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We formed a tight pack as the Unkindness circled. Each of the huge, black birds bore a red health bar. From so far away, I couldn’t tell their levels.

    “Do we fight them, or what?” I held my sword ready.

    Zimea raised her flintlocks. “I can’t get any of them. They’re too high.”

    “No worries.” Pan wore his trademark grin. “They’ll come to us.”

    “Oh, that doesn’t make me worry at all.” I gritted my teeth.

    Susie-Q held Rachel tight to her chest, and the cat issued a low growl. The first bird screeched a loud caw, and dove, talons extended.

    “Look out!” Zimea fired at the attacking raven.

    The bird barrel rolled, dodging. It came in close enough, I could classify it; a Lv09 Nevermore.

    Susie-Q shrieked and ducked. The raven swooped over her head, and I slashed my sword as it went. I nicked the monster’s wing, taking a chunk of HP.

    I watched the raven rise into the sky. “Their defense sucks!”

    Another cawed and swooped.

    Pan reached into his belt pouch, then threw his hand in the air. A thick powder exploded, and the feathered creature careened through it. Stunned, the monster crashed to the dirt. It tried to rise, and flap its wings, but they stuck to its sides with a sticky substance.

    “Now, Susie-Q!” Pan threw out his hand. “Tame the avian.”

    “Gotcha!” She ran towards the bird and held out her palm.

    The Nevermore’s HP bar glowed green and refilled inch by inch.

    A pair of screeching caws came from our rear. We turned in time to duck a swooping Nevermore. It flew by and struck Susie-Q’s shoulder. She cried out, and staggered, dropping Rachel to the ground. Her HP sank by almost a third. The telepathic link between Susie-Q and the Nevermore broke, and the bird shook its head.

    “Try again!” Pan hurled a dagger at a swooping bird, killing it mid-flight.

    She didn’t get the chance before the oversized raven launched itself in her direction. Susie-Q screeched and lifted her hands to block.

    A small furball bomb struck the bird's skull. That furball, the calico cat, Rachel, clung onto the Nevermore, scratching the hell out of it. She hissed and howled, digging in claw and fang. The bird thrashed, flapping its wings.

    “Tame it, child!” Pan hurled another dagger, this time missing.

    Susie-Q threw out her hand again, and the telepathic bonding continued. Cawing from the sky announced more swooping birds.

    “Zycuh, do your damn job!” Zimea fire multiple shots. “Keep those birds off her!”

    “Crap, I'm coming!” I turned, activating Battle Cry.

    The three diving Nevermore came at me. I brought my sword back, wishing I had a shield. I needed to remember to buy one if I survived.

    The first Nevermore reached me, and I thrust Lightning Jab.

    A thick, glowing red line slashed along the bird’s flank as it lifted away. The second and the third posed for their attacks, but Zimea and Pan arrived as the backup. Zimea fired a barrage of bullets at one, while Pan flung a rope, with a ball on each end. Zimea's bird screeched and returned to the sky, while Pan’s became tangled in the bola, and crashed to our feet.

    I kept my eyes on the two Nevermore in the heavens while Pan and Zimea finished the one on the ground. The large birds circled, waiting for their moment to strike.

    Susie-Q needed more time to tame the weakened Nevermore. The familiar, Rachel, still hung onto its side, howling as if a great beast. The Tamer's eyes were half-closed. Taming a creature six levels above her own had to be tough. Her health bar quivered and dropped every few seconds.

    The two remaining ravens swooped, aiming for our Susie-Q.

    “No!” I darted for her. The two black masses dive-bombed. I shouted another Battle Cry, making one turn and come for me, but the other was out of my range.

    I dashed straight, slashing the Nevermore’s beak, and leaped, thrusting a Lightning Jab at the other, connecting at the last moment.

    The diving raven froze in midair above Susie-Q. She looked over her shoulder and the color drained from her face. The raven’s long talons were touching her back but hadn’t penetrated the flesh. With a flash, the Nevermore disappeared.

    I spun on the remaining bird which tried to fly away, but Zimea let loose a flintlock shot. The bird vanished into a red burst of feathers.

    Zimea and Pan looked past me, and I turned to Susie-Q, a knot in my chest. The girl stood, hunched over, her HP bar with but a few points. She collapsed, and I dove forward, catching her.

    “You saved me!” She giggled, her voice weak.

    “You did good!” I pulled open my menu, and selected two Medium Healing Potions, administering them to the Tamer. When her health reached max, I let go.

    “Oh no!” She gasped.

    The Nevermore stood above a prone Rachel. The small cat’s HP bar had reached near zero.

    I watched, frowning. “Can you heal her?”

    “Yes, thank gosh.” Susie-Q reached into her menu and pulled out a fish-shaped biscuit. She put it in Rachel’s mouth, and the feline gobbled it.

    Moments later, the cat climbed back to her feet with a loud purr. She rubbed her back against her master’s shins, and stood on two legs, kneading her pants.

    I squatted and scratched the cats ear. “What happens if a pet dies?”

    Susie-Q shook her head. “I don’t want to find out.”

    Pan approached us and patted Susie-Q's head. “Silly girl, if your kitty cat dies, its dead. For good.”

    Susie-Q eyes enlarged and quivered.

    I shot him a glare. “Don’t tell her that!”

    “Why not?” Pan shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

    He continued past us, and I wrapped Susie-Q in a hug. “Don’t worry about it. We won’t let anything bad happen.”

    “Even to my Rachel?” She mumbled into my shoulder.

    I grinned. “Even Rachel.”

    Susie-Q giggled, then broke free of my hug. “You see that?”

    “What?” I turned and saw Pan standing next to an oversized Nevermore. Its health bar had turned green.

    “She did well.” Pan stroked the Nevermore’s head. “Now we can cross the Cliff of Endings.”

    “The bird can’t carry us all at once.”

    “No, I'm afraid not. And we’ll need Susie-Q to ride each time to control the familiar.”

    “Three trips then.” I sighed.

    “Naturally, I’ll go first and scout ahead for danger.”

    “You think we'll trust you?” Zimea stomped. “You’ll kill Susie-Q as soon as you land on the other side.”

    Pan gasped as if stabbed. “What kind of monster do you think I am? I may kill other players if they deserve it but I would never slay an innocent child.” The grin that followed had me questioning.

    “Susie-Q.” I kneeled next to her. “The moment you drop off Pan, fly right back.”

    “We can trust him.” She nodded. “Don’t worry.”

    Pan still grinned. “Yes, you can trust me. Don’t worry.”

    “If he tries anything, dump him in the chasm!” Zimea crossed her arms.

    “Yes, dump me over the cliff.”

    “Okay!” I clasped my hands together. “This is getting creepy.”

    Susie-Q walked to the raven. “I shall call you, Molly.”

    “How do you know it’s a girl?”

    “Somehow, I know.”

    “Good enough for me.” I shrugged.

    Molly spread her wings as Susie-Q climbed on board. Pan followed, straddling the bird’s back.

    “Let's go, Molly!” Susie-Q sang.

    The tamed Nevermore flapped its wings and lifted into the air. Zimea and I stood by as they flew across the vast chasm, disappearing into the fog.

    Zimea paced the cliff's edge. “He'll kill her.”

    “Give him some credit,” I hoped aloud.

    “He’s a PKer! He kills people! BDog was just a damn coward, afraid of entering a Dungeon!”

    “What can we do but trust him?”

    “How about, not?”

    “Together, if we need to, we can defeat him.”

    “I’m not so sure about that.”

    A New Message notification popped in my HUD. My companion and I exchanged glances and pulled open our Message windows. We had a group message from Chyld of Pandora; 'I have arrived on the far side, the Land of Woe. I sent the Tamer back to you. While you’re transporting over, I’m going to the ruins of Mellaire along the road. I will meet you there unless something kills you first.”

    “He’s an asshole!” Zimea growled. “Watch, he’ll unfriend us any minute now and disband the party.”

    I hoped she was wrong. We needed an ally as strong as Pan in such a dangerous game. A few minutes later, Molly and Susie-Q flapped into sight. The tiny girl waved as they came in for a landing.

    “I’m glad you’re okay.” Zimea exhaled as they hopped to a stop.

    Susie-Q cocked her head. “Why wouldn’t I be? Pan’s a nice boy. He told me about himself on the ride.”

    My brows raised. “Like what?”

    “It’s a secret!” Susie-Q smiled wide.

    I didn’t care for secrets between party members, but if she told us, Pan might kill her.

    “Let’s leave it at that.” I shrugged. “Zimea, You go next.”

    Susie-Q motioned for the Sniper. Zimea looked nervous, climbing atop the bird. As it took off, she grabbed the Tamer and screeched. I couldn’t help but chuckle as Zimea whined the whole way into the distance.

    Time to reply to Pan.

    I brought the Message open: 'Zimea is on her way over, then I'll follow. We'll meet you at Mellaire, but don’t go too far without us. I promise you; we’ll survive.'

    Pan replied within moments: 'I look forward to getting to know the three of you better. It is nice to have, what might you say, friends?'

    A private message from Zimea popped on my HUD.

    Zimea: 'The hell he wants to be our friends.'

    I typed: 'Give him a chance.'

    'You can but we may end up going our separate ways the moment things go downhill.'

    'I’m sorry you feel that way.'

    'I’m sorry you do, too.'

    In the map menu, the next zone appeared shrouded in fog. On the side of the screen, I watched Zimea and Susie-Q’s names. For a second, they vanished, but then returned, with the location name, Land of Woe.

    “Good.” I sighed. “They’re almost there.”

    A gust of wind blew past, and a stench assaulted my nose. Nothing was within view, but the stink was familiar.

    “A Damned Werewolf?” I peered into the darkness of the forest.

    Something shifted beyond the trees. I drew my sword and held it tight.

    “Come out!” I kept an eye on my friends' location. Susie-Q hadn't left.

    “Greetings.” A raspy-voiced figure emerged from the trees; a Werewolf, but of level eight, not ten.

    “You can talk?” I blinked, stupefied. Even more curious, his life bar showed green.

    “Yes.” He hunched over, watching me. “I can talk because I am not a monster from Dark Days. I'm a player like you.”

    “Players can turn into monsters?”

    “Yes, we can. Blame that hacker. All it takes is a curse, and you turn, but I'll get to the point. I’ve been watching you since you arrived in the game. You have made impressive progress, but to defeat Z, you must be stronger.”

     I shrugged. “I’ll level up, big deal.”

    “You will need more, a curse even. One that offers you...benefits.”

    “Whoa, buddy!” I patted the air. “I have no intentions of becoming a werewolf.”

    “It is more than that.” He bared his fangs. “My curse not only turned me into a monster, but it also makes it so I can never leave the game, even if it’s completed.”

    My eyes widened. “You know what'll happen, now, right?” The werewolf chuckled.

    “I kick your ass, and you leave with your tail between your legs.”

    “No. I will give upon you my curse, so you can defeat Z.”

    “Why don’t you do it?”

    “Because I’m not the number two ranked gamer from the big tournament.”

    My jaw dropped. “You know who I am? How?”

    “Simple.” He shrugged. “I hacked into your account and saw all of your personal information. I know everything about you, and I have faith you are the one who can make it to the end.”

    “There's no way I'm getting cursed!” I brandished Scalpel.

    He howled and charged on all fours. “Yes, you are!”

    I stabbed forward with Lightning Jab, and the wolf flipped over my head, landing behind me. In a spin, I slashed across, nicking the enemy’s gut, but he came back with snapping jaws.

    I tried to spin away, but his clawed hands landed on my shoulders, and he pushed me toward the edge of the cliff.

    “No!” I dropped Scalpel and pushed with the entirety of my strength. The wolf grinned with its canine maw and chomped into my arm.

    “Bastard!” I swung my fist under his chin, uppercutting him. He stumbled to the edge and glanced over his shoulder.

    “Now you can save everyone, just how you wanted... Well, except yourself.” With those last words, he stepped off the cliff, and laughed as he fell to his doom.


Bit 13: Unkindness
Not a murder of crows, I promise you.

(click here to go to Amazon to purchase the title)…

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