54: Ancient Tragedy
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“What a fight,” Dawn groaned, coming over to lean heavily against me. “I have a headache.”

She was so much lighter in the game, her body downright petite compared to how it was out in the real world. It was such a strange contrast, her pale greyish skin ingame almost the opposite of her honey-rich tan outside the pod. Then there was her bright fiery hair versus her dark purple and green outside.

“Have you taken a potion?” I asked, pulling her into my arms.

“Yeah, waiting for it to kick in,” she mumbled, snuggling her face in against my neck. “This is better than a potion though.”

My smile could have lit this cavern up like it was day with how much I cared about her in that moment. My heart was so full up with her. She’d taken up residence there like a bear claims a cave. I was hers.

“I love you,” I whispered, squeezing her tight. Well, as tight as she could take, anyway. I was very aware of my strength right then, my resurrection buff hadn’t even worn off yet.

“Rusti, don’t touch the sword!” Taylor called, and I looked up over Dawn’s shoulder as my sister heaved herself up off the ground.

“I wasn’t!” they called, and I turned to see them inspecting it. They weren’t technically touching it, that was true. “I’m just looking!” they pouted, hand on hip all sassy-like.

The sword hadn’t reacted to us so far, and neither had the altar or it’s strange dark red lumpy thing. In fact, it was just sitting there completely inert. I was almost expecting some cartoonishly deep and evil voice to announce that we’d only defeated phase one of the big ol snakey boi.

Taylor wandered over to the sword and squinted at it for a moment. “Let’s leave it alone for now and see what the boss dropped. They usually leave lore clues on the boss.”

Motioning for Rusti to use their loot passive on the boss, she moved to stand at the body of the thing. With it’s death, whatever magic had been animating it and holding it together had disappeared, leaving it slack and deflated. For now at least. I was watching it closely… if that bastard tried to hurt my little girl again I was going to powderize every single one of its metal bones.

“Let’s see…” the enby murmured as they dipped their hand to interact with the loot menu. Interestingly, that caused the menu to pop open for the rest of us too. We could all see the loot. I guess that was a measure to make sure everyone got their fair share. I wondered if there was one of those loot settings thingies in this game too.

“Holy shit,” I said as I saw the list. I had to scroll down on the damned thing.

“Wow, there’s something here for everyone I guess,” Millie said with a smile as she looked at it. Then she was squealing, “Even me! There’s a crossbow and a bolt making kit that allows for poisons! Oh and all sorts of ingredients! This is so exciting! I wonder if I can mix some chemicals to make them into explosive bolts, or even...” Then she was off, mumbling to herself about this herb and that powder with the light of a mad scientist behind her eyes.

She was right though. I could see some armour that would be good for me, but not a full set. I’d probably have to come back in if I wanted the rest. There was a robe that would go very well with Dawn’s build and some daggers of piercing for Rusti. Evidently their replacement loot AI had heard their bitching. I had a feeling the metal pipe would be continuing in its role though. They seemed to enjoy it. I also saw a new shield in there for Taylor, which was very fortuitous, given her current one was… less than usable now.

“And some weird gauntlets for me,” I said happily. “Can I take them?”

“Yeah,” Taylor nodded. “Everyone had best take and equip this stuff now, since we aren’t going to get much downtime. Things are getting frantic up top.”

“Right, your adoring fans,” Dawn remarked dryly.

“Yeah,” she nodded with an exasperated sigh. “Them.”

We divided up all the usable loot between those who needed it. Civette ended up getting the most, with a cute robe that was enchanted to protect her as well as a staff. I took the armour but didn’t use it right then, as well as the gauntlets, which I definitely put on.

Their description didn’t do them justice. They were honest to god power gauntlets. Still the same size as my hands, but they had weird thrusters on them that would add a ton of impact to my punches when I activated them. They could also apparently be upgraded by an artificer or something, whatever that was.

Everyone else got themselves decked out in their new gear, the most striking of all being Dawn, whose new robe… well it did things for me. To say it was strictly a robe wasn’t entirely true. It had the robe part, yeah… done in dark grey with red accents, but just like my dress had been, the sides stopped rather high up the leg while the center and rear went far further down. Not only that, but there was quite a bit of cleavage on display, and it had come with matching stockings.

It wasn’t the most protective thing in the world based on pure skin area covered, but it was made out of cloth or something anyway. Just like Civette’s robes, it had the usual protections against physical damage in the form of enchantments that slowed attacks a bunch to take some of their bite out of them or elemental resistances.

That wasn’t the amazing part though, it had active protections! A shield would deploy against any attack that Dawn hadn’t seen. It basically watched her back for her, albeit on a cooldown of a minute. No more surprise attacks against my girl! I was more than happy about that.

“There’s some torn pages here,” Taylor said, picking the items out of the menu. “Says it’s from the journal of uh… Gynso Repeleta. Whoever that is.”

“Gynso is a title,” Rusti said quietly, walking over to look down at the pages in Taylor’s hands. “Sort of like a priest and an engineer in one.”

“It’s written in the current common language,” she frowned, squinting at it closer. “Those undead angels from before weren’t speaking common, but this is written in common? Now that I think about it, all the ancient lore I’ve seen has been written in common, how come? You seem to know these things…”

“Ah, yeah…” Rusti coughed, looking alarmed all of a sudden.

“They know a dev,” I said before Rusti could fuck things up for themselves. “They were keeping it on the down low while we were on stream.” As I spoke, I ran my finger up the inside of my forearm, one of the signals we’d used as kids to indicate there was more to the situation but to just go along with it.

Took her a second to understand, but then she gave me a slight nod and smiled at Rusti, “That’s pretty cool. What can you tell us?”

No one else had any idea about what had just transpired between my sister and I, but Dawn was looking at us suspiciously. She’d known us when we were kids too, and I was willing to bet she could smell our twin shenanigans right then.

“Well, obviously they want people to actually read and get into the lore of the world without them having to learn a whole new language or whatever. So just like how everyone speaks common in the game, all the easily acquired lore is in common too,” they explained, flashing me a slight but grateful smile. “There’s still lore that’s in other languages, but it’s the deep stuff that only true lore nerds would be interested in. Basically it’s just a game doing game things.”

That was something that people forgot quite often, the fact that this was a game and some things just didn’t make sense. Pain being inhibited, death not being permanent and the fact that things like sexual assault of players were physically impossible due to the laws around VR gaming. There was hard code in this game that prevented or allowed a lot of things that didn’t line up with messy, ugly reality.

“Oh, that makes sense… well, I guess I’ll read this thing and see what’s up,” she shrugged, glancing back down at the pages.

“Can you read it out loud?” Dawn asked, her tone polite as she continued to lean against me. “Sorry, I just really like lore.”

That was an understatement. Dawn had been the type of kid to make up elaborate worlds for us to play in when we were small. Kings, princesses, castles and knights were her forte, although now that I thought about it, she had always been a knight rather than a princess. Wow, how come neither Kristina nor I had batted an eyelid when it was her saving made up damsels in distress? She’d been gay as fuck, even as a kid.

“I guess you were the lore nerd that Rusti just mentioned,” Taylor teased, her eyes kind. “Sure, I can read it.”

Lifting the page up a little, she began to read it to the rest of us, “Okay it has some random date that means nothing to me… blah blah blah, titles and other shit… oh, here we go. It is day number four hundred and eleven of the siege, and we fear they may break through the gates at any time now. It seems as though their numbers have no end. For every wargolem that we put in their way, there are fifty of them to take it down. We began the evacuation today through the old tunnels. Perhaps they may make it to some of the other Heart-holds, but those tunnels have long been perilous and filled with dangerous creatures beyond measure.

“The page goes on and on about different problems that the city of mechanical people were facing at that point in time… it’s a bit boring to be honest, so I’m going to skip it,” Taylor said apologetically, looking up at Dawn. “I’ll give you the pages after if you want to read it all. Anyway… onwards to the next page… We had even less time that we thought. Even as the damned winged ones poured through the breached sally port, the decision was made to end the Heart. It has beat in this place since the day our god fell, since the mountains rose out of the earth, feasting on his still beating heart’s blood. The sword forged for this purpose is about to be plunged into it as I write this, but I am not there. I could not bear to watch.

“Holy shit,” Dawn said with weighted reverence, turning to stare at the heart in question, which was very much not beating right now. “So that thing is the heart of a god, and they killed it to stop the Aurellings outside from what… taking it?”

“It says so in the next page, listen,” Taylor said, sounding as invested in the tale as the rest of us now. “When they saw what we had done to the prize they had sought, the Aurellings erupted with anger, spite replacing the very blood within their veins. But they did not sack the city, they did not kill nor rape our people. No, they opened a portal to somewhere else, somewhere filled with terrible demons of metal, and now they have locked us inside along with them.

“We are losing the city to these monsters. Some of us have the courage to fight, but we are not a warlike race, so the majority of us, we simply wait to die. Very soon it will be over, we will be gone, so I write this in the hope that some may one day discover our story. That our side of this conflict may be remembered. So I beg, those who read this. Remember us.

“Wow,” Civette said, staring now at the ancient body of one of those who’d asked to be remembered. “This game has some dark history. They invaded these people’s home and then when they found out that what they were looking for had been ruined… they opened a literal gate to hell and locked them in with it. That’s fucked up.”

“The aurellings from back then were massive assholes,” Dawn agreed. “Tami and I found one of their old cities earlier on and it looks like they were enslaving their own people as undead warriors or something. Couldn’t really tell.”

Now that I thought about it, they had seemed sort of similar to what we’d seen back in the Bleaklands. I wonder how close in time the destruction of this city and the destruction of that one had been.

“Great,” Taylor groaned. “My virtual ancestors were assholes. Just fucking lovely.”

“Pretty sure you aren’t from the same race,” Dawn shook her head. Pointing back towards the main gates and the hordes of undead angels out there, she explained, “Those guys were all wiped out. Their ruined cities are scattered all across this side of pagutum. No idea who did it, but most of the aurellings that are running around now are descended from groups that arrived after, from whatever realm you all originally come from. There isn’t anything truly native to this realm after all.”

“Oh good, so my pretend great great grandfather isn’t a war criminal,” my sister replied with a grin. “I was worried for a second there.”

Off to the side, Civette gave a cough and looked down at her feet. It took me a second to realise what her ashamed look was for, then I realised… She might literally have war criminals in her family, possibly even as close as her parents. That was, if she was actually from the American Republic as May had thought.

“So… do we take the sword?” Rusti prompted, staring at it. “It’s probably the sword that the king and friends were looking for… so if we combine it with the crown, we’re sure to get a pretty sweet reward. Or someone can use it instead…”

“Dawn is the one who uses swords like this,” Taylor mused, turning to look at her.

Oh, now that was an idea. I could already see the destruction, the raw flame that she’d be able to create with a sword that was designed specifically to pierce the heart of a god. She could burn whole cities to the ground, she could— 

Dawn shook her head. “Hell no, I’d be a massive target if I walked around holding that. Let’s give it to the duke or whatever and let him deal with it.”

Oops, that was probably a good point. Still though… burning Pagutum cities...

”Good good, and the heart?” my sister continued, stepping up to give it a closer look. “Nevermind, it’s fixed in place.”

“Cool, creepy dead heart of a god stays here,” Civette muttered. “Thank fuck.”

That was one point I agreed on. There was probably some sort of curse if we tried to remove it.

My sister didn’t have any such qualms about messing with ancient artifacts though, and without any warning whatsoever, she reached forward and tore the sword free from the heart. As it slid out, there was the most horrendous screeching sound, nails on a chalkboard times a million, which caused us all to duck and cover our ears.

Fuck me sideways with the biggest dildo you can find, what the fuck was that noise!” I groaned, my eyes watering. “Did someone stick a metal pole up a fellbeast’s anus?”

“Lovely image there Tami. No, that was the dinner bell, I think,” Rusti chuckled, walking to stare over the edge of the platform. “Yup, definitely the dinner bell. Looks like the AI in charge of renovating this place isn’t happy with us loitering.”

I was quite proud of the image I’d just evoked actually.

“Leaving time then,” Taylor commanded, then pointing to Rusti in particular she said, “Hoover up the loot that’s around here as we leave, we’ll divide it up when we get a chance.”

“Aye aye, captain,” they said happily, and as they turned to the boss they gave me a grateful smile. I hope they realised I’d have to tell Taylor and Dawn about their situation once we logged out. I wasn’t going to lie to the two people I loved most about important things like this, like everything that I’d learned from the enigmatic enby.

As soon as they were done with collecting everything, we raced off down the bridge at high speed. Millie’s little legs immediately began to struggle to keep up and Taylor swooped her into her arms. I don’t think the smaller girl minded too much.

We made it off the bridge with little time to spare and rushed through into the guardhouse and secret passage beyond. We waved a quick goodbye to the dead king and his party, then slammed the door on them and waited to see if the crazy metal bug bastards would try and get through it. There was no way all of us could outrun them forever.

As we waited, my mind kept drifting to Civette, who stood at the ready alongside us. I felt like I should talk to her, ask her what was going on with her life and offer help if I could. Also figure out what she had needed money for and what she was going to do with herself now that she was intent on becoming a better person.

When it became clear that nothing would be following us, we eased up and looked to Taylor for our next move.

“Everyone go into the house, freshen up and get ready for more fighting. Once we get topside we’ll probably be fighting all the way back to Vallas. If everyone agrees we should give the crown and sword to the Duke of Jingan that is. He’s a pretty good man. Not the best, mind you… he’s still a feudalist head of state, but by this world’s standards he’s reasonably good,” Taylor said, eyeing each of us in turn.

“I’m going to abdicate my vote to Tami,” Civette blurted before anyone else could speak. “My judgement is evidently pretty terrible, so I’ll just sorta… go with the flow I guess.”

“He sounds fine,” I shrugged. I didn’t really have any idea who the big boss people were in the region, but Vallas had been a nice city and I hadn’t seen any overt signs of oppression or corruption.

“The Duchess of Parcosia is said to be pretty amazing, but she’s also way to the south… which is, you know, way further to go with hundreds of hungry PvP players on our asses,” Dawn said thoughtfully. “To be honest, I don’t see much of a choice, considering the people Jingan is at war with, Chigmeinon, is pretty blatantly awful and in the pocket of Pagutum. They’re the only other group nearby.”

“Rusti, Millie?” Taylor prompted after nodding in Dawn’s direction.

Two shrugs. I hadn’t expected them to care really, considering they were usually just happy to do their thing regardless.

“Good, we’ll make for Vallas then, along with all the help that’s still alive at the top of that ramp,” Taylor said, glancing up the incline in question. “Thirty minutes, then let’s get to it.”

Dawn sidled up to me as we entered the house, giving me a look. “This is either going to be fucking amazing and a lot of fun, or an absolute nightmare,” she said with a slightly wild grin. “Full on PvP pitched battle… goodness I’m so fucking keen.”