Chapter 8:

LEVEL 8: Losing Bet

CREO: Game of Creation

The numbers ticked down on the timer at the top of my field of vision. The walls around me creaked and closed in around me. I yawned—this was more suited to my teammates. For me, it was just a nuisance. The obstacle was so common it was cliche, while the timer was just a joke—as if it’d take me more than 30 seconds to end this. I glanced up—oh, what an inconspicuous and totally not obvious crack in the ceiling, I wonder how I’ll get up there? In case you couldn’t tell, sarcasm was of the highest degree.

Jump, jump, jump—I bounced off the walls and burst out onto the second level, where a boulder rolled toward me.

This guy watches too many movies.

Needless to say, I won my match. It wasn’t much of an achievement, considering that was our opponents’ weakest team member, and this was nothing more than a qualifier. In team play, three rounds are played, each with a different pair of team members, with match-ups chosen randomly. In similar fashion to the world cup, teams were put into brackets for the qualifying round, with the top team in each of the 10 brackets moving on, with the remaining 6 spots awarded based on points.

I appeared in our team’s private viewing room—a big screen showed the action before us as we sat in theatre seats. I sat beside Adam and our new team mate, WhiteWitch.

“LOL, you destroyed him! Right, Adam?” I disliked anyone who said ‘lol’ out loud, but poor Adam had to sit next to her, facing her constant cuddling and selfies.

“Kai, help.” Adam wheezed out as WhiteWitch embraced him.

“You’re just too cute! Ooh, let’s try this filter next!”

“Not another, please.” When in the virtual world, those picture filters affected Adam himself, not just the photo, leaving him with dog ears and a big red nose. The next match was announced, giving Adam a reprieve from her adoration.

Teo won the first half of the match, in his world, but it took longer than I would’ve liked. There were two settings for CREO worlds—challenge and survival—the only difference between them was whether the player earned points for more or less time. Challenges usually had time limits and involved obstacles, puzzles, or tough fights, so the quicker you finish, the better your score—like in the world I had just finished. Survival was the sort where the longer you survive the dangers of the CREO world, the better you score. Killing the architect, no matter the time or setting of the world, is always a win.

Teo was put into a challenge CREO—a tower that could only be climbed by ascending up a series of moving platforms in a certain order. The time limit was set at 3 minutes—no enemies, no traps, just a pure puzzle.

“He’s screwed.” WhiteWitch said, shaking her head. Teo had been trying to ascend, through painful trial and error, his health dropping lower and lower with every fall from every false platform. Just before the time limit, near the top, he fell once again, and the damage he took killed him, resulting in an instant loss.

When he appeared in the viewing room, I opted not to look at him. That was a disgrace. Teo’s scowl showed he understood that. WhiteWitch stood and dusted off her avatar’s cloak.

“Watch how it’s done, boys.”

First up was her opponents world—a survival. She was against the team leader, Holang1—the Korean national champ. He was famous for using hoards of enemies to take out his challengers… and WhiteWitch was no exception. While a decent architect, she lacked any battle skill, meaning she was mauled by tigers almost immediately. She’d need an incredible score in her world to win the match.

Holang1 began in front of a lamppost in a forest, snow falling around him. A flute played a melody, the notes appearing in the air above a prompt asking for a password. I realized it was a cypher—letters were assigned to the notes to form a code. It was evidently clear to Holang1 too. He passed that puzzle quickly—deciphering the password ‘wardrobe’. WhiteWitch wasn’t shy about her references.

Puzzle after puzzle, they just weren’t hard enough, or time-consuming enough.

Holang1 reached the castle and completed the CREO world in a respectable time, thus we lost the match. This team was a mistake after all.

“That was showing us how it’s done? You’re both pathetic!” I paced back and forth—if my avatar’s face could turn red, it would’ve. We were in my personal space in the Virtual Hub, my online home. It looked like a loft apartment filled with CREO plans and test objects from projects long past. WhiteWitch interrupted my pace and glared at me.

“There’s no need for that, we did our best! Anyway, I got some great traction on my last post—”

“Oh, shut up. Your dumb social media doesn’t matter.”

“It SO does matter!”

“Lay off her.” Teo said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“It might be, we might miss out on advancement because of this!”

“Why is it so important to you, anyway?” Now Teo’s voice shook with anger. “Just to get back at Pluton? Prove to yourself you’re not a loser too?”

“Well, what about you?” I asked, crossing my arms. “Why do you care if CREO gets popular in Brazil? You’re already number one, why introduce more competition?”

“How can you think like that?” Teo sat on my couch, next to Adam. “CREO gave me an outlet, somewhere I could escape and create something, something I could be good at. My family doesn’t have a lot of money, and our community isn’t in the best place. If I can help others make something, despite their circumstances, maybe things will turn around in my community, and countless others across my country.” We all went silent for a while.

“Take a look at this, KAI.” Whitewitch sent me her latest post, showing us looking like buddies, along with several pictures of Adam.

“300 thousand views?!”

“I prioritize social media because it’s crucial for our visibility. I got a sponsor before I even cracked the global top 100 because of my social media strategy. If we’re going to be serious about this tournament, we need someone to cover our travel costs once we move on.”

“IF we move on.”

“WHEN we move on. I estimate my following could more than double if we win the tournament. With that kind of sponsorship money.” WhiteWitch smirked. “We’d be set for life.”

“Well, that’s all well and good, but if you don’t have the skills…”

“Oh, cut it out!” Adam stood, having quietly watched us until then. “You’re not the only one on this team!” He said to me. “I bet I could beat you.”

“Oh?” It was about time I taught him manners. “Fine, you’re on. One match in my world—in fact, you can take them in with you.” I gestured to our teammates. Adam jumped on a table and looked me in the eye.

“And if I win, I’m team leader, not you.” I burst into laughter.


My newest CREO world was a maze. Mazes were cliche, of course—but mine was special. The paths of the maze were continuously changing in random way, not to mention it was rife with traps that sent the player back to the beginning. Even I’d have no idea what path to take. The maze was circular, with a platform in the center where I sat in waiting. I couldn’t put a time limit on because the rules state that I need to prove victory is achievable within the limit, and I only beat the maze once, after about an hour, well above the 10 minute maximum.

Well, better settle down for the long haul here. I thought. Maybe I’ll read some manga while I wait…

Then I heard something… what was it? Footsteps? Voices? It couldn’t be. I stood up, ready to fire a beam of energy. Silence… after a while, I started to think I was mistaken, or I left some sound file in the code. Then they attacked, all three of them at once, from different directions.

Teo was the first to reach me, wielding a massive spear at my head. I dodged out of its way, only to narrowly miss being fired on by WhiteWitch’s attack. But it was Adam that went in for the kill. I almost didn’t recognize him. His eyes glowed as energy that looked like vibrant, multicolored fired emanated from him like phoenix wings. He gathered that energy together, and like the torrent of a flood, hurled it at me, scorching my avatar, and resulting in game over.

Impossible. That was hardly 5 minutes, how…?

We were back in my space. Adam laughed and high-fived the others.

“Figure it out yet, Kai?”


“We worked together! I navigated through the maze, because I could tell where we were—”

“And how did you do that?”

“It’s a grid, right? All CREO worlds use grids. Since it looked like it was circular, I just calculated the approximate size of the maze and mapped it out in my head. From there, I just had to lead us in the right direction.”

“But it was constantly changing, and the traps.”

“I have access to all your mod skills.”

“You little!” I had a skill that made me impervious to traps, not to mention the one that let me see the entire field at once. Adam shrugged.

“I barely needed them, though. I had the others to look out for traps for me. Spaces they’re on are slightly discolored. Anyway, then all we needed to do was coordinate our attack.” He wasn’t human, I had to remember that, but it still stung, seeing that smug face of his. Then Teo patted my back.


“We can move on now, right? We’re teammates, after all. I’m sorry I lost. Maybe you could help me improve?” WhiteWitch shook my hand and smiled.

“Me too. I’ll take the next match more seriously.” I glanced at Adam, who nodded.

“Alright. But I won’t go easy on either of you.” They nodded. WhiteWitch took out her virtual camera.

“Let’s start over with a new pic!”

“WhiteWitch…” I sighed.

“You can call me Lucy, it’s easier. Now come here.” She gathered us together, and we took a selfie together, a team reforged.

“Admit it.” I said to Adam once we were back in the physical world.

“Admit what?” He said, innocent as could be.

“‘Calculated the map’ my butt, you cheated and messed with my code, didn’t you?” Adam looked away and swayed back and forth on his heels.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about… but for the record, you never said cheating was against the rules.”

“Cheating is against the rules by definition.”

“Maybe we have different definitions?” I glared at him, ready to pounce. Sensing the predator, Adam bolted from the room, leading to a chase through the hallway.

“You brat, get over here!” Adam laughed and stuck his tongue out at me.

“Sore loser!” He jeered.

“Dirty cheater!” He may have cheated, but maybe, just maybe, there was a chance we could get this team on track.