28. Debugging session
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Duke accepted me in his cabin - or was it called an office despite being on a ship? Anyhow, when I walked in, despite that we were sailing at sea, I thought there must be some kind of portal. His cabin was larger than Lucas’ apartment in the reality, even with a bed which was covered by white curtains. The Duke himself was sitting in front of a table near the door with bookcases full of book next to him.

Before I could ask how the hell the books held there when we were on a ship, he smiled at my shocked expression, pointed to a chair across the table and said, “Sit down, baronetess, and tell me how did you fare.”

I sad down with a quick nod, but the chair creaked under my weight. What? Aren’t I like super light? Should I worry about… Charlie! Focus! Duke stared at me with an expectant look, his arms crossed.

“I met Queen Irwen,” I said simply, and crossed my leg over another. Success! “The barrier holding her is failing and can’t hold her; she told me that herself.”

A delighted, even amused smile formed on his face as he said, “I expected that much when I heard about the floaters.” Deepening his smile, he darted his eyes at my tiara. “What did you offer her to crown you a princess?”

Gulp. A cold sweat formed on my forehead, and I almost held my breath in a fear. “I… Duke, this is… I didn’t…”

His pleased smile only added to my nervosity. “You didn’t what precisely?”

Shivering in my chair, I glanced down towards his bed, avoiding direct eye contact and murmured, “Betrayed the empire…”

“I know child, trust me, I would know.” Reaching down, he opened a drawer and pulled out a paper. It looked like an ancient yellowed document, with something scribbled on it in a black ink, almost faded by now. “Before the traitor imprisoned my aunt, she wrote me a letter. She stated her disappointment in me and declared if I help her reclaim our ancestor lands, she will pardon me.”

Accompanied by a thud sound, he placed the paper on a table in front of me. Obviously, I couldn’t read it because Irwen wrote it in an old royal Elven and I was fluent only in a common and royal Elven. I wanted to protest and opened my mouth, but he was just by glaring at me without a word, so I shut it I examined it.

Some words were like nowadays Elven, but because of the old ink and her beautiful handwriting, I failed to read it. Not that any of players would fare better, translators only worked for spoken language, not the documents. “Sorry, I don’t know what she meant. I can read only some words, like - something under billows, assay, riders on palfrey… I can’t say I understand that either.”

Duke’s grin deepened. “I am surprised you even read that; you are truly worthy of a hero. See this?” He pointed to a section written with different ink, bluish one. “She told me she will become a myth, and asked me to seed her stories into our populace.

No way. My eyes widened as the realization hit me. So that was the reason I heard so much about her deeds even in the deeps of imperial lands. “A myth? You are telling me she is…”

“Our true Queen.”

“No, I meant the stories about her fight with Demons, or defending us in Dragon Wars are true?”

His curt nod confirmed it, and he quickly returned the paper to his drawer. “I spread her deeds to build her myth, and it finally came to fruition. The barrier can hold a legend, but can’t hold a myth. Now she will reclaim our kingdom from the human usurpers.”

That was great, but I already knew it; not about her myth level, but about her goal to liberate her kingdom. I bit my lip, because there was something unspoken in his words, something that was upsetting me and something that Captain would have a bad feeling about. “Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because you own an East fortification,” he breathed, and his expression darkened, and leaned forward in his chair. “You are in position to aid us; that was the ultimate reason I acknowledged you as a noble.”

“I won’t fight her, if that’s what you want,” I blurted out. “I-”

I could swear I saw a flash behind his eyes and I felt like when I stumbled upon freezer full of whiskey. By accident, mind you. Duke then continued, “You will fight her.”

I panicked and rose from my chair, hurriedly backing away from his dangerous stare. “But wouldn-”

“You will put a fight.” He deeply stared into my eyes, searching for some hidden truth I didn’t have. It felt like that time when I lost control after tenth whiskey, and I crashed back to my creaking chair without care. “You will accept her formal declaration of war and fight her army, for that I will lend you a local infantry.”

“I can’t do that.” I shook my head so violently I had to catch by the edge of the table or I would faint. “Absolutely not! That would give her a casus belli, and gods wouldn’t give empire a defender’s blessing!”

To my panicked words, he just laughed and dismissed me with a move of his hand. “She already has it, child.”

“Duke, you don’t need to sugar your words,” I said carefully and thought about it, while in a staring contest with him. That was a mistake, because I lost and lowered my gaze down with a feeling I couldn’t explain. Despair? “She needs to declare war to hands of a worthy enemy, and I doubt anyone who has army large enough would stay in her path. It’s suicide.”

For the first time in our meeting, he flinched and glared at me with hostility. “Not only you are a powerful hero, you studied god of war’s rules. Drop the act. You are my pawn, you’ll accept her declaration.”

“Or…” I swallowed my words as a myriad of options flashed in my head.

“It is in my power to imprison you,” he said with a victorious smile. “But I am not heartless, and I care about my pawns. When you return to the capital, you will come back as a hero who saved thousands of people in villages.”

“You won’t evacuate them?”

“I should have known that hero cares more about people than about herself,” he mused. “I can’t and it pains me I have to sacrifice my people. There is no other way. We settled the stretch along the river only a few years ago and people will refuse to listen to my orders to leave, unless there is a disaster looming over them.”

“So when I return to the empire…” I raised my head and stared at him with a resigned look.

He nodded. “Emperor will make you a Baroness.”

“Okay. I’ll do it.” I declared. Was it foolish? Maybe, but rising in a nobility rank that fast was really enticing. Not speaking about fighting Irwen in an epic battle; first epic battle in Rimelion. Could a gamer girl like me ask for something better? “May I ask you about something else?”

“Speak, child.”

Why not to ask about helping Lisa? I just promised something dangerous to him, so he might agree. “There is a Fire Tamer’s lair and I want to get rid of his menace; could you lend me a ship to get there faster?”

Without a word, he reached into another drawer and pulled out another paper. “A company will aid you in your heroic task. Only a Hero would be ludicrous enough to challenge a Fire Tamer when Irwen is on her heels.”

It took a while, but he wrote something on the tin-colored paper, then gently rolled it and sealed with his ring. “Take this and submit it to Guard Captain in the garrison of Village Number Seventeen, which is the nearest port to his lair. We will make haste, without Floaters it’ll take only a few hours.”

 

As I was staring into the distance from the front of the capital ship, a wind tousled my hair while I was hiding there. After an hour of sailing it was without the salty smell, only a humidity created more sweat on me than I would like. Why? The clothes clung to me and I was the only girl aboard a ship full of sailors and their looks. That bothered me, even though it shouldn’t, right?

For sure, without the constant threat of Floaters it was boring, and I was falling behind the rankers more and more. With a sigh, I leaned out where the water was swishing under our ship. Sadly, I was only level seven and the target of level ten was still so far away.

“I guess it’s time to try my title, that’ll cheer me up!” I said to the water under us and grinned.

System, please activate titular title Princess.

[Congratulation! You are now Princess Princess][Error! Syntax check failed! Reverting changes…][Error! Reverting changes failed, name active, isolating transaction…]

The first notice was the one I expected, but every after that injected more and more fear into me. Hey, it’s not even my exploit! It’s not my fault she wanted the name Princess!

A white void, even nothingness, replaced the ship. The only thing I could feel was something under my feet, blurry white mist, but nothing else.

[Isolated. Manual action required, contacting support…]

Not so fast! System contact: Ian, password #enlo-57945#

[DEBUG ACTIVE: contacting #57945#]

The entire world flickered, and it took Ian only a few moments to materialize in front of me. Unexpectedly, he was wearing the same clothes as usual, even in the virtual world. He examined what the hell was going on and frowned at me with his mouth open. Before my stupid body could stop me, I said, “Hi Ian. How are you?”

Ian walked forward, examining gradually my face, chest, legs, chest… “Cha-charlie? Is that you?”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yes, me!”

“CHARLIE!” He resorted to yelling. “You’re SO dumb! You started a debug session?” In a blink of an eye, a chair materialized under him and he flailed his hands over virtual keyboards.

“What?” I snapped at him with an irritation in my voice. Yelling at me, really? “It wasn’t my fault the system crashed, it was your bad code!”

He flinched and stopped moving his fingers, staring at me. “No. It. Was. Not. My fault! How dumb you were picking name Princess? You knew it will conflict with the title, didn’t you?” Now he jumped down from his chair, spitting as he was yelling and stomping. “You aren’t our number one exploiter for nothing! But are they blaming you? No, no, they are screaming at ME! They lowered my salary because of YOU! And now you have the audacity to call me to clean your dumb mess?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and tried to smile at him with the most genuine smile. It was true; I didn’t know I was affecting him. “I don’t want to cause you any problems…”

“Too late for that.” He stomped towards me and grabbed my forearm. “Why you hate me?” Pulling on my hand, he lowered me down and then pushed on my chest; I felt my robe giving way - our strength was too much apart, so it scratched a few hit points down.

“NoobIan, what the hell?” I forced out an icy voice not unsimilar to Irwen and used his nickname in a hope to calm him down, but he only glared at me with a rage flowing his eyes. “Stop it, it’s me!”

I couldn’t recognize him; he was always so average and timid. So… Ian. “Shut up, they’ll fire me!” Fire him because of me? What? I blacked out.

When I came to myself, I was still stupidly staring at him. Because of that, I didn’t notice him reaching up, raising his hand and smashing my face. It hurt. It hurt like hell. My reality limit was a hundred percent, and every GM has over three hundred levels. That resulted in my flight a long distance and crashing on a floor.

While my blood was oozing, I glanced up at him as a ringing in my ears intensified. Ian? I tried to say, but my jaw stung like my body after twelfth whiskey, and I couldn’t move even a finger before I lost consciousness.

[You died]
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