Having learned the secret to Sleep Refresh, the rest of Training progresses smoothly. Throughout the day, we stream in and out of the barracks to get a minute of shut-eye between Kobold spawns.
12 ears an hour, 10 hours a day, it only takes 8 more mind-numbing days to finish this fetch quest. To pass the time, Plun and I share stories and songs on the grassy knoll.
Plun’s family was slaughtered by orcs in the war front and he was raised in a local orphanage. He gets teary-eyed telling the story.
Emotional stuff makes me nervous. I think about how Mom comforts me, and reach a hand out to pat his shoulder.
I wish I could say we shared a poignant moment of silent understanding between two human beings and that was somehow enough. I wish I could say that being present for a friend in his moment of need inextricably linked together the strands of our fates.
The truth is, my hand brushes awkwardly against his (rather bulky) bicep, and he shoots me a weird look.
“No Homo!” I shout instinctively.
“Uh, no comment, no comment. Continue your story please!”
“When the slave trade ended several centuries ago, the Belstine peerage decided to draft their orphans into the war effort.” He gives me a long history lesson but I’m too busy cringing inside.
After Plun’s lecture, he teaches me a melancholy song about war veterans fighting to their dying breath for Beltine. It’s altogether mediocre even to my tone-deaf ears. I absentmindedly pick a modern song to teach him in exchange. What came next, I should have predicted.
Even in this world, Taylor Swift is an instant hit.
I’ve been dreaming every night of the old world.
“Mommy, why is my name Murphy?”
“Well, dear, I wanted to name you something normal like John or Allen, but I changed my mind after meeting you. You were just too special!”
She never did tell me what happened. Dad says she first went to the hospital to give birth to me on March 11, 1997.
My birthday is April 4.
It was her decision to name me Murphy, after Murphy’s Law:
Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Mom used to say, “Murphy, sometimes things just go wrong and it’s nobody’s fault.”
Her words ring in my ears at this very moment as I try to block out the chorus of Back to December echoing around camp for the fourth day in a row. Plun set it to a local military theme. Even the LVL 10 guards are singing it.
Will T Swift be my lasting contribution to this world’s culture?!
We’re all set to hit a thousand ears today. Sarge lines us up after breakfast for a final briefing.
“When you complete training, report to the front gate with all thousand ears. You will be escorted to the Class Choice building, where your specialization will be determined.”
I expect Sarge to regale us with a long tutorial message about the Class system. Long lists of strengths and weaknesses, personality traits and combat abilities, astrological signs and job descriptions. Don’t All Choose Mage. Healers Are Important Too. That kind of thing.
But I’m disappointed. He gruffly dismisses us.
“Hey Plun, how does Class Choice work?”
“Do you know anything, Murph? The four Classes are Warrior, Mage, Cleric, and Rogue. Each class specializes in one of the four main stats. Class Choice happens in that building yonder,” Plun gestures at the looming white-gold tower on the horizon, “It’s the last step in a rookie’s training.”
I zoom off to the Kobolds, eager to reach Class Choice ASAP.
Character Creation is my guilty pleasure.
My favorite video games are team-based RPGs, where each Core Party Member can be customized individually. I spent hours pulling sliders and scrolling through menus: from Eye Color to Forehead Width, from War Scars to Eye Shadow. If the game let you pick Starting Classes, I’d build one character of each Class and write each a backstory before picking a favorite.
One character I always come back to: Murphy, Dark Warlock of Good. His special power:
Disasters appear around Murphy when least expected.
Strikes Terror in the hearts of enemy and ally alike.
With pure heart and clear head, Murphy wields the power of Chaos to save the world!
970 ears, thirty more to go! Less than three hours left!
Over the years, I’ve learned to notice the sinking feeling in my stomach when I feel too optimistic. It’s like a lump of smoldering coal burning through my intestines one layer at a time. The feeling never fails to give me diarrhea later in the day.
“Where ya going, Murph?”
“Be right back!”
I race back to the bunks to check my stash of ears. They’re still there.
… 93, 94, 95. Plus the twenty in my sack, none missing. Thank God.
The lump of coal continues to smolder. Too anxious to leave my trophies under the bed, I start packing them into my knapsack by the fistful.
Two silhouettes appear in the doorway.
“Hand ‘em over.”