1: Kang Yu Tries to Trick Me

It’s that dream again. Am I dreaming of the future? In the dream, I am the leader of the Paladins, leading the army of Light, and we are on the verge of winning the war against the Immortal Lord’s Undead forces.

My right-hand man is Jackal, someone unlikeable who is unlikely to help me.

I have a wife, whom I feel a strong emotional attachment toward. She journeyed and fought alongside with me throughout the tough times. But strangely, I had never seen her face in my dream.

Looking back at our current situation, we’re nowhere to winning the war. We’re not even actively participating in the war against the Immortal Lord. While the whole world is drowned in chaos, our City just stands on the sidewalk and watches like a bypasser.

My question is, is that future even possible? Am I seeing the vision of our potential future?

* * *

I’m back in my Swordmaster’s office. I raise my head from the desk where I’d accidentally dozed off due to the tiring patrol shifts for the past few days.

A familiar voice snaps me out of my daydream. “Let me guess, Gideon. It’s your dream again.”

I answer, “How do you know?”

Kang Yu says, “You have that look on your face after your nap. It’s always about your dream of the future.”

There must be a reason why I keep dreaming it. “If I keep dreaming the same thing, perhaps it’s destined to happen.”

Kang Yu laughs. “More like a serious symptom of daydreaming. How is that even possible? I’ll prove you wrong with my three main points of argument. First—how could you be the leader of the Paladins? The Immortal Lord and his Undead had defeated most of the Paladins in the war. The remaining Paladins can barely form a number big enough to put up any good fight.

“Second—we are warring against the Immortal Lord and you have breached their capital? Right now, our City is not even fighting the war. So let’s not talk about breaching the enemies’ impenetrable capital.

“The third is most ridiculous of all—Commander Jackal serves as your right-hand man? You’re talking about one of the most influential Swordmaster Commanders in our City serving you, a lowly unknown squad leader. How dare you dream of something so insulting!”

Thanks for reminding me of my position. Kang Yu has been my good friend since our Academy days. His favorite pastime is pouring cold water on my face and poking me whenever I say something. If you ever have any big ambition in this lifetime, don’t ever share it with him. He’ll find ways to turn your dreams into a joke.

As much as he’s a loyal friend, sometimes I wish I could punch him in the face for the words he spout from his mouth. He always claims that he’s the ‘realist’ to my ‘idealist’ personality. I’m the man with the futuristic bigger picture, he’s the man with the present-oriented know-how.

I need him as my friend and strategist in our squad as much he is fond of turning everything I say into some sarcasm.

Kang Yu says, “You’re the newly promoted squad leader, Gideon. Wouldn’t want any of our squadmates to think our leader fantasizes during his nap.”

I say, “Funny, I didn’t see you in my dream. I wonder what could have happened to you. With the amount of poisonous words you spew into my life, I think we’re no longer friends in the future.”

Kang Yu throws his hands up in the air. “Please, I want no part of your fantasy.”

* * *

A while later...

A lady Swordmaster appears in the squad office. “Is this Gideon’s squad?”

Kang Yu looks at her from top to bottom. “Yes. And who are you?”

The lady Swordmaster gives her salutation. “I’m here to report for duty.”

Kang Yu says, “So you’re the sixth squad member whom we’re promised. What’s your name?”

“I’m Sharon.”

Kang Yu smiles slyly. “A fresh graduate from the Swordmaster Academy, huh? Here’s a first task for you to prove yourself worthy to our squad.”

Sharon replies, “Why do I need to prove myself worthy again? I’d already passed my final exams in the Academy. And I’m a top graduate.”

Kang Yu replies, “Academy is Academy. Our squad is our squad. I need you to walk to our squad leader and tell him this: I’ve been secretly admiring you from far. Would you go out with me tonight?”

Sharon is shocked. “What? This is my first day in the squad. Surely you don’t want me to embarrass myself in front of the squad leader.”

But Kang Yu is not about to back down on his ridiculous request. “I’m the squad leader’s right-hand man. You would do as I told you.”

Sharon is reluctant. “Err... can I say no to that request?”

“Unfortunately, no. Do as I say, or I’ll send you back to the Academy with a disciplinary report that you refused to obey a superior’s order.”

Sharon thinks for a moment and then bites her lip. “What will happen once I say that to the squad leader?”

Kang Yu says, “I don’t know. In fact, I’m curious of what he will say. Probably something embarrassing. And if he says yes, just tell him: You’ve fallen into Kang Yu’s trap. Now, go and do as I told.”

Sharon facepalms herself. “I can’t believe you make me do this on the first day of my Swordmaster career. You’re more evil than the Immortal Lord, you know.”

Kang Yu laughs like a sinister villain and then stops. “Welcome to the real world, girl. I can be more evil if you don’t do this right.”

* * *

I sit at my desk and sift through the crazy piles of paper reports which I need to submit to my superior. Suddenly, I am greeted by someone.

“Squad leader… I’m Sharon.”

I answer, “Ah, Sharon. Good to have you. I’ve been expecting you. Welcome to our squad.”

Sharon sheepishly says, “Gideon, I’ve been secretly admiring you from far, ever since the days I laid my eyes on you in the Academy.”

I am at loss for words. “Umm... okay.”

Sharon flutters her eyelashes at me. What is this girl trying to attempt on me? Then she pops the question. “Would you like to go out with me tonight?”

I say, “Of course. Come find me at my house. Then we’ll go for a walk at the lake.”

Sharon says, “Sure, the lake would be great. Just like what we always do. Shall we invite Kang Yu as well?”

Kang Yu is in the background, pretending he’s not listening to our conversation. Then he turns to me in his puzzled face. “Wait. Just like what you always do? You all know each other?”

Ah… I see what Kang Yu is trying to achieve. But too bad, his prank failed because of one thing. “My dear Kang Yu, in case you have forgotten, Sharon is my cousin. We grew up together.”

Kang Yu points his finger at me. “What? That’s impossible. Sharon looks so different from the last time I saw her.”

I say, “You last saw her five years ago when she was 15. She’s all grown up now.”

Sharon says, “So you’re the blade-tongue Kang Yu?”

Kang Yu facepalms himself. “Blade-tongue… don’t call me that. Haven’t heard that nickname since I graduated from the Academy.”

Sharon says, “I used to hear my cousin had a friend who once admired me from far.”

Kang Yu pushes me aside and away from Sharon’s hearing. “Gideon, you told her something I said five years ago?”

I give Kang Yu my innocent expression. “I did not. She found out herself. Remember the day you were asking so many questions about that ‘cute petite girl’. She was in the next room and she heard everything.”

Kang Yu sighs. “Oh, that’s bad. I have totally forgotten about that conversation until you remind me again.”

I ask, “But why are you so embarrassed?”

Kang Yu says, “I hate it if a girl found out I had an interest in her and it’s a one-way street.”

I want to be more encouraging to my friend. “Who says it’s one-way? She told me she has an interest in you too.”

Kang Yu’s eyes sparkle a little. “Really? Did she? But that was such a long time ago.”

I put my hand around Kang Yu. “I know it’s been five years since you all met. But now that she’s in our squad, it’s easier to make the interaction. Would you consider rekindling that fire?”

Kang Yu takes a few seconds to think. “Only if she’s still interested.”

That is the answer I’m hoping for. I immediately say, “Yes, she told me she’s still interested.”

Kang Yu’s eyes sparkle even more. “What should I do then? I never had any girl interested in me before.”

I offer Kang Yu my suggestion. “Why don’t you ask her out? She loves to go to the lake. She told me she has always dreamed of going there with someone she’s interested in.”

Kang Yu is doubtful with the simplicity of my suggestion. “Just ask her out like that? Isn’t it too direct? Some girls think ‘direct’ is too aggressive. Maybe I should start with something milder. Plus, I’ve never asked a girl out before. I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

I say, “Kang Yu, I know my cousin. I assure you she appreciates a direct invitation.”

Kang Yu pats me on the chest. “Fine. I’ll do it then.”

With determination oozing out from his heart, Kang Yu walks to Sharon. “Sharon, we didn’t really have the chance to get to know each other yet. Perhaps we could have a start by going for a walk at the lake? What do you say?”

Sharon blinks her eyes a few times, apparently surprised that Kang Yu would ask her that question. She tries to maintain a straight face. But in the end, she can no longer contain herself and then breaks into laughter. “Victim caught.”

I join my cousin Sharon in her laughter. I high-five her, knowing that we have just led Kang Yu into our trap.

Kang Yu still doesn’t get that we’re pulling his legs. “I’m not joking, Sharon.”

I punch Kang Yu’s arm. “But we are. Have a taste of your own medicine, Kang Yu.”

Now Kang Yu is the one who is supposedly blushing with embarrassment. “So the part where you said she’s interested in me is a fake?”

I reply, “What do you think?”

Kang Yu looks away from my eyes. “I think I would like to request for a squad transfer.”

I tell Sharon, “Good job, cousin. You played the game well.”

Sharon smiles proudly. “But, Kang Yu, seriously, I really wouldn’t mind going with you to the lake someday.”

Kang Yu shrugs his shoulders in defeat. “Thanks for the assurance, Sharon. We were supposed to play Gideon. But turns out I’ve become my own victim.”

I put my arm around Kang Yu. “Don’t take heart about it. We are even now. All grudges are forgiven?”

Kang Yu looks slyly at Sharon. “Not forgiven at all. Sharon, you need to know about this weird dream your cousin keeps having. He dreams our Commander would one day become his right-hand man.”

I quickly interrupt Kang Yu. “Ssh... keep that to yourself.”

Sharon laughs. “Oh cousin, you wouldn’t dare...”

Someone knocks on our door. A messenger from our Commander arrives and hands me a note.

After reading the note, I tell Kang Yu, “Gather the rest of our squadmates. Our Commander wants all squads to be present for a mission briefing in another fifteen minutes.”

Sharon says, “So this will be our squad’s first mission. Any idea what is it about?”

I say, “Lately, our enemies have been sneaking Marked Ones into our City. Once enough numbers have been gathered, they are very likely to launch an attack against us to take over the City. A scout has just discovered a gathering point for the Marked Ones. We would need to capture them before they are escorted to the enemy base.”