Black Leaves

Chapter 2 - Wrong Target

"And failing to act, for fear of the risk, is no different than a living death. No matter what world you're in."

Krusty, D.D.D.


"Orion! Time to wake up!"

Orion Smith slowly opened his eyes, blinded by the morning sunshine through the open window. He could hear the sounds of birds singing, winds whistling and cars cruising – the ambience of a typical morning in the suburbs around London. He didn't pay attention to the light, raising a hand to his head and taking a hold of a patch of his messy black hair, shaking the sleep from his mind.

'It felt so real... The battle... The pain.'

"Orion! Are you up, young man, or do I have to send your sister up there?" Came his mother's voice again, yelling from somewhere downstairs.

"Yeah mum! I'm awake," The British teen glanced over to his neat bedside table, taking a hold of his phone and clicking a button at the bottom, causing the screen to light up and a small message symbol to appear at the top next to the time and his alarm which was set for... Even as he registered it, his phone starting beeping softly in his hands - waking up before his alarm was nothing new.

As he sat there amidst the comfortable sights and sounds of the morning, he felt like curling up under the covers and forgetting about his imminent exams and all the pressure that came along with it, not to mention that horrific nightmare. But the threat of his mother restrained him and, with an exasperated sigh, he switched off the alarm, slid his phone back onto the table and climbed out of bed. Orion took a moment to glance down at his body, illuminated by the sunlight and quietly registering his pale hands and plain black pajamas.

"Breakfast is ready, Orion! Come on down before it gets cold!"

A small smile flickered across his face as he passed by his computer and the stack of games that all began with the same title: 'Elder Tale.' His gaze lingered for a moment on a picture off to the side of the monitor, placed to be constantly in his peripheral vision whenever he was using his computer. He saw himself in the photograph, clad in a black body warmer over a longer sleeved shirt. Next to him was a girl with long, midnight blue hair with a single bang hanging over the right side of her face. It was bleached strangely, an off-white color in stark contrast to the rest of her hair, often making her the butt of many jokes.

However, what surprised him still to this day was his face, wearing the biggest smile he had ever managed.

As Orion walked on, opening the door to his room and heading down the hallway stairs, he tried to think of her... but that dream still lingered in his mind. Pain... Fear… Death. It felt so real. Had it really all been a dream?

Orion tried, once more, to lead his thoughts away from the dream by thinking of the girl in the picture again and it worked for a moment. Deep in thought, he didn't notice that the sun had stopped shining through the windows and the birds had stopped singing. He opened the door to the kitchen and walked in only to freeze when the thick smell of iron hit him like a brick wall.

Instead of the clean, tiled kitchen with attached breakfast bar, he faced an empty concrete room with a single figure pitifully lying on the floor. Her hair, sprawled around her body, was stained with the dark red of their own blood, a morbid blossom. His eyes widened in shock when he recognized the body as his mother, with dead, pale skin and a blank, lifeless stare. Fear clawed deep into his very soul as he stared at the corpse of his mother in front of him, his body frozen in terror.

His heart was pounding against his ribcage, screaming for release, and yet his gaze narrowed – there was something wrong with this scene. He took a few tentative steps into the room, allowing the door to swing shut, and in that instant the entire room warped and changed before his eyes, now resembling a ruined city street with moss covering the dilapidated buildings and the cracked sidewalk. The setting sun shone an ominous orange light over the cityscape, dulling his perception until his focus was locked on the suddenly changed corpse.

"C-Clancy... H-help me..."

He gasped in alarm as he found himself reliving that scene. The scores of glowing goblin eyes stalked him from the shadows, waiting to drag him into their hell. His ears were full of the cawing of crows, feasting on the dead around him. And yet, he heard her voice clearly amidst the noise.

Neria lay in front of him with a clearly fatal wound in her torso. The carnage was unholy and she shouldn't have had the strength to cry out but she called for help heedless. Her head was facing him and he could see the crimson water of her life flowing from her mouth, bubbling with every word but she called out for him nonetheless. He could see the bloody wound in gruesome detail, there was no surviving that kind of mutilation and yet she still cried out for him to save her, to do something - anything!

"C-Clancy... H-help me, please!"

But he couldn't move, he was nailed to the spot in fear. All around her, the terrible, grotesque forms of a horde of goblins began to descend from the shadowed alleyways. Their makeshift rusted, jagged and vicious weaponry promised a painful and bloody end.

They seemed to stare at him - through him - as they advanced upon the dying Neria. She still called for him to save her, but what could he do? He was just a teenager, barely older than she was! He didn't know how to save her, how to stop the coming slaughter. If he was stronger, he could have fought the monsters off. If he was faster, he could have taken her and fled to safety. If he was braver, he could have even moved.

The horde finally reached her and amidst their cries of glee, they pounced to seal her fate. Orion closed his eyes, not wanting to see what his inaction would cost. He braced himself for the sound of tearing flesh, but instead heard the swish of cloth and the sound of goblins crying out in pain.

When he opened his eyes, there stood a tall man in a green cloak, holding two long daggers dripping a thick black fluid. He heard the man mutter a word and he suddenly disappeared. A split-second later, several of the goblins collapsed to the ground, dying with barbed arrows shot through vital regions, but throwing the rest into a blood frenzy. Before they could even move, a volley of the same barbed arrows fired from behind him and Orion watched as only a single enemy survived the barrage. The last monster ran towards him, rusty machete raised high. As it closed the distance, he once again stood in awe as the hooded figure materialized behind it and brutally, gracefully cut it down with a combo strike to the armpit, neck and liver. As the lifeless corpse fell to the ground and its blackened blood soaked across the floor, Orion watched the man, his savior, freeze in place, like he hadn't noticed there was someone else here.

All of a sudden, everything was quiet. In his stunned silence, he looked at the stranger and the stranger looked back. The man's hood had been blown back from the speed of his technique and now Orion could see his jet black hair, cold, green eyes and pointed ears. It was like a fantasy version of him; similar enough in looks, but with sharper features and defined musculature – he was stronger, faster, braver, better. This stranger had done what he, Orion, could not do. Why couldn't he have been more like the man in front of him? He looked so familiar, as if he'd known this person from somewhere – his name was on the tip of his tongue, but Orion could only draw a blank. So he broke the silence and asked,

"Who are you...?"

But the man did not respond immediately. The world seemed to fade away in that instant and only Orion and the stranger remained. In this clarity, everything about the other man became pronounced. He hadn't sheathed his weapons, now stained with what was clearly not rust. His boots were still slick from the remains of that final monster. Orion realized with mounting horror that the man was drenched in the foul blood of the goblins, from head to toe, and he seemed to not even care, as if this was how things should be. As if reading his thoughts, the cloaked figure coldly smiled and at that moment, Orion knew who he was looking at.

"I am You."


Clancy awoke with a start. He felt the cold sweat cascading off of his forehead and looked around frantically. He could smell what had to be freshly cooked breakfast, the only thing that pierced the veil of fear that descended upon the Elf as he glanced around the simple room.

This wasn't his room. Two single beds, each with their own footlocker... It was the same bed from his dream.

No... This was reality. He wasn't at home, waking to a new day from the shout of his mother and the nostalgic sounds of morning. No more leaving the house at seven to catch the bus into town, sitting next to his sister and listening to her ramble on about how she was going to beat him at everything but always saying 'I love you Bro,' when they parted ways. He'd never get to see her happy face, her tomboyish look; never again would he to awaken to the sound of his mother's voice or to the sight of her upbeat demeanor even on somber mornings.

He would never get to see her... With her bright eyes full of happiness - it felt like he was only happy when they were together. But when she left, people always said he became worse and kept away. That infection of happiness had left his system long ago and even now, when he thought about it, he still longed for that disease known as 'Optimism.'

He was interrupted from his dark musings by a loud noise from the other room, like someone was yelling. Remembering that he had others who were depending on him, he composed himself.

'Clancy Ebonleaf doesn't wallow around like this. Clancy would get over it and move on with business... He'd walk out this room with a plan and an iron expression... But I'm not Clancy.'

A stray tear managed to escape from his eye and he wiped it away quickly, taking in a deep breath and trying to collect himself. Mental barriers were erected and Orion closed his eyes in concentration. 'Not yet, anyway. I have to become Clancy Ebonleaf, leader of Black Leaves and well-respected Ranger. I have to be the leader everyone needs. No more pitying myself, no more hesitation, and no more despair.'

Clancy opened his eyes with grim determination, a steely gaze replacing that pitiful look filled with fear as he once more heard the yell from the next room.

"No! It can't be!"

'Algar.' The Ranger took a moment to ensure he was composed before reaching down to the end of his bed, pulling on his equipment and noting the roughness of the leather and the cold metal of his daggers. Even now, he was amazed at how real everything felt, it was hard to swallow that this was reality now. Another yell came from the other room.

"Not again!"

This yell was followed by the sound of giggling and a drawn out sigh. Figuring that his old friend was up to something stupid again, in front of the girls no less, the Ranger stood up from the bed, schooling his expression into something Clancy Ebonleaf would wear. Quickly striding across the room, he opened the door into the main room and took a moment to examine the scene in front of him.

Algar was quietly weeping with his head in his hands and a steaming bowl of what looked like chicken soup on the table in front of him. Neria was sat at the table opposite him, giggling at his behavior whilst Hayley sat in the corner of the room, watching the scene with a dour expression. The latter turned her head as the door to the bedroom opened and gave Clancy a small smirk, "Morning, sleeping beauty."

Neria and Algar looked up at that, both turning towards Clancy and both cracking a smile, "Hey Cap, how'd ya sleep?"

"Well enough," Clancy lied before turning his attention to Neria, "Are you alright?"

Neria beamed, as if happy that he had remembered her, "I'm feeling fine! A little bit sore but the magic seems to have worked great. Thank you again for that, Hayley!"

The white-haired woman rolled her eyes in a practiced motion, apparently expecting the gesture, "As tempting as it was to watch you exsanguinate, even I have a moral code to live by..." She paused for a moment, fixing Neria with her typical cold gaze. Remarkably, it softened for a second as she added, "You're welcome."

It was gone as quickly as it appeared and the Templar immediately turned her head to look at Clancy who had managed to glide to the table. He picked up a spoon, ready to dig in to his own serving of breakfast placed at the head of the table. Chicken soup wasn't exactly the most typical of breakfast meals, but he didn't look to be the picky sort. Hayley held back on her question, biting her tongue as she watched the Ranger open his mouth to take the spoon in. She was looking forward to seeing the always calm and collected Ranger finally lose his cool at the taste of the soup. She felt a wicked little grin rise to her lips.

Clancy took a sip and was taken aback. Watery tomato. Almost like tomato soup, but without the zest that makes it enjoyable. The texture was unpleasant and the bits of 'chicken' just felt like chunks of old, squishy tomato. It happened to be rather salty, just to add insult to injury. Clancy frowned as he stifled a gag upon swallowing. He noticed Hayley's satisfied grin and imagined a pair of devilish horns and matching red tail, in amusing contrast to her otherwise cherubic appearance.

He ignored her and turned to Algar, who was looking at him with a sympathetic expression. Clancy fixed him with a gaze that wordlessly asked 'What the hell is this?'

The larger man grinned ruefully, "Sorry, Cap, but I've been trying all morning with my Chef skill." He gestured to the attached kitchenette, currently overflowing with all manner of delicious, mouthwatering entrées, "They may look good, but they all taste like the same nasty tomato shit. What you're eating there is the most basic Chef recipe, easiest thing to make. I tried my damndest to give it the slightest amount of taste by putting a ton of salt in, but instead of being shit, now it's just salty shit! It's supposed to be a chicken stew, but it sure as hell doesn't taste like it! It's a travesty, that's what it is! How am I supposed to survive if I can't eat good food, huh?! I'm going to die!"

As Algar broke into another fit of weeping, Neria reached over to pat him on the shoulder before addressing Clancy, "I, er, hope you like tomato, Captain. It looks like that's all we'll be getting to eat from now on…" She looked downcast and as he looked into the soup in front of him, he understood why.

For the indefinite future, which could be years for all he knew, they would have to eat this. Every day for every meal, they would have to eat what tasted like soggy tomatoes. Even more than the initial shock of being transported to this world, this revelation disturbed him. He could barely stomach eating this gross meal in front of him, and this was the first he'd tasted of it – Algar was right, how on earth was he meant to eat this every day?

And yet, there was no choice. He looked around the table and found several empty bowls, presumably recently filled of this not-chicken soup. If they wanted to keep up their strength for whatever challenges this world would throw at them, it would be a necessary evil to eat this swill.

So Clancy took a deep breath before grabbing the entire bowl and lifting it to his face. In a feat of iron determination, he gulped down the entire bowl of stew, taking great care to transfer the broth from the bowl to his throat without touching his tongue as quickly as possible. The others looked on in awe.

When he was done, he slammed the bowl down with an audible clack and reached for a nearby glass of water. As he washed it down, he reflected that water remained the same, thankfully.

With his so-called breakfast finished, Clancy turned to address the next thing, or rather person, on his to-do list.

"Want to join?"

Everyone at the table blinked before realizing that the Elf had turned to address the white-clad Templar. She frowned and asked, "What?" Much to Clancy's pleasure, that smug smirk of hers had faltered when she realized who he was speaking to.

"Would you like to join the Black Leaves?" Clancy said slowly, clearly enunciating each word as if talking to a child. A petty form of payback, to be sure, but needless to say his tone of voice was rewarded with a scowl from the priestess.

"Hmph. Why should I?"

The Ranger and the Templar stared long and hard at one another before the former replied, "Because you don't have a reason not to."

Hayley laughed and regarded Clancy with an amused lilt in her voice, "That's why? You slept in, so you're unaware, but The Lionheart Syndicate and Dignity are both recruiting lower-level players in the city into their ranks. They're offering power-leveling and crafted gear to people who join up, I've been pretty tempted, you see. Can you beat their offer?"

Clancy was silent, deep in thought. After about a minute of sitting under Hayley's frustratingly superior gaze, he reflected that maybe he wasn't very good at this recruitment stuff after all. No wonder he usually let Algar handle this sort of thing. So he said the only thing he could think of, "We have food."

The room was silent for a beat before all of the others laughed uproariously. Clancy grimaced.

Algar, good-spirited fellow that he is, pat his friend's shoulder, still chuckling, "Why don't you leave this one to me, Cap? You should just think about our next steps." At that, Clancy frowned harder and stalked off to the far end of the table, sulking at his defeat and vowing revenge against that devil Templar, somehow, someway.

Algar watched his friend go with an amused smile. The leader was never very good at being humiliated like that, even if it was just friendly banter amongst guildmates. He shook his head and turned to the pretty woman who would be their newest recruit. He fixed on his trademark smile and thought of the best way to approach this. He would get her to join or he'd eat his own hair. It'd probably taste better than the food, too.

"What the Captain meant to say is that we have a lot to offer for a lower-levelled player like yourself. You're here talkin' about joining up with the likes of Marlec, leader of Dignity, who once logged on completely smashed and walked around the city, cussing out all the newbie healers for not learning how to heal in a raid properly. Doesn't sound very dignified to me! Do you really want to live and work under a guy like that?" At that, Hayley looked a bit sheepish, as if she had forgotten about that little escapade.

Seeing his strike hit home, the Bard continued, "Yeah, thought so. A lot of the major guilds around here are full of that sort of drama, not to mention the, uh, relationships that form and crumble; messy stuff, that. Anyway, point is that the Black Leaves don't have any of that sort of bullshit – we're a straight and true family, the smallest of all the raid guilds, yet we've thrived. We treat our members equally, for we're all in this together, now more than ever, and right now, we'll especially need your talents, what with all that's happened. I'll tell you right now, Templars, Druids, and Exorcists are needed more than ever for their healing skills, since the fighting's real now, with real injuries." He watched the glint in her eyes as he said this and knew just how to finish this. "You won't get treated like you exist in those other guilds, with their hundreds of members and dozens of healers, you'll be invisible to the ones who've been there the longest, I guarantee you. You're already in with the leaders here, and you've already got a strong position as one of our only two key healers. You'll never find a truer group of mates on this island! So what do you say, will you join the Black Leaves?" He punctuated his statement with his hand held out, awaiting her return handshake.

With his little speech finished, Hayley looked pensive. She rested her cheek on her propped-up arm as she considered it all. Neria, the Druid who had been thoughtfully quiet until now, shyly spoke up, "Even if you don't join us, you saved my life, so it'd be wrong if I didn't pay you back somehow…" She fished about in her menu for a moment before looking at her savior with a shy smile, "so will you be my friend at least?" she asked, just as the chime for a friend request appeared in Hayley's peripheral vision.

The Templar scowled, "Oh, now that's just unfair, pulling that kind of trick. How am I supposed to say no to that? Did you practice this?" She received no response, but the glance and smirk the two shared told her everything she needed to know anyway. After another second, she sighed, "Fine. I'll join," reaching out to shake Algar's still waiting hand. The man grinned in victory and manipulated the menu to invite her to the guild. Ever since they had founded the Black Leaves, it'd always been him who recruited new players; he took pride in being the sort-of cool big brother to most of the guild members.

Once she received the confirmation that the white-clad Templar had joined the guild, Neria cheered and went over to give the other woman a hug, who looked mildly uncomfortable with the act. Algar couldn't shake his grin and turned to Clancy, "Looks like we've got another, eh, Cap?"

The Elven Ranger nodded, but otherwise showed no outward sign of happiness. Closing his menu and getting up, he abruptly spoke, "Good. Algar, come with me."

The other man stood up from the chair suddenly, pushing one of the bowls of soup to Neria before grabbing his halberd; which had apparently been resting under his chair.

"Where are you two going?" Neria asked even as Clancy strode towards the door that led out into the rest of the guild building with Algar close behind.


And with that, they both disappeared behind the door with only a parting wave and slight shrug from Algar.

"Scouting, huh…?" muttered Hayley, "no, they're just getting into more trouble."


Londinium- Safe Half
Northern European Server
Ulster Knight Sword Alliance/Londinium
City/ No Monsters Present
No PvP
Entry Restrictions/ None
Exit Restrictions/ None

The streets of Londinium were covered in a verdant moss that stretched from the buildings and threatened to encroach on the streets. They never seemed to, whether due to the People of the Land keeping it in check, or maybe the game simply didn't let it and that carried on into this world. Either way, Adventurers sat wherever they could, on the sidewalks, in crumbling doorways, on old tables, even in some higher-story windows.

Some sat with their heads in their hands, silently whimpering about the situation but others had long since run out of tears to shed and simply sat quietly, absorbed in their thoughts. There were a few people moving about in this area but more prominently, there were several obvious recruitment parties from some of the major guilds. There was a group of men dressed in various shades of blue, ranging from a dark sapphire for the plate wearers to a vibrant turquoise for the mages. They all wore a tabard with the image of a great roaring lion, the instantly recognizable design of the Lionheart Syndicate. Easily the wealthiest guild on the island, the Syndicate had far and away more max-level crafters than any other guild and once held something of a monopoly on several key trade goods in the player marketplace.

Another group further down the street, composed entirely of Paladins, were wearing matching sets of plate, all in a bright white color. They all had the same black-white tabard draped over the heavy armor, evoking the likeness of the Union Jack, a reminder of home and the world they were taken from. They called themselves Dignity and tried to evoke this sense of a holy righteous order, but even their leader fell short of that lofty ideal. Clancy and Algar strode through them all with their cloaks drifting just off the rocky pavement. With their obviously high-level gear, matching colors, and confident gait, the two naturally drew attention.

"Why do they look so high and mighty?"

"Haven't ya heard? That's Clancy Ebonleaf. Head of Black Leaves."

"That creepy guild with the roleplaying shtick? I bet they think this Apocalypse is a dream come true, the bastards."

"Yeah, that's the one... Think he's accepting recruits?"

"Dude, look at his eyes... Scary shit right there. Stay the hell away from him and his people."

That was just one of many conversations that Algar managed to pick up as the two walked down one of the streets and he couldn't help but chuckle, despite the mean-spirited comments. 'Those guys have no idea. Wait until ya see real combat, laddies, then you'll have a similar look in your eyes.'

They wandered around the city, watching some people wallow in their misery while others, braver souls, accepted the fact that they were here and tried to cope. They even witnessed a party of mid-level Adventurers, led by what looked like a max-level Paladin, venture into the Infested half, no doubt to experience just what this new world meant for them. They all wore the same off-white tabard, but it wasn't one that Clancy recognized, so they were probably part of a smaller guild. The Paladin leader of theirs looked competent and determined, but his weary, ragtag group did not match his bearing. Idly, Clancy wondered if he'd be able to recruit a tank like that before too long, they definitely needed one...


As the duo toured the city of Londinium, taking note of the general state of the other Adventurers and the movements of the other guilds, Clancy's mind drifted back to his dream last night. He didn't realize, but his eyebrows twitched to show when his thoughts brought him back to that uncomfortable experience. None of this was missed by the Bard beside him who kept glancing over at the Ranger. Algar wanted to say something, to help cheer his friend, but he couldn't think of the right words – how could he? For now, they were handling the transition well, but how long until one of them had a breakdown when the stress of this new reality finally hit them? Unlike the rest of the people in the city, the Black Leaves had gotten along with the changes remarkably well, but Algar worried for the time when that changed.

Eventually they found themselves on the edge of the 'Inner City' as some liked to call it, as the urban styled ruins were gradually replaced with more suburban trappings. Before them were rows upon rows of small residential streets and houses which seemed to get smaller as they went. While the Inner City held the important buildings for players, such as the Bank and Guild Hall, this side of Londinium had always been the marketplace for player and NPC trade. There were more active people in this area, some still wandered around with glazed eyes and blank expressions but others were actually talking to the Lander vendors, who offered their goods to the recovering Adventurers just like any other day. The People of the Land did not seem to be overly affected by the Transition compared to the Adventurers and most of their merchant stores and stalls were still open for business. Clancy mused that the more progressive Adventurers took some kind of courage from seeing the People of the Land still diligently working in this area and congregated here as well.

Outwardly, Clancy barely paid the people any mind, but he was actually paying very close attention to the business all around him. This was a good spot to judge the attitudes of the Adventurers in the city, and even here, he spotted what was clearly a band of recruiters from Warmaiden, a group of PvP-minded players who had this peculiar sense of honor in their battles. Clancy had never paid them much heed, as his style of combat was almost antithetic to what they called honor; after all, what use would honor have if you died because of it? He shook his head and continued on, picking up on a conversation between a Lander merchant and a fellow player; his large Elven ears, not merely for show, visibly twitched.

"So you're saying I can buy this for just one gold coin?"

"Yes, sir! You seem to be in a spot of bother and I want to help out. We've had a good harvest this year, so it's the least I could do."

"Uhh... Wow, Thanks! I'll repay you some day, I promise."

Clancy hadn't known that it was possible to beg or haggle with the NPC merchants, an interesting idea, to be certain. As he wondered, he spotted two girls who had eerily similar features turning toward their direction from a street corner. The first one had a set of purple leather armor with a strange series of straps across the front that seemed to serve no obvious purpose beyond the aesthetic. She appeared to use two curved swords as weaponry. The other girl had on a thick purple tabard over an otherwise cloth set of armor. The metallic gauntlets on her hands seemed to be the only thing resembling weapons on her person.

With the exception of their gear, the two girls were nearly identical. It didn't strike him as odd that two people would coordinate their appearances to that extent; many of the old Black Leaves regulars did the same. What was really eerie was the way they carried themselves, they seemed to take steps at exactly the same time with exactly the same distance between them. Along with their matching purple clothing, their identical bright violet eyes never looked at the same thing at the same time, like some sort of odd two-person lizard. To top it all off, they wore their long black hair in the same ponytailed style, but with each girl having their bangs cover a different eye. Taken altogether, the two looked like some kind of Siamese twin circus act, not that Clancy would voice that aloud.

They were sharing a whispered conversation, so Clancy focused on the two as he came to a full stop and soon enough he could see their names.


Monk, Lv. 45

Swashbuckler, Lv. 45

Not a second later, he could pick up the middle of their conversation.

"-ure we shouldn't do something about them? You know they're going to start ganking people..."

"Everyone knows about them if they've kept an ear to the ground, Yama, they shouldn't be surprised."

"I hear they've just been mugging people for gold, but there's no one to stop them if they start getting worse ideas. What if they try to kill someone?"

"I'm sure they won't go that far. Despite what's happened, we're all civilized British citizens. No one would truly attempt murder, not when death isn't fully understood."

"You say that, but what about that Summoner earlier? Straight into the outskirts like she didn't even know what was waiting for her! There's no way she can take on a group of them by herself – and there are plenty of things they can do to her without killing her..."

"... I don't like the sound of that – should we…?"

"Seems to be our port of call, Cap," Algar muttered beside him, nudging him. A short glance from Clancy was enough of a hint for him to continue, "A powerful Summoner is an army in their own right if they play the class well enough. We want a full party, aye?"


"Then we need a Summoner. This is the perfect opportunity, I'd say."

Clancy nodded, sparing a glance toward the twins still nearing them. He gave Algar a meaningful look, and the other man cracked his knuckles, approaching the two women with a grin. For times like this, Clancy was glad that he had the Wolf-Tail Bard to help him out.

"Hello there, ladies! It's a wonderful day, don't you think? Say, I've a proposition for you, if you've got a moment…"


Londinium- Suburbs
Northern European Server
Ulster Knight Sword Alliance/Londinium
City/ No Monsters Present
Entry Restrictions/None
Events/None Currently

Compared to the city, the Outskirts, as it was commonly called, were silent, save for the occasional bird call. Outside of the 'Safe Zone' provided by the city proper, this area was once rife with PKers looking for an easy score. Indeed, many unofficial Guild vs. Guild battles took place here, often beginning with a simple argument over resources, or maybe one side was preying in the newbies of the other. Eventually, they exploded into full-blown warfare, making it a treacherous place to enter as an uninvolved party. However, since the Apocalypse, very few souls dared to venture far outside the safety of the city, despite the similar surroundings. Moss covered the walls of the buildings but grass had long overtaken the ancient asphalt, replacing the clacking sound of hurried footsteps on concrete with the rustling of grass on dirt.

As the sun grew late in the sky, bathing the scenery with the tint of sunset, a girl wearing an ashen black robe emblazoned with a skeletal dragon burst out of a nearby alleyway, clearly in a rush. Her pale hand was clutched tightly around a staff made from an even paler wood, marking her as one of the Caster classes. The smooth wood split in two near the top, forming into a double helix of dragon heads, holding a small black orb between their open maws at the very tip. A large onyx-black grimoire was attached to her waist with a leather harness, causing it to bounce against her hip every other hurried step.

She ran down the next alleyway over, long blonde hair whipping behind her. She was panting heavily, and had a desperate look in her eyes.

'Please! Not now... I don't wanna die!'

Glancing over her shoulder and spotting a trio rounding the corner after her, she quickened her pace, desperate to outrun them. From that single glance, she identified an Enchanter, a Guardian and a Swashbuckler: the Enchanter wielding a plain staff, the Guardian carrying a massive two-handed greatsword whilst the Swashbuckler held two cutlasses. It was a common party setup for ganks – the Enchanter had a lot of rooting and debuff skills to keep a target helpless and in place while the two-handed Guardian used their many stun and knockback strikes to prevent the target from defending. The Swashbuckler provided pressure from multiple angles thanks to their dual-wielded blades and used their many combos to cut down their prey. All in all, it was a deadly effective combination, making it very popular for gank squads.

"Come back 'ere! We ain't done with you yet, lassy!" The Guardian yelled out but the woman frowned and ignored him, sprinting down the street. There were so many small alleys in this place that it was easy to get lost or hit a dead end and right now, that would be the end of her. Even in a place like this which she clearly remembered from the other side of the monitor, she felt disorientated without the bird's eye view.

'Shit, of course I'd screw up now of all times...' She slowly came to a halt at the end of one of the alleys, with houses, ruined buildings, and rubble blocking any means of escape on all sides. Realizing her error, the girl's thoughts raced - maybe she could break into one of the houses and hide or set up a counter-

"Well well, looks like our rabbit is at the end of 'er hole, 'ey boys?"

She didn't need to turn to see but she did anyway, finding her pursuers standing at the entrance of the alleyway with sneers on all their faces, "We'll enjoy this, girl, just don't fight, and you'll enjoy it too."

If there was only one or maybe two of them, she could use a spell to escape but with the three of them, her chances were slim to none. The Enchanter would simply find a way to release himself and his friends or worse, pin her down before she could act. The only spells that could get her out of this had too long of a cast time – even if she started now, it was impossible to finish before they reached her.

She grimly realized that there was no way out of this, and she'd rather die than surrender herself to these evil men. If there was anything that she learned during her admittedly young life, it was that death was not the end – it was only a transition. Indeed, living so close to a cemetery might have normally given people nightmares or a haunted feeling, but she was only ever truly at peace when striding between the stones that marked the final resting place for all people. She took a strange sense of solace and comfort from the harmony of it all.

The three in the alley had gotten closer while she mused so she reached back to pull forward the black hood of her robe, stylized with the likeness of a horned dragon's skull. With her face thus shadowed, she readied the spell under her breath, prepared for what might be the final moments of this life. She hadn't heard of anyone dying in this new world yet, so maybe she'd be the one to finally discover what happens.

She grinned morbidly as the Guardian approached, reaching out his hand to grab her shoulder. That would be the signal, she thought, when he touched her, she would begin.

'You've really come far, right Aurora? Getting hurt for being yourself and now being targeted just for your looks. Not exactly how I wanted to go, but it doesn't look like I have much choice, huh?'

However, she never felt the Guardian's metal gauntlet. Instead, she was interrupted from her thoughts when an unfamiliar voice yelled out from the mouth of the alley, "Oi! It ain't polite to mess with a lady like that, mate!"

The voice was rough and had a hint of a threat in it. She looked up to see her attackers with their weapons drawn facing the newcomer, who smiled and seemed pretty unconcerned with it all. The Swashbuckler, a tall, lanky Human fellow with a gruff voice, walked forward and addressed the intruder, "And it ain't polite to intrude on something that ain't your business, twat. Ed, trap this guy so I can cut that grin off his fucking face."

Before Ed the Enchanter could move, the newcomer, clad in a fancy green cloak, withdrew an elaborate polearm and flashed her a grin, "Don't worry, lassie, we'll get you out in a flash!" And he immediately swept the butt of his halberd into the Swashbuckler's unguarded midsection, throwing him aside with a grunt. The Swashbuckler growled, but before he could retaliate, he saw two purple blurs rushing towards him. He brought up one of his swords in a high guard and the other in low guard to deflect a crushing Monk blow and another Swashbuckler's double slash. He jumped backwards and glared at his two nearly identical opponents.

With the path to him clear, the Enchanter panicked, expecting the large Wolf-Tail to engage him in melee in a classic case of attacking the caster first. Instead, the man in the cloak jumped past him and engaged the Guardian with a bellowed war cry. Ed sighed in relief at not having to stare down the feral man face to face, and prepared his root spells to aid his party member. Before he could cast a spell, another man in a green cloak just appeared in front of him, and it was all he could do to fend off the rapid dagger strikes that followed.

Seeing Clancy engaged with the caster, Algar grinned at the muscular Guardian, who had locked blades with him. The classic trio of Enchanter, Guardian, and Swashbuckler was very effective in gank situations, yes. However, they were a terrible setup against an equally sized and skilled team. The Enchanter was almost useless when pressured by melee, the Swashbuckler had no defense against root, stun, or slow skills, and without support, the Guardian could simply be whittled down last. He just had to make sure the Guardian, definitely the biggest threat of the three, focused on him while Clancy took out the squishy Enchanter. So he boasted, "Those three are with me, mate. We're from the Black Leaves! Just give it up and we won't have to hurt you too bad, got it?"

The Guardian growled before he replied, "You think you can win? You've already lost! Your mistake was engaging me in close combat! Heavy Anchor!"

Algar's eyes widened when he found that he could no longer lift his feet – he was rooted! Heavy Anchor was a Guardian skill that immobilized both the user and the target, often used to scary effectiveness in PvP against squishier classes, provided the Guardian could get close. The Bard cursed his short-sightedness when he barely caught a brutal slash with his polearm. Before he could even breathe out, the monstrously large Guardian drew back his greatsword for a weighty thrust. Algar grimaced; at this range, he couldn't use his weapon properly! There was no way he could keep up this defense forever; even now, his HP was being steadily shaved down from his inferior position. He took openings to strike where he could, but without his mobility, he stood no chance against this juggernaut – but he wasn't alone in this fight, he had to rely on the others! "Captain!"

Clancy was dealing with the Enchanter handily. To his credit, Ed was doing an excellent job of surviving – Clancy found himself dealing with debuffs in parallel and root spells in series. Being in a gank squad centered around the idea of Player vs. Player combat, Ed the Enchanter had plenty of experience in delaying melee attackers. But it was just that, a stalling tactic. Clancy knew that he had already won once he managed to get in melee range. When the Enchanter's final Astral Bind wore off, Clancy pounced, intent on finally bringing the ganker to heel. He had been using a few basic ranged skills to help bring down his HP and keep up the pressure, but he finally got into melee range and heard a squeal of pain when he stabbed his left dagger through the Enchanter's blocking forearm, reaching what felt disturbingly like bone and bringing his HP into the red.

He poised himself to deliver the coup de grâce, but he was hit from the side and sent tumbling to the ground. As the Ranger scrambled to his knees, he heard the familiar gravel tone of the Swashbuckler, "That's enough of that, I think! Nice try, thinking to outnumber us like that, but did you really think two 45s could match up to a max level Swashbuckler?" Clancy grimaced as he noted the prone forms of Yama and Yami, who had their HP in the red. Briefly, he wondered how they were still alive – Did the Swashbuckler refuse to kill them? Were they stunned, somehow?

"That's right, scrub, you've lost! Your guild's pathetic little roleplaying shit doesn't fly in the real world! This isn't a fantasy game anymore, and the consequences are real. Only the strongest survive and the weak ones get eaten up or run the fuck away, but there's nowhere for you to run!" With that said, he stepped forward, extending the blade of his sword toward Clancy's neck, "Hand it over: your money, your gear, your entire inventory, or I'll just carve it out of you myself!"

'I did it again,' Clancy thought, 'I messed up – if I had been faster, Yama and Yami wouldn't be hurt like that. They had trusted me to get them out of the fire, knowing they couldn't take on an enemy with that much of an advantage over them. I had to take down the caster before they were defeated, the one weak point of the plan.' He wanted to break down again. His HP was still in the green, but the stakes were just as high as the last time. However, without the pain and shock of imminent death like last time, Clancy felt his head clear and he refused to give in to despair so quickly, 'This is a bad situation, but Clancy Ebonleaf does not give up. Not when his allies' lives are on the line. I have to get us out of this, there's always a third option!'

With his head lowered, the Elf's eyes darted from left to right, searching for something, anything, to save them. Algar's HP was barely at 25%, Yama and Yami were even worse. His escape skills were on cooldown, and he couldn't take on a Swashbuckler with Enchanter support anyway. All around him, the prospects were grim. The walls of the alley were smooth, preventing any sort of aerial escape, and his enemies were between him and the exit. His eyes landed on the only other thing in this alley: that girl they were trying to save.

Summoner, Lv. 90

He met her gaze under that draconian hood and communicated wordlessly. She smiled brightly at him and whispered something that only he, with his Elvish hearing, picked up. He grinned darkly.

She slammed the butt of her staff on the ground, startling the others, and in a loud voice, she proclaimed, "Arise, my Servants!"

The very ground shook and an eerie green and black miasma emanated from the orb on her staff, filling the air with a nauseous stench. The sky seemed to grow dark as the fog blanketed the sky above the alley, bathing the scene with an otherworldly glow. From the earth arose the cries of the damned, begging for release from their eternal torment. The others in the alley looked around in varying states of shock or fear.

Still in a kneeling position, Clancy could see that the girl, Astra, who looked to be casting a rather lengthy spell, had chosen her getup well. The sickly green glow swirling around her coalesced into what looked like a pair of gaseous draconic wings, giving her the appearance of some great risen wyrm, with the skull on her hood as the centrepiece.

The Swashbuckler, finding himself losing control of the situation, panicked and drew backward, bumping into the Enchanter behind him, frozen in fear. Even the Guardian curbed his bloodrage to stare at the woman's display of unholy power.

She raised her staff in the air, letting the hellish cries reach a crescendo, and immediately, several pairs of skeletal hands burst from the ground, grabbing at the shins of her would-be attackers. The Enchanter screamed as he fell over, the strength of the undead summons dragging him to join their dread legions. Wary of befalling the same fate, the Swashbuckler screamed, slashing at the arms of the dead and scrambling away in fright, weapons held at the ready.

The hands that emerged from the earth clawed their way out, revealing a small army of skeletons, wielding all manner of rusted weaponry and wearing decaying metal armor. As they rose, the stench in the air tripled with the smell of death, the grave – of final human mortality. Their bones rattled together, as reanimated skeletal fingers and jaws moved of their own accord. There was naught but an evil green glow in their empty eyesockets, promising to return the living to where they belong.

Seeing its army rise, the great distorted dragon roared a command in an unearthly voice, "Graveyard Walk," and its minions obeyed. As one, they turned to the frantic Swashbuckler and began the march of the dead, intent on seeing him enter his grave.

The ganker froze in place, staring at the final destination of every mortal man and his own sealed fate. Their visage struck him to his core and he fell to his knees in terror, and yet the undead shambled forward, undaunted. As they overcame his crumpled form, the Swashbuckler stared into the abyss of death and he found it staring back with uncountable dead eyes.

The implacable Guardian, however, remained steadfast, readying for a charge toward his once-prey, "Get it together! She's just a bloody Summoner! Cut 'er down and she'll die like anyone else!"

In the split second before the Guardian moved, Clancy realized that the Summoner – no, the Necromancer had finished casting, just in time to hear her shout, "Come to me, Skeletal Hulk!"

The fearless Guardian let out a massive roar when he charged, attempting to cleave the dark magician in twain before her spell took effect, but his footing was lost partway when the floor erupted from beneath him, scattering a cloud of smoke into the air. Somehow, he sensed what was coming and desperately leapt out of the way, but not in time to dodge a massive bony fist crashing into his unguarded flank, forcing him brutally to the ground.

Looking up with dread, he saw what had to be the largest skeleton he'd ever laid eyes on. Its hunched form was enormous, easily taller than any man. Its bones were thicker than his entire arm and it had an inhuman, misshapen skull with the same unearthly light in its eyes. It even seemed to breathe the same eerie green fog that surrounded them all. Its hands were balled into fists with a strength to crush iron, devastating weapons in their own right.

Grimly realizing that the battle had gone against them and that this behemoth would never let him retreat, the Guardian did the only thing he could do. He hefted his weighty sword onto his shoulder, cracked a humorless grin and charged.

For a worthless ganker, Clancy had to give him credit, that sort of thing took guts. He watched as the warrior called out his highest damaging attack in a fury, "Onslaught!" The mighty slab of metal seemed to roar through the air as it struck home on the Skeletal Hulk's upper arm, snapping the thick bone in half. The beast did not take this lightly, and as the Guardian entered the second stage of his skill, it roared in defiance, swinging its remaining arm toward its enemy. In a final climax, the two forces met, exploding in a cloud of dust.

Clancy found that he was holding his breath, and looked to the others. Algar was staring at the Summoner in the same spot that he had been, looking extremely uncomfortable, while the twins were huddled together and had apparently healed up in the confusion. To an extent, he understood their fear – this girl had just killed two, maybe three actual people. When this was a game, that was not a big a deal, even expected, but to his knowledge, no one had yet died since the Transition. He was afraid for what that meant for the deceased, but before he could continue that train of thought, he looked to the girl in the black robes to see her stalking toward the cloud of smoke.

She waved her staff and the cloud blew away in a gust of wind, revealing the Guardian, bloody and beaten with broken armor, kneeling on the ground with his chipped greatsword supporting him, still alive. He looked up at her hidden face and glared. Grunting, he pulled himself to his feet and held his sword aloft for one final showdown.

With the last vestiges of his strength, he let out one final battle cry and surged forward, much slower than his previous charges, intent on taking his foe with him.

But with otherworldly grace, the black-cloaked figure slid to the side of the strike and slipped behind the Guardian, placing the tip of her staff against his shoulder. With a cruel whisper, she spoke, "Death Scythe," and a bone white scythe head grew from the orb in her staff. Its keen edge glinted in front of his neck with a magic blade sharper than any known metal. With a breath and a stroke, she gave him his last rites.

'Dust to Dust,' thought Clancy, as the headless corpse tumbled to the ground in a growing puddle of blood.

His eyes were drawn back to the figure of the Necromancer when she turned his way and he briefly felt a pang of fear as the image of that unholy wyrm seared into his brain. Even if it wasn't directed at him, just being so near to that source of death and decay made him wary.

That feeling was utterly shattered when she pulled off her hood and gave them the biggest, cheesiest grin he had ever seen.

"Wow! That was awesome! Thanks for the help, you guys, you totally saved my ass! Uh, but I think I'm out of… Mana." And with that, the happiest Necromancer in the entire city fell face first onto the stone floor, unconscious.

Algar and the twins gathered around her prone form, speechless.

Clancy had only one thought:

'How is she still smiling?'