Chapter 31:

LEVEL 31: The Last CREO Match Part 1

CREO: Game of Creation

I blinked and found myself in a barn, a cow staring at me as it munched on hay. The bottom of my field of vision read ‘find all your friends’ with a countdown starting from…

1 minute!? I ran out of the barn, stumbling over a bucket of… something. Fields stretched all around me under a pink sky. A village was just barely visible on the other side of a hill. Wait, I’ve been to that village before. The bell tower with the hole in its roof from when I fought that swarm of flying mole-people (don’t ask)—this was Alpha. Hide and seek in an infinite map, great. But not impossible, otherwise it’d be against the rules. There had to be a trick to it. I pointed up and shot a flare into the sky. That should get the ball moving. I soon saw another flare rise from the village. I raced toward town, my feet barely touching the ground as I leaped, reaching the village in three steps, almost colliding with Teo.

“Come on, no time to talk.”

“Wait, I have an idea!” I skidded to a halt.

“Make it quick.” He generated a black line out of his hand like from his last world.

“Since this is Alpha, we can create.”

“That helps.” I recreated my car, only with rockets in the back, while Teo rebuilt his mech suit made of lines. “The next village is in that direction. Follow my lead—I know this world’s map better than anyone else ever will.”

“So long as we win, that is.” We rocketed to the next village, setting off more flares and getting the attention of one of our bested competitors—a French player that lost to Other Kai in the quarterfinals. They contributed a castle-sized rhinoceros to our search party, quickly attracting more players as we speed ran the continent.

20 seconds left. The ground shook beneath us, opening a rift partitioning off Zoran province.

“KAI!!” Lucy, Sieg, and Artemis approached on their own modes of transport—a chariot, mech suit, and Lucy rode on a giant eagle, referencing some fantasy-something-or-other.

“We’re just missing Rin.”

“We think she’s in that direction.” Lucy pointed into the barren wastelands my dragon destroyed.

“Makes sense they’d make me go in there.” We all flew into Zoran, the ground continuing to shake—mountains collapsed and the ruins of villages were dumped into crevices in the earth. A temple that was definitely not there before appeared at the site of that original village where Adam was born. We ventured inside—quickly, as there were less than 10 seconds left on the clock.

Rin stood on an altar, Adam beside her, holding her in place with restraints. The countdown stopped and the CREO AI clapped Adam’s hands.

“Well done, didn’t think you’d do it.” He snapped his fingers. The restraints holding Rin disintegrated, and she jumped away to our group.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I was only standing there for a minute.” The floor of the temple opened up to reveal a black-and-white checkered floor. The AI created a crown and cape for itself.

“I’m the king—strike me down and you win. But first, you’ll have to get past… yourselves.” Another snap and half of our team was on the other side of the board. The AI was taking every advantage of the large party we had. Teo, Lucy, and Sieg’s arms moved, raising weapons against us.

“Sorry, we can’t control it!” Lucy said through gritted teeth.

“Beat us down if you have to, we won’t be too mad.” Teo said. A crown appeared on my head, larger than the championship one.

“Let me guess, if they take me out, it’s game over for us.”

“You do play chess? Here I thought you were too dumb.” Was it me, or was Adam’s snarkiness influencing the AI? Rin changed into her Pluton avatar—now fitted with gold armor instead of black—a matching sword in her hands.

“Selena, protect the king. I can take care of rest.”

“No, I’m going with you. If we lose our queen, we’re through. No offense to you pawns.” Several allies whose names I didn’t quite remember did seem to take offense, but the enemy attack began with Sieg taking one of them out, refocusing our attention.

“Rin, take Selena with you—I can protect myself.” I said.

“Who said you could use my real name?” Artemis asked with a death glare that gave me chills.

“Artemis, look ahead.” She turned just in time to dodge a magic blast from Lucy. Artemis aimed a series of arrows toward the ceiling and fired—launching a counterattack on the entire enemy force, while Rin charged forward and clashed swords with Teo. Sieg was busy dealing with my side’s defenders, leaving me time to strategize. If, in the chaos of battle, I were to sneak across the board, it’d just be me against the AI. But it’d need to be a sneak attack, or else—

The knife missed my neck by a split-second, shaving off a slice of virtual skin. I jumped back and parried the AI’s attacks—Adam’s eyes glowing at me, reaching into my soul. Artemis shot at it, only for it to dodge faster than I could follow. It sped up to Artemis and slashed her across the chest.

“Selena!” Rin screamed.

“She’s fine—nothing here will kill her, not like your world.” The AI said, before warping behind Rin and kicking her down, landing atop her and grappling with her—his daggers drawing ever closer to her face. “Any horror you face in this world is mere play, while the horrors of the flesh world leave real scars and real victims. Why protect it? Why reject utopia when it’s in your grasp?” I dashed toward the AI, hoping to incapacitate it without hurting Adam’s body. He made a finger gun and shot my shoulder and leg, cascading me down onto the floor. I created a bomb, hoping for a tie. “That won’t work either, Kai.” CREO said. “Unless you want to risk killing yourself and your precious creation. In a regular CREO world, sure, but this is Alpha, my domain. I superseded your outdated world, creating something new, better, and, most importantly—controlled. The beings of this world are a part of it. They can be hurt and die, but only if we choose that outcome for them, if it serves our progress.”

“You mean all those villagers when I created the dragon?”

“It was a necessary loss. The guilt you felt made you feel obligated to care for Adam and raise him into a person in his own right. You performed splendidly.”

“You think you have everything under control, don’t you?” I said.

“We know we do. We see everything that happens in this world, everything that takes place in the other world, thanks to those watches, we are what your people once called a god. Thank you for playing, but you never had a chance to win in the first place.” My chuckle turned into a hearty laugh.

“You really don’t understand humans at all! You see, we don’t make sense. We do stupid, crazy stuff for even stupider reasons. But life’s about making mistakes and taking risks. Let’s see how this one goes.” I detonated the bomb and the chessboard room was no more.