Ok so good news is I am alive, bad news is reality was conspiring in multiple ways to prevent me from writing for you. In other words my writing block was as multifaceted as a hydra, it addition to pandemic stress, interpersonal conflict, my adhd and my very biochemistry going out of whack, I had given myself writer's burn out. I had this chapter sitting half completed for months and occasionally I would return and add a sentence or a paragraph but my internal translator that turns ideas and planning into prose has completely burned up. I have let myself grow obsessed with deadlines, ratings, comments, number of views etc and comparing my metrics to other stories that every single word, sentence, paragraph and chapter had to be perfect.
I was no longer writing for my own enjoyment and catharsis.
Forcing myself to actually stop writing and let myself recover was the hardest and frankly painful part of writing I have experienced. It took my girlfriend Quietvalerie pulling me aside and explaining it wouldn't heal if I kept poking at it for me to stop. I will even admit to getting a little jealous and feeling myself longing to return to writing at times as I listened to her tapping away at her keyboard.
During my enforced break from writing I have been doing a voracious amount of reading, taking my clan through all the raids in Destiny 2 before next expansion hits and most recently playing Genshin Impact. I'm not sure how I knew I was ready to write again, maybe it was the grassy hills and cliffs of Mondstadt or the green and yellow mountains of Liyue and their amazing soundtracks (or maybe it was the boredom of waiting for resin to recharge in the game post Adventure rank 30 :P ) that relit my writing spark. I ended up writing the second half of this chapter in record time over 2 days.
Anyway I am just writing this to let you know I am back and to thank you for being so patient with me. I hope you enjoy the chapter!
Chapter 23: Reflections & Resolve
“So what’s next?” Roxi asked, shifting slightly in her armchair to better face where I was curled up in a matching chair. Just out of arm’s reach. The faux casualness her question was delivered with, probably intended to try and preemptively defuse some of the stress that came with what she was really asking.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged sleepily, not looking away from the leaping and pirouetting dance of the flames across the log stage of their stone amphitheater.
It was a question that had nearly unravelled me after my meeting with May and had been rattling around at the back of my head since I’d awoken following my escape attempt. Even with a stomach full after a quiet dinner in our suite and warmth of the fireplace conspiring to put me to sleep, it was not enough to put those thoughts to rest.
“But!” I cut Roxi off before she could reply. “Ok, soo. I still haven’t really wrapped my head around what all this really means, let alone what I can do about it and… And I’m still not sure I'm really ok, but I don’t want to just continue moping and letting it consume me. I don’t want to stop moving forward or let myself fall into depression. I don’t have a solution and I don’t even know where to begin looking for one, but while I do I think I will continue playing.”
“Huh, that’s really uh… Mature... Of you?” she replied, eyelids fluttering with surprised blinking. “Sorry, you just really surprised me, here I was standing ready to comfort and support you and wow… You’re pretty amazing, if it was me in your position I think I would be going crazy. I mean I have been going a little crazy just worrying about you.”
Under the fire’s orange glow her face appeared a flushed pink.
“I mean I did sorta run out in the mountains and get myself hurt. I would call that going a little crazy. But, I logged into this game as an escape from my life, that doesn’t really have to change. I mean I am in a game, I can’t die. At least not permanently, I might as well keep playing and use it as an escape from my situation and a way to let off steam. Besides, I have you!” I babbled with a lot more cheer than I’d expected.
Fuck, I probably sounded so ditzy. Maybe looking a little sheepish, my eyes wandered back to her face to confirm my fears. Roxi was blushing. Probably second hand embarrassment. With the addition of the now first and third hand embarrassment washing over me, I could feel my skin burning from my tail to the tips of my furred ears and a swarm of butterflies having an alcohol and ecstasy fueled rave in my stomach.
Before I could change the subject myself, Roxi jumped in to save the day. “What about that AI May? I mean unless you plan on playing things paranoidly safe, you’re going to die and meet her again and besides she sounds like the only one who knows what is going on and perhaps what to do?”
“Who says she will want to talk to me again?”
“What do you mean? She seems to want to help you,” Roxi asked, giving me a look as if she was trying to decipher a toddlers babbling.
“I was kinda rude to her… Well, I mean… I was very rude to her. Almost from the start I was acting like I was interrogated. I was acting pretty hostile and defensive, between freak outs at least,” I admitted doing my best to not look away in shame.
“I mean I kinda understand being on guard and freaked out after failing to log out and being pulled into the death dream.”
“Yeah, but that's a reason, not an excuse. Just cause how I acted was understandable, doesn’t excuse my actions. It’s like what I realised earlier, while I can hide behind my situation and use it as a reason for my actions and looking out for myself, it doesn’t mean I am a good person. Just that I’m not a bad person. That’s not good enough for me anymore, I want to be a good person. I want to be more than my trauma.”
“I’m not in a hurry to kill myself to meet her, but I do need to apologise to May. Then I need to properly hear her out and then talk,”
“I don’t want to sound patronising, but I’m proud of you. Even if I already think you’re already a pretty good person”
“What? Why’d you think that?”
“You cried over potentially having to kill giant bunnies in a video game and I saw you playing with that npc orphan Pat—“
“Exactly Paph! Even though he is an npc you were looking after and treating him like a real child. You made a pretty good big sister in my opinion. Big sister Aisling is such a softy,” Roxi teased.
I didn’t really have a way to respond to that. I wanted to argue, but I knew that if I did I would probably come across as bratty or bashful instead of winning. Ceding the point, I glowered at my lap as I tried to think of a way to segue to a different topic.
“Do you think we can continue with the quest the Duchess gave us, y’know go out east and see what we can dig up on Baron Whatzits? I think it would help take my mind off all of this and we kinda already promised the Duchess,” I asked with more than a little begging whine in my voice.
“You sure you’re up to it Aisling? You don’t have to push yourself, I’m sure given your last week in game the Duchess would be understanding if you couldn’t go”
“Roxi, just being confined to bed rest has me going stir crazy. Not to mention the only thing that was keeping me from stewing in my own head these last few days, was the distraction of freaking out about how I was going to tell you about my real life situation and death.”
“Ok… but if I feel your mental state is taking a turn for the worse while we’re out there, I’ll be putting my foot down and making sure you take a break if I have to tie you up in your bedroll. That is at least after we get you a new one, considering you went and lost yours.”
“I didn’t lose it, I know exactly where it is! If you’re volunteering to go get it, it’s with that lizard monster I threw it at,” I riposted, sticking my tongue out.
“Stick that tongue back in your mouth, before I make use of it,” the Goth blurted out before her smug look turned to abject horror and glowing embarrassment.
Not that I was doing any better, unable to prevent the image of her pinning me up against the wall. Her warm body pressing into me and threatening to make my knees buckle and give in as she pushed my head back while her tongue danced around mine teasingly. That was until her kisses drove me to my knees down between her legs…
“Aisling!” she called out as her snapping fingers, snapped me out of the daydream. “I don’t think I need to guess where your mind was at,” she shyly smirked. “You can um, daydream or whatever later after we’ve planned for tomorrow. You need a new bedroll, unless of course you’re planning on sharing mine and since you still want to go out on that mission we need to resupply. Also considering this place might come under siege soon, we might get a good price if we sell those bandit weapons we happened upon.”
I hadn’t had much reason to check my inventory, the castle had been providing everything I needed since we arrived and before that, we’d been storing everything we needed for the road in our packs as part of Roxi’s endurance training program. Opening it required only the slightest twitch of my fingers down by my side, I’d gotten pretty practiced at manipulating the UI’s HUD.
I even bet I could now slot skill points without Roxi noticing.
Roxi had done the looting after the Bandit leader’s crossbow bolt sent me through my first death sequence, so other than when she had traded me my share I hadn’t gotten much of a look at the weapons. And looking at them now as I discreetly pulled up and read their tooltips, their name’s weren’t exactly complimentary often starting with an adjective like shoddy, dull, blunt, rusted and in the case of a matching quartet of swords they were named [Cheapskate Commissioned Levymen’s Sword].
“You sure they are going to want that crap we looted?” I asked with more than a little doubt flavoring my words. “I mean if bandits had it, it's probably pretty cheap stuff? It would probably be vendor or infusion trash in most games.”
“Maybe…” my partner tactfully replied, before her gaze drifted off as her eyes lit up. A look I’d come to recognise as her going off into lore mode. “But I’m betting much of those bandits were deserters and were still using the same weapons they were issued when their local lord conscripted them. They might not be knight or adventurer quality, but if this city is going to raise additional levies or militia then any weapons will be appreciated, especially the crossbows.”
I had to hand it to her, I hadn’t considered that angle and the commissioned Levymen’s swords were good piece evidence for that theory.
“And none of that is taking our secret weapon into account,” the goth boasted wearing a smile worthy of the cat that caught the canar— I mean the tiger that caught the cat.
Secret weapon? Huh?
“What secret weapons?” I questioned, barely stopping my head from instinctively tilting to the side in confusion like a cat who was wondering how the red dot had escaped its paws.
“You, silly! I am sure with your business sense and negotiating skills you’ll have them lining up to buy from us!”
“Oh…” I murmured, blushing and not really sure how to handle that level of expectations or praise.
“Does this mean I can add being an arms dealer to my rap sheet?” I asked in my most excited and innocent voice, barely holding back the cheeky smirk that was pulling at the corner of my mouth. “I’ve already got petty theft, possession and sale of stolen goods as a fence, electricity theft, squatting on government property, illegal border crossing, installing unauthorized FTLN infrastructure and… Oh! Piggybacking onto the FTLN with counterfeit access codes.”
“Aisling the hardened criminal! If you hadn’t proved yourself to be such a cute and creative illusionist, I’d think you’d be better off playing a thief or pirate,” she teased. “I can’t even imagine you as an edgy looking rough and scruffy vagabond type though, you have too much ‘small girl you want to protect’ energ—”
Roxi’s next words were cut off as a pillow came out of nowhere and collided with her face. Literally came out of nowhere, only dropping stealth right before impact. I wonder where it came from…
My innocent expression began to crack under Roxi’s accusatory stare, fragments falling away to reveal a barely restrained guilty smile.
“You know I’m not gonna give the pillow back back to you, brat?” my accuser giggled, pulling the throw cushion to her chest and hugging it possessively.
“Thief!” I spat.
“Look who’s talking!”
Sticking out my tongue I replied, “Takes one to know one!”
“Well if you’re going to be this immature, then that leaves me with no choice but to tell you it’s past your bedtime!” she countered, dropping the pillow to cross her arms under her breasts and then shooting me the sternest look she could muster.
My heart skipped a beat.
“What! Why?” I protested, recovering from my sudden onset of cardiac arrhythmia.
“We have to be up early for our trip to the markets, so we can finish before lunch. Then after lunch and sending our purchases back here, me and you are going to go sightseeing.”
“Oh! In that case I can ask Gael if she wants to be our guide, the maids had lots of suggestions about what to see when I asked before you logged,” I offered.
“No. I want to do the sightseeing with just you. Alone, “ Roxi suddenly half shouted. Then taking a deep breath she continued with a thoughtful expression. “But… I guess asking her to come along for the market in the morning wouldn’t be a terrible idea, at least so far as having a local around to make sure we don’t get the out of town price.”
“It’s a date then,” I agreed, before promptly hiding my flushed face in my hands.
Illegal Alien is a canon story in QuietValerie's Troubleverse setting. Make sure you read Quietvalerie's Trouble with Horns, her second Troubleverse story Witch of Chains and ChiriChiriChiri's Troubleverse story Snowbound. Also in case you missed it, QuietValerie has a new story that is set in the same post WW3 setting as the Troubleverse, except about a year in the future called Digital Galaxies, its a patreon exclusive so go check her patreon and sign up if you're interested!
The Troubleverse & Kammiverse have their own discord where you can talk to other readers and the various authors including myself and QuietValerie.