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215 The End of Loose Ends

 Dave tensed, worried his friends would make the connection between Death Stroke and Mr. Skeletal with the revelation that Zoe was Lone Arrow. The waiter-fanboy kept shooting glances at Zoe as he served their drinks.

"Oh wow, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Skeletal! What's he like?" Vanessa gushed.

"He's great, lots of fun and a good guy," Zoe said, smiling.

"Hey, why don't you invite him to our EXP party?" Ralph asked.

"Ha ha, I'll see if he's available, but he's got a busy schedule."

"It must have been a real shock when the Undead expansion was shut down. I'm sure it wasn't a pleasant surprise for Mr. Skeletal, " Vanessa said.

"Yeah, it hit poor Skelly hard."

"I wonder if he still has his Boyz even though the undead are gone."

Ralph shook his head, "I doubt it. All the undead except for dungeon revenants were removed from the game. I think he might be the only high-level undead left."

"What do you mean dungeon revenants?" Dave asked.

"I cleared an undead dungeon today and there were only revenants in it, low-level undead bot-types. I asked around, seems like all the greater undead have disappeared from the game, just like the server announcement said."

"It's too bad, I was really looking forward to the Undead expansion and more videos from Mr. Skeletal. When does the Eastern invasion kick off?" Vanessa asked.

"I don't know exactly. Caitlin probably has a better idea," Ralph turned to Caitlin.

"We don't have an exact Date, but it will be in a few weeks. When the new guild uses the Right of Conquest, there will be a systemwide announcement. The guild heads will organize the raid parties for strategic goals.

"It sounds like it will be a full-scale war," Vanessa said thoughtfully.

"An ugly one too, the last time a Right of Conquest was used, it took the Blood Ragers three months game-time to capture the Northern region. The Eastern region is bigger and full of tough high level mobs," Ralph sipped his drink.

"Ralphie, were you part of that campaign?"

"Nah, I was a lowbie back then."

Dave relaxed more and more as the drinks kept coming. He didn't know how many shots they'd downed as a group. The first few shouted toasts were to the formation of an EXP party, the later ones were to other things he couldn't remember. Then there were the flutes of champagne in between the shots, bubbly sweet and tart, pale-gold nectar poured from bottles labeled Cristal and Dom. He wasn't a big drinker, but since Blonde Jenny was covering his tab he was determined to down as many drinks as he could in revenge, a sentiment the others seemed to share. As the night progressed everyone became friendlier, chatting loudly over each other, laughing and giggling.

Even Caitlin loosened up. A little. He was feeling a little more tolerant about her presence, mostly because she had shut Blondie down, and Douche-Guy for that matter, though he didn't really know why she interfered. Dave still kept his distance from the girl, he didn't want to socialize with her, but they were among a group of his friends. Maybe that's why he ended up sitting between Zoe and Vanessa while Caitlin reclined in his old seat next to Ralphie.

'Why is she even at my class reunion? Ooooh, and why does the room keep moving? Rooms should be still, so I can keep my feet on the floor and not float away.'

***

A shadow stepped across the many planes of reality on its way to a final task in the Underworld of Conquest.

The shadow entity appeared in an open field somewhere in Conquest world among the ruins of an old city.

"Hmm, where is it, where is it?" the shadow entity talked to himself as he was inspecting the ruins.

"Ah, there it is!"

The shadow waved a hand and a stone pillar lying on its side shifted away from a wall to reveal an esoteric diagram painted in blood.

The shadow placed a hand on the symbols, they glowed a bright red and he was sucked through the glyph.

The shadow entity reappeared in a dimly lit cavern on a dark granite shore bordering a lake of magma.

Something enormous moved in the shadows, a bizarre amalgamation of rock and flesh stood up. The creature looked down at the shadow.

"Young Lord, what brings you to the underworld?" the figure asked in a voice like clashing mountains.

"Hey Ramsha. One of the kids did something bad. Crime and punishment, y'know."

"Indeed. Proceed, Young Lord," Ramsha said.

"Laters, big guy!" the shadow entity took a step and disappeared from the cavern.

The shadow entity appeared above a ruined city showing the signs of recent conflict, gaps in the city walls, burnt and destroyed buildings everywhere. At the very center of the city stood a palace of bone.

The shadow entity teleported into the throne room of the bone palace where a hunchbacked old man was sitting on the throne like a spider. When the man became aware of the shadow's presence he started trembling.

"Vreek," the shadow entity stated heavily.

"It's not possible! I made sure you couldn't wake!"

"But here I am. Really, what did you think was going to happen? You turned on your fellows, betrayed me and spurned the blessing of Undeath."

"It was because-"

"Save your bullshit, I don't have the stomach for it. I get enough from my brothers and sisters, I'm not going to take any from a filthy worm of a traitor trying to save his own neck,"

"You can't do anything to me. I have powerful allies!" said Vreek.

"You have nothing I haven't given you."

Most of the shadows had wafted away from the slender figure. He grinned unpleasantly and advanced on Vreek menacingly. The hunchback was looking around in a panic, he was powerless against the slender figure.

"You should never trust a demon," the figure quipped. He grabbed Vreek's neck in a choking hold, squeezing until the hunchback popped like a balloon and disappeared in a cloud of glowing particles.

On yet another plane of reality, one that stank of rotten and burnt flesh, Vreek popped back into existence. He looked around not understanding where he was. Choking sulfurous smoke coalesced into a disgusting three-headed creature. The thing looked down at Vreek with contempt and pleasure in all its eyes, mocking smiles on its faces. The Ash-King appeared next to the Beast in a cloud of smoke, laughing uproariously.

"Ha ha haaaaa! Vreek, remember when I told you I wasn't like other demons, that I could be trusted? I lied. Welcome to my father's domain, I've prepared a special place for you, we have such things to show you!"

Infernal spiked chains whipped out from under the smoldering ground and wrapped around Vreek, pulling him down into the depths as he screamed in denial and the demons laughed in unholy glee.

Back in the bone palace throne room the figure wearing the studded sleeveless black-leather jacket, brushed back his blue-black mohawk as if after a day's hard work. Pulling out the makings from thin air he rolled a fag, lit it with a battered Zippo lighter and puffed away in contentment. Then he swung the instrument around from his back cradling it in his wiry arms, plopped down on the throne of bone and started running one slender hand up and down the neck while strumming with the other.

***

Dave's head was throbbing when he woke up in the hotel bedroom. Dave sat up yawning, he was stripped down to just his boxer briefs, but his skin was clammy and his mouth felt and tasted like raw wool. He didn't remember getting back to the hotel. He needed a shower, toothpaste and a big glass of cold water. And he really wished the room would stop swaying. As he moved to get out of bed he bumped into a mound under the covers, eliciting a muffled groan.

Dave frowned and pulled the covers back. A naked-person was in his bed. Dave's eyes widened when he saw the face of the woman lying in his bed in slumbering repose.

"Caitlin...?"

Conquest's deadliest assassin player startled awake and looked at Dave. Staring at him for a full moment of silent disbelief and shock she took a deep shuddering breath then screamed like a banshee.