"M-Mai..." Yumi reaches for my face as her head rests in my lap. "You have to win, Mai," she says as her green HP bar slowly depletes. My eyes sting from impending tears as I try not to look down and see blood pouring from the wound in her chest. "Promise me when you get everyone out, you'll be honest with your mom and find happiness with Braeden."
"We were supposed to finish together, Yumi. We promised we'd all cross the finish line and go out for a meal once we woke up," I said, my hands trembling as I hold her bloody hand. "What am I supposed to tell your mother?"
"Tell her I love her and let her know it's okay to let me go. I couldn't bear to have her watch over my soulless body for the rest of her life," she says, chuckling weakly. "I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the end with you. I just want you to know you will always be my best friend and if we ever meet each other again in the next life, I hope I get to be best friends again." Her body glows purple, slowly fading away. "Promise me you'll be happy, Mai."
"I promise," I reply, tears streaming down my face. Never have I felt so useless. What kind of person am I that I couldn't even protect the people closest to me? Memories of our first meeting fills my mind, remembering all those years ago when we met in preschool. Back then, I thought nothing could break our bond. Only the cursed game of Mythic Kingdoms is powerful enough to break apart strong bonds and test the limit of one's sanity.
My grip on her hand tightens, not ready to let go. Yumi's eyes close and her body disappears, her hand slipping through my fingers. I sit there dazed, refusing to believe she's gone. "She'll come back," I murmur.
"Mai..." Braeden rests a warm hand on my shoulder. "I know you need to grieve, but there's no time. We need to go."
"Not without Yumi," I say, staring at the spot where she was just moments ago. "We never leave a friend behind."
"Mai, this world is collapsing. We're running out of time. We have to go. If we don't leave now, Yumi's sacrifice will have been in vain. She wouldn't want you to die like this. She would have wanted you to finish it and save everyone," he answers. I glance up to meet his worried gaze before my eyes shift to his extended hand.
"Alright." I take his hand and every step feels like walking in quicksand as I struggle to walk away. Braeden wraps a protective arm around me, allowing me to lean on him for support. Although I can feel his warmth, none of it can penetrate the cold armor I've built around my heart. I hear Serafina sniffling in Mist's arms, but all I can think is Serafina can't possibly know how I feel. She didn't grow up with Yumi. No one would know Fuyumi Matsumoto the way I did.
We pass through a portal that takes us to a strange place filled with floating islands. A notification appears in front of me, welcoming me to the Shattered Dominion, the land where ten lost worlds of Mythic Kingdoms have been sent as a
result of the evil Venomous Hearts' desire to bring the game to the real
Glancing around, my eyes land on the Mythic Kingdoms of Azerbaijan, Spain, Hungary, and many more. They're nothing but fragments of the worlds they once were. Our only hope at rebuilding them is to traverse through hellish realms, fighting against demons and malevolent spirits from folkloric legends, in search of the person responsible for this destruction. The threat ahead intimidates me, forcing me to wonder if I can do this without Yumi.
Braeden holds my hand, filling me with strength as we prepare to tackle the final boss in the game. Although we had made it through one hundred and forty floors, nothing could prepare us for the enemy we would face. We may have our strongest gear, but we could die trying to save reality if we aren't careful.
"We'll get out of this game, Mai," Braeden reassures me, squeezing my hand gently. "Just like we promised her."
His words are encouraging enough for me to push aside my sorrow for the time being. I have plenty of time to grieve Yumi properly once we break free of Mythic Kingdoms' chains. "Praemunio," I cast the spell to buff my allies' defensive stats. "We'll do whatever it takes."
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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- Content warning: strong language, minor violence and gore