level up (fiction)
Return to level up (fiction)
And that's how I saved the worlds and killed every single one of my friends in the process.
Jake's last breath came out in a great, shuddering gasp. The blood stopped spurting from his wounds, and his eyes glazed over. I let him sink to the floor and closed his eyes. I wanted to cry, babble, scream--anything, but I felt completely empty inside. He was the greatest of us; he was the only paladin in the world worth the name, completely fearless, and the only man in our ranks who had kept his faith.
Jake was dead, now. He'd died in my arms, and I had killed him. Oh, sure, I didn't stab him with one of those silver elf-swords, but I was the one who started this petty little war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts, and I was the one who wasn't brave enough to face my fate. Jake died trying to save me, so everyone else could live. They'd all died...Monica, Piotr, Lennie...and Spike. Good gods, I didn't even know her real name, and she was dead, too. I couldn't feel anything but regret that I was still alive. I'm the assassin. I'm the bastard everyone hates. I'm the one who plots and schemes to kill everyone and everything around me when I'm in a bad mood....And I'm still here.
The worst part was that I was getting XP for all of them...
Behind me, the Elvenqueen smiled, faintly, and said, "Nicely done, champion. You may take your place in the Court, now."
I don't remember drawing my dirk, or leaping to my feet; the next thing I knew, I was holding the Queen of the Elves about a foot off the ground by her neck. I dispassionately watched her eyes bug out of her skull and her face slowly begin to turn blue. She scrabbled innefectually at my hands, the ancient magic of the Mage-Hunter Gloves nullifying any enchantment she was trying to weave around me. She thrashed and croaked for a few seconds, and I let up enough for her to breathe. I held my dirk to her temple.
"Give me a reason, bitch," I said. I sounded as dead as I felt, "Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."
"My guards will find you and slay you before you leave the pal--" she croaked. I started choking her again.
"Wrong," I growled, poking the side of her head with my blade. Greenish elven blood began to trickle down the side of her face.
I can do this, I thought. I can kill her right now, stuff the body in the bag and shadow-jump out of here. They won't know anything until the next morning, at least. I could do this...
I could, indeed. A high-level assassin was, needless to say, very good at killing people and getting away with it. This bitch could be dead before she knew what happened...
And everything I had sacrificed my friends for would be undone. War would follow, war that would lay waste to all three of our worlds. I wouldn't--couldn't let that happen; that was why I set this horrible scheme in motion. Justice would lead to chaos. Chaos would lead to oblivion.
I stared at the Elvenqueen, whose thrashing was growing steadily weaker. I sighed, dropped her to the floor, and kicked her in the gut as hard as I could. I turned my back on her, hearing the satisfying sounds of the Elvenqueen emptying her stomach onto the throneroom floor.
...I was getting the XP from Jake, now. It was enough to make me level up...
The familiar rush of increased power and knowledge flooded through me. The upside to being a gamer-geek living in a universe that worked like an RPG was that I knew how everything worked. The upside to spending my entire paycheck on sourcebooks back on Earth was that I knew some tricks that most people didn't. I put another level into Shadowdancer and picked a nice feat that would let me murder people faster in the future. I almost didn't notice the Elvenqueen standing up and pulling a knife, seemingly from nowhere.
The world seemed to slow down as I made my initiative check. I went first, as always, and activated my favorite little class feature. I stepped from the shadow cast by the Queen's throne and punched her in the temples as hard as I could. She crumpled like a cheap paper hat and stayed down, this time. I watched her for a minute or so, seeing her flicker on the edge of consciousness.
"Let me make this very clear" I said, crouching down over her. Her concussed little elf-eyes tried to focus on me, and she weakly began to reach for her knife. I stomped on her hand and relished the crunching noise followed by the elf-bitch's low moan of pain.
"Wherever you go, I will find you. If you so much as think about war with anyone, for the rest of your life, I will kill you in many horrible ways. There is no way of stopping me, should I decide that the multiverse is safer without you living in it. After I kill you, I will kill all of your subjects. Starting with your son. You will not try to find me. You will not try to contact me. You will give my friends the burials they deserve."
She nodded, weakly.
I turned away from her and shadowjumped out of the throne-room. I stepped out of a shadowy corner in the courtyard and strolled nonchalantly out of the palace grounds. The Faerie civil war had prevented the Elvenqueen from invading Earth and Kalpyrion. I had done a good thing, if you looked at it from far enough away.
Two miles down the road, I realized that I was sobbing. I collapsed beneath a willow and cried my eyes out. Eventually, I slept.
When I woke up, I was back in Kalpyrion, on the banks of the Redflow River. I could still see the ruins of the tower, where we had first come to this world. I almost smiled, until I remembered what my gambit had cost them. I felt sick.
Then the Amulet started to chime. I took it off and held it in my hands. It began to glow again, and the myriad crystal spheres within it shifted in a familiar configuration.
"No..." I whispered. The Amulet slowed, slightly.
"Don't take me home. I...I can't go back," I said to it. I was nobody on Earth, and I wasn't worth Kalpyrion. That left...
"Take me somewhere new. Somewhere where I can help," I said. The Amulet chimed, and began to spin again. This time, I didn't recognize the configuration. It floated out of my hands and began to spin. Reddish-orange light pulsed from it in a pattern I hadn't seen before. Suddenly, a rift in space opened beneath it. Beyond, I saw rocky badlands beneath twin suns. The air smelled of spices and blood. In the distance, ancient step-pyramids were circled by bizarre winged beasts.
Something told me this was my kind of world. I stepped through the portal, and this time, the Amulet didn't come with me.
Grinning like a maniac, I began to walk towards the pyramids on the horizon, feeling the sand crunch beneath my feet. Another adventure on another world. This time would be better.
This time, I could be one of the good guys.