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A Voice of Warning Sounds
>> O R I O N <<

I stare blankly at the missing logout button. Oh stars it was happening… just like she had warned me about.

I close my eyes. Why? Why hadn’t I listened when she had told me to stop this stupid game?!

Singe clings to my white clad shoulder, sensing the crowd’s unease. “O-Orion… I need to tell you something…” she stuttered nervously.

I glanced at her, worry gnawing at my stomach. “What do you mean, Singe?”

“I’ve dreamt about this… this is just like my dream!” she’s starting to panic, to hyperventilate. I grip her shoulders leading her away from the rapidly panicking crowd who were drawing the same conclusions as my own.

“Singe!” I shake her slightly, bringing her out of her panic attack. “You’re ok! Snap out of it! What’s this about a dream?”

Singe stutters. “I…I… It’s just like this! All this panic, all of this chaos!”

I impulsively grab her and pulled her a hug when all of a sudden, the tone of her voice changed, sending chills up my spine.

 “Buildings will go down in fire, civilization will crumble and the God-King just stands back and laughs at the death and destruction he has brought, the Majestic Five shall band together and will find a way to the King’s Throne through the Three King’s Belt when passed by through Inheritance to the Star’s Flame. One shall fall – betrayed by a lost Guide, the Four shall fight and the Star’s Flame will prove true to her Heritage of the Hero. Beware the God-King! Beware the flaming beetle!’” with a horrible scream, Singe jerked back away from me as if she was burned, hands clutching her head and her green eyes wide.

I made to grab at her but she fell before I could get to her. “Singe!”

She groggily sat up. “Wha?”

I felt another cold chill. She didn’t remember? One shall fall…beware the flaming beetle… oh stars why was it us that generated such trouble?

For a while, the two of us remained silent.

“Ne… Orion?”

I glanced over at her. “Hm?”

“We need a hero to help us out, and…”

I sigh through my nose. “And you think that I am this hero?” What a load of bull. I was no hero.

Singe flinched.

“Orion?”

“I never said I was a hero...” I say this honestly, turning my face away from her, bitterness covering my tone.

Orion! Go! You have the most to loose!

NO! I won’t leave my friends!

Because we’re your friends, we want you to go!

But... I -

GO!

“You’re a hero to me, Orion...” she whispers, coming closer.

I still refuse to look at her. “No... I’m not...”

“You are!”

“No I’m not! You don’t get it do you?” I ask disbelievingly. I get to my feet. “I’m not the person everyone makes me out to be!” I shout hoarsely, just pleading for her to understand!

“Who are you then!” she shouts back at me, getting right into my face... or as close as it as she can be being so short... “Who's the person that invited me to sing with him because 'a pretty face shouldn't look so sad' , huh?" She pokes me right in the chest. "Huh!? Where is he then if he's not you!"

I spread my hands out in a gesture of submission, "I’m just Aaron Stratsford, not a hero..."

Her eyes soften. “Oh, Orion - but then...” her lips turn into a wry grin. “You’re name’s not Orion is it?”

I smile back, rubbing the back of my neck sheepishly . “Like I said, I’m just Aaron. Not Orion Starr.”

“Well then, nice to meet ya Just Aaron Not Orion Starr! I’m Sarah Tilburrow!”

I feel my eyebrow rise. “‘Tilburrow’? Seriously?”

She flushes the same color as her hair. “I-It’s not like I chose it!” she mutters, pushing her fingers together. 

I snort. 

“SH-SHUT UP STRATSFORD!” 

I have to dodge a pillow that appeared out of nowhere. I have to assume that it was in her bag for reasons unexplained. 

“Oi, oi!” I yelp. “Don’t kill your Guild -” I choke off, tripping.

Where’s the rest of them?

They’re dead...

Wha... Did you get the loot?

They’re really dead, Orion!

like...Dead-dead?

a nodd

That’s...that’s impossible! I...

I’ll make them pay! I’ll make them all pay for this!

“Aaron? Are... are you okay?”

I blink dazedly up at Singe-Sarah’s concerned face, fighting back the bile the memory brought. I finger the finely crafted belt wrapped around my waist. 

Was... was that treasure... really worth their lives? 

If I was a hero... I would have been able to save everyone! Not... not just me... 

I close my eyes, regret and bitter self loathing causing my eyes to sting.

I open an eye as I feel small arms wrap around my waist in a gentle hug, her head resting on my stomach. “I’m here... I won’t go anywhere... I promise, Aaron.”

I close my eyes as the tears fall down.

Jordan

Justin

Drew

Cayden

Jake

I’m sorry...

I can feel her warm breath warming my neck.

“We’ll all be heroes.” She murmurs into my back. “Me, you, Keller, and Maximillian! We’ll all be heroes together!”

I smile softly at her and involuntarily remember what she had said in that monotone voice so devoid of expression: beware the flaming beetle! Bile rises up my throat.

Horror and determination welling up inside my chest I swear to myself a promise that I will honor with my life.

I won’t let her die! Not like I did them! This so called game was too deadly to loose not one more person precious to me!
 
 

The Beginning of the Nightmares
>> A M E L I A 
J OH N S O N   <<

I dumped my bag at the foot of my bed, too deep in thought to really care about taking everything out. Luke hadn't shown up at the rendezvous, I waited until it started getting dark but he never came. It made me nervous, what if he got ambushed or something? He said he would be with me every step of the way, I needed him here.

No matter how much I hated to admit it, I was a weak person. I needed a crutch to lean on or I would just crumble to the ground crying. Everyone who met me thought I was some kind of strong person, and I guess it's because they see my lion-hearted crutch. The one who brought me back to this world to save them. But I'm not him, I never will be. I'm just the cowardly artist who hides behind her bold pictures and leans on the other part of her soul. The courageous part.

I'm not strong, not strong at all, but of course he would contradict me. He would say I was the strongest person he ever met, but the only reason he believed that was because he was there. He took me from my messed up reality and made my day shine so brightly that you could see no shadows. If he wasn't there for me then he would see a broken down and worn soul that's not even worth looking at.

A window popped in my face distracting me from my thoughts.

New update installed! Come check out what is new in FAR!

Okay!                                               Maybe later!


I sighed and clicked the 'Okay' button, but nothing changed. At least nothing you would notice at first, but once I saw this I new instantly what happened. I started breathing faster, almost to the point of hyperventilating when I looked down at my login and logout corner. The logout was gone!

I had to calm myself down before I let my realization sink in. So this is it, this is the start of our doom. Will this wild princess meet her courageous lion-hearted crutch again? How did I even get myself into this situation, how did I even meet him?

I guess everything has its turns. But why did this have to happen? I don't even know if he's still in the game, oh I hope he's not! I couldn't bare it if he died now! I couldn't bare it if he had to suffer again, even with me I couldn't see it. Please

“Please God or who ever will listen to me.” I whispered. “Please let me know he's safe, I just want him to be safe from this nightmare.”

I thought of the first time things started changing, the first time we really got into each others lives. How did life change so drastically? I laid down on my bed and closed my eyes as the memories came tumbling in with a tear streaking down my cheek.

~~

It almost seven years now that I think about it. I had just started Junior high in sixth grade. Life for me at that point wasn't too bad, Elementary wasn't the kindest to me but I had good friends who would stand up for me, or at least I thought.

Once I reached Junior High though, everything changed. My thought-to-be best friends turned against me. We use to do everything together, but over the summer they changed. They became detached, would even try to hide themselves when we went out. It was like they where ashamed to be seen in public with me!

But it wasn't just that that was so horrible. If it was just that, I would have been just fine. But on the first day of school, that was the worst. It was gradual at first, but I got the picture by the end of the day. I guess I should start then, lets start in my first class. I can still remember it, Math, there's a reason I hate it now so much.

“Hey, Jessica!” Snarled a boy who had come up to my desk. I looked up, it was Eric Piketon. I looked down at my notebook, I had been drawing a cloudy cliff with a waterfall emerging from the bottom. The picture was still in progress and was yet to be colored, but it still looked amazing. People would go up to me and say I had a talent with the pencil, which I guess was true.

“Go away Piketon.” I mumbled, returning to my sketch. Eric quickly pulled the picture out of my hands and laughed.

“What ya doin', drawing pictures? It's a waist! You're never going to get into any good art school! Your families too messed up!” The the last part stung more than I cared to admit. My family was messed up, and it wasn't like I liked it much when people said it. But the fact that it came from Eric, the kid who's dad abused him and mom abandoned him, just made it worse.

“You're one to talk.” I said taking my sketchbook back. “Didn't your mom abandon you to that stupid drunk father?” Eric turned a little red.
“At least I don't have a brother in a gang! My dad 
may be mean, but he doesn't kill people like your brother!” He spat. I dropped my pencil, shocked that anyone would know that my brother was in a gang.

“What makes you say my brother is in a gang? Or that he killed anyone?” I asked, head down.

“I have special... connections.” He said next to me. He was sitting on my desk now.

“Please get off my desk.” I said in a trembling voice.
“Or what?” He mocked. “You'll sick your street thug brother on me? Oh, I'm so scared!” My hands where trembling and I swear I was about to cry.

“My brother is no street thug!” I almost screamed this. The entire classroom was looking at me and Eric now, curious to see what was going to happen.

“Ooh!” He said sarcasm dripping off his words. “I've hit a soft spot!” The entire class was looking intently which didn't help the threatening tears. But I was determined not to cry, especially on the first day of Junior High.

“Who told you about my brother?” I asked trying to calm myself down. Eric gave me a mischievous and evil look.

“Who do you think Jessica? The only kids you ever let into your life, the kids who are now too afraid to be near you.” He said wickedly. I would have lunged at him, torn him apart if it weren't for the teacher walking into the classroom to announce the start of class.

The rest of the day didn't get any better. I didn't cry fortunately, but in almost every class kids where staring at me, my friends wouldn't even acknowledge my existence, and the incident this morning was now spreading. 

During lunch I tried to sit next to my group of friends but found myself pushed out and ignored when I asked. Instead I walked to an empty table in the corner of the cafeteria and ate in silence. 

Just when I thought my day couldn't get worse, it did. I was walking home from school when Eric and his group of bullying thugs decided to pay me a visit.

“Going home to your gangster brother Dennaco?!” He called while the rest of his group started circling around me. I looked down and kept walking.

“Go away Eric!” I called back to him. “I never even said if my brother was in a gang or not.” He laughed shortly.

“Yeah, but I know. My connections wouldn't lie to me about this.” He mocked me. I really wanted to hurt him. But I knew it was what he wanted, so I didn't.

“Who are you're contacts anyway?” I asked bitterly. “They seem to have bad information.”

“So you haven't figured it out yet?” he asked, stepping in front of me to stop me from walking. I glared up at him. His light brown hair reflected the sun which made it more of a golden color. He had bright blue eyes which, at this moment, where lit up with evil intent. His arms and neck where covered in bruises, probably from his father hitting him, and he had a crooked smile on his face.

“Do I really want to know?” I asked him. He pretended to consider my question.

“Probably not. But that makes it all the better if I tell you.” His cruel tone made me shudder.

“Okay then spit it out.” I demanded.

“It was the only people who have been your friends for a long time.” I stood there, frozen in shock. My friends, my closest friends told the biggest bully in school. 
They spread rumors about me, I should have known something was wrong when they didn't even want to be seen with me. I just lost my best friends. How could this happen to me. A tear slipped down my cheek before I could stop it. “Aw! The kids crying!” Eric scoffed, and I couldn't hold it in anymore.

I punched him, right in the nose. I'm sure if my brother where there he would have awarded me ten points or something cause it broke Eric's nose. And I mean broke it. He looked at me, astonished with blood poring down his face.

“You just punched me!” He cried, then before I could do anything else his friend took me by the arms and held me there, in front of Eric, who looked like he wanted revenge.

And he took it. While his friends held me he punched me. Once in the stomach and then in the eye. I toppled over and groaned. He looked down at me, blood dripping onto my face, then left. His friends asking if he was okay.

I laid on the sidewalk for a few more minutes then got up slowly and walked home. I barely kept it together long enough to walk in the door and see my brother, Derek, leaning against the kitchen table with his group of street thugs. I stopped dead in my tracks and he looked over at me. His eyes widened and he ran over to me.

“Jessica! What happened to you?!” He yelled reaching for me. I started crying before he could reach me.

“Get away from me!” I screamed then ran, bawling, toward the stairs. “I hate you Derek! I hate you so much!” I'm sure he had a stunned face as he watched me slam my door closed. I fell onto my bed crying, wishing the world would just end right now.

~~

I opened my eyes, the tears still as fresh as they where all those years ago. Curling up I twisted to the right side of my bed and looked at the picture of a majestic fire beetle. It shot fireballs and sprayed lava at its attacker, a fearless warrior with pink hair and a white cape draped over her back. Her sword shown brightly and her face was that of anger and sorrow, like she was doing this for a person who she lost. That was pure courage, and I wished I could be like her. But I knew I couldn't, I wasn't anything like that young girl who was so full of hope and life.
 
 
​“Sir, are you certain that now is the right time? Jack Dagger is still out there, with information about the hidden meadow and the healing ruby, and the tool you need to release it from the pedestal is still out of our reach.”

​Sir Henry, standing beside King Franklin, looked over to him, a questioning expression having come upon him. The pair stood on just one of Earthridge Palace’s enormous stone balconies.

​“Nothing is out of my reach, Henry,” the king replied. “I know exactly where it is, and I know exactly how and when it will be returned to me.”

​“But with such an enormous map, wouldn’t it stand to reason that-“

​“Henry, I know what I’m doing. I have thought my plan through very well.”

​“…so says the king,” Henry slowly replied, drawing out the words and effectively ending the discussion.
​The two walked inside the castle, leaving the deck behind, their backs now facing the sparkling, golden water racing down the side of the mountain to the ground below.

 Wandering through the halls, they eventually came to the huge, hand crafted golden doors that led into King Franklin’s throne room.

​“Stay here until I return,” the king instructed as they walked into the room. “I won’t be long.”

​Without another word he stepped onto the platform with the beautifully crafted gold throne, swept his silky purple robes in front of his body, and sat on the chair. With a brilliant, yet somehow frightening gleam in his eye, his body exploded into millions of tiny gold particles and he was gone, leaving Henry standing alone in the room.

~*~

​My eyes slowly opened as I experienced the incredible sensation of falling through empty space, until I stopped, and felt something solid beneath me. I looked around as my senses returned to me, slowly, as the blinking lights and computer screens of my server room flooded my vision. I reached my hands up, gripped the helmet, and lifted it off my head. 

As I looked back at the device once I’d gotten up out of the chair, I saw smoke rising from the inside of the helmet. Perhaps a reason to consider upgrading the helmet at some point. But that could wait.

​It was mid-afternoon on Saturday across most of the United States, and that was when the most players always came online. At this exact moment, according to my computers, about 13 and a half million people were in the game. 

Over two thirds of the entire list of registered users. Even better than I’d hoped for.

​Across from me, another massive computer screen, linked to a large plastic box littered with blinking red and green lights. The massive system powering the program that allowed me to write the game software. 

With a single window open displaying the current system status, I tapped a few keys on the keyboard and instantly another window, displaying countless lines of code, meaningless to most people, but the most important thing in the world to me.

​For years, the human mind had fascinated me. Not the minds functioning individually, but at large; as a group. How does a group of people react to something foreign and unexpected? What happens when a certain division of society is presented with a challenge never before seen or heard of in the world? And best of all, what happens when the world is left with something so incredibly threatening that the world itself cannot confront it? That is what I intended to find out.

​The world of technology had come so far, become so incredibly advanced, that it was impossible to find a corner of the world in which the modern world was not present. Humanity had enveloped itself in the digital state of their world. How far could they truly take it? How much could a single person poison themselves with a single device? 


The answer truly came once FAR was released to the public. It exploded overnight, becoming the best selling game of all time in just under a week. And what made FAR so special? The new gaming engine, and my gaming engine I don’t mean just the software that creates the image. 


No longer was the experience limited to a screen. No longer was it restricted to a confined environment. Now, the person was the player. They were in the game. People truly hit the lowest point they could work themselves to when they poisoned themselves with technology.

​Why does this disgust me? When I was young my father, a lawyer, worked on a project in Las Vegas, and ultimately became the man to legalize online gambling for the first time. I never understood what that really meant, but soon I noticed that I wasn’t seeing my father as much. And then, months later, I found myself in the back seat of a car being driven by my mother.


We never returned home and I never saw my father again. Later I learned that after gambling was legalized, he became addicted to it. He never had to travel to any casinos, or even leave his office. He gave up his job and his family trying to win money, and once my mother had had enough, we left him forever. 


As I grew older I made connections, and attributed my family’s downfall to the increasing affect of technology in the lives of people all around the world. It brought the world to our bedrooms, and brought newfound evil and corruption to my father. Years later, I decided that I could use the same method as my father to teach the world what it had truly become. 


My technological expertise brought me to be one of the greatest programmers in the world. I was offered parts on huge projects from world-class companies, but I turned them all down to bring the world something it truly needed.

​I began working on the first concepts for FAR. I knew from the beginning it needed to be something different. Something that would make the world stand up on edge and stare at the gaming industry like it had just killed five people. Simulator goggles were promising, but I wanted something more radical. 


Something to truly immerse players, to prove how much we had poisoned ourselves. The helmets were the result of that idea, and the world flocked to see “the next big thing” without even stopping to consider what was happening to them.

​Now, it was my turn. Time to show the world how pathetically dependent, and how even more disgustingly loving it was of technology that did nothing but control and ultimately ruin their real lives.

​The lines of code flashed across the screen faster than they could be read.

​Time for the world to experience the pain I felt as a child, the pain brought to me by the venom that nobody could see but me.

​Across the world, in ever FAR helmet ever sold, tiny explosives were planted just behind the central processor.

​Time to show the world that it wasn’t in control.

​My fingers danced across the keyboard as the software update was administered to every gamer online.

​Time to show everyone that their own creation had turned against them.

​They had no choice. The update was automatic. They didn’t even know it was happening.

​I would forever be known as a villain, but I knew in my heart that I was a hero.

​13 million people instantly losing the ability to log out of the game. 13 million people immediately trapped in the “perfect” world.

​Nobody would be able to deny the lesson I taught. Technology got too far ahead of us.

​The explosives becoming wired to the software update. When the player is killed in the game, they are killed in real life.

​Technology got too far ahead for us.

​The only safe access point left in the world is mine.

Only I can travel between the two worlds.

​The world will see how far they’ve dropped! And from the ashes left behind by my revolution, society will re-emerge with true knowledge! The people will see how far they had fallen, and finally we will be back to the way we were intended! Humanity will return!

~*~

​At first people thought it was some sort of massive bombing spree. But as the explosions spread beyond America, it become apparent something bigger was going on. Something much different. Thousands of explosions, wiping out entire houses spanning across the country, and then the world. The police ran out of people to send, SWAT forces were exhausted. It was completely unthinkable. Impossible.

​On the first day, a skyscraper in Chicago home to a video game beta testing company collapsed because three floors of the building simply exploded. Nine thousand people died on the first day, and during the night the first reports from Europe and the United Kingdom came in. Getting the word out was difficult because most of the country’s major TV and radio broadcasting stations went up in flames because of people in the break rooms plugged into FAR helmets.

​Russia was next, and within a week Russia was a complete ghost town. The United Nations held an emergency conference in New York, trying to figure out who on Earth or beyond could be causing the destruction. It was then that a Secret Service agent bursted into the armored bunker and announced that the FBI had traced it back to internet-enabled devices, and it wasn’t long until the Pentagon realized it had something to do with FAR.

​Teams were dispatched to get officers and agents in the game out. A twenty-man SWAT team in DC went to the home of a Secret Service agent caught in the game. As soon as the helmet was lifted off his head it exploded and the house went up in flames. All other SWAT teams were called off and told not to lift the helmets under any circumstances, and instead bomb-squad went in. But yet again, as soon as the access panel to the processor was unscrewed from the helmet, the bomb was activated and all that was left were bones.

​Immediately, the FBI went to Franklin's house, knowing he was the only person who could implement something. He wasn’t spotted through any of the home’s windows, so a SWAT team kicked down the door. One man had his foot through the door when the explosives went off, and the ceiling of the middle floor collapsed, bringing the rest of the house crashing to the ground. Below, in the server room, a smile formed on Franklin's face as dust fell from the ceiling. The police had come, tried to enter, and now he was barricaded in the server room entirely alone, with more explosives rigged to kill anyone who tried to reach him.

​Finally, the world had an idea of what they were dealing with. Which was nothing. There was absolutely nothing they could do, and they had no idea what was happening. Random explosions across the globe, entire buildings destroyed. Apartment buildings were evacuated, leaving them filled only with the players still trapped inside the game. The sign that something was truly wrong for them too, was the fact that nobody logged out. Not one player emerged. And every night, all that someone had to do to see the world go up in flames was stand at the edge of the city and look on.

​Life was no better where life wasn’t real. Players in FAR checking their settings bar noticed the absence of a logout button, and went searching across the menus trying to find it. But there was no logout option to speak of. Everyone was stuck. At first it was assumed to be some sort of glitch, nothing to worry about, soon to be fixed by the game’s creator. But then odd things started to happen. Earthridge Palace was suddenly placed under ten times the protection it had before, and there was no word from King Franklin on what was happening. 

And then, came the panic. The panic that set in when the players saw that their friends weren’t respawning in the morning. People who died weren’t coming back. Then, only after the panic arrived, did they begin to see the truth of what was happening. It wasn’t a glitch. It was planned. Someone had purposely trapped everyone inside the game, and when they died, they didn’t come back. Their helmet signals went completely offline. And that could only mean one thing.

​War set in. Innocent civilians were slaughtered by the hundreds by those more powerful desperate to survive. Small bands of thieves and savages formed, then tore themselves apart just as quickly by one or two members trying to take it all for themselves. Players charged Earthridge Palace, only to be met with an army of guards and monsters ten times as strong as they. 

Thousands were murdered. Buildings were destroyed. Myotos became a city for a few peaceful survivors to take refuge and try to survive, while others wandered the baron, abandoned map trying to scrape by day to day. Some were picked off by snipers and robbers, others died of starvation, still not knowing what had happened to their perfect world. 

A massive battle was fought in Grindsvill, and the town was nearly leveled. What little wreckage was left became home only to rats and stray dogs.

​Rumors of civilization in the mountains inspired home, but that’s all they were proven to be, was rumors. Nobody knew for certain if they existed, or where exactly to find them. And all the while, inside Earthridge Palace, King Franklin stood on his balcony watching the world rip itself apart. He took no action; simply stood and smiled. And then he would return to his throne in the night, disappear, and be back in the real world. He’d check up to see what’d happened, see how the world was reacting, and then replace the helmet on his head, and appear again in the palace.

​Months passed, and still nobody in either world was able to escape the apocalypse. Every building with a FAR player in it anywhere had to be evacuated and millions of people were left homeless. The deserts of Southern Utah became a small city for people to hide. But even then, nobody knew where they would move forward. There was absolutely nothing that could be done. 

Nobody could gain access to Franklin's server room, and that was the only place the update could possibly be reversed at. Huge praying groups across the world, hundreds of thousands of people at each one, begged for the madness to end and for the world to be at peace once more, but nothing came about. The world had truly been split in half. And the two halves were slowly but surely ripping each other apart.

​People started calling it the apocalypse. And it sort of stuck. Because the official FBI Case File was titled Project: Apocalypse.

​Gone was justice. Gone was civilization. Gone was peace.

​Standing on his boat in the early hours of the night, a ship captain watched as the lights in New York City slowly flickered on and off, and in the distance a pillar of flame exploded from the side of a skyscraper.
 
 

Black Holes and an Almost Member
>> K I T A <<

“So how did ya an’ ‘melia meet up?”

The guy named Keller asked, a rougeish grin on his face.

i blushed remembering the incident.

“I-I fell out of a tree...” I whisper.

My blush deepens as Keller lets out a loud guffaw, throwing his head back with howling laughter.
My face as bright as a tomato, I shove the other player into a mud puddle convienently in the path.

“Nice aim.” The tall quiet man informed me while Keller stared in open shock at the fact that the behemoth had spoken.

“You can speak to her but not me?!” Keller spluttered, accent gone with his shock. I knew his accent was a fake!

“Tha’s it! C’mon buddy, le’s figh’ ‘ight ‘ere!” ...or maybe not?

I didn't know with these guys...

But pretty soon I'd either have to scramble to get out of the way or join in.

Wha!

CRASH!

I scowled at the hand on my ankle, Keller grinning impishly back at me. i mentally rolled up my sleeves.

That’s it, this bento is goin’ down!

And i pounced on him, Keller yelping in shock - obviously not anticipating the swift retaliation. well guess what buster I've got a brother and I know how to deal with him!

“‘ey ‘ey ‘ey! Whatch de hair! Whatch de hair!”

I grinned evily and grabbed a handful of mud. He eyed me with panic in his eyes, fearing for his finely crafted hair.

“Oh no. Do not - No. Don’t even - KITA!!!!!!!!” His wail of shock and despair sent me running, cackling like a mad woman, his enraged form close behind.

These guys... they brought out the prankster in me!

I couldn’t help it, their cheer was naturally contagious!

I mean, who wouldn’t want to mess up a narcissist’s hair just to see his reaction?!

Maximilian easily lifted me up onto his shoulders and out of Keller’s reach.

“Nya~!” I stuck out my tongue at him as he struggled to grab me despite being held out an arm’s length away, arms windmilling in his comedic attempt to reach me, raging about how he was going to make me pay... somehow...

I just grinned, proverbial fireballs flying past me with ease, thoroughly enjoying Keller’s hilarious reaction.

“Ne, Maximil-mil-mil...” I frowned, sticking out my tongue as it quit working on me, and forcing me to sulk.

“Maximilian. And what was your question?”

Keller stared as Maximillian spoke again.

Which derailed me from my origional question but who cares since I can ask even more questions now!

“Why don’t you talk as much to the others?” I ask, laying my arms on Maximi- I’m just gonna call him Max, my mind is even tripping over his name! - on MAX’S head.

“Because I’m fine with silence around them and they understand me without words.”

I blink as Keller splutters. “Oh. But why me?”
Max glances up and then looks away and - is that blush on his cheeks???

“I...” and then he clams up.

Keller’s eyes widen comically, nearly the size of dinner plates. “O-ORI-I-I-O-OOON!” he flails, yelping for their guild leader, “MAXIMIL - oof!

I watched as Max sent Keller flying back into the mud puddle and blink in bemusement.

These guys...

I feel warm inside my chest and... as I rest my head on my arms which in turn were on Max’s bald head, I decided... that I really liked it here... with them...

***
 “Can we keep ‘er? Can we? Can weeeee?” Keller begs.
Orion raises an eyebrow while Amelia snickers behind a hand.

“Only if the lovely Kita would agree.”

I gulp nervously as everyone’s eyes were turned my way.

I tentatively step forwards. “S-sure... If you guys’ll have me.” I murmur.

Orion reaches out his hand to shake on it I guess but as I place my foot down a giant hole appears and before I can even grasp his hand, I’m falling...

Again.
 
 

The End of a Quest

>> J A C K D A G G E R <<

Retrieving the sword was relatively easy, even with Singe following me around. And at least I had someone to keep me entertained for the walk there.

“What do we do now?” she asked as we got back on the trail, still in the middle of the night.

“We get this sword back to that lady it belongs to and then I head back to my cave… without you.” I reply. I examine the sword in my hand and I see her glancing over too. It’s nothing special; just a standard shortsword, but the hilt seemed to be a more shimmery shade of silver than usual.

“You really think this keeps her beautiful?” the newbie asks me.

I shrug. “Guess so. It has a high magic level.”

We walk in silence for a few more minutes, the dirt path crunching under our feet, and when I glance over I see Singe looking at me oddly.

“What?” I prod.

“Why does your armor glow like that?” she asks.

I look down at myself. The armor on my chest is divided into two separate plates that help me to move easier. Spanning across them both is a series of bright orange marks, glowing in the darkness, forming a dagger in the middle.

“It’s a weapon enhancement,” I explain. “It lets me launch fireballs from the Hellblade.”

A weapon enhancement can be made to any weapon you’d like, if you’re willing to pay the price. They get pretty expensive if you want a good one. In the Hellblade’s case, an enchantress enabled it to launch fireballs as projectiles if I swing it the right way.

“Yeesh…” Singe says. “Isn’t the Hellblade good enough on its own?”

“Fireballs make good ranged weapons,” I say, and nothing more.

By the time the sun is rising we’ve made it back to the city where we first met the troll, and Singe is completely exhausted, dragging her feet along and panting. She starts looking at her minimap though, trying to find the troll. Thankfully the yellow ring around her dot makes her easy to identify, and soon we approach her just outside the town square with the statue in it.

“Here,” I say bluntly. She turns around, and I hand her the sword.

Almost instantaneously she’s engulfed in bright, silvery light, almost too bright to look at, and when it’s dimmed, she’s transformed into a human form. Her hair is completely white and almost reaches her waist, and she’s wearing a white silk gown.

“Oh, thank you!” she cries, and throws her arms around me.

I just sort of stood there awkwardly, not sure how to react. After this went on for a few minutes, I exchanged an awkward glance with Singe, who just sort of shrugged.

“Okay, we need to get going now,” she said, “But we’re glad you’re okay.”

The woman finally let go of me.

“Before you go, take your reward!” She opened up a trade with me and Singe, and in one of my spare weapons slots a weird spikey circular thing appeared.

“Take care!” Singe said as the trade closed and we turned around, leaving the woman behind.

“What is this thing?” I ask her as we walk back towards the edge of the city together, Singe still having to drag herself along.

“It’s a shuriken! Ya know, like a throwing star!”

“…I thought they only had those in Japan.”

“Nah. They’re all over the place. Nice if you need a solid ranged weapon. Tricky to throw, though.”

I take one, and fling it at a target I quickly spot nearby. A small child was disappointed when his toy horse was suddenly cut in half by the metal disc, and went running off crying to find his parents, presumably. Singe looked at me like I’d just killed five people.

“You big jerk!” she said, and punched me in the arm, but quickly withdrew her hand with a soft “Ow!” and examined her knuckles. She’d hurt herself trying to hit my metal armor.

“Eh. It’s just a kid,” was my grunt of a reply.

“Doesn’t matter. You should really work on being more nice to people. Then they might like you more.”

“They’re not supposed to like me. Nobody is.”

Another shuriken goes flying and embeds itself in a brick wall just above a young woman’s head, earning a piercing scream from her.

“…whatever. You could be a happier person if you tried.”

“Happiness is a luxury.”

I guess she decides it’s not worth arguing anymore for fear of being the next target for a shuriken, so we continue in silence until we’re on the edge of the city.

“This is where I keep walking and you don’t follow,” I announce.

“Aw, come on, I don’t get to come with you anymore?”

“No. I didn’t want you to come with me in the first place. You were good company… but I like to be alone.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she says softly.

“Yes it does. If we run into each other again after this I’ll assume King Franklin wants us to meet for some reason and then I’ll stick with you. But you’re lucky I let you come this far with me. Even if some of it wasn’t half bad.”

With that I continue walking, away from the city, leaving the newbie behind. She provided good (but awkward) company, but I was Jack Dagger. Having friends and people following me around wasn’t in character and wasn’t something I wanted to be spotted doing. It ruined my intimidation. And yet… as I kept walking towards the cave, I couldn’t help but to think about the times we’d had together. Somehow getting that sword back with her had almost been fun… not that that’s a word commonly associated with me either. Maybe we would meet again someday. Who knew.

Soon I was back in the cave, Scythe perched nearby, and I laid down for some rest before I became so tired it started impacting my speed and fighting skills. Much like Singe had been out of breath when we’d come into the city, the same could happen to me, and my stamina bar would drop significantly. And if it emptied completely, my health bar would follow. Soon I was asleep, staring into darkness.

To what I awoke is something I’ll never forget.
 
 

Some Secrets are Better Hidden
>> A M E L I A J O H N S O N <<



“RUN!!” I yelled and grabbed Kita's hand. We went running off to the side but didn't get very far. As it turns out, grape boy can run pretty fast, who would have thunk!? The guild caught up to us easily, blocking off our escapes in a narrow ally.

“What do we do now?” Kita whispered beside me. I looked at the advancing guild, wow, we've got no where to go.

“We face our victims fearlessly,” I announced to Kita. Then, more quietly to myself. “And hope they know who their facing.” Grape boy came first, he tackled me just as I pushed Kita towards the wall.

He had pinned me to the ground, a knife at my throat and released a menacing growl. He probably would have killed me if it weren't for the silver haired leader.

“Keep her there Connor!” Ordered the silver haired boy. I smiled mischievously at him.

“So your name's Connor huh? I think grape boy suits you better.” I laughed a little which made the knife press into my neck a little harder. Grape boy glared harder at me until he was pushed slightly aside by the silver kid.

“Give us back our money,” He commanded sternly.
“That tone doesn't suit you.” I commented smartly. “You should really start using a nicer tone around people.”

“Shut up strawberry top.” Grape boy grumbled on top of me.

“You see how fun this can be?! Grape boy is learning quickly!” I sucked in a breath as the knife cut into my neck.

“Just give us the coin pouch and we'll leave you be.” the silver boy sighed.

“Hey, a thieves gotta make a living. You expect her to give up her well earned money easily?”

“I expect you to know whats good for your health and give me the coin pouch. Connor here is very short tempered, if you haven't noticed.”

“I've noticed, but I'm still not going to hand over the coin pouch willingly. That is a good weeks worth of living!” Grape boy pushed the dagger deeper into my cut throat and leaned close to me.

“We can always kill you and take it.” He smirked. I spat in his face.

“I like angry grapes a little farther from my face.” I almost growled, but a smile still appeared on my face. Grape boy almost screamed at me and tried to stab me when Kita intervened.

“Wait!!!” Everyone, including me, turned to look at the small level one. “Can't you just give them the money uh- what's your name?” It was at that moment that I realized I never told Kita my name. The two boys looked at me a bit weird.

“We never properly introduced! So my name never really came up.” I explained then turned to Kita. “It's Amelia, Amelia Johnson.” The silver boy sucked in a breath.

“Wait, isn't the wandering thief nick named Johnson? At least that's what it was during the beta testing.” He thought outloud. A painful memory erupted into my mind.

“Johnson, I'm naming you Johnson.”
“Does that mean I'm in?!”

I swallowed down the memory
“I haven't been called that for a long time, and I prefer not to be called that again. Not by someone like you.” I said darkly.

Everyone looked down at me then back to Kita who was starring at me in wonder. I took the momentary distraction to kick grape boy in the belly, which made him roll over, and get up. The blood from my cut throat was streaming down my neck, but I didn't care at the moment. I kicked silver boy aside, took Kita's hand, and ran. Just before I left the ally I took out the coin pouch and dropped it on the ground.

“You can keep it!” I called. “Just don't tell anyone we met.” at that I lead her into the forest on the north-eastern side of town. Once we where safely in the trees I slowed us down to a comfortable pace. We walked in silence for a while before Kita spoke.

“Hey Amelia?”

“Yea?” I asked.

“How did you become so famous? I mean yeah your a thief but don't most thieves do what you do?” I smiled.

“You're right, most thieves are like me. But not as stupid or dangerous.” I replied.

“That can't be the only reason your famous. Please tell me.” She pleaded. I looked at her with almost sad eyes. I hadn't told anyone ever since he died. Her eyes where so like his, full of life and joy. Maybe I can tell her.

“The reason I'm famous huh?” I said with a bittersweet smile. “Well, it's a dangerous story. But to simply put it, I stole a quarter of the kings treasure. Kita's eyes seemed to pop when she heard that.

“You stole a quarter of King Franklin's treasure?!” She exclaimed. I almost laughed at the comment, but the memory was too horrible to laugh at.

“Yes, but that's not completely what I'm famous for.” I said “Have you ever noticed the wanted posters around town?” Kita thought for a moment.

“There's said to be one that's been there since the beta testing.” She said

“Yup, that's me.”

“But the picture is of a silver haired girl with multicolored eyes! Not you!”

“The King wouldn't be still looking for me if I had just stolen the treasure.” I continued as though I didn't hear her. “No, it's what I saw that he want's me for.”

“What do you mean?”

“The treasure is located under ground. The only way to reach it is to go by the dungeons. What I saw during that heist.” It paused, remembering the horrific scenes. I continued again, but this time for more quietly. “I was with a group. It was the only way we could steal all of it. They where good friends of mine, and, and.” I was about to cry. Kita looked at me.

“And what?”

“They all died.” I whispered. “The king killed them all. And not just in the virtual world, but the real one too. I'm sure of it. Shortly after my group died it came on the news. A group of FAR kids died using the system. That was my confirmation. When I went back to FAR there where warrants up for my arrest. The man hunt had started and I needed to get away. Hide myself, change my life, anything I could to trip up the King and his men.”

“How did you do that?”

“Me and the thief guild's central location was in an abandoned barn outside of Grindsvill, I was still staying there but knew I would have to leave, and soon. So I created a rumor, just one small enough to be known but not raise suspicion. I then found a way to change my hair color and name, it was hard work but I did it. They are still looking for the girl wanted on the poster when who they want lives the legend of the most famous thief in FAR.” Kita was silent for a long time.

“So why hasn't anyone put the pieces together or talked about it?” She asked. I looked up at Minota who was circling around the trees.

“Anyone who knows what I've seen and done is killed. Only those who don't speak of it are spared. And the fact that since most people know only of the robbery and not the other part they keep it a secret to help me. I may be a thief, but I'm a loved thief.” I said.

“So I have to keep quiet about this?” She asked.
“Yeah, sorry.” I said. “Your the first person to know about this since I disappeared.”

“Who new before me?” Kita asked. I looked at her with sad eyes.

“I new an old man named Manta.” I said fondly. “He was always smiling and happy. It was unusual for old people to play but it was just how he was. Manta was the one who gave me Minota, she's been with me since the heist. In fact, I'de have to go as far as say she saved my life. Manta new what he was doing when he gave me Minota. I've missed him everyday since he died. The same thing happened as with my guild. He died both in the real and virtual world.” I said, then looked at Kita. “You two have the same light in your eyes. It makes me happy and want to trust you.” I mumbled more to myself.

“You've had a hard time.” Kita said thoughtfully. I gave out a short laugh.

“Yeah, but it's now in the past. As long as I stay away from villages near the castle I can do almost anything I want.” I said.

“But you can't be the same, after all this has happened.” she replied. “I have another question.”
“Your full of questions today aren't you!” I said almost too cheerful. Kita looked at me sadly.

“After all that's happened, why did you come back to FAR? Why come back to the place that killed your group.” I looked at her a bit shocked. Why did I return? All I remember is going on after hearing of my guilds death on the news. Why would I return? Why would anyone return?

“Why would you return?” I mumbled, then walked ahead.

We where silent, Kita didn't bother to catch up to me and I almost appreciated it. It gave me time to myself, but instead of thinking of my impending meeting with Luke, I slipped into another bittter-sweet memory. Of when I met the friends I thought of as family.

~~

“Aurora Silverhand huh?” Said Jordan Kingston, who was the leader of the rising thief guild I intended to join. “Doesn't fit you.”

“If you don't like it, deal with it.” I countered and stared at the man. He looked at me for a while longer.

“Johnson.” He said, I gave him a weird stare. “I'm naming you Johnson.” My eyes started widening.

“Does that mean I'm in?!” I asked excitedly. The guy sighed.

“Yes, I suppose it does.” he said.

“YES!” I jumped in the air. Jordan laughed then asked.

“Want to meet the rest of the gang?” I nodded vigorously.

We where standing outside the abandoned barn where the thief gang used as a hideout. Jordan lead me inside the barn where a group of people where spread out playing games, talking, and making plans on the map set up on the far wall of the barn.

“Hey guys!” Jordan called and the group looked up. “This is our new member Johnson!” everyone got up and crowded around me with welcoming greetings. “One at a time guys!” Jordan demanded and the group went silent. Jordan pointed to on member. “We start her and move left.”

“I'm Cayden.” Said the orange haired teen Jordan pointed too. “It's a pleasure to have you Johnson!”
“My name's not really Johnson, it's Aurora.” I mumbled smiling.

“I like Johnson better.” Said the next boy. He had brown hair and gold eyes. “Names Justin.” he smiled at me.

“Stop being a flirt Justin!” Called another boy. This one had dark blue hair.

“I'm not flirting!” He countered. “I'm just introducing myself, Drew!” the blue haired boy named Drew glared at Justin.

“That counts as flirting for you.” he mumbled. Their was one person I hadn't met. He was off to the corner. I turned away form the bantering boys to look at the last one. He smiled wickedly at me.

“Names Orion Star, It's a pleasure to meet you Miss. Johnson.” he said and bowed slightly. My eyes widened.

“Orion Star?!” I asked, he nodded. The room went silent. “I thought you where part of the knights guard!”

“I'm a spy more or less.” He said. I nodded amazed.
“Stop taking up all the spotlight Orion!” Justin said accusingly.

“If you want to talk to the pretty lady then go ahead and talk. I'm not doing anything to prevent you.” Orion said smartly. I blushed a little.

“You guys are making her uncomfortable.” Said Cayden. He walked next to me. Everyone in the room seemed to be no more than 16 to 18. It was a playful group and had a lot of fun people.

“Yeah!” Chimed in Drew. “Cayden, why don't we show her around?” they each held out an arm and I laughed.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked playfully.
“We are going to escort you around the barn.” Said Cayden. I laughed again.

“I'm a thief. You sure you want to get so close to me?” I said smartly.

“I'm pretty sure we're safe.” Drew said. I looked at him wickedly.

“Then I'm sure you don't care that I took your dagger.” I said holding up the jewel encrusted dagger. Drew's eyes widened when he saw the dagger and the empty slip at his waist.

“How did you do that?!” He asked.

“It's simple.” Said Orion. “Your just an idiot when it comes to pickpockets.” I watched as the playful banter between the two boys turned into a rather hilarious scuffle between the entire group. I laughed out loud as the boys scuffled on the ground. Justin recovered first, stood up, and smiled at me.

“How about we leave this group of gorillas and have a look around the barn!” He said, I laughed again.
“You sure they are going to be okay?” I asked.

“No, but we should leave before your life is in danger.” He took my hand and lead me away from the brawling group of teens. “Over here is the planning area. We make plans and have group discussions and stuff.” he pointed to the area with the map. I nodded and he continued. “Under the landing is the boys sleeping area. Yours is on the landing, so you don't need to worry about where to sleep. The fire is just outside, we usually will eat there for dinner.”

“Wow, you guys have got a nice place.” I said looking around the barn.

“We do try to make it feel like home.” he said.
“Oi! Justin stop hogging the newbie!” Cried Drew. I looked over at the slightly bruised but smiling boy.
“I'm just showing her around,” said Justin.

“Your doing a little more than showing her around.” Cayden said and grabbed my hand. I blushed.
“Guys, why don't you all show me around?” I said reasonably.

“But then we can't have as much fun!” Whined Justin.

“You guys are smothering her ya know.” Orion said. He came up behind me, I whirled around.

“Then what do you propose?” Cayden asked, folding his arms.

“I'll take her.” He said.

“And leave you alone with her? That's a big no!” Drew snorted.

“Why don't we ask Johnson?” said Orion. It was then that I knew this was going to be a very fun group.

~~

“Oi! Be careful!” I came out of my thoughts and looked at the person I had accedently bumped into. I was assuming it was some stupid traveler I could pickpocket from, but what I got instead was someone I thought I would never see again.

“Orion!” I cried and backed away from the tall boy. He looked at me for a moment, as if he was trying to remember who I was. Please don't let him recognize me! But I guess the sudden outburst of his name didn't help my concealment cause his eyes widened in recognition.

“Johnson!” He cried and pulled me into a tight hug.

“Can't. Breath!” Wheezed.

“You changed your hair.” He commented when he pulled me away from the hug.

“Amelia! You know Orion Star?!” Asked Kita astonished. Orion looked at me quizzically.

“You changed your name too? He asked a little in disbelief. I nodded and gave him a sad smile.

“Yeah, I'm Amelia Johnson now.” He laughed lightly.
“You could have kept your name.” He said. I shook my head.

“You know darn well that I couldn't.” Orion's face fell slightly.

“Rite,” he mumbled then changed the subject

“Where' ya guys headed?”

“Just into Winderlock. What about you?” I looked past him at a small guild who seemed to be trying to stay in the shadows.

“It seems fate has brought us together again. We happen to be going the same direction.” We laughed together.

“Then I'de be glad if you joined me and my temporary traveling partner.” I showed a hand to Kita who blushed and looked down at her boots. Orion turned to Kita and bowed.

“It's a pleasure to meet you miss?” He ended his comment in a question to inquire her name.

“Kita.” She whispered.

“She's a bit shy.” I said. Orion smiled and took the young girls hand, kissed it and said.

“Miss Kita, you have a lovely name.” Kita turned bright red. I shoved Orion which made him loose his balance.

“Flirt,” I mumbled with a smile.

“I'm just saying hello to the young lady!” Orion protested. I raised an eyebrow at him and he gave me a huge grin.

“It seems to me you're doing more than saying hello.” I said and turned toward the other members of his guild. “Care to introduce us to your guild?” Orion almost jumped and ran over to his awkard looking guild.

“This!” He held his hand out. “Is my singing guild! One of them is gone on a quest, but this is Keller and Maximilian” The two men bowed to me and Kita.
“It's a pleasure to meet you!” I said and bowed slightly. “I'm Amelia Johnson, also known as the wandering thief, and this is my traveling partner Kita.” I pointed to Kita who had turned a deep scarlet and tried to back off into the trees. I grabbed her arm and pushed her towards the two men.

“Go and greet our temporary companions Kita!” I cried, she looked shyly up at the two men who decided to start off making small talk with her. As we started talking, she opened up to the two men. I walked behind with Orion, smiling at the young girl.

“She reminds you of him, doesn't she?” Orion said next to me. I nodded, remembering the smile of Manta.

“So much so I even trusted her with some of my past. I haven't told anyone since he died.” I said. Orion put his arm around my shoulders.

“Sometimes it's hard to realize when someones gotten into your heart.” He said and I smiled.

“Does that mean someone has gotten into your heart?” I asked sneakily.

“What makes you say that?” Orion's voice had raised ever so slightly.

“Your tone and the fact that you seem to be looking off fondly, as if your thinking of someone your missing.” I replied smartly. “Who is she?” I pressed nudging Orion. The relationship with our entire guild was more of family, we even called each other brothers and sister. Orion laughed hesitantly.

“After all this time, you still know me well.” he said.
“You don't think I'de forget a person like you?” I asked. We both laughed lightly then lapsed into a small silence.

“Its the newest member of my guild. Her name is Singe,” he finally said.

“And someone finally fell for you flirting charm!” I cried.

Orion tried to push me but I danced away laughing. He lunged my way trying to catch me, his face had turned a little pink.

“It's not like that! We're just good friends!” He cried, grabbing my arm. I laughed and slipped out of his hands.

“It seems to me that you think a little more of her than that. I can see she means a great deal to you.” I said. He grabbed me around the collarbone and pulled me into a brotherly backwards hug.

“Don't tell Maximilian and Keller please.” he whispered into my ear. I laughed and turned around.
“I would be a bad 'sister' if I told them.” I said. He put his arm around my shoulders again and we continued walking.

“It's just like old times isn't it?” He asked, I nodded.
“The place will change, but the people never will.” I said. “I remember us running around the old barn when I stole your sword.” We smiled, the memory of those days came back. One in particular made me smile and hold onto it.

~~

“Run run run as fast as you can! You can't catch me I'm the gingerbread thief!” I cried to Orion as he chased me around the barn. I was holding his gingerbread cookie and an old dagger.

“Come back with my cookie!” He cried and pounced on me. I scurried away form him, Justin, Cayden, Jordan, and Drew where standing on the sides laughing.

“You're not going to catch her Orion!” Cried Cayden. “She's just too good!” I laughed and started climbing up the ladder to my landing, Orion hot on my tail.
“I'm close! I'm sure I can get her!” he said and grabbed my ankle just as I reached the last rung.

I lost my balance and we went tumbling back toward the floor. I landed on top of Orion with an omph. I groaned a little and tried to get up, but Orion had grabbed my waist and wasn't letting me go. I squealed.

“Oh look!” Said Drew surprised. “He caught her!”

“EEEEEEK!” I struggled but Orion just laughed and held on tighter. We sat up and he held out his hand, the other arm still holding me.

“My gingerbread and dagger please.” He smirked. I jutted out my bottom lip and pouted.

“You're making a thief give back her well earned food!” Orion laughed.

“I wouldn't call it well earned. You snatched it rite out of my hands!” We both laughed and I gave him the two stolen items.

He helped me up and we rejoined the rest of the group.

“Of all the people.” Jordan said with a grin, “You two act the most like brother and sister.”

~~

“Johnson? Johnson!” Orion was shaking me a little. I had stopped walking somehow and he was looked at me a bit concerned. “You okay?”

“What? Yeah, sorry. Got caught up in my own thoughts.” I said, still a little out of it.

“You seemed a little distracted since we met earlier. Whats wrong?” He was truly concerned, but I didn't want to ruin the happy environment. I refused to go back and cry into his shoulder again, I'm strong now. Just not strong enough to go back to those memories.

“I'm fine, honestly. Just had a lot on my mind lately.” I said cheerfully then continued to walk with him.

I knew he didn't quite believe me, but whether he didn't want to ruin the moment either, or he knew I wouldn't tell him if he did ask again, he didn't go back to the topic. He would look over at me with some concern every-so-often though, and would usually try to avoid our old lives.

We reached the town of Winderlock shortly after. The singing guild decided to go into a group small bar and relax and maybe even preform. I stayed a little with Kita, who seemed more than happy to stay in the bar and with the guild all day. Shortly after I said farewell to Kita and the guild.

“Hey!” Called Orion as I turned to leave. He came to me and gave me another warm brotherly hug. “Come around and visit us some time. I'm sure Singe would love to meet you.” he said this low enough that only I could hear. I giggled a little.

“Don't worry, I'll come back. It's not like we are leaving on bad terms.” We separated and wayved as I left the bar and walked towards the edge of town where Luke was suppose to wait for me. It's surprising how the impossible happiness can happen to a few miserable lives.
 
 

A Questing We Shall Go!
>> S I N G E <<

I made a face at the back of the jerk that I was stuck Questing with. He didn’t have to be so rude about being a Leveled Class A Jerk…

But… I was stuck with him so I might as well be friendly with him, even if he was a big meanie. Did he really have to send me through that tree? I mean, really? Talk about anger issues.

Despite myself, my mind drifted towards the dreams I had been having. I shivered.

They were scary… like a R rated movie…

I didn’t like those images in my head. So full of violence and madness and just wrong. A kingdom turned into a wasteland, men fighting against men… a rag tag group of men and women fighting against pandemonium, their faces and voices masked by never ending shadows and darkness; and a king who watched over it all… laughing. Laughing at the screams and wails of despair. Laughing at his people’s pain.

It made me shudder every time I thought about it.

So I did the next best thing, I started to hum.

“…is that a new song you guys are working on?” after a while, the Meanie asks, half irritated and half curious.

I shrug. “Kinda… I haven’t actually proposed it to Orion or the others yet…”

A surprised look briefly came over his face before it smoothed into a passive stare. I giggle in my head. He was so interested in the music even if he didn’t want to show it.

“You write?”

I nod.

We go back to silence, the only sound the crunch of rocks beneath our boots.

***

“They breathe for the last time… the warriors and the forgotten, the players of the Great Game.” I sing quietly, trailing off flushing embarrassedly at the intense look of concentration I’m given by my traveling companion.

“…Sing more.” He orders, and I oblige, growing more confidant as I sing the song I had made myself.

Will we

Remember

The broken and the needy

The lost and the damned

To sooth the Dark Gods’ demands?

“What’s the story line?”

“A battle between right and wrong, the Light Gods and the Dark Gods, and the mortal heroes caught in between.”

“…”

“…”

“That’s… good, I guess.”

I smile. 

Will our consciences

Be pricked by those others

The sinners and the other man?

 “Why are you so bad at leveling up?”

“Have you seen me fighting those beasts? They make me look like I’m a little itty-bitty mouse!”

A snort. “Got that right, Newbie.”                                                                                  

I sulk slightly, pride injured. But not as much as it would have been before this trek.

Will humanity come out

To face the fading day?

And defend against the evils

that would destroy us?

As our love and loyalty demands?

“Wha!”

CRASH!!!

“I-t-t-tai…”

“What does that even mean??”

“It means ow in Japanese.”

A surprised sideways glance. “You speak Japanese?”

I flush. “Not really, I  just watch too much Anime and read too much Manga.”

“…Manga?”

“Japanese comic book.”

“Oh…”

Who is the villain

Who is the hero?

The battle is won

But who is the victor?

“Why did you start playing FAR?” I ask.

“Well… I don’t really know really…”

“C’mon! You can tell me!” I needle, grinning.

He glares at me.

“Alright, alright!” I back up, mind flashing back to the incident earlier this morning. I didn’t want to get whacked into a boulder or something…

There are so many dead

Why did we start killing in the first place?

Was it self defense or murder?

The line has blurred

And the God-King just laughs.

“God-King?” he asks me as I finish the verse.

I fidget. Should I tell him? It wouldn’t really hurt… but he could call me an idiot! …wait, he’s already done that so it doesn’t really matter if I tell him or not.

“Oi… sometime before I have to log off out of neglect would be nice!” he breaks me out of my thoughts.

“Oh! Right… sorry…” I mumble. I take a steadying breath. “I have these dreams… in the real world.”

“Dreams?”

I nod. “Yeah. And they’re not really dreams, they’re nightmares.”

“Nightmares.” His tone is flat and disbelieving.

“But I dream of this world,” I gesture at our digital surroundings. “And it’s been torn apart, raveged by war.”

“War?” his eyebrow climbs to his hairline.

“A civil war, a mass panic spreads like the plague… something went wrong… terribly wrong… I don’t know what but so many people were dead…”

“That really does classify as a nightmare…” he pats me on the head and I scowl, I wasn’t a little kid! “It’s not real though.”

“I know that, ya thrink!” I shove his armored hand off my hair, scowling at him. I didn’t care if he punted me to the twin moons! “That’s why I made it into a song!”

Jack shrugs. “Whatever sooths your mind, Newbie.”

My eye twitches but I don’t correct him. I was like some stupid noob. Didn’t mean I was a true newbie.

One day… one day… I’d show him! I’d show everyone! No one messes with Singe! The great fire mistress –

CRASH!

“Oww…” I moan in English this time, having once again given the path a hug due to my eternal misfortune to trip on the smallest of things…

“Are you this clumsy even in RL??” Jack’s disbelieving voice comes right above me and I glance up to see him staring at me a little bit ahead on the path. “Because you tripping every five minutes can’t possibly be a glitch.”

“…yeah…” I grumble, getting back up. I glare at his half smirk.

Stupid smug level fourties, thinking they’re better than everyo-

WHUP!!!

I blink owlishly at the pretty lights in the sky before realizing that I was seeing stars that weren’t part of constellations. Again.

Dangin it!

Will we ever be what we were?

Who we are and what we’ll be?

Will we be enemies for another day

Or will we be friends until the end?

“So there I was, surrounded by all of these stupid goons. At the time, I had thought them to be rather smart to corner me like that but I eventually realized that they were rather idiotic to have faced off against a stronger opponent, aka, me.” he said proudly.

I laughed. “Wow! Why did they attack you, Jack?” I ask curiously.

He smirks. “Well it was the usual, besides them being idiots anyways, money, experience, reputation, who knows. I trashed them anyways.”

“Suuugei! You’re amazing!”

A smug look. “I know.”

And my admiration was doused in cold annoyance. Arrogant jerk… I thought fondly. 

It was nearly nighttime when we found the group of bandits that had stolen the poor lady’s enchanted sword.

They were like the idiotic goons in Jack’s story, if you believed him anyways…

Jack signaled for me to be quiet as we crouched down to hide our silhouettes against the darkening sky.

“When I say, we’ll start the attack, alright?”

 I nod. We are surrounded by a gentle silence full of anticipation as we wait for the right moment to strike.

I activate my newly learned skill of Sight and peer down at the calmly bustling camp as the bandits made preparations to settle down for the night, their levels highlighted in a reddish orange. They would attack us on sight if they saw us. If being the key word.

“ready?” I heard Jack murmur beside me and I nodded firmly, drawing my sword.

He drew his silently and then a harsh whisper of , “GO!” and we were running now the hill, silently encroaching on the enemy.

I didn’t trip once during that charge and I think we both were surprised at that fact but that surprise didn’t interfere with the battle.

As I ended each NPC’s life with the accompanying sound of shattered glass, I inwardly shuddered, the deaths of the people in my dream dying in that same way… and to never respawn again… it was a horrible thought… one I didn’t dwell on for long.

These weren’t real people, they’d respawn in the morning. I had to keep telling myself that but their screams of pain were so real and it broke my heart with each NPC’s death.

Eventually, I just focused on swinging and the thought of the happiness we would bring that poor girl once we gave her the enchanted sword back…

“Jack! Switch!” I call to him and he lunges in to finish the man I had been grappling with, giving me enough time to parry another blow from another bandit.

They were almost gone and I dimly felt relief at that thought.

The last one fell with a sneer on his face. “You’ll regret this!” he cried darkly, his ruby eyes locking with mine. “You’ll all pay once the King finds out about your leader’s betra-“ and he disapreared in shards of data.

Somehow… I felt like he was talking about Orion…

“…my legacy….

…be… hero now…

Goodbye S…”
I collapsed to the ground, Jack soon following me. We lay there, staring up at the sky. And all of a sudden… it was all rather funny… I laughed and laughed and laughed until there were tears streaming down my face.

In the moonlight, I could see Jack giving me a half smirk, his own way of laughing.

The tears and laughter soon turned into hiccups and Jack snorted.

I stuck my tounge out at him. “Meanie.” I say fondly.

“Newbie.” He returns, apparently too lazy to do any damage to me. I’m fine with that. I think I can call him a friend now. It feels like we’ve known eachother for longer than just sporadic meetings.

I don’t know if he feels the same way, but I can tell… that he isn’t all that bad, though he probably would punt me to the twin moons if I ever said that…

But that’s what makes Jack Dagger… Jack Dagger. 

 
 

When Mysteries Don't Want to Be Solved...
>> J A C K D A G G E R <<

Splash!

                “Ooomph!”

                With the familiar chill of moisture from the waterfall and sudden collision with the ground, I’m back in my cave, finally home from my peculiar adventure. Pulling the hard, metal armor plates off my body and looking around, nothing looked to have gone missing from my piles of supplies. Amelia probably wasn’t willing to risk another trip back here, especially now that she knew I was hunting for her.

                “Scythe!” I call into the darkness, my gunmetal gray armor now strewn across the ground, leaving my more comfortable cloth clothes hanging loosely off my body.

                “Sccreeeeeeeeee!!” The shrill scream of my hawk, and suddenly the small ball of feathers came flying towards me from the dark tunnel that led towards the body pit. She perched on my arm, and greedily snapped down a small rat I grabbed from the food pile.

                “There’s only one person who can possibly tell us about that meadow,” I say to my pet as she stares at me with her piercing yellow hawk eyes. She makes a soft crowing sound as if in reply.

                Minutes later, with the climb back to the trail complete, I’m hiking back away from the cave, and out of the forest towards civilization. Scythe is above me, keeping up by gliding through the trees. At times it seems like a horse would be a good idea for me, but I have no way of moving such a massive beast in and out of the cave. When truly long rides are necessary I have Carnage, who’s able to make it in and out of the cave easily, but he’s only for special occasions, and I’ve only taken him outside the forest once. He tends to cause a lot of destruction…

                 I’m at the very edge of the forest, looking on towards the dirt road that leads to all the major cities across the game map, when something catches my eye. Under one of the very last trees before the end of the forest, curled up in a ball, is the newbie! The one with pink hair that I keep running into!

                “What are you doing Newbie?!” I bellow.

                She groans, stirring from her sleep, and opens one eye to look at me, but closes it just as quickly.

                “G’way ya big meanie… I don’ wanna deal with yer crap righ now… too lazy…” she grumbles, and seems to fall back into her sleep for a moment. Suddenly, realizing who I was, she sat up straight as a board, eyes wide. “Oh, custard!”  she exclaimed, and jumped to her feet. “I am so sorry!”

                I smirk, amused at her attempt to apologize to me. This is gonna be fun…

                “Are you gonna-“ she begins, but I lunge towards her before she can get out another word. “AH!”

                I lift her into the air with one hand clenched around her throat, her bright green nails clawing at my unmoving, armored fingers trying to spare herself from choking to death.

                “I’m sorry!” she spits out, suffocating rapidly.

                I suddenly throw her against the tree she’d been sleeping under, sending small splinters everywhere and taking a nasty bite out of her health bar. Her endurance skill wasn’t evolved really well. She cringed in pain, as I stooped down in front of her face, releasing my grip on her throat just enough that she could gasp for air, and her face began returning to a normal color.

                “I- I’m so sorry-“ she repeats over and over again between breaths.

                “LISTEN, NEWBIE!!” I roar, and she falls silent, still shivering in my grip.”I don’t know what sort of stories you’ve been told about me, but I’m not the friendliest guy out there. And when helpless little girls like you get on my nerves, it becomes very, very easy for me to start pickin’ em’ off!!”

                I yank the Hellblade from my back, the flames igniting as I do so, and stab the massive blade into the wood just above her head. She squeaks just a little as the flames lick the top of her hair and tiny wooden fragments rain down on her.

                “I don’t know why I keep running into you, but next time I ain’t gonna be so FRIENDLY ABOUT IT!!!” I shout, and toss her away from the tree and onto the grass in front of us. Another small sliver disappears from her health bar and it moves from the blue zone to green.

                I grab my sword, put it back in its sheath, and continue walking.

                “And tell Orion Starr to do a better job of watching out for his guild,” I grunt as an afterthought, and stride past the whimpering newbie.

                Soon, after a long, exhausting walk, I finally stepped inside the city limits of Myotos, with its enormous statue of King Franklin in the middle, where children were often found playing and a few fruit stands were set up along the edges and massive buildings and cathedrals were scattered around it. Where I was headed, however, was the shopping center of the entire game map. Earthridge Square, the massive plaza built just a block or so away from the statue, and named after King Franklin’s palace, was a large clearing in the city, surrounded by pillars and arches and buildings, where countless shops and stands were erected, selling anything and everything one might ever need in the game. A few stands sold mystical, powerful weapons that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. I wasn’t interested in the many salespeople, however, as much as I was an old woman sitting inside a tiny shack at the very corner of the plaza. It was draped with a sparkling purple fabric, and the woman herself seemed a bit too elaborately dressed to be sitting here inside such a tiny little space.

                I had come to see a psychic. Not many of these existed in the game, but rumor had it that they knew more about the game than the greatest warriors and simplest peasants. That they knew perhaps just as much about it all as the Creator of FAR himself, whoever and wherever he may be. So hopefully this one would know about my new discovery.

                “Welcome… please, sit…” she said in a thick Spanish accent. Her voice seemed to trail off in every direction, as if she was constantly losing focus and shifting to another topic. “You very famous man…” she mumbled.

                I grunted. “I’ve noticed…”

                “What you want me to help you with, famous man?”

                “I want you to tell me if you know anything about a meadow. A meadow that doesn’t exist; that isn’t part of the map at all. And a hidden tunnel under that meadow, that leads to a Level 36 healing stone; a ruby.”

                She shot me a curious look. “You have glitch,” she said matter-of-factly.

                “No, no, it was too much to be a glitch,” I insist. “Way too much. The tunnel takes an hour to walk through to the ruby. But coming back… it would take less than a minute. Is there any sort of magic that can do that?”

                “No, no magic. You eat many wild mushrooms, famous man?”

                I rolled my eyes. Everyone thought I was drugged! “I’m not insane! Look!”

                I withdraw the Hellblade from its sheath, and slowly lower it towards her so that she can see the small inscription on the blade, producing subtle blue flames.

When dusk brings light

And the dark brings warmth

Three kings shall  appear

To guide you home

 “You has cursed sword, famous man.”

                “It’s not cursed! The healing ruby put it here!”

                “You say strange things, famous man. Stones speak only when changing possession. They send message to new owner.”

                “But if I’m its owner, why couldn’t I lift it?”

                The psychic shrugged. “Mushrooms?”

                I leave the tiny shack without answers, frustrated with everyone thinking I’m crazy. On my out of the plaza I stop at a cart that sells gems and see if they have any that the ruby’s pedestal required, but I find nothing and quickly continue on my way. In the distance I see Earthridge Palace, the massive, looming castle of King Franklin, built on top of a mountain, with its great waterfalls flowing directly through the foundation of the building itself, and down thousands of feet until they crash at the base of the mountain. It was truly a sight to behold, rising above the massive city. The base of the mountain was guarded with dragons, but nobody had ever made it past them. Only those whom King Franklin allowed to pass entered his palace. And King Franklin was a very secretive man.

                With it suddenly becoming obvious that I’ll have to venture beyond FAR to find out what it was I discovered, I slip out of the main plaza, and dart down one of the roads leading back towards the statue. But before I reach it, however, I turn down a narrow, abandoned ally filled with empty crates and loose straw. As I run, a mini-menu appears in front of me, and just before I reach the end of the alley, my body evaporates into tiny fragments of golden light and I’ve disappeared.

***
  My heavy eyes slowly open, and I look up. The heavy plastic helmet is weighing my head down, so I lift it off myself and set it down on my cluttered desk. I look out the window and down at the bright, sunny college campus. Students are walking around the sidewalks, talking with each other, and I even see a few having a picnic on the grass. I turn and look inside my own apartment, littered with old pizza boxes and Styrofoam soda cups. A guy’s gotta eat, right? I glance at my alarm clock. I’ve been plugged into FAR for more than three days… and man do I need to go to the bathroom!

                After I’ve relieved myself I walk back into my living room and kick some trash to the side. I realize a moment later that that trash is actually another overdue history assignment, but it can wait a few more days. Besides, nobody was missing me on campus, even though I’d been missing for nearly another full week now. Glancing towards my door I noticed a huge pile of mail lying on the carpet, one letter with a red stamp that looks like something important from a bank or something. I’m much to pre-occupied to care however, because I’m trying to find my laptop underneath all the junk on my coffee table in front of the couch. I eventually dig the metal rectangle out from under a math book, and lift the lid of the device and open the internet.

                Strange things had been happening in FAR lately, things I wasn’t sure what to think about.

                A gazillion emails had flooded my inbox while I was in the game. John, click here for a fabulous deal! one reads. Mr. Droopy! Your statement is enclosed in this email! reads another. I close them all out, ignoring even the important ones that have my lawyers name on them, and head straight to Google.

                I stay plopped there on the couch for a good hour, opening several new tabs and running countless searches with a slice of cold pizza in one hand the entire time, trying to figure out what exactly it was I’d seen. Undiscovered areas of the map in FAR hadn’t been seen in several weeks now. And the meadow I’d found wasn’t on the map at all. There was nothing at all on the internet, including the game’s website itself, to suggest that hidden areas of the map were accessible to players. Or even the creator himself, who I largely believed, along with many other people, to be King Franklin himself. Others were firm on the idea that he was personified as Orion Starr, and once or twice people even referred him to Jack Dagger, my character. However, with the exception of some trusted knights and servants in the castle, nobody had ever actually seen what this ‘King Franklin’ actually looked like.

                Eventually I shut my laptop in frustration, and flipped on the TV to catch up on the news before plunging back into FAR and continuing my adventure. News… boring. Talk show… boring. Action movie… boring, since they kept replaying this one over and over for some reason.

                I groaned, and walked back into my bedroom towards a more exciting world. In the background I thought I heard the TV mention something about FAR, but I was too busy getting my helmet set up again to listen or care. Making sure everything was in place, I switched to wireless mode (you can buy wireless FAR helmets if you’re willing to dish out the extra cash) and lay down on my bed with the helmet covering my entire face.

***
The neighbors often question whether or not anyone even lives in my home anymore. But I know the truth. I know what goes on in here and what I’m up to all the time. My name is Franky Benson, and I’m the creator of FAR. Not co-creator. Not CEO of the controlling company. I designed the game from the ground up, wrote the very first lines of the code and wrote the very last ones. The servers piled in my basement service the entire game; millions and millions of people, so many I’d lost count, all playing the game. It was amazing what happened in there. It was amazing to watch them thrive and turn my creation into something awesome for them to explore.

                On most nights I stay in my basement, crouched over a keyboard, looking up at the expensive monitors, running tests for new game elements or something like that. FAR utilizes unconscious cognition technology to insert images into the players brain, which can become anything the programmer of that particular simulator helmet wants. The FAR Helmets were all pre-loaded with the same game software, and mass produced and shipped by a privately owned company about an hour away from my house.

                Some people call me a workaholic when it comes to my game, those who know me anyway. I haven’t left the house in several months, preferring instead to stay home and continue work on the game. No phone calls, no texts, no communication at all. I keep the lights off, and the windows shut, so that nobody can see what I’m up to inside. I prefer to maintain my privacy while I’m working.

                In the basement, amidst the stacks and stacks of computer servers and Ethernet cables, is my own FAR helmet. The first one I ever built, by hand, with my own tools. It was crude compared to the modern ones being shipped around the world, but it allowed me access to my creation, and best yet, because I knew and had access to every last line of code in the game, when I put on that helmet, I could appear anywhere, not just at one of the random spawn points. I could do what I wanted and nobody would ever know it was me. I’ll just put on my helmet, appear behind someone I want dead, and slit their throat before they know anyone is there. Then evaporate, and reappear somewhere I’m safe.

                At least, until today. My computer had alerted me earlier to an unknown error in the coding, one not related to my own recent tampering, and I soon discovered that one of the players had entered a restricted part of the game. It appeared to be simply a glitch, but I knew better. And immediately I rushed to the server room and put on my helmet.

                It was too far along to have a player discover what wasn’t discoverable. If they could find it, the others would follow. I had to act soon, or my plan would be for nothing and FAR truly would just be a game. In the background, from my TV, I heard the words “FAR Helmet recall” and knew that soon it would be time to release the update. Soon the true purpose of FAR would become known to the world, and the worlds of technology and reality would finally be allowed to intersect.

***
   “My Lord! Welcome back!”

                Swaiver, one of the smallest, weakest elves in all of Earthridge Palace, bows before me as my body flies together from specks of golden light in front of him. We stand together in my throne room, the golden chair resting behind me.

                “Tell Sir Henry to meet me here immediately,” I say slowly, enunciating every word with precarious precision.

                “Yes, my Lord!” he grovels, and goes hobbling out of the throne room to find Sir Henry.

                I sit and wait in my solid gold place of rest, draped loosely in the purple cloak that surrounds me, and the elaborate cloths gilded with gold and platinum covering the rest of me. My olive hair is slicked back to make way for the platinum crown resting on my head, embezzled with precious gems and jewels.

                Sir Henry, one of my most trusted counselors, walks into the room and looks at me where I sit.

                “You summoned me, my Lord?” he asks respectfully, and I rise from my throne.

                “Indeed, Henry,” I tell him. “Let’s walk, shall we?”

                Minutes later we’re slowly pacing along the outer deck of the castle, just above one of the waterfalls that runs through the foundation of the building and off the side of the massive mountain. The sun is just beginning to set, and the sky is clad with light shades of purple and peachy orange.

                “Have you ever wondered why I am the only person with absolute control over the game?” I ask him slowly.

                “No, sir?” he says, confused, as we stop and look down at the rushing, roaring water.

                “No? Come now, Henry, surely I’ve told you the story.”

                He shook his head.

                “Very well… you see Henry, I’ve learned in my time here that the only person who can ever truly be trusted in one’s self.”

                “ONLY one’s self?” my advisor clarifies.

                “ONLY one’s self. Even you, my friend, cannot ever be completely trusted,” I tell him. “I once made the mistake of placing my trust entirely in someone I was close to, and I soon learned of his true nature when he stole one of my most valuable possessions.”

                “So it was him who led you to this conclusion?”

                “Indeed, old friend. The great knight became greedy, and selfish. He wished for more power when he already had so much, so he stole and murdered, and left me and my other servants betrayed and weakened.”

                “Why not chase after him, my Lord?”

                “Because, Henry, sometimes chasing after what is lost is not the practical thing to do. Sometimes waiting for the return of that which has been lost brings back the sweetest return. The slow sword does the most damage…”

                Henry turned to me, knowing I was trying to tell him something. I turned also, and looked him directly in the eye.

                “Henry, the day is coming soon. Preparation has already begun and we now have enough players to proceed. But you of all people know that I’m not one to proceed with such great matters without having access to a source of security.” A thin, pursed smile escapes my lips. “Have you prepared what I asked you to prepare?” I ask confidently.

                “Indeed, my Lord,” he replies, and we walk back into the castle.

                Down, deep in the foundation of Earthridge Palace, is the dungeon. Here we store every sort of man and creature one can possibly imagine. In one cell I have captured a massive Hellhound, a symbol of having conquered a beast of my own imagination. In another we have experimental creatures, not yet seen by most eyes. And in others still sit citizens of the game, players themselves, starving and chained to the walls. They are test subjects, plucked from the ground when nobody is looking by my soldiers, and brought back to the castle to be experimented with. The results from the tests run on them is what allows me to proceed further and further into my plan. We pass a cell who’s occupant, another player, is dead.

                “Who’s this?” I ask Henry.

                “A psychic from Myotos,” he tells me. “We were monitoring her. She was told of the Hidden Meadow by another player. We captured her and brought her here once the client had left her.”

                “How did she meet her doom?” I ask curiously.

                “Arrow,” he replies shortly. “Just one.”

                “And the result?”

                “She died instantly.”

                “The other result, Henry. The one not limited to our castle.”

                He paused for a moment, hesitating to tell me just what had happened. I’d been hoping to hear news of a dead player in the dungeons for several weeks to ensure that everything was going according to plan.

                “…her helmet went permanently offline after her death, my Lord…” he says after a long silence. “It’s signal stopped transmitting and has not reappeared since.”

                I laugh under my breath. “Excellent,” I say quietly. “And the update was applied to her profile, correct?”

                “Yes, my Lord.”

                “Excellent… Now, show me what we came down here for. The next stage of my plan is critical. I must have the item returned to me as soon as possible once the update has been released globally.”

                We walk some more, down another flight of grimy stares, into a musty, humid level of the dungeon. In the distance the rushing water of the waterfalls can be heard. Although to me they are much more than simply waterfalls.

                “We call them Fire Giants,” Henry says, and we round a corner, faced with a large cell, closed off by rusty metal bars. “They were engineered to your exact specifications, my Lord. Nameless as well as limitless.”

                The creature sitting inside the cage is magnificent. It resembles an enormous beetle, but with a hardened shell on its back, seemingly made of rock. Flowing through this armor were tiny veins of lava, dripping slowly onto the cool floor of the prison. The heat could be felt even from our safe distance.

                “It seems a bit calm…” I remark, continuing to stare at the creature.

                Henry, in response, walked towards the cell, and grabbed a chain slipped between the bars, and tugged on it. It was tied around the Fire Giants neck. It was forced to follow Henry’s prodding, or risk choking to death on the chain. My advisor produced a tiny, yellow gem from his pocket, and held it near the chain.

                “Watch this…” he commented, and suddenly jammed the gem against the portion of the metal he was holding.

                Instantly the chain absorbed the energy from the stone, glowing yellow for a moment, and the shock travelled through the chain towards the beast’s throat.

                ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!

                The electric shock hit the Fire Giant, and immediately it screeched louder than anything I’d ever heard before, and a massive pillar of scalding flame shot from its mouth.

                “It’s quite easily aggressed!” Henry shouted over the thundering.

                “Does it do anything besides just breathe fire?” I ask as the flames die down and the heat disappears.

                “Oh yes,” he says. “Much more.”

                The monster’s hard, rocky shell seems to split in two and its massive, slimy wings spread out across it’s body. The veins, visible on the wings, seem to be flowing with lava just like on the shell. It flaps them back and forth, and thin sheets of lava appear and splash to the ground, sizzling and smoldering.

                “The lava sprays from its wings,” he says. “In any direction it chooses. They aren’t capable of flight, though. We have to have some control over them.”

                “What about their game level?” I say.

                “Have a look for yourself,” he says, and I open a statistics window on the Fire Giant. Where it’s name would normally be there is only a skull, and where it’s level would be are three question marks instead.

                “This thing’ll make Jack Dagger into bacon,” he tells me, and I smirk at the humorous remark.

                “So it should be enough for the target I intend it for?”

                “Naturally, my Lord. Actually, he’s been spotted travelling with a guild lately, so we’ve spawned two more. We’ll send all three of them to retrieve your item when the time is right,” he tells me.

                “Excellent. Find them and set up the quest that’ll lead them into the dungeon. Leave no survivors.  And make sure it looks like an accident. I have more tests to conduct before we begin.”

  My body, armor, Hellblade and everything else flies together from millions of tiny gold fragments and suddenly I’m back, inside FAR once more. A few hours have passed on the game clock since I left, and nothing has changed much. I’ve spawned near the edge of Myotos, and only a few people can be seen wandering the streets here at this time of night. Scythe has undoubtedly spawned somewhere nearby, and looking up I see her perched on a rooftop. Deciding I should try to be back to the cave by the time it’s dark, I begin walking.

                “Sir!” calls a voice from behind me. “Oh, sir, please wait!”

                I turn around, and dread to see that this ‘sir’ is me. A rather ugly looking, but human sized and English speaking troll is running towards me, dodging people and trying to make sure she doesn’t lose me.

                “Oh, sir, please help me! I know you’re mean, but they say that sometimes you help those who are innocent,” she bawls, and collapses to her knees in tears.

                I groan. “What’s wrong?” I ask reluctantly.

                “It- it’s my sword,” she bawl. “It helps keep me beautiful!” she breaks down crying again while I stand above her, awkwardly watching the emotional breakdown.

                “What?” I say, confused.

                “I’m not really a troll!” she tries to explain. “I was cursed once, but I found a magic sword that helped me to appear beautiful! Oh, but it’s been stolen!”

                “Wait, slow down. It keeps you beautiful?”

                “It was enchanted,” she says, sniffling. “A magician enchanted it to help me. So long as I carry it with me, I won’t be hideous, like this!” she cries, and breaks down again. “But just last week a gang of thugs stole it from me while I was out shopping for fruit! Please, sir, help me!”

                A window opened, asking me if I accept or deny the quest. I hit deny. It required two people, anyway!

                “I don’t have anyone to accompany me…” I say.

                “Oh, no!” she bawls, and sobs into her arm. “Please, there must be something you can do!”

                “Ugh… look-“

                “I’ll go with him!”

                I whirl around and am horrified at what I see. Singe, the newbie is standing behind me! She follows me EVERYWHERE!! At least her health bar still hasn’t fully recovered from our encounter earlier…

                “Y- you will?” the ‘troll’ says between tears and sniffles.

                “Yea!” she says, walking forward, her bright pink hair bobbing up and down as she moves. “Me and Jack can get your sword back!”

                “Oh, thank you!” the troll cries, and hugs Singe, still bent over on her knees. “Thank you, kind girl! Oh thank you!”

                I groan. “Singe, I don’t know how you found me here or what makes you think this is a good idea, but there’s no way I’m going on this quest. Especially not with y-“

                Crash!!

                Singe, while I was lecturing her, lost her balance and tripped over a child’s toy dog laying the middle of the street. I look back towards the troll, and the quest has suddenly been accepted. I glare at the newbie.

                “Heh…” she says sheepishly and with a fake grin. “I did that…” she points to the accepted quest window. “My hand must’ve slipped.”

                I consider putting an arrow through her head then and there, but the troll distracts me again.

                “Oh, thank you! Thank you! I can’t thank you enough!!”

                Between thank you’s and sobs of joy, we make our way away from the troll, and walk out of Myotos together.

                “You got some real guts comin’ back to me after earlier,” I tell her.

                “I was just passing through. But I saw that lady needed help and you had nobody to go with you! And I’m such a big fan of yours, so I decided to help!” she said with way too much happiness in her voice.

                “Yea, great. Next time just stay away from me, alright?”

                “Oh, fine. But we still have to find that ladies sword! Didn’t she say a gang of thugs took it?”

                “Yea, I think so,” I reply. “Most of the tough-guy gangs hang out in the abandoned fields near Grindsvill. They use the barns for shelter and ambush passing supply wagons. We can start there.”

                “Oh yea! I know that area! At night you can see campfires in the fields. I’ll bet that’s them all tellin’ stories to their friends!”

                “Yea. Great,” I grunt.

                “Hey, Mr. Dagger, you can deal with all those guys, right? I mean, they won’t be able to hurt you, right?” asks the Newbie, sounding like a six year old asking her dad if he’ll buy her a pony.

                I laugh maliciously. “I’ve taken down guilds a lot nastier than just some stupid street thugs,” I tell her. “They won’t be too much trouble if they decide to play things the hard way.”

 
 

Of Old Friends and New Acquaintances
>> A M E L I A
J O H N S O N <<

After my lovely nights sleep I saved my game then went over to my bag. I emptied it of most its contents except my midnight blue cloak which I would be wearing, y coin pouch, and Jack Daggers helmet and dagger. I had decided to only take one or two items at a time from Jacks supplies.

Once finished, I placed my quiver over my shoulder and climbed down. Once my feet hit the ground I rummaged through my bag for the cloak. It is always so annoying to climb a tree in a cloak so I try to avoid it as much as possible. I slipped on my cloak with its good up, it had a special opening in the back so I could still reach my arrows and quiver, and set off through the forest to my arranged meeting place with a good acquaintance of my, Luke Kapton.

The sun had barely come up when I reached the edge of the forest. Minota was, like usual, perched on a branch waiting for me.

“Minota!” I cried happily and the bird gave a similar cheerful squawk. “C'mon, we've got things to sell.” I said and the bird leapt into the air.

I traveled mostly through flat plains for about an hour before I saw trees and a guild fighting off a couple of level four hellhounds. I took a detour towards the fighting guild to get a closer look. But when I got their they had finished and left, I stood there under a tree wondering who they where. Suddenly, I heard a loud crack and someone landed on top of me. I groaned and yelled.

"Oi! Watch where you land!" A timid voice came out of the person lying on top of me.

"I'm sorry! The branch kina broke." The person got off me and I sat up to see a blue haired girl with rusty eyes and the strangest orange shorts and leather boots combination I had ever seen. I looked at the strange girl who blushed and started studying her boots.

"Well!" I broke the silence which seemed to startle the girl. "Before i start ranting about how rude it is to drop out of a tree and land on someone, I'de like to know who I'm giving the lecture too." I looked expectantly at the girl.

"My name i....." she mumbled. This girl is so a newbie, she only had a dagger and an empty pouch, not the best candidate to steal from.

"Sorry, I didn't catch that." I said leaning in. The girl blushed deeper.

"It's Kita." She said just loud enough for me to hear. I sighed deeply.

"Normally I would chew you out for being inconsiderate enough to land on me but I'm in a big hurry. Farewell and hope you don't run into me again." I began moving away from the blue haired girl when she called out.

"Wait!" I turned around to see Kita following me. "Are you going to see your guild?" She asked. I looked at her skeptically.

"I'm going into town meet an old friend and comrade." I stated simply then turned around. "And i don't usually let kids who think a good greeting is to jump out of a tree and land on the person." I walked away from the girl towards the trail.

"Please take me with you!" A voice came from behind me. It was the ever so persistent Kita. "I really am sorry for landing on you, it was an accident." She came up next to me and smiled.

What happened to this girl!? Not five minutes ago she could barely mumbled her name, now she's asking to join a guild that doesn't exist!

"No," I said firmly. Out if the corner of my eye I saw her face fall.

"Please, please, PLEASE! I wont bother you! You wont even know I'm their!" She wined.

"Look, even if I DID know you I wouldn't say yes." I said.

"Why not!?" The whining was really starting to get on my nerves.

"Because," I said, "i'm a thief, and thieves are loners. We don't join guilds and we definitely don't partner up with annoying little level ones."

"But you are already partners with someone." She said, I knew she was referring to the mysterious acquaintance I was on my way too meet.

"That was a long time ago, all we are now are good friends." I started moving faster to try and out pace the blue haired girl.

"At least let me walk into town with you." I sighed and gave in.

"Fine, but ONLY to town. After we part ways." Kita looked so excited she seemed to be bouncing at every step. I gave an inward groan and walked on in silence.

My destination was a little town called Winderlock. It was placed on the northern edge of the map. Going their on foot took the better part of the morning, the better part of a morning I was PLANNING to spend selling my items and having some alone time. But since I had a little tag along I couldn't very well do half that.

"Are you coming to Winderlock or stopping at one of the outer towns?" I asked.

“Where's Winderlock?” Kita asked.

“On the far north of the map. That's where I'm headed but with some stops along the way in smaller villages.” I said.

“Oh, well then I'll go with you to Winderlock. It sounds like a good starting place.” I sighed inwardly again. Just when I though I could get rid of her.

My first stop was to a small guild in the outskirts of a tiny village. They weren't more than three or four members, but looked eager to fight and naive enough to sell too.

“Hello there my good friends!” I called as me and Kita approached them. “You look in need of some nice weaponry.” The group, which seemed to be all guys, go figure, looked over.

“Yeah, what's your point.” Called a young, tall man that was probably around my age. He had silvery hair and gold eyes.

“I happen to have a nice Jack Dagger special blade in my possession that I'm looking to sell.” I replied.

“You're lying!” Cried another boy, he had dark violet hair. “Only one person has ever stolen from Jack Dagger and lived.”

“And what makes you say I'm not that person?!” I asked hotly.

“The person is the famous wandering thief! No one sees her and she's a loner, doesn't waist her time with level ones like you do!” I took personal offense to that! What's the point of being the most known and feared thief if no one believes you're her!?

“Look do you want the dagger or not?!” I held shoved my hand into my bag and retrieved the dagger. Everyone looked at it with amazement.

“That is a nice dagger.” Said the silver haired one who took the dagger from my hands. “How much for it?”

“Since it's a Jack Dagger special I want ten gold pieces. I'm willing to cut you a deal if you take the helmet along with it.” I was running out of time and new I couldn't sell the helmet andmake it to my rendezvous on time.

“Let me see the helmet.” The silver boy held out his free hand and I placed the helmet into it. He examined it for a moment. “How much for them both?” It took me a minute to consider.

“15 gold pieces.” I said.

“That's an outrage!” the purple boy cried. “I can get more than that for less!”

“These are Jack Dagger specials grape boy. Not just any old dagger and helmet.” I said.

“Did you just call me grape boy?” The boy asked in a low tone.

“Yup, and I'm pretty proud of that name too. Came up with it on the fly.” I pretended not to notice the dangerous tone emanating from grape boy. The silver boy stepped between the now red boy and me.

“We'll take it.” I looked at him delighted.

“That's wonderful!” I cried and pulled out my coin pouch.

“But she's ripping you off sir!” Cried the grape boy. I'm beginning to like that name.

“Yes, but we need the supplies and she's the only supplier.” He handed me the coins, all the while grape boy was glaring at me with a vengeance.

“It's been a pleasure doing business with you!” I said cheerfully then turned to grape boy.

“See ya grape boy!” at this he lunged at me, landing on top of me, and pulled his knife out.

“Don't you dare call me that again!” He said, I laughed.

“This ones got a temper!” I cried, the blade went closer to my face.

“You haven't seen my temper.” He grumbled, I gave him my best 'give it your best shot' look then said.

“Would you mind getting off me. I have far too many things to and already too little time to do it.” The boy glared at me a little longer then got up. I pushed my self up then, just as I was about to leave I made my last remark.

“Oh, and I've got your coin pouch.” I then turned and ran, grape boy roared in rage and followed. During this time I never noticed Kita, I think she was somewhere in the background until I started my little run then she somehow got in front of me and pulled me into a busy bar.

It was crowded, the perfect place to blend in. I pulled up the hood of my cloak and disapeared into a corner with Kita. Grape boy came in shortly after, looking back and forth at the front of the bar. Then he went in and started searching and asking people. I knew we where screwed if we stayed too long so I grabbed Kita and pulled her towards the back door. We burst through the door moments later, but what we saw on the other side made me want to go back and take my chances with grape boy. It was the silver haired kid and the two other guild members.

“I believe you have something of ours.” He said, his arms folded and a stern look on his face. It didn't really fit for a kit who looked no older than seventeen or eighteen.

“I don't know what your talking about.” I said and started backing away, but bumped into someone. I turned around and saw grape boy standing in front of the door. “Oh thrink.” I mumbled. “Kita.”

“Yes?” She whispered, probably terrified out of her mind.

“RUN!”