Everyone does their best to try to cheer me up after getting an unlucky drop of loot upon completing the fifth floor. What they don’t understand is I don’t need cheering up.
The next day, I start with one of my favorite breakfast meals: perfectly toasted potato bread with an avocado spread on each slice, each with its own over-medium eggs. To finish it off, I have three slices of crispy bacon that still sizzles, likely from recently coming out of the oven. The saltiness of the bacon compliments the lightness of the avocado and garlic flavor of the eggs. As soon as I take my first bite, my toes nearly curl from the burst of deliciousness. I wash it down with a warm cup of hibiscus tea, almost forgetting I’m still in the game. I try my best to contain myself, to keep myself from happily shaking my butt from my favorite meal.
Braeden’s gaze threatens to sear a hole in the side of my face as he observes me in silence. The longer he stares, the more my irritation grows because if it’s one thing I dislike, it’s when someone watches me eat like I’m some kind of television set. “You know it’s rude to stare when someone’s trying to eat. Can I help you?” I ask.
“I don’t mean to stare, but do you always eat your food like that?” he answers. “You seem really happy whenever you eat. It’s refreshing.”
Refreshing? What the hell does that mean? “Well, could you stop staring? You’re making me uncomfortable.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize.” He returns his attention to his plate laden with kielbasa and fried potatoes and a glass of Dr Pepper on the side. Where’s the rice? is all I can think. Doesn’t it taste a little dry? I couldn’t understand how anyone could eat sausages without some freshly made white rice. A meal without rice tastes incomplete.
We eat the remainder of our meal in silence, all while Yumi casts disapproving glances in my direction, as if silently chastising me for being so snippy with him. I admit I’m being a little short with him, but it doesn’t take much to set me off. Why should I change my personality just so he’s comfortable? Wouldn’t it be better if he adhered to social standards by not staring at people all the time like they’re some museum attraction?
As much as I want to believe Braeden is genuine, the truth of the matter is I still don’t know him very well. I don’t know what thoughts go through his mind when he looks at me so cheerfully. Does he only see my race? Does he only have a fascination with me because I share a cultural connection to the Thai Mythic Kingdom? I hate how his blue eyes peer into my soul, asking for something and yet nothing at the same time. What are you hiding, Braeden?
* * *
After breakfast, we make our way to the fifth floor’s entrance. The door has etchings of long, winding grapevines and tall goblets of wine. Serafina gently pushes on the door, and a bright light of gold shines on us, forcing us to shield our eyes from the sudden brightness.
When I pull my arm back, I’m astonished by what I see. Everything has turned to gold. The city consists of buildings forged from gold, the waters have frozen from the transformation, and there is an eerie silence that sends chills down our spines.
The door disappears behind us as a new questline manifests on a separate screen in front of us that reads ‘Cleanse the City of King Midas’ Touch.’
Immediately, a panic sets in because I didn’t recall there ever being a cure to King Midas’ golden touch. Legends foretold of King Midas entertaining the satyr Silenus, Dionysus’ foster father, and did such a good job that Dionysus granted him a single wish. After requesting the ability to turn anything to gold, Dionysus bestowed such great power on the unknowing king. He became aggressive with these new powers that he turned the poorest of objects into the most valuable. However, with such powers granted tremendous responsibility. Because he could turn anything to gold, his powers extended to those of the living.
He embraced his daughter one day, forgetting about his new gift, thus turning her to stone along with the roses in his garden, the stones on the ground, and the food and water he tried to rejuvenate himself with. Cursed to such a terrible fate, the pitiful king died of starvation.
“A worthy challenge,” Mist said, his arms crossed. “It’s strange, it was meant to become a great kingdom, but it’s only become the king’s prison.”
The release of the newly developed headset, known as SoulDive, reignites interest in virtual reality massive multiplayer online role-playing games (VRMMORPG). Mythic Kingdoms (MK), a recent game offered on the new console, provides players the opportunity to traverse fantastical worlds inspired by mythologies around the world and interact with artificially intelligent characters that behave like real people.
The game's fun comes to a halt when everyone ends up trapped in the game. With the "log-out" button disabled, the only way to escape is to complete MK's one hundred and fifty levels. To make matters complicated, players learn that in-game deaths will leave them in a permanently catatonic state.
Mai Chongrak is among the thousands of players trapped in MK and is determined to overcome the game's challenges. When she first logs in, she notices she has an ancient grimoire in her inventory called the "Book of Fate" that no one else seems to have. It contains the history of MK's worlds, but also serves as a powerful spell book to the first mage, the Enchanter. With her guild, they uncover a sinister plot concocted by an evil organization known as Venomous Hearts, who have captured the hearts of the Goddesses of Light in order to conquer MK and break out of the game to wreak havoc on reality.
"Mythic Kingdoms" is a virtual reality gaming novel inspired by KINGDOM HEARTS and the light novel, SWORD ART ONLINE by Reki Kawahara.
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Illustration by Kat Miller
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