Lyngvi led Lyria to a hidden garden located right underneath the mansion. To get there, they had to walk down a spiral staircase located at one corner of the ballroom. It was a bit of a challenge to take several steps down while wearing heels and a gown, but the scenery was worth it. The roses in the garden sparkled beautifully under the moonlight. The pathway was lined with floral tiles and extended all the way to a line of benches facing the sea.
Lyngvi began, "I don't have much time to explain everything, but I need you to come with me, Lyria."
"Where are we going?"
"Far away from here." His gaze fell on the horizon.
Lyria was shocked. Is he asking to elope?
It was something she fantasized about, but this was just too sudden. She knew something was wrong.
"Where you will be safe."
"Safe from what?" She was almost afraid to ask.
He gently took her hands and squeezed them lightly. "I need you to trust me. You're one of those I want to keep alive."
Astrid slowly took out her menu tablet and hit the record button. She had a bad feeling about this.
Lyria felt a little uneasy about the way he was speaking. "Is something going to happen? I think I need more details before I consider going with you."
Lyngvi sighed. "In half an hour, this world will come to an end. They will come after every player. We need to stay in a safe area."
The priestess' eyes widened. "Are you serious? Who is coming? And why?"
He was beginning to get a little impatient. "We don't have much time, Lyria! We need to hurry before we're caught in the battle."
She took her hands back and said firmly, "If something like that is going to happen, I need to hurry and warn my friends."
He shook his head in disagreement. "I'm afraid I can't take them with us."
"Not everyone can be saved."
Lyria took a deep breath. "Lyngvi, were you the one who framed Tank and tampered with his equipment?"
He paused for a long time before answering. "If I answer yes to that, what will you think of me?"
"Why would you do something like that to your own friend? Aren't you the one Tank trusts the most in the Knights Alliance?"
"I needed them out of the competition, so they wouldn't be here tonight where the fiercest of battles will take place. Rest assured, they are safe."
So he purposely framed Tank to save his own guild? Lyria was somewhat relieved to hear of his motive, but so many things still weren't clear to her. "Vi, who planned all this? Why are they trying to destroy this world along with its players?"
"A world such as this shouldn't exist, Lyria."
"I love this world! It's our home. I'm sorry. I won't quietly go with you and watch it get destroyed."
"Lyria, please. It's too late to do anything. At least stay alive." He felt desperation take hold of him. No matter what, he wanted to keep her away from harm.
"I can't leave the others behind!" She broke free from him and tried to run.
"Lyria!" He caught her again.
He placed his hand on her forehead and began chanting a spell. When it was over, she felt weakened and collapsed on the floor. That single spell left her with just one HP.
Lyria tried to cast heal, but nothing happened. "What?"
"I erased your data from this world's system, Lyria. Your level, skill tree, and status points have been reset. You are basically powerless now."
Lyria felt betrayed. She never imagined Lyngvi would be this ruthless.
Astrid quickly stopped the video and sent a copy to Pio. "Pio, please warn the others."
"Will do." He hurried back to the ballroom.
"It's such a shame that you're just like the others." Lyngvi stepped closer to Lyria and carried her bridal style. "Now, give up struggling and allow me to carry you to safety."
He held up a pouch. Lyria recognized it as sleep powder.
"Let me go!" She used her remaining strength to fight him off.
Astrid delivered a swift strike on Lyngvi's arm, forcing him to drop Lyria. Astrid quickly caught her friend and moved her far away from the crusader.
"Secretly trying to kidnap my second-in-command are we?" The assassin glared.
"If you truly care about your friend's safety, you'll leave her with me. Things are about to change in this world, Astrid." Lyngvi drew his sword and slowly walked towards them.
"Trust a man who tried to knock her unconscious and carry her off? I think it's an unwise decision."
"Very well. I tried to save her, but you interfered. If something were to happen to her, the guilt and responsibility will fall into your hands."
Astrid stood in between the two as a final wall Lyngvi would have to break to get to the priestess.
"Astrid! Dodge his attacks! He can reset your data!" Lyria shouted.
"Run ahead and warn the others, Lyria! I'll try to keep him busy."
Lyria looked back before leaving. She and Lyngvi exchanged pained expressions for a moment. "Please stay alive, Astrid."
Once Lyria was gone, Astrid and Lyngvi faced each other with weapons drawn. They were both ready to fight each other to the death.
"I thought you came here to save her, Vi? And now you're trying to kill her? Make up your mind." Astrid pointed her katar at the man she once considered a friend.
"I have no intention to kill her. I tried to convince her, but my offer was rejected. If she does not willingly come along, I have to do it by force for her own good." Lyngvi looked like he was ready to strike with his sword.
"You don't truly care about Lyria. You're not considering her feelings."
Blades clashed violently. Lyngvi was stronger than she expected. Every strike almost threw her off balance. She knew her chances of winning were very slim.
"You can't win. I have power over the laws of this world. Fighting me is just asking for death."
She noticed her health was dropping quickly. It was some kind of potent poison. She stepped back quickly and used an antidote. Just as she did, three fire bolts came her way. She barely dodged the last two.
"A fire mage skill?" She was shocked.
"I can use all the abilities in this world. Including yours." He smiled as he gradually faded from her view.
He's using the assassin skill, Invisibility!? This is bad. I can't tell where he is. If I don't come up with something, he could end me with an ultimate attack, Astrid thought.
Astrid also made herself invisible. In an instant, he suddenly appeared beside her, staring at her in the eye. He managed to land a hard kick on her stomach, sending her flying to the end of the room. She coughed up blood as she struggled to get up. Her body was in pain, but staying down meant death. That kick told her that he really did mean to kill her.
"It's no use, Astrid. Invisibility won't work on me. Nothing will." His face was as calm as ever. She wondered whether it was just a mask or he was absent of any sympathy.
He's getting stronger as time passes.
"Why are you doing this, Vi?" she asked.
"Humanity is running away from reality. This isn't how we're supposed to live! We're trying to be gods, creating our own utopia!"
"What's wrong with that?"
"You don't get it do you?"
"We're all living in a dream. We're caught up in our fantasy worlds because the real world is too painful to face. This is an artificial reality. This isn't who we really are."
"Do you really have to sacrifice people for your own views? I don't think anyone has to die over this."
"I have to put a stop to this madness."
"Same here. Your madness, that is."
Astrid forced herself up and braced herself for his next attack. She had no plans of winning. It was impossible against a hacker. If keeping him busy meant that it gave the others more time to escape, she was satisfied with it.
His sword glowed ominously. He swung it towards Astrid. She dodged the attack. As the sword struck the floor, it cracked and completely destroyed the decorative tiles. The sheer force of the blow sent shock waves and dust filled the air.
This is getting really dangerous. One hit and it would be the end of me.
Lyngvi's movement speed increased gradually as he attacked continuously. The rose garden that was once beautiful was now just a mangled plot of land covered with craters. Astrid struggled to evade and get as much room in between them as possible. However, he only inched closer with every attack.
"Let's just end this. I've wasted enough time here." Lyngvi gathered a large fireball that filled the space from floor to ceiling. There was no way Astrid could dodge such a huge thing. She was out of ideas.
"It was nice knowing you, Astrid. I honestly did enjoy our time together with the others. I did consider you all as friends. I'll treasure our memories together. It is unfortunate that this is where we have to part, but this has to be done."
Suddenly, there was a large explosion coming from above ground.
"It has begun," Lyngvi said with a serious face. He quickly dispelled the fireball. "I'll be taking my leave then."
"Hey! Wait!" Astrid attempted to chase him, but he disappeared in a flash using a teleport move. She cursed in her head.
Lyria and the others better be alive.
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