A note from Josh Bender

Got this chapter up before I take off and go into town.   It is quite a long one, and I think the next few chapters will be massive, with some of them being well over 6k.   I've thought about breaking some of them down, but decided against it, as I don't want to break up the arcs and the action.  

There may be a delay as I work over the next couple of chapters, and not sure if I'll post tomorrow as I'll be gone most of the day and not be back till late.

“GO!” He pointed to the center route, the green one. I ran forward, flooding power into my body from my core. My body trailed a shimmering blue haze of power and I felt as if I was running on air as I leapt and grabbed a handhold on the spinning wall at the entrance, letting it carry me forward.

I leapt from it, dodging a whirling wooden beam and then rolling to the side as I felt the spot I landed on beginning to give way. The trap door pattered open, but I was not there to fall down into the water, I was up and running.

Channeling power into my legs, I leapt out across a gap that I had to rock climb last time. Clearing it easily, I kept running forward. The maze shifted around me and rearranged. I paused and spun in confusion only for a moment before I had to dodge several flying balls of energy that shot out from crystals on a wall. Dashing forward, I awkwardly began balancing across a beam that was over the rushing water before jumping off it and grabbing a rope as the beam began to turn.

My core slowly drained as I pushed my body to it’s limit and beyond, feeling joy at my increased vigor. With a little bit of quick experimentation, I found that if I pushed just enough of the swirling white energy that pulsed just inside my barrier, I could power long leaps.

The solid blue of my core would refresh my weariness, but it quickly shrank if I drew on it too fast.

Obstacles flew past me, and I jumped and reacted on instinct. The falls that had been drilled into me only days previously let me roll and leap after I jumped. At one point, I had to fight a whirling practice dummy that popped up in front of me and I picked up a black eye and a few bruises. I counterattacked, using the blocks and strikes that Kirk had shown me, pushing power into the palms of my hands.

My lightning crackled when I grasped a thread of it out of my core and the little wooden shield the dummy swung for my battered face exploded into kindling. I ducked under the missing arm and kept running.

After I exited the corridor with the dummy, the maze shifted again and suddenly I found myself being bombarded from all sides with balls of energy. I had to jump, dodge and weave but nothing helped.

Each one made my entire body lock up with pain when they hit and I screamed and tried to push them away. Slowly a bubble of energy formed outside of me as I remembered the barrier around my core. I pictured it, except around my body and the barrier formed up into a shield.

The power in my core quickly shrank, like water being poured out of a glass and I sank to my knees, my world began to spin and my barrier shattered into shimmering vapor.

I came to outside the maze, with Kirk cracking smelling salts under my nose. “Very good run Nimue!” He shook me and had a wide grin on his face. I was surrounded by a massive crowd of people and I looked around, confused.

People were cheering and patting me on the back as I stood up. I felt my stomach go light, and my eyes brightened as I saw my time and distance. I was ranked third on the green maze.

“Next time don’t try to stay and endure a kill room though.” He laughed and grinned at me. I felt my heart leap when I saw honest praise in his face. He looked… proud of me.

The old woman Deidre walked up to me and nodded her head. “You have promise traveler. Take this, as your prize for reaching the top three of the novice route. Strive higher, and we will reward you again.” She handed me a glowing ten credit token.

I bowed my head in thanks in the way I had seen Kirk do with her a few times, and she beamed at me. “Thank you…” I said and stumbled over to nearby bench. As the other fishies ran into the maze, I sat back and tried to catch my breath. I felt drained, as if I had run all day, then been put through a blender.

I felt inside me for my core, and saw it was nearly empty, it’s feeble light pulsing weakly. I had to go find a spot to try and recover my power. For the millionth time I regretted the loss of my statuette.

There had to be a way to get a new one. I wondered if I could carve my own, or have someone make one for me. Would that even work? I would have to ask someone else who was a cleric.

Kirk followed me out of the maze entrance, and I told him where I would be. His eyes narrowed for a second before he shook his head. “You know that place is dangerous… be careful… I’ll come check up on you in a bit.” He said and trotted up the wall next to the maze and watched the fishies get wiped out, one by one.

I found my way to the now familiar fountain. It looked a lot different in the late morning light. I could see gleaming gold filigree on carved scenes along the sides. I could also make out more of the fine details on the statues. Studying, I paced around the statues, wondering if I would find my boss’s likeness among them. I didn’t see his statue anywhere. I did stop at one familiar figure though.

“Shango…” I breathed, recognition flooding into me as I recognized the squat man with the axe and lightning bolt. A smith’s hammer hung from a belt next to a tiny set of drums. I stared at details that I had missed on his tiny statuette on that altar by the lake. I smiled.

On a hunch borne out of that familiar instinct I had felt guiding me since I came to Endaria, I laid my hands on his statue and called out his name.

“Shango! Shango!” I chanted and suddenly I felt my hands being flicked off as the statue moved and he shooed me away. “Shhhh stop that!” He pleaded and I saw fiery red eyes staring at me as he leaned down. I backed up, tripping over my own feet and landing on my rear, my eyes wide in shock. It had worked!

“I can’t talk here for long, or the others will notice…” He whispered, eying the other statues suspiciously.

I quickly stumbled forward and kneeled at his feet to listen. “Take heed of your tokens of power and make sure you say your bedtime prayers!” he whispered to me and I frowned, confused. Looking back up at the statue I saw that it was back to its normal form and was no longer in possession of glowing eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, but the statue was just a statue again. I gave a frustrated grumble and found my spot next to one of the fountain’s waterfalls and folded myself into a lotus position and began to meditate. I slowly pulled power in, and this time I decided to take it easy, vivid memories of overdoing in the two previous instances fixed into my mind.

I spent about half an hour filling my core and just relaxing in the calming flow of meditation. When I opened my eyes, I wasn’t floating above the fountain, I was right where I was supposed to be. I let out a sigh of relief and laid back, dangling my feet into the cool water as I gazed up at the bright, but sunless sky and wondered if I could sunburn in this strange labyrinth. I felt a splash on my legs and sat up, gazing down into the fountain to see the strange creature that had come to my rescue earlier. She was staring at my shoes with interest.

“Pretty…” She pulled at the fabric of my lacings and I morphed them into flippers for her, to see her reaction. She gasped and her eyes narrowed at me.

“Oh! You part Naiad?” She asked curiously and I laughed and shook my head. “Nope… just have magic shoes.” I said and she nodded. “I can change my feet too!”

She stated and heaved herself up beside me, her fishlike lower torso vanishing in a very disturbing display of flesh morphing that made my stomach twist. Two childlike legs dangled into the water next to me and I saw her legs were blue-green and slightly scaled like the rest of her body. She kicked the water, splashing her feet with a squeal.

She grinned at me, her tiny fangs making her cute meter rise by several degrees. “Got a name munchkin? I asked and she nodded. “Ren… my name is Ren!” She stated proudly I nodded solemnly. “I will remember it! Not every day someone saves my life Ren. My name is Nimue. Nice to meet you.” I said and she frowned at me.

“Artemis wanted me to save you!” She pointed at a regal looking statue of a woman in armor, with a bow slung in a case over one shoulder. I nodded.

“So, they were watching me…” My voice trailed off, and I shivered as I realized I had probably picked the wrong place to draw attention to myself.

“They do watch you…” She intoned with a hiss and fixed a suspicious eye on one of the statues in particular. I turned to see what she was looking at and I swear I saw one of the statues shift slightly, it was a woman who was gazing into a bowl of water. “Iris… she sees all.” Ren said when I asked her about the god.

“Nimue! Where are you?” I heard Kirk’s voice call out, before he came around the corner of the fountain and caught sight Ren and me talking. The little creature let out a hiss and leapt into the water, vanishing into the depths of the fountain. I called out to her but she was gone.

“Dammit Kirk you scared her away!” I shrieked. He was frozen there, a look of shock on his face.

“Um… Nim, you do know how dangerous Naiads are right? Their poison alone…” He shivered and shook his head. I glared at him.

“Ren won’t hurt me, she’s a sweet little thing.” I argued and he rolled his eyes.

Kirk looked at me like I was insane. I shrugged my shoulders, and pulled my feet out of the fountain, standing up and stretching. “I leave you alone for an hour and I find you here making friends with venomous monsters…” He groaned and rubbed his face in his hands.

“She’s not a monster! I’ve fought monsters, and she doesn’t act like them!” I argued and he laughed.

“Do you think most of the things we fight aren’t intelligent? He asked and I shrugged. The monsters I’ve encountered so far usually behaved like mindless, or ravenous beasts. When I explained some of those incidents, he shook his head.

“Most monsters, especially the ones here in the labyrinth aren’t mindless beasts… they are intelligent and cunning. They have homes, cities, and villages in some cases. Some of them are also very organized and patient, they will stalk you for days, and lay ambushes.” He said and I felt my blood go cold.

“I don’t think Ren is like those, are there any dangerous monsters here in the hub?” I asked and he shrugged.

“Better to air on the side of caution and don’t get complacent. There is a barrier yes, but I doubt it’s infallible.” He scolded and I sighed, knowing he was probably right. I had considered the hub a safe zone but, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea for me to go exploring on my own.

When he saw my change of attitude, he did smile at me. “That isn’t to say you can’t reason with them… never heard of anyone reasoning with those underwater terrors like your Naiad friend, there but you can bargain with some of the creatures here in the labyrinth and even gain a few allies that will fight with you if they have something to gain.” He explained. I perked up at the thought of not having to kill every monster I encountered, and the likely very slim possibility that not everything in Endaria wanted to eat me or rip me to shreds.

“So you ready to run the course again?” He asked and I nodded quickly in excitement.

We walked back to the course, and this time I had a waiting audience. Kirk frowned when he saw the tops of the practice wall filled with both players and locals alike. “Ok… you are going to try something different. He smirked and pointed at a group of well thrashed fishies that were sitting on benches or heaped senseless around the area where the claw returned people, and the pool that flowed out of the maze was.

“Form a party, and run it as a team. I want to watch you. You can only pick from those players down there, no using fresh ones, or any vets, or any of the locals even if they beg to join in.” He instructed. When I looked at him dubiously, he narrowed his eyes at me sternly. “GO!” He smirked, in an expression of Kirk humor that I was growing to hate.

There were six fishies, two girls, and four guys slumped, sitting or in one case, still out cold on the ground around me as I looked them over. I knelt down at the player still out cold and saw she was breathing evenly, and snoring slightly. Confused, I looked over her body until I found a collection needlelike darts over her body at various points where her thick padded training armor didn’t stop them.

Placing my hands on her body, I gently pulsed my power into her, like I often did to myself when trying to sense where I was tired or if something was broken. I could actually feel the poison in her system, and found it was a mild sophistic. I pushed power into her, using some of my water energy to increase her metabolism and see if I could get her body to process it faster. It didn’t really seem to have a noticeable effect, so I looked over the others.

Kirk hadn’t indicated at all how I was supposed to convince anyone here to try and do a run with me. I suppose that was part of the reason he was testing me. I bit my lip for a moment, trying to figure out how to approach them before I thought of how Kirk approached everything and everyone.

“Get up all of you! I’ll heal you and we will run through as a group!” I barked out, putting a bit of a bellow in the command. One of the fishies fell off his bench in surprise before eying me warily and another just laughed and gave a snort of derision. “Piss off! You go run this stupid course if you want to, I need a break…” He said as he leaned back against the wall of the return pool.

I pointed up at the people watching me and my antics. “Do you want all of those people to think you guys chicken? Look at you! It’s like you don’t want to be here. Why don’t you just go and delete your characters? If you can’t even do the green course, how are you going to survive out there?”

I laughed at him and I saw his face go red. He pointed down at the girl who was starting to stir woozily, one of her friends was helping her up, and pulling out the little needles all over her body. “I don’t know who died and made you god, but none of us are going anywhere! So yea, piss off bitch!” He strode forward, legs shaking from fatigue and looked with concern at the girl.

I had to take a deep breath, and I could almost feel Kirk’s smug grin on my back as I leaned down and pushed energy into the woozy girl who was still trying to stand. I gave a slight pulse of my yellow sparky stuff to go with it, and she yelped and stood bolt upright, suddenly awake and alert. Rubbing her eyes, she looked over at me with a grimace. “Thanks…” She said and I nodded.

“All of us are fishies until we prove ourselves. Here is your chance! I’ll heal you all up, and we can run this course together. It isn’t important that we get a great time, only that we work together and show them what we can do!” I pointed to our growing audience and the man gulped. Someone in the crowd waved to him and cheered him on when I said that, and I saw his shoulders fall.

He shook his head and grumbled. “Ur freaking insane… none of us are little magical terrors like you, most of us don’t even have powers at all.”

He trailed off and one of the other guys, the one who had fallen off the bench earlier stood up and shrugged. “I’m game, but yea need someone to heal me. It’s not like any of us has anything better to do.” He chuckled.

I looked over their names. The one who had just spoken was named Brett, the girl who I had revived was named Lilly, and her friend was named Adriana. The loudmouth was one of the former player killers with a red tag over his head, and was named Gravedigit. I smirked at the oddball name.

He was a massive player who must have maxed out his bulk metric in player creation. The padded armor that most of the fishies wore, was a few sizes two small on his gigantic frame and he carried himself like he expected me to be afraid of him. He was also favoring one leg, and winced every time he moved. This kind of spoiled the act, but he did seem to be a bit wary of me even if he was trying the whole looming menace routine.

When I let a bit of power course up and down my arm as I cracked my knuckles he winced and backed up slightly, confirming that he knew exactly how much it would hurt if I zapped him. Not that I was stupid enough to do that, but evidently, he hadn’t witnessed a guardian vaporization yet like I had, or he wouldn’t even be slightly afraid of me.

“I’ll heal your leg, stand still.” I said, and before he could protest, I crouched down and placed my hands on the leg, sending my power into his body to try and figure out what the damage was. He had an injured knee. I moved my hands over the knee and gathered water from the nearby pool, floating it over to cover my hands and pushed my power into it as I held the glowing liquid over his knee. He gave a gasp of relief and cracked a smile at me.

“Ok…. You are actually really good at this healer thing.” He complemented me and I felt myself blush. When I was finished the knee, I worked on his shoulder, then I began to patch up the others. When I was finished, I saw the light of hope in their eyes and pointed towards the center path.

“This isn’t going to be easy, and we will likely make several goes at it. What are the different hazards you guys have encountered so far?” I asked, particularly curious about the tiny needles the girl had been knocked out with. It was something I hadn’t encountered before.

Two of the people who were lounging around waved me off and didn’t move, but my four listeners gathered around me as I began to try and organize them.

“I’ve seen practice dummies and those glowing ball things, lots of pit traps…” Brett said and one of the girls nodded.

“Watch out for needles too. I rolled all over those needles when I was diving under a spinning log.” She winced and I nodded.

“Ok what are your skills, any really fast or agile players?” I asked and the girl who had been filled with needles and her friend both nodded.

“We can use shadow magic to cloak ourselves.” Lilly demonstrated the technique, stepping into a shadow cast from one of the walls, and vanishing into it as if the shadow had eaten her. I could see a fuzzy outline of her shape, but it was as if it was covered in a black haze and unless she moved it was very difficult to see.

“We can also self-buff to a limited degree.” Adriana said and she gave a few hops, then I saw her body glow with power, and she did a standing flip that launched herself into the air about a meter. She landed, and took a deep breath and I felt the shadows around me pull towards her as she breathed and drew in power to replenish herself.

Gravedigit was impressed, but he did roll his eyes. “That’s not real magic, it’s just shadowmancy. I can buff too, but it’s the standard chi path from Mageos that everyone tends to use.” He said and I saw him breath in and out, closing his eyes.

He began to vibrate slightly and a red haze, much like I had seen around Kirk earlier gathered towards him dimly. He let the breath go and the haze left him as if blown out like a candle in the wind. I snorted, when I remembered complaints about having no magic. This sure looked like magic to me.

“Makes you stronger, and that sort of thing?” I asked and he nodded. “Yea, you can do it too, if you work on your character’s spirit properties. Has nothing to do with magi gifts, just like shadowmancy is just you making a contract with a shadow creature.” Adriana nodded.

“Yea, he’s right, what you use is elemental based and really rare…” She beamed at me and I sighed. This was becoming a bit interesting, but I had to move on.

“Ok… trying to get through the course we have to pass over the physical obstacles quickly, and we need people to scout. I could run the course by buffing myself, but my power would work best if I’m enhancing you guys. Brett nodded.

“Yea I don’t have any magic, or any of that stuff at all. I’m a crafter.” He let out a pained sigh when everyone turned to regard him with a bit of sympathy. “I was an… artificer or was just getting started as one. I don’t have any tools or ways to augment myself though, they took all my stuff when they threw me in here, and broke all my soulbindings.” He said and I nodded.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the wand, still in its case. I had taken the belt off earlier, and shoved it into my pocket before I had gone to bed. The case was still wrapped with the belt wound around it.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked, wondering if he could use it if it was a magical device. His eyes went wide and I saw him blink, and murmur something. “Yea… that’s a caster foci wand. That description… a unique item! I’ve never seen that metal before… and those enchantments…!” he said in wonder and his hands ran over it as if it was the holy grail.

“Can you charge it for me?” He asked me as he looked up with eyes wide. I opened the pouch and pulled it out. I had felt it drawing in my power the last few days, but it did feel like it was filling up slowly. I concentrated and let a flood of my power into the wand and its crystal pulsed and glowed with sapphire light, flecked with gold and white. Brett was mesmerized as he stared at the glowing lines of tiny script swirling around the wand as it blazed into life.

“Yea! I can see it can cast three different aspects of elemental power, and has several sets of enchantments to focus the power… how do you have three affinities anyways?” He asked me, incredulous.

“Donno, I think I’m strongest with water though.” I shrugged and kept charging the wand until I had given it about a quarter of my core’s power. It still felt like it had a way to go, as if that was just a drop in the bucket of its capacity.

“You know this thing is a unique item, and has a ton of enchantment slots on it!” He said excitedly and I frowned at him.

“You are going to give this back, if I let you borrow it right?” I said and he nodded. “Yea, I can swear by the seal if you want.” He said gravely, almost as if he fully expected me not to agree and I nodded, causing his face to take on an ecstatic expression. “Do it! I won’t require a blood oath but that will be good enough.”

“I swear by the great seal that I will return your loaned property when you ask for it back.”

And so witnessed!” I heard a booming voice that sounded suspiciously like the guardian from high above. We all looked up nervously.

“Ok…” I said in a shaky voice and he buckled the belt on twirling the little wand in his fingers, his eyes bright.

“The wand case has a recall by the way if you ever drop the wand. You can recall the wand to your hand or the case once every thirty minutes.” He stated and I grinned, remembering how I had suddenly found the wand in my hand when I had needed it. “Thanks… how do you know by the way?” He looked at me as if I was crazy.

“Er.. just use the item tag, when you read it. Anyone can tell basic properties, the only thing you may not be able to see is perhaps some of the advanced stuff like the types of scripting used in the enchantments, stability, and stuff like that.” I rolled my eyes.

“I don’t use the interface…” I grumbled and he let out a bark of laughter. “Ur an idiot then… seriously, it’s like tying your hands behind your back…” He said and when I frowned at him, he quickly shut up.

“I’ve done fine without the interface…” I said through gritted teeth, and I wondered not for the first time just what else I had missed out on.

“Are we going to run this or what? Gravedigit said as he stretched and cracked his neck, mentally fortifying himself up for the maze.

“Ok this is how it’s going to work.” I laid out a basic party theory for them. “The girls will scout, Brett will help against ranged stuff, try and blast those energy casters if you can. I’ll try to shield and heal ok?” I said and I also went over different expectations, such as Gravedigit using his long arms to try and boost Bret over obstacles. “Throw him if you have to! Use those muscles!” I smiled when Gravedigit flexed and grinned at me.

“I should be able to keep up while my power lasts.” I grumbled and Gravedigit shook his head. “Try and conserve your power, I’ll stay in the middle so I can help you through too.” He said and I nodded.

“What are you fishies waiting for, an invitation?!” I heard Kirk bark at us from the wall and I turned to give him a middle finger. I heard a few laughs from the wall but I drew a line in the dirt and dust over the cobblestones at the entrance. “Get ready!” I said and we crouched, I could see the spinning wall just past the entrance and we would all try to leap up and over it as soon as we entered the maze.

“Go!” I hollered and we took off.

We vaulted over the first wall, the two girls leaping past us, glowing with that dark shadow energy as they easily cleared the wall and scouted ahead. Gavedigit pushed himself up and over, then lowered his hand down grasping Brett’s wrist and launching him up and over the wall, he did the same for me and we fought our way through the first part of the maze without much difficulty. The two girls who were ahead of us helped us around traps, and triggered some of the more combative ones for us.

Brett’s command over the strange wand was nothing short of amazing. He could send streams of energy with it, or touch it to his body to refresh himself and get some stamina back. Once I saw him play with it a bit until he managed to form a ball of condensed water out of the rushing moat under us and knock a set of practice dummies off a narrow bridge they were protecting.

Eventually though, we began to get bogged down with the energy ball traps. Our group quickly learned that just returning fire wasn’t very effective, as it only disabled them for a few short moments. If we weren’t fast enough, they would start firing again.

One of the girls got wiped out when a blast of water flooded her off a ledge she was leaping up, catching her in mid-leap and sending her screaming into the drink. We lost Brett to a barrage of energy balls when my shield collapsed while I was covering him. This occurred in one of the same kill rooms that I had managed to wipe in earlier.

Gravedigit told me to just use him as cover as we ran for the exit that Lilly had found, as I weakly deflected the balls. I had discovered completely by accident that the balls of energy could be bounced off my fists if I charged them with power and gave them a good smack.

This didn’t last long, as I didn’t have as much of that sparkly stuff in my core as I did water or wind. Eventually Lilly got blown into a deep chute while trying to disarm a trap, and failing.

Gravedigit and myself were both wiped at the same time when we got stuck in a room that had glowing spikes, the walls slammed into us and the spikes paralyzed us both, leaving the claw to toss us back out to the starting area.

Kirk was waiting for us with a grin on his face. “Not bad, all of you… let’s do a review. Sit down and I’ll go through a few things with you.” All of us were tired, battered and bruised but we attentively sat down around him on the benches and he began.

“First what went right?” He asked us. There were a few snorts from us and I nodded. “None of us got seriously injured?” I asked and he shook his head.

“Most of you did your roles well, but that’s not what I noticed the most. You managed to adapt well to the different traps, and that is good. You need to learn to think on your feet and make quick decisions.” He said and turned to me.

“You’re the leader, and the most important thing that you lost was situational awareness.” He said and pointed to our two scouts. “They got way too far ahead, where the rest of the group couldn’t help them if they got into trouble. In a normal group most of you would probably be using short range com crystals to stay in touch if you have them. Here it’s basically line of sight.

Remember, no matter how good a scout you are, things are going to go wrong. The traps are very hard to avoid, especially if they are designed to trigger after a group comes into range.”

“Wait… so if they miss something…” I trailed off and he nodded. “Yes, if you take it for granted that they cleared the way, it can go badly for you. Always be ready to react and have a few quick defensive plans ready to go.”

We discussed the run in meticulous detail until the sky began to grow dim. Kirk finally called our little impromptu class to a halt. We had a large group all listening in and asking questions by the time we finished, nearly two dozen fishies, almost all of the ones I had seen around the practice courts.

“Right, tomorrow morning, I’ll see you all by the entrance. The council wants me to lead a salvage run, and I think I’ll take you all along with me.” He said and my eyes went wide as he smirked and I saw one of the locals grin at us and whisper something in his ear.

“Don’t you all die on me, there is a bit of a pool going on you guys, so I’m counting on you.” He declared with one of his Kirk smirks and most of us groaned. There were a lot of smiles and happy faces though. None of my little party looked at all disheartened from our run.

Brett returned my property, and I thanked him, and decided I’d charge it and let him use it when we were working together tomorrow. He was a real master at using the thing, and I was learning more about it just by watching him.

Gravedigit stopped me when he saw I was sneaking off, away from the rest of the group as they made their way towards the chow hall.

“Hey, come join us Nimue!” The rest of the party was sticking together and my heart swelled when I saw them turn to me, but I shook my head. “I’ll catch up later, I need to go meditate and recover a bit before I hed off to bed.” I said and he shrugged. “Well ok, and thanks for the run, was a lot of fun!” He said and cracked his massive knuckles as he trotted to catch up with Brett who was talking to the two girls.

Kirk stopped me as I passed the alleyway leading toward the abandoned section of the hub. “You should spend time and talk with people… I can see they make you nervous but, you have to be able to step up and lead Nim.” He looked disappointed for a moment before he took a deep breath and studied me carefully.

I felt my face go hot and I snarled at him, my blood burning in barely contained rage. “I didn’t ask to be a leader, why did you go and do that to me anyways? I thought it was just you and me? I thought we were going to be partners, not just part of a group or something.” I huffed and he frowned at me.

“What do you think I do as a trailblazer or a beater Nim?” He said, using one of his usual rhetorical questions, and before I could speak up, he explained a few things I had missed.

“As much as I scout by myself, I also lead groups. There is a very high likelihood I could in fact die or be incapacitated while we are leading a group, and you will have to take over as my second. You will have to step up and lead. That is just how it is, and if I’m leading any group, I pick the strongest second I can.” He growled and I looked down, my face burning in shame as my anger drained away.

“Sorry… I’m just not use to any of this…” I gestured around to the crowded hub around me.

“Er talking with people?” He asked and I nodded, my head held dejectedly.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, I know most gamers aren’t really people persons. You will just have to get used to it. Try to talk, make friends. It’s part of the reason why I play this game, to meet people and have fun. I bet if you try it, you will feel better with people to talk to.” He leaned back against the alley wall and gestured for me to go on.

“I don’t expect you to change overnight Nimue, but at least try… please?” He pleaded with a weak smile on his face and I felt my heart thrum when I saw his expression. He was disappointed in me, and I could feel it. I nodded and felt guilty as I ran off to hide at the fountain.

A note from Josh Bender

Well hope you enjoyed this extra-long chapter.   This one was 6184 words long, not quite a record for me in chapter size but it's probably one of the larger ones.  As always, if you liked the chapter toss a line, as I always check the comments section.   

I will probably figure out a way to break this one down in a rewrite someday, but for now you guys get to enjoy a few very long chapters.  The next few are quite long as well.  

About the author

Josh Bender

Bio: I've been writing for nearly as long as I've first laid eyes on a word processor. In the last few years, however I've begun to focus on longer works and less short stories, etc. I have three complete books I'm currently revising in my Infernal Engineers series, and one spin-off project: Sky Drifters.

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