Authors: Carrie Harris
My job as the Nightdark Clan leader would be to anticipate their attacks and coordinate some of our own. We’d win bragging rights for the rest of the year with the prank I had planned. The Apples would never live it down.
I strolled toward my tent to check on the supplies and plans stored in my chest, double encoded in case they fell into enemy hands. But just as I reached to flip open the tent flap, Goldnar’s nasal voice pierced the air again.
“I present Lady Amethyst, emissary of the Court of Lost Sighs!” he said. “I don’t know her, but she’s hot.”
I didn’t recognize the name, so I figured it must be Kiki’s cousin. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Kiki had emailed me a few details—her cousin was sixteen, lived in Cleveland, and was apparently a total
addict. I couldn’t make it add up. On one hand, she shared some of Kiki’s DNA. On the other, she was a gamer geek. Kate and I had speculated at length over which one would turn out to be the dominant characteristic. Kate said geek; I said goddess.
We’d both been wrong, because this girl was the best of both worlds. She had red hair, violet eyes, and a pair of honest-to-god wings emerging from the back of her cloak. The feathers
were dark purple, and I really wanted to pet them. Or her. I would have been happy with either.
Before I could make my mouth work again, she scowled at Goldnar. “I am Lady Amethyst, emissary of the Court of Lost Sighs, and I demand an apology for thy insult!” Her violet eyes flashed, and her wings rustled. I caught glimpses of a killer figure under the loose contours of her cloak and I almost forgot to breathe. That happens to me a lot.
“Oh,” said Goldnar. He was so stunned that he didn’t even move as she took his sword and shoved it in his face.
“You should apologize,” she demanded. I wasn’t sure whether her accent was real or not. It sounded vaguely Scottish. And it was really sexy.
Goldnar blinked slowly, his eyes flicking up and down as he finally registered what he was seeing—one pissed-off girl with wings. And then he did the only thing that could save him: He dropped to one knee in the hard-packed dirt at her feet and said, “Forgive me, milady. I feared your loveliness was just a nefarious disguise concocted by the evil Clan of Apples.”
She looked down at him sternly, then patted his head, the way you would a favorite dog. “I’ll let it pass this time. Now, where is your clanlord? I desire words with him.”
“Here, milady,” I said, raising a hand in greeting as I approached. On the inside, I was still drooling, but that wasn’t Tal’s style. Technically, we weren’t getting into character until noon, but it wouldn’t hurt to make a good first impression. “You are dismissed, Goldnar.”
Goldnar backed away reluctantly as I kissed Lady Amethyst’s hand. “Nightdark Clan is honored by your presence and sends its regards to the regent of Lost Sighs.” Of course I had no idea who that was, because
had literally hundreds of kingdoms, but it seemed like the polite thing to say. It worked too, because her lips twitched into a smile and she sidled up next to me.
“Anywhere we can talk OOC?” she murmured.
“Of course!” I said a little louder than I’d intended, but the fact that this girl wanted to see me out of character was more than my system could handle. She might not actually want to
, and I’d have to turn her down because I didn’t believe in casual sex, no matter how much I
might want to. Besides, it wouldn’t do to toy with Kiki’s cousin. Not at
It wasn’t likely, but she might make a pass at me. LARP hookups happened all the time. Calamity had come on to me at the last LARP, and things were still a little awkward between us. Especially after my incident with Europa and that game of Spin the Drinking Horn. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like I was always leading them on. I honestly didn’t mean to. It just kind of happened.
“Right this way,” I added in a more normal tone of voice, gesturing toward my tent. “We can speak freely inside.”
“Thank you,” she said, keeping pace with me across the grounds. The tip of her wing brushed my shoulders, and it smelled of spice and citrus. I would have paid good money to rub my face in it.
“Those wings must have cost a fortune,” I blurted out. “Can I touch them?”
“Actually, I made them myself,” she said. “I play a half-wyvern necromancer, and it took me a long time to duplicate my avatar just right.”
“Necromancers are so cool. I turned into a zombie about a month ago, you know.” She blinked at me, and I added, “It’s okay. My sister cured me.”
“Well, if I need any zombie tips, I know who to talk to.”
I stepped up to the tent and rolled open the flap for her. When you look like a twelve-year-old, you need every bit of chivalry you can scrape up.
“This way, milady.”
She took a step into the tent. Then another. Just as I was following her inside, I heard a faint howling noise coming from high overhead. I looked up toward the top of the rock face that bordered the back of the camp. It was only about three or four stories tall, but lances of sunlight had broken through the trees and made it tough to see anything without shades. I had some in my pack, but no way was I putting them on. I wasn’t some anachronistic noob.
A white blur streaked the air, falling at high velocity toward my command center.
“Amethyst!” I yelled, running into the tent. She turned an inquisitive gaze in my
direction, but there wasn’t time to explain. I wrapped an arm around her waist, pulled her up against me, and threw us both outside.
That’s when a monster fell out of the sky.
In the moment of silence following the collision, I froze. Sitting in the middle of my collapsed tent, surrounded by my shattered belongings, was an honest-to-god yeti. It had to be almost seven feet tall, with hands the size of dinner plates. Matted white fur covered its body and almost completely obscured its eyes, but they fixed on me anyway. They looked like black marbles behind the shaggy gray of the yeti’s bangs.
The shock was so great that I barely registered the fact that my face was pillowed on a very soft, very comfortable part of Amethyst’s body. I released her and stood up, my hand going cautiously to the hilt of my sword. Either the Clan of Apples had just dressed up a gamer in a fur suit and tossed him over a cliff or this really was a yeti. Both options made me want to squeal.
“Are you injured?” I asked the yeti, my words slow and deliberate.
The yeti’s nose wrinkled in a very convincing way. Animatronic, maybe? Was this really happening? Then the creature rolled onto its claw-tipped feet in one smooth motion and bounded off into the woods without a backward glance.
I had taken two steps after it when moaning from the ground caught my attention. Amethyst sat up with her hand clasped to her head.
“What happened?” she mumbled.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I didn’t see any blood, but beyond that, I had no idea what to do. Kate would have been very disappointed in me.
“Yeah. I think,” she said.
“Good. I’ll be right back.”
I dashed into the woods after the beast, drawing my sword. “To arms!” I yelled, my heart galloping. Everything slowed to a crawl, and the adrenaline surging through my veins made me feel like I had to fight or fold under the pressure. I’d led charges in LARPs, and they always felt like this. Totally awesome.
“Nightdark!” I heard Calamity’s rallying cry almost instantaneously, and where she was, Europa wouldn’t be far behind. It was too bad that the rest of the clan couldn’t join in the hunt, but I felt more than prepared with the three of us. We’d quested together a lot and hadn’t needed any resurrections in over a year now. Which was good, because I hadn’t yet found a resurrection charm that worked IRL. Not that I’d looked. Much.
My character was a master-level tracker, and this wasn’t the first time I’d wished I could download his skills into my brain. I didn’t see the yeti anywhere in the thick trees, and the path ahead looked like just a stretch of dirt. My neck prickled with the threat of ambush, and I kept whipping my head around in an effort to watch my own back.
When I saw Calamity and Europa crunching through the dead leaves toward me, I could have kissed them. More than usual, even.
“What happened?” asked Europa, pitching her voice low.
“Didn’t you see?” I hissed.
“See what? Calamity forgot her peace tie. We had to go back to the girls’ cabin to get it in case the Apples called for a parley.”
“Well,” I said, my eyes darting among the trees. “A yeti just fell on the command tent.” Calamity laughed, and I barely managed to keep my cool. They were gamers; they should have been more open to fantastic things than the average person. “Do I look like I’m kidding? Come see the damage for yourself.”
Clearly, I’d need to come up with a plan if I wanted to find that yeti. But first, I needed backup. And no way would the girls believe me if they didn’t see it with their own eyes.
“Look at this,” I said as we emerged into the clearing near the remains of my tent.
I would have explained what had happened, but I was struck mute. Amethyst stood next to the rubble, her cloak and leather breastplate discarded on the ground. She was wearing only leggings and a thin tank top, which was molded even more tightly to her body by the leather straps that attached her wings to her torso. One of the straps had come loose, and she was twisting into pretzel shapes trying to reattach it.
“Will you give me a hand here?” she asked, blowing a strand of ruby hair out of her face.
“Sure!” I squeaked, forgetting all my Tal-endowed cool. I’d dreamed about situations like this, only I wished she was wearing a chain mail bikini. I’d heard a lot about them, and of course I’d seen pictures, but I still hadn’t managed to catch sight of one in the flesh. Or
the flesh, I guess.
I fixed the strap and only then remembered Calamity and Europa. Uh-oh. I followed their gaze to Amethyst and realized I’d made a terrible miscalculation. They’d both been flirting with me ever since we’d met; they were definitely not immune to the charms of the zombie slayer. I’d always been careful not to show preference to either of them, because I honestly liked them both. But now that I’d brought Amethyst to the LARP, it probably felt like a slap in the face to them. They probably thought I’d been leading them on. I needed to fix this situation before it blew up, and fast.
“I need a moment,” I said to Amethyst, tugging on her wingtip.
“That’s fine,” she said. “I’ll head for the armory and see if I can’t get my breastplate fixed. And then you and I are going to have that talk.”
“All right,” I responded quietly.
I really wanted to see Lariat’s face when she entered the armory. He was my best friend; we rode the bus together, sat together at lunch, and played
online every night. His real name was Larry, but nobody called him that other than his parents and teachers. To the rest of us, he’d always be Lariat, the best weaponsmaster in the entire kingdom. He’d probably take one look at Amethyst and fall over unconscious. I would have liked to see that.
But first I had a crisis to avert.
Calamity and Europa turned their backs on me and stalked across the camp. I tried to tell myself that they had important things to do. But when I caught up to them, Europa was fussing with a plastic tent stake, and Calamity was poking the fire with a stick. Not exactly tops on the list of Things That Must Be Done.
“Hey,” I said.
They didn’t answer. Well, Calamity poked the fire a little harder, sending up a shower of sparks right into my face. That was answer enough.
I didn’t know what to say. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I wanted to say, “I know you both like me and have been patiently waiting for me to make a move in one direction or the other, but please don’t be pissed that I’ve been putting you off and just made matters worse by bringing a hot half-wyvern to the LARP, because I didn’t know in advance how hot she was or I would have at least forewarned you.” But I was pretty sure that explanation would get me slapped.
At times like this (meaning any situation in which a female is even remotely involved), I ask myself a very important question: What would Sir Talatien do? Tal was a Night elf ranger who had been orphaned at birth and raised by the Day elves. Now that he was of age, he’d started his own clan. But his status hadn’t gone to his head: when he wasn’t working, he could usually be found in the taverns of Tollenhall, downing mead with his friends and sucking up a lot of female attention.
He had it really tough. Ish.
I knew exactly what he would have done with Calamity and Europa, because I’d been playing him through two years, for three game systems and four expansion sets. I pulled out my sword and dropped to one knee before my wronged damsels. They gaped as I bowed my head and offered up my blade.
Sure, it wasn’t
a blade, and they couldn’t have used it to take my head off, but it was important to me. Tal’s sword meant the world to him, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to be just like him. He lived and died by an honorable warrior code. So would I.
My heart hammered in my chest as I waited to see what they’d do. Europa didn’t worry me; her brown eyes were already welling with tears. But Calamity’s name suited her all too well. At school, she was a mousy sort of girl who never spoke above a whisper, took all honors classes, and played the flute in the chamber music trio. But once she put on her
costume, she became someone totally different. Calamity was one of the most decorated arena fighters in the kingdom, known for taking wild risks and flying off the handle. She’d once torn down Three Bards Inn with her bare hands because some poor noob had pinched her character’s butt. Sure, it had happened online in a virtual world, but you had to respect her for sticking up for herself.
In short, there was a pretty decent chance that I was about to take a PVC strike to the head. It wouldn’t hurt anything except my ego, but I’d still prefer to avoid it if I could.