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A note from Cocop (Cale Plamann)

Word Count: 102,055

Thanks for reading!

Just a reminder that if you want to hang out, I have a discord where you can bother me!

Kat stepped away from the altar into the adventurer’s hall. A couple alien faces turned to look at her, but most of them rapidly lost interest as soon as they sized her up.

Kaleek and Dorrik weren’t there, but that was hardly surprising given the time Kat got to sleep. She’d only made it back to her apartment around 1 a.m., but even then, the adrenaline from her raid on the waste disposal plant kept her eyes glued open for almost an hour as she tried to sleep.

Tomorrow would be a rough day at the lab. Stress and sleep deprivation were likely to leave her an insensible mass of nerves. Hopefully caffeine would help her bridge the gap, but that was a problem for another day.

She winced. Actually, given the time, it was a problem for later today.

“Human Katherine,” a voice like two boulders grinding together called out. “It is good to see you again.”

“Gasoot!” a smile blossomed on Kat’s face as she made out the large pillar of rocks manning a nearby shop, a tentacle waving her over. “I thought you were staying on the first floor?”

“Your lokkel teammate came to visit me,” Gasoot responded as she made her way over to their stall. “They made a compelling case that the profit margins on the first floor weren’t worth the time I would spend there.”

Kat smiled bitterly as she looked at the prices on the various equipment laid out before the pillar. The cheapest healing potion went for sixty marks and many of the higher end weapons sold for well over a thousand.

“I can see that,” she chuckled. “Unfortunately you have all of my marks already. It’ll be awhile before I can afford to go on a spending spree like that again.”

“That is understandable human,” Gasoot intoned. “The profit margins on the second floor are much greater for all players. Now that you can sell loot from all monsters, I expect you to regain your lost savings in short order.

“Thank you,” she smiled warmly at the pillar of rock. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but for now I should probably look for my team. I’m sure Kaleek and Dorrik are bored silly waiting for me.”

Gasoot chuckled with the sound of an avalanche hitting a steel plate, the very sound almost knocking Kat back a step.

“No need,” their tentacles wiggled with mirth. “The desoph told me that they are preparing a surprise for you. He said it was something to ‘help cheer you up.’ It seems that your companions will be busy for the rest of the night. Your time is your own.”

Kat cocked her head unsure how to respond. Every day in The Tower of Somnus had been a constant struggle to optimize her strength. Taking even a half day off just… didn’t sit right with her.

She grimaced, an unwelcome thought popping into her head.

“Gasoot,” she motioned to the adventurer hall in general. “I’ve noticed that although there are teams of humans in Whiteshell itself, I haven’t seen any in here. That fact combined with the chilly reception I got on my first day in the hall made me wonder if it’s even safe for me to wander around here unattended.”

A tentacle wormed its way down from Gasoot’s head, quivering as it patted her on the shoulder.

“Your lokkel companion is a good friend to have,” Gasoot’s voice was as conspiratorial as a boulder being ground into gravel could be. “Their status in the great lokkel clans is their secret so I will not divulge it, but they are not without influence. While your companions waited for you they spoke with the other vendors on this floor as well as myself. We have all come to an understanding.”

“Years ago humans made themselves unwelcome in adventurer halls,” the pile of rocks continued. “They sold counterfeit goods and coerced merchants into unfortunate deals. Representatives of the various wholesaler guilds tried to explain the situation to representatives of your race only for humans to scheme against them as well.”

“Now,” Gasoot wiggled their tentacles, trying to simulate a shrug, “humans are not welcome at any player owned businesses. That prohibition does not end at shops. Your kind are banned from bars, restaurants and hotels as well. At least in Whitehall, Dorrik has made sure that won’t be a concern.”

“That’s nice of them,” Kat smiled, doing her best not to look uncomfortable with the tentacle on her shoulder. “I just hope it wasn’t too much of a bother.”

“They told us that you acted with their honor,” Gasoot removed the tentacle from her shoulder, folding it together with another of their appendages. “I suspect that your lokkel friend will never tell you how serious that statement is. Going forward, all of your actions reflect upon them. It is both a rarely granted distinction, and a grave responsibility.”

“Huh,” Kat replied, cocking her head slightly. That would be just like Dorrik to do her a favor and then insist that it was nothing. A lifetime on the lower levels of the arcology conditioned her against trusting anyone, but Dorrik and Kaleek were rapidly breaking down her resistance.

Maybe that was for the best. She’d only known them a couple of weeks, but they had been perfect gentle beings in that time, helping her out when she had little to add to the party but her potential. Gasoot might have told her that altruism wasn’t a weakness, but the full meaning of their words was only sinking in slowly.

The Galactic Consensus wasn’t naive. When people misbehaved, they were quietly but firmly set aside where they couldn’t hurt others. Humans didn’t play by the rules, so they were embargoed by the rest of the galaxy until they learned to do so.

Kat shook her head. Those were the types of concerns for people with social positions far above her. Maybe someday she’d be in a position to decide how humanity would interact with its neighbors, but until then she had a lot of work to do.

Excusing herself, Kat left the adventurer’s hall and made her way to the beach. She didn’t have a huge amount of time before she needed to wake up. If she was going to be stuck fighting solo, polishing her skills on the slow ekk crabs seemed like her best bet.

Just as the broad white sands of the beach came into sight, Kat stopped herself and checked her status.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

2

120 marks

HP

18

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

29

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

20

Strength

3

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

3

Mind

3

Reaction

4

Charisma

4

Spirit

3

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Dehydrate

Dazzle

Shadow

Skills Known

Knife I - 7, 09%

Gravity I - 6, 35%

Water I - 6, 88%

Cat Step - 3, 41%

Light I - 2, 03%

Cure Wounds I, 1, 08%

Penetrate

Perks

Nightvision

 

Kat closed the window out before walking out onto the beach knife in hand looking for an ekk crab away from its companions.

The remainder of the night passed fairly quickly. Kat didn’t manage to kill all that many of the crabs. The need to avoid getting swarmed forced her to break off engagements early more than once, but even without Cat Step it was easy to outpace the slow moving crustaceans. Still, this time she was using Dehydrate liberally, and more than one crab died at a distance even after it thought itself safe from her knife.

Really, the only excitement of the night was when an ekk ancient pulled itself from the roaring surf. Almost twice her height and covered in protrusions that marred its otherwise smooth white shell, the monster alerted Kat to its presence by blasting her with a torrent of high pressure water from its tiny mouth.

She only noticed it at the last second, jumping into the air and casting Levitation in order to let her body be carried by the attack in an effort to dissipate some of its force.

It still hurt like hell, almost breaking her left arm, but as soon as she hit the sand fifteen or so paces away, Kat ran off, well out of the elite monster’s range. Twenty or so minutes of using Cure Wounds I and then recharging her mana, and Kat was back on the beak killing the lesser ekks and giving the ancient a wide berth.

Finally, just before she was due to wake up, her constant use of Dehydrate paid off. As the ekk crab she was fighting died, the dialogue box she was waiting for popped up.

You have reached Level 7 in the skill Water I, please select a first tier spell.


Water Jet

Dehydrate

Submerge

Pseudopod

Sheen

Pressure Blade

 

Quickly, she reviewed her available options. Water Jet was similar to the ability the ekk ancient had used on her, a bludgeoning high pressure blast of water. Sheen, created a thin layer of water over her armor, making it more likely that a strike would slip and glance off. Submerge generated a bubble of water that could be placed over a creature’s head to drown it. Unfortunately, anything that was still mobile could simply walk away, making the spell almost useless for anything outside of waterboarding an immobile foe.

Pressure blade fired a thin stream of high intensity water from her index finger that could be used to cut like a knife. Interesting, but ultimately it felt fairly duplicative given the rest of Kat’s skill set.

For a second, she agonized between Water Jet and Sheen. Additional armor would be useful, especially if someone tried to grab or grapple her, but more than anything what she was lacking was a way to deal with large and heavily armored foes.

The image of the huge gunman toppling over the railing replayed in her head as Kat ultimately selected Water Jet. Even if it couldn’t damage a larger enemy, she was sure that the combination of Water Jet and Levitation could keep them off balance long enough for her to figure something else. Possibly involving hand grenades. She really needed to talk to Nina about her simplistic loadout.

About twenty minutes later, Kat woke up, her smartpanel alarm buzzing incessantly inside her head. She sat up, eyes bleary, and made her way to the bathroom. Quietly, she checked her stash. Even after paying a healthy tip from her earnings to Whippoorwill, Kat still had almost three thousand credits, all in cold hard cash.

It was an impossible amount. Saving for almost a year had netted her just shy of a thousand credits before she’d been forced to spend a couple hundred to pay QASP for their soap disposal related services.

Kat smiled to herself. She’d have to double check, but her total debt to the company was just about seven thousand credits. If they could manage to pull off the Haupt bounty, her cut from Xander would be more than enough to pay it down entirely.

She walked into the kitchenette. Her mother had already gone, having picked up a double shift to help pad their household’s weekly spending limit. The coffee pot was still warm, half a carafe of the cheap black liquid left behind by Penelope along with a concerned note about Kat having stayed out all night.

Work was a blur. Kat managed to avoid making any unforgivable mistakes, but she was sure that Samuel made a note of her needing several explanations of her duties for the day repeated as well as her slightly disheveled appearance.

Maybe it was the stress and adrenaline from last night playing hell with her emotions. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation from her late night and early morning. Either way, Kat just couldn’t make herself care.

Finally, her work day ended, and she ignored the disapproving harrumph of her supervisor before taking the elevator straight down to ground level. She stepped out into the cold of the Shell afternoon, only to be taken aback.

The ground floor, usually a riot of colors and noises as people engaged in lively if dubious trades, was subdued almost to the point of silence. Almost everyone was carrying a weapon of some sort and suspicious eyes tracked every newcomer.

Kat pulled her light jacket tight around herself and hurried out into the Shell itself. It was snowing lightly, the gentle white flakes in the air a sharp contrast with the dirty brown and black snow banks obscuring the alleys.

No one moved in the streets and several of the buildings had the windows on their ground floors either boarded up or covered with rubble. More than once she saw a crouched figure with a rifle shivering on a rooftop or hunched over in a second story window

She hurried to the ChromeDogs warehouse, aware of the eyes on her back but unwilling to turn and meet their gaze, afraid that such a challenge would break the tension and cause the streets to erupt into a full blown firefight.

Finally, she slipped inside the building, rubbing her hands together for warmth. A man with half of his head shaved and a prominent cybereye nodded at her from where he stood, just inside the doorway in case the outside guard needed reinforcements.

“Xander and Commander Cromwell are upstairs,” he said, swinging his sling mounted submachine gun to the side and touching the side of his head. “They told me to radio ahead when you arrived. There’s an all officer meeting taking place and you’ve been invited to attend.”

She nodded back before hurrying down the hallway and past the sparring arena. The padded matts of the ring were empty, but almost a dozen samurai stood or sat round the room, wary and with their weapons within arms reach.

The door to the stairwell clicked open. Whippoorwill’s dainty face and pink hair poked out. She smiled at Kat before beckoning with her free hand.

A couple of the samurai looked up curiously as Kat jogged over to the stairwell. As soon as Whippoorwill let the door close behind them, Kat turned to the smaller girl.

“Do you know what’s going on?” She asked, trying to keep her voice hushed as the two of them made their way up the steps. “I knew that Xan would want to see me after the mission last night, but I didn’t hear anything about an all officer meeting.”

“Xan managed to decrypt the files from the waste disposal vault,” Whippoorwill murmured, unable to meet Kat’s eyes. “They uh. They also want to talk about what you did in the plant.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Worry crept into Kat’s voice. “I know I tripped that alarm, but we didn’t have any information on where it was located until I was already inside. Plus, I’ve only had training in getting from one location to another. Nothing about picking locks or sneaking.”

“N-n-no,” Whippoorwill was shaking like a leaf as she opened the top door with her palm. “It’s nothing-”

“Are you all right?” Kat stopped to ask the quavering girl.

“I just,” she couldn’t make eye contact with Kat. Finally she gulped. “I’m just not good with new people. It’s different on the radio.”

“Oh!” Kat blushed. “Sorry about that. You were so on top of things last night that I didn’t even think of that as a possibility.”

“Thanks,” Whippoorwill barely avoided another round of stuttering as she opened a door into a board room.

It was much larger than the conference room where she usually met Xander, let alone his office. The walls were steel without a single nod made toward convenience or comfort. The far wall held a large smartglass display, a messy tangle of cords running to a box of humming electronics sitting at a table just in front of Xander.

The room had two tables. One seated Nina closest to the smartglass at the other end of the room. Beside her were ten samurai, covered in chrome and a patchwork combination of combat armor and colorful clothing cast off from the arcology.

Xander headed the other table, a wide grin on his face. Next to him sat a man and a women, both slim, athletic, and wearing the black combat infiltrator uniform Kat had worn to the waste disposal site. Whippoorwill padded past Kat and took a seat at the table near another two individuals without any visible chrome or armor other than cranial jacks.

The seat right next to Xander was open.

“Here comes the lady of the hour!” He called out cheerfully. “Come on Kat and take a seat.” He motioned to the uncomfortably conspicuous seat to his right.

She walked over to Xander, doing her best to ignore the gazes of everyone else in the room as they stared at her. Sitting down hardly helped the situation as eyes filled with expressions ranging from curiosity to distrust remained locked on her despite Xander calling the meeting to order..

“Now I know we have a lot to talk about,” Xander began, fixing the plug out of his cranial jack and plugging it into the equipment occupying the table in front of him, “but we will start with some good news and an update.”

“Last night,” Xander struggled to keep his smile from growing even wider. “Whippoorwill and the to be named infiltrator, Kat-”

The room erupted into conversation, silencing Xander and earning a hint of disapproval from him.

“Come on Xan!” A tall blonde woman with a scar running down the left side of her face shouted above the hubbub. “I’m sure the new girl did a good job on her op, but you know we have to vote on whether to give a member of the crew a name. It reflects on everyone if we just name a newbie and they can’t live up to it.”

“Not if she kills a named Samurai in honorable single combat,” Nina growled. “Now shut up Molly and let the man speak.”

“Thank you honey,” Xander nodded cheerfully at Nina.”

“Thank you, Commander Cromwell,” the big woman seethed back.

“What you said honey,” Xander agreed, not breaking stride.

This time the room broke out into smiles. The earlier tension broken entirely by Xander’s irreverence.

“As I was saying,” he continued, “Kat performed an infiltration operation on a building that was believed to hold information of vital importance to our joint operations. That belief turned out to be correct.”

“Unfortunately,” Xander grimaced theatrically, “the building also held an entire Steel and Blood combat team.”

The room erupted into conversation once more, but this time Xander let the moment linger, a wide smile on his face.

“After Whippoorwill trapped two members of the team,” he spoke up once the clamor died down. “Kat killed the remaining six in hand to hand combat including the named samurai, Goliath, Snake, Grits and Bloodyawn.”

“Holy fuck,” the blonde stood up, pointing a finer at Kat. “She killed Snake in hand to hand combat? I can understand shooting the crazy fuck with something high enough caliber to put him down, but that guy didn’t even blink when he blew past the Wierzbeck limit. Hell, I don’t think he can blink anymore. I heard he got his eyelids removed. He said they were too human.”

“Kat is a player so obviously her reputation reel has been altered to conceal her abilities,” Xander continued, the lights dimming and the smartglass sparking to life.

Scenes from the waste disposal center played, but it was little more than a series of highlights. Her kick clearing the gun from the first samurai’s hand followed by the foot to the face that knocked him out so that she could finish him. Her knife entering the guard’s temple followed smoothly by disabling the second guard with the machine pistol and ending the fight with her knife under his chin.

It didn’t seem right. The reel ignored the moments where she almost died. Where if she’d been a half step slower she would have taken a slug to the chest. Where an inopportune breath or a creak of the floor would have immediately been followed by her being sawed in half by gunfire a dozen paces from her quarry.

The fight with the huge armored man, captioned ‘goliath’ in red gothic font worsened the sense of wrongness. None of her frantic flight was there. The gamble to lure him out onto the balcony, panic filled moments hiding while her mana recharged and he grandstanded.

Instead it was just a quick clip of her charging at him, and then the massive gunner falling over the edge, machine gun still blazing. It ended in a still image of his twisted body, neck clearly broken with the word deceased appearing over him.

By the time the fight turned to her encounter with Snake, the insanely fast clawed man, the pit had dropped out of the bottom of her stomach. It barely showed the desperate struggle. Instead there was only a brief montage of her shooting him with the shotgun and executing a perfect dodge to barely avoid his counterattack followed a second later by her finishing off his concussed body.

Then she looked up and saw the haunted gazes across the table from her, filled with respect. They knew.

They knew that the fight hadn’t been quick and easy. They knew what it had taken from her to kill each of those men and how she’d come a fraction of a second from it being her bleeding out on the cold concrete.

“I hereby nominate Katherine Debs to take the name of Erinyes,” Xander spoke into the pregnant silence as the video finished playing. “The Erinyes known as the Furies were Greek spirits of vengeance. Normally, I wouldn’t give a new member such a portentious name but,”

Xander chuckled, flashing his gold tooth.

“You all saw the video,” he finished. “Do I have a second?”

“Seconded,” Nina responded with practiced solemnity.

“Do any of the named gathered here today object to Katherine Debs entering their ranks?” Xander looked around the room. There wasn’t even a whisper.

“Katherine Debs,” Xander turned to her, pulling out a handgun and touched its barrel to each of her shoulders. “Do you accept the name and mantle of Erinyes and promise to uphold the ideals, honor, and reputation of our organizations?”

She just blinked at him, opening her mouth to reply but not knowing what to do.

“Now is the part where you either say ‘I do’ or request that we pick another name for you.” Xander flashed her a half smile. “Please don’t reject the name. I haven’t thought of anything else and you’ll end up named Kitty or something.”

“I,” Kat paused, coughing to clear her dry throat. “I do.”

“Great!” Xander replied cheerfully as he holstered his pistol. “Now we can talk about the fact that the information from the waste disposal center showed that Donnst was working much closer with Steel and Blood than we thought. More specifically, that they’ve begun making plans to raid our headquarters to retrieve the data that we’ve stolen regarding Christopher Haupt’s murder. We have seventy two hours boys and girls. Let’s make them count.”

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About the author

Cocop (Cale Plamann)

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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