Viewing as Guest
Chapter 16: The Final Card
Date Published: April 10th, 2015
When the wooden door swung inward it collided with the wall so loudly that even the players nearby the building jumped. Dust fell from the rafters and shelves while a woman with brilliant red hair stalked into the library, eyes narrowed while she peered about at the empty tables that were cluttered with books.
“I know you’re here somewhere!” shouted Nika, hands resting on her hips.
A thump came from the back area of the library where a few lamps hung on hooks. The dim lighting made for a hard time with reading, but as only the librarians ever came they barely cared about the condition of the library. Nika was drawn toward the noise as she walked through the shadow-laden chamber, studying the shelves thick with dust and ancient books.
“Nika!” came a light voice from the furthest depths of the library.
A young woman stepped out of an aisle, she had short cut red hair and wings that fluttered energetically at the sight of Nika. In her hands was a large pile of books that ranged in size and color. With an unbalanced gait she walked over to the nearest table and deposited the books before she turned back to Nika.
“When’d you get here?” she walked over and hugged her friend.
“Few minutes ago, what are you doing all the way out in Villis?” Nika threw herself into one of the wooden chairs and rested her feet on the table, the boots thumping loudly against the oak.
“I heard from some NPCs that this town was where one of the first dragon knights lived,” Selene started to look through the aisles again for more books, though she stayed within line of sight of Nika. “Allegedly he wrote a biography and donated it to the library.”
“Huh, dying to that red bastard got you interested in them?” Nika grinned wide at the thought of Selene getting fired up. “Want to take another shot at him?”
“Not really, but I know you do,” Selene turned to smile at her friend, a new book in her left hand. “I thought I’d look up information to help us when you drag me along.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not planning to go anytime soon. I heard that even with an army they couldn’t finish off that gold dragon up near Holygrande,” Nika blew at a lock of hair that fell in front of her eye. “Did you hear about Ghandahar?”
Selene paused in her reading of one of the books to stare at Nika, eyebrow lifted up slightly. “The elf continent? Did something happen?”
“Oh yeah! There was a blue dragon that spawned over there, but then when the army finally made a move it had vanished into thin air. Just poof, like a ghost or something.”
“And the gold one was chased away, but the other ones are stationary still, correct?”
“Yup, though the red one keeps eating anyone who goes anywhere near the desert,” Nika rested both of her hands on her lap. “Ariana was telling me earlier about how Colbert ordered the armies into a holding position. They don’t want to waste the resources on attacking the dragons if they can’t finish them off.”
“Might be for the best,” Selene closed a book and put it back on the shelf she got it from. “So far the only one that caused any real problems was the gold dragon. Theoretically because it tried to nest in a major city.”
Nika clicked her tongue at that comment. “Dragons exist to be killed, why else would they be in the game?”
“Ah, here it is!” Selene fluttered her wings while she pulled out a red leather-bound book from the shelves.
Without another word she walked over to the table Nika had chosen to sit at and plopped down on a chair. Elbows propped up on the table she stared with glittering eyes at the open journal in front of her, a small smile permanently on her face. An ancient clock ticked loudly within the confines of the library while time continually slipped away.
“How are your classes going?” Nika poked at one of the books on the table near her like it was some sort of alien creature.
“Fine,” Selene smiled at her friend. “A lot of studying but overall I’m handling it without a problem. However the professor has us writing a paper on the Synth Scare.”
“From the forties? Wow, that’s pulling out some old material,” Nika shook her head. “What, do you have to write up why it happened or..?”
“Theorize what would’ve happened if the scare hadn’t.”
“Pfft, like it matters,” Nika rolled her eyes at the mere thought of having to write a report like that. “That’s why you should’ve taken the same courses as me.”
“I hardly believe I’m cut out for those,” Selene closed the journal that she had so carefully sought out and looked at Nika. “I’m still surprised your father agreed to hand over his gym if you finish college.”
“He’s old and weak now, I can take him any day of the week,” Nika snapped one of her fingers before she pointed at Selene. “Oh yeah, before I forget Ben gave me a call, his birthday is coming up in a few weeks and he wants to do a party. You up for coming?”
The immediate thought from Selene was that she wanted to turn her friend down. It wasn’t that she hated Ben, or rather Marcus as he was called in-game, nor did she despise Nika. A group of people she didn’t know, most likely talking about subjects that she had no interest in, Selene found most parties to be aggravating torture sessions.
“If he can keep the party small sure,” was the reply that Nika had not expected in a million years.
The fact that it was a shock to hear those words was fairly obvious as she stared at her quiet friend with wide eyes, her breath caught temporarily in her throat. “Are you sure?” she finally asked, while she tried to figure out what had changed Selene so much that she would willingly go to a party.
“Of course,” Selene smiled wide. “It’s been awhile since all three of us had a get together hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, don’t worry I’ll make sure he doesn’t try to invite everyone.”
The pair once more returned to a bout of utter silence, one that was punctuated often with the sound of a grandfather clock. The loud ticks as the second hand continued on unabated left no mark on Selene, though the impatient and aggressive Nika began to squirm in her chair.
“That’s it!” Nika finally cried out as she stood up, both hands moved to rest on her hips. “I’ve gotta get you out of here before you gather dust just like all these books!”
“Oh?” Selene placed the journal in her inventory. “And where were you planning to drag me this time?”
“You heard about that mermaid city that a guild just found right?”
“Mm, the one that unlocked the merfolk race?”
“There’s some mages who are selling the underwater breathing buff, so anyone can check it out,” Nika motioned with her left hand toward the door. “Maybe…?”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
For Sylvia the cube in front of her was a puzzle that she could not hope to solve. While she was smart, perhaps beyond the normal realm, what the God of Magic had made was no mere rubiks cube. She had to somehow get the exterior and the interior to match flawlessly, a feat that had thus far eluded her.
The little legs of the child kicked back and forth while she sat on the edge of her sisters desk. The puzzle held her full attention, so the fact that her sister was hard at work never entered her thoughts.
When the door to the office slammed against the wall with so much force it was nearly unhinged, Sylvia dropped her little puzzle and glared up at the entrant as though he was the worst kind of person. Typhaus strode into the office and promptly threw himself into a chair with enough power that two of the four legs lifted clear off of the floor.
“What do you want?” Gia inquired of her brother, as she placed her pen down on the table top. Sylvia hopped down from the desk to reacquire her puzzle, all the while muttering a few choice words about her brother.
“I was just in Holygrande and all the Players are complaining about how the dragon hunt got called off,” Typhaus glanced at the puzzle that Sylvia had and squinted in his right eye. “Can’t we kind of encourage another hunt? I didn’t even get to fight in the last one.”
“First,” Gia stated with an even tone as she lifted up a single finger. “We aren’t supposed to interfere, especially in major things like this. The only reason Sylvia got a pass is because it was her temple and she’s a well known NPC by the players.”
“Second,” Gia held up two fingers, cutting off a comment from Typhaus in the process. “We aren’t supposed to enforce our will like that, and you know why. Don’t make me remind you of what happened the last time you aggravated mom.”
“People need something to punch though, and you’re taking away the best target for them!”
“Wulfram doesn’t,” Sylvia chimed in quietly from the side, her nose turned upward momentarily.
“Just marry him already,” Typhaus grumbled, before he laughed far too loudly.
“Quiet you two,” Gia rubbed at her eyes. It was moments like this that made her think she understood her mother and how she felt. “He has a valid point though.”
“I’m not going to marry him!” Sylvia exclaimed as she tossed her puzzle at Gia.
“No, not that,” Gia caught the odd square and put it down on her desk. “Typhaus. We took a toy away from the Players and they’re obviously going to get grumpy about it. What can we do though?”
“A costume ball?” Sylvia smiled wide while she closed her eyes, her head swaying from left to right while she imagined some glorious dance with some unnamed person.
“Really? A ball?” Typhaus gave a dismissive wave of one hand at that idea. “What we need is something to help settle the boiling blood of the warriors! A fight of epic proportions to make up for the loss of the dragons! Obviously a tournament!”
“Why? Why are you such a brute?”
“Because I’m not a baby like you?”
“QUIET!” Gia yelled as her hand slammed down on top of the desk, a flurry of papers tossed up into the air by the ferocity of the blow.
Like children who had been caught squabbling the siblings went still, their faces turned downward and away from Gia. The first to break the silence was Sylvia, her voice low and meek. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Gia offered a smile at her small sister before she motioned with one hand toward Typhaus. “We’ll do both of your ideas. Typhaus, you’re in charge of getting the tournament set up. Offer Players transportation to the event from anywhere in the world, I’m sure you have a few creatures that you haven’t revealed to anyone yet that could serve as steeds.”
“I know just the things,” Typhaus flashed his teeth with a wide grin at Gia. “Want me to handle the advertising too?”
“No, we’ll let our brother handle that. He has a softer touch than you do,” Gia searched through the pile of papers closest to her before she presented a sheet toward Sylvia. “Get in touch with your Disciple. Have his guild handle the costume ball.”
Sylvia accepted the paper and glanced at it, before she did a double take and stared at it for nearly a minute. “Are you sure we can use this magic? I thought it wasn’t tested yet?”
“Jewelana and Gladstone tested it out for me last week, everything turned out alright.”
“Great! I can’t wait for Wulfram to log in!” Sylvia held the paper against her chest while she smiled wide. “He’s going to be so excited!”
The casual atmosphere that had slowly been rebuilt after their most recent clash came to a stop when all three of the Gods went still. There had been no audible noise nor any event that could be seen, yet each of the three turned to look at the other before they looked out the wide window behind Gia’s desk.
“Barbus?” whispered Sylvia.
“Hah, about time the idiot came out,” Typhaus stood up from his chair, the movement so sudden that it toppled over with a loud clatter against the floor.
“Mother might be with him,” Gia murmured while she too stood up.
“Course she is, he’s a whipped dog that doesn’t go anywhere without his master,” Typhaus strode over to the door of the office. “Think it’s about time we finally got some answers don’t you?”
Typhaus didn’t wait for his sisters to answer him as he smacked his palm against the door. The blow brought about a red glow from the wood that slipped from floor to ceiling. When he opened the door what was revealed on the other side was not any building, nor even a street, but a wide open grass plain.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Galmi let out a long sigh from his mouth, the cold air turning the vapor into a visible mist that floated away. The droplets of water that coated his hair and face dripped freely to his feet, while the glistening grass that he stood on was slick enough to prove dangerous for any quick movements.
The man stood out in the midst of a field of grass that was tinted with streaks of moonlight. The beams continually struggled to pierce the thick and dark clouds which continued to drench the ancient dragon nest. Off near the fringe of the field and under the cover of the forest canopy rested Scarlet and a regular sized blue dragon.
“How long are you going to mope?” Bharra inquired, though his head didn’t even lift from the soft pillow of leaves he had crafted.
Galmi ignored the question as he continued to stare at the waterfalls that fell from the cliff. He was not moping, or at least he didn’t think he was, and instead Galmi felt that he was merely at a loss. He had basically achieved what he considered a dead end in a story, he didn’t know where to go or what to do.
A glance to his left and he noted the empty spot of grass where a young girl had once been. Normally when someone logged out in an unsafe area their bodies remained, a lesson that many Players learned from quickly. Yet when left unmolested and logged out for a long enough time the body simply vanished, otherwise the game would run the risk of having hundreds of cadaver-like bodies everywhere.
He had already figured out that more than a week had passed by, a week in the real world. To him it had been even longer, three long and almost torturous weeks that made him wonder as to why he even waited. Yet every time he wondered Galmi was quick to remember how Lira had been the only person to not only listen but also believe.
“What now?” Galmi finally muttered, his face darkened as he stared down at the grass.
The Gods clearly had no interest in helping him, that had been proven by their extensive avoidance of him. Nobody would ever believe that Galmi was stuck in the game, much like Nika and Selene they would instead believe he was merely a hardcore roleplayer. Or perhaps they believed he was psychotic and needed assistance?
Could it be that he was truly crazy, and that his perceived inability to log out was merely some sort of delusion? If that was the case then it would mean Galmi didn’t even want to face reality, but why he would be that way was beyond his comprehension. He clearly had memories, he could remember tidbits of his life.
Galmi jaw clenched as a pain that felt like his mind splintering into multiple pieces tore through his head. “Why?” Galmi growled as he punched the ground, the moisture on the grass flung everywhere in the process.
For Galmi it was not normal for him to miss something so obvious, and yet there it was behind him. The sound that the rain made had shifted considerably, a noise that made him twist around with a look of hope on his face. “Lira?” he started to say before he realized that it was obviously not a woman before him.
Instead an ornate door with an arched top stood in the middle of the grassy field. As Galmi stared at it he realized that the door was open even though it had nothing beyond it. Where it had come from or when it had appeared was something he couldn’t figure out, and as he stared in wonder at it he felt something else.
Galmi’s Minds Eye was a skill that he had for the most part stopped turning off. There had been far too many instances when monsters had snuck up on him in the past and so he favored the skill beyond anything else. As it was the door that had appeared from nowhere had already escaped the notice of the Minds Eye in such a way that Galmi could only suspect magic of some sort.
So when he turned his head to the right and saw a woman with an umbrella two inches from his own face, peering at him with a look of utmost curiosity, Galmi couldn’t help but yell in shock. He fell to the ground away from the mystery woman, his already soaked body becoming all the worse in the process.
“Who are you?” Galmi cried out, his reaction somehow not drawing any concern from Scarlet nor Bharra who instead continued to slumber.
“Astounding, fractioning creating a sort of, oh how would you put it?” the woman put one gloved hand to her chin as she thought for a second. “Spontaneous confabulation? Is such a thing even possible?”
“Who the hell are you!” Galmi yelled at the woman, his confusion and fear having quickly soured his attitude toward the unknown person.
“Oh my, my apologies,” the woman stated while she gave a tiny nod toward Galmi. “I didn’t realize that you couldn’t recognize who I am, I’m not quite used to that. You may address me as Virginia, I suppose.”
“All...right,” Galmi slowly stood up from the ground. He half-reached for his staff on his back, yet the mere thought of attacking the woman in front of him felt wrong for some obscure reason. “I’m Galmi. Galmi Marion.”
“Oh I know that, and a hilarious name that is,” Virginia commented while she slowly twirled the umbrella that warded off the rain. “Subconscious perhaps, I truly can not believe how this has all turned out.”
Galmi was about to respond to that when he realized there was something quite amiss about this woman. He studied her features, noting how she looked to be middle-aged and perhaps once a beautiful woman. Her hair was especially intriguing as it never seemed to stick with a singular color, but instead it shifted through the whole spectrum as it wished. It was her face that most bothered Galmi, one that was familiar to him.
“You’re that woman when I made my character?” Galmi gaped for a moment, then gave a quick shake of his head. “No, you look like her but…”
“At your character creation?” Virginia tilted her head to the left, then grinned at Galmi. “Oh, are you talking about the Game Intelligence Analysis system? I suppose it would look like me, given what it was based on.”
“What are you talking about?”
“G.I.A. was modeled after my twin sister,” Virginia’s smile held a tint of sadness as her eyes turned downcast. “Can we talk about a different subject, Mister Marion?”
“Sure, what are you doing here and where did you come from?” Galmi crossed his arms in front his chest. While he asked the question his gaze wandered toward the dragon and wolf who acted oblivious of the presence of Virginia. “And what did you do to them?”
“My, quite a lot of questions,” Virginia turned her head to look at the creatures that Galmi spoke of before she flicked her hand in front of her face. A few quick movements of her fingers and both Scarlet and Bharra started to stir awake from their deep sleep. “Lets say that I’m here because I need something from you, Mister Marion.”
Galmi’s eyes narrowed at the sight of Virginia apparently opening a menu to turn off a sleep effect on the NPCs. “What would a moderator need with me?”
“First an apology, I suppose that you’re a bit confused as to what occurred to your most recent friend and I felt I could help in that regard,” Virginia stated while she once more moved her fingers rapidly in thin air.
Before Galmi could ask what she was up to a window appeared in front of him, one that opened to what looked to be an external site rather than something attached directly to the Cracked Earth. For a moment Galmi tried to ignore it and look past the window at Virginia, but the content of the window drew his attention.
Chicago Sun-Times Obituaries
Chicago: Age 20
Died peacefully on February 5th.
The loving daughter of Mary Jones and Franklin Jones.
Cecilia’s family extends their deepest gratitudes to the staff at Weiss Memorial who were there at the time of her passing.
At the request of the Jones family the funeral will be kept private and require an invitation to attend.
Galmi tried to grip the window that was open in front of him, only for his fingers to pass through the insubstantial object. His eyes glistened, though he did not begin to sob and managed to keep hold of his emotions. “So it did happen?” he struggled to ask, his voice choked.
“Yes, I’m sorry but she signed a DNR...oh I’m sorry, a do-not-resuscitate. The doctors honored her wishes, though I heard that the nurse at hand took her death the hardest.”
With a deep breath Galmi swallowed some saliva, then turned his gaze away from the window. “Thank you,” he muttered, though he did not sound pleased in the slightest. “If that’s the only reason you came you can get the hell out of here though.”
“An odd response given your predicament, though I’ll attribute it to emotional outburst,” Virginia motioned with her hand toward the door. “However that is not the only reason I came, please come with me. I’d rather leave before my children come to disrupt everything.”
Galmi wanted to refuse but her comment to him made his disrupted brain slowly start to work once more. If this woman was a moderator than the fact that she was here meant she might know how to get him out of the game, especially since she had known about Lira. “Scarlet, lets go,” Galmi called out to the wolf as he walked over to the door. “Bharra, it was fun while it lasted.”
Bharra snorted at that comment before he shrunk down to the size of a small lizard. Before Scarlet could even hope to pad away from the azure dragon the creature had already seated himself on her back once more. “Like I’d let you have all the fun.”
“Fine, but promise not to eat anyone,” Galmi opened the door wide for Scarlet and Bharra who vanished into thin air as they walked through it. Galmi turned toward Virginia and motioned toward the doorway. “Ladies first.”
“Well now, quite nice to see such manners,” Virginia laughed as she walked through the door.
Galmi paused before he walked through the doorway, his gaze turned toward the waterfall once more. “Goodbye,” the sad smile flickered onto his face for a few seconds before he stepped through the doorway.
The transfer was a jarring one that nearly caused Galmi to fall over. From the slick and cold dragon nest he had stepped onto a path crafted of smooth stones. The rain clouds were not present and the moon hung visible in the sky. The smell of salt in the air as well as the noise of waves crashing against a cliff made it easy to tell he was near the ocean.
Ahead of Galmi Virginia walked calmly, her umbrella being closed and then handed to a flock of miniature winged women who floated about her. The little creatures excitedly chattered to her, though the words were as alien to Galmi as anything else he had heard in his life.
“Yes, I know, you’ve done an excellent job dears,” Virginia told the Pixies, patting each of them gently on the head with a single finger. “Coming, Mister Marion?”
“What? Yes!” Galmi called out as he hurried after her. While he tried to catch up to the already distant woman he noted how Scarlet and Bharra had found a small spot in the bright moonlight to rest.
The pair walked along the stone pathway toward the center of the island, a place that was so littered with a variety of plants that with every step a different type became visible. Every single flower and tree had it’s own caretaker, a Pixie who hovered about it anxiously making certain everything was flawless.
From a cluster of bushes a few squirrels and chipmunks emerged as they darted across the path. A herd of deer could be seen grazing off on the northern horizon, while a flock of multi-hued birds sat in a large apple tree and sang gently to one another.
“What is this, the garden of eden?” Galmi chuckled at the mental image.
“More of a test ground actually,” Virginia responded with a small laugh, left hand lifting up to point toward the only visible structure.
The building was a crudely made stone temple that barely managed to meet the requirements to be considered more than an accident of nature. Amongst the glorious beauty of the odd garden that single place stuck out like a sore thumb and marred the horizon like a blemish. From the front of it a hallway crafted of bowed trees that formed a makeshift pergola.
“We’re going there, though please stay on the path. The Pixies would be a bit upset if you ruined their grass.”
“What exactly are we doing here?”
“I believe I already told you that, didn’t I? I have a job for you, one that you are suited to handle,” Virginia paused in her walk to stare at Galmi. “I suppose I could make this a bit easier for you, one moment.”
Virginia’s hands lifted up and she tapped away at the thin air as though a keyboard had materialized from nothingness. While Galmi patiently waited he wondered what idiotic task he would be requested to do, and also he hoped that she would be more than capable at helping him with his own problem.
The Missing God
|Locate the missing God of Spirits and deliver to him the package from Gaia.|
If the package is destroyed the quest is automatically failed.
No time limit exists for this quest.
“Will you accept this?” Virginia inquired as she offered the quest window toward Galmi.
“God? Gaia? Wait...I thought you were Virginia?” Galmi couldn’t help feel like the slim grasp of reality he had managed to gain was rapidly beginning to slip away.
“Ah, that’s my real name, Virginia Farrow. My avatar name is Gaia, I’m the owner and operator of the Cracked Earth.”
“I thought Gia Farrow...wait, didn’t you mention,” Galmi muttered to himself before a thought began to dawn in his head.
To that thought Virginia merely inclined her head with a smile on her face. “A rather good job don’t you agree? Now then, will you accept my quest, Mister Marion?”
Galmi’s left hand reached toward the offered window and hesitatingly clicked the accept button. “Can you at least explain something to me?”
“How about a deal, for agreeing to my quest I’ll let you ask me one question that I’ll answer with complete honesty. After that you need to get moving, because time is wasting.”
“Fine,” Galmi grumbled. “Why can’t I log out? Every other Player in the game can do that fine, but I’m stuck in here!”
“You just answered the question yourself you silly goose,” Virginia laughed at Galmi before she pointed at at Galmi’s chest. “At what point has the system ever once called you a Player, Adventurer Galmi?”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The stone floor was cold to the touch, hard in texture with enough roughness that meant it had been crudely carved. A dim torch on the wall flickered as it cast both minimal heat and lighting in the darkened chamber. Air filtered past and tickled at the bare skin, goosebumps and inevitable result from the cool night breeze.
A hush of air that escaped the mouth, and then with a look up and around it became obvious that the chamber was both small and barren. The creator had been simplistic in design, they had made a single room and only two sources of light existed inside the building. Outside moonlight could be seen as it layered across both grass and flowers, a stone path barely visible beyond a hallway of wood and leaves.
Every single finger moved as easily as ever, a quick testing of the hands and there were no visible problems. What made for the oddest aspect of it all was the red hair that tumbled freely from the head, a cascade of crimson that made for an impossible sight.
Almost with a cry the hands which were far too strong and healthy gripped at the hair, and then reached up to touch the face and feel the skin, the bones and the warmth. Everything felt so different and yet so perfect, it was all how it should have been and yet never was.
For the first time in fifteen years she stood up on her own two feet, not with an avatar but with her own body. There was that obvious difference, even a novice could feel the slight differences between a virtual reality and the real thing.
“Heaven?” she asked, her voice in no way familiar as the last time she had spoken without a ravaged throat had been in her youth.
With unsteady steps as she attempted to remember how to walk she swayed to the exit, one hand reaching out to grip against the cool stone pillar at the doorway. It was as she prepared to leave the building that a familiar sight flashed in front of her eyes, one that made her immediately question her sanity.
|Welcome to the Cracked Earth|
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Herein ends Volume 2 of The Cracked Earth