Author : Susan Nance Carhart

The Children of the Lonely Moon charged, screaming their bloodlust. The Crimson Champions hewed them down, blades flashing, muscles bulging, armor gleaming.

Adam Firedrake banged his sword pommel on his shield, taunting a troll, while Lyra darted in, burying her daggers in giant kidneys. A sizzle of mage from Ithuriel’s staff, and the troll toppled face-forward, dead.

“Yay! We win…again!” cheered Lyra.

“Who needs healing?” Ratzak called out, lean and brown. He passed out potions, while Lyra searched the bodies for loot.

“Oh, good,” she chirped. “Another diamond.”

Another triumph for the Crimson Champions. Another key to the ancient and wicked city of Karandash, Another parade, another celebratory feast, another round of admirers at their feet. Tonight Queen Tamarys would grant Adam Firedrake her highest accolade. In her bedchamber.

They debriefed, as always, at the Tabard Inn, over predictably foaming tankards.

“So what’s next?” mused Adam “Firedrake” Schlegel. “Do we do the bandits in Wilderdeep, or the Sacred Ruby of Ispahan?”

“I’m sick of those bandits,” Ratzak sulked. “I always get hurt, and Kristi always has to rescue me.”

All dangerous curves in her black armor, Lyra Daggerhand—once Kristi Flynn—flicked bits of foam at him.

“Don’t whine,” she said. “Wouldn’t you rather be uploaded to the game and be a handsome and immortal hero, than be old, grey, and wrinkled back home in the world?”

“Or maybe dead of leukemia?” suggested Ithuriel, the blue-skinned drow. She was the smallest of them, with huge liquid eyes and delicately pointed ears.

Her fellow Champions were surprised, since Ithuriel never responded to her pre-canon name of Rachel, and ordinarily pretended there was no reality other than canon. She said nothing more, dismantling her mystery meat pie with exquisite care.

Ratzak prodded his own meat pie suspiciously. They always tasted fine—everything did—but you never knew… “I’m sick of being Ratzak the Healer! There’s nothing wrong with being David Lee.” Seeing Adam’s skepticism, he shrugged. “Handsome and… immortal David Lee.”

Adam snorted a laugh, but Ratzak/David had more to say.

“I was thinking that—well…we don’t have to follow canon at all! We can just…live. Read books. Hang out together here at the Tabard Inn.”

Shocked, Adam sputtered, “But what about the fate of all Yggdrasil?”

Kristi frowned, thinking it over. “If the world is destroyed, somebody always reloads it. Big deal.”

“Personally,” said Ithuriel, “I intend to seek out the survivors of my clan and restore it to its ancient glory.”

The edges of reality blurred and crackled. The Champions looked wildly at each other as their faces distorted and flattened. With a sudden spark, they abruptly snapped back into three dimensions, dropping their tankards in the process.

“What was that?” David demanded.

“Nothing. It was nothing,” Adam said, trying to reassure himself. “Just a temporary glitch.”

“Which, by the way, is not supposed to happen,” David shot back. “I had higher expectations of Support.”

The door burst open, and a wild-eyed woman rushed toward them.

“Champions! The Manticore of Elboracum is ravaging the valley! Only you can save us!”

The Crimson Champions stared at each other, nonplussed.

“I don’t remember that,” Kristi said slowly, “and I memorized the entire wiki before I was uploaded. How are we supposed to know what to do?”

Adam was bewildered. “A manticore? I don’t anything about manticores.”

“Oh, shit!” David slapped a hand to his brow in despair. “They’ve developed new downloadable content!”


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