Ashes of Gods Chapter 41: The Crowd Speaker
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"Between all hundreds of contestants that you make, one of you is a monster in disguise."
Aldrien's voice struck like thunder. Silence issued after his declaration, before a torrent of murmurs surged.
"A monster? How?"
"What kind of joke is this?!"
"Well, that's a change of pace. A monster between us players. That's gonna be fun," said Ryan.
He then pondered for a second before adding, "But won't that be way too easy. Finding the monster between us that is. We can just all decide on answering an obvious question from the real world and the one who doesn't answer will naturally be the monster."
Hearing this, Shesmu chuckled. If only it was so simple.
"What makes you think that the monster doesn't know about real world knowledge. Also, by what criteria are you going to eliminate people. If someone is slow on answering, do we kill him? Because, you know, once the first person answers, the monster will immediately imitate him. Plus, I think that standing out so early is a dangerous idea."
"Why do you think so, Shes?" Leo asked.
"Well, this game might look like a simple find the odd one out type, but actually it's far from it. This is a psychological game. Tell me, what will happen if I say that someone is a monster, but it turns out he isn't?"
Leo pondered for a second before Ryan cut in.
"You'll be toasted. Everyone will think that you're the monster and that you wanted to kill us using a borrowed knife. And, even if they don't immediately think so, the monster can urge them to do so."
"You're right, that's what will happen. That's why the best thing to do in this type of situation is to sit back and let the heroes try and be heroes. We'll keep gathering clues from the sidelines until the time is right. Understood?"
Ryan grinned at Shesmu's reasoning, "Heh, I didn't know that you were this shrewd, Shesy Shes."
"Shesy Shes?" Leo was surprised by the weird naming.
"Cough, cough" Aldrien coughed two times to get everyone's attention. "You don't need to worry as of now. The monster won't attack until you enter the first floor. For now, you can rest easy."
Aldrien then pointed with his finger to his right and a new portal appeared. "You can challenge the tower by entering this portal. Contestants, I wish you the best of luck."
"Ehh, I have a question, sir," A silver-haired man said from amidst the crowd. "Is the monster within us right now, or will he only appear once we enter."
Aldrien stayed silent for a few seconds before he said in a low voice, "He is within you, right now."
Murmurs surged from within the crowd. Everyone was eyeing each other with untrustful eyes.
"If that's all, you can now enter." Aldrien stepped off from the stage, marking the end of his speech.
From amidst the murmurs, a man's voice boomed. "Fuck this crap! If we're gonna do this, then might as well weed him out right now!"
His red spiky hair suited his angry demeanor, and with his thunderous exclamation, everyone stayed silent.
"How don't we know you're the monster," A man covered by the veil of the crowd said in a barely audible voice.
The crowd's untrusting eyes focused on the red-haired man, scaring him in the process. However, he quickly took hold of himself and rebutted back.
"Huh? Who said that? Coward!"
Seeing that the situation was about to degenerate, the silver-haired man cut in, saying "Calm down everyone. Now isn't the time to fight. Let's hear what—ehh—what's your name?"
"Blake," He responded.
"Let's hear what Blake has to say, what's your plan to get rid of the monster?"
The crowd was now silent, waiting for Blake to talk. Their eyes were no longer as sharp and judging.
"So, if the monster is within us, the only way to distinguish him from the normal players, it's to ask him questions only we can answer!"
"Huh, so you mean real-world questions?" The silver-haired man asked.
With this declaration, everyone in the crowd got excited and elated.
"That's a great idea!"
"You rock, Blake!"
The silver-haired man smiled and said, "I agree, that's a great idea."
Seeing the sudden change of atmosphere, Shesmu clicked his tongue. Damnit, this is the worst-case scenario. The monster can now manipulate the crowd as much as it wants.
"Ehh, that's a bad idea, no? What if the monster already knows stuff from the real world?"
Shesmu heard Leo's intervention and he couldn't help but think, Goddamnit, Leo.
"Shh, Leo, you're making us the center of attention." Ryan tried to stop his friend, but it was too late.
"Huh, are you making excuses?"
"Are you perhaps the monster and you're getting afraid?"
Taunts emerged from all over the crowd. Seeing their unnatural hostility, Leo took a few steps back. Sweat dripped from his forehead.
Seeing that his friend was about to get eaten alive by the crowd, Shesmu stepped in.
"Those are not excuses. We can recite the fucking forty-nine U.S. presidents, but what the fuck does that even say?" Shesmu knew that the only way to handle this crowd was to be assertive. "More importantly, how are we even going to conduct this interview? Are we just gonna ask the question out loud and have everyone answer it, are you kidding me?"
Shesmu's outburst silenced the crowd. While they were no longer as hostile as before, they were still suspicious. To that end, the silver-haired man took center stage once again.
"That is very much true. We don't know what kind of information the monster has, so it might be all meaningless to conduct this search. So, what do you propose we do?"
With the ball at his court, Shesmu was now in a predicament. He never predicted that he would be the center of attention this early. It just made everything that would happen next that much harder.
Seeing their friend in this predicament, both Leo and Ryan looked concerned. Ryan looked at the silver-haired man with disgusted eyes. He was about to jump in with his own retort when Shesmu gestured for him to stop.
"What I propose right now is to play the game. The monster lives in this type of conflict, he cherishes it. Right now, when we have basically no idea what he is capable of, it's his perfect opportunity to sow discord."
Shesmu then took a deep breath before saying with a loud voice, "The monster's objective is for us all to die. That's its final goal. Then, what does that mean?" The question was obviously rhetorical, but Shesmu still waited for a few seconds before answering it. "It means that he will make his move. At one point or another, he will no longer be able to stay inactive and will make his move. That's when we strike!"
The silver-haired man clapped at Shesmu's speech before the rest of the crowd did as well.
"Great thinking. The longer we survive, the more agitated the monster will be. It will be forced to make a move, and that's when it's most prone to mistakes. And that's when we catch it."
The silver-haired man stepped closer to Shesmu and extended his hand for a shake.
"My name is Arthur, glad to meet you."
Shesmu accepted his handshake and responded, "I'm Shesmu, nice to meet you too."
While Shesmu's mouth said one thing, his eyes told a different story. They were cold, piercing.
Arthur responded with a smile before going back to his team.
"Is he the one?" Ryan immediately asked, at the surprise of Leo.
"Huh? Do you think Arthur is the real monster?"
Shesmu stayed silent for a few seconds before responding, "I don't know. It sure does feel like it, but my instinct is telling me that this is a trap. Honestly, I have no idea."
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