As they approached the tavern, Lee began to feel like that word might be extra generous with all things considered. It was nothing more than one large, two-story building, which in and of itself made it stand out from most buildings in Satterfield, which had the first floor of the building with stone wall and the top floor with wooden, but still had the same thatch as the rest of the buildings for the roof.
Although upon entering the establishment, it was clear that it lacked in any sort of natural lighting, it was populated from left to right with enough candles to make Lee rather impressed the place hadn’t burned down yet, or at least it looked old enough on the outside for him to make that assumption. There was also a severe lack of proper tables when he walked in. Instead of the large, wooden, pull-up-a-chair. circular tables or the bench-friendly long tables, there were only giant, table-high stones with their surface cut flat and smaller stones circling them for people to sit in.
The only familiar part of the entire room was the long wooden bar counter with one man–who happened to be in the most dapper outfit he had seen in town–cleaning a stone mug as he whistled out an unfamiliar tune.
Cheapest place in town . . . Is this why the place is so inexpensive? Lee pondered before voicing his curiosity. “Why aren’t there any proper chairs or tables at all?”
“Hellions and Hooligans is why!” The barkeeper’s loud voice shattered Lee’s train of thought as he set down the plain stone cup. “Before those rapscallion upstarts began coming to town, this whole place was filled with the finest chairs, tables and even mugs a man could carve, but they kept breaking stuff, so I sold it all and got a bunch of rocks. That way, if they get out of hand and start tossing it around at each other, they’ll be left in the hospital but I won’t be left with the bill. The stone chairs end fights much faster when tossed than flimsy wood.”
“So how often do fights happen?”
“One or two a week,” the bartender answered as he pulled out two new cups and poured fresh drinks. “They used to be much more common back before we started getting the occasional bard with a proper lyre.”
“Hopefully no one starts anything tonight. I just need to relax,” Lee said, taking the beer as it was put in front of him.
“Well, consider this first drink for the two of you on the house. Mr. Ying told me what you did for that girl of his, Ling, and this is the least I can do to thank you.”
“You know Mr. Ying and Ling?” Lee asked, trying to piece together how Ramon had figured out that he had helped save Ling so quickly. Didn’t we head right back? That just doesn’t make sense. Why do NPCs in every RPG always have super-fast telepathic communication methods . . . but I’m an NPC in this game, right? Do I at least get that too?
“Ramon knows everyone in town,” Miller said as he grabbed the beer and drank half of it in one go. “No, let me rephrase that: Ramon knows everything that happens in town. He’s the best bartender of the best tavern in Satterfield, after all, so how could he not?”
“The best, you say?” Lee figured he’d go along with Miller’s assumption, especially since he had just met the guy and he had already gotten a free beer from him. Not to mention, his eyes had perked up the second he heard the phrase ‘knows everything’ to describe Ramon. If there was one thing Lee knew as a gamer, it’s that info-booth characters like bartenders or game guides were priceless tools toward navigating a game world and finishing every quest with the least amount of effort.
“Well, actually, if you asked me, I would give Copper Lane the prize. Their service is a solid eight out of ten, and that’s not even counting the affordability of their high-class dining,” Ramon answered, shrugging off the compliment. “There is also–”
“It’s okay. We don’t need another place. This one is perfect,” Miller said, cutting him off before his list could go any further. “But you see what I mean, Lee? He knows everything. Not to mention, he’s the most modest person you’ll meet. That’s what makes his place the best,” Miller said as he held up his glass and clinked it against Lee’s.
“It’s a good thing he has you to brag for him then,” Lee said with a laugh as he clinked glasses with Miller and chugged down the beer. He normally wasn’t one to drink. In fact, he found drinking dulled his reflexes during vital raid nights and often costs him money that he’d rather be spending on something permanent, like the gadgets and tools needed to automate his breakfast process and sink the start point to the custom-made alarm app on his cell phone.
“No bragging is needed,” Ramon said as he took Lee’s glass and started to refill it. “Just your patronage in the future will be good enough for me. Though you really should try the food at Haikai’s famous pastry sh–”
Ah, so it’s like that. Lee smiled as he watched Ramon pour the beverage. He does nice things for me now, talks honestly and acts like a friend, and in return he hopes to receive an equal if not greater monetary reward through my continued patronage. Sly man, Mister Ramon. Sly man indeed. Lee naturally assumed the worst of his magnanimous host. He had seen far too many ‘friendly’ waiters, waitresses, and bartenders in his time to not. Deciding to lean into the man’s play though, since he was at the very least a fountain of honest information about the rest of the town, Lee cut him off before he could talk about another establishment’s food. “No need. I’m sure the food here is just fine.”
“If that’s how you feel, then our establishment will have to do its best to live up to your expectations. What can I get for you? I highly recommend the mutton kebab with some cheese and some bread.”
“Yeah, sure, we’ll go with that.” Lee just nodded and agreed as he started working on his second glass of beer. He was surprised as he took another swig of what he expected to be the usual piss water he found in rundown bars or back alleys and realized how delicious the beverage actually was.
As he was enjoying his drink, one of the fancy, blue windows popped up in front of him to let him know he was intoxicated.
You are now inebriated. Due to your Unranked Level 2 Appreciative Drunk skill, stat adjustment has been reduced. Your inebriation penalty has been changed from -50% Intelligence, -30% coordination, -30% reflex, to -48% intelligence, -28% coordination, -28% reflex. You also have received an additional +2 to Courage and +1 to Charisma from Appreciative Drunk until your inebriation fades.
Wait, is that what it does? Is that what the Appreciative Drunk skill does? It lowers how badly alcohol tampers with my stats? Lee’s eyes shot open. He was half-shocked because he didn’t realize that alcohol was so detrimental to a player’s stats. In truth, he had also completely forgotten about the ‘locked’ skill that even the game prompt tutorial wouldn’t describe for him.
Appreciative Drunk also has the property of changing all combat proficiency skills while under its influence. The following skills have been changed to their Appreciative Drunk counterparts and will remain in their changed form until you are sober.
Unarmed Combat has been changed to Drunk Fu.
Swordplay has been changed to Tipsy Blade.
The prompt popped up to answer his question. Woah, so Augustus being the God of Alcohol and Crafts was no joke, Lee thought as he read off the list of changes. I wonder if any of those would be useful, though, given the low coordination and reflex stats I’d have while under the influence.
“This intelligence hit from drinking sure is something,” Lee said as he read over the stats again. It normally drops you -50% intelligence? That’s realistic, but still such a huge hit. What happened to games where drinking different liquors makes everyone awesome at stuff? Isn’t there supposed to be a buff for consuming bottles of concoctions, not a penalty?
“Well, it’s not like it matters at this level,” Miller laughed. “I mean, half your intelligence is only one or two points, right? Who cares about losing one or two points. It’s only for those people who master their arts and really stack intelligence that it matters.”
“One or two points?” Lee frowned. My intelligence has been reduced to 52% of what it was, which is barely under 11. I’ve lost at least 10 freaking points of int, depending on how this game rounds. “So you have lost only one point of intelligence?”
“Well, yeah?” Miller suddenly seemed to have no problem metagaming with an NPC. “Because I was pretty smart in real life, my starting intelligence was incredibly high: 1. Then I got another one-point boost for unlocking the Unranked Spear Level 1 without even having a trainer. Justice was my teacher during training and battles!”
Wait, what? He only got one point for unlocking a skill without a trainer? And he only started at one even though he was really smart? Lee smiled at Miller, putting a hand on his shoulder and trying to mimic the comradery. As this guy continued to prattle on and on about how smart he was, which Lee seriously doubted, he couldn’t help but feel grateful. The man had given him the first clue to a question he had been asking himself since he had first been taken, albeit not continuously: Why me? As soon as Miller started talking about how high his intelligence was when he ‘started,’ Lee remembered that Augustus had made fun of his own intelligence stat. The condescending deity had said it was ‘zero’ and that he was an ‘idiot.’
Lee had been so overwhelmed with everything that he just took Augustus’s statement at face value, but when he first made it into the world, the ‘exotic’ languages the game had somehow pulled from his head had boosted his intelligence by five to a total of ten. That meant that even at level zero his intelligence had a base of five, so even with Miller’s usual over-the-top confidence, if the Firbolg felt like a starting intelligence level of one one was something to brag about, then his five couldn’t be something players would easily laugh at. Not to mention, the fact that he got two points of intelligence where Miller only received one, that was definitely something to note.
I knew it. I knew all those years I spent studying in college, playing games and reading books had left me with better than average smarts. Lee grinned. This was a big reveal. The only remaining question he had was why did the god lie about it? It was a question he likely wouldn’t answer before he got a chance to see Augustus again, but a question he would be sure to remember asking too.
“Here, have another one on the house,” Ramon said, interjecting himself back into the conversation as he refilled Miller and Lee’s glasses again.
“That’s . . .” Lee appreciated the first one, but as they kept piling on, he felt a little uncomfortable accepting this man’s generosity. Especially when he hadn’t been the one to volunteer toward saving the girl, but rather his zealous companion. “That’s really not necessary.”
“No, no, I insist,” Ramon said as he just continued filling the glass despite Lee’s protest. “Ling works here often when we get too many tourists, and she’s like a daughter to me in a way. If she had gone missing like those other villagers, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Those other villagers?” Miller’s eyes shot wide open, and his ears perked up as much as a firbolg’s could. “Are other villagers going missing too?”
“Yeah . . .” Ramon frowned. “They’ve been plaguing our village for weeks. We’ve tried to hunt them down when someone goes missing, but each time we send out a militia or brave new adventurers, they always come back without a single clue as to where the bandits are taking their victims. At this rate, we’re worried we’ll never be free of their grasp. That’s why, around this town, you’re a hero. You’re the first one to stop one of their little kidnapping parties.”
“But there can’t be more than one bandit party, can there? We killed them so it should be fine, right?” Miller’s eyes began to open wider and wider, causing Lee’s heart to race as he realized the trap that Miller would walk straight into if this barkeeper offered them a quest.
I know it’ll seem rude, but quick, how do I get out of the party? Lee asked his AI prompt-generating assistant. Get me out of this party before he accepts another quest! Lee’s heart started beating even faster.
Error: As a non-party-leading NPC, you are allowed to generate new party invite requests. You cannot leave the existing party until you reject a quest that the party leader accepts.
So I’ve uncovered another penalty to being an NPC, Lee sighed. But at least this means if I reject the quest as Ramon gives it out, I’ll be fine.
“We estimate there are dozens more held up in some secret base that none of us have been able to locate. Unless someone can track them down, find their camp, and clear it out, we’re going to be dealing with them for a long time to come. It’s just a shame no one can sniff them out.”
Lee braced himself for Miller’s inevitable reply, and he wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
“That’s no problem at all! Our friend here, his God can find anything. Isn’t that right?”
Lee just frowned as he mutely stared at his burdensome groupmate.
“We’ll take on the challenge! We’ll find their base and let you guys know where it is in no time. With Lee and his god Augustus, this won’t be difficult at all.”
‘Well, actually, I’m afraid I’m going to have to turn down your request this time,’ is what Lee wanted to say in reply. In fact, that’s what he thought he was saying as soon as his mouth opened. But no sooner did he try to push the words out, than an entirely different string of words exited his mouth and a new prompt let him know why.
Your Courage has prevented you from turning down a quest due to cowardice.
“I could not in good faith stand idly by and watch more people get killed without helping,” were the words that left Lee’s mouth instead. I’ve been had! Lee cursed as he began feeling the constraints of being an NPC weigh on him even more. The fact he could feel little Ethan, who probably knew his thoughts as well as he knew the tiny, clay mouse’s, giggling away at his suffering didn’t help matters either. Then a thought struck him: it failed to let me reject it out of cowardice, but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn it down for other reasons. “There’s just one problem, I’m afraid even if I wanted to lend a hand, I don’t think I will have the power to help you right now.”
Your continuous manipulation of words to bend the truth has increased your skill in deceit.
“What do you mean? Are you worried they’ll be too powerful and kill us? After our last fight, don’t you have faith that justice will carry us through to victory?” Miller’s confidence bordered at the level of a mental handicap.
Lee put a hand on Miller’s large shoulder as he assured him, saying, “I have no doubt that we can, through wit”–he felt the need to stress the possibility of using underhanded methods so Miller didn’t get the wrong idea–“overcome any obstacle. I’m just afraid that I have already burdened my god to help out those not of his faith twice in this town, and he might not hear my request a third time,” he answered to another kick from Little Ethan.
The faces of Ramon and Miller, both of whom were jubilantly smiling moments ago, fell flat before slowly sinking even further into a frown. Lee was positive that, if he could read minds, he’d be listening to each of them cursing this ‘silly superstition’ and grumbling at Lee’s overt push to gain extra followers. “So you’re saying we need to pray as well, or you might not help us?” Miller asked.
“I’m saying you need to pray, or he might not help us,” Lee corrected. “Through faith, all things are made.” Lee did his best priest impression, remembering the sermons he had heard when he was dragged to church as a child.
“I, umm, I’ll get around to that,” Ramon brushed it off, but Miller wasn’t so quick to dismiss it all.
“Do I have to worship him? If no, then I’ll pray with you if you’re positive it will help us find the bandits,” Miller readily agreed. “I just, I don’t know anything about your god, so I don’t think I can worship with you, but can I pray with you?”
“Hmm,” Lee was happy with his proselytizing success–emotional blackmail over potential harm to the villagers seemed to be way more effective than just kindly asking people to join his religion–but he also didn’t want to have to get into the nitty gritty of Augustus doctrine. “How about you just give the religion a starting try and read this book tonight when we’re done drinking.” Lee handed him the text. “Just remember to return it to me in the morning.”
“Okay,” Miller nodded as he looked at the book. “I’ll join your church if it means we can save those villagers.”
“That’s rather noble of you,” Ramon said, passing yet another beer over to Miller.
As Lee and Miller talked, which mostly involved Miller bragging about courageous and valorous achievements of other people whose names Miller seemed to expect Lee to know, Lee couldn’t help but overhear conversations around the room. It wasn’t like he was trying to eavesdrop and invade the privacy of other tables; it was just that their conversations were infinitely more interesting than Miller’s rather dry recounting of the time ‘the noble Blaise, Scottie and Travis’ conquered some other world.
However, he was rather glad he was listening in on those around him as his ears caught more and more information about the world from players who weren’t aware an NPC would be paying attention to them. One conversation was particularly edifying.
“I’m so glad this new server came up just a month before I died on the other one. I would hate to restart from level one again while even the noobs were over fifty,” the voice, belonging to a short, thin, pointy-eared man the AI identified as belonging to the Leipreachán race.
“Yeah, but that’s why they establish a new world every year for new players and us rerolls,” his buddy, another Firbolg like Miller responded.
So it’s not a brand new game. It’s just a brand new server, Lee thought as soon as he heard that. And death isn’t just as simple as respawning. If you die, you start over. That’s good to know. He felt somewhat relieved. He didn’t like the idea that death had penalties in a video game, but if he had to suffer an awful death penalty, they needed to as well. Lee hated the idea that he might get in a feud with a player, kill the player, only to have to spend the rest of his life in this game worrying about the player coming back and killing him where he slept. At least now he could take comfort in the fact that every level he gained would be that much greater of a distance between him and any player he loosed from his mortal coil. There was only one thing that bothered him: why did it work like that? Who would sink months into a game when a single death could put them back at square one? Most MMO players and RPG fanboys avoided hardcore games at all cost.
Lee continued listening, hoping to find an answer, but the rest of the information was about where to buy weapons, great places to shop for armors, and the continuous griping about shows and stories from a real world that Lee had no idea about. Other than the fact that wherever the players came from was leagues ahead of Lee’s own homeworld in technology, it didn’t seem like the people were that different culturally.
“Alright, let’s get some sleep and tackle this bandit quest first thing in the morning.” Miller’s departure snapped Lee back to his own conversation.
“Yeah, sounds good.” Lee agreed.
© Charles Dean and deannovels.com. 2015-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Charles Dean at deannovels.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.