“The tomb was sealed!” Rare shouts. “Where did you go?!”
The three of my companions, Rare, Miss M, and Malia, frantically search around my grave for any sign of my body. There is none.
The room is barely large enough to fit two people standing comfortably. There is no method of escaping except through the barrier we just unsealed. Clearly, I am not here.
“The spell was broken,” Rare says. “That has to be the way it happened. The Goddess herself broke the spell and genuinely transmigrated the body to another world, just like Eryk said. Earth isn’t some illusion. It’s… real.. I just… I can’t believe it.”
“You were wrong?” Miss M asks in a way that is simultaneously horrified and smug. “Rare Solbourne was wrong?”
“What spell?” I ask. “Please give me some answers now; I really need them to understand!”
Rare sighs. “After I was forced into hiding, I used the powers of Malia, a trusted advisor of my secret father’s, and Miss M, a demon queen I defeated in ritual combat whose powers I sealed away until she completed my bidding. Together, they performed one of the most important spells in Mystix history: they contained your powers, preventing your Life Point death but also trapping you in a permanent stasis. They erased your memories, placed you in a hidden grave, and let your subconscious mind create the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne all on its own.”
“And I did all of this as an F-Rank [Adventurer,] because that is what I was by the time you left my life,” I say.
I look over to Malia, who refuses to make eye contact with me.
All those years we spent together… She was my lover, but moreover she was my friend. How could she dangle me along like a puppet on strings? How could I have ever been anything to her other than a plaything to keep track of?
“Eryk, your [Adventurer] status is a re-classing,” Rare continues. “We used a sorting scepter to override your original class and give you a safer, more relaxed lifestyle. We highly suspect that this is not a permanent solution, especially if your ghost is finally returned to the rest of your body. It is not what you wanted, and we know that your spirit is too strong to contain forever.”
“What in The Goddess’s name was I? A [Lord] or something?”
“You were—are—a [Demigod,]” they say.
The one class that is random chance, one in a hundred thousand. The ultimate curse of the Destiny Deck System—a class unchosen by any, but instead randomly given to those who are unlucky enough to receive it. And all fall to a cruel and unusual fate afterwards.
That was me?
“You were the first [Demigod] to survive past one year as far back as our records go,” Malia says. “The entire world was watching you, wondering what you would do next. And those around you wanted nothing more than to control your power for themselves. That is why Rare called us in. We whisked you away and gave you a simpler life.”
“Did I use all that power to fight the Slayers?” I ask. “Did I save North Spire and never even know it?”
All three of them look down precariously.
My heart sinks as I realize what Rare is about to say.
“You… were the founder of the Slayers,” Rare explains. “In that year of your life, Eryk Solbourne, you created a vast army and conquered entire nations. Some say you were tricked into it. Others say you wanted revenge for something. But only I know that you were simply trying to level up.”
“You know me too well, dear sibling.”
“In less than a year, you reached A-Rank. A-Rank as a [Demigod] and leader of an entire army. If it were not for your love for your family, you would have stomped over all of North Spire as well.”
“But… North Spire WAS attacked. That was the reason I became a hero in the first place.”
“You became an [Adventurer] because North Spire was attacked, yes,” they say. “Out of grief and regret for what your army had become and the brother you had lost, you went into exile. That was when Miss M and Malia took you in and cast that massive spell.”
“All I wanted to do was become the first S-Rank hero in milennia…” I mutter. “This all happened because I was too ambitious. Too foolhardy.”
“And you’re doing the same thing again on Earth, aren’t you?” they ask.
I nod. “But I’m just an [Adventurer.] Not a [Demigod] anymore.”
“You haven’t noticed the overpowered cards? The massive boosts of power you can pull out of nowhere? Your abilities are not gone, Eryk. They are merely sealed. And one day, at the time of greatest need, you are going to become an S-Rank hero, just like you’ve always dreamed of. You are going to change the fabric of Mystix. We just have to make sure that you are doing it for good. Because this is the perfect opportunity to finally end The Goddess’s reign of terror, once and for all.”
I can’t even gasp, I’m too taken aback.
[Achievement Unlocked: Figure out a terrifying secret. Redeem for a reward in the Achievements Board.]
“Oh look, Eryk’s back,” Miss M says the moment my ghostly figure appears back in front of everyone.
“Yes, I am here,” I say. “Uh, what were we doing again?”
I look at my three companions from Mystix who I haven’t been able to meet for an entire day already. Oh, they are not looking in top shape whatsoever, I realize. Malia is filled with cuts and bruises all over her body, and her armor has dents in several precarious places. Rare’s domineering physique has faded and their signature long hair has been torn to shreds. Miss M looks better than the two, now nearly human-sized and sporting fiery red hair, but aside from her outward appearance, her eyes alone tell me how exhausted she is.
“We spent a day fending off the New Slayers outside. They’re just sitting out there waiting for us now,” Miss M says. “All I wanted was to get my cool suit and tie back so I could be a real demon queen, but so far it’s just this stupid hair.”
“Well, at least you’re okay,” I say.
“You have no damn clue how hard it’s been. You can’t even get hurt when you’re here! Why are we even protecting you?”
Rare puts a hand on her shoulder. “It is not Eryk’s ghost who we protect, Queen Mestopholees,” they say. “It is his body, which lies just inside this door.”
“Wait, I thought we entered the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne already,” I say. “I could have sworn it…”
“Yes, we entered the tomb,” Rare says, “but the tomb is much bigger than you may have thought. It has six subfloors and is guarded by an undiscerning patrol of stone golems. With the New Slayers pursuing us this far in already, we have to be even more careful that we do not reveal your body’s hidden location to them.”
“Six subfloors… all for me? Truly? That is quite odd. What in the world could ever make me so important? I am not even a C-Rank [Adventurer,] let alone someone worthy of a castle-sized tomb!”
Rare, Malia, and Miss M exchange glances. “We will explain that in time,” Rare says.
“When we reach the body, I hope,” I say. “Where is it, anyway?”
“Well, we… don’t know that. We, as much as anyone else, were left in the dark to the true location so that none of us could easily locate you. The tomb was buried deep underground, it’s patrolled by stone golems, and the tomb itself is laid out like a maze… These placeholders were put here for a very good reason. And one of those is because of me myself.”
“Because of you, Rare? Please, you must elaborate on something. I am failing to comprehend any of this, and none of you are ever telling me!”
Rare looks to their two companions and nods. They nod back and depart in opposite directions. “We are splitting up to better cover ground. If one of us figures out where your body may be, we will meet back here and regroup.”
“A dear friend of mine has said something very important to me,” I say, referring to Francis. “He says, ‘Never split the party.’ I tend to believe him in that regard.”
“I have not heard a phrase like that before,” Rare says, “but the real reason we have split is because I need to explain something to you. And I would prefer to do so gently.”
I actually cannot see very well at all, down here in the darkness. Rare has some sort of night light spell activated, so that their eyes shine like a cat’s and creates a glow around them, but it is still extremely difficult to see. I understand why finding my resting place would be such a task.
“Did you ever wonder what happened to me, Eryk?” Rare asks. “Where I went, and why?”
“Of course I did. Every day. But I know now that you went into that mysterious mountain to train your skills up without the use of a system.”
“Well, that’s not the full details. Let me explain.” Rare begins their speech. “The reason Vince died and I fled at the same time? It was no mere coincidence. It was not a simple fact of the Slayers War. It was a targeted assassination. Vince was not killed by friendly fire. Rather, it was far from friendly. Killers from all over Mystix had been hired and trained to eliminate the Solbourne family, one by one, until Eryk was all that remained.
“I was brought up from birth to be your protector, Eryk. Our fathers knew that, one day, you would become much more than you were ever capable of understanding. I do not know how they would discover such a thing before you even accepted the Destiny Deck System, but our fathers were a powerful group.
“My secret father, the one from whom I directly descend and whose name I am sworn not to reveal, ordered me into hiding after Vince was murdered. And so, in a twist of irony, in order to protect you with my life, I went into exile. I hid and trained for a hundred years to become the most powerful being on all of Mystix… aside from you, of course.
“I was never as far away as you may have thought, though. For my two companions Malia and Miss M kept you on a tight leash while you were a part of Team Fanghook. They made sure you would never stray too far from your comfortable path, and we made sure that your progression followed a natural path. That is… until the Slayers stepped in and sabotaged everything.”
“Wait, if I’m supposedly dead, here in this big tomb, then how did I become an [Adventurer?] What about Team Fanghook?”
“You were never ‘alive’ in the true sense for any of that,” they say. “You were always an astral projection given physical form. It takes an incredible amount of magic to conjure up such a being, which is why you are currently in a normal ghost form. It’s simply too much energy for your body here underground to keep up a physical form after all the damage you suffered from the carriage crash.”
“But… Malia and I…”
“I can confirm very much so that you were an astral projection,” Malia says as she phases right through me and appears beside Rare once more. “We had many great times together, Eryk. I know you just as well as you know yourself.” She turns to Rare and says, “We found him.”
“Excellent. Then we can go.”
We begin walking and following Malia to this supposed location. Rare casts a stealth spell so that the stone golems do not detect us.
“I was never alive, and yet I still died in a carriage crash anyway…”
“It was much more than a carriage crash,” Rare says. “It, too, was an assassination. The Slayers, or whoever else it could have been, figured out that you were not truly alive, and decided to kill off your astral form for the time being. Why they did this is beyond me, but I worry our coming here may only accelerate their plans. There is nothing else we can do, though…”
Miss M joins our party and we finally find a door that is absolutely, certainly the room where my body is located. My grave, within my tomb, within the catacombs, within my homeland, within my home world.
It is currently sealed. Very tightly sealed, with enough barriers in front of it that it takes the combined magical force of all three of them to get through. And then one more physical barrier, a gigantic rock that Rare pushes aside with one fist.
“You see, Eryk, whoever assassinated you did so because they want you for themselves. In truth, you are not some mild [Adventurer.] You are—”
The door opens.
[Total: 73 DP.]
We see an empty casket. Nothing else. Not a speck of dust.
Should I level up? Should I wait? What about increasing my rank? What should I do?
Augh! There are just too many options for me here. I’m so indecisive sometimes; it may be my fatal flaw when it comes to non-combat situations. If I am in a life or death situation, I am able to make the correct move almost every single time. But if I am in a situation that could impact my life or death weeks or months down the line, then my brain simply freezes up. I am like one of Francis’s video game characters, but without being played. I sit idly by as the person controlling me refuses to touch the control stick or the screen (there are different control methods depending on the device, something that perplexes me sometimes).
I have 71 Destiny Points, which can easily level me up twice, and nearly three times.
But the main quandry here is, as always, my Life Points…
I have only lost about 1,600 since I leveled up, as I am currently at [13,565/15,000 LP.] That is nowhere near where I want to be when I level up.
And it might be said that given my two and three quarters level-up opportunities, that I should not be so stingy with my Destiny Points, especially when I am in a place where there do not seem to be any credible threats… And yet, I continue to wonder what the right option is.
If I level up one more time and reach Level 20 at D-Rank, I will be able to rank up to C-Rank anytime I want, no cards or points required. That will increase the burden of my level-ups from then on—I believe it is 30 Destiny Points per level-up after ranking up—but as an advantage it will give me 20,000 Life Points at a time, and an extra slot in my Destiny Deck.
…Wow, the advantages truly do outweigh the disadvantages here. I don’t understand my indecision at all. Even as it stares me in the face, I simply cannot make the leap and sacrifice those points. Not after that scolding Francis gave me about how important it is to waste as little of my time on stats and cards and as much time on ranking up.
Once I reach C-Rank, it will take another 600 Destiny Points for me to be able to reach B-Rank, if I recall correctly. That is not a small sum by any means. Will I be able to reach that in just a matter of weeks? That is the reason we are on this trip, but… It is tough to know.
Right now, the three of us are riding up an elevator in the Santa Barbara Castle, heading to our Very Important Dude Suite (or VIDS for short). Only the “most righteous and truly gnarly” of people are allowed to be here, and King Bodhi herself granted the suite to us. I am very pleased about this, even if something gnaws at me that I should be more on my guard than I currently am.
For what it is worth, Francis and Delta are having a good time. They both seem much happier than when we were in Paso Robles. I like to think that our trip there helped heal some of the tension, whether that was due to the soothing hot springs or the chaos of warfare. My guess is the hot springs; you simply cannot spend hours in a bath naked with your friends and fail to grow closer together. That is the mark of true friendship.
“I can’t wait to get in there and collapse in a chair and start playing Electroplankton all night,” Francis says. “I’ve been antsing for it, and you know what happens when I’m antsing!”
“Do you need insect repellent?” I ask.
“Oh, Eryk,” he says, “I really have to show you some fighting games I bought. If you really get Destiny Points just from winning fighting game battles, then you’ve got to try these out. Uh, tomorrow, at least. Tonight’s gonna be all night all 3DS streaming.”
“Do you think there’s room service?” Delta asks. “Or maybe tons of alcohol so I can—shit! Dammit! Augh…”
Francis snaps his head over to her. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t drink b—” She cuts herself off. “Nothing.”
“Seriously, nothing. I was just thinking about a text Julie sent me. Yeah, that.”
The elevator dings (a ding somewhat reminiscent of my Destiny Point ding, I will add) and opens to our suite!
Holy The Goddess, it is huge. It is nothing like the hotel room we had in Paso Robles. The television is gigantic. The smell is not of mild mildew but of pleasant lilac. And the bed, while the same size as the hotel, is adorned with satin sheets and pillows that look far too comfortable to truly exist. I fear I could fall asleep just touching such a bed.
Beside the bed there is a sofa with chairs next to it, and a small table in the center. Resting on that table is an ice bucket with a bottle of wine chilling inside. I would surely partake if not for my truly heinous thoughts about drinking alcohol so soon after the Paso Robles Incident. I may not be able to drink again for a month.
Delta groans loudly.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“One bed, again. It’s like we’re in a BL comic but somehow I’m here messing everything up.”
“If that is to say that this BL of which you speak refers to the growing love between myself and dear Francis Bacall, then let me assure you that my affections towards him remain fully pure and platonic in nature. There is no romance involved.”
Francis doesn’t seem to be listening to anything we are saying; he is already over to the other side of the room, gazing at the wide variety of soft drink cans in the fridge. “There’s fourteen flavors of Bustable Lemons soda in here!” he shouts.
“Really? That’s so diluting,” Delta says. “The choice overload will ruin most consumers who—wait. Ugh, even when I’m on vacation I can’t stop thinking about marketing.”
“Oh, right, you were in the business of advertising soft drinks, Delta. I forgot about that,” I say.
“I do my best for nobody to know where I work or what I do.”
“You should take pride in what you do! Bustable Lemons should bring a smile to the faces of your friends and family.”
The two of them explore the suite, while I step out onto the balcony and look out at the evening sky of Santa Barbara. The purple glow of the sky accents the orange roofs dotting almost every house, and the Pacific Ocean hums gently in the distance. From this far up, the beach has a soft, creamy texture, as if I could reach out, scoop it up, and consume it like I would an ice cream cone.
[+1 DP. Total: 72 DP.]
You know, while I’m being indecisive about levels, I should probably deal with my Destiny Card hand, at least…
Empathetic Link: Rank 7. Create a Mental Link with a target sentient being. Cost: 5500 LP.
Drop: Rank 1. Make someone fall over. Cost: 80 LP.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Satchel (Size: Extra Large).
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: (Empty)
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Bow and arrow.
Transmigrated Spirit: Rank 3. Summon an otherworldly spirit to assist for five minutes. Cost: 444 LP.
As you can see, I have a vacancy that must be addressed. And it can only be addressed in the best of ways—
I haven’t gotten a holographic card in so long that it brings some sense of nostalgia to my heart. I love it. Holographic cards do not provide any extra bonus, but they give an extremely flashy animation whenever I use them. They are extremely valuable to certain Destiny Card collectors who like to show off their best cards, back on Mystix.
I’ll have to surprise Francis and Delta later.
For now, the three of us are clearly beat. Almost in unison, we each collapse on the bed. First me, and then Francis and Delta climb on and squish me into the middle.
A one-bed night once again… I wonder how it got like this.
Francis cuddles up to me, getting a little bit too close for comfort at this moment. He is a very warm person, and so is this room. “Could you please move?” I ask.
“Nope,” he says. He winks at me.
“That’s what you get for being in the middle,” Delta says. She takes the TV remote and turns the gigantic screen on. It shows the local news—Santa Barbara Kingdom TV.
Yay, parades! The TV shows a large procession of marching surfers and skateboarders and BMX riders while thousands of onlookers cheer them on. A light, fun music with brassy and electric sounds rippling through the speakers. I believe they call this “ska music.” Apparently this parade happened earlier this day while we were shopping and it was very energetic. I’m sad we missed it.
“Wow, what a great nation this must be,” I say.
“This is all just propaganda, you know,” Delta says. “They’re a really unstable country so they have to double down and make sure everyone is patriotic or else someone might topple King Bodhi and take over.”
“That’s awful… What heinous people would do such a thing?”
“Who knows? Extreme sportsmen are honor-bound. They go by a strict code of rules… but not all the people here are extreme sportsmen. You never know what the future holds. Or at least that’s what I read in some New Yorker article once.”
“New Yorker… What does that mean?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” she says. “Hey, Francis, do you want to watch something?”
We both look over to Francis. He has his headphones in and has plugged his new 3DS gaming system into his phone. He does not speak, but he does make silly faces every now and then.
“Oh, he’s streaming. Okay, so he’s basically dead to us. Eryk, want to watch something?”
“Besides this patriotic display of enthusiasm from the Santa Barbarans on TV?”
“Yes, besides that.”
“Oh, then, what about another movie? As long as it isn’t… um… Chasing Amy.”
Delta’s face goes red. “Oh, uh, of course. Yeah, that was a bit awkward. We don’t have to talk about that anymore.”
“We do NOT have to talk about that anymore.” She flips over to the “on demand” section of the TV channel listings. “Here, we can watch a super awful bad movie and you can learn the joys of crappy media.”
“It is good to like bad things?”
“Ironically, yes,” Delta says.
“I don’t quite understand, but do go on.”
“Well, here’s one movie I’ve heard a lot of. It’s an older film called Gigli. It stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, and it was so bad that it killed the director’s career and ruined the actors’ relationship. I don’t know much about it but I bet it’s horrible.”
“And so it being horrible will be… good?”
“Yes. You’ll see.”
“I guess I shall. I hope to enjoy it a lot.”
We watch Gigli.
Things start to get awkward once Jennifer Lopez’s character is introduced.