Finally, the month of torture was at an end. I mean… scribing, not torture… right. Jessex and Udona had both long since explained the plan to me, though from different perspectives. Jessex wanted to play up that the kingdom of Lyrea was more specialized for scribes, and that I’d be able to more easily find the materials I needed there. As for Udona…
I’m not asking you to join the guild or anything. But it would put my mind at ease if you didn’t stay in Xanjafar. With Beholden building their base there, I’m worried that they’ll be making their move soon. Life’s Dream is already a properly established guild, so we have the resources to help you grow.
I looked towards the workshop desk, which I had become very familiar with during the last month. I could tell by Udona’s tone that she wasn’t really trying to get me out of the city for my own safety. So I had given her a condition, one that I thought that I wouldn’t be able to achieve. And that condition had actually caused Life’s Dream to go so far as to collect all of the ink materials that I needed.
My condition was that I didn’t want to leave Xanjafar until I had learned Chakra Control. But to learn a second tier skill was so much more expensive than a basic one like Ki or Inscription. Those only cost half a silver, but second tier skills had a price tag of a single gold coin. My month of slaving away on the scrolls was all for the purpose of achieving my goal.
“Have you found the trainer?” I asked Jessex, who was leaning against the wall of the building as I exited. I had all of my firebrand talismans in my inventory, so there was plenty of ammunition for me to use once I had the skill.
She chuckled, pushing off from the wall to walk alongside me. Her eyes stared up towards me as she spoke. “His name is Jinx Hartfelt. A recluse that lives within the forest outside of town. Second tier skills aren’t as easy to get, especially for first timers.” She waved a hand, and a window appeared in front of me.
Jessex has chosen to share the quest Rescue the Recluse!
Rescue the Recluse!
Jinx Hartfelt has always been a free soul. He carved out his own path in life and in land. While others hid within their cities under assault by the Mad King, Jinx attacked the enemy bases, slipping in and out undetected. It was thought that he made it through the war unscathed, even. However, in recent months, there has been no contact from the man. When a team was sent to investigate, they found signs of battle, hob weapons strewn about.
Quest Objective: Find the reclusive Jinx Hartfelt
Quest Reward: +30 Favorability with Jinx Hartfelt, +20 Reputation with Xanjafar
“I suppose that the skill can’t be learned without him?” I couldn’t help but let out a groan as I thought of that. Surely, there should have been other people within the city that knew how to combine ki and mana, right?
“Unfortunately, not that I can see. If anyone knows it, they won’t talk about it.” Jessex shrugged her shoulders. “If I had to guess based on the AI levels, they have a ‘fear’ setting. Jinx was the prominent figure when it came to chakra. With him captured, they are set to keep their knowledge to themselves, out of a ‘fear’ that they may be taken next.”
“We only even learned as much as we did thanks to this old demon veteran. He heard us asking around about chakra and approached us to tell the story. That’s when we got this quest.”
I’m just going to pretend that the veteran didn’t sound like the same person who taught me ki. If it was, then it was likely that they knew how to use chakra as well, and had some personal relationship with Jinx. “Alright… do we know where to go, at least?”
Jessex gave a small nod, putting two fingers in her mouth and letting out a loud whistle. “The quest comes with map information. As long as you’ve studied a map of the region to gain the minimap feature, it’ll update for you.”
As she said that, she pulled a rolled up map out of her inventory to pass to me. When I glanced down towards the map, I noticed that half a dozen other figures had walked out onto the road to join us. Some of them I recognized as members of Life’s Dream that had helped me gather resources over the past month, and I offered them nods of greeting. Hela herself even appeared, though her attire had changed.
Where once she wore only the basic starting clothes, she now had a white robe adorning her body. A blue cross, which was somewhat ruined when the top split into a deep V just above her chest, was engraved on the center of the robe. Around her neck she wore a silver pendant shaped like a three-pronged spiral facing downwards, and in her hands she carried a white, marble staff.
In all honesty, she looked like the perfect image of a felyn priestess, and she shot me a knowing look as she joined up with our group. “Finally about to leave this place, huh?” It seemed that she was getting bored of staying in one place for so long, as well.
“Yeah, we just need to take care of a quest on our way. I take it you managed to get your skills just fine, though?”
Hela simply shrugged in response, lightly tapping the staff along the ground as we walked towards the city exit. “My skill quest was a bit easier. I had to prove my devotion by answering riddles concerning the gods. Thankfully, most of the information the riddles used came from the real world.”
“Okay, yeah, that is a lot easier than what we have to do… though it will be a big help to have a real healer along for the battle.” I swiped the quest screen over towards Hela, sharing it with her.
There was a brief grimace on her face as she nodded. “A rescue mission with no real information about the enemy’s strength. Assuming that the hob weapons weren’t decoys set out to confuse people, he might be in the middle of a hob village. And if he’s been there for months… he’s either dead, or dying.”
“That doesn’t make sense, though!” Jessex called out, running up on the opposite side of Hela to speak to her. “Quest rewards shouldn’t be ‘impossible’, even if the objective is. The quest says that we need to find Jinx, and that the reward will be an increase in personal favorability with him. He’s got to be alive for that, doesn’t he?”
Hela nodded her head, analyzing the text again. “The information doesn’t say that we have to rescue him, though. If it’s enough to simply find him, then either he doesn’t have any hope of being rescued, or he has no desire to be rescued.”
Jess’s eyes widened as a possibility occurred to her. “You mean that he might have faked his own capture.”
“It’s possible.” Hela gave another nod, glancing towards the guard NPCs as we left the city. “Everyone has their own stress setting. If his situation got to be too hard on him, he might have staged a fake battle in order to slip away without anyone knowing where he went. He could easily be in an entirely different kingdom by now, if that’s the case.”
It was here that I had to interject. “And we won’t know until we reach his home. That’s where the first clue is. If he’s in a different region altogether… I’ll work on the skill on my own. It’s not so hard in reality, so I imagine that it can’t be too bad here.”
Hela chuckled lightly. “Yeah, just imagine it as a cross between normal chakra and blacksmithing, from what I read. I know one of those is just your favorite subject, isn’t it Tebor?”
There was a wicked grin on her face that gave me flashbacks to our original blacksmith training, back when I was just starting as a Keeper. I felt a shiver run down my spine, shaking my head abruptly. I had chosen to do my own blacksmithing later to help in the elven war, but that was still a rather dark spot in my early training.
Inwardly, I decided that I needed to get a trainer, even if it was just to help with my own sanity.
“Oi… he should be ‘round here, no?” A blindfolded dwarf stood within a thick tree, accompanied by a burly demon.
“This is where the quest led us, at least.” The demon muttered with a nod. “Are you feeling anything here?”
“Aye.” The dwarf nodded, a faint glow radiating beneath the cloth over his eyes. “There was a battle here, alright. Blood was shed, and the spirits still roam for vengeance. Hobs, too, by the look. But they’re blurrin’. If this was back home, I’d say they been dead a week, but that can’t be. Quest said months, didn’t it?”
“Maybe spirits simply decay more slowly here?” The demon guessed. “Do you want to get rid of the spirits, cover the tracks to confuse other players?”
“What, are ye daft or somethin’!?” The dwarf shouted, looking towards his companion. “What’d be the point in comin’ here, then? We’re not after the quest reward, just the skill. Long as someone finds the man, I don’t rightly care who it is. More the merrier, I say. Just gimme a quick moment.”
The dwarf stepped up towards one corner of the room. In his vision, the entire world was black, with a single, small form blurred just beyond his normal sight. As he approached, one of his hands came up, lifting his blindfold. His eyes shone like stars, one blue and the other red. “Little guy, why don’t you tell us what you know about the man who lived here, hmm?”
It took nearly an hour to navigate through the woods, until finally we came upon a large, hollowed tree. A small doorway stood just at its base, the door kicked out of place. Had it not been, it would likely have blended in quite well with the tree. Though… it also made it quite clear that Jinx was a halfling.
Just as I was about to approach, Hela pushed her arm out to stop me, her staff blocking my path. She was looking into the house with a serious expression. “Who’s in there?!” She called out loudly.
“Oi, did ye have to shout!?” A deep, heavily accented voice responded. A short, stocky dwarf carefully made his way through the doorway, a blindfold covering both eyes. “Was just finishin’ up an important talk.” Behind the dwarf, there was a demon that actually had to get down on his knees and crawl out of the hut.
“Beholder….” Jessex grit her teeth as she saw the man. “Come on, guys, what are you doing here? Isn’t it too early for this, still?”
“And what’s that supposed to mean, lass? Hmm, judging by that voice… the Jess girl, right? Halfling? What variation you using this time? Jessek, Jessem?”
“Jessex, actually.” She answered, still staring daggers at the two figures.
“Jessex, then. Anyways, we’re here same reason as you, I imagine. Trying to find a lost ninja. Found a little spirit inside to interrogate, got some pretty juicy info. If yer interested, that is.” There was a knowing smile on the man’s face as he said that.
“And what is it you’re wanting in return?” Jessex moved a step closer to me, as if ready to defend against an attack.
“Not a thing.” I swear, Jessex actually tripped when he said that, falling onto her side. “I wanna learn the skill this guy’s got to offer, and that’s that. Ye get to him before we do, quest reward’s all yer’s. Long as I get what I came here to get, doesn’t matter to me. So, want the info or not?”
“Sure…” Jess grumbled as she stood up in front of me, still clearly wary.
“Well, there’s a couple of hob spirits inside, lookin’ bout ready to fade. Managed to strike up a ‘conversation’ with one, and learned that the midget was taken to their base. Orders from on high, he said. But he couldn’t tell how long ago it was, what with being dead and all. Killed by Jinx in the battle to capture him.”
“So he was captured, after all…” Jessex muttered to herself, seeming to believe his explanation. Well, the presence of a hob spirit would be easy enough for anyone to confirm with mana control. And a spirit should only be left behind if the corpse wasn’t looted, meaning that it’d be impractical to try to fake that information.
As for whatever the hob ‘told’ him, that part was still subject to suspicion. All that we knew for sure was that there was a battle, and it involved hobs. Which was enough of a reason as any to look for their tribal camp.