I woke up the next morning with a slight hangover and no motivation. I hovered around the kitchen, not really thinking of anything that would taste good. Instead I had several glasses of water and started plotting. The best thing about living in the digital world was that everything was delivered instantaneously. Soon enough I was heading out for my perfect afternoon.
It only took ten minutes to get it set up to perfection. I set up a comfortable lawn chair with an extra-large cooler on wheels next to it in the shade of a large tree. I cast a line into the water, settled a hat covering my eyes and went to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Marty? Is that you under that atrocious hat?”
“Huh? Wha? Oh, it’s just you Emily. Yep, I’ve been taking it easy all day. And what do you mean that this is an atrocious hat? I’ll have you know fishermen have been wearing hats like this for decades!”
“I see. So you’ve been fishing all afternoon?”
“You do realize that they didn’t code any fish into the lake, right?”
“That explains why I haven’t gotten a bite all afternoon. Want a sandwich and a soda? I packed extra just in case I wasn’t home by dinner.” I said while offering her half a submarine sandwich overloaded with three kinds of meat.
“Eh, that’s ok. I’m here for something else, I just wanted to see who the crazy person was fishing in a lake with no fish. Have a nice day Marty.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ugh, this headache was killer. I stumbled through the apartment, fighting nausea. God, I wish I could take some medicine for this but I knew it wouldn’t work. At least Phoebe was still able to sleep. I checked on her once again, only to find her splayed out on my half of the bed with all the covers tangled up in her legs. Smiling, I headed out. The kids would be disappointed if I missed story time.
Walking through the park next to the café, I saw Emily talking with somebody with a fishing pole. They were wrapping up their conversation though, and she turned and waved to me.
“What’s up Emily? I thought you hated coming in to the digital versions because of that helmet they make you wear.” I said while walking up to her.
“Jon, I hope you aren’t trying to break doctor’s orders and not relax today. By say, I don’t know, forcing yourself to read to a bunch of children?”
“Eh, wait, how did you?”
“Relax Jon. One of your kids was asking about you yesterday, she was rather upset you were hurt and told me all about your daily reading. I decided that I would fill in for you today, so this time you get to relax with the kids as I read them a story.”
“Was her hair curly and gold colored?”
“Rosalie. She really has come out of her shell if she came up to a stranger to ask about me.” I said with a smile. “Speak of the devil, here she comes.”
“UNCLE JOOOOOOOOON!!!!!!!!!” She cried, rocketing her head into my stomach as she wrapped me in her arms. “Are you all better?”
“Not quite just yet, Rosalie. I’m sure I will be by tomorrow.”
“Oh.” She said as her smile fell. “Does this mean that there isn’t going to be a story today?”
“Not at all. Emily here said she would do the story today, and that you could sit in my lap if you wanted.”
“Really?!” She turned to Emily. “Thanks so much Miss Emily!” Grabbing my hand, she started pulling me along.
“Slow down, slow down. We’ll get there in plenty of time, don’t worry.” Though I did give in to the inevitable and followed a little faster.
When we arrived, Emily took a cube out of her pocket and tapped a button on it before stepping back as a large stage popped out. Nodding, she turned to the gathered children and spoke. “Good afternoon everyone, my name’s Emily. Jon really wanted to read to you again today, but he is under doctor’s orders to rest. Instead I’ll be reading to you, and some of my friends in the development department agreed to help me out and set up a play for you all to enjoy while I read.”
Her spiel done, Emily pulled out a book and started one of the best readings of Green Eggs and Ham that I was treated to. She had a way of reading that drew the kids in, and the digital renditions of the books illustrations really helped to bring the entire thing to life. As a bonus, at the end of the story everyone was treated to buffet tables full of green eggs and ham. After Rosalie ran off with her friends, I walked up to Emily with a slight tear in my eye.
“Thanks Emily. I was going to try and power through some book, but I wouldn’t have been able to do a fraction of what you did for the kids today.”
“You’re welcome Jon. They really look up to you, and it was a pleasure to be able to step in for you for a day. In fact, I have to pass on the thanks of several doctors to you, as several children that constantly attend your stories are showing marked improvement. Even more so than the rest of them.”
“Thanks, that really means a lot.” I said with a smile.
“In fact, they were so impressed that they want to have us help you out. Since you liked the show today, our departments want you to give us a list of slightly longer books. In two weeks, and once per week after that they will have an interactive play like the one I did today. How does that sound?”
“That sounds fantastic. Count me in.” I couldn’t help but be elated. Smiling, I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to think of stories that deserved their own plays.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Marty’s POV, one week later
The day after the incident we were all cleared to re-enter the game if we wished. Knowing that Khaliss had something planned for me, I headed in to see what it was. I was completely unprepared for the sadistic training method that he put me through. I first had to dodge ten blows with my hands tied behind my back, just to earn the dodge skill. None of the weapons were blunted either, because they had a field safety setting that I immediately hated. It would automatically teleport someone out of there when their health dropped below 20%. Once I earned dodge, I was able to use my weapon and free hand for defense only. I had to deflect the same number of blows to earn the parry skill without any mistakes. Getting the counter skill sounded like it would be easier, but in order to get it I had to first dodge or parry an attack and immediately launch an attack of my own. By the end of the first day I had a few levels in each, and was incredibly sore from all the “learning opportunities” Khaliss labeled when I got hurt. Any time I was forced out due to health reasons I had to use [Keen edge] on dummies as fast as possible. When my mana ran out, it was the kobold version of parkour.
The next several days had me facing off against increasing numbers of enemies, and Khaliss and Shrik were brutal in tearing apart my many mistakes. My footwork was horrible, I was predictable in my deflections, and my counters weren’t targeting critical areas to name a few. Towards the middle of the time, they actually had everyone slow down to quarter speed, just to give me ideas for how to properly counter. Or how to control the battle by parrying enemy blows into the attacking lanes of the others. What would be my counter to the third, fourth, and fifth attacks that were going to land? Their battle training was like playing a combination of chess, dodgeball, and five finger fillet all at once.
The last two days were the worst of all. I had to face off against both Khaliss and Shrik, at the same time. They called it survivalist, as I had to last for ten minutes. Then twenty. Then an hour. The last hour of the final day was Khaliss’ favorite. He called it counter counter revolution. The whole point was to keep countering his counter attacks, the loser would be the one who either failed to counter or took a hit. Needless to say, I never won. Though his training was brutal, I did end up with several gains that I just couldn’t argue with.
Advanced level 6
+36% chance to dodge a detected attack
Advanced level 1
+31% chance to parry an attack, damage reduced by 35%
Intermediate level 7
Counter attacks cause +77% extra damage, +27% critical hit chance
Beginner level 5
Damage received reduced by 5% when controlling the number of enemies attacking simultaneously
All the new skills were passive, but they had a huge potential. Battlefield control was what I obtained when trying to parry enemies into each other, and was something I was excited to level up. After all the training was said and done, Khaliss pronounced my performance acceptable and gave me a new ring as an equipment reward for the last quest that he was holding back. It was simply a rare quality, but the added 15% chance to dodge was more than welcome. I also informed him that since Dharkiss had finished my newest custom weapon that I was going to try and take down the juvenile tunneling worm, assuring him that it would be best if I did it alone and that I wouldn’t bring it toward the city at any cost.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“So, it’s been a week. Please tell me that it’s ready Dharkiss.” I said as I walked in to his shop in the morning.
“Hehehehe, oh its done Angus. I’m surprised you lived through the tender mercies of Khaliss to claim it though.” He said with a chuckle.
“Ugh, I suppose you could say I was tenderized just by the amount of times I got hit with something. I swear at one point I had bruises on my bruises.”
“BWAHAHAHA! I warned you Khaliss doesn’t mess around, not my fault that you didn’t trust old Dharkiss.”
“You absolutely did not warn me!”
“I’m fairly certain I did. Bah, why are we arguing about that when we can be unveiling a new weapon? Come on to the back, it’s too heavy to put on any of the counters out here.” He said, leading the way. I followed him and saw a trap that was as monstrous as it was beautiful.
The base was a block of steel one foot deep, eight feet wide and three feet tall. Sprouting out of it at one foot intervals were solid steel boar spears on steroids. The central four were twice the width of a normal boar spear, and the wings were all fused together to reinforce the structure. The blades were different than a normal boar spear, and were perpendicular to the wings and were sharpened all the way down to the wings themselves, giving it a solid foot and a half of edged weapon for slicing up whatever tried running over it. The spears on the end were slightly longer, and the shafts bent towards the center. The end result was the tips making a shallow U shape.
“Oh Dharkiss, you make the most vicious of weapons. It’s perfect.” I said, fake wiping a tear from the corner of my eye and sniffling.
“Hah, you aren’t getting it that easily. There’s an awful lot of steel in there, I’m gonna need 50 gold before you head out with it.”
“Oh, it can’t be that much. How about 15 gold and ten percent of whatever I loot from the body.”
“I couldn’t possibly let it go for less than 35 gold and half of what you loot.”
“Half? Is there mercury in this thing? You must have gone insane from breathing the fumes. I suppose I could spare 30 gold, a quarter of what it drops, and first choice in what you want to buy from the remaining loot.”
“Crazy? Hello kettle, I’m pot and you’re black!” He said with a chuckle. “That’ll work though. Thirty gold up front, a quarter of the drops and first choice in buying the rest.”
I smiled as I handed over the gold. “Dharkiss, it’s always a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Keep coming back Angus, your mad ideas are pushing my skills to the limit and I’m finally gaining levels again.”
“Wonderful! I guess I should be insisting on a discount for every level you get then!”
“Discount? What is this gibberish of which you speak? I think those alchemy fumes are finally getting to you my friend, but fear not! I shall have a word with Djarleen on your behalf. We need you to be half crazy, that way you survive your ideas.”
“HA! Oh Dharkiss, that’s priceless. I promise, that should Djarleen change you some odd color I shall do my best to find an antidote for you.” I couldn’t keep the smile from my face as I continued, “Ah, but the time has come to go and test this baby out. Hopefully I am back by this afternoon, with plenty of loot!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
An hour and a half later, I was in the same hallway that the worm had eaten the miner in. I ever so carefully walked down the corridor, stopping at 50 feet past the incident site. Finding no evidence of the worm, I went back just as carefully to set my trap. Ideally I would have the trap pop up from underground, impaling and immobilizing the passing worm on the wings of the spears. Even if it wasn’t fully immobilized, the spears would slash through the hide as it moved forward. Since I had absolutely no idea how to make a raising platform, I would have to improvise.
The first portion of the job would be to make a pit in the ground that the trap would sit upright in. The entire block of metal would be just below ground level, making sure that it wouldn’t get ripped out. It would also provide a small bit of support if the spears started to bend. The next part of the trap was an inclined ramp leading down next to the pit, with the slightest of raised ledges at the base to hold the trap. The spear tips were just barely above ground level. I also tied a rope around one of the spears, as that was the trigger for the trap. I tested it several times, and the ledge at the base of the ramp gave me just enough leverage that pulling the rope would raise the spear tips. I left myself 50 feet of room, and then started rhythmically tapping on the floor. I would go in bursts of three or four. Tap, tap, TAP or tap, tap, tap, tap, listening after every four sets. Soon enough, I could barely make out the sound of something barreling down the corridor.
Seeing the gaping maw of the beast as it came around a bend had me freeze for a few seconds. It had three jaws, and each one was lined with several sets of broad, flat teeth perfect for turning squishy lifeforms into red paste. Or whatever paste their blood was. It was almost enough for me to miss my window of opportunity.
As the jaws passed over the spears, I gave a yank on the rope. The spears rose a bit, and quickly caught and pierced through the tough hide of the creature. From there it was absolute perfection. The creature’s momentum forced the trap to smash through the lip holding it up while also forcing them further and further upright. With a mighty clang, the trap settled in to the pit, and section of the worm’s body was bent into a hump.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” For the first time, I believe this creature actually felt pain, and it wasn’t enjoying the sensation. The screech it gave actually deafened me for 5 seconds. As I covered my bleeding ears, I watched it thrash around on the wings of the spears. It tried rolling, but the side spears would break through and it would immediately recoil from the new pain. Right back where it started from. I felt bad watching it die in agony, but I wasn’t stupid enough to get closer and risk getting killed for some silly reason like honor.
The remains you are trying to put in your body bag are too large to fit.
Damn, guess I won’t be able to autopsy this thing. Shrugging my shoulders, I looted the body, stored the trap, and read through my battle log and notifications.
Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.