The Village / The Attack
"Four cities, four starting points in this world, which has many Middle-ages elements." sounded the steady voice of Ito, "from which you may start your descent to the Labyrinth. Erebus, Flower of Death - or as Aldebarians call it - T'ou Fiber Alli'In, The Shadow Web and Nefeli's dance.
The cities are the places where someone can get magical items or weapons that will help them to level up to some point and start collecting HP. But generally, cheating is not that welcomed, since there's always the question of prestige. Everybody tries to level up based solely on their own strength and by creating Alliances.
The Flower of Death is a fire kingdom. This place requires insight and a lot of patience. Everything is consisting of hot lava. It is considered one of the toughest stages and there are many who prefer to start their journey from that point of the game. It is a transitional place where the player's strength is being tested.
Shadow Web is a forest where many hidden traps are placed and many areas require group participation, not a single Player as a standalone unit. Everything in that place interacts with the players' psychophysical state.
Erebus is an underground city. It's inhabited with many different species which are constantly mutating. The structure of space constantly changes without following any logic.
Finally ... Nefeli's Dance! ¨ said Ito and smile spread on his lips. "It's a neutral area. It's definitely the jewel of this game. It's in no way different from any Megalopolis of our planet. However, you should see it closely to understand what I am talking about."
"These four places are connected with the main part of the game, the Labyrinth. The aim of the game is to reach its center, where, according to its creators, is placed the Ultimate Truth. But what is the Ultimate Truth no one yet has been able to learn. What kind of a prize could it possibly be? The fact is that incredible reputation is awaiting the winner since no one has even reached the third of the way through these five years." completed Ito.
At last, they reached erected walls surrounding a village. Raising her head, Sia saw guards positioned on towers to observe those who were entering the village, holding alerted bows.
Known and unknown smells hit her nose. For a moment she felt dizzy from the crowd which was circulating on the streets and their voices. She closed her eyes, trying to gather her thoughts.
Something heavy touched her hand. She opened her eyes. Beside her stood Sebastian. "We will make it" he said simply and, grasping her arm, pulled her behind him.
People were making room for them, staring admiringly at Sebastian and nodding their heads up and down. Whispers were heard from every mouth and some villagers were pointing at the Knight with their fingers. For the first time in her life Sia felt that she wasn't center of attention, and sighed with relief inside of her.
"How do you feel now that you're famous? ¨ asked Sia. Sebastian was walking, unconcerned with paying attention to expressions of admiration. They got into a flea market where people were making transactions around them, exchanging and selling various things.
He shrugged indifferently. "That is something I didn't search for deliberately" sounded a muffled voice through his helmet. "It just happened. I was looking for a way to escape from the everyday life. I heard from someone about the Labyrinth. I entered once, then once again, and then again ... I was playing every day for ten minutes, sometimes more. It was everything I needed, far away from our own world. A reality in which I wore a mask and I was someone else ... I found that I was a good player ..." there sounded a stiff laughter. "And that's how I became the Black Knight."
They stopped in front of a tent where Ito, who was buying various formulations, stood. When he saw them he made them a sign to approach closer. "We will need these," he said, proudly showing them many different bags with various powders inside "I can assure you that these will do a much better job than weapons!" and an angelic smile which didn't presage anything positive spread on his face.
He glanced at Sia. "I think, Miss De Niez we must get you a weapon. "
He sunk into thoughts. "So what is your preference? A sword? A spear? Or maybe a bow? It fits perfectly with your clothes as well!"
Sia shuddered. "I wonder if it's legal for someone, even with your childish look to make comments in such a manner ¨ she replied and leaned looking him straight in the eyes. "I might be a noob here, but do not forget our social position in outside world and on what terms we are here!" She smiled smoothly.
Ito bowed. . "You are quite right, Miss De Niez. But even here, however, I am sure that you can put on a show. But shall we not waste more time? Let's pick a weapon with which you'll be able to fight."
Sia followed him obediently, but before that she managed to throw a glance over her shoulder and saw that Sebastian, who was involved all that time in a conversation with some villagers further on. He seemed to listen very carefully to what they were saying. He turned his head toward her and gestured for them to continue.
Over the benches were placed any sort of things that could be used as weapons. Small gold and silver daggers with dried blood on them, quivers of arrows, elaborately carved swords.
Sia stopped in front of a bench which had swords. Her eyes fell on a sword which was not that big and handle of which was adorned with various gems. She lifted it and weighed it with her hand.
"It's not a bad choice" muttered Ito, approaching from behind. "If you think you can handle it. It is very useful in combat at close range although it places you in a relatively vulnerable range." Sia cast a skeptical gaze at the sword. She stroked the tip of it with her finger. "I'll take it," she said. "What shall I do?"
"Like I said the game imposes you somehow your original character. If you check your account, there is an initial amount that allows you to buy items until you gain experience and go through the first 10 levels ... ¨
A noise that sounded from the other side of the market and loud voices attracted his attention. He sat on the edges of the legs. "Miss De Niez ... Can you see what is happening?" He asked worried.
Sia didn't deign to respond as fanfare and sounds of bells flooded the air. "We're under attack!" sounded from all the sides. All around, heads raised in the air. At once, a mob of villagers who shrieked and screamed surged toward all sides trampling those whom they found on their path and throwing down their stands.
Ito grabbed Sia's hand. "Let's go!" he said imperatively. But Sia pulled her hand. "I'm not going anywhere without Sebastian!" She said furiously.
"We will find him later," responded Ito. "I am sure nothing is going to happen to him."
A gust of wind threw them both down. Sia sat up.
'Thank God I listened to them ' she thought, 'and that I disabled the Feeling of the Pain.'
She lifted her eyes and saw horrified that some benches were wrapped in flames. The bells sounded loudly.
Desperate voices were sounding from every side. Men and women were running up and down. Some villagers were falling down and were crawling while trying to escape. A form approached her with difficulty. It was Ito. He was upright, relying painstakingly on his golden wand. His angelic face was full of blood and tar. "We have to go. Now!" He almost spat the words.
But Sia didn't have a chance to take a single step. A gust of wind threw her fiercely over the benches. Blood filled her mouth. 'The smell of blood will be genuine ...' emerged the words of Ito in her memory. She lifted her gaze to the sky to see a rain of shells falling on village.
"SIAAAAAAAA!" Sebastian's voice reached her ears. She turned her head and saw him standing between the rubble keeping Ito in his hands. She tried to lift but slipped. Surprised she turned her head at her hand.
And just then she saw it. A cannonball had dissolved her left hand. There was nothing beyond the wrist, but an amorphous mass of a bleeding meat.
At the Edge of the cliff
"Of all cases, yours can certainly be described as the epitome of bad luck!" echoed Ito's furious voice which reached even the farthest point of the room.
Sia threw a furtive glance at the clock. Only 2 minutes and 31 seconds had passed since they connected to the labyrinth. And now in a hurry, they returned back to the real world. "Miss De Niez!" exclaimed Ito noticing that she wasn't watching him. "Are you following me?"
Sia turned her head towards him. She smiled as innocently as she could and shook her head condescendingly. Sebastian was standing behind her silent. It was obvious that he was equally deeply troubled by what was happening, as his blue eyes had darkened and were carefully watching Ito.
"Then tell me how on Earth did you manage to lose an arm without completing even one level!" he exclaimed as his amber eyes were shining with fury. "How exactly are you planning to continue in the game in order to find your beloved cousin? And don't you dare to answer to me in the manner you are accustomed to!"
Sia shrugged her shoulders. Until that moment it hadn't crossed her mind that losing an arm would be such a trouble for the continuation of their mission. But in light of the events, and everything she had seen within the game she could understand the reasons that Ito wanted her able-bodied. Now she was not only unable to keep a sword, but she would also be totally worthless in peaceful occasions where both hands would be needed.
She lowered her gaze." At least I'm not going to give up…" she murmured. Ito applauded.
"How wonderful and admirable! However you do understand that you are no longer strong, you now only slow down our effort to reach the highest level, correct?"
Sia lowered furthermore her gaze. She could literally feel anger burning her body. "I guess the only thing that is left to state that we are an Alliance." said calmly Sebastian. He raised his eyes and left staring at Ito.
Ito thoughtfully nodded his head up and down. "I hope you do understand how restrictive it is. In the case someone falls from a cliff, the others have only to follow him hoping that on the way to the ground someone will grow wings and will be saved!"
"We don't have many choices. On the other hand, I believe Sia will enter the game alone and will keep going even if it means that she will lose her 2nd hand as well. "Replied Sebastian calmly. "You said you are expecting many things from her, right? You saw something that no one else did. Then why don't you let her keep going, even if it means she has to rely on us?"
Ito sunk into his thoughts. Then he raised his head and made a sign to them to follow him. But a man who entered during this moment stopped him. "Mr. Katsou" he said giving to him with respect a holographic chart. "Those changes occurred moments ago…"
Ito brought the chart closer to his eyes. Surprise emerged at his face. "Are those numbers accurate?" The man shook his head. "There is no logic in all this ... What exactly happened within those seconds?"
The man shrugged. "We don't have an accurate picture of what happened. But the numbers speak for themselves. After Miss De Niez lost her left hand, something happened. 133,000 people disconnected. According to what was reported so far, they are regaining their consciousness without remembering that they were in The Labyrinth".
Sia turned her head to the huge screen on which was shown the representation of their last moments in the village. The sky had darkened because of shells' rain. She felt everything freezing inside of her. The representation was not that vivid as inside the game, nevertheless it managed to give the general climate.
"Hmm ... ¨ she heard Ito's pensive voice. "I can't figure out what is going on with this damned game. So far none of my hypotheses is correct. I fear that if we don't go deeper into the game we won't collect the data we both want and will never get to the truth. Well?" he threw a glance at Sebastian and Sia. "Are you ready?"
"Mr. Ito ... ¨ asked Sia breathlessly. "Maria ... She is not among those who woke up, is she?"
Ito looked at her thoroughly. "You think you wouldn't be amongst the first who would be informed? Or do you think I would keep you with lies in order to keep its going my way? A gentleman always keeps his word. We have a deal. The moment your cousin regains her consciousness, you are free to leave."
Sia sighed with relief inside of her. She got up and moved to the room with the cells.
White light blinded her. She opened her eyes and winced. Fallen on all fours, she tried to get up, but her head hit the ceiling. She groaned and rubbed the top of the head. 'Where am I? What is this place?' she wondered, throwing a quick look around. Her eyelashes trembled with surprise.
As far as she could see the place wasn't bigger than a cell. White light was falling upon her from every angle, blinding her. With semi-closed eyes she turned her head towards her left hand, which was reaching to wrist. She felt disappointed and sighed.
Suddenly the lights went down. They went on again and sound that reminded her of liquid that was about to boil reached her ears. She raised her eyes while black liquid with bubbles surfacing from different areas emerged on the floor. She bounced on the balls of her feet, terrified.
"What the…" she mumbled, feeling her legs shaking. With small steps she moved aside while amorphous figures emerged from the sites of black liquid.
Her back met the wall.
There was no escape.