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Off the Line

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Okay, Zack thinks as he looks on the action unfolding pretty much all around it. So this is what it's like to see one of these events happening.

There's fighting in the streets – and though it's kind of exciting, it also reminds him a lot of Wutai. Of course, in Terra Online no one can really die, all injuries are just temporary and the pain experienced by injured players was nothing like the real thing – and yet, people fight lot in the same ways. Thing about Terra Online, the first thing Angeal taught him about it, was that it was so immersive that it could really get to you in unexpected ways.

In battle, Terra Online could very easily give you battle fever, and it would give you a very real sense of danger from time to time. Let the game's realism carry you off and then suddenly you are face to face with your own mortality – and in a battle, when you are fighting superior opponent... it catches you. Suddenly you feel like you're in actual danger, like you're going to die, like you're going to be killed.

"Problem with that," Angeal told him. "Is that the opposite isn't true. Terra Online doesn't give you the visceral feeling of killing someone. There are no death screams, no blood, no tears, your weapons never gets dirty, no one's guts get spilled on the ground and no one urinates themselves. So, you can feel the terror of dying in close to a very real way – but never the horror of killing."

So, in Terra online people could kill without any real moral quandary, never feeling the consequences of their actions beyond the in-game punishment of Bounty and Infamy – but you could feel the horror of dying.

Though Zack had been in big battles in game, he'd taken part in skirmishes and raids and ever had a guild battle or two – this is something else. This melee, everyone going at each other, everyone killing each other without remorse, it's kind of terrible. There are groups ganging up on single individuals – Overseer members are being slaughtered by smaller guilds going after any stranded member they see. It's a massacre, basically, and it's not pretty.

It's just a game – but still.

Not pretty.

Frowning, Zack open his hud and then selects his guild screen. There he selects the announcement feature, and opens a message window.

[Guild Announcement]
[Every Hero who kills in Alexandria Skirmish will face Guild Punishment.]

He sends it off like that, short and sweet, and then stands up. There are Heroes out there – he's seen few with the guild tabard and few guild shields in the mess of things, and knows they won't be happy with punishment. But thing is they're SOLDIER – and for them it's never supposed to be a game. Lot of the things they can do in game they can do in real life, after all. And there are few things more dangerous than a SOLDIER who thinks war is a game.

Equipping his wings, Zack launches off the roof top to have a look at the battle field – because that's what Alexandria now is, a battle field. And terrible or not, it is kind of interesting too.

It's already being divided into conquered sections. Army is in control of the Craft District, with their members on the rooftops and people blocking off access to the streets. Overseers are trying to fall back to their guild house, but they're being blocked off by a lot of guilds which seem to have banded together against them. Some smaller guilds have created sort of fortification knots here and there, bolstering their defences with pets and by mages throwing up shields.

And there are dead people.

There are lot of dead people.

Some resurrect as Zack watches, either trying to immediately join back in the melee, or run away – few summon mounts and try to flee, only to be sniped from the rooftops by ranged players. Others just lie there as their bodies are robbed of everything valuable, or they've already been robbed and people just ignore them.

It would be kind of interesting, in a morbid way, to know just how many people would die. The combined loss of levels would be just amazing and that included one of the highest level players to boot.

Icon flashes in the corner of his vision and Zack opens the message.

[From: Noble]
[To: Wolfhound]
[Subject: Peacekeeping in Alexandria]

[Consider it a training exercise.]

And nothing else. Zack makes a face at the message – couldn't give anything more than that, could he? And how the hell did he suppose anyone could keep the peace in this?

Zack looks down, just as group of ninjas flash by, running on roof tops – followed by a wave of explosions. They're gleefully lobbing bombs down to the streets below, and though it doesn't look like the bombs are strong enough to either cause damage or kill people, it definitely caused some more chaos, as the streets filled with fire and smoke and confusion.

Peacekeeping in Alexandria. Right.

Shaking his head, Zack opens the guild window again and then considers the city below. It's all a mess and all the streets are absolutely swarmed by people; it would be hard to meet up anywhere, really. Heroes guild house was right next to the central square too, it would be impossible to get there without getting caught in the fighting...

After moment of thought, Zack types the announcement.

[Heroes, meet up at the Alexandria Castle – it's time to earn our name.]

With that send, he spreads out his wings and heads for the castle. There are people congregating there, surrounding the castle – and the castle itself, it's...

It's being bombarded with spells. And it's taking damage. There are towers and walls with holes in them, a section of the place is on fire – and there is a huge spider tank robot... thing on one of the rooftops, which is making holes in the said rooftop with every step it takes.

"Well, that's... something," Zack murmurs, hovering over the castle and just staring at the thing. The Alexandria castle has never been exactly... historically accurate. It's – or it was – more like something out a fairy tale picture book, with high slender towers and banners everywhere, no real fortifications to speak off. But, like all buildings in Terra Online, it was supposed to be impenetrable.

It's being absolutely wrecked now. And, judging by the looks of one player carrying off what looks like a treasure chest, it's being ransacked too... somehow

Zack looks between the spider tank, which is taking a lot of fire from some winged assailants, and then another section of the castle which seems to be getting a lot of action. A lot of players are hovering by a section of the castle with a huge hole in its roof, few of them throwing spells in through the windows.

Mostly thought, the players seem to be just watching something going on inside.

Zack hesitates, but in the end curiosity wins and he ducks down to see what is going on.

There is a duel going on inside the castle.

Not that it can really be called a duel. It kind of looks like bullying to Zack.

A female Viera is kicking around a male Viera – literally kicking him across a corridor, and into walls, just knocking him about. Every time he's knocked down he tries to get back to his feet, almost managing it before being kicked again, even further.

Zack frowns, looking at the windows where players – lot of them Vieras – cheer the so called fight on. "Come on, kill him, kill him, kick his ass!" they shout and whoop at every blow the male Viera takes – and he takes a lot of them. They're laughing and whistling, like it's a spectator sport.

The male Viera – is that the infamous Rainstorm, then? – gets up again, glaring at the female Viera. "You might as well give up," she says, walking towards him now at theatrically casual pace. "You can't beat me – you can't even fight me. So just lay down like a good boy and just give up."

"Fuck you," Rainstorm answers, opening a menu. He manages to grab a sword there – a low level looking long sword – before she's at him again, knocking the weapon from his hands and kicking him into a wall again.

"Yeah!" the audience cheers. "Fucking kick his ass!"

Again the male Viera tries to get up, and again he tries to grab a sword. There are a lot of swords scattered around the hall, now that Zack looks – low level swords all of them, lot of them strangely big. Apparently the guy has been disarmed a lot.

It's a little… it's a lot disgusting, actually. She's just toying with the guy, playing it up for the audience, all but torturing him. Giving him just enough time to get to his feet before being knocked down again.

Reaching for his weapons, Zack gets ready to jump in.

"Give up," the female Viera orders. "Just lay down and die like the trash you are."

"Fuck you," Rainstorm says, again, gritting his teeth and getting up, glaring furiously at the Viera. "I'm not fucking giving up, I am not fucking rolling over for you. You can just fuck off."

And Zack... can't jump in.

"Heya there, Guildmaster," voice says behind him and Zack looks up to see Light coming down on his own set of wings. "Wonderful day in Alexandria, isn't it?"

"Mmhm, absolutely lovely," Zack agrees and looks into the corridor again. The female Viera is glaring at Rainstorm now, obviously annoyed – and maybe that's why she hasn't just killed him yet. Because she wants to humiliate him, and he's not being humbled.

"What's up?" Light says and peeks in through another window.

"Well," Zack says. "It kind of looks like the worst fight I've ever seen."

Guide is coming down too, swooping down and landing close to perfectly on another window sill. He's followed by a horde of Rotor Critters, which hover and jerk about him, waiting for orders.

"What's up, Guildmaster?"

Zack leans away from the window a bit reluctantly. "Hero assignment," he says and looks down. Below them, couple of smaller guilds are going at it in the street. "Peacekeeping."

"You're kidding me," Light says incredulously. "You want us to keep peace, here?"

"Well," Zack says. "Noble suggested it as a training assignment, really. And I guess it would be good training. If we can bring order here, any Wutai riot should be a piece of cake, yeah?"

"Yeah, if we can bring order here," Guide says, considering the city. "Hmm. Right, I'm going to round up Heroes," he then says. "Better think of a rousing speech, Guildmaster. We'll meet you on the castle lawn."

"Ugh," Zack answers. "Speeches. Ergh."

"That's what you get for being Guildmaster," Light grins and peers into the corridor.

The male Viera has been knocked down again, and the female is almost literally standing on him now, one foot on the back of his neck, slowly pressing him downwards.

"Should we start with this one?" Light asks a little uncertainly.

"Well..."

As they watch the male Viera closes his eyes, grimacing with his teeth gritted so hard Zack almost expects to hear his teeth grinding. Then he does something... interesting.

The male suddenly dibs his head down, pressing his forehead momentarily against the floor. It puts the Viera woman stepping on him suddenly off balance, as she'd been pressing down on something that suddenly gave away. As she looses her balance momentarily, the male Viera shifts under her, ducking out from under her foot – and then he grabs a hold of the heel that had just been grinding on his neck.

He stands, wrenches his hand up – and the female Viera goes down, her leg coming up with him and her face meeting the floor.

"Oh," Light says with interest.

"You bitch!" the audience shouts and one of them jumps in through the window, obviously trying to get into it.

Zack jumps in first and steps in her way. "Hello, ma'am," he says and grins. "You know it's bit rude to get into other people's duels?"

"Out of my way, bastards," she says and flings out a throwing knife.

It clatters against Light's shield, as the paladin steps in way. Zack grins and grabs a sword – it catches on fire in his hand. "How about no?" he says and spins the flaming sword in his hand.

Immediately the other spectators start jumping in and Zack and Light fall into their usual formation. Usually it's them and Guide fighting together of course – Zack doing the bulk of the damage while Light tanked and Guide ran control, but they'd fought with just the two of them together enough to have the formation down to pat.

Behind them, the female Viera curses up a storm and the male Viera grabs one of his many scattered swords. "Right, okay, right," the male Viera says, his voice shaking with anger. "Right, okay, yeah. I think I got it now," he mutters, and he sounds half mad, like actually insane, mad. "Mind over matter. Right."

What he does or how the hell he does it, Zack isn't sure. It kind of looks like a skill, really, but not really like any skill he's ever seen. While the Viera woman swings to her feet, Rainstorm thrusts the sword into her gut – and then leaves it there, going for another sword on the floor and thrusting it into her as well.

Zack only glimpses what happens between his own fight against the duel's predominately female audience – and hey, isn't that pretty awesome, fighting a horde of awesome girls. They're not half bad fighters either, buffing each other and just going at them and at the fight like women possessed. It's pretty damn cool, really.

It would've been an awesome Arena battle – in crowded messy place like this, it's just kind of hard to appreciate the little details. Like the fact that most of them are in their lingerie.

Behind them the female Viera curses and goes to remove the swords – only to have another one thrust in from the back. The weapons are slowing her down, disorienting her even though they're not doing much damage – they're making her slow and clumsy. And lot of them are just too big and too long for her to easily remove them.

"Aargh, you son of a bitch, stop -!" she growls, and gets another sword to her side for her trouble.

It's kind of bizarre and not like any fighting method Zack has ever seen. It would never work in real life – the first hit would've been lethal, and the pain alone would've been unbearable. But in Terra Online you can just do stuff like that, stick a person full of swords and have them standing by the end of it.

Well, not standing, not really.

The female Viera goes down, not due to the injuries, but more due to the weight of the weapons piled on her – in her, really. They really are some big ass swords, easily bigger than the SOLDIER great swords Zack uses in real life – rivalling Angeal's Buster Sword, even.

"How the fuck –?" the female Viera growls.

"Game Physics, bitch," Rainstorm says, standing over her, breathing hard. His voice is still shaking with fury, and he's all but babbling. "You're all DEX and AGI, right? Speed over actual strength. I make my swords as heavy as I can – too heavy for you. Plus, at speeds like that, you get too fast for yourself. Up here," he motions at his head and laughs a shaky, manic laugh. "You can't keep up with your character. You stumble a bit when you're really going at it. You're too light. You probably don't even notice it anymore, you're so used to it. Also," he leans in, grinning bloodily. "I know the setbacks of that necklace you got. It throws your centre of weight off, you know?"

Her eyes widen at that. "Shut up," she then hisses and tries to get up – but can't. She doesn't have the STR.

Rainstorm scoffs at her and then winds his sword back, all the way back. "And another thing," he says. "You don't fucking touch – my – pet."

He swings the sword with what looks like all of his weight, throwing his entire Viera height into it – and yet he's only working as a ballast for the sheer weight of his massive sword. Zack watches the whole thing with strange fascination – kind of wishing he was recording it.

Angeal fights like that, the few times he uses the Buster Sword – literally throwing its weight around. It's crude and awkward, according to the man – but very effective.

"That's the point of a sword like this," he told Zack. "It doesn't even matter if it's dull. It's so heavy that there's not much that can stop it. You just need a proper wind up... and it goes through anything."

[Victoria has been killed by Rainstorm!]
[Rainstorm's murder count is now 569]

"You son of a bitch!" one of the Vieras Zack is fighting shouts and jumps over him, going at Rainstorm with a set of daggers in hand. Victoria's head is still rolling away and Rainstorm is still in the wake of his swing, more being led by his own massive sword than leading it, there is no way he can duck. Before the second Viera can hit him, however...

The guy disappears.

"What?" one of the Vieras demands.

"Where did he go?!"

"What the heck?" Light says while they all stop to look. But no, the guy didn't just move out of sight. There are no particle effects of teleport, no wave or ripple of invisibility and he definitely isn't fast enough to just run off faster than eye can see. No, he's just... disappeared.

"The son of a bitch is hacking again!" one of the Vieras snarls.

"Victoria!" another calls and rushes to the now headless body. The swords have disappeared from her, and by all appearances she isn't even injured – except for the fact that she seems to be missing her head. As Zack and Light find themselves completely ignored all of the sudden, the former audience go and get the female Viera's head, looking a little at loss what to do with it.

Apparently they too have never seen a player beheaded.

"Well," Zack says and scratches at the back of his head. "That happened."