Stomach Pains: Darwin


“Great Lord Darwin, I see you’ve been hard at work training!” A voice called out as it approached him.

Darwin turned around to see the male of the three White-Wings he had taken into his faction approaching him. He had apparently just returned from his scouting mission for the StormGuard Alliance. “Well, I was going at it pretty hard, but my trainer went off to take care of some business. Now I was just thinking about going into the Captain’s cabin for some rest,” he said, suddenly becoming conscious of the fact he was holding two spoons like they were deadly blades.

“Yeah, that trainer of yours has some interesting methods,” Daniel noted as Darwin quickly put the spoons away.

“If they work, they work. I trust him well enough,” Darwin said with a shrug.

“That’s true, and you’d know best. Speaking of which, something’s been on my mind since we watched you at the beach battle earlier. How come you never use any moves? I mean, you’re at least Level 40, right? Shouldn’t you have some cool skills you can activate? Don’t most people pick their professions around Level 30?” Daniel asked.

“Wait, so you’ve given up on treating me like an NPC?”

“I have now. I figured your response to a question like that would let me know if I needed to keep up with the Great Lord Darwin stuff. Wait, I don’t need to keep up with that, do I? That’s just what you make the NPCs call you, right?” Daniel looked nervous for a moment like he was trying to sneak around at night, one of the floorboards had creaked loudly, and now he was waiting for a moment to see if anyone heard it.

“No, you don’t have to call me that. I don’t think I even asked them to. They just started doing it on their own,” Darwin said, causing Daniel’s momentary look of anxiety to fade. “Not that I don’t enjoy it. It sure beats the heck out of the things I used to get called.”

“Dork? Geek? Nerd? Dufus? Idiot? Dweeb? Loser?” Daniel started to list off some familiar insults.

Darwin thought for a moment about correcting him, telling him that, no, it wasn’t those but rather an entirely different set of insults he had gotten on a daily basis. Things like: ‘freak,’ ‘monster,’ ‘experiment,’ ‘soulless,’ ‘dog boy’ and the other random insults that had been lobbed at him when his classmates had noticed his strange physique. It was just the natural reactions of any child to something he doesn’t understand, but they were still biting insults none the less. Not that adults were better–it was just that by the time he had reached adulthood, he was already so well accustomed to hiding who he was that no one was given the reason to cast such malicious remarks at him. After considering it for a moment, Darwin decided to just agree with him instead. “Yeah, some of those, for sure.”

“It’s okay. I used to get them too. My dad was an avid gamer, so I followed suit like a good son. I even beat the old NES Contra without losing a single life,” Daniel said as he played with an imaginary NES controller using his hands for visual effect. “So yeah, been there, done that, glad the VR came out.”

“Heh, that’s very impressive. Anyways, you were asking me about skills?”

“Oh, yeah, Chief, I wanted to know why you don’t use skills in combat. I mean, I’m a Scout-type Rogue, so most of my skills are only usable outside of combat, but even I got a few good ones when I finally made up my mind and picked out my specialization.”

“You picked a specialization? And you were Rogue then a Scout?” Darwin was more curious now than he had been earlier as to how spoons were a necessary training tool against anything other than a ramen demon.

“Well, uhh, no. You pick a starting ‘type’ of Base Class, then you pick a Job Class for it. For instance, there are a ton of different Rogue-type jobs, but, because I wanted to specialize in movement speed and stealth, I picked the Scout Class instead of one of the other more popular Rogue jobs like Assassin or Thief that might be more useful for other things.”

“Would you believe me if I told you I was logged into this world so fast I didn’t even have a chance to change my name?” Darwin laughed to himself at his own private joke.

“Did you just, like, do the VR equivalent of button mashing the whole way through?” Daniel cocked an eyebrow at Darwin.

Darwin wondered if stomping on a burglar’s face over and over again counted as button mashing. “Something like that, yeah. All I know is that, as soon as I ran into this game, I was already in Tiqpa, and before I had a chance to complete the tutorial, I was already in combat.”

“Dang, talk about a trial by fire. So you haven’t gotten to the skill section of your tutorial then, I take it?” Daniel nailed it on the head. “Have you ever thought of just loading the tutorial back up and going through it again?”

Darwin had touched the tutorial once or twice, but most of it had been originally locked due to his unique race and class. Whereas Daniel was a Rogue Scout, Darwin still didn’t even know how to access his skills. “I thought you said you were a gamer . . .” Darwin decided to just appeal to Daniel’s gaming nature. No gamer would want to go through a tutorial, even if he wanted all the information inside.

“Fine, fine, don’t do the tutorial, but at least let me walk you through some of the basics. I’d hate to think my new boss in the game got killed because he didn’t even know how to use skills, not that I see that happening anytime soon. First, let’s start with the basics. Use the Tiqpa thought controls to open up your main menu. Just think ‘Tiqpa Main Menu,’ and it’ll bring you to the main menu instead of the character screen they usually like to start you on.”

Darwin followed along quietly as Daniel explained the system, nodding as Daniel covered each point.

“Okay, once you get there, you should notice that there is a series of buttons underneath your character screen, do you see them?”

“Yeah, I do.” Darwin said with a little bit of open-mouthed wonder as if noticing them for the first time. Why didn’t I think to check for this? he thought as he read through the list. Character Screen, Inventory, Friends List, Map . . . Skill Tree. There it is! Ugh, why didn’t I check it sooner? “So what now?” Darwin asked as he opened it up.

“Okay, now that you’ve got the Skill Tree tab open, you’ll see a series of choices you’ll have to make and specializations you’ll have to pick from. Basically, the further in the game you go, the more you’ll have to make your character fit you. For instance, when I hit Level 30, I had to pick between three different trees a Scout can take: Lightfoot, Tracker and Guerrilla. I took the Lightfoot tree because it boasts stealth and speed-related skills that help Valerie, Mclean and me get around more easily. Speed wins wars, and travel time is definitely the worst part of most games.” Daniel leaned against the glass rails as he kept talking.

“So, you picked a Job Class that doesn’t specialize in combat in a game where fighting is the only way to level?” Darwin thought, thinking the notion was kind of off.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that, but I did it mainly because this game isn’t just about fighting. Sure, combat gives you experience, but the blade going in and out of an enemy isn’t the only part of combat that matters. I mean, if we were fighting some trash mobs, how long would it take to actually kill them?”

“Ten? Twenty seconds? A minute? It depends how large the camp was . . . Oh, I see.”

“Right. Even though the experience comes from the kill, a lot more goes into the kill than just your blade or my dagger sliding into the back of some desert bug. Even if it increases the time it takes to kill an enemy by ten or twenty more seconds, effectively doubling it, if it halves the downtime from three or four minutes to one or two minutes, wouldn’t you say the rate I gain experience would be a lot higher?”

“I’m guessing Lightfoot has skills that help out your surrounding allies with their speed issues too, or else it would be useless. If you still have to wait around for your allies to catch up, wouldn’t that mean you’d have to either go solo or travel with a group of only other Lightfoots to take advantage of the reduced downtime?”

“Yep. That’s dead on the money. For every Lightfoot that you’re grouped with, the entire party will move a little faster. Abilities only stack so much, but a group of three flight-friendly Lightfoots, for instance, can easily outpace almost everything else in the game by a mile. Granted, though, that’s only because every choice I’ve made on my skill tree I’ve pushed towards group-oriented speed buffs.”

“So, I take it other Base Classes besides Scout have that option?”

“Yeah, but you won’t see it often. In that fight on the beach, I didn’t see even a single party designed with augmentation in mind, which is good because even you’d have to struggle if you fought a well put together team of PvP-oriented players who knew how to stack buffs and synergize their auras and shouts to properly compliment one another. Ten warriors who only specialized in pure damage skills and focus can’t do more damage than ten buff-focused warriors.

“Hmm, I’m guessing the damage classes do a lot of damage then to make sure people don’t just only pick skills that improve the group?”

“Yep. It’s all about getting the group to work together, especially since each additional version of the same group buff will have diminishing effects. That’s why at a certain point, a group will still want damage-oriented classes in the mix that aren’t focused solely on buffing since they’ll get the full boost of the buffs, and the benefits will work out better for the party.”

“I see. How exactly do the skills work?”

“Well, if a melee class thinks about doing a combat skill while completing the activation movement, it’ll activate the skill and create the effect. For example, it isn’t a class specific skill, but White-Wing dagger-wielders naturally get a skill called ‘Dive.’ All we have to do to activate the skill is think about diving and tightening the wings and just dive at the enemy of our choice. Then, instead of normal damage when we hit, it will give us a damage bonus based on our speed of impact. It works out well with the Lightfoot class because it’s the only skill we have that we can stack our speed with the impact of the skill and deal out practically four times our standard damage per blade. It’s almost always a one-shot kill on NPCs under our level.”

“Wow, and here I thought I was rigged.”

“Well, you still have to reach the enemy and manage to land the attack before he dodges or parries. So, as you saw during the battle, it’s a lot more effective on low-level NPCs who don’t have built-in combat reactions than it is on players who are fighting for their lives. I think part of the reason the White-Wings didn’t crush the opposition before you even showed up was because they were cocky, arrogant and unprepared for any real defense. Their confidence was too high from clearing easy prey, and they didn’t know how to handle enemies that would actually fight back properly.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that feeling. A lot of them barely even moved, like they were in shock when I dodged one of their dives. I think I saw one guy’s mouth open in horror when I moved to the side and sliced him in half with his own momentum.”

“Ouch. Easy, boss. That might be me one day if I go against someone who is faster than I am,” Daniel said as he cringed. “I’ve only died once so far in this game, but it wasn’t an experience I want to repeat again, much less from being cleaved in half by a guy in his bathrobe.”

“Hey, this bathrobe is fashionable!” Darwin did his best to defend his choice of attire as he looked down at his now-treasured wardrobe.

“I have no doubt you believe that,” Daniel smirked. “Though, if I was going to go around in a real world outfit, I’d pick a tuxedo or something. Call me agent Moon, Moon Moon.”

“Dangit, Moon Moon,” Darwin played along with the meme.

“Of course, I’d make sure my tuxedo was nice. You wouldn’t want to go all Jackie Chan and end up with a bad tuxedo right before a fight.”

“Jackie Chan wore a tux?” Darwin had watched and loved almost every one of the action star’s movies, but he didn’t remember him ever dressing up before his fights.

“Oh, don’t you remember that one movie, The Tuxedo? Anyways, back to the earlier topic. Since you probably haven’t selected a skill tree yet, given you didn’t even know where the menu was, you should only see three descriptions of available specializations, right?”

“Ah, yeah. I don’t think I’m going to find much on the forums to help me there,” Darwin said as he brought back up the skill menu.

“Well, if you want, you can always come to me for help, but otherwise I’m going to leave you to it for a moment. Don’t want to cramp your style and have you accidently Forrest Gump the decision because your annoying new subordinate was talking your ear off during the selection process.”

“Thanks, and thanks for the gamer-friendly tutorial. I’m just glad no-one else got as detailed an explanation as I did about class combat and mix-and-match party boosting skills, or I might not have lived this long.”

“No problem. Even if they had been given those type of explanations, it’s likely that everyone still would have gone damage-only classes and skills. People are selfish, and while they understand the significant impact of cooperation and team-oriented combat, they still want to be that one damage-dealing guy who takes all the glory. It’s just like basketball or soccer: everyone wants to be the guy shooting the ball, and no one really remembers or watches the people who support him. Blame society, not the tutorial.”

“What about Valerie and Mclean?”

“They’re like me. Teamwork-oriented, but, then again, there is a reason the three of us got to Level 40 before almost every other White-Wing, and there is a reason we do so well together. Birds of a feather, you know.” Daniel gave a wry smile to go with the terrible pun.

“Yeah, I know. Anyways, thanks again for the help.”

“No problem. See you round, Boss. Also, you may want to remember and consider all this helpful advice I’ve given you when it comes time to talk about a raise, or at the least when it comes time to divvy up a dungeon’s spoils.” Daniel tipped an imaginary hat and turned to strut off down the deck, but he made it only a few paces before Valerie and Mclean showed up and stopped him where he could still be seen by Darwin. Darwin chuckled in amusement as Daniel’s attempt at a suave exit came up short.

Alright, time to check out these skill trees, Darwin thought excitedly, getting back to business. He had done very well for himself–or at least he thought he had–without a skill tree, so he felt confident that an extra level of abilities and powers would only make his job that much easier. He was also excited because, as Daniel pointed out, it seemed like Level 30 or 40 was the big milestone for actually accessing anything besides the original Base Class skills.

When Darwin finally pulled up the ‘Skill Tree’ menu, he was greeted with two prompts right away filling him in on the different options.

Congratulations! You have become the Leader of a Faction with more than fifty members! Faction and Guild leaders that surpass the minimum population requirements are given a bonus skill tree on top of their chosen specialization skill tree based on their Class. As a Soul Knight, your bonus skill tree is: Dread Commander. Unlike normal specialization skill trees that will offer skill choices as you level up, this tree will only offer skill choices as your Faction or Guild grows more powerful. How powerful your Faction or Guild is will be based on its population, average Level, total resources, and amount of territory controlled.


Well, this is going to get a whole lot more complex than I imagined, Darwin thought as he read it to himself. He was good with numbers, but without a calculator on hand he was really hoping the game did all those calculations for him. Some games did, which left him hopeful that this one wouldn’t be any different, but others considered even DPS calculations something each person should figure out on their own–even though half the numbers were hidden and the player would have to bust out fraps and other tools just to find out simple things like attack speed. Wait, how would you even do that with a virtual reality game? Darwin suddenly became curious as to how third party applications would run on the type of console needed to operate this type of device. He had never downloaded a game or played an MMO without immediately looking at CURSE and other third party add-ons. Darwin then looked at the second prompt.

You have reached Level 40! You may now take on a specialization for your Job Class. There are three different specializations the Soul Knight can choose from:

Soul Fiend: A Soul Fiend feeds off the essence of souls harvested during battle. They are granted special skills and passive abilities that buff and enhance them during combat. The more enemies that are killed by a Soul Fiend during battle, the stronger the Soul Fiend will become. A Soul Fiend also receives a boost to the skills Soul Eater and Soul Collector.

Spirit Siphoner: A Spirit Siphoner specializes in stealing and manipulating the enemy’s spirit. This can take the form of draining an enemy’s life or even converting an enemy before a fatal blow has been dealt. A Spirit Siphoner also receives a boost to the skills Soul Sever and Soul Collector.

Blood Blade: A Blood Blade specializes in harnessing their life force and channeling it into offensive combat skills. A Blood Blade is given skills that sacrifice the user’s Health in order to deal single target or AoE Damage. The Blood Blade is also given the ability to harness and use blood as a weapon during combat.


This feels like a decision I shouldn’t rush into. It’s not like some sort of shotgun wedding from the 1900s, Darwin thought as he looked over each one of the titles. Ugh, no real particulars or stats mentioned on any of the skills, he grumbled. He had come to expect it from the game. He had even been glad when the damage per hit notification system stopped working. It wasn’t that it wouldn’t have been helpful for others, but for him it was absolutely useless given he had no way of knowing how many hit points the enemies had.

As he looked through one skill after the other, Darwin could only become more and more confused as to what to do. There wasn’t really an augmentation skill to help him out like Daniel had taken, and he wasn’t sure he could always rely on there being a full party with him like Alex might be able to. Then again, there would likely be plenty of scenarios where just he and Kass would get stuck, and Kass already had spells that augmented his damage and speed.

The Soul Fiend buffs don’t seem to help anyone but me. Stack that fact with the buffs from Kass and others, and I probably shouldn’t go with Soul Fiend, so that leaves two choices, Darwin slowly puzzled the scenario out. Now, between the two remaining, I’ve got either Blood Blade or Spirit Siphoner. Quick Damage in a pinch can definitely be the difference between life and death, especially with how many hits these bosses are taking without an instant ‘I win’ button. But, not knowing how many hit points are needed to activate a skill and how much damage it will do, it’s kind of hard to commit to it. I guess the only real option left is Spirit Siphoner. In the worst case scenario, it will give me a crappy health steal I never have to use, Darwin finally decided as he reached his hand out at the non-tangible display out of habit.

Tiqpa, I pick the Spirit Siphoner, Darwin thought happily, eagerly waiting to see what skills he would get.

Due to your Race, selecting a specialization has been locked. You have been given the specialization: Soul Fiend.

You are now a Soul Knight with the Soul Fiend subclass. You have been granted the passive skill Hunger.


Darwin’s mouth dropped. What the–? Why would you taunt me like that? You offer me a choice and then take it away as soon as I make a decision! Why? Is this what would have happened if Neo had picked the blue pill instead? He wanted to get angry, and was about to, but then he saw the benefit of the Soul Fiend subclass and decided that he was actually rather happy it had been taken.

Your skills have been upgraded!

Soul Eater has turned into Soul Devourer – Temporarily consume all soul charges to fully restore hit points. Grants user +50% all stats for (Number of Souls * 5) seconds. This skill will automatically activate upon receiving a fatal blow. May only be used once per hour.

Soul Collector – This skill now allows the user to carry (Level + 10) souls.


That’s not exactly an ‘I win button!’ but it’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to one these days. Dang, now I’m really curious about what Soul Sever would have turned into.


Please choose between one of these abilities:

With a Cherry on Top! (Passive) – Each kill yields one additional soul charge and a 1% damage bonus (fades after 300 seconds out of combat).

Ever had an ice cream sundae without the cherry on top? Nope? Then why start now?


Broken Hearts Make Smaller Bites! (Passive) – Each kill of the opposite gender heals user for 25% of max health.

It’s not always good looks that leave a heart broken in two. Sometimes it’s just a well placed blade–which is perfect because the heart is much easier to chew in small pieces.


Darwin looked at the ‘opposite gender’ part of the ‘Broken hearts make smaller bites!’ skill, then at one of the turtle wolves and frowned. How would I even tell what the gender of most monsters are? Would I have to awkwardly check? Do most monsters even have a gender? Darwin sighed. If I was a girl, that skill would be pretty overpowered for large group combat, but as a guy I feel like it’s pretty useless.

Tiqpa, I pick ‘With a Cherry on Top!’ Darwin thought, causing the skill to glow for a minute while the other turned gray and then the two went to their respective places on a large tree that wasn’t visible earlier. Unlike the first choice, the one about which specialization he wanted to pick, he was actually rather confident that he made the right choice this time. As the abilities went to their place at the very bottom of the skill tree, he noticed that below them, already glowing like the ‘With a Cherry on Top!’ skill, was the passive ‘Hunger’ that had been mentioned earlier. While he couldn’t see it himself, he could feel from the blood rushing out of his face as he read the skill’s properties. He had somehow managed to grow even paler than before.

Hunger (Passive) – Hunger causes the Soul Fiend to lose 1 soul charge for every five minutes he is out of combat. If the Soul Fiend has no soul charges to be consumed, then the Soul Fiend will begin to lose hit points at a rate of 1% every hour. Magic, items and natural health regeneration can not restore hit points lost as a direct result of Hunger. Consumption of a soul charge will restore all hit points lost from Hunger. Fatal Damage received by Hunger will not trigger the activation of Soul Devourer.

“The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One percent per hour . . . that means, I have to kill something roughly once every four days or I’ll die, and the longer I stay out of combat, the harder my next fight will be. Darwin suddenly felt panicked. He had capped out his Soul Charges during the battle at the beach, but all fifty of those charges would only buy him four hours at most before his health started draining away from Hunger. Why did it make me take this specific specialization? What was the point of forcing this curse on me?


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