55: Hale’s Hope Hold the Line
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We heard the sounds of battle well before we saw it, and by her holy fuckness did we hear it. It sounded like the bloody Somme out there the way they were going at it. Well, the Somme if you added medieval melee combat and magic to it anyway.

When we entered the first chamber that we’d found, it was like stepping into the hospital tent for a full pitched battle. We could see wounded coming in to get more extensive healing than the battlefield healers could manage. None of the officers were visible though, or at least I assumed I’d be able to pick them out amongst the mess in front of us.

“Who are these guys again?” Dawn asked, looking around at the chaos. “I swear I recognise them?”

“Hale’s Hope,” Taylor answered, giving the scene a once over.

It only took a moment before Dawn was clicking her finger excitedly, “Yeah! I do remember them, they played the last mmo I got into!”

“Yeah they have offshoots in a few games now. Hale, the overall leader doesn’t play Cora yet though, so their presence here isn’t too strong,” Taylor explained as we watched another wounded player stagger in through the small door. It looked like the healers outside were only giving them enough to walk themselves inside. I wondered why that was?

“What’s up with the healers only doing enough to get wounded inside?” I asked, partially for my own curiosity and partially because Civette might learn something.

“Probably having mana issues out there,” my twin shrugged in reply. “Happens when there’s no reliable respawn point and you’ve been going at it a while.”

“I guess we should stop talking and start doing work then,” I said eagerly, jumping up and down on the spot to loosen up a little. “Can you place the house here? What do you think the respawn times are like right now?”

“I can, but only trusted players can respawn there, judging by the information page for it,” Taylor said, summoning said house into the room. It came out on an angle, since the ground wasn’t flat. Kinda odd, I hoped everything inside wasn’t sliding around. “Don’t go dying all over the place though, Tami,” she continued with a stern look. “Respawn times might be huge, so we can’t take that chance.”

“Fine, fine,” I sighed, feeling the wind taken out of my sails a little. “Do we know who’s outside? Who is attacking?”

“All sorts, we’ve got about a dozen different guilds out there and too many individual parties to count. We’re only holding on because they keep fighting each other as well as us,” an unknown feminine voice said, and we all turned to see one of the healers approaching. “Hi I’m Klaudie!”

She had the typical high end healer’s robes that you saw in many MMOs, VR or not. Purple and frilly, but with skin showing in some questionable places. She had a big floppy pink witch’s hat on and a little wand in a holster at her side.

“Hey Klaudie, nice to see you again,” Taylor smiled, although the way I knew my sister, I detected a hint of wariness to her reaction. Not the type you’d get with someone she expected trouble from but… something else.

“You too, Shades,” she said with an upbeat little wave. “And this is your crew? Oh, the famous sister!” she exclaimed as she laid eyes on me. The once over she gave me was not that of a girl interested, but that of a girl scoping out competition. “Or I assume so, based on appearances. I’ve never really paid attention to the hype. Nice to meet you though.”

“Hey,” I smiled and motioned to Dawn with a knowing look on my face. “This is my girlfriend, she goes by Aurora ingame.”

“And Dawn out of it,” the gorgeous woman in question finished for me as she came to stand beside me.

“Ah! I see!” the catty healer smiled, with significantly less hostility. God damn. If I’d been looking at my gaydar as a physical thing, she’d have been the opposite of a ping. Gamer Girls with a double capital G hadn’t changed much since they were invented. “Well, the Ravensmiths are still twenty minutes out, so if you want to get stuck in and make sure the players outside don’t get to Shades, that would be awesome!”

“Sounds good, catch you guys out there!” I said with just a tad too much enthusiasm.

I’ve never run towards a fight so fast in my life. I had seen girls like that before, I’d been the object of their attention and the cause of their jealously, but I’d never experienced that shit pointed at me. Far out, please no girl, you can keep the men all to yourself for all I cared.

Dawn rushed to catch up with me, along with a badly smothered laugh. “Oh my god, that was fucking funny!”

“Shut up,” I grinned, enjoying her amusement. “That was… dayum.”

My girlfriend!” she said, doing an impression of me. “Holy shit. I can’t wait to see what she thinks when you’re dragging all eyes to you out there.”

“She’s a healer, probably used to not having the limelight anyway,” I sighed, rolling my eyes.

“That is wishful thinking and you know it,” my girlfriend teased, ruffling my hair.

Reaching the door, I just shot her an exasperated look that I didn’t feel internally. Internally I loved her teasing and making her laugh, even at my own expense. Especially at my own expense. Being the source of her laugh was wonderful.

The sight outside the door was not so wonderful. Arrayed in a ragtag semi-circle around the door was a group of perhaps thirty people, melee players out front while the mages stood behind, desperately holding magical barriers above their allies even as they threw out spells of their own. Healers raced among all of this, using simple and cheap touch spells to keep everyone on their feet. It was a mess, but not nearly as messy as what lay all across the unstable scree slope below.

Bodies lay strewn haphazardly in piles at the bottom, while groups of enemy players tried their best to climb up to assault our allies. The bulk of the fighting was actually down on the valley floor as our enemies vied for the right to attack us. There looked to be hundreds of them down there, I couldn’t really count reliably anyway. How did people just do that in stories when the numbers were this big?

The big-ass rock in the middle of the valley stood completely unmoved by the chaos around it, and I laughed when I looked up to see the Roc chilling on the top of it, staring down at the spectacle with the bird version of confusion. Wise move dude, wise move.

“Fucking hell,” Dawn swore as she pointed across the small valley, indicating that I should take a look.

“Oh, lovely,” I groaned. More enemies were descending down the slope with regimented intent. An organised guild by the looks of things and they were really bringing the numbers.

Dawn’s eyes were scanning them as I turned back to her, lips moving silently. Then she winced and shook her head worriedly. “There’s just over two hundred of them.”

“You counted?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. She was one of those people, the ones from the stories!

“Yes dummy, I counted,” she smiled, rolling her eyes. “I know you’re smart enough to count.”

“That sounds like a ton of effort,” I said dubiously, then batted my eyelashes at her, “Why bother when I have you next to me?”

“Our allies are on the brink and we’ve been doing nothing but flirting and not nearly enough helping.” she laughed, her eyes rolling even harder. “You never stop flirting do you? If we’re going to flirt, we should do it while killing our enemies.”

“Such is the lesbian way,” I nodded solemnly.

I moved forward with her at my side, eyeing the battle lines around us. There was currently a party of ten or so enemies trying to bust through our allies’ lines near the cliff face, so we wordlessly decided to go and pitch in there. Dawn stayed at my side as I rushed in to cover for a friendly who’d just taken a bad hit, punching forward with my new gauntlet to smash the attacking chick directly in the face.

She stumbled, reeling from the hit, but she didn’t fall. With blood running from her nose, she whipped her sword up into guard position and caught my following left hook with the flat of her blade, sending it glancing off to the side, me along with it. I struggled for balance and barely had time for my eyes to widen before her riposte came at me.

In a flash, Dawn was there with her sword to save me, her other hand blasting fire into the other chick’s eyes and forcing her to retreat. Shit, the girl was good though. She wore slightly ornamented leather armour, a few plates of steel here and there adding extra protection. Her other arm had a buckler strapped to it, her hand still free to cast magic. Which she did, a shield coming up to scatter my girlfriend’s next spell.

Fuck this, kiddy gloves come off. I started up the drive on my right fist, crackling magical flame flaring out of the exhaust for a second as it growled menacingly. Oh these things were so cool. I lunged forward with a burst of speed from my gauntlet and from my ability, the fist cracking in against her buckler as she deflected the viciously quick blow, but not without a grunt of pain.

That wasn’t the end of my attack though, it seemed that it was going to take some finesse to take her down, so as she deflected my punch, I dropped low and slammed my speed boost on again, bringing my armoured shin in to impact the side of her knee with a wet popping sound.

She gave a cry of pain and stumbled, and with her guard down, that’s when my war goddess followed through, her beam of intense white hot flame melting through our enemy just as easily as it had with the metal bug things down below.

Or so to speak. The woman died, but her body wasn’t a mess of gore, charred bone and fried meat like it should have been. Instead, she was sort of burned but mostly whole. Weird… had they patched the game to make PvP less gory? I distinctly remembered that thief from way back in my first week of the game and how he’d exploded into tiny chunks when I’d staked him. Maybe they were trying to market the videos to a younger audience or something silly.

“Thanks,” the guy we’d saved said, stepping back up and into the gap in the line, apparently having been healed.

“No problem,” I smiled, getting myself out of the melee.

Dawn followed, and we shared a glance while watching the fight. “She was tough,” my girlfriend said, as quietly as she could while still being heard. “Two versus one and she was holding her own until you busted out the moves.”

“Yeah, but to be fair, we weren’t too intense with our opening attacks,” I replied, spying another potential place to help out.

“Just… be careful alright Tami?” she asked, with a pleading tone. “I know that asking you to be careful in combat is an exercise in futility, but still.”

“Yup, will do,” I absently agreed, before spotting another push at the lines that needed help. “There, quick!”

We rushed off to put a stop to that one too, and again met more resistance than we’d anticipated. One of our allies had fallen, a sword thrust to the gut sending him into dreamland. Stepping over his body was a very pissed off looking alrec dude, vaguely identifiable as being a panther under all the armour he wore as he spun his two bloodied shortswords theatrically.

Dawn and I moved to engage, but a mage next to us cried out in pain and collapsed to the ground with his head in both hands. We pulled up short for a moment, eyed daring between the dropped mage and the panther. “Mana burn out,” Dawn winced, then her eyes went wide as she realised why the guy had run empty. He’d been holding a broad battle shield above us, protecting everyone from long ranged magical attack.

Her hand came up just in time to ward off a beam of iridescent purple energy, the shield she’d created almost buckling under the impact. “Go deal with him,” she hissed through gritted teeth, nodding at the big panther.

“Right,” I agreed, rushing him with fists up in guard position.

He swung first, just as I arrived and I caught the blow on the back my gauntlet. I grabbed his second sword as it came in, my heavy gauntlets more than enough to take the edge of his blade. With a grunt he spat, “Ah, the Tami chick huh? I seen you fight in the streams, think you’re hot shit.”

“Look at me dude,” I grinned, still holding on to the second sword to keep him from using it. He tried to stab me with his free hand but I batted it away again, then with a speed boost I flicked out to wrap my hand around his wrist.

“I’m hot as fuck,” I laughed, charging a speed boost. This was going to hurt like hell.

I lunged forward with all the speed and strength I could muster and slammed my head directly into his helmet horns-first. Both of us were rattled in the exchange, but I could see a dent in his faceplate now. I pulled back, head spinning and lunged once more, smashing into his faceplate again with brutal force.

Dazed, we both stumbled backwards and I could see blood bubbling out from the bottom of his helmet, the front of which had been crushed in by my blows. Holy shit, that had been such a bad idea and yet so very satisfying at the same time. I fell over backwards.

The panther guy tore his helmet off with a roar, face smashed and bloody, and kicked down at me, his metal boot ringing my head like a gong. I blacked out for a split second, and when I came to again, Rusti was there with a dagger in the back of my adversary’s skull.

“Probably best to get a helmet or a shield spell before you go headbutting people again Tami,” they laughed, dancing away again in a swirl of dark arcane energy.

They weren’t wrong, but nothing was going to be sinking into this thick skull any time soon, because I’d just been brained by an almost seven foot cat. I stumbled to my feet and wobbled over to sit next to Dawn as she continued with the shield while the mage she’d replaced desperately chugged mana potions.

Why was this battle so hard? Why was every enemy I came up against taking so much damage and then dishing it out even harder? It was like I’d gotten invisible anchors tied to my ankles or something.

Out of curiosity and a hunch, since I didn’t have anchors tied to my feet, I glanced at our enemies with the identify function on. My eyes weren’t really cooperating right then, but I managed to at least get some information. Not many details mind you, but I did get levels. Which in turn told me the problem...

Dawn and I were way under leveled for this little scuffle. Which kinda made sense when you thought about it. Taylor and I hadn’t planned to meet up for a while, at least long enough for me to properly reach her level and gear up. Except it hadn’t happened like that, our plan had been way messed up with the invasion down in Gienia and the subsequent evacuation that had forced everyone to flee into other areas.

“Are you okay?” Dawn asked as she held my chin up, staring into my dazed eyes. Not being able to focus on her gorgeous flaming face was worse than the pain of the blow itself. Maybe I did need a helmet after all?

“I’m fine,” I tried to say, although the words came out slurred. Dawn just sighed and pushed a healing potion to my lips.

“Told you to be careful,” she whispered, cupping the side of my head and wiping some blood off.

I nodded, which caused my head to swim alarmingly. “Oh, nodding was a bad idea,” I groaned, scrunching my eyes shut. Please work faster healing potion.

Dawn chuckled. “So was headbutting someone with a helmet on. God, you really haven’t changed much.”

“I’ll have you know that I am one hundred percent still me,” I mumbled, but she was already looking away. Which wasn’t really an issue, what I’d said had made little sense anyway.

“Holy shit,” she blurted, ignoring my words. I gently turned my head to get a look at what she was reacting to, but couldn’t see from my position sitting on the ground.

Gritting my teeth, I stood up and turned my eyes down into the valley. The guild who’d been advancing down the other side of the valley had arrived and they were… they were cutting their way through the other antagonistic players with absolutely no mercy.

At their forefront stood a massive woman, a giant in armour that looked like it weighed more than a car. She swung an axe like she was chopping meat in a butcher’s shop rather than actually in combat. The woman was roaring, and I realised as she took her helmet to wipe sweat off her brow that she wasn’t a giant at all, she was some sort of massive demonic lady.

“Fuckin’ hell,” I blurted, eyes wide.

At her side flickered a being that was hard to pin, except for a wiry masculine figure as they wove some sort of strange magic through the enemies before the huge woman. Dark threads connected their foes and each blow by the massive woman’s axe would cleave far more than just her intended target.

Dawn turned to someone nearby and asked, “Who the hell are they?”

“Nonsense,” the guy said as though he were bracing himself to take a tsunami to the face.

“What?” she blinked.

“Their guild name,” he said, glancing briefly in our direction. “They’re called Nonsense and they are basically a bandit and pirate guild. They don’t take any sides with the NPCs and kill anyone that doesn’t wear their tag. Bad news, ruthless even for a PvP focused guild.”

“Well fuck, what do we do now then?” I asked, staring down at them as they carved their way through the chaff below.

I heard a dark chuckle from just behind and turned to see Taylor step up beside us, her eyes turned skyward, glee all across her expression.

“We enjoy the show,” she said, her tone dripping with wrathful excitement. “Meet my guild, the Ravensmiths.”

The sun dimmed.

 

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Been struggling to get myself to concentrate on any one story specifically right now. Two chapters of a secret project completed and a third started, next College Steps chapter has a thousand words in it and the next Ryn chapter has 500. I'm all over the place lol. Still recovering from everything too and trying to get used to having asthma. Blah, any way thank you everyone for sticking with me, you're all amazing!

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