87 Sweet, Sweet Vengeance
| Vir-Tech Labs |
Visby counts five nervous pen clicks, three deep breaths, and one worried gulp before the intern finally finds the courage to make her report to Ding Fan.
"Um, s-sir," the university grad student stutters, "according to my projections, there's a strong possibility we may have to unveil inter-city Teleportation before the day's out."
"Ha. Before lunch is out, you mean," growls a grizzly senior developer hunched over a monitor. It's hard to tell if he's more annoyed or impressed.
Knowing him, Visby assumes it's both.
"And why would we need to move yet another schedule up by almost a solid month?" Ding Fan asks, as if there's any way he doesn't already know the answer.
The intern blanches. Biting her lip, she looks like the last thing in the world she wants to do right now is speak the Name That Shalt Not Be Spoken...
"E-Erebus," she finally squeaks out.
She doesn't elaborate, but she doesn't need to.
There's a solid ten seconds of silence from Ding Fan, which the intern fills with rapidfire pen-clicking. When she still receives no response, however, the poor kid calms down and loosens her death grip on her pen.
Naturally, this is the exact moment Ding Fan inevitably loses it.
"He's a gods-damned menace, and he needs to be stopped!" Ding Fan declares, eyes wild behind his thick tortoise-shell glasses.
The intern jumps in alarm, and the pen goes flying, whacking Ding Fan in the back of the head.
"Tell us what you really think," Stacey deadpans, smoothly handing the horrified intern a new pen.
When Ding Fan pouts, red-faced, Stacey takes pity on the aggrieved programmer and hands him a few throwing darts.
He lets three fly in quick succession. Visby's dry lips crack into a wry smile as all three land squarely on-target. He can't help but be impressed, even though he's witnessed Ding Fan's random hidden talent several times in the last few days.
At this point, the dart board with Erebus's avatar face is covered with darts and holes.
"We need a new photo," one of the cyber security guys says. "This one's barely recognizable as that brat."
One of the art interns excitedly holds up an extra-large glossy poster. "How about this one next?"
Visby's surprised to see a human avatar with matching dual blades. "Is that his beta avatar?"
The intern nods happily. "Dregs! He looks more like the real-life version of Erebus, so I thought it might be more satisfying to hit with sharp projectiles!"
Visby makes a mental note to never make any of the artists angry.
Even the interns are terrifying.
The new poster replaces the destroyed old one, and a few other programmers join Ding Fan in pelting Dregs/Erebus's smug face with darts. They've already gone through four posters in just the last two days, and Visby expects this one target won't last too long either.
The damn D'Raven can't stop wreaking havoc, so the devs need some way to relieve their stress.
Visby has to admit, it was a good one.
Stacey also started a betting pool as another coping mechanism. Everyone's betting on when Erebus will finally die in-game.
She'd realized that every time Erebus faces insurmountable in-game odds, everyone opens their screens to watch the fights anyway, so she started the pool and started projecting Erebus's major battles onto the back wall for everyone to watch all together.
She's also enforcing a rule that no one can watch without eating something, so it's helping keep everyone healthier.
But in the end, all the coping in the world isn't enough to keep the devs from losing their minds now and then.
Erebus triggering inter-city Teleportation a full month early is definitely cause for some anxiety.
Personally, Visby's more worried about the D'Raven's insanely stupid stats. He can't stop staring at the board displaying Erebus's constantly-growing Attribute numbers:
Class: -- Subclass: --
Title: The Natural
Level: 15 EXP: 3022661/5000000
HP: 716 SP: 152
Visby shouldn't be seeing stats like that for at least a couple months.
It's Day Friggin' Two.
And what's worse, his OP stats are impacting the high-class players around him, so several elite players are showing numbers far above what they should be at this point.
With a weary sigh, Visby runs his hands through his messy hair and groans.
"Everything okay, Visby?" a warm voice asks.
Visby whips around, all fatigue forgotten. "Sir!"
A chorus of welcomes chime in as everyone realizes Zhao Jianyu himself is making an appearance.
Chen Ai Lun, the Head of R\u0026D (research and development) is standing slightly behind him, and it looks like they're on their way to yet another meeting.
Ever since the Nova AI "woke up," so to speak, Zhao Jianyu and his select top researchers have been holing themselves away on a restricted floor, holding countless meetings and doing who-knows-what-else.
Visby knows the Boss would let him in on those meetings, if he asked, but for now, he doesn't think he wants to know all that's really going on.
There are some things you can't un-know, and he's happy living in the metaphorical Matrix for now.
"We heard shouting, so I thought we should check in before we head down to R\u0026D," Zhao Jianyu explains.
Ding Fan turns so red, Visby wouldn't be surprised if he spontaneously burst into flames.
Stacey snorts, then slaps her hands over mouth, mortified. A second later, she pulls up her hood and yanks the draw-strings until her entire face is hidden.
'Everyone's losing their damn minds,' Visby moans in his head.
"Everyone's fine," Visby says aloud.
"Oh?" Boss ZJ asks, lightly raising an eyebrow. His gentle gaze twitches over to the Erebus-dart board.
"Ah, well," Visby replies, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "Honestly, we do have a few concerns." He goes over to the stats board, and pulls up the list of Top Stats next to Erebus's full status. "Sir, don't you think this is getting a bit out of hand?"
Boss ZJ looks over the lists thoughtfully. "Hmm. I'm not sure what you mean."
Visby's jaw drops and he feels the urge to smash something.
"He's top in Charisma, but that makes sense," Zhao Jianyu continues, oblivious to Visby's descent into madness. "He was Chosen as one of the Four World Pillars, after all."
Visby nods, tightly. True, but...
"Other than that, I see he's only leading in Agility. Is it too crazy for him to be the top in two Attributes?"
Stacey's voice emerges from her closed hood. "Sure, technically he's only in the number one spot for those two, but Sir, you're missing the bigger problem."
Ding Fan splutters. "He's in the Top Ten for every single stat! Top Three of most of them!"
"Not Luck," Chen Ai Lun points out.
Everyone looks at the Luck List. Another Chaos Party member tops it:
1st) TALIESIN - 33 (?!?!WTF?!?!?!?!)
After him, the next-highest stat number is 8, followed by 7, 5, 5, \u0026 5. Everyone else in the game has a number between 1 and 4, so there's no way to currently finish the Top Ten list. Too many tied at 4.
There is a special mention, however, at the bottom:
50,000th) EREBUS - 0 (Base -1)
"Okay, so he's Top Ten in every stat but one," Visby concedes. "That still makes him more powerful than any other player in the game. By a lot."
He looks over to the female intern still nervously clicking her pen. She may be an anxious wreck, but she's also a math prodigy.
"72.4% stronger than the average player. 23.6% stronger than the second-strongest elite player," she supplies immediately.
"Exactly," Visby says, waving his arms as if he can't find a way to adequately demonstrate how insane that is.
Zhao Jianyu's mouth twitches into what looks like a small smile.
Visby feels like he's having an aneurysm.
Ding Fan takes over for him. "Besides, you can't even say his Negative Luck base stat matters, since all the so-called 'bad luck' keeps working out for him!"
Another intern chimes in. "We even rigged his Foundation Village so that no matter what he did, he'd still be offered the omelet from Dina and trigger Fickle Fortune, since he was already doing way too well, and that backfired the most!"
For a moment, it looks like Zhao Jianyu might finally be understanding their complaints.
Then he lets out a quiet breath, and somehow, everyone *knows* he is disappointed.
"So you're saying a large part of his meteoric rise is because every time you tried to nerf him, he used his overwhelming skills and talent to work the negatives into his favor?" he says quietly.
Thick silence hangs heavy in the air.
"When you put it that way..." someone mumbles.
"Short of going in-game and killing him ourselves..." another flounders.
Ding Fan perks up at that, a tell-tale glint in his eye.
"Nooo. We can't do that," Visby shoots him down immediately.
Ding Fan harrumphs and pushes up his thick glasses. "Fine. Then what do you suggest, damnit?"
He sounds cranky and pissy and snaps the question. If he'd been asked, he would have said he was asking Visby, or maybe no one, or maybe just the universe in general.
He definitely wasn't asking Boss Zhao Jianyu.
But that's who answers him.
Ding Fan has never wished for death more in his life than when he realizes he cursed at the world's greatest living scientist.
"If you are so keen on nerfing him..." Zhao Jianyu begins.
"Yes," every voice (except Ding Fan's, since his soul has left his body) says at once.
"How about a Curse? He seems to be collecting those," Zhao Jianyu advises.
Everyone mulls this over, new life shining in their eyes.
"That might be perfect," Stacey finally says.
"Yeah," a cyber security tech agrees. "We can't just nerf him outright. It would be too obvious and seem too unfair, since technically he is succeeding almost entirely on his own merits."
"Can we just Curse him, though?"
"Well, it's this or Mod Murder, so..."
"This is great, really. Find a way to use those merits against him!"
"Be smarter than the player!"
"All right, let me look at his play stats..."
Visby goes to stand behind the dev scrolling through Erebus's play statistics. "Stop, right there," he practically shouts. The dev jumps, but she also lets go of her mouse, so the screen freezes.
A terrifying smile breaks out on Visby's exhausted face.
"I remember this stat from the beta, too," he says. "There's one Bonus he always makes sure to snag."
"Last Hit Bonus!" Stacey blurts, suddenly understanding.
Visby nods, thoughtlessly rolling the dev away from her own workstation. He slides into an empty chair and pulls up the game's internal code on her monitor, too focused to remember he has his own perfectly good computer.
"Precisely," he mutters, half-explaining, half-already lost in his own world. "So we put an automatic, no-dodge Backlash Curse on the Boss. Auto-triggered by whoever lands the final hit."
"But Chaos Party's about to LiveStream, right? We can't make this a one-time-only Curse, since we can't be positive the Horsemen Party won't win the race. If we make it a 'first person to kill the Boss' Curse, they may trigger it instead."
"But if we make it an automatic Curse for anyone who beats this Boss, no one will want to run this Dungeon anymore."
"Ooh, make it the Hidden Boss! Erebus's Fickle Fortune is only triggering the normal one this time, since we're running out of Field Bosses to reroute. No one's managed to beat this particular Hidden Boss yet, so no one can say we cheated by adding in this Curse later."
"That's perfect! What should it target?"
"This is BlackGuard Bog, right? What else, but AGI! It's the most important Attribute for that Dungeon."
"And it's the one Erebus relies upon the most while he's playing. This Curse should seriously fuck up his gameplay for a while!"
Chen Ai Lun looks a little alarmed at the sudden flurry of activity, as everyone crowds around Visby's stolen workstation and talks gleefully about destroying the single-most promising player she's ever seen.
Zhao Jianyu, on the other hand, simply laughs and exits as silently as he arrived, leaving them to it.
"Is this really okay, sir?" she asks.
"Have faith," Zhao Jianyu answers. "Overcoming obstacles is another way to gain strength."
"And this applies to my team, as much as it applies to Erebus," Boss ZJ adds. "That boy will bring everyone to new heights, and will continue to do so long into the future."
"As long as we don't go overboard and knock him so low he cannot recover," Chen Ai Lun warns, biting her lip in worry.
Zhao Jianyu doesn't answer.
There is nothing one can say in the face of truth, after all.
For anyone out there keeping tabs on my math:
Erebus gained +1 CHA when his Hype Vid made people so angry, an actual mob showed up at the Redcap Castle to murder him; at this point, he also unlocked a special skill, but since that happened on-camera, the story didn't show it. He'll explain when he eventually uses it.
He also did give the +2 PER talisman back to Kara, but fighting while blindfolded gave him the final +1 PER he needed to hit 20 on his own.)