I was dead. At least, that was my first thought, though I soon realized that I would have better off if I had been dead.
I woke up to find myself stretched out on a table with my hands cuffed above my head, while my feet were similarly cuffed on the other end. Then for that extra sadistic touch, someone had also used barbed wire to help tie me down too.
My entire body ached, and not just where the barbed wire was digging into my skin. These assholes hadn’t been very gentle about kidnapping me, and I felt like they’d taken the opportunity to rough me up a little more while I’d been unconscious.
“Since we’re not going to just kill her,” Robe asked from a short distance away. “What are we going to do with her?”
At the moment, Robe’s hood had been pulled back so I got my first clear view of his face. He was a skinny guy with dark hair and a goatee. Without the hood, he came off a bit more as creepy than scary.
March was still wearing his armor, though he’d taken off his helmet, so I got my first look at his face as well. He was clean shaven, with short dark hair and well-tanned skin. Most women probably would have described him as having rugged good-looks, though I didn’t care about that.
“We can have some fun with her,” Nadine suggested with a sadistic grin. “Hell, I can use her to keep myself buffed…”
“You’re a psycho,” Harker said, though she almost sounded bored.
“Kr’aethar told me that Sievers is the key to beating Maelyne,” March explained. “If we have Maelyne’s champion, we can use that to get to her…”
“Yeah,” Nadine agreed with a look of impatience. “Pfath told me the same thing, but he didn’t explain how.”
Harker gave a wry look. “Br’ieze hasn’t told me anything, other than that I have to help you idiots, so that she can come to Earth and get worshippers.”
“That’s what all of our patrons want,” March said. “Among other things.”
“We have a couple options,” March said, looking at me. I closed my eyes and pretended that I was still unconscious. “If we kill her right before the next contest, her patron won’t have time to bring her back to compete…”
“Good idea,” Nadine agreed. “If we’re gonna kill her again, we might as well time it right…”
Robe gave a short laugh. “Well, it’s a good thing Arakthiel just sent me a message, telling me what we needed to do. I mean, killing the bitch would work for one contest, but like you said, if Maelyne is able to bring her back afterwards, we’ll just have to come after her again…”
“And what did Arakthiel tell you?” March asked.
“If we kill the bitch again,” Robe explained in a smug tone, “she MIGHT come back. The only way to make absolutely sure that she isn’t a problem, is to make is to make it so she isn’t Maelyne’s champion anymore…”
“And how do we do that?” Harker asked, now looking more curious than anything.
“Arakthiel says she has to renounce Maelyne,” Robe answered. “If she completely renounces her patron, then the game won’t recognize her as Maelyne’s champion anymore. And if she swears to serve one of our patrons instead…”
“She can become another champion of Kr’aethar,” March said, looking as though he wasn’t sure to be happy about that or not.
“Of course not,” Robe responded. “But that would get our patrons some major points in the game.”
“Yes, I imagine that would,” March said.
I felt chills run down my spine as I listened to them talk and plan. At least now I knew why they’d kept me alive, though I was starting to wish they hadn’t.
A minute later, Nadine abruptly announced, “Wakey wakey!” That was followed by a searing agony on my thigh and a scream from my throat.
“You BITCH,” I spat out at Nadine once I was able to talk.
“You killed me,” Nadine said, glaring at me with a sadistic gleam in her eyes. “You’re going to pay for that…”
I didn’t bother pointing out that she’d killed me first. Nadine didn’t need any excuses, because even if I’d never hurt her at all, she still would have been more than happy to make me scream in pain. Back when we’d been dating, Nadine hadn’t gone to this extreme, but she’d definitely enjoyed hurting others.
“Let’s start with a little…warm up,” Nadine suggested with a laugh, reaching out with a flaming hand and touching my other thigh.
“This is just sick,” Harker grumbled, definitely not looking happy about this, though she didn’t do anything to interfere.
“Maybe,” March responded. “But it is necessary. The other attempts to remove her from the game didn’t work, which leaves only this.”
Harker got a little defensive. “I mean, Sievers doesn’t seem like she’s worth all this trouble…”
“She isn’t,” Robe agreed. “But her patron is. You know that.”
Nadine didn’t seem to even be listening to her friends as she touched me again. I screamed, remembering the night I’d died, burned to death by this same psychotic bitch. The feelings of deja-vu and terror were overwhelming.
“This is too much for me,” Harker said. “I don’t want to watch this…”
“Nadine seems to be enjoying herself,” Robe commented. “I say we leave this to her for now…”
March, Harker, and Robe all left the room, leaving me behind with only Nadine with company. At that point, I would have preferred to have had any of them staying back instead, not that they asked my opinion.
Nadine burned me several more times, though she didn’t seem interested in interrogating me or in demanding I renounce Maelyne. In fact, I wasn’t sure she even remembered why she was doing this.
Finally, Nadine stopped and said, “I guess I can’t do much more at the moment, at least not without killing you…”
I was gasping for breath, trying to breath through the agony. I was barely aware of what was going on, only that every inch of my body hurt like hell. It was like the first time, only slower.
“I’ll give you a little time to heal up and regenerate,” Nadine said in a frighteningly cheerful tone. “It’s a good thing we champions heal so fast…”
After Nadine left, I remained where I was, both wanting to die so this would end, but also wanting revenge. I wanted to hurt that bitch as much as she’d hurt me. I wanted her to pay for everything she’d done.
Nadine had been right when she’d said that champions heal fast. My regeneration wasn’t nearly as high as a lot of the more physical champions, but I would heal a lot faster than any normal person. If I waited here long enough, I’d probably heal from everything that she’d done to my body. Fortunately, I had other options as well.
Once I’d recovered my wits, I used ‘lesser healing’ on myself. It didn’t do enough, but it did repair some of the damage, which reduced some of the pain. I healed myself a couple more times until I was almost entirely healed.
It was only at this point that my mind was clear enough again, for me to realize just how much worse Nadine could have hurt me. I was terrified of her coming back and continuing, but tried to distract myself by thinking about what little protection I had.
Maelyne’s blessing protects me from twenty percent of all damage. My armor, which was torn up and charred, but still on me, protected me from twenty percent of all magical damage. That meant, I’d only received sixty percent of the damage that Nadine was dishing out. That was a terrifying thought.
“These would have been great powers for a tank,” I muttered to myself. As it was, the forty percent that I’d been protected from could easily have been the difference between life or death, or for my being so out of it that I wouldn’t be able to heal myself. “At least now I have a chance…”
I tried getting my hands free, but it did no good. As much as I tried to get loose, all I ended up doing was hurting myself with the barbed wire.
March came back into the room a short time later, which meant that I couldn’t keep fighting against my cuffs. Instead, I remained as still as I could, pretending that I was unconscious from what Nadine had done to me. My armor was badly torn and charred, so he didn’t notice that beneath it, I was healed again.
By this point, I had absolutely no idea of what time it was, nor was I even sure of the day. I didn’t know how long I’d been unconscious when they brought me here, how long I’d been left on my own before Nadine began working on me, how long she’d tortured me, or even how long I’d been playing possum. Everything was just a big blur of confusion.
I hoped that March would leave the room soon so I could try getting out of the cuffs. Unfortunately, between him and Robe, I didn’t have another moment by myself until Nadine returned.
“Wow, it looks like you healed up nicely,” Nadine announced, sounding oddly pleased by that. “You must have slotted your regeneration like crazy…”
“It looks like you’ll have to start over,” Robe commented.
However, Nadine just smirked. “You mean I GET to start over.”
And with that, Nadine’s hand burst into flames again and she touched my leg, making me scream in pain. There was no way I could keep pretending to be asleep now, nor any purpose.
“Now, where were we?” Nadine asked, running a finger along my arm and leaving a train of burning skin behind. “Oh yes… You were going to renounce Maelyne and promise that you wouldn’t be her champion anymore…”
“Screw you,” I spat out.
Nadine slapped me, burning the side of my face in the process. I screamed again.
“You know, this is all Maelyne’s fault,” Nadine continued. “You wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t picked you and then given you such lame powers… I mean, it’s like she fucking sabotaged you from the very start… I bet she’s laughing her ass off at this…”
I no idea how long this session lasted, because time stopped having any meaning for me. Nadine alternated between punching and burning me while talking about how this was Maelyne’s fault, and how I could make it end just by renouncing her and my position as her champion.
Eventually, Nadine took a break, leaving me a burned, broken, and bloody mess. I’d been in too much pain to even think about healing myself, and once she left, I was still too out of it to remember that ability.
Awareness slowly came back to me, even with all the pain. I had popups. Two of them. I had absolutely no idea when they’d come in or how long they’d been there. It took me a long time before my mind even focused enough to realize what they said.
BY YOUR LOYALTY, YOU HAVE EARNED MAELYNE’S BLESSING: RANK 2.
I read this popup several times, feeling stunned and confused. Maelyne’s Blessing was a gift, and gifts didn’t rank up or level. I’d had a conversation about this same thing with Cassandra and Don while we’d been wandering the dungeon, and both of them had insisted that this was the case.
The second popup was more familiar.
THE NEXT OFFICIAL CONTEST BEGINS IN 24 HOURS. TRANSPORT WILL BE PROVIDED.
I still didn’t know how long ago that notification had come in, and I didn’t feel like looking at the timer. In fact, I was scared of looking at my stats and seeing just how low my health was. There was no doubt that it was low, and that I was barely holding on.
Since I had a period of clarity, or at least semi-clarity, I finally remembered my healing ability. I felt it rush through my body, though I barely noticed any difference. I used it a couple more times before I actually started to feel any relief, which told me just how badly I’d been hurt.
Once I was finally healed, I let out a sigh of relief and finally turned my attention to my screen. The timer said that I had less than three hours until the contest
“Crap,” I muttered, trying not to think about how much time I’d lost.
Since I doubted that Nadine and her allies were going to let me compete, I knew that my time was limited. It wouldn’t be long before she returned to give me one more chance to turn on Maelyune, made sure that I was too injured to actually compete, or just killed me when there wouldn’t be time for me to be rezzed for the contest.
I had a moment of terror and panic at the thought of her returning, along with desperation. I had to get out of there quickly, or I’d never get another chance.
I struggled against my cuffs and chains but didn’t have any more luck than I had earlier. After I realized that this was pointless, I looked at my screen, looking over all my assets and hoping that something would jump out at me. And then, I saw it.
MAELYNE’S BLESSING- RANK 2. 20% PROTECTION FROM ALL DAMAGE. ALL DAMAGE PREVENTED THIS WAY IS ADDED TO YOUR NEXT ATTACK. WHILE PROTECTING OTHERS, SHIELD STRENGTH AND SHIELD DURATION ARE INCREASED BY 50%
I let out a gasp of surprise, then read through the notes a second and third time. ‘All damage prevented this way is added to your next attack.’ That was new. It was a variation on the damage buff on my spear, but it was definitely a new addition to that gift.
“Too bad it doesn’t do me any good while I’m tied up,” I muttered in frustration, struggling against my chains again.
Then it suddenly dawned on me that this gift didn’t say anything about requiring my spear. I gasped as the implication hit me, and for the first time, I really felt hopeful about my chances.
Maelyne had just given me the keys to my freedom, though I had a feeling that she’d stretched the rules to do so, if she hadn’t straight-out broken them. I wasn’t sure what rules she and the other gods were supposed to follow for their game, but I did know that I had a way out of this, and I only had a small window of opportunity to use it.
Unfortunately, it was at that moment that Nadine returned to the room, and she wasn’t alone. Robe was with her.
“I figure we’ve got two hours to finish breaking her,” Nadine told the robed figure. “And if we can’t, we’ll just kill her before the competition starts. Either way, she won’t be a problem this time around.”
“Cold,” Robe said, though he nodded his approval.
My heart jumped up in fear as I clearly remembered what that bitch had done to me. I wasn’t going to give her the chance to do it again, so before either of them could get too close, I activated Maelyne’s shield. I might have done that a little sooner than I needed to, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
“What the fuck?” Nadine snarled in surprise and anger. “She’s healed again…”
Nadine blasted my shield with several fireballs while Robe threw a ball of purple energy against it. My mana began to drop under the pressure, but I couldn’t worry about that. It only had to hold out long enough for me to get free.
I struggled against my cuffs again, but this time, I didn’t try to slip out of them. This time, I focused on trying to hit them with my hands. Normally, this would be less than useless, but thanks to the damage buff that Maelyne had given me, there was a flash of light and the cuffs shattered. I laughed in delight, especially at the fact that Nadine herself had given me all the damage that I’d used to break loose.
“She’s getting loose,” Nadine exclaimed in frustration.
“Even if she gets out of those chains,” Robe calmly reminded her, “she isn’t going anywhere. Sievers is trapped in her own bubble…until she runs out of mana.”
Robe was right, so I desperately scrambled to undo my other bindings. I tore myself up a bit from the barbed wire, but with my hands free, I was able to work myself free from that. The only thing remaining were my ankles, which were cuffed about as well as my hands. And unfortunately, I’d already used up my stored damage.
“Not all of it,” I frantically reminded myself.
Even though I had no idea where my spear had gone, that wasn’t a problem. I simply willed it to go back into storage, then I summoned it again in my hands. Without hesitation, I stabbed at the shackles holding my ankles and they shattered and blew apart.
I climbed off the table, grimacing in pain as I did so. Though I’d healed most of my injuries, I’d hurt myself again in the process of breaking myself free. Apparently, blasting apart cuffs resulted in my hands and feet being bruised and torn up, and I couldn’t afford the mana to heal them just yet.
“Play through the pain,” I told myself bitterly, repeating a favorite line from one of my old coaches. “Walk it off.”
I dropped my shield to conserve what little mana I had left, though I still had to deal with Nadine and Robe if I wanted to escape. Acting more on desperation and instinct than anything else, I held my hand out and formed a shield wall, though I didn’t anchor it to anything at all. Instead, I focused in pushing it away from me as hard as I could, which soaked up every last bit of mana that I had. Still, my shield flew back, slammed into Robe, and continued going until it slammed the psycho into a wall.
Even though I felt a brief moment of triumph, I didn’t have time to enjoy it. Nadine was coming at me, but I was completely out of mana. So instead of throwing up a shield, I had to dive for cover behind the table. A ball of fire flew right over my head, just barely missing me. At that moment, I was grateful for my relatively high agility. Now, if only my reflexes had been a little higher.
“I’m gonna burn your ass to a cinder,” Nadine threatened. She was nearly foaming at the mouth, which would have made me smile if it wasn’t for the fact that I was out of defenses.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck stood out and a cold chill of dread ran down my spine. My eyes were drawn to Robe, almost on their own.
“Enough,” Robe said as he got back to his feet. His voice was strange and creepy, somehow echoing and sounding hollow at the same time. And then, I saw his eyes, which were glowing purple. “Mortals cannot be trusted with even a simple task...”
“Mason?” Nadine asked nervously. “Andy?”
“Aw, crap,” I gasped, feeling like I was about to piss myself.
Robe was radiating a feeling of overwhelming power, similar to what I felt from Maelyne, but much colder and hungrier. At that moment, I knew without a doubt, that this was no longer Robe. Somehow…I was facing his patron.
I’d always thought of myself as being a pretty brave guy…person. Hell, my first reaction to most threats was to charge right in with fists swinging. However, this time was different. This time, I KNEW that there was nothing I could do against the being who wore Robe’s body.
“Crap,” I groaned in terror, shaking as I did so. “I’m screwed…”
There was no doubt that Robe’s patron was going to come after me, so I did the only thing I could think of. I threw my spear as hard as I could…at Nadine. It ran right through her stomach, completely impaling her, and for a moment, I REALLY wished that I still had some damage stored up. Then while they were distracted, I turned and ran out the door as fast as I could.
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