Vale stood in a giant hanger with his team, the Mitochondria behind them. He made another mark on the blackboard, dropped his virtual chalk and crossed his arms before it hit the floor.

He’d done his homework the night before and some before getting up. Now he was ready to work. The XP boost he’d gotten from his bandit quest would be a nice bump. This was going to be a big day.

The Mitochondria was going to war. So was the Niven.

Vale thought “Niven” was a weird name for a ship, but as the crew of the Mitochondria, he couldn’t really throw stones. The Niven’s crew was in the hangar as well, standing in front of the second Vermillion Entertainment ship. The company had instructed them to support Vale’s team for the day.

“Alright, any questions?” asked Vale.

“Yeah,” said Abbey. “Team One and Team Two sound dry. And it’s too easy to figure out if an enemy ever overhears us. Shouldn’t we have team names or call signs or something?”

“Is that really important?” asked Vale.

“It doez make sense,” opined Minerva. “We are entertainers, yes? Let us add spice.” Beside her, Brutus shrugged.

“When are we ever going to use call signs?” he muttered. Vale sighed and turned to Rose, the leader of the other team. He still hadn’t properly met her in real life, but now he knew her character’s name. Rose Bellamy was an Armsman Guard. Vale wasn’t always great with names, so he was focusing right now on remembering Rose, and Miriam Johns, their team’s Priest. Unlike Constantine, Miriam had chosen the True Believer path, not Arms Brother. This meant she’d actually be much better at buffing her team and resisting SAN attacks but would be far less useful dealing any damage.

Both women were the tall blondes of their group. There was also a black chick, a redhead, and an Indian chick in their group, too. Vale thought the blonde players looked like the types to be most pissed if he forgot their names, so they were the highest priority to remember.

“Rose, what do you think? I really want to get going, so one way or another, let’s figure this out,” said Vale. The plan was really simple. Thankfully. After being surprised and getting killed the day before, he couldn’t wait to get some payback.

“I think…” she said and looked at her four teammates. Their team was still one person short of the max number. Her teammates all nodded, so she continued, “We want to be called Girl Party.”

“That sounds like a porno,” said Vale. They all glared at him and he shrugged. “Don’t get mad at me. You’re shooting the messenger. ‘Girl Party?’ Fuck. Fine, whatever. You all will be Party One through Party Five. Rose, you’re GP One. Miriam, you’ll be number two if you don’t mind.”

“Why am I number two?” asked Miriam.

Vale almost just told the truth, it was because he could remember her name and didn’t feel like reading his notes or squinting to see the others’ character data. Instead he said, “Because the core of every team is the healer or the characters that help resist SAN attacks.”

Without waiting to hear their response, he turned back to Abbey. Voice resigned, he asked, “What are we? I’m assuming you want a team name, too.”

“You don’t want any say?” asked Bart.

“Hell no. I don’t care. The streams just list us individually or identify our group by all of our names.”

“Wow, you are being spicy this morning. I died yesterday too. Chill out,” said Abbey.

Surprisingly, it was Constantine who came to his aid. “Hey, I wanna get going too and we could talk about this stuff on the ships. I don’t think all the disrespect is necessary.” But then he looked up. “That goes for you too, Vale.”

Traitor. Vale rolled his eyes. “Alright.” He waved at the screen in front of him that only he could see. “Tell me what we’re called or I’m just going to enter in that we’re the Musketeers.”

“That’s a horrible name. Wait, you can do that? It’s official?”

“Yes. The function actually came out with the expansion. Any group that’s together more than a week can name the group itself.”

“How the hell did I miss that?” wondered Bart out loud.

“Probably for the same reason I did,” said Vale. “It doesn’t matter and we were bored as fuck training for a week.”

Brutus snorted a laugh.

Abbey must have known she was losing momentum because she blurted out, “Let’s call our group Eldritch Alligators.”

“What? Why?”

“Think about it. Before we sign off, we can be like, ‘See you later, alligator!’” said Abbey. Then the steampunk girl struck a pose with her fingers in a “V” next to her eye.

Vale was tempted to scoff, and he thought the name was stupid, but the reality was Abbey was a major draw for all of their streams. Fans loved her. Minerva, too. If their resident firearms nut wanted to act like a cog-loving chihuahua on crack, it might actually make them all more money. Besides, it wasn’t his own pride he was throwing away.

“Fine. I’ll enter it in. We can figure out which ‘Gator’ we are on the way.”

Abbey looked like she was going to make the pose again, but thankfully, Bart put a hand on her shoulder and gently shook his head. She shrugged. “Boring,” she grumbled.

Vale really didn’t understand what his friend saw in her. If it wasn’t for the gun skills she’d taught him over the last few weeks IRL and her general competence in-game, she would have been a little too weird to handle.


“We are getting close.” Minerva was on the radio. She was in communications with PVP teams on the front lines as well as the Herterz brothers down below.

“Good,” said Vale. “We won’t have long to make this work, so is everyone focused?”

Everyone nodded. Nobody got offended. On long, boring rides some players would open a screen and scroll social media. It was unlikely that anyone in this group would be doing something like that. They were all professionals. He knew Bart had been making potions. It didn’t hurt to make sure, though.

“Cool. Get ready. Flying Eels and whatnot will be our biggest threat.”

Bart frowned. “You know, it's too bad the game only lets us have one team and a crew on board each airship. It'd be great if we could have another team with guns to keep those damn things off of us.”

“Hell yeah! Gunslingers like me!” said Abbey.

Vale grimaced. “I think one Abbey is more than enough."

“Hey! Wanna get shot?"

"There is more of that winning personality."

"Look who's talking!?"

"I swear you guys act like you're related sometimes," sighed Bart.

At the front of the ship, Constantine called back, "I can see fighting!" Brutus and Minerva were standing right behind him and tensed like they could be attacked any moment.

They were probably right.

"Everyone take your positions! You hear that, Herterz brothers?"

"Loud and clear boss," came George’s reply over the ship’s coms.

Before she moved to her own position, Abigail eyed the deck and said, “You know, I have an idea for dealing with flying attacks, but it’s gonna take me a while. I’ll have to find the blueprint, too. I just heard about it a few days ago—” she mumbled to herself as she began pouring powder into a gun barrel.

Vale moved back to the rail and looked below. He silently whistled. The human forces had finally gotten their shit together, halting the inhuman player advance. They’d rediscovered trench warfare.

Even with a shorter respawn time, they’d made it costly as hell for the enemy to advance anymore.

A series of complicated and expansive trenches practically covered the area around the human town of Plysmuth. Since the enemy had ways to fly and sneak behind enemy lines, it seemed the defenders were taking no chances.

Pkysmuth was basically the gateway city into the heart of the American/European server cities. Mountain ranges on both sides made this area an ideal choke point.

Bunkers dotted the defenses. From the air, it alll looked like a game of connect-the-dots with occasional explosions destroying or smoke from fires.

The city's walls brimmed with holy and eldritch energies. Shields. Any enemies trying to attack the city directly would bounce off and be dealt with by the NPCs and players in the trenches. At least in theory.

Across no man's land, on the enemy aide, there were trenches too. They had some notable differences from the human side. A few lines of fortifications were being manned by Abyssal Ones, but they were bigger and nowhere near as expansive. Behind the trenches were earthen barriers protecting their artillery. There were also what looked like hills and holes behind them.

Brutus was the first to figure it out. “The flying players and NPCs must shelter underground before attacking,” he shouted over the noise of the wind. “The holes and hills have to be protective bunkers they wait in. It might be like their Forward Observation Bases that we use for crafting and accessing the auction house and stuff.”

Vale nodded. He didn’t see any flying enemies at all but he knew they had to be around. Brutus’ theory made sense.

He wished they could get some more information. Unfortunately, putting down to talk to the defenders would be a bad idea right now. Both sides had big guns, flak weapons, and cannons pointed at each other. The Herterz brothers were already making evasive maneuvers to avoid getting hit with big shells from the Abyssal Ones.

Simple messages could be transmitted with the defenders below, almost like a morse shorthand system. Vale ordered, “Ask the defenders really quick if they know what the hills are.”

Bart nodded and moved to the radio. After a short wait, he said, “They don’t know what we are talking about. We can see more than they can from the air. The enemy is on a hill.”

“Damn, it was worth a try.” Vale tapped his chin with a finger as a crazy plan started to form. “Tell the defenders to shoot their big guns like crazy after we attack, when we’ve turned around and are heading back. I have an idea.”

Bart nodded again. Then Vale ordered George to pour on the speed and head over enemy lines. Mentally, Vale rubbed his hands together. There was some danger involved with this maneuver, after all this was PVP. But the battle was huge, and both the Mitochondria and the Niven were moving quickly. Hopefully, the enemy wouldn’t have time to react. In fact, the lack of flying enemies was already proof that the plan was working so far.

Of course, this sort of daring plan would probably only work once, but that would be enough. Vale was hoping to get his team enough XP from this battle to get a firm advantage for the rest of the war. Other players had been levelling for longer, but now Vale’s team had an airship. Airships in general were completely new to most players. Everyone had known they were coming for at least a week, but most had probably not seen one already. Vale was counting on the element of surprise with the original plan. If he could pull off his wild ass idea, it’d be entirely because he was able to catch the bad guys with their pants down>

He crossed his fingers.

Right now, only the Vermillion Entertainment ships were in the sky. They needed to make this attack count.

“Blitzgrieg the fuck out of them!” shouted Vale. Despite himself, he was grinning. This was a job, he was working, but he was also having a lot of fun.

It’d been a while. He’d missed it.


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