Chapter 14:

Kingdom by the Sea

11 Kingdoms

Report: Kingdom by the Sea

Accessing Personal Logs: Princess Fawn Midin

I have a nightmare of the night. I stand bound unable to help Riex as the Captain hacks away at him, the voice of Dark Mistress, cackles at me. Then as the captain finishes with Riex he moves to me, fire burning the flesh from his face as he shouts at me with the voice of his master calling me her sister. Then he pulls his ax back and brings it swinging down on me. I jar myself suddenly awake to my strange new surroundings.

It's dark just a little yet fading light on the horizon. I take a stab and guess at the time being twilight. I look about and I discover that I must have had a spell cast on me to keep me asleep. I didn't even wake as I was taken to a room in a wooden fortress overlooking the coastline from a grand window. The room is filled with not the inviting smell of the ocean I recall from my youth. Instead, the room is stuffed with the smell of countless flowers that adorn my room. Part of me questions if my hospital room in the real world even looks like the indoor floral jungle before me. I find it hard to move from my place in bed to open the window and relieve myself with a breath of fresh sea air. I pull the bedding away from my body as my arms are just about the only part of me not stiff and sore. I gasp at what I see. Despite the massive damage done from both my falls and the swing of the ax not but a small scratch marks my body. Yet still, my body aches in pain from the injuries to the point I wince as I try to drag my leg I had stabbed, cut, and blistered the day before. I nearly jump out of my skin though when a voice breaks the silence of just me and my groans.

“You should stay in bed Fawn. Your wounds may be healed physically as far as the game is concerned, but your mental strain is something else.” I look about trying to make out the person hidden within the array of flowers. Suddenly I see a dark patch of hair sliding out from behind a massive vase of carnations. The rough yet friendly face of Melissa steps into the light, for the first time I can recall in the game is out of her standard guard armor and is wearing a fairly girly looking dress. My head is still foggy on some details of the real world, but I feel confident that even there it’s a shock to see her in such an outfit.

"Melissa, when did you get here!” I ask as I wince to move my leg back. I know in normal conditions I could take Melissa if I was in perfect form. But right now I think it's more of a fair game to face off with her on a mental level than to face her in a match of physical matters.

"I got here the day after the system cleaning. I used the royal boat. When you are better, I am to return you to the castle.” I find her words being rather cold and distant to me for some reason.

“What of Riex?” Just saying his name draws up images from my nightmare. Worse, the memories of me having to leave him, bleeding out and dangling off the ship.

“He has done quite a number on his leg, but he is fine. He should be back here tomorrow. He keeps asking about you though. And the virus that you two-faced. The higher-ups are trying to keep things silent about the ship. Of course, your appearance before the public didn't help matters. I thought I told you to be cautious about what you faced when we last saw each other." I can tell now why she is distant, she is worried. I can't blame her either. The battle with the captain would frighten many without the added risk of actual injury from its computer programming. But I can't shake that she is hiding something from me as she refuses to look me in the eye when she speaks.

“So corporate is going to sweep the whole mess under the rug as just another incident with this virus! The plague was it?" I don't need the answer to this but I figure it might help loosen her up into telling me the part she is keeping hidden from me.

“Fawn, did you notice something different about that encounter from your other battles with the virus?” I feel she is loosening but at the same time trying to see if I cave in and give up first. But I won’t, I am tired of sitting in the dark on the virus.

"Well other than it was human, it was damn persistent to attack us. Not just me but Riex as well. And then there was the message from her." I explain.

“Yeah, we were tracking it through a live hack, but the damn signal was too damn scattered across the game's servers to lock it down to a single source. Tell me did it ever talk or make noises other than moaning?" Melissa questions.

I try to think back to the fight and recall my panicked wheezing, but not just my wheezing. “It was breathing heavy. Why, what does that have to do with things?”

“Are you sure?” Melissa presses the question.

"Yeah, surer than I care to be. What does that have to do with things? It’s a creepy noise for a creepy zombie pirate.” I stand a bit confused

“That’s just it Fawn, what you fought was no zombie, nor a computer AI." I don't need a mirror to see that my face suddenly faded to sheer white at Melissa's words. So that is what Mistress meant with my first real kill. She infected a player character. "A player in Silver Tower was found with his head exploded in a spot similar to where you dropped the pirate. His head burst from an electrical charge build-up in his brain that suddenly burst out." Her previous experience of having looked at photos her former husband brought home must have her well ready to deliver this kind of disdainful news. "Whoever is behind this all sought to have you to deliver the killing blow on this guy for some reason. Making your actions in-game affect his Nuro-link to malfunction and cause him to be combusted through electrical shock. They are temporarily shutting down Crystinal, to see if they can lock down on clues on how that damn hacker did it."

Melissa fails to see me as I curl up into a ball covering myself in the bedding, as I try to hide my tears from her. But surely she can hear the heavy breathing and sobbing in my voice as I cry out at the blood that now stains my hands. “I killed a man. I didn’t want to!” I find it interesting that I feel such remorse for the real human that I have killed. But nothing for the entire computer-generated ones I fought so many times in the game. A soft hand pats my shoulder and I can tell the warmer side of Melissa is showing.

"You didn't know what you were doing sweetie. The hacker controlled the player we think in some way, sort of like how you were held after facing that woman the first time. No one blames you.” I fully understand the meaning behind her words but I don’t find them in any way as comfort. “Why don’t I let you rest? I will be on guard outside, anything I can get you before I leave?”

I try but fail to hide my tears as I try to wipe my nose across my sleeve. “The windows, could you open them?" I ask with full confidence that it is something I truly do want. If I could find a way to get my body back to moving, I would be doing it on my own. But still, I can tell my request makes Melissa giggle.

“You know I can see the wind blowing and hear the waves crashing but I guess you feel it all. It makes you recall home, doesn’t it?” She asks as her footsteps take her to the first window. That somehow was hidden behind a pile of flowers near my bed. Almost instantly I hear it, the gentle roll of the waves, the gulls have gone quiet as the night sky settles in. They will find little more than food tossed out by humans at this point so they join the majority of the world and begin to rest.

“Yeah, If I had a choice to which tower I could have worked, other than Noiox, I would have chosen this one. I think based on the look of things, the few kingdoms I saw pictures of, this one looked so much like home in many ways." I turn around and look as Melissa moves to the grand window and opens it from its place and with this, a new smell of food on fire begins to blow in the room. I take a deep breath ignoring the dull pain of my ax wound and take in the smell of fried fish, bread, and roasted corn. I must have given a dazed look as the smell hit me. Because Melissa seems quickly to pick up on my distracted silence and possible light drool, at the new smell filling the room.

“Hungry, well I guess I will head down and get you some food. Might as well see about that medicine Gavin made for your wounds and see if it might help you some more." I watch as she has a slight smile and opens a final window before moving on out the door. I sit at first imagining the food's taste in my mouth, long before I even gaze upon it. I take a deep breath and try not to choke as the fading jab of pain rises and I breathe in a combo of salt air mixed with the overly fragrant smell of flowers. I try to focus on these simple tasks but my mind can't help but worry over the actions of the past days. For the first time in weeks, I have time to sit back and think about events that brought me here. Without the threat of my life being in immediate danger, or striving for a simple meal, I finally can just lay back and rest, as I begin laying the puzzle pieces of the accident run through my head.

For some reason, a homicidal hacker is using the game to disperse a virus. The virus, in turn, makes the game's monsters into a very real threat by activating and overloading the Nuro-link connection. To make matters worse the hacker is hell-bent on creating the world they see fit here. Somehow they are set on dragging me down with it until they finally feel fit to destroy me completely as well. The virus enhances the abilities and status of the ones infected and drives them in some sort of blind berserk fury. But wait that is not true, the virus can also affect players in the same way even take over the character's form, by going on playing as them.

My god is that what she means. Is it that I am not truly Jamie Eve or even Fawn Midin, am I one of the virus creations like the pirate captain? I act unlike them though, I have free will. But do I have the same power that they do? My mind races once again at the very thought that so controlled it in the last few days, who or what am I. I look at the reflection of my current form in the glimmering glass of the massive window that now lies open with a curtain flapping in the wind. I see the raven dark hair with highlights of purple strains tied off in beads lining the porcelain face, the royal crown adorning my forehead with its dark blue oval stone. The leather and steel shoulder pads, lead down to a half breastplate over a skimpy collection of pink robes and skirts. This is the form of Fawn Midin as she was created. Looking at her, the new me I can't help but be lost in the flow that is created. Am I truly Fawn or does some part of Jamie still exist, does it even matter to the world when the face of the goddess they worship dwarfs the human life at play? Am I what I make of the world or is it the world that makes me. Am I truly a creation of the game or am I a part of the virus set on destroying this world?

I start to grow disgusted at the thought that I may be part of the very virus. But I do my best to free my thoughts on the problem before me. For now, it's best to continue on the plan and act as I have. After all, the fact remains that Jamie Eve, the real one, lays in a hospital bed barely holding onto life herself. I share her memories and thoughts and until I find out more. Till I find a way for me to leave the game and return to that body it's best to just play the role of the trapped princess of the Onyx Kingdom.

Just as I finish making the decision up, Melissa returns with a tray of food, several fruits diced in a big bowl, alongside is a fish wrapped in a massive palm leaf. And a small bowl of rice. She includes a glass with a strange bottle but she halts moving forward and places the bottle in a place blocked from my view. She pours some water from a pitcher into the glass. While I hear a plopping of something into the water I take notice that no ice in the glass from the distance means she more than likely wanted to guarantee that I took something with my meal. I recall back to her saying Gavin made some kind of medicine to help me. I can't help but feel like Melissa is starting to treat me like a child after receiving my latest injuries. She walks the food and now tainted drink and places it down in my lap. "There eat every bite. It's been a while since you last could eat on your own after all." I look at her puzzled.

"I just had a meal with Riex, back on the ship last night!" I say trying to tell her that I can care for myself when needed. Even though it was Riex who was the one providing it, at that time. But I am shocked as she laughs and grabs a chair and a bottle dragging both to sit near the bedside.

“That was five days ago Fawn. You have slept all this time. We kind of were worried about feeding you and have been giving you a broth for the last few days. But given the injuries that they brought you in with I can't blame you for resting that long. Given it's a game but Riex, was passed out in the real world for two days himself." I think back to the fight, while I didn't have a good view of the battle I do recall Riex having his leg torn at by the pirate captain. The virus affects the Neuro-link, I can’t help but wonder what happened to Riex on his end. “Eat Fawn, Riex will be here tomorrow and you can ask him all about his injuries later. But for now, you need your strength back so we can get you to return to Noiox." I take the fork and cut at the fish and pull apart the fleshy outer skin. Steam comes out from the pulling, as the flakey white muscle and slender bones appear. I go about tearing off a morsel and taking a bite. Its salty smooth flavor flows through me but unlike the meal on the boat, I find it hard to devour the meal quickly. The thoughts and troubles that weigh heavy on my brain filling my stomach in its place.

I do my best to try to avoid drinking the water as I find a touch of me cautious on the medicine within. But the fish's dry salty taste causes me to choke and I begin a coughing fit and Melissa moves in with the glass filled with the poured mixture. Now that I have tasted it I am in many ways glad Melissa poured it down my throat as it gave me the least amount of time to keep the disgusting taste in my mouth. I move quickly to the fruit to release my suffering from the aftertaste. "Avoiding the medicine won't do you any good Fawn. I have ways to get you to take it in any form."

“It’s not that I don’t doubt your concern, but I don't feel a medicine from the game can help me." I look at her sternly as she places the glass down.

“Fawn, Gavin crafted a special medicine, just for you he sought to introduce a special code to help release your pain by removing it but you have to not fight it to take effect." She looks hard at me as if I should be in on some hidden joke between us but somehow I just keep missing her punch line. I try to think then something comes to me.

“Wait you mean that I just drank some kind of antivirus program?” I sit a bit shocked at the glass.

“In a matter of talking it’s more of a systems repair. Gavin used the info we gained from a copy we had on hand of your character. He plans that he could make a copy that restores your form to perfectly normal this way. But you have to be aware of it and accept its help or your body will reject it. So I will go and get you some more water and drop another dose and I want you to take it willingly okay.” I decided to not fight her, yet I raise my hand before she places a second pill in the water. Then I move my hand to hold out as asking for the pill to be placed in my hand. Taking the pill then followed up with the glass I grab a small helping of the fruit. I toss the fruit in the glass and try my best to mash it up turning the water into a mushy fruit drink. Tossing the pill in my mouth I hastily choke it down with the fruity creation. “That’s better.” She replies with a relaxed tension in her face as she reaches down for the bottle at her side and pops it open and begins to drink from it. “You know you’re creating bad habits in most of your friends making us worry about you.”

It doesn't take me long to guess what the bottle holds, but I do have to wonder if Melissa isn't sitting with a bottle similar to this one in the real world as her speech gets mixed. "You really shouldn't drink like that Melissa!" I reply with a look of disgust for my friend's new habit.

“What do you want me to do? You go and get yourself trapped here in this world. Leaving the gang to worry about you, all I ask is that if you come across these plague guys that you will flee. But do you do that? NO, you act like the big shot and even get your cover blown after three days of this mess. Now the higher-ups are all in our business and where is our fearless leader?" I get puzzled by her words as she lifts the bottle to take another large swig from it. Rick, what does she mean has Rick gone missing? "I will tell you he is off playing with his new clubhouse upstairs locked away from us. If it weren't for Riex, helping out bet you none of us would be able to wipe our butts right now. So don't you blame yourself for this, besides I didn't just start it, just fell off the wagon for a little bit." I push away the tray of food at the thought of how this is affecting the lives of my coworkers. I never even knew Melissa had an alcohol problem. But given her past with her dead husband, it doesn't take much to understand why. The two of us just sit there in quiet disgust at the whole of our existence. Eventually, Melissa takes the tray and I roll over and go to sleep, waiting to hear the news from Riex, in the light of the next day.

It wouldn't be until lunchtime when I would learn more about the words Melissa spoke to me. For that would be the time that Riex, finally returned to the game. I spent the morning placing great strides towards making the way to the restroom on my own. I celebrated with great pride of only needing the assistance of a servant for a brief moment. I had taken to the floor when I tried to push my legs which have gone unused for the better part of a week now. Despite my great strides, Melissa made sure I would return to the confines of comfort that is the bed, from where she could keep a solid eye on my actions, my results, and needs. She had just grabbed me a simple lunch of some rolls, goat's cheese, and fruit when Riex knocked on the door. Arguing with Melissa as much as I could in the morning, I couldn’t lessen the clutter of flowers so I was stuck looking merely at Riex blond locks of hair to identify his arrival at the door as Melissa opened it.

"How is she doing?" Riex asks with a calm hesitation I haven't heard from the normally brash ego-driven man.

“She is returning to normal. Are you sure you're okay with her learning about this?" Melissa has some concern in her voice I am missing something that the two of them have shared out of my earshot either in the game or out in the real world. I am stuck trying to figure the puzzle out from across the room.

"She needs to know things. We can't let her stay in the dark. Besides Rick is too busy to look in on her and he asked me to act as a middle man for him on some issues the task force has with the virus." I watch as Riex moves past Melissa who doesn't put up a struggle to keep him back. I watch as he seems to be moving funny. Then I see it, Riex's left leg, it has been replaced with a peg leg. My eyes widen and my mouth quickly follows their action. "I know but don't worry it's not like this in real life Fawn, it's just I didn't have enough time for rehab, so I made a slight character edit.” I think about what he means about the real world what his leg must be like. “The virus proved its power in that battle. I am really surprised you are still with us. They told me when the medics got to me, my leg was bleeding from a massive burn that had burst open and I had another in my chest. Both mimicked the wounds that I received in battle from that monster.”

I cringe at his words of calling the captain a monster. A day ago I would have agreed with him but now I know the truth. I only feel pain and sorrow for what we faced, did the player know what they were doing, or did the virus imprison them? I try to ask what Riex feels about my killing another person. But the pain of regret keeps my voice mute on the subject. All I manage to speak up about is his leg in real life. “What about your injuries in the real world?”

"Well given I was being monitored, well both of us were but that is something else. But with the others in the room, I was able to have medical professionals in treating me the moment that the virus let the system release." This fits the report the girl who treated me early on told me about how he had vanished upon pulling him up. Likely once the captain was dead the virus dispersed elsewhere letting whatever locked him from leaving beforehand to be released. It was strangely similar to the moments I had when I was attacked unable to release the system or even pull the restraints off my body. "My chest injury was minor but caused a good amount of blood loss, but the leg was another story. It was replaced with a top-quality model from the medical labs. Needless to say, the higher-ups are going crazy about the whole issue. We had to make a cover story saying we had hired a temp to work your character to try it out for future storylines in the game. Rick is worried Gail may change her mind about deciding to let him handle the situation.”

“So you have seen Rick! Melissa has been saying they hardly see him at all.” I ask with eager excitement hoping the news can clear some of the puzzle pieces for me.

"Well, Rick and I are on an investigation team looking into the accident, the virus, and who is behind it all. Like I said you were being monitored, in many ways we currently still are. A hacker of our own is watching the code for abnormalities in the system while a team of legal investigators combs through the files and info of suspects. Not to mention it seems your feed is still actively tracking and watching you. We prevent its release to public view but the staff and anyone with Black Clover clearance can still watch you." I never really found the code as something interesting, yet to hear Riex describe it made it seem like the team was one of those that Hollywood always portrayed being put together to hunt down a loose killer. And in many ways, they were doing just that.

“What about Rick. What does he do?” I ask but imagine him as the gallant unshakable leader of the team hunting down the virus, off to rescue the helpless victim.

"He is monitoring the system for virus reports and spikes. He barely sleeps more so since the recent battle we had. For now, the company is setting a quarantine area upon the appearance of the virus. They auto-release any player in the area and try to watch it without Neuro-links activated. But with the game slated for release in four months, it's only going to become a harder thing to watch over when billions of players join the game. He also is working on anti-virus from what we know." The game is still moving forward, it looks like. Despite the bad publicity of my accident and the recent one they plan to move forward. Can the company truly expect that the virus won't be an issue or do they have a scapegoat in place already? The whole situation makes me feel greater uneasy pain and I have to question now if the hacker isn't one of the companies own. Out seeking to destroy the world, by taking a hostage of the many players in the game world. No that would be too easy to predict if that was the case.

While the idea of evil corporations is pretty much a common discussion in the news and plot of many Hollywood films. More often it’s the actions of one person or a group outside the company trying to make things seem that way. It’s easy to place blame on someone who looks guilty with deep pockets then blame the people who were the ones to overlook matters. Such was the case when Black Clover came to rise in the war-torn nation during the end of, the War of Ideals. Black Clover, started medical supplies and robotics company, that supplied the militaries of not just the US and Israel but took advantage in the rebuilding of the Arab states and Central America. Their pockets were big enough at the time that they could buy off the politicians at the newly reformed United Nations to have the political pull needed to increase their product's use and need by the world. They were able to buy the same people who held back on the United States in rebuilding its political power in the world to look the other way as Black Clover went into a frenzy of buying up failing industries. But for what evil the money was tossing around behind the closed doors, Black Clover used the new power to restore some lost power of the US from the damage it took in the war. It was amazing how the size of the company as it expanded blinded people to the charity and goodwill efforts Black Clover was doing. They set up the food production centers in the Midwest to aid many countries suffering from the new ice age, as the media called it enveloping Europe and parts of Asia. At the same time, their medical technology helped alter the way many lived their lives giving many a chance at a normal life after the tragedy of war. Even now with the actual major prize of the game as a charitable gift or contracts for countries of the world based on player rankings in the game are slated as a positive good. The public believed what it wanted to see and what they saw was Black Clover was a plight on the world environment and politics, enslaving people with the promises of a job, medicine, or food. I sometimes hated those people who were so blind to the world that they claimed they were trying to protect it from an evil corporation that they failed to see the good that they were trying to stomp out that was helping many people in need. Still having watched the first-hand twisting of words and perception that Gail performed with me, I couldn’t help but feel if anyone in the company was evil, it was her. Yet I seriously doubted she was behind placing me here. What would she gain by losing the public relations darling she worked so hard on for the last few months? No Gail was not one of the people behind this I could feel it. But Riex was about to give me a shortlist of people who were.

“We are doing all we can, and have narrowed things down a bit. First, we know whoever the hacker is they know the companies set up for the game very well. So while the idea of the hacker being an outsider is not completely off the table. However, it is a stronger opinion that the hacker works within." My already sour stomach causes me to push aside the food from the bed as I feel the names I am about to hear may include ones I counted as close comrades. "First, is the biggest target we are looking at is Li Tso.” I looked puzzled as the name isn’t familiar to me at first, then I try to think who they may also be as we all live double lives here in the game. "You may remember him as General Min Gang." The shock on my face disappears as it is well-known the discord between Min and me in both worlds. In many ways, he is considered my rival, but I find it hard that he is behind it as I faced Dark Mistress alongside him and even he looked rather puzzled at her actions. But that changes when Riex continues about why Min was selected for the top position. "It has become knowledge that one of Min's people was caught trying to sell insider info on the game's code, and he has a history of being a hacker for the Chinese Government. However, his appearance at the time of the attack makes it hard to place him as our hacker. But the next few had plenty of chance to pull it off.” I watch as Riex finds it hard to even come to words and his face seems to drop in disappointment.

“The one that we see as fitting the puzzle more is Masaru himself. While he was projected into the game it would be easy for him to set up a dual computer program to display one version of him while he acted as the hacker attacking the game.” I find that my face isn’t alone in the shock as Melissa jumps up from her seat and is ready to punch Riex, who takes no action to avoid her threat. “The game isn’t fully the world he wanted, and some believe he took action by destroying the icon of the game.”

“But he loved Jamie and was a key figure to call for Fawn to become an icon.” Melissa lowers her fist and instead kicks her chair to calm down.

“That is true, but a secret that was kept from many, outside of his assistants was that he is growing senile in his old age and Emi confirms that often he has even destroyed his office in frustration of how the game has become unlike his vision for it." I shake my head in doubt that the game's creator could be the one behind it all. Riex takes notice and tries to comfort us in his last words on Masaru being placed on the list. "I have my doubts as does Rick, both of us have worked with him in the past and while he has been known to get upset over the results of some of his games, he never once asked to remove himself from the game. Even his biggest mistakes carry his name still. He wears his failures with pride along with his successes.”

I slump in my bed tired already but knowing that the next few names will only cause equal frustration on my part. “Given because of our dismissal, as well as our skill I have to say both Rick and my name are also on the list of suspects. While I can try to account for my whereabouts, and not being part of it. As I was alone in my chair and my slow actions during the attack created alarms." I recall Riex in the meeting of the Kingdoms, and how he spent most of his time to just study the situation over jumping in the fight with the half of us that preferred to sort things out after the pixels were blasted away. “As for Rick since he was logged off the game at the time and it’s well known his anger about how the game was imprisoning you. It’s decided maybe he acted in a way to show up corporate for their choice of actions.” This time both Melissa and I stand silent as we know all too well Rick’s anger, having witnessed it the day we tried to escape. I am sure she, like me, is in doubt of Rick even being considered as a candidate.

"The last two are also people you know, first is the least likely candidate as he has no real code knowledge, but due to some emails, he sent to HR about Fawn he made the list. Gabe Jones." I stand puzzled at first but then recall the name is Gavin's. Only he lived in his fantasy world beforehand and asked us to only call him Gavin so it’s been so long it was hard to recall his real name. But now I stand puzzled at what he wrote to HR about me. Perhaps when we get out I can have a long one on one chat with him to see what his problem was. But the final name is the one I find a bit of a shocker. "The final name on the list is Bart Howser, your tower's overseer. While a graphic artist himself Bart has some knowledge of the game's inner coding, he also is the only member of Onyx tower to not have a character in the game. Worse yet it is figured he may have attacked you in an act of revenge against Rick for the day before." Rick and Bart never did see eye to eye. Much in the same way I am with Min, Rick treated Bart as a person that cheated his way to the top. Melissa had told me of the incident when he ended up clobbering him in the eye after my accident. It only seemed fitting that he would seek revenge on our team in some way, only the timing seemed off for his reason to be on the list in the first place.

There it was, the list of likely candidates behind the attack on me. Min, Bart, Gavin, Masaru, Riex, and Rick, in many ways I should be relieved that mine and Melissa's names didn't make the list, nor did Moses or the twins. But I could fully understand, I know the twins look at me truly as a member of their own family, Melissa is showing she is more distraught about my death than the victims of the earthquake, and of course, I lack the computer knowledge to do it to myself. Then there is Moses, I haven’t spent as much time as I cared with Moses. The two of us were near in our age group along with Gavin. But Moses was in all sense of the word a code junkie. I do remember once on a dinner trip we talked about our pasts, both of us seemed uncomfortable on the subject but my therapist suggested I try opening up more with uncomfortable situations and I felt it was better to embarrass myself with one co-worker that was relatively quiet for the most part. Then to give the info to someone like Gavin, who despite his speaking problem still found ways to blab behind my back and even sometimes in front of it.

I told him the story of how I got my signature black splotch of hair in an attempt to not tell anything I found too embarrassing. In a way, he responded by telling me a story of his time growing up in Brooklyn. How he watched his friends he grew up since his days in diapers, join a gang running about the neighborhood working for a drug dealer he called Tootle. He said one day his best friend had to do a job for Tootle and get a hold of some merchandise fresh off the heater and dispose of it. I stood confused by what he meant being a girl who barely spent a day of childhood outside a place where the coldest temps you got wherein the lower sixties. He laughed and explained that the items they had to get were recently stolen and the police were hot on the trail of it and the ones responsible. He figured that this was an initiation mission for him to get into the gang. But Moses didn't like the idea of helping his friend and refused to help. He would later regret not helping as the friend decided to take the merchandise and hide it right at Moses's house anyway, with the cops right on his heels. Moses didn't know the item they were talking about was a gun used in a recent gang shooting till the moment the cops tracked his friend to his door.

When both he and his friend were taken into custody, the friend tried to play innocent and place the blame on Moses. In a bit of good fortune, however, the evidence proved Moses was just caught up in it all by accident and was set free. His friend, however, seeing no aid from Moses decided to revenge on his unwilling friend was needed. So he dubbed Moses a snitch to his gang friends and in the world of his urban home. Being a snitch is the worst thing one could be and still be walking around free. Moses closed himself in from the world. Only going out in the daylight with the company of his family, and would run home each day from school all to stay safe from the torments of attacks that he would get from the gangs of the street. In his quiet days at home, he found his love of writing computer code and is in many ways thankful for the street gang pointing him to a true high. The thrill of creating something, from a small collection of numbers, and variables. When I asked him if he ever thought about fighting back at the gang, he told me that the very friend who almost got him arrested learned the hard way of his choice and died in a drive-by shooting at the age of 14.

The room remains quiet after Riex named the list. I am the first to break the silence. “I need to do some investigation of my own of these people. Given Bart is not playing the game I have to rely on what the team finds. But I can’t sit by and let my hunter keep hunting me.”

“You sure as hell can, missy. I promised your mother I would keep you safe and alive in the game. I can see why you didn’t like to fight with her now but a promise is a promise. So from now on, you're under my watch and once you're good enough to be on your feet we are headed back to Noiox." Melissa must have gained more than a promise from mom because while my memory of my real world is hazy one thing that I never forget is her way of staring me down when I did something disapproving of her. It's a look I have come to learn how to avoid by agreeing only to find my first way to rebel when the moment next presented itself. I don't know how Melissa will react but this will be my way of handling the situation anyway. But I need to fall back and make a planned action, two of the five on the list are back home in Noiox anyway, and another is before me right now. So I respond to her demands with a quiet nod of agreement.

“I will be sure to drop in and check on you as much as you want.” Riex wobbles to a standing position and leans over at me. Then in a sudden unexpected action drops down and kisses me on the lips. Adding to the many times he has shocked me to the point of making my heart nearly stop. “Consider that my payment for saving you the other day.” My face lights a pale shade of red and begins to build heat both in anger but also in something more. It takes so much time even after he leaves the room until my heart returns to what one could call a normal rate. I stand puzzled at him. This wasn’t the white knight of the day before. This was the arrogant jerk that forced me into a relationship all over again. Yet my heart while upset at his thief-like action on my lips, my heart still said it wanted more. Just before he left the room he turned to where he knew I could see him and flashed a grin. "Too bad it ended up this way, I figure if you were still on the outside, the central may have us prepping our wedding for the release day. Until we meet again my fair princess, I will only be a pleasant dream away." Despite his newly crafted peg leg, he moves with a good speed out the door almost dancing away in an act of glee.

“Well, he is something, now isn't he?" Melissa tries in an attempt to bring me back to our current plans before us. "Okay, I figure a good test of skill for the afternoon is to get you to go downstairs and out to the garden for your supper tonight. Meaning our first task is to get you to the bathroom for a bath, and this time fully under your own power.” A simple task I tell myself but given my failure in doing it this morning and now with the added effect that my legs feel even weaker after Riex’s kiss. I might as well be marching miles through the desert with no water and try not to fall once as I make my way over the loose sandy dunes. I sigh and turn my body and drop my feet on the floor. I push myself up with the aid of the headboard on the bed and soon am standing under my own power. Then I take my first step.

File Source End

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Security Camera’s Onyx Tower Floor 49

Accident Investigation Team

Rick Mathers sits at a computer station half dozing off half eyes locked as a monitor flashes about images of areas throughout the 11 kingdoms. An orange powder has collected in his newly grown beard and a bag crinkles as he shoots to attention with a fresh cup of coffee placed in front of him by an equally sleep-deprived yet much cleaner looking Agent Estaban.

“If you were under my command I would tell you to leave that cup be, and get some sleep." The agent says as he stirs his cup.

"But I don't work for you, worse I am a suspect on your damn shortlist. I am trying to keep an eye out for any other issues with the Plague.” Rick snaps back.

"You ever hear the saying all work and no play?" asks the agent trying to either quell Rick's fury or enrage it.

“Yeah who hadn’t even read the book of the guy that goes nuts, and writes it all over the walls? What of it?” Rick calms down focusing more on the screen but dumps several packs of sugar in his cup.

“I never liked that saying myself. I kind of always found it dumb because I love what I do. But you’re not doing this because you love to do it. You’re doing it because what you love is at risk. You're becoming an Ahab, looking for your white whale.” The agent states with regret.

"Is this your way of telling me that I am obsessed with bringing Jamie back home?" Rick finally takes his eyes off the monitor, mainly this time so he can lock full-on eye contact with agent Estaban.

“No, you’re not obsessed over bringing Jamie back. If that were the case, you would be working with Alex and your team downstairs. Instead, you’re up here hunting for a hacker that even the best-skilled hunters the world government can provide have taken breaks from, to find some rest for themselves. Remember when we met a few days ago, I told you we had to do some fishing." Agent Estaban tries to calm Rick who is not resting easily on his words as he begins to ball up his fist.

"Yeah, then you said you hated fishing. What of it?" Rick snaps out.

“Well, when you fish sometimes you need to just leave the line and hook in the water then go on to do other things. Or else you will jump at every small ripple in the water that doesn't take your bait." Estaban starts to back up from Rick's reach.

Rick in fury calms his fist but not before tossing his full steaming cup of coffee across the room to where it smashes against the marble floor. "Fine I get it I haven't slept in a few hours. What is it to you? Jamie to you is another victim, but to me, she is more. She is a friend, a coworker, a.” Rick struggles his mind over the words. Yet Agent Estaban works to finish them for him.

“What! A daughter, a lover, what is this girl to you? For god's sake man you have a family that hasn't even heard you speak to them for the better part of a week. Let alone see them. You haven't slept in four days and even then it was only a few hours. And that only occurred because you had all the stress of the last few days also that has run so hard on you and you passed out. I am not your superior, no. but I am a few hours from calling her and security to forcefully lock you away till you get some rest and calm down." Estaban gives Rick a stare that says just test me.

"How can I, you saw the accident reports from Sydney, and you witnessed the damage hit Alex when they faced the virus." Rick slams his hand down on the desk.

"Yes and if there is one person I now know that can truly deal with the virus it is Ms. Eve." This sentence marks the last straw for Rick as he quickly turns and starts to make his way to the agent and goes to swing. However, Agent Estaban acts fast dropping his coffee and wrapping his arms around Rick’s. Throwing him to the side where Estaban continues to wrap his arms in a lock holding Rick from taking any further motion of threats towards him. “Calm down Mathers, I am not your enemy. But I am not afraid to break your neck if you try to threaten my safety again. Now tell me what were you about to say to me about Jamie, what she means to you that you would give so much up for finding the hacker that brought her harm.”

“She is vulnerable, so weak. I should know as Fawn she is at her strongest. But it’s a facade a way to make the great idol shine greater. When we first met the girl panicked at the simple task of meeting us all as a team. Yet I pushed her. Then when Masaru and Gail choose her as the game idol the panic returned and she nearly broke down and again we pushed her to her breaking limit. Now she is forced to fight for her life after all the pushing we have done to her. She is in pain in a way that only those that have been by her side all this time can understand. Only now, she has to go about it all on her own." Ricks' eyes grow glossy as he begins to relax his muscles.

The agent lets go of Rick. Then he walks over to the coffee pot and picks up a new cup and begins to pour. “So you see her as a child, much like your own daughter, the one you ignore to do this hunt.” Rick rubs his arms and hangs his head in a combination of defeat and disgust.

“No, she isn’t a daughter to me. She is more like a being, among which I am one of the first witnesses of a moment of great history or the rise of a god. She doesn't know it but when we met this was to be my last effort at working on any game for Black Clover. The whole corporate attitude here has grown cold. And I am not alone in that Masaru is the same way. But Jamie helped change that. Watching a girl overcome her fear of leaving her comfort zone and rising to become an idol gave us something we never thought that either of us could see. Hope and purpose. Hope that we can keep making a difference in the world through creativity, and a purpose to move on in the world. Gail is wrong, hope isn't poison. It's a warning sign to not give up, to roll up your sleeves, and push on for a new and brighter future, for yourself, or your friends and family, for the world. That is what Jamie.” Rick pauses. "No Fawn Midin means to me and many others that are out there signing up for the release of the game. But that hacker tried to destroy the light that she represents. So call me obsessed Agent Estaban, because yeah, I am obsessed to return our light of promise to this world. The pure light, which this hacker has stolen from us!”

Agent Estaban sits quietly stirring his cup of coffee and takes a sip before replying to Rick's words. "Yeah okay, I guess that I can understand. But why don’t you take a break after all your light will be safe till you wake, I promise it? Even if I have to go in the game myself to save her, No further harm will come to her while you rest.” Rick shuffles his way to the elevator and presses the button, moments later the door opens and he walks into the glass box just as Agent Estaban, gives him some parting words. “Rick, take the break to see your family, trust me I have had too many long stakeouts in my past. I wish I had a family to go home to, and you have one." Rick nods as the doors close and Estaban takes another swig of his coffee.

Report end

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