Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 7 - Kass

Please finish answering the questions from the last post if you haven't already. Also, is everyone ready for the holidays?

I personally am just hoping to have some good quality time with the wife, get the third book out, spend time learning how to cook some fun dishes. What about you guys/girls? Perhaps one of you is taking up drawing, and drawing a bathrobe knight?


    Kass’s mouth almost fell open as she listened to the end of Darwin’s introduction speech. Take over Jotunheim? Conquer the beast city? What is he talking about? We’re not an aggressive military power. We’re just players trying to keep some NPCs safe from death. Wouldn’t this type of conquest cause even more NPCs to die? She couldn’t make heads or tails of it and found herself feeling rather cattywampus.
    “Conquering the world of Tiqpa kind of sounds exciting, doesn’t it?” Daniel, who was sitting next to Kass as they listened in on the conversation, asked Mclean.
    “Conquer Tiqpa, eliminate heathens, save red-eyes--does it really make a difference? Knife goes in, knife comes out, time for snacks in between,” Mclean replied with disturbing equanimity, twirling her knife momentarily as she spoke.
    “Dad says Darwin is fire. Fire needs to burn more, right? Burn the world! Maybe he is a demon king . . . Burn burn!” Minx temporarily seemed to have gone full pyro as her eyes lit up at the idea of incinerating things.
    “If your dad is water, and Darwin is fire, does he ever actually say what you are?” Kass looked over at Minx. Secretly, Kass hoped that, if Kitchens gave her an element, she would be something like water or something close to ice. Ice was by far the most interesting element to her.
    “Uh huh!” Minx nodded, “He did! He did!”
    “So? What are you?” Kass asked after a few moments of failed waiting for Minx to finish the answer.
    “I am shhh shhh, mighty shhh of shhhushington shhhhhire,” Minx giggled with Daniel and Mclean joining in.
    How is it that everyone can have a philosophical debate but me, and, when I try to have one, I just get laughed at? Kass felt a little sore from the reaction. She had genuinely wanted to know what was going on.
    “Soz Kass,”--Minx frowned with her lips while still smiling with her eyes--“it’s just you ask what I am because you want me to tell you what you are,” Minx said to Kass’s surprise, and likely Daniel’s and Mclean’s too given their faces. “If you want to know what dad says you are why not just ask?”
    Kass, feeling rather defensive at having been called out on her intentions, felt like she was backed into a corner. “Umm, but, I actually did want to know what element your dad says you are,” she said, doing her best to lie, hoping her flushed cheeks and distraught eyes didn’t give away her shameful embarrassment at having been singled out as the selfish one.
    “Well, that’s probably for the best then, ‘cause I don’t know what you are. Dad doesn’t talk about you. He just talks about Darwin this, or Darwin that or ‘Darwin pants’d a snake and found two legs,’” Minx frowned.
Kass could definitely feel some resentment at the two bonding, even if she had always imagined it was something Minx was encouraging. So that explains the hostility, Kass hoped. I guess that’s just how things work. Even if you want someone to have a relationship outside of the one they have with you, it doesn’t mean you still won’t occasionally feel jealous. I remember when my dad started working longer hours on Tiqpa and coming home later than ever. I probably lashed out too, but at least I had other friends. All Minx has for people to talk to and friends is, well, a group of stranger she met a few days ago. God, I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for her, wanting to both see her Dad have other friends but also not wanting to lose her monopoly on his time. Kass did her best to empathize, ignoring the barbs from Minx. “Well, forget what your dad says you are. What do you think you are? Maybe since you’re so down to earth, you like that element? Or perhaps since you flow with everything, you are like water?” Kass took a few guesses, trying to lead Minx into talking about herself, partially because she felt bad about only asking the kid questions so she could put the subject matter spotlight on herself, but also because she felt a little pity for Minx.
“Well . . . I’ve always wanted to be fire like Darwin, so I can burn things and be rash and aggressive! Then I wouldn’t have to worry about being so passive and letting people get away with being mean, but I ended up with the wishy washy air like you. It’s too bad too. I really wish I were stronger, that I could just do the right thing like Darwin can.” Minx frowned.
Is that because of bullying? Does she act too passive when people pressure her? Maybe she uses her element as an excuse for her insecurities. Kass found herself worrying more and more about the young woman, not knowing what ‘Minx the Linx’ might have suffered in the past without saying or acting in a way to stand up for herself. I understand, she wanted to say empathetically, I understand that feeling helpless to stop it is sometimes worse than the abuse.
“What about me, Minx?” Daniel asked, eyebrow raised.
“Oh, that’s easy! You’re water, like, wooooshhhhh! Aqua-Dan! Oh, and you!” Minx looked over at Mclean, “You’re earth. You’re all Mcgrumblalumblaclean. Rigid like a stone in your thinking . . . and probably eating. You would eat a stone if it tasted good, wouldn’t you?”
Mclean looked up, opened her mouth as if she were going to protest, but stopped and closed her mouth slowly. Then, without a single hint of protest, she just asked for clarification. “Tastes good like steak or like buttered rice? Also, how did I find out the stone tastes good? What if every stone but the ones I’ve tasted before tasted like steak, and the one I tried was just too dirty to be flavorful?”
Kass blinked. Other than the one you’ve tried before? You actually tried to eat a stone before? Kass’s mind reeled a bit in shock. Who does that? How were you raised that this idea seemed acceptable? she wanted to say, but decided that at least it not tasting good was some semblance of normalcy being returned to the rather bizarre idea.
“Wait . . . if Mclean is labeled as a person who is like earth, and she ate dirt, would that be like some sort of elemental cannibalism?” Daniel asked, pondering the idea.
“Is cannibalism bad?” Mclean asked, causing Daniel and Minx, who were both previously sitting next to her, to slowly scooch away and create some distance between them and their foodie friend. The stone eating comment might not have been that off, but the cannibalism comment made Kass shiver a bit. “No, really,” Mclean pressed, “is it really that awful? Would you rather some gross bugs eat you when you die, or would you rather your family absorb your essence in some sort of banana soup concoction?”
“Can we go with neither? Why not let ourselves turn into pretty flowers or something?” Kass cringed at the idea of bugs eating her corpse after she passed away. Sure, it’s likely to happen, but it didn’t mean she had to think about it.
“I heard humans taste like veal, like the best cut of fattened calves when they die,” Mclean was starting to make everyone visibly nervous. “I figure, if I can justify eating a cow--which is one of the best meats to eat, mind you--then why can’t I justify eating a person after he or she dies? It’s not like the fatted calf wasn’t smart with emotions and whatnot. It’s not like the person will know you did it. The only people who will raise a brouhaha are the ones you aren’t eating.”
“I’m going to pretend this topic never came up and move back to the element one,” Daniel said, “What about Valerie?”
Valerie, who had just been observing the dialogue until now, perked up. “Me? Oh no, let’s not do the online personality quiz games with me,”
“Are you worried you’ll get two distinctly different answers?” Daniel asked. “One from yesterday and another from this morning?”
“I’m not that different am I?” Valerie feigned ignorance. Even though her acting skills were pretty good, the smile breaking across her face gave away the fact that she knew exactly what they were talking about.
“Uh, yeah, I’d say so,” Daniel laughed. It was a bit of an awkward laugh, unmetered and stumbling on itself, but it still eased the tension. “But I wouldn’t say it’s for the worse. You did get us out of a pickle.”
“I’m just wondering how you switched races. Did a game prompt come up? Did you do a quest for Alex that we don’t know about?” Kass asked, looking at Valerie’s red eyes. If I ended up with eyes like that, would I have to wear contacts so I don’t end up looking like an albino person? Can you even wear contacts in the video game?
“So is every demon a perfectly fit person with pale skin, red eyes and black hair?” Daniel mused aloud, scratching his chin.
“I guess. I don't know,” Valerie answered and then paused, “Oh! Yeah, I never thought about that.” Valerie nodded in agreement with Daniel’s point, which apparently she figured out but didn't feel like explaining to the rest of the group. “That would be a pain.”
“Right? If one of them held up a store in an all demon city, there would be no way to describe them even if they didn't wear a mask,” Daniel mused to himself. “‘Well, you see, officer, he was tall and in good shape with red eyes, black hair and a pale face.’ ‘You’ve been very helpful. Thank you greatly, citizen.’”
“What about cheekbones?” Moles? Noses? Jawlines? Kass offered. “I mean, there has to be some way they do it in Asia, right?  Because I'm pretty sure, for a long time, most Chinese cities only had one hair and eye color predominantly.”
“Even slavic cities were most likely just blonde with blue eyes until the traveling began,” McLean suggested.
“Mhmm. But according to Daniel, if you wanted to rob someone, all you'd need is artificially high cheeks from putty, a wig, contacts and platform style shoes,” Minx looked far more pensive than usual. “Would that work?”
Kass’s jaw dropped a bit “Oh God, you're not gonna blame us for giving you the idea if you rob a bank, are you? I really don't want to be stabbed in my sleep by your dad.”
Minx giggled for a moment “He'd make sure to do it while you're awake.”
There we go. Now you're having fun again, Kass thought, and no sooner had the mood finally returned than so did Darwin with Kitchens. “Hey!” She called out to him, “how'd it go?” When did you decide that our guild needs to murder even more NPCs just so we can take over Tiqpa, she thought, but refrained from saying aloud. Ever since their talk on the boat, his transformation and the dinner with Charles, she had come to realize that he probably had a lot more going on in his head than she knew about, so jumping to conclusions might not be in anyone's best interest.
“So we are conquering the beast city and Jotunheim?” Daniel asked first before Darwin could even respond.
Well, now I don't have to bring up the query, Kass felt relieved.
“Well, there are only around four to five hundred players, and there is no guarantee that their level is that high. I think we are going to have to see how well they field before we count that egg like it’s hatched.” Darwin paused to look at the gate and then at kitchens. “How many of them do you think we could take?”
Kitchens shrugged “It would depend on what magic they had at their disposal. We might be stunned before we can do anything at all.”
“If they didn’t have magic?” Darwin pressed the question. “Or range, for that matter?”
“Then we could take the lot of them, easy.” Kitchens bared his teeth in a big grin as he and Darwin both chuckled to themselves.
Yeah, Minx, your dad and Darwin are officially bros--in the drinking buddy sense. You will have a lot less quality time now. Kass felt a little bit of an urge to facepalm at their sense of bonding material. Just remember this was your doing, Minx. You were the one that put them together, she thought, remembering that Minx had been making room for her dad to have a friend other than her earlier when she had suggested that he go to the beast city with Darwin.
“Probably.” Darwin smiled. “Definitely if we had some of those yellow snow cones,” he added. “But the real question is, do you think we’ll get more members than them, that more will turn up as time goes on?”
“Definitely, and that’s something we need to protect and ensure. I’d have Alex issue out instructions with the armor not to attack anyone who comes unarmored and unclothed to join the ranks of the Demons,” Kitchens nodded as he spoke, something Kass found kind of silly. It made it seem as if he were agreeing with his own idea.
“Alright, I'll take that one. Want me to work with Alex on any additional rules we might need for this operation’s safety while I'm at it?” Daniel volunteered.
“Sure, but try to include Justin in on the talks.” Darwin gave the same slow nod that Kitchens had given moments before.
“Easy enough,” Daniel said before quickly taking off.
“I’m going with him,” Minx said, following after Daniel on a Blue-Drake. While Minx might not have seen it, everyone else clearly saw Kitchens glare at Daniel’s fading form as Minx went off after him.
So, Minx, you were all upset he was paying more attention to Darwin than you, and you disappear as soon as he shows back up just to chase after a boy? Kass suppressed a chortle.
“That’s not really our only problem though, is it?” Valerie asked, not meeting anyone with eye contact as she focused on a fallen white feather on the floor.
Did she have any feathers left to lose? Kass thought, but then considered how it must feel. Do you think she would have cried in the shower as she watched the feathers float to the drain hole like a middle-aged man?
“What problem are you worried about?” Mclean chuckled, “Not enough people to kill?”
“I’m worried about enemies being within our ranks. How do we assure ourselves that the people who join aren’t here to do us harm?” Valerie asked, still looking at the feather.
“There isn’t really a way unless maybe the game mechanics prevent harming other players, maybe? I don’t know. I kind of missed the tutorial on the subject,” Darwin responded with a  shrug, almost as if he weren’t worried about it.
“Yeah, the game mechanics prevent attacks against guildmates, or, at least, intentional attacks have a punishment system. So that should keep things safe unless for some reason no one foresaw NPC guildmates and a lazy programmer didn't write it to include them in the class of protected individuals. Also, it only registers intentional attacks, so well-placed area of effect spells and skills will still have the ability to kill guildmates in an unrestricted way,” McLean explained. “But, no matter what, I'll just stab anyone that tries to double cross us.”
So everyone here is a bloodthirsty killer but me? Kass started to blame them, but then hesitated. Actually, this game has made me kill more people every night than a clan of cannibals trying to put together a buffet.
“But information could be deadlier to us than a direct attack. We can handle a direct attack, but what if we were to have a spy among us?” Valerie didn't look directly at Kass when she said it. In fact, her eyes were still fixated on the feathers Daniel had lost in his flight, but Kass felt like she did look at her all the same. Like she knew.
“It's a game, Valerie. I don't think we will have many spies. Who would create a character and leave their main guild and go through a ton of trials just to join another guild so that they could betray it? I'm not saying it won't happen, but it won't happen enough, and they won't get much information on me or the rest of the guild’s upper management,” Darwin brushed off her concern.
But there already is a spy in the guild. Me. Paid for by Charles specifically to follow the ‘upper management,’ Kass thought with a wince. She hadn't thought about it too much since the morning had passed, but the talk of a possible spy was dragging her guilt to the forefront.
“It's not about how much information they get on you. All they have to do is relay when and where you'll be when you aren't here. If they followed you to a dungeon while you were on one of your little solo jaunts through monster resurrection land, then they'd be able to organize an ambush and kill you while you're in the middle of a boss fight. Just having eyes will give them enough information to be deadly,” Valerie continued her argument.
Darwin seemed unfazed though. “If that ever happens, then I'll just have to kill them and the boss or die and revive at the bindstone. It's not a big deal. This is just a game.”
So that's it? Now that you can resurrect, you don't take your own life seriously? Kass observed. “But you can't die,” Kass said, feeling like she had only mouthed the words but surprisedly finding her volume carrying them to the others’ ears. “If you die, then your plan will go to hell, pardon the expression, in a handbasket.”
“See?” Valerie waved an arm over at Kass. “Even she understands that a spy in our ranks or you dying is a bad situation. Even she gets why your death would be the end of our symbolic recruitment poster.”
Even though Valerie had been forwarding the point Kass had made herself, Kass still felt uncomfortable by the ‘even she’ part. That said, the unpleasant nature of Valerie's less-than hidden-stabs did nothing to drive the wedge in Kass's heart like the discourse about spying. I didn't agree to it, she told herself, trying to suppress the anxiety that the guilt was fomenting in her. But you didn't reject it properly or tell Darwin either, her conscience answered back.
“Aww Kass, I didn't mean anything by it,” Valerie said as she looked over at her, mistaking her troubled face for one that had been insulted, “I just meant you usually are trusting, not naive or stupid.”
Trusting, yeah. I'm trusting--like I trusted those people at G.O.R.N. to not make my life harder, and look where that got me . . . Kass’s internal monologue drove round in a circle as the stress caused by the conversation picked up. If only I had just been honest with Darwin and the gang about the interview. Then he wouldn't have looked at me like he did at that dinner. He wouldn't have judged me like a traitor. It wasn't my fault. I didn't do anything wrong . . . I just didn't do anything right.
“You are okay, right, Kass?” Darwin asked this time. Kass had been so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she hadn't responded to Valerie and had managed to draw Darwin’s concern as well.
“I'm just not--” she began her usual defensive excuse. No, don't make the same mistake twice Kass. It doesn't matter if they are paying you five or ten thousand dollars to be a rat. One wrong kiss and even Judas wouldn't be able to enjoy his thirty pieces of silver. “I'm just the spy,” she blurted out, much to her relief. It felt like a weight had fallen off her chest as soon as the words rolled out.
McLean, not hesitating a moment, pulled her daggers and had them touching Kass's back before Kass could even inhale again. “So that's why you weren't with us during the raid, huh? I knew something didn't sit right about you. Speak quick. What do you mean?”
“Easy there, McLean. She outed herself, so she must have a good explanation for that comment. You're just joking, right?” Darwin looked at her with eyes that screamed, ‘not you, not again,’ and Kass couldn't explain them away fast enough.
“I haven't given any information to anyone yet, but, after dinner last night, Charles offered to pay me to follow you and report on everything and everyone you talked to. I didn’t agree to it, but he paid me anyways, and I seriously considered it. I’m worried now that I’m compromised,”
“Wait, Charles? Who is Charles?” Valerie looked over at Kass and then Darwin with a rather befuddled look.
“Charles is the creator of Tiqpa.” Darwin didn’t even turn his head, keeping his concentration on Kass. “He offered to pay you? How much? How much did you just turn down by telling me?”
“Enough to play games and buy anything I need for the rest of my life if I kept ratting you out.” Kass felt another pain as she said it. This time, however, the pain wasn’t one of guilt but of loss. My precious money . . . Why did I have to choose? her heart cried as the loss of such a great financial opportunity sank in.
“And she gave that up for a guild in a video game when she could have said nothing, so you can put those blades away,” Darwin said as he looked at McLean, whose daggers slowly eased off Kass's spine. “Did he say what he wanted to gain by spying on us? Or why he needed you to do it? As the game creator, couldn't he spy on us through gameplay clips?” Darwin shifted his attention back to Kass, who was relieved to see and hear he didn't hold her delay in dispensing the information against her, or at least he seemed like he didn't.
“He didn't really seem to want to spy on you per say. He was interested in Stephanie. He is trying to figure out what she is up to, what she is scheming, and thought that, if I stuck close to you, I’d overhear something useful. That's all he told me he was focused on at least.” She did her best to give all the details without telling the others, the ones who didn't know demons’ back story, all the things she figured Darwin didn't want out in the open. She may have been suffering from a bout of illogical honesty, but it didn't need to turn into something even worse: honest stupidity.
“Hmmm, at least that means we aren’t his primary targets, but given my current residence and situation, this isn’t exactly good news either. I really appreciate you telling us this Kass. I know it must have been hard on you to be put in this situation.” Darwin put a hand on Kass’s shoulder and gave her a warm smile that made her feel a little melty.
“No problem,” Kass managed, which was difficult considering an ‘aw, shucks’ and a blush seemed to be her go-to reaction to a face like Darwin's. “You'd have done the same.”
Darwin tilted his head a little bit, his gentle grin somewhat fading before returning again. “I hope I would,” he said and then removed his hand. “I really hope that I have your fortitude of character if I'm ever faced with such a difficult dilemma.”
“Don't count me as being too deep in with the vultures, but my avaricious nature woulda taken the money, Darwin,” Mclean admitted as she sat back down. “Gotta give it to you, girl. You surprised me. Not many would give up cash for imaginary friends.”
Imaginary friends. Kass grimaced at the thought. That’s exactly what my friends at school would call my friends from video games, imaginary, like the connections between us weren’t real. Like the hours and days I spent talking to them were for not, and my entire life itself was an illusion. She didn’t expect a fellow gamer to share that mentality or be so mercenary about it. “Weren't you just about to stab me in the back over spying though?”
“I hadn't been paid. Darwin is a good guy and a great guild leader, so it seemed logical, but I got more bills than paychecks, so . . . just letting you know ahead of time, boss. But, hey, I'll give you a chance to outbid me if someone tries to buy my loyalty. I'll only charge the cost of rent and food for one person.” McLean’s brazen tone made the nature of the comment seem even more disheartening.
Wow, that's a little perspective, Kass thought, feeling a bit abashed about selling someone out for something she had given to her every day anyways. It made it impossible to judge Mclean.
“Good to know. If I still have my bank account, I might be able to afford you. Years of a decent pencil pushing job and a ramen diet haven't left me starving,” Darwin said. It was clear to Kass that he wasn't trying to brag in the face of someone else's problems, given that the silly goof was incapable of being anything but blunt and honest sometimes, but it was also evident that Mclean would have a few other ways to take it. Darwin just couldn't read the air sometimes for the life of him.
“Hmmm, might have to take you up on that sometime. Maybe crash at your place for a night, or month,” Mclean laughed.
“Wait, the dive unit and membership aren't exactly cheap for this game. How are you paying for it if you have so many bills?” Kitchens asked, unusually insensitive for his quiet character.
“Where do you think the bills came from? Oatmeal and eggs sure as heck don't jack them up,” she laughed, the jovial mood returning.
So that's how it is, even Kass found herself chuckling.
“Well, back to topic, you're sure he was only after information on Stephanie?” Valerie asked, trying to get more details out of Darwin. “Could he have been saying that just to get information on something else, disguising his motivations and target to make you more likely and compliant?”
“Huh? Well, I guess, but he was worried Stephanie would . . .” Kass trailed off as she thought back on Charles’s lecture. He was worried Stephanie’s plans would spell out doom for humanity, that she'd be using Darwin as a pawn to destroy the people who had committed genocide against her ilk so long ago.
“Would what?” Valerie didn’t let Kass off the hook even for the length a full sentence.
“Would corrupt Darwin and turn him to the dark side.” Kass twisted her lips into a frown as soon as the words left her mouth. Isn’t that what’s already happening though? The guy who was fighting for a town’s right to live peacefully is now talking about conquering nations. What makes him different than the White-Wing nation that set out to subjugate the collected people of our starter island or the PKs who attacked the town and butchered Alex’s comrades. Kass felt a bit defeated. If Stephanie’s plan was to corrupt an honest and good man like Darwin, then perhaps it was already over.
While Mclean, Kass and Darwin all considered what Kass had said about Stephanie’s plan, Kitchens just smirked. “What’s funny?” Mclean asked in response.
“It’s just that the good, the dark--all that talk makes me think that I somehow got stuck in one of those awful teen dramas,” he shrugged. “It’s not about good or bad. It’s about knowing your job, your role on the field, and fulfilling your duty.”
“You don’t care how the jobs get done?” Kass was a bit bewildered. She had kind of expected Kitchens to be heartless given the way he ripped through people in fights, but also to be the kind of samurai who had a code of honor above the others in the group.
“Why should I? Pick a goal, a target, an objective and figure out how to accomplish it. Your morals? Your enemy won’t share them. Your enemy will strap a bomb to his chest and walk into a church, and if you don’t share his dedication to victory then you’ll just be insulting him and his past and future victims.” Kitchens flashed his teeth in a way that sent chills down Kass’s spine. “Casualties, bystanders, dead civilians: they are just the unlucky and the defeated, nothing more. Any time you get a chance to worry about those unfortunate souls, feel blessed. It means you’re still alive and your country is still winning. If, on the other hand, you find yourself outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered, well, then you just pull the trigger and hope you take one of them down with you. You won’t worry if you shot Anne or Bob or any of the civilians. You’ll be too worried about whether or not you’re going to be dead tomorrow and whether or not you even have a chance at winning. What you say is turning to the dark side . . . I say is just a man who has embraced what he needs to be to get what he needs to do done,” Kitchens paused for a moment, his eyes flashing with a light momentarily. “If you don’t do whatever it takes to fulfil your duty, if you don’t complete your objective, then even if you walk away with your life, it’s your country and the comrades who trusted you with their lives who will suffer. Is it honorable to let them die because your commitment wasn’t greater than your morals?”
Darwin, Mclean, Valerie and even Kass found themselves staring at the solemn, monologuing man, all maintaining a silence befitting the implications of his final lines. Did your not pulling the trigger cost the life of someone you knew? Kass wondered but left the question unasked.
“And I think my role was decided for me long before the game even started,” Darwin poked at his horns. “If I don’t play the devil, if I don’t fulfil my role, then what’s left for me? What will happen to Alex and the people and the StormGuard Alliance if I lose my sanity during a fight? If I’m the devil, and I lose control to the bloodlust, it’s just what’s expected. People will assume it’s just par for the course and go about their jobs to protect and maintain the guild as if nothing happened. If, on the other hand, I try to play the angel, then who would join? Would I have to warn every member of the possible danger of me losing control during battle? How many would stay if the NPC-saving saint turned rogue demon on them and started attacking even his allies indiscriminately? There isn’t really a good alternative. I have to embrace who and what I am.”
So that’s why you picked this route, Kass was starting to get the picture more clearly. He didn’t just go about farming mobs to protect the guild because he was worried he would eventually lose the ability to do so. He wasn’t off trying to make a safe and sane guild, but rather a power-craving group of barbarians so that, when he joined the ranks of the mindless, they’d stay with the guild and not leave it defenseless. Did he plan things out this far when he started? Am I the only one who isn’t thinking that far ahead? Kass, much to her own chagrin, slowly realized she was the only one who wasn’t anticipating every ‘what if.’ Darwin was building a strategy based on necessary contingency plans, and she was just criticizing him for ‘following the dark side.’ Maybe I have watched too many teen dramas, Kass reflected with a sigh, feeling her emotional rollercoaster take yet another spinning, looping turn. “Well, if you’re going to embrace who you are, then what’s your gameplan? How do you seal the image of the devil?”
“You could kill a bunch of random players?” Mclean suggested. “If you want people to think you’re evil, random killing is definitely a good choice.”
“What about the beast city?” Kitchens asked. “Their king is dead, their army is crippled and half their players just deserted to join us, not to mention they have a nice armory and aren’t far away.”
“So we kill everyone in the beast city?” Darwin asked.
“No, we don’t have to kill everyone. We just kill the council and anyone who disputes our claim. There are a few ways we could go about it, but if we bring a few heads and toss them down some stairs, your image as the devil will be set in stone,” Kitchens said as he nodded to himself again.
He really does have a habit of agreeing with the things he says, Kass observed, chortling a bit. Then she remembered the subject that had started the conversation, “Wait, before we get too far off topic, what do I do about the Charles situation?”
“Oh . . .” Darwin paused, “just pretend like you took the deal. Get the money. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“You’re not worried he’ll use whatever information I give him against you?”
“No, I’ll tell Stephanie what he asked you to do tonight. We can change plans in the future if we need to, but feeding bad information at the perfect time is sometimes more productive than preventing good information from leaking.” Darwin scratched his chin as he reflected upon the nature of espionage. “Well, at least that’s what you always hear in the movies, and it sounds really cool when they say it. That said, I don’t know how or what we are going to disseminate to Charles to give us an upper hand in this little scheming war our two benefactors are engaged in.”
“So . . . taking the money is okay with you?” Kass double checked. She wanted the money--she needed the security it afforded her--but she wasn’t going to take the cash without Darwin’s approval. It was his neck on the line after all if his plans came crashing down.
“Yeah, just take it. Stephanie will help us figure things out.” He bit his lower lip for a moment. “Even if we don’t know what to do, she will.”
Is she really that dependable? Can you really trust her? Kass’s heart pleaded, half from a tinge of jealousy, half from sincere doubt about Stephanie’s character. “Okay, you’re the boss,” she said, giving up the notion of arguing. It was the outcome she had secretly wanted, but, even if things had turned out well, the end result, Darwin relying on Stephanie to solve her problems, felt rather unsatisfying.
“Now, back to that idea,” Darwin turned to Kitchens, “you think that, if we kill the council and claim the city, it will just fall into our hands? There aren’t game mechanics to stop that from happening?”
“Well, theoretically there might be. They may have it set so that no player can claim the city, but, even if that is the case, the city still changes hands a lot. I noticed it with the politics on the boards. A lot of Kings died and the councils took over, meaning the rulership of a town isn’t fixed. So, with that in mind, there are two possible scenarios: either we can take the city as players, or an NPC has to be the one to inherit the throne. If the second is the case, then we can use Alex to take the throne, and the whole city should slide into your domain as a town owned by the StormGuard Alliance,” Kitchens reasoned.
“So either way we get the town?” Darwin smiled. “And get to have a bit of fun at the same time?”
“If you want to look at it that way,” Kitchens said, nodding.
“Alright, let’s plan this out then so there won’t be any mistakes because apparently I have to kill a bunch of councilmen, but I also can’t die either, or it’ll be bad for the guild’s reputation. Shall we start the planning process, or do you three want to go level?”
“Plan the stabby stabby? Nah. You do that, I’m going to go find Minx and Daniel and tell them that we have people that need killing. Hopefully you two old farts will have something put together by the time we get back.” Mclean ducked out before Darwin or Kitchens could even respond.
“No, I’m going to ditch out on both. I need to logout and test a few things in real life,” Valerie said, half bowing her head, half just leaning forward, before she disappeared.
“Umm, I probably need to report back to Charles and tell him I’m his new mole,” Kass said, cringing a bit. This whole thing might feel slimey, but everyone is okay with it, and you’re going to get a lot of money, she reassured herself as she walked back to a safe spot for a temporary log out. She wasn’t sure if she had Charles’s number, but she knew her dad would know how to reach him if need be.

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