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She'd expected the outside of the fortress to still look it had been before she entered, the flat plane of metal stretching in all directions.

Instead, they now looked out at an ancient city, ruined buildings sunken half into the ground, covered in jungle growth. It was so bright, vibrant, and alive it almost made her want to cry.

It had been so long since she'd seen anything living. Anything not dead or artificial. She absently patted the smoky lizard in her pocket. It patted her back, wispy fingers sending tickles across her hand without ever making real physical contact.

Even that wasn't really alive. But this city, though dead, lived more vibrantly than anything in her forest.

"Is this you?" she asked Mr. Harolski, but he shook his head.

"I think it's Ivy," he said in a low whisper.

Kia nodded. That made perfect sense.

Then she frowned. Had she always been so familiar with Mr. Harolski? Wasn't he a rival, or something? Why would they be chatting so familiarly?

"You're still in there," he whispered. "Hang on."

"Okay," Kia promised, before she could think about it too much. "I will."

"We'll have to jump," Mr. Harolski said. He pointed to a nearby rooftop sticking up from the ruins, nearly even with the wall.

A new voice interrupted. "You don't have to leave."

A young man had approached without either of them noticing. One of the soldiers who’d been patrolling the wall. He stood with his hands at his sides, pointedly not drawing his weapons.

"Why would we stay?" Mr. Harolski asked.

"You haven't finished your quests yet."

Kia tilted her head and checked her quest list. It had been corrupted by the weird glitch that happened when she tried to save Mr. Harolski, and currently said only VINES UPDATE REQUIRED.

"Where do we get a VINES update?" Kia asked.

"Do you really want to go?" the soldier asked, instead of answering.

"I--" Kia faltered. Did she want to go? She didn't really want anything at the moment. She was comfortable, she wasn't hungry. Apart from a vague sense of contentment, she didn't really feel anything.

VINES ALERT: APATHY IS DEATH
WAKE UP

Kia startled, taken aback as the update flashed bright red across her vision.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

"Kia, come on." Mr. Harolski held out his hand. She blinked, then glanced between him and the stranger.

"There's no reason to leave. You can progress easily here. Out there is madness."

Apathy is death. For some reason the phrase resonated in Kia's mind. It sounded familiar. Right.

"Come on." Mr. Harolski grabbed her hand and started running. Kia stumbled, then fell into stride with him. "Three, two, jump."

They leapt out in perfect sync. Mr. Harolski released her hand as they soared across the gap, and they landed side by side. He fell into a crouch, slamming one hand to the ground, while she tucked into a roll, coming up on her feet.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Kia didn't remember. She wanted ... she remembered wanting something, wanting it more than anything, chasing it with everything she had. But she couldn't deduce the purpose by examining the actions.

She'd gathered everything she wanted, collected objects and wealth from across the world. Surely there had been some deeper reason there. Something beyond mere acquisition.

But what?

INITIALIZING…

ERROR! CHALLENGE AREA. YOUR LEVEL IS TOO LOW. PLEASE ATTAIN LEVEL FIVE BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO PROCEED. PROCEED ANYWAY?

Mr. Harolski shrugged. "I don't think we have a choice. We have to keep going."

Kia shrugged. She didn't have any particular opinion on the matter, so she would follow his lead.


 

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A note from Asviloka

Vines.


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About the author

Asviloka

  • Just Add Magic!

Bio: I've been writing longer than I can remember, but only started taking it seriously around '08 when I discovered nanowrimo and started attending conferences. Since then I've written several million words of practice stories leading up to posting here starting in '19.

My goal is to continue to perfect my craft and find a way to make writing my fulltime occupation rather than an obsession pushed aside by the necessity of working to support myself. Whether that means traditional or independent publication, building a strong patreon following, or something else entirely, I have yet to discover.

I always welcome suggestions for improvement and gladly accept all feedback, positive or negative. Don't hesitate to let me know what you think, and please consider leaving a rating or review! :)

(If you're looking for my cover thread, it's at https://www.royalroad.com/forums/thread/110578 )

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