Excerpt for Woad Interlude II (Cult of the Butterfly 16) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Woad Interlude II (Cult of the Butterfly 16)

By Paul Smith.



Woad Interlude II (Cult of the Butterfly 16)

Paul Smith

Copyright 2017 Paul Smith

Smashwords Edition.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.

ISBN: 9781370934874

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'For the Win.'


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Thank you.

[So, are we all in position?]

Seb lofted the palm of his right hand, revealing the glowing map nestled there. [All present and accounted for.]

Murder took a moment to look over their forces, tweaking the placement of this or that set of troops. Seb waited patiently while she did, the sweeping lines of his Woad avatar’s chest limned in the soft blue glow of the display.

[Everyone happy?] This was directed to the rest of the alliance, scattered through the wooded hills that surrounded the valley below. A deluge of affirmatives fell into alliance chat, ranging from Clave’s monosyllable to Ruph and Jonas’ cat calls.

[Ok, ok – save it for the battlefield people.] Murder nodded to Seb, who snapped the map shut as she switched to PM. [What do you think?]

Seb shrugged. [It’s a trap, undeniably. Question is, are we up to climbing back out again once we’ve jumped in.]

[I think we’re equal to the task.]

He nodded slowly. Looked down once again at the valley below. It was night, the sparse forest littered with the fires of their enemy’s camp. All looked as you’d expect for an alliance their intel assured them were currently holed up in their round house, making free with the virtual ale. It was a weekly ritual for TNT, the one potential chink in their otherwise really rather impressive armour. Stat for stat they outmatched Murder’s SOF by quite a margin. But, they’d also shown themselves to be an undisciplined bunch of yobs on the battlefield more than once. Murder was banking on this, and their newly stitched band of teddy bears to give her inferior forces the edge they needed. Normally they wouldn’t even consider something as suicidal as this, but TNT had recently taken one of the kingdom’s Grail stones off a SOF scouting party, and they wanted it back.

[Wouldn’t mind so much,] Raina had growled afterwards, [but they didn’t even have the decency to fight their way through the barrow to get it off us, just waited outside and butchered Jonas’s raiding party when they emerged. Sent an entire house of Karls to do it, the cowards.]

So here they were, out in full force to recapture that which had been stolen from them.

[Ok, let’s do this thing.] She switched back to tribe chat. [First places people. We move on the stroke of midnight.]

[Hehe… stroke…]

[Yes, thank you Ruph. Just make the girls are all puckered up ready.]

[Now you’re just feeding them to me woman…]

[Isn’t that what you want to do Ruph?] Jonas… The boys never failed to make Seb grin.

[Enough! No more innuendos until I have our Grail stone in my inventory.]

[Better listen boys, she used italics.]

[Damn right I did. Now get your arses down there!]

Seb bit his lip, glanced at Murder to find her also suppressing a grin. They clasped hands before parting ways into the under brush. He emerged into the small clearing where his newly spawned bears stood waiting with the boys from house Laikee or, as Murder liked to refer to them the Fearsome Phalluses. Someone had mentioned the name in kingdom chat, and now even their enemies were using it.

[Their swords aren’t that big,] Seb had protested, after a particularly heated stand off with CAT.

Murder had crossed the battlefield, removed one of the offending blades from the trick scabbard on the Karl’s back, and stood next to the impassive warrior running her fingers suggestively up and down its length.

[Back in a tick.]

They’d all turned to glance at Ruph, whose avatar disappeared abruptly.

Murder turned to raise an eyebrow pointedly at Seb, as the rest of the alliance broke out in raucous laughter.

So my house guard look like extras from a gay porno. I’ve got two words for you guys, and the second one rhymes with ‘can she’.

It was an effect that was not, unfortunately, helped by the acres of furred muscle now standing in their midst.

[Right guys, let’s rock and roll.]

The Karl’s formed up behind him, his lieutenant Eric taking the place of honour at his side as they began the slow decent down to the valley floor. Seb was always impressed with the graphics work on the game’s various PVP environments. The digital artists had really gone to town on the place, each leaf picked out in immaculate detail (not that you could tell in this light). Even the mist reached the way you’d expect, curling eerily through the surrounding under brush.

It was as they were nearing the camp perimeter that he first twinges of foreboding…


[What is it Stamp? And what’s with the (...)?]

[Something doesn’t feel right.]

[We’re about to storm the installation of an enemy that outnumber us 3 to 1 – of course it feels shitty.]

[Ok, but my spidey senses are tingling. My common sense too, for that matter.]

[Must be nice for you.] There was a pause, which told him she was actually taking what he said seriously. [Scouts haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary.]

[But they wouldn’t, would they? Not if they didn’t want us to.]

[Just to be clear, this is your… mod talking?]

He chuckled. [I’m not sure whether our fractal friend has a hand in this, but there’s definitely something in my gut doing somersaults.]

[Enough to call things off?]

[Fuck no! We want our stuff back!!]

[Good, that’s my Hurricane.] There was a muted round of supporting shouts, which let him know she’d posted his concerns in Tribe chat. [Ok, so, how do you want to play this?]

[Let me and the boys go in first, sniff things out. See if we can suss out what’s going on.]

[Cock first. The way I’ve always liked it.]

[Yes, thank you. They’re not cocks.]

[But they are a little bit.] A barrage of mirth icons flooded his chat feed. [Enough children! Not in the middle of an engagement.] Murder waited whilst the last few popped into existence, a the final one a bunny rabbit in sequin ball gown blowing kisses. [Done?] A highland fairy flashing it’s arse. [Yes, thank you Jonas. Ok – Stamp and the FPs go in first. Everyone else hang back ‘til I give the word. Clear?]

[Crystal.] Seb set off through the final screen of under brush. [And the (…) were because I was whispering.]

[You do crack me up sometimes SH.]

Seb plucked a raspberry from the fruit icons, placing it on the group chat feed before raising a fist at the edge of the trees. Ahead, the light of a fire flickered on the drab canvas of one of TNT’s supply tents. Two guards stood flanking the entrance, but they were facing into the ring of firelight that illuminated the space between this ring of tents. They’d have a fixed field of awareness – as long as he and the boys didn’t impinge on that they’d be ok.

Turning, he motioned to the bear pack’s alpha, delivering a series of instruction parameters to cover this new eventuality. He also opened the omega’s behaviour list, flicking a couple of the wheels there to new iterations.

That ought to do it.

The teddies had come with some interesting skills and powers, above and beyond their most obvious shape shifting ability. As with any NPC squad they had a leader, who essentially served as interface for the rest of the group (though specific members could later be converted into specialists of one sort or another). But the group also included an omega, an idea taken from pack animal psychology, where an underdog was singled out to be the brunt of most of the pack’s joking and jostling, thus relieving tensions that might otherwise rip the group apart.

In game terms the omega had been gifted with the option of bottling this treatment up and then unleashing it in a berserker fury under certain circumstances. This gifted the omega with incredible power and prowess, but at the same time left you running the risk they’d start punching holes in your own ranks.

Seb had always liked anything that smelt of chaos. It was the main reason he’d ended up where he was now.

Ok, here goes nothing.

Nodding to his lieutenant, he stepped out into the flickering light, darting across the open space towards the dubious safety of the side of the tent. From there, he and his people worked their way round the side of the camp, using the shadow skip that was one of his favourite abilities to hop from one patch of darkness to the next. The boys followed suit, hooded forms popping like inky bubbles only to reappear in the next patch of shadow, lantern jaws set in grim determination.

They made it as far as the inner ring without incident. Seb called a halt with raised fist, fanning his men out through the surrounding back alleys before closing his eyes and muttering the astral invocation that was the real reason Raina had agreed to him going in alone.

His avatar fell backwards, landing limply in Eric’s muscular arms. It was a sight that never failed to make his heart skip.

Concentrate Laikee, stop mooning over the pixels.

Sighing, he checked his astral body was indeed invisible by waving a hand in front of the Karl’s face. The warrior remained impassive, though to be fair he was programmed to do little else. Stoic indifference apparently a go-to in ancient Scotland. There was always the temptation at this point to do something stupid and screenshot it, but Seb forced his head back into the game, swallowing his nerves and heading out into the open to see what was going on.

Not a lot, was the answer. The place seemed all but deserted, which in itself was deeply worrying as the servers were showing all TNT players as present and accounted for.

[This is not good.]

[Talk to us Stamp.]

[There’s nobody here.]

[Check the round.]

[On my way there now.]

He matched actions to his words, wending through the final ring of structures to the mobile roundhouse that was the centre of all such camps. One of the dogs cocked it’s head as he passed, but he’d been very careful with his prep and the software running the sim was forced to concede there was no way the pooch could have detected his presence. As long as he didn’t do anything overt or offensive he was a ghost walking.

The roundhouse was quiet as he approached, but that wasn’t unusual. The virtual space within effectively functioned as a separate chatroom, distinct from any other part of the simulation it was placed in. Nothing got in or out that the occupants didn’t want to.

Time for something a little bit risky.

Stepping up to the side of the roundhouse, Seb placed a spectral hand against the rough wood planking of its wall.

The butterfly came on like amphetamines, licorice and mint on his tongue.

Voices drifted into clarity.

[...with them?]

[I don’t see why he wouldn’t be.]

[You’re sure it’s him?]

[If what you’re telling me is true woman, it’s definitely him.] There was a pause. [Shit, we’ve been made.]


[They’re here, in camp.]

[But that’s what we needed...]

[What you need, not us. They’re here for the stone. Ambrose! Hotstuff!]

[Where is it?]

[The shrine, wait, come back!]

Fuck. [They’re on to us.]

[No heroics Stamp, get out of there.]

[I fear that may no longer be an option…] He withdrew his hand as the door to the roundhouse snapped open, burly figures pouring out into the night.

The the first of the circles phased in at the edge of the camp.

[Holy shit! Company!!]

[Where?] Raina, ever the cool head.

[Um, like everywhere. They were hidden inside the sacred spaces.]

[Shit. Stamp?]

[I’ll be fine,] Seb replied, with far more conviction than he felt. [You worry about everyone else. Plan F?]

[It would be rude not to.]

Spooling himself back into his body with a jolt, nodded thanks to Eric as the burly Karl released him.

[Arms, boys.]

Swords were drawn, offensive powers dialled up. Seb cracked the knuckles of his left hand, shivering as blue fire engulfed them. Lifted his other hand to whisper a wisp into being. Lofting it, he sent the tiny messenger weaving back towards the waiting bears.

Woe betide anyone who disturbs that particular picnic.

Straightening, he nodded to the others, setting off for the camp shrine, and the Grail stone that would be waiting there.

They encountered the first resistance on the boundary between the inner and outer rings, two of TNT’s newbies running head first into their midst. Eric and the boys laid about with their star blades, digital blood painted crimson arcs in the moonlight. Seb naturally went for one of the leaders, blue fire leaping forth from his gauntleted fist to smash one in the stomach, the other staggering back beneath the swing of his blade. They rallied to their credit, but their mods just weren’t up to dealing with someone of Seb’s advanced level. That and the fact they seemed to be spending almost as much effort back chatting him in the comments bar as they did parrying his blows. He skewered the first on the tip of his sword before ripping the beating heart from the second’s chest, holding up aloft in his flickering left hand.

[You haven’t heard the end of this, usurper scum!]

[Oh just shut up and die, you idiot.] Seb squished the guys heart, pulling a face at the realistic squelching sound effect, before turning to motion his Karls to move on.

They charged out into the open area before the shrine, keen now to make the grab and get away before things got complicated.

[Not so fast, pretty boy.]

Oh shit. Seb turned, not really wanting to, to find the biggest, ugliest highlander he had ever seen striding towards them across the open space. [Valdor.]

[Stamp. You do realise this isn’t a cat walk?]

[See now, and I was going to ask where you got those exciting disfiguration mods?]

Valdor smirked, an expression that did nothing for his looks. [Fuck you, Pansy.]

[You’ll have to join the back of the queue sweetheart.] Seb snapped up a map overlay briefly, flicked back to Valdor and his monstrous house Karls. [Come on boys, let’s show these idiots it takes more than testosterone to win a fight!] Raising his sword, he charged, Eric and the Phalluses following suit as Valdor’s Karl’s ran to meet him.

Steel rang against star blade, insults flying back and forth with equal vigour. It was one of Seb’s favourite things about the game, that you could program what insults your people would use in battle, tailoring them as you saw fit. So, whilst the hulking men and women of Valdor’s household spewed vitriol about righteousness and valour, his own boys returned fire with (often irrelevant) observations about their opponents choice of footwear, or offered cutting jibes on an outfit’s seasonality.

Seb grinned at the boiling irritation that steadily stole across Valdor’s face. The TNT lieutenant despised in-game irreverence.

His humour was short lived however, as it quickly became evident his opposite number had been a busy boy since their last confrontation. Over half the Phalluses now lay dead about him, their beautiful corpses leaking blood into the virtual earth. He danced back, risking a quick glance at the map to find the bears had been held up by a troop of beserkers.

[Expecting someone?] Valdor asked snidely, stepping forward to force his attention back to their bout.

[My Feng Shui expert. The alignment of these bodies does nothing for me.]

[Let’s add yours to it, see if that helps.]

Valdor feinted and thrust, but Seb saw it coming and had his guard up, countered with a stab of his own. It glanced off Valdor’s guard, adding another nick to the scars already littering his cheek. The giant growled, blade flying out again, but Seb back flipped out of the way, coming to land cat like in the mud. A signal from him and his men renewed their efforts as he drove forward himself. If they couldn’t win the Grail themselves they’d at least make sure it’s defenders were severely depleted.

Things were getting desperate.

Around the camp TNT troops had forced their own forces back into the forest, where pitched battles now raged between the trees. Jonas was the first to discover the traps that had been set there, as half his Banshees died in a squall of fire.

[Watch your step people, they’ve seeded the place with fire cones.]

Their only stroke of luck seemed to be the sacred circles, which after disgorging the last of their hidden troops had promptly flickered from existence.

[Must drain them of power,] Murder observed. [Time to up the ante guys and gals!]

Seb was down to his last few men. He’d been handing out power ups like sweeties, raising health bars and pumping gauges with enough stimulants to keep a muscle queen happy for months. Valdor and his people were advancing again towards them across the gore streaked ground when horns sounded.

Both sides looked up in time to see Murder come charging from the far side of the open ground, ice axe raised high above her head, her archers sending a rain of fiery death ahead of them.

[You broke through!]

[Clave and The Maid are holding the gap, but they won’t last forever.]

[Say no more.] Seb directed his boys to join Murder’s forces as he dove for the shrine, where it stood on the far side of the battleground. The thing was an open fronted tent, a shallow fire pit before it casting golden light across the canvas and the items laid out on the rug before it. Seb cast speculative fingers across the assembled, grabbing the swirling opal that was the Grail stone. A soul spear, and the softly flickering bear pelt next to it gave him brief pause, but he dragged himself away.

[Got it!]

[Ok, people, let’s get out of here before these bastards decide to redecorate the trees with our entrails.]

Seb fell back to Murder’s side and together they led the rearguard action. The last of the bears came piling into the fray halfway out of the camp, and it was this that finally turned the tide, giving them the second they needed to turn tail and run for the perimeter, where the girls were struggling to keep a passage open to the outer forest.

[Come on!] Murder shouted to them as she and Seb made their escape. Clave and the Maid signalled their people, and together the four of them withdrew into the forest, fighting their way back towards the port point Ruph stood waiting.

[All aboard for the express train out of shit’sville,] he cried, waving players and their forces through the swirling ring of fire. He grinned as Seb ran up to the gateway, winking. [Next stop, Kansas.]

[Bring it on Toto.]

Seb stepped his avatar into blinding blue light, exhaling with relief as he threw his controller to one side.

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