Minerva’s ‘Tude


“Well, out wiz it, brother.” Minerva gestured impatiently. “I have been trying to hide, and you are smart enough to know zis. Why are you here?”

Brutus replied, “I came for the same reason we play in the English-speaking location. You know I know what you are looking for. I have brought protection.” Brutus still sounded nervous, but he crossed his arms. “I am not stupid, sister.”

“I never said you were.” Minerva narrowed her eyes as she studied the group. “Who are zese people?”

“The big, ridiculous-looking man in gothic clothes is Bartholomew. The woman with pistols is Abigail. The—”

“There is only one woman, yes? Why would you need to remind me of her pistols?”

Brutus took a breath. He responded, his voice strained, “Style choice, okay? Can I finish?” Minerva made a gesture with her hand and Brutus continued, “The shifty-looking man with the rapier is Vale dePardon, he is—”

“Yes, I recognize him now. He is ze one that stole from us before, then killed you recently, yes?” Minerva laughed for a second before she put her chin in her hand and studied Vale. The open inspection made the Occultist feel slightly uncomfortable.

Brutus shook his head. “Sister, we have come because—”

“Yes, I can figure it out. I’ve been hiding, not living under a rock. I know of these people.”

“Stop interrupting me,” growled Brutus.

“Oh, little brother, you have grown a spine? I would be impressed if he hadn’t killed you a few weeks ago.” Minerva pointed at Vale.

Abigail butted in. “Okay, I love watching fucked-up, dysfunctional families as much as the next girl, but can we please just get this over with and get the hell out of here?”

“Please come with us, sister,” pleaded Brutus. “They will take you in their streaming group. You are a Mercenary subclass, so you can help with SAN attacks. Their group needs this.”

“You intend to stay in zis group?”

“Yes, and I will move to the United States if you join this group and move there too. Then we can keep looking and not worry as much about hiding.”

“There is a lot of subtext in this conversation,” muttered Abigail. Bart mutely nodded in agreement. Vale just wished they could all stop standing around. He really didn’t care if Minerva came or not.

Suddenly, Vale’s [Paranoia] skill screamed at him. He saw motion out of the corner of his eye and drew his new percussion lock derringer pistol from the back of his belt.

The attacker was a monkey, but it glowed slightly green and looked…wrong. Vale quickly used two mana points to cast <Superior Aim> on himself with his [Ancient Body Magic] skill. In the last week, he’d discovered the spell worked even better for guns than it did for edged weapons.

He sighted down the barrel just like Abigail had taught him and gently squeezed the trigger, all while tracking the monkey’s movement. A split second later, his pistol belched a cloud of smoke and the monkey’s head exploded.

Everyone froze for a moment, their eyes on Vale. With a hint of embarrassment, he realized he still had his hand extended with the pistol. He awkwardly put the little derringer away at the back of his belt and tried to look nonchalant.

“Those zings are very annoying,” said Minerva. “Ze monkeys. Zey carry disease. It is why I have so many antidotes on hand.” She gave Vale another appraising look. “He has good reflexes.”

Vale rolled his eyes. “Whatever, I’m not performing tricks, chick. You’re not my sister, and I can give two fucks less about you. However, we did just go through a lot of trouble to find your shapely ass. You’re basically being offered a deal that will make you rich. It’s a yes-or-no question, and if you say no, you’re stupid.”

“More of that winning personality…” Bart said softly. Brutus was very still, his expression nervous.

However, Minerva laughed. Vale had to admit the throaty sound was kind of sexy. She was ridiculous. The woman exuded self-confidence and sex appeal at a primal level. He wasn’t sure how someone could pull that off in a game, but she managed.

The swordswoman chuckled, “Yes, yes. I know why you are here and what you wish me to do. It is protection. I understand. However, I wish to make this fun. You,” she said, pointing at Vale, “let’s have a duel. If you win, I will come with you.”

“What if I lose?” asked Vale.

“I am going to win. Zere is no suspense, so I ask for nothing. You can be on your way to entertain many average people, yes?”

You have got to be kidding me! thought Vale. And suddenly, he cared. Up to this point, finding Minerva, all of it was Brutus’s request, and the outcome hadn’t interested Vale. He knew their group could probably find a priest class player, someone to help with SAN attacks. With the kind of money his stream was generating, getting almost any non-streaming player on board would be a snap.

He had been tired of looking for Minerva, and now that they’d found her, he had really just wanted to get on with the legendary weapon quest. But now she was pushing his buttons. He wanted to wipe that smug look off her face. “Okay, fine!” he fumed. “You’re on, queen bee!”

“Sister, please just go with us,” Brutus pleaded. “It’s for your protection.” He turned to Vale. “You have no hope of winning. I cannot beat her, and you cannot beat me without an ambush.”

Minerva chuckled at Brutus. She drawled, “With or without an ambush, a win is a win. You lost to him, brother. If you were sure of yourself, you could have challenged him again before now, yes?”

“It was not important,” grated Brutus. “I know my strength. I am not a win addict like you.” He turned to the rest of the group and said, “She was going to be an Olympic fencer. Then she decided fencing was boring and began training in steel sabers. You have no hope of winning, Vale dePardon.”

“Just keep telling me more how I have no chance,” Vale growled. “I’m going to destroy Skanky Tight Pants over there.”

Minerva grinned and pointed at Vale. “This is why you do not lead a group, brother. This man is a shameless rogue. He is not handsome, nor speaks well. He is not impressive. But he has balls. He finds what he wants and chases.”

Vale didn’t know whether to be flattered or more pissed off. He decided on the latter. “Fine, let’s do this,” he snarled.

“No, please stop, Vale dePardon,” Brutus begged. “She has been here long enough; she likely got the legendary skill she was searching for. She is also very strong. On top of that, she has probably been grinding in the Great Maze, too.”

“Yes, I have.” Minerva drew her saber. “I have been soloing elite monsters to test my abilities.”

Vale tuned them out. He was about fight his first duel in a long time. He tried to remember how the system worked. He also remembered that a duel was to the death or on yield, and afterwards, both players were reset to their condition before the duel started.

He also knew as soon as a duel started, any buffs or magic effects disappeared so players could not give themselves an advantage ahead of time. This presented a problem for Vale. His fighting style relied heavily on buffs. He was going to need some time to cast all his spells. As much as he disliked and distrusted Brutus, he believed that Minerva was a hell of a fighter.

The way she was standing all sexy and poised was irritating too. Vale was going to take her seriously as an opponent from the get-go. Losing was not an option

He quickly formulated a plan and narrowed his eyes. His party members moved to the edge of the clearing. There would be plenty of room to fight. Good.

As expected, a prompt appeared:

Minerva Vann has requested a Duel.
Do you accept?

Vale chose YES.

Minerva was incredibly fast. The second the duel started, she began to glow red and darted forward. Luckily, Vale had been prepared. He cast <Gust> and gave the spell a hefty four points of mana. Minerva struggled against the spell, but her eyes flew wide as it bowled her over. Vale grinned. The look on her face had been intensely satisfying.

He quickly focused and grew serious. He was going to win this. He pumped four mana each into <Arm Speed>, <Leg Speed>, <Superior Aim>, <Enhanced Reflexes>, and <Explosive Strength>. Casting those spells in rapid succession with that much power would have killed him without his new Ring of the Unknown Saint. The ring’s extra two Willpower had helped a lot. Casting all the spells so quickly still felt like agony, though.

Next, Vale used his legendary [Elemental Magic: Air] skill to cast <Wind Blade> on his rapier, using four mana. He thought about using more, but too much and his sword became hard to control. He needed to have full mobility.

Minerva was already on her feet and looked pissed.

Vale barely got off his new air magic spell, <Light Footing>, for two mana before the armored woman began closing the distance again. <Light Footing> made him weigh less, helped him move faster. Minerva pulled one of her pistols as she sprinted forward and widened her eyes in surprise as Vale barely dodged the shot. The two met in a clash of steel, the fight truly joined.

Vale had fought saber fighters before. The heavy cuts could be deceptively fast. Most of Vale’s attacks with his rapier were thrusts from down low, but a saber fencer liked to deliver attacks from up high. He decided a good offense was the best defense. His weapon was poorly suited to defending, but he had the reach advantage.

Minerva still glowed red and her green eyes were wild. She was a magnificent fighter. Vale wasn’t sure what in-game skills or augments she had, but she had to be using all of her real-world skill and then some.

She was graceful, unpredictable, and deadly. Vale poured every ounce of concentration he had into the fight.

The two stomped, parried, jabbed, and riposted back and forth across the clearing. The strikes were flying so fast, even with Vale’s <Enhanced Reflexes>, he was still relying almost entirely on muscle memory to stay alive. Minerva was just that good.

His opponent was bleeding, but Vale was covered in small cuts. He didn’t know how much health he’d lost, but he figured he was getting low. He couldn’t spare the time to actually look at his stats, and it didn’t matter anyway. He would either win or he would lose. He needed to land a killing blow.

He thought he saw an opening and thrust his Rapier of Twilight at Minerva’s throat. The sword’s howling blade seemed to be right on target until Minerva’s saber came out of nowhere, the rear edge parrying Vale’s rapier aside.

Vale was suddenly wide open. Fuck.

As Minerva reversed her motion, Vale barely managed to cast <Gust> again before she could split his head open like a rotten melon. Off balance, the dangerous woman slid back across the ground. Vale snarled and cast <Wind Slash> with ten points of mana, the most he could put into one spell at his level and stats.

The flat wave of destructive magic lanced out but Minerva somehow tumbled and flipped herself up out of the way. The <Wind Slash> passed harmlessly beneath her before it hit the ground, causing an explosion of earth and utterly destroying her camp site.

She landed on her feet, graceful as a cat, and after a few running steps, delivered a powerful cut at Vale’s head.

The fight would have ended right there if Vale were most other players. Unfortunately for Minerva, he had multiple magical buffs, reacting and moving at superhuman speeds. He ducked, the military saber barely passing over his head. With his free hand, Vale caught her sword wrist.

Time seemed to slow down as he drew his arm back before thrusting with all his strength. A normal rapier could not have pierced Minerva’s breastplate, but the Rapier of Twilight was surrounded by a miniature maelstrom of cutting wind. The ensorcelled blade met fierce resistance, but Vale gritted his teeth and pushed harder. With a sickening screech, the blade penetrated the fierce woman’s armor and slammed forward up to the hilt, the blade extending out her back.

Minerva’s face flickered in intense pain and she smiled at Vale, her eyes wild. The expression was fierce, but wan. She was about to die. Vale grinned back in triumph until he felt the barrel of Minerva’s second pistol press against his temple.

There was a brief flash of pain. Everything went black for a second.

A system message popped up as Vale’s vision began to clear.

Minerva Vann vs. Vale dePardon:



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