• Hi friends,

    I need a break from some other work I do, so I thought I'd do this, because low-stakes :)
    I know this forum and gmae is daed, but it'd be fun to have people read this anyway if it happens. It's a rewrite of something I wrote in like 2009 or smth.
    Also, what's up with the horrific formatting here. It doesn't seem possible to have paragraph indents even multiple spaces or anything. I've had to copy and paste white dots in html.


    .The thing looked hideous as it danced. It clattered its joints against its parts going in a circle with its arms up, vaguely humming something like a lullaby or a funeral dirge not at all in tune with the ambient sounds of the Forest.

    . He wasn’t sure what made this Smart Phino ‘smarter’ than its plainer orange cousins he had known when he was level 12, mused Sandstone, but it could be that this Smart Phino had a plan. What seemed like spastic drowning in the open air could be a deliberate ruse under the surface to get him in. It’d spring into a frightening competence any moment now and attack, and with only weak Mage gear on his person – he hadn’t yet bought any of the Wiz-Mage stuff – he’d be brutally overwhelmed. He clutched his Roumen staff from the promotion.

    . Was he ready?

    . It turned to him and grinned. He used a scroll. It propped its stickball hands under the brim of its Smart Phino hat and groaned, splintered and creaked from the concentration, until with one loud crunch, off released its hat and head clean from its puppet neck, still grinning. It tipped them. Success, it clicked its heels, and dropped in shambles onto the ground.

    . Oh.

    . Green text glowed a few inches from his forehead: 3/10 Smart Phinos. He trudged up with a grimace, and put the head into his bag. 1/5 Smart Phino Heads. Somehow, he had a feeling it was grinning even wider now in his inventory.

    . It had been three whole weeks since he had gotten this quest. He just hadn’t done much of it. “Those Phinos have ruined my cabbages for the last time. My fenceposts want their heads.” Who knew Grandma Myzen was such a psychopath, but maybe with enough repeats, the old woman’s dementia might kick in, and he could convince her to just give him the reward endlessly.

    . Three weeks out of Roumen. He had spent that time mostly standing around in Elderine, trying to figure out how the shops worked, or what his in would be into the market. Maybe he could buy those Alchemy Stones with his fame and resell them, but he heard that didn’t work anymore.

    . Sometimes there were a bunch of people shouting, having conversations with each other from opposite ends of the town. Sometimes people stood next to each other and spoke aloud instead of in whispers. Most of the things he heard were stupid.

    . Three weeks since he had watched the life ebb from his Shadow-Clone’s eyes, while its smile grew wider like the Smart Phino’s smile, and his hands shook violently not looking at his staff’s smoking magic orb.

    . Another dreamy lullaby grew audible from behind him to his left, along with the clatter of puppet parts. Not many more to go.


    . Of the twenty more Smart Phinos Sandstone had dispatched, only another four had yielded heads, and always by the same song and dance routine. He had learned at the end you had to start to do a little dance yourself to get a hundred-percent chance at the drop of a head, and the Phino would mimic you unconsciously.

    . Even with that crucial information, he was not doing that repeat again.

    . He made a careful way on his hobby around the range of excitable Prock-Zones and Lizardmen in the forest. Even the Grave Robbers who always looked busy with something would also chase him for a while, which seemed counter-intuitive.

    . When he was finally at the gate, he was pulled through nauseously into the bright beige facades of Elderine, and went in an instant from craving human interaction to a nostalgia for the solitude of quests. A Warrior running laps of the city’s commercial promenade without a costume on was switching between gear sets and weapons repeatedly for everyone to see, and tried to jump over his head, nearly booting him with a steel-toed Defect Boot to the forehead – if he hadn’t quickly ducked.

    . Watch where you’re going, he didn’t have the energy to say.

    . Ugh.

    . The city was somehow chaotic and painfully empty at the same time. He didn’t know, thought Sandstone. He had a vague fantasy somewhere in the depths of his imagination of this same place bustling with tens of as many people, and not just vendors, and yet, with those tens of as many people, everyone here sharing a feeling of belonging, doing something, or doing nothing and whiling away – it didn’t matter – they just belonged. But who knows where that feeling –

    . “SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”, someone screamed, or something to that effect.

    . Huh? This better not be some sort of – but it was quickly joined by a series of other high-pitched screams. In seconds, what had been eleven vendors grooving their idle animations to no shoppers on the steps, and a few stragglers dancing by or on top of Shutain, was a sea of people like Sandstone had never fathomed let alone seen. People riding dragons and insects, sailing cannoned battle ships, some even metamorphosed into light-speed miniatures of Helga or Slimes – that was new – were flooding in like a jumble from the north-west warp-gate. Others popped into existence onto marital partners, or in an amoebic, many-armoured mass just in front of Kid Woz from using Elderine Scrolls.

    . The whole place sounded with one clamour – you hardly even noticed the intermittent screams. It was discussion, motion, action, and it all revolved like a sinkhole around one perimeter in the city centre where a figure in all white, by sheer aura or force of will, kept the frothing crowds no less than three metres’ distance from his person in all directions.

    . “Oh mah gawd,” said a level thirty Wiz-Mage near Sandstone to her Clever-Fighter friend. “I’ve never even seen him before.” She grabbed her friend by the shoulders and shook her, “Cyaknight. Cyaknight. What if he says hi to me. What if he says hi,” and pushed into the crowds on a mission. Sandstone watched her intermittently reappear at various places, beating people out of the way with her wand, finally resorting to Magic Bursts to get closer in.

    . What the hell was this.

    . But just as he turned to the sad-looking Clever-Fighter friend who was staring at her blunted Hide Axe, maybe considering going in there herself and wishing she had learned Devastate or Whirlwind for the task, a hush came over the whole town in a wave without any clear notice or origin.

    . I guess his questions could wait.

    . He’d have never been able to hear the words even on a normal day in Elderine. He wasn’t even sure if the white-clad Warrior was shouting, or only speaking without trying to be heard.

    . “I have an announcement to make,” said Cyaknight.

    . Sandstone wondered if anyone around him was breathing.

    . “Destiny is recruiting.”