As if the grandeur of the house wasn’t enough to overwhelm Felix, he was bombarded with a new aspect as soon as he set foot into the massive library. Floor to ceiling shelves of original, leather bounded books with gold script and spine completely surrounded the area in the middle where a single, round table housed a map that was too big, it fell off its edges. Great, embossed chairs stained with looks of antiquity were dotted around the library. It was the absolute perfect place for quietude.
The gamer was too focused on eating as much of the eye candy as he could to notice the man scrutinizing the map in the center of everything. He had charcoal colored hair and wore a dark blue-gray tailcoat that was open to show off his deep black vest. He was very well dressed for not seeing people on a regular basis. As the rest of them stopped to greet the man, Felix almost bumped them over to play a game of human dominoes.
“’Allos, Martin,” Stephano said. Martin’s only response was a nod of the head. “… We have brought Pewdie.”
With emerald eyes filled with ennui, he turned to them for the first time in days. “Ah, yes. Felix Kjellburg. Welcome.” Martin rolled his eyes and turned back to his work, never being one to talk much.
Stephano cleared his throat and stepped closer, apparently bursting the imaginary bubble around Martin that stood a full arm’s width in diameter. “Because you are the record keeping Intellect of the group, perhaps you could brief Pewdie on everything.”
Martin scoffed, moving to the other side of the room toward the fat bookcase pushed against the wall. “Well, you’re going to need to be more specific than that,” he said, scanning the titles for answers to any sort of question. Ah, books were amazing.
Felix thought for a moment before realizing he actually needed to ask a question. “Umm… well you can start with ‘What is all of this?’”
Martin rolled his eyes. “This is a library. Filled with books.”
Everyone else in the room facepalmed.
“Well, I don’t know how to start!” he said, looking bashful. “There are so many things I could ask.”
Stephano decided to give Felix a little push in the right direction. “Let’s first explain the basics,” he said with a slight smile. “You don’t even know who we are.”
Felix blinked at the lot. “But… I thought…”
Martin sighed. “It seems you are as lost,” he murmured, leaning his back on the spines of books. “Of course there’s more to us than what meets the eye.” He then turned his back to them once more, getting a stepladder from the front of the room and using it to get a high up book for Felix. “Here’s a book I found on the classes and elements of each.”
The gamer attempted to catch the book, but it fell to the ground.
“Sorry…” He picked the leather bound book that looked fairly new and opened to the first page. Immediately he closed it. “What is this? I can’t read something like this. Just…” he sighed. “Explain this to me.” He held up the book to Martin to put it back into place.
Instead, the elder man (who didn’t really look that old, maybe in his early 30s) held it to his chest as he stepped down and relaxed. “I suppose I could try to dumb things down to your level,” he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Anyway,” Martin waved off. “For starters, there are seven classes that have forced themselves upon everyone, including every one of us. That means you, Felix.” He gave a foreboding look to the gamer before looking away to think. “We are still researching the classes, however. Although, you would be considered to be in the class of Intellect, or normal humans. We don’t have any sort of special abilities but our minds. Advanced reason and problem solving skills is what makes us vital to the team. I don’t know where the magic went wrong with you, but you don’t fit into any other class.”
Felix thought it over. “… Okay, I’m still just a human. Good. Now what about the others?” He gestured to Stephano, Mr. Chair, and Mr. Piggeh, who were all chatting lightly with one another and drawing pictures in the gray carpet with the tips of their shoes.
Martin hardly hesitated. “The other six classes, Metal, Fire, Earth, Wood, Air, and Water, all correspond with what we are and our personality generalizations, which have been seen in past generations. Take Stephano for example. He is a Fire, because he is a Swordsman.”
Felix scratched his neck. “How do you assume that? Besides being a swordsman, that is obvious.”
“Fire corresponds with Swordsmen because they always have the energy to fight long and tedious battles with swords they can only use with the power of their souls to generate how much damage it can do, and never give up. They are stubborn and leader-like by nature. They dislike being alone and often belittle others to make them feel superior.”
Felix listened intently to the description, which was rare for him. “I guess that makes sense?” “Alright, I admit that that sounds a lot like Stephano,” he said. “What about the others?”
Martin thought for a bit. “Piggeh is in the Metal class, or a Gunner. People in the Metal class are hardy and unbendable, like their pistols in which they are able to send parts of their soul through, like bullets. They are fast healers though, and have more than enough spirit to share. They often hide under a façade, which is completely the opposite of what they really feel. This most likely leads them to be promiscuous and seemingly unfaithful, even though when it comes down to it, they make great friends and a great pick-me-up too.
Mr. Chair is in the Earth class, or an Alchemist. Alchemists are similar to Mages, which I’ll get to later. They often have a large range of personalities, but are always weak muscled and loyal to the very end. They live for justice, and nothing will stop them from saving a comrade. They don’t lust after anyone, as they have intelligence only bested by an Intellect, like me. They are quick on their feet and hands, always ready to transmute something into another of equal value, like air into fire or lightning, or grass into bread. I don’t recommend the bread though, it tastes horrible. At least Mr. Chair's does.”
Felix paused, trying to take in so much information. “… Piggeh, Gunner… Mr. Chair, Alchemist. Got it.”
Martin sighed. “There’s more. The other four classes. I’ve already told you about Fire, Earth, Metal, and Intellect…”
He was starting to lose Felix.
“… Wood is the element of the barrels. They are rambunctious and hasty, revolting and unkind. They have terrible temper that leads them to do terrible things, and they are always drunk for reasons unknown to us…”
Felix turned around and went to leave. Martin didn’t notice, he was in his own world.
“… Mages have the element of Air. This comes from the way they can make things out of thin air. Mages are often bratty and self-righteous, only thinking about themselves and no others. They also like big spaces for themselves, at least Torchy does…”
The door slammed shut as each of them except for Martin left.
“… Water is the element for the Grunts, Brutes, and Kaernks. As of yet, Brutes are the worst monster you will encounter. However, they are very few. Therefore, Kaernks take place as the biggest threat, as half of the lower part of Brennenburg Castle is filled with water. Also, all of them are becoming much more intelligent than their usual selves due to the magic. They still aren’t a match for us because you have me, but you’ll see that you can be found out much more easily than before. Any questions?”
He finally looked around the library. Seeing the others completely ditched him in the middle of his speech, he sighed. “Damn. Nobody listens to me,” he groaned, getting back to his work on the map. It was long and tedious, trying to find the areas that had no magic without actually going there, but he was making progress. All he needed was to find them, and the Barrel Army would be theirs.
“Well, that was a bummer,” Piggeh sighed as they all walked back into the living area. “The man doesn’t know how to seduce like I do,” He folded his hands behind his neck, zen as always, and let himself fall to the couch.
“Yeah,” Stephano rolled his eyes at his partner. “He doesn’t know how to meet your level of crazy, too.”
“Hey, I take that as a compliment.”
As the two dysfunctional friends bickered yet again and the poor, kind Mr. Chair tried his best to keep it clean, Felix laid back on the wall next to a small table with a pure white pot on it. “After everything, Martin still didn’t answer my questions…”
“G-guys, please,” Mr. Chair begged. “Please stop.”
“Not until Goldilocks here takes back what he said!” Piggeh stated, tackling the raging Stephano back.
Felix Could only raise an eyebrow at them. “They don’t get along well, do they?” he asked Mr. Chair, who had just decided to give up and let them battle out their problems.
“They don’t. I think it’s because Stephano is afraid of being seen as weak, and with Piggeh’s flirting, it makes him look submissive if he gives in.” Mr. Chair fixed his glasses, the light catching them. “I don’t care though. No matter what, we’re still friends. Piggeh is just a pervert, is all, and Stephano needs to learn to live with that.”
Felix stared at the fighting two until they have been reduced to lightly wrestling each other on the floor. “… I’m sorry,” he said. Watching the two beat each other up again was bringing back memories about whenever he would make Stephano and Piggeh would meet, no matter how rare.
“Come on, you can’t say you’re not interested,” Piggeh said, eyeballing the small golden statue that fit in the player’s palm. He was so much bigger than the older persona, as he was a fully grown adult swine; a half eaten one, at that.
The small statue that wasn’t nearly as tall as a baseball stared back in horror. “Get away from me, you crazy!” Stephano shook. If he was mobile, then he would run, or at least hit the porker on the head. Or maybe make a few more gashes in the thick pig flesh with his tiny golden sword.
Piggeh chuckled. “You don’t like my butt?” he asked, to Stephano’s horror. “You know, there are a lot of people who died for this butt…”
Mr. Chair shook his head. “It’s not your fault, no matter what they do,” he said lightly. “You didn’t know this would ever happen. We never knew this would happen.”
The punches died down to caresses and when the two collected themselves, they shared a short laugh and helped each other up. This was what always happened. They were dysfunctional and prone to fights, but friends protected and cared for each other in the end.
Mr. Chair smiled in relief. “Now that you two have gotten your tension out, I think Pewdie is still kind of… um…”
Felix raised a brow at Piggeh. “Curious,” he confirmed. “God, Piggeh. Why are you so—“
Stephano elbowed him. “Annoying?”
Mr. Chair lost track of the conversation and started to walk toward the door to the basement. It was a crude metal door that was between two bookcases, so it didn’t attract too much attention from the homey feel of everything. “Follow me, Pewdie,” he said, and the others started to follow.
The loud banging of soft knocking echoed throughout the lower floor. “He always locks the door, that Torchy,” Piggeh said from right behind Felix. “Probably knows what I’ll do to him in the night.”
Loud footsteps reverberated outwards before the basement door was unlocked three times and opened from the inside. The person who opened the door was rather small, looking only fifteen years old. He had flaming orange hair that nearly hid his golden eyes with a small cowlick to the side. Torchy wore a yellow dress shirt and a hot red tie over it. On his face, he wore a look of sweet innocence that brought a warm glow to them. “What is it?” he asked, voice boyish and unedged.
“Torchy,” Stephano said. “Since you give the best advice that doesn’t involve an entire history lesson from Martin, we’re passing Pewdie on to you.” Placing a hand on Felix’s mid-back, he pushed him forward toward the darkness in the basement. The boy moved out of the way so the metal mesh stairs could accommodate both of them. “Good luck, and try not to confuse him too much.”
Felix gripped the rail tightly so he didn’t fall down on his face. “I’ll take good care of him, Stephano,” Torchy said in light spirits, taking his hand and pulling him down with him. The other three closed the door and returned to whatever they wanted to do.
The gamer followed the boy as he lit up the candles and chandeliers with a wave of his hand. “Wait…” he said. “How did you…?”
“I’m a Mage,” Torchy said simply. “You would think I would be a swordsman like Stephano, but without the air, I wouldn’t be able to burn.” He let go of Felix’s sleeve and sat on a wooden box in the middle of a storagelike area. The entire place was filled with trinkets and antiques that no longer had a purpose. Despite the dim candles that flickered every which way, the room was still rather dark. Half of the boxes were covered with cloth. The other half were opened or just waiting to be violated. “Have a seat.”
Slowly and cautiously, Felix sat down on a box across from the boy. “Will you answer me without all the excess details, and not lie?” he asked.
Torchy nodded with a slight smile, crossing his legs and placing his chin on two folded hands. “Ask away.”
Felix thought for a long and hard moment. “What would be good enough?” he thought. “How should I start?” “Well, how about you tell me what’s going on?” he asked.
Torchy sighed. “Only straight questions get straight answers, you know,” he mused. “You have to be more specific.”
“Well, how about ‘why am I here?’”
The youth smirked in the dim ambiance. “You are here because we need you here. To help us defeat the new and improved Barrels and monsters, like the Grunts and Kaernks.”
“But I don’t understand why you need me,” Felix said, leaning forward with interest. “I can’t do anything special.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Torchy chuckled triumphantly. “You have something that we don’t. Or rather, you don’t have something we have.”
“What is it?”
“A second form.” Torchy was speaking as if it was obvious. “I’m guessing Mr. Chair already told you that there are some areas where there is no magic and they must be kept in a stable condition, otherwise they transform into spirits involuntarily?”
Felix thought back to that morning. “… Oh yeah, he did say something like that.”
Torchy nodded in an understanding manner. “Anything else?”
“… How did I get here?”
“Mr. Chair’s Philosopher’s Stone.” The redhead paused, seemingly not knowing exactly where to progress. “… A Philosopher’s Stone is able to bring anything without any cost. Nothing goes in, anything you want comes out. You’re lucky you came here in a full piece, because it was Mr. Chair’s first time doing such a huge transmutation. The stone even broke after you arrived. It turned obsolete.”
“How come you all couldn’t just get me and bring me to this place?” Felix asked with increasing anger.
“It would have been overwhelming for you to suddenly be thrust into our lives of danger,” Torchy said almost robotically, as if he was anticipating such a question. “And if you were awake when we found you, you would also draw a lot of attention to the more intelligent Grunts. They would have found you the instant you started to make conversation and ask questions. That would have made things so much more difficult for everyone if you suddenly didn’t come back alive.”
The adult gamer stared at his bro, then sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“We did leave you notes you know.”
“I know.” He could never forget the letter Piggeh left for him.
Torchy got off of his box and started to walk toward the stairs, waving for his senior to follow. “Well, if you don’t have any more questions, you should leave—“
“Wait,” Felix got up from his box and stood a full foot above the other. He started to walk up the stairs, despite him wanting to talk more. “One last question. How did all of this get started?”
Torchy blinked at the man. He had promised not to lie to him, to answer him straight. But straight questions only get straight answers. "A seed,” he simply said before forcefully pushing his master out of the basement and back into the living room, locking the door three times behind him. The sound of footfalls descending the staircase resounded before finally falling silent.
Mr. Chair looked up from his book, fixing his glasses that fell to the tip of his button nose. “Hello, Pewdie,” he said happily, not moving from his seat next to Piggeh on the loveseat. “How did it go?”
Felix sat on the arm of the seat. “Not so well. Torchy didn’t really answer my last question.”
The brunette absentmindedly pet Piggeh’s hair, who had evidently fallen asleep on his lap. “Such soft hair for a pig…” “Oh? He didn’t? That’s strange. What did you ask?” He closed the book shut and set it on his lap, looking cheeky up at Felix.
“I asked him how all this got started,” he answered. “Like, why everything is this way and stuff.”
Mr. Chair shrugged and relaxed into the cushions. “We don’t even know, so I guess that’s why he couldn’t give you a straight answer. Because he didn’t know.”
Felix shrugged and looked over to Stephano, who also decided to doze off on a recliner some distance away. “… Ah, fuck me,” he said to himself. “I have another question I didn’t get to ask him.”
His friend cocked his head. “What is it?”
“Well, you see,” the human started, waving his hands in front of him, trying to convey his thoughts. “Right before I remember waking up and talking to you for the first time in person, there was this group of things that attacked me. They weren’t monsters, that’s for sure. The one who attacked me had these… angry amber eyes… But that’s all I remember about them.”
Mr. Chair stared at him, thinking. “Amber… eyes…?” he asked. Felix nodded. “And… a bone sword wound…” He gasped to himself in great realization and got up in a sudden movement that instantly woke up the snoozing pig. “Stephano, wake up!”
The golden man snorted and slowly looked toward his comrade with dull coals. “What is it?” he murmured, stretching his arms in front of him.
“A bone sword and amber eyes!” Mr. Chair said excitedly. “Put these two things together, and what do we have?”
“A fire?” Piggeh asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. “An oracle fire?”
“No,” the Alchemist giggled. “Remember? He was your second worst enemy, Stephano.”
Said statue sat up and rubbed his face awake. “Second…?” he thought. His eyes opened wide as he remembered all those features: midnight blue hair mostly hidden by a skull hat, garments that resembled perfectly a skeleton in the dark, and those same amber eyes that always directed every ounce of hate and scorn at him. “Oh, no,” he moaned. “Not him again! Anything but him!”
“But, it’s not just him,” Mr. Chair elaborated with growing excitement. “Pewdie said a group! A group! And they weren’t monsters! This is an amazing discovery, Pewdie!”
Felix rubbed the back of his neck with an awkward look on his face. “What the hell is he even talking about?”
Mr. Chair continued his dance around the room, going from person to person, trying to make them feel as enthusiastic as he felt. “I can’t believe it,” he laughed. “I might actually be reunited with my brother!”
“Now, hold on a second,” Stephano said, standing up to meet the younger’s height. “What makes you think that Mayo is traveling with them? He could be missing, or worse, dead. Now, I’m sorry I put those images in your mind, but we need to think reasonably here.”
Mr. Chair paused, biting his lip. “B-but… I think it’s worth it,” he said defiantly. “Even if we have to house your rival, Mayo is still a child… should still be a child… and I don’t want him to grow up without a good influence. I don’t want him to become like Red!” He glared into Stephano’s unchanging eyes, keeping his point.
The elder sighed deeply. “You’re asking for too much,” he said. “We cannot deal with them, do you hear me?”
The Alchemist looked up, crocodile tears forming behind his glasses. “B-but why? I just want to protect my baby brother…”
Stephano looked sadly into his emerald eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, placing both hands on Mr. Chair’s shoulders. “But some of us just don’t share your opinion.”
“Wait a minute,” Piggeh said, waving his hands and getting up to meet his companions. “Personally, I couldn’t care whether we live with Mayo or not. It doesn’t make a difference to me.” He paused, bouncing his pointer finger at them. “… But, I can tell you now that when Mr. Chair is unhappy, our performance suffers greatly. Plus, it just decreases my chances of getting laid that much.”
Stephano glared at the filthy swine. “What are you aiming at, here?”
“I’m just saying…” Piggeh cooed. “… That you just don’t want to be messed with. You don’t want to be in the presence with one of the people on your ‘To Die’ list.”
The gold man knitted his eyebrows at the man. “Are you calling me a coward?”
“That’s exactly what I’m calling y—“
“Guys,” Felix intervened, not letting another battle for dominance break out between the two. He had been watching enough. “I say we go through with it. I mean, what do we have to lose?” He then racked his brain for a better excuse. “And it… let’s me see… better… how you three fight… and work… and stuff… on the battlefield.”
Stephano’s eye twitched. He loved the man, yes. But he too often got on his nerves when he was not listening to him. “Alright, we’ll have a vote. All those in favor?”
Mr. Chair, Piggeh, and Felix raised their hands.
The leader sighed unhappily, crossing his arms. “Goddamn, I don’t want to deal with Skully right now or ever.” Trying not to let his stubbornness take control of him, he bit his lip in anger. “Fine! We’ll search for the group after lunch.” He couldn’t believe he caved in, but he just couldn’t say no to Felix.
“Just what are we getting into?”