Sunday, November 22, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 6 - Valerie

So, because you guys are cool, I'm giving you an extra chapter post. =D

My editor, Josh, rushed this out for you all especially. It's not fully edited, there are some sentences he was very unhappy with, but for the most part, it'll have to do.

Please enjoy the read. 


    As Valerie flew back, landing behind her merry band of cannon fodder, she felt that her desire to laugh at her pawns was becoming nearly uncontrollable. Look at them rage against reason like they’re anything more than toys to be played with. This is a game. Fun for everyone. Be happy you’re my victims. Valerie’s insuppressible laughter split through her mouth, and she found herself giggling softly but at a joke only she was in on. “Come on boys! You’re moving too slow! Me and my two girlfriends here would love to play with you!” she said, putting an arm around Minx and Mclean, who both shot her an uncomfortable look.
    What is wrong with you? What’s gotten into you? she could almost hear them saying with their eyes as the enemies barrelled towards them. Life! she wanted to say back to them with her own facial expression, but as complex as a face was, it just couldn’t convey some sentiments. It couldn’t say what she actually needed to say: “Mclean, play along. We’re the bad guys here. Also, if you’re going to open with your dive skill, you should probably be in the air about now, you know, before they show up. After all, it’s kind of hard to execute from the ground.” Valerie kicked her feet at the ground as if testing its existence.
    Mclean shot her another confused look, but then shot up into the sky a second later, Daniel following quickly behind her. “Is acting weird part of her plan?” she could hear Mclean asking.
    I shouldn’t have shown this face in front of them. They’re going to know something is up . . . Valerie lamented, dropping her facade, but she knew she didn’t have a choice. This plan needed the enemies to hate her, not sympathize with her.
    “Kass, use those snowballs I know you love to keep them clustered up. If someone starts running faster than the next one, slow them down with a good ice ball in the face.”
    “So the Blue-Drakes are more effective?” Kass asked, not failing to start the process immediately, but still succeeding at putting her foot in her mouth.
    No, not so they are more effective. So that . . . Nevermind. Valerie almost replied, but hesitated and then reluctantly gave up on the idea of spelling it out for Kass. What was the point of laying out her play for someone who might barely even understand it. It’d just be a waste of breath. Alright! First up to bat! Valerie thought with a smile, running towards the opposing guild. As soon as she got close enough to see one of the mages casting, she turned around and ran along the forest’s tail, making sure the circle would be complete. Kass’s ice stopped some of them, and Mclean and Daniel swooping in to pick off a mage each took out two more of them, but, for the most part, they still chased her. Why are they so persistent? Who would have ever thought cutting off a single head would leave the entire snake writhing so helplessly on the ground, she cackled to herself. She could see three of them stop and turn to fight Daniel and Mclean as she turned around to check on them. “Aww, you guys are so easy to distract,” she continued her taunting, trying to pick up a few of the Jotunns who had turned around to fight her White-Wing guildmates and get them back on the bread trail as she ran.
    The wind rushed through her hair as she darted forward at full speed. She looked at her wrist as if a watch were there. It’s time, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s roll the dice, she giggled to herself. Then, as quickly as she had found herself laughing, she forced herself to stop grinning altogether. Then she took out her own knife, gashed her stomach skin deep and then acted like she was tripped so that she landed face first on the ground. Got her, she could feel them thinking at her back. Those idiots. She had to fight very hard to stop her face from looking happy as they closed in on her. “HELP!” she yelled. “HELP! I’M BEING GANKED!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. They’re close enough. They’ve heard me, she thought with satisfaction. Now the only question left is, will I die in this battle?
    “Help? Who is it?” said someone from the second group as it came pouring out of the woods. It was mostly comprised of beast men. They were all asking what was going on, completely lacking the cohesion and clear order of command the first group had originally displayed. They took one look at Valerie, blood covering the hand she held tightly against her self-inflicted wound as she looked up from the ground, and then started charging at the Jotunns, who were closing in on Valerie by the second.
    “He . . . el . . . p . . . me,” Valerie made one last plea and then pretended to pass out face first into the dirt. This may have shocked the Jotunns who could see her, but their surprise wasn’t visible enough to be noticed by Valerie’s newly arrived reinforcements. Suckers, she laughed to herself, doing her best not to make a sound or move at all as she stayed on the ground, eyes closed tightly. Her only regret was that she couldn’t watch the initial impact of the two forces poised to collide.
    “Get the PKs! Get those filthy PKs!” The angry mob of beastmen fell perfectly into her trap. How is it that after decades of wonderful gender equality movements, people will always react like the earth was set on fire when they see a hurt girl, but stay reticent and cautious when they see an injured man? She quietly listened, waiting for her cue, waiting for a chance to move again as the beastmen and the Jotunn’s battled it out. They hate me, but if I’m playing possum, they’ll try to kill the beast men first.
    Then, as if fate was listening to her schemes and approving of them, one of the beast men started healing her. “Don’t die just yet,” the lizard-man said as he cast some restorative spell on her. She wouldn’t have known it was there if she hadn’t felt her wounds patching themselves up. At least I won’t have to worry about a scar, she thought as she did her best to fake standing up like an injured person who still hadn’t recovered all the way. Wobbly legs? Check. Shaking arms?? Check. Bewildered look like I’ve been woken up from a nap? Check, she rattled off the symptoms she would need to fake in her head as she mimicked each one. She might have just popped back up, but if the heal spell wasn’t a very strong one, then suspicion would be cast too early.
    “Thank you so much! Thank you so much! I thought I was dead.” Valerie did her best to keep her voice as timid and shaky as she could. “But . . . ” she looked over at Minx, who was weaving in and out of the battle, dodging attacks and cutting hamstrings as she danced through the wave of incoming arrows, fireballs and swords; Kass, who was doing her best to keep the enemy away from her by throwing ice balls at anything that came close as she ran around like a chicken with its head cut off; Daniel and Mclean, who were bouncing around the air like a spaceship that can’t steer in a debris field, “But my team.”
“It’s okay. We’ll save you guys. Just get some cover.”
“Thank you again. I don’t know what I would have done if you guys hadn’t shown up when you did!” Valerie backed up, watching the skirmish unfold behind her. Well, that’s not true. I know exactly what I would have done. I would have just used those new yellow shield-generating snow cones, a good air patrol and a little organization to wipe out the enemy if you hadn’t shown up. But the silver lining to this cloud is that we don’t have to risk any permanent losses, and we can make sure your two groups never work together against us in the future.
For Valerie, the beast men were actually pretty fun to watch fight. She especially liked watching the Grendel-Kin with its disgusting furry visage slam into one of the fat Ursine warriors and knock him three feet back, directly into a poor and unsuspecting Feline that was doing her best just to hold off an Earth-Walker. Such a poorly-balanced group of animals, a few healers and no strategy or composition, she sighed as the Lizard-man who had saved her failed to do the same for a separate rat-like warrior who had gotten his head blown to bits by a well-placed fireball. If something isn’t done, then the loss might be too one-sided, she noted, painfully aware at how poor the new arrivals were doing. I guess I need to even the odds, she readied both her daggers and flew into the air, ready to execute her dive on one of the Jotunn healers.
She knew exactly which ones were which. It wasn’t hard to tell. Sure, they did a great job of hiding who the healers were--one of them was even holding a shield and sword and hovering incredibly close to the front line, faking as if combat was his intention--but with just a bit of observation, the fact that he wasn’t contributing with damage and was instead using only shields and heals was painfully obvious.
I’m sorry you have to die, little buddy, she thought as she dove through the air straight towards his chest. The only problem was her diving skill wasn’t working. It normally would have activated, but now she was doing her best to remember exactly how it had worked. When she crashed into the mage, bouncing off his shield, the result was far from the damage a dive would normally do. What the . . . ? Her face twisted up. This isn’t part of the plan, she grumbled to herself as she picked up her daggers and stabbed over and over again at the healer’s shield until it broke. You were supposed to die with the Dive! she sighed, finally sinking her dagger into his chest. There was something strangely satisfying about watching her knife sink in and split his sternum like potato cut in half with a butcher’s knife, but there was also something disappointing. Why didn’t he fight back? I’m supposed to be the hated one, and I was uninterrupted? she wondered, looking around at the fight.
It was then that Valerie realized the fact that as soon as she had interrupted the shield maker, the fight had tipped again. The ‘distressed damsel’ group, or rather what Valerie called the group of beast men who heroically came to her rescue before ever asking why she was being attacked in the first place, was now starting to win the fight. It’s too quick. They’re going to win too easily. There will be far too many . . . Valerie paused, her eyes flickering to show her watching a horror movie on the computer. The vivid scene of of the slasher taking his first prey completely unaware played through right before her eyes as she stood quietly in the middle of the field. The difference between triumph and defeat is knowing who to trust and when to do it. Valerie smiled, her eyes blazing with excitement. Now, all she had to do was wait, wait and watch. Too bad I don’t have any popcorn in my inventory because this is one heck of a show, she mused to herself as everyone but her struggled in what looked like some life or death event.
    When the battle was finally won, when the rescuers and Valerie’s friends finally finished off the last of the invading Earth-Walker’s troops and were gathering in a group, Valerie couldn’t contain her joy. It’s here. It’s here. The time is here! she laughed. “Thank you so much!” she said to the leader. “My name’s Valerie. I don’t know what I would have done without you! They were going to kill us because our group finished a quest that revealed the secret to this challenging dungeon and how to kill the Demons without taking casualties. We tried to let them in on the plan, but they wanted everything for themselves.” Valerie faked a pouting face. Is this what Minx feels like all the time? Does she enjoy watching people trip over their mistaken assumptions?
    “There’s a secret to the quest?” he asked, taking the bait.
    “Of course there is! Do you think the game would make a quest that was unbeatable? But no-one investigated! Everyone just rushed over here and didn’t put in the time and effort, and then we figured it out, but then they wanted to reap what we sowed.” She did her best to fake a sigh that sounded like she was both exhausted and frustrated. “We would have split the reward because the boss is going to still be really hard, but people are just so greedy these days.” She looked over at Daniel who was walking up behind her, trying to signal him with her eyes but failing. He does get what I’m doing, right?
    “Yeah, it’s not like we want it all,” Daniel said, moving in closer to two of the other players as Valerie closed the distance between herself and the leader. “If you guys helped us pull it off, we could split the loot with you? We only ask for about thirty or forty percent of it? That’s not too much, is it?”
    “Well . . .” the unnamed leader looked at a few of the other players in his party who nodded. The beasts had won, but they hadn’t gone without casualties. In fact, almost half their group had died in the earlier fight. It was still too many for Valerie to take on in a direct skirmish, but it definitely wasn’t enough to even try a raid on the dungeon in front of them. “If you help us keep the position secure until our guildmates respawn and make it back, I don’t see why we can’t help you out,” he agreed.
    “Excellent!” Valerie clapped her hands together. “Then that settles that. We should get started on our end right away. Minx, can you sneak off with Daniel to activate the betrayer quest line with the guard at the top of the mountain?”
    “The betrayer quest line, but . . .” Minx, who was also getting close to some of the enemies, likely thinking, as Daniel did, that they were going to do the stabbing very soon, had a very confused look on her face.
    “Oh! That’s right, you don’t have the scroll you need. One second, let me find it in my inventory!” Valerie opened up her inventory’s console and started to edit a parchment she had looted from one of the odd Fire-Walker areas they had explored with Daniel and Mclean. She made sure that in the middle of the parchment in big letters it said, Have the Blue-Drakes hunt down only this group’s returning dead. Don’t let them reach the camp before Darwin and Kitchens return. She then handed the scroll to Minx. “This should be it. Remember that only the guard on the top of the mountain will let you approach him without attacking,” Valerie said to the bewildered-looking girl.
“Alright! I got it!” She took off, she and daniel circling around the wall to head up Mt. Lawlheima.
“So this betrayer quest, it gets rid of the NPC guards?” the leader guessed, looking rather amazed as he watched Minx leave. “Like, every NPC?”
“Trust me, by the time a fight starts, you won’t have to worry about a single NPC,” Valerie beamed. “There are a few more steps, but this starts the process.”
“That’s stupendous!” the leader said, and Valerie couldn’t agree more. This has turned out to be one stupendous event after the next for me. Now, I just need to wait on our heavy artillery swordsmen to get here and start cleaning up the . . . her mind was rattled as she saw what looked like Darwin, still in his bathrobe like the demonic bathrobe king he is, cutting White-Wings in half as they tried to assault him . . . on a beach? She saw the water surging over and ebbing back across his feet, futilely attempting to wash the gore away. Seeing him for the first time was awe-inspiring. He was like the devil himself ripping angels in half, she reflected on the memory. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do . . . but no sooner had that thought popped into her head, then she saw a new Darwin, almost overlapping the current one as his blurred image was next to the first beach fighting Darwin. An image of Darwin’s face, covered with anxiety and confusion as he stared out over a field of battle. He wears an exterior of confidence like it was just another suit of armor, but he’s . . . He’s scared. He’s terrified. He’s wearing the face as if this were his last and only battle. Then, the image of Tim’s death and the flight of Mclean and Daniel into the Fire-Walker boss appeared on the sides of the two conflicting Darwin’s. They all knew they were going to die. They all knew that it was inevitable. One group thought they would respawn and that their death would pass like a gentle breeze, one didn’t understand he couldn’t truly die, and one knew his passing was an inevitability that would permanently separate him from the one he cared about, but they all were the same. They all acted without consideration, wearing that confidence as their armor. They all faced death with a smile, yet here I am, waiting like a rat in a hole for the cat to pass.
“You there?” the leader asked. Valerie had been so lost in thought that she hadn’t realized he was trying to talk to her.
“Oh, yeah, I was just thinking about something I could do to help you out, to thank you for your rescuing me beyond simply sharing this quest with you.” Valerie beamed at him, knowing what she actually wanted to do.
“There really isn’t a need for that,” the man almost blushed.
“Oh. trust me: This is something you are going to want to miss,” she approached him, sliding the dagger into her hands.
“You mean something I am not going to want to miss, right?” he laughed, thinking he was correcting her simple mistake.
“No, no, dear, I didn’t.” She put one arm around him and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “I just wanted to thank you for being such a helpful pawn,” she whispered into his ear after her lips parted from his fur-covered cheek, and the knife blade, hidden by angling and her hand, finally revealed itself to him as it pierced through the thin skin under his jaw and slid into his brain.
The others, some of whom had watched in envy as she leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek, were too shocked to immediately react. Valerie, who hadn’t expected their befuddlement to give her such a boon, quickly moved her other dagger into another player who was standing close by before pushing off the ground to fly. The problem was that as soon as she got half a foot in the air, she noticed that the feathers in her wings weren’t carrying her like they used to. She wasn’t getting the same lift as she had grown accustomed to feeling and struggled to press through the air so she could get her proper altitude for her next Dive. Crap, crap, I’m going to die . . . She smiled. Well, they wouldn’t have run. They would have fought to the bloody end, even if they knew they were going to die, she laughed. She remembered the image of Darwin struggling to keep on fighting as Daniel had to organize his exit from the fight during the Panda King struggle.
When did I ever shy away from doing the right thing? When did I ever worry about my life in a video game? she laughed to herself--really at herself as she tried to find a target near Kass and Mclean place in the fight that had broken out after her betrayal, not actually concerned if either of them had died before adjusting to the skirmish. She knew in her heart that they wouldn’t mind dying in a good fight. Let’s do this! She turned around, diving one last time, knowing in the back of her head that if she didn’t land on a cushiony bag of meat her death was certain. She could feel her wings slowly fall off as she turned around and angled her descent towards the closest foe, feeling the wind rip the feathers painfully from her wings. By the time she had landed feet and blades first, right into a poor fat Ursine, her wings had already reached the point of non-functionality, and to Valerie her death was assured. Three down, she thought. How many more are there to go? she laughed as she remembered the game she played with Mclean and Daniel in the Fire-Walker chamber.
But, before she could even make it to her fourth victim, a roar pierced the sky and rivers of fire shot down onto her spot. The Blue-Drakes, with Minx at the helm, flew down in a V formation like a flock of migrating ducks, spewing fire all over the encampment of distracted foes.
“Sorry, Val! I was going to wait for you, but Darwin’s almost here, and we didn’t want to miss the party!” Minx said, deftly jumping off her Blue-Drake and landing behind Mclean so the two were back to back, each holding their daggers like they were born with them. Unfortunately for the two, the flames had engulfed almost all of the furballs, turning the entire would-be fight into a toasty barbeque featuring wide array of different types of meat.
“I see you guys have been busy,” Darwin laughed as he stepped out of the forest. “We were worried we wouldn’t make it in time. How did you all fare over here?”
“We got attacked by two large groups, but Val went weird weird like a cuckoo clock and saved us, so it’s okay, but is she?” Minx said, looking at Valerie who was standing there in the middle of a circle of the burning oil and fire the Blue-Drakes had painted the ground with.
“Valerie, what happened to your wings?” Darwin asked, stepping over the fire.
“Huh?” she said, looking down at the remaining stubs of what had once been her proud and majestic wings, her joy as a White-Wing, lying on the ground next to her. “Oh . . . crutches shouldn’t be kept after you’re whole.”
“Crutch? But aren’t you a White-Wing? Isn’t that your identity, not a crutch?” Darwin asked, confused.
Sigh, does everyone have to spell everything out for you? I can’t tell if you’re brilliant or dense or both sometimes, Valerie though with a sigh, but decided she would let him off the hook this time. “If that were the case, my eyes wouldn’t be as pretty,” she joked, making light of the matter. “I’m a Demon after all,” she admitted, knowing that with her red eyes and lack of wings in this game there would be simply no way to hide the fact. Unless of course there is a magic flight spell and an illusion spell and, well . . . No, that’s too much effort.
“You’re a Demon?” Darwin said more than asked, but the pitch was still slightly higher at the end so it still came across as a question.
“Apparently so,” Valerie replied and nodded. “Actually, maybe the two of us can talk, privately, later.” Valerie added, looking around at the others who were staring at her and Darwin.
“I’d like that,” Darwin agreed. He probably understood her sentiments. “But the question still stands: Are you okay?”
“I’ve never been better,” she responded, beaming. “Today was . . . Well, it was a lot of fun,” she said without a single touch of deceit. Even though she had lost her mobility once again, even though she once more had to feel the phantom sensation of losing the ability to move in a way that had for so long felt natural, and then having it suddenly yanked away from her as her wings had been cast aside in the transformation, she just couldn’t help but be happy. The wings weren’t a part of her, they truly were a crutch, a crutch she would never need again now that she was whole once more.

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