Chapter Twenty One – A Friendly Chat
“Wow… she’s so beautiful. What do you think, honey? Should I try and switch to that race?”
“I doubt you can. Where do you think she got it?”
I awoke immediately at the voices and yelped. A flurry of butterflies and flowers erupted from my body as I rose.
I spotted two pairs of eyes hovering above me and scrambled in the grass, frantically backing away from the invaders into a tree.
How could I have been so stupid!? Falling asleep!? I’d never needed sleep before! It had just felt so nice to drift off. Of course there would be invaders out here though! Why had I felt safe? I was paying for that now.
“Wh-who are you!?” I shrieked, sitting back down and holding up a hand, prepared to strike if either of them moved.
Two people stood above me, both humanoid from their look. A boy and a girl. A closer look revealed the boy was human while the girl was an elf. Neither of them seemed particularly menacing. They wore rather plain clothes, and didn’t have any of the huge armor and weapons most invaders wore. The man was dark-skinned while the woman’s was a peach color.
That didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous though. Half Bold had taught me that.
“Whoa, sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! We were just admiring your character! Is that a hidden race? How did you unlock it?” the girl exclaimed excitedly, her voice seemingly much older than I had expected.
“And how did you get the butterflies to fall asleep on you like that?” the man muttered.
“Admiring my... character?” They were admiring me? Did invaders often admire one another?
“Yes! I’ve never seen a race like that before! I love how your freckles glow! I know this game has a lot of secrets. How did you unlock it?” the boy asked, leaning in a little closer. He backed away as sparks ran through my hand, but then seemed to stare at my fingers in renewed awe.
How did I unlock my race? I… hurt my family. Killed one of my kin, just because I was angry. It didn’t matter that she was alive and well. It didn’t matter that she didn’t even remember what I’d done. All that mattered was that now I was an “invader.”
“I… did something bad. I didn’t mean to, but I was just so angry. Now… now I can’t go home anymore,” I said, realizing I was whimpering.
The two underwent an immediate change in demeanor, going from happy to concerned in an instant.
“H-hey. It’s… it’s okay,” the girl – no, woman – said consolingly. “What’s your name? I’m Am3t4yst, and this is… ugh... Iron_Crock_584,” she said, her expression turning bland as she looked back at the man.
“What. I like cooking! You know. In a crock pot?” he said, his tone changing in a way I didn’t quite understand. Was he mocking me?
The woman rolled her eyes with a strange expression before turning back to me.
“It’s easier to just call us Amy and Iron for short, Sweetie,” Amy said, her voice carrying a soft tone that I’d never heard from an invader before. “Now, that was a pretty dark comment before. Do you need some help?”
She approached me gingerly, crouching down to reach out for my shoulder, but I flinched away.
“S-stay away!” I insisted.
“Alright, alright,” she said, waving her hands placatingly. She backed away and sat down, leaning against a nearby tree of her own. “You seem distressed. I’d like to help if I can. I’ll just sit right over here, okay? Would you like to talk? If not, we can both be on our way, alright?”
I withered. I wanted to talk. But they were invaders. Monsters. They might seem nice, and I might be one of them now, but it was hard to forget cycles and cycles of being killed by them. Of watching them kill my kindred.
“Uhm if… if you promise not to move. Stay over there! Okay?” I insisted, looking from Amy to Iron in turn.
Iron cocked his head oddly. “Uh, sure.”
He went over next to the girl and sat down on the ground beside her. They sat quite close, their arms touching familiarly.
A flare of jealousy rose in my stomach, but I quashed it down. Perhaps I’d find companions of my own someday, but for now I needed to find out more about these two.
“What… what were you doing here?” I asked them.
“Exploring, of course. We found you sleeping here in the glade,” Amy replied quickly.
“Well… why were you hovering over me?” I asked, pointing an accusing finger at her. “Is that normal?”
“Now, now, don’t you think it's our turn for a question?” Amy asked.
I hesitated. That sounded reasonable, I guessed.
“I… uhm… I guess so?” I said. I was getting tired of holding my arm trained on them and I used my other hand to hold it up, somehow embarrassed. Everything used to just… float. I hated this body...
“Could you tell us your name? We can’t help you if we don’t know who you are, you know,” she said pleasantly.
Was this a trick? Could she use my name? My eyes widened. If she knew my name could she change it like I had done to Half Bold!?
“What will you use it for!?” I asked. “I like my name. You’re not going to steal it are you? Invaders like to steal!”
Iron raised an eyebrow in a way that made me think I’d just said something stupid. “Steal your name…?”
Amy reacted much more kindly.
“No no, Sweetie. You can’t steal a name. Names can only be borrowed!” she said, holding up a conspiratorial finger. “We’ll borrow and use your name to describe you when you’re not around, and to get your attention if we want to talk to you, but it’s always returned to its owner after being used.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her. She sounded really smug about her explanation. It also seemed wrong. I was pretty sure I’d stolen whatever old names Red Thorn and Green Tooth used to have.
Then again, maybe not. Those old names weren’t in my bag or anything, so perhaps they had been returned to their owners!
I smiled brightly at this thought and agreed. “Alright. In that case, my name is Gell! I’m a Jellyfae. Or… I was. I guess I’m an Invader… no, Adventurer Jellyfae now.”
“Gell! What a beautiful name!”
I flushed, deciding right then that I liked Amy. She was nice.
“Honey…? What are you doing?” Iron asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
“Helping her. She’s clearly a child and out of her depth. Would it hurt you to have a little compassion?” she asked.
That was rude! I wasn’t calling her a child! Besides, I was way more mature than any of my family!
“Hey, I’m not a child! I’m like a thousand cycles old!” I barked, as I folded my arms across my stomach in a way that felt natural and glared at the woman. Something about these two had put me at ease, at least enough not to have my shocker ready.
Unperturbed, Amy looked back at me and smiled, and suddenly I felt guilty for being offended. She had said she was trying to help me, after all. I wondered if all invaders went through something like this.
“You seem rather young though. Have you been on your own for long?” she asked.
I fidgeted, before admitting, “No, just... just last night. I finally got free, but I had to become an invader to do it. I’m… a little lost.”
Her eyes widened, and she put a finger to her mouth. “Free… you escaped from somewhere? You mean in the real world?”
I blinked, confused. “Real… world?”
She looked really horrified all of a sudden, and I wondered if I’d said something bad. She didn’t push the issue though, shaking her head a little sadly, and muttering something about awful parents. When a few moments passed and neither of them spoke, I began to grow uncomfortable. I didn’t really want to admit it, but I was enjoying the conversation.
That said, I couldn’t continue talking to these people if they planned to invade my home like Red Thorn, or Half Bold.
“Did you… uhm. Did you come here to invade Dungeon Home, like the others?” I asked, almost dreading the answer.
They both laughed a little at that.
“No sweetie. We’re a little old for that sort of thing. We play the game because it’s great to feel young again. In the real world we’re well into our sixties. We paid a group to escort us out here so we could get this Home Point. Most of the stuff for our professions can be bought in town but sometimes you just have to go get it yourself. Helps that this is a beautiful place, don’t you think?”
“I… uhm. I do,” I agreed readily. There it was again: The “Real World.” What did that mean? Not to mention this was the second time I’d heard my reality referred to as a game. It reminded me of Half Bold.
“Besides, there’s plenty you can do in Tread the Sky that isn’t killing and the like. I’m a master Carpenter, both here and in the real world, don’t ya know? Though you’ll never be famous like Ralts Knight or The Wanderer if you don’t follow the main quest and hunt monsters.”
“But… you’re saying that there are people who talk? People who don’t invade other Dungeon Homes and hurt the families there?” I asked, feeling a thrill rise in my chest.
They hesitated, but Amy was the first to speak again. “Well… yes and no. Creatures outside of towns attack adventurers. You can’t play this ga–err. You can’t live in this world without occasionally having to fight.”
“But you can be an adventurer without being an invader!” I interrupted whatever he was about to say, unconsciously edging closer to the two of them in desperation. “You don’t… you don’t have to become an invader when you look like this?”
Amy looked confused. “Of… of course not. We don’t go dungeon diving but we still log in almost every night!”
I shivered, delighted. “I’m glad. I was… determined not to become an invader, but I was afraid. What if all the invaders once thought the same things I do? Felt the same ways I felt?”
They both stared at me for a moment, perplexed.
“I’m… starting to think this might not be a player, hon. Think she’s part of a quest?” Iron said to Amy.
I cocked my eye at him.
“Quest? What’s a quest?” I asked, scooting even closer to the couple, my interest piqued.
“Uh… no dear, I don’t think so,” Amy replied, before speaking louder for me. “Well, Gell. A quest is a way to gain experience. Most of them involve hunting for items... or killing dangerous monsters, but plenty of them involve traveling to new locations, or building creations. Learning spells and new abilities, as well as earning money. Would you like to–!”
The woman’s words were interrupted by a sudden, blaring alarm that had me covering my ears. It was nothing like Momma Bossbear’s roar, but the suddenness of it took me back to that first time she had echoed her challenge, and my body shook involuntarily.
Amy had looked away over at Iron and sighed, so she didn’t see my shaking. “I’m sorry, Gell. We are unfortunately going to have to log off. Medication time. Always fun,” she said in a way that made me certain medication time was about as fun as being stabbed by a dagger.
The alarm noise cut off and I managed to get my trembling under control by the time Amy turned back to me.
“We’re going to have to go for a little while honey. But here, would you like to be friends with us? That way we can talk more in the future if you like?” she asked, fiddling around in the air.
Suddenly another box appeared in front of me.
Am3t4yst has invited you to be friends. Do you accept?
There was an official method of becoming friends!? I didn’t know that! I needed to send one of these to Bugbear!
… when… when I came back for him anyway.
I selected Yes, and was delighted to see a list appear. This box wasn’t as large as the request, but it looked sleek with a pretty border around the edges. There listed under “Friends” was the name “Am3t4st - Online!”
“Ohh!” I exclaimed, staring at the image in horror. “I took your name! Take it back! I’m not a thief!”
She smiled again, laughter in her eyes.
“You’re really worried about that, aren’t you? Don’t worry. My name is right here with me.” She pointed above her head and for the first time I noticed a barely visible tag hovering over her like a halo. It said her name!
But… I still had a part of it here in this list. How was that possible?
I stared at her, incredulous. “You’re suuure?”
Another invitation came from Iron and I turned to look at him. He smiled comfortingly as well with a sheepish shrug. “Well, we aren’t going to be as close as you and Amy of course, but I could always use a new friend!”
I beamed. That sounded nice. I accepted his invitation as well and sure enough Iron_Crock_584 appeared right beneath Amy’s name.
I stared at the two names trying to parse them. They’d pronounced them Amethyst and Iron Crock Five Eighty Four, but neither of them looked right. Ahm three tah four yest! No. No that was awful. I decided then and there that reading those names would drive me insane. Amy Thyst and Iron Crock.
The names changed before my eyes and I beamed at the menu before turning back to Amy.
“W-well. How do I give you a piece of my name then? Are you… are you sure you both have to go?” I asked.
“We already traded! A piece of my name, for one of yours. See!? Friend’s List,” she said, pulling up her own list and spinning it around, then pointing to my name. Gell! I was her friend just like she was mine! She was right! She’d borrowed my name but I still had it!
“Wow…!” I said, looking first at my name, then at all the other names she had listed. “You have so many friends! How many pieces can you split your name into?”
Amy smiled and ignored my question entirely. “You will too, one day. I’m sure. We’ve got to go now though, sweetie.”
I frowned. I… liked my new friends. Did they have to go?
Seemingly able to pick up on my emotions once again, Amy gave a sad smile. Who knew there were so many different ways to smile?
“Unfortunately. But we’ll be back. Say in four hours?” she asked.
I… didn’t want to admit I didn’t know how long an hour was. I knew it was sixty minutes! I knew it was three thousand six hundred seconds! But… I didn’t know how long any of those were. I only really understood how long a cycle was.
“Uhm. Okay! I’ll… I’ll be here in four hours then!” I told her hoping she didn’t notice. How many cycles was that? One? A cycle was so long! Would they mind if I went and explored? What if I missed them?
Amy seemed to notice something in my tone.
“Sweetie… can you touch your friends list for me, and then spin it around like I just did? That will let me see it, okay?” she said gently.
I did so and the list suddenly became even more solid! I twisted it and it spun in mid air. Amy took a look at it and frowned before muttering, “We’re her only friends?”
She didn’t dwell on that though, instead turning back to me. I was taller than her, but somehow felt I should be shorter as she drew my attention to the board. I was learning so much about inva– er… adventurers, just from this one conversation!
“Okay. See how it says “Online?” she asked, gesturing for me to walk around the screen and look. I did so and saw what she was talking about.
“Yes?” I said, feeling like she was being condescending. I could read.
“When we logoff, that’ll say “Offline” and our names will look greyed out. When we come back, it’ll say “Online” again. That way you can know when we’re around and come back here to meet us. Does that sound good?”
‘Ohhh! That’s what she means!’ I thought. Now I could tell when they were around and when they were gone.
“Okay! I’ve got it!” I said, bouncing exuberantly.
“Alright. We’ll be back in a few hours. It was wonderful to meet you, Gell, and I hope to see you again soon!” she said while fiddling with screens I couldn’t see.
Then, the two of them faded away. Just… slid into transparency and disappeared.
A shiver still ran through my spine as I compared their disappearance with the bodies of the bugbears after they died. I did my best to keep smiling while they waved goodbye.
Once I might’ve been terrified by that, but now I knew they would be back.
I had friends. I had made friends! I had talked to people who said new things! Being an adventurer — not an invader — was the best thing ever!
Support "Artificial Jelly"
- United States
I'm Materia-Blade. I've been a long time fanfiction writer, and have recently decided to toss my hat into the original fiction arena. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and Lit-RPG's and have read hundreds of books from each genre.
My new story Artificial Jelly has released and is currently being pretty well received! Excited for it to hit trending! Thanks to those who support it, and me, and I hope it continues to impress!
Hope to hear from you soon!