Fortuna Sands

CHAPTER 3: THE HUB

She examined the screen that appeared before her eyes.

[ Name: C-Note

Job: None

Alliance: None

Skills: Dancing (Lv.1), Palming (Lv.1), Runway (Lv. 1)

Luck Points: 2

Karma Points: 4

G$: 8 ]

”Boy, did you pick the wrong end of the short stick, ” Mary said as she flicked the pig-tails of her hair.

”Is it that bad? ” Cee said, looking at her personal window with Mary by her side.

”Ive seen worse, froggy. Some people draw a 1 and thatll only get a tenth of a cent. So you
e about 8 times more than a worse draw, I can tell ya that. Still, it looks like your skills are pretty diverse, thats good. Dancing is pretty straight forward, palming is good if you
e into thievery or card ploys, and runway is more of a glamor skill but no shame in flaunting what you got, like me. With that you could probably get a job as a showgirl or street performer, maybe a card shark if you
e lucky. ”

”I don plan to be here that long, ” she said. ”What does this say about my chances of making it to the Hub? ”

”Honestly, sweetie, not that good. ” She shook her head. ”If you had a good dodging skill like running or hiding then maybe with these skills, Id say your best bet is to get an escort or earn some extra points here in the green zone. ”

”Ugh, I don have time for this. ” Cee muttered under her breath.

”Hey, don like that Lil Cee. Sometimes the worst luck can become the greatest blessing in disguise. You just gotta know how to play the angle. ”

”What are you talking about? ”

”Just stick with me froggy, I know a way or two about rounding up some quick coin. ”

Cee followed Mary down the walkways of the park, passed players and NPCs of all shapes and sizes in what looked like a public park, complete with basketball court, benches, and large stage at the center of the town. The stage was known for showcasing players skills, and the unofficial epicenter of this zone. Many new players would come to try out their latest skills, because of its unique feature that activated instantly a player stepped near the stage. Cee saw a message window appear before her eyes the moment Mary escorted her to the stages perimeter.

[ You have entered a Yellow Zone.

No Luck or Karma Points will be consumed. ]

”Whats that supposed to mean? ” Cee said looking at the window in front of her face.

”Its a yellow zone, sweetie. ” Mary smiled. ”Think of it like a free show, you just get up on stage and strut your stuff. ”

”Looks like theres a line already. ”

She pointed to the row of players standing just outside the stage, waiting like a row of patrons outside a club waiting for their turn while an NPC stood at the stage door. From the golden four leaf clover on her hand, she could tell she was blessed with guarding this facility. She was muscular like a female bodybuilder with a long flowing mane like a horse, and coldness in her blue eyes that made even those toughest looking Players quiver in their feet. Cee had a feeling that if she tried to cut she would be swiftly taken down regardless of this new buff in the yellow zone.

”Don mind the bouncer, froggy, she may seem like a rock, but shes rather soft once you get to know her. ” Mary said, patting Cee on the shoulder. ”Just let me have a minute, Ill hook you up toot sweet. ”

Cee watched Mary as she walked in front of the other players and casually walked up to the NPC, not intimidated in the least. The NPCs eyes quickly turned to hers, but rather than scorn she greet with a big smile and a handshake. Like old friends they talked to each other for a moment and started shaking hands again, this time pushing others back to allow her to proceed ahead.

”Rohan says its okay for us to cut ahead? ” She said, grabbing Cee by her large wrist.

”How did you do that? ” Cee asked as she passed the angry crowd of players watching the NPC playing favorites.

”Just call me the horse whisperer, froggy? ”

”What? ”

”Never mind, its a bad joke. ” She pulled Cee up the stage, passed a large red curtain that led the center of the stage. In a while circle that glowed with a radiant like, Cee was led to the middle of a crowd of specters watching from below while Mary stood, took her aside and whispered in her ear.

”Let me get the crowd riled up for ya, ” she said, stepping out in front of Cee.

”May I have your attention, pretty please! ” She said, clapping her hands to gain the audiences attention. ”Now if yall been the Mud Pit, youll know me as Mary Mountain Slider, the best wrestler in the Southeast District. ” She kicked and punched as if showing off her skills.

A crowd of hands filled the room as if she was some kind of minor celebrity.

”Now, I don know how often you see a player who selects the random option, unless you don wanna earn a buck of two. ”

The crowd laughed in response.

”Let me tell you, Ive come across a genuine four leaf clover. This little froggy just stepped in, a bona fide, steam roller, never even used a VR set in her life. ”

A spectacle mutter went over the crowd.

”I know, I wouldn believe it if I hadn seen it for myself, and I tell ya what. You know, this place is all about chance, so what would say the chances are this frog will do something that will truly impress some spirit, somewhere. Im taking all bets in case you
e interested! ”

Cee watched as a variety of windows came flooding the stage with various donations flashing like a strobe of dozen camera flashes.

[ + G$ 250 ]

[ + G$ 10 ]

[ + G$ 1,500 ]

Many more windows moved so fast that Cee could barely keep up with it, let alone know what was going on, until a voice began talking in her head.

Don mind the pretty lights, froggy, its all part of the show, the voice echoed in her head.

”What that… Mary? ”

Surprise, surprise, Lil Cee. She heard her laughing without moving her mouth as she flipped through the pages of windows opening up in front of her.

”How? ”

Im pretty good at multitasking, don ya know? Not to mention that Management and Hype Skills can give a crowd all riled up, if you know how to use it well. Don worry though, Ill give ya fare slice on the back end, all you gotta do is put on a good show when I give the go.

”I don even know how to do that. ”

Its like riding a bike, you put one foot on the front pedal and another on the back.

”Could you get a little more technical? ”

Youll figure out Lil Cee, Im counting on ya. In fact, Ive even bet money youll pull off at least a double act combo in 10 acts or less.

”Alright, all bets are in! ” Mary cried with a wave of her hands closing all the incoming windows. ”Alright froggy, lets see your two steps. ”

The crowd grew hush as Cee was left standing not knowing what to do to activate her skill sets. So, she opened her personal stats window and browsed through her selection. Since Cee wasn a decent singer and she never thought herself as pretty in real life, she decided to try out her dancing skill. When she was little she had gone through a break dancing phase, she could only hope that some of that skill would translate into a virtual world as well. The best bet and the safest option was always her style, the moment she started moving her feet, a strange thing happened.

Her body froze in place, as everything around her did the same. As her eyes quickly darted from left to right she looked for any sign of moment that could tell what was happening. It was then she spotted a brilliant shimmering deck of playing cards shuffling above her head. The cards shuffled many times, before two cards moved in front of her sight. A new window appeared before her eyes as the deck disappeared in a show of radiant sparks.

[ Dance (Lv. 1)

Player draws:

8 of Hearts

LUCK draws:

7 of Hearts ]

[ ACT SUCCESS!

8 Steps Sequence!]

The window broke immediately as time resumed its usual course. Possessed by an unknown force, Cee felt her feet and body move with centrical motion stepping and resetting her feet and hands so fast that it looked almost robotic in nature. The perfect style of breakdancing moves that she had forgotten long ago, but not remembered as clearly as she had learned them in her first day of dancing class. On the 8th step her body froze in place once again as everything else and the great deck in the sky appeared again, shuffling and reshuffling to until it pulled another pair of cards were pulled and anther window flashed before her eyes.

[ Dance (Lv. 1)

Player draws:

6 of Spades

LUCK draws:

10 of Clubs ]

[ ACT FAILED! ]

As if all the exercise she had just done hit her all at once, she felt her body go heavy. Her balance was off as she felt the rest of her virtual body hit the floor flat on her back. The crowd of spectators started laughing as Mary walked up to her to help her back up to her feet.

”Its alright sweetie, everyone falls around her. ” Mary said as she picked her up.

”Its actually not that bad, ” she said, rubbing her backside. ”Its like my butt just fell asleep. ”

”Don worry its not as bad as you think. Your body tingles for a little bit, but itll wear off after a while. Just go get back on that bike, don ya know? ”

With renewed confidence, Cee shook her body off a bit and then proceeded with her new move. Once again her feet went forward and the deck of fate shuffled again. What followed was a series of failures and losses. Two Failed Acts, a 4-Step, 8-Step Combo, and another failed Act, on the 7th act, something unexpected happened as she pressed her feet forward. A screen appeared in a festive and sparkling style as if winning some grand prize in a lucky draw.

[ Dance (Lv. 1)

Player draws:

(Red) Joker ! ]

[ SPECIAL MOVE,

SEQUENCE START!]

Cees body possessed one more gear up her arms and legs, stretching her body in 11 moves building momentum that made her body twist and turn in ways never thought possible. At the final step her head swung to the floor and as her body twirls like a human cork screw spinning and turning with sparks flying from the stage and hair. The crowd of spectators started roaring in applause as they saw her perform a head spin with dazzling lights and effects. It was then, a card appeared above her spinning feet in the air with big bold letters.

[ Ace of Diamonds

HEAD SPIN! ]

Another card appeared as the last card disappeared.

[ Ace of Hearts

DOUBLE HEAD SPIN! ]

Her speed increased as long strands of green light shoot from under her feet like a laser light show. When it stopped a third window appeared with the words.

[ BIG FINISH! ]

She felt her neck push her whole body off the floor, leap into the air with a spiral and twist of a ballerinas grace, and landed on the tips of her toes as gently as a feather. Her eyes were wide as saucers, her breath was frantic like hopping off a roller-coaster until coming to a sudden stop. Before she could catch her breath, the first thing she heard was the roaring of the crowd of players cheering for her grand finale.

”Wee-ooo, I won the spread! ” Mary squealed with joy. Catching her composure, Mary turned to the crowd and regained her composure. ”I mean, what good show, am I right, or am I right? ”

As the crowd died down, Cee saw two windows open up before her eyes, one next to Mary and another right in front of her.

[ The Frog Spirit has smiled upon you.

You have Received:

+ 3 LP, + 9 KP, +G$27.]

[ You have won %10 of the betting pool. ]

[ You have Received G$ 27,136. ]

She watched as the numbers disappeared from the screen and reappeared in her personal account.

[ Name: C-Note

Luck Points: 5

Karma Points: 13

G$: 27,163 ]

She could only imagine how much Mary had made for holding the bets, still, it was a good start to her ultimate goal of reaching the hub.

”Thank you all, for helping a newcomer out. Hope she gave yall a good show, maybe well see her again sometime. ”

Mary quickly rushed her off the stage to make way for the next act.

”You did good froggy, very good. ”

”I didn even know I could do that? ”

”Its like a sugar rush, right? Thats the draw system for ya, makes everything a game of chance and chance a game of the unexpected. I didn even expect a hefty chunk of change that we made, but I guess everyone loves a cutie patootie, even if you did choose that face at random. ”

”Nah, Im not that cute? ”

”Don put yourself down sweetie, maybe if you upgrade your allure skill you make rake in some major dust. ”

”Dust? ”

”You know Sand Dollars. ”

”Oh, right, the game currency. ”

”Let me tell you a little more about that on our way to the hub? ”

”You
e coming with me? ”

”Why yes Lil Cee, you
e my new lucky charm. The least I can do is get to where you
e going before I leave ya high and dry. I mean, fighting fate is a lot different than fighting Jinxes don ya know? ”

”I don want to fight anyone. ”

”You don have any fancy dodge or running skills, but like my mamma always says its not what youve go, its how you use it. ” She shook her wide hips, slapping her thigh for emphasis. ”Let me give you a few pointers while we step out of the park. ”

Together Cee and Mary head outside the yellow zone into the green zone. Mary escorted her to a large stone wall that marks the perimeter of the park, and onto a cold grimy street outside. The moment her foot hit the pavement, Cee saw a new window appear before her eyes.

[ You have entered a Gray Zone. ]

[ Beware of wandering Cursed and unforeseen dangers. ]

Maybe it was just suspicion of the feeling of being new in this strange virtual world, but suddenly it seemed that many eyes were staring up at her. Even with Mary by her side it was like knives running down her spine, a sensation that even one small step could lead to tragic misfortune. Whatever unforeseen dangers were ahead, she knew she had to be ready.

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