The black doors opened up to a wide, spacious corridor. Doors ran along the sidewalls, all the way to the end of the hall. A long, red carpet led down the center where at the other end of the room there was a line of booths, all of which were lined up with visitors.
As the group walked along the red carpet, they were met with constant run-ins from aristocrats who were much too pre-occupied with their purchases. There were common folk, too, who were busy making sure they had enough money. Some of them seemed quite well off and hurried in line.
Ryu looked at the long queues, his expression turning a little sour.
This is going to take forever.
The corner of Yue Yi’s lips curled up. “We won’t be going in those lines.”
Straight ahead, centered in the middle of the booths was a larger, black counter-top booth. An elderly gentleman occupied the stand, dressed appropriately for the atmosphere. Yue Yi, leading the way, approached the lone booth.
The old man noticed her immediately. “Why, Lady Yue Yi, what brings you to the auction house today? You’ve even brought the Young Miss and Young Master Tazuki along.”
“I’ve brought a new member, Alfred,” Yue Yi said, smiling.
The booth keeper raised his brow. “Oh?” He shifted his eyes onto Ryu, quickly scanning him up and down. But there wasn’t much to see. Ryu was dressed in simple linenwear. He paused and grabbed his chin. “Is he eligible?”
Yue Yi smiled and nodded. “Look closely.”
Alfred took another glance at the player and quickly realized his error from his first examination. He now saw the small bronze badge pinned on Ryu’s shoulder strap. “Ah…the Badge of Durn,” he muttered. His short-lived surprise turned into a light smile. He gestured to Ryu to approach the booth. “Please, come forward.”
Ryu walked up to the counter whereupon Alfred asked, “What is your name, young man?”
“Ryu,” said Ryu, plainly.
“Mister Ryu,” Alfred said. He took a proper bow and gestured his hand out. “If you would.”
The counter began splitting in half, each half sliding away to open up the black counter. Ryu turned his head around, looking at the crowd of people behind. A few heads in the back turned in his direction with curious looks.
He turned his head back around, seeing a platinum door ahead.
This must be a special booth.
He felt a nudge from behind.
“Psst. Go on, silly,” Ling Yi whispered.
The group continued forth, Ryu leading the way.
Alfred nodded to a middle-aged man who stood at the side of the booth. “Take care of the front, Horace. I will be back shortly.”
The man nodded and walked into the booth, which was now closing to its original state. Alfred turned away, following right behind Ryu and the others.
Ryu walked into a dimly lit room with a crystal pillar in the center. The object was glowing brightly, the inscriptions on it even more. It emanated a strange aura, seeming to be out of this world.
Just what is this?
He stopped in front of it and reached out to it, but felt a tap on the shoulder.
“Not yet,” Yue Yi said. “Wait for Alfred.”
“It’s fine, Lady Yue Yi,” Alfred said, walking up from behind. “You three can go ahead to the gallery. I’ll get him situated.”
Yue Yi nodded at Ryu. “We’ll be waiting. Don’t keep us too long.” She turned around and placed her hands behind Tazuki and Ling Yi, scooting them out of the door to the right.
With them gone, Alfred spoke to Ryu. “If you would, please place your hand on the Pillar of Word.”
Ryu did as he was instructed. He placed his hand on the crystal structure, whereupon the inscription on it glowed a bright, luminous white. The inscription was a strange text that had unknown characters and symbols on it, but it quickly translated into a familiar language before him.
It’s being translated into English, almost instantly too.
He quickly recalled the description of his title, The Master of Words. It allowed him to learn any foreign language on sight on first encounters. Only at the basic level, of course.
As the text was being translated, he hissed. A throbbing pain came into his head and he almost lost his balance. Two virtual messages appeared before him.
|Congratulations! You have learned Al-ba-maani.|
|Congratulations! You have learned the primal language of Al-ba-maani.
You are the first player to learn Al-ba-maani.
As such, you have obtained the title of The One Who Knows The Word.
Ryu recollected himself, regaining his balance.
What the hell was that? That hurt even more than when I learned Narn.
Alfred saw Ryu's pained expression. "Are you alright?"
Ryu only nodded.
"You may lower your hand now," Alfred said.
Ryu took his hand off the pillar, which was now glowing brighter than before. He looked up at the text. What he could make out of it was roughly the following:
|The Word of Contract|
|The Word is the bond, and the bond is The Word.
Your bond is your Word, and you shall see it through. If you fail to, the way of the Word shall ruin you.
What the hell is this archaic language?
“Quite dazzling, isn’t it, the Ancient Language?” said Alfred.
Ryu maintained a serious expression, a hand over his still-throbbing head. It was starting to ease, though.
Alfred chuckled. “It is the one language that no one truly understands. The only reason we are able to make use of it is due to the crystal. No one knows its name or origin, but it is clear that all language in this world originated from it. Everyone simply calls it ‘The Word.'”
Ryu lifted his head up, staring at the language.
…Does that mean I’m the only one who knows it?
Alfred continued. “Anyhow, it holds vital significance and influence over all of Albamania.”
“Why’s that?” Ryu asked.
“Because it is mystical in nature. Divine, probably,” said Alfred. “The Word has power over everything in its jurisdiction. And that, young man, is all of language. ‘Language is The Word, and The Word is language.’ At least, that’s the scholar’s saying.”
“What bearing does that have then?” Ryu said.
“It means that anything you say, any action you perform with regard to language—words—will be bound by the power of The Word.”
Abstract language and concepts annoyed Ryu. He studied computer programming and mathematics in college but had to take several literature and writing classes. And he hated them. Nonetheless, he was keen in understanding the content. He understood Alfred’s explanation perfectly.
So, words have meaning then. I wonder to what extent.
He recalled the incident back in the Brown Forest when the party of mercenaries and escorts were hunting down the Brown Elk.
‘Ligno Lanceato,’ was it? A skill name, obviously.
In most VRMMOs, players could perform skills without saying the skill names out loud. Of course, there were some that required it as part of the gameplay, but it was tedious and annoying. Preferably, gamers liked it when they didn’t have to say out skill names, especially repeatedly.
Ryu grabbed his chin. Theories were already forming in his head. His primary theories involved The Word and its relation to skills.
I’ll need to look into this later.
Alfred coughed and continued on. “So, do you intend to join the Auction Association.”
“Is it required to participate in auctions?” Ryu said.
“No,” said Alfred. “But you are granted a few key privileges in the auction house. For example, you will be exempt from paying commission fees or buyer premiums.”
“And what are the rates of those?”
“Twenty-five percent for both..”
Ryu’s face turned sour, his face twitching.
Why are they so high?
Alfred raised his hand. “The numbers are alarming, yes. That is why it is a good reason to join the Auction Association.”
Ryu found the choice obvious. “I’ll join, then,” he said.
“There is a membership fee, of course.”
“For first-time members, the trial fee is fifty gold coins for the first month.” Alfred coughed. “Thereafter… five hundred gold coins every month.”
That’s so expensive. Even if I use fifty gold coins now, I don’t have enough to retain membership any longer than a month.
Ryu only had seventy gold coins and four Silver Tokens left. He needed to secure materials for the needle and thread, too. He had 268 items to auction off, and he had no idea what prices they would fetch. He had a lot riding on them.
Even if it’s just a month, it should be a good test run.
Ryu let out a deep sigh. “Alright. I’ll do it.”
Alfred put up a light smile. “Please sign the Pillar of Word and I’ll get you situated.”
The current text inscribed on the pillar disappeared, being replaced by new text. This time, however, it wasn’t in Al-ba-maani, but in Narn. It read the following:
|This is a Word of Contract. All terms are in agreement between the Member and the Auction Association.
The Member agrees to pay  gold coins for a one-month trial membership, and  gold coins every month thereafter.
The Member must provide satisfactory proof or referral to be considered eligible for membership. And in providing proof or referral, and after agreeing to pay the membership fee, the Member shall be granted the following privileges:
1. The Member shall be exempt from paying commission fees and buyer premiums for the items he puts up for auction and for the items for which he successfully wins the bid.
2. The Member shall be exempt from paying penalty fees resulting in withdrawing items from open bids.
3. The Member may blacklist anyone whom he deems unworthy of being a bidder at any time and anywhere. The blacklist is effective immediately and its duration remains in effect until otherwise noted.
4. The Member may stipulate all terms in his Auctioner-Bidder Agreement.
5. The Member shall be given a Platinum Token Pass in recognition for his Member status.
|I, _____, have read the terms of this Word of Contract. I agree to the terms and agree to pay the required fee to become a Member of the Auction Association. I also understand that I must continue to pay a membership fee on a monthly cycle,  gold coins for the first month and  gold coins thereafter.
If I fail to deliver on my part of this agreement, the terms stipulated by this Word of Contract shall be null and void, and I shall have my Member status revoked. If such is the case, I also understand that I must wait  months before re-joining the Auction Association.
By signing this agreement, I also understand that should I change my name, I shall be required to sign a new Word of Contract using my new name, and that any and all conditions stipulated in this agreement must be met to form a new contract.
|As this Word of Contract concerns the Auction Association, the Auction Association must do its due part in this agreement. Should the Auction Association not make good on its terms, it shall return all investments and profits associated with the Member to the Member since the effective date of the contract.|
These terms, they're pretty incredible.
Ryu turned his head right and left, looking for a writing utensil. It quickly struck him that there was none. And so, intuitively, he lifted his finger up to the crystal pillar. On the blank line, he signed his name, "Ryu." He had no ink of any kind dabbed on his finger. His name was simply spelled out as he moved it.
Magic. No, not quite. I can feel essence is involved in this, too. I don't know how though. It doesn't feel quite like natural essence.
The name appeared in white lettering. As soon as he finished signing his name, it intensified along with all the other text on the pillar until everything radiated brightly off the crystal. As it did so, the mysterious aura grew stronger. Ryu squinted his eyes, covering his face with his arm. Alfred did the same.
After a moment, the light dissipated and the message faded away. The Pillar of Word returned to its previous state. What was left was a silvery coin floating in the air in front of the pillar. It was identical to the one Yue Yi presented outside to the guards.
Alfred took the coin and walked up to Ryu. He presented the coin cordially. "This is your Platinum Token Pass. If you are not granted passage through the doors of the Platinum Gallery, show this to the guards. And do not worry about having it stolen. It has been engraved with the signature of your essence. No one may be able to steal and use it for their benefit. If you need to replace it, please visit any Platinum Gallery."
Ryu opened up his palm, and Alfred respectfully placed it in his hand.
"Thank you," Ryu said. He took out fifty gold coins from his interspatial rings and handed them in exchange.
"And thank you," said Alfred. He took a humble bow and proceeded to return to the front booth. Before exiting, he turned back and said, "Before you enter the gallery, I suggest you stipulate the terms of your Auctioner-Bidder Agreement," said Alfred. "Otherwise, the agreement will default to the gallery's own agreement until you've made it otherwise."
"What's part of the agreement?"
"The Auctioner-Bidder Agreement is a Word of Contract. It lays out all the terms and conditions for the Auctioner and Bidder in order for a transaction to proceed."
Ryu nodded. "Will I be using the Pillar of Word again?"
Alfred nodded back. "Aye."
"I think I can do it by myself."
Alfred took another bow. "May you be fortunate in your travels." He politely exited the room.
With Alfred gone, Ryu turned to the Pillar of Word, placing his hand on it once more. It shined again and appeared with a message in Narn, which was all understood since Ryu had the brown crystal necklace equipped.
This is your first time as a member of the Auction Association using the Pillar of Word.
Please formulate your Auctioner-Bidder agreement. If you do not formulate your own Auctioner-Bidder Agreement, you will default to using the Platinum Gallery's Auctioner-Bidder Agreement.
Since you are a Traveler, your Auctioner-Bidder Agreement will also by default consider transactions regarding [Earth].
Would you like to formulate your own Auctioner-Bidder Agreement?
Ryu was stunned. All because of the one line mentioning Earth.
This can’t be, can it?
He recalled that in the Youtube video for Second World, the game developer mentioned an auction house. He figured it would be some virtual-windowed menu available to view to sell and bid for items or some website online. But he’d learned that things were not coincidental in this game.
A potentially magical auction house system with a direct relationship to the real world. This is absurd.
He looked down at himself; his body was already proof of ‘the impossible.’ He was still recovering from the discovery of his physical changes. But now, he’d just been met with possibly a new discovery. In this case, the problem wasn’t so much the auction house itself. It was a living, breathing system, which was fantastic. But that wasn’t the problem. The real problem was that he was just made aware of The Word. And if the auction house system was tied to The Word, it could have some major repercussions that could be overseen by players.
And for someone like Ryu, a member of the Auction Association, who could stipulate the terms of his own contract, it could mean that he could create an in-game contract that could be enforceable in the real world. How though? He didn’t know.
Ryu gulped. He pressed on the ‘Yes’ option, and new text appeared on the pillar. The first message that appeared asked the following:
|Would you like to retain your anonymity as an Auctioner and/or Bidder?|
Ryu didn't even think about and pressed over the 'Yes,' after which the following message appeared:
He selected 'Both," and the prompt quickly disappeared. The contract appeared before him.
|Please stipulate all terms and conditions for your desired Auctioner-Bidder Agreement. Please bear in mind that this is a Word of Contract, and all Words of Contract must be upheld.|
|This is a Word of Contract. All terms are in agreement between Auctioner [###] and the Bidder.
The Auctioner [###] agrees to place items up for auction with the intention of selling. These items shall be placed in the open gallery, which shall be made accessible to view for all auction house visitors. Open gallery items can only be purchased with moneys.
In addition to the open gallery items, the Auctioner [###] also has the right to place items in a private gallery, which will also be made accessible to all auction house visitors. However, unlike open gallery items, private gallery items may be traded for items.
All persons who seek to buy or trade for the Auctioner's items will be seen as Bidders who are subject to this Auctioner-Bidder Agreement, as well as the General Auction Mandate.
The General Auction Mandate:
In the case of open gallery items, the winning Bidder must pay the full listed price to the Auctioner [###], and the appropriate fees, if applicable, to the Auction Association. Failure to do so will result in the automatic withdrawal of the bid, and the next highest bid will be made the winning bid. Should the winning Bidder withdraw from the auction, he or she will have to pay a penalty fee of 25% of the winning bid price.
In the case of private gallery items, the winning Bidder must see through to the successful transfer of offered items. Failure of transferring offered items to the Auctioner [###] will result in a nontransaction.
Items offered by a Bidder through the private gallery are exempt from auction fees.
In addition to the General Auction Mandate, the Bidder also agrees to the following terms:
|This is an implicit agreement. Thus no signatures are required. All Bidders are advised to read this Auctioner-Bidder Agreement prior to engaging in an auction with the Auctioner [###].|
It's really blank. Is it really gonna let me write whatever I want?
Ryu had to be incredibly careful for this. He had to make sure the terms seemed fair or else people wouldn’t bid on his items. Also bearing in mind the potential repercussions of the terms, he had to be as crafty as he could when devising them.
It took him a while, but he eventually came up with the following list of terms:
|1. In the case of open galleries, if an auction price is listed, Bidders may not bid less than 50% of the listed auction price.
2. In the case of both open and private galleries, all persons who wish to make an offer must not remain anonymous. They shall provide their true names upon bidding on an item.
3. In the case of both open and private galleries, no Bidder may find retribution in a failed bidding attempt by way of interfering or stopping an auction. Attempting to do so will result in an automatic blacklist.
4. In the case of both open and private galleries, Bidders are prohibited from manipulating the auction through conspiracy. Any Bidder who attempts to conspire with others shall be automatically blacklisted.
5. In the case that an item is lent to a Bidder as part of private gallery arrangements, all Bidders must uphold all verbal and written negotiated arrangements. Refusal to return borrowed items at the request of the Auctioner [###] will result in an automatic blacklist unless other arrangements are made.
6. In the case of any private galleries with offers including items of no assigned monetary value, the Auctioner [###] shall determine which offer to accept.
7. In the case of any failed transaction or delivery, all items shall be returned to their respective owners, immediately.
Ryu stared coldly at the list.
This game is far beyond what I could’ve ever imagined.
As far as the in-game trading went, he was confident everything would turn out well, even without these conditions. But the issue lied not in-game, but out-of-game. In particular, with real-money trading.
It had been months since Ryu dealt with RMT. There were some trustworthy traders, but for the most part, it was an ugly business. He’d lost well over $25,000 from scammers.
Having played Second World for only this long, he wasn’t sure of what was possible. Out of sheer paranoia, he wrote the terms down. He didn’t know how they could affect RMT. It was just a game after all. However, with the experiences he’d had, he anticipated the impossible and farfetched. And he needed to be prepared if the time came… Or rather… when.
He took a deep breath and exhaled.
I need to log off and take a break after all this is done.
He put his thoughts aside and brightened up. He walked out of the doors to his right and into the gallery, finding Yue Yi waiting for him. Ling Yi and Tazuki were looking at items on display in the gallery.
“So, are you ready to make some money today?” Yue Yi said, smiling.
Ryu put up a warm half-smile. “Yeah.”