With the sun going down and the sky shifting to a magical mix of purple swirls and scarlet clouds, Frey decided to set up camp for the day.
He got off the dirt path and conjured a campfire from twigs and dead leaves, not far from the roadside. Aside from the goblin hound that attacked him on his first day, there weren't any dangerous creatures native to the forest, and so he wasn't worried about the fire attracting monsters. Frey sat by the fire in a seiza, and closed his eyes as he breathed in the warm air radiated by the flames. Shin always used to do the same thing after they ate, and ever since Frey left Shin for Redel, he'd started to take on the practice. Helps clear the mind.
It's been three days since he set off for Redel. If Shin was to be believed, then Frey was only halfway through the journey.
Thirty-nine Eideleir days since the game had begun, he had yet to meet a Player of his generation. Didn't know what would happen if he did. He was almost certain it would come to a fight, but whether he'd have the guts to kill when the time came, he didn't know. He shook his head. No, he couldn't afford to doubt himself. He'll never win if he doesn't grow the stomach to kill. And he had to win. He already made a promise to himself, that he'd see Elise again, and to Shin. He can worry about his wellbeing later.
He opened his eyes. The sky was then completely dark. The campfire crackled with life as it fought the cold night wind. Frey reached inside his black long coat and pulled his booklet out.
His name and Player number, 47, was written on the first page. The second page displayed the Player numbers of the four who have died so far, which were as follows:
Player 86 - Eliminated
Player 92 - Eliminated
Player 34 - Eliminated
Player 20 - Eliminated
The following pages were empty until the tenth, the page where the sketch of his arm blade could be found. Above the sketch of the arm blade three question marks were still written--no changes. Not sure he wanted to see it change. He hadn't forgotten the story of Shin, about his arm blade's true nature.
The eleventh page had three big question marks in the middle. Shin said it was most likely the page for his mark's evolution, whatever it'll be. Next page was the monster list. The book seemed to exclude local animals from the list, so other than the goblin hound, no more entries were written. The forest was harmless, with the exception of a few stray wolves and snakes. He figured he was just too lucky, to encounter a goblin hound and get nearly killed--on the first day, no less. It was like picking the one bad apple out of a million.
Speaking of the goblin hound... Frey fished for the two hound fangs in one of the many pockets his black coat had. He held it up to scrutiny: two fangs thicker than his thumb, longer than his handspan. They were curved almost to the same degree as his katana, tapering to a pointed tip. The goblin hound almost chewed his arm off with these, he remembered. He rolled up his coat's sleeve.
Miraculously, his left arm didn't have so much as a scar from such grievous wounds. Shin told him it was the corberries he'd been eating every morning. Stuff's regenerative, and this forest had plenty of it on low bushes you can find in almost every inch of the forest.
These goblin hound fangs were the main reason he's going to Redel, to bring them to this "Barton" guy. They didn't seem impressive, although knowing Shin, he had a reason for making him go through all this trouble of bringing it to the city. These fangs might be something. Frey gripped them tight in his hand.
Verdant green light winked at him from the woods on the other side of the dirt road. Instinct kicked in and Frey dumped a fistful of soil from the ground onto the campfire, snuffing out its flames. He got up from his seiza and drew out his katana. Its black blade was almost lost in the dark cover of the night.
An enemy Player. He finally got to meet one.
The tattoo on the back of her hand burned a blinding green. Liezel Magtala, with heart pounding against her chest and panic in her limbs, ran. She didn't bother choosing a direction and just sprinted where the wind would take her, with the green light of her Player tattoo as a guide to help her not to crash onto trees.
Liezel grimaced. Just how unlucky was she, to meet someone she should at all costs avoid? Worse, her spear, the only thing that she'd been counting on to survive, had been taken by those brutish guards back in Redel. Forget about fighting other Players, Liezel was never a fighter. She was scrawny and short, and the only fight she'd ever fought was against a classmate that had been bullying her back in her high-school in Tondo. That was when she was what, fourteen? She's nineteen now, and thought she'll never have to pull on someone's hair ever again, or fight for her life, for that matter.
She looked around without stopping. She couldn't see a trace of her pursuant, couldn't hear anything other than the crunch of dead leaves getting crushed under her every stride. Her tattoo still glowed, but why couldn't she see her enemy's light? Unless...
Unless her enemy's hand was covered.
Intense sharp pain pierced her right ankle. She let out a shrill moan as her momentum sent her crashing face-down to the ground. She tried to get up, but the fall numbed her arms. Sticking out her bleeding right ankle was the half of a steel dagger, its edge flashing as it reflected the green light of her right hand. There was a rustle. Forcing adrenaline into her arms Liezel turned around and lifted her upper body, so that she was facing her enemy.
She crept backward until her back hit a tree. She shone light toward the shadow closing in on her. It was a young man, tall and lanky, wearing black coat and black clothes. In his right hand he held a curved blade, like the one she'd seen in her History teacher's visuals: the sword used by old Japanese warriors. It was thin and black all over, almost blending with the shadows.
Liezel felt as if she would pass out from the burning pain in her ankle. "Please." she cried out between labored breaths. She looked up at the young man with pleading eyes, sweat and tears falling down her cheeks.
The Player stood at her feet and raised his sword. It was the end of the line for her. Game over. As if she didn't know that from the start. Liezel didn't have what it takes to kill. Why did she have to, anyway? Why did God let her get dragged into this crazy game? Was there anything she did so wrong? Unbelievable. Unforgivable. Tears fell in streams down her face. She didn't do anything wrong. She didn't deserve any of this. If father and mother were still alive they'd tell her she'd been a good girl, that she'd been a good older sister to her dearest siblings. She'd been a good girl and yet,
She didn't want to die. Not again. At the very least, she wanted to say goodbye to her siblings--something she couldn't do before she left Earth.
She looked up at the young man before her. Her enemy. A Player like herself. He had his sword raised overhead, poised to cut her in half in a heartbeat. But his hands were shaking, blade unsteady.
His lips were contorted in anguish and in his green, emerald eyes, there was doubt.
All he had to do was swing the blade, like he had done a million times in his training. The enemy laid there on the ground, a thin girl with copper skin and messed-up black hair, dressed in a worn-out white one-piece. Her right hand glowed a venomous green color he was all too familiar of.
All he had to do was swing, and there'd be one less Player to fight with. And yet, his hands won't move. Why? What's the matter? Do it. His conscious shouted at him. Frey gritted his teeth.
The girl broke into tears. "Please... I didn't do anything wrong." she pleaded, her voice small and cracked.
"Shut it." he snapped.
Frey didn't do anything wrong, either. He doubted any of the other Players did, yet they're still here, forced to kill each other in this game orchestrated by a mad goddess.
Its exactly because they're in a game that he had to kill her. She's a Player. He must, or the game won't end. His hands gripping the blade handle were stark white. It will be quick, she'd feel no pain. He told himself.
His eyes met the girl's. In their black depths, past the tears and the pain, he saw it. The reason she was crying.
He closed his eyes and breathed in.
"I'm sorry, Elise." he whispered.
Frey threw his blade away.
He slumped to the ground, fell on his knees at the girl's feet.
"Dammit. Just, damn."
The girl had stopped her ugly bawl, but he could still hear her sob like a child. Irritating. Very irritating. He crouched up from his slump and glared at the girl--the enemy he failed to kill. He delivered a quick hand chop to the side of her neck. Her consciousness wandered off. She was still, and Frey was left alone with his mind.
He cupped his hands on his forehead and cursed the ground.
He was weak. Beyond weak. All that talk about winning the game, when he couldn't even kill an unarmed girl. He hated himself.
He looked up at the girl knocked out before him, at her innocent face wet with sweat and eyes swollen from crying. Somehow, he was even glad that she was alive, that he wasn't yet a murderer. And that made him feel worse.
Frey hated being human.
Five minutes later and the girl was still out cold, her back resting against an ancient tree. Frey, in his fit, might have hit her harder than he should have.
He patched her wound. Frey didn't know why he bothered. He carefully removed his dagger from her flesh and rinsed the cut, with water he scooped from the stream running parallel to the road. He cut a strip of cloth from the hem of her dress and wrapped her ankle once the wound had been cleaned.
Frey took the glove off his left hand and slipped it onto the girl's right to mute the light of her mark. Pulled some vines off the old tree above her and tied her hands behind the tree with it, just in case she decided to run off. He also took off the glove on his right hand and, with his mark's glow as a torch, rummaged the nearby Corberry bushes for fruit.
Accidentally while foraging around the shrubs his mark casted light upon a very familiar item, caught between the branches of a Corberry bush. It was a booklet only a bit smaller than a pocket book, bounded by a green leather cover. The girl must've dropped it while running. Frey pocketed it and went back to picking up Corberries. He put them in a small sack he had stored in one of his coat's pouches.
His little captive was still sound asleep when he returned. He dropped the sack off by the tree the girl was tied to. He roamed the vicinity, picking up twigs on the ground. When he had enough he set up a campfire by rubbing two of the twigs until they start to spark from the heat produced by friction. He put his right glove back on, no longer having need for his mark's light.
He snuck a glance at the girl to make sure she was still out, before he pulled out the booklet he had found.
Was that her name? It sounded weird. It was hard to tell what country she was from, with just her name alone. He looked over the girl once more.
Copper-skinned and slim built, height barely over five feet. Her black hair was a mess of tangled waves, falling until her shoulders. She was beautiful but wouldn't beat Victorina in a pageant. She had a small nose proportionate to her sunken bridge. Her cheeks had a rose blush to them. Unlike Victorina, whose beauty was unreal, the girl's charm leaned more into simplistic, natural beauty. She ought to fix her hair, though.
The second page of her book contained the number of the four Players that had so far been eliminated. The next pages were empty, just like his booklet. The tenth page had a sketch of a spear with a diamond-shaped spearhead. Below the spearhead were angelic wings, and the middle of the two wings was outfitted with a rhombus gem reminiscent of the gem on his arm blade.
Above the spear drawing "Saphiel" was written in large print. So her weapon had a name. Unlike his. That said, the girl didn't have this weapon with her. Interesting, he thought, as he flipped to the next page.
Manifestation Not Yet Possible
He had absolutely no idea what those entailed. No such thing was written in his book. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing on something vital. Was it because he hadn't been using his arm blade, that his booklet was missing info of this sort? Not that he'd start using his Player Weapon even if that was the case. It was too great a risk, taking Shin's word for it.
The next page was empty... or it had been. He almost dropped the book when the parchment caught on fire. Live flames burned through the paper, drawing with their trails an intricate conch shell, carried on the back of two seahorses facing opposite from each other.
On top of the page "God Crest" was written, and below the sketch was a name and a description.
The prideful Sea Empress' crest that ebbs and flows.
The girl jolted awake.