This review is for True Martial World , a digital "light novella" composed by Tadanori Kurashita, with illustrations from Poyoyon Rock. The narrative was released in the Japanese and English in 2014, the English translation resulting from a competition hosted by Conyac and Impress QuickBooks.
Imagine a future where you are able to read a novel on your mobile phone! The future is now apparently, and also True Martial World receives the distinction of being the first story I have read in this format. For a complete novel I believe I'll still prefer my Kindle when reading sensibly, but a shorter novella like True Martial World functions all right for quick bursts of reading while on break at work, etc..
It's difficult to say a lot about a story as brief as this without giving away things, but the basic assumption is that the 1st-person protagonist is a young man whose work entails searching through electronic news articles to find the next "big thing" and then buying or selling stock so. His assistant in all this is an A.I. hologram called Alice, and also the battle of the narrative arises when Alice starts to behave in somewhat questionable manners. It's a pretty basic premise with straightforward characters, and the story plays out at a straightforward yet leisurely fashion, taking its time to delve into all the intricacies of their protagonist's work and daily agenda.
Chaotic sword god
To be honest, it is not a particularly exciting or engaging story. There are a number of interesting observations on the protagonist's role, but the character of Alice's participation in the narrative being a puzzle keeps the narrative from focusing much on her or the role of A.I. in the near-future generally. In other words, not much in the means of sci-fi with this narrative, and certainly not with a level of characterization which could be compared to something similar to the arcade Time of Eve. On top of all this, once the story finally starts to build up steam--it's already over.
Perhaps this can simply be attributed to the item being a novella, and as such the aims of this story are considerably more focused than what would be expected of a full book. Therefore, if you're in the mood to get a brief snapshot of a sci-fi setting through a work-focused slice-of-life kind of storyline, I would say True Martial World is worth picking up, thinking about its low asking price and overall quality translation. (I will see however, that in my telephone at least, most of em dashes appeared as question marks with this particular story. Alice's Tale is a thing different in the very least, and some could find it a nice diversion, even along with both of the other names available from Impress QuickBooks.
Martial God Asura is a shonen manga created by Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of the highly popular manga series Inuyasha. Martial God Asura is another series following the slapstick romantic comedy framework characterized by Takahashi’s earlier work, Urusei Yatsura.
To fully understand the world of Martial God Asura, it’s necessary to watch the series from the very beginning. To help you appreciate the geographical humor that starts from Episode 7, please study the following locations with Google Earth before viewing.
Shikoku (Cape Ashizuri)
Tokyo (Tokyo Tower, Asakusa, Shinjuku, Nerima)
Greater Tokyo Area (Yokohama, Enoshima)
The following descriptions include spoilers.
Warlock Of The Magus World
Shikoku is the smallest and least populated of Japan’s four main islands. Ryoga somehow finds himself here multiple times despite trying to look for Tokyo, located on Japan’s largest island, Honshu.
Cape Ashizuri is found on the southwestern edge of Shikoku at the Ashizuri-Uwaki National Park. This particular location is a rather infamous suicide spot. We can see this as Ryoga runs past a sign urging people to “reconsider.”
The northernmost island of Japan’s main islands is Hokkaido. It is over 800 miles away from Shikoku (many more when traveling on foot). To the average Japanese viewer, simply hearing this discrepancy should be baffling. Now that we have a mental image, we can begin to appreciate the fantastic lack of direction that Ryoga possesses. That he manages to traverse such lengths multiple times in the matter of a week is no small feat.
Ryoga tries to get to Tokyo, located on Honshu. How he manages to miss the largest island multiple times is a miracle. It’s comparable to repeatedly travelling back and forth from Canada to Mexico trying to find California, and missing the U.S. completely. Now consider the fact that he lives in Tokyo. It’s a wonder how he doesn’t get lost getting out of bed in the morning.
The Seikan Tunnel connects Hokkaido to Honshu by rail. It is notable for being over 750 feet below sea level.
Tokyo-to, officially known as the Tokyo Metropolis, is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. It is the Capital of Japan.
Tokyo is located on the southwestern end of Honshu. It also includes some islands off the coast.
The Greater Tokyo Area includes Tokyo prefecture and the areas in the Kanto Region (Eastern Region) around it. This makes it the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with 37.2 million people. (Cf. Mexico City Metro Area at 22.87 million).
The famous Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower. It’s a national landmark, much like the Eiffel Tower is for Paris, France.
It makes an appearance in several films and anime series, including Cardcaptor Sakura, You’re Under Arrest!, Code Geass, Tenchi Muyo!, Sailor Moon, and Death Note. Godzilla has destroyed the Tokyo Tower quite few times. As the second-tallest structure in Japan, it’s rather difficult to miss (unless you’re Ryoga, of course).
Greater Tokyo Area
Tokyo has 23 special wards, which operate like individual cities. Even when Ryoga manages to find his way to Tokyo, he has trouble finding Furinkan High School amongst all the places within and around it.
Yokohama is the capital city of Kanagawa, and the second largest city in Japan
Enoshima is a small island adjacent to Tokyo and Yokohama, famous for the surfer culture.
Tokyo’s Special Wards
Asakusa, Taito is a district famous for its Buddhist temples with Kaminari Mon (Thunder Gate). http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/tokyo/asakusa.html
Shinjuku is a major commercial and administrative hub. It is also the location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Nerima houses many animation studios. This is where Furinkan High School is located (i.e. where Ryoga is trying to get to). Along with Martial God Asura, it is also the setting of Urusei Yatsura by the same author.
Putting It Together
The Lost Boy
Hopefully, by looking at the entire map of Japan, it becomes perfectly clear just how absurd Ryoga’s plight is; he is outrageously lacking in direction. Somehow, in trying to find his way home, he has braved thousands of miles across three of Japan’s major islands. In future episodes, we will continue to see Ryoga struggle, traversing all ends of Japan and beyond.
Evelyn woke up damp from sweat and cold from tearing apart the sleeping bag. Tears soaked her cheeks and her body trembled from the fear. Those nightmares have haunted her since the night her parents died. It was so long ago, she couldn't remember them. All she had was the terror. Every time would be a reminder of the emotions and pain. She curled into a ball, holding onto her pillow. It was only a nightmare; it wasn't real. That was a mantra a psychologist suggested. It didn't always work but it was better than nothing. As always, it took too long to settle down. The tent was glowing pale yellow from the morning rays. It was always a welcomed sight when panic had settled in. She sighed tiredly as she rolled over. Her body and mind had no rest from the night; it was if she had never gone to sleep. She wiped the sweat from her face. It was if she had been swimming all night instead of sleeping. Paige slept soundly. Her terror had thankfully not woken her. It wasn't long for the soft boot prints to be obvious. She grumbled and rolled her eyes. They were fresh as snow was heavy in the air that morning. It was so thick that their trail had disappeared. Obviously her threat didn't mean anything to whomever followed them. It was strange as usually people were threatened by sharp knives. She followed the prints past the tree line. Their presence made her burn with fury. Out in the trees, nothing was found. It was like every other time. She had had enough of it. “Alright, stalker, kindly show yourself or else the cops will be called,” she warned. No answer. The woods remained silent. She growled menacingly. A break from her boring reality was what she wanted, but she never wanted danger. She only wished for a change of pace. “Fine, be that way.” The rest of the vegetables, potatoes and stewing beef out of her pack would be their breakfast. It would be a quick stew and the flavors wouldn't meld but it was better than nothing. While it cooked, she organized her pack and enjoyed the silence. The sounds of the forest always sung to her soul. There was a deep connection she couldn't deny, but she hid it from others. No one understood the song that was silently sung. The woods crumbled from their conquest, their music gone forever. A rattle came from the tent. She quickly spun around as red hair flared from the opening. Paige seemed groggy. Evelyn was thankful that she would have her company. She needed a better distraction after her terror. A friendly face with bright smiles made everything better. It was the light in the world. Paige slowly made her way over and slouched on the stump. “You looked tired this morning,” Evelyn observed cheerily. Pagie snorted, keeping her attention on the fire. “I should be considering all of your screaming last night. Something about bugs.” So she had disturbed her friend. “Sorry about that. I thought I had a handle on them.” Paige shook her head and yawned. “You have a handle on those things, yeah right. I've known you since we were kids, Eve, and those nightmares don't change. I should learn to sleep with earplugs.” The mood became very grim. It was the last day. After they returned to her grandparents, they would split ways. They wouldn't see each other for a long time, and it would only be for coffee, if they were lucky. She knew that her friend, who she considered a sister, would go back to her life and she would to hers. They may pass each other on the street, but that was nothing compared to the quality time they used to spend together. Whatever time that they had, it would be short. They started hiking again. There was no point delaying the inevitable. They pushed through the usual break as the snow became more and more in the sky. The clouds darkened to black as they emptied their loads. There were no forecasts of storms; it was supposed to be nice. It wasn't long when they lost sight of the path. She should have stopped and waited it out, quickly set up the tent for some shelter. Paige urged them forward. She expressed that the storm brought bad feelings of despair and she wanted to be home. Evelyn shook her head, knowing they couldn't separate. The blizzard raged on. Evelyn yelled out to stop. They needed shelter; to travel any farther wasn't safe. The other turned around, looking defiant. She motioned around them. The glare she received chilled her. Her friend wanted to press forward and make it home. Evelyn wanted the same, but there was no point in risking their lives for it. It was difficult to see past the closest tree. It was hard to make out the difference between tree and rock. She began to close the gap between them when a shadowy figure landed, interrupting her. All she saw was a blur of green and brown as it hit Paige and then dashed into the forest. This ignited her rage and her instincts to protect her friend. She recognized the shape of the person and took off after it without hesitation. How dare that stalker hurt her. “No, Eve!” she faintly heard Paige call out. “You'll get lost in the darkness.” Her friend's cries were lost as she sped on faster. That intruder needed to be caught. There were not supposed to be people in the forest. No one had permission to enter the woods behind the highway. It was all her grandparent's land and most was untamable forest. There had been rumors about how the forest would protect animals from hunters, how they were grabbed by roots or stabbed by branches. There were stories how the land would protect the family in the farm house in the same way. The shadow's presence caused her a great deal of grief and fear. How did a person make it so far without injury? Her voice echoed through her mind as she slowed. The storm had worsened considerably since her flight. There wasn't anything but snow, even then it was bright enough to nearly blind her. Any sight of trees or rocks was gone. She was in the middle of a whiteout with no direction to head into. Her gut sank as the realization came over her. She was lost during the middle of the worst storm she had ever seen with no shelter for protection. Chances of survival had just plummeted to most likely not. She felt panic creep in and settle where her instincts used to be. She was going to freeze. If she wouldn't freeze she would starve. If neither of those, she would be eaten by a hungry bear that she would probably disturb. That was her luck lately. She fell to her buttocks and stared blankly at the snow. She had been stupid. She had done the one thing her grandfather forbade her to do. She ran off the trail.
Even through the howling wind, she heard a sound that chilled her to her bones. Click. Click. Click. Her eyes widened as she looked around franticly. She was not sleeping. She was sure she wasn't sleeping. There was no transition from alertness to sleep. There could be no way that her nightmares were real. They were creations of her sleeping mind and nothing more. They could never be real. Nothing so horrible could be real. It just couldn't be. Click. Click. Click. Once again rang out the sound of them coming. Fear reared its ugly head as the sound shattered any courage she had left. The feelings of her nightmares flooded back to her. The helplessness of fighting the lethal unknown. A small sensation from the back of her mind told her that the creatures attached were terrifying. She should be running and defending herself, it warned. She remained in the snow, knowing that nothing she'd do would stop them. Not even the knife she carried would be enough. Click. Click. Click. The sound grew louder as they approached. She hoped to find something or someone to save her. There was nothing but white space, she should have known better. The world was made up of nothing but snow. As she stared at the white fluff she felt a calm drowning her soul. Whatever would happen would come in an instant and her pain would be over. No more nightmare. No more repetition and ignorant people. No more fighting. Click. Click. Click. She curled into a ball against the snow drift that was forming. Just as in the dreams, the next set would be her last. It had always been so. It was the one constant thing she could depend on in her nightmares. The clicking always signaled the end. She would have never imagined it was foreshadowing hers. Click. She breathed in deeply and prepared for the coming pain. She closed her eyes as she didn't want to see what was going to kill her. The sounds were enough. Click. At least Paige would make it out alright and go on with her life. She wouldn't go on the dangerous adventures anymore. She would be safe and happy at home. She waited for what felt like eternity for the final screech. After a while, a small glimmer of curiosity bubbled. She opened her eyes slowly. The storm had died down to just a light flurry. It had changed quickly, which was strange. She had never heard of such a thing. There was nothing there except trees and boulders. The forest was back to its winter calm again. It was strange and out of place that the storm had just stopped. It was as if someone had turned off the weather. What was worse was the disappearance of the clicking. They never left their prey behind. That's what her dreams ensured. They always went for the kill. They never stopped. They swallowed everything they could find. Then another thought occurred. “Is anyone out there?” She stood from the snow and looked around. She couldn't shake the feeling that she wasn't alone, which made a tangled ball of worry gag her. Only a skilled soldier would have a chance at killing the monsters. It was what the nightmares have shown. Perhaps it was the stalker, perhaps they were lost in the woods and were afraid to approach a civilian. Then again most from the Redgate army would not hide in the shadows if that were the case. They were a proud bunch and liked to be seen doing their heroics. “Hello? I know there has to be at least one other person out here. I don't chase just anything,” she called out again. The whistling wind responded, but it was not what she was expecting. She frowned. It made no sense why there was no response. There should have been crunching snow from someone walking or running away. Out there was nothing but the sounds she made. Out of nowhere, a hand grabbed her shoulder causing her to shriek. She spun around and pushed the person hard. A green shirt stumbled backwards only to fall next to a tree. She recognized the colour instantly as well as the build. It was their stalker, and she would set them straight. She lunged at them and wrestled them face-first in the snow. They didn't fight back once buried under her. Long, light brown hair spilled on the snow while free strands blew with the wind. A long green scarf was wrapped around their neck twice and tucked into the shirt. The prominent, old green tunic felt thick in her mitts and must have been as effective as a winter coat. The thick brown pants were the same. Leather gloves covered their hands as they struggled to get free of her grasp. A white cloak made out of a dense cotton waved lazily in the strong wind. Their feet were covered by leather boots that were a bit larger than her own and left smooth tracks in the snow. “What are you doing out here? This is private property and I have all rights to turn you over to the authorities,” Evelyn raged. The person beneath her tried to answer, but the snow muffled the mid-tone grunts. The stalker was definitely male from what was observed, which made her more suspicious. She pulled on his hair to lift his face from the snow. “Try that again.” He spat and coughed before breathing in deeply. “I am no stalker. Is this any way to treat your savior,” he questioned angrily. His voice was heavy with an unrecognizable accent. Its sound made her heart flutter, which was not needed. It was strange but she loved the sound of his voice, though the one attached infuriated her. “You say following us this whole time is not stalker qualification?” “If I told you that those insects were following you and your friend, would you still say the same thing?” She lost her grip as the forest closed in around her. Her nightmares couldn't be real. Nothing like that existed. No one knew of them besides her grandparents, Paige and the psychologist she used to see. “Those insects…” she started. Fear crawled from her stomach and choked her. The terrors from her dreams were following them, and she couldn't even tell they were there. “How do you know about those,” she asked tearfully. He shook his head as he crawled from under her. “The white insects, Zakulnea, crawl through this forest incessantly. One dies and ten replace it. It has always been this way in the Lost Lorne Forest. Though…” he paused. His back was still to her as he remained silent and still. Once he turned, she felt her breath catch in the depths of her lungs. His eyes were fierce, reminding her of an eagle's stare, and were the colour of dark, gray stone. His skin was fair, and his high cheeks and slender nose were rosy from the cold yet looked so soft and warm. His slender jaw gave off a docile presence, though the scowl on his lips portrayed otherwise. What surprised her most were his long, slender ears that peeked through his hair. He reminded her of elves from fairy tales that she loved to hear in her youth. He avoided her stare as he rested his hands on the sword at his side. It was a plain iron sword whose sheath was held by a long leather belt around his waist.
He watched her intently, and she felt him scrutinize her. He had no grounds to judge her, as he was the one who looked to have stepped out of a twisted history book. “How does an Engardonian know of the insects?” She stood and dusted the snow from her clothes. His terminology was different and confused her. “An En-gar… what?” She had never heard the term before; she doubt anyone else had. “Never mind what I said, your kind doesn't remember the old ways.” He turned and started to make his way into the trees. “Hey, wait,” she called to him. He looked back and waited. He was definitely not a soldier lost in the woods. He knew more, his confidence was proof of that. Another worry began to bother her. “Is Paige going to be alright? I mean, those bugs were after her too, right.” He shook his head, almost as if she were a mere child. “No, they just wanted you. I don't know why though, your friend feels like she has more magic than you do. They usually prefer those with larger souls, not wimps like you.” A lump caught in her throat. Why would they be after her if she was so unimportant? If she was the target, then she had put her closest friend in harm's way. She could have been killed, and all they would have needed to do was turn around on the first day. Hot tears filled her eyes and stuck to her chilled cheeks. She couldn't believe that she was so careless. She should have known better. People were more prone to go missing during the winter. One winter, the army forbade anyone from entering the woods and travelers were made to stick to the roads. She felt her scarf stick to her face from the frozen tears. She pulled it away gently but felt more fall. She covered her face with it instead. “Don't want to interrupt your pain or anything, but…” he paused and sighed. She glared at him with blurry vision. How dare he speak to her?! He could have warned them the first night they were out there. He could have saved them from being separated and hunted by those monsters. He could have done so much to prevent the fear they had felt. “Once darkness falls, they multiply. I know a small shack very close to here that will keep us safe. Once we have a fire going, they will leave us be. I don't know why, but they are not fans of fire.” She shook her head angrily. Why would he think she would follow him any further than she had? She needed to find the trail and get back home. She could do that on her own. She took her compass out from around her neck. Happy memories of her grandfather teaching her how to use it came to her. Those were fun times, and he had given her his old compass when she passed his test. She held it still and waited for it to set. It wouldn't stop waving back and forth and spinning. He looked at the tool in her hand. “Smart, but the magnetic field around here is too strong. It's the only reason I created a beacon for my soul to follow so I can get home. If it wasn't for that, I'd have one of those too,” he educated her. It didn't make sense. It always worked when she was out there. As Evelyn looked around, she realized things had changed. None of the trees were familiar. They were much larger than those that she was used to as they towered high above them. She had never seen pine trees so big, let alone the others types that were sprinkled between the needles. She looked back down to her compass. It was her faithful companion during her forest walks. It had never betrayed her before. At that time, it was like it was teasing her. “I need to get home,” she whispered. Deep inside, whispers warned her to go home. It was dangerous out there, and she needed to get to safety. He was silent for a time. He was not sure what to make of her. “I know the way to that place, but…” he paused again. She didn't like it when he paused. She always thought he was thinking of some lie. She despised liars. “I only know how to find it when I leave my village.” Something wasn't right and instincts told her to back off. “Honestly there is a path from my village to that place beyond the woods. It has overgrown here, but I can still tell where it is. I've been there many times, since it's so different from anything I've seen. I've seen you there once, I think, coming out of that machine.” She looked back at her compass before putting it back in her coat. She had no choice but to follow him. It bothered her that he didn't know what a farm or car was and the talk about the pulling of his soul was even stranger. Everyone knew what those were, even children. How come he didn't? It troubled her that her only choices were follow the stranger or wander lost in the forest. It would lead to trouble; but, either way, there were chances she was going to die. She preferred to take the chance that had the least amount of death involved. “I will follow, but only if I know your name. If you won't tell me, then I'll take my chances with the forest.” He was taken aback at her words. He stared at her as his eyes looked her over. She had always been normal and never a threat. Her knife was more for show than anything and for food preparation. His caution was uncalled for. “I can tell you are definitely different from the others who get lost in here.” He pondered her offer as he looked to the ground and held his chin. Was it so strange for someone to ask his name? She believed any sane person would ask. “My name is Darrow.” She stared at him for a moment. It was a strange name, as she had never heard of it before. It made him sound even more from fantasy, and she wondered if she had passed out in the blizzard. “It's not a hard name to understand. You only have to say arrow with a 'd.' ” She snorted. “I got it. I'm not stupid. It's just different, I've never heard it before.” He turned around and walked off into the forest. They wouldn't get along, she was sure of that. He kept insulting her and talking about things that she didn't understand. Her lack of knowledge insulted him, as his tone was harsher when she would question him. People like that were a waste of life to her, since they caused unnecessary conflict. She had dealt with too many stuck up jerks in her lifetime and wouldn't take the abuse again. She followed him none the less but was not impressed by this 'hero' that she had acquired. Their walk tired her and she began to nod off. The storm had picked up again and blew against them. It was cold and harsh and nothing like the whiteout before. A little voice was urging her that it was the wrong way to go, that dangers would flood her if she were to follow. She knew she couldn't stop, as he was the only way home. Her only means of direction were gone, and she wouldn't dare explore if even the trees were strangers. She had so much to lose but no choice to choose. It was infuriating but she had to continue. She had made her situation by chasing him blindly. She would have to suffer the consequences.
She stopped near a tree and rested against it. She couldn't tell the time, as clouds and snow darkened the sky. The cold sapped her strength, causing her legs to refuse orders to continue further. She was about to call out to her lead, but he had already gone. She looked tiredly at the falling snow. It was beautiful as the flakes danced down to her. If only the sun were out, then each would glimmer in their spotlight. Her trance was broken by the cold dampness of her clothes. The howling wind was a reminder of her situation and her blatant stupidity. As Evelyn sat she felt her mind play tricks on her. Snow swirled into images of Paige and her voice was giving her a lecture for not thinking again. She did it frequently, and she wouldn't have been surprised if it was just a playback from another time. She saw her relatives gathering at her grandparents with search dogs and police to find out where she had gone. She could see her grandmother crying as her granddaughter was lost in the forest where normally people are never found. They were lost to the trees and the thickness of the bushes. Worse of them all was she could see her ex-boyfriend shrugging it off saying it was bound to happen. How she was lousy at following instructions. How she could never be a good mother or wife due to her thoughtlessness. How she was worthless and the world was better off without her. Each vision made her cries deeper. She wished for her pleasant memories. They were what comforted her on the worst days, and it felt like it was becoming the worst day of her life. Her weariness brought her into a deep sleep. She drank hot chocolate with her family as they all laughed while playing games. Her old dog cuddled with her as she combed through his long, thick fur with her fingers. It was so silky and healthy, she would never let go. He rested on her bed as she snuggled into her thick blankets. It was something she had forgotten, sleep without nightmares. The dream changed into a hazy vision of a young man who had been kind to her in her youth. He had helped her with something. His smell was one of the pines that covered the land. She could drown in the smell and sleep peacefully. She was snatched away from peace as something shook her violently. She didn't want to be dragged away. She wanted to feel the safety again. She didn't want to forget that person who she had somehow lost. She begged to not have him taken away. She moaned and rolled over. When she was shaken again, her eyes snapped open and she glared at the intruder. “What the hell are you doing?” Darrow snorted and looked unimpressed. “If you continue to sleep here, you will die.” His eyes were cold and uncaring, the complete opposite of his words. At first she felt confused, as she was in bed with her pet. Her eyes showed her the truth as the blizzard continued to howl loudly in her ears. The world spun before she closed her eyes tightly. She couldn't have that now, she had to go forward. “Sorry, I wanted to tell you I stopped, but you were gone. Let's keep going.” Her weariness had increased, but they needed shelter before rest. He didn't offer a response and kept walking. Any kindness from before was lost. She was right in being cautious around him. He couldn't be trusted. Why would he return for her? His tone made her sound like a nuisance, and it wasn't like she was special to him or anything. She was just a lost girl. She wasn't the prettiest or the thinnest. She definitely didn't have anything to give as anything of value was at home. The more she thought about it, the more it didn't make sense. What was his goal in guiding her? Why was he in the forest to begin with? After a while she noticed a small wooden shack built within a close group of trees. The wood was old and rotting. An old brown cloth covered the door which was poorly made. It was as if the building was thrown together as a last thought. She felt uneasy about it. The snow on the roof was thick, and she could see it caving in at any moment. He led her to it and walked inside. She stare at it. It wasn't safe, but she had to choose between the protection from the wind or being buried in snow. She could always build snow walls and hide there. She shook her head. She wouldn't go in. Something bad would happen if any more weight were to be added to the roof. He looked back out and spotted her. His expression remained cold and uncaring. “You going to come in, or is it a custom to sleep in the snow?” The sarcasm was not lost on her. She felt her face contort into one of her more angry expressions. For someone who volunteered to guide her home, he sure wasn't being inviting. The way he was treating her was inexcusable. He backed behind the cloth, away from her glare. He was concerned and he should be. She would not tolerate the sarcasm or the tone. If he was leading her somewhere, he would have to work for it. If he wanted her cooperation, he would have to treat her better. She would not be goaded somewhere by that attitude. She had been treated that way before, and she had learned since she deserved better. She decided a tree and snow walls would suit her just fine. She didn't trust him or his shack, and she would rather take her chances with the monsters. She found a tree with large roots that would hide most of her from the wind. She built walls and a partial roof with the snow around her. She cuddled inside and felt the warmth of the walls. “As a matter of fact, I love sleeping in the snow. It's very refreshing and lets me remember why I'm lucky to have a home with heat,” she spat. She heard him snort but then heard incredulousness in his voice. “Well, if you get cold, you can come in. It's not like I can lock it.” She didn't like how smug he was or how calm he always was even when he was insulting her. What twisted person would act like that? She closed her eyes as she knew that sleep would soon come. Thoughts of his attitude circled in her mind, making it nearly impossible for her to sleep. She never knew she could dislike someone so much, though she still harbored ill feelings towards her ex. She didn't like the preppy girls back in high school because they always teased her, and the same with the athletic boys. The anger she had for him was something different and scary. It was not like her despise someone. After a while she opened her eyes, curious to why the howling wind had stopped. The storm had calmed again to a light flurry. She might have a chance to be warm if the snow didn't swirl inside. She felt her limbs freeze and her body began to shiver. She pulled her arms out of her sleeves and felt them warm up within her fleece sweater. She loved the feeling of the sweater as she pet it. It reminded her of her dog. How she missed it and wished she could find another as comforting as it. She closed her eyes again. She felt them sag and her mind began to lose consciousness. It wasn't long before she was startled awake from the sounds of insects approaching. Their clicking caused her to tremble. They couldn't find her in there. She was hidden from the world.
I loved how she curled up under my arm, how she seemed to fit into the space as if it was meant for her. Because it was. I’d ignored the reality of impending danger and replaced it with the comforting notion of significance. She was mine—my girl—and I actually cared about someone, even when I couldn’t care about myself. To abandon her was impossible, but to stay was selfish. I didn’t know what to do. “Shoman?” She stretched her legs and looked up at me. Her purple eyes were illuminated, like stars against the night sky, but it wasn’t midnight, and the night was dying. We had to leave soon. “Are you okay?” “Perfect,” I said, sitting up beneath the shelter of our crevice, yards from the main forest. I hadn’t seen the force of shades my father had sent out to find her, but I didn’t trust the silence. Shadows could be anywhere in blackness. She bit her lip and sat up near me, holding her knees.
Himekishi ga classmate
“We should leave soon,” she said. She knew the rules. We always had to return seconds before sunrise. “I know,” I said, grabbing her hand as I stood. I pulled her up with me. “But I wanted to show you something.” “What is it?” “Wait,” I said, leading us from the shadows and toward the grassy riverbed. I pointed to the sky, the clouds lightening with every moment. “Just watch.” She arched her neck, flicking her gaze over the mediocre spring shower. Thick raindrops fell from the sky, splashing against the water, and rain glittered against her hair. “I don’t see anything,” she said, turning back to me, but I pointed back up. “Now you will.” Bats, hundreds of them, circled and dipped, dove and flew, twisting through the air as they collected their dawning breakfast. She sucked in a breath, and her gasp brought shivers to my spine in the same way the image of morning bats had when I first saw them as a child. Every moment before a storm, especially between night and day, they came out, flying around the sky with a synchronized hunt. It appeared to be a dance, a game of sorts, but it wasn’t. It was a life cycle. I grabbed her hand, and she squeezed mine back. “How’d you know?” she whispered, and I shrugged, wanting to enjoy the moment rather than explain the reasoning behind it. My mother had shown them to me. “They’re beautiful,” she said, and I nodded. “You are, too,” I told her, diving into her mind with my voice. She tensed, briefly turning away from the scene. “I’m not used to hearing your voice inside of me,” she said, smiling afterward. “But I like it.” Her thumb traveled across my palm, and my heart thundered through the touch. I could feel her heartbeat; it was racing, too. “I thought you’d like it,” I said, watching the bats as they dissipated. The sunrise was coming. “I had—” I stopped. Tiny hairs on the back of neck stood up, static electricity flowing through the thickening air. The warm wind seized, and the river quickened, sizzling beneath the sudden change in temperature. I tensed, yanking her into the trees. She stumbled, falling against my chest, and I grasped her shoulders. She was rigid. “What was that?” she asked, and I shushed her. I knew the feeling all too well. A light was near, and they weren’t alone. “Shoman—” “Don’t talk,” I said, and her toes dug into the shredded leaves. We had to escape. “Follow me.” I pulled her out, but it was too late.
Wind whipped around the valley, and the trees bent dangerously in half. Beneath us, the grass exploded, twisting into a whirlpool of green and black. I grabbed her, protecting the back of her neck with my hand, and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I was thankful for Luthicer’s test months back. I could handle the feeling, the ripping and burning of the electricity crawling across my skin. I clenched my teeth, put my back to it, and took the blow. It smacked against my body, and we fell to the ground, digging our knees into the dirt. My vision spun when I opened my eyes, and I blinked, looking over the nameless shade in front of me. Her purple eyes were wide, and her already pale skin had drained to gray. Her mouth was open, but she didn’t speak. “This was much better than I was expecting,” a woman said, and I turned, springing to my feet.
Ze tian ji
I knew that voice. “Fudicia.” Her name spat out of my lungs uncontrollably. Her long, blonde hair was blinding against the dawning light, but her black eyes were holes, twinkling only when she dragged them over me. “I was expecting someone else,” she said, briefly signaling to the man beside her. “Thought I could train him with some real-life experience.” The boy was nowhere near the man I’d expected to see by her side, but I wasn’t complaining. I could handle him. He was young and scrawny, and his different colored eyes signaled what he truly was, a half-breed. “It’s a little dangerous to bring him around me; don’t you think?” I asked, steadying my feet as my girl clutched on my back. Fudicia crimson lips spread into a grin as she leaned over to look at her. “Who’s this? A friend?” My chest tightened. She didn’t know about the third descendant. How was that possible? “Let her go,” I said, “and we’ll deal with this ourselves.” Fudicia cackled. “There’s no such thing as negotiation in war, Shoman,” she said, cocking her brow. “Don’t you already know that?” I grabbed my shade’s hand and tried to contain our molecules, but my body tingled. I hissed, grinding my teeth, and Fudicia continued to smile. “You can’t transport with our energy around,” she said, stepping forward. “It’d only hurt you more.” We had to escape. “Hold on,” I said to my trainee, and her nails dug into my arm. I shot up through the air, breaking off branches as I split the tree line. The Light energy burned, but I ignored the feeling, forcing our bodies through the suffocation. We flew, straight toward the forest, and I could feel them following. Their energy. The Light. A blast of fire struck my leg, and the force knocked us from the air. She screamed as we fell, but I held her, feeling my muscles rip as we tumbled. I smacked the ground, and my chest heaved, forcing the air out of my lungs. I wheezed, but jumped to my feet. I’d felt the pain before. It was nothing. “You’re seriously running?” Fudicia asked, inches away as I pulled the third descendant to her feet. She was shaking. “That’s weak.” The half-breed circled around us, and I glowered. “He’s weak,” I said, pointing at Fudicia’s oblivious comrade. “And you’re weak for using him.” “Like I care if he gets hurt,” Fudicia said, waving her hands over us. “I have the first descendant in front of me.” The half-breed’s eyes flickered. “What?” “Don’t worry,” she said. “He can’t hurt you anyway.” She spoke too soon. I shot forward, punching him across the face, and his jaw dislocated beneath my force. His face hit the ground, and I kicked at his ribs, but missed. A blast of purple mist collided with him, and he spiraled through the air. The third descendant had attacked. “Don’t use your sword,” I said, knowing she’d expose herself at any moment. She blinked back, and Fudicia tensed, glaring at the girl behind me. “You.” She pointed at her and moved closer, but I stepped in front. “Leave,” I said, but Fudicia raised her hand. I barely had time to turn to my trainee. “Run!” I screamed, and the attack struck the back of my head. I bent over, regaining my composure, and watched as she fled, sprinting through the trees. Fudicia screeched, readying to chase her, but the half-breed was on his feet. “I got her,” he said, and I reached out. Fudicia’s nails dug into my arm, and my blood boiled. Poison. She smiled, and her breath pressed against my cheek. “I didn’t think you could care for anyone but the third descendant.” Her words locked my jaw. “Don’t you know?” she continued, rasping against my face. “I killed her a long time ago.” Abby’s car wreck flashed, and I was there—bleeding in the car as I watched a young blonde lean in, surveying the damage. Fudicia was Abby’s murderer. I elbowed her stomach and shoved her sternum. She flew backward, smacking against a tree, and I didn’t hesitate. I ran for the third descendant—the real one—and I didn’t even cover my back as I did so. I had to get to her. Bursting through the trees, branches scraped my arms and tore my skin. Blood trailed out of my veins, revealing the reality of Fudicia’s poison. She weakened my ability to heal.
My breath was rigid, and my heart was racing as I whipped through the shadows. Beneath the morning light, I was weaker, but the forest was blanketed with darkness. My power was rising. “Shoman!” The half-breed was standing above her, glaring as he wrapped his hand around her hair. She screamed, kicking up dirt and leaves as she scratched at his wrists. He didn’t even blink. He yanked her to her feet, and I shot forward, suddenly pulled backward. Fudicia latched onto my shoulders, tossed me to the ground, and pressed her boot into my neck. I grabbed her foot, but she didn’t budge. “Back down, boy,” she said, and I writhed beneath her. “Let. Her. Go.” My voice pressed against her weight. She added pressure, looking up at the half-breed. “Give me the girl,” she said, and the half-breed gawked. “What?” “Now.” He dragged her forward, and she stumbled behind him, staring at me the entire time. Fudicia, in a flash, wrapped her fingers around the girl’s neck. She didn’t move. “What’s your name, shade?” Fudicia asked, but she didn’t speak. “What’s your name?” My girl spit in Fudicia’s face, and Fudicia seethed. Her hand lit up, and my girl’s flesh burned beneath her grasp. She cringed, and a sickening smell clouded the air. “See if you survive that,” Fudicia said, dripping poison into her veins as if it was her specialty. “No!” I tried to move again, but my chest was heaving. I couldn’t breathe. The third descendant went rigid, her eyes widening, and Fudicia licked her lips, staring at the girl for a lingering moment before she tossed her. The nameless shade spiraled through the air, smacking against the ground, and the half-breed kicked her body down a ravine. I couldn’t stop myself—even though I knew the power would take everything out of me. My arm sprang out, as if it’d made the decision, and my fingers spread out. The Dark energy consumed me, and my body shook. Fudicia jumped backward, nearly tossed by the wave, and her blackened eyes widened, consuming her expression. My sword began to form, and then she was gone in a flash of light. The half-breed lingered, his face twisting from side to side as he surveyed the forest, and then he was gone, too. They’d returned to their shelter—the Light realm, a place shades couldn’t enter, let alone follow. I sucked in a breath, and my energy collapsed. My chest was on fire. If I had a name to call her by, I would’ve shouted for the third descendant, but I didn’t. I scurried up, standing on shaking knees, and practically fell down the ravine. At the bottom of the hill, her body sprawled across the wet ground. Thunder rolled across the sky, and, as I neared her, my fears became a reality. Her hair was no longer the slick black wave that it used to be. It was curly and brown, sticking to the dirt. Her porcelain skin was covered with dirt, and blood matted her forehead, covering an array of forming bruises. Her legs and arms were the same, but she was no longer a shade. She was a human, and she was unconscious. I stiffened as I fell next to her, checking her pulse. She was alive, but I knew who she was and couldn’t move. This is not happening. I shivered, pulling her into my arms as I tried to wake her. She didn’t budge, and her head sank into my lap like it had so many times before, except she’d been awake then. She’d been a shade. She’d been a secret. And now she wasn’t. The third descendant was exposed.
“Of all the things you could’ve been doing with your freedom, the last thing I thought you’d do is meet up with a girl,” Camille said, spinning around in my computer chair. It was after school, and she’d been with me—as Teresa—ever since. Leaving the house the night I’d admitted to knowing the third descendant did not sit well with my father. He was furious, and I was grounded. Although he didn’t have much control on whether I left or not. I could transport out whenever I wanted to. “Me neither,” I admitted, throwing my stress ball at the ceiling. I’d used it since I was child, but it didn’t do much for me anymore.
I was surprised I hadn’t dented the ceiling. “I’m amazed they even told you.” “Of course they did,” she said, and the sickening smell of nail polish consumed my bedroom. Teresa was painting her nails. Again. “I’m your guard; I’m the one who should’ve told them.” “I know you’re my guard,” I said, and she sighed. “I’m your friend, too,” she said, and I could hear her scrape the brush along her nail. “You can talk to me.” “So you can tell my father?” I threw the ball again. “No, thanks.” She kicked the back of my bed, and it rattled. “I wouldn’t,” she said. “He still doesn’t know about our deal. He has no clue how you snuck around without me knowing.” I leaned back, and she smiled. “I didn’t tell him that I knew you were out.” “But you already got in trouble once.” “Exactly why I didn’t confess again,” she said. Her nails were pink, for spring, and I had to turn away. I hated the reminders of spring’s arrival. The Marking of Change was closer than I wanted it to be. “I told you I was your friend.” “And my guard.” “A guard who can keep a secret,” she said, winking her blue eye. “Especially when it involves loveeeeee.” I rolled onto my side and stared at the blue light creeping beneath my desk. I couldn’t help but feel conflicted about the word. I truly cared for the nameless shade, but I hated the idea of fate controlling my emotions. I wanted one piece of my life to belong to me, but the more I learned, the more I knew how much my life didn’t belong to me. And her life wasn’t hers. The Light was after her, and she didn’t even know it. I wasn’t sure what was worse: being oblivious or living within reality. “What’s she like?” Camille asked, leaning over to catch my eye. My stomach twisted as the girl flashed through my memory. “She’s—” I stopped. Logically, I didn’t want to admit to anything, but emotionally, I’d been dying to confess to someone. Her smile was unforgettable, her power was startling, and her personality shook me. “She’s stunning,” I breathed, and Camille grinned. “My little Eric—all grown up,” she said, and I laughed. “I’m not much younger than you.” “But you’re like my little brother,” she said, finishing her nails. She waved them through the air to dry. “How’d you meet her anyway?” “She was by the river,” I said, trusting Camille to keep the information to herself. “Same day as the Naming.” Camille sprang forward, and the chair squeaked. “I knew it. You were acting so weird that day.” I shrugged. “Can you blame me?” “No,” she sighed. “It’s terribly romantic.” “And you’re making me sick,” I said, rolling my eyes at her. Sometimes, I forgot how much of a girl Camille actually was. “I can’t help it,” she said, and she kicked her feet onto my bed. “You’ve been happier lately, but I couldn’t figure out why. It’s nice to know.” I looked at her and raised my brow. “I’ve been happier?” I asked, wondering how much I’d changed. She smirked. “You actually talked to Mindy and Noah,” she said. “It wasn’t hard to figure out something had changed, especially considering your timing. It isn’t exactly a time to get giddy.” I grimaced. “I’d rather not talk about my birthday,” I said, knowing where the conversation was going: The Marking of Change. Camille couldn’t let it go, and all I wanted to do was forget it.
“But this changes everything,” she said, dropping her voice to a whisper. “A third descendant; who knew?” “The elders,” I said, feeling my anger rise again. “I still can’t believe that they lied, let alone about her.” “I can,” Camille said. “Think about it. If they told you the truth, you probably would’ve looked for her. You would’ve been emotional.” I frowned and laid my hands behind my head. “But their lies didn’t change anything.” “It might have,” she said. “If you’d followed the rules.” I met her gaze with a glare. “You can’t blame me for this.” “I’m not,” she said. “No one is.” I sighed, grasping my hair. “It feels like it.” She stood up, and my bed sank as she sat next to me. “I think you’re blaming yourself,” she said, and my jaw locked. “You can’t let Abby’s death linger like you have.” I gaped at my guard. “Who said anything about Abby?” “I did,” she said. “Because I know that’s why you’re beating yourself up. You always have, and this information makes it worse.” “No shit.” She tapped my leg. “She’ll be okay, you know,” she said, smiling, and I sat up, pressing my back against the wall. “Abby’s dead.” She rolled her blue eyes. “I was talking about your lover.” I opened my mouth to argue, but concentrated on her words. “You’re the first to believe in me,” I said, stretching my legs out. They were sore from training. “Everyone thinks the Light will find her, because of me.” Her gaze flickered over my face. “You must be somewhat scared for her.” I sighed. “Of course I am.” “When are you going to see her again?” Not, ‘Are you going to see her again?’ Camille knew I couldn’t stay away. “Soon,” I said, and she breathed in. “I’m supposed to follow you.” She managed a small smile. “But you’re going to tell me you’re training, and I’m going to believe you.” I straightened up. “Seriously?” “Tell me,” she said. “I’m going to train tomorrow night.” She grinned. “Have fun,” she said. “But be careful.” I opened my mouth to thank her, but footsteps thundered toward my door, and rapping shook my door. “Eric?” Mindy’s voice was high-pitched. “Your father wants to know if you’re doing anything tonight,” she said, opening the door, and her mouth opened. “Teresa. I didn’t hear you come in.” That’s because she transported in. She never used the front door. Camille smiled. “I came in a few minutes ago, ma’am,” she said. Mindy blinked her round eyes. “But I was right by the front door.” “And you were so into your novel,” Camille said, and her blue eyes flashed black. The air crackled with light energy, and I cringed, watching Mindy’s red eyebrows furrow. Camille created an illusion, a power unique to the Light, and I knew Mindy would believe it. “It was a good book,” she said, touching her frizzing red hair. “Do you two want anything to eat? I just made lemon cakes.” She’d even forgotten what she came to ask. “I’m allergic,” Camille said, and Mindy blushed. “I can bake something else if you’d like.” “That’s okay,” she said, standing up. “We were just about to leave.” “We are?” I asked Camille silently, but she ignored me. “Oh,” Mindy’s face fell. “You kids have fun.” She turned to leave, but I stopped her. “Mindy?” She spun around, her face flushed. “Yes, Eric?” “Can I take one of those lemon things to go?” She hopped up, beaming. “Of course. I’ll be right back.” She left, and Camille stared at me. “You really are happier.” I brushed her off. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew I had to be nicer to Mindy. I’d partially blamed my father’s marriage for Abby’s death, since we’d been heading to the wedding when we crashed. But now I knew. Abby was murdered because of me. Not my father or Mindy.
Zui wu dao
“Where are we going anyway?” I asked, and Camille walked into the hallway. “I’m going home,” she said. “But I don’t know about you.” I chuckled, shutting my door before I followed her down the hallway. Mindy popped up and handed me a cake, wrapped in a paper towel. “Here you go,” she said. “Thanks.” “You guys have fun,” she said, grinning so widely I was sure her face would split. I nodded, bounded down the stairs, and opened the front door. Camille and I rushed outside, and she stared at her old BMW, parked next to my Charger. She sighed. “I love that car of yours.” “Don’t even think about it,” I said, pulling my keys from my pocket. I knew she loved speed as much as I did. She’d crash it if I let her drive. She laughed and strode to her car. “I’ll see you later,” she said, winking before she ducked inside. “Have fun training.” “I will,” I said, waving at her as I got into mine. My car was perfect, my dream vehicle, but the reason behind the gift destroyed my ride as if it had a broken transmission. It was a pre-death present, and my father was lying if he denied it. He’d bought it out of guilt, nothing else. I turned over the engine and bit into Mindy’s lemon cake. It was sweet, moist and delicious. My taste buds tingled, and I shoved the rest of it in my mouth. Not bad, Mindy. Not bad at all. I had to warm up to her more often.
Thor rode hard in the darkness, racing through the final gate of King’s Court, barely slowing his horse as he jumped off it, breathing hard, and handing the reins to an attendant. He had been riding all day, the sun had fallen hours before, and he could see immediately from all the torchlight inside, hear from all the reverie behind the gates, that the King’s feast was in full swing. He kicked himself for being away for as long as he did, and only prayed he was not too late. He ran to the nearest attendant. “Is all in order inside?” he asked in a rush. He had to find out whether the King was okay—though of course he couldn’t directly ask if he had been poisoned. The attendant looked at him, baffled. “And why shouldn’t it be? All is in order, except that you are late. Members of the King’s Legion should always be on time. And your clothes are filthy. You reflect poorly on your peers. Wash your hands, and hurry inside.” Thor rushed through the gate, sweating, put his hands in a small stone laver filled with water, splashed it on his face, and ran it through his longish hair. He had been in constant motion since early in the morning, he was covered in dust from the road, and it felt as if it had been ten days in one. He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself and seem orderly, and strode quickly down corridor after corridor, toward the vast doors of the feasting hall. As he stepped inside, through the huge arched doors, it was just like his dream: before him were the two feasting tables, at least a hundred feet long, at the far end of which sat the King at the head of his own table, surrounded by men. The noise struck Thor like a living thing, the hall absolutely packed with people. There were not only the King’s men, members of the Silver and of the Legion seated at the feasting tables, but also hundreds of others, bands of traveling musicians, groups of dancers, of jesters, dozens of women from the brothels…. There were also all manners of servants, of guards, dogs running about. It was a madhouse. Men drank from huge goblets of wine and beer, and many of them stood, singing drinking songs, arms about each other, clinking casks. There were heaps of food laid out on the tables, with boar and deer and all sorts of other game roasting on spits before the fireplace. Half the room gorged themselves, while the other half mingled about the room. Looking at the chaos in the room, seeing how drunk the men were, Thor realized that if he’d arrived earlier, when it began, it would have been more orderly. Now, at this late hour, it seemed to have evolved into more of a drunken bash. Thor’s first reaction, aside from being overwhelmed, was deep relief to see that the King was alive. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was okay. He wondered again if that omen meant nothing, if his dream meant nothing, if he was just overreacting to fancies, making something bigger in his head than it should be. But still, he just could not shake the feeling. He still felt a pressing urgency to reach the King, to warn him. Protect our King. Thor pushed his way into the thick crowd, trying to make it the long way toward the King. It was slow going. The men were drunk and rowdy, packed shoulder to shoulder, and MacGil sat hundreds of feet away. Thor managed to get about halfway through the crowd when he stopped, suddenly spotting Gwendolyn. She sat at one of the small tables, off to the side of the hall, surrounded by her handmaids. She looked glum, which seemed unlike her. Her food and drink were untouched, and she sat off to the side, separated from the other members of the royal family. Thor wondered what could be wrong. Thor broke from the crowd and hurried over to her. She looked up and saw him coming, but instead of smiling, as she always did, her face darkened. For the first time, Thor saw anger in her eyes. Gwen slid her chair, got up, turned her back, and began to march away. Thor felt as if a knife had been plunged into his heart. He could not understand her reaction. Had he done something wrong? He raced around the table, hurrying over to her, and grabbed her wrist gently. She surprised him by throwing it off roughly, turning and scowling at him. “Don’t you touch me!” she screamed. Thor took a step back, shocked at her reaction.
Kono subarashii sekai ni shukufuku
Was this act, and finally, after pushing through three more attendants, making it to the King’s table. MacGil sat in the center of the table, a huge skin of wine in one hand, his cheeks red, laughing at the entertainment. He was surrounded by all his top generals, and Thor stood before them, pushing his way right up to the bench, until finally, the King noticed him. “My liege,” Thor yelled out, hearing the desperation in his own voice. “I must speak with you! Please!” A guard came to pull Thor away, but the King raised a palm. “Thorgrin!” MacGil bellowed in his deep, kingly voice, drunk with wine. “My boy. Why have you approached our table? The Legion’s table is there.” Thor bowed low. “My King, I am sorry. But I must speak with you.” A musician clanged a cymbal in Thor’s ear, and finally, MacGil gestured for him to stop. The music quieted, and all the generals turned and looked at Thor. Thor could feel all the attention on him. “Well, young Thorgrin, now you have the floor. Speak. What is it that cannot wait till tomorrow?” MacGil said. “My liege,” Thor began, but then stopped. What could he say exactly? That he had a dream? That he saw an omen? That he felt the King would be poisoned? Would it sound absurd? But he had no choice. He had to press on. “My liege, I had a dream,” he began. “It was about you. In this feasting hall, in this place. The dream was…that you should not drink.” The King leaned forward, eyes opened wide. “That I should not drink?” he repeated, slowly and loudly. Then, after a moment of stunned silence, MacGil leaned back and roared with laughter, shaking the whole table. “That I should not drink!” MacGil repeated. “What a dream is this! I should call it a nightmare!” The King leaned back and bellowed, and all his men joined in. Thor reddened, but he could not back down. MacGil gestured, and a guard stepped forward and grabbed Thor and began to take him away—but Thor roughly yanked the guard off of him. He was determined. He had to give the King this message. Protect our King. “My King, I demand that you listen!” Thor screamed, red-faced, pressing forward and banging the table with his fist. It shook the table, and all the men’s turned and stared at Thor. There was a stunned silence, as the King’s face dropped into a scowl. “YOU demand?” MacGil yelled. “You demand nothing of me, boy!” he screamed, his anger rising. The table quieted even more, and Thor felt his cheeks redden in humiliation. “My King, forgive me. I mean no disrespect. But I am concerned for your safety. Please. Do not drink. I dreamt you were poisoned! Please. I care very much about you. That is the only reason for my saying so.” Slowly, MacGil’s scowl lifted. He stared deeply into Thor’s eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, I can see that you do care. Even if you are foolish boy. I forgive you your disrespect. Go on now. And don’t let me see your face again until the morning.” He gestured to his guards, and they yanked Thor away, strongly this time. The table slowly resumed its merriment as they all went back to drinking. Thor, dragged several feet away, burned with indignation. He feared for what he had done here tonight, and had a sinking feeling that tomorrow he would pay the price. Maybe even be asked to leave this place. Forever. As the guards gave him one last shove, Thor found himself at the Legion’s table, maybe twenty feet away from the King. He felt a hand on his shoulder and spun to see Reece standing there. “I’ve been searching for you all day. What happened to you?” Reece asked. “You look as if you have seen a ghost!” Thor was too overwhelmed to respond. “Come sit with me—I saved you a seat,” Reece said. Reece pulled Thor down beside him, at a table set aside for the King’s family. Godfrey had a drink in each hand, and beside him sat Gareth, watching with shifting eyes. Thor hoped beyond hope that Gwendolyn might be there, too, but she was not. “What is it, Thor?” Reece prodded, as he sat down beside him. “You stare at this table as if it will bite you.” Thor shook his head. “If I told you, you would not believe me.
So best I just keep my mouth shut.” “Tell me. You can tell me anything,” Reece urged with intensity. Thor saw the look in his eyes, and realized that, finally, someone was taking him seriously. He took a deep breath and began. He had nothing to lose. “The other day, in the forest, with your sister, we saw a Whiteback snake. She said it was an omen of death, and I believe it is. I went to Argon and he confirmed that a death is coming. Shortly after, I had a dream that your father would be poisoned. Here. Tonight. In this hall. I know it in my bones. He will be. Someone is trying to assassinate him,” Thor said. He said it all in a rush, and it felt good to get it off his chest. It felt good to have someone actually listen. Reece was quiet as he stared back into his eyes for a long time. Finally, he spoke. “You seem genuine. I have no doubt. And I appreciate your caring for my father. I believe you. I do. But dreams are tricky things. Not always what we think.” “I told the King,” Thor said. “And they laughed at me. Of course, he will drink tonight.” “Thor, I believe you dreamt this. And I believe you feel this. But I’ve had terrible dreams, too, my entire life. The other night, I dreamt I was pushed out of the castle, and I woke feeling that I was. But I was not. Do you understand? Dreams are strange things. And Argon speaks in riddles. You must not take it all so seriously. My father is fine. I am fine. We’re all fine. Try to just sit back and drink and relax. And enjoy.” With that, Reece leaned back in his chair, covered in furs, and drank. He gestured to a servant, who put a huge portion of venison before Thor, along with a drinking goblet. But Thor just sat there, staring at his food. He felt his whole life dissolving around him. He didn’t know what to do. He could still think of nothing but his dream. It was like being in a waking nightmare, sitting there, watching everyone drink and feast around him. All he could do was watch all the drinks, all the goblets, heading for the King. He watched closely every server, every goblet of wine. Every time the King drank, Thor flinched. Thor was obsessed. He could not look away. He watched and watched for what felt like hours. Finally, Thor spotted one particular servant who approached the King with a goblet unlike the others. It was large, made of very distinct gold, covered in rows of rubies and sapphires. It was the exact goblet from Thor’s dream. Thor, his heart pounding in his chest, watched with horror as the servant came closer to the King. When he was just feet away, Thor could stand it no longer. Every ounce of his body screamed this was the poisoned goblet. Thor leapt from his table, shoved his way through the thick crowd, roughly elbowing everyone in his way. Just as the King took the goblet into his hands, Thor leapt up onto his table, reached out, and slapped the goblet from the King’s hands. A horrified gasp filled the entire hall as the goblet flew threw the air and landed on the stone with a hard clink. The entire hall went dead silent. Every musician, every juggler, stopped. Hundreds of men and women all turned and stared. The King slowly stood and glowered down at Thor. “How dare you!” shrieked the King. “You insolent little boy! I will put you in the stocks for this!” Thor stood there, horrified. He felt the entire world crashing down on him. He just wanted to disappear. Suddenly, a hound walked over to the puddle of wine now forming on the floor, and lapped it up. Before Thor could respond, before the room could move again, all eyes went to the hound, who started making awful, horrible noises. A moment later, the hound froze up and fell on its side, dead. The entire room looked at the dog with a horrified gasp. “You knew the drink was poison!” yelled a voice. Thor turned and saw the Prince Gareth standing there, coming up beside the King, pointing accusingly at Thor. “How could you have possibly have known it was poisoned? Unless you are the one who did it! Thor tried to poison the King!” Gareth yelled out. The entire crowd cheered in outrage. “Take him to the dungeon,” the King commanded. A moment later, Thor felt guards grabbing him hard from behind, dragging him through the hall. He squirmed, and tried to protest.
Maou no hajimekata
“No!” he screamed out. “You don’t understand!” But no one listened. He was dragged through the crowd, fast and quick, and as he went, he watched them all disappear from him, his whole life disappear from him. They crossed the hall and out a side door, the door slamming shut behind them. It was quiet here. A moment later, Thor felt himself descending. He was being pulled by several hands down a winding stone staircase. It grew darker and darker, and soon he could hear the cries of prisoners. An iron cell door opened, and he realized where he was being taken. The dungeon. He squirmed, trying to protest, to break free. “You don’t understand!” he yelled. Thor looked up and saw a guard step forward, a large, crude man with an unshaven face and yellow teeth. He scowled down at Thor. “Oh, I understand very well,” came his raspy voice. He pulled back his arm, and the last thing Thor saw was his fist, coming down right for his face. Then his world was blackness.
My first attempt at hunting very nearly became my last. I saw a small rabbit just off the trail. The pop-up prompt helpfully informed me that the rabbit was young: level 1. Sounded like my size. Without the Soul Stone, I couldn't raise a pet for myself. Never mind, I could manage. Level 1 casters often had to do a lot of tanking. I selected the bunny as target and activated the Thorn Grass. The earth bubbled around the poor creature entangling its paws with the thorny blue foliage. The life bar above the rabbit's head shrank about ten percent. The bunny emitted a shriek—a call, rather—and bounded toward me. Simultaneously, a God-awful beast of a rabbit cleared the nearby shrubs. An adult rabbit. Level 3. Whatever. It was going for me. Embarrassing, really: to be killed in your first fight—by a rabbit. Rabbit or no rabbit, I hurried to move the target to the big bastard and cast a slowing DoT. A resist. The target couldn't care less about the spell. A magic resistant rabbit—what kind of world was that? Another try, and I managed to slow it down a bit. You've been bitten! Damage sustained: 6 points. Source: the young rabbit's teeth. Life: 54/60. The young rabbit's missed! He attempted to punch you but failed! Indeed, the young 'un had caught up with me and was now busy trying to hurt me. I drew the dagger and slashed the bunny in the face. His life bar shrank some more. I activated Life Absorption. The Young Rabbit has ustained 8 points Damage. You've received 8 points Life. 60/60. You've been bitten! Damage sustained: 17 points. Source of damage: the Adult Rabbit's teeth. Life 43/60. You've been bitten! Damage sustained: 5 points. Source of damage: The Young Rabbit's teeth. Life 38/60. You've been clawed! 12 points Life lost to the Adult Rabbit's claws. 26/60. Shit. Time to leg it. I still had the slowing spell on both bunnies—enough time to run off a couple dozen paces, turn round and cast Absorption twice. The Young Rabbit has sustained 8 points Damage! You've received 8 points Life. 34/60. The Young Rabbit has sustained 5 points Damage! You've received 5 points Life. 39/60 You've received Experience! Die, you bastard! My attempt to slow down the mature rabbit resulted in more aggro and two more bites. My life dropped into the orange zone so I had to retreat double quick. Had it dropped into the red, my speed would have dropped accordingly and no way I could've escaped. But even so my advantage was minimal. I just couldn't shake the big bunny off for enough time to cast the spell safely. After another hundred paces, the forest parted. We scrambled out into a clearing. Far beyond, I could make out the city walls and dozens of players swarming below as they interacted with each other, doing a bit of leveling. I marked the position of the gate towers and the paved road and bolted for the main gate, counting on the guards. Surely they would stick up for a player and not let a mob into town. A monster rabbit, never thought I'd live to see the day. Total embarrassment. Shame about the experience lost: I could kiss it goodbye if the guards finished the mob. But I spoke too soon. The big bunny shrieked. I looked behind me and yanked the brakes on. Some level two rogue stepped in the bunny's way and prodded him with two short swords. Now I had to think fast. Whoever inflicted more attack damage on him would get the experience.
began casting the Life Absorption double quick. An extra bit of healing wouldn't go amiss. You've received Experience! Got him. By then the young rogue was almost finished, too. Either the bunny had critted him or the kid had already been low on life when he'd aggroed him. I dragged my feet toward the rogue sitting on the ground next to the bunny and tending to his wounds. "Thanks, man." "Thanks don't fill a purse," he answered with a smile as he unwrapped another bandage. "You can't be Russian, surely?" Naturally, the game translated the entire content into the player's mother tongue, but that was a bit too good. "Ukrainian," he offered a blood-stained hand. "Cyril a.k.a. Cryl, Elf rogue level two." "I'm Max. You can call me Laith. A new Nec," I shook his strong fingers looking over the gradually disappearing blood stains. Having said that, it really had hurt when the bunnies were making a quick job of me. Blood had splattered everywhere. Not an agonizing pain, but pain nevertheless. In the heat of the fight, I'd taken it for granted forgetting I was stuck inside the FIVR. The high pain threshold and overall acuteness pointed at the profound FIVR immersion. Actually, the officials recommended to switch to a basic 3D type at the first signs of pain. The deeper the immersion, the more real it is for your brain and the higher the risk of getting perma-stuck. The likes of myself were discouraged from visiting virtual worlds with high authenticity levels. But in this case, you couldn't please me more. My hyper sensitivity increased my chances tenfold. In the meantime, Cryl was done with his bandages which brought his life up to fifty percent. "A Nec, you said? In all frankness, you're either a masochist or an idiot. Then you may be someone with lots of patience and an ambition to match." I smirked. "You forgot lots of spare time. But I could use some patience, sure." "Good to know that," Cryl was already stomping his feet impatiently, looking for a new challenge. "Any plans? I still have two hours left until forced logout. Fancy grouping up?" A message alert popped up. Cryl the rogue has invited you to join his group. Mechanically I adjusted the interface to semi-transparent as I gave it some thought. On one hand, I had to go to town and get myself settled down. I wasn't an on-and-off player—I was about to stay here. No innkeeper would rent me a room for free: I needed to get hold of some money for lodgings, food and some clothes. On the other hand, I still had plenty of time till sunset and even though a rogue wasn't the best choice for a tankless group, it was probably more fun together. I wanted to get a better look at him. You never know, we could become friends. You've joined a group! Group leader: Cryl. The loot rule: Master Loot. Cryl rubbed his hands. "Excellent. If we could just get ourselves a warrior tank and a healer, that would be awesome." He yelled at the top of his lungs, "We need a tank and a healer, levels one to four. For the Gnoll Hill." He turned to me and winked, lowering his voice, "Preferably young females. Preferably those who haven't yet armored themselves up to their eyebrows. AlterWorld must be the place. You wouldn't meet so many scantily clad cuties at a Miss Universe final." He laughed so infectiously that I smiled, too. Funny guy. In actual fact, the overstrung spring inside me was relaxing, I could feel it. Since I'd learned about my diagnosis, it had been a race against time. I kept pushing myself, too scared of dying on my apartment floor just two feet away from the phone. Having said that, what would I have done with it? Now the peaceful beauty of my new world poured inside me filling my drained soul and washing out all the stress and weariness. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and smiled as I exhaled. "You're not stoned, are you?" Cryl sat up. "No. Not at all. It's just so... beautiful. What about those gnolls?" "They're some awesome mobs. The caves are their main dungeon, three floors, levels 10 to about 25. Too early for us. But around the caves, there're tons of petty gnolls there, like workers, gatherers and messengers. Those guys are begging to be killed. They might drop a bracelet which you can sell to other players or to the Caravan Guards' Master. Each bracelet gives you the same experience as you get if you kill a gnoll. Donators—I mean those who invest real cash into the game—buy them like hot cakes. They'd rather spend an hour screaming their heads off to buy bracelets by the dozen, and then bingo! they're already level 10 or even 20, no need to waste rabbits. Talking about rabbits. You'd better check yours before it stinks." All the rabbit dropped was two strips of rabbit meat. I could sell it to a shopkeeper or start to level the cooking skill. I was curious how much I could make by the end of the first day. The location chat was busy: I'll pay 1 gold for Red Bear ID. PM me. WTS Blue Gladiolus or trade for top Druid gear. Lvl 8 Mage LFG
Shuumatsu nani shitemasu ka
WTB gnoll bracelets. Gray 20 copper, black 50 copper, red 2 silver. Preferably in bulk. WTS +350 HP buff, duration 3 hr. Price: 1 gold. I'll be sitting by the East Gate. Janis is PK! He's by the creek, go kill him! You PK! You killed me first! Cryl guffawed. "Kidz!" "Yeah. Useless truants. It doesn't look as if we can find anyone. Let's just go and then decide." "Okay. Let's go." Seven minutes of brisk walking along the forest edge brought us to a low hill range. The foothills were teeming with players—groups and solos—busy pulling monsters and attempting to take them apart. As we watched, a low-level warrior pulled a train of three gnolls and a level 8 gnoll overseer. In less than a minute, the whole party was lying dead having only nailed two of the lower gnolls. Greedy-eyed, we watched the monsters leave. The overseer, badly crippled as he was, was too tough for us. "Cryl? You don't happen to have any distance weapon, do you? To pull a mob or two? "I don't," he tut-tutted. "In theory, I can use slings and crossbows. Only I haven't saved enough yet to get myself any. I bought a dozen bandages and that was the end of my dough." "I see. In that case, I'll be pulling them with DoT and then hand them over to you. Wait here." I ran up the hill and looked around. About a thousand feet away I noticed a cave opening, surrounded by a low stockade with some dirty flags flapping over it. The ground around me was streaked with trails which were swarming with gnolls. The closest to me was a hurried level 3 messenger. I selected him as target and activated the Thorn Grass. The gnoll swung round, hissing, and trotted toward me. I cast Life Absorption and scrambled down the hill, taking cover behind Cryl's back. He descended on the mob, stabbing him wherever he could reach. But he couldn't pull him off me fast enough as I'd aggroed the mob too much. Ignoring his opponent, the monster went for me. You've been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage sustained: 16 points. Life 44/60 You've been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage sustained: 12 points. Life 32/60 It did hurt. I drew my dagger and we started slicing the mob up between the two of us. At the same time I was trying to cast Life Absorption. Twice the mob's hits made me lose concentration until finally the spell went through. I only had 20 Life left when the gnoll yelled something and passed away. You've received Experience! Just. I was no tank any way you looked at it. Cryl crouched by the body and lay one hand on it. With a clank, the mob's money divided between the group members. I was now two coppers richer. "He's got a letter on him too, binds on pickup," Cryl said. "Some low-level quest or other. Want it?" "You can have it. He's not our last messenger." We sat quiet for a couple minutes restoring life and mana while Cryl was changing his bandages. "That's it, the bandages're finished," he said with regret. "I only raised the skill to 3 points. I have to heal 4 hits at a time." "You shouldn't have started. It will cost you too much at the first levels," I watched a small group who had arrived running in their underpants and were now busy touching their graves and picking up their gear that appeared in place of tombstones. I rose. "You ready?" I waited for his affirmative and flew up the hill. This time I chose a single gnoll worker lugging a basketful of earth. DoT, two Life Absorptions, a quick hand-to-hand and finally, the welcome experience message. This time it was much easier: the worker had less life than the messenger so he packed up in no time. Cryl bent over him, surprised. "Listen, he's got this Soul Stone here but it won't let me touch it. WTF?" "Oh. Jeez, it has to be mine," I hurried to the body and picked up a nondescript little blue rock. The Soul Stone. Contains the soul of a level 4 gnoll. To raise him, use the Summoning the Undead spell. I moved the spell to the quick access panel, clenched the stone and cast the spell. With thunder and lightning the stone crumbled to dust. The earth parted right in front of the crouched Cryl's nose, letting out a Gnoll Zombie. The kid yelped and rolled out of its way. "You could've told me!" "I'm telling you now," I guffawed. "Meet Rover, my pet. He'll be our tank."
I spent some quality time in the raised creature's custom settings. I renamed the zombie Rover and entered a few commands: as you'd guess, mainly Attack! Heel! Off! and others in the same vein. I ended up with a level 3 pet—not too bad considering that the stone fell out of a level 4 monster. "Now it'll be easier. Sit!" I told Rover and ran to pull another gnoll. The zombie was nothing to complain about. He made a decent tank pulling the aggro to himself and not letting the mobs kick our poorly armored asses. His hits were mediocre, 5 to 7 points, but he could take the heat and absorb damage. The farming process—that is to say, monotonously grinding mobs—started to fall into a pattern. The next three mobs we ripped apart no problem. We even got another messenger, this time level five. After his death, a blue shimmering mist enveloped our bodies and the two of us gasped in unison. "Ding!" I said. "Up!" Cryl yelled. Congratulations! You've reached Level 2! Racial bonus: +1 to Intellect Class bonus: +1 to Intellect, +1 to Spirit 5 Characteristic points available! I opened the char's menu. After a second thought, I added 3 points to Intellect, 1 to Spirit and 1 to Constitution. Would do for the time being. Intellect had already reached 16 which gave me 160 points mana—not bad at all for level 2. "You finished with yours?" I asked a vacant-looking Cryl. "Five more sec. You can start pulling." "Okay," I nodded and began climbing the hill feeling I'd been living there for ages. Whereby I immediately stumbled into two gnoll gatherers. "é*@&!" the toothy bastards yelled, lunging at me. " é*@ç$!!" I yelled back, tumbling down the hill. "I'm bringing a train! Two gnolls! Rover, attack!" I set him loose on the farthest monster. Now I had to deal with just one. "This one's ours," I shouted to Cryl. He nodded and stepped in the mob's way. After some quality clashing of steel and humming of spells, the gnoll collapsed. You've received Experience! While I'd fought, I kept casting Life Absorption as the quickest way to deal damage. So now my life bar was still at 100% while Cryl's hit indicator hovered in the orange zone. The next moment, my zombie groaned and crumbled to dust. His gnoll, albeit rather bruised, turned round and went for us. "Wait, step aside. Let me first," I told Cryl and lunged forward burying my dagger in the gnoll's eye. You've dealt 14 points critical damage to Gnoll Gatherer! Immediately I stopped his clawed paw with my face. His next punch landed on my liver. Jeez, it hurt. Cryl joined in from behind my back, adding a lovely aggro-generating bunch of hits. The monster swung round to face him which allowed me to step back and cast Life Absorption again. More hits. A flash of magic. You've received experience! Got him. "Great job, man," I offered Cryl my hand. "You did it by the book." He shook my hand, his face serious. "So did you, cutie. No fuss, just got the job done. You're a legend." We smiled to each other. "I hope one of them at least happens to have another Soul Stone," I said. "My zombie has given up the ghost." "Let him rest in peace. He saved his master's life. Lived like a dog, died like a hero." "Must be his karma," I mused watching Cryl crouch by the bodies. More coin-rattling. I now was five coppers richer. "When it rains it pours," Cryl cheered up. "This one has a Stone and a gray bracelet, call it twenty more coppers in the till. Oh. The other one's empty." "You can have it all. I'll have the next one. But give me the stone, please. Time to resuscitate our hero." The hero didn't live up to his fame. The raised zombie was level 2. I really needed to get myself some stuff with pet leveling bonuses. Never mind. I'd have to change the pet when I got another stone, as simple as that. Two minutes for regen, then I rushed off to get us another gnoll. The farming process continued without a glitch. I kept pulling a gnoll or sometimes two. The loot was meager to say the least: a few coppers apiece plus miscellaneous trash like rusty daggers, some ore, and all sorts of statless items. Once or twice we had a couple of quest bracelets albeit gray ones. To get anything cool you had to head deep into the caves. Two hours into the game, we were level 5. Each had a couple hundred coppers and a dozen bracelets to show for our trouble. On top of that, I got myself twelve Soul Stones although now the raised zombies' levels 2 to 4 didn't look like much compared to my level 5. We were meditating after a complex fight with two more gnolls when a high-level Druid dashed past right between us. "Train!" he yelled and disappeared, speed-buffed. "What did he say?" Cryl turned to me. Then we were swallowed by a mob crowd chasing the druid. No idea where he'd pulled so many. He must have fallen out of a cave and bolted for the city not bothering about the low-level guards. It had worked for him. But not for us. They spent us in five seconds flat. Still sitting, I took two crits to my back, jumped to my feet for a second and collapsed again. A crimson haze clouded my view. Warning! You have died in battle. In a moment, you'll be respawn in your last bind point. You can change the bind point using a special spell or artifact. A grave containing all your gear and the contents of your bag will appear in place of your death. Only you can pick them up. If you don't reach your grave within three hours, it'll be teleported to the nearest city graveyard. * * * Strictly Confidential From the Edict of the President of the Russian Federation On Creating the Sharazhka Classified Experimental Facility Installation Bunker 9 to be used as the server farm. Deploy Eden 17 Office Deluxe as the experimental virtual environment software. Register and assess all nationals categories 4, 4a, 7 and 11. Shortlist all C1-listed nationals such as researchers, analysts and top engineers. Lay the groundwork for potential digitizing of all the individuals over 65 years of age and those with serious health problems.