Well-disguised as Hooded Merchants, Mixt and Nakishdan returned to Star Metal City. They intended to visit Origin, a small nightclub in the centre of the city where they knew the could pick up work from the various traders, merchants and gangsters who used it as a base for their operations. Geeda Lala and Fourteen Trees had been against the idea, deeming it wiser to remain hidden, but Nakishdan and Mixt were worried about their levels.
'If we don't do some missions and get experience points we'll stay at this low level and we'll be weak. We need to level up or we'll have no chance if we come up against tough opponents.'
'Why don't we just stay hidden?' asked Geeda. 'Till Fourteen Trees figures out a way to get us out of here?'
'She has to invent some new kind of mathematics before she can do that. How long will that take?'
Fourteen Trees was busy at her screen, and didn't reply.
'Don't worry.' Nakishdan was confident. 'We'll be fine. We'll rack up some missions and make us all stronger.'
They'd left the bunker, laving Geeda Lala worried, and Fourteen Trees engrossed in her calculations. As they entered the city, they were interested to see in virtual reality all the locations they'd only seen on-screen before. Shops, restaurants, banks, all now real, three-dimensional locations populated by real people.
'How could Girsin make all this?'
'He probably just pushed a button,' said Nakishdan. 'The Kesh probably have fancy programmes for making worlds. Did you hear that little bleep? Every time we discover a new place we get a few experience points. We'll level up in no time.'
'Isn't this the street where that therapist was?'
'Dr Tau? Swift solutions to all your space anxieties?'
They paused outside Dr Tau's office.
'We don't really need to visit,' said Mixt. 'My OCD hardly comes on unless we're in London.'
'You're right,' agreed Nakishdan. 'I'm not feeling any problems at all. Excellent mental health, really.'
They paused. There was something very tempting about the doorway leading to Dr Tau's office.
'Couldn't do any harm, I suppose. See what he has to say.'
Mixt made a face. 'We should really visit Origin. We need some missions.' Her communicator bleeped.
'Mixt? It's Geeda. I think you should come back. Fourteen says she's close to a breakthrough. She's invented some imaginary dimensions and she thinks she might be able to send a message home.'
'Not quite. She needs to invent some more dimensions. And then join it up through some adjunction space into some new form of quotient space. But she says she's close.'
Mixt ended the conversation. She gazed at Dr Tau's door. 'There's something very stressful about Fourteen Trees' complicated calculations. Maybe we should visit the doctor.'
'Good idea,' said Nakishdan. 'No harm in a little therapy.'
Hastily launched, Rainith's arrow did not quite find its target. It missed Noutan's chest but slammed into his upper arm, pinioning him to the tree behind. As he struggled to free himself, Rainith hurtled through the air towards him, sword in hand. The effect of the concealment cloak wore off as she flew.
'Die Elf!" screamed the fairy, as the extended point of her sword flashed towards his neck. Such was Noutan's skill and determination that he managed to parry the blow, his own sword flashing into his hand while he still struggled to rise. Rainith mounted a furious assault which Noutan struggled to hold at bay. Finally wrenching himself free of the arrow, ripping out a huge chunk of flesh from his arm as he did so, he made it to his feet, blood pouring from his wound. He parried the fairy's assault. From the tops of the trees came the sound of shouting as the Elves saw what was happening. Rainith took to the air. Last time she'd faced Noutan he'd followed her into the sky but now, badly wounded, he struggled to ascend. She was above and then behind him in an instant. As he attempted to turn and face her she drove her sword right through his back. The Elf sagged. Rainith withdrew her blade and then struck again, piercing his throat as he stumbled and fell. Before he reached the ground Rainith had stabbed him a third time, running her sword through his side and into his heart. Noutan fell dead at her feet, blood pouring from his many wounds.
The fairy yelled in triumph. 'Die Elf! Die!'
Rainith laughed as her enemy fell dead in front of her. Elves were now flooding towards her, swarming down from the trees, running into the clearing. Noutan's tribe raced towards her from all directions. Rainith took to the air, wings beating furiously.
There was no hope of escape. Rainith had barely given it a thought and if she had, she'd have known there was none. Only a few metres off the ground she was brought down by a hail of Elvish arrows. They pierced her wings, bringing her crashing down beside the body of her dead foe. Two more arrows tore through her legs. Rainith struggled to rise but failed. The first Elf to reach her carried an axe in his hand. With Rainith helpless on the grass, he raised his weapon, ready to kill the hated invader.
Fourteen Trees was engaged in mathematical enquiries complicated enough to have discouraged far more experienced mathematicians among the Kesh. Trying to find a route back to Mixt's reality in London required skills far above her current school level. She remained undaunted. Partly, this was because she liked maths. Her skills were already well beyond those of her school environment. And partly it was because of the lingering grudge she carried over their earlier betrayal by Nineteen Stars. It infuriated her that Nineteen Stars had betrayed their after-school club 47 Jeng, selling them out for the reward of a place at 106 Junior. 106 Junior was the richest school in her country. Fourteen Trees disliked their arrogant students, and refused to admit that their school, their teachers or their after-school clubs were in any way superior to her own. Motivated by this, she refused to give up on any mathematical endeavour, no matter how difficult. When Geeda Lala suggested she might take a break, she waved the suggestion away.
'I'm making progress. I'm sure I can get us through three dimensions. London can't be much further.'
Geeda Lala made them tea, using the machine in the kitchen. For an underground bunker, it was quite a comfortable residence. The virtual game-world they now inhabited was a well-crafted place, testament to Mathematician Girsin's skills, though she wasn't about to say that to Fourteen Trees, who disliked Girsin even more than Nineteen Stars and wasn't about to admit that he was more skilful than her either.
Geeda Lala tried out the combat simulator, attempting to shoot a series of artificially generated enemies. She wasn't much interested in combat, but thought it might be wise to improve her skills if they were to be trapped here for any length of time. She was interrupted by a triumphant cry from Fourteen Trees.
'What is it?'
'I've worked out how to get through another dimension. Maybe two.'
'Is that far enough to get us home?'
Fourteen Trees studied the small, transparent screen that floated in front of her. 'It might be. Let's take a look.' She tapped the screen, and then said 'Open.' An large orange oval of light appeared. Geeda Lala looked through. She saw grass, trees, and a badly-damaged fairy. Standing above the fairy with an axe in his hand was an angry Elf.
'Rainith!' As the Elf's axe descended, Geeda rushed forward, grabbed Rainith and hauled her back through the portal. Fourteen Trees, reacting quickly, shut it down. They looked at Rainith. She was cut, battered, bleeding, with arrows sticking out from her legs and wings, and obviously close to death.
'Welcome to Dr Tau's.' The receptionist greeted Mixt and Nakishdan cheerfully as they appeared in her office. 'How can we help you?'
Mixt's communicator bleeped.
'Please turn that off - ' began the receptionist, but Mixt had already answered. She spoke urgently to Nakishdan.
'We have to go. Rainith's appeared.'
Nakishdan scowled. 'So what?'
'She's badly injured.'
'She's always badly injured.'
'For goodness sake!' Mixt grabbed Nakishdan's arm and dragged him from the office. She was still speaking to Geeda Lala as they hurried downstairs.
'How bad is she?'
'Her health bar's almost at zero and it won't regenerate.'
'That happens here. When it gets down to only a few points, it won't regenerate without health packs. There should be some in the supply cupboard.'
'Health packs? Like health packs in a game?'
'But these are real injuries. She's got arrows sticking through her.'
'Try them. We're living in the game. It might work.'
Mixt and Nakishdan rushed into the street, flagging down an air-taxi in which they hurried back to their underground bunker.
'Stupid fairy,' grumbled Nakishdan. 'Can't have a moment's peace without her interrupting everything.'
'I think you're being a bit ungracious here. She is a fellow member of our team.'
'She's never any use. We'd all be better off if she just stayed in fairyland.'
They arrived home to find Rainith, now healthy, talking to Geeda Lala, who was showing her how to use the various game menus.
'I see it worked.' Mixt smiled warmly at Rainith, who didn't smile back.
'Worked really well,' said Geeda Lala. 'Just applied a health pack and she started getting better. We really are in a game-world here. I've been showing Rainith how to do everything.'
'How did Rainith get here?'
Fourteen Trees explained her attempt to reach through the dimensions. 'Lucky for us the fairy dimension was in the way. I'm still working on going further.'
'What's this for?' asked Rainith, as a menu popped into the air above her wrist.'
'That's for weapons,' explained Geeda Lala. 'You can select from whatever we've managed to acquire. Look, there's a laser pistol you can use.'
The fairy scowled. 'Where's my sword?'
'Personal items like that haven't been transferred into the game,' said Mixt. 'A shame, I miss my naginata.'
'I want my sword!'
'Well it's not here, you idiotic fairy,' said Nakishdan. 'Just pick a laser pistol and learn how to use it.'
Not satisfied with this, Rainith angrily began pushing every button on her screen. More menus popped into existence in front of her.
'You're wasting your time. We're experts in Star Metal Planet. We know everything - '
'Aha!' Rainith cried out in triumph. 'Special weapons!' she pushed another button and her sword appeared in front of her.
'Eh…' Mixt and Nakishdan both looked embarrassed. They brought up their own screens. 'Special weapons? Look, there's my naginata!' Mixt retrieved her own weapon from the menu. Nakishdan found his cavalry sword.
'How come we never noticed this menu before?' he wondered.
'Probably because you spent all your time doing stupid things like going to therapy,' said Rainith, contemptuously.
'No we haven't,' said Mixt.
'That's definitely not what we were doing at all,' said Nakishdan.