32. Mercy
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Six wulves shot up, straining their legs as they literally slid to encircle us. “Ignore dogs! Take her down!” I yelled at my warrior and gulped down another agility potion. Katherine sprinted towards Bandit Leader. Her loud stomping even scared them, and their hesitation let her through.

Our enemy wiggled her staff and created two bright yellow runes, but I couldn’t interpret them because she immediately changed them in an energy, which enveloped the leading Wulf galloping to intercept Katherine. That bright energy merged with its red fur, resulting in a painful growl. With a sudden power surge, the Wulf dashed three times faster, preparing to snap her neck. My favorite streamer adjusted her shield and crashed at the sprinting Wulf at full speed.

Despite her energy, the summon didn’t budge, and one slash of its paw sent Katherine flying back! That was all I saw, because while Katherine was getting their undivided attention, I slipped around left side and quickly dashed behind the enemy.

She was playing with her staff again and cast another buff for her Wulf, showing me her bare back. Before she could boost her summons more, I carefully aimed and hit her with one slash. She shrieked like getting hit by an angry Irishman, stumbled forward while her magic fizzled.

The supersonic sound accompanied a noise of her muscles tearing off. Ugh. Another slash, and she wailed at top of her lungs, it almost sounded like torturing. “Shut up, stupid bandit!” I reminded her it was only her fault to feel pain and added one more slash.

[Critical hit x3! Armor pierced. Target lost 96HP (6x2x3 normal + 10x2x3 ICE damage)]

Without me pointing it out, Katherine raised her sword and pulled all wulves at her yet again. With nobody to aid the bandit, I gave our dear enemy another taste of my whip’s bloodied end. This was the reason I disliked battling humanoids - it was so real, even when I used to be a warrior.

The poor Bandit Leader tried to raise her staff, but I only moved my hand and the whip instantly tore her muscle under her sleeve. Not closing my eyes was hard, but it was necessary to disable her. It was easy to destroy stings of wasps, but doing the same to a sentient being? Thankfully, she wasn’t wearing any armor. She crawled under my legs, but I only stood there, observing her, and raised my hand again. Slash, and her left hand was just hanging. Once more, and her feet stopped moving.

“Call off your wulves,” I said, mimicking the iciness in the voice of Irwen. “Or you’ll lose your life.” Nope, I wasn’t enjoying it. Lucy used to better than me in this, probably still was. Such trivial things didn’t disturb her. Alas, I could feel my face stiffen at the sight of her robe in rags. Magic will fix her clothes soon enough, at the cost of durability, but soon wasn’t now.

“Yes! Fall back! Don’t attack them!” she complied and as soon she said that, the red wulves vanished. “Please, please don’t kill me! I- Hunger! Regaros was smuggling dust. He bad, I wanted to rob him! Only him!” Her tears gushed out, and other words got lost in her sobbing. Katherine staggered towards us, blinked a few times, but was silent. She touched my shoulder, but I shook my head. No killing.

“Hey, enemy.” I glanced at the beaten girl on the ground. “In name of a God of War, you are my prisoner.”

“I accept,” she said weakly, but that was enough for the god. White light flashed and for a single moment a white twisted line bound us, before vanishing as if it was a lie. Now my expression softened, and I could create runes for group heal without worry.

[Perfect Runecraft! Healing x2 - 30HP]

Woah, how could I achieve that again? Was I now an expert rune crafter? Despite my inner delight, the gentle light wasn’t enough to heal my prisoner. My whip’s wounds were deep and scary, and healing them took three dedicated healing spells. Not completely, but enough to let her move.

“Why not eff her?” Katherine couldn’t stay silent for long and was pacing around me like a hungry Wulf. Still focusing on another healing rune, I glared at her to silence her again - in vain - because she wasn’t backing down. “Tenth level’s close! She’s a bandit!”

“Kit.” Before I explained to her this reality wasn’t any different from ours, I remembered one insignificant detail. Tiny one - she was new to the game. “What’s your name?” I turned to my prisoner. Instead of explaining it in plain words, I wanted to show it to her.

The now healed girl scrambled up and was warily observing Katherine. “I’m Tera.”

“So Tera,” I said and gesticulated to Katherine, who finally stopped pacing around, to come, and we created a triangle at two feet apart under the gorgeous moons. Not love one, mind you. “Please tell us how you end up here, so she knows who’s she killing.”

“What do you mean? I told-” Tera’s confused voice agitated Katherine, and she drew her sword, grimacing at her. “Wait! I was living in the village nearby. Peacefully, I swear!”

Katherine snickered and took one step forward. “Phaf, you evil, Bandit Leader.”

“Let her speak.” Quickly catching Katherine’s shoulder, I tried to give it my all, despite my low strength. Thankfully, the warrior stopped on her own. “Besides, if you kill her, I have to go to God of War temple to explain my sin. She’s my prisoner, you know? Speak!”

“Peaceful life - that was my thing. My profession’s huntress. I was only hunting animals.” Katherine took another step towards her. Oh, come on! My prisoner shared my fear and blubbered, “On my mother's grave I swear!”

“Like ya have mum! Charlie, just eff her.”

“I do!” My captured bandit backed away from the scary warrior. “I have killed no one!”

“Let me explain it in plain words then, Tera. Katherine, this is a world like ours. Every local has a history, aspiration, feel, pain - exactly as us. There is not much difference between us. We are visitors in her land, and bad ones at that.”

Katherine finally calmed down and sheathed her sword with her eyes fixated on my mouth. Clearly, I piqued her interest. “See her? She was the first one we replaced. Players are hunting anything that moves and sell it at dumping prices.”

“Exactly,” Tera interrupted me. “When you came I lost my job, so I gathered my wulves and hit the road.” She hesitated, diverted her gaze to moons, but continued, “It was easy. I robbed innocent - wrong I know. Don’t kill me, just take to prison.”

Katherine was nodding, so I relaxed. Wrong move. “Liar. We came last week!”

“Does it matter, Kat? We got-” I opened my mouth and tried to reason with her. Too late. Her sword was already in Tera’s stomach. She didn’t give her any chance to fight back - my friend smacked her head with the pommel, stunning her. Then she tore her sword out, Tera’s blood gushing everywhere, and she scored a critical hit with another move, aimed at heart.

“Stop!” I created rune for a healing spell, but I didn’t have to stop her - she did it on her own. After she pulled her sword again, something snapped inside her and she stared blankly at my prisoner, who was now unconscious, splattered with blood on the ground, but alive after my healing spell succeeded.

Kat glanced down at her bloodied hands. “Monsters bad, but ‘tis… She’s like alive…”

“Stupid Kat, why?” Grabbing her shoulder, I shook her. “Why? She’s my prisoner! And you attacked her after she told you her history! Killing anonym’s easier, you know?”

Her eyes looked so unfocused, as if she was staring at me through a whiskey bottle. “Easy, ‘cause she’s enemy. Can’t end her tho. Wat now?”

What now? Repay all my debts, which were piling up like glasses during drinking contest. Although, no, friendship with Lisa was more important than trying to score a few thousands golds.

[Your friend Lisa is offline.]

Sadly, she wasn’t in the game. Strange, I could swear she was online when I checked last time. “Forget about all this and go to the dungeon as we planned. But Lisa’s offline. I don’t know where to meet her, so we could go near the entrance?”

“I’ll call her!” Katherine offered me her signature smile full of sadness, which always stunned me, urged hugging her and tell everything will be fine. She seized her opportunity and disconnected before I could stop her. When I realized what was going on, I only snapped at empty air.

Damn charming streamer! Perhaps dissecting an elf shaken her - everyone remembers their first. Although she didn’t kill her, so she will go through it again. Game’s ptsd was a hard thing to shake, even if you ever killed only monsters.

Our fight messed the place under the moons up. There was a lot of blood everywhere and our battle scattered parts of Wulves around. Magic always claimed these things and restored the landscape, returning it to the state before we clashed. Not yet though, and my prisoner lay on the ground in the middle of it and breathed - which was a good sign.

“Wake up.” I squatted next to her and poked her with a handle of my whip. “I know it’s bad, but please wake up.”

At my urging, she slowly opened her eyes and glanced around. At first she only stared at me with a dumb expression, but then she jumped up and checked her body - I healed her fully by now. “Is she gone?”

“Yup, I release you, you are free to go.”

She patted her formerly wounded body and nodded. “Thank you.” Her mad dash towards trees was funny, but she even stumbled and crashed a few times before darkness prevented me to see where she was going.

Next time I can’t forget to ask Katherine for her log-out token. Katherine was out for over than half an hour, and I was getting bored despite that I was practicing Princess’ Grace. My new spell was hard, and I couldn't cast it without the system’s aid. It wasn’t only the runes, but their position in a circle was trickier than it should. Or perhaps that was intentional. How could I know? It was magic; not swords.

“Hey!” My friend waved at me. “She won’t come and said she’s sorry. Dmitry pwned her.”