"Last coach, yay, yay, yay!" Fey and Blade were sitting in the coach that would take them to the coastal town of Seaport (because after creative gems like "Moonwood" and "Skyhaven", the author clearly put the same extreme effort into thinking up "Seaport").
Without any other players to note odd behaviour, Fey was poking Amethyst with her newbie dagger; the weapon did not even leave a scratch on the slime's reinforced membrane. Boris was Glaring at Blade; both the boar's intimidating skill and Blade's Fighting Spirit had reached level 6.
Fey had put Magic 'in charge' of training the glooms. (After reaching player-dense areas, casting Spore out the window had turned from 'bad idea' to 'suicidal and infamy-inducing bad idea'.) She had no idea what her mushroom was up to, but he was keeping the shadow-rabbits extremely busy, having them run all over the sides and roof of the carriage (*optional gravity*) as well as shift their shapes to extreme limits.
In the midst of the controlled chaos, it occurred to Fey that some of her pets were rather unsuited to aquatic adventuring. She assumed that breathing would be facilitated by some sort of scuba gear, and was unsure if it could be adapted to fit her pets.
Fey contacted Sirena to ask.
|Fey: Hey, what kind of breathing apparatus am I going to be using underwater?|
|Sirena: Oh, I thought I'd buy some of the magical air bubbles that we use for the dolphin taxis down here. They'll last at least a day.|
Fey mentally inventoried her pets. Amethyst would be fine with an air bubble. Boris would probably be fine, assuming he could swim. The glooms probably did not need to breathe, and with their shape-shifting abilities, they would probably swim quite well.
Magic… The mushroom was not dense enough to sink into water, and did not have limbs to swim.
|Fey: Bring at least 10. I don't think all of my pets need to breathe, but better safe than sorry.|
|Sirena: No problem. They're pretty cheap down here.|
Arrangements made, it was time to do some experimenting. She grabbed the nearest gloom as it hopped by overhead (it was Inkblot, not that Fey could tell the difference between them). Telling Magic "I'm borrowing him for a second," Fey dropped the gloom into her flask of water. It was now filled with enchanted water, but Fey did not think the increased density would affect how much the gloom needed to breathe.
Inkblot obediently stayed in the flask where he was placed, but he sat at the surface of the super-dense liquid, looking inquisitively over the edge of the flask. Fey sighed and used her hand to push the gloom down until it was immersed. "Start wiggling or something if this starts getting uncomfortable," she told the shadow-rabbit. Inkblot nodded, then stayed still under the enchanted water.
"…How long do I have to keep him here before I can conclude that glooms don't need to breathe?" Fey asked Blade. The warrior had his arms crossed around his chest as if he were cold, and was trying to ignore Boris' death-glare the best he could.
"Dunno. Twenty minutes?" Blade muttered. He wished there were other players on board; Fey never told the boar to practice Glare if other people were around.
"Hmm." Fey decided to keep the gloom in the water until it became inconvenient to continue doing so. With her free hand, she picked up the dagger to continue poking Amethyst.
However, Amethyst had other ideas. Hopping off Fey's lap, the slime made her way towards the flask and straight into the water, which was plenty large enough for two pets. As she had so many times while training Osmosis, Amethyst absorbed the water.
|Amethyst has learned Potion Slime!|
"Seriously?" Fey was surprised and delighted.
"What?" asked Blade.
"I'm pretty sure Amethyst just gained an ability that is eminently profitable." Fey checked the ability description:
|Potion Slime: slime secretes potions that it has learned the compositions of. Mana consumption depends on potion type and amount of potion secreted. The slime requires a source of pure water to secrete large amounts of potion.|
|Current potion: Enchanted water (24MP/ mL)|
"Ehehehe-" Fey remembered she was not alone, and stopped laughing evilly out loud, but the sound continued in her mind. Ehehehehehe… It looked like the ability consumed an extreme amount of mana, but compared to the difficulty of collecting rare ingredients and the manual labour required in brewing potions, Potion Slime was an easy and convenient shortcut to duplicating any kind of potion Fey could get her hands on.
Fey rummaged in her pouch for other potions. She came up with her newbie minor health and mana potions, the lesser healing potions Kallara had gifted her, as well as the strength tonic she had brewed with her first King Slime bubble.
"Here, Amethyst, osmose." (None of this makes any sense from a scientific standpoint, because osmosis only refers to the movement of water, so the rest of the potion should theoretically be left behind.)
The slime absorbed each liquid in turn, adding its composition to her repertoire. She had to absorb an entire dose of the potion to learn how to make it.
|Current potions: Enchanted water (24MP/mL)|
|Minor healing potion (5MP/mL)|
|Minor mana potion (10MP/mL)|
|Lesser healing potion (18MP/mL)|
|Strength tonic (100MP/mL)|
The mana cost of each potion appeared to account for both the mana consumption when brewed the normal way, and the rarity and variety of potion ingredients required.
Pets' attributes increased in a fixed pattern with every level increase. Amethyst gained 3 intelligence with each level, so her maximum mana reserves were currently at 750MP, almost triple that of her owner. Fey made a mental note to obtain empty potion bottles the next time she visited Kallara.
Wait, wasn't I thinking about something else before? (*end random tangent*) She noticed Inkblot sitting at the surface of the remaining enchanted water. Oh yeah, the pets' suitability for going underwater. Rather than repeat her abortive test for whether glooms needed to breathe, she asked Inkblot, "Do you need to breathe?"
The gloom shook its head.
"Oh, okay. Off you go, then." (Um, why wasn't this Plan A?)
Inkblot wiggled his ears and hopped out of the flask to rejoin his brethren in their mysterious training. (For the record, the author purposely uses inconsistent pronouns for the glooms because they are asexual beings whose names do not sound particularly masculine or feminine. This has been going on ever since the glooms have been introduced, though it is unlikely anyone noticed.)
Fey considered Magic. She could not think of a way to allow the mushroom to function effectively underwater. I can't just leave him alone on land… I need a pet-sitter.
(Stop pushing! The author is so rude. Okay, okay, leaving, no need to pull out the 'author wand of obliteration'. Sheesh. As the keen reader may have surmised, the next scene is written from Leandriel's point of view.)
Leandriel sliced the head off of a misshapen monster, an asymmetrical five-legged wolf-creature that had patches of slimy skin mixed with fur. Blood the wrong shade of red spurted out, and the head continued snapping at him, animated by demonic and undead forces. He stabbed down with blessed mithril, and it finally stilled.
Leandriel was currently in The Rift, a very dangerous monster area in the Dark Side. According to lore, a great black magician had split the earth of the barren wasteland to create a deep, inescapable prison for failed experiments. Of course, the 'failure' was due to the monsters' lack of ability to follow commands, rather than a lack of deadly abilities.
Leandriel checked off 'corrupted demon-wolf' off of his to-do list. In addition to training until level 110 and his next warrior skills, he was assessing the quality of the monsters in the area. He made a note to mention that there was something off about the wolves' pack behaviour.
Just because he was done with the wolves did not mean the wolves were done with him. More horrifyingly mutated monsters attacked, driven to chaotic rage from his strong holy aura. Now that there was no need to observe closely, Leandriel used more of his advanced warrior skills to blast and cleave his way through the pack, gradually progressing towards the next monster territory.
After exchanging greetings with Fey for the past several days, Leandriel had developed a reflexive tactic to avoid injury when he was messaged in battle. He blasted through his mana reserves with multiple iterations of his most powerful area-of-effect skills, turning the area into the epicentre of a holy explosion from which no monster could survive.
Every other living thing in the area was seared from existence; the purifying energy was so strong, even the corpses and blood disappeared. Compared to the rest of The Rift, which was covered in a level of gore reminiscent of the late stages of a horror movie, the pristine area looked like a small piece of paradise.
Leandriel smiled and replied, ignoring the dizzying effect from the sudden mana depletion.
|Fey: Could you do me a huuuge favour and take care of Magic for me? I don't think I can take him underwater.|
Leandriel jumped fifteen metres into the air and began winging his way out of the dark confines of The Rift. He was approximately six hours' flight from the nearest town, five hours if he pushed himself.
|Leandriel: I will take him. You are planning to bring your other pets underwater?|
|Fey: Yeah, I think the rest of them will be fine. Hmm, well, I don't know how well Boris can swim.|
|Leandriel: I could take him as well.|
|Fey: When pigs fly, hahahaha. Sorry, bad puns.|
Leandriel thought of Fey's silliness as the old-fashioned word 'antics'. They had become a source of gentle amusement for him.
|Leandriel: No need to apologize. I find you amusing.|
|Fey: Haha, I think I'm amusing, too. And modest, don't forget modest.|
Leandriel enjoyed Fey's bantering style of conversation, but was not particularly adept at contributing to it; he felt the lack far more keenly than Fey, who did not notice at all. He returned the conversation to practical matters.
|Leandriel: When will you arrive at Seaport?|
|Fey: Mm, in about four and a half hours?|
Four and a half. He could make it. He would make it.
|Leandriel: I will see you then.|
|Fey: See you! Thanks so much!|
|Leandriel: You are very welcome.|
Leandriel began to make adjustments for high-speed, long-distance flying. He normally remained in full plate armour to increase his stamina, but Ex-quipped to light, close-fitting cloth garments that minimized wind resistance.
Rapidly gaining height, Leandriel reached the thinner, cooler air at the altitudes flown by migratory birds, finding the exact level where he could fly most efficiently. Downing a stamina potion, he shot through the air at a pace just short of a full flying sprint.
(Oh, so now the author wants snarky comments. Hmph. Okay, okay, working, no need to pull out the 'author wand of obliteration'.)
Fey was predictably happy over the prospect of seeing Leandriel again. Over the days of travelling, she had had brief conversations with the angel through private messaging, and had learned to hide the silly smiles that inevitably resulted by leaning 'contemplatively' on one arm, covering her mouth in the process.
I guess the secret is up now. Blade was not so unobservant as to miss a 180-centimetre-tall angel with a 6-metre wingspan materializing in the middle of town (Fey herself could be trusted to be that unobservant at times, though).
She brought up the subject in a casual tone. "Hey, Blade, what are you going to do with Firefly while we're underwater?" If anything, Blade's fire-element pet was even less suited to aquatic adventuring than Magic was.
Blade had not thought about the problem. "Keep her at the bank, I guess."
"You can keep pets at the bank?"
"Yeah. Magic stasis." (*random things the author makes up and pretends were in the game manual all along*)
"Huh. Well, I think I'm going to ask one of my friends to take care of Magic for me."
Fey could tell by Blade's expression that he was thinking something along the lines of, 'You have more than one friend?' She narrowed her eyes dangerously, temporarily outstripping Boris' Glare skill in terms of threat level.
(*Russian roulette of reactions* … *roll 'childish'*)
"Hmph!" Fey flopped back on the coach seat without further explanation. She resumed poking Amethyst with her newbie dagger, but it was clear that she would prefer to stab someone else.
Blade was still curious as to who Fey's other friend was, but had the sense that he had just avoided a landmine (that could still be triggered at any moment), and remained silent.
Four and a half hours later, Fey jumped out of the travel coach with her usual alacrity, but a different motivation. She messaged Leandriel:
|Fey: I've arrived at Seaport.|
|Leandriel: I am almost there. You should see the teleport gate begin to activate in a few minutes.|
|Fey: Great! I'll wait for you there.|
As Fey hurried into town, she realized that she had not mentioned her party member to Leandriel. This was completely accidental, simply because she had not thought to do so.
On the one hand, it seemed vain to think that Leandriel would care about Blade's presence. On the other, it seemed inconsiderate not to warn the angel, especially when Fey herself hated meeting new people without warning (well, with warning too, but slightly less). Feeling rather awkward, Fey sent the message.
|Fey: I've never mentioned that I have a party member, have I?|
|Leandriel: No, you have not.|
|Fey: Well, he's a human warrior named Blade. I don't really know why we're adventuring together, since we don't work together that well.|
Gah, I'm babbling and incoherent. Kill me now.
|Leandriel: That does sound rather mysterious, yes.|
Well, at least he used "mysterious" instead of 'stupid' or 'insane'.
"Hey, Fey, where are you going?" Blade called from his position following her through the streets.
"To meet my friend," Fey called back distractedly.
|Fey: Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that he's going to be there when you arrive.|
Fey forcibly stopped herself from trying to analyze the tone of that "okay". With her nervous energy, Fey started squeezing Amethyst like a stress ball (none of the pets except for Firefly were particularly concerned by the treatment).
Fey stopped in front of the teleport gate; its stone was already brightening with the beginnings of a portal. Calm the [censored word] down! (Our heroine does swear when sufficiently agitated.) As she stood waiting, she looked calm and composed, but on the inside, she was having a violent battle with an unusually strong inner fangirl.
It's not real. He's not real. This was the thought that finally doused Fey's nerves like a tub of ice water. She had had crushes on many fictional characters. An NPC was no different. She placed Amethyst back onto her shoulder.
From Blade's point of view, Fey's behaviour was nothing out of the ordinary (by Fey standards). As usual, he trailed slightly behind his party member, keeping pace with long strides (it had taken two days, but he had finally learned how to walk quickly). As usual, he received brief and somewhat dismissive answers to his questions. As usual, he had little idea of where they were going (Aww, now the author feels kind of bad for being so mean to Blade).
When Fey stopped in front of a glowing teleport gate, he was unsure whether it was out of simple curiosity, or whether she was waiting for her friend's appearance. Access to teleportation, either by key or gold sacrifice, was still very rare in Fantasia; even in the sparsely populated town of Seaport, the sight had drawn a crowd.
"Is your friend coming through the teleport gate?"
Fey did not appear to hear his question above the chatter of the crowd and her own thoughts. Blade did not bother to ask again, since he would find his own answers when the teleporter appeared.
In a flash of blinding light, a figure materialized. Blade was impressed by the imposing appearance of the warrior angel; in his mind, angels were a rather girly race to play, but after seeing one, he reconsidered. The sheer size of the wings demanded respect, and the warrior's equipment was nothing to sneeze at. Without paying much attention to the angel's appearance, Blade analyzed the items he wore: by Blade's best guess, the sword was designed to facilitate holy attacks, and the plate armour was a titanium-mithril alloy, lined in electrum to facilitate magic conduction.
It did not seem likely that this mysterious warrior was the friend Fey had asked to take care of her little mushroom (okay, well, when you put it like that, it does sound a bit ridiculous).
Blade was forced to reconsider the thought when the angel scanned the crowd, spotted Fey, and made his way directly towards her.
Fey held to her calm while Leandriel approached, pretending that this was just another adventure in an anime she was watching.
"Hello," said Leandriel, smiling.
"Hi." Free from nerves, Fey could simply enjoy the angel's presence. She smiled back naturally.
Beside her, Blade wore an expression of disbelief. She made the introductions.
"Leandriel, this is Blade. Blade, Leandriel. (1)"
"Hey." (If you can't tell which one is which guy, shame shame.)
Fey watched as Leandriel and Blade underwent the uniquely male ritual of 'sizing each other up'. (Well, there's a female version, but Fey doesn't indulge in that nonsense, being very secure in her superiority over other creatures.) Carefully neutral expressions told her that they were prepared to dislike each other.
|Sirena: Hey, you here yet?|
|Fey: Yes, but I think I'm in 'a situation'.|
|Sirena: What kind of situation?|
|Fey: Leandriel and Blade appear to be engaging in a staring contest.|
|Sirena: Who's Blade?|
|Fey: Oops. Forgot to mention him. Party member.|
|Sirena: Since when?|
|Fey: Umm, second night of playing.|
|Sirena: …If you were anyone else, I'd accuse you of deliberately neglecting to mention him.|
|Fey: Oh, come on, I very understandably got distracted by Leandriel.|
|Sirena: I'll be the judge of that. Let me see.|
Fey turned on video chat so that Sirena could see her surroundings, including Leandriel and Blade. Naturally, audio accompanied video, a fact that Fey lamented when Sirena proceeded to squeal at a loud volume and very high pitch (*SQUEE*). Fey winced.
Noticing the grimace, Leandriel broke off the impending stare-off and asked, "Are you okay?"
Gingerly, Fey asked, "Can you damage your eardrums if someone screams at you through private messaging?"
"I do not believe so."
"Oh, good. I'm, fine then. Say hello, Sirena." Fey made the video screen visible to others, and Sirena the mermaid swam into view.
Leah's avatar had her facial features and body type, but looked very different with light blue skin and a scaled tail below the waist. Despite the appearance change, Fey recognized her friend's delighted expression (our heroine's friend doesn't rein in her inner fangirl at all).
"Hello!" greeted the mermaid cheerfully (as if she hadn't just blown out her best friend's metaphysical eardrums). Without waiting for a reply, she continued, "Two questions. First: have either of you purchased appearance modules?"
Both young men looked bemused by the question, a fact that Fey found rather adorable (*oblivious to indirect compliments*). Neither saw a reason to waste money on superficial, useless changes.
"No," answered Leandriel. Blade echoed him.
Aww, so cute. They seriously don't get why she's asking.
"Second question," Sirena continued. Fey caught the mischief in her friend's expression, but was too slow to stop her.
"Is your wingspan proportional to your…" Sirena paused delicately for everyone to brace for the dirty joke.
"…weight?" she finished in a tone of mock-innocence.
Fey covered her eyes with one hand. "Say goodbye, Sirena." Fey turned off the video screen before the mermaid could make her farewells.
Nobody knew quite what to say. "…Yeah, that was Sirena. She's not always that outrageous." (This is mostly due to the fact that the author can only think of one of those every few months.)
"Oh," said Blade weakly. Somehow, Fey's friend had turned out to make Fey seem normal. For the first time, he seriously contemplated his choice of company in the game.
Leandriel's reaction was less shocked. Due to an unusually sheltered upbringing, he had almost missed the implied dirty joke, only understanding after he reviewed the words a second time. His initial reaction had been to answer Sirena's question literally, ignoring the pause (because yeah, his wingspan is proportional to his weight).
Unlike Blade, he retained the mental faculties to form a complete sentence. "Your friend is unusual."
"Yeah… Wanna go get something to eat?" (*awkward subject change*) Receiving nods, Fey led the way to Seaport's NPC-run restaurant.
Looking on the bright side, she thought, Well, at least they're too stunned to engage in a testosterone-fuelled staring contest.
(1)The rules of etiquette state that the person of higher status is spoken to first during an introduction