Some time later
Another day, another adventure. Diver woke up in Fort Chiron, a place of stone spikes that'd been formed into walls and towers. They didn't have proper pillows or blankets yet, so the housing was primitive, little better than a stable. He stretched and went down to the Strategic Apple Reserve for breakfast. It was evening here. He looked up at the starry sky of nebulae and shimmering lights, and wondered what time it was anywhere on Earth.
"How're we doing?" he asked one of the NPC guards, as he trotted into the fort's keep.
"Made progress overnight against Flare Star, sir."
"Flare?" he said. He peered at the map table and watched its interactive lights blink impressively.
The NPC responded according to basic language programming: "Flare Star is the leading faction leader. She's known to us as a pegasus focused on heavy armor and crossbows."
"Yes, thank you." Diver saw it already: a list of scores. The top few were:
Flare Star 41
Harvest Moon 39
There were still some stupid names on the scoreboard like SmiteMe69 and Waruiji and William Henry Mareison. But "Sunward Ho" had picked a more dignified stellar name and "Dictator Dong" was sort of out of the picture, with Harvest moon as his technical vassal. He'd renamed his character to "General Goonman", which was a step up. Diver said, "It seems the humans are playing along, a little better."
Nimbus walked in looking sleepy. "What're the humans doing, now?"
He hugged her. "Renaming themselves. Taking our world a little more seriously."
"After all this fighting I would hope so. Did we win the battle today?"
He pointed out a power node that had changed to Harvest Moon's colors. "Looks like it, though we lost a one-pointer elsewhere."
A chime sounded in his ears, making them perk up. "Has it really been that long since I got here?"
"Excuse me. Got to see a mare about a horse."
He sought out Golden Scale. The people of Fort Chiron were busy crafting weapons and armor, and it was tough to tell which of them were human or AI or uploaded. Diver smiled at his own uncertainty. Ideally, it would matter less and less over time. Some of the humans were "asleep" most of the time and came on for an hour or three a day to forge something, mine something, fight in a battle, share in the war story.
After several rounds of being given the runaround, to the point of having to trade a honeycomb to a unicorn to get a sword to trade for a sandwich to bribe a shopkeeper, the town NPCs revealed Golden Scale in the back room of a brewery. The room's scent wasn't quite warm, brewing grain, not yet; the code was still glitchy and approximate, just like all of society here. Diver said, "It's time, huh?"
Scale raised one hoof. A fanfare played and text appeared between them: [Quest complete: A Month On Hooves.] Scale said, "Well, you kept your promise more or less, despite the world getting blown up during it." She looked down at the wooden floor and scuffed it. "You're free to leave now that you've given it a chance."
Diver hugged her too. "I have the heart of a pegasus now, and the Ascension Code, and I've gotten to like having wings. I think this is home for me."
"You mean it?"
"I do. Can't promise to stay forever, but Hoofland is my main place within Talespace, and all my friends are living here or visiting from Earth. Now, that said, I do need to attend to some business outside pretty often."
The mare smiled. "I'm glad to hear it even so. You're one of the ones making it more of a home for people."
"And that's why I need to start commuting sometimes. The queen, all hail, named me Ambassador To Humans."
"I thought you were already Drama Duke."
Harvest Moon had put Diver in charge of making the war fun. That was her faction's secret weapon: making sure that every battle was not just a war of making numbers go up and down, but having wild twists and turns that drew attention and made humans want to participate. In that battle today, for instance, he'd arranged for an angry wind-spirit to rain meteors on the battlefield, and gotten a flambuoyant ninja unicorn to create a distraction. It almost didn't matter who won, so long as everyone was playing together.
He told Scale, "I'm turning that role over to you, if you don't mind. You can do it even better than me. As ambassador, I'm going to be using robots in the Outer Realm more often. Doing charity projects, teaching at schools, and so on. It'll be outreach."
"I like it. It's a way to make our world famous and important. Can I come along, sometime?"
"Sure. It'll be an adventure for you."
There was more warring to do, more travel between planes of reality, more ways to change and grow. Diver looked forward to it all, and to being the best adventurer he could be. Something occurred to him, though. "Hey, Scale. You know there aren't any magical critters in the... in the Outer Realm, right?"
"Well, that's an opportunity for us. Since there are no pegasi or griffins or dragons or the like, all that humans know of them are stories. If we show up more often, with better robots, we'll be the closest to 'the real thing' that there ever was. We'll get to define what a real magical creature is like. Imagine that in a decade, humans say, 'Oh, pegasi? They're super helpful Chaotic Good creatures who rescue people from burning buildings and like to hold spontaneous dance parties. All sorts of scraps of folklore that we created."
"You've already started doing that, by building part of a culture in here. I've been focused on Hoofland, on making the game fun for the players, but I guess we have a responsibility to reach out and be the ones to define ourselves to the outside."
Diver nodded enthusiastically. "So, I'm offering you a quest. Send some part of your consciousness to spend a week in the human world with me, and we'll see what kind of trouble we can get up to."
The mare looked startled, frightened, a little offended, but her expression finally settled on a smile. "I really ought to try it, after pulling you into this world. I accept. It'll be fun."
A fanfare played and a message told him, [Golden Scale has joined the party!] He snorted.
Now, Diver just had to talk someone into making some better robot horses. That sounded like a quest in its own right. Busy, busy. He walked outside, spread his wings, and set out to work on adventuring across the worlds.
I'm a writer with several books up on Amazon. Many of these are in a setting called "Thousand Tales", where a virtual game world offers immortality under the rule of a friendly AI whose ambitions extend far beyond the game.
See kschnee.deviantart.com for a larger gallery of stories, and check out novels such as "The Digital Coyote" or "Liberation Game" for my published fiction!