I gasped out as the triggering pain on my body enveloped like a string of barbed wires. Grunting with pain, I scanned the area, looking for Alexandros or Hestia, or even Jason and Nightshade. I closed my hands on the dirt as I tried to lift my body from the grassy terrain, but only to pull me back. I was tired and hungry. I saw my HP and it took a heavy toll. Whatever happened on the cathedral above me was something very brutal. An amazing power that enveloped us into oblivion. I really don't remember how did I survive this ordeal, but nonetheless here I was.
"Don't move. Drink this." A voice I recognized came from behind me. Hestia's face looked tired and sweaty as she scooped a peculiar frask from her pouch. She slowly placed it on my mouth so I can drink it. The sensation was heavy and with a strange flavor.
As I gulped down the liquid, Hestia moved away and attended someone else. As soon as I saw his golden armor, I knew it was Alexandros. He looked pale as the snow, his golden armor cracked and beaten. Whatever happened on that battle must have caused attrition to him.
"How long was I out?" I asked weakly.
"36 hours ago. I found you near the river, and Alexandros was not too far from here. You were badly injured. I was the only one who remained unscathed of the attack." She said as she tended Alexandros.
"Is he alright?" I asked looking toward him.
"For now. Mr. Alexandros is on a recovery stance. I think he's storing mana to recover his injuries. He probably used too much on his battle."
I coughed. Hestia turned her head toward my direction and she waved her finger. "How are you feeling? The Elixir should work for a while. It will heal you but slowly."
"Like I have been drained dry. So weak and tired." I said slowly.
She walked toward me. "That's probably because you used too much mana. According to studies of Mana Science, using too much mana can bring terrible side effects, including death itself."
"But…I didn't use too much mana. Unless…" I gazed at Alexandros on the ground. Since we made a pact, he and I are connected to each other. Like a beacon sharing an energy, he probably took a lot of my mana to unleash his powerful attack. That is why I'm weak right now. Thinking about this made my stomach growl. I suddenly got embarrassed because the sound came out loud that Hestia noticed it.
Hestia scrambled toward the sound of the river where she retrieved a bowl filled with cooked fishes. She must have used her fire spell to cook the fishes. As the smell of cooked fish invaded my nostrils, I quickly snatched one and ate it. Hestia sat down alongside me and smiled as she saw me eat a few.
"Say, Mr. Alister," she said while looking down. "I never asked you. Are you from Casthynia?"
I gulped. "No. In fact, I'm not from around here. I just…appeared here."
"What do you mean?"
"You wouldn't understand it. But, I'm not of this world. I'm from Earth. I live in the United States. I was living a normal life when all this hell happened to me."
She widen her eyes curiously, like a baby learning words. "Earth? United States? What kind of world is that?"
"A world filled with humans, in different parts of countries with different societies. Told you it's complex."
But she didn't take it on the wrong way. Instead, her eyes were beaming with excitement. "Fascinating! I never expected that another world existed besides Casthynia. It will be fascinating to study this world, learn everything about it and…"
But I interrupted her. "No. That won't be possible. You are an NPC, a non playable character, who has a determined set of behavior in your code system. You don't possess a soul like us humans. And you won't get far from here. Also…" But suddenly her eyes started to get discomforted and I stopped talking.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to say that." I don't know why I said 'sorry'. It's not that NPCs will comprehend that.
"So," she said nervously. "Is there a way for you to get back to your world?"
I shook my head. "The only objective I have in this world is to compete against eleven Masters, claim their souls and open the gate toward Heaven's Castle. Inside the castle lies a legendary crown who grants the bearer absolute power. The will to create or destroy the world."
"I heard this on school. I never expected that you were one of the legendary players. And Alexandros is your Master, right?"She said a little surprised.
I nodded. She was in awe of me and of Alexandros. It was a little strange that she was excited about it. I mean, didn't she saw the chaos back then?
"Then I'll help you. I'll help you win, as thanks for saving me." She said with a dazzling smile.
I sighed. "Kid, don't you realize that you will put yourself in danger? You might not return back after this. You should stay in safety at the Golden Castle."
She shook her head aggressively. "No. I told you I will help. What will have happened if I wasn't there to help? You will have died here. And Alexandros too. Whether you like it or not, I will stay and help."
There was no stopping her now. I sighed and nodded in affirmation and joined my party for real. I stood there watching the peculiar cave we were stuck. Over the river, there was a hole that led to a forest. The buzzing fireflies swarmed around me as they danced in the air. Strange positioned trees spread their roots on the walls, blossoming alien flowers that created a touch of beauty. To be honest, this cave was like a 'Safe Place' area, where nothing evil or threatening came and attack us. For now, we should wait until Alexandros wakes up so we can move on. But where exactly?
Hestia told me that Jason and his ally disappeared after the explosion. She was cautious of where she was going, but she was determined that they got away from any threats. I wonder if Jason is badly injured or Nightshade too. Speaking of her, she looked human to me. She didn't possess any features that identifies her as an NPC. Using the scan, the name can reveal one's identity. If a color is neutral, for example, a grey color, that means it's an NPC. But, if the name is colored blue, it means it's a human player. Nightshade was colored blue, which means they might be other players with the same name tag color. Barry was also blue when I saw his name. So, it's a safe bet that all Players participating this war are all human players. But now that I think about it, perhaps Joan might be one of the players in this war. My heart stopped at the conclusion of that. What should I do if I meet her? Will I be attacked by her Master? How the hell will I rescue her?
My back shivered a little as a strong sensation was emitting on the back of the wall. Like something was lurking inside, waiting to be unleashed.
"Hestia, are you sure there was no one else here?" I asked her while scanning the area.
But she nodded. "I'm positive I check every corner of the cave. There's no one else here but us. Why?"
I got up from the ground as my legs were wobbly like jelly. "There's something wrong. I can feel it. I feel them coming closer."
She tried to talk me out while trying to help me sit down but I gently moved her away and walked toward the river. My head started to ache as I held my hand on my head. My right eye was burning with intensity and as I tried to resist the pain, I saw visions. Visions of Shades coming deep in the tunnel and assaulting us with greater numbers. It was faint but I knew exactly when and where they were coming.
"Hestia," I said as I held on a rock. "How much do you know of fire spells?"
"I actually know basic fire spells. Why?"
"It's time we lay a trap on the enemy."
"Enemy?" She hesitated, but I didn't have time to explain her.
Somehow I felt more focused and determined as I drawed out my plan to Hestia as she listened my words. Using her fire skills, we might have a chance to survive this attack. I can't fight in this condition. Even though Hestia gave me that elixir, it's still not enough. The effects are slowly healing me. We need Alexandros' strength, but with him staying in a recovery stance, we might not know when will wake up.
We dragged Alexandros to a nearby safe place, where we waited for the trap to spring. We waited in silence as I felt the Shades coming closer and closer. Just a minute and it will spring now. KABOOM! The sound of explosions and the shrieking sounds of the Shades echoed the cave. As I expected, the tremor started rumbling the cave, which huge debris began to fall on the hole that the Shades were coming. More Shades screamed with agony.
Total silence. The burning fume of Hestia's fire spell created a fog on the desolated cave. Slowly getting up, I ordered Hestia to remain at Alexandros' side. Grabbing the bronze sword on my right hand, I slowly took a closer look at the damage. And confirmed that the tunnel was sealed with huge boulders of rock. Until…I heard Hestia crying for help on the background.
I tried to sprint my way back, but I was still weak from the mana sap from Alexandros. Hestia cried out my name multiple times. I hope I'm not too late.
As soon as the fog dissipated from the cave, I soon realized that I was a fool. As soon as I arrived toward Hestia's crying voice, my eyes widen into realization that Barry was holding Hestia hostage using a black and white scythe on her neck. Her face was covered with horror and fear.
"Well, well, look who's back here. Welcome back, Alister." Barry said with a wicked smile. This time he was wearing a new set of clothes: a black monk robes, with sandals. His once golden hair now filled with darkness. His eyes were hungry to kill. A beast in the skin of a human.
"Let Hestia go, she has nothing to do with this." I started to remain calm and composed.
"Tsk, tsk. Not a chance. In fact, she will be very valuable of what I'm going to say to you." He waved his hand toward Alexandros who was still recovering. "Alister, I will offer you a chance to redeem yourself from this war. I want you to kill your Master and gain his soul. It will save me the trouble of dealing with him."
"You are insane." I angrily said.
The scythe moved an inch toward her. "If you don't obey me, I will kill your precious NPC here. Why bother protecting her? She's nothing more than a puppet with codes. Go on. Do it. Kill him."
I gritted my teeth. "If you are in such a hurry, why don't we duel? We can settle it here."
He laughed. "You woke up weak from the blast that your Master did to that other Master. Quite a display, indeed. In fact, toying with you in Oceana was most brilliant. I loved when your face turned pale when zombies attacked you."
"So it was you. You will pay dearly for that." I gripped my sword.
Hestia started to cry. "Murderer…" Barry closed eyed on her and smiled. "Silly little NPC. Your words are nothing but scripted codes. Those 'citizens' on Oceana were nothing to me. I just played with them a little."
"Barry, that's enough!" I screamed at him, and turned my head toward Hestia who was waiting for my signal. She understood perfectly and snapped her fingers which the fire spell rune she planted activated, creating an explosion that blew us away. As I predicted, I knew Barry was coming to take Hestia as hostage. His cowardice nature really suits him. Hestia quickly went away from Barry's grasp, and as soon as the fog dissipated, he swung his scythe toward me and slashed my arm.
In the shadowy fog, his face turned red as the blood inside of him. I smirked at him, because I was at the advantage of him now.
"You! How dare you mock me?!" He said angrily.
"You are predictable, Barry. I knew you were coming. I knew you wanted to force me to kill Alexandros. About the tunnel with the Shades. And I know you are not real thing. I can see your name but not your physical description. You are nothing more than a phantom."
His eyes widen with frustration. "How…? How do you know this? This must be some kind of trick."
I held out my arm from bleeding. "I'm starting to understand myself. I want to get stronger. I want to survive in this world, so I can go back to my normal life. I will surpass anyone who gets in my way, including a fraud like you."
Then he swung his scythe with force. "Bastard! I'll shut that mouth of yours here and now."
I forced my right hand to block his attack, but he was too strong. My legs started to break now. I'm still not strong enough. A pulsating kick on my stomach blew me away from him as I landed near the river. Barry instantly appeared swiftly, with his deadly scythe on his hand. My body couldn't move. I was so tired. So weak.
He looked me down with such disdain. Why, Barry? Why are you so heartless? How did you become like this?
"Time to end this, Alister." And as soon as he swung his scythe,, little closer to my head being chopped up, I took out my strength and grabbed the hilt of his scythe, struggling to hold his attack. Barry was surprised too, but he continued pushing more and more toward my neck. I couldn't waste myself dying here. Until…
A shining light came from behind Barry. I smirked at him, knowing he already lost. As soon as I saw Alexandros coming towards him with his golden sword, I knew victory was ours. As Barry's phantom dissipated into mist, I heard his annoying voice on the background with a mocking voice.
"This is not over, Alister. You and the rest of the Masters will die soon. Come to the Frankish Kingdom, if you dare. I'll be waiting for you." And a maniacal laugh echoed the cave.
And then, I closed my eyes to sleep.