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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/2027967-Zodiac-Its-more-then-a-game
by Twiga
Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Animal · #2027967
An RPG designed for Anthros by Anthros
[Introduction] Zodiac is a Tabletop RPG that was created by Humanimals for Humanimals.

It's setting is a basic medieval setting similar to Dungeons & Dragons. But imagined in an Alternate Earth where Humans never evolved.

Zodiac has recently made the transition from Tabletop to Virtual Reality Chamber for the low, low price of 40 Space Bucks you can bring a whole Herd of friends for a virtual Sword & Sorcery experience.

We all play an individual Humanimal taking part in a virtual quest, while in actual time the experience should only be a few hours, the warped reality effect can create the feel of a quest lasting for days. Studies are now researching whether or not this is harmful to the Humanimal Psyche.

Rules:

We all create new Humanimal Characters created from scratch, no reusing any character you previously created, these Humanimals aren't military heroes, they are average citizens/nerds into virtual RPGs And for the record let's see if we can all try a species we've never done before
Name: Olivia Olson
Age: 16
Occupation: High School Student
Gender: Female
Species: Red Eyed Tree Frog
Eyes: Red
Hair: None
Personality: Tomboy Nerd, because she's a tropical species living in England, she spends most her time indoors doing nerdy things like reading and RPGs, very brave and compassionate, doesn't like to see anyone hurt
Likes: Books, RPGs,Jazz & Classical Music Warm Weather, Grilled Fish, Cola
Dislikes: Cold Weather, Pop Music, Horror Movies

Olivia was excited! This was the first time she was going to experience a Virtual RPG with her posse! As they entered the virtual arcade...She could barely contain her excitement
Name: Keith Razerchuck
Age: 17
Occupation: High School Athlete
Gender: Male
Species: Warthog
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Red
Personality: Football jock and very good at the game, due to his behavior he was transferred to this British school where they played Rugby and in Europe, Football is known as Soccer. He also has a very bad attitude and hates nerds saying that those who are smart are conceidered weak.

After Rugby practice, one of Keith's teammates, A lion named Devon sees Olivia heading over to the arcade "There she goes, what's in there that's so important?" Keith says "I don't know, *snort* but I defently going to find out."
Unfortunately, sneaking up on Humanimals is not as easy as sneaking up on Humans.

And just because a Humanimal has a small creature as doner species it doesn't not mean the Humanimal form is weak. When all the Animals are brought to Human Scale just about anybody could win the fight.

Olivia's band of nerds herd Keith coming a mile away, and they were prepared.

They promptly overpowered him and tied him up.

"I know what we can do with him!" Said Olivia "Let's take him with us! We'll make him a Bard!"
Name: Rodger Lepus

Age: 18

Occupation: Beta Game Tester

Gender: Male

Species: Lop Eared Rabbit

Eyes: One Green, One Blue - Genetic trait

Hair: White and Brown

Personality: Enjoys playing various games, even getting paid to test them out, especially to test them for flaws, and seeing how much gamers would enjoy playing it. Even has something of a fanbase, and more than a few girls can't wait to meet him - one even through herself at him - or so the story goes.

Rodger was busy reading the one review. The Representative of this gaming company was sitting across from him.

"So, parents are worried that their children are becoming addicted to this game, even neglecting basic needs," said Rodger. "You wish for me to play this game to see if their claims have any merit."

"That's right," said the Representative. "We like people enjoying themselves. We don't like them starving to death, or whatever."

"I'll take a look," said Rodger. "Might be that some people need to turn off the television though."

"The company would hate to be responsible for causing people to turn into zombies," said the Representative.

Rodger chuckled. "Like there's any difference anyways."

"Yes, but most know when to get off to take care of basic necessities, like using the bathroom and eating."

"Ugh - would you mind not using those words in the same sentence and next to each other," said Rodger. "Fills me with an image of someone eating pizza while on one of those potty chairs."

The Representative blinked. "Potty chair?"

"Knew a marathon gamer who used one while playing in a tournament," said Rodger. "Let's just say that while he may have beaten me in the game - sitting on one place for so long proved to be a bad move for him. At least I was smart enough to take breaks, and nap, and such. As for him - something about blood clots. It wasn't pretty."

"Okay," said the Representative, wearily. There were some things he didn't want to know, like how one even used a potty chair, or where to get them.

"I'll take my usual fee of three hundred, ten per hour, plus other expenses," said Rodger.
Name: Tiberius 'Tie' Vaskavanovich
Age: 16
Occupation: Student (High School)
Gender: Male
Species: Doedicurus clavicaudatus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doedicurus
Eyes: Calf brown
Hair: Blonde
Personality: Kind of a tubby guy, Tiberius is usually pretty quiet and reserved, determined to study. He doesn't appreciate most attention -at least until he gets into an RP'ing game. At that point he never shuts up.
Likes: Paintball, reading, RP'ing
Dislikes: Horror films, competitive sports, people bragging about how smart they are

Tie wasn't sure what to think of tying up Razerchuck. The warthog would probably beat him to a pulp later for this. Still, as he prodded their captive along, ignoring the stares of passers-by, at least Olivia was happy. The Tree Frog was humming to herself, practically skipping along as they approached the arcade.

Feeling embarrassed, Keith couldn't believe that a tree frog and a dinosaur got the better of him as he is netted and dragged to the arcade with everyone looking at him "How did this happen to me?" "Have you heard of Karma?" said a voice." As Principal Bonedigger(Bulldog) came up "Olivia Olson, Tiberius Vaskavanovich, can you explain why Keith Razorchuck is netted and being dragged across campus?" Olivia explains what happened and the principal just looked at Keith face to face "Is that so? I always knew that attitude of yours will get yourself into trouble. You were transferred here from Millard Fillmore High to try to change your attitude, it seems that Olivia's idea seems to be a suitable punishment, you better co-operate with her and her friends or else."
Name: Bartholomew "Bulldog" Bonedigger
Age: 49
Occupation: principal of __________ school
Gender: Male
Species: bulldog
Eyes: black
Hair: white
Likes: 20th century Jazz, mid-20th century sci-fi novels, cooking
Dislikes: noise, trash

"Or else what?" Keith said. The others gasped. You didn't talk back to the bulldog.

"Or else your Karma will catch up with you," Bulldog said, and walked away.

After Principal Bonedigger left, Olivia said, "He's a big believer in karma."
Olivia was fond of Principal Bonedigger, when she was a freshman and had trouble handling the Jerks of the school, she would often report her troubles to the Principal, who would assure her he was trying his best to get the jerks under control but it wasn't easy as Millard Fillmore was the first school in England found by Humanimals,

A few months ago when Olivia broke her leg, Bonedigger would let her eat lunch in his office and they talked of many things.

Olivia followed Bonedigger into his office

"Principal... " She said "We were going to the arcade to play the new Zodiac VR Game."

"Zodiac!" Exclaimed Bonedigger "I haven't played that since I was a Pup!"

"Since School is over...We were wondering if you'd like to...Join us?" Olivia said hopefully

"Well...You do know when school's out for the students the faculty still have work to do...Sorting files...Grading papers...Oh what the heck...Life is short." And Bonedigger followed her friends to the Arcade

This is why Humanimals rarely get positions of power in this new system of Humanimals and Humans living as equals, Humanimals hate paperwork, and their inner child often causes them to go run off and have fun with the Cubs when they should be doing their paperwork....But I digress.

At the Arcade, as the posse reached the VR section, their was Rodger talking things over with a tall Dragon in a suit

"Hi! We're here to play the new Zodiac game!" Said Olivia

"Yeah about that..." Said Rodger "This Representative here has asked me to test the game first since previous complaints have risen with this company's previous VR games, they want me to test to make sure it's absolutely positively safe."

The Posse's ears and tails drooped

"On the other hand..." Said Rodger "This game isn't supposed to be played alone...I could use at least...4 volunteers."

"I'll volunteer!" Piped Olivia

"So we'll I." Said Tie

"The other members of the Posse looked at Keith "As much as we want to play." Said Niccolo the Gorilla "You still tried to attack us and for that...We're sacrificing our fun so we can make you a Bard."

"If Keith is being volunteered I better join." Said Bonedigger "Besides what better way to make sure a game's safe then by having an educator review it?"

"OK..." Rodger put installed the Zodiac Program into the VR chamber and they entered.

"Please select your Class." Said the Chamber's AI which sounded suspiciously like GLaDOS

"I'm playing a Druid Sorcerer. " Said Olivia

"Both?" Asked Rodger as he put in the instructions

"I took an online quiz to see what would suit be best and the quiz gave me Druid Sorcerer." Said Olivia "Also...he Warthog is a Bard."

"OK..." Said Rodger "...What am I going to be?"
"Ah, yes, the Hybrid Class," Rodger said, with a chuckle.

"Hybrid class?" Olivia asked.

"Lets me use Range, Magic, and Melee abilities," said Rodger. "Not as strong as a dedicated Meleer, or as accurate as a dedicated Ranger, and my spells aren't as powerful as a dedicated Mage, but I'm able to switch between the styles, and battle foes that are weaker to the other aspects of the combat triangle, as it were."

"So, you're not a Purist?" Olivia asked. "You're not dedicated to just one aspect of Combat?"

"You have that right," said Rodger. "I've dedicated my career to proving that it's best to balance my combat abilities, and play as any class, or race. Turns out to be useful in Random Game Battles - I may not like the one style, or race, but at least I know how to utilize it, and win."
(Hertz, I'm injured. In said that glyptodonts weren't dinosaurs in the first two lines of that wikipedia article)

Tie rolled his eyes at the braggart game-tester. Surreptitiously.

"Let's see.... We have a Controller, a Striker, Insurance-ooh!" He grinned. "There's still room for the Defender! I'll play a paladin." The glyphs representing his opening stats began swirling in the air before him. A vague silhouette appeared on the dodicarus's body; ruby armour weeping the fresh blood of slaughtered innocents, inset with the howling faces of a million damned souls.

"A dark paladin?" Asked Olivia skeptically, with a hint of danger. "Are you going to not be a team player, Tie?"

"It's characterization!" He protested. "My paladin is dyslexic; he's still certain that he pledged his soul to the god of righteousness for all time. The armour's craving for blood is only a coincidence, to him."

Rodger and Keith both rolled their eyes.
Keith soon sits at his console and soon as his VR helmet lowered he sees his virtual self's clothes go from a Rugby jersey to a tunic and soon he has a dagger and a lute to fit his class. "You make an excellent Bard Keith, stated Mr. Bonedigger but as he looked at him he sees that he's a....
"I'm a Red Mage," Bonedigger said as the VR system analyzed his psyche. "Hmmm, according to what it says here, I can learn most kinds of magic, but I might end up being very strong... or very weak. I hope it's strong."

He looked around at the others. "Just what does a paladin and a bard do? And what is our quest?"

Then he noticed a book lying near his feet. Casting Spells For Dummies "Hey! Is somebody pranking me? But... might be useful. He stuffed it into his backpack."
"Paladins have to be Lawful Good or else they lose their powers." Said Olivia "And a Bard is the kind of person who sings songs traveling to place to place."
"Also, the Bard's songs are able to affect certain stats," said Rodger. "They affect things like Moral, Attack Movement, Agility, Defensive Capabilities, and such."

"What does that translate to in English?" Kieth asked.

"In short - Archers make better shots, Mages have more powerful spells, and Meleers are stronger, in comparison to their actual level," said Olivia. "Same with the other fighter types. So, basically - you determine if we win a fight against a higher-level monster, or if we pay a visit to the Grim Reaper, or something."

"That means you'd better play that thing right, or you'll be stuck in Detention," said Bonedigger. "Especially if you get us killed on purpose."
Painfully, the game world began to materialize around them, with all the accoutrements of a romanticized, anachronized middle-age slowly taking shape.

"So, what's the hook?" Asked Tiberius eagerly. "I'm in the mood to smite things!"
Keith tries to think of a song suitable for the party because he knows when Mr. Bonedigger talks about detention, he means it. Even though he was never good at music, he can learn fast if he has to, so he comes up with a good song.
Keith began to sing...

Into a land of mountains and valleys
Five adventurers traveled and these were their names...
Olivia the tree frog, a wise druid sorcerer
Rodger the rabbit who fought many ways
Tiberius the glyptodont, a bold paladin
Bonedigger the bulldog who practiced red magic
And Keith the bard who sings now this song


Bonedigger breathed in the cold mountain air, for they did seem to be high in the mountains. Tall evergreen trees surrounded them. Overhead circled a hawk who gave out his cry. And somehow Keith knew that the hawk was possessed and it's eyes were in use by a powerful wizard who observed the five friends below, but more than that he did not know.

"Olivia!" he said. "Do you sense anything odd about that hawk up above us?"


"Yeah..." Olivia said "That Hawk isn't visibly Anthropomorphic but he has a Black Ribbon around his neck."
"He's one of the Dark Wizard's Familiars," said Rodger. "He's one of the Big Bads for this installment of the series."

"How do you know that?" Keith asked.

"Did some reading in the Guide before I located you four and asked you if you wished to play," said Rodger. "And before you ask, no, I haven't read the whole thing."

"So, do we fight this Dark Wizard?" Bonedigger asked.

"We have a while before we do that," said Rodger. "For one thing, we need to get stronger, get better weapons, armor, learn better spells, and so on."

"What does that mean?" Kieth asked.

"We have to kill a lot of cows, rats, chickens, spiders, and goblins, before we can face tougher monsters, like farmers, barbarians and guards, and a lot of those before we face even tougher foes, like dragons, and more of those before we face the Big Bads of this game."

Kieth blinked. "That sucks. We can't kill this Wizard right now?"

"If you want to attempt it, we can, but it wouldn't bode well for us," said Rodger. "Any player would tell you that. You don't start with the Big Bad, unless it's a scripted event, or something. Even then, someone else would have to save us, or be the main 'Hero' that we'd have to work to 'avenge' or whatever. After that, we'd end up in Beginner Town, or someplace like it, and start working on increasing our levels, long before we finally go after the Big Bad."

"Why is that?" Kieth asked.

"Keeps the game from ending too soon, and being boring."

"So, what will that hawk do?" Olivia asked.

"70% chance, just watch us," said Rodger. "The other 30% though, turn into a monster, and attack us, with a high chance of beating us, even with Kieth playing the lute to increase our combat levels."

"What if we win?"

"Gold, experience, and feathers for fishing, and bones to bury for prayer. Also, hawk meat to cook, and eat, to restore health points."

"You eat to heal?" Kieth asked.

"Start storing up on cabbages and onions - taste nasty, but they'll do at a pinch," said Rodger. "One good thing about this game is this - your packs never get full, and food never spoils, except in certain areas."
As Rodger explained the rules to Keith, Tie took a deep breath of the crisp mountain air -and sneezed explosively. "Why did they put a spawn-point up here? There isn't even a bar!"

Sheer ridges of mountain extended ahead and behind them, covered in shadow and dotted with caves that practically screamed 'monster lair'. On their lower levels, endless ranks of pines and cedar seemed to be marching steadily down to the south, promising a gentle slope. A few sparkling waterfalls, promising glaciers nestled out-of-sight, trickled down over the bare rock on their upper peaks.

"If there's a village nearby, it's probably down there, where it's more temperate and glacier runoff will pool." Said Bonedigger. He flipped open his spell-book. "I'm going to try this 'scry' spell to see if there's civilization anywhere nearby."
Keith plays a slow tune on his lute to keep the party entertained as Olivia, Bonedigger and Rodger skried some suitable spells.
Bonedigger noticed Rodger making some hand gestures of a magical nature. "Rodger! You know some magic?"

"Only a few primitive spells handy for a hybrid warrior to know. Sharpening blades, making arrows fly truer, repairing weapons, that sort of thing, and for most of them I need an enchanted weapon to work them on."

"Are any of your weapons enchanted?"

"Not yet," Rodger said, "and I hope to do a lot better than these as the game progresses." He held up a wooden sword and a toy bow and arrow.

"Ouch!" Bonedigger said. "You can't do much damage with that!"

"I could give you the stats, but this sword will kill a rat or a snake. It's a start."

"Speaking of rats and snakes," Bonedigger said. "Look!"

Approaching the five friends were three rats and two snakes.

"Those are pretty big rats," Tie said. "Do you suppose they want to talk with us?"

"Not anthropomorphic!" Olivia screamed. "This is it, guys! Our first kills!"

Bonedigger threw up his hands for a Freeze Time spell to give himself a few seconds to consult his spellbook. Too bad he would be the only one to get any advantage from the Freeze Time since his friends were paused as well as his enemies. There wasn't much in his spellbook yet, but the Level One Fireball seemed sufficient. Time unfroze.

Bonedigger threw the fireball in his hands at an approaching rat. The expression on the rat's face was priceless as his fur turned to charred rat skin. He gave out a pitiful squeak and then seemed to dissolve into nothingness.

Bonedigger looked around to see if any of the others needed any help.
Olivia turned to Rodger

"Wait..." She said "Are you eating the Rat Meat?" Aren't you a vegetarian?"
"Let's just say that the natural diet of the player's species means nothing to this game," said Rodger. "Lions eat vegetables, hawks eat corn, frogs can eat chocolate cake, and rabbits can eat meat. It all heals your health, and in this game, rat meat is easy to get, and easy to cook. By the way, bury bones, collect skins, and any other loot that dropped, like coins." The Rabbit picked up a few round golden objects.

"Why would a rat have money?" Kieth asked. "And why would we want to bury bones and collect skins?"

"Certain prayers can make fighting easier, and you must bury bones, and such, to do that," said Rodger. "As for the skins, leather armor is better than nothing - especially for those of the Ranger Class, or, if we don't need it, we can sell it to get money for things we do need."

"But, what about the coins themselves?"

"Some have logical reasons - loot from failed adventurers/travelers, like in the case of dragons," said Rodger. "Others, like this rat - best not to think about it too much. Probably to make it easy for beginners to get money for starting equipment. There's certain spots for equipment - Head, Chest, Legs, Hands, Feet, Neck, Ring, Ammo, Aura, Pocket, to say nothing about Main Hand and Off Hand."

"Meaning what?" Kieth asked.

"The head is protected by a helmet, or a hat, or a hood. Chest is protected by Plate Armor, Chain Armor, Body Armor, Robes, similar items for the Legs. Gloves or Gauntlets for the hands, Boots for the feet, some sort of Amulet or Necklace for the neck - might give us extra abilities, or make use better fighters, or allow us to talk to certain people who normally can't be understood, similar things for the Rings. Oh, and don't forget Capes - Extra armor, or makes certain other things easier, like retrieving arrows. As for Main Hand - that's the right hand mind you - that's for one-handed weapons. Left, or the Off Hand is for shields, or the Off-Hand Counterparts of other weapons, unless in the case of a 2-handed weapon, which requires both. However, when it comes to Range - things get tricky. Bows require two Hands, but there are crossbows that only need one hand, and they have Off-Hand versions. For Magic, Staffs need 2 Hands, Wands need one hand, Books are held in the Off-Hand. It all depends on what you want to use."

"This is all too confusing," said Kieth.

"In that case, learn quickly, or you'll die, and meet up with the Grim Reaper."

"Not permanently, I hope," said Olivia.

Rodger grinned. "Nope. You'd respawn in a town nearby. But you'd need to head back to where you were killed to get your things back."

"Any way to protect our stuff?" Kieth asked.

"Sure - most towns have banks. Store the important stuff there, and you can access the stuff in the next town past the dangerous and Player-Killer filled areas."

"Player-Killers?"

"Not every player kills monsters to get things," said Rodger. "Some kill other players."

"Isn't that illegal?" Kieth asked.

"In most areas, it's impossible for one player to harm another, baring a glitch," said Rodger. "But there are areas where players can kill the other. Some places it's consensual - for fun, or a wager. Other areas though, they give you a warning about the dangers. The implication is that you know the dangers, and accepted the risk."

"Are there there players around though?" Olivia asked.

Rodger pulled out a compass-like device. "Except us, not within at least the equivalent of of a mile. Also, there's no Player-Killing in this area."

"Um, where did you get that?" Kieth asked.

"Check your pack. You'll each find one of these, and a map, not to mention some basic starting gear."

"How basic?"

"No armor, if that's what you mean, and nothing elaborate. Just enough to keep us alive until we get to town, and get our stuff for the rest of this game," said Rodger. "Thing is, something should happen right about now."

"Like what?" Tiberius asked.

"The first cutscene where the Big Bad shows up, attacks us, has our asses on a platter, and is about to finish us off, when some Old Hero saves us, only to die, leaving us to fulfill his job of vanquishing evil."

Kieth blinked at this. "You mean we have to finish what someone else started?"

"Basically."

"Will we be free to help?"

"No - our actions, and speech will be programmed and unchangable," said Rodger. "Blame it on Cutscreen incompetence."

"What?"

"We loose, badly, in spite of what we could do to try and help the Old Hero."

"That's embarrassing."

"It's not the first game to do that," said Rodger. "There was one where the player could have a bunch of cool weapons, only to be captured by a guy with a tiny handgun, and stripped of everything, tied to a fountain, and all you can find to beat the guy is a rock, while he has that handgun. So say nothing of others, where you killed everyone, only for a dying enemy to mortally wound you in a cutscene, allowing you to be captured by the enemy."
"A cut-scene?!" Said Tiberius in horror, hacking apart a rat and smearing the bloody carcass liberally over his armour. "They can't put cut-scenes in an RPG! It's heresy!"

"Too bad," Shrugged Rodger. "It's about to star-" A band of darkness appeared at the top and bottom of everyone's vision.

"No!" Called a voice from the shadows of the valley; an impressive feat in the mid-day sun. "My minions- they fail me again! I must see to these interlopers myself!" A form detached itself from the tree-line; menacing, huge, and black.
The five friends assumed defensive positions as the huge figure bore down on them. In one hand it held what could have been a cage for a canary if it was smaller, but this cage was big enough to hold five with room to spare.

A huge hand plucked up Keith and dropped him in the cage, then Olivia and Tie and Rodger and Bonedigger.

The giant who was big enough to do this wore only a leather loincloth which must have been made from the hide of a creature as large as a dinosaur. The giant held up the cage and examined the contents and chuckled. "Mice in the garden! Caught in a cage! Haha! Food for the cat!"
Just then, a shadowy figure freed the heroes from the cage and spirited them away into a cave.

The cut scene was over, now there were in a cave.

Their rescuer was an Anthropomorphic Golden Eagle, He was stirring a pot of soup.

"I am Sir Gawain... The Leader of the Cave Folk."

"I think we just met our first non-enemy NPC." Said Rodger
"No thanks are necessary," said Sir Gawain. "I was just patrolling my area when I saw you travelers being held captive by that giant. That brutish thug would have eaten you, if I hadn't been around."

"I'd say that the whole thing was a little convenient," said Kieth. "How did he know that we were in trouble, and how did he get us here?"

"Cutscene Incompetence," Rodger whispered. "We were scripted to be captured by that giant, and rescued by this eagle. He's programmed to be our ally, and to help train us, initially. He'll also give us some actual weapons, armor, and such, well, the basics anyways. After that though, we're to be attacked again, and he's fated to die buying us time to escape."

"Can't he avoid the dying part?" Olivia asked.

"Barring a glitch, no," said Rodger. "It's in his programming, or, it's supposed to be, anyways."

"Does he know this?" Kieth asked.

"NCPs don't know that this is a game, and think of such things as Uninteresting Unusual Events," said Rodger. "Same as if you saw a guy fixing a flat tire on the side of the road - nothing to think about, and nothing to watch."
"How come they're giving us the tutorial after our first combat encounter?" Grumbled Tiberius. "Shouldn't we have gone through training and then have been attacked by something?"

"This is more advanced training." Said Rodger firmly. "It's a mini-quest to gain more experience points. Don't worry; Sir Gawain will think it takes all summer, but it'll only be a few minutes to us."
Sir Gawain gave each of the heroes a bowl of the soup, Keith tasted his "Mmm tasty, what kind of soup is this?"
"Lichen soup," said Sir Gawain. "If you are ever starving to death and there are no rats, snakes, cabbages, mushrooms, or other edibles around, then just turn over a rock. Lichen grows under rocks and is a last chance to survive."

"Thanks," Keith said.

Sir Gawain had many other things to teach them that summer. By the time the first hint of Fall came with a little cold snap in the air, they had all mastered new skills, found new weapons, learned new survival tricks. Because they were in the mountains, the first snow fall came very early, almost before the summer was truly over.
"I see in the great distance the Black Dragons starting their migration." Said Sir Gwain
"Just how long have we been playing this game?" Kieth whispered.

"A few minutes," Rodger said. "At least, that's what the Chronometer says."

"What?"

"If you want to find that out, along with certain other thing, like Quest Details, as well as chatting with people on other devices in different locations, imagine a black space in front of your eye, and you'll see one," said Rodger. "Like I said, useful to find out about different things."

"Why didn't Gawain mention that to us?" Kieth asked.

"His function is Combat and Survival Training, and to keep us alive," said Rodger. "Another Tutor will show us how the other functions work."

"How do you know this?"

"Not the first VR game I've played," said Rodger. "Only a small handful of NCPs will break the 4th Wall, and mention that this world is a game, and tell us certain things about that sort of stuff, so it helps to have a quick mind. Other times though, it's like you're actually doing it."

"So, what game did you play before this?" Kieth asked.

"Let's just say that the military likes to employ me for testing out their training games," Rodger said, nervously. "They do a lot of research for that stuff, and that stuff is difficult to play - weapons jamming on you, bad conditions, smoke and dust - you'd think that you were actually walking through the swamp, ice, dessert, fast flowing rivers, the whole lot, and that's just the Boot Camp Level."

"What about combat?" Kieth asked.

"Never tested that in VR," Rodger said. "I was too scared about getting hit, to be honest. The adrenaline could of done damage to my body in Real Life. That being said, it was fun playing it on a normal computer - make the foes different races and all that."
Shortly thereafter, Sir Gawain gathered them all before him at the flat clearing before the cave.

"My students," He began sombrely. "It has been an honour to train you. You may be my finest pupils, and all show great promise as a boon to a world much in-need of heroes. A great minstrel, capable of charming the birds from the trees," He nodded at Keith. "An experienced ranger, master of all trades. Jack of none." A nod to Rodger. "A great mage, one day to plumb the greatest secrets of magic, a devoted paladin, and a wise druidic sorcerer to lead them all." A sweeping gesture of one wing to each in turn. "Let the villains of this world and those beyond know despair.
         'But now, I have taught you all that I can; I can only hope that respect for justice and the freedom of all beings remains at the the centre of what I have imparted to you. I must bid you go out into the world and seek adventure of your own as you spread the-"

"He's going to die now, isn't he?" Whispered Olivia to Tiberius as the majestic old eagle droned on. His enduringly sharp eyes, having met the final glance of a thousand virtual beings without the faintest glimmer of pity, now looked to be on the verge of tears.

"Yep. In three, two, one..." Said Rodger, just as a huge spike smashed out the contents of Sir Gawain's chest cavity from behind with a most crunching sound. Tiberius's armour lapped up the virtual blood greedily as the paladin casually pulled out a falchion.
Even Keith got a new armor, not as fancy as Tiberius's but it's a start. Bonedigger spots a chest with a note on a table "Hello? What's this?" Olivia reads the note out loud, "In this chest, you'll find items that will be useful in your adventure, you'll find the minstrel in an Inn in the village on the bottom of the mountain, he'll train your bard to play songs that may help. But beware of the Black weasel lurking around there."
Bonedigger dumped the remaining contents of the chest onto the table. "Five poison plant antidotes, five anti-venom potions, five mint leaves..."

"I think those cure anything," Rodger said.

"...okay, and five Phoenix Crystals?"

"Instead of respawning with nothing, you can revive yourself with a Phoenix Crystal and keep your location and belongings, but they are only good for one use, then they disappear."
Then Olivia realized something

"Wait...Did that Eagle just call me the Leader of this group? If anything I thought Rodger was the Leader."

"Yeah..." Rodger stroked his long ears "I'm not sure I understand this...Maybe because you were the first to choose your class the Game thinks you're the leader."
"I hope you don't have any problems with me leading," said Olivia.

"Only if you don't listen to my advice," said Rodger. "And right now, I'd advice us to start moving. Whatever it was that killed Gawain with that 'preprogrammed spell' is preprogrammed to come here any minute now."

"Who?" Olivia asked.

"Probably the Black Wizard, and even with our training, he'd still beat us, with ease, until we grow about 50 combat levels each, if not more," said Rodger.
Did Rodger just say Olvia can lead as long as he's the one giving orders? Wondered Tiberius. Is that mutiny? Do I have to kill him now to maintain my paladin honour and powers?
"I guess I'm going first." Said Tiberius aloud, hefting his pack and turning towards the trail marking the descent from the eyrie. "In case of traps and stuff."

"Traps? That's a bit paranoid, isn't it?" Said Bonedigger dubiously as the glyptodont set off. New to RPGs, the poor principal was sadly ignorant of rule number two. As he watched, Tiberius took the first step onto the trail, the metaphorical first step of a thousand miles -and was promptly hoisted into the air by a noose around his boot, a metal scythe swinging from behind a tree to clang less-than-fatally against his chestplate.

"See (cough) what I mean?" The paladin grunted, cutting himself down.


"Perhaps I should go first," said Bonedigger, "since I am a mage and have Farsight which can detect traps and snares."

"True," said Tiberius, "but what level of Farsight?"

"I'm at Level Two now."

"And what if we encounter a Level Three trap?"

Bonedigger threw up his hands. "Fine! You go first then."
For the first couple of steps there was nothing. Then they encountered an NPC a Wild Sow

"She isn't going to hurt us!" Rodger said quickly "She's going to give us our first quest!"

"My town is besieged by Bandits!" Said the Sow "We need someone to defeat them!"
"What do you think they'd offer as a reward for helping out?" Kieth asked.

Rodger glared at him. "Some quests are more about judging your character, and are more rewarding than those that offer money or weapons."

"What do you mean?" Kieth asked.

"Having a good reputation with these people, or other villages, could reward us with things like discounts in stores, places to rest, free food, and potentially followers or mercenaries who can aid us in battle," said Rodger. "That, and it could be a requirement for a job that leads to a major reward, that we wouldn't get unless we know these people first. After all, if one of the quests we get later on requires us to come back here to dig up a section of a farmer's field, it would make it easier to get permission if we were known as heroes by the locals, and the farmer would be less likely to chase us away. Or, they might know a shortcut to avoid the dangers of the mountains."

"Really?" Kieth asked.

"I played a game where one had to win a fishing contest for this dwarf. As a reward, you were given permission to use this shortcut that allowed you to go under a mountain, bypassing a maze full of dangerous, and aggressive, wolves and ice giants," said Rodger. "Said shortcut was also required for a later quest, as a few of the dwarves that lived under the mountain gave you help to do these other quests, like how to make this one drink, or teach you how to make certain weapons to defeat extra tough foes that had to be beaten in these quests. Like I said - sometimes help is a better reward than money."

Rodger then looked at Olivia. "It's your call."
"Let's go help them out." Shrugged Olivia. "Take us to your village!" She bid the pig. Keith struck up a marching song appreciably similar to Ride of the Valkyries{/}.

The group came up to the town and sees a pack of coyote bandits, threatening the townsfolk which are boars, sows and a few piglets, they overheard one of the townsfolk says "You can't do this to us! We are simple farmers." "Shut up!" bellowed the bandit leader, a heavyset coyote with an eyepatch, "We can do anything we want, and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Let me handle this," Rodger whispered to Olivia, then he yelled at the coyote. "Hey! One eye! There might not be anything THEY can do but there is plenty that WE can do!"

Keith, Olivia, Bulldog, and Tie took that as a signal to line up behind Rodger, hands on hips in a Magnificent Seven pose of obstinate resistance and undaunted courage.

The one-eyed coyote laughed and his buddies howled. "Pleeze go away, children! I do not like to keel leetle babies!"

"We are not babies!" Bonedigger yelled. "I am 49!"

Rodger looked at Bonedigger, put his finger to his lips, and said, "Shhh! I'll handle this."
Olivia used a Druid Magic Spell to cause the trees to use their branches to form a cage around the bandits
"What is this?!" One Eye yelled. "What coward uses magic in a fight?!"

Rodger casually turned his head towards Olivia. "Useful trick."

Olivia chuckled. "Useful distraction."

"That's a Taunt for the rest of you," said Rodger. "Focuses the enemy's attention on you instead of your teammates, or whomever you're trying to protect. They didn't notice Olivia working her spell."

"What do you recommend?" Olivia asked, as she had the branches tighten around the coyotes, to keep them from escaping.

"We could kill them," said Rodger. "It would increase our Brutality status, which means that we can do more damage in a fight, but it could increase the Villagers' Fear towards us, which isn't helpful as they won't be as willing to impart information on a casual basis."

"And the alternative?"

"We spare them," said Rodger. "Increases our Mercy status, meaning that foes are more likely to surrender, which is better for Bounty Hunter Quests, that give larger rewards for living prisoners instead of dead ones. There's even a chance we might reform one or more of them, to be our servants, or guides, or bodyguards."

"What's the downside?" Kieth asked.

"Our damage stays the same, meaning some fights will be more difficult," said Rodger. "Your choice Olivia; strangle them until they die, or bind their hands and feet, so that we can turn them over to the Local Law."

"You like giving me the tough choices," said Olivia.

"That's the job of a Leader," said Rodger. "They determine who lives, and who dies."
Normally Keith thinks more of himself but when he sees a couple bandits rough housing a young sow farmer's daughter he starts to show mercy towards others and begins to speak up "Hey! You two! Leave her alone!" One of the bandits turn to Keith "Hey look, he thinks he's a hero." The other one turns to Keith and says "Try and make us." They both laugh.
"Let's turn them all over to the local law," Olivia said. "There will be plenty of chances for killing as time goes on."

"Who enforces the law around here?" Bonedigger asked a pig farmer.

"There's a County Constable not too far down the road."

"Well, send for him. We have a present for him."

"Thank you for capturing the bandits," said the pig farmer. "I reckon you are hungry. Please let us prepare a feast for you and we will celebrate this day."

Later, after the constable had collected the bandits and the five friends were sitting at the feast table with their bellies full of cornbread, swamp peas, coconoco beans, turnips, and honey ale, Keith sing a little song:

The bandits paid a visit to the home of the pigs
To rape and murder and steal their figs
But the Fabulous Five then appeared on the scene
To rescue the pigs from the bandits so mean

Tra la la la lilly la la
Tra la la happy day


Soon everyone was well rested, at 100% health, and a level higher.

The leader of the pig farmers gave Olivia a map. "In appreciation for your services, we want you to have this ancient treasure map."

"Thank you!" Olivia said and added Pig Treasure Map to the group's inventory.

As they walked down the Path Olivia thought about the food they had ate

"Wait..." She said "Isn't Corn or Maize a new world crop? How could we have eaten Cornbread in this Medieval setting?"
"That's one of those things you're supposed to handwave, or ignore," said Rodger. "Same with most other Anachronisms, like Cave-Dwellers that are next door to the Spartan-type civilization, who live next to the Pirates of the Caribbean - type civilization, or any other odd things."

"How do you know about those?" Kieth asked.

"Read the Beastiry Guide back in the Real World," Rodger said.

"Hello Adventurers." The group saw a Pig Farmer standing in the road. "I heard that you defeated the Coyote Bandits."

"We did," said Olivia.

"In that case, you're welcome to use my Cattle Pen for anything you want," said the farmer. "Feel free to butcher them for meat - special magic ensures that they are replaced."

"He means that they respawn," Rodger whispered. "This is a great way to get leather and such for money."
"I think it was a good idea to go with the 'Mercy' branch." Whispered Tiberius to Bonedigger as Olivia thanked the farmer. Then, louder: "I'll butcher some of the cattle if no one else wants to. 'Fast Hack' is one of my feats."

"Anybody can butcher animals, paladin. That feat wasn't even necessary." Said Rodger, hacking at the dense underbrush ahead.

"Well, it lets me do it faster and more efficiently." Shrugged the glyptodont, pulling out his falchion. "Weirdly enough, it also said that it works on some of the less civilized kinds of peasant."

"In the game mechanics, most aren't much different from farm animals." Shrugged Rodger. "And I suppose that they do look, smell, and live much the same."
Keith asks "What about the less then friendly types such as Goblins, Trolls or Dragons?"
"Kill them," Bonedigger said. "And if we are lucky gold coins will fall from their ass when they die."

As if waiting for his name to be mentioned, a very less-than-friendly-looking troll appeared in the road. "Halt, strangers! You must pay a toll to use this road. The toll is 50 pieces of gold."

"That's a lot of gold," Bonedigger said. "How much will fall out of your ass if we kill you?"

The Troll growled and lifted his weapon, a huge wooden club with a large rock attached to it.

"Don't make him angry," Keith whispered. "How much gold do we have, Olivia?"
"We have 450 Gold." Olivia said

That's when something unusual happened, a Black Dragon appeared

"What the?!" Rodger exclaimed "The Black Dragon can't appear now!!!"

"Foolish Rabbit!" Said the Black Dragon snarled "You have no idea what you have done!"

And with that the Black Dragon disappeared instantly
"That was strange," said Rodger.

"What do you mean?" Olivia asked.

"For one thing, that wasn't a cutscene," said Rodger. "And second, from what I've read, the Black Dragon isn't supposed to show up yet - not this early in the game."

"What does that mean?" Kieth asked.

"Let me check something." One of Rodger's eyes became black. "Okay, that's not good."

"What is it?" Olivia asked.

"There's some sort of glitch happening," said Rodger, as his eye returned to normal. "Can't access the Log Off function."

"What does that mean?" Kieth asked.

"Could be nothing, could be everything," said Rodger. "Point is, don't get killed until the glitch has been fixed."

"Why not?" Kieth asked. "It's just a game, right?"

"Maybe not to us," said Rodger. "Not anymore. Not until this glitch is fixed."

"Do you think the guys in the Real World know what's going on?" Kieth asked.

"I hope so."
"Not dying may be a very difficult proposition in the next few moments," Noted Tiberius, hefting his shield as the momentarily stupefied Troll turned back to them with a growl. "Do you think we can take him? I think we can take him."
Meanwhile back in the real world, two game technicians(a beagle and a meerkat) reported to their supervisor, a tiger in a business suit "Sir, we encountered a problem in the Zodiac VR program." the beagle says, "Problem?" The tiger asked, "What kind of problem?" "A glitch," stated the meerkat, "We can't turn it off at all, we have 5 players using it and if they die in the game, I dare not think what will happen."
"You dare not think what will happen?" says the tiger. "What's that supposed to mean?"

The meerkat and the beagle exchange glances with each other. Both are afraid to speak.

"Oh my God!" says the tiger. "They might really DIE?!"

The meerkat and the beagle nod sheepishly.

The tiger does a face palm.
"YOU IDIOTS!" Screamed Dwight D. Tiger "DO FREAKING SOMETHING!"

Meanwhile in the game everyone was silent not sure what to do next
"What do we do?" Olivia asked, as the group watched the Troll began to walk towards them in an aggressive manner.

"Here's what we do," Rodger, as the group stepped back. "We get to that Cattle Pen, shut the gate, and attack him with Range and Magic attacks. We'll be safe if we do that."

"But wouldn't he just smash the fence or open the gate?" Kieth asked.

"Funny thing about objects and people in video games," said Rodger. "A waist-high fence made of wood can keep out an army, and no one in said army is smart enough to open a gate or destroy a fence, unless preprogrammed to do so."

"Are you sure about that?" Kieth asked.

"Basic rule of games," said Rodger. "Been that way since the first game. You want the players to be able to beat them, so you don't make the foes too tough, or else the game goes into the trash heap for being unbeatable. Like I said, getting behind that fence and closing the gate should keep us safe, while we use Range and Magic to attack."

"Sounds like it's worth a try," said Olivia. "Let's do it."
They began a mad-dash back down the mountain, leaping through bushes and sending loose rocks flying like shrapnel.

Close behind, the troll, ebullient with anger, seemed to roar out one continuous angry note as it gave chase. Now at the rear of the reversed party, endurance stretched to the limit under his heavy armour, Tiberius barely got his shield up in time as the club smashed across it, deflecting off rather than shattering his arm outright. The paladin leapt off a boulder in his path, hacking at the monster's knee with his falchion as it pursued.

The troll grunted, landing hard on the slope and stumbling as it swung around -and Rodger's arrow took it in the shoulder. Tiberius rolled away down the hill, coming back to his feet near the ranger and sprinting on in tandem, while Bonedigger covered them with a fireball from below.
They ran into the cattle pen with the troll close behind. Too close behind. Before they knew it, he was in the pen with them.

"Now what?" Bonedigger yelled.

"Keep the cattle between him and us!" replied Rodger.

Thus began a mad dance as the Fabulous Five shuffled left and right to counter the Troll's moves, all the time keeping a herd of frightened cows between him and them.

It wasn't long before the pig farmer appeared. "What the hell is going on? You are scaring my cattle!"

"Can't you see that troll attacking us?" said Bonedigger.

"He only wants to collect his toll. It's a toll road you know."

"Wait!" yelled Bonedigger. "Let's just pay the toll!"

With those words the Troll stopped growling and held out his palm.

With a mighty blow, Tiberius chopped off the Troll's hand.

"NOOOOO!" screamed Bonedigger.

And that's when it happened

The Black Dragon swooped down from the sky and carried the Fabulous Five to his lair

"That Troll was under my protection!" Said the Black Dragon
"This isn't good," said Rodger.

"I think that's an understatement," said Kieth.

"Rodger, is there a way we can beat him?" Olivia asked.

"Requires an Anti-Fire Shield to be wielded and an Anti-Fire Potion to be drunk in order to negate the effects of his special ability," said Rodger. "Otherwise, at our current levels, one hit could kill us. In short, running is our best bet, if he becomes aggressive. However, if he's willing to talk, we might be able to avoid his wrath in exchange for a favor."

"What kind of favor?" Kieth asked.

"I'm not sure," said Rodger. "The Quest Section of the Guide would have explained that part, not the Beastiry Section."

"So, you don't know everything?" Kieth asked.

"Never said I knew everything."
"Mortals!" Growled the dragon. "For attacking my vassal and refusing the toll to cross my territory, you must give me," He spent a moment appraising their gear with an experienced eye, deciding on how much he could squeeze. If merely gutting them and selling it would be more lucrative. "...5,000 pieces of gold!"

"1,000!" Said Keith before his teammates could silence him.

"4,500!" Rumbled the dragon. "I shall not be made to look the powerless in mine own domain!"

"Trolls regrow their limbs! No one saw what happened, and he'll be back to work tomorrow!" Protested the bard. "Nine Hells, I bet that hand we lopped off will have regrown into a new troll by tomorrow. We just made you a new minion -you should be paying us! Still, we'll knock the amount we owe you down to 2,000 Gp!"

"4,000!"

"3, 500!"

"3,750!" All at once, the dragon seemed to remember where it was and realize what it was doing. "And that's final!"

"Fair enough," Sighed Keith, taking off his hat. "You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Dragon. But we'll have your money soon enough."

"See that I do," It hissed menacingly. "Paladin! You are honour-bound! In exchange for you life, swear that you shall do everything in your power to deliver me 3,750 Gold Pieces by the end of the year!"

Therein followed much protesting, and humming and hawing over the exact legal language, but eventually Tiberius grumbled out a satisfactory oath.
"A crevice breaks the ledge outside." Boomed the dragon. "Descend down it, and you shall find you way back down below. Do not pass this way again. At the right time, I shall find you." The companions readily took their leave.

"I've never seen a diplomacy role like that before," Said Rodger as they carefully crept down the narrow ascent. It was cold here in the autumn mountains, and the shaded grotto was especially chilly. "I always thought that the score-roller only went up to twenty."

"I get an extra bonus, for my feat." Said Keith, glancing at Tiberius. "Instead of, say, extra ability to gut cows. Dinosaur, why do I get the feeling that that oath-thing of yours may result in a lot of trouble in the future?"
Meanwhile, Dwight Tiger is consulting the chief game technician, a ram by the name of Bobby Softwool. "I got good news and bad news," Bobby bleated, "The good news is that it's not a glitch, but the bad news is the servers been hacked." "Hacked!?" Dwight responded, "who would hack into..." Then Dwight remembered something "The Chameleon squad!" Bobby bleated "Disruption of service, is sure sounds like them but here's where it gets interesting, we have an intruder in the server masquerading as one of the NPCs." Dwight asks "Which one?" Bobby bleated "I don't know but I'm going to find out."
"There's only one thing to do." Said Dwight "We must call the Greatest Hacker of all time...Call Edward Nygma!"

"The Riddler?!" Exclaimed Softwool "That A-Hole?!"

"Nygma pioneered the modern VR experience!" Said Dwight "Before then we only had the Occulous Rift Nygma also devised the Dangers of VR, if we don't save those Young Ones they could suffer PTSD at best and brain death at worst."
The companions had at last made it to a relatively flat part of the mountain's slopes.

"Alright," Said Rodger. "Should we try to hole up somewhere until the glitch gets fixed, and risk having to fight the dragon at the end of the year -and for us it won't take nearly as long as it does for the NPCs- or should we try to go out and get the money, and risk something dangerous happening? Any thoughts?"
Then a voice is heard "Attention Zodiac game players, sorry for the inconvenience but the server has been hacked. Mr. Lepus it seems that a hacker group has shut down the system and we're unable to get you all out." Rodger says "Mr. Softwool, what's going on?" "Simple we've been hacked, by the Chameleon Squad, but not to worry, we're finding another hacker to get you all out." Keith asks "Another Hacker, who is this other hacker?"
"You might call him a White Hat for Hire," said Mr. Softwool. "I'm sure you know how those types work."

Rodger groaned a bit. "You'd better give him the price he wants, especially if he's as good as he says. We need to come up with like 4K worth of gold, and quick!"

"Why's that?"

"Timed Mission involving the Black Dragon," said Rodger. "We need to get him that much gold, or else things could prove messy."

"I see. In that case, I have some good news. There's an Easy Quest that can give you 5K in coin, one that was added to this version of the game. Non-Combat related, so it's Safe. However, it's one of those Comedy - type Quests."

"What does it entail?" Olivia asked.

"To do the quest, you must assist several Green Dragons in throwing a party, and acting as servants in it,"

"That doesn't sound too bad," said Kieth.

"However, there's the uniform to consider - it's provided by the dragons mind you - males wear loincloths, and females wear something resembling the Slave Outfit the Princess Lela wore in Star Wars 6."

"That does sound embarrassing," Olivia said, with a nervous chuckle.

"Also, one of you has to serve the dragons themselves, as in moving the food from the plate to that dragon's mouth, so that they don't seem like rude animals to their more humanoid guests, who frown upon just snatching food from the plate, and prefer to use things along the lines of forks, knives, and spoons, or chopsticks."

Olivia gulped at this. Part of her didn't feel like doing that job. Rodger put a hand on her shoulder. "I'll do that part if you don't want to do that."

"You would do the job of giving these Green Dragon's food?"

"Less likely that someone would make a Princess Lela and Jabba the Hutt reference."

Olivia chuckled at this. "I suppose it would."

"So, do we take on the job of being servants to a bunch of dragons who want to throw a party, and get the money we need in a short period of time, but suffer some mild embarrassment, or do we stick to killing cattle and selling the hides for money, but take up a lot of time?"

Olivia smiled. "You're having me make that choice again?"

Rodger chuckled. "That's your job."
The 5 friends trekked on until voices are heard "Today's Drake's birthday, we need to make it special and unforgivable." "Yeah I know but I don't know what kind of party to throw for him. I suppose I could hire a party planner." "Do you realize how expensive they are?" "I'm sure it would be worth it, I may lose most of my hoard in the process."

Bonedigger says "That must be them, shall we get this over with?"
"Let's do it," Olivia said.

Bonedigger raised a hand in greeting. "Hello! Green dragons! Did I hear you say party? Me and my five friends were born to party! For a small fee we can make your party turn out to be something special!"

"Indeed." Said the Largest Green Dragon "You wish to volunteer?"

Soon they were all in their uniforms, Olivia being a Frog and thus having no mammary glands didn't have a brazier on her chest, just a large brown ribbon tied around her chest, the game developers anticipated non-mammals playing the game and designed accordingly
That being said, the outfits still showed a lot of skin, or fur, or whatever. At least the temperature was comfortable, in like the mid 70's in terms of Fahrenheit. Apparently, that was another aspect the developers had thought of - it wasn't too hot, or too cold. Problem was, the developers had indeed thought of everything, in that Drake was really the nickname for a set of twins, one male, and one female - Dragounus for the Male, and Dragania for the Female, who had begun hitting on Olivia and Rodger, respectively.

"How does this attraction thing even work?" Olivia asked. "I mean, I'm only in this thing for five seconds, and already he thinks I'm his girlfriend or something."

"Probably one of those Encouragement things," said Rodger. "The better job we do, the more they like us, and the better the reward. If we do a poor job though, we might only make the minimum amount we need to buy the Black Dragon off."

"Still, I wish he's call me something other than Sweet Lips," said Olivia. "I mean, I'm only 16 years old, and he's a video game character."

"They're teenagers themselves, in terms of programming," said Rodger. "You can't exactly expect them to act like full-grown adults."

"Oh Long Legs, could you help me out?" a feminine voice called out. "I've got a spot on my back that needs scratching."

Rodger groaned. "See what I mean."

"I just hope they don't ask for anything sexual," said Olivia.

"Doubt it," said Rodger. "This game's rated T for Teen, not M for Mature, or something like that. About the furthest they'd go is lots of hugging and kissing, maybe implied sex, in that a Male character and a Female character sleep in the same bed a lot, but I doubt they'd actually have you go through with it, unless it's a scripted situation where it turns out that you've become pregnant all of a sudden, but I doubt that you'd do anything beyond the old 'Deep Look into His Eyes, Then the Scene Turns Black' routine, where you give him a kiss, and then end up waking up in bed with next to no clothes on, or something like that."

Olivia blushed at the thought. "I don't want to think about the implications of that."

"Like I said, the game's rated T for Teen," said Rodger. "Sexual references are fine, as is Implied Sex, but an Actual Sex Scene is not allowed."

"I wonder how the others are doing," said Olivia. "I mean, if we're helping the Stars of the Birthday Party get ready for the big event, how are the other three doing in the kitchen?"

"I just hope they keep things balanced, and provide a mix of food."

"But, if I can eat bread, and you can eat meat, does it really matter what they make?" Olivia asked.

"In a way, it does," said Rodger. "Guests like to have a choice, or at least I would think so. Think about it - say you liked chocolate covered fly larva, but if you ate it day in and day out, it would lose the appeal, and you'd want something different, like fried mealworms, or something."

Olivia chuckled. "I'll have to try those sometime."
Tiberius was cooking an entire triceratops.

"Careful, Bonedigger!" He said, pulling on a lever, which turned gears, which opened a sluice gate, which created a waterfall, which turned a wheel set on one edge of the rotisserie, which gave the behemoth of broiling meat another quarter-turn. "Make sure the fire stays blue! Green Dragons like their food well cooked, and we have to try and make the crest crack so it'll be crunchy."

"If you say so. Though I am getting tired from maintaining this steady flame," Sighed the mage. 'Where's Keith with that seasoning? If we don't add it on now, half the flavour will be lost."
Keith rushes in "Sorry, it took me a while to find it. *sigh* these dragons should keep their spices organized."
"What's this?" Bonedigger said. "Paprika? Where's the cumin?"

"I like paprika," Keith said, "and they didn't have any cumin."

"Hmmm... onion powder, garlic, black pepper... this looks good. I'm getting very hungry."

"We should let the dragons eat first," Tiberius said, "and we can have the leftovers."

"Olivia and Rodger seem to be having a good time."

"Let them have it. I'd rather be gnawing on a triceratops bone."
Meanwhile, since Riddler was on another Planet, and couldn't instantly teleport to Earth, Dwight contacted him via video phone, apparently it had midnight on Alderbaren as Riddler was very sleepy when Dwight called him

"Slow down..." Riddler yawned "...Even geniuses of my caliber are not immune to sleep deprivation."
"Slow down?" Dwight asked. "I suppose I could, but only long enough to tell you that one of my Virtual Reality game systems has been hacked, and worse yet, I've got five players trapped in the system. We can't get them out!"

Riddler yawned. "I guess that is a problem."

"They could die! The Safety System was messed with! There is no Safety! If they die, it's for Real! Cardiac Arrest or Brain Death, or one of those things!"

Riddler's eyes widened. "Now that is serious. I'll see what I can do."

Meanwhile, back in the game, Rodger and Olivia were taking a bit of a break.

"I've got a problem," said Olivia. "Dragounus has asked me to help feed him."

"I have that issue with Dragania," said Rodger. "And don't forget the other relatives as well."

Olivia groaned. "Do we have to?"

"If we want to get the maximum reward, we'll have to," said Rodger. "The more we have, the better our chances of dealing with the Black Dragon. Otherwise, well, I don't want to think about it."

Olivia sighed. "What's the worse he could do to us?"

"Depends on your definition of what's worse, roasted to ashes, eaten alive, or, and this one applies to you, being his slave for who knows how long."

"What do you mean by that?" Olivia asked.

"If you think these teenage dragons are a pain, and that's just for when you're getting paid, and you're only doing it for a day, or two, imagine if they were purposefully being cruel, you're not getting paid, and you're doing it for the rest of your life."

Olivia blinked at this. "How would one get out of it normally?"

"Piss him off enough to get roasted or eaten, so that you could reform someplace safe," said Rodger. "However, that's not exactly an option for us."

Olivia chuckled nervously. "I guess not."

"Look on the bright side - we've selected their clothes, such as they are, we've got them cleaned off, and dressed even," said Rodger. "Now we just need to make sure that the table is set for the various guests, to say nothing about the table for the dragons, especially for the Stars of the Hour."

"Do you think the rest will have the food done on time?" Olivia asked.

"We might want to assist them when we're done with the table, and make sure that there is an assortment of food for the guests," said Rodger. "On the plus side, this will help to improve our Diplomacy Status, and our Cooking Skill. Better cooks make better food, therefore better healing capabilities. Also, we might be able to recruit Dragon Mercenaries at a discount, I think."

"Are you sure?" Olivia asked.

Rodger gestured upward. "Those guys up there would know better."

"You mean in the real world?"

"Yeah. Those guys."

Olivia sighed. "I hope I get to go home again."

"You and me both," said Rodger. "And I'm sure the others would agree."
"Coming through! Coming through!" Said Keith, practically juggling a cauldron of hot sauce through the kitchen. Nearby, Bonedigger had an assortment of magic hands carefully dicing onions, leaving off directing them periodically to test the triceratops haunch. Tiberius had gotten a ladder and a bucket, and was busily breading an orca whale.
Bonedigger stood with his hands on his hips shaking his head at that amazing feat. "A whale, Tiberius? Really? A whale?"

"They say dragons have big appetites."

"Let's hope they like fish."

"Whales are mammals," said Tiberius, "not fish."
Meanwhile...Riddler contacted Dwight

"I uploaded a Virus to disrupt the Hackers." He said

"Will it hurt the Players?" Asked Dwight

"No...I know from experience this Virus helped free my own mind when I was trapped inside a VR game of my own."

Dwight looked at Riddler "And you wonder why we Humanimals have an aversion to the life of crime."

Meanwhile in the Game Olivia was about to feed her Dragon, when the Dragon suddenly melted away...The Plain VR Room returned.
"Are we out?" she asked.

"I think so," said Rodger. "I mean, except for the five of us, wearing our street clothes, we're all that's here."

"We made it!" shouted Kieth.

"I just have one question, who was it that trapped us in the game, and why?" Rodger asked.

"I doubt it was personal," said Olivia.

"Well, they made it personal when they trapped me in a game," said Rodger. "I might have liked it, if not for the whole being trapped thing. It will be hard for me to give the game an honest review now."

"Well, what did you think of it?" Olivia asked.

"Outside the near-death experience of the Black Dragon, I was starting to have fun, until things got messed with."
And thus the Arcade was closed until further notice

The End!

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