She stood in a defensive stance as the remaining horde of goblins turned to stare at her with their mouths agape. The goblins looked around at each other, eyes widened. Perhaps they didn’t expect someone would fight back so viciously. If she could induce fear in them with such pathetic weapons, she could only imagine how they would have reacted with her old inventory. Could she have passed through the Lost Zone more easily or explored its secrets?
Suddenly one of the goblins scurried off into the forest, causing several others to get spooked and follow suit. Like Lemmings, the entire remaining horde retreated with their kin without looking back at her.
She relaxed, surprised once again by their strange behavior.
What happened? One second, they were all baying for my blood. The next, they’re scampering towards the hills!
Fear gripped her for a moment. Did they sense the Leviathan? Was that why they scattered? Anxious, she searched the sky for any sign of smoke.
Not wanting to wait to find out her hunch might be correct, she took off at a dead run, leaving behind the pile of Goblin carcasses. She clutched the small knife, ready to strike at whatever monster that might pounce. The path wound around a corner, disappearing behind a huge boulder of gray rock that had seemed to have appeared in front of her out of nowhere.
She slowed her pace and crouched behind the rock.
She felt helpless. She was but a cog in the game’s machinations, a pawn in the story, to be dealt with as the engine’s algorithms decided. Of course as a player she had the freedom of choice to choose the way she moved about in the world, but after the reset it seemed like the algorithms had become more chaotic within Conquest.
When she had first started the game, she didn’t have to face high-level monsters like the Leviathan in her early levels. But since the game had reset, she now faced creatures that only came out in the upper and advanced levels. Although she had managed to defeat a Dragon, the Saber Wolves and a horde of Goblins with her paltry inventory, she still had to work hard to kill them.
She stood momentarily, about to resume her sprint when all of a sudden the air around her became cold, so icy that her spine tingled. Shivering, she returned to her crouching position again.
Then she saw the wisps of smoke.
It’s here! It found me!
The Leviathan shrieked as it halted in its path, its terrifying crimson eyes roving about the forest, searching for her, having finally caught her scent.
Her face went pale.
The dreaded monster had that kind of effect on people. She had felt her face blanch when she had encountered it the first time with Blondie and others. She wondered whether they had survived. Unluckily for her, the Leviathan seemed to have decided to follow her rather than the others.
Why me? Was it because I rejected its offer?
She desperately needed to escape the Lost Zone. But how… with the Leviathan so near?
Brittany did not feel so sure of her hiding position now that she knew the Leviathan could sense her whereabouts. It wouldn’t be long now for the smoke monster to find her and devour her soul. She waited with bated breath, but the monster did not appear.
Perhaps I was wrong in thinking it could sense me?
After several minutes of silence, she raised her head ever so slightly and peeked over the edge of the boulder to see that the Leviathan had disappeared. The shrieks had begun to sound distant. Even the air around her began to grow warm, the temperature slowly rising.
The Leviathan left no trace of its whereabouts. It was almost like it up and disappeared, leaving behind its foul odor of smoke.
Heaving a deep breath, she decided to leave the shelter of the boulder and follow the path forward, eager to get to her destination, which was anything but the Lost Zone. With the Leviathan gone, she expected to follow a straight path, unfettered by any obstructions, although she didn’t let go of the wariness she had held on to from the start. She constantly kept a lookout for monsters and creatures that would want to hurt or kill her or even try to keep her within the confines of the Lost Zone. Also, she didn’t trust the fact that the Leviathan had just given up on the search for her soul.
Is it luring me into a trap?
She hoped, though, that it wasn’t. As if the monster wasn’t terrifying enough without the possibility of cleverness and cunning added to its many qualities. If the creature had that kind of intelligence, it would mean obvious and inevitable death. Certain death given how Conquest was acting.
I might appear at my last save point, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s a real risk that I won’t re-spawn anywhere!
She couldn’t be sure of the outcome given how the game was now running by different rules. Maybe if she died here, she would die permanently. And the thought scared her.
She breathed deep again.
I must think positive thoughts. Like getting free of this wretched forest!
The path never seemed to end. It went on and on, winding through the gaps between the trees. She had no choice but to follow it as that was where she had seen the light. Also, it was her only choice if she wanted to escape this dreary place. The only other option – a more dangerous one – would be to retrace her steps back into the forest’s murky depths and back to the place where she had run into Blondie’s crew. But that would also mean inevitably running into the Leviathan.
After keeping up a steady pace for what seemingly felt like a marathon, she heard the faint sound of footsteps to her left. Very distinct footsteps.
She stopped and turned in the direction of the sound. She quietly loaded another .308 round and waited, holding her knife tight, ready to attack at a moment’s notice at whatever monster came at her.
However dim, there was still a flicker of hope in the back of her mind when it came to the idea of escaping this wretched forest. She knew she couldn’t run forever, and what she saw next surprised her. The footsteps weren’t those of any monster, but of a man and a woman jogging in her direction, weapons in their hands. It looked like they had fought recently. As they approached, she recognized them. She had thought them dead, but it seemed they had survived.
Though she hated Blondie, she was grateful to find her because she needed to obtain answers to the worrisome questions that throbbed in the back her mind.
“Brittany, where are you!?”
That flicker of hope became a little brighter as she raced toward the voices.
“Brad!” she called out. “Blondie!”
I can’t believe they’re alive! I can’t stand Blondie, but there’s always safety in numbers at a time like this.
Brittany knew the old term of ‘lesser of two evils’ and it couldn’t be any more appropriate as it was right now. She didn’t care. She ran like her life depended on it. The sounds became louder and louder as Brittany’s smile started to break through the cloud of gloom hanging over her. She burst into a small clearing, where two guns were immediately trained on her.
“Oh, it’s you.” Blondie glared as she lowered the weapon. “I guess you survived after all.”
“We’ve got to… got to get out of here!” Brittany wheezed, trying to catch her breath, “I saw the Leviathan in the woods. It’s coming! We need to run! Right now!”
Blondie immediately moved to block her path. “Snap out of it.”
“But… but what happened to Sam?!”
“He probably respawned back at the tower. We’ll see him soon enough, I’m sure.”
“His soul was consumed by Leviathan, he chose to yield it up!” Brittany cried.
“It’s a game, you moron.” Blondie scolded. “The Leviathan isn’t real!”
Brittany knew she should try another tactic, but the hate inside of her was too strong, and it blended far too well with the fear clutching her soul. “I’m the moron? Really?!” she shrieked. “How can you be so sure the Leviathan isn’t real? You even said yourself that when you tried to log out, you couldn’t. Right now this is our only reality.”
Blondie rolled her eyes. “Then clearly you need a reality check.”
“What if he doesn’t respawn?”
“But what if he doesn’t?!” Brittany insisted.
“You’ve worked yourself into a paranoid stupor.”
“He will respawn.” Blondie said with a hint of uncertainty. “I’m sure of it. We just probably won’t get a notification – just like we haven’t for the others of our guild. They’re all probably just wandering around trying to find us.”
“I’m confused.” Brittany’s eyebrow raised, “Aren’t you the one who suggested that the game is locked in a permadeath setting?”
“Oh, that.” She chuckled, “I was fibbing to manipulate you to join our guild. Sam is fine. His map is likely just disabled, so he’s just wandering around like the fool he so often is.”
“You better hope so, or else Sam’s death will forever be on your conscience.”
“Oh, come on.” Blondie growled. “Be serious. Aren’t you laying it on a bit thick?”
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you hadn’t shot him!”
“It… it was an accident! I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“Of course it was,” Brittany interjected with heavy sarcasm. “And with your winning personality, there’s absolutely no way it could ever happen to anyone else.”
The look on Brad’s face was intense. “We could stand here all day and bicker, or start looking for Sam.”
“He might respawn, but who knows what that… thing has done to him.” Brittany said.
“If we are gambling on him respawning, he will find us. In the meantime, let’s go and find the Ruins of Sariel. Once we get out of the Lost Zone here in the woods, we’ll know how to get there—thanks to our lovely Brittany here.” Blondie said, smirking.
“Let’s make something very clear: I’m not your ‘lovely’ anything,” Brittany spat. “You just better hope I don’t accidently fire off a couple rounds in your direction.”
“Ladies, let’s stop fighting until we aren’t, you know, in danger of having our souls devoured or worse.” Brad said, stepping between the women.
The two ladies stared daggers at each other, and then turned away.
Without the ability to determine their proximity to the Ruins, the trio ran through the deadly forest, not knowing what lurked behind each tree or around the next darkened trail. Their attention split between making sure they were in each other’s sight as well as making sure they weren’t eaten, impaled, soul-taken, mauled, or anything else that might come out of this nightmare of a ‘game’.
A loud screech erupted from Brittany’s immediate left. Before she could react, an enormous tentacle took hold of her leg.
Threat Detected: Level 7 Voidspawn
Strengths: Long black tentacles allow for speed and easy subduing of prey. Head is covered with gnashing mouths full of razor-sharp teeth to allow for rapid devouring of trapped prey. Head is also covered with eyes to allow for 360-degree sight with intense focus. Will not remain killed.
Whipping around to face the hideous beast, its thousands of razor-sharp teeth were only seconds away from chomping down on her thigh.
Brad came to her rescue, firing off multiple rounds from his M15 into the Level 7 creature’s… face, for lack of a better word. Hundreds of eyes covered the squid-like creature’s body, accompanied by hundreds of gnashing mouths, so it was difficult to discern exactly where the thing’s true face was.
The vile monster screeched in pain and released its grip. Brittany loaded a round into the Remington and fired, then reloaded and fired again.
I need a new gun! This is ridiculous!
After firing off three more rounds, the beast finally collapsed into an inky puddle of black matter.
Achievement Unlocked: Assisted Kill
You have taken down an opponent with the assistance of a guild member. You will each receive full XP allocations when using teamwork to take down a foe. This achievement will help with faster leveling as you help to improve your guild’s stats.
Finally, without warning, they stumbled out of the woods and their augmented maps lit up with location markers again.
You have survived the Lost Zone unscathed.
Claim your reward for your endurance and courage:
Brittany breathed a sigh of relief knowing they had cleared the creepy forest without running into any more vile creatures. Suddenly, her HUD lit up the rest of the path to the waypoint of their shared weapons quest.
“We’re almost there! This is the last stretch, ladies!” said Brad from up ahead.