The world continued, in its reduced state, but the King of Cats could not explain the door to the Jade Emperor in such a fashion that he could understand what the cat meant.
Another day passed without any contact from the celestial servants. By then the Emperor had found a way to access what the King of Cats knew, but he hesitated for a long time. His wife had been fond of the cat, but he wouldn't be able to restore him afterward with the Birds asleep. Her data had been erased just like that of the other players, and their marriage was broken again, but he did not attempt to remove it yet.
He had already tried messaging all of the celestial servants through their celestial dragons, as well as directly, but the messages weren't getting delivered. Keeping the four gods asleep was destabilizing the empire, but there wasn't enough room to let them all wake up. The Emperor gazed at the small cat who was pacing back and forth across the throne room and lashing his tail in irritation.
The four gods contained essential functions, but they did not contain any information about the world that the first among them could not access. The Emperor made his decision. He ate the four gods while they slept. His own size increased as he absorbed the duties of balance, remembrance, boundaries, and refreshing the world. But as he removed the redundant functions from himself the space beyond the empire slowly increased.
He changed a little as he grew, and then purified himself once more. When he finished, he removed the broken marriage and a thousand other things that had lost their reference points since the empire had been reduced. Millions of small errors were cleared, and the Empire stabilized once again.
The Jade Emperor's clear green gaze fell once more upon the King of Cats.
Danika was enjoying her work these days, and she finished up her latest job with a smile. She brought up the list of available jobs, and paused at the first one. It was different than any job she'd seen on her list before. It read simply: "Assist the Jade Emperor in modifying piracy boundaries. Submitted by: The Jade Emperor."
She was a little excited as she accepted it. Here was evidence of another change in the game that had resulted from the Traveling Merchant taking over the identity of the Jade Emperor. She couldn't argue that the cats that Lin Hao was focusing on weren't more alive than any AI she'd ever heard of, but she was really beginning to suspect that the Emperor was too.
The Jade Emperor summoned her to his throne room as soon as she accepted, and smiled cheerfully at her. "Danika Belova, it's good to see that you accepted my request," he told her. "I have analyzed the problem to the best of my abilities and I think that it is being caused by a story that was begun before the Beta ended, but never completed. There are several points where things are being handled in the fashion that many repeatable quests were before they were all updated."
"What is the problem? What are piracy boundaries?" Danika asked curiously.
"The shipping industry that sustains the pirates cannot be expanded beyond its current scope. Goods appear for transport in one of four warehouses on the northern and western coasts, and this makes it far too predictable," he explained.
"Goods appear?" Danika asked. She remembered Ariana explaining how they'd had to set up artificial shipping routes in the northern oceans, long before the expansion. After the expansion, pirates had started complaining that there were no ships to prey upon in the northwestern ocean. Danika had helped set up new routes for shipping to follow, that stopped along the new island chain in the northwest, but she hadn't stopped to question where the goods being transported came from.
"Items are being created for players to capture, in a less personalized fashion than the items that I create for players as the Traveling Merchant," he clarified.
"Oh, right, I guess they'd kind of have to be," she replied. She felt silly for not realizing that all those shipments had to come from somewhere. "What about smugglers?" she asked suddenly. "Are their goods created for the quests too?"
"Yes, of course," the Emperor agreed.
Her brow wrinkled. Something seemed very wrong about that. But in a world where you could fit an entire building into a pouch, and had plenty of flying and teleporting species, there was no reason that you couldn't have an efficient shipping infrastructure without needing ships to carry things along the ocean.
"How are the actual goods that are bought and sold across the empire usually moved?" Danika asked after a moment. "Surely there's something that is actually smuggled from one place to another to avoid taxes and tariffs?"
"Generally goods are moved by couriers, ZipZing has fulfilled a number of those quests," the Emperor pointed out. "There are not many regulations on the transport of goods in most kingdoms and territories throughout the empire. The elves have some rules about importing particularly aggressive plants. Pixies and other species that are aggressive to anyone who enters their territory sometimes interfere with transportation."
Danika was momentarily stumped. What kind of story could possibly explain a seagoing shipping industry in a world that didn't need one. You'd almost have to be transporting something that couldn't be placed into a space enchantment.
Suddenly she asked excitedly, "What if there were portals that were like the enchanted stones that run out after a hundred uses!?"
"How would that be relevant?" the Emperor asked patiently.
"There would have to be shipping methods for those that didn't use spacial enchantments! They could be produced in matched pairs, like the repeatable quest's communicating mirrors? And they could require rare materials from the new ocean to craft? Oh, but those materials would somehow have to reject being placed into enchanted spaces too… um…" Danika trailed off.
"I think they would be very popular with players," the Emperor said encouragingly. "It would be easy enough to add a material to the world that couldn't be transported in enchanted spaces, that would have properties that allowed the creation of charged portals. But I don't understand how you intend to connect it to the pirates?"
Danika backed up and explained the background behind her train of thought. "Ship routes have always been somewhat predictable in our world too, but they are always impelled by the need to convey goods from one place to another. Sometimes those places changed depending on the demand for those goods. Sometimes shipping routes have become so dangerous that those things were carried across vast deserts on the backs of animals instead. What this world lacks is goods that could only be conveyed by the kind of shipping industry that supports the pirates."
"I see, so if you make the objects so large that they cannot be carried gryphon-back, and of materials that can only be collected in the oceans, then ships become something that the empire actually needs," the Emperor commented thoughtfully.
"The objects need to be quite valuable to be worth the risk," Danika added. "And it would be good if there were multiple things required to make them, each from different oceans, or regions."
She suddenly thought of the hair of the Empress that SaltySiamese needed. She had been exchanging messages with Kit and Shrubbery about how to arrange the delivery without making it too obvious, and they'd decided to have SaltySiamese climb the Jade Path. As far as Danika knew, she might even still have the opportunity to be the first to succeed.
"What if at least one of the ingredients was from a living creature that was either very rare or very difficult to collect from?" she asked.
"The Turtle will complain about having another species to balance at the edge of extinction," the Emperor cautioned.
Danika rubbed her chin thoughtfully and said, "I think this project is too big for just me. I think we need a team. Let's ask Devon Yu."
Support "Data Dragon Danika"
I'm not actually a frog... but frogs are cool! They have tiny little hands! And some frogs can even fly (glide)! ...and my name isn't actually Gus, but I've been wearing it long enough that it is?
Since beginning to lose my vision, I've been writing to replace the creating I used to do as drawing and painting.