"Welcome to Casthynia, Joan."
That's what she told me when I woke up in the middle of a garden, wearing a silver armor. The armor itself fitted me well in terms of mobility and weight. To be honest, I really don't how I got into this strange world. The only thing I can remember is…that I was at school and something happened inside. I was running, scared that someone is trying to harm us. But, as I got outside, I saw a monster attacking Alister. I have never seen such a monster existed on Earth. As I tried to collect my composure, I knew that in order to save him was to confront it. Grabbing that bat and smacking that thing was the best thing that ever happened to me. Even though it was not a sword, my skills from swordplay classes really helped me out. The weird part was that everything felt apart and Alister and I were separated.
Ever since that incident, I arrived in a sanctuary called the Silent Sanctuary by a knightly woman named Jeanne. She was kind to me that she provided me with food and water and a place to stay inside. The Sanctuary is protected by a monastic order named the Silent Sages, which according to Jeanne, they store secret knowledge in exchange for their silence. It was really strange walking around the place with few people talking.
My concern in finding Alister grows more when yesterday, Jeanne summoned me inside the sanctuary in a meeting room with other women knights. It was clear that she was going to tell me something that I would not like.
"War is coming…" Such simple words shook me. According to her, a great war will erupt in the land of Casthynia, a war to claim a crown that can grant the owner the power of the king. A power to create or destroy the world. In my perspective, it was disturbing that a crown can even grant the winner such a power like that. It was something like becoming a 'god'.
Jeanne throw her details of the war and how am I connected to this. She told me that I was a 'Player' in this strange world. That means that literally I'm a primary participant of the war. She also told me that she was my 'Master', which means that she will teach me in the art of war and also a second teammate. In order to win the war, one must defeat the eleven players that arrived in this world. It's much like playing a Battle royale video game. But…in real life.
But I refused to accept this. I didn't want to go to battle. I wanted to find Alister and escape this world. I didn't want to die here, in a strange world filled with the elements of video games. And putting the risk of people's lives to claim a cursed crown. That's what I told Jeanne. I told her everything about me, of where I came from, of not willing to participate and I only wanted was to find my friend. But, she only shook her head.
"I'm sorry. But, you can't leave this world without ending the war first. You have been chosen to participate in the war and you cannot quit. That's the primary rule of Casthynia. It has always been many years ago." Her face looked sad but composed. She really didn't desire war.
She continued. "As your Master, I am willing to help you in your search for your friend. If that's what you desire, then I will help you achieve it. But your duty as a Player must come first. Do we have a deal?"
I sighed as I pushed my back on the wooden chair. I was thinking for a few seconds, until I nodded at her. "Ok. I will help you then." She smiled at me and we shook hands, sealing our cooperation.
Back in school, I never told Alister about this but I do see people's names floating on their heads. I never told him about it because I thought he will laugh at me. But, I can see the names, levels and classes from anyone I could see. Well, not everyone, to be honest. Jeanne's name popped up above her head but I cannot see her level or her class type. Perhaps I'm not strong enough to scan stronger people like her. Of course, there were NPCs on the sanctuary and their names, levels and classes did pop up in full description. I wonder if there are other humans here, other than the players?
After the long meetings of the details and strategies of the war, I was still hesitant to be willing to fight. As I looked at my sword, I cannot deny that I have proven myself to be swift in sword fights back in the real world. I even won a tournament, with Alister cheering me up with my parents. I still smile at the thought. He is such a good man and a good friend.
After having my cheeks burning red after thinking of Alister, I was sitting outside in a windy balcony with a few fountains running. I was staring at the grandeur of this world. Forests, deserts, castles. For me, it was a beauty that glistened the environment. I wonder where you are, Alister?
"Madame?" Jeanne said with a thick french accent. She was still wearing her silver armor that felt heavy but she didn't show any problems with it. Her face looked like a maiden, shining with beauty. Her long black hair was tucked as a pony tail. Her slender body showed strength and resilient.
"May I join you?" She said as I looked away with a nod.
"Joan, I just want you to know that, I want to use the crown's powers to create a new world where peace and prosperity rule us. I want to end all wars. I want to erase humanity's errors so we can have a better future. This is my own cross to bear."
"I just want to go back. I don't want this. This, just looks like a dream to me. It feels like I'm trapped in a prison. Don't you ever feel that way, Jeanne?"
"Oui. Every time. The cycle always repeat by itself. But no one has ever been in Heaven's Castle." She pointed at the horizon, and I saw it clearly. It was like a cathedral but mixed as a grand castle, colored as black. It was like in the myths of Olympus, where Zeus and his brothers ruled the mortal world in a huge mountain. That is where the crown is.
"I want to end that cycle, Joan. That is why you are here. You are God's miracle. You and I, we will win." She showed bravery. I wonder if she feels scared, just as I am?
But, I felt so hollow. So alone. I just continued looking at the strange world. "Is that why you came here? To continue talking about this war of yours?"
"Non. I just wanted to propose to you something about your friend." That caught my attention. I stared at her eyes. "The Sanctuary harbors the Silent sages, but there is only one who can speak to you. They say he can foresee the future, even hold knowledge of your friend. Trust me, he is my friend, as he gave me this place for me to stay when things go out of control in the past."
My heart began to race a little bit. "Where is he?"
He waved her hand upward, into the tower. "He's upstairs with the other Silent Sages. His name is Gallifrey. You should speak to him. Maybe he can put your concerns to rest."
After the conversation, I followed her into the long stairs of the Sanctuary. The cold wind enveloped me as the temperature dropped. From the stairs, I could see much of the hazy horizon of the Heaven's Castle.
"We are here, Madam." The place was well lit with torches. The Silent Sages where busy working with books, organizing it or placing them to another set of bookcases. They wear silky robes and a coat that covered their faces. But Gallifrey was not among them. Instead, she led me to some kind of window with bars. It was dark with few lighting. While we walked upstairs, she told me that Gallifrey rarely leaves the Sanctuary because he always meditates inside. She never even seen this guy's face.
"Monsieur Gallifrey? It's me. Jeanne."
"Speak." A grave voice echoed the small prison cell.
"A new Player has arrived to participate for the Crown of infinity. She will like to ask questions, if you are willing?"
After a long silence, I could hear movement. Then, I saw a silhouette of a man, but I couldn't see his features. "Approach."
"Très bien. Joan, ask away." Jeanne retreated away from Gallifrey as I gulped at the uneasiness. Then, I took my courage and approached at the window bar.
"What is it that you want to ask?" the grave voice said.
"I will like to know if Alister is in this world. He's slender, with black hair and brown eyes. I will like to find him, as I'm sure he's in danger."
"Alister? I heard that name before…Yes, he's in this world. The man possesses a great and terrible destiny. I see numerous battles with powerful players, and he will suffer for it."
I suddenly got surprised. "Please, do you know where I can find him?"
"He's in a golden castle, far away from the Sanctuary, deep in the forest. He's preparing for the war to come."
"Golden Castle? I think I know where it is." Jeanne said as she crossed her arms. "But it's dangerous. We might get attacked by players."
"I can see that danger lurks within the castle. A darkness has covered it. It might be the cause of a player."
"Alister is in danger? I have to help him!" I started to get anxious.
"Be warned, this war will bring agony and despair. Your friend is caught in the web of fate, but he's an asset to the war. However, my visions of this war is clouded by uncertainty. I do not know what will happen next. Once the bell tolls, the war will begin."
As soon as he said that, I quickly panicked and ran away to leave this place. I wanted to find him, I wanted to save him. If he's in danger, I have to stop the enemy. But Jeanne intervened in my way and I got mad at her. She stood still like a wall.
"Madam, you cannot rush things now. We have to stay together and strategize. The war will soon begin." She said with a blank expression.
"But the war hasn't started and Alister is in danger. Get out of my way now!"
"Listen," She grabbed my arm and suddenly a shining light erupted the tower, blinding her for a moment, which gave me an opportunity to escape. So, this is what it means to be a Templar Class. Now I know this was my secret ability hidden inside of me. But, I didn't have to think about it. I quickly sprinted into the wooden gates of the Sanctuary, grasping the exit in my hands, until Jeanne materialized and gave me an apologetic expression.
"Forgive me, Madam." And she waved her hand, shutting down my own body into sleep as I felt a metallic sound of a bell ringing on the horizon. It has begun…
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