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Chapter [29]: Northbound

A throbbing sensation filled Tucker’s head, pressing against the back of his eye sockets. He sucked in a ragged breath, feeling that stinging sensation that normally accompanied accidentally inhaling water into his sinuses.

Tucker’s head hung down towards the ground as he struggled to lift himself up and remain steady on his hands and knees. All of his limbs trembled, and a wave of anxiety coursed through his nervous system.

His nerves twitched systematically, flexing and pulsing as if each piece of his body was being reset. Every part of him seemed to be coming into focus on its own, as if he had been melted down into a vat and then reformed by a 3D printer.

Each breath raked through his lungs violently.

“W-what the hell w-was that?” he stammered.

His eyes widened as text appeared between his face and the rocky ground.

You have been respawned. Additional information is now available in your Codex.

“Respawned?” Tucker muttered. At first the word seemed completely out of the blue, as if it were the last thing he expected to hear. But then it all returned to him.

Of course! How could I be such an idiot? Enoch had said something about dying in Acaedia. I didn’t expect it to be so painful and jarring…

He tapped on the floating text and a longer explanation unfolded.

Your journey through Acaedia is not without risk, though with the aid of Healing Magic and Potions it can give the adventurer the illusion of being immortal. This is a false sense of security. When your HP meter reaches zero, you will be respawned to a location apart from your last encounter - granted that you still have an additional life to use.

Adventurers may carry a maximum of three lives as they explore and tackle various quests and challenges. These lives are listed in this Codex and are a valuable commodity. Once lost, the number of lives is revised to reflect the usage. Once all the lives are used up, the adventurer forfeits their journey and their freedom, becoming a possession of The Ancients.

All is not lost, however, if one finds themselves with only a single life remaining. Additional lives may be purchased at various specialty shops throughout Acaedia to replace lost lives. These do not come cheap, however. A single life can range in price from 5,000 to 10,000 gold pieces. If you find yourself with a shorter lease on life, it is worthwhile to do smaller tasks to earn enough gold for replenishment.

Best of luck!

The text disappeared and Tucker found himself still shuddering from the respawning process.

After a few moments he managed to push himself upright and he sat back against what appeared to be the stone wall of the cathedral above Knawbone Crypt.

“At least I’m above ground…”

What was more, his HP had recovered, though not completely. He only had half of what his meter usually held, which was nine points. Tucker supposed that only gaining half of his health was part of the trade-off for getting a second chance at life.

Respawning was horrible. Tucker didn’t like it before it happened, and he certainly didn’t like it after having experienced it. Colton was probably still clinging to life down in the catacombs, ready to make an escape. Tucker had a notion in the back of his head that he should have just finished the man, but he wanted Colton to answer for his crimes so that the local farmers could dish out justice as they saw fit.

At any rate, Tucker was just happy that he hadn’t been respawned in the thick of battle. Realizing that he only had a limited number of lives, and not enough money to afford to replenish them, gave him a new sense of determination. Up until this point he had been merely exploring. It was like a vacation, being in Acaedia - albeit a vacation where giant insects and crazy monsters threatened to pulverize him into dust. But, for all the fun that he had been having, Tucker had lost sight of what his real mission was: To return home and get Vinny out of his and his mother’s lives for good.

It was a thought that made Tucker grimace, which was the thought that if he was back in the real world right now, Vinny would be like Colton; a man set on taking advantage of all those around him.

Tucker couldn’t let that continue, which meant that he needed to take this journey through Acaedia seriously now.

If he were to die forever in Acaedia, who knew what would happen to him? Would he become Enoch’s slave? What about his mother? Would she be left alone to live with a controlling spouse?

Tucker growled in disgust.

That’s never going to happen, he thought to himself.

He didn’t even know how far along he was on his journey to get back home. This might just be the beginning of a much longer journey. If that was the case, two lives remaining didn’t seem to be very much. He needed to stay on his guard and not be killed again.

“Stop being stupid and making stupid decisions!” he muttered under his breath. “When there’s a job to do, just do it. Ugh.” For a brief moment the image of his brother, Richie, flashed in his mind.

Tucker berated himself for a few minutes.

Richie wouldn’t have shown a piece of trash like Colton any mercy. He would have just finished the man and rescued the girl. Because of Tucker’s weakness, he had failed to do either of these tasks - though he had completed the quest before being taken down.

Checking his Codex, he was relieved to see that the farmer’s quest was still marked as completed. With any luck, the mysterious mage girl down in the crypt was still unconscious and unable to do any more magic. But, she was still at the mercy of Colton.

In addition to the quest remaining complete, Tucker saw that his XP was still at the same level as it had been after finishing the quest. There was just a sliver to go before he reached Level 4.

It would only take a few brief attacks to level up. Then he would be more powerful, and also unlock a new ability.

“But, if you’re going to level up,” he told himself, “then you need to take things way more seriously than you have been. You want to be a powerful mage? Then start acting like one!”

The time for mindless, naive exploration of Acaedia was over.

It was time to put an end to Colton’s reign.

He got to his feet and came around the corner of the cathedral, back through the stone gates and into the cemetery.

Shenna, who was still crouched by the opening to the crypt entrance, started as the she caught the sound of Tucker’s feet across the dead grass. She stood straight up when she recognized him.

“Tucker?” she said. “What are you doing up here? I just watched you go down into this tunnel!”

“I...came up through a different exit,” he answered, covering for the fact that he had just been respawned. After all, he was the only person in Acaedia who knew that he was playing a game. Everyone else assumed that he was a normal being of flesh and blood, like them.

Of course, he was still flesh and blood as far as he could tell. But, he wasn’t the same as the people that populated this world. If Shenna were to die, Tucker had a sneaking suspicion that it would be for good. She didn’t get three strikes before she was out.

He couldn’t let her know that he had three lives - at the moment, two lives - left to live.

“Are you alright?” he asked. “Did anything strange happen while I was down there?”

“It’s all been quiet up here,” Shenna answered. Then, “How did it go? Did you catch Colton?”

“I found him at least. We had a battle, but I had to retreat. He’s still alive down there, but I think he’s just barely clinging to life. If we can get back to him before he escapes, then we can take him alive. Then he can be brought to justice and answer for his crimes. I think he owes the farmers that closure, at least, even if their crops can’t be recovered this season.” He took a breath, wondering if he should elaborate on the girl chained in that tiny chamber, but fate did the deciding for him.

A painful scream floated up through the grate in the ground, unmistakably belonging to the girl. Then, as if she were being struck hard by something, the cry was silenced.

Shenna’s eyes widened and locked onto Tucker’s.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Tucker’s brow lowered over his eyes.

“Colton’s not alone.”

He reached down and grabbed his sword.

“I know you don’t want to,” he said, “but you better come with me.”


The journey back through the crypt was relatively painless.

Tucker was pleased to see that each of the enemies that he had defeated earlier were still dead. It would have been a pain in the ass to go up against each of those enemies once more, and worse, to drag Shenna into it.

Though he was relieved, Shenna on the other hand was shocked at each enemy they passed by.

"Am I really seeing this right now?" she asked as they made their way through the chamber containing the shriveled body of the Ancient Speaker.

Tucker didn't make too big of a deal about it.

"I wasn't fooling around down here," he said. "This place definitely kept me busy."

Shenna continued following him with a disquieted look on her face. Tucker couldn't figure out if she was afraid for her own safety, or if she was impressed with how much he had accomplished. After all, he had come a long way since she had helped him skin the Howland on his way to Sorrell.

They continued onward, through the passageway containing the insects, and finally arrived at the doorway to the massive chamber where Colton was holding the young mage girl hostage.

The man, who was still very much alive, was spotted almost instantly. He remained at the top of the platform where he was dragging the mage girl, who was still unconscious, over towards the wooden table which contained his ledger and the other assortment of books and documents.

Tucker wondered why he was dragging the girl at all, since her legs were still chained to the floor within her tiny prison chamber. They clinked as he dragged her, heavy and rusted.

"There he is!" said Shenna. Then her eyes registered Colton's victim. She frowned. "But, who is that he's dragging?"

"That's the mage who has been tampering with everyone's crops," answered Tucker.

It was a simple answer, and yet Shenna had a hard time believing it.

"Are you sure?" she asked. "She's just a girl! And a young one at that."

Tucker knew exactly where Shenna was coming from, and he had been just as disbelieving when he had come across the scene. But the truth was the truth.

"That's her," he said. "I saw her performing magic with my own eyes. She's much more powerful than she seems on the surface, and she even knocked me down a few times with her magic. I couldn't communicate with her, however. She was speaking some form of language that I couldn't understand. I don't know if she was under a trance, or something else was going on. But, I do know this. Colton has her under his control."

"But, how? If she really is as powerful as you say, why can't she use her powers to escape?"

That was the part that still eluded Tucker. He had already ran through a bunch of scenarios in his mind before, but whatever definitive answer there was would have to come from the girl herself. And that couldn't happen until she was rescued from Colton's grasp and revived. Preferably this would all happen without being further injured by the girl.

"My guess is that her magic is very specific. Certain spells carry very specific uses. Something tells me that her magic is more elemental, considering she is able to tamper with nature so easily. It's powerful, but ruining crops is not the same thing as breaking apart iron chains. Even I cannot do that with the magic that I have."

Up above, Colton continued to drag the girl until he had propped her up against one of the table’s wooden legs. Her head lolled to the side, her mouth drooping open slightly.

Colton hadn't noticed Tucker and Shenna yet.

"So, what do we do?" Shenna asked.

Tucker clenched his teeth together.

"We put an end to this," he said. "I'm not playing around anymore."

Colton had just straightened up and was going through the books on the tabletop when Tucker stepped into the chamber completely. The man still had no idea that Tucker was there, and that was the way that Tucker liked it. It gave him a chance to charge up a massive attack of Frostbite.

After twenty seconds, Tucker held up his hand and aimed directly for the man's chest. It was the largest target, and with a breath, Tucker released the attack and sent it hurtling through the air at Colton.

The effect was instantaneous and satisfying.

Colton was blasted off of his feet as the frostbite struck him, creating an explosion of ice, as if someone had thrown a cup of hot coffee on the man in sub zero whether and the liquid froze on him immediately. He was barely able to cry out before he tumbled backwards through the air, trying frantically to wave his arms, but being unsuccessful since they were now frozen into place. He plummeted like a statue until his back hit the stone platform. A sound like shattering glass filled the chamber and tiny shards of ice glittered in the air before clinking back down around the man.

Tucker was pleased to see that not only was Colton immobilized, but that his HP meter had dropped to a mere two points.

That was more than enough to immobilize the man.

Shenna looked over at Tucker with a grin.

"Nice shot," she said.

Tucker felt his cheeks go red, but he really couldn't accept the praise the way that he would've liked to. In reality, this is what he should've done from the beginning. There was no more fooling around.

Tucker motioned to the stone steps.

"Go check on the girl," he said. "I'll take care of Colton."

Shenna hurried off to do what she'd been told while Tucker walked over to the stone wall and retrieved the yellow-gemmed staff that belonged to him. He was pleased that it had not disappeared into oblivion when he had been respawned. It was lying in the vicinity of the area where he had been taken down.

He had no intentions of losing such a valuable artifact again.

With the staff in hand, he made his way up the stone steps. At the top, Colton was shivering beneath the weight of the ice that encased him.

The Frostbite went from his shoulders down towards his stomach, and try as the man could, he was unsuccessful at rolling over or even sitting up. It was like watching a turtle on its back trying desperately to roll over, but finding it impossible.

This was just as well in Tucker's opinion since it made it easy for him to approach the man and prepare to do what he had to do.

Colton's breathing shuddered as his eyes registered Tucker standing over him.

"You?" he said. "I thought I killed you!"

Shenna glanced over at Tucker when she heard this, but Tucker did not return the look. Instead he held the staff in one hand and brought the end down beside Colton's head. The man jumped at the sudden sound of wood against stone.

"Surprise, then," said Tucker. "I'm alive. And I'm going to finish what I started."

Without wasting another moment, Tucker brought the staff up into the air and then swung the heavy end at Colton's face, knocking him across the jaw with a crack and rendering him unconscious.

A flash of light filled Tucker's vision and, to his surprise, his XP meter filled completely. What little experience he had left to gain in order to level up had just been earned.

Congratulations! said the white text that floated in front of his vision.

You have reached Level 4. 1 Experience Point has been added to your Codex. Additionally, there are new abilities available for purchase. You may browse these at your leisure.

Tucker felt his breath catch in his throat.

He had finally made it! He had progressed to Level 4! This felt like it had taken the longest amount of time, and in truth it had. But he had made it.

The XP meter in the upper right corner of his vision was now back to zero, ready to be filled in with the new experiences that lay ahead of him. He was certain that to reach Level 5, it would take much longer to accomplish. That was how things were in all the RPGs that he had played.

But, for now it was a time to celebrate how far he had come since he first fell into Acaedia.

He was also pleased to see that his health meter had increased.

Instead of 18 points, he now had 22 points at his disposal. This was a considerable increase, and he wasn't going to take any of it for granted. As it was, his health bar had filled up completely. In the future he planned to stock up on elixirs so that he wouldn't ever run into a case where he would be respawned again.

"Tucker," said Shenna suddenly. "Get over here, quickly! She's coming around!"

Sure enough, when Tucker came up beside Shenna and crouched down next to her, the mysterious major girl was waking up.

She groaned, bringing her hands up to her face. Her eyes slowly slid open, but she didn’t seem to register Tucker or Shenna at first.

It was only after Shenna reached out a hand to touch the thick chains around her ankles that she reacted, pulling away like a feral cat.

“Naaaaaiiii!” said the girl, bringing her arms across her chest in a protective way. There was nowhere to run to, however, so she pressed herself against the farthest part of the table that she could, shuddering.

“Don’t worry!” said Shenna. “We’re not here to hurt you. We’ve come to help you. It’s alright…”

The mysterious girl’s eyes never met theirs as Shenna comforted her. She couldn’t touch the girl at first - only crouch nearby. But, after a few minutes of coaxing and reassuring, the girl was finally won over. Tucker was relieved. He didn’t fancy going up against the girl’s force fields once more.

Shenna glanced over at Tucker.

“She’s terrified,” said Shenna as she held a comforting hand on the girl’s arm. “She won’t even look at us.”

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” said Tucker as he moved closer to examine the girl’s face. “She’s not looking at us because she can’t. She’s blind.”

“What?”

Sure enough, even waving a hand in front of the girl’s face received no reaction whatsoever. Her eyes barely moved, and on closer inspection, they had a gray haze filtered over them.

“No wonder she’s so terrified,” said Shenna.

“And I think that now we know how Colton was able to take advantage of this poor girl so easily. She couldn’t find her way out of here on her own even if she tried. Here. Take those chains off of her.”

He had grabbed a small key ring out of the pocket in Colton’s shirt and handed the keys to Shenna, who set to work unlocking the restraints.

Finally the girl was free.

She drew her legs up against herself and hugged her knees, resting her head against them. Her dirty hair fell like a veil across her face.

“So, do you know anything else about her?” asked Shenna. “Did she say anything?”

“Oh, she said a bunch of stuff,” answered Tucker. “Just not in any language that I could understand. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about any of the languages in Acaedia besides the one that I can speak, so if you can figure out what she’s saying, then you’re way ahead of me.”

This got a slight smirk out of Shenna.

“I’d say we’re on even playing fields. I don’t know any other languages, either.” She took in a deep breath, held it, then sighed. “So, what do we do?”

Tucker nodded at the mage girl.

“We take her with us, along with Colton. We can get the girl cleaned up while we try to figure out who she is and where she came from, and as for Colton...well, he can be detained until it’s time for him to stand trial for his swindling. Does that sound like enough of a plan?”

Shenna grinned.

“Sounds good enough to me. I’ll help the girl if you want to carry Colton?”

“Oh, I see how it is!” said Tucker as he watched Shenna take charge. “You’re taking the easy one and giving me the heavy one?”

Shenna wasn’t fighting over it, but she kept her grin as she replied, “Stop complaining and get to work, orc.”

This would be easier said than done. Still, it felt good to joke around with Shenna after all the seriousness of the final battle. Tucker supposed that it was for the best that he handle Colton, since it was his job to make sure that the man remained in custody.

He was just crouching down to grab the man beneath the arms and hoist him into the air when Shenna suddenly gave a shocked gasp. Tucker turned towards her.

“What? Are you alright?” he asked.

Shenna was standing with the mage girl now, guiding her by the arm, but her attention was on the arm that she was holding to support the girl.

“Look at this!” she said, nodding to the upper arm. Tucker came closer and was surprised to see what appeared to be some kind of branding beneath all the grime caked on the girl’s skin. It looked like a single vertical line that stretched upwards, then at the top, it branched into four separate lines.

“What is it?” asked Tucker.

Shenna looked at him as if he should already know the answer.

“It’s the sign for the Order of the Mages.” She examined the symbol with delicate care before adding, “I don’t understand it. Mages don’t brand themselves. This couldn’t have come from them, could it?”

Tucker pressed his lips together, then replied, “At this point, nothing surprises me. The only way to find out is to investigate for ourselves. Where is the Order of the Mages?”

“Not anywhere nearby,” said Shenna. “They are up north, up in Baelinor.”

White text appeared in front of Tucker just as the words finished spilling from Shenna’s mouth.

Investigate Trouble in the North.

This wasn’t the first time that he had seen this quest option pop up. He sighed.

“Looks like everything’s trying to push me northward,” he said. “So I guess that’s where I’m headed next.”

The statement gave Shenna pause, and she gave Tucker a look of concern that he hadn’t experienced since tumbling into Acaedia.

“You’re not thinking of going alone, are you? That’s a treacherous journey.”

“I’ll go alone if I have to,” answered Tucker sternly, completely embracing his new mission to defeat whatever trouble came across his path. “It’s my job as a mage to challenge the darkness in the world…” He let his voice trail off, then glanced at Shenna. “I wouldn’t mind a guide, though, if one were available.”

This got a smile out of the corner of Shenna’s lips.

“I might be able to scrounge one up. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

The two of them started for the stone steps, with Shenna helping the girl while Tucker hoisted Colton over his shoulder. Tucker couldn’t wait to be back up top in the fresh air.

He was just reaching the edge of the stairs when he noticed that, ahead of him, the mage girl was clutching something in her fist. She lost her grip on it for a moment as Shenna went to guide her down the steps, and Tucker saw that the object was a small piece of folded paper. It fluttered through the air and landed in front of Tucker’s feet with a soft tap.

“Huh?” said Tucker, laying Colton back down on the ground so that he could pick up the paper. “What’s this?”

“Hmm?” said Shenna.

Tucker held up the folded paper.

“The girl just dropped this.”

Shenna stopped on the steps, brushing her hair out of her face, as Tucker unfolded the tiny paper.

“Is it a note?” she asked.

Tucker’s eyes were greeted by a single word, written in red ink, as he held the paper between his fingers.

His jaw dropped and he took in a sharp breath.

“Th...this is impossible…” he muttered.

Shenna frowned.

“Tucker, what is it? What’s on the paper?”

She reached out and took the paper from him, reading it for herself. She spoke the word aloud.

Mage_Bate47? What is this?”

She handed the paper back to Tucker, who stood rooted in place. He suddenly felt very cold and his arms and legs trembled.

“It’s a username,” answered Tucker. “Belonging to my brother.”

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About the author

gtvManager

Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.

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