The Lost King of Krim
Tupper Taylor paid a lot of money to become the first king of Krim. He disappeared ten years ago, before ever wearing the crown. Now virtual world detective Ellison Davo is hired to track him down.
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In 2120, World of Battle was one of the largest fantasy-themed role-playing games, a virtual medieval landscape stretching for thousands of miles in each direction.
The game was popular with casual players, people who hadn’t yet abandoned their physical bodies for fully virtual lives, for people with work or family commitments, anyone who wanted to pop in for a few hours, have fun, and log out again.
But there were also hardcore players who logged in for weeks, months, even years at a time.
Ellison Davo was hunting one of those players and had tracked him through friends, guild members, and a judicious application of bribes to the right administrators.
He circled on dragonback above a hill overlooking a field that was recently the site of a bloody battle, a hired bodyguard on his own dragon just a couple of dragon lengths ahead of him.
The first dragon had to work hard to maintain the lead, since the bodyguard, Red Stare, was heavily armored and carrying weapons. Ellison carried nothing but some papers and a flask and wore tight leather pants and a bright red silk shirt.
Ellison looked down and spotted the cluster of war leaders at the top of the hill and took his flask out from under his vest to celebrate.
The bright red silk was too much of a temptation, and several archers below sent off arrows, which just failed to reach their target.
Ellison Davo cursed as the dragon swooped away and the flask slipped out of his hands and dropped down onto the battlefield.
They circled once again, lower, Ellison’s dragon following along behind Red’s dragon, carefully staying out of arrow range until they landed at the foot of the hill at which the commander and his forces were gathered, on the side away from the main brunt of the battle.
Red Stare gracefully leaped off his dragon, then patted the beast with a gloved hand. “Thanks, Betty.” The dragon let out a puff of smoke, then sniffed at the nearest corpse.
“Shoo, shoo!” said a fighter who’d been looting the dead body. The dragon backed away a few feet, then lay down, keeping one eye half open on what was soon to be her lunch.
“Oof, this place stinks,” said Ellison, jumping down with slightly more grace, since he was wearing much less leather and no metal to speak of.
He checked again that the papers were still safely tucked into his shirt.
“Our guy should be somewhere at the top of the hill, with all the other war leaders,” Ellison told Red.
“Do you know what he looks like?”
“No, but I’ll know him when I see him.”
“You’re going to yell his name and see who turns around?”
“As a last resort,” said Ellison. “No, I’ve got this party trick I do. If I’ve ever seen someone or a decent video of them, I can spot them again no matter what body they’re in.”
“Must be handy.”
“Not really. In real life, all anyone needs to do is pull up your profile. It’s one of those mostly useless superpowers, like being able to balance a spoon on your nose.”
“I’ve got one of those, too,” said Red. “I can hum and whistle at the same time.”
Ellison looked up at the hill. “Maybe we can wait for them to come down.”
“That could be hours, and it’s hot,” said Red, and started climbing. After a couple of minutes, he realized that Ellison wasn’t following.
He turned around and was surprised to see Ellison riding up on the back of a mule. “Where did you get…”
“Borrowed it in return for my contact info,” Ellison said with a wink.
“You traded sex for a mule?”
“Yes, aren’t I clever?” said Ellison. “I get sex, and I don’t have to walk up this hill.”
“Sounds like they got the short end.”
“Trust me, they’re definitely getting the long end,” said Ellison. “I am very very good in bed.”
“Actually, they’re getting the better end of the deal in more ways than one,” Ellison added, “since I expect to be dead in a few minutes, and they’ll have their mule back sooner than they expected.”
Red looked back at him, offended.
“No aspersion on your skills,” Ellison said. “It’s just that I’m bearing bad news, I’m afraid. People have a tendency to take things out on the messenger.”
“I’m surprised you’re not wearing armor then.”
“What can I say? I’m a lover, not a fighter. Besides, it would just slow me down.”
As they got closer to the top of the hill, the path got more crowded. The guard yelled, “Messenger coming through. Make way. Make way!”
Another group of fighters parted to let them through, but, at the top of the hill, the ones closest to the leader blocked the way.
At the top, Red stopped to catch his breath as Ellison hopped off the mule.
A group of fighters approached, swords raised, and Red straightened up and said, “He’s just a messenger, he’s unarmed.”
Ellison stepped forward, his arms up in the air, and spun around. Then he took the papers out and waved them around. “Just letters! The worst thing that’s going to happen is that someone gets a papercut!”
“Let him through,” barked their leader.
Ellison stepped through the ring of guards and glanced around.
“What have you got for me?” asked the leader.
“Oh, it’s not for you,” said Ellison, spotting his target.
He handed the paperwork to the man standing next to him, who took the roll of papers by reflex. “John Robins, you’ve been served.”
The men standing around Robins stepped back from him. “What did you do?” one swordsman asked in amusement. “Piss off an ex-wife?”
Ellison spun around and jumped back out through the row of fighters.
“Get that scoundrel!” Robins yelled.
Red drew his sword as Ellison ran up to him.
“Help me get out of here!”
“Rot in hell,” said Red. “You didn’t tell me you were a damnable process server.”
He stabbed Ellison through his stomach, leaving his sword embedded. “I thought you were someone respectable.”
Red then stepped away, empty hands raised. “I didn’t know who he was,” he told the other fighters. “You can have him.”
Ellison grabbed at the sword at his belly, blood pouring out over his hands.
“No, not my silk shirt,” he said, sinking to the ground.
“Off-world scum,” Red added, and spit on Ellison’s face.
John Robins fought his way through to Ellison.
“You just ruined my life, man,” he said and kicked Ellison in the side. “How did you find me? I paid extra for the highest privacy settings.”
“I have a particular knack for finding people,” Ellison said, coughing up blood.
“Swiver.” Robins kicked him again.
“You can change your name, you can change what you look like,” said Ellison. “But you can’t change who you are on the inside. And you, John Robins, are a snake on the inside. I can see it.”
Robins took out his sword.
“My. Name. Is. Prince. Consort. Gervase.” With each word, he chopped at Ellison’s neck.
Ellison tried to roll away, but the other fighters kicked him back.
“And you can just sard off,” Robins said, finally hacking through Ellison’s neck.
He and the other fighters then kicked the severed head around until they worked off their anger and finally got bored.
With a final kick, Robins sent the head spinning down the hill, eyes popped out, mouth frozen in an endless scream.
The head rolled and bounced down until it rested at the feet of Betty the dragon, waking her up.
She looked down at Ellison’s head and his dead eyes stared back at her.
She studied the head, first with one eye, then the other. She sniffed it. Then she chomped the head down with one loud bite and went back to sleep.