Draft: Untitled Script – Part I

Aw yiss~ Almost 14,000 words! Thanks Mark Ruffalo and adorable Sesame Street character for displaying my feels for me!

Below the cut is the story/script I am referring to. I don’t intend to use it for Nanowrimo, but I have no qualms immortalizing it here in my digital sanctuary (I seriously love this place *w*). I’ll try to post updates as much as possible. I’m also getting a working scanner at the end of the month, so I’ll probably post some drawings around that time too.

I reiterate with added excitement: Aw-motherfucking-yiss~

Chapter One: Fantasy

[Pallas materializes in the Azalea forest in a beam of light. She starts to wander away from the point where she arrived when Valiant steps from behind a tree.]

Valiant: “There you are!”

Pallas: (leaps back and draws her bow) “Stay back!”

Valiant: (raises his hands) “Hey, sis, relax! It’s me – Clark.”

Pallas: “…Clark?” (lowers her bow) “I thought you were an Elf wizard?”

Valiant: “I was,” (draws axe) “But an orc warrior is better!” (swings axe around) “What do you think?”

Pallas: “I think it was a bad idea to join in on this game,”

Valiant: “What? Why?”

Pallas: “I don’t know, Clark…I’m just not in the mood.”

Valiant: “First off, call me Val when we’re logged on Nova. Secondly, you need to give yourself time to explore at least. You’ve only been here for a few minutes and you already want to quit?”

Pallas: “It’s demanding. I just got off work, which sucked by the way, and I spent an hour trying to decide on this character…and I’m already having creator’s remorse…”

Valiant: “Well, you shouldn’t. We don’t have any rangers in our guild, so you’re the perfect addition.”

Pallas: “…And that’s the other thing. Are your friends cool with me just joining your guild like this? Isn’t this some form of MMORPG nepotism?”

Valiant: “No, it is not. Actually, my best friend James promised to look after you and help you level up. His name in this game is Exeter, by the way, so you should just call him by that.”

Pallas: “I guess that’s fine, but…I just don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”

Valiant: (puts a hand on her shoulder) “You are never a burden to me or anyone, no matter what you think.”

[Pallas looks up at him, forces a smile, and then lowers her head slowly. He gives her a friendly slap on the cheek before walking forward. Pallas puts her bow away and follows behind him.]

Valiant: “So, for the record, our guild is called The Gilded Knights. Our official color is gold, but that goes without saying, right? I am the guild owner, but you already know that, and Heavenly Fairee is the guild co-owner. We just call her Fairee.”

Pallas: “And Fairee is okay with me joining?”

Valiant: “Well…at first she was pretty angry about us not going through the whole initiation procedure, but I explained a few things to her. So, she’s okay with it now.”

Pallas: “Explained a few things? Like what?”

Valiant: “It’s really not important, Pallas, I promise—

Pallas: “—if it’s not important then you can tell me, right?”

[Valiant stops in his tracks and turns around to face Pallas.]

Valiant: “You have to promise not to get mad.”

[Pallas crosses her arms.]

Valiant: (sighs and rubs his neck) “Look, she was throwing this fit about us recruiting too many people and skipping too many protocols, and I really wanted you to join this guild because…well…since you moved away you stopped talking to me, Sofia, mom, and dad—

Pallas: “—get to the point, Clark.”

Valiant: “I just didn’t want her to turn you away, okay? So…I told her about the disorders…and she agreed with me that you joining the guild is probably the best thing for you.”

Pallas: “Clark!” (kicks him in the shins) “You are such an asshole!”

Valliant: (rubbing his shins) “What do you mean I’m an asshole? I just wanted to help!”

Pallas: “You’re not helping me by telling random strangers everything about my private life!”

Valiant: “I didn’t tell her everything! Stop being so dramatic!”

[Pallas turns her back to him, and crosses her arms again.]

Valiant: “What are you ashamed of anyway? You were sick. It could happen to anyone. Besides, Fairee was sympathetic enough to change her mind. So, just relax. It all works out.”

Pallas: “In the future, Valiant, please practice discretion when it comes to my personal life. Even if it comes down to an oh-so-fantastic spot in a digital guild, keep my personal information out of it.”

Valiant: “Fine, fine. Let’s just…stop talking about it. I don’t want us to fight. If we must fight, let it be side-by-side in a war!”

Pallas: “…War?”

Valiant: “Oh, that’s right! I forgot to tell you! Every two months, Nova has a colossal event-related all-out battle. Next month, these very forests will be overrun with thousands of goblins, and it’s up to the good people of Nova to stop them! If we take out a lot of goblins, and save a lot of lives, we can get awarded as the best guild in Nova and get the prestige that comes with it! Pretty soon, we’ll be getting hired so much and have so much money that we won’t know what to do! And you can say, with pride, that your big brother runs the best guild in Nova! What do you think of that?”

Pallas: “I think you better do what you have to do. I need to log off in two hours to start my dinner.”

Valiant: (sighs) “You never change, do you, Lucia?”

Pallas: “Pallas.”

Valiant: (hugs her and kisses her forehead) “Whatever, Pallas. I love you, ok?”

Pallas: “Yeah…love you too…” (pushes him away) “Now, if you’re done being mushy, let’s go.”

Valiant: “Alright, alright.”

[Valiant kneels and draws a circle with his finger.]

Valiant: “This is a teleportation crest. It’s a really cool skill, but you won’t get it until you’re a higher level like me.”

[The crest glows a neon blue color.]

Valiant: “Step on.”

[He stands on the crest and extends his hand to Pallas. She looks at his hand with hesitation, sighs, and then takes it. He pulls her onto the teleportation circle and they both dematerialize.]

* THE GILDED KNIGHTS GUILD HALL *

[In the officers’ room of the Gilded Knights’ hall are Exeter, Fairee, and Murdoch. Murdoch is flipping a knife in the air and catching it while Exeter and Fairee are arm wrestling.]

Exeter: “This is such a useless command. We all know that a warrior will beat out a mage in arm wrestling any day.”

Fairee: “It’s a great way to pass time. Don’t worry about it.”

Murdoch: “Speaking of passing time and useless things, when is the chief going to come back with his sister?”

Fairee: (sighs) “Who knows? I don’t know why he decides to do this a month before the goblin siege.”

Exeter: “The more, the merrier. I’m not complaining.”

Fairee: “If it were a high-leveled player then, yes, I would agree, but he wants to bring a complete newbie into our ranks. How is that a good idea?”

Exeter: “Well, you’re the co-owner. If anyone should know why it is or is not a good idea, it’s you.”

Fairee: “You’re right…” (pauses) “I guess I was a bit shocked to see Valiant beg me to make her join. He never begged me for anything. He was always the type to just keep his concerns and wants to himself.”

Murdoch: “Well, I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with her. Why you took up the task of babysitting her, Exeter, is beyond me.”

Exeter: “It’s not babysitting. It’s about knowing a good opportunity when I see one. We have tons of warriors and mages in this guild, but no ranger—not one. I’m going to train her to be a complete badass, and then she can watch my back and take out long-range enemies for me when I go on side quests.”

Murdoch: “So…she’s your pet?”

Exeter: “She’s my partner. Well, partner-to-be anyway.”

Fairee: “Cut the crap, Exeter. You’re doing this for Valiant, aren’t you?”

Exeter: “No, I’m not,” (pins Fairee’s hand down) “Is it so hard to believe that I want to take up a sidekick because I want to?”

Fairee: “Valiant may not be too fond of that. He’s expecting you to train his sister, not turn her into your sidekick.”

Exeter: “His exact words were: ‘Take her under your wing’. And under my wing she shall be,” (stands) “Don’t worry. I’ll have her leveled up and completely useful to us by the time the goblins come to Azalea Woods.”

Murdoch: “Just don’t get any ideas. If Val finds out you’re trying to put the moves on his sister, he’s going to kick your ass.”

Exeter: (snickers) “Shut up!”

[Exeter tosses the empty tin mug on the table at Murdoch. Murdoch dodges the mug and laughs. Soon after, the door to the officers’ hall opens. They all stand to their feet and face the door.]

Valiant: (enters the room) “What’s up, guys?”

Exeter + Fairee + Murdoch: “Hey, Val.”

Valiant: (looks over his shoulder) “Come on in.”

[Valiant steps aside. Pallas walks from behind the wall and steps slowly into the bedroom. Everyone stares at her, and she stares at them. The room is completely silent.]

Valiant: “So, this is Pallas,” (shuts the door behind him) “She’s my little sister. Say hi, Pal.”

Pallas: (annoyed) “Don’t abbreviate my name…”

Murdoch: “Pallas…as in Pallas Athena?”

Pallas: “Um…” (shyly smiles and nods) “Yes.”

Murdoch: “A fan of Greek mythology,” (steps forward) “I’m impressed! I might have to steal you from Exeter.”

Exeter: (shoves Murdoch) “Like hell! Find your own side kick!”

Fairee: “Ugh! Boys!” (scoffs and turns to face Pallas) “ It’s a relief to have the grace and delicacy of another woman in these halls for a change. I am Fairee, by the way.”

[Fairee walks up to Pallas and shakes her hand.]

Fairee: “Valiant told me many things about you.”

Pallas: “Yeah…I heard…”

Fairee: “It could happen to any of us.  Don’t worry. If you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, I am here for you.”

Pallas: “Thank you, Fairee.”

[Exeter walks up to Pallas and shakes her hand.]

Exeter: “I’m Exeter. You can call me Exeter or James. It doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Fairee: “Actually, Exeter, it does. We have a strict rule about not using our real names in this guild.”

Exeter: “Ignore her. I am your boss. You listen to me.”

Fairee: “Hey!”

[Murdoch walks over Pallas and shakes her hand.]

Murdoch: “If you ever get tired of their crap, just hang out with me. I’m the only sane one here.”

Valiant: “He’s the craziest! What type of wizard do you know who uses throwing knives?”

[They all laugh except for Pallas, who watches on and smiles.]

Valiant: “Anyway, sis, we’re not going to get you into anything too time consuming. I just want you to take a tour around the guild hall, and maybe explore the city outside,” (walks over to Exeter and pats him on the back) “I wish I can take you on a tour, but I have some guild owner business to attend to. So just let Exeter show you around. I promise that tomorrow we can all travel together, as a guild, to farm some EXP.”

Pallas: “EXP?”

Valiant: “Experience points. The more experience points you get, the higher your level gets.”

Pallas: “Ah. I see.”

Exeter: “I’ll show you the ropes. You don’t have to worry.”

Valiant: “He’s right. If there’s anyone you can trust with training, it’s Exeter. He’s trained many guild members here on his free time. And, as far as I know, he’s not philandering creep who’s going to get with my little sister. Am I right, Exeter?”

Exeter: (rolls his eyes) “Why does everyone think I’m going to hit on her? Did I say something perverted?”

[Everyone laughs once more besides Pallas. This time she looks embarrassed.]

Exeter: “Let’s go. I know you must be tired of these lunatics.”

Valiant: “Take care of her, man.”

Fairee: “Behave yourselves, you two.”

[Pallas walks out of the room and Exeter fans his hand at his friends before leaving. Pallas and Exeter start to walk side-by-side down the hallways, both with their arms crossed.]

Exeter: “I’m sorry about that. Those guys just always have their minds in the gutter.”

Pallas: “Well, I thought that much for my brother. He has a knack for finding sexual references in non-sexual things.”

Exeter: (laughs) “Yes, Val does have a…strange way of thinking. Nonetheless, do not worry about anything they’re accusing me of. I am not going to pursue you. I just want to get you trained for the goblin siege next. I don’t know if you’ll reach our levels in a month, but we can at least get you strong enough to offer support”

Pallas: “What are your levels?”

Exeter: “We’re at the highest level possible—50.”

Pallas: “Wow…I’m never going to catch up to you guys…”

Exeter: “Take it one day at a time, Lucia. If you tackle one or two levels a day, you can make it to 30-something by the time the goblins come around. I’d say level 15 is the minimum you’ll need to join us, and that’s easy to tackle in 30 days.”

Pallas: “…You called me Lucia.”

Exeter: “Yes”

Pallas: “You know my name?”

Exeter: “Yes. We all do.”

[Pallas lowers her head dejectedly.]

Exeter: “What’s the matter?”

Pallas: “I just don’t like Val going around and telling people everything about me. I don’t need a bunch of strangers knowing all of my business.”

Exeter: “I understand,” (chuckles) “Actually, I was a lot like you when I first joined. I didn’t want anyone to know a single thing about me—not even the obvious things like my gender. But this guild…it did something to me…and I changed a lot,” (smiles at Pallas) “I don’t know what you’ve been through, but we’re all going through rough times. Even the cheeriest people here are going through things you would not believe.”

[Pallas looks up at Exeter as he continues smiling at her.]

Exeter: “I’m not telling you to open up to anyone now, tomorrow, or ever. I just want you to realize that this place is an escape, and that every person here is going through a struggle as well. So don’t be afraid to reach out—especially to Clark. He cares about you a lot. And I know we just met, but I’ll happily assist you. Just give me a holler if you need me, okay?”

Pallas: “Yeah. Thank you, Exeter.”

Exeter: “Not a problem,” (stops in his tracks—Pallas following suit) “Well, it’s just like me to get distracted so easily. I was supposed to show you around the guild hall, yet I’m here running my trap.”

Pallas: (smiles) “It’s alright. I don’t mind,”

Exeter: “In that case, I am glad that we got sidetracked. But we should probably start doing something productive. Val will become suspicious you show up tomorrow at the same level, you know?”

Pallas: “Yeah. You’re right. Let’s head into the fields then and get some EXP.”

Exeter: “Sounds good. Follow me.”

[The two start to walk down the hallway together, Exeter talking and motioning his hands as he speaks.]

* THE CITY OF GUILDS – BELLEROPHON *

[Exeter and Pallas are walking through the crowded streets together.]

Exeter: “We’re coming close to the station.”

Pallas: “Alright.”

Exeter: “By the way, I didn’t tell you what city we’re in. This is the city of Bellerophon, also known as the city of guilds. If you’re ever looking for a guild, nine times out of ten they are stationed in Bellerophon. This isn’t the biggest city in Nova, but it certainly the busiest. I recommend you memorize the map and become very used to this place. You’ll spend a lot of time here.”

[Exeter motions his head towards the road to Pallas’ left.]

Exeter: “Down that long road where all those streets merchants are is the bazaar. Sometimes, you can find really cheap items there, but other times you’ll find them way over their average value. Really, it’s best to shop around before making any final choices. The official shops that are run by Nova NPCs are scattered about the city. That’s always the safe and legit way to get new equipment, but you can get ‘em for a good price at the bazaar sometimes. Once more, shop around.”

Pallas: “Do you spend more time at the bazaar or the shops?”

Exeter: “Neither, to be honest. I do so many sidequests and exploring that I get really good equipment for free. Actually, the equipment I have on now is far stronger than anything the stores and bazaar are selling. It’s pretty great. The only downside is how tedious it is to constantly explore randomized dungeons over and over and over. Farming and grinding itself is tedious, but worth it.”

Pallas: “Farming and grinding…?”

Exeter: “You know, fighting enemies repeatedly to collect items and EXP respectively.”

Pallas: “Oh.”

Exeter: “I’m guessing you don’t play many RPGs offline, do you?”

Pallas: “No. My kind of games tends to come in the form of riddles, equations, and puzzles.”

Exeter: “Well, a game is a game is a game. You’re still a nerd like the rest of us.”

[Lucia sighs. The two enter the teleportation station together.]

Exeter: “Here we are—at the station. Until you gain the ability to make your own teleportation crests, you have to come to stations like this to travel. This station branches out into a lot of different areas, so you have to follow the signs.”

Pallas: “How many places are there in Nova exactly?”

Exeter: “Roughly 40-something established locations including cities, towns, forests, caverns, and the likes. The field areas, where monsters dwell, are randomly generated. You won’t go the same field twice. The left fork for the station leads to those official game locations while the right fork will allow us to teleport to different areas. For now, let’s find a low-level open field for us to grind in. Whatever spoils we find tonight will be yours, okay?”

Pallas: “Okay.”

Exeter: “Alright. Let’s go.”

[The two travel to the right fork of the station. There are hundreds to hooded figures standing behind counters, and assisting different players. Exeter and Pallas eventually approach a hooded NPC behind a counter.]

NPC Cheryl: “Hello, Exeter. Are you travelling alone today?”

Exeter: “No.”

NPC Cheryl: “Okay. Who are you travelling with?”

Exeter: “Username: maiden_pallas_athena”

NPC Cheryl: “One moment please,” (closes her eyes and clasps her hands together)

Exeter: “She’s going to mention that we’re not friends. I’ll give her permission to add you to my friends list. Just accept the prompt from there.”

[Pallas nods.]

NPC Cheryl: “I’m sorry, Exeter, but Pallas—username: maiden_pallas_athena_–is not your friend. Would you like to send her a friend request?”

Exeter: “Yes.”

NPC Cheryl: “Would you like to invite her to travel with you as well?”

Exeter: “Yes.”

NPC Cheryl: “One moment please,” (closes her eyes and clasps her hands together again)

[Pause]

Pallas: “Okay. I accepted them both.”

NPC Cheryl: “Congratulations, Exeter. You and Pallas are now friends. Where would you and Pallas like to travel?”

Exeter: “Low Day Clear Fields.”

NPC Cheryl: “Exeter. Pallas. Please step into the teleportation circle when it appears. Have a safe journey.”

[NCP Cheryl starts to pray again.]

Pallas: “What is Low Day Clear Fields?”

Exeter: “Low levels–which is basically monsters level 10 or lower, day time, clear skies, and field-type terrian From there, she will randomize a battlefield with those attributes.”

Pallas: “I have a question.”

Exeter: “Shoot, kid.”

Pallas: “I understand the importance of the level, but does the weather, time of day, and location really matter?”

Exeter: “Yes. A great deal, actually. The time of day and certain weather conditions can make travel more difficult, and also call out stronger monsters. As for the location, that has a lot to do with strategy as well as monster types. If we were to choose a mountain level, for example, there would be so many vantage points for monsters as well as monsters that tend to have tough exteriors. For someone of your skill level, flatlands and sunny skies are ideal. You get a better view of your surroundings as well as basic monster.”

[The teleportation circle appears in front of Exeter and Pallas.]

Exeter: “So, you ready?”

Pallas: “Yes.”

Exeter: “Let’s go,” (draws his sword)

Pallas: “All right,” (draws her bow)

[The both step on the teleportation circle and dematerialize.]

* LOW DAY CLEAR FIELDS *

[Exeter and Pallas materialize in a random field. Exeter looks around as Pallas draws an arrow from her quiver.]

Exeter: “I see a few monsters up ahead. Before we go, though, do you need me to explain how to fight?”

Pallas: “No. I read about battles in the manual. So, I should be okay…I hope.”

Exeter: “Well, don’t worry. If it gets to hairy, I will step in.”

Pallas: “Does this mean that you’re not fighting monsters with me?”

Exeter: “Unless you need me to, no. These monsters are no challenge to me and my level is maxed, so there is no point in my fighting them. Besides, you’re the one who needs the EXP.”

[Pallas nods in agreement.]

Exeter: “So, you ready to go?”

Pallas: “I’m ready.”

Exeter: “Okay, let’s go.”

[The two run across the field, weapons in hand. Pallas starts to shoot arrows at the monsters while Exeter watches her back. Once Pallas clears out the group of monsters, she glows a silver color.]

Exeter: “That was great. You’re kicking ass!”

Pallas: (smiles) “Thank you.”

Exeter: “As you can see, you’re glowing. That means you leveled up and you need to distribute points to the attributes of your choice. As a ranger, I recommend you invest points in dexterity. Dexterity is important when it comes to handling bows and short swords—the specialty weapons of rangers.”

Pallas: “I see. Well, give me a moment to distribute these points.”

Exeter: “Go ahead. Take your time.”

[Pallas shuts her eyes for a while before the glowing light vanishes. She opens her eyes and looks to Exeter.]

Pallas: “Alright. I am officially leveled up.”

Exeter: “Great. Come on. Let’s keep going.”

[The two continue down the field. Pallas takes down a series of monsters with Exeter stepping in a few times when she is surrounded. She glows silver several times, showing that she has leveled up a few times during her battles. Exeter and Pallas eventually come to a grove in the field, rush past the trees, and come to a stream. Pallas turns around to face Exeter just as he walks past her. He sits in front of the stream, sets his sword down, and looks over his shoulders at Pallas.]

Exeter: “Come. Sit down. You’ll recover both HP and MP when you rest.”

Pallas: “Hit points and magic points, right?”

[Exeter nods.]

Pallas: “I guess resting would be wise then.”

[Pallas walks to his side and takes a seat, setting her bow down at her side.]

Exeter: “How many levels have done so far?”

Pallas: “Four. So, I’m at level five now.”

Exeter: (gives Pallas a thumbs up) “That’s great! You’ll probably be past level 15 before the week is over! It does get harder to level up as you increase your own level, but most things can be solved with dedication and persistence. You can do it.”

Pallas: “You think so?”

Exeter: “Yeah. You’re Val’s sister after all. You’re blessed with those stubborn Alvarez genes that Val keeps talks about.”

Pallas: “You know our last name?”

Exeter: “Yes. I know a lot of things about your family. We’re very familiar with one another. I wanted to reach out to you, but they told me that you wanted to be left alone.”

Pallas: (lowers her eyes) “Yeah…”

Exeter: “I’m not going to intrude or anything, but you should know that you made Val very happy by joining Nova. I really hope you stick around.”

Pallas: “Maybe I will. It all depends on how things go for me in real life.”

Exeter: “I understand. Just keep in touch with him whenever you can—even if it’s not on Nova. I don’t mean to stick my nose in your affairs, but Val is my best friend, and it pains me when he talks about how much he misses you.”

Pallas: “I know. I don’t mean to cause him any pain or you any concern. I’m sorry.”

Exeter: “Don’t be. From the sounds of things, you’ve been through a lot. I understand. You just have to handle it in your own way. I only hope that Nova is a part of that way. I enjoy hanging out with you.”

[Pallas stares at him, and then looks away with flushed cheeks.]

Exeter: “Well, you should head out. Your brother sent me a private message about you needing to finish up here in order to make dinner.”

Pallas: “That’s right,” (sighs) “I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for everything, Exeter.”

Exeter: “Anytime.”

Pallas: “Before I go, we should exchange work schedules. It would be easier to set up meetings that way.”

Exeter: (pauses and looks towards the stream) “I don’t work.”

Pallas: “Oh…well…that’s all right.”

Exeter: “When do you work?”

Pallas: “I work from 7 am to 4 pm on the weekdays, and then I’m off on the weekends.”

Exeter: “I’ll be here. If I’m not, just shoot me a message. Okay?”

Pallas: “Yeah. I look forward to it,” (bows her head) “Thanks for everything, Exeter.”

Exeter: “No problem.”

[Pallas picks up her bow from the ground, waves goodbye at Exeter, and then logs off—dematerializing into thin air. Exeter forces a smile and then stares into the stream.]

Exeter: “She’s gone now.”

[After a short while, Fairee materializes next to Exeter. He looks up at her, and she takes a seat beside him.]

Fairee: “It took her long enough.”

Exeter: “I had to get her stronger. That takes time.”

Fairee: “…I’m sorry that Clark got you into this mess.”

Exeter: “What mess?”

Fairee: (crosses her arms) “This whole babysitting his sister mess. It’s almost as if he used her problems to guilt trip us into giving her special privileges.”

[Exeter is silent.]

Fairee: “…It’s even worse. Now he’s talking about bringing her to our annual meet-up this year. If it were one of our family members, Clark would be annoyed and say our so-called sacred inner circle is being ruined. But, somehow, bringing his sister to our meeting is supposed to be okay.”

[Exeter is still silent. Fairee looks at Exeter, forces a smile, and puts her hand on top of Exeter’s.]

Fairee: “Well, don’t worry, James. I have a good feeling that she won’t stick around Nova for much longer anyway. It’s not like she even wants to be here. Clark practically nagged her into joining. So, we’ll just wait it out. Once she’s gone we can go back to focusing on the goblin siege.”

Exeter: “…Yeah.”

Fairee: (smiles) “You know, Charlotte and Alice keep asking about you. They miss you.”

Exeter: “Really?”

Fairee: (giggles) “Yeah. Alice likes to refer to you as the guy with the accent and the cane.”

Exeter: (forces a smile) “That’s me…”

Fairee: (her smile slowly turns into a frown) “Are you alright? You’re not speaking much.”

Exeter: “I’m fine. I just…I have a lot on my mind…” (moves his hand away from Fairee’s and stands to his feet) “I’m going to head out.”

Fairee: “You’re logging off?”

Exeter: “No. I’m just going away for a few hours. I’ll leave Exeter logged on as inactive though.”

Fairee: “Okay. Hey, why don’t you call me? It’ll be easier for us to talk on the phone.”

Exeter: “I’d like to, Trish, but I have to speak with my brother about something.”

Fairee: “Oh…alright. Well, I’ll just send you a private message. Talk to me whenever you’re ready.”

Exeter: “Sure. See you later.”

Fairee: “Bye, James.”

[Exeter picks up his sword from the ground and dematerializes. Fairee sighs aloud, hugs her knees, and stares ahead at the stream. ]

* HIGH NIGHT RAINY MOUNTAINS *

[Exeter is shown seated at the mouth of a cave, staring outside at the pouring rain. His sword is resting beside him.]

Exeter’s VO: “Hello, Lucia. Or do you prefer Pallas? Regardless of your preference, hello again…”

[Exeter takes out a necklace from the item pouch on his belt, holding it up and staring at it.]

Exeter’s VO: “You’re probably wondering why I’m sending you a private message. Well, it’s nothing to worry about, really. I am just having a hard time sleeping, and I started to think about how great it is to finally meet you.”

[Exeter is shown fighting monsters in the rain.]

Exeter’s VO: “I knew about you long before you joined Nova. Clark and I have been friends for well over three years now. I even spent a few days at your parents’ house when I went to visit him. I met your parents, and they’re very nice people. Sofia, on the other hand, is a handful!”

[When all the monsters are dead, Exeter picks up the spoils. He examines a circlet, grimaces at it, and tosses it aside. Afterwards, he races down the field fighting more monsters. He keeps killing monsters, checking the circlets they drop, and then tossing it aside with a disappointed expression.]

Exeter’s VO: “Your family…they speak about you constantly with such praise. Clark is especially happy to have you as a twin, and told me so many stories about the types of mischief you two did growing up. He misses you. He worries about you even more.”

[After killing a group of monsters, Exeter finally finds a circlet that pleases him. He smiles at it and walks away. The scene changes to Exeter back in the cave he was in before, now examining a circlet and a necklace.]

Exeter’s VO: “At the same time, I understand what it is like to have people pity you because of the damage you have—whether they’re visible or not. When I came home from the military, I wanted nothing more than to get far away again. I guess by hanging out with your family, and seeing how much they miss you…I began to feel guilt for not considering my family’s feelings when I pushed them away.”

[Exeter is now shown at the Bellerophon bazaar, speaking with a merchant. After some talking, Exeter hands the man some money and he hands Exeter a large golden box. He gives a nod to the merchant, and then starts to walk towards the Guild Hall.]

Exeter’s VO: “…I know it is strange of me to send a message like this. After all, we only just met and you had no idea that I existed until yesterday. However, I believe I can help you. I also believe you can help me. In short, we can help each other.”

[Exeter is now shown at the guild hall. He has the gold box on the table with the necklace and circlet he had laying on top of it. He is staring in space, completely expressionless. He eventually crosses his arms and slowly closes his eyes.]

Exeter’s VO: “If you are without a friend, consider me one, and if you ever feel alone, remember that you have a family who loves you more than anything. I hope Nova brings you as much self-realization as it brought me. Who knows? Maybe when you’re at level 50 and you’ve faced the world enough, you will find a side kick who reminds you of your own self. How cool would that be?”

[The screen fades to black.]

Chapter Two: The Crimson Horseman

[Exeter opens his eyes slowly and looks across the table to see Pallas looking back at him.]

Exeter: “…Lucia?”

Pallas: (smirks) “Isn’t it against guild rules for members to use offline names.”

Exeter: (chuckles) “Yeah…” (sits up straight) “It’s a bad habit of mine,” (pauses) “It’s 2 p.m. Shouldn’t you be at work?”

Pallas: “I am.”

Exeter: “You are allowed to play Nova at work?”

Pallas: (rubs her neck nervously) “Well, no. I am not. But I am doing it anyway. It’s not like I have a bunch of people hanging around my cubicle all day. Nine times out of ten, I am completely isolated from my co-workers,” (chuckles) “I am not complaining. I prefer if most of my co-workers stayed far away from me.”

James: “I prefer if most of humanity stayed far away from me.”

[They both laugh and then smile silently at one another.]

Pallas: “Anyway, I got your message…and I want to thank you. It really made my morning. I can see why Clark chose you as a best friend. You’re very kind, and” (pauses) “I am here for you too, if you ever want to talk about the things you deal with too.”

Exeter: (blushing) “Yeah. Yeah, I definitely will.”

[They both stare silently at one another again. Pallas looks away shyly, and Exeter follows suit.]

Exeter: “Well, I got you something,”

Pallas: “?”

Exeter: (pushes the golden box towards her) “Here you go.”

Pallas: (stares at the box and then looks up at Exeter) “What’s this?”

Exeter: “New armor and accessories.”

Pallas: “From where?”

Exeter: “From me.”

Pallas: “Exeter, you shouldn’t have—

Exeter: “—I wanted to. So, put them on. Tell me what you think.”

Pallas: “I…” (pauses) “…I don’t deserve such nice things.”

Exeter: “Of course you do. Everyone deserves nice things. Now go on and change your equipment. I need you to be strong for tonight’s training session.”

[Pallas nods. The box, necklace, and circlet vanish. Following the disappearance of the items, Pallas glows in a bright light before the light dims and shows Pallas in her new attire—a golden circlet, golden necklace, and light golden armor fastened with brown leather belts. Pallas runs her finger along the metal trimming of her gloves, and looks over at Exeter.]

Exeter: “You can’t call yourself a member of the Gilded Knights without any gilded attire, right?”

[Pallas smiles before the door to the room opens. They both turn to see Fairee standing in the doorway, silently gawking at them.]

Fairee: (looking from Exeter to Pallas to Exeter again) “Hi, Exeter,” (pauses) “…Hi, Pallas,”

Exeter + Pallas: “Hi, Fairee.”

Fairee: “Um…” (shuts the door behind her) “I didn’t expect to see you here, Pallas…with gilded armor no less.”

Pallas: “I wasn’t expecting either myself, to be honest.”

Fairee: “…”

Exeter: (stands) “I invited Pallas to meet me. I also gave her the gilded armor. I know that we have a bunch of strict rules about when new recruits are allowed to wear gilded armor, but I want my student to look up to guild standards.”

Fairee: (walks towards the table) “It’s fine. I am sure that Valiant will agree with you, and Murdoch never cares about the rules, so, once more, it’s fine,”

[The room falls completely silent before Pallas suddenly stands.]

Pallas: “Well…I’d hate to leave so soon…but it’s time for me to head out.”

Exeter: “You’re leaving?”

Pallas: “Yeah. I have some things to finish up. But I’ll be back around 6 p.m. to start grinding and farming again. I’ll message you when I’m ready.”

Exeter: “Yeah. That’s fine.”

Pallas: “Okay. I’ll see you both later. Bye.”

[Before they could bid Pallas farewell, she logs off and dematerializes. Once she is gone, Fairee chuckles aloud and takes a seat at the table.]

Fairee: “You two are becoming awfully close…fighting together and giving each other expensive armor,”

Exeter: “She’s my student. As for costs, that is no concern of mine. I have millions of gold to my name. Some equipment is not going to break my bank.”

Fairee: “That doesn’t explain why you, a complete stranger, must train her and clothe her when her brother should be doing those things. What are you, her caretaker?”

Exeter:  “This again, Fairee. Give it a rest. You’ve been on her case since she got here.”

Fairee: “I am not on her case! I am doing what a co-owner of a guild is supposed to do—uphold the guild laws! If you were thinking from the right place, you would see that.”

Exeter: “Really cute retort, Fairee, but we both know that you didn’t want her here long before I even knew she was joining. You have a real issue with your green-eyed demon.”

Fairee: “Excuse me?!”

Exeter: (crosses his arms) “You heard me.”

Fairee: (chuckles) “No, I’m not jealous. I’m the only one thinking straight!”

Exeter: “Ha!”

Fairee: “Laugh all you want, but the James that I used to know would have seen that Clark is completely disregarding the laws this guild was built on for his own benefit.”

[The door to the guild hall opens. Exeter and Fairee turn their attention to Valiant and Murdoch, who are standing in the doorway. Fairee turns her back to them and crosses her arms.]

Murdoch: “Oh no. They’re arguing again.”

Valiant: “You two should just get married and get it over with.”

Exeter: “Shut up,” (stands and walks over to Valiant and Murdoch) “What’s with you Alvarez and logging on early today anyway?”

Valiant: “What? Lucia was here?”

Exeter: “Yeah.”

Murdoch: “Where is she?”

Exeter: “She had to log off and return to work.”

Valiant: “Logging on at work, huh? Wow, she’s really getting into this game!” (looks over to Fairee) “What’s with Fairee?”

Exeter: (whispers) “You know how Fairee and that green-eyed monster of hers can be.”

Valiant: “Yeah…I was worried about that…”

Murdoch: “So, Valiant’s sister is breaking up your marriage, huh?”

Exeter: (punches Murdoch’s arm) “Shut up about that marriage crap, will you?”

Murdoch: (laughs and rubs his arm) “Alright, alright.”

Valiant: “Let’s go over there before Queen Fairee raises hell.”

[The boys walk over to the table, and take their seats. Fairee sits in her own seat afterwards, still upset.]

Valiant: “Well, as you can see, Murdoch and I are here early. We have some important news to pass on, and it could not wait any longer.”

Fairee: “…What is it?”

Valiant: “Zero sent me an e-mail while I was processing some orders at my office. The Halberd guild ran into some serious stuff last night!”

Exeter: “What type of serious stuff?”

Valiant: “Well, I don’t know if it’s true, but Zero, our spy, said that a horsemen clad in red showed up out of nowhere and did some…let’s just say super illegal attack on their leader, Brimstone. According to Zero, Brimstone called the guild members offline to let them know that he can no longer log into his Brimstone account. It was deleted completely after his run in with that knight.”

Exeter + Fairee: (leaning forward with wide eyes) “WHAT?”

Murdoch: “It’s true. We managed to set up a secret meeting with Zero a few minutes ago, and he told us Brimstone contacted Nova support about it. Supposedly, his Brimstone account cannot be recovered because every trace of it has been removed from the Nova database. It’s as if it never existed.”

Exeter: “Shit. Where is Zero? We need to talk to him about the details!”

Valiant: “Zero is pretty busy playing double agent for us, but he’ll meet us all later on when the Halberd guild hall calms down a bit. For now, he’s being dragged around because Brimstone’s brother—the heir to the guild—is panicking like crazy. They are practically running around like a headless chicken without their leader.”

Fairee: “Well, why doesn’t Brimstone register for a new account? It will suck to start all over again, but he can at least offer comfort and presence to his frantic guild members”

Murdoch: “That’s the other thing. Zero told us that Brimstone’s IP address was banned from the Nova database. Regardless of what they try over there, they can’t lift the ban. So he has to work around it later on, which is taking him a while. It’s unbelievable. This crimson horseman is without a doubt a hacker, and a very skilled one at that.”

Fairee: “Well, you’re a hacker, Murdoch. Can you think of anything that will undo what the crimson horseman has done?”

Murdoch: “No. Nothing comes to mind at the moment.”

Exeter: “You know, this probably isn’t a hacker at all. It’s probably some rogue employee who works for Nova that is going around messing with players.”

Valiant: “That may be true, but why Brimstone? Yes, he is the guild leader but, much like our guild, the Halberd guild is relatively unknown. It’s not even in the top 100 in terms of popular guilds! It just seems strange to attack Brimstone of all the players on Nova.”

Exeter:  “A personal vendetta, maybe?”

Valiant: “Well, the guy was cocky as sin, but I can’t imagine why a Nova employee or skilled hacker would target him. He doesn’t exactly stand out when it comes to the millions of players on Nova. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Fairee: “Where did they find this crimson horseman anyway?”

Murdoch: “Of all places, the Azalea Forests…where the next event will be hosted.”

Fairee: “That can’t be coincidence!”

Murdoch: “I was thinking the same.”

Exeter: “You think this is an event?”

Valiant: “An event that deletes a player’s account? I doubt that.”

Exeter: “Yeah…you have a point…” (leans back in his chair and sighs aloud) “This is bad. I’d hate to imagine that horseman attacking a member of our guild.”

Valiant: “Which reminds me, Exeter, you cannot train Pallas outside of the city anymore.”

Exeter: (angrily) “What? Why?”

Valiant: “What if that horseman pops up? We can’t risk it, especially with you. You’re the second strongest warrior in this guild. Without you, we’ll be screwed!”

Exeter: “What should we do then?”

Valiant: “You can bring her to the training room. Yes, getting EXP will be challenging as hell considering what little EXP you get during training, but it’s better than nothing. Also, don’t forget that she gets EXP and spoils for taking up little missions around this city and other official locations. I am okay with you two travelling city-to-city to fulfill missions, but do not go into any fields—at all. Okay?”

Exeter: (sighs) “Yeah. I got it.”

Murdoch: “What should you, Fairee and I do?”

Valiant: (pauses) “I don’t know. I guess until we hear from Zero, we can pass this information on to our guild members as rumors. It will keep Zero’s identity safe as well as keep our guild members on their toes. Hopefully, they will pass this rumor on to their friends and spread news about this crimson horseman around Nova.”

Fairee: “So, operation propaganda it is.”

Valiant: “Great. So, it’s settled. I’m going to head into the city to find information about this horseman. Maybe someone else saw it. Fairee, Murdoch, start spreading those rumors. Exeter, I’m going to message you my sister’s number right now. Call her and let her know that she has to come straight to the guild hall when she signs on. She absolutely cannot sign on to any fields—especially the forests.”

Exeter: “…You want me to call her?”

Valiant: “Yeah. What? You scared?”

Exeter: “No…”

Valiant: (stands) “Good. I’ll check back in on you guys in a few hours.”

Exeter: “Alright, I got your message. I’m going to log off and call her.”

Valiant: “Thanks.”

[Exeter dematerializes.]

Murdoch: “I know exactly where to start spreading those rumors—the cafeteria. Everyone gossips there. Come on, Fairee!”

Fairee: “I need to talk to Valiant privately, so go ahead without me. I’ll meet up with you in a few.”

[Murdoch nods and rushes out of the guild officers’ room.]

Valiant: (faces Fairee) “What is it?”

Fairee: “I just want to warn you that you should keep an eye on James and your sister, especially now that you gave him permission to contact her offline.”

Valiant: “…What for?”

Fairee: “Well, let’s just say that their relationship is not looking very teacher-student type at the moment,”

Valiant: (crosses his arms) “…What are you saying?”

Fairee: “I’m saying that a guy doesn’t pick up rare circlets, rare necklaces, and thousands of dollars’ worth of armor for a so-called student. And I’m not talking 10,000 or even 50,000. I’m talking 500,000. Trust me.  I saw that armor in the bazaar not too long ago, and gasped at the steep price tag.”

Valiant: (sighs) “Listen, Trish. James is just a nice guy, okay? He’s not trying to make a move on my sister. This is the same guy who came to my house, and cooked my family dinner despite his injured leg. This is also the same guy who flew all the way to London to visit you because you had the flu. He cares about people a lot, regardless of how misanthropically he may behave. Is that so wrong?”

Fairee: (hangs her head) “…”

Valiant: “Now, don’t get me wrong. If James is sneaking behind my back and trying to hook up with my sister, you can bet that heads are going to roll. However, I don’t want to jump to that conclusion yet. Not with James, and certainly not with Lucia,” (puts a hand on Fairee’s shoulder) “I appreciate you always looking out for this guild, and the fact that you tried to warn me about it has fortified my trust in you. But…let’s look at James in the light we always see him in. At the end of the day, he’s an earnest guy. Always has been.”

Fairee: “Yeah…you’re right.”

Valiant: (smiles and moves his hand) “Well, we both have work to do. When you think about it, what we’re doing is practically saving the world of Nova. So let’s work our hardest.”

Fairee: “Will do.”

[Valiant smiles and hurries out of the room. Fairee watches on with a dejected expression on her face.]

Chapter Three: The Beginning of the End

* OFFLINE – APARTMENT BUILDING *

[Lucia’s back is shown as she walks up the stairs of her apartment building. While she is walking up the stairs, her cellular phone rings. She stops in her track, examines the caller ID, and then answers the phone.]

Lucia: “Hello.”

James: “…”

Lucia: “Hello?”

[Lucia takes one step up the stairs, and stops again.]

Lucia: “…Are you trying to pull a prank on me, Clark?”

James: (blurts) “Lucia.”

Lucia: “Who is this?”

[James’ is shown standing in front of the phone mounted on the wall, the receiver pressed to his ears.]

James: “James.”

[Lucia stands still.]

Lucia: “…James…as in…Nova James?”

James: “Yes.”

Lucia: “H-How did you get my number?”

James: “Clark.”

Lucia: “Oh…”

[James taps his finger against the wall, hunching his back slightly.]

James: “I—well, Clark—he wanted you to know that you shouldn’t go to any fields when you log on. You must head straight to the guild hall.”

Lucia: “What’s the matter?”

James: “It’s a hacker, or a troublemaking programmer who works for Nova. We don’t know yet, but someone took out the leader of our rival guild, and removed every trace of his user data from the Nova database.”

Lucia: “What the hell?” (pauses) “How is that even possible?”

James: “It would seem so. The avatar of this hacker or rogue programmer is a horseman dressed in red. He was last seen in Azalea Forests, so we’re assuming that he’s travelling around fields and not cities.”

Lucia: “I see. Well, I’ll be sure to teleport to the guild the moment I log on.”

James: “Alright.”

[They are both silence, both standing still with their backs to the screen as well.]

Lucia: “Um…thanks for giving me the heads up…”

James: “You should thank you brother. It was his idea.”

Lucia: “Yeah…I will…and…um…I guess I’ll see you online…”

James: “Sure. I’ll see you there.”

[Long pause.]

James: “So…are you logging on soon?”

Lucia: “Yeah. I’m right outside of my apartment. I’ll be on in a few minutes.”

James: “Okay. Okay…that’s good…I’ll meet you in the officers’ hall.”

Lucia: “Alright.”

James: “Yeah.”

Lucia: “I…guess I’ll go.”

James: “Yeah. See you later.”

Lucia: “Bye.”

James: “Bye.”

[The both sit on the phone for the while before Lucia quickly hangs up. She tucks her phone in her pocket and races upstairs.]

* ONLINE – THE GILDED KNIGHTS GUILD HALL *

[Pallas is running towards the guild hall when she sees Exeter waiting for her outside. She stops in her tracks, smiles, and waves at him. He smiles and waves back before walking up to her.]

Pallas: “I hope that you weren’t waiting for too long.”

Exeter: “No. I’m just glad that you’re all right. You are alright, right?”

Pallas: “Yeah. I’m fine.”

Exeter: “Um…well, there’s not much we can do today. We had Fairee and Murdoch intentionally spread rumors of the crimson horsemen around the guild, and now everyone is in a frenzy. Our double agent, Zero, who has been spying on our rival guild is speaking to your brother, Fairee, and Murdoch in our meeting room, so…it’s just us.”

Pallas: “You should be in that meeting room as an officer of this guild. I’m sorry that you’re out here playing babysitter with me.”

Exeter: (rolls his eyes) “I wish you guys would stop referring to me as a babysitter. You’re not a baby, and I am not here to monitor you. I am here to train you as my partner. Something I chose to do by the way.”

Pallas: (laughs) “Yeah, you’re right,” (lowers her eyes shyly) “But…you know…you don’t have to do this. Sure, you adore my family and maybe you were curious to meet me for a long time now, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop hanging around your friends and doing guild leader things on my behalf. If you want to train me, it should be a side job, and not your main priority.”

Exeter: “Acquiring a partner who can support me at long range is my main priority. I’ve been defeated by arrows to the back on far too many big time events, and I need someone who can cover me. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It is just a blessing that my best friend’s sister decided to join Nova as a ranger.”

Pallas: “You’re not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?”

Exeter: “A little…but not entirely.”

Pallas: (laughs) “Either way, I am grateful. Thank you again.”

Exeter: “Bah, stop thanking me!” (walks away)

Pallas: (starts walking with him) “It’s so strange.”

Exeter: “What is?”

Pallas: “I’ve known you for two days now, but I feel like I’ve known you for much longer,””

Exeter: “Does that bother you?”

Pallas: “No. I feel fine growing close to someone who is already close to the people I love. It makes it easier,” (looks up at Exeter) “If they see great things in you then I can do the same.”

Exeter: (smiles softly) “Yeah…”

[They continue walking, completely silent.]

Exeter: “Pallas.”

Pallas: “Yeah.”

Exeter: “I plan to visit your brother in about five months—at your parents’ house—and I was wondering if you wanted to come over and hang out with all of us for a week.”

[Pallas remains silent, her eyes cast to the ground.]

Exeter: “I mean, it would be great for your parents and siblings to finally see you again after four years,” (pauses) “And I’ve heard so many stories and seen so many pictures of you that I feel like I’ve known you as long as Clark.”

[Pallas rubs her neck nervously afterwards.]

Exeter: “It’s okay if you don’t want to. It is kind of an awkward situation to be in—visiting your family members, and then dealing with your brother’s oversized, semi-crippled, army vet best friend.”

Pallas: “It’s not that, it’s just…”(lowers her head sadly) “I’m not very social.”

Exeter: “Neither am I, so let’s share a corner to be antisocial in.”

[Exeter gives her a friendly pat on the back as he laughs. He opens his mouth to speak again when suddenly he notices the crowd of people running towards his and Pallas’ direction.]

Exeter: “What the hell is going on?”

Pallas: (looks forward and notices the crowd approaching) “Is this some type of event?”

Exeter: “I don’t know,” (draws his sword with one hand and pulls Pallas close to him with his other hand) “But stay close. Something is definitely wrong.”

[The sound of the screaming crowd becomes deafening as they draw near. They all rush past Exeter and Pallas, shoving them about accidentally in the process. Pallas is about to draw her bow, but Exeter squeezes her arm to stop her.]

Exeter: “Don’t. PKing is illegal outside of duals. You’ll get banned indefinitely for it.”

Pallas: “PKing?”

Exeter: “Player killing.”

Pallas: “What should we do?”

Exeter: “Something is coming. I have to see what it is so I can warn the guild. Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”

[A girl runs into Exeter and Pallas.]

Player Andromeda: “Get the fuck out of the way, you idiots!”

Exeter: (grabs Andromeda by the collar and lifts her off the ground) “What the hell is your deal?”

Player Andromeda: “Let me go, asshole!”

Exeter: “Why is everyone running? What the hell are you so afraid of?”

Player Andromeda: “That red horsemen everyone was gossiping about is here! He’s deleting everyone’s characters! So let me go right now or I swear I’ll report you to the fucking mods!”

[Exeter unhands her, and she runs away.]

Pallas: “Exeter–

Exeter: “–Run to the guild and warn the others.”

Pallas: “What are you doing? You can’t fight that guy! Did you forget what he did to Brimstone?”

Exeter: “No, I didn’t. But it’s my duty as a Gilded Knight to protect others. If I run then what use am I?”

Pallas: “You’re being ridiculous. You’re going to get all of your progress wiped clean!”

Exeter: “I don’t care. I’ll begin again if I must, but I can’t just run away without trying. Now go warn the guild! Tell them all to log off! We don’t know where he’s heading, and it’s better safe than sorry.”

Pallas: “I’m staying with you!”

Exeter: “Get out of here, Pallas!”

[Pallas stares at him, draws her bow, and then runs away. Exeter starts to walk the opposite way of the crowd, sword in hand.]

Exeter: “Have courage, James, for once in your life…”

* THE GILDED KNIGHTS GUILD HALL — OFFICERS’ ROOM *

[Fairee, Valiant, and Murdoch are seated the table as Zero stands against the wall with his arms crossed.]

Zero: “So, support at Nova basically told him to sign up for a new character. Brimstone…well, he wasn’t too pleased with that. It seems to me that he’s given up on Nova entirely.”

Fairee: “I don’t blame him. To play a game for so long and then have every minute of it completely vanish…I don’t know if I’d ever want to play Nova again after that.”

Valiant: (shakes his head) “It doesn’t make any sense. How can this red horseman just go around deleting players like this? Even more, how can the administrators at Nova be completely clueless about it?”

Zero: “I don’t know. From the sounds of it, though, they’re trying to keep this entire thing hush-hush. They even told Brimstone not to tell anyone what happened in order to keep everything peachy keen. Or at least make everything seem peachy keen. You know how that crap works.”

Murdoch: “Yeah. It sounds super suspicious…I don’t like it at all.”

Zero: “Aren’t you a hacker, Aaron? Do you think you can stop this horseman guy?”

Murdoch: “Sorry, man, but I can’t touch this. I wouldn’t know where to start. Even my brother who has hacked this game too many games to count doesn’t know what to do. That says a lot.”

Zero: (lowers his head) “That’s unfortunate to hear. Well, I guess for now it might be best if I stick around the Halberd guild for the time being. Like I said, Brimstone’s brother is driving himself crazy trying to pick up where Brimstone left off. For whatever reason, both Brimstone and his brother see me as a dependable friend, so I’m just going to play my part.”

Valiant: “Thanks, Zero. We promise that you’re going to get some serious payback when this is all over with.”

Zero: “We’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, just keep your noses clean.”

[Pallas burst into the room, panting for air.]

Valiant: (stands) “Lucia?”

Murdoch: (smirks) “You really shouldn’t deplete your stamina gauge like that. It’s best to stop doing strenuous activities right before the bar depletes so you don’t have to wait around for a delayed refill.”

Pallas: (bends over with her hands on her thighs, panting) “…Thanks…for…the tip….”

Zero: “You guys know her?”

Valiant: “Yeah. It’s my sister,” (walks towards her) “Where’s James?”

Fairee: “Does no one stay in character anymore…?”

Valiant: “Sorry, Fairee,”

Pallas: “He’s in danger. The crimson horseman is in town, and Ja–um–Exeter is trying to stop him.”

Valiant: (eyes widen) “Alone?!”

Pallas: (stands up straight, still panting) “I tried to help him, but he wouldn’t let me.”

Valiant: (draws sword) “That idiot!” (runs out the door) “Log off everyone! I’ll knock some sense into Exeter!”

Murdoch: “Why log off? Why don’t we all just jump the guy?”

Zero: “Remember that Brimstone is just as strong as you guys, if not stronger from all the diamond membership perks he receives monthly, and he couldn’t put a scratch on this guy. If he strikes you, you can kiss your character goodbye.”

Murdoch: “So…we just log off.”

Zero: “Until the threat is clear, it would be best. He can’t attack you if you’re logged off,” (waves at them) “See ya.”

[Zero dematerializes.]

Fairee: “It doesn’t seem right to just log off like that. Shouldn’t we be out there at least warning the other players to log off as well?”

Murdoch: “Hey, I didn’t invest time and money into this character so I can get it all deleted helping some strangers. I’m logging off.”

[Murdoch dematerializes.]

Fairee: “Wow, thanks a lot, Murdoch. As helpful as always!”

[Fairee crosses her arms and pouts. Eventually, she turns and looks over her shoulders at Pallas.]

Fairee: “Well, there’s no use sticking around, Pallas. Just log off. I’m going to check on Exeter and Valiant.”

Pallas: “I want to check on them too.”

Fairee: “No offense, but you won’t be of much use to us. If a high level character can’t defeat him, then you can’t do anything. We will handle this. Your brother, Exeter, and I are the strongest people in this guild after all.”

[Fairee walks towards the door when she notices that Pallas is not logging off. With an annoyed expression, she turns to face her.]

Fairee: “What is it?”

Pallas: “Well…” (pauses) “By your logic, a high level character is useless against this horseman guy. So would it matter if I am low level, medium level, or high level? Either way, we’re all useless right?”

Fairee: “…”

Pallas: “If anything, I can serve as a shield of some sort. If I am deleted, it’s not a big deal. I only created my character yesterday. But if any of you get your data erased, the guild will fall apart just like the Halberd guild.”

Fairee: “I doubt that. We’re far more organized than Halberd,” (rubs her chin) “But I get what you’re saying. Still, your brother will be incredibly pissed if we disobey him. At least I can argue that I am the co-owner, but you’re his sister. It’s his nature to worry over you.”

Pallas: “Then I’ll just tell him everything I told you. Besides, Val needs to realize that he can’t tell me what to do. I’m not a child after all. I’m 22 years old.”

[Fairee sighs aloud before drawing her staff.]

Fairee: “Do what you want, but just make sure you remind him that I have nothing to do with this.”

[Pallas nods. Fairee nods back and rushes out of the room.]

* BELLEROPHON MARKETPLACE *

[In the center of the marketplace, Exeter is parrying the attacks of the crimson horseman. The horseman throws a knife at Exeter, but he rolls to the side to dodge it. With an arrogant smirk, Exeter stands to his feet and tries to catch his breath.]

Exeter: “You don’t live up to your reputation, horseman,” (motions his hand in a ‘come here’ motion) “If you want my data then put a fight, will you?”

[The horseman swings his sword as his horse neighs and stands on its hind legs. Exeter gets into a battle stance and smiles. It is then that Valiant charges towards the horseman, screaming his battlecry. The horseman turns to Valiant just in time to get struck by his attack. Valiant takes a long leap back and stands right next to Exeter.]

Exeter: “You got him!”

Valiant: “Don’t get too excited. I doubt that’s enough to take him out,” (looks to Exeter) “Seriously, James, you shouldn’t be here. You should be far from Bellerophon like everyone else.”

Exeter: “I’m not like everyone else. I’m a Gilded Knight, and it is my duty to protect the people of Nova. Isn’t that the pact you told me to take when I was knighted?”

Valiant: “True,” (chuckles) “But I don’t know if a fight against an invincible opponent is brave or stupid.”

Exeter: “Maybe both, but it means nothing to me. I ain’t dying with regret. I’m done with regret. From now on, I have to face my problems.”

Valiant: (laughs) “Look at you coming to dramatic epiphanies all of a sudden.”

[Exeter laughs too.]

Valiant: “So, I’ll catch you on the flip side, man?”

Exeter: “You know it.”

[They bump their forearms together before shouting and charging at the horseman. Fairee and Pallas arrive at the scene just in time to watch the horseman battle Valiant and Exeter simultaneously.]

Fairee: “Valiant! Exeter! What are you two doing? Just log off!”

Exeter: “Get out of here, Trish!”

Fairee: “We all need to get out of here!”

[Pallas draws her bow and aims at the horseman.]

Fairee: “What are you doing? You’ll just anger him!”

Pallas: “When I distract him, you need to cast protective spells on Clark and James.”

Fairee: “I–

Pallas: “–I know. I’m the new kid on the block, and you don’t have to take orders from me. But I know my brother, and he’s not going to back down. So, we might as well do our bests. If we can distract the horseman, they can probably land enough blows to take him out.”

Fairee: (pauses for a long time but eventually positions her staff before her) “This better work,” (starts charging her spell) “If I lose any of my guild members, you included, I’m going to be pissed.”

[Pallas smiles. She draws three arrows from her quiver, and launches all three at the horsemen. When he turns around to knock the arrows away, Exeter and Valiant perform a team attack on him. The attack is so strong that it knocks him off of his horse. While the horseman is standing, Fairee casts protective spells on Valiant and Exeter. Pallas draws arrows one-by-one, swiftly sending them at the horseman as he stomps towards her.]

Fairee: “He’s coming for you, Pallas!”

Pallas: “I know! Don’t worry about me! I’m just fodder! Support your men!”

[Fairee nods, an expression of pride on her face, before charging for attack. Pallas continues launching arrows at the horseman as he approaches her.]

Exeter: “What is your sister doing? She’s going to get herself killed!”

Valiant: “She’s being Lucia…she’s always sacrificing herself for other people,” (rushes towards the horseman) “I’m not going to stand aside and do nothing again!”

Exeter: (following Valiant) “Clark!”

[The horseman suddenly picks up speed towards Pallas. Fairee casts a fire spell on him that knocks him back, but he uses a telekinesis-like move to pick up Fairee and toss her down the road. Everyone gasps in disbelief at the horseman’s actions.]

Exeter: “He’s psychic? SERIOUSLY?”

[Exeter jumps in the air, aiming to perform an aerial attack on him. However, the horseman quickly turns around, stops Exeter in mid-air, and tosses his character into the fountain. Pallas shoots him several times in the arms with her arrows, causing him to turn around and face her.]

Pallas: “What are you looking at them for, you bastard?! Come and get me! Or are you too chicken?”

[The horseman charges at Pallas. Just as he performs a swing attack, Valiant jumps in front of Pallas and blocks the sword attack with his own sword.]

Valiant: “What are you doing, sis? Get out of here!”

Pallas: “I’m distracting him so you can all leave! Just get out of here and log off!”

Valiant: “No way!”

Pallas: “I’m just a newbie! Let me be the bait! You guys need to leave and strategize!”

Valiant: “That’s not what Gilded Knights do! We protect! We don’t run!”

Pallas: “Don’t be stupid!”

Valiant: (chuckles) “No regrets!”

[He kicks the horseman back, making him stumble a few feet backwards. Valiant then charges at the horseman.]

Valiant: “Go check on Fairee and Exeter! They may need healing!”

Pallas: “You idiot!” (looks towards Fairee’s direction and then Exeter’s. Finally, she races towards Fairee.) “Don’t die!”

[Pallas races towards Fairee, who was thrown a great distance down the road. When Pallas finally comes to her, she lying face up on the ground, completely still with her eyes wide open.]

Pallas: “Fairee!” (kneels at her side and pulls a potion from her pouch) “I’ll heal you!”

Fairee: “Don’t waste your time. He wiped out my HP, my MP, and immobilized me. I’m just stuck here. I can’t log off or anything.”

Pallas: “Is your data….?”

Fairee: “No. I don’t think so. All of my stats and skills are the same. I just can’t make any use of them. It’s almost like a digital coma. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Pallas: “What should I do?”

Fairee: “I can’t log off manually, so I’ll have to reset my entire computer and hope that helps. What you need to do is tell those stubborn asses over there to log off right now! I’m going to disconnect the computer and call Murdoch about this.”

Pallas: “Okay.”

[Pallas stands and races towards Exeter. At the marketplace, Valiant and the horseman are still fighting. She stares in awe before rushing to Exeter’s side. Like Fairee, he is lying on his back with his eyes open, but in the fountain instead.]

Pallas: “Exeter!” (lifts him to a sitting position) “Are you okay?”

Exeter: “I don’t know. It doesn’t look like he wiped my data, but it’s like I’m frozen. I can’t use skills, attacks, items–nothing. I can’t even log off or restart my computer.”

Pallas: “This is really weird.”

Exeter: “I know.”

Pallas: “Fairee is going to unplug her computer. You should do the same.”

Exeter: “I can’t. I have to help Valiant. I promised him I wouldn’t run away.”

Pallas: “Don’t be stupid! You’re not doing him any good here. If the horseman turns his attention to you, you’re screwed. Just save yourself and get out. I’ll try to log off with Valiant, all right?”

Exeter: “…You’re so much like him,” (laughs) “Alright. I’ll unplug. Don’t be surprised if you get a call from me.”

Pallas: (smiles) “Okay.”

[She lays Exeter back down in the fountain before racing back towards Valiant. The horseman senses her approaching and turns to face her.]

Valiant: “Pallas!”

Pallas: “You have to log off, Clark! He’s already screwed with Fairee and James’ account!”

Valiant: “What?”

Pallas: “Log off! I’ll distract him and then follow suit, ok?”

Valiant: “I….But…I….” (growls and stomps his foot) “Fine!”

[ Pallas starts shooting arrows at the horseman. ]

Pallas: “What are you waiting for?”

Valiant: “I can’t! I can’t log off!”

Pallas: “What?”

[ The horseman lifts Pallas in the air and tosses her across the marketplace. She tries to lift herself up, but realizes that she can barely budge.]

Pallas: “Oh no. I’m frozen! Valiant, unplug your computer!”

[ The horseman swings his sword, runs at Valiant, and then chops him in half. Pallas eyes widen in shock as she watches Valiants’ remains fall to the ground and then dematerialize.]

Pallas: (screaming at the top of her lungs) “CLARK! CLARK!”

[The horseman disappears suddenly, his horse vanishing with him.]

Pallas: “What the hell…?” (tries to move) “What the hell is going on?!”

[The horseman suddenly reappears next to Pallas, standing above her. Before she can react, he stabs her in the chest with his sword. Pallas shrieks until her screams turn silent. Her character glows white and gold symbols begins to appear all over her. The white light and symbols spread from her body to the horseman’s sword. He drops the sword and starts to stare at his hands. It continues to spread from his hands to his entire body until he begins to scream. Pallas turns back to normal and watches as the horseman is suddenly dragged into the ground, screaming until he is gone. To her own disbelief, she is able to move again. She stands to her feet, examines her body, and stares at the spot where the horseman was.]

Pallas: “Did…Did I kill him?”

[Suddenly, twelve bright lights appear in the sky and shoot down bright beams to the Belleraphon marketplace. Pallas shields her eyes. When the lights dim and Pallas senses this, she moves her arms away from her face. There, standing before her, are twelve players clad in white armor.]

Pallas: “Huh?”

Arthur: (steps forward) “Username: maiden_pallas_athena.”

Pallas: “Yes.”

Arthur: “I am one of the twelve administrators of Nova.”

Pallas: “…Hello.”

Arthur: “We were trying to remove that horseman from Nova when we saw him vanish entirely. Was it your doing?”

Pallas: “I-I don’t know. He stabbed me and then…and then we both turned white and were covered with those glowing symbols.”

[Arthur turns to look at the other administrators, all of them exchanging glances. Finally, Arthur steps towards Pallas.]

Arthur: “We don’t know what you did, Pallas, but we thank you for stopping this threat. We would love to reward you for your deeds later, but for now we need you to log off of your account in order for us to do some investigation. And you must stay logged off until we contact you and tell you otherwise. Do you understand?”

Pallas: “Yeah. Sure.”

Arthur: “Thank you for cooperation. You will be logged off in 3, 2, 1…”

[Pallas suddenly dematerializes.]

Arthur: (to the other administrators) “She definitely has something to do with that horseman. Find out as much information as you can about her, and report it to me as soon as possible.”

[The other eleven administrators disappear. Arthur folds his arms behind his back and suddenly smiles.]

* OFFLINE – LUCIA’S ROOM *

[Lucia is seated in her chair, legs folded, as she stares at the computer screen. On the screen is the log in menu with Pallas standing in a forest. Lucia continues staring at the screen until her phone rings. It startles her, but she eventually gathers herself and picks up the phone.]

Lucia: “Hello?”

Clark: “Lucia. It’s me—Clark.”

Lucia: “Hey! What happened?”

Clark: “Yeah…I’m about to explain that. Hold on a sec. I’m going to set up three-way between me, you, and James.”

Lucia: “Okay.”

[There is a long pause before a click is heard.]

James: “Hello?”

Lucia: “Hello?”

James: “Lucia! How are you? What happened?”

Lucia: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. It was crazy.”

James + Clark: “What happened?”

Lucia: “I…think I killed the horseman…”

Clark: “Holy shit…”

James: “How did you do it?”

Lucia: “I didn’t do anything. He stabbed me through the chest and then this weird thing happened. Pallas turned white, and all of these weird symbols started spreading all over her body,”

[Both Clark and James swear in disbelief.]

Lucia: “It gets even weirder. The white light and symbols spread from me to the horseman’s sword and from his sword to his entire body. He was screaming like crazy before the ground just…engulfed him.”

Clark: “Well, what happened to Pallas? Is her data gone?”

Lucia: “No, her data is fine. But, from the sounds of it, I was suspended from Nova indefinitely. This administrator named Arthur showed up with some other head honchos, and basically told me that I need to stay logged off until he tells me to get back on. So…here I am.”

James: “Well, at least Pallas safe.”

Lucia: “What about you two? How are Valiant and Exeter looking?”

James: “…You should explain this, Clark.”

Clark: (in a disheartened tone) “Yeah,” (exhales deeply) “Long story short, Lucia, Valiant is completely gone and no one else can log in their account. I mean, from what Trish and James told me their characters are still showing up, but they just can’t log in. It says ‘character name is already logged in’ each time they try.”

Lucia: “No…that can’t be true! You can’t really be gone!”

Clark: “Yeah. It sucks.”

Lucia: “I’m sorry, Clark.”

Clark: “Actually, I’m not as crushed as I thought I would be. It does suck to do everything all over again, and lose all those rare items, but it is nothing that the guild can’t handle. We’re tough. I don’t have to worry.”

Lucia: “You’re taking it better than I thought you would.”

Clark: “At the end of the day, it’s just a game. There is no point in having a meltdown because some douchebag hacker deleted my character. I’ll just keep coming back until he gets tired of me!”

[They all laugh.]

Clark: “Besides, how can I be upset when my twin sister sent that same douchebag hacker to digital hell, screaming like a little girl? That’s enough to put a big goofy smile on my face! You’re gonna be a legend when you get back on!”

Lucia: (bites her lip) “I really didn’t do anything. I just laid there and let him stab me.”

James: “That makes it even more amazing. You killed him without even trying.”

Lucia: “Don’t encourage him, James.”

[Clark and James laugh while Lucia smiles.]

Clark: “Hey, it looks like Trish is calling. I’m going to connect her now.”

James: “How many people can you add on this thing?”

[Lucia and Clark laugh.]

Clark: “Hey, Trish. What’s going on?”

Trish: “I can’t log into my account. I’m guessing you’re all on the same boat.”

James: “Yeah. The only one who wasn’t booted off during the crimson knight ordeal was Lucia. Somehow, she managed to kill him. It was the twelve administrators of Nova who requested that she log off, and stay off until they’re done with investigation.”

Trish: (gasps) “Seriously? That is amazing, Lucia! How did you do it?”

Lucia: “I actually didn’t do anything. I just let him stab me.”

Clark: “Yeah, she said after he stabbed her, a bunch of light and symbols or something engulfed them. Is that what happened?”

Lucia: “Yeah…close enough.”

Clark: “Well, Aaron and his brother are looking into it from their various backdoors. He’s going to call me as soon as he finds out some—“ (pauses) “—Speak of the devil, guess who’s calling?”

James: “Seriously, Clark, how many people are you going to add on this thing? What the hell type of phone do you have anyway?”

Clark: “It’s professional stuff. I’m popular. What can I say?”

[Lucia and Trish laugh.]

Clark: “You there, Aaron?”

Aaron: “Yeah. Where’s your sister?”

Lucia: “I’m here.”

Aaron: “Good because you especially need to hear the outcome of my research. The crimson knight is a program mostly likely created by someone within TruFantasy—the company that made Nova—in order to sabotage Nova. Who that is and why that person is sabotaging Nova are unknown to me, but that’s not terribly important right now. You should know, though, that Lucia’s copy of the game was never meant to be released.”

Clark: “What do you mean?

Aaron: “I mean that you should think of it as a master copy that belonged to the rogue programmer, as we’ll call him or her for now. I guess another way to put it is that Lucia is practically a goddess in Nova. No one can remove her or modify her account in any way—not even the administrators. Hell, she can log in right now if she wanted to. They can’t stop her, and they’re hoping she never figures that out.”

James: “Shit…”

Lucia: “That’s a good thing, right?”

Aaron: “I can’t say for sure. If the rogue programmer who made that master copy traces it back to you…well, there is no telling what he or she might do. You are a liability now. All of us are. We know too much.”

Lucia: “No offense, Aaron, but you should probably lay off the violent gangster movies.”

James: “No, he could be right.”

Clark: “I feel the same as James. Anyone who would go this far to sabotage TruFantasy’s success with Nova is probably a very unstable person. Furthermore, this rogue programmer as we’re calling him or her works for TruFantasy. I’m sure they’ll find out about Lucia defeating the program, and dig up information.”

Lucia: “Clark…”

Trish: “I’m with you guys. Lucia, you should definitely take some precautions.”

Clark: “Maybe it would be best for you to come back to home.”

Lucia: (sighs) “I knew that was coming.”

Clark: “Is it really so bad?”

Lucia: “For me, yes. It is.”

Aaron: “Maybe you can move in with some friends.”

Lucia: “I don’t have any friends.”

Trish: “Well, what about a roommate? You can find one in the newspaper.”

Lucia: “I don’t feel too safe moving in with a complete stranger.”

James: “Well, I’m not a complete stranger.”

[Everyone is silent.]

James: “I mean…I live in an empty house with two spare rooms. I barely leave my room, so it will be like having a place of your own. And it’s only a state away.”

Trish: “James, you can’t expect Clark to agree to that.”

Clark: “Actually, it’s not a bad idea. It’s obvious that Lucia doesn’t want to come back home, but she’s not willing to move in with a complete stranger. James is the perfect middle ground.”

Trish: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother, but I think Lucia is safer with her family. Nothing against James, but they’re a guy and a girl who barely know each other living together.”

Aaron: (murmurs) “Here comes the green-eyed monster…”

Trish: “Shut up, Aaron! I have nothing to be jealous of!”

Aaron: “You’re not even slightly intimidated that your ex-boyfriend slash father of your daughter is planning to move a younger girl into his house when he said no to you?”

Clark: (sighs) “Aaron…”

Lucia: “Second thought, maybe I’ll come back home with you, Clark.”

Trish: “This is why you don’t include children in adult conversatons. Isn’t it past your bedtime, little boy?”

Aaron: “Hey, this little boy possibly saved Lucia’s life. What have you done for anyone besides sleep with everything that has a pulse?”

James: “Okay. That’s it. I’m gone.”

Trish: “You’re not even going to defend me, James?”

James: “I’m not taking sides. I never have, and I never will. I’d appreciate if you’d stop dragging me into quarrels that I don’t want to be a part of.”

Trish: “What is that supposed to mean?”

[James hangs up.]

Trish: “James?”

Clark: “He hung up. You should probably call him, and attempt to smooth this all out.”

Trish: “I’m not the one who caused any trouble! Aaron did! Why am I always the bad guy in this guild?”

Clark: “No one thinks you’re the bad guy.”

Aaron: “I do.”

Clark: “Aaron, you are one smartass comment away from getting your ass banned.”

Aaron: “…”

Clark: “I appreciate you helping my sister, but you’re taking ten steps back by behaving like this. Trish, hang up. Aaron and Lucia, stay on the line.”

Trish: “Bye, Clark. Take care of yourself, Lucia, and stay safe.”

Lucia: “Thanks, Fairee…um….Trish.”

Trish: (laughs) “I’m fine with either name. You can call me whatever makes you comfortable.”

Lucia: “Thanks.”

Clark: “We’ll talk later.”

[Trish hangs up.]

Aaron: “Is she gone?”

Clark: “Aaron…”

Aaron: “I’m sorry. I just really hate her. She almost broke up this guild twice by being a total bitch, and everyone is just pretending that it never happened.”

Clark: “My sister is on the phone. Do you mind?”

Aaron: “She’s older than me. I don’t need to censor myself.”

Lucia: “I don’t mind swearing. Actually, I swear a lot.”

Clark: “Don’t encourage him, Lucia.”

[Lucia sighs.]

Clark: “You’re welcomed to dislike, or even hate, Trish. That’s your business, Aaron. All I’m asking is that you don’t waste our meetings bickering and name calling. I know Trish’s flaws. After all, we dated for more than a year—I’ll explain that later, sis.”

Lucia: “Uh…okay…”

Clark: “Anyway, Aaron, I know all about the bad sides of Trish. The same way I know your bad side, James’ bad side, and even Lucia’s bad side; however, I love all of your good sides even more. So, let’s stop living in the past. Don’t criticize anyone’s imperfections unless you have none of your own.”

Aaron: “Yeah. Fine…sorry.”

Clark: “Don’t worry about it. I’m super thankful that you helped my sister out, and I’ll pay you back big time for it. In fact, I got a surprise for you when you get here in five months, alright?”

Aaron: (chuckles) “Really? I hope it’s a video game!”

Clark: “You know it.”

Aaron: “You’re like the big brother I always wanted. You better treasure him, Lucia.”

Lucia: “Yeah, I will. I do, I mean.”

Aaron: “Well, let’s all keep in touch. I’m honestly in a bad mood because of Trish, so I’m going to let off some steam at the arcade.”

Clark: “I understand. Just e-mail me or call if you need to get something off your chest, alright?”

Aaron: “I will. Thanks, Aaron. By the way, Lucia, I think you should consider moving in with James…for what it’s worth. It’s the best choice. You’ll be living with a family friend, an ex-soldier, and a weapon aficionado. It’s a pretty good option. Don’t let Trish’s jealously ruin that.”

Clark: “Aaron…”

Aaron: “I just wanted to say my piece. I’m hanging up.”

Lucia: “I’ll think about it, Aaron. Thanks. Take care.”

Aaron: “You too. Talk to you later, Clark.

Clark: “Later, man.”

[Aaron hangs up.]

Clark: “I feel like an old man playing father to all these guild members,” (in a mocking tone) “I don’t like this person! This person called me a name! That person has better armor than me!” (sigh) “I’m sorry you have to see the guild like this, sis.”

Lucia: “A guild is like a family. It’s not perfect, but you stick together.”

Clark: “Yeah, you’re right. I just hope Trish and Aaron don’t tear one another’s heads off in five months. Anyway, I’d like to let you know for the record that I agree with Aaron about James. I think you two would make compatible roommates, and you shouldn’t allow Trish’s jealousy to get in the way.”

Lucia: “So, you’re with Aaron on the jealousy thing?”

Clark: “It’s pretty obvious that she is…isn’t it?”

Lucia: “She struck me as being very by-the-book and concerned about order, but so am I. I can’t get angry at that.”

Clark: “No. It’s not like that at all. You are by-the-book. Trish…she has this idea of how everything should be, and how everyone should behave, and she goes berserk when things don’t work how she wishes. It was like that when we were going out too. If I didn’t stop what I was doing to call her at exactly 8 p.m. every night, she’d have a cow!”

Lucia: “Why aren’t you two still together? You seem like a nice couple to me. You run the guild well enough together.”

Clark: “…She slept with my best friend. You can’t really go back from that, especially when they had a kid together as a result.”

Lucia: “Oh…”

Clark: “It’s more complicated than it sounds. In hindsight, I understand why they ended up together. We were constantly fighting, and then she had to log off only to get in fights—sometimes physical ones—with her ex-husband. She felt unloved for so long until James took a surprise flight to London to punch out her ex. I wasn’t even expecting that! Hell…I didn’t even think to do that. It showed how much more he loved her.”

Lucia: “Regardless, he was your best friend. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s just my opinion though.”

Clark: “Well, to be honest, I wasn’t on good terms with James either around that time. We both fell for Trish at the same time, and I knew it, but I didn’t even think to turn down a relationship with her. As soon as she suggested it, I pushed for it. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for him to watch us month after month as a couple, and pretending that it didn’t hurt him at all.”

Lucia: “Geez…” (pauses) “Still, you were both in love with Trish, but now neither of you are with her. Why is that…if you don’t mind me asking?”

Clark: “I don’t mind at all. It’s actually better that you know what you’re getting into before you move in with James…if you move in with James.”

Lucia: “Continue then.”

Clark: “James’ beat the hell out of Trish’s ex, they confessed their love to each other, and…I don’t have to explain the rest. When he comes back from the US, they both start acting weird. No one shows up to meetings on time, and then they just stopped logging on altogether. About a month later, Trish breaks up with me. A few days after that, James tells me that he can’t lie to me, and confesses that Trish is carrying his child.”

Lucia: “I’m sorry, Clark…”

Clark: “It’s fine. It hurt a lot back then, and I even banned them both from the guild, but once Charlotte was born it occurred to me that my best friend is a father. It’s probably one of the scariest things a man has to go through in life, and I wasn’t there for him. That’s not what best friends do, you know?”

Lucia: “I suppose, but I would still be pretty upset.”

Clark: “I was upset, even after I reconciled with them both, but…I’m Charlotte’s godfather now. God forbid something happens to Trish and James, I’m agreeing to care for both of her daughters. I can’t take up that type of responsibility while despising the people who gave it to me. Besides, I wasn’t too reluctant about cutting ties with Trish, but James is one of my favorite people. I didn’t want to lose him.”

Lucia: “This is complicated.”

Clark: “That’s just the half of it. James and Trish were supposed to get married, but Trish got cold feet and called off the engagement. James still won’t forgive her for it. Trish, on the other hand, is starting to change her mind.”

Lucia: “But James is still angry at her for calling off the first engagement, right?”

Clark: “Exactly. Maybe angry is not the proper time. He is…hesitant. At this point, he’s not even remotely interested in marrying her. He’s been going on dates, and just trying to have fun with his life.”

Lucia: “What is your stance?”

Clark: “Honestly, I’ve never seen James so…confident now that he is dating freely. Trish was James second girlfriend since his mess of a marriage to his past high school sweetheart. I’m not even going to touch that one. I’ll let James explain that if he wants to. Nonetheless, it looked like he was going from one unpleasantly long relationship to another as far as I can tell. He doesn’t need that anymore.”

Lucia: “You could be biased. After all, you once despised Trish and James together.”

Clark: “You’re right. You’re the neutral one here. What do you think?”

Lucia: “I’m not going to go there.”

Clark: (laughs) “It’s understandable. Anyway, you can bet your ass that Trish will have something to say if you move in with James, but Trish has something to say about any woman that comes within ten miles of James. Hopefully, her idea of them ever getting married will wear off soon. So…does this affect your opinion on living with James?”

Lucia: “A lot actually…but anything is better than putting mom and dad at risk for divorce again.”

Clark: “Lucia, you’re still blaming yourself for that? How many times does everyone have to tell you that it wasn’t your fault?”

Lucia: “Come on, Clark. I start getting those episodes, and they’re signing divorce papers. I move away to Minneapolis, and they toss the papers away. It’s obvious. I know you are all still trying to spare my feelings, but I need to take responsibility for the burden I place on this family.”

Clark: “It really doesn’t matter what we say, does it? You’re still going to believe whatever you want.”

Lucia: “This has been a very long day. Do we have to discuss this now?”

Clark: “No. Let’s not; however, I’m giving you until this weekend to make a decision. I’m also going to let the police know that you might be in danger so they can at least patrol your neighborhood.”

Lucia: “Don’t do that, Clark.”

Clark: “Hey, I’m doing something! If I can’t protect you at home or Nova then I’ll do my best to protect you in Minneapolis.”

[Lucia remains silent.]

Clark: “Well, I’m going to go. I got e-mails from Trish and James while we were speaking, and I know Aaron will email me once he gets home. It’s always busy with me. You make sure you give me updates. I want a text every hour to know if you’re alive.”

Lucia: “That’s over the top, isn’t it?”

Clark: “Every hour! And I want an answer over the weekend so we know what to do with you on Monday!”

Lucia: “Yeah, yeah…”

Clark: “I love you. I mean it.”

Lucia: “I love you too…”

Clark: “Welcome to the guild, sis. For better or worse, you’re one of us now. We’ll return to Nova in no time, but until then let’s not lose what we started. It’s a relief to be your twin again. I missed it.”

Lucia: “Twin status doesn’t just get revoked because I became a super antisocial,” (pauses) “We’re always twins, Clark. No matter the distance. No matter if one of us is dead.”

Clark: (howls in pain) “You’re tugging my heartstrings!”

Lucia: “I’m hanging up!”

Clark: “Seriously, thanks for saying that, Lucia. I’m really happy.”

Lucia: “It’s the truth. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”

Clark: “I know, I know. You don’t like mushy stuff. I’ll leave you alone to cleanse yourself of the emotional filth.”

Lucia: (laughs) “Take care, Clark.”

Clark: “You too, Lucia.”

Lucia: “Tell mom, dad, and Sofia that I love them very much. We’ll all go out to eat or something in five months…just to make up for lost time.”

Clark: “They’d love that. Later.”

[Lucia nods, and hangs up the phone. She takes a deep breath. Before leaving the desk, she decides to check her computer. On the screen is a bouncing ‘You Have (1) New Message!’ icon.]

Lucia: “Huh…”

[Lucia takes a seat. The message is from ‘Unknown’ with the subject ‘You’re A Smart Girl’.]

Lucia: “Flattery will get you nowhere, unknown.”

[She opens the message and it reads the following:

Lucia Alvarez, is it? You live in apartment 782, don’t you? I know a lot of things about you, Lucia. Or do you prefer Pallas? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have something of mine—your copy of the Nova disc. I’m not looking for a freebie. This is not a scam. That copy you own has complicated coding that you’re too simple to understand or even appreciate, but you are smart enough to know that when you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are bound to get punished. So, here is the deal: you send that copy to the address below, and I will not only promise not to harm you, but I’ll even send you a brand new special edition copy of Nova along with a spanking new computer to play it on.

 

Scout’s honor! And don’t think for a second that the address below belongs to me. It’s actually the address of a random school. I’m simply good friends with a school employee who has access to the mailroom there. When the package gets here, I will know. If it doesn’t, I will know too. You have one week. Let’s hope you’re as smart as your resume claims. 3.85 GPA? Not bad. Not as high as your brother, but I guess the whole twins being entirely identical thing is just in the movies.”

Lucia is staring at her screen with her mouth agape. Another mail prompt pops up. Lucia’s hand is trembling uncontrollably while she struggles to open the e-mail. The sender is ‘Trish Aldridge’ and the subject is ‘Girl Talk’.]

Lucia: “Not now, Trish…”

[She opens the email. It reads as follows:

Hello Lucia,

 

I’m sorry that you had to sit through my argument with Aaron. As he probably told you, he’s not too fond of me. You see, I was involved in a love triangle with James and your brother. Aaron had nothing to do with it. He just feels the need to stick his nose in. Anyway, it is true what he said. James is the father my daughter. We’re supposed to get married and become a family. So, I know as a girl you can understand why your future husband moving in a girl he just met into his house is…well, it just sucks. How am I supposed to explain to James’ daughter that mommy and daddy can’t be together because daddy is living with her godfather’s sister? It’s just tacky, isn’t it?

The phone rings.]

Lucia: “For the love of— (picks up her phone and shouts) –Whoever this is, I don’t have time to talk!”

James: “Not even to your sparring teacher?”

Lucia: (in a softer tone) “James?”

James: “Yeah, it’s me. Clark told me that you’re moving in. I wanted to hear it from you though. I know he likes to get ahead of himself sometimes,”

[Lucia pauses to continue reading the rest of the e-mail:

Thanks for understanding, Lucia. Let’s talk some time. I didn’t give you a chance before, but I don’t want to continue making that mistake. We are the only girls in the upper rank of the guild. Let’s stick together! Stay safe,” – Trish/Fairee

She lowers her head.]

James: “…You there, Lucia?”

Lucia: “Aaron says you are a big fan of weapons. Do you have any? Better yet, do you know how to use them?”

James: “Yes, and yes. Who wants to know?”

Lucia: “Me.”

James: “I see…”

Lucia: “Under no circumstance whatsoever can you tell Trish. Do you understand?”

James: “Lucia, you don’t owe her anything. She is no one’s keeper.”

Lucia: “Please, James.”

James: “Alright. As far as Trish will know, you’re back at home with your parents.”

Lucia: “And the moment the threat is gone, I’m coming back to Minneapolis where I belong.”

James: “Threat? I hope we didn’t shake you up too much with our paranoid theories. We’re just worried.”

Lucia: “No. I just got an email from the so-called rogue programmer. If I don’t send the game to the address provided in a week, he or she will hurt me. The rogue programmer know everything about me from my family members down to my damn college GPA!” (lays her head on the desk) “How is this happening right now?”

James: “Shit…Does Clark know?”

Lucia: “No. If he finds out, he’s going to flip out. But I can trust you not to flip out, and shoot anyone shady that shows up on your front door, right?”

James: “You’re safe with me.”

Lucia: “I’ll pay you back tenfold someday, James, but please…help me. I’m scared.”

James: “I’m leaving right now. Lock all the doors, all the windows, and pack what matters. I’ll be there in eight hours. If you hear anything, even a bump in the night, call the police. That is the one promise you must keep to me in order for me to keep your promises.”

Lucia: “I promise,” (voice trembling) “Please hurry.”

[James hangs up. Lucia hangs up the phone, crawls under her desk, and hugs her knees.

Elsewhere—somewhere in the dark, a figure is sitting at a desk. A new message prompt shows up on the screen. It’s from Lucia. It reads as followed:

I will need a few days. I won’t have enough money to pay for packaging and shipping until this weekend, but it will be shipped out by Monday night for sure. I look forward to that new computer and special edition copy of Nova. It’s nice doing business with you.”

A smile comes across the figure’s face.]

Woman’s Voice: “And with you, Lucia Alvarez.”

 

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