<Yami Hikari Company>
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeep.
A flood of red messages stating “Growth’s Seed: Dispersal has been completed” covered the screens of all the computers at the Yami Hikari company. Flashes of messages entered the computers like viruses and completely overran the system. Simultaneously, their computers shut down and rebooted as the lights flickered and dimmed.
“What’s going on?” cried out a panicked employee.
“Noooooooo! My files!” yelled a college student who was working as an intern. She cried out as if her world was ending. She sobbed loudly, due to the unfortunate fact that she had not saved her work in over five hours.
The monitors flickered between white and black as an animation played. The animation abruptly changed, with a claw slashing through the white background, and then the monitors faded to black. The world of Noriene then materialized from the black background as a large shadow fell over the entire planet. A large green-and-black dragon with six glowing, diamond-shaped green eyes with feline irises glowed an eerie green and stared upon its viewers. Its body encompassed the whole world as six black wings unfolded.
A small white-and-black seed dropped into the world of Noriene, creating a small ripple. A message appeared in front of the world of Noriene.
The thousands of employees that were working halted what they were doing just to read the message.
|Growth has passed and completed its first stage of Growth’s Seed: Dispersal. Skill Assimilation has been unlocked. The guild that has completed the last part of the stage is Hercules Guild. The guild members have completed a Seed Shard quest. The level cap has risen to 200. Electric Continent has opened for settlement. Second stage of Growth has gone into effect.|
“What? We have stages in the game of Growth?” asked a bewildered employee. This was completely new to him even though he had worked with the game company for quite some time.
“Hercules? Isn’t that one of the top guilds in Growth, led by Aldran? I’m impressed,” said another employee. He was a hardcore fan of the game Growth and was a proud employee of the company.
“I’ve never heard of it. Maybe the programmers might know?” A female employee raced ahead of others to find a programmer. Her curiosity got the best of her. Waves of confused employees flocked after her. However, even the programmers that were present could not give any answers to the question.
“We have not done any programming that has been implemented in the Seed stages. It’s a first to us as well,” said one of the top programmers. It seemed everyone was stunned at this strange phenomenon that the Growth game was going into. Mass panic broke out; employees soon began to fear that the game had been hacked. Some even speculated that the entire company network had been taken over by hackers. Recently, there was news that one of the top entertainment companies had gotten hacked and all their customers’ and employees’ private information were released. It created a whirlwind of panic.
In a dimly lit room on the top floor, a lady in her late fifties sat in front of her computer reading the news displayed on her screen. For her age, she still looked stunning. Her sophisticated stature, her unique clothing styles, and the way she held herself made people revere and respect her. The glint of light in her black eyes sharpened her appearance, and her long jet-black hair appeared darker underneath the light.
Her comfortable rolling chair squeaked as she leaned back and smiled. Her plans were finally going into effect. Even though this was just the first step, she looked forward to the outcome. Her heart fluttered in excitement. It had taken almost a year to get to the first stage, and she knew that the next stage would begin shortly after. Now that the employees and the world would know about the Growth’s Seed. She had waited for this day.
The door burst open and a young man ran forward to the lady. Panting heavily, he tried to catch his breath from running up the long stairs. The elevator was jam-packed with people and he had no time to waste to inform the owner what was going on.
“Mrs. Noriko! We have a serious breach in the game of Growth! What’s worse, we might have a hacker that has infiltrated our company,” he reported while gasping for breath.
“Calm down, Ted. It’s fine. Nobody hacked into it. Send out an update to the world of Growth and set up a time slot to go on air for an exclusive interview,” ordered Noriko as she got up from her desk. She knew that it was now time to tell the world of the snippets of the Seed.
The last lock clicked opened. Scraping metal upon metal, its loud clanking sound rang throughout the room. Zero had to jiggle the cell door a couple of times and ram it with his shoulders to force it open. As Tino stepped out of his cage, he stretched and popped his back in a couple of places and smiled satisfyingly.
“Yes. Freedom!” he shouted in joy. While pumping his fist up in the air, large tattoos of black dragons coiled up his powerful arm as he jumped in joy. His long brown hair swayed around his face, making him look like a giant feral cave man. Zero wrinkled his nose and stepped away from Tino. The stench of his body was overwhelming. The mixture of dried blood and nasty body odor was not a great combination.
A young, slim boy stepped towards Tino but faltered from the loss of leg strength that he hasn’t used for a while. Tino grabbed him just in time before he hit the ground. His golden hair that hung over the right side of the face waved, and angry-looking boils and burns peeked in between them. Zero grimaced at the thought of the pain that they must have caused. In total, there were five human NPCs that were caged and experimented on, including Tino. In some shape or form, they all were either disfigured or parts of their body were missing.
Zero shuddered in unease. He wondered what the game creator was thinking to make such atrocity, but like all his other questions, there were no answers. He was no more than a player that witnessed and interacted with the events that unfolded in the world of Growth.
He remembered, in the disclaimer, it did state that everyone was able to play this game. There were a couple of key points when he was reading about kids under ten had blood and gore scenes automatically turned off. There were also restricted areas that did not allow underage children to enter or have alcoholic beverages. Older teens needed the consent of a parent.
Not only that, children and teens also had to sign a form. When the players created their characters, they had to go over an extensive list of disclaimers in fine print before clicking onwards to play. He remembered signing some kind of release of liability form. Like every lazy person who doesn’t like to read the fine print, he consented and clicked on the agreement without much thought. At that time, he thought that it was too long to read, but this allowed him to enter into any darker area on the first day.
He scanned the prisoners one by one. Rebirth was possible for him, but the NPCs had only one life. If their life was lost, they would have no more quests. This fact was explicitly announced by the game company when it came out. Supposedly each individual NPC had their own unique personality, habits, emotions, and body types. Zero had heard about the company calling for a massive number of people and allowed them to do psychological tests, scanning of physical body, voice overs, and many more. It was quite an impressive feat to have so many unique combinations of personalities and looks.
“Is that all?” Zero looked upon each one. The youngest with the golden curly hair hid behind Pat, the eldest man.
“We cannot thank you enough.” Pat bowed towards Zero. The young boy, Clay, peeked out shyly at Zero. Pat lightly tapped Clay to come forward, but instead he hid behind Pat even more, too nervous to meet someone new.
“This is Clay. Next to me are Eli and Brook.” He motioned one to another. A young petite girl name Eli, with fiery red hair that accentuated her round face, sat in front of a tall lanky man named Brook. Both her legs were missing. Her tattered dress could only hide the horrendous scars that covered her body. Her eyes brightened as she watched Zero. Brook picked her off the ground from behind and placed her up on his shoulders.
“Eli here is a mute. My guess is she wants to touch your fur if you don’t mind,” Brook commented. His once muscular body was gone; now it was replaced with only skin and bones. Zero wondered how he was still able to pick up Eli from the ground without breaking apart like a twig.
“Uh. Later,” said Zero quickly. He did not want to start being a petting zoo anytime soon. It disturbed him.
They’re all broken in some way. Zero was quite surprised to see them brimming with life. Their will to survive was stronger than ever since the appearance of Zero.
Tino hobbled up towards Zero and asked, “Do you even have a plan?” His left leg was sprained, making it difficult for him to put pressure on it. He was covered in vast quantities of old and new scars from large gashes and wounds. His buff chest still looked like it was strong enough to crush someone.
Why didn’t he escape? thought Zero. Tino’s large quantity of muscle should’ve given him leverage to escape.
“Yes, I do,” Zero answered. “There are three escape routes. Our best shot is to get to one of the three. Let’s get out of here. It reeks strongly of death.” Zero noticed his group shivering from the cold. Zero still felt queasy from the stench of death. It was a smell he would never forget. He was glad he did not activate his skills or he would have probably been stunned from it.
“I need you guys to keep quiet and do a couple of things I’m going to tell you.” He knew that it would be difficult to keep the sound of footsteps to a minimum. “When you are walking, walk on the balls of your feet, or place your heel lightly on the ground and roll to the ball of your foot. This will dampen the sound of your footsteps. Also, shift your body through each step to help you keep the center of your body balanced.” Zero tried to show them in his Origin form, but he looked like a dog doing tricks on his hind legs. Clay giggled at his clumsiness. He blushed red as he got back down on all four and continued to explain the process.
“Almost everyone has the tendency to slam their feet onto the ground when walking or running without noticing what they are doing. This will harm your legs because the force you slam into the ground is doubled back into your body. Over time, it will accumulate and harm your body. By placing your foot appropriately, in the long run, you will save energy, run faster, and walk quieter. I know this is a crash course, but the slightest loud sound of footsteps could alert the guards. When I tell you to run, don’t ask questions. Just run. If you don’t want to get caught, listen.”
They all nodded in unison. For these people who lived in darkness for a long time, they did not question Zero’s survival skills. He had already proven them by coming this far. Defeating the fat man had earned him their respect and had given them a chance for freedom.
A window popped up in Zero’s view.
|Growth’s Special Announcement!!!
Welcome, Growth players. Today the game of Growth has passed and completed its first stage of Growth’s Seed: Dispersal. Skill Assimilation has been unlocked. The guild that has completed the last part of the stage is Hercules Guild. The guild members have completed a Seed Shard quest. The level cap has risen to 200. Electric Continent has opened for settlement. Second stage of Growth has gone into effect.
First stage? What is it talking about? he read in confusion. Wasn’t the level cap 150? He remembered reading about the complaints from players that leveling from level one to level one hundred was far too easy. It would make sense if the level cap rose again to accommodate the expansion of available continents that hadn’t been explored. He expected that this second stage of Growth wasn’t the end.
Peeking out over the corner of the entrance, he was unable to see any suspicious activities or movements. Looking back at the monster encased in the egg container once more, he shuddered with disgust. He did not understand how the pervert was able to defile a human body like this. Their psychotic mind was too far gone for him to understand. Once again, he glanced back at the impaled fat man. Already the fat man’s body looked like it was bloated from ingesting too much water. His fat abdomen was similar in appearance to the girl strapped to the table.
“Let him rot with his own creation,” Zero snarled as he left the room. Everyone followed behind Zero in a single file line. Whenever he stopped they stopped. If he raised his hands, they followed. Zero knew that saving everyone was unrealistic. There were more chances of failure due to their injuries, low stamina, and weak bodies. If he was to leave by himself, it was more likely for him to survive than them, but he did not want too. He was going to make sure majority of them survived to see another day.
As he walked through the rows of dead bodies in the tubes, he thought he saw glimpses of shadowy apparitions standing next to each of the containers. The light was dimming in and out; a couple of times from the corner of his eyes he saw shadows that looked like men darting around in the dark.
Zero tried to clear his mind. It’s all in my mind, thought Zero as he tried to shake out the disturbing feeling he was getting. It felt like he was being watched, but there was no one around him except his small group. He tried his best to ignore these odd shadows.
We need to get out of here. He increased his pace. I feel like I am in a room full of people, but there is no one here.
“Did you see that?” Clay asked as he tugged on Zero’s fur and inched closer. His hands were lightly shaking and his eyes were darting around as if he saw something ominous.
“What?” Zero’s fur stood on end, and he was getting goosebumps.
“The shadows are alive,” Clay whispered.
“You’re just imagining it, it’s all in your head,” Zero replied as he tried to blow it off. This was not a topic he wanted to discuss while trying to make a dangerous escape. Clay grunted and nodded. Ignoring the dismissal, he stayed close to Zero.
Pat came up and rustled Zero’s hair, trying to comfort him. A warm sensation spread as the gesture reminded him of his mother.
As he got to the top of the stairs, he instinctively began sniffing the air for any strong scents. Twitching his ears, he strained to hear any possible guards. He noticed a sharp difference in the air, and his vision changed into smell vision.
“What? I don’t remember calling upon the skill,” pondered Zero. Usually one needed to call upon a skill to activate it, but for some reason it was not necessary anymore. Zero thought for a moment and remembered the Growth’s Announcement.
“I’m guessing this is the skill known as assimilation?” Zero tilted his head as his ears lopped to the side. This game continued to surprise him. Allowing the players the ability to call upon their skills without yelling them out would be extremely beneficially in player versus player as well as while fighting monsters—screaming out loud for skills during monster battles would result in alerting nearby monsters.
“Hey, pup. Why did you stop?” asked Tino as he stood next to Zero.
“Sorry. I was just thinking about something.” Zero started to move forward again. His paws scraped across the cold mossy floor. The damp cold air made the air smell stale.
“Pup. Thanks for getting us out of that hell hole. If we all stayed a couple days more, none of us would have survived,” Tino said.
“Save your thanks till we succeed in getting out of here.” His heart tightened at the thought of failure and loss. It would truly be a miracle if they all survived. Each step he took had the weight of their lives bearing down upon him. Regardless, he kept moving while thinking of ways to save the survivors. Why did he harbor such loyalty towards them when they were nothing more than data? He couldn’t fully comprehend, but they felt real. NPCs and players were almost identical to each other. Only miniscule differences told them apart.
The small group silently navigated the hallways of the mansion. He knew where he had to go. There were only three routes of escape. The closest one was the one that he had found yesterday located in the pantry. Getting there was not a problem, but avoiding the guards was. Zero’s sense of hearing and smell helped them bypass many dangers that were lurking around every corner. There were not many traps, so it was easier to move around.
In the distance, Zero heard heavy footsteps of metallic armor grinding against the stone ground and walking quickly towards them.
“Quickly go back,” Zero called out as he sharply turned around. After backtracking a few steps, he halted. He could hear even more footsteps coming from the opposite direction. They were boxed in with nowhere to run. His gut tightened as tried to determine which side would discover them first.
“Damn it. We’re trapped. Get ready to fight for your lives,” Zero said with worry in his voice. None of them had any weapons or knew how to fight. He scanned for any usable weapons or items but found none.
Clay whimpered with fear, tears streaming down his face. He held tightly to his pants with a balled up fist. He was shaking as he inched closer to Pat. Pat cast his gaze down on Clay and ruffled his hair just like he’d done to Zero. He straightened up and pulled on Clay’s hand towards Brook.
“Watch him for me,” Pat softly murmured. His smile was heavy with sadness but filled with determination.
“Be strong.” With one last ruffle of Clay’s golden hair, Pat bolted off in the direction of the first group of guards.
“What? Wait!” yelled Zero. He dug his legs into the floor, about to bolt after Pat to stop him from doing something irrational, but he was suddenly blocked by Tino.
“Move!” Zero shouted as he tried his best to get around Tino, but he was snatched up from the ground by his scruff before he had the chance to get away.
“Shh! Do you want them to find us?” Tino said.
“Let me go!” Zero spat angrily at Tino. He was ready to lash out towards Tino, but restrained himself. Tino was his mission. Zero would fail if he died. This time, he really wanted to punch him, but Tino’s weak body might not be able to handle it.
Tino shook his head with sadness. “Don’t, Zero. He gave us a chance. We need to go. His death must not be in vain.”
He had not expected Pat to sacrifice himself by drawing away the guards. Pat’s decision gave the small group an opportunity to slip away. But it left a bad taste in Zero’s mouth.
“You are saying sacrifice one to save many,” rebuked Zero with disgust. He disliked that ideology. However, because of Pat’s actions, he had been given another chance to succeed in his mission. He could not throw his life away so easily. Tino gently placed Zero onto the ground.
“Fine. Let’s move,” Zero growled as he looked up towards Tino. He began to move and picked up his pace. Luckily, they were close to the hidden passageway that he had found.
“Catch that escaped slave!” yelled a guard. Loud clanking sounds of footsteps could be heard running after Pat. Before long, the sounds of their footsteps faded off in the distance.
With silent tears, Eli, Tino, and Brook grieved. Clay looked upon Tino with a childlike expression, unable to understand what was happening. Everyone except Clay kept silent at this precious moment they were given.
“He is going to come back, right?” whispered Clay as he looked hopefully at Zero. Zero couldn’t face him to give him a direct answer. Instead he silently prayed for Pat to succeed in escaping a horrendous death. If Pat was caught, beating was not the worst part. He would accept death more than being defiled and experimented upon.
“He’s coming back, right?” Clay asked again as he pulled on Brook’s arms. He continued to ask again and again, like a broken record.
“I don’t know, Clay.” Brook held him in closer; worry broke his face.
Once again they sped up their pace and arrived at a small library that was next to the pantry he had found awhile back. There was warm air flowing from the fireplace, and it warmed their nearly frozen bodies. There were small comfortable chairs and stacks of books on the writing desk. It seemed like it had been recently used.
“Tino, I need you to push that bookshelf to the left side,” directed Zero. “Brook, at the same time, push the bookshelf next to it the opposite way.”
Both Tino and Brook got in position and strained to push the shelves aside. Zero tried to help push the bookshelf on Brook’s end. Beads of sweat soon began to fall from their faces. The shelves held fast onto the ground as if they didn’t want to move.
Both the bookshelves moved in unison, and an old, rickety door was revealed behind it. It was the hidden passageway that Zero had found while doing surveillance. Brook opened the door, and they stepped through in single file. It was only wide enough for one adult human to walk through.
“It’s unlocked. Go.” Zero watched them leave.
Tino stopped and glanced back at Zero. “What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me. If I don’t come right behind you in the next ten minutes, go on ahead of me. We’ll meet in front of the grand tree at the end of this tunnel. I left a small golden bell tied around it up on one of its branches, and it has a scratched X shape deeply etched on the trunk.” Zero turned around and tapped an uplifted stone on the floor that was in front of the antique door.
“You better meet us there, pup.” Tino pointed at Zero and winked with a smile while the shelves slowly closed.
“Yeah, yeah.” Zero rolled his eyes and smiled at Tino’s behavior. He could only chuckle at Tino’s wink. It reminded him of his twin brother, who always failed miserably when he tried to wink.
As Zero was about to leave, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that something was glittering on top of the desk. Zero turned towards it in curiosity and hopped up on the chair. He clawed his way to the edge of the table. One paw after another, he lifted himself onto the table. Looking around, he noticed a red ink pen that had a small, intricate black dragon circling around it with a small jeweled ruby situated in its jaws.
“Not bad.” Zero examined it. Seeing gold made him jittery, more money means more opportunity to become rich and being able to afford and buy things that he needed in the game. He stashed the pen in his collar. He made sure to procure more secret compartments in his collar for instances like these. Not a lot could be stored, but it was for emergency use. It made him feel a bit uncomfortable but at the very least it was bearable. As he snooped around for more loot, he found a small golden trinket and in the process he accidentally tipped over a container of ink. The black ink instantly splattered all over an open book and blackened the majority of its page.
“Ah crap.” Zero picked up his back legs as he left behind paw prints all over the desk and the book. He noticed the words in calligraphy had intricate designs.
(Recently spilled black ink has made the first section of text unreadable.)
An ancient knowledge that brings the balance of the elements. For thousands of years they have watched and guarded over the world of Noriene, bringing peace and prosperity. They are the guardians of ancient knowledge and wisdom.
(Black ink blots out majority of the text. One line of text is still legible.)Since the dark ages they disappeared, went into hiding, or were obliterated.
History of Drezo RegaliaA long-forgotten text has been recovered. However, because of some unforeseen events the majority of the text is covered in ink. No other information is known. It’s possible to find more information in a library.
Difficulty Level: E
Requirements: Possession of the golden pen.
Reward: Knowledge of Drezo Regalia and possibly a chest of gold.
Chest of gold? Heck yeah, who wouldn’t?” Zero exclaimed. Who in their right mind would ever deny an opportunity to gain more wealth? Now all of his in-game quest slots were full. He also had only one remaining slot open for quests based in the real world.
But then he remembered where he was. “I have no time for this,” he said, reprimanding himself. “I need to go save Pat!” He jumped off the table and raced back the way they’d come. Turning through the long hallways, he barreled through without stopping once. In a couple of instances he almost bumped into guards, but he easily avoided them because he was traveling by himself.
Finally Zero found Pat surrounded by a group of five guards. They were wearing light armor and were armed with spears and swords, and they were beating and kicking furiously at the unconscious Pat. Deep gashes and thin cuts covered Pat’s body.
“Get off of him!” Zero growled as he dashed towards Pat. One by one they turned towards Zero, startled. One of the guards picked up his spear lying on the ground and threw it towards Zero.
Stepping aside from the spear’s trajectory, Zero zigzagged toward them. In a blink of an eye, he was upon the first soldier. Drawing in a deep breath, he blew out a large puff of green-colored noxious gas that stunned the soldiers for a few seconds. Zero bit down on one of the guards’ exposed hands and pulled him down with him due to his momentum. Swinging back and forth from the guard wildly floundering around like a fish on land, the unbalanced guard stumbled into the guard next to him. They toppled against each other like dominos.
Zero yanked out a small arrowhead-looking knife that was made out of flint hidden away in his collar. His sloppy sewing made it easy to detach. Biting it between his teeth, he slashed viciously at the guard’s exposed inner elbow, cutting the tendons and making the guard drop his weapon.
“Argh!” The guard cried out in pain. He grabbed his arm, trying to stop its bleeding. Zero effectively disabled his use of his fingers, and he would never be able to hold his weapon again.
In that split second, Zero saw an opening in-between the helmet and the armor. He dived towards the guard’s neck and slit his throat in a single stroke. Ruby-like streams of blood splashed across Zero’s fur. Zero was aiming for any sensitive spots and pressure points. He knew by aiming in sensitive areas where the arteries were exposed, he could get a quick death and some critical attacks.
Bolting around and slipping through wild swings, he was able to get to the next guard. He tried to stab his knife in the exposed area under the arm where there was no protection, giving minimal damage. Dashing behind, he once again slashed behind at the guard’s knee, where there was only a thin layer of leather padding protecting it. The guard dropped to his knee in pain.
“Stop moving, you rat!” the guard yelled as he raised his sword and created the opening that Zero was looking for. He attacked like a snake and slit the guard’s throat. The man tried to use both hands to stanch the bleeding, but it was too late. In a matter of moments he toppled onto the floor: dead.
“Kill it!” shouted a guard as he brandished his swords.
One guard pulled out his sword while the other notched an arrow into his bow. Zero backed up from the soldiers and sprinted away. In the hallway there were multiple statues of medieval knights, each holding a sword and a shield. His aim was to get the guards as far away from Pat as he could.
An arrow whizzed past his face and left behind a small line of blood. Two more arrows flew towards Zero, and he was able to dodge them by a hair’s breadth. He ran as fast as he could towards a statue. He used his momentum to jump against the wall, giving him leverage to leap on top of a statue. Quickly he somersaulted off the statue in an arc and flipped in midair above the guards’ heads. In slow motion he saw guards firing an arrow at him. At the last second, he slightly turned his body so the arrow only skimmed his fur as it zipped by.
Just like the time when Agnis first hit the horned rabbit’s foot, the back of Zero’s left leg was pierced with an arrow. Clenching his teeth in pain he accidentally broke his flint knife into small shards. Once again he inhaled air and spewed out a large cloud of green noxious gas.
The three remaining guards were immobilized, while Zero fell to the ground. He was unable to land correctly and instead landed on his side.
“Ompf.” A large breath of air escaped his chest. Trying to forget his pain, he spat a small piece of flint into his paw and scraped it against his claws, creating a spark.
The guards were engulfed in flames. Zero and the three soldiers skidded across the floor. One of guard’s heads was knocked violently against the wall and broke his neck. The second soldier was slumped dead on the floor while the third sat motionless.
Shaking himself from the rubble, he pushed himself up and hobbled over to Pat.
“Pat?” Zero nudged him with his head, trying to wake him up.
Pat slowly opened his eyes and gave him a weak smile. In the corner of his mouth, a small drip of blood escaped.
“Are they safe?” Pat asked as he shakily reached towards Zero.
“Yes.” Zero pulled himself over towards Pat. Pat’s hands lightly ruffled Zero’s hair.
“Your fur is so soft. It would be nice to have a pillow like this,” he joked and chuckled over his own words. He seemed to be struggling to keep his eyes open.
“Here, eat this.” Zero pulled out a medicinal plant for Pat to eat. Pat eyes glazed over.
“I’m coming, Pamelia,” Pat yelled to the sky and then, with a light thud, his hands fell to the ground.
“Pat? Pat?! Wake up! Come on, you can’t die here.” Zero’s cried out in worry. He placed his paws on Pat’s neck, trying to feel his heartbeat: a fading pulse and then nothing.
“I’m so sorry,” Zero whimpered. His throat felt dry. He bowed his head in sadness. An electric shock of pain shot up through his leg, and he cringed. The arrow was deeply embedded into his leg, but it stopped short from piercing all the way through. He couldn’t pull it out the same way it went through; instead he would have to force it through the other side.
Zero snapped the feathers off the arrows with his mouth, He then braced himself and pulled out the arrow by grasping it with his teeth. Luckily the arrow head was not barbed and it easily slipped out. “Ugggh!”
Tears of pain ran down his face. Zero quickly chewed on the medicinal plant that he’d offered to Pat. Next he pulled out a yarrow plant that he made into paste and rubbed it against his wounds. A sizzle was heard as it slowly closed up the wound. He wondered how Agnis was handling herself with the guards.
Just then a message appeared in front of Zero asking if he wanted to connect to a private call.
“I was just thinking about her,” said Zero as he finished cleaning up his wounds.
He accepted and a telepathic communication between Zero and Agnis was established.
“Zero, did you find Tino?”
“Yeah, he’s heading towards the location that I have given him.” Zero wrapped his wounds with a piece of cloth.
“I need your help. These guards are becoming a problem.” Her voice had a tinge of annoyance. “Hurry up and come here.”
The telepathic communication was abruptly disconnected.
“What did that insane women do now?” Zero’s legs trembled as he got up.
Turning around, he gave Pat a heartfelt salute. He would not forget the things that Pat had done for them, even if it was just a game.
A glimmer of gold caught Zero’s eyes; something was clenched in Pat’s hand. It was a small golden heart locket. Zero was surprised that Pat had this hidden away from the slave masters.
He must have hidden it in his stomach and then regurgitated it, thought Zero. He picked up the locket that was the size of a quarter. Gently opening it, he noticed a painting of Pat and a young female teen smiling together.
You have acquired: The Lock of Memory.
He gritted his teeth to bear the pain as he hobbled in Agnis’s direction. As he moved, the pain decreased and his health slowly recovered.
Zero looked at his icon on the bottom right side of his status window as he noticed a small red timer. It was counting down to zero. He had about fifteen minutes left before he would transform back to his human form. Time was running out. Backtracking through the winding hallways, he eventually ended up at the place where he slinked behind the guards. Upon arriving he saw Agnis struggling with the same guards that she had distracted.
“Get off me!” Agnis struggled from the guard’s hand that held onto the end of her blue dress.
“Come on. I thought you liked talking to us. Isn’t that why you brought us something to drink?” jeered one of the guards and joined in laughing with his companions. He grabbed her roughly by her arms. He pulled her into him giving her a bear hug. Agnis stomped hard on his foot and knocked back her head into the guard’s head. Blood flowed freely from his nose and temporarily stunned him. The guard lightened his hold, and Agnis broke free. With a swift kick from her leg Agnis was able to trip the guard onto his back.
Another guard rushed in towards her. He balled his hand into a fist and swung. Agnis stepped out of harm’s way and stuck out her legs. Tripping him in the process, both guards fell forward into each other’s fists and were both knocked out.
Agnis giggled. She was having fun.
A dense crowd formed around Agnis. They cheered and roared as she outmaneuvered the guards. A couple was whistling at her performance.
Once again she didn’t need my help, thought Zero as he watched from a distance. He even ended up buying a shish kabob at a nearby food stand and sat comfortably on a chair. All he had to do now was watch the whole fight play out in front of him.
On every side the guards surrounded Agnis and brandished their swords.
“Put down your weapon. We have you surrounded!” the captain of the guard yelled. Sharp edges of the blades were pointed towards her. Closing her eyes, she cleared her mind to focus her thoughts.
“What’s all this ruckus about?” An annoyed noble stormed out of a nearby building. He pulled out a white handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his mouth. He was wearing a tight black suit with white ruffles on the cuffs and collar. His outrageous flashy clothes reminded Zero of a clown. The guards saluted.
“Sir Dion. This girl has been creating a disturbance.” The captain pointed towards Agnis.
“A girl is ruining my sacred place?” said Dion with a pompous attitude as he approached her. Scoffing at her appearance, he looked at the three soldiers that were knocked out on the floor.
“Is this what I pay you lot for?” Dion cried in outraged. “How can my guards be so incompetent with apprehending a mere girl?”
A couple of guards mumbled under their breath, “He doesn’t pay us enough for this.”
Dion shot them a glare and silenced them.
“Take those three fools to the infirmary and get rid of this nuisance.” He waved his white handkerchief towards Agnis.
This is going to be interesting, thought Zero as he continued to munch on his shish kabob. He hadn’t the slightest intention of helping her anytime soon. He surveyed the surroundings for some more barbeque.
All at once the guards moved towards Agnis. Agnis straightened her back and raised her arms outwards in a circle. She then closed her eyes and clasped her hands as if she was praying. Her right hand slid down her left arm and she pulled out five small silver daggers that were the size of her palm. Her eyes suddenly opened and she flicked her daggers towards the guards in quick succession. The majority of the daggers hit their mark, while one fell short of its intended target and bounced off the metal armor covering a guard.
Screams of pain were heard from the guards as they dropped to the floor with their hands on their heads. Zero nodded with appreciation on how quickly she had learned to handle the throwing knives that he had personally taught her. There were a couple of times when one of her poor throws had ended up with shaved fur.
“She needs a bit more practice, but she’s getting pretty good at it,” Zero commented as he munched through his food happily. A stray dagger skimmed over his head and cut off a few strands of hair. He gulped. Maybe a little more practice is needed, thought Zero.
The guards that were attacking her were careful enough not to get between each other’s swings. Agnis ducked under multiple horizontal swings. She continuously side stepped out of harm’s way and with every chance she got, she flicked a dagger at any guard who had exposed an opening. Her white hair glistened like falling snow as she moved.
In her dance with death every motion stirred the wind around her, moving her body fluidly in rhythm. Each swing, kick, and dodge pulled the air tightly, entwining it into a thin layer of wind that formed a barrier around her body. Each time the enemy swung their swords at Agnis, the wind barrier broke the momentum of the swing for a split second. This gave her the chance to dodge or attack.
Sparks flashed in the meeting of swords and daggers. The force of the swinging sword pushed Agnis roughly into the crowds as she blocked the attack. People scattered from the wild swings of the guards.
“Oh!” gasped Zero as he leaned forward on his chair. His eyes glazed with excitement as he watched diligently. His paws gripped tightly to his chair. Roars of excitement could be heard. They screamed with anticipation, and even then their oohs and ahhs were still drowned out by the clashing sounds of swords.
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Rolling out of harm’s way from the heavy metallic boots, Agnis pushed herself up to her knees and did a tight forward roll. This gave her the momentum to get herself onto her feet quicker. Then just as quickly as she rolled, she did another diving roll towards a sword on the floor. With the sword in hand, she stood up, ending her roll with a stance. Both hands on the hilt, a flare of blazing blue flames shot up and engulfed the sword. She clashed her sword against the blades the guards held. Hot blue flames blazed upon contact. The molten blue fire vibrated and heated up as it cracked the opponent’s blade. Her sword broke through almost every sword it touched.
“Get her, you fools!” Dion yelled as he stomped furiously on the ground.
“Sir, she’s too strong!” cried out a guard as his sword clashed with Agnis’s. The blazing blue flame seared his beard, causing beads of sweat to trickle down on his cheek.
When Agnis pushed him he reacted by pushing harder. The difference of strength made it impossible for Agnis to endure if the duel continued. With her already being engaged in a fight, she left her back wide open to the other oncoming attacks. The back of her hair stood up as she felt a tingle in the back of her neck. She felt bloodlust.
As the guard pushed stronger against her blade, Agnis lessened her hold. She lunged out of the way and put her foot out for him to trip over. The guard was unable to stop his momentum and stumbled forward. falling towards the ground. As he was falling Agnis put the hilt of her sword in front of him and struck him at the base of his skull in an upward angle. He fell past her. The force of the strike disconnected his spinal cord, killing him instantly.
“Go Agnis!” Zero cheered from afar. He even swished around his shish kabob like a sword. This was the best fighting show he had seen in a long time, and better yet he saw it firsthand. Each slash and near miss put him on edge. He gasped at the many close calls that Agnis miraculously survived. The crowds cheered and gasped with him.
Dion picked up a sword from one of the fallen guards. A jet of black fire engulfed the blade. It transformed into a long serrated blade in which one side looked like teeth from a great white shark. He rushed in towards her with black flames trailing behind him.
Each strike between Agnis and Dion set off a surge of powerful shockwaves that threw the crowds backwards. Nearby wooden stands, chairs, and tables were destroyed from the force of the duel. The collision of the two blades created a wild spark of electricity that licked the ground. Agnis’s sword began to crack from the strong force of energy Dion was giving off. Large black flames intensified around his sword. The overwhelming power extinguished Agnis’s fire.
Her sword shattered into a thousand pieces. In that instant, she saw death driving towards her with steel and flames. In one strike, Dion rushed forward, stabbed into her shoulder, and flung her towards the wall of a nearby building.
Ruby red blood dripped through her blue dress. She screamed in agony and tried to stop it from digging deeper into her shoulder.
“Is that all you got?” Dion smiled wickedly. Blood dripped down the sword’s blood groove. Dion caught the drip of blood with his tongue and swallowed. Sharp glistening fangs emerged from his teeth as he slowly inched towards her throat.
“Vampire?” Agnis shouted in surprise. Vampires were a dark race that was heard of only in legends. Their immortal life and their ability to heal made them almost impossible to kill when they drank blood. Even the sun did not harm them much. As she struggled to pull the sword out of her shoulder, the black flames emulated erratically from the blade and left large red welts on her hands.
“Damn. She’s in trouble. I was hoping I could finish eating this before I had to jump in,” he whined as he cast his shish kabob to the side. “Such good food wasted.”
Jumping from Dion’s blind spot, Zero dashed in. He spat a broken piece of flint into Dion’s right eye. Dion roared in pain and pulled back. His hand let go of his sword and reached to cover his injured eye. The black flame that had covered the sword disappeared from its serrated blade.
Agnis took this opportunity to pull the sword out of her shoulder and allow it to fall onto the ground.
She quickly tore a piece of her dress and wrapped it around her shoulder to stop the flow of blood.
“Where were you?” Agnis asked Zero as she tried to compose herself. “I could have used your help. You could have joined in at any time!”
Zero casually smiled. “You were doing wonderfully without me.”
Agnis looked appalled. “You…” she started to say. She was ready to beat him up, but for some reason she stopped. Agnis shook her head, “Forget it. We need to get out of here.”
Zero nodded in agreement.
“Capture them! I want that small rodent as my throw pillow!” Dion screamed in rage. His hands still covered his right eye. More guards appeared from the passageways, blocking their escape routes. Guards rushed forward like football players in an attempt to tackle them down.
They both bolted towards the front gate. Like the wind, Agnis moved through the crowd, while Zero ran between people’s legs. Rows of archers stood on the balcony and drew their bows. Within a matter of seconds the skies were filled with arrows. A couple of the arrows strayed from their course and hit the bystanders. A majority of the arrows missed their mark as Agnis and Zero jumped over chairs and slid under tables.
Running in between people’s legs, jumping onto people’s heads, Zero jumped on a man’s head who was watching. He dodged an arrow as it impaled the man’s food.
Agnis followed closely. She parried arrows with one of the guard’s sword that she picked up off the ground. She did not have enough magic energy to summon another enchanted sword. Instead she now had to rely on her physical abilities.
Out in front of them, a couple of guards were already positioned with their spears lowered and aimed towards Agnis and Zero.
“Agnis, throw me!” yelled Zero as he ran beside her.
“What?” she asked in disbelief.
“Don’t ask! Just throw me!” he quickly told her as he jumped onto her shoulder. Agnis grabbed his scruff and threw him over the guards. Zero breathed in heavily and exhaled a smoky pungent-smelling gas. Its foul smell engulfed in their face. Pulling out a small flint from his accessory, he sparked it with his claw.
He was violently blown back from the blast.
People scattered like rats and hid behind the chairs and tables. Agnis rushed in and slashed at the guards as they dropped like flies onto the floor.
“Nice.” Her teeth sparkled as she grinned.
“This is nothing.” Zero smirked as he looked at him deviously.
Out of nowhere a heavy iron net was cast onto them, pulling them down. The more they struggled, the more they were entangled.
“What? Where did this come from?” Zero struggled through the heavy net, while Agnis tried to hack the net with her blade.
Dion smugly walked towards them. He leered down upon the two, and with a savage kick, he struck at Zero’s stomach.
Zero transformed back into his human form. His time in his Origin form was up.
“Oh? It’s a human? You will fetch a nice price,” said Dion as he clucked his tongue and ordered the guards to cuff him. He turned back towards to Agnis, standing mere inches away from her face. She could smell his foul breath.
Agnis’s mask broke in half and fell onto the ground. Her snow white hair tumbled down upon her face.
Agnis looked frantically into the watching crowd. Her gaze connected with a familiar set of eyes. She remembered those eyes. Zeraph, she thought.
Zeraph quickly turned to the cut eye contact.
Oh no you don’t, thought Agnis as she inhaled sharply.
“Zeraph! Help!” she yelled as loud as she could.
He froze. It was not a request, but a command.
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