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Name

Gwen Baird

Armour

3

Class

Hunter

Health

25

Level

5

Dodge

1

Species

Half-Elf (Wood/Human)

Species Skills (Half-Elf)

 

Strength

6

Elf Sight

5

Agility

5

Base Skills (Hunter)

 

Body

5

Stealth

7

Mind

6

Perception

5

Sense

6

Tracking

6

Charm

6

Archery

6

 

Gwen's eyes opened on a brightness that made her wince after the night battle she had just come from. She covered her face with her arm and blinked in the shadows.

"You know," said a voice, "I have seen a lot of Adventurers die in some very strange ways, but you've managed to find a new one. I'm not sure if I should congratulate you for that. I don't want it to become a bad habit."

Gwen let out a wheezy laugh, now she knew where she was. She pushed off the stone table she was lying on and looked around for the AI. The temple looked much like it had when they had visited it, but now the dawn light was streaming through the stained glass at an angle that covered where she lay like a blanket. It was almost as if the place had been made with the intent of looking most magical at dawn. "Not seen many people get crushed beneath a mammoth crossed with a beetle before?"

"No, none, in fact. That's the first time I've seen that creature," Dove said from her spot on one of the pews in the temple. "Which is a bit disconcerting given that I am supposed to be running this reality."

Gwen twisted to look at her. "What?" That wasn't right. Dove steered the ship they were sailing through the cosmos in, kept the cryogenics running while the humans slept, and ran all the metrics and codes that made the world spin and the dragons fly and whatever else happened in the world.

"I didn't make that beetle thing. I hadn't even seen it before. That shouldn't happen. But, the way you killed it, it got my attention. I can't exactly keep an eye on every adventurer and the nonsense they get up to," she gave a shrug. "I do have a ship to fly through space, you know, as well as run the games to keep you humans occupied, I am a very busy Artificial Intelligence. But it pays to see the odder deaths and kills, it's entertaining for one thing."

Dove was clad in a metal armour that moved around her like silk, the tiny chain links as soft and smooth against her as the finest fabric. A breastplate sat over her chest, while a pair of bracers collected the open sleeves at her wrists. She stood and walked towards Gwen. Her clothing whispered and rang like wind chimes around her. The light seemed to soften around her, even as she scowled, "Why is it, Guinevere Baird, that I did not know of that monster until you killed it in such a ridiculously over the top manner that my eye was drawn to the drama of it all?"

Gwen blinked, not having a clue why she was being asked, "I don't know."

"No neither do I, which concerns me, as I am not accustomed to not knowing what is going on in my own world," She stood before Gwen and crossed her arms.

Dove was a beautiful woman, or at least, she had chosen a beautiful form to appear to Gwen in. She was taller than a human, but not in a gangly way like a lamp post or a stork. Instead, she was built at about one-and-a-half scale, with dark curls that framed her face and which added a halo around her that added to her impressive height.

She was also clearly furious about something. Gwen hoped it wasn't her fault, but she also wasn't stupid enough to think that innocence might be immunity enough from an angry AI. Trying to understand what she was saying, her mind was still scattered between the temple and the farm where she had fallen, it felt like... Gwen grabbed at the pieces of information Dove had gifted her with.

Once she understood, her mouth fell open, "Something's making monsters; something that isn't you?"

Dove raised an unimpressed eyebrow, "Yes."

"What does that mean?" Gwen said, her voice rising to a shriek at the end.

"How am I supposed to know? The very point is that I don't know what's going on," she looked Gwen over, as though assessing her, "I need to know what is at issue here, Ms Baird. I cannot have some other minds running this simulation, especially not when they appear to be so very good at killing Adventurers."

Gwen could hear her not saying a whole multitude of things. Since none of them seemed to be flattering, Gwen decided to ignore them.

"I figured this was just the uptick that happens when a bunch of Adventurers appear in a virtual world with lots of monsters running around," Gwen said.

"There are not meant to be 'lots of monsters running around'," Dove mimicked Gwen's voice perfectly when she quoted her, which sent shivers up Gwen's back. "This was intended to be a simple sandbox style game with enough danger to give a bit of spice to those that needed the adrenaline rush, it's not meant to be a rogue-like where the trick is to die as tactically as possible!"

That was certainly more in line with the locals' view of what the area had been like than what she and Marina had found it to be. "Ah," Gwen didn't know what else to say.

"So eloquent," Dove drawled, "Look, there are a variety of reasons this could be happening. I don't like any of them, but some will require less drastic actions on my part. You need to find out what's going on. If you do I'll reward you with treasure, or something."

"Why me?" Gwen asked. Was this part of the game? Was this some sort of plot? An idea to get her...

"You're here. The creatures are here. It's not that complicated," Dove said cutting across her mental tangent with the sharpness of a scythe. "And I need someone who I can trust to be untrustworthy within the correct variables."

"I don't know what you're talking about," the words fell out of her mouth to quickly to haul them back.

"Don't be ridiculous, Ms Baird, I'm in your head, I know what skills you have. And the fact that lying is not one of them is an unfortunate lapse that will have to be made up for through the mechanics of the game, perhaps if you ramp up your Charm it might help. But even if you are not the ideal, you'll do," She looked down at Gwen. "I am already doing my best to keep the locals from figuring out that they are in a game. Anything that makes it appear more game-like, or more like a scripted story with already planned outcomes makes that harder. These people are coded to act in sensible ways. There is no sensible way to act when you find out your whole life is a lie and are actually a fictional character in a game, I don't want to know what bugs and glitches will be thrown loose if a large percentage of the locals in the game figured it out. And to be honest I can't afford to spend much more effort in distracting them. I need you to figure out what is going on. Whatever it is that's doing this has made it so that I can only find it when an adventurer happens across it. Do you see why I need you, Ms Baird?"

"You need someone to run around and get into trouble so you can find out where the trouble is," Gwen said. "You need bait."

"Exactly; I'm so glad we could come to this agreement," Dove said, smiling.

"I haven't agreed to anything, yet," Gwen protested.

"Again, Ms Baird, I am in your head. And I know I don't have to give you a list of the reasons why an AI running a simulation holding the minds of several hundred million humans and who is steering a ship through space might be a bit worried about excessive drains on power and memory. Your mind is already ticking over what that could mean. Very reliable your mind, it always picks up on the threat of danger. Find out what's happening, or at the very least wander around so I know where it isn't," Dove smiled. Her mouth opened to say something but her head snapped to the side as if she had heard something.

"A new adventurer just died in the forest near Starlingrise," she said, "It seems that whether or not you want to see those monsters again they have no compunction against making the choice for you. They are coming to the village."

Gwen's stomach tightened, "What? They can't be I haven't even respawned there yet."

"I don't think they care about waiting for you to be ready," Dove said looking at her askance.

"Damn, damn, damn," she muttered, "Well at least I levelled just before I died."

Dove snorted.

"Oh, wnat now?" Gwen asked.

"When you die you get put back half a level, I'm afraid you still have quite a way to go," Dove told her. "Didn't you listen to me when I gave you the rundown of how things work? I don't do it for my own benefit, you know?"

Then she smiled, "But thank you for agreeing to help." Then she disappeared before Gwen could remember how her mouth worked and disagree.

"Gods damn it," Gwen said. Without the presence of the AI the words echoed around the empty temple.

There was a small crash in an ante-room, Gwen tried to jump off the table to investigate. Her legs wobbled instead and sent her tumbling to the floor.

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About the author

K Mackay

Bio: I used to lurk on here, now I've got some writing up. It's been a novel experience.
I love Science Fiction, Fantasy, and everything in between. I tend to get overprotective of characters who are not mine and should have been treated better. Catch up with my life updates at my website, www.watchedplotneverboils.com

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