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Maya emerged from her cell, which was one of dozens in the old, unused dungeon. Apart from the single faintly-glowing crystal illuminating the cell behind her, evening sunlight faintly reflected from the stone stairway at the end of the corridor provided the only illumination. She climbed the stairs and came out into a dilapidated castle set on a hill overlooking the city.

The view was breathtaking. She'd had a vague idea of the city being large, but seeing it from the outside really drove home how huge the place really was. And beautiful. The massive wall surrounded the entire circumference, though the city was really more of a lopsided rhombus than a circle.

She supposed the construction would be a more impressive feat on Earth than in a game, but it was still awe-inspiring to look at.

The city sprawled across the edge of a huge lake. Or was it a bay? She squinted, but couldn’t tell at this distance if it had a far shore.

Hills spread out on the city’s other sides with outlying homes, farms, and smaller villages spread throughout. She could make out the mage academy buildings from here, the glittering structures and Shardlord’s crystal spire glinting in the sunset glow.

She could see the beginnings of Windy Creek, though it was lost to view as it passed into the nearby forest, then came out again at the other side to meander down and join the lake/bay to the south. Farther north, she saw a few other villages along the mountain ridge, one large enough to be considered a town.

And she watched Rominian, a sprinting figure growing quickly smaller as he disappeared into the distance, half wishing that he'd offered to carry her back to the city. What he could cross in minutes would take her the better part of an hour. Or longer. She wasn’t a good judge of distance. With a sigh, she set off trudging back toward the city.

By the time she reached the mage Academy, the sun had set and the sky grew dark. It was a different guard standing watch this time and he squinted at her suspiciously.

"Just ask Shardlord or Trixy or Desi," Maya said preemptively, before he could refuse her entry. "That’s Trixyceratops and Desmerelda Phoenix. I'm sure a lot of people have seen me around, but those are the only ones I know by name."

The guard's expression made it very clear that he was unamused and disinclined to let her in. "Shardlord has far more important things to do. Trixyceratops is no longer online. And I haven’t met any Desmeralda Phoenix."

"That's fine," Maya said with affected nonchalance, raising her chin. "I think I've learned all I need to from the mage academy. If Shardlord doesn't want me, I have it on good authority that Domitius isn't as picky. Perhaps he'd be more welcoming."

The guard met her gaze and held it for a moment, then glanced away. "Fine. Go on in. Goodness knows we need the help more than Domitius."

Maya crossed the grounds to Sapphire Hall, admiring the way every building shone with light. The spire illuminated the entire area with a soft yellow white glow, while Sapphire Hall added a blue illumination to the area immediately surrounding it. The dining hall shown purple, and she saw other buildings with green or red glows of their own.

With everything lit up, Maya realized the colors were arranged in a sort of gradient circle around the central spire, with individual streetlights set in a slightly offset gradient. Teal would be beside blue, orange beside yellow, and so forth. Maya slowed her walk, turning slowly and admiring the effect. All the glows fluctuated randomly in brightness, lending another layer of beauty.

Once she reached her room, she spent another several minutes admiring the view from her window. The higher viewpoint gave another angle on the academy’s lightshow. Then Maya turned her thoughts to what she’d accomplished through the day.

She was pleased with her progress, but couldn't quite shake the feeling she was forgetting something. She'd talked to Rominian, found the mage academy, made new acquaintances here that she could see becoming friends. She'd met Shardlord, learned more about Domitius, and…

PVP! Of course! She still hadn't found anyone to lose to. Stinking Trickster and his crazy nonsense quests. She wondered what would happen if she one day just accepted the -100 luck and refused to roll his die. She was almost tempted to do it if for no other reason than that the Trickster was an annoying jerk and she didn't want to let him control her.

But she couldn't bring herself to. The class's benefits far outweighed its drawbacks, at least so far as she'd seen. She doubted she would have gotten past the guard at the archway at all if not for her luck. On the whole, the class seemed rather dramatically weighted in her favor. Her first roll of the day had a 50-50 chance of being positive, and given how powerful luck seemed in this world even +2 or +8 seemed to have a significant impact.

If her first roll was bad, she had an equally good chance at rolling positive second time, and even on the third or fourth attempts she'd have a better than 30% chance of coming out ahead even with the -15 or -20 debuff. She might never have to deal with an unlucky day at all, regardless of how at first glance the odds seemed stacked against her. And she was really looking forward to seeing what would happen on a day when she rolled a 40 or 50.

Maya forced herself to stop imagining a day in which everything went perfectly for her, dragging her thoughts back to her current conundrum. She wished she'd thought of asking Rominian about PVP. She'd been so flustered and unprepared by his unorthodox method of contacting her that all her important questions had gone right out of her head.

She sighed. At least she knew a little of Domitius's side of the story now. She strongly doubted that Shardlord's intention were as purely selfish as Rominian had implied. There was no reason to believe Domitius knew better.

It was easy to mis-ascribe faults to an enemy. A fan could easily convince themselves of their hero's good intent, and Rominian had followed Domitius from another game entirely. He was obviously not the most objective person to talk to. Though Maya couldn't deny that Shardlord's underlings certainly acted as though he had better things to do than speak to her. Then again, that didn't necessarily mean it was his attitude, just theirs.

In any case, lying in bed staring at the ceiling would only waste the few hours remaining to finish her second trickster quest. She may tell herself she didn't really care about what the Trickster thought about her, but Maya didn't like the idea of losing reputation every day with anyone. Especially someone with some degree of control over her future.

She stood and crossed briskly to the door. If she didn't know something, the easiest way to learn was to ask someone. She would start with the city guard. Not the grouch at the mage academy entrance, he wore Shardlord's colors and had already taken a dislike to her, but those in city uniforms had always been helpful.

Said grouch eyed her suspiciously as she neared the entryway, but then she had an idea. She pulled her Sapphire Hall room key from her inventory and dangled it in front of the NPC's face.

He glowered. "You could have led with that."

"Or I could see how easy it is to trick my way into a supposedly secure academy without it," Maya said haughtily. "You do a very poor job at guarding, if you'll let anyone in."

"I didn't let anyone in, I let you in," the guard blustered. "And you were clearly supposed to be allowed entry, so I haven't failed."

"Perhaps not yet, but with an attitude like that it doesn't seem far off in your future." With a satisfied grin, Maya gave him a little mocking wave and hurried past her way. Granted, her hurrying was still slower than most players' walking, but it was faster than her own walking.

Now that made her feel like a proper trickster.

The city guard was happy to direct her to the player arena in the southern part of the city, almost as far away from the mage academy as possible. The only major things further south were the docks. She hurried across town, keeping an eye out for landmarks and still getting lost more than once. She was incredibly grateful for the ubiquity of the city guards, otherwise she may have wandered until midnight without ever reaching her goal.

The night was fully dark and beginning to feel cold by the time she arrived in a part of the city that she could only describe as rough. It had a general aura of desperation about it which made her uneasy, though she didn't witness any untoward acts. A glance at her stats showed her will had decreased by 1, so this particular area of town clearly counted as dangerous territory.

The arena stood out starkly, a grand gleaming stadium of bright polished metal and glass. Well-kept outbuildings sat nestled among their dingier counterparts, further delineating the difference between the player arena and the surrounding city.

Bright light shone out from the wide glass doors, looking every bit a modern venue and quite out of place among the old-town quasi-medeival buildings surrounding it. NPC greeters welcomed her extravagantly and ushered her into a heated waiting room.

Several other players already sat around the waiting area. Two humans, an elf, and a felinis, all of whom were wearing armor and carrying weapons. It made her feel conspicuously out of place in her basic clothing. She kept forgetting to upgrade it. She'd have to make that a priority once she had some free time.

She crossed to the sign-up desk, run by a huge lizardine woman with deep purple scales who watched everyone in the room with a bored expression.

"I'd like to sign up to fight," Maya said as firmly as she could.

The lizardine NPC gave Maya a single glance over and scoffed. "Level 3? Really? Do you want to die?"

"I assume there are good rewards for beating high-level players, right?" Maia improvised haltingly. "After all, what do I have to lose?"

"You're assuming anyone will agree to fight you. You are aware that most players who enter the arena are at least tier 3 if not 4?"

"I don't care. I'd like to test myself against whoever isn't afraid to fight me."

The lizardine woman gave a hissing laugh. "At least you have the spirit for it. I'll put you down as a new challenger, but I doubt anyone will sponsor your matches. You can choose someone to challenge directly, but you'll have to sponsor yourself."

"Which is?"

"The fee is one silver per level. In your case, three silver. It's not much incentive, but you might get a desperate level 15 looking for easy pickings. It's halved if you're accepting a challenge rather than making it. And the amount you earn is one half your opponent's level or your own, whichever is lower."

"Who is the lowest ranked player available to fight right now?"

"That would be Jaydu." The registrar nodded toward the elf. He had a bow slung across his back, though Maya didn't see any arrows. It didn't matter. She was running out of time.

"I'd like to challenge him." Maya searched her money bag for her remaining silver. "I want to fight as soon as possible."

The lizardine nodded, made a notation in her ledger, then shouted, "Jaydu! Challenger."

The elf joined her by the desk, grinning at the lizardine NPC. He jerked his head at Maya. "Noob here is challenging me? Really? He crazy?"

"She," Maya said, but neither of them paid any attention to her. She set two silver on the counter, grimacing. She dumped out all her copper. 2s 65c. Not enough.

"I can't comment on the sanity of our contestants. But it's an official challenge. You takin' it?"

The elf continued grinning, handing over a stack of silver coins to the registrar. "Sure. I'll fight him."

"Her," Maya corrected. "I just took the androgynous shape for the stats. And she is ready to take you on. But she also can't quite afford the entry fee." She gestured sheepishly to her pitiful pile of coins. "I hate to impose, but could I borrow 35 copper?"

"Nah, I'll cover it. I'm not in it for the money." He added copper to Maya's pile, and the registrar gathered all their coins and dropped them into one of her desk drawers.

Area alert! At the second bell, players Jaydu and Maya Starborn will face each other in the arena! Get your seats and place your bets.

"How soon is that?" Maya asked, leaning towards her opponent.

"About fifteen minutes from now," Jaydu replied. "Having second thoughts?"

"No. Absolutely not. Though, um, mind explaining how this arena thing works?"

Jaydu laughed. "There's not really much to explain. Two fighters go in, one dies and respawns in the waiting room, the other walks out victorious. No points for guessing who will be which."

"Just wait," Maya said with feigned confidence. "I might surprise you."


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About the author

Asviloka

  • Just Add Magic!

Bio: I've been writing longer than I can remember, but only started taking it seriously around '08 when I discovered nanowrimo and started attending conferences. Since then I've written several million words of practice stories leading up to posting here starting in '19.

My goal is to continue to perfect my craft and find a way to make writing my fulltime occupation rather than an obsession pushed aside by the necessity of working to support myself. Whether that means traditional or independent publication, building a strong patreon following, or something else entirely, I have yet to discover.

I always welcome suggestions for improvement and gladly accept all feedback, positive or negative. Don't hesitate to let me know what you think, and please consider leaving a rating or review! :)

(If you're looking for my cover thread, it's at https://www.royalroad.com/forums/thread/110578 )

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