Mendacium Book 2 PROLOGUE

“Dude, my mom’s such a buzzkill,” whined Matthew into the headset. “She told me if I don’t go to the game tonight, she’s gonna make me go to church with her.”

“You can thank me for that,” Brian said, waving his broadsword and snickering under his breath. “I told her to threaten you with the one thing you hate more than anything else.”

“You called my mom?” Matthew raised his voice. “You must really want me to go, ’cause you hate talking to parents.”

Brian moved his glove-covered hand forward. “I have my reasons. So, I guess it’s your choice. You can either go out with me and Vic tonight or you can sit in a pew Sunday morning, covered in stale piss.”

“My mom’s such a phony at church,” Matthew said. “She treats me like crap at home and acts like one of God’s angels there.”

Victor’s voice of reason and youthful piety rose above the chatter. “Bro, she’s your mom. If the worst she does is make you go to church, then you ain’t got nothin’ to worry about. Your life could suck a lot more.”

“Says the Bible-thumper,” Brian said.

Victor laughed off Brian’s remark. “At least I do something productive with my time.”

Brian thrust his digital sword into a forest bandit. “How productive is it sitting down and listening to some old guy talk for an hour?” Pulling out the sword, he sliced the bandit’s left arm. “Man, I could do that on YouTube. At least I’d get to stay in my room and eat pizza rolls while I do it.”

Shielding an attack from the bandit leader, Victor fell to the ground, yelling, “Would you quit daydreaming about food and help me out with this guy!” Sparks of metal flew off Victor’s iron shield as the bandit leader hammered his ax against it.

Brian occupied himself with the rest of the bandits, and Matthew ran to Victor’s aid. With a twist of his body, Matthew swung his sword and released his special attack—a magical burst of flame that scorched the bandit leader, dropping his health to zero. Matthew knelt to raid the charred body, finding seven hundred gold pieces and an ice ax. Placing the items in his inventory, he said, “Pizza rolls or not, I’d rather get burned alive like this guy than go to church.”

Brian finished raiding the other dead bodies in the bandit party. “Come on, bro. I think church is boring and that Vic is wasting his time with fairy nonsense, but it’s not that bad.” With a ruby in his palm, he smiled and added, “All things considered, Vic’s the most likely to succeed in life.”

Victor paused his movements and dropped his mouth. “Wow, is that an actual compliment? I’m flattered.”

“Whoa now,” Brian said with an extra dose of sarcasm, “don’t let it go to your head, man. I still think you’re too squeaky clean for anybody’s good.”

Victor shook his head and laughed. “Yeah, well, not everyone can be as salty as you.”

“Quit messing around,” Matthew said, pointing his sword at his friends. “You guys talk too much. If we played more and talked less, then we could actually make some progress.” Sheathing his blade, Hellfire, Matthew began walking toward the nearest town to sell his newly acquired ice ax. The others followed behind.

Brian scrunched his face behind his virtual reality goggles. “Who’s the salty one now?”

Walking down the dirt road, Matthew clenched his fist. “I don’t want to go tonight, okay?”

With exhaustion in his voice, he relaxed his hand. “Why can’t we keep playing and see if we can finally complete the Gauntlet?”

Brian ran ahead and walked backward in front of Matthew. With exuberant hand gestures, he said, “Dude, Stacy practically threw her underwear in your face to invite you to tonight’s game. And you’re gonna do what, exactly? Stay home and slay goblins for six hours?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, man,” said Matthew, rolling his eyes.

“Listen, Matt.” Brian turned around and walked next to Matthew. Placing his arm around Matthew’s shoulder, he said, “You may not care about your extracurriculars, but I do. It’s about time one of us became a man. And Victor’s out ‘cause he’s a choirboy. So, that leaves you and me, and I ain’t got no love comin’ my way. What do you say, bro? Chicks dig that whole dark and brooding thing you got goin’ on.”

Walking behind them, Victor remained silent as Brian ran his mouth. Matthew would have forgotten Victor was with them if not for the black quiver of arrows bouncing against his armor and clanking loudly with each step.

Matthew wanted to reach out to Victor’s even-headed perspective, but once Brian started talking about his supposed expertise with women, there was very little he or anybody else could say to get him to shut up. To keep the peace, Victor’s usual response was to ignore it.

“I don’t know what you think you saw at lunch today with Stacy,” said Matthew, “but she is definitely not interested in me. She only invited us so I could give her the new DLC pack of Mendacium that my dad sent me. All she wants is free stuff. That’s it!”

Brian egged on Matthew further. “Who cares about whether she wants your free stuff? I heard she’s more than willing to repay a favor.”

“Dude, she’s not like that,” Matthew said, forcing Brian’s arm off his shoulder.

Brian jumped to the side. “Someone’s gettin’ testy.”

Flaring his nostrils, Matthew yelled, “Seriously, man, stop talking about her like she’s some slut!” 

Victor agreed in silence, smiling in the background. 

Brian leaned forward in his gaming chair. “What? You like her?”

Trying to dodge the subject, Matthew stopped his avatar to sip on a two-liter orange soda. “Whatever, man. Let’s talk about somethin’ else.”

The group continued along the dirt road until they came upon a rotting wood fence on the left side, designed to protect the carrots and lettuce grown on Miller’s Farm. It would not take much effort to knock the fence over, but Matthew alone had enough healing potions to last a dozen raids. The last thing he needed was a couple of vegetables. The few health points the verdure could provide would not be worth the trouble he’d face for stealing it, so his group walked by with only a scoff. Stealing vegetables was for beginners, and they were seasoned players.

“If Stacy was playing with us,” Matthew said, “She’d probably tell us to eat more vegetables. She’s stupid like that.”

Brain halted, kicking up dust behind him. “You do like her!”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” stated Matthew with his body freezing mid-movement.

“Bro, I may be as dense as a feminist’s logic, but I’m not stupid. You like Stacy. You know she’s been with, like, everyone in the drama club, right? Now, if you want to join her list of conquests, I throw in my full support, but you can’t feel anything for a girl like that. She definitely won’t feel anything for you. Nothing good’ll come of it.”

“Don’t let Brian get to you, man,” Victor said, staring down Brian with virtual eyes. “He said it himself, he’s dense.”

The skin between Brian’s eyebrows wrinkled as he smiled. “But I’m also a realist. I call it like I see it.”

“This conversation’s gettin’ old,” Matthew said, raising his hands in frustration. “Let’s log out and do the Gauntlet tomorrow night.”

“So, you’re gonna go with us?” Brian inquired with a beaming grin.

Matthew pointed his flaming sword at his long-time friend. “If I agree to go with you guys, will you stop talkin’ about Stacy?”

Raising both hands in surrender, Brian said, “Yeah, bro, whatever you say. Let’s sell our new stuff and save our progress at the shop. I’ll pick you guys up at Matt’s house at six o’clock. Y’all better be ready.”

Huffing, Matthew shook his head. “Fine, whatever.”