Chapter 26:

Golden Hope

11 Kingdoms

Report: Golden Hope

Accessing Personal Logs: Fawn Midin

I rush my flight pattern to try and cut to the group and at the same time observe the target of the cannon fire. But no luck on that front as the moment I turn I land right into the swinging ranged of a character and their heavy flail that grazes my shoulder. A snapping sound hits my ears and pain runs across my arm. I dive to near the tops of the heads of the people in the city to avoid a second blow. The strike must have hit me on the skull as well because in the motion of my dive I swear I came across a strange and impossible vision in the crowd. Looking back at the one that hit me diving a bit too far I take my chance and rush upwards to return to my course towards the town square when a new volley of cannon fire erupts. This time I hear the screams of the people.

“She’s coming up 3rd street.” One soldier shouts

"No, she is definitely on Main." Shouts another.

“There are four different sightings of her down Townsend.” Cries a third.

Who are they referring to? Then I hear the shouts from below as one points his weapon at me.

"Fools she is right here in the sky over Brooke." He shouts just before launching a crossbow bolt in my direction. I can dodge the bolt seeing it coming but my head is puzzled by the shouts of the soldiers. It's me somehow they are confused about where I am in town. I quickly make my way to the town square leaving my team still far behind fighting their way through with hopes I can clear out the cannons before they reach them. However the brief time it took to concentrate on the cries of the soldiers was more than enough time for the one that succeeded in hitting me to catch up again. Along, with him several others I had earlier been able to throw off in the chase. I twist the chaos gauntlets reloading them while looking on at the growing collection of pursuers. The one that earlier got his blow on me is the first to move in and I try my best to avoid his flail. It clangs against the metal of the gauntlet from the block. I quickly respond throwing a punch at his gut sending him flying into another two of the collection and all three bodies fade before they hit the ground. Before I can turn and look at another one flies by slicing me across the leg as a small squirt of blood drops to the ground. I respond in turn by tossing a fireball in tow and that character fades as well. A third attack sweeps in, to attack after the last but this one I see coming. Quickly I grab their pike pushing back on the strong warrior's attacks. Which soon end at the sound of a not too distant gunshot going off. A collection of rays of light weave around me and blast player after player sending them to fade away.

Turning to see the origin of the gunshot I am blinded as the only thing I see in the direction is the sun of the game world shining brightly. Without seeing her I know just who is behind the shot and smile back at the sun. “Thanks for the help there Kylie, how long have you been there.”

“Not long, figured with them all confused by your trick none of them would think that the real you is most likely flying. It is a trademark spell of yours after all." Kylie begins to leave the cover the sunlight gave her to join me at my side. "But most these fools I am sure are all new characters here mainly to carry out the UN orders."

I look puzzled at Kylie. “Um no offense but what trick did I pull that through them off?” I ask with a very humble sense of curiosity.

"You mean that's not what you're doing." She points down on the crowd fighting in a massive melee below. Deep in the heart, I see what she is referring to and once again I question my sanity. As there amid the crowd is me! But it's not me.

“A copy!” I speak halfway unable to close my mouth from the shock of the event. Then as I look on I notice another and even more along different roads. But who could release copies? Then it hits me, Gavin didn't flee the game he went to retrieve back up for us. Namely the backup character form of Fawn and released throughout the kingdom with computer NPCs. Likely he is hacking the game to do this task creating even greater confusion and chaos.

"We best keep moving to find a way out or they will wise up soon!" Kylie speaks

I start to nod but catch myself. No the team below is still in danger from the cannons. If I am to have any hope with escape I am going to need all the help I can get from my friends. “Kylie we need to clear the town square.”

“Are you insane the square is their most heavily armed area, we go there we will have to deal with the cannons and the ones directing this battle are likely there too?" She states.

“They are new characters.” Kylie stops and looks at me. “The towers are giving them powerful tools like cannons but the leaders are most likely actual military leaders without any real experience in the game.”

“They are all beginners with beginning stats making them easy to kill. Even with good tools, an inexperienced player is still weak." Kylie gives an uncharacteristic smile and reverts her movement towards the town square and I follow.

"Good chances they haven't even marked a save point so you know what that means!" I shout back at her.

“Any new characters that haven’t set a save point up will have to start from scratch. We defeat them and it will take them a long time to recover and rebuild. Any ideas on how to break down their defenses? Kylie shouts back as she shoots at an oncoming character which quickly drops.

"I will cause some chaos leaving them to expose themselves you take out any that pop their heads out!" I respond

"You're forgetting the cannons." She states back. But I just smile at her back. "Fine, I will wait till you shake things up." Kylie flies off to move to a good position to overlook the town square. While I move in along one of the sides of the town's opening, I draw enough attention and soon the cannons begin blasting at the city skyline I fly near. The attacks send rubble to the ground along one line of cannons. The shock wave knocks me a bit off but my skill in the spell allows me to keep steady in my action of flight. As I reach the corner of the square I turn and proceed to dodge blasts that now erupt constantly about me. Looking closely for the perfect target deep within the chaos of the erupting spray of the rubble of the cannon fire, I barely avoid a blast hitting the second corner before the next set of cannons erupts at me. I fly quickly up avoiding the angles the cannons are set at when I see it. The trouble with the game and providing siege weapons like cannons, is they leave an open vulnerability to their strength. In this case a neatly stacked collection of what looks like decorative gun powder. Sadly if you think it's decorative you're in for a big surprise when a magic-user tosses a fire spell at it. This is exactly what I do, tossing a fireball dead on at the barrels. My actions, however, are timed just a bit off. As a cannon shot hits near me and the rubble for the building sends me crashing to the ground. Just as the barrels exploded, and sends several of the cannons flying into pieces through the air. The cloud of dust, fire, and smoke is mostly cleared before I can raise my head from its resting point on the street. Somehow I was fortunate that the blast scattered the soldiers that likely would be nearby. As I look I see several of Kylie’s rays shoot across the sky above me and through the smoke of the flaming wreckage. I rise to my feet and reach in my cloak pulling out one of the few potions I have and take the brief moment to heal my wounds some before pursuing further into the town square. To clear the rest of the cannon, now that one side was clear. I could move into the center dealing with the military leaders within that are avoiding Kylie. Should the forces decided to turn their cannons inward, then their command will be facing an equal threat that I will. Only I am far more likely to survive it than them.

Sure enough, as I finish the potion. A swarm of soldiers comes charging at me and I meet the first one with a punch launching him crashing into the group. Causing them to trip over each other and two of them fade away as their life force is drained. Admittedly as I land another punch at a soldier who avoided falling, charge at me as I can't help but wonder how easy this battle is going for me. Perhaps it's the months of training or the previous battles with the infected creatures but doing a task that the game was designed around seems simple in comparison. As two more soldiers get up from their fallen position, I do a quick kick of flame, and they along with several on the ground fade away. Shouts go out across the square to turn the cannons and I pick up my pace jumping on the back of two soldiers still on the ground. As I move rapidly weaving back and forth to prevent the cannon marksmen from getting a good aim on me. The cannons erupt. The ground shakes all around I get thrown from my feet for a second. But land safely back on the ground and return to my pace before the cannons can be reloaded. Soon I am along the first line of cannons near the square side that the team was coming from. I turn the gauntlets to reload then follow through with a punch sending the first cannon into the second which fires wildly blasting the building foundation already damaged from my flyover, causing it to collapse onto the cannon line. The operators switch to a set of swords and charge at me but a quick cast of a ground quaker spell and the few operators still with hit points find themselves on the uneasy ground just as the last two lines of cannons open fire on my position.

I try to brace myself for the blast and feel the quake. But I find I go unharmed from the blast, as coming up the road Cassandra is leading the pack casting a defensive shield protecting me from the damage of the explosion. "Good to see you all finally caught up!" I shout at them.

“Sorry I kept them back. Kept seeing beauty erupt throughout the town and had to check each one for the real you.” Riex says with a smile but I can see his limp is worse all of a sudden. Perhaps his old wound is feeling drawbacks from some of the damage they took on the way here. "We need the remaining cannons dealt with. Malok, you take Min, and Melissa to the cannons in front you three move quicker. Cass, you deal with Fawn looks like she could use some healing. Red your with me and let's hope the angel or dwarf will lend a hand when they can."

“I can handle more damage Riex I will go with you.” But my action is halted as Cassandra pulls my arm. “Let me go, I am fine Cassandra.”

"I hardly will call that wound fine." She states pointing at the massive growing bloodstain on my chest. The wound from the dragon fight must have reopened at some point in the battle and I fail to notice. The hulking Minotaur grabs me and runs for the distant corner where I had fallen earlier. "We will have the best chance to patch you up a bit here till I can treat you in a safer location. Remove the chest piece please." I watch as she casts a spell to shield the two of us and remove my armor to reveal that much of Jilland’s earlier attempt to perform surgery in-game. Proved to only temporarily help, as my large wound was gushing blood rapidly. I watch as a few of the cannons explode and feel the chill of the night hit me. “It looks like you lost a lot of blood, how could you keep fighting like this. What would get you to be so careless in battle?”

"I saw the cannons and figured they planned to remove you all from battle and I would be left alone!" I respond

“Silly girl, we aren’t going anywhere it’s your life at play here. The rest of us can respawn and return, but if you die that's it there is no coming back. You're not alone anymore Fawn you have us. We are on your side." Cassandra says as the warm light of her spell stops the blood flow. She hands me a bottle. "Don't know if this will help but it should warm you up and calm the blood flow for now." I take a swig and instantly recall, the foul taste, of the dwarven ale from before.

"I don't think this is a healing potion," I reply

“That’s causes it’s not. It’s alcohol." She says. "Not sure it's the best thing to give you right now but kind of winging it here with you in this shape." Another blast of cannons rocks the square. Though the blasts hit away from us this time. They are followed by more of them exploding in the distance.

"Still no way out of this mess but we may have bought us more time!" I say but Cassandra seems to ignore me and focuses on her healing spell. "Why are you helping me Cassandra, you nor Malok or even Kylie have a reason to risk going up against the UN and this psycho killer hacker?”

“Sometimes you just have to fight the right fight, when it presents itself before you.” She says not turning from her steady gaze on my wound.

"But just a few of us, I mean it's heroic I see that. Heroically stupid, but heroic nonetheless! Still, I think of all the lives we have touched over this past year and for what. Where are they when a true battle is here?" I ask before taking a second swig from the bottle.

"They are terrified to stand up. Countless times in the world people have stood up only to fall time and time again. Sure a few live, and go on to change the world but more often they just become another example. With the current threat of death from the game, it's doubtful too many in the world will look to lend a hand." She lifts her head and I see a massive yet slightly creepy grin come across her bovine head. "Of course if they have a good person to lead them then just maybe they will answer the call at just the right time." I begin to wonder why she is letting out the grin when suddenly I look to the distant square where a building suddenly crashes to the ground. A massive golden boat that bears wheels bursts across the former street corner. Suddenly the sides bust open and hundreds of characters of all mixed races, origins, and classes come running out to overtake the remaining cannons as well as the now building forces returning through the streets and sky.

“The players, but who brought them here?” I ask.

"Well, they saw you were in trouble and gathered what help they could!" Cassandra replies.

“Who?” I ask again. Then I realize it from the ship's golden frame moments before I hear the cry from the ship's loudspeaker.

“Big Sister. Hurry we are here to get you to safety.” Screams the cries of Emi, melting my heart and I let the tears of joy hit me.

“Cassandra, would you mind helping me to my feet. I think the alcohol may have made me a bit unsteady.” I can’t help but break up my request as the joyous shock gets in the way of my words. She doesn’t respond she just simply helps me to my feet and keeps me steady as we walk past players that stop to look me over. “It’s great that they brought them for me.”

“The twins didn’t bring the players, Fawn. It’s the other way around. The players came because someone they admired was in trouble. They are here because you are fighting so hard for everything. Like I said you’re not alone anymore.” My infectious smile is hard to contain, partly due to the heavy blood loss and alcohol combo. Partly because after so many long months of avoiding seeing Emi and Amaya I am finally able to reunite with my first in-game friends. By the time the two of us reach the ship's platform the players used to exit from Gavin has reappeared at my side.

"Sorry tit, took longer than I wished it would, Highness!" Gavin says and I greet him with a warm hug and a very unsteady body, with even more unsteady words that I can’t even say formed a cohesive sentence outside my lips.

"We need to get her to a room where she can rest and heal!" Cassandra says as she takes on more to carrying me than actually helping me walk.

I blackout at some point of the walk and don't see the actual path we take on the massive ocean liner with wheels the size of houses. But I am not out long as the sounds of the battle can still be heard in the distance as I begin to wake. The first blur while not fully recognizable from the blobby shape, I can identify as Emi from the quick words hitting my still spinning head.

"Big Sister, you're awake." She moves in closer but is halted by a red blob which as my vision restores doesn't get much better so I know quickly it's Jilland.

“Her injuries are still an issue princess. Please restrain your sign of affection.” He turns and looks at me. “Seriously I thought Cassandra was a skilled healer. How could she be foolish enough to give someone with blood loss alcohol?”

“To be fair I think her healing skill is wholly in the game not in real life, Jill. Plus the alcohol did make things warmer for a bit.” I respond in a weakened voice

"It constricts the blood vessels and gives an effect of blood loss without your injuries. Here I want you to eat all of this and drink every drop of the juice. It will help you regain some of the lost blood." Jill presents a table full of meats, pieces of bread, and cakes.

I grab a roll and he quickly switches it with a large piece of cake giving me a stern stare. I proceed to eat the cake but try to strike up the conversation with the two of them. “So how goes the battle?” I let out in-between bites of cake.

“It’s almost over. Min, Malok, and Kylie are cleaning up the remaining tougher enemies and most of the players on our side, that still are standing are returning to the ship. Riex, and your teammates are up in the wheelhouse with The Dawn Princess and Masaru." Jill replies.

I choke on the cake and reach for the glass to quickly chug the juice and clear my throat. “Masaru is here!”

“You still doubt him, I understand Big Sister. But Master has been seriously worried about you all this time. It’s put a great strain on his health and he has been more of a recluse of late.” Emi states.

“Sounds like Masaru is a lot like the old you Fawn. Given, though the actions you did today I can't say I wouldn't like to see you with a bit more caution." Jill says as he begins to peel an orange for me and places the pieces before me to eat after I finish the cake.

I hang my head in disappointment. “He is the last of the suspects on the list for the Hacker. If he isn’t the hacker or knows who is, then I have no hope of finding the one that caused all this mess.”

I get a new shock as I get smacked across the back of my head by Emi. “I don’t like the way this new Big Sister speaks ill of master Masaru. The man has spent weeks trying to find you and not once did you come and ask for our help. You didn’t even reply to the letters I sent you. You made it seem like you didn’t want to see us. Like you blamed master for your accident. You hurt him and you hurt Amaya.”

“Do you mind not hurting our already injured princess, Young Miss?” Shouts Jilland.

“It’s okay Jill I deserve it. Because what Emi says is true. I didn’t trust Masaru I never did. Guess part of me still blames him for putting me in this whole mess. If he just treated me like any other normal person applying for the job, or later when he elected me to the post of Grand Hero, and later the game's icon. It was all too much too fast. I was taken from a calm personal solitary life to a very public one where I am caged for my safety. So yeah I did blame him for much of what went down. If just one of those decisions were different then maybe I wouldn’t be in this mess.” I respond

A knock is made on the door. "Not true, Jamie." It's been a while since I heard my real name so it takes time to acknowledge Melissa entering the room. "True if any one of those things wouldn't have happened then yes maybe you wouldn't be here in this situation. You wouldn't have saved the lives of those people earlier. You wouldn't have struck a chord with the world, which has the countries of the world in a panic over the life of one girl from Florida. And I know you wouldn't have been there to give each person you met a bit of hope to carry on." She sighs and sits down next to me. "You remember the words I told you the day of the great quake?"

"Don't waste your tears on people you can't save!" I reply.

“Yes. Those are the ones. Did you know that since your accident that each time you have cried tears, were they wasted on lives you couldn’t save? Or were they used to help push yourself forward, to fight for the one life you can and are here to save most of all?" I struggle with Melissa's words and their meaning. She takes note of the frustration in my face and answers for me. "It's your life you can save. We helped you choose the name Fawn, because you were so frightened of the world and what it might do to you. But when the world threw odds against you that any person here long ago would have given in. By either committed suicide or died at the hands of the dangers you faced. Instead, you found the strength to move on. You were here because only someone as strong of will and courage as yourself could make it this far."

Jill coughs and gets up from his seat. “I think I will sign off for some rest it’s been a long day. Make sure she eats all of that Emi. I am leaving you in charge of her care while I get some sleep.” Emi salutes Jill in the fashion a soldier would till Jill’s back is turned, and she sticks her tongue out at him which gets me to chuckle. My laugh doesn’t go unheard by Jill, who doesn’t turn around. “And Fawn, take it easy and rest, Tomorrow we will see if you can move about the ship.”

I decided to take the doctor's advice this time and both avoid further agitating my wounds and trying to avoid questions I would rather not discuss. The one thing I do learn is that the ship will take a few days to reach the location of the plague-ridden city so resting for a day will be a good option for me. However the issue of the wound, and having to head into battle with a wound that after two weeks of rest still opened up in a less hazardous environment. As the nightmarish city, we were now on course to head to, began to cause me to worry.

When I finally wake I can feel the strength in my legs returning, after my life-threatening save of the day before. And while Jill is nowhere to be seen to tell me if it’s okay for me to leave, my restless and quizzical mind is compelling me to seek out Masaru, to have my questions, I have for him to be answered. I go to place my foot on the floor and follow through with the second one only to find while I have the strength I don't have the balance and end up falling flat on my face. Making a lot of rackets. As I turn over a tray of empty dishes from an earlier meal. The noise attracts the attention from outside the door that by the time I am sitting up on my behind, the door is opening with Jilland, and Emi.

“I told you to rest.” Jilland sternly grimaces in my direction.

"Not going to be happening, Jill. I have some strength then I can at least head to the wheelhouse and speak with Masaru." I respond as I try to cover my shame, of falling and work to return to a standing position.

“You still have lost a lot of blood. The best thing for you is rest and nourishment.” Jill tries to solidify his statement but it’s clear to him I am not going to listen.

Emi runs out to the hall and brings in a chair that is floating in the air. "I will take you to master, Fawn but you need to sit." Jill looks cross at Emi. "Sorry, but master wants to talk to her. He won't say what it's about, not even to me or Ayamo.”

“Fine but I will be coming, and you Fawn will have food and drink to have while he discusses things. When it’s over you’re going to come back here and stay in the bed even if I have to get them to strap you to it.” I begin to partly imagine Jill as the masculine gelatin mold of my mother and how she worried over me so deeply. But her stern words were there for my good if I followed them or not. I don’t object to his orders as with my current movability I would have to be wheeled into the final battle with the hacker's forces and no telling how the genesis power will work in my current state.

Emi pushes the chair with Jill in tow carrying a collection of food and drink for me. As we turn the corner I find a makeshift waiting room outside where Melissa has laid down to sleep, but our movement jars her awake and she joins us. By the time we reach the wheelhouse, Riex has also joined us by signing in to the game and appearing before us literally, in the hall. Upon entering I see Min, Kylie and Cassandra have also been waiting for our arrival alongside Ayamo, who was piloting the ship. As Masaru who stood before very much as the same image, I saw him on the day of the accident. He looked at the group then long at me. "I need to speak with Ms. Eve privately." He asks in a soft raspy voice.

“No, what you have to say to me you can say to us all. The events that bring us here don’t just affect me.” I respond with a twinge of anger in my voice. I watch as Masaru nods to acknowledge that perhaps my words are true that it would be good for everyone to be involved.

He stops his movement and kneels before me to be at my eye level, and then he drops his hands to the floor. “Ms. Eve, I am by every fiber of my being sorry for what has become of you. It is my fault. I am a games designer and I should have seen all the signs and mistakes along the way. If I knew one moment that it would hurt you in such a way. That I would not even begin to be able to understand the pain my creation has brought on to you, I would have done everything in my power to prevent it from happening.”

“I don’t need apologies now. I need answers to stop this world from hurting more. Master do you know who the hacker is.” I reach out and ask him as I hold back my own emotions with great strength.

“Fawn the man can’t possibly know. He barely is involved in the game these days and never is on.” Emi responds

"No my student, it is shameful of me to have kept it from you but I know very well now who the hacker is!" Masaru states not rising from his prostrated position.

“Master?” Ayamo speaks up so rarely that the room instantly looks at her talking.

“Yesterday I asked how the investigation was going and Mr. Harper provided me with the update.” I look puzzled Harper, who is harper? I look and see Riex walk up. Harper must be Riex’s, real name.

“The combined forces of the FBI, and Interpol, with the help of the team at Onyx tower, were able to track down the source of the hacker’s attacks. They come from the San Francisco servers, the very servers that house Pangai. Upon investigating the servers they found Ms. Eve's full digital fingerprint and found the actual location of the hacker is in the ruins of the Black clover HQ somewhere deep in the rubble from the great quake. Currently, efforts have been brought in to clear a path and explore the ruins of the area to track down the hacker's lair. We are on standby for a new report of an investigation going on right now. However, the actual identity of the hacker is still a mystery. Whoever they are they had to know the company's plans well and have top access to the server system to get in so easily without anyone being able to discover them." Riex steps back after giving his report and while other stand puzzled I turn and look at Masaru.

"But you know, don't you. How long have you known." Masaru shakes his head.

"I had my suspicion since the day of the accident!" Masaru replies as he rises to a kneeling position where he can look me in the eye. "The Dark Mistress is a wireframe of the early design for the game's AI character. One that would have been used to promote the game. She was originally meant to be called Allushia, the Goddess of the world. One person was working very hard on her from before the great quake, they also were behind much of the game's internal systems. He would spend many late nights away from his family, working on projects for all the servers for the game. I was the creative mind and he was the practical one that would get the game to work. But since the quake, much of that info was lost. And that is when I along with the presidents of the company came up with the plan that is the game as it appears now. "

"So you're saying that this person who designed this is doing all this despite losing his hard work." Melissa states with quite a lot of temper. Some worry if she is about to switch to wolf form and use Masaru as a chew toy.

"Not possible. Most of the staff in the original Sapphire tower had to deal with the building of Azurphire. The HQ was working on the Central designs and some of Pangai. But no one worked on all three if they did they had to answer to Charles Thick, Black Clover Gaming’s president at the time.” Masaru just stares when the name Riex had mentioned is spoken. Riex pauses to think but returns quickly with a heated retort. “Charles Thick is dead. He was one of the few bodies they recovered at Black clover HQ and he wasn’t even connected to the computer at the time. There is no way he could be the hacker.”

"I never said Charles Thick was the hacker, or that the Hacker was the one to be involved in the game at all. Only that the hacker knew all about what Mr. Thick had done.” Masaru responds with a sense of anger rising in his growing hoarse voice. As the concept hit me all the lines that Dark Mistress stated to me. The connection to Charles Thick and one thing else that gnawed at the back of my thoughts. "Many times when I would have late-night meetings to discuss the game with Mr. Thick one person was always there with him. Someone he was mentoring to follow in his footsteps. To the point of even telling him that he was building the world of 11 Kingdoms, for this person to inherit one day. “

“He had a son that survived the quake!” Masaru nods at my answer.

“Young Martin was the shadow of this father’s legacy. He knew everything his father had planned for the game. But after the quake young Martin had no family. Worse the company while watching over the boy’s needs abandoned his father's plans for the game. Surely he felt betrayed and sought revenge on the one target that would shine brightest in the game's future launch. If he truly found some of the working equipment at the ruins then he likely could access his father's records and have access to every project involved with the game." Masaru states.

Jill speaks up interrupting Masaru. “The combination of severe trauma and feelings of abandonment could have very easily pushed the boy over the edge to become homicidal.”

“And with the defective security hardware, father’s teachings, and warped sense of mind he could alter the program to form the plague virus!" Min adds on.

“All this time we have been looking for someone with knowledge in skill in the company, and all the while it’s just some scared child.” Shouts Melissa

"Yes, just a seventeen-year-old boy the world forgot about to move on." Riex sighs out. “Damn I remember seeing the kid around before too. Who could imagine such innocence could bring forth such evil.”

“Those most in touch with their creative minds are more often children. It’s something societies infuse in their minds.” Jill adds.

“Sadly there is very little left of the young boy. I fear we won't know the full story until the lair is discovered. But no matter what we must prepare to find a way to stop him from doing more damage to others. No matter what!” Masaru states but the group looks at me and I feel a greater weight fall as now knowing the face behind the killings and attacks hurts worse. As it’s a well-known fact on who will have to deal with the boy in the end. For the first time since the dragon fight, I once again feel the uneasy feeling hit my stomach. I have to kill a child to save the world.

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