This is Chapter 6: A Glitch in the System
Title: Virtually a Princess
Summary: AU Katara is discovering a new virtual reality game that Sokka himself invented. Her relationships with her gaming group is complicated enough already, but with the in-game romance and relationships, reality and the game world is starting to mix. When a rogue hacker invades the system and Sokka disappears, Katara must find a way to seperate the reality from the fiction and find a way rescue her brother with the help of her allies from the game world.
--Virtually a Princess--
++Level 6: A Glitch in the System++
Katara entered her room and sat on her bed. She ran a hand absently over her comforter which was a deep blue with splashes of white that were shaped like ice and snow. The walls were a lighter blue with one window covered with white lace curtains. A cute little window seat had been built into the wall, and she would often sit there on clear nights, letting the moon cleanse and strengthen her. She had a bookshelf near the window that housed all her favorite books, movies, and games. A desk stood against the wall next to her bed supporting a computer and a variety of other cluttered necessities. After a stressful day, her room was a safe haven, a place she could relax surrounded by calming blue. A light breeze whispered through the curtains, and she glanced at the alarm clock on her desk.
Time to hook in again.
Being away from the game for a few days made Katara doubt the things she had felt in that virtual world. Surely her mind was exaggerating the details. She approached her desk and found Sokka’s new helmet in its box underneath it. Placing it on her head and tightening it around her temples was simple, mechanical, a motion her body recognized. Even so, she knew that hooking in would be radically different than normal.
She could feel the world warping and changing around her, soft blues being replaced by earthy green and brown. Her curtains transformed into leaves that were fluttering lazily in the wind. She could feel the warmth of the light that filtered through trees on her face, and the wind tugged at her hair and her dress. The world around her was vivid and overwhelming, and for a moment, a strange vertigo assaulted her senses. Having no confining stone to hold her upright like her previous log on, she stumbled forward, but steady hands caught her. These hands were strong and secure, but the skin was soft, the hands of a noble or a child who has never experienced blistering labor. Her eyes met a familiar gold, and she breathed a quiet, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” was the murmured reply. She caught her balance, and he released her.
The awkward tension wasn’t quite as bad as last time, but she hadn’t been subjected to the next cut scene yet. Standing next to her solemn companion, she watched the other players spawn into the world.
Sokka appeared a few moments after her, and he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at her and Axel. In response, Axel took a few steps away from her and somehow managed to appear calm and unruffled by her brother’s teasing. She noticed the tension in the boy’s hands and smiled to herself.
It seemed that a few of the dignified fantasy emperor’s feathers had been ruffled.
Jet appeared in all of his splendor, his shoulders back and his head high. His eyes swept over the area, and when they landed on Katara, he grinned, one eyebrow rising upward in a strangely attractive greeting.
Toph materialized, and after casting a look about the incomplete group, she threw herself into the dirt. Tennin sparkled into existence next, in motion even before she had become solid causing light to glint off of her pretty hair and her billowing white cloak. As soon as she was fully spawned into the game world, she bounded happily to Sokka’s side.
As Tennin chatted happily with Sokka, Aang appeared with wind swirling around his character as though the virtual air was happy he’d joined its world. His large gray eyes lit up when he saw Katara, and after forming a swirling sphere of air, he leapt on it, allowing it to carry him to her side.
“Katara! How are you? Did you get my message earlier?”
“I’m good, Aang. I did get your message, but I had a waterbending training session. Maybe we can level up together some other time. Is that okay?”
The boy nodded exuberantly. “Well, come on, guys. Let’s get this game started.”
Aang turned and started running through the group. He was particularly energetic and inattentive, and in his haste, he collided with Sokka who hit the ground and was enclosed in a cloud of dust coming off of the dirt road.
Katara watched as Aang gazed down at her brother with a perplexed expression as though trying to figure out what he’d hit. The dust cleared, and her brother jerked his head around to glower pitifully at the younger boy.
“Oh, sorry, Sokka. You shouldn’t stand in the middle of the road like that.”
Sokka leapt to his feet and stalked down the road muttering under his breath. Tennin giggled and followed him. With a rush of air, Aang’s staff became a glider, and he flew overhead, impatient to start the gaming session. Katara fell into step behind her brother and wasn’t really surprised to find Jet close at her right elbow a few moments later. Jet started a friendly conversation with her. Toph decided to walk to Katara’s left, but Nodding sarcastically at Jet’s thinly-veiled flirting seemed to be the only reason that she joined them.
Katara noticed that Axel had taken a position at the back of the group again, as tense as he always seemed to be. His shoulders were rigid, his face twisted into an overly serious expression. She was confused by his peculiar tendency to be so somber while playing the game, but she pushed the thoughts away as the party began to encounter the monsters in this area of the forest.
She had leveled up enough that they weren’t a problem, but that didn’t make the battles any less fun.
“Surely this isn’t the capital city,” Katara said as they approached a cluster of collapsing hovels and buildings sagging in disrepair.
“No,” Sokka replied. “But this village means we’re getting close.”
When they approached, Katara saw a group of women with elaborate face paint and green armor. They appeared to be guarding the entrance of the village. She realized as they got closer that these women were wearing the traditional outfits of the Kyoshi warriors.
As if cued, Aang fell out of the sky near her. “I met the Kyoshi warriors, and I helped Sokka get the armor design right.” He beamed at her. “I liked the Kyoshi warriors; they were lots of fun.”
“Coming to raid our village, strangers?” came an angry voice from the head of the group. Katara froze mid step, but no cut scene started. No one in her party seemed bothered by the angry armored woman, and she continued with them.
The group of women seemed to take this as a threat, and they took aggressive stances. Finally, Sokka, who was currently leading the group, halted in the road and seemed to wait for something.
Another voice broke through the tension. “Ladies, bow down. It’s Emperor Kirin! The rightful ruler of this land.”
Gasps filled the air, and all eyes locked on Axel.
“It is the Emperor,” the leader of the group said in a startled voice. She fell to her knees, and her comrades behind her followed their example. “Please feel free to enter our village, travelers.”
The crowd of women rose to their feet and dispersed to take their normal places in the village.
“Let’s explore and restock our inventory, guys,” Sokka commanded.
The village wasn’t large, and it didn’t take long to explore. Buying new items had taken an even shorter amount of time. Katara had decided to talk to the NPCs to find out if there was any juicy in-game gossip. So far, she had mostly received inane, uninteresting information, but when she rounded the corner, she was face-to-face with another Kyoshi warrior. She was surprised because she had been to this corner of the village already. She didn’t remember seeing an NPC here.
She approached the girl and watched the cute girl turn to smile at her. Almost immediately Katara recognized this girl as the one who had told her in text boxes that her house had been burned down in a raid earlier this month.
Most of the Kyoshi warriors in the village, excepting only the leader, hadn’t had voice actors and spoke exclusively text boxes. For this reason, Katara was surprised further when the girl spoke out loud. Maybe this was a special encounter, and that’s why this part had a voice over.
“Welcome to our village. I heard you are going to the capital.”
Katara nodded at the smiling girl, but she was uneasy. This girl’s voice was frightening and manipulative, the sound of a snake’s voice personified in a human language.
“You are the Princess Kaguya, aren’t you? Everyone in the village is talking about you.” The girl’s smile widened, and there was a menacing tone in the unnerving voice. “You’re the Emperor’s lover, they say.”
Katara stepped away from the girl, goosebumps running up her arms. “Um…”
“You’re so pretty,” the girl cooed. “For a Moon Princess, that is.”
A cold chill ran up Katara’s spine, and she was relieved when she saw Jet and Sokka come around the corner of the building. Rushing over to them, she pointed at the smiling Kyoshi warrior.
“Whoever you got to voice act that warrior has a terrifying voice.”
Sokka raised his eyebrows as though she were crazy. “That Kyoshi warrior doesn’t have a voice.”
Katara punched her brother’s arm. “Yes, she does. She just talked to me.”
Her brother merely shook his head in disbelief.
She huffed at him and trotted back towards the warrior. “I’ll show you.”
The girl turned sad eyes on Katara. A text box appeared near the girl’s head and the words “Earlier this month, bandits raided the village and burned down my house,” scrawled through the air.
“See,” Sokka said triumphantly. “Come on, Katara. It’s just your imagination. We came to get you. We’re going to talk to the leader of the Kyoshi warriors, but we need you for this scene to activate right.”
Sokka was already moving away, dismissing his sister’s claims with a wave of his hand.
Katara watched her brother and followed him hesitantly. She cast one look back at the warrior, and she was almost sure that the girl turned a wicked smile towards her. A shudder strong enough to make her shoulders tremble noticeably ran up Katara’s back and down her arms.
It’s just a glitch in the system, she told herself.
Jet looked at her with concern and patted her shoulder. He let his hand slide down and rest at the small of her back.
He smiled down at her encouragingly, and many of her confused thoughts about the unusual NPC flew from her head.
Katara snorted as the cut scene started, and the leader of the Kyoshi warriors began to speak. The girl’s voice was very feminine and soft, and the girl’s character was small and had an almost weak look about her.
She knew Suki, the real leader of the Kyoshi warriors, and had gamed with her on several occasions. Suki was one of the toughest girls she had ever played with online, and Katara had never introduced her to Sokka for fear that her brother’s macho attitude would start an online war.
If Suki saw this weak, ultra-feminine portrayal of the Kyoshi warriors, she would definitely wage war on Sokka.
And she would most definitely win.
The girl explained in a high, feminine voice, “My name is Rei. I’m the leader of these warriors. I’ve heard that you wish to fight the false emperor.”
Rei sighed. “You’re not prepared to fight the false tyrant yet. He has a weapon that is covered in an ice that never melts. Not even the most powerful firebenders have been able to melt the ice. To defeat him, you must destroy his weapon first, and to do that, you’ll need a powerful force.”
Sokka interrupted. “But the Princess can control water and ice. Can’t she use his weapon against him?”
The girl shook her head sadly. “Many waterbenders have tried to defeat him, and all have failed. You need a concentrated blast of lightning to shatter the ice on his weapon.”
Aang focused hopeful eyes on Axel. “Emperor Kirin…?”
Axel shook his head. “I have not yet mastered lightning.”
Rei nodded. “Few have, but I may have a solution. Deep in the woods near here where the leaves are so thick that no light can shine through them, an ancient temple stands. At the top of this temple, a gem is perched upon a pedestal.” The girl turned to Katara. “Princess Kaguya, you are a member of the royal family of Heaven, and therefore you possess a very rare type of magic: summon magic. If you can get this gem, your magic gives you the ability to summon the ancient god of lightning, Quetzalcoatl. His lightning is strong enough to destroy the dreaded ice weapon of the false emperor.”
Katara felt herself nod and heard her voice say, “If it will help defeat the false emperor, I’ll find it.”
“Be careful. To prove that you are worthy, you shall have to defeat the god before he will offer his strength. The mission is very dangerous, and no one has ever survived. You are from the Heavens, though. I believe that the ordained Empress of Heaven can handle this mission.”
Katara’s voice was quiet and shy but determined. “I shall win Quetzalcoatl’s help, and then we shall dethrone the tyrant. We shall depart now.” She turned on her heel, and she could feel eyes on her as she swept gracefully from the room.
Finally, her character was showing a little bit of backbone.
When they began walking through the densest part of the forest, the sun disappeared, and the gaming party was plunged into a never ending, almost impenetrable darkness. Even the fire that Axel conjured didn’t fully combat the encroaching darkness. The creatures in this part of the woods were more vicious and more difficult to hit in the artificial night.
Katara couldn’t discern much about the monsters; they came out of the darkness, glowing eyes and bared fangs. In her opinion, the most frightening of the enemies was a wraith with empty eyes and hair that floated eerily around her head. This specter would shriek in her shrill voice and lament in the most pitiable tones.
When the temple appeared out of the darkness, it too had the quality of a specter, eerie white stones piled together to create a staircase into the thick canopy. Katara’s eyes followed the main staircase that rose up the center of the temple, but she could not see the top or the pedestal that should be there. Leaves and gnarled branches obscured her vision, and the darkness seemed to crowd tighter around the treasure that should be hidden at the zenith of the building.
“That’s…that’s where we’re going?” Aang asked, his eyes large and fearful.
“It’s okay, Aang,” Katara said gently, a shiver running through her. “I mean, we’ve made it this far, right?”
The blond monk chuckled nervously. “I guess so.”
“Come on, guys,” Sokka said, his voice wavering. “It’s just a battle. Nothing to get worked up about. Nothing at all. We’re not in any real danger.”
Katara found it humorous that she should hear such fear from the principal creator of the game. He should have no doubt what waits in the darkness just above their heads. She laughed, but it was a quiet, almost frightened sound.
This strange laugh seemed to propel Sokka forward. He too began to laugh in a loud, boisterous voice, but it was only to break the silence. Katara was somewhat thankful because the unnatural silence was more frightening than any sounds that the unseen creatures of the forest could make.
Katara moved to follow the group up the stairs, but a quiet, tentative voice stopped her.
She glanced back at Axel who was pointedly staring at the ground. She colored slightly. “Yeah?”
“Are you… I mean, do you think you’re ready for the, erm, battle?” He glanced up nervously at her face.
Katara scowled. Of course she was ready.
Axel, seeing her annoyance, plowed on. “Because Quetzalcoatl is, well, a lightning based monster, and your character is mainly a water elemental. I mean…” He began to stammer angrily. “What I’m trying to say is, you will be at a disadvantage, and so I was just wondering if you had taken that into account.”
She shook her head at the boy who was shuffling awkwardly. In many of the Final Fantasy games, lightning dealt more damage to water elementals, but not all games operated with the same principle. She had not thought of her weakness against lightning, but that would certainly affect the battle.
“I’ll just have to do my best, I suppose.” She began to climb the stairs, but Axel’s voice stopped her again.
“Well, actually, I have a pair of gloves that I bought in the village that absorb lightning attacks, and I thought since you were at a larger disadvantage than me…” He held out his hand, and a pair of black leather gloves lay in his palm.
Katara grinned at the boy who still had his eyes glued to the ground. When she reached out to take the gloves, her fingers brushed across his, and he jerked a little in surprise. He finally tore his gaze from the ground as she observed the gloves in her hands. She pulled them on over her little white gloves. She frowned as she watched them fade, her white gloves taking precedence over these new ones.
She heard her brother shout for them to hurry.
She glanced up at Axel who was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. “I’ll change my visual later. Right now we better hurry before my brother scares himself to death.” She reached out and tugged at his sleeve. “Thanks, Axel. That was really thoughtful of you.”
With one fleeting smile, she began to run nimbly up the stairs, her hair billowing out behind her, and she listened to his footsteps as he followed her at a slower pace. When she reached the top, she saw a pedestal with a gem placed carefully on a pillow of rich velvet. She approached the gem, almost entranced, and as she moved closer, she could see electricity flickering inside the deep blue orb.
When her fingers touched the smooth gem, a flash of lightning charged the air around them, and an ear-splitting rumble of thunder echoed through the darkness.
In the quick flash, Katara got a good look at something large flying above her small party.
Aang was the first to respond.
“Heh, heh, heh. So you must be Quetzalcoatl then.”
--End Level 6--
Video game references:
-Quetzalcoatl is the Aztec god of the sky and creation (I think), but I’m borrowing him from Final Fantasy 8. In the game, he shoots lightning. In the next chapter, I’ll describe him more and might include a picture. His name is a combination of the name of a bird and the word for serpent which pretty much describes what he looks like. On that note, though, I tried to described the temple as an Aztec temple without actually using the word ‘Aztec.’
-On water vs. lightning- Not all games use the lightning beats water setup, but that’s how Final Fantasy 8 works. And since I stole Quetzalcoatl from that game…
-For Final Fantasy 7 fans, in the church scene of Advent Children, Tifa uses black leather gloves that absorb electricity (although when leather gained this property I don’t know…) She uses this type of glove in the game too , but I don’t actually know what they look like…
Chapter 7, anyone?