Chapter 28:

LEVEL 28: Artemis—Championship Part 3—Reaching for the Goal

CREO: Game of Creation

Rin’s victory was unsurprising, but closer than expected. Sieg’s mind had been corrupted by that creature of KAI’s, so his loss was natural. He looked happy though—I can’t say I’d seen him smile until KAI’s creation befriended him. Rin appeared on our balcony and sat next to me.

“Nice work. Took a little longer than usual.” I said.

“I wanted to see what she planned out. It’s the least I could do, none of them will compete at this level again.”

“So long as they lose.”

“That’s up to you now.” Rin smiled. “Just don’t be too ruthless.”

“No promises.” I rose to face my enemy and put an end to it all. “Hey. It’s been an honor to play with you. You’re my best friend in any world.” She hugged me and pushed me out the door.

“Go, and then get better so we can meet in person next time!” That last part was rough, and I fought back tears. I didn’t want to tell her I was thinking about full virtual every day. Even if I got a little better, even went into remission for a while—it’d just come back like it always did. I was tired of putting my family through that. But that was a decision for later—I had a bug to squash.

KAI approached from one end, I from the other. By obligation, we shook hands. In the brief moment our eyes locked, I tried to piece something together about him, some clue, some weakness.

“The final, tie-breaking match shall now begin!” Kuu said. The arena shifted away into a city with flashing lights and music blaring. We stood on a highway, a red light hovering above us.

“I thought I’d be facing Rin, but oh well.” KAI said. “We’re gonna race. One lap—navigate through the obstacles and city streets to the finish line.” An arrow appeared over my head, pointing forward.

“This isn’t like your typical style.”

“Rin taught me to surprise your opponent with something new for the last match.” She taught me that too, but under different circumstances. He created a car for himself—sleek, modern and silver. I chose a gold chariot driven by a Pegasus made of stars, only fitting for the goddess Artemis. The red light blinked green, and we sped down the highway. The arrow pointed straight until it suddenly spun around and pointed to my left.

“The goal’s moving?”

“Can’t make it easy!” KAI yelled. I knocked into the side of his car, pushing him into a wall and creating sparks as he scraped along. He fired a bolt of energy at me from his fingertip. “You’re a good sport!” He said with sarcasm.

“Shut up, I wanna fight!” We stood on our vehicles and drew our swords.

“Not how I pictured this going, but alright.” He said, shooting at me again before slashing at my chariot. I pulled it away, enough for KAI’s car to come free from the wall. He shot a flurry of bolts at me, which I parried and dodged. I switched out my sword for my bow and took aim at a tire. He spun his car as I fired, ruining the shot and making me screech to a halt. His car zipped past me and took an exit off the highway in the direction the arrow was now pointing.

“Damn you!” My Pegasus began flapping its wings—I had no intention of playing fair with the likes of him. I lost sight of him, instead flying in the arrow’s direction, which had shifted once again. On the street, with colorful screens adorning the surrounding buildings, cars fitted with spikes sped toward me, their headlights flashing red. I maneuvered through the twists and turns of the street, occasionally taking out an enemy car with my bow. The arrow shifted again—in the opposite direction I was going.

This is impossible. I flew above the course again and landed on a rooftop to get a better view. I spotted KAI speeding through a historic Japanese district toward an icon that I guessed marked the current finish line. Do I risk it and stay put until it moves again, or do I cut KAI off before he reaches it?

I landed in front of KAI with the force of a titan—the stone street becoming a crater below my chariot. KAI stopped his car, got out of it, waved at me with a stupid smirk on his face, then ran past me and recreated the car on the other side of my crater. Now, I would not let that stand. How dare he mock me? I ignored the pang of dizziness and raced toward him. I didn’t care about the goal, or even winning anymore—I wanted to destroy him, his arrogance, his hold over Rin. A floating icon hovered at the top of a staircase in the distance under a torii shrine gate. I shot a slew of fire arrows aimed at his head. He countered with a shield of water. I threw daggers that spun into discs charged with lightning. He shot both with some kind of rubber material. I forgot he had all kinds of upgrades.

I have to beat him, I will, I will, I another dizzy spell, worse this time. My best bet was to gather all my strength into my signature finishing move—the celestial arrow. I took aim and fired, turning his car into a pile of scattered scraps. Wasting no time, I jumped out of the chariot and climbed onto the first stair. I felt like I was going to faint, or throw up, or both. Keep it together, almost there. Oh, wait, we haven’t done my world yet… I stumbled, nearly falling down the steps. It’s fine—I don’t have to do anything to win there, just… Where am I going? Nothing was keeping still—spinning out of control, a blur of color and sound. Am I going to die? I collapsed on the steps, the goal icon just barely out of reach. So close. A hand grabbed mine, then my arm was draped on a shoulder. KAI helped me stand while his creation, Adam, held my hand and smiled at me with his unnatural but kind eyes.

“Come on, we’re almost there.” He said, guiding me one step at a time.

“W-What are you…” My words were slurred and my head was foggy.

“No competitor would accept a win like that.” KAI said. “Keep your eyes open. Just a little farther.”

“Rin… loves you. Apologize to her.” I could barely wheeze the words out.

“I know. One more step.” We reached the top of the stairs and crossed past the shrine gate. Adam held my arm up for me and I touched the goal. Then everything turned fuzzy and white.