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A note from FrustratedEgo

Still alive. Been releasing chapters for Lawless Ink. Then gonna be chapters for Liars Called. Then somewher ein all that, books will be finished. 

The stonewall outside the manner remained unchanged. The landscape as a whole hadn’t shifted despite all the healing and transformed tree from last weekend. Whatever progress we’d made turning the undead wonderland into a normal one had been removed by the passage of time.

We were casually sipping beers, or the fantasy version which equated well enough thanks to virtual reality’s immersion. I stopped every so often to study the drink and wonder how I could feel so perfectly drunk inside a simulation, but there’d been studies on it. I’d read them a few years back as part of my last-ditch attempts to get a job as a real doctor, instead of running around with an unused degree. Continue Online, the ARC device that ran it, and all these other games, operated off of memory triggers.

I think; therefore I think I am, I think. That’s how the line went from that song. That’s how the game did its magic. Thinking became action. Action became a scene. That scene became thought. We were all living out our impulses.

Johnny explained our goals to Rose. She moved into my line of sight, blocking a perfectly terrible view of a rundown mansion at sunset.

“He wants to go back in there,” Johnny repeated for the umpteenth time.

“You want to what?” Rose asked me instead of taking Johnny at his word.

That was an open call for random answers. “Go back in time and undo my worst mistakes. Have sex with Lawrence McKnight. Throw a rock from the moon to New Jersey and hope it lands on someone from my High School.”

I hated New Jersey as a whole. But my answer hadn’t addressed what she probably meant. After a drink or ten the truth and my impulses equated out to the same thing.

Her frown could win awards. “How are you drunk again?”

“Careful planning. Mastery of my thumbs. It’s been weeks since my last drink.”

Rose ignored my quips and plugged her nose. She glared at the beer like it had been squeezed from a devil’s ball sack. Her nose wrinkled as she said, “I still have a hangover from last week.”

“Weeks.” I lifted my drink for another swig.

Rose tilted her head back. “Days at most.”

I wanted to think upbeat and wholesome thoughts, but inebriation removed some of the filters. Being positive took a toll. Being cynical took a few out too.

A shoulder went up. “None of this is real. Be stronger than the game.”

Johnny shifted us back on topic. “Seriously. Friday wants to go back into that manor. You know, that one. He’s even going to pay me for finding secret rooms.”

“With what money?”

That was an easy question. “He can have whatever drops. He can have it all. You can too. I don’t care, I just want to make this place better.”

Rose looked unsatisfied. “Why here? We were barely at rank for it last time, and if we’re the only group, it’ll be way harder. I mean, the only way we managed last time was having a bunch of other cannon fodder lowering the average ranks for the region.”

Rose was full of unhelpful tidbits. She probably didn’t know my rank had shot up. Or maybe she did.

“He thinks he can solve it. Just play along. Friday gets these crusades, and nothing stops him except drama. I’d say he was tilting at windmills but that’d make me Sancho. I don’t like Sancho. Not even for gold.”

We both paused to stare at the shorter man.

Johnny glanced at me once then pretended we weren’t discussing his inevitable side-kick status.

Rose gave in and asked, “What do you mean?”

“He crusades. Gets these wild impulses to do a thing. You should have seen some of the earlier versions of Fridays,” Johnny said.

“Tell me?”

“Three gold per character.”

“How about I don’t gut you for last week?”

“Deal,” Johnny said with a stern nod. “But I’m keeping the juiciest bits to myself.”

I didn’t bother stopping their discussion. There were no reasons to avoid the [Legacy] system after it had been triggered. Once the leftovers of my prior characters caught up, then I’d delete myself and lay low again for a month or two. It’d worked so far.

Would the pups want to return here? They’d been born in the manner, as much as any digital creature could be. We’d killed their evil frothing undead parents. I’d also left a herd of healed dogs somewhere around here but there were no signs of them. I couldn’t see any dogs roaming the landscape from here, so maybe we’d solved one aspect of this nightmare.

“We might be able to do it too. Friday’s ranks are a lot better. His healing has to be on point. Or at least more effective, even if he’s drunk as a skunk. Plus, he’s got a stealth class or two, right?”

My eyes went wide as I got my thoughts in order. They were right. Johnny had always been sneaky. I had recovered my prior classes. Even Rose might be able to learn something since her [Coordination] trait must have been decent to use two daggers.

“Yeah. We can do that. If I remembered how, we could even put in a portal.” Portals were hard to keep open for long. They took a ton of mana. “Or maybe I could do a shadow portal. Or something. It’s been a few months since I used any of those skills and not all of them came over.”

“What’s that Shadow path all about?”

“I spent about, four. Five? Weekends in a haunted forest that had dark faeries and stuff all over it. We, me and this other duder with wings I’d rescued. We were skipping through magical shadows he summoned. After about thirty I learned how to open my own. Got a skill, and some character trait.”

“And teleporter?” Rose asked.

“Part of the dimensional magus,” I drifted off. It all blurred together. “I’d need a few hours to get it working together. Most of these were from a few weekends of hard playing then I stopped.”

“So, you don’t remember how to do any of them,” Rose said flatly.

“Nope. Except the portal to a demon’s outhouse. And seeing in the dark. That’s a passive. Oh and there’s a chance some evil faeries may crawl out of the shadows at me in, maybe a few days.”

“What?”

“Friday makes friends everywhere he goes. This one time, he had a character who was a medic in the king’s army,” Johnny said.

He was about to launch into the tale of Friday the eleventh. I cut him off with a correction, “Doctor. I was a doctor.” I brightened and lifted my drink. “I am one! Hah, take that nay Sayers. I’m a doctor again. And a priest. And a druid.”

“And a drunk,” Rose muttered.

I nodded. She had me dead to rights. “This is my days off. On which we shall have a high adventure fighting an undead curse of questionably epic proportions. You in?”

Rose paused a few seconds then nodded. “Sure. If it’ll give me stuff to stab.”

“Oh! Yeah, I can do enchants too. Low rank,” my head dropped as I flipped through a wall of text in my menu. There were options buried under more options based on the stuff I’d unlocked. Luckily having a decent [Knowledge] carried over from all my prior characters meant the game kept great notes.

That was the only real recognition the [Knowledge] stat came with. The higher it got, the better the game kept track of all the stuff I’d “Learned” during my playing. Thankfully this place didn’t have some stupid intelligence stat that’d pretend I was smarter than in reality.

I tracked down the spell pattern for both glyphs and practiced a few times. They were surprisingly close to how druid spells functioned. Trace a marker on an item.

Rose went back to asking Johnny questions about my past. “What’s that about a king’s army?”

“Kings. There were four. Five?”

“Four,” I said. “Maybe five.”

“Multiple. I forgot their names. They were all greeks.” Johnny shrugged. “Anyway, Friday here saddles up, and volunteers to be a field medic. He didn’t have an ounce of magic on that character.”

“That was after the priest,” I said.

My shirt came off. Sketching a rune didn’t take much beside a flat surface, some magic, and a lot of mana. There were a few ways to donate the mana, according to my disjointed memory. I could burn items or use my own mana to sustain a rune. They’d basically put a passive drain on me that would be countered by mana regen, or if I had an even higher level of skill, I could attach them to an item’s mana pool.

There were also Path perks. The higher the path, the more runes I could have active at one time. They cost less, or were more effective, or whatever. I’d need to put one on my clothes using base mana to see how much it’d leave me drained. Complicated didn’t even begin to describe crafting skills.

“He was really a priest?”

I lifted a finger. “Still am. And I’m a doctor.”

“But not a priest anymore. He hates the Voices,” Johnny added.

They weren’t getting it. “Still a priest! Again. Voices I hope the Voices don’t find me.” I’d said something different but what the game uttered and what I thought weren’t always perfectly in line.

“Why?” Rose asked.

“Don’t listen to him!” I shouted. My fourth attempt at marking the [Stealth] rune succeeded. The dirty shirt I’d marked took on a faint hue of the earth it sat upon. Or maybe it’d always been that color. My eyes narrowed in a squint. None of my characters had good [Identification] skills. That was a fault of mine.

Most of it boiled down to me hating system notices with a passion. They were annoying, got in the way, and mostly pointless.

“I can’t see you praying,” Rose said.

Down went the shirt. I stared at the high brick wall I’d been using as a surface for the runes. “Find yourself in a deep dark mental hell of your own making and see if you don’t try talking to god just once.” Both went quiet. I took my beer from the top of the brick wall, gulped down another mouthful, then help up the shirt. “Does this look stealthy to you?”

Their answers left a lot to be desired. On I went, giving us better gear than before. Now we were a collective batch of scrubby looking characters with above level enchants.

Eventually I managed to get a rune out for each of us. [Regeneration] for Johnny, and [Stealth] for Rose, on top of the [Stealth] I’d left on my own. It should stack with all my other inherited passives. The less people saw me, the happier I’d be.

Johnny filled up the air with small talk about the prior Fridays. Rose seemed vaguely interested but I couldn’t tell why. My past had little to do with her, or even Johnny for that matter. He probably had a dozen stories about himself were easily more entertaining.

Rose stared at the side of my face. I ignored her and pondered the deep mysteries of the blurry mansion. Eventually she asked, “Your cook path come with anything useful?”

There wouldn’t be much else we could do besides wade in. I’d have to figure out how to call the dogs. I’d been sure one of my quest texts said something about giving the dogs a home then being able to summon them forth. With the other skills stacking on top of what the game had set me up for, it’d be that much easier.

“Not really.” My cooking skills would all end up with burnt toast. I’d been a bit better working with that mercenary troop, but my soup butcheries were only a little bit better than rations. “The dogs would love it if they were here. I could probably summon them if I knew their names. But they don’t have names yet.”

“You haven’t named your dogs?”

“Your mom tried to,” I said.

“Ohhhhh,” Johnny responded.

My eyebrow lifted. “That wasn’t an insult. Her mom actually tried to.”

Johnny rubbed his hands together and turned toward our rogue. “Your mom plays? Is she hot?”

“Ten gold,” Rose put out a hand.

“Ohhhhh,” I chimed in.

“That’s fair. But no.” Johnny nodded and fingered his newly enchanted and still holey pants. We were all one step away from vagabonds. None of my classes had sewing skills. I should have done that somewhere in this stupid game but had never felt the need.

I went back to the important topic we’d diverted to. “But seriously, your mom’s in my forest.”

“She’s looking after the dogs, right?”

That was pretty nice of Rose, if she somehow got her mom to play and keep an eye on the animals.

“Yeah.” I replayed the brief confusing encounter in my head. “And she’s a dryad? How’d she get that race?”

Rose put palm to face and shook her head.

“A what? Oh god no.”

“What?”

“I told her about a druid, so she probably,” Rose stopped abruptly, slapped her face again groaned. “Don’t sleep with her, or we can’t hang out anymore.”

“That was an option?” I asked. Sleeping with a green skinned woman hadn’t been on my bucket list, but if she was a real person and not some Local, it might be worth pursuing.

“With enough gold, anything’s an option.” Johnny smiled.

He had a point. Money made the worlds go around. Virtual and real and whatever else may be out there. If God existed, I felt sure he liked gold. At least, that’s what my brief interaction with priests taught me. Penitence for all lay only a few dollars away. IN theory people were also required to honestly believe in becoming a better person too, but enough money helped.

I drank the last of my liquor and the world spun briefly. My cheeks flapped, and I shook myself to get ready. Everything else could wait until next week.

“Forward!” I shouted, charging at the manor.

My wild dash toward the building lasted about twenty yards before I realized running sucked. Even in virtual reality. I got tired and winded and felt dizzier than before.

Messages popped up telling me of all the ways my body had been debilitated. I missed old games where there were no such things as downsides or being drunk only messaged with a screen interface. Continue Online cared not for such a broken world and hammered me with the bad news.

My foot had twisted due to hitting a pot hole at high speeds. I’d limp for a day. The amount of alcohol I’d consumed was far too much and I might throw up at any second. Those message boxes and a few others went off to the side.

“You okay?” Rose asked.

She leaned over me. Brown hair spilled down. Her sideways expression stared at me without sympathy.

Shoe got a thumbs up for her concern. “Drunker than I thought.”

Rose frowned briefly. “Heal yourself then. It’s a basic healing spell.”

Right. I traced out [Branch of Healing] on my foot then watched happily as the message about my foot went away. The ground around me shifted from the decaying black to a brighter green.

“That seems to be doing a lot more than last time.” She nodded happily.

“Goes out at least ten feet,” Johnny added.

I beamed proudly, and drunkenly. These healing spells were more useful due to a higher path.

“Not sure we can take on any larger packs with StoneMason or some other tank.” Her comment dampened m mood.

“Right. I need to figure out how to get the dogs here.”

I guess it was time to put off naming them. Then I should get some sort of message telling me that all my summon skills and classes could be used with the druid and dog thing. Hopefully. If I had to search for my druid mentor in random dive bars across Arcadia, I might lose my mind.

“Need help? I know a lot about spells,” Rose offered.

My head shook. “No. I’ve had a few crash courses. I used to be a mage you know.”

“He was. He crammed a months’ worth of any sane game play into two weekends just to pass courses. Then he used all that to cast a summon spell that somehow ended with the mage’s college in NorthShire absolutely drenched in shit.”

“I was on a mission.” Like I was on a mission now. To figure out what my dogs should be called. Scout was a dumb dog name. Snowball and Shadow were also dumb.

“That was you?” Rose asked.

I shrugged and went back to names. Fetch might be a good name but none of them were chasers. We had one sort of leader dog. A slug. Two that were almost identical and might need matching names. Then there was the fifth dog, who I couldn’t even remember the details of. It would have been easier if it hadn’t been a few hours, a drunken bender, and a week of being out of game.

“Can’t believe you filled that tower with crap. I’d puled a few pranks in my first two months there, but nothing on that level.”

“You went to a mage college?” Johnny asked.

Rose shrugged but didn’t answer.

“Oh. You’re like Friday. Living in denial.”

“It’s a river,” I added happily.

The fifth dog finally registered. He’d been the one to shove his nose into every nook and cranny we went by during our first few hours together. Three boys. Two girls. The girls were practically glued at the hips so there might be something clever there naming wise.

“Come on. I thought we were going to fix this place! That should be easy enough for a rank whatever you’re at now.”

“Thing One and Thing Two,” I declared happily. Those were good names for the two sneaky puppies. Though they’d grown a lot in the week I’d been away. The game took them from puppies to a young pack of pestering pooches.

The system rejected my naming attempt. No reason beyond them being simply unacceptable.

I frowned. The dogs had personalities of their own, apparently. I’d never had an actual pet before, only companions which came with their names pre-generated.

They were set aside for later.

Rose put her hands on her hip. I looked up briefly from my screens of information.

“Well if you’re not going to get up and start killing stuff. I will. Come on DapperSeed. You can show me around and maybe we can rob this place blind before Friday gets his act together.”

Johnny chuckled then snapped his fingers in the air. “Honey, we could rob this game blind before well before Friday ever gets his shit in one sock.”

They were jerks. I was only stuck trying to figure out names. They wandered while I sat in the field a few dozen yards into the dungeon area. There were no monsters nearby, thankfully. Continue was kind like that. One of the studies I’d seen over the years cited that these Trillium games were more about what caused the player to respond rather than throwing endless hordes at people.

That meant if I wanted to craft, the game would give me chances at crafting. If I cared enough to make a city or defend towns, then I’d find myself in an area where that was needed. If I needed space to figure out dog names, the game would give me that.

I stood up and dusted myself off. The small icon meaning my foot gave me a limp had gone but I shook it anyway. Real life cures were so much easier than in reality. They’d been gone a few minutes and I’d grown no closer to figuring out names for my five animals.

I had managed to make my interface a bit friendlier. There were now five floating pictures of the dogs in front of me with blank name spaces. They spun a slow circle giving me a clear picture of their stance, color markers, and a sort of hierarchy. There was certainly a leader, and a sloth in the back.

“Dopey,” I said while pointing at the floating picture of the sleepy one. “Sloth.” The system bounced back both name selections. Apparently, I could reject names, but so could they. “Fuzzy butt. Hamster face. Brown. Spots.”

All rejected. Something nearby screamed in a high shrill voice. My back crawled and the urge to piss reached my bladder.

“I wasn’t bothering you!” I yelled at nothing while throwing both fists up.

Johnny might have been right when he implied, I’d never get my stuff together. He might have been right when he said I tended to develop crusades. A single cause to keep myself going. Real life gave me no chance to mean anything. A monkey could do my job, but in here I could make a difference. If only for a moment.

I lived for those chances.

The voice shrieked again, making my brain reset. It came from closer. Being the veteran of a dozen characters, I turned around slowly and focused on not panicking.

Sure enough, a ghostly girl floated in the air. Black thick hair. Fingernails that drug to the ground. As my brain took in those sights, the girl screamed a third time then vanished.

I wasn’t ready to die yet. My eyes drifted to the screen of five floating puppies waiting to be named. They were so annoyingly cute. Soft fur. Dopey grins. Tongues hanging out.

The brief pause made me lose track of what was happening. Ghost girl flickered near my face. My heart stuttered. Down I went, swallowing a sudden surge of saliva.

“Do not want!”

My hand waved through the air trying to trace out a healing spell. Green energy floated about catching nothing.

Sharp nails appeared, lodged into my calf. I stared at it a moment before pain wove through drunken fog. I screamed.

The girl’s face appeared again. Her hands were latched onto my leg. She jerked and I twisted to one side.

“No. No.” I couldn’t think straight. Each yank of her arms made my brain black out. Drunk instancing in full immersion had been a mistake. One hand pulled on the filthy ground. Groves appeared as I tried to pull away.

Despite out tug of war, the five pictures of dogs hung in front of me.

“Tug!”

Rejected.

“Help!”

Also rejected. I scrambled to cast a healing spell on my leg. Green flared and the fingernails stuck deep into my flesh pulled out. Pain vanished as the curative took effect.

The ghostly girl that moved too fast screamed again. Not as close. My head whipped around searching for her. It’d do no good to be caught like that again. I couldn’t think clearly when she was trying to remove entire chunks of my flesh or drag me to whatever hellish lair might await.

That shrike came again. I tracked out the healing spell on the ground. Blackened dirt flashed, and fresh grass spouted quickly. The ghostly woman appeared at the edge of my cured crown, distorted limbs in front of her face as a shield.

She didn’t like healing spells. That was a good sign, because it meant as long as my mana stayed, I had a way to survive. Dying wouldn’t help me. I needed to stay alive to solve this place and complete my crusade.

“Darn it Johnny,” I muttered. Having those two nearby would have helped.

Ghost woman screamed yet again. The air rippled with energy. I felt something push me backward until I rolled along the ground to an unclean area. The area I’d just left started to blacken again. I wove the spell on the ground then brought my second hand down to try and trace the spell twice.

Whatever it was, moved too fast for me to lay a spell on. My trick with the butler wouldn’t work this go around. I’d have to keep curing the dirt each time it made me tumble, and if I could figure out dog names during this, then I’d have a chance at fighting back.

One dog at a time. I focused on the last one.

“Sluggo.”

A red box got in the way. It vibrated as the banshee girl monster whatever yelled again. I managed to hold my current position in a dirty but living patch of ground.

“Theodore!”

That name sucked. The system agreed then denied me.

“Pizza!”

Rejection. On I went through anything that came to mind. Finally, I gave up and cursed, “Fucking I don’t care!”

The system rejected that too. Fading images from a dozen terrible names were hanging in the air obscuring my vision. My ears hurt from the endless yelling. A deep ringing drowned out everything else. I felt myself tipping to one side but couldn’t tell if I was moving. I’d had less problems in a war zone.

“Sleepy.”

A loud ding drowned out the next scream.

“What?”

Cold nails grabbed my face. I jerked to the side and fumbled to pull my staff out of inventory. Dog food fumbled out all over the ground. The monster paused in confusion. I traced out a fresh [Branch of Healing] then worked my other hand to form a lightning bolt.

“Bigger heals. I need bigger heals.”

Away she went, buying me a few more seconds of peace.

Learning new spells and using them out of reflex in the middle of combat wasn’t easy. Other people who were some sort of game ninjas might be able to but it took me hours to adapt to anything new. Being drunk didn’t help.

One dog accepting Sleepy as a name gave me a clue. The dogs might be like me, preferring names that were things rather than actually real. I went with my gut on what to call the twins.

“Ball and Chain!”

That worked. The girl dogs became a bit more solid on my floating screen and a second chime filled the air. That left me with two. The system was even kind enough to take my desperation as consent.

A small icon on my screen flashed. That should be a message. I didn’t have time to check it, choosing to cast yet another healing spell. My mana bar dipped further down. I had a real finite time limit despite all the recent Ranks in [Druid]. I’d have to give my character sheet an actual once over.

The monster yelled for the umpteenth time.

“Can you stop?” My eyes blinked tightly to try and remove the blurriness.

Two yells came back in response. One sharp and the other long and low. My ears popped and the world spun until my face slammed onto the ground.

I didn’t need to put up with this. One hand fumbled for the damn log out button. I could figure out dog names over a shower and some hot coffee instead of being harassed by some angry monster.

System Notice

Unable to log out during combat! Logging out while in a fight can only be completed in cases of physical stress. This is to preserve continuity of the virtual world. Imagine if everyone just walked away when things got a little bit tough. What kind of world would that be?

Now the machine was just being an asshole.

The ghost screamed at me.

“I have to pee,” I said. “And if you don’t let me out, I’ll just uninstall you.”

My interface frizzed for a moment. I swear the machine was considering its drive to keep me playing versus keeping me in. I should have been freaked out that the computer could do that, but let it slide due to excessive liquor.

The machine popped me out.

The joy of a real ten beer piss would have been even better, but I’d been in the game for a few hours before getting into fight with a single stupid ghost girl. I hadn’t been lying about needing to go to the bathroom badly. So what if it took me a few minutes to get myself sorted out.

At least real life didn’t have ghosts screaming at me. I had enough of those when sleeping, I didn’t need to be haunted in the game too.

“Getting old,” I muttered to a cramped basement apartment.

Before reality could drain me any further, I popped outside and walked around. I’d managed to figure out one name but didn’t like anything for the lead dog. He was the one to always get the others in order. He reminded me of my captain in a lot of ways. Perky, all teeth. He’d died when people burst through the door and fired on our squad.

I didn’t want to give a dog that name. Not to avoid honoring a man who’d probably saved us. But because it felt like an ill omen.

My brain rattled through a long list before I realized too much time had passed. If I wanted to get any more drinking done and make progress in this journey to cure the [Widow’s Children] setting, I’d need to face the music.

Back into the immersion device I went.

When I finished loading, Rose was in my face. She had new red earrings that glinted from a lantern held by Johnny.

“Hey.”

“Friday?” She tilted her head at me. “Your autopilot’s been fighting for like twenty minutes.”

“Oh.” I’d left the damn autopilot on again. There were all sorts of signs where my character had been healing the ground and getting knocked around endlessly.

“We ran as soon as we noticed your health dropping. Found you fighting a boss. She’s away for a minute. Or maybe more. She might be a monster that only attacks solo players.”

“That sounds about right.” There were all sorts of creatures in this game. A boss that attacked solo players and tried to frighten them to death would be about par. “She got in my face while I was trying to figure out the dog names, so I logged out and took a walk. Was easier to sort myself out.”

Johnny dug through his bag. He counted to himself and lifted fingers to help carry the one, or ten, or whatever number Johnny needed help adding up.

Rose seemed at a loss. Her mouth hung open slightly and the daggers in her hands were held loosely. Fighter trainers would have a fit seeing how slack she was treating them.

Finally, she got to the question. “You seriously logged out during combat?”

“Yeah. I don’t play this game to feel the rush of battle and thrill of the hunt.”

“Friday plays to get drunk and pretend real life doesn’t exist.” Johnny kept his eyes in his bag and stuck an arm inside. It disappeared into the depths without so much as a ripple. Two candlesticks overflowed and fell onto the ground.

Rose shook her head. “You’re not going to be able to solve this place without a fight.”

“Sure I can, but at my speed. Not being pushed by some computer program on steroids.”

“Still can’t believe you logged out. That’s got to be a mistake. It’s in the guide. You shouldn’t be able to log out during key events, or combat, until it’s resolved somehow. Otherwise everyone would log out the moment they were about to die and never suffer a forced lockout.”

We were in a glorified calculator. If I wanted to log out, the machine wouldn’t stop me. It rarely ever put a halt to anything I wanted to do. It simply provided hefty deterrents.

“It’s a game, and I had to pee.”

“It’s way more than a game.”

She may have a point. It was a way of life that let me drink without running a car into street lights. “Well it made my autopilot do stuff. Which I didn’t want either.”

Her face paled abruptly. Fingers flew across an invisible board as she typed at her interface. She slid around windows, likely searching for something or talking to someone.

This had happened before. People didn’t like how I played, which really was at my own speed. When the game got to be too much, I simply walked off. After twelve other Fridays I’d pretty much gotten it down to a science. I played mostly solo because I wanted to be able to walk away when I needed.

Guilds would mean obligations. Parties were much the same, but Johnny understood.

“You can’t just walk away,” Rose muttered.

I rolled my eyes and pulled back up the screen with my five dogs. The three from earlier were still waiting, while the last two were unnamed.

“Trap.”

The system accepted that too. I pondered my five choices. They were fitting for the animals, sure. What would happen if I warned others of a trap and Trap got confused? I remembered a bit about the military canines. Most of their commands were either in different languages, or more about tone and sharpness of orders versus word choice.

Dogs responded more to tone and body language than actual words.

“What names do you have so far?” Rose peered over my shoulder as if she might see my screens. Maybe she could.

“Ball and Chain for the girls. Trap for the one that sticks his nose into everything. Sleepy for the other one.”

“Those are terrible names,” Rose said.

Johnny nodded but kept digging in his bag.

I shrugged. “I drew a blank on the last dog. You got anything good?”

“Snowball.” She beamed.

“No.”

Rose paused and bit her bottom lip tight enough to make the skin go white. “Which one is he?”

“That one that puts all the others in line. I’d call him a alpha dog but that’s not really a thing.”

Her eyebrow went up. Johnny cheered briefly and pulled out a hat from his bag.

“Look! Loot. You still wear hats, right? Priests have them.”

The equipment looked ugly. Somewhere between half a burlap sack and a knitted cap. The colors were even worse.

“Also no,” I said.

Johnny sighed dramatically then the hat back and continued digging.

Rose shook her head and fingered the earrings again. “How about Sarge.”

The fifth dog lit up.

I nodded. “Alright. Now we’re getting somewhere.”

The dogs finally had real names. Not just “Guys stop biting my leg.” Sarge. Ball and Chain, though I wasn’t sure which one was which. Trap and Sleepy. They’d do as well as any other names.

Sure enough, once I pressed a final agreement button, options came up. Hunger levels, boredom, suggestions for activities, and even more options. I put those all to the side and searched through the spell book and found a summon spell.

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A note from FrustratedEgo

Thank you for reading this chapter!

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FrustratedEgo

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