Chapter 63: Afterword
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If you’re reading this, I want to begin by thanking you for all of your support! You’re a big part of the reason I was able to finish Harem Protagonist’s Sidekick. It was a long process, halted by over a year of personal turmoil, but we came out on the other side with something I truly enjoyed creating and something I hope you enjoyed reading.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you! But this afterword wasn’t created for me to be sappy the whole time. Oh, no. We’re going to go behind the scenes with the writing and some of the characters of HPS.

 

Why I started writing Harem Protagonist’s Sidekick.

I began writing this novel simply because I have always enjoyed writing. I wrote a lot of (unfinished) fanfiction when I was younger and was looking to explore this creative outlet again. Originally, this was going to be nothing more than a slice-of-life story with random events happening around Ethan and our MC. Very early on though, our boy BallsDeep69 (aka Zachary) decided that wasn’t going to slide. He was a sidekick now, but he wasn’t about to stay one. So, very quickly the story evolved with him and Rika forging a new path ahead. 

 

Nora wasn’t supposed to end up with him.

The MC was going to end up with Rika, and Nora wasn’t even a consideration as a pairing for him. She would play no role other than hanging out with the MC at the fair and providing some support/drama/comic relief in the background; however, my one-year hiatus changed everything. I came back directly to chapter 14 (I believe) and began to write their misadventures around the fair together. I fell in love with her character and decided she would compete with Rika to see who would win his heart in the end. Spoiler alert: she did.

She would be one of the ‘nice girls’ that Hachiman Hikigaya hates so much. Everything about her screamed pure from her takes on relationships to how she was with her friends. She put up walls and cursed a lot, but at the end of the day, she was delicate and scared of getting hurt. That was why as the MC and her got closer, her rough exterior began to crumble down and Nora showed how kind she actually was. 

 

Chloe was supposed to be the main rival for Rika.

Chloe never got her fair share of development and that was entirely my fault. She was going to be the main character originally competing with Rika for the MC’s heart until Nora replaced her. The whole chocolate baking scene was a setup for the two of them to get more acquainted and build their relationship from there. Unfortunately, Nora snatched that away from her, leaving her with very little to do for awhile in the novel. She ultimately ended up being what Ethan is to the MC for Rika, helping her through her internal struggles and hard decisions. She had some nice moments like their chat in the courtyard, helping out with the play, the aforementioned cooking club chapter, and helping Rika out in her POV chapters.

 

Ethan.

Ethan, oh boy, is there a lot to say about him. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. He would need his own novel to do him justice. So, I’m accepting applications for any of you brave souls who wish to attempt it =). He’s the one who encouraged Rika to meet up privately with the MC and hang out. She had mentioned she wanted to be friends with him, and Ethan gave her that gentle shove. This was part of the reason he ended up getting upset with Rika and her lack of consideration for the MC’s feelings later on. 

Ethan also had it rough with all the girls who confessed to him. He turned them all down, and they weren’t much nicer to him about it than they were to the MC. He pretended to take it all in stride, but everything they said and did hurt him. He no longer kept up the act when his best friend started crying in his car, not holding back about how awful they were and letting the whole school know what Sara did.

This was when he decided that he would no longer be put in such a position. He knew that Amelia and Chloe had a crush on him–among a bunch of other girls–but he chose to play dumb. By being dense, he hoped to prevent most of them from confessing to him.

Ethan fell in love with Amelia at first sight, or as close to love at first sight as he believed in. Yet, he didn’t ask her out since she didn’t seem much different from all those other girls who followed him around. Blushing, laughing at his lame jokes, the jealousy, and the subtle flirting wasn't any different than before. He still was happy to be her friend, but that was the extent of it all. At the aquarium, Amelia began to act more like herself, and he began to realize how much he liked that side of her–the real side of her. They hung out a few more times by themselves, and he learned he realized he liked her more and more. By the time she asked him out on a date at the concert, he planned on asking her to the dance. He was beyond surprised when she took the first step and did it herself.

 

Amelia is kind of the mom of the group.

Amelia liked to poke and prod situations, not hoping to make things blow up, but to make people happy. She constantly argued with Nora, even though she sees her as her best friend. She never truly minded Nora flirting with Ethan, realizing early on she didn’t actually like the boy. Amelia couldn’t help meddling at the aquarium and helped lay the framework for the MC to figure out he liked Rika, although she was cheering for Nora. That showed later on when she ensured that the MC would go to Nora first on Valentine’s Day. All’s fair in love and war, after all. While she liked Rika, she definitely loved Nora more. 

All this scheming and planning was fun, but she never was good at applying this same logic to her own life. Case in point, she acted like an idiot around Ethan. She couldn’t help it, flipping between shy and flirty and everything in between. Eventually, she learned to relax around him and made a good impression. Speaking of impressions, she never was sure what to think of Chloe. It was obvious the girl liked him, yet she was too shy to ever really make a move. And while she had no problem doing whatever it took to set Nora up for success, she couldn’t find it in her to press any advantage over the girl. Chloe was just too cute for that.

 

Rika, Rika, Rika.

She is my favorite character. I’ll admit it. There was no doubt in my mind that she would get her happy ending when I started writing. 

How wrong I was.

There were some people at the very beginning of the novel saying they didn’t trust her–they hated her even–and I always laughed to myself about their comments. This was a slice-of-life novel, and she was the heroine. How could she be anything but perfect? Maybe they could see into the future or something. Rika is very protective of her friends, which is what got her into trouble in the first place. She didn’t wait to hear any other side of the story before targeting the MC on social media. In reality, her impact was very little, but she obviously had no idea about this any more than our MC did. All she knew was that partially because of her actions, he ended up leaving his school. This was what began her interest in him and how she learned about what really happened. This intrigued her, finding someone selfless enough to try to help out all these girls. 

She admitted it in the end, but Rika was very good at running. Deleting her social media so she doesn’t have to deal with repercussions is a small example. The rest can be seen in how she would rather avoid the MC than talk anything out most of the time. She got better in the end, though, going so far as to start oversharing. Nora and the MC found it both annoying and hysterical depending on the situation.

Her biggest regret of high school was saying no to the MC during the fireworks display. That was until that summer after they graduated, she started dating Marcus. She always told people that his good looks won her over because it certainly wasn’t his boring monologues; he never found this as funny as her. If she were to be honest, though, she liked Marcus because he was always there for her. He had become someone she could rely on and helped push her into learning to confront her problems head-on.

And he truly was easy on the eyes. 

 

Rika and Nora.

They developed their relationship mainly through their rivalry of the MC’s heart. This started as early as the fair when they were getting seated on the ferris wheel; however, neither of them were willing to play dirty to get ahead. Rika actually ensured that the three of them are always together after she realized this. She ensured they went to classes together, were together with him at the aquarium, and she even helped convince Nora to ask him to study at his house. Nora always respected her for this and for helping her with her ruined chocolate. And despite what Rika claimed, she did it because she didn’t want Nora to be upset and lose her chance. 

Their mutual respect for one another blossomed into a friendship, and they eventually started hanging out with one another alone when they came home during breaks from college. Double dates were common, and the girls never did lose their passion for messing with the MC. Rika used to babysit a lot for them and is the godmother of their son.

 

And finally, the MC.

He is the man, the myth, the legend. He was nameless throughout most of the novel because I took inspiration from Pedestal, one of my favorite stories of all time. His name actually came from the Other Tales part of this novel, where Digital Skitty named his MC Zachary. A tribute, a homage, literally just stealing names from other people. Call it what you will, but at the end of the day, Zachary will always be BallsDeep69 because that’s the name all of you choose for him. 

Blessed be, Balls. Blessed be.

The MC is a nerd, but people don’t guess that about him. As much as he doesn’t think so, he is nearly as good-looking as Ethan. His social skills are good, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for himself. If manga or anime are brought up, though, he can talk for hours.

In a lot of ways, he was the antithesis of Rika. He ran away from Chloe, Rika, Nora, and Amelia in the beginning because they were problems for him. Later on, he recognizes he couldn’t keep doing this and begins to confront his past and make new friends. Rika pushes him into confronting his problems, but then does the opposite of him and begins to hide away her past and slowly grow distant from her friends. 

Not much more to say since he says it all himself. My guy grew so much from the beginning to the end of the novel, and I feel like I matured with him too in some ways. 

 

What's next for me?

Someone’s particularly loud complaint reached my ears first. “This is bullshit! Like I want to do even more grinding for such a lame reward. I’m logging out.”

“Go ahead. Nothing is stopping you.” The game master held up his hands like he was balancing a scale. “Just be aware that if you do log out before beating the floors, your account is going to be deleted, along with all your progress.”

A gasp. “That’s worse than death!”

“You might as well end me now.”

“Sorry, little Timmy. I couldn’t protect you, but it’ll… this will… be over quick.”

“Everyone, stop!” The voice boomed across the open field. “We need to be working together through this time of crisis. And for god sake’s Peter, put away that damn battleaxe before my son gets hurt!”

The battleaxe hit the dirt below with a thud as the man sporting a bushy moustache muttered about how nobody ever supported a good murder anymore. The others around him, including Timmy, took a step back from the crazed man. 

I could only watch this shit show unfolding in disbelief, wracking my brain to try and figure out how I had gotten here. My evening had been fairly normal after all, all things considered. But I supposed it all started with that strange patch note, didn’t it?

“Lucas, come downstairs and eat already. Your food’s getting cold.”

My mom’s demand went ignored as I dropped my backpack by the door and plopped myself on my gaming chair, bumping my knee against the desk. A quiet hum from my desktop computer nearly drowned out the sound of me continuously clicking my mouse. Dim light from the screen splashed across my face while I hurried through the Skill Shards Online website, searching for the latest patch notes. When I landed on the updates page, I couldn’t help squinting in confusion. It was definitely the newest patch note, displaying the numbers 12.3.1 in big, bold letters, but there was hardly any description. 

“A surprise will be waiting for those of you who log in by 17:00 PT.”

Sparing a glance at the bottom right of my computer, I realized I had about eight minutes before then. That realization kickstarted me into action. I grabbed my VR headset from atop my desk before flinging myself onto my bed. With my pillow placed under my neck, the headset snugly placed over my head, and the chin-arm locked in place, all that was left to do was to power it on.

“Damn it, get down here and eat before I take away all those electronics!” My mom shouted, banging a wooden spoon against the steel rim of a pot. “You take way too much after your dad. Just as mopey and antisocial as he used to be.”

I figured now was a prime time to do so; my mom’s temper was as short as she was and could be dealt with later. The machine let out a quiet whirl before I was plunged into darkness. That never lasted long and my vision was suddenly assaulted by a colorful wall. I crashed into it–or rather, through it–until I felt my feet hit the hard ground below. Staggering from the sudden impact, I cursed my inattentiveness. Always forgot to brace for the impact. Nonetheless, I managed to regain my balance and opened my eyes to be greeted by an unusual sight. 

This was definitely SSO. Yet, I was no longer journeying through the snowy mountain tops of the Obsidian Range, but in the wide-open field near Beginner Woods. The tall grass tickled my bare calves, another peculiarity since I had been donning full armor the last time I was logged in. It seemed whatever this surprise the GM had been teasing about required us to be here. If that was the case, the simple explanation would be that he teleported us in mass to this location.

This was supported by the fact that there were already large gatherings of other players all around. A majority of these players I recognized from some of the top guilds as well, the emblems emblazoned on their clothes, meaning this wasn’t a group of just newbies either. That reassured me some, and I exhaled deeply. I had gotten a little nervous that my account had been hacked or glitched out or something. It was honestly a relief to see this was all for the event.

“Yo, AnoleFisting. How’s it been hanging?”

I turned to stare at the red-headed guy who stopped across from me. He smiled, his teeth on full display, seemingly waiting for some kind of answer. Sighing, my whole face turned red, embarrassed by what middle school me had thought was a hysterical username. “Lyfeti, I keep telling you that you can just call me Anole.”

He scratched the back of his neck. “And I keep telling you that’s not any better.”

“It is if you pronounce it A-null.”

“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

“Anyway, what do you think about this whole thing?” I asked, spreading my arms wide.

“Hmm…” Lyfeti glanced around, absentmindedly fraying the top of a blade of grass between his fingers. “I figure it’s got to be some sort of battle royale thing. The devs are probably trying to cash in on their popularity right now.”

I blinked in confusion. “But the new players won’t stand a chance. There's such a big difference in levels ”

Motioning above his head, he laughed. “Maybe you didn’t notice, but it’ll be all about skill now.” 

I followed where he was pointing. There was his username and level like usual, although he was no longer level sixty. He was now level one. In disbelief, I traced a finger in the air in front of me, drawing up the system’s menu. Swiping to the left, I quickly glanced through my menu. The truth hung in front of my face, though.

I was also back to level one, my inventory was empty, and I had no gold. 

My high-pitched, glass-shattering scream almost matched up perfectly with the thunder that crackled across the suddenly dark sky.

Come join me on my next novel, Is Insanity Contagious? Online. It's time for the next generation's story. This is Lon Mair signing off of Harem Protagonist's Sidekick for the last time.

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