The king eyed me with the sort of suspicion usually reserved for monarchs staring at a bunch of assholes talking about things like republicanism or guillotines. Which is to say he was annoyed, but cautious since I was confident in a spot where I had no right to it.
“How could you possibly help me retrieve my sword?” the king asked.
“Easy. You’re doing the whole summoning thing wrong.”
“I’m doing it wrong?”
“Yup. You just hold your hand out like this,” I said, holding my hand out just as the king had a moment ago. “And give your fingers a little wiggle like this.”
I wiggled my fingers just so. It wasn’t necessary, but I liked a bit of theatricality for the people watching my stream at home. The more I hammed it up the more they’d tell their friends they needed to get a look at the asshole who was about to get beheaded by the cyberguards.
The more eyes I had on my livestream the more fun the big reveal would be. Because someone was losing their head before this was all over, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me if I had anything to say about it.
A bright red light set into the cyberguard’s chest, the one holding the king’s sword, turned a more soothing blue color. The not-quite-man and not-quite-machine obligingly turned and handed the king’s sword over to me.
The king stared, flummoxed, as I held the thing high and got a feel for the weapon. Yeah, that was the sort of look monarchs got when the revolutionaries stopped talking about the guillotine and started setting up their beheading implements of choice.
Though in this case my beheading implement of choice was the king’s own sword. The thing was a real cyberpunk masterpiece. Translucent blue with circuits running all through it. It was light to the touch even though it was the most powerful weapon in this game. The sort of weapon a player wasn’t supposed to get their hands on under any circumstances.
“How did you… What did you… That’s impossible!”
“That’s only impossible if you’re not the king,” I said, turning to the former king with a wink. “And thanks to some well placed bribes in all the right places I’m the king now.”
I whirled around and sliced the cybernetic sword through the cybernetic guards who’d been poking and prodding me all the way up the stairs, then finished by shoving the sword into the former king’s stomach. Surprise remained on the old man’s face until the light went out of his eyes.
Like it literally went out of his eyes. He had obvious cybernetic implants that made his eyes glow a dull purple. At least until he pulled a Terminator and that glow slowly went dead.
It would’ve been a pretty cool effect if it wasn’t a shameless ripoff of something James Cameron had done better decades ago.
Meanwhile I was more impressed with how easy it was to gut the old king like a fish. I’d hoped it would be that easy, but I’d also figured there might be something in the module to stop me from doing what I’d just done despite all my preparation for this oh-so-sweet moment.
Horizon wasn’t above shoddy game design that involved invisible walls to stop gamers from doing what they weren’t supposed to do, and killing the king in the Game Over cutscene was, after all, right at the top of the list of things players weren’t supposed to be able to do.
Whatever. Long live the king, and right about now that meant long live me.
“Hail to the king, baby,” I said, then I jerked the sword up to where the old king’s heart should’ve been, assuming it hadn’t been replaced by some cybernetic implant at some point.
Best to be sure. The king might’ve gotten in a bar fight with some Nausicaans in his youth, after all.
Something dropped down from the walkway above. Kristoph, his shoulders wide and massive, stepped forward looking like pure death. I figured it was a damn good thing Kristoph was on my side considering just how unhappy he seemed.
“Did you have to kill him?” he asked in a whine that didn’t at all jive with the looming brooding look he had going.
“Well yeah?” I said. “That’s sort of the point.”
“But I was about to launch my big distracting attack!”
I sighed and set the blade into the floor. The tip sank into the fantastical bone because it could cut through anything in the game.
“Yeah, but I’d rather do it my way,” I said. “After all, I’m the one who figured out we could dupe the control crystal and use it to take control of the cyberguards.”
“Yeah, but I was the one who…”
Kristoph paused. Scratched his head. Which very nearly took that head off considering he was carrying a cybernetic handaxe that looked like the less dangerous younger brother of the badass cybersword I held.
“You’re going to take your head off doing that someday. You know that, right?” I asked.
“Maybe, but that day isn’t today. Speaking of taking some heads off?”
I followed Kristoph’s gaze to the gathered court who were clearly getting more and more confused. Though some of them were looking at that cybersword in my hands as though they were wondering if the king was the only noble who was going to have his back against the wall by the time the revolution was over.
I double checked the numbers on the live stream. They’d paused in the low four figures, and now they were starting to tick up again. I grinned.
Recordings of what I’d just done would be going out all over the Internet at this point, which meant more and more people tuning in to catch what was next on the live show.
“Told you they’d come back,” I said in group chat where the livestream watchers couldn’t hear.
“Showoff,” Kristoph muttered.
“Right,” I said, raising my voice and speaking in general chat where the assembled NPC toadies and livestream viewers could hear me just fine. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but your kingdom just came under new management. That means things are going to change a bit around here, and we’re going to start from the top down!”
I held up the control crystal I’d been hiding in my ratty robes. The one we totally shouldn’t have at this point in the game, but there it was. The thing glowed bright pink. Not exactly the blood red that seemed appropriate for an object that could control the nastiest cyborg army this game world had ever known, an army headed by an asshole who called himself the Blood King, no less, but as long as it did the trick I wasn’t going to complain.
There was a collective intake of breath from the gathered nobles below as a good chunk of them realized how collectively fucked they were if I was in a bloodthirsty mood. Sure some seemed to still anticipate something that wasn’t their impending doom from the way they eyed me hopefully.
Maybe they thought if there was a new power in town then they could get ahead by being the first to attach their lips firmly to my ass.
I grinned. It wasn’t a pleasant grin. It was the sort of grin that said a bunch of AI NPCs were about to have their lives cut short. At least until the next time someone played this module, at which point they’d be booted up from their parent object or whatever it was Horizon’s devs used to program these assholes.
One thing was for sure. They’d come into this room anticipating blood, and boy were they going to get some blood. Just not from the source they’d expected.
“Kill them,” I said.
The cyberguards throughout the room moved into action pulling out their cyberpunk cutlery and raising it. They were poised on the verge of teaching the gathered masses the dangers of being too close to the top when the revolution comes when the room flashed red.
I looked up in annoyance. What the fuck?
“Crap,” Kristoph said.
The cyberguards around the throne room were frozen on the brink of laying into the crowd of nobles. Those nobles were frozen in a mixture of terror and confusion. It would’ve been a hell of a sight, but it looked like the game wasn’t going to let us have our fun.
“You knew this was going to happen,” Kristoph said. “They don’t like it when people break their games.”
“They really don’t like it when people break their games and broadcast it to the world,” I muttered, glancing at the subscriber count again and blinking when I saw that it’d reached six figures and was climbing so fast that the numbers were a blur.
I grinned. If we were getting this kind of attention then maybe that red flashing was a good thing. Maybe we wouldn’t need a bloodbath to get Horizon’s attention.
I’d just taken the ultimate no-win scenario and turned it around on the pompous developers at Horizon who’d claimed no one could cheat their system, and chances were they were pissed.
Though I didn’t consider it cheating if I was using a system they’d been stupid enough to put into the game. Even if I was using it in a way Horizon hadn’t anticipated. I was smart enough to know they wouldn’t see it that way, and them not seeing eye to eye with people not playing their modules in the way they intended had turned deadly in the past.
For all that they denied it and tried to hide behind their fucking lawyers.
A roiling ball lightning storm appeared in the middle of the throne room slightly above the crowd of toadies frozen on the brink of death, and a figure resplendent in bright red robes floated out of said storm.
I was supposed to be terrified by that display, but I had a shit-eating grin plastered on my face. Holy. Fucking. Shit. It worked!
“Huh,” Kristoph grunted. “Not the sort of weather you typically get in an enclosed space like this.”
“Yeah, I think we just summoned a shit storm,” I said.
The figure would’ve been impressive, a sort of cyberpunk meets medieval armor chic look that was the sort of thing that appeared in the fever dreams of people who used pop culture to replace their social life, but the whole image was ruined by the stupid “H” logo emblazoned on the asshole’s chest.
I tried to replace that shit-eating grin with the appropriate amount of terror, what this asshole would expect, but it was hard not to grin.
This was what I’d hoped for. Prayed for. What I’d devised this whole scheme to accomplish.
A representative from Horizon Online Entertainment was coming down from on high to pay us a personal visit and spank us for being naughty and exploiting the game.
It was go time. Killing the king had only been the first part of my plan, after all. Now that the in-game personification of Horizon had finally arrived it was time for the real fun to begin.
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