Chapter 19. Pain and Tears

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Dan

I had a feeling that the elf girl had set herself up to be attacked. It was as if she wanted me to drag her over to myself so that I would no longer be able to hide from her. Shouting the skill name “Lookout”, I tried to increase the distance between us, and I was flung back some 50 feet. It was a desperate gesture, no doubt about it, but the assassin attached to my harpoon continued flying toward me anyway. But her route had changed and she ended up crashing into the bushes filled with monsters.

“Aaaaaarrrr,” a troll, after being hit by a human missile, staggered, but managed to stay on its feet. Faith, obviously, had suffered a mild concussion and was a bit out of it.

Such large monsters normally didn’t pose any threat to the assassins: yes, it would take a lot of time to slay them, but they could never do the speedy fighters any harm because they were very slow. But this time, it was different—while the elf girl was coming to her senses, counting the seconds until the stun wore off, the troll exhaled and hit her from above with all it had. In Russian fairy tales that I’d been read as a child, there were often scenes in which one hero drove another into the ground. I hadn’t really understood how that looked until now. This was a good depiction.

The system immediately compensated me for my troubles with experience and money, and I hurried back to my tower. If I were to trust the map, there was an ongoing battle right in the middle of our base. This meant that, if I didn’t intervene, there would be nothing left of it.

As I’d thought, the enemy had broken through the resistance of my goblins, and now there were at least two dozen attackers gathered around the tower. Besides the heroes, there were also werewolves, along with a few minotaurs that stood out in the crowd due to their size. Wait, that wasn’t all of them? There was one more detachment of enemies at the front: minotaurs again, but this time, they had 5 Harpies with them. And what was I supposed to do against all of them, all alone? I, of course, didn’t want to seem like a coward, but was it really a weakness to admit you weren’t able to deal with something? No, on the contrary, that was wisdom. It would be much better to believe in that right now, at least.

“Emergency! Everyone, group up around me!” Up until that moment, I’d completely ignored the general chat box, but then I burst into it, on the verge of panic and hysteria. I wrote my allies a message, and only after doing so, I started thinking about whether it was necessary to be in so much of a hurry.

Probably not: there was honestly no point in gathering everyone up at once. Somehow, I was completely lost. If I had been paired up with Samantha, I believe we would’ve been able to fight back. However, it was better to avoid changing the plan too often. It was one thing to ask for help—just once, especially in such a situation, that was all well and good. But constantly changing your decisions—that was plain stupid. I didn’t want to look like a fool, especially in Christina’s eyes. She didn’t think much of me anyway, but if she were given another reason to scold me, that would be the end of it.

It was decided: we would make it seem just like we had planned this. But what was I supposed to do on my own now? Should I wait or try to somehow protect the tower before the reinforcement arrived? My common sense voted for the first option—I’d already called for help, it would be logical to wait for it. However, there was something inside me that was calling me a “cowardly nitwit” and pushing me to start fighting on my own. Oh, the hell with it, I couldn’t help myself. Simply standing aside and believing that someone wise would come along and solve all my problems wasn’t really my thing. It was better to take a chance and lose than do nothing and lose anyway. This was the way of the champion.

“Fluffy attack!” I tried to repeat my previous maneuver and distract the enemy heroes with the rabbit. But it didn’t work out this time: the ball of fur I threw out simply went off to the side and several magical attacks were aimed at me all at once—fire, a lightning bolt, and some sparkling, purple, poisonous smelling rubbish.

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All that had hit my body, but for some reason, it took away only a few of my health points. Well, of course, my armor! There were a lot of enemies around me and it seemed that its ability worked in this radius. It was simply amazing! How come no one else had thought of using such a cool thing before? That’s what old school meant. However, my success didn’t last long: yes, the spells were taking away a ridiculously small number of my health points, but in general, I couldn’t get close to my opponents. They were simply increasing the distance between us by slowing me down or chaining me to the ground.

“You upgraded your armor, but it won’t help you win!” The Witch was the first one to break the silence which had, by that point, been interrupted only by our deep breathing. She was right: if I didn’t do something soon, it would be the end for me.

In desperation, I tried to pull at least one enemy closer to me with a hook, but my aim wasn’t really good, and after upgrading my weapon, it had become twice as slow, for some reason. As a result, everyone was able to dodge it and continue their attack. By the way, the hook flew back as fast as it had done previously, even though this time, it had Alessandro latched onto it. His hero, Caesar, closed in with the enemy players in the blink of an eye and then… Three spellcaster heroes against one high-leveled warrior—they had no chance. I was lucky to have caught him, and three more of our teammates were on their way as well, but there were already no enemies left. Why had I called all of them here at the same time, anyway? I still had a lot to learn about planning out my actions.

Fortunately, nobody reproached me about anything—if aristocrats had anything, it was tact—they all simply started calmly destroying the groups of enemy minions that were marching to their death. We had just managed to reach level 9, and Alessandro had reached level 10, when we received a notification that two of our towers located in the center lane were destroyed basically at the same time.

“It begins,” Christina said in Chucky’s crispy voice and everyone except me seemed to understand what was going on here and began to teleport themselves back to the base. I didn’t want to be left behind, so I did the same.

“We’ve leveled up more, we have better weapons and armor.” While everyone was buying things, Christina was preparing for the next battle. “If we can’t stand up to the Witch’s Death Aura with all that, we never had any chance at all.”

Who could ever think motivating people like this was a good idea?

“Cheer up!” I tried to raise everyone’s morale. “And now, let’s go and beat her. Yes, beating women is a bad thing. But she’s a witch, so justice is on our side!”

“Hooray!” A squad of orcs was approaching and supported my speech with savage cries. After a short pause, there was an unharmonious “Yeeeeah” from Samantha and Vasily. And then both of the del Mayos joined the general cacophony.

I had barely had any time to buy upgrades before we all rushed forward and the battle started immediately. The space in front of us seemed to become blurry—Alessandro, who had been running ahead, stopped right there, and I, with the orcs following me, didn’t even think about slowing down. It was my mistake: once we were in this area, our health points rapidly went down. After only a few seconds, my brave green warriors were almost dead and the bar showing my health had been cut in half, at best. Realizing that I couldn’t get away from here on foot, I panicked and started spinning around, looking for a way out. After a little while, I accidentally stuck my hook to a tree that was out of the area of this strange spell. “Why not,” I thought, and pulled myself out of the affected area gradually and in a laid-back manner. I felt sorry for the orcs… and a bit embarrassed: everyone had stopped, and I, as if I were smarter than everyone else, had decided to continue forward and send almost all of our minions to their deaths. I needed to do something to fix this.

“Dan!” I heard Samantha’s voice.

She called my name as if nothing had happened, but I knew that it was just an act. At that moment, the figure of the Witch appeared, wrapped in shadow. She seemed to be the center of this spell. So, she needed to die for all of this to stop. It wasn’t a big deal that I would lose my health once I found myself in that chaos, I just needed to reach her and strike well. Or not. At first, I tried to finish her off from a distance by throwing two wolves at her. They’d just been sitting in the nearby bushes up until then, anyway. It didn’t work—they flew over her both times. It seemed that I had to do this alone, but would my health last long enough to reach her? How I’d made my recent escape immediately came to mind, and I finally made up a plan.

“Cowabunga!” I aimed my hook at a higher branch.

Considering that I couldn’t move the tree, I instead threw myself forward. Having released my weapon at precisely the right time, I found myself in the air and tried to spread my arms to somehow control my flight. I hovered above the ground for just a couple of moments, but it was amazing. Then gravity did its thing and I was plummeting. Straight into the figure of the Witch who, for some reason, had lost her shadow cover. After my violent landing, we each lost a 1000 health points. However, I survived and she didn’t. Had that really just happened?

“Victory!” My allies cried, running closer to me. I didn’t really see what they were so happy about, it hadn’t even been that hard.

After that, we rushed ahead one more time and, as a result, we were able to get a hold of our enemies at their base. Outmaneuvered, they couldn’t do anything to harm us even if they launched the Aura again. Christina used her protective field to shield us from any future attacks, Alessandro killed their healers, and all that was left for us to do was to briefly retreat a bit so that the Aura would stop working and then finish this.

True, I ended up making one more mistake: while we’d been running away, for some reason, I’d swung my hook and pulled the witch right behind us. Everyone stared at me as I did. As a result, we had to retreat once again, but fortunately, nobody complained about me doing it. After that came victory and celebratory hugs. To be honest, it was a bit uncomfortable when Christina, with her height, clung to me with her whole body and buried her face right into the point of me she could reach. On the other hand, Samantha’s hug was more graceful, even though she was dressed as a clown. Trouble, as usual, didn’t come all alone: just like after the previous battle, the tournament organizers had decided to join us once again.

The administrators of the game apologize

Your pet will be removed because it disrupts the balance of the game

Yeah, sure, my rabbit was spoiling everything, while all sorts of witches with their auras were just a normal thing. But fine, they wouldn’t take it away just like that without giving me something in return. Although… I’ll admit, I had gotten used to that ball of fur.

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Choose your new look from the gallery

I was sorry to see that only my appearance would change. It seemed that the administration had decided to completely exclude the possibility of using their gifts for any purpose other than decorative. It meant that someone here had respect for me. True, not everyone could have come up with an idea on how to use a pet that had no skills or attack. I sure was a smart one, maybe even a genius.

“Dan.” Christina was standing right in front of me, holding my hoop in her hands. What had she done—taken it off without waiting for me to leave the game myself? What if my brain had gotten scrambled? And… Oh, no. It seemed like I’d chosen something, but now I wouldn’t know what until the next round.

“What happened?” I had to stay calm, surely something important had happened. They wouldn’t pull me out of the game just like that.

“We’ve gathered here to celebrate, and you’re just lying there. Not really nice, right?” I’ll kill her. No, seriously, I will get up and kill her, I thought. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea after all, to have all of us move in together.

“Dan, will you be joining us soon?” Samantha was there, wearing some tiny shorts and a tight top, looking amazing. There was something magical in these somewhat domestic moments. I take back what I’ve said, all of us moving in together was a great idea.

Later, we had a party: yes, I would feel bad tomorrow, but I didn’t want to think about that now. When you put 100% of yourself in your work, you should also relax to the fullest. Christina suggested we break it up after an hour so that we could be fresh in the morning to figure out where we’d made mistakes and to think of a new strategy. However, nobody listened to her. And, to be honest, she hadn’t really been trying all that hard. I only had to say that I was the one in charge for her to immediately give up, grab a huge glass, and sit on my left. Just as I’d thought, she wasn’t really up for it either, so she’d used the first chance she could to ditch work. I couldn’t believe that not only did my opinion matter to this beautiful billionaire, but she also trusted me as well.

Alessandro del Mayo

The assassin that was playing against me was really good. Usually, warriors easily dealt with heroes like her during the starting levels, but not this time. If she hadn’t been distracted by visiting the other lanes, I would’ve probably died more than once. We could try to compete in leveling up, but she’d just gain a bigger advantage the further along we got. It was clear I wouldn’t be bringing us the victory in this game. I was just fooling myself—I’d lost my lane. Dan was now fighting three other heroes, so all of our hopes rested on my sister.

“Emergency! Everyone, group up around me!” It seemed like our champion was out of luck and getting nailed to the wall. But was it really necessary for all of us to gather? However, since he’d sent us this, something important must have happened.

Without killing the minotaur in front of me, I rushed to the spot marked on the map. It was stupid, of course, to rush straight through the forest: any moment now, an enemy could pass by me unnoticed and a heavy price would be paid. But Dan wouldn’t gather us together urgently for no reason, which meant every second was important and they were also counting on me, so I couldn’t let them down. I had two reasons for this: firstly, my pride, secondly, if we lost because of me, Christina would kill me. I had no idea what was going on in her head, but the result of this tournament was very important to my sister.

By the time I reached the spot a few minutes later, a battle was already in full swing there. Dan hadn’t waited for anyone and had rushed in to attack alone. Most would say that planning for the long term yielded benefits but no one could produce good results in a short bout against more numerous foes. That premise turned to dust right in front of me. Dan couldn’t kill anyone yet, but it was obvious that he was waiting for something.

“You upgraded your armor, but it won’t help you win!” I didn’t know who was playing the Witch, but they clearly didn’t know Dan. And it would seem like he had already prepared to deal the final blow. He looked straight into my eyes and threw his hook. I didn’t know how he’d managed to calculate everything: my location, the distance that wasn’t visible on the radar, and, in the end, the fact that our opponents didn’t suspect anything could come about from such an amateur attack.

I barely managed to activate all my buffs as I was thrown at the squad of enemy mages. I activated the Whirlwind. Then, three more finishing blows later, and everything was over. It wasn’t all about the brute force attack, you had to think, too. It had been just the two of us, with classes that were bad against three enemy heroes, but we’d still managed to win. I only wondered why he’d summoned all of us. At this point, another detachment of enemy reinforcements appeared ahead, and it was finally clear to me. Our opponents had been preparing to have their main breakthrough in this lane and had gathered all their minions here. It was a veritable sea of experience points and gold, and Dan had decided that it should be divided amongst all of our heroes. If the Witch of Salem had chosen a deadly path for her development, I believed that we’d need everyone’s strength to win.

Zhen Xiao

We weren’t very successful at the start. But strategy wasn’t simply a set of coincidences and luck, it was brains and long, hard work that would inevitably lead to victory. Why hadn’t many minions been sent against us? The answer was simple—so that the enemy wouldn’t be able to use them to advance. But, what if we were to take into consideration that we could completely dominate one flank? Then, realizing that the enemy couldn’t do anything, we could form our frontline attack and rush forward. What could our enemies do against this? Only a well-coordinated counter-attack would work—but who could restructure their tactics so quickly, make their teammates believe that there weren’t any other options and take such a risk? Because, if we were bluffing, the loss of the enemy’s development tempo would be horrible. It was unlikely that our opponents had been able to find a leader of such skill and smarts. As for that Captain: it was one thing to be a good warrior, but quite another to be a good leader.

And there he was, just as I remembered him. This was a good sign—the higher power was obviously hinting that the thread of life was in my hands now. And we wouldn’t even try to go easy on him, we’d be brutal. He didn’t run away, I had to give him that. Instead, he rushed forward to attack us, trying once again to distract us with his pet. But we wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice. Zhen Poe simply threw the animal aside and we focused our attack skills on the Captain. But why were we doing so little damage?

Was this because of his berserker’s armor? But only the three of us were attacking him, which meant that his armor should have had only 60% of the standard amount? Clearly, there was something more to it. My eyes caught a white ball of fur between the werewolves and it dawned on me. He’d predicted our actions and baited us. Repeating his old attack, the Captain had made us throw his pet among our minions, where a number of weak attacks on that useless ball of fur were raising his master’s defense points up to an unreachable height.

How subtle his approach was: he’d made us believe that he was weak and then used our own power against us.

Julie Kaas

We had been beaten many times, but we still had a chance to win. If we played our trump cards, those losers wouldn’t stand a chance. Still… if they were losers after everything they had done to us, what would that make us?

The most annoying thing was that nothing really depended on me now—it was all in Xiuin Wu’s hands. We’d secured the legendary level for her and she’d activated her death field while slowly moving toward the enemy base. Poe and Sue were also useful, they could heal our monster-battery, while I was just standing aside, ready to cut down anyone who tried to get close to it. But who would act when the trap was so clearly obvious? To be more precise, many of our old opponents would’ve fallen right for it, but not these guys. Especially not when they were being led by the Captain, who was Orpheus, who was Dan Kornev. Damn, Julie, why don’t you just believe you can win?

This had never happened to me before. Maybe I could promise this to myself—if we lost, I would find that man and talk to him. I had to look him in the eye and see who he really was. And now—now I would fight till the very end, otherwise, if we met, I wouldn’t have the nerve to endure him looking at me.

Samantha Hollins

“Dan!” I couldn’t help but cry out in fear. How did people live when someone else was taking up so much space in their heads that they first thought about that person and then about themselves!

And now, for some reason, Dan had led almost all of our minions straight into the Witch’s Aura of death. But I wasn’t mad about the stupid loss of a large group of minions, I was just worried about him. What nonsense! All of us—except maybe Dan, who had been sleeping, but it didn’t matter because he knew it anyway—had read the descriptions of the hero’s abilities. Charging straight ahead and attacking the Aura of death was useless, because the Witch herself, who was channeling the Aura, was invulnerable at that moment. The only way out was to wait for the spell to end, however, our enemies hadn’t left that option open for us. As we’d feared, they’d upgraded the aura to the bloody version, which meant that, while it was hitting someone, nothing would end. Both the damage dealt to those within the radius and the invulnerability of the Witch could last forever. So, how could they achieve that? It was quite simple: I ran a little ahead and was able to see how they’d lured one of our trolls into the aura, keeping it under the effect of mind control and healing. As a result, it wasn’t trying to get off the hook and didn’t die, and instead functioned as an everlasting battery for the aura.

The most annoying thing was that we didn’t have any idea about how to deal with this. It was possible to rush in and kill the troll—but falling under the influence of the aura would make us easy targets, and by the time we respawned, they would have already found another battery. Maybe try and kill the healer? It was an obvious trap—I was ready to bet that it was exactly what our opponents wanted us to do. Should we fall into their trap, we would be instantly slowed down, they would throw a bunch of spell at us, and that would be it for us.

What was Dan doing? Was he throwing wild wolves at the center of the spell? What could they do on their own? The idea was, of course, interesting—having spent a part of their journey in the air, they landed with their health almost full. Did he want to use them for an attack? But they were wild—having their health lowered and sensing a big gap between their levels and our enemies’ levels, they just started to scatter in different directions.

“He sacrificed the orcs to make them lower their guard and then struck!” There was so much excitement in Christina’s voice. It was so annoying that she looked so much better in reality than right now, while in the shape of a doll. Am I being jealous? Is right now the time for it? And what is she talking about, anyway?

Had this Italian with high cheekbones figured out Dan’s plan before me? It seemed like it. How come I hadn’t understood it all immediately! Two wolves had been thrown, one on each of the battery-troll’s sides. While his mind was confused, his instincts still worked. The giant rushed first in one direction, then the other, and as a result, the healing spells that were keeping him alive just passed him by. How mad they must’ve been at that moment, but nothing could be done, they were powerless while the skill was on cooldown.

The troll died, the Aura immediately stopped working, the Witch lost her invulnerability, and without giving her a second to restart, Dan fell on her.

“Cowabunga!” The battle cry sounded so amazing, even in that awkward body that he now had.

Xiuin Wu

We lost the battle. We lost at the very beginning, and there was nothing we could have done about it. Dan Kornev, even in the avatar of the Captain that had been imposed upon him, managed to prove that he was able to control fate. We couldn’t do anything against him.

I’d wanted at least some small success, but he never gave us a chance. Even at the end, when we’d left our healers in the safety zone so that they could support the Aura from a distance, nothing happened. We wouldn’t be able to win like that, but at least we would’ve been left with some dignity. But he destroyed everything there, too, by hooking me beyond the boundary in which the support spells worked.

I know how to recognize the power of others. Dan, you have achieved more than me.

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“I will…he’ll learn…I’ll bury him…” I heard Julie’s quiet cursing, waiting for her last resurrection next to me. Still, not everyone had reached enlightenment yet and learned how to lose. It was a pity because a great power could be found in it, but again, there was a time for everything. Everyone should walk their path to the end independently.

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