World of Karik: A Game of Villains

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Prologue. A Bloody Evening

It was a typical March evening. I left the house in a foul mood and headed toward the railway station. I was lost in thought, pondering our society, which was so full of oddities. We were in the age of new technologies, but if you were desperate for money, no matter what, you could always get a job offloading the cars that the trains brought in daily—they always needed more people. I wondered what would happen if everyone was doing well, who would sign up for such grueling work? Would the railway stop working without any laborers? However, it seemed that there had never been such a problem in our country. Either there was some fallback option, or there were always some desperate people who needed money.

A few drops of rain fell. I waited for it to start pouring, but the clouds seemed to have changed their mind and moved further down, toward the suburbs.

I breathed in. It felt like I could sense nature, somewhere far away; the fresh air, a clear river—the clouds seemed reluctant to ruin the tableau with their overcast gloom. Suddenly, my stomach rumbled as if speaking to me in a loud voice. After a bit of thought, I decided to buy some food; two packs of noodles would be enough to get me through the rough day. I knew that I'd get tired and become hungry later, and the familiar flavor of ramen would help me survive one more work shift.

Along the way, I entered a small supermarket. Looking around, I noticed that there were few people in the store. Just a married couple in the bread department and a nerd wearing glasses who was meticulously studying packs of instant coffee. A couple of local punks were talking with the cashier, trying to persuade him that they were old enough to buy beer. A flock of female students who were apparently coming back from volleyball practice were chatting with each other in a corner.

 A good looking man drew my attention. He was wearing a stuffy, official looking jacket and stood out when compared to all the other visitors. But I quickly forgot about the man, having decided that he was just an official visiting family in the neighborhood.

I shrugged and made my way over to the familiar aisle. When I got to it, the shelves flickered like a dying light bulb and disappeared. They just melted into the air. I looked around, my eyes wide. Maybe the people who work in the shop have simply moved the shelf since I last visited this place, I thought. However, it was impossible to get rid of the thought that I'd just seen it standing there.

At that moment, another shelf disappeared. A boom reverberated through the store, accompanied by the screeching sound of rending metal. Two aisles crashed together and turned into one; then it happened again, and again. We were no longer in the ''Firefly'' supermarket; we weren't even in Moscow anymore. We all found ourselves in a white, nearly sterile room that was no longer than 50 yards to a side.

''What happened, man?'' Ahmed, the cashier, asked, his voice trembling. The old man was desperately trying to comprehend the fact that he'd lost all of his property. Strangely enough, the cash register and the counter stood untouched as he made his way around them and toward me. It seemed like he trusted me because he'd seen me around a few times before.

However, I didn't get a chance to answer him. The woman from the bread department dropped her basket and started screaming loudly. The man standing next to her hugged her. The middle-aged man's eyebrows drew down as he glared at all of us, challenging us to say anything about his wife's behavior. The punks and the sportswomen huddled together in their own groups, not daring to do anything, and only the four-eyed man tried to speak.

''My name is Anatoly. Does anybody know what's happening here? If this is someone's idea of a joke, then you'd better speak up right now before this goes any further. This woman obviously has a weak heart. If she has a heart attack, you'll be held responsible.'' No one answered him, but the hysterical woman, who had been crying until now, immediately fell silent. The guy had said the right thing. I was impressed by how he'd averted the crisis.

''Well, my name is Dmitri, Dmitri Korablev, and I have no idea what's going on here,'' I said, my voice calm. Why had I lied just then? I mean, it was true that I didn't know what was going on, but my real name was Vasily Kotov. This strange habit of mine was a knee-jerk reaction—I would lie if someone suddenly asked me a question. Somehow, the lies came easily and effortlessly to my lips. If I were living somewhere in Europe, I probably would have been forced to get treatment for it. However, in my country, they said that it wasn't a big deal as long as I was able to control myself and didn't slack off when dealing with serious matters. After looking around, I noticed something odd. ''Wait, there was a man in a jacket here earlier… Where is he?'' I asked everyone present.

I didn't immediately notice his absence, even though I always thought that I had a pretty good memory. I had a strange feeling deep down that he hadn't just disappeared from the store but had also been erased from my mind.

''Actually,'' I heard a smooth, powerful voice say. ''I'm right here.'' The missing man showed up, sitting on a cabinet that had materialized out of nowhere. ''Look, I want to end this quickly. We don't have much time, so I'm going to offer you all a simple task. Whoever gets out of this place first will survive. Everyone else...'' He looked around, meeting each of our gazes. ''Will die.''

Anton Emelianov and Sergei Savinov

Edited: 17.07.2019

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