The sun is not yet fully up. As my bare feet mash against the soft wet sand, my eyes see that familiar dark-orange hue of dawn’s early light. My nose takes in the crisp and sharp, yet pungent odor of the ocean before me.
I am out here on the beaches of Santa Barbara early. Not to practice, but merely to meditate on my thoughts and myself.
So much has happened to me in this past week, these past few days of my personal experience. I’ve been integrated into a whole new world with its own systems and customs, its very own magic system known as electricity. I have faced many foes, none of them dangerous to me in any real way, and I have conquered all. Then, back on Mystix, I have traveled across continents as an apparition of sorts and discovered the brutal truth of my origins as an [Adventurer.]
I must prove myself worthy. I must prove that I am capable of being a hero beyond the machinations that others have set in motion. I must prove that I am not a pawn in someone’s game.
So this competition today is more than just a way to earn freedom for myself and my friends. It is a way to bring salvation to my existence. Whether or not I survive is irrelevant. I have suffered worse, after all.
The official ceremonies will begin soon. Already, there are onlookers, invariably blonde with curly hair, who step onto the grounds and find a good position to watch the competition to come. My opponent is not here, nor are my friends, but I expect them to arrive in good time. The competition does not start until dawn has fully broken, after all. Breaking Dawn is said to be a very important part of Santa Barbara, from what I can gather.
The final glimmerings of the moon fade as the sky comes into view. This new day is finally upon us.
A Royal procession marches onto the beach, and I begin to tense up. I fear nothing in particular, but maybe the sheer spectacle of the situation is starting to get to me. This, after all, is the most people I have ever had watching me at one time, other than the time Francis showed me off while he was streaming. And, of course, any forgotten memories I may have as my time as the leader of the cretinous Slayers faction.
Finally, King Bodhi arrives in full royal regalia. She has a crown made of sea shells, a skateboard strapped to her back, and a one-piece swimsuit with a skirt attached that goes all the way down to her ankles. She approaches me with a swaying swagger. Despite the top of her head barely coming up to my chest, she has a presence that outmatches mine by an order of magnitudes. The onlookers cheery wildly and chant something derogatory about shoobies.
The King begins doing some ritualistic recitations of the code of laws or something along those lines; I do not have the mental capacity to listen to it all and attempt to comprehend, in all honesty.
My mind is already fixated on the ocean before me.
The Surf Off to come.
The rules are simple: a panel of six expert judges, as well as the whole of Santa Barbaran society, will determine the winner, and the honor of these peoples is the only reassurance I have that they will not simply pick their own ruler out of loyalty. It is partly judged by style points, and partly judged by the combat we will engage in. There are a great number of moves we can use to try to gain more points, part of a regulated list of about fifteen hundred different maneuvers all catalogued in the code of laws which King Bodhi currently recites.
When Francis explained the rules to me yesterday, he told me, and I quote, that it is “pretty much just like Super Smash Brothers Melee’s Bonus mode, which nobody ever plays even though it’s still kinda fun sometimes.” I do not understand what any of that means.
Finally, the Surf Off is about to begin. I am given a board, colored with a solid, bright pink. King Bodhi’s, on the other hand, is glittering gold, so sparkling that the rising sun already makes it shimmer.
“I hope you prove to be a worthy opponent,” she says to me.
“And I hope the same for you,” I say. “Though if you are not worthy, that will merely make my job easier. So actually, I would prefer if you are unworthy, dishonorable as it may be.”
“You really didn’t have to tell me any of that.”
“Right, then. Let us begin our match as soon as we can,” I say.
King Bodhi walks off to confer with her economic advisor Brett about some matters. And just at this moment, Delta comes running onto the beach, sprinting with all her might.
“Eryk!” she shouts. She tries to skid and stop in front of me, but the wet sand is too slippery and she falls down on her face.
I pull her up and brush the clumps of sand off her face. “Delta, my dear friend, what is it?”
“Francis! I can’t find him anywhere,” she says.
“What? You mean after he ran off last night?”
“No, I found him then, and I calmed down. He even sort of understood about the, uh, you know, pregnancy thing.” This is the most panicked I’ve ever seen this woman. She’s like a completely new woman. “But since this morning, he’s completely vanished.”
“And you think he must have run away?”
“No... I think he was kidnapped.”
We both look around the beach, fruitlessly hoping that some of our fears will be alleviated.
“Francis may have been kidnapped...” I mutter to myself.
I look over to King Bodhi. Did she...?
No, surely... King Bodhi doesn’t LOOK dishonorable. She looks completely normal, except for the sense of regality she always brings to herself. So then... what?
What is going on here?