A loud commotion could be heard rushing towards Rose as bystanders pulled out their phones to take pictures. Multiple shutter sounds were heard as flashing camera lights erupted from all around. Others were using this opportunity to record the feed in real time. A group of people talked so loudly amongst themselves that their voices carried down towards Kiyro.
“Isn’t that Roselanda the famous lawyer? I heard she defended a serial killer and won. It’s the latest hot topic,” commented one of the bystanders not too far away from Kiyro. They had begun to loudly gossip amongst themselves.
“What? You serious? So does that mean the serial killer wasn’t the real killer at all?” gasped a female, her hands on her chest, scrunching her shirt.
“Possibly. But there has been hard evidence that he was the killer. How could they let someone loose like that? Has this world gone insane?”
“I agree, but I heard he had an alibi to support his innocence.” The surrounding people were baffled by what they heard.
“Wow! But isn’t she always on the top ten list of most desirable women of all time in the magazines?”
“Yep. But what’s she doing here in a normal neighborhood like this? She just seems so out of place.”
“Probably to scoff at normal people like us,” a jealous woman stated as she glared at her with envy. “She’s just showing off all her money and men. Just ignore her.” She turned her head away in disgust.
“You don’t say.”
“Possibly her secret lover? He looks like a college student. He doesn’t seem to look like he has any money on him,” said a woman as she fanned her hands from the hot weather.
“Maybe he’s the secret lover and the guy we just saw was the one who she’s dating. I feel bad for him.”
“Well, I don’t. There is a saying once a cheater, always a cheater. Birds of a feather flock together.”
“Wait, wasn’t the student with another girl just a while ago?”
“You don’t say. Really now. Guys these days just don’t seem to have any respect.” The female bystanders nodded in unison.
What’s wrong with these people? Kiyro rolled his eyes. Where do they get these crazy stories from?
“Hey sweetheart.” Rose leaned in, ignoring the conversations, and blew softly into his ear. “You have such a cute little kitty next to you. How I lo-oove cats.” She seductively accentuated her words and smiled.
“Can you please back up? You’re getting too close to my personal space.” Kiyro sat very still as she got even closer to him. Her advancement made him nervous. Even though he found her attractive—very attractive—the dark feeling of the blob figure still lingered around her. It made him nauseated.
“Hehe. You must be nervous.” Her fingers traced his buttons. “It’s alright, darling. I don’t bite.” Rose rubbed up against him like a cat. Her cleavage showed as she smiled. He blushed slightly red as he tried his best not to be disrespectful in staring, but he couldn’t help it. She pressed even closer to the point where Tempest was the only one dividing them apart.
“So cute, I loooovvve catsss.” She slurred the words and reached over to pet Tempest. Tempest struggled and hissed. He swiped her on her hands. Rose pulled her hands back abruptly as a streak of crimson blood appeared.
“My hands! Why you little rat! You created a scar on my hands!” Rose screamed as she raised her hands to slap the cat.
Instinctively, Kiyro raised his hands to block the attack as he quickly covered Tempest. He was ready to catch Rose’s strike, but instead Eve bolted over and snatched her striking hand in midair. With a quick motion, she twisted her arm to her back to stop her from moving.
“Lady, do not touch my cat.” Eve’s voice was filled with malice. Her grip tightened, making the woman’s hands turn purple. Rose was arching backward, trying to lessen the pain.
“You better let go,” remarked Rose with a snarky attitude.
“Or what?” Eve snapped back as she twisted Rose’s wrist back to the point of breaking. Rose’s face scrunched up with pain.
“Or else,” she threatened back. Her face contorted with more pain from her arm being at an odd angle. Rose’s free hand honed in on Eve’s face, trying to blind her, but Eve fluidly moved out of the way before it could harm her.
“Lady, you don’t know who you are dealing with,” snarled Eve as she showed the white of her teeth.
In a flash, Rose twisted out of Eve’s grip and sent a lightning-quick strike to Eve’s right kidney. Eve hunched over in pain, while Rose snaked her way behind Eve and pinned her hands behind her back. Rose inched over and whispered lightly into her ear.
“No. You don’t know who you are dealing with,” she replied in a sinister voice.
Eve knocked her head back hard against Rose’s face, stunning her for a brief moment. She twirled out of harm’s way and automatically went into a defensive posture.
“Bring it.” Eve motioned her as she smirked at Rose. Her eyes glinted with such ferocity he thought they could burn a hole.
“You bitch.” Rose got ready to pounce. She blinked a couple of times, trying to clear her vision. “I’ll get you for this!”
Not good, Kiyro thought. I need to stop this before something really bad happens.
Kiyo inhaled deeply and yelled out with a booming voice, “Catch!” He lightly tossed Tempest at Eve. Both Eve and Rose simultaneously turned around.
“Wh-hat? Tempest!” Eve flailed around, trying to catch Tempest in the air. Tempest extended his claws and flew towards her. She caught him just in time before he hit the ground. In a matter of seconds, Kiyro stood between Rose and Eve.
“Please calm down. You guys are creating an unnecessary scene. You’re going to spoil your image,” suggested Kiyro. Rose stopped and quickly glanced around.
A large group of bystanders had stopped to watch the small bout. Rose smoothed her hair and straightened her clothes. The hatred on her face slipped away, and once again she looked noble and gorgeous.
Her cell phone rang.
“Well. Girl, you’re in luck. I have more important things to do than squabble with a poor girl like you.” She scoffed and cast Eve a scornful look. “Plus it was getting uninteresting with your boyfriend anyways.”
Rose sharply turned towards her car, and her hair whisked around, hitting Eve on the face. She pulled out her phone and began to talk.
“Hey!” exclaimed Eve. She wiped her hands against her face with disgust.
“Hello? …Yeah? What? You want me to do what? You’re joking, right?” Rose paced back and forth in annoyance. “Do you know how long that will take? We don’t know anything about the project. Tch. Fine. I’ll go, but you better compensate me. You know what to do and where to send it.” She stormed to her car.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Eve yelled. She glared menacingly at Rose.
“I don’t care.” Rose flicked her hands at Eve, and then ducked into the driver’s seat. “I’ll remember you, stupid girl. Watch your back.” She snickered and sped away with her car roaring off into the distance.
“What a bitch,” Eve snapped with annoyance. “Who the hell does she think she is? The president?”
Kiyro quietly had begun to pack the groceries into Eve’s car.
“Come on, Kiyro, let’s get out of here. I don’t want to see her face again.” Eve continued to grumble under her breath. She pulled her sliver-blue hair back and slipped it behind her ears. “I swear, some people are just plain rude these days. Doesn’t she have any common sense?” she spat with disgust, her hands on her hips. “What do you think?” She turned towards him. Her intense gaze locked onto his, waiting for an answer.
“Well…I, uh…” He stopped to ponder for a moment. She had a valid point, but he was not too keen on saying the wrong words and getting the backlash of her eruption of anger.
“Let’s just think of it like this. I’m just glad we got out of it.” He smiled warmly at Eve.
She raised her eyebrows. “Okay?”
“Come on, let’s go. The day is almost over. We need to get ready for the oncoming wave. Already they are trying to find out how to stop it,” he said sweetly.
“You’re right.” She closed the door of the trunk. “Let’s get out of here.”
He agreed, relieved he’d been able to divert Eve’s attention. As interesting as it would have been to watch Eve fight as herself instead of as Agnis, it would have caused them all far more trouble than they had time for.
Kiyro stared up into the sky. Dark blueish-gray clouds rolled in as swirls of the pastel-colored sky turned crimson red. Off in the distance, near the horizon, he caught a glimpse of a red moon hovering not too far from the sun.
“What a beautiful moon.” He gazed at it, mesmerized. He hadn’t looked at the real sky with any interest in weeks. It made him think of when he and his family had watched an eclipse together. He’d been so young, but the memories were vivid.
Kyle ran around with his wooden sword and Kiyro with a shield. They were playing good vs. evil, each taking turns to be a hero. The sweet smell of his mom’s Korean barbeque lingered in the air, and other traditional Asian food was laid out on the picnic table at the park. Their campfires were crackling, roasting the fish that they’d caught earlier in the day.
Kyle had the upper hand during the fight, constantly on the attack, but Kiyro eventually turned it around. In the process, they had bumped into Anna, making her spill water all over herself; in revenge, she chased them around, brandishing a stick. He could still hear the echoing laughter between him and his brother.
“Kyle! Kiyro, Anna! Come here!” Their father’s loud voice boomed through the forest.
They sprinted towards their father, wondering what he had to say. They gathered around where he sat at the picnic table.
“Listen carefully. Remember this: when the moon turns red you must always be on the alert.”
“Why, Dad?” asked Kiyro curiously.
“Because it’s the one day where our lady moon shows her true colors,” his father chuckled.
“What do you mean, Dad? How could a moon show its true colors?” Kyle asked, he titled his head curious.
“Ah. You see, the sun and the moon are always in competition, always bickering amongst themselves, stating they are the rightful ruler that gives the world the best of everything. The one who should stay out the longest. The one who should lead the world. They had a wager where they picked one creature to represent them in a race. The sun chose the tortoise and the moon chose the hare.”
“Dad, this is the tortoise and the hare story. Everyone knows this,” Anna cut in. “You’re just twisting it to fit your story. We all know the hare loses and the tortoise wins.”
“Hey, Anna. Be quiet.” Kyle punched Anna in the shoulder. “Even though we know that story doesn’t mean there’s not more.”
The father burst out chuckling and slapped his knee. “You’re right. There is more. The lady moon was so furious that she condemned the race of hares to servitude for all of eternity. Out of her anger she thought of a way to take the sun’s place. She would use the earth to hide from the sun, making it into a lunar eclipse. When she finally hides from the sun, the sun’s ray disappears, making her bloody red. Her true self is shown under the darkness. This would give her a split moment to command the world to do her bidding. And every time she does this, she sends out her plan to the world, waiting patiently to strike.”
“Why is she so evil, dad?” Kyle asked.
“She’s not,” Kiyro interjected. “I see it as a game they play with each other to see who is better. It’s just a petty quarrel between two deities.” He shook his head.
“My son has an interesting concept of the way the world works.” Their father smiled.
“Honey! The food is ready,” their mother called out to everyone.
Their beautiful, kind, and strong mother.
“Mom,” Kiyro whispered.
“Hmm? Did you say something?” Eve pulled her hair back again. Her eyes sparkled underneath the sky. Kiyro snapped out of his trance.
“Nothing important.” He smiled. “Just thinking how beautiful the moon is.”
She looked at him funny and turned her head towards the sky. “You’re right. It’s like a small fire glowing in the dark blue sky, but have you heard about the omen of the red moon?”
Kiyro shook his head.
“Throughout the world, the red moon is an ill omen. Seeing one is rare. The red moon has been in many legends, history, superstitions, and religions. I personally don’t believe in such superstitions.” She stopped for a moment to think. “Think about it: do you really think that a red moon means bad luck? Some people are far too superstitious. When they have a bad day, they just blame it on something else. Some people just can’t see any fault in themselves.”
“Don’t you think that there is more to this world than we currently know?” he asked, perplexed by her answer.
“That’s debatable. I’ve personally never experienced anything I might call paranormal. Why? What about you?”
Kiyro stood silently next to her. He did not know if he should tell her. “Well, it depends, I guess. People go through different experiences in life. It’s hard to explain that there is something out there that isn’t what you ever thought it to be.”
“Well, then, I hope I never come across it. Now let’s go wash up Tempest. He’s so dirty.” Eve gently stroked Tempest. She walked over to the driver’s side and opened the door.
“I’m not so sure if you will ever believe me, even if you did listen to what I have to tell you. Actually, I don’t think I can believe myself,” Kiyro whispered.
“What a day.” Zero sat down on his bed at the Jasmine Inn, one of the popular inns in the city. The soft cushiony bed helped settle his stiff body. Already he felt ready to take a nap in the game. Eve had dragged him around to even more stores to buy pet supplies and forced him to bathe Tempest. Water and cats did not mix well. The scratches on his arms and legs in real life proved it so.
It felt like a life-and-death struggle between the cat and the water. The amount of splashing, scratching, and even screaming in high pitched horror could be heard endlessly throughout the hall. If Zero didn’t know better, he would have thought it was some kind of acidic death water or some other form of twisted cat-torture.
He rolled over onto his side as he looked upon his empty plate next to the bed. He still remembered tasting the delicious pasta that he had spent so much time and effort making. With the natural herbs that he had gathered, he was able to make a simple dish that did not require an extraordinary amount of cooking skills to make. Strangely enough, when he made the dish himself, the chance of failure of cooking the dish decreased dramatically, while automatically cooking the food raised the percentage of failure fivefold. It was an interesting tip he had learned digging through the forums.
Zero turned over on his other side. He had rented out a simple bedroom. It reminded him of a small enclosed box with just a bed, wooden table, a chair, and very simple decorations. Whoever thought of decorating the room didn’t have much of a creative sense at all. It was so bland, just putting a single flower that he had specifically picked out in the field enlivened the place. From the plain brown walls to the old wooden floors, the entire room gave off a dingy feel.
“Zero. Are you awake?” Agnis knocked heavily on the door. Her voice boomed loudly, startling him. “Come on, Zero. We are supposed to go on a mission with Jack. He knows some cool areas where we can go and train.”
“Give me a moment.” He sluggishly got up and opened the door. Agnis waltzed in jubilantly. “Where’s Zeraph?” He looked behind her but no one was there.
“He had something important to do. He said that he’ll meet up with us later.” Agnis walked past him and grabbed an apple from the table. “We need to go meet Jack right now. He’s waiting for us near the fountain in the square. He’s got some really cool items for sale and the armor that I said I promised to give you.”
Zero bolted upright. He would never miss an opportunity to get a new item. “I’m right behind you.”
“What was the name of the new armor you were going to give me again?”
“Shadow Walker. It’s a pretty good item. You’ll like it when I show it to you,” she replied with excitement in her voice. “Jack is a pretty cool guy. He’s a blacksmith and he has a weapon shop opened in the town square.” She took a huge, crunchy bite of the apple.
“Let’s go.” She hurriedly motioned him to get up and leave.
“Yeah, yeah.” He sluggishly got up and followed her out the door.
“Sir, will you be coming back tonight?” asked the receptionist when Zero walked past. He turned around to face her.
“Yes. Please hold my spot for another day,” Zero replied and exited the inn.
The city streets were even busier than usual. Residents and players rushed from shop to shop, buying up weapons and items for the oncoming battle. There were a couple of squabbles here and there by the merchant stands as players tried to outbid the others to buy the last remaining healing potions. A cool wind blew through the hot dreary night, cooling down the city weather. The sound of metal against a grinding stone could be heard from many stalls as blacksmiths sharpened the customers’ weapons. The smell of delicious food permeated the air with fragrant spices, meat, and different types of dishes. It was a harmony of sweet, sour, and spicy.
“Is that cinnamon tea I smell?” Agnis closed her eyes and sniffed the air. She smiled. “Mmmmmm. Cinnamon.”
“You like cinnamon?”
“Yeah. Hot cinnamon buns are the best. Especially the gooeyness and stickiness when they’re fresh out of the oven,” Agnis explained as she slightly drooled. “Let’s go check out the stand over there. I think they are selling some right this minute.” She tugged on his shirt.
“No. Didn’t you say we need to get to where Jack is meeting us? You do know it’s considered rude to keep someone waiting when you have a designated time to meet,” chastised Zero. He was interested in meeting this Jack fella that Agnis kept talking about—and getting his reward from her as well.
“Fine,” grumbled Agnis. “I’ll get my buns later. Next time you cannot stop me from getting them, okay?” She pouted and stared at him straight in the eye. Zero could not peel himself away from her bright eyes that showed a window to her soul.
“Deal.” He rolled his eyes in order to break their gaze. “Promise.”
“Good.” Agnis turned around and walked briskly toward their destination.
Not far from the town square, they arrived in front of a cozy-looking shop with a large sign saying Jack of All Trades. Agnis entered first, while Zero followed after. Upon entering he noticed a slew of fantastic weapons on display suitable for many different classes and races. For him, this was better than a candy shop.
Even though there were many different displays of weapons, what surprised him the most was how the shop was set up. Lined up neatly on the right side of the shop was a fantastic variety of weapons ranging from swords, arrows, daggers, and more. Each was intricately decorated like a piece of art. On the other half of the room, modern weapons lined the shelves. A huge banner with bold black letters read Real World Weapons while across from it was another banner that said Growth’s Weapons.
“Is this what you were talking about?” He stared upon each weapon with excitement. Rows upon rows of different varieties of modern day guns and swords were splayed out to be viewed inside the cases, walls, shelves, and racks. Kiyro leaned over to see what was available.
“Hey Agnis. Great to see you here,” a loud hearty voice called out from behind him near the counter. Kiyro turned around and noticed a muscular dwarf with a bushy red beard so long it nearly touched his stomach. His red hair was pulled back into a ponytail and a pair of goggles rested on top of his head. The dwarf’s nose was slightly pink with a heavy smell of lingering coal. His green pants and shirts were coated brown from soot, while his white apron was covered in black soot.
“Hey Jack. How’s it going? Business doing well?” Agnis cheerfully replied. She went over to hug him warmly.
“Unbelievably well. My real life business has shot through the roof ever since I have applied for the Growth Market. Good thing, too—it took a hell of a long time to get it approved.” Jack whistled with glee.
“Growth Market?” Zero replied.
“You’ve never heard of it before?” said Jack, surprised.
Zero shook his head, and Agnis motioned him over. “Jack, this is Zero. My friend. He has been helping me out a lot throughout the game.” Zero casually walked over and shook Jack’s hand firmly.
“Hi. So you’re Jack? Agnis has been talking my ear off about you.” Zero smiled.
“Yep, I’m the genuine Jack.” He gave him a mischievous smile. “Well now, the Growth Market.” He stroked his beard. “It is a specialized market specifically for the game of Growth. Just like an online store, it sells game items to players. It has two main stores: one for online game items and the other for real-life products.”
“Online game products as in…?” Zero’s hands motioned in a circle asking for more.
“Items and weapons you find to sell in this game. They go for the highest bid,” he said cheerily. “Lately I’ve been able to sell and rebuy certain items. I’ve turned quite a profit.”
Zero thought it over for a moment. This was something worth looking into, especially for bringing in possible money in the future.
“I’m guessing you’re a blacksmith. Isn’t that a bit cliché for a dwarf?”
Jack smiled. “Yes, it is. But I chose this job for the assets it brings to my real-life business. So far it has done me wonders.” He looked at Zero appraisingly. “I’ve heard so much about you from Agnis as well. She was talking about her new friend that could change into some kind of fox. What are you, anyways?”
“I’m a hybrid dragon,” he said brusquely and with just a tinge of pride. “A Drezo Regalia.”
“A dragon?” Jack’s eyes widened in surprise. “You don’t say. Why didn’t you tell me your friend was a dragon, Agnis? That’s something you don’t hear often.” He nudged Agnis and narrowed his eyes. “He’s not going to steal my gold, is he?” he asked, only half-serious.
Agnis stared. “Dragon? Why didn’t you tell me you were a dragon?” Agnis faced toward Zero, just as shocked as Jack.
“You never asked,” Zero replied with a shrug. Silence followed after, making him a bit uncomfortable. He was not used to the scrutiny that Agnis and Jack were giving him at the same time.
“That’s so cool!” She yelped with happiness to the point that it startled him from the silence.
“That doesn’t answer my question—so you’re not going to steal my gold, right?” Jack asked once again.
Agnis laughed. “No, Jack. He’s not like that. ”
“Well, you don’t know. Just checking,” replied Jack as he stroked his beard. Zero thought he saw a couple of crumbs fall out.
“Aren’t all dragons the same?” asked Agnis.
“No. I’m not a full-blooded dragon—I’m a hybrid. What happened to the other Drezo Regalia and why I am the only one I don’t truly know yet.” Zero shrugged. “I’m on a quest to understand that.”
“Ah, I see.” Jack continually stroked his beard. “Then can you fly or breathe fire?” His eyes sparkled. He had begun to pace around Zero, examining him.
“I can breathe fire, but no flying. I don’t have wings,” Kiyro replied in a disappointed voice. He too thought he would have wings. He did not know if it was because he was not a fully grown dragon or just because he was a hybrid.
“No wings? That’s peculiar. I thought all dragons had wings,” Jack said.
“There are lots of kinds of dragons out there in the world. I’m sure there are some wingless ones out there,” said Agnis, sending Zero a comforting look.
“True, that’s very true. European dragons are a bit stockier, while the Asian ones are very long and slender. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s the Asian type.” Jack raised Zero’s arm in the air. “But still, to be in a human form…that’s a bit odd to me. You would think that your human body would have some kind of scales or something. You just look like any regular human that walks down the street.”
“Well, I am a hybrid,” Zero replied with a slight agitation in his voice. He felt a bit uncomfortable being examined so thoroughly. “Do you mind?”
“Ah. Sorry. It’s just mind boggling.” Jack stepped away to give Zero some space.
“So Jack, do you have the armor that I asked you to upgrade?” asked Agnis as she watched Zero sending an almost psychic message to back off.
“No scales…” Jack muttered, still focused on Zero. “What was that, Agnis? Oh. The armor. I have a slight problem.”
He squared his shoulders. “The material you have given me just won’t melt in my furnace. I have never seen such material before. By the way, I appreciate you giving me that other material for my furnace. I can now melt things twenty times more efficiently than a normal fire. Where did you get it?” Jack asked, perplexed.
Agnis pointed towards Zero.
“Him?” Jack pointed back, confused.
“What did you get from me?” Zero replied, wishing they wouldn’t talk about him as if he couldn’t hear. Lately he felt like he was some kind of historic exhibition in a museum from the amount of poking and staring he’d gotten from different players and NPCs.
“His egg shells,” Agnis quietly replied. Her voice got smaller and she took a step back. Her eyes intensified with slight nervousness.
“My egg shells?” Zero repeated. He was so stunned that he could not move.
Once again Agnis slowly nodded.
“So you’re saying the egg shells you gave me are from the egg that he was born from?” Jack was appalled at with what he was hearing. Complete silence followed after.
“Bwhahahahhaha!” Jack burst out laughing and patted his belly. Large tears streamed down his face as he bent over laughing. A group of people inside the store jumped up in startlement. They turned around and goggled at Jack warily from his loud boisterous laugh.
Kiyro was speechless. First his fur, now his egg?
“Well you weren’t going to use your eggshell anyways, so I picked it up. I thought I could’ve used it for something, and Jack needed some materials to build his furnace. After I realized your egg was fireproof, I gave it to Jack.” She twiddled her fingers and looked up bashfully towards Kiyro.
“I-I-I…” Kiyro stuttered. He could not get mad at her because he would have thrown his shells away, but it still creeped him out that Agnis took pieces of himself and used them. “Nevermind. It’s fine, I guess…and you, mister dwarf, stop laughing.”
“I’m sorry, lad. It’s just too funny.” Jack patted him hard on his back. “When she told me the eggshells were fireproof, I thought I could use them for the base of my furnace. Then I found out that it makes the fire burn hotter than normal as well. I was completely shocked. It makes complete sense why it would though. Eggshells from a dragon! This whole time, I thought it was some kind of magic egg shells.” Jack wiped away his tears. “Now, better yet, would you mind helping me make the last part of the armor?”
“What kind of help are you talking about?” Zero anxiously asked. He had no desire to donate any more parts of himself in order to complete some outrageous task. That thought slightly terrified him.
“It’s really simple. I want you to help me melt a rock. Would you mind using your dragon’s fire breath to melt it for me?” Jack asked hopefully.
“Sure, but do you mind if I look around the store first?”
“Please go ahead,” said Jack as he widely arched his arm in a welcoming manner. “Everything is for sale whether it is in the real world or the world of Growth. You can look in my actual business store in real life or look through the store just for the game.”
“I see.” Zero began to walk around the store leisurely, looking from one weapon to the next, his finger lightly brushing against the modern weapons. “Wow.” He whistled as his fingers lightly touched the cold metallic guns. “Will I be able to try these out? Or how about possibly using them in the game?” He examined the variety of weapons with interest.
“No, items from my personal store cannot be used in the game. But the other gear and weapons made in the world of Noriene can be bought and used in the game,” explained Jack. He walked over behind the glass counter. “I have popular, cheap, professional, and many more. I can get almost anything,” Jack boasted.
“Players actually buy these? Don’t you need a permit or something to buy them?” said Zero.
“It all depends on the government law and age. Each country is different, and don’t forget that in certain places the buyers are prescreened to even buy it,” stated Jack.
“It sounds a bit complicated.”
“That’s why it takes so long to get a shop approved. The government had taken preemptive cautions in the game of Growth for a couple of reasons. Anyone can start a business in the Growth market, but there are procedures to follow. But once a shop goes live, there aren’t many restrictions, aside from weapon control. Naturally, something like this has become the number one way to virtually showcase your products online without physically being there,” explained Jack as he casually walked over towards the handguns.
“You’re of age, right? Well, I guess you have to be if you’re able to see all this.” He motioned towards the rest of the modern weapons.
“I’m 19. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Ah, I see. Players who are age 19 and up are able to see the modern weapons that are on sale, but only after the age of 21 will you be allowed to buy the products from a dealer. Of course, you can always buy a weapon privately from another that is not a dealer, but the laws differ from state to state. Dealers have laws that we have to follow, while privately it’s looser. If someone buys a gun from a dealer like me, in the game, it would be shipped to the buyer in three days, delivered right to their door. A signature is required. I suggest you study the gun law before buying anything, when you’re ready,” Jack warned.
He moved towards some of the other displays. “Weapons like real swords, axes, knives, and many more don’t have an age restriction, but each privately owned business sets an age requirement or liability issues for safety. People these days will sue about anything,” he sighed.
“I see. Can you buy the guns with game money?” Zero glanced around with hope.
“No. It’s not possible. The Growth market only allows certain things to be bought with Growth’s game money.”
“Then what about the NPCs that come here to buy weapons? Don’t they wonder what these modern weapons in the game are?” Zero asked perplexed with Jack’s answer.
“That’s the odd thing. It’s like what they see is a regular weapon of Noriene and they bypass it as if it’s nothing. It wouldn’t matter anyway—we aren’t able to sell modern weapons to them.” Jack shrugged it off. “Feel free to look around. I have more than just guns.” Jack motioned him to take a look at his wares.
Zero scanned the glass cases. Spread out before him in neat rows were handguns placed in order from smallest to largest with price tags underneath. The majority of the handguns’ colors were in black, but some were silver, pink, and other variety of colors.
“I’m allowed to hold them, right?” Zero asked with hope in his voice.
“Yep. It’s another advantage of showcasing weapons in a virtual setting—there are fewer restrictions on handling. Which one?”
There was one particular handgun that caught his attention. It was all black except for a small silver twelve-pointed star on its side and a plate at the bottom of the clip. A single verse was written neatly in white. His name that sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him.
“This one,” Zero pointed.
Jack opened the sliding door and pulled it out in front of him, checked for any spare bullets, and laid it out on a white cloth.
Zero gently picked it up and tested how it felt in his hands. He aimed it away from Jack. Its cold metal pressed against his skin as it snugly fit in his hands.
Zero carefully set it down back onto the glass table, facing it away from Jack.
“You like it?” Jack’s noticed Zero’s eyes sparkled with interest. “Now if you don’t mind, Zero…”
“Oh, right. Give me a moment.” Zero stepped back from the rest of them to give himself some space. Transform into Origin, he thought with power. A swirl of energy pooled around him. He didn’t know when it had started, but every time he thought of the skill name with full dedication behind it, it would activate. His body turned longer and sleeker with black downy fur. His face shifted into a triangular long snout with a long neck. Bones creaked as powerful sleek muscles formed. Sharp black claws extended outwards. His paws were more like hands now compared to when he was younger, when it was much more difficult to pick up things.
“Oooo!” Agnis replied with glee. “You look so beautiful.”
The word “beautiful” was not the word he was looking for, but it was better than nothing. Her hands reached out towards him.
“Hey!” Zero snapped at Agnis’s hand. She pulled back, startled, and whimpered slightly.
“Aw, come on, Zero. Your fur is sooooooooo soft.” She begged as she held her hands.
“No. We’ve talked about this.”
“Come on, please. Please. Please. Pleeeeeeeeeease.” She was getting on his nerves.
“Fine. Just stop your whining.” He sighed and sat down. The room slightly shook.
“Yes!” Agnis squealed with glee. She bounced over to Zero with happiness. “Thank you, Zero.” She hugged him around his neck and nestled her face into his fur. He was now the size of a horse.
“Bwhahaha.” Jack laughed heartily. “It seems you’ve got a lot on your plate, doesn’t it.”
“You don’t say,” sighed Zero. “You can see what I mean.” He slightly motioned his head towards Agnis.
“Soooo soft.” She breathed out in happiness as she ruffled his fur. “It reminds me of down feathers.”
Zero stood motionless, waiting patiently for it to end. He did not wanted to create any extra unnecessary movements that would delay her. It was best that he didn’t prolong her obsessive snuggling.
“Zero…” Agnis paused for a moment, and her hands stopped ruffling his fur.
“Yeah? You done yet?”
“No. Your fur is a bit strange.” Agnis pushed herself back.
“What? I don’t see any difference.” He strained to see where she was looking, but his neck wasn’t long enough.
“Give me a second.” Agnis forcefully pulled a small clump of fur off his chest.
He cried out in pain. “Damn it, Agnis. That hurts. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Sorry, but seriously. You need to check it out.” She held the fur up to his face. “It has changed. It seems like you’re molting.” She said it with such intensity that it drew even his attention.
“Molting? Are you sure you’re not the one making me molt?” He looked upon her suspiciously. He was not going to fall into her trap. The amount of fur she had in her hands was the same amount a Japanese Akita would shed in a day.
“No, look. Your fur has a different kind of fur underneath it all. It’s like a feathery fur,” Agnis exclaimed in excitement. “That’s probably why you’re soooooo soft.”
Kiyro stared down into her hands. What she stated surprised him as well. There were two different kinds of fur: some strands were long and fluffy, and others were shorter, as if newly grown, and slim and feathery.
“I’m guessing it’s because my body is growing. That’s pretty cool, but please don’t ever do that again.”
“Sorry, I was a bit too excited,” she said bashfully.
Jack was still laughing. “You guys are a riot. Are you like this all the time?” Jack smacked Zero hard on his back, leaving behind a pulsating pain. He even fell slightly forward trying to catch himself. “It’s like seeing two comedians playing out a live skit right in front of me.”
“Well, we’re not.” Zero shook his fur. Large quantities of loose fur flew everywhere. “So what now?”
“Come. My workshop is in the back. We’ve got to do it there.” Jack motioned them to follow as he slightly waddled forward towards the back of the store.
Agnis and Zero followed behind him closely. Walking through the brightly lit hallway, Zero noticed intricate magically imbued blades of all shapes and sizes. Each one of them was heavily imbued with a white magical glow that brightly lit the room.
“Those lights are so beautiful,” said Agnis. “Did you make them?”
“Yes, I did. It was my first masterpiece. It’s called the bladed light. You can pull it off the wall and use it as a weapon or turn it around and use it like a lamp. Both work,” Jack proudly explained. “I have sold quite a few of them recently, but the ones that I have been diligently working on haven’t been shown to the public yet.”
“Why not?” Zero slowed down to match Jack’s pace. He noticed that his strides were making Jack actually run to keep up with him.
“Huhuhuh.” Jack chuckled under his breath. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Walking through the hallway, they arrived in front of a large double door fully decorated and designed simply with metal. On it was a twelve pointed star enclosed in a circle. The twelve elements’ names were written on each end. In the middle of the star was an infinity sign.
Pushing the door open, the first thing he felt was heat. Hot, dry heat that made his skin feel dry and cracked, already he was sweating underneath all the fur he had.
“Zero. Your tongue.” Agnis motioned him to his mouth.
“Hah?” Zero’s mumbled over his words. Without even realizing it, his tongue was out and he was panting like a dog. “Oh!” He quickly pulled it back in and slightly blushed in embarrassment.
“It happens,” Zero replied defensively. Both Agnis and Jack chuckled. Zero pushed forward and went into Jack’s workshop.
Before him in the middle of the room was a large round burning furnace with a chimney that ran up to the roof. Different weapons were held up on metal racks around the room. Tables were covered with items ranging from monster materials to tools that he had never seen before. What surprised him the most was a large clunk of rock the size of a watermelon just chilling in the burning fire. It was neither turning hot or melting. The blazing hot flames licked the rock, but not a single piece of the rock budged.
“You see that in the furnace? I don’t know what it is or why it won’t break apart, but it’s been giving me quite a bit of trouble. I need you to help me break it or melt it.” Jack walked over to the furnace and picked up a pair of metal prongs.
“Watch. It does something even more strange.” Jack motioned both Agnis and Zero over. Jack pulled down his goggles over his eyes and lightly poked the rock with his prongs. A burst of static electricity erupted outwards, lashing out inside the furnace. They reeled back as they covered their eyes from the blinding light.
“I have never seen a rock do that before. It’s mind boggling,” replied Jack with a stunned voice.
“Where did you even get this?” Zero asked Agnis.
“During a quest, on the side of the road. It was during the thunderstorm when I saw lightning strike this particular rock. It gave off a weird electric glow. I decided to pick it up and bring it here for Jack to see what kind of rock this was,” said Agnis. She peered around Zero, trying to take a look at the rock.
Zero was bewildered by her answer. It was not a normal thing to find on the side of the road while questing. Such materials were usually created in abnormal circumstances or guarded by some ferocious monsters.
“Really? I don’t even know where to begin with this. No normal fire is able to melt it nor is the strongest hammer that I have even able to make a dent in it. I haven’t maxed out my skills, but still. I can’t even read the information about the rock. It’s completely blank. The only thing that’s been protecting my shop from burning down is the egg shells that Agnis gave me to make the furnace.” He sighed with relief. “I would appreciate it if you would set your fire on it to see if it would do anything. Will you?”
“Sure, step back so you don’t get the backlash from the fire.” Zero walked up towards the furnace, watching the crackle of the fire burn slowly around the rock. He sat back on his hind legs and gulped in a deep breath. He could still feel the rumbling of his tummy as the flint rocks that he ate awhile back tumbled around. With one furious breath, a blazing whitish blue and red fire burst forth in a stream that jetted into the furnace.
An inferno-like heat blasted outwards towards Agnis and Jack. They pulled back from the intense heat emitting from Zero’s fire.
“Zero, careful! Don’t burn us too,” yelped Agnis.
Loud crackling sounds erupted as the sparks of electricity intensified. Small chunks of the rock pieces had begun to fall off, but not much was gone. Instead a jet black metal looking thing protruded out of the places where the chunks of the rock fell.
“You’re kidding me, right? That’s it?” Jack looked upon it, flabbergasted. “It barely did anything. No. Wait. I think it did something.” He carefully bent over and picked up the stone with his prongs. He slowly turned it over and examined it while the rock still slightly sparked off, but eventually settled down.
“It seems that there is some kind of gem in it.” Jack flipped it around and pulled out his magnifying glass from his pocket. “It has the same texture as obsidian. What do you think, Zero?” He brought it forward to show Zero.
Zero inched forward to look at the rock. The smell of rock and fire filled his nose. It hissed and sizzled as it cooled down to room temperature.
“How about I try one of my skills on it to see if I can break it? Give it here.” Zero reached over towards the sparking rock. Agnis leaned in a bit too close and bumped into Jack’s hands, causing it to tumble out of the prongs and onto the ground with a loud clunk.
“Sorry!” she exclaimed. She jumped back in surprise from the rock rolling towards her shoe.
Zero snatched it off the ground before it could do any harm.
“Be careful you don’t get shocked. It has quite a punch,” warned Jack, a bit too late.
Zero felt a slight static tingling running through his paws while he clutched the rock.
“Did that not hurt?” Jack stared at Zero’s paws, confused by what he was seeing.
It was astonishing to see a large fox/dog creature holding onto a very hot rock that could give anyone a third degree burn. Zero raised it up to his face and took a large bite into the rock. Thousands upon thousands of popping like sounds could be heard and felt inside his mouth. Every time he took a bite, he felt it pop. Not a single part of his tongue was burnt throughout the whole process.
“What are you doing!” exclaimed Jack. Agnis and Jack’s jaws dropped from disbelief. “Are you trying to kill yourself?”
“I omph knomph what I’m ommdoing.” He crunched down hard onto the rock, while his other hand held onto the other part. He pulled the rock out, and it miraculously broke into many pieces. A good portion slid down his throat while the rest he spat it out onto the ground. He hacked and coughed, trying to clear his throat. Slime covered the black pieces on the ground.
“Ah, gross, seriously Zero?” Agnis poked at it with her feet. “It looks like barf.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t help it. It almost got stuck,” Zero apologized. He lowered his head and glanced at Agnis, embarrassed. It was not the first time that he had coughed something up like a hairball.
“Well, he did the job. Just give me a bit of time and I’ll get the armor finished today,” Jack happily replied. He bent over to pick up the obsidian-like pieces with the prongs. “Go on and wait outside. I’ll message you when it’s ready.” He whistled in glee. “Finally I can do my job.” He excitedly pranced around with the rock.
“Thanks, Jack. I owe you. We’ll see you later,” Agnis replied. She patted him on the back. Agnis turned towards Zero. “Let’s go and rest for a bit before we go out and hunt till the land shark wave arrives.”
Zero and Agnis turned towards the door. Agnis slightly began to push the door when a splitting sound of an unearthly howl rang throughout the city streets. Its voice intensified. Agnis stared at the door for a second, thinking that she had somehow done it.
A loud commotion of people could be heard outside the blacksmith shop.
“What’s going on?” Agnis walked over to the window and peeked out.
Packs of dogs barked continuously, cats meowed, and flocks of birds burst out from different trees and flew west away from the city. Other caged animals screeched in panic as they rattled their cages or pulled on their ropes. Players and residents tried their best to calm the frightened animals.
“Someone catch my chickens!” yelled a man. He ran after his chickens that were flocking about, trying to fly away.
“Something is wrong with the animals. Is there something going on?” A lady rushed out to grab the leash of her dog before it ran away. Her kids followed after, huddling behind her in fear.
Residents hurried their children into the buildings, and tents and stalls were quickly packed up. A chaotic mess of people ran back and forth, trying to quell the rampant animals.
“Graaaaaawwwwgrgh!” A piercing cry of an unholy sound rang throughout the city. Zero felt his skin begin to crawl and glanced at both Agnis and Jack.
Something was very wrong.
<Mansion of Dion>
Blood dripped silently down the decapitated torso underneath the mansion of Dion. Pools of red swirled with energy as the blood turned pitch black. In the belly of the decapitated dead, loud unusual noises were sounding off. Its eerie noise set off a chain reaction of similar sounds throughout the room. Movements were present inside the stomachs of the decapitated torsos as small handprints stretched under the skin.
Scissor-like fangs ripped through the skin, and a small brown centipede creature burst forth. Slimy goo encased the whole brown body. Its head was a small human face, and its body was no bigger than a rat’s. Its razor-sharp pincer-like jaws protruded from the sides of its mouth. Red gleaming eyes watched patiently as other similar creatures burst forth. Hundreds of them spilled out at once. Manslaughters were born.
The creatures ate through the host and grew larger and larger, from the size of a rat to a rabbit, and then to a dog. Every fresh kill it made its body stronger and larger. Swarms of them moved together through the flood of other centipede-like creatures. Streams of the large bug-like monsters rushed out of the underground basement.
If the small ones did not have enough to eat, they would group up together and swarm their prey, making it difficult for the prey to escape. They went from room to room, slaughtering and eating the residents inside the mansion. Screams of the dying and metal clashing against monsters could be heard, while sprays of black blood dampened the mansion floor. Not a single drop of red blood could be found, for that too was meticulously drunk.
The majority of the manslaughters that exited the mansion were already the size of a dog. A third of the creatures were the size of a horse, and a few were as big as a car. The ones that were bigger than the others had speed and power which outclassed the rest.
“Graaaaaawwwwgrgh. Graaaaaawwwwgrgh.” The sound of the manslaughters ricocheted off the walls, intensifying every second.
“Help!” screamed a chained slave. She cried out in horror. The guards fought valiantly but failed to keep the manslaughters back. Instead they were overcome by the thousands of them.
A group of the players from Grand Legion that were nearby rushed towards the scene with torches in hand, each swish of the fire made the manslaughters reel in fear. They spat out poison, stunning the players into a stupor.
“Hurry, message Jergorien!” yelled a male dwarf, whipping his large hammer at the oncoming manslaughters. Making contact, it destroyed a nearby manslaughter’s head, and blood and guts flew all over.
“It’s not going through!” cried out a hoarse female elf’s voice. “Something is wrong! It won’t send.” A child-like female elf struck five precise arrows into the head of a nearby manslaughter that was rearing up to tackle her. Her silver hair shimmered magically underneath the light, while her small body stood up proudly, shooting continuous arrows one after another.
“Are you kidding me?!” The stout male dwarf slammed his hammer into another and dodged an oncoming attack from the right. His brown hair and beard was covered in black blood, while his armor was covered in slime.
“She’s telling the truth. The message is not working! Something is blocking our connection!” a buff human male paladin shouted back. He raised his silver shield towards the sky and shouted, “Shield of Eternal Light!” A blazing bright light blinded the manslaughters.
“Go! Go! Go!” shouted the paladin. His armor was covered in monster goo. “I’ll hold them back! You need to tell Jergorien!”
“I’ll protect his back, Lara, and keep them off your back. You’re the fastest one here,” the stout dwarf replied back in a hurry.
“But!” Lara replied in horror at the thought of leaving them behind.
“We don’t have time! Go!” The paladin pushed her forward and then rushed into the oncoming manslaughters and decapitated another that was just about to attack her.
Lara stumbled forward, tears streaming down her face, and disappeared into the dark forest.
Out in the open on the court, Dion walked out casually with his black coat that shimmered underneath the light. His clown-like appearance was gone, and instead here stood a battle-hardened vampire. His clothes were inlaid with gothic designs with a touch of purple here and there. As he stood silently, thousands of manslaughters rushed passed him like water. Dion closed his eyes and raised his head towards the sky. The wind whistled loudly as energy built up around him.
A single tear escaped his eye and a soft whisper escaped his mouth. “I have done this for you, my love.”
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