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"Sir, I think you're gonna wanna come to see this." One of his soldiers stood before him, hopping from one foot to the other, "They're here, but they're acting weird."

Deran slowly straightened out, feeling sore all over. The heat and thick apron didn't help the discomfort at all. He looked over to the smith's boy, "Alright, I have to leave. Thank you for the teaching, I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it."

He wasn't even lying, as the notifications had popped up over an hour prior:

You have unlocked the skill Metalworking (5xp)
You have unlocked the skill Smithing (5xp)

Luke nodded with a smile behind his giant goggles. Deran had taken to coming by for a few hours each day while waiting on the attack. He figured he could use this time to try and learn from the boy. It took longer than he thought it would, as to be a good smith, you had to also know how to heat up and work the metal in its baser forms, so the process was twice as long. That, and smithing was hard and hot work; even with his high Constitution score, he felt it at the end of each learning session.

Stripping out of the heavy gear and getting out of that hot room was one of the most significant reliefs Deran had ever felt. He felt for the men who did stuff like that all day, every day. The soldier led him off at a jog, heading towards the main gate. Deran didn't bother questioning the man further, spending the time to think about everything; the defenses were about as good as they would be, given the situation. The men had finished building the small earth wall, and it was here that they went. Deran winced at the number of men and women defending the wall, wishing more had come forward from the townsfolk to help protect the town. But people were scared, and a lot of them had good reason to be. They weren't fighters and had been born far away from any real fighting; for most of the people here, this would be the first time seeing a full-on battle. Even Deran was nervous, still unused to the idea of running into the danger.

"Heya cap," Lucky Luke called from nearby, currently playing dice in the dirt with some unlucky sap, "About time you showed up." He tossed the dice and, without bothering to look, began to rake in the meager pile of coins. The man was looking on in disbelief as the dice came up all sixes, beating his three fives easily. He scooped up the dice instantly, checking over them only to find that it was his set of dice, the same they'd been using the whole time.

Deran winced, seeking to help, "Just watch him in the fight, you'll see his Luck in play there too. He'll also get what's coming to him as well, from what I've seen." The man just sat back with a confused expression, looking back and forth between his dice and Luke.

Luke shuddered, pocketing the coin and joining Deran at the wall, "Yeah, so not looking forward to that. You'd think there would be better ways to save someone than a rock underfoot, but man am I getting tired of falling on my ass. But on to why you're here. Take a look at the forest closely and tell me what you see between the trees."

The tree line was over a hundred yards away, so Deran had to squint and even then could barely make out the details of the trees. Suddenly, something clicked into place, and he noticed flashes of movement, wildlife acting erratically at the edge of the treeline. None appeared on the field; however, the creatures seeming to be limited to the forest.

Perception skill increased to level 4! (5xp)
Hawk eyes! While focusing, you're now able to see twice the distance you usually could. Prolonged use of this ability can cause migraines if Intelligence isn't high enough.

"They haven't attacked yet. Something's holding the animals back; it looks like she might have some control over them after all." Neither one of them mentioned Lyselles name unless they had to. It brought up too many painful memories for Deran, losing his first connection in-game, as well as his primary guide.

"They could also have increased Intelligence. We don't know what the Twisting actually does to the ones it affects." Luke put a hand to the small wall in front of them, "We'll be finding out soon enough, it seems. I already have the men guarding the walls in shifts, with townsfolk young'uns running water along the wall. Even got a horn to signal the retreat, though the practice with that didn't always go so well."

The men were spread along the wall, forming small bunches. Most of them had ranged weapons of some kind, though most of them were simple slings or spears. Hunters that Deran recognized as the men who had attacked him his first day here stood with bows held ready. He had never noticed a relationship change notification, yet the men nodded to him with what seemed like respect when they met eyes, "So many people are going to get hurt here. But if we can kill off the larger animals before they get to the wall, that five feet will do a good bit to slow the smaller creatures down. Have anyone with a bow focus only on the big creatures. Do we have any magic users here?"

Luke shook his head sadly, "I wish. Magic isn't something an NPC can pick up easily, and no players have come forward yet. At least, not to me. It doesn't help that since they aren't on our questline, they don't see everything quite the same as us yet. All of what's happening now won't make as much sense and just seems like a village prepping for an attack during a war that's already known about. After the fight, players can start asking questions about the animals and get in on the quest that way, without ever finding the tunnel."

"But people can still find the tunnel? That's the part that confuses me." Deran scrubbed at his temples, wishing he had more points to put into Intelligence.

"Right. I don't know the specifics of the stuff, its all computer run anyways. The game devs stopped writing the algorithms for this kind of thing ages ago and just let supercomputers figure it out. But basically, the makers of the game wanted everyone to have the same opportunities, no matter what another player did, but still have them be in the same world. So they made a system that has a bunch of different....let's call them universes, all existing at the same time within each other. The only thing that crosses said universes are our perceptions and players' actions like TriggerHappy coming after you, for example. Anything involved in a quest though stays accessible to all players, as long as they meet the prerequisite. For now, I don't think anyone will get to the tree. But at some point, they'll be able to. They may know the tunnel is involved if they give it enough thought but not how to open it. So as long as you keep your mouth shut about that, we should be okay for now.

"That gives us a little more time than I thought we'd have, at least. We have to stop this, but how can we do that if it's in everyone's game?"

"World events are fun like that, man. It usually takes, you know, the world? But it isn't that bad; once a world event is completed, it can't be started again. So if we can get to the end of this thing, we can put a stop to it for good."

"You think."

"I hope." Lucky Luke shrugged, "Who knows, maybe we'll be lucky."

"I'd rather not rely on Luck as much as you do, Luke. Let's try for some hard work and preparation, and then, if that fails, we can turn to Luck." Luke just shrugged in response and gestured to the treeline.

"So, what do you want to do about that?"

"We have nothing with that long of reliable range, so we wait until they break the treeline. Tell anyone with a bow to target things larger than a dog, from biggest down. Until then, just keep the troops on their toes. I'll join you here, for now, just in case they move soon. Perhaps have the men take turns lightly sparring, just to warm them up."

"Good idea, I'll see it gets done," Luke snapped off a salute that only barely looked like a joke before turning to relay the orders down the line. Deran made a show of walking a couple of minutes down the wall in each direction, checking on the troops' placement and gear. They all nodded in respect when they saw him, and Deran wasn't sure if it was his imagination more than anything else, but it almost looked like they were relieved to see him join them.

He did his best to return all the nods, even to the men who weren't fighting for him. There were quite a few who were willing to fight to defend their home, but not ready to continue past that point. Deran was just grateful to have them in the first place, however, and welcomed them just as warmly as the others. A goodly number of them had ended up turning out, some only equipped with sharpened sticks and planks of wood strapped to their arms. It wasn't enough, but it would be something against the smaller animals if the archers did their jobs. 

An hour later, calls rose from along the wall as the creatures began to emerge from the treeline in a shambling run. "It's time," Deran said to no one in particular, speaking more to himself than the men around him, "Let's see what you're made of."

The plan worked out better than Deran could have hoped. There was only a handful of larger animals, quickly picked off from a distance by the dozen men holding bows along the wall. Deran had marveled over the power of the longbows, sending clothyard arrows almost to the edge of the woods and hitting more often than not. By the time the shambling horde of crazed creatures reached them, it was only the smaller creatures who had to struggle to climb the five-foot wall, picked off rather easily by the men. With no real sense of Intelligence about them, they just threw themselves at the wall and the men behind it. 

Gorgath whistled low and nodded to Deran, "Perhaps your plan will work, nofang. We should prepare for more, however. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?"

 

 

War was long, dreary, and tiring. It hadn't even been a week yet, though Deran and the men were all exhausted to the point where the short time between attacks was beginning to be too brief to recuperate fully. Twice in this day alone, creatures had managed to get behind the wall and tear into the men, casualties mounting. A few of the men under Deran and his two squad leaders were among those numbers, but the ranks filled back up with the unarmed men waiting in reserve. No one liked the image of the men stripping the dead of their gear, but it was needed more by the living than the dead.

Three days. Three days of the oddest siege anyone there had ever seen. The animals would gather over the course of the day until the group of them would attack. There was no real bearing as to how many animals or what kinds there were, which led to some groups of relatively easy Twisted rabbits, to one that had multiple bears and a couple of wolves. That was one of the groups that had made it over the wall and killed most of the lost men.

"Deran, the men are getting tired. I say we pull back to the main wall; it'll be easier to defend with fewer men so we can rotate out more each wave. That and the added height makes only the fliers a real issue." That had been another new development. Now the hunters had two jobs: Kill anything more substantial than a dog, and for the love of all you hold dear, shoot down any bird you see.

They had been dive-bombed by twisted birds of all kinds, and so now it was better to be safe than sorry. The added benefit was any non-twisted creatures were collected after the battles to be cooked. There wasn't much, but everyone welcomed the added food, most people were down to eating scraps. No one trusted the meat of the Twisted creatures, and Deran wasn't about to risk it himself. 

"I agree. Sound the retreat now, before another fight begins. I'd rather it go smoothly than risk something going wrong in a struggle. Switch out and leave both captains to relieve both of us. Neither one of us slept last night; I fear it may begin to show." Luke nodded wearily in agreement. Captains' Zander and Alex took over and begin calling a retreat, using small horns to signal to people further away. The other decent thing about the siege was Deran's leadership score had increased to ten, giving him the new ability to do what he had already done: assign captains to be in charge of squads themselves under him. The nifty thing of the skill was, he got a percentage of any xp that team earned, from anywhere, without actually having to do anything except keep an eye on moral. Which had been steadily going down; right now, it was sitting at Disheartened.

"Got it. What are we going to do about food? Ammunitions are beginning to run out as well; the Twisted Ones seem to be a bit mindless in their rush and trample over arrows more often than not. Supplies in general really, which isn't doing so well with the men. The only thing keeping them going is the fact that you've been out here every day, suffering alongside them. It hasn't helped that we haven't had any real trade coming in, and it would be super expensive anyway."  

"The mayor mentioned something about food as well, even went so far as to give me a quest for it. I guess no one in town is eating well, so solving that is certainly a priority. Find Gorgath; he lived in the area for a good while, he may have some idea on foraging if that's even possible with those things out there. Being a frontier town really sucks sometimes. Borinheim is a week away, meaning getting there and back would take far too long. It's too bad we don't have anyone to test the Twisted meat on. I'm curious if it has any actual ill effects, or if we're just being paranoid. If the latter, that could solve a lot of our food problems."

"Who would risk eating that, though? The few players I've noticed around here all seem terrified of the concept of Fey in general. All noobs, first-time dive kind of thing."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Deran asked a little stiffly. It was his first dive too, after all, and he felt he had been doing rather well.

"Weren't you the guy who walked around with less intelligence than an idiot for more than a day?" Luke chuckled and quickly sidestepped a bug that was flying at his face, conveniently avoided Deran's attempt to smack him. This just made him laugh harder as Deran harrumphed and kept walking back towards town. A few moments passed before Luke caught his breath and caught up, "It happens. Just saying the newer folks are less likely to take risks. Especially if they can't afford this sort of thing. Death has finality even here, and some folks aren't keen on that fact."

"True. I had someone else in mind, though. You wonder if that bandit we turned in a couple of weeks ago is still in a cell somewhere?"

"The one that took the mayors daughter? I don't remember a hanging, and they wouldn't just let him go. Might be dead, but maybe we'll be lucky. What are you thinking?" 

Deran grinned, "I'm thinking if he's alive, he probably isn't getting much in the way of meat. That and if he goes crazy from the stuff, the guards are already more than willing to carry out that sentence. Cook some up, open fire only and tell people not to breathe in the smoke from it. Better to be safe than sorry." As he spoke, he marveled a little at the words. Throwing those extra points into Intelligence made his brain so much more efficient, letting him go down multiple trails of thought at once and generally thinking of things he would never have in the real world. Once again, he found himself musing at how this all was possible but came up blank.

"You got it, Cap. That'll be the man's food until he either croaks, goes crazy, or both."

"Well let's hope it's neither, I'd rather have a solution to our food problem than the man getting what he rightly deserves. If there are no ill effects in a week, start cooking it up for our guys. When the townsfolk start seeing them eat it, hopefully, they'll begin their own harvest of the battlegrounds. Lord knows it would help with the smell. The first moment we see any sign of change in the prisoner, we stop eating it immediately. Being a week behind him should hopefully keep us safe, just in case."

"Sounds good to me. I'll talk to Gathy about the forage idea, but I think we both know what his response would be." They both chuckled dryly at that, grateful for the small bit of joy amidst all the stress. That joy quickly came crashing down, "That may be the food, but what are we going to do about the other supplies? Once we're out of arrows, it's only a matter of time before they get over the wall. Even in the small waves they've been doing."

Deran scrubbed at his temples, fighting back a headache he was sure was from stress, "Yeah. That. I have to work on that one too. Give your Lady my thanks, by the way. The fact that they've only attacked in small waves makes me think you're right about the starter town stuff. I was expecting a huge assault from what you had been talking about with the last Fey Wars."

Luke narrowed his eyes in thought, "Yeah, I'm a bit surprised about that myself. It could be either I was right about the starter town protections or because the source is so localized, but last time fighting these guys was absolutely brutal. It's been a couple of lifetimes, but I'll do my best to sit down and try to remember all I can from that time. It will help when I max out Luck; then I can start putting points in other stats. All of this, "He gestured towards the treeline and the battlefield of fallen animals, "seems really tame in comparison. Maybe they nerfed it back down, and that's why the tunnels there. To re-release old content that's been fixed." He shrugged, "I would have thought they would have announced it for the cash grab, but who knows. My gut and my Luck is telling me otherwise. This is just the calm before the storm, my friend."

Deran just grunted in return, "Do you really think there aren't any experienced players around here? That's still something I'm worried about, though being surrounded by ten NPC's who are set on protecting and fighting for me is a temporary relief. Unless I know the person, I'm not inclined to trust anyone here. Any day could be my last, from multiple sources, which is getting rather old. I need to level my perception up more, get those abilities you mentioned before."

"Perceptions both tough and easy at the same time. It has multiple facets so that you can level it up in a bunch of different ways: Sight, sound, even taste or touch. The game takes it further, though, taking into account the type of perception you get while leveling and granting you bonuses for that one more than others. A specialization, though that's not the best way to describe it. What kind of perception do you want?"

"Sight, I guess? Something that will let me pick out players from the crowd, and see what's going on around the battlefield easier."

"I'll see if I can find any perception puzzles in the area. Doubtful, but someone may have a low-level one that they don't need anymore. Unless you're higher than level 10 in a skill, basic puzzles will get you there in about a week or so, depending on how dedicated you are. For now, I guess you can get close enough to barely make out small details, like a tree, and try and count all the leaves. Sooner or later, the grind will bump it up. A better way would be to study people and try to pick out what they do for a living based on appearance. Harder in practice, and you won't always actually get the pick, but when you do, you get a chunk of experience."

Deran nodded, lost in thought. That should be easy enough, given how many people were around him. It was similar to people watching in airports, which was an activity Deran had always found a little fun. Finally, he spoke, "Another thing to keep an eye out for, though if we can't find one of them but find something else worth money, maybe that PTW you keep steering me away from using. Desperate times are steering us closer and closer, my friend. We won't have much of a choice much longer. Back to perception, though, you said you could block it with deception? Any idea why mine has been steadily climbing over the past two weeks? It's already at a four, though I don't know where the hell I'll get a disguise kit to make use of its abilities."

"Ah, remember how I said that the NPC's are treating you more like one of them than a player? Your skill and connection with them has had you sort of blending in with the NPC landscape, which I mentioned it would do before if you remember. That passive deception wasn't much at first, but there are more players around. It just means that you're fooling them when they see you into thinking you're just an NPC. I wouldn't be surprised if they just start coming up to you to talk for a quest."

"Now isn't that a terrifying thought. All right, you know what to do. I'll be at the smith's if you need me. And Luke," Deran waited until they made eye contact to continue, "Keep in mind what I said about that PTW system. Start making whatever preparations you need to contact them; I want to be ready when we need it."

Luke sighed but nodded before they both split up, heading off to different parts of town. Deran headed back towards the smithy for his daily dose of heat and soreness while Luke headed off to wherever it was his feet were leading him. The man had an odd way of going about his life, but Deran had to admit, it worked out in his favor for the most part. A man truly dependant on his Luck was an interesting thing indeed.

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About the author

Isaac Padgett

Bio: I'm going to be posting another story of mine that I've been working on while I figure out where One Life is going. Hope you all enjoy it as well!

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