Darwin walked to town in shock. The entire three-hour trip felt like it passed by in minutes as he wrestled with his thoughts for control of his mind. The conversation with the woman who claimed to be his sister had left much for him to think about. He had carried Kass’s body out of the dungeon before it vanished like it had the last time she logged out. It was like that it didn’t vanish earlier because, with enemies still around, the game wanted to see if her character would die while she was unconscious. He was kind of happy to not have her around though with all the things he had to think about. The fight with the polar bear Burriza and the amazing weapon it dropped were overshadowed by the Job Class his ‘sister’ had given him. Tiqpa Character Screen. Tiqpa Skill Screen.
Job Class: Soul Knight
EXP until next Level: 92110
Total EXP: 1184665
Soul Charges: 13
Soul Sever (Level 1) Killing enemies grants one charge. Killing enemy players grants ten charges. If an enemy player is killed the enemy player will lose one level.
Soul Collector (Level 1) Allows the user to hold up to 50 soul charges.
Soul Eater (Level 1) Temporarily consume all soul charges (a minimum of 30 soul charges is required) to fully restore hit points. Grants user +25% all stats for 180 seconds. May only be used once per hour.
Soul Forge (Level 1) May use soul charges to level NPCs (requires new level in soul charges, example: To level an NPC from 29 to 30 it will require 30 soul charges). Requires physical contact or alter contact to use.
Demonic Command – May recruit fatally wounded monster NPCs (may only recruit monsters of or below the user’s level. The number that can be recruited is dependent on the Rank of the user).
If Darwin hadn’t been so absorbed in his own thoughts, he would have noticed that something was wrong sooner. He would have caught the obvious signs: the pillars of smoke rising from the village, the empty fields devoid of farmers, the barren roads with no NPC traders and, worst of all, the silence. There were no guards to interrupt his meandering into town. There were no people to break his train of thought as his feet carried him to the place he was, after just a day or two, already starting to call home. There was nothing to prepare or warn him for the sight of Captain Elmont lying bloodied where the door to the tavern used to be.
“Darwin, it’s you.” Elmont coughed, and one of the other NPCs attending him where he had been cut down paled at the sound. “You made it back.”
Darwin shook himself out of his thoughts from one shock only to fall victim to another. “What happened? Old man, what happened to you?” he asked, staring blankly at the Captain lying before him. Elmont’s body covered up with a bedsheet like he was already dead.
“It was that black-armored group. They came through the town. Darwin . . . don’t . . . don’t go in there. The bartender and his son are dead inside. I did my best to defend them, but they were after the coin set aside for the king’s taxes.”
They don’t belong here. They are a pestilence on creation. His sister’s thoughts echoed in his head. They, who have no understanding of death in our world, will rip apart the fabric of our society.
Darwin cleared his thoughts. She didn’t know what she was talking about. This type of thing wasn’t a common occurrence for gamers. It was only a PK guild that would do this. On Emerald Gardens, there were a few prominent PK guilds, but they were only an extremely small minority of the player-base. Most players, however, were simply people who honestly wanted to make their virtual world better.
Darwin pulled himself out of his thoughts yet again and back to the Captain. “Elmont, before you die, I have something that I really need to say. I . . . I finished the quest.”
Elmont looked at Darwin and chuckled, coughing up blood as he did so. “Is that really what you have to say, boy? Out with it. I know that look. I don’t have much longer, no matter what that healer says.”
“I’ll do what needs to be done, Elmont. I’ll save those who are left,” Darwin said, knowing he didn’t have to say it at all.
“No promises of revenge then? You’re better than I thought you were, boy. Here, the bastards who did this didn’t manage to find this on me. Take it. I know it’s kind of short notice, but I need a favor from you. I need you to take my Rank. Between the 8th Legion’s death and this, there aren’t any captains left in Valcrest. Take my Rank and rebuild.” Darwin saw him struggle with each breath to finish his request. For some reason, even though they had only known each other for a day or two at most, Darwin felt like he had known Elmont his whole life. Like Elmont was a big brother.
“Elmont, it’s okay. You can rest. I got it from here,” Darwin said, kneeling beside him and taking the last gifts he had left to offer. It looked like he wasn’t going to get his quest completion.
You have received the Captain’s Emblem
- You have been offered the position Captain of Valcrest. Do you wish to Accept or Reject?
Accept. You bastard. I just got a promotion and now I don’t have a drinking buddy to celebrate it with. “Thanks, Darwin, I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” Elmont said. He passed away as quietly as a man closing his eyes for a nap.
Darwin brought up the Captain’s Emblem from his inventory to inspect it. Captain’s Emblem: when carried, raises the level of all NPCs commanded by +5. All nearby allied players will receive +5% to all stats. Darwin blinked as he read out the properties. First the Class, then the Rank, and now this item. The game really is putting the pressure on me to be a commander. Tiqpa Character Screen.
Job Class: Soul Knight
EXP until next Level: 92110
Rank: Captain of Valcrest
Total EXP: 1184665
Soul Charges: 13
Rank: Captain of Valcrest. Darwin had heard in the tavern enough to know what the Rank Captain meant. It was a tier three Rank, meaning he could now recruit up to a hundred NPCs for whatever objective he had in mind. He could promote two of them to the Rank First Lieutenant and ten of them to the Rank Second Lieutenant under him. The point of the promotions within the Ranks was to make sure he didn’t have to micromanage all one hundred NPCs, as each second and first lieutenant could command nine or forty-nine NPCs respectively. Not that any of this would do him any good. The entire town had just been wiped out and there probably weren’t any good NPCs to recruit from.
As he walked through the town of charred and dead NPCs, he couldn’t help but remember the bonds he had made with each of them. They hadn’t been long or in-depth connections, and Darwin felt as if he was forcing himself to feel sad. Whether or not it was forced, however, the feeling was there. These NPCs, these people, had somehow managed to live richer and fuller lives with more emotion than he had ever enjoyed while playing games every free hour of the day with people who didn’t even know his name.
The bartender had a son, a wife, a family and patrons that relied on him. Now he was charred meat for the crows. Elmont had spent his entire life without a family, but he guarded the city and probably knew every soldier’s name and family. Now he was dead on the streets. They don’t care about the people of this land, only the things they can take from them. Her voice rang through his head again. Was she right? How can they see lines of code as anything close to being real or significant? I didn’t until I got stuck here. They were just quest givers and item droppers.
As he walked further towards the fountain, the binding spot for Valcrest, he saw more and more of the destruction: burned houses, destroyed homes, and butchered NPCs. God, this is terrible. What was the difference between them, me and Kass? Are their feelings real or just a series of reactions programmed to simulate the appearance of emotions?
“Sir, what would you like us to do?” a voice interrupted his contemplations.
“Umm, excuse me? Can I help you?” Darwin responded, looking at the soldier who was questioning him. He was a young recruit, even younger than Kass. He had a clean buzz cut, a spear, and the standard issued chainmail every guard in the town was wearing.
“Yes, sir. I’m reporting for duty. You are the current Captain of Valcrest, correct?” he asked.
“I guess I am.” What? How many jobs did I get with one promotion? At this rate, I’ll go from the Bathrobe Knight to the Bathrobe King. “What do you usually do when you report in?”
“Me, sir? I’m a scout. It’s one of the few reasons I’m still alive at the moment. I was patrolling the direction they didn’t attack from,” he responded, eyes cast to the ground.
“So then you know the situation for the whole town right now?”
“Yes, sir. We’ve had heavy casualties: all but seven of the military are dead. Civilian deaths don’t go past the merchants and families living on the wall in the square. The problem is that we’ve taken severely heavy damage to the buildings because of the fires. All in all, around 80% of the village won’t have fully functional roofs for weeks until the thatching is finished. That means we’re going to have people freezing in their own burnt and nonfunctional homes.”
“What about our defenses?”
“Like I said, we only have seven military personnel including myself.”
“I see . . .” Darwin began to think. As a raid leader he had often organized the players for defensive and offensive struggles against tough odds but never for defending a town. While he didn’t know how tough the group that had done this was, he knew that another group would do the same once the coffers were fat. He also was aware of his limitations. If he tried to stay in town and defend it 24/7, then he wouldn’t level and would likely be overwhelmed just as quickly as Elmont had been.
“Anything else, sir?”
“Yeah . . . actually, what authority does the Captain of Valcrest have? On the domestic front? And which direction are the farms?”
“Well, normally the captain has no authority over civilians, but the mayor died in the raid too. So, I suppose that makes you the highest ranked person in town. As long as the command isn’t ridiculous, the civilians will most likely obey until they get a new mayor elected. As far as where the farms are . . . Well, they are on the east side. It’s why the town traditionally had an army to protect it against the White-Horns.”
Darwin tried his best to think of a ridiculous command that he could give the town after being posed the challenge, but came up empty-handed. He was about to resign himself to doing nothing about the situation when an idea finally struck him. “Scout, what’s your name?”
“My name? I’m Yoo, sir.”
“Huh? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m m . . . Your name is Yoo, isn’t it?” Darwin caught himself before he fell prey to the cliché joke.
“Yes, sir. My full name is Justin Yoo,” the guard answered with a straight face.
Don’t facepalm, Darwin. Don’t facepalm. You know his name was probably picked out by a programmer with a sense of humor. “Justin, I want you to mobilize the civilians. Tell them to pack their bags and head out of the east gate. Tell them to only bring what they can hold in one trip. And this last part is crucial, so you need to pay attention to it very closely, do not let any of those that aren’t residents of the town see them leaving. Let me see your map, and I’ll mark the rendezvous spot.”
“Are you sure Elmont knew what he was doing when he promoted you, sir?” Justin asked, watching as Darwin marked a spot on his map.
“No. No, I don’t think he did, but given how few of us there are left, I don’t think he had much of a choice, did he?” Darwin laughed.
“No, sir. I don’t think he did.”
“Good. Then get moving, Justin. I don’t know exactly how long everything will take, or even how long we have, but we have a lot to do and I don’t want to spend all night working.”
“Yes, sir,” Justin said, rolling the map up and stashing it somewhere behind his back.
As soon as Justin left, Darwin opened his own inventory and pulled out the loot from the dungeon: Burriza’s Blade. It was a sinister-looking, one-handed sword with a curved four-foot-long blade styled and shaped to look like a bear’s tooth. He had first drooled when he saw the stats: 215 Damage with +10 to Power. Why couldn’t Burriza drop two of them? He cursed. His double-bladed axes barely had 135 Damage and didn’t come with any stat bonuses. He checked his stats with the blade equipped. Tiqpa Character Screen.
Job Class: Soul Knight
Power: 123 + 40
Speed: 123 + 25
Vitality: 87 + 25
Spirit: 51 + 0
Phys Damage Res: 44%
Elemental Damage Res: 42%
Increased Speed: 29.6%
Maximum Hit Points: 1430
I don’t know what my Race is, but it is so rigged. I never have to pick between physical and magical resistances, or HP and Damage. My Race needs a nerf. That said, the importance of items versus stats is definitely evident. My stats are way higher than they should be with just a few good items. Oh well, time to stop gawking and get to work. I’ve only got an hour or so until the townspeople are going to be waiting for me.
He went out north of the town to where he had heard of lowbies hunting ogres. Their levels weren’t high initially, with a few reaching Level 15, but their HP and Damage were supposedly very high. That was for the better though–he needed scalable mobs.
He rushed at the first one with his Burriza’s Blade, but as soon as it saw him, it swung a wide arc at Darwin. Darwin dodged back and tried to get in again, but once more the wide arc came at him. He knew if he kept dodging back and trying to dash forward before the maul came swinging back, he’d probably never get in close enough for an attack of his own. He dove this time, sliding face first under the weapon’s arc like a baseball player reaching for home plate. It worked. The problem now, however, was that he couldn’t stand up fast enough to counterattack. The Ogre swung his maul straight down at him, forcing him to roll to the side and do a pushup to pop up before the second Maul hit the ground right where he had been lying. Crap, what now? he was forced an inch to the side while the monstrous ten-foot Ogre began his horizontal attack again. Screw it! Closing the distance as fast as he could with his Burriza’s Blade, he aimed right at the Ogre’s throat.
- Critical Hit! You have done 615 Damage!
- You have gained 1 Soul Charge.
- You have gained 15 EXP.
615? Wow, it actually has damage reduction. That hit should have done close to one thousand. Darwin was impressed with his choice of monster. Even being mitigated, the damage was still enough to count as a kill shot.
Darwin activated Demonic Command for the first time and used it on the dead Ogre. It caused the Ogre to shrug off its fatal wound and stand back up as if it had never been hit in the first place. And they made fun of me for my red eyes as a kid. He smiled at the creation. The Ogre did indeed look just like it had when he first approached it except for two crucial details: it now had a strange tattoo-like pattern over its left eye and its eyes had changed from brown to red. Is it a Zombie? Can the Ogre finally realize it needs a brain?
- Please name your Monster.
Name him ZombOgre01
- ZombOgre01 has been successfully named.
Add ZombOgre01 to Party.
- ZombOgre01 has been added to your party.
Darwin inspected ZombOgre01 in the Party Window: Level 14+5. Not bad, but not where he needed him to be. He captured another Ogre, ZombOgre02, and then decided since he still had time before the meeting, he would make the most of it. By the time he left, he had managed to raise ZombOgre01 and ZombOgre02 to level 27+5 each. Since the soul charges built at a rate of one per kill no matter what he killed, he had taken the two ZombOgres to kill small woodland creatures as quick as he could gather them. At times, they were able to kill as many as a dozen in a minute if he could reach them quick enough. Every swing of the blade was a kill.
The most amusing part was the faces of the townspeople and remaining guards when they saw him approaching with two red-eyed Ogres. Before they had spotted him and his two companions, they were just standing around silent, as if speaking was a sin and smiling was blasphemy. When they saw him, however, their faces lit up–just not with a smile. Instead, it was a pale panic that spread through them at the sight of his two ZombOgres approaching.
“Umm, sir. Are you sure it’s safe to be traveling with that type of company?” Justin Yoo spoke, the first to voice the concern that the group was sharing.
“These?” Darwin asked, indicating the ZombOgres with a nod of his head. He looked back and forth between the few hundred townspeople carrying belongings and the seven guards that remained of Valcrest, unsure of what to say to put their minds at ease. In the end, he decided to just wing it and just explain properly. “These are my slaves. Can’t you see how they have red eyes now? Their souls are mine.”
The whole group broke out in whispers. Darwin couldn’t catch them all, but he definitely heard a few pieces that made him frown. “He’s the devil who killed an entire army of White-Horns with just a spoon?” “So it really is him, the Hero of the Spoon.”
“Look at the red eyes! He really did steal their souls . . .” They kept whispering among each other. I’m right here you know? I can hear you . . .
“Quiet!” one of the guards whose name he didn’t know spoke up, silencing the crowd. “The Captain has commanded us here for a reason, and I’m sure he doesn’t want us burning daylight jibber-jabbering. Now file in, stay quiet and await orders. I don’t want to be here when night falls, and I don’t want the Spoon King upset because we were too rowdy.”
Darwin was about to complain about the new nickname, Spoon King, but the guard had been successful. He had both silenced the crowd and somehow managed to get them to tighten up and even stand taller.
“What’s your name, soldier?” Darwin asked, deciding it was best he capitalize on this guard’s charisma.
“Alex, Captain,” the tall young guard said, standing at attention. “Second Lieutenant of the Western Scout’s Division.”
“Alex. This is where we are heading. Take your scouts and put a formation around the townspeople during the trip to make sure they don’t get attacked or hurt along the way. If anyone goes missing or gets lost, make sure they make it to this location by nightfall.”
“As for the rest of you . . . I’m sorry your town is gone, but you need to trust me when I say that we can’t stay here. That group broke the only semblance of defense Valcrest had, and other groups will come to clean up what they left behind. We can try to get the rest of your belongings in the future, but it’s in everyone’s best interest if we don’t show up on anyone’s radar for the moment. Now, does anyone have any questions or complaints with that?”
No one said a thing. They all knew that he was right. It was just one more reason, on top of the dead family and friends, that they had looked like a funeral procession more than a mob of townspeople when he had first approached them. The air was still sick with bleak sorrow at the losses they had just suffered, and at the very least, Darwin was determined to take away their fear.