BIT 30: PANDORA’S BOX
As soon as we appeared in our Weapon Shop base in Shadesburgh, we went into offense mode. Another player sat on the couch, watching us. The tense moment lasted only a second as we realized who it was. He tipped his top hat, grinning.
I breathed a sigh. “Pan, you scared the crap out of us.”
He stretched his arms across the back of the couch. “My apologies.”
Zimea stomped across the room. “We need to put a lock on this place, so idiots can’t crash our base.”
“Greetings and salutations to you too, sweetheart.” Pan chuckled.
“Shut up, damn you!” Zimea kicked the chair, knocking it to the floor with a loud clatter. “Don’t call me sweetheart!”
Zimea growled and slammed her fist into the wall.
“What’s wrong with the princess?” Pan tilted his head, eyeing each of us. “Oh, where’s the little one?”
A pang of guilt hit my heart. Before I could form words, Orion spoke, “She’s gone.”
Pan’s smile fell as quick as rain. He sighed and leaned back, looking at the ceiling. “I feared that. She was only level what, five?”
I grimaced. “Six; she hit level six.”
“And she died?” Pan cocked his head.
“Why didn’t she use her level six skill?”
I furrowed my brow. “What skill?”
“You didn’t know? Alas, you never read the manual or even the wiki. For shame! At level six, a Creature Tamer learns the ability to prevent death once per day. If activated, she can either sacrifice her pet, or create a doppelgänger of herself to take the death-dealing damage.”
“Wait, what?” Zimea's head lifted.
Joker gasped. “She let herself die?”
I balled my hands into fists. “She didn't understand how to play her class!”
Pan snorted. “Did she lose her other pets?”
Another guilt pang struck me—She had.
I sighed as a tear came to eye. “She lost all of her familiars, and she relayed that in the real world she was in the hospital, bedridden.”
“That's BS!” Zimea stomped over and shoved her finger to Pan’s chest. “Susie-Q would never have gave up and died!”
“Face the truth,” Pan's voice shifted to ice. “She wanted to die.”
Zimea slapped him across the face. “No, she didn’t!”
He ignored her attack. “Don’t lie to yourself.”
Zimea slapped him again. “Shut up, asshole!”
He nodded, and she struck him again.
“Susie-Q didn’t have a real life. She wanted out.”
“Dammit, shut the hell up, you son of a bitch!” Zimea swung a punch, but Pan grabbed her wrist.
He grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
As the Sniper fell to her knees, Pan released her. “I’m sorry.”
I glanced to Orion, and he nodded to our sobbing friend. Tears suppressed, I picked Zimea off the floor. Pan scooted over, sighing, and we sat.
Zimea wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my chest, tears pouring forth. I hugged her back, and my tears streamed, too. My friend seemed to take it harder, but why? I made the promises I couldn’t keep. I swore to protect Susie-Q, and I didn't. With a tender touch, I held Zimea’s head close and whispered, “Shh.”
She stopped crying, but clutched me tight, her fingernails digging into my back. Despite the sharp pain, I continued to hold her.
Orion pulled over a chair. “Pan, I take it you’re here for a reason? Or did you drop in for a game of charades?”
Joker sat in another chair, facing Pan. “You said you'd help players level.”
The Assassin sighed. “I come bearing bad news, and worse news. Which do you wish to hear first?”
“Let’s start with bad.” I closed my eyes tight. “We’ve taken a bad hit today already.”
“If you insist.” He leaned forward, rubbing his palms together. “I tried to recruit other players from their homes, but they refused to come out. They said players calling themselves Betas, came and threatened the lot. The Betas told them they'd kill any players leaving their holes—man, woman, or child.”
“Dammit!” Orion leaped to his feet, sending his chair flying behind him. “I can’t believe those mother—”
“Language, my good Priest, language.”
I rubbed my burning eyes. “We ran into some Betas, too.”
Joker chewed her lip. “The pair threatened us. They were levels twelve and thirteen.”
“I’m level twelve,” Pan muttered, looking off in thought.
“Do you think you can handle them?”
He shook his head. “In this case, I must admit, I cannot. If the rumors are true, beyond Shadesburgh, all the players are Betas, and there were a lot of Betas.”
Orion raised his hand. “But we met another Beta! A good guy!”
Pan's eye widened. “You don't say?”
“His name was Jekyll Youngblood, and he mentioned a place called Kellen’s Glen. He said it’s safe from the Betas due to some kind of higher help.”
“Then we must reach the Glen. War is brewing.” Pan hung his head. “The PCs here; they’re not inspired yet, but once we defeat Lord Kilo, they will be.”
“What’s the worse news?” Zimea looked up, her eyes red.
“Lord Kilo is breaking the game rules.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat. “How so?”
“He’s going to siege the city of Shadesburgh and kill all PCs.”
“What?” the rest of us gasped.
“I've heard whispers amongst the hiding players.”
Joker stomped her foot. “They have to be wrong!”
“They’re not, and worse yet, they start at seven tomorrow morning.”
“Well, crap!” Zimea pulled away from me and wiped her eyes. “We’d better synthesize the Holy Crossbow and get moving.”
“I congratulate you on your success.” Pan offered a nod.
Orion sighed. “Success isn't the word I'd choose.”
Pan and Zimea got up and moved to the table.
“We should rest.” I told Orion and Joker. “But first, let’s check the Shop upstairs to see if they have anything for our levels.”
Orion closed his eyes. “Good idea.”
“We’ll be upstairs!” I stood and cracked my neck.
Pan grinned ear to ear. “Hurry back.”
I raised a brow at his creepy smile, but smiled back.
Together, the siblings and I left, ascending the chimney. We came out in the main room. Behind the counter, we found the NPC owner of the shop, Christine. She wore a blacksmith’s apron and had her red hair tied back in a bun.
“How can I help you today?” She had a plastic smile.
“Looking for anything you have for Bladers, Priests, and Necromancers. Oh, and I guess Sniper’s too.”
Christine waved her hand to the side of the room, and the items on the shelves changed to various crosses, holy symbols, wands, and staves. She then waved at the other side, and rows of guns and swords appeared.
“Sweetie, I know you want to buy me gifts.” Joker tossed me a wink. “But I’m an independent woman.”
“Right,” I muttered. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“You do, baby, you do.”
I rolled my eyes and walked away.
There were more than a dozen different guns lining the shelves. They looked basic, and weaker than what she had, but a pair of violet pistols with orange lettering sat at the bottom.
“No way!” I kneeled and stared in awe. “Lillian’s Crucifiers? What’s the story on these?”
The NPC continued to smile. “You have a keen eye. Lillian’s Crucifiers are legendary class handguns. They belonged to the mythical Lillian, the Vampire Hunter. She slew so many vampires with those guns became their bane.”
“Whoa. What do they do?”
“They have plus ten damage per shot versus vampires, and the added effect of optional fire damage. Do you like them? I can part with them for a mere fifty thousand Xynobits.”
My jaw dropped. “Can’t you lower that a little?”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “My boss wouldn’t like it if I did.”
“Man, Zimea would’ve loved these.” I glanced at my heads-up display to see the sad existence of only six thousand Xynobits. Orion walked over and squatted beside me. “Those are beauties!”
“I know.” My shoulders slumped. “And I’m forty-four thousand short.”
He hesitated, looking at his menu. “We have that in the Guild Bank.”
“How?” I gasped.
“Someone put it there, I guess.” He shrugged. “I don’t know who.”
A beeping came to ear.
“I have a message.” I scrunched my face. “From who?”
Confused, I checked my inbox and my heart sank as I saw the sender. “Susie-Q.”
“The one with her address?” Orion blinked several times, incredulous. “What's it say?”
I took a deep breath and opened the message.
To: Zycuh Hunpo
Hi, Zycuh. How are you? If you’re receiving this message, then you must know by now, I’ve passed away. I set the sending condition for if my character died, but as we are aware, in real life I’m now nothing more than a vegetable. I’m sorry that this has happened. Dark Days was enjoyable with you and everyone else, but you the most. You’ll never understand how precious you are. Maybe you will when you leave the game. I’ve left you a couple presents in our Guild Bank, that way you won’t forget me. If you check, you’ll see over 45,000 Xynobits. I collected them from my fallen companions before you. I never found a use for them as I was such a low level I didn’t need much. Also, you’ll find a purple ribbon, the one I wore. And a precious item—A pink collar, with Rachel’s tags on it. Please keep these safe. I’ll miss you always, and I love you.
“Are you okay?” Joker touched my arm. “You’re crying.”
I reached up and wiped my eyes. “I didn’t notice.”
“Susie-Q sent a message,” Orion whispered.
“Oh.” Joker’s voice dropped a few octaves.
I opened my Guild Bank tab on the menu and clicked withdraw, taking the Xynobits and dropping them into my personal bank. With a heavy sigh, I left the collar and hair bow in the bank, for sake keeping.
I turned to Christine, the shopkeeper. “I’ll take the guns.”
A small menu with the Buy option popped. I clicked the button, and the flintlocks disappeared from the shelves and appeared in my inventory.
“Let’s get back to the others,” I murmured and led the duo downstairs.
What did Susie-Q mean? How could I have been precious? And she loved me? She never acted as if she'd fallen in love. She acted akin to a friend or sister.
We walked back into the Weapon Shop basement.
“Pan?” I scanned the barren room. “Zimea?”
Orion crossed his arms. “Where’d they go?”
I frowned and walked to the bedroom, doubting they’d gone in there together. It was empty. “This is strange. They should have at least messaged us.”
“They’re gone all right.” Joker set her jaw. “And I’m sure they’re not coming back.”
“You’re joking, right?” I approached Joker, who stood by the table, hovering over a paper pinned to the wood with a dagger; one of Pan’s daggers.
Joker lifted her face; distress carved into her features. “I wouldn’t joke about this.”