BIT 14: NOTHING TO LOSE
That one bite drained my life bar to half. A symbol of a crescent moon flashed before my eyes, then appeared on my health bar. How could I explain? Panic tried to set in, but I fought. I needed to stay focused. A cure for lycanthropy had to exist. If I didn't believe, I couldn't go forward.
With a sigh, I pulled out a Medium Potion and guzzled it. My HP returned to full, and I closed my menu. I required time to contemplate everything, my purpose, and my role in Dark Days. A message popped, startling me.
From Zimea: 'I’ve landed. Pan, as he said, is nowhere. Susie-Q is on her way back. I noticed your HP dropped. What happened?'
The message glared in my eyes. I didn’t want to lie, but truth wasn’t the best choice. For the moment, I'd stay quiet.
I typed my message: 'Another Nevermore attacked. It was trying for revenge, haha. Don’t worry. I’m on the lookout for Susie-Q now.'
Before clicking send, I hesitated. I wanted to say, 'Oh, and I got bit by a werewolf. Help me!' But I refrained. Several long moments later, my thundering heart calmed.
The sound of flapping came to ear. Molly, the Nevermore appeared, carrying Susie-Q. She waved, and I smiled at her frantic demeanor. I waved back and stepped aside as Molly swooped in for her landing. After a few hops, she slowed and turned to regard me, cocking her head.
Susie-Q gave a toothy grin. “Zimea is waiting.”
I climbed onto Molly’s back. “I know. She sent me a message and said Pan took off on his own.”
“He left to scout ahead and look for danger.”
“Well, let's get going. I don't want to leave Zimea alone.”
Our Nevermore mount flapped its wings and lifted into the sky. I squeezed my knees tight, holding onto Molly. I’d never flown on a bird before, and even in normal video games, falling terrified me. This was no different. The chasm below was deep and dark; an instadeath. Part of me wanted to jump off and end it. But I’d come into Dark Days to save everyone. I knew the risk; that I might never return. I’d broken up with my girlfriend. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. I sighed.
“What’s wrong?” Susie-Q glanced back.
I shrugged. “Just missing someone outside the game.”
“I miss no one.”
“I had terrible migraines every day, and no one cared. Rachel came with me here and that’s what matters.”
I doubted they made a VR headset for cats. Still, I pictured the small Calico, sitting curled up on Susie-Q, wearing a tiny helmet. I couldn’t help but laugh.
She twisted, trying to see my face. “What's funny?”
“Sorry, it's nothing.”
“Tell me! What?”
I stifled my laughter. “Nothing.”
She gave up as we entered the fog and lost visibility. I couldn’t see Susie-Q inches in front of my face.
A small jolt ran through my body. “What the heck?”
“We’ve switched zones.”
I opened my map; the region read as, Land of Woe.
We burst through the fog. The other side of the Cliff of Endings was one hundred feet below, decorated with stone stairs. In the distance rested a village. Beyond that stood a large mansion. Even further were fields of gray grass, but a thick fog obscured the rest.
I leaned forward. “How far inland are we going?”
Susie-Q stroked Molly's back. “We have to land at the cliff.”
“Molly won’t fly any further.”
We swooped toward the edge, and the Nevermore landed. I jumped off, happy to be on land again.
We were on the edge of another forest, but this one climbed a steep hill. The grass beneath my feet was gray. The trees were gray, too, as in an old black and white horror flick.
“This place is depressing.” I shivered, as Susie-Q stumbled off Molly, and landed in a tumble.
She popped to her feet with pep, then turned back to the Nevermore. “You can rest now, Molly.”
The bird shrank and vanished with a pop. Rachel appeared on the ground in her place. The cat stretched her legs, sticking her butt up in the air. She yawned and meowed, circling the Creature Tamer.
I shook my head. “We must get you stronger familiars.”
Susie-Q's eyes grew huge, and she stomped to my side. She poked her finger to my chest. “How dare you think such a thing!”
“Whoa!” I moved her hand aside. “I was just saying.”
“Just saying? You are a rude boy!”
Zimea appeared from the trees and waved her hands.
I exhaled. “Saved by the bell.”
Susie-Q motioned to her eyes then pointed at me. She mouthed, “I’m watching you, mister.”
I ignored her. “Well, we’re here!”
Zimea pointed to the ruined staircase thirty yards away. “Pan told us to wait, but I don’t like waiting.”
Susie-Q held Rachel in her arms. “Shouldn’t we listen to him?”
I laughed. “Maybe. But we won’t get any experience points if we stand here. We're still low level.”
“I want to wait here!”
Zimea walked toward the stairs. “You stay, but we’re going. Right, Zycuh?”
Both girls wore expectant looks, the kind where you couldn't betray them.
I sighed. “Sorry, Susie-Q, but we got to get moving. If we stay here, it may be more dangerous than anything. What if Pan abandoned us?”
“He wouldn’t!” She shook her head hard.
“Suit yourself.” I turned and walked away.
“But you said you’d protect Rachel and me!”
I stopped, and Zimea frowned.
“Come with us then.” I continued walking. “You’re a member of our party. We need your help.”
For several strides, I didn’t hear the girl. But then she wailed, “Wait for me!”
We came to the ancient, broken path which was more rubble than stairs.
“Should we stay on the road?”
“The road, yes.” I drew Scalpel. “Dangerous beasties are in the woods.”
“Pan took the forest!”
Zimea grumbled, “Good for him.” And climbed.
I followed, and halfway there, Zimea’s stomach growled.
She gasped and placed her hand over her belly. “My hunger and thirst meters are near empty.”
In my HUD, both bars were near bottom, too. “We need food and water. Do you have any?”
“I have cheese and crackers!” Susie-Q cheered.
She reached into an invisible side pouch, her inventory. A moment later, she held out her hands. A pair of cheese triangles appeared, along with round, yellow crackers.
I took one of each and put the cracker in my mouth.
“Tastes like sawdust.” I chewed, popping in the cheese. “Dollar store crap.”
“Blah.” Zimea finished hers and continued her ascent.
“Thanks.” I patted Susie-Q’s head.
She giggled, and we walked again.
“Still need water...” I muttered as we climbed, hundreds of feet.
Zimea's shoulders slumped. “We might find something in the village.”
“I hope so.”
A long time passed. At the top of the hill, we stood before the ruins of a village. I pulled open the map. We'd reached Mellaire.
As with the western district of Shadesburgh, the buildings were in disrepair. Most stood only one story with broken windows. A few had intact doors while others were hanging on only a single hinge. In the center of the square, rested a fountain. A statue of a broken unicorn stood in the middle. Water used to come from the horn. Now the pool contained undrinkable black liquid.
“Isn’t this place bright and cheery?” I smirked.
Zimea stood, hands on hips. “It makes Shadesburgh look hospitable.”
“What do you think?” I regarded Susie-Q. “Want to rest while we wait for Pan?”
“What about XP?” Zimea walked forward. “I'm not waiting.”
I grabbed her wrist.
She spun. “Let go of me!”
“No, we need to play it smart. We should at least search a building or two before proceeding. There might be weapons and loot. Or at least something to drink!”
Zimea set her jaw. “I hate you.”
“Thanks.” I rolled my eyes and scanned the houses. A two-story building on the north side had a sign, The Dipping Doggy.
“Over there.” Zimea pointed. “It looks like a tavern or something.”
I turned. “What’s wrong?”
She scooped Rachel. “I’m s-scared.”
“Of what?” I tilted my head as Zimea sighed.
“Don’t be.” I took her hand. “We’re in this together. But we shouldn’t stay out in the open. Let’s go.”
She nodded, and we crossed the cobblestone courtyard. The building itself, appeared dilapidated. Even more disturbing, deep claw marks marred the wall.
I walked to the door and drew Scalpel. Behind me, Zimea had her flintlocks ready. A small growl came from Rachel. I swallowed hard, pushing the door. It groaned as it swung and bounced against the inside wall. I stepped inside, the wooden floorboards creaking and groaning.
I peered into the foggy darkness. Old oak tables stood around, accompanied by chairs. A long bar counter jutted out from the far wall. Bottles lined the shelves.
“Come on, ladies.” I peeked out. “There may be something drinkable.”
Susie-Q came in, and once inside, Zimea shut the door. The light vanished. Susie-Q brought out a lantern, turned a knob, and a small flame burned.
“Where’d you find that?” I nudged a chair with my foot.
“I scavenged. There were a lot of useful items inside the houses in Shadesburgh.” Susie-Q set the lantern on a table where Rachel jumped and stalked in circles.
Zimea stood with her arms crossed as I searched, examining the different bottles.
“It’s alcohol.” I picked up bottle after bottle. They had different stat boosts, but most had an alcohol effect.
“Is any worth it?” Zimea sighed.
“I wouldn’t drink any. Drinking isn’t my thing to begin with, but in a dangerous game like this, just for a few stats, I’d say it’s suicide.” A closed cabinet was in the corner. I opened it, and inside were a few bottles labeled, Hydration. I handed them to Zimea and Susie-Q.
Zimea shrugged. “I’d say not to trust water here, but the hell with it.”
“Bottoms up!” Susie-Q sang, and we tilted our heads back, using the Hydration items.
My thirst meter filled to max, and I felt less sluggish. From above us, came a long creak. We froze.
“Someone or something is upstairs!” Zimea whispered.
“Could be Pan.” I shrugged.
“Or a ghost!” Susie-Q grabbed my arm and trembled.
“No. I’m a higher level.” Zimea drew her guns. “You stay here and watch for others.”
“Never split the party!”
She snickered. “Coward.”
“Wait!” I tried, but Zimea crossed the room. She climbed the stairs as quiet as a mouse.
Susie-Q nestled her head on my side and whimpered.
“Be ready.” I squeezed her shoulder.
“Okay!” she whispered.
We waited for a few minutes in silence, then came a dull thud from the ceiling.
“What was that?” Susie-Q cried.
I hushed her, but my feet carried me across the room.
With Susie-Q right behind, I ascended the stairs and came to a hall. Three rooms were on each side. Continuous thudding came from the end. I ran forward, pushing through the last door. Two forms wrestled on the floor.
I held my sword ready to strike, but in the darkness, I couldn’t tell which one to attack. But then a girl with a tall pointy hat straddled Zimea. She held a stick to my friend’s throat.
I put the sword to the attacker’s neck. “Don’t move.”
“You attack me, and I blast this bitch’s face off!” the girl hissed.
A level seven Sage named, Joker Alex. Zimea’s eyes widened as the stick rested under her chin.
“I’m sure we can resolve this without violence.” I patted the air.
“How do we do that?” Joker frowned. “You want to kill me, you damn PK bastards!”
“We’re not PKers!”
“Don’t lie! You took my brother!”
“Look, lady. We don’t have your brother!”
Susie-Q walked into the room and gasped. “Please, don’t hurt Zimea!”
“Are you a child?” Joker hesitated. I had a moment to attack and slay her, but then I'd be a PKer.
Zimea bucked her legs, throwing Joker. She rolled to the side and hit the wall. The Sniper had a gun pointed right at the Sage a second later.
I stepped between the pair. “Let’s calm ourselves.”
Outside the window, a group of people laughed. I ducked behind the windowsill. “Other players!”
We crawled to our knees and peeked out; Joker included. In the courtyard, near the fountain, were six players.
“That’s my brother!” Joker pointed. “We have to help him!”
We were no match for the party of PKers. Five of the six were level ten, and the other guy only was level seven.
The five laughed and pushed the guy around, then dragged him towards the deeper part of the village.
Joker put her hands together. “Please, help!”
I set my jaw, glancing back at the courtyard. “Dammit... I don't know if we can.”