The bitter wind of coming winter swept mercilessly ere the late dawn. Natalia shivered and pulled the collar of her coat tighter over her nose and mouth, as long messy locks of her light chestnut hair whipped her rosy cheeks with stinging cold.
Today was Natalia’s birthday. She’d told her parents that she didn’t want anything, but somehow she knew her wishes would be ignored. Natalia’s parents had always spent ridiculous sums of money on her, no matter what she said or did in protest.
They kept asking Natalia if she’d made any new friends, too. Her parents never really took her usual affirmative reply. Natalia didn’t understand why it mattered so much to them.
A loud honking noise roused Natalia from her thoughts. She’d been standing in the middle of the road, stopped mid-crossing by her clouded head–no, cloud-filled head.
She crossed hastily, pausing briefly to bow to the driver before rushing to the other side.
Accursed brain!, she scolded herself once she’d crossed.
Natalia continued at a brisk walk, trying to stay focused on getting to the bus-stop in time. In fact, Natalia’s frustrated consciousness remained busy with scolding herself even as her bus had slowly started to pull away.
At last, the loud engine of her school bus made her look up.
“WAIT!!”, she yelled, and ran breathlessly towards the large departing vehicle.
Someone inside must’ve taken notice of her, for the bus stopped and began to flash the lights mounted atop the roof. The driver’s window was opened with some amount of force and a loud “Clack!” that rang out across the quiet, early sunrise scene.
“Do you ride this bus?”, the driver asked loudly so Natalia could hear.
Natalia ran the rest of the way to the bus before replying, “Yes!”.
“Get on, then!”, the driver exclaimed, “You’re going to have to get here on time tomorrow, I’m not going to stop like this again!”
“Yes, M-ma’m!”, Natalia stuttered.
The driver opened the large squeaking doors of the bus and let her in.
Lazily curious eyes followed Natalia as she walked down the aisle in search of an empty seat. She found one near the back of the bus and plopped down, casting her backpack against the window with a sigh.
Natalia unzipped the middle pouch and pulled out the book she was reading; the Topaz Dragon.
She had enjoyed this book quite a bit in the weeks that she’d been reading it. In fact, Natalia had enjoyed many books of this kind since she was young. The characters always had some kind of magical connection to their lands or history, some kind of special power that helped them figure out who they really were inside. Natalia especially loved to read fantasy books of this trend because she thought that she might be able to find the answer to her own deep inquiry: who she was.
She had just finished the 6th chapter of the Topaz Dragon when the bus reached her school. Natalia hastily slid her bookmark into place and clamped the book shut before hefting her backpack and casting it across one shoulder. Natalia carried her bag this way mostly so it wouldn’t catch and pull her long hair, but she didn’t feel like a good or responsible student when she did this. Not even like a young hero beginning a quest, as she sometimes liked to pretend to be.
“Hey!”, called the bus driver, “Don’t you get off here, too?”
Natalia blinked repeatedly as she returned from her thoughts.
“Obnoxious thief of consciousness!”, she scolded her mind under her breath as she hurried down from the bus. She’d been the last person off the bus again today.
Maybe I can stay focused if I really try, thought Natalia.
She decided to do her best to keep out of her mind for the rest of the day–just as she walked straight into a ‘School Zone’ sign.
Natalia then promised to commit to a more possible vow: I’ll stay focused as much as I can!, and off on her Daily Quest she went.
The late afternoon sun hung merrily in the near-cloudless sky, a bittersweet sight it now was, however, for this was probably one of the last days that could witness such warmth or sunshine.
Perfect day for a new hero on a new adventure… Or maybe the ending scene of a wondrous and long journey., thought Natalia with a smile. She’d spent all of her lunch period and free time reading her beloved tale of noble dragons and fair heroes, so she’d finished it earlier in the day. The end had almost made Natalia cry for all of the book’s memories and trials… she was quite cheery now, though.
Cheery and tired, mind you!, she thought contentedly.
Natalia began a leisurely stride along the sidewalk, hands in the soft and cozy pockets of her mauve, all-season-suitable and inverate zipper-sweater.
It took a few moments and the sight of other students rushing about her for Natalia to remember that her bus might be leaving without her.
“WAIT!!”, she called out as she noticed that some buses were already leaving the school.
Natalia sprinted along the sidewalk, glancing frantically at the route numbers for her bus.
No, no, no!, thought Natalia, all this misfortune on my birthday!
She reached the end of the sidewalk just in time to see her bus pulling away. Natalia had dawdled in her ignorance again, but this time the bus didn’t wait for her.
̈ ̈Oh well…¨, she sighed.
Natalia strode, dispirited, back to the school’s entrance. She ́d have to call her mother from the office so she could be picked up.
Better luck next time, I suppose, she thought gloomily, and I had such a good start!
̈Did you have a good day?¨, Natalia ́s mother asked her as she stepped into the car.
¨Yes.¨, Natalia replied in monotone.
̈ ̈Well, I made your cake earlier. It’s chilling in the fridge to harden the icing, so we ́ll have it after dinner.¨, her mother informed Natalia.
“Okay. Thank you.¨, was all she said for the rest of the ride.
Once they got home, Natalia had a mind to to start her homework immediately so she wouldn’t have to do it later, so she got her planner signed, worked out her math problems, and studied her vocabulary.
The evening had nearly passed by the time Natalia had finished her schoolwork.
I wish the Topaz Dragon had more chapters, she thought, the feeling of completion and satisfaction with the book already gone and replaced with boredom.
Natalia’s father usually didn’t come home until after dark, so she had to find something to do until then.
Might as well try to find another book., she thought.
Natalia went to the study, remotely wondering what new book she might find on the internet.
The family’s desktop computer took a few moments to turn on, so Natalia decided to whirl about in the spinny office chair to calm her anticipation.
She’d never been one to use the internet very much, it had always seemed boring and filled with information too advanced for her understanding. That is, besides a website Natalia had found a few months ago called BooxPreemiere that showed all the new books that had just come out. She didn’t really know or care to find out any other uses for a computer–or even the internet itself. With technology, small, simple uses were enough for her.
The screen flared to life, illuminating Natalia’s face as she stopped spinning and turned to face it.
She entered the password and opened the search engine, then lazily but still quite impatiently waited for the window to load.
Technology, Natalia thought indignantly.
The search-bar appeared onscreen accompanied by its colourful logo. She typed in the web address and was sent immediately to the cozy interface of BooxPreemiere.
Before Natalia could check the list of upcoming titles, a very strange advertisement popped up out of nowhere and covered most of the screen. Instead of immediately closing it, she was caught in the startling illustration of what seemed to be a dragon being fought by elf-people. The captions read ‘Fight the great Leviathan! Join Leviathan’s Bane, the exciting and magical MMORPG!’.
What in the world?, thought Natalia, What’s an MMORPG?
She’d never seen anything of this sort. Natalia was curious enough to decide to look up the meaning, and so here is what she found:
“Oh!”, cried Natalia, “A video game, that’s all.”
She looked back at the advertisement. Some people in her classes had consoles or cell phones that they played video games on, but none of them ever spoke of a game of this manner. No, only violent shooting-games or Pokemon.
Oh well, it’s still just a video game., Natalia thought to herself dismissively and closed the advertisement.
Now, time to check the list!, she thought in renewed excitement.
The Topaz Dragon was already number one on the list of ‘books to look for’. Most of the others under it weren’t fantasy at all, which disappointed Natalia. She didn’t think today to have been a very exciting birthday, even then gray clouds were beginning to gather outside. All she could do was wait for her father to come home… Natalia never thought re-reading books or surfing the internet were very fun things to do.
“Did you have a good birthday?”, her father asked once he came in.
“Yes.”, Natalia replied by default.
“Finish your homework?”
“Yes.”, she said again.
“Well,”, he started, “are you excited?”
“Yeah…”, Natalia replied mildly.
She didn’t believe she had anything to really be excited for. The day had come and gone quite uneventfully besides the ending of the Topaz Dragon… and the occasional rude awakening.
“Well… I think there’s time before dinner if you want to open your present now.”, her father said with a smile.
“Present? Honestly, the cake is more than enough!”, Natalia exclaimed in disapproval.
“What? Just a cake isn’t special, is it?”, he said with a forced smile.
“It would be!”, she cried.
“Here you go,”, her father said as he handed Natalia a box, “I think most kids your age have something like this.”
Natalia had an idea of what it was as soon as he said that. The box was a small, white rectangular form, thin but had comfortable weight. At the top, there in silver printed lettering, was the name of a tech company.
“What?!”, Natalia cried, “A cell phone? I don’t need expensive things like this! We have a good landline, don’t we?”
“Calm down! This is a gift, Natalia. You don’t really need it too much, but we wanted to get you something very special for your birthday this year. Anyways, it was a slightly older refurbished model, so to say not as expensive as you might think.”, her father explained.
“Still… Well then, thank you very much.”, Natalia said with resigned gratitude.
“You’re welcome. Now open it!”, he smiled.
Natalia sighed and pulled away the lid.
The phone’s screen was a tempting black that glimmered under the kitchen lights, its clear void reaching to the edges of a limpid lavender frame. This was definitely the item that could save the world… the Ring, the Elder Wand, the Sword of Grimbeard the Ghastly… The device was simply enchanted.
“I got the case in your favorite colour, too. I see you do like it, right?”, her father gathered from her captivation.
“Yes… Thank you.”, Natalia replied, though her mind was still lost in astounded musings.
To Natalia, this magical article was then seen as a gateway to the most remote or deep parts of the world–the only one of its kind. The ultimate object that could grant any power to a hero that needed it.
“Thank you very much…”, she told her father again.
“Sure…”, he replied softly, seeing the captivated look on his daughter’s face.
Dinner passed with little talk until the cake was brought out. It was butterscotch with caramel topping, two flavors Natalia loved for their cozy, buttery-sweet taste and texture.
Her mother had taken special care in writing out Natalia’s name on the cake with the caramel, a practice Natalia had always thought to be over-the-top with effort.
At least money wasn’t wasted on candles., thought Natalia in an ambivalent mixture of appreciation and disapproval.
“Thank you for making and putting so much effort into the cake, ”, Natalia told her mother awkwardly, “it looks as though it took forever.”
“Oh, it wasn’t too much, dear. Happy birthday!”, her mother exclaimed.
“Thank you, Mother.”, Natalia said, bowing however she could from her position in her chair.
Her parents chuckled.
“Take your slice, Natalia.”, her father told her and handed her a knife.
Natalia cut the cake, albeit not very neatly, and struggled to move the first slice from the platter to her plate. Though her mother had said that it was custom for the one whose birthday was being celebrated to take the first slice, Natalia didn’t particularly like taking her own piece before others.
She cut and speared a small piece of her slice with her fork and raised it to her mouth.
The taste was immediately nostalgic to the many sweets and delights Natalia’s mother had made for her over the years: warm like a cozy lamp-lit evening of great adventures under the blanketed layers of both ethereal times of another world and the momentarily eternal shattering of cold liquid spears of rain on the walls, windows, and roof outside the safe and calm confines of Natalia’s room.
Butterscotch… A fitting name, she thought to herself with a smile and closed eyes.
Natalia heard her mother’s laugh and opened her eyes.
“That good? I must’ve done something right.”, her mother chuckled.
“Oh, sorry…”, Natalia murmured, embarrassed.
“It’s okay, dear. Thirteen already…”, her mother muttered, looking Natalia up and down.
Natalia didn’t feel thirteen. She still felt as though she was twelve–no, ten or eleven. She still remembered last year’s birthday in fine detail.
Another year, already gone?, Natalia thought in wonder, Where did all the time go? What have I done for all this time?
Natalia went over all that she remembered doing since her last birthday. She remembered the beginning of the school year and reading… she’d forgotten what the book’s name was. Something about magic clay dragons…
Next, she remembered around Christmas-time she’d just finished reading a book about someone with a magic ability to read characters out of their books, a story she really did love as she’d never read anything like it at the time.
Then came the spring and with it the hurried preparations for the state exams and a book series about a dragon-rider trying to overthrow an evil king with a very strange name–something like Galloptorix?
Natalia had spent the past summer reading all that she could, finishing series after series of both new books and classics she hadn’t found the time to read before. Among these was a very long one about modern-time teenagers that could fight monsters and people from ancient history. The end of that one was satisfying yet pretty sad for her.
And finally came the new autumn with the long, deep tale of the Topaz Dragon. Natalia thought it was amazing.
Oh well…, Natalia thought, I guess I know where all that time went. But it still doesn’t feel like it’s been so long, no, this year has come and gone before me in a blink. I suppose that time has weighed on me as well as my experiences… I’m thirteen!
Natalia had just gotten dressed for bed when she remembered her gift. She took the phone from its box on her bedside table and tried to figure out how to turn it on.
At last she found a small button on the side and held it down. The small screen flashed with the manufacturer’s logo and made Natalia jump. She waited to see what would happen next.
A colorful picture filled the screen: a detailed photograph of a bee perched on a honeysuckle. There was also a message under the time:
Happy birthday Natalia! This thing is all ready and set up 4 you.
Natalia smiled and thought in gratitude and love of her father. He must’ve been the one to set up the device for her.
She then saw a caption near the bottom of the screen: Swipe screen to unlock.
Natalia swiped parallel to a single stripe on the bee in the picture. Yet another screen appeared, a picture of an iris covered by many small, labeled and symbol-clad squares.
Oh!, Natalia realized, this is just like Mother’s phone!
She kept swiping through the pages of applications as she remembered was their name until she found the web browser. Natalia tapped on it.
A slightly different version of the web browser appeared with the search-bar at the top of the screen.
What should I look for?, Natalia thought.
Her first thought was BooxPreemiere, but she remembered the advertisement she’d seen earlier in the day. Natalia looked up Leviathan’s Bane and found another, different advertisement for it:
Download the free app and play!
Natalia tapped on it and was sent to the game’s page in the App Store. This page had a slideshow of pictures from the game that were similar to the one Natalia had seen on her family’s desktop. She scrolled down and found the description:
Welcome to Soaremm, land of divine magic and endless wonders! This world has been corrupted by the curse of the awful Leviathan, a curse that only you can lift, hero! Come now and accept your summons, this country will only pull through these dark times if you help us!
The last feature was what really drove Natalia’s decision to download the app, though she made sure to look at the reviews first. Her father always told her to do just that before buying something. Here was the first one she read:
Awesome game! I love fantasy books and this game was almost like living in one! I’ve only had it 4 a couple weeks and I already feel like it’s the best thing I’ve ever found! Ye should totally get it, 100 percent worth it.
This review made Natalia want to try it out even more. She scrolled back to the top of the page and tapped the Install button. A message popped up and said that the installation would take a couple minutes.
Wait… Am I really going to play a video game?, she thought, Aren’t they the things thatŕe making children irresponsible nowadays?
Natalia thought about this critically with a slight fear in her heart. What if she became an irresponsible child? But then, maybe trying it out now would help her not to do it in the future. She liked the thought of preparing herself now for something she might end up doing later anyways.
The game had finished installing by the time Natalia had fully set her mind on keeping it to try it out. She tapped the Open button.
Instantly, a colourful display of elf-people fighting a minotaur-like creature with swords and magic filled her screen.
Leviathan’s Bane, a large caption in the bottom right corner read. Under it was a bar that ran from one side of the screen to the other, labeled downloading files….
The download was completely finished relatively quickly. The screen was blindingly bright as it flashed briefly.
“̈Hello there, Master… What shall I call you?”, a gray text-box read.
There was a feather-winged raccoon-like creature in the middle of the screen, and behind it rose a realistic scene of snow-capped mountains that reached for thin sunset-pink clouds.
A keyboard that filled half the screen appeared for Natalia to type her character’s name.
What should my name be?, thought Natalia, definitely not my real name. That isn’t safe for a multiplayer game and it wouldn’t fit with the time and setting!
She tried to think back to all the main protagonists she’d gone on journeys with in the past with books.
It should start with an ‘A’… ‘Ay-’, ‘Ayu… ‘Ayumu’?, Natalia chose, I like this name.
And so Ayumu was the name she typed and entered.
“Ayumu? A fair title indeed! Well then, Master Ayumu, I am pleased to meet you. Joirek, at your service! Now, you must know the state of our beloved land, right? We’ve been a bit–unlucky. A great ugly beast that rose from the Kliozn Sea a few years past has been quite the nuisance–causing seastorms, changing the climate to an awfully dull rainy gray-land, killing many in its wild rages, and worst of all: consuming what little mana-energy remains in the Crystal of Corotro!”, the dark coffee-coloured raccoon explained.
Next, Natalia was offered two choices: “What’s the Crystal of Corotro?” Or “What am I to do now?”
She chose the first option. Natali remembered not to be too hasty when it can be helped, a bit of advice from some tree-like person in a book she’d finished long before… Where was it from?
“The Crystal of Corotro? Well, that mighty sapphire is the heart of this world! Since before the Faeries and Dreaygons created magic the blessed stone has stayed, deep and undisturbed, in the heart of the Dairklenktion Realm where it can supply all the world in equal measure with mana. Only now the Leviathan has risen and somehow transferred the stone’s energy to itself, growing ever stronger whilst the sapphire’s mana is quickly draining away.”
After reading this, Natalia thought she’d gathered enough information to guess at the plot itself. So basically, this story was one of a fallen kingdom by the name of Soaremm if I remember correctly; it was in the game description., Natalia concluded, Onwards!
“I now ask you, Master Ayumu, if your wish to come and save this country remains as it did when you arrived; the knowledge you just attained considered. If you find yourself facing the horrible beast that is the Leviathan, would you stay and fight?”, the raccoon asked solemnly.
Though there was only a Continue button on her phone’s screen, Natalia considered this question. If faced with the most powerful creature in all of this world, would she fight? Would she, given the time and experiences between then and now, stand for her own magical country? Natalia thought she’d stay and fight in a situation like that. It wouldn’t be like social interactions, no, just a black-and-white battle that would decide the fate of a world.
Simple enough…, she thought.
Natalia tapped the Continue button, wanting to move on from the overthought topic.
“Yes? Then we may be saved after all, when the time comes.
Forgive me, Master Ayumu, but I am not of any of the man-races and have not the eyes nor mind of one. Would you care to tell me your… er… gender?”, Joirek asked kindly.
Three boxes popped up on screen this time. The options were ‘I’m female.’, ‘I’m male.’, and ‘I think my gender is unknown to your race.’. Natalia chose the first option, though she wondered what purpose the last one had.
“Oh dear! Then please do mind my lack of manners, Miss Ayumu. Time is of the essence, however, and now is not the time for proper introductions.
As a warrior in the fight to regain peace, the Sapphire has allowed Wood-faeries like me to provide you with as great an amount of mana-energy as is allowed. You must now choose your Type-Class, which will determine what type of magic your mana will be transferred into. Here are your choices:”, he explained hastily.
Now the screen changed completely, showing a slideshow of sorts that explained the abilities and nature of each class. The type-classes were shown as follows:
Note that each Type-Classes’ Ability Points add up to a hundred.
These friendly folk use mana not unlike that of Draeygons and Fairies, and only for the goodwill of the environment.
To be a warrior with an aptitude for water is a grand trait, enhanced superior skills can become rearing waves of daunting power that crash down on your enemies. These sorcerers are always calm and collected.
Only good-hearted and justified people can learn the entrancing way of dancing flames. Their battles are usually ended quickly, for they are diligent and steadfast.
Bittersweet tendrils of frost’s embrace leave enemies still and powerless against the leisurely battle-craze driven by the cold blood of Ice-men. Few leave duels with them unscathed.
Natalia took time to thoughtfully consider every Type-Class based on their descriptions. She wanted to find the one best-suited for her personality in full honesty.
While the Ice and Water Classes seemed very cool and powerful, Natalia found herself wanting to seem more friendly and responsible. Thus, at last she found her choice in the values of the Fire Class and chose that option.
“A Fire-Master you wish to become, Miss Ayumu? Then a Fire-Master you may one day be! Now, I’m sorry to say that I must really hurry you in your next choice. Now, we have your choice of weapons. Each one can channel your Type-Class’s mana differently, and so this will be called your Weapon-Class. Choose swiftly but carefully, savior!”, the raccoon guided.
Now the screen was turned into something similar to the Type-Class showcase. Each weapon was listed as shown below:
Note that all Weapon-Class points add up to fifty. These points are added to your Type-Class points for a total of 150 points.
Sword and Shield
Natalia analyzed the stats of each weapon carefully, trying to decide which best matched the goodwill and responsibility of a Fire-Class warrior. Defense seemed an honorable choice, and the thought of fighting far away from danger made Natalia feel safer–as if Leviathan’s Bane was reality and not just a game on her phone. Nevertheless, she chose the Staff.
A deep yawn escaped Natalia ́s throat. She looked up from the screen in her hands, seeing her alarm clock ́s unbelievable truth: it was almost eleven at night!
Just how long was I playing around with that game?, Natalia wondered, struck.
She quickly turned off her lamp and snuggled deep into her bed, though for a while before she fell asleep Natalia could think only of the world she just entered; of Joirek, of the Crystal of Corotro, and of the main protagonist to be–herself.
The school day had come and gone with no homework for Natalia to do or study-material to look over. No one had remembered her birthday that day or the one before, but she hadn’t really expected anyone to, anyways. She just barely caught the bus, much to the driver ́s annoyance.
Now Natalia was home and refreshed, and though she wished she had a book to fall into the thought of returning to Soaremm was exciting enough. Natalia powered on her new phone and opened Leviathan’s Bane. She planned to start the actual story today.
Once the loading screen passed Joirek reappeared and continued from exactly where she left off: the choosing of a weapon.
¨A staff? Fine choice for you, Miss Ayumu! I must ask of you just one more thing: I must turn in a picture of you to the capital, so I would like to send them a most accurate photograph. Put here your preferences, would you?¨, asked Joirek.
For the first time, Natalia saw what the avatars actually looked like: thin, tall beings with pointed ears and wide sparkling eyes. She was shown each customizable detail in a series, hair shape and colour, eye shape and colour, and finally a trait unique to this elvish race: ears.
She tried to make her character ́s hair as close as she could to her own, but the option closest to Natalia ́s own light chestnut was a deep crimson that reminded her of autumn-themed things. She had Ayumu ́s hair fall down to her shoulders. Next, Natalia viewed the eyes. She wanted to keep the wide default shape, and she found that violet fit with the hair colour quite well. Finally she was left to choose from the ears of a human, an elf, and the fluffy pointed ears of what she thought was a fox. Natalia wanted to remain at least a bit human, so she chose the quite ordinary ears of one. She submitted her final choices and waited for Joirek to move on.
I wonder when I’ll actually be able to read–no, play the story!, Natalia thought impatiently.
̈ ̈So this is your chosen appearance? Again I thank you, Miss Ayumu. Now I think I must take you to the capital so you may learn all that you can of the Leviathan ́s tricky ways–and to train! Come now, then!”, the ́Wood-Faerie ́ beckoned.
The screen changed completely to show a 3-D representation of Soaremm: sunny fields of tall grass with a clear yellow-gold dirt path for one to follow. At the very beginning of this path stood Natalia ́s avatar, dressed in plain brown robes with a tall, wood staff on her back. Next to her was Joirek ́s sprite, a dark brown winged raccoon that when standing reached Ayumu‘s knee.
“Follow me!”, the text box said before disappearing.
Natalia did her best to move the character into following Joirek ́s sprite, and the controls were fairly basic and easy to maneuver back and forth.
When she had her finger on the forward arrow, Natalia accidentally touched a button with a sword on it, causing animated fire to flash around her for a moment.
That must be some kind of Attack button., thought Natalia.
Joirek stopped and waited for Ayumu to catch up to him before continuing to walk at his slow, easy pace.
Wait, thought Natalia, if we ́re going all the way to the capital by walking, how long will it take to get there? This is just empty countryside!
̈ ̈Come on, we ́re almost to the portal! We ́d best be careful though, there are unfriendly creatures here. ¨, Joirek informed Ayumu once they had walked for a few moments.
Unfriendly creatures?, Natalia wondered.
In most books, whenever a character signaled for caution the warning was always met–it would become a useless detail otherwise and add little background to the setting. Because of this, she was fairly sure–
Three jade-green serpentine sprites appeared in front of Joirek and Ayumu, rearing and hissing in repeating unison. Red bars popped up over their heads, and a green one over her own sprite.
“You have to fight now, Miss Ayumu! I–I’d be too easy for them to get at! My apologies!”, Joirek exclaimed.
As soon as Joirek’s text box disappeared, the whole screen was frozen and shaded over except for a few buttons. An arrow pointing at the button with the sword labeled it Strike, the one Natalia had accidentally used earlier, and beckoned for her to tap it. She did, causing the screen to resume and lose its tint, and again a fire animation surrounded her character with a swing of Ayumu’s wooden staff. This made the amount of red in the small bars above the snakes’ heads decrease to about halfway.
“My, you’re strong for one who has just received their weapon and mana, Miss Ayumu! Though please do keep attacking them!”, the raccoon-faerie cried.
Natalia repeatedly tapped the sword button until all each snake’s bar was fully empty of colour.
“Thank you, Ma–Miss–Ayumu. You fought well, though I am sorry you had to go into that so suddenly. Now, we must hurry to the portal before we’re ambushed again!”, he said hastily.
They continued at Joirek’s slow raccoon pace until they reached a swirling circle of blue-green light, about as big around as a door.
“Now, just step through carefully. It doesn’t hurt, don’t worry.”, he guided.
Natalia drove her sprite towards the portal, causing the screen to freeze momentarily before the loading screen appeared.
The loading screen disappeared to reveal a cityscape of rather gloomy colours. Ayumu had been teleported to face the great, shadowed doors of a melancholy castle whose top seemed to extend far beyond the reaches of the screen.
“This is the capital building of Soaremm, the Kaefyein Fortress. In it reside many important people besides King Erefleindon, including the man who will teach you much that I cannot.”, Joirek informed.
So is this where the story truly begins…?, Natalia wondered.
She was excited for all the different kinds of magic and monsters she would find on this adventure–and now she would be able to see exactly what they looked like!
Not to say that books don’t show you everything. In fact, I don’t ́t know if the action will be as enjoyable here.
Joirek started moving again, slowly crossing what little space lay between him and the fortress. Once he had almost stepped into the looming shadow of the strangely ominous doors, he stopped.
̈ ̈Come now, the shadows lie here only in this grievous hour: they were once bright and grand with the power of the Crystal. Maybe someday we can return it to that…¨, Joirek trailed off.
The text box disappeared and the screen went black for a moment. Their sprites reappeared standing in a wide stone hall lit by lamps not unlike those Natalia had read of in a book some time ago…
“Just down this way,” Joirek led.
Ayumu followed the raccoon, who seemed to be going at a slightly faster pace than before.
Eventually, they reached another door. Joirek passed straight through the corridoor without a word, surprising Natalia and leaving her with nothing to do but motion her character through the door as well.
On the other side of the door was a small, dimly lit room with all kinds of junk and treasure that clouded and consumed most all empty space. In one corner was a desk, identifiable only by the especially tall stacks of paper and the radial point of the candle-light that illuminated the room.
Next to this desk stood the sprite of an elvish man that appeared to be having a conversation with Joirek.
̈ ̈Ah! So here is the Flame-Mage, Ayumu, yes?¨, a text box with the face of the elf-sprite said.
“Yes. Ayumu, this is Sir Onieyd of the royal Wolf-Draeygon Clan. Sir, Ayumu has only just arrived in Soaremm.”, Joirek introduced.
Now Ayumu was offered two options: “What ́s a clan?” or *Continue with story*. Natalia chose to interject with the first option based upon her usual philosophy: new information is always welcome, especially when offered.
“A clan is an official group of people that follow a leader. If you want to, later on you could probably join one. To be in the Wolf-Draeygon Clan has been a privilege since I joined it when the crown was formed, so I think you ́d find being in a clan beneficial.”, Onieyd offered kindly.
“Yes, once you know enough of these lands then maybe. But for now, you must learn and train! You will have missions to help with, if you really want to save this land, Miss Ayumu.”, Joirek said solemnly, “Now, I must say my goodbyes. My gentle folk panic if they must go too long without new information… We have not the strongest of hearts.”
Joirek’s sprite disappeared from the cluttered room, leaving only Ayumu and Sir Onieyd.
A golden sign popped up and the screen again assumed a shaded tint. Congratulations! It read, Tutorial Complete!
I guess the exact plot will start to become clearer from here., inferenced Natalia.
“I think you will grow to become a great hero, Miss Ayumu,”, the elf-scholar complimented, “but to reach that point you must study and train hard. We will begin work with the most basic elements tomorrow. Now, however, we must find you a place to stay!”
Sir Onieyd began walking as slowly as Joirek did, passing through the door of his messy study and back through the stone halls of the fortress. Ayumu followed him to the main entrance of the building–it seemed they were going somewhere else now.
“There’s an inn a few streets away, a particularly cozy and aged building that is our destination. Whatever the circumstances, our country’s economy has not dropped so low that it cannot pay for the living expenses of a warrior in its own army, so your stay will be completely free of charge.”, his text box explained as they walked.
Natalia was quite bored as she could do nothing more than make her character follow the elf’s sprite and watch other players run about, so she tried stopping and seeing what he would do.
There must be some kind of coded response to that., thought Natalia in curiosity.
Onieyd only stopped at first. Then his sprite turned around to face hers.
“Come on now, Misss Ayumu. The inn issn’t that far.”, Onieyd crowed.
Why are there extra ‘s’s in his dialogue?, Natalia wondered with slight worry.
She decided to keep her character still and see if he would do anything else.
“Missss Ayumu, I’m a bit tired asss of now, and a bit sstressed if you take my m’heaning. Pleasse come on.”, his text box read.
Why is this happening?, Natalia wondered, though because she was still curious she kept Ayumu standing still where she was.
Onieyd’s figure momentarily disappeared, but when it returned he had a snake’s tail curving around one leg and strange gill-like formations on the sides of his face.
“SSssounds like you musst hhave ssusspected ssomething! Let’ss ssee if you can do anything but obsserve, Youngling Ayumu!”, Onieyd ‘hissed’.
A red bar appeared above the now elf-monster’s head. He drew a long, thin blue-white spear of ice and swirled it about him, his scaled tail swinging wildly.
Suddenly, his animated sprite strode toward Natalia’s character, instantly striking her. Now Ayumu had her own green bar, and the coloured portion of it had been lowered to about three fourths of the original amount.
If my bar is like the snakes’, she thought back to the ambush, then I probably shouldn’t let it go down all the way! I think that’s how battles work.
Natalia made her character attack Onieyd, repeatedly pressing the sword-button and watching the fire shore up around Ayumu, her wooden staff appearing like a great torch as it stood out in high contrast from the gloomy world around her.
Her enemy’s red bar was losing more and more of its colour, but so was Ayumu’s own. She decided to steer herself away from him for a moment, her finger pressed down hard on the forward arrow.
Aren’t there supposed to be other fighting ‘Skills’?, Natalia wondered as Ayumu kept running, strangely tense as she would be if a character in a book she was reading was facing a near-impossible battle.
She tapped all the smaller buttons around the main attack button, causing varying animations of fire to appear about her.
These must be the different skills! Well, obviously… They’re right next to the attack button., Natalia found in wry joy. Her mind was fully focused on the game, as if Natalia was really Ayumu the Fire-Mage as she fought for her life against a powerful and unexpected enemy.
In mere moments, Onieyd had caught up to her. Ayumu deployed her fiery newfound skills, launching special attack after special attack with basic assaults in between.
At last the amount of red in the serpent-elf’s bar dropped to nothing, causing his sprite to disappear for a few seconds.
When he reappeared, Onyied was back to his original non-threatening sprite.
“Congratulations! You solved that situation fairly well, Miss Ayumu. I’m sorry though, the reason I decided to challenge you like that wasn’t only to test you: I was feeling a bit testy, too! That aside, you have just successfully defeated someone very close to the skill level of an average Leviathan-Soldier, as the accursed beast has not only condemned us to gloomy days but also infiltrated our people with his disgusting servants.”, the elf explained, “Now, please do come along.”
After his text box disappeared, the screen slowly faded to a gray that held the screen for a moment.
When the light returned, Their sprites were standing in a cozy, well-lit room in front of what seemed to be a reception desk. Onieyd faced the lady behind the desk, probably supposed to be getting a room for Ayumu.
“Here is where I must say goodnight and goodbye, Miss Ayumu the Fire-Mage. I think you have proven yourself to be beyond training–straight to missions we’ll go tomorrow! Oh–you’re room is just the first one by the stairs!”, the elf informed her before his sprite disappeared.
The screen darkened, and again golden lettering appeared: Congratulations! And under that was Achievement Reached, Level Up!
Level up?, wondered Natalia, I think that makes my stats better if I’m remembering correctly…
“Your room is just upstairs.”, the lady at the desk’s textbox read, startling Natalia from her thoughts.
She motioned her character towards and up the stairwell, causing the perspective to rotate and fit Ayumu’s path.
Right next to the top of the stairwell was an open door. Inside, a bed and desk were visible.
I suppose this is ‘my room’., Natalia thought in wonder.
Already she had reached her parallel home in this world, after some time taken from the real one.
Already… What time is it right now?, She thought, alarmed she checked the time on her phone. It was almost 6:00 P.M., Natalia had been playing a video game for almost two hours.
In disbelief she checked her phone battery for some way to prove the clock wrong. The device’s power was low, almost down to ten percent.
For a few moments, Natalia could do nothing more than lay on her bed and think of how the time flew by. It seemed impossible to her that so much time had passed, never before, not even while reading, had she lost track of time for two hours.
She powered off her phone and plugged it in to her charger at her real desk.
Now I wish I had a book to read… Someone else’s problems, not mine. Not a video game of all things… , Natalia thought wistfully.
She would undoubtedly be called for dinner soon anyways, then fall to sleep and eventually dream of Faerie-Raccoons and Elf-Wizards.
The following day Natalia rode the bus home with a disturbed consciousness.
She’d found it hard to concentrate in most of her classes the whole day, even Reading, all because she couldn’t take her mind off of Leviathan’s Bane.
This had never happened with books, not even when they were very well-written and immersive.
No, thought Natalia, just this weird video game.
Natalia couldn’t decide what would be better for her: continuing to play the game could either prepare her for the possible future and maybe even help her discipline herself, while quitting right then and deleting it could help her learn to avoid video games altogether.
As soon as Natalia got home, she turned on her phone and opened the game. She’d told herself that she needed more time to decide, but deep inside Natalia knew that she was only stalling.
This new world was like a dream, a beautiful and perfectly adventurous dream wherein Natalia had not only the magic she’d always wished for but also the self-purpose and honorable responsibility. At heart, she didn’t want to leave it. This was why she decided deep-down to stall for herself as long as she could.
Once she logged on as Ayumu, Natalia noticed a red dot over a button in the upper-right corner. She tapped on it and found that it was the Mail receiver. She’d received this message from the system:
Did you know that you can play with your friends? By using the Chat feature, you can text, voice-chat, and even send pictures from your adventures to your friends! The Chat icon is located on the bottom-left corner of the screen. Don’t hesitate to join a clan, either!
(While socializing online, it is our concern that you remain polite and respectful of others. If you get reported for this reason, your account is subject to being deleted.)
The Royal Wolf-Draeygon Clan
Socialization?, wondered Natalia in surprise, You can talk to other players? Wow.
Just to see exactly what it was, she tapped on the Chat icon. A window popped up, displaying various groups: World Chat, All Contacts, Friends, Blocked, and Friend Requests. Surprisingly, there was a red dot over the last group. She tapped on it and saw a message:
Friend Request Letter
Hiya, can we be frens? I saw ye fighting that NPC, and um I think yer weapon class/type class combination is relly cool. Im a beginner too. +I also like yer avatar design and name………… (づ｡◕‿‿◕｡)づ
Natalia didn’t know how to respond to this. She knew it would be rude not to accept such a kind friend request, but she had also almost never socialized with anyone out of her own will.
In the end, etiquette and the small possibility that the sender might be someone like herself made Natalia accept the request. Meskaro was now the one and only person on Ayumu’s contact list.
It wasn’t long before Meskaro came online and first began to talk with Ayumu. The other player apparently loved using Japanese emoticons to express her thoughts, as was seen in the first live messages between them:
At first, Natalia thought Meskaro was wild and obnoxious due to her complete ignorance of grammar and her slightly annoying tendency to text in all capital letters.
She kept her tone kind and optimistic, however, and over time began to see the more calm qualities of Meskaro.
She could be sympathetic and thoughtful at times, like when they teamed up to defeat a lizard-monster that was particularly cute to her. Meskaro had even wanted to keep it alive for as long as they could so she could ‘talk’ to it and help it calm down and stop fighting, so all she did for the majority of the battle was cast healing spells that supposedly helped the monster as well. Much to the dismay of Meskaro, it ended up dying in the end anyways because the game couldn’t supply the pre-programmed attack patterns of the monsters.
Kawaii, as she says., thought Natalia contentedly.
There had also been a time when a young player’s request for other people to stop swearing in World-Chat was ignored. The child didn’t want to miss out on the ‘real game experience’ of using the social features, so they continued to ask for others to stop swearing. At one point, a player was so annoyed that they told the child “This is an online game. You can’t tell anyone to stop swearing.”.
As soon as Meskaro saw the message, she typed out a long, surprisingly grammatically correct paragraph in the young player’s defense. The other player didn’t respond to her message or use World-Chat for the rest of that day.
“Hey” Meskaro typed to Ayumu, “did you go AFK?”
“No,”, Natalia said as she noticed the message, “I just zoned out for a bit. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Wanna do a Hard Mission now? I have a few minutes before I have to leave for dinner.”, Meskaro offered.
“Sure. I finished my homework earlier so I have time. Which Mission?”, Natalia agreed.
“Let’s see, how’s a Level 50 Mana-Cavern on the hardest setting?”, Meskaro texted, apparently wanting a challenge if she was choosing a Level 50 Hardest Difficulty Mission.
“Sounds fine. I’ll send you a party request.”, Natalia typed back.
Natalia sent Meskaro a Mission-Party request, which she accepted in mere moments.
Missions were categorized by three properties: their location, progress level, and difficulty setting. Natalia and Meskaro were at around the same level, and a Level 50 Mission would be a true challenge for both of them.
“Ok. You can start the Mission.”, Meskaro texted.
Natalia scrolled through the Mission options until she found the Level 50 Mana-Cavern Mission and moved the selector to the hardest setting. She tapped Start.
The loading screen appeared as her character was teleported to the new map, different now from what it was when she joined two months before.
It seems time continues to drive its incredible signs of malediction into the world–it still feels as though it’s only been a couple weeks since my birthday!, Natalia observed in disbelief.
Ayumu reappeared in the dark, ominous landscape of the Cavern Maps, Meskaro by her side.
“Yay! I still think it’s really cool every time we do stuff like this, Ayumu.”, Meskaro commented happily, “Now, let’s go kill monsters and save Soaremm!”
“Yes! To the depths of these caves we go!”, Natalia typed back, giggling.
They advanced swiftly along the cave-path, so it wasn’t long before they encountered the first small group of wolf-monsters.
Meskaro used her Defense-Healing Skill to keep both of their own health-bars nearly full of colour, while Ayumu added her Silver-Rank staff’s Defense Skill to make them take less damage. This left them both free to start attacking in full capacity with no need to stop or recover, so animations of both swirling flashes of Earth-power and bright, dancing flares filled their screens.
Soon they’d forged their way to the main Mana-Cavern–the dwelling place of the rumoured Great-Wolf, Arcan.
“Who dares enter the grand halls of the true Mana God? Declare yourselves now and take to your ashen graves the blessing of a quick, glorious death; I am in no mood to play childish games!”, an anonymous text box read.
That must be Arcan, thought Natalia in nervous excitement, I wonder what kind of fight we’ll have!
Without a word the two warriors rushed forth into the final chamber of the Wolf-Master, setting up their Defense and Healing Skills before the beast’s sprite even appeared.
Even when Meskaro and Ayumu were poised and ready to attack, Arcan didn’t appear.
“Maybe it glitched out or something…”, Meskaro suggested.
“Maybe. But what if it’s supposed to be like this? This is a Level 50 Mission on the hardest setting, so there could be things we haven’t seen before.”, Natalia reasoned.
Suddenly, they each lost a small amount of their health.
Natalia looked all around the screen, moving her character about so she could search the entire cavern.
“I don’t see any sign of him.”, Natalia reported.
Another untraceable blow struck them. Their Defense and Healing Skills would wear off soon.
Meskaro tried an experimental slash of her sword, then began to run all around and attack at the same time.
“What are you doing?”, asked Natalia in confusion.
“It has to be here somewhere! Something already attacked us, so we know he really is here! ᕕ(╯°□°)ᕗ”, Meskaro stated with one of her emoticons.
“Let’s see, then. I’ll go around, too!”, Natalia typed out and started attacking.
Both of them were running around in uneven circles, activating offensive skills and trying to find Arcan.
“Wait!”, Natalia texted furiously, “What if we have to make a pattern for him to appear?”
“A pattern? (≧д≦ヾ) How would that work?”, Meskaro asked, puzzled.
“Let’s try making an ‘X’ by running.”, Natalia told her friend, “Here, I’ll start from right here so we’re symmetrical.”
“Okay, I think I get it. Now, on the count of five? I mean just count in your head, okay?”, Meskaro agreed.
xc “Sure.”, Natalia agreed.
Their characters stayed still in their positions for a full count of five seconds. Once the anxious time had passed, they took off from their positions in precise flight across the great cavern.
Even when they reached their respective ends, the space remained empty.
“Aw, it seemed like a possible solution.”, Natalia typed with a small sigh.
“Well maybe it’s not the idea of symbols,”, Meskaro suggested, “just that it isn’t an ‘X’. Maybe it’s something more complicated, like a heart? (♥ω♥ ) ~♪”
“Maybe. Anything is worth a try, I suppose!”, Natalia typed half-heartedly.
She didn’t think it was very likely that the solution to Arcan’s absence could be found in anything more complicated than basic symbols, but Natalia had time to spare.
“Okay. Let’s do what we did last time, except we curve towards the middle once we get near the top. On the count of five?’, Meskaro offered.
“Okay.”, Natalia typed quickly as she moved her character back into position.
On a second mental count of five they raced in unison across the open space of the cavern, gradually turning to curve towards the middle once they’d reached the near-top of the rounded area.
Once the shape was completed and both characters stood in the very middle of the cavern, the central point between the crescent halves of their heart, they simply waited to see if something would happen.
“I really thought we got it that time… (∩︵∩)”, Meskaro said and made her character start to leave its spot.
The towering figure of a blue-green wolf stood before them, and with it a text box:
“How could such delinquents break the seal of all Mana?! A broken heart, drawn in the steps of those who possess great magical power–these younglings? You enrage me, selfish brigands! Your dying country will fall before me–right after you do!”
“WE SOLVEED IT!! o(≧∇≦o)”, Meskaro texted in excitement.
“But we still have to fight him! Replace your Defense Skill!”, Natalia typed frantically.
Meskaro and Ayumu activated all of their supportive Healing and Defense Skills in a flurry of fleeting light green and deep, dark amber, preparing themselves just in time for Arcan’s first open attack.
The beast reared with his haunches held high above the stone ground, great fanged maw opened at a nearly impossible angle.
“Keep away from his front! Try to attack him from the side!”, Natalia texted anxiously.
“Yokai! We can defeat him easily if we just try to avoid his attacks!”, Meskaro confirmed.
From Arcan’s mouth came a swift blast of blue flame that swept the entire cavern as the wolf rotated, barely missing Natalia’s avatar as she ran before it.
The monster stopped and used physical attacks after its special one, slashing at Ayumu and Meskaro with great power–eliminating almost half of their health with one hit.
Both players fought fiercely, casting every Special Skill and basic attack they could.
At last Meskaro landed a Special Attack Skill on Arcan that nearly emptied his health bar, though her own was almost as close to defeat.
Natalia made her character attack him from his other flank, twirling her rare Bone-Staff and fashioning a spiral of flame that lowered the animal ́s health to a near-fatal amount.
Meskaro swung her sword in a last basic attack to slay the weakened monster, causing it to fall to the ground before disappearing entirely.
A Congratulations screen appeared with a list of their rewards: Ayumu had obtained a Gold-Rank Staff: the Dragon ́s Flower.
¨I got a Gold-Rank weapon!¨, Ayumu texted Meskaro.
̈ ̈Same! I got Gaia’s Wrath! OMG this Mission was so cool!”, Meskaro typed back, ¨Well, now that we ́re done I think I have to go. Cya!¨
̈ ̈Okay, then. Goodbye!¨, Natalia said.
Now more than ever did Natalia admire her friend Meskaro. Her coordination and modest kindness were charming in a playful sort of mood, making every day seem open to accomplish even the greatest of feats.
Natalia logged out of Leviathan ́s Bane and turned off her phone. She too would be called for dinner soon, but not so soon that she’d have nothing to do in such time and not so long that she’d be able to accomplish much of anything. Natalia decided that she had nothing better to do than play around on her phone.
She opened her files and was immediately greeted with dozens of screenshots from her adventures in Soaremm–most all of them taken with Meskaro.
Oh!, Natalia thought in realization, I forgot to screenshot the defeat of Arcan! Oh well, I think our new weapons will keep it in memory.
She scrolled contentedly through the many photographs, remembering the cherished context behind each one. Some portrayed victories of near-impossible Missions or battles while others were dreamy moments of friendly ecstasy, like when they ́d found a particularly pretty flower-field together and let stand their avatars for a picture.
Only after she ́d revisited each photo did Natalia consider leaving her room to help her mother prepare for dinner.
It was 7:23 A.M. and Natalia had just rubbed from her eyes the hazy memory of a wondrous dream when she turned on her lavender-clad phone. As soon as she opened Leviathan’s Bane Natalia tapped on the Social icon and brushed her hair as she waited for it to load.
She ́d finished washing her face and changing into her day-clothes by the time the screen was updated.
“Hoi Ayumu,” a message sent from Meskaro at a very late hour of night read, “I won’t be able to play for a bit. I need to do some more school stuff for the next couple weeks or something. Srry.”
That doesn’t sound like something Meskaro would say. Natalia thought to herself, worried, She didn’t even use any emoticons!
She continued to get ready for school with an uneasy consciousness, accidentally dipping her toast in milk (as one might a cookie) at breakfast.
“Is there something on your mind, Natalia?”, her mother had asked her, “You seem especially distant this morning.”
“No.”, Natalia replied quickly.
She stuffed all of her food into her mouth and finished drinking her milk before her mother could say anything else, and Natalia was soon off on her usual walk to the bus-stop.
She was so wrapped up in the distressed layers of her ambient mentality that she stopped mid-crossing again, so panicked that the car trying to pass had to honk at Natalia three times before she rushed across.
What just happened?!, Natalia asked herself, terrified.
“What’s… What’s happening to me?”, she whispered, eyes wide in desperation.
Suddenly it dawned on Natalia how much her life had been rearranged. Her highest priority was a mobile-phone video game, she could barely pay attention to her classes; let alone her once-beloved books. Her only real friend was probably in another part of the country if not another nation entirely, and known only by the pretend-name of Meskaro.
Natalia’s social skills hadn’t seen any development, either. In fact, all the time spent in Leviathan’s Bane might’ve even made them worse if possible.
No…, Natalia thought in quiet dismay, the truth already bitter and clear in her mind.
Wait, Natalia realized, what’s so wrong about playing a game?
The reasons and faults of this statement came instantly in a burning rush of blame.
All she’d really been doing for the past two months was playing a childish game of pretend. Not an MMORPG, not a magic book’s venture, nothing but an impossibly lucid what-if dream. Natalia knew then that the time had come to wake herself up and try to return to her previous lifestyle, but she also felt as though she’d fallen too deep into the ethereal world of Soaremm.
No, thought Natalia as she tried to regain her calm, I cannot leave it behind now. I have someone to wait for. I have a friend.
She struggled to take a step forward. A single tear slid soundly from Natalia’s right eye, a limpid but reflective piece of the deep-layered opalescent tones of her consciousness.
Though the path forward still lay in clouded mystery to Natalia, she knew she at least had to get through the day correctly.
And so only in inordinate misery did she vow to fix her life–Not exactly to quit Leviathan’s Bane or to go back to her previous habit of reading all the time, but to try to be a better person in general.
It’s now or never, I suppose., Natalia thought to herself numbly and took another step towards her school-bus stop.
Two steps later Natalia found herself wincing in quiet agony, her hand held protectively over her pained chest.
I have to keep going!, Natalia urged herself as she took off running along the neighborhood sidewalk.
As far as the world around her could tell that day, Natalia had become a person of virtue, conviction, and purpose–even if she had nothing yet for herself but shame and discipline.
Urith Evansson tried not to think about Ayumu as her father drove her to school.
She didn’t want to make her friend sad, yet however Urith tried she couldn’t find a way to sweeten the bitter, empty words she was forced to send to Ayumu.
Friend, she thought bitterly, how can I call myself that? I’m leaving her behind.
As soon as those words had emerged clear in her mind did they receive an awful welcome:
You better not leave her behind, you aimless excuse for a human!
Sooner should you leap to the tip of your godly blade than flee from the responsibility that gathers in friendship!
You should and will accept your fate, nevermind this nonsensical meddling! Remember that you sent her that message to keep yourself away. Do not forfeit your choice!
Maybe I’m not strong enough yet to use this kind of self-discipline… , she thought painfully.
Urith had somehow gathered the belief that cruel words towards oneself made up an effective form of self-discipline, ‘cruel words’ that forged controversial ‘sides’ in the personality.
She tried to push everything from her mind and focus on what she had to do today.
Urith had to go to school, do her best in every class, go to tutoring for English, then go home and study for all classes.
A simple day, she told herself, just as my life has to be for a while.
Though she did not regret creating this schedule for herself, Meskaro was still unsure of its causes. It was relatively simple, yes, but also completely devoid of excitement or fun.
It’s the only way to get back up., she thought, referring to the 70 she’d gotten on her Progress Report for English.
“See you after work!”, her father called to Urith as she stepped out of the car.
“Hai!”, she said accidentally, “Um–I mean okay!”
No more anime, either!, she told herself as she strode to the school’s entrance, I have to do my ultimate best!
The afternoon came with a cool breeze and a clouded sky, not unlike the mind of Urith in comparison. She’d accumulated quite a bit of homework from all of her classes, and wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep away her responsibilities.
No!, she scolded, I must keep my mind off of sleep until I’ve finished everything!
This didn’t make her feel much better, however, because ‘everything’ was made up of a great many things that would undoubtedly take a very long time to complete.
Just as Urith was turning on her phone, her mother pulled up to take her home.
“How was your day? Did tutoring go well?”, Urith’s mother asked.
“Good, fine.”, she responded dully and swung her heavy backpack into the left-back seat next to her.
Though Urith’s ride home lacked further audible speech, her mind buzzed with chidings and other retrospective thoughts.
I have to do well in school, Urith reasoned with herself, or I’ll never be able to be with Ayumu again.
Natalia worked through her math homework with moderate confusion. She didn’t remember ever learning about the elements concerned in the problems and didn’t know how to solve them.
She decided to check her math notebook, but even the notes couldn’t ease her confusion.
What?, Natalia wondered in stupefaction, I don’t remember doing this!
Stuck and lost, she looked over her notes twice more before checking her math class’s online resource. Here she found only printable copies of the homework and notes.
Helpless and exhausted, Natalia was left to simply work through the problems the best she could, knowing she’d fail the assignment.
Once she’d finished her math homework, Natalia studied her new vocabulary and science terms–though she did all of it with a heavy heart.
I hope Meskaro is okay., she thought in worry.
However hard she tried, Natalia wasn’t able to focus on her classes at all earlier in the day. She tried to push her worries for Meskaro to the back of her mind, but they kept echoing out and interrupting her.
In dim hopes Natalia logged into Leviathan’s Bane to check if she’d received any new messages.
The Social icon didn’t have a red dot when she looked, so instead Natalia closed the app and again visited her screenshot gallery. Wistful tears were barely held back as she scrolled through the memories, Meskaro and Ayumu smiling by default in each one.
Natalia came to realize that if she continued to look through them she might cry, so instead she picked from her backpack the new book she’d found at the school library.
Natalia flipped to the back of the book to check how long it was in dull curiosity. On the very back cover was the pocket with the names and date of each person that borrowed the book. The most recent name besides Natalia’s own was Urith Evansson.
Urith sounds like a cool name, Natalia thought tiredly.
She then flipped back to her dog-eared page to continue reading, having completely forgotten about checking the page number in the midst of the melancholy wrappings of her mind.
In the past three days, the power of Urith’s serious and near-desperate resolve had grown at a steady rate. She’d threatened to lock away her own phone if she didn’t focus on multiple occasions, and when that didn’t work Urith taunted herself into working hard with the use of her cruel self-discipline.
Though she longed for a chance or reason to play with Ayumu again, Urith scolded herself at even the thought of playing around at saving the fake world of Soaremm.
You have to work!, her mind informed her, That’s the only way you’ll be able to play with your friend again.
Urith had told herself this line in particular many times before. Each time she visualized Ayumu trapped somewhere dark and scary that she could only reach by defeating each and every challenge the world had to offer–and at the very end of her journey Meskaro would be able to confront the great monster that held her friend.
That’s why I must continue., Urith told herself, I have to earn this lovely friendship…
She dove aggressively into her studying routine until the early hours of morning.
Another day of confusion had passed for Natalia. She’d just barely understood the math of today, even when she stayed completely focused on the lesson.
Staying after school for tutoring came to her mind, but Natalia feared that if her parents figured out that she needed tutoring they’d be dissapointed.
I’m sure I can figure it out with practice., Natalia thought.
So she did the same today as she’d done earlier in the week with her math homework, and afterwards studied for about an hour.
Meskaro had by no means become an unfamiliar topic to Natalia’s mind, but the thought of the kindly Earth-knight brought a great sadness to her mind that was hard to dispel.
All I can do is hope for her sake., Natalia thought, feeling helpless.
Her dreams that night were overtaken by worry for her friend, blurred, ghastly visions of Meskaro facing the most formidable monsters of Soaremm all by herself.
GET UP, YOU LAZY CURSE!, Urith’s mind howled at her, causing her to sit up straight–she’d nearly fallen asleep while working on her science project that was due the next day.
Urith quickly regained her bearings as she wiped the saliva from her chin with her sleeve.
It’s three-A.M. … Why am I so slow with these things? I’ve been working on this for two hours… Should not have spent so much time studying vocabulary…, she reflected drowsily.
Urith could feel the usual hot feeling in her stomach return to her as soon as sleep left. She liked to think of it as an additional part of her self-discipline methods, created by all the hateful burns her mind’s harsh words had wrought upon her mind–somehow it’d spread to her physically, too.
Urith didn’t think of it as a particularly bad thing, but she didn’t believe the feeling was very good for her, either.
Get back on task, you apathetic BAKA!, she reminded herself with a start.
Urith turned on all the lights in her room and returned to her desk to try and finish her project quickly.
When she was satisfied with her project, Urith turned the lights back off and went to lie down in her bed. Before she fell asleep, she opened her files to revisit all the lovely memories she’d made with Ayumu–times that seemed as distant as fading dreams to Urith.
She looked through them with sad smiles and a few tears until she could lay awake no more, and drifted off with the phone still in her hand.
The following morning, Urith was feeling especially hollow and useless. She woke up late but didn’t seem to have the mental or emotional strength to rush herself as she got ready for school.
She pulled open the top drawer of her dresser and selected her favorite shirt–one depicting the main characters of Topazu no Doragon, a recent anime that was apparently based off of a popular American novel called The Topaz Dragon.
Slowly Urith combed out her obnoxiously curly pale-yellow hair, tying two short braids over the messy tumbling fall of the rest of it.
Guilty, Urith commented to herself as she stared into the eyes of her reflection, stupid, reckless, and guilty. As I should be!
It was only after brushing her teeth did Urith think to check the time on her phone. 7:41 A.M.; Saturday, December 11th it read.
Saturday!, Urith read, feeling stupid Oh well, I might as well make use of the hour.
Her subconscious mind sent her to the kitchen because she usually had breakfast right after she got ready, but she wasn’t quite hungry yet and was rather bored.
In this moment of uncertainty, the hot sensation intensified in her stomach.
By some hidden urge Urith stepped slowly, beyond her own control towards the knife-drawer.
No clear thought escaped her mind as she pulled it open, only panicking spirals of fear and delirium as they screamed wordlessly–flashing between being inaudible to explosively loud. Urith pulled from the drawer a small but sharp steak-knife that fit comfortably in the palm of her hand.
Not much like Gaia’s Wrath, Meskaro commented, abnormally distant as though she was observing the life of someone else.
Well, this is the life of someone else, isn’t it?, she asked in a rhetorically wry tone, I’m Meskaro, not Urith. I don’t dislike myself, no, only this pale thing. Not this awful thing, yowai ko!
Just then, an unexpected torrent of rage took over Urith. Boiling self-hate and resentment piled over confusion and deep sadness, creating an enormous gathering of all the bad emotions of mankind into one factor: pain.
She calmly slipped the blade into its cardboard sheath and slid it into the right pocket of her pants–right next to her phone.
Hmm? I guess now might be the time to say goodbye., Urith thought quietly as she powered on her cellphone and opened Leviathan’s Bane.
Immediately she tapped on the Social icon and went to her chat with Ayumu. Here is what Meskaro texted to her friend:
I won’t be online for very long–or maybe forever, depending on how you think about it. Anyways, I came to say goodbye. Goodbye and sorry for being such a horrible friend. I hope I might’ve made you smile… I hope I’m not too heavy on your mind. I’m gonna leave now, though. Sayo una ra, shi no sekai. I hope… nanno imi mona i. Arigato! (╯︵╰,)”
“What do you mean?! Meskaro, what’s happening?”, Ayumu frantically typed back.
“I’m–I’m leaving, Ayumu. I don’t think I’m worthy of your friendship. I’ll be happy to rid you of my presence.”, Meskaro texted calmly.
“Worthy of friendship? I don’t know what you mean, if anyone is ‘unworthy’ then it’s me! You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Meskaro! Please stay!”, Ayumu begged.
Meskaro was shocked. She didn’t think she could possibly be Ayumu’s best friend.
“Stay? I don’t think I have the right to stay here anymore. Thank you for all the great many things you’ve done for me. I’m going to log off now. Sayonara, Ayumu-san.”, Meskaro said with her hand over her pocket, a small sliver of the blade shimmering in the predawn light coming in from the shuttered windows.
Urith closed Leviathan’s Bane and started towards the back door, her phone carried loosely in her left hand.
Natalia tried messaging Meskaro on Leviathan’s Bane, but her efforts came to no avail. Meskaro’s avatar had turned gray on the Contacts screen, showing that she’d gone offline.
If she’s not online, how can I get to her?, Natalia mused frantically.
She went to Meskaro’s Account Settings, looking for some way of contact.
Natalia found her IP Address, real name(though the ‘real name’ Meskaro used was Marshmallow Fairy), and Gmail address.
She didn’t know how to use an IP Address and didn’t trust the provided real name, so Natalia opened her web browser and went to Gmail. She typed in Meskaro’s Gmail address, email@example.com, and sent this message:
Hey Meskaro, are you okay? Please calm down and come back to Leviathan’s Bane. I really do care about you so please please don’t think I don’t, I’m sorry for anything I’ve done but please come back!
Natalia didn’t know if Meskaro would check her Gmail anytime soon, so she decided that the best thing to do would be to try to find another way of contact.
Hmm… I don’t think anything more can come from Leviathan’s Bane unless I figure out how IP Addresses work in a matter of moments. So I have to find more information from where I am!, she figured.
Natalia double-tapped on Meskaro’s Gmail address and was given the option to add her to Natalia’s contacts.
Yes!, Natalia exclaimed inwardly, I might be able to call her from my contacts!
The Fire-Mage typed contacts into the search-bar and was sent to her contact-list. Meskaro’s Gmail was now on the list under the name of Urith Evansson.
Urith?, Natalia racked her brain, Where is that name from…
She gaped in astonishment when she realized where she’d seen that name before–on the library book from Natalia’s school.
She pushed the fact out of her head for the time being, knowing that now she had to focus on finding another, immediate way to contact Meskaro.
At the very bottom of Urith’s contact info window was the video-call option and her phone number. Natalia touched the video call icon by accident as she was trying to make a normal call, causing her phone to start ringing aloud.
Oh dear!, Natalia wondered, I hope that didn’t wake my parents!
To her relief, the threat of the loud ringing was short-lived because the call was answered.
An angular, pale-ish face adorned with perceptive but kind blue-green eyes answered. She didn’t move or say anything to Natalia, only stared in confusion and disbelief.
“Meskaro?”, Natalia asked softly.
“Ay–Ayum-u?”, the girl stuttered, almost whispering.
“Yes, are you okay?”, Natalia questioned her worry returning over the shock.
“Ye–no, not really.”, Meskaro frowned.
There was a pause before Natalia said anything else. She knew that if she asked Meskaro if anything could be done, the other girl would say no.
There was a strange moment of silence between them. Then it came to Natalia’s mind what she should tell Meskaro.
“Your real name is Urith Evansson, right?”, she confirmed awkwardly.
“Yes…”, Meskaro replied in confusion.
“Do you happen to go to Willow Rock Junior High?”, she asked, knowing that if Meskaro was not enrolled at her school and there was a different Urith Evansson Natalia had little hope.
“Yes… Wait, do you go there, too?”, Meskaro–Urith–asked, her voice gaining strength in excitement.
“YES!! Yes, I do! I saw your name on the record of a school library book, I had no idea!”, Natalia mused in elation.
“Wait, do you mind if I ask your name?”, Urith queried.
“It’s Natalia,” she told her friend, “but I think our usual names would be better still.”
“Then maybe we should introduce ourselves. Hoi, my name is Meskaro and I’m an Earth-Type Knight!”, she exclaimed, smiling.
“And I am Ayumu the Fire-Mage, at your service!”, she said, trying to bow but then realizing that one could not do this through a screen.
Meskaro laughed and said, “I’ll get on Leviathan’s Bane now, then. See you, Ayumu!”
“Okay! I’ll be there!” , she said and Meskaro ended the call.
For a few moments after the call ended, Urith did nothing more than stand still and quiet in the grass behind her backyard fence. She’d been facing the fence from outside her family’s property, the steak-knife previously held in her shaking hands over the left of her chest.
Now, Urith turned to face the open alley behind her house.
Why am I here?, she thought, gaining a sense of alarm.
She looked down at her right hand; it still held the knife. She dropped it instantly, watching it fall softly to the grass in the dim dawnlight.
The truth of all her faulted choices and actions came to Urith slowly, causing her to smile sadly.
What a fool I am., she thought.
Urith turned again to look down at the blade by her feet. She thought it looked very nice on the ground.
I’d better go inside and get online before Ayumu worries or my parents wake up!, she realized.
Urith picked up the small knife and put the sheath back over it, holding it cautiously as she walked back towards the back door of her house.
Natalia was getting worried. It’d been almost ten minutes since Meskaro ended their video call and she was yet to come online.
I wonder if I should call her back…, Natalia thought uneasily.
“Hoi! °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖°”, Meskaro texted.
“You’re here!”, Natalia typed in excitement.
“Yeah. Sorry I took so long, Ayumu. It’s so cool to know that we might actually meet outside of Soaremm!”, Meskaro commented happily.
“Yeah. Do you wanna meet somewhere, maybe for a picture?”, Natalia asked.
“I think school would be easiest if you really wanted to, Ayumu.”, the Earth-Knight suggested.
“No, I meant to ask if you wanted to meet somewhere in Soaremm. :D”, she typed, attempting to use a kaomoji like Meskaro.
“Oh! (ᗒᗜᗕ)՛̵̖ Good try, BTW. How about Faerie-Territory? We might be able to see Joirek again.”, Meskaro asked.
“Okay, I’ll teleport there. Are you close?”, Ayumu checked with Meskaro.
“Kinda. Actually, I’m here now!”, she replied as she realized it.
“Coming, then.”, Ayumu texted.
Ayumu teleported back through the first portal she’d ever used in Soaremm to reach the quiet countryside of the Faeries and Draeygons. Meskaro was waiting for her arrival near the portal, facing the immobile figure of Joirek. Natalia motioned for her character to join their chat–though Joirek’s text box said the same thing every time.
“Where do you want to go now?”, Meskaro asked.
“Here is nice. We can stand next to Mr. Joirek.”, Ayumu said, pretending to feel the warm breeze of the Faerie-country whip her hair about.
“Okay! (If you don’t mind, Joirek-san.)”, Meskaro agreed in her regards for Joirek.
They positioned themselves to stand at Joirek’s sides, all of them smiling and calm.
This will make a good addition to our memories., Natalia thought fondly as she took a screenshot.
“Did you get one?”, Ayumu asked her friend.
“Yup. I’m gonna make something with it later, you’ll see!”, Meskaro promised.
“Thank you for letting us take a picture with you, Joirek.”, Ayumu told the raccoon in genuine gratitude, though it was more for Meskaro’s return than anything.
“Hai, Arigatogozaimashita!”, Meskaro thanked.
Natalia checked the time on her phone. It was almost 7:50, dawn was near and her parents would be waking up soon.
“I have to go soon, but can we meet somewhere at school tomorrow? I don’t think I have any classes with you, so maybe we can do something at lunch-time.”, Natalia suggested.
“Okay. How about you come to the table closest to the door for lunch? You know what I look like.”
“Sure. See you then, Meskaro of Gaia’s Wishes!”, Ayumu said.
Natalia powered off her phone and smiled. She sat up in her bed, rubbing from her eyes shards of memories that would never fade away.
The following Monday, Urith was anxious as she waited for her friend at her usual lunch-table. She tried to make herself stand out so Natalia would see her, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t violate the rules and ended up having nothing to do but wait nervously.
At last she saw the familiar rosy-peach face and opal eyes of her Fire-Mage friend as Natalia approached the table. She waved and Urith waved back, beckoning for her to sit.
“Hello, Meskaro.”, Natalia greeted with a smile.
“Hoi, Ayumu.”, Urith responded in turn.
They shared a strange, partially familiar gaze.
This is Ayumu., Urith thought in content disbelief, I defeated the last monster: myself. Now, maybe, we can finish our real journey together: Defeating the Leviathan and saving Soaremm!
Though this was all Urith told herself, she knew that their coming journey together would consist of a lot more than just the saving of Soaremm.
Natalia was blissful as she ate her lunch in silence next to Meskaro.
Maybe this is where the first book ends, thought Natalia, when the main characters are left to live in peace and get stronger–to get ready to face the next challenge they’ll face!
Ayumu reflected on her travels; both the exciting quests and Missions from Soaremm and the trying difficulties of everyday life.
Now, in both worlds did Natalia have a best friend that she knew she’d protect with all in her power–however little that power might now be.
Maybe I’m not a very good hero, she thought, but now at least I know that I need not magic to start!
Now all we must do is work hard to get through everything life can throw at us, Ayumu and Meskaro concluded as they looked again at each other, together.