Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Dark Herbalist, book 3: A Trap for the Potentate

A Trap for the Potentate
by Michael Atamanov

Release - January 17, 2018
Pre-order now -

New Director

"Did you call?" I asked, knocking politely and walking through the wide-open doors of my new boss's office. Before entering, I pumped the breaks for a second, reading a copper plaque that a workman was screwing into the door:

Max Tohner
Director of Special Projects

He was the fourth person to occupy this office in a month. Truly, it was a cursed position. The new head of the special projects division didn't look all that glum about it though, reflecting confidence, gravitas and power with his whole appearance. When I entered, he gave a scant nod and pointed to the guest chair.

It should be said that my recent late-night conversation with the Keeper had given me the completely wrong picture of my new boss. Based on the voice and behavior of his glowing winged character, I supposed that the person playing the Keeper was a fairly young man, maybe even my peer. But sitting in the immense, wide director's seat left behind by the rotund Mark Tobius, there was now a short, fifty-year-old man with a noticeable gray streak in his otherwise dark chestnut hair. He had a huge bald patch that practically reached the back of his head. And I was also struck by his eyes. They were chalky, cold and had a very light-colored iris. They looked somehow inhuman, like those of a snake or fish.
"You already know my name," Max Tohner said with a nod to the plaque, "and I know yours. So then, let's get straight to business. Timothy, what kind of character do you play?" 
"A Goblin Herbalist," I answered, surprised at his ignorance.
How could he not have known that?! After all, he had met me in Boundless Realm, seen my big-eared Amra with his own eyes and probably read the race, profession and level as well! Had he seriously forgotten? But, as it turned out, it wasn't forgetfulness or ignorance that served as the reason for his question.
"So then, you're an Herbalist, not a Pirate, or a Wolf Rider or a Beast Master! But meanwhile, Herbalism is your most waning and neglected skill! You still haven't even leveled it to its first specialization, even though your character is at level forty already! That's a downright mess! The corporation hired you to do a specific job: show our users all the advantages of playing as a Goblin Herbalist. But somehow, you just keep doing things other than your explicit profession!!!"
With every new phrase, my boss raised his voice more and more. By the end of his incriminating speech, he had built up to a scream. I tried to vindicate myself, reminding the director with a smile about the great hunt for my Amra and how I had to constantly flee, so I didn't have much time to gather plants.
But I should have just kept my mouth shut...
My boss thought my reaction was inappropriately jocular, which he found very disagreeable. He also clearly disliked having a subordinate try to contradict him. A stream of reproaches and cursing poured out onto me. I was accused of not respecting my superiors, insubordination, boorish behavior, negligent attitude to work and damn near treason against the Boundless Realm Corporation. Only at the very end of his hateful monolog did Max Tohner begin to calm down, noting justly in a more or less normal tone:
"Timothy, the great hunt for you ended several days ago. But you have missed a number of work shifts since then, and your goblin didn’t gain a single level in Herbalism over the whole ten hours of your last gaming session. Your character didn't grow in any other way, either. You just flew to your heart’s content over the desert at night and lollygagged instead of working."
I really had no way of denying his last accusation. After leveling up the Royal Forest Wyvern to the point it could support my small weight, I really had forgotten about everything on earth and just enjoyed the sensation of flight, while my Orcish army made its way across the Great Desert. But there were plenty of other accusations without the senselessly wasted gaming session. I was in shock and didn't even know how to behave.
No one had called me out like this in a fairly long time. I suppose the last time I'd gotten such a chewing out was ten years ago from my school principal for missing my final algebra exam without a good reason. At that time, I was poorly prepared for an important test, so I thought I’d be clever and skip it, claiming I had sharp chest pains.
I was only ten at the time, and I naively supposed I would simply be allowed to go home, then take the test a day or two later, after asking classmates what the questions were and finding the answers to them in the comfort of my own house. However, it all turned out wrong. My awkward attempt at faking illness was quickly uncovered by the ambulance doctors and, instead of maximum points on the test, I got a call to an enraged school principal...
But then, ten years ago I could have guessed before that the school director wouldn't have anything good to say, and was morally prepared for his stream of sharp enraged proclamations. Now though, the new special projects director for the Boundless Realm corporation had caught me off guard with his fervent criticism. I didn't know how to act. I could either demonstrate submission and agree with his accusation or, on the other hand, tell the boorish man what I thought about treating subordinates that way and sign my resignation right then and there.
In the end, life did exist beyond the Boundless Realm Corporation. I'd find myself another job with more adequate leadership. And also, the half million credits I'd earned in the great hunt allowed me to have an optimistic outlook on the future and not worry too much about losing this job. But I still didn't rush such an irreversible decision. My boss had already said his fill and blown off steam, and was returning to normal. He also had said some things that were completely correct.
What was more, I noticed that he looked tired, as if he hadn't gotten enough sleep. His excessive irritation was probably rooted in that. After all, Max Tohner had most likely gotten an emotional send up from the upper leadership to give him the necessary push to adapt to his new position, and had just transmitted this rage to his underlings.
Nevertheless, I was counting on an entirely different evaluation of my playing. In one way or another, Amra had kept the wonderful flying mount, acquired a unique mythical hound for the Gray Pack, made it away from the big chase and basically just acted interestingly and significantly, as my video clips enjoyed grandiose success among viewers. Taking advantage of the pause in the stream of the director's rage, I reminded him of my successes.
Nevertheless, on that account, the leadership had a totally different perspective:
"Timothy, I don't see anything to your credit in your sudden spike in popularity. You getting the unique forest wyvern was nothing more than one stroke of good luck. I don't know all the details of what happened, but I've heard rumors that your much-vaunted quest was not entirely free of foul play, and that other directors of special projects were fired over some of the murky details. From there, you just rode the current. The reason your clips were so popular wasn’t because you’re such a brilliant player, but simply because the players were interested in the valuable trophy of the great hunt. Soon, your fleeting glory will pass, and all that will remain is a barren remnant an abominable Goblin Herbalist who hasn't even developed his professional skills."
I wanted to disagree and even opened my mouth slightly, preparing to speak, but just kept silent and lowered my head. I suppose, on this account, I was ready to agree with the director. Max Tohner then continued:
"If you were just a normal player, no one would have said a word to you about your weak skill leveling. But you're employed by the Boundless Realm Corporation, and everyone knows it! You must serve as an example for the others, show the advantages of playing as an Herbalist, reveal the potential of that path and then, at the very least, not lag behind the others in your profession. But what we have on our hands now is a rotten mess. The average level-forty Herbalist has their Herbalism skill at around level forty-two, or three. But yours is just fifteen... I'm not afraid to say that that is a shame for an employee of a game developer. How much time do you need to correct the error? Will one week be enough?"
"More than," I answered with an even and absolutely confident voice, trying not to show my feelings.
Inside I was cringing in horror. Was it really possible to raise my Herbalism skill by thirty levels in one week?! Even if I crawled around the forest and swamp day and night collecting herbs and flowers, it wasn't certain I'd make it! But I didn't want to show my lack of confidence in front of my boss. I was still a senior tester, a quite famous player, and wanted my boss to see me as an experienced employee who knows his value.
"That's great then!" Max Tohner lit up. "Then let's get back to this issue in a week. And for now, Timothy, I say we should look over how to use your unique flying snake for the shared interest and benefit of the whole Boundless Realm Corporation. There are very few flying mounts, and your advantage over the other players needs to be constantly emphasized. How about exploring some undiscovered lands?"
It cost me great effort to hold back an acrid comment. It was hardly possible to both actively gather herbs for the whole next week and take VIXEN on prolonged flights. But I didn't provoke my boss, instead answering that I was already working on something like that.
"A wyvern is, of course, good. But it alone isn't enough for long scouting missions. The flying snake is still small and weak. She gets tired quickly and has to land often. In any place inhabited by dangerous monsters, we'd be devoured as soon as VIXEN landed. And also, don’t forget about flying beasts. Boundless Realm is full of those. And in far-off unknown places, the levels of such monsters will be beyond high. VIXEN and I won't even be a mouthful to them. But as it turns out, I currently have about three hundred orc cutthroats under my command. Of course, I could just let these NPC pirates go free, but I consider that an error. No matter what, they are a valuable resource, which just needs to find the proper application. I'm thinking of using this force to organize a big expedition to hard-to-access undiscovered territories of Boundless Realm."
"Continue," the director replied, his interest piqued. He folded his hands together and leaned over the table toward me.
"My division is moving through the Great Desert and, today or tomorrow, will have crossed it in the narrowest part. I told the orcs how to go, then spent all night flying back and forth on the Wyvern, bringing strength-restoring water to my division from a spring near the copper mine. The water is a special elixir to eliminate weariness but, as it turned out, it spoils quite fast. So, I had to deliver it on my fast Royal Forest Wyvern to get it there before spoiling. At any rate, my cutthroats are moving fast, and will soon cross the desert and reach a deep, wide black river, on the very edge of the known world. I could make a map of these new territories and even, if I'm dreaming big, construct a defended outpost on the river, where players can wait out the dangerous nights in safety."
The director turned on his computer screen and spent a few minutes checking something, scrolling through text on his monitor. Then he sat back in his leather armchair and looked at me with a smirk:
"Timothy, you have no idea what you're talking about right now. That black river you're leading your orcs to is called Styx. It's also known as the river of death, because it contains water that is dead and absolutely unpotable. What's more, the river has overgrown swampy banks, with infectious bloodsucking animals, and that's an easy way to catch an untreatable disease. But the biggest attraction of those areas is the abundance of high-level dangerous creatures. What's more, further upstream, the monsters get deadlier, and have bigger sharper fangs."
"The law of game worlds is the same everywhere: the further you get from easily reachable places, the harder the conditions, more dangerous the beasts, but also the more valuable the loot," I noted in an even tone, although the information I got from the director put me on high alert and upset me.
"That is true," the director agreed. "And the upper reaches of the Styx hide a great many interesting locations with unique trophies. But taking them is extremely difficult. I found some curious information, saying that twenty-six big expeditions have already been organized, and by quite serious clans at that. And as for how many lone travelers or small groups have tried to find the upper reaches of the Styx, I can't even count. None of them have made it. They all turned back sooner or later. And you want to tell me that you hope to make it where much higher-level and better-prepared players got clobbered?!"
Nevertheless, I didn't give an unambiguous answer to the director. I just promised to think as seriously as possible before evening, then tell him my decision in this very office at eight PM. On the one hand I was, of course, not glad to hear that the river I had seen from VIXEN's back, was the legendary and ghastly Styx. On the other, I had a flying wyvern at my disposal, which significantly simplified the mission of reaching remote locations.
My boss, then, was left none-too-satisfied with my cautiousness, and began to openly goad me into agreeing:
"Timothy, if you can manage this mission, I'll take back all my insults about your worthless Goblin Herbalist! What's more, in that this mission is directed at exploring Boundless Realm and will be useful to all players, I will try to get the leadership to give you a valuable reward, appropriate to the difficulty level."
But I just repeated my promise to seriously think about it, said goodbye and left the office. Despite the obvious difficulty of the mission, I had a reason not to rush to say no. The perspective of Amra’s video clips falling in popularity after the end of the great hunt gave me an unexpected shock. You get used to popularity and glory quite fast. They're like a drug. And after having millions of people waiting with bated breath for your video clips each day, suddenly becoming an unknown loser... would be unbearably painful.
I was personally ready to participate in this resounding and dangerous adventure, if it could help restore viewer interest in the adventures of my big-eared goblin. But such important decisions needed to be discussed in advance with my little sister. No matter how you sliced it, we played as a team, and dragging Val to such gloomy and unwelcoming places without her agreement was something I would never do.
Just after waking up, I rushed to my computer to see how many viewers had watched my morning clip about the orcs’ journey through the Great Desert and my riding the wyvern. Two thousand one hundred four people. Not so very long ago, that many viewers would have made me jump to the ceiling in joy, but after the recent millions of views, it looked pitiful and didn't make me happy at all...
No matter what you say, my boss was right today. My Goblin Herbalist's glory was fleeting. With that sad thought, I went out into the hall... and stopped short.
Kira was sleeping on the sofa, covered with a light blanket. Her glamorous red hair was spread out on the pillows and she was squeezing a huge plush rabbit. Precisely when my girlfriend had come into the apartment I did not know, because I had been sleeping like a rock for half a day, making up for my active night. But now, I didn't even know how to behave. Probably, for a start, I should at least get dressed so I wouldn’t be wandering around the apartment in nothing but my underwear. Trying not to be too loud, I walked back into the bedroom on my tip-toes. But my girlfriend woke up nevertheless:
"What time is it?" Kira asked in a sleepy voice, not peeling back an eyelid.
"Seven PM."
She responded with a dismayed bleating:
"Damn, seven already. Time to get up. But my head is just humming... Timothy, do I have to go to work today?"
I smiled at the owner of my apartment’s strange question and answered with a happy chuckle that I personally had nothing against giving my girl a day off. But as it happened, Kira was my boss somewhere high up in the corporate hierarchy, and maybe even the president of the Boundless Realm Corporation, so me telling her how to act would be crude insubordination.
Kira opened her eyes and threw the comforter aside, revealing that she was in nothing but a semi-transparent nighty. She sat up on the edge of the sofa and said:
"You're funny, Timothy... How long have you been working as a tester for the company? A month? Are you seriously saying that, in all that time, you never bothered to find out who is in charge of the Boundless Realm corporation?"
I grew embarrassed, lowered my gaze and shrugged my shoulders. Yes, I was just a senior tester, and my job was to play a flap-eared Goblin Herbalist in Boundless Realm. All these appointments and changes of directors, stock payouts to beneficiaries and other lofty topics were not quite in my sphere. Kira shook her head in reproach and, looking me shamelessly right in the eyes, started to illuminate me:
"The President of our corporation is named Thomas Heywood. He's a tall stately dark-haired man with singular charisma, excellent education and a surprisingly broad perspective. I feel like he knows everything on earth! And on every floor of the company skyscraper there are portraits and quotes from his speeches! How could you not have noticed?! Anyway, as it turns out, I personally know Thomas very well. Once upon a time, my grandmother Inessa was trying hard to marry me off to him. Thomas and I even dated for a while, but we had a mutual break up after not too long. I was of no interest to him as a woman, he needed a tool to influence the Board of Directors, and a convenient stepping stool to reach the heights of power. All that said, we remain good friends and periodically cross paths at private parties for the upper reaches of the company and at various get-togethers for city elites."
I don't think Kira was purposely trying to make me feel low but, in the end, that is exactly what she did. The beautiful redhead had never before allowed herself to point out the bottomless pit that separated our social standing. All around, it was a very painful slap to the face, although it was honest. Yes, my girlfriend was an elite and, although she didn't advertise it on every corner, a financial bigwig of the metropolis. The chic lady only allowed me to be near her out of a fleeting whim, tired of rich admirers from her circle and people searching for unusual distractions.
No, I didn't say anything to Kira and didn't show that her words had hurt me in any way. But it was precisely at that moment that I decided finally and irrevocably: I needed to find the upper reaches of Styx! Even if my sister refused to accompany me. Yes, I headed to the kitchen and put some coffee on for me and Kira, reached for the mugs, but my phone rang, stopping me. The ringtone was unusual, and also the number was unknown... strange. Nevertheless, I accepted the call.
"Hi, Amra! When will you be back in Boundless Realm? I've started to miss you and am horribly tired after this never-ending day. This red-hot desert has simply finished us all off. Even the orcs with the highest endurance are staggering. No matter where I look, in every direction there nothing but scorching hot dunes..."
Taisha?! What the hell?! I shook my head and even gave myself a hard pinch to make sure I wasn't sleeping or losing my mind. I had just gotten a call in the real world from an NPC from a game! This was just not possible! Probably, it was just a friend playing a trick on me!
I asked the suspicious voice a few questions to check, knowing that only my NPC bride could have the answers. And she did! All my doubts passed. This was definitely Taisha, a computer character from a virtual game!
"How'd you find out my number, and how did you manage to call the world of the undying?"
The green-skinned beauty cracked up laughing, clearly satisfied at the effect she'd produced:
"Amra, you're the one who showed me how to do it! You even said your number in front of me, when you called the ambulance. Did you forget?"
No, such things are not forgotten... I remembered the ghastliest moment in my life perfectly. My frightened flap-eared goblin was holding his unconscious Forest Nymph sister in despair, as Valeria died in the real world... I really did call right from the game and say my address to the emergency phone operator, also giving my telephone number. But the last thing I was thinking about at that moment was that my NPC bride would memorize that information and call me in the real world.
But I had to answer Taisha somehow. I tried to reassure and perk up the NPC thief by promising to come into the game as soon as the sun set, when my Goblin Vampire would no longer be threatened by the rays of the sun. I also asked Taisha to pass along an order to my first mate Ziabash Hardy to continue marching. They needed to cross the Great Desert no matter how hard it was to travel over the red-hot sands. Taisha promised to transmit the order and hung up. I lowered my hand with the phone.
"Timothy, who was the girl that just called you, and what language were you speaking?" Kira asked in agitation, standing in the kitchen door, having found the energy to get off the couch and come figure out who I was speaking to.
"What do you mean 'what language?'" I answered with a smile... And sharply froze. She was right! I had just been speaking not my usual native language but... what even was that? Goblin tongue? I couldn't find any other explanation, and answered just that to the owner of the apartment. I also said that I had been called by an NPC thief by the name of Taisha, a computer character from the game Boundless Realm.
"Are you mocking me?! Do you think I'm the kind of naive fool who would buy such a tall tale?! Tell me the truth right now, or I'll be very angry at you!" Kira shouted, boiling over.
But I stayed firm, repeating again and again that I had said the whole truth. I had really just now been called by a computer character asking when I would be coming into the game. My redheaded girlfriend started hissing like an enraged cat, and said through her tightly clenched teeth:
"I of course, will give you a chance and check your story with corporate specialists, even though it sounds like obvious crap. But if it all turns out to be a lie, and you make me look like a fool in front of serious people, I... I..."
Kira didn't finish her sentence, just turned sharply and went into the other room, slamming the door loudly as a grand finale. I still didn't know what exactly the redheaded fury was planning to do, if the NPC thief's call had not been detected by any corporate workers. Would she break up with me? Kick me out of the apartment? Complain about me to her influential grandmother? And if it wasn't any of those things, I could be sure that would lead to something nasty.
When I came back into the room a few minutes later with two mugs of aromatic freshly-brewed coffee in hand, Kira had already left the apartment...
I didn't catch Val in the hospital room. Her wheelchair wasn't there either. Maybe she'd just popped out for a minute and would be right back? But a nurse walking down the hallway told me she had just seen my sister in a room on the lower floor talking with some other kids. My eyebrows shot up in surprise. My shy and unsociable Valeria had taken it on herself to go on a walk and talk with peers? Until I saw it with my own eyes, I'd never believe it!
But the nurse was not wrong. Even from the stairs I could hear happy childish laughter and cries of joy, with Val’s voice mixed in. I stopped sharply. For a girl who had tried to kill herself just a few days earlier because the "real world is unbearably gray and boring," positive emotions were as necessary as fresh air. And it was definitely not a good idea to pull my sister out of the common room away from her active playtime and immerse her in my problems.
So, I didn't interrupt the children's game and returned to my sister's hospital bed. Time was pressing, and I needed to go to work very soon, so I just left a bag of fruits and a gift for Val on the bed, leaving a short note on the table:
"I talked with the new director. I'm supposed to raise my Herbalism. When you have the time, see what has to be done to raise that skill by thirty levels in a week. I'll see you in the game at nine tonight."
This morning, I had promised the new director I’d tell him my final decision about the journey to the upper reaches of the Styx at precisely eight tonight. It was already near eight, and I was really afraid of being late to a meeting I’d set myself. That would be a sign of extremely irresponsible behavior and disrespect of my superior. So, in a lather, I flew up the building steps, ran to the elevator and, at seven fifty-five, was standing at the door with the plaque reading: “Max Tohner. Director of Special Projects.”
But the door was locked... Had the director not waited for me?! Then my phone gave a beep. It was Max Sochnier, my friend the Naiad Trader.
"Hello, Timothy. Have you already talked with the new director?"
I sensed a certain subtext in that seemingly normal question, so before answering, I asked my friend why he wanted to know.
"Well, I just left his office ten minutes ago. I'm sitting, just awash with despair... If he hadn't been called to some kind of emergency meeting, I'm afraid he would have bit my head off. Leon is sitting next to me at the table. He's all pale, his arms are shaking, he's smoking inside."
I could hear the former builder's shaken-up voice:
"Yeah, they really got me worked up. If I get fired for smoking, then to hell with this job! As it was, it took me a lot not to break that old bastard's jaw off with an uppercut!"
I admitted that, this morning, I had about the same feelings when talking with Max Tohner. I was not used to having someone shout at me so flagrantly. And I didn’t know whether or not to be glad about the fact that I was standing in front of the locked door of his office and the second half of that difficult conversation would be put off.
"Yep, I get that!" Max Sochnier smiled. "Then come down here to the tester floor. Leon and I are sitting in a nook by the vending machines waiting for you. There's a lot to discuss."
Precisely three minutes later, I left the elevator on the tester floor and headed over to my friends. Both Leon and Max Sochnier stood up when they saw me, and we greeted each other warmly.
"Guys, the new director is a wild animal," said the former music teacher, raising the relevant topic. "He shouted at me and threatened damn near prison time just because I withdrew money from my character's game account. I really did convert thirty thousand in-game coins into three thousand credits. I was planning to trade in my old electromobile for a more modern model."
"Was there something criminal in that?" I asked. "I mean, you're an employee and, if your contract allows it, you absolutely have the right to withdraw money."
"That's what I thought!" Max Sochnier flared up. "But it turned out it wasn't so simple! The finance department complained to the director about me. Like, my character the Naiad Trader is holding lots of loans and client money. They said our boss had to figure out the situation and calm down the financiers. Instead of that, he started shouting at me, saying such a withdrawal of money from Boundless Realm could be seen as embezzlement, which breaks corporate rules, and tax law in general. It's totally surreal. I cannot get my own salary without the agreement of an auditor appointed specially by the corporation, who will check the legality of every withdrawal! I'm a trader, and I will always have some money that technically is an advance from someone. Why should that mean I sit here without any kind of salary?!"
"Yeah, that's total nonsense," I agreed. "And what if you change the form of payment in the work contract to a fixed salary?"
Max Sochnier gave a glum chuckle and said that was exactly what the new director had tried to force him into today. But in that case, his salary would be four times lower...
After that, Leon told the story of his talk with the new boss. He tried to use only appropriate words, but my straightforward friend didn't always manage. The director was unhappy with absolutely everything: the Ogre Fortifier's low level, the lack of a sensible game-plan, the sharp drop-off of character growth, and even his romantic relationship with a tester employee. It was all used to make the former construction worker feel guilty.
I also shared my experience with our new boss, after which my friends got totally sad and hung their heads. Seeing their gloomy state, I steeled my nerves and told them my plan: going together to places where nary a foot had fallen, and not just human, but of any player of any race. The upper reaches of the Styx!
"And how will that help us?" Leon asked sullenly.
"Popularity, unique trophies, and not only that," I chuckled. "The department head will be forced to treat us with respect, if we announce for all to hear that we are corporate employees and are carrying out a special, extremely complicated mission for the good of all Boundless Realm. We could even say that the mission was given to us in the name of the corporation by our boss, and call him by name!"
Max Sochnier and Leon exchanged glances and both snickered, imagining the face of our boss after getting that kind of news.
"He'll definitely come at us for that..." the cautious Frenchman noted.
"He won't. First off, he was egging me on to take this adventurous journey, so it's the pure truth. Second, I'll try really hard to get a bunch of players watching our campaign, I've got a couple trump cards up my sleeve. We could even do not short daily video clips, but live streams without any cutting, showing all the problems, dangers and deaths. But the most important thing for us is to present the situation in such a way that all viewers will associate us not with the private initiative of a small group of players, but with a project organized by the Boundless Realm corporation. We need to make it so that our success or failure will be associated not with us, but with the corporation itself."
My friends went silent in thought. Finally, Max Sochnier stopped drumming his fingers nervously on the table and spoke up:
"That's all well and good, Timothy, and I'm prepared to accompany you on this adventure. But I'm not really getting how you plan to create the necessary interest in your video clips. After all, there are thousands and thousands of streamers in Boundless Realm, and only some of them manage to become popular."
I gave a sad chuckle and, with a heavy sigh, admitted to my colleagues:
"I have one very important difference from the other streamers. My character is infected with vampirism! He was made that way from the very beginning of the game and, all that time, my Goblin Vampire has been forced to play only at night and regularly drink blood. I think now is the very time to tell the whole world about that secret. We can even present that fact as yet another whim of the developers."
My friends stayed silent for a long time, shocked at my admission. Finally, Leon squeezed out:
"A lot of your Goblin Herbalist's behavior is clear now. Both how you play at night, and how you take blood samples for 'antivenoms.'"
"I bet people really will watch your streams," Max Sochnier continued in deep thought. "Just think one of the very last vampires in the game! What matters now is for our group not to be set upon by a huge group of paladins, fighters of the undead and various other vampire hunters..."
My friend's fears were very well founded. I had already thought them through, though.
"That is precisely why we'll announce the vampirism only once our crew is a bit further from inhabited areas. If someone wants to bag a vampire, let them follow us into the gloomy and dangerous lands around the river of death. I imagine there won't be many impatient enough for that, if any such busybodies are even to be found. Most players will watch our journey and wait for our division to return, hoping to catch my Goblin Herbalist when he gets back from the dangerous trip."
"But sooner or later, our campaign will end," Leon noted justly. "And what will you do then, when your Vampire comes back and hordes of players are waiting for you with wooden stakes, silver crosses and rings of dried garlic?"
I shrugged my shoulders indefinitely. Why worry now about what might happen in the very distant future, and may not even happen at all. What was more, there was an important nuance: it wasn't enough for the players to merely know about the Goblin Herbalist's vampirism from my video clips. In the game, that knowledge wouldn't help their characters one bit. In order for the quest to kick in, they'd need to reveal the vampire in the game itself, and I was certainly not planning to help with that. What was more, my level-20 Veil skill allowed me to hide my name, and my sister could give my big-eared goblin any appearance with her illusions. And then, try to find the Vampire in the crowd, if he looks totally different and has a different name! Also, no matter what, I always had the option of flying away on VIXEN and losing them again. In general, I didn't consider myself doomed at all, and was even sure I’d be able to squirm out of it.
My friends and I spent another hour sitting at that table, arguing and vividly discussing the concrete details of our forthcoming campaign. Above all else, in order to solve the problem of supplies and provisions and, at the same time, help Max Sochnier avoid chicanery from the financial control service, we agreed to buy supplies for three hundred orc pirates with all the money the Frenchman had borrowed from me. We agreed on the array of purchases and delivery location carefully and in great detail.
Beyond that, I asked my friends to look for any old maps left after the twenty-six unsuccessful expeditions to the upper reaches of the Styx. I was certain these maps wouldn't be publicly available. I'd already checked, but maybe we could find a player willing to sell.
What was more, we also needed more companions, preferably NPC's, who could serve as guides and recon in the wild and dangerous places. Neither we nor my goblins and pirates had the requisite experience and knowledge to survive in the severe swampy climes. But such characters could probably be found in the game, so I asked Max Sochnier to find and hire them in ports and cities, where his trade route on the Tipsy Albatross passed.
We discussed plans after that as well, but then my alarm rang out at nine, and I came to my senses. It was time for me to go into Boundless Realm.

Release - January 17, 2018

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