“Good evening, Parson. Don’t get up; you need your sleep. You’re a busy guy, so I thought I’d be considerate and contact you when you weren’t doing anything important. Don’t worry; you’ll still get all the refreshment benefits. This counts as a dream, mechanically. I’m nice like that. I want to show you something. I’ll explain it in a minute, but first, I want to do a soliloquy. Humour me, okay?”
Grainy, pixellated video footage appeared. There was a row of tables laden with vague pink-cream objects, hard to make out with the poor quality. What looked like a small blonde girl in an apron was bent over one, doing something with her hands. Two Archons, to judge by their blue glows, floated at the far end of the room. From their body language, they seemed to be putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the girl.
“Ever since Spacerock, I’ve realised something. You’re the hero in this story, aren’t you? Only a hero would go charging into danger like that. Me, I’d never do that sort of thing. Most wouldn’t. I value my own life too much, and then there’s the fact that it wouldn’t even help. I’m not a swashbuckler; I wouldn’t add to a fight. Even aside from the fact that I’m a Ruler.
“The interesting thing is that it didn’t really help you either, but you still did it. You could have promoted someone on the field to Chief, had your Dirtamancer craft golems and send them in … that’s against Magic Kingdom laws, of course, but you don’t care too much about those at the best of times. Instead, you went in person.
“You put your own life on the line to help your friends, so you must be the hero. Or at least, the story thinks you are. And that makes me the villain, so of course we’ve got to fight. This wouldn’t bother me too much. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened. That’s just business. And I’d take you out like it was business. There’s just one problem. You’re the Perfect Warlord.
“Stanley wants every Ruler in the world to kneel to him. Wanda wants to murder and personally mind control everyone. Now, that’s business too; you meet people like them every day. They’ll be stopped by some coalition of good guys sooner or later, so I don’t need to get too worked up over them, Arkentools or no. But you … you want to break the world. Destroy everything. And you’re good enough that you could pull it off, too. But I won’t let that happen. No matter what, I will stop you.
“That all sounded pretty cool in my head, but I bet you weren’t too impressed. Blah blah villainous posturing blah, nothing you didn’t hear when you murdered Ansom or Slately. You’ve probably already forgotten what I said. So here’s some new information you might remember.”
The video abruptly came into sharp focus. It still took him a while to figure out what exactly the pink-and-cream things were, or rather what they had been. Despite the perfect resolution, they didn’t look like anything he’d ever seen before. Even though he’d seen dismembered humans in his two battles, there’d never been anything remotely like this; in particular, none of them had been still moving. The revolted, haunted expressions on the Archons’ faces, those didn’t look quite like anything he’d ever seen before, either.
“I’m sure you’ve figured this out already, but those are Decrypted. A third party who will remain nameless managed to capture a patrol; they’d heard on the grapevine that I was offering bounties on decrypted captives, and the rest is history. As you can see, they’re not dusting: they’re still alive, inasmuch as decrypted ever are, in spite of … all that. The girl’s a Healomancer, by the way. She’s from a defunct side that was censured for … well, that’s a whole other story. I don’t like having her here, for any number of reasons, but she’s indispensable, a true genius. She’s hands down – pun not intended – the best there is at what she does.
“As a hero, Parson, how does that make you feel? Angry? Filled with even more DETERMINATION to beat me? It shouldn’t, not if you really are the hero. It should make you give up. You can’t pin this war and its casualties on me. You’ve been at war nonstop since you got here; if it weren’t me, it’d be someone else. It’s not her fault either; I’d get someone else to do it if she refused. I don’t like her methods, but a Perfect Warlord bent on world conquest, backed by two Arkentools? I have no choice; to stand a chance of stopping that, I need every advantage I can get, especially knowledge of the Decrypted. I don’t even blame Wanda. You’re a real piece of work, aren’t you? To you, everything down to the harvesting rules is a weapon of conquest and destruction. You don’t need decryption to be an existential threat. It just makes things easier.
“No. The only reason, only common thread, only culprit, to every unspeakable thing done to stop you, is you. You’re not the hero, Parson. You’re not even the villain. You’re a complete monster.
“If you like to think you really are the hero, though? You do have the power to end all this. You can stop every single awful thing happening right now, done by every person in the world united only in their desire to stop you. Forget your Fate. Bow out. Leave this world. Your friends will be fine. I’ll even put them under my own personal protection. All you have to do is stop.
“If it makes the decision easier, I have full footage of everything she’s done so far. Audio too: high-def sound effects, plus she loves to chatter while she works. You could try to wake up, if you don’t want to watch it, but if you can’t even do that, how do you think the people formerly under your command feel living it? Well, that’s all from me. Sweet dreams, Parson.”
Breaking speeches are fun.
Self-cross-promotion: I’ve started an original story here. If you like my writing style, check it out. That one’s a little unorthodox, but I’m assured it grows on you.
(NOTE: This user was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post.)
I can't decide if it's scarier if Charlie could actually pull off psy ops like this, or if Parson's subconscious inflicted this on himself, pulling from bits of history he heard or read and his own fears.
Having read Worm since your Ethereum, I have to say your portrayal of the genius Healomancer referred to again here was spot on. I think I saw more of her potential because of what you showed she'd do in Erfworld.
Charlie probably could. Dreams are connected to Thinkamancy, and this is basically just a Thinkagram that exploits the recipient's reduced ability to fight back.
The point is that it's a medium where Parson can't respond, so Charlie has a nice long time to enumerate all the reasons he sucks, and hopefully at least one argument sticks, but since you ask:
"The reason you're the villain isn't that you tried to kill me. You're the villain because you're an asshole. You whore out your own devoted followers before sending them to die in wars that you fabricated in the first place. You treat everyone like pawns in some sick game and screw over your clients -- no, not clients, your allies -- for a few shmuckers here and there.You're so far gone, you can't even tell the difference between war for stupid ideals about who should be in charge, war for personal profit, and war to achieve world peace. Killing people now -- yeah, I don't like it, but if it's the price of a happy ending forever, it's worth it. But you, you could have made peace a million turns ago; the only reason you didn't is that it wouldn't have made you money. Everything following that is on you, and if you pull shit like whatever that thing is, that just means there's no way I can give up."
"You seem pretty knowledgeable, so riddle me this: why exactly would I need money if the world were at peace? Why would I go to all the trouble of maintaining a worldwide mercenary side if I could just solve Erfworld in a few turns and retire forever with a harem of Archons?"
"I'm sure you've been playing mock battles with toy soldiers and casters, and maybe you think you've found a way to pull it off, but how much do you really know about how the world works? Have you systematically hired multiple casters of every discipline, linked with every possible combination, and explored further with Arkentools and equipment you had to design and craft yourself, all to uncover every detail of how magic works? Have you made an exhaustive bestiary of all unit types, completed your world map, documented every city and artefact? I have. And that puts me in a unique position to say ...
"... no. There is no way to achieve true peace on Erf. It's truly, literally, physically impossible. So at the end of the turn, all you've done is fixated on a notion of moral superiority in order to convince yourself you're not just a flunky to a pair of butchers, responsible for the premature deaths of ten thousand thinking, feeling units for no reason at all except that it was convenient to you. And that's fine! Whatever makes you happy, champ. But it doesn't change the fact that you're a rabid dog who'll kill a million more if I don't stop you. So let me know if ever you want a copy of that scroll. Until then, happy watching."
I also thought it was an update. We've been twolled.
"Good evening, Tools. Don’t get up; you need your sleep. You’re busy, so I thought I’d be considerate and contact you when you weren’t doing anything important. Don’t worry; you’ll still get all the enjoyment benefits. This counts as an update, mechanically. I’m nice like that.”
1- A lot of this argument hinges on whatever Bonesaw is doing to the decrytped, which I guess is left up to the reader's imagination. Even then, I don't know if it reveals anything fundamental about the Decrypted and how much of "themselves" they are, and how much of what a demented high-level Healomancer could do.
2- Charlie's motivations matter some, I suppose. He does seem to like gathering up wealth and power, which seems to be a lot about ego. The adulation of the Archons seems to be about ego. As is outsmarting sides and such.
2a- BUT- He claimed to have been fighting the most existential threat to Erfworld's existence when he took out The Jester hiding inside of Jillian. If there is indeed some sort of ultra Shadow C'thulu out there that Charlie has been holding off, that changes the calculus a bit.
2b- I can hesitantly imagine an endgame where Charlie ISN'T the big bad, and there is some much Bigger, Much Badder super-Cthulu that took out the Titans. And the Tools and the Perfect Warlord spell that can reach outside of reality to bring in tacticians could be some kind of failsafe the Titans made before they were killed by the Shadow.
2c- Which could mean that "The Arkentools are fated to be brought together" could really mean that the Attuned become something like the Four Heroes of Legend who unite to bring Erfworld's combined power to stop the Big Bad. Charlie, although he has his flaws, would be quite powerful at administrating a Global Alliance Against C'thulus. Wanda could raise vast armies of Decrypted, Charlie could do intelligence and logisttics, Stanley could perhaps empower them, or just be a powerful front man for the band. If the Shoes ever come back I guess they'd be like, scouting and high speed manuevers.
3- It's hard to say what Charlie's total sins are. The crushing and betraying sides for profit is bad, but it might be that's what people are SUPPOSED to do in the world. The Titan's Will isn't clear. Maybe it's a puzzle meant to be solved, a test of sorts. Maybe the Titans just like watching violence. Maybe it's meant to generate interesting stories.
3b- If Erfworld is a machine with a purpose, Charlie has been unbalancing it a lot. He's been storing up so much cash it's breaking the flow of the world. Tapping his portal for power has been unbalancing the flow of Juice. It could be that doing that bends the will of Fate to try and auto-correct. I kind of see Perfect Warlord as fate starts sending guided missiles after any entity that bends Fate too much. Charlie can complain that Parson is an asshole, but guided missiles are supposed to be. Fate may well select the warlords most likely to be able to remove the cancer. If Parson fails, Fate will probably learn from how far Parson got and select someone even more likely to succeed next time. I can't remember all the details from Peace by Superior Firepower, but there was at least one other guided missile sent after somebody for some reason and Charlie was involved.
4- It's hard to say if Erfworld's suffering and chaos have been increased or decreased on the whole by Charlie. He has caused some croaking and such, but could he make the case that on the whole he's been a net stabilizing force? Has he improved or reduced the average quality of life for the most amount of units or not? With the 'Dish, he'd be better equipped to add up those numbers than most- but also to lie about them. He doesn't seem like the kind who has done a ton of introspection about his net effect into the happiness and well-being of the whole world.
5- I don't know what Parson's endgame, but I am hoping it is something like "Democracy for Erfworld- every unit becomes an autonomous side and we use the Tools to remake things enough so that people don't starve and disband right away." That's breaking the world, yes, and in a way it's "cultural interference" in that it changes everyone's way of life. But that way of life includes literally being enslaved through magic to your Ruler, who can literally end your existence and compel you with magic mind control to do almost anything. There really isn't a ton of consent implicit in that system. And if the system says it's OK to do whatever you want, including enslaving people, if you have enough force, then it seems like it's OK to break the entire world and replace it with one with more choice, if you can gather up enough force. If Might Makes Right, then getting enough Might to break the world into something more democratic is as fair as any other move.
If Wanda could Decrypt the entire world, and Decrypted really are still sentient entities effectively their old selves, (they regularly assert that the are, although Wanda could be forcing them to do that to maintain her need to see herself as a good person), then that could really be a peaceful endgame. With no upkeep, the number one justification for war- that the economy is tilted so that sides have to occasionally "eat" other sides to pay the bills, goes away.
If the entire world is Decrypted, the entire world has zero upkeep. And almost by definition, they're pretty much all one one big Side. Certainly, they don't HAVE to fight anymore.
At that point, they're free to... whatever the want really. Sports? Art? Music? Dancing? Sex? Eating for fun? Architecture? Exploring the entire world? Researching all the things nobody has researched? Trying to build a spaceship and see if Erfworlders can go to other planets?
It isn't clear if the Decrypted are ageless, but with no Upkeep, they might bypass the usual rules about Signamancy advancing and aging.
If they aren't mindless slaves, a Decrypted World could really be a Utopia.
If they ARE mindless slaves, then a totally Decrypted world would basically be a tomb world with one living caster, Wanda.
In a game about fighting like say, Diablo, reaching level 99 is almost death. There's almost no reason to do anything anymore. "If I can't fight, what's the point?" Erfworld does kind of seem to be built in that vein.
But then again, there may well be a lot more mechanics than the army combat.
If there is a balanced endgame, Erfworld could just turn into Minecraft- a nearly limitless game that is now about building whatever your imagination desires.
@Twofer: That was a nice addendum in the comments. I like how Charlie derails the conversation from the central points Parson made (whoring out Archons, fabricating wars, screwing over clients, just to make more and more money).
As for his riddle: Aside from the fact that he could just ask the Hippimancers about that, what would I do if I had all the money I wanted is this: I would simply do things I like, but they'd be good things, no wars or rape or other BS. Life is not boring without warring. We tried to convert war into friendly competition like the Olympics ages ago. Also a good-guy Charlie might be able to hire some transfused Thinkers to hopefully get his body up and running again (or maybe transfuse his soul into another body). Then he can fly the kite, kick the football and ask the girl out. :-)
This is really well-written, but I disagree with Charlie's central argument here, and any form this argument takes in any fiction. The argument is that "the protagonist is morally responsible for any evil his enemies do, because these are a response to the protagonist's own actions."
Any choices Charlie, or any antagonist make, are ultimately their own choices. Charlie here claims that torturing Decrypted is to stop Parson, but it isn't his only, or even his most effective, option. There's no real argument that his hand is forced to torture; he might be forced to fight Parson to survive, but there's no tangible benefit to torturing the Decrypted here that can't be gained in other ways. It doesn't reduce the effectiveness of Gobwin Knob, it doesn't give him usable advantages over other Decrypted, it doesn't sway any other sides away from GK. It happens only to hurt Parson, and if that is the only goal, there are dozens of other options. The only person responsible for Charlie choosing to torture the Decrypted is Charlie himself.
You might argue that the interesting device here is that despite the moral responsibility being Charlie's, Parson will believe that it's his because that's the kind of protagonist he is. I disagree with that. Parson is the kind of protagonist who takes every loss personally, but he's also the kind of person who can recognize a situation he has no control over. He knows when there was ultimately nothing he could have done better, and he doesn't agonize over those decisions. Charlie offers the the supposed better choice Parson could make - to stop trying to conquer Erfworld and fighting Charlescomm in particular - but that isn't really a better choice, because it doesn't stop Charlie from hurting other people, it just redirects him to hurting other sides in Erfworld that your audience doesn't care about. Parson's made it clear that his real problem with Charlie is how Charlie treats Erfworld like a game, like he has no moral responsibility and can do whatever's most convenient, so any option that leaves Charlie free to continue what he's doing - the option Charlie offers, to stop fighting and leave him alone - cannot be his best choice.
So ultimately, while I think you wrote it well and I enjoyed the read, I think your premise is wrong. I don't think Parson is responsible for this, and I don't think Parson would think that either.
From the standpoint of a logical argument, I don't think what Chaz says here makes a lot of sense. "Lots of people have done bad things in response to what you are doing, so you are responsible for all that." Uh-huh. That's what the Darkness does, mate. It makes trouble and tries to kill off any growing green thing before the new sapling reaches its maturity and strength. "Aphids suck, so let's stop planting gardens" is not the right answer.
But as short-sighted as he may be, Charlie is not an idiot in pursuing his short-term goals. I don't think his short-term goal here is to make a valid argument. I think his short-term goal is to disturb Parson on an emotional level by appealing to his sense of guilt and excessive scrupulosity. And by planting exceedingly disturbing images of something being done to someone whom Parson does love -- units under his command -- in order to function as a sort of giant exclamation point put at the end of that appeal to Parson's own (irrational) negative emotions.
To that end, it's possible that this will work. It's also possible that it will just make Parson angrier, more determined, and more focused than ever so as to rid the world of the blight that is Charlie. Of course, I say that, though I personally think that Charlie is redeemable.
Re: the linked story (Library/Craft):
It's an interesting story so far. I would just warn you to be careful of nesting too many mystery boxes within each other.
You start out the story in such a way that the reader is asking questions about what's going on, which is good. However, when you transitioned to Part Two of the story, you left most of the biggest questions unanswered and just added a new layer to the mystery.
All of this is fine, so far. However, if you keep adding layers, it may become a problem in the future.
Stories should have a flow of tension and release, of build-up and resolution. The more you tease answers to the big questions, the more you build up your audience's expectations of what the reveal is going to be. By not offering resolution at the end of Part One, you've effectively doubled how awesome the reveal will need to be, in order to not feel like a let-down.
As I've said, you're not in the Lost Zone yet, where no explanation could possibly suffice, but... just be careful not to build up the tension for your reveal to be too much higher than the reveal itself can justify.
Keep it up, and I look forward to seeing what you have in store for these characters in the future!
Thanks again, everyone!
@Tuck, Wes, etc: Interesting that it's divisive. In the forum thread complaining about skips, one or two people suggested plugging the gaps with fanfic, and I had the impression that was a popular idea.
@Shane, Crab, etc:
There is (probably) legitimate advantage in dissecting the Decrypted. Charlie got some information from his work on Lilith, but the Dish doesn't seem to have any affinity for Healomancy, and there are Healomantic questions to ask. ("Why do decrypted get fully regenerated even though uncroaked don't, both on reanimation and at start-of-turn? Why don't they decay but uncroaked do?") The answers could be very valuable.
Critical and Squall are right. Charlie isn't trying to be entirely honest here; he's making an emotional attack and stiffening it with enough truth to make it hit hard and be tricky to refute, especially from Parson's limited perspective. Maybe Charlie's only in it for the lulz of screwing others over, and peace on Erf really is possible, and short-term sacrifice is worth it to bring it about; but Parson can't prove any of that. What can he say, "I can't think of a viable model for peace, and the Hippies haven't given me a blueprint, but I'm going to kill you anyway on the unfalsifiable assumption that you're lying about it being impossible and I'll be able to come up with one later"?
@Nime: Thanks for that! I want the arcs to resolve themselves into separate-ish events, so their mysteries aren't too tightly interdependent, but you're right, I should be more careful about expressing that.
Hey! Thanks for reading and responding to my feedback. I just want to point out that I think you're joining the question of whether peace on Erf is possible, and whether fighting Charlie is "a good thing." In your previous response, and in the original post, you fixated on the idea that if peace is impossible, than fighting Charlie is pointless, that there's no long term gain that offsets all the short-term losses. And I don't agree with that, either; even if we say that a completely peaceful Erfworld is impossible, I still think that as you're writing him, an Erfworld without Charlie is still worth the sacrifices that takes. He's a mercenary who creates wars to profit off of them, and is a large-scale enabler of the never-ending fighting that characterizes Erfworld. I think that his being killed or changing fundamentally is necessary for a peaceful Erfworld, but not that the possibility of a perfectly peaceful Erfworld is necessary to justify his being killed; I think his own actions are more than sufficient justification. And obviously some part of my interpretation is based on my own thoughts, but I think Parson would agree that world peace isn't the only reason to stop Charlie, and it's not all pointless the moment it turns out peace was never possible.
Still a good read, though. Everything I wrote has probably come across fairly critical; I just want to say that I only have so much to say about it because I liked it.