Fey was thrown off her stride almost immediately upon logging back into Fantasia - despite how she was standing still. It happened when a familiar sounding voice called out, “Arwyn! She’s over there.”
Fey spun. Why was someone using her real name inside the fantasy-based VRMMORPG? Fey tried to spot where the voice had come from. As she had logged out in the Moonwood village, with plans to drop in and see Kallara before seeking out the next class quest, there were a number of people around. However, only one of them was now heading her way.
Correction: There were two beings heading towards Fey. The more visible one was a blonde elven archer that Fey didn’t recognize. Fey now saw that she was accompanied by a small blue eyed fairy. Fey identified that fairy as the source of the familiar voice, as she had saved Stelli many days ago, in the Dark Forest. (See Chapter 7 if you don’t remember.)
By the time it occurred to Fey that she could maybe avoid an unwanted conversation by using her new Shadow Cloak ability to hide from them, it was too late, as the archer was already standing there, talking.
“Are you Fey, the famed Wood Collector and Monster Tamer?” the blonde elf asked.
Fey cleared her throat, wondering if she could feign ignorance. But before she could speak, Stelli did.
“Obviously. She’s the one I was pointing to,” the fairy said. “My debt is paid now?”
The archer nodded, and the fairy flitted off into the air.
Fey’s eyes narrowed, as Stelli’s earlier words now made sense. “You’re Arwyn?” she asked.
The blonde elf beamed. “Yes! You’ve heard of me?”
You stole my name, Fey thought, in the heat of the moment failing to consider how the game’s enabling of last names meant that this was now only one of five Arwyns currently playing Fantasia. Not that she could know that, unless she took a census(1).
“No,” was all Fey said aloud. She glowered at the archer, who at this point appeared to her to be some walking elven stereotype with a stolen name. Her pets picked up on their master’s mood, with Amethyst squeaking in irritation, Boris letting out a grunt, and all six of Fey’s glooms bristling.
“Oh,” Arwyn said back. (*sweatdrop*) “So, are you wondering why I was looking for you?”
“Oh. Well, it’s because my party has a mushroom problem.”
“Does it now.”
“Yes, we do. And Eli said you must know a thing or two about mushrooms.”
This conversation seemed doomed to continue, so Fey decided she might as well make more of a game out of it.
She considered how to make her next response four words in length. “Eli thought that, why?”
“He said you had a pet mushroom, back when he met you at Tallen’s tavern,” Arwyn explained, pointing back towards the structure. “We’re in the same party now, you see.” She didn’t elaborate on Eli, having assumed that Fey remembered him. A dangerous assumption. (You can always look back at Chapter 20.)
“I don’t have Magic now,” Fey countered. Five words.
Arwyn’s nose crinkled. “What’s magic got to do with it?”
“I don’t think I can help.”
“Oh, but we just need some advice,” Arwyn pleaded, clasping her hands together. “And I came all the way back here to find you, and I used up that favour that Stelli owed me, and we’ll even share the loot with you!”
From Fey’s shoulder, Amethyst let out a squeak. (“Loot?”)
Fey frowned. Well, loot was good - and maybe she could get a new mushroom for her pets to play with? Plus ‘Arwyn’ seemed the type to follow her around if she didn’t agree. Fey considered how to offer grudging acceptance in seven words. “Fine, explain more about your mushroom problem.”
“You kind of have to see it,” Arwyn answered, suddenly cagey. Presumably realizing that any additional detail might make Fey reconsider.
“How long will it take me to see?”
“Oh, not long. Well, assuming you have a teleportation key, and have been to Newtown already.”
“You mean we need to teleport there eight nine?” Fey blurted, belatedly including the numbers in her response to preserve her speech game. Too late, she realized she could have said ‘to get there’.
“Pleeease?” Arwyn reclasped her hands, and fluttered her eyelashes, an act which was completely pointless in terms of convincing Fey of anything. More convincing was the promise of loot, maybe a new mushroom, and the fact that Blade and Sirena might soon be reaching Newtown themselves. Fey kind of wanted to see Blade’s reaction to being given an equipment transformation sequence first-hand. Fey sighed.
“Okay, but I hope there’s new poison involved here too,” Fey decided. Ten words.
Arwyn blinked. She looked like she wanted to ask something, such as who would be getting poisoned, but in the end, she decided not to. (Probably for the best.) The two elves headed for the teleport gate.
Newtown was just as Fey remembered it. As she stepped out of the pillars surrounding the magic teleport gate, followed by her pets, two more people approached her. One of them was accompanied by a wooden creature, which Fey recognized as being a twiggy. The twiggy smiled up at her. A moment later, Fey realized it was her former pet.
“That’s Stumpy,” Fey said, surprised. She decided to give up on counting her words.
“Alder now,” the earth mage corrected. “Hello, Fey. I said I would remember your name.” (A Chapter 4 reference.)
Fey blinked back at the mage woman. She was familiar, or at least that outfit was familiar. It still revealed far too much. Fey wondered, if she had said she would remember the mage’s name back then, would it come to her now? “You don’t seem to have levelled up much since we first met,” Fey observed.
The mage shrugged. “I had to spend a whole week offline, and with time in the game passing three times as quickly, it was inevitable that I fall behind. That’s partly why I tried to level up so fast when I first logged in.”
“Hello again, Fey!” said the person standing next to the mage. He waved eagerly, and Arwyn’s earlier name dropping helped Fey to identify him as Eli. Unlike the earth mage, the warrior elf in his late teens HAD levelled up - he’d only been a new player at their first encounter. Now, based on his armour, he had likely reached level 20.
Fey shifted her gaze back and forth between them. “You’re both in Arwyn’s party?” she deduced.
The woman shrugged. “I decided I needed disciples, and the two of them were looking for a mage.”
Eli grinned. “I decided we couldn’t go wrong, forming a party with someone who had a pet, like you. It helped that Terra here also knew your name.”
Great. So people are talking about me in-game, Fey thought unenthusiastically. At least she had the mage’s name now.
“Speaking of pets,” Terra said, peering closer. “It looks like you have acquired a number of high-level glooms. Would you be interested in selling me one?”
Ebony morphed its form into that of a bomblebee, causing Terra to step back in alarm.
“We’re not interested,” Fey said, reaching out to pet her pet. (Too petty?)
As Ebony morphed back into the cuter bunny-like default for Fey, the teleport gate reactivated again behind them. Fey took a few extra steps away, and Arwyn rejoined the group shortly thereafter.
“Our problematic mushroom patch is off this way,” Arwyn said, gesturing.
“Let’s get this over with then,” Fey decided, moving in that direction.
She hoped that Eli wouldn’t insist on indulging in small talk along the way. Fortunately, he seemed to have been in a previous conversation with Terra about spell casting, which he resumed, while Arwyn had apparently figured out by now that Fey wasn’t interested in idle chatter.
So Arwyn’s group was a mage, a warrior, and an archer. What a boring, traditional type of party.
Their problem, it turned out, was a patch of small blue mushrooms, each about the size of a marble, off in the corner of an otherwise grassy field. Fey hadn’t encountered anything like it before - though two of her pets had. Amethyst squeaked (“Magic’s babies!”), and the slime jumped down from Fey’s shoulder to bounce closer.
Fey glanced down at Amethyst. She had picked up on the ‘something familiar here’ vibe to that squeak, but as always, was unable to understand the specific words. So she asked Arwyn. “What exactly is the issue?”
“These are some kind of unique Drain Spore,” Arwyn explained, gesturing. “There was a notice posted, requesting that someone collect a sample. Alive if possible. But watch what happens when we try.”
The archer reached out her hand. As it got close to the patch, the mushrooms vanished, all of them burrowing down into the ground. Arwyn withdrew her hand again. “They’ll reappear again in a few minutes. The same thing happens if I try to shoot an arrow.”
“I’ve tried earth spells too,” Terra remarked, crossing her arms. “Even to the point of lifting this entire patch of ground into the air. The mushrooms simply defy gravity as they hop around and escape, eventually reassembling somewhere else in the field.”
“Even Alder can’t get close,” Eli added, patting the twiggy on its head. “It’s almost like the mushrooms have some sort of instinct that makes them flee at the first sign of danger. So I figured you were the expert we needed, Fey!”
Fey wondered if he meant that she was an expert in mushrooms, or an expert in fleeing. She crouched down closer to the ground, staring towards the patch of missing mushrooms. What did it all mean?
Of course, the logical thing to do now would be to contact Leandriel. Not merely because mushroom Magic was now his pet, but because the levelled-up Magic had gained the ability to speak, and thus might be able to explain things. Except... at present, she was trying to get over her conflicted feelings about the NPC. (Yes, yes, never mind that we know Leandriel’s a real player.) Talking to him today wouldn’t help her with that. Would it?
Fey had sent the private message to her angel friend almost before she’d realized she’d done it.
<Fey: Leandriel, got a moment?>
His reply was quick.
<Leandriel: Of course. Feeling better today?>
Fey decided to sidestep the question.
<Fey: Do you know anything about tiny Drain Spore mushrooms?>
<Leandriel: Hmm, well, I know Magic produced some for a battle we had with a level 120 boss. They were very helpful.>
<Fey: Level 120! Wow, okay. So what happened to them?>
<Leandriel: I believe they simply fit themselves into the ecosystem. Hold on, I’ll ask Magic.>
As Fey waited for his answer, a mushroom cap poked itself out of the earth in front of her. As soon as it realized it was not yet alone, it immediately burrowed itself back down underground.
<Leandriel: Magic doesn’t know any more than I do. The spores should be harmless though. Well, mostly harmless(2).>
<Fey: Okay, thanks. I don’t suppose you know why anybody would want to collect them?>
<Leandriel: No. Unless somebody is a particular fan of mushrooms?>
<Fey: Hmm. Thanks again.>
<Leandriel: What exactly are you doing?>
<Fey: Helping some people out. For some reason. Look, I’d better go.>
<Leandriel: All right. Talk later?>
Cursing herself for even getting into that conversation in the first place - and promising another! - Fey pushed herself back up into a standing position and looked around the area. There was a bush not very far away, one which seemed a bit out of place with the surroundings.
“Guys? I don’t think this quest of yours is on the level,” she announced.
“What do you mean?” Arwyn asked.
“Amethyst!” Fey called out, pointing. “Thornweed poison, please. Release it in that bush over there.”
Her pet slime obligingly secreted a layer of thornweed poison, bouncing over and into the bush that Fey was pointing at. There was a yell of irritation from beneath the leaves, and a guy in a grey-green cloak rolled out into view.
“If you’re going to use Shadow Cloak, don’t combine it with the only hiding place in the area,” Fey suggested, as she approached.
“You poisoned me! I’m poisoned!” the guy howled.
“You’ll be fine,” Fey said dryly. “That was practically the weakest poison in Amethyst’s arsenal.” As the guy looked up at her, his nerdy-looking glasses confirmed that he was the weird mushroom guy she’d encountered back in the Elvenwood. (From Chapter 5.)
“Whoa! Dude, why are you hiding here?” Eli asked, running over.
Mushroom Guy didn’t answer, simply curling himself up into a ball on the ground, whining about poison.
Terra let out a sigh of impatience. “Oh, don’t make me break out my spell book. What is this, a joke? Did you set up this quest as a way to laugh at people who tried to accomplish it?”
The guy uncurled slightly. “No,” he mumbled, still staring at the ground. “I came out to Newtown looking for new shrooms. I found those tiny blue ones. But they resisted. So I put up the quest to see if someone else could capture them for me.”
“Aha, and then you hid to see how someone else’s capture methods might be more effective than your own,” Arwyn realized. “In case you wanted more later. Is that why you preferred that they were taken alive?” He simply nodded.
“Take the quest down,” Fey ordered, hands on her hips.
Mushroom Guy looked up at her and blinked, as if he didn’t understand.
“Take it down now, and leave those tiny mushrooms alone,” Fey repeated, pointing towards the patch. “The poor things obviously don’t want to be bothered by you, so stop bothering them!”
His gaze went shifty. Amethyst hopped closer to him. “Fine, fine, I’ll remove it,” he mumbled, eyeing the slime.
“Also,” Fey added, “pay these nice people for all their trouble with your terrible quest.”
“What? B-B-But they didn’t get me the mushrooms!” he objected.
Fey shrugged. “You should have known better. And they’re helping you with your conscience here. Isn’t that worth something?” She didn’t want this trip to have been completely for naught.
He curled up on the ground again. “You can’t make me.”
Fey glared at him. “Oh no? Well, it is true that I can’t risk killing you without getting the Player-Kill tattoo. But you did hear me say that thornweed was a weak poison, yes?” She grinned. “Now, have you ever experienced pufferfish poison before? Because we could do that now, and then again in the future... maybe whenever you least expect it.”
“I’ll pay,” Mushroom Guy said quickly.
“Thank you,” Terra said, shooting Fey a look of gratitude. She turned her attention back at the guy in the cloak. “As for you, I’ll trade you some old spider fangs and other clutter I picked up, so you can’t claim it’s a total loss.” She opened a trade dome.
“You wouldn’t really have kept poisoning him, would you?” Eli asked Fey, as the trade proceeded next to them.
Fey shrugged. “Eh, maybe not. Otherwise he could have gained Immunity.” (Blade had been an excellent test subject.)
“Well, Fey, I’m sorry to have brought you all the way out here for basically nothing,” Arwyn apologized. “Even so, it was nice to finally meet the person that Terra and Eli have spoken about.”
<Fey’s fame has increased to 57 (+1)!>
The elven archer extended a hand. Fey regarded it uncertainly for a moment, but finally yielded to the social norm, shaking the hand of the woman who had stolen her name. (Still making an assumption there.)
“I don’t suppose we could add you as a friend?” Eli piped up.
“No,” Fey said quickly. That would be getting way too familiar after such a short time. “But,” she amended, off the young warrior’s crestfallen expression, “you might be able to find me again through Kallara. Back in the Moonwood.”
Eli nodded, his posture straightening once more.
“That said,” Fey added, “your group may prefer to keep travelling towards the ocean. There’s a famous merman bard out that way, and I feel like you’d all get along well with him.” She smiled, hoping that sending Arwyn’s party out of the area would help to keep them out of her hair for the foreseeable future. (*dusting off hands*)
“Trade completed,” Terra said. As the trade dome vanished, Mushroom Guy hurried away, giving sidelong glances back towards Amethyst. Amethyst squeaked cutely at him. (Well, what do you think that translation is?)
“Here Fey, I’ll give you your share,” Terra said.
Terra gave Fey a little over a quarter of the coins, and then, after a few more words of parting, Arywn and her party headed off. Fey took a quick moment to go over and pat the earth where the mushroom patch had been. “There, there, the not-nice man won’t bother you now,” she said reassuringly.
A mushroom cap peeked out from the soil, and after a moment, rose fully back into view, followed by all of the others.
Fey chuckled, then turned to look around her. That had all happened so quickly that there was no way Sirena and Blade would be around yet. Perhaps she should simply return to the Moonwood, and resume her questing. On the other hand, perhaps this whole experience was something more akin to a game glitch, implying that this curious sequence of events had never taken place at all...
(1) A census is an official enumeration of the population. Canada runs a national census every five years, the US does one every ten years, and Fantasia probably has a census whenever they back up their player database.
(2) Unexpected “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” reference. Don’t assume Leandriel has read it.