Lucy collapsed spread-eagle onto her back and stared up at the sky through the trees. "Oof, that was exhausting. I think I might call it a night, Fluff-kins."
We had successfully killed off about half of the pack of savagers, gaining two levels. I'd received a couple of behavior points, as well: one when I managed to somersault off a savager's face and latch onto the next one, and another when I somehow maneuvered myself into a savager's mouth when it was trying to bite Lucy.
I'd even got a chance to peck one of the dead bodies. It was okay. Didn't taste all nasty like plorgs, but they had nothing on spiderlings. I left the rest of them alone after that, since it seemed like Lucy needed the loot to feel better about the amount of effort she was putting in.
And boy was she ever putting in effort. Even with the level increases, we were only able to handle one or two at a time before Lucy needed to take to the trees. Then she'd have to jump between trees until the savagers lost track of us, and then ambush one of the last to leave. There was one memorable moment where she didn't quite make the jump, too…I flopped down on my back next to Lucy. She was right, we needed a break.
"Think I can log out here? I wonder if those savagers will respawn in the interim."
Knowing how my life tended to go…yeah, we needed to get back at least to the meadow around the forest shrine. Cheep cheep. Cheep!
I rocked back and forth until I was able to roll onto my front and push to my feet. I found Lucy giving me a bemused grin. Pa-keeng! Oh, for crying out—I swiped open my interface. Cuteness. Flicking game.
"Aw, don't be like that! That was adorable!" Lucy scooped me up and trudged back toward the forest shrine.
Lucy logged back in, and after our standard hugs, Lucy decided to go try her hand at the savagers to the north for a change of pace. I perched on her shoulder and popped open my interface to take a gander at the date.
August 20. With a sinking feeling, I did the math. Six days since she'd last logged on. A little over two weeks in real world time since she'd gotten stuck in this high-level zone.
Something was screwy. I'd never heard of an event, much less a compulsory event, that lasted two weeks in the real world. Sure, there were sometimes ongoing themed reward tracks or similar that could last up to a month, but an intensive quest like this one? It just didn't make sense.
It also didn't bode well for me and Lucy. Sure, she'd proven that she could level up with a bit of effort against the savagers. I suspected that we could probably find ways to off the other monsters in the near vicinity, as well, and eventually through the sheer power of grinding we'd likely make it out of the woods. But would that be fun? I didn't think so, and given the increasing spans of time between Lucy's sessions, I was guessing she didn't, either. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, she couldn't replenish her supplies, or learn skills, or buy equipment. All she could do was fight punishingly difficult battles with little room for error until she'd clawed her way up the stats ladder enough to be able to escape. Despite the promise of this event quest, there wasn't even any story involved to keep her interested.
Not good. It made me wonder, too. A game moderator starts poking around, Lucy hears from the academia folks, I talk to Witchy, and then next thing I know a suspiciously buggy "special event" strands us in the middle of nowhere. Had the system been lying to me? Maybe it decided that we were too much of a risk to leave running around with game moderators and outside machine intelligence researchers getting interested.
What was frustrating was I had no way to know, since there didn't appear to be any NPC break rooms out here in the boonies, and despite thinking very pointed thoughts I received no indication that the system was listening.
The thing that surprised me, though, was that my first rush of emotion at the thought of being stranded out here by a potentially rogue artificial intelligence wasn't fear for my own longevity; it was outrage at how unfair this all was to Lucy. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that, honestly. I'd always thought that trying to encourage Lucy to enjoy the game was all about me, but maybe somewhere along the way I'd started to care about her having fun for her own sake. That in turn made me feel kind of unsettled, though I was having a tough time figuring out why.
Thankfully for my peace of mind, Lucy practically walked straight into one of the savagers to the north, and the resulting melee threw uncomfortable thoughts straight out of my head.
August 24. Lucy gained another level, pushing the two of us to level 13, and logged out shortly after decimating most of the northern savagers. We were starting to really get the hang of how to handle them, at least, which was nice.
August 30. For a change of pace, Lucy decided to fight the goat-things, which turned out to be Gloaming chupas. That was strange, since they looked absolutely nothing like the low-level chupas we'd been fighting in the Golem-born lands prior to getting stranded out here, but hey, whatever. Lucy died a couple times, since thanks to their absurd agility the darn things were actually more difficult for her to fight than the savagers. Through dogged persistence we managed to finally figure out a successful strategy involving taunting them, then immediately running away to a nearby cave in which they could only come at her two or three at a time from the front. Lucy killed off most of the pack just before logging off, gaining us another level.
September 5. We took another shot at the pair of monsters that had originally slaughtered us, but they once again slaughtered us. Lucy took out her frustrations on both packs of savagers, gaining yet another level.
For the northern pack, we even got a notification congratulating us on wiping out the entire pack. Apparently completely eradication of sets of monsters was one of the quest objectives, though at this point I didn't think we were part of a legitimate quest, at all. There had simply been too much time passing in the real world.
September 12. Lucy logged in, but rather than immediately heading off to kill off more monsters, she sat down and started messing around with her interface. When it became clear that she was unlikely to do anything particularly interesting to me, I wandered off and opened my stat sheet, as well. Ooh, look at that, I even had some stat points to distribute! Lucy must have forgotten for the last few levels, although true to form she'd dumped the gains from two of our recent levels straight into Plushitude.
|Name: Mr. Familiar||Race: Peck-Peck|
|Main Class: Peckserker||Sub Classes: --, --|
|Level: 15||Stat points: 6|
|Cuteness: 20||Flexibility: 34|
|Expressiveness: 29||Plushitude: 41|
Ugh, what to do? I could drop a point in Expressiveness to bring it up to an even 30, but then I wouldn't be able to get Flexibility up to level 40. Granted, I was maneuvering pretty darn well at this point, but hitting 20 had allowed me to fly. Maybe 40 would have some additional benefit. Not that I'd noticed any change despite my high Plushitude. Hm.
In the end I dropped one point in Expressiveness, five in Flexibility, and just had to hope for a behavior point to boost my Flexibility further. I hadn't received one in a while, but maybe I wasn't shaking things up enough. I'd have to try new ways to mess with our enemies, I guessed.
Lucy finished up whatever it was she was doing with her stat window, and we went and annihilated the southern savager pack.
September 17. Lucy initially decided to try her hand at the savager packs again in hopes of gaining some straight-forward experience, but neither of them had respawned. Whoops. Looked like if we wiped them out, they were gone for good. That was a benefit if it meant it was easier to get away from this particular forest shrine, but although killing the things was routine at this point, it was still far from easy.
She took out her feelings of frustration on the Gloaming chupa pack, although she intentionally avoided hunting down every last one.
September 25. I stared at the date in front of me with resignation. I'd been right. Lucy was playing almost half as often as she used to, and the amount of time between play sessions was getting longer.
Clearly, I had to do something. I just wasn't sure what that would be.