6.0 Zero_Chapter 6: Starry Skies

“Kai? You have to tell that story again!” Clare proclaimed.

“Why?” I asked.

We were camping on a small hill with the campfire crackling between us as usual. Clare sat up in her sleeping bag while cuddling a tired Waon in her arms. We were only few miles from Reneste so Clare knew that the journey was almost over and was particularly insistent on hearing a story tonight.

“Waon wants to hear it again! Don’t you Waon?” she said, picking up the yawning purple furball and making it nod its head up and down.

“Waon!”

Well, I guess it can’t be helped.

I smiled and started the story again, “A little girl was dragged to the countryside by her friend…”

Memories of that last night outside Reneste filled my head as blood streamed out of Clare’s lifeless body.

I remembered her bright smile and her infectious laughter. Then I saw its shadow on her pale, lifeless face. We’d only known each other for a few days, yet, I kept thinking back to when she was washing Waon, and fell into the river. I fished her out with a net, but left her dangling over the river to dry off.

I thought back to the time she burnt her tongue on soup even though I’d told her to be careful, and to the time she brought a tiny Waon out from under a purple wall.

And to the nights spent staring at the stars.

Why? Why does it hurt so much? Why do I feel so attached to her? Is it because she listened to my stories? Stories that nobody wanted to listen to for so long. What does she mean to me?

I always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling. For some reason, whenever I had the bittersweet dreams where my family was still alive, I always pictured a little sister swinging from my parents’ arms.

What would having a little sister feel like? What would I even do with her?

Would I comfort her when she was sad?

Laugh with her when she was happy?

And would I…

Tell her stories?

A terrifying pain tore through chest and a flash of red burst in my head.

I didn’t even use a code to help me focus.

I willed it.

And all the bandits vanished.

May Skye was not an emotional woman. Her position as the village chief required her to keep her emotions at bay. But when Clare came home, she couldn’t help but run over to hug her. Just the thought of the pain the little girl was enduring had filled her with guilt and grief.

May’s ability couldn’t tell the future, nor was it perfectly accurate. It only allowed her to vaguely sense whether her loved ones were in danger. Back when she’d felt an overwhelming sense of danger for her brother and his family a couple of days ago, she had instantly regretted letting them leave on their own, even though she’d known that a small group was their best chance at evading the bandits and contacting the Fire Goddess’ shrine for help.

At that moment, she had felt the irrational urge to set out to save them.

But then a sharp pain told her, her brother’s wife had died. Then another, sharper pain told her she’d lost her only brother. Their deaths filled her with pain and sorrow but she was also worried.

What of the child?

At that moment, she couldn’t help but curse the Fire Goddess. Why did she insist on only listening to children who came to her with their families? What kind of sick condition was that?

But all her emotions were soon drowned out by shock. Her Ability told her the child was safe; safer than the villagers in fact!

And now, when she saw what was happening in front of her, it happened again.

The helplessness she had felt as she saw the girl tumble to the ground, the sorrow that ripped through her soul when she met those lifeless eyes and the pain that pierced her chest as she saw the ghost of a smile on the child’s face, were all consumed by shock and disbelief as the bandits simply…vanished.

The boy’s face was hidden in shadows, as he walked up to the girl’s body, but as he picked her up and went inside the village chief’s house, May Skye felt something else light up in her heart.

Hope.

She woke up feeling strange. She couldn’t quite understand what it was, but something felt different. Opening her eyes, she found herself in a familiar room but the uncomfortable feeling remained.

She realized where she was, but her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Why was she here? Her memories were a little fuzzy, but she slowly began to remember.

She remembered watching a purple robed boy fighting a ragged group of men and women. As she thought of the boy, she a warm feeling crept up her heart. But who was he? She remembered walking with the boy while holding a purple kitten in her hands. The memory was warm and fuzzy, just like…

Waon!

She remembered picking up the Hell kitten from under a purple wall. She remembered sitting around a campfire with the boy. The boy told her stories while looking up at the sky. He made her feel warm and safe. He was…

Kai!

She finally remembered the name. But then she felt a chill. She remembered a woman with an arrow through her head. A man whose head was rolling on the ground. She remembered the death of her parents. And then she felt pain, sorrow, helplessness, and despair. It consumed her. Tore into her heart. Mauled her soul.

Yet these emotions felt different. They were far stronger than she remembered. She screamed, groaned and whimpered. The agonizing pain in her chest was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

But why?

Her vision grew blurry as the door swung open and a hazy figure rushed over to her. The figure tried to say something but she couldn’t understand what it was saying. She closed her eyes as the pain finally overwhelmed her.

I looked at my hands. They were trembling uncontrollably, but my heart was trembling worse.

I… I did it. She was dead but then I brought her back like it was nothing.

I slammed my fists onto the ground but they kept trembling.

I should be happy, right? Even death can’t stop me anymore. I can do anything! I’m all powerful! It’s amazing Kai, it’s amazing! You’re amazing! But still, why was it so easy? Life doesn’t mean much after all. Just a thought and it’s over. Another thought, and it’s back. Like flicking a switch, no, easier than that.

The floodgates had opened and a storm raged inside my mind because I had let that thought loose. In fact, that thought had been in the back of my head for a long time.

It had been there when I came to this world and saw how easy everything was. It had been there when I was designing my ability back in my old world. It had been there since the night of the play. A burning desire deep inside my heart that I was too scared to confront.

I ignored it. No, I sealed it.

It was probably what pushed me over the edge in the first place. You have to be a special kind of crazy to be willing to burn yourself to death to activate an ancient spell you’d bought at a seedy old bookstore.

But it excited me like nothing else had in my life. Playing with life and death was exhilarating, but it also sent chills down my spine. And now, it made me nauseous.

As I’d laid the corpse on the bed, I’d hesitated. Even when sorrow and anger completely overwhelmed me; even when her blood covered face, empty eyes, lifeless smile and the hole in her head haunted me, I still wondered if it was worth opening the floodgates. If I did this for her, then there was nothing holding me back anymore.

But when I recalled the short time I’d spent with her, my hands started trembling and a storm kicked up in my mind. Waves crashed against my conscience as memories flashed in the turbulent sky about the storm.

Wiping her drooling face as she fantasized about expensive food, running after Waon, saving her from the bandits, consoling her for the loss of her parents and telling her stories under the stars; all of this flashed before my eyes.

I gritted my teeth and whispered: “Rewrite.”

Her chest rose up and down. There was no blood on her face, no hole in her head. Her cheeks were a healthy pink, and her smile no longer lifeless.

Then the floodgates opened and I left.

And now, on a hill outside Reneste, I screamed. I thrashed about, smashing craters into the ground with my incredible strength. Both of my hands were on my head as if trying to push that thought out of my mind. But it was futile.

I can bring them back. If I could bring her back, then I can bring back my…my…

I started crying.

Will I get to see their faces again? Will he be proud of me; of everything I’d done? Will he look at me and say that it came from his side of the family? Will she mercilessly cut him down with a retort?

I raised my trembling hands…

I can bring them back. I can bring them back!

My hands fell. My ragged breathing subsided.

But would it be the same? I can write them into existence but would they be my parents? Would they be copies based on my memories of them? Shadows of their real selves? Or worse, what if they were the real thing? What if I could bring them back as easily as snapping my fingers.

Are their lives so worthless? Was their death so worthless? Was my pain and suffering so worthless, so insignificant? Is life and death meaningless? Like flicking a switch or pushing a button?

Like pulling the trigger of a gun?

I took a deep breath and asked myself: Haven’t you always dreamed of seeing them again? Of him tousling your hair or her holding you in her arms?

I stood up and replied.

Of course, I have. But this, this is wrong. I don’t know if my ability is imperfect and only brings back a copy or if it is perfect and brings back the real thing, but I don’t want to know!

I made my decision. I turned around and looked at the little village in the distance and sighed.

Sorry Clare, but if I saw you, I’d probably know the answer. And I don’t think I’m ready to open the floodgates again, just yet.

Under the starry night sky, I walked away.

She woke up again. Her thoughts were a blur but she remembered pain. Intense, searing pain, unlike anything she had ever felt before.

But she stopped herself from thinking about it, almost by instinct. As the pain subsided and her vision grew clearer, she stopped to take a few breaths and then did what anyone, in a world where you can instantly check your mental and physical condition, would do; she checked her status.

Then her heart skipped a beat, twice.

First when she saw her title. It had changed from Reneste Village Chief’s Niece to One Who Defies Death. But what was truly surprising was that the title had an extra effect; one that made her mind go blank.

But she didn’t have the time to consider it, because when the second time her heart skipped a beat, she almost fell unconscious again. In the abilities section of her status screen wasn’t her old ability Sunshine but a new ability called Starry Skies.

Why had it changed? Titles can change but no one had ever heard of an ability changing.

Did it have something to do with the pain that tore through her when she woke up? Did something happen? Did someone do something to her? All she remembered was the boy fight the bandits and then darkness. No, it was more like emptiness. Did she die? No that didn’t make sense, she was alive right now, wasn’t she?

But there was something else too, something she could barely remember. A voice. It said something to her. A single word, but she couldn’t remember it. But she could remember who it sounded like.

And then she understood. He had saved her. But rather than shock or disbelief she felt something else: hope. Because if he could save her, couldn’t he also…

She jumped out of bed and ran outside, ignoring the shrieking purple ball behind the door. He wasn’t in the living room so she left the house. Her Aunt sat on a chair next to the well so she ran over to her, gasping and stumbling. Before her surprised Aunt could say anything, she asked her where Kai was.

Her Aunt replied, and she froze.

She looked up at the night sky.

There was no golden rain, so the stars weren’t crying. But for some reason, they didn’t seem to be smiling either.

“…they smile,” said the boy.

They were both silent for a few moments, quietly gazing at the stars.

“That was pretty lame you know?” The girl laughed.

“No it wasn’t! It was cool!” said the boy, pouting.

“Whatever you say,” teased the girl.

The boy stood up in indignation. “I’m leaving. It’s getting pretty late so I’ll let you follow me, but you better keep up!”

“Sure, sure.” The girl smiled, also standing up.

They started walking away from the hill but the girl stopped and turned around. She looked at the stars one last time and whispered:

“Goodbye.”

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4.0 Zero_Chapter 4: Smile

I woke up at dawn, made sure Clare was sound asleep on the other side of the smoldering campfire, and sat up inside my sleeping bag.

Looks like it worked, I thought.

Last night I experimented by putting a longer ‘nested’ code on myself. I set it to wake me up if anything came less than 20 feet close to us, if Clare woke up or if dawn broke.

I sat facing the East, but instead of appreciating the beautiful sunrise, I thought about several questions that had popped up in my head after yesterday’s events.

When I saw everyone’s status yesterday I was quite shocked. Odog had an ability called “Reloader” that let him reload his crossbow quickly. Most of the bandits had abilities like “Divine Ironing” or “Fast Laundry,” which was kind of depressing.

Clare had an ability called “Sunshine” that made her feel bright and cheerful and spread
its effects to anyone that saw her…

I sighed.

None of these were in the original game but even more surprisingly, everyone seemed to
have abilities! In the game, only the Hero and the Demon Lord had special abilities based on the results of the personality quiz at the start of the game.

And then there were some weird skills that made me a little nervous, but I decided to think about them later.

“You can stop pretending to be asleep now,” I said, without turning around.

Clare jumped, clearly surprised at being found out so easily. My heightened senses made it easy to notice when her breathing changed so I knew when she had woken up.

“I’ll make us some breakfast and tidy up the camp so you should go clean up at the stream down there,” I said, pointing at a patch of trees a few feet away.

Clare hesitated a little before nodding and going towards the stream. By the time she was back, I had cleaned up the camp and made breakfast using Re:write. Surprised by the amount of food laid out over the table, Clare sat down on the other side with her mouth agape. She only started eating after I did.

“Clare, will you be returning to your village now that the bandits have been dealt with?” I asked.

“Yesh,” she said with a mouthful of bread. She swallowed. “But Kai, I wanted to ask you a question, if that’s alright?”

“There’s no harm in asking, so go ahead,” I replied.

“I know it’s rude to ask about someone’s status but what did you use to beat those bandits? I’ve never heard of anything like it before! Was it an ability or a created skill?” she asked, eyes shining.

Created Skill? Don’t tell me!

“Yeah, um, what were created skills again?” I asked.

“Eh! You don’t know about created skills? Kai, you wouldn’t happen to be some creepy hermit or something?” She raised an eyebrow.

I laughed a hollow laugh. “I come from far away, and we don’t have created skills there so of course I wouldn’t know!” I said.

“Far away? Everyone on Erath knows about created skills,” she raised her other eyebrow too.

“Oh, my home is across the ocean. We don’t interact with people from Erath, much,” I said with a perfect poker face. I’d always been a talented liar.

“Across the ocean! How did you get past the storms and the whirlpools and the sea monsters?” she exclaimed.

“That’s a secret! So, since I don’t know anything about this place, I hope you can help me out and tell me a little bit about it,” I said.

“I never thought I’d have to teach someone about something so basic,” she muttered/ “Created skills are skills that weren’t made by the goddesses but were derived from existing skills by humans. Skills like Appraisal or even extra spells like Flamethrower.”

Magic spells are considered skills after all, but wait!

“Wow, I’ve never heard of those skills before. What do they do?” I asked, hiding my nervousness.

“Appraisal lets you see the status of other living things and flamethrower lets you shoot fire from your hands. Every kid wants to learn flamethrower you know, they’re always disappointed if they don’t have an affinity to fire magic and I can’t blame them because it is pretty cool,” she said smugly, since she could use fire magic.

“This appraisal skill must be pretty rare though right?” I said.

“Not really, almost everyone has it.” She smiled..

Shit! Even though I guessed it would be something like this and hid all of my stats with Re:write as soon as I saw Appraisal in their skills sections, don’t tell me she saw it yesterday?

“But don’t worry, it’s rude to check other people’s statuses so I didn’t even think of checking yours,” she said.

Paranoid as I was, I had to make sure of it myself, so I used Re:Write to make Clare unable to lie for a minute

“So, you haven’t tried to check my status?” I asked.

“Of course, no- Yes I have,” she said, her eyes widening in surprise.

“What did you see?” I asked her.

“Nothing! Everything had a weird sign in front of it!” she exclaimed just as the effects of the Re:Write wore off. “What was that? What did you do to me?” She narrowed her eyes in anger but there was a bit of fear in them as well.

I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “Sorry, sorry. Had to make sure. I really love my privacy after all. And hey, you have no right to be angry, didn’t you say that trying to check someone’s status is a rude thing to do?”

“But- but-” she stammered

“We’re even now so let’s just move on, okay?” I said, meeting her eyes, and giving her my most charming smile.

We stared at each other without blinking for a few moments before Clare’s eyes started to water and she looked away.

“Heh”

“Oo”

I smiled and looked at the sun rising across the sky.

“Anyways Clare, you said that you wanted to go back to your village. I’m going in that direction, so I might as well escort you back home. Is that okay?” I asked.

She hesitated a little before sighing and nodding. With that settled, I cleaned up our breakfast and makeshift dining table, and made the wide eyed Clare promise not to tell anyone about my abilities. We then began walking towards Reneste Village.

The road to Reneste village wasn’t very well maintained. Fallen logs and boulders blocked the way occasionally, and the towering trees around the path stopped most of the sunlight from reaching the ground, making it near impossible to see in the late afternoon.

Along the way, I continued to ask Clare about Erath.

“By the way Clare, I don’t know how long it took to get here so could you tell me what date it is?” I asked as we stepped around a rotting log.

“It’s the 8th of Solaron 998 PH,” she replied, jumping across a small puddle.

“We have a different calendar back home so could you explain yours to me?” I asked.

“Wow, even the calendar’s different huh? Well, there are 6 months in a year, each named after a Goddess and each month has 60 days,” she said, facing me while walking backwards.

“Hey, watch where you’re going. You’ll fa-” I said, just as her foot got caught in some vines and she fell on her back.

I sighed and gave her a hand up. She dusted herself off and continued to walk as if nothing happened.

“Anyways, what does PH stand for?” I asked, shaking my head at her actions.

“It stands for Post Haze, of course,” she said, without pausing.

“Uh, Clare?” I said.

“Yes?”

“What’s Post Haze?”

She stopped, then stared at me with wide eyes, “Seriously? It means after the Haze, of course! Wow, I guess you’re dumber than I thought.” She gave me a pitying look.

“I know what ‘Post’ means, damn it! I was asking about what Haze means!” I said, indignantly.

She somehow managed to open her eyes even wider “What! You don’t know about the Haze? Seriously Kai, did you just crawl out of the ocean or something? Oh right, you kinda did. But still!”

When I managed to calm her down, she explained that the Haze is what the Churches call the time before the Goddesses created the world and everyone in it. It was one of the first things everyone in Erath learned so it was quite shocking that I didn’t know about it. When I told her that was probably because we didn’t believe in the Goddesses back home, she opened her eyes so wide that I observed her status again to make sure she wasn’t using a special ability!

“Kai! Are you maybe an Originist?” she said, with a hint of alarm in her voice.

“No, what’s that?” I said, making a puzzled expression.

She let out the breath that I didn’t even realize she was holding.

“Um, well you see-”

There was a loud thud as she walked right into a giant purple wall.

“Wa!” She complained, covering her nose with both hands. “Wha din yoo teh me bou teh wah!”

I smiled and shrugged, “You were giving me this annoying look so I thought I’d let the wall straighten you out.”

“Oo!” She brought her hands to her side and glared at me. Her face was a little red but she wasn’t bleeding so it was probably fine.

As she began scolding me, I couldn’t help but wonder how this little girl had managed to cheer up so quickly. Was it because of her special ability or did the death of her parents not affect her as much as I thought it would?

“Alright, alright. We better get going. Although, it is pretty weird that someone built a wall in the middle of the road. And why is it purple? It has a weird texture too, almost like-” I put my hand on the wall and stroked it.

“Um, Kai?” Clare asked.

“Yes?” I replied, both my hands on the wall.

“Why are you stroking the wall?”

“Because it’s fun.”

“Kai?”

“Yes?”

“You’re weird.”

“…”

Ignoring Clare’s confident declaration, I walked around the wall. It was at least 30 feet high and 20 feet wide and circled back inside like a spiral.

Isn’t this…?

“What was that sound?” Clare said, poking her head out from behind the last curve of the spiral. The wall ended with a large spherical bump. But this bump had long black rods coming out of it.

“There it is again!” Clare said, running forward.

Of course, I’d heard the sounds as well and it confirmed my guess about this ‘wall’. Clare went up to the end of the wall and bent down. She searched inside a small hole between the wall and the ground. She turned around, cuddling something in her hands.

“Waon!” said the tiny purple ball in her hands.

“What is it?” Clare asked.

“It’s a Hell Kitty. A Rank A monster. The one in your hands is just a kitten but this wall is what an adult Hell Kitty looks like,” I said, gesturing to the ‘wall’ and smiling at Clare’s surprised expression.

But her gaze grew dim and she stared at the ground.

“Was that her mommy?” she whispered, her eyes gesturing towards the purple wall.

The smile fell off my face.

She hasn’t cheered up. She was just trying to hide it. I’d tried to do this too. Bury your feelings deep inside and plaster a smile on your face, and maybe while trying to trick everyone else, you might just manage to fool yourself too.

I sighed but I didn’t reply. Instead, I walked up to her.

She’s so small. Barely reaches my chest…

I patted her head once and moved my hand to the kitten in her hands. It had shiny purple fur, tiny paws and couldn’t even open its eyes yet.

Guess the three of us are pretty similar.

“What should we call it?” I asked, stroking the purring kitten’s head.

“Count Doom?”

“No.”

“Purple Heartbreaking Devil?”

“No.”

“Cataclysmic Charger?”

“You’re totally ruining the mood you know?”

“Waon!”

I sighed. Clare smiled a little and the kitten purred as she stroked it.

“Right, let’s just go with Waon then,” I said.

“Waon! Waon!”

After burying Waon’s mother, we continued walking towards Reneste.

After a while, the sun started to go down and we decided to make camp. Since that didn’t take long because of Re:write, I asked Clare what she wanted for dinner.

“Golden Pasta!” she said, drooling.

That sounded like some expensive dish she might’ve seen at a restaurant. She’d been asking for that kind of stuff since lunch, when she found out that she could have anything she wanted. Well, there was no harm in indulging her a little.

I conjured up a steaming plate of ridiculously shining pasta.

Was it even edible…? Apparently, it was, because Clare started eating it in big mouthfuls.

“Waon!”

“Ogh wight! Waft dosh wahon eath?” Clare asked.

“Don’t talk while you eat,” I said, shaking my head.

Right, let’s see…Observe

I looked at Waon while thinking about information regarding its diet.

Carnivorous. Loves milk. Yeah, it’s just like a real cat.

I created some cat food and put it in front of Waon.

“Waon!” it said, happily eating the cat food.

At night, I lay down the same precautions as last night and settled down on the other side of the campfire.

“Kai!”

“Yes Clare?”

“You have to tell last night’s story again!”

“Why not a new one?”

“Waon hasn’t heard that one yet!”

“…”

And so, I told last night’s story again, but I couldn’t help adding something in the end…

The little girl stared at the sky again.

“Hey, what are you thinking about?” asked the little boy.

“I was just wondering, why doesn’t the golden rain happen every day?” she said.

The boy started laughing.

Why are you laughing? she asked, playfully punching the boy’s shoulder.

“Isn’t it obvious? Why would they cry all the time, they’re not always sad you know!” he said, smugly.

“Oh? Then what do they do when they’re happy?” she asked, hoping to wipe the boy’s annoying smile off.

The boy smiled.

“That’s even more obvious, isn’t it?” he said. “They smile.”

3.0 Zero_Chapter 3: Campfire Stories

The morning’s events still left a bad taste in my mouth. The death and gore. The little girl caught in despair. The bandit pillaging for his wife and kid. And the fact that I had killed so many people. All of it made me sick.

But oddly enough, it wasn’t the fact that I had killed them that disturbed me. It was the fact that it had been so easy that really made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to see blood and flesh splattering everywhere, but my solution to that problem was even more disconcerting. I’d erased them like I erased the wild boar’s corpse; condemning them to oblivion…

At the snap of a finger.

I even saved the ability as a favorite called ‘Erase,’ along with a code that allowed me to teleport wherever I wanted to. I’d also gotten so used to my favorites that I could use them almost without thinking.

I couldn’t get the bald bandit out of my head. Although he had reminded me of some terrible memories, and what he did to the little girl was unforgivable, a part of me still felt guilty for what his family would go through because of his death. I’ll fulfill my promise to him at least. His family should be innocent, even if he was utterly unforgivable.

Right, he was unforgivable.

Under the light of the flickering campfire, I looked at the little girl sleeping under the blankets I’d conjured, and couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. I knew what her life would be like now. I knew the sadness and the anger. I also knew that she would move on with her life, but she’d never really recover from this. Life just isn’t the same after you see your parents get killed right in front of you.

The little boy was excited that his parents had come to see his play. He didn’t have a big acting role in the play itself, but he was the main scriptwriter, and he was proud of his story. His parents had loved it too. They praised him constantly. His father kept ruffling his hair while his mother held his hand.

They left the theater and were driving home, when they stopped at an ordinary traffic light. His father asked him how he had managed to think up such a great story, and his mother rebuked him for implying that he got it from his father’s side of the family. His father was an author who came from a long line of famous authors and playwrights. His father wasn’t very successful, but the boy was only nine, so he absolutely idolized his father and bragged about him to all his friends.

Of course, he was also proud of his mother – a small-time astronomer working in the town’s local observatory. He had won the respect of nearly every kid in his class when they had visited his mom’s workplace at the observatory and gotten to see the stars for themselves. But just as his mother was about to tease her husband about how the play was obviously inspired by their son’s love for astronomy, everyone froze.

A young man wearing a black hood stood outside his father’s window, pointing a gun at his head. The boy was confused at first because he couldn’t understand how things could change so suddenly. He looked at the hooded man and although he couldn’t see most of his face, he could see his eyes. They were cold and unfeeling, with unmistakable signs of what he would later recognize to be drug addiction.

Everything happened in a blur, so he could never remember exactly what happened. His father tried to tell the man to not be hasty. The man told his parents to give him their wallets, watches, and jewelry.

The sun continued to blaze even though a chill had crept over his heart. The passersby turned their gazes away, refusing to help. I don’t want to get involved. Things like this happen every day. I can’t be late for work. Their excuses floated out of their hidden mouths.

The man finally got impatient and snatched the wallet from his father’s hand. He looked around nervously to make sure nobody would interfere. But he didn’t have to be so worried. Nobody was going to do anything.

Not even as the man reached over to grab his mother’s purse. Not even when his father tried to grab the gun. Not even when shots of gunfire rang through the air. And not even as his parents lay dying in their seats and the hooded man ran away.

The little boy shook his dying parents, tried to hold back the blood gushing out of them, but even with hands caked in blood, he couldn’t stop the light from fading out of their eyes. In her last moments, his mother tried to say something but she choked on her own blood. All that came out was incoherent gurgling. The ambulance arrived fifteen minutes later but it was already too late.

A rustle interrupted my painful recollections. The girl didn’t get up even after she saw me sitting on the other side of the campfire. Instead, she looked up at the stars.

“…”

“Are they… is it…” She sniffled. “It’s not a nightmare is it…”

“No, it is a nightmare. Just one that really happened,” I said. No comforting bullshit or it’ll be okay kind of crap worked, because it wouldn’t be the same and you knew it. It was the first thing that came to your mind when you thought of it. How everything you did would be different without them there. There would always be an empty space in your heart and you couldn’t fill it in with anything else.

“Where are they?” she quietly said.

“Buried them back there. I can move them back to your home later if you want,” I replied.

“No, you’ve already saved my life. I’ll get some of the other villagers to carry them over.”

“…”

“It’s alright, you can say it. I did too.”

She hesitated but couldn’t hold it in. “Why? Why couldn’t you come sooner,” she cried. Her voice descended into sobs. “Or later…”

Even though I could have replied that I came as soon as I could, I remembered how infuriating that excuse had been when I had heard it.

“I’m sorry.”

“…” She took a few ragged breaths and calmed down a little.

“We were going to the Fire Goddess’ shrine. We wanted her help against the bandits that kept raiding the village. She only ever listens to families so we snuck out of the village with a small group so they wouldn’t find us,” she said, playing out the events of the day more for herself than for me. “We were talking about how this would all blow over soon. Daddy was grumbling about steamed fish and mommy was laughing at him and then…”

Her voice quivered and stopped. I stoked the campfire and added more firewood.

“Stupid fish. Stupid bandits. Stupid goddess! Stupid Clare! Just stood there like a stupid block of wood! Stupid, stupid, stupid…” she cried.

I waited. Only the crackling of the fire broke the silence.

“Did you get them all?” she said.

“Yes.”

“Where are they?”

“Dead.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.” I snapped my fingers.

“Did you hurt them?”

I recalled the look in Odog’s eyes and replied, “In a way.”

“…” Just the sound of the fire again.

“Hey, um?”

“Kai.”

“Kai, could you tell me a story? Daddy used to tell me stories when I was smaller. But I told him to stop because I’d grown up…” she said, choking up near the end.

I gave her a quizzical look.

Stories? Guess this really is a different world. This kid’s strong too. I didn’t want to talk to anyone for a week. But, a story for this kind of situation…

I settled down on the other side of the campfire, and joined her in gazing at the stars. Then I began telling her a story.

A little girl was dragged to the countryside by her friend. She didn’t know why the boy had called her all the way out here as he pulled her across the bridge and over the cold stream.

“Come on,” he said.

“You’ll miss it!”

“Miss what?” she replied, irritably.

“You’ll see.”

They walked across the forest trail, the boy holding her hand tightly.

“If you’re so scared of monsters, then why’d you come out here?” She snickered.

“I – I am not afraid!” he retorted. “I’m just making sure you don’t get lost!”

They crossed the forest and reached an empty plain. There were flowers all over the place, and the red sunset made the scene look even more enchanting. Like a dream.

“It’s getting dark, we’d better head back,” she said.

“No way! That’s exactly what we’re waiting for. Come on!” he said as he pulled her along again.

They came across a small green hill with a tiny sheet of grass on it. The boy led her to the top, nearly causing her to trip on her own feet.

“Here!” he said, as he fell flat on his back.

“Here?” she asked quizzically, lying down next to the boy.

“Look up there, stupid!”

She did, and her eyes grew wide open in wonder. There were millions of bright lights up in the sky. The moon hadn’t come up yet so all she could see…

Were the stars.

“Wait for it,” he teased.

A small, golden streak of light flew across the sky. Then another. And another. Soon, the whole inky black darkness was a sea of stars and golden streaks. The golden streaks lit up the sky, falling like rain. The girl’s eyes locked onto the night sky and the stars and the golden rain.

The boy looked at her and smiled, before turning his gaze back to the sky, dancing colors flashing on his eyes. Then the moon came out and the stars dimmed, but it wasn’t a full moon so she could still make out the brighter stars and golden rain. But, it made her remember something.

“I won’t be able to see this from the city then, will I?” she said.

“No, too much light in the city. That’s why we had to go so far out,” he replied.

She looked at her feet, dismayed she couldn’t see this from her home. She couldn’t sneak out every night like this, after all.

“But it’s all right. Even if we can’t see them, we know they’re there. So, if we can remember how the stars look like today, we can imagine them back home. We may not see the stars, but they can see us. And even if they can’t, we can always remember how beautiful the sky was tonight.”

We gazed at the sky while I told the story. There was no moon out tonight, nor was there a meteor shower, but the stars were incredible. I’d only ever heard stories about nighttime skies this beautiful. You couldn’t see the stars from the countryside in my world. Too much smoke spread all over the atmosphere.

“I liked the story but you got something wrong,” she said. I turned to her. “You can see the stars just fine from the city.”

I gasped.

Of course, they don’t have a lot of air or light pollution in this world!

I scolded myself for overlooking this obvious fact.

“…Kai?” she whispered.

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

I smiled. “The stars are beautiful tonight, aren’t they?”

And just as I said that, golden streaks started pouring over the night sky. Clare gasped in amazement. A sea of glowing stars and golden rain lit the sky.

I should probably add, that it wasn’t a coincidence…

2.0 Zero_Chapter 2: Sunlight

The sunlight pouring through the treetops fell onto my closed eyelids and stirred me awake.

Guess it worked huh? I thought, smiling.

I picked myself up and stretched, before grinning widely as I imagined what Mr. Smith must be going through right now, but I quickly put that thought out of my mind. This was my world now; no point in thinking about that other place anymore. I immediately decided to check whether my character, or rather my new body, was exactly as I had planned.

I looked at my hands, checked all my joints and did a few stretches to make sure everything worked. I also inspected the purple robes I was wearing, along with the simple leather armor underneath.

Status, I thought.

A translucent, purple screen appeared in front of me.

Let’s see, Kai Zero, sixteen years old, Male. Wow, these stats are ridiculously low. Level 5, really?

I chuckled. I would probably be pretty ordinary if I’d dropped in without my Ability.

Re:Write: the ability to rewrite anything and everything in the world. This is the biggest cheat code ever, isn’t it?

I laughed, a bit too loudly, but well, letting go of all the shit I’d been going through back on Earth was incredibly liberating. Here on ‘Erath’, I was finally free to do whatever I wanted. Although, I did regret naming the world Erath. I’d made the game when I was eleven and I’d never been good with names either, but a name like Erath was cringe-worthy, even for me.

I scrolled down the screen with a thought. The empty Skills section may have been disconcerting, but the small red button in the lower right corner reassured me. It was the debug button I’d installed as a failsafe against any bugs I couldn’t fix from within the system. I’d developed it to save time while debugging games, but decided it’d be a useful thing to have, just in case.

Now I have to make sure everything is working properly. Let’s start with these crappy stats.

I closed my eyes and focused. It wasn’t necessary because all I have to do is think about what I want to change and how I want to change it, and it would happen. But for now, I wanted to get used to my new powers. So, to help myself focus, I thought of the code like: <re:write.target.effect>

<re:write.self.change stats to max>

There was no energy ripple nor any bright, flashing lights, but I knew it’d worked as a surge of power coursed through me. I checked my status and as expected, my HP and MP were at 9999, my Attack, Defense, Speed, Vitality, and Intelligence were all at 999 and my level was also at 999. These were the highest possible stats in the game.

Good, although the ability could have given me stats higher than the maximum stats in the game, it correctly interpreted “max stats” to mean “the maximum stats possible in the game,” which was my real intention. So, it works based on my thoughts and not the words I use to express them.

This means I don’t have to be careful with my words when describing the effect, I want to apply, nor do I need to know any names or have any images in my head. I just need to be able to identify my target somehow. Even vague descriptions like “that thing that just went past me,” should be enough.

The rise in stats also seemed to have raised my sensory abilities, as I heard a faint rustle in the bushes behind me. I turned around and found a large, tusked figure crouching among the leaves.

A wild boar? A perfect test subject for my new abilities!

I picked up a rock and threw it at the boar. It went straight through its skull, smashed through several trees behind it and hit the ground with a large thud. A huge flock of birds flew away from the trees around me as the boar’s corpse fell.

I guess it worked a little too well…

I noticed that the boar’s corpse didn’t vanish like in the game, so I cleaned it up to avoid attracting other animals or monsters.

<re:write.boar corpse.erase> I thought. The boar’s corpse vanished, leaving no traces.

I’d make a very effective serial killer, I mused.

Having tested my physical strength, it was time to find the nearest human settlement.

<re:write.self.view=map>

A large map of Erath stretched before my eyes. Two large continents dominated the map, with a large, stone bridge connecting them in the middle. The map only showed the names of cities and countries along with other important locations and natural features, but more details were definitely possible. I could stalk people by observing their every move.

Good thing I’m not a pervert.

I focused on my location. I was in the northern part of the Light Kingdom on the Southern Continent. The closest human settlement was a village named Reneste, which didn’t exist in the original game. This proved that I had successfully avoided the main storyline by coming to the future, although I didn’t know how far ahead I had come.

All right, this is a useful code. I had better save it as a ‘favorite’ then.

Since my thoughts and intentions guided Re:Write, I could attach a code to a special phrase or word and think about them to trigger the effect. I called these words, ‘favorites’.

I set the Map code as a favorite and began thinking about my next move. I knew I wouldn’t stick out, since Erath is a very diverse land, but it would be nice to get a hang of my Ability first. And so, I decided to walk over to Reneste even though it would probably take a couple of days. Well, it wasn’t like I had something to do.

A scream pierced through the air.

<re:write.self.position=towards the scream> I thought, as I vanished from the clearing.

Sunlight fell on the little girl, illuminating the brutal scene in front of her.

A ground bathed in red. Flying, scarlet droplets. A crimson sword chopping through someone’s neck.

No, not someone’s neck; her father’s neck.

Her father’s decapitated corpse fell on top of another body with an arrow sticking out of its forehead. A body that had once been her mother.

Yet when the sunlight fell on the girl herself, it reflected off her unstained white dress. A shining white glare amid a sea of red. She stood there, unable to move, unable to cry. A scream had escaped her throat when they were ambushed and her mother had been sent tumbling off her horse by an arrow, but now she couldn’t even manage a whimper. The sounds of clashing weapons, exploding magic and death filled the air, but she couldn’t hear any of it.

This can’t be true. It’s just a bad dream. Daddy he- he’s joking, right? Mommy too, right? We were just talking about dinner. We’ll have steamed fish, and daddy will complain about eating nothing but fish again, and mommy will tell him to stop…to stop…to…

Sunlight reflected off the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Now what the hell is going on here?”

A loud voice carried across the clearing and stunned everyone, causing them to stop fighting. The little girl shifted her gaze towards the voice and stared at the completely ordinary looking boy in the center of the battlefield.

Sunlight fell on his purple robes, making it shine brighter than her own white gown.

Damn, it’s a bloodbath in here. This stench makes me wanna puke, I thought, scrunching my nose. I’d caught their attention so I tried to ask what was going on, but before I could open my mouth, an arrow whistled past my ear.

“That was a warning shot. I don’t know who you are but you better leave right now. This doesn’t concern you,” said the large, bald man who had shot the arrow. “Unless you wanna fertilize the forest like those guys.” He pointed coldly towards the two corpses lying in front of the crying girl.

Right, it looks like the girl was the one who screamed. I shouldn’t have rushed over like this but that scream was impossible to ignore. It was so pitiful and agonizingly sorrowful, like someone had just had their soul shredded. But I had expected someone being attacked by monsters or something, not humans fighting each other.

The bald man was growing impatient. It’s not like the arrow hadn’t made my pulse quicken for a second but I calmed down as soon as I realized that it wouldn’t be able to hurt me at all.

I looked at the bald man. He was wearing light iron armor and held a strung crossbow aimed at my face. Scars littered his face, and his armor was scratched, and well worn.

<re:write.self.view=observe>

I focused on the bald man and a pale white screen appeared over his head. His name was Odog Baner, and he was the leader of this bandit group. He was a level 15 swordsman and his stats and skills matched what would be expected of someone of his level but his equipment was pathetically weak.

Old wooden bow? Rusty armor? I never designed equipment this weak but the people of this world had gone beyond the game I designed. Of course, that also meant that bandits had appeared even though I never designed any in the game. I saved the code that allowed me to check the status of the target I focused on as ‘Observe,’ and shifted my gaze to the girl that had screamed.

Her name was Clare Skye. She was only 12 years old but already level 3, which made me very insecure about the initial level I’d had when I came to this world. She held the title of ‘Reneste Village Chief’s niece,’ which was a simple but unsurprising one to have, since one’s titles basically represented one’s public identity. I didn’t have a title yet because I didn’t have a public identity.

She was wearing a white dress that made her look like a priestess, but her crying face instantly destroyed any divine presence she had. She was just a kid after all.

“I asked first. Now tell me what the hell is going on here?” I asked, looking back at the bald bandit leader, Odog.

He scowled at my question and didn’t reply, so I looked at the crying girl, Clare.

“How about you, can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked in a gentle voice.

Her lips quivered for a moment but it seemed like she was too grief stricken to say anything, so I analyzed my surroundings myself. The whole place was stained with blood and several corpses lay on the ground. A few dead horses lay near the two corpses next to the girl. I observed the corpses and realized why the girl was screaming.

“Listen kid, get the fuck out of here now or else I’ll skewer your tiny brain,” Odog threatened, unaware of our ridiculous difference in power.

Unaware I did not like being called a kid.

Unaware I knew he had just killed a little girl’s parents right in front of her eyes.

And unaware all of this brought back painful memories.

She stared at the purple robed boy.

She wanted to tell him to leave, because it was obvious that someone that young would die here, just like her parents.

The thought made her heart ache again.

She wanted to make sure that at least the boy would survive, but her body wasn’t responding. She couldn’t even answer his question!

No! she thought. I need to do this. At least this much, please…

But just as she was about to force herself to speak, the boy looked at the corpses in front of her and a shadow fell over his eyes. Although he quickly brought his gaze towards the ground, she managed to catch a glimpse of his eyes.

Sorrow, despair, anger, helplessness; she saw those emotions in his eyes. The same ones she was feeling right now. Odog, the infamous leader of the Black Dog Bandits finally snapped and shot his crossbow at the boy.

She screamed as the arrow flew and pierced the boy’s forehead. Or rather, that was what should have happened. Instead, the arrow shattered upon touching his skin, without leaving a scratch on him.

The boy’s expression didn’t change as he continued to stare at the ground.

What! thought Odog, as his arrow shattered upon touching the boy’s forehead. Who is this crazy bastard?

He felt a cold sweat trickle down his back as he took a step back.

Even though my skills, and my special ability-

He was cut short by the sound of arrows being released and even a few magic spells being fired. A fireball hit the ground at the boy’s feet and made a cloud of dust rise around him, so they couldn’t tell whether the arrows and magic had worked.

Or rather, they could tell, but they didn’t want to believe it.

And sure enough, as the dust settled, the boy stood unharmed. But his gaze was arctic; cold enough to freeze the souls of the people who met it.

Odog’s heart fell. Why? Why did a monster like this have to come now? I was so close. The job was almost over. I could go back to Jenny. I knew I shouldn’t have joined my old bandit group. But, how else was I going to get enough money for…

He met the boy’s gaze and came to a startling conclusion. He would die here.

Yet oddly enough, he wasn’t afraid. No, he was afraid, but he also felt like he didn’t deserve to be afraid after all that he had done. Sure, he’d had a good reason for what he did. But he had done unforgivable things.

In the corner of his eye, he saw the girl crying over the dead bodies of her parents.

Yeah, I don’t deserve to be afraid. He sighed.

He met the boy’s gaze again.

I’m sorry Jenny, looks like I won’t get to see our kid after all. But I guess it’s better that they don’t have a no-good dad like me…

She observed the boy staring at the bandit who’d given up all hope of living. Inside the boy’s eyes she could almost see the bandit leader twisting into painful shapes, and being tortured to death. The intense hatred in the boy’s eyes made her shiver, but what the boy did next, astonished her. He closed his eyes.

“Who are they?” the boy asked, eyes still shut tight.

The bandit leader looked at him in a puzzled way, but when the boy opened his eyes, Odog suddenly understood something. His lips moved as he calmly whispered a few words she couldn’t hear.

The boy nodded and asked: “Any messages?”

“Tell them that I… that I’m sorry. Don’t tell them you did this. I don’t want them going after you. All though, if they do, please spare them. They had nothing to do with this,” the bandit leader replied, still donning a calm demeanor.

The boy nodded once again. She waited as the tension became almost palpable. And then it happened. But there were no explosions, no massive bursts of mana or flashing lights.

One moment Odog, the infamous leader of the Black Dog Bandits that had terrorized Reneste, was looking at the purple robed boy and having a conversation with him.

The next moment, he was gone.

And then the boy shifted his gaze at the other bandits and they began to disappear too. Her own guards had already died. The bandits had been cleaning up when the boy appeared. Soon, the entire battlefield was empty except for the blood and corpses that stained the ground. The only living things left were the boy and herself. When the boy shifted his gaze towards her, she flinched. Was she going to disappear as well?

That didn’t happen. Instead, the boy walked over to her and looked at the corpses in front of her. She ended up following his gaze. It fell on her mother’s face, arrow protruding from her forehead, and a smile forever frozen on her lips.

Her father’s decapitated head stared at her, his eyes stretched wide open.

The wall of emotions she had been holding back crashed into her.

Sorrow.

Despair.

Anger.

Helplessness.

They were too much for her; she couldn’t help but lose consciousness.

As the boy rushed over to support her, he noticed that her dress didn’t have any bloodstains or dirt on it. It still gleamed brightly in the sunlight.

The sunlight pouring through the treetops fell onto my closed eyelids and stirred me awake.

Guess it worked huh? I thought, smiling.

I picked myself up and stretched, before grinning widely as I imagined what Mr. Smith must be going through right now, but I quickly put that thought out of my mind. This was my world now; no point in thinking about that other place anymore. I immediately decided to check whether my character, or rather my new body, was exactly as I had planned.

I looked at my hands, checked all my joints and did a few stretches to make sure everything worked. I also inspected the purple robes I was wearing, along with the simple leather armor underneath.

Status, I thought.

A translucent, purple screen appeared in front of me.

Let’s see, Kai Zero, sixteen years old, Male. Wow, these stats are ridiculously low. Level 5, really?

I chuckled. I would probably be pretty ordinary if I’d dropped in without my Ability.

Re:Write: the ability to rewrite anything and everything in the world. This is the biggest cheat code ever, isn’t it?

I laughed, a bit too loudly, but well, letting go of all the shit I’d been going through back on Earth was incredibly liberating. Here on ‘Erath’, I was finally free to do whatever I wanted. Although, I did regret naming the world Erath. I’d made the game when I was eleven and I’d never been good with names either, but a name like Erath was cringe-worthy, even for me.

I scrolled down the screen with a thought. The empty Skills section may have been disconcerting, but the small red button in the lower right corner reassured me. It was the debug button I’d installed as a failsafe against any bugs I couldn’t fix from within the system. I’d developed it to save time while debugging games, but decided it’d be a useful thing to have, just in case.

Now I have to make sure everything is working properly. Let’s start with these crappy stats.

I closed my eyes and focused. It wasn’t necessary because all I have to do is think about what I want to change and how I want to change it, and it would happen. But for now, I wanted to get used to my new powers. So, to help myself focus, I thought of the code like:

There was no energy ripple nor any bright, flashing lights, but I knew it’d worked as a surge of power coursed through me. I checked my status and as expected, my HP and MP were at 9999, my Attack, Defense, Speed, Vitality, and Intelligence were all at 999 and my level was also at 999. These were the highest possible stats in the game.

Good, although the ability could have given me stats higher than the maximum stats in the game, it correctly interpreted “max stats” to mean “the maximum stats possible in the game,” which was my real intention. So, it works based on my thoughts and not the words I use to express them.

This means I don’t have to be careful with my words when describing the effect, I want to apply, nor do I need to know any names or have any images in my head. I just need to be able to identify my target somehow. Even vague descriptions like “that thing that just went past me,” should be enough.

The rise in stats also seemed to have raised my sensory abilities, as I heard a faint rustle in the bushes behind me. I turned around and found a large, tusked figure crouching among the leaves.

A wild boar? A perfect test subject for my new abilities!

I picked up a rock and threw it at the boar. It went straight through its skull, smashed through several trees behind it and hit the ground with a large thud. A huge flock of birds flew away from the trees around me as the boar’s corpse fell.

I guess it worked a little too well…

I noticed that the boar’s corpse didn’t vanish like in the game, so I cleaned it up to avoid attracting other animals or monsters.

I thought. The boar’s corpse vanished, leaving no traces.

I’d make a very effective serial killer, I mused.

Having tested my physical strength, it was time to find the nearest human settlement.

A large map of Erath stretched before my eyes. Two large continents dominated the map, with a large, stone bridge connecting them in the middle. The map only showed the names of cities and countries along with other important locations and natural features, but more details were definitely possible. I could stalk people by observing their every move.

Good thing I’m not a pervert.

I focused on my location. I was in the northern part of the Light Kingdom on the Southern Continent. The closest human settlement was a village named Reneste, which didn’t exist in the original game. This proved that I had successfully avoided the main storyline by coming to the future, although I didn’t know how far ahead I had come.

All right, this is a useful code. I had better save it as a ‘favorite’ then.

Since my thoughts and intentions guided Re:Write, I could attach a code to a special phrase or word and think about them to trigger the effect. I called these words, ‘favorites’.

I set the Map code as a favorite and began thinking about my next move. I knew I wouldn’t stick out, since Erath is a very diverse land, but it would be nice to get a hang of my Ability first. And so, I decided to walk over to Reneste even though it would probably take a couple of days. Well, it wasn’t like I had something to do.

A scream pierced through the air.

I thought, as I vanished from the clearing.

Sunlight fell on the little girl, illuminating the brutal scene in front of her.

A ground bathed in red. Flying, scarlet droplets. A crimson sword chopping through someone’s neck.

No, not someone’s neck; her father’s neck.

Her father’s decapitated corpse fell on top of another body with an arrow sticking out of its forehead. A body that had once been her mother.

Yet when the sunlight fell on the girl herself, it reflected off her unstained white dress. A shining white glare amid a sea of red. She stood there, unable to move, unable to cry. A scream had escaped her throat when they were ambushed and her mother had been sent tumbling off her horse by an arrow, but now she couldn’t even manage a whimper. The sounds of clashing weapons, exploding magic and death filled the air, but she couldn’t hear any of it.

This can’t be true. It’s just a bad dream. Daddy he- he’s joking, right? Mommy too, right? We were just talking about dinner. We’ll have steamed fish, and daddy will complain about eating nothing but fish again, and mommy will tell him to stop…to stop…to…

Sunlight reflected off the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Now what the hell is going on here?”

A loud voice carried across the clearing and stunned everyone, causing them to stop fighting. The little girl shifted her gaze towards the voice and stared at the completely ordinary looking boy in the center of the battlefield.

Sunlight fell on his purple robes, making it shine brighter than her own white gown.

Damn, it’s a bloodbath in here. This stench makes me wanna puke, I thought, scrunching my nose. I’d caught their attention so I tried to ask what was going on, but before I could open my mouth, an arrow whistled past my ear.

“That was a warning shot. I don’t know who you are but you better leave right now. This doesn’t concern you,” said the large, bald man who had shot the arrow. “Unless you wanna fertilize the forest like those guys.” He pointed coldly towards the two corpses lying in front of the crying girl.

Right, it looks like the girl was the one who screamed. I shouldn’t have rushed over like this but that scream was impossible to ignore. It was so pitiful and agonizingly sorrowful, like someone had just had their soul shredded. But I had expected someone being attacked by monsters or something, not humans fighting each other.

The bald man was growing impatient. It’s not like the arrow hadn’t made my pulse quicken for a second but I calmed down as soon as I realized that it wouldn’t be able to hurt me at all.

I looked at the bald man. He was wearing light iron armor and held a strung crossbow aimed at my face. Scars littered his face, and his armor was scratched, and well worn.

I focused on the bald man and a pale white screen appeared over his head. His name was Odog Baner, and he was the leader of this bandit group. He was a level 15 swordsman and his stats and skills matched what would be expected of someone of his level but his equipment was pathetically weak.

Old wooden bow? Rusty armor? I never designed equipment this weak but the people of this world had gone beyond the game I designed. Of course, that also meant that bandits had appeared even though I never designed any in the game. I saved the code that allowed me to check the status of the target I focused on as ‘Observe,’ and shifted my gaze to the girl that had screamed.

Her name was Clare Skye. She was only 12 years old but already level 3, which made me very insecure about the initial level I’d had when I came to this world. She held the title of ‘Reneste Village Chief’s niece,’ which was a simple but unsurprising one to have, since one’s titles basically represented one’s public identity. I didn’t have a title yet because I didn’t have a public identity.

She was wearing a white dress that made her look like a priestess, but her crying face instantly destroyed any divine presence she had. She was just a kid after all.

“I asked first. Now tell me what the hell is going on here?” I asked, looking back at the bald bandit leader, Odog.

He scowled at my question and didn’t reply, so I looked at the crying girl, Clare.

“How about you, can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked in a gentle voice.

Her lips quivered for a moment but it seemed like she was too grief stricken to say anything, so I analyzed my surroundings myself. The whole place was stained with blood and several corpses lay on the ground. A few dead horses lay near the two corpses next to the girl. I observed the corpses and realized why the girl was screaming.

“Listen kid, get the fuck out of here now or else I’ll skewer your tiny brain,” Odog threatened, unaware of our ridiculous difference in power.

Unaware I did not like being called a kid.

Unaware I knew he had just killed a little girl’s parents right in front of her eyes.

And unaware all of this brought back painful memories.

She stared at the purple robed boy.

She wanted to tell him to leave, because it was obvious that someone that young would die here, just like her parents.

The thought made her heart ache again.

She wanted to make sure that at least the boy would survive, but her body wasn’t responding. She couldn’t even answer his question!

No! she thought. I need to do this. At least this much, please…

But just as she was about to force herself to speak, the boy looked at the corpses in front of her and a shadow fell over his eyes. Although he quickly brought his gaze towards the ground, she managed to catch a glimpse of his eyes.

Sorrow, despair, anger, helplessness; she saw those emotions in his eyes. The same ones she was feeling right now. Odog, the infamous leader of the Black Dog Bandits finally snapped and shot his crossbow at the boy.

She screamed as the arrow flew and pierced the boy’s forehead. Or rather, that was what should have happened. Instead, the arrow shattered upon touching his skin, without leaving a scratch on him.

The boy’s expression didn’t change as he continued to stare at the ground.

What! thought Odog, as his arrow shattered upon touching the boy’s forehead. Who is this crazy bastard?

He felt a cold sweat trickle down his back as he took a step back.

Even though my skills, and my special ability-

He was cut short by the sound of arrows being released and even a few magic spells being fired. A fireball hit the ground at the boy’s feet and made a cloud of dust rise around him, so they couldn’t tell whether the arrows and magic had worked.

Or rather, they could tell, but they didn’t want to believe it.

And sure enough, as the dust settled, the boy stood unharmed. But his gaze was arctic; cold enough to freeze the souls of the people who met it.

Odog’s heart fell. Why? Why did a monster like this have to come now? I was so close. The job was almost over. I could go back to Jenny. I knew I shouldn’t have joined my old bandit group. But, how else was I going to get enough money for…

He met the boy’s gaze and came to a startling conclusion. He would die here.

Yet oddly enough, he wasn’t afraid. No, he was afraid, but he also felt like he didn’t deserve to be afraid after all that he had done. Sure, he’d had a good reason for what he did. But he had done unforgivable things.

In the corner of his eye, he saw the girl crying over the dead bodies of her parents.

Yeah, I don’t deserve to be afraid. He sighed.

He met the boy’s gaze again.

I’m sorry Jenny, looks like I won’t get to see our kid after all. But I guess it’s better that they don’t have a no-good dad like me…

She observed the boy staring at the bandit who’d given up all hope of living. Inside the boy’s eyes she could almost see the bandit leader twisting into painful shapes, and being tortured to death. The intense hatred in the boy’s eyes made her shiver, but what the boy did next, astonished her. He closed his eyes.

“Who are they?” the boy asked, eyes still shut tight.

The bandit leader looked at him in a puzzled way, but when the boy opened his eyes, Odog suddenly understood something. His lips moved as he calmly whispered a few words she couldn’t hear.

The boy nodded and asked: “Any messages?”

“Tell them that I… that I’m sorry. Don’t tell them you did this. I don’t want them going after you. All though, if they do, please spare them. They had nothing to do with this,” the bandit leader replied, still donning a calm demeanor.

The boy nodded once again. She waited as the tension became almost palpable. And then it happened. But there were no explosions, no massive bursts of mana or flashing lights.

One moment Odog, the infamous leader of the Black Dog Bandits that had terrorized Reneste, was looking at the purple robed boy and having a conversation with him.

The next moment, he was gone.

And then the boy shifted his gaze at the other bandits and they began to disappear too. Her own guards had already died. The bandits had been cleaning up when the boy appeared. Soon, the entire battlefield was empty except for the blood and corpses that stained the ground. The only living things left were the boy and herself. When the boy shifted his gaze towards her, she flinched. Was she going to disappear as well?

That didn’t happen. Instead, the boy walked over to her and looked at the corpses in front of her. She ended up following his gaze. It fell on her mother’s face, arrow protruding from her forehead, and a smile forever frozen on her lips.

Her father’s decapitated head stared at her, his eyes stretched wide open.

The wall of emotions she had been holding back crashed into her.

Sorrow.

Despair.

Anger.

Helplessness.

They were too much for her; she couldn’t help but lose consciousness.

As the boy rushed over to support her, he noticed that her dress didn’t have any bloodstains or dirt on it. It still gleamed brightly in the sunlight.

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1.0 Zero_Chapter 1: Cracks on the ceiling

I stared at the cracks running across the ceiling. They spread out from the corner of the ceiling directly above the bed where I lay, making it easy to follow them as they snaked across patches of crumbling, gray paint.

I raised a hand towards the ceiling and curled my fingers into a fist right below the center of the cracks. My vision blurred as the images of the fist and the cracks superimposed for a moment.

What if…?

And then I slammed my fist back onto the bed.

Fuck! Stop dreaming! You’re pathetic, pitiful, and powerless. You couldn’t stop them from taking away your life’s work and ruining everything!

I sighed and let my gaze fall from the ceiling onto the only thing in the room that was almost as useless as me – my old computer. An ancient machine that wasn’t even worth the effort of scrapping; the only reason I hadn’t thrown it away was because it was my very first computer.

It was also the computer I used to make my very first Role Playing Game, or ‘RPG.’

Heh, I thought I’d come a long way since then but I guess I haven’t.

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift back in time…

Kos Kara, Escalon, Wyvern’s Quest, The Last Fantasy … all my masterpieces. My childhood dreams turned into reality. And yet, I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t stop them from fucking them up!

I walked through the heavy wooden doors.

“You called for me Mr. Smith?” I said.

“Kai! Welcome, welcome. Good to see you! How’ve you been? Living it up in the new mansion, I’m sure?” said Mr. Smith, flashing me a quick smile. The small wooden plaque on his desk identified him as the CEO of Palcrox, the largest video game company in the world.

“Course I am! Had to celebrate our new deal, right?” I said, smiling back at him.

“Of course, of course. In fact, that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about today,” he said, leaning forward on his chair and putting on his business face. “You see, we’ve consulted with some of our top analysts and editors, and they’ve proposed a few edits that I’d like you to go over. Nothing too serious, but I would really appreciate your input on this. It is, after all, your game.”

“Right,” I said, wiping the smile off my face and sitting down. I grabbed the file he passed me and began looking through its contents.

“Add repetitive motions to increase hours of game-play… need catchier soundtrack… tone down story… plot too thick… focus on action…” I murmured, going over some of the recommendations the experts and analysts had so graciously given me.

“Uh, Mr. Smith –”

“Hold on for a second – Yes?” he said, picking up the phone that had started to buzz with an annoying jingle. “Yes, yes. The fifteenth sequel is in the works. We’ll release it on time and fix up all the bugs in the first ten patches or so. We already have people working on the patches so rest assured. Bye.”

“Right, sorry about that Kai, you were saying?” he said, as he put his phone down.

“Mr. Smith, I’m sure you realize that Kos Kara is a fantasy RPG. The story is meant to be thick and immersive, and nobody likes endless hours of grinding, even if it does increase the hours of gameplay,” I said.

“Well Kai, our experts believe that modern audiences don’t care about stuff like that anymore. I understand that you’re one of the few game developers out there who still sticks to the old formula, and that’s worked for you so far, but you’ll fall behind your rivals if you don’t change with the times. Adapt to your audience. You understand, right? Besides, we aren’t asking for big changes, just a few tweaks here and there. They’re all there in the file so just keep reading,” he said in a measured, professional voice.

I continued to read the rest of the file as a growing sense of unease rose in my stomach. However, I ended up agreeing with Mr. Smith’s arguments since the proposed changes didn’t seem too outlandish. I’d just have to adapt a little and move on, I told myself. I gave him a smile, shook his hand, and said yes.

But I didn’t go to the mansion. The mansion was huge, beautiful, and magnificently designed, but I didn’t like it. It was empty, lonely, and fake. So, I went to my parents’ house instead. Back to my old room.

And that’s when I saw the first crack on the ceiling.

I sighed as I stared at the computer sitting in the center of the room. I sat up on the side of the bed, the wet sheets squelching beneath me.

No point thinking about all that now though. You’ve already decided, haven’t you?

I stood up and carefully made my way towards the computer, making sure to avoid stepping on the white lines and symbols drawn on the floor. I turned it on and picked up the book that lay on the table beside it. I sat down on the chair in front of the PC and waited for it to boot.

I stared at the cracks again.

“Mr. Smith, don’t you think the edits for Escalon are a little too heavy?” I said, barely suppressing the anger bubbling inside me.

“Now Kai, we’ve been over this before. Our consumers are gravitating towards simpler games and we need to make sure that this game is well received,” said Mr. Smith, waving his finger from side to side as if he were lecturing a child. “Quick, fast-paced, testosterone filled power-jerks. That’s what the consumers want.”

“But this changes everything about the game! You want to take out the multiple endings and the open world mechanics as well as all the side quests!” I exclaimed, standing up from my seat.

“Kai,” he said, sternly. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years now and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that video games aren’t nearly as magical as they seem. It’s all about catering to our consumers while balancing the cost of production. And to do that we need to cut out the unnecessary elements. Besides, this way everyone can focus on the addictive battle mechanics, the gorgeous graphics and that amazing main story-line that you wrote!”

We continued to argue for several hours before I returned, dejected, to my old bedroom. I had to give in.

At least I still have control over the main story, I thought while gazing up at the ceiling.

The cracks had spread.

I leaned back on the chair and started reading the book for the umpteenth time.

It’s so hard to find real books these days. Everything’s written on computers now, though I probably wouldn’t mind it as much if fiction wasn’t dying out. Why the fuck does everyone want to stick to the real world just because science is so interesting? Nobody gives a damn about imagination anymore because reality itself has become so unbelievable.

I sighed again. I turned to the computer and grabbed the mouse. Yes, it had a mouse. It was a really old computer. It didn’t even have a standard holographic interface.

I brought the cursor on top of the only application on the screen. The first RPG I’d ever made, and also my favorite. After all, it was an uncorrupted representation of everything I believed an RPG should have.

Open world mechanics, multiple endings, a deep and thought provoking story-line. Although the graphics were pretty basic, the world itself was huge and complex and you could probably spend hours just exploring everything on the map.

The story had a simple enough premise. There were six kingdoms, each representing an element and worshipping a different Goddess. The water, fire and light kingdoms represented the Holy Union and the earth, air, and dark kingdoms represented the Dusk Alliance. Both sides were locked in an eternal battle decreed by the Goddesses, but were locked in a stalemate that only the player could break.

But what really made me love this game were the choices it gave you. You could choose to be the Hero on a quest to lead the Holy Union against the Dusk Alliance, or you could choose to be the Demon Lord bent on conquering the Holy Union! Then you could choose exactly how you wanted to go about achieving your chosen objective.

And it was one of those old-school RPGs where you’d be asked a bunch of questions to determine your personality type, and then assigned a unique special ability that no other character had!

I sighed again.

If it’s this game, then I’m sure I won’t have any regrets.

I violently thrust the door open.

“Mr. Smith, what is this!” I shouted, swinging the small box in my hand, wildly. “Wyvern’s Quest, it’s… it’s… a fucking endless runner! It’s worse than T*mple Run!”

“Sit down Kai,” he said offhandedly, not even raising his eyes from the papers he was signing. “There’s no need to shout you know? Also, please don’t swear in the office, and calm the fuck down, okay?”

“I will not fucking calm down Mr. Smith! Look at what you did to my game! And you didn’t even fucking tell me, god damn it!” I shouted, slamming the game on his table.

“I think I told you to stop swearing and sit down, Kai,” he said sternly, looking up from his papers and giving me a disapproving look. “And I think you’re under a misunderstanding here, this isn’t your game. It’s our game. Palcrox owns it, you just helped design it.”

I stared at him dumbly and then I bit my lips until I felt the taste of metal.

“Mr. Smith, no, Leer, I thought we had a mutual understanding regarding the integrity of my work. If you felt that something was unsatisfactory, you could have at least run it through me,” I said, in a measured tone.

“Now look here kid,” he said tersely. “Why do I have to run our game through you? Besides, these changes were essential. Your first couple of games were popular enough but they didn’t make nearly as much profit as they could have if we’d implemented what our analysts were telling us. And after the concessions you forced out on your last game, our analysts estimate that we lost millions of dollars in profit and –”

“But those estimates assumed that the same number of people would’ve bought those games. They wouldn’t have bought those games in the first place if those changes had been implemented!” I exclaimed

“Don’t you dare interrupt me again son!” he shouted, getting up from his seat. “Our version of Wyvern’s Quest is estimated to net several billion dollars in sales, in-game purchases and ad revenues! If you want to survive in this industry, no, in this world, then you have to fucking adapt! Got that son?”

“But…but –”

“No buts! All your rivals are netting big bucks for our competitors and the shareholders are getting on my case for choosing you to lead our team. So shut the fuck up, and make the games that our customers really want!

I stared at the red faced, balding old man sitting in front of me and sighed.

I almost forgot. People don’t care about culture or art anymore. Nobody cares about stories. Nobody bothers to treat a story with respect. They skim through the prologues, ignore the exposition and the cut-scenes, and spend hours smashing buttons in pre-determined combinations.

I turned my back on the CEO of Palcrox and left the glass doors of the company’s headquarters. I returned to my room in tears.

The cracks had spread to the walls now.

I stood up from the chair and flicked through the book. The intricate patterns and indecipherable symbols would have given the book an air of sobering mystery and arcane wonder, if not for the notes and doodles, all of which were in bright, pink ink. Some of the diagrams were colored in, and a few pages had obviously been torn out. The previous owner’s name was scribbled on the back cover, although the handwriting was essentially gibberish.

The page I was looking at had a giant circle full of runes and symbols, just like the one drawn across the room. At the center was another circle, inside which I stood with the computer by my side.

Let’s see now, better design a new character. Don’t want to get caught up in the actual story line so I probably shouldn’t work myself into the plot. In fact, let’s skip the entire story itself. It would be pretty boring if I knew how everything was going to happen after all. I hope it doesn’t make things too confusing, though. Ah well, I’ll piece things together with a little effort. Having a story shoved down your throat is no fun, after all.

I began to design my character.

I was powerless in this world, but I will not be powerless any longer!

“Please Mr. Smith, this is the last one. I put everything into it. If you’d just do this for me this one time, I’ll do anything you say from now on. Please!” I pleaded helplessly, knowing it was in vain.

“Ha! Don’t underestimate my contacts kid. Did you really think I didn’t know that you’ve tried to sell this game to every video game company in the country? And now you’ve come groveling back to me.” He sneered. “Nah kid, nobody will buy your game and I know you had to sell your mansion a couple of months ago. You’re on your last legs and you know it. Listen to my advice kid; take the cubicle down the corridor on the fifth floor and start working on Angry B*rds 50. Your Last Fantasy ain’t gonna see the light of day, so you best just give up already.”

I stood up and turned around, never meeting his gaze. I didn’t want to see the smug face he was probably making.

“Yeah, I guess I will give up,” I said, listlessly.

“Ha, ha! That’s the spirit boy! The last cubicle on the right, we’re almost done though. Just need to debug it, so go lend a hand with that,” he said.

I didn’t reply. I opened the door of his office and walked down the corridor to the elevator. I don’t remember how I got back to my room that day but I do remember the cracks.

They were everywhere.

Done.

I took a deep breath, closed the book, and put my hand in my pocket. Then, I took out a lighter.

Either it all ends today, or it begins.

I lit the lighter and brought it under the book. The pages crackled as they caught fire. I threw the burning book onto the bed that I’d soaked with gasoline, and watched as it erupted into flames. The whole building would burn in a few minutes.

I chuckled. I hope Mr. Smith likes my parting gift.

The flames spread all around me, licking my clothes but not engulfing me just yet. The cracked ceiling finally began to crumble as chunks of paint and cement began to fall.

I closed my eyes and said the trigger word I’d memorized from the book. The symbols and runes began to move and glow, as the circles lifted off the floor. There was a bright flash as I lost consciousness.

Leer Smith was in a happy mood today. He’d finally gotten the famous game designer, Kai Zero, to submit to him. Even though his ideas were very outdated, he was a real celebrity in the gaming community. Palcrox’s reputation would surely rise right alongside their stocks.

Those old fools on the board of directors will have to give me a bonus now! Thank you, Kai, you little bastard.

His phone began ringing.

“What is it?” he said, trying to light a cigarette while holding his phone up with his shoulder.

“Sir, it’s an emergency! Someone’s cracked our system and deleted all our files! All the data has been wiped clean, even the backups on isolated systems!” shouted the voice on the other end.

“What! How could that –” His eyes went wide and the unlit cigarette fell from his lips. “What about the files on my computer? Those files are absolutely necessary for the company’s future!”

He scrambled to turn on his computer. The holographic screen flickered as the machine came to life.

And in the center of the otherwise empty screen was a hand raising its middle finger.

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