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    Nightlit
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Virtualization - 3. Shadowed Horizon

Warning: This chapter is significantly darker than the previous ones, dealing with death, murder and some very dark character motivations. While some new characters are introduced and the events are important and referenced later, the details are not crucial to understanding the rest of the story so the chapter can be skipped.

The red square on his mini map has stopped moving. Luke knows he must be careful with this one, they’ve killed at least seven people already, and he’s not about to be the eighth. Luke wishes he knew how much stealth they have. All he knows is that his target is hiding and that he has enough perception that it’s not working, at least not entirely. But he can’t see them from where he is, and he has no idea if they can see him. He doesn’t even technically know they have stealth, since the forest has many natural hiding places. This cat and mouse game has gone on for almost twenty minutes, but Luke knows what a stealth build is capable of. He knows if he tries to rush this he could be easily killed in a single blow, so he waits.

After waiting for a few minutes, Luke concludes they must not have noticed him, or at least haven’t figured out his intentions. He’s pretty sure his first thought is right though. If he was them, and saw someone waiting nearby hiding behind a tree, he wouldn’t be standing around waiting for something to happen. He’d be trying to figure out what the person wanted.

He realizes the hypocrisy of his assumption even as he peeks around to see if he can spot his target, but he can’t, at least not without leaving the safety of the tree’s cover zone. His stealth has been good enough so far with the cover of the foliage to evade detection, but he doesn’t trust it to keep him invisible in plain sight.

A green dot appears on his map and it’s approaching quickly. He swears to himself, but there’s nothing he can do except hope that the killer doesn’t choose to attack, or that if they do, that he is fast enough to intercept.

Soon he can hear the person running through the foliage, the fast paced running of a person with a small stride or short legs. The figure that approaches him in the dim light is small and has the dimensions of a child. Luke’s eyes narrow as he sees the square finally move directly into the green dot’s path. His only consolation is that the square’s new position is closer to him, but he still can’t get a visual.

Luke realizes they must be in the treetops, but that only makes his situation worse. His build is not ideal against a surprise attack, especially from above. It’s one of the many reasons he has more perception in his fate wheel than most. He wishes he could yell out to the small person running into an ambush, but he can’t reveal himself. Even if they don’t choose to attack him, he can’t afford to lose their trail. Their rampage must end.

The small person turns out to be a boy, probably just thirteen, and small for his age at that. Luke holds his breath. He can’t let memories of Asa at that age distract him. If the boy is targeted, he’ll have almost no time at all to intervene.

The red dot turns green as he hears the sound of someone jumping out of a tree. His target’s profile is clearly visible to him: a fully grown man, muscular and with a ponytail. The boy stops and brings up a shield, but the man only laughs.

Luke prepares his parrying knife and he sidles around the tree as the cover area changes in relation to him. Trying to get as close to him as possible without being seen.

Another stroke of luck, Luke supposes, comes when the man speaks, “Such bravery for a child. Meeting death head on.”

Luke is relieved when the boy sidles around the man towards the tree Luke is hiding behind. Not only does this make them closer, it also probably means the boy is probably protecting his blindside.

After the boy doesn’t speak for a moment, the man laughs again, “Nothing to say? We’re alone here. No one is going to rescue you.” Luke finds himself smirking at that, despite the situation. So the guy hasn’t detected him. He’ll make him pay for the seven people he murdered and the child he’s taking glee in threatening.

Time seems to stand still for a moment as the man approaches the boy, then the next moment is over in an instant. The man draws a sword and swings down at the boy, an eerie glow surrounding his sword.

Luke activates his only flash step skill and darts around the tree. When he appears, he lunges between the two and just barely parries the attack. He wastes no time swinging his knife back while flipping through his menu to equip a sword, dealing a hefty amount of damage to the murderous man.

The man begins swinging his sword again, but Luke has already equipped his knife and activated his swipe twice skill. As soon as he feels is arm start to execute the skill he equips the sword again and two knife speed attacks later the man disappears.

Luke notes he must have specked entirely for attack. The single attack had dealt a good chunk of his maximum hit points through the parry, but the man’s HP was extremely small. Three sword slashes shouldn’t have been enough to defeat him, and yet they were.

He turns to the boy, “Are you okay?”

The boy nods, “Thank you. I...”

“Come with me.” Luke says, “There’s a safe zone with a town warp not far from here.”

“Wait! Before we go, have you see my brother?” The boy asks.

“I haven’t seen anyone else. What happened to him?” Luke asks.

“We were out here because he wanted to make sure we’d survive. There was one more drop he needed to finish making a really good crossbow. We knew the mobs wouldn’t be that dangerous to us as long as we stuck near a safe zone, so we didn’t think it would be a big deal.” The boy looks down at his feet. “But then my brother drew his weapon, pointed in a direction, and yelled at me to run.”

Luke realizes the kid’s brother must have had higher perception and noticed the party of PKers. The guy he was tracking probably waits in the opposite direction from where they attack from to catch anyone who runs away. After realizing his target was a child, he probably decided to savor the kill rather than ambush him.

Luke sighs at that. While he’s aware he’s making a lot of assumptions, he’s also sure he’s right, which means the boy’s brother is most likely dead.

“I’m sorry, but I think your brother might be gone.” Luke says.

“You mean he’s dead.” The boy says sadly.

Luke nods, “If I see him, I’ll get him to you, but I think you were set up by a party of PKers.”

The boy sighs, “I feel like crying, but tears won’t come. Is there something wrong with me?”

Luke shakes his head, “No, I don’t think it’s you. Crying has never been implemented in this game. I guess they didn’t implement it even now.”

The boy droops some more, “Oh.”

They walk in silence for a moment before Luke breaks it, “Do you mind if I ask your name?”

“My IRL name you mean?” The boy asks.

“You can tell me your screen name if you want.” Luke responds.

The boy looks up at him in confusion, “But can’t you just see that?”

Luke nods, “Yeah, but it’s different when someone tells you isn’t it?”

The boy smiles a little. It’s fleeting, but it’s something, “I guess it is.”

Luke smiles down at him, though he’s not sure how sincere it comes off. He definitely doesn’t feel like smiling. “I’m Luke.”

“Stephan.” The boy responds.

They walk for a moment more before the boy looks up at him again, “Do you mind if I ask you something?”

Luke shrugs, “Depends on what it is.”

“Oh, it’s nothing personal.” Stephan says nervously.

“Then go ahead.”

Stephan gathers his thoughts and then looks up at Luke again, “How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Luke asks.

“Block Moon Shadow Edge. I thought Moon Shadow Edge was unblockable?” Stephan asks.

Luke almost smiles. It’s a common question from those new to the game, and even some seasoned players don’t know about it. Luke is sure Stephan doesn’t really care that much about the answer. He’s trying to distract himself from his pain. Luke decides that’s the least he can do for him. “It has to do with the subtle differences between a shield block and a parry.”

Stephan looks up at him, “I thought a parry was just a block with your weapon?”

Luke nods, “In most respects, it is. But there are a few subtle differences between them. Shield blocks only stop secondary effects of attacks if the entire damage of the attack is negated. Parries can’t block the entire damage of an attack, but always prevent its secondary effects.”

Stephan sighs, “That still doesn’t make sense.”

Luke nods, “It’s a little weird, but Moon Shadow Edge’s unblockable effect doesn’t do what most people think it does. It doesn’t make it so that it can’t be blocked, it’s an effect of the attack that triggers when the attack is blocked, causing it to ignore the block. With shields, the secondary effects negation is checked for after damage, so it will always ignore them regardless of their damage reduction. But parries negate secondary effects immediately, so the unblockable secondary effect is negated before it has a chance to trigger.”

Stephan thinks for a moment, “It sounds like I should learn how to parry.”

Luke shakes his head, “While it’s a great skill to have, most of the time it’s not strictly better than using a shield. Shields are much easier to block with, and like I said, parries can’t completely negate the damage of an attack, shields can. Moon Shadow Edge is a special case.”

Stephan nods, “Oh.”

They walk a bit more before Luke turns towards the forest, “Stephan, get behind me.”

“What is it?” He asks.

“Two monsters are approaching.” Luke says.

“Are you gonna be okay? You’re pretty hurt.” It’s true. Luke is below half his health. Normally none of the enemies here would be a threat, but he hadn’t been fighting mobs, he’d been fighting players, and he has the added worry of protecting a kid.

Luke swears under his breath when two elite goblins approach with their weapons at the ready. Luke steps forward, trying to engage them without letting them reach Stephan, but when he slashes through one it only takes about a fourth of it’s life. The other one separates and tries to get to his blindside.

Luke turns so that his flanks rather than his blindside are to each of them, but with only one weapon, he can’t fight both of them at once. That’s when the goblin on his menu side, which was the one he’d already hit, suddenly disappears.

He wastes no time turning to his left and slashing the goblin, not even bothering with his spiral menu. He’s moving to parry the goblin’s incoming attack when Stephan skewers it with a lance.

“That was sloppy Luke. You should have taken them no problem.” He turns towards the voice to see the athletic form of Trjreska, though like him, she’s going by Jacklyn, her name IRL. She has wavy brown hair which is tied back in a ponytail, dark brown eyes and brown skin.

“I was protecting someone.” Luke says.

Stephan sighs, “Thank you, I guess, but I can fight the mobs around here.”

Luke looks down, “Oh.”

Jacklyn raises an eyebrow at him, “You look terrible. And how’d your HP get so low?” She uses a potion on him, “You’re invincibility only lasts five seconds you know. You have to be more careful.”

Stephan stares at him, “Invincibility?”

Luke sighs, “I can’t believe I forgot about that. I really am stressed.”

Stephan looks at them again, “How did he get powerful enough to get an invincibility?”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “He didn’t. He rolled it on the skill roulette.”

“Oh.” Stephan says, “That was pretty lucky.”

Luke nods and starts walking again. “When we get to the safe zone, teleport to town and stay there.”

“What are you guys gonna do?” Stephan asks.

“We need to find the people that attacked your brother.” Luke says.

“What are you going to do to them?” Stephan asks hesitantly.

Luke’s face darkens, “Make sure they can’t hurt anyone else.”

Meanwhile

Jerome looks down at the girl beneath him. She seems so innocent at first glance. He thinks she’s thirteen, she’s got a happy demeanor, and she’s PKed at least one person. He witnessed her do it. And the worst thing is she used her apparent innocence to lull them into a false sense of security.

Jerome watches her skip along. Is she looking for her next victim? He can’t say, but it doesn’t matter. He’s not going to give her the chance.

In one smooth motion he drops out of the tree behind her and slashes through her blindside. He sighs as she disappears. After there are no PKers left, he’s going to change his build. And if he ever gets out of this, he’s never going to PK again.

“God dammit!” He turns to see a tall dark skinned man. Jerome only knows him as Tyrone. He doesn’t even know if that’s a name or an SN. “A guy just PKed an entire party! Just because they weren’t white!”

Jerome’s eyes thin, “Fuck.”

Tyrone punches a tree, “He said, ‘Now I can kill you and you’ll fucking stay dead.’ Can you believe that?”

Jerome shakes his head. The sad thing is, he can, “I just offed a little girl.”

Tyrone walks over to him, “A little girl?”

Jerome nods, “Yeah. She walked up to a guy, and asked him to help her find her parents. Then when he turned around she blindsided him. She was grinning too! I saw the whole thing. I… thought she was the victim at first, that’s why I didn’t...” He trails off.

Tyrone sighs, “I thought our community was better than this.”

Jerome shakes his head, “When we started this, I didn’t know what it was gonna be. Now I just want it to be over.”

Tyrone nods, “I know.”

They start walking towards the nearest safe zone. “I guess some people play these games to take out urges they couldn’t do in real life.” Tyrone muses.

Jerome nods, “I know I did. But, this stopped being a game. Don’t people realize that?”

Tyrone looks down, “Maybe some of them do realize that.”

Jerome looks at him, “What do you mean?”

“I think some people only keep up appearances because they are worried about getting in trouble. But there is no law here. No police. No jail. Just us.” Tyrone sighs and looks at Jerome, “For a person without any principles, this must be a dream come true.”

Jerome sighs again, “But are we any better?”

Tyrone puts a hand on his shoulder, “Maybe we aren’t, but I can live with that if it protects everyone else.”

They walk in silence until a message comes in from Jacklyn.

[ Trjreska: Luke needs some supplies. We’ll meet up with you at the Elven Shrine. Don’t worry about inviting anyone else. I think they’re still hunting. ]

Tyrone shakes his head, “Luke is Tall&Zxy right?” Jerome nods. “Was he always this reckless?”

Jerome shrugs, “I dunno. I’ve never successfully PKed him though.”

Tyrone raises an eyebrow, “You tried to PK Tall&Zxy? That was gutsy.”

Jerome shrugs, “It was a challenge.”

Tyrone nods, “I have a feeling we’ll have no shortage of challenges here.”

Jerome looks at him, “Then you think we should play the game?”

Tyrone smiles softly, “I think that the type of people who play this game are the type of people who won’t be able to just sit around in safe zones. We’ll play the game, whether we should or not.”

Jerome looks up at the stars through the canopy, “Even if it kills us.”

Tyrone’s smile flattens, “Yes. Even if it kills us.”

When they reach the Shrine, Luke and Jacklyn are already there talking to Ricardo, who goes by Ricky. “Oh good! You’re here.” Jacklyn says. She then pauses, “You guys don’t look so good.”

Tyrone shakes his head, “I think we weren’t prepared for the darker side of our community.”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “Yeah. So many fucked up people.”

Luke and Ricky walk over to them, “It can’t be helped. There’s always some bad apples.” Luke says. “But there’s good people in here too. We’re doing this for them.”

Tyrone turns to Ricky, “So, did you find anything?”

Ricky nods, “I found an active base of operations and a potential one. The active base of operations is the fisherman’s shack safe zone down by the bayou dungeon. A PK guild used it as a base in the older version of the game, so I checked it out. I saw KillRAss there, and he’s a known PKer, and a total jerk IRL. I also know he was PKing for the entire event. If anyone is going to be PKing still for no reason other than the thrill, it’s him.” He shakes his head, “But there’s a catch.”

Luke squints, “What’s the catch?”

Ricky turns to him, “I didn’t want to get too close, and my perception was high enough to see his user name, but not what he looks like.”

Tyrone shakes his head, “That’s not a huge issue is it?”

“I’ll go confirm it.” Jerome says, “We don’t PK on a guess.” He takes the teleporter.

“So, what was the other one?” Jacklyn asks.

Ricky shakes his head, “The Temple. There are large safe zones there without teleporters and the instance remains once it’s created until another Temple is entered or the boss is completed. This, combined with the hub teleporter right outside, makes it an ideal base of operations.”

Luke looks at him, “You were going to check it out alone?” Ricky nods, “Are you sure? The Temple’s got the most dangerous mobs in the area, and your build is all stealth.”

“What else can we do? Like Jerome said, we confirm. Someone has to scout the place.” Ricky says.

Jacklyn shakes her head, “We can’t risk your life either. The Temple’s too dangerous for anyone to tackle alone, even if you do have enough stealth to dodge everything there.”

Luke nods, “What if you make a mistake? Or there are PKers there and they have enough perception to see you. Or someone aggros some mobs and you get caught in the crossfire? There are too many ways for you to get killed by yourself.”

Ricky sighs, “What do you suppose we do then? None of you have enough stealth to sneak around there.”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “We really could use BunnyAce right about now.”

Luke sighs and looks down, “Asa… He won’t come.”

Jacklyn raises an eyebrow, “Even if you message him?”

Luke looks at her, “Trust me. This isn’t his thing.”

Tyrone looks at him, “This isn’t any of our things either, is it?”

Luke shakes his head, “It’s not that. Asa wouldn’t be able to handle this. He would never stop thinking about it. It would break him, and he knows it. That’s why he won’t come.”

Jacklyn meet’s his gaze, “Don’t you think you’re selling him short?”

Luke shakes his head, “He hasn’t messaged me all night.”

“So what?” Ricky asks.

Luke looks at them, “It means he knows what I’m doing. If he was willing to do it too, he’d have contacted me or already be out here.”

“So, we can’t get BunnyAce.” Tyrone thinks, “But all we need is someone whose good with stealth?”

Jacklyn nods, “Basically.”

“My cousin is in the game, and he has a heavy stealth build.” Tyrone says.

“Do you think he could sneak around the Temple?” Ricky asks.

“If I know him, he already has.” Tyrone responds.

“Then why isn’t he already here?” Jacklyn asks.

Tyrone shakes his head, “I didn’t want him involved. He has a tendency to take risks.”

Luke sighs, “Do you think he could reign that in?”

Tyrone thinks, “I hope so. But I do know he’s got to have enough stealth to pull it off. He plays the game more to watch monsters than to fight them.”

“He wouldn’t risk someone else would he?” Ricky asks.

“Probably not.” Tyrone answers.

“Then you should message him.” Jacklyn says, “It sounds like he’d be an ideal backup for Ricky.”

Tyrone nods and sends the message. A moment later a young man steps out of the teleporter, “So, ya finally gonna let me in on what you’ve been doin cuz?”

Tyrone motions around, “Luke, Jacklyn, Ricky? Meet Kwame. Kwame? Luke, Jacklyn and Rickey.”

Kwame turns to them and gives them small nods, “Ya didn’t call me here for introductions dude. What gives?”

Tyrone sighs, “We needed someone who can sneak around. But, be careful. You can’t get caught. No...”

Kwame waves him off, “Dude, we can die now. I’m not stupid.”

Tyrone sighs again, “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry.” He looks Kwame in the eyes, “Ricky is going to check the Temple to see if anyone’s there. We just wanted him to have some backup.”

Kwame grins, “The Temple you say? I gotcha covered! Searched that whole place. Even got trounced by the boss, just to see what it does.”

“We’re not gonna do that today. We’re gonna be...”

Kwame cuts Ricky off, “Super careful right? Like mega super, can’t get caught by a blade of grass careful?”

Ricky nods, “Yes.”

“Listen Kwame. This is serious.” Luke says, “We’re counting on you.”

Kwame’s eyes harden, “I’m totes serious.” He puts an arm around Ricky’s shoulders, “I’m not gonna let anythin happen to this guy. Nuthin, you got it?”

Tyrone smiles, “Good.”

Kwame turns to Ricky as they head to the teleporter, “So, I’m no good in a fight. Got heals though. You?”

“If it comes down to it, I use a bow.” Ricky responds.

“Cool, cool. So...” Kwame starts but is cut off by them teleporting away.

Jacklyn lets out a snicker, “That’s your cousin?”

Tyrone shakes his head, then sighs, “Yep. That’s him.”

Luke’s smile is genuine, “He’ll do it though. He’ll keep Ricky safe.”

Jacklyn nods, “So, once Jerome gets back, what’s the plan?”

Luke hardens his expression, “If he confirms they’ve been PKing, we go there as a group. Tyrone and Jerome should go trap the other exits to the safe zone. Jacklyn and I will try to corner as many of the players there into one on one fights to thin out their ranks. Hopefully, you two will catch enough of them with your traps that we can just take the rest openly.”

Jacklyn nods, “That’s about what I was thinking.”

Tyrone shakes his head, “How many do you think there’s gonna be?”

Luke shakes his head and shrugs, “There’s no way to know. But if Asa and I learned anything playing as a duo, you always plan for the worst scenario. It’s much easier to pull a plan back on the fly than to deal with the unexpected.”

Jacklyn heads to the teleporter, “Then I’m gonna go get us some potions.” She gives five potions to Luke, “I better not find you didn’t use these!”

Luke nods, “I’ll drink them, even if I don’t need to.”

Jacklyn rolls her eyes, “Don’t kid yourself. You’re gonna need them and more by the end of the night.” Luke sighs in response. He knows she’s definitely right.

Jacklyn’s already returned by the time Jerome comes back. “Here’s your potions.” She sends him 20 potions.

Jerome’s expression is grim, “They’re definitely killing people. I saw them kill someone. But there were five of them. I might have been able to take down one or two but...”

Luke shakes his head, “You did the right thing. Getting yourself killed wouldn’t have saved anyone and it would have tipped our hand.”

“There are five then?” Jacklyn asks.

Jerome shakes his head, “There were five in KillRAss’ ambush party. I don’t know if there are more of them at their base camp.”

Tyrone thinks for a moment, “It has to have gotten out by now that PKers are being hunted. Even if people weren’t at the meeting, we’ve been doing this for too long for it to remain secret.”

Luke nods, “Which means that anyone still killing is conglomerating.”

Jacklyn nods, “That’s what I’d do.”

Jerome shakes his head, “Which means we need a plan.” Jerome thinks for a moment, “Luke, you thought of something already right?” Luke nods and explains the plan again.

“That’s a solid plan, but I think we need to change it up a bit. I never saw them working alone, so we can’t count on them separating.” Jerome says.

“So, what should we do?” Jacklyn asks.

Tyrone looks at Luke, “I think your basic plan should still work, except that I’ll handle the safe zone on my own.”

“Are you sure?” Luke asks.

Tyrone nods, “Yes.”

Luke nods, “Then the rest of us form a search party. Follow their ambush team and attack them. Though I’m sure we could beat a team of five, it would be safest to try and scatter them and engage them one on one.”

Jerome thinks for a moment, “The best way to do that would be to have you two surround them. If you run in opposite directions, they’ll hopefully split up. If one of the groups is larger, I’ll help whoever they go after. If not, I’ll handle any stragglers. If they all follow one person, then you two should circle around, so that you can meet up and fight together.”

“That’s good,” Luke says, “But you have to approach them first. The entire plan falls apart if they have enough perception to see you on their mini maps. Once you know they haven’t seen you, that’s when we’ll run with the plan.” He turns to Jacklyn, “You okay with this?”

Jacklyn nods, “That sounds fine.” She turns to Luke, “Remember, Potions. Use them. I gave you twenty five. You better be down at least one when we get back.”

“I’ll probably be down more than that.” Luke responds. Jacklyn nods in response.

Jerome turns to Tyrone, “I’m calling Shindig. You shouldn’t do it alone.”

Tyrone nods, “That’s fine with me.”

A moment later a young woman appears from the teleporter, “Did you need my services Jerome?”

“Hey Shinny, you still use traps right?” Jerome asks.

She shows her bubbly smile, “I do.”

“We need your help. I told you we were hunting PKers?” Jerome asks.

Shindig nods, “You don’t have to protect me from this Jer. I wanted to help you from the get go.”

Tyrone raises his eyebrow, “I take it you know each other IRL?”

Shindig nods and slaps Jerome’s shoulder, “He was my high school crush.”

Jacklyn smirks, “Didn’t pan out when you dated did it?”

Shindig laughs, “No. I was the pure virgin girl who had a thing for bad boys. Until I actually dated one. But we reconnected through Ring Spiral Online and then I could live the bad boy dream without any baggage.”

Jacklyn sighs, “I dunno what you think we’re doing but...”

Shindig shakes her head, “Why does everybody think that I’m squeamish just because I’m not butch? It’s like a girl has to wear a leather jacket to not be treated like a snowflake.”

Jacklyn puts her hands up, “Sorry! I just wanted to make sure. This isn’t fun and games.”

Shindig nods, “I know that. That’s why I’m here.”

Tyrone steps forward, “So you said you use traps? Do you know explosion spells as well?”

Shindig smiles, “Oh no! I’m not a mage. I use the demolitionist artisan build.”

Tyrone raises an eyebrow, “Oh! I… always forget about those skills.”

Shindig laughs, “Oh, I know they aren’t very popular. But I fell in love with the strategy involved with them! It’s so much fun when you set up that perfect combination of traps that finally ensnares your foe.”

Tyrone laughs, “I know exactly what you mean.”

Jacklyn raises an eyebrow, “So, I don’t want to spoil the party, but you guys do need to be careful.”

Shindig nods, “Of course.”

Tyrone smiles at her, “So, do you have a name?”

She points up to her screen name, “My name is Shindig, don‘t you see?”

“I meant in real life.” Tyrone says.

Shindig laughs, “I know. My name is Gail.”

Luke groans, “So, are we ready to go?”

Jacklyn nods, “I’m good.”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Jerome answers.

“I’m ready.” Gail says.

Tyrone nods, “I’m ready too.” He then turns to Gail, “So, our job is to get as many people in the safe zone as possible by trapping the exits.”

“I wonder if a GM will penalize us for this?” She asks.

Tyrone shrugs, “I doubt...” Then they both teleport away.

“Well now. That was unexpected.” Jacklyn comments.

Jerome groans, “I just hope she’ll be okay.”

Luke sighs, “We just have to trust them. We have our own job to do.”

Jacklyn nods, “Yeah.” Jerome nods silently.

The three of them haven’t seen Gail or Tyrone, but they assume that means everything is going to plan. KillRAss and four others exit the safe zone and wander into the woods. When they walk right underneath Jerome without much as a glance at their minimaps, Luke and Jacklyn follow them.

They seem content to keep a leisurely pace and Luke finds it easy to keep cover between him and their position. Jacklyn doesn’t have any trouble either and it’s obvious that none of them have enough perception to sense Jerome.

Luke finds himself wishing he could make out what they’re saying, but he supposes that doesn’t really matter. Soon enough their plan will come to fruition.

Their opportunity comes when the group runs into some mobs and takes a rest afterwards to heal up. As they approach, Luke finds he doesn’t recognize KillRAss, but at least one of the people there was at the meeting. They hadn’t spoken, but Luke had been diligently watching the crowd and recognized her sitting on a populated bench.

“So, what’s the plan?” A guy asks.

“Yeah, everyone’s abandoning the wilds. No one left to kill anymore.” Another guy asks.

Jacklyn pings Luke.

[ {@Tall&Zxy} Trjreska: Now. ]

“I wouldn’t say that.” She says as she steps out a few steps away from them.

They turn to face her, and Luke steps out on the other side of them, “She’s a bit more flippant about the situation than I am.”

KillRAss and the girl Luke recognizes draw their weapons and grin, but the tallest guy freezes, “Uh! Guys! This… this is...”

“What?” A shorter guy asks.

“Look at their SNs! That’s Trjreska! And Tall&Zxy!” He yelps.

KillRAss smiles, “Well, I guess today is my lucky day!”

The short guy shrieks, “Lucky day! Wait… someone’s been hunting PKers… Fuck!”

Jacklyn’s grin fades leaving her expression deadly serious, “So, now that we all know why we’re here...”

KillRAss’ smile becomes a grin, “Two on five? The odds are ours here.”

Luke equips his knife, “Think whatever you want.” Then he and Jacklyn bolt in opposite directions.

Luke notices three of them, including KillRAss, follow him, and he smirks. Thinking the guy is more dangerous, classic. He watches his minimap as Jerome approaches from behind. A little while after Jacklyn’s followers are far enough away to be off his map entirely, he flattens his expression and turns to face his pursuers.

“Heh! Finally decided to give up?” KillRAss taunts.

Luke responds by flash stepping into one of their faces. By the time the boy can react, he’s already used swipe twice and equipped his sword. The boy tries to counter but he’s already got a knife equipped to parry the attack. Another strike and menu swipe later and the boy disappears.

KillRAss and the shorter guy behind him stand in momentary shock before Jerome drops out of the treetops behind the shorter guy and defeats him in a single blindside.

“Go help Trjreska.” Luke says, and Jerome flash steps up into the treetops.

KillRAss stares at him, “So now that you’ve blown your load on the help, I get to have my fun.”

Luke throws his knife at KillRAss and then charges while equipping another one. KillRAss barely parries the attack but Luke is already there swinging. KillRAss parries his attack and then brings his other arm to bear, wielding a knife.

“Die!” He yells as he uses stunning blow.

Luke doesn’t even bother parrying it, and instead just activates his invincibility. KillRAss’ eyes widen as the weapon passes harmlessly through him. The damage Luke took from parrying KillRAss’ attack combined with the damage he dealt gave him just enough Guts, so he equips his knife and uses slash fury.

A moment and four sword slashes at knife speed later and KillRAss disappears. Luke then drinks four potions. He wonders if Jacklyn will believe he didn’t need all five potions as he starts to run back towards the safe zone.

Meanwhile

Jacklyn grins as she dashes through the trees from cover zone to cover zone, tapping her menu to hide again each time. She can tell her zig zag pattern and momentary disappearances from their mini maps have gotten them confused, causing them to spread out as she intended. They are clearly trying to pincer her, but it’s not hard for her to keep track of them, even when they hide themselves. She has plenty of perception and search right next to hide in her menu.

She slips right towards the one closest to her, making sure to get into the cover on the opposite side of the tree as him. She’s not covered from the girl at the moment, but her enemies are far enough apart that this won’t be an issue.

She takes the time to cast Enchant Ice on her rapier. She then darts around the tree, catching her target off guard. She activates stab flurry, keeping her current weapon for the enchant. The guy clearly tries to parry her attack, but she approached from the opposite side as his weapon arm so he barely couldn’t and a few stabs later he disappears.

Her map doesn’t show the other enemy, which tells her that she’s nearby. She darts to a tree where she starts to slowly move around. She’s pretty sure she can’t catch her enemy unaware, and she doesn’t want to be surprised herself, so she sidles around each tree, keeping her blindside to the trunk, as she moves towards where she last saw her opponent.

When Enchant Ice wears off she steps out of hiding and casts it again, hoping her target takes the bait. When her target appears, she grins. She equips a shield and turns to block the surprised girl. As the girl reacts to her feint, Jacklyn moves for a shield bash, but her target jumps away.

Jacklyn equips a long spear and lunges after her but immediately swaps it out for her rapier. The girl is surprised when she’s hit by the attack, and Jacklyn activates blade lunge, dashing at her target with a strike. The girl prepares to parry the attack, but Jacklyn changes weapons to her spear as soon as the dash ends and the attack begins. The girl swings for the spear, misses the parry due to it being a rapier skill with the rapier hit box, and the skill skewers her. Jacklyn equips the rapier again and jabs to finish her off.

“Decided I didn’t need help?” She says with a knowing smirk.

Jerome drops out of the treetops, “You seemed fine.”

She already has a serious expression when she turns to him, “And Luke?”

“When I left him, only KillRAss was left.” Jerome responds.

She sighs, “Was he hurt?”

He shakes his head, “Not significantly.”

She gets a message from Luke.

[ Tall&Zxy: KillRAss is down. Are you okay?

Trjreska: We’re fine.

Tall&Zxy: Tyrone and Gail say there’s no one else left at the cabin. They’re returning to the elven shrine.

Trjreska: See you there. ]

She turns to Jerome, “We’re done here.”

Jerome nods, “Good.” Neither of them is in the mood to talk so they walk silently.

When they reach the shrine, they find Ricky and Kwame already there discussing strategy with Gail and Tyrone.

“Heya!” Kwame says, “How’d it go?”

“Fine.” Jacklyn answers slightly curtly. If he notices, Kwame doesn’t respond.

“So we found something at the Temple.” Ricky says.

Jacklyn walks over and sits down, “Let’s wait for Luke. He’ll be here in a moment.”

A few minutes later, Luke enters the safe zone. “You found something at the Temple?” He asks immediately.

“Yep.” Kwame responds.

“Then let’s get to it.” Luke says, perhaps a little sharply.

As the six of them begin discussing their attack on the Temple, Luke thinks about what they’ve been doing. He believes it’s for the greater good, but he can’t help but think about how the ends don’t justify the means and the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

All he can do is hope that they aren’t making a monumental mistake. And if they are, to pay the penance, whatever it might be.

You may note a slight formatting change: time stamped scene changes. This is the result of me taking a hiatus from writing the story and continues through all later chapters. I may rewrite the first two chapters to make this uniform. If I do, the major events won't change, but I may remove some fluff and add snippets of what other characters are doing at the time. And here we go! Biggest end of chapter info bit yet!

Stuff You Might Want to Know

Mechanics – The Fate Wheel: The Fate Wheel is the hexagonal structure into which players put soul orbs in order to power up their characters. The wheel is divided into 6 sections, each of which has nodes linked to one of the six main stats:

Hit Points: The amount of damage the character can take.

Magic Points: The reservoir for casting spells.

Strength: Physical attack power, also effects certain non-combat functions.

Focus: Magical power, also effects certain non-combat functions.

Resilience: Damage resistance.

Venture: Ability to deal with non-combat situations such as traps.

The wheel is further divided into rings (though the center most “ring” is solid). Before you can start putting orbs into the next ring, you must put a certain number of total orbs into the wheel, more than will fit into the section for any single stat.

Each node can hold one orb. Once an orb is put into a node for the first time, that node is considered active, and a boost to that stat is gained. When initially placed into a node, orbs provide part of their benefit. Fighting with the orb in the wheel eventually causes the orb to be mastered, allowing full use of the orbs benefits. An orb provides benefits regardless of where it is on the wheel.

Once an orb is mastered, it can be crystallized and removed from the fate wheel. The emptied node loses the benefits of the orb as well as the active stat benefit, but retains a smaller passive boost for being previously active. Putting another orb into the node activates it again. A crystallized orb set back into the fate wheel is treated as a new orb and must be mastered again to be recrystallized.

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Jumanji meets Lord of the Flies. The idea of culling the PKers ("player killers" for the RPG challenged) is sound but feels like a slaughter-fest. That said, we have yet to see the "Big Bad" for this new, "enhanced" game version, and I'm sure that the remaining players will be glad that they don't have to watch their backs quite so closely...or maybe they will anyway...Bwahaha! 😲

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38 minutes ago, travlbug said:

Jumanji meets Lord of the Flies. The idea of culling the PKers ("player killers" for the RPG challenged) is sound but feels like a slaughter-fest. That said, we have yet to see the "Big Bad" for this new, "enhanced" game version, and I'm sure that the remaining players will be glad that they don't have to watch their backs quite so closely...or maybe they will anyway...Bwahaha! 😲

Oh! It's absolutely a slaughter-fest, and the characters know it. No one is really happy with this, they just don't see any other solution. And this chapter has lasting repercussions for a lot of characters. I can say this because it's not really a plot twist or a spoiler: a lot of the PTSD that I warned about in the story notes? Stems from how the characters who did the culling during this chapter feel about their actions.

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