Sylvia in Halvue

[Want to know more about the world of Project: Gorgon? Here's a short story that gives you a better glimpse.]

The sun was setting in the hills to the north, creating a picturesque scene, but Sylvia didn’t notice, her head down, watching the ground as she walked. Clouds of dust arose behind her as she hiked quickly down the old road to Halvue. I’m a day behind schedule. This is Reginald’s fault for forgetting to explain the plan sooner.

Just as dusk arrived, she rounded a final hill and spotted the lights of Halvue. The town was surrounded by low brown walls, typical of affluent Council communities. She could just barely catch the shiny reflectiveness of the walls: small gems that would explode if anyone tried to climb them. It’s all just for show, she realized suddenly. If Destriel came here, his army could walk over this place in seconds. But the wall kept out goblin raiders, and that was the only real threat for a hundred miles. Halvue was a place for the wealthy to get away from all the poverty of nearby Sinoca. But Sinoca would be much better able to withstand an attack.

The night guard wasn’t on duty yet, so the gate was unmanned. Sylvia entered Halvue unhindered except for the smell of shit wafting from the street. Wonderful. It was cleaning night, when everyone threw out their refuse into the road. In another hour or so the Keepers would be along to incinerate it all with fire wands. The smell would be beyond horrible. Sylvia hustled faster down the almost-empty streets, hoping to get out of town before that.

The quaint little shops were all closed, but what she needed wasn’t for sale here anyway. She needed a man named Jagged Earl, whose house was as far from the front gate as possible, near the back wall of town. Fortunately Sylvia had been to Halvue a few times and knew the back roads well enough. She was soon in a less dense area, with large wooden homes nestled along cobbled paths, each surrounded by trees for privacy. These sorts of houses usually made Sylvia feel lonely and self-conscious, but in this case the piles of garbage in front of each house removed any danger of that.

It was dark when she found the right road… but all the buildings here were residences and completely undistinguished. Which was Jagged Earl’s home? Her musing was interrupted by shouting coming from one of the few street lamps. Two women — a human and an elf — were talking loudly. Sylvia strode toward them to ask directions.

“The Council wouldn’t do that!” repeated the human woman. She had pale white skin and curls of yellow hair peeked out of a hair wrap.

“How can you not believe me? I promise you, I do pay taxes. Lots of them.” The women were quite mismatched. Since Halvue was a human town, the elf woman wore rather conservative clothes by elven standards: a blue dress that matched her beautiful light blue skin tone. It was cut extremely low in the front, all the way down past her navel, revealing far more cleavage than most human women would dare. The human wore a bland and modest petticoat. She was pretty, but the elf was beautiful. The elf was carrying a sack of garbage, yet she still looked better than most humans could ever hope for.

“You liar! The Council doesn’t ask anything of us! They give us food and clean water, safety, education, comfort… and ask nothing! There are no taxes!”

“They ask nothing of their fellow humans. But elves have to pay, Mysta. Look, we can just visit the mayor in the morning, he’ll confirm that I pay taxes.” The elf seemed smug, but was taken aback when Mysta slapped her hard on the cheek.

“You whore! If you do have to pay, it’s only because you’re a perverted disgusting charm-rapist. You walk around dressed like that, and — ow!” the elf had taken the human’s pointing finger and elegantly twisted her arm around, forcing Mysta to her knees.

The human cried out, but the elf held her down. “Actually, I dress like a prudish old crone for you. Just because you stupid one-dicked ape-people are terrified of spotting a nipple. And you have the audacity to…”

“Let me go, or I’ll have the guards put you down, bitch!”

That worked. The elf let her go and took a step back, her hands rising to her mouth in surprise. The human spat at her feet and ran off into the darkness. Sylvia coughed loudly so as not to startle her.

The elf stared out into the darkness at Sylvia, her big pale eyes straining to make out who was there. “You heard all of that? I’m so sorry. I’ll find a way to make it up to her tomorrow. I’m just tired of the Keepers ‘accidentally’ forgetting to clear away my garbage. I didn’t mean to hurt her. It was an accident.”

“You don’t need to explain anything to me,” said Sylvia, stepping into the lamp light. At this close range, Sylvia caught the elf’s mild perfume, reminiscent of tea leaves. Pleasant but not overpowering. I should have been able to smell that sooner, save for all the shit in the road. “I just need to find a man named Jagged Earl.”

“Oh, my, you’re an unusual one! And so buxom! Most travelers are all emaciated and shriveled, but you know how to fend for yourself, don’t you? I find that very attractive in a woman. I’m Alara. Would you…”

“I’m sorry, but I really need to find this man quickly.”

“Of course.  There.” She pointed in the darkness toward a nearby home. “He’s always seemed a little scary to me, but I doubt he’ll give you any trouble.” She looked pointedly at the long knife on Sylvia’s belt. Then she began muttering a spell, which made Sylvia take a step back and rest a hand on the knife.

“Sorry! Sorry! It’s a cleaning spell! That’s all!” A spark of green energy appeared on each of the elf’s hands, cleansing them. “I cast it obsessively. I didn’t even notice I was doing it. You know us elves and our cleanliness. This is so stereotypical of me!” She scanned Sylvia appraisingly. “But you know, humans are allowed to bathe, too. It’s not only for elves.” She giggled good-naturedly at Sylvia’s look of discomfort. “That was rude of me. What I meant is that you’d be very pretty if you took a bit more care of yourself. Why don’t I take you down to the bath house and help you wash that hair?”

“No, thank you,” said Sylvia, taking a step back and running a hand unconsciously through her stringy brown hair. She’d been traveling hard for days and forgotten all about bathing.

“Wait! Don’t go. I’m… I’m not a prostitute. You know that, right? Humans always think… I just really want to get to know you. There’s something about you.”

Sylvia shook her head, feeling just a tinge of guilt. Elves craved — and physically needed — social contact, and this elf was clearly hurting. But Sylvia had more pressing concerns. “I have to go.”

“But it’s late! I have a spare bed, and I promise I won’t charm you. I can’t even charm if I wanted to. Which I don’t!”

This caught Sylvia off guard and made her turn around again. “What kind of elf can’t charm? I thought it was an easy spell for you.”

“I had all the charm spells burned out of my mind when I came to live here. I thought it would put humans at ease, but…” the elf sighed.

“I’m sorry. If it’s any comfort to you, they don’t accept me in their stupid cities either. Don’t let it bother you.” Sylvia turned again and headed toward the indicated house.

“Wait, how about dinner? I won’t try anything. I’m sorry that I… Please!” The pretty voice followed behind her for a bit. Sylvia hurried on.

Jagged Earl’s house was dark, and she had to walk slowly to avoid stumbling up the stairs. She knocked loudly, and soon the door opened, revealing bright magical lamp light inside. A crooked-backed old human man with pale white skin and hair opened the door. He smiled. “Sylvia?” She nodded and he let her in.

“Before we go further, I’ll need you to put your weapons here,” he said, nodding to a basin near the door. She shrugged and set her dagger in the basin.

“Also the other weapons,” said the man, one bushy eyebrow arched. Sylvia sheepishly reached around to untie the hand crossbow from under her cloak, and the fire wand from the loop on her backpack. The man smiled and relaxed. “Good. This way please. I like to do business in the drawing room.”

The drawing room was small, but beautifully decorated with maps and a globe. Perhaps she would buy one of his maps, too, she thought idly. She’d always wanted to study a map of Alharth.

Earl sat down in one of the two stuffed chairs. “Now, my friend Reginald told me that you need a certain word. A very long word. And that you could pay.”

“I need a word of power that can undo large-scale petrification. I can pay in Elcean bars. I have sixteen with me, and I don’t want to haggle. You can have them all. Is that good?”

The old man’s eyebrow raised higher than ever. “Show me.”

Sylvia took off her cloak and pack, then began stacking the bars on the drawing room table. Each was a rectangular chunk of crystal the size of a fist, with a sparkle of energy twinkling inside.

“Deal! Now how do you want to receive the word? Shall I tell it to you here?” He grinned.

“No, don’t say it out loud! I’m not an idiot.” Words of power lost their magic once spoken aloud. But how to receive the word? Reginald hadn’t mentioned anything. “I guess, just… write it down for me?”

“Very good.” He stood up and began writing with a long quill. “I do hope Reginald is well. He owes me a lot of money, but let’s just consider the books balanced, shall we? Give him my regards.” He handed her the parchment and turned to pick up the Elcean bars.

Sylvia looked at the paper… and suddenly she was falling. A trap. Somewhere far away the old man was laughing. Then she was in a field… a familiar field. She was a little girl of twelve once again, and she was standing in her parents’ wheat field as the house burned down, her mother dead inside.

A tall man walked up to her. His chest was bare, and his dark skin was marred by many long scars. He was ridiculously broad-shouldered, and she felt like an insect standing in front of this giant. But little Sylvia defiantly stood her ground. Big Sylvia, on the other hand, was awash in emotions. Not him. I can’t face him again…

The man knelt down and put a huge hand on her shoulder. “You refuse to cry. You’re very brave.” He smiled, as if he was pronouncing something profound, but little Sylvia didn’t understand what. “I killed your mother to test your father. And I’m afraid he failed the test. But now it’s your turn for testing. I’m going to kill your father, and Not this again! This isn’t happening! Wake up! Please let me wake up!

A sudden gash opened up on her throat. The giant man didn’t seem to notice… this wasn’t how it had happened fourteen years ago. What did it mean? Her blood was pouring out, and … then she was back, lying on the floor of the drawing room, choking, bleeding out, her throat slit.

“Back so soon from your nightmare, dear? Just relax, it’ll be over in a second.” Jagged Earl was rummaging through her backpack, ignoring the pool of blood forming at his feet. She tried to breathe but it wouldn’t work, and the world was going gray so quickly… why wasn’t she changing… it wasn’t working! She desperately tried to call the beast forth, but nothing. And then just as she was fading out, it happened. Her body was wracked with pain, but she sighed in relief. It’s about damned time!

“I’ll have to decide what to tell Reginald. He didn’t even warn you that you can’t write down a word of power without triggering psychotic visions, so he must not have cared much for you. Who knows, killing you might be doing him a favor.” He pulled another glowing bar from her bag triumphantly. “I knew you had more Elcean bars in here!” He glanced at Sylvia, and dropped the bar. “Oh dear.”

The wolf leapt at him, tore out his throat, and proceeded to eat him. Sylvia hated this part, but the beast had to be fed now that it had been called out. As she chewed the marrow from his bones, she felt herself regaining strength, and soon felt better than ever.

In minutes his body was largely consumed, but the beastly Sylvia was just warming up. She wouldn’t be able to change back into a human tonight… the hunger was too strong. Damn it, I’ll have to stay in here all night!

She began pacing the house, thinking about what to do next. Her clothes had been torn and destroyed when she changed, and the backpack was soaked in blood. Hopefully she could find something to wear in Earl’s wardrobe — and something to carry the Elcean bars. Though it’d serve Reginald right if I left the bars here. Make him steal a new batch, the moron. It was a typical Reginald oversight: forgetting that she didn’t have the same magical education he did. It was hard to stay mad at him for too long, but she’d find a way to get revenge.

Suddenly she sniffed the air again. I can still smell the burning house from my vision. But it’s just the Keepers burning garbage. No, wait… there it was again: behind the burning refuse, the smell of wood and tar. A house really was on fire. The elf.

The front door was closed, so the giant wolf slammed into it once, twice, and then the third shattered it into bits and she was out in the street, her eyes now picking up everything in the dim light. The suffocating smell of shit was a dozen times worse now with her sensitive nose, but the cause of the fire was plainly obvious: Alara’s home was burning, and a half-dozen humans were standing outside watching, wands and swords in hand. The elf was in a heap on the ground next to them, crying loudly. They were teaching her a lesson. But it was not a good night for teachers of lessons.

Sylvia let out a howl so that they would know she was there — it was more sporting that way. Then she tore into the group of Keepers and guards, rending and killing, dodging swords, ignoring flames. In less than a minute they were all dead. The charred and blood-soaked wolf then began casually eating their corpses, ripping the arms off first –that was the tastiest meat. If you have to eat a person, might as well enjoy it…

“Did you… oh no. No! Monster!” the elf stood in shock, nursing an arm that was jutting at an unnatural angle, and ran off into the darkness. Hope she makes it out of town. But Sylvia didn’t dare follow her. In her current murderous mood, she would have a hard time containing herself. Enough people had died tonight.

Sylvia started running toward the back wall. It was low enough that she was sure she’d be able to find a way over it. Time to find out if those gems in the wall are enough to stop a pissed off werewolf matriarch. She was pretty sure she knew the answer.

 

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8 Responses to Sylvia in Halvue

  1. tad says:

    It is fortunate that smell is one of the senses not currently replicable in MMOs (though see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_scent_technology ). It’s funny the story should mention town walls. I don’t know of any MMO that properly treats the village night/day cycle – or any RPG since Ultima VII. At dusk the town gate should shut, shops should close, and people should go home and eventually to bed. Those stuck outside the city walls should have to deal with the creatures of the night: more dangerous and numerous than day (think Neriak Forest but everywhere). I like the gritiness and hope some of it translates to the game. I think werewolves and NPCS should be hostile and KOS to each other (I know you currently have your scare system in place but maybe you need to pull an Emeril and punch it up a notch).

  2. Jason says:

    Thats an interesting point and one that some friends of mine and I have argued about for years – whether or not shops should close during the game night, etc. Unfortunately there is no easy solution to it since its in an online space and you end up penalizing one group or another. For example, what if the game’s concept of night always falls during the play session of those players who login from Australia or Europe? Suddenly as a player you have encountered a situation that blocks your gameplay and you have no recourse. I would suspect that is the reasoning behind the decision in most MMOs, you want to keep player frustrations at a minimum and encourage player enjoyment.

    Btw, cool story. Very imaginative.

  3. Thorn says:

    There have been RPGs that had a proper day/night cycle, Gothic springs readily to mind.

    And day/night falling during the play session of players from abroad, just make the cycle short enough so a typical game session has at least one cycle in it. WoW was one of the first MMOs that tied ingame time to real time. Doesn’t have to be that way.

  4. Eric says:

    Yeah, we’ve struggled with some of those same issues. We want interesting choices and problems, but we need to balance them with not being just friggin’ annoying as hell. In a single-player game, you can just press “Wait 5 hours” to wait until shops open… in an MMO, being stuck unable to sell your crap for a real-time hour or more is just torture. It’s too much punishment for such a small thing (missing the shop-keepers’ hours). So our shops are always open.

    There are other similar things, though, where we’ve swung the other way. Dying in a dungeon and having to get your group to come back up to the top of the dungeon to escort you back down? Friggin’ irritating… but still in the plans. It really depends on the specifics, and what we want to make feel important. It doesn’t feel heroic to be thinking “OMG I’ve gotta get to the stores before they close or I’m SCREWED for four hours!”, but life-or-death combat deep beneath the earth? That can have more stressful consequences.

  5. Sandra says:

    And of course there’s the whole werewolf moon thing.

  6. Jason says:

    Its probably more work than its worth, but if you really wanted to pursue the night-time shops-closed path one solution might be to have an alternate set of vendors that are open at night. A “shady” set, perhaps. Maybe instead of taking your goods to Bob’s General Store as you would during the day, you take them instead of Joe the Fence who can be found in the shadowed alley next to the General Store. Same prices perhaps, but fits logically and would still allow you to do a real day-night cycle.

  7. tad says:

    I like the shady NPC idea – reminds me of EQ where you had to go to the vendors in the sewers if you were a Necro or DE. Also in PG terms – a whole other set of NPCs to earn faction with.

  8. Nevir says:

    I was going to leave almost the exact same comment as Jason. One thing though that I would mention is if you are going to have a system with fences and the like you should need to do at least some basic questing before you gain access to them. How long is a fence going to stay a free man if he sells openly to everyone?

    Also as this if my first post on the site, thanks for the great blog I’ve been exploring your archives of old posts since I supported your project n Kickstarter. Keep it up and good luck with the KS campaign.