The elite sauntered over to us confidently, a faint smile on his lips and two rogue strands of his hair waving in a breeze that didn’t actually exist.
“While I agree that these cultists should be culled, I cannot abide by you just attacking them out of nowhere. Not when they are actively pleading for non-violence, that is.” Azriel said. “Do that, and you’ll be just as bad as them. I’d hate to put down good people who fell to the temptations of evil.”
His eyes went over me, barely registering my existence. Instead his gaze was drawn to Elise, and unapologetically lingered on her body with hungry eyes and a shameless smirk.
She scowled and crossed her arms in front of her chest, but he didn’t seem to notice her reaction. Or he didn’t care. Probably the latter.
His eyes went over to Alexa next, showing brief hesitation before rejecting the idea. Well, at least he wasn’t a paedophile. He then looked at Miho, not hiding his thoughts as he mentally noted her as just peggable enough, and then threw a forgiving smile at her as if this assessment was a favour to be grateful for. Lastly his eyes went down to Thomas, and he grimaced in disgust before looking away.
Ouch. If Thomas was actually a girl or had any sense of self-consciousness about his appearance whatsoever, that would’ve stung.
Azriel returned his gaze to Elise, ignoring the rest of us. “But fear not, I’m a forgiving soul when possible. So considering who you were planning to attack, I can see that mayhaps you sought to attack them with a justifiable but morally twisted sense of justice or wariness. Worry not, I can make them show their true colours, so that we may judge them righteously with word and blade.”
Azriel imposed himself between us and the cultists, turning his back on them as he looked at us. “But tell me, what reason do you even have to speak with people such as these? Such an act by itself can already have… immoral connotations.”
He placed his hand on the handle of his angelic katana again, the warning casual yet clear.
Elise: Alexa, you’ve got the highest charisma, remember? You talk.
Alexa: Oh right! I keep forgetting that.
“We were travelling and just ran into these people by happenstance.” Alexa shrugged. “They tried to convert us to their wacko religion, and we said no.”
“Oh? And pray tell, where were you going?” Azriel asked Elise, not taking his hungry eyes off of her while Alexa talked. “What business does such an outlandish group have, travelling the ruins in such a desolate corner of the crater? There’s little here other than the cult and other evildoers.”
“We were going to that tower over there.” Alexa said, pointing at the tower behind the cultists.
“Why?” Azriel asked, breaking eye contact with Elise to throw a quizzical look at the fairy.
“Because it’s the tallest building around. There’s bound to be something interesting there.” Alexa said.
“I see.” Azriel said, stroking his chin contemplatively and looking down in deep thought. “A simple deduction, but perhaps that’s what’s needed to root out these evildoers. I myself have been searching for many hours now without finding a lead of my own, so perhaps…”
“Yes!” He said, looking up at Elise again. “I’ve decided. I can see the righteousness in you, you’ll make for good companions in my quest! You should join me, together we shall complete the task that we each separately set out to do!”
“Can you give us a moment to discuss this amongst ourselves?” Thomas asked before either Alexa or Elise could answer.
Taking the hint, I quickly turned around before Azriel could answer and huddled up with the others.
“Alright, so what do I say?” Alexa whispered.
Darryl: If possible, decline. Elites are bad news.
Ben: This guy is waaaaay too edgy, much cringe.
Elise: I don’t want to be near that guy. He’s hot, sure, but I’ve got standards. As Ben already said so eloquently, much cringe.
Alexa: He looks totes cool, though. So edgy.
Ben: Oh right, you’re still of chuuni age. I remember when I was still like that, one or two years ago. *Nods sagely* I’ve matured much since then.
Alexa: But he looks cool! He has an angel sword, and a demon sword! Like, kick ass!
Alexa: Darryl! When we kill him, you should wear his jacket! It would look so awesome on you! The pants probably won’t fit, but that’s one kick-ass jacket! And Elise could dual-wield those katanas when she swoops down, having both demon AND lightning attacks! Mega-sweet!
Thomas: I don’t think it’s a good idea to fight this guy. Too risky.
Darryl: Let’s see if we can dissuade him and just leave. If not, we might have to fight. I don’t think it’s a good idea to run away and have him attack us again at his convenience.
Thomas: Good point.
Ben: Should I focus my attention on him, then? I don’t think he’s noticed me yet, I snuck away before he showed up, after all. But right now I’m still poised to kill the Neighbourhood Boss.
“So, have you come to a decision? Surely this can’t be a difficult choice.” Azriel haughtily said.
Miho: The other guy is my former party member Hiu. He just messaged me that Azriel is indeed bad news. He all but kidnapped Hiu, threatening to cut him down if he wouldn’t join his group while pretending Hiu had a choice. And in battle, he rushes in recklessly and doesn’t protect anyone else, but gets angry afterwards when Hiu doesn’t rush in after him to shield him with his body and life.
Miho: Azriel apparently has a few oaths that allow him to affect creatures when they commit certain actions. Hiu saw two thus far: Chivalry and Commitment. He thinks that Azriel has more, but isn’t sure.
Livia: That’s bad. That’s very bad.
Livia: The Oath of Commitment means that if you promise something, anything, whether to this guy or someone else while he overhears you, he can hold you to it. And because he’s an Elite, he can probably interpret things very loosely. As in, accept to join him as a companion, and he can stun you if you try to leave or attack him. Fortunately, this one requires you to say something that binds you first.
Livia: The second one is worse. The Oath of Chivalry is a guideline on honour and proper conduct in battle. You don’t need to agree to anything, he just needs to see you do something that goes against the code and you’re stunned. The effects are only half as strong as the first oath, but just like that one there’s no saving throw unless you’re of a class with themes of betrayal and underhanded means.
Livia: Chivalry means no attacking him when he’s unarmed or not fighting you, no attacking him in the back, and when he challenges someone to a duel then no one else can attack him. No attacking him after he makes a gesture of peace, regardless of the situation.
Ben: That’s… That’s broken!
Livia: Elite, dear. Expect this kind of bullshit when they’re involved.
Alexa: So don’t agree to anything. Not even maybe or indirectly. Okay, got it. And then kill him if he attacks!
Darryl: Only if absolutely necessary.
Elise: Seriously, Alexa, this guy is bad news. Those swords do look sweet, but they’re not worth to risk our lives over them. Not with the odds of facing an Elite.
We broke up the huddle and looked back at Azriel and the cultists that were still patiently waiting.
“No.” Alexa said.
“No?” Azriel said. “Well, whatever. More importantly, what about you?”
He turned to Elise, who scoffed.
“No. That goes for all of us. Get lost.” She said.
Azriel appeared angry for a brief moment, before composing himself unnaturally fast and easy. He sagely nodded, sighing as if we were foolishly turning down the deal of the century but taking his loss with dignity. “Well, in that-”
“Enough waiting!” Araman said. “The End Times wait for no one, and so neither shall we be ignored any longer!”
“Vile cultists, what do you speak of!?” Azriel turned around, staring Araman down dramatically as the priest’s eyes widened in fanatic zeal and the cultists all drew concealed weapons or crackled with magic.
“You call us vile, huh? Yes, I can already tell that there’s no convincing a self-righteous man like you to join us! If that is the case, then die!” Araman shouted.
The world froze and the boss battle music started playing at a half-hearted volume. The air around us shimmered as we were locked into the boss battle, the bubble reshaping itself to line up with the ruined buildings. The AI didn’t bother with the Boss description I already read before, and just briefly showed our portraits underneath Azriel’s and Hiu’s before resuming time.
Azriel quickly drew his angelic katana in a smooth quick-draw and sent a slash of radiant energy at Araman. The cleric jumped back and one of his cultists glowed deep green. They jumped in front of the blast, the spell converting their health and mana into a shield that stopped the radiant slash. It shuddered, but held and turned into a transparent green bubble around Araman.
“Kill them!” Araman shouted, pointing his finger at Azriel. His cultists screamed hoarse war cries as they rushed in, and the cleric started chanting.
“Damn it!” Azriel said, jumping back to land in our midst. “Keep the cultists off me while I charge up!”
“The hell are you talking about?” Elise asked.
“No time to explain!” Azriel bit back. “I can break through his sacrificial shield, but I need time! We’ll only have one shot at this!”
Ignoring us after barking out this order, he sheathed his angelic katana again and took a wide-legged stance charging up his sword.
“I hate it when games add false choices.” Elise muttered, turning to the cultists.
I turned to face the tide of cultists charging at us. Livia said that we should focus on the cleric first, and I could tell that these guys were already getting buffed by their boss to confirm this strategy. That energy shield was probably going to prevent all of our attacks from getting through, though.
One way or another, we had no choice but to do as the Elite said. And indirectly join his group even after declining. Well, at least we never agreed to it, meaning his Oath wouldn’t work.
Shouldn’t work, at least. I hoped that the AI was the final arbiter on that one, rather than the Elite.
I raised my shield and spear. Alexa landed on my shoulder and prepared to flash the madmen.
“Hold them off for just a few more moments!” Azriel shouted. “By the power of the Seraphim’s feather and the blessing of the Hashmallim bestowed upon me, foul heretic, I judge thee guilty and shall smit-”
The world froze and our portraits appeared, Araman’s portrait greyed out. The music ended and time resumed. The cultists immediately staggered, their bloodlust replaced by hesitation.
“Nothing personal, kid.” Ben said as he pulled his dagger out of Araman’s back.
“What!? No, that was my kill!” Azriel said, the energy building up around him sizzling out. “I was supposed to-”
“That was awesome!” Alexa said.
“Yeah! You really saved us, mysterious stranger!” Elise said. “Thank you!”
“No! That was a Shield of Sacrifice cast at expert level! Only the True Impartial Justice of the Seraphim should be able to slash through such defences in one fell swoop!” Azriel said. “How did you even do that!?”
We knew the answer to that. No one said anything, but we knew that Ben could teleport through the force field thanks to his shoes once worn by Martin. Then it was just a matter of stabbing the acolyte with his Backstabbing Dagger. With his mask and ample time to watch his quarry, he further doubled his very high damage modifiers with Assassinate. And then there was…
Ben: Holy shit this is awesome! I just critted for SOOOO much more damage! I didn’t even know crits were a thing in this game!
Livia: Normally they’re not, or rather the chances are negligible unless you have a very high percentage chance to land them. Unless the AI wants you to crit, of course.
Ben: Well, I don’t mind. I just got a gold box for killing a higher level mob with one attack, upgraded to platinum because they were a Neighbourhood Boss!
“Way to go!” I said.
“Indeed! Impressive and valorous indeed! Mysterious stranger, please aid us on our quest!” Elise said. “We are headed for that tower over yonder for adventure and to fell vile foes! You’ve shown yourself to be very powerful against these heretics! Please become our leader!”
Ben seemed confused for a moment, looking up from the Neighbourhood Boss that he was already looting before the bugman even hit the ground, but then caught on and nodded just a bit too eagerly to pull off a solemn nod. “Very well, if you insist, then I will.”
“Hold on! I never agreed to him being the leader!” Azriel said.
“Dude, you’re not part of our group.” Elise said, throwing an incredulous stare at the Elite.
“I too think that this mysterious stranger will be a worthy leader and companion.” I nodded. “Despite it all, he was generous enough to grant this vile apostle a quick and painless death.”
“Yes. A very efficient and humble display of great skills.” Thomas said.
“And yet awesome!” Alexa said.
“I agree?” Miho said.
“Then it is unanimous!” Elise said, probably the best actress amongst us. Which wasn't saying much, unfortunately. “You have proven to be very powerful and cool by slaying this mighty apostle and saving us, we shall follow you now. Let us go.”
As the cultists were either frozen in place or slowly backing away from us before running away, we walked towards Ben and grouped around him before walking away from a frustrated Azriel and a very confused Hiu.
“Keep walking, hopefully this works.” Elise muttered under her breath. “No one look back.”