The Quest For The Perfect RPG Part 3
Inside Fort Dragonia was silence, administrative silence. Every footfall echoed across the gigantic marble halls, up the pillars to the high, strangely arched ceiling. Concentrating hard, Diggory heard a machine-like buzzing. Nikki's reaction told teh that he had heard it too.
"When it reaches the climax, the music will start up." The musician told teh. Teh nodded and traced teh's fingers over the inscriptions on the walls, dragon motifs. Teh stopped as soon as teh heard the first bar of the music. It went straight to into a part of teh's mind long dormant, unlocked it, and supercharged it. Teh felt something inexplicable, like the introduction to a higher state of being. Teh only knew that the Perfect RPG was truly here.
"That." Whispered Nikki "Is the best music I have ever heard."
"Ye haven't been to Kazalt yet." Replied Diggory, folding teh's arms, "But that's the most important music ye'll ever hear, at least."
Humming along to the music, the party opened another door and walked across a bridge. Below them was a faint set of fuzzy pixels, nothing that could be identified as a real place. Maybe they weren't in the real world any more. They crossed the bridge and entered a magnificent circular chamber, with four doors leading from it. Dragon statues stood next to every door, and small trenches on the floor ran from each statue, meeting in the middle at a large empty circular hole.
"What's that all about?" asked Kid, poking the statues. Nothing happened. Frustrated, she kicked one.
"Maybe the answer lies through one of these doors." Suggested Greco. "Let's split up."
"But there's five of us!" protested Nikki.
"Fatso, ye can go wi' fish boy. He's no good in a fight." Kid said. Korcha blushed a furious red and stalked off.
"If I go with Korcha, who'll look after Diggory?" asked Greco.
"What d'ye mean? The lad's a swordsman. He can take care o' himself!"
"I agree, but he's the most important of us. If trouble comes our way, we ought to keep an eye on Diggory." He explained.
"I can take care of that."
Greco turned to face the voice in the shadows. A tall, distinctly feline figure materialised in front of him.
"Lynx! Yer gonna die!" snarled the thief.
"Please, Kid. Can we settle our differences later? This is an extremely important matter, and we happen to be on the same side right now."
"Ye're right, we shouldn't be playin' games." She carefully cut her nails with her dagger, "But as soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill ya!"
"Diggory, will ye go with the priest?" asked Greco.
"I can heal." Added Lynx.
* * *
Each of them discovered what the statues were for, one way or another, when they solved the puzzles waiting for them. The mechanics of the puzzles were incredibly sophisticated, and told them a lot about the civilisation that lived here previously. They were obviously advanced in their thinking, developing their own technology of stone and hydraulics to a superior level. They were also huge and lived with dragons. They were probably descended from dragons. However, the puzzles- and the traps- were built to be a threat to any living thing, whether it be human, dragon or mouse.
"Was the priest useful/?" asked Greco, relaxing on a marble slab while Diggory cleaned teh's blade of blood, acid, oil and, for some reason, paper stains.
"He kept singin' my Game Over tune." Complained Diggory.
"I can't help it." Lynx sulked, "I'm a priest of death."
"Well, if ye kill anyone, I'll get that scythe o' yours and shove it up yer..."
Nikki quickly interrupted Kid.
"Did you, like, find the puzzles hard?"
"Perfect." Whispered Diggory serenely.
"Ye're nuts." Decided Kid, "They were bloody annoying."
Using her favourite expletives, she described the Yellow Dragon Chamber. Based around a circular maze, it required party members to step on glowing circular plates to make the three parts of the maze rotate. It was extremely difficult for a one-member party; Kid had to lure the monsters onto the plates instead.
The Blue Dragon Chamber was the same kind of design- a rotating walkway, controlled by levers hidden in chests, with a monster guarding it as an afterthought. The Red Dragon Chamber was based on the four points of the compass, while the Green Dragon Chamber, Diggory's mission, was a simple maze with a menagerie of huge monsters.
"So, what do we do now?" asked Nikki. Diggory pointed towards the middle of the room. The statue's eyes were now glowing, and thin beams of element-coloured energy surged along the floor, meeting in teh middle. A cylindrical chamber appeared in the hole. Cautiously, they stepped through the door...
With a high-pitched buzzing sound, a razor-sharp metal demon of light flew at them ferociously. Diggory fell over.
* * *
Church music began, filling all the space around teh as though teh was in an infinitely large room. Teh felt tehself floating, and suddenly shapes appeared in the darkness: church furniture on a massive scale. A congregation of giants, black-skinned creatures with scaly hides and leathery wings. Chanting voices, ceaseless. Teh saw tehself. Or at least teh's body, watching it from afar.
Teh was walking up the aisle, nervous but determined, desperate. Teh was staring straight at the altar, at the gargantuan priest-creature. I really need to save my game, teh thought, I REALLY need to save my game!
Suddenly, the priest raised its hand, and a ball of green flame shot out, striking Diggory squarely in the chest. Teh paused, surprised at how low teh's HP could get, and then collapsed.
Voices, human and Black Dragon, from past and future, mixed up inside teh's head.
"is he dead?"
"No, but he's grievously wounded."
"It's YOUR fault, stupid!"
"I thought he was an intruder."
"Do you always kill your customers?"
"Shut up and get me a healer!"
"...I didn't know black was the human's weak element. It should be yellow. The human's strong element is green."
"Fer dragon's sake, where's the HEALER?"
It's because I'm Black Dragon-born, thought Diggory. I inherited my element-strength from humans, but my element-weakness comes from dragons.
"Is that true? The human is one of us? That is why it found our church. We should save the human."
There was a blinding flash of light, and Diggory was back in Fort Dragonia. At teh's feet was a smoking pool of molten metal. Korcha was hiding behind Greco.
"A b...b...b... BLACK DRAGON just flew through the WINDOW and killed the MONSTER!"
"Let's go." Replied Diggory shakily.
* * *
After the encounter with the Sun Beast, there was no further trouble. The guardian of the Black Dragon Chamber, the Bunyip, was a vicious beast, but not as bad as the Sun Beast. Finally, all the dragon statues were in place, and a dormant pool of energy on the floor began to spin around. Strengthening their element defences, the party stepped onto the runic surface. They heard a low hum and felt a light elation, before they were lifted up in a beam of anti-gravity and deposited several feet above, on an adjoining platform.
"AAARGH, I hate heights!" Korcha groaned.
Diggory didn't answer. Teh was stood before the door, looking upwards, silent. Greco approached teh and saw that teh's expression was as one possessed.
"It's calling to me." Teh said.
"Ye must truly be the One to find it."
Curious, Lynx walked over and stood behind Diggory. The exile said a silent prayer to the dragons and opened the door. It swung aside gently. Diggory stepped into a gigantic circular hall, with a ceiling so high teh could not see it. Ornate tapestries of many-coloured dragons hung on the walls. In the middle was a plain altar, and upon it was a blue orb-shaped object that throbbed with power. Diggory could taste something tangy and metallic in the air. Teh's skin tingled as teh walked carefully up to the altar, eyes focussed/
Suddenly, teh yelled and jumped backwards. A bolt of pure white element crackled past teh, rending reality as it struck.
The man appeared, floating in midair, staff held in combat position. Lynx tensed and hissed.
"I will not permit this!"
"Don't be stupid, Piggy!" warned the exile, drawing teh's sword, "This is the purpose of the world!"
"A world you seek to destroy!" the man roared.
"For the last time, Piggy, I'm not evil!" Diggory cried desperately.
"You know this man?" asked Lynx, amused.
"Yes, we don't get on very well. He' a stupid religious fanatic. I think he worships himself or something."
"You... you're siding with a Priest of Death!" Miguel gasped, "See. You're evil! Evil people do that!"
"Ye idiot!" Diggory groaned and scratched teh's head, "Don't ye understand? I'm after the Perfect RPG! It's more important than good or evil or any plot device! If ye don't step aside now, I'll kill ye!"
Teh raised teh's sword and roared an ancient battle cry of teh's homeland. The faint green tarnish of the great blade became more pronounced, and eventually flared up into a coruscation of emerald fire. The effect of the light on Diggory's black plate armour was alien. Lynx took a respectful step back.
"I'll exterminate this pest if you like..."
Diggory shook teh's head.
"Heal me if I go down."
A small bolt of light shot from Miguel's staff. Diggory blocked it with teh's magic-neutralising blade, wiping it out. Teh swung at Miguel, a feint, and launched a devastating sword combo, almost decapitating the man. At Miguel's command, a meteorite plunged down from outer space, narrowly avoiding killing Diggory and shattering on impact, sending the exile hurtling across the room.
"Completion for you is Game Over for the world!" announced Miguel.
"Oh, go on then." Snarled Diggory impatiently, and rushed at the man, slamming down with his sword at the last minute. Miguel dodged, but the blade still gave him a nasty cut across his cheek. He picked up the blue orb.
"Put that down!" yelled Lynx. Diggory ran to swipe it off him, just as a ray of bleu light emanated form it, freezing the amazed exile in midair.
"Now live in the future you created!" screeched Miguel, raising his arms.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Lynx dived forwards in a desperate attempt to snatch the orb, Miguel began chanting, and the orb shattered, releasing all of its energy in a colossal blast... and Diggory disappeared.
* * *
Pixels stung teh's face as Diggory woke up.
"Oh, dern." Diggory swore, wiping the screen-dust from teh's face. "I'm in one of THOSE places again."
Reality was being torn apart, ravaged by glitch storms that sent an electric crackle through the heavy, screensaverless air. Ruins of machines and administrative buildings were swept up in a frozen wave of blue sediment, as if the earth had exploded outwards as something huge had emerged and destroyed the world's infrastructure. Hums and beeps, signs of life that might have been, sounded like ghosts in the endless expanse of utter abandonment.
Teh checked teh's belongings. Everything was still there, except the Gravitonne spell, which was broken. Teh coughed, allowing teh's body to adapt to the glitch-radioactive environment. These places must really like me, teh thought, they won't leave me alone.
Teh heard a loud metallic squawking noise, and saw a small robot of some sort run past teh at high speed. Silently, teh followed it, hoping for a closer look. It looks like a mechanical duck, teh decided, amused.
The robot scuttled along the ground, heading for a section of what was once a motorway, but was now a huge chunk of collapsed road covered in smashed speed cameras. Still intent on its duty, the robot duck did not notice the mess. Diggory crept forward.
Teh stepped on something large and plastic that went 'HONK!'. Turning in a complete circle, the robot ran towards Diggory and launched itself at teh, beak first. Teh flinched from the pain and lashed out with a fist, dislodging the duck-machine. Red lights flickered on its body as it put up a shield against the impact. These few seconds were all teh needed; teh rolled forwards, landing behind the robot, and jammed a finger into the emergency shutdown switch.
Security system log off- 02:56, March 2300
"2300? Funny looking year 2300..." mused Diggory. Teh had friends who lived in the year 2300, and it was much more lively than this. Maybe the duck's clock was set incorrectly. Teh jumped and swung tehself up onto an overhanging piece of road. Teh looked into the distance, where the 'sea' had become thicker. A metal dome could be seen. The lights were still on. Teh decided to go on a search, if not for civilisation, then for a recognisably big chunk of it.
* * *
Meanwhile, Korcha was restocking his boat, preparing for the journey back to Termina. He packed the last crate and looked back at the forbidden fortress for the last time. Crackles of black and white energy could still be seen where Lynx and Miguel were fighting each other. Why couldn't quests ever be simple? Everyone had emerged alive, that was good, but it was so confusing. Nobody knew what to do next. They had been on an unimaginably important hunt for the Perfect RPG at one moment, then they were almost killed in a player character's personal feud. Their unofficial leader had disappeared, allegedly into the future, and Korcha hadn't been paid yet.
"What're we going to do?" asked Nikki.
"You're going to pay me, that's what' cha going to do." Said Korcha bluntly. The musician sighed and handed over a bag of money. Slightly dispirited, the party boarded the boat, and set sail.
"That bastard!" swore Kid, "He's almost as annoyin' as Lynx! At least he's good-lookin' though."
"Not as good-looking as me." Protested Nikki. Kid laughed cruelly.
"This isn't solving the problem..." began Greco. He was interrupted by a sudden lurch from underneath the boat. Water sprayed everywhere, and Korcha wrestled with the steering wheel to keep the boat upright. There was a bestial roar, and the boat was thrown out of the water, its passengers desperately hanging onto any available surface. Korcha swore and lowered himself underneath the boat to see what was happening. He almost let go out of terror.
A leviathan monster was slowly rising out of the water. Serpent-shape, its long elegant neck was covered in shimmering blue scales. When it sensed Korcha's movement, the dragon's head darted forward, and the boy barely managed to jump away in time. A fireball was flung from the boat by Greco, sizzling as it hit the dragon. Roaring and thrashing, it threw the boat away, hurling the passenger into the sea. Fortunately, they could all swim. The creature lunged at Kid, who dodged out of the way and threw a burning dagger at it, taking several scales off its back. It gave up on the red-element users and aimed at Nikki. Encumbered with his guitar, he was oblivious, and was lifted into the air by the dragon's attack. Korcha swam to the rescue.
Sharp silver flashed through the air. Reality seemed to split in several directions, and the form of the dragon was twisted like a bad television picture. When nature righted itself, the dragon dissolved into a million pixels.
Korcha stared at the boy who, in standard annoying-high-level-player-character style, was floating.
"Who are you?" asked Korcha.
"I'm Chaclon." Said the boy, "I've come to look for the dragons. They're very angry. Someone invaded the Singing Mountain."
* * *
The ventilation and heating systems still hummed. With great effort, the essential functions of the Dome were still working, somewhere behind the cracked metal plates of the floor and walls. A flickering blue light illuminated the Dome, so that Diggory could see the two levels of the Dome, with its storage cupboards full of randomly-strewn items, makeshift beds made out of food sacks, its titanium-mesh balconies with their broken observational equipment. Diggory rifled through a few beds to check for people, but found none. Teh went down the ladder. The information Center should be down here, teh remembered.
Teh had received a shock when the first went down here. Teh had seen the Apocalypse, the last recording made, when Lavos rose from the center of the earth and rained destruction upon everything. Teh had learned to live with that, teh remembered as teh's feet clanked on the metal corridor. To the people here, idiot tourists who wanted to avert the Apocalypse were dangerous to the space-time continuum, and were usually told to clear off.
The computer was the biggest Diggory had ever seen. The screen was the size of the wall, and the switchboard had a million wires leading to and away from it. A powerful CPU hummed like a sleeping beast in one corner, while a whole library of printer paper was stacked in the other, next to a waste-paper basket. There was no phone; the original inhabitant did not like phones.
"I wonder who stole the mouse mat." Said Diggory out loud as the screen flickered on
>Welcome to the Arris Dome Information Center. Mouse mat not detected. Printer not detected.
"It's there, it just doesn't work." Diggory told it.
>What do you wish to know, guest?
"Where are all the people?"
>There are no people.
>No people have ever existed. The project was abandoned before people were introduced.
"Abandoned? What d'ye mean? What's happened here?"
There was a loud beeping, followed by the harsh grate of metal moving. A heavy object fell from the floor above, throwing Diggory backwards and making a hideous din. Teh whirled around, sword in hand. Twice the size of teh, the security robot was armed and impassionately homicidal. Twin lasers whined over teh's head as teh ducked and slashed at the robot's legs. It fell over, giving Diggory the chance to jump on it and attempt to drive teh's sword through it. Teh was flung off by an electric force field that almost killed teh. On its feet again, the robot grabbed its gun and pointed it at teh.
"HEY! Stop that!" bellowed a deep voice. The robot turned around.
>Supervisor, an intruder entered the building. It must be deleted.
The small but deadly looking man in the blue suit was livid with rage.
"INTRUDER?" he kicked it, "That's the OPERATOR you almost killed!"
"Sorry about that, Operator." Said his huge companion.
"I'm the what?"
"He's got amnesia again, boss." Said the big man. The little man kicked him.
"I'm not surprised, IDIOT!"
"I'm the what?" repeated Diggory.
"Don't you remember?" the man looked concerned, "You're the Operator of the Information Center!"
* * *
It was cold and dark. Shadows cast by a lupine moon made trees look like denizens of the lower glitch layers. A giant owl tried to eat Korcha, a wolf had tried to eat Nikki and they were all hungry. They were relieved to hear the crackling of a campfire. They could just make out the outline of a tent. As they crept closer they heard singing in a bizarre language not unlike witches' chanting. Greco shivered and tried to mask his footsteps.
"'Ello Chaclon. 'Ello Diggory's party." Said an old woman's voice cheerfully, "Somethin' 'appen?"
Greco shot out of the bushes and ran towards the tiny woman who was happily warming her toes in front of the fire.
"Want some dinner?" she offered, "Roast wolf."
"You killed a wolf?" asked Korcha.
"Turned into a bear first." She explained.
They gratefully ate the meal by the fire, resting their weary bodies. Afterwards, the old woman picked up her walking stick and started sharpening the point.
"So, why aren't yer on yer quest like good girls an' boys?"
Between them, they explained what had happened.
"I sent them to you, Naod, because the Midnight Levelwalker's in danger and so is Diggory and he's only a silly exile and you're clever." Added Chaclon.
"Yep, Naod De's the one yer want all right." She nodded, now serious, "So, Piggy's havin' a tantrum again."
"Ye know the bastard?" asked Kid, juggling a dagger in one hand.
"They're both the kind o' people I 'ave to keep track of. Dangerous sods." She explained, "Y'see, some people don't go by the plot of their own life. Maybe they become too powerful, or too clever, and break away. Some are even thrown out, like Diggory."
"Normally people like that just find other plots. Diggory, teh's tryin' to get back 'ome. Miguel... 'E thinks his plot's to kill Diggory or somethin'. They're mortal enemies, always 'ave been."
"Why?" asked Nikki.
"Miguel just thinks like that. E don't like soemthin', it's evil, kill it. E's still a mindless plot-follower." She shook her head, "Diggory knows too much to get involved in the lesser plots. That one probably got thrown out for knowin' too much."
"I thought teh got thrown out for being late." Said Greco.
"What, you know, made Miguel hate Diggory? Did they have a row?" asked Nikki.
"Diggory stole 'is completion tune and deleted it once, 'cause it 'ad a virus."
"Then there was the thin' with the Future."
"Future?" Kid repeated.
"Diggory met some fellas from the Future. Way into the future, after the Apocalypse."
"WHAT APOCALYPSE?' yelled Kid.
"Ah, never ye mind, it's way, way after yer time." Naod waved her away, "Miguel wanted to stop the Apocalypse from happenin', but Diggory said no, 'cause it'll wipe the poor fellas off face of 'istory. Miguel, bein' Miguel, said 'e was evil and 'e wanted to end the world."
"That's what he said!" remembered Korcha, "He said he was going to send Diggory to live in the future he had created!"
"Oh dear." Said the odl woman, tutting,
"is that where we have to go?" asked Korcha, "The Future?"
"Ye don't know the whole story." She sighed, "The fellas from the Future eventually decided they was wrong to let all them people die in the Apocalypse, so they asked a... ah, ye don't need to know what... to make a parallel dimension, where the apocalypse never 'appened. So the people could go down that line, an' the nineteen survivors could stay in their own dimension. We're in the dimension with no Apocalypse."
"So Diggory's in a parallel dimension?" asked Greco.
"No, not exactly, lad. Diggory's in a place wot don't exist, wot never existed. In a beta world."
* * *
Diggory woke up in an office. Teh was stunned by the size of the room- the walls were almost too far apart to see, and the window was almost the size of regular wall. It smelled clean, administrative. Someone had healed teh's wounds and replaced teh's clothes with fresh ones, a brown suit with the word 'Operator' written on the back. Teh wondered if they had done anything to teh's level clock and teh's language implant. Was there any food? Teh was very hungry.
Suddenly, teh wondered why teh was in a bed in an office, and what a bed was doing in an office in the first place. Teh was slightly disorientated. The walls appeared to be moving away from teh.
"I feel sick." Teh stated to nobody in particular.
"Ah, Operator. You're awake." The small man in the blue suit moved from his chair. He kicked the large man, who jumped up.
"Do you remember who you are yet?" he asked.
"You're the Op..." began the larger man, before the small man kicked him again.
"We'll help you regain your memory.' He promised, "Oh, and I haven't introduced us. I'm Wicks, and that idiot over there is Veg. We're your personal supervisors. Think of us as security guards, messengers, and medics."
"We're trained to deal with your amnesia." Wicks shook his head, "After the coma you slip into after a power cut. You're physically dependent on your computer."
"That's why you sleep in your office." Added Veg, "Shall we show him his computer, boss?"
Wicks nodded and pointed to a huge computer, "This is the Information Center. All the information in the world entire world is stored here, even the information the government doesn't know about."
"We don't know who provides it all." Added Veg, "Only you know that."
Diggory sat down on the comfortable swivel chair and switched the computer on. The screen flickered once and stayed on.
>Welcome to the Information Center. Hello, Operator. Please give me a command.
As teh's fingers touched the keyboard, teh felt a strange emotion, one not ever experienced by teh before. It was like an unbreakable bond being forged between teh and teh's computer. This is my domain, my home. I can do what I like here. I am chosen for this, and no other can do my job. I am the Operator. I exist only here, only in this office. Teh lost control of teh's brain temporarily and fell onto the keyboard. Veg grabbed teh quickly and helped teh back into the chair.
"This can tell me anything?"
"Go on, try something!" prompted Veg, like a child showing another child a new toy.
Diggory reached out an typed in the words "Day Of Lavos."
>Film, Science Fiction/Drama, written 1999, sold 5 million tickets. A chilling account of Armageddon. See review?
"It can tell you the probability of a real apocalypse happening!" Wicks told him. Diggory typed it in, utterly confused.
Diggory thought for a moment and typed in the words 'Perfect RPG'.
>Perfect RPG, the. Role-playing game for the Mac. Incredibly old, no longer in stock. A copy is available in the Information Center archives. Click here for a full review. No released version, beta only.
* * *
Deep purple flames ran over the crystal surface of the mirror. Greco shivered and looked around at the thick layer of ancient trees forming this tiny grove. The magic at work here registered as green-elemental, but he suspected that it was something more, some anti-element that was alien to the nature of the world. Naod De chanted, holding her up to the mirror. Slowly, the surface began to ripple, and the party would se images in the previously dark glass.
It started with what seemed like a negative creation. Anti-matter floated in a void, great triangles of negative substance with no function. Occasionally, they would collide and merge, becoming denser. Stars and suns were formed. They emitted rays of negative-element energy, which spread over the whole anti-cosmos, sparking off the creation of anti-life. Planets were formed, planets with negative statistical systems, opposite eco-systems. The first negative amoebae were formed. Finally, life flourished. Naod tapped the mirror and it zoomed in on one particular planet.
It was a heavily forested planet with purple trees, purple wolves and little pointy-eared purple humanoids.
"Egress!" yelled Naod, and bashed the mirror hard with her walking stick. There was a sudden feeling of distortion, purple pixels flooding their senses. They could not control their bodies, and fell, deep into the mirror, sinking into a bowl of purple ink. Oblivion swirled around them, and they were going through a million small statistical doors.
They felt the wind on their faces again. One after the other, they blinked and sat up. They were still in a forest, but it wasn't the same. A clear purple sky it small lilac trees. Underneath them, the grass felt more vivid, as though nature was a much stronger force here. Hedgehogs and small yellow box-like creatures scuttled through the grass, primordial things. A pool they passed was as deep as the history of the Universe. The flowers growing by its side were the first pixels of creation. The music was undisturbed since the beginning of time. Nikki approved.
"Where is this?" he asked.
"Me 'ome." Naod said fondly, hugging a nearby tree.
"Is it of our world?' asked Greco
The old lady shook her head.
"This is the Negative Realm. Statistically, it's the complete opposite of yer world. If somethin' has 2 HP in yer world, it has minus 2 HP here."
"Why have you brought us here?"
"Me powers are twenty times greater 'ere. I can summon Diggory."
* * *