First days of any event are always tiring, but the look on my kid sister's face made tired sound like an understatement and her first day hadn't even started yet.
Tsukiko kept her gaze on the carpet as she exited the bathroom. In the past week, she hadn't said much to me and I didn't blame her. She was in an entirely new environment with a new family that she hadn't seen since she was two. For a ten-year-old, it must've been terrifying.
"I'm sorry I took so long, Keiko," she mumbled. The way her russet hair covered her face annoyed me. I knew she let it fall that way to hide from me. It made me uncomfortable.
"Don't worry about it, Tsuki," I assured her, using our mother's nickname for her. I saw her gaze lift slightly and I expected her to look me in the eyes for the first time since she got here. However, she looked back down to the floor and walked past me to finish getting ready for school.
I thought about shaking my head in disapproval as I walked into the bathroom, but I didn't want her to see. As I ran the hairbrush through my shoulder-length hair, my mind was focused on my sister. She was brave, but at the same time, she wasn't. Looking at the bedroom reflected in the mirror, I watched her stare at her computer.
Before she left our mother and our step-father, we (my father and I) were warned that she would spend the majority of her time on some online game called The World. Our mother said she would make up excuses to get out of social events just to spend hours sitting on her computer chair with a pair of ugly goggles on her face and a controller in her hands.
I personally believed it was an escape from her old home. She hated the fact that another baby was coming along and my mother was planning to move far away, which was why she chose to live with my father and I.
When I was nine and Tsukiko was two, our parents filed for a divorce. They agreed on joint custody, but I never visited my mother and her new husband and Tsukiko never visited us. Now, eight years later, my sister became a stranger to me, as I was to her, and it was painfully obvious that she wasn't interested in becoming anything more than that. All she was interested in was The World. I could never get into something like that.
Once my contacts were in (I wish I had the colored ones; I hated my hazel eyes), I grabbed my backpack and car keys from the bed and looked at Tsukiko. She sported a small backpack with a keychain of an ugly pig on it. I had asked her about it, and she told me it was a Grunty, whatever the hell that is.
"Are you ready?" I asked. Her huge brown eyes met mine and she nodded. I knew she wasn't.
The ride to school was definitely awkward. I wanted to make conversation, but I had no idea what to talk about. Finally, I picked the first topic that popped into my head.
"So, do you like guys yet?" I instantly regretted those words as soon as they came from my mouth. Tsukiko shrugged, staring out the window.
"There are some pretty hot avatars in The World," she replied. Not the answer I wanted, little sister.
I was so relieved when I pulled up to the curb at her school. Before she shut the door, she looked back at me and forced a smile onto her face. "Thank you. You'll be here at 2:30, right?"
"Of course. I have my cell, so you can text me if you want."
The panicked look on her face screamed, "Please don't leave me! I don't know anyone! I'm going to get lost! Take me with you!"
I put my car into park and got out, moving toward her as quickly as I could. It was inelegant at first, but I knew hugging my sister relieved us both. "You'll be okay. Good luck."
"Thanks, Keiko. Good luck to you, too. You won't need it, though."
Fortunately, she was right.
For the past two years, the first day of school terrified me to the point of almost-panic attacks. Now that I was a junior at Asahi Senior High, that fear was gone. I felt more confident knowing I was now an upperclassman.
All my classes, with the exception of one, flew by in a blur of seeing old friends, recognizing old teachers, and pointing freshman in the right directions. It irritated me slightly, but I brushed it off. It wasn't their fault they got lost. The school was pretty large.
The only class that seemed to drag on forever was P.E., my last class of the day. I knew why it took forever; I'd always hated any sort of forced exercise. I wasn't much of a runner because my immune system wasn't the best thanks to my father's smoking habits.
I only recognized a few girls in the locker room. While Captain Koura went through the rules and regulations that I swear I had memorized by now, I watched the girls. It was easy to tell the "dark" from the "light."
The "dark" girls consisted of a red-head, green eyed Igarashi, a long blonde-haired Natori, and a pitch black-haired Kobayakawa. I didn't know their first names and in all honesty, I didn't care enough to learn them. I knew them from classes in previous years and I knew how hateful they were, and I knew that as a senior, Natori was the leader of the pack.
The "light" side consisted of two lowerclassmen and one upperclassman. The upperclassman, Asaoka, had long blonde hair and the biggest blue eyes anyone could ever see. Hayami Akira, one of the underclassmen, had short brown hair like mine, but she fluffed it toward the back in a cute way that reminded me of bird feathers. The other underclassman, Hamaoka Risa, had black eyes that matched her short black hair. Just one look at her could tell you how fiesty she was.
If I remember right, all of them were very much into tennis.
A vibration in my pocket jolted my body in surprise. Hiding my cell phone from Koura, I read the text message Tsukiko had sent me.
I hate this. Everyone just looks past me and doesn't say hi.
Part of me felt sorry for her, but come on, what did she expect? A party to celebrate the new girl? Not everyone is willing to strike up a conversation out of nowhere with her.
I'm sorry. Thirty more minutes and you're out of there.
I looked at the clock on my phone. 1:55. Five more minutes and I could leave to pick her up. I started to think of things to talk about on the ride home. Maybe I should talk about things she's interested in? Only one thing popped into my mind: The World. It was going to be a long drive home.
"Do you like your classes?" I asked as soon as Tsukiko got into the car. I was avoiding that awkward silence as much as possible.
She sighed heavily and relaxed into the seat. "No," she flat-out said. "I hate all my classes and I hate that school." Such a little pessimist.
"I'm sorry," I lied, driving away from the school. "So, um…What's that game you play?"
Her head whipped toward me and I saw a hint of excitement in her eyes. Man, she was must really love that game. "The World," she said happily.
I strummed my fingers on the wheel uncomfortably. "What's it all about?"
"It's role-playing, basically. You pick a character class and your own name and then you start out in a Root Town. You can travel to fields and fight monsters to gain experience points to level up and find treasure. You can also make friends to add to your party so fighting monsters is easier. It's so fun, Keiko!"
Even though I nodded as she talked, I blocked out her babbling after "role-playing." It was definitely not something I was even remotely interested in.
"We'll make you a character," Tsukiko decided when I pulled into the driveway.
"Excuse me?" I asked quickly. She didn't hear me, though. The door was already shut and she was already on her way up to our room. I almost forgot to turn the car off before running after her.
I could kick myself multiple times for starting the conversation about The World on the way home. By the time I entered our room, she was already starting up the computer. I nearly threw my backpack onto my bed.
"Tsukiko, it's okay. You don't have to," I told her quickly before anymore damage could be done. "I don't want to take away from your playing time."
She shook her head stubbornly. "It's fine. I can share." I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.
Once the computer was turned on, she clicked on an icon on her desktop in the shape of a W. After a few seconds, an entirely new desktop appeared with a background image that matched her keychain. What was the big deal about that stupid pig anyway? It wasn't even cute.
"This is my The World desktop," she explained. She grabbed the controller from the side of the desk and clicked the down arrow, explaining the six icons on the left side. The top icon, which was a square, was the first one she explained. "This one is to go to the menu to access the actual game and the BBS. This one," she moved down to the check mark under the square, "is your e-mail. People from the game can send you e-mails about anything pretty much."
"Is it the same as a regular e-mail?" I asked, trying my hardest to sound interested. She shook her head.
"No. Only people that play The World can send you e-mails here." She moved down again to an N icon. "This is the News. It's pretty much updates about stuff from all over the world. The next two icons are just options to change your background image and music."
She moved down to the very last one and logged out of her account, then moved away from the chair. I had no choice but to sit after she patted the seat with her hand. I sighed and stared at the screen, reading the option to enter a character name and password, or create a new account. Tsukiko chose the last option for me.
An entirely new screen popped up. "Please enter a character gender and name," I read aloud. "Female, of course. And a name…" I leaned back in the chair, thinking hard. It didn't matter anyway. I was never going to play this game again.
"How about Rin?" Tsukiko offered. "It's short and simple, like you."
I gave her a small smile. "Are you saying I'm short?" I asked, feigning a hurt tone.
"No, of course not! I meant, you don't like to drag things out, like conversations."
So she picked up on that. Smart girl. I allowed the controller to fall onto my lap and typed in the name. "Rin it is, then." Once I hit enter, a smaller screen took the place of the old. "Character class?"
"My favorite part," Tsukiko whispered. "There are six character classes in The World. Twin Blades fight with two daggers and they move pretty fast. Heavy Blades have huge swords and can wear any type of armor in the game. Wavemasters use magic to fight and they have strong healing spells. Blademasters have thin swords but they have pretty heavy damage. Two of the most famous players in the game are Blademasters. I'm a Long Arm, so I fight with a long spear. And the last is a Heavy Axeman. They carry huge axes and are the slowest class in the game. It's pretty rare to see females with that class."
I scrolled through the classes for about half a minute, then picked whichever class my arrow landed on. Wavemaster. Of course I get the weakest one of the bunch.
"Now you get to create what she looks like," Tsukiko said from behind me.
I decided to stay simple with her looks. I stayed away from any green eye color and the ones that didn't look natural. I settled on blue eyes and long black hair. As for her clothes, I didn't care much about them at all. She became barefoot with a long, dark blue vest and mid-thigh shorts the same color with black swirls up the sides.
"Way to be depressing, Keiko," Tsukiko teased me. I looked over my shoulder and stuck my tongue out at her.
Like it matters anyway. The second you leave this room, I'm deleting this character. I thought.
"Now what?" I asked. She grabbed the mouse from my right hand and clicked the "save" option.
"Character 'Rin' has been created. Please enjoy The World!" the screen showed. Tsukiko grabbed the ugly goggles and placed them on my face.
"You'll be able to see everything from Rin's eyes through these. You have the option to turn off the computer screen so its just through the FMD, but we should leave it on for now so I can see and help you."
"FMD?" I asked, looking at my The World desktop through the goggles.
I felt the controller in my hands and I hit the icon to go to The World. Everything went black for a moment, and the words "Aqua Capital Mac Anu" appeared in the middle. At the top right corner, the Greek symbol for Delta appeared. As if reading my mind, Tsukiko told me it meant I was in the Delta server's Root Town.
"This is where every player starts out," Tsukiko explained when I arrived. I, or rather, Rin was looking at a vast town with stone buildings and a large bridge in the middle. "Mac Anu is the beginner's level town. All the others are down for maintenance right now, so it might be a bit crowded."
We took some time to explore the place. Although I hated the game, I had to admit that the scenery was very appealing. It was definitely a place I wouldn't mind visiting, if it were real.
She enlightened me on the various shops, how to trade with people or give them gifts, and how to rotate the camera angle to my liking. It was so hard to block out the voices of all the other players to hear her.
"Now talk," she ordered. "Say hi to that wall."
I turned toward the nearest wall and said, "hello" with my mouth. In the chat log at the bottom of the screen, the word was typed for me while Rin said it in my voice at the same time I did. Whoa, talk about technology of the future.
"There are three types of chat. Public chat, party chat, and private chat. With public, everyone hears you and is able to get to your words with the chat log. When you're in party chat, only the other two players in your party can hear you speak, and in private, only one more player can, whether or not they're in your party at the time. Now, go to that golden circle."
I obeyed her and returned to where I first started out. "What is that?" I asked.
"It's a Chaos Gate. It's how to travel to different towns and areas. All right, for part A, choose 'Bursting.'" I did as I was told. "For part B, choose 'Passed Over.'" Again, I did. "And for part C, 'Aqua Field.'"
Once they were all put together, I looked at the new screen. There were two options, "warp" and "cancel" next to the area's status. It was a level 1 area with the element of wood. There were glowing orbs of different colors next to that, but those just confused me. After studying it all for a moment, I chose to warp to the area.
The screen went dark again, like it had before I arrived at Mac Anu. In the middle in a blue box, the words "Bursting Passed Over Aqua Field" were listed, next to the Delta symbol. I was suddenly blinded by a green field.
Using the buttons Tsukiko told me to use, I rotated the camera around, looking at my surroundings. Everything was so green and a soft tune that reminded me of summer played in the background. I stopped circling around when my sister gasped beside me.
I knew why. A man was standing not too far away. Well, I think he was a man. His back was turned to me, but I could make out almost every single white feather on his wings. Next to me, my sister was practically hyperventilating.
"ITS BALMUNG OF THE AZURE SKY!"