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Charlies PoV

“Don't disobey me again. Understand?” The strict command from his father triggered a shudder from Charlie.

“How about you learn how to control yourself? Dad, they’re not good for you-“

“Enough.” Ium, Charlie's dad, cut him off mid-sentence.

Noticing Charlie’s confused expression, Ium made himself even clearer.

“I will not be disrespected by my own son!”

The older man waved his hands angrily in the air as he spoke.

Disturbed by his father’s lack of care, as well as embarrassment from other people in the parking lot, Charlie drove back home.

Upon returning to his house at nine P.M, Charlie noticed that the light in his bedroom was still on.

Huh. He really did end up enjoying it.

As Charlie walked through his front door, he breathed a sigh of relief, for he was finally alone.

 

Late that night, Charlie woke up, then remembered Klent.

Is he still ultra-diving?

Charlie peeped through the bedroom door, but saw no one.

Must've gone home.

Klent's PoV

Last night, I exited that world. The world in which possibilities were endless.

Today, though, I would be visiting the school’s computer room to research that world once more.

It was almost unnatural how quickly I gained familiarity and affinity to the virtual world with me not being an avid gamer myself. Perhaps, it was just a pleasurable activity. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s something much more.

When I had chosen a seat at one of the many empty computer desks, my hand quickly gravitated toward the mouse.

“Student ID.” I murmured as I typed my credentials into the system.

Next, I opened ‘Neptune’, the most used browser of this generation. I then proceeded to search ‘v.i.h. war and swords’.

Results loaded immediately. I scrolled down until reaching an interesting article titled, “Ultra-Reality an Ultra-Concern?”

I clicked on it.

 

Ultra-Reality an Ultra-Concern?

Today we at Texich sit down with engineer and modern-philosopher Jerl Muffer about the possible dangers of Ultra Reality.

Q: With the recent release of the Virtual Intelligence Hardware, or the V.I.H, are you worried about the ethical ramifications of such an object.

 

This confused me.

Ethical… ramifications? What could those be?

Desperate to find the answer, I read on.

 

A: Well, you see, the thing about ultra-reality is that it’s long term effects are yet unknown. Of course, this is due to it brief time on the market so far. To answer your question, yes. I worry a little about this generation’s future. Picture this. If VR worlds are so good, then why would you want to return here? You wouldn’t. That’s only one of many problems, though.

 

This struck me in particular, for I very well may have become a new addict to those realities.

The problem was so obvious, yet it had not dawned on me.

Maybe these headsets aren’t good for society.

But then I thought about that feeling. The feeling of freedom that rushed over me in that world.

I decided to stop reading the page at that point, as to not possibly diminish my viewpoint on ultra-reality..

Could something so good be that bad?

 

Once again, I met Charlie after school. Today, I was going to see what he thinks about these “ethical problems”. He spotted me first.

“Oh-hey! Klent, over here!” He waved me over to a nearby bench where he was sitting.

I walked over to him, disregarded whatever he had to say, and asked him what he thought about the issue.

When he heard my question, Charlie seemingly let out a small sigh.

“Klent, come on man. You of all people should know how much potential is packed into that tiny headset.” Charlie said.

I stood still and silent for a moment, trying to come to my own conclusions.

“Well, yeah, it is really fun. But wouldn’t it cause problems in our society?” I asked him.

“Listen, every older generation fears the new one and the technology that comes with them. Think about it like this, when T.V. arrived into the tech scene, don’t you think some people feared it? A machine that could provide laughs, cries, and general entertainment all from your home. I’m sure the question back then was ‘If T.V. is so good, then why would you want to go outside?’ And the answer to that question is that you would want to go outside. You see, there are just some things you can’t replicate about the real world, no matter how close you get. It’s impossible to truly enjoy laughing at the television like you would with your friends, just as it’s impossible to truly breath fresh air in VR.”

Is it really impossible? The air I breathed in that world felt real, but was it?

“You're right, but something's still nagging me.” I said.

Charlie rolled his eyes, and I had the common sense to know that he was aggravated.

“And what would that be, princess?”

“Shut up, Charles.”

“Hey, if you can call me Charles then I can call you princess.”

Knowing that further arguing would be pointless, I forfeited the battle here and now with a “Whatever.”

“Anyway, I'm heading home.” I sighed as I stood up from the bench.

“Alright. Take care, bud.”

And with that brief goodbye, I walked on back to my house.

 

As I reached for my key to the front door, muffled shouts were all I could hear besides the gentle chirping of the cicadas. If I listened closely, I could make out some of the words.

“You nee- t- take ---- of your ow- fa-i-y!

Unfortunately, I couldn't make out a full sentence without adding some of my own interpretation.

Better to get this over with quickly.

The key made a click, indicating that the door was now unlocked. I braced myself, then turned the handle.

Regretfully, whole sentences flooded my ears as I walked in. After a few second seconds, the arguing stopped. My mother was the first to break the awkward silence in her false cheery voice.

“Hey, honey. Have a good day?” She asked with a artificial smile.

I attempted to ease her worries with a smile of my own, but to seemingly no avail.

“Yep. Just got to finish some homework. You know how it is. The school really does like to give a whole load of it.” I told her.

My father piped in after my joking remark.

“That's a small price to pay for going to a good school like you do. Besides, I don't think it hurts you. I mean, you've got top grades, as well as a damn-near perfect work ethic. Don't give that up for nothing, son.”

It was true. I was a star-student; good grades, attractive girlfriend, quarterback on the school team. I had everything your typical high-school boy could ask for. Yet something was missing, and I didn’t know what. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed VR so much.

“Yes, sir. I was just kidding.”

“I know, but I just wanted to make sure you knew.” The gray-haired old man I knew as my father gave me an unusually warm smile.

He cared about my well-being and would do anything to help, but it sometimes felt as if I was allowed no freedom of choice.

“Well I’m heading upstairs. Just tell me when dinner’s ready.”

And with that, I left my parents to their bickering.

Charlie's PoV

Damn it!

Charlie cursed in his head as the claw dropped yet another stuffed bear.

And there goes my last dollar.

For the past ten minutes, Charlie had been continuously pouring the remainder of his final paycheck into this claw machine.

It wasn’t the thought of winning a toy which enticed him to go broke. Instead, it was the childhood ambition of one day beating the “impossible game”. Well, that, and the fact that he was doing whatever he could to stall time and not go home.

After the fight Charlie had gotten into with his father yesterday, Charlie had returned home and locked his bedroom door while his father was out doing whatever the hell he pleased.

Today, though, his father was home. There was no way of getting past that fact. Not only that, but Charlie would somehow have to break the news that he had lost his job today for, according the the notice of termination, “Acting vulgar or aggressive to a customer.

Of course, Charlie being who he was, reacted by telling his ex-boss off.

The way Charlie saw it, he was already fired, so there’s no point in holding any words back.

Gotta leave at some point, might as well be now.

With a final kick at the claw machine, Charlie left the arcade which he had previously been working in earlier today.

 

Charlie reached his house about thirty-minutes later. He inhaled then exhaled before getting out of his car.

Leaving all hesitation at the doorstep, Charlie entered his home.

It was unusually silent for Charlie, who was expecting to get his ass chewed out as soon as he walked through the front door.

All he could hear were loud snores coming from the living room. So, trying to limit the click of his shoes on the tile, Charlie crept silently to his bedroom down the hall.

He quickly turned the V.I.H on and slid it down his head.

 

Charlie went through standard procedure such as entering his username and password. Then, he was thrown into the capital of the Valliant Empire.

Damnit. Charlie though as he failed the claw machine once more. About five dollars had been lured into his long quest in getting one of those cheap plushies. He couldn't care less about the plushie itself, for his only reasoning was that of sentimental value. Every kid dreamed of one day beating that impossible claw machine. Now, though, Charlie out of job and money.

There goes my last five dollars.

Only one option remained. He had to go home, no matter how much he didn't want to. After the fight between him and his father yesterday, the last thing Charlie would like is to return to the old man.

His relationship with his father was not the best to say the least. It was but two years ago when the addiction started. At first, it was only a pill at a time, but since then, that number has risen to about five.

 

His father was asleep, allowing him to freely move about the house. Charlie took no time in dashing straight for his bedroom. When he prawled his scrawny body across the bed, drowsiness threatened to take him to sleep. He fought these urges and decided to dive in ultra-reality for a bit.

He rest the machine on his head and closed his eyes.

Millions of tiny pixels slowly formed into the environment, and Grayz, Charlie’s in-game name, was spawned in a faction town called Treelig.

Treelig was a town belonging to the “Valliant Empire”, one of the two main factions in the game. Like the empires, Treelig was almost entirely player-run.

Empress Christa had ordered the highest-leveled party in her military to clear a dungeon before her opponents did. The opponent which worried Christa the most was the only other empire, “Viticonly”.

According to the lore of the game, these two empires had been rivals since the dawn of time. They watched each other slowly evolve from tribes to full-on nations. Of course, that was all a fictional story embedded into the game.

The empress called upon the heroes of the land, and Charlie was determined to answer her call. That was the main reason he was diving at this moment. Well, that, and the fact that he had nowhere else to go besides home.

Guess I should head for the palace. Thought Charlie.

As he jogged to the Imperial Palace, Charlie opened up his friends list and scrolled down to “Blaze”. Blaze was the party’s leader, meaning that it would be best to contact him first.

Charlie would pop his head up every once in a while to make sure he wasn’t about to collide with anything, then he would go back to typing his message to Blaze.

“Done.” Charlie said to himself while pressing the ‘SEND’ button.

The message asked where to meet up for the previously planned dungeon raid. Quickly, Blaze responded, “the imperial palace.” confirming Charlie’s previous assumption. At this point, he was practically already at the palace.

He looked around, then spotted four iron-cladded men standing by an NPC.

There they are.

Charlie ran over to the men.

“Hey, guys. Ready to beat that dungeon?” Charlie asked with a grin on his face.

The group just gave a worried glance in response.

“What’s- what’s wrong?” He asked while losing his abnormally peppy look.

Brawn was the first of the group to speak. “It’s Rod. He said he’s not feeling too well.”

“I’m fine!” The party looked over to the youngest one of the group, Rod. His short frame matched his age, which was thirteen. Rod was almost like that of a little brother, you pick on him to no end, yet you feel very protective over his well-being.

Charlie had acted as an in-game friend that you could always rely on, which made him feel even worse when Rod lied directly to the whole group.

“Rod, buddy.” Charlie got down on one knee so that he was now face-to-face with the boy. “You can sit this one out if you want. Everyone has to take a breather now and then.”

“I said I’m fine!” Rod jawed back. His avatar’s coincidentally boyish features scrunched up as he got angrier.

“I want to go with you guys. It’s just a little headache, that’s all!”

Blaze looked at Rod, then to Charlie and asked.

“Do you think he’s okay?”

Charlie thought about the two options available to him. He could either let Rod come with the group and fight a dungeon, or he could ask for the boy to stay at the town or log-out.

Charlie looked once more at the boy, who excitedly nodded his head up and down, swaying his short purple hair in the wind.

I can’t let him miss his chance to meet the empress.

It’s not like the boy was too weak or fragile, for his level was extremely high. No, Charlie was genuinely worried about Rod’s health. If he was actually sick, then straining his nerves on a dungeon boss would not help one bit.

Finally, Charlie came to his decision.

“If you really think you’re fine.”

“I do, Mr. Grayz! I’m fine!”

“Then let’s go.” Charlie nodded to Blaze, and they set out for the unconquered dungeon.

 

When the five players arrived at the dungeon, they officially formed a party. After that, Blaze gave a short rallying speech in preparation for the long fight ahead.

“Today, we are not ordinary men, but heroes. Heroes of the Valliant Empire, and we will give our lives for the Empress. Now, who’s ready to earn glory through this vicious battle?”

The party simultaneously chanted, “Me!”

“Then charge!” Blaze pointed to the entrance of the cave-like dungeon, and everyone ran forth to lethal danger.

 

The group had been fighting for about an hour, but were still going strong. According to Charlie’s calculations, they should be almost completely done besides the boss.

Charlie had been sure to keep a close eye on Rod throughout the battle, but was still worried.

I have to concentrate. I can’t help Rod if i’m dead.

At that very moment, about thirty more monsters had spawned.

Must be the damn reinforcements.

The whole group was entirely split up. Everyone, including Rod, was on their own against many high-leveled monsters.

At this point, Charlie could no longer see Rod in the group of monsters.

“Rod!” Charlie called out, hoping to hear a response from his friend.

After a few seconds of nothing but the sound of steel on lizard flesh, Charlie got worried.

I have to help him!

A new determination radiated off of Charlie, and he was fully aware of it. His sword began to swing autonomously, and ‘Lizard Monster’ after ‘Lizard Monster’ was dismembered before him.

One lizard swung from the left; his arm met a grisly fate. Another swung from the right: both hands were relieved from it’s green body. Charlie kept pushing toward Rod. Lizard’s swarmed from behind, beside, and in front of him, but Charlie showed not a hint fear.

All this time, he had been saving up for his ‘Ultimate Move’, an attack which every player had and could use only once each day.

Charlie’s ‘Ultimate Move’ was ‘Ultimate Shredder’.

I have to use it now. I’m probably the only one in the party who hasn’t used his ‘Ultimate Move’.

When all hope seemed lost, and the raid was going to be failure, Charlie prevailed.

“I can’t lose to these things!” Abandoning all sarcasm from his tone, Charlie, no, Grayz, entered his form.

Lizards pounced onto his body, but they were soon to meet their demise. Charlie moved with the skill, and his two-handed sword took control of all movement. His body and sword spun around, dispersing the endless swarm of monsters around him. In fact, about twelve of the lizards were evaporated by this strike.

The remaining lizards were quickly finished off by the rest of the party.

Charlie looked around for rod, but saw no sign of the small boy. Then, the large gate to the boss room rose up into the air, and a figure could be seen dashing toward it. Charlie’s heart stopped when he realized who exactly was running.

“Rod! Come back!” Charlie shouted.

“No, I can be strong like you guys. I-I’ll prove it!” The kid responded sounding half-delusional.

Something’s wrong. Rod may be young, but he’s at least got common sense.

If this were random, then Charlie as well as the rest of the party would be furious at Rod for putting the mission at risk. But this was different, and everyone could sense it.

“What are you waiting for? Let’s go!” Blaze ordered the party.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The gate began to fall once again, which would block the group from Rod.

I have to get there in time.

Charlie couldn’t believe that he would ever be so worried about in-game matters, but he was this time. He had a feeling that this was bigger than a glory grab. No, something was wrong with Rod.

“I got this. It’s okay if you guys can’t make it, but at least contact a Game Master just in case.”

And with that, Charlie’s heels ignited as he speed skill kicked in. The gate was just five feet from the ground, then two, then… Crrrk!

The obsidian gate slammed back into the ground, leaving the three other members of the party unable to get to the boss room.

The three players left consisting of Blaze, Brawn, and Rokae couldn’t watch as their fellow part member slid underneath the falling gate. But now, they opened their eyes to find Grayz safely on the other side.

“Brawn, contact a GM, now!” Blaze commanded.

 

Charlie was now on trapped with Rod and the newly-spawned boss, ‘The King of Shadows’. The shrouded humanoid clutched a scythe with both of it’s skeleton hands.

“Stay close to me.” Charlie’s order seemed to fall upon deaf ears as Rod burst forth.

He had no time to think as the scythe fell directly toward Rod. Leaping upward, Charlie was barely able to intercept the hurtling weapon with his sword, causing the sharp recoil to numb his arm.

 

Both Charlie and the giant scythe were quickly falling.

“Rod, look out!” Charlie yelled as he plummeted. Once again, Rod seemingly disregarded Charlie’s life-saving advice.

Noticing that the kid wasn’t moving at all, Charlie took matters into his own hands as he tried to pull and direct the scythe a little to the left.

His attempt at saving Rod paid off, and the scythe just barely missed colliding with the boy. Instead, it had slammed Charlie into the ground, and now had him pinned onto the hard dirt floor.

“Rod…” The name escaped from Char

lie’s breath as his HP drained fast.

The next thing he felt was the uncomfortable sensation of Rod’s dagger digging into his throat.

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A note from small pebble

My, my, you're looking quite nice today. Have you considered donat- I mean, have you considered leaving a review? That's- that's what I meant to say.


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