Sunday, November 29, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 6 - Darwin

Sorry about the delay, Thanksgiving was great but it wasn't the cause. This has been ready since, maybe Thursday? But we've had a lot of computer issues. I bought ram that is hard freezing my comptuer and forcing me to reset manually =/ Of course when I point out that it's the ram to people on Amazon, they got really upset and downvoted me =( [Legit complaint about a product? FANBOYS NAY SAY IT!]

But, I'm not the only one with problems. My editor recently upgraded to windows 10 to try it out, and found himselve without a keyboard/ keyboard functions. He had to reset and go back to win 7, and manage to do this while still getting all of his work done on the computer. He's a boss! But yeah, it meant that both Josh and I were down for the count. I ended up actually getting a call from AnonTBK who walked me through basic steps to make my computer manageable again (he was wondering why I hadn't made a post recently), but after saving up for a year and working my tail off I bought 3000 mhz ddr4 ram that barely clocks 2130, screw that corsair vengeance 3000.

That said, here is the update. I need something important of you guys though:
1. We need a name for beast city.
2. Please forgive me for late post.
3. Least liked character, most liked character, each gender.
4. I'm still wanting drawings. Whatever though. 


    “So . . .” Darwin fumbled for the right words to propel the conversation past the stalling stutter that the two seemed to be locked in, half expecting Valerie to fill in the words for him as the two stared at each other, their red eyes meeting in a stare that oddly felt even more intimate than the ones he shared with Stephanie.
“So . . .”  Valerie passed the ball back to him.
Great, so I have to fill in the dialogue, Darwin thought to himself as his eyes darted to the table between the two of them. When Darwin and Valerie had both agreed they needed to talk about things, Justin had been more than happy to accommodate their privacy requirements. Apparently while everyone had been out trying to figure out how to get the dungeon safer, there were plenty of hard workers who had decided to turn the entire dungeon into a myriad of different buildings, each embodying different elements based on what they had to work with. While a handful of the buildings were identical in layout and stacked on top of each other like chips trying to reform the potato, the majority of the buildings crafted and constructed in the dungeon clearly had different architects as they sat side by side with a dozen dissimilar drystone designs. They were, for the most part, assembled from similar types of stones, a thing that Darwin hadn’t been able to tell if the game had generated naturally or the diggers and workers who unearthed them had worked to achieve, but there were also some that were made from wood. Such was the one Darwin and Valerie were currently in. A quaint, humble-looking log cabin on the middle of an empty platform, barely large enough inside to afford the space needed to fit around the three-foot-wide square table that Valerie and Darwin were currently seated at.
Not saying anything at first, his eyes darted across her face. It wasn’t the bone structure or even the puffiness of her lips that matched his sister, but for some reason he couldn’t help but think about Eve. With just a change in the color of her eyes and the paleness of her skin, she looks like an entirely different person. Or is it the wings? From blue eyes and wings to red eyes without them, I guess I’ll be hearing the story of fallen angels turning into demons one more time today, he mused within the privacy of his own head, curious what her own inner monologue must be like as she processed the change. I was born like this, but she just fell into it. Is it because of the guild? “Is it because of me?” he pondered, the words almost inaudible as they escaped his lips, his eyes kept moving across her skin like a climber’s free hand searching for something to hold onto that would give him a better grip on the conversation. And why does the atmosphere here feel like a confession scene in an old school anime? he thought with a sigh, the tension weighing on his chest. What do I even say to someone I might have turned into a demon?
“Maybe,” Valerie answered his mumbled inquiry with a bit of a laugh and a bit of her own sigh, the converging nature of those two expressions somehow easing the heaviness of the sparse dialogue. “It might be because of you; it might be because of the game or the guild.”
“Is it in real life too? Do you also have the strength and the red eyes?” Darwin had to ask, knowing that his own fiendish identity in the game was due to his real-life condition and that, if her situation were similar, it might manifest itself in the same way as well.
“Yeah, but there is more to it,” Valerie started. “I can feel my feet again. I can move my legs again in real life.”
“Again?” Darwin looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “You couldn’t before?”
“No.” A frown flashed across her face before twisting rapidly back into a smile. “But this morning, I could. It wasn’t a hundred percent. I didn’t just wake up and have a working pair of legs again, but there was feeling. There was pain and movement. It’s  something the doctors told me all those years ago would never happen again. I didn’t have any idea what was going on until my mother pointed out my red eyes, and I remembered that I knew someone who had a similiar set of looking goggles--someone else with red eyes--so I got online to talk to you.”
“So you weren’t always red-eyed? It’s a new trait?” Darwin’s mind shifted to thoughts of Stephanie and Eve in the conversation from earlier. This reeks of Stephanie. What in the heck did she do? “Why are you the only one who has changed though?” he said, proceeding to the next logical question. There are several other players in the game who have joined up with me, so why is Valerie the only one exhibiting signs of a transformation? Why is she the only one? The only person who could possibly answer that question wasn’t there, but at least Darwin knew that he would likely see her that night, a benefit of sharing the same bed.
“No, it was a surprise to me. I wouldn’t have noticed it if my mother didn’t point it out. The doctor thought I was wearing contacts, and I didn’t want to correct anyone until I talked to you. Is this . . . Is this some kind of disease?” Valerie asked in a timid fashion, but she still had the same happy gleam in her eye from earlier. “Are there negative side effects I should be worried about?”
Why does she look satisfied if she is asking about whether or not it's a disease? “Well . . .” Darwin debated on whether or not to tell her about the sanity problem. She already knows that I’ve had problems controlling the skill, but Stephanie made it sound like it was a problem only men had, not one that the women of the species shared. After all, isn’t Stephanie over a century old, and don't the symptoms start around the age of thirty? “Well, not for women,” he shrugged. “It’s got a few symptoms, but from what the girl demons say, the bad stuff seems to be sexist and favors only attacking one gender.”
Valerie’s grin grew again, finally matching the gleam. “Great! So I get my legs back and there isn’t any downside?”
“Nope, not that I can think of, but that is going to vary depending on the user. The problems are supposed to affect every man over thirty, but there are plenty of men in this particular camp who are over thirty and haven’t even shown the first symptoms yet, so you might not have what I have,” Darwin said honestly. “Then again, their conversion has been pretty recent, so maybe it isn’t based on the age, but rather the duration in which the person has been in the state, or maybe the game itself controls it.”
“Out of curiosity, what happens at thirty years old that causes men issues?” Valerie’s right eyebrow raised and her lips twisted to match.
She does have a right to know, doesn’t she? I mean, even though she isn’t a man, she still might be plagued by the madness too. Darwin debated whether or not to air the entirety of his dirty laundry for her. “We grow a bloodlust that drives us into a state of uncontrollable rage,” he summed it up to the best of his ability in one sentence.
“Ah, that doesn’t sound pleasant at all,” she said, her smile stayed for half the breath, but then suddenly faded. “Wait, do you mean you go crazy? Like, do you see stuff?”
“No, it’s more of an out-of-body experience, like drinking so much you black out and your body keeps running, but your mind has completely shut down. When you come to--if you come to--you don’t remember everything you’ve done. You just kind of know that you’ve done bad stuff to, hopefully, bad people.”
“I see . . .” Valerie paused. “But there aren’t any visions?”
“Well, there will be for you,” a new voice joined the mix, and Darwin felt soft hands rubbing against his shoulder.
Ah, that feels good. Darwin took a deep breath. Darwin was almost positive that her hands were magic as they worked out stress and relieved tension Darwin didn’t even know he had built up. “Stephanie?” he asked, recognizing the voice but feeling a need to double check who it was. After all, if it wasn’t Stephanie, he didn’t want to find out whether or not Stephanie fit the stereotype which watching television, listening to music and reading the newspaper had built up in his head of the crazy girlfriend who would misunderstand such a situation.
“Of course, darling,” she said, leaning over and hugging him from behind. “Unless, you were hoping it was another girl? Maybe a brunette in a white dress?”
Kass? his mind flashed the image and his cheeks flashed a hint of red. Not a full blush, but at least a hint. “Why would I ever be expecting someone else?” He did his best to give a perfect response.
“I don’t know. You are kind of a demon in the sack. Who is to say whether or not you have a string of women who might line up to try it out?” she laughed, sliding around while still hugging Darwin until her arms were draped around him as she sat in his lap. This time, her remark had caused Valerie’s face to flush. However, she didn’t just redden a little. She was positively the color of a rose. “See? Look at her. Even she’s got a vivid image of it in her head already. Do you think she wants to join us?” Stephanie winked at Valerie in a way that made it look like she was trying to hide the wink from Darwin, but her whole body moved with the gesture, so he couldn’t have missed it if he tried.
“I . . .” Valerie paused and then lowered her eyebrows and locked eyes with Darwin. “I can’t imagine the experience not being worth at least a try.”
What? Darwin’s mouth fell open. What just happened? No, this isn’t right. Isn’t Valerie the same girl who believes in romance so much so that she went ballistic and betrayed her people over a guy that she had only ever kissed? The facts scrambled in his brain as he struggled to add them up properly, but he had about as much success as a guy who couldn’t match the round peg to the round hole as a kindergartener would have trying to get a PhD. She can’t be that type of girl all of the sudden, can she?
“That’s a girl. So what did you see?”
“Huh?” Valerie played dumb. Darwin was starting to notice that other than the one time he had mentioned the insanity, her eyes had shined past her facial expression, like the glow at the top of a lighthouse that penetrated even the darkest fog.
It’s almost enchanting. It’s like her optimism is more persistent than student loan bills for the fresh American college graduate, Darwin admired as he commented to himself on her eyes. Even the most benign fairytales don’t have endings happy enough to justify that look. He felt somewhat jealous. But, no matter what his feelings were concerning the look itself, after scanning his memory to the best of his ability, he couldn’t think of a single time in which she had shown those radiant eyes before her metamorphosis.
“I mean, when you were in the battle, when you saved the StormGuard Alliance form losing any people, what did you see?” Stephanie spelled it out.
“Oh? I don’t know, I guess I saw two guilds, so I--” she began, but Stephanie raised her hand and talked over her before she could get further.
“Don’t play coy or mistake this visage, I’m just like you in real life. What did you see?” she repeated again.
“I saw flashes of my past, memories that lead me to a battle strategy which helped me trounce the gullible goons that grated against my nerves,” she smiled with an open mouth that bared her teeth. “It was interesting.”
“Ah, so it did happen, and here I was worried that you weren’t just playing stupid. Like, you totes shouldn’t like do that.” Stephanie stuck out her tongue while winking one of her eyes again, causing Valerie and Stephanie to both laugh.
“I’ll have to remember to check how much wool I have before trying to pull any of it over your eyes,” Valerie giggled.
Why do I feel like this is a trap, and I’ve already been caught? he laughed helplessly to himself.
“Dear, you can take the sheets off if you want. It won’t bother me at all,” Stephanie teased again. “But would it really be in your best interest to trick me? After all, aren’t I the only one who knows your situation? Well, at least the only sympathetic ear?”
“Wolves are known to wear the clothing of sheep,” Valerie replied coldly.
“And sheep uneaten kill themselves through stupidity and starvation.” Stephanie didn’t shrug, but her words left it to be felt.
“Well, then perhaps we should call in Justin and order a drink to stave off starvation with some proper consumption.” Valerie’s words had the mark of arrogance Darwin had grown somewhat accustomed to as of late in Stephanie. It was almost like he was talking to two Stephanies, except one didn’t have the same enthusiasm for old video games. Or at least Darwin didn’t think Valerie did.
“That’s not a bad idea. I always like a little wine when I dine, and your bravado is so cute I could practically eat you up,” Stephanie laughed.
“Alright, enough.” Darwin did his best to slam his foot down, but being seated with a girl in his lap made it rather difficult. He wasn’t familiar enough with cat fights or word play skirmishes in general to tell the difference, but he knew he didn’t like being left out of the conversation as the two exchanged what felt like barbs back and forth. “We’re going to keep it civil, straight and clean, and start back at the beginning.”
“If we don’t, will you spank us?” Stephanie put on a face that was anything but innocent.
“Worse. I’ll ignore you,” Darwin threatened.
“Oh! I see how you’re playing this. Fine then, but there isn’t really much that needs explaining. Valerie is a demon now, like us.” Stephanie smiled. “In fact, you could say she’s the first true demon born on this particular planet.”
“How though? And what were you talking about with visions? Valerie, you said you saw flashes of the past that lead you to victory?”
“Yes . . . and no?” Valerie’s face twitched. “It was like I was seeing an answer through a story to a question I hadn’t asked.”
So that’s why she was worried when I said that demons went insane. She’s already talking funny. Darwin struggled to piece together what she meant. Her response felt more like a fortune cookie than an explanation.
“Why did it happen to Valerie and not the others?” Darwin asked Stephanie, brushing off Valerie’s response. Not like I’m going to get anywhere with her anyways.
“That’s complicated,” Stephanie replied, “and to explain it would be troublesome.”
“For you or for us?” Darwin suppressed a glare. How is an explanation on why someone’s physiology in real life changed based on in-game guild membership too troublesome to explain?
“Me? I mean, it’s a lot funner watching you try to figure it out. Kind of adorable actually.” Stephanie, who was still sitting in his lap gave him a big hug and kissed him on his forehead right between the horns. “You’re always adorable though.”
I’m pretty sure I should be angry at her for this, Darwin thought, doing his best to contemptuously eye the patronizing woman, but failing. Even though Darwin couldn’t quite put his finger on why, staying mad at Stephanie when he even had a legitimate reason to be angry was as difficult as a good father trying to be mad at a daughter who almost died in car wreck for totalling the vehicle. Even though fixing the vehicle might cost him a fortune and set him back years in savings, nothing can replace the life of his daughter or change how a good father felt about his child. “How many more will turn?” Darwin said, trying to jump ahead with more questions.
After talking to Eve and hearing the family’s and demons’ pasts at the dinner table the night before, he was beginning to understand Stephanie. It was easy to sit back and assume she was just an arrogant gamer, but the truth was much uglier. She had likely spent an unfathomable amount of time in a constant life or death struggle against a species that sought to commit genocide on a level that was unprecedented in today’s world. Hundreds of millions of people murdered by greedy people, and she had to watch. She had to watch as her way of life, her family, her friends and possibly even her parents were butchered by people, yet here she was smiling. That’s why when Darwin asked how many more would turn. He wasn’t just asking that question. He was asking a broader question with an assumption tied to it: How many people do you plan on sparing? It’s that reason, that clear understanding of her intent, that left him feeling sick, as if he were, before even knowing the details, stating some tacit agreement to her grand scheme that would pale the carnage the humans likely wrought on her own people. If she turns everyone, then she wins without murder, right? he thought, hoping somewhat that she had given up on hungering for bloodshed. Hoping that she had forgotten the sins that had been committed against her. Against me? What would my life have been like in a world with the technology to create something like Tiqpa? In a world where I wouldn’t have been an outcast, where violence wouldn’t have existed, and I could have spent an eternity in paradise? Darwin became lost in the questions, chasing the the myriad stolen happinesses of a reality he would never know.
“Does he do that a lot?” Valerie asked, tilting her head to the left in perplexity. “Just kind of fade out into his own thoughts mid-conversation?”
“I wish I could say he doesn’t,” Stephanie laughed back. “But, to answer your question, Darwin, enough.”
“So there will be more like me?” Valerie asked. “Will they also be healed?”
“And more,” Stephanie nodded. “Not to mention hated though. Trust me on that. A crippled woman may be pitied, an average girl may be liked and ignored, but a great woman is guaranteed to be hated. You, Valerie, by race alone are now a great woman.
“What if you’re super-tanned to begin with, like your skin was verging on orange?” Valerie asked, looking down at her pale white hands.”
“Well, that might be awkward.” Stephanie looked stumped, as if this thought had never entered her mind before. “I suppose they’ll have to find colors that match their new look? I imagine people who specialize in jewel tone clothes will be getting a bump in sales? Also, emeralds. Nothing looks better than green jewels on pale skin!”
“Yeah, but those poor tanning booths,” Valerie giggled. “Whatever shall the dolls do?”
    “Invest in makeup?” Stephanie shrugged. “The real shame will be all the pharmaceuticals that go out of business.”
    “What do you mean?” Valerie scrunched up her face.
    “We don’t get sick. No sickness, no aging, and no drugs needed. The only headache you’ll ever have to deal with again is an annoying neighbor or a dog that won’t shut up,” Stephanie explained.
    “That’s . . . That’s amazing, but there has to be a catch, right? If you could sell this transformation, you could be a billionaire. You could change the world forever,”
    “Dear, it’s not that simple. Humans are disgusting creatures, and if you offer them salvation, they’ll spit on you for not doing it sooner.” Stephanie’s happy tone slowly shriveled into a shrill sharp biting one. “They are a spiteful people, and if we tell them what we’re doing too soon, they’ll hate us for it.”
    That’s . . . Darwin frowned. That’s not necessarily true. You can’t judge the whole lot for the actions of some, he wanted to protest. However, he felt like no matter what he said she wouldn’t understand or agree. He’d be making an enemy out of the one person trying to save him from his curse and his crazy sister. “What will decide--” Darwin began with another question, but just as soon as he started a knocking came on the door.
    “Great Lord Darwin,” Justin said as he popped out of the woodwork. “Great Lord Darwin, there has been a development that needs your attention.”
    A disturbance? What is he . . . The players! Darwin suddenly remembered that he had just been in town and had given a rather dramatic recruitment speech.
    “I see. Valerie, we’ll pick this up tonight. I’ll send someone to bring you to dinner,” Stephanie smiled. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you,
    “I don’t get a say in it, do I?” Valerie guessed correctly. When it came to dealing with Stephanie, Darwin had learned to not argue much. It seemed like most everything Stephanie did was for him, whether it was because she actually liked him or because he was one of the last demons.
    “Bring an overnight bag.” Stephanie winked and then vanished suddenly like the last slice of pizza at a party.
“So a player disturbance? Another set of people for us to kill?” Valerie’s words might have been discussing murder, but her eyes looked like those of a kid who was told there were Christmas presents under the tree.
    Oy vey, don’t tell me you really are going insane. Darwin simply shook his head and stood up. No use worrying about it now. I have enough people with problems to worry about as is. If this is Stephanie’s pet project, and she isn’t complaining, then I don’t need to spend my time concerning myself with it either. “No, this time I don’t think it is,” Darwin said to a disappointed Valerie. It’s got to be the people from the square earlier. Murder, mayhem, EXP and the chance to play as the bad guy and stand above the rest of the world in an epic, unique quest with no duplicatable loot? There is no way that a true gamer wouldn’t take you up on that, Darwin confidently reassured himself, remembering how much he had loved the bad guy arcs in many video games regardless of his usual desire to be the good guy. As long as they didn’t make you kill the players that were loyal to you or the people that were helping you out, it was always fun to be the bad guy.
    “Then who is it? You think Daniel’s cry for help on the forum already baited a few suckers? It doesn’t seem likely. He posted it from a non-guild-leadership or game leadership position and didn’t put enough flair or snare to pull anyone in,” Valerie said smugly.
    “Then why didn’t you help him?”
    “I didn’t think about it at the time I saw it,” Valerie said, shrugging her shoulders.
    “Okay, well then, I’ll handle the player situation. Can you dart ahead of me and find Daniel and have him take the post down altogether?” Darwin asked. I don’t need one set of people showing up for my quest and the other showing up for Daniel’s offer.
    “No problem.” She mimicked Stephanie’s wink before vanishing herself.
    So it’s not just the NPC guards. It’s also the female demons. Maybe it’s just everyone but me that has the secret vanishing ninja skills. Did I miss a tree that lets me specialize in crazy ninja sciences? Because she’s a demon, and she has it, so why can’t I? he grumbled to himself, frustrated that the most finesse he would ever have when moving in and out of any building was that of a minotaur with both hands full trying to ride a unicycle through a wind chime shop with one of his horns stuck on the low roof.
    As Darwin finally reached the exit, he saw Alex and Kitchens both standing on a makeshift platform at the door to Mt. Lawlheima with Kass, Daniel, Minx and the others waiting inside, all laughing and giggling to each other like kids who had just spent all day putting together a prank and were now watching the result unfold. “Hold on!” Daniel and Kass both called out to Darwin as they saw him getting ready to walk into plain view of anyone who was listening to Kitchens and Alex on the other side of the gate. “You can’t go out yet. Kitchens has been working your introduction up. Just take a seat here and don’t spoil it.”
    “I see . . .” Darwin’s ears perked up as he tried to listen well to what Kitchens and Alex were saying.
    “Alex, you said these people came here to see the Great Lord Darwin?” Kitchens said. Clearly he already knew the answer but he was even dragging out the question.
    What is he doing? Why is he carrying his voice like that? When I was talking, did I sound this silly in the main square earlier? Darwin felt slightly embarrassed at the idea. If the quest really had been spread, then whatever he said would be played on online video clips across the forum and the Internet guides for a while, which meant everyone would hear his most embarrassing over-the-top, impromptu Demon King impression. Oh no, please, please tell me I didn’t sound that fake and ridiculous.
    “Yes, Kitchens, they came seeking an audience with the Great Lord Darwin. One even had the gall to say he was invited.” Alex was playing a much more timid and obedient role than usual.
Has he been filled in on the plan? Did Kitchens use the time that I was in the cabin with Valerie and my girl to clue in the others on our ridiculous scheme? Darwin rationalized, knowing that usually Alex never used such a respectful voice to anyone but him.
“Hmmm . . . where is he? Where is the one that claims familiarity with the Great Lord Darwin? Who claims to have been invited personally by the immortal harbinger of hell?” Kitchens’ seemed to be playing up his dramatic voice more and more as he kept speaking.
I wonder what he would say if he knew that his claim about him being an immortal wasn’t just a fancy title but, if Stephanie is to believed, very close to reality. Heck, if Steph and her cute face got her way, maybe I really would end up being the harbinger of hell, but then would that make her hell? Hmm, women and hell’s fury are supposed to go hand in hand . . . Darwin mused.
“This is him. This is the one who blasphemously used the Great Lord Darwin’s name!” Alex’s voice was accompanied by scuffling of feet. Darwin started to look around, wishing he could find a better vantage point, but knowing that if he could see them, then they could see him, and it would defeat the entire purpose of what was going on. The play would be interrupted and never be staged again.  
“But si--” a voice protested.
Wait! That voice! That’s the dogman who stepped forward first back in the square.
“Ah! Him! He does not lie. Release him. This man has indeed come at the offering of the Great Lord Darwin. It is he who stood first and foremost among those brave enough to take up the calling and join Lord Darwi, even at threat of death by his peers,” Kitchens defended the man.
“Took up the calling at the threat of death by his peers?” Alex elongated each syllable as he exaggerated his shock. “Who would dare raise a hand against one who would follow the child of war?”
“How many people are out there?” Darwin had to ask, curious as to who was audience to this particular spectacle.
“Actually, there are three or four hundred people out there easy. It might not sound like it since no-one is saying anything for fear of death, but Alex did a good job at scaring everyone, having the Blue-Drakes cut trails of fire around them before landing on their sides, but there are a ton of people running around in their underwear,” Kass said.
“I thought that was a nice touch, getting them to show up in their skivvies,” Mclean laughed. “I didn’t know you were such a lecherous dog, Darwin, but I like your style.”
“I,” Darwin was about to try defending himself, but then just stopped. He may have had good reasons for asking people not to show up fully armed and dangerous, but if he tried to explain them to Mclean there wasn’t much of a chance of her listening. “I guess you’re right,” he said defeatedly. Is it bad I kind of want to look around the corner now even more though? Maybe I am a horndog. I’ll just blame Kitchens if Stephanie asks.
“That’s what shocked me too. Apparently there are people in the kingdom below who ask for the death of our fearless leader and the destruction of his portal to hell, where he regularly summons the Blue-Drake reinforcements from the abyss. That is why, surrounded by hundreds who had taken up this quest, this man’s bravery--these men’s braver-- at coming forth and answering the Great Lord’s call isn’t something to be overlooked. Perhaps we should spare their lives.”
“If they are answering the Great Lord Darwin’s quest, then to turn them away would be the same as calling our commander a liar. We can’t undo his word, so we’ll have to just let them in,” Alex had managed to both project his voice and quiet it at the same time.
“Not exactly. We should reward this one for standing up first, but Darwin did say that we would test the rest,” Kitchens corrected Alex. “Here. This is the armor of our people, and this is the weapon of our brothers. Since your hunger was greater than those around you, you are granted entrance before them. Wear both our symbols with pride, and let no one say that the StormGuard Alliance is not fair and just in its rewards,” Kitchens said. Then, in a much louder and more booming voice, he added, “That goes for the rest of you! Those who work hard and let their hunger for victory and battle carry them to the front line of combat, to the very bowels of battle, and return with trophies and tales of conquest shall be rewarded. We shall match your bloodlust with our boons!”
“As the Great Lord Darwin has said it, let it be so. If they are to be tried, then I have the perfect trial. Edward! Front and center right now!”
Darwin saw a Blue-Drake carrying a demon on his back descend the mountain as soon as Alex made the request. Did he hear from all the way up there, or did they work out this part of the staging while I was busy? he curiously wondered. As the Blue-Drake neared the platform, Kitchens and Alex were using for their spectacle, the soldier on top jumped off, dropping out of Darwin’s line of sight and likely onto the platform.
“Reporting for duty, General Alex. Who needs killing?” Edward barked quickly.
“Edward, you were one of the men on the front line during our battle with the Panda King. How many foes fell to the edge of your spear during that night?”
“One hundred and eighteen, sir.”
“What was the lowest killcount for a front line soldier?””
“Mine, General Alex, and I apologize deeply for bringing you such shame even though you gifted me with the opportunity of standing front and center in the second battle of the Great Lord Darwin’s conquest.”
“A hundred and eighteen . . . Well, do you think that these men before you should be held to the same standard?”
“Do you think they should be made to kill a hundred fiendish people in battle in service of the Great Lord Darwin?”
“I apologize, General Alex, it’s not my place to give an opinion that you might not want to hear in public.”
“It is when I ask you. Tell me honestly soldier. What are your thoughts?”
“I don’t think they have what it takes, but, if they were even able to kill one hundred in service of the Great Lord Darwin, then I don’t think that they would be any different than us. I think if they did that, then we should give them the chance to earn honor under our flag as well.”
“Well spoken, Edward. Well spoken. I think you speak truly as well. In fact, that shall be your task. You are all temporary members of the StormGuard Alliance since the Great Lord Darwin himself invited you here, and, as temporary members, we will give you temporary gear, but, if you are able to kill a hundred enemies in the service of the Great Lord Darwin, then you will be granted a position as a Blue-Drake rider, a soldier in his army.”
There was a bit of cheering from the crowd, and then more Blue-Drake riders showed up carrying bathrobes and weapons. They didn’t spare any expense when staging this, did they? It looks like we really do have an immortal army now.
“As for you, Edward, I need you to report back to your commanding officer, Breht, for further training. We can’t have you shaming us in the next battle with such a low kill count,” Alex said and dismissed the soldier.
“As you command.” Edward put up no argument, and, a moment later, his Blue-Drake could be seen flying back in the direction he came from.
“That’s your queue. Go on out,” Minx nudged Darwin.
Darwin stood up and started walking towards the gate before Minx stopped him. “No, no, they’re on the wall platform. Did you think they were standing out there with the rabble? No one would be able to see them well. Come on, Darwin, don’t be silly,” Minx demanded.
Aren’t you being a bit hypocritical asking me not to be silly, Darwin laughed to himself as he changed directions and ascended the stairs. When he got to the top, he found himself a bit dumbfounded. There, standing below Kitchens and Alex and himself, were at the very least four hundred players, all standing in their underwearing and staring at him. Don’t stutter, he teased himself, knowing that any mess-up would not only cause him a bit of humiliation, but might also reveal the fact that he wasn’t an NPC to the hordes that had followed him expecting endless loot and quests.
“Alex, is this the rabble you disturbed me for?” he looked over at the stalwart commander and then did his best to furrow his brow and look menacing as he cast his gaze over the players. “Do you need me to kill them all for you, show you how it’s--Wait . . .” he paused, doing his best to dramatize his reaction, “I know that one. That is my new pet dog, a fierce warrior among his people.”
“He’s not here to be a pet, Great Lord Darwin. He claims he is here to serve as a soldier in the front lines of our conquest,” Alex said, doing a half bow with his right arm folded in front of him.
Kitchens, noticing Alex’s gesture copied it as quickly as possible. “Indeed, we should reward his bravery, not tarnish his name for it,” he said.
Darwin pretended to take a moment to think. “And what about the others? Are they also here to fight?”
“Yes, your Lordship.” Alex maintained his bow, still not raising his head.
“Are they capable?” Darwin asked, knowing they were all probably just as talented if not more so than the people he was going to pit them against.
“We don’t know, your Lordship, they might be, but until we at the very least test them with a trial by fire, how can we dare let them carry the banner of those born in the lava pits of the underworld?”
The lava pits of the underworld? Darwin almost snickered at Alex’s serious face while he said that. How does he stay in character? Darwin found himself wondering, And where does he get these ridiculous lines? “Indeed, but these men, these women before us, they are blessed! Today, we will begin our first steps in a campaign of destruction that will shake the very foundation of this world. Does that excite you?” Darwin said, turning to the crowd. “Do you hunger to mark your name in the book of death as the author of countless entries?”
The crowd, mostly mute up until then, actually responded with a cheer. It was weak, uncertain at first, but it was definitely a cheer.
“Is that the extent of your spirit? Are you farmers being offered a discount on fertilizer or men being offered a chance at life?” Darwin tried to draw out a bigger response. If there was anything he had learned from the job so far, it was that if people think they should be happy or excited about something, they will be. The throng gave a second, heartier cheer. “That’s more like it, and what trial have you given them?”
“They have been tasked with killing a hundred men each,” Alex said, still maintaining the bow.
“Raise your head, you two. You’ve both done well,” Darwin said, noticing that the bow Alex and Kitchens were giving him wasn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. A king in a play is still a king for a day, he thought to himself, remembering he had to be aware of every part the king had to play. “As for this lot, I think a hundred might be asking too much of them. After all, they aren’t demons yet, are they? Instead, register them as groups of ten. Each group of ten must get, at the minimum, a hundred kills before they will be accepted as a demon, but . . . the first group to reach a hundred kills and the group with the most kills at the end of each day shall be given Blue-Drakes to ride and a pick from some of the finest weapons and armor.”
“But, sir, what about the soldiers that don’t make the kill count or fail to get the most kills?” Alex asked, faking a sincere emotional concern for the people below.
“Then they can either drop back to the status of recruits and try again or wait for a chance to earn the honor to fly the dragons in future combat. But! I want to make one thing clear: You are not applying as individuals. You’re applying as groups! I don’t want to see any more than ten people in a group, but, if you think you can handle the burden with just one partner, then so be it. As for the rest of the details, well, Alex, bring them their clothes and their weapons. They will need them because any minute now another wave of fools is going to try to crush me, and that will be a perfect opportunity for you to go out and spread my name. Kill! Honor me as the Demon King through blood and victory! Come back as a victor, or come back as a corpse!”
“But, Great Lord Darwin, you haven’t told them who to attack other than those that are trying to attack us. Are there any other targets?”
“There are. Alex, order them to attack every soldier from the beast city to Jotunheim. Order them to murder and ransack all who refuse to fly our banner or seek our shelter. Send an emissary to each town and extend our offer of mercy and allegiance, for soon we will lay siege upon their lands and claim them as our own! Those that refuse to stand side by side with us on these hallowed grounds as glorious demons shall be forced to lay underneath it as worm-eaten warnings of the coming tides of war!” Darwin knew what he was saying was so cheesy it could put the pictures on a pizza advertisement to shame, but he had to keep going. This was the character he crafted, and it demanded the type of over-the-top cheese that made top fondu offers look like amateur hour. “Are you with me?”
Most of them cheered. There were some that nervously glanced side to side, likely uncomfortable at the idea the quest wasn’t an easy one to complete, and not everyone would get their own Blue-Drake. The idea of a competitive quest may drive some people to spend every waking hour trying to farm the right victory, but, to others, it was an uncomfortable itch they hated having to scratch.
“Then go! Paint the world red! When you put your groups together and register as part of the StormGuard Alliance, General Alex will give you targets. I want to know that the beast city, that Jotunheim, that the world is mine. Do not disappoint!” Darwin said one last time, then turned around and jumped from the top of the wall to the ground below. It might have been his imagination, but, for some reason, as his odd little recruitment speech ended, he could almost feel Stephanie smiling at him even though she was nowhere to be seen. Is this also part of your plan? he wondered, glancing over to look at Valerie’s red eyes one more time before giving the rest of his crew a smile and a wink to let them know, We did it. We pulled it off.

Due to the growth of your faction, you have been awarded with the Rank 1 Dread Commander Ability: Soul Farmer’s Tribute.

Soul Farmer’s Tribute: Whenever a player under the Dread Commander’s charge kills another player, 0.1% of the EXP gained via the killing or quest turn-ins related to the killing is awarded as tribute to the Dread Commander.

A good general will pay the price for his troops’ mistakes. A great general will reap the rewards of their victories.

No comments:

Post a Comment