Vale slowly plodded forward, his mind racing. He wasn’t sure if his ambushers were after the World Tree map, or whether they were just trying to score a bounty. Their motivations were important. If they were just after a bounty, they wouldn’t expect him to risk a week of logout time by resisting. Most players were very cautious about dying after the first time they got locked out for a week and had all their gear stolen.
On the other hand, if the bastards behind Vale were just after a bounty, using his new magic to escape would spread like wildfire in the rumor mill—if any saw it and lived to tell about it. Getting locked out would prevent that, though. The only hope he had was to kill every single person who saw him use his new abilities.
Players could not post from verified accounts while locked out. The TOS of SOO forbade players from talking about events leading to their death while they were still dead too. Yggdrasil Entertainment enforced their rules with an iron fist. Most players were smart enough not to risk being banned.
Vale’s mind raced. Every possible thing his attackers could be planning ran through his head, checklist style. They could be planning to restrain him, or run a trace to find out who he really was, or try torturing him for information.
Torture of a kind did work in SOO. Of course, a player could always choose to log out, to stop Diving, to Surface. However, if a player Surfaced while in the middle of combat or conflict, they had 20 minutes to return or they would automatically die.
Most players thought the system was fair. Players who didn’t want to engage in dangerous situations usually stayed away from them, and if a player didn’t want to play anymore, they could log off. The penalty kept it from being abused.
The possibility that most worried Vale was the trace. He was just a poor college kid. He wasn’t completely naïve. He knew that there were some people in the world who would be willing track him down in real life to get his secrets. There were quite a few individuals and several businesses that made a very lucrative profit off SOO, after all.
In fact, Vale had even been thinking about exploring ways to monetize his own play time in the next couple days. Of course, that might not happen for at least a week if he ended up dying.
As he walked into the alley ahead of his captors, Vale’s heart sunk and his hand itched. He desperately wished he had room to draw his rapier. At the other end of the alley was another set of seedy characters. There were three of them in all, each of them grinning nastily.
Vale’s pulse quickened. The rope held by one of the men in the alley meant the group was probably trying to collect on his bounty. He wasn’t sure if the bounty had been created by someone who wanted to know about the World Tree, or by Brutus himself; maybe both. The man was locked out of the game for a week, but he obviously had connections.
Time seemed to slow down as Vale examined his options. He had his Rapier of Twilight, a decent enchanted weapon, two fire-enchanted throwing darts, and a crossbow in his pack that would not do him much good.
He had Ancient Body Magic, which would be helpful, but also taxed his Willpower. However, now he had his [Elemental Magic: Air] skill. He wasn’t sure how much mana its spells would eat up, but like all magic in SOO, he could dump more mana into abilities in order to make them stronger.
He carefully examined his spell list and began to inwardly smile. He had a plan.
He walked forward a few more paces with his hands up, appearing to go peacefully to his capture. He figured there were at least three behind him, so he was facing six enemies at once, at a minimum. He needed to free himself from his enemies at the rear, especially if there were more than three.
When he was about halfway down the alley, he shrugged off his loot sack and used [Elemental Magic: Air] to cast <Gust> on himself from behind. He only put one mana point into the spell, as much to test the strength of his magic as to give himself some space from his attackers.
His eyes widened as the spell shoved him forward almost ten feet, practically into the second group. All his attackers began yelling. He spared a glance behind him, laying eyes on the three scruffy people who’d gotten the drop on him earlier. He snarled and cast <Gust> again, this time cranking up the power to seven mana.
The three thugs were bowled over like nine-pins, the powerful spell almost throwing them out of the alley. He barely turned in time to draw his rapier and block an attack by the first goon to reach him. Vale grinned, the expression showing all his teeth. He shoved with his free hand, casting <Gust> again for three mana.
As the second group tumbled back onto their butts, he checked his mana.
He had used up eleven mana. Vale took a gamble and used [Ancient Body Magic] to cast <Arm Speed>, <Leg Speed>, and <Enhanced Reflexes>. He only used two points of mana for each spell, effectively raising his stats by three points in agility and his [Fencing] skill by an amount that was too difficult to calculate.
Natural stats were king, and Vale was already running a natural ten in Agility. His spell brought him up to around thirteen points in Agility, plus several combat bonuses that he couldn’t see on his stat sheet, but he knew were there.
The first man to get up in front of him was a big, burly guy with a beard. He held a practical short sword and parrying dagger. Unfortunately for him, his dagger hand was on the ground as he pushed himself up. Vale lunged forward, the tip of his rapier punching through the man’s mouth and out the back of his head, killing him instantly.
Vale’s eyes narrowed in satisfaction. This was why he built towards speed and precision. Strength fighters like Brutus were terrifying, but there was something to be said for expert precision in SOO, just like real life.
Another man was up and rushed Vale with a couple nasty-looking hooked weapons. They were probably some sort of nautical drops. One glittered with enchantment.
Vale dodged one slash. He caught the man’s second attack on the forte of his blade, riposting with a thrust to the chest. The Rapier of Twilight’s keen tip punched through the ruffian’s light leather armor with almost no resistance at all, destroying his heart and exiting out his back.
He kicked the stunned, dying man off his sword into the wall and stalked past him. Two down, he thought.
The last bandit before him was female, little more than a girl. Vale’s thoughts turned cold and dispassionate. She should not have fucked with a Legendary Class scholar having a bad day.
The girl drew a couple throwing daggers, but her movements were glacially slow to Vale. He almost casually whipped his rapier in a glittering arc, the last two inches neatly severing the girl’s carotid artery. Her hands reflexively went to her throat, dropping her daggers. To be thorough, Vale lowered his center of gravity and stabbed her through the diaphragm at an upward angle.
The girl died, her eyes clouding over, but her last expression was one of defiance and anger. She died well. Probably a serious PVP gamer. Vale respected that.
He turned towards the last three threats and sprinted towards the closest to him, a man with a mustache. The man’s pale skin was heavily tattooed; his bare scalp sported some sort of occult sigils. The man growled, “You must think you’re really hot shit but—”
I wonder why so many of these predatory types want to waste time talking? Vale danced to the side and tried to get a clean, killing thrust, but the man was too experienced. With a start, Vale realized he was the person who had demanded he march to the alley. He was probably their leader.
The bandit muttered something before holding a hand out that began glowing red. Shit. Vale dove to the side and barely had room in the alley to dodge the fire-ball. The thug leader obviously had some skill in magic, probably [Ancient Thermal Magic]. It was a popular type of magic for mercenaries, fighters, and other feisty players.
Vale didn’t want to give the man a chance to get off another spell. He tucked a hand into his vest, and threw one of his darts in one smooth motion. The mustachioed, tattooed man had his long dagger’s blade up, but he had no time to react. The dart took him right through the bridge of the mouth, the heavy steel spraying broken bits of teeth.
The man stumbled backward, snorting in anguish. Vale put him out of his misery with a precise thrust through the heart.
The last two bandits, a tall, older man and a middle-aged woman, both gaped in fear. The woman held up a percussion lock pistol in a shaking hand. Vale could actually see the hammer falling as she pulled the trigger. He dodged to the side, hoping he correctly judged where the bullet would fly. A cloud of gun smoke filled the alley, and Vale didn’t feel a gaping hole in his body. Either he’d been right, or he’d gotten lucky. Either way, he’d take it.
Through the smoke, he saw the tall man with pinched features begin running away. The woman with the pistol still had it extended; the now empty gun kept shaking until she dropped it.
Vale whipped his hand forward with his last enchanted throwing dart while running forward. The dart nailed the woman in the sternum and she burst into flames. Must have been a critical, thought Vale.
The woman was thrashing around, dying as the fire ticked away her remaining hit points. Vale kicked her down to the ground and stabbed her through the chest to put her out of her misery.
“Don’t shoot at me again,” he muttered as he ran past.
The tall man was almost to the end of the alley and relative safety, but Vale was too fast. He was easily three times faster than the last would-be bounty hunter. When the man was only a few feet from the mouth of the alley, Vale crippled his legs with an economical flick of his rapier. The man slammed to the ground and Vale stomped down on the man’s back—hard.
The man tried to scream, but he had no air in his lungs. It didn’t stop him from trying to draw a pistol, though. Vale snarled and thought, What is it with these people and pistols? They’re actually hard to use…
He cocked his arm back and slammed his blade into the back of the man’s skull. The tall man’s body stiffened and grew limp beneath Vale’s foot. He snarled in disgust. He really didn’t like PVP. Why couldn’t other players leave him the fuck alone?
He looked up and down the alley at the carnage and the strewn bodies. He checked his mana again.
He had just killed six other players in decent gear, probably between level seven to nine. He had only used up seventeen mana, and he hadn’t even gotten a scratch. He’d probably overspent a lot of mana. He needed to learn to optimize his [Elemental Magic: Air] skill better.
He whistled soundlessly at all the gear just asking to be taken. “Well, if it’s just lying around…” he grumbled. He wasn’t going to enjoy carrying everything in his loot sack, but at least it was only a short distance to his favorite fence.
“2,142 gold! Holy crap!” Vale exclaimed. He’d had a good haul indeed. The shady merchant just smiled. Vale had no doubt the unctuous man would make a killing reselling all the gear. Well, he would have if he wasn’t an NPC. The NPC’s name was Vernon Carlsmit, a name Vale always thought was a bit over the top.
Suddenly the shady merchant Vernon leaned forward and winked conspiratorially. “You’ve been a good customer to me, and I always see you wearing that pig sticker,” he said, gesturing to Vale’s rapier. “I actually heard about a weapon like that lost in some ruins some time back. A powerful one, too. It was probably nothing, but I can still tell you about it, though.” The man guffawed.
In Vale’s vision, a window popped up:
You have been offered a unique quest by an NPC due to your relationship with the shopkeep and your status as a Legendary class.
Do you accept the quest?
Well, that’s a no-brainer. Vale chose YES.
Congratulations! You have started a quest for a legendary weapon!
Listen to the shopkeep’s tale and watch for other
opportunities to further this quest line!
Vale smiled as the sweating merchant began telling his story.
Trent was in the great mood when he logged out and Surfaced. His mood lasted right up until he checked his messages on his persocomp and saw several missed calls from his best friend Steve. The latest just said, <Seriously, watch the news.>
Vale was confused. Steve knew that Trent played as Vale, but he’d already seen almost everything the media was saying about him; most of it was just speculation.
However, after Vale used his persocomp to generate a telescreen in his field of vision and turned to a news station, he cursed.
Most stations were playing in-game footage from two hours ago. The FPR, first-person-recorded, video had caught a very pissed off looking Vale dePardon utterly dismantling the criminal bounty hunters in an alley.