Lee was curious they approached the tavern. Although they had spent a large part of the day searching through the small town, Lee hadn’t really taken the time to explore many of the buildings. He had a fair sense of the town’s layout at this point, but he was still clueless as to what many of them were officially. Every structure was almost identical in construction and appearance, and he had a bit of trouble understanding exactly what the signs out front were meant to depict.
As it turned out, the tavern was no exception to the rule: it was nothing more than a two-story building comprised of grey stone walls on the base floor, a wood-built second story and the same thatch roof as every other structure in town. It also became clear why Miller had described this the cheapest place in town as soon as he stepped foot inside. The windows had been boarded over from the inside, so there was absolutely no form of natural light streaming in, and there were so many candles placed around the room that Lee was actually impressed the place hadn’t burned down yet. Further, there wasn’t a single proper piece of furniture anywhere to be seen. Instead of traditional wooden round or long tables, there were giant, waist-height stone slabs with flat-cut surfaces designed to function as a table and smaller stones placed around them to serve as seating.
The only familiar sight in the entire room was that of the actual bar–a long wooden counter set on the side of the room with a single man behind it who was cleaning a stone mug and whistling an unfamiliar. Other than the fact that he was wearing the most dapper outfit Lee had seen since arriving in this world, he could have fit in almost anywhere.
Cheapest place in town . . . Is this why the place is so inexpensive? “Why aren’t there any proper chairs or tables?” Lee pondered aloud, voicing his curiosity.
“Hellions and hooligans is why!” The barkeeper’s loud voice answered back. “Before those rapscallion upstarts began coming to town, this whole place was furnished with the finest chairs, tables and mugs a man could carve! But those rascals kept starting fights and breaking everything, so I sold it all and replaced it with a bunch of rocks. The stone chairs end fights much faster. If anyone gets out of hand and starts tossing things around at each other now, they’ll be left in the hospital, but I won’t be left with the bill!”
“How often do fights happen?” Lee asked.
“One or two a week,” the bartender answered as he pulled out two new mugs and poured drinks. “They used to be much more common back before we started getting the occasional bard with a proper lyre. Seems that music does soothe the savage beast–even if he’s drunk.”
“Well, hopefully no one starts anything tonight. I really just need to relax,” Lee said, taking the beer as it was put in front of him.
“Well, consider your first drink on the house. Mr. Ying told me what you did for that girl of his, and this is the least I can do to thank you. My name is Ramon, by the way.”
“You know Mr. Ying and Ling?” Lee asked. Of course he does. This town isn’t very big at all, so everyone probably knows everyone else. Still . . .We came straight here. How does he already know what we did? That just doesn’t make any sense. Why do NPCs in every RPG always have super-fast telepathic communication methods . . . Wait, I’m an NPC now, right? Do I at least get that too?
“Ramon knows everyone in town,” Miller said as he grabbed his 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 in the best tavern in Satterfield, so how could he not?”
“The best, you say?” Lee figured he’d go along with Miller’s assumption. He had just met the guy, and Miller had promised to buy him a beer, so Lee wasn’t going to rock the boat by challenging him too soon. Not to mention, Lee’s ears had perked up the second he heard Miller use the phrase ‘knows everything’ to describe Ramon. If there was one thing Lee knew for certain, it was that characters like bartenders or rumormongers were priceless tools when it came to 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 accounting for 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 ever meet. That’s part of what makes his place the best.” Miller held up his glass and clinked it against Lee’s.
“It’s a good thing he has you to brag for him,” 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, slowed his thoughts and often cost him money that he’d rather be spending on something more permanent. like the gadgets and tools needed to automate his breakfast process and sync it 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. “Your continued patronage in the future will be sufficient. Although, I really do suggest that you try the food at Haikai’s Pastry Sh–.”
Ah, so it’s like that. “There’s need,” Lee said, cutting Ramon off before he could talk about another establishment’s food. “I’m sure the food here is just fine.” Lee smiled politely 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. For now, however, he was going to to lean into the man’s play since he was, at the very least, a fountain of honest information about the rest of the town,
“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?” Ramon asked. “I highly recommend the mutton kebab with some bread and cheese.”
“Yeah, sure, we’ll go with that.” Lee nodded his agreement and started working on his second beer. He had only expected the usual piss water that was typically found in rundown bars or back alleys, but this was far better. He was pleasantly surprised how good it actually was.
Surprisingly, though it shouldn’t have been at this point, 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 Appreciative Drunk skill does? It lowers how badly alcohol tampers with my stats? He had never realized that alcohol was so detrimental to a player’s stats. He had been so caught up in trying to stay alive during all the fights earlier that he had completely forgotten about the ‘locked’ skill that even the game prompt 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.
Sneak has been changed to No Squeaky Floorboards Please.
Woah, so Augustus being the God of Alcohol and Crafts was no joke. I wonder if any of those are going to be useful, 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, I guess, but still such a huge hit. What happened to games where drinking different liquors made 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 only lost one point of intelligence?”
“Well, yeah?” Miller suddenly seemed to have no problem metagaming with an NPC. “I was pretty smart in real life, so my starting intelligence was incredibly high at 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 point, even though he was really smart? Lee smiled at Miller and placed a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to put on a display of camaraderie as the Firbolg prattled on and on about how smart he was–which Lee seriously doubted. Still, Lee couldn’t help but feel grateful. The man had unintentionally given him the first clue to a question he had been asking himself since he had first been taken: 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’ statement at face value. When he made it into the world, however, the ‘exotic language of English’ the game had somehow pulled from his head had boosted his intelligence by five to a total of ten. That meant that his intelligence had actually been at a base of five, even at level zero. Despite Miller’s over-the-top confidence, if the Firbolg felt like a starting intelligence level of one one was something to brag about, five was astronomical. There was also the fact that Lee had received two points of intelligence when Miller only received one. That was definitely something worth taking note of.
I knew it. I knew that 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. That said, the question now was why Augustus had lied 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 to ask.
“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 began to feel a little uncomfortable accepting this man’s generosity. He hadn’t even been the one to volunteer to save the girl–that had been his overly zealous companion. “That’s really not necessary,” Lee finished.
“No, no I insist,” Ramon said and continued filling the glass despite Lee’s protest. “Ling often works here when we get too many tourists, so 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 suddenly seemed much more interested in the conversation than he had a second before. “Have other villagers gone 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 them. 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 now, right?” Miller asked anxiously.
Lee felt his heart begin to race as he realized the trap that Miller was going to 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 not 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 I’ll be fine if I reject the quest as Ramon gives it out.
“We estimate there are dozens more holed 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?” Miller asked, turning to look at Lee.
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.
Wait, 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,” Lee began. “I’m afraid that I don’t have the power to help you right now, even if I wanted to lend a hand.”
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 clearly bordered on the level of being a mental handicap. Lee put a hand on the other man’s large shoulder and said, “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 in this town twice already, and he might not hear my request a third time.”
Ramon and Miller’s faces both fell flat as Lee finished. Lee was positive that they were both 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 said hesitantly, clearly brushing it off.
Miller, however, 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 solemnly. “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, 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 and kill him only to have to spend the rest of his life in this game worrying about the player coming back and seeking vengeance. 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 does 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 notice of departure snapped Lee back to his own conversation.
“Yeah, sounds good,” Lee agreed.
“Here, room #4 is open.” Ramon popped by with perfect timing, handing Lee an old-fashioned bronze key.
Since there wasn’t more than ten rooms in the entire building, Lee was easily able to find room four on the second floor rather. The room was quiet, but it felt cold and damp compared to the central room, and there was only two lit candles giving off illumination. He half expected there to be either a stone slab for him to sleep on or a coarse straw bed, but he was pleasantly surprised to find a nice, queen-sized mattress. It lacked any spring or bounce, and wasn’t exactly made of foam, but it was heaven after walking around all day in leather office shoes. Shoes. That’s exactly what I need to get first thing in the morning: shoes for walking, Lee thought as he slid his loafers off of his feet and laid back on the bed.
He had thought that given his circumstances, given all he had gone through and the fact he was so far away from his actual home, he wouldn’t have gotten any sleep. However, whether it was the eleven beers he had managed to consume during his evening with Miller or the three life and death encounters he had managed to endure in the last twenty-four hours had racked his nerves to exhaustion, sleep seemed to come easily. Now that he was finally alone, feeling safe with no pressure at all, relief washed over him like a cold wave and he found himself entering sand land faster than he ever had in his real bed.
Lee awoke in the middle of the night to a loud, insistent, mouse squeak inside his head. The incessant series of chips and shrills pulled him to consciousness with a sense of urgency, and it took Lee a moment to figure out where he was and what was going on as he pushed away the thick fog of confusion caused by sleep and too much alcohol. Little Ethan sounded off again, and Lee picked up the gist of what the small mouse was trying to tell him: danger.
What the hell is going on? Lee immediately sat up in bed as quietly as he could and clutched one hand to his head. He was a little slow coming to his senses, but he urged the mouse to tell him more anyway and quickly learned that there were two men outside of the door to his room working on picking the lock. Ethan’s ears were sharp enough to hear their conversation on the other side of the door with such clarity that Lee might as well have been wearing headphones and listening to a tape of their discussion.
“You sure this is his room?” one of them said in a hushed tone.
“Yeah, positive,” a second voice replied quietly. “The dude was getting drinks all night for free, the NPCs were talking about him, and he apparently cleared out some bandits.”
“So you think he got a fat reward and hasn’t spent any of it?”
“Exactly. Are you sure you can pick that? Come on, man, this is supposed to be in and out. I don’t want to get caught and have our faces flagged with the other NPCs.”
“Relax. Everyone is asleep. He’s probably asleep too. We can just throw a pillow over his head, get the EXP, take the loot and be out of here in no time. Hold on. Almost got it.”
You can’t kill people with the pillow. It’s too . . . Nevermind. Lee wanted to correct the idiot on the other side of the door, but at least the guy’s mistake let him know the fool was a player. Anyone who actually tried using a pillow to suffocate someone would figure out that it was made from far too breathable a material to stop someone from breathing. Even if it were usable for the purpose, it would take a lot longer than most people realize.
Lee shook his head and tried to clear away the last bit of fog that was still hanging on. He was at a bit of a loss as for what to do. The penalty for being inebriated was still in effect, and the reduced coordination and reflex were going to be a serious hinderance in a fight. He looked around the room for anything that he could use and noticed that the two candles burned down to about a quarter left and came up with an idea.
I hope a mouse’s night vision is good. Lee quietly stepped out of bed blew out both candles. Once the room was plunged into total darkness, he hurriedly stuffed a pillow under the bed covers so that it looked like someone was still sleeping there–a cheesy tricked he had always wanted to try after watching equally cheesy 90’s movies. After that, he spread out one of the large wolf hides on the floor in front of the door and then positioned himself against the wall so that when the door opened he would be hidden behind it.
Is there a way to communicate with my party members without being right next to them? He was hoping that the AI assistant would give him a response, but there was only a total lack of silence in return. Ugh. I guess the only point of having a party is to share experience and loot . . . and so that I can be forced into accepting awkward quests by a goodie two shoes with a hero complex.
“Got it!” one of the two men on the other side of the door exclaimed.
The door edged open after a very tense few seconds, and a bit of light flickered into the room from a dimly lit candle that one of them must have been carrying. Lee was immediately thank for the small bit of illumination. Even though he now instinctively knew that Ethan needed far less light than a normal mouse to see by, that small bit let him know exactly where they were without using his golem’s eyes.
The two men quietly crept into the room and then stopped just inside the doorway. Because of the way he had positioned himself behind the door, there was no way that either of the two would see him where he was hidden unless they turned around and looked directly at him.
“I don’t see him. Is he under the bed?” the human asked his companion, a Firbolg holding the candle. Lee’s pillow trick apparently hadn’t fooled anyone.
“Could be. He mi–” the Firbolg started to answer, but Lee was already in motion. He yanked back on the wolf hide as hard as he could and tried to pull it out from underneath them both. Unfortunately, his little trick didn’t work exactly as planned. Even though they were both caught off guard and thrown off balance, neither of them actually fell to the floor like he had hoped. Instead, they both turned to face Lee.
Lee instantly gave up on attempting his first plan a second time and moved straight to the backup. He pulled out his sword and swiped it at the Firbolg’s candle as quickly as he could. Despite the fact that his coordination was terrible from drinking, he was still at least partially successful. Rather than catching the candle and knocking it away as he intended, he still managed to cut into the Firbolg’s arm and cause him to drop the candle. When it hit the floor, the wax that had been collecting on the tray splashed over the flame and snuffed out the wick.
“Light!” one of them shouted.
Without any real source of light both of the two men were at a serious disadvantage. Even though there was only a small sliver of light leaking into the room from a crack in one of the shuttered windows, Lee was able to see what was going on because of his telepathic link to Ethan. Due to whatever innate bond they shared through the golem sculpting skill, he was able to see through the mouse’s eyes as if they were his own.
Lee quickly lashed out again with a second, horizontal slash and felt his blade cut into what he assumed was the Firbolg’s abdomen.
The Firbolg screamed out in pain as Lee’s blade bit into his midsection and began to wildly wave a club through air.
Lee stepped back a half-step and easily avoided the series of blind attacks. It was obvious the Firbolg was blind from how badly the blows had been aimed, and he had clearly been taking wild swipes hoping to get lucky. As soon as he saw an opening in the Firbolg’s attacks, Lee lunged forward and simultaneously jammed his shoulder into the Firbolg’s ribs and his blade into the man’s abdomen. The sword refused to penetrate all the way into the man’s gut due to the robber’s hit points, but the blade dug in far enough to do some serious damage.
“Are you okay? Where are you? Just tackle him! Grab him! If we can’t see in the dark, then he can’t either!” the human opponent barked over at his Firbolg buddy.
The desperate Firbolg took the other man’s advice tried to grab onto Lee. Two massive arms swung around to grab ahold of Lee, but with Lee’s sword between them, the larger man couldn’t get a good grip. Lee pushed forward for a second time and the two toppled onto the floor. Propelled forward by his body weight, Lee’s blade plunged even deeper into Firbolg’s gut, and at last, he finally saw the prompt he had been hoping for:
Your party has killed the player NoobSlayer. Your party has been awarded 92 copper, one pair of leather pants and 105 experience. Your share of this is 46 copper, one pair of leather pants and 53 experience.
One down, one to go, Lee thought as he rolled off his first victim.
“Where are you? Come on!” the human growled, slashing at the air randomly with a dagger as he slowly edged back toward the door. “Come and get me, you bastard!”
You break into my room and try to kill me for my crap? There is no way you’re getting away scot-free! Lee cursed the man under his breath as he tried to tug his sword free. Crap! Lee was forced to roll sideways and slide off the corpse as the midnight assassin’s wild knife attacks came too close to his head for comfort. He landed on the floor with a thud and immediately began scrambling to his feet but knew from Ethan’s eyes that the human had turned toward the sword of the noise. The man jumped forward and lashed out with low horizontal slashes, narrowly missing Lee. Now-unarmed, Lee scrambled back toward the bed and ducked behind one of the short, chest-high bed posts.
After jumping on the bed and rolling over to the other side, Lee did his best to remain as quiet as he could, hoping the madman with the knife wouldn’t hear him while he strafed away from the spot he landed. He used Ethan’s eyes to try and find anything he could grab in self-defense, but the only thing nearby was a chamberpot, which he reluctantly grabbed. There was a swishing sound as he lifted it up into the air. Well, I did have a few . . . Maybe I didn’t remember going. Lee could only hope he wasn’t holding someone else’s used chamberpot as he hoisted it up and held it out in front of him. Though it wasn’t much, it could potentially stop the man’s blade if he happened to lash out in the right direction.
“LEE!!” Miller’s voice rang from down the hall, and Lee turned to see light beginning to trickle in from the doorway. Lee turned back to find his attacker just in front of him and looking at the doorway as well, and he that he had to act quickly before the place was properly illuminated and he became an easy target.
He hefted the chamberpot with both hands and struck the thief across the head with it. The vile contents inside splashed over the man’s face and into his eyes. It wasn’t much, but it would likely stop him from being able to see before he was able to wipe away the stinking liquid. Lee kicked out and caught the man in the guy, forcing him to stumble backward, but before he could follow it up, Miller burst through the door. The larger Firbolg rushed forward and punched the man in the face with so much force that the human spun around he plummeted to the floor.
“Don’t hurt my friends!” Miller shouted as he set the candle down and grabbed the downed man by the neck and yanked him to his feet with enough force to let the whole world know: Miller actually does lift. He swung the man into the wall like a heavy pillow, let him drop, and then repeated the action a second time. “You don’t hurt my friends!” he shouted, banging the man again. Lee just stood on the sidelines, holding onto the chamberpot and watching the scene unfold. Miller repeated the action once more, and Lee heard the man’s neck make a loud cracking sound.
Your party has killed the player DrZaus. Your party has been awarded 2 silver, 15 copper, one pair of leather gloves and 105 experience. Your share of this is 46 copper, one pair of leather gloves and 53 experience.
You have learned the proficiency skill Sneak. This skill is currently at Unranked level 2. This skill improves one’s ability to stay hidden, move silently and act undetected.
Due to improving Sneak, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 22.
Due to prolonged use of Golem Sculpting, Golem Sculpting has been promoted to Unranked Level 4.
Golems created by Golem sculpting are now 5% more effective in combat. Current Combat bonus: 21.55%. Future Golem’s created by Golem Sculpting may now take up an additional 5% more space. Current Max Space: 2.43 fluid ounces.
Due to improving Golem Sculpting, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 23.
Miller continued to bang the man against the wall while yelling cringe-worthy phrases over and over, spewing blood everywhere while various other guests shuffled into the doorway one at a time to see what was happening. After a minute or two of savaging the wall with the corpse, he finally let it slide to the ground and turned to face Lee.
“Thanks, man,” Lee said to Miller. He looked around the room awkwardly, his eyes darting between people in the doorway, his bed, the two dead men, and the lumbering oaf that had run over to help him in his midnight fight.
“No problem. I had to come help when I found out you were in a fight,” Miller gasped between deep breaths. Smashing a human being against a wall had apparently taken a lot out of him. “If something happened to you, I’d never be able to find those bandits,” he added, as if this were the comforting part.
Well, I guess I have to give you points for honesty. “You found out I was in a fight?”
“Yeah, I got a, umm . . .” Miller paused, his brain clearly trying to decipher whether it would be appropriate to say ‘notification prompt’ to an NPC or not. “I just heard you and rushed right over.”
You can talk to me about stats and levels and stuff, but you can’t just say you got a notification? Lee wanted to laugh at the idiot who couldn’t make up his mind on what was or wasn’t meta gaming. “Well, I appreciate it either way.”
“What happened here?” Ramon’s voice came from the hallway as people made way to let him into the room. “Did someone get hurt?”
“Well, no, aside from them,” Lee answered, pointing to the two corpses.
“Why are you holding that?” Ramon asked, bringing attention to the fact that Lee still hadn’t let go of his final choice of a weapon.
“Oh, uhh, my sword . . . Sorry, it’s just . . .” Lee put down the pot, walked over to the dead Firbolg, and wiped his hands on a dry portion of his clothes. When he was finished, he wretched his sword free from the man’s stomach. “Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t mean to make a mess. I just–” Lee began explaining, and his overly-polite nature kicked into full swing before his rational brain reminded him: This isn’t your fault, you were almost assassinated. Don’t apologize. “I was attacked and had to defend myself,” he finished, without any more ‘I’m sorry’s.’
“Well”–Ramon frowned at the bodies–“I’d normally comp the customer for their room if this happened, but it’s hard to do that when you didn’t pay to begin with. How about I treat you to breakfast as an apology in the morning this happening to you under my roof.”
Back home, I’d probably get enough money to retire if someone’s lapse in security almost cost me my life, but sure, breakfast sounds fair. Lee just took in a deep breath and chuckled. “Will there be bacon?”
“Bacon?” the man looked at him inquisitively. “I’ve never had bacon. Is it something easy to prepare?”
Lee’s eyes stared at the man in horror. A world without bacon?! His heart stopped at the thought. Wait, Miller knows what bacon is at least, right? he thought, looking over to Miller to only see the same blank and confused expression that Ramon had on him. Is this a translator error? Is the word ‘bacon’ just not transferring properly? “You know, cured and smoked pork belly?”
“Never heard of curing and smoking meat,” Miller answered this time.
“We have pork belly, though,” Ramon offered while the rest of the crowd, still bunched up in the doorway, eyed Lee with increasingly confused looks with each new word that exited his mouth. The two self-defense murders in the inn they were staying at was common happenstance, but someone talking about different foods was apparently just plain strange.
“What about pizza? Or ramen, I mean, noodles?” Lee was beginning to think that this world was quickly turning into a dietary hell for a gamer like himself.
“Oh, we have noodles, but those aren’t really breakfast foods. You sure that’s what you want?” Ramon asked.
“Umm, how about we just go with pork and eggs?” Lee sighed.
“Sounds fine. Sorry again about this incident. I wish I could say it doesn’t happen all the time, but you know how these lands have been these last few months,” Ramon apologized and then excused himself out of the room, shooing the rest of the mute onlookers out with him.
After a few questions from Miller about why one would ever smoke their foods instead of just cooking them, Lee returned to his bed and tried his best to go back to sleep. He didn’t realize it until he laid down, but his heart was beating a mile a minute, and he must have felt like every nerve in his body was perked up and at full attention. Maybe it was because he was so hyped up and alert, but everything seemed . . . off.
Your actions and deeds have successfully converted one person to your religion. Faith has increased by 1. Current Faith: 1.
What does Faith do? Lee asked naturally, starting to become used to handling the game information system.
Each point of Faith the user has increases the ability of their deity to affect the world and increases the chance of their deity interfering on their behalf. As the Faith stat increases, physical characteristics and appearance may change. Faith also increases the chance for the user to resist curses.
Huh? May change? Like, do I get a halo or wings or something? Lee wondered as he read the prompt. I wonder who I even converted. Lee stared at the prompt, and then it struck him.
“Miss me?” A white mouse asked as it scurried up the bed post and onto the bed, little Ethan chasing hot on its tails. When Ethan caught up with the talking mouse, the real mouse turned and facepalmed with its tiny paw. “You get the ability to make any golem in the world, and you make one of me? I don’t know if that’s cute, annoying or sad. Personally, I would have made a tiny little samurai or ninja warrior–but I guess to each their own.”
Lee shrugged. “If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t really on purpose. I don’t really know how to work the golem sculpting yet, but he’s been very useful.” If it was anything but a mouse, I wouldn’t have caught that darn cat, and I wouldn’t have gotten my first convert. Then again, none of the rest would have happened, and I probably wouldn’t have come so close to dying so many times.
“So I’ve seen. I am surprised to find out that you were able to get a player convert so quickly. Most of them won’t read unless they’re antisocial or it’s required for school.”
So Miller actually read the book and joined the faith? Lee was slightly curious what could have prompted him to do that, but remembering Miller brought back an important question: “Why did you lie?”
“What are you talking about? I don’t lie. Everything I say is the whole truth and nothing but the truth . . . or something like that.”
“You said my intelligence was zero. You showed me a stat screen with my intelligence as zero, but after only gaining five points of intelligence, it said the total was ten. So, clearly, you lied.”
“You must have gotten a few points from the language. I didn’t lie.”
“Augustus, I can count. You lied,” Lee pressed. “Did you lie about sending me back too?”
“What? No, of course not. I didn’t lie about anything! Drunks are always honest! If you can’t trust a drunk god, who can you trust?” the mouse replied with feigned indignity. “In fact, I’ve come to bring you to your world right away! Mouse’s honor!” The little rodent put a tiny paw over its heart, and as it did, Lee’s world faded black again and all of his senses disappeared.
Rather than freak out and scream like he did last time, Lee waited patiently until he regained sight. He was hoping he’d be in his own world, or at least see something from it that he recognized, but instead he found himself in the middle of a Roman bath with trays of grapes, bread, dates and cups of honey and wine laying next to him.
“Go ahead and have a bite. You’ve earned it,” Augustus said. A moment later, he materialized into being as a giant bear again.
Even though Lee knew the massive bear was Augustus and wasn’t going to eat him, being face to face with huge, sharp-clawed animal was far from a pleasant experience. He found himself preferring when the god took a smaller, more-manageable and bite-sized form.
“I thought we were going back to my world?” Lee asked, picking up one of the bunches of grapes and examining it for any marks or signs that it might be poisoned.
“Hey! I said you would, so you will. Just relax and let me finish a few things. Also, here.” The bear pulled out a suit that looked like it handmade by an Italian guy who had been at the craft for ages. “Put this on. I can’t have you going around in . . . that.”
Lee looked down at his tattered outfit. Even though he had only been the alternate world for a day, his appearance shabby at best and downright degenerate at worst. His formerly neat and dry-cleaned attire was filled with holes, covered in blood stains, and marred with and tears.
“Yeah, probably a good idea,” Lee agreed and hurriedly changed into the new outfit. “This is a perfect fit.”
“Well, I am the God of Alcohol and Crafts. Tailoring is just one of the many crafts,” Augustus responded. “I’m keeping my word and sending you back, but you only have twenty-four hours until I return you to the next world, so get some rest. Half the reason I’m even doing this is prevent you from being hit with the fatigue penalty. If you stay awake too long, you’ll end up getting yourself killed and never get around to spreading my name.”
“What, you don’t want me to convert players?” Lee blinked.
“No, convert them all you like, just make sure you convert those NPCs–not that they could pass a Turing test if you pushed them–but I need them for . . .” Augustus’ demeanor suddenly shifted from calm and polite to angry in a split second. “Why do I have to explain it to you?” the bear roared. “So what if I lied about your intelligence? Why don’t you just stop hounding me and do what you’re told before I kill you off for fun?!”
If it had been twenty-four hours ago, Lee would have likely shrivelled up at the thought of a giant bear roaring at him from two feet away. Now, while it was still unnerving, he didn’t even flinch. He just stared the bear down. “I don’t think you will. I don’t think you can afford to lose me.” Lee felt a wicked grin appear across his face. “But if it means going home again, I’ll get you your stupid followers.”
The bear glared down at him in silence for what felt like an eternity. Lee did his best to meet its stare with an equal measure of determination and was finally rewarded after the silence broke. “Alright,” the bear conceded. “Fine. So long as you’re doing what you’re told, I’ll send you back to the moment after I took you. No one will notice. But I’m laying down some rules: Do not let anyone know about the other world. I’ll also let you bring back, say, a pound of that bacon you seemed to want for breakfast at the tavern. Understood?”
“I get it.” Lee, who had no positive feelings about this deity given the hell he had been through recently, just huffed out his answer and closed his eyes, waiting for the warp.
“You need to know something before you go,” Augustus added as he pulled out a beer from nowhere and took a sip. “I’m not going to change you back to a regular human. You’re going to stay an in-game NPC. It would be too much work and require too much faith to convert you back and forth each time. Don’t do anything a human couldn’t do, and do your best not to let people find out why you’re different than them.”
Wait, does that mean I’ll be able to golem sculpt in real life? Lee felt a strong desire to immediately test out the parameters of ‘being a fantasy game NPC’ in a regular human world.
“One more thing,” the bear growled as Lee’s sense of touch and smell began to fade. “If you let people find out what you are . . . if you try to run or escape me . . . I’ll kill you. I will hunt you down and murder you. Then, I’ll kill your family. And I’ll make sure to take my time doing it,” the bear said with a cold, flat voice. It was the first time words from Augustus had actually sent chills through Lee’s spine.
Before Lee could fully react to the threat, he found himself once more sitting in his chair at work staring at the same screen full of text he had been working on before the little white mouse interrupted him. I’m back, Lee thought, touching random objects and then pinching himself to make sure this wasn’t just a dream.
After assuring himself to the best of his abilities that this wasn’t just his imagination, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then coughed. Forcefully. He let out a few more fake coughs and went to find his manager.
“What in the heck does the nerd boy want this time?” the manager said after sparing him a quick glance.
“Well, I’m sorry, but the ‘nerd boy’ is going to have to take one of his sick days. I’m really not feeling well, and I’m”–Lee faked a cough for effect–“I’m . . . I’m going to need to get some rest.”
The manager turned to look at him, giving him an empty, wide-eyed expression as her forehead wrinkled up. She let out a barrage of questions at him that left him completely off guard. “How long have you been able to speak Spanish?” the manager asked. “Do you always know what I say about you? Is this some kind of joke? If you spoke Spanish, why wouldn’t you have put it on your resume? What’s wrong with you?! Are you messing with me? Have you been recording what I say?”
But I don’t speak Spanish? I’ve never really learned more than a few words at best. What is she talking about? Wait, is this an after effect of being an NPC? AI system, are you still with me? Did I speak English or Spanish?
Known and learned languages are adjusted to best suit the intended recipient. You were and currently are speaking a version of Spanish generated based on the accumulated experience you have from overhearing and seeing the language in order to match the unknown intended recipient’s own native language.
Crap, the prompts are still here? Even in this world? Lee winced. So I’m really am an NPC in this world. Lee bit his lower lip as he imagined the possibilities before returning his focus back to the issue at hand: his manager was still asking him a ton of questions.
“Look, I didn’t try to deceive you, but I really am not feeling well today. Perhaps we can forget a few earlier things you’ve said.” Lee just assumed that the woman had used their language barrier as a chance to chide and mock him without his knowledge and felt like using it as a sort of HR corporate blackmail against her. “If you let me take a few days off to feel better . . .” He added in extra cough, just in case the blackmail alone wasn’t selling it.
“Fine! Get out! Take your days off! I won’t say a word if you don’t. But lying to me for this long . . . What’s wrong with you?! You’re twisted, Lee, twisted.” The angry manager waved him out of the office, and Lee didn’t hesitate to bolt.
I’ve got a day, one day, left here before I get pulled back. I have to make this count, Lee thought, trying to pull up a list of all the things he might do if he only had twenty-four hours left to live. As far as he was concerned, that was the best way to treat his current situation. After all, there was no telling what would happen once he was forced back into that other world.
The first thing he did was grab a taxi, hoping to save time as he made his way to the supermarket. While he was in the car, he made sure to call every loved one and friend he could think of–which unsurprisingly didn’t take long–and tried to tell them he loved them without sounding creepy. It turned out to be a lot harder than he had anticipated. It was impossible to prognosticate how someone might react to a random and first time ever ‘I love you’ call during work hours on a weekday, but he imagined that the normal reaction from a family member would presumably be to assume a terminal illness or worse.
When he finally got home, after loading up on his favorite foods from the store and having a few awkward conversations with his parents, he hopped on his computer and out of reflex loaded up his usual MMO. No! No, no not that! Lee chastised himself as he closed the game. It was only a reactionary habit, but it was a habit that was hard to ignore. I’ve only got twenty-four hours in a sophisticated world with infinite amounts of knowledge at my disposal, he thought, staring at the computer. I need to learn as much as I can now, so that I won’t be at a complete disadvantage when I go back. He popped open his BlueFox browser and began considering what survival or cooking videos he might need.
Wait. Lee paused, thinking about the pound of premium bacon and the four pounds of New York strip steak he had next to it in his fridge. It definitely wasn’t his normal Chinese takeout, but he he planned on devouring everything with abandon at dinner. I need to learn how to do this. Bacon will be the key to everything! His mouth watered as he thought of a diabolical plan.
These backwater NPCs barely have any of the modern man’s cooking technology. None of them know all that we’ve gained through the years. Most importantly, they have no bacon. He grinned ear to ear as he started to realize what his ticket home would be. Early people of faith didn’t spread the religion through sword point or even miracles. They did it through food. Lots and lots of bread and wine was what brought the religion of today into existence. Bread and wine wouldn’t be that helpful to people who weren’t’ starving, but caffeine and bacon would. There isn’t a single person who isn’t susceptible to a good and proper addictive substance like caffeine. Lee’s mind lit up as he thought about how easy it would be to create a cult-like coffee shop with the absence of competition. But how do I get coffee or tea in the other world?
He was even further disappointed as he checked Bluegle and found that even sugar, his last great hope, would take over a year to mature into anything harvestable. So, even if I found a way to bring them over, I’d still be shafted with no reliable mechanism for repeating the process over and over again. So what to do . . . Lee began to weigh his options on how he was going to handle this conundrum.
He spent so long watching instructional videos and, reading articles about survival tips that he completely lost track of time. He had even flipped through his old BlueScouts survival handbook–a book he had assured his mother he’d never need again after he quit to join computer camp. Around eight at night, his phone rang.
Crap. Lee looked at his phone. It was one of his two friends, Wolfe, calling him. He could tell from the time stamp on the computer that he was already missing raid night.
“What’s up?” Lee asked as he grabbed his phone.
“Well, I don’t know. I’m surrounded by ten angry, sober dwarves and a elf that looks like she might stab me before they get a chance.” Wolfe skipped all the standard phatic communication that went with phone call etiquette and tore into him. “They’re all wondering why my wonderful buddy, The LawlfulCringe isn’t on yet.”
“Oh, sorry about that.” Lee ran through his list of standard excuses as he tried to figure one out. “It’s just umm . . . You see, I’ve not been feeling well. Don’t really feel up to gaming tonight.” He went with the least inventive but most reliable excuse available.
“Yeah, I heard from your mom about that. She called me up wondering if you were terminal or something. She said you spouted a bunch of mushy stuff like someone had a gun to your head was about to shoot you. She said she called your work, and they told her that you took off sick. She called me afterward to see what was going on, but I didn’t know anything either. Man, you gotta do better than this. Is everything really okay? You’re not being held hostage or something?”
“No, I’m not being held hostage. I just don’t feel like doing the main game tonight,” Lee insisted. I’ve spent hours watching survival videos and cooking videos, and I still don’t feel prepared enough to try out half these cooking techniques, and I doubt I could even come close to setting up a tent in the woods.
“Well, if you are, and you’re on speaker phone, just tell me the thing you fear most in the whole wide world,” Wolfe pressed. Even though his tone was serious, Lee could swear he could hear the smile through the phone.
“Lag?” Lee answered.
“Yeah, that sounds like you. So what’s the deal, man? Don’t tell me you’re burnt out. We’re not switching MMOs again, are we?” Wolfe asked. It was common for Lee to get tired of a game once it had reached that point where the end-game content was more time-released stat boost and less exploration, adventure or challenge. After everything became ‘easy peasy,’ there really wasn’t a point to it anymore.
“Nah, nothing like that. I should be around for it next weekend, but . . .” Lee paused. Wait, Wofle is the type of guy who knows everything about anything. His job is apparently mind numbingly boring, the kind of job where ‘hurry up and wait’ was the go-to motto, so he spent most of his days reading and watching any Bluepedia page or Bluetube documentary out there to pass the time. More than likely, he’ll know a lot more about what I need than I do.
“Hey, Wolfe, while I got you on the phone, would there ever be a case where people wouldn’t have cured and smoked meats?” Lee inquired. He still found the whole thing to be rather weird. A single Bluegle search showed that smoked and cured meats had been around longer than most every other part of society and were found from one end of the world to the other.
“Oh, are you talking about that weird health craze some areas are starting? It’s super hard to find good meats in some places with everything under the sun giving you cancer,” Wolfe informed him. “I suppose, one day in the future, smoked-meat eaters will go the way of smokers in big cities–herded to the outskirts and banned from buying it without paying a huge tax.”
“You’re kidding me.” Lee couldn’t believe his ears. A world without bacon may exist one day? He shuddered at the thought.
“As sure as I liketh the big behinds, I am and forever will be incapable of telling falsehoods to my brothers,” Wolfe joked. He was the type of guy who would laugh at his own silly, archaic and outplayed references more than the people he was making the joke for, and this was no exception.
“Dang, that sucks. I don’t know if I could live without bacon,” Lee said. And while I can teach them how to make it, properly curing the meat and smoking it may take a lot of valuable time away from missions.
“Or fried chicken,” Wolfe added.
“Huh?” Lee’s ears perked up.
“You know, since trans fats are supposedly awful for you, a lot of people have stopped eating fried foods too. Not our kinds of people, sane people with taste buds, but other people have. Heck, I have a friend who won’t eat any type of meat unless it has been grilled with proper room for the fat to run off it.”
“That’s . . . That’s very helpful.” If t the game was made by a bunch of health nuts who didn’t include cured and smoked meats, there is no way they’d add fried food. Not to mention, frying chicken is super easy. I got it right my first time after watching a BlueTube Southern instructional video when I was in college. This will be a home run for sure. If they have meat, and they have candles, they have rendered fats into oil already. I won’t have to do any work to get my hands on it.
“No problem. Though I have no idea how that’s gonna be helpful. Are you thinking of opening up a few fast chicken joints before they go out of business? Shorting some stocks?” Wolfe laughed from the other end of the phone, but Lee didn’t feel like playing into his jokes. Instead, he wrapped up the call as quickly as he could and opened up several browsers on the subject.
He spent the rest of the night studying everything he could find on how to fry chicken, how to prepare bacon, and anything else he could get his hands on in terms of fried vegetables and the like. He thought it would be fun to try a Japanese tempura recipe but didn’t have enough of the ingredients on hand. The last thing he wanted was to go back into the world tomorrow with unseasoned or unskilled hands. Making a fool of himself was something he simply couldn’t afford.
After Lee was satisfied with his knowledge on the subject, he retired to the kitchen, made himself a fat steak and then passed out in his bed. He didn’t fail to take Augustus’s warning about needing a full night of sleep lightly and did his best to pass out, but given all that had happened, it wasn’t as easy as it usually was.
He wasn’t sure how long he had slept for, but when he woke up he was already in the colosseum, fully dressed in yesterday’s work clothes, and staring at a koala sipping a tiny tea cup as it returned his gaze.
© Charles Dean and deannovels.com, 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.