0 1 0
1 0 0
0 1 0
1 0 0
0 0 0
0 1 1
"I'll double it, one-thousand standards!" Betsy said and slammed a furoshiki-wrapped bag down on the table. "Here's the original offer of five-hundred as the down." Everyone in the party had pitched in all of their standards from the scant week they'd been in the alpha. Qian had earned the most and hence had grumbled the loudest. It would've been no problem if they could bring their accounts over from the Three Kingdoms.
"To cross the Great Abyss? On my tiny sloop?" The captain shook his grizzled jowls. "Are you out of your mind?"
"What kind of smuggler are you?" Ken said from his chair next to Betsy.
"Hey, you didn't even say 'Great Abyss' at first." He patted the wheel behind him. "My little girl's sleek and fast but strictly a coast runner." Squinting at Betsy, he poked the furoshiki with a fat finger. "I'll tell you what, for five-hundred, I'll run you down to Shimonoseki. It's only hundred kilometers. It's the main port of call for the Southern Archipelago. You could find a bigger ship there. What do you say?"
Betsy harrumphed and swept the furoshiki up in her hand. "If I wanted to take a detour, I wouldn't have upped my offer." She turned to Ken. "Let's get out of here. All of a sudden it smells like piss in here, the stale piss of cowards."
Minor Encounter: You sure showed that greedy sonofabitch who's the boss!
Rep (updated)= 50
XP = +50
XP (updated) = 300
They walked out of the steering house, clambered over the bulwark, and then climbed down the rope ladder to the dock.
"You're not going to find anyone in this backwater town who'll take you," the captain yelled down at them. "You'll be back."
Betsy and Ken stomped down the dock. Their boots fitted with ankle weights shook the planks.
Betsy stumbled. "What're we going to do now?" she said, after catching her balance. "He was our last chance and it's already day three." Twenty-one days left to complete the quest. Two days ago, both Ken and Chie had independently verified that the quest had to be completed in twenty-four days. And now they'd wasted one entire day down at the docks.
She tripped. "Ow!" she yelped when she banged her shin on the end of a timber sticking out from the airship's hull. She hopped on one foot a couple of times. Brittle rubber sealant crunched under the soles of her boots.
"I, for one," Ken smiled and smacked her shoulder, "am glad we didn't take this piece of shit. We would've sunk before we even made it out of the berth."
She laughed. "Let's go get tea." She was hungry; they'd skipped lunch and had only had one char-siu BBQ pork bun each for breakfast from the kitchen downstairs at their inn.
They started walking back to the tea shop next door to their inn in the entertainment district and took a shortcut through the warehouse district. As they passed the warehouses, Ken gaped at the palettes of goods stacked all the way up to the ceilings.
He walked into one warehouse right inside the large bay doors and read the packing labels. "What?" She nudged him with her shoulder. "Never been down to the watch the cranes unload the containers in the port of Oakland?" He'd told her he'd grown up in Berkeley.
"Nope. Too busy game programming or on church retreats, but I'd better learn the basic economics of this world. Look here." He pointed to a packing label on which was written one-hundred kilograms of unrefined iron ore. He pointed to others and read them off. "Five-hundred kilos of sail canvas, three-hundred thirty-five kilos of furs, two-hundred sixty-one kilos of hemp rope."
"Those aren't the most important goods," she said.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" a man in a one-piece jumper suit jabbed a crowbar in their direction. "This here's private property!"
"We're expecting a shipment of brain foam," Betsy said.
The man narrowed his eyes. "Is that so? Well, we ain't got none of that."
"Execute Persuasion with max Rep," she sub-vocalized, staring into the man's eyes. "Are you sure a shipment didn't come in the last two days?"
His eyes dilated and glazed over. "Maybe, what's the name?"
Menial encounter: You rock! Are you sure you weren't born a con artist?
IQ = 89 * 0.01 = +0.089%
Rep = 50 * 0.05 = +2.5%%
Species adjustment: 0% (Boring, Balanced Human)
Class adjustment = +20% (Kick-ass Warrior)
Target adjustment = -10% (Run-of-the-mill Warehouse Manager)
Success probability = 12.589%
Result = Success
Rep = +1
XP = +1
Rep (Updated)= 50 - 50 + 1 = 1
Suddenly, the high shriek of neighing horses as loud as police sirens echoed throughout the warehouse.
They all clapped their hands over their ears.
After the shriek dissipated, the man turned his steely gaze on them. "Get the hell out of here, right now." Eight others ran up, flanking him on both sides. They all held black crowbars.
Ken and Betsy's hands flashed down to the hilts of their katanas.
The shrieking negated the Rep effect.
The man pointed to two of his men. "Go shut them up." They took off to the back of the warehouse.
"We don't want any trouble," Betsy said as they backed out of the bay doors. All the while, the men glared at them.
Walking down the muddy street away from the warehouse, Ken kept glancing back, but no one was following them. "Phew, that was close. "What was their problem?"
"You needn't have worried, they're location-anchored NPCs. Their purpose is to protect the warehouse."
They rounded the corner of their inn's street.
"Excuse me, kind sir," a balding man in a tattered trench coat said to Ken, "could you spare some change for—"
"Sure, here you go," Ken said and handed him a half-a-standard coin.
"Thank you, thank you," the man said as he threaded a metal cord hung around his neck through the hole in the center of the coin. The jingle of the coins as the man bobbed his head up and down faded away behind Ken and Betsy as they marched away in lock step.
Ken turned his face to Betsy. "Well, I thought for sure they were going to attack us. It wasn't like we were stealing anything or kidnapping their baby."
"They're smuggling contraband."
He scrunched up his brow.
"Brain foam," Betsy said.
"Brains?" He gagged.
She laughed. "Not the human kind, not even the animal kind."
He took several deep breaths.
"It's the street name for quantite," she said.
"Duh." He slapped himself on the cheek. "You told me on our way here. The ore that gives the airships their lift. But you didn't tell me it was contraband."
"Quantite wasn't in the help entry for airships when I first looked it up in Ishigumi, but this morning it appeared—apparently, after Greg had heard about it from the dockworkers on his early morning jaunt down here. Seems like the system only let's us see things in context. Anyways, its market price is through the roof because it's one of the few goods banned by the Blizzard Berserker King. All of the mines are state-owned and any illicit ore they find is confiscated. Often, quantite's hidden in the iron because in its unrefined form it looks very similar to iron and then when they're mixed together, they're almost indistinguishable." She pinched her lips with her fingers. Anyone would take them across for that obscene amount of money and she and Ken would be able to level up faster. They could complete the raid operation tonight. Her heartbeat sped up. "It's a lot of loot."
"You're not thinking of—"
"It never hurts to know what your options are." She winked at him.
"Look, it won't work. No one's going to take us no matter how much we pay them and the ships are all way too small—they gotta be at least frigate-size—and they're so run-down a rat wouldn't even stow away on them."
She sighed. "What was I thinking? You sure are one smart cookie and, on top of that, a real slick talker. You had everyone sold on the idea."
"I didn't have to convince anyone that we have to finish the quest as soon as possible. Everyone got the same ultimatum when they couldn't log out."
"No." She laughed. "I meant convincing everyone that one of the shards was across the Great Abyss."
He held up a finger. "Except for Qian."
They stepped into the tea shop. None of Betsy's team had gotten back. They ordered chai and a waiter brought over two sturdy white mugs filled to the brim with steaming golden brown chai.
Betsy sipped her chai and inhaled the aromatic cardamom, prompting memories of the early morning breakfasts at home. She smiled and took another sip. One time, she had told a joke that was so funny Kumar blew tea out of his nostrils. Poor Kumar. In spite of the fact that his nose had certainly smarted, she'd felt particularly proud of her purposeful timing, which had earned her Kumar's dish duty for the rest of that week. Additional time for contemplating on the nature of true reality, so their mother had said. She wrapped her hands around the mug and sipped again. The ocean of tea spiced with ginger and black pepper washed all over her tongue, a living beach. What was the nature of true reality? A game world where she could taste and smell and—her palms absorbed the warmth from the sides of the mug—feel. But she couldn't log out and neither could anyone else. It was all exactly as Ken had said and although they could all deal with the fact that they were stuck in the game, what was worse was what he didn't know. Would they respawn? Or would they—Betsy swallowed the wrong way and coughed—which begged the question about their bodies. What had happened to their bodies back in—
The door blew open and Greg tumbled in. Rain blasted in behind him.
"Shut that door for Chrissakes," the tanuki owner at the counter yelled, wiping his hands on his yellow-stained overalls.
Greg slammed it behind him. Betsy waved him over. He sauntered up to the table, shrugged off his drenched trench coat, and dropped down onto the bench. The waiter brought over another mug of hot tea and they ordered yosenabe snow quail egg stew in a heavy iron pot. As they ate, she told Greg about the warehouse with the quantite contraband.
"Sweet," Greg said, slurping a spoonful of rice and half a boiled egg. "You'll never guess what I found."
"I'll bite," she said, plucking tofu and long chives out of the pot with her chopsticks and then submerging them in her dashi dipping bowl. "A jet plane."
"Have you ever even seen anything remotely technological in the White Imperium? Even a steam engine?" Greg laughed. "How about a level ninety wizard who could teleport us over the Great Abyss."
Her eyes opened wide.
At a table in the dark back of the tea shop, red-striped kitsune ears perked up.
"But it's going to cost us a lot more than the thousand we got," Greg said.
"What are we talking here? Ten thousand?" she said.
"Yep," Greg said. "Per person."
"That's highway robbery," Ken said.
"That's our job," Greg said, pointing his chin at Betsy.
She nodded. "Yep, our nickname's 'Robbing for the Hood'."
"That was you?" Ken almost choked on a satoimo taro. "We always made sure to fund at least one dollar-for-dollar match on your gaming charity drives."
"I know." She smiled.
"But this time it's not just a game, someone could really die tonight," Greg said.
"It is a risk," she said.
"Tonight?" Ken said. "We don't have a quest tonight."
Betsy and Greg grinned at each other. "Now we do."
Ken turned first to Betsy and then to Greg.
"The quest to raid the warehouse and retrieve the contraband," they intoned in perfect synchronicity.
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Quantum Katana
Tech writer by day / Dungeon master by night
Be immersed in my TechnoPhantasia stories and strike down charging oni with your blood-splattered digital katana.
Discord: quantum katana#8807 (hanging out on the LitRPG Forum and GameLit Forum servers)