A note from CoCop

Word Count: 19638

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Kat opened her eyes to find herself standing next to the warning bell for the starting village. A half dozen feet away, Arnold paced back and forth nervously, a weighted net over his left shoulder. Before she could take more than a step toward him, his eyes lit up.

“Kat!” He smiled excitedly. “You’re finally here, I was getting worried.”

“I went right to bed at five,” She shook her head. “It’s a bit early and I’m anxious about everything, so I guess it took me a little while to actually nod off.”

“I just took some EasySleep so I should be good to go for another nine hours or so,” Arnold stuck his tongue out at her.

“You know I can’t afford that shit,” Kat rolled her eyes. “The pharmaceutical grade pills for the professional players are a bit beyond me. The best sleeping aid I can manage is a good long jog before bed.”

“Then we should get going,” Arnold grabbed her wrist with his right hand while his left held the net over his shoulder. “We’re wasting night!”

Kat’s words caught in her throat as he pulled at her wrist. His hand was warm and soft, wrapping her arm up as he gently led her toward the city gate.

“Are you sure about this?” She asked once she came back to her senses, a couple minutes outside of the village. “I have some spare marks from the okkle and the peryton. I really could use some throwing knives.”

“Don’t worry so much,” Arnold chuckled. “I’ve seen you fight. You have this in the bag. Plus, this time it won’t take me by surprise. You’ll see how good I am at this once the monsters stop cheating.”

“Is it really cheating if they catch you unaware?” Kat cocked her head at him, a half smile on her face. “That just seems like proper planning on their part.”

“You’re missing the point Kat,” he grinned back. “It’s proper planning when we sneak around. It’s only cheating when someone else does it.”

“That seems fairly straightforward,” she chuckled slightly. “If we do it, it’s good. If they do it, it’s bad.”

“Now you have the hang of it,” Arnold winked at her. “As long as the scrappy protagonists write at the end of the day, right is what we say it is. We also get to edit out the unpleasant parts where we get knocked down in the mud and have to eat awful food. I like to think of it as ‘artistic and moral license.’”

Kat burst out laughing, acutely aware of how close to her Arnold was standing. Strictly speaking, he didn’t need to hold onto her wrist any longer, they were well outside the limits of the starting village after all, but she wasn’t about to complain.

“I missed this you know,” Arnold mused. “Just the two of us venturing out into the unknown without a third wheel nattering away at us. I already feel like we’re growing closer together, like things are going back toward where they’re supposed to be.”

“Y-yeah?” Kat winced as her attempt to answer thim was mangled by a nervous stutter.”

“We should do more of this,” he smiled back at her, his dark curly hair framing his face perfectly. “Just the two of us. We don’t need Dorrik to go on adventures. We can get strong enough to break out of the arcology together. What do you say?”

“That sounds nice,” Kat’s mind raced, trying to find something witty to say. So far, her options appeared to be ‘awful puns’ or gibbering manically.

“I don’t really like it when you hang out with him,” Arnold continued apologetically. “I know it’s silly, but it just makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want my feelings to become a whole ‘thing,’ but I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around it. Would you mind not spending time with him?”

“S-sure,” Kat choked the words out. Inside her mind, a voice was screaming that no one should be able to tell her who she could be friends with. That Dorrik still wasn’t a man. That she needed to speak up, but her insecurity pushed those intrusive thoughts away.

Arnold wasn’t perfect, but he was trying. He just wanted things to go well, and if that meant not spending time with someone, it was unfortunate, but it was a sacrifice she’d have to make. Plus, he was so sweet and charming when she was alone with him. She just wished he could be like that around other people.

The croaking squawk of a peryton flapping overhead, pulled Kat out of her stupor. Arnold let go of her hand and threw her a quick wink before cupping his hands in front of his mouth.

“Oi!” His shout startled Kat. “Come on and get your supper you freak of nature!”

The effect on the peryton was immediate. It wheeled around, in the air, its giant wings spread wide as it turned to swoop toward the two of them.

Kat scampered to the side as Arnold put two fingers in his mouth and let loose a piercing whistle in order to keep the monster’s attention. All the while, his other hand maintained a firm grip on the heavy net.

She drew her own knife, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible while the angry monster lowered its head to gore Arnold. At the last second, he threw his heavy net at it, wrapping its head and upper body in the thick cords of rope laden with small lead weights just as he tried to jump aside.

His attempt at dodging partially worked, the peryton’s chest slammed into his legs, spinning Arnold around as he tried to jump to safety, but its head and surgically sharp horns missed him entirely.

As her companion hit the ground with a thud, Kat threw herself into the air, landing on the peryton’s back, just behind its wings. It twisted its head backwards, trying to reach her with its antlers, but she kept her head flush to its thick feathered fur even as she dug her knife into the base of its right wing.

Almost immediately, her weapon met resistance as she tried to use her depressingly average strength to push the tip of her weapon through the tightly corded muscle that let the huge creature fly.

The peryton reared up, almost throwing Kat from its back as her left hand clung to a clump of fur and feathers for dear life.

The entire time, she was wiggling the knife back and forth, trying to slip the weapon deep into the tightly back tissue that operated the wing. Then, its resistance gave way and the dagger sank in, almost to its hilt.

The peryton bellowed in pain and rage as Kat pulled upward on the knife, widening the deep cut in its wing and earning herself a spray of blood. The wing drooped lifelessly, the muscles holding it up severed by her frantic strokes.

Then, Kat felt her center of balance shift. Swearing to herself, she yanked the knife out of the Peryton’s wing and jumped free just as the monster flopped onto its side in an attempt to crush her.

Slamming face first into the ground almost five feet away, the breath chuffed out of Kat. Already she could feel the pain and soreness in her stomach that heralded an unpleasant bruise tomorrow morning.

Rolling to her side, Kat pulled herself to her feet only to discover that the battle was almost over. Arnold had managed to draw his sword, and the minute the peryton went down, he struck deep with the much larger weapon.

Blood soaked the side of the flying deer as his first blow exposed the sickly white of ribs. The second came with a sickly, wet crack as the ribs gave way, and the third drew a pained and liquid rattle from the peryton as it punctured a lung.

The monster managed to land a kick on his chainmail clad chest, but Arnold only stumbled back with a grunt. Hurt, but more than able to continue the fight if necessary.

She walked up to him, eyes on the flailing peryton as it struggled for breath. He turned to her, grinning brightly and grabbed Kat by the shoulders and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“See Kat,” he gushed, almost crushing her in his grasp. “I could do it! I just needed to not have Dorrik constantly overshadowing me. Now that we have a strategy, we can hunt the perytons until we have the skills and classes we need.”

Kat didn’t even reply, her face smashed against his upper chest, her breath coming in ragged gasps as a level of panic she didn’t even feel when staring down a monster or street thug coursed through her. He was just so close.

“Come on,” Arnold released her, a bright smile on his face. “Let’s loot this peryton and look for another. I really want to learn a shield or armor skill before we head into a dungeon.”

“Uh sure,” Kat answered, her head still swimming. By the time she came down from the moment, Arnold was already fiddling with the peryton’s body. Before she could say anything he stood up and clicked his tongue.

“No stones,” he grumbled. “Just thirty marks a piece, but we’ll get one next time. I’m not letting you wake up without a new class.

Briefly, Kat called up her status. There weren’t any changes other than the addition of the marks and a note that she had learned the first tier of ‘Knife’ at the first level with sixteen percent completion toward level two.

“On to the next, fair maiden,” Arnold pointed his bloody sword at the horizon, losing the struggle to keep a serious expression on his face. “I shall protect you from these flapping menaces!”

“My hero,” Kat placed the back of her hand against her forehead, feigning a dramatic swoon. “Whatever can I do to repay you?”

“I’m sure I will think of something,” Arnold replied with a wink that sent Kat’s heart aflutter. “For now, onward!”

He began jogging and she followed him. Together they talked about minor issues and generally just shot the shit for almost two hours as they wandered through the countryside aimlessly. Arnold was right, it did feel like old times all over again, when they could spend hours straight together as she tutored him late into the night, peppering jokes and the occasional awful pun into her lessons.

Occasionally, a warthog like creature with bone plates growing from its shoulders and hips wouldn’t get away quickly enough and the two of them would take turns distracting and killing the monsters to earn a couple of marks and hone their skills.

The monsters weren’t worth much, just six marks a piece, and each kill only raised her progress toward level two of her knife skill by two percent. Theoretically, they could have earned a modest amount of marks and ground their skills killing the weak creatures, but neither of them were terribly satisfied.

Finally, Kat motioned for Arnold to stop, a look of concentration on her face as she brought her index finger to her lips. Ahead of them was a rolling hill, beyond which the sound of a large animal grunting and crunching through something wafted back to them.

She tapped Arnold’s shoulder and motioned to the left while she circled to the right, knife drawn and ready. As soon as she crested the hill, Kat saw it.

The peryton was hunched over one of the warthogs, wings spread wide as its stag head bit deep into its prey, crunching and smacking as it chewed its way through bones and armor plates with little trouble. She frowned, slightly. It was big. Like, a third larger than the previous two perytons that they’d brought down big.

She turned to Arnold, making a slashing motion across her throat to try and call off the attack, but he was already in motion. With a grunt he threw the net at the peryton.

“Fuck,” Kat’s eyes grew wide and she mouthed the word as she traced the arc of the net. It was only barely going to make it. Arnold had thrown it from too far out.

She barely even realized that she was running, her feet barely touching the ground as whispered through the tall grass of the hill toward the distracted monster. The net beat her there, twisting and covering the peryton’s upper body but leaving its hindquarters completely free.

It bellowed, whipping its head up and wrapping itself further in the heavy ropes of the net. Arnold halted his own charge, fear in his eyes and his sword raised as the peryton twisted its partially entangled form to stare at him.

Kat’s knife flashed as she cut deep into its haunches, barely penetrating deep enough through its thick hide to draw a ribbon of blood. She ducked, anticipating its mule kick and crouch stepped under the monster.

Her dagger stabbed upward, into the soft flesh of the monster’s inner thigh, drawing a scream of rage and pain from the peryton.

It lurched to the left, trying to shift its weight so it could bring its taloned right leg to bear on her. With a muttered curse, Kat ripped the knife downward, opening skin and muscle up to the open air before she frantically rolled under its leaning body.

Her body lagged behind her thoughts, the untrained reflexes and muscles of her body insufficient to keep up with her commands as Kat frantically tried to dodge the incoming attack.

A line bolt of pain shot through her back as she moved too slow, the talon that barely nicked her more than sufficient to shred her bodysuit and leave Kat bleeding freely.

She hissed at the burn in her back as she pushed off the ground and stood up. A quick rotation of her knife arm revealed that although the wound hurt like hell, the urgently blinking red icon in the corner of her vision only indicated damage to her hit points, not the sort of muscle or tendon wound that would lead to a status condition.

At the other end of the peryton, Arnold was doing his best to fight it off. He swung his sword at it with all of his force, an inelegant but effective attack that almost caught the creature in the neck, as constrained as it was by the net.

Even from where she stood, the struggling monster between them, Kat could see that Arnold was sweating profusely and heaving for breath. Even if he was holding his own for now, he must be using an ability that required stamina. She’d need to act quickly if they were going to get out of this mess.

Quietly, she circled back to the hamstring that she’d tried to cut earlier. The peryton reared back, putting all of its weight on its hind legs as it flexed against the net, trying to break it.

That was all the opening that Kat needed. It wouldn’t be able to kick her while both of its legs were occupied.

She darted in, switching her grip on the knife so that her left hand could grab its pommel for extra force. With a grunt, she slammed the dagger into the monster’s thigh, pushing the dagger through it’s thick hide and deep into the muscle beneath.

A ripping sound above her heralded the end of the net, and Kat tried not to think what that meant for the overall strength of the monster she was fighting as she sawed sideways with the knife.

This time, she wasn’t fast enough to dodge the mule kick. Kat’s only saving grace when the leg she was attacking twitched back at her was that she was able to lean in to the blow, taking the hit from the peryton’s thigh rather than the wicked birdlike talons that tipped its back legs.

She flew through the air, her knife ripped from her hand and the breath knocked out of her from the solid hit. Almost a half second later, her back hit the ground and stars flashed in her vision. The red icon in the corner of her vision began to blink quicker, more insistently.

Her vision blurred and the world tilted madly as Kat stood up, trying to blink away her confusion. Dimly, she could make out Arnold clashing with the peryton. It was almost rooted to the spot, her work on its hind leg having done enough damage that the creature could barely even put weight on it.

Arnold was trying to circle the creature, taking advantage of its partial immobility in an effort to work his way into a blind spot. Kat began to nod, only for her vision to swim once more.

No sudden head movements, got it. She licked her lips, only now realizing how dry her mouth was.

Arnold traded a blow with the peryton, its antlers flashing as they slammed into his chain shirt. In exchange, his longsword cut a line into the fur and feathers of its side. He yelped in pain, staggering backward, his sword only in his right hand as he opened and closed his left.

Kat began walking toward the fight, carefully keeping an eye on both combatants. As she got closer, a flash of metal caught her attention.

Her knife, still embedded in the monster’s partially severed hamstring called out to her. Distantly, Kat knew she was making a mistake, but she bit her lip as her feet picked up speed.

The world spun and shook around her, but Kat had completed runs while corporate area denial sonics were active. Experience and determination kept her moving through the fog and spin of her concussion.

Nausea bubbled in her stomach as the ground shifted and skittered away from her feet, but over the course of a couple seconds she drunkenly wove her way toward the distracted monster.

Almost in a fog, she gripped the knife in both hands and pulled to the side. The creature bellowed, but then the resistance against her knife gave way and she fell to the ground, covered in the creature’s blood as she finally cut through it’s hamstring.

Its bag leg gave way entirely as Kat wretched, the sudden movement too much for her sensitive balance. A whirr and thump behind her heralded Arnold returning to combat, hacking away at the disabled monster.

Unsteadily, Kat pulled herself to her feet as Arnold savaged the immobile peryton from outside its reach. Ten to fifteen seconds later, the fight was over, the rear of the monster mutilated beyond recognition.

She swayed slightly as Arnold eagerly searched the monster. A couple of seconds later, he came back with a giant grin on his face and a light blue gem in his hand.

“We got one,” eagerly he thrust the stone into Kat’s empty hand. “A class stone. Go ahead and absorb it so we can head back to town.”

“It dropped a footpad stone?” Kat asked slowly, her tongue thick and heavy. She held the stone up to the light. In the center of it the image of a drop of water shifted into a lighting bolt and then a small ball of fire. She cocked her head, not knowing what to expect from a class stone devoted to stealth and precision, but something felt off.

“Better,” Arnold rubbed his hands together. “Elementalist initiate. A spellcaster that specializes in using the raw forces of an element in combat. The human encampments in the tower don’t have that many spellcasters. This is your chance to make something of yourself.”

“But Dorrik said that-” Kat frowned slightly, struggling through the fog to explain herself.

“Don’t talk about Dorrik!” Arnold snapped at her. A second later his voice softened. “This is a happy moment Kat. I just don’t want you to ruin the mood by talking about the lizard at a time like this.”

“Are you sure?” She asked uncertainly. This was a big decision, deciding the course of her life in the tower on a hunch seemed like a mistake.

“Do it Kat,” Arnold smiled, “trust me. This is the best choice you could make.”

She stared at the stone in indecision. Emotions swirled, clouded by her recent head blow. Dorrik advised against taking the class, but Arnold told her to do it. Eventually, she just closed her eyes.

Kat owed Arnold too much. She’d have to hope that he knew what he was doing.

A rainbow of light flowed like water from the stone and into her body. Her sore muscles warmed until she almost began to sweat, then her entire body itched. A second later, both sensations stopped and a dialogue box popped up in front of her.

Please Choose an Element for your Initial Skill











Her finger hovered in the air before the matrix of elements, indecision twisting her features. Without Dorrik, she really didn’t even know what the skill meant or what it did. In her mind, an image of him slamming the peryton to the ground flashed through her memory.

“Fuck it,” she muttered, stabbing her finger through the glyph that represented gravity.

Understanding flowed into her. Instinctive knowledge on how to fold her mana into the arcane sigils that would alter the very rules of physics. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps as more and more knowledge poured into her. Suddenly, it stopped, the torrent of information replaced by another dialogue box.

You have reached Level 1 in the skill Gravity I, please select a first tier spell.

Gravity Spike


Gravity’s Grasp


Increase Density

Decrease Density


Somehow she knew that Gravity Spike would be an attack, a shearing plane of gravity that would push and pull on its target at the same time, ripping an enemy internally. Levitation, would allow her to lighten gravity’s hold on herself or another person, allowing them to float. Gravity’s Grasp would pull down on an opponent, increasing their weight dramatically. Repulsion would create a wave of energy, pushing everything with mass away from the caster, and the Density spells would allow her to increase or decrease the weight of an inanimate object.

Once again, the image of Dorrik pulling the peryton from the sky flashed in her mind. Shrugging, she pointed at Gravity’s Grasp. A heavier enemy was a slower enemy, and a slow enemy was one that she could pick apart one cut at time.

With a final chime, her updated status sheet popped into her vision.


Katherine Debs


Elementalist Initiate

Max Level


98 Marks








Damage Mitigation






















Spells Known


Gravity’s Grasp


Skills Known


Knife I - 1, 38%

Gravity I - 1, 0%





She plopped down on the grass next to the mauled peryton, her head still swimming. She slowly looked around her surroundings, wincing from the pain in her back as she took in the blood and trampled grass.

“I think I’m done for the night,” she smiled ruefully. “That was a little bit too much excitement for me.”


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About the author


  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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