Finding Juliet’s address wasn’t hard, I just had to look up the location of the last house party she’d thrown on facebook. It was honestly terrifying how little privacy we had these days. Even ten years ago in Nia’s time you’d have been able to disconnect if you really wanted to. Nowadays though? Not a chance, everything was interconnected.
A look outside confirmed that it was late in the afternoon, which meant I should be able to skate over without too much trouble. Just needed to send a text to a certain dragon’s new phone… there we go. Time for round two of confronting Juliet.
I lifted up into the air from our backyard with my phone in an anti-dropping case. No idea what they were actually called, but the last thing I wanted was to drop it while I was doing like thirty Ks per hour.
With the help of said phone and google maps, I got to work on navigating towards my target. Juliet, from what I understood, lived in a reasonably rich building in the city center. It was hard to tell with just an address and vague directions. It’s not like there would be party balloons outside on the balcony or some shit to guide me in.
Except, there sort of was. Juliet was up on the roof, sitting on the edge of the building, just staring out into space.
She watched me ride in and land, skipping across the surface of the rooftop. Her expression was dead and I could see tear tracks staining her cheeks. God, how did I even approach this situation?
I went with the tried and true, “Hi.”
She let out a dry, choked laugh. “Hi.”
“Look, you kinda interrupted our conversation back there so uh… yeah,” I said awkwardly, walking over to sit next to her.
“I’m a monster. What else is there to discuss?” she asked, her voice and expression so achingly without hope that it hit some inner instinct within me. God I wanted to give her a hug or something.
“Well, there’s the fact that you were lied to by a bunch of artificial gods,” I said offhandedly. “The whole of Pellan is made of a massively complex web of spells.”
She stared at me for a minute or two, wind playing with her long, wavy blond hair. I held her stare, something that I realised I wouldn’t have been able to do even a few months ago. Crazy how much more confidence I had nowadays.
“Why?” she finally whispered, voice cracking with emotion.
“No idea,” I told her, formulating my thoughts as I spoke. “From what I know, the magic we get given as players on Pellan is… it’s different from raw magic casting. Like how we can’t do some stuff on Pellan. We need NPCs to create custom enchantments, for example. The respawning thing is also part of that web of spells. Over all of that, a bunch of those artificial gods keep everything working, like admins or whatever. Apparently there isn’t even a real human development team.”
“That’s… that’s so fucking crazy,” she swore, frowning now as her thoughts were diverted from self hate and into confusion and intrigue. “Why are you even telling me all this? It’s not like I’ve done anything to make you want to be nice or anything.”
I gave her a sheepish shrug. “I guess… I’m just a healer?”
A surprised laugh bubbled out of her and she shook her head, a bemused smile flickering briefly into place on her lips. “Cute. Seriously though… Why are you telling me this, why does it even matter to me? I’m still a monster, it just means that those gods are too.”
“I believe that I can help answer that.” Nia slammed into existence on the rooftop, reality itself rippling with the force of her appearance.
She wasn’t in dragon form this time either, but her full angry space goddess mode. Her Order of the Orchid commander’s armoured robes swayed gently from the displaced air rushing back in. Her eyes were black voids filled with stars, not even the whites visible. Her hair matched it, although to a lesser degree.
“Jesus fucking christ!” Juliet exclaimed, and I had to reach out a hand to stop her from jumping off the building out of sheer fright.
“You know, I think your cute little fluffy form would have been a better fit for this,” I said with a note of reproach.
She laughed and waved me off. “Whatever, I was busy when you texted me. So, Juliet, right? I’m told you went all murder hobo in the game, then found out it wasn’t a game?”
Juliet, still taken aback by Nia’s appearance, simply nodded.
“That sucks,” the space goddess said with a sympathetic look. “You’ll have to make amends for that. Although jumping off this building isn’t how you’d do it. Word of advice, delete your character, go back into Pellan, create a healer. Go around healing the NPCs instead to atone.”
This time it was me who was taken aback. “That’s a… a really good idea actually.”
“Save more lives than you ended up killing, like she does,” Nia agreed with a nod in my direction. “As for why Syl is telling you this… it’s important for you to know because it’s important to have more people who do know. I’m not sure that humanity as a whole is ready for the horrifying truth of the galaxy but… a few of us will have to bear that burden. You are now one of them, whether you like it or not.”
A glance at Juliet showed me that she was quickly becoming overwhelmed with all this new information. Uh… uh… how could I help?
I ended up taking her hand in both of mine and abducting it, placing it in my lap. She turned to look at me, the glaze over her eyes lifting slightly as I provided her a little physical comfort. I gave her an encouraging smile.
“What… what is the horrifying truth?” she asked, dragging her eyes off me to look back at Nia.
Nia wandered over to sit on Juliet’s other side, where she turned to stare up into the rapidly darkening sky. “You know all those space thriller movies and shit? The ones about the terrifying alien race that’s beyond our comprehension and wants to murder us all for no reason we can understand?”
Juliet gulped. “Uh… yeah?”
“Well, one exists,” she replied, turning to give the both of us younger girls a wan, exhausted smile. “At least one, that we know of.”
“Literally one,” I grimaced. “They’re all sort of shadows, copies, facets… and shards, of the same entity.”
“Yup, and it’s hellbent on… well, killing us all,” Nia said with another world weary sigh. “We don’t really understand its intentions. We don’t—”
“Actually, my goddess figured out a little bit about it,” I said, interrupting Nia. “It’s called Nosos and it’s uh… searching for pieces of itself. It’s broken or something.”
“Well, that’s interesting, why is it broken… who broke it?” Nia murmured, trailing off as she became lost in thought. Oops, totally derailed her.
Giving Juliet’s hand another squeeze to get her attention, I told her what I knew. “So yeah uh… oh gosh, there’s a lot. For starters, there was like this ancient alien race, and it created Pellan for some reason. Dunno why, but they did. Except, they got wiped out by Nosos before they finished it and told their artificial godlings what to do with the thing. Then Nosos invaded the planet and all that stuff, and they fought it off. Now they want to train all of us players up to fight with them.”
“And fight with me, by extension,” Nia said, cutting back in. “Through a… well a very long and dramatic chain of events, I ended up stuck in this dirty great cosmic war. I’m sure I’ll end up telling you all the story one day.”
“So yeah uh… that’s the long and short of it,” I said, smiling sweetly at my classmate.
“If you hadn’t just slid onto this rooftop on those fucking magic rollerblades of yours, I’d be calling bullshit.” Juliet told me seriously, before deflating slightly. “I can’t really… I mean… I tried. God. Once I thought it might be… you know, that there was more to it, I tried to be better. I tried to rein my people in, keep them from doing nasty shit. It was only meant to be a way to blow off steam, you know? Take out my anger at shit in my life on pixels in VR.”
“I can understand that,” I said gently, rubbing my thumb comfortingly across her knuckles.
Tears began to collect in the corners of her eyes again and she closed them tight. Her voice shook with emotion as she tried to speak, “My grandparents, they— well I don’t want to make excuses, so—“
“No, no,” I urged, interrupting her. “Tell us, please. Everyone has a reason for what they do. We’re human.”
“Uh, there’s only one human on this rooftop,” Nia pointed out unhelpfully.
“Oh shut up,” I snapped, poking a tongue out at her.
Thankfully, Juliet let out a little sniffling giggle. It was kind of crazy, but Jeremy had been right. She wasn’t a completely rotten person. Sure, she had been a complete bitch to me and stuff, along with a whole ton of other people at school. But… she was still just a person. I wasn’t going to be like, her friend or anything after this, but I didn’t want her to kill herself either.
“God, you two. Okay… uh,” her expression faltered again, and she took a long, steadying breath. “My grandparents had this crazy rare form of cancer. Both of them, it was the asbestos in their old house apparently. I didn’t really understand all the medical mumbo jumbo. They were looking to get treatment right, but for some reason the fucking… fucking government, they took the best medication off the subsidised list.”
“Ah, shit,” I said, feeling my heart ache in sympathy to hers.
“So my parents, they wanted to pay for it, but it’s super fucking expensive,” she continued, a tear escaping to roll down her cheek. “I know we look rich, but we haven’t been for a long time, and then they started to pay for it. They told me, they told my mother’s parents… they told them that we all had enough money. That it was fine. But it wasn’t. Grandpa found out, he refused to let them pay for it anymore.”
I did hug her then, shuffling closer and pulling her shaking form in against my smaller one. It was such a… a mundane tragedy, but at the same time, it was obviously earth shattering to her.
“You loved your grandparents,” I stated, running my hand up and down her back as she cried. Poor Nia on the other side of her sat there looking hella awkward.
“They were better than my actual parents,” she mumbled into my shoulder. “I mean… not that my parents are especially horrible or anything but, I connected with my grandpa and grandma really well.”
“So you dove into Pellan to what, work out some of that anger at the world and the government?” Nia asked, sympathy written all over her expression and through her voice. “Supposed virtual reality, consequence free catharsis.”
“Yeah,” Juliet agreed, pulling out of the hug again to wipe at her nose and eyes with a sleeve. “I imagined that the people I was… I was… you know. I imagined they were the people on the board who made the decisions about that drug. I was just playing a role, literally being a dick in a setting where it was supposed to be okay.”
Giving a slow, purposeful nod, Nia deadpanned, “After hearing your story, I am this close to going down there and torching the whole fucking building that they work in.” When I opened my mouth in alarm, she raised a hand. “I won’t… but I so very want to.”
“It wouldn’t do any good anyway,” Juliet said with a defeated flop of her shoulders. “All those people I… yeah. I um… I… killed. They’re still dead. My grandparents are still dead. I’m still a monster.”
“Change it then,” Nia said flippantly, standing up. “Be a better person, tip the scales back into the good. As for me, I have to figure out how to save my sister from our awful parents and then find a way to get back to my day job, saving the universe.”
An idea lit up my brain like my first kiss with Karen. Which is very fitting, because my idea was to do with her and her situation. “Juliet… want to make things up to me personally?”
“For being an icy bitch who bullied and antagonised you in not one but two worlds?” she laughed bitterly. “Sure.”
Nia let out a delighted gasp, eyes alight with undestanding. “Oh Syl… that’s perfect!”