A Piece in the Game of Gods part 12

I stared at my laptop, scowling a bit as I did so. I’d spent the last half hour searching for Heather Sievers, but so far, I hadn’t found anything. Actually, Google did bring up results for a couple different women named Heather Sievers, but none of them seemed to be the one I was interested in.

“Too old,” I muttered, finding one article about a Heather Anne Sievers, who was the prosecutor in some big trial. “And Heather V. Sievers is a retired teacher…”

After a few more minutes, I closed my laptop in frustration. Matt was a lot better with computers than I was, so maybe he’d be able to find something about MY Heather. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask him at the moment.

Matt was at work and wouldn’t be back until mid-afternoon. Unlike me, he didn’t have any financial worries as far as college was concerned. Between his scholarships and his parents, his schooling was all paid for. However, extra spending money was always nice, which was why he had that part time job at the game shop.

Teri wasn’t at home either, since she’d left a short time ago to visit a couple of her friends. I was pretty sure that the main reason she’d gone, was so that she could show off her new body. She’d been doing a pretty good job of hiding it from her parents, by wearing baggy clothes and slouching down a lot when they were around, so I couldn’t begrudge her too much.

“And I am not jealous of her,” I muttered, without much conviction.

A moment later, I looked down at myself and smiled faintly. My brand new clothes, which had fit perfectly when I bought them, were now a little on the tight side. It seemed that the extra points I got from that green sphere, had changed body. Like Teri, I’d gone through a growth spurt, though mine wasn’t nearly as drastic as hers. I’d grown about an inch taller, and my muscle tone was definitely more pronounced.

“Now, I just need to find a few more of those,” I said with a chuckle. With a few more, I might even be able to get back to my old strength level. “But I can worry about that later…”

I turned my attention back to my computer, which was now closed and turned off. That hadn’t been very helpful, so it was a good thing that I wasn’t really relying on that to tell me about Heather. I’d found another source of information, one that had already paid off far more than the computer had.

I felt a little guilty as I opened up Heather’s purse and looked inside. Technically, it was my purse now, but that didn’t really ease my guilt. Still, she didn’t need it anymore and I did.

“The Cleaner,” I muttered with a shake of my head. He was the one who found the purse and gave it to me. And the only place he could have found it, was at the lot where Heather and I had both been killed.

From what I could tell, the Cleaner didn’t just play janitor for the competitions, but he cleaned up at the unofficial fights too. Since my body hadn’t been found, I could only assume that he was the one who’d made the bodies, along with all the other evidence, vanish. I didn’t know whether to be angry at him for that, or grateful. There were both advantages and disadvantages to being a missing person, rather than a murder victim.

Instead of dwelling on the Cleaner, I focused on the purse and what was inside. I’d searched through it yesterday, and was familiar with the contents. I still wanted another look.

There were tampons, pads, and some makeup, the kinds of chick things that I should have expected but hadn’t. This was followed by Midol, Aleve, and a set of keys. Next, came her wallet, which included a couple hundred bucks in cash, some credit cards, and most importantly, an out of state driver’s license.

“Like that does me a lot of good,” I muttered, glancing at the driver’s license again before setting it aside.

And then, there was a small stack of mail, which provided most of the information I actually needed. The mailing address was different than the one on the driver’s license, and it happened to be local. One envelope even explained why Heather had moved to the area. She was going to attend the college in the fall.

“Now I know where you live,” I said, carefully putting everything back into the purse. I winced a little at the sight of the tampons and pads since it was a reminder that I’d probably need to start using that stuff now. “Time to go take a look.”

A short time later, I called an Uber and caught a ride to the address on the mail. I was curious but nervous, wondering what I was going to find though also feeling a bit like a stalker.

When I arrived at the address, I saw that it was a small house at the end of a cul-de-sac. There seemed to be very little yard, but that didn’t really matter to me. I was more concerned about what was inside the house than on the outside.

I spent a good minute or two, just standing in front of the house and watching it. Was this really where Heather lived? Did I actually have any right to go into her home or snoop around her life? Once I began second guessing myself for coming here, I knew it was time to make my move.

One of the keys that I’d found in Heather’s purse, was a perfect match for the front door. As soon as the door unlocked, I let out a sigh of relief, thankful that I actually had the right place. A second later, I went inside.

“Not bad,” I said as I looked around the living room. It was certainly nicer than my old apartment had been, though not as nice as my parents’ house. “Looks comfy…”

I’d barely begun looking around, when I heard a noise from the back door. I froze, wondering for a moment if Heather had a dog, or worse…a boyfriend. Seconds later, a young woman came into the room, freezing at the sight of me. She was a fine-featured black woman, about my own age. And for some reason, she seemed familiar.

“HEATHER!” she abruptly exclaimed, running over and grabbing me in a hug. “You’re back… Where have you been? Are you okay?”

I stood there, feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure how to respond. Should I pretend to be Heather and bluff my way through this, or maybe just pretend that I’d been in an accident and had ‘amnesia’. Then again, the amnesia excuse might work in my mom’s soaps, but I doubted it would work in the real world.

“Hey, Cassandra,” the dark-skinned woman called out. “Our roomie is back…”

There was a thumping sound from the stairway as someone raced down from the upper floor. I just groaned, wondering how many more people were going to turn up in what I’d thought was an empty house. I hadn’t seen any cars parked in front, but obviously, that didn’t really mean anything.

A second young woman emerged from the stairs, then paused at the bottom to stare at me for a moment. She was dressed almost entirely in black, in what was definitely a goth style outfit. Her black hair was pulled back, and she had dark lipstick and mascara, which added to the goth look. It took a moment, but I realized that I knew this girl. I knew both of them.

The goth was Cassandra Markham, a girl I’d gone to school with, though we’d only been in a couple classes together and had never socialized. The black girl was Lauren Gayle, another former classmate, who used to hang around with Cassandra back in high school.

Lauren had been one of Nadine’s rivals, or enemies, if you wanted to be more accurate. Nadine had told me some horrible things about this girl, though it wasn’t until after I’d learned the truth about Nadine, that I realized much of that had probably been lies.

“That’s not Heather,” Cassandra exclaimed with a snarl.

Suddenly, Cassandra had a bow in her hand, with an arrow drawn back and aimed right at me. Bow Girl. Cassandra Markham was Bow Girl.

“What are you talking about?” Lauren demanded, backing away from me looking concerned.

“I ran into her yesterday,” Cassandra said, not taking her eyes off me. “Whoever this is, she fooled me at first…”

“Look,” I said awkwardly, holding my hands out so she could see I wasn’t a threat. Of course, I was also about to throw up a shield to protect myself. “You’re making a mistake…”

Cassandra just continued to glare at me, the suspicion clear in her eyes. “If you were really Heather, you’d know I have a really high awareness. I can tell when you’re lying.”

I scowled at that, unsure of what to do. Maelyne told me that she didn’t want the Arbiters or any of the other patrons to find out what she’d done, but Cassandra already knew that something was wrong. And then I remembered the last thing that Maelyne had told me in my dream last night…that I should plan a strategy with my allies. At the time, I’d thought she meant Matt and Teri, but what if she didn’t…

“I’m not the Heather you know,” I admitted, keeping my eyes on Cassandra. “But yesterday, when you thought I was, you helped me…”

“Who are you?” Cassandra demanded. “What did you do to Heather?”

“I didn’t do anything to Heather,” I responded, trying to keep my voice even. “She’s dead…gone…but I didn’t have anything to do with that… In fact, I tried helping her…”

Lauren gasped, then glared at me. “What do you mean she’s gone? And why do you look like Heather?”

“She must have some kind of shapeshifter ability,” Cassandra answered grimly, before ordering me, “Drop it.”

“I wish I could,” I responded, still keeping my eyes locked on that arrow, which was aimed at my chest. “But I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” Cassandra asked, her eyes narrowing.

“I’m not a shapeshifter,” I explained. “And this really was Heather’s body…” I paused at that, then added, “Maelyne told me to keep this quiet, but if you were Heather’s friends…I’ll tell you. Just point that damn thing somewhere else.”

“What do you think?” Lauren asked Cassandra.

The goth hesitated a moment before lowering her bow. “She’s telling the truth, and doesn’t seem hostile…”

“So, who are you, and what the hell is going on?” Lauren demanded of me. “And what do you mean, that’s Heather’s body?”

I let out a sigh of relief and relaxed a little. “I don’t know Heather,” I said, not sure how to explain this. “I only met her once…the night she died. She was being attacked by two people, Nadine Fairlan…” Cassandra scowled while Lauren let out an actual growl. “And that freak with the scythe…”

“Mason,” Cassandra said grimly. “Andrew Mason, the champion of Arakthiel, god of the void.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Anyway, when I saw Nadine going after Heather, I tried to stop her.” I snorted at that. “Fat lot of good that did. That bitch killed me for my trouble…”

Lauren and Cassandra shared a look, before Lauren said, “It sounds kinda like you know Nadine…”

“Yeah,” I admitted with a nod and a scowl. “And I know who you two are too… We went to school together…” They both gave me a look of surprise, as well as confusion. “Anyway, Robe…Mason, he killed Heather and…and destroyed her soul.”

“The soul killer,” Cassandra gasped with a look of horror. “No fucking way…”

“What?” Lauren asked, looking confused. “What are you talking about…?”

“I heard that Mason has an ability called soul killer,” she explained, her voice shaking. “It’s supposed to destroy someone’s soul so their patron can’t bring them back… I didn’t believe it was real…”

“It’s real,” I said with a deep scowl of my own, feeling a knot in my stomach as Lauren began to cry. Cassandra looked almost like she was in shock. “Maelyne couldn’t do anything about Heather, but she…saved me.” The girls both stared at me expectantly, so I quietly added, “She put my soul into Heather’s body…so I could take over as her champion.”

Lauren and Cassandra continued to stare at me, and I could see all the grief and confusion as they processed what had happened to Heather. I could only imagine how hard it was for them, to see me in Heather’s body. As it was, I felt even more guilty and self-conscious than ever before.

“I’m sorry you had to find out this way,” I told them quietly. “I don’t really want to use her body like this, but I don’t have a lot of choice. It’s either this, or be dead for good.”

“Who are you?” Lauren asked intently. “You said that we went to school together…”

I gave a short, bitter laugh at that, then admitted, “I’m still trying to figure that out.” I took a deep breath to brace myself, before adding, “But I used to be Jerry Tanner.”

Both of them stared at me with their mouths open.

--------------------

I was comfortably positioned in ‘my’ chair, with a soda beside me and a game controller in my hand. I was taking a turn at Target of Opportunity, while Matt and Teri watched, offering a running commentary that made me feel almost like I was playing Mystery Science Theater instead.

“Aw, fall down go boom,” Matt said after I fell off a building and landed right on top of an enemy soldier.

“I hope you don’t play THE game that badly,” Teri said. “I really don’t wanna get killed…”

“Shut up,” I snapped in annoyance. “It’s the controls for this game. They don’t make a lot of sense…”

“I never have a problem with them,” Matt pointed out. “Maybe it’s because you’re a dumb jock…cheerleader.”

“Bite me,” I said, pausing just long enough to flip him off before turning my attention back to the game.

The truth was, I wasn’t fond of first person shooter games, and would have much rather preferred to play my other game. Karock was still close to leveling, and I hadn’t played him in days, not since before this had all happened. I missed being a tank, both in the game and in real life.

But as much as I wanted to play Karock, I was also thinking about making a cleric or some kind of support type mage, just so I could get a little practice with the types of tactics that those classes used. Considering my current situation, that almost seemed like practical training, rather than playing a game.

“So,” Matt said a little more seriously. “Cassandra Markham is a champion too…”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Apparently, her patron is some goddess of secrets, romance, and the moon.”

I thought about Cassandra, and how she’d appeared as Bow Girl. During the competition, she hadn’t been wearing her goth makeup, so between that and the armor, she hadn’t looked much like her usual self. At the house, I never would have recognized her as Bow Girl, if she hadn’t actually pulled the bow out.

“Awesome,” Teri exclaimed with a grin. “She seemed really cool…”

I nodded at that, though I doubted that I’d spoken so much as half a dozen words to Cassandra back in high school. Back then, we’d run in completely different circles, so it seemed strange that we were now running in the same ones.

“Quite a coincidence, that you, Nadine, and Cassandra all end up as champions,” Matt said with a thoughtful expression.

“I talked to Cassandra about that earlier today,” I said with a shrug. “Apparently, when the gods decided to start holding their games in this area, most of them picked new champions from within the same age group. According to her, half the champions are between eighteen and twenty.”

Teri stuck her tongue out at Matt. “It looks like you missed your chance, little bro…”

“I don’t know if there’s a god of nerds,” I added with a grin of my own, which resulted in Matt flipping me off.

“So, Heather was roommates with these girls, Lauren and Cassandra?” Teri asked. “How does that work? I mean, isn’t Cassandra the competition…?”

“Yes and no,” I answered, trying to think of how to explain this when I still had so many questions of my own. “Officially, it’s usually each champion for themselves. However, some of the gods have alliances, so their champions are encouraged to help each other too…”

“Like Nadine and the guy with the scythe?” Matt asked.

I nodded at that. “Apparently.”

Matt considered this for a few seconds, then admitted, “It’s good that you’ll have someone watching your back…assuming that Cassandra will still help you.”

“She said she would,” I said with a scowl, though I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out. Cassandra was Heather’s friend, so would she help me for Heather’s sake, or would she resent me for using Heather’s body? I didn’t know. “We’re going to meet up tomorrow and do a little training.”

“Can I come?” Teri immediately asked.

“I was hoping you would,” I admitted. “Since you’re my companion, you’re going to be stuck in this too…”

Matt scowled, definitely not happy with the situation. However, he understood that I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter. Once Teri had accepted my accidental invitation, she’d become bound to me…and the game.

“I…I want to come too,” Matt said, giving me a steady look.

“Sure,” I responded with a shrug. “You might have fun watching…”

“That isn’t what I meant,” Matt replied, scowling as he did so. He took a deep breath, then blurted out, “I want you to make me into your companion.”

“What?” Teri and I exclaimed together.

“Look,” Matt explained. “I don’t like this situation, and I’m not happy about you dragging Teri off into these contests, where she could get killed. I want to look out for my sister, and watch your back too, and the only way I can do that, is if you upgrade me the way you did Teri…”

“You know I can’t upgrade you in quite the same way?” I reminded him. “My second companion slot is for some kind of rogue or thief class…”

Matt nodded at that and gave me a self-conscious smile. “I know. I also know that I like playing that kind of class, so it should work out…”

I stared at Matt for several seconds, trying to decide what I should do. On one hand, I’d already made Teri my companion, which gave her a lot of benefits. Benefits that I was jealous of, and Matt probably even more so. And of course, I could definitely use more help in watching my back. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to drag Matt into this whole mess as well. I didn’t want to risk him getting killed in one of these stupid contests. In the end, it was the look of determination in Matt’s eyes that convinced me.

“Fine,” I said, activating the ‘companion 2’ ability and sending Matt an invite. A moment later, I received the popup.

MATTHEW LAWRENCE CORSKEY IS NOW YOUR COMPANION

“Wow,” Matt blurted out a moment later. “This feels…”

“Awesome?” Teri asked excitedly.

“I was going to say amazing,” Matt responded. “But yes…”

Teri grinned at her brother. “It’s like, you feel strong enough to do anything…”

“Not quite,” Matt said with a thoughtful expression. “It’s more like…I feel faster, and more in control of myself.”

With those words, Matt abruptly did a summersault across the room, looking smooth and graceful while doing so. He came to an easy stop right before running into the wall.

“Nice,” I told him with a grin. “But not too surprising. I mean, you just got a nice boost to your agility, dexterity, and reflexes…”

“And stealth,” Matt reminded me. “You said that your second companion would also get stealth abilities…”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “But I don’t know if that means you can turn invisible, or if you’ll just know how to hide better.”

Matt considered that for a moment. “I think, maybe a little of both.”

Matt picked up a couple random objects and began juggling them, doing so with an ease that impressed me. That plus four to dexterity was going to be great for party tricks. I watched him for a few seconds, through brought up his new stat page.

COMPANION 2

NAME: MATTHEW LAWRENCE CORSKEY
GENDER: MALE
AGE: 19
HEALTH: 100%
MANA: NA
STATUS: NO INJURIES, ILLNESSES, OR NEGATIVE STATUS EFFECTS.
SPECIAL ABILITIES: STEALTH- RANK 1

STRENGTH: 9
STAMINA: 10
ENDURANCE: 9
-
AGILITY: 13
REFLEXES: 13
DEXTERITY: 15
-
INTELLIGENCE: 12
CHARISMA: 9
AWARENESS: 11
-
MANA POOL: NA
MANA RECOVERY: NA
HEALTH: 100
REGENERATION: 100

I looked over Matt’s stats, and was surprised to realize that we both had the same intelligence level of twelve. I was used to thinking of Matt as being the smart one, while I was the strong one. However, it seemed that things had changed even more than I’d realized. A knot seemed to form in my stomach at that realization, and my sense of self-identity took even more damage. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before it was destroyed entirely.

“Welcome to Team Maelyne,” I told my best friend with a slightly forced smile.

“Congratulations,” Teri exclaimed with a broad grin, before sticking her tongue out at Matt. “Just remember, I have more seniority than you…”



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