Francis, my dear Francis. My beloved Francis.
What is Brett making you do? What kind of torture is he forcing you to endure?
I cannot let it stand!
There he stands, trapped, strapped to a chair, eyes fixed at the blue glow of the screen in front of him.
With speed comparable to [Blinding Rush,] but without any skills activated, I run over to Francis and embrace him with all my might.
“Francis!” I exclaim. “My dear Francis! My—“
“Shh,” he shushes.
Instead of looking at me, he stares forward at the TV screen, which is showing the dreaded, infamous video game known as Fortnite. Even I am aware of its reputation.
“Hey guys, sorry about that,” he says into a microphone attached to the headset which rests over his ears. “Yeah, that’s Eryk, if you remember him. Well, from my streams. Yeah, he was with me that time when I played Royals of Foreign Lands, if you remember that. Yep, of course everyone in the chat remembers that. Yep, Parasocial_xx_P, I do think you’re an awesome person, even though I don’t know who you are.”
Brett steps past me and sits in the empty chair next to Francis. He picks up a controller and puts a headset on. “Hey bros, Brett’s back. How ya doing with my boy Francis? I bet Bac Nation’s getting jealous that we’ve got our real homie on board! Literally, yo! We’re on a boat!”
“What is the meaning of this?” I ask with my most demanding tone.
Brett ignores me. “Oh, yo, Parasocial_xx_P, thanks for the Tier III sub! You’re hella tight.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Francis repeats calmly.
“Where we dropping, boys?” Brett asks his chat. “Going to Tomato Town today? I got my John Wick skin on, and—“
“Francis, I thought you said this game was the scourge of the gaming world, that it had become so irrelevant now that only the most craven of gamers would dare touch such a game in the year of 2023. Francis, are you feeling pain just by experiencing it? Is it truly that much of torture?”
Francis shrugs. “It’s alright. It’s not terrible. I guess I just exaggerate sometimes.” Never in any of his speech does he take his eyes off the game.
Brett looks at me. “Francis is on my side, now, you see? I didn’t kidnap him. He joined me on his own free will. Now we’re best buds on the battle bus together.”
“Francis... is that true?”
He does not look at me, nor does he answer.
Anger boils up inside of me.
So much anger that I know it’s for more than just this incident. It’s for everything I’ve heard about. All the lies and deception that’s covered up my past. All the regrets I’m supposed to have but can no longer remember. All of it.
I let out my loudest pirate cry, and then deliver a shocking blow, a mega-punch to the TV. It shatters into a million pieces and almost all light in the cabin is extinguished.
“Hey, bruh, that was my TV!” Brett shouts.
Francis sighs. “God, thank you.”
“No need to thank The Goddess,” I say. “Thank only your friend Eryk.”
He rolls his eyes. But he does stand up and leave the cabin with me.
“But... My dead man’s switch!” Brett shouts, following us out and back into that room where countless pirates still stand (and Abby, who has been eerily quiet for some reason.) “You’ll be ruined! The entire economy of Santa Barbara will be crippled! If Francis leaves, I’ll destroy it all.”
“No,” I say. “You’re coming back to Santa Barbara with us. All of you are.”
“You’re not going to kill him?” Abby asks.
“No. My punishment for him will be much worse: I am making him regent of Santa Barbara when I depart the city. He will rule in my stead and keep the people safe.”
“You WHAT?” both Abby and Brett shout at the same time.
“Here is the plan I have realized,” I explain. “Brett is a base fool with nothing but his own desires to attend to. He wants more power, so I will give it to him. But if he engages in cronyism, or degrades the foundations of Santa Barbara, he will be executed immediately. I trust he will keep the economy in check better this way. And he already knows enough about my power to know that I am truthful about this.”
Brett stares at me. “I...”
“As for his dead man’s switch, we will hire the world’s greatest minds to disable it while he is alive. But if something goes awry before that, then there is nothing to be done. We simply have to prepare the people for the possibility that their finances will be permanently locked away one day.”
“You... But you’re the King. You can’t just let everyone...”
“My goal isn’t about being a good King or being popular,” I say. “I’m trying to become an S-Rank Hero, and that’s at whatever cost it takes.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Francis says. “He told me that on his homeworld he slaughtered entire cities just to gain EXP.”
I most certainly did not tell him that, but it convinces everyone nonetheless.
Abby, too, is dumbstruck. “All of this... You won’t just kill him right here and now?”
“Well, I have a feeling he’ll be a capable ruler, especially knowing that death is just around the corner if he isn’t.”
For a second, I see the face of King Bodhi back on Abby. “That’s pretty wise.”
The pirates all surrender immediately, and soon Delta and the rest of the pirate milita have boarded the cruise ship as well.
The battle is over.
“Francis... I’m so glad to see you. I’m so glad you’re safe.”
He shrugs. “Whatever.”
“Nothing. I’m glad you rescued me and stuff.”
This doesn’t feel as resounding a victory as I had hoped.