((Alright, this chapter clearly shows what happens when you procrastinate writing and end up taking far too long to write a chapter. THIS SHOWS HOW SCATTERBRAINED I AM. DX Gah. Well, this is supposed to be my faaaaaaaavorite chapter, but I believe I butchered it. Too bad, I'll fix it later. Besides, right in the middle of this chapter is where everything I had handwritten RAN OUT. Now everything is coming straight from my brain. Woot.

My favorite character/punching bag gets introduced here! Sort of... YAY.))

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As Sam haggled sharply with a weapons vendor, Aidan wandered around the market nearby. He had just been told by Sam to stick close and he would be fine. All of the sights drew him in, however, and he found himself mesmerized by the sights of blacksmiths hammering away at misshapen pieces of smoldering metal. He had read about these things, but never seen them. It was as if Aidan was transported back in time to a place where old and new collided.

Every so often, Aidan would look back and make sure Sam was still in his sights, and she always was there—bartering and arguing with salespeople as she tried to find Aidan a small arsenal of weaponry to train with.

One thing that Aidan found surprising was how different every person looked. He saw a few other men and women who were also covered with fur and animal tails and such, which apparently wasn't strange. Every single clothing style from every country was showcased on the bodies of the hundreds of players that crowded one of the many weapon markets.

When Aidan paused to run his hand over the side of a building, his surprise grew when he could feel the rough hewn stone. Every crack bit into his fingers just as any other stone would, but this wasn't any other stone. This was entirely pixilated computer graphics. The science behind it all was far beyond him, and that was okay for the time being. In fact, amazement was the only thing Aidan could feel ever since he and Sam left her small home. TSP was a world so vastly different from the life Aidan had known, and it was as if anyone could come here and become a new person. Character avatars could be changed so that you didn't even look like yourself anymore, and a player could take on an entirely new identity.

Earlier, just after they had left, Sam had reached one hand over to him and pulled something out of thin air. It was a flat, semi-transparent green screen which carried the player's statistics. Sam had called it a "Data Port" and said that all Aidan needed to do in order to see someone else's information was simply point to them from any distance and pull. The thought was ridiculous to Aidan, but she said that it was commonplace and not rude at all to point; it was just what players did. He did so a few times to some random players, and then decided to try it on Sam.

What he saw on the screen did nothing but add to his amazement and surprise.

PLAYER NO- 2,189
CALLED- Sam
LEVEL- 142
PREMIUM PLAYER
SPECIALTY- Staves

The information Sam gave was incredibly sparse, and contained no other information. Other players gave out contact information, lists of hobbies, favorite parts of TSP, and a wide manner of other unnecessary things. Then, out of curiosity, Aidan checked his own data port.

PLAYER NO- 8,242,398
LEVEL-0

Nothing else was given on his, and he felt a little foolish for it. He made a mental note to ask Sam how to change parts of it and what a "premium player" was. Also, realizing that he was over the eight millionth player gave him a larger sense of how vast this game had become over the years.

"Hey, noobie, if yer at least semi-intelligent, yer gonna show me what's in tha' sack, understand?"

Aidan was jerked out of his mesmerized state when a firm hand fiercely grabbed his upper arm. The data port in his hand disappeared when he yelped and reached up. Whoever the hand belonged to paid no attention to him, though, and simply spun him around with a cruel jerk; finally giving Aidan a chance to see him.

He towered far above Aidan, whose eyes came level to the man's chest. Also, his features were strange, even to Aidan who was now a furry mess of a person. His chin was very prominent and pointed, and his face was curved in such a way that gave him a youthful appearance. It were his eyes, however, that made him look so mature—they were very narrow with long, curved eyelashes cascading into brilliant blue pools that were his feminine eyes. Also plastered onto the right side of his face were two triangular tattoos, both blue. One was directly beneath the other, and the upper one was slightly larger. Thick, pale brown hair fell down across his face and reached to the middle of his back. It was spiked crazily on the top, and was stuffed into strange silver tubes that framed his flawless cheeks.

Then there were his ears. No, they were not animalistic in any way; rather they were long and thin. They jutted out from his face a good 20 centimeters and came to a sharp point. A small silver hoop hung from his right ear, too.

It astounded Aidan that people could even warp their characters to appear like elves. Only this elf wasn't exactly Santa's little helper. It was quite clear that the elf, his bright orange hoodie, and gigantic sheathed sword on his back wanted something.

"Easier if yeh cooperate, noob," he muttered as he grasped Aidan's throat threateningly and dragged him into a nearby alleyway, after a quick glance around their surroundings.

Once in the elven man's desired place, he thrust Aidan up against a wall harshly. Aidan whimpered and felt panic flooding over his racing heart. Where was Sam? He tried to twist his head around, but the elf's hand was like steel.

Another shadow filled the corner of Aidan's eyes, and he glanced over. Blocking the entrance to the dark alley was a silhouette of a burly man, definitely not Sam. The elf paid no heed to him, and instead grabbed the sack which Sam had given to Aidan.

"Now, le' see what yeh got in 'ere," he drawled.

While he fished through Aidan's sack with his free hand, Aidan looked him over and found a vast array of other oddities about him. For one thing, his fingernails were all perfectly groomed and uniform in length and sheen; Aidan had expected the exact opposite from someone so rude. Aidan also noticed the thick accent he had. From what Aidan had read about and heard online, he could deduce that this man hailed from the continent of Australia.

The sack dropped to the ground when the elven man had pulled out its contents—a few vials of colorful liquid and numerous paper packages. He dropped everything except one package, which he ripped open with his teeth, and a shimmering brown powder exploded from it, falling to the earthen ground below them. A trace amount remained in the torn package, which he lifted up to his lips and shook it into his open mouth. Aidan's eyes widened when he gulped it down without much of a second thought. He stood still for a moment, as if thinking about what he had just consumed, perhaps waiting for its effects to kick in.

But nothing happened, and he turned back to Aidan with an angry expression.

"Noob, you ain't makin' any sort of sense."

He threw the package over his shoulder and grasped Aidan's throat tighter, staring him down with a menacing expression.

"Look, noobie, yeh-"

A flurry of something suddenly shuffled past, and Aidan's neck was suddenly released. Aidan clenched his eyes shut as he fell to the ground, a gun erupted, and someone grunted loudly.

Cautiously, Aidan opened his eyes and looked up to see what had happened.

The brawny man who stood in the entrance of the alley had his feet spread far apart and his gun pointed at the opposite wall, smoke billowing from its barrel. There, Sam stood in an offensive stance. In her hands she held her stave, which now had a dark bullet streak decorating it. The end of her staff now carried a wickedly sharp arrowhead. Elf man was now the one against the wall; the grimace on his face showed not only anger, but also surprise and confusion as he stared down at Sam's spear-like weapon that was waiting, very ready and very close to giving his throat a deadly kiss. The bullet from muscular man's gun had ricocheted off the stave and was now planted firmly in the wall.

Aidan, still shaking from the… attack, was beyond relieved to see Sam come to his rescue once again.

"Look, Pointy Ear, I don't know who you are or what your deal is, but I do know that this kid, noob or not, is with me, and because of that fact, you're going to respect him, do you follow me?" Sam snarled, deathly steam practically flowing from her lips.

He didn't take Sam's lecture very well, however, and grabbed the end of her stave sharply. Sam's eyes narrowed as he retorted, "Watch it, kitty, yer playin' with-"

Sam jerked her weapon out of his hand and rested it swiftly on his pointed nose. She smirked when he became suddenly silent with a flinch.

"You wouldn't know fire if it snuck up behind you and bit you in the butt," Sam raved, leaning in near his face. "How long have you been playing, hm?" Without taking her eyes off him, she snagged his data port out of the air and speedily glanced at it before throwing it aside. "Four years? My goodness, Pointy Ear, you're nothing more than a noob with a big sword. As for me, I've been playing this game for over twenty years. Twenty frickin' years of training my rear off so that I can pound arrogant noobs like yourself back into their holes, understand?"

The elf refused to show his intimidation, but Aidan knew he had to be feeling it. Meanwhile, the beefy man in the alley entrance was giving Sam a curious look as he lowered his gun and clicked the safety back on.

Sam, however, continued to rant, "I don't give a rip about how high and mighty you think you are; 'cause you ain't. So, you can take your funny ears and split, all right?" She finally looked away from him and over to Aidan, her eyes aflame. "Get up."

As she lowered her staff Aidan did so, watching nervously as Sam and the elf glared at one another icily. A chill ran down Aidan's spine.

Brawny man finally spoke, and when he did so Aidan recognized yet another thick accent. It wasn't Australian, however, perhaps German. "Derek, let's go—there are other worms we can peck at."

The elf rubbed his neck and at last jerked his gaze away from Sam, who straightened her back and held her nose high. He stormed out of the alley, not even regarding Aidan or his buff friend, both of whom he just brushed past. It was the brawny man who gave Aidan one last glance before holstering his gun and turning on his heel—joining the elf as they went to find new prey. Until both were out of sight, Sam stared them down, and then she chuckled slightly.

"How you holding up, Aidan?" she asked with a smile, brushing off what had just happened.

"I-I…"

Sam kneeled down and began picking up the vials and packets the elf had so messily scattered around, tossing them all back into the burlap sack.

"There are quite a few players like him, but I think he was filled with the most hot air I'd ever seen." She handed the bag back to Aidan and squeezed his shoulder lightly, giving him a humorous smile. "You're not hurt, are you?"

"N-no, just sh-shaken up."

"Good." Sam plucked up the torn packet and scowled slightly, peering inside it to see if anything was left. "That idiot ate this, didn't he?"

Aidan nodded.

"It's an antitoxin, if you were wondering. Some kinds of monsters can inject a dangerous poison that will slowly sap you of your energy and life. This powder would counteract the poison of a pretty fearsome snake, so unless he had been bit by that snake and didn't know it, nothing will happen to him; all he managed to do was waste an expensive medicine."

"O-oh," Aidan stammered.

"It doesn't matter, what does, though, is that I got some stuff for you." She reached behind her and pulled out a sword that was resting in a stiff leather sheath.

Aidan took the blade with both hands, handling it lightly as if he might break it just by breathing on it. He pulled it out slightly and stared at the etched carvings that decorated it—a Chinese dragon with a gaping maw that was flooded with elegant flames laced with gold; scattered all around the beast were symbols in a language unfamiliar to Aidan. It almost seemed as though the creature was reaching out with his flat claws to get Aidan, and for a moment its eyes seemed to sparkle with life. Quickly, Aidan sheathed it and handed it back to Sam.

"Uh, that's for you, Ade," she chuckled, pushing it back toward him.

"Wh-what?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "I told you I bought you some stuff. Youuuu. I don't use swords, silly."

Aidan had to gulp.

"Here," she said, kneeling down slightly and taking it from him. "You strap this belt around your waist, see?"

Aidan watched as she pulled it tight around his waist, and he made an attempt at chewing one of his claw-like fingernails. It hung like a deadweight around him, reaching to his mid-thigh and hanging at a slight angle.

"There we go! You are right-handed, right?"

"R-right."

"Spiffy," Sam sung as she pulled something else out of her wonderful cape; this time it was a paper package, which she unfolded and showed Aidan the contents.

Eight throwing stars, each with four, five, or six points, rested in their paper home.

"These are called Shuriken. We won't use them quite yet, but I know they're uber useful, so you ought to keep them on you." She nested them back in the paper and then into a cloth case, which she fastened to Aidan's belt.

Finally she stood and planted her hands on her hips, giving Aidan a look of satisfaction. Feeling awkward, Aidan flushed and handled the hilt of his new weapon.

"You'll get used to it, trust me," Sam reassured him.

All he could do was shrug and, when Sam grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the alley, follow her diligently. She didn't say where she was taking him, but Aidan was far too occupied with the consistent thump-thump-thump of the sword at his thigh with each step he took. He didn't care to examine his surroundings anymore, as the weight of what was soon going to happen began to drag him down into a brand new terror.

Aidan had never saved either of his parents from much of anything—except that one time when his mother had accidentally set the toilet on fire. It had been his brilliant idea to put water on the fire, thus saving the toilet from pure destruction.

But this wasn't exactly a flaming toilet; this was life and death mashed together by a web of lies and secrets, and Aidan didn't know what to make of it all.

Thank goodness for Sam and her pool of knowledge. Without her Aidan would—

"Hey, Ade, you there?"

He jerked out of his trance, feeling Sam pull on one of his stiff whiskers.

"Eh?"

"We're where we need to be, so how about you pay attention?"

She stepped aside and showed him the vast field which they had come to. Scattered all across it were around a dozen giant stone arches. Aidan stared at them, confused.

"Watch," Sam said as she pointed one finger to the nearest structure.

A small group of people were readying themselves nearby it, sorting out weapons and counting out potions. After a few moments of preparation, they all made their way to the arch and proceeded through it, talking and laughing all the while.

Although Aidan oddly expected it, he was still surprised when the small group failed to reappear on the other side. Quickly, he turned to Sam for an explanation, his face obviously confused.

"These are the Warp Arches. Each one can take you to a different area of this world quite easily, and saves a lot of time and walking. But even so, there's still a lot to be done and a lot of ground to cover after going through one," Sam said.

She raised her hand and pointed to one of the thirteen archways; Aidan followed her finger and gazed at it, surprised still.

"That'll take us to the grand plains, which I bet will be a good starting point for you to train. We can't exactly save your parents when you're still a noob, right?"

Aidan merely shrugged.

"Just agree with me, Aidan," Sam pressed.

"Sure."

Sam rolled her eyes and patted his back, a humorous grin plastered on her face.

"Aight, let's go," she declared, grabbing his arm and dragging him along with her as she made a determined beeline for the arch.