Get ready for a bunch of chapters today!  I need to get this book done this week.


 

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Vale, Abbey, and Bart all stood looking down at the crude map drawn in dirt.  Vale was holding a stick and looked thoughtfully at the crude scratches.  He made another line by the box that designated the warehouse they’d be breaking into.

“Okay,” he said, “this is a wall.  We should approach the building this way.”

“We still don’t know what, if anything is inside, right?” asked Abigail.

Vale sighed, “Nope, we don’t.  We all just spent the last two days figuring out where this place even was but I didn’t catch any hints, did you?” Bart and Abbey shook their heads.  “It would be really helpful if someone could get down there without being seen to check out the inside first.”  Vale watched closely, but Bart and Abbey just nodded.

He hissed under his breath and frowned.  He’d been trying to catch a hint of Abigail being ABI ever since Steve said something about it, but he hadn’t even seen her act strange at all.  The whole situation was bugging him.  Maybe Steve was just full of it.  A notorious muckraker basing their handle off an in-game name would be pretty stupid, after all.

The little group was squatting at the top of a hill overlooking their new target.  All of them had been working on the quest chain.  The legendary weapon quest was surprisingly complex.  Most big SOO quests were more time consuming than difficult.  However, over the last two days, all three of them had been running themselves ragged.

They found another clue in a graveyard after digging up a coffin.  The clue they’d found in the old study had been a roundabout clue leading to it.  Then they all had to gather ingredients for a complex ritual Vale did in order to display a map on the wall.  The map had indicated their new target in the quest chain.

Unfortunately, they had no idea what was in the warehouse, nor what they were supposed to do when they got there.  What was more, they were getting uncomfortably close to the new Abyssal Ones player territory, claimed after their new capital city appeared.  The tide permanently, mysteriously retreated out of a nearby bay, revealing the capital city.

The new race had attracted a lot of griefers, players that got off on being assholes in-game.  One of the new racial abilities of the Abyssal Ones was a shorter respawn timer.  The benefit for trouble-causing players was obvious; they could be less worried about getting killed.

After the Abyssal Ones race unlocked, existing players could change races for two days, and a lot of unsavory players made the transition.

Vale sighed just thinking about it.  If the Lords of Finality showed up again, now they’d be a bunch of creepy fish men… things.  On the other hand, they’d all be lower level too since they lost levels to switch races.  Still, Vale hoped not to see them again.

“Okay, is that it?” asked Bart.  “We pretty much know where to go, but we still don’t know anything about it, right?”

“More or less, yeah,” replied Vale.  “If we run into any bad guys, let’s try to take them with blades first.  Guns are too loud.  We want to be as sneaky as possible.”

“I have something for that, actually,” Abigail said, smirking.  “I’ve been working like crazy at this.  I got so many new plans with my new subclass I didn’t even know where to start.  I’ve spent all my free time on this stuff and I was even able to make some improvements to the original plans.”

Abbey took her pack off and fished around, drawing out several weapons.  Her big, pirate pistol looking flintlock, the pepperbox revolver, and the little cartridge pistol were all weapons Vale recognized.  However, Abigail also produced a long, metal tube about two inches in diameter.  Last, she withdrew an enormous pistol.  It had two barrels, one over the other.

Abbey noticed Vale staring at her and she smiled.  “This is a howdah pistol of my own design.  It uses custom cartridges I also created from scratch.  I had to scrap all my work on the other pepperbox and pretty much use up every rare component I had, but this sucker packs a punch.”

Vale blinked and shook his head.  “That thing looks like a damn cannon.  It probably makes enough noise to wake the dead.”

“Yeah, this baby is only for when things get scrappy.  This on the other hand,” she said, holding up the tube, “is what I’ll be using now.”  With that, she screwed it onto the front of her smaller, single cartridge pistol.

“Wait a minute,” said Bartholomew, scratching his head.  “Silencers aren’t Victorian era, are they?”

Abbey shrugged.  “No, not really, but the game makes a few exceptions, it seems.  I’ve heard rumors that there is some really advanced tech and plans lying around in the game but they’re rare.  I actually found the basic plans for silencers in-game when I was like level four.  I don’t think anyone knew how rare it was at the time.  I accepted it and used it.  It was bind on use, just like most other good stuff so I can’t sell it now.  I only know of like one or two other players that can make them.”

“So the plans were a rare drop?” asked Vale.

“Yup! I got lucky!”  Abbey chuckled and tightened to tube by hand.  “I’ve been looking for an excuse to make and use one of these.  Until I had the cartridge pistol, I didn’t have an good gun for it.  Now I do.”

“Why haven’t you been making them and selling them?” asked Bart.

“Are you kidding me?”  I don’t want many people to have these things.  Maybe I’ll sell a few for a ton of money in the future, I dunno.  It seems the others that have that have these plans feel the same way because I haven’t seen anyone using one yet.”

“Okay, okay whatever.”  Trent rolled his eyes.

Abbey smiled.  “I don’t care how you feel about guns.  As soon as I get to Rainbow Ranch, I’m going to teach both of you guys how to shoot.”

“Don’t call it that,” Vale said absently, checking his own gear.

“What?  Rainbow Ranch?  Oh, don’t be such a stick in the mud.  It’s a cute name.”

“Whatever you say.”  Vale rolled his eyes.  He turned to Bart and asked, “Are you ready?”

“Always,” his friend said, grinning.

Vale grunted, muttered, “Yeah, right,” and began leading the way to the target.  They wound around the back of the hill they’d been standing on and crept over to the wall Vale had pointed out before.  The three of them hunkered down and proceeded carefully, all of them keeping an eye out for enemies or worse, other players.

They were effectively out in the middle of nowhere and odds were low of seeing other players.  Unfortunately, remote areas near buildings and quest locations were prime locations for an ambush.  It wouldn’t hurt to be careful.

When nothing moved, the three of them crept up to the door.  Vale was leaning heavily on his [Paranoia] skill.  Without it, he probably would not have been so successful with solo questing in the past.  It was still useful in a group too.  Nothing was popping up, which was a good sign.

Bart tried the door and the knob didn’t move.  “Locked,” he whispered.

“Here, let me try,” said Abbey.  She took a small contraption out of her bag and went to work on the door.

Vale pursed his lips and nodded in appreciate.  “That’s a neat trick,” he whispered.  “You can’t actually pick locks so you made a gizmo to do it for you?”

“You bet!”  The steampunk girl grinned.

“I could have just picked it,” muttered Bart.  Vale ignored him and let Abigail continue to do her thing.  In another few seconds, the door was unlocked.

Luckily, the door didn’t make too much noise when it was opened and the three of them snuck forward.  None of them were that great at sneaking, but they all still had the in-game toggle for it.  Without a real skill, though, their actual ability was more like a fraction of their real world skill.  It meant they didn’t make tons of racket, but they weren’t exactly noiseless either.

Vale thought about it as he crept forward.  How the hell had Abigail gotten on his coach and hidden so easily without stealth skills?  It just made no sense.

Suddenly, Bart held a hand up from the front of their little group.  After they were all still and silent, Vale heard it too; quiet chanting.

The group move forward even more cautiously, and they saw what was making the noise.  A man in a dark robe was facing away from them, holding something in his hands.  The entire scene was illuminated by a single, sputtering candle.  Vale shuffled closer, and suddenly, the man rose and turned in one motion.  Vale’s hand was on his sword, but he didn’t draw.  His eyes opened in shock.

The man’s eyes were gone, apparently clawed out long ago.  He was holding a doll in his hand.  It took a second for Vale to notice the doll was covered in blood.  Behind the robed man, Vale could see a disturbing altar with asymmetrical measurements.  The man spread his arms, crowing, “Yes, more have come to visit the master!”  He cackled madly and abruptly spun around, going back to his knees.

Vale didn’t know what to think of the little performance.  He stood still for a while longer, staring at the man and the altar.  He’d noticed that altar looked like it was dripping.  A nearby bowl seemed to be full of liquid and he assumed it was blood.  The entire building was in shadow, but he saw strange designs and patterns written on the walls in blood.  It was a gruesome sight.

Bart nudged Vale’s foot and pointed into a corner.  Vale noticed that the pile of rags against the wall was actually the bodies of two children.  He figured Abbey noticed as well when she gasped.  She growled as the group moved forward.

The man in the robe, probably an unholy priest, was gibbering to himself and turned the doll in circles.  “What do we do about this guy?” asked Bart.

A sudden dull pop to his side drew Vale’s eyes.  The robed man collapsed, and Abigail reloaded her silenced pistol with another cartridge.  She saw Vale’s expression and whispered, “What?  There’s some stuff I’m not willing to tolerate, even in a game.”

Vale massaged between his eyes and said, “I hope there’re enough clues around to figure out what we’re supposed to do.  It’ll be really awesome if we were supposed to talk to that guy for the next leg of the quest and now we can’t.  Maybe if we’re really lucky, this can be a complete dead end.”  His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Abigail shrugged.  “Yeah, I suppose, but he might have attacked us too.  I could have just done us a favor.  Magic types are a lot easier to kill before they start with all the crazy stuff.  Look at that knife.”  She pointed to a rather ominous, barnacle encrusted dagger near the altar.  Vale didn’t want to go near it.

“Whatever, what’d done is done,” sighed Bart.  “Just look around.”

The group began searching the area.  Abigail produced a little lamp from somewhere and Bart held aloft a glowing vial.  Vale looked around for another light source and said, “Aha!”  He’d found a couple torches.

He was tempted to ask Abigail to just shoot some holes in the wall of the building to let in light from outside, but he restrained himself.  They were trying to be stealthy.

“Hey, I found something!” called out Bart.  “I can’t read it, though.”

“Give it to me,” ordered Vale.  His friend handed over a little journal and Vale frowned in distaste as he realized it was covered in human skin.

Abigail noticed too.  “Yuck, is that what I think it is?”

“Yup.”

“Gross.”

Vale absently nodded and flipped through the little book.  Most of it was insane rambling.  He tried to make sense of it as Abbey and Bart talked behind them.

“Nothing is static in this game, right?” asked Abigail.

“That’s how I understand it, yes.”

“So this nasty NPC priest guy has been wandering around, abducting and killing NPC people, possibly all kids on this altar for… what, a year now?”

Bart sighed, “Probably, yes.”

“Wow.  Anyway you look at is, Yggdrasil Entertainment is a bunch of sick fucks, huh?”

“I can’t disagree, but I somehow doubt this conversation is going to make it to our stream edit,” Bartholomew chuckled.

Vale held up a hand.  “Shut up, I’m trying to concentrate.”

After a few moments of silence, Vale nodded.  “Most of it is gibberish, but this guy was definitely worshipping stuff he shouldn’t have been even thinking about.  I have good news and bad news.”

“What’s the good news?” asked Bart.

“The good news is I’m pretty sure there’s a trap door nearby and that is where we’re supposed to go.”

“What the bad news?”

“The bad news,” Vale said, “is if this isn’t the end of the quest, and it probably isn’t, we’re going to be running up against some real nasty shit.  Like… SAN checks like crazy.”

“Why do you think that?” asked Abbey.

Vale mutely held the book open to a page with a crude drawing of something horrible.  It had several big, evil eyes and a number of tentacles.

“Oh great,” sighed Abbey.  “We are definitely going to need a priest or something.”

Vale ignored her and began looking around for the trapdoor.  He eventually found it under a rug.  “Found it!” he called out.  “It has a lock on it, though.  Weird.”

Abigail moved forward and was able to pick the lock just like she had earlier with the door.  Then the group opened the trap door and slowly climbed down the ladder.  Vale was extremely glad they’d found the torches.

At the bottom, Bart waved his torch around and whistled.  “Looks like we know where that creep was dumping the bodies.”  There were human skeletons everywhere.  Some of the bones looked like they’d been cracked or gnawed on.

Suddenly, Vale’s [Paranoia] skill began throbbing at him.  “Guys, get ready!  We have incoming!”

Vale held his torch forward, trying to peer into the darkness.  He heard strange noises down the tunnel.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” muttered Bart.

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