Chapter 25:

LEVEL 25: Sin City Costume Party

CREO: Game of Creation

Where would you hold the championship to a tournament run by devils like those that run CREO? Where else but Sin City itself? CREO wanted a spectacle of a tournament, and Las Vegas was the perfect spot to amplify that. We were all too young to take part in gambling, but the energy of the place was enough to get us excited to play. Out of all the hotels we’d stayed in, the ornate, lavish tower adorned in flashing lights, fitted with lush ballrooms, and a world-class kitchen took first place.

“Congratulations once again, finalists!” Kuu said after we checked in at the lobby, the high ceiling and marble floor making its voice echo. “The championship match will take place tomorrow night at 7 PM. Until then, please enjoy yourselves. A party will be held tonight in the main ballroom, and both teams are invited to take part! It sure would be a great photo opportunity.” It said, floating close to Lucy as it said the last bit before she swatted it away.

“In other words, we have no choice, right?” I said. One thing about the new body—I could see through Kuu better. I finally understood what Adam meant—Kuu and the puppet-masters behind him wanted nothing but to manipulate us—it was ingrained in its programming. Kuu spun around.

“It’s a costume party!”

“Go away!” We all yelled at it. Kuu pretended to be offended and disappeared. We loaded up the luggage cart (Adam sitting atop the suitcases and insisting on riding in the cart), and settled into our rooms. This time we had a massive two-bedroom suite, so Teo roomed with us for a change.

“What kind of movies do you like, Teo? And what snacks? This’ll be so much fun!” Adam said, more energetic and annoying than usual.

“I don’t know, anything’s fine…” Adam made a pouting face and crossed his arms. Teo glanced at me for help, to which I began unpacking my stuff, happy that someone else had to humor Adam. “I like horror movies and white chocolate.” Teo said, wore down by Adam’s nosiness.

“Ooh, we could watch—”

“No, I’m not watching that stupid dinosaur movie again.” I said before Adam could suggest his favorite movie. You know the one.

“I wasn’t gonna say that! I was gonna suggest the sequel when the dinosaurs attack the city.”

“Anything’s fine, really.” Teo said, desperate to keep the peace.

“Well then, Teo and I can bunk together and watch some quality cinema.” Adam said, sticking his tongue out at me.

“If he can stand you mouthing the words, you have the entire series memorized, don’t you?”

“It helps to have a memory like we do.” Adam said, soon regretting it as he reminded us of our… unusual circumstances. “Hey, what are we gonna dress up as for the party?” Smooth change of subject, bud.

“I’m not going.” I plopped myself onto the couch, turned on the virtual TV—I’d missed 3 months of anime and was struggling to catch up without Adam’s accidental spoilers.

“Oh, come on, maybe it’ll be fun.”

“With Pluton there? Oh yeah, let’s watch everyone fawn over Rin and her goons—that’ll be fun.”

“Maybe… you could talk to her?”

“Are you serious?! I have nothing to say to her. It’s because of her I’m…”

“Like me?” I shut off the screen and headed into a bedroom. I tried to shut the door, but Adam stopped it with his foot. “If you’re staying, so am I. So, keep me company.”

“Just go to the stupid party.”

“It’d be no fun if I knew you were up here feeling sorry for yourself all alone.” This time I was the one to look at Teo in a plead for intervention. He smirked and gave a thumbs up.

“It’s a costume party, so all you have to do is wear a mask, then she won’t know it’s you.” Thanks, Teo, totally got me out of it. I groaned, loud and exaggerated.

“Fffffine. But no group costumes. I’d rather not attract too much attention.”

One of us was dressed in a blue and white dress, ruby red slippers, and a holographic tornado spiraling around her, another in a bloody ski-mask complete with a fake chainsaw. Adam had agonized over his outfit (I had to talk him out of the full-body robotic suit). He settled on a trainer from that popular monster catching game, which would’ve been fine (it was really just a new hat), if it weren’t for the monster companions he created as his party guests—a bird-looking one perched on his shoulder, another dog/rabbit looking thing running around his legs, and one… where did that one go? Needless to say, not attracting attention was out the window. Out of protest, I went with the most half-assed costume I could think of—a ghost. That’s right, just a bedsheet over my head with eyeholes cut out. With all the eyes in the room fixed on my companions, I slunk off toward the buffet table—the only draw of the party. As I loaded my plate with everything chocolate on the table, trying to ignore the cheesy American pop music blaring, someone wearing a skull mask and a hood appeared next to me and seemed to be doing the same as me.

“Only reason for coming, right here.” The figure said.

“You said it.” I looked around and saw that all the tables in the ballroom were at least somewhat occupied, and I wasn’t about to sit with a stranger. The grim reaper pointed toward a pillar by a wall.

“No one over there.” Wasn’t much choice—if I left early I wouldn’t hear the end of it from Adam. He seemed to have it in his head that I’d make up with Rin if I talked to her. I didn’t know why he’d want that, considering the awful things she said about him. I took a seat on the floor by the pillar, joined by the masked partygoer.

“Should be a good match tomorrow.” Skull-mask’s voice sounded female, but deeper, like she was attempting to mask her voice.

“We’ll see. The tournament’s been pretty weird so far, hasn’t it?”

“True. Maybe it proves we’re better off keeping everything virtual? Even a virtual human can compete and win. Perhaps this world’s become obsolete?”

“I used to think like that, but lately I’ve changed my mind.”

“Why’s that?”

“This world has something the virtual world will never have. I can’t put it into words, it isn’t necessarily logical or profound. Just a feeling, y’know?”

“I do.” The hooded girl laughed. “That trip to the dinosaur museum really did you good.” I knew it.

“What do you want from me, Rin? You don’t know the suffering you’ve caused me.” Rin removed her mask and stared at me, as I refused to return her gaze.

“I told you, I want you to be happy. You’re getting there, aren’t you?”

“Hard to be happy when my life’s been uprooted and altered beyond repair.”

“Still… Tell Adam I’m sorry about how I talked about him in LianHua. He’s a good kid.”

“Sometimes, when he wants to be.” Rin put her mask back on and scurried away, leaving me leaning against the pillar, falling into depression. At least I had chocolate.

“Get back here!” A furry four-legged creature with seven tails scampered by, followed by Adam chasing after it. The creature rushed right up to a boy leaning against the wall, scampering up his leg and making him squirm in discomfort. “Sorry!” Adam picked the creature off the boy’s back. “You’re going back to the virtual world, you naughty thing.” Adam told it, before making the creature disappear with a sparkle of light. The assaulted boy patted down his expensive looking suit.

“You’ll be getting a cleaning bill from my parents.” He said in German.

“Sorry, again.” Adam responded in German, grinned, and held out his hand. “I’m Adam, what’s your name?”

“I know who you are, and you know who I am.”

“You’re Sieg from Team Upstart, right? Your avatar looks like an older version of yourself.” Sieg blushed and scowled. I was surprised—Sieg was just a kid, 12 or 13, at the oldest. Yet he was undefeated in his entire CREO career. “Sieg is your online name, but what’s your real name?”

“None of your business.” Now he did it—once you refuse Adam’s friendliness, he didn’t leave you alone until he thought you were best friends.

“What’cha listenin’ to?” Sieg was wearing ear buds.

“Mozart. Now leave me alone.”

“Hmm…” Adam seized an earbud, leading to a brief scuffle with Sieg. The boy looked horrified. Adam started bopping his head back and forth. “Sorry if I’m mistaken, but I don’t think Mozart used synths.” Sieg plucked the earbud away, his face red.

“Don’t tell anyone. I have appearances to maintain.”

“What’s wrong with liking modern music?” Sieg didn’t respond, but glared out into the crowd of partygoers, zeroing in on a couple who gave off an aura of pure wealth.

“Those your parents?” Adam guessed. Sieg nodded.

“They crafted my CREO persona and dictate to kinds of worlds I create.”

“That sounds boring. Ever try telling them you want something different?”

“Of course not. I’m the last scion of the Von Siegert family—it’s my duty to uphold the family honor.”

“But you’re your own person, too. C’mon, what’s some stuff you really like?” Sieg shrugged.

“I don’t know.” Adam tapped his foot, using the same stare that broke down Teo. “I like electronic music…” Sieg looked around, as if afraid of eavesdroppers (like me). “I like cartoons and memes. And cats. And I really love robots and sci-fi.”

“There you go! Do you like video games?”

“Yeah! Your CREO worlds have been amazing, my favorite in the whole tournament.” Sieg shrank and covered his mouth, realizing he’d gotten too excited.

“Wanna get out of here and have some fun?” Adam offered his hand. “I’m dying to play in the pool.” Sieg glanced at his parents again.

“I shouldn’t, they’d get mad. Besides, I don’t have a swimsuit.”

“I can make one for you from CREO. Come on, they won’t notice. What’s your favorite color?” Sieg paced back and forth, his eyes trained on his parents, before he halted and nodded.

“Orange.” Adam produced a pair of orange swimming trunks and handed them to Sieg.

“Race you!” They took off together, Sieg smiling for the first time I’d seen.

“Not so fast! Marcel von Siegert isn’t a runner!” Adam laughed and lifted his shirt off as they exited the room.

“C’mon Marcel! Pool time!”