The sound of footsteps echoed around the black, stony passage like a frantic heartbeat, as George ran from his pursuers.
His combination of Strength, Dexterity and Constitution made him a fast runner here, and he had bolted as soon as he saw a DeathGang member approach. The instinct of fleeing when that Guild's tag appeared was one which had been honed by the nerves of a sleepless night before the war East of Kruxol.
And once he set off, he was difficult to catch.
He had managed to flee from the war unscathed, in spite of a few DeathGang members giving chase. When he was young and still living in Namibia, he had gone to school next to a large mining facility. The children typically played near the mines, and he had tried to join in. However, if he was seen by the mine's owner, a rich Frenchman named Darcy, then Darcy would send guards and hounds to chase him down for being black. Although he was sometimes caught and beaten, over time he managed to get away more often. This made him well-practiced at eluding chasers, and he expertly kept his balance while being chased.
Barreling through passageways effortlessly, George smiled lightly when he heard the frustrated heavy breathing of the Assassin behind him. The Assassin had higher Agility, and was hence faster at precise movements and short bursts of motion, but the relative lack of Strength and Constitution meant that they would tire easily if forced to run for a long distance.
As he deliberately ran through a long passageway, he could hear the Assassin slowly losing ground on him. In this passageway, the loud echoes of the chase reverberated with a slight musical lilt, like the sound of a worn-out accordion.
While he was running somewhat blindly, not exactly remembering the way back to the entrance, he could recognise the chamber ahead of him from early in the mines. It felt refreshingly familiar. Maybe he could escape?
Suddenly, as he was approaching the chamber, he felt his legs snap sharply to the left, and an invisible hand grabbed his throat and slammed his head into the ground beside the right wall of the passage. His vision went slightly blurry.
As his legs fell to the side, he was about to curse his luck for uncharacteristically tripping during this important chase. However, as a black-clad, gaunt figure appeared standing over him, it became clear that he had been tripped up by an Assassin hidden with [Stealth Cloak].
"Who are you?" George shouted defiantly.
Instead of answering, Crucis calmly loosened the black fabric wrapping his face, revealing pale, powdery ice-white skin which glowed coldly into the air. The passage was growing congested with black smoke, which flowed from the passage where Ripley had died. In this nightmare-inducing smog, Crucis' skin took on a ghostly and ethereal, almost melancholic, pale shade.
George shuddered at this phantom-like display. "Hey, whitey, you just going to stand there and ignore me?"
With his face only partially masked, Crucis raised his head to look calmly down the passageway, and spoke to the player who had been pursuing, "Grab his legs, don't let him escape. Dicing said they're looking for the other guy, so we'll deal with this one."
"Sure thing, whitey," the pursuing player said cheekily, before lifting George's leg harshly and wrapping his own leg roughly around George's knee in the Snake sub-class' [Raised Leg-lock] skill. He then bent down, keeping George's leg painfully raised.
"How d'you reckon this guy knew my name?" Crucis said, matching Akshel's light-hearted tone.
"Educated guess. It's an archetypal name for a villain, y'know, like 'Satan.' It derives from the Latin word 'vici,' meaning, 'wicked oppression.'"
"Ah. He's genre-savvy."
"Excuse me, I matter! My words matter! Don't ignore me. You don't care about my people?" George said.
"I would expect you to have more of a sense of humour, since you're seemingly named after Dubya," Crucis said disappointedly.
"Bush? Maybe Washington?" Crucis sighed at George's noncomprehending stare. "Well, I guess not. So you're just some guy who happens to be named George W.?"
"Oi, yeah I am, and when we get out of here then I'll tell the authorities about your behaviour. You can't bully people like this, this is America!"
George tried to flail towards Crucis with a loosely-gripped sword, but Crucis easily angled his own sword down and blocked the strike. Crucis' own blade pointed firmly towards the back of George's neck, making George hesitant about whether to struggle and flail further as he felt the sharp point brush his neck.
Akshel stabbed comfortably with a dagger towards George's left hand, which was holding the sword. George's sword clattered to the ground as he withdrew his bloodied fingers and knuckles from the hilt. Crucis kicked it away, in the direction of the chamber where Ripley had died.
"You'll be sued. You'll be sued by the State of Minnesotta!" George said in frustration.
"Who's Minnesotta? I'm in Europe, I don't know the guy. Why would he sue me, have I done anything to him?" Crucis shrugged, giving a tongue-in-cheek response.
"It's not a guy, dumbo! It's a state!"
"Oh, okay. So, like, a landmass is going to sue me? Is this some environmentalist thing?"
"No, the state, like, not the land!"
"Then the air? Eh, whatever, I guess I'll see him in court. But I'm not in America, so I'm not sure why it would matter to me. And even if it did, if I claim that you had WMDs and looked Arabic then they'd probably find it quite kosher." Crucis was lying about his location, since it amused him to see the passionate George's deflated response.
"No, but - fine, yeah, fine. You aren't in America? Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. But listen, you guys gotta realise that you're being played. Your DeathGang, they're probably friends with our Guild, that's why you guys was - were sent here. Ripley was all worried about that. You guys are all just vehicle for the oppressor, y'know? It's just the same thing, it's evil, it opposes the common man and don't let him flourish! You're all the same, I say! You should stand up for yourself, you know, stand up for everyone - the people of God - against evil and mean oppressors. I mean, we all gotta have dreams and goals, y'know?"
George gesticulated wildly, as if to convey his point.
"Well, looks like we've stumbled into the Preacherman Show now," Crucis said to Akshel.
"Yes, this guy clearly dreams of being a priest," Akshel replied.
"Well, hopefully he enjoys his chancel," Crucis said, using his sword to prod George up against the wall. "But all of his rabble-rousing speech echoing around here wildly, it sounds like a choir formed from hecklers in the nave."
He signalled to Akshel, by flipping his sword until its hilt faced George, in order to indicate that he was preparing a [Mordhau].
Akshel propped George's head up against the wall of the passage, with George's face pressing into the black rocks. Crucis then smacked the back of George's head with a firm [Mordhau], sending the head dropping almost lifeless to the ground.
Bravely, George mustered up a few more words. "Like, what wrong with is you guys? Monstrous! It's like you guys was brought up in the school shooting video instead of Disney!"
"What do you mean, in English?" Akshel asked calmly.
"No, he has a point," Crucis said. "Remember Mokra? I'm sure the kids there would've rather been watching the Disney Star Wars or whatever. Actually, I'm not sure. But I guess it might be possible? No?"
Did he mind disturbing the priest? Not at all, not in the least.
"Like, Disney, film with good moral and equality! Moral which everyone know. Like, don't be bad!" George tried to explain.
"Admittedly, I'm not a fan of Disney," Crucis said nonchalantly. "I didn't watch that much when I was young, either. Actually, there was that one guy who was kinda cool, they were, like, a lion, they yeeted the dude off the cliff while saying, 'Long live the King!' That guy was classy, don't remember the name though, something like 'Scourge.' Better cinematography in one scene than in hours of Disney's other fluff."
"Um, Scar, I think?" Akshel offered.
"Yeah, that's probably it. Sounds a bit like my name, as it happens, but I won't go into detail and dox myself to some guy named GEORGEW. After the PATRIOT Act, we've seen that giving up on privacy in that way rarely ends well. But yeah, other than that, I'm not familiar with Disney's deep morals."
"Look, you guys, I know you're not really that evil, you just have to act that way for your superiors!" George said pleadingly. "But people are what they pretend to be, so they should watch out before acting all evil! Let me go, you don't have any quarrel with me! "
Akshel laughed loudly. "'We are what we pretend to be, so we should watch out for what we pretend to be'? What is this, a Hallmark card, a slam poetry concert?"
"It's an aspirational sentence, to be fair," Crucis said. "It pretends to be a meaningful moral, as if this will in turn make it so. As for what it actually is? Who knows. I don't know why the caged bird sings such things, I just wish it would stop."
George persisted. "Look, no need to hate. Love and tolerance are good for you. It's the way. It is how we conquer the devil."
Crucis sighed. "Who do you want to conquer?"
He spoke softly, and his voice echoed across the passage with the sound of a slithering snake's scales.
"The devil. He conspires to create the evil."
Crucis used [Half-swording] to grip his sword on the blade, and then knelt down behind George's neck. George's face was flat on the ground, with his bald head pressing against the passage wall.
"Be careful. Fear is born of the devil," Crucis whispered.
Using a new Assassin skill he had managed to unlock, named [Death by a Thousand Cuts], he began to stab relentlessly at the back of George's neck. George flailed wildly, catching Crucis with a few glancing blows to the chest, but soon these strikes withered into occasional twitches. Crucis closed up behind George's neck, drew a dagger, and began to use [The Ripper] to tear across the many wounds.
George soon died, and Crucis got up from behind the corpse's savaged neck.
"Ave Caesar." He paused for a moment to brush blood off his chest. "This guy was level 47, Replayer was level 49. Seems like these guys are crafters, though, so they're probably a bit weaker than their level would indicate. Anyway, they shouldn't be a problem. Soon, they'll be carcasses fit for hounds."
"I'm surprised that the other one hasn't tried to escape yet," Akshel mused. "After all, they're probably in a party of some sort, so they can probably see that their team-mates are dying. But no word from the guys at the entrance."
"Maybe the other one got lost? It's a bit labyrinthine down here."
Meanwhile, deeper in the mines, [Terabyte] was indeed lost. Walking through a series of passages, he seemed to invariably only go round in circles or stroll deeper into the mines. Since he didn't have a map of the mines, or a convenient roll of string à la Theseus, he wasn't sure which way led to the exit. The mines here were dank and very little light entered, mostly from high, small windows which were partially barred shut. Due to the darkness and pitch-black stones, as he looked around it felt like he was blacking out.
He hadn't caught much sleep last night. His sandy-brown hair was still mussed up, he had no real sense of direction, and in his sleepless wandering he felt overwhelmed by the size and complex structure of the mines.
From a circular passage, he ducked under a thick rock arch to see if it would get him anywhere. The arch had some light wooden scaffolding above it, and he let out a sigh of relief that it didn't fall on him as he passed through.
As he entered a dimly-lit chamber, he saw that a large section of the wall had been chipped off, revealing a dark, silvery-grey layer of stone. As he looked around, trying to get his bearings, he was shocked to see a corpse lying on the far side of the room.
He was at first concerned that it was his party-mates George or Ripley, since he had seen their HP drain to 0%. He had been hoping that they were still some distance away, and their killers wouldn't be nearby. But he panicked slightly at the thought that the killers might be nearby.
However, as he stared at the corpse, he realised that it was actually a dead miner, covered in thick clothing and with some tools laid next to him. It was difficult to make out what these tools were in the darkness, but they looked to have rusted over heavily and were probably in bad shape. The muscular miner's corpse had a frightened, lost-seeming stare frozen on its face.
As he hesitated, uncertain about whether to search the foreboding corpse or just run and seek a way out, he heard a voice echoing around the circular pathway outside the chamber. It was curiously enthusiastic and upbeat, but in a way that seemed almost feigned.
"Hey, you found a miner? Congrats, I'm happy for you!"
Due to the echoes, Terabyte couldn't quite make out where the voice came from. He looked around nervously, trying to locate it.
After a couple of seconds, the voice returned, this time unexpectedly chirping out from somewhere above him.
"Imma let you finish, but -"
Before he could turn around, Terabyte was bundled roughly to the floor by a fierce, unseen force smashing against their head and upper back from above. He was dragged aggressively to the ground, and felt a distinct pain from the back of his neck. There was a bleeding, deep wound there, but, due to the blur of motion and harsh, blunt collision with the ground, he couldn't clearly make out the source of the pain.
His head swimming, Terabyte cried out wildly. "Leave us alone!"
His assailant, Danemy, shrugged. "Mate, I'll make you scream and whine so loud that everyone will hear you and you'll become famous. Come on, bro, just trust me."
Terabyte screamed even louder as Danemy's dagger angled downwards and tore a thick vertical gash across his back.
Yet, as Terabyte gathered his strength and blindly flailed with his sword across the air, rolling onto his side, he found that his sword passed through empty air. Danemy was nowhere in sight.
Yet his voice still sounded out from nearby.
"Tch, when you're at such a disadvantage, it takes so much effort just for a strike. I could feel it coming miles away. And the rest was a simple precept: be prepared."