My bow is in my hand. Beads of sweat roll down my back. My enemies are making their way up to the guild house and I have nothing more but a fucking bow in my hand. I see Tiger standing at the bottom of the hill. The blonde boy has a smirk on his face. He has his glowing sword in his hands. He stands there at the bottom of the hill and he looks up at us. His eyes glare as he has his army behind his back. All of them have a sick blood lust in their eyes.

We won't survive this.

"You guys should leave. Go back to the house and get some teleport stones. Teleport to a city maybe," I tell my guild members.

"This is our home," Demona states.

"This is a game," I tell her.

"It's the only home that we have."

Madden nods at that moment, "You're crazy if you think we are going to just leave you like that. You're crazy if you think we are just going to abandon you."

I look over at Madden. Why was he being so nice? Why was he staying at my side especially after the argument we just had?

Hunter had abandoned me. I wouldn't feel any type of way if he rest of them left as well. I look at their faces. Noah is terrified, Demona looks anxious, Sarafine has sunk so deep into herself that she is barely even here with us and Madden is putting on the bravest face that he can. It's so strange feeling like these people are willing to die with me.

"I can't ask you to stay here," I state.

"If we go down...we go down together," Sarafine says.

I don't expect her to say something so brave. She is the last person I expect it to come from. The rest of us can't help but to smile when we hear Sarafine say it. Demona breaks out into a clear laughter shocked and confused that Sarafine is saying that.

"Hell yeah..." Demona says, "I'm with Sarafine."

I'm surprised when Demona puts her arm on Sarafine's shoulder. For the first time Demona seems to respect her. For the first time all of us look at Sarafine as more than some sort of game glitch. Sarafine was our friend. The glimmer of trust and companionship in her eyes is real shit. You couldn't program that.

I draw my string back at that moment and point it towards the army making its way up the side of the mountain. My guild is behind my back and we are outnumbered more than anything I've ever seen in my life. None of that matters though.

Right now I felt powerful. I had my friends.

Demona with her axe.

Madden with his sword and shield.

Sarafine with her staff.

Noah with his twin daggers.

And I have my celestial bow.

"We may not survive today," I tell them, "But for a year we weren't supposed to survive. They trapped us in a game. Their social experiment was to test us. Well today we are going to be graded. Today we are going to make these motherfuckers pay in blood for what they did to us. Today we show them that we are gamers, but they are going to be the ones getting played!"

The words fly out of my mouth and they are more for me than anything, but I feel my friends gather behind my back. If Hunter didn't want to be a part of this, then that was his loss. Right now I had my friends here and they responded to my rally with war cries. They stand close to me and I know there is no place else in this game or in this world they'd rather be then here by my side right now. That is the power of true friendship.

I release my arrow.

The bow whizzes through the sky and the first attack lands.

I shoot at Tiger but it barely misses him but gets a warrior who is riding up next to him. This seems to piss Tiger off. His guild is running up now faster and faster.

They make it to the gate and we scatter.

I feel the heat behind my back as I shoot a warrior almost immediately.

"Stay behind me!" I hear Madden say.

He has Sarafine behind him. I know he'll protect her. I decide to go straight for Tiger though. I have to get to him. The warriors make their way past the gate. There are so many of them that they can barely fit through the gate. For the first time I am kind of proud of my cheap guild house. Two of them get through at a time and as soon as they make their way through the gate we are taking them down.

Where is Tiger?

"3..." I hear Demona screaming out, "4!"

Demona is standing next to Noah. The two of them are back to back. Sarafine has cast a barrier around them to give them extra strength. It seems to be working as Demona is counting down the warriors she kills with her axe. She takes the lead madly swinging her sword like a crazed woman. A part of me thinks Demona has never been as happy as she is right now. Noah is behind her, finishing the Warriors of Light that are stumbling away from Demona's attack.

Two warriors come at me. One swings his sword at my chest. I dodge it...roll on the ground and shoot at arrow into his heart. He falls on me, almost pinning me to the ground.

The other one takes this opportunity to try to kill me. I find myself not being able to draw the Celestial bow. He stabs through his guild mate in an attempt to get to me. He brazes my arm and I feel the sword cut through.


I forget how deep these wounds can really hurt in this game. I feel my health go down by 15 percent just from the one attack. I roll away, out from under the guy and draw my bow finally! My heart is racing. The warrior is quick, but I'm quicker.

I shoot right into his head. One shot. Two. Three. By the time the fourth shot is sent at him he's already gone.

"Are you OK?" I hear Madden call out to me.

He's worried about me when he should be worried about himself. He's with Sarafine. He is struggling to get towards me. He has his shield out but he's fighting almost 4 men at once. Sarafine isn't much help as far as an offensive goes but she attempts to heal Madden as quickly as she can from behind him. I take out my bow.

My arm is bleeding but I have to help him. I can barely lift up my bow but I have to. I start shooting arrows at the guys and I watch as a few of them fall over. It's enough for Madden to get the upper hand in the fight and I watch him rage through the rest of them like only Madden could.

He looks so strong there. I can't help but to stare almost lost in a daze just watching Madden's muscles flex as he holds people back.

That's when I see it. A sword swings at me. It cuts through the side of my back.

I scream in pain as I fall forward.

I am on the ground almost too paralyzed to move as the pain shoots through me. I turn to see that it's Tiger who has come up from behind me when I wasn't looking.

"When I first met you I thought you were entertaining," Tiger explains, "When word came that you started your own guild...you know how I felt? I felt irritated. Then I hear you killed Pious. That was just you being irritating. You are a little bug Killian. And you know what people do to bugs?"

The fucking coward was walking up from behind me. My health was down by a lot from the sneak attack. I only had 20 percent of my health left. I was bleeding out and it was draining my health even more as Tiger walks up to me. He has ten men surrounding him. Ten fucking men. He's such a fucking coward. I watch as the blond golden child walks towards me. He's taking this personal. It's almost like he is enjoying this.

"You'll have to go through me first," Madden explains.

"Madden what the fuck are you doing?" I ask him, "Are you crazy?"

Tiger and his guild members are laughing. Madden stands in front of me with his shield. He's alone. Demona and Noah are still attempting to cut people off from entering the gate. If they leave that gate we'd be overrun by the Warriors of Light. I can see Noah's eyes staring at us. He wants to help. I know he does but he's doing the right thing staying where is.

"You should listen to your friend," Tiger states, "You shouldn't do anything crazy. You're strong Madden. What made you decide to just leave the strongest guild in the game? We kept you protected..."

"You work for the people who put us in this game," Madden says.

"You should thank us," Tiger explains.

Sarafine runs up to me and is attempting to heal me. She leans over to the ground and lays her healing hands on my wounds. I can see the panic in her eyes as she attempts to drag me a way a little bit. She doesn't get me far though. I'm pretty heavy and Sarafine isn't exactly the strongest person around. The only thing standing between me and all these men is Madden.

"Thank you?"

"We gave you a sense of purpose," Tiger responds with this glowing look on his face, "Who were you people before you came in this game? You were nothing. You were no one. We gave you a reason to be greater than anything you could have ever been. This game...this game is the future. You are the lucky ones that got to survive. A new world order is about to start Madden. Don't you want to be a part of that?"

Tiger takes a few steps towards Madden. It's almost as though he's trying to convince him. For a moment I think that Madden is being persuaded by this fucking crazy talk.

We were the lucky ones that got to survive? This game was the future? That wasn't even possible.

Manolo had his people brainwashed.

"Fuck this game," Madden says out of nowhere.

Tiger looks at him, "What do you see in him? We talked about this. He's a cute piece of ass. You should have just fucked him and come back home. I would have understood that. But you stayed...here. I don't get it. You told me yourself that you could never see yourself being serious with him. Why the fuck are you pretending?"

Madden said that to Tiger. All of a sudden I feel my heart breaking again. Madden never intended to stay here with me? He was going to go back.

"That was then. This is now," Madden replies.

I don't know what that means.

They were laughing. Tiger and his guys found this hilarious. They are laughing at me. They think I'm a joke. Maybe I am. Maybe all of this is a joke. Demona and Noah are both probably less than half their health now. I know they won't be able to hold the warriors from entering the gate much longer. We were about to be overrun. Plus, plenty of warriors had already come through including the ten who were with Tiger.

"Should we kill them now?" one of Tiger's warriors ask.

"No... not yet. I find this shit funny," Tiger says.

"Fuck you," Madden responds.

"You said you weren't even that attracted to him. C`mon. Madden. What changed your mind? You just became attracted to him overnight?"

Madden turns to me, "Don't listen to him Killian. That was then. This is now. I'm here for you Killian. I'm right here..."

Tiger feels safe. He probably should. He walks over to Madden and puts his hand on Madden's shield. He is so fucking cocky. He is so self-assured. He reminds me of Shaunie's friends from back in the day. They were so into themselves. Tiger felt like he was above the world. The fact that Madden could choose to be here instead of with him seems to just make him want to laugh more.

"I've got to hand it to you Killian," Tiger states, "You must really be good in bed to make people want to lay down their lives for you."

Madden swings his sword at Tiger and connects. I'm shocked when I see him COMPLETELY hack off Tiger's hand. Tiger looks over at his hand. He looks over at Madden. I'm shocked that Madden was able to get Tiger's hand clean off with one swing!

My mouth drops open! Tiger's left hand is laying in a pool of blood on the ground.

Tiger's scream is slow, intense and deep, "WHAT THE FUCK!"

Tiger uses his right hand and swings at Madden. Madden dodges but Tiger is so crazy that he swings again and again. A wild fury is in Tiger's eyes now that he's lost his hand. I watch as he swings so hard on Madden that I'm actually scared about Madden. He hits Madden's shield over and over and over. Madden gets lower on the ground clearly not able to hold back Tiger's fury.

That's when I see a fireball come out of nowhere.

It barely hits Tiger.

I turn back confused on where the fireball came from.

"You..." Tiger says.

We all turned to see who it was that saved Madden. There is a black mage walking towards us and when I look closer I realize who the black mage is.

It's my brother. Shaunie.

Shaunie doesn't have a shirt on but he has on some loose black pants. He has a staff in his hand. The staff has the head of a dragon. It's clear that Shaunie's role is a black mage. Black mages were the opposite of white mages like Sarafine. Shaunie role was more damage dealing. They were extremely deadly in a way. Like most mages, such as Pious, they had low health but the amount of damages black mages did was amazing. Shaunie has this look in his eyes at that moment.


Shaunie smiles at me.

"Hey little brother..." he says, "Am I late to the party?"

"You should be dead," Tiger says.

I'm confused by what Tiger is saying. I'm even more confused when Tiger takes a few steps away from my brother. It's almost as though Tiger is afraid of my brother. His eyes are glued on my brother as my brother walks over to me and picks me up off the ground. Shaunie gives me a hug. It's that hard Shaunie-like hug that I remember growing up. Shaunie had a way of walking into a place and just owning it.

There was something about him that just demanded respect. There was something about him that just demanded attention. All eyes were on Shaunie when he stood there.

That included Madden.

"Thanks for taking care of my little bro---" Shaunie stated, "Sorry I attacked you guys before. I was a little...confused to say the least. I thought this was some sort of Manolo trick."

I'm hardly able to stand and here Shaunie was walking over to Madden with this thorough confidence as though he wasn't surrounded by a ton of warriors. He thanks Madden and shakes his hand. I watch Madden look at my brother like he's the second coming or something. I wish Madden could look at me the way that he looked at my brother. I was weak though. Hell at this point I needed Sarafine's help just to fucking stand.

"It's OK...I... I'm just..." Madden seems stuck on his words, "Glad you're alive. You have no idea. I had a feeling you survived that crash somehow."

Madden is nervous. He gives my brother this awkward smile. If my brother didn't know Madden had a crush on him then he definitely was oblivious. Shaunie smiles gives Madden a nod and a friendly pat on the shoulder.

"Tiger...go back to your boss Manolo and let him know that I'm still alive," Shaunie instructs him, "Let him know that I'm coming for him..."

"You're not coming anywhere. You think you are going to make it out of here alive?" Tiger asks him.

Shaunie is cool, calm and collected. His confidence is almost intoxicating. He has this ease to the way he speaks. It's like watching poetry in motion. I've never been so inspired and intimidated by anyone like my brother. He stands taller than anyone else around. He gives Tiger a smile and raises his staff.

"The rebellion is just beginning," Shaunie tells Tiger, "Once these gamers find out what is really happening, do you think they'll play by the rules anymore?"

I don't know what Shaunie means by that.

Tiger seems to panic though.

"Kill them. Kill them all."

Tiger's men have pushed past the gate at that moment. Luckily Noah is able to get Demona away fast enough. Within a matter of seconds, they are with us. As I assumed they are broken. They look really beat up but all that matters is that Noah and Demona are alive right now. All that matters is that they are here with us.

I'm glad Noah and Demona are fine but at the same time I realize they are too injured to still fight. The only people that can fight are Shaunie and Madden.

The only thing standing between us and an army is Shaunie and Madden.

"I can fight," I state attempting to walk on my own.

"It's OK, little bro," Shaunie says flashing me one of his killer smiles, "Me and Madden got this. You ready Madden?"

I'm annoyed. Shaunie's patronizing voice seems to get to me. What gets to me even more is the way that he stands with Madden. It annoys me that they are so close. It annoys me that my brother and Madden raise their weapons together. They are ready to fight with one another.

I'm jealous of their friendship. I'm jealous of the companionship the two of them have. It should be me standing back to back with Madden.

I shake my head though. I'm useless. They are protecting me. I should be happy my brother is here. He's stealing the spotlight like usual.

I watch as he is about to sacrifice himself in order to protect me. Tiger's men are walking up. I watch as they are ready to throw down.

That's when I hear something from the distance.

"Not so fast."

No one sees it coming but all of a sudden a few men just start falling all around me after the deep familiar voice fills the room. Within a matter of seconds Hunter shows up out of a cloak of invisibility. And then I hear screams and shouts and I realize that Hunter isn't alone. Right next to him is Joaquin. I watch as the two fight back Tiger's people.

In a matter of seconds, we realize that Hunter has brought with him some serious back up. We look over at the gates. There are mages, warriors and rogues. The people seem to come out of nowhere. And they are fighting off the Warriors of Light. There are so many of them that the Warriors of Light don't seem to stand a chance. There are people hopping over the gates. There are people who have come to help us.

I'm so confused when I see all of these people. They are taking the Warriors of Light by storm. I watch as Tiger starts running and I pick up my bow ready to take him out.

"No..." Shaunie says, "Let him go. I need Manolo to know that I'm alive. Let Tiger go."

I put down my bow for a minute. People are celebrating at that moment when we realize that the majority of the Warriors of Light are dead. Only a handful managed to escape. I look over at Hunter.

I want to go over there and talk to him but I decide against it when I see Joaquin jump into Hunter's arms. The two of them hug in this celebration. Everyone is celebrating. Everyone is so fucking happy. Everyone but me. I'm just confused.

Who are these people and why did they come help us?

"Who are they?" I ask.

"The Rebellion..." Shaunie say, "My guild. I sent your friend Hunter to go get them."

I watch as Hunter walks over to Shaunie. Hunter shakes his hand and smiles. He's feeding right into Shaunie's shit. All of them are. I watch as my guild surrounds Shaunie. Even Demona is friendly to the Shaunie's guild and thanking them for coming to save us.

None of this makes sense.

None of this seems right.

Shaunie is about to hug Madden now. He's about to put his hands on Madden and embrace him. They are all smiling. He moves closer to Madden but before he can touch him I have my bow and arrow aimed at him.

Everyone gets real quiet and still.

"Back the fuck up," I tell Shaunie.

I am ready to release my arrow. Shaunie's guild take out their weapons. There are dozens of them. They have this look in their eyes. They went from celebration to straight alarm. I'm not surprised when Demona and Noah surround me to protect me from Shaunie's guild. Sarafine is on my side as well. Almost immediately she casts a protective barrier around us.

"What's going on here?" Shaunie asks.

Madden seems confused, "Whoa...everyone put down your weapons. We should be celebrating...what's going on here?"

"Tell them to put down their weapons first," I state.

"Lil bro..." Shaunie starts.


I draw back a little further at Shaunie. I am aiming my arrow at his forehead. I won't miss from this distance. Shaunie must know it because he puts his hands up as though giving up. He nods at the members of his guild and I watch them slowly dropping their weapons.

"I got your back," Demona tells me, "But what are we doing?"

She isn't the only one who seems to be concerned about my judgment.

Hunter gives me a hard look, "Killian---Shaunie is not the enemy."

Madden looks over at me, "Hunter's right. Shaunie is your brother. He just saved us."

I can't help but to notice that it's the first time Madden and Hunter aren't hostile to one another. I guess now that I am not their biggest interest, it doesn't seem like there is any more tension...

Shaunie had faked being asleep and sent Hunter on a mission to get his guild without me knowing. I thought that was weird. What was Shaunie trying to hide? I look over at all these people. I don't trust them. Joaquin, Shaunie's guild, Shaunie. These were all fucking strangers and I felt so odd here. I just didn't know what to think. My heart is beating heavy and I'm just confused.

"Why do you have a guild?" I ask, "Doesn't anyone find it weird that Shaunie was supposed to be dead and he isn't. Doesn't anyone find it weird that we found Shaunie buried underneath a fucking statue? Then he just so happens to have all this back up?"

"You're smart..." a voice says.

I'm confused by the voice at that moment. She is with Shaunie's guild. I'm confused when I see the person walking towards me. It's another mage. This is a white mage though...like Sarafine. She walks up to me and my mouth almost drops.

"Celeste..." I state.

I drop my weapon. It was the woman from the dream. The others follow suit. She has one a full white gown that if you didn't pay attention to the pockets of dirt you would probably think was a wedding gown or something like that. Her cheeks are blush red and she has a maturity about her. The other members of Shaunie's guild seem to respect her nodding and making her way through.

She walks over to Sarafine and gives Sarafine a slight smile.

Then she walks over to me.

"There is a lot that we have to go over," Celeste tells me, "You have been through a lot, my little champion. I understand you don't trust the Rebellion. I understand you don't trust Shaunie. I understand if you don't even trust me---"

"I trust you."

I don't hesitate. There is something about this woman that I trust. There is something about this woman that makes me feel comfortable.

Celeste smiles, "Good. For now, we celebrate. We have a lot to discuss. There are many things that you need to know."


The celebration is big. The Rebellion guild brings beers and alcohol. I don't drink any. After what happened with Pious I don't trust anyone. I am completely sober as we sit at the tables. It's night time before I know it.

In the distance Sarafine is sitting by a fire. She's getting to know members of the Rebellion guild. They seem taken by her. They seem really interested. I keep a watchful eye on her but I feel she's safe for some reason. If anything they are more amused by her innocence and naivety. I have a feeling that they won't hurt her.

Everyone seems coupled up. Demona and Noah are laughing together. Then I notice Madden and my brother. They seem to be catching up. Shaunie is asking him questions about his growing in the game. Madden is clearly a little tipsy right now and seemed to have calmed his nerves long enough to at least make conversation with my brother. Finally, I notice Joaquin and Hunter. They are sitting away from everyone else and I swear I see Hunter laugh. For a minute I think I am imagining it but it's the truth. Hunter is actually laughing. I don't think I was ever able to make Hunter laugh. As if it's nothing I watch Joaquin put his hand on Hunter's leg and for a minute Hunter seems happy. He seems truly at peace.

"You've done well with this place," Celeste says walking up behind me.

I'm sitting alone. I've always been alone in the real world but for the first time since I started this game I feel like I'm alone again. Everyone has someone except for me. I don't have anyone.

"It's a shithole," I laugh.

She smiles, "It has heart. Your friends. They care about you. I notice how Madden, Demona and Noah would risk their lives to protect you. You could almost think Sarafine was more than a NPC by how she looks at you. Then there is Hunter. He went out of his way to come and find me when Shaunie told him that you'd need help here. You have a solid guild."

"Don't patronize me," I tell her, "I want the truth."

She looks over at me, "I haven't been completely honest with you."

No shit.

I shake my head and cross my arms.

"How is my brother alive?" I ask her.

"His death was faked. Manolo killed your entire family to get to your brother. He was needed for the 1st Beta test. Manolo will do anything to get what he wants..."

I remember now.

"This is the 2nd beta test we're in now."

She shakes her head, "Yeah. We are in the 2nd and final beta test before his perfect world."


I'm confused. We were in the 2nd beta test now. What perfect world was she talking about?

Celeste looks around, "Come. Walk with me."

The way that she looks around bothers me. She is being secretive. No one seems to notice us though. Madden is too concerned with Shaunie. Hunter is too concerned with Joaquin. Noah was too concerned with Demona.

We make our way to the Sarafine's garden at that moment. Sarafine has done a good job planting flowers and growing them here. She was quite the gardener. I guess it was how she dealt with it. Celeste and I walk through the rows of plants and she just looks out ahead.

"The game was a concept at first. Phineas Manolo approached me with an idea. A better reality. That's what he called it. A controlled reality. See he'd been troubled by politics. He felt like the world needed to be moderated almost like a game. I assumed it was a good idea. Countries had governments but governments were limited. The world was in danger due to is reliance on technology so Manolo started Project: Play Dead. He wanted to create a way that the world can be moderated. Manolo felt like technology could change all of that. That's when he created this. That's when he created Play Dead Online."

I pause.

"Celeste you are beating around the bush. I need the truth."

"You deserve it. What I'm about to tell you is something that no one else can know. You see the idea is what keeps the order. If people knew...the truth..." she stated shaking her head, "God...if people knew the truth there would be chaos. Manolo can't afford that and neither can the Rebellion."

"What truth?"

"Look around. The wind. The air. Look at this rose. If you cut yourself with one of the thorns in the game what happens?"

She picks up the rose and smells it. She allows me to smell the rose. It's almost as though she is trying to show me something.

"You bleed."

She nods, "You bleed. And if you are killed, you die. You are not in the Beta."

"So what is this? The real game?"

"This isn't a game. You weren't plugged into a machine, Killian," Celeste tells me, "Think about it. If you were such a threat to Manolo he'd just unplug you right."

I'm confused, "If I'm not plugged into a machine then what happened to me in that chamber?"

"You were frozen. The reality you know ended years ago. Manolo was right. Without moderation mankind destroyed itself. And out of that reality came Manolo's reality."

I look around. For the first time in forever I feel the pain of hunger. Everything looks different. My heart feels so heavy that I fall to the ground. I grab onto my stomach. I'm so...hungry for whatever reason. I don't get it. I'm panicking.

I look over at the world around me. I look over at Celeste.

"Where are we?"

"Killian you are in America in the year 2046. This is the real world."

With that Celeste picks a thorn off the rose and pricks me.

I bleed.

To read the next chapter please go to www.crushedcrown.com