“Lady Francine, Mitchell sent me to get you, there’s a stranger in town.” Carl Jr. said, breathing heavily, standing five meters behind me towards Athens. I stood in waist high green grass, under the shadow of pines of the edge of the forest, returning from another day’s work felling trees. Carl Jr. must have sprinted out to tell me; a farm boy doesn’t get winded easily.
I jogged to the edge of town and stopped behind the Karlson’s log home. I stopped and ran my hands through my hair then brushed the sawdust off my gray wool clothing. I walked the remaining distance across the fields to Athens, my head up and back straight. I hear James again “, Appearances are important, you got to pretend everything is perfect. Especially when it’s not. It doesn’t do our people any good to pass our worries on to them.”
Mitchell stood on my hill in the middle of town, a stranger in stained leather armor beside him. A sword hilt longer than my forearm stuck up over his left shoulder. I walked towards them, noticing the stare of Mary Jorgdaughter, Gloria’s oldest, crouched as she washes a green blanket. The man looked in my eyes as I walked up the incline. I stop two meters from them, nodding to Mitchell.
The man did not speak. I narrowed my eyes, noticing the liquid splatter pattern on his armor. I waited; I refused to let him make me speak first. After an uncomfortable minute, the man cleared his throat and said, “This is your homestead?”
“Then I’m your problem. I have a God-Given Quest to kill you all.” My fists clenched and I felt the blood rushing to my face. Mitchell turned towards the man, reaching into his belt. I stepped forward and grabbed his muscle-corded arm, above his leather wrist bracer.
“This man is beyond you, Mitchell. Attempting to harm him will get you killed. Step back.” The blood red lettering the game interface showed above the stranger’s head, spelling out ‘Null Division’, informed me that he was well above Mitchell and my ability to fight. If it were green or blue or white we would have a chance, but not dark red. Null tilted his head to the side slightly and said, “Here is my quest, I’m not worried about you completing it before me.”
Punish Her Hubris - Decrepit’s Will
Lady Francine the Sharp dares to threaten a god. Punish her and all of her people for her presumption. Burn down Athens and kill all of its inhabitants.
3 Decrepit Faith Points
“Why tell me this at all? You’d be better served by surprising me.” I said.
“Perhaps. I don’t expect trouble from you or your people, prepared or not. You seem to know that, “ he said nodding at Mitchell before continuing. “I have others with me to prevent superiority in numbers. I am here to determine if you can offer a better deal. ”
I was familiar with extortion. I’d used it myself in past dealings. The problem with extortion, at least for me, right then, was that it works.
“What do you want?” I say.
“Interesting. No bluffing?”
“What do you want?”
“Three things. The first, you stop all expansion and building efforts, focusing only on research and development of arms and armor. Specifically, plate armor and great swords. You do this for two game months. After that, you may sell these items to anyone you choose. Secondly, you personally chose the God of Enchantment as your patron, only obtaining boons which provide significant enhancements to plate armor and great swords.”
I didn’t blink, if he was looking for more reactions from me he wouldn’t get them. I was willing to bet I’d been across more poker tables than that man. He frowns when I didn’t react or prompt him for his third point.
“Third, your people must kill everyone that came with me.” I scrunched my eyebrows together and tilt my head. He says, “I could do it easily of course, but then where would my reputation be? It must be your people. Each one you kill will respawn into the game back in the Central Homesteads. They will not return within a week.”
“I was expecting more onerous demands after the mass murder threat. Why?”
“Murder? This is a game. If you are rich enough to afford a homesteading package you are rich enough to throw it away. I’m not trying to ruin your gaming experience. I’m offering a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get the equipment I need, you get protection for the duration of our agreement.”
A protector? Perhaps. He appeared to be a tank, and a high level one too. However, the first two conditions were unacceptable. I was building an empire, not an armor shop. If I halted all my efforts on food, housing and basic necessities Athens would contract in the coming winter. James’s dream wasn’t building a small village of item enchanters, it was much grander than that.
I was sure Null Division thought his offer reasonable. Other games made high end item crafting quite lucrative, inside the game and out, but I wasn’t in Incrementum to make money. I wasn’t playing to corner a market. I was in Incrementum to build my James’s Athenian Empire. I felt my heartbeat slowing. I could work with this situation. Null doesn’t care about my people or me, just his quest rewards. I understood that.
“I am willing to invest in armor and weapon production, as well as accept Enchantress as my patron god, but I am loathe to suspend all my other efforts. Perhaps if I just double the number of laborers and blacksmith apprentices...”
“No. I am not a good-enough-warrior. I am the best warrior. To remain the best I need weapons better than all others. No one has even found a rare weapon yet, let alone a relic or mythical item. The best anyone can do is crafted and I mean to have the best.”
That wouldn’t work for me.
“And if I refuse?” I say.
“I come back here in a week when your immunity expires with all my men and complete my quest.”
He was confident he’d have no problem killing everyone in Athens. I couldn’t disagree. I also couldn’t refute the logic that having my whole town destroyed will slow progress more than changing the order of operations of which buildings to construct.
“How do we proceed?”
“I need proof that you are following through on your bargain before I ignore this quest. My camp is here.“ I saw a notification appear, I assumed he sent me a map marker, “Kill everyone there. Avoid fighting me. I will kill anyone who fights me, for appearances. Once that is done, I will come to town and witness your choosing of Enchantress and investment in blacksmith research. Provide me with the arms and armor I need and we won’t have any problems at all. In fact, I’ll even take some of your players with me as I adventure, whip them into shape.”
I liked that idea, minus having to change my building progression.
“And how many people are with you?”
“An even dozen currently but more may show up. I posted on a fairly public forum.”
I rubbed my eyes. I didn’t need to fake concern, just agreement.
“Can you split them up? For our convenience? I’d prefer if no one suffers death penalties. Efficiency, you understand.”
“Of course. I’ll take several on my excursions and send others out scouting. There are numerous landmarks in the fog to the north we came out here to explore. Continuing to do so works.”
“And what’s to keep you from killing us all after you get your armor and weapons?”
“Self-interest. I want continued access to your armor and weaponry advances. I can’t expect you to keep playing if I slaughter your people.”
“I want you to cancel your quest when I agree to this.”
“No. I want my quest rewards if you don’t follow through. I’ll cancel the quest when the two-month game duration is up.”
I nod my head, better than I thought I’d get.
He said, “I have another condition. You must agree to let me bind my respawn location to your homestead for the duration of the agreement. I’m not going to sit in town and monitor your progress, but if something goes wrong I don’t want to take two weeks to walk back out here. I have a lead to maintain. If you have new enchantment and item progress each week, great. If not...” He shrugged.
“I’ll allow it, provided you consider joining my team of elites after the first game month of weapon and armor production. I don’t appreciate your methods currently but my elites require a competent, high level tank. There are considerable benefits.” I rattled off the same benefits I mentioned to Doc and Leonard.
Null Division rubbed his chin. “I’ll consider it. I must go. Send your people to thin the herd. I’ll be taking her with me. She can return after the first two weeks of equipment production. Until then, I don’t trust you and I’m risking the wrath of a god by ignoring this quest. She’s my insurance.”
He points at Mary Jorgdaughter.