Your name is VITA HIROYUKI and you are PRETTY ANNOYED.
You wanted to get off the LAND OF FLOW AND FROGS and finally meet your 3 BEST FRIENDS twenty minutes ago.
Instead, you’re getting an EYEFUL OF TROLL TEXT in between fighting WAY TOO MANY UNDERLINGS.
You’re starting to QUESTION HUGH’S INTELLIGENCE.
—rewind reset: 20 minutes ago—
—tergiversantChaotic [TC] began trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
TC: wHaT uP yA fUcKiN aLiEn ChIcK?
TG: oh, what the hell?
TC: i SaId WhAt’S uP?
TC: tHoUgHt I sHoUlD gEt To Ya At ThE sTaRt ViTa.
TC: So HoW’s ShIt?
TG: how the hell do you know my name?
TC: YoU tOlD mE yOuR nAmE bAbE.
TC: lAsT tImE wE tAlKeD.
TG: we have NEVER spoken before.
TG: and I’m REALLY busy right now, so you need to leave me alone.
TC: nAh NaH bAbE.
TC: wE’rE gOnNa FuCkIn ChAt AwHiLe.
TC: It’Ll Be GrEaT sHiT.
TG: oh jesus christ.
TG: are you seriously gonna type like that?
TG: and how the hell can you type like that so quickly?
TC: yEaRs Of ExPeRiEnCe BaBe!
TC: I dIdN’t ThInK iT’d PiSs YoU aLiEnS oFf LiKe It DoEs To ThE gRuBfUcKeRs I’m WiTh HeRe BuT iT tOtAlLy DoEs!
TC: YoU gUyS aRe FuCkIn GrEaT!
TC: i ShOuLd TeLl AlL oF ‘eM tO tRoLl ThE sHiT oUtTa Ya!
TC: FoR oNcE tHaT fUcKiN uPtIgHt RaPoTo An’ Me AgReE!
TG: please shut uuuuuup.
TC: nO fUcKiN cHaNcE bAbE!
TG: if you’re not going to shut up, at least call me by my name!
TG: it’s not babe!
TC: wHoA tHeRe.
TC: CoOl YoUr AlIeN tItS.
TC: sUrE i’Ll CaLl YoU vItA.
TC: hEy YoU sHoUlD cAlL mE kIjAnI.
TG: does that mean troll douchebag?
TG: because it’d fit perfectly.
TC: wHaT iF i ToLd YoU iT mEaNt BaDdEsT mOtHeRfUcKeR oF aLl AlTeRnIa?
TC: BeCaUsE tHaT fItS bEsT.
TG: now I know why amie was so upset.
TG: are there actually more trolls than you?
TC: sHiT yEaH.
TC: lOtS mOrE.
TC: wE’rE aLl JuSt FuCkIn StUcK hErE.
TC: i KiNdA fEeL fUcKiN bAd FoR iT.
TC: i’M tHe MaIn MaN bAbE.
TC: mAgE oF tHe MoThErFuCkIn VoId.
TC: ShOuLdA sEeN tHaT aLl CoMinG.
TC: Oh YeAh.
TC: YoU sHoUlD dUcK.
—tirelessGuardian [TG] is now an idle chum!—
TC: i FuCkIn ToLd YoU.
—tergiversantChaotic [TC] ceased trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
Amie stared, mouth falling open, at the place where Hugh had once stood. His footprints had not vanished but increased in number, and his laptop no longer sat on the crystal tier. She stood entirely alone in the snow, barefoot and wearing shorts and a tanktop. The tension that filled her combated with the cold for what made her shake fiercer. A sharp sound came through the wind, and she looked up with every horrified expectation of finding another winged serpent.
Hugh flew from the roof, and his screaming grew louder the closer he came to the ground. He crashed down in a drift some distance away, and she picked her way gingerly through the snow to reach him. In his landing, he had acquired a sturdy helmet of snow stuck near the ground, and he flailed madly in his efforts to get loose. When he yanked himself out, his force was great enough to send him sprawling on his rear.
“Shit!” He coughed, rubbing at the snowing that was melting into his eyes. “What the hell was that?”
Through chattering teeth, she asked, “What was what?”
“What was the thing that just threw us both off the roof?” He coughed again and got to his feet. “Did you seriously make our imps trolls with that stupid statue?”
“That was not an underling.” They both started at the sound of the sprite’s voice. He had come to hover behind them, looking up toward the house. “That was a foreign element.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hugh asked.
“As much as it will,” the sprite said. “I have no knowledge of foreign elements in the game.”
“So you can’t tell us anything about what just threw us off a goddamn roof?”
“Only that it is foreign to this game. It is not an underling, and it is not one of this session’s players.”
“Then what?” he shouted. “Whatever that was killed a giant basilisk with one attack! And that basilisk wasn’t like any of the things I’ve been fighting! None of us prototyped a giant snake with fucking wings! Are you telling me there’s a glitch in the game?”
“It is a very likely possibility.”
He stared, mouth half open and hands hanging limply at his sides. “But—my dreams never showed me any of this. Just that we’d play.”
“I am not privy to your dreams, Heir,” the sprite said. “I am, however, Amie’s sprite.”
“So?” Hugh asked.
“She has been standing barefoot in the snow for some time, and while the fires have gone out, there are now portions of her house that are in disrepair.” He leaned close to Hugh, touching their brows so static would arc. “I am her sprite, and my purpose is to assist and guide her. We may continue this discussion once we are inside and the house is repaired.”
Arguing with the construct had been on a low rung in Hugh’s mind, and it was dropped entirely from his thoughts when he looked at Amie. She stared at him, eyes narrow and body shaking visibly. He looked back, his mouth starting to work on the air he would have to put his words in.
“You actually knew all of this was going to happen?” she asked.
“You knew?” she demanded. “You knew this whole time you were telling us to get ready to play this game that it was going to destroy the world?”
“What? No—no, it doesn’t do that!”
“Then why did that troll say you knew about all this and ask me if my house had been destroyed? Hugh—you live in Manchester! In New Hampshire! You’re on a completely different coast than Vita and Liam, and you’re telling me that the meteors only hit our houses?”
“Amie, that’s not—you’re gonna listen to some random troll and not me? We’ve been friends for years!”
“Then what is it?” she shouted. “What do you want me to believe? That a guy I’ve been talking to for years is having dreams about the future and leaving out the end of the world is the person I should trust now? Why shouldn’t I believe a troll who’s telling me the truth about what’s happened?”
“You don’t know that they were right!”
“Then you tell me if they were! Tell me the truth! Did your dreams show you that the world was going to get destroyed?”
He closed his mouth slowly and looked away.
He felt the need to step backward, but because he saw her stomping away he hurried after her. “Amie, wait, what did you just—”
“Don’t say anything to me!”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” She turned around and shoved him back. “My house is screwed up and it’s your goddamn job to fix it! I need to put on more fucking clothes before I fucking freeze and you need to leave me alone!”
“Amie, I’m sorry!”
“And I don’t care!” She stopped and shoved him again. “If you want me to stop being mad, you need to go the hell away until I tell you it’s okay to come back!”
“Hugh. I fucking—no, I mean it.” She put her hands to her forehead, almost stumbling on the steps to the front door because she wasn’t looking. She bit down on the words that poured out at the pain from cold toes against granite, but some curses still came through her teeth. For a moment, she looked at him once more, but she went silent and absconded through the door.
The only option left to her was to hobble, and so she shuffled and winced as she went up the stairs. Her bedroom retained some warmth, but she went to her bed and crawled under the covers. As they thawed, her feet ached and felt as though they oozed blood. Gingerly, grimacing as she felt the snow on her shoulders melt and dribble down her chest, she pulled the blanket over her head and rolled onto her stomach.
She breathed in the warming air and did not care that it grew stale. She stared into the dark until her eyes rebelled and she closed them tight. The sound of her breathing was calming, and she listened closely to it. Aided by the blanket, it came to block out the wind noise outside. Before she could put her hands over her ears, her phone, still nestled in her pocket, chimed.
—anlaceAgent [AA] began trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
AC: oh sweet fucking christ on a pogo stick
AA: That was unexpected.
AA: Didn’t you once tell me to stop my swearing?
AC: how the hell did you start pestering me?
AC: i blocked you
AC: and i blocked your stupid
AC: stupid rail something
AA: My moirail?
AA: You’ve talked to Sitara?
AA: Ah. I remember now.
AA: That was a long while ago.
AC: stop bothering me!!
AC: go the fuck away!!
AA: Oh, for fuck’s sake.
AA: What’s gotten you so upset?
AC: someone i thought was one of my best friends lied to me about this stupid game
AC: so now the world’s destroyed and i’m stuck in this shitty snowy place
AC: and there are things that want to fucking kill me
AC: and i’m getting trolled by assholes like you
AC: and god dammit i can’t stop swearing again
AC: just leave me alone
AA: Talk to me.
AC: why should i do that?
AC: why WOULD i do that?
AC: you’ve only ever been a
AC: an ass to me
AC: a stupid troll
AA: From when you are, how many times have we spoken?
AA: It’s a simple fucking question.
AC: jesus christ fine
AC: this is the second time
AA: Well then.
AA: If you’re going to have such a hard time talking to me, why not contact your moirail?
AC: that word doesn’t mean anything
AC: it doesn’t make sense
AA: Sitara didn’t explain it, did she.
AC: then what the fuck is it supposed to mean?
AA: Who helps keep you in line?
AC: excuse me?
AC: no one
AC: no one’s my mom
AA: Setting aside the ridiculous word you just used, let me put it in a way you might understand.
AA: Who is your ‘friend’?
AA: Who do you go to when you’re upset like this?
AA: Then why not talk to her if you’re going to be such a whiny fucking wriggler to me?
AC: okay what
AC: what the fuck?
AC: why are you acting like you’re going to be nice to me?
AA: This isn’t nice?
AA: This is record setting for me.
AA: I’ve got a kismesis and probably two other trolls lusting black as night for me.
AA: I save being nice for Sitara.
AA: And now you, I suppose.
AC: what the hell
AC: you’re being weird now
AC: on top of being an asshole troll
AC: and what the fuck is a kismesis?
AA: I’ve explained that to you already.
AA: Quite some time ago.
AA: In any case.
AA: You should talk to this Vita moirail of yours.
AA: Perhaps it’ll help you get your shit in order.
—anlaceAgent [AA] ceased trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
She stared at the phone, fingers shy of touching the screen. The handle had gone dark within the trollslum, and she looked up slowly to the chumroll. All three handles there were alight. At the end of the list sat tirelessGuardian, mood set to cheery. She snuck her head and hands free from the blanket, blinking at the light from the standing lamps. With thawed fingers, she tapped open a new window.
—aspiringCarver [AC] began pestering tirelessGuardian [TG]—
AC: hey vita?
AC: are you there?
AC: are you busy?
TG: hey amie.
AC: are you okay?
TG: yeah, I’m okay.
TG: I got dragged away from a bunch of imps.
TG: liam came at just the right time.
TG: I’m just tired right now.
TG: my leg still hurts.
TG: this crazy new imp was like a huge goat.
TG: it kicked me reeeeeeeeally hard and broke my leg.
TG: no, calm down.
AC: YOUR FUCKING LEG IS BROKEN?!
TG: it’s not broken anymore!
TG: liam gave me a healing candy!
TG: it’s all better!
TG: hey whoa wait.
TG: why’re you swearing?
TG: I thought you hated it more than anything.
AC: my mom hates it
AC: she hates it from me
AC: she always said i should be smarter and say what i really mean when i’m mad instead of just flying off the rails and swearing
AC: but it’s always what i really mean
AC: and it’s all i can say when i’m angry like this
AC: but she gets
AC: i dunno
AC: angry with me if i swear like this
AC: and when i talk with people who do swear a lot it’s like it’s something normal and ok to do
AC: it pisses me off to want to swear and have my mom tell me i shouldn’t
TG: oh no.
TG: did another troll start bothering you?
TG: they finally got to me and god do I understand how you could be swearing right now.
AC: it’s hugh
AC: he’s here and
AC: when you two chat does he ever swear?
TG: well, yeah.
AC: do you?
TG: yeah. not as much as either of the boys, but I do.
AC: you guys don’t swear around me?
TG: of course not.
TG: you asked us not to.
TG: but it’s not going to bother US if you swear.
TG: it IS normal.
TG: if that’s what’s bugging you.
AC: it’s not really
TG: what is, then?
AC: he lied about this game
AC: he knew all about the stuff that’s happened
TG: hey, does he know why there’s a huge goat in here, then?
TG: none of us prototyped a huge goat, unless you did.
AC: ok hugh said the same thing to my sprite after seeing this huge snake with wings
TG: my sprite told me that the underlings take on traits from what we prototype the kernelsprite with before we get in.
TG: that’s why we said that.
TG: you’re mad because he didn’t tell us the truth about how the game starts or the meteors.
TG: but it looks like his dreams, whatever that means, didn’t tell him absolutely everything.
AC: am i supposed to not be pissed off?
TG: oh god no.
TG: sweetie, I’d kick his ass right now if I could.
TG: but I think we need to think about what’s going on right now.
TG: hugh needs to apologize and explain a lot more than he has, for sure.
TG: but here’s the thing.
TG: we’re on planets full of things that want to kill us, and it’s just us four against them.
TG: for now, we work together and you give him the chance to speak.
TG: amie, say yes or I swear to god I’m going to tickle you to death when we meet.
AC: ok ok!
AC: i’ll let him talk
TG: wow, it’s hilarious to see you swear.
TG: so don’t forget:
TG: it’s okay to swear. :)
TG: now go talk to him, okay?
TG: good girl.
TG: I’ll try to get to your planet soon.
AC: i’m excited to see you
TG: see you soon!
—aspiringCarver [AC] ceased pestering tirelessGuardian [TG]—
Amie took a long time in sitting up, and held the blanket tight around her shoulders as she did. Turning her head toward the window told her that the light had not changed despite the time that had passed. She could not remember if she had felt any tremors from the house being rebuilt. There were no messages waiting for her from Hugh’s handle, and she did not open a window to him. Instead, she stood from the bed and shucked the dampened blanket. Her clothes stuck to her skin, and so she went to her closet with every intention of changing.
The half-open door broke into splinters the moment she touched it, destroyed by the blue, samurai-armored dog that charged at her. It knocked her to the ground, and only because she had called them up at the breaking of the door was she able to get the hammer and chisel between her neck and the dog’s teeth. She had wedged the chisel into its mouth, and their hitting the ground added to the strength of the hammer strike. The creature seized, glowing white eyes going wide, and exploded into gems of blue and solid droplets of black.
She sat and looked at the prizes for only an instant. The next she was on her feet and back to the closet, keeping hold of her chisel as she went. What she found, though, gave her pause. Instead of the t-shirts and shorts that had reigned within the day before, long sleeved shirts, jeans, and three puffy snow coats hung casually inside. When she looked down, she found her sandals had been pushed away in favor of sneakers and fluff-lined boots. A moment of staring was afforded to the new vestments before she tugged a coat and a pair of boots into her sylladex. Just as quickly, she stripped and pulled on dry clothes. Clad in blue jeans, a long, light violet shirt, and sneakers, she left her room.
Hugh was sitting in the hall outside, his laptop propped on his knees. He remained still when their eyes met, and he did not look away. He twitched his thumb toward the screen. “I finished fixing up all the burned spots.”
“Okay. So, thanks.”
“And I’m sorry about swearing before.”
“I—oh.” She blinked, almost took a half step back, and instead stepped forward. “Um. I’m...still mad. But not about the swearing. That’s okay.”
He chuckled, tapping his thumb on the top of the screen. “I guess so, since you kept saying ‘fuck.’”
A long silence came before she spoke again. “Hey, I just found a ton of winter clothes in my closet. They weren’t there yesterday.”
“Seriously? There’s just a bunch in there now?” He blinked and shot to his feet. “Hey! We should alchemize them with the clothes you’re in! That way you can strife without a puffy coat getting in the way!”
She smiled slightly. “I thought that’s what we should do. I just got attacked in my room, and it sucked enough in my normal clothes.”
“You got attacked? By what?”
“A blue dog in samurai armor.”
He blinked again, reeling back. “Oh. At least that’s normal. Vita prototyped some armor her dad had.”
“Her dad had samurai armor just lying around?”
She rubbed her forehead. “Okay, moving on. Let’s just go alchemize stuff.”
He grinned, shifted the computer away, and reached for her hand. He stopped and patted her shoulder before turning away. “Come on. I moved the cruxtruder and deployed the punch designix, so everything’s on the sixth floor. Of, um—” He flicked his fingers up to count. “—ten, now.”
She opened her mouth and closed it. Shaking her head, she said, “Okay, let’s go.”
They made their unimpeded and uninterrupted way to the sixth floor. The chill wind blew through the open area, and Amie shivered in her thin clothes while Hugh explained the purpose of the designix: punching through cards to allow their contents to be used in alchemy. Grudgingly, anxiously at first, she gave over the captchalogue cards containing the puffy coat and her current shirt and watched him type in the codes on the back. They were punched through, and he slotted both into the lathe with a fresh dowel in the chucks. It produced a totem sloping from fat in the center to narrow at both ends, and he ferried it to the alchemiter with a grin.
The shirt that appeared on the platform was visually identical to the shirt on her shoulders, but when she took hold of it and checked its title in the sylladex, she found it was called the Puff-free Wondertop. Shifting into it instantly relieved the cold suffused in her skin, and she grinned as broadly as Hugh when she dashed back down the stairs with ideas swarming in her head.
Ally with the Thief of Mind