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Fight hard, die hard, and play hard--That's the credo of guys who save the universe for a livin...
Wren didn't have much time to decide. Desiray had already been to Ziedra's flat, and no doubt had figured out by now that Wren had managed to make the big score. Why she hadn't just teleported in, Wren didn't know. Either way it would only take the guild mistress moments to reach this spot, especially with it still being in the early morning hours. There was no time to conceal Damay other than to throw a blanket over her, best to simply try to lead any treasure seekers away.
She plunged out the door and down the steps. A sliver of dawn light colored the eastern horizon. Pernithius the harvest moon still loomed large and visible in the sky. A few lone people were moving about on the street. She reached the walkway, glanced north, saw no-one coming and ran south as fast as she could toward the guard-house. She ducked into an alley and put her back to a wall. Taking deep breaths, the salt tang and the fetidness of old refuse burned her nose. In the distance, the sound of waves crashing rode just above the edge of hearing.
She focused on that part of her head that tingled every time the moderator spoke. She remembered the way Desiray addressed the moderator, and the way she'd phrased questions.
--Moderator,--she thought.--Mortal proxy requesting information.--
Her heart jumped when a reply came back. This time though she sensed the words were focused for her perception only. It had worked!--Request for information acknowledged. State yourquery.--
She swallowed and glanced back toward the street. Best to keep moving, even if only slowly. She picked her way through the debris toward the shadows at the far end.--Moderator, where will points be posted?--
The voice spoke in a dry tone.--Official posting occurs in Riverback village, sector L-0, one half league due east-by-north-east of the lee side barbican. Advisory: freelance proxies may not post points until the last quarter bell of game play. Points must remain in play until quarter four. Proxy's score of six-hundred stays recorded even after transfer or possession change.--
Wren shook her head. Everyone playing would try to intercept her. **Information requested, win condition stipulations, proxy Idun-daughter. Move logged.**
So, every communication or action was echoed to the players, but only after it was complete. Wren felt itchy, some sense said that people that she couldn't see or hear were looking for her. She would prefer to try and hide until the last moments of the game, and then ask the moderator for a teleport request. She wagered that wouldn't be allowed, otherwise that strategy would always win.
**Moderator intercession: game freeze is now enforce. All players will hold position. Information requested, pre-emptive proxy rules clarification. Complaint logged, judgment pending.** Wren looked around. She thought she heard wood creak nearby. Someone on a roof? She looked up to buildings within sight. Damn mages could be invisible if they wished, and could make others that way. She wondered if the game had rules for that.
**Current rules, as written, allow mortal proxies to preemptively enter game play up to eight hours prior to start. This is a legacy rule enforced previous to the recent addition of random start times. Proxy Idun-daughter's score occurred within the stipulated window, and obeyed the letter of all game rules. Game balance considerations aside, it is the moderator's ruling that this is a legitimate score. Game play commences, all players have a ten count grace, judges to clash observance. Ten, nine, eight ... **
Wren didn't wait. It seemed like a prime time to make herself as hard to find as possible. She jumped a low fence and ran through an inner courtyard and into the cover of a tight space where an old three-story house had collapsed into the side of another. She glanced back the way she'd come, still seeing no evidence of the presences she'd sensed.
The moderator had finished counting down moments before, but all she heard was the thumping of her heart. She needed to figure out her best option.
A cool but familiar voice rang in her head.--Wren? Where are you?--
It was Desiray.
She concentrated and answered the woman.--Avoiding getting my arms ripped off. What do you think?--
The woman's mental voice lowered.--Where are you?--
She decided at that moment, that where the game was concerned she couldn't trust anyone. She moved further into the cramped space, making sure she couldn't be seen.
Her bet was that Desiray could locate her mental voice as easily she could if she were speaking aloud. It made sense that any group of people who used mindspeak as often as Cassandra's family would develop such a skill.
--Wren? What's the matter?--
She held still. Others besides Desiray were in the area. Poachers no doubt waiting for her to come up with the score, so they could take it. Last thing she needed was to get caught in the middle.
**Team Targallae, B-5, score fifty points, magic free bonus, bystander injury penalties apply. Score recorded. Move logged.**
She needed to know more about this game. Like--How did she protect herself? Obviously, if she had no score to gain or lose, some rules didn't restrain her.
She tried to tighten her thoughts down.--Moderator, requesting further rules clarification. I was entered into this game without clashes being explained to me.--
There was a trace of irritation in the moderator's thought.--You will have a one time 30 count grace to resolve these issues. Judge summoned. Transferring contact to judge Steelwood for consultation.--
**Consulting judge, teleport request, A-3. Transcript updated.**
Wren felt an odd sensation. What happened? She thought she was going to get an answer to her question.
A voice, low and feminine came from the darkness right beside her. "Hello, Wren."
The sound made her jerk and hit her head against the wall. "Ow!" She gripped her skull. "Shhh! Not so loud." The voice had sounded familiar, but she couldn't immediately put a face to it. In the darkness, she couldn't see enough details to identify the figure.
"I have control of this game sector, no one will hear us. What seems to be the problem?"
"This game is the problem! It started before anyone told me the rules. I didn't even know that gem was one of the goals in the game. Now, I find out the way I got it makes it worth six hundred points! I'm going to get slaughtered, aren't I?"
Wren's eyes had adjusted enough that she could tell that this woman was extremely tall. The lady identified as judge Steelwood sighed. "Yes, there's a good chance you'll get mangled the instant you try to hand-off. There are ten players guarding this sector."
"Ten? I only heard three moves!"
"You heard three teleports. Movement on foot or by flight isn't announced or recorded. I've already told you more than I should. I was directed to give you clash clarification, nothing else. Clashes are resolved by a controlled non-lethal attack that has the potential to or actually causes injury of a superficial nature. The wound may not be any deeper than the length of an eyelash, and must be struck between the shoulders and knees. Clash goes to first-blood. The loser must drop all items and retreat for a ten count. Sorry, time's up..." There was a dim flash of light and a soft popping sound and she was gone.
Great. She mumbled to herself. That really cleared things up. She tightened the straps on the backpack. No matter what, if she stayed in one place she was fruit ripe to be plucked. Drawing a breath, she picked her way through the ruins of the collapsed house. Normally, she would have headed immediately to the rooftops where she would be able to see potential opponents, and her climbing ability gave her an advantage. Not with this group of people. She saw Desiray fly, and if the guild mistress had the ability ... so would others.
The moderator crackled to life in her head. **Team Ariok, C-3, 50 points, magic use penalties apply, bystander bonus applied. Score recorded. Move logged. Team D'Shar, D-5, 75 points, magic bonus, bystander bonus. Score recorded. Move logged. Team clash, A-3--Tarrantil defeats Felspar Scores updated. Move logged.**
Wren shook her head, the game was going on all around her, and she had not even a clue as to what was happening even with the moderator's narrative in her head. It sounded like Cassandra's team was getting pounded though. The gold mage was probably miffed about that.
She still couldn't shake the sense that there were players searching for her. Desiray at least was prowling nearby, no doubt thinking as did others that getting that gem would win the game. That was provided they could hang on to it. If Dorian was right, this gem was huge leverage were she to get in a position to negotiate. At the moment, negotiation didn't seem likely. When they found her, it would be a feeding frenzy. She didn't relish having a half-dozen warriors and mages locked in a tug-of-war over her body.
Her best bet was to stay under cover and get as close to Riverback village as possible while staying out of sight. She could break for the post in the last moments of the game when everyone else would be tangled up trying to score themselves. Instinct told her, even that simple strategy might be difficult to implement.
She placed her feet carefully, picking around the debris so as not to make noise. This was not a good time to try to move through the city unheard. This early, few people had risen and she didn't have the clamor of everyday life to mask unavoidable noises.
The alley beyond the ruin opened into a large square. The greatest danger would be getting across. She assumed at least one person able to fly would guard the open areas.
Wren crept forward, hugging one side of the alley, watching the slice of sky above, and keeping an eye toward the square.
The wall seemed to come alive behind her. A hand clamped on her shoulder and an arm shot around her neck to cut off her air.
A hum went through the back of Wren's skull so fierce it hurt. A blue glow erupted around her body. The hand gripping her shoulder slipped off and the arm barring her neck shocked away.
Wren caught a glimpse of red hair as she dove and rolled. Not knowing what other powers these people might possess she took no chances. She spun and launched three of her throwing knives, two from one hand, one from the other.
It was good that she did.
Wren's red-haired opponent was her size, dressed in a jerkin and leggings painted for city camouflage. Wren had thrown with all her strength, hard and straight. Her attacker swung her arms with amazing speed, two of Wren's blades deflected off thick metal bands on the woman's wrists. The third blade that she aimed for the side of the lady's thigh parted the cloth.
**Team clash, A-3--Idun-daughter defeats Felspar. Scores updated. Move logged.**
The woman looked down at her leg and slapped a hand to the tiny wound. "Objection!" She screamed. "Clash must be controlled! No way was that intentional!"
As soft popping sound emanated from the air right by the red-haired woman. A shimmering surrounded the alley and a young man with short dark hair, dressed in a black leather vest and leggings, appeared--Loric's son Farveth. Silently, he gestured and a globe of what looked like water sparkled into being. In the globe, an image appeared. It showed the woman flicker, going from looking like a portion of the wall, to a person, she grabbed Wren and was knocked back as a blue glow shot around her body. The image showed Wren leap forward, roll, turn, and throw.
"Sorry, Arabella," the young man said in a flat tone. "She just suckered you. She clearly targets your left and right arms, as well as your leg."
"Dragon flop! Moderator! Nobody can throw three damn knives at once with control!"
**I can.** The moderator's deep voice rumbled back with a dry tone. **Team Felspar: penalty--ten points for arguing a judgment. Transcript updated.**
"Oh, frig!" Arabella smashed a fist against the wall, explosively turning several bricks to dust.
Wren backed up a step. Despite their relative size, she did not want this short tempered woman mad at her. She was at least as strong as Beia!
--Good going, hot head,--Wren heard Cassandra say in mindspeak.
The young man swung his arm. The globe vanished and the shimmering around the alley stopped.
Wren turned and sprinted down the alley as fast as she could go. As she reached an intersection, instinct told her to dive. Something snapped through the air as she lunged, she twisted, caught her weight on her hands and cart-wheeled to her feet.
--Damn, she's fast,--a man's mental voice cursed behind her.
--Shut up and chase!--
She caught a glimpse of something kicking up the dust of the alley behind her. It moved fast and only made distortions in the air. She didn't have any knives left to throw.
**Exceeds 4 grid distance limit. Move request denied.**
"Oh dammit!" She dived around a corner, as something slammed hard into the brick, sending fragments of masonry shooting past her. She righted herself, charged a dozen steps and vaulted a wooden fence. Behind her, the wood shattered with an explosive crash. Three figures resolved out of the shadows ahead of her. They all looked identical in dead-black armor with mirrored faceplates.
Hurtling toward them, she recognized these people were wearing the same armor as the ones that tried to kidnap her a few nights back. They braced to receive her charge. Wren felt the body hissing along behind her only hairs away. At the last possible instant, she dove at their feet. They never saw the juggernaut that slammed into them, there was a deafening crash of metal on metal, followed by scathing curses.
"Moderator B-6!" she tried again.
A black maw opened around her with a rasp of flashing magic. Sparks shot through her vision and a sensation of falling made her cry out. Wren dropped out of the air and landed feet first on an unfamiliar street. The crackle of magic sizzled into silence, the strands of the enchantment dissipating into smoke. It felt like she'd been punched in the stomach.
**Team Idun-daughter, teleport request B-6. Move logged.**
Panting, Wren looked around. This was bad. She had narrowly avoided those armored kidnappers. If it hadn't been for her accidental rescuer they might have already spirited her off. Could she declare an emergency.
"Moderator," she called. "Are their rules for unauthorized people interfering in the game? If there are, I'd like to report three individuals who have hindered another player pursuing me."
She waited, but the moderator did not respond.
"Moderator?" she asked again.
**State your request, team Idun-daughter.**
"I'd like to report unauthorized interference in the game. People after me."
Wren felt a cold chill as no answer came back.
**Idun-daughter, make your request, or you will be penalized for annoying the moderator.**
She didn't like this at all. The kidnappers were back, and somehow they were associated with the game master.