Luna and Liolac destroyed mobs as they made their way towards the Hesiod lair. Luna had convinced Chi to stay behind in the town to “look for items unique to the region.” She knew they’d have an easier time getting into the lair and back out if Chi wasn’t aggroing every mob in the vicinity but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Luna sighed as Liolac cackled while throwing fireballs at a “Hesiod Mage.” She dashed behind the mob and brought her sword down. There was no way either one of them would have been able to complete the quest on their own, but they were having a relatively easy time together.
“Hey, Luna! Looks like we need to talk to that NPC in the corner over there.”
Luna looked in the direction Liolac was pointing to. A small child was cowering behind a building, only half his body visible. They jogged over to him and crouched down, tapping him with a finger.
“P-p-please, don’t hurt me!” The boy began sobbing as he cowered.
Luna pat his head, saying, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to hurt you. We’re looking for a girl called Rina, have you seen her?”
The boy’s eyes brightened. “Rina? You know Rina? She’s over there in that big building! She helped me escape when we were kidnapped by those people but I only got this far. I don’t know how to get out.”
Luna tapped him again for her prompt.
- Offer to save the boy with Rina.
- Thank the boy for the information and move on.
Luna tapped option A. “Come with us, kid. We were asked by Rina’s grandmother to save her, so just stick next to us, okay?”
The boy nodded vigorously. “Thank you, heroes! I’m Mazu. Will it really be okay to join you?”
Liolac jumped up and down. “Of course, Mazu! Let’s go save Rina!”
The three of them headed towards the building Mazu had pointed to, Luna and Liolac destroying mobs as Mazu clung to Liolac’s robes. Luna was thankful for Mazu’s presence – since he was clinging to Liolac’s robes, Liolac could no longer run ahead hitting all the mobs around them and she could take her time fighting one to two mobs at a time. She had gone through more health tonics than she liked trying to keep up with Liolac’s pace.
They entered the building and froze. Oh my god, it’s like a badly made dungeon in here. Why are there so many mobs?!
Chi wandered the town, now used to the dialog boxes that popped up in front of townspeople he spoke with. He wondered how Luna and Liolac were doing and whether they were safe. A small part of him disliked these stops for “quests” as each one delayed his arrival to SunYan but knew that Luna and Liolac needed to do them. They had mentioned something about leveling up and becoming stronger, as they would not be able to guide him all the way to SunYan without doing them. He didn’t understand why they didn’t just train against monsters and dummies but couldn’t complain. The leader of the magician’s guild had told him to go with the two of them and he didn’t know anyone else he could trust.
He went to Merati’s house with a small basket of bread, meat and cheese. He felt comfortable with her and felt that she had probably not eaten since Rina’s disappearance. He knocked on the door and Merati motioned him inside.
“What brings you here, Chi?”
“I thought you could use some lunch. I got some for us if you don’t mind.”
Merati nodded. “Thank you, Chi. Sit down, I will prepare the food.”
He handed her the basket and sat at the table as she walked slowly towards the small table she used to prepare food.
“You have a difficult journey ahead of you, Chi. You must remain strong and rely on the friends you make on your journey.”
Chi froze. “Ex-excuse me?”
“It was not a coincidence that I called to your group. I do not know why, but the world has changed. You are so far the only one who is able to be free of this curse. I am only able to speak with you like this because it is you. I have endured the pain of losing my granddaughter many times now. I am sure, though, that this will be the last time. Your friends will save her and Rina will be free from the constant terror of being in the Hesiod’s hands.”
“How… how do you know that my journey to SunYan will be difficult?”
Merati chuckled. “SunYan is only the beginning, Chi. I know it is not what you would like to hear, but you have a long road ahead of you before you will be reunited with your family. My hope is that you will find others like yourself to join you but my sight has not shown me everything in your future. You and your friends will grow stronger throughout your journey and my hope is that our world will be restored to normalcy.”
“I’m… scared, Merati. All I’ve known is to work and provide for my family… Going to SunYan had never passed my mind in the past. All I wanted to do was make sure my siblings went to school, had food on their table, had a roof over their heads. I thought that once they grew up, began their own lives, that I would get married and settle down, have a few children, keep working. It may seem like a boring dream, but that was what I wanted.”
“I am sorry, child, but that life is not in your future. I do not know how long your journey will be… I do know that you will grow stronger, your scope of the world will grow larger. You can do this, Chi. You must do this. It is not only for the many people in our world, it is also for your siblings. You must have realized by now that everyone in our world has been cursed. Dreams grow and change as you grow.”
Merati turned around and looked at him with a soft smile. “You will be okay, Chi. You have protected your family all your life, even when you were but a child. It is time to protect your family once again.”
Chi wiped away the tears that had welled up in his eyes and nodded. “Thank you, Merati. I still do not know exactly what is going on, but somehow I feel a little better.”
Merati brought over the bread, meat and cheese she had sliced on plates she placed on the table. “Thank you again for the food, Chi. Your friends should be back soon, let’s eat.”
Luna panted in the corner of the room with Liolac and Mazu standing behind her. She was covered in blood and she winced when she shifted her leg. The reality in the game was mindblowing. She could feel the sweat trickling down her back, the blood flowing from her leg. She actually felt out of breath. Momocha was perched on her shoulder, growling at the Hesiod mobs in front of them.
“Liolac… we… might need to level up some more to take on this quest. I knew it would be harder than the other quests so far since it’s silver level, but this is ridiculous. I don’t want to respawn in the graveyard. And who knows what would happen to Mazu.”
“Shit! Can’t we just – “
“Momocha, summon cloudberry!!” Luna was thankful for Chi’s knowledge. He had given her several different types of berries, telling her to only use them in an emergency. The cloudberry would give Momocha battle capabilities. I can’t believe I forgot about it! Maybe with Momocha fighting with us we can win!
The cloudberry zoomed out of Momocha and into Luna’s hand. She fed it to Momocha, who glowed and turned into what looked like a very tiny girl with white braids, glowing blue eyes and fox-like ears. She wore a simple shirt and a skirt but was barefoot. Luna wanted to reach out and pat her head but knew they didn’t have time to waste.
“Okay, guys. Let’s do this!”
Luna leapt forward again and Mazu hid behind Liolac. From the side, Momocha jumped into the fray, using her small fists and legs to punch and kick the mobs. Upon contact with mobs, her fists and legs glowed momentarily and the mobs moved backward. Luna used all the crowd control she could as Liolac threw fireballs and brought down a rain of ice above them.
“Shit! I’m out of mana tonics! If these guys don’t die during my next few rotations, I’m screwed!”
For the first time since they’d played the game together, Liolac looked unhappy and stressed. Momocha let out a yell as she began to glow. Luna jumped in surprise and almost took a knife to her arm. She quickly blocked and kicked the Hesiod rogue in the shin. He fell forward and she jumped onto his back and ran her sword through the mage behind him. Momocha barreled forward, her hands moving at a speed almost impossible to follow with the eyes. The mobs fell before her, their hp bars being reduced at a rapid speed. After a few seconds, she stopped glowing and began fighting again at her original pace.
Damn. I wish it lasted more than 5 minutes. Feel like it’d be super useful in dungeons.
Liolac’s spells and Momocha’s attacks made quick work of the mobs surrounding Luna. She had recently learned some threat-generating skills and was thankful she had them now. Without them, there was no way Liolac or Momocha would have been able to escape the battle mostly unscathed.
The battle over, Liolac and Luna sat on the floor, eating their hp and mana generating foods. Momocha had reverted to her normal form but was grumbling under her breath. Luna clicked her and saw that she had a debuff. Cannot eat special berries for 5 hours and is belligerent for 20 minutes. Ugh, I hope we don’t run into another ridiculous group of mobs like this room again. We’ll have to abandon the quest if we do.
“Hey, Momocha, you want some berries?”
Momocha hopped around to face her. Luna was shocked to see that she was capable of frowning. “NO! Momocha angry!”
Liolac laughed. “What’s up with that debuff? This is hilarious.”
He coughed when Momocha slammed her body into his stomach. “Liolac MEAN!”
Momocha hopped away, grumbling some more. “Well… at least it’ll only last 15 more minutes.”
Liolac nodded as he finished the last of his bread. “Ready to try the basement?”
Luna untied the ropes that bound Rina’s hands. “Hey, your gran sent us. Let’s go see her.”
Rina was a tall, willowy teenager with almost a waifish look to her. Her dark red hair fell halfway down her back and her dark eyes seemed tired. “Thank you, hero.”
Luna and Liolac had encountered some mobs on the way to Rina but had encountered more prisoners than mobs. They had gathered a small circle of people who lived either in or near Rina’s town. The small group headed out of the basement and stopped at the exit. The mobs outside had respawned.
Liolac wooped. “Stay behind us, villagers! We’ll take care of these guys!”
Luna sighed. She’d hoped they’d been fast enough to skip respawned mobs but they had obviously spent too much time in the first room. Momocha was still belligerent and refused to ride on Luna’s shoulder.
The entire group had decided to stay with Luna and Liolac after seeing them defeat the Hesiod followers. They walked slowly up the road, the children chasing after Momocha and the adults silent. It took them twice as long to reach the town as it had taken them to reach the Hesiod lair and they separated as soon as they entered the town. Rina ran towards Merati’s home and Luna and Liolac followed.
“Grandma!!” Rina threw herself into Merati’s arms, crying. “I can’t do this anymore, every moment is hell!”
Rina paused as she realized that she had spoken her true thoughts instead of the words she usually spoke after being “rescued.” Merati smiled down at her. “It is okay now, Rina. You are safe. But I do not think you should travel to your parents’ home for a while. You will stay here with me, safe.”
Merati hugged Rina and looked at Luna and Liolac. “Your rewards are on the table. Please take what you would like.”
They put the small pouches of gold away in their inventory and eyed the potions. Two glowing purple potions and two glowing green potions were on the table. “The purple potion is for altering the mind, the green the physical.”
Liolac was surprised when Luna took the purple. “Luna, you’re a warrior. Shouldn’t you take the green one?”
Luna shrugged as she took the purple potion and the sword. Merati watched her silently, patting Rina’s back softly. Luna turned to Chi and held out the glowing potion.
Chi blinked. “Uh… what… no, no, I can’t take your reward. You are already helping me so much by escorting me to SunYan. This looks like a powerful potion, it will greatly benefit you.”
Luna shook her head. “Either you take it or I make you take it.”
“No, really, please. I am sure you will become so much stronger if you take it. Please.”
“Chi, I know for a fact that you are supposed to take this. So take it.”
Chi nodded and reached out with a shaky hand. Liolac stared, slackjawed. Luna looked at Liolac out the side of her eye. “Take yours too, Liolac. You said you don’t have much inventory space so you may as well take it now.”
Liolac closed his mouth and nodded. It looked like Luna had no intention of explaining her actions. Both Chi and Liolac chugged the liquid. It felt warm going down but it wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. They both glowed and Liolac felt himself level up twice. He took a look at his stats – his maximum mana threshold had grown by one thousand. The potion had given him both two levels that gave him both hp and mana increases and another 500 max mana.
“Luna, you really should have taken the green potion. Look at my stats!!”
Luna winced. She knew she hadn’t been meant to take the potion at all, but after seeing Liolac’s statistics, she felt a twinge of regret. She didn’t feel it for very long – Chi had frozen in place.
“Merati, what’s wrong with Chi?!”
Merati smiled. “This will help him grow stronger. He will only be like this for a few minutes. Come, have some tea.”
Both Liolac and Luna looked uncertain but sat at the table. Rina and Merati began preparing the tea. By the time it was finished, Chi stopped glowing and was able to move.
“What.. what is this feeling?”
“Sit, Chi. Have a cup of tea.”
They all sat around the table, Momocha hopping around the room letting out happy gurgles. Luna held out a hand of berries to her and she devoured them happily. Merati handed her a cloth for her hand.
“The two of you must stay with Chi for as long as you can. He will need help to SunYan but also beyond. The three of you are linked to each other and you will be linked to others throughout your journey. We, Rina and I, are also linked to you. It is because the three of you arrived that my Rina has come home to stay. We were under the same curse Chi was and were forced to play out the same scenes over and over again. You three hold the answer to our world’s problem. I do not know yet what the problem is, exactly, but my visions tell me that you are vital to saving our world. The potion Chi took could not be given to him by myself or anyone else from our world. That is why I asked you to do so, Luna. Chi will be able to grow with you. He has some magical power and some battle skills but with this potion, his limitations have been freed. He will learn more spells, more skills. He will soon be able to aid you as much as you aid him.”
Liolac’s eyes became wide. “Uh…. Luna? Do you know what’s going on?”
Luna sighed. “Chi’s an NPC but he’s not an NPC, Liolac. Honestly, I can’t believe you haven’t noticed the strangeness until now. He sees dialog boxes, Liolac! And what kind of quest would require players to escort an NPC all the way from a level 10 area to a level 40 area? I tried to do some research yesterday and found no information about Chi. None at all. I even went to look at a list of quests and I haven’t found him anywhere. There are NPCs without dialog boxes, that guild leader was just weird, Chi reacts according to the things we do just like a normal person. He’s some kind of self-aware NPC that bugged out, it’s like the beginning of SkyNet or something!!”
Liolac was silent for a moment. “I… need to do homework.”
He logged off, disappearing within a moment. Luna sighed. “Well, Merati, I don’t know about him but I’ll stick with Chi as long as I can. I promised his sister I would get him home anyways.”
Merati smiled knowingly. “Liolac will be back to join you. You should rest in the town for the night.”
Luna sat at her computer after she and Chi had settled in at the inn. She wondered what Merati meant by Chi being able to grow as she perused the forums yet again for signs of “self-aware” NPCs. Almost 24 hours had passed since she sent in the ticket to support and she still had no response. She was getting more and more frustrated as time went on and she found no information on Chi or anything like Chi. She wondered if Chi just powered down when she logged off or if he did things in the game on his own. She would only be able to play a few hours a night on weekdays – today had been a Saturday so she had spent the entire day with Chi and Liolac, making as much progress towards SunYan as possible while still questing enough to level up appropriately.
After having some spicy instant noodles, she found herself yearning for the food in-game. Her ingredient tasting skill had skyrocketed as she ate Chi’s food and almost everything she ate in the game was much tastier than anything she herself made (although that wasn’t saying much as her cooking skills were appalling). She wanted to log in just to eat but knew she should get some sleep so that she could get an early start the next day.
10 minutes to eat wouldn’t hurt…
The next morning, Luna and Chi convened outside of the inn, near Merati’s home. They stood at the side of the road with Momocha on Luna’s shoulder. “Do you think… he’ll come?”
Chi nodded. “Merati said he will. I want to believe her.”
“Okay… 30 more minutes and we’ll go. He can catch up to us if he wants to join.”
“Momocha dance!!” Momocha began jumping up and down on Luna’s shoulder, her blob-like body undulating as if to a rhythm only she could hear.
“Pfffttt. AHAHAHAHA!” Luna burst out laughing, unable to hold it in. Momocha had broken the tension between them and even Chi let out a laugh though he attempted to hide it behind his hand.
Momocha jumped off of Luna’s shoulder and continued to dance on the ground. “Dararara~ darara~~~~”
“Is that thing dancing?”
Luna and Chi looked up and saw Liolac walking over to them as he stared at Momocha.
“Liolac!!” They both yelled his name excitedly and ran over to him. Chi spread out his arms as if to hug him and Liolac dodged.
Liolac let out a cough and stood before them with a serious look on his face. “I don’t know what’s going on exactly. I thought about it last night and I can’t really wrap my head around it. For now, I’ll keep helping.”
Chi threw his arms around Liolac, jumping up and down with joy. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!”
Liolac finally smiled. They went to bid Merati good-bye and to continue their journey. Momocha kept dancing along the road as though to keep them entertained.