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Part 3: Party

Copyright 2018 William Spillman

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Once the initial elation wore off a little, Luna and I started doing some things separately again. I resumed my forest treks. It was on one of these that I came across a group of Summoned gathered around something.

I was pretty far out from camp when I saw them. I’d begun to habitually count my steps when walking or running, so I had a fair estimate of how far I’d gone in a day. Granted, since there seemed to be some sort of magic keeping us from wandering off, I couldn’t be sure if I was that far from camp, or just moving in some sort of curve ot zig-zag or something, especially since it was hard to keep track of the sun under the forest canopy.

Even so, it was very unusual to see a group this far out. Other solo explorers, or couples walking together--or banging--sure, but not a group of five guys. They were all clustered around something, and some had their weapons in hand.

Did they find a dead deer or something? I wondered. Or kill one? They seemed to all be looking down at something.

Probably due to the same magic keeping us in, there were few or no large animals in the woods. Forest rodents, insects, and reptiles, sure, but no deer or foxes or wolves, much less bears or the like. Though, this was the equivalent of New Zealand in this world, so maybe, like New Zealand, there were a lot of small, niche animals.

Or, perhaps, these guys had been screwing around and had hurt or killed one of their buddies, but none of them was a healer. That possibility suddenly seemed so likely that I started trotting toward them.

The men heard me at the same time I heard the woman. She groaned, and one of the men said “Bitch!” in a venomous tone. Three of the men turned at the same to look at me as I approached, and nudged the other two. They even closed up a little, as if trying to hide something behind them. This is not good.

I wore my Fusion Armor as usual. The extra strength, stamina, and durability were helpful for covering lots of ground and attempting acrobatics in the trees. I also had my hammer strapped on, just in case. I didn’t want to run into some monster that had unexpectedly penetrated this far into the woods and not have my weapon.

“Is your friend hurt?” I asked, hoping that there was an innocent explanation for what looked like a very bad situation.

“She’s fine,” one of the men said. He had a sort of handsome/cute face that some women, like Luna, found attractive. The others all looked almost excessively rugged, with stubble, beards, and scars being popular fashion statements. Baby-Face nudged the man next to him, a bestubbled, dark-skinned man with a hairless head. “James here is a healer. She hit her head pretty hard, but he’ll fix her up.” James nodded agreement.

“I see.” The sort of impact it would take to stun or injure one of the Summoned with a blow to the head wasn’t something you could get by simply tripping and falling. Even leaping between trees and smacking a branch with one’s face usually wouldn’t have so much as given one of us a bloody nose. As I knew from several personal experiences.

“Well, I am, too,” I said. “I’ll take a look.”

Maybe my feigned ignorance wasn’t feigned well enough, or maybe the guys were just not clever enough to keep up their own innocent act, but they closed ranks, and two of the three not already holding their weapons now drew them. Only the supposed healer didn’t have his weapons--a pair of curved swords--in hand. Lightmage, probably, I guessed. A fair number of them dual-wielded to double their weapon buff effects.

None of them had shields, and two had only a single one-handed weapon. The other two were a guy with twin axes, and Baby-Face, who held a large, straight-bladed, two-handed sword, a zweihander.

Baby-Face snarled. “Get her!” He charged me.

I could have just run. My short legs were a disadvantage in a foot race, but I was probably far better at moving quickly through these woods than any of my attackers, plus I almost certainly had more stamina than they did. If I had run, though, I’d have been leaving the poor woman--who I still hadn’t actually seen, only heard--in the hands of some men who were clearly guilty enough of something to want to cover it up. Or they just wanted to fight.

Baby-Face’s response about James being a healer had been quick and casual, and James had agreed readily, which led me to believe that James actually was a healer, and probably the only one among them. So I went for him first.

I summoned and hurled a Divine Spear at James. My magical javelins were unaffected by gravity or air friction, but they slowly faded, losing power, as they flew. They were also unaffected by armor; only a target’s built-in toughness could resist their damage. I really wished I’d brought my helmet, with its augmenting enchantment. The spear stabbed straight into James’s chest before vanishing in a shower of gold sparks. James, who had been drawing his swords, staggered.

Baby-Face was closest by virtue of having charged as he spoke instead of after. He flinched as the javelin shot past him, but pressed on, raising his sword for a downward strike. I dove and rolled forward, taking me past Baby-Face before he could strike low enough to reach me from that position. I rolled to my feet and ran straight ahead, right at James. An axe thrown by the guy who had two of them bounced harmlessly off the armor over the back of my left shoulder. He hadn’t thrown it very hard. If he had, it probably would have cut through several bronze scales, and the force would certainly have staggered me. Apart from Baby-Face, none of these guys seemed all that certain about how much force to use, here. I drew my hammer and rushed James.

Despite the impact of my javelin, James had managed to draw his swords. They were curved, saber-like things, but with simple crossguards, not basket hilts. I lifted my hammer as if to strike downward, as Baby-Face had tried to do to me, but whipped it backwards and brought it up from the side at the last second, much as I had done to Blackbeard in our fight. James wasn’t wearing armor and had raised his left sword to parry my feint, keeping his right one low to stab me. My hammer was longer than his swords, and smashed him in the ribs below his left armpit. Unlike Blackbeard, James wasn’t wearing armor, and he wasn’t a fighter class who had a lot of points in toughness. Ribs crackled as they shattered. James’s right sword bounced off my bare midriff as he spun backwards and to my left. I skidded in the leaves of the forest floor, my bare toes digging into the loam, trying to stop as quickly as possible.

The other four men had turned, but rather than charging me all at once as a unified team, they had reformed into a loose crescent, partially encircling me. They seemed stunned by my brutal attack on James, and I smiled cruelly. With two hands, my hammer was even quicker to change directions and recover than one-handed, and it was pretty fast even with only one hand. I whipped it around and slammed the axe blade down into James’s head as he groaned on the ground next to the woman these men had attacked. I missed his neck, but my axeblade buried itself halfway inside James’s skull. He jerked and went still.

“Holy fuck!” the guy with only one axe shouted. “She killed James!” Baby-Face screamed and charged me again. Just before he reached me, I threw a Divine Spear through his face. Baby-Face was clearly some kind of fighter, and pretty tough, but a spear of light stabbing him in the face probably hurt like hell. It certainly made him flinch, and I slammed my axeblade into his shin before he could stop his charge or regain his orientation. It left a deep cut, but more importantly, Baby-Face tripped and fell, snapping a sapling off at the base as he fell on it.

I’d glanced back to watch Baby-Face fall, and now I spun my head back to face my front and the three men there. My ponytail whipped behind me at the motion while I raised my hammer to block or strike the next attacker. There was none. All three men stood in shock at the brutal murder of their comrade. Seeing my chance, I scooped up the woman in my left arm and sprinted into the forest.

The woman was about the same height as Luna, with brown hair the same length as mine. Oddly, she was fairly slender as well, with a minimal hourglass curviness to her. She wore a black cloth gambeson complete with sleeves, red tights, and black leather boots. A scabbard for a very large sword was slung across her back, but the weapon must have been on the ground near James’s body, if not lost somewhere in the woods.

After a sprint, then a sharp turn right and another sprint, I was out of sight of the men. I put the woman down and cast a healing spell. The bloody gash on her scalp stopped bleeding, and her eyes opened. If the blow had come from Baby-Face’s zweihander, she had to be pretty tough to have survived.

I cast another healing spell as the woman got her bearings. To my left, I could hear the surviving men tromping toward us. I looked, and could already see flashes of their clothing between the trees. They had to have noticed the golden light of my spells.

“Get out of here!” I ordered the other woman. “I’ll deal with them!”

I’d meant that I would delay the men, having no intention of trying to kill all of them, but saying “I’ll hold them off!” or something similar would have sounded too much like I was sacrificing myself or something. The woman got to her feet, but didn’t run. I didn’t bother arguing with her. Instead, I sprinted left, bare feet kicking up dirt and leaves as I curled my toes to get more traction. Because I had turned right before healing the other woman, I seemed to be closer to the men’s right flank than their center, from the increasingly-frequent glimpses I was catching.

Because I had my armor, I was pretty certain I could take any one of the attackers. It, plus my Valkyrie abilities, gave me too much of an advantage to lose a one-on-one fight with another Summoned who didn’t even have all his gear. I curved to the right, closing with the man I suspected was the farthest out on their right flank. As I did, I pumped my left fist, casting my defense-enhancing Holy Armor spell on myself.

I stopped next to a large tree. I’d lost sight of my target. While I looked for him, I spun my hammer in a circle, the kind of flourish people did in movies. At the end of the motion, the metal parts of my hammer shimmered with a faint golden light shot with brighter sparks, my Exalted Blade ability. If there was one thing Valkyries were good at, it was buffing ourselves.

I spotted the man I’d been aiming for at the same time he saw me. He had only a shortsword, so I suspected he was either an archer carrying only his backup weapon, or a shield-user who relied on quick blocks and attacks to fight. Without his shield, against an armored and buffed Valkyrie, he didn’t stand a chance.

I charged, and the man shouted, turned, and ran. Foolishly, he ran straight away from me, instead of toward his friends. I pursued, and as I’d expected, I was able to move much faster than he could. I used my left hand to slingshot around smaller trees, hurtled bushes, and sometimes jumped and sprung off of larger trees to quickly change direction without losing speed. My quarry skidded and plowed into and through vegetation. I caught up with him after less than thirty seconds. He didn’t know I was there, so I leapt past him as he skidded to run around a large tree, and hooked my hammer poll on his neck. With a jerk, I killed my own momentum carrying me away from him, and pulled him to his left. His feet flew out from under him, and he crashed to the ground.

I expected him to bounce to his feet, and aimed my hammer to smash his head as he did. Instead, he rolled away from me the way a normal person would, trying to get distance from their opponent in a fight. He had either training or good instincts for fighting in a normal body, but neither of us were normal. I pounced, aiming my hammer at his arm as he rolled, hoping to smash it and disarm him. Instead, ribs crunched as it struck his back to the right of his spine because he’d rolled just a little faster than I’d expected. He howled in pain and thrashed, trying to roll to his feet instead of just pushing himself up as any of the Summoned could. His crushed ribs and torn muscles betrayed him, and he flopped to the ground, hissing through clenched teeth. I hammered at his head, and his eyes went unfocused. A second blow, and his skull crackled. When I lifted my hammer, I could see pink brains through the blood welling up in the square-shaped wound my hammer poll had left.

Someone was running toward me from a direction slightly at an angle from the one at which I'd chased the man at my feet. As he got closer, I saw that it was Baby-Face. His face was bright red with fury as he took in the tableau of the tiny Valkyrie standing over the body of another of his comrades. No, not just fury. His body glowed with faint red light, certainly some kind of strength- or defense-enhancing ability. Even so, he had learned his lesson, and instead of charging, he simply approached at a quick shuffle, his sword held at an angle in front of him to guard or strike.

Unfortunately for Baby-Face, that stance, while frequently used in movies and definitely cool-looking, wasn’t terribly practical in real combat. It didn’t give enough power to a strike straight from that position to threaten an armored opponent, and I was more heavily-armored than any medieval knight. I moved in to attack.

Baby-Face turned out to be a Barbarian, as I discovered when he used Howl on me. Howl magically enhanced a Barbarian’s scream to the point it vibrated the target’s flesh and bones, like an explosion drawn out over a full second. It was highly useful for stunning enemies in Gleamheart, but against me, with my high constitution and Holy Armor, it was about as useful as spitting. I swung my hammer at Baby-Face’s left leg, the one advanced closest to me. His sword was too far out of position to parry, but he jerked his leg back in time, and my attack caught only air. His sword struck my forearm as I arrested my swing with both hands, but it failed to even draw blood. I backhanded my hammer into Baby-Face’s head axeblade-first.

Baby-Face was tough, I had to give him that. Even with my Exalted Blade enhancement on it, the axeblade bounced off his skull, leaving leaving only a bloody line where it had struck and cut his skin. The top part of his ear was also missing, now. I guided my hammer as it bounced, pivoting it downward, then swooping upward, hammer-first, into his groin. As I had done before against Blackbeard and James, I used the strength of my whole body to continue to lift the hammer after it had made contact. With both hands on the weapon, a nearly-vertical upward strike, and solid ground beneath my feet, I lifted Baby-Face up and flung him backwards with the toothed face of my hammer pressed into his crotch.

Baby-Face landed ten feet away, gasping in pain. I didn’t know how much a Summoned’s toughness protected men’s testicles, but it clearly wasn’t enough to resist a warhammer swung by a Valkyrie with significant strength enhancement. Baby-Face was too stunned to dodge as I chopped into his neck. It took three swings, and even the third didn’t get all the way through his spine, but Baby-Face was mostly decapitated by the time the last of his friends arrived on the grisly scene.

When the fourth man stopped and gaped in terror, I realized what I looked like: a short woman in a blood-spattered leather skirt and tank top, holding a bloody axe and glowing with golden light. My face was a rictus grin, I realized. Truly, at that moment, I was an angel of fury.

Before I could unleash that fury on the man in front of me, the woman I had rescued ran up behind him and leapt twenty feet in the air. She fell straight down on the terrified man, holding a huge, broad-bladed two-handed sword. Her full weight and momentum from the fall landed on the top of her former attacker’s head, focused on the blade of her sword. That blade split his head in two and buried itself in his spine at the base of his neck. She slammed her booted feet into his back as her body swung on the fulcrum of her sword, shoving his body toward me and jerking her sword free. She landed on her feet from the backflip the motion had kicked her into. It was the most graceful series of motions I had even seen.

The woman and I stood, facing one another, breathing heavily as I admired her moves and she took in the bodies of Baby-Face and the other man I had killed.

“That’s five, then,” she said in a shaky voice.

“Hm?” I asked, then realized what she meant. “You got the last one already?”

She nodded, looked down at the man she had just killed, his brains spilling out of the two halves of his skull to meet in between as a bloody goo, and immediately vomited.

That’s normal. Myself, I felt no queasiness or remorse. But then, I’d had a plan all along, and I wasn’t disturbed by blood, especially since we Summoned couldn’t get sick from contact with it. If I’d needed to intimidate someone, I’d happily have licked the blood from my weapon while grinning menacingly. It was also possible that I was something of a psychopath. But only a bit.

I ran over to the other woman, who was bent over at the waist, coughing. I still had my waterskin because its strap was cinched tightly around my chest with the skin riding next to my hammer carrier on my back. I loosed the strap and lifted it over my head to offer the water to the woman. After a few moments, she took it, swallowed some, choked, spat it up, then took a smaller sip. After rinsing her mouth, she finally took a long drink and handed it back.

“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know what those guys were going to do.”

“I don’t think they did, either,” I said, then took a drink myself when my voice came out half-squeak, half croak. In a more normal voice, I added, “When I found them, they were just standing around you. What happened?”

The woman was very plain-looking, for a Summoned. She had a cute but more normal-looking face and a less statuesque body than I did. Her breasts were small enough that the thick fabric of her gambeson hid them completely. She was still several inches taller than me, though.

The woman sniffed. “I ran into them back where you killed that guy with the two swords. They seemed nice, and we chatted, but then they started getting handsy.” Her voice was getting shaky. “They ignored me when I told them to stop, and when I pulled out my sword to make them back off, one of them hit me in the head.” She barely got the last word out before she sobbed. To my surprise, she choked it down instead of breaking down in tears as I had expected and as would have been perfectly normal under the circumstances. It was my calm after a triple homicide that was strange.

The woman straightened, ignored the tear escaping her wet eye and running down her cheek. She held out a blood-spattered hand. “Thank you,” she repeated. “I’m Pixie. It’s, uh, not my real name, but I go by it. I’m DeathPixie, you see.”

I shook her hand lightly. “I’m Angela. Uh, Angela Fury.”

Pixie blinked, then snorted. “You are, aren’t you? She looked around at the bloody bodies of her former attackers. “What do we do now? Just leave them?”

I shook my head. “No, I have an idea, so that we don’t have to worry issues.”

First, we collected all the dead men’s weapons. Finding the guy that Pixie had killed first took a while. After that, Pixie followed me back to James’s body. She had apparently seen it when she’d retrieved her sword after I’d healed her. With her ability to leap so high, she could easily have evaded the men hunting us to get to it.

Bladedancer, I realized. Pixie was another uncommon class, like me. Bladedancers used magically-enhanced agility, stun effects, and distraction techniques to deliver rapid or powerful attacks to their enemies. They lacked any of the buffs, healing, or attack spells of other classes, but were popular with solo players who liked sneak attacks or just high damage. They were unpopular in small parties because they weren’t tanks but tended to draw all the aggro, but in raids they were sought-after for their ability to move fast and strike large monsters from all angles.

It took half an hour to find James. My sense of direction wasn’t good enough--or the confusion spell threw me off too much--to have kept track of my exact path running away and chasing down my second victim. Pixie had found her way back once, but hunting down two of the men had thrown her off, as well. The sky was pink and red as the sun set.

Since James’s body was mostly intact, all I had to do was take his swords before I rezzed him. I took the whole belt off him, and Pixie held it along with the sheathed weapons of his dead friends. I lifted my hammer toward the sky above James’s body and it glowed for a few seconds. Then the glow leapt to the corpse, and James’s fatal head wound closed. He sat up with a gasp, then cringed as his damaged ribs made him gasp again, this time in pain.

I knelt next to James. A Valkyrie’s resurrection ability was fast, but it only healed the minimum amount needed to bring an ally back to life. Getting them into fighting shape required more healing spells. “Hey, James!” I said brightly, almost cheerfully, though there was an edge to my cheer. “Are you a Lightmage?”

“Wha?” James said, getting his bearings. He jerked back as his eyes focused on my bloody, smiling face. “I wha?”

“Are. You. A. Lightmage?” I asked again, slowly and clearly.


“Good!” I said, even more cheerful than before. I stood up in one smooth, effortless motion. “That means I can go. Your four friends are somewhere off that way--” I waved in the general direction of the still-dead bodies, “--and they need your Lightmage talents.” I smiled. “Specifically, your rezzing talent.”

“Wha?” James repeated.

“Your friends are dead,” I said flatly. “We killed them. And you. But I rezzed you to show there are no hard feelings, so long as you all learned your lesson. Now you can go rez them.”

James processed this. “Oh. Wait, that will take forever! I barely have enough mana to rez someone.”

I shrugged, but it was Pixie who spoke first. “Then don’t rez them, I don’t care. It’s your problem, now.”

I nodded and knelt by James again, putting my face at the level of his. “You guys did a very bad thing, and tried to do some much worse things. We don’t have any laws here, except the laws of decency. I’m doing the decent thing by rezzing you so you can rez your friends, instead of leaving you all to rot. I trust that you will all learn to be decent, also, because I might not be so decent next time. Understand?”

James swallowed, nodded, then winced as his ribs twinged. “Can you heal me a bit?”

“Heal yourself!” Pixie snapped. “Or just die. Again.”

I stood up again. “We’re not stealing your weapons, but we’re going to leave them around the woods so that your friends don’t do anything stupid when they wake up confused.”

With that, Pixie and I left, knowing that James was too injured to follow until he’d had a chance to heal himself. We took a wide route around the bodies, and every so often, we’d hang a weapon or belt in a tree, or stick it in the dirt, or put it in a bush. Pixie was even starting to have fun finding places to leave the weapons, bounding up to hang them from high branches.

It was dark by the time we finished, but the Spire was easy to spot simply by climbing a tree, so we had no trouble finding our way back. As we got closer to the camps, Pixie walked more and more slowly.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“What if they try to get revenge?” Pixie said. “I’m pretty sure I’d seen some of them before. They might live in my camp.”

“Come stay with me, then,” I offered. “We have an unused bunk. A couple of them, actually.”

We had both washed off as much blood as possible with the water from my waterskin once we were well away from James. Pixie’d probably had a skin with her, too, but if so it had been lost and she hadn’t bothered to mention it. The leather of my armor was waterproof, so the blood had washed right off of that as easily as it came off my skin. Pixie’s clothes were black and red, so in the dark, the stains were completely invisible. Not that bloodstains were uncommon on the clothes of any Summoned.

We reached the road that circled around through all the camps, now. We followed it to a camp strange to both of us, and cut through that to get to the Training Ground. From there, we oriented ourselves by landmarks like the smith’s cabin, and found our own camps. Pixie’s was almost opposite mine across the Training Ground.

We went together to Pixie’s camp and collected her things. One of her tent-mates was there, and Pixie told her she was moving out, but not where or why. They apparently weren’t close, because her roomie didn’t even ask, just said, “Okay, see ya.”

Pixie had unusual armor. Her chest piece that she would wear over her gambeson was a leather vest with metal plates inside, but the plates did not overlap as they would in a coat of plates or a brigandine. Instead, they were simple rectangles running horizontally, with a large one on the chest and back of her ribs, and smaller ones for the abdomen. Her arm and leg armor was the same way, and she didn’t seem to own a helmet at all.

When we finally reached the tent I shared with Luna and two absentee roommates, Luna was already in bed. We both slept nude, now, and since Luna didn’t generate body heat, she didn’t need blankets except for the comfort of the familiarity. So when I opened the tent flap, Luna was lying topless in my/our cot with a blanket covering only her legs. Pixie made a little meep! sound of surprise.

I realized I hadn’t told Pixie a single thing about Luna. Well, no time like the present. “Hey, Luna, sorry.” Luna had covered herself with the blanket. “We have a little situation, and Pixie here is going to stay with us for a while, if that’s okay.”

Rather than displace all of Luna’s things from her bunk, which we sometimes slept in instead of mine, we simply moved the bow, quiver, and chainmail armor from the bunk across from Luna’s to the one across from mine, with our other absent tent-mate’s gear, and gave Pixie now-empty bed. I figured putting her in the back would make it harder to find her, in the unlikely event our assailants came looking.

As we worked, we filled Luna in on the story, speaking as softly as possible in hopes our neighbors wouldn’t hear enough to understand. Luna gasped several times, covering her mouth with one hand. It was adorable. When that was done, I explained our domestic situation to Pixie.

“Luna and I usually share a cot,” I said. “We’re. um, dating. No one uses those two bunks except to store stuff, so it’s really just the three of us.”

“Oh!” Pixie was taken aback by the revelation. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Luna comforted her. “No, it’s okay. We don’t, ah, do anything.”

“She means sex,” I clarified. “You won’t have to deal with your roommates getting all squelchy or anything. Just kissing, sometimes.”

Luna looked at me in surprise at my blunt language. I figured it was best to be clear, and lighten the awkwardness with some humor. It worked, because Pixie chuckled.

“Okay, then,” Pixie agreed. “But if you need, um, some time alone or anything, just tell me.”

I waved a hand dismissively. “Will do.”

Pixie and I were mentally exhausted, if not physically, but I needed to wash, to make sure I got all the blood off. There might still have been some in my hair. All three of us trooped over to the showers. Apparently Pixie’s camp didn’t have anything like them, because she seemed impressed.

It had rained a few times since the Summoning. Because no one seemed to want to take the empty water and wine barrels when they delivered more, we had refined our showers by adding more and more barrels with the tops smashed out so that they could collect rain, hung some up as showers, and left others on the ground as wash basins. The locals had stopped sending actual taps early on, so each “shower” was started and stopped by use of a large wooden plug instead. Driven in with enough force, the plugs wouldn’t pop out under the water pressure inside the barrel, though occasionally we had to replace a barrel someone had hit too hard. We’d had to find a way to slow and diffuse the stream of water, and I was proud to say that I’d come up with one--canvas with holes poked in it on the inside of the barrel, where it didn’t block us from pulling the plug, and was kept in place by the pressure of the water it slowed.

Luna and I washed and combed one another’s hair. We kept our shower contact to that alone out of respect for others using the facilities. Pixie giggled when she saw Luna grooming me.

“You two are so cute!” she remarked. I blushed, glad the light was too dim for that to be noticeable. The moon was pretty bright despite being in its waning phase, but the hanging barrels formed a partial roof over the showers.

I was loyal to Luna, but that didn’t keep me from looking. Pixie was even more normal-looking than I had thought. Nude, her body was on the thin side of average--normal hips, a waist that only nipped in a tiny bit, and smallish breasts, probably B-cups. Her legs were thicker than mine or Luna’s and she didn’t have a gap between her thighs. In the dim light, I could have sworn her pubic hair was in the shape of a heart.

After washing, we went back to our tent and settled in. Luna and I slept in my cot. I fell asleep quickly for once.

I awoke late the next morning. Luna was awake already, but snoozing lazily next to me, her eyes closed but her chest moving as she breathed. Pixie snored very quietly.

After our morning greetings and kisses, Luna asked in a whisper, “Do you really think those guys will come after you again?”

I shook my head. “No. They might feel guilty for what they tried to do, and they know for sure that the only reason they’re alive is because I rezzed James. Assuming he did rez them. And has finished. Plus, if the story gets out that they assaulted Pixie, they’ll be ostracised. Most of the guilds don’t tolerate that kind of thing.”

“Good,” Luna sighed. I hoped that I was right. I suspected that they had simply gotten caught up in a series of stupid decisions. That didn’t excuse them, of course, but it would mean that they’d be unlikely to do it again. Being brutally killed should make them rethink their life choices.

Luna and I stayed in bed until Pixie awoke with a groan.

“Are you okay?” Luna asked.

“My head is killing me,” Pixie answered, both hands pressed to the murderous body part in question.

I sat upright. “Oh, shit! I forgot to heal you any more after the fight. That head wound was nasty. Sorry!”

“S’okay,” Pixie slurred. I put on my loose tunic and went over to her. After a few healing spells, the gash in her head was gone and she was feeling much better, though her head apparently still ached.

We all did our morning necessaries, then sat around our tent, chatting.

“So, Bladedancer, eh?” I said to Pixie. “That was the only other class I even really considered.”

“Yeah,” Pixie said. “It was fun to play, but actually using my abilities is a lot of work. And kind of scary. I don’t like heights.” She laughed. “What class are you?” she asked me. “That was a really fast rez.”

“Valkyrie,” I answered. “Not many of us here, it seems. In fact, I haven’t met any others.”

“Ooooooohhhh,” Pixie said. “Yeah, I’d actually forgotten about Valkyries. Don’t think I’ve met one, either. Another one.”

All three of us discussed our classes for a bit, then I asked, “What’s with your armor? I’ve never seen armor like that.” The gaps between the plates left vulnerable places for stabbing weapons.

“Oh, it’s stealth armor,” Pixie answered, picking up her vest. She shook it, and there was no clink of metal, only the whisper of leather rubbing. “I sort of specialized in sneak attacks. Though you can’t practice those, here.”

“You seem to do them well enough,” I said, remembering the way she’d killed the last of her attackers. “That guy yesterday never knew what hit him.”

Pixie nodded silently, looking at the armor which was now in her lap.

Luna broke the awkward silence. “Let’s see if anyone cooked breakfast.”

No one had, so we ate bread, cheese, and mutton stew left over from the previous night’s dinner. I was very hungry. Sure, I’d missed dinner yesterday, but I also wondered if the exertion of the fight and all the magic I’d used played a part, as well.

Our powerful Summoned bodies couldn’t have been running merely on the energy we got from food. We just didn’t eat enough. Thus, the extra energy had to be coming from elsewhere, probably wherever it was that our mana came from. Mana regenerated slowly over time, but it definitely didn’t come from our bodies turning food into energy. Even if our digestive systems were super-efficient, the energy needed to cast, say, a lightning bolt, would require our systems to be breaking down the food like a tiny nuclear reactor. And that was before considering how things like healing and resurrection spells worked. We had to be powered by magic which we somehow absorbed from the environment or wherever it was that magic hung out when it wasn’t creating fireballs. And that raised the question of why we even got hungry at all. Sadly, no one was around to explain these things. Not that they really mattered, I was just curious.

Pixie began to practice with myself and Luna. Like all Bladedancers, she could leap in any direction, just as she had leapt upwards to split the last of her attackers. It was more than mere strength, because she seemed to have impossibly good traction when jumping horizontally. She could dive forward or backward flawlessly on terrain where my feet would skid out from under me if I tried the same thing. It made her a fun and challenging opponent to spar with.

Pixie’s sword was well-designed for use by a Summoned. Its single-edged blade started thick at the base and grew thinner toward the tip, flattening out so that it got wider as it got thinner. The spine was straight, but the edge curved outward in a deep belly before tapering off to a clip point. It made a phenomenal cutting blade, for a sword.

Its grip had room for three or four hands the size of Pixie’s, which gave her plenty of leverage for quick, powerful strikes, like a katana or zweihander. The guard had a Chinese style to it: bars jutting straight out from the blade, then bending ninety degrees--up in back, down in front. The pommel was a simple ring, also in Chinese style. I suspected it was a design taken from Gleamheart, possibly designed by a player, given those features and the fact that it would be awkward for a normal human to wield. For a Bladedancer, though, it was perfect, allowing for either falling chops like she’d done in the fight, or for slashes as she leapt or dove past her target, maneuvers that would have been much more difficult with an axe.

What made her especially dangerous, though, was her ability to create a globe of magical white light, which could hover in place or drift slowly in whichever directing she wanted when she cast it. It could be distracting on its own, but she could also make it explode in a burst of blinding light that was effective even in broad daylight. With her quiet, fast movement, it allowed her to attack her opponent from an unexpected angle while their vision was inhibited.

Poor Luna had no chance against Pixie in a sparring match if Pixie used her abilities, but at my suggestion, they did practice fighting with their weapons in a more normal style. Pixie went all-out against me, though, and frequently, only my shield kept her from hitting me. Not that she was likely to actually hurt me if she did. I always used Holy Armor when sparring in order to prevent that, as well as my Sacred Shield ability to minimize damage to my shield

On rare occasions, I sparred with Luna and let her use her death magic. Death Bolts bypassed physical armor, like my Divine Spears did, and it hurt quite a bit. It felt like someone prodding at my insides without breaking the skin. It was good practice for fighting through the pain, and I was durable enough, especially with the enchantments in my skirt, that it didn’t incapacitate me. A few healing spells always dealt with any damage or pain afterwards.

I did my best not to hit Luna or Pixie too hard, but sometimes Pixie just sort of jumped into a strike and I’d have to heal her. Luna was more cautious, usually.

The exception was during one of our “no holds barred” sparring matches. It began normally. I faced Luna from about forty feet away, my body shimmering with the golden sparks of my Holy Armor. Luna shot a Death Bolt at me, which I sidestepped. Her Death Bolts were lightning-quick once they went off, but by watching her hands as she cast, I could predict when the bolt would fire and where it would go. I was getting good at moving just enough to be out of the path of the bolt. It struck the Spire, behind me, and dissipated harmlessly.

I charged at Luna, but as she was about to fire another bolt, I slammed my shield down, let my left sabaton skid into it, and launched myself to the right at an angle to my previous path, and she missed again. I had covered about half the distance to her when she fired a third time, this time hitting me in my left abdomen despite my attempt to dodge. It felt like being punched in the kidney. I charged through the pain and closed the distance. I blocked Luna’s attempt to strike around my shield with her scythe--she was getting better at that, but I was improving, too--and swung my hammer at her leg, planning to hook her leg and pull her off-balance.

Luna hopped backwards just enough that my swing missed, but I was prepared for that. I let the handle of my hammer hit the edge of my shield, then used both the strength of my right arm and a push with my left to reverse the swing, backhanding the axeblade at her arm. At the same time, Luna hit me with a Death Strike, a more-powerful, melee-ranged version of her Death Bolts. The Death Strike hit my right arm, and the pain made me swing much harder than I had meant to. The blade of my axe bit into Luna’s right pauldron, and into the flesh beneath.

“Oh, shit!” I said as Luna grasped her right arm with her left hand. “I’m so sorry, Luna!”

“It’s okay, it’s fine,” Luna said calmly, not even clenching her teeth in pain. “These things happen, right? We just heal them up.” Her right arm hung limp.

“Right, right,” I said, calming myself. I flipped up my visor. “Here, let me…”

Though it wasn’t necessary to be able to see the wound I was healing--I couldn’t have healed my internal injuries if it were--people tended to try to show them to me when I cast. Luna did so, now, removing her hand and turning so that her left arm was advanced toward me. Because the blow had split the padding as well as the plate, I could see the cut in her arm through the one in her armor. It was deep, nearly to the bone, but there was no blood. Luna’s muscles were a dull grey, not the red of living flesh. I raised my hammer and cast my healing spell as usual. This time, though, instead of the golden light jumping from my hammer to the wound, Luna’s chest flashed with golden light instead, and she screamed in agony.

“Luna!” I shouted, dropping my hammer and catching her as she collapsed. She was conscious, breathing hard.

“It hurts!” Luna sobbed through clenched teeth. She had dropped her scythe, and her left hand now pressed against her breastplate, over her heart.

“What happened?” Pixie shouted, running over from where she had been watching the fight and chatting with someone. Another woman ran over with her.

“I hit her too hard,” I said, fighting my voice’s tendency to try to rise to a wail. “When I tried to heal her…” I trailed off, unable to say what had happened because I didn’t understand it myself.

“Let me try,” the unfamiliar woman said. “I’ll use an HoT.”

The woman was a Lifemage, it seemed. Lifemages had heal-over-time spells which worked much more slowly than the instant-heal spells like mine, but healed more overall and could heal wounds as soon as they occurred if already cast on someone.

The woman put out both hands, which glowed green for a few seconds, then the green light flashed over to Luna, making her glow faintly all over. Luna screamed and thrashed as if she were on fire.

I finally realized what was happening. Grabbing Luna’s arms, I pressed my face close to hers. “Luna! Luna, listen!” Her black eyes focused on mine. I couldn’t tell if her pupils were dilated or not because they blended into her iris. “You need to cast on yourself. Hit yourself with a Death Strike!”

Luna looked understandably confused, so I prompted her. “Do it, Luna! Trust me, please!”

The plea from her lover seemed to be enough to get Luna to act. Her left hand shimmered in a darkness that was like an anti-light, which then stabbed through her breastplate and vanished. She gasped in relief, then coughed.

“Can you do it again?” I asked, calmer now that Luna’s face was no longer contorted in agony. She nodded, then did so. The green light of the heal-over-time spell had faded.

After the second self-inflicted Death Strike, I checked Luna’s arm wound. It was now just a deep scratch, rather than a serious wound.

“Do you feel okay?” I asked. “Do you want to stand up?”

Luna nodded, and I lifted her to her feet, more as an excuse to be close to her than from need. Pixie and the other woman still stood next to us, looking baffled.

“I don’t...what...I don’t get what just happened,” the confused Lifemage said.

“A, ah, idiosyncratic reaction,” I said truthfully. It didn’t help with the Lifemage’s confusion.

“I’m fine,” Luna assured her. “Thank you for your help.”

Pixie retrieved my hammer and Luna’s scythe. Luna folded the blade of her weapon without any hint of discomfort. I sheathed my weapon after a few failed tries. At some point I had shaken the shield off my arm, but didn’t remember doing so. I picked it up, now.

“Let’s go back to the tent,” I suggested gently to Luna, feeling guilty both for the wound I’d given her, and for not figuring out why the healing spells caused her pain before inflicting them on her. Knowing Luna’s desire to keep her undead condition secret, I didn’t discuss it there. Luna’s screams had brought a small audience to us.

Pixie, of course, followed us back to the tent we shared with her, but so did the Lifemage. I wasn’t sure how to get rid of them both so I could talk to Luna in private. Luna and I helped one another shed our armor, though I left my scale skirt and top on, since they were also my clothing at the moment.

When neither the Lifemage nor Pixie returned to the practice field, I finally asked, “Would you two give us a few minutes?”

“Sure, sure,” Pixie said, leading the Lifemage away. As they left, I could hear her explaining Luna’s and my relationship.

“Your arm is still cut pretty deep,” I said. “You should zap it again.”

Luna looked at the offending appendage in surprise. “I didn’t even notice. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Did it hurt when I cut you?” I asked, curious.

Luna considered. “Not...really? Or not much, I guess.” She tilted her head. “So healing doesn’t work on me because of my…” she waved a hand at her body.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “But your magic heals you. A Deathmage that can self-heal. Talk about unbalanced,” I joked.

Luna tentatively cast another spell on herself, aiming at the wound on her arm. The cut disappeared, leaving only her smooth, milk-white skin. “Yeah, sure enough.”

I pursed my lips. “The problem is that someone else might try to heal you if you get hurt, like that Lifemage did. If you’re badly hurt and I’m not around, they might kill you.” I could feel my face getting hot and tears in my eyes at the thought. Stupid girly tear ducts. Though really, I knew that my female body had nothing to do with it.

“I’ll just have to be careful,” Luna said, trying to reassure me. “I won’t spar without you there. And I guess when we finally start fighting for real, we were going to be on the same team, anyway, right?”

I nodded, and Luna kissed me. As I kissed her back and we put our arms around each other, she started removing my armor. “Hm?” I asked wordlessly between kisses.

Luna smiled and hunched her shoulders in her equivalent of blushing, but didn’t stop undressing me until I was completely naked. Figuring she wanted to cuddle for comfort after a traumatic experience, I undressed her, too. I need some comfort, myself.

When Luna removed my skirt, the ache from Luna’s death magic--which I’d forgotten about completely--intensified. A couple quick healing spells fixed it, but it was an interesting effect of the skirt’s enchantment, dulling the pain of the wound. Or perhaps it just made the wound less serious, but if so, why would it get worse just by removing the skirt?

Soon we were in my bed, lying on our sides, facing one another and exchanging quick kisses. Luna’s cold hand slid down the curve of my side, to my hip. To my surprise, instead of stopping there, it slipped down between us--and between my legs.

I gasped, as much from surprise as from the feel of her cold fingers on my womanhood. Luna smiled, a little wickedly, but then looked concerned.

“Is my hand too cold?” she asked worriedly.

I shook my head. “N-no. I caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect...I thought we weren’t doing that.”

Luna kissed me, and her fingers probed more intensely. “I want to do something for you,” she whispered. “May I?”

I nodded, gasping again as Luna’s cold fingers found my more sensitive parts. Well, at least we’re doing what Pixie expected…

After an intensely pleasurable hour or so, Luna and I lay in each other’s arms, gasping for breath. Luna’s breath was never warm, and it actually felt cool, since it was the same temperature as the air, but moving in little puffs when it touched my skin, like an erratic breeze. I still suspected that she only breathed out of habit, though.

“You’re sure you don’t want a turn?” I asked. I was thoroughly exhausted, but not because I had been doing any of the work. Quite the opposite.

Luna shook her head, eyes closed, nuzzling me with a happy smile on her beautifully odd face. “No, I’m fine. I just want you to be happy.”

“Well, I am. But making you happy would make me happy, y’know.”

Luna laughed her funny little laugh. “Heeheehee! Well, making you happy makes me happy. Oh, no! We’re be stuck in a recursive feedback loop of happiness!” We both laughed, then smothered our laughter in one another’s lips.

Luna looked serious. “Really, I don’t...have those urges. I figured I would when I was...playing with you. But I didn’t. Not that it wasn’t fun. Lots of fun! You’re so cute!”

I nuzzled Luna, my cheeks hot as I blushed. Her breathing was slowing at exactly the same rate as mine. Subconsciously following my lead, I thought. Or maybe consciously.

We lay happily in the afterglow for a while, until someone “knocked” on our tent by bapping the roof.

“Y’all done fuckin’ in there?” Pixie’s voice came from outside in an unfamiliar Southern accent. “I wanna take off my armor.”

I was too tired and ecstatic to be too embarrassed. It wasn’t like we hadn’t heard plenty of other people having sex. The tents did little to dull sounds, even when it came from a row or two over. I was pretty sure I’d been reasonably quiet, at least. Pretty sure.

Luna pulled a blanket over us after retrieving it from the floor of the tent. We had a canvas tarp on the ground, running between the bunks, now, so that anything we dropped didn’t get dirt all over it. “Come on in,” she said quietly.

Pixie ducked into the tent. Her arms were full, and the hilt of her sword, strapped across her back, nearly snagged the roof, but it slipped free without pulling the tent down over her and her post-coital roommates.

“I brought you guys some dinner,” Pixie said, setting her burden down on the unused cot across from mine. Her Southern accent had vanished again. Maybe she had just put it on for her crude greeting, possibly imitating someone or making a reference to something I didn’t recognize.

As she took off her armor, Pixie said, “Don’t worry about covering up. “S’not like we haven’t seen all of each other in the shower.”

I opened the bundle Pixie had brought. “You’re the best roomie ever,” I told her. Two pseudo-chicken sandwiches, baked potatoes, and a covered mug of gravy greeted my eyes and nose. I dug in ravenously, dipping the dry sandwich in the gravy, as was obviously intended. Luna ate more slowly.

Pixie doffed her clothing after her armor and sat cross-legged on her cot. “ gonna tell me what was up with all the screaming, before?”

I looked at Luna, raising an eyebrow questioningly. She shrugged, passing the decision to me.

“Luna apparently works backwards, in terms of healing,” I explained. “Healing spells hurt her, and death spells heal her.”

“Yeah, I figured that much out,” Pixie said, somewhat exasperated. “So did Janie. What I wanna know is why.”

“Ah…” I wasn’t quite ready to tell our roommate that my girlfriend was a zombie.

“I’m undead,” Luna said softly. “I woke up this way after the Summoning.”

Pixie said nothing for a moment. “Well, that explains why you don’t breathe when you sleep, I guess.”

“Ah, you noticed that,” I said.

Pixie nodded. "It's a little freaky." She laidd back on her cot. "Well, that’s good to know, I guess," she sais with a sigh. Her feet were toward me and Luna, so I had a view along the length of her nude body. Her pubic hair was indeed in the shape of a heart.

Pulling my thoughts away from comparing Pixie’s warm, living body to Luna’s cold, undead one, and the contrast it would be to touch both at once, I said, “Luna doesn’t like to advertise her, ah, condition.”

Pixie sat up again. “Sure, sure,” she said, waving a hand. “Janie’s gonna keep pestering me, though. I won’t tell her if you don’t want me to, but…”

“You can tell her,” Luna said. “I’m not trying to hide it. Anymore. I just don’t want anyone going around telling everybody.”

“Janie might tell someone if I tell her,” Pixie warned. “It won’t be much of a secret.”

Luna thought, chewing the last bite of her sandwich. Why does she need to eat if she doesn’t breathe, or...have blood? I wondered. “That’s fine,” she said at last. “Whatever.”

“Most people won’t know who you are, anyway,” I said. “Or they’ll just treat it as a rumor.” Luna shrugged.

There was a long pause as I finished my potato, skin and all, and Luna picked at hers. Then Pixie asked, “Can I touch you?”

“Huh?” Luna and I both said at the same time.

“I just wanna touch your shoulder,” Pixie clarified. “See what it feels like.”

“Oh. Sure,” Luna said. Pixie got up and hunch-walked over to us under the low ceiling of the tent. Crouching in front of us, she put her hand on Luna’s bare shoulder.

“Coooooooooool.” she said, rubbing it a little. She stopped, and went back to her cot. I wasn’t sure, but I thought she’d stolen a look at my chest as she went. Wishful thinking. You just want a harem. I smiled at the thought, and at myself.

“Speaking of rumors,” Pixie said, in a louder voice than our conversation had been up to now, “When you had your little crisis, Janie and I were discussing one that some of us would get to go monster hunting soon.”

“Oh?” I prompted.

“That’s pretty much all of it,” Pixie said. “No specifics or source or anything. Which is why we were discussing it. Seems too vague to be true, right?”

I shrugged, but Luna chimed in with “Well, they have to let us go do something at some point. They didn’t bring us here and build this camp and feed us for nothing.”

“Yeah,” Pixie agreed. “I do kinda want to get out of here and do some real adventuring. It’s pretty cool, being a badass hero for real, but it’s pointless if we’re stuck in a tutorial.” We all chuckled.

“If we do go,” Pixie continued, “you two...will you guys party up with me?”

“Sure,” I said. “Of course. Though I’d want some more people. Ranged attacks, maybe some more casters, and a healer…” I glanced at Luna, “One who knows not to zap Luna, that is.”

“About that…” Pixie said slowly. “Janie wants to join up, too. I told her about our little fight with those guys, sorta by accident, when we talked after watching us spar. You and me.” Pixie gestured to me. “She says she wants to be on a team of people who know that they’re doing.”

I laughed. “Well, we’re at least as good as most people here. What do you think, Luna?”

“Sure,” Luna agreed brightly. “The more, the merrier, right?”

“Cool,” Pixie said. “So, would you guys mind moving, then? Janie’s camp is almost empty, since the Doom Chickens built their own camp and moved everybody there.”

Most of the guilds had kept their names from Gleamheart, even the silly ones. Though apparently the Doom Chickens’ original name had been the somewhat incoherent “Doom Chicken Get More Pastries,” before. Probably some inside joke with a dash of bad grammar.

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