"Sis, I'm hungry!" My brother whined for the sixth time since we walked into the door of our house. It was only three o'clock, a hour after our classes for the day had ended and only two from when we had lunch in the school cafeteria. But none of that mattered to Yang Ming's constantly starving stomach; he was so bad that we always had to drag him out of an all-you-can-eat buffet if we went to one.
"I'm going to tell you this one last time, Yang Ming... You, Mom and Dad are going to have to fend for yourselves tonight!" I snapped back, trying to fix my hair in the hallway mirror. No matter how many times I tried to curl, braid, or pin up my hair to look even remotely cute it would end up looking like a rat's nest. I guess a ponytail will do... Again... I resigned myself to defeat as I started to pull up my hair into my standard ponytail.
"But Dad is busy watching TV, and last time Mom made something we nearly came down with food poisoning because she didn't cook the pork long enough..." Yang Ming mumbled, giving a slight pout in case I ever looked his way.
"Now, now son! Don't pester your sister so much!" I suddenly heard our mom call from the living room. "After all, she's going out with that incredibly handsome professor! We don't want her to get cold feet when she's finally agreed to go on a date with him!"
"Mom!" I cried indigently. I was ready to argue that the reason why I finally did is because I was always worried that people figure out that A: He was trying to date one of his students and B: that I was formerly Prince, world-renown player and bishounen of Second Life; a virtual reality game that a little under a year ago was at the heart of an act of terrorism that nearly overtook the world. There's no point in arguing with Mom half the time, she is too concerned with the fact that she has an incredibly handsome man as a potential son-in-law... Wait, what!? My mind froze and face grew hot at the intrusive thought. No! I did not just acknowledge the fact that marrying Gui is a possibility! He's just... Ugh. I prevented myself from pursuing the idea, getting the feeling I was just going to make myself even more flustered.
My embarrassment did not go unnoticed by my twin, who knew this was the perfect time to fluster me even more. "Oh I wouldn't worry, Mom." Yang Ming said, an evil smirk creeping up as he spoke. "After all, Gui just got his very own Prince to agree on a date with him! There's no way he'll let her run away from him, now..."
The doorbell rang just as I had administered my hairbrush to my brother's face, causing me to freeze up. He's here...!
Unsurprisingly, my mom made record speed from the living room to the door so she could answer it. She had never truly met Gui, even in Second Life. They were not part of the castle, opting to run away from Infinite City which they claimed as their home to other continents. But everyone knew about the famous Odd Squad and its members, including the charming bard named Guiliastes, Professor Min Gui Wen's character. In a show of cowardice, I quickly hid behind my brother as my mother opened the door to reveal my professor whom I had hours earlier, droning on about some sort of literature work that was written in the 14th century.
"Lan better not screw this up..." I saw my mom mouth as I watched a trickle of saliva threaten to escape from the corner of her lips. At first I thought she was exaggerating, rolling my eyes at her reaction. Come on, Mom. Seriously. I know he's handsome, but... But... I quickly disagreed as I finally took a look at my professor-turned-date, who had cleaned up quite nicely since we had seen him in class a couple of hours ago. His hair was styled and gel fashionably, wearing stylish clothes without looking too dressed up for a casual outing. He looked nothing like a stuffy professor who taught Chinese Literature, but instead a young man that any girl would fight for attention from.
He suddenly cleared his throat, looking slightly uncertain as to what to do. "Uh, good evening! I assume you are Mrs. Feng? It's nice to meet you!" He said hastily, holding out his right hand. He's nervous! I thought in disbelief, before I remembered that Gui wasn't the best at socializing. After all, he told me that he imagines all his students as rocks... Wait, does that mean he imagines me as a rock too!?
"Yes, yes I am! And you are Professor Min Gui Wen then, correct?" My mom replied excitedly, grabbing his hand in a frighteningly tight grip. "Yang Ming and Lan have told me so much about you!"
Gui's face went pink, probably from being called a professor at his date's house! "P-Please, Gui is fine... And that's good to hear. Speaking of..." He trailed off, looking straight at Yang Ming, as if he knew I was hiding behind him. Surprisingly Yang Ming did not move, making me suspicious. Usually Yang Ming likes making me feel awkward every chance he has, but isn't doing anything right now. What is he planning?
"Oh, looking for my sister?" Yang Ming spoke up, trying to sound serious. But I knew better, there was a tone in his voice that only meant mischief. "She's still in her room, probably. She takesforever with getting ready, you know. It takes her twenty minutes just to put on a pair of pants!"
"... Oh?" Gui said, his tone changing to be more teasing. The same tone he would use on Prince whenever he was prime for a good beating. "I guess that means I'll go to that really nice restaurant I reserved three months ago and eat clam pasta with white wine all by myself..."
"DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE ME BEHIND, GUILIASTES!" I yelled. I was unable to hold back, launching myself at him. However I was caught by my brother, who was laughing hysterically.
"Gee Sis, you're just too easy to rile up sometimes!" He laughed, pushing me out the door and into Gui. "Now, I trust you two kids won't do anything I wouldn't do!" My brother teased, before slamming the door on us to increase the awkwardness of his implication. He's really going to get it when I get home!
Gui gave a slight cough, making me realized I was still leaning against him from when my brother pushed me out. Quickly I detached myself, straightening my clothes and patting down my hair. I looked up to see Gui looking at me, his eyes filled with love. I wasn't sure what to say, but my stomach decided to make a complaint with a growling noise emitting from it. "So uh... Can we eat?"
"That was probably the best meal I've ever had!" I exclaimed happily, my stomach complaining no longer. Today was Valentine's Day, so the restaurant we went to was packed with couples of all ages. I had to give Gui props for how relentless he was; he had reserved our table immediately after I gave into his constant pleas for me to go on a date with him on Valentine's Day, three months prior to the actual day. How he was able to reserve a table that late when the waiting list for the restaurant was usually a year he wouldn't say, but I have a feeling he might have mentioned his famous character once or twice in that conversation...
"I'm glad you enjoyed it!" He replied just as happily, giving off a bright smile. He leaned across the table towards me, propping his elbows up and resting his chin on his folded hands. "Is there anything else you want? Anything at all?"
"Uh..." I was completely dumbfounded, unable to break away from his gentle eyes. I leaned in closer, wanting to take a closer look as the flame from the candles on the table danced in his eyes. It seemed like his face was getting closer to mine, and his eyes even softer. Is what I think is happening, happening again...? I thought to myself, vaguely remembering what he had done in Flower City after Prince was destroyed.
"In other news... Prince..." I heard out of the drone of conversations in the dining room, snapping me out of my trance. I immediately turned in the direction of where I heard it from, where there was a TV in the bar area of the restaurant.
"I-Is there something wrong, Xiao Lan?" Gui asked, confused and slightly miffed at his chance being gone.
"Prince." I said simply.
"Prince?" Gui asked again, even more confused.
I suddenly got up and walked over to the bar area, with Gui tailing close behind me. The bartender turned around to face me, his bored expression suddenly lightening up till he saw Gui, to which it turned into a small frown. "Sir, can you turn up that TV?" I asked hurriedly.
With a simple nod, the bartender took out a remote from his waist apron pocket and turned it up. On the screen was a pretty reporter, yet she wasn't wearing traditional attire for a reporter. Instead she looked like she was ready to cast a spell, wearing a mage's hat and robe while she held a wand that she treated as a microphone. "... That's right, folks. Prince has returned!" She announced excitedly, her smile becoming less professional.
The entire restaurant had quieted down into a series of murmurs, all eyes focused on the screen. Gui and I quickly exchanged glances, with Gui looking inquiringly at me. "I'm just as confused as you are!" I whispered under my breath, loud enough for only him to hear. We turned our attention back to the screen, which was now showing a large, familiar looking city. That looks kind of like Infinite City! But the design is so sub-par compared to what Gui and Lolidragon did...
"Only a month has past since the hottest MMORPG, Reveries, was released and dominated the market of online gaming. And with it one of, if not the greatest legend to virtual reality gaming has come back onto the scene: Prince of Second Life! After nearly a year of silence, the Blood Elf has revealed himself once again and shown his dominance in the gaming world by winning in the guild tournament with his Odd Squad, successfully taking the land for the grand prize to rename it his old domain; Infinite City." The reporter said as the clips of the game's tournament played through and then finally settling on the supposed 'Infinite City'. "We now turn to Prince, who wishes to make a public statement!"
"Odd Squad!?" Both Gui and I exclaimed, once again looking at each other in disbelief. How is that even possible? We've all been so busy cleaning up the mess that Long Dian left us on top of all of our personal lives, we've had no time to play games! The camera zoomed onto the balcony of the castle in the city, focusing on a tall, white haired elf with red eyes. While he was indeed quite handsome and closely resembled Prince, he was definitely no mirror image of my beloved avatar. I just couldn't put my finger on what exactly about him seemed so 'wrong' in his image, though.
I didn't have to wonder for long though, as Gui whispered, "His eyes and smile are nothing like yours."
"W-What?" I asked, feeling my face suddenly get hot at the comment.
"He doesn't have that intense gaze, or genuine smile that you always have. His eyes are forced, and his smile is fake." He replied in a serious tone, making the heat from my face increase.
I looked up at the TV again, where my copycat was speaking and smiling. I didn't know what he was saying because the noise in the restaurant had greatly increased from the announcement, but I knew one thing- I was not going to allow anyone to take credit for the things I did or risk them tarnishing my reputation. Not sparing a moment, I grabbed Gui's hand and rushed out of the restaurant, onto one of the busy streets of downtown XX City.
"Where are we going!?" Gui cried as we raced down the street, still being dragged along by me.
I twisted my head to face him as we ran, "We're going to Long Enterprises to see a certain friend of ours."
As soon as Gui pulled up to the towering skyscraper that was centered in the capital, I jumped out and sprinted to the entrance. I slammed the doors open, leaving the individuals in the lobby quite stunned as they watched me stroll up to the receptionist calmly as Gui scrambled inside to keep up with me. "I need to see Loli- I mean Long Shui Han immediately!" I corrected myself, still having a difficult time referring to Lolidragon with her real name. I honestly doubt I ever will, either.
"O-One moment, please!" The receptionist squeaked, looking flustered as she glanced between me and an exhausted Gui. Even though Long Dian's defeat was televised, somehow or another my face wasn't not shown the entire time because of camera angles as well as my helmet being on for most of the time. That being said, while the receptionist surely did not know I was Prince, she certainly knew I was on close terms with Lolidragon and her father Long-Ba as well as recognize who Gui was. She pressed a button on her desk, and within a moment a hologram of Lolidragon appeared; her face displaying annoyance.
"What is it that could be so important this late at night, Ling!? I'm busy shopping for a new purse on Shang Chang*'s website!" Lolidragon snapped.
"Ma'am, Ms. Feng and Professor Min are here to see you... They said it was urgent." The receptionist replied timidly.
Lolidragon looked confused, "What? Did he get her pregnant?"
"Lolidragon!" Gui exclaimed suddenly, surely feeling equally the amount of embarrassment that I did.
"Oh, I didn't know they could hear me!" Lolidragon giggled, showing her standard mischievous smile that reminded me so much of my brother's. I swear they are made for each other. "Alright, alright! Send them up!" With that she ended the call, and the receptionist lead us to the elevator. The receptionist pressed the button for the 44th floor and gave a slight wave as the elevator doors closed in front of her, leaving Gui and I alone. In an elevator... That won't be stopping for the next 43 floors... I inwardly groaned, feeling a new emotion that I never had with Gui before- Awkwardness.
For the next ten floors we stayed silent, listening to the drab elevator music play. I could tell Gui was trying his best to not stare, which seemed to add to the awkwardness because I was so used to him staring at me when we played together in Second Life. It's like he's trying to act like his usual self, but he can't. And it's just making this awkwardness between us even worse. I thought to myself as we passed the twelfth floor, staring at the display that told us what floor we were on.
I figured to try and reduce the awkwardness, I would break the silence by making some light conversation. "So... That essay on the Xia* Dynasty isn't due till next Tuesday, right?" I blurted out, making me want to shoot myself. Real smooth, moron! Asking your date about homework assignments that he gave!
He gave me a perplexed look, before trying to hide the laugh he was failing at suppressing with his hand. "Yes! I may even extend the deadline to Thursday since many students are having trouble finding sources!"
"Thursday!?" I said, cracking a smile from feeling a bit of relief. Yes! That means I can deal with this and get that long-ass paper in time since it's Monday!
Suddenly Gui placed his left hand on my right cheek, lifting my face to look at his. "I love seeing that smile, especially if I'm the reason for it." He said lovingly, his eyes reflecting his tone. Once again I was left speechless, from Gui's spontaneity as well as his trance inducing eyes. I was glued to the floor, unable to pull away as he slowly made his way to close the gap between us.
"So-" I heard the familiar voice of Lolidragon start, causing Gui to stop suddenly and turn his face to look at her. "does this mean you really did knock her up?"
Gui removed his hand from my face, the area hot and my heart racing. His face was just as red as I sure mine was as he spoke, "Lolidragon, come on! What we came for is serious!"
"Okay, okay! I give!" Lolidragon threw up her hands mockingly as she winked at us. "Come in and grab a seat, I suppose for you two to actually come here instead of calling me it must be pretty big." She gestured to a couple of plush, vibrant colored chairs that were seated in front of her intimidating oak desk. I walked over and picked the purple chair to the left while Gui was stuck in the hot pink chair across from me. "So, don't keep me waiting in suspense! What's up?"
"Someone is impersonating the Odd Squad!" I blurted out, finally able to discuss the matter that had been weighing heavily on my mind. Lolidragon look stupefied, as if I had spoken in another language to her. I quickly explained what we saw and heard on the TV, the fake Prince, them mentioning an Odd Squad as well as the title of the game it was on, Reveries. As I recalled the event, with each sentence Lolidragon's smile dropped little by little till her expression was seething with anger.
"Those little shits, they actually did it..." She mumbled when I was done retelling my story.
"Who?" Both Gui and I asked.
Lolidragon sighed, closing her eyes briefly as she rubbed her forehead. "Right after the Long Dian Incident, the board had a meeting with the heads of all the teams that were involved in withSecond Life; developers, server managers, GMs, anyone who kept the game running basically. The meeting was over what the fate of Second Life would be, whether it would be kept running in light of this scandal and impending lawsuits or to abandon the game but leave the servers up because the AIs had become sentient. In the end we decided it would be best to abandon Second Lifeand focus on other ventures outside of Virtual Realities for now since our reputation with those was now tarnished.
"However..." Lolidragon began, then suddenly slammed her fist on her desk. "There were a couple of damn fools on the original developer team with Long Dian that disagreed, and ran off with the information that created Second Life. Because all the knowledge was essentially in their head, and as long as they didn't go make copycat of Second Life, there's not a damn thing we can do about it!"
I was bewildered as to where she was going with this tangent she was on. "Okay... So what does this have do with someone impersonating us?"
Lolidragon looked at me wildly before her expression changed to confusion, "Ah... Sorry. I'm just almost certain that they have something to do with this... This new game Reveries, that is. It sounds close enough to be Second Life's engine and general foundation, but tweaked enough so we couldn't claim they were making the same thing."
"So what should we do about this fake Odd Squad?" I asked, wanting to hear her advice. While Lolidragon always teased me and would sometimes sell Prince's image for the sake of money (Don't think I didn't forget all those "photoshoots" you made me do!); she was fiercely loyal and for the longest time the person I leaned on for counsel when I struggled with hiding my identity back on Second Life.
"Well what do you think we should do? After all, aren't you the leader of the Odd Squad? Even now, you could call to arms everyone from our group and even those from Infinite City whether it be in real life or in a game!" Lolidragon said, giving me another playful wink and smile.
"She's right." Gui said, rising from his chair. He walked over to me, grabbing my hand as he knelt to be face to face with me. With a teasing smile, he kissed my hand and said, "I will always be my Highness' side!"
"I've told you not to call me that!" I exclaimed in irritation, kicking him in the shin as hard as I could. Since this was real life I couldn't tell if my kick actually hurt him or not, but he feigned injury regardless by rubbing his leg.
"So does that mean what I think that means?" Lolidragon said with a wild grin.
I returned her smile, "It means you better buy a new headset while you're on Shang Chang."
Shang Chang: Literally means Market in Chinese. Don't bother looking up to see if it's a real site, I already did and it isn't.
Xia Dynasty: The "first" dynasty of China according to ancient Chinese writings. It is highly debated among historians and archaeologists if the Xia Dynasty was real or mythical. (Look at Wikipedia or your local Chinese history textbook for more info.)
The rest of the evening went quite quick, with Gui and I heading to the night market to buy the headsets before he dropped me off at my house. As he began to walk away, I hesitated for a moment before I ran up behind and grappled him into an awkward hug. "Uh... Thanks for today..." I said, letting go quickly.
Gui turned around, his face tinged in pink. He pulled me back to him, bringing him close to his chest. S-So close! I thought to myself, even though he was always all over me while I was Prince, this felt much different. "No, thank you. I'll see you in the game, okay?" He said softly, suddenly kissing the top of my head.
"Yes!" I blurted out loudly, quickly breaking away from him. "See you then!" In one motion I opened my door and slipped through it, truly believing that if I was with Gui any longer I would go into cardiac arrest by how fast my heart was beating. When I closed the door, I slid down the back of it while holding the headsets that I bought for my brother and I.
"What happened, Sis?" My brother suddenly appeared from around the corner, looking amused by how flustered I must have looked. "Am I going to have to be calling Gui my brother-in-law soon?" He teased ruthlessly.
"Shut up and play, Yang Ming!" I yelled as I threw his headset straight at his head. I was so caught up in my embarrassment I didn't realize he would have no idea what I was talking about; so I was left explaining the news cast as well as the meeting with Lolidragon to him as I tended to the massive bump on his head that formed from the collision with the headset. When he finally stopped whimpering like a baby, we both went to our bedrooms to begin our new adventure in the game Reveries.
I wouldn't be surprised if Lolidragon was right about those guys copying Second Life. I thought to myself as I looked over the headset, with its clear plastic visor and sensors that lined the parts of the headset that would make contact with temples and back of the head, the only difference I could honestly see was the color being blue instead of the standard red that Second Life had. Slipping underneath my blankets, I placed the headset on my face and turned it on. A sense of nostalgia fell over me as the induced sleep slowly weighed on my eyelids, soon leaving me in pitch darkness.
"Welcome to Reveries!" I heard from within the darkness, before a sudden light appeared leaving me momentarily blind. When my eyes adjusted, I noticed I was in a room that looked similar to the character creation room in Second Life. Geez, is there anything they actually made original? I thought to myself, disappointed with game makers of the day. Before I could lament any further a woman suddenly appeared in front of me, levitating about five feet from the ground. She was of course ridiculously gorgeous, with a tiny waist and barely covered curves that could make any straight man drool over her. At first I assumed she was a GM like Lolidragon was, but when I locked eyes with her I noticed how emotionless they were. Ah, she's an NPC! Making Prince without garnering suspicion just got easier! She smiled and continued, "Please give us a moment to analyze your physical attributes, and then you may begin customizing your avatar!"
A scanner ran up and down my body a couple of times, to which a variety of different 'races' of me appeared. "Please select the race you wish to play." The NPC said.
"I want to be an elf, a male elf." I replied sternly, focusing on the female elf version of me that was currently being displayed.
"I'm sorry, currently we are unable to change individuals to the opposite sex! Please select another option for customization." She replied in a robotic tone.
Shit, that's right. Originally I was a special exception because I was the first player to login to Second Life... I hadn't planned on this, jumping to the conclusion that I would be able to become male again in game. And I didn't want to reveal my identity either, so staying how I was would be out of the question as well. Not to mention not looking like Prince would probably not be very convincing either... Then the idea hit me, that's it! Just because I'm biologically female doesn't mean I can't look male!
"Is it possible to make myself more masculine?" I asked as I crossed my fingers.
"Yes, character customization is limitless with the exception of biological sex." Elf-me started to grow taller than me, her face more angular, hips smaller and body more muscular.
"I want my hair jaw length and white, with red eyes as well!" I demanded, to which the NPC obliged. The avatar closed and reopened her eyes, revealing them to be the blood red eyes I was so accustomed to. Her hair slowly became shorter, as if the hair was residing back into her scalp as the color white began to run down her hair from the roots. At this point, the female avatar could pass for Prince better than the individual who was currently using my alias. With a few tweaks, she was indistinguishable from how Prince looked in Second Life.
The NPC looked at my avatar curiously, "How interesting that this set of characteristics is so common among players, though this is the first time a female has wanted it." Her eyes darted back to me, as if remembering her job. "What would you like your name to be?"
And here is the biggest decision. I thought to myself, biting at my lip. I obviously can't call myself Prince anymore because of that damn copycat. So what name should I go by? I thought long and hard, wanting something that spoke true to myself as Prince but was also ambiguous enough to reveal my true identity. Something that people could identify me as the real Prince, but nothing that would look like a lame ripoff of my beloved character's former name. After mumbling a variety of words out loud to myself, I realized that they all shared something similar in common. "Wei*. My name will be Wei!" I announced, having finally decided. Short and simple, just like Prince.
"So it shall be done. Wei, I formally welcome you into Reveries! Enjoy your time in-game!" The NPC said as she merged my conscious into my character, causing me to black out.
Wei: Wei can mean a lot of things, depending on the 'e' that is used (I don't have the special character to define which e, and I kind of wanted to leave it that way for the readers interpretation of it.) Wei can mean power, might and prestige; as well as high, lofty and majestic. All characteristics that Prince has or is referred to (His Majesty, anyone?). There were other contenders, but this one I felt was the best fitting for Prince.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the middle of the beginner elf town. There were a few people that were milling around, evidence of how late I was entering into the game. It's been like a month or so since the game has released, so the majority of people who are going to play it bought it when it first came out. A realization came to me when I touched my face, a subconscious gesture of mine whenever I was thinking. I immediately looked down, heaving a large sigh of relief when I saw the newcomer clothes were unisex. For a minute there, I thought they might have dropped me in some barely there outfit! The imagery of Prince in some sort of harlot outfit was both hilarious and disturbing. I had not bothered to think about the real issue at heart though, that soon became apparent when my presence was finally noticed by three young elf ladies. As soon as I locked eyes with them, I quickly became familiar with the nostalgic feeling of being a piece of steak for a pack of hungry wolves. Not missing a beat, I quickly jumped up and darted through the alleyways of the town to evade them. Why does this always happen to me!?
I was outside of the town when I finally lost the lusting pack of women, which I mumbled a quick word of thanks. I do need to be out here to level up, and I'm not too sure I could have made it out here if I intentionally tried... Grabbing the beginner dagger out of my inventory, I crept towards my first victim- a wolf much like the ones in Second Life. I waited in the bushes till it had turned around with its back towards me before I struck. With only a foot or so separating us, I made one swift movement of grabbing the wolf by the tail and yanking it upwards. The wolf went flying into the air, which I used to make a downward slash, neatly cutting the wolf from its lower belly to its neck. The gutting of the wolf of course left a bloody aftermath, which I couldn't help but reveal in the sheer rawness of experiencing the thrill of victory again. It's been such a long time since I've enjoyed a game with so little worries!
My wolf genocide continued until I was level 10, the level I could become the warrior class. After about a hour of wandering in the fields in the pursuit of finding the beginner town, I finally made it to the class changer. The class changer was your generic NPC, with an average joe face and personality. I had to listen to the lengthy and boring lecture about being a warrior before he finally changed my class. Just like in Second Life I received a beginner set of warrior armor as well as a beginner warrior weapon generator, which generated at random a type of weapon a warrior could use. Excitedly, I used the generator so I could finally brandish a proper weapon again. I stuck my hand in the glowing bag, gripping onto the hilt of the weapon and pulled to find- a broadsword... I stared at the sword, which was revealed to be one of the worst broadswords in the entire game. What the hell is this? I can't use a broadsword! I sighed in disappointment, longing for my black dao again. I'm sure if I save up enough money I could just buy a dao, but... It won't be the same at all... I shook my head, trying to stay optimistic.
There's still the armor! Armor is armor, so surely this set will be good enough for a little b- I pulled out the armor from my inventory, the armor being incredibly feminine and chest baring. Fuming, I threw the armor a good ten feet away from me. What damn good is that piece of shit for? It doesn't even protect half of the vital areas! And if I'm going to continue being male, I can't be wearing something like that!
Feeling defeated and frustrated so early in the game, I sat down on the side of the curb with my head hanging low. It just occurred to me that none of my friends are here too... I looked up, now noticing I wasn't the only one who had adopted Prince's signature red eyes and white hair among the elves of the game. Will they be able to recognize me even? My mind quickly flashed to Gui, and the incident that happened in Flower City. My heart quickened and my cheeks began to feel hot at the memory. No! It was just a lucky guess by his part! There's no way he could honestly know that was you-
"I found his Highness!" I heard a familiar voice cry from behind me. I didn't get the chance to turn around before I found myself face first in the dirt, with what I figured was about 180 pounds of bard clinging on top of my back.
"I got to admit, Lolidragon..." The gruff voice of Wolf-dage began, "Using Gui like a bloodhound to find Prince was a pretty smart idea."
Lolidragon let out a proud laugh, "Of course! We all know that Gui could find the real Prince even if Prince had gone bald and looked like Lei Gong*!"
"Hey, who are you calling ugly!?" Was what I intended to say to Lolidragon, but since my face was still in the dirt it came out more like, "Herf, wer raw oo carring ufry!?" Gui finally got off of me, though I could tell he was quite reluctant to do so. Once I rubbed the dirt from my eyes, I opened them to look at the group that 'found' me. It was all the Odd Squad plus my twin brother, each one looking the same as they did in Second Life with the exception of their armors. My final gaze was on Gui, who's face was only six inches away from my own. "So-" I turned from him to face the others, feeling quite flustered with him being so close to my face. "how did you guys know it was me?"
"Wellll, honestly we only used Gui and his knack of finding you. But it was honestly pretty easy to see it was you once he found you- you're the only Prince lookalike here who looks all depressed over their weapon and has dry blood caked all over them." Lolidragon replied, who looked quite amused at my awkwardness with Gui.
Knowing I couldn't just not acknowledge his presence, I turned to him having a confused expression on his face. I quirked an eyebrow, since him being confused was a rare sight. "Prince..." He began to say, looking me up and down. "You feel... Different." It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about, a horrifying reality clicking. I'm not male, anymore! Without even thinking, I slapped him across the face; the reaction startling the group.
It would have been one thing for me to have beaten him up, that was something normal and expected of me to do. But a slap to the face was completely unexpected, something that had much more severity behind it than the classic Second Life thrashing had. My senses kicked in right after, his expression bewildered and heartbroken as he touched the red hand print that was left on his face. "Ah... Sorry." I said quietly, the guilt of my action starting to hit me. "I'm... not male..."
A moment of clarity seemed to dawn on everyone, with Gui's face becoming redder than the hand print that I left on him. "No! It should me that's sorry! I should have figured as much since you were the only exception for that on Second Life!"
"Hmm..." Lolidragon walked around where I sat and ran her eyes over me, as if sizing me up. "They did a pretty damn good job of not making you look female, I'll say that much. Did you have a NPC to help you?"
I nodded, "Yes, I asked her to make me more masculine and I worked with it from that point." She said nothing more about the subject outside of a simple nod and "I see." before she carried on to her next topic.
"Well, if that's the case then that explains why you're still in your starter clothes. But thankfully your big sis' Lolidragon was thoughtful and got you a few things!" Before I could ask what in the world she was talking about, she pulled out a set of armor similar to my old set and a black dao.
"How in the world did you get these!?" I asked excitedly, jumping up and grabbing the items from her hand.
"When I looked at Shang Chang I found they were selling limited edition 'Prince' items because of 'Prince's return'." She said, gesturing with her fingers at the last bit. "I figured it would be in our best interests to get you the dao from that selection so none of us had to hear you whine. However this dao isn't a growing type like the one in Second Life, but you can refine it and make it stronger as you level up."
"And the armor?" I asked, running my hand over the cool metal chest plate.
"The armor is another buyable, one that has similar stats to the one you wore in Second Life. I figured at least giving you an armor that had similar stats will help you adjust better to the game than just starting out and struggling. It'll also make you look respectable, even if people do realize it is a purchasable item." She replied, looking quite proud at her act of kindness.
Sparing no time, I quickly ran to a nearby store that had restroom. Ignoring that physically I was female, I ran into the men's restroom and quickly changed into my armor. To my luck, the armor was unisex as well so no one would be able to tell that I was actually a woman. I walked back out, and examined myself in a mirror that was being sold. The armor had a similar design to the blood-red armor was known for as the Overlord of Infinite City, but still had its differences. It was black with red accents and less bulky, making it easier to move around in. "How do I look?" I asked my team, turning myself around so I could see how it looked on the back.
Gui was the first to reply, his eyes showing pride and adoration. "There is no way anyone could say you're not Prince."
"No kidding..." Lolidragon remarked as she ran her gaze over me, her expression failing to hide the obscene thoughts running through her head.
Yang Ming coughed loudly as he held a glare filled with jealousy. "Just because I know you're my sister doesn't mean I won't send my sword through your pretty face!" He PM'ed me. I couldn't help but roll my eyes, slightly amused by his threat.
"Prince-gege," Doll suddenly piped up, "what are we planning to do next? Doll wants to fight the fake Doll with the power of love and justice!" She exclaimed, thrusting her staff up in the area in an act of determination.
"Good question! Where are we going next, oh great leader?" Yang Ming asked in a sarcastic manner.
I bit my lip, I hadn't thought this far yet! I wasn't really sure how exactly we were going to usurp the fake Prince, especially since he already owned a city and was pretty much untouchable to our measly level ten characters. In desperation, I looked over at the only person in the group that had an IQ over 200- Gui.
"May I suggest something, your Highness?" Gui said, noticing my quiet plea for help. I quickly nodded, thankful to Gui for the rescue. "Well, looking at the situation as of right now the only thing we can do is train to raise our levels. It would also be good that during this we start making connections with other guilds, figuring out a way to prove that our Prince is the real Prince without having to reveal his identity in real life."
I started to feel excited, of getting closer to dethroning that impostor."Then what are we waiting for? There's a field not too far from here we can train in!"
"But Prince we don'- Prince, wait!" Gui shouted as I ran out the store without a second thought, my mind set on our next training destination.
Lei Gong: God of Thunder in Taoism. He is typically portrayed in his human form as a horribly ugly man.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
"Prince-" Lolidragon huffed alongside the rest of the group; who had tried to keep up with me after I had bolted out the door of the store, "I hope you know that we are one: at a cave, not a field. And two: no where near our original destination!"
I looked around at our current location, which was nothing like the green pastures that I heard were filled with monsters that ranged from level 15 to 20. Instead it was a swamp-like area which had a giant cave in the heart of said swamp. It was obviously a dungeon, with its well beaten path and a sign over the entrance that read: Bog Body Cavern in an ominous font. "Uh..." I returned my attention to my friends, who were still trying to catch their breath. "Sorry guys..."
"Is this even a place we can train?" Yu Lian asked Ugly Wolf, who had recovered and was now staring intently at the sign.
"Hm... Well I didn't really get to read too much on this game, since we decided to start playing the game in such a haste. But honestly with its proximity to the town being so close, but still farther away than the field that Prince was attempting to get to I would guess the monsters inside would be 30 to 40 in level." Ugly Wolf explained as he scratched the fur under his chin.
I evaluated our current levels, with Lolidragon having the highest at level 12. Could we handle a level 30 monster? I mean there is seven of us, consisting of two warriors, a thief, a mage, a necromancer, a bard and a priest... Which means there is three short range players, two magic users, a long range and then a healer. The corner of my mouth quirked upwards, a risky and possibly irrational decision made. "Pfft, level thirty? A piece of cake!" I said, whipping my dao out and twirling it in my hand. "Let's go!"
"What? Wai-" I heard Ugly Wolf cry out as I sprinted into the cave, my dao in hand. I didn't even pay attention if my teammates had followed me in, as I was too focused on the idea of leveling up and taking down the impostor that was currently mooching off my hard earned glory. I soon came across my first mob- a reanimated corpse that stunk of rotten flesh and rancid bodily fluids. It was so overwhelming that it took all my willpower not to hurl my dinner. Weak Zombie - Lvl 28 HP 300/300 read above the mob as it slowly lumbered to me.
That isn't too bad! I thought to myself, plotting out a strategy of slowly wearing the mob down as I kept a distance to avoid being hit. Usually being at level 10 this kind of battle would be a death wish, but the armor and dao that Lolidragon had given me were very strong, putting me close on the strength of a level 20 player. Yet even knowing I was at an advantage compared to my peers, there was no way I was going to risk the mob hitting me even once.
The zombie paid no mind to me, aimlessly lumbering around the cave. I waited till it turned its back towards me, to which I immediately charged and gave it a nice slice to the head with my dao. Critical Hit! Weak Zombie -30 HP
"Only thirty? And on a critical hit at that!?" I cried, starting to wonder if I should have just waited for my team mates to arrive before attacking. The zombie stopped walking, and started to turn to face me with menacing intent. I backed up just in time to evade being grappled by the zombie's unusually long arms, taking me out of striking range. I have to be well within his attacking zone for me to land a hit on him... I looked from the direction I came from, hoping to see the rest of the Odd Squad coming up behind me, yet the only thing I saw were other zombies who had started clamor over as their brethren had been attacked. I really got myself into some deep shit this time, didn't I...? I thought, a bead of sweat dripping down my face as I started to struggle to dodge the incoming zombie hoard.
To my misfortune, I tripped as I was backing away towards a wall, falling flat on my back. I propped myself up in time to see the group of zombies had surrounded me, sealing my fate. I never thought my first death would be so gruesome! I closed my eyes tightly, waiting for the zombies to rip me to shreds. But the moment didn't come, leaving me quite bewildered after a few minutes. Have they decided that I'm just too gamy to eat? That maybe I do not have enough brains to satisfy them all? I slowly opened an eye, giving me the glimpse of the zombies had left to fight something on the other side of the cave. While most people would have taken the chance to run back to the entrance to find their teammates, I was too curious to not take a closer look at what could have attracted the zombies' attention.
I walked slowly and quietly, making sure the zombies did not notice me as they fought their opponent. When I was close enough I noticed it was another player in the center of the zombie hoard. At first I thought it was another warrior, since they were wearing heavy armor and using a large broadsword, but I was soon left confused when I saw them casting holy magic on the zombies like a mage. I watched as the player dispatch the hoard with ease, not even getting a scratch on their brilliant silver and blue armor. When they had shriveled the last zombie away in a bright holy light, they noticed me and walked towards me. "Are you okay, stranger?" They asked in a husky voice, revealing that they were male.
"Ah, yeah! Thank you!" I replied earnestly, giving a deep bow in appreciation. "I must commend your play style, I have never seen anything like it!" I said, thinking back to their powerful strikes and magic spells that were used together in such a smooth fashion. "May I ask what kind of class are you?"
He gestured to walk to the exit of the dungeon, to which I happily obliged. As we began to walk he replied, "I'm a level 42 crusader. And yourself?"
"Ah haha..." I laughed nervously, rubbing the back of my head as I began to feel the full weight of my stupidity. "I'm a level 10 warrior..."
"What!?" He exclaimed, nearly coming to a halt. "What in the world are you doing in a dungeon of this level? You would have certainly been slaughtered if I had not seen you!"
"It's a long story... But let's just say I got kind of lost and ending up here on top of getting separated from my teammates..." I replied, not wanting to admit it was because I had been a bit too headstrong.
"I see..." The warrior replied. We were getting closer to the entrance of the dungeon, the cave regaining more and more of its light as we got closer. I could now barely see the eyes of the warrior behind his helmet, which glint a lovely shade of green in the sunlight that shined through the entrance. "I suppose it is best to get you back to your teammates, then."
Wanting to distract from the awkward topic I asked, "So, what is a crusader? I mean, I know who they were in history but I've never heard of them as a class!" How could I not know who they are when a certain literature professor had us do a stupid reading assignment about them in Medieval Literature class! I grumbled in my mind, slightly cursing my luck that Gui taught many of the liberal art classes at XX University.
"A crusader is a second class to a warrior, which is where you have even more powerful, specialized attacks depending on the second class you take. Crusaders are built for taking damage as well as the ability to use holy magic, that's why I was in that cave- since the undead are weak against holy magic it makes for easy training." He turned to me, and it looked like he had furrowed his eyebrows in confusion through the small slit in his helmet. "You know, for you to take on that kind of appearance you must have some sort of idea about MMORPGs. That or you're desperate for women!"
"What!? Hell no!" I exclaimed, the last thing I need is more women bothering me!
The player let out a deep chuckle, obviously amused by my outcry. "You sure are an amusing character, that's for sure." He replied, stopping as we were only a few meters from the entrance of the dungeon now. "My name is Bohemond of the Integrity clan." He said, holding out his right hand.
I took and firmly grasped his right hand with my own, "And I'm-"
"PRINCE!" Came a chorus of shouts, causing me to turn my head to find my teammates running towards me at maximum speed.
Even though Lolidragon had the highest in agility, Gui had quickly surpassed her and taken the lead of the group. In his typical dramatic fashion, he threw himself at me and grappled his arms around my neck, now avoiding my torso area for obvious reason. "Your Highness, I was so worried about you!" He exclaimed as he snuggled his face into my shoulder.
In one swift movement I threw Gui off me and sent him flying into the ground with a perfectly executed kick to the chest. "Don't you see I'm busy speaking to my rescuer!?" I replied, pissed at being interrupted.
"Prince?" Bohemond said, bewilderment evident in his voice. "That's not possible! His Majesty is currently in Infinite City, building it back up to how it was in Second Life!" He looked at me with suspicion.
"The person in Infinite City is not the real Prince-gege! We have Prince-gege!" Doll remarked, showing off her determined face.
"She's right, and his Odd Squad are all shams as well." Wolf-dage replied, "While obviously it may not seem very convincing that we are the real Odd Squad as of right now, being at such low levels, we very much intend to prove ourselves."
"How so? If you really are the real deal, why don't you just state in real life that the players in Infinite Castle are in fact, not you?" Bohemond replied skeptically.
I watched as everyone in the Odd Squad looked at each other, and then turned all their attention on me. It seemed everyone was thinking the same thing of, why didn't we think of that first? But then there's that guy... With 'that guy' being me. It was Yu Lian-dasao who decided to finally answer, "While that may help in planting a seed of doubt in the public, only one of us could go forward to do that because they are the only one who's real life identity is connected to his avatar, and that's Gui. If we all decided to try and claim our reveal identities to our characters, there would be a lot of skepticism in whether we are the real deal. And since the impostors already have a hold on the media, they can easily deny the claims."
"And even if I did decide to make a public statement-" Gui began to say as he picked himself back up, having been healed back up by Wolf-dage, "the person posing as me could still make some counter argument to make people think that I'm just not admitting to it so the game doesn't interfere or distract with my work or personal life."
"So the only way we can prove it as of right now is gather attention to us, and simply usurp the impostors." Wolf-dage added, "I have full faith that we can convince the public that we are the real Odd Squad by being ourselves in our interactions and in how we battle."
"Hm..." Bohemond hummed thoughtfully, considering our argument. "Well," He began, as he started to take off his helmet, "the current Prince does indeed seem to lack the same charm on women and talent on the battlefield that I remembered seeing in Second Life, I am still not fully convinced that one that stands before me now is the real deal as well. So..." He finally removed the helmet, revealing a head of messy dark brown hair, "When I see that you, young man are the real deal, my clan and I will stand with you!"
Oh my god... Was the first thing I thought when I got a good look at his face. He is sooooooooooo hot! Strong jawline, facial features that could rival my own character's and piercing green eyes, he was definitely in the top five of the hottest men I had ever seen in my life. I had lost my ability to speak, blathering incoherent words till finally I was able to piece together the sentence, "Y-you got it!"
My shock was neither unnoticed nor alone, with Lolidragon giving the same goggled look as me. My brother jabbed her in the arm with his elbow, and preceded a death glare right at our new potential ally. I suddenly felt myself dragged and grappled into a tight embrace, looking behind me to see Gui with fierce and chilling eyes. Normally I would have just beat him up for doing that, especially with the fact I was in a female body now, but his expression was one I did not dare trifle with.
Bohemond looked confused and frightened by Gui's challenging glare, which was kind of funny considering Gui was just a level 10 bard. Thankfully Wolf-dage quickly defused the situation, "Wonderful! Then what are we waiting for? Let's go train!"
With Bohemond agreeing to help us as he observed our skills and interactions with one another, it made the process of training and finding new areas a lot smoother than originally thought. Bohemond had started the game a week after it released, so while he wasn't near the highest level character in the game (Who was a level 67, geez!), he was still well acquainted with the areas that we needed to train in. In general, he proved to be intelligent and knowledgeable in a great deal of things, quickly causing him to gain the approval of nearly everyone- well everyone except Gui, anyway.
Gui's troublesome behavior started up again two nights after meeting Bohemond, a couple of hours before everyone was going to log off for the morning. Bohemond, Ugly Wolf and I had just sat down to discuss what the training plans were for the next night.
"Well, since you're level 21 now I would highly suggest we begin to head towards one of the major cities since the monsters that surround them range from the high teens to the lower 20s." Bohemond said, sipping on one of the many beers we had gotten cheap from a passing merchant.
"Hm, because of this we could also check out the opposition towards the impostor in these cities as well- possibly gain some allies before he embarks on conquering the continent." Ugly Wolf said thoughtfully as he sipped on his tea.
"I don't think you would have much trouble in finding allies if you are able to convince yourself that you are who you say you are." Bohemond said, "While indeed your battle style is incredibly similar to the Odd Squad of old, I have yet to be convinced by this Prince's mannerisms or performance on the battlefield."
At his remark, I finished my second beer and tossed the bottle aside. "How? I'm being myself as I always am, aren't I Wolf-dage?" I asked, a slight frown forming on my face. Has being in a female body caused me to become a softer, feminine Prince? Maybe I should just start wearing a Cheongsam* and singing nanguan* ballads...
Wolf-dage looked at me with a slight frown on his thoughtful expression, "I think that's it though, Prince. You carried a different aura and personality when in public or meeting high-ranking players. You were only truly yourself when it was just the Odd Squad or anyone else who knew you well enough like Dark Emperor, Rose Team or Nan Gong Zui's group."
"Oh..." I responded, grabbing another beer and taking the first drink of it. Wolf-dage's words made sense, and struck a chord that longed for the good old days on Second Life. I miss playing around with Nan Gong Zui and our swords, but he is too busy taking care of Ice Phoenix as well as chasing after any baddies that were affiliated with Long Dian. The Rose Team was always so much fun to be with, every single one of them... But they're all too busy right now as well. My final thought came upon Dark Emperor and their leader Wicked- who was my childhood friend Zhou Ling Bin. I looked over at the person who sat a couple a feet away from us, Gui, who was currently busy looking at Bohemond with scornful eyes as he sorted out the rations we had bought from the traveling merchant earlier. After Gui went into his coma, everything between Zhou-gege and I fell apart. I was at the hospital everyday, for hours on end, to stay by Gui's side where Zhou-gege came every once in a while to visit. But after Gui woke up and began his therapy, Zhou-gege disappeared...
The exchange in my head created such a painful feeling in my heart, my chest constricting so I could barely breath. How did things get so messed up... I had never forgotten the words that Gui and Wicked both said to me, that inevitably one day someone would have to be hurt, that it had be one or the other. But it's not fair... Why isn't there another way? I followed Gui's line of sight to Bohemond, who was cheerily talking and drinking away with Wolf-dage. In a moment of weakness, thoughts of doubt started to trail through my head as I stared at the handsome crusader.Why has it always been Gui or Zhou-gege? I'm not even sure I love Gui, let alone want to marry him! But if there was another option, I wouldn't have to choose between them...
It seemed as though my face betrayed my thoughts, as a pair of legs suddenly blocked my vision of Bohemond that unmistakably belonged to Gui. I stood up, brushing off the grass and dirt that had gotten on my armor before locking onto his gaze with my own. The purple eyes he had in the game carried just as much emotion as the ones he had in real life, with them now expressing pain and jealousy. "Your Highness," He said coolly, an attitude never once used on me before. "is something wrong that I can help with? You've been staring at that... crusader for some time now."
"That crusader," I began, quickly irritated by his tone. "is our valued friend and guide. It would be kind of you to refer to Bohemond by his name, thank you."
Gui seemed taken aback by my response, as if unsure how to reply to my words. With a softer, apologetic tone he replied, "Forgive me, your Majesty. I was only trying to express my concern for you."
But Gui had already provoked me past my ability to forgive so quickly, "It's not something I would share with the likes of you, anyway!"
I don't know who felt more pain, Gui by my words or me watching Gui's crushed expression caused by my sharp tongue. "I-If... that is what you wish, Prince. Please excuse me..." He replied under a false guise of calm. He swiftly walked past me, and towards the forested area that was next to our encampment in the plains.
"Gui!" I shouted, but he continued walking without even a glance towards me. All I could do was watch as he walked into the woods till he was completely covered by the foliage.
Wolf-dage let out a low whistle as he softly shook his head, "You really did it this time, Prince."
I couldn't even find words to defend myself, because I also knew that I had gone too far. "GUI!" Paying no heed to sun slowly creeping lower in the sky, a sign of morning approaching in the real world- I sprinted towards the forest, determined to apologize and bring him back.
"Damn me and my terrible sense of direction..." I mumbled to myself as I passed what I swore was the same stump with fungus for the fifteenth time. I had been in the woods for so long that the night was starting to set in, which was normally the time the Odd Squad would log off. But Gui had yet to log off, so I knew that he was still on, somewhere in these God forsaken woods. "Gui, please! Come out, come out where ever you are!" I called out, trying to sound cheerier than I was actually feeling. But the only response I got were bugs chirping and owls starting to hoot. I let out a long sigh, even if Gui finally comes out of the woods by himself, how will I find my way out? I don't even like the woods in the first place... I swallowed a small lump in my throat as the anxiety at the idea of being in stuck deep in the woods in the middle of the night, not knowing what sort of terrible creatures laid waiting to eat my more than likely delicious elven flesh.What would elf meat even taste like? Would it be savory like beef or sweeter like pork? Wait, why am I even thinking about this? A large grumble suddenly came from my stomach, making me aware of how hungry I was as well. Well, that answers that question...
As I continued to walk, I began to hear a faint, familiar melody being played. I could never forget that melody, as it was the one Gui played when we had first met. "Gui...?" I whispered to myself, unsure if he would stop if he knew I was close. I silently followed the music, straining my ears to let it be my guide in the darkness of the forest. Soon I found Gui quietly playing his guqin as he sat on a fallen log, his face crestfallen as his hair hanging over a large portion of his face.
I attempted to quietly approach him without his knowledge, but that ultimately failed when I tripped over a large root and tumbled quite loudly into his line of vision. The melody stopped, with a soft sigh following after the new silence. "His Highness is the most graceful, after all." Gui said softly, a mix of amusement and sarcasm in his voice.
When I finally sat up from my previously sprawled position, I found Gui standing in front of me with a hand extended. With mumble of embarrassed gratitude, I took his hand and stood up. I stared at Gui's face, who greeted me with a soft, sad smile. "Gui... Look what I said back ther-"
He held up his hand, stopping me. "No, you have no reason to apologize. It was my fault, I had said very uncouth words."
"Gui, no! I should be the one apologizing, why are you always taking the blame? We've talked about this!" I sharply replied, now getting annoyed with him constantly bearing the fault.
Gui was about to rebut my claim, but he started to mumble gibberish as his eyes quickly focused past me, an expression of horror on his face. "P-Prince..." He finally got out, shakily pointing at something behind me.
I swiftly turned around to be met with a monster that towered over me, its height matching the old cypress trees that made the forest. The four legged creature's body was transparent, with the only clue of it even having one was the distortion of the forest, which created a vague idea of the monster's robust frame. The part of the monster that was not transparent was the jaw-less bronze mask of what I could describe was a cross between a boar, lion and ogre. "T-Taotie*..." I whimpered, recognizing one of the mythical beasts that I feared as a child.
The beast was still, the only movement being the putrid air that blew out of its metal nostrils following the sound of a deep rumble as it took a breath. Not daring to make a move, I rolled my eyes upward to look at its golden title, the signature of a boss: Taotie the Gluttonous. The level was not listed, but judging by our location it would probably be on par with something in the lower thirties- something that even Bohemond would not be able to defeat by himself since it was a boss mob. Though we could probably take it on if everyone was here...And with a lot of mana potions...
On cue to my thought, I heard Bohemond's gruff voice call out from behind us, "Hey! There you guys ar-" His sentence having surely stopped when he noticed the beast who till this point was calmly having a staring contest with Gui and I. Bohemond's arrival caused Taotie to let out a loud, powerful roar that sent all three of us back roughly ten feet back. As I tried to stand back up, I felt the ground shake as the Taotie took a step towards us that caused me to lose my footing again. Thankfully Gui was able to keep his ground, and grabbed my arm to prevent me from falling down again.
"What is that?" Bohemond said, staring at the creature with perplexed and fearful eyes.
"That's Taotie! Did your parents never read you fairy tales about the four great fiends!?" I asked, trying to watch my step as we all began to move back from the Taotie in the dense forest.
"Where I'm from, none of our fairy tales involve giant disembodied masks!" He cried, awkwardly strapping on his helmet in preparation of the fiend's attack.
Before I could ask by what he meant by that, the Taotie let out a snarl and lurched forward, aiming for me. I didn't even have enough time to take out my sword by its frightening speed, instead I was tackled down by Gui who was snatched up by the Taotie in my stance. "GUI!" I screamed in horror, seeing his now limp body hanging in the air by Taotie's transparent jaws.
While his body was broken by the crushing force of Taotie's grip, he managed to weakly make out the sentence, "Get away while it's still distracted, your Highness..."
"No! I swore I would never leave your side!" I howled, my voice starting to crack. I don't care if this is just a game, after Long Dian I just... I can't! I won't! I charged towards Taotie, my dao fully drawn. "Inferno Slash!" I shouted, thanking my luck that the skill was present in this game. My dao blazed a bright red flame as I brought down my blade on the vague outline of Taotie's chest. However the dao went right through like I was cutting through air, my resolve extinguished like the flame of my sword. "I... I can't hit it."
It was Bohemond's turn now, who had finished casting his holy spells on the three of us, giving Gui a small amount of protection that barely kept him alive. Swinging his claymore high over his head, he yelled, "Heaven's Fury!" With each swing of his blade, a wave of holy magic was directed at the Taotie's mask. While it made contact, it seemed to barely affect the mythical beast. "My attacks are barely making a dent in its health!"
Agitated by our fruitless endeavors of rescuing Gui, Taotie leaned back its head and began to swallow Gui- his body slowly disappearing as he slid down Taotie's throat. "Prince, go! Forget about me!" Gui cried out, before he completely disappeared into the fiend's body.
It looked like a hopeless situation with its body untouchable and Bohemond's attacks being nearly as useless. Yet not even a moment had passed from Gui succumbing to Taotie's gullet that its body slowly became flesh, starting at the beast's mask and making its way downward. Its black and leathery skin rippled like waves as it let out a low growl, evidence that its size did not come from muscle but from the sheer amount of fat it held. "Though Taotie's hunger brought death to men, his gluttony inevitably brought his own." The line my father always stressed from the bedtime story flashed in my mind, causing the metaphorical cogs in my brain to turn. I looked at my party member stats, my hopes being lifted when I saw Gui was still alive because of Bohemond's buffs. There's still a chance!
Not risking that the effect of either the Bohemond's spells or Taotie's physical body would wear off, I swung my sword at the beast's body again, this time aiming for the large girth that was its stomach. The attack was successful, slicing cleanly through the fatty tissue. With new resolve, I began to quickly repeat the same slice to wear away the flesh. "Bohemond, find something to feed it and continue to do so! I'll be back!"
"W-What?" Bohemond replied anxiously, now rummaging through his satchel for something that a giant mythical beast might eat. "Where are you going!?"
"I'm going to get my bard back." I replied confidently, a smirk forming on my lips. Luck finally seemed to be on our side, as Taotie didn't seem to even feel me slice away at its thick belly fat on top of it now being distracted by the morsels of food that Bohemond was now throwing at it. Yet when I finally got to the final layer of skin that separated me from its stomach, Taotie let out a ear-shattering roar and attempted to stomp on me. I quickly grabbed onto the opening, trying my best to keep a grip on the now blood covered cut as the beast jostled about. Finally I heaved myself upwards and into the rank stomach, with the only light coming from the outside of the wound.
It did not take me long of wading through the wasteland of disintegrating corpses to find Gui's crumpled form, his hair matted in a sticky mucus and his clothes slowly dissolving in the gastric juice. "Prince..."
I put a finger to my mouth, quieting him. "I told you I wouldn't leave, didn't I?" I pulled him up and slung his arm over my shoulders, letting me support his weight so he could walk while leaving my sword arm free. I used my "Blazing Flame" skill, which gave the dao's blade to glow red from the fire damage the skill created, to illuminate the stomach cavity. "Now if this thing is anything similar to a pig then the liver should be... Right here!" I declared, finding where the digestive tract emptied out into the stomach. Surrounding the entrance was an assortment of dry foods, the same foods we had just bought a couple of hours ago. Mentally cursing that Bohemond had just wasted 20 of our hard earned gold coins, I took my blade and stabbed the wall that was to the right of the opening. The creature jerked and screeched at the impact, its health points dropping a significant amount.
Feeling that victory was close at hand, I couldn't help but let my blood lust take over as I began to butcher the Taotie like I would a pig to roast on a spit. How dare it eat Gui like he was some midnight snack? The thought making me more angry, ripping my dao through the stomach lining to personally meet the liver. "Hm, now how should I fix you? Shall I cut you in small bits so I can fry you, or should I slice you into strips for a nice pate?" I contemplated out loud before I decided I would make one deep cut so I could make my way towards the heart.
By the time I had sliced and diced enough organs to get to the heart, Taotie had a fourth of its health left. I knew at this point that all the damage could not have been my own doing, as I saw deep gashes in the creature and the health bar of the beast go down when I wasn't preparing pig organ stew with my dao. The others must have finally arrived after our long absence, so Bohemond isn't all alone out there. I gently put Gui down on the floor, which happened to be the rib cage of the creature. "It's time to finish this, I'll be right back." I told Gui, who had been quiet till then.
Gui caressed my cheek, his eyes filled with deep emotion as he weakly said, "I love you..."
It would be a lie if I said his words didn't have a huge impact on me, leaving me speechless for a few moments. I struggled finding words, only capable of saying as I gently grasped his caressing hand, "I know." before I hurriedly got up and leveled my dao with the racing heart of Taotie. Concentrating every last bit of my strength left, I lunged forward and bellowed, "INFERNO SLASH!"
Much time had passed since the other Prince (Who's actual character name was Wei, but he was always referred to as Prince anyway.) had entered the strange mob's body, which had materialized after eating his comrade Gui (Who's actual character name was Guileastes*.) After the boy entered the beast's stomach I informed the rest of the group of what had happened, and they quickly arrived to my aid.
"Why the hell did you let him go inside? He got lost in his own castle in Second Life, God forbid finding his way through an animal's body!" Lolidragon (Character name was Long'er*) yelled as she evaded being stomped on by Taotie.
I wasn't sure how to reply to such a claim, though this Prince's behavior did a drastic change when his teammate was swallowed up. He went from the goofy and constantly hungry character from hours before to having the aura of a cold-hearted killer, thirsty for blood. And that smile he had as he casually began to wail away at the creature's flesh... An echo of the same chill ran down my spine at the memory.
"I wouldn't worry too much, my dear!" Wu Qing called out to the redheaded thief, preparing another strike on the mob, "Sh- I mean he cooks so much, he probably knows the anatomy of a chicken better than a human's! After all, he only got a C plus in Human Biology last semester!"
"What!?" Wolf (His name was literally just Wolf) exclaimed, "He told me he got a B plus! And after all the tutoring I gave..."
The context of their conversation made no sense to me, but it didn't matter for long when suddenly Taotie gave out a loud scream, his body jerking and shuddering violently. The health bar of the boss was now empty, having dropped drastically in such a short moment. Everyone looked at each other, trying to figure out who was the one that dealt the killing blow. But none of us could have done it, even Wu Qing hadn't finished preparing his skill attack.
The answer came in the form of Taotie's chest suddenly bursting open as it wailed, blood and guts gushing outwards like a fountain. In the pool were the missing two members, one looking on the verge of unconscious and the other laughing hysterically like a madman. The madman, Prince, was splashing his arms around in the puddle in the fluids. "Isn't this great, Gui!? I wasn't expecting the heart to just burst open and carry us out like a water slide!"
"Prince-gege, are you okay?" Doll (I was definitely not going to call her Princess of Love and Justice) asked, looking at the elf curiously.
"If by okay you mean back to being his usual idiot self, than yes he is." Lolidragon replied in a snarky manner.
While everyone went over to the two to tend to their wounds, I could only watch the scene with interest. Maybe he really is him...
Cheongsam: A traditional dress worn by Chinese women
Nanguan: A type of Chinese folk music usually sung by women.
Taotie: One of the Four Fiends of Chinese Mythology, he is known as an abstract representation of gluttony. There is a lot of interesting information and theories revolving around the Taotie, so I would highly suggest checking out the wikipedia page on it for more info!
Guileastes: A common alternative spelling used I have seen used by English translators of the series (Primarily manhua), and I figured it would be good to use as his new character name since he wouldn't be able to get his original one back.
Long'er: Long'er is the nickname for Xiaolongnu of the Little Dragon Maiden series that Lolidragon originally got her name from.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
The timer from the game's mask pulled me out of my slumber, leaving me to groggily take off the device. As soon as I lifted the visor from my eyes, I was assaulted by the rays of light coming from my window. Ugh, why do I have my bed facing the window again? Everything that transpired in the game after I slayed the great beast was foggy, but there was one set of memories that were all too clear- the ones involving Gui. I groaned, rubbing my face with my hands. I am not looking forward to his class, today.
"Sis, get your lazy ass out of bed and make us breakfast!" I heard my brother call from outside my door, before banging on my door.
"I'm the lazy one? What about you, who can't bring himself to pour himself a goddamn bowl of cereal?" I snapped back as I sat up out of bed.
He didn't reply, but instead I heard him vaguely mumble outside the door, "It's not that I wouldn't... But last time I thought that fruit loops could be eaten the same way as hot cereal..."
I shook my head, and began to get ready for the day. I'm pretty sure between him and Lolidragon, who somehow managed to burn a pot of water; that they'll starve one day without my help.
When a delicious breakfast of salty sweet pancakes were made and consumed, it was off to school for us. Of course I would give anything to avoid what I knew was going to be the awkward encounter with my professor and persistent suitor of a teammate, Dr. Min Gui Wen, but I didn't want my grades to suffer because of last night's events in the game. You gotta keep your school and personal life separate, after all. Though as to what category Gui fell under, I still hadn't quite sorted. I mean I knew him before I was his student, but then again he is my professor... The whole thing was only another problem to add to drain my energy.
Thinking of school, I really need to apply to work study if I am going to continue buying the high-priced ingredients I use... I was reminded as we seated ourselves on the bus; ticking another thing off of my ever growing to-do list. When Second Life was closed, I was essentially laid off from my job as a spokesperson. And by that point I had been dining in quite the luxurious manner because of the salary that came with being the spokesperson of formerly the most popular game in the world. And it's not like I can get any work as Prince anymore since one: no one knows I'm Prince, and two: that damn impostor has taken that possibility away from me at the moment. Now feeling even more resentful towards the mysterious individual who was pretending to be me.
The bus slowed to a stop as the bus driver called, "XX University!" to his patrons. Reluctantly I gave up my seat and followed my brother off the bus, who was too busy with his phone that he missed a step getting off the bus and nearly flattened some of the new riders who were waiting for us to leave.
"Stupid brother, how about you get your nose out of the new level of Enraged Birds 16 and watch where you're going!?" I reprimanded, tired of my twin constantly causing minor accidents because of his addiction to his phone.
"Hmph!" Yang Ming replied, flashing me a dirty look before walking towards the school entrance. "Then I guess I won't share with you all the research I have been trying to do on the impostors!"
"What?" I said in disbelief, now lunging for his phone to snatch it out of his hands.
"Nu uh!" He replied, holding his phone way above his head. "Not unless you apologize and tell me how wonderful of a brother I am!"
"Yang Ming..." I seethed, trying to express how dangerously close he was to being starved to death. But he held his ground, grinning a smug smile when I gave in and grumbled, "I'm sorry... Please forgive me, oh wonderful-" Idiot! "brother."
"You're forgiven." Yang Ming replied happily, now bringing his phone back down and handing it over to me. He held the door open for me to walk through as we entered the school's main hall. "I haven't found too much yet, though. It seems the phony and his equally fake posse appeared in the public eye a month ago, but there had been sightings of him as early as when the game was released a couple of months back."
I looked at the wiki page for the impostor page, my brother's explanation matching what was on the page. "So it looks like he had this planned before the game was even released, since there are reports of him since opening day."
"Yes, and even stranger is that it seems the rest of his group was with him that early as well. Which further implies that this was planned prior to the game release, as well as this isn't the work of one man. This is a group effort." Yang Ming replied.
I looked at my brother in a moment of sheer astonishment at this rare insight of his intuition, "Who knew that your brain was capable of deducing something like that!" I remarked half-jokingly as we reached the door of Gui's room.
"Hey, what is that suppose to mean!?" Yang Ming exclaimed.
"It means that you're usually as dense as that damn bard, that's what." I taunted, sticking a tongue out at him.
"I heard that, Ms. Feng Lan." A voice came from beyond the door, unmistakably Gui's.
"Ah ha ha, just kidding Professor Min!" I replied nervously, opening the door to see his stupid handsome face sitting behind his desk.
He offered me a warm smile even though I had just insulted him a few minutes ago, "Well, how about you take a seat before your next essay assignment becomes as thick as you say I am?"
"Stupid bard, I'll kick your ass later." I mumbled under my breath as I passed his desk, making sure it was loud enough for him to hear. I glanced back to see a pleased smile plastered professionally over his face. But I knew better as I locked gazes with him, his eyes exuding sheer joy from interacting with him. He gets excited by the stupidest things, I swear. I thought begrudgingly, hoping my face didn't look as hot as it felt.
"Ugh, not this again. Look, you can even tell she's mad!" I heard one of my classmates mumble to a girl seated beside him.
"She's always so disrespectful to him! Why does he never reprimand her?" She hissed, obviously jealous of the amount of attention I got from Gui.
Idiotic fangirls. If you knew I was Prince, you wouldn't be saying that shit so easily... I grumbled inwardly, ignoring the annoyed glares towards me as I made my way to my seat. See, ever since I revealed that I was Prince to Gui, our interactions in the classroom had slowly started to reflect how they were in-game. Because of this, people in my classes with him took it the wrong way like me being angry over bad grades (Which I don't have any) or that I was mad he rebuffed my affections for him (Pfft! It's more like the other way around!).
"Don't let those buffoons get to you, Lanny." Jing said, giving a well-earned glare to the two classmates who were running their mouths. Jing and Yun were in my classes again this year as well, since they were the same major as me for our shared aspiration of being novelists. "Just find out their in-game name on Reveries and pay them a little visit, you know?" She said maliciously, giving a wink and nudge towards me.
"Yeah! What's up with you not telling us you started playing again, anyway!?" Yun said indignantly.
"Huh?" I replied in confusion. I hadn't told them I joined the game, yet...
"Settle down, everyone!" Gui called loudly over the chatter, silencing everyone. Gui seemed to have heard what Yun said, looking over at me briefly in concern. I gave an inconspicuous nod to reassure him I would handle it. We both know from in class and from Second Life how easily Yun runs his mouth.
"I gotta agree with Yun on this one, girl." Jing said, crossing her arms and giving me a sly look as Gui began the class. "And already owning a castle too! Do you really think you were going to hide that from us when it's covered all over the news?"
"What? No!" I shouted, covering my mouth quickly in realization of what I just did.
"No to what, Ms. Feng Lan? Are you not happy that I'm extending the deadline for the essay to next Thursday?" He asked questionably, trying to hide his smile.
If my face wasn't red earlier, it definitely was now from embarrassment and remembering when he mentioned it two days ago in the elevator of Long Enterprises. "N-No! I was just..." I looked around the room, seeing the angry glares of my other classmates as I desperately searched for something to use as an excuse. I saw a poster of the timeline for the early dynasties of China and quickly pointed at it, "in shock that the poster is saying that the Xia dynasty was just a myth, when recently it was proven to be a real by historians and archaeologists!" That's true too! They released their findings last Friday! Mentally giving myself a small pat on the back for remembering that little blurb from looking up sources for the essay.
I bit my lip as Gui looked over at it, his brows furrowing as he read the poster. He smirked as he looked back towards me, "Very astute, Ms. Feng Lan- especially since that poster was put up after the discovery was made. However instead of shouting it in the middle of class next time, please come to me after class and inform me. And if you have anything else to share, you are more than welcome to talk to me after class today in my office."
"Y-Yes sir." I feigned in a nervous manner to keep up the charade of a bashful student being reprimanded by her professor. I knew full well that last sentence was a personal plea by him to see me privately after class. I furrowed my brows in thought, trying to figure out what he wanted to speak to me about so urgently. He doesn't usually pull that card unless it's important... So I better go see him after class. I looked over at Jing and Yun as well, with Jing furiously taking down notes. Yun on the other hand was failing at being indiscreet about reading his comic book hiding behind his textbook. I need to set them straight as well, they think the imposter is me! Feeling slightly downtrodden that they mistook him for me. I'll have to do that later, though. After my meeting with Gui.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
"Well, here we are." I remarked, now standing in front of Gui's office door. With Gui's class being the first one of the day for us, it had been a couple of hours since Yang Ming and I's class with him was dismissed. This left time for me to contemplate how to go about the event that I was now faced with. It's just Gui. He's your professor, after all. I kept telling myself, but I was quickly reminded otherwise. He's not just your professor, look at what happened last night. And a week ago. And a year ago when he...
"Then what are you waiting for?" My twin asked, looking at me curiously. He suddenly rolled his eyes, telling me that my face expressed my thoughts. "Come on sis', you really think he's gonna try something here? In the middle of a public university?" He said in a hushed voice for only me to hear. "Anyway, you're the one who draws the attention on the two of you with your constant tantrums!"
Yang Ming was only contributing to my bad mood, pissing me off because I knew what he said was the truth. "Stupid brother, you just don't understand..." I grumbled under my breath in irritation.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm the dumb and immature one here, as usual." He shook his head, a small smirk on his face. "Now are you going to go in or be a roadblock for another ten minutes?"
"Uh..." I trailed off, looking around as students and faculty kept moving around us to avoid a direct collision. I have to go in eventually... But won't that look bad, with a young maiden such as I entering her professor's office behind close doors alone? After all, there is already gossip in the classes I have with him that I'm apparently lovelorn. "Will you go in with me? You know, so that way people don't get the wrong idea."
Yang Ming stood quiet a minute, his expression showing determination not to bend to my will. As always though, he eventually caved when I gave him my ultimate puppy eyes. "Alright! Alright! God, stop looking at me like that."
I couldn't help by smile triumphantly, "Thank you, oh caring little brother!"
Yang Ming sighed, "Geez... That's a face you should reserve for your future husband." Yang Ming grinned, "You know, like Gu- Ow!" He cried, rubbing the spot on his arm that was just assaulted with my right fist.
Ignoring his pitiful pout, I walked up to the door and lightly rapped on the door. "Come in." I heard Gui reply through the door, signalling our right to enter. I gripped the doorknob and slowly pushed it open.
I've never actually been in Gui's office before. I thought as I peered my head through, my first glimpse being a couple of large bookcases with old tomes laying strewn about on their shelves. As the room came in full view, I wondered if maybe I had been hearing things since I did not see anyone among the chaos and towers of papers that covered the handsome mahogany desk. "Professor Min?" I said cautiously. I wasn't sure if the delicate balancing act of two particular stacks of old essays in a nearby corner could tumble by the mere sound of my voice.
Surely enough, a tuft of jet black hair shot up over the mound of papers on the desk. "Look sis', a sighting of life!" Yang Ming said as he pointed at the top of Gui's head excitedly, as if we were on explorers on a new planet.
"I think you're right, Yang Ming." I couldn't help but tease as Gui peeped over the papers to look at us. "Looks like an alien to me. There's no way it could be human from our previous experiences with that type of life form!"
Gui jumped up immediately when it seemed to finally register who had entered his office, extremely flustered as he quickly tried to clear his desk. "I-I wasn't expecting you to actually c-come!"
"Well by the tone you used in class, I expected it was something pretty important." I replied. I quirked my brow with a smirk, "But if it was just a joke I can lea-"
"No!" He exclaimed before composing himself, "I mean, that's not necessary. There are some things I would like to discuss with you. However some of them will..." He looked over at Yang Ming, "... have to wait till later."
"Then what about now?" I asked, looking for a place to sit outside of Gui's own chair and the single chair that was also covered in an assortment of junk. Too lazy to continue standing as well as knowing Gui wouldn't complain, I jumped up onto his desk.
"Now..." He trailed off, his face flushing slightly as he looked at me. With a slight shake of his head, he cleared his throat. "Well, I thought it would be good to tell you what I have found out from students from my other classes."
"Found out?" I wondered out loud, unable to still my feet that dangled above the floor.
"Yes." Gui began, quickly moving stacks off the desk so his computer monitor behind them could be viewed with ease. "Apparently there is more doubt about this impostor being Prince than we originally thought. A couple of students came up to me in the class I have after with you two, asking why that buyable 'Return of Prince' set was available right after he first made the public's eye."
"It was?" I said in disbelief.
"Stupid sis', how much of the page I showed you did you read?" Yang Ming rolled his eyes at me as well as Gui's reaction at calling me stupid. "It says in the history that within 24 hours of those phonies entering the tournament, the set was patched into the game. A little too quick if you ask me."
"Unless of course," Gui interjected, pulling up various tabs on his browser. "they had already known beforehand. Of what I know of game programming, even for a simple armor such as that it would take roughly a week to design and implant it in the system. So they would have had the set plan at least a week in advance to be able to release it that fast."
"What if they had planned on releasing that type of set under a different name?" I challenged, having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that not only was there a group of wannabes trying to take our image, but that the entire gaming company was behind it as well. "It's not uncommon to have sets for famous characters, and Prince wouldn't be an exception. They could have just quickly changed the name and descriptions when this poser came onto the scene."
"A good argument, Your Highness. As expected from one of my best students." Gui smiled proudly, "While that could be the case, with Lolidragon suspecting that developers from Second Lifewere the ones who created the game increases the speculation of the company's role with this group." Gui sighed, showing the expression he usually had when preparing for one of my famous beatings. "This brings me to the next thing I wanted to talk to you about, and I hope you hear me out."
"And that is?" I wondered.
"I have reason to believe that Bohemond is not an ally." He confessed with a forced look of determination.
You have got to be kidding me. I sighed, knowing where this was going. "Look Gui, if this is relating to last nig-"
"It is not!" He quickly defended, before clear his throat in an attempt to regain his professional composure. "It isn't, I assure you. If anything to convince you, Wolf and I are on a similar page of suspicion regarding the crusader."
Wolf-dage doesn't trust him either? I thought unbelievably. "Why is that? What proof do you have?"
"Erm... Well..." Gui looked uncomfortable, "It's not like we have any proof... but we find the whole situation regarding him rather unusual, that's all. You remember how he said he was part of the Integrity guild?" He brought up a page of the guild rankings for Reveries, which each linking to the guild's homepage. "Integrity is one of the largest and most powerful guilds in the game currently, ranking 5th out of over 1000 registered guilds. It was also one of the first guilds to make an alliance with the imposters when they won what is now Reveries' Infinite City."
"So?" Yang Ming replied, "That guild has thousands of members! Just because the guild itself is allied with the fake guys doesn't mean there aren't members who disagree with it."
"That's also true." Gui replied, "However when you go to the guild's homepage and look at it's leadership-" Gui bringing up said page and pointing to one of the names listed, "Bohemond is one of the highest officials in the entire guild. He's 3rd in command of the entire guild. That means he has a huge amount of influence over what the guild does as a whole, as well as voting power on important decisions such as alliances. Sure, his intentions may be innocent and is just curious about us. Or on the other hand-" Gui's expression darkened, "he may know they're fakes, and is hindering us- the real Odd Squad- from ever usurping their throne."
"This is all speculation, of course." I said, still feeling doubtful about this theory. I have yet to see any action he has done that has hurt our progress towards the imposters. I also still wondered if part of Gui's position was brought on by jealousy, after all last night's events were a telling example of how he feels towards Bohemond. He considers him a threat in more than one way.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
The meeting with Gui left me with a swarm of thoughts, all potential problems that I would have to face eventually. The phonies, the game's company, Bohemond, and even Gui himself... I let out a deep sigh. When did my life become so complicated again? Even with everything on my mind, I tried to push them away as I prepared to log back into the game the following night. I couldn't help but take a moment to look over the visor, my gaze resting on the company's branding. Wenchang Inc... I ran my hand over the gold plating of the characters, Why me? Why did you have to pick Prince as your victim? But I knew the answer to such an obvious question, yet I still couldn't help to ask hopelessly. Sparing myself any more depressing thoughts, I placed the visor on my face and entered the game.
As planned, we made our way towards what would be our first major city of Reveries, Autumn City. Reveries also named its continents' cities after themes like Second Life, however, it seemed the developers had enough sense to choose the seasons as their theme for Reveries' central continent rather than celestial bodies. Another change in the design was that there were four starting cities on the continent instead of Second Life's three, each representing a season. Of these four, Autumn City was located on the eastern coast and well known for every type of event or festivity one could imagine. They say there's a festival all the time, and it seems like today is no exception, I noted as we walked through the gates of the city, where we were greeted with streets bustling with activity.
While it was indeed a major city by its size and population, the design was reminiscent of a small town celebrating the year's harvest. Trees in shades of yellow, red, and brown lined the streets that were populated with quaint looking homes. Booth keepers sold their wares, trinkets and... is that what I think it is? I took a whiff of the air, my stomach growling in response. Food!
"Welcome to Autumn City's annual Bard Festival, friends." Bohemond began as we walked down the main road.
"Bard Festival?" I asked, having not seen any bards except the one that was desperately trying to squeeze himself between Bohemond and I. Since I was in a good mood, I decided to only kick him in the shin with my metal boot as punishment for his annoying behavior.
"Yes! Once a game year they hold a festival where much music and merry-making occurs." Bohemond replied, "There are concerts, dance competitions and open mic sessions on the various stages across the the city. Several hundreds of thousands travel not just for the music but also for the food and alcohol that is only available during the festival."
"Food? Alcohol?" Now he's talking my language! Unable to hold back my excitement, I immediately turned to our group's designated treasurer- Yu Lian.
"Uh." One look at my surely pitiful look sent Yu Lian on guard, who seemed to be preparing one of her fifteen minute lectures about how frugal living is the only living one should maintain. Thankfully however, reinforcements in the form of my twin and Doll joined in my silent plea for money. Knowing she could not keep her ground with three of us, including the future ruler of her country, she let out a deep sigh. "Alright, I don't see too much harm in taking a day off from training to relax a little."
Finally! A day where I can actually unwind and do whatever the hell I want! I thought excitedly, immediately taking the lead of our group. I swiveled my head left and right, trying to decide whose delicious goods would be the first victim of my stomach.
"I think I saw a booth selling dragon beard candy near the main stage!" My brother exclaimed, now fishing his wallet out to see how much of his own personal money he had. The main stage wasn't far, situated at the end of the road we were on. Might as well start there first! I decided, now directing the group that way.
"Doll wants cookies! Do you think they have those too?" Doll remarked, who now looked like a panhandler in front of Yu Lian as she held her hands out desperately for money.
"Who cares about junk food? Check out that selection of beers and spirits in the stand next to it!" Lolidragon immediately pulled out her own personal wallet, but when glancing inside made a disgruntled face. "Damn it, I forgot I haven't gotten a chance to steal from people yet in this game..." She mumbled to herself.
"Excuse me? Did you say steal?" Bohemond eyed her suspiciously.
"Who, me!?" Lolidragon said with a nervous laugh. "Uh, why yes! I was commenting on what a steal that shot of baiju is! Here Prince, let me buy you a drink!"
"Really? Can I have two?" I replied, not expecting that Lolidragon would use me as her scapegoat. And for once, it's actually benefiting me!
"Of course, my old friend!" She said with a false sense of enthusiasm, "You little cheap-ass bastard, I'll get you for this!" She P.M'd right after.
"I'm not the one who opened their big mouth in front of an influential crusader!" I P.M'd back, making sure she saw the pleased, smug smile on my face.
Suddenly a shiver went down my spine, as I sensed a dreaded and familiar presence upon turning towards Yu Lian. The shadow smile has returned...! "Now Prince..." Yu Lian began, smiling sweetly at me. But everyone knew better, with even Bohemond exhibiting an apprehensive expression as he tried to nonchalantly cling to his crucifix. "Don't do anything that would tarnish your reputation and make our job harder, okay?"
"Y-Yes Yu Lian-dasao..." I replied, praying I would not do anything like the last time I drank that would elicit Yu Lian's wrath.
With Lolidragon begrudgingly keeping to her word, I soon found my mood improving and the ground a little less stable as the liquor started taking affect. Wow, that's some strong stuff! I thought in amazement, now trying to remember what booth I had selected. Did even I pick one? I don't remember now...
"Are you okay, your Highness?" Gui asked with concern, his expression matching his tone.
"I'm just dandy!" I answered cheerfully. Silly Gui, always overreacting! "Just a little lightheaded, that's all!"
"If that's so... As long as you're happy, I guess." Gui replied, though he didn't seem convinced. Instead he turned to Wolf-dage, both appearing to be sharing a silent exchange.
We continued to wander through the crowd, going from booth to booth and looking at the many goods that were being sold. As per usual with our group, it was far from uneventful with the number of incidents we were responsible for and then reimbursed, much to Yu Lian's displeasure. This included Wolf-dage impulsively buying elixirs that turned out to be useless, Lolidragon being accused of pocketing expensive jewelry, my stupid brother breaking a pricey pot filled with poison (Which caused the whole booth to close as a result!), and Doll eating a dozen cookies from a baker's tent that she had mistaken for "samples".
Even in the face of Lolidragon's thievery, Bohemond was relatively quiet throughout our escapade. Instead it appeared he was either deep in thought or possibly even communicating with someone else through the P.M system. As expected, this was noticed by both Gui and Wolf-dage as they wearily watched the crusader. This silence disappeared while the group debated whether we should invest in new weapons for some of the members, namely Yang Ming and Doll.
"I still don't understand why you can't just buy your own sword instead of pulling out of the group's funds, Yang Ming." I remarked, finishing the last of the three beers that I had picked up from a booth prior. Is it just me or is the earth feeling a little lopsided?
"Because the group fund is for things like this! And you're one to talk, wearing stuff that someone else bought you with real money!" Yang Ming replied.
"You're trying to buy an expensive sword that you can't even use! You have to be level 40 to equip it!" I exclaimed, getting quickly pissed off by my brother's stupidity.
"Doll wants the pretty pink staff! Why can't Doll have it?" I heard Doll ask Yu Lian as Yang Ming attempted to make a (surely moronic) rebuttal to my statement.
"Princess, that wand is significantly less powerful than the one you have now! You would be weaker if you used that one!" Yu Lian tried to explain, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears as Doll's face became more determined.
"So!? It's pink and with pretty hearts! Doll won't have to fight when bad guys see it, because they will flee when they see Doll fights for love and justice!" She told Yu Lian confidently.
"Bohemond?" An unfamiliar suddenly called from a nearby cluster of people, causing me to turn my attention towards there.
"Godfrey?" Bohemond replied in surprise, before a stunning grin took over his previously sober expression. He's got to be careful where he flashes that gorgeous smile of his. I thought dreamily, seeing that other women in the crowd were equally entranced by his good-looks.
"It is you!" The man whose name was Godfrey shouted, now making his appearance as he pushed through the crowd towards us. With ginger hair and beard, the tall man was handsome in a mature way. He also seemed to be a crusader as well, wearing a similar armor set and sword as Bohemond himself. "What are you doing here, friend? Philip told me that you were still doing that mission he-"
"Godfrey, you know better than to speak about guild matters out loud!" Bohemond quickly chided his friend, his eyes shifting around the area nervously. Lolidragon and the others were still arguing over the merchandise, however Gui and Wolf-dage seemed to have overheard the conversation as well with them immediately glancing towards each other then to me. "But to answer your question, I was but I met some new friends along the way." He replied, gesturing towards me as well as the rest of the group.
"Friends?" Godfrey looked over at us, his expression showing a myriad of questions and thoughts buzzing through his mind. Yu Lian seemed to have finally noticed what was going on, quickly diffusing the increasing tantrums of the other three with a quick clear of her throat. It seemed the majority of Godfrey's attention was focused, as always, on me. "What a very interesting crew you've befriended indeed. I assume this beautiful youth is the leader?"
"So it seems." Bohemond replied, his tone hinting his uncertainty of that idea.
"I see. Then let me introduce myself to the young hero!" Godfrey said, walking over and extending his hand. "My name is Godfrey of the Integrity Guild, a friend of Bohemond is a friend of mine!"
"Ah, my name is Wei!" I replied, taking his hand into a firm shake. "As expected, a great and honorable man such as Bohemond holds friends of similar mind like yourself!"
"You're too kind!" Godfrey said, his genuine smile now expanding on his face from my words. "Good job! That's the Prince everyone knows and loves!" Lolidragon P.M'd encouragingly to me. "Please, let me buy you a drink while you and Bohemond tell me of your adventures so far!"
Wow, this guy seems really nice! His personality reminding me of Nan Gong Zui's, who with Kong Kong were my go-to drinking buddies and spar partners in Second Life. And we were usually doing both at the same time! I remembered fondly.
"Y-Your Highness-" Gui began with stutter, before he stopped. I glanced over to see him nervously watching me and the others. He then quickly looked over at Wolf-dage and the others with a silent plea of help. What is he trying to do to now? I thought in annoyance.
The rest of the group also had strange expressions on their face, but only Wolf-dage spoke. "Prince, haven't you drank enough today? It's probably best you stop."
"Why?" I replied, narrowing my eyes at Gui and Wolf-dage. Gui, what did you say to them? Why are they all looking at me and the other two so funny? "It would be rude to decline the companionship of our new friend."
Wolf-dage looked unsure on how to reply, showing that this was some last minute bullshit plan to keep me from talking with Bohemond and Godfrey. "Well-"
"Attention, the next open mic will be taking place on the main stage in thirty minutes!" A voice announced loudly through the intercom system, interrupting Wolf. "This is open to all people, of all ages! With a NPC band accessing a five million song database, you can sing classics from the late 20th century to the latest hits of the 22nd, including Infinite Band!"
"Infinite Band... 20th century songs..." Lolidragon trailed off, which was followed by a large smile. She clamored over to me and gripped my arms, "This is it, Prince! This is the opportunity you've been looking for!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" I eyed her suspiciously, an opportunity of Lolidragon's is rarely a good one for me.
"The open mic! Go up and sing 'It's My Life'! Once everyone hears you sing, no one will doubt that you're the real Prince!"
"Can it wait?" I asked, my irritation with the last fifteen minutes closely approaching its peak. The one day I thought I could just relax and be myself, they try to push me around again and tell me what to do. "This is suppose to be my day off from having to worry about all that."
"There's no time to wait, Prince. The longer we wait, the longer those imitators have time to secure our image as theirs." Wolf-dage replied.
"But I really don't feel like singing." I argued, now getting more upset. I always sing that song when I'm happy, and I'm far from that right now.
"What is with you?" Lolidragon asked incredulously, "This isn't just about you, Prince. This is about all of us!"
"Then why don't you do something, then?" I seethed back, "If this is about all of us, why is whatever stupid plan we make involve proving that I'm the real Prince!?"
Lolidragon was fuming at my backlash, "You stubborn, drunk, selfis-"
"Stop it you two!" Gui cried, throwing himself onto me in his usual pathetic act of being a human shield. I was so pissed at Lolidragon I didn't even bother to stop him. "Prince, please calm down..." He begged, "You're drunk, and it's affecting your temper. Let's just forge-"
I had reached my limit, throwing Gui off of me and onto the ground. "I'm not drunk! What's affecting my temper is you people and your constant bossing around! 'Do this, Prince' 'Do that, Prince'! Well no more of that, not today!" I declared loudly, before quickly disappearing into the crowd alone.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
I did it again...
I let out a sigh as I propped myself up off the ground, looking around to see that Prince really had ran away. The outburst between Lolidragon and Prince also created the immediate crowd to gawk at us. "This isn't the type of attention we were looking for." I mumbled under my breath, taking Wolf's outstretched hand.
Lolidragon also let out a sigh, though it was one of frustration than resignation. "First you, Gui, now Prince runs off! I hate to see what your children will be like."
Yang Ming made a face at the thought, "I'm just saying this now, but don't expect me to teach those kids how to drive! My sister has scarred me enough for one lifetime!"
I pushed the distracting thoughts of their conversation away as I attempted to focus on the immediate problem. "I don't think this is the time to discuss such things. Instead I think we should apologize to his Highness and bring him back."
"Apologize? To that brat?" Lolidragon said in disbelief, now starting to stir my anger at her name calling. "He's the one who decided to do this little quest of reclaiming our image back, but he isn't taking any of it seriously! Instead he just wants to goof off and go drinking with bishies!" She then let out a glare towards Bohemond and Godfrey, who both looked incredibly lost.
"But didn't we agree that we would take this day off?" Doll said, "Prince-gege has been training non-stop too, even training by himself when we take breaks!"
"Well, almost by himself." Wolf corrected with a sly grin, "A certain bard over there is very adamant in at least being near Prince in case he gets overwhelmed by the mobs." Wolf gave me a strong pat on the back, making me lose my balance from the force. "You are correct though, Doll. Prince has been playing the game nearly every moment he can spare between his schooling and house chores. He's even a higher level than Lolidragon now!"
Lolidragon waved her hands around in an attempt to stop the conversation, "Okay, okay guys. We get it, maybe we-" Everyone looked at her, to which she rolled her eyes, "Alright, I have been a bit hard on him. Let's stop praising how much of a 'hard worker' he is, it's starting to make me sick."
"Well, let's not waste anymore time and find his Majesty!" I said, my anxiety over Prince's well-being getting worse with every passing second.
"Agreed. Let's all split up, it'll be faster to find him considering how large and crowded this place is. He can't have wandered off too far." Wolf added.
"We'll help too!" I felt a hand on my shoulder, turning to see it belonging to Bohemond. "I'll be honest, I'm not sure exactly what is going on but it is obvious that Wei is very upset. But I won't let him be alone in such a troubling time for him!"
Bohemond... Painful waves of jealousy surged in my chest as I remembered last night, Prince's expression towards him at the camp site last night... Was one I only want to see towards me! Old memories of Wicked flashed by as well, where he offered the same gesture as Bohemond years ago when Prince fell off the cliff in Second Life. I could have lost her to him... I don't want someone else to have that same opportunity! But the sooner we find Prince, the sooner she's by my side again... I felt such conflict, where my head told me that it was logically the best option to have him help. Yet I was constantly reminded of how my beloved gazed at him last night, her eyes showing that she was seeing Bohemond in a different light than before.
Eventually, my heart caved to the more rational side of my mind. "Thank you. Please inform me immediately if you find him." I answered Bohemond, who smiled at my acceptance of he and his guildmate's help. With that said, everyone split into groups with the exception of me. If I find Prince, I want to talk to her alone first.
Let's see... If I was her Highness, where would I get lost? I thought to myself, heading towards the main stage area. She likes to drink, and that's what she was hoping to do with Bohemond and his friend before we tried to stop her. It wasn't that we were trying to stop her from drinking with them, but we were afraid of her drinking with them by herself. I remembered the large alcohol booth that Lolidragon and Prince had first visited, that's probably the only thing she has an idea how to navigate towards. I'll try there first.
As I came up towards the booth, I saw a small area of tables where a white haired elf had their face buried into one of the tables. Beside the elf were at least three large, empty shot glasses while the elf clung to a fourth that was half finished. Looks like my first guess was right, I thought somberly as I watched Prince lift her head from the table and throw back the rest of the liquor. She then noticed me, narrowing her eyes in suspicion, "What the hell do you want?" Her words were surprisingly clear spoken given her deeply flushed appearance.
Knowing I wouldn't be able to coerce her by logic or reasoning, I decided to go along with her endeavor. "Why, I'm buying a beautiful elf another drink, of course." I replied, going over to grab another shot glass full of baiju before I approached her at the table.
Prince rose her brow in confusion, "You are? You're not trying any funny business with me, are you?" She asked as I placed the glass in front of her, examining it closer as if it may have been poisonous. "Because you won't succeed! I'm saving myself for marriage!" She declared loudly.
I couldn't help but flush slightly as her insinuation, "I would never, your Highness. I made a promise to protect his Majesty's chastity when I first joined the Odd Squad, remember?"
Prince said nothing at first, instead taking the glass gingerly and downing its contents. We sat in silence, just staring at the wooden table and empty glasses. "You know, I used to think the next time I would play a game it would be casual and carefree. Like how I wanted it when I first started Second Life." She began somberly, still gazing at the glasses, "Instead here I am, drowning out not only the stresses of this game but life in general over virtual booze. Sometimes I really wish I had never made Prince."
"Please don't say that..." My heart ached at her words, my mind trying to imagine a life without her in my life impossible and painful to even attempt. "It's hard to see now, but so much good has come not only to you, but the world from Prince's existence. I..." I swallowed the lump in my throat, "I know it may not mean much to you, but meeting you has changed my entire life in the best way possible."
Prince looked directly at me, her eyes filled with a swirl of emotions. "Why do you have to say things like that, Gui?" Her voice cracked, "All I am is a 21-year-old girl who also happens to be your student. If we had never met in Star City two years ago, you wouldn't have given me a second look in real life!"
I wanted to scream that such a claim wasn't true, that there was no way I could ignore such a beautiful and free spirit such as herself. That I wouldn't be enraptured by those fierce eyes or warm smile. But there's no way of knowing, is there? I thought lamely, remembering the me before Prince. I could have cared less about pursuing a relationship, focused on my career and annoyed by the constant drivel that women would display to garner my attention. Wanting to avoid answering her question, I decided in poor judgement to get her back to the idea of the rest of the group. "Prince, don't think about silly things such as what-ifs. Let's get back the rest of the group, okay? They're all looking for us."
"Is that what my feelings are now to you people? Silly?" She gave a half-hearted laugh, "Let me guess, I'm selfish too? Stubborn as well?"
"You're far from silly or selfish, your Highness." I reassured her, seeing her mood starting to flare again. Who would have thought my dearest would be such an emotional drunk under stress? I was slightly amazed by the number of mood changes she had gone through so far.
"And what about stubborn?" Prince pointed out.
"Um, well..." I trailed off, trying to decide if lying to her would be the best choice. I'd rather she beat me up now to vent her feelings over the truth than find out I lied to her and beat me up even worse later. "I won't lie that you're a bit stubborn." Does understating the truth count as lying?
Prince's expression changed to one of irritation and determination. Oh no. This isn't good. "Stubborn huh!?" Her voice's volume quickly escalating. "Fine! You guys want stubborn? Then you'll get it! And your stupid song too!" She then stood up with a jerk, quickly stumbling towards the main stage with alarming speed.
"Prince, wait!" I called out quickly, now hurrying from my seat to chase after her. "Stop! I'm sorry!"
"Don't tell me what to do, Guileastes!" Prince roared back in her anger, causing me to immediately come to a stop. Instead, I watched as she bulldozed her away through the crowd and up the stairs, ignoring the complaints of other players who were waiting in line for their turn to sing. She even went as far as ripping the mic out of the current singer's hand, causing the entire stage to come to a standstill from shock.
"Oh my god, Gui! What the hell did you do!?" Lolidragon cried, turning behind me to see her and the rest of the group rushing towards me. I don't think I had ever seen Lolidragon as mortified as that moment, watching Prince command the individuals on stage as well as the NPCs. Even though I couldn't hear what was being spoken, it was obvious to see not a soul dared disobeyed the former Overlord's demands. "Is he still drunk!? He's going to make a total idiot of himself!"
"I... I don't really know, to be honest." I replied, watching desperately as Prince closed his eyes- something he always did as he prepared to sing.
"I swear to god, Gui..." Yu Lian began to say coldly, "If we're going to have to pay for anything el—"
"Suppose I'm different from the world, then just let me be different
If I were to compromise my principles or lie to myself
Although others might forgive me, I'd never forgive myself..."
The entire area went silent, Prince's melodious voice ringing clearly throughout the city. All the Odd Squad members briefly stared at each other in disbelief, before turning their heads towards the stage.
"With my last bit of stubbornness
I'm holding tight, absolutely not letting go..."
"He sounds just like..." Godfrey trailed off in awe, his eyes never leaving the elf on stage.
"With my proud stubbornness
I sing loudly into the wind
This time, I'm crazy for my own sake
Just this time, me and my stubbornness..."
Bohemond finished his sentence, "Just like Prince."