Lord Darth of Darkness
ARC 1: The Zombie in the Wood
Chapter Three: Into the Woods
Pharma read the results of Prowl’s test, then looked up, face utterly serious. “You have gotten worse and will die.”
Prowl’s doorwings flicked in sudden alarm. “You are joking!”
“Yes,” the medic chuckled and put the datapad on the table. “These results are fantastic! Your CPU is working more smoothly, your error reports went down by 89% and overall speed of your thought processes increased by 1.3%. And just for the record, you weren’t exactly slow before. If this trend continues for another few vorns you can apply for the FAPOC Club.”
He had relaxed, when he heard the results. Yes, he felt a lot better and hadn’t crashed but to have his feelings backed up scientifically, did a lot for his peace of spark. “What kind of Club?”
“Don’t say you haven’t heard of them?” Pharma sighed, “Of course you haven’t. FAPOC is short for Fastest Processors on Cybertron. It’s a club of mechs who got frustrated that everyone was slower than them. Membership requirement is to be able to complete more than 800 different calculations per second.”
“I see.” Prowl crossed his arms. “Sounds like they are quite self-centred.”
“Mmh, maybe a bit,” admitted the medic easily. “So, how many can you complete? Or shall we test it now?”
“This is not necessary, Pharma.” Prowl waited, not wanting to answer, but that smile of Pharma he knew well. The mech wouldn’t back down until he had his answers. “811, last vorn. Considering the increase thanks to the change of my recharge habit, I probably reach now 822, maybe 823.”
“Impressive. Shall I apply for you?”
“More friends might help you with your stress issues just as much as playing online,” Pharma leant back in his seat. “As your medic I recommend that you seek likeminded mechs.”
Prowl sighed, “I have you and I am playing online. Isn’t that enough?”
The medic considered it for a second, then his optics fell on the datapad. “For now, yes. Though why you have chosen Albenhus of all starting places…”
“It was available.”
“It’s insanity,” Pharma shrugged. “But considering you are still playing, it can’t be as bad as rumours say.”
Prowl nodded. Privately he thought that yes, it was as bad and probably worse, but there weren’t any other players and now that he wasn’t hunted by everything alive anymore, the whole town was only… cold, dark and dirty. Frighteningly, he had already found himself getting used to it, but now with the pup he was leaving it behind. Something to look forward to.
It took an entire deca-orn walking the wilderness, then they found the mother. She was injured, and Prowl decided to stay until she healed. The constant fighting of monsters gave him experience points and other boni, but he deactivated those messages. He didn’t play the game to become strong, after all. Yet, when they needed food, he started hunting the monsters in earnest.
[Rust sword broke. The sword was old and worn-down. It has done its duty.]
Prowl stared in disbelief at the hilt in his servo – the shards of the blade were on the grassy ground. But he only had moments to contemplate his new situation, because the monster he had just hunted was now turning around.
He cursed quietly. Not only was he now prey, but Alrik and his mother, Tabira, needed the food he provided. Still, survival came first. Swallowing his pride, he started to run away as fast as possible. And wondered even during the run, why he was so scared of death here. Wasn’t he just a player and would be revived? Still, everything felt so real, and he didn’t know where he would be revived. There was a good chance, he would need orns to walk back to this abandoned part of the forest. Time, the two werewolves didn’t have.
So, running it was.
He escaped barely, but had still no food. For a moment he contemplated fishing, but the only creek reasonably nearby was small, and held tiny fish. No, his only chance was to set traps. He looked around and at the forest. Was there anything he could use?
In the end, he came back from the hunting late, dirty, and tired, but with a monster that fell into his trap and which he – to his eternal embarrassment – had simply stoned to death. Crude, yes, but effective. He didn't answer Alrik's question in the evening why the monster was so flat.
The next orn he noticed to his delight that he could dig the hole for the trap easier, the orn after that he discovered that he could now create a strong tow with plants.
Bemused, he tried to find out how to look at his own in-game information. The information was probably included in the tutorial, but Prowl simply tried various things like poking the air, touching above his spark or ordering the ‘information window’ to appear. Nothing happened, but trial and error was a very famous method for a reason, and in the end he managed it.
“Avatar window,” he ordered – and indeed a window full with information appeared in front of him.
[Name: Lord Darth
Faith: Boron Church, Rank: Novice
He was a zombie? Prowl thought he should have guessed that. He made a note to find out if he could burn easily, or drown, or rot away. He had no desire to simply fall down dead one orn. He wondered if titles were rare things, or if he had just missed them so far, because he had mostly stayed in the woods far away from any civilisation. For all he knew, one might get a title with every second quest or something. Maybe there were players with hundreds of titles out there.
He scrolled down, jumping over far too many numbers and things he didn’t care about. [Skills] made him stop. There were only a few so far.
[Sword skill] was S-ranked, whatever that meant. And he had reached Level 14 in it. That was probably good. Below it was [Hiding], C-ranked, level 11. That running away for the first joors in the city and the hunting later had at least been good for something.
His third and last skill was [Trap Hunter], also C-ranked, Level 4. Amused, he decided to perfect it and to create more and more elaborate traps – when he wasn’t running away. He would never have guessed that some orn he would miss some old rusty sword so fiercely.
In the real world, Prowl went on with his usual job. He delegated the reports he had done during his recharge in the past, but no one mentioned anything towards him. In fact, he was fairly sure that a few were even pleased to get more responsibility…
Of course, some were not pleased to get more paperwork. Prowl didn’t feel much pity towards them. To be free of the fear of crashes and pain made it all worthwhile.
Even if he had to play a game for it. The solution could have been infinitely worse. He even send a message to Pharma that the ‘treatment’ was working. He got the application form for FAPOC as answer.
Altogether, his new balance in life seemed to work out. The only strange thing was that now he realised just how often everyone talked about a virtual World – especially ‘Black Optics’. It seems that everyone and their alien visitors were playing it.
Reason enough to avoid that one “black” table during break, where all the Enforcers gathered who wanted to discuss something within the game. What were skill paths or NPA anyway? He was just fine without them.
“You saved us,” said the mother after she could again stand on her four feet – and then moments later on her two feet when she turned into her mechform. He had protected her and pup for two entire deca-orns, and even hunted their food. “You’re a true friend of the werewolves.”
[New title received: Friend of the werewolves.]
Prowl looked at the window that appeared only for a moment. He had one title now. He still didn’t quite understand what they were useful for or if they were just for boasting.
“I did what anyone would have done,” said Prowl with a shrug. “You mentioned a tribe. Are you feeling well enough to get home alone?”
“Yes,” said Tabira. “I would like to invite you to come along, though.”
“If you are sure…?” He had gained the feeling that the werewolves were a secretive bunch.
“I am,” she looked at him with steady yellow optics. “Our pack and the alpha will want to meet you.”
“The alpha is your leader, right?” She nodded. “Well, if you truly do not mind, it would be a pleasure to join you.”
[Quest accepted: Follow Tabira and Alrik to the werewolf tribe. This is a sign of great trust and a special honour towards a non-werewolf. Be careful not to betray it. Quest rewards: Unknown.]
They had few things to pack. Two knives, fur and teeth from the animals, ropes created for the traps. Tabira simply shifted into her wolf frame, while Alrik had never left it. The pup explained that he could only shift during full moon, when the magic of the moon goddess was strongest. When Prowl asked if the moon goddess was a dark god, the answer was: “Of course, she is the goddess of the night and the hunt!”
The tribe didn’t live nearby. They walked four orns, resting plenty, because even if Tabira put up a brave front, Prowl could still see that she was hurting. Yet he said nothing, and simply called for rest more often. The pup didn’t mind. He had his mother and Prowl and the entire wood for play. Prowl’s patience was pushed repeatedly towards the brink, because Alrik’s favourite game turned out to be ‘Stalk and pounce the prey’.
During their journey they walked deeper and deeper into the forest on paths Prowl wouldn’t have found with a map and exact description. When they stepped out of the thick undergrowth unto a clearing, Prowl was relieved that they hadn’t gotten hopelessly lost. Before them was a vast, green clearing with a few fire places. It was populated by wolves and mechs alike, at its edge stood four longhouses and a few smaller huts.
[Congratulations. You are the first player to discover a werewolf tribe of the Dark Woods! +5 to fame.]
[Congratulations. You are the first player to discover Zoor’s werewolf tribe. +3 to fame.]
Fame? For a moment he grew worried. Not that players with too much fame showed up on some boards or publications… or worse, in one of those popular shows about worlds and games! He would need to be careful.
[Quest completed. Reward: New Quest! Quest: Win the trust of the werewolf tribe. Do you accept? Yes / No.]
He chose yes.
Prowl did a fast headcount and to his surprise he could see from where he stood fifteen werewolves and more were coming. It seemed that the tribe really wasn’t one of the small kind.
Suddenly, a wolf stormed towards them. It was big and dark, it put Prowl on alert until Alrik screamed, “Daddy!” He relaxed, and watched the very happy family reunion with amusement. Alrik didn’t stop trying to climb his father, while his father seemed not to know if to lick his pup, or to cuddle with Tabira, first.
“Ah,” said a scratchy voice, and Prowl turned towards it. An old, very big mech stood in front of him. Steely grey, intelligent optics took Prowl in, and it was clear that he didn’t carry that spear because he needed it for walking. “I guess we have to thank you for returning Tabira to us?”
Prowl shrugged, “I just helped Alrik and her a bit. My name is Lord Darth, who are you?”
“Alpha Zoor,” the wolf looked at the family. “You can tell me inside my hut exactly what happened, Lord Darth.”
Prowl did as he was told, trying to look as if he wasn’t bothered by the fact that more and more young, strong looking wolves were showing up and watching him. The tribe was not happy that he was here, and very much prepared to tear him apart.
Well, at least if the worst case happened, he was now very good at running and hiding.