Chapter 46:

Vol. 2, Ch. 21: It's the Lingo of Our Eternal Selves

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

The Elf’s Squire was a big cosplay café on the other side of the Icarus Centre. Its interior was designed like an old pub and inn from the ancient days before Thugwood when real adventurers would traverse the then-safer lands across the continent. Patrons and employees alike were dressed like characters and creatures from games and anime, and live musicians set the atmosphere with their tunes played on archaic instruments.Bookmark here

Seconds after Rover and the other Super Club members entered through the double swinging doors, they were greeted by a girl wearing dragon horns and colorful witch robes.Bookmark here

“Welcome! Thank you for being reincarnated as an elf’s squire!”Bookmark here

Is this how they always greet their guests? Rover wondered.Bookmark here

“It’s our pleasure,” Quintegrity replied with a shining smile. “There are five members in our guild today!”Bookmark here

When the dragon-witch hostess grabbed the menus, her eyes dropped to Snickerdoodle. Her expression lit up.Bookmark here

“Wow! Your dog looks exactly like Snickerdoodle! That’s the best cosplay I’ve seen in a while.”Bookmark here

Rover, afraid Quintegrity would answer honestly, was relieved when she only chuckled and thanked the hostess. They were seated at a long, wooden community table with a dozen other cosplaying customers where they ordered magic rations and non-alcoholic elixirs, all on Quintegrity’s Mythril credit card.Bookmark here

The waiter was dressed like a Chicken Warrior-class character from the game The Senile Scrolls, and he took their orders on a tablet in a real stone protective case.Bookmark here

“Okay,” the waiter told them after reading back their order, “and that’s a triple shot of laxatives for this thing’s drink, right?” He pointed his magic wand stylus at Rover.Bookmark here

What?!” Rover asked as a chill ran down his spine.Bookmark here

Quintegrity pouted at the waiter. “But…he won’t be able to share his drink with me if it’s full of laxatives.”Bookmark here

“Uhh…it was j-just a joke, ma’am…”Bookmark here

“I most certainly hope so.” Her pouty face doubled in pathetic-ness. “Sharing a drink with my boyfriend is far more important than having my own.” She shot a wink at Rover. “Right, babe?”Bookmark here

“Hehh…hhegghh…r-right, babe…”Bookmark here

The waiter quickly apologized. “Of c-course!” Embarrassed, he trotted off.Bookmark here

Rover gave his girlfriend a meager smile. “Thanks. Once again, you saved me from getting poisoned.”Bookmark here

“It’s my duty!” she replied with a salute.Bookmark here

From across the café, Daremont called, “Otherwise, it would’ve been your doody, Rover! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”Bookmark here

Genuinely mad, Rover shot back, “When the hell did you get here, Daremont?!”Bookmark here

Luckily, the pun-slinging patron was escorted from the premises. The other customers had had enough of him for the day.Bookmark here

During the wait for Ms. Authenticity Teacher, Rover called Skater Girl and informed her of their plan to return to the School Dungeon. Because Skater Girl attended a different school, she would be unable to compete against the others in an AthletaCom match, but it would be a good opportunity for her to possibly glean more information about Glove Alien Fight.Bookmark here

A half hour passed, giving Lumpy and Adele more time to gain a couple levels in the game, and Snickerdoodle munched happily on charcuterie items from the kids’ menu, showing surprising table manners and not using noticeable magic. Rover saw their teacher enter, appearing somewhat grouchy, and for good reason. She just so happened to be accompanied by Jones the Bones, and the guy was talking the poor woman’s ear off.Bookmark here

When Ms. Authenticity Teacher crossed the room and laid eyes on Rover, her expression crinkled a bit more.Bookmark here

“You kids ready?” she asked, the feathers in her twiggy headdress puffed out like a pissed off parakeet’s.Bookmark here

“We are,” Rover told her.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you eating something?” Adele asked Ms. Authenticity Teacher. “We just had some snacks.”Bookmark here

The woman shook her head. “No, the people at the arcade kept me fueled with liberal quantities of Sploder Cola.” A quick cackle burst from her mouth as she gave a double thumbs-up. “I’m totes jacked up on sugar and caffeine! Woo-hoo!”Bookmark here

“That’s the balanced meal of rock stars, my lady,” Jones the Bones said, trying to be suave. “Along with hotdogs and whiskey—sometimes together! Especially chili cheese dogs on a Gator Bun with beer chili and goat cheese… Ya know, goats are like satanic sheep.” He shredded out an air guitar solo. “It’s so freakin’ metal!”Bookmark here

The teacher grimaced, holding her forehead. “So, what are we doing for AthletaCom points, kids?”Bookmark here

Quintegrity’s hand shot straight into the air. “We request to use the School Dungeon for Glove Alien Fight competitions!”Bookmark here

A few customers sitting nearby looked at her, curious about what she’d said, but they scowled as soon as they noticed Rover Chork among the group. Rover ignored them.Bookmark here

“I see.” Giving it some thought, Ms. Authenticity Teacher said, “Legally, anyone who wants to access the School Dungeon is permitted to do so.” She became apprehensive, crossing her arms. “I’ve heard that a lot of students this year are using Glove Alien Fight and other video games for their AthletaCom competitions. It defeats the purpose of it being an athletic event, though. I don’t make the rules, I suppose.”Bookmark here

“E-sports are a real part of modern Thugwoodian life,” Jones the Bones said, patting the teacher on the back, making her tense up. “You should know, Vilith!”Bookmark here

“Why’d you follow me here, anyway?” she muttered at the rocker dude.Bookmark here

“To get to know the coolest gamer in Southbound Thugwood!”Bookmark here

The rocker’s overbearing determination made his face appear somewhat pig-like. Ms. Authenticity Teacher uttered a colossal sigh, her feathers drooping, and she turned to the students.Bookmark here

“Let’s just go and get this over with,” she told them. “You all can ride with me. I drive a big minivan.” Thrusting her finger at Jones the Bones, she grunted. “Except for you.”Bookmark here

“Oh, come now, Vilith,” he said with a sheepish grin. “Don’t be that way!”Bookmark here

“Go home.” Her headdress feathers ruffled with frustration before she silently stormed out of The Elf’s Squire, the others following her.Bookmark here

46!46@46#46$46%46^46&46*46(46)46_46+46Bookmark here

The campus of Southbound Thugwood High School had been transformed into a construction site. Not having previously laid eyes on the school since the Mech Bot General catastrophe, Rover hardly recognized the place. Great beasts of steel and hydraulics roamed the grounds, operated by the workers. High above, touching the clouds, Planet Quinn rotated in place.Bookmark here

Most of the campus was off-limits to the public, but a clear path led from the school’s main gate to the Big Tower where the Southbound School Dungeon lay. The construction crew paid no mind to the group of people approaching the site, and they were not to interfere with anybody’s desire to access the dungeon.Bookmark here

In the Big Tower Lobby, which seemed complete as far as renovations went, Graphite waited with Tallyhawk, Hodge, and Isho, sitting on the needless sofas around one of the needless glass tables. The Big Tower was known for its overcompensation of furniture and seating, and this renovation seemed to have doubled the quantity of pointlessness. Skater Girl was also present, scanning the lobby and dungeon entrance bulkhead with her gaming phone’s code view, taking notes in a notepad. The sound of approaching voices alerted them of the others’ arrival.Bookmark here

“Everyone’s here.” Skater Girl smiled as Rover’s group walked up. “Well, if we ain’t one motley-looking crew.”Bookmark here

Quintegrity blasted the punky girl with a simply righteous thumbs-up, declaring, “We’re more motley than a satchel of trail mix!”Bookmark here

Skater Girl’s backwards flat bill cap flew off her head of sapphire-gem hair from Quintegrity’s statement. Lumpy picked it up and handed it back.Bookmark here

He chuckled. “You’ll get used to her energy after a while.”Bookmark here

“I-I’ll just take your word for it,” Skater Girl replied, putting her cap on. “And Quinn…did you dye your hair? It’s dark.”Bookmark here

“It’s a wig!” Quintegrity declared, her fingers making a peace sign.Bookmark here

“…Oh.”Bookmark here

Rover dragged his hand down his face as he heard his girlfriend’s voice echo throughout the Big Tower lobby, possibly reaching at least the third floor.Bookmark here

So much for secret disguises!Bookmark here

Hands in his jeans pockets, Graphite sauntered up to Rover with a sneer.Bookmark here

“We’re here,” he remarked, “as per your girlfriend’s request.”Bookmark here

“And on time, too,” Rover said with a shrug. “You’re quite punctual, Graphite.”Bookmark here

“Only for you, Rover.”Bookmark here

Despite their words, they were clearly insulting each other.Bookmark here

“Hey, Graphite,” Lumpy said, “did you hear back from Captain Pretentious about your challenge to an AR match?”Bookmark here

The boy hesitated. “I did…” His pencil lead-colored eyes darkened as he recalled a traumatic experience. “The albatross came for me…in the night…”Bookmark here

With a smug grin, Rover told Graphite, “You can thank me for giving you Captain Pretentious’ personal phone number to send that email. She receives tons of mail and stuff each day, and yours would’ve been another meager letter cast into the abyss.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, and she was mad about it, too!” Graphite growled. “Just like you said she’d be! Her letter told me that as punishment for contacting her personal number, she instructed her albatross to…” His voice trailed off as his lips quivered.Bookmark here

“Eh?” Rover egged him on with a sadistic sneer. “What’d that big bird do?”Bookmark here

“It shat all over my bedroom!!! Stinky, sludgy, slimy bird butter!!!” He clutched his shirt with both hands, tears of anger welling up in his eyes. “I’m wearing yesterday’s dirty laundry because it was safe in the hamper!”Bookmark here

Adele couldn’t hold back her laughter. Tallyhawk, Hodge, and Isho all concealed their own smirks, as well. Rover merely nodded, satisfaction all over his face.Bookmark here

“A-Anyway,” Graphite said, “my match against her isn’t for a while—next Feefee-day. What about you, Skater Girl?”Bookmark here

“I’m facing Wildebeest Squittoo tomorrow,” Skater Girl replied with a confident smirk. “I’m ready to get that Special Number!”Bookmark here

“Ahem.” Ms. Authenticity Teacher cleared her throat. “Let’s hurry up and do this.” She pointed to the dungeon’s huge elevator door. “You were the ones who got in last time. Can you do it again?”Bookmark here

“I noticed something.” Skater Girl approached the mighty door, examining it through her gaming smartphone. “There’s something new on the wall next to it—an AR object. Looks like an elevator call button.”Bookmark here

She projected her avatar into the AR environment and commanded it to press the button. Instantly, the huge doors hissed and slid open.Bookmark here

Hands on her hips, Adele said, “It really is open to just anyone now.”Bookmark here

Waaaiiit!” A man’s voice rang out through the Big Tower lobby, and Jones the Bones jogged up to them.Bookmark here

Rover saw the feathers on his teacher’s headdress stiffen with agitation. The woman sighed with an eye roll.Bookmark here

“Mr. Bones,” she told the panting metalhead in her scolding-teacher tone, “you don’t know when to quit.”Bookmark here

The Mohawk-wielding rocker wiped the sweat from his brow and gave a lewd grin. “Not until you go on one date with me.”Bookmark here

“Hell no.”Bookmark here

Jones the Bones moved in closer to her, making his eyebrows dance up and down. “Are ya suuure?”Bookmark here

That earned him a kick in the nuts, and everyone swore they heard the sound of a bell being struck with a hammer. He collapsed, strangled-kazoo sounds falling from his pallid lips as he muttered something along the lines of “critical hit” and “they won’t come back down.”Bookmark here

Rover whispered to Adele, “…Is that how I look around girls???”Bookmark here

“You’re leagues better than that, Big Bro.”Bookmark here

As Ms. Authenticity Teacher stomped toward the elevator, Tallyhawk asked her, “Uh, who’s the perv?”Bookmark here

“Just something I scraped off the bottom of my shoe,” the teacher answered with a frightening smile and razorblade headdress feathers. “Make sure not to step in it yourself.”Bookmark here

The elevator was more than large enough to compensate for the group of eight Southbound students, one Northish student, one teacher, one dog, and one sleazeball who had crawled into the elevator like a slug. The walls, floor, and ceiling reacted brightly to everyone’s proximity.Bookmark here

“Only the second floor button is available,” Rover said, looking at the button panel through his phone. “We’ll just go there, then.”Bookmark here

He had his avatar slap the button, and they were on their way down.Bookmark here

Ms. Authenticity Teacher leaned against the wall etched with intricate, glowing designs. “The T.G.E. came here the other day with some developers to reset the programming. Although the dungeon itself is still damaged, it should be fully functional, and the hack that had interfered with this elevator has been corrected.” She scowled at Rover as her headdress feathers wagged with accusative spite. “I wonder who the hacker was.”Bookmark here

Rover tried not to sweat as he failed to come up with a snide retort or, more specifically, a cover-up. Everyone else remained silent, avoiding eye contact with each other.Bookmark here

“In fact,” the teacher continued, narrowing her eyes at her students, “it was the Super Club who entered the School Dungeon on the day of the catastrophe.”Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Quintegrity put her finger to her chin, as if thinking. “That sounds like a theory of suspicion, Ms. Authenticity Teacher.”Bookmark here

Although the girl showed no hint of malice, her curious stare somehow dismantled the teacher’s self-assurance.Bookmark here

“Trust me,” the woman replied with a shrug, “I don’t get paid enough to bother with it. That’s why I compete in video game tournaments to distract myself and earn extra money. They aren’t offering a reward for turning in the Dumbass hacker, so why should I care about Rover’s crimes against the government?”Bookmark here

“Hey!” Rover barked. “That was a straight up accusation…against me!”Bookmark here

“Wanna fight about it?” she asked, stepping forward with a firm expression. Her feathers fanned out like a cobra’s hood.Bookmark here

Rover chose not to reply, lest he accidentally answer honestly. Jones the Bones clambered to his feet, a love-struck glint in his eyes.Bookmark here

“I love a woman with some fight in her,” he sneered. He used his hands to deftly block another kick targeting his groin, snickering like a horny devil.Bookmark here

Jones the Bones’ pants suddenly caught on fire, and he howled in a panic as he rolled around to put out the blaze. Only Snickerdoodle wasn’t confused by this event, and he merely sat in the corner with a sly grin of sharp teeth.Bookmark here

46!46@46#46$46%46^46&46*46(46)46_46+46Bookmark here

The second floor of the School Dungeon appeared to be a scene from a futuristic post-apocalypse story set in outer space. City-like structures of no apparent purpose still stretched high into the artificial sky, but the littered destruction gave the place a new face of desolation and disaster. Rubble comprised of the mysterious, glowing material covered the pseudo streets, and scintillate dust rested in a vague layer upon everything, being stirred up by the people’s footsteps into a glittering evanescence that seemed to settle back down into gentle nothingness.Bookmark here

In the center of the deathscape, a vast chasm made its presence as a void amid the decay. It announced its emptiness in the floor and high ceiling at the top of the artificial sky—a hollow through which the defunct Mech Bot General had been smashed through.Bookmark here

Hodge whistled, his crossed eyes going straight for a moment as he absorbed the sordid environment. “This place is super creepy, guys.”Bookmark here

“Totally wicked!” Jones the Bones gawked, his eyes and mouth open with fascination. “It conjures up lyrical ideas for truly savage songs!” His fingers pantomimed some trudging guitar chords as he hummed diabolical verses to himself.Bookmark here

“Yes,” Quintegrity replied, showcasing uncharacteristic and scholarly contemplation. “The funk here is playing some rather deep, somber bass notes.” Her eyes glazed over with musical mourning. “It cries to me…”Bookmark here

They both rocked and grooved with the music in their heads, and they synchronized with each other in some kind of requiem that left everyone else guessing as to what they were doing.Bookmark here

Adele narrowed her eyes at Quintegrity and Jones the Bones. “Uh…what are you two talking about?”Bookmark here

“Music is the universal language!” Quintegrity replied to nobody and everybody at once. “You understand, Mr. Bones!”Bookmark here

“I sure do!” the rocker replied with a grin. “It’s the lingo of our eternal selves!”Bookmark here

Ms. Authenticity Teacher cleared her throat, getting everyone’s attention.Bookmark here

“All right,” she said, her impatience stressed in her words, “we’re here for AthletaCom reasons.”Bookmark here

Rover explained the rules to everybody. It was to be a four-versus-four team match to defeat the most AR enemies. The time limit would be thirty minutes. Skater Girl offered a way to help keep track of the competitors’ scores, saying she could have their kills relayed back to her gaming phone and compiled into a scoresheet. She tinkered with the Glove Alien Fight coding, putting into effect her own external monitoring codes without illegally altering the game’s own programming.Bookmark here

“Okay! All set,” she announced when she was sure of her work.Bookmark here

A zany ringtone blared from Ms. Authenticity Teacher’s pocket, playing the ska punk version of the theme for Darkland Travesty Ravagers II.Bookmark here

“Oh? I get cell phone service down here?” She answered it. “Hi, Uncle Crinkles… No, dammit! For the last time, I didn’t leave the cave nectar outside! I’m not to blame for your house being invaded by feral Mondo Butters attracted to it… Sure, you could use the shotgun, but that’s frickin’ overkill for butterflies, no matter how big they are! ...I seriously doubt they’re what kidnapped your cat…”Bookmark here

While the teacher was caught up in her ambiguously serious conversation, Graphite beckoned to Rover.Bookmark here

“Psst.” Graphite whispered in his ear. “I have an idea to make this match really interesting.” Rover didn’t say anything. “Let’s place some bets. Winning team takes all.”Bookmark here

Rover glanced at the teacher who was quite distracted by her phone call. He gestured for the other participants to gather around, and they discussed the plan.Bookmark here

“Ooh, that sounds interesting,” Quintegrity said. “It’ll really amp things up.”Bookmark here

“As long as we don’t get caught,” Tallyhawk muttered, making sure the teacher couldn’t hear. “Betting is against school rules.”Bookmark here

“We’ll be fine,” Graphite assured. “A thousand thuggoons each.”Bookmark here

They all exchanged glances.Bookmark here

Quintegrity told them, “I won’t be participating in the gameplay, so that’ll even things out.”Bookmark here

“Huh?” Isho gave her a half-lidded stare. “What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“What she means,” Graphite said, irritated, “is the three of them are equal to the four of us.” When nobody protested, including his own teammates, he grunted. “Are you chumps for real?! You really believe that!”Bookmark here

“It’ll be fine,” Tallyhawk said, “as long as we just play the game and don’t screw with the other team.”Bookmark here

Adele balled her fists. “Says you! My knee got scraped when you tackled me during Rover’s and Graphite’s match!”Bookmark here

Tallyhawk looked away. “Sorry…”Bookmark here

Jones the Bones moseyed up to the participants, a slanted grin angling his mouth in a devious way. “Sounds like you kids are plotting some underhanded sneakiness.”Bookmark here

“It isn’t surprising,” Skater Girl told him from behind, chuckling. “These guys are hustlers, for sure.”Bookmark here

“Ah…” The metalhead experienced a slow tide of nostalgia. “That seems to be the way of Southbound Thugwood High School. Takes me back to my high school days.”Bookmark here

Adele looked at him with curiosity. “You went to Southbound?”Bookmark here

“Yep,” he replied with a proud nod. “I was in the Music Club every year. We used to put on shows and benefit concerts to bring in money, and the club became the badass it is today partly because of me. I still help coordinate at least two events every year.”Bookmark here

“Oh, cool!” Quintegrity clapped.Bookmark here

“Is everyone fine with the bet?” Rover asked them. “The losers each pay one thousand thuggoons to the winners.”Bookmark here

Everyone nodded and agreed.Bookmark here

“If we win,” Lumpy said, “I say we pool the money.”Bookmark here

“Why?” Adele whined. “I’m tired of our allowance being part of the Super Club’s funds. I’m keeping my earnings for this separate!”Bookmark here

“Fine by me,” Rover said.Bookmark here

Ms. Authenticity Teacher wrapped up her conversation, saying, “Just look up some videos on EweTube. I’m sure somebody knows how to use garlic to ward off Mondo Butters. Okay…? Okay, bye.”Bookmark here

She hung up, slouching over with a tired look on her face.Bookmark here

“Everything all right?” Adele asked her.Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah,” the teacher replied with a chagrined smile. “My uncle was cursed as a child, but he still blames his woes on family.” Nobody had a reply, so she said, “Well, let’s do this thing. Get into your teams and configure your in-game crap. I’ll ready the timer for a half hour match.”Bookmark here

Rover made sure his VR headset was fastened and wireless controller was synched to his phone. Graphite also brought his headset and controller. Everyone else had their tablets ready.Bookmark here

Rover noticed the top-notch gaming tablets Tallyhawk, Hodge, and Isho had.Bookmark here

Those are the newest Cramsung Fallacy tablets, he thought with contempt. In a pinch, they’ll provide better response times than the Yonkrin funPads Adele and Lumpy have…Bookmark here

“You kids take this game seriously,” Jones the Bones commented, noticing the gear the participants had. He patted his phone in his tight jeans pocket. “I still just use my ol’ Yonkrin fonePod.”Bookmark here

The players joined their respective co-op parties, making it a true team-versus-team match. When both teams were ready to go, Ms. Authenticity Teacher started the timer, and the players charged into the galactic-colored ruins of the School Dungeon. Graphite stayed behind with his VR headset, but Rover took off with his girlfriend and dog.Bookmark here

However, the teacher noticed Quintegrity didn’t make any preparations to play Glove Alien Fight herself.Bookmark here

“Why isn’t she playing?” She raised an eyebrow. “That Quinn Integrity sure is a peculiar one. Hmm…”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 1,004Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 9Bookmark here

All Money… {T}10,705Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}9,705Bookmark here

Fundraiser… {T}0Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

Anti-Grav Skateboard… {T}499,999Bookmark here

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… InfantryBookmark here

Armor… Brutal SuitBookmark here

Acc. 1… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

Acc. 2… 2nd Chance BangleBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

ControllerBookmark here

VR HeadsetBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

<None>Bookmark here

<<<LEGENDARY COGS>>>Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.