Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Lag (The Game Master: Book #1) Chapter 3


Chapter Three

The Eye soared overhead, leaving in its wake the trail of magic runes melting in the air. Attila watched the view it diligently streamed to his eye lens. The grove turned into a woodland followed by some brambles: Attila gave them a wide berth watching out for more aberrations. A forest rose up at a distance.
Attila's hand reached habitually for his sword - and didn’t find it. He'd surrendered all his weapons to that Joel, hadn't he? All he had on him now was the forked medallion.
The air grew warm and reeked of ozone. This was a sure sign of an aberration lurking nearby. Attila stopped. He reached into a small belt pouch and pulled out a little bone secured on a long piece of colored string. Often aberrations would lose their invisibility and discharge if you hit them with something made either of bone or iron. Then again, you had to find them first, sniffing them out and noting any rapid change in the wind and air temperature. Still, no pioneer was ever without a rat or bird's bone in his or her belt pouch.
He saw the aberration before he could use the bone. A huge pool of sickly green slime glowed in the opening in front of him. Wasn't he lucky. Everybody called this thing Jelly; while not exactly deadly, it just trapped you for good. No, the Dead Canyon wasn't the right place to rush around. You really had to watch where you were going.
Problem was, he had legionnaires on his tail so he did have to rush.
He hurried to find a way around it, listening to every little noise. Here the trees grew denser, rendering the Eye quite useless: all he could see in his goggles was a sea of treetops below and an occasional glimpse of the top of his own head.
Soon the forest thinned out. That was weird. He was sure he'd been heading into the thick of it. He started coming across some sick trees, their trunks blackened, their leaves dry and curled. What was this now? What did the Dead Canyon have in store for him?
The answer came soon. It wasn't an aberration that had destroyed the greenery. A murky crimson stream flowed in front of him. The stench of rot assaulted his nose. What's with the water? Could this stream be passing through some cemetery or an ancient pagan god's sacrificial altar?
Attila absolutely had to cross it. The grass and the gray sand of the opposite bank were covered with the yellow fluff of blossoming bulrushes. Attila didn't dare step any closer. Bulrushes offered good protection to various nasty critters. He decided to go along the stream's bed. Sooner or later, he was bound to come across a bridge or a shallow.
After a few hundred feet of running upstream, he realized his mistake. The stream flowed out of a long horseshoe-shaped lake. That's right, that's exactly what it was called: the Crooked Lake. Further on lay a low hill followed by some marshes where the Gamekeeper lived.
The yellow fluff bobbed on the water surface next to the reflection of a large stone pipe. It looked just like a sewage pipe; the problem was, this was supposed to be a world of epic fantasy devoid of technology.
Half-buried in the ground, the pipe led to a far-off wall lined with moss. It was probably some deserted alchemic laboratory that had failed to stop completely, releasing some residual waste into the stream.
Indeed, the water next to the ruins was frothing up, covered with murky bubbles. The end of the pipe closest to Attila was barred with a rusty grate. Below it, large iridescent bubbles were bursting, spreading a stomach-churning stench around.
Running around the lake would take him too long. It was rather narrow, though: swimming across it would be a much faster albeit a more dangerous way.
Attila was about to start running when he noticed his pursuers in the lens. One of them was holding a blind sniffer wolf on a leash. Where had they gotten him from? Last time Attila had checked, the group had had no wolf with them!
Then he realized. It must have been the summoned pet of one of the legionnaires. Which meant there was a pet-controlling wizard among them. Oh well.
Only animal controllers from the Legion's frontier forts could tame blind wolves. If this group had a sniffer like that, you were in trouble. These beasts never lost a scent.
So skirting the lake wouldn't work. The legionnaires were bound to notice him and unleash their beastie who'd catch up with Attila in no time. So it looked like a toxic bath for him, then. The thought didn't scare him that much. He'd have to use some health-restoring elixirs afterward, that was all. Provided some water-dwelling monster didn't drag him down.
Attila stepped into the water. His feet sank up to his shins in silt. Bubbles rose in the disturbed water. It was cold, too. He waded in until the water was up to his waist, then kicked himself off the bottom and began swimming.
"There he is, there!" Beast hollered. "Get him!"
Attila quickened his strokes. He had to make it. He was nearly there. How long was it since he'd swum last? It had been a while. But now that his legs obeyed him, he could swim fast enough.
His feet touched the bottom. He'd made it.
He scrambled up the siltless bottom easily and ran, pulling an elixir out of his belt pocket. His wrists stung. What now?
The sensation was familiar. Of course! The yellow fluff wasn't from the bulrushes. Damned aberration again! He'd walked right into the Rusty Hair.
The stinging intensified, the skin on his hands rapidly covering with blisters. If he didn't heal them now, they'd burst, transforming into weeping ulcers.
Attila gulped the remaining elixir down and flung the empty vial aside. His hands began to twitch. Oh no. Did it give you spasms too?
He couldn't stop, anyway. Attila pulled a crystal pill bottle out of his pocket and tried to unscrew the top. His burned fingers didn't obey him. He stopped, trying not to look at them. The acid must have already eaten through his skin and was making its way down to the muscle. Of course he knew that this body was only virtual - but the pain was real enough, even though dulled by the suit's neural filters.
Clenching his teeth, Attila unscrewed the top, poured the compressed magical herbal pills into his hand and threw them into his mouth. The stinging weakened somewhat, replaced by a twitching and watering of his left eye, the one controlling the Eye's view in the lens.
He heard the sloshing of water behind him.
"No way!" a voice protested. "I'm not going in there! Look at this water! We'll have to go round."
"Shut up!" Beast yelled. "I give the orders! He's trying to get to the Gamekeeper's hut! We'll lose him!"
Finally the pills kicked in. The stinging was gone. His left eye wasn't running any more, allowing Attila to see the trees in the Eye's view. He shoved the pill bottle down his pocket and bolted.
The Gamekeeper's hut was somewhere ahead. It wasn't hard to find provided you steered clear of the marshes. These marshes harbored all sorts of nasty things and he didn't even have a weapon. But this wasn't the problem even. The ghoul was. He might be lying in ambush near the hut. The monster was strong and cunning which made him a hard win even in full gear. He wasn't the location mini boss for nothing. He could also become invisible. That was part of the game: in order to gain access to the legendary Gamekeeper and receive a rare amulet plus the first task in a large chain of quests that led you to the legendary Forest Fort and Green Queen's treasure, you first had to smoke the ghoul. According to the script, Gamekeeper had run out of arrows and barricaded himself in his hut waiting for help to arrive. If you saved him, the old man knew how to be grateful.
Attila knew all this, of course: Gamekeeper's plotline worked every time for every player. But himself, he was yet to take that route.
To his right, the parting trees revealed a dark patch on the ground just ahead of him. A misshapen helmet and a severed leg still in its boot hovered above it. Round droplets of blood hung in the air. This was Crusher - yet another aberration that would crumple your body and discard what was left.
Attila slowed down and breathed a sigh of relief. Good job he'd noticed. He really had to be more careful. Lots of people had told him that the area between the Crooked Lake and the Gamekeeper's hut was swarming with aberrations. Few pioneers ever ventured here due to the lack of artifacts and the sheer danger of the place. Choosing this particular route wasn't a healthy idea. You were much better off circumventing the lake and choosing other approaches to the hut.
Far behind him, water splashed. Someone cussed; the wolf growled. Had they really cut across the lake? It sure looked like it. The problem was, the wolf had a nose for aberrations. Which meant that once in the forest, nothing could slow the legionnaires down any more.
Attila walked around a Witch Fire that droned softly. A dozen paces on, he encountered another Rot: this one was pale, apparently recently discharged. Why? Or... by whom?
He couldn't hear the voices behind him anymore. Not good. He walked faster. How weird. All the aberrations on his way - apart from the Rusty Hair - had been recently discharged. That's why he'd had no problem noticing them. Had someone taken this route just before him, discharging the aberrations by throwing them bones on a string?
He reached for the book and began turning the crystal knobs, adjusting the view. The Eye sped up overhead, checking the area in front. Then it came back. No one.
Attila ran up a low hillock, then crouched in some bushes as he noticed another aberration: a Catapult on the foothill right ahead. He removed the medallion. Triton's Fury had a cooldown of well over an hour which meant it was charged at about 15 or 20% of its normal combat power.
These were the disadvantages of the full immersion mode: you were stripped of all stats bars, markers and even player's name prompts. Naturally, it was done for the better authenticity of your experience: by choosing full immersion you agreed to plunge into this world head first. This was every hardcore gamer's wet dream - but admittedly it had its own cons.
The earth ahead became marshy. Pools of water glistened everywhere. Here, trees were sparser, replaced by bulrushes.
The bushes rustled behind his back. Attila swung round. The unleashed blind wolf poked his head out of the brambles. Attila clenched the forked medallion.
The beast's eyelids were gummed up. Puss clotted the corners of his eyes. The wolf bared his teeth, exposing his bright-red tongue. He growled and charged up the slope.
Once the wolf approached, Attila jabbed him with the fork. The air flashed blue, crackling and smelling of ozone, but the effect was noticeably weaker than earlier in the tavern. With a howl, the wolf threw Attila on his back, pinning him down.
The wolf's jaws snapped right in front of his face, his claws ripping through Attila's clothes. Clutching the animal's throat, Attila kneed him in the ribs, trying to force him off. The wolf struggled free and sank his teeth into Attila's arm. Once again Attila tried to kick him, then managed to force the animal off himself, pinning the wolf down. The animal yelped but didn't release him. Once again Attila tried to struggle free, losing his balance - then the world flickered around him as the two rolled down the slope.
His head hit a rock. Everything went dark. The wolf was as strong as ever, but for some reason, Attila had stopped feeling him. He could see him all right, but the beast seemed to have dematerialized. He was still pinning Attila down but his body began to glow, surrounded by a shimmering aura. The wolf's head extended, his teeth sinking into Attila's body right through his clothes. Like a giant worm, the beast began immersing itself into Attila's body, entering it. What kind of sick magic was this? Did the wolf have any extra functions? Or was it some kind of bug?
A powerful surge of air pushed him. Without noticing it, the two had rolled close to the Catapult, entering its trigger zone. The still-unabsorbed part of the wolf was thrown into the air, ripping it out of its victim's body. Attila watched as a round shimmering entry point in his body gradually closed, changing its color back to normal.
Attila, too had been grazed by the Catapult but it was nothing compared to the wolf who was now lying on top of the hill twitching and wheezing. Scrambling to all fours, Attila stumbled away. The hut was within reach now, a thousand feet at the most.
He gulped down another elixir. He now felt strong enough to climb back to his feet and walk faster. This had been his last vial. If only he had a couple more! He still had a handful of pills but they mainly worked against poisoning and magic damage and did little to restore one's strength. 
He hobbled on, dragging his feet. The bulrushes rustled treacherously. Colored circles flashed before his eyes. He felt sick.
It wasn't right. He shouldn't feel so bad. Could it be the wolf's attack affecting him? Attila knew too little about this damned full immersion mode. He wondered if the wolf had tried to paralyze him to make sure an immobilized Attila couldn't quit the game. It was a good job he hadn't broken his goggles... actually, he couldn't, could he? Hadn't he seen them marked as indestructible the first time he'd used them?
 The Eye diligently hovered overhead, indifferent to its owner's woes. He could see human figures approaching the hill from the opposite direction. There was no way he could make it to the hut now. He didn't have time.
A new idea occurred to him. Attila pulled the book out and began turning the crystal knobs. The Eye dove down toward him.
He should have done it earlier! He could have used it to fly over the stream. And now he had only this last chance to escape the legionnaires.
Attila pulled the star's telescopic arms out, expanding them. This stretched the spherical shape of the Eye, turning it into a flattened disk. The lens image suffered but at the moment, the artifact's load-carrying capacity was all that mattered.
The star began to heat up. Clenching it with his right hand, Attila shoved the Book down his pocket, then felt for the crystal knobs. Controlling it this way was awkward.
The nearby bulrushes rustled. "Help me, buddy!" a voice pleaded.
Attila ignored it. His feet got off the ground. Once he rose a few feet into the air, he could see a fellow pioneer writhing in the bulrushes, trapped by the Rot. His lower body had already dissolved; he was struggling weakly, the black beret on his head shaking.
The beret was how Attila recognized him. Well, well, well. This was Lone Survivor, or Die-Hard as players had nicknamed him. The local legend, he was the game designers' practical joke: a pioneer who constantly ended up trapped by monsters or caught by aberrations, every time dying a gruesome and unconventional death only to respawn somewhere else. He wasn't a real player, of course, but an NPC. Serves him right.
Over on the hill, he could hear shouting, the stomping of feet and the rustling of bulrushes. The Eye was now flying over the marshes. Attila's grip on the star's arm weakened; his hand kept slipping off the smooth metal. He could drop to his death at any moment.
He glanced down and grasped at the star for dear life. Right below him, a Crusher opened his greedy magic jaws.
With aberrations lying before him and the legionnaires closing in behind, Attila made a perfect target. He remembered seeing two archers among his pursuers. It was a good job they hadn't used their bows yet.
Just as he thought that, a chunk of fire the size of a football whizzed past him, singeing his cheek, then exploding in mid-air. Attila shut his eyes from the light. Who was shooting fireballs at him? Did that mean that besides animal controllers, their group also had a combat wizard?
The earth below glistened with pools of water which were now studded with trees like some sort of forest quagmire. Green and yellow algae gleamed amid mounds of black earth growing out of the leaden water. These visuals pleased the eye but not the heart.
Further ahead, a small hut appeared amid the trees. The moss covering its walls made it resemble a huge overgrown boulder. Its simple lean-to roof sported a chimney topped with a blue diamond-shaped icon with a spiral and an arrow pointing skyward.
The ghoul was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the Gamekeeper. Having said that, he could have barricaded himself in his hut.
Obeying Attila's hand on the knob, the Eye rotated slowly, turning Attila so that he now faced the hill. His elevated position offered an excellent view of the hastening legionnaires and the desperate Die-Hard screaming for help, his splayed hand reaching out of the low shrubbery. Beast at the head of the procession disregarded him completely, ignoring this Dead Canyon's living (or rather, continuously dying) legend as he stared open-mouthed at Attila soaring over the lake.
The Eye creaked, vibrating while dropping magic runes from its arms. The built-in levitation spell couldn't keep Attila's weight airborne for very long.
A legionnaire fired an arrow at him. Then another. Both missed. Beast made a complex figure with his hands, raising them in front of him. The air glowed crimson. Aha. So we were the group's wizard, were we? Attila'd believed him to be a heavy warrior, a born tank, but Beast seemed to know how to use his magic.
The fireball hummed, heading for its target. Attila spun the knob. With a jolt, the Eye built up speed, rocking in the air. Attila's hand kept sliding off it. Those below in the marsh yelled, celebrating. The first archer loosed off another arrow.
The fireball missed him by a mere couple of feet. It would have hit him for sure had he not sped up. But it created a perfect distraction for his pursuers... who were immediately punished for their disrespect of the Dead Canyon.
A legionnaire ran in front of Beast and screamed, stepping into the Witch Fire. It flared out torch-like, then bellowed smoke, reducing to ashes together with the hapless player. Another one recoiled and stepped off the track, falling waist-deep into the quagmire. Beast swung round, momentarily forgetting Attila. The remaining legionnaire used his sword to cut a young tree and reached out, offering its trunk to the sinking comrade. The latter grabbed at it, pulling himself out.
By then, Attila had been flying over a large expanse of water, a lake almost. The Eye shuddered, forcing his fingers off the slippery metal.
He dropped face down into some sickly reeds that lined the water by the shore. He tried to scramble to his feet but sank knee-deep in the silt. Accompanied by its greedy slurping, he waded toward the shore.
The thick bulrushes next to him swayed, disturbed by something in their midst. He heard the same slurping sound. It stopped, then resumed - this time from behind his back. Attila looked around but saw and heard no one apart from the legionnaires on the far shore busy helping each other out of the quagmire to Beast's indignant bellowing.
So! Could it be the invisible ghoul rounding on him? If it was, then this was the end of him. The ghoul was quick. Or could it be his imagination playing up? That would be too good. He really needed to get out of this slosh and get busy restoring his health.
Casting suspicious glances at the quivering bulrushes, Attila downed the remaining pills.
Soon the ground became firmer. Attila quickened his pace, fiddling with the Book's knobs on the go. He could make out the Gamekeeper's hut amid the trees ahead.
Finally the Eye descended and began snapping its arms close. Once the device was the size of a dinner plate, Attila opened his bag, letting it in, then buckled the bag close.
Should he keep the Titan's Fork ready? Pointless. The artifact hadn't had enough time to recharge after his wolf encounter.
As he pondered over it, he saw a man appear from behind the trees. Attila stopped dead in his tracks. Had his pursuers outrun him after all? Or was it another one of their agents like that kilted guy? What a shame. He'd so very nearly made it.
The man raised his bow, small and elegant, and took aim. Not a man, Attila realized. A girl. A pointy-eared Elfa. Okay, they weren't that pointy after all. Just a little, maybe, but overall, they were pretty - sexy even.
She was wearing the Forest's Secret camo suit and that was something you couldn't buy: you could only earn it by collecting a certain number of so-called Forest Seals. And those were very tricky to come by. Her light rawhide breastplate had two artifacts installed, the Shield and the Enhancer: the former to protect, the latter to amplify its properties. While the Shield offered little protection from aberrations, it was perfect against all sorts of stabbing and slashing weapons. Attila couldn't recognize the bow but judging by the way it looked, it was no cheap shit either.
The young blonde Elfa actually looked quite cool in her awesome gear. Cool but slightly unnatural as if she'd only put on this stuff for show.
"There, you," Attila said. "Cool it, will ya?"
He just hoped she wouldn't shoot. Even though he didn't know the bow's particularities, at this distance one arrow was enough to finish him off, considering his feeble stats. Just think that the hut was within reach, right behind her back!
Several throwing knives and a dagger dangled off the girl's belt. Judging by them, she was a Forest Ranger. They specialized in long-distance combat, focusing on Accuracy, Agility, Speed and possibly also Stealth although about this one he wasn't so sure.
Apart from that, the Elfa was also in possession of a weapon of mass destruction targeting the male population: a gorgeous head of golden hair, a super cute face, legs that seemed to go on forever, a wasp's waist and truly divine breasts. Either the girl had spent hours in the character generator, pouring all her available money into its paid options... or this was how she actually looked in real life. Virtual capsules copied the player's appearance by default, allowing him or her to further enhance it by using the visualization menu.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked without lowering her bow.
"I need to get to the portal. Please let me through," he showed her his empty hands, happy that he'd already packed both the Eye and the Book away. "I need to log out ASAP."
Squinting, she looked him over. "Log out, yeah?" she lowered her bow. "Well, you can try."
She stepped out of his way. Attila walked past her. This had to be a catch, he just knew it. Was she going to shoot him in the back? Then again, she'd had plenty of time to do so. He could sense her curious gaze on his back. What was there to stare at?
He laid his hand on the door handle and turned round. "Have you smoked the ghoul? Have you saved the Gamekeeper? I could sense someone lurking around me in the bulrushes."
She chuckled softly, then nodded. "That was me." Her expression was impossible to divine. All right, so she had Stealth too, then. Amazing how he'd managed to discern all her major properties just by looking at her. His experience was nothing to sniff at.
Oh, well. Still feeling strangely insecure, he swung the door open and stepped inside.
The hut's furniture consisted of a crudely made table, a stool and a bare plank bed by the wall. A large Russian oven towered in the corner complete with a cast-iron lid leaning against it. In the center of the hut's only room, the blue circle of the portal emitted a vertical shaft of light. A pool of blood glistened by the door. Had she managed to shoot the ghoul right there in the hut? How strange that his body had already disappeared but not the blood.
Right, Beast, see you some other time! Attila squeezed his eyes shut as he stepped into the sparkling shaft of blue light. Closing his eyes was purely psychological. He just couldn't help it.
With a smile Attila opened his eyes. Nothing had changed. He was still standing in the Gamekeeper's hut. WTF? Was it a glitch? It had never happened before!
He stepped out of the circle of light, waited a couple of seconds and stepped back in. This time he kept his eyes open. The sparks glistened; the light grew brighter, then faded again.
He was still in the Gamekeeper's hut.
What the hell was going on? So much for his escape! Had the Admins disabled this terminal? But that was against Terms and Conditions! Attila had read them and he knew that the game owners had no legal right to obstruct a player's logging in or out in specially designated places. And this was much more serious than his attempt to sell some dodgy software. In theory, he could now sue RussoVirt for millions.
He heard a short tense chuckle behind his back. He turned his head.
The Elfa entered the hut. "Keep on trying. It might just work."
Ignoring the sarcasm in her voice, he walked out of the shaft of light and entered it again. Shit. The portal wasn't working even though this was impossible because... because it was impossible, dammit! No one had ever heard of logout options being disabled before. This was bullshit!
What now? Should he try to outrun his pursuers again and hurry toward the Fortress station in the hope that the legionnaires had already left it? Or should he try to get to the next nearest station? Shame he didn't remember exactly where it was so he'd have to consult the map.
Angry and annoyed, Attila barged out of the hut. The Elfa shrank back, giving way. He reached for the Book in his pocket when an arrow whizzed past his ear and thudded into the wall behind him.
The hut didn't have windows. In the absence of the portal it was a dead end. Attila ducked behind the corner. The Elfa followed suit. The bulrushes on the shore were moving like crazy, disturbed by the approaching legionnaires. Long time no see.
The Elfa raised her bow and, ducking behind the side wall, loosed off three arrows at an incredible speed. At least one of them must have found its victim: they heard a scream followed by cussing.
Now their pursuers lay low, their advance betrayed only by an occasional rustle. Judging by the bulrushes' movement, they'd decided to split.
Snap! An arrow very nearly grazed the Elfa's cheek. Her long ear twitched as she recoiled, joining Attila behind the hut.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "Why isn't the portal working?"
"I thought you could tell me that!"
They peeked around the corner. Elfa wrinkled her pure brow, as if considering which of the two opposing sides she should join.
"Did you try to log out too?" Attila asked while studying the area behind the hut. Not a single tree in sight anymore, just an expanse of marshes with an occasional sparse growth of reeds. Heading there meant exposing oneself to enemy arrows and fireballs.
"No, I'm just hanging out here," the girl snapped. She seemed to have come to a decision as she raised her bow and leaned out, loosing off an arrow at the bulrushes that echoed with generous cussing.
The girl shrank back, bumping into Attila. "Oh!" she shouldered him aside. Attila heard the crackling of another fireball as it hit the wall. "Who's that idiot shooting fire?"
"It's a half-orc."
"Great. He very nearly burned me to death."
The girl pursed her lips and reached into her pretty beaded quiver, pulling out three arrows. Loading them all onto her bow, she pulled the string back and jumped from behind the corner, dropping to one knee and turning the bow horizontally. With a loud snap, the arrows fanned out, triggering another bout of cussing and groaning in the bulrushes.
The girl ducked back behind the safety of the wall. "There. That'll make them lie low for a while. Who the hell are you? Are they legionnaires? Why are they after you?"
"They want me alive," Attila said. "Can you help me?"
She shook her head. "I've already been seen firing at them. I don't need any more hassle. It's your problem, after all."
"I don't have any weapons on me. I'll pay you if you help me. A hundred gold."
Interest glistened in her slanted eyes. "You don't look as if you have the money."
"I had to leave my weapons at the Unicorn. You know the tavern, don't you? They ambushed me there, that's why I couldn't collect my weapons. But I can transfer the money to your account."
She studied him, her gaze frisking his body, searching his pockets. "Okay. Three hundred."
That pointy-eared bitch! "Aren't you being a bit greedy?"
The girl didn't take offense. She smirked, as if he'd just complimented her. "So is it a yes? Otherwise I'm off."
"They'll shoot you on sight, don't you understand?"
"So what? I have nothing of value on me."
"Not even your suit and your bow? Okay, okay. It's a deal."
She nodded, then quickly jumped from behind the corner and rattled off three more arrows in rapid succession, as if using a sewing machine. This was definitely some special Elven skill.
When she ducked back in, Attila peeked out. A human outline stole from the lake to a nearby tree. They'd been trying to surround them but this girl had prevented their progress.
Beast had slung his mace over his back and was now crawling toward them, keeping his head low and ducking behind grassy tussocks. Then he looked up, peering at something. Immediately he sprang back to his feet and bolted back toward the bulrushes. The girl leaned out and took aim.
Attila cheered. That was it. That was the end of his enemy. The hunter had been turned into quarry!
"Just shoot!" he shouted to the reluctant Elfa. "Smoke the motherfucker! Do your karma a favor!"
She didn't budge. Attila realized that she too was looking up at the sky. He raised his head. The horizon glowed crimson, the distant Citadel enveloped in a menacing shroud of thunderclouds.
The Storm? The Magic Storm! It couldn't be. Shit. If it's not one thing it's another. First the ambush, the chase and the broken portal, and now the Storm!
"Five hundred," the Elfa snapped as she fired another arrow. Beast dove into the bulrushes, avoiding it. "Then I'll get you to a safe place."
"How's that for pioneering brotherhood?" Attila yelled at her in helpless indignation.
"You wanna be brotherly with a ghoul," she snarled.
He looked at the legionnaire's body, his face buried in the ground. For some reason, it wasn't fading. It should have disappeared by now. That was weird. Could he be still alive - wounded? But then he'd surely have attempted to move.
"So? Is it a deal?"
"Yeah," Attila answered. "What's up with the corpse? Why is it still there?"
The girl ignored the question. "Come along, then," she commanded.
She slung the bow across her shoulder and grabbed at the low roof, pulling herself up.
"Why there?"
She didn't answer. He was forced to climb along.
Soft moss carpeted the roof. Attila sprawled behind the chimney which was unnaturally wide, three times the size of a regular one. The blue diamond of the holographic icon hovered overhead.
The Elfa loosed off three more arrows and received a fireball in return. She dropped to the roof next to him. An enormous clot of fire whizzed just above their backs. Attila's hair crackled with the heat.
He rolled over to his side to look back. This particular Storm was weird. A crimson tidal wave was sweeping over the Dead Canyon, hatched with lightning: a whole wall of branching vertical bolts of blindingly bright discharges. Was it the Storm of the Millennium or something?
"What are we doing here?" he shouted to her. "Enjoying the view?"
"Do what I do," the girl leaped to her feet. She sat on the top of the chimney and slung her legs over the edge. "Down there there's a Crimson Hole!"
He nearly jumped with joy. What incredible luck. The fact was, you couldn't build a buglessly perfect game without leaving certain loopholes behind governed by their own laws of physics.
The girl jumped down the chimney. Attila peered into its black mouth, then looked back at the crackling sheet of lightning. It was approaching fast. The Storm would consume them in a minute. Ah, whatever! He just hoped he wouldn't get stuck in the chimney. The Elfa was considerably slimmer than he was. Still, he couldn't quite work it out. There was no way the hut's flimsy walls could protect them from the storm. They needed a cellar - preferably, a concrete bunker...
The air around him flickered, filling with interference. Vibration set his teeth on edge. It felt as if the whole enormous game world was shuddering in a bout of fever - not just the hut and the marshes around it but the very fabric of reality seemed to be convulsing, erupting in spasms.
The howling of the storm grew stronger. The wall of lightning kept approaching.
Down the chimney was probably better. Attila threw his arms over his head and jumped. He sensed the change in the texture of reality in the dark. He now was in... actually, where was he? He couldn't tell in the pitch black darkness.
"Have we gone through into the cellar?" he interrogated the dark.
A series of rapid flashes illuminated some walls and a low stone ceiling overhead. A rectangular opening gaped at its center. Far above he could make out the red-tinted square of the chimney's top. Slim blue charges of lightning snaked in the corner of the little room, casting a weak light on their two faces.
Attila recoiled, flattening himself against the wall. "This is Magneto! Are we inside the oven? Is it hollow inside? How stupid is that?"
"Magneto is the entrance to the hole," the Elfa explained. "It's not dangerous, I assure you."
"Are you raving mad? I'd rather die than enter it!"
The whirling and crackling sounds outside grew stronger, amplified by the chimney. Their two shadows flickered and writhed on the wall.
"I tell you it's a bug!" she said. "I discovered it once when I was trying to get away from the ghoul. So I... don't matter. Just follow me."
She grabbed his hand and yanked it hard. Attila barely stayed on his feet. He stumbled in after her. The lightning clung to them, stinging and burning.



End of Preview


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Release date: October 12 2015


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