Chapter 37 - Bittersweet
Francine - Present
“Stop, Dan. If she wants to come back she will.” I say.
Dan’s dark silhouette stiffens. He’s nearly impossible to see out here at night, on the edge of town; save glints of torchlight reflecting off the metal bits of his armor. The shouts, hoots and rhythmic stomping from the Don’t Mess With Texas Saloon ripple through the quiet darkness around us. I smile. The relief on all my people’s face this afternoon, when I announced the Athenian Elite had dispatched Null, warmed me.
I knew before Mary walked out of the forest, and Dan, David, Kuruk, Doc and Leonard respawned; thanks to the quest completion prompt.
Success! You completed: Bastion of Life On The Frontier - Vitalia’s Will
Your temple starts at Level 2!
Vitalia’s Temple Level 2 provides the following benefits:
Success! You completed: Stop the Spread of Death - Vitalia’s Will
Your temple gains one level to become Vitalia’s Temple (Level 3)
Vitalia’s Temple Level 3 provides the following benefits:
I received the completion notification for Bastion of Life on the Frontier early this morning, but the notification for Stop the Spread of Death didn’t occur until this afternoon. I knew there was only one way for that quest to be completed, my team must have killed Null.
“I know you don’t like her Francine. I saw the look on your face when we told you about the confrontation with Null. You were surprised she was the only effective person in that fight, and none too upset when we didn’t know her fate. You’d be fine if she never came back.” Dan says.
“Right and wrong, Dan. I don’t care for her and I wouldn’t be upset if she stayed gone. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s as effective as you describe, in the fight and as a team leader. However, I owe her an apology and the Athenian Elite must be an effective unit.”
“Team leader?” Dan says.
“What else do you call the person who comes up with plans and gives people instructions that they follow? You told me she came up with the strategy for assaulting Null’s team in the burning village and before that at Null’s camp. Samantha’s the one who recruited Clara and her team, and it sounds like she even led you to victory in Chronos’ cave too.”
Dan turns to face me. The torchlight lets me see his conflicted face.
“Ah, I see. I’m sorry, Dan, but you’re not the leader of that group. You built it, you brought everyone together, but you’re not running it. The Elite need you, and your healing, but I think you’ll agree that Samantha had the reins, and she used them well.”
Dan takes a minute, thinking through the past few days.
“I guess you’re right. It’s just I’ve never been in charge and it was nice to be for a short while...” Dan says, his shoulders hanging down.
“Still want her to come back?” I say, smiling.
“Of course, I’m no jealous Janet! Besides, it’s too stressful being in charge. Much easier to bestow my blessings from the back, where it’s safe. I can still feel where Null cut me with his sword. The pain in the game is vastly less than real life but still, that was unpleasant. Thanks for building a temple to Vitalia, I can get quests from her now for boons and faith points. I know you can get them without a temple, but it’s much easier this way.”
“You’re welcome. Vitalia implied it would save us from Null, and the level 3 effect protecting all within it technically does, but realistically would not have. All Null had to do was sit outside the temple until we were forced to exit, and kill us then. No, she misled us for her own reasons. But, nothing we can do about it now.”
I shrug. Something doesn’t feel right about Vitalia, besides intentionally misleading me into building the temple. Maybe it’s just that being the Goddess of Life isn’t the same thing as being a Goddess of “Good”. Life is not intrinsically “Good” nor death “Bad.” It just seems that way.
“Radius of Life makes this ordeal worth it. Our crops will grow much faster now, as will the forest around us and our livestock. It’s a huge advantage, and I know how to leverage it, we’ll triple our population. Mitchell has already sent word to all our villagers that they should collect their relatives and bring them here. It should be an easy sell with our Sawmill and Clay workshop. These people have never seen industrially milled lumber or clay pipe sewers.”
“I’ve also asked Clara to recruit as many people as she can from her hometown to join us here, with a stipend of course. Before you bring up James, I know, he didn’t want to use our wealth to cheat at building an empire, but this isn’t cheating, it’s helping other people. Clara and her clan are from Below, they have no job prospects. Did any of our companies hire people from Below? No, they didn’t. Not because we have any rule about it but because, in general, they had no reason to seek more education or specialties our companies required. I think we can give them a sense of purpose here, something to do besides playing a game for a short time before moving on to the next one. People might not need to work for an income anymore, but working does more than that, it gives one a sense of purpose, a direction. Besides, I think by the time we’re done, making a good amount of money in Incrementum will lead to a good amount of money in reality as well. Well, by the time Carson is done at any rate. You should hear him talking about the potential size of Incrementum’s economy, bigger than most countries he claims.”
“Most importantly, we will likely have the largest food production base of any Homestead in Incrementum. What does having the most food mean, Dan?”
He looks at me, a puzzled expression.
“We can feed the most people?” Dan says.
“We can feed the biggest army. An army marches on its stomach and ours will have the biggest stomach. There will be war, Dan, by our hand. There will be war when our neighbors don’t choose to join the Athenian Empire or try to take what’s ours. There will be war when others abuse this world and its inhabitants. There will be war, and the Athenian Empire will stand at the end.”
Dan’s face looks sad, his eyes misty. I can’t do anything about it. It’s reality or game reality at any rate. There will be large scale battles for dominion of this world if there aren’t already. Our only choice is to win or lose.
“Something else you are wrong about, stomping off into the darkness in Incrementum is not the best way to find our wayward tank. Let’s go talk to the girl the old-fashioned way, in person.” I say.