t some beast or monster, but actually a player. It is a man in his early thirties and as tall as Sir Laurence. He has a lot of heavy obsidian armor equipped over most of his body, and a large two-handed bastard sword strapped to his back. He also appears to be of some strange wolf race which has four ears, two on either side.
The man strikes me with a sense of familiarity, but my suspicion and danger sense are currently through the roof so I continue my attack. With a dejected sigh, the man moves his hand and one-handedly draws the large bastard sword on his back in a single fluent motion.
In a blur, the sword follows a strange path in the air before somehow parrying both of my short swords one after the other. I contemplate using ‘Backstab’ or another Sacred Art, but my plan is to push him out of the cave and down the mountain if possible.
“Like I said-” The man’s tries to voice himself again but my relentless attacks leave him no opportunity to continue.
Fen also joins me in attacking the intruder, launching several ice spears at the same time as she summons a pair of ice daggers and charges toward the man with a frightening speed. Verde and Sir Laurence look on warily, but don’t have the chance to attack as well as there is not much room in the cave and any more players will create a tangled mess.
With both Fen and me attacking, the four-eared wolf man is forced to slowly retreat. Fen’s and my attacks are simply too fast, and despite how expertly the man wields the bastard sword, we continually manage to make small cuts on his body.
The man has a terrifying amount of health and defense, each of our attacks only doing one or two percent of damage to his aggregate health.
“That’s enough!” The wolf man shouts, his sword suddenly emitting a blinding emerald light.
The players stabs his sword into the ground in front of him, and the emerald glow explodes out from the weapon and blasts me and Fen away, along with any current attacks. The Sacred Art he just used is one I have never seen or heard of before, so I become more wary of any other strange attacks he could be hiding.
The enemy player doesn’t continue attacking however, instead he lets out a resounding sigh before saying, “As I have been trying to say until now, my satiety is quite low and your cooking smells great. Can I join you for a meal? I’ll pay you for the food of course.”
Stunned by his words, I take a while to respond. After turning to look at Verde, who simply shrugs, and Sir Laurence, who seems to be pondering something, I cautiously say to the stranger, “Sure, how does a gold coin for dinner sound?”
“That’s awfully expensive for one meal! But very well,” the wolf player says after contemplating the price of the food compared to the aroma filling the cave.
The meal only cost me about ten copper coins, the smallest of currency, but there is still a lot of effort involved between procuring my own ingredients and cooking supplies and preparing the meal.
Sir Laurence, who finally concludes his private thoughts, gazes at the strange player as he says, “Now I remember. You look a little different now that you have a non-human race, but you’re Gladox, the current number one player!”
Verde only reacts a little and Fen not at all, but I am filled with surprise and disbelief toward the player with four wolf ears and a humorous gaze as he nods his head and affirms the Prince’s words.
– Jude –
Today is the second day that useless nephew will be coming to my class. At least he seems to have some of the Silvester trait of being drawn to and fascinated by ancient heritages.
The same girl who helped him get here last lesson is pushing Hollis into the classroom. I know who she is. She is Verity Lee, the only daughter of one of the most prestigious men in the city of Taile, Lucas Lee. His word can move the courts, politicians, and the business sector alike. Lucas is the embodiment of our modern dystopian society where money speaks louder than the law.
What I am most curious about is why Verity Lee is attending this university. I’ve noticed quite a few of the other teachers keeping a close eye on her. If there is an opportunity to become acquainted with her family through her, I need to do so before the other teachers have the chance to. Of course, such a chance is as likely as a goose laying a golden egg.
Verity is a kindred spirit, who would even go out of her way to give assistance to a useless cripple such as my nephew. I secretly wonder if there is a way to use him to have the chance to attract her attention.
“I’ll see you later, darling,” Verity says to my nephew loud enough that everyone in the room can hear. Next, to everyone’s astonishment, and my complete and utter shock, she leans over and kisses him on the cheek before hastily leaving.
“No, no, no. That can’t possibly be. Why? That useless nephew of mine that’s better off… No, this is ridiculous,” I mutter an incomprehensible mess of words under my breath as I try to understand the situation.
For the first time in years, my composure has completely failed me. I don’t understand when, or how, Hollis even met Verity Lee, let alone got so close to her.
‘It looks like I need to change my plans instead of using those two nieces, Joelle and Shari. I thought they were my key to repairing the Silvester name and position in society, but perhaps I have been looking in the wrong direction.’
The more I think about what I will do, the better I feel. That nephew, Hollis, is sitting next to a golden ticket in life, but doesn’t even realize it. It would be a shame for it to be left alone.
Later that evening, I collect Joelle and Shari from their school in high spirits. After we get home, I sit the two down and tell them of our schedule for the weekend.
“Girls, this weekend you will not be able to call Hollis,” I bluntly state.
“No! You said if we behaved we could! We haven’t been bad!” Joelle instantly raises her voice and shouts at me disobediently.
My mood is too good to be spoiled however, and I calmly wait for the two little girls to quiet down.
“Be quiet. This weekend we will be going to visit Hollis instead. You will finally get to see that idiot brother of yours, so I hope you will be especially well-behaved.”
Shari, the younger sister, shouts at me instead of being happy. “Don’t call Holly an idiot!”
“Behave,” I command the two, not willing to put up with any more nonsense from them.
“Yes.” Joelle clamps her sister’s mouth shut as she quickly agrees. She is much better at reading the situation than Shari. Should my plans for Hollis fail, finding an upward-bound marriage partner for her to increase connections and raise our status is still a possibility.
– Mikhail –
I sit in my small office with my computer running a diagnostic on the End Online server. I’m searching for traces of not just the AI child that escaped, but also the other ones in the server. I wish we could just wipe them away, but they are integrated so deep inside the system it is impossible to do without destroying everything. The core for Xilbril, the AI governing End Online that the children sprouted from, is the central point where all the servers are connected together after all.
“Sir! Sir, we’ve found it!” One of my co-workers bangs open the door and rushes into my office with a clipboard in hand.
I look up at him exhaustedly and ask, “Found what? Please, give me some good news right now.
“Sir, we’ve found the location of that missing AI child and the player Lost who has somehow been evading us till now. Look here, Hollis Silvester, 20 years old, and his address is-”
Before the employee can expound further on the information, I snatch the clipboard from him and read over the information myself. The helpless feeling I have been tormented by lately is instantly dispelled.
‘Good! This is good, very good!’