"Hmm?" Claire turned her sight to the girl who was still sinking into her ocean.
She tapped her feet.
The water around the girl froze until only her head remained and her breath chilled her tongue, teeth clattering. At that moment, she looked like a lost child that saw coldness for the first time. Alien to a new world of frost.
Her eyes glared up, past Claire's skirt, and onto her face. She gritted her teeth.
"Y-you. . ." She struggled to take a breath.
"Yes yes, I am the so-called 'Fairy'," Claire nodded and took a step forward, mind wondering for she remembered something that occurred even before their fight.
"However, tell me something I've been curious about for a while now. . ." She muttered as she crouched until her eyes met the girl's. "You used the term 'PK' when you began fighting Vander."
"I haven't played a lot of games in my life but even I know it means 'Player Kill.' But that's rather odd, why would someone from this world use such a gaming terminology?"
She narrowed her azure eyes.
"Unless. . .you're not from this world, are you?"
The teeth of the girl clattered.
"I'm not telling you anything," She said through frosted breaths.
"Oh really?" Claire tilted her head. She didn't feel as if she particularly had any need to play nonsense with the girl any further. "And what if I kill you if you don't?"
The girl's eyes shook for a moment.
Then she grinned.
"Kill me. I don't care."
Claire mildly chuckled.
"So you don't fear death."
The ocean floor rose between them and Claire reached out a hand, a dagger appeared in her grasp, swimming from water to ice.
"Alright." She smiled, twirling the thing. "What if I tortured you then?"
Lara De. Frag's eyes jumped at that thought. She sucked in a deep breath. Her lips were cracked but she bit down and spoke.
"Are you telling me this is another world?" Her voice shook as she asked.
Claire raised a brow. "Of course, what else could it be?"
The girl looked at her silently for a moment as if she were debating something.
"I'm from Merim," She finally said.
Claire furrowed her brows. She had expected 'Earth' but the answer the girl gave, though unsurprising as she now knew more than one world existed, was dissatisfying.
"What about Earth?" She asked.
Teeth clattering, the girl answered her.
"What about what?" She asked right back.
By the looks of it, she didn't even know what Earth was. Naturally, she could also be a great liar so, though cautious, Claire decided to see where this conversation would take them.
"Never mind that then. . ." She said, "How did you get here? Did a God kidnap you too?"
"I don't know," Lara said, "I received a virtual pod. I entered it, activated it, and found myself in this body. I thought it was just like any other virtual reality game, though a bit heavier on the realism. Are you telling me this is actually another world?"
Forget the girl's confusion, Claire had her own immediate question. "Virtual pod? Virtual reality? Are you telling me you had that in your world?"
Both of them looked at each other with confusion.
"Huh?" The girl asked. ". . .seriously, is this a game or not? You're a pretty weird NPC."
Claire rubbed her eyes.
Clearly, the two were on completely different wavelengths.
"No, this isn't a game, and don't call me an NPC," She said, "This is another world. A real one with living, breathing, people and I happened to have came from a different one than both this one and yours."
Lara wasn't having it, however.
"Are you serious? This is clearly a game. It has levels, experience points, and all," She said, ". . .yours is hidden, however."
Levels? Experience points? It was now Claire's turn to be completely baffled. Were the two of them seeing entirely different realities? Or, more aptly, was the girl working on a completely different system than the world's?
"Okay," She raised a hand, "Could you tell me what you know? About your world, how you got here, and this world?"
"And why should I do that?"
Claire showed her dagger.
"Alright. . ."
Lara De. Frag found herself surrounded in a cocoon of more warm water as Claire stood and sat upon a chair of ice. Breathlessly, she began speaking.
"My world is similar to this one, a bit, but more advanced. It has mana. Beasts. Magic. And unique powers, though we call them 'Gears', not skills," She said, "I got here when a drone dropped off a virtual pod in front of my house. I've never ordered it but I wasn't about to say no to something like that, do you know how many bloody lixels it could go for?"
'Alright, so her world is more advanced than mine but still has magic and the like. . .that has to be cheating somehow,' Claire reticently thought.
The girl continued.
"Either way, I entered it and turned it on. Next thing I know, I was in this body. I had a status screen with my stats, everything had levels, even my sword, and I had objectives and missions to complete. Every time I finished a mission, I gained experience points. Every time I finished a 'Main Mission' or 'Chapter', I unlocked new abilities. Then there were the hunts I had to complete that also gave me experience points. Finally, I could log out once I've safely escaped battle. It was fun and a great way to destress from work. The best part was that I could play and sleep at the same time."
"Hmm," Claire tossed her dagger and caught it as she thought. 'Missions? Objectives? So someone or something is leading her on with the way she exists in this world. Disguising the system here as a different, more gamified, one. That's rather brilliant, but it also sounds like something only a God would be able to do.'
Claire tilted her head. She remembered her mentor's words. As far as she understood, there were three gods playing this world. Micheal. Ishtar. And the god of her Earth. Yet, the girl's words didn't sound right. Why wouldn't they have simply sent her here normally as they did for her? And what would be a need to disguise how she saw this world?
She held her weapon and glanced down at the girl as a curious thought suddenly struck her. Something that could be key to the mystery.
"Excuse my asking but, when you log out, what happens to this body in front of me? By the sound of it, it was already here before you came, was it not?"
". . ."
The girl quieted.
Claire narrowed her eyes. One unbelievable possibility struck her. "Don't tell me you're taking over the mind of someone already existing in this world each time you come here?"
"I don't know? But. . ." Lara De. Frag muttered, "It was a bit weird how there wasn't any character creation now that you mention it. Or the fact that I couldn't even choose my own avatar's name, everyone just called me Lara De. Frag so I went along with it."
Claire incredulously stared at the girl.
"Who are you actually, then?"
"Huh? Why should I tell you that? That wasn't a part of the agree—"
A spear's tip floated in front of Lara's visible head as cold eyes met her own.
"Who are you actually?" Claire asked.
Lara gritted her teeth.
She took a breath.
"Fine," She said, "My name is Sora Casburn. In my world, I'm a Mage of the armament branch, someone who helps design and develop weapons and armor within the city of Alos. Specifically, I'm more on the 'boom' side of things."
Claire felt like she only understood half of the girl's words.
The girl, however, sighed.
"Honestly, I just thought it was fun playing hero in a virtual world. More powerful here than in reality, you know?" She said, "I didn't know this was real. I thought the other heroes were players too."
The Ice Queen listened to her for a moment then held her chin as she crossed her legs.
"Tell me something else, then, would you? How does death appear in your eyes when you kill something in this world?"
"Hmm? Just like real life?" Sora tilted her head.
"What about blood?" She asked.
"In my line of work, that's something you get used to."
Claire furrowed her brows.
"And the bodies of the people you kill?"
"People I kill? Hold on there, I've never actually killed a person."
"What?" Claire looked at the girl. "You tried to kill me."
"It's called roleplay! Are you saying you've never roleplayed in a game before? Though I was actually angrier than usual, I will say that much. You were the first one to almost kill me in this world and, for all I knew, the death penalty in this game could be permanent."
"This isn't a game," Claire stated.
"Well, now I know that," Sora replied.
Claire paused. She found that even the way the girl spoke seemed different than when they first met and clashed. It could be true, she supposed, the person known as 'Lara De. Frag' could have simply been a persona of Sora's.
"Alright, then, how do dead creatures appear? And people too, if you've seen them die."
"Well, they remain just like in real life. This is a pretty realistic game."
"Once again, this isn't a game. . .what about missing limbs?"
"Right right," Sora muttered before raising a brow. "Missing limbs? In my line of work, you see a lot of those and get used to it too."
Claire sighed, having pieced it together. It was no wonder the girl hadn't cared one bit for Cron and its villagers. Not only did she think of the world as a game, and its denizens as NPCs, she was also someone who was already used to blood and gore—further hampering her judgment.
"I think you should 'log out' and never return," Claire said, "Can you do that?"
"Not right now, no. We are still technically in battle."
"But after I send you away?"
Sora opened her lips then paused. She stared at Claire.
"I'm. . .I'm not leaving this world forever," She said, "I threw myself into my work because I had nothing else. Always chasing greater accomplishments that never made me happy. You already took my powers but, now, when I finally found a place to enjoy for once, you want me to leave too?"
"You're escaping from reality," Claire stated.
"Then let me escape," Sora replied.