Kass found herself laughing the more and more she talked to Minx. It was like ten pixie sticks worth of a sugar rush had been rolled up in a busty, five-foot girl and given the personality of a high schooler who just got her first part in a play and her first boyfriend at the same time. Who couldn’t smile while talking to her? It quickly made sense how Darwin had managed to get snagged up and pushed into their quest with this pair–because it was fun. In fact, it had been so fun goofing off and talking to Minx that she hadn’t even noticed the time fly by. Truthfully, she never realized how long they had been because they reached their destination in what seemed like no time.
“Is that a . . .” Darwin said from behind her, his eyes pinpoint focused on the opening in the wall of the mountain where the marker on the map had lead them.
Kass facepalmed as she saw it. “Yes. Yes, Darwin. It looks just like a silver ore mine.”
“Think we’ll have any Turtle-Wolves?” Darwin wondered. “Maybe even another polar bear playing poker?”
“Is that where you met your faction members?” Kitchens asked. “A silver ore mine?”
“What? Oh, no, the Turtle-Wolves aren’t members of the faction,” Kass tried her best to explain without saying they were undead monsters, “They’re more like . . . helpers?”
“Ah, you can hire helpers?” Kitchens seemed to ask more questions than he gave answers.
“I wouldn’t know how we got them,” Kass decided to shift the responsibility of the impromptu Q&A session on to Darwin. “He’s the one who obtained them. Ask him.”
“Well?” Kitchens pressed.
“Trade secret. Only faction members are allowed to know,” Darwin said with a grin.
That’s not fair. You can’t just dodge questions, old man. Even I want to know how the Zombie skill works, Kass thought angrily at Darwin who just kept his grin up.
“Now, if you were to, say, join the faction . . . perhaps I could tell you a few of its secrets,” Darwin continued to Kass’s surprise. He had only ever recruited people who had asked him to join. He had never actually gone out and sought new members actively. True enough, he had supposedly given a big speech one time to the NPCs that riled them up and pulled them into the faction, but they had already been under his command. He had just sealed the deal.
“Does the faction come with dental?” Kitchens asked.
“Afraid not. Too many canines in the mix with all the Turtle-Wolves. The bill would be hell,” Darwin joked back.
“Hmm,” Kitchens took on a serious pensive look then, glancing over at Minx for a moment before looking back at Darwin, said, “Do you have a good daycare program?”
Wait, is she his daughter? I mean, she acts like a kid, but is she actually? Kass thought, scrambling mentally to try to figure out how old the little one was. In her mind, she had placed her at somewhere between six and fourteen, but she still couldn’t put her finger on it. Now, with the daycare comment, it was starting to lean a lot more heavily towards six or eight.
“We have a lot of children in the faction, actually,” Darwin answered, causing Kitchens to look a bit surprised. “Some are pretty much infants.”
He hasn’t figured out that all but four of us are NPCs, has he? she thought. So if they joined, we’d have one group that thinks the players are NPCs and another group that thinks the NPCs are players, she mused to herself.
“I see. Well, I’ll certainly think about it,” Kitchens answered.
“Minx wants to join!” Minx interrupted the two of them talking. “Can we? Can we?” she asked excitedly, although with Minx it was hard to tell if she was more excited than normal or not.
“Not yet, Minx. Let’s decide after the quest,” Kitchens said, putting his hand on her head. “Let’s be a little patient.”
“But mister is really nice, and big sister is fun. I want to group with them more!” Minx insisted again.
“Well, if you still want to join after the quest, we will. Okay, Minx?” Kitchens said, rubbing her head and messing up her hair with his hand.
“‘Kay ‘kay.” She didn’t put up a fight. “But remember after that you promised.”
“I will,” he assured her. “Promise.”
Yep. We got two more members, Kass laughed to herself. Most of the time when she joined guilds, they stayed the same size or tended to get smaller. Unless it was one of the big server raid groups, there wasn’t a lot of draw for people to join one. In fact, it was rather the opposite: small groups would fracture inside of a guild, and then the whole group would end up breaking up into a series of separate entities based around the cliques. This guild was starting to turn out different though. Rather than one large organized body fracturing into cliques, it was more like a group of cliques, like Valerie’s three White-Wings, were coming together to form a large, organized body.
“Do you want to risk, you know, just walking in?” Darwin asked the others. “I actually don’t have any idea of how strong the bandits we’re going to fight are. We could ask around, get some intelligence, figure things out from there, or we can just walk in. What do you guys think?”
“Ugh, talky talky so boring. Only old people go to the movies to watch people talk,” Minx said, running ahead of the other three.
“She’s very decisive,” Kass noted before chasing after her. Darwin and Kitchens must have taken their time–they seemed to like dragging behind her and Minx–because she didn’t hear them following after her.
That said, she probably should have also taken her time when navigating the torchlit ore mine and waited for backup. She didn’t make it more than thirty feet into the dungeon before she found Minx standing still and staring at a wall of four enemies, each with a bow pointed at her. Never a dull moment with this kid, is there?
As Kass looked at the four Human archers, she noticed two of them had already switched from Minx to her, training the arrows on her vital spots. “So,” she said, raising her hands like it was a western, “why haven’t you fired the arrows?”
“I don’t know about the other gentlemen here,” the tallest of the four archers said, “but I typically find it bad luck to kill a woman and child in cold blood.”
Kass should have just been happy with the development, but the sexist mark really angered her. “What? Because a woman and child can’t take care of themselves? I’ll have you know I’m just as tough as any man!”
“I’m sure of that, lass, but I mean to say that if you kill a woman or child in cold blood it always comes with some scary, angry man attached. That’s what I mean to say by ‘it’s bad luck,’” he explained.
“Guys kind of like us, you mean?” Darwin asked, walking in fashionably late with Kitchens.
“Yeah, kind of like you two. Except, if the lasses here were dead, I imagine you’d be angry.”
“You’re right on that.”
“See there, lass? It wasn’t sexist: it was reasonable,” the archer said, feeling rather proud of himself.
“Well, actually,” one of the other archers looked over at him, “it still is kind of sexist. Your statement is kind of implying that either women don’t seek revenge, or you’re not afraid of an angry woman coming after you for seeking vengeance.”
“Oh, that’s true. That would be sexist, but only if you accept one of those implications. It could be that only a woman and a child were present, so I merely felt no need to add in an adult male, an absent demographic, to the considerations when formulating my response to the lass’s questions. Maybe I don’t kill in cold blood at all if I can avoid it,” the archer reasoned further.
“Well, it still is kind of demeaning to women to narrow them out by their gender and not other qualifications though, don’t you think?” a third archer from the group of four chimed in. “I mean, is her defining characteristic really the fact that she’s a girl? You could have said, ‘I don’t kill dagger-wielders or mages.’ So, why did you pick women and children? Seems a bit ageist and sexist, you have to admit.”
“Well if I did that, you’d get on to me for being classist or weaponist, now wouldn’t you?” the first archer, the one defending himself, said.
“You could just say you don’t kill people. You don’t have to separate them, you know,” the fourth archer said, joining the discussion. The entire time they were bickering though, Kass found herself baffled. On one hand, she should probably be scared that a loose finger or slip of the hand might cause a good amount of pain. On the other hand, however, there was something decidedly unintimidating about a group of men arguing over what was or wasn’t politically correct when describing how they don’t kill people.
“Well, how cool would that be? There isn’t really a ring to, ‘I find it to be bad luck to kill people in cold blood,’” he protested.
“There you go again with separating people. How do you know she’s got cold blood? Does she have scales? Seems like you’re gonna end up being offensive to the Reptilians there.”
“Fair point, fair point,” one of the other archers, not the one defending himself, agreed. “You really should just stick with: ‘I don’t like to kill people.’ I think it’s your best bet if you don’t want to be offensive.”
“Ummm,” Kass decided to join the conversation. “You could say when you don’t like to kill people? It might add some pizazz and effect to it. For example, ‘I don’t like to kill people on an empty stomach.’ I don’t know when you ate. That might or might not be a lot scarier than just saying you don’t like to kill people, but it’s definitely more interesting.”
“Lady is right. For sure. Go ahead, Reginald. Give it a try. See how it feels. If you like it, it might stop you from being so offensive next time.”
“Fine! Fine! I’ll give it a try,” he shouted at the other archer. Then, true to his word he tried out the line: “I wouldn’t take one step closer, or I’ll have to kill you, and I don’t like to kill on an empty stomach.” He paused for his moment and then started nodding his head. “That really worked. I mean, I felt that one. Did you guys feel that one?”
“Yeah, it was pretty awesome. Felt tight. Really had me going there, Reggy.”
“For sure. It fit you like a glove. See, you don’t have to be offensive to have a solid line,” he said to his buddy and then turning to Kass, “Thanks, miss, for helping him out.”
“No problem, I guess? Does this mean you’re not going to shoot me?”
“Oh, heavens to Betsy, no. We still have to kill you if you move an inch closer. Rules and all,” he shrugged. “But, if it makes you feel better, I’ll feel super terrible while I do it.”
“Well, you could show us the door or force us to fight you . . .” Darwin did his usual pause for dramatic effect in the middle of a conversation, “Or, you could let us talk to you about how we can help with your King problem.”
King problem? I thought they were a problem to the King, not the other way around. What is Darwin talking about? Kass wondered as the archers untrained the bows slowly and then all at once put them up.
“Alright, we’ll take you to the boss, but no funny business. One slip up from any of you, and they’ll cut our rations. I’d rather not sink what little money I have left into belts.”
“You’ve got nothing to fear. I wasn’t born with a good sense of humor,” Darwin assured the worried archer.
“Are you sure about that? I mean, have you seen how you dress?” one of the archers asked Darwin as the group of eight started walking deeper into the silver ore mine. “There is no way you picked that outfit without a sense of humor.”
“Right? Seriously, man. If you weren’t intending that to be funny, then that outfit is a desperate cry for help,” Reginald joined in.
“I like my outfit,” Darwin said, looking down at his bathrobe. “It’s comfy.”
“Well, at least someone does.” The archers’ attacks were relentless.
“The boss might too, I caught him wearing white in the winter,” Reginald laughed. “His tastes might be just as bad as yours.”
I really hope I never sound like them, Kass thought to herself, remembering all the times she had teased one of her friends about their outfits. I really, really hope that I never sound like that.
“Mister, mister! Don’t listen to them. You look cool. Super styles!” Minx said, pulling on Darwin’s bathrobe.
Kass thought for a minute about joining her in reassuring Darwin that he didn’t look stupid, especially since the bathrobe had been designed to match her white dress, but then decided that she would take the low road. “Well, at least he’s not wearing all black leather armor. I can’t tell if you all go to the same dungeon or if it’s just the same open mic poetry club.”
“Miss, that was just uncalled for. Louie here is an excellent poet. There is no need to tease him about it,” the archer who had first argued with Reginald said, eliciting nods from the other three.
“He really is. You should go sometime and listen.”
Kass had to struggle to resist the urge to facepalm yet again. “I’m sure he is,” she said, doing her best not to sound sarcastic. How did I get held up at arrow point by these four bozos?
“Hey, do you guys feel something funny?” Louie asked, looking at the other seven.
“Like funny ‘ha ha’ or funny ‘strange’?” Reginald questioned as they kept walking.
“Funny ‘strange.’ I’m not the only one who feels it, right?” Louie continued, “It also smells different in here.”
“Louie, we’re in the middle of an ore mine,” one of the still unnamed archers said. “Of course it’s going to smell different. Did you expect it to smell like a garden of orchids and lilacs? Or are you trying to say one of us farted so bad it made this dung hole smell worse?”
“No, no, listen to Louie for a minute, Steve,” Reginald said, putting out his arm and stopping the group of them. “I think he’s right. Do you not smell that?”
“What, it doesn’t smell bad at all?” Steve said, sniffing in overly exaggerated gestures. “It just kind of smells like–”
“Like unripe tomatoes,” Kitchens interrupted the quarreling guards. “Cover your mouths!”
Everyone put a hand over their mouth, but for some it had been too late. Louie and Reginald, the first two to notice the smell, found themselves leaning against a wall and then sliding to the floor. Steve and the other archer followed suit with Minx not far behind.
Kass looked around, panicked. She didn’t know what was going on. She had covered her mouth, but she was already starting to feel the effects of whatever was invading her system. The cloth in front of her face was doing little to nothing to protect her. She saw Darwin and Kitchens running back the way they had entered, but as Kass tried to follow she soon found her legs giving way and starting to wobble. Before she knew it, she had tripped and was lying face down on the ground. “Darwin . . .” she managed to say softly, reaching in his direction as he barreled towards the exit. “Darwin . . . don’t l . . .”
You have been knocked unconscious. You have fifteen minutes until you will regain consciousness.
Again? Really? Why can’t I enter a silver ore mine without getting knocked unconscious? Kass cursed, still worried about her friends. This was just like the time with the poker playing bear, except at least this time it was only a fifteen minute wait and not a two hour one. However, the short time aside, it didn’t assuage her concerns over what would happen while she was out. He’s Darwin, right? He’s killed a Hydra by himself. He’ll be fine. He’ll be okay. I mean, there’s no way anything can hurt that doof. Nothing has ever hurt him. . . She found herself doing her best to reassure herself despite the fact that Darwin was short a team and probably about to go into a fight. It didn’t help ease her mind that she wasn’t even aware of who or what he was up against and whether or not he was even conscious at the moment. He’s Darwin. He’ll be fine . . . He’ll be fine.