GGCE 14 – Crossroads (2)

The man in question smiled, his cheek twitching. The soldiers who saw it knew he was close to blowing his top and quickly vacated the area, leaving an obvious quarantine zone twenty of feet. “My, that’s not how a lady should address her betters. I’ll have to teach you some manners.” That was when his face turned dark and his eyes locked onto Avery’s body with a mixture of murder and lust. “With your body.”

Desmond to Ter’yut, even Navara, stoop up. None of them had weapons, but they gripped their iron knives ready to pounce on the Viscount. A fire burned in their eyes along with murder, but it didn’t look it had much to do with his comments with Avery. More so towards the man had finally pushed them over their tolerance. Along with them stood the less wounded men from the expedition that totaled nearly twenty-five heads. They stood from their seats, every hand holding their cutlery. Their expressions were dark.

“Yeah ain’t laying a hand on our Lady, damned dog.” one Knight took the front with a snarl. Avery’s group was slightly surprised but took it in stride. There was power in numbers. Even though Avery could probably wipe the Northern Keep off the face of the map by herself, she shouldn’t have to deal with this person, to begin with. He was a blight on the Empire’s good name. A Viscount in name, a vile-dog in person. That was how Princes Randol and Desmond viewed this man. Which was why he was sent to watch over the Northern border.

The Expedition soldiers, on the other hand, weren’t going to allow such a fiend to threaten the lady that had saved their hides out there in the Forbidden Forest. It would have sullied their names and honor. Even though they didn’t have much of that. After that chance encounter with death, they were keen on turning over a new leaf. Starting with standing up against this person.

Viscount Otto was taken aback by the sudden defiance. He was the man who held the purse strings to the Empire! Not even the Emperor would openly challenge him in court! He took a step back in shock. Then his face twisted pink with rage. The lustful heat that brewed in him when he had laid eyes on the beauty that was Avery now morphing into a blinding rage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end.

More soldiers stood up against him, echoing their dissents against him. His soldiers. It hadn’t even been about the girl anymore. Many voiced their dissatisfaction towards the Viscount’s behavior. Verbal abuse and physical abuse; Long hours and little pay; Lack of maintenance on the wall and their equipment. Prince Randol was actually stunned by the accusation being thrown around!

Just with the amount of soldiers hurling accusations around was enough to warrant an investigation into derelict of duty. One of the few charges that could bring down a man like Viscount Otto. Of all the passes and slaps on the wrist, abandoning your duties, treason, and not performing the duty given were the three charges that even his father would never turn a blind eye too. “Let’s go.” The Viscount had since turned his attention to the ever-growing crowd of soldiers standing against him. As much as he wanted to defend himself against all these accusations, he couldn’t bother with it now that all these people wanted his head.

The expedition group slipped out of the crowd by sneaking away from the Viscount and hugging the Keep’s inner walls before making their way out the entrance. Officers poured in as they left and it turned in to pandemonium. Viscount had been busy with trying to not anger the already fuming crowd who were being hyped up by each other. His loyal officers managed to beat a path straight through the crowd and encircle Otto in a protective circle. No one dared get to close now as these officers were dressed in full suits of steel armor with short swords.

Against the armed opposition, the crowd quieted down, but they still whispering among themselves. Viscount otto sighed with relief, not realizing that the officers marching their way through in full battle sets only added more kindling to the already engulfing bonfire. Otto’s eyes swiveled to were his “guests” had been but found only empty seats. He huffed in childish rage before ordering his Officers to lead him out of the hall.

The expedition group decided it was the best course of action to quickly leave the Northern Border Keep. A barren fortress with no formal name other than that. “I didn’t expect the man to be so disliked.” Sir Glen chuckled to himself as they found themselves in the clearing they had walked through when they got here. They had already made the decision to try and gather their wounded to head out. The keep would have some priests who could heal their wounds well enough. They would not be high-ranking priests from any religion, but they could mend cuts and bruises as well as stop the bleeding of severed limbs.

“Viscount Otto is well known for his cut-throat business sense, not the way he treats people. Well, not in a good way. The man is practically scum, but a very useful one.” Randol chirped with disdain. The man even did it in front of him! He wasn’t the favorite prince, but had he suddenly become a commoner? He never has known Viscount Otto to be so daring that he’d try to have his way with a guest of the Prince. Even if he thought she was a Monster Hunter or whatever he thought of her.

Crossing the dirt covered stone, moonlight washed the large clearing in a dull silver – casting many shadows. Avery didn’t wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. She could handle monsters. She had killed plenty just yesterday and in the game. She was already numb to it… The blood not so much, but it would come with time. As for humans or similar races, she had killed plenty in game. Yet, in there… Was something… Something she felt just previously.

Yes.. Blood lust. The moment that man had aimed to do harm to her, he body began to feel light. Heated. Thirsty. For blood. Death. It was all she could do to keep her mouth shut as to not kill the man. The sense of power the man thought he held over her. That little twinkle. She wanted to destroy it. It wasn’t a sensation she had ever felt in-game before. “Hey, you okay?” Navara nudged Avery’s shoulder as they funneled through a door in the western part of the clearing. A strong odor of herbs and iron wafting past them.

“Yeah. Definitely….” Avery answered, unsure herself. Navara only gave her a worried look before they began to assess if they could leave yet.

. . . . .

A vast pastel-blue and white sky stretched overhead as slow-moving clouds dotted it. A gentle breeze skimmed across a well-manicured field as two players laid on their backs, taking in the sights. “So I’m guessing you aren’t mad at me anymore?” one of them said with a chuckle, a man dressed in blazing red coat and pants. His short black ruffled hair unmoving in the wind. His face was fitting for a model. However, Gerald was nowhere near as handsome in real life.

“I’m still pretending to be mad at you.” A girl huffed, her white hair sprawled out under her. Her golden eyes looked up at the picturesque sky while pouting. They laid barely a few inches apart. “Look… Avery…” Gerald muttered hesitatingly, chewing on his next words. “Look.. Gerald…” Avery mocked him with feinted anger. Gerald rolled his eyes at the cute way Avery was acting. He knew at most she was slightly upset. “I’m sorry I talked to your dad to do that Valentines Event…” He said as he turned to look at her.

She was dressed in a red sundress to match his clothes. They had just finished the Valentine’s event that had players dress up together and compete in ridiculously couple like challenges. They had failed the very last one, which was to propose to their partner. Which they failed – Because Avery froze.

Most of the events were cute little couple things that had been small little bucket list items she wanted to do when she got a boyfriend. Feed each other cake. See a sunset together so on so forth. Things Gerald had managed to find out and put together for her. The two had an uneasy relationship, both having affections for one another, but nothing happening since Avery did not want to leave someone behind when she died. Gerald had hoped to break that but failed today. At most, he put her in an awkward spot.

“Please don’t be like this… Look…” He paused to try and find the words to convey to her. Ones that weren’t pandering, but his true thoughts. “I love you.” He finally said with conviction. They had been playing together for years, they had even video-chatted – just him showing his face obviously. Regardless, they had both been affectionate towards each other. It was a major difference from other people. Avery never really got close to people. A shallow relationship he would say, but not with him.

Now she looked troubled. Avery sat up, trying to leave only to be stopped when Gerald held onto her arm. “Please hear me out.” He pleaded. She didn’t look at him anymore. She only sat down with her back facing him. He knew she was probably close to crying. It was the one outcome she didn’t want. To leave one more love behind. She was already going to leave her parents, this virtual world they build together and all her friends. The last thing she wanted to also leave was a lover.

“I know how you feel… But.. Please, give me a chance. I don’t want to regret not being with you until the end.” He said softly, stroking her arm with his thumb. “Then why can’t we do it as friends?” Avery said with a shaky voice. “Because I know you love me too.” The words hit her like a freight train. The tears she had been so desperately holding in burst like a failing dam as her soft sobs slipped from her lips. “H-Hey… Why are you crying?” And ever so gently, he sat up, caressing her from behind “Why..?” She said between the snobs. “You know… I’m going to die…” she finished, her redden eyes turning to look at him. He felt his heart tighten in his chest at the question.

Of course, he knew, but she had been his first love. It may have been over the internet, yet she was the most genuine part of his life. He was a few years older than her, practically an adult now. When people abandoned him, when the world decided that day was the day it would knock him down, and when everything looked bleak – she was there. He hated that she rejected him because of something so trivial. “It doesn’t matter. You’ve been there for me. I want to be there for you, no matter how short of a time it is…”

Then Avery became aware. “Ah… Yes… This memory…” She was dreaming, the most beautiful, but heartbreaking memory she had. When she turned down the boy she loved, because of her fears. Her insecurities. Gerald had always been gentle to her. A man of nearly six-feet, chubby with a slightly acne filled face. He was a good man, maybe awkward at times, but good nonetheless. “Is it because I’m not good enough?!” Gerald yelled. Like a movie, the memory played out without her stopping it. She wished she could turn back the clock and tell him. Tell him yes and kiss the man on his lips. How death made her bolder.

Then the scene changed back to another memory, one she wasn’t sure of. Both of them laying in the grass, looking at each other in the eye while laughing. “Wake up!” He said while smiling. Avery only looked startled, “What do you mean?” She didn’t know why he said that. She never remembered him saying anything like that here. “Avery, wake up!” Now his face began to distort and darken. The world around them falling to pieces until there was only darkness. “Avery!” It was Navara’s voice this time. Avery shot up, her head spinning from sitting up so quickly.

Crisp morning air welcomed her with a kiss on her nose as she looked around trying to get her bearings. She was laying in a roomy carriage with Navara on her right. Furs covered the floor and them, but Navara was sitting beside her in nothing by a spare tunic. Panic painted her face as she looked at Avery with concerned eyes. The look sobered her up quick. “What’s wrong?” Avery said with a hardened look, ready to fight anything. “You!” She whined.

“You were twitching and whimpering! Then you started crying and I thought you were in pain!” She added before looking over her. Avery looked down at the rest of her and found she was in a similar tunic. “Ah..” She remembered.. They left the keep in the night with borrowed carriages and wagons to get them the rest of the way to the Capital. She looked more closely and found the carriage was quite roomy, the floor was large enough for both the girls to curl up slightly without having to huddle against each other like beggars in the street trying to stay warm.

“Don’t just ‘Ah’ me! What happened?!” She asked, trying to keep her voice down. “I had a nightmare..” She said. The carriage windows were covered with pull-down blinds. The morning sun was beginning to shine through the spaces under the blinds. “… A regret.” She said, her eyes coming back to met Navara’s.

. . . .

The carriage they had slept in was the commandeered personal carriage of Viscount Otto of the North, take by the one and only Avery Bailey – with Navara driving it. Prince Randol had managed to take five more carriages from the Keep and ride them for half the night until they managed to get halfway to their destination. They only stopped when they reached the half-way marker, a crossroads. They camped to the side of it for the rest of the early morning till sun-up.

Dismounting the carriage, Avery stepped out in her black dress and her boots. She found the cold didn’t bother her very much, most likely a side-effect of one of her titles involving fire. Desmond and Ter’yut sat along with Sir Glen and some other soldiers around a crackling fire. They huddled themselves in their blankets as the morning chill kissed them like lonely wives welcoming their husbands back from war. Navara stepped out after Avery but draped in the furs. “Aren’t you cold?” Desmond asked. He heard the carriage door open and looked up to see the two lovely girls stepping out.

Avery was the only one not bundled, but she seemed unperturbed by it. Their breaths came out like white mists in the scarce dawn light. “I’m okay, I found that the cold doesn’t bad me as much as the fox.” She grinned, her rosy cheeks rising as she gestured with a flick of her head towards Navara. “No fair!” Navara acted offended before sitting next to Desmond. Avery chose to stand behind them as she stretched her arms as the orange light crawled across the sky like someone had spilled paint on a canvas.

Prince Randol appeared from behind a carriage to their south with Ter’yut. “Good morning.” Both the men greeted the newly awakened girls. Navara greeted back while Avery only nodded her head in acknowledgment. “Can I speak to you, Avery? Alone?” Randol gestured out to the crossroads with a solemn expression. Avery only sighed, feeling this was going to make her already unpleasant morning worst off.

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