DREAM-003: CIRCE AZALEA
A raid, huh? Circe Azalea could handle a raid. Probably. Didn’t those usually involve having a full party, though? Was she going to have to find other adventurers to team up with? That sure did seem like a lot of work. Adventurers these days seemed to get… pretty clingy. At least, in her experience they did. Wait. What experience? What was she even thinking about? Circe shook her head. Focus, you ridiculous alchemist.
Still… it sounded interesting to her. Heroes who had fought to protect the realm who had ended up falling, becoming corrupted… Hm. They were NPCs, in a manner, weren’t they? Circe couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing that had happened to her had happened to any of these heroes… could they, too, have gained a form of sentience? Had they become… something else? It was going to be impossible to say until she saw them for herself. Normally she wouldn’t be so fascinated by the idea of a raid. It was just another aspect of this MMO, and fighting wasn’t even Circe’s favourite part of her new existence. But she had questions. And maybe, just maybe, these corrupted heroes could help her to find the answers.
First, though, she was going to have to get there. There was an entire level sixty zone to traverse, first, and she was going to have to be prepared. She had managed to reach level sixty through a combination of different types of grinding - who knew crafting and fishing awarded so much experience? Circe hadn’t. She had ended up at level sixty almost by accident. But still. It wasn’t going to be that easy to get through there, even with her being of the right level. She was going to have to be prepared.
But, then again… she was Circe Azalea. She was the alchemist. Preparation was easy.
She was loaded down with potions. Her pack full, herbs for more hanging from the brim of her hat. It was easy to be prepared when you were an alchemist, and even easier when you had tentacles you could use as extra hands. Everything was quicker, easier… but it wasn’t going to make this journey any easier.
She had to do it. She had to fight her way through this game. She had to find answers. She had to know, had to understand… what was it all for? There had to be a meaning to it, didn’t there? For everything that had happened to Herschel… her friend.
She had had a friend. A true, real friend. A friend who had been willing to die for her. She would remember him. She would fight for him. She would… she would find answers.
Ah. She had made it to where Princess was waiting with the quest. Had she… had she gone on this quest before? She must have. With Herschel. And yet… the memories were… fuzzy, at best. She couldn’t remember exactly what they had been doing before… before it happened. Before… everything had gone strange. No. Don’t focus on it, Circe. It wasn’t going to make things any easier. And the harder she tried to focus on it, the harder she tried to focus on what had happened… the more the memories slipped through her paws.
She was an NPC with NPC coding. She couldn’t skip the cutscene with Princess this time. If only… if only there was a way. Circe rolled her eyes as Princess went on about the lore, about what had been done… about what still had to be done. Destroy the remnants of the Nightmare Tree… save the world. Blah blah blah.
“Thanks Princess,” she said, waving the NPC away as she began to trudge forwards, towards the raid itself. She needed to get her answers. The enemies popped up left and right as she moved towards her goal, but it was easy enough for Circe to dispatch them now, at max level. A few hits without trying, without dipping into her abilities or potions… it was all child’s play, really.
And then… and then… something that really shouldn’t have happened… well, it happened.
There. Before her. Herself.
She was the spitting image of herself. Of course she was. Same hair, same hat, same paws, same mushrooms… same tentacles. No. This wasn’t supposed to happen this time.
Had it… had it even happened last time?
Her pulse quickened. She was an NPC. Was that possible? And yet it felt so real… How could she be duplicated like this if she already existed within the game’s coding? Were both versions of her visible to the players? How… how the hell had this happened?
Pausing had been stupid. There was something in the other her’s eyes. Something that Circe Azalea recognised immediately. She was slow in reacting, though. She had been too absorbed in her own thoughts. The other Circe’s gold claws connected with her body, and she recoiled in shock. Shock and pain.
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No. No, that had happened already. That had already been done. How… how was this at all possible? How was it happening? How was the hotfix coming back? Unless… unless it had never happened in the first place?
“Stop!” she barked, grabbing her other self’s paws as they reached out towards her with her tentacles. “Stop - this is futile!”
She didn’t reply. She growled, a hatred burning in her eyes. Some kind of… some kind of strange, righteous fury. “You must be destroyed…” she managed after a moment, glaring back at her.
“You’re about to patched out of existence - none of this matters,” Circe urged her.
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But it didn’t matter, did it?
There was still time. Enough time. Fight, Circe. Fight for Herschel. For what she had seen happen. Even if it hadn’t happened… even if it hadn’t, it was real to her. That was real enough.
“If you won’t stop… I’ll make you.”
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In one swift movement, Circe let go of her other self’s paws and grabbed a potion from her bag. The one she had been saving. It was a murky green colour, unlike the red of her typical healing potions. Quickly, she uncapped the bottle.
“It doesn’t matter… none of it matters. I will survive, and I will have my answers.”
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She threw the potion. The bottle smashed as it made contact, and there was a horrible hissing noise. It would be enough. She knew it would be.
So Circe put her head down and trudged forward. She would get the answers she needed from this raid and nothing - not even herself - was going to stop her.