The Royal Library
Chirping birds sang their daily songs as they welcomed the risen sun. Oddly enough, their songs reminded him of the salty, crunchy flavor of potato chips.
Potato chips? thought Zero as his eyes fluttered open. Why does their singing remind me of potato chips? He smacked his lips a couple of times as his stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten anything for a day now. In death, there was no need for food, so it hadn’t crossed his mind.
Warm, multi-colored sunlight cascaded down upon Zero’s pale skin. Upon looking around, he noticed that the ceiling and walls had an extraordinary number of glass mosaics. From angels blowing their trumpets, to an epic battle of dragons with the six heroes that saved the races, each had its own story to tell. A large lotus-shaped chandelier hung upside down on the surface of the ceiling. A soft glow on the white lotus petal dimmed as if it had just completed a task.
Each color he saw brought forth a variety of different food smells that tickled his nose. Light pink smelled like the spicy scent of hot pepper; orange brought forth a tangy citrus smell; yellow smelled like an aged cheese. A colorful whirlwind of taste burst in his mouth as he continued to look around.
All his senses were out of whack; he smelled colors and tasted sound. He tried to get up, but failed. His arms shook and collapsed, and he fell back. Just like a newborn baby Zero felt naked and weak. He sincerely hoped he wouldn’t have to experience death and resurrection again.
Who killed me? he thought to himself, searching for an answer. It must have been a professional. I didn’t feel any bloodlust from whoever it was. To hide’s one presence and intent is difficult enough and he could usually sense them.
“Well, there was the bounty that I have in my Origin form, and it would make sense if they were trying to go after that.” His head throbbed from overthinking. “I’ll find out later. I wonder where Agnis and Zeraph are.”
Scrolling through his status menu, he searched for Agnis and Zeraph. Both were not online at this moment. At least I tried. He sighed.
“Well, I’ll call them up to see if there okay later.”
The bells of the Church of Infinity rang loudly, welcoming back the fallen hero from the dead. Once again he pushed himself up. He noticed that he was lying on top of a marble platform. On it was a large oak tree design with twelve of the world’s elements drawn out in a perfect circle. He was lying in the center of it all.
Carefully he stood up and dusted himself off. Walking slowly to keep from collapsing again, he headed toward the exit. Walking over the bridge that connected the platform from he was resurrected, he glanced back once more. It was a beautiful, mesmerizing sight, where death and life met. A place one could not exactly put a name to but could be at peace.
With both hands he pushed the double oak door; upon opening it he saw a large majestic cathedral standing tall. Its walls were white as snow. A pathway lined with exotic trees and plants led to the cathedral. Birds flocked near the ground, swarming around a priest who appeared to be feeding them. It was a warm brisk day, the sky slightly overcast and the wind whistling with joy, but Zero knew that today was just the beginning.
It had been almost three quarters of the day in real life, and he was still not too tired. He wanted to finish a couple more things before logging out. He knew that the Sense gear had a safety feature. It would log out the players when they were in safe zone and had played well over two days straight.
Scanning around, Zero felt safe. Something about this area felt clean and pure.
“Did you hear,” A group of female priest walked past him heading out of the church. “This place has a secret guardian that protects this church.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“No. I really mean it. There is a legend about when the Church of Infinity is in danger; a guardian angel that protects this place will appear to save the people from the dark times.”
“That’s complete bogus. Have anyone ever seen them before?”
“Not even once?”
“That’s why it’s called a legend.”
“Well, the Church of Infinity has lasted for thousands of years, and even when pushed back to the corners of the Fire Continent, it still stood strong. Legends start from somewhere, and in the past hundred years it had gained a huge number of followers.”
“True. This cathedral is the largest on the Fire Continent, and it served as the headquarters for all Disciples of Infinity.”
Their loud voice trails off into the distance. It made sense; he too wondered if there were any guardians that really did protect this place. That was an answer, he could not reply too. Just fleeting memory, his mind changed towards his task.
Zero had an unfinished job to do; to get rid of the necklace of toes. Even though it just the necklace, having the fat man appear before him gave him enough physical proof in that it needed to be disposed of.
He began heading towards the cathedral. There was no time to waste. He had already experienced the predicament in death and it would be best to get rid of the possible cause of unluckiness.
Choirs sang praises for their god with a variety of different hymns. Scholars ran around with heavy stacks of books and scrolls as if they were about to topple over. Gardeners cut and pruned bushes and trees, making the garden organized. Several dogs ran underfoot, tails wagging furiously as they followed their master. Passing through, there were young disciples walking next to their teachers. He walked through the welcoming open doors of the cathedral.
Rows of chairs were neatly placed facing a raised dais standing at the end of the room; behind it was a giant glass mosaic sign of Infinity. Its dazzling colored lights shone down upon the middle of the room. A large silver basin of water the size of a small swimming pool was deeply embedded into the ground. Beautiful chandeliers dangled high over the water. He walked over to the basin of water.
“Is that what I think it is?” Zero peered into the pool of water. “Yep. It’s holy water. It so cliché. Well, at least it’s useful.”
Making himself comfortable, he sat down in front of the sparkling pool and drew out the necklace of toes. I hope the church people don’t get angry, thought Zero worriedly. He looked around nervously to see if there was anyone around him. He pulled out a wooden stick that he had snapped from a passing tree. He put the string of toes on the stick and gently dipped it into the water.
While concentrating on not letting it fall into the silver basin, Zero did not hear the female bishop step out behind him. She was wearing simple white-and-blue clothes and a blue bishop hat, and she carried a large oak staff heavily embedded with holy light magic. Small holes the size of his thumb was cut up and down the shaft. With each movement it whistled a soft, pure, flute-like sound that matched with her footsteps.
“Child, what are you doing?” croaked the surprised bishop. She stared down upon Zero, appalled.
“Shhhhhhh. I’m waiting for souls to come out,” said Zero quietly as he raised his hand to silence the bishop. “There are angry vengeful spirits in these toe nails.”
The bishop stared down upon Zero with widened eyes.
“I have been trying to appease the angry souls, but nothing has worked,” sighed Zero. He had a feeling that these toes were possibly one of the reasons why the dark apparitions appeared to haunt him in his death. This was the necklace that the fat man had personally kept on him.
“Child, that’s not going to work,” cried the bishop. She glanced back and forth from the guard that was stationed at the front doors and back at Zero, debating over what she should do. “You do know that is sacred water to endow weapons and bless people with,” she said with concern. “Be careful not to drop it.”
“Well, if you don’t have any better idea of how to exorcise toes, then leave me alone.” Zero made a shooing motion towards the bishop. In complete bewilderment, the bishop could not even turn around and leave. His outrageous behavior had shocked her to the core.
“Oh wait,” An idea struck him. “Before you go, would you bless my toes? I have ten toes that need your help. Please bless the string holding the toes. It went through a lot as well,” asked Zero with a straight face.
What other way is there? thought Zero. His eyes casted upon the bishop with serious eyes, he was dead sure that this was the best way to expel the curse.
The bishop clasped her wrinkled hands over her heart. “Child, how did you obtain tho-o-se? Were you the one that d-d-did this?” the bishop stuttered.
“No,” spoke Zero carefully as he looked upon the startled bishop.
The bowl of holy water began to gurgle. Dark bubbles formed around the toes that were floating in the water. A dark ooze began to spread from them and taint the holy water.
“Quickly pull that out!’ shouted the bishop as she reached towards the stick that Zero was holding, but it was too late. Already the holy basin was filled completely with dark, gooey energy. The contorted faces of the tortured victims began to appear on the water’s surface. An eerie shriek blasted through the cathedral and chilled his very bones. The walls, chairs, and tables shook violently from the horrendous screams.
“You fool!” yelled the bishop. “Holy water enrages demons and angry spirits. Like I told you, it’s used to bless people and enchant items with. Not to exorcise spirits!” Dark, sticky webs began to inch out of the basin, oozing and crawling towards Zero. Kicking frantically at the black goo, he dropped the wooden stick to the ground. The necklace of toes plopped into the water and rolled deeper into the basin. A blast of dark energy and horrifying screams exploded outwards. A tortured male face emerged and contorted in agony. It wailed, screamed, and struggled as it cried in sorrow.
“Move!” the bishop snapped at Zero. Pushing Zero roughly aside out of harm’s way, the bishop stood in front of him. With a loud thump, the bishop slammed her oak staff on the ground. Silvery white wind emerged out from the oaken staff, using a pure holy light to seal the movements of the dark spirits. A rhythmic tapping began as she held fast. The sound of a whistling flute, wind, and bells intensified around them. A solid barrier of sound shielded them from the dark goo. With each tap of her staff, the bishop sang with an angelic voice, a song of ancient hymns that rang clear throughout the halls.
Zero’s eyes sparkled as his soul understood the ancient hymns.
I am ready now as time is running out.
I have nothing left to hide in your eyes.
I had been so caught up. I have forgotten.
Can you please forgive me?
In the background, the sound of the choir could be heard harmonizing with the bishop as the magic of sound intensified in power. One by one the disciples appeared behind the bishop. They felt the call and the dark powers stirring in the holy cathedral. Together they came forward to sing the ancient praise. Their voices filled with emotion, and they poured their hearts and souls into the song. The stringy, black, tarlike webs lashed out towards everyone, trying to pull them into the basin of dark water. None wavered. Their dedications stood strong.
Give me your eyes so that I can see
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your heart to the once forgotten
Let my Song of Infinity sing its praise.
Let it heal the wounded and the lost.
What would you want me to do?
Where would you want me to go?
Who do you want me to seek?
Once I thought I was worthless.
But I am worth so much.
Who would welcome me back with open arms?
Who would carry me when I’m down?
People started talking,
Saying we will never be whole.
I know I am broken, but you have made me whole.
Tendrils of octopus-like whips attacked furiously, smashing against the sound barrier. A few attacks went through and nicked the bishop’s face. Crimson blood appeared on her cheek. A black humanoid apparition emerged from the dark dreary pool. Slowly creeping forward, its body wrapped completely over the barrier.
Zero eyes widened in surprise. His soul shook as he felt swallowed up by darkness. The only thing that was holding it back was the beautiful barrier of sound. Their voices intensified with emotions as the NPCs and players stood together fast and strong. None wavered.
Give me your eyes so that I can see
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your heart to the once forgotten
Let the Song of Infinity sing its praise.
Let it heal the wounded and the lost.
There is an army rising to break every chain in the darkness.
To free the lost for the once forgotten,
To light this broken land,
Let it guide you.
You are here for a reason.
Don’t throw it away.
White bolts of electricity shocked the black humanoid core. With piercing screams, its howls ricocheted off the walls, intensifying with the sound of the song. Streams of residents and the disciples joined in to sing the song. Their voices joined in clear unison.
Brilliant sunlight shone forth from the window as the sun ray appeared before the black ooze. Pushing back the darkness towards the basin, the dark ooze got smaller and smaller.
A sparkling glow of light dazzled around the pool. Small fairy-like creatures flew in and danced around it in circles, throwing magical, white lotus flower petals. Each petal zapped and pushed back the black humanoid apparition as it disintegrated into the light.
Give me your eyes so that I can see
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your heart to the once forgotten
As it brings us into an infinite circle.
Let the Song of Infinity sing its praise.
Freely given without a price, let it heal the broken.
The song drifted off into a soft humming lullaby as her staff struck the ground with one last force, dispelling the magic. The once black pool transformed into crystal clear water as white spirits emerged from the necklace of toes. Each and every one bowed with respect towards the bishop and walked out the wide opened door. They sang of praises as all the souls passed on.
Silence filled the air. The bishop let out a satisfied sigh. Zero was awed at the scene. Magic of sound was truly an extraordinary thing; he did not know that music could ring with such clarity as it moved people’s hearts with unity. He waited for any possible rewards from freeing the souls, but nothing happened. He was a bit disappointed.
“Ma’am.” Zero walked up towards the bishop, feeling much more respectful than he had before. “I was wondering if you could teach me a bit of your song.” With eyes brimming with hope, he looked upon the bishop.
With one eyebrow raised, the bishop looked down at Zero. She shook her head as if she was scolding a child. With a quick strike to the head she smacked Zero.
“Ow, what was that for?” Zero rubbed his stinging head. Is she allowed to do that? he wondered. Aren’t they supposed to be against violence?
“That is for being an idiot. Don’t ever do that again.” She poked him hard a couple of times on his chest to emphasize each word.
“Now”—she stopped to rub her hands together—“You can call me Sanya.” Her hands folded back into her sleeves.
Zero nodded quickly. “Zero,” he mumbled, a bit annoyed. He did not appreciate the smack on his head.
Zero noticed a couple of the disciples were already fishing out the necklace from the basin. He peered over worriedly about the necklace. But his attention snapped back to Sanya’s gray ancient eyes, which held him in place. He shuddered as power seeped into him, through him, claiming him without resistance. And when the violent rush of power had invaded his every cell, a strange calm settled over him. His soul felt completely opened to Sanya as her ancient eyes glazed over.
“Child, do not worry about that necklace. It will be buried and be prayed for. Now I see you are blessed by the light, but darkness follows you. You are cursed since birth, and you were even given the choice to pick between two different destinies,” she said.
“How did you know I am cursed and how did you know I was given two different destinies?”
“Your soul tells me so.” Her voice shook his soul as her eyes scored through his life.
“I can read the past histories of your race, child, and the possible destinies that will unfold before you.” Her gaze was cast off into the distance as she was looking into something he couldn’t see. “It’s a generational curse. Even now it still holds fast. How to break it I do not know. Child, I am sorry, but you will never be able to completely settle down and find a place where you call home till you are free from this curse. No land will accept you till then.” She looked upon him sadly.
Zero’s was curious from the bishop’s words and a bit disappointed that he lost his chance to possibly get the main unique jobs. This is actually going to be difficult, thought Zero as he scratched his chin.
“But learning the power of ancient words shouldn’t hinder you from your path.” The bishop smiled. Just as the feeling in his soul reached its peak it faded away in a manner of seconds.
“My twin brother who guides this church with me should be able to teach you the basics. Go and find him in his study.”
“Why are you allowing me to learn after I caused you so much of a headache?”
“Ah,” her lips curled into a smile, “because your future and past interest me. It is like a tangled web of fiery red and blue that scores through many lives of different people. How you deal with the new outcome, I do not know. The future changes every second, but especially seeing the choice you have made that brought you to this place. Truly it is fascinating.” Her eyes sparkled with luminosity and her voice felt heavy with power.
“Silver will guide you towards where you need to go.”
A young priestess moved shyly toward them and gave a polite curtsey. Her porcelain skin and her petite appearance made her look like a small English doll. She wasn’t dressed at all like a nun; she wore black from head to toe.
“Hi. I’m Silver. I’m an apprentice training to become a disciple of Infinity.” She happily replied.
Bishop Sanya interjected as she instructed Silver, “If my brother says that he’s too busy, tell him that I will blurt out all his secrets to the mass. And if he says he’ll spill mine, make sure to emphasize that all his favorite ‘books’ would be donated to a poor city where they might use them as tissue paper or fire kindling.” Bishop Sanya angelically smiled. Zero inched away from her.
“I’ll be your guide towards Bishop Etran. Leave everything to me, Bishop Sanya,” said Silver as she happily waltzed towards their destination. Zero followed right after, excited about what he would learn.
Will I be learning how to sing? Vocal practice? thought Zero as his mind raced with questions about the possible training. Possibly I’ll learn some new pitches, skills, or maybe I’ll learn how to play an instrument? No. That’s not right. It should be learning the score sheet. I do know a bit of music.
Silver cleared her throat to catch his attention. Throughout the whole walk, she was explaining the history of Church of Infinity, but Zero was too engrossed in his thoughts that he did not hear a single word she spoke.
Zero snapped out of his deep thought. “Hmm? We’re here?”
“Yes, Bishop Etran is waiting.” Silver smiled as she opened the giant wooden door for him. Comparing Silver’s size to the door, she seems dwarfed in comparison. Zero thought her small body couldn’t handle such heavy doors. She struggled a bit, but was able to push the door with all her might.
Upon entering, Zero saw that towers of books were littered around the office floor. Warm fire light brightened the room as crumpled paper was thrown into the fire. Crinkling, the page slowly caught on fire, and black smoke rose up through the chimney. Bishop Etran was working in his study with his head hunched over a book, his glasses and bishop hat tilted, his hands scribbling away in rapid succession. His clothes were identical to Bishop Sanya’s. Peeking over his book he noticed Zero and Silver enter through the door.
“Yes?” Bishop Etran looked up and said with an annoyed tone. He put down his pen.
“Bishop Sanya asked that you teach Sir Zero the ancient arts of words.” Silver bowed slightly as she gave him her respect.
“I don’t have time to teach. Send him away,” said Bishop Etran with a gruff voice as he went back to his writings.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Bishop Sanya said she will spill out all your secrets to the masses if you don’t.” Silver stood up straight as if she was bracing herself to get hit by storms of words from Bishop Etran.
“Tch. Tell her I’ll spill her secrets if she does.” Bishop Etran rolled his eyes as he put down his pen again. He fixed his glasses.
“I am sorry to say this, sir, but she specifically stated for me to tell you that she will donate all your books to poor cities where they might be used as tissue papers or firewood.” Silver’s eyes gleamed deviously.
“Wait. Wait. Wait. Did you just say tissue paper?” Cold sweat appeared upon Bishop Etran’s face as the thought of his favorite books being used in such manner. Bishop Etran thought deeply.
Bishop Etran’s books were his life. Through them he had spent his days deciphering their god’s language. It was his joy and happiness to learn new things. “Just this once,” he said. “Bring him in.”
Silver bowed and walked out. She winked and gave Zero a thumbs-up. “Good luck,” she whispered as she left the room.
“So what brings you here?” Bishop Etran set his books and pen aside. Folding his hands, he looked upon Zero with curiosity.
Zero cleared his throat. “I was told you could possibly teach me the way of the words.” Zero walked forward in excitement. He was ready for the possibility of obtaining one of the main unique jobs. In quick strides, he pulled out a stool that was near the wall and sat in front of Bishop Etran. Bishop Etran looked down upon him with doubt.
Ruffling papers, Bishop Etran shuffled around stacks of loose paper and sat them next to him. Bishop Etran handed him a feathered pen and a well of black ink. Blowing dust off an ancient book, he passed it to Zero with stack of blank papers on top of it.
“Copy this book from beginning to end,” replied Bishop Etran as he went back to do his work. He didn’t even look up at Zero once.
Learn the ancient art of wordsCopy the ancient text from beginning to end. It looks like a dictionary and the history of Noriene.
Difficulty Level: E
Requirements: Granted by Bishop Sanya.
Reward: Depends on how Bishop Etran feels.
Failure: You will not learn the art of words. Bishop Etran and Bishop Sanya will not help you.
Zero was speechless. Already the thickness of the book was overwhelming and the reward was even stranger. He didn’t know how long it would take for him to finish it, but the chance of getting a unique job from this request spurred him forward.
Depends on how Bishop Etran feels? What kind of reward is that? Usually it would tell him what he would receive, or say unknown, but how one feels? That was completely unexpected. There was no time to waste. The answer would be given when he completed his quest.
“Yes,” said Zero quietly so as not to disturb Bishop Etran’s study. Bishop Etran eyed him with discontent from even making a sound. The only other sound in the room was the continuous scratch of pen on paper.
It was a large book with leather covering. On the front was a Celtic design of an oak tree inside a large intricate circle; twelve circles encompassed the tree. There was no author name written on the inside or the outside of the cover. He opened the book carefully. On the first page a phrase stood out boldly.
Welcome to the Beginning of an End that is the Beginning.
Let the Song of Infinity ring again.
An odd phrase, he thought. Inking his pen, he began to copy it word by word. Each sentence was like a poem. At times he wondered what they meant, and other times their meaning was apparent. Beginning with the creation of Noriene, to histories of the world and continents, to the enemies, gods, and many more legends, the book told stories he did not expect to find even on the webpage of Growth. Each had an epic story or a hidden lesson that he slowly learned.
It was night, he was out and about because he was actually hungry. None of the virtual food that Zero ate was filling Kiyro up. After the three extra meals he bought in the game, he realized his body needed food. He was also taking a bit of time off from writing for hours, but his mind was still heavily engrossed in the history of Noriene. Hunched over writing gave him neck pains and even in real life he could still feel like he had the aftereffect of it. It already has been a whole day and he barely ate anything. His stomach grumbled with outrage, crying out for food.
He was already in the kitchen finishing up eating his meal: a simple dish of chicken fried rice with variety of vegetable. He left some for his sister to eat when she arrived back from work.
A loud ring of his Alive gear blared through his room, and into the kitchen. Kiyro snapped out of his thoughts, startled. He had forgotten that he left his Alive gear on high volume. Yesterday, he’d used it as a digital alarm and forgot to lower the sound. He reached over and picked up his Alive gear and set it on his head.
“Hey, Kiryo. This is Eve, you know, Agnis. Why haven’t you been picking up my calls? I’ve been trying to get in contact with you all day.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t receive any in-game calls,” said Kiyro, confused. Even in his mailbox there were no new messages from her.
“It must be true,” said Eve, a bit annoyed, “that in death you can’t get in contact with others. Wait a second. Alex’s call is coming through.” She paused for a moment as she merged the calls together, making it into a group call.
“It’s Zeraph. Didn’t he tell you his real name? Hey Alex, you’re connected.”
“No. This is new to me.”
“Thanks. Hey guys,” replied Alex.
“Hey Zeraph. I mean Alex. Wait, your name is Alex, right?”
“Yeah. Sorry I didn’t tell you about that. What’s up, you two?”
“Nothing much,” Eve said.
“Everything’s fine so far. It’s so boring in the game that I had to get out of it for a while,” Kiyro replied with an exasperated voice.
“What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“I’m stuck copying a book,” Kiyro groaned.
“That’s not too bad. How was death?”
“Eh. Not so bad, just a lot of gloom. It’s best if you experience it to understand what it’s like.”
Eve cut in, “What happened today really surprised me. You died. Alex and I had to literally chase down the killer. You should’ve seen how he dealt with the enemy. His insane quick sword draws and really sweet maneuvers. He was literally flying around in the air.” Her excitement made her talk far too quickly. “Majority of the time I was only able to see him clicking his sword back into his sheathe. It was soooooo cool.”
“Hey. I didn’t do much. You helped out just as well. That spinning back kick was wonderful. It stunned the enemy for a bit,” Alex’s voice said pleasantly. Kiyro could almost envision Zeraph’s smile when he said that.
“I was lucky. You blocked his attack first. It allowed me to put in a couple of kicks here and there.” Eve brushed it aside as if it was nothing. Just as abruptly as her excited voice sped up it changed into concern. “Did you do something to offend someone or something?”
“No…” He pondered for a moment. “The pet shop quest. Maybe that?” Kiyro turned around and sat down on his bed. He had been pacing back and forth throughout the whole conversation. He flopped backward. His level was now out of the protection range set for new players, but he still had the infamy points stacked up in his Origin form. It did not make complete sense that he would be targeted in human form.
“There is no correlation. He didn’t know we were even doing it. When we defeated the assassin, we got some strange crystal heart,” Alex quickly said.
“Well, the creepy thing was that it was yours. It had your name on it,” said Eve with a bit of disgust.
“Wait, what? Crystal heart?” Kiyro fretted. “Does that mean that everyone has one?”
“Nope, just you,” responded Eve. “Either way, there is a new skill for us. It’s called Recalling of Friendship,” she said excitedly. “It’s a unique skill, and I could not find it even on the website.”
“What is it?” Kiyro became more alert with their conversation.
“It said that Recalling of a Friendship allows you to hold onto your partner’s crystal heart. I can call you back from the dead and bypass the logout time. Only one is made, and no other crystal hearts can be made till the heart is used. Now the upside is that this crystal heart has an expiration date of a month. It just turns into an ordinary crystal of little value. There’s one last catch: if the contracted partner is holding onto it, it will stay active till it is used. So you’re lucky I got it,” said Eve proudly as if she’d accomplished something great.
“Yeah…thanks.” Kiyro did not like the idea of Agnis holding onto it, but it was better than some random person who he didn’t know experimenting on it for some personal gain.
“I just found out a while ago there is a large bounty placed on all our heads,” Alex grumbled.
“How much?” Kiyro asked.
“On you it’s about 1,000 gold, 550 gold on Eve, and for me only 150 gold. Luckily there is no exact picture of how we all look. The only picture of you is your origin form. I suggest you stay under the radar as a human as much as possible in the city.”
“Wait, I’m 1,000?” gasped Kiyro. He could not believe that out of all of them, he got stuck with the highest bounty.
“Where are you anyway?” Eve asked.
“Doing a quest at the Church of Infinity,” he replied. He had the highest bounty out of the group and he was stuck with writing while they were probably doing something fun.
“I see,” she replied as the line went silent for a second. “By the way, check the news. We’ll come by later. Stay at the church, okay? Alex, we need to get that thing done. We’ll see you around.” She hung up the call.
“What she said.” Alex hung up right after. Kiyro’s arms lay spread out like an eagle beside him.
News? What? Kiyro got up and headed towards the living room. He noticed a crumpled purple blanket that his sister had left laid out across the sofa. Pushing aside the blanket, he settled down with both feet up. Relaxing, Kiyro turned on his TV with a remote.
“Good evening America. This is the daily Channel 77 Atlanta News station. We are Jim and Oscar bringing you the evening news.” Jim gave a bright smile at the camera. His white teeth sparkled underneath the fluorescent lights.
“Well, Oscar, today we got exclusive news from the owner and creator of Growth. Here is Mrs. Noriko.” Next to Oscar was an Asian lady with long black hair. She wore a body-hugging dress, with a small sapphire necklace. It glittered magically under the light. She was the owner of the Yami Hikari game company
“Hello, Jim and Oscar. Thank you for allowing me to be here today. I flew in last night just for this interview.” Mrs. Noriko grinned at them.
“That must have been quite a trip,” beamed Oscar as he folded his hands. Today he was wearing a black suit with a red tie.
“No, it wasn’t so bad. I’ll be staying around our sister company for a couple of days.” Mrs. Noriko folded her hands in front of her and twirled her hair.
“Ah yes. One of the sub-branches of the Yami Hikari Company is stationed in Georgia. Well, let’s continue on. A lot of viewers are especially surprised at these new Seeds, seed shards quest, and the strange stages that’ve been implemented into the game. What are they exactly?” Oscar looked at her with interest.
“Ah, yes. The seed. Well, think of the seed as exactly as what it means: just like a regular plant that goes through the cycle of birth and death. The plant has cast its many seeds in its death out towards the people of this world. Seeds can go to anyone whether they are playing Growth through Embryo’s Sense gear or just using Embryo’s Alive gear. It is basically an idea, a movement, or you can say a change.” Her hands talked with her as she explained, “What the players do with a seed is all up to them. The first seed you get will open up upon receiving it. It is used for oneself. What you get depends on the person. That’s what the players will be allowed to find out by themselves.” She winked towards the camera. “The people who are given a second one can use it for ideas for projects. It is a bit more difficult to get than the first seed. They can accept it, throw it away, or trade it with others. The third is given near the final event. This will be extremely rare to get. You can say one out of a million will receive it. Even I do not know what’s in store. Think of each seed as a gift to humanity.” She smiled as she calmly explained.
Oscar snickered. “You make this sound like some kind of baptism. Are you sure you’re not hacking into people’s accounts or starting a cult?” He eyed her with suspicion.
Noriko chuckled. “Oh dear, no. We respect the privacy of our customers and would never want such things to happen. Why do we need the personal information of other people when the company is doing well? Plus it violates the people’s rights.”
“I see. What about the seed shard quests?” said Jim as he leaned in closer to hear what she had to say next.
“Well, Jim, anyone can get these seed shards through quests in real life or game life. These seed shards that the players can get help advance the world of Noriene and unlock the continents. Their level cap will be increased and it will become more difficult to level and play in the game. As each part of the world unlocks, new functions will be revealed. The Alive and Sense gear technology will incorporate the changes into both the real and game worlds.”
“Is one of them the recent skill assimilation?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Noriko with a nod.
“So how many stages are there?” Jim lightly tapped his pen on the table.
“Well that’s something the players will find out. I’m sorry I can’t tell you much about it,” she said.
“Aww. Mrs. Noriko, you can’t give us a couple of hints on what these new technologies incorporated into the Embyro gear will be?” Jim crowed.
Mrs. Noriko shook her head.
“Okay then, how are the people chosen to harbor these seeds?” Jim twirled the pen in-between his fingers.
“That’s not easy to explain. The high-end supercomputer GENESIS that was created by our brilliant scientists takes into account the majority of the quests, race, fame, actions, and many more that the player has done and completed. It calculates the probability of whether the player will take the seed or not and if they will be able to accomplish the task. Certain requirements must be met before a player can even gain a seed.”
“That’s quite a supercomputer. So you’re saying just being powerful can get you one?” asked Oscar while he looked upon her, hopeful.
“Yes and no. It’s not given only to the powerful. It’s given to the people who have what it takes to change themselves into the people they are meant to be.” Noriko emphasized that last sentence.
“That’s a bit strange to say. Wouldn’t that be unfair to the players? Doesn’t everyone want to change?” Oscar tilted his head in an expression of confusion.
“Yes, everyone does, but do they really attempt it?” She looked at the anchors and then into the camera as if asking the viewers. “We are so set on our own comfort that we forget to test our limits. In actuality we fear what we can’t do and doubt what we can do. We put a lid on our own jar of potential, thinking it is impossible. We always jump close to the lid without hitting it. Society, media, friends, and even family sometimes state that such a mindset is improbable and we follow it without questioning it. We then pass this mentality on to our children and their children, unconsciously reinforcing them with negativity. This mentality becomes inborn. The lie of doubt becomes the truth.”
Mrs. Noriko paused for a moment and nodded her head. “Our fears and doubts hold us back. We fear the unknown because we don’t know what is at the end. Either it is good or bad. We fear such outcomes because we don’t have any control.” Her voice was touched with sorrow. “Without a cause we lack motivation. Unless there is a shocking event, or something that blocks our path, change does not happen until something pushes us and motivates us. We human beings can be lazy at times. Sometimes the thing that makes you reach your full ability, and even more, is taking that unknown chance, either by baby steps or by giant leaps. But remember this: there are always consequences to your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Nothing ever stays stagnant; everything is a push and pull. Now think of these seeds as a tool to help build your path in life the way you want it to be.”
“You have an unusual way of thinking, Mrs. Noriko. Aren’t you worried that hackers might infiltrate your game and tamper with it?” Jim couldn’t stop himself from asking.
“Ah. Yes. Hackers. That is something difficult to say, but right now we are confident that our technology outweighs the skills of outside hackers at this moment. Our leading world scientists and programmers have done a remarkable job. It’s also thanks to our sponsors, Mr. Kim, Mr. Somon, and Mrs. Krystal. ” Noriko eyes and mouth smiled brilliantly.
“That’s quite a statement. The world’s triad of multi-billionaires: Mr. Kim with his leading expedition of space exploration, space technology, and Mars traveling; Mr. Somon who owns three-fourth of the world’s car market; and Mrs. Krystal, the leading genius of Artificial Intelligence and creator of today’s top technology. They have enough money to use cash as toilet paper. How were you able to get them to all agree?” Oscar looked appalled. He sat back and whistled with surprise.
“Persuasion, deals, and a lot of talking.” Mrs. Noriko chuckled. Her sweet laugh brought smiles to John and Simon.
“This is truly history in the making. Another question: is it true that your company has severed ties with the company called Kosmos?” asked Oscar.
“Yes. There were some difficulties, but we had parted ways a long time ago. Now I have a question for you. Do you believe in Magick?”
“Excuse me? Magic? Are you talking about the parlor tricks that magicians do?” Oscar chuckled at his own answer. He looked upon Jim as if she was saying something funny.
“No. There is a difference between Magic and Magick.” She smiled.
“What is the difference?” Oscar looked at her. He wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Magic is what you call today’s magician who creates illusions with tricks, while Magick is natural. The world supplies natural Magick.”
“I must say, you say the strangest things. What does Magick have to do with anything in the game?” Jim was confused.
“Everything.” She smiled.
“Well folks, this is all we have for today.” Oscar quickly shook hands with Mrs. Noriko, quickly ending her interview. The news logo flashed in front of the television and the commercials began. A loud slamming of the door was heard, followed by the shuffling of footsteps walking towards Kiyro. Kiyro turned his head and saw his sister. Her hair was messy and her pristine purple dress looked rumpled. Her face was heavy with gloom as she slumped onto the couch completely worn out.
“Yo.” Kiyro looked upon her with curiosity. He hadn’t seen his sister so worn out in a very long time. “Busy day?”
She nodded into the throw pillow. Her hair splayed out over the whole pillow.
“Oomghf…today…soomgh,” she mumbled into the pillow.
“What? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” He leaned forward, trying to hear her voice.
“I hate today. I wish Kyle was here,” she whined. She kicked her feet like a kid throwing a tantrum. Her face was smeared with light makeup. Kiyro froze upon hearing that name.
“He’s dead. Don’t ever mention that name,” said Kiyro with annoyance.
“He’s not dead!” she yelled back at him. “He’s your twin brother! How could you just forget about him? I hate when you say that. He just left for a while. He’ll be back. I know he will.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Anna. You know as well as I do that he left for good. It’s been three years. Three years!” Kiryo’s hands flexed with anger and then balled up into a fists. “Not once did he call us back. No hi’s or how he’s doing. It’s like he completely disappeared. After that incident he left us for good,” Kiyro angrily spat back. “You need to stop throwing your emotional dumps onto people when you’re having a bad day. Do you not get it still? He ran away.” Kiryo stressed the last sentence with fury.
Anna glared at him. “And what about you? You ran away from your responsibilities. How are your dreams and goals any different from your brother’s?” she asked furiously. In a sense both Kyle and Kiyro had the same goals and dreams; they always liked the same things, went to the same school, took the same martial arts, thought the same ideas, and even fought over the same girl they had crush on. But there were subtle differences. Kyle was more outgoing and adventurous. He was always trying new things. Kiyro was a bit more reserved and lazy. Kyle was the one who always dragged him around places and made him do things. But not anymore.
“My dream is better than Kyle’s,” said Kiyro vehemently. This was not the time to compare him with his brother.
“Being a play tester? Lazing around? Not even having a goal. That’s not a dream. That’s a waste of your life. You and Kyle were the best in school and in DanketsuRyu Academy. You guys were always competing with each other over the top spot. Where has that drive gone? Why are you living like this?” she cried out in between hiccups and tears.
“Being a play tester is my first step to achieving where I want to go in life, and that is to explore the world.” Kiyro couldn’t take it anymore. Being near his sister any longer would drive him insane. Already he could feel his blood pressure rising, his emotions overflowing with anger, and the start of a splitting headache. He loved his sister very dearly, but he couldn’t stand her mood swings.
Kiyro stormed out the living room and slammed his bedroom door shut behind him. He leaned back on the door and slid down onto the floor. He clenched his clothes over his heart as he felt as if his heart were being squeezed. Memories of Kyle flashed in his mind. The good old times, childhood memories, and bickering over a girl. No one else knew him like Kyle did. His best friend. The one whom he shared all his secrets with. In reality, he didn’t really have a final goal. He lost it when his brother left them all.
“He betrayed me,” Kiyro quietly muttered under his breath as he closed his eyes. A thought drifted into his head. No. Instead I’ll find him and give him a piece of my mind. I’ll become so well known that I’ll have all the connections I need. Yes. He nodded, satisfied. That is what I will do. He opened his eyes, which sparkled with dedication.
Tuesday. July 7, 2054. 5:00 pm.
Day became night and vice versa in the game of Growth, and Zero was zealously working on copying the book. He did not have time to think of the small bout with his sister, and instead he focused on what he had to do. Every day Silver delivered food to them exactly as the bell tolled three. Copying the book was a tedious task for Zero. At times his patience ran thin as he wished he could just be done. Other times the stories and legends were interesting enough and kept him writing for hours.
It had been three days in real time and nine days in game time since his quest at the Mansion. He had taken breaks here and there whenever he had the chance to. Kept himself well fed, and even did short exercise in-between each break. He wasn’t going to fall back into unhealthy habits. Warmth fell upon Zero’s hands where he held his copy of the book. He was finally finished. Stretching, he looked around the room. It was even messier than usual from littered papers, half-eaten food, and blankets and pillows from taking small naps.
Leaning back on his chair, a satisfied grin marked his face as he was done with this outrageous task. Bishop Etran quietly picked up the stacks of papers that Zero had finished and began binding them into a book.
Zero watched with interest at what Bishop Etran was doing. A couple of hours ago, he had noticed Bishop Etran personally drawing something on the leather cover. It was an engraved etching of a large oak tree inside a Celtic circle.
“Well, now. You have stuck till the end,” Bishop Etran said, amused. “Here, keep it. This shows your dedication to single handedly go after the goals that you have set yourself. Be proud of what you have done.” Bishop Etran handed the book over to Zero.
Grabbing it with both hands, he lightly brushed his hands on leather. Its soft and rough texture rubbed his hands. The smell of freshly tanned cowhide wafted through his nose. He ran his fingers over the smooth engravings.
A secondary job has been given.
Zero was appalled. What kind of joke is this? he thought as he reread the message. It wasn’t the special job he was looking for, nor was it a job worth keeping, in his opinion. He thought he was arriving to the possibilities of learning some kind of sorcery type of a job. Who would want to sit and write for hours in front of a dim light?
“I, uh—” Zero was cut short as Bishop Etran handed him a very thick leather journal and a fancy pen.
“Take this with you. Your next task is to fill this journal. Whenever you go out in your adventures, write down or draw what you see, what you feel. Record as many things as you can. Try not to fill it up with useless or mundane information.” Bishop Etran looked at him seriously. “I don’t like scribbles. Write it neatly and keep it on you at all times. Don’t wet it. Got it?”
Carefully Zero picked up the book from Bishop Etran. His mouth opened in bewilderment.
|Quest has been updated.
Learning the ancient art of wordsBishop Etran has given you the task to fill the book with knowledge of your adventures.
Difficulty Level: E
Requirement: Must gain the quest through Bishop Etran.
Reward: Depending on how Bishop Etran feels.
Failure: You will not learn the art of words. Bishop Etran and Bishop Sanya will be wary around you and not listen to what you have to say. The Church of Infinity will close its door to you.
Zero felt like this was a trap. It was a constant cycle of extra work given by Bishop Etran. He was not even trying out for the position of the Disciple of Infinity, so he had no reason to accept the quest. Even if he accepted, he had no idea when he’d learn about the ancient songs that Bishop Sanya had sung. At the rate he was going, it might take forever. Writing was not his specialty. He always got a C or B in language arts and didn’t go into accelerated or AP classes in high school. This was like school all over again.
“A task is a task, especially because it’s a chain quest. Usually you get something really good at the end. I’ll just get this over with,” Zero muttered under his breath. He sighed, dejected, but once he got his mind set on things, he finished them. There was nothing that he considered impossible when given a task. It always nagged at the back of his mind when things were left uncompleted. Unique challenges piqued his interest, and this was something he had not done before.
Slowly getting up, Bishop Etran had one last word. “Zero, good job.” Bishop Etran briefly smiled and went back to his work. Zero did not expect to hear a word of acknowledgement and almost literally skipped out the door. He had to stop himself before he did something embarrassing. He put away his book into his ring accessory.
Sighing with happiness, he walked out the door. Today after completing the quest he had finally leveled up to level one hundred. Already he felt like his body was ready for a growth spurt. There were a couple of pains here and there, especially in his joints. He had aged slowly up till now—since the beginning of the game, when he’d looked like a five-year-old, he had grown to look about thirteen, just ready to hit puberty. He’d gotten taller and lost the baby fat from his face.
“Ow. My joints are creaking.” As he looked at his fingers, he noticed they seemed longer than usual. Even his feet felt larger. He wondered how tall he would be and remembered he inputted his regular height for the character.
From his adventure at the mansion, to death, and now to his quest he had fifty levels to go until he hit the requirements for the job offer, and the deadline was getting near. Leveling was going to be a challenge. His goal by the end of this month was to pass the preliminary test and get the job. Things were going to get difficult, but he didn’t worry much. There were many possibilities that life had to offer, but this was one job he wouldn’t mind getting.
Zero stepped out into the warm light of the summer heat. Agnis was waiting with her back towards him, sitting underneath a tree quietly meditating. It was like an artist had painted a beautiful picture of Agnis sitting.
As he looked up, he noticed ravens flew overhead, their cries sounding like mocking laughter. Soft wind tickled his cheeks. He stepped onto the stone pathway that separated Agnis and him from the lawn. With quiet steps, trying not to disturb her, he slinked up behind the tree, tiptoeing over without making a sound. Even when stepping on branches and leaves, he shifted his weight to silence the sound of crunching leaves.
Jumping silently out with drawn flint knife, he slashed down at her. In that moment Agnis dodged and rolled out of harm’s way before the knife landed on the ground. As dirt and grass flew, Zero closed in towards her and threw in a couple of quick slashes towards her body. She dodged with a hairbreadth away from his knife and sprang towards him.
A heavy gasp of air escaped Zero as she slammed into him. They struggled in each other’s joint locks. He got the upper hand and weaseled his way into a leg lock. He was starting to run out of breath. Her face contorted in pain as it turned beet red. She stifled her scream and instead moved her hands onto a pressure point. His eyes cringed closed as he felt a shockwave of pain. Finally, Agnis tapped out. Crawling away from him and catching her breath, Agnis shook her head in annoyance.
Zero rubbed at the pressure point and brushed off the grass that was on his clothes.
“You’ve gotten better.” Zero grinned at her. Her abilities to sense danger and dodge had increased exponentially over time. The leg lock was always the move that got her to tap out when they had their sparring lessons. He noticed that she still hadn’t mastered how exactly to escape it.
When it came down to training, he showed no favoritism or mercy towards her or anyone who wanted to learn. If one wanted to learn it right, they had to experience it firsthand. The game also gave them a perfect chance to push their limits without breaking.
There were other arts he knew like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that he had learned for a couple of years. He did not use much of his main Ninjitsu form, and instead used other techniques he knew. His main art was not something to be used in sparring. The same went for Agnis’s Krav Maga. It was too dangerous to use casually. Many times he had held back and reminded himself not to use certain moves. In his child form he had a lot of disadvantages, but now it was getting easier to outmaneuver her.
Agnis huffed out in annoyance at herself. She knew that she needed more practice; she especially hated how she couldn’t use Krav Maga. All she had left was aikido, which did not have much use in grappling. The sparring rules they’d agreed on were no eye gouges, head strikes in certain areas, throat strikes, and strikes to private areas. Those, unfortunately, were the areas where both Ninjitsu and Krav Maga liked to aim for defense and attacks against enemies.
Zero extended his hands out towards Agnis and helped her up. She dusted herself off.
“Don’t beat yourself up. You have to use your strengths against an opponent, and brute force isn’t your thing. Overpowering others is not the smart way to go when your body is not made for that. Remember that using more power will just cost you energy. Outlast them instead. Then you can strike when the moment is right.”
Zero smiled as he knew the feeling that she was going through. His sensei had outmaneuvered and drilled this into him constantly. Only through constant training had he honed his abilities into his muscle memory. He already saw potential in the gift that she had when using her body as weapon: control, agility, flexibility, and best of all her appearance.
“You know, no woman needs to be outstandingly beautiful to get the job done.” But your looks will definitely be a great benefit, he silently thought. “It is the understanding of and confidence in one’s body, mind, and self: how to use it, when to use it, and where to use it. Confidence and charisma draw in male targets, and each gender play off the strengths and weaknesses of one another.” He continued to explain. Agnis listened carefully to his words.
Agnis nodded. It was the same concept she was taught in aikido to direct the force of the opponent and double it with hers in synchronicity. To be like water, but unmovable like earth, to keep her body balanced and stable.
“Zeraph will be meeting us at the Royal Library.”
“Sure. Let’s get going and get this over with.” They both headed towards the Royal Library, which was only a few blocks away. The city of Terra was famous for having the largest collection of books known to man. Players and residents of Noriene traveled to the City to search the library for information that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
There were a couple of things that each one of them had to do.
“I need to finish my main job quest.” Agnis stated.
“What is it?”
“It talks about some kind of Legend of the Lotus masters. I’m supposed to find them to finish my training. They continued onwards.
“I dislike libraries,” complained Zero. “They’re boring.”
“Agreed,” Agnis replied as she nodded her head.
“It smells like old books, you need to be absolutely quiet, there are too many people, and all you do is read.”
“Mhmm.” Agnis agreed again. He would rather see moving pictures that told him stories than use his imagination. Call it lazy, but that’s how his mind worked. Logic outweighed his creative side, and reading fantasy books consumed too much time. It was a miracle that he had finished copying Bishop Etran’s book so quickly.
Upon arriving at the Royal Library, they looked like small ants compared to its enormous size. The path to the entrance was guarded by a large lion statue. Its paws rested on a globe of the world of Noriene. The lion’s ferocious demeanor could even scare off monsters. Its golden mane sparkled in the sunlight as its royal stature glared down upon the oncoming visitors. Solid white columns held up the library’s dome, and large pearly white doors were open for visitors to enter and exit. The building’s structure had similarities to Roman architecture.
Numerous royal guards in purple clothes zealously surrounded the building, protecting its precious wealth of knowledge. Thousands of visitors walked in and out of the buildings carrying books. Groups of children, told to hush their normal chattering, followed after their teachers to study in the library.
“It might take a bit of time to find what we are looking for.” Zero looked up in wonder.
“Yeah…” Agnis agreed with Zero’s statement. What they had imagined was a small library similar to what they usually visited back in the real world, but what they saw was absolutely colossal.
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