Getting Karen out of her parent’s house was going to take time. Nia explained that while she was powerful enough to do whatever the hell she wanted on a world without a ton of magic users, she couldn’t do so without severely altering society.
I did describe how I’d used magic to mess with my own records and change them, and that seemed to be the spark that set Nia’s brain working. Her doubts turned to inspiration as she cooked up wild plans of retaking her old identity, altering records to show that she was in the witness protection program and stuff like that.
Watching the sisters say a temporary goodbye at the park had the tears flowing all over again, my strange empathic tendencies coming to the forefront once more. Karen got home safe and we logged into Pellan for another day of building our fledgeling settlement.
The boys were conconcting crazy plans about a stone wall to encircle the pinnacle of the hilltop, but at this point I just wanted my own little house. Preferably with Karen.
Sadly, she had to leave early to get to her morning soccer practice back in the real world… no wait, totally not the real world, it was just a different planet. That fact was still kinda freaky to me. Anyway, I said goodbye to her in our bedroom in the cabin we’d made and then wandered out to see what else was happening.
“Gah, fuck!” Liam’s voice swore, coming from the front room. “Why is this so difficult?”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to stifle a giggle at his very grumpy looking expression.
“I talked to the others and it’s pretty obvious we’re going to need more people around here if we want to get real work done,” he told me as I entered the room proper. His gaze was trained on the hallway, but it dropped a few feet to my face when I actually came into view. “Jesus, you are short. Uh… where was I? Oh yeah, people.”
“Yup, people,” I nodded, giving a mock shudder. “Terrifying.”
I used to be far more shy than I was now, and I was still pretty gosh darn shy, so the idea of this place teeming with people… brrr! Scary!
“Aha, an introvert,” he chuckled. “But yes, we do unfortunately need more people around here, so in the interest of doing that, I’m setting up the permissions for our little hilltop, as well as the surrounding area. The rules are so fucking convuluted though that I’m having a hard time figuring it out. That and those gods you’re friends with really need to hire a UI designer.”
My urge to giggle rose further and I had to bite my lip for a moment to keep it in before I had even said my cheeky little joke. “Okay, I’ll tell them to make it even more obtuse so you can’t get it working and no more people turn up.”
“Sylanna, don’t you dare!” he warned me with a waggled finger. He was smiling though, so it was all chill. See, we were joking around! I could do that banter thing, I wasn’t totally socially inert! Wait no, inept is the word, I think? Inert kind of applies though.
“I don’t actually have that kind of sway with them though, so you’re going to have to ride that strugglebus out,” I said, making for the door. “Have fuuuuuuun.” I really did giggle then, right before the door slammed shut.
I had no idea what I was going to do for the next half a day, so I just started walking down the hill and out across the plains towards the forest’s edge. Maybe I’d run into some trouble out there.
I never did find anything truly troublesome out in the woods, and ended up logging out sooner rather than later. A week went by with us training, building and generally just playing the game. School was as boring as ever, and as I trudged out of class at the end of Wednesday I found myself idly wondering what it would be like to live in a world where I could simply monetise my magic. You know, skip the higher education bullshit and just do what I seemed to be good at.
Zoning out on my way down the empty hallway, my thoughts then led onto Nia, wondering if she’d made progress on her crazy plan to get Karen out of her cancerous household. God I hated her parents.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Juliet’s voice demanded from around the bend at the end of the hallway. Uh oh, here was trouble. I wonder which poor soul she was bullying now.
Slowing to a stop, I sidled up to the edge and peeked around it. Jeremy stood there in front of her, just the two of them, alone.
“I thought…” my old friend hesitated, looking unsure of himself now. “I mean, why else have you been making friends with me?”
She let out a snort. “Because I enjoy socialising and meeting new people?”
“You mean bullying them?” he said, tone and expression turning ugly in a matter of moments. “Like you did to Syl?”
Whoa, was Jeremy actually defending me here? He was still avoiding the rest of us, both on Pellan and on Earth, so I sort of figured he was done entirely with the group. I guess he still cared, just a tiny bit?
“Syl had it coming,” Juliet hissed. Damn, she sounded really pissed now. I couldn’t see her face from here, just Jeremy’s, but I could imagine it. It crumpled up at the edges of her mouth, nose and eyes when she was really really mad.
“Why?” he demanded, shooting her a derisive look.
This time, her voice wavered, sounding almost scared as she dropped her volume, “She’s not… normal.”
Jeremy’s jaw fell open slightly. “You… uh… saw? Wait no, what do you mean?”
“You know too!” she exclaimed, stepping closer.
My blood went chill with fear. Shit, if she was telling Jeremy, who else was she telling? A quick look around showed that there was no one within earshot, although back the way I had come was a main thoroughfare from the science block to the mathematics block. Anyone wanting to come to the library after school would come down here.
“K-know what?” Jeremy stammered, moving away from her as she invaded his personal space.
“That she isn’t normal!” the girl exclaimed in a strained whisper. “She’s… she’s… a… she does things, like, you know… like… magic.”
“What are you on about?” Jeremy said with with the most unconvincing laugh in the world.
“Don’t give me that shit!” she cried, spinning around and running a hand through her hair. Whoa, she didn’t look angry so much as terrified. “She’s walking around with videogame powers, no one knows where she came from and she’s… she knows shit. She knows shit about me, she knows shit about this world…”
Jeremy stood staring at her back, eyes working this way and that as he thought furiously. Eventually, his shoulders slumped. “I’m not a snitch. If you want to know, ask her yourself whenever you see her next.”
He began to leave, walking backwards to keep her in his sights, but she spun again and grabbed him by the collar. “Tell me!” she all but screamed in his face, before a shudder went down her body. “Please… please tell me.”
Whoa, what was going on in her mind right now? Why was she acting like this? She was supposed to be the ice queen, the untouchable girl with straight A grades and friends in all the right cliques. She sounded deranged right now.
“Juliet…” my surprisingly strong ex-friend said in a pained tone. “I can’t… please. If you’re not… you know… I don’t want to be alone, and if… well I have to keep Syl’s secret if I want even a shred of a hope for getting my friends back. You said yourself that… god I’m stupid.”
“Damn right you are,” she replied, letting him go and stepping back, defeated and forlorn. “Whatever. Fine, go. See how things turn out for you and your friends.”
Jeremy turned and booked it out of there like she were a monster from a slasher film, and I quickly rushed away from the corner in a similar fashion. I really needed to get away and tell the others what I’d seen. This had the potential to go very very badly.