When the video finished, showing the fight that had occured with the Mad King, people felt… disappointed. As if they had been built up for so much, with so many possibilities, only to have it all crash down in front of them. This was true both for the viewers, and for Legion as well. Their victory felt hollow. After all their preparations, their careful planning, they had defeated the Mad King. But they hadn’t killed him. Instead, in the middle of his final words, he had simply exited the stage.
How could they not get upset after that? They grit their teeth and endured, knowing that they had an audience at the time, but later? When they were out of the game, free to speak their own minds?
“I’m done with this game!” The elven mage hissed into the call, looking towards their team leader. “I can get past the overcrowded cities, the long journeys to get anywhere. But that was all because there was an interesting story behind it all. Now? Their ‘story’ just flew away into the night. I’m going to be filing with Darkflame to get my money back, first thing in the evening.”
“I know how you feel.” The leader responded with a grumble. “But… let’s just wait for now. No, I’m not saying that we have to keep playing.” He spoke up immediately when he saw the venomous look in the woman’s eyes. “I just received word that they’ll be holding a press conference in the evening to discuss what happened. Odds are… whichever admin they put in charge of that fight is getting fired, and they’ll probably run a special event.”
“What, like a ‘fake King’ saga?” The woman rolled her eyes, before realizing that the team leader was serious. “Wait, really? You think that they would say after all of this, that that wasn’t the Mad King?”
“It would make sense, Julia.” He nodded his head. “All of the records pointed towards the Mad King being a demon, not an elf. At first, I thought that he had simply shifted his shape with his darkness power. But, they might use that as the excuse to write that admin out of the game.”
Julia fell back against her couch, crossing her arms with a huff. “Alright. I’ll wait for the announcement. But I swear, Roland, if I’m not satisfied with it… We can’t make good content if the game doesn’t have any.”
“I’ll keep you posted.” The man nodded his head, ending the call. For all of them, this was more than just a game. They had devoted most of their adult lives to being professional gamers. Once they signed on with their exclusive reporter, they had even become similar to movie actors. And this felt like their movie suddenly pulled a surprise ending where a rock fell from the sky to kill their characters.
The evening after the ‘Cowardly King’ fight, as the people had begun to call it, a female demon in a formal suit walked out in front of a large podium. As the owner of Darkflame Technologies, it was her who had called the press conference. However, there was something more. The light of the moon had been obscured. Not by clouds, but by the giant floating palace of the Keeper.
Many people sneered towards the woman, thinking that the Keeper himself had come to judge her speech. This was the first time that the palace had ever made a special appearance at a public event, but… if there was ever a time that someone deserved a smiting, it was now.
Yet Leyla did not seem to be disturbed. She stood there calmly, projecting her voice out for everyone watching. “I’m sure that, by now, all of you are more than aware of my identity, so I’ll skip the introductions. Tonight, I’ve called this meeting to address what has brought up a great amount of concern with the players of our game, Vision Expanse.”
“Many people foresaw this battle as the end of the story. The end of the game. Fight your way to the final boss, and slay him to end his tyranny. Free the world from the grips of the ‘Mad King’, and allow peace to prosper.”
She cleared her throat, shaking her head. “But, that’s just not how things work. Even without the Mad King, his forces would still oppress the people. They would just do so without any semblance of order, no structure behind their attacks.”
“Instead… the Mad King felt fear. He foresaw his death at the hands of Legion, and bought the time needed for him to flee. This was all a part of his design, albeit it was executed in a manner which I personally had objection with.” Her eye seemed to twitch as she said that.
“However, I am not the designer of this game. I am not the one who made it, nor is the man who appeared in public some time ago, at a former conference.” The crowd began to stir at her words, not knowing what to make of them. “Instead, I would like to invite the one who truly provided the world of Vision Expanse to the people to the stage, so that he can personally clear up any questions.”
To the surprise of many, Leyla turned her head upwards, looking towards the palace. Those who followed her gaze had their eyes going wide, seeing two figures slowly descending, a man and a woman. While the man’s face was unfamiliar, the power he emitted was beyond question. As for the woman, she was someone that most people had seen images of, at one point or another. The Keeper’s maid, Tsubaki. And with her position right behind the lycan man, his status became clear to anyone.
As he landed on the platform, Leyla stepped aside, allowing him to speak. When he did, his voice was similarly projected outwards, far more clearly than when Leyla herself did so. “My name is Dale. As you were all just told… I am the one who brought Vision Expanse to this world. I will accept questions in a moment, but first, allow me to explain a few things.”
“Vision Expanse truly is a game. However, at the same time, it is so much more. It is a world unto itself, living and breathing just as Desbar is. The simplicity of the NPCs is by design, because it would be too cruel to ask a truly sentient people to exist as mere background characters for the entertainment of someone else.”
His eyes closed as he said that, shaking his head. When they opened, he scanned the crowd, any conversations halted by his mere presence. “However… the Mad King fight was never the end of Vision Expanse. No… this world is such that it can last for thousands of years. So I would like to pose these three questions to everyone.”
The Keeper lifted his fist, extending his fingers one by one to count the questions. “What was the source of the Mad King’s power? Is he dead? And, finally… where did he go? These are very important questions, which I believe there are people who know the answers.”
Seeing that nobody was immediately speaking, he gave a small sigh. “The Mad King is still a very real threat to the people of Vision Expanse. However, at the current time… you all do not possess the ability to fight him. He is no longer in that world of Vision Expanse. I have noticed that the demons once attempted to launch satellites outside of their own atmosphere, only to give up on the project due to the inability to create suitable space suits for maintenance.”
“This problem could have been solved long ago with the magic of Fyor and Earth, yet by that time, their focus had turned elsewhere. Now, you are expanding not beyond your own world, but beyond your universe. But there is still much to see up beyond the stars.”
A golden light rushed out of the Keeper’s body, forming the image of a large sphere above the heads of the audience. For some, this was easily recognizable as the image of a planet. “There are many worlds to see, even without the use of the Fairy Gate. That is one of the lessons that I want Vision Expanse to teach you. Through that game, you will learn the knowledge necessary to travel the stars. Find new worlds, new people, and new challenges. As the name implies… expand your vision.”
The floating planet flickered out of existence, returning to Dale’s body before he addressed the crowd again. “Now, are there any questions?”
I let out a long sigh when I returned to the citadel. The reporters had been… persistent, once I specifically gave them permission to ask questions. They wanted to know everything that they could. Some asked if there was truly life on other worlds, while others asked if I myself played the game.
Some questions I answered, while others I made sure to be vague about. For instance… I definitely threw Aurivy under the bus as the one who had been playing the Mad King, causing the halfling goddess herself to appear for a moment. She decided to act all mysterious, claiming that the ‘tale’ of the Mad King was far from over, and that she looked forward to playing the role again in the future.
As for whether or not I played? I did admit to playing the game, however I did not tell them my identity in it. I wanted that to stay a surprise for as long as possible. Which, going by how Udona sent me a message telling me that her guildmates were already asking if Tebor was the Keeper… wasn’t going to be very long.
Once the conference was over, I simply gave a reminder that there was far more to see, both in the game and in reality. After that, Tsubaki and I came back to the citadel. Tsubaki had the smallest of smiles on her face when we returned, though I saw her doing her best to hide it once she caught me looking. “What now, my Keeper?”
“Now… now I go meet the dragon.” I spoke plainly, already moving to the hall, walking towards the control room of the citadel. Tsubaki actually stumbled for a moment in surprise, before quickly rushing after me.
“So soon? I thought that there was still more time before it awoke?” She asked, a bit of hesitation in her voice. I could tell that her power had not recovered nearly enough for her to join me, but that was also part of why I chose to do this now.
“If we were waiting for it to wake up due to hunger, yes. It would take another five days or so for that. However, I want to wake it up early. It’s my belief that we will be more likely to have a peaceful resolution if it isn’t going mad from hunger the moment it awakens.” Although I had prepared, and made sure that I could properly kill the dragon if need be, I was still hoping that it could be friendly.
Tsubaki seemed to hesitate, before nodding her head. “Very well, then I’ll--”
“Stay here.” I finished her sentence for her, sending a gentle smile her way. “Tsubaki, I know that you’re still a long way from recovery. You did excellent work, training the army. But right now… if it truly came to a fight, you would probably be killed just by the aftershocks.”
“But, my Keeper… it’s my duty…” She seemed almost desperate to come along, but I shook my head again.
“It’s your duty to serve me, isn’t it? The best way that you can do that is by staying here, allowing yourself to recover so that you can stay by my side in the future. Not by throwing your life away. Don’t worry… I’ve made sure that I’m plenty strong enough to deal with this monster, if it should come to that.”
Her eyes flickered slightly, looking at a loss for words. However, ultimately, she nodded. A determination appeared on her features that I hadn’t seen for a long time. And after taking a brief look at her surface thoughts, I could understand why.
I’m not strong enough, yet… I have to train more. Beyond perfection. Tsubaki’s thirst for power had once again stirred, just like it had when she was still a normal kitsune, and had ultimately led her to achieve the Perfect Self. What would she end up as this time?