Out of all the sections of the library, from non-fiction to children’s books, music, and DVDs, Arwyn frequented only two. The first was the magazine section, where she sometimes sat to read the latest issue of Psychology Today. The second was the fantasy fiction section, where she headed now.
Though the library’s collection was regularly rotated with other branches and updated with new books, at any one time, a good third of the titles on the shelves were ones Arwyn had already read. She browsed the titles on the books’ spines, picking up anything that caught her eye. After closer inspection, she either replaced the book on the shelf or added it to her check-out pile.
In approximately ten minutes, Arwyn had a nice pile of five books and headed to the check-out machine. She entered her fourteen-digit library card number from memory, scanned the barcodes on the backs of the volumes, and exited the library without setting off any alarms (electronic or otherwise).
Back at home, Arwyn settled into her reading chair, a fat, cushioned seat that had little aesthetic appeal, but was immensely comfortable. She picked up one of her newly borrowed books. The most common subjects in the fantasy section were vampires and werewolves, followed by people with magic, elves, descendants of gods, the occasional dragon, or some combination thereof.
This time, though, Arywn had picked up a book with an angel on the cover. She began to read.
Six hours later, Arwyn finished the last page of her novel. Closing the book, she stood and stretched muscles that had been motionless for much longer than was recommended by health professionals (1).
After being immersed in a fantasy world, her mind felt both relaxed and engaged. Imagination still caught on angel wings, Arwyn was in such a good mood that she managed to force herself through household chores after dinner. Day pleasantly and productively spent, Arwyn logged into Fantasia at 10:27 p.m.
As soon as Fey appeared in Pearlview’s accessory shop, she received two private messages simultaneously.
No novice to simultaneous chat messaging, Fey fired off two quick replies.
(This isn’t confusing at all.)
Fey’s mind temporarily went blank. Losing the rhythm of simultaneous messaging, she sent a message to Sirena:
Belatedly, she remembered to message Leandriel as well.
(Now the order of Fey’s replies is reversed. Still not confusing.)
(*conversations conveniently end at the same time*)
Fey swam off toward the water slime territory, expecting a normal day of random adventures. The trajectory of her game day was dramatically altered when events of the previous night caught up to her.
:Hey, Fey was it?: came a slightly familiar male telepathic voice.
Fey glanced beside her to find Requiem the bard swimming along beside her. :Yes: she answered in a neutral tone. In her mind, she thought, Damn. I guess I could only delay the awkwardness, not avoid it.
:You logged off in a hurry last night: Requiem commented. It was clearly an opening conversational gambit designed to lead into casual small-talk.
Fey hated small talk. Rather than a conversation-conducive reply, she simply answered, :Yes: again. (*awkward silence*)
Apparently, it took more than two terse replies to deter Requiem (*annoyingly persistent*). He tried again. :Where are you headed?:
Damn, he asked a non-yes-or-no question. Fey was forced to use three words to reply. :Water slime territory.:
The three words gave the merman enough fodder to continue the conversational thread. :Aren’t those a bit low-level for you?: he asked teasingly.
Technically, Fey could have just answered ‘yes’ to this question, but she saw that that would only result in a follow-up question about why she was visiting the water slimes, so she answered, :Just meeting a friend.: Her completely neutral tone was consistent with the fact she was utterly oblivious to any flirtatious vibes Requiem was emitting.
:That Blade guy?: Requiem asked. His tone sounded slightly darker when he mentioned the human warrior.
Requiem appeared both happy and slightly thrown off by the reply in the negative. He took a moment to think back to the previous night. :That other girl who was with you? The one that kept laughing?:
:Yup.: Fey’s face briefly took on a smile as she thought of her best friend. At least she’s getting some amusement out of this.
At this point, elf and merman reached the water slime territory. Water slimes were physically identical to land slimes, except that they had small fin-like appendages instead of bubbles at the ends of their arms. They used these fins to swim around in an endearingly clumsy fashion (far too slowly to get away from the newbies who wanted to kill them).
Fey scanned the area for Sirena’s mage robes among the newbie outfits. The search was rendered (blindingly) easy when a lightning spell ripped through the hapless water slimes, the intense heat causing them to explode.
Chain attacks were the specialty of lightning magic, and Sirena’s spell arced through fourteen slimes before dissipating.
:Oh! So close!: Sirena complained.
Fey swam towards her friend, trailed by Requiem. :Close to what?:
:My next Connect Four(2) mage feat. I need a sixteen-hit chain.: Sirena answered absently. Taking her eyes off of the remains of the slimes, she saw Requiem and burst into laughter.
:What’s so funny?: asked the merman. He was starting to dislike Sirena because she was constantly laughing at him.
:It’s just… you… and Fey…: More laughter followed. Requiem thought that Sirena’s mirth prevented her from finishing her explanation, but that was in truth the entirety of the information Sirena had intended to convey. To anybody who had a grasp of Fey’s personality, the hilarity was fairly obvious.
:I’m glad you’re enjoying this: Fey commented wryly.
:It’s like… a polar bear trying to make friends with a penguin.:
:Why am I a penguin in this situation?:
:Because you’re smaller? Or maybe because you’re awkward. Well, you’re definitely too skinny to be the polar bear.:
(Fey’s also too skinny to be the penguin, but why quibble? Because quibbling is fun, of course.)
Despite understanding all of the individual words in their speech, Requiem felt like he was listening to a conversation in a foreign language. :What are you guys talking about?:
:You’ll figure it out if you hang around Fey for long enough: said Sirena (laughingly).
When Requiem looked askance at Fey, she just shrugged. :Don’t look at me, I’m just an awkward penguin.:
Amethyst squeaked. (“What’s a penguin?”)
Requiem flinched in surprise, not realizing until now that Amethyst was more than an unusual accessory (*lazy slime*).
Ignoring the merman, Fey answered the slime. :A penguin is a semiaquatic, flightless bird that lives around the South Pole.:
Amethyst squeaked again. (“Fey-Fey’s not a penguin, she’s an elf.”)
Fey patted the slime fondly. :Thank you for noticing; I’m getting tired of being called human. The penguin thing is just a metaphor.:
More squeaks. (“What’s a metaphor?”)
While Fey explained metaphors to a rapt audience of pets (the rest of which Requiem still hadn’t noticed), Requiem looked incredulously at Sirena. :Is she seriously talking– :
A blast of lightning sizzled past his ear, far too close for comfort. It travelled on to explode through a group of water slimes.
:Damn. Fifteen. So close: Sirena muttered. Looking at Requiem, she asked, :Did you say something?:
Requiem felt like he had fallen into a parallel dimension where everything looked the same, but everyone was insane (except him, which made him the insane one). :Ah, uh, nothing.:
Requiem was seriously rethinking his plans. He was on the brink of cutting his losses and leaving when Blade appeared. Expression tightening in dislike, Requiem (‘s testosterone-poisoned mind) decided to stick it out.
Blade swam up to his party-mates, having logged on and located them through the party map. His legs temporarily paused in their kicking upon seeing Requiem, and he continued with less enthusiasm. “Hey guys—” he began, only to dive aside as Sirena loosed another volley of lightning.
:Yes! Sixteen!: Sirena pumped a victorious fist in the water. :Oh, hi, Blade!:
Fey had graduated from explaining metaphors to explaining similes, then analogies, then allegory, and was just now finishing up on pathetic fallacy. :And that’s why it rains a lot in romantic movies. Hi, Blade.:
Blade did not even bother asking for an explanation. “Hi,” he said again. He nodded at Requiem, who nodded back. It appeared that while girls were present, the merman would maintain a well-behaved demeanour.
“So, what are we doing today?” Blade asked.
:Well, if you guys are bored of grinding, Leandriel suggested we find some interesting quests: Fey replied.
In addition to being left out of Blade’s party chat comments, Fey was now referring to a person that Requiem was unfamiliar with. :Who’s Leandriel?:
Mage feat completed, Sirena was once again paying attention to the conversation. She began to laugh again. Apparently, the constant fits of merriment were taking their physical toll, because she leaned on Fey for support. :He just… He just doesn’t even know!:
Fey tried to calm her over-excited friend down. :Deep breaths: she advised (or whatever mermaids do). She patted Sirena soothingly on the back.
While Sirena wrestled with self-control, Blade just had to jump into the conversation. Pressing his thumb against Fey’s telepathy stone, he said :Leandriel’s your competition.: This caused Requiem to look a confused kind of angry. (He’s even more lost than Blade because he came into the Feyworld with a greater number of preconceptions.)
Fey rolled her eyes (still patting Sirena on the back). :Leandriel isn’t anybody’s competition. That’d be like putting an Olympic athlete in with a bunch of nine-year-olds.:
Blade gave Fey a funny look. “We’re not talking about level here.”
Fey smiled. She was not that dense. :I know.:
Sirena slowly straightened, assiduously avoiding looking in Requiem’s direction. :So, quest?: she asked.
:Quest: Fey voted.
“Sure,” Blade shrugged.
The three party members swam off towards town, followed half a beat later by Requiem.
Fey watched the merman pacing them with uncertainty. Normally, either one of her party-mates would be more inclined than she to interact with strangers, but Sirena was busy trying not to laugh, and Blade seemed to be avoiding Requiem.
Requiem felt equally awkward. He was used to parties of mermaids begging him to join them, so this kind of lukewarm reception (‘frigid’ really, but he’s got a bit of an ego) was a new experience for him, one he did not enjoy.
“So… Are we inviting bard-dude to join our party?” Fey finally asked through party chat.
“Up to you,” answered Sirena. “After all, he’s chasing after you. Pfft.” Sirena placed a hand over her aching abdominal muscles and started chanting, “I’m not laughing, I’m not laughing, I’m not laughing…”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea…” said Blade. He was reluctant to bring up what Requiem had said after the girls had logged off the previous night because it was the kind of thing that could hurt a person’s feelings.
“Why not?” Fey’s tone was full of honest curiosity, and she showed no displeasure at Blade’s opinion.
“Well…” Blade decided to just tell the story. “I think he’s only after you because of me. Last night, he told me he was going to ‘steal’ you from me.”
Rather than an expression of hurt or disbelief, Fey looked enlightened. “That explains a lot.”
“Let’s kill him,” Sirena hissed, all laughter gone. Her best friend’s feelings were not to be toyed with (or attempted to be toyed with).
Just when Blade thought he had gotten used to the weirdness, the girls revealed new facets of themselves. In most matters concerning the opposite sex, Fey used the computer-like part of her brain rather than the emotional side. The bubbly and sometimes-outrageous Sirena turned vicious when her friends were threatened.
Struck speechless, the conversation continued on without him.
“Now, now, let’s not be hasty,” Fey cautioned. “If you kill him, you’ll get infamy and probably have a bunch of crazy fangirls out for revenge. Plus, we could still use him in our party. Do we need a bard?”
Sirena reluctantly switched mental gears from ‘bloodthirsty’ to ‘pragmatic’. “Well, if the only thing he can contribute is party buffs, it’s not worth it. We’d need a much larger group to make supporting a bard worthwhile.”
“Well, he has to be able to do other stuff, right?” Fey reasoned.
Blade shook his head and joined in on the analysis. “We need to know if his level is close to ours.”
“Good point.” :Hey Requiem, what are your level and combat skills?: Sirena asked breezily, as if she had not just been agitating for his death.
:I’m a level 23 spearman. Secondary skills are group song buffs and group debuffs.: There was a hint of relief in Requiem’s voice. If they were asking about his skills, they had to be considering whether to invite him to join them.
Fey’s party was somewhat surprised to hear that the “squishy” bard was actually a warrior, able to hold his own on the front-lines. In Fantasia, ‘bard’ did not fall under any of the four main combat classes and was relegated to the non-combat skill section along with many other trade and craft skills. Those who wanted to be bards usually chose a ranged combat class, but ranged weapons were fairly useless underwater, so Requiem had instead become a warrior.
“Do we really need another warrior?” Blade asked.
:Cool: Sirena said to Requiem. Wryly, she continued, “Well, Fey doesn’t really count as a warrior, so we could use another one.”
Fey did not know whether to take offence or agree with her friend. “I do melee damage, so I’m a warrior,” she finally said, “…but we could always use another one.”
“Actually, I’m starting to like this plan,” said Sirena with sudden enthusiasm. “Long-term revenge is best.”
“Uh, what are you planning on doing to the guy?” Blade asked with a fair amount of trepidation.
“I don’t know yet,” Sirena answered cheerfully. “I’ll figure it out as I go. It’s all about using the resources at hand.”
Fey winked at Blade. “I told you she’s more creative than I am.” She issued the telepathic invitation to Requiem. :So Requiem, would you like to join our party? Blade’s a level 25 warrior, I’m a level 24 warrior, and Sirena is a level 23 mage.:
With a glance at Blade that could be interpreted as ‘victorious’, Requiem said, :I’d love to, thank you, Fey.:
Blade still had some severe doubts about this particular course of action, but despite being the official party leader, stronger wills than his prevailed in group decisions (*bullied*). He issued the official game system invitation:
Blade felt less guilty about Requiem’s probable fate when Requiem gave him a smug look before accepting.
Sirena immediately sent Fey a private message:
Fantasia private messaging was not meant for group chat, and was unable to ferry messages between three or more people. The developers had thought party chat sufficient for group conversation, and had not imagined a case where a party would want to invite someone to join them, but exclude him from the conversation.
The newly-enlarged party arrived in the coral streets of Pearlview.
:So…: said Fey, :Anyone know how to go about finding an interesting quest?:
It was Requiem who answered. :Just talk with the NPCs. It helps if you have high fame and charisma, too.:
:How high?: asked Fey while checking her fame stat. She was surprised to see it at 56; the last time she remembered, it had been in the twenties. Unbeknownst to her, a very talkative Todd back in the Moonwood tavern was spreading tales of her Wood Collector title and many pets.
:You can find quests even if you don’t have any, but the higher, the better: Requiem replied in a knowledgeable tone. He was something of a local celebrity in the area due to his public music performances.
Neither Sirena nor Blade had any fame to speak of; their stats were in the single digits. :If we have to rely on Fey making small-talk to find quests, we might as well give up now: Sirena lamented.
:I’m sure I can find one: said Requiem confidently. :My fame is 317.:
Sirena patted the merman on the shoulder. :Being useful already. I’m so glad we didn’t kill you: she said in a joking tone.
Fey cleared her telepathic throat to distract from that somewhat threatening pseudo-joke. :So, split up and search? Call through party chat if you find something.:
:Why don’t we go in pairs?: asked Requiem, his intentions so obvious even Blade rolled his eyes.
:Why not?: Sirena agreed, using a subtle tone of sarcasm that Requiem failed to catch. She grabbed Blade’s hand and dragged him off in one direction, saying, :We’ll go this way.:
Sirena was still close enough at this point that her laughter was loud and clear. It became Blade’s turn to propel them through the water. :He just, he just doesn’t even know!: she repeated.
Fey’s lips twitched before she looked innocently (‘innocently’) over at Requiem. :So, should we head this way?: she asked, indicating the direction opposite to where Sirena and Blade had gone.
:...Yeah.: Much of Requiem’s usual bravado had been stripped away by the abrasive sandstorm of Fey and Sirena’s combined(3) personalities (*metaphor*). :Let’s go.:
(1) According to modern guidelines, people should not remain sedentary for more than half an hour at a time unless sleeping.
(2)This refers to a two-player game where players take turns dropping coloured discs onto a grid with the goal of connecting four discs in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line
(3) The author is not entirely certain that the grammar in this phrase is correct, and apologizes if it does not match the high quality of grammar found in the rest of the story