Saturday, November 7, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 1 - Ashish

Uhhh . . . I should say something here. Oh well.


Ashish dusted off the souls of his feet as he walked into the bar. “Is this the place?” he asked the giant, earth-colored Jotunn next to him. “We didn’t make this trek all the way to furry land for nothing did we?”
    “Relax, little one,” the Jotunn, who stood at least eight feet tall, laughed. “We were almost all the way here to begin with, since you had insisted on us going south for a dungeon, it’s not like it was a long journey or anything.”
    “Alright, well, where is she then?” Ashish scanned the establishment into which he and his towering companion had just entered. It seemed to be a sort of tavern. While everything else in the vicinity had been rather floridly ornate in nature, this particular bar was not. It was as plain as one could expect. Wood, brown and untouched, flanked them on all sides. The walls were made of it, the four-peg stools lining the bar were made of it, and even the chairs and tables were made of it. The only thing that wasn’t the same brown, wooden color were the people and the lanterns. This place could really use an interior decorator. Millions put into VR design, and the best they can come up with is this for a tavern? Ashish grumbled as he looked around, his eyes darting from patron to patron.
Everyone in here is a darn furry. What is wrong with this place? Ashish continued to complain to himself. When the game had come out, he had immediately skipped over the plain animal-like races. There were so many options, but he felt like most of them were just silly. How could someone pick a simple human or animal hybrid when other races had so much more to offer? Like the White-Wings, some races granted the ability to fly. What was more exciting than that, a dream many men had held onto their entire life made as real as morning dew the instant you entered the game? Of course, there were also the Fire-, Earth-, and Ice-Walkers turning everyone’s favorite cartoon dreams into a reality as they could grasp and bend the very elements to their will. So why, with all of these options available, did people insist on picking furries? Was being a cute panda, a kitten or a dog really worth giving up the fantastical powers that the other races had to offer?
“This place gives me the creeps,” the Jotunn said, giving a large sniff. “My eyes see the pets, but my nose doesn’t smell the usual aroma that goes with a house full of them.”
“That’s what bothers you about this?” Ashish laughed. His second-in-command had always found the strangest things unsettling. Ashish would grumble about the uneven terrain upsetting their guild’s formations, or the flyers always hovering just out of their spells’ range, but not Linzmeier. No, he was the type to get frustrated with the appearance of wolves in an area that didn’t have deer or other large game or to complain that the architecture in Jotunheim was bothersome since none of the NPCs had the toolset to produce it.
“Of course, if something doesn’t add up, that’s exactly when you should be unsettled,” the Jotunn said in a matter-of-fact way. “If things don’t add up, it’s because someone somewhere is messing with you, and how could that not bother you?”
“Why would anyone be messing with me? We’re just here to get a mission,” Ashish replied, brushing off Linzmeier’s concern. “There is no-one in here trying to trick us or anything. There’s just a bunch of NPCs, one of whom has the holy grail of quests.”
“Holy only because no one has completed it yet.” The dour vibes radiating from Linzmeier’s gigantic frown permeated the atmosphere, infectiously making even Ashish doubt himself momentarily. “This whole thing bothers me. Something is wrong.”
“You worry too much. It’s not that complicated. There is just a random NPC tucked away inside this bar that only talks to guild leaders and gives out a hidden quest that you can’t share.” Ashish realized exactly how sketchy it sounded as it stumbled out of his mouth. “Okay, so maybe something is a little off, but don’t you want to be the first group to actually complete the quest?”
“Four mutts, no smell. Two cats, no smell. Something isn’t right here. That’s all I’m saying. Even the way they move and talk and act isn’t right. It’s like this whole place isn’t real,” Linzmeier said, maintaining his doubts. Ashish had tried many times to convince his big friend to just go along with things, but until ‘everything added up,’ Linzmeier’s attitude wouldn’t ever budge. He’d follow the guild even if he disagreed with a course of action, but he wouldn’t be happy about it.
“It very well might not be real. It is a game, after all. Maybe the reason this quest is so hard to find and isn’t shareable is simply because the developers tried to write it out of the game,” Ashish offered, knowing many times the best easter eggs were the pieces of dust a good game maker forgot to sweep back under the rug before launch. “But either way, Xeal and Waseem both said that this place had a quest with the best reward a player could ask for, and, so far, everything has matched up with what they told us about the place.”
“Maybe,” Linzmeier’s frown faded, barely, but his eyes showed the uneasiness remained. “Let’s just get this quest and get it over with.”
“Is that really the attitude that two young adventurers should have when faced with the challenge of a lifetime?” The sultry voice crept inside Ashish’s right ear as a hand slid across his left shoulder. “Don’t tell me you would think of a chance at the Panda’s throne as nothing more than something to ‘get over with.’”
The two men turned to face the woman who had snuck between them, a shiver still resonating up and down Ashish’s spine. When did she get here? Where did she come from? He cursed as his eyes darted around to see where she had come from and how she had gotten the drop on them. Linzmeier’s sense of things was more accurate than Ashish had thought. Everyone in the bar was gone. Only the building, like a hollow shell, remained. Were they even here to begin with? he wondered, now even more on edge.
“Easy there, handsome.” The dark-haired, red-eyed woman’s voice enthralled Ashish with its demure mellifluence like no music could ever do. “You came here to find me, so I just thought I’d make it easy for you,” she said, letting a red-lipped smile creep across her pale face ever so slowly.
“Boss, let’s get the quest and leave.” Linzmeier knocked Ashish on the shoulder, jolting him back to reality.
“Of course you’re in charge. Why wouldn’t you be? You’re destined to greatness, born to rule men. It’s as plain as day to see.” The words lured Ashish back into a dream world, reality and logic far behind him. “Now, have you come to save me from my problems, kill the evil demon and prove yourself worthy of the crown?” She smiled, producing the fabled crown of Robin the Panda King from behind her back and proffering it to Ashish.
“Of course,” Ashish nodded as he stared into her beautiful red eyes. “Of course I’ll save you.”
“Ashish, snap out of it. Get the quest, and let’s leave. I don’t like the effect this lady seems to have on you.” Linzmeier nudged his leader’s again, but this time it failed. Ashish was already lost to the siren’s melodies.
“If you wish to leave, by all means, feel free. However, if you wish to finish the quest, you will need this.” She handed Ashish a scroll. “When you get out of here, open up the scroll, but be careful whom you share its contents with. Inside is the location for the secret portal that must be destroyed at all costs. If you are the first to destroy that unholy gateway, then I will grant you this crown, and you will have the right to claim the Panda King’s glorious throne. Yet, beware! The fiend who guards it is no easy man to kill. He has covered the earth with the blood of thousands who came before you.”
Ashish looked at the scroll. So this is the map of the unbeatable dungeon, Lawlheima. “Alright.” He rolled the parchment back up and gripped it firmly. “Let’s get out of here.” With that, he turned and strode off in the direction the pair had come from, his Jotunn comrade lumbering alongside him in relief.
“About time.” Linzmeier didn’t stop looking at Ashish. “What did she do to you?”
“I . . .” Ashish tried to recall. He knew there had been a feeling, an enchanting charm that had spread over him moments ago, but no clear memory of it remained now. All he could recall was meeting someone who gave him the keys to a Kingdom, the only condition being that he had to turn it himself. “I don’t know, but I do know that if we take over that throne, our name will go down in gaming history.”
“Easier said than done.” Linzmeier took the scroll from Ashish and opened it up in much the same fashion someone disarming a bomb might behave. After nothing happened, a mild look of shock crept up his face.
“What? Were you thinking it might kill you?” Ashish laughed at his Jotunn friend.
“Not exactly, but, hmm . . .” He studied the paper for a moment. “What is this?”
Ashish looked over at the scroll. On the bottom it had a countdown timer with a single phrase above it: ‘The battle begins, will you be ready?’ Ashish then glanced up at his companion with a slight grin and said, “It might not have been a bomb, but it does have the usual ticking clock.”
“Perhaps the numbers will stop at three,” Linzmeier joked, but something didn’t sit right. If this were a first-come, first-serve mission--and with such an incredible reward like this--why was there a countdown timer? Why hadn’t anyone completed it before him? For once, Ashish, the fearless guild leader, joined his buddy in wishing things added up.
“Let’s just get back to the guild. We’ve got organizing to do. We can’t let anyone else take this victory from us,” Ashish sighed, no longer in as good a mood as when he had arrived.

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