[Book 1] [34. All about debts]
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Lucas’s apartment - present day

Lucas rested on his sofa, his back sore from all the hard work - playing while in the capsule. Charlie won’t recognize the fortress now. He caught himself with a silly smile and dropped it as soon as he realized it. That feeling was strange, because even though he knew Charlie was John, he still wanted her for himself.

That was the reason he worked so hard to erect the walls and prepare for economic boom. Well, that and the money that poured in, he still couldn’t believe it. Is this legal? But when he checked his phone, the transfer from the game was already there. Charlie for sure wouldn’t mind him embezzling a few thousands, right?

His screen tv popped into life the moment he thought about it - the sync-reader was functioning fine. On screen, a well-dressed woman was reading a story about the displacing of truck drivers. Lucas only scoffed at that - they should have been programmers like him and they would still have their work - AI wasn’t a threat to him - and thought about calling Pearl.

As always, Pearl only used sound and said, “Lucas, are you sure?”

“Come on, how else could we get that much? The game was a good seed, but we need much more.” Lucas raised his voice and even jumped up from the comfortable sofa. “This time, we are going to succeed.”

Pearl was silent for more than a ten seconds. It was so long, Lucas checked his connection - still open. “Deal, but one condition - I’ll be the one holding money. I can’t trust you with bets.”


Village number seventeen - a guild building

Because I knew there were holes in my plan, I moved faster than my opponent could say Denied. Four fast steps took me closer to her while I unfurled my new favorite weapon. The guild clerk opened her mouth to say something, or perhaps in astonishment.

What she intended to say I would never know, because my whip struck her working clothes and penetrated her under-armor without a problem, forcing a deep shriek from her opened mouth.

That guard who was cheeky a few seconds before jumped to at me with swords ready, but it was too late. It was me who scored the first hit, and the duel was underway. I’ll enjoy this. Show me your superiority now!

She grinned, and foreboding overcame me. “I yield.” She ended out our duel before I could reach her again. Perhaps I shouldn’t think about that. Perhaps I should have aimed at her mouth instead.

[You won honor duel.]

Damn, she’s smart. Now when I won, I couldn't hurt her anymore. Well, I could, but the law wouldn’t be on my side this time, so I lowered my hand with a whip and glared at her. “You’re lucky. I wan-” A piercing pain in my left side ended my sentence prematurely, and I wobbled, barely able to stand upright.

An attack! Before I could raise my left hand to create a shield, something heavy slammed with me to the wall. A flare of anger surged inside my stomach while I imagined what torture to enact, but before I could let out my inner devil, a mildly annoying pain spread from my neck. System, what’s going on?

[You are stunned. Time remaining: 6s]
[You are stunned. Time remaining: 2s]
[You are paralyzed. Time remaining: 5min]

Great. What the heck got into me? Starting a fight inside a guild? Charlie, are you crazy? Yes, I must be!

So what! Stress got me, big deal. Okay, that wasn’t any consolidation. Time. Yeah, the only thing I didn’t have. All the things that I tried to push out of my mind came back knocking - debt, change to a girl, the simulation, betrayal - both in game and Ian, Lucas’ strange behavior and my vision about me, another debt…

Stupid paralysis! Why are you forcing me to think? I don’t want to! I’ll just play and that will solve every problem. Yes. I’ll get money by selling enchanted items and it will solve everything! System, what about now?

[You are paralyzed. Time remaining: 4min 36s]

What? Are you kidding me? Being alone in my head for five minutes… That was worse than the need for sleep. Should I log out? Yes, yes. But that wasn’t my reality, anyway. I was a girl there as well. Stop. Didn’t matter. Well, it did, but…


They tortured me for the entirety of five minutes. Imprisoning me inside my head was the worst kind of torture, and when I came to myself, I jolted forward. At least that was what I intended and my captors thought of it as well, because a rough rope with a fishy smell bound me to a chair.

“You can’t bound me like that,” I said through my clenched teeth as I was trying to free myself. I was no match for the tight knots that bound me. Knots won again. They strapped me to a chair, and that chair was… In a spacious room, with a white paint.

My struggling moved a chair ever so slightly on a golden-red rug under me. In front of me was sitting a tall Elven man behind an expensive-looking table made of dark wood. Because there was still a night outside the windows on our left, the only source of light was a magic lamp standing on the table, aimed at me. A classic?

The stupid man was observing me in silence, so I asked first, “Are you in charge?” That was a good guess, if I had to say it myself. He was wearing an expensive red wool robe from the southern plains, and that was famous for its inflated prices even twenty years in the future. “You need to get your guildmates in line.”

Pushing a strand of his long dark hair out of his face, his white eyes pierced mine. “You need to pardon my colleagues. They aren’t used to serving the nobles of the empire.” His voice was deep and level, but far from emotionless. “You need to understand that we aren’t here without a reason. Every one of them has a story about empire breathing on their neck.”

Because of his stupid rope, I could only roll my eyes. “Yeah, I know. So when I want to help you and report bandits, you just side with them, instead of me.” Wiggling one more time, I almost knocked over the chair. “Is this stupid rope necessary?”

The man, whose name remained a mystery, flashed a smile and gave a small nod. “If you promise me to not harm my people, I can release you.”

“If you promise me to not waste my time and listen, I won’t need to.” The man wrinkled his face with a frown, rang a small bell. Nothing happened for like half a minute and I was just glaring at him. He was smiling back. Then finally someone with light, but unsure steps, walked in. “Emilia, Refi tended to you, right? Okay, tell us what happened.”

“Sir. I regret my boldness,” a female voice whispered from behind. It was that stupid clerk! Although I was straining all my muscles, I glanced back over my shoulder. And there she stood - her gaze fixed on that expensive rug, with a bandage sticking out of an oversized jacket - someone probably lent it to her.

“Not so bold now, huh?” I said and then flashed her a big grin. She shot me back a look full of anger. “It’s fine, it’s fine. You paid for it. My honor is back, so everything’s fine.”

“You are mistaken, miss Charlie,” the man joined our conversation. “I need to punish you for breaking at least ten guild and Elven laws.”

Turning back to him, I raised my eyebrow. “Which are?” As far as I knew, I broke nothing.

“That is not-”

“None. You know it, she knows it, everyone knows it.” I closed my eyes and shook my head. This was going nowhere, and the exploration of ruins wasn’t any closer. “I played by your stupid rules, and you all hate me. Just let me go.”

“Permission to slap her, sir?” a new, deep man’s voice asked, and I heard a shuffling behind me. My captor only raised his hand and stopped the newcomer.

Why the heck am I that cheeky? Where are all these emotions coming from?

Now it was my turn to grin at him, and his eyes betrayed his inner uneasiness. “You said something about bandits?”

“Yes. We found an old outpost down the road, and I wanted to report it, because I cast a survey on my ring.” Despite the heavy atmosphere, I put on a friendly smile and stopped struggling. “Can I transfer it to you?”

My captor moved his hand in one quick motion and the rope fell down. Then he reached somewhere under his table, pulling a silver plate. The light from the lamp was dancing on the surface and created beautiful rainbows so intense I was even afraid to touch it with my ring. System transfer survey.

[Transfer complete]

In the next moment, he chanted a complicated spell with at least seven runes and a lifelike projection jumped up from the plate. Almost like a hologram! Now I could see what was behind the enormous wall - at least fifteen bandits. Some of them were sitting around a fire we spotted in the dark, or sleeping in tents. An old ruined building hosted wulves and their master, along with other two bandits. It looked like they were in a heated discussion.

“You weren’t lying…” he said, almost breathlessly. “The coordinates… That’s only a few miles from here!”

“See? I’m one of the good girls! How much for this information?”