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Corruptor: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Monday, September 20, 2010 01:15 EDT



    Morning within Crisis was a cold, wet one. Low clouds clung to the forest treetops, obscuring the sky and sun with an impenetrable gray haze. Leaves dripped water from their tips, the mist from the clouds replacing the normal dew. The forest was muted, quiet. No animal stirred from its slumber in the early morning cold. The mist, it seemed to Tori, had sucked the entire life and vitality out of the forest.

    The sun was up somewhere, Tori knew. Since the sun was not shining on her back to warm her, however, she felt her frustration rising as the group carefully picked its way through the forest. It seemed as though everything was conspiring against them. She briefly wondered if the chaos code within the game had it in for her.

    Tori felt her boot sink into the soft ground and stopped herself from cursing out loud. While the earlier drizzle made the ground wet and muted the sound, it also made for easier tracking if someone had half of a mind. Tori suspected that someone other than the rogue Moderators might be so inclined, but did not voice her suspicions to the group. Instead, she watched as Dylan flitted back into view and waited for his report.

    “Looks like the river is swollen,” he said as the rest of the group gathered around him. Tori ran her hand through her hair, feeling the dampness gathered on it. She grimaced and quickly pulled it back into a sharp ponytail. She noticed Dylan’s head was still relatively dry, thanks to the hood he had on his cloak. The others had gone with far more technological gear and thus were soaked, if somewhat warmer than she was. “There’s a bridge, but…” He shrugged and looked back over his shoulder.

    “You smell a trap?” Tori finished for him.

    “I smell a trap,” Dylan said. She looked at the others thoughtfully.

    “Any ideas?” she asked them.

    “Two-by-two standard cover formation?” Gyasi suggested as he fingered the long blade of his cutlass nervously. He carried the blade out in the open since they had escaped from the tavern the day before. “Two get halfway across before the next two go?”

    “Sounds good to me,” Tori said. “Dylan?”

    “I’ll go solo first,” he suggested nervously, his eyes darting between her and the rest of the group. “That way if it is a trap, they either spring it as I cross or wait until after. Either way will benefit the team. Plus, I’m the lowest member of the team. I’m more expendable.”

    “Use your code,” Tori suggested, refusing to argue with him about his self-assessment. Dylan snorted, amused in spite of the nervousness Tori saw on his face.

    “What, you thought I was just going to wander out into the open with nothing but my cloak and good looks?” he asked sarcastically before slapping a hand over his mouth. His eyes widened, horrified. Tori giggled and the rest of the group tittered softly, the tension suddenly lessened a bit.

    “Don’t do anything stupid,” Tori pleaded as she looked into his eyes. “Please.”

    “Sure.” He gave her a small smile and immediately became a shrouded black mist of nothing. Tori rubbed her eyes to compensate for the odd effect the black globe had on her vision as the Dylan-blob moved quickly off. The others followed slowly, unsure. None of them had seen Dylan’s cloak code in the daylight before, Tori thought as she felt a twinge in the back of her neck. She stopped and massaged her neck.

    Turning around, she looked back into the forest. She squinted her eyes and peered into the mist-shrouded forest as the heckles on her arm rose. Nothing moved in the gray, which relieved her slightly. She shook her head and sighed as she continued to rub her neck.

    We’re being followed, a small voice in the back of her brain warned. Tori was not sure if it was the game messing with her or if her gut was right. Nobody had spotted any sign of pursuit since the day before. Gyasi, who had handled rear guard earlier, had not seen or heard anything. Nonetheless, Tori still could not shake the feeling of being watched.

    Paranoid much, she asked herself as she turned away from the forest and hurried after the group.

    The group stopped just at the forest’s edge near the bridge. Tori stopped twenty feet behind the rest of the group and turned to look back into the forest. Part of being rear guard, she thought, is to make sure nobody was following them. She glanced up towards the front and wished she could talk to Dylan about who might be following them. Despite knowing Jade longer, she felt that Dylan would be the one who would understand the most. Plus, if something bad happened... no, stop it. Just a simple recon, she told herself. Nothing to be worried about.

    “Go across nonchalantly,” she called softly up to him. “Make sure that you’re not trying to be seen, but aren’t suspecting an ambush. Don’t skip, though. It might piss off someone.”

    “I know how to be bait, remember?” Dylan muttered back to her. Tori could almost hear the good-natured smile in his voice. “The umbrella incident at Verekong?”

    Tori blushed furiously as Dylan, moving at a leisurely pace, strolled out into the open and towards the bridge. Stephanie moved closer and touched her shoulder.

    “Umbrella incident?” she asked under her breath. Tori blushed an even deeper shade of beet-red.

    “Let’s just say that he was bait,” Tori explained carefully, her eyes locked on Dylan-blob’s back. “And I ended up in a wet t-shirt and everybody looking. It was cold, too. I, uh, yeah.”

    “Poor girl,” Stephanie muttered. Tori held up a hand suddenly. She held her breath as he approached the first of the six statues, the black globe moving steadily forward.

    The statues were a tribute to one of the programmer’s love of the Roman Empire. Each was dressed and armored as a member of the Roman Legion, complete with shield and sword born across their chests. The stone was exquisitely chiseled, no flaws on any of them. The symbol of the Roman Empire, the double-headed imperial eagle, adorned their helmets. Their faces looked inward at one another, locked in an eternal gaze. The stone carvings would have been impressive outside of the game, with each soldier standing over ten feet in height. Their eyes seemed to gaze balefully at one another, everlasting sentries who would stand there forever. They were old stone gray, drab in color from apparent years of rain and abuse. Moss covered each of their feet, encouraging the belief that the bridge was untended and unused.

    Dylan approached the first two statues at the foot of the bridge. He stopped, concerned. Tori felt her fear welling up inside her as he stopped. She wanted to call out to him, for him to come back, that they could find another way across. She remained silent, however, as Dylan passed the first two without springing the ambush. If there really was one, she corrected herself. She had been wrong before.

    “This is nerve wracking,” Raul muttered. Tori shushed him with her hand as she moved past the giant man. Dylan quickly passed the next set of statues, and Tori felt her shoulders begin to relax. No ambush, nothing like that, she thought as she paused next to Jade. The slight Asian woman rested her hand on Tori’s shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Tori offered her a quick smile as she watched Dylan pass the third set of statues. It was safe, she determined, and gave a sharp motion with her hand for Jade to follow her.

    The attack occurred just as she was taking her first step onto the bridge.

    Dylan cried out in warning as a flaming projectile erupted from somewhere off to his left, missing by mere inches as it sailed over his head. He dove back behind one of the statues as a second flaming ball impacted on one of the Romanesque statues nearby, washing his body with heat. He gasped as the oxygen around him was suddenly sucked away by the flames from the explosive projectile. He dropped to one knee and covered his face as the flames around him sought to gain any sort of purchase on his body. His cloak, and accompanying code, prevented the fire from accomplishing this. Fate, it seemed, was on his side.

    The fire rapidly dissipated after being unable to gain any foothold on the ancient and weathered bridge. Dylan quickly activated his inventory and quickly grabbed his assault rifle, a similar one in design to what Tori carried. He snuck a quick look in the general direction from where the attack had come from and rewarded his attacker with a hailstorm of rounds as he fired. After a moment, the hammer in front of the trigger clicked loudly, informing him that the entire clip of his rifle was emptied. He stared down in amazement at the rifle in his hands.

    Though it had felt good and comforting when he had unloaded fifty rounds within five seconds towards whoever had attacked him, Dylan knew intellectually that he had more than likely missed with every shot. He jacked out the magazine and slammed in a new one as another flaming missile hit the statue, confirming his earlier guess. Dylan jerked his head upwards as he heard a cracking sound from the statue.

    He spotted a long, deep crack which ran through the entire midsection of the statue. While it still looked sturdy, he was not about to take any chances with the only thing between him and explosive, fiery death. He switched the rifle over to semi-automatic fire and began squeezing off short, controlled bursts towards a small cluster of boulders near the edge of the chasm. It was the only cover near the bridge, and he guessed that he would eventually find his attacker there as well.

    He looked back towards the rest of the group and noticed, with no small amount of surprise, that Tori was already crossing the bridge. The look on her face promised death, and he noticed the teenage girl was preparing to unleash some form of hell upon their attacker. He crouched down as she slid, baseball style, into position next to him.

    “Down!” he shouted at the rest of the group as another fireball impacted on the stone bridge itself, shaking the structure to its foundation. A few loose stones tumbled into the chasm, bouncing off the face of the wall as gravity reclaimed them. Dylan fired another burst towards his attacker. He blinked as he spotted the baklava-covered head of their attacker. Everything suddenly clicked in his head. He had seen those fireballs before.

    “Sergio, you stupid moron!” he screamed, his voice hoarse from the heat. “Stop shooting at me!”

    “Who are you?” a voice called out from behind the rocks, suspicious. A deep, resonant voice. A voice everyone in the group was familiar with.

    Tori knelt next to Dylan behind the statue, activating code after code in preparation of the next attack. She peered over the edge of the bridge and readied to unleash everything she had at their attacker. Dylan grabbed her arm to stop her and shook his head violently. Tori looked at him, confusion evident upon her face.

    “Sergio!” he hissed to her. He shifted his head to look back towards the rock cluster. “It’s Dylan, you twit!” he shouted down.

    “What’s our motto?” the voice behind the rocks called back. Dylan looked over his shoulder at Tori. She nodded and glanced back at Miranda, who was crouched near the feet of the first statue. The girl looked terrified.

    “Celer, Silens, Mortalis,” Dylan called out. He waited five tense seconds before finally a head emerged, sans baklava. A tattooed, shaven head attached to a muscular body. Dylan fought the urge to put a few rounds into the exposed body for good measure and instead looked at Tori. “That asshole.”

    For once Tori could find no fault with the statement. Sergio looked sheepishly at the group as they slowly crossed the bridge, each person on edge. He had moved from behind the rocks and stood waiting, arms open apologetically and hands in plain view. Tori approached and looked at him angrily, her weapon still in hand.

    “Hey Tori, Dylan,” he said, a silly smile on his face as he drew close. “Good thing I missed. Sorry about that by the way. I--”

    Tori interrupted what he was about to say next as she swung as hard as her computer enhanced body could. She felt a satisfying connection between fist and face as she smashed his nose. It crunched under the bridge of her knuckles, and Sergio dropped to his knees, his hands grabbing his nose. Tears welled up in his eyes from pain and shock. Tori shook her hand and grimaced, pain shooting up and down her wrist. That hurt like hell, she thought, but it had definitely been worth it.

    “You could have broken my nose!” he cried out as he gingerly touched his nose, checking to make sure it was not broken. Tori offered her hand to help him up. He refused for a moment, watching her warily.

    “You gonna punch me again?” He asked her, one hand still checking his nose. His eyes were bloodshot.

    “Not sure yet,” she said as she looked down at him. He moaned under his breath but took her proffered hand and used it to haul himself up off his knees. He rubbed his face carefully, avoiding his nose as best as he could as he wiped blood from his upper lip.

    “Everyone here?” Sergio asked after cleaning his face up the best he could.

    “Mohammed still isn’t here,” Tori replied as Sergio rubbed his nose gingerly. Though no more blood was evident, it obviously still pained the man. More than likely his pride, Tori thought. “He was on earlier, but I haven’t heard from him yet. More than likely, they got him. Royce is out and about, soloing, the little fart.”

    “And who are you guys?” Sergio asked Miranda and Gyasi as they approached, each looking at Sergio speculatively. Tori realized how intimidating Sergio could look to those who did not know him.

    “I’m Miranda, and this is my teammate Gyasi,” Miranda replied, eyeing the larger man. “We’re in Black Dawn.”

    “Ah, good team,” Sergio said with a nod. He offered Miranda a dazzling smile before his face shifted to a more somber look. “Worked with them a few times before I started this little merry band. Solid leader, Jamal is.”

    “What does your motto mean?” Gyasi asked in a curious voice. Sergio looked at the African man for a moment before shaking his head. He grinned instead.

    “Not exactly something that is appropriate, you could say,” Sergio said in way of explanation. He patted the slight man’s shoulder and shook his head again. He looked around, his confusion apparent, before he focused back on Tori.

    “Will someone tell me what the hell is going on around here?”



    Around the small fire in the shadows of the statues, Tori explained to Sergio about the Arthuria Tavern and the Moderators who had shown up there. She rehashed the events leading up to the flash bang and the two bodies of the gamers who had not disappeared when they had been killed. He listened with rapt attention as Tori struggled to explain her own mistake belief of leading the Moderators to the tavern.

    “It wasn’t your fault,” Sergio said as Miranda poked the fire a bit. It was late, and while the night before they had decided against a fire, the events over the past two days were simply too much for them to do without some comforts. Tori had agreed, reluctantly at first, with the group. Soon after, however, she was thankful. The fire, though small, gave off enough heat for the entire group to become comfortable. Sergio looked over at Dylan, who was standing nearby. Dylan gazed off into the east, his face thoughtful. Sergio nodded towards the younger teen. “Dylan was right. Nothing you could have done.”

    “I know,” Tori said. She looked at Sergio. “Where have you been, anyways? I tried to IM you, but I couldn’t reach you.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Sergio shrugged. “I was over by the swamps. I got into it with a few of the fantasy critters over there. I really hate them, by the way. Have I ever mentioned how stupid it is to have fantasy creatures in Crisis? They should be over at Kadashter or something.”

    “What made you think of coming here, anyways?” Gyasi asked curiously, his dark eyes flashing in the fire. “This isn’t exactly close to the swamps.”

    “I don’t know,” Sergio admitted with a shrug. “I was just following the river’s course and it led me here. I saw a group of people pass by earlier and figured I could raid the next group of their equipment. Then suddenly the first group was wiped out by a couple of Moderators. Short, brutal fight. Those Mods were some bad dudes.”

    “Flaming red hair on one of them?” Miranda asked. Sergio nodded, slightly confused.

    “Same Mods from the tavern,” Tori said in way of explanation.

    “So now what?” Sergio asked, sipping his canteen. He looked at Tori expectantly. Tori sighed and mentally cursed. Damn him and his power games!

    “We’re planning on going to Killakik,” she replied after a brief pause. She knew she would hear about it later from her team leader. “Two reasons, one of which is safety. Think Stalingrad.”

    “And the second?” Sergio asked as the others leaned closer. Tori sighed.

    “We’re still in the game,” Tori explained with as casual of a shrug she could manage. “There’s a mission there for me, and since we’re all together and not soloing, that means we have a mission there.”

    “Oh, damn it,” Raul muttered, his dark face scowling. “Is that what you and boy wonder over there were talking about last night?”

    “Yeah,” Tori admitted quietly. “I have to go there, though I wasn’t going to until I perfected my latest code. I guess what I have now should be okay. I just wish we had more time.”

    “It’s only a matter of time before they find us,” Jade predicted ominously as the group huddled together silently and waited for night to come, each deep in his or her own thoughts.

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