Chapter 8 – The noble quest for power
John and Jacob considered themselves exceptionally lucky. The day before the worlds crashed into Zen, they had been in the city. From what they had heard, the city was probably crushed by the new world. Otherwise, it was trapped in the void without power. Being trapped in a city that was slowly loosing air was not how they wanted to go. Granted, they didn’t really know how they wanted to go. It probably involved copious amounts of drinks, however it was. The fact that a local small-time crime lord ran them out of town was a real blessing to them.
The brothers strongly resembled each other, to the point of being mistaken for twins, despite there being an age difference. They also got along very well. They both knew their own strengths, and used any advantage they could get to get by. When a white flash of light engulfed the world, and words and coloured bars appeared over their gruff dishevelled, deep brown hair, they each found themselves with new abilities that they hadn’t possessed before.
John became a bartender and Jacob was a gambler. They knew why they had those classes; it was their rolls in their favourite scam. John would get the mark too drunk to think straight and Jacob would fleece them for all they were worth. Naturally they would cheat. A drunken mark wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them, and that really made cheating easier.
The pair did their best to avoid a hard day’s work, through there were days where they did nothing but run from guards, that left their skin sun-browned and scarred.
Another blessing that came from the flash of light was an influx of gullible, strong people. They were strange people that acted oddly and called themselves players. It was truly great luck for them. The brothers were in no way strong looking, and they had disarming smiles. Strong people looked down on them, and the players seemed to think that the “enpeesees”, what they called non-players, wouldn’t trick them.
They quickly discovered that anything could be bet against a gambler. Not just money and items, players would bet strange things like strength, health and experience. It was an unmatchable sensation when he first felt his strength instantly grow. Although his body didn’t change, he found himself suddenly able to lift far more. After he first experienced it, he noticed; the players were far stronger than normal people. Not only were they monsters that could come back from the dead, they were each stronger than a normal person at the same level.
Beasts and monsters were bad enough, but now the world was being covered with demons. Jacob swallowed that thought and gave a charming smile to the female beast across the table from him. She was a player. She was a swordswoman. John had been drinking with her for most of the night and she was defiantly starting to lose her footing. John, with a light a light tone, spoke around the topic until the woman brought up the idea of gambling, as if it were her own.
That was one way they liked to reduce the risk. They were never the one to suggest gambling. When the idea was brought up, they would act apprehensive, like they didn’t think it was a good idea. If, once they sobered up, they realised they’d lost everything there would be witnesses to say that it was their own stupid idea and the brothers were against it. It didn’t always work, but there was always running.
The bartender class was also a useful one. The more they drank, the stronger their abilities got, though they couldn’t survive alcohol poisoning any more than anyone else. Furthermore, John found that he suddenly knew a form of martial arts that he hadn’t previously known. He could also adjust the temperature of any nearby flame to 80⁰ Celsius. Brewing drinks also took an unnaturally small amount of time. Not that he was complaining, the more they had, the more they could sell.
They had renovated a horse drawn cart, which they had won, into a moving tavern. They travelled between camps and settlements, amassing whatever those places had for themselves. Before long, Jacob was as strong, smart, charismatic and fast as twelve men and possessed a cabinet filled with a variety of weapons and armours. His level, however, was still only five, as the brothers preferred running over fighting and having a high level might scare away players.
Recently players would approach Jacob, sober, and gamble with him. They would say something like, “Hay, look, it’s a gambling min-game.” He wasn’t sure what they meant, and it was riskier to play against sober players. For some reason, they would almost always buy a drink before-hand if he told them to. He overheard them say, “Oh, a quest requirement, huh? That sounds good, then.” He wasn’t sure what they meant, but it was probably just another pointless thing players did. After all, he wasn’t one to turn down a free lunch.
John was also happy with the situation, normally he would contribute to Jacob’s business, but now Jacob was adding to his; and business was good. Most players seemed to not care about the quality of the drink, and several times he had watered down the drinks without being noticed. There were a few that demanded high quality drinks, but those were mostly just trying to look good for the people around them, and would pay a heavy premium for that vanity. One time, there was a particularly vulgar player pulling that act and John served him the same drink as everyone else. After all his demands and posturing he hadn’t even noticed. Of course Jacob took everything he had before they left town.
After leaving town they approached a forest. There was apparently a thriving player camp on the other side and they were making the decision whether to go through or around. They weren’t in any rush and they had plenty of, ill-gotten, supplies so they wouldn’t have any problems if they did go around. There were also fearsome beasts and dangerous bandits in there, so that was a point against going through also.
The only real reason they were considering it was a rumour they had overheard. A rumour that said the forest had been blessed and was being protected by a pair of unmatchable beautiful angels. They had survived a long time by listening to rumours, and there was a chance to profit if there really were angels. From what they knew about angels, they were pure and powerful creatures. If Jacob could use that purity against them, he could take their power.
The decision came down to whether they’d trust the rumours or not. As they were making that decision, a pair of cute women left the forest. One was a tall, pale, blond with soft features, blue eyes and a heavy bag. The other was a short, Asian woman, with long black hair and piercing green eyes. Jacob was a little disappointed by them, as he preferred women with large breasts, though they were well within John’s strike range. As they walked by, John called out to them.
“Pardon me, ladies, but did you happen to see the angels that are support to be living in there?”
The looked at each other and gave a shrug. The blond was the one to reply, with a voice a sweet as honey, “No, we haven’t seen anything like that. We were in there for over a week, also. Are you sure you have the right place?”
John sighed to himself and thanked the pair, passing them a bottle of one of his nicer meads, and then the brothers set off around the forest. If a pair of cute girls couldn’t see the angels after a week in there, there wasn’t a chance that the roguish brothers would bump into them while passing through.
Somewhat disappointed, the pair opened a bottle of good ale and passed the time as the made their way to the oddly named Fred’s Discount Swords.