Strong smells of smoke and death stung nostrils of any left alive to experience their stench.
The village was a small one along the outlying borders of Arlestrous, barely a hundred people living there, with only a small handful of knights protecting it. The party had made very short work of them, had even made it their first act of aggression. The rest of the little hamlet fell into a bloody chaos shortly thereafter. There were three men who had set upon the NPC village were mid level players of HeroPlane; their defeat of the knights stationed there was largely credited to the element of surprise. The rest, however, were hardly a challenge. Farmers, hunters, and other noncombatants of varying age all fell rather easily. The usual sounds of the village were now replaced by the dull crackle of fires and the intermittent wailing of pain.
A scream broke the silence in one of the houses, drowned out by booming laughter.
“Brock? Brock, what are you doing? Did you find a survivor or something?” a robed man called into one of the few huts still standing. He was lean and lithe, his let black hair pulled into a tight ponytail that hung past his shoulders, his face thin and his features sharp. Among the group, he was the only one who carried no weapons – as a monk, his fists served that purpose just as well.
“Relax, Jin, I’m just trying something out!” a rough, thick voice called back. Jin chuckled. They’d been playing this game long enough, but he still had a hard time wrapping his head around how well the game synthesized its players voices – the gruff mountain of a man that had called back to him was a twelve-year-old boy, but you’d think he was actually a large, grizzled fighter from the sound of him. The monk pushed his way into the room from which he heard Brock calling.
He paused at the doorway, bewildered.
“Brock … what the fuck?”
Brock was a giant of a man clad in thick, heavy plates of armor. A massive greataxe lat unattended on the floor, and a female peasant sat cowering in the corner. She didn’t appear harmed yet, which put her in a much more favorable position than the other NPCs that populated this village. She, however, was not Jin’s concern.
The lower half of Brock’s armor was also piled on the floor, and the man stood, frustratedly pulling at undergarments that did not move from their affixed position.
“What the FUCK!?” he repeated.
“Oh, relax.” Brock called back. “I told you, I’m just trying something. Doesn’t look like they let you take all your pants off, though.” he finally declared with an exasperated sigh. Jin shook his head, dumbfounded.
“But you TRIED it.”
“Yeah, I tried it. I heard that some people did stuff like this to NPCs in the beta – I didn’t know if they had removed it or not.”
“Dude. Dude. That’s all kinds of sick.”
“Sure, sure. Raping a real thing is WAY better.”
“RAPING NOTHING IS BETTER. AND REGARDLESS, YOU’RE TWELVE. RAPING SHOULDN’T BE IN YOUR VOCABULARY.”
The man rolled his eyes as he started to put his armor back on, nodding at Jin. “Okay, MOM. Geeze, it’s just a game. They’re not real. Anyway, can you help me out with this? I left my lackey back at camp and I need a partner to put this stuff on.” Jin sighed and began helping the Fighter back into his armor.
A man wearing a combination of robes and armor made his way towards the building, his clothes and shield bearing the symbol of a deity of healing and light. He called out to the building his partners stood in. “Guys, can we go save kittens or something for a while? My alignment is pretty shot, and I’d LIKE to be able to keep patching you douchebags up.”
“Neil, I fail to see why its our fault that you picked a Lawful Good deity.” Jin called back with a smirk. “We told you we were going to be bandits, you knew what you were getting into.”
Neil stepped into the room the two sat in as Jin was finishing putting on Brock’s armor. “Yeah, well, I figured you’d appreciate me being better at healing magic and why are you putting Brock’s pants back on?”
“Because Plate needs an assistant to be put on.”
“But why was it off in the first place?”
Jin opened his mouth to not-answer, when he paused, frowning. “Someone’s outside.”
“Survivors? Hunting party coming back?” Brock asked as he reached for his axe, nonchalantly beheading the cowering woman with one quick motion as his partners started in shock.
“Jesus, man, did you HAVE to?”
“Neil. Hush. Both of you. The footsteps are loud. Heavy The man outside is armored. Could be another knight. We need to be ready.”
Brock cracked his neck as he took thundering steps out of the building, discretion completely absent from the man. He half replied, half shouted out to the apparent eavesdropper. “Hah! We killed half a dozen of those knights already. What’s one more gonna-”
Brock froze as he saw who stood outside. His armor was a pristine, pearl-white The cloth and tabbards draped on him bore a familiar green, yellow, and white symbol that the twelve year old boy knew well as he looked through Brock’s eyes.
It was the symbol of PIOMA, developers of this game they were playing.
“Warden!” he called out in a panic, as he readied his axe. Jin and Neil were beside him in an instant, Neil already preparing to use a healing spell, Jin moving to the side to flank the Warden. None of them had seen one of these before, they only knew of the Wardens as defenders of noncombatant NPCs. They were PIOMA’s answer to the violent members of the player base who simply walked around killing everything. Their slaughter that day must have attracted the attention of the Wardens, Jin thought.
After a nervous pause, Brock yelled, charging after the warden, bringing his axe over his head before slamming it down, obliterating the dirt ground where the Warden had stood seconds earlier. The Warden had stepped to the side, having not yet even drawn his sword as he raised a hand. A few quick gestures later and a bolt of lighting shot from his fingers.
The bolt shot into Neil, picking him off of his feet, as he landed on the ground, gasping in pain. Jin cursed under his breath and moved in, a striking palm shooting forward. The Warden narrowly positioned himself such that the blow bounced off of his armor, and in an instand, his weapon and shield were drawn and he stood ready to fight.
“Fucking Quick Draw.” Jin muttered, taking a fighting stance as he let loose a rapid succession of attacks – the Flurry of Blows, the Monk class’s specialty. Some did not connect. Others, however, did, as Jin heard the Warden grunt in pain from a few good hits. Good. They CAN be hurt. He had a glimmer of hope that he wasn’t about to lose this character.
Then the Warden retaliated.
Jin was always impressed at the pain-like sensation offered in combat from HeroPlane, yet another marvel of the technology presented. He did, however, find that it was a bit of a dick move that there was nothing pain-LIKE about fighting the Wardens. As he was learning now, the sensations from wounds the wardens would inflict felt JUST like real pain.
And that meant that the blade that had just run through his torso really, REALLY hurt.
He uttered a sputtering, hacking cough as the Warden kicked him free of his sword, the monk toppling over, writhing and gasping on the floor next to his sizzling compatriot, who’s breathing was slow and wheezy. Jin blinked, puzzled. Neil’s character was slightly faded, as if his character wasn’t quite there.
“Must’ve … taken off his AVI helmet …” Jin sputtered. “Not … a bad idea …” he mused, as he glanced back, morbidly curious to see how his compatriot was faring.
His eyes widened. The Warden was crumpled on the floor. Brock stood, panting, but relatively unharmed.
“He wasn’t looking at me.” Brock explained. “Made it easy to get a good hit on him from behind.”
Jin could only nod. He’d never heard of someone surviving an encounter with the Wardens. This was going to make for a great story back at the Capitol.
“Just hang tight, I’ll grab Neil’s healing crap, and … and ….”
Brock turned at the sound of more, heavy footsteps. He frowned.
Twelve more Wardens stood before the three, their weapons drawn and their shields ready. The first warden rose as well. Granted, he WAS injured. But his stance was tall, confident. Like he was ready to begin fighting in earnest.
Jin cursed as the Wardens fell upon them.