BIT 16: SHEEP’S CLOTHING
We walked through the village, on edge. Pan dealt with the PKers, but that didn’t mean we should think us safe. Monsters lurked somewhere nearby. The cloudy sky darkened, and a chilly rain fell.
“Damn...” I grumbled.
“What’s wrong?” Susie-Q skipped next to me. “Are you cold?”
“Yes.” I shivered. “It’s strange being able to tell the temperature of a game, but it’s not the degree that bothers me; it’s the water itself.”
“What’s so wrong about a little rain?” Zimea stared straight, marching.
“Quit complaining! You’re a real pain!”
“Can’t help it.” I hung my head. “I've hated water since I was a kid.”
Pan walked ahead of the pack, but had his head tilted, listening. “Why would someone hate a life-giving substance?”
“Oh, come now, you must tell us, now you have stated you hate H2O.”
I heaved a sigh. “I almost drowned at age eight. My cousin and I were swimming in the river at a marina. She flipped my inner tube, and my head got stuck in the mud. Gross water filled my lungs. I ended up in the hospital with a pneumonia.”
“A shame.” Pan threw his arms wide. “Water is a beautiful thing.”
“Not for me!”
“I bet he doesn’t even take showers.” Zimea snickered.
“I do, but I hate it. If it’s a bathtub, I’d rather stay dirty than get inside it. The water being over my body makes me think I’m drowning again.”
“That’s rough. I bet you stink so bad girls won’t go near you!”
“Haha, it is to laugh.” I rolled my eyes. “For your information, I broke up with my girlfriend before entering the game.”
“Why would you do that?” Susie-Q turned on me. “That’s so mean. She was a nice girl.”
“How do you know?”
“I wasn’t sure if I'd come back.” I lowered my head. Little did I know it'd become true. I looked at the crescent moon status icon by my health bar. The werewolf player’s voice echoed in my mind, reminding me once cursed, I could never leave the game.
“I’m sure you’ll make it out.” Susie-Q popped before me. She leaned forward with her hands clasped behind her back and stared into my eyes.
I forced a laugh, and lied, “Maybe.”
“You dumped your chick. Jerk.” Zimea scoffed as we rounded a curving road, with a large house at the end.
“Tragic.” Pan held his hat over his heart. “Young love is such a sweet thing. You loved her, did you not? Yes, that must be true! You wanted to spare her the pain of knowing her beau ended in a virtual game to which there is no escape.”
“And the King of Drama award goes to...” Zimea shrugged. “Anyway, to change the subject, that house were approaching? It looks like it could be the Groundskeeper’s home.”
The brick house was two stories, with windows on both floors. An old, ornate-looking door stood on the front porch. We stopped a few feet from the dilapidated stairs.
I trailed my eyes from the porch to the roof. “Looks like a dump.”
“Again, you lack the ability to see beauty when it is inches in front of your nose!” Pan waved his hand at the porch. “This abode is a relic from a lost era.”
The Assassin stepped onto the first stair, and his foot crashed through the wood. “Or it is a piece of shite.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Who goes there?” A voice shouted from the home.
Zimea and I drew weapons while Rachel leaped onto Susie-Q’s shoulder and growled.
“Hold, my companions.” Pan held up his cane. “Not everything in this game means to kill us outright!”
The front door squealed on its hinges as it opened. Out stepped an old, wrinkled man, with crazy long eyebrows hanging past his nose.
“Dude!” Zimea's jaw dropped. “Look at the brows on this geezer.”
“He needs a trim.” I chuckled.
Pan studied the stair he shattered, then looked at the ancient fellow. “I’m sorry, chap, but it appears I’ve broken your stairs.”
The old man shook his head. “Damned old place. It needed repaired anyhow. Don’t worry.”
After I tore my eyes away from his brows, I noticed his blue health bar. As with the earlier NPCs, he bore no discernable level. His name appeared, along with a question mark; Bernie the Gardner.
“Good day, Bernie.” Pan swept his hat before him. “I see you have a quest for us? Might I inquire upon what it may be?”
Bernie scratched his left eyebrow. “I don’t know if you're up to it. You fellows seem a little weak. Are you sure you wish to hear my request?”
Pan looked back at each of us. We nodded.
“Yes, we're confident in our capabilities.” Pan placed his hat back on his head. “Please, what can we do for you?”
“If you insist. It’s your funerals.” Bernie shrugged. “I’m the Groundskeeper of Belituse Manor; have been for most of my life.”
“All of a week,” I murmured.
“Shut up heartbreaking jerk!” Zimea elbowed me.
Bernie continued, “Lord Belituse treated me like his own. He raised and took care of me, and when I was old enough, gave me the job of Groundskeeper. Everyone loved Belituse, and it was no surprise when the Queen of the Redlands, a great beauty, fell for him, but she was not what she appeared. She was a spiteful, and evil woman. Not only that, she carried a curse.”
I blinked, seeing the werewolf player from the Forest of the Damned.
Pan tilted his head. “What curse would that be?”
“Lycanthropy. She was a bloody werewolf. I realized right away. I’d studied such books of legend and myths as a child. She bore a crescent moon symbol on her back. Belituse believed it was a birthmark, but no! On the night of their wedding, a full moon rose into the sky. He swept her off her feet and took her to their bed chambers. There came two howls from the mansion. Not of pleasure as one would imagine. Instead, one was a wolf! A werewolf! The other was from Lord Belituse.”
“Talk about heartbreak.” Zimea shrugged. “Damn flea-bitten mongrel.”
“It was I who found Lord Belituse in the morning. He lay on his bedroom floor, in a pool of blood, but still breathing. Beside him, was a dagger, fashioned from the silver horn of a unicorn. There also was the Queen's body. He’d killed her. I hoped, for a month after, that the curse had not befallen him. One night, when I was patrolling the grounds, the moon was yet again full. I heard a howl from the manor. Instead of checking on Lord Belituse, I locked him inside, and have not gone back since that night.”
I scratched my ear, feeling an intense itch. “Why didn’t he break out?”
“Werewolves are like vampires, you understand. While you must invite vampires inside, one must invite werewolves outside its home.”
“Like a dog being taken on a walk!” Susie-Q laughed.
Bernie nodded. “Every full moon, Lord Belituse howls from inside, driving me mad; I tell you! For the sake of this land, I ask that you enter Belituse Manor and put to rest my cursed Lord. He doesn't want a curse. I beg you, help him!”
“Should we accept the quest?” Susie-Q shook her head. “It sounds kind of scary!”
Bernie stepped aside. “If you enter my home, you cannot turn back until you have slain the Werewolf Lord.”
“He means we start the quest.” I shrugged. “And that it’s another Dungeon.”
“We have little choice.” Pan gave a solid nod. “Are we ready?”
“One last thing.” I glanced at the old fart. “Bernie, how do we kill a werewolf?”
Bernie’s eyes lightened. He nodded and scratched his chin. “There is one way to kill werewolves. Silver.”
Zimea put a hand under her chin. “So, we need the unicorn dagger?”
“The dagger vanished years ago, but should you find it, it is yours. Otherwise you must locate the Blood Unicorn in the Garden of Evil.”
“Blood Unicorn?” I scoffed. “That sounds friendly.”
“It roams the garden.” The old guy scratched his other brow. “Its horn is silver. Take the horn and kill the werewolf.”
“And without the dagger or the unicorn?” Susie-Q’s voice quivered.
“Then you will need the only silver-bearing creature.”
“And that is?” Pan leaned forward, smiling.
“Another werewolf. Their fangs are silver.”
“So then why doesn’t Lord Belituse kill himself?” Zimea rubbed her temples. “Stupid game loopholes.”
“If one could end the curse themselves, then it would not be a curse, now would it?” I frowned. “I got a feeling a werewolf’s own fangs cannot kill him?”
“This is true.” Bernie nodded.
“We have multiple ways to kill Belituse.” Susie-Q smiled. “I think we can do this. Right, guys?”
“Whatever happened to good ole silver bullets?” I sighed.
“That’d be too easy.” Zimea stepped past Pan and onto the creaky old porch. “We’ll never have it easy.”
“Wait!” I lifted my hand. “Is there anything else you can tell us about this Blood Unicorn? How did it get into the garden? Was it a pet?”
Bernie opened his mouth to speak, but Pan interrupted him. “A Blood Unicorn was in the digital lore book that came with the game. You didn’t read it, did you?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I was eager to enter the game.”
“He’s a noob.” Zimea laughed.
“I am not!”
“Whatever the case may be.” Pan looked at me, then Zimea. “The Unicorn is a rare creature. While not evil, it hails from the darkest of the lands. One can only kill them in a particular way. I assumed you knew.”
I crossed my arms. “Nope.”
Susie-Q whimpered. “Don't worry, I didn’t read the lore book either. That makes me a noob, too.”
“I'm not a noob! But anyway, how do we slay the Unicorn?”
Zimea stood hands on hips. “Cut off its horn. For a unicorn, the wound is fatal.”
“I guess taming it is out of the question?” Susie-Q frowned.
“Imagine!” Pan giggled. “Riding a blood red unicorn as a mount. How fantastic would that be?”
“I want one!”
“Don’t worry.” I patted her head. “When we get to the darkest lands, or whatever, we’ll get you one.”
“This is all touching; you know.” Zimea groaned. “But we should enter the Dungeon.”
She walked to the door and placed her hand on the wood. A moment later, there came the strange sensation again, as if being pulled through a water slide by my nose. Pillars of light engulfed us, one by one. A blinding flash took away my vision, and everything went dark. A few moments of silence passed. We weren’t in the wormhole any longer.
“Hello?” I whispered.
“You believe you’re strong enough?” Bernie chuckled.
A candle flickered to life on a table before me. I realized then I was in a chair. Pan was across from me while Zimea and Susie-Q were on either end.
I furrowed my brows. “Where are we?”
Bernie stepped from the shadows. “I appreciate this.”
I tried to move my arm, but I couldn’t. A strap held it in place.
“What kind of bull is this?” Zimea struggled, but couldn't get free either.
Pan eyed his wrists, finding the same. Susie-Q wept, stuck, too.
“I had to talk you into coming.” Bernie grinned, scratching both his eyebrows. “Lord Belituse must feed. He is so hungry, and we don’t get visitors anymore.”