Chapter 2>>

“Ow! Y’know I’m perfectly capable of walking up these stairs without you jabbing that spear in my back!”

The guard grunted and jabbed me in the back again. Not a pleasant feeling, all things considered.

I double checked that my live stream was going. If I was going to suffer for this then I wanted to make sure it was all worth it. I grinned as I saw my usual few thousand viewers, though the numbers were going… down.

Fuckity fuck fuck!

“We’re losing eyes,” Kristoph said, his voice appearing in my head in our group chat even though he was nowhere to be seen and I didn’t have any obvious headset in.

No matter how long this game went on that was still a hell of a mindfuck.

“Just wait,” I said, my voice only carrying in that group chat and not to the NPCs all around. “They think they know what’s going to happen here.”

“I’m worried they do know what’s going to happen here,” Kristoph said.

“Yeah, well we’ll see about that,” I said.

Those numbers would start going up soon enough. I hoped.

The guards poked and prodded me all the way to the top of the long ivory stairs. I winced to think of the number of elephants who’d been sacrificed to get that much material, then reminded myself this was, after all, a video game where it’s not like any real elephants had been harmed in the making of this staircase.

We reached the top step. The smell was the first thing I noticed. Incense of some sort burning and wafting across my nostrils.

“Smells like a head shop up here,” I said, glancing around.

The creation of the Lotus hardware had necessitated the creation of a whole new form of art: Nasal Foley Artists. Which might seem like an interesting job until you stop and think about the necessity of enduring not only the pleasant smells that went into a simulation like Lotus, but all the unpleasant smells that had to be painstakingly researched until the developers knew exactly which neurons to tickle in someone’s brain to, say, give them the impression they were sniffing dragon fewmets.

Go ahead and tap that to bring up the dictionary on your reader. I’ll wait here for you.

I didn’t envy those poor bastards that job. Still, I could appreciate the hard work that’d gone into making me think I was smelling anything at all.

One final prod and I was at the top of the throne room appreciating an impressive view along with a few small holes in my back that I didn’t appreciate.

I could see the entire throne room from up here. It was a massive gaudy thing. All white with glowing crystals. Like the sort of Star Wars ripoff high fantasy that’d been in vogue back in the 1980s. 

I hadn’t been close to being alive back then. My parents talked about that decade with fondness, even though they were born years too late to even be an itch in their dads’ balls when the ‘80s were a going concern.

The crowd was even more impressive. If the room looked like something out of a Conan/Star Wars hybrid knockoff then the people down below were right at home. The only word that came to mind as I got a look at them was resplendent. The artist who’d designed this room had gone a little hog wild doing the costumes. 

The rich assholes down there who usually spent most of their time with their lips firmly connected to the king’s ass in this game world were looking up at me with looks I’d describe as “rapacious anticipation.”

They knew what was about to happen, and they were looking forward to it. I rather liked having my head attached to my neck, but it looked like they were rather excited about its impending removal.

The guards threw me roughly to the ground. I felt every bit of pain as I hit that ground. This was all in my head, but wasn’t everything in your head, technically speaking? If your head was where the world was processed then where did the line get drawn between something between your ears being fake and real?

It was an existential question that’d vexed gaming journalists and real journalists alike since the Lotus hardware launched and started to rapidly change civilization as humanity knew it, but none of that was my concern.

I had a king to depose, and the people who made this game weren’t going to be happy about what I was doing considering I was supposed to die here.

“Your majesty,” I said, trying to hide the pain and the wince that came along with speaking. “So nice to finally meet you.”

“Nice?” the king growled. “You’ve been causing me far too much trouble, youngling, and it’s high time we take care of that. I’m going to enjoy dealing with this. Personally.”

The low hum from the assembled court below rose to a dull roar. Clearly they thought they were going to get a hell of a show today. Clearly this was the sort of bloodthirsty thing they were used to.

Basically they were reacting like some unpaid English major intern’s idea of a bloodthirsty rabble because said intern had skimmed a couple of books about the French Revolution and maybe went through the Cliff’s Notes for A Tale of Two Cities while coming up with the backstory for this scenario, then channeled that thirdhand knowledge into the assembled throngs below.

Of course I well knew how bloodthirsty the Blood King’s court was. With a hack name like Blood King the whole bloodthirsty thing sort of followed naturally. Plus I’d seen plenty of play throughs from players who got to this point in the module. It never ended well for the unlucky bastards stupid enough to get captured.

This was supposed to be a fail state, after all. The ultimate middle finger from the Horizon developers where you were supposed to walk with a hop, skip, and a jump to your in-game death. The sort of sequence you couldn’t back out of, because the assholes who made this module apparently had a sadistic streak a mile wide.

Which was about par for the course for Horizon. Sadistic or dangerously incompetent was their MO. Except for the times when they went for sadistic and dangerously incompetent.

The king, an aged dude who looked like he’d kicked some ass when he was younger to get his ass on that throne in the first place, stood. Nowadays his once wide shoulders had trouble holding up his voluminous crimson robes that looked like the Lucasfilm costume department had a rummage sale after filming wrapped on Return of the Jedi. If those shoulders were having trouble with robes then it didn’t seem reasonable or realistic that he could hold up a weapon, but he held a hand out for his sword regardless.

“Moving in,” Kristoph said. “Give the word and I’m in the fight.”

“Got it,” I said, pointedly not glancing behind the king. I hoped to take care of this without Kristoph’s backup, but it was nice to know my friend was there if I needed it.

I caught a hint of movement behind the king, but I avoided looking at the conveniently wide walkway that ran behind the throne. That walkway wasn’t a great design for a king who spent a great deal of time terrified of assassins, but this whole room was built to the specifications of game designers who wanted to provide their players with an interesting experience and not to the specifications of a mad king who was obsessed with preventing assassinations. Which meant there had to be a convenient method of reaching the king to assassinate him that would be obvious even to gamers who had all the intelligence and personality of a box of rocks, and fuck whether or not that convenient method of assassination was internally consistent with the rest of the game lore.

The king’s hand twitched. He hit the guard beside him with an irritated glance. The guard, a cyborg resplendent in deep purple robes that were also reminiscent of a certain emperor’s guards while being different enough that the people who made this module couldn’t get the pants sued off of them by the mighty mouse, stayed still.

“What are you waiting for?” the king croaked. “When I hold my hand out like this it means I want my sword. And if I wiggle my fingers it means you’re one step away from the scrap heap unless you do my bidding. Now what’s it going to be?”

I couldn’t help but smile just a little at the king’s irritation. After all, if he was this irritated it meant I was doing something right.

I stood, which earned me some irritated hisses from the guards. They raised their spears, and I winced as I anticipated more pokes to get me down on my knees again. 

The king turned and eyed me with open disdain, but blessedly he held up a hand to stop the guards from sticking me like a pincushion. Which I was grateful for, even if I wouldn’t let on how grateful I was. I knew I’d have to endure pain to do this, but I wasn’t all that jazzed about it.

“Would you like me to help you with that?” I asked, desperately hoping he would rise to the bait.

Even though the good king rising to the bait might very shortly result in my untimely demise. Thems were the breaks when you were trying to break all the rules in the interest of fucking over a soulless murdering multinational entertainment conglomerate.

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Chapter 2>>