I've been wanting to post to the Fan Fiction area for quite some time, but have held off as my work in progress is not limited to Diablo, but mashes up several of my favorite games into one story. I hope this is still an enjoyable read, even if there are other fandom references contained within. The story of the Flaming Dumpsters concerns a clan within an immersive RPG's beta test. THE FLAMING DUMPSTERS Ch. 1 - Taste of Pain Watching someone being eviscerated was not how I expected to start my weekend. I had gone hunting with my crazy uncle a few times when I was little, so seeing a body ripped apart was not an alien experience. However, seeing it done so sloppy, with the only intent being to cause suffering, was what put me on edge. The human face only made it worse. Those eyes looked out to us, questioning what was happening. At the same time, the rest of the face twisted into an agonized expression to let us know we had done something terrible. The look on her face outweighed her screams. I would be haunted by the dying face of that poor woman. "And that is how you make the best of their exposed parts," said Istvan, kicking the woman over and pointing his axe to the massive wound between his victim's metal bra and plated girdle. "At least your armor isn't as lame as hers." He shot a smirk at the corrupt rogue at his feet. "That's horrible," I said, kneeling at the woman's side. She said something in a demonic tongue, and flailed her arms toward my face. "She's in so much pain." "She wouldn't care about your comfort," Istvan noted, picking up a sharpened stick with grime and blood coating its slick surface. "She'd have put this through you without wondering how it made you feel. Letting her get a taste of pain is all fair game, I'd say." "If you call this a game, I'd say you're sick." I grabbed for the woman's hands. She tried scratching me at first, then realized I was trying to comfort her, and let her clawed fingertips fall info the comforting restriction of my palms. I looked at her with as friendly a face as I could, which she returned with those bitter, questioning eyes. "That thing is just a stupid NPC," Istvan protested. He moved next to me, the bright red of his long coat taking up a good portion of my view. "But, if you're so worried about her suffering, why not do something about it?" He lowered the hilt of the crude spear into my view. I looked at the spear, then to Istvan's angry fist wrapped around it, then to the face of the suffering woman. Her gaze softened, but was still not friendly. She wanted something, and when we both looked to the spear, I put the pieces together. She wanted me to end her suffering. She muttered something in demonic hisses, as if saying a dark prayer and begging me for something with the last of her willpower. "May you find peaceful rest on the other side," I said, taking the spear into my hands and rising to my feet. I gave the woman's face one more look, and caught her both begging to me and thanking me. I closed my eyes after preparing to aim the strike for her heart. The metal bra left much of her chest exposed, giving me easy access to the cardiac muscle just inches away from the tip of the spear. I never knew what she looked like when I stabbed her. I only know that she I opened my eyes, her face was frozen in a pleased expression. "There isn't peace anywhere for NPCs," Istvan announced. "We just kill them and they keep coming. It must be nice to not have to worry about a Heaven or Hell. Just a brief sleep until the game code forces you back out in a recycled model." "I don't know what her name was," I said, closing her blood red eyes. "But I'm sure she had a name. She's so real." "Her name is sword holder, as far as I'm concerned," Istvan said. "And I've seen her before. There're only about six distinct models for the corrupt spear woman. I like killing this one because she reminds me of Katy Perry." "Rest in peace, Kate," I said, before taking a rag from the woman's sleeve to cover her face. "She may be based off a celebrity from our world, but for all I can tell, she's a real person here. She was just murdered, and she deserves our respect." The woman's killer regarded me with a cold grin. He was dressed in reds, from his bright red coat, to his red hat and crimson pants and boots. A white plume stuck into his wide-brimmed hat matched the long, white hair and beard that hung from his head. Pieces of bone and a small hatchet hung from his blood red leather belt. The battle axe in his right hand still dripped with Kate's blood. "Is this what you brought me here to do? Is this what you meant when you invited me into this beta for fun?" I looked around at our surroundings, an expanse of green grass littered with stones and boulders, as well as the occasional withered tree. "The Stony Field, in all its glory, here for us to experience in detail. Down to the murder or digital people?" Istvan's face grew frustrated. "How many rogues did you slaughter when you played Diablo in your PC? How many times did you think about their feelings, or name them Kate, or insist on treating their bodies with respect? Or did you just pick up the gold and loot, and just keep going to your next kill? Why should any of that change, just because we're in a mockup of the situation where you can see into the face of your enemy? I swear, playing a girl character is really getting to you, Aaron." "This has nothing to do with the gender of my avatar, Kevin," I snapped. "This woman suffered when you killed her just now. I could see it in her eyes. It was real. Even if her character model is just taken from a music video and she lives as code in a machine, someone programmed her to feel the pain you inflicted. Even if this is just some programmers riff on Diablo for the purpose of testing a game engine, this world is real to its inhabitants. Kate was dealing with her mortality." "I wish these were real people, especially the rogues modeled after Marissa Miller," Istvan snorted. "But like you said, some game programmer is just testing code. This is nothing more than a game. Much more immersive than a PC, and a lot better because of it. How easy is it to rush through a game environment, killing enemies, if you are unaware they're suffering? For me, this is better because it makes it more real. You should try it out. It's fun." "It's still an RPG, right?" I waited to watch Istvan nod. "Then I'll not kill humans. I'll interact with them to work for a peaceful solution. As for monster slaying, I'll take your word about it being fun, and slaughter every little demon that crosses my path." "I think you're insane, but if it works, how about getting some of the Miller clones to follow me to the tavern?" Istvan had a flicker of satisfaction in his eyes that he only had in the real world. Somehow, the game software was capturing the elements of his personality that relied on his facial movements. Even though his avatar looked like a middle-aged man, he still echoed the teenage face I was used to. "Only if you stop killing them," I agreed. "I supposed I'll have to in order to find out how fully functional and programmed in many techniques these rogues are," Istvan responded. He laughed at his own delivery, which sounded just like the android from TV he quoted. "And on the topic of role playing, how about we stop with the real world intrusion?" I put my arms akimbo, doing nothing to make myself threatening, despite my attempt. "No more talk of real names, celebrity or otherwise. And no more quoting Mr. Data. Agreed, Istvan?" "Agreed, Tigris," Istvan responded. A sonar beep sounded out over the two of us, drawing our attention to an incoming message. I wondered how much the beta programmer had ripped off from the real world as I realized I had heard the tone from my phone. A disembodied, raspy voice asked, "Has that geomancer joined yet?" "Yes," Istvan replied. "I was just briefing her on the game environment. A few test battles, to make sure she has the hang of things. We don't want any newbs turning our raid into a Leeroy disaster." The raspy voice asked, "Okay, is she ready?" "Just about," Istvan answered. "We'll head over there in a few minutes." "Good. Hurry." A bell tone played in reverse signaled the end of the audio chat session. "A red mage and a geomancer from Final Fantasy wander over to Tristram in Diablo," Istvan said. "This sounds like the setup to a joke. Especially when you think about the red mage being named after a Magic card, and the geomancer being named by a geography fanatic." "Enough of the real world notes," I growled. "Let's focus on the game ahead of us. Besides, let's be thankful the programmer didn't do a full force mashup. I'm glad there's cairn stones to get to our destination." "So you're saying you'd quit if we had to ride Chocobos to Tristram?" Istvan chuckled. "Yeah, I'd quit, too." We left Kate's body behind, and marched through the Stony Field toward the cairn stones in the distance. We encountered bodies of slain monsters and rogues along the way, as the main party had cleared them out ahead of us. The winds that swept through the fields carried the scent of death. Countless enemies had been killed in the name of adventure, and the nauseating smell left behind was enough to make my head spin, even if I had been around an uncle who hunted. The wind carried a sound when we approached the monoliths set in a ring formation. The bodies of demons on the ground had been dead for a long while, but something was stirring. "Something's wrong here," I said, listening to the faint sound of breathing. It was not something that was given a mortal wound. It was a predator trying to mask itself. "They're all dead," Istvan replied, walking to the nearest stone. He chanted a foreign word and touched the eight-foot-tall pillar of rock, and a blue rune carved into the surface glowed. "We'll be in Tristram soon. You can kill all the fallen ones and skeletons you want." "I swear, something's alive," I said, considering how detailed the game environment was as I filtered the sound of wind from the slow breaths of something nearby. There was no game experience that had forced me to judge the sounds of my environment. That was, until I entered the beta test. Things were much too real. I unsheathed my short sword and prepared for an attack. The weight of the weapon in my hand felt real. Amidst the tall stones with my friend beside me, I was glass I had a smaller weapon to use in the tight quarters. "There," Istvan said, making the fifth and final rune glow in the stones. "All set. Just stand back." The clouds above turned dark, and some of them shot lightning down into the center of the cairn stones. We were safe from the strikes, but they did come within feet of us, making me realize how dangerous an adventuring character's life could be. I didn't want to reach my hand out and test the lightning to see if it would hurt me or not, but the idea did cross my mind. How real was the game world? So real, I didn't want to mess with it. Energy bolts danced around the outside of the cairn as lightning continued to strike in the center. A sphere of red light formed a few feet off the ground, and expanded. I recognized the portal emerging before us, and thought it wise of the game designer to make it a temporary spell that had to be cast for each traveling group, rather than a stable teleport mechanism that could just be left open indefinitely. A fireball right into the small sphere caused the collecting lightning energy to explode outward. I raised my head from the ground and assessed that I had been sent flying, as I was outside the cairn stones. Istvan was nearby, also rising from being knocked away by the blast. My body burned, in what I assumed was pain inflicted by the energy of an exploding portal spell. My struggle to breathe without sending flashes of burning pain through my chest was noisy at best. My vision blurred, and I noticed my sword a few yards away from me. I don't remember which I figured out first: That there were two pairs of feet next to my sword, or that the commotion of my breathing was being drowned out by a battle cry from a half-dozen angry beings.