Editors: Dyngari, Templar, Jack Vanatis, Orang, genericIntent
Author’s notes: Only one more chapter to go! Well, for all those who have been following my blog for a while, you will know I’m nasty and don’t release the final chapter of a book until 1 week after the book is released. A good thing it is all written! Only pending edits, art and compilation. Also, we are now endonline.net !! ^.^
I fell a little behind on my schedule, but as of today I am up to date again, for chapters at least. I have decided that I will rewrite my schedule on the last day of every month, and plan the following month in its entirety – for all of those interested. I also had a fantastic, and insightful, idea for my fourth series. Far too early to actually write #3 and #4, gotta finish #1 or #2 first, but it’s good to write them down and slowly work on a skeleton for them.
Another chapter release, please show your support by 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 42 – Escalating Challenge
– Lost –
“Why are we leaving!? I could have taken him!” Sir Laurence states bravely, puffing out his chest for Verde’s benefit.
“No, you couldn’t. Not alone at least. He is an AI, just like Fen.”
“What!?” Sir Laurence and Verde both cry out in surprise. Gladox seemed to already have figured it out and lightly sighs.
“He is strong, extremely strong. I don’t want to fight him if we don’t have to.”
“How strong is he compared to Grael?” Sir Laurence asks, trying to gauge his strength.
“Compared to Grael?” I repeat his question amusedly. “Grael would flatten him instantly.”
Gladox’s curiosity is also piqued, and he whispers to me, “Lost, who’s Grael?”
“He’s another AI, but you should stay away from him. If it were him who hit Sir Laurence in the museum, our knight would be dead and at least half the building would have collapsed.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
I wish I could tell Gladox I was, but unfortunately all that I said is true. I don’t believe even I have seen Grael’s true strength, so that could still be underestimating him.
We walk back to the tavern and buy a few tankards of ale. The taste of the drink is bitter, but it’s refreshing in this humid environment.
“What will we do next?” Verde asks curiously, unsure how we’re going to try for the tablet.
“I don’t expect there to be a quest for it, considering that the tablet is in a museum and considered a precious artifact of the city. The only option left is to steal it.”
“You think we can do that?” Gladox asks hesitantly.
“Yes. It is risky, but possible. The museum is an NPC-run building, thus it will be closed after dusk. Only the taverns and a few select buildings run by NPCs are open during the night. So, all we have to do is break in and steal it.”
“Surely it won’t be that easy.”
“True, I doubt it will be. There could be patrolling guards and the most important areas might be protected by the system, but we need to get the tablet before the AI swordsman does…” I can’t help but frown as I think of all the possible hurdles between us and our objective.
“This is beyond difficult. If it is protected by the system, it is an impossible mission.” Gladox despairingly shakes his head.
Coming up with a possible idea to avoid the system protection, I turn my head and whisper my thoughts into Fen’s ear. After receiving a nod in return, I feel some relief from the pressure on my shoulders. As this trial of obtaining the stone tablet is originally meant for the AIs, any system protection that is designed to block a player will be unable to stop Fen.
“There won’t be any problems with system protection,” I state confidently. “Our biggest problem is still time. How long do you think we have to prepare and steal the item before that AI does?”
“Even with its strength it has no guarantee of securing the tablet successfully, so it will also need to make preparations,” Gladox mused. “If it were a player who has to log off due to human requirements, they would probably take at least a week to prepare for something like this before making an attempt. As it isn’t operating under the same constraints, I would assume that it may take action much sooner. Perhaps even tonight, if today wasn’t the first time the AI found it.”
“Then we need to act fast. I want to get it and disappear before he realizes it’s gone. Verde, how are your stealth and pickpocketing skills?”
Verde perks up, “Ah! They are a part of my Class Skill, which is currently level 35. Unless someone has some sort of protective item or skill to prevent me, I can steal just about any loose accessory or weapon.”
“What about lockpicking?”
At this, she grimaces slightly. “I haven’t really done it much before, but a few simple locks won’t be a problem.”
“Isn’t that skill needed to disable dungeon traps?”
“I’m not very good at trap detection. Besides, you always trigger them and come out fine in the end anyway.”
I pause, not sure if I can overlook Verde’s words just now. So she is capable of detecting and disabling traps, but doesn’t try because she thinks I will be fine regardless. I have suffered through many unfortunate dungeon traps over the past few months. Though, I can’t argue that she isn’t slightly justified as the scant few I did manage to avoid helped increase my luck, and I haven’t died yet. I make a mental note to bring it up again at a better time.
“We will most likely need locks picked on any doors or windows we have to go through, and of course the glass case with the tablet was locked.”
“Can’t we just break the case?”
“If there are no guards, yes. If there are, no.”
“So what should I do?”
And with that I hand over a hundred gold coins to Verde, a full half of what I have in inventory. This is so she can purchase small safes and other devices with locks to practice her skill on.
Verde gives me a sly grin before deftly escaping the tavern with the bag of gold. I don’t understand why I get a bad feeling about her running away… It’s still evening, so the stores are still open; perhaps she is just trying to buy what she needs before they close…?
Leaning back on my seat with a sigh, I start fleshing out the plan for stealing the tablet. I’m determined to make every improvement to it I can.
– Verde –
After taking the money from Lost, I quickly leave the tavern and enter the streets outside. This isn’t because I am eager to practice my mechanical skills, which have not improved in a long time, but because I don’t want any of the others to follow and watch me.
Why? Well, I plan on approaching the training a little differently than how they might expect.
The hundred gold coins are deposited into my inventory where they will remain. I turn around to look at the inn, mouth a silent apology, then vanish into the crowd.
I reach an area closer to the inner city where it isn’t busy commercially, but is more of a residential district. There are lots of houses that players can buy to form a guild base or open up a specialist store if they so desire. Most players only used them for item storage or as a personal base, though.
In my inexperienced opinion, the best method to practice breaking into a building is by first burglarizing smaller buildings; a personal house, for example. The only caveat, I soon find out, is that I can’t unlock any houses that haven’t been rented or bought, as they are protected by the system. I also can’t enter if the owner is currently inside, though I honestly wouldn’t want to do that anyway.
Searching around the houses to find those that are off the market is quite taxing. Only about ten percent of the houses have been rented or bought, so sniffing them out takes time. I have to carefully look through windows for any goods or furniture inside to ensure that they are not empty, and therefore protected by the system. If they do have that protection, an attempt to break in (or in my case, leaning too hard on the glass) results in curious guards arriving at my side with a speed that may as well be instantaneous teleportation.
There are eleven player-owned houses in my current area, and only two of them currently have a player inside. Inspecting the nine remaining houses, I wait until night falls and the number of players on the street decreases. Everything soon turns quiet; the subtle movement of flickering torches illuminating the empty street is the only motion I can now perceive.
Withdrawing my lockpick kit from my inventory, I stealthily move toward the front of my first target and inspect the lock. Of course, I make sure to use the special trait of my Class Skill that will keep any unexpected players passing by from noticing me, a subtle camouflage that blends my form against the housefront. The skill isn’t all-encompassing, but skills that will allow a player to resist it are not common.
I smoothly pick out several standard grade lockpicks and place them in the lock. I haven’t done this before, but I understand the mechanics. Depending on the type of lock, I will need to insert a number of these metal lockpicks and position them correctly for the lock to pop open.
The door on this house only has the simplest of locks, so two of the lockpicks are all that are needed. I rotate the first one slowly, listening for the distinctive click that tells me it is in the right spot. I don’t move fast, not wanting to miss the mark, but if I take too long there is a chance the tool will break.
The lock quietly clicks once the lockpick is in the correct position, and I let out my held breath in a sigh of relief. Following the same method, I wiggle the second lockpick in the door until another click resounds.
The lock glows faintly, a signal that it has been successfully unlocked. I quickly remove the lockpicks and open the door, slipping inside the house like a shadow.
The lights inside of the player’s house are quite dim. If I was the owner of the house I could adjust the light settings to make it brighter and easier to see, but alas, I am not.
A piece of cheap artwork adorns the wall and a bed is positioned below it. Players usually like to add various embellishments to make their personal space more impressive, but this player just seems pitiful. Most the player’s items are messily sprawled across the floor of the house and they all appear to have little value.
I instead examine the goods stored in the only chest in the room. I find a decent pile of twenty gold coins, health potions, and some equipment that should be worth another ten or so gold. Feeling a small amount of compassion for this destitute player, I only take the gold coins and half of the health potions.
Next I check the wardrobe, but am disappointed to find that the only item of value inside is a full set of heavy iron armor. I can’t burden myself with such a ridiculously heavy set of armor; I need to pace myself. The night is still young and there are eight more houses to visit, so I leave a note on the bed reading Thank You before exiting the house and closing the door behind me.
The next five houses are roughly in the same situation, but have different amounts of valuables in them. I only take the light items that are worth more than their weight before leaving and moving on to the next mark.
There were two locks that required three lockpicks to open, and one that required four. As I said, the more lockpicks that are needed, the more difficult the task is. I lost three lockpicks in the process with that last one, but as a result I made some considerable progress toward levelling the skill.
The seventh house is seemingly another easy target, only requiring two lockpicks, and I’ve grown rather confident. I deftly move the lockpicks around and unlock the door, smirking as I push it open. As soon as I do so however, a boisterous ringing, like the bell of a cathedral, reverberates out of the house.
“Damn it! Who the hell puts an alarm trap on such a simple lock!” I curse loudly over the clatter at both the idiocy of the owner and my mistake of not checking for traps.
Traps are placed on houses where the valuables inside are worth a great deal, and no one would purchase the most basic of houses to store such items. If I had to use five lockpicks on a higher level residence, I would no doubt be wary for any traps, but on such a basic house, it is a complete waste of money.
The player who owns this house must not know anything about how houses are supposed to work.
I don’t have much time before the city guards arrive to arrest me, so I am left with a decision between charging inside to grab as much as I can before attempting to escape and hoping I get away, or leaving now while it is still safe.
Hesitating for a moment, I sourly turn away from the house and flee into a dark alley. I need to help Lost get into the museum tomorrow night, so I can’t risk being thrown in prison for a week for theft.
Not long after, I hear the sound of running footsteps in the direction I came from. No doubt the city guards. There must have been a nearby patrol, as they arrived much faster than I thought they would. Leaving the house immediately turned out to be the correct decision.
Once I reach a safe distance away from the alarm, I do a quick count of all the items I stol- earned tonight. The value of everything should be worth eighty gold coins at least, and there is another hundred gold coins in hard currency. I think I’ll quickly sell the loot first thing in the morning as the sun rises and secretly keep the gold.
Tonight’s earnings have been much greater than I could have imagined, and I don’t understand why I didn’t try this before. I do feel a little bad for planning on not telling Lost or the others, but a paltry sum of gold like this isn’t that big of a deal, right?
– Lost –
After Verde ran away yesterday with the gold I gave her, we didn’t see her return to the tavern until now: the following afternoon.
“How did it go?” I ask her curiously while suspiciously wondering if she actually did the training or not.
“It went well!”
Verde smiles and appears quite pleased with herself. I’m sure there is more that she isn’t telling me, but I’m happy as long as she practiced lockpicking and can more safely help us steal the stone tablet.
The afternoon soon shifts to night as we finalize our plan and check our gear. My tension rises with the pressure to succeed hanging over my head.
“It’s time,” I say nervously as the stroke of eleven echoes from the clock tower.
Gladox approaches and hardily claps me on the back before saying, “Don’t be so tense! This is only a game, there’s no need to worry so much about it.”
I am tempted to tease him about how it can be only a game when he is the one who seems to spend ninety percent or more of his time in it, but decide to let it go. This may truly be only a game to a player like me, but it is much more than that to Fen.
I glance at the beauty in question next to me before steeling my resolve and forcing myself to be confident.
“Okay, we need to succeed in getting that tablet tonight. We all know our roles, so let’s go!”
The five of us leave the tavern and head toward the Koga Heritage Museum. We walk through the streets silently, listening to the few conversations of players as we pass by.
Half an hour later, as the moon begins to dip in the starry sky, we finally arrive at the museum. Just as I had suspected: this is an important site in the city, so there are city guards patrolling the building even this late at night.
Standing in a dark corner of the street with the rest of the party, I pay attention to how many guards there are, as well as what paths they take.
“Verde, how long do you need to open a door? There is a rear entrance that we can enter through, but the guards pass by every five minutes or so.”
“If it is a three-pin lock, I can do it. Any more than that and it will take too long.”
“We won’t know until we get there. Verde, Fen, let’s go. As per the plan, Sir Laurence and Gladox, you will be our eyes outside. Let us know as soon as there are any changes.”
Gladox seems to be taking this break-in rather lightly. I want to tell him to be a bit more serious, but I don’t think he is that kind of person.
I leave with the two girls and sidle up to the side of the Museum just as the guard’s foot disappears around the far corner. My pure white equipment is considerably detrimental to hiding in the shadows, so I’ve done my best to plan this mission with staying completely out of sight as my priority.
We sneak around the building, following the guard’s path to the rear where the back door is. Quicker footsteps echo from around the side of the building where we just came from and I immediately tense up. Sending a quick signal to the others, we rush to a small group of trees in a garden and hide behind them.
The guard walks around the corner to the rear of the building just as we manage to catch our breath. I slowly tilt my head and peek around the tree to see what he is doing. The guard has stopped and is standing in place while eyeing the surroundings, an action that the other patrols I observed never did.
The city guard’s helmet doesn’t cover his face and I can see his nose twitching.
‘He’s sniffing the air?’ I say in my mind with a stunned expression.
I suddenly realize: Koga City is home to the dog-kin beastmen. Dogs have an excellent sense of smell. Of course the guards have this kind of ability.
If the guard can sniff us out, then all our previous planning was useless. Sweat starts forming on my brow as the guard follows his nose and cautiously walks in our direction. I pull my head back behind the tree as he reaches the five meter mark. His footsteps continue to get louder, and just as I am nearing despair, another guard in the distance loudly calls out about an attack.
The guard stops at just the other side of the tree… but rather than continuing to search for the source of the scent, he rushes off to aid the other guard.
I wonder what happened over there, but am not about to pass up this opportunity. Throwing aside my curiosity, I signal Verde and Fen and we rush to the rear door.
“How is it? Will five minutes be enough?” I nervously ask Verde as she inspects the lock.
“Not good! It’s a six pin lock. There will definitely be a trap or two as well. I would estimate it’s going to take me a good twenty minutes to open it without alerting the guards.”
“That won’t work. They will find us before we have a chance to get inside.”
This development dashes the tattered remains of my previous plan to unsalvageable pieces. I rapidly try to think of a solution – anything that will get us inside.
I happen to look back at the trees that we were hiding behind, and notice that most of them are taller than the museum. They are too far away to climb up and jump onto the building, but the perspective does give me an idea that I quickly latch onto.
“We will go through the roof! Partial Draconic Transformation!”
Wings sprout from my back and the transformation is finished in a blur of white. Without warning, I grab Fen and Verde and fly up toward the roof. The weight of the two surprised women overburdens my flight, and I only manage to get halfway up before sinking back to the ground.
“Damn! Fen, can you make footholds of ice?” I ask, hoping to instead reach the top with an incremental process.
Fen shakes her head softly, letting me know that it isn’t possible. I also voice the idea of an ice pillar half as tall as the building to use as a rest point, but apparently Fen’s ice manipulation is more constrained than I thought.
“To the trees, then! Fen, Verde, climb up as high as you can.”
Following my directions, the two girls quickly move to the nearest tree and ascend it. Fen’s agility is much higher than Verde’s so she shoots up it like an arrow. Verde, on the other hand, displays a rather sad performance as she scrambles up it.
I take to the air and fly up to the top of the tree where I wait for the two to arrive. Once everyone is in position, I grab the two and fly across to the roof. I can’t get enough lift to fly them up from the ground, but gliding across isn’t a problem.
We land on the roof of the museum just as the guards suppress the disturbance on the other side of the building and return to their patrol. If they were any quicker, or I slower, they would have no doubt seen my white form flit across the sky.
The top of the roof is a flat surface, with several large glass domes and skylights to brighten up the interior. The windows don’t open, unfortunately, so the only way in from here is to break one.
Picking the largest window that I could fit my wings through, I extend one of my clawed fingers and scratch the edges of the window. A shrill sound is produced from the scraping, so I work quickly before pushing the glass into the building.
The glass falls from the roof toward the floor of an empty atrium but I am quicker, jumping in after it and pumping my wings to catch the glass before it hits the ground and shatters.
Gently laying the glass on the ground, I fly back up to the roof where Fen and Verde are waiting. I won’t be able to fly back up with them, so I set up a rope for later before gliding back down with the two girls.
“We need to move quickly, I made some noise getting through the window,” I hurriedly whisper to the others before getting my bearings and choosing which direction we need to go in.
To all Players in the vicinity of Koga Heritage Museum: Koga City Guards have been notified of a potential break in at Koga Heritage Museum. A large troop of guards is en route and will arrive shortly to suppress any burglars found.
A strange notification flashes in my vision, which I skim over before dismissing and moving faster. Verde starts to fall behind, panicking. She must have received the same message, which is apparent as she is appearing just as nervous as me.
I hear loud footsteps approaching from a different hall. It sounds like at least ten guards running toward us.
I reference my mental map of the building and quickly direct the other two to take a different route in order to evade the guards. We run down a few corridors and pass through several rooms. At the same time, the sound of more guards start approaching from different directions behind us.
The guards are capable of following us even if they can’t see us, another situation where they are tracking via scent. After passing into yet another stone corridor, I briefly stop and throw several ‘Minor Dire Flames’ at the entrance to block off the passage and prevent the guards from chasing.
We reach the room housing the stone tablet and find it to be empty of guards. I feel relieved and exhale the breath I have been holding. Now more relaxed, I walk up to the display with Verde and Fen.
Verde steps forward to inspect the glass case and find a keyhole, though she quickly turns around and gives me a quizzical gaze. I approach the glass case and instantly see the dilemma – there is no lock or other mechanism to open it. As she checks the back of the case for a hidden latch, the familiar echo of running footsteps reaches our room.
“There’s no other way, we don’t have time!”
I raise my clawed hand and make a fist, smashing it down on the glass display. I had expected the case to shatter, but surprisingly it is undamaged. The only result is a deafening reverberation shaking the room from the force of my blow hitting an invincible wall.
“Damn! It’s protected by the system,” I declare, frustrated after striking the case several more times. “There isn’t even a scratch!”
Before I can explore other options to get at the stone tablet, forty guards rush in from the three entrances to the room and instantly surround us. By the sound of it, there are even more still coming.
“Halt, burglars! You have breached the code of law and are under arrest. Men, seize them!”
If it were just a quarter of the guards here, Fen, Verde and I would have a strong chance of being able to contend with them. But this is currently far too many to fight. I glance at Fen and match her gaze, slowly shaking my head in a way to tell her not to resist them. Resisting will inevitably cause the guards to attack and kill all of us.
The guards swarm us and immediately restrain our characters, placing iron chains around our hands and feet to restrict our movement before dragging us away. We leave the museum and continue on toward the depths of the city. It is late at night, so there aren’t as many players as usual, but the ones still on the street look at us being dragged by the guards and begin to whisper among themselves.
Everyone can tell we have been arrested and they are trying to guess the cause. It is late at night, so the most popular speculation is that we are player killers who brazenly attacked someone within the confines of the Koga City. Surprisingly, not many players seem to think we were actually caught as thieves. Apparently, “Most thieves work alone, while player killers attack in numbers”, is the reasoning I hear one player say to another.
A few people trail behind the guards dragging us away, following until we are thrown into an iron-strapped building for lockup.
Inside the prison, Verde and I are put in separate small rooms. Fen, as a ‘Companion’, is placed in my room. There is only the one small bed, and I can’t set up any furniture items while stuck here: if I sleep in the game, we will have to cram together on the rough cot.
Our prison term is for a week, meaning there is little we can do if the other AI manages to acquire the stone tablet within the next seven days. It’s not even seven game days, but seven days in real life. I close my eyes and silently pray that the tablet doesn’t get taken in the next week.
“I’m sorry, Fen. You will have to stay in here for a while, even when I logout. I will come back from time to time to prepare some food for you. I have plenty of ingredients in my inventory.”
I smile at the girl sitting on the bed unfazed before I walk to the door and poke my head through the gaps in the bars. Doing so is a feature of prison, and can allow a player to see others who are doing the same. We players have to be careful, however, because if a guard catches you poking your head out, they will usually attack with whips or batons.
“Verde, are you still online?” I call out into the hallway.
Verde’s head pokes out from the cell next to mine, she looks around for a bit before seeing me and saying timidly, “Yeah. I’m sorry, we got so close yet we were caught in the end.”
“It’s not your fault, so there is no need to apologize. Let’s just hope that the tablet isn’t taken before we get there. Perhaps Sir Laurence and Gladox can protect the building until we get out.”
“Did someone call my name?” A blonde pretty boy pokes his head out of the cell on the opposite side of me.
“Sir Laurence!? What are you doing here?” I call out in shock.
“Lost? My Lady? I see, so you were caught in the end. I saw that the guards were about to change their patrol and possibly find you, so I rushed out and attacked them to keep their attention. What the hell are those city guards, rabbits? Their numbers just kept multiplying until they had become an army and subdued me.”
“I don’t know whether to thank you for helping, or throw something at you for getting caught as well. How long are you in for?”
I curse aloud at him. The idiot prince is locked up for longer than us so even if we get out of the prison before the other AI steals the tablet, he won’t be able to help us get to it first.
An unfamiliar head pokes out from another cell in the prison hall. I don’t recognize him so I choose to ignore his stare, but he looks at Verde before cooing and shouting out in a roguish accent, “Ooh, there’s a pretty lady what got locked up with us!”
Every currently online prisoner in hearing range pokes their heads out to have a look. There are only nine other players in this hall, but it is enough to make Verde terribly uncomfortable and hide back in her cell. There aren’t usually violent prisoners and most players are usually docile when they even bother to login in jail, but on occasion there is the odd obnoxious one or someone who says too much.
Sir Laurence and I stare daggers at the group of heads lining the hall as the guard finally enters.
“Prisoners! Keep all parts of the body inside the cell at all times! Some of you have been warned before.”
The guard brandishes a whip and cracks it at the nearest head poking out of the cell. The player notices this and attempts to pull his head back in a rush, but only succeeds in hitting his head on the iron bars before getting hit with the whip and falling backwards. I hear loud curses of frustration coming from the cell.
Along with all the other imprisoned players, I pull my head back and retreat to the rear of my cell to avoid the whip. There are still a few shouts from troublemaking, roleplaying, and sarcastic players outside and the guard keeps cracking his whip at them, but I pay it little attention.
I send Gladox a private message, asking him to protect the museum for the next week and try to prevent the AI from taking the tablet. I then type out a word and hover over the send button, waiting for his inevitable reply… There it is. “REJECTED!” Of course he can’t have a day with Fen as payment. Laughing, he still agrees to the guard duty.
Sharing a few words with Fen, I soon log off.
Three days after my confinement, the longsword ‘Severing Breeze’ finishes selling in the auction; the final bid is a jaw dropping 8,700 dollars. This price puts this sword as the most expensive item in the game for both this week and this month.
I almost can’t believe the immense price that it sold for and check the buyer. The player who bought it is someone who has bought an item from me before: HonourTheLast. It’s hard to forget such a strange name. I feel sour that this person has so much money to throw away on a few game items, but I’m thankful that at least the money is being thrown at me.
The posts under the auction are also crazy, people still posting even after the bidding has finished.
GrainKnight | How can a single sword be worth so much money! Someone buy my level 220 longsword with a boost to attack speed and shielding. It is my main weapon, pay me $8.7k and I will personally deliver it and kowtow to you. JustForFun | Did he pay for someone to buy it? EmeraldDesire | Why would anyone pay someone to buy something from them? There would be no point in selling it. GrainKnight | Anyone! Please, buy my sword! Only $8.7k! FiendNine | He could be paying someone so he gets the top spots in the most expensive items. EmeraldDesire | That would be stupid. I have seen videos of this Lost player, he is so dreamy! I heard rumours that he started his own guild, ‘The Wanderers’, look it up!
There are tens of thousands of comments attached to the auction, and the numbers keep on growing. I wonder if I have received more comments on a single auction than Mason has on his videos. The thought makes me chuckle, and my bliss at such a great sale turns that into a slightly maniacal laughter.
As I am expressing my unhinged joy, somebody knocks on the front door. The sound is very faint so I strain my ears to make sure that there is actually someone at my house. Whoever it is knocks again, and I rush to the door and open it.
The person, actually three people, are a surprise even greater than the final selling price of the ‘Severing Breeze’. It is Aunt Jude and my two sisters, Joelle and Shari.
“Girls, you’re here!” I excitably call out and open my arms, allowing them to rush in and hug me.
The girls use too much force and I roll back few meters into the hall, but that is of little concern. Due to the joy of reuniting with my sisters, I completely forget about my Aunt and don’t notice as she enters the house, walking past me. By the time I process that she is here too, I look up to find her not standing outside anymore.
I tell the girls to wait in the living room, then roll myself to the kitchen where I find my Aunt going through the cupboards.
“So filthy,” Jude vehemently says while pulling out cups from one of the overhead cabinets.
“Unfortunately, I have a little trouble reaching up there to clean.”
Jude glances down at my wheelchair, but doesn’t show any sympathy.
“I’ve brought the girls over so you can spend a day with them.” Jude sets another dirty cup aside before ignoring it and sitting down. “The girls are much more manageable when they are in contact with you, so perhaps this arrangement could continue.”
I understand that she is hinting at Joelle and Shari coming over once a week instead of calling, but it’s too sudden a change to be from the goodness of her heart.
“What do you want?” I ask blatantly.
Of course she wants something. That’s the type of person she is. There is no way she would do something to help me, or anyone else, if there isn’t a potential benefit for her.
“Getting straight down to business? Have you grown up? Probably not. I want that girl you are dating at school, Verity Lee.”
“You want her? What is wrong with you? First you take my sisters, now you want to take my girlfriend?”
“Stop speaking nonsense. I took my nieces because this is the best thing for their future. A future you cannot give them, so don’t make me sound like some kidnapper. As for your girlfriend, I want her in the family, or at least her favor. She seems to like you, a pearl liking the swine, so I hope that you’re not as impotent as you are useless.”
I blush half out of embarrassment and half out of anger. I understand I can’t give the care to my sisters that they need, but my own aunt discussing my intimacy with others, and even telling me what to do is beyond my threshold.
“I’m not some tool for you to use. What goes on in my life is none of your concern.”
Aunt Jude frowns while her brow twitches in irritation, but her expression quickly returns to its usual demeanour. I was expecting a lecture on respecting your ‘senior family members’, as she calls it, but for her to drop the matter entirely is surprising.
“We will come back to it at a later time. For now, just stay close to that girl and don’t let someone else get her.”
My aunt stares at me intently, as if to discern something, before continuing her speech.
“As for Joelle and Shari, I will return later this evening to pick them up. Make sure you prepare a healthy dinner and not some greasy takeaway. Being unhealthy is a habit, a sickness, and I will not have you poisoning them with such things.”
I feel a flame of anger burning in my stomach but keep my mouth shut as she turns around and walks out the door. Even if I argue with her and speak logic, her authoritative point of view will erupt and the conversation will go nowhere.
Just as Aunt Jude left the house, Joelle and Shari both poked their head through the kitchen door. They had clearly been eavesdropping and secretly hid out of sight till my conversation with our aunt was finished.
Sighing helplessly at the two girls who are now looking at me with puppy dog eyes, I roll over to the two girls and say cheerfully, “I haven’t seen you two in a long time, yet you have grown so much. You are doing well at school and I can tell that you are being looked after. I’m very happy for you two.”
“I miss you, Holly. Why can’t we see you more often?” Shari asks innocently.
“Things don’t always work out the way we want them to. We can only make the best of a situation with what we are given, always remember that.”
Joelle is a bit more mature and asks, “Hollis, you didn’t tell us you had a girlfriend. How long have you been together? I really want to meet her.”
“Oh, perhaps one day you will meet her. But a girlfriend, huh. What about you, any boys you like?”
Joelle quickly blushes like a rose and I teasingly follow up, “I didn’t know this either, why don’t you tell me a little about him?”
“Well, he’s… you see, he’s really nice to me. He’s always considerate and caring-”
“Name. Start with his name first.”
“Oh! His name is Ryan. He asked me to be his girlfriend a month ago and I couldn’t say no, so we… well, yeah.”
“I’m sure he is a really nice boy. Have you kissed him yet?”
“K-K-Kissed?! No! That’s far too embarrassing… W-We did hold hands last week though.”
I smile and tease my sister some more as she blushes more and more. Joelle has grown up in many ways since I last saw her, and that truly makes me happy. As for her to be so embarrassed over holding hands, I admire her innocent youth. I try not to think of a day when she is all grown up and that innocence will be gone.
“We haven’t gone out together in so long, how about we go do some shopping? We will eat out tonight for dinner as I didn’t know you were coming and didn’t prepare anything. Don’t tell Aunt Jude though, it will be our little secret.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t!” Both girls state excitably.
Several days later, our imprisonment time in End Online is finally over. At least it is for Verde, Fen and myself. Sir Laurence is still locked away for another week for assaulting the guards and “disturbing the safety of the city”, or so his charges say.
I honestly can’t believe the idiot. Who else would have the crazy idea of attacking the guards? It did indeed help us not get caught before we got into the building, but there were other methods of approach as well. Could he not have delayed them by distracting them, or simply barring the way? As long as he did not attack them, he would have probably been out before us.
The guard releases Fen, Verde, and myself outside the front of the prison with a superficial warning of “don’t do it again”. Of course we are going to break into the museum again, but this time we will be more prepared.
I chat with both Sir Laurence and Gladox through a private chat. According to Gladox, the tablet is still currently safe inside the museum and the AI swordsman hasn’t made an appearance yet. The idiot prince is dejected about being in prison still and hopes we can wait until he gets out before attempting it again.
I completely reject his idea, but Gladox offers to break him out of prison. I know that a player can’t break themselves out of prison unless they have some rare skills, but I never suspected it to be possible to break someone out. Apparently, if you are caught in the attempt, you will only be imprisoned until the player you tried to rescue is released as well.
If Gladox gets caught in this endeavor, he will only be locked away for a week, so he doesn’t mind a great deal. I question Gladox as to why he didn’t mention that before so he could break us out, but he explains that if he was caught and imprisoned, there would be no one to watch over the tablet.
To prepare for tonight’s break in, I first head to the market. During the week I couldn’t play, I did some research at the End Forums and devised a new plan. We will still break in the same way we did last time, but add an extra variable to counter any guards.
My plan is to use what is called a ‘Masking Potion’, a potion made from basic low quality herbs with a reagent, that will cover up our scent. The potion is originally used to help players infiltrate monster territories without them noticing, but this additional use for the potion is basically guaranteed to help.
I also happen to learn that a reagent is needed in nearly every potion. Without it, the potion will have a vicious taste that can be very off-putting. I had never known this part of potion making as I never studied guides on it thoroughly enough. However, the reagent will also lower the effectiveness of the potions, so I decide to still make most of my private stock without it.
The reagent for the ‘Masking Potion’ is a small white onion like monster drop called ‘Soul Mucus’. It has a very insignificant value and is fortunately sold at many stores. It is also the reagent for a considerable amount of other potions, none of which are currently applicable to me right now.
I purchase a hundred ‘Soul Mucus’ from an NPC store for a price of two silver coins. Fen and Verde then follow me to a quieter location in the city where I bring out my mortar and pestle for potion creation.
Ignoring players looking at me grinding up the herbs required, I take an hour to finish creating a total of 45 ‘Masking Potions’. This is to ensure we have enough if the effect runs out before we finish escaping with the tablet.
Taking out one of the potions and inspecting it, while I feel it has a short duration, I am still satisfied.
Standard Masking Potion A beginner potion that conceals a person’s scent. The potion is odorless and tasteless, representing the concealment it creates. Requirements: - Level 10 Item Type: Potion Effect: Major mask scent, minor conceal presence Effect Time: 3min 42sec Weight: 0.1 lbs
The first few potions only had a duration of just over three minutes, but my ‘Potion Production’ skill finally levelled up to level 20 in the middle of creating the potions. The duration of the potion increased greatly after the skill growth, becoming a massive 72 seconds longer than what is recorded on the forums.
I split the potion into three even stacks and distribute one to Verde, holding onto the other stack for Fen who doesn’t have a personal inventory. With fifteen potions each, we can conceal ourselves for a little over fifty minutes. That should be more than enough time to break into the museum and steal the tablet.
Just as I am leaving my secluded spot and am about to return to the inn, I run into a familiar player.
“Lost, how good it is to see you!”
Chronix, with his expensive armor and large sword strapped to his back, stands in front of me with a sinister grin. I recall how Mason told me he told him we were in Koga City in order to throw him off our track and I can’t believe I had completely forgotten about him.
“No need to be silent, we’re good friends, aren’t we?”
“The feeling isn’t mutual. How on earth did you track me down here?”
“There’s no need for that. It is just a coincidence that we met.”
I have a feeling that he used player tracking scrolls or spells, else how could he find me so many times? Luckily we are currently in the city so he won’t be able to attack.
Glancing around, I see several players standing in shadows and spying from the corners of buildings. Chronix definitely wants to stir up trouble again.
“I don’t have time for you, and we won’t be leaving the city, so give it up.”
I lead the way as we walk past Chronix and back toward the busy sections of the city. Chronix doesn’t stop us, expressing a thoughtful look. As if coming to some kind of conclusion, I hear him give some faint orders to his guild members behind us. I hear something about “hidden” and “waiting” but I am already too far to hear the rest.
Returning to our inn where Gladox is, Verde, Fen, and I patiently wait out the rest of the day before silently leaving in the early stages of the night. Gladox had already left to go break Sir Laurence out of the prison, planning on arriving at the museum shortly after we get there.
At the museum, the amount of guards seems to have mysteriously multiplied since last time, making our task even more difficult.
“We can’t go around the back,” Verde says quietly as we watch the guards constantly patrolling the perimeter.
“It doesn’t matter, we can still use the same method as last time, just from a different origin. However, I have a bad feeling for some reason.”
Fen nods her head silently, reflecting that she also has some kind of foreboding premonition.
I use my ‘Partial Draconic Transformation’ and fly into the sky high enough to get a good view of the surroundings. I notice that there is a large building almost a hundred meters behind the museum. The distance between the two is daunting, but it should still be possible.
We quickly move towards that area where the building is. There are no guards around it so it mustn’t be a very important place. I fly up to the top of the building before lowering a long rope. I am fortunate to have bought this earlier today in case it would be needed.
Fen and Verde quickly scale the rope and reach the top of the building. With our plan about to be set in motion, Fen looks at me nervously.
“Lost, all this for me… You really don’t have to.”
“Don’t say anymore. It is something I want to do more than anything else. I will help you no matter what it takes.”
“Okay, time to start. Verde, drink your first potion… Verde?”
Verde is looking down at the ground twenty meters below with a ghastly pale face that can be seen even in this darkness. It is a strange sight because I never imagined her with a fear of heights. The museum is only a little more than half as tall as this building, so there must been some sort of threshold as to how high she needs to be before she gets scared like this.
Verde drinks her ‘Masking Potion’ as I give one to Fen and consume one myself. I don’t feel any different after drinking it, but a small icon of a blurred figure appears in the corner of my screen with a countdown. At least this will make it easy to tell when to take the next potion.
I grab Fen and Verde before they can react and launch off the roof. My wings extend to either side of me – white in stark contrast with the dark sky – and glide toward the museum. I frantically beat my wings to stay aloft as much as possible, but I am slowly losing altitude.
After reaching fifty meters, halfway to the museum, I start getting very nervous. If we do manage to land on the museum roof, it will be a very close call with colliding with the wall. I flap my wings even harder, charging forward through the air in a white streak.
Forty meters left. Thirty meters. Ten meters. I give one last powerful burst with my wings and straighten my body horizontally. We briefly scuff the top of the wall before sliding onto the roof on our stomachs.
‘Safe!’ I excitably call out in my mind.
The guards below seem to be alerted by the sound of our landing and are searching the area, but can’t seem to locate us. The potion is definitely working to conceal us from the guard’s sense of smell.
Feeling relieved, I quickly stand up and mouth an apology to Fen and Verde for the rough landing. They are both a little disgruntled but are smart enough to not make any noises.
“Lost, Sir Laurence and I are here, hiding across the street,” Gladox’s voice sounds in my mind. “The guards are still looking for us, what do you want us to do?”
“Stay hidden for now. After we get the tablet, we will all escape together, travel to Kano City and teleport out of the beast realm.”
“Roger that, I will wait for Fen here.”
I glare in the distance at the direction Gladox should be, but I know he can’t see me.
“Don’t glare at me like that. My intentions are pure.”
“You can see me?!”
“Haha, no. But you’re predictable.”
I groan in displeasure and choose to not reply. Instead, I lead the way as Verde, Fen, and I go to the window we broke in through last time. The window itself is in perfect condition, as if it was never broken in the first place.
It is at this moment I hear a large commotion at the front of the building. The guards are shouting loudly and the sound of clashing steel rings out.
“Gladox, what’s happening at the front of the building?!”
“I’m not sure, it looks like a large group of players are fighting the guards.”
“A large group?”
“Yeah, at least a hundred players.”
My thought process goes in overdrive as I try to figure out why a group of players would be fighting the guards, especially at such a coincidental location and time.
‘It isn’t that AI swordsman, he should be by himself… %$@&! It must be Chronix! Don’t tell me he followed us here?! $#!%! Well, at least he can distract the guards!’
“Come on, we have to be quick!”
I recklessly smash the window and roll a rope down before jumping in the opening. There is enough noise out front of the building that they shouldn’t hear us entering the building.
Fen and Verde follow me down shortly afterwards, all of us charging toward the room where the tablet is kept. I had planned to be more cautious and take it slow to avoid detection, but right now speed is of the essence.
The sound of a door banging open comes from the front of the building as I try to urge Verde to keep up with Fen and I. Both the wolf girl and myself have to slow down drastically so Verde can keep up with us, but we still want to go faster.
All the guards must have been attracted by the commotion at the front of the door as we make a beeline for the stone tablet and don’t encounter a single one.
The sound of fighting and yells are getting closer to us, but luckily we get to the room where the tablet is being stored before they reach us.
I stop in shock as I enter the room, Fen and Verde running into me and nearly knocking us all over.
In the center of the room is a broken case where the stone tablet used to be. Shattered glass covers the floor, and some is even embedded in the wall behind the case.
The tablet is currently in the hands of the AI swordsman who is standing next to the broken glass. I can tell he hit the case with such an inhuman strength that the shattered remains only travelled in a single location.
At the same time, a second door in the room bursts open and a party of six players casually walks in. It is Chronix and several of the ‘Swords of Light’ guild members.
“Lost, fancy meeting you here,” Chronix says while examining the room in fine detail. When he sees the AI swordsman and the stone tablet in his hand, his eyes widen with surprise.
“So this is what you were after? Getting locked in prison for trying to steal some useless relic? I had thought more of you.”
Chronix monologues to himself on several other recent topics, recreating an uncanningly accurate series of events I have gone through. I warily keep an eye on both him and the AI holding the tablet.
The swordsman completely ignores Chronix, as if he isn’t even there. He stares disdainfully at Fen beside me before speaking in the tone a king would use.
“You have arrived too late. This trial has already been completed by me. Return to whence you came before making a fool of yourself. Mother’s system is about to strengthen and increase the difficulty, so I will be leaving.”
Just like that, without any further discussion, the swordsman turns around and walks out the back of the room. Strangely, every step he takes causes him to move five meters. It is like an illusion that is difficult to follow.
Fen stands there embarrassed, lowering her head in defeat.
“Fen, you are not alone. We can beat him!”
I grab Fen’s hand, ignoring her surprise, and pull her along to chase after the other AI. Verde stumbles slightly as she also breaks into a run to follow.
“You are really interested in this tablet, aren’t you?” Chronix calls out amusedly. “Don’t worry, I am generous enough to help you get it! I will even protect it for you!”
I curse as Chronix and his party charge forward and follow. Their players are at a much higher level than us, each in the 300’s. Due to running at a speed Verde can keep up with, they are also able to follow behind us.
We were supposed to get the stone tablet before the other AI did. Not only did he get to it moments before us, but now there is an unrelated third party trying to get it for no other reason than it would be inconvenient for me. It can’t possibly get any worse than this…