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Trent mentally commanded his persocom to Dive...and woke up in Secret of the Old Ones as Vale dePardon. As usual, the act of Diving had been strange and full of color, like being drowned by a rainbow.

His avatar was still in Vermilliontown. Logging out in a safe zone was different than somewhere in the general world. When he appeared, he at one of the many spawn locations, a break room. Since this was a safe zone and he’d been here for so long, he had quite a bit of XP bonus saved up for when he finally got to leave.

Vale’s persocom flashed him a meeting notice and he immediately started moving to the airfield. As he walked, he checked all of his gear. Even though nobody could steal from players when there were logged out, Vale still liked to check. He was also always trying to optimize his load. So much of his playstyle relied on being swift that having a bunch of clunky weight hanging off of him would be unacceptable.

Physics in SOO could be very realistic.

Before he got to the tarmac of the airfield, Vale got a PM from a player he’d never heard of before. The handle had a Vermillion Entertainment symbol next to it, same as his. Before he read the message, he cross-references emails he’d gotten from Vermillion with the name of the player: Nicolas Constantine.

The emails confirmed his suspicion that this was Charlie Allison’s character, their new team member. He quickly skimmed the private message and sent Nicolas Constantine a party request.

A second later, his group was a party of six.

Team chat messages popped up one after another.

Bartholomew: <Wow that was quick!>

Brutus: <I am almost to the airfield.>

Minerva: <You should hurry. This truly is impressive.>

Vale began to jog. Minerva almost never admitted that anything surprised her.

When he got to the tarmac, he understood her reaction. The airship was not quite what he’d been expecting. Instead of an actual floating galleon, or a dirigible, the airship looked more like a hovering train. It did have a small, token balloon above it, but Vale couldn’t imagine how such a thing would be lifted by that alone. And sure enough, stubby ovals that looked like wings jutted from the side of the craft. Parts of them glowed a faint purple.

A tall, statuesque woman stood before a gaping Minerva, Brutus, and Bart. The woman was Julia’s avatar. Her name in-game was Julia, too. Only her last name was different. She was Julia Gremony in real life. In SOO, her name was Julia Grimoire.

Vale figured her lack of creativity stat points must have been pumped into management know-how.

When he arrived, they only had a moment to wait before Abbey and Nicholas showed up.

Vale studied Nicholas Constantine as he arrived. He was similar looking to Charlie in real life, just taller. His hair was lighter too, a true blond. He wore a thick, long coat, almost like a soldier, but he had on a more ornate shirt. An embroidered, tricorn hat sat atop his head. Behind one shoulder poked up the barrel of a long rifle. At his waist he had a tomahawk and some sort of short sword.

“Good,” said Julia. “You’re all here. Let’s go meet your crew.”

Vale thought about saying something snarky, but the airship was so cool he just made a little noncommittal sound in reply. The group went up a ramp through a solid-looking door. Vale caught a glimpse of some interesting-looking rooms and machinery in the guts of the ship before Julia led them all up a ladder to the top.

A rail ran around the edge of the ship and there was a pilot station at the front. With the new vantage point, Vale could see down one side and studied the gun emplacements. Something like a long cannon was poking out of a round ball.

Behind the large, antique-looking wheel at the front of the ship was a very average-looking man who looked about thirty years old. Another, younger man stood next to him. The two looked related, and out of curiosity Vale checked their physicaldex. Both were at a 7/10.

From the rear of the ship, a hatch opened and a third man appeared, somewhere between the other two in age. But unlike the average-looking other two, he had a very notable feature. From the waist down, his body was what looked like a mechanical spider.

“Oh, they’re here!” The oldest looking man waved a hand and said, “Hey, let’s go!”

All of the presumed the airship crew gathered around and Vale kept feeling his eyes being drawn to the man with spider legs. Julie gestured at the three and said, “This is your crew. By the way, do you want to register a new team name for the PVP event?”

“I don’t--” began Vale.

Abbey interrupted. “Mitochondria!”

“Mitochondria?” asked Julia.

“It’s the powerhouse of the cell, and we’re a powerhouse.” The goofy steampunk girl gave a quirky smile. To one side, Bart looked like he was falling in love with her all over again. Vale just rolled his eyes.

“Whatever, said Vale. “That works. I don’t care that much as long as Julia doesn’t veto it for some reason.”

“It’s actually not bad. Okay, I just made a note,” said Jule. “Alright, Mitochondria team, let me introduce you to the Herterz brothers.”

Vale did a quick character check and verified that “Herterz” was their in-game last name. The brother with the spider legs was Hans. The oldest at the wheel was George. And the other brother was Rivera. Everyone shook hands.

The oldest brother, George, introduced himself and his two brothers by name. Then he said, “We’re actually all brothers IRL, too. That was one reason Vermillion recruited us. We were good at what we do, and we live together, and work well together. We’ll be on call for when you need us.”

“Why does your brother have metal spider legs?” asked Vale. He added, “That’s pretty cool.”

Hans, the brother in question grinned. “I have a wheelchair in real life. Actually, me and George both have Achondroplasia.” He must have seen the glazed look on some of their faces because he clarified, “We’re little people.”

Bart was still making a confused face, so Michelle said, “Dwarves. Sorry, Hans.”

“Nah, I don’t mind. Trust me, people have called me a lot worse.” He gave a crooked grin.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” said Abbey.

Hans waved a hand. “Chill. We’re cool. Joking helps me not throttle people who call me Willow. I know you were just explaining, and it’s not a slur. Seriously, don’t sweat it. Anyway, Rivera is average size. George walks so it wasn’t a big deal for him to be average size in-game. But for me, well, I’ve never really walked so it was too hard to adapt. The game gave me this ride free of charge, and it pretty much goes anywhere I want it to automatically. It’s way better than a real life wheelchair!”

“Oh that’s right, I heard about that,” said Bart. He hit his fist in his hand as he looked up and consulted his memory. “I read about that online. A lot of players in SOO could use full limbs if they’ve lost them and stuff. Actually, some folks were speculating that a lot of the First Things players might be handicapped, since playing such an alien creature might be too weird otherwise. But nobody knows for sure. None of the First Things players are talking about it.”

“No streamers yet, either,” said Vale. He’d been paying close attention. The person who stole the Monarch Stone from him might be a First Things player now, after all. They might even be the leader of the race.

He had a score to settle, but still had no idea how to go about it.

“Yeah, exactly.” George stepped forward. “Some of my friends think it’s a sign of weakness or something that I like playing as an average sized character in-game, but I mean, come on. Lots of people play different sizes and shapes in this game.”

“Yup,” said Hans.

George added, “It’s a game, it’s meant to be fun. At the end of the day, it’s a game. People IRL can make changes to be who they want to be. Hell, chicks even get fake boobs IRL. Nobody ever says shit about that.”

“They use push up bras, too,” said Trent.”

“Pigs,” muttered Abigail.

Vale just cocked an eyebrow at Abbey and offered George a fist bump. With a surprised but pleased expression, the oldest Herterz brother responded in kind.

“Did we just become friends?” asked George.

“I think so,” said Vale. “Tits unite us all.” To one side, Bartholomew began chuckling before Abbey gave him an elbow in the arm.

Rivera Herterz, the middle brother, hadn’t said anything yet but suddenly stepped forward and said, “We...I’m...so excited to be here, doing this. I’m a fan. We watch your stream, Vale.”

“Oh! Well, thank yo--”

“You’re a legend, man!” Rivera had stars in his eyes.

“Ah...thanks.” Vale wasn’t really sure how to deal with fans yet, so he looked around to do something with his eyes. That was when he noticed Minerva and Brutus wandering around the top of the ship, inspecting the guns and other emplacements.

Julia noticed, too. She’d remained tactfully silent during all the gamer speak and shit talking earlier, but now she suggested, “George, Rivera, Hans, why don’t you tell them about the ship and what you all do?”

“Oh yeah,” said George. “Well, I pilot the ship, usually from the cockpit down below. I can come up here in case we are being boarded. Hans works on the engines, handles bombing targeting, and works the short range Tesla coils. Rivera is mostly on the big guns. We’re all cross trained, though.”

“We have bombs?” wondered Vale.

“Oh yeah. We have bombs. Lots of bombs,” said Hans.

“So you three can fight?” asked Constantine. “Like to repel boarders?”

“Oh, definitely,” said Rivera. He held up his hands, “Probably not as well as you all, but that’s your job. Our job is to get you from point A to point B with as much style as possible and we’re gonna do that.”

Brutus left his inspection of the guns to join them. “Can you PK? Kill other players from the air?”

“Not quite,” said Rivera. “But we still do damage and we can hit them with debuffs. Our big guns are mostly for settlements, defenses, and other ships.”

“We can get shot down?” asked Vale.

“Yeah. And the respawn for the ship is a lot longer than individuals. It costs resources too,” said Hans. “We have parachutes if Old Betsy ever goes down.”

“You named your ship Old Betsy?” asked Constantine.

“It’s our ship now,” said George. He patted a rail. “Ol’ Betsy hasn’t seen much combat yet, but we’ve been training like crazy. This is gonna be fun.”

Vale started feeling antsy, like a wave of pent up energy crashing down on him. He couldn’t wait to finally get the hell out of Vermilliontown. “Julia. Can we go now?”

Their manager gave him a level look. “Yes. Your mission briefings have been sent over. You should get a quest or two from it.” Sure enough, as soon as she got done speaking, Vale saw two quest prompts. He dismissed them to examine later.

“Alright, cool. So who is in charge?”

Julia just looked at him. George slowly said, “You are, I guess.”

“Okay, great!” Vale gave his best, friendly smile and said, “Julia, could you please get off the ship so we can get to work?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” She stomped the deck meaningfully. “This thing was super expensive. Nothing is free, even in the game. Make sure you get some good footage, please.”

“We have to. We haven’t been able to do anything for a week,” said Abbey.

Bart nodded. “True that. Besides, it probably won’t take long before we start blowing shit up.”

“Alright, just not the ship. I’ll see you later.” With that, Julia climbed down the elevator below deck.

“George, as soon as she’s gone, let’s get airborne. I wanna get the fuck out of dodge.”

“Alright, no problem, Boss. Where are we going, though?”

“It’s time to do something we should have done a while ago. I’ll give you directions as soon as we are in the air.”

A few minutes later, all three Herterz brothers had gone inside the ship and it began to rise. Vale had a little microphone next to him on the rail so he could communicate with George down below. For the time being he’d just told him to head south.

Most of the team was at the front of the ship, holding the rails and watching as they rose into the sky. Constantine was standing with them, but not speaking much yet. Vale was a little surprised since Charlie had been so animated back at the Rainbow Ranch.

After a little more study, Vale realized that Constantine and Brutus were acting weird. They seemed to be watching each other carefully. Meanwhile, Minerva was absently tapping her hand on the hilt of her saber.

Vale stood by himself about mid-ship before Bart walked up. He asked, “Where are we going first?”

“It’s time for you all to finally go to the World Tree and get your legendary classes,” said Vale.

“Oh hell yes!” Bart hissed.

The two watched as Vermilliondown got smaller behind them. The last week had been good for training, but it was going to be good to finally start earning XP again.

With that in mind, Vale opened his new quests again and his eyes widened as he carefully read through them.

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A note from BlaiseCorvin

I've been getting some really unfortunate bad reviews on this fic lately.  I say unfortunate, because if the reviewers were just a little more patient and had just a little more trust in the fact I'm not an idiot, they'd get a huge payoff.

Oh well.

For everyone who is sticking around, I think you're going to enjoy it.


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BlaiseCorvin

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