Apologies and Announcements

Hello everyone, this is Kitten Game Lord, and I just wanted to apologize for disappearing for so long without explanation. I’ve been busy with school stuff and other projects that I’ve been working on. As for an announcement, this story is going to be continuing back on a thrice-weekly schedule. However, I’m not gonna be the one writing it anymore. One of my friends is going to be taking over, though I’ll still be helping guide the story. She is an amazing author and will bring the story to far better places than I ever could have. With that, I’ll leave her to introduce herself.

Hey everyone! I’m Dove, the friend Kitten mentioned. I’ll be doing the writing from here on out, with his help to plan out the plot and such. I’m really excited to see how it all comes together and I hope I can do justice to the great story that Kitten has already outlined here. I’ll do my best to keep everything moving along smoothly. Just bear with me, as I haven’t done something like this before! Like I said, though, I’m really excited for the opportunity. I hope you guys enjoy!

Flight: Chapter 6

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Chyler had frozen as soon as one of the other players spoke up. Matthew didn’t seem too badly hurt, the only wound he had was already wrapped in a bandage. His hands were bound though, and he was wearing some sort of mask that only covered the lower half of his face, probably to stop him from talking.

Turning her attention to the other group, she realized how they’d moved so quickly. All of them were wearing a leather bat-suit. If one of them used wind as their element, they could fly. Besides that, she couldn’t see anything identifying on the others. No visible weapons and no signs of other elements.

The other group consisted of two girls and two guys, all of them appearing to be in their early to mid-twenties, but that didn’t really give anything away. You could make your avatar look however you wanted it to in this game.

Chyler opened her menu, navigating into her inventory. She didn’t really have anything in there that she needed at this moment, but if they got into a battle after they left they would be goners.

“And what if we refuse?”

The voice came from her right, just before she started dropping things from her inventory. She looked over at Dylan, who had his hammer drawn and ready for battle. If he tried fighting all of them he would lose, and she was a ranger so she couldn’t offer much help this close up.

Chyler pulled out her bow and an arrow from her quiver. She docked the arrow, though didn’t pull back on the string yet. Matthew looked directly at her, giving a small nod. They were thinking the same thing.

The leader of the other group opened his mouth to talk again, but before any sound could come out, she pulled the arrow back and released it, right at Matthew. He twisted just in time for the arrow to pass through the bindings keeping his hands back. He was already conjuring up a storm of metal dust as the other team realized what was happening.

Dylan lunged forward, smashing the leader of the other team in the chest, forcing him into one of the girls of the group, who had just pulled out her knife. The two toppled over, tangled together as they started to roll down the hill. The other two pulled their weapons out in time to be caught in Matthew’s storm.

What looked like bubbles formed around the two people left in the storm, none of them metal dust able to get through it. Maintaining the bubbles left only one fighter left who still didn’t have his weapon drawn. The ground underneath Matthew suddenly crumbled, leaving gravity to do its work. He started rolling down the hill, towards the others who were just now getting back to their feet.

The girl who’d created the air bubbles, now no longer fighting against another air user, sent her bubbles out as fast as she could, the extra metal dust in the air slicing at Chyler and Dylan. Chyler fell over from the blast of wind, sending her rolling towards the others. They would probably be ready to attack by the time she got to them.

Her momentum was stopped abruptly as she hit a rock that jutted from the ground. Pain burst from her right arm, radiating quickly through the whole extremity. Probably broken or dislocated, or both. She struggled to push herself to her feet, using the rock she’d hit as a crutch.

They were already in the air, moving back down the mountain. Before they could get very far blasts of metal dust put holes through their wings, which in turn caused them to fall from the sky. They crash landed, rolling down the side of the mountain once more. She ran towards the group with Matthew a few feet in front of her.

Three of them were glowing a dark red, which gave her a moment’s trepidation, but she moved forward still, ready to face the group. They were already all untangled by the time they got there, but one of them wasn’t standing. The girl who controlled air seemed to be either unconscious or dead.

“Empty out your inventories and we won’t kill you.”

Chyler was almost as surprised that she had said those words as the others were. They didn’t hesitate, though, working to empty everything they had. Matthew and her worked on picking everything up, stuffing it into their own inventory. It didn’t take long for all of them to clear out their inventory, and one of them worked on emptying the unconscious one’s inventory.

“That’s everything we can afford to give.” The words came from the other girl, who was glaring at them.

Matthew gave a small nod, now fiddling with the mask that was still preventing him from talking. Chyler didn’t say anything, but the group took their cue to leave. They struggled carrying the unconscious girl down the hill.

She pulled out a knife, turning to Matthew again, simply cutting the string holding the mask to his face. He took in a sharp breath from his mouth as the mask came off. Neither of them said anything as they made their way back up the hill, both of them thinking the same thing.

Dylan was laying on the ground in a pool of murky blood, multiple stab wounds going through the general area of his heart.

He was dead.

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Flight: Chapter 5

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Everything seemed to stop as the announcement ended. It was like none of the wildlife- like nothing at all dared to move. There was no sound at all, just people standing around, filled with shock and a whole flood of different emotions that would take a while to figure out.

Chyler was the first one to break the silence, her voice barely reaching out to the two people standing next to her.

“It can’t take them that long to fix it, right? We’ll only be here for a few days, if that… Right?”

Her friends were already shaking their heads before she’d even finished her sentence, one of them speaking up.

“No, this type of problem might be rather hard to fix. Not to be pessimistic or anything, but we should prepare for the worst. We could be here for a long time.”

Neither of the other two had a response to that, and the group was once again plunged into silence.

Most of the day had gone by and none of them had said anything yet, but they were working. They moved towards the mountains to set up a camp. Once they found a useable spot, Matthew had gone out to scavenge whatever supplies he could, while Dylan and Chyler guarded and set up the camp.

Chyler wasn’t really a fighter, but thanks to her element, she was basically a human radar system. Every minute or so, she would send out a burst of energy, and if a player was within its range she would know where they were and which direction they were going.

Dylan, on the other hand, practically built his character to fight. He’d chosen metal for his element, which gave him slight ferrokinesis. He couldn’t lift, bend, shape or do other things in that vein, but he could use it to change a regular swing with a big metal hammer into one that could punch a hole through just about anything. Even without the ferrokinesis, since he chose Barbarian as his class he got a power boost.

Matthew had chosen Elementalist as his class, which meant he could use two different elements, but his other fighting skills were highly diminished. He never needed his other fighting skills, though. He’d chosen metal and air as his two elements, which allowed him to create something of a sandstorm with metal flakes instead of sand.

Whenever Matthew and Dylan got a chance to fight together, no one ever stood a chance. Their two separate fighting styles filled in each other’s weak points, making the two of them unbeatable together. Adding Chyler’s ability to see most sneak attacks coming, and their team was practically unstoppable.

Chyler’s thoughts were interrupted by a new group showing up on her internal radar. A team of players were close to Matthew, who had wandered to the edge of her radar. The girl stood up immediately, turning towards where they were.

“Matthew may be in trouble.”

Dylan stopped building the campfire he’d been working on for almost thirty minutes, turning to look the same direction Chyler had been looking. He opened his mouth to say something, but the girl spoke first.

“I know I’m not a fighter, but I’m going with you. I can help in my own ways.”

The Barbarian shut his mouth, simply staring for a few moments. After a small sigh, he pushed forward, towards Matthew and the unknown team of players.

As a precaution, Chyler sent out a stronger wave of energy, pushing almost a mile past what she normally did. There was a second group, the new one was five people, on a different part of the mountain, where her team had been climbing up. Probably not part of the other group, but she’d have to watch to make sure they didn’t take over their camp.

It was a short run to where Matthew was, only a minute or so until they got there. The team she’d seen on the radar were all on the ground. They were alive, but with their wounds they might not be for long. None of the players were Matthew.

Chyler let out another extended radar shot, and the group of five people was the only others within her range.

“There’s only one other group that I can pick up, and they’re two miles away. Unless they moved really fast, that’s the only other place he could be.”

Dylan gave a small nod, already moving as he did. “Let’s go then. He could be hurt.”

The two of them ran once more, towards what would hopefully be Matthew. When they were about halfway to where she last caught the group, Chyler let out another radar burst. She stopped dead in her tracks.

Without saying anything, she turned and ran back up the mountain, towards their camp. Dylan was close behind her, not even questioning the sudden change in destination.

By the time they’d gotten to the camp, it was already gone, everything packed away and put into somebody’s inventory. The group was there, waiting for them, with Matthew tied up and gagged.

“Empty out your inventories, and we won’t kill you.”

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Flight: Chapter 4

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Scout didn’t even have time to process what type of creature was attacking her before claws sheared through her chest. Trying to get some distance from her attacker, she stumbled backwards, only to slip on a sheet of ice underneath the snow. She landed on top of the attacking creature, which in turn collapsed, smashing her face into the ground.

The creature underneath her started writhing, trying to get out from the girl’s weight. Something else, though, started tearing at her back and legs, claws carving through her once more. This is where being a ranger had its issues. You lose melee fights, unless you had a team to protect you. She didn’t have any melee weapons on a quick draw, so she had to dig through her inventory to find one.

Scout slashed at what she was guessing were wolves, based off their size and the fact that they were fighting in a pack. She managed to catch one of them, which made a loud whine-like sound as it backed off. Changing tactics, she stabbed the wolf that hadn’t quite escaped from underneath her, and now the other wolves’ weight.

Blood poured from the wound she’d given to the wolf underneath her, so she didn’t care to attack it further. It wouldn’t survive much longer, and even if it did it wasn’t in a position to fight. Her own blood started to leak onto the wolf’s fur, mixing in with its own.

She pushed herself to the side, rolling away from the wolf that was still tearing up her back. Her knife, however, stuck in the body of the now-dormant wolf and pulled out of her grasp. There was no way she could face up to one wolf without a weapon, let alone however many more there were in that pack.

When she got herself sitting up straight again, two of the three attackers were lying dormant in the snow, the third already moving towards her. She pulled a snow ball together, compressing it as fast as she could. As soon as the wolf moved to lunge at her again, she the compressed ball into the side of its head with enough force that it fell over.

Scout was on her feet in seconds, running away from the wolf. There was no was she could hide, especially with the trail of blood that she was leaving for the wolf to follow. All she was trying for was time to line up a shot. She pulled her bow out, and arrow docked almost immediately.

She didn’t bother to check to see if it was far enough away. If it was too close, she’d already lost the battle anyways. It was only maybe ten feet away, closing in quickly. She took her aim, loosing the arrow less than a second later. The wolf tumbled to a stop less than a foot away from her. An arrow had pierced directly through its eye.

Scout took a deep breath, examining the plains. She didn’t see any other wolves around, which probably meant that this was just a hunting party. She decided to leave before the rest of the pack came looking.

The pain was different now; usually being attacked like that wouldn’t hurt this much. Maybe she was already tired and weak, or maybe the glitch took of some sort of pain filter as well, but Scout could barely walk as she pushed her way closer to the forest and the village.

She only had one health potion on her. Since she rarely got hurt, she didn’t usually take too many with her. She usually had a swordsman with her in battles, and she’d give help from a distance. Her health potion didn’t even slow the bleeding, which was bad on its own. Bleeding in the game had similar effects as real like, only toned down. Hopefully that still had its filter.

The town had just come into her view when Scout fell over. Her body felt empty, and she felt like she could barely move. She noticed that she had tunnel vision, and realized that it’d been slowly growing for a while. The snow around her started to warm up, to melt. The ranger couldn’t tell if her blood just stained the water red or if there was more blood than water around her.

The tunnel vision sealed off, leaving her in darkness. She could hear something moving beside her, but she didn’t have the energy to move. There was a loud roar, and then there was nothing.

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Flight: Chapter 3

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Snow fell lightly all around her, the breeze blowing too much of it onto her face. She gave a loud huff, the breath, visible, pushing a section of the snow away from her. She brought up her menu, only to take a quick glance at the time. 3:42. He said he would be on in just a few minutes. It’d been almost twenty now, and he hadn’t even sent a message.

She gave another huff while she collapsed her menu. If he wasn’t gonna show up, she’d at least get some practice in. She was still a low-level, even after eight months of playing the game. Starting to trudge through the snow, she nearly jumped out of her digitized skin when a loud sound rang through the frozen plains around her.

It was an alert sound, the kind that played when an AMBER Alert was sent out. She turned her attention to the surrounding area, trying to see if someone, Sebastian especially, was playing a trick on her. The girl startled again when a voice echoed around her.

“Greetings, players of Zerailn. I know you can’t see me, but this is Violet Patel. For those of you who don’t know me, I was the producer and one of the main developers for the game you’re currently playing.

My team here at DD Games seem to have spotted some sort of glitch in the system. A lot of you have probably noticed already, but if you open your menu, you’ll notice that there is no longer an exit button. We have almost finished the patch to fix this problem, however a much larger problem arose in the fact that in order to apply the patch the servers have to be reset.

My team is working with multiple leaders in the field to test what would happen and try to find a way around the situation. We’re doing our best to fix the problem, but we haven’t found anything promising just quite yet.

We have not been able to contact people whose avatar died shortly after the glitch started, but right now we have no reason to believe that your avatar’s death will affect your real body. However, there is a slight chance that your avatar’s death may lead you to a limbo of sorts.

For now, we urge everyone to stay calm, and to resist fighting other players. We will bring updates as soon as we get them ourselves.

Good luck.”

Scout hadn’t realized it, but she started holding her breath sometime during that speech. She almost didn’t want to let the breath out. The feeling of something drip through her fingers caused a sudden shake of both her hands, sending small drops of the crimson liquid into the slate of white below her.

The girl brought her hand up, halfway to opening the menu again. Was getting a bandage worth confirming what the voice, Violet, had said? The wound wouldn’t scar, very few wounds actually scarred in this world. And she was alone, so bleeding out some health shouldn’t be a problem.

Another sound made Scout jump for a third time, sending the small pool of blood that had collected in her hand out into the snow. She recognized the sound, this time; it was the sound that was produced when someone sent her a message.

After a deep breath, she opened the menu. The exit option was truly gone. She took another deep breath, moving to her messages section. Sebastian had sent a message.

“They sent out a warning to all VRs that weren’t in a game. Are you okay?”

Tears started rolling down Scout’s face as she read and re-read the message five times.

“Yea, yea. I’m okay. No one is around me right now, and I’m still i-”

She stopped typing the message out as a sound caught her attention. A set of multiple low grumbling was coming from behind her.

Scout turned around just in time to see a set of fangs and claws lunging at her.

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Flight: Chapter 2

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Sam stared at the blade, stunned. More than half of the blade had pierced through the wall beside him. If he’d been hit, there wouldn’t have been a chance for him to live. He pulled the sword out from the wall, holding on to it with a death-grip.

“I’m not looking for a fight. Just trying to wait out the storm.” He’d almost said that he was already pretty weak, but decided that would hurt his case rather than help it. Still looking around the room, his hand slipped onto the door knob. He tried to twist it silently, hoping to slip out before whoever was attacking him won.

Before Sam could get the door open, another knife flew through the air, slicing through the middle of his hand and into the door knob behind it. He tried to scream, but the sound got caught in his throat, leaving only a small sound to be heard.

You’re supposed to wait to remove stab wound objects until you have a way to treat it properly. How much did this game apply real world sciences? He didn’t have a bandage to use, or any medicine he could take to slow or stop any bleeding or raise his overall health level. Taking a gamble and a deep breath, Sam dropped the sword to pull the knife from his hand.

Pain now burning through his hand, he looked back at the door. Twisting the knob did nothing, now. He was trapped in a room with someone aiming to kill him. He looked around the room again, still not catching anything human-shaped. He dropped to a crouch, slinking to the left side of the room. Some sort of counter, looked like one a jeweler used to show off their jewelery. Not the best cover, but he had very little to work with.

The glass of the counter shattered as Sam got near it. He nearly jumped out of his skin, but he used that movement to get fully behind the counter. Unfortunately, the cover provided very little actual refuge. Backed against the opposite side of the counter, two more people were crouching; one held a knife and the other had a gun.

A loud shot rang through the air. Sam fell back, landing heavily on the broken glass on the floor. Blood was pouring out from a hole in his leg. Did he have a set amount of blood he could bleed, or could he theoretically bleed forever? Once again, he found himself laying in a pool of his own blood. Had it even been more than five minutes that he got away from the horde?

Part of him told him to stay down. Wait for his Death to take him away. The rest of him kept trying to think of a way to survive. Whatever he’d done on the horde wasn’t going to work again. His mana or whatever was still too low. His fingers moved over the handle of the knife in his hand.

He heard the two shuffling, trying to decide whether or not to just shove his body away. He’d almost forgotten about his own weapon. He hadn’t had a chance to use them yet, except for some basic practice on a scarecrow he’d set up out in Celadon Plains. He would only have one chance if he wanted to have any hope of not dying.

He flexed his feet, activating a small mechanism that pushed the blades out over his boots. As soon as the talons moved, he pushed his hands against the wall and the counter, pushing himself towards them. As soon as he felt liked he’d moved far enough forward, he twisted to the side. Both of them let out a scream, which he took as his cue to keep going with his plan.

Sam forced himself up, into a sitting position. The girl that had been holding the gun had already dropped it, focusing on the blades that had sliced through he thigh. The guy who had the knife was getting ready to use it. He brought his foot up, kicking the bottom side of the hand that held the knife, swinging his own knife before the kick even landed. Sam’s swing had skewered the heel of the man’s hand. The other man’s knife clattered to the ground.

He reached out for the gun, while the girl still focused on her bleeding leg. As soon as he gripped the weapon, he pulled his feet up, retracting the talon blades. He pushed himself back, putting one hand on top of the counter to pull himself to his feet. As soon as he was standing again, he pointed the gun at the two.

“You, girl, give me all the ammo you have for this gun.” Sam struggled to not let his voice waiver or crack as he talked. He could barely keep his hand from shaking.

The girl looked away from her wound to see the gun pointed at her, and immediately started sorting through her inventory. As she was doing that, he shifted his attention to the knife-man.

“You, stand up and pull out any bandages that you have.”

The man glared at him, but did as he said. It was reassuring to know that guns were still a powerful enough weapon to give power in the game. By the time the knife man was standing, he’d already pulled out his bandages. Sam only held out his bleeding hand, for the man to bandage.

As Knife started bandaging his hand, the gun-girl pulled out another pistol. Sam shot at her, sending bullet through the arm that she’d held it with. She let out a scream, dropping the pistol immediately.

“I told you to get out ammo, not another gun!” He reached out with his injured leg, wincing at the pain. He placed his foot down heavily on the gun and pulled it back towards him. He put as much weight on the gun as he could. As soon as Knife had finished bandaging his hand, he pushed him towards the girl. While both were fumbling over each other, Sam reached to pick up the other gun, stashing it in his inventory.

“Whoever was throwing blades before, I’d suggest you stop, because I will shoot both of these people.”

Sam looked around the room, watching for more blades or another person. After a few moments of watching, a man appeared in the middle of the room. Probably an enchanted cloak, or something. Thieves’ Guild bonus, maybe. He heard the clatter of small pieces of metal, pulling his attention back to Gun-Girl. She’d brought out multiple boxes of ammo. He only took one of them.

“Now, I’m going to walk out of this room, and if any of you move before I’m out of the door, I will shoot you. I’ll leave the other gun by the door, so you aren’t helpless. Don’t get it until I’m gone.”

None of them said anything, but all of them nodded. He couldn’t decide if it was shock, fear, or what, but he didn’t care enough. He moved towards the door, and when the knob still didn’t work, he shot at the knob until it broke off. At that point it was easy to push the door open.

He went into his inventory, pulling out the second gun he’d taken, and placed it by the door. No one bothered him as he climbed back down through the building, and out through the front doors.

The world outside was just as violent as it was when he escaped inside, but the inside wasn’t any better. He’d have to make it through the city and to the wilderness to get some rest.

It was going to be a long night.

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Flight: Chapter 1

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Silence. In the middle of the busiest town in the game, no one was making a sound. They sat there, staring at their open menus. He hadn’t even bothered to look at his menu. The answer had come to him soon enough. He was too far in the center of town, too deep in to navigate his way out before the silence was broken.

Just as he shifted to take a step back, he heard a noise. He didn’t catch what it was, but he didn’t need to, to know what was happening. Sam started moving back, trying to get away from the crowd of people around him. Someone else made a sound, louder this time.

That one sound was the one that broke the silence for good. Around him the entire crowd of people started to panic. People started yelling and fighting, pushing against each other, trying to panic their way through an already panicked crowd.

He didn’t even get a step away from where he’d been standing before he was shoved to the ground. The horde of people around him didn’t seem to even notice, kicking him multiple times trying to get around, trying to survive. Most of those who did kick him ended up falling over themselves, starting the workings of a massive dog pile.

Sam struggled, trying to pull his way out of the growing heap. Thoughts flew through his head too fast to recount, until a blow to his face knocked all of them away. Whatever had hit him fell over, shoving his face into the ground.

He felt his own blood starting to pool around his face. The pressure kept building around him, as more people fell and moved around. He tried moving, but it didn’t change much. There was still a body on his head and a writhing mass of people around him. Obviously, he needed a new tactic, but he had just started the game. He wasn’t strong enough yet to do anything.

We’re doing our best to fix the problem, but we haven’t found anything promising. The words kept replaying in his mind, now that he wasn’t concentrating on the panic. Maybe he’d have the choice to leave if his character died. Or maybe death here would be like real death. Could they program a heaven?

As the effects from his hit in the face started to wear off, the pressure around him started to hurt more, but the pain in his face seemed to sear through his skull and into his brain. He needed to escape, but he wasn’t strong enough to force the bodies away from him. Even if there was something in his inventory to use, he couldn’t open it with his face shoved against the ground like this. The only other tool he could think of was his element, but he still hadn’t figured out how to use it.

He’d been meaning to ask someone about it, part of the reason he’d come into Cyan City in the first place. The other was to get some more supplies. He’d only been playing for a couple of hours, but he’d already gone through most of his starting supplies.

There had to be a simple way to use the element. Everyone had one, most knew how to use it. Maybe he’s been trying to use it on the wrong things, in the wrong ways. He closed his eyes, not that he even noticed, and concentrated, focusing on the writhing mass around him. He felt something deplete out of him very suddenly. Mana, right? Most games used mana for whatever magic stuff they had.

Slowly, the mass around him stopped writhing so much. Slower still, the pressure around him started to deplete. The people were actually getting off and away from the pile, the only movements were those made to leave. Less than a minute passed before the mass of bodies was gone, everyone back on their feet.

Sam pulled his face up from the ground, staring at the pool of his own blood, and watching a torrent of blood fall from his face. He blinked, just staring at the liquid, and before he could even move, someone approached to offer help. Using a cloth, they wiped most of the blood from his face. Once most of the crimson liquid was gone, they’d given him a health potion. It stopped the bleeding pretty quickly.

He still didn’t talk, shock now stunting most of his brain’s abilities. Whatever he’d done seemed to be wearing off, some of the crowd were starting to get panicked again. Most still seemed calm, but he didn’t want to wait around and see the effects wear off entirely. He pushed his way through the crowd.

Most of the city was still in panic. He couldn’t find much of a way through the crowd, so instead, he pushed his way into a building. Even in there, too many people were around to keep safe for a while. He kept to the wall, hoping to find a way to the staircase. The building had plenty of floors. If he could find a mostly empty one, he’d be okay.

Getting to the staircase was a relatively easy feat for the commotion going on around him. He slipped into the area, the heavy door blocking out most of the other noises. He pushed forward, heading up the stair case. He skipped the second and third floors, figuring people would have had his same idea and clustered there. He’d intended to skip to at least the sixth floor, but by the time he’d gotten to the fourth one, he was ready to collapse. Peaking through the door, there didn’t seem to be anyone in the area, so he let himself in.

As soon as the door shut behind him, a blade stabbed through it, less than an inch away from his head.

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Character: Prologue 4

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Blood welled on the surface of his arm. The son of a bitch didn’t hesitate at all, he just went straight for an attack. Thomas pushed himself back to his feet, backing away from his opponent.

Still, the man moved towards him, ready to beat him down. While he found himself in these types of situations a lot, he still never bothered to learn how to fight. Usually he could talk his way out of any situation he got himself into.

“Okay, I can see you’re rather angry. I get it, I’m not the nicest person. But attacking me won’t help. If you let me leave now, I won’t press any charges, but if you keep going I will get you sent to jail.” As he talked he looked around, trying to find somewhere he could run to, some way to get around his assailant. Any exit he might have had was just far enough away that he couldn’t get there before he was attacked again.

“Jail isn’t a pretty place, I’ll tell you. There are fights every day, and when you’re the new one, they pick on you.” His attacker moved forward still, ready to take Thomas down. He didn’t have much further he could go until he was pushed into a corner.

“Alright, look. I’m sorry.” As he was finishing his statement, he grabbed a chair that was resting next to him and swung it at the man. It smashed into his chest, breaking two of the legs off on the impact. Hoping the attack would be distraction enough, Thomas bolted, pushing the drunk away as he moved towards the door. He heard a thump, and he looked back to see the man now on the ground.

With a small sigh of relief, he made his way out of the bar.

The cut would need stitches. He kept telling himself that as he sat on his couch, wrapping a bandage around the wound. Going to the hospital would bring up too many questions. Questions that he didn’t want to deal with.

Thomas gave a sigh, pushing himself to his feet again. The bandage would stop most of the blood for the night. If it still looked bad in the morning, he’d go to the hospital. For now, all he could think about was getting food. He moved towards the door of his apartment, leaving the mess of medical stuff to clean up later.

It was cold outside, a chill breeze blowing through the city. His jacket didn’t do much to protect him from the wind, the air just blew right through it. He didn’t mind the cold too much, but it’d get worse the longer he was outside.

He headed across the street, to a burger joint on the corner. He had eaten here at least once a week, usually more. It wasn’t the best burger, but it was up there. The waitress there had learned what he usually got, and had it out to him with a few minutes of him sitting down. He walked into the restaurant, a small bell ringing as he opened the door.

“Oh, hey Thomas. The usual, today?” The waitress had a sweet voice, one that could soothe just about anyone.

“Yea.” He barely got the word out, before giving a small grunt. He was more sore than he’d thought. The punches he’d received probably left some big bruises on his chest. More questions at the hospital tomorrow.

He got back to his apartment at midnight. He’d spent most of the night talking with the waitress, which he did almost every time he’d gone to the place. Next time, he kept telling himself. Next time I’ll ask her out.

Thomas gave a sigh, pushing himself to his feet again. He wasn’t tired yet, even with the late hour and the pain coursing through his body. He set himself down on the VR chair, pulling the helmet on. He hadn’t played in a while, and it was a good stress reliever. The helmet made that familiar whirring sound.

Choose your character.”

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Character: Prologue 3

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Maybe, today, they could play Zerailn some more. They hadn’t played a lot, the last few months. She had been bogged down with school stuff recently, especially with college starting in the fall. Her mom had urged her to start applying for a lot of scholarships, and to try to get into an art college. Ash had been on more than her, but still had a similar problem. He needed to work on school, college, and whatever else he had been working on. He still hadn’t told her what his big project was.

The piercing sound of the bell intruded on Chyler’s thoughts. She gave a small sigh, closing the notebook which now had another page of absent-minded doodles in it. She shoved the notebook into her bag and zipped it shut. At least she was almost done with the day, only one class left after lunch, which was just starting.

The halls, as always, were filled with students, half of them heading to lunch, and the other half coming back from their own lunch break. The school apparently had enough students to justify splitting them up for two separate lunch blocks. It didn’t really matter to Chyler anymore, though. Since she and Jean were in the same lunch block this semester, and it was her last semester of high school.

Being a creature of habit, the gangly girl made her way into the back of the lunch room, toward the back tables. She sat down in the corner — not at the last table, but, still, one of the furthest from the doors. Her and Jean always sat here, for the past couple of years. She usually beat her friend by a couple of minutes, so she set out to pull her food out of her bag.

Just as she was taking the first bite out of her sandwich, Jean plopped down in the seat in front of her.

“Hey Chyler! Guess what!”

After a small sigh, the girl set her sandwich back down, onto the flattened brown paper bag.

“Um, you got invited to go on a cruise to Australia?” The words came with a bit of joking and a bit of sarcasm. They were followed by a diffident smile, Chyler now waiting for her friend to tell her what had happened.

“I got accepted into USC!”

Chyler’s face lit up, and she let out a loud “Oh my god, congratulations!” They’d both applied to the school near the same time, but her’s had come days earlier. They were concerned for a while that Jean wasn’t going to get into the school, but either way there was a bump in that road.

Chyler had received her letter of acceptance from CalArts over the weekend too, she just didn’t have the heart to tell her friend yet. Jean wasn’t much of an artist, so obviously she didn’t have much interest in going to CalArts.

Their conversation was interrupted by him. He was one of Jean’s best friends, but Chyler was growing to hate him a little more every day.

“Hey, I heard you got accepted to USC. I got my letter of acceptance too! Looks like we can all still be classmates in college!”

Chyler had to work to suppress a shudder. The thought of having him around for another four years could have made her throw up. While Jean was busy congratulating him, Chyler got busy packing up her mostly uneaten lunch.

“Hey, I think I’m gonna head to class a little early. I have a drawing I want to work on.” She had to fight to keep bitterness out of her tone, but with all the practice she’d been getting recently, it was a lot easier.

“Oh…Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

Chyler was already walking away when she gave a small nod. She was sure Jean was going to notice her leaving every time he showed up, but for now it was something she didn’t want to worry about.

Her last block had moved by pretty quickly, but art always did for her; especially since she had to leave a few minutes early so she could pick her brother up from his kindergarten class. The halls were empty as she moved through them, minutes before school was out for everyone. It was a short time to her car.

The ride to her brother’s school was just as short. It was only a few blocks away, but with her schedule, her brother was always the last one to be picked up. Her parents had been busy with work for the last few months, and Chyler had started taking her brother to and from school, and had to wait to make sure the nanny arrived for her sister.

She went into the building, and Matias was up front, waiting for her with his teacher.

“Am I late? Sorry.” The words were kinda lame sounding, but it was too late to fix that. “Thank you for waiting with him.”

“It’s alright, Chyler. It is part of my job.” The teacher’s smile was the same kind every teacher had when they dealt with small kids. One that could ease anyone’s troubles. After another bashful thanks to the teacher, Chyler ushered her brother out to the car.

Matias almost immediately started explaining every aspect of his day to his sister. She listened to every word he said.

Finally home, Chyler was able to get some rest. Her parents had been home for about an hour, and they’d talked for a while, but she was stressed and wanted to rest, so the conversation was short-lived. Her computer made a small sound, telling her that someone had messaged her.

“Heya, Dove.”

“Hey. You wanna play Zerailn? It’s been a long time since we’ve been there.”

“Alright, I’ll get on right now.”

Chyler gave a wide smile. Zerailn was the only place where she could actually interact with him. She moved to the VR designed chair and pulled the helmet over her head. A familiar whirr sounded in her ear.

Choose your character.”

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Character: Prologue 2

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The clock never seemed to move fast enough. It was as if someone stuck their finger into its gears, stopping them from turning. Minutes moved by like hours, seconds like minutes. Scout stared at the clock, hung over the teacher’s desk. She was hoping that she could will it to move faster. Convince whatever being that had stopped it to make it move once more. It didn’t work.

She turned her attention to her open textbook, some page talking about some math thing. Something about linear somethings. Mrs. Perkins had assigned some math homework and gave everyone the last fifteen minutes of class to start on it. Scout hadn’t even opened her notebook.

Not that anyone was really even working. Most of the others were talking, caring more about small talk than homework. The dull sound of multiple conversations made it hard for her to hear much, not that she needed to. She just wanted the clock to move so she could leave, get home before something bad happened, again.

The bell pulled Scout out of her thoughts, stirring her into action. She was the first one out the door, already heading towards her locker. She barely got three yards from the door when her movement was interrupted, a shove sending her into the lockers on her left. Her hand hit first, pressing palm first at an awkward angle, followed by the heavy impact of the rest of her body. She didn’t make a noise, even with the sharp pain now radiating from her wrist. She just kept moving forward. She knew that the boy wouldn’t stop to see if she was okay.

She turned a corner, only a few feet away from her locker, stopping in her tracks. The populars were hanging by her locker. Kristen was leaning against it, waiting for the girl to show up. She gave a wicked smile as Scout came into her view.

“Oh hey! I got a surprise for you! I left it in your locker.”

The girl’s voice had a sweet charm to it, but most of the kids at the school knew that she was really a curse. Scout didn’t even stop to wonder what they’d done to her locker, or all the stuff in it. She just turned, moving away from the group.

“Hey! I’m talking to you, bitch!”

She could hear a snickering coming from behind her, but as she was turning to see what they were doing, she got smacked in the face. Whatever it was that hit her, it bursted, splashing her with something. The impact made her fall over, and whatever the liquid was, it stung her eyes. Her head smacked the ground, though she manage to absorb most of the fall with the rest of her body first. She heard more snickers, and felt feet move past her. No one offered her any help to get up.

“Don’t turn your back on me, slut.”

The smell of citrus moved through the air. Orange soda. Scout gave a grunt, trying to push herself up, but as soon as she put pressure on her wrist, pain shot from it and through her arm, making her collapse again. She tried again, only using the one hand this time.

When she finally got to her feet, she started moving again, away from her locker. She didn’t even look to see if they were still there. Even if they weren’t, she didn’t want to deal with whatever ‘surprise’ had been left in her locker. The only thing she had in there was a few school books. Nothing too important.

The rest of the way home was slow, but quiet. She walked the mile and a half there was in between her house and her school. Her face still stung from the impact of the soda balloon. A large welt would be there soon, if there wasn’t one already. She touched the spot gently, with her good hand. The spot was warm and sticky. Probably orange, but she couldn’t really see it. Her shirt had an orange stain running down the side, and her arm had splotches of orange on it.

As soon as Scout had gotten to her house, she went to her room. The door slammed shut, and she let out a scream. She used her one good hand to hurl her backpack, though it didn’t go far. It toppled into her desk, making it wobble slightly.

She grabbed a pillow from her bed, beating the wall with it. It didn’t help much, but it did let her release some of her anger, before she released it on a person. The pillow tore where she held it, the rest of it spinning off a few feet away. She threw the ruined edge to the ground and collapsed on her bed.

She kept telling herself that one day she’d get her revenge, by being better than them, being successful. But every time she told that to herself it seemed to lose more meaning. She wasn’t going to be successful even if those girls were tormenting her everyday. Even without them, she’d only gotten Cs or lower.

Scout couldn’t tell how much time had passed that she’d been sitting there, but she finally got up. She moved to her desk, ignoring her worn-down backpack, and turned on her computer. It booted quickly, bringing up her home screen in seconds.

As soon as she got on, she opened a chat.


It took a couple of minutes before she got a reply, but that was normal.

You wanna get on Zerailn?”

They had planned to play today, since it was the end of the school week. It was one of the only things she’d looked forward to.

“Yea, I’ll get on right now.”

She moved to pick up the VR Machine, making sure to use her hurt hand carefully. She checked the chat before she put on the helmet.

“I’ll be there in a sec.
I’m gonna get a snack real quick before I play.”

She gave a shrug, fitting the helmet over her head as she moved to the specialized chair that came with the device. She leaned back carefully, and switched the console on. A sigh escaped her lips as it whirred to life. She was headed to her escape, and in a few minutes, it would be perfect.

“Choose your character.”

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