Irwen’s power literally pushed me from her throne room, before I could catch what was her arrangement with that thing. The prospect of a long trek forced me to heal my injured leg, but as I lifted my hand to create runes, I noticed it was shaking.
I tried to steady my hands, but they continued to shake with nerves. Huh, my mind and body weren’t in a sync. Or rather, my body betrayed an emotion that was tugging on my mind the entire conversation with Irwen - a fear. Betrayal. Everything’s fine. I inhaled the stale air in the Dungeon and created a healing rune. This time it took me only three tries!
As I was taking a long way back through the hall, I could finally examine my new tiara. At any point in my past life, I was wearing whatever I could get my hands on and if it had better stats, I just put it on. There was no point in getting attached to a gear, because it would get wiped upon a new version on the test server.
During my quests as service to the empire over hundreds of instances, I met tens of princesses, or even an empress. Despite that, I had never seen something beautiful like this tiara. Maybe that’s because it’s mine?
Irwen herself designed this for her servants, and she made the tiara of a glimmering intricate silver filigree, snaking all around. With a small, rosery stone cut, she skillfully fitted over twenty ends to create a unified and regal effect. The four navy-blue large stones provided a beautiful contrast to the tiara's centerpiece - a stunning four-inch red ruby-like stone in the middle.
“What…” I said out loud and stopped my walk. “No way!” Not only it was one of the best looking tiaras around, but the stats could outshine anything I could find on my own. Yes, even the legendary items.
Type: 6-marvel | Lv. Novice 1 | Mana: 30% INT
Effect: Target all allies you can see, add 20% of your INT to the highest target’s attribute, or 25% of your INT to heath; does not stack, only one applies
Duration: 30 minutes
Cooldown: 15 minuts
* as you increase the proficiency, the effect’s increased, cooldown decreased.
Obviously, I knew about the system in Elven kingdoms. Princess and princesses weren’t the children of the King or Queen. Well, they could, but the King appointed up to three of each gender and I was one of them now! The only thing I needed to get the inherent princess bloodline was to be recognized by Irwen.
For that, the Empire would hate me. Nope, never.
While I was admiring my new marvel, I exited the dungeon and wandered towards the beach, where I stumbled upon Briggit. Without Don. Kicking the barge in frustration, I cursed under my breath as I realized I would be the one paddling. Stupid traitor.
I smashed the barge again, and the Briggit wooden frame creaked under my abuse, but that was fine; Don had tied it to a conveniently placed rock, so it stayed in one spot. “Don’t look at me that way,” I said to her. “I know it’s not your fault Don deceived me.”
Briggit hadn’t answered and only rested on the yellow sand. “Let’s go then.” I moved to untie it, but that was a first hurdle I wasn’t prepared to tackle. The knot held firmly and even though I tried pulling with all my strength, it didn’t budge.
I called my staff for help, but what that could do? Smash it? Letting out a deep sigh, I wedged the staff firmly between the rope and rock before pushing with all my might. Nothing happened.
After a while, it was apparent I couldn’t do anything about it and sat down on the beach. A mundane knot stopped a mighty exploiter; what a nonsense. I gazed at the defiant rope, and tears threatened to gush out. For god’s sake, I’m not some crybaby! Things weren’t going my way, so what? An image of Don returned to my mind… No!
Instead of the stupid rock, I turned towards my new tiara. While I was admiring all the gems, not crying, for your info, nothing happened. Nothing at all. Almost as if the cruel world didn’t care I existed, or even noticed it. My existence was so insignificant. How could I even dream about changing anything? Even though that punk sent me back, what did I do?
Nothing that really mattered. What to do when you doubt your own existence? Go to a bar. So, that was exactly I set to do and logged off.
As soon as I staggered out of the capsule, my body threw a wrench into my plans. Tiredness. Yeah, who could guess it was going to tire you after half a day fighting in a different world, right? Like a hungry tiger, I gobbled down an entire tube of nutri-pasta. Wait - like a hungry tigress. Am I gonna get used to it?
It doesn’t matter, my beloved Charlie. Let’s sleep. Despite my typical struggle to fall asleep right away, tonight my eyes closed as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Somewhere in the Scorching Dungeon
Bright fires illuminated Natasha’s slim frame as she carefully navigated through another trapped area.
“Rob, if you mess it up again, I swear…” Lisa followed her teammate with her eyes glued on the unreliable warrior, prepared to yell at him if—no, when—he messed up. As they walked through the naturally formed hallway, flames occasionally shot out from all directions, making them jump.
Natasha reached an end of the hallway, where it curved to the side, ending in a normally sized cave. Because she couldn’t detect any obvious traps, she collapsed down and said, “Guys, I’m beat. Let’s rest.” Rob ran inside and, despite Natasha’s frown, sat just next to her, grinning. Lisa and Peter, with three more teammates keeping the rear, joined them.
Oblivious to their surroundings, they chatted merrily until the shadows closed in on them from behind. Someone, or something, was lurking near the wall just out of their range, taking cover in shadows and blind spots cast by the bright flames. Natasha lay down, admiring stalactites on the ceiling, and said, “We’ll finish today.” Rob nodded and lay beside her.
Suddenly, a deafening roar filled the air as a massive ball of fire whizzed past them, and both of them yelled. The temperature continued to rise, and soon their screams became more like pitiful wails.
|[Teammate Rob has suffered 65 damage. Remaining HP: 22]
[Teammate Natasha has suffered 65 damage. Remaining HP: 0]
[Teammate Natasha died]
Three infernos descended on Lisa's group in rapid succession, the heat so intense that it made her skin feel as though it were melting. She was the only one left standing. With a crushing sound, a force threw her across the cave and she slammed into the wall, leaving her stunned and sliding to the ground.
|[You lost 30 HP.]
[You lost 5 HP.]
[You lost 15 HP.]
Shadow moved towards her, revealing a man in a long beige robe. His head was clear, only a few strands of hair proudly clung to his scalp, otherwise he was bald as one can get. He was examining Lisa on the ground with his blue eyes and strode with confident steps, while his smile was drawing wrinkles on his cheeks.
Lisa glared at him, but she couldn’t move her body; she lost too much HP, and some bizarre status prevented her from rising and whacking the smug out of his face.
As he squatted next to Lisa, he lightly caressed her cheek and said, “Hello, my dear adversary.”
The smell of smoke from the fires that claimed the lives of her teammates still hung in the surrounding air, and she could see a flicker of happiness in his eyes. “You should be more aware of your surroundings. It’s my duty to punish your incompetence.”
“Dmitry, I swear,” she said through her gritted teeth. “You’re dead. You hear me? I’ll kill you!”
Dmitry only let out a deep laugh and closed his eyes. “Oh, you sweet child. Could you enlighten me regarding the reason for your departure from my team? As I stated earlier, it was a mistake. I’m a generous man. In case you want to reconsider your decision, you know where to contact me.” Slowly walking to the other end, he glanced back one more time and chuckled when he saw her suffering.
“I’ll feast upon your corpse!” Lisa spitted, but that line disgusted even herself, so that was the only thing she said before he left her in the cave. Alone.
“Eight hours of sleep, miss Charlie,” Tin-can suggested I should wake up. Despite my urge to scream at the unresponsive thing, I took the high road. I hugged my plush pillow tightly, feeling its warmth and sinking deeper into slumber.
“Nine hours and thirty minutes of sleep, miss Charlie.” He tried to wake me up every fifteen minutes. The problem was I could sleep despite his pestering. Proven that one time in a hotel in Spain, I kept sleeping even after they began demolishing a building just next to us.
Although, on a second thought - hadn’t I slept enough? I probed my head with a slight tug and thankfully there was no headache yet. That came only after the tenth hour.
The transformation in my body forced me to change my morning routine. Before I became a girl, I couldn’t care less if I showered at all, but now my nose protested even after a few hours. How annoying. Thus, after a shower, I stood in front of a mirror and observed my still unfamiliar face.
Thankfully, this Charlie was pretty. If she wasn’t, I would work harder at getting my body back. Yeah, it wasn’t fair to unfortunate not-pretty folks, but that was how my brain worked.
Sorry, not sorry. Although, my nose was bigger that it should have, right? That and my short legs; but they were only minor details. My wardrobe was more annoying than that. Well, the lack of any clothes other than which Lucas gave me. On some deep instinct, I knew I shouldn’t wear it all the time, but what to do when shops are extinct for more than… Wait a second, they aren’t! Yet.
After a nutri-paste breakfast, I walked out in my trusty white high heels and a sleeveless dress.
My only clothes. Not for long. The sun hung on a horizon, rising not that long ago. Walking along the pavement, I grinned as I watched the people around me hurrying by. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, their eyes fixed on their destinations, whether it was work, school, or something I couldn’t even imagine.
People. Not robots, but live, breathing people. I clenched my fists and vowed to save every single one of them. Maybe. The memory of yesterday's beach hit me hard in the chest, and I felt that familiar sadness wash over me.
My struggles might be cute to some, but what else could I do? I wasn’t like the folks who memorized stock markets for no reason. No, I was a normal guy, working and watching Katherine’s stream, nothing much else.
With that grim thoughts, I found my favorite flashy mall where we once tried to break in and kinda succeeded. I recalled that memory and felt a grin forming on my lips. Drunken Italians didn’t believe we could, and we had to show them that the regulars at Patrick’s weren’t dumb.
Anyway, I checked my phone, and I was exactly on time of opening - seven o’clock. On the outside, the building looked like any other in the neighborhood. Perhaps some government regulation? Once I stepped inside, the sound of the peaceful fountain in the middle drowned out the noise of the hundreds of shops on four floors.
“Will that be all?” a cashier asked a girl who just bought a salad with something fiery red, maybe tomatoes? The girl was funny. She was wearing sunglasses even inside, enveloped her face in a green scarf, and she wore a black sleeves shirt and jean shorts. God, she was pretty, as always.
“Yes, thank you,” she said and left the shop as fast as she could. Her voice was very familiar, Katherine. To be honest, this encounter wasn’t that random as it might seem. I knew she liked to go shopping here, because she slipped one time on a stream and I met her here a few times.
Well, ‘met’ was a strong word, more like I observed her from a distance. A stalker? Maybe, but could you blame me? My body protested every time I tried to talk to her. That’s going to change today. I hadn’t expected to meet her here today though, I went here on an autopilot.
A middle-aged man packed her the salad and handed her a shopping bag. Okay, here we go. Leaning against a metallic pillar, I weighed my options on how to approach her.
Yes, that was a good question - how do you befriend people? She smiled at the man and walked away, straight towards me. With her every step, my heart beat faster and faster. Do I need to talk to her? There is always tomorrow. That was something I always thought.
As she strode closer to me, my stomach protested and suggested that I empty nutri-paste on the floor. No. I shook my head and almost whispered, “Uhm, hello Katherine.”
She just walked past me, as if she didn’t hear me. Oh, that might be for the best. I let out a sigh of relief, and as I did, she stopped in her tracks and turned to face me, her mouth agape. “Excuse me? Ya say Katherine?”
Oh no. I shifted my head to a floor and fidgeted with my fingers. “Maybe? I’m sorry!” This was a stupid idea! John, you are a moron!
Katherine's eyes were piercing as she lowered her sunglasses to examine me. “Don’t be shy, girly. Yar my fan?”
“Yeah, I like… Your stream. I’m KatFan69,” I sighed and pretended to rummage through my pockets for no reason. Wait! My dress didn’t have any pockets! I panicked and clutched the poor fabric with a firm grip.
As soon as I revealed my name, her eyes widened, and she jumped towards me, hugging me so tight I could hardly breathe. “Thank ya!” she said, with her face touching mine. She used to be shorter than me, but now it changed - she was slightly taller. Wait, thank you? “KatFan, ya are my first genuine fan! I’m so happy to finally met ya!”
I caught a whiff of her perfume, and it instantly lifted my mood. What was it with all that hugging lately? “I’m Charlie, Miss Katherine,” I revealed my name and accepted her hug. “I saw you and I need to ask for help.”
Sadly, Katherine released me from our embrace and examined my face. “Charlie? Nice to meet ya, no need to be shy, I won’t bite. Ya need my help?”
“Yes,” I said and gestured to my dress. “My only clothes. Will you help?” Despite her friendliness, my courage wasn't yet enough to look into her eyes, so I still was examining a half-broken floor next to her. There was an interesting crack. Maybe someone heavily stomped here?
In a corner of my eyes, I saw Katherine to smirk and nod. “Yea! I’ve got time, let’s go!” She grabbed me by hand and pulled towards a thrift store, while she asked, “How didya find my channel?”
“Truth? Tab streams nearby. You pretty,” I said, and regretted it instantly. “I mean, great content-”
Before I could even finish my sentence, she broke into a fit of laughter. “Ha! Charlie, that’s crazy! Yeah, I thought it was somethin’ like that. ‘member when we chatted on Halloween?”
How could I forget? Even after all the years, I vividly remembered that day. One of the worst days turned into one of the best days of my mundane life. “Yeah. Was fun,” I said with a silly grin. Nothing more? Why was I so bad at this? The door to the shop opened with a loud bang as she dragged me inside, and I stumbled to catch my balance.
“Fun? Ha, ya saved me. My mates wanted to party, but they left ma. I almost cried when I turned on the stream, ya now,” she said, and she hardened her expression for the first time today. “Ma first and only follower spent a day with ma, y’know how good it felt?”
I wanted to explain to her what it meant to me. That it was my first Halloween without my parents and we always stuck together before, so I was sad. I couldn’t say it out loud. Damn me!
The shop we entered was more like a warehouse. It had tens of shelves full of different clothes, from shirts to wedding dresses, no less. Katherine finally let go of my hand and started her search. I can say it! I deeply inhaled. “Same. Me sad too,” I said and wanted to slap myself. Rather than that, I focused on different jeans and pretended to know what I was doing.
“Yeah. Wanna try ‘tis?” she threw a dark black pleated skirt at me. Without waiting for my answer, she pulled out two blue sleeveless tops with white strips. Our shopping began in an earnest.