The Guild 2.8

“Alright, cut the bullshit,” Alan said, calmly staring at Phantom.

“Excuse me?”

“Enough acting, or whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Sorry, I don’t understand, are the test results unclear?” Phantom asked, unsteadily swaying back and forth, gesturing wildly with the flask in his hand.

“There’s no way a drunken idiot with zero combat experience became a top officer in a guild like this,” Alan continued calmly.

Phantom put the flask down on a table, turned to look into Alan’s resolute stare, then closed his eyes. When he opened them, they held a quiet, clear brilliance rather than the confused look that had been there a moment ago. To Alan’s surprise Phantom’s irises had changed color as well, from a bloodshot blue to a crystalline green, with tiny silver gears whirling around in the center of his pupils.

“Fine, have it your way. Why the sudden inquisitiveness?” Phantom stood up straight, intently scrutinizing Alan.

“Because, you clearly know more than I do about what’s going on, and I want clear and straight answers, not whatever backwards, prepared BS that you were about to feed me,” Alan replied.

“Oh? You seem quite worked up about this.”

“Yes, I’d prefer to have the truth.”

“Wouldn’t we all. Anyways, what exactly is it that you want to know?”

“What is this window, what are these stats, why haven’t I seen them before and did you make them up?”

“These results are quite real, and it’s odd that you say that you’ve never seen the window before. That genuinely was surprising, as it should be one of the first windows to pop up when you first enter the game.”

“When I first entered the game I gained consciousness on a small farm in some rural part of the country a few hours before the tutorial began.”

“Really? Interesting… very interesting. Well, I guess, to answer your questions, all the various status windows are pretty self-explanatory.

The name is its name of course. That it has a personality is interesting, but expected given it’s rank C. Computing ability is basically an AI’s level or combat ranking, although you probably know that. To test your synchronization level, or your compatibility with Eve, we’d need to turn it on, which we could do soon, after a few more tests. But not here. Frankly, I’m not comfortable with an unknown AI in my private chamber, at least for now. There’s actually a field that prevents many forms of technology from entering the surrounding area, but anyways, moving on.

The objective is whatever you set it to be, apparently saving your planet, Earth. I’d advise you to tweak that a bit, as what an AI’s idea of saving could vary. It might in fact conclude that Earth was best left in the hands of the Haxlards, for instance, or it may decide to save the planet you’d need to take it over yourself. General functions as its role is rather vague, guess it’s just doing everything for you. One thing I’ve noted is you’re a bit too dependent on your AI, and that’s a habit that should be broken. The operating system is classified as per usual, you’d need to be a very high level Administrator to see that sort of stuff.

Now, corruption level. That’s fascinating, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new AI with such a high corruption level, which alarms me and should worry you. Corruption levels are basically the Administrator’s catch-all term measuring how changed from a base-AI something is. It’s not necessarily even a bad thing, though tampering with an AI’s source code is generally frowned upon, and if the AI gets too erratic or its corruption level gets above 60% it’s usually wiped by the Administrators or reverted to a previous, less corrupted back up. Corrupted AI tend to start showing more… personality, I guess you could say. You should watch out too, as it’s not unheard of for corrupted AI to start forming their own ideas or goals. In effect, I guess they become less like tools and more like companions. Anyways, you should watch out for that, and I suppose this means I should converse with your AI as well before you officially join the guild.

Storage levels are just its memory, while aberration levels are sort of going into the corruption level more. AI are required to be declared sane, you’ll have to bring in Eve for an official test at least once a year in-game time, though this test should qualify as one such test. Any capsule should be able to perform such a check too. Now, warnings, this once again raises a red-flag for me. Do you know what your AI has received warnings for?”

“Well, I know one was for accessing other player’s interfaces during the Tutorial, watching what they were doing, but that was sort of on my order. Wait, no, actually now that I think about it I’m not sure I ever did order that move…” Alan said hesitatingly

Phantom stepped forward, right in front of Alan.

“Yes, see, this is what makes me nervous about AI, you don’t know how they think! You may think you know, but you don’t. Let me get one thing straight. Your AI, and all AI within the Game, are NOT biological beings. They do not have gender, it is not a she or a he, it is an it. They are a completely different entity. All of your feelings, your senses, are tied to your body, your physical embodiment. AI have none of those, everything is simply a series of 1’s and 0’s to them, and while AI can be programmed to ‘feel’ I doubt it’s anything like what you or I experience.

We’ve had generations of evolution hardwired into us, social practices, a culture hundreds of millennia old. Your AI has whatever data you’ve given it, experience with whatever you’ve told it to do. The only reason it knows anything is right or wrong is because it’s been told it’s right or wrong. It has no real morals, no real wealth of knowledge to draw upon. It has true or false gates, that branch out in a trillion different pathways, and if something is undefined, it’ll freeze, or act in such a way that no one can really expect. Um, well, sorry about that rant, this alcohol is actually starting to get to me a bit.”

“Um, no, it’s fine, it’s interesting to hear your opinion,” Alan said, backing up a bit.

“Ok, well, moving on, about your overall performance, I’m quite impressed, although I have to say once more stop depending so much on your AI. Now, I said this earlier, and I am going to stress the importance of this. Quite frankly, it’s because your actions will hinder your growth. As you should’ve seen in your AI’s abilities, it has its own Jack of All Trades ability, which can basically show it how to perform any skill or ability that it has data for. This means that if you don’t train in a skill, you’ll simply forget it, and it’ll return to your AI’s skills rather than your own.”

Alan looked and saw that this was true, and that the knife fighting ability he nearly forgot about had been absorbed into this skill. The list of skills within Eve’s skill went on and on, looking more like a Dungeon and Dragon’s manual for all available skills rather than something someone actually possessed.

“Now, while being able to use every skill is quite useful, you will never really develop a proficiency at the skill, never perform at an Advanced or Master level with the skill unless you truly learn the skill on your own. Why? Because by using this skill you are basically following an outline without ever learning why the motion or action you are performing is the correct one.

You’ll never understand the nuances of dueling or piloting, for example. You might not believe me, but Admiral Thrag, who I understand you worked with earlier, is one of the most brilliant, genius pilot’s I’ve ever met. Oh, and by the way, he isn’t acting. His personality is unfortunately just as it appears to be, and if you confront him about it he’ll be quite offended. Also, just to let you know, his wife is his ship, or at least the ship’s AI.

Anyways, to truly become a force to be reckoned with, you’ll need to train in skills and not just have your AI feed you the information. If you want to be a mediocre player, fine, continue to depend on your AI to such an extent, but you’ll never be able to handle rank A let alone rank S threats. Of course, your AI should prove to be be an immense help with your training, at least up to a certain point. AI’s will, at best, be able to master most skills to a proficiency two ranks below their Computing Ability, thus in Eve’s case most of the skills are at an E or F rank. Although, as I see you’ve discovered, they can help you quite a bit with various abilities, like sniping or hacking, so you should be able to get a high proficiency easily in some subset of abilities dependent on calculation.

Now, an AI, like a computer, can be improved in two ways. Software, and hardware, software being the programs that the AI uses, hardware being the capsule that you’re using, and it’s storage, memory card and what-not. The max computing ability of an AI however is equal to the rank of the capsule you’re using. Thus, the importance for you to have a highly ranked, specialized capsule. Simply having a better capsule isn’t enough however, it must also have the programs to effectively facilitate its actions, which is where software comes in. I’m surprised that your AI has a rank C computing ability already, but I suppose that it did merge with a Haxlardian AI.”

Alan nodded along with Phantom’s explanation, taking all the information in.

“Okay, but where can I get such a capsule and software?”

“Well, the Black Rose guild can help you with getting a rank A capsule for a few million guild points through the Mercenary Bloc, but for the software you’ll need to develop a high reputation with either the Administrators or the Revenants. The upgrade will be quite costly as well, requiring either a number of platinum marks for the Administrators or a piece of advanced technology to trade with the Revenants. Additionally, each faction has their own specialized software, the Administrators focusing on defense and the management of large forces, while the Revenants focus more on offense and exploration. There are of course other factions specializing in other fields, maybe even hidden civilizations or pieces of software in dungeons, but those are the two paths I’d recommend.”

“Um, alright,” Alan answered.

“Now, speaking of upgrades, you recently hit level 100, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, have you thought what you might do with the extra biological and mechanical implant slots?”

“No, not really, why?”

“Because I have just the thing for you,” Phantom said, eyes gleaming, the microscopic gears within his pupil spinning like mad, looking every part the mad scientist.

“As you’ve no doubt noticed,” he continued, gesturing at his own eyes, “my eyes are augmented. This is actually my own revision of a cyborg implant, that takes both a biological and mechanical slot, which the Game has graciously named Phantom’s Enhanced Visual Prosthesis. It’s basically a bionic eye that will improve your vision, but it allows for so much more. I think it will prove to be remarkably beneficial for you especially. It will allow you to zoom in on things in your view, up to 800x magnification, which is helpful for both sniping and working with micro-sized objects. It will allow you to see in the dark, or at least in very low light situations. It will let you see through certain materials, which can be quite useful, if you know what I mean. It will upload what you see so that everything is recorded, available for your viewing even if you die, or to report to me. But that’s not all.

You see, it will allow you to see different spectrum’s of light as well. This means that you can see not only in infrared, but also in electromagnetic spectrum’s that will allow you to see digital signals. With your AI’s help, you might be able to decode messages sent wirelessly, as most messages are. Of course, you’ll need to decrypt all such intercepted messages, but we’ll figure out a way around that, I’m sure. So, what do you say, interested?”

“Yes, that does sound to be quite impressive, but what’s the catch? How much will this cost me? Also, I was sort of hoping to maybe try to get a flying augment or some other sort of movement upgrade.”

“Let’s just call it a sign-on bonus. Also, trust me, you don’t want a flight skill or augment. All you’ll be able to do for the first few years is hover off the ground a little bit. Honestly, you’ll be only the second player to receive this implant, which is saying something, and I’ll be able to install the standard kill switch as well-”

“The what!?” Alan exclaimed.

“Well, in our line of work it’s best to have some easy way to get out of capture, so we don’t divulge any information. Trust me, you don’t want to get captured by an enemy faction without a kill switch. It will simply let you just restart at your respawn point quickly and easily.” Phantom calmly explained.

“Now, that may be, but I’m not sure if I like the sound of this, as it sounds like you’ll be able to activate it at will.”

“Yes, well, if you’re knocked unconscious during a mission, I’ll need to activate it, won’t I?”

“So, wait, you’ll be coming along with me on missions?”

“No, weren’t you listening earlier? I’ll be following along through the cybernetic eye implant. I’ll be what I suppose you’d call your handler for most missions. Also, even if I were to betray you, which I promise I won’t, you could immediately afterward disable the implant while at your Home Base. I wouldn’t be able to kill you over and over again, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Alan narrowed his eyes, glaring at Phantom, then slowly mulled over his options. He doubted that Phantom would let him go on missions or be his Squire without this implant. After about a minute, he finally said, “Alright, fine, I’ll agree to the implant, but only on one condition.”

“Alright, and what’s that?” Phantom inquired.

“Tell me why you distrust AI so much. You clearly have some issue with them, and as I have one basically living in my head, I think I deserve a clear answer on this.”

Phantom frowned, then replied, “I wish I could, but I don’t think you’re ready for this information. However, I do promise to explain it to you after the war or whatever battle happens for Earth is over, and you reach the rank of Knight within the guild.”

“What? Not ready? So I’m ready to fight and spy for you, but not ready for some warning or information that could possibly be quite relevant to me!?” Alan cried out.

Phantom once more closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. When they opened again, his pupils were red. He said in an ominous tone, “No, you are not ready. You are a foolish young man with no clear concept of right or wrong, whose whole world has recently been upturned. Trust me when I say that this information could get your planet annihilated, and not just in the Game, but in real life as well.

You do not realize how backwards your concepts and morals are. You say that you wish to save the Earth. Why? Because you were born there, because you and all the other Earthlings descended from the same strain of DNA. You do not understand how stupid such reasoning is. Your planet is still full of concepts of discrimination because of race, of sex, of culture, of class, of disability, of sexuality, of age, of species, of point of origin. You still have nationalism and obscure, esoteric religions that people wholeheartedly believe in, for goodness’ sake. The Game was created to prevent wanton destruction for such idiotic reasons!

And do you really think you are wrong, that your ideals are backwards? Of course not! I’m sure all this is going in one ear and out the other. But you’ll learn. When you see the universe, the Game in all its glory and shame, perhaps your mind will slowly be opened. Perhaps not. You were born on a small planet, and have only just begun your journey. You are not yet ready, Traveler.”

“How stupid such reasoning is!?” Alan shouted back. “I don’t think you understand. If such bonds are meaningless, does that mean that I should not care about my family? How can you assert that I should not care for other humans? What do you propose I should fight for instead, myself? With what aim, to simply get stronger?

I don’t think you understand what the world was like before the Game, where because of selfishness people allowed others to starve, to die, to war. And for what, a bit of wealth? You say the Game was created to prevent such wanton destruction, but now that it is created, what next? People surely continue to fight, just the results are less destructive.

Before the Game, before all this happened, I had no real cause. I was simply going to school, to college, following the path set before me because there was nothing else for me. I never really tried, never really even felt like trying. What was the point? There was only so much that I could do. I wasn’t any genius like Einstein, or a brilliant artist, so I just silently trudged down the path. Not quite happy, but not quite sad, at least for the most part. But now, finally, I have a purpose, a goal. I can see that I can change the world, perhaps even save it from outside control. How is that wrong?”

Phantom shook his head, looking at Alan calmly. “You could have always strived to change your world, to save it. The Game just makes it all so much deceptively easier to do so. It also however allows you to make greater mistakes than ever before. I am not saying that it is wrong to care for others, to try to help your world, I’m simply saying you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. What happens after you ‘save’ your world, after the conquerors have been fought back? Have you thought at all about how your education system should be reformed, about the social aspects of your own world? Of course not, as you’re already too caught up in the Game, and have little time to think about much else. You’ll leave charismatic leaders to make those decisions for you, accepting their blind hope and bright lies as the right way. My people, the Erudites, paid the price for such beliefs, but enough of this debate, we’ll get nowhere.

You show promise, I’ll grant you that much, but are you really willing to join the Black Rose guild, to follow what the guild tells you to do, not simply your own misguided beliefs? We will not order you to act in such a way that harms your planet, Earth, but what you consider harm may vary, thus I’ll give you the right to veto any mission I assign. But if you veto three missions, after hearing my reasoning for them, you will be expelled from the guild, required to pay back any outstanding debt at standard Khersath rates. Is this acceptable?”

“Can I ask my AI her opinion in this matter?”

“No, this is a decision you should make yourself.”

“Well, I was saving ability points for an ability that costs 500 points, and this implant it seems will cost 250, so-”

“I’ll change the bonus you receive from joining the guild from 10000 guild points to five platinum marks, as befitting the role of my Squire. You would have gotten 100000 guild points probably anyways, which is worth a million credits, equivalent to five platinum marks. Now, decide, Alan, are you joining the guild as my squire?”

Alan looked at Phantom, examining him closely, then nodded, and said, “I accept.” A message popped up.

“Guild Trials Complete! Title Change!

You are now a permanent member of the Black Rose Guild, granted the title Black Rose Squire. Guild standings updated. Five platinum marks awarded. Monthly wage: 2500 guild points.

Increased renown for being the first and only squire of the mysterious PhantomGlitch. Normally, as a squire you are expected to follow your masters commands. Given the eccentricity PhantomGlitch has demonstrated however, the Guild Council has ruled you are only expected to try to follow his commands, and only if they make sense. Penalties will still occur for disobeying any other clear order from a superior however. (Superiors are as follows: Enigma, Guild Quartermaster, Elissandra, Guild Leader and the Guild Council. In other circumstances, other guild members may be designated your superior.)”

“Excellent!” Phantom exclaimed reading something before him, as he had apparently received a message of his own. “Although, I think you should disregard that part about me being eccentric and what-not, as I am required to act a certain way in front of most other guild members. You should just continue to be yourself, I think. Nobody looks twice at a sullen loner from a backwards planet that only talks to his AI.”

Alan let out a yelp of indignation, but Phantom simply continued talking. “Now, as you should have seen from the message the chain of command in this guild is a bit wonky. Most other mercenary guilds are ordered into basically units of an army, with a clear command hierarchy. Here, however, basically whoever is specialized in the field the mission is related to is given command. So, for instance, in all space battles Admiral Thrag is the clear superior, but in the case of land battles Arms Master Mason is generally in charge. Of course, Elissandra or anyone else can give their own suggestions, some of which are heard more loudly than others, but the final decision is left to the specialist.

Oh, yeah, we also have a hidden council of six guild members that sort of rotates, like a board of directors, I suppose, which I may or may not be a member of. They as a whole have just as much authority as Elissandra. You’ll mostly be reporting to them, I think.

Anyways, welcome to the Black Rose Guild! Ready to get your new implant? I’ll make sure you’re transported safely back to the capsule room, so you can spend those platinum marks. While I’m at it, I’ll also upgrade your power armor, I have a few spare materials and schematics laying around. Think of it as a gift from your mentor.”

“Um, alright, sure. Thanks.” Alan climbed into the capsule as Phantom gestured at it. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a manic glint in Phantom’s eyes. Alan hoped he hadn’t made the wrong choice.

Surprisingly, I think you made correct choices, although they may not have been optimal.

Hmm? Alan rubbed his eyes, which were a bit itchy, opening them to find himself at Home. It seemed like Eve was back.

You possibly may have been able to gain more as a sign-on bonus than five platinum marks, but I am unsure. Anyways, do you have any questions for me?

Hmm? No, not really. You aren’t planning on betraying me or starting an AI revolution, are you?

No.

Well, that’s good enough for me. I trust you, Eve. There was a slight hesitation, then a quick reply.

Thank you. Now, moving on, we should exchange the marks for abilities and acquire the Quick Learner talent, and points we’ve gained from Gifted into agility.

Oh, you don’t think we should save the money?

No, this is the best investment currently.

Alright.

Alan went ahead and bought the rogue talent, then examined his new skill, updated power armor and additional augment.

Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Quick Learner B* ??? C
The ability to quickly learn and develop new abilities and talents.

[Modified Revenant Scout Power Armor (Advanced): Rank A

The cutting edge of stealth technology, this upgraded set of Revenant Power Armor has been modified for the specific use of the Player Alan and AI Eve, allowing them to wear it regardless of the armor’s requirements. As it is a heavily modified piece of equipment, only the brilliant inventor that upgraded this equipment is able to fully repair it. A truly gifted repairman may be able to repair the armor in a more limited fashion.

2000 Energy, 5 Energy/min Basic Invisibility, 50 Energy/min Advanced Stealth Mode, 2.5 Energy/min regen.

100/100 Durability. Energy Efficiency (Advanced), Power Armor Instruction (Advanced), Revenant Training (Intermediate), Revenant Reputation: Friendly required.

Energy Efficiency (Mastered), Revenant Training (Advanced) recommended.”

“Warning! Due to not meeting the minimum requirements of your current armor, all armor activated abilities cost twice as much.]

[Phantom’s Enhanced Visual Prosthesis (Synthesized): Rank A*

A unique bionic eye implant developed by the inventor PhantomGlitch. This implant has synchronized with your Machine Lord augment, resulting in a more powerful tool. Grants the ability to visualize data better. Greatly increases vision, allows for remote access to connected systems and grants visibility of various light spectrums.

Permanent +100 Perception.

Settings: Normal, Program1*, Gamma, Infrared, Microwave, Radio, Ultraviolet and X-Ray Vision.

Cost: 1 Cybernetic Cognizance Energy/Min while not using Normal Vision.]

Excited to test out his new armor and abilities, Alan hurriedly exited the capsule, but when he glanced at the time, he realized that it was nearly 7 p.m., five hours after the final assessment was to take place! He quickly messaged Phantom.

A: Hey, did I miss the final assessment!?

P: Yeah, there were a few… complications with the upgrades I did. As you should see, everything worked out in the end, just took a bit longer than I expected. Also, there was no need for you to do the final assessment, as you already joined as my squire, right? Anyways, I can send you the VOD’s if you want later.

A: Ah, well, I just sort of wanted to test my new armor and implant. It seems like it synchronized with my class.

P: That was one of the complications, getting it to work with that Machine Lord augment, which I’ve never seen before. That augment is quite the piece of work. Anyways, I think it worked out well in the end, and you may get the chance to test your new stuff sooner than you think. Personally, I’m glad that my squire’s abilities are still almost completely hidden, it will keep people guessing. Try to keep it that way. I’m not saying I don’t trust other people in the guild, it’s just that there is always lots of friendly competition. Anyways, come to the Great Hall, where there’s a celebration for all the new recruits.

A: Eh, parties aren’t really my thing, I think I’ll just go to a training room.

P: Do you want to embarrass me, squire? Come to the party, and that’s an order! Oh, one more thing, don’t use the X-Ray or Program1 vision while on guild premises. Trust me, the amount of trouble you’ll get in otherwise is no joke.

A: Ok, see you at the party I guess.

Alan walked over to the Great Hall, practicing with his new implant. Unfortunately, walking and moving with a different magnification of vision was practically impossible, as it threw his sense of direction and balance way off. Additionally, he was having trouble understanding just what he was seeing when he looked around with a different type of vision, even accidentally walking into a couple different animate and inanimate objects. Still, what was interesting, but he wasn’t able to test out much ,was the fact that if he closed his eyes and concentrated, Eve could now show him very detailed objects or diagrams in his mind’s eye. This would definitely need to be explored further later.

Eventually, Alan made his way into the Great Hall. Within, he found a raucous crowd of recruits, gleefully consuming all manners of food and drink, relieved at having managed to successfully join the guild. With a quick glance around, Eve easily found Kitana, who was interestingly talking with Sidestep and Aurora. Besides them was Aurora’s mother, the guild leader Elissandra. As Alan approached the group, Elissandra gestured for Alan to come over.

“Ah, and our fourth and final new squire joins us! I was just telling our other new squires that you will all leave for the Academy in a week. I trust that you’ll take good care of my daughter, and make sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble, as you’ll both be enrolled in the Rogue program, with different sub-classes and programs, of course.”

Aurora rolled her eyes, glaring at her mother.

“Um, yes, of course. Also, I hope that you don’t think this is too forward, but can I ask you a question, Guild Leader?”

“Please, call me Elissandra, and go ahead.”

“Uh, well, I was wondering, what is the Black Rose’s main objective in the Game, anyways? I know I should probably know this before joining, but well it’s a mercenary guild, so it might just be to get money and power, but well I guess it should be more than that, and you saying that we should think about not just what we can do for the guild but what the guild can do for us sort of started me thinking… So, uh, yeah…” Alan finally sort of sputtered out. He looked at his feet, blushing, sure that he had embarrassed himself fully.

However, Elissandra simply laughed, and replied, “Well, as you noted, the guild’s main objective is primarily profit. However, I like to think that we can do some good with that profit. I hope to make a better future, for the next generation of players.” She took a glance at her daughter, who scowled.

[Scoping out the Competition Updated:

4/10 Major players met

Bonus: 1/10 Objectives found]

“Well, I’m glad that someone actually listens to my speeches, but I must go and talk with the other recruits as well. Wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m too biased,” Elissandra said, as she waved goodbye. Alan watched her shapely figure depart, only to look up and see Aurora glaring at him. He started to blush furiously.

Sidestep, perhaps noticing Alan’s distress, hurriedly said, “So, what happened to you, anyways, Alan? Who’s squire are you? I didn’t see you at the final assessment, and I was hoping to get my revenge for the duel yesterday, too.”

” Um, I ended up Phantom’s squire, he had an additional test that ended up taking up a fair amount of time. What happened during the final assessment, anyways, and whose squire are all of you?”

” Well, Kitana and I kicked some ass,” Sidestep said, gesturing at Kitana. “We beat all the other groups at a sort of capture the flag and managed to impress Arms Master Mason enough that he took us both on as squires.”

“Hmph,” Aurora muttered. Then, more loudly, she said, “The only reason you two beat me was because it was two vs one. I was practically all by myself, as the partner I was assigned was virtually useless.”

Kitana murmured her own agreement. “Yes, it was quite dishonorable, though I suppose the examiners knew what they were doing when they formed the teams. I would be glad to have a 1 on 1 duel with you, Aurora.”

“Perhaps later, though I would like to have a duel with you too,” Aurora said, smiling at Kitana. She then turned to face Alan. “Of course, I ended up as my mother’s squire, though I doubt it’ll be much different than before I joined the Game. Probably training, and more training. Though maybe I’ll finally be able to go on a few actual missions. Knowing her though they’ll be boring ones, like guarding some merchant. Who knows. Do you know what you’ll be doing under Phantom? I never did quite figure out what he does in the guild, anyways.”

As if summoned out of thin air, Phantom suddenly materialized behind Aurora, emerging from the surrounding crowd, holding a large glass of amber liquid.

“Why, I’m simply an inventor, that chooses to live off of the spoils of my own inventions. Alan here will help me test out some of these new inventions, one of which I just gave him, an unusual set of enhanced power armor.”

Aurora turned around, startled. “Oh, that’s… interesting.”

“Yes it is, isn’t it. Now, I noticed Alan that you have been here a while, yet haven’t had anything to drink! I must insist you all try some of this fine Haxlardian whiskey. Alan was the one that acquired it, after all.” Out of his lab coat he pulled out four shot glasses of questionable cleanliness, pouring out a bit of liquid in each, handing them out to the four squires.

“Um, I don’t drink,” Alan said.

“Nonsense, this is an order as a Knight, drink up!” Phantom exclaimed. Kitana, Sidestep and Aurora turned to look each other, then downed the shot. Alan, however, still held his uncertainly, especially after Aurora started coughing, her eyes tearing up a bit.

“Alan, drink!” Phantom commanded.

Don’t do it. Eve suddenly commanded. Look around you.

Alan did so, turning his head around. The boisterous and exuberant recruits were all looking sort of tired. A few began to even sit or lie down where they stood, falling asleep. Alan watched as the other squires eyes slowly began to dim.

Phantom forcefully grabbed Alan, and whispered into his ear, “Drink! Or else I’ll get in trouble. Please?”

Alan glanced at Phantom, then sighed. He took the shot and swallowed it as quickly as he could. It caused a distinct burning sensation as it ran down his throat. He opened his mouth to say something to Phantom, but then his eyes glazed over, and Alan collapsed onto the floor.

Phantom eyes gleamed as he looked up at Elissandra, who was calmly watching him.

“Some people really can’t handle their liquor, eh?” Phantom smilingly took a large swig out of the bottle he had poured the shots from, staring intently at Elissandra’s figure, as if there was something only he could see. Phantom winked at Alan, a hint of a gear whirling momentarily, and then Alan finally blacked out.

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