I've never been good at dealing with things that are out of my control. When I graduated from high school, there wasn't anything I really wanted to do with my life, but the cold reality was that if I didn't find a job of some sort I wouldn't be able to eat.
So rather than fight the harsh realities that I didn't like, I ignored them and enrolled in college. Nothing too competitive, mind, just something to pass the time. It made my parents happy, at least, even if they couldn't afford any of the really good schools.
Then I graduated college, and the same unfeeling world was waiting for me once more. Fortunately, during college I'd gotten into streaming my play sessions and had somehow managed to drum up a decent following online. I might not have had any life goals or whatever, but at least I enjoyed streaming, so I figured hey, why not try it for real?
And it worked out! Mostly. I mean, my parents were paying for a good chunk of my student debt, and I wasn't exactly living in the heart of luxury, but I was able to afford my own space by moving to a smaller town out away from the big city and I had enough money to put a little food on my table. Nothing in savings, and I kept telling myself that I should open a retirement account one of those days, though I wasn't sure what exactly I would put into it.
But I had something, diddle it! It might not have qualified as a dream or aspiration or whatever bull-scribble my school guidance counselor liked to spout, but I enjoyed streaming most of the time, and I was lightening people's days a little.
Looking back, I think dying when I did might have been a blessing in one way. Interest had been waning in my stream, and although I was trying everything I could to keep people's attention, ultimately the internet was a fickle, heartless place. It was only a matter of time before something newer and hotter stole enough of my viewers away that I wouldn't be able to pay rent.
It's just…there's only so much that I can do, right? When you aren't particularly ambitious, when the odds are stacked against you and you'd take that one golden opportunity if it ever came your way, but it's never coming your way because that's not actually how the world works…well, flick. How do you even deal with that?
I dealt with it by distracting myself, by ignoring what made me uncomfortable and just enjoying myself as best I could in the meantime. And I guess that was a decent enough response. I mean, I wasn't hurting anyone. What else could I do?
I'd found myself reminiscing, and I couldn't delude myself: it was because my feelings back then were exactly what I was feeling right now. I could see the disaster looming ahead of me, but just couldn't see any way around it. The assets I had on hand had been reduced to practically nothing. The game systems that I was starting to exploit had transformed into shackles now that we were outside of the areas with difficult scaled to our level.
There were a couple differences this time, though: I'd already lost everything once, and this second time around I wasn't alone.
Ever since I'd entered this world, Lucy had been there. Sure, she was aggravating a lot of the time, but for better or for worse my world literally revolved around her. In the beginning I'd been shackled to her, but somewhere along the way I'd started rooting for her, and now I found that I wasn't just unhappy because I felt like I personally had been screwed: I was unhappy on Lucy's behalf. I'd seen her grow from an accessory to that duffle RayBanz into someone who held her own and proudly went her own way. When every other person and personified computing system had treated me as an oddity, aggravation, or something worth studying, she'd given me comfort when I needed it, and always seemed to care at least as much about me as she did about playing the game.
And now because my situation had the potential to expose some of the awkward secrets being kept by Witchy, we both had been shunted off into this purgatory. It was infuriating.
I needed to shake off the maudlin mood I was in, or I was going to either drive myself nuts or suffer apoplexy. Fortunately, Lucy was there for me, as always.
"What do you think, Fluff-kins? Should we give that first pair of monsters another shot? I've been thinking things over, and I've got an idea for how to finally take them out."
Oh? Do tell. My only real idea was grinding the lower leveled mobs until we'd hit a high enough level that she could tank a hit or two, which didn't really address the fact that they were way nastier than anything else in the area.
We were perched in a tree right at the border of the patrol route for the first two monsters who had messed Lucy up so badly time after time. I still couldn't believe Lucy's plan, and was pretty sure we were headed for a fast respawn, but on the other wing…I was kind of looking forward to this. It was certainly a very different strategy than any we'd tried before.
As she had done in the past, Lucy waited until the first monster prowled past our tree and away through the underbrush. A bit later the second approached, but instead of jumping down to engage it, Lucy shouted to grab its attention, and then wound up for a hammer strike in the tree.
The monster turned its red eyes our way—it was almost directly below our tree—and I could have sworn there was a look of confusion on its face.
That confusion was bound to be compounded soon enough, because without budging from her spot in the tree Lucy swung her hammer down with the telltale beginning ice crystals of an Icy Grip attack sloughing off into the air.
Of course, the monster was almost ten feet beneath us, so as it stood up on its hind legs to try and attack Lucy, she let go of her hammer and it went hurtling like a rocket through the air, trailing ice, to crash into the upraised head of the monster in an explosion of frost.
The monster toppled backward, and Lucy jumped out of the tree, following her hammer down to crash bodily into the monster.
I flew after as fast as I could, hoping to avoid getting thrown around by the invisible barrier.
I couldn't believe that worked.
"I think our problem is that we don't have any ranged attacks," Lucy had told me during our planning session. "But I was thinking: what if I could fire off an Icy Grip and just throw the hammer at the same time? That should slow down the monster a bit, do some damage, and give us a chance to give it a good old-fashioned pummeling."
I'd given her a deeply skeptical look, and she'd laughed and ruffled my fluff. "Aw, come on. It's not that bad an idea, is it?"
I had to admit it had more promise than my idea of grinding, particularly given how infrequently she was playing. It would certainly be a lot more exciting, come what may.
Of course, that wasn't the end of her plan.
Lucy grabbed ahold of the monster's neck as she slammed into it, but didn't try to stop her fall completely. Instead, she was whipped right around it by her own momentum, taking the two of them straight to the forest floor where Lucy immediately started punching the monster repeatedly anywhere she could reach, but especially in the eyes.
The thing screamed in rage, and started scrambling at Lucy with its claws. Thankfully, they couldn't quite reach around its neck, and she was able to get through the assault with only minor scratches. I wasn't able to look much beyond that, however, because I had my own job to do.
I had flown straight past Lucy and landed awkwardly on the haft of her hammer. Fortunately, it hadn't fallen too far away from the monster, or I'd have been unable to reach it at all. I grabbed it in my talons, and laboriously started to make my way into the air.
Meanwhile, the monster had apparently given up on clawing at her, rolled to all fours, and was now trying to rear up. I wasn't entirely sure if that was because it was trying to buck her off, or if it was just part of its combat routine. It certainly wasn't actively bucking, so probably the latter.
Through the forest, I could see the second monster tearing our way. We had bare seconds until it reached us.
Guess this was high enough, then! Cheeping madly, I dropped the hammer roughly above the first monster's head.
It fell, awkwardly rotating out of alignment, and my heart sank. I'd messed it up; instead of clobbering the thing on the noggin, it was going to glance off its chest.
Somehow, Lucy got a hand free, snagged the hammer out of the air, and pushed off the monster to land behind it, staggering to keep her balance. As it snarled and spun her way, she whipped the hammer all the way around, redirecting its momentum up and over her body as it got mostly behind her, and activating her second Icy Grip attack just in time to slam it straight into the charging second monster.
Ice sprayed everywhere, both monsters taking on the light blue tint that signified a chilled effect, and Lucy sprinted for a nearby tree.
"Mr. Familiar, catch!" She tossed her hammer my way.
Of course I couldn't catch it; it bounced straight off my Plushitude and dropped to the forest floor. I swooped down as fast as I could and grabbed it for the second time as Lucy started madly scrambling up the tree.
Behind us I could hear the snarls of the monsters, and expected that any second they would be tearing after us, chilled debuff or no chilled debuff.
Lucy was too fast for them, however. Thanks perhaps to her surprising amount of practice in climbing trees she was really booking it up the trunk. Actually, she was climbing up far faster than I could fly upwards, burdened as I was with her hammer. Oh cream, that meant the invisible barrier was going to—
Sure enough, an invisible force slammed into my back just then, and I held onto the hammer with a death grip as I was dragged up through the air.
A monster went boiling past me, completely ignoring the pink fluffball with the oversized hammer, and started tearing at the tree. Thank goodness, it looked like these things couldn't climb. I'd been a bit worried about that.
As I was dragged past its slavering mouth and multitudinous eyes, I gave it a little wave. I couldn't help it.
Unsurprisingly, it paid me no attention, but my upward movement jerked to a halt all the same. I looked up to see Lucy staring down at me where I was suspended in mid-air, her hammer dangling beneath me.
"Mr. Familiar, what on earth are you doing?"
I didn't deign to respond to that.
"Think you could maybe fly that hammer up to me? I'm going to need it before Icy Grip wears off."
Well, only one way to find out. I started flapping madly, and somehow indeed managed to rise through the air.
When I was within arm's reach, Lucy snagged me and relieved me of her hammer.
"Nice work, buddy! Looks like it's time for the real fun to begin." Holding her hammer, she started carefully lowering herself from branch to branch to get closer to where the two monsters were standing upright against the tree trunk. When she reached a branch where the monsters would be able to bite her legs if she dangled them over the edge, she slowly arranged herself in a squat against the trunk, repositioning until she felt stable enough to swing her hammer.
She took in a breath and let it out slowly. "Okay, let's give this a shot!"
Lucy started swinging her hammer into the faces of the monsters below her repeatedly. It was pretty awkward, but on the plus side she could use gravity to power most of her swings.
A series of meaty thwacks started sounding through the forest regularly, punctuated by furious snarls on the parts of the monsters as they continued to try ineffectually to reach her and tear her to shreds.
"Huh, would you look at that, Mr. Familiar! This totally worked! It's just like fishing, if the fish had teeth."
Uh, Lucy? This was absolutely nothing like fishing.