Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 4

The thing looked like a bear. That is, if bears wear six feet tall at the shoulder, with curled ram horns and jagged, bony spikes jutting out along it’s jawline, spinal column, and forelimbs. A thin, glowing mist the color of blood wafted from its eyes and mouth to make it even more menacing.

“Beelze-bear.” JC identified it from a safe distance. At least the para-text superimposed in the air above his head identified him as JC, because one couldn’t tell just by looking.

He hadn’t chosen to map his features to his character, choosing instead those of a hawk-faced Temple Elf with deeply tanned skin and hair shaved on one side of his head. A long wooden spear, studded with sharp, polished stone points was clutched in one hand while the other fingered a boomerang at his belt.

“They aren’t going easy on us for the demo, are they?” Asked an identical Temple Elf male, this one dressed in an animal pelt robe and carrying a staff tipped with deer antlers. This one belonged to the con-goer who purchased Lisa’s chance to take part in the demo. His name was Ron.

Tink looked somewhat like herself. At the very least, she retained her above average height, modestly curvy shape, and facial features. In choosing the Youran character race, she’d also gained skin the color of dark wine with luminescent, angular tattoos in deep blue on her face, chin and hands.

She was wielding a smooth staff of white wood topped with a silver half moon and a silver gauntlet on her right hand and wearing a chain-mail hauberk and cowl adorned with the same half moon symbol as the staff. “That’s good news.” She grinned, showing sharp teeth, “I want to see what this new Confessioner class can do.”

“Same here.” agreed the fourth member of their party, a girl named Jamie. Her character was garbed in the same style as Tink’s but those accoutrements hung off the slight, stooped form of a green, wrinkle-skinned Ridgeback Goblin. Instead of a staff, she was carrying a lucerne hammer scaled down for a five-foot tall goblin. “Let’s see if we can actually bring it down! How much higher a level than us do you think it is? Fifteen, Twenty?”

“More like twenty five. The Foreboding Hill region you find them in is level thirty and we started at five so we’d have some powers.” Everyone had to look down to see Warrick, who had chosen the smallest race in the game, the miniscule Swiftlings.

Not only was he a fun-sized four feet tall, but the sides of his face were adorned with swirls of ochre paint with three red triangles above his brow and twin braids of long, black hair framing his face.

“Dude, this is going to take some getting used to.” JC shook his head.

“You think it’s weird for you?” Warrick asked, flipping a pair of hooked daggers out of hidden holsters and balancing them in his hands. “I’ll give’em credit though: I can feel everything; the paint on my face, the grass under my feet,” He pointed down to his bare feet, “This is some really cool tech.”

“The only thing you can’t feel is the wind.” Tink noted, waving one arm. The mail of her sleeve reacted as if there was something there, but she didn’t feel it. “That’s kind of… weird.”

“Uncanny valley.” Jamie agreed with Tink’s assessment. “Should we tell the designers that?”

“I think they’re probably watching this anyway.” Ron shrugged and shifted his deer-horn staff from hand to hand. “Can we just get to the fight now?”

“Right.” Warrick said. “We’ve only got half an hour here. Let me get first strike, Ambusher classes get triple damage from surprise.”

“Go for it, man.” JC replied. “I’ll charge and back you up.”

“Me too.” Jamie tested the weight of her hammer. “I want to see how combat works in here; they can’t expect everyone to be trained with their weapons.”

“Well, let’s find out.” Warrick readied his blades and activated the Swiftling racial ability to fade from sight, becoming slightly translucent before skulking toward the unaware monster.

Tink hunkered down and waited for him to make his attack. By tilting her head slightly, she was able to see the user interface as if it was a heads-up display implanted directly inside her eye. Eye movement itself cycled the different options and menus, letting her read the descriptions of her powers, items and skills as well as any instructions about gestures that might be needed to enact some of them.

Warrick didn’t give her much time to refresh her memory though. The Swiftling race lives up to it’s name in spite of the shorter stride and within moments, twin sprays of blood exploded from the demonic bear’s flank. For a moment, it flashed red in everyone’s vision and a hit point total appeared, hanging ethereally in the air above it.

“Go!” JC shouted. Shouting an incomprehensible battle cry, he hurled his boomerang ahead of a charge with his spear. Jamie was right behind him, handling her hammer exactly like someone who didn’t really understand what kind of weapon it was.

The boomerang hit the bear in the shoulder just as it was turning to face Warrick. The moment of distraction was all it took for him to carve a long slice across the beast’s fore-paw. Roaring in pain, the monster swung a dinner plate sized claw at the Swiftling’s head, batting him to the ground.

Instead of pain, Warrick was greeted by a series of red flashes and graphics to tell him what kind of damage he’d taken and where.

As the bear moved in to continue the attack, Tink and Ron acted in unison. Tink lifted her staff and twisted it, activating the Confessioner power Binding Way of Air (Type 1). A ring of white mist formed around the beast and constricted, pinning it’s front legs together.

Meanwhile, Ron pointed his deer horn staff at a nearby tree and shook it vigorously. There was a brief creaking and the tree came to life, flexing it’s limbs before snapping them in the bear’s direction. Several hundred magically sharpened leaves leapt from their former perches and into the bound monster’s hide.

The Beelze-bear thrashed helplessly as it’s programming failed a random number check to break out of the binding. By that time, JC and Jamie reached it. The spear pierced it just below the collarbone while the hammer struck it in the temple.

In the meantime, Warrick got himself back to his feet. Ambush class characters also got a bonus to damage when attacking bound or stunned targets, so he ignored his low hit point total to step up and plunge both daggers into the monster’s kidneys. Immediately, he also used one of his class abilities to act twice as fast for just a moment to rake those selfsame daggers across its ribs.

A blue flash highlighting the twin wounds indicated that his attack had inflicted a critical wound. This in turn triggered a conditional effect of Tink’s Binding Way of Air, causing it to discharge a dozen bolts of lightening into its target before fading away.

Convulsing, the bear collapsed, a black miasma starting to rise from it to signify its demise. Jamie raised her hammer and the miasma flowed into the head as if drawn into a vacuum.

“What was that?” JC asked.

“I have no idea.” Jamie shrugged and couched her hammer across her shoulders. “It’s called Soul Capture and I’ve got a counter for it, but it doesn’t say what it’s for.”

“Should we count that as loot for you then?” JC was quick to wonder. Before he got an answer, a clap of thunder shook the woodland and a chill wind washed over them. Somewhere nearby, a strangled voice cried out.

Every head turned in that direction.

“Okay…” Jamie said. “Is it just me, or is everyone else feeling wind now?”

“And what was that noise?” Warrick asked.

***

“A gremlin,” Occult explained as they walked, following the direction provided by a rudimentary scrying spell Codex concocted. “Is the native creature of Faerie. It doesn’t exactly say how that’s different from all the other fey creatures, but—okay, that’s not important right now. It says here that gremlins are obsessed with artifice; that is tools, simple machines, visual art of all kinds. And that’s actually where they cause a problem…”

“Because they like to take it apart.” Chaos said. “Everyone knows that.”

“Actually, they do take things apart, but they’re known for putting them back together better than before.” Occult read.

“That doesn’t sound like a problem.” Facsimile said. From up ahead of them, the sounds of screams made themselves heard. “But that does! I think our boy is on the loose, let’s go!” She threw open her wings and leapt skyward.

“Wait!” Occult shouted after her. “You need to hear this!” It was too late. She was already in the air and Chaos was following after. Exasperated, she relayed the information to Codex, Hope and Ephemeral. “It says here that they have the power to infuse images and sculptures with ‘shadow’: to give life to the lifeless.”

***

Central Avenue was also called the Money Mile as it connected downtown’s upscale shopping and recreation venues to City Central in a straight shot. It was a major artery in the city, the one street that played host to the rail line, commuter throughway, and normal streets along its entire length.

As such, it was the ideal place to set up huge video and holography boards advertising everything from shaving cream and cola to military goods and major surgery.

It was in bedlam and in the center of it all was a giant, bipedal lizard with twin rows of leaf shaped spikes ranging down it’s back. As Chaos and Facsimile approached, it let loose with an instantly recognizable roar of defiance.

“Funny.” Facsimile smirked to Chaos. “I thought he was supposed to be forty stories tall.”

“I’m starting to sense a pattern.” Chaos pointed to the flickering screen behind the King of Monsters. “The pirate came off a tiny screen, he was tiny. Our friend there came off a fifty foot screen, he’s fifty feet tall. It’s all proportional.”

“Huh.” Facsimile back-winged a moment and patted herself down. “Wait a minute, what happened to my little pirate pal?”

“Your what?”

“I took the pirate with me. I figured I could keep him in a terrarium until we figured out how to send him back to his game and now he’s gone!”

“You were going to keep a mini-pirate as a pet?”

“Maybe.” Her eyes widened as her attention came back to the events down on the street. “What is he doing?”

Chaos followed the direction of her gaze to find a policeman fighting his way upstream through the fleeing masses. He was trying to draw a bead on the monster’s head with his service weapon. Chaos immediately saw the danger. “All that’s going to do is piss the thing off. We’ve got to stop him.”

But it was already too late. The policeman fired. The bullet flew true…

And seemed to shatter the iconic monster as if its skin was merely a plaster shell. A spiderweb of cracks radiated from the bullet hole and just kept spreading, releasing from within what looked like twisting, black smoke. Within seconds, the entirety of the monster’s upper torso had dissolved, the inky cloud that issued from it starting to sink and spread out.

It’s expanse threatened to engulf a row of automated commuter pods coming down the track, three stories up, so Chaos focused his powers on a wind to push it away. Nothing happened. At least not what he expected. His powers had no effect, but they weren’t needed as the smoke itself dissipated before the pods even reached it.

“Somehow, I don’t think we need to worry.” Facsimile swooped around to find a place to land.

Chaos followed her down, finding the others in a clear area amid the now highly confused crowd. “It was all scare and no bite. Not that I’m upset about that, but I don’t get it; why would a faerie creature have that kind of power?”

“Well for one.” Occult jumped into the conversation as the pair landed, “They’re not faeries, even though they live in Faerie. Apparently, gremlins are dinosaurs to the faeries’ birds; evolutionary ancestors. Or at least that’s how the book’s explaining it to me.”

“It explains things?” Chaos asked, scowling.

“The example text in the lessons changes to explain it best to the student.” Laurel supplied. “It’s sort of like how higher end tutoring software changes examples and word problems according to a survey of the student’s interests… except without the survey.”

“Magic.” Chaos was quick to boil it all down.

“Basically.” Occult replied. “But anyway, Gremlins don’t follow the same rules as faeries, biologically or magically. It seems that this life to the lifeless power is a defense mechanism; a shadow illusion they can use to distract people while they escape… or filch from them.”

“Excuse me,” Ephemeral interjected. “I do find this interesting, but I fail to see how this information aids us in this situation.”

Occult shrugged and stopped consulting her digi-book. “To put it as basically as I can? I don’t think the gremlin is being malicious. I think it’s scared.”

Chaos scoffed, causing Hope to shake her head. “No, it makes sense. Take it from me; waking up in a strange place is definitely scary.”

This elicited a nod from Occult. “Exactly. The problem is, gremlins are attracted to mankind’s works; some of them like art, some of them like baked goods—almost all of them love technology, even the simplest machines, to the point that they can sniff them out. So even as scared as it is, our gremlin should be seeking out the highest tech in the city.”

“And that would be…?” Hope asked.

Codex had been recalibrating her scrying device. The weight at the end was now pointing directly down Money Mile, at the glass and steel dome that was the convention center. “How about someplace where we’ve conveniently gathered the nation’s most cutting edge entertainment tech all in one place?”

***

Weapons out, the small group of adventurers may their way deeper into the forest, following the noise.

JC awkwardly hacked aside a stubborn sapling with his spear. “Whatever this thing screaming is, it better have an awesome quest attached for all this trouble.”

“You know it doesn’t really sound like screaming.” Jamie used her long hammer to push aside a limb enough to go under it. “It sounds like cursing in a foreign language. They’re really not happy, whoever they are.” Without thinking, she let the limb fall, completely unaware that Tink was coming up behind her.

The woody lash smacked across Tink’s face, causing her to shriek more out of surprise then in pain.

Jamie turned back looking shocked. “Oh my god, I’m sorry, are you okay?”

Tink winced, brushing leaves and wood grit out of her face. “Yeah, I’m okay. But jeez, that hurt. I thought you weren’t supposed to be able to feel pain in here.” Her gloved hand came away from her face with spots of red. “Or bleed!”

It took almost no time for Warrick to get to her side using his Swiftling powers. In almost the same amount of time, he realized that he was too short to do anything for her. “It’s not supposed to.” He agreed, “Just like we’re not supposed to feel the wind. Something’s wrong.”

By that time, Ron had crested a ridge up ahead. “Maybe this thing made it go wrong? Because I’ve read all the walkthroughs and I’ve never seen a monster set up like this.”

The others rushed up the ridge to see what it was he was seeing. Instead of a gentle slope like the one they climbed on their side, the ridge plunged down the other side in a much steeper, but still climbable grade, all the way down to a small, wooded brook.

In a tree nearby the brook, a green furred, bat eared, sharp nosed creature in a leather jerkin and breeches was hanging from a branch by his legs, cursing his recent run of bad luck.

Series Navigation<< Issue #44 – It’s Official!Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed

  • Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.