Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Warlords of Llantatis by Dominic Green




WARLORDS OF LLANTATIS's graphics, gameplay, and immersive three-dimensional virtual reality experience took the online role playing gaming world by storm when it was first released - but it was first released over fifteen years ago. Now it's a haunt for the nostalgic and unfashionable.

Cyrus Baggett and Raj Rengarajulu have been pretending to be Smelrond of Quimnimbriel and Mordaxxe, Pwner of Noobs since college. Now they're old, married, and wanted by most of the crowned heads, secret police organisations and demonic familiars of the game universe. They are considering growing out of this thing - at least, until they meet the Character With No Name.

The Character's player is living in one room, which he has never left and appears to be being held in against his will. He doesn't know where in the world the room is; he doesn't even know his own name. The only way of finding out more about him is through playing Warlords of Llantatis, and that can only happen if Mordaxxe and Smelrond can keep him alive for long enough to talk - and if they can stay alive themselves, with Beƫlzebelle and the Munchkins, Wizard Sparklebeard and Titanowang Lord of Fertility at large in the same universe.




Excerpt:

It was in the depth of winter, then, with perfectly-rendered three-dimensional blizzard static howling down the polygonally rendered peaks of Llareggub, that a lonely, battle-weary pair approached the Sign Of The Iron Fist Of Might Inn in the High Grunthar Pass between Llareggub and Amazonion. Night was falling, and dragon oil burned brightly and invitingly in the inns’ lanterns. As the newcomers climbed the mounting steps at the inn’s front door, ghastly ethereal harp and flute music rent the air. Two male middle-aged stockbrokers, one from Berlin, the other from Johannesburg, both of whom were under the impression that the other was actually a real live woman, were gay-marrying their Amazonion warrior women according to the Shaktic rite, before getting down to some hot guy-on-guy lesbian action. A room full of other Amazonion warrior women, every single one of them also played by a male, stood in solemn attendance commenting appreciatively on what the brides had done with their chainmail. Across an inn filled with petchouli smoke and rose petals, the voice of a professional troubadouress announced that Today She Was A Small Blue Thing.

Outside the inn, Smelrond and Mordaxxe exchanged glances, emoting deep dissatisfaction with this turn of events.

Both men had been running their characters for years. This - once it was considered that death, in the Universal Model, was irrevocable unless in exceptional circumstances, and once it was also considered that the characters were constantly in danger of death during every moment they were immersed in the game - was quite remarkable. Both men were of the gamer type referred to by market segmenters as ‘Bartle type Diamond / Club - Killer-Achievers’; they stockpiled arms, always had batteries of healing potions to hand, and had brains that pared any change in the game’s byzantine rules system right down to its mathematical essentials, and instantly saw how to derive advantage from it. In any World War, Smelrond and Mordaxxe would be troopers who had been on the Front a while, and who never bothered to talk to new recruits for at least a month, because ninety per cent of new recruits died quickly by poking their heads up out of cover, lighting more than three cigarettes with the same match, or volunteering.

Smelrond’s player, Mr. Cyrus Baggett of Laconia, New Hampshire, had conceived the character of Smelrond as an insult to his oldest friend, Mordaxxe’s player, Mr. Raj Rengarajulu of Beaverton, Oregon. Both men had attended college together at Brown University, where they had first misused their student accounts to logon to a Llantatis server and lampoon one another by creating characters at two in the morning when both of them should have been working on their graduate dissertations (or ‘forcing out our rich Brown theses’, as Baggett was fond of putting it).

Mr. Rengarajulu liked to think of himself as lithe, lean and athletic. Smelrond the Elvinoid was gangling and skinny. Mr. Rengarajulu was passionately committed to the cause of vegetarianism on strict moral grounds. Smelrond was a whining tree-hugger. Mr. Rengarajulu had a deep interest in philosophy and the underlying nature of the universe. Smelrond would divert an expedition across a perilous range of mountains purely on a rumour that a physically malodorous hermit might live there.

Mr. Baggett, meanwhile, thought of himself as physically mesomorphic with good combined upper and lower body strength and solid reserves of stamina. Mordaxxe was a triangle of muscle with a tiny little head. Mr. Baggett believed it was natural for human beings to eat meat and enjoyed the occasional hamburger. Mordaxxe ate nothing but meat, frequently cut bleeding from the buttocks of his enemies. Mr. Baggett believed it was every American’s democratic right to defend his home. Mordaxxe believed it was every Llareggubite’s duty to locate his enemies and destroy them before the thought of inimical behaviour had ever even occurred to them. Both men had killed for each other hundreds of times over. Both men had wives who nagged them constantly about the amount of time they wasted on That Stupid Game. Both men had secretly told themselves they’d Just Give It Long Enough To Get That Stupid Character Killed.

The trouble was, the characters just wouldn’t die. Dragon after zombie horde after portal to Hell itself had come and gone and left them scarred and uglified, but still up and running. They had calluses on their demon-killing hands. Most recently, both men had fought - Mordaxxe as a Llaregubbite observer - a quite brilliant rearguard guerilla action in the sacred grove of Quimnimbriel against the invading Amazonion, whom Mordaxxe enjoyed killing to a suspiciously breathy extent. The razing of Quimnimbriel Forest had been ordered by the Amazonion Virago-Imperatrix Brynhildicca because Mordaxxe and Smelrond had made it impossible for the Amazonions to occupy it. Improvised alchemical devices, ambuscades, and sometimes quite literal booby traps had hampered Amazonion supply lines and made the invaders feel that they themselves were the defenders, cowering behind makeshift stockades in the forest gloom. Now that peace had come, both men felt betrayed, particularly after an unauthorized raid into Amazonion had made them wanted in both Amazonion and Elvinia. Neither government wanted the ThongConan Accord to fail.

“Seems we always find ourselves”, commented Mordaxxe to Smelrond, “in a bar full of Amazonions every full moon.”

Smelrond grinned. “The whole Amazonion army menstruates in step. They always attack at full moon.”

The tavernkeeper, Thrangor, a mightily-thewed Llareggubite who had lost a leg in last year’s War of the Bloody Rag, but whose player was still running him every now and again out of sheer nostalgia, stopped them at the door. “You don’t want to be going in there, milords. I’ve got women and beardless boys only serving them while they’re in this mood. They’re already beginning to complain that they’re fat and their armour doesn’t really fit them any longer and what’s the point of anything and oh Shakti and Zeus, you’re an Elvinoid.”

Smelrond grinned. His inch-long canines bore witness to his race’s distinctly non-vegetarian past.

“And those - those are Quimnimbriel unit colours!”

“The only ones now extant. My brothers and sisters either died fighting or submitted to the Peace of ThongConan. My friend here and I are all that remain of the Quimnimbriel host.”

The barkeep looked Mordaxxe up and down.

“You don’t look like an Elvinoid”, he said.

“I am a mincing flower-eater”, rumbled Mordaxxe, “trapped in a three-hundred-pound juggernaut of muscle.”

Thrangor looked nervously back towards the bar area.

“It is the Law of Grunthar”, he said, “that you do not strike the first blow. Unless you are insulted, cheated, looked at in an improper way, or have your drink spilled in a manner you honestly believe to have been deliberate.”

Mordaxxe nodded solemnly. “I know the Law of Grunthar.”

“YOU SNIVELLING WRETCH OF A BOY!” shrieked a shrill voice from the tavern’s interior. “CHALK AND CHARCOAL FOR OUR HEAVILY PREGNANT SISTER, HO! AND MULTITASK BY BRINGING US MORE ALE AT THE SAME TIME, IF YOU CAN.”

Thrangor shuddered.

“It is also the Law of Grunthar”, he muttered, “that no man draw a blade unless his opponent draws a blade on him.”

So saying, he passed Smelrond and Mordaxxe two heavy fencing mauls. From inside the tavern came the plucking of strings, and an announcement that the troubadouress Was Louka, and Lived On The Second Floor.

“We’re just going to walk in there casually”, said Mordaxxe to Thrangor, “as if we’re just coming in here for a beer.”

“Which we are”, added Smelrond hurriedly.

“And we don’t want any trouble”, said Mordaxxe, his mighty musculature straining like the stays of a ship in an oncoming gale.

He pushed open the door to the bar area.

The room fell silent.

“Elvinoids”, hissed a voice.

Spit dribbled into the sawdust on the floor. That in itself would have been grounds for violent assault anywhere in Llareggub, but Mordaxxe, a cosmopolitan, let it pass.

“We are just two humble, uh”, said Mordaxxe, looking over his shoulder at his weapon, as if examing it in greater detail might tell him what he was.

“Fencers”, said Smelrond.

“Spoiling for a beer”, said Mordaxxe.

“The one on the left has a steel two-hander and knows how to use it”, muttered Smelrond out of the corner of his mouth. “She’s backed away to optimum distance, and she’s rubbing her pregnant sister’s chalk on her hands. Those three on the right you can forget. They’ve not even made a move toward their scabbards, and I’m too close by now for it to make any difference if they do.”

“One at the back is activating Berserk Mode”, said Mordaxxe, “and thinks I can’t see her nibbling her shield. The one in the middle is lining up for a Swashbuckling Chandelier Swing, which gives her double hit probability but you triple impale probability if you raise a stabbing weapon and go for an Ass Kebab -”

“You are interrupting a wedding, friend”, said a melodious, liquid voice chosen from over two thousand auditioners by Avi David to be Amazonion Female Hero Stock Voice Number Seven. Recognizing the voice, Mordaxxe knew the character instantly to be being played by a man with serious gender displacement issues. Women in possession of genuine women’s voices seldom relied on the game defaults.

“I am but a simple farmer”, he said.

“Fencer”, corrected Smelrond.

“I saw no fences on the way up here”, said the Amazonion spokeswoman. “Just barren mountainside.”

“Our presence would hardly be necessary otherwise”, said Smelrond.

“You should see the beautiful fencing system outside now”, said Mordaxxe.

“Classic birch wattle round ash uprights all the way up the valley”, said Smelrond. “Fair made me weep to look at it after we were done, it did.”

“On our way home, we plan to visit some of our Elvinoid women and mutilate their vaginas”, added Mordaxxe, his eyes shining.

The three on the right attempted a sword draw, and went down under Smelrond’s sweep. The one on the left dodged Mordaxxe’s overhead smash and drew her own weapon from a scabbard between her shoulderblades with snakestrike speed, sparking it off Mordaxxe’s wrist circlets. Then Mordaxxe abandoned the maul and drew his own weapon, and the carving began. At the sight of the Amazonions drawing swords, even Thrangor leapt from behind the bar bearing an ancient, rusted war axe and roaring war cries. Arms, legs, bottoms and thighs flew in all directions, most of the bodily fluids being absorbed by the sawdust. Finally, Mordaxxe had the one remaining Amazonion backed into a corner. She was proving surprisingly tenacious, defending herself with one of her sisters’ swords and a meat skewer which she was employing as a parrying dagger.

“Strike!” she yelled in an accent Mordaxxe could not identify.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” said Smelrond. “Finish her off.”

“THIS ONE’S GOT A REAL FEMALE VOICE”, bellowed Mordaxxe. “SHE’S A REAL GIRL.”

“What goddamned difference does that make?” yelled the real girl.

“I DON’T HIT GIRLS”, yelled Mordaxxe desperately.

“Since when?” said Smelrond. “We’ve slaughtered legions of Amazonions.”

“THEY WERE ALL MEN PRETENDING TO BE WOMEN”, yelled Mordaxxe, trying to keep the girl on the end of his sword.

“Seriously?” said Smelrond.

“OH YEAH”, nodded Mordaxxe, sweating.

“I thought you enjoyed killing them”, said Smelrond. “I was getting worried about you.”

“IT’S ALL RIGHT”, shrieked Mordaxxe, “I DON’T ENJOY KILLING WOMEN, I JUST ENJOY PRETEND-KILLING ELECTRONIC TRANSVESTITES.”

“Hey, look over there”, said Smelrond. The girl looked around, just as Smelrond smacked the flat of his sword into her temple. She fell like a toppled tree. Mordaxxe backed away, goggling at the girl in horror.

Smelrond looked down at her.

“I am still worried about you”, he said.

“I hate men who play Amazonion women”, said Mordaxxe, his hands trembling on his weapon. “I hate their feigned concern and their extravagant over-the-top obsequious agonizing about every imagined slight to womankind. Not one of them has ever done the evil deed to a lady’s Thing That Shall Not Be Named. They crave it, and they believe that by agreeing with every tiny little tenet of feminism - no matter how many of those tenets contradict other tenets, and no matter how many tenets are disagreed with by actual living breathing women such as my beautiful Kavitha, mother of my children and silo to my mighty missile - this moves them closer to losing their twenty or thirty or forty years of lonely virginity. Because, and this is the greatest illusion of all, they think that by hanging out with Amazonions they are hanging out with real live women, one of whom might be impressed by their feminist zeal and arrange to meet them out-of-game and overlook their bad breath, paunch, tiny little penis, and all those things they’ve got on their face that they ‘can’t get removed on my medical insurance without paying out a whole wad of cash, dude, and I’m saving up for some new speakers anyway, so I tried burning them off with a soldering iron, but they just keep on coming back’.” He finished his soliloquy with madly staring eyes, and panted to redeem his oxygen debt.

“Uncharacteristically poetic”, said Smelrond. “You evidently feel strongly about this. How do you feel about real transvestites?”

“Confused”, said Mordaxxe, “but okay.”

“You don’t feel like chopping them up or anything.”

“I don’t think so.”




What Readers Think:
Thirty years ago I was hacking into a university other than my own's computer system to play a multi user dungeon. "Hit troll with axe". Ah, the nostalgia. Today, the simple game system sitting next to the antique telephone on the side table allows me to anatomically dissect that troll's descendants in glorious colour. In a few years, (fewer than we think) the world of gaming will have advanced well beyond the levels described in this book. So that almost makes it a historical romance set in the glory days of VR gaming.
If you are a normal person, you probably have not understood a word I have just written. If, however, you are a degenerate fruitloop, a nerd, a misfit or, that lowest of all of God's creations, a gamer, then this is truly your book. The characters are outrageous, broken and deranged...and you know every one of them in the real world. You may even be one of them. I appear to be several. The author's skill is that they are real enough for the reader to identify with and care about.
The only fault I have with this book is that it is a book and not a fully immersive game system already. I trust that the author will remedy this forthwith.

The Author:


Dominic Green was born some time ago. He remembers when telephones were attached to the wall with cables. As a child, he was lied to by magazines that told him he would be living on the Moon in the year 2000 wearing silver rocket boots.

People have been publishing science fiction by him since 1996, ha! The fools. In 2006, he was nominated for a Hugo Award for his story, The Clockwork Atom Bomb.

He is married and has three cats and a Newfoundland dog who is the world's first life form to consist entirely of drool.

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