The three of them munched on the apples Merati gave them as they walked down the road that would lead them towards SunYan. Luna glanced at Liolac’s level and felt annoyed. The quest had given them both a level after all the mob kills and quest turn-in, but Liolac had had his potion and was now level 23 while she was level 21. Maybe I’ll grind a little when he goes to bed.
Momocha had seemed to tire once they left the town and moved to Luna’s shoulder. After having had a good night’s rest, Rina was vibrant and openly curious about Momocha. Once discovering that Momocha liked berries, she had raided Merita’s pantry and given Momocha all the berries she could find despite both Luna and Merita’s protests. It seemed it was possible for Momocha to overeat – she had swelled to 1.5 times her original size. Luna rolled her shoulder and considered dismissing Momocha.
Chi looked cheerier than she had ever seen him while Liolac seemed to have forgotten his apprehensions and was practically skipping down the road as he whistled.
“A quest!” Liolac left them behind as he sped towards the bronze quest marker he saw on his map. Luna and Chi smiled at each other, glad that he had regained his vigor.
“Uhm… what just happened?” The trio stood at the meadow where they had just finished a quest. When a player leveled up, a white swirling light quickly twirled around them to indicate the level gain. That same swirling light had just enveloped Chi in three quick successions. Chi looked terrified, while Luna and Liolac looked stunned.
No one spoke.
“Level up, level up! Congratu, Chi, congraaatuuuuu!!!”
All three of them stared at Momocha. Was she right? Had Chi, an NPC, just leveled up?
Luna put her hand over Chi and gasped. When she had met him and all the way to Merati’s town, he had been a level 15 NPC. The same info box that popped up when she hovered over players appeared and it stated
Cleric. Level 18
Unable to speak, she motioned frantically to Liolac. She waved her hand between Liolac and Chi, as though she could will Liolac to put his hand over Chi.
Momocha continued to hop around as she screeched congratulations to Chi.
The three of them sat in a small circle with Momocha having been dismissed. Her excitement at Chi’s level gains had been unbearable.
Luna cleared her throat. “So… Uhm… What do you think is happening?”
No one made a sound for a few minutes. Liolac fidgeted where he sat, uncomfortable with the silence.
“WELL, like you said, Luna… Chi’s not… exactly… a normal NPC. And Merati said something about Chi growing with us… Maybe he’s more like… a player now?”
Liolac looked like he had scared himself with his own words.
Chi cleared his throat. “So… I felt uncomfortable bringing this up before, but it looks like I should talk to you guys about it now. The two of you call this world a game, you grow stronger exponentially, you keep saying word like level up and NPC and aggro… The conclusion I’ve reached is that… to the two of you, this is some kind of game? I knocked on Luna’s door last night but there was no response and I assumed you were sleeping. And the other day Liolac disappeared right in front of our eyes and no one seemed surprised. Is this… a game to you two?”
Luna almost felt guilty. The obvious answer was yes, but she didn’t want to give him the impression that they weren’t taking him seriously. As she was gathering her thoughts, trying to figure out how to phrase her words, Liolac opened his big fat mouth.
“YES! Of course this is a game! Why do you think I was so freaked out yesterday with Merati and Luna and everything?! You’re supposed to be an NPC, a non-player character! Luna and I are players, we log in to a video game and that’s what you call ‘your world!’ You’re not supposed to be sentient, you’re just some code in a game!”
Oh my god, he did not just say that. Luna rubbed her face with her hand. She could feel a headache coming on.
“Chi… please don’t think that we aren’t taking your problem seriously. I promised your sister that I would get you home and I meant it. But the fact is that to us, your world is a type of game that we call a vrmmorpg – a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing game. When I first met you, I honestly considered just running away because I was so scared. But I’ve tried to figure out what was going on with ‘your world’ from mine and I can’t find any information. I want to know what’s going on, why it’s happening and help you. These ‘quests’ we do and killing monsters gives us what we call ‘experience points’ and we level up. That’s why we seem to be getting so much stronger so quickly. My guess is that Merati’s potion did something to you and now you can get stronger too with us. It doesn’t seem like you can receive quests but you gain experience points when we kill monsters and turn in quests. For now, I suggest we keep moving and take our time absorbing this information. Feel free to ask us any questions and I promise you I will answer them as best I can.”
“Okay… thank you, Luna.”
Liolac looked guilty for his outburst as he listened to Luna’s explanation. Even if Chi was a suddenly self-aware NPC, he seemed as real as either of them and the confusion and pain in Chi’s face had been obvious after Liolac’s outburst. They sat there in silence a while longer before they wordlessly stood and headed back towards the road.
Chi was mulling over the information he had received from Luna and Liolac. He hadn’t told them that when the light had swirled around him, he had suddenly become aware of spells he hadn’t known before. He had known immediately that they were healing spells but didn’t understand why or how he suddenly knew them.
No one spoke as they headed towards the next quest marker. Luna didn’t summon Momocha because she was worried that Momocha was still in her over-excited state. The Meekokat was probably the smartest one out of all of them, as she had been the one to remind Luna of the cloudberry and the first one to realize that Chi had leveled up. I can’t believe that blob is smarter than me.
“Well… uhm… Chi, I’m sorry I said that thing earlier… about you just being a code in a game.”
Chi nodded absentmindedly. He didn’t understand what “code in a game” meant and he didn’t really care at the moment. “It’s okay, Liolac. I don’t mind. I’m just thinking about all of this right now… I don’t really understand everything but I’m still grateful for all your help. Luna’s too.”
Liolac slung his arm around Chi’s shoulder as best he could and Chi bent down to give him access. “I’ll help you all the way, Chi! We’ll figure out what’s going on, game or no game! As weird as all this stuff is, all I know is this: we’re buddies now and friends stick together.”
Chi smiled. “Thanks, Liolac. That really means a lot.”
At some point during Liolac and Chi’s conversation, Luna had summoned Momocha. She picked up the Meekokat and threw her at Liolac’s back. Momocha let out an indignant squawk and hopped away.
“Hey, don’t leave me out of the group!” Luna jogged forward towards them and gave Chi a light punch. “C’mon, cleric, let’s go get you stronger! Hey, do you think we can invite Chi to the party?”
“Ooh, let’s try!!”
“Let’s try, letsh try!” Momocha hopped ahead of them down the road.
“Let’s just skip this quest, guys!” Luna stood behind both Liolac and Chi. Momocha, still angry that Luna had thrown her, was on Chi’s shoulder, ignoring Luna.
Liolac grinned. “Oooh, Luna, scared of some bugs?”
“Those aren’t just ‘some’ bugs! They’re huge spider-like things with gigantic FANGS!!”
Even Chi struggled to hide a smile. Luna was pale and big-eyed as she stared at the fanged, slightly hairy monsters spread out before them.
“Ugh, such a typical girl. This isn’t even real!”
The three of them turned to face the voice coming from behind them. A female player stood before them, wearing an outfit that was undoubtedly from the cash shop. Her spear glowed on her back and the cat-shaped pin in her hair glistened in the sunlight. She sauntered towards them with a smug expression.
“The three of you are partied together? Let me join you for this, I want to get it done quick! I’m really strong because I’ve enhanced my weapon to the max limit.”
Luna felt offended but knew that Liolac and Chi needed a melee player to help with defeating the the spider-like monsters called Aranae. There was no way she could deal with the grossness of these monsters – she hated spiders, and these were bigger than she was. She pressed her fingers towards the girl and invited her to the party.
“Well… welcome to the party, Raza.”
“Thanks. I’m assuming you’re sitting this one out?”
Luna nodded glumly. “I’ll send Momocha with you guys instead.”
She summoned Momocha and Raza dashed striaght to her. “Oh, my GOD. Is this a Meekokat?! How the heck did you manage to get one?! I wanted one but they don’t sell it and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to find one to tame!!”
Momocha seemed to dislike Raza. She growled at her and hopped towards Luna. Raza’s expression became cold and she turned away from them. “Hmph. They’re not that great, anyways. I can just buy more inventory space.”
Momocha leapt from Luna’s shoulder and hit Raza on that back of the head. “What the hell!!!”
“Mean!!! UGLY LADY!” Luna stifled a giggle. She felt like Momocha was standing up for her for the “typical girl” comment.
She cleared her throat and told Momocha to go with Liolac and Chi. She had already registered Liolac and Chi’s voice with her so they could summon items from her. Momocha jumped onto Chi’s shoulder and stuck out her tongue at Raza. Raza’s violet eyes flashed in anger and she pursed her lips but didn’t respond. She flipped back her long pink hair and headed down towards the Aranae.
“Well, let’s do this.”
“Summon fragaria!” Chi groaned. Liolac liked to feed Momocha the fragaria berry as she turned into a humanoid plant creature that could root mobs. Luna and Chi hated it as for ten minutes afterwards, they kept having to continuously feed Momocha and she became too big for either of them to really carry on their shoulders but she would insist on riding on them.
“Wait, Liolac, let’s -” Liolac laughed as he fed Momocha the berries. NooooOooooooOOo. Chi could hear his thoughts echoing as Momocha transformed.
“Let’s go, Momocha!”
“Momocha root spider things!” She let out a happy screech as she threw out her palms towards the Aranae that Liolac attacked. Chi felt like crying. Whenever these two pulled this stunt, he would have to spam heals on Luna as she tried to tank all the mobs that kept trying to throw attacks at Liolac and Momocha. He was sure Liolac would die.
Raza was off to the side attacking two Aranae at the same time and she was in shock. The Meekokat, that wizard… There was no way they would complete the quest properly the way they were fighting. She could see that the cleric was under some strain as he threw heals at the wizard and herself.
“Stop healing the pet! You’re wasting mana!”
Chi kept casting his spells and he shook his head. Momocha may not have been human, but she was a living creature just like any of them and she was a member of their group. None of them would die on his watch if he could help it.
Raza was annoyed. What the hell kind of idiot player would risk the party’s death and quest failure because of a stupid pet? The only upside to this entire endeavor was that he seemed to be a decent healer. She kicked over the Aranae in front of her and brought down her spear through its body repeatedly while it was down.
“Oh, shit!!” Liolac tripped over his robe as he attempted to back away from the Aranae darting towards him.
“Lio!” Momocha rooted the spider monster in place and jumped onto it, bringing down her fists on its head. The Aranae seemed irritated and Chi almost laughed as he saw it losing 2 hp per hit.
“Liolac, get up!” Liolac winced as he struggled to stand up. The unrooted Aranae that he had attacked was bearing down on him quickly and he attempted to roll his body to the side in an attempt to avoid the sharp leg coming down towards him. He yelped as the sharp leg sliced into his arm.
“Damnit!” He tthrew up a fireball at the monster and although its health went down, it did not deter the beast. It lifted another leg to stab him when Raza barreled into it with her spear.
“Get up!” Raza swung her spear, sweeping the monsters eight legs out from under it. It fell onto its back, helpless as Raza stabbed its body. Liolac scrambled to stand, clutching his now bleeding arm. Chi healed him as he wondered to himself if his mending spell could be used to fix Liolac’s robe. Momocha was still doing her best to beat the Aranae under her as it attempted to throw her off.
“Hey, Meekokat, get off!” Momocha snarled at Raza, who glared at her.
“Momocha, c’mere!” Liolac waved her over and she jumped off, heading to Chi.
“…How come she only comes to me when she knows we’re gonna fight?!”
Chi grinned as Momocha put her arms around his leg, still glaring at Raza, who spared her a glance before running towards the Aranae Momocha had been on. Liolac aided Raza by throwing spells at it as she jabbed at it with her spear.
“That Meekokat’s kind of a dick.”
Luna raised her eyebrow and didn’t respond. She was feeding Momocha, who had reverted to her normal form. The debuff on her read: Starving. If you do not feed her consistently for 10 minutes, she will refuse to be summoned for up to 24 hours.
She hated feeding Momocha the fragaria berry because of this. She contemplated taking Liolac off of Momocha’s registered voices. The last time they had used the fragaria berry, they had failed to take the debuff into account and Momocha had disappeared. When summoned, she would pop up to screech out an angry “No!” before disappearing again. That had lasted 3 hours and she didn’t want to take the risk of losing Momocha for 24 hours.
“Guys, it’s getting late, we should head to a town and log off.”
Liolac nodded. “It’s Sunday, so I gotta sleep early. But can we eat first?”
“You guys want me to give you speed?” Liolac’s eyes sparkled. “YEAH! I love that buff!”
Chi threw his hands over the group and light sparkled down onto them. Raza was pleasantly surprised by the feeling. It felt almost like dew was falling onto her. She checked the icon that appeared near her and saw the buff information: Increase movement speed 45%. As weird as this party seemed to her, she was somewhat lonely. She had partied with many different people but they had all left her once the quests were finished.
“Do you guys mind if I go with you? I’m heading to town anyways.”
She wasn’t heading to town – she had planned on continuing to quest until she had to go sleep. Despite their grubby looking gear, she had to admit that they were decent players and she wanted to make friends. That was the whole reason she had started to play this game – she had no friends in real life and her parents had hoped she would be more social. The game was enjoyable but she had scared off all of the people she partied with with her brash and somewhat vain personality.
“Sure! We’re gonna eat some of Chi’s cooking first, though. It’s really good!”
They sat around the campfire as Chi chopped up some herbs on a small cutting board he had purchased in the last town they were in. Momocha hopped around, avoiding Raza, who sat a bit further from the fire than the rest.
“Chi! Berries berries!”
“You’ve had enough, Momocha.”
Momocha pouted and hopped away to Luna. After being fed for 10 minutes, she had grown to the size of a beach ball when she was normally the size of a small watermelon. Normally, Chi would have fed her some berries as he cooked but she had obviously grown too big. Liolac and Luna looked over the loot Liolac had taken off the Aranae.
“Hey, Raza! You want anything from here?”
Raza was surprised that Liolac offered. He grinned at her, waving a bracelet around. “This has +20 strength! You did half the quest so you should take what you want.”
She smiled and held out her hand. “Well, I guess I could use it. It’s kind of plain, though.”
Luna could feel her eye twitch. Raza’s tone and smug look rubbed her the wrong way. “You don’t have to use it, you know.”
“Well, it’s an upgrade so I’ll take it. Even though it doesn’t really go with someone like me physically.”
Chi poured herbs onto a plate hed next to the flames. “Someone like you?”
Raza flipped her hair back as she said, “Well, obviously someone like me should only have beautiful things. Why do you think I’m wearing this outfit? I couldn’t walk around with that ugly beginner’s gear on! And I had to enchant my spear to the max level because I mean, how ugly would this thing be if it wasn’t glowing?”
All three of their jaws dropped. Chi had never heard of someone who thought so highly of themselves while Luna and Liolac had thought people like Raza only existed in tv shows or bad teen movies.
Luna managed to eek out a small, “Oh, I see,” before turning to Chi. “What are we having tonight?”
“I thought I would pan sear the hayfre meat. I’m going to throw some herbs on it so it should be pretty good. I’ve never cooked with this meat before but I hear it’s good.” My siblings and I would never have been able to afford this meat. I wish I could send some to Chisa and the rest.
It was as though Luna knew what he was thinking. “Make some extra. We got a lot of meat when we killed those mobs earlier, right? I’ll take some to Chisa for you.”
Raza was miffed that no one had commented on her outfit or her weapon but she was more curious than angry. “Who’s Chisa?”
The trio fell silent, unsure of how to explain that Chisa was Chi’s sister but that Luna would take her the food. They couldn’t exactly tell someone they’d just met that Chi was a sentient NPC.
“Fine, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” The words sounded angry, as though she felt entitled to an answer.
“I’m sorry, Raza, it’s just really complicated, okay? Maybe after some time – “
“It’s fine! Obviously it’s none of my business.”
Luna hated being interrupted but held her tongue. She didn’t need Raza asking more questions in case she accidentally said something she shouldn’t. “Let’s eat, guys.”