Chapter 13 - I told you so!
Current Region: Confounding Cul-De-Sac
“What did I say, huh?”
“Shhh!” Karisma shushed Ray emphatically.
The four of them lay prone on their bellies next to a small mound between the houses and the border, trying not to draw attention as the fighting continued.
None of the shooting seemed to be coming towards them, so they were succeeding, at least for the moment.
Brent gripped his shotgun in one hand and a few blades of grass in the other as he strained his ears. Theoretically speaking, he could determine the relative positions of the shooters by the sound of their fire. Practically speaking, he was not determining anything of use.
Harry was using his eyes instead of his ears, peeking over the top of the mound.
“Holmes, get down!” Ray whispered, tugging at Harry’s back. The man slid back down.
“That was hella risky, man.”
“I didn’t see anyone,” Harry reported. “They must be pretty far away, probably can’t see us either.”
The gunfire stopped. Brent relaxed his hands but didn’t otherwise move, his nerves going haywire.
“Is it over?” Karisma whispered.
Harry shrugged. “Dunno,” he whispered back.
Brent checked the interface to see if there were any kill call outs or the survivor count had changed.
Nope, still the same. Harry suddenly stuck his head up over the mound again, and Brent clenched his teeth, as this was exactly like that old movie he saw. Just when you thought it was safe… bam! There went your head.
Fortunately, nothing actually happened, and Harry came back down with his head intact. “I still don’t see anyone. Shall we get moving?”
“No, let’s stay a bit longer, just in case,” Karisma replied. “Better safe than sorry.”
So they waited.
It was only a few minutes, but it felt a lot longer due to the tension. Brent found himself picking up on his own breathing and that of his companions. Still, they did not hear or see anything else indicative of danger.
Perhaps they were expecting Karisma to say something, but she didn’t, so eventually it was Ray who said “Alright, I think we’ve waited long enough.”
They all got up and looked around warily. The suburbs remained deserted, the same as they had first seen it.
“Well, I hate to say that I told you so about the fighting, but… I told you so,” Ray said in a ‘sorry not sorry’ tone. “You can expect that to happen again as we keep going.”
Karisma rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay, you don’t have to rub it in.”
“Alright mates, we’re almost there, so listen up.” Harry drew everyone’s attention. “We don’t know how many people are still here or what their intentions are. So keep your guns up, and your head on a swivel for any signs of movement. But even if you do see someone, don’t shoot unless he shoots first. Even if he looks like the meanest bloke this side of the Outback.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably just miss anyway and let the whole town know where we are,” Ray added.
“That’s not quite what I meant, but also true.”
Brent wished he had some advice to add to this ”going into a potential warzone” speech, but his knowledge wasn’t very applicable to this situation. Pre-casting long duration buff spells? They didn’t have any of those. Have the tanks go in first to draw aggro? Nobody was particularly fitting the role of a tank, and he was pretty sure everyone had the same 100 HP total. This just wasn’t his kind of game.
Harry continued. “So, anyone having second thoughts about exploring this place or are we good to go?”
Nobody had any objections to continuing, so they kept walking towards the neighborhood of single family homes.
Brent checked the Map and saw the area was now named as “Confounding Cul-De-Sac”.
As they drew closer the lawn-height grass terminated abruptly in a concrete curb where the black asphalt road that ran between the houses began.
Brent stepped down onto the road, and felt the surface of the street through his shoes. It was so flat and uniform, a welcome contrast to the bumpy dirt and ground he had been trekking across for the past few days.
The first house they came across a two story affair of beige vinyl, with a small white picket fence around it. The fence gate was open, and the front door was also left slightly ajar.
“Damn, someone’s been here already,” Ray remarked. “There’s probably nothing left.”
“We should check it anyway,” Brent said. “They could still be in there, just waiting for us to pass by.”
Harry agreed. “Oh yeah, that’s what you were trying to do before, eh?”
Brent flushed red. “Sort of, yeah.”
They went into the house, passing by an opened and empty loot chest sitting next to a doghouse. The interior was a lot nicer than most of the other dwellings on the island thus far- it had furniture, a hardwood floor, and a wallpaper with a green striped pattern. But there were still signs of abandonment and disuse- the carpets and curtains were fraying at the edges, and cobwebs occupied more than a few corners.
As they slowly went through the rooms Ray’s theory was confirmed: If there was any loot to be had in this place, it was already taken.
“Looks like the first floor is clear,” Harry declared as he came back from the kitchen.
“Alright, I’ll go check out the second,” Ray said, “I need one person to come with me.”
“I’ll go,” Karisma volunteered.
“Cool. The rest of you guys can stay down here as backup in case we get in trouble. Don’t want to get all jammed up on the stairs or something.”
“You got it, mate.”
The staircase creaked and cracked as Karisma and Ray went up.
Although, Brent reflected, they had already made enough noise searching around that they were far past the point of attempting to conceal their presence.
“Ahh, it’s so nice to be back in a place with the creature comforts, eh?” Harry kicked back and relaxed, sinking down into a frazzled red sofa in the living room.
Brent agreed. “Yeah, it’s nice, but that doesn’t mean we should let our guard down.”
Still, his feet and legs were kind of tired, so he pulled a bare wooden chair from the dining room and set it down next to the living room window, where he could observe the center of the neighborhood.
He heard footsteps above, presumably Karisma and Ray making their way around the second floor. So far so good.
Harry seemed to be bored, as after a bit he stretched his arms out and kicked his legs in the air.
“Yeaahhhhhh. You’re on a chair, while I’m on a couch. A couch, a couch. A big, comfy couch.” He spoke in a half-singsong voice. “Hey Brent, you know that show?”
“Huh? What show?”
“The Big Comfy Couch. You know, with the clown girl and the doll?”
“Eh, I guess not. It was a kids show, must be really old by now.”
“Uh-huh.” Brent gave a perfunctory response as he was trying to focus on keeping watch. “Hey, it sounds like they’re okay upstairs, you mind looking out the window on the other side, to see if anyone’s coming?”
“Oh yeah, sure thing.”
Instead of grabbing a chair, Harry shifted the sofa slightly so it faced the window in question, which wasn’t quite what Brent had in mind but it looked like it worked.
Sunlight shone in through the window, illuminating motes of dust and warming Brent’s body. He basked in it, welcoming it after the chill of the tundra.
He may not have been on the couch, but the whole situation still felt very cozy, and he was tempted to just nod off and take a nap.
But he couldn’t do that, he was supposed to be the backup!
He bounced his leg up and down, trying to stay vigilant.
His efforts paid off fairly quickly, as Brent spotted a glimmer of motion near the far end of the street. Was it merely a trick of the light? He squinted, holding a hand up to block out the sun.
No. And unlike the previous times he’d spotted something, this was no animal. It was definitely a person, likely female, dressed in strange colorful clothing. Clothing that looked a bit… fantastical?
He leaned in, his nose almost touching the glass. But he didn’t catch any more as she moved behind a house. Brent continued to watch and wait, but there were no further appearances.
It was at that moment that Ray and Karisma came down the stairs. “Okay, so there’s nobody up there, and not much loot either,” Ray reported, “This place was thoroughly cleaned out. So what’s up with you guys?”
“Eh, not much. Just chilling,” Harry said.
“I saw someone outside,” Brent said.
Karisma perked up. “Oh, for real?”
“Yeah. She went behind that house. I think she’s still there.” He pointed, and everyone gathered around the window.
“Was she alone or with company?” Ray asked.
“Great. Time for another attempt at befriending the shit out of someone,” Harry said, adjusting his beanie hat.
Ray groaned. “Yeah, I figured you’d say that.”
Harry continued. “We still want to look as unassuming and nonthreatening as possible, so once we locate her only one person should approach.”
Ray turned. “Brent, do you still want to go along with this guy’s shenanigans? After what happened earlier?”
“Oi, that’s not fair,” Harry interjected loudly. “You’re the one that told him to go out there, not me. And for the record, I’m the one going this time.“
He was standing tall now, and suddenly looked a lot stronger and imposing to Brent than the man who was singing a children’s show song on the couch just a few minutes ago.
“I’m not going to try and pressure Brent or anyone else to go instead. This is my choice, and I won’t leave it up to argument or discussion.”
“Jeez, fine. Have it your way.“ Ray looked away, perhaps intimidated by the sheer, almost regal intensity that Harry now radiated.
“Alright, so the rest of us will keep watching from a distance?” Karisma asked.
Harry shrugged as he walked over to the front door. “If you want. You could also follow me, but if you do, try to keep out of sight unless I say it’s alright.”
Surprisingly enough, nobody volunteered for this.
Brent scratched his chin and pondered. This was a crucial moment, where they could plan things out so it wouldn’t end up like it did with Snello.
He had an idea. “Hey, Ray. If you watched Harry from the roof of this house, you’d have a good view and a high ground advantage.”
“Yeah, that would be nice, but there’s no way up to the roof,” Ray responded. “I checked the second floor, remember?”
“Uh… couldn’t you just climb up there?”
Ray raised his eyebrow in confusion. “With what? I’m not a pro rock climber, dude.”
“...” Brent trailed off. He was applying the wrong video game logic again. They didn’t have any rope or a ladder.
Ray didn’t share his downer spirit, though. “Still, I like having the high ground. If we move to the next house over, one of the second story rooms might have a good vantage point for me to set up.”
“I’ll be there too, to make sure this guy doesn’t get too trigger happy.” Karisma pointed at Ray. Brent noticed her fingernails were adorned with yellow polish, chipped at the edges.
“Don’t ‘bruh’ me, you’re like, just always so eager to murder people.”
“I’ll do what I need to do to not get us all killed. But I’m cool with you being there. Could use a spotter.”
“Works for me.”
That left Brent. “I’ll be at the door, so I can let Harry in or rush out if he needs help.”
The front doors of these houses took a little bit of effort to open and close, so having someone ready to open it for you could save seconds. Seconds that could be crucial in a fight, as Brent recalled when that idiot Duck had done the exact opposite of opening it for him.
“If, if, if. Why doesn’t anyone plan for if things go well?” Harry opened the front door a crack. “Anyway, I won’t know when you guys are all set up, so I’m just going to walk real slow. Should help with my nonthreatening image.” The coast was clear, so he pulled the door the rest of the way open and stepped out. “Alright, off I go then!”
The other three watched him take a few more lazy, lilting steps before springing into action.
“Remember, stay quiet!” Brent whispered.
After passing through the fence gate their paths diverged: Harry started going around the next house while Brent, Ray and Karisma headed straight for it.
The next house was unusually boxy and squarish, having a flat roof instead of the usual slopes. The windows were tall and wide, some spanning the height of the wall they were in, which gave Brent some apprehension about whether they would be spotted through them.
Thankfully the front door didn’t make too much noise as Brent opened it, and the staircase up was right there in front of them, taking up the right side of the entrance hallway. Karisma gave Brent a brief nod before going up the stairs with Ray.
Brent stood alone in the hallway for a moment. The hall went all the way through the house, to a smaller back door made out of the same dark mahogany as the front.
Actually, it would probably be better to wait at the back door, as it was closer. He walked over, stood there for a bit, then realized a problem with his positioning: He couldn’t see anything.
There were narrow window panes on either side of the door, but they had that annoying frosted coating on them that reduced everything through them to a blur.
Brent saw one of the blurs moving, passing by the blurred backyard. From the colors and the lazy motion he could guess it was probably Harry, but he was loath to open the door to make sure. Too risky.
The moving blur passed out of view. Brent groaned internally.
Maybe he could get a better view in one of the other rooms. It would have to be close, though, so he could quickly run back if need be. He walked down the hallway and through one of the side doors.
He had to go through two other rooms before he emerged into a sunroom of sorts, where the walls were nearly all windows and gave a clear view into the adjacent backyard. Perfect.
But they also gave a clear view inside the room, so Brent had to drop down and crawl over to the white sofa on the side, the only thing solid enough to conceal his whole body. He cautiously peeked over the top.
There she was. Leaning against the side of the house after the next was the lady he had seen earlier, and she did indeed seem like a lady.
Her yellow hair was tied in a large braid that went past her shoulders, and her clothing was bright violet with gold outlines, consisting of suit pants and a double breasted jacket that was unbuttoned enough at the top to really live up to its name, emphasizing her bosom.
Brent was transfixed, until he saw Harry approaching from the side and start talking to her. As she stood up from the wall Brent saw a curved bow strapped to her back.
They were too far away to hear, but the lady’s initial reaction didn’t seem hostile. She didn’t immediately take out a gun and start blasting, so that was good. Or take out that bow, for that matter.
She actually seemed pleasantly surprised, gesturing emphatically. Harry laughed and nodded in response.
Brent wished he could crack open one of these big windows so he could make out what they were saying. But revealing his presence early might mess up Harry’s plan.
Whatever that plan was. What was Harry trying to do, anyway? He seemed to be taking his time with the conversation, as if there weren’t three other people waiting in this house for him. Time dragged on, and Brent almost wanted to tap on the glass or open the window to holler at him rather just continue watching them in silence. At least the lady was very easy on the eyes. Maybe Harry thought so too, and was trying to hit on her.
That would be pretty irresponsible, wouldn’t it? Being on a strange semi-deserted island full of danger where anything could happen, with companions depending on you for survival, and deciding to waste your time “chatting up” a stranger, as Harry would put it?
Brent shook his head, trying to suppress his growing frustration borne from impatience. He was probably just jumping to conclusions. Harry wouldn’t do that. Would he?
Wait a minute, were her ears pointed? He saw the lady brush her hair to the side, and confirmed that yes, her left ear did taper to a sharp point near the top. Was she… an elf?
At last Harry looked back at the house, and raised his hand in a thumbs up. He made a beckoning gesture, and started walking over to the house Brent and the others were in, with the elf-ish lady in tow.
Tok tok tok tok tok – tok tok! Harry knocked out a short musical number on the door.
Oh right, he was supposed to be the doorman. Brent rushed back over to the door from the sunroom.
He opened it just as Ray and Karisma came rumbling down the stairs.
“Ah, just in time Brent,” Harry said as he came in. “Well done.”
Then she stepped in. The lady was even more beautiful up close, with smooth skin and piercing gray eyes. “Hello.” She smiled at Brent.
“H-hi,” he replied sheepishly, and managed to tear himself away for a few seconds to close the door behind them.
Ray jumped down the last two steps and whirled to face them. “So what’s up, Holmes? Is everything cool?” Karisma descended to the floor in the normal fashion and stood beside him.
“Cool as a cucumber, mate. In fact, this lovely sheila here will be joining our little band. Isn’t that right?”
The lady nodded. Harry looked back at Ray and Karisma with a smug grin.
“That makes two wins for the power of friendship. What did I say, eh?”