Mike felt the doors close behind him with a rush of air and a loud click.
Sitting at the head of the long table, cloaked in shadow, sat Wilson.
“I saw you fight the lion thing out there… Pathetic,” Wilson said, emphasizing his superiority by casually handling a wine glass full of a viscous red liquid, most likely blood.
Mike bristled at the old man’s comment. Unable to help himself he said, “I took him down without hurting him and gained you another elite team. Shouldn’t you be thanking me?”
Mike knew he was pushing it with his swagger. He was still riding the adrenaline wave of the earlier fight. His confidence had never been higher. He’d never felt more deserving of respect.
The nerdy kid who hated confrontation was dangerously close to being replaced by an egotistical ass.
Luckily Wilson knew exactly how to let the air out of his sails.
“Proud of that fight are you?”
Sensing a shoe was about to drop but completely unsure how to stop it, Mike answered tentatively, “Yeah, I guess.”
“What about after I tell you that Peter there was a level four? That he didn’t have a single skill? How about after I remind you he didn’t use his magic sword? Hell he didn’t even use his natural claws.”
Mike felt his confidence diving. Attempting to save it he asked, “but he had an amazing bloodline didn’t he?”
“Yes his bloodline is very impressive,” Wilson laughed, apparently enjoying Mike’s discomfort.
“His bloodline was the rare rank [Lion King] bloodline. It gave him his tough beastman body, and grants those who follow him a higher chance of developing or finding their own beastman bloodlines. It also grants him the ability to dominate beastmen. It’s a truly enviable bloodline for a leader to have, but it didn’t help him against you. In fact, he was probably weaker than Bartens in a straight comparison. He was faster. Bartens had him in strength and he had that acid spit crap though.”
Mike didn’t know what to say. So he held his tongue.
Wilson seemed satisfied with that. He switched gears to talk about something other than the fight.
“So who are you going to go pick up next? I assume you’ll want the Skeleton and the Paladin?”
Mike wasn’t sure who the Paladin was but he had a more urgent question, “Can you tell me where Trish went? I thought she’d make a good addition to the team.”
Wilson seemed to hesitate. Scowling he threw his wine glass against the wall, just above a trash can. Leaning forward his eyes seemed to radiate red for a moment, bringing a chill to Mike’s spine, before he said, “That’s something I needed to tell you anyway. The satellites no longer seem to be working.”
Mike swallowed, he didn’t like that at all.
“Can they be fixed?” He asked hopefully.
“What’s wrong with them?”
Wilson snorted, self deprecatingly, “We have no idea. At first it was just the goblins They didn’t show up on satellite images. We assumed their shaman were using some sort of cloaking spells. But then shortly after we discovered that problem, we realized there were other things we could’t see. One discovery lead to another. Eventually even things we could see previously started disappearing, it all continuously snowballed, until a few hours ago I was told that not even humans appear on the images anymore. The satellite is now just a really expensive hunk of metal.”
Mike ran his hand through his hair with a sigh, as he said, “Meaning you have no idea where Trish is or how I could go about finding her?”
Wilson’s smile was almost apologetic, but it didn’t quite lose its predatory air.
“Pretty much,” he said.
“So how do you know Troy is still at the apartment then?”
“Technically we don’t. Our last images showed him fortifying the building though, so its a safe bet.”
Mike nodded in agreement, “Fair enough. Troy wasn’t much for taking risks on his own, and I did tell him I’d be coming back to him. Who is the Paladin you mentioned, and where is he at though?”
“She,” Wilson corrected automatically. “That Amy girl you were with for the first few days gained heavy armor skills in addition to her healing. We think she chose a job class like cleric or paladin. We don’t have enough information to be sure. She’s holed up in the suburbs with a group of other survivors. Near as we can tell she’s in charge.”
“She was with a girl named Vanessa, what about her?”
Wilson looked up at the ceiling for a fraction of a second and signed, before looking back down, and into Mike’s eyes. “She seems to be dead. Shortly after the girls left they were attacked by some scum bag, “we can do anything now that the world is over” types. They fought their way clear but hen Amy left the location they’d holed up in that night, she was alone. We assume Vanessa succumbed to her wounds in the night.”
Mike snorted, annoyed not amused. He said, “You’re a barrel of laughs today old man. Any other problems you want to tell me about?”
‘Yes. You should reconsider taking the little girl with you.” Wilson said.
Mike’s mouth hung open in shock.
After a few seconds of consideration he changed his mind. It wasn’t that shocking that Wilson knew. They’d been right outside his offices. Even if he didn’t have surveillance systems etc. as a decently high level vampire he probably directly heard their entire conversation.
Shaking it off he asked why.
“She’s a beast master,” he shot back like it was an answer.
Confused Mike pressed him to explain. He conceded with a grunt.
“Okay fine, she’s a beast master, have you seen her pet? No? That’s cause she hasn’t contracted a single one yet. That’s not the main reason though. The main reason is beast master is a terrible job.”
“What’s bad about it exactly?”
Wilson looked reluctant to speak for a moment as he looked st the wall where he’d thrown his glass earlier. Seeing him Mike got the feeling he was remembering something painful.
After a long silence Wilson finally answered Mike’s question.
“A Beast Master at level thirty can be beaten by most level ten Warrior type players, if they get separated from their pets. Even if they don’t, they’re still the obvious weak spot to aim for when fighting them. Imagine a Pokemon trainer in the real world. If you shoot him or kill his Pokemon, then he’s just a regular kid.
Their self improvement growth is slow because their rewards tend to go toward improving their ability to raise and command pets. They also lack any skills that increase their stats. But perhaps their worst handicap is the fact that, when one of their pets dies, they must raise a new pet from level one again, or whatever level it is when they tame it in the wild.”
Mike, hesitated a moment before blurting out the first question that came to him.
“Who did you know that was a Beast Master?”
Wilson didn’t so much as blink. His body just flashed like a black sheet caught in a jet-stream and suddenly Mike found himself suspended in the air by a hand around his neck his back slammed up against the wall.
Wilson’s eyes were bright red, his fangs fully extended, and the tips of his fingers had grown thick white talons.
He brought his face uncomfortably close to Mike’s cheek as he looked him straight in the eye. Every time he breathed out Mike felt it tickle his cheek. The old mans talons just barely drew blood on his throat.
“Listen kid,” the vampire hissed in his ear, “I put up with your attitude, and disrespect, but stay out of my business. I don’t want your sympathy or pity. I’ll rip your god damn throat out the next time you ask me a question like that. Understand? Nod once if you do.”
Mike didn’t understand at all. His question had been harmless. He’d been looking for humanity in the boss figure. He’d found it, just not the way he expected. Clearly whoever had died meant a lot to him and he didn’t want to talk about it.
Still Mike felt his freak out was unjustified.
He also felt like a bit like wetting his pants, so he kept all such comments to himself. The old man had expended zero effort to get into his guard, and he looked like he could hold him in place forever if necessary. It was a terrifying display of competence.
Swallowing to avoid a whimper that threatened to escape his throat, Mike nodded once.
Satisfied Wilson let him go, turning and casually walking back to his chair at a normal pace as Mike slid down the wall and onto the floor.
Turning back he said, as if it was an after thought, “if you insist on taking the girl, she can use some of the bases accumulated credits to buy a pet from the vending machine. Get her some sort of protective charm too. Beast Masters have their uses if you’re careful and know their limitations.”
Mike squeaked out his agreement, confirmed he would retrieve Troy the next day, and then left. In the cafeteria area he found the girls and Radio. Filling them in on their mission he borrowed Emma to get her outfitted.
Drawing the two thousand credits Wilson had given him permission to take from the communal funds, Mike selected a light armor, a cheap protective charm and a crossbow for Emma to use. Then he let her select a pet to her taste.
She took forever, flipping the pages back and forth and debating with Mike which ones would be the best. Eventually she had it narrowed down to two, a kamitachi, which in Mike’s opinion was a wind squirrel, and a sun-sparrow, which was basically a sparrow with minor control over fire.
Assuming the difficulty was cost, Mike offered to purchase one of them to move her along, which freed her up to buy a skill that allowed her to increase her pet’s size temporarily. The skill would increase in power as she did, and would even work on larger pets later on.
Noting Emma’s mischievous smirk, Mike decided to ignore the fact he was played in favor of celebrating the versatility Emma now brought to the team. Assuming her pets were worth a damn in the first place.
Emma in turn seemed slightly disappointed he didn’t confront her, and made a point of loudly telling their entire table of her manipulations when they got back to the group. Laughing along with the group, Mike waited till her guard was down before retaliating with the simple expedient of a noogie.
Not long after that everyone crawled into their bunks in the barracks. They had a big day planned. Mike, for his part, was excited to see Troy again. Like most people he knew now, he didn’t have a long standing bond with him. But he did think of the skeleton as a friend in his thoughts.
I made a huge mistake. Steam was having a sale so I bought an older version of RPG Maker… I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can’t leave it alone. That’s on top of all the writing, and website tinkering I’ve been doing that has nothing to do with SWRPG.
In other words, you guys are lucky I managed to eke out a chapter tonight. I almost didn’t and it definitely didn’t get any real polish. Sorry.
Author : The Steve