Kamie Anne Do was looking at her death and she did not like it one bit.
“That is a lot of ships. Like far too many ships. Did the Consortium send everything they have here?” she asked.
Beside her a wall of iron strode forward. Buzz Fightyear. Her party’s tank. A new friend. Also, someone else who was scared out of his boots.
“My friends say they’re still fighting the Consortium in the old zones,” Buzz said. “This can’t be real. Where would they get that many ships?”
In truth it was only three hundred ships. Just as small portion of the force the Consortium had brought to pacify the world. Small compared to the overall effort but grouped together and pulling in close to Kamie’s position they did look rather imposing.
“Good new is we can’t possibly fight that,” Kamie said.
“What if they’re all Level 1?” Battler X asked.
“We’re not that high level yet,” Grail Force said. She clutched her staff tighter and cast a glance at Kamie.
Kamie was a melee fighter. She ran out of fighting power when she ran out of hit points and dropped dead. Fighting through an endless horde of lowbies was, at least theoretically, doable, though in practice piles of bodies did tend to raise their own problems.
As a caster Grail was more limited when it came to endurance battles since she’d run out of magic long before they carved through a horde that could fill three hundred ships. If they were higher level, the area effect spells [Elementalists] get might have tipped the balance. Raining down building sized explosions of fire and lightning was in the purview of a high level [Elementalist] but Grail was nowhere near the level to do that yet.
Nor was she ever likely to be, Kamie observed.
“If these guys were fighting the troops down on the surface, then they are definitely not level 1,” Kamie said.
She could see where the lead transports were angling to land. It was in a wide open field well to the south of where the [Formless Hunger] lay. The next twenty transports veered off, taking a long, curving detour towards a spot north of the Hunger. Behind them came bulky ships which were replete with sensor arrays and communication towers.
“They are going to kill that thing in [Sky’s Edge], aren’t they?” Buzz said.
“Let’s hope that’s all they’re going to do,” Kamie said. She had [Enchanted Knuckles]. They could punch through stone and knock body-sized dents into hardened steel. She was also pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to scratch the troops that were starting to emerge from the ships which had landed.
“Imagine the xps we’d get for taking on this many bad guys though?” Battle X said.
Kamie could do that calculation. A force this size would put them at the level cap. All of them, and everyone else back in the [Stone Refuge] as her team was calling it.
Defeating the incoming army would mean never having to fight again, but then attempting to fight the army would mean the same thing just for much less pleasant reasons.
“We can’t let them even see us,” she said, wishing she was back on her rolling chair, safe in her dorm room, head buried in any one of her text books like normal. Her exams were killer, but nothing like this.
Her fighting spirit balked at that, unwilling to admit defeat quite that easily, but her sensible side won out, as it always did.
Kamie had studied Mixed Martial Arts for close to ten years and while it hadn’t done anything to give her the physique she wanted it had given her a bone deep understanding that she could fight as well as a better sense of when fighting was a very bad idea.
That [Tactical Sense] was screaming at her to run. She ignored it not because she was brave but because she knew some fights were ones you had to be ready to lose.
“They’re sending out [Scouts],” Buzz said. He was peering around a rock, trying to remain as still as possible. As [Scouts] went he wasn’t particularly well suited to the job but Kamie admired his investment in pulling off the role as well as he could.
“If any come here, we’re going to have to hide or evade them,” Kamie said. “Do you see a level on them?”
“They don’t have one,” Battler X said. “They’re like [Event Mobs], probably auto-scaling to the zone.”
“We’re not going to be that lucky,” Kamie said.
It wasn’t rocket science to figure out that the Consortium wasn’t going to sacrifice a bunch of their own forces by sending them to take over a lowbie zone. Granted they’d sent enough forces to completely depopulate the [High Beyond] but that was what gave it away.
If the scene before her had still been part of the video game, then the devs wouldn’t have sent such an overwhelming force against the players. With troops spilling out of three hundred ships, the game would had lagged to the point of locking up for all but the players on the newest and fastest of machine. A special event would have instead become a powder keg of frustration and rage.
Watching the scene play out live, Kamie felt frustration and rage but with no lag rending her unable to interact with the world, that rage was instead directed at the overall unfairness of the cosmos she was a part of.
The [Enchanted Knuckles] grew hot to her touch as her anger filled them with unreleased force, but she had to keep it unreleased or literally thousands of troops would descend on them and obliterate their current bodies.
Kamie had died a few times already. It wasn’t particularly fun, and respawning had been terrifying since she couldn’t shake the feeling that this time it wouldn’t work for her.
It had each time, obviously, but the [Hounds of Fate] had been close each time.
And that hadn’t bothered her.
She knew, intellectually, why people were concerned about the Hounds. If a Hound caught you that was it. You were never coming back.
And that was a bad thing.
Kamie knew that. And had no desire to get perma-killed by anything.
But some part of her just wasn’t afraid of the Hounds.
They howled, and bayed, and tried to be all sorts of frightening but Kamie had grown up with dogs. As Grace Tillerman, she’d been born to a big family and dogs had been as plentiful as brothers and sisters. There were usually seven or eight of each around at any given time, more on holidays, and Grace had often preferred the company of the canine variety in place of her human siblings. Even at their most unruly she knew where she stood with her family’s pups, and somehow the same felt true with the [Hounds of Fate].
Petting the [Hounds of Fate] was a very bad idea though.
She knew that.
Didn’t stop her from wanting to try.
“The folks back at the [Stone Refuge] want to know if they need to move deeper in?” Battle X asked. “What do you folks think?”
“All I see if those ships puking up mobs left, right, and center,” Buzz said. “I’m thinking we just dive off the side of this rock if it comes to that.”
“That’s plan N,” Kamie said.
“N?” Battler X asked.
“Yeah, for ‘Nope, We’re Getting the Hell out of Here!’ Hopefully we don’t have to use it though,” Kamie said.
“Seems like if they’re all here then us being anywhere else would have to be better,” Buzz said. “Or do you think we can hold them in the corridors?”
“I’m sure we can’t,” Kamie said. “They’re [Event Mobs] but the open world doesn’t have a cap. They’ll be fighting here the same as they were on the surface.”
“They were wasting parties of level 99s down there,” Battler X said. “How is it vaguely fair that they can come up here too?”
“It’s not,” Kamie said. “Once this became real though, I think fairness went out the window.”
“Why not just jump over the edge then?” Battler X asked.
“The fall will kill us, which isn’t necessarily a problem except for two things,” Kamie said. “One, if we die in mid-air from re-entry friction we don’t know if we’ll even hit the ground before the Hounds get us.”
“I’m not sure we’d see the same kind of friction heating since we’d only be falling, not decelerating from orbital speeds,” Buzz said.
“I thought of that, but we know in game people who are teleported to space wind up with a plasma sheath when they fall back down, so that may just be how things work here. If we survive all this ridiculousness, I’d be delighted to science it but not when it would mean we all perma-die if we’re wrong.”
“You’re such a geek dude,” Battler X said.
“Guilty of one of those but not the other,” Kamie said.
“Huh?” Battler X asked.
“I’m a geek, but not a dude, not here or in real life,” Kamie said. It was a test. One which a depressing number of guys failed, but Kamie had been fighting with Battler and Buzz for long enough that she had some hope they wouldn’t immediately turn into lecherous jackasses.
“Geek Girls unite!” Battler said, offering Kamie a fist bump. “Boy here, girl there. Geek pretty much everywhere.”
“Aww, I’m the odd man out then,” Buzz said. “I’m guess I’m dual classing as Dude/Dude.”
“Oh my god, Dual Classing?” Battler X said. “Well you’re at least definitely a geek too.”
“If that gets me a club card and a membership pin then I’m in,” Buzz said. “Though maybe a parachute would be more useful at the moment.”
“Even if we had those it wouldn’t fix our other problem,” Kamie said.
“There’s three hundred ships floating around the [High Beyond],” Kamie said. “If we could leaping to our doom, what’s the chance that the ships don’t start using us for targeting practice?”
“So we’d definitely be ghost running down from orbit then,” Battler X said.
“We would,” Kamie agreed, “but the towns folk would just be dead.”
“Good point,” Buzz said and added, “Buzz is definitely not a fan of that, which means I guess I’m not either.”
“If we can’t jump to safety, what can we do?” Battler X asked.
“Buy time,” Kamie said. “Some of my guildmates are trying to get up here. If we can hold out long enough for them and the other high levels to get up here they can take down these Consortium fools the same as they did on the surface.”
“Yeah, there’s just one problem with that,” Kremmer said as he cut his cloaking field.
The Consortium solder was covered in a full set of the Consortium’s best armor, micro-servos enhancing his strength enough that he could shatter even the otherwise unbreakable plates which protected his chest.
One by one, the rest of his squad flicked their cloaking fields off as well.
They had Kamie and her party surrounded.
“See, not only are we not fools, we’ve got these things called sensor drones and they can see you even when you hide behind great big rocks like this,” Kremmer said.
He pointed at the bounder Buzz was crouched near and it exploded into a shower of dust which dropped to the ground as though a magnet had claimed each spec of it.
“What do you want? Why are you here?” Kamie asked.
“Those are two different questions,” Kremmer said. “We’re here to kill you. I mean that really should be obvious shouldn’t it? What we want though is some fun. Maybe make it sporting. Get the old adrenaline flowing.”
Kamie couldn’t see his eyes through the face shield but she knew exactly what they would look like. He wasn’t going to give them a fair fight. Guys like only wanted to deal out pain.
She felt her [Enchanted Knuckles] burning.
She couldn’t hurt him. His armor would be impervious to her blows.
When she swung, it was a high punch. He pulled back effortlessly allowing her fist to swing down past his face as he raised his fist, charging it with a blast that would reduce her a cloudy of bloody gibbets.
She hadn’t missed though. Leaning into her punch, Kamie slammed it into the ground at Kremmer’s feet and obliterated a crater underneath him.