Chapter 21:

LEVEL 21: Battle for KAI

CREO: Game of Creation

Adam, Teo, and Lucy floated in an empty space, like astronauts on a space walk. The only visible object was an infinitely expansive wall, with a small door in its center just big enough for someone to fit through one at a time. They floated over to it, but found it locked, a big, conspicuous keyhole in the door’s center.

Lucy opened her mouth to speak, but no sounds came out. She covered her mouth with her hand, while Adam and Teo attempted to shout, to no avail. It was a true vacuum—no sound, no gravity, no color. Adam attempted to blast the door, but it had no effect. Lucy waved her wand in the air, leaving a streak of magic spelling out ‘KEY?’. The others nodded.

They spread out into the void, scanning their empty surroundings—then Teo got hit with something, flying down into the dark abyss until he stopped himself in midair. Then Lucy took a hit, then Adam sprang up in a rapid movement. He shot a bolt of fire into the nothingness, hitting… something. He punched the air with magic, branding the word ‘INVISIBLE’ above him. What followed was a flurry of magic attacks at the invisible obstacles hurtling through space. Teo had the idea of infusing paint in his attacks, which the others soon copied. They were soon surrounded by scraps of asteroid floating around dyed with splatters of color. Adam snapped his fingers and grabbed one of the asteroid pieces. Next he blasted it—lightly, carefully, until it resembled a key. He mouthed what I guessed was ‘Worth a try.’

Having sprung back to the wall, Adam jammed the asteroid key into the keyhole. A ripple of light followed, and the door sparkled away—revealing a path past the wall. The team played rock-paper-scissors to determine who went first—Teo’s scissors lost out. It was a clever tactic by Other Me—last time I faced my team they ganged up on me with an ambush. By forcing them to face me one at a time, that risk was eliminated. Teo floated through the opening with caution (giving Other Me plenty of preparation time). He emerged on the other side—a sea of overflowing vibrant color. Teo knew me well enough to know I love my sneak attacks—he prepared by erecting a shield all around him like a bubble—which was quickly broken, not by Other Me’s attack, but by another onslaught of invisible asteroids. In the split-second of disorientation when Teo’s shield was down—Other Me made his move, slashing my friend with his sword. A tough, but not fatal wound, Teo darted away into the color sea. Meanwhile, Adam and Lucy emerged from the door, only to be greeted with immediate attacks—Other Me zipped between invisible boulders, launching attacks from unpredictable angles. Whereas the first side of the wall was soundless, this side echoed every little sound tenfold—leading to thundering, deafening reverberations with each attack. Other Me had skill, I’d give him that.

Adam and Lucy took on the barrage of attacks, parrying back to back, their health falling further and further.

“NOW!” Adam said, his voice sounding as if a million Adams had spoken in unison. He unleashed a crackling bolt of light, which burst into a blinding ball of fire—effectively a flash bang. Other Me landed on one of his invisible perches, readying an attack, when a chain was strung across his body during the moment of confusion from Adam’s show of force. Teo had restricted Other Me, having hid behind the boulder (Other Me could probably see the boulders, explaining how he could reach them with such precision). Teo flung Other Kai toward Adam and Lucy, who knocked him into another boulder, then another, stringing him along with the chain like a Yo-Yo. Finally, they cast him through the door, back onto the black-and-while side of the wall. Other Me broke free from the chains, only to go on defense as Adam attacked—unleashing a torrent of magical fire with his fists. Teo and Lucy surrounded Other Me and readied their own attacks.

Before my team could land their final attack, the CREO world fell away—like a window shattering—replaced by a bright, colorful world that resembled a child’s crayon drawing.

Who’s CREO is this? I thought. Other Me smiled as if he knew. Down the crudely colored in road was a beanstalk rising into the clouds. That has Lucy written all over it. As Other Me started climbing the beanstalk, various items began falling from the sky (mostly barrels), while robot bugs shot at him from the air, making him move from leaf to leaf, dodging the attacks. Retro game references, very Adam.

After surviving the side-scrolling dangers of the beanstalk, Other Me reached the clouds. One would assume a giant was there waiting for him, instead a heavenly light cast down upon him—containing a legion of mythical beasts, Valkyries, and my team descending upon him. When he tried to duck back under the clouds, he faced a black hole shredding the storybook world and eating up everything until it was an empty void. On one side was the might of the heavens, the other was the inescapable pit of hell. I had a feeling this was Teo’s contribution. There was no way he was dodging the onslaught, so instead he fled, charging into the distance until it was clear the black hole was tearing the cloud apart too, giving Other Kai precious little play space to work with.

“Face me! Quit hiding behind tricks!” He said, presumably to my teammates. As if on cue, a hand grabbed him from under the cloud, pulling him toward the black hole. It was Teo, just like when he dragged me under water in his other world. Other Me kicked away from him, fire swirling around him as he swung his sword.

He burst back above the clouds—shooting upward, leaving a trail of burnt creatures. This was a survival, and I feared he was lasting too long. Until the roar of the giant finally came. He grabbed Other Kai by the leg and slammed him on the ground—the cloud having transformed into concrete. Other Kai attempted to blast it, aiming square at its face (which looked suspiciously like a dinosaur’s), only to have it backfire when the giant lost balance and fell from its platform—directly into the black hole. The last thing Other Me would’ve seen before he lost were my friends waving at him, smiles all around.

They did it. Just barely—since they didn’t technically defeat Other Kai in his world, they could’ve lost if he’d survived in their world even a few seconds later, but they won, nonetheless.

We were all returned to the CREO database, my data cube floating before us, the Kuu nowhere to be seen. My friends all rushed up to me and hugged—exchanging high-fives with each other as the breath was squeezed out of me between them.

“Th-thanks guys.” I said, as I caught my breath once they’d released me. “I’ll owe you guys for a while, won’t I?”

“Hmm, a vacation sounds nice.” Lucy said with a giggle. Teo nodded at that.

“A peek at your dirty manga?” Adam dodged my fist aimed at his head and we all laughed.

“Wait!” Other Kai called out, reaching his hand toward us. “Don’t do this. I lost, I know that. But I still exist, just as much as Adam does. Do I really deserve to get deleted? Don’t I deserve to live?” Everyone looked away, particularly Adam, who shuffled his feet, his head down.

“You were a pretty big jerk, using us as CREO’s pawns.” Lucy said.

“I don’t trust you.” Teo added. Adam still didn’t look up. I don’t know what motivated it—maybe because of Adam’s influence on me, or maybe because the face I saw looking back at me was my own—but I found myself walking toward my double and placing my hand on his shoulder.

“You will live.” I said. “I need my body back, but that doesn’t mean you won’t exist anymore. You’re a reflection of me, so you’ll just go back to being part of me, right?” Other Kai nodded sullenly.

“The part of you that knows the world is changing, that the world you started caring about is the outdated one. This world is the future. It’s what you’ve based your whole life on. Don’t forget that, okay?”

“I won’t. But I also won’t forget that it isn’t the only world. We’ve had some fun in the real world, haven’t we?” I looked back at Adam and he nodded. “I’m starting to get it. My friends, those protesters, my mom, they all care about the real world and try to make it better through their actions. Whether it’s promoting a game to help your community…” I nodded to Teo. “Or raising money for a failing library.” Lucy gasped.

“I never told you about…”

“I pieced it together—I knew there must’ve been a reason you wanted the sponsor money. A friend of yours confirmed it when he came into the tavern looking for a quest. You’d be surprised what people will share with an NPC.” I didn’t know an avatar could blush like hers did. I turned back to Other Me.

“So yeah, the real world sucks, the people in it suck, and I’m getting my revenge on that double crosser. But y’know, this world sucks too, and in any case I’d like to have my choice about which one I want to be in. Satisfied?” Other Kai shrugged.

“No, but I don’t get a say, do I?” He glanced at Adam. “So long as the experiment progresses and the world knows it, my work is done.”

“What is CREO trying to use Adam for?”

“Access denied.” He said with a chuckle.

“Bullshit.” He put his hands up.

“Not for me to say, depends on how much of my memories you keep.” He turned away from us, his arms crossed. “Now enough talking. Do what you came here to do and get out before you’re all arrested. Or don’t, then I just take over again, happily ever after.” Adam did the honors and Other Kai became blurry and dissipated. As he did, I became dizzy and my vision faded until everything was a black and white haze—like a vintage TV, tuned into nothing but static.