When Amber first opened the book The Sword of Wrath, she didn't sense anything weird.
She picked it from a stall at the second-hand goods market held on campus. The book was not thick; it did not indicate who the author was; bound by a string, it had a cover like a dusty antique. The story was set on a fictional continent called Acadia. According to the mythology of the book, Acadia was filled with common humans, talking animals, mythical creatures, immortals and demons.
Like most hero-legend stories, it described how a poor boy climbed to the top of the pyramid of power, while women went wild for his romantic and inspiring image, competing for his attention. The summary read:
The main character is a half-demon, half-human youngster called Karl Jenkins. Accepted neither by humans nor demons, he suffered a bitter childhood. Abandoned by his father, he and his mother, a human woman named Estee, became homeless from trying to escape the villagers’ persecution. He was adopted by a poor lady named Nerissa after Estee died of a disease due to poverty. But his foster mother was accidentally killed in an exorcism rite held by a Guardian family, the Gallaghers. Later Karl had a chance to study under one of the seven famous Guardian families as an exorcist apprentice. However, his Master, Constance Henning, who knew no sympathy nor pity, showed no tenderness and abused him over the years before discovering his real identity as a half-demon on Karl’s 18th birthday. In order to escape his master, he was forced to jump off the Infinite Abyss, where he transformed into a pure demon and discovered the Sword of Wrath.
Karl suffered various difficulties and finally managed to escape from the Infinite Abyss with the Sword of Wrath. His personality changed drastically after being betrayed and oppressed cruelly by the humans. He obtained incredible power from the Sword of Wrath and successfully took over the thrones from various demon dukes and unified the entire demonic realm. With the help of demon armies, he became a cold tyrant. He took revenge on those who had been cruel to him during his early days, and ultimately ruled the mainland of Acadia.
“Buy the book if you want to read the whole thing. We don’t provide books for free reading.”
A voice interrupted Amber, and she lifted her eyes. She saw Gina glaring at her. Unconsciously, she had been really concentrating on reading the book and had almost finished two chapters.
“This is Jeremy’s book,” said Amber, looking at Jeremy sitting beside Gina. “This is his stall.”
“We’re partners,” said Gina.
The students were asked to organize a market fair, and Gina had borrowed Jeremy’s stall to sell her unwanted stuff. Amber and Gina had been at odds with each since the first day they met. In Amber’s eyes, Gina was the typical “mean girl,” and she was sometimes angry that Jeremy, her friend since childhood, liked Gina.
Whatever she did, Gina would find faults or make things difficult for her.
“OK, I will buy it.”
“If you want to buy this book, you’ve got to buy my hat. These items are sold in a set,” said Gina.
Amber frowned and looked at Jeremy, and then back at Gina. “I don’t want your hat, it’s ugly.”
“It has to be sold in a set, right, Jeremy?” Gina stood up and looked at Jeremy.
“Um...” Jeremy looked rather vexed and scratched his head.
“Are we friends? I will say it once more: I want to buy this book alone, not with any other garbage.” Amber raised her voice.
“My hat is not garbage!” said Gina. “Just look at what you’re wearing!”
“What’s wrong with my dress?” snapped Amber, as she glared at Jeremy. “I don’t care, I’m taking the book alone. If you listen to her, our friendship is over.”
Amber snatched the book and dropped a few coins on the desk. As she turned to leave, the pages of the book suddenly came loose and several of them dropped to the ground. Amber squatted down to pick up the pages and found one was under the wheelchair of a teenager.
Amber lifted her face, and to her surprise, the teenager in the wheelchair was Gore.
With a pale and solemn face, the boy had the same hazel eyes as Amber’s, meeting her eyes in a languid manner.
“Gore...” Amber glanced at his legs. She hadn’t seen him since she’d last heard of his injury in a car accident. He refused all calls from her and her mother Janice, didn’t even give them a chance to care for him.
“How’s your leg...”
“Hop it,” said Gore while turning the wheels on his chair.
Amber wanted to grab him, but Gore glared at her and snarled, “Go away!”
People on the campus were staring, so Amber let go of his arm. Without saying anything, Gore left Amber behind.
Jeremy gave Gina an embarrassed smile. Gina stuck out her tongue at him and showed him a broken string in her hand with a sly smile.
“You tore my book?” asked Jeremy, surprised to see Gina had actually cut the binding string of the book.
“Just let her read an incomplete book." Gina winked. Jeremy noticed there was a missing page under the desk. He picked it up, but Gina snatched it away.
“Don’t give her this.” She randomly folded the page and dropped it in her bag.
“Don’t be like this—she’s a nice girl,” said Jeremy as he started packing up things to go home.
“Nice girl? Then why does she have such an awkward relationship with her brother?” sneered Gina. “You saw how Gore responded to her. It seems not much better than my relationship with her.”
“It’s quite complicated,” sighed Jeremy, “and I know it troubles her. Their relationship has been this cold for years. I never saw them talking to each other on campus.”
Gore turned his head after he went a few meters, to ensure that Amber didn’t follow him. He noticed there was a piece of paper stuck in between his wheels. He picked it up and realized that it was a page from a book.
It looked like it was from the book Amber bought just now. He was brushing the dust from the page when three teenagers walked toward him.
“Hey, Gore!” one of them shouted at him with a malicious smile. Gore grew nervous and stuffed the page into his pocket.
“Hey, how’s your day, lame duck?” said one of the boys.
Gore tried to turn his wheelchair and go away, but was stopped by the other boy.
“Trying to run away, huh? How about telling the teacher again about how we were bullying you?”
“Too bad, he always wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.”
“How about getting out of your chair? Going for a walk will help you to shake off the lethargy.” Another boy giggled and punched Gore, and he fell off the wheelchair. A boy stepped onto his palm and ground his boot into it.
Gore, lying beside his wheelchair, just stayed silent and took it, as if he was too spiritless even to resist. After pushing Gore around and torturing him for almost half an hour, Gore’s attitude somehow infuriated the boys further.
“I have a suggestion,” said one of the boys, raising an eyebrow. “To make him beg for forgiveness.”
They put Gore back into the wheelchair and pushed it into the depth of the woods behind the school.
After walking for around ten minutes, Gore realized that the boys were bringing him toward the lake behind the school. They stopped and stood on a rise overlooking the lake.
“This will be interesting, what do you think?” asked a boy behind Gore, his hand holding the wheelchair handles.
Gore gave a snort of contempt without turning his head.
“You don’t believe I will let go of the handle?”
With a sudden jerk, the boy shoved Gore’s wheelchair hard and sent him down the slope, toward the lake below.
They heckled and jeered behind him. Gore tried to stop his wheelchair several times, but it failed and kept sliding. Suddenly, he gave up trying and relaxed.
Why bother? Wasn’t he absolutely frustrated with his own life?
Instead of stopping, he rotated his wheelchair toward the lake.
“Hey, you can’t stop your wheelchair?” shouted one of the boys behind him. They were no longer laughing.
“Should we go and pull him back?” asked another boy. “Is he going to drown himself?”
“Just wait and see first—that loser doesn’t have the guts.”
It was getting dark. Gore stared at the black water of the lake, where it was as still as a cold winter's night in a graveyard, wondering if all the torture could end if he continued to rotate the wheels of his chair toward it.
The feeling of being betrayed, and an outcast... The only way he could still have control over his own life was to end it.
To break free.
Before the cold lake water actually passed over the top of his head, Gore heard the boys yelling on shore, but then he was seized by a sudden and tremendous fright as something seemed to drag at his legs, hauling him down.
He was out of his depth.
The sudden shock, maybe partly from the chill of the water, caused him to involuntarily breach the water surface to gasp. However, the same process repeated itself until he was battered and winded.
Intense pain bloomed at the top of his chest, spreading downwards and inwards. Ears ringing, Gore felt as if he saw something glowing in the darkness under the water—something coming from his pocket?
A sense of loneliness and isolation overwhelmed him, and somehow he felt as if he was gently sinking to rest on the softest bed. As colorful light shot into his eyes, he thought maybe death had come to take him faster, right here, alone and forgotten.
“Hi, Mom, I’m back.”
Amber decided not to tell Janice that she met Gore and he ignored her at school today.
This would be Amber’s last year in high school, and she’d reunited with Gore when he transferred to her school six months ago. She was delighted, but soon disappointed as she found Gore held a deep grudge against her. Since she got his cell phone number from his ninth grade classmates, he’d only picked up Janice’s call once. Gradually, she told Janice less and less about the various encounters with Gore at school, partly because they never talked, and also because she believed it would only upset Janice.
Based on the campus gossip, Amber learned that Gore injured his legs a month ago when he tried to run away from his home. Janice visited him once in the hospital, but it seemed to be an unpleasant experience. Since then, they never talked about Gore at home.
“How was your day at school?” Janice poked her head out of the small kitchen. “I bought an old book from Jeremy at the fair at school,” said Amber. “You won't believe how sheepish he becomes around Gina."
In fact, Amber bought this book partly because she couldn’t bear the sight of Jeremy being so obedient to Gina. The book just looked like any ordinary revenge story, nothing special.
She spotted the fresh flowers in the bottle on the table.
“Nice flowers,” said Amber.
“Mr. Hauser brought them.” Janice smiled.
Amber grinned. “He’s still contacting you?”
Mr. Hauser was Amber’s math teacher from primary school. He had been single since his wife’s death.
“He invited me for dinner several times,” said Janice.
“He’s a nice guy,” said Amber. “Why don’t you try him out?”
Janice shook her head, said, “Maybe later, I’m just not ready for a new relationship yet.”
“Come on,” said Amber. “You have been divorced long enough. I really think you should hang out more with different guys.”
“No worries, I know what I’m doing.” Janice smiled and waved at Amber to get her to drop this topic.
Janice was still attractive and graceful despite her age. Amber believed she could start a new relationship very soon.
Amber went upstairs to her room and lay on the bed.
She thought about her early days when she still lived under one roof with Janice, Gore and her stepfather, Raymond Walter.
She, in fact, missed the days she’d spent with Gore. They had once been really close.
Amber lay in the bed but had a hard time falling asleep. She got up and took out the book.
She had read a portion of it before she went to bed. Now she continued reading from a scene after the hero jumped down the Infinite Abyss.
After Karl’s foster mother died, in order to get a shelter for himself, he joined the Hennings, one of the major Guardian families of Acadia, to study magic. Becoming an apprentice of the Hennings, at least he would have free shelter and food.
To be a Guardian of Acadia was a special occupation in the book. They were sorcerers who turned into half-immortals as their magic power enhanced to a certain level, and were granted supernatural power by the Patrons, who were the godlike immortals from Sanctuary. The Guardians had special status in Acadia and were under the management of the Guardians' Council. They worked as the agents between humans and Patrons, protected the folks of the local communities, and taught their human followers magic and exorcism to fight against the demons.
In Acadia, the Guardians’ powers were inherited in familial lines, and the selection of Guardians relied solely on family origin. This showed that they were indeed the gods’ choice.
The selection of apprentices was strict. However, Karl still managed to enter the Hennings, founded by the Master Guardian Abner Henning, and apprenticed under Abner’s daughter Constance. Constance Henning had been jealous of her sister, Carolina Henning, and the two competed for the Hennings’ inheritance.
Constance Henning’s character and personality could be seen clearly:
Abner sat on the chair, looking at Constance with fury.
"Constance, do you know what you have done wrong?” asked Abner with anger. "You are responsible for the areas under your jurisdiction, but you didn’t help out during the recent chaos created by the demons. The Hennings’ reputation will be greatly damaged if the Guardians’ Council finds out. If you do not want to guard these areas, I will hand them over to Carolina!"
“I have been busy,” said Constance indifferently. “I arrived there a bit late.”
“You didn’t arrive late, you simply didn’t bother with them! Constance, I don’t mind you sometimes taking treasures from the folks as a form of remuneration, but the Hennings don’t only work for riches. You can’t ignore the poor because they don’t pay you!” said Abner.
Constance’s face darkened. She wondered who told her father about all these things.
"And there's another thing that I want to ask you,” said Abner. “Did you put the poison in Carolina’s magical instrument? Do you know she almost got injured because of that?”
"There’s nothing I can do if you think it’s me. Moreover, she’s so excellent in her magic skills, with Elroy as her follower, she can handle all kinds of situations without the magical instrument.”
"Foolish!" Abner was furious. "She’s your sister! How can you do such an evil thing?"
"Father, how about you? Haven’t you been biased? I’m the elder daughter of the Hennings, but the Echo was given to Carolina! I can be in danger too! Why do you never worry that I may get killed during missions?" yelled Constance, and turned to leave angrily.
Abner sighed in his seat.
"Constance didn’t necessarily do that," said Carolina. "You don’t have to blame her for this now.”
"You don’t need to defend her," said Abner. "The reputation of our family has been negatively affected over these years because of her. The other families have complained to the Guardians’ Council many times that we have weak management over our areas, and suggested that they take over more areas from us." Abner’s face was livid. "Her personality just never changes as she grows up—she’s selfish and aggressive."
Carolina kept silent.
Amber wouldn’t say this book was well-written because most supporting characters seemed to easily lose their IQ in front of the hero. Most of them lacked depth and complexity, especially the hero’s mentor, Constance Henning. She was a shallow villain, narrow-minded and greedy. Highly irritable, she constantly abused her apprentices, and especially directed her cruelty against Karl after a few incidents. Years of studying with the Hennings had become a nightmare for Karl.
Constance abused the hero over every trivial matter, and the development of her plotline took up a quarter of the book. Her personality played a key part in the hero’s pathetic childhood, and his finding of the crucial weapon that changed his life ever after: the Sword of Wrath.
After being severely reprimanded by Abner, Constance immediately approached all her apprentices, asking them who told Carolina and her father about her accepting bribes from the people. The book read:
"Who’s the informant? Who is fabricating rumors about my taking bribes?” asked Constance coldly, her face pale from fury, scanning the array of apprentices standing in front of her on the square. “That’s a bold move. Who’s the daring one? Step out now.”
All the apprentices stayed silent.
Whoever the informant was, he or she was not fabricating rumors, but Constance insisted this was a false accusation and demanded the informant be punished.
“Who approached my father and told him that I have been remiss in my duty? And even worse, he learned this from Carolina’s mouth! Now that she spoke ill of me in front of my father, how will my father think of me!?" Constance strode about in front of them. “If the informant doesn’t confess, all of you will be punished! You will kneel down here until the next morning, and no meals for next day! Chad, you don’t need to be punished, but you need to supervise the others being punished. Ask someone to do it with you in turns."
“Yes, Master!” answered Chad.
Karl stepped out alone. "My apologies...Master, the situation was urgent, the demons were raging in the village. We were no challenge for them, so we let out the fireworks signal and waited for a long time, but the support team never came. It was then Master Carolina passed by, so I sought her help in a hurry."
"So you think that’s my fault? Not coming to your rescue in time?" Constance looked down at Karl.
“No! I didn’t mean that! And I never said anything about you taking the bribes...”
Constance suddenly placed her palm on Karl's chest. Accompanied by a dazzling flash, a magic blast of light released from her hand, throwing Karl to the ground.
Constance was no doubt a typical character detested by everyone in the book, and she led directly to the gradual changes in Karl’s personality.
Growing up in a mentally unhealthy environment, the hardships and sufferings at the Hennings had planted the seeds of hate in Karl long ago. Foreshadowing the changes in Karl’s personality, his dark side was fully brought out after the Trevor Event. He became a revengeful, distorted and double-faced fiend.
As the plot developed, all Karl’s enemies suffered tragic deaths, and he tortured them before killing them. As he improved at camouflage and manipulating people’s minds, Karl killed other demon inheritors of the throne and took over the demonic realm. Still not satisfied, he started slaughtering the guardians to silence all the voices that opposed him. He ruled all of Acadia, and even the immortals could do nothing about him.
Unconsciously, Amber had almost flipped through the entire book, but she found a few pages missing as the page number jumped from 100 to 124. However, these missing pages didn’t affect the overall story, and Amber could see it ended badly. Except for the hero, most of the characters didn’t have a good ending, especially Karl’s mentor—Constance Henning, whom Karl burnt alive.
The next moment, Constance felt a scorching, sharp pain engulfing her.
The fire soon spread to her whole body. The unbearable pain was killing her.
She staggered backward and tripped after a few steps, rolling to the ground. Her skin and hair were burning, and a foul smell filled her nostrils. She heard herself screaming, but was soon unable to make a sound as the mucous membranes of her throat were sticking to each other.
This might be the worst possible way to die. In pain and dehydrated, she felt her muscles unable to move due to the great damage—she was no different from a desiccated corpse now.
This man in front of her refused to grant her a quick and easy death.
All this while, Karl stood there watching her coldly as she wriggled on the ground in pain. He was going to burn her alive.
Constance couldn’t breathe.
The day was breaking. Amber had finally distracted herself from the negative emotions of meeting Gore. Feeling a little sleepy, she put down the book.
The story ended with many clues and mysteries unsolved. The murderer of several tragic figures was still unknown, and the girls who were supposed to have some relationship with the hero were never heard of again as the plot developed. Many intriguing characters were never described in further detail. Amber somehow regretted reading such a novel, for it was not a pleasant reading experience with so many holes in a story.
Suddenly she felt very sleepy and closed her eyes.
With the window of her bedroom opened, the night breeze flipped the pages of the book lying in Amber’s bed. The words in the book started to shimmer.
In the endless darkness, a mechanical voice echoed in Amber’s ears.
[Automatic triggering, system activated.]
That voice was everywhere inside her head, and its tone was the same as that of Google translation. Amber looked around and saw she was floating in an imaginary space; she reached out her hand but caught nothing.
"Who are you?" asked Amber.
[Dear participant, welcome to Acadia.]
“Acadia? Isn’t that the fictitious continent in the book The Sword of Wrath?”
[The role of “Constance Henning” bonding successfully. Enjoy your adventure in Acadia and all the best with your missions. Good luck.]
Within a strong dizziness, a gentle female voice was asking, “Miss Constance, can you hear me?”
Amber shivered. A headache struck her as she slowly opened her eyes, and her vision took a while to become clear.She looked up to see a white veil hanging overhead like a snow flurry.
She was lying in bed. Not her bed.
An old lady sitting by her bed looked at her with concern.Who is this?
“You finally woke up; how are you feeling now? Your fever was so sudden and weird.” Seeing her awake, the lady’s face glowed with joy and she said in a warm voice, “Master Abner has been worried about you and came to visit you twice.”
Was she dreaming? Not only did she wake up in a stranger’s room, but this lady’s words sounded somehow familiar to her.
Amber didn’t answer the lady but looked at her dubiously.
The lady glanced at her and sighed, “Still angry with your father? Children should not contradict their parents. You should apologize to Master Abner later—he cares for you. Constance, are you listening?”
This name struck Amber like lightning and confirmed Amber’s suspicion about the lady’s identity—Sophie White, Constance’s nanny since her childhood.
Amber looked at her hands. These fingers were pale and slender, and the new polish she’d applied yesterday was all gone. On her right hand, she wore a bracelet with a pearl pendant.
This was not the style of something she would wear.
Amber laughed lightly to herself. She must be dreaming herself as a character in the book, for she had been reading that story before she went to sleep. That was it.
It was then the Google translation-like mechanical voice appeared again, this time with a tinkling note, speaking directly in Amber’s head:
[Account of “Constance Henning” activated: Karl Jenkins’s mentor. Role Definition: Villain; Age: Unknown; Weapon: Aura; Power Level: Master; Default scores in your account: 500 points.]
“Wait...,” Amber tried to talk to that weird voice, “what’s going on here? Is this some kind of game?”
The cold voice continued:
[You can take it that way. You’re now inside the bookThe Sword of Wrath. I’m the system in charge of the overall running of the story; you can call me “System.” You can enquire to me any time you have questions regarding your role. As the plot develops, various indicators will be activated. To return to reality, you need to hit a score of 30000 points.]
This is the AI customer service?
“Returning to the real world? So you mean if I cannot complete the tasks assigned to this character, and fail to achieve certain points, then I will be trapped in this world forever?”
“Wait, how did this happen—who brought me here? Or who creates this world?” Amber fired questions at System.
[These questions go beyond the scope of my duty. Is there anything else I can help you with?]
Amber didn’t understand why her soul had inexplicably entered the book she had been reading. To get back to her own body in the real world, she had to follow the instructions of a weird “system” that ruled this world.
And there was a problem. The role assigned to her was “Constance Henning,” who would eventually die a miserable death. This was not like picking a role to play in a movie—she would bear the actual sufferings of that specific role.
This is not good.
Creepy passages from the book came to her mind:
Her skin and hair were burning and a foul smell filled her nostrils as she heard herself screaming…
Oh, no. Amber held her forehead in desperation.
Sophie watched Amber looking as if she was about to cry; she frowned in confusion.
“Can you assign me another role, just anyone, let’s say...Sophie White?” Amber was feeling hopeless.
[The allocation of roles is random, and cannot be changed.]
Amber then heard Sophie breathe a deep sigh. “And Karl....the kid, can you
let him go this once? He was not being intentionally rude, he was just inconsiderate.”
Amber, now Constance, knew that Sophie was one of the few persons at Hennings who cared for Karl, and survived the slaughter during Karl’s revenge on the Hennings in the later part of the story.
Constance looked around. She needed to know the exact time phase now, so she asked a probing question: “How’s he now?”
“You asked him to kneel before the hall for five days, now it has been three days, and he’s already having a fever. .So I think if....”
Kneeling for three days....so she entered the story where Constance just quarreled with her father over Carolina’s instrument, and punished Karl for being the informant.
Constance recalled the plot so far: Karl had gone through a series of events and received a variety of “punishments,” such as punishments for contradicting thementor, secretly keeping a magical beast, fights with the apprentices from the Byrnes, and so on....
Constance closed her eyes in desperation. Was it still possible for her to become a friend with the hero? She had to change before it got too late. She should try to be nicer to the hero when possible, from now on.
However, as soon as she came up with this idea, a series of warning beeps bombarded her head like the alarming of a police car. Constance’s whole body startled, and she pressed her temples painfully.
“Miss Constance?” asked Sophie with concern.
Constance did not answer and bit her lip.
System promptly reminded:
[Any attempts to change the persona of the character, inconsistency in character’s actions, thoughts and talks will be considered as OOC, and scores will be deducted accordingly.]
Constance knew about OOC. It was an acronym for "Out of Character," a term used in roleplay when a person wanted to step outside of their character for a minute and speak as themselves.
"So...my behaviors have to follow the role set, and cannot go beyond the scope of the role definition?"
"What if I do nothing and ignore the protagonist?” asked Constance. “That won’t get my scores deducted, right?”
[That will be counted as OOC too, for “Constance” will find every chance to torture the hero. The scores will be deducted based on your character deviation degree correspondingly. When your score reaches zero, you can no longer play your role, but your soul will be locked up in the virtual space, not able to return the real world.]
The virtual space must be the darkness she had been floating in when she first entered the book.
"That means I can neither return to the real world nor continue to stay in Acadia.”
If her scores became zero, the outcome waiting for her was not death, but being forever imprisoned in this book, in darkness.
Constance shivered. She wanted to yell, “Why is this happening to me!” This was rather strict. In a roleplay, at least there would be NGs, not scores deducted for every wrong move.
Seeing Constance safe and sound, Sophie got up to leave. “Regarding Karl, please think about it again.”
If only she could, thought Constance.
Constance sat up in her bed as soon as Sophie left. She dashed to a mirror at the corner of her room.
A girl in her eighteenth year appeared in the mirror, staring at her with surprised baby blue eyes. Long bleached blonde hair gently hung over her oval face; her alluringly soft ivory skin was something that could only come from a good
background and superior living environment.
Constance pursed her lips to make sure the girl in mirror was herself. She turned around, and found herself slender and with a very narrow waist.
According to the description in the book, Constance obtained her “core” at the age of eighteen and became a half-immortal, thus maintaining her looks of an eighteen-year-old girl since then. She had that kind of icy and unearthly beauty and elegance. If she didn’t learn about Constance’s character from the book, she might have thought she was a gorgeous goddess from legend.
So in fact “Constance” was probably sixty-years-old by now..... She frowned to herself. When she was still Amber, her appearance could be classified as “charming;” however, Constance’s look was a level up. Though attractive, Constance had an arrogant and unapproachable air.
The day was breaking.
Constance’s room had a huge balcony. She was attracted to the sound of far-off waves breaking on the shore and walked through the floor-to-ceiling window onto the vast balcony. In the distance lay a completely strange world to her.
She was momentarily paralyzed by the view. She was now on an island in the middle of the ocean—the Whispering Isle.
In the distance, a castle dwarfed everything below it, and it was connected to a square by floating rocks in the air. The ornamental statue of Sea Patron was the biggest eyecatcher.
And the tower by the sea she lived in, made of chunky walls of gray stone, must be the Tranquility Tower.
She walked down the tower, trying to walk around the island to get familiar with the environment.
The morning was fresh and the smell of the tide pools was strong. A sweet aroma from the wild grasses in the ravines filled the moist air. Constance went down the trail along the coast; the white sand on both sides of the trail sparkled in the sunlight like glitter on diamonds.
There came the occasional squawks of the birds, and the quiet and calm ocean was sparkling and shimmering like a giant sapphire. The picturesque scene somehow soothed her disturbance in coming to this strange world.
Constance studied the database of the mysterious system as she walked about on the island. Large amounts of data flashed in her brain, and she finally found the score criteria of the roles:
In summary, to get more scores, she had to:
1.stick to her role set when on the same scene with the protagonist
2.complete the compulsory mission of taking part in the crucial plots
3.enhance the protagonist’s satisfaction indicators
4.unveil various hidden clues and subplots in the story to make it complete
That was to say that she had to deal with the troubles created by the original “Constance,” such as the various bad relationships with other characters, and ensure the protagonist’s limelight, not tamper with the necessary plots, and solve those unsolved puzzles.
System notification would be issued based on specific circumstances, and missions for extra points would automatically released during different stages Constance could choose to accept or not to accept.
In fact, “Constance” was not the most notorious among the many villains in the story, but she might be the villain who worried about survival the most. For she was different from others as she was “real,” while the others were just fictional.
The character of “Constance” possessed looks, magic skills, qualifications, status and reputation, and never needed to worry about money spent. She had a hand of good cards to make herself one of the greatest Guardians of her time, if she hadn’t enraged her father and most importantly, tortured her apprentice.
If she had known how powerful the protagonist would become in future, would she change her attitude toward Karl ...?
Slowly, a training square appeared in her sight.
With the system’s help, it was not difficult to identity everyone’s face in this world. Names would automatically show above each character’s head that Constance encountered.
In fact, she had not met the hero so far.
Apprentices entered the square in parades.
Constance took a deep breath before walking into the square as everyone stared; she tried her best to behave perfectly. She met several apprentices along the way, and they greeted her respectfully. She recalled the passages describing “Constance,” tried her best to look icy by not responding to the greetings, and walked in long strides, with her chin held high, back straight and shoulders back.
Constance looked around and found no one who matched the image of Karl among the apprentices.
At least she needed to recognize the hero’s face, so she could flee faster when being chased by him.
Yes, all she wanted was to flee faster.
Constance spotted a tall and thin teenage boy, around sixteen years old, in uniform.
Constance could not help glancing at him. She sighed inwardly—this boy was fat and had the face of an insignificant character.
This was Constance’s chief apprentice, Karl’s senior. Chad Nelson. A supposed villain of the lowest level, often called the cannon fodder.
Most protagonists would encounter a school bully during their childhood, and Chad was the one. Constance remembered that this stocky chief apprentice had created many troubles for Karl during his studies at the Hennings, such as secretly putting Karl’s magical beast into Constance’s room, burning Karl’s blanket during the winter night, deliberately giving him the wrong schedule of exams...all these owing to his participation and planning, and various speaking to the mentor regarding Karl’s “undisciplined” behaviors. Whenever Constance felt like using someone as a punching bag, Chad would be the first to respond, and an efficient accomplice.
When torturing Karl, Constance and Chad were the best partners.
To a certain extent, Constance thought that she had implicated this kid. Her cold and sarcastic attitude toward Karl had encouraged Chad into bullying Karl, and indirectly resulted in Chad’s miserable ending---being revenged by Karl, thrown into the fire pit and eaten up by giant demonic ants.
Based on Chad’s ending, Constance looked at the kid with sympathy, as she felt they were in the same boat now.
“Chad, where’s Karl?”
The well-built boy immediately stood straight and answered, “Karl? He’s over there!”
Karl was at the end of the parade, walking slowly and unsteadily, his knees wrapped with bandages.
Constance felt bad, as Karl’s injury probably had something to do with her. She sat, watching the apprentices lining up before her. He walked down toward the apprentices, and Constance’s smiling lips suddenly became stiff.
Oh god. She had beaten the protagonist until his face was black and blue. She was doomed.
So that was her punishment for Karl for “spreading rumors.”
However, despite his bruised face, the hero was unique. His light brown hair shone in the sunlight, and he had these blue eyes that looked as if you were staring straight into clear blue-green water from Bali. Constance could understand how these eyes would make most girls’ hearts melt when they saw him. He still had some baby fat on his cheek with two dimples. What a fresh little handsome boy. The role set for the protagonist was too strong; even when he was tortured and abused, he looked remarkably handsome.
A girl stepped out to hold Karl. “How’s your knee?”
Apprentices around Karl laughed.
The System kindly introduced to Constance:
[New character enters: Anna Wood, the youngest female apprentice.]
The young girl had her hair tied up behind her head, with cute freckles on her cheeks. A standard must-have heroine in every novel.
Constance knew this girl. Anna was one of those girls who frequently got Karl into trouble, because she was cute and easily aroused other male students’ jealousy toward Karl.
“Master, you see...I don’t think he could still train today...,”Anna tried to help Karl.
Though looking at Karl without expression, Constance was not sure if she could do this....to abuse a child. She searched in Constance’s memories for solutions.
“You should try to mingle with every one of us, not just hiding behind Anna,” said Chad. The boys laughed again.
Constance was clear what was on Chad’s mind. In the story, Chad’s inexplicable hatred toward Karl had always been a mystery to her. He found Karl annoying from time to time and looked for his troubles.
Constance wanted to exempt Karl from the daily training, but this very thought aroused a series of alarming again.
[Constance will not exempt Karl from daily training.]
“No, the training is compulsory,” said Constance coldly. “Your knees shall not be an excuse to escape the daily training. Come forward.”
“Yes, Master,” said Karl, his face expressionless. Anna looked disappointed while the other apprentices giggled secretly, as they thought Constance asked Karl to come forward to receive further punishments.
Karl tried to walk to Constance and stood in front of her, his head lowered.
As Karl stepped out of the line, his steps were unstable. Constance instinctively let out her hand to hold him when the reminder came again:
[Constance will not hold Karl.]
Constance immediately withdraw her hand, and Karl fell to the ground with one knee.
All the apprentices looked at her reaction with strange expressions on their faces.
Karl struggled to stand straight and said, “Master.”
Constance stretched out her hand in front of Karl’s knees. From Constance's palm emitted a blue light. The light surrounded the wound and abrasions on Karl. Glowing pneumatic energy flew to Karl’s knees, and Karl felt a soothing feeling at his knees, slowly healing on their own.
Karl looked at this incredible phenomenon with surprise.
“Can you walk now?” asked Constance.
Karl’s knees had recovered.
“Now you can go for training,” said Constance. “I don’t want to hear rumors again, I don’t want my other family members to think that I’m abusing my apprentice.”
Constance was into the play very fast. She took the risk to heal the wound for Karl, and yet did it with a relatively sarcastic attitude, still matching the image of the original Constance, displaying her hypocritical side.
To her expectation, the system did not issue OOC reminders. Constance was relieved.
Karl had thought that his mentor was going to further harangue him; he never expected that Constance would actually heal the wound for him. He was first surprised a moment, then thanked Constance with respect and sincerity.
Karl's face still possessed the innocence of a child, his smile filled with sincere warmth like the rising sun. Constance stared at his face for a moment before looking away.
During the first part of the story, when Karl still hadn’t turn dark, he was a lily-white good boy, and always responded to every kindness with gratitude.
"This incident passed, I hope you remember that I am your mentor, not Carolina."
Karl reverently apologized, "Sorry for my inconsideration, I wasn’t being thoughtful, and got Master into trouble...I will not disappoint Master in future.”
If Constance had never read the entire The Sword of Wrath, she might sympathize with Karl now. However, she had witnessed Karl’s various psychological activities from the god’s-eye view, she had seen how Karl naturally thought one way but behaved another; how he appeared to be a gentleman on the surface while his brain was full of revenge and slaughtering.
She still remembered his classic quotations: "Those who humiliated me today, will regret being born.”
So he retaliated against Constance the way he promised: he manipulated her dream, and Constance had nightmares of being eaten by giant demonic ants every night, making her life a living death.
Although Karl looked really vulnerable at the moment, Constance was thinking more about her survival, for she knew how Karl would laugh ferociously and wantonly when he had a chance to step his foot onto another’s head one day.
Constance nodded mindlessly and turned to other apprentices for their training.
“Stop malingering and get to your feet!” sneered Chad as he passed by Karl.
The training lasted toward evening, and all the apprentices left for their residence except Karl. He still needed to help in the kitchen after the training.
Karl entered the kitchen, and saw Sophie and Joseph, a kitchen elf who had been working on the Whispering Isle for two years. Both were busy working.
“Let me handle tonight’s dinner,” said Sophie. “How’s your fever? You should go back to rest.”
“It was just a small cold,” said Karl, “and it’s gone now.”
“Your master has really been harsh on you,” said Joseph. “You can’t even be exempted from training when you’ve got injured knees and a fever. How about we spit into her food?”
“Hey, Joseph! How dare you!” warned Sophie.
“Please don’t!” said Karl. “It was my fault, I wasn’t considerate enough. And she has healed my knees for me now.”
“I was just kidding,” said Joseph, sticking his tongue out. “You’re not the same as other students. I heard that Master Constance only takes in those who gave her bribes.”
Karl had always thought that Constance was not happy with him because he was slow in his studies, though his results were considered as medium.
He smiled, and said nothing.