The rat gave a shrieking, panicked cry, and exploded.
Bits of wet singed rat splattered across the walls of the abandoned mine. Another small fuzzy creature turned, managed to run three steps, and popped like a balloon. On the other side of the chamber, the undead warlock who Roka had learned was called Sycorax levelled another explosion spell at a third hapless rat.
“I don’t know about this guy” said Roka.
Exra gave the cleric a sidelong glance. “That’s what you said about Biggie.”
“Yes,” Roka said, “but that was different. Biggie is just a bit dumb. This guy seems, well…”
Sycorax began to laugh as he cast another spell, this one a mid-level warlock ability called ‘Melt’. Three rats screamed, clutching their faces as their fur began to turn into liquid and run off their bodies. Watching their reactions, the undead laughed, throwing back his head and cackling like a maniac.
“He seems a bit evil” said Roka, decisively.
“I think he’s just enthusiastic” said Gunnar.
Roka stared at the warrior, a little uncertainly.
Gunnar shrugged. “Who doesn’t enjoy getting into their work?” he asked.
Exra shook her head. “No, Roka’s right, he’s definitely evil.”
“I don’t know” said Gunnar. “We shouldn’t pre-judge the gentleman. Remember the story of Gul’Tirash, the little ogre who learned how to love.”
“That’s not an actual story” said Exra. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Look, the guy’s evil. It’s pretty much a prerequisite for being a warlock.”
Roka peered at Sycorax. “He is almost ten levels above us.”
Gunnar nodded. “Aye, lad. And he offered to take us through this dungeon.”
The cleric couldn’t help but agree with that. The abandoned mine was a dungeon that was beyond the power of either himself or his two companions. In the time since they had formed the guild, Roka had felt his power grow to level nine, an impressive feat compared to where he was only a few days ago, while his companions Gunnar and Exra had reached eleven and thirteen, respectively.
Sycorax, who cackled like a Bond villain as he caused one of the mine’s rat resident’s brain to run out of the creature’s oversized nose, was a hearty level twenty-seven. He had a truly mind-blowing variety of spells, including one that was, appropriately enough, named ‘mind-blowing’.
The warlock eviscerated one of the rats with a wave of his paw. Something wet, possibly a gizzard of perhaps a bit of a liver, landed beside Exra. Almost immediately, the rabbit woman was quickly surrounded in a vibrant golden hue, shining like a beacon of power as she rose to level fourteen.
“With him killing all of these high-level rats for us, and us gaining the experience points from his kills simply for being part of his party,” she explained, “we’re going to gain levels in no time.”
Roka had to admit, it was a good deal. He would probably even have reached level ten and earned the resurrection spell by the end of the evening, a moment that he had been waiting for since he had started the game.
“You see?” said Gunnar, “He is a good man after all. Not an evil bone in his body. We should accept him into the guild.”
The cleric was still unsure. “I don’t understand how you can say that he isn’t evil. Look at his gear! His hat is called ‘baby skin fleshcap’ for crying out loud.”
“Maybe he just has a really poor taste in fashion” dismissed the buffalo.
“Don’t worry so much about it, Roka” said Exra. “He’s just roleplaying. Like what Gunnar does, but he’s playing up to his role of a warlock.”
“WHAT IS UNDEAD ANYWAY?” asked Biggie. The golem sat at the back of the group with his large grizzly bear for company, both of them looking quite bored. Roka figured that they would be having a lot more fun if they were killing things themselves.
“What do you mean?” asked Roka.
“HE IS UNDEAD BUT UNDEAD WOT?” asked Biggie, as if the statement gave light to his earlier question.
Gunnar rubbed the back of his head, adjusting his plate helmet to do so. “Do you mean what species he was in life?”
“YAR” replied Biggie.
“That,” said Exra “is actually a surprisingly good question. In general, the game lists ‘undead’ as a race, but it doesn’t clarify what nature of being he was before he died.”
“Why not ask him?” said Gunnar. He turned, calling towards the warlock who was otherwise busy causing a small rat’s lower intestine to do a swan dive across the cavern. “Hey, friend Sycorax. What manner of being are you?”
The undead turned. “What?”
The warrior repeated the question. “What manner of being. Are you a cat? A fellow buffalo? Pray tell you are not a rat, like those poor fellows?”
The warlock looked at Gunnar. For a moment, the baleful flames in his eyes dimmed, as if he had blinked. “I’m a bloody undead, you clot!” he said. “Didn’t the lack of skin clue you in to that?”
“ARE U UNDEAD GOLEM?” asked Biggie, evidently hoping to clarify the situation. “OR U DEAD CAT OR BOORF OR DOGGIE OR BUNNIE GIRL?”
“I’m going to assume,” said Sycorax, “that I was a cat during my mortal life. In either case, I am now something far greater; I have transcended the puny need for that useless thing that you mortals call ‘breathing’ and am now a source of raw, unfurnished malignancy.”
“That’s nice” said Exra. “Excuse me, bunny girl?”
“Never mind that!” interrupted Roka. “Would you settle something for us? Why do you want to join our guild?”
The warlock fixed the cleric with a calculating expression. “I enjoy watching weak, defenceless creatures struggling to survive.”
“You’ll have to excuse my friend, good sir Sycorax” said Gunnar, stepping in front of the cleric. “You see, he has the wild, crazy idea that you might somehow be tainted with the touch of the demons.”
The warlock folded his arms, and drummed the tips of his skeletal fingers against his bony elbows. “Really?” he asked.
“Aye, it is surely the fervour of the young man’s faith that speaks for him” said the buffalo. “You have told me that you are a humble mage, and that is good enough for me.”
Roka sighed. “Oh for the love of whichever one of the fourteen available gods that I chose when I joined this game, I can’t remember which. He’s not just a warlock, but he’s an undead one at that! Do you know that the undead are the only race in this entire game that can earn experience points by eating little kittens?”
The Buffalo shook his head at the canine. “I had expected better of you, Roka” he chided, “Judging someone based on their race. We should never make decisions about someone based on how they were born.”
“Actually” said Sycorax, his voice a gravelly husk, “I wasn’t born, I was resurrected by the Death Cult minions of the Soul-Drinking Emperor.”
Roka looked towards Exra, pleadingly. Finally, Exra interceded. “Would you just ask him if he’s evil, Gunnar?” she asked.
The warrior shook his head. “I am a man bound by my honour, good friend cleric, and I must accept this man’s word as it has been given.”
Roka selected the ‘rub eyes in despair’ emotion from his menu, and rubbed his eyes in despair. “Would you please just… just humour me and ask him?” he pleaded.
“Ah, very well” agreed the buffalo. He turned to the undead creature that was bathed in lambent fires of sinister greens and hateful reds, and smiled. “Now, good sir Sycorax. Can you give me your word that you are not a practitioner of any of the dark arts, and that there is no evil inside your soul?”
The undead paused for a moment, as though in contemplation. Then, with a very careful tone, he asked “Let me answer your question, first, with a question of my own, weak-willed warrior. How gullible are you?”
“Very” said Gunnar.
“In that case,” announced Sycorax, “I am just a friendly, humble mage.”
“Good enough for me” replied Gunnar.
The undead smiled, “Excellent” he rasped in a cold, malignant voice. “Now stand aside, hapless bag of blood, I smell a kitten nearby.”
Without another word, the warlock turned. Sure enough, a small kitten sat in a distant corner of the cavern, licking at its paws. Wasting no time, Sycorax advanced towards it, cackling hungrily.
Roka gaped. “That doesn’t even make sense! Why would there ever be a kitten in a dungeon like this?”
Exra shrugged. “Maybe the programmers put it there for a reason?”
The Canine folded his arms, petulantly. “What possible reason could there be to include a little baby kitten in a cavern full of rampaging rats?”
The fire witch grinned. “Emergency rations for the undead?”
Roka snorted. Sycorax returned, striding back over to the group with confident, purposeful steps. He picked at his teeth with a long, pointed finger.
Suddenly, the cleric felt a familiar sensation, a radiating pulse of strength welling up inside him. From deep within, light started to pour, charging through him in a spiralling firework display of golden illuminations. He felt so much stronger, a whole level stronger. Roka gulped. He had hit tenth level. “Oh god” he muttered, “did I just level up from the experience you got by eating that kitten?”
Sycorax grinned. “How does it make you feel, little cleric?”
Roka clasped his paw to his mouth.
Exra stepped toward, brushing her paw through her rabbit-like ears. “At the end of the day,” the fire witch said, “we need six guild members in order to qualify for having a naming licence for the guild.”
Gunnar nodded. The buffalo had, since the decision to form the guild, been quite vocal of his dislike of the group’s starting name which had been automatically allocated to them. He was eagerly hoping to name the group ‘The Legion of Power’, while the canine cleric had voted for ‘By The Light’. Exra had opted for ‘Leet Vanguard’, while Biggiebear had, in his usual golem manner, pointed out that ‘BIG BEAR BUTTZ’ was his personal choice. It was generally considered that any of them would be an improvement over the arbitrary starter name that the game had allotted for them, ‘Guild Number 382’.
“Aye, lass” said Gunnar, “But we will need a sixth member in order to sign the naming contract. Even if we accept sir Sycorax at his word, that leaves us with yet one last member that we will need in order to qualify for a name.”
The undead selected his ‘examine your fingernails’ animation, and did exactly that. “Well, it just so happens that I might know someone who could qualify” he said in a cool, laid-back voice, the voice of one who is confident that he holds all the cards.
“Right,” said the Buffalo, with a tone of finality. “Let’s decide.”
“Wait,” said Exra, holding up her paw, “Nobody’s asked what Biggie thinks.”
Eyes turned towards Biggiebear. The golem plonked down into a sitting position. “IF HE KILL CHIEF RAT THEN YES” he said.
The Buffalo stepped over, and patted the golem, his paw making a sound much like plate iron tapping against concrete. “The lad has a point,” said Gunnar. “What do you think, sir Sycorax?”
The undead grinned. “Give me two minutes and I’ll return with the chief rat’s head and his flayed skin.”
“Just the loot will suffice” said Exra. “I think that the rat chief boss has a few special attacks that render spells inoperable though, maybe you should use your pet?” she suggested.
Biggie’s ears perked up, an impressive feat for one whose ears are made of solid rock. “U HAS PET TOO?” he asked, glancing to look over at the hulking, salivating form of his own pet grizzly bear. Something in the golem’s voice sounded almost hurt, as if he were no longer quite so unique.
Sycorax grinned, and looked past Biggie towards the bear which was snuffling around and looking for tasty morsels to eat. “Would you like to see it?” asked the undead.
The undead began to chant, manoeuvring his paws through the air in a delicate, sinister motion. The air around him seemed to dim, growing darker with an almost purplish hue, as the warlock drew thin lines in the air. Each line seemed to shimmer with a glow of a colour not easily identifiable by the Cat eye. Then, as if seeping through from the rips that opened between time and space, something coalesced. Landing with a squelch, it looked around with one of its many sets of mismatched eyes, and made a wet bubbling/suckling sound.
“OMFG!” exclaimed Biggie in shock, “SO KEWL!!”
“I didn’t know that warlock pets could have additional tentacles” said Exra, chuckling.
Sycorax beamed, brightly. “I call him Fluffy.”
In a corner, Roka vomited.