The adventurer touched a rune etched into the wall. Red light burst forth, illuminating the dark dungeon before coalescing into the shape of a hooded man with a scythe resting on his shoulder.
“Why have you called upon my conscious form? Foolish—”
Having explored enough dungeons to know villainous monologues were usually a waste of time, the adventurer swung at the hooded figure with his sword—but his strike passed right through his target.
“Naive mortal, how dare you disturb my monologue? Know that I am not so easy to kill.”
Great, it’s unskippable. Guess I’ll have to play along.
“Who are you, o dark one?”
“I am a facet of existence made manifest. I am famine, I am disease, I am corruption and evil and natural disasters. I am responsible for nearly every death upon this earth: I am the Reaper of People You Do Not Know.”
“That is the worst creature name I have ever heard, and I have heard quite a few.”
The cloaked figure growled.
“Mock me while you are still able, for while we speak, I am killing nearly two people a second with my malicious magic. All around the world, People You Do Not Know are praying for their loved ones to be spared, but I show no restraint. If you tribute your earthly possessions to me I can be delayed, but never sated.”
“This is stupid, I came here to save the princess.”
The adventurer continued on deeper into the dungeon, leaving the Reaper baffled. After the adventurer had survived a flurry of deadly traps and lesser monsters, the reaper appeared again, floating a few centimeters above the ground. He had prepared his next assault, and this time, the adventurer would not be able to ignore him.
He pulled aside his cloak with a skeletal hand, revealing complete nothingness beneath it, except for a gallery of pictures strapped to the inside of the cloak.
“Behold adventurer. I have gathered a collection of pictures depicting People You Do Not Know. Hard working men, women and children who will soon fall prey to disease due to no fault of their own. Surely, when you look upon their faces now, you will be paralyzed with empathy. You will submit your treasure and riches to me so that my rampage may be quelled for just a moment.”
The adventurer was growing tired. It was already not looking good with his water reserves. He only had a limited time to clear this dungeon and save the princess, and this reaper was being annoying with his sanctimonious speeches of doom. Granted, he could probably tribute some of his food reserves, but what would be the motivation?
“I already know people are dying all the time,” the adventurer said. “I can’t save the whole world. I am doing what I can, living like a normal adventurer who just wants to save the princess. It doesn't seem like I'll be able to kill you, so move aside. I don’t care for your pictures.”
The Reaper slowly floated out of the way, his head hanging down as the pictures he had worked so hard to collect fell to the ground one by one. If he could not even convince an adventurer—who was supposed to be a good person—to tribute to him, how would he convince the peasants and the merchants and the people who actually possessed material riches? The reason he had locked himself away initially was due to him being unable to persuade anyone, and that seemed to not have changed even in this long span of time. Was killing People people Did Not Know such a weak threat?
The adventurer soon made his way to the deepest part of the dungeon. He fought the dragon guarding the treasure in a fierce battle of magic, swordsmanship, and fire. After receiving a few burn wounds and scratches, he slew the beast and revelled in his victory.
There was just one problem.
There was no princess.
And the only treasure the dragon possessed was a single diamond.
With a sour look on his face, he picked up the diamond, ready to return to his hometown. What a waste of time. A diamond was valuable, but it was not a princess. It was not heroic. Could he really call himself a successful adventurer if all he did was collect treasure?
Then he got an idea.
“Reaper!” He shouted into the darkness. “Are you still here?!”
The Reaper of People He Did Not Know appeared before him, head still hanging down like his depression increased the force of gravity.
“You called for me? . . . Will you reject me again? You are trying to make a fool of me, are you not?”
“No.” The adventurer pulled the diamond from his bag, holding it towards the Reaper. “I want to give you this, as tribute.”
“This is some childish game where you pull it away as soon as I reach for it. I can sense it.”
“I promise you, it’s for real.”
The Reaper paused, then reached forward with a skeletal hand, holding his palm upwards as the adventurer dropped the diamond into his grasp. His bones shook; his whole cloak trembling with elation.
“I acknowledge your tribute adventurer! This donation means more than you can know. To show my gratitude, I have refrained from murdering ten People You Do Not Know.”
“Yes, let me reveal to you the consequences of your actions.”
The adventurer jerked his head as his surroundings exploded with colors, forming vague visions of foreign people in foreign lands. It was an inhuman sensation; instead of witnessing things occur, he saw the negation of things. A woman who was not blinded by infectious insects, a child who did not die of hunger and grew up to love his community.
When he was released from his visions, it was not easy to regain his sanity, for he knew the Reaper and the power it wielded. Yet he was not resentful, for he understood the Reaper’s nature to be like that of an earthquake or a hurricane—something that carried out its function with no ill intent. A force of nature.
“I did all that,” the adventurer said through staggered breath. “By giving you a diamond?”
“Well, I am hoping to make this mutually beneficial. I would not have you tribute to me and give you nothing of value in return.”
The adventurer took a moment to collect himself. Thought for a minute, then came to a decision.
He pulled a map of the world from his bag. It was exceedingly detailed, featuring information about the location of various dungeons, what guarded them, and what loot they provided. Of course, the map was not the territory and it was not always accurate, since it had provided him false information on a princess being in need of rescue in this dungeon, but it was the best thing he had.
“What is so interesting about that piece of parchment?” The Reaper asked.
“I am making plans.” The adventurer’s gaze did not leave the map. “Originally, I was planning on saving princesses. Sure, it is adventurous and heroic, and the princess’s parents will embrace you with tears of gratitude when you return. But now I want to change my adventure path to visit dungeons with as much treasure as possible, so I can tribute to you and save more people.”
“Can it be . . ? Finally!” The Reaper spread his arms. “Someone worthy of being my nemesis. Someone who comprehends my methods of destruction. Bring me as much treasure as you can collect, attempt to snuff out the fires of my rage. Your life will be legendary!”
The adventurer smiled as he sheathed his sword, ready to return home and train for his new dungeoning path. He knew the Reaper was trying to motivate him, but it was a lie. His life would not be legendary. When he died, no one would not sing his praise, no ceremony would be held in his honor, and no one would tell tales of him to their children. The people he saved would never know who was responsible for their salvation.
As he recalled his visions, all of this seemed to matter very little. Being a hero was not about glory or fame. It was about saving people, and in his heart he would always know.
He was the most effective hero.