A/N: I apologize for any butchered french.
Illusion City hadn't even flickered for almost 24 hours, but the ever-watchful Ariane kept a close look at it anyway. She just knew the game was trying to trick her, and she wouldn't back down for anything. It was a waiting game. As soon as Ariane would leave, another unfortunate soul would become lost forever.
Unlike the game, though, Ariane needed sleep.
And her black, beaded braids kept getting in her eyes. She brushed them away for the third time and glared at the setting sun between the distant skyscrapers. How long had the sky looked like this? Four days now? She wished it would get a little brighter, or one of the other kids would hurry and trade watches with her. Perhaps, if she hurried, she could get her buddy, Hugo, up here before...
A few skyscrapers shrank, others grew. All shifted positions. One building rose higher than the others, with a spire, that looked like the Empire State Building. Ariane was no longer tired, although the sky darkened considerably.
Grabbing her Eyeclops mask, she bounded from her watch tower and rushed toward the morphing mirage. It was time to face the game again.
Nothing to worry about. Maxwell had let Tim out when they realized he wasn't part of the game.
"Tim? Maxwell?" Casey called as the door to the arcade machine slipped open, but no one was outside...or, at least, right outside. He quickly circled around to the back of the machine. Nothing. The panel that covered the inner workings of Wild Side was in place, as if no one had been there.
At first, Casey thought they might have been discovered by the police outside, arrested or simply chased away...but that wouldn't explain why everything was left so neat. Surly, in a struggle with authorities, not even Maxwell would think to fix everything back up. "Hey, officer, could I just put the panel back on before you cart me to jail?" Not likely.
As he circled the machine one more time in bewilderment, another thought came to him in a burst of anger. Had they just left on their own accord? Got tired and decided to screw him? No, no. Tim might have had that sentiment after Casey getting to play and not him, but Maxwell? He couldn't imagine any betrayal from that guy.
At that point, Casey happened to look up at the glass door entrance, and saw something stranger. No yellow tape. It had been perfectly visible before. Had the police finally left? Casey crept forward to get a better look. Still nothing. He was about to lean on the door for greater view, just to be extra sure, when he realized the door was loose. Why would it have been left unlocked? He burst out recklessly, almost hoping the cops would start chasing him, but there was nobody.
His head in a whirl now, Casey forced himself to breath evenly. There was a reason for all this, there had to be: he had been inside that game for maybe twenty minutes or so. Maxwell and Tim, getting bored, noticed that the police had pulled away at last, because of whatever. Thinking that this meant the arcade may be open tomorrow, Maxwell patched up the back and they left. Although why they decided to leave through the front door was beyond him, he was sure they'd be able to fill him in tomorrow. In the meantime, Casey just wanted to go home and get some sleep. He'd be able to find out tomorrow. Of course.
Another strange thing occurred to Casey while he sat at the bus stop. Although the cars on the streets whizzed by as normal, there weren't any people on the sidewalks. There'd always be at least one or two late-nighters. On the other hand, he had never been out at 2:30 in the morning either.
Finally, a bus pulled up. As Casey got on, he noticed that no one else was riding. Strange...but, plausible...until he saw the driver.
Or rather, didn't see the driver. The seat was empty, but the handle cranked the doors shut by itself, and the machine began revving.
Casey bolted. He was slamming himself into the bus doors, tumbling out into the busy street, then racing frantically to avoid the other driverless vehicles, which weren't even attempting to swerve around him, until he somehow made it to the sidewalk and collapsed in a heap.
He lay for a long time, gasping for breath, but unable to think straight anymore. Tim and Maxwell...did they disappear too? How on earth are those cars moving? What about Mom? Why? And Jessie...the rest of my family! What the Hell happened here?
...Beyond your understanding, but I can help...
There was no voice. It almost felt like Casey had thought the words himself, but...still breathing heavily, he sat up and looked around cautiously. What's gonna happen now?
...I can help you find them. Don't be afraid...
Something in front of him started glowing. Small and square, which suddenly inflated into a huge cube right before him, transparent except for a bright blue grid, blinding as the sun.
This was too much. Casey staggered to his feet and started to flee. Stumbling at first, then dashing into a sprint, he raced into the park, but he could still see the light in the corner of his eye.
Curiosity made him look over his shoulder at his pursuer, but he immediately regretted it. Between the blinding blue light were two big, green balloon-like eyes, just staring...Holy...!
...Don't run, you fool! I'm a friend!...STOP!
It was then that he crashed into somebody, and they both fell to the ground. Yes, somebody. A teenage girl dressed in a strange, green, skintight suit, a matching helmet over her head, and carrying what looked like an over-sized flashlight, but definitely human nonetheless. Casey would have been relieved to see her if he wasn't still freaked out about seeing his pursuer.
"Attention!" she snapped while jumping to her feet. She then confidently strode past Casey, toward the...thing...She pointed her flashlight...and somehow shot a solid beam of white light out of it, striking the...thing...between the eyes.
A sound that could only be compared to static screamed in Casey's brain. He hissed while clutching his head in agony. When the noise stopped a few moments later, he looked up and saw the girl offering him her hand. Here he noticed that the helmet and suit covered everything except her brown chin and mouth, which was smiling. The thing must have gone away.
"Ça va? Vous avez une blessure?"
"Uh..." Casey couldn't speak French. He wasn't even sure if this person was speaking French. That's how bad he was. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you said," he muttered while she helped him to his feet. She was only slightly shorter than him. "But, um, thank you for...helping me out."
With a shrug, she replied, "Pas de problème," a phrase that Casey might have had to be an idiot to not get. "Mais, vous avez une blessure!" She was pointing at his arm...
...Which had an enormous scrap that went from the middle of his forearm almost to his shoulder. How did...? Oh wait; he must have gotten it when he hit the pavement while trying to escape that bus. It looked pretty horrible, and felt pretty horrible too, now that his adrenaline was going down.
"Yeah, um. It's okay."
She snorted. "C'est des conneries. Alors, je suis Ariane. Et vous?"
When Casey didn't respond, the girl sighed and pointed at herself. "Moi! Ariane!" She barked. Then she jabbed her finger at him. "Vous!"
"Ah! Um, Casey," he replied awkwardly.
"Écoutez, Cay-Say, je sais un lieu de refuge." She started to walk away, then turned and beckoned exaggeratedly. "Allons-y!"
Casey followed, but hesitantly remarked, "My name is pronounced Cay-SEE."
"Je sais, Cay-Say," she replied.
Ariane and Casey trekked through the lively but dead city. Despite being driverless, the cars obeyed the traffic laws, so they were able to cross the road at crosswalks. There was still no one but them, and Casey didn't know what to think. What's going on? What's going on?
Ariane might know, but the language barrier wasn't going to make things too much clearer. He didn't know where she was leading him, but it would hopefully be to some place with other people. Hopefully an English-speaker.
The building they eventually entered, what used to be the pet store, had no people, but it didn't take long for Casey to realize it looked exactly like the store from Wild Side. Ariane approached the same kind crystal ball standbot filled with diamonds and said. "Salut, Zshee-bot! J'ai besoin de trois tomates et deux navets."
"Sure thing, Ariane. New friend?" He was looking at Casey.
"Oui. C'est Cay-Say."
"Nice to meet you, Casey," the robot said, pronouncing his name right despite what he was told. "Name's J-bot. I run the store here."
Casey hadn't been listening. He silently stared at the familiar face, then burst into laughter.
"Qu'est-ce qu'il y a de drôle?" Ariane asked.
"Yeah, what's so funny?" J-bot pressed.
Casey regained his composure and replied, "Sorry. I'm just...so happy this is still Wild Side. None of this is real. Man, this game is sick."
J-bot and Ariane looked at each other worriedly. "He doesn't know yet, does he?" J-bot said.
"C'est vrai, il est un nouveau."
Not smiling anymore, Casey demanded, "How can you two understand each other? And what don't I know?"
"Well, I'd better get you those vegetables!" cried the robot. He started reaching into a nearby cupboard with his stretchy arms.
"Hang on a minute! Are you guys screwing with me?"
"Here you are, Ariane." Three tomatoes and two turnips were dropped into her arms.
"C'est combien?" she questioned.
"Would someone please tell me what the fu-!" Casey was interrupted as Ariane had shoved one of the tomatoes into his open mouth.
"Mangez!" she ordered, tossed twenty brown diamonds into J-bot's globe, then started ushering Casey out the door. "Merci, Zshee-bot!"
Eating the tomato made the large scrape on Casey's arm heal over instantaneously, but he was still feeling sullen.
"Why didn't you tell me you could speak English?" Casey asked angrily.
"Anglais? Euh," she looked upwards, as if searching for words. "I...not talk...much...English."
"Well, you must speak it well enough to understand that robot."
"Zshee-bot 'as a...translateur," she tried to explain. She pointed at her head and added, "Mine...'ere."
Casey blinked. This wasn't the answer he had expected, but then, what had he expected. "What the heck are you talking about?"
Suddenly, she jerked her head, glancing at one of the nearby buildings. "Sh! Pas maintenant!" she whispered, leading him behind a dumpster. "Il y a un ennemi."
"An enemy?" he asked, peeking around the dumpster with her. The building she had looked at before still didn't have anything near it. "Where?"
"Dans l'immeuble." She pointed at the bakery across the street. "Restez ici. Uh, stay 'ere."
She dashed off, and in the same moment, part of the building started crumbling, then exploded, and two small, red things shot out of the ruins. They were moving so fast, Casey had no idea what they were supposed to be. Red blurs that seemed to be spinning, like tiny, furious cyclones, trying to dive-bomb Ariane.
Despite this, Ariane held fast to her composure. She faced one and kept her giant flashlight aimed at the other, almost as if she was using it as another set of eyes. The things could rarely hit her, and she would often bludgeon them as they zoomed past. Eventually, one of the little tornadoes disintegrated and turned into three diamonds after an especially hardy strike, and the other flew away, like it had been discouraged. Panting a little, she sat down on the sidewalk and started eating one of the tomatoes.
Cautiously, Casey emerged from his hiding place and exclaimed, "That was amazing!"
Ariane looked up and beamed a little, but she suddenly frowned, pointed, and yelled, "Attention!"
Too late. Although, if he had turned around and looked, he would have gotten a face full of dust. He managed to dive to the ground as what felt like a small fighter jet clipped his hair. The cyclone thing was back.
A white beam, similar to the one she used before, shot from Ariane's flashlight, but the target darted out of the way, and shot straight into Casey's chest just after he had gotten up. He stumbled back, and was hit again, tripped, and landed on his back with a loud "OOF!"
"Cay-Say!" shouted Ariane. She was now running into the battle, but she was only halfway there by the time the cyclone had risen up and began corkscrewing down. Casey was quite dazed by this point, watching the spiraling death tornado coming straight at him, when...
...What if I actually die?
It would have seemed like an irrational question before, but he was in survival mode again, like when he was attacked by that lizard thing. Even though there seemed to be an impossibly small window of opportunity, he managed to roll out of the way at the last moment, and was almost thrown by the cracking pavement.
The creature wasn't spinning so fast anymore, and Casey could almost see its features even. Humanoid, but in a cartoony way, with a square shaped head. It squirmed dizzily at the bottom of the small crater it had created, but Casey didn't give it a chance to recover fully. All in the same movement, he jammed his foot at it, got up, and began punching it as fast as he could. By the time Ariane had arrived, there was only a panting Casey clutching his chest, and three diamonds.
"Incroyable," she murmured. She looked right at him, mouth twitching, hesitating a smile. "You are...game child?"
"Ummmm, I'm a gamer," Casey replied, once again lost by the translation.
She shook her head, "Non non...you..." She stopped, then smiled at last. "Laisse-tomber. Allons-y."