It actually felt good not having to make any decisions for everyone else for a while. Just spending time butchering, cooking, and making Lucky Charms. I did not feel the crushing weight of things I would need to get done. Oh, I was still aware of all the things I needed to get done, but since I could not do anything about them without my equipment, I did not feel the same urgency as before. It was a refreshing break.
When noon arrived, I was happy to see two groups of people arrive to have lunch, the Squirrel Knights and Otter Pirates. Sir Miller did an almost comically double-take when I came out serving their food. The Captain and First Mate were not, obviously forewarned by the pirates that had been in the tavern earlier, though they looked a bit downcast.
“Damian, what are you doing here?” he asked with a slightly stupefied look on his face.
“Right now, I’m serving you lunch,” I deadpanned, getting a little laugh from the others.
“I mean, what are you doing back in Blackport?” he asked. “You said you wouldn’t be back for several more days.”
“I got killed,” I said with a shrug.
“Ouch, that gotta hurt as a crafter,” one of the others commented.
“Wait, did that douche Al and his Alliance of Asinine Asswipes get you guys?” one of the new knights asked. I looked up his name, Sir Talks-a-Lot. I wondered how accurate the name was.
“No, a critter did. We got caught in a beast wave, with all our new members,” I said and looked around recognizing most of the Knights. They had grown to include forty people from what I could see. One person I did not see was the asshat, Sir Legate. “Where’s Sir Legate?”
Sir Miller’s face got a pinched frowny look on it. It was Sir Talks-a-Lot that answered, “The Asshole joined the rest of the Alliance of Asinine—”
“Asswipes!” the rest of the knights, with the exception of Miller, said before Sir Talks-a-Lot could.
With a pout, he said, “I was going to say Asshats.”
“Of course you were,” the guy next to him snorted.
I looked at Miller, having a bad feeling. “He had access to the guild vault?”
Miller nodded. “Yeah, he cleaned us out, and now they’re harassing us. They’re harassing a lot of people unless they’re joining their alliance.”
“God, why do they’ve to act like assholes?” I asked with a sigh.
Sir Talks-a-Lot perked up. “Because they’re the Alliance of—”
“We heard you already,” Miller said a bit tersely. He turned back to me, his tone was a little accusatory. “Because they don’t have their primary target to attack. They’re not sure exactly where you guys are hiding. So they’re taking it out on us instead.”
“We’re not hiding, we’re building a village,” I retorted, not going to take any blame for a bunch of idiots actions.
“Right, sorry,” he mumbled. “It has been a trying time.”
“I feel you,” I said and fetched a chair from nearby and sat down. “How about you come to our village, make that your home base?”
He shook his head. “No offence, but all the facilities are here. Quests, respawn, class trainers and so on. You’re probably further away than a day's travel since the bastards haven’t found you yet.”
“No offence taken,” I said with a shrug. “However, unless something goes wrong in the next couple of days, we’ll have both a respawn point and a branch of the AA.”
“What?”, “How?”, “Woah!” were the reactions from around the nearby tables. I smiled. “Since they’re targeting you anyway, why don’t you join us in an alliance if you want to change location?”
“That’s tempting, but what about class trainers? And we still need the newbie area to train our new members,” Miller protested.
“We’ll be setting up a regular trade run with boats. It’s less than a day each way with the boats we got now, as we get better boats, it’ll be less,” I replied. “We got a newbie area, a bit different than what you’re used to, but a large newbie area nonetheless.”
“I’m not so sure, we’d like to be neutral and just concentrate on doing good. You know, a peacekeeping knighthood” Sir Miller said.
“No offence Miller, but that ship has sailed. They’ve essentially robbed you and are harassing you. Anyone who would align themselves with players trolls like that is per definition evil. Want to do good? Join up with us in the fight against them,” I said sternly.
“Heck yeah, let’s do it, boss!” Sir Talks-a-Lot shouted, pumping his fist into the air. The others looked less convinced.
I continued, “You’re standing at the crux of history. The game has changed since Masters’ announcement, you know that. I know that. Your men know that. This is no longer about a long term game we’ll be playing for years and years. It’s a short competition for the biggest prize in the history of the world. It’ll bring the best and the worst out in people. You know what we stand for, we haven’t changed. We still help everyone we can. Local or player alike. You know what they stand for, what they do. Standing idly by is choosing their side.”
“I—” he said hesitantly. “I—no, we need to discuss this.”
“That’s all I ask. Think about it, I like you and think we could make great allies. Anyway, be here in four days at breakfast, Mozart will supply you and other people we deem worthy with the route to our village,” I said and stood up. I made my way over to the Otter Pirates. They saw me coming and made room for me to sit down across from their Captain and First Mate. “Why the gloomy look?”
“They killed her!” the Captain lamented, unshed tears in his eyes. “Gone forever!”
His words sent a bucket of cold-water down my spine. Had Marcus targeted them? Just because they had dealings with us? It seemed far fetched. Hesitantly I asked, “Who? What do you mean?”
“The Sea Otter! Damn fishbreaths! They sunk her!” the Captain wailed loudly, putting his arm on the table, burying his face in it. The sobbing was ugly and awkward. I was relieved, it was just their damn boat.
“Goddamn crybaby,” his wife and First Mate grumbled, taking a sip from the tankard in front of her. She looked at me. “Just ignore the drama queen.”
Her words just made him sob even louder. It was really pathetic. “So, you need a new boat?”
“Yeah, we had outgrown it either way,” Kawauso said.
“We need the Phils for a couple more days before they can get back to shipbuilding, but we got three boats coming here tonight. We might be able to leave one behind for you, but I won’t make any promises.”
“Nah, we’ll order a new and bigger one,” she replied and gestured around at the other Otter Pirates. “As you can see we’ve grown a bit in size, and we would need two of them. So until you can make a new one, we’ll stay beached.”
Her last words ratcheted up the Captain’s sobbing a bit more. Some of his crew stood up from the tables and went to another table as if to distance themselves.
“What’s this infernal racket?” Mozart burst into the tavern part. “Oh god, not again.”
He started murmuring the release words for a spell and when he finished, a shimmering cylindrical appeared around Captain Lutra. Immediately the Captain’s sobbing was silenced, though we could see he was still sobbing.
“Mozzie! Mozzie! Mozzie!” the rest of the pirates and some of the knights started cheering.
Mozart beamed at them, gave a slight bow. “Thank you, thank you, just holler if he moves and starts sobbing elsewhere. I’ll be back in two minutes if he hasn’t stopped yet.”
“Thank god,” Kawauso mumbled. “He’s a good man, sweet, funny, and a good lay. But sometimes I wonder if the drama is worth it.”
“Maybe more information than I needed,” I replied with a cringe.
“Don’t be a stick in the mud.”
“So how are you guys doing? Any harassment by the Dumbest League of Assholes?” I asked, being inspired by Sir Talks-a-Lot.
She gave me a cold stare. “That was bad.”
I shrugged. “Not a comedian, the intent of the questions stands though.”
“Don’t give up your day job, unless you want people to throw stuff at you,” she replied. “Not really, no more than they give everyone else. They’ve tried to hire us a few times to make life difficult for Dawn and her guild, but we rejected. Seeing as they were using your boat, not because they’re your allies or anything.”
“Riiight.” I gave her a disbelieving look. “Anyway, we can probably have a small one master ready in about five or six game days.”
“That sounds good, but what about the price? We don’t exactly have a lot of coins right now.”
“We can figure out a payment schedule. If you’re serious about being pirates, you’ll become outlaws. You need a friendly port to buy and sell stuff.”
She gave me a measuring look. “Sounds like a deal, except the pirate thing will probably not become a reality. Only big ships with lots of high-levelled guards sail these shipping lanes.”
I returned her measuring look. “My instinct tells me that’s about to change. A month, in-game from now, and the game won’t be recognizable.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked sharply, her eyes watching me intently.
“After a month Master’s dropped the bombshell of the whole Challenges, but no one knows what the main quest is. How can we compete if we don’t know what it is?” I asked. “It’s one thing with the minor challenges, randomized games and ways to unlock the shares, but the big games? He has to provide a storyline, especially since everything is on a timeline.”
She nodded slightly as I spoke. “You’re right, but what makes you say that it’ll have something to do with ships.”
I tapped the side of my nose twice, gave her a wink and stood up. “You don’t need to ally with us, but think about at least having really friendly relations with us. I’m not saying it’ll be a walk in the park, but it’ll definitely make your life easier if you want to go pirate. Anyway, be here at breakfast in four days, you’re one of the guilds we like, so if you’re here, you’ll be provided with the location of our village.”
When I went back to the kitchen, she looked very thoughtful.
* * * * *
I was in the kitchen sharing the silence with Brandt. He was a man of few words. Of really, really few words. As in, I had been puttering around in his kitchen for hours and despite direct questions, all I had gotten was grunts. He communicated efficiently in grunts and by pointing, but it was not the most stimulating conversation.
It was not that I craved to talk with him, but even in the silent periods of me and Mia working together, or the early days in the booth with me and Nise, we still talked a little. Just sharing a small thought or something. Getting to know each other through small talk with long and frequent breaks in it. There was none of that with Brandt.
When the knock on the door frame behind me came, it was like a bunch of cannons going off, scaring the heck out of me. After turning around, I saw Dawn standing in the door. The way she was leaning on the door frame accentuated her breasts by pushing them up. Coupled with her outfit it was hard not taking an extra-long look at what she displayed.
Brandt looked annoyed for a moment, before grunting and going into the basement. Dawn and I watched him go. When the door closed behind him, Dawn asked with a frown, “Something I said?”
“I don’t think you said anything, he’s a bit taciturn,” I answered with a shrug. “Anyway, hello Dawn, how are you doing?”
“Hello, Damian. The answer is, not good. Since you’re here does that mean you failed? Did my sister and her losers get to you?” she replied with a deep frown.
I let out a little laugh. “Don’t worry, we did not fail. At least not yet, and I don’t think we will, since we’ll have better protections this time if we don’t find all the lairs or nests. We haven’t seen the hide or hair of the DLA. Except when a few of us spawned in the square.”
“I didn’t understand half of that, but good to know,” she said with obvious relief in her voice.
“How are you doing?” I asked, putting the last ingredient into the ice cream maker and turned it on.
“Not so good, I’m down to only myself and my bodyguards. Slayer and Viceman bailed and joined my cunt of a sister,” she said with a pout. “Our hunting ground has been less than optimal. Is your village finished soon?”
“Few more days,” I said. “And to be honest, you’re better off without them. They might be good combatants, but they’re shitty people.”
“Oh, you know them?”
“I know of them from other games, they’re little better than trolls. If they’ve joined your sister, they’ll eventually be kicked or she’ll have a ruined reputation. Trolls don’t change,” I said with conviction.
“That might be, but I’m behind in the competition now,” she said.
“Don’t worry, once we get our ships up and running and exploring the Storm of Memories, you’ll find a lot of treasures that are worth a lot,” I countered. “Instead of trying for a traditional guild like you already had, do what I’ve done. Hire people and get them out of the Coffins. Then you’ll be able to grow in leaps and bound, and leave your sister behind.”
“But she has the support of Dawnguard,” she complained. “The pay they’re giving to harass you are not insignificant.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure that Dawnguard will cut their mercenary contracts soon and just try to deal with us themselves.”
“You’re not really selling the point that you’ll make a good ally, you just said you’ll be targetted by the largest guild in the world.” Her voice rose a bit, getting a slightly shrilly aspect.
“They’ll try, but eventually fail. As soon as the village is up and running, we’re too well ensconced in Blackport for them to do anything about it,” I said with a reassuring smile. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but give me a month, you’ll see that I’m right.”
She looked thoughtful for a long time, before sighing deeply. “Okay, a month, we’ll see if you can really stand against them. If nothing else it’ll be amusing to see a guild of a hundred people trying to contend with a guild of almost a hundred thousand.”
“Trust in the system, if you’ve not noticed already, it’s not really that happy about player versus player conflict. It’s nothing compared to what’ll happen soon,” I said with a smile, thinking about all the restrictions and punishments that would be put in place.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes. “You know something, don’t you?”
“Rumours and conjecture. Just think about it for a moment. There’s a main quest we’re supposed to complete, but we don’t know what it is yet. It ought to be revealed soon. It’ll not likely be taking over the world, since we’ll only have little more than one and a half year in-game before the next game starts,” I explained. “It stands to reason that it’ll be something like a dungeon or some big monster that needs to be hunted down.”
“You sound awfully sure of yourself.” Her tone was almost accusatory.
Again, I just tapped my nose twice. Not that it helped any with her expression. She looked downright stormy, when she demanded, “What are you not telling me?”
“A lot of things, some because you wouldn’t believe me, most is simply because I can’t, and asking won’t get you an answer. Just trust me,” I replied.
“Trust goes both ways,” she challenged.
“And I told you what I could, I’m telling you, don’t underestimate me, like Dawnguard is doing. No one knows the system as well as I do, except for Ken Masters and his top developers,” I shot back. “If not for the competition between you and your sister, I would try to get you to join us, instead of making an alliance with you.”
“How can you know so much?”
“Can’t really say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Doesn’t matter, either way, you won’t get an answer.”
She actually screamed for a second, “You’re so infuriating. At least tell me how you know about the competition, nobody was supposed to know yet.”
I shrugged. She stared at me with a look that could kill. “Let me guess, you can’t really say?”
“You got it,” I said with a wink.
“Is there anything that you can say?” she demanded.
“Yes, the ice cream is really really good, you should try it,” I answered with a slightly cheeky grin. Her response was to scream in frustration and curse up a storm as she walked away. With laughter in my voice, I shouted after her, “Be here in four days for breakfast, Mozart will have something for you.”
A minute later, Mozart stuck his head into the kitchen. “Did a banshee spawn in here?”
“Something like that,” I replied with a laugh and went back to making food. The hours went by as I made food and drinks for hours on end. Not because we were that busy, but because I enjoyed it.
Got to experiment a little as well. Mozart and Brandt acted as my reluctant lab rats. The chilli flavoured ice cream was not a favourite. For some reason. Maybe I had made a bit too heavy on the chilli. Maybe if I had some liquorice to soften it a bit more. Liquorice went on the shopping list.
A couple of hours after dinner I took a break and had a little chitchat with the Butcher. While I was shooting the breeze with the man, I saw a sight for sore eyes; Robin, her squad and William.
“Hey, you’ve made good time,” I said as they approached.
“Thanks to the young lady here,” William said and pointed at Deena, the group’s druid. “She talked some sharks into pushing us. Sharks pushing us!”
“Good thinking, Deena,” I said and the young lady in question smiled shyly. “First round is on the house.”
“Where do you want all the blood hawks?” Robin asked. I noticed the Butcher’s hands twitching a bit.
“If you got the butcher knives that this fine gentleman provided me, then just put them in the kitchen, except for five,” I ordered and pointed at the Butcher over my shoulder with my thumb. “He gets a handful free of charge.”
“No, I couldn’t,” he protested.
“See it as a fee for doing me that favour,” I said. “See you around, if we don’t see each other tomorrow, I’ll be back in around two weeks, for the monthly auction.”
“Okay,” he conceded.
As we walked into the tavern, Robin asked, “What favour?”
“You’ll see,” I replied with what I was sure was an infuriating smile. “Now tell me what happened between Kira and Mia.”