Fey had been spending more time growing her mana tree. The seedling, though it was much more of a sapling at this point, was budding at a level just below her ribs. Progress felt excruciatingly slow, but she had to admit the tree was growing (heh) on her.
Still, spending so much of her Fantasia time out alone in the forest singing to a tree was enough to grate on her nerves. So when Blade messaged her, it gave her a decent excuse to abandon her latest tree karaoke session.
<Blade: Hey Fey>
<Fey: Hey yourself>
<Blade: I’ve found something I think you’ll like. Want to come see it?>
<Fey: Don’t you have levels to be earning?>
<Blade: Sometimes a man needs a break from leveling>
<Fey: Are you even going to tell me what this mysterious thing is? Why should I trust you?>
Fey was mostly joking, but she wasn’t worried about hurting his feelings, either.
<Blade: It’s a surprise! I promise you’ll like it>
If only she could have communicated eye rolling through the party’s text chat.
<Fey: Where do I need to go?>
Blade described the location of this mysterious surprise to her. It was a fair distance run away, but she was a pretty fast runner if she focused. She did not yet trust herself to fly there with her new wings. At least not without Leandriel around for moral and/or physical support.
<Fey: Should I bring anyone else?>
<Blade: Nah, I doubt anyone else will like it as much as you will.>
<Fey: You’re laying it on thick. Are you actually trying to make your harem dream a reality?> She was thinking back to the way that she and the other girls had used Blade as a prop during the tournament.
<Blade: If you want to tease me, maybe you don’t want to see the surprise.>
<Fey: You already told me the location. I could just go myself.>
There was a distinct lack of response from Blade. Fey didn’t think that he had the fortitude to keep up the silent treatment too long. He was too much of an extrovert and compelled to fill up silence with something. Fey waited it out.
His text was distinctly grumpy when he did eventually respond.
<Blade: So are you coming or not?>
<Fey: Of course I’m coming. I’ll let you know when I’m close.>
She bid her tree farewell and took off at a run. Her inhumanly high Stamina made it easy, and though it was rather tedious to have to spend all of her mental energy on things like “paying attention to where she was going” and “not crashing into trees”, it got her to where she needed to be. She found Blade without too much difficulty.
This was a relatively peaceful area of forest, and all of the creatures around were so low level that they barely merited notice. Blade was half heartedly taking swings at any that came by as he waited for her. He brightened up immediately as he saw Fey coming.
“You made it!”
“How long have you been waiting for me?” Fey asked.
“Not too long,” Blade said.
“Are you sure this is where whatever it is is?” Fey asked. “This looks like the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s not exactly a,” Blade scratched his head, “public area.”
That wasn’t a comforting way of describing things. “Then what is it?” Fey was getting impatient. “I could be singing to my tree, or preparing for the ball, or leveling, or…”
“This way. It’s not one hundred percent finished, but--”
“Argh.” She should have brought Amethyst so that she could have hit him, but Fey followed Blade anyway. They trooped through the forest. He seemed just confident enough in this that she was willing to go along with it for a little bit longer, even if she did want to make him suffer a little.
They eventually came to a pile of craggy rocks formed up together, with an entrance in the crack in the rock.
“Dungeon?” Fey asked. “I should have brought Amethyst, at the very least.”
“It’s not a dungeon,” Blade said. “Come on.”
They ducked into the entrance. The cave was surprisingly well lit; glowing fungus adorned the walls as they descended. The cave widened out into a broad flat area. It seemed almost entirely empty. There weren’t even any of the usual cave creatures around to bother fighting.
From far down the cave, they heard the echoing sound of a voice, seemingly monologuing to himself.
“Hey! Reyok!” Blade yelled out.
“Who?” Fey asked.
The monologuing from down the cave stopped. Far in the distance, from behind a boulder, a grumpy looking dwarf stepped out, followed by a large, waddling, and comically yellow duck[i]. The difference in heights between the tall duck and the short dwarf was not very much, which amused Fey greatly.
“Blade?” the dwarf called to them.
“Yeah, and my plus one.”
“I’m not his plus one!” Fey yelled.
“You’re definitely plus something,” the dwarf said, coming over. He stepped carefully across the floor, and as Fey looked to see why, she saw that there were intricate carvings all along the ground. Fey wasn’t particularly well versed in the more arcane bits of Fantasia’s magic system, so she couldn’t say what any of it was for, or even if it was all purely decorative.
“Nice to meet you in, er, person,” Reyok said, shaking hands with Blade.
“I told you I’d come,” Blade said. “Reyok, this is Fey. Fey, Reyok.” Fey politely shook hands, stooping down slightly.
She really wanted to pet his duck, but as she looked over his shoulder at it, she could see that it had quite the menacing glint in its eye. It wasn’t an ability, it was just a knowledge that this duck had great capacity for evil.
“Nice to meet you,” Fey said. “Blade told me that there was some sort of surprise?”
“Oh, he didn’t tell you what I’ve been working on?” Reyok asked. “He’s probably done you a disservice, then. It isn’t that impressive.” He was clearly being modest, as his voice was full of pride for… whatever was going on here.
“Maybe you can explain it, then,” Fey said.
“Of course.” He gestured around himself. “Now this, this is the nerve center of the whole operation. A giant mana calculator, if you will. Come over here, I’ll show you my example logic gates.” The dwarf beckoned, and they obediently followed him over to look at a section of runes on the floor.
Reyok began to go into great detail explaining the runic workings of various logic gates. The duck stared at him intently the whole time as Reyok used some mana to show the gates in operation. They lit up in a pretty way, but it was not the most thrilling thing in the world.
After all, they were already in a computer. Why would Fey care about a smaller, sillier computer inside Fantasia?
Fey messaged Blade in the party chat.
<Fey: You brought me all this way to show me a calculator?>
<Blade: Just let him ramble, he’ll get to the point.>
Actually, they had no need to wait that long. As Reyok began to get distracted and talk about something beyond the function of basic logic gates, and failed to reconnect the topic back to what had originally been promised to Fey (a surprise that she would like), the duck waddled over and bit the dwarf’s hand. Hard.
“Owww, Turing[ii]! Don’t do that!”
If a duck could grin evilly, this duck, Turing, apparently, would be doing that. Fey liked this duck. She liked it a lot. Reyok shook his hand, a red mark clearly visible where he had been bitten.
“Anyway, I guess I should get back on topic. Let me show you the main attraction. It’s not quite done, but… Do like Pokemon?”
Fey had to resist squealing like a nine year old. She couldn’t quite resist all the way. “Yes!” She half squeaked.
“Great, great,” Reyok said. He led them towards the back of the room, and down a set of stairs. “I carved all this out myself, you know. Taken me since day one, basically.”
“Wait, you really haven’t done anything other than build this?” Blade said. “No wonder you were asking such a dumb question.”
“Meh. I have my priorities,” Reyok said. Fey looked between them, confused.
“How do you two know each other, anyway?” she asked.
“I was browsing the Fantasia forums[iii],” Blade began.
“That’s your first mistake,” Fey cut in.
“Hey, they can be fun sometimes. And Reyok was asking a totally newbie question, but his account said that he’d been playing forever, so I had to dig deeper and find out what was going on. So I messaged him, and we talked, and he told me about his project, and now we’re here,” Blade said.
“I don’t really understand how it happened myself,” Reyok said. “I don’t get many visitors. He just kept talking to me.”
“Extraverts,” Fey said. “They’re just like that.”
“Why do I feel like that’s some sort of veiled dig at me?” Blade asked.
“Oh, the world wouldn’t function without your type,” Fey said. “So I’m glad to have you around for that, at least.”
“Thanks?” Blade said.
“So here it is,” Reyok said. In the center of the room was a large area, completely free of runes. “Like I said, this is the prototype version, but I’m hoping that with enough time, I can make it a lot more immersive.”
“Show it to her!” Blade said. He bounced slightly up on his toes, more excited than both Fey and Reyok, though Fey had to admit that she was getting slight anticipatory bubbles in her stomach. This had better be worth it.
“Sure,” Reyok said. His voice was proud. “Welcome to the Pokemon arena!” He put his hand down on one of the runes in the floor, and slightly hazy holograms shimmered to life. They solidified after a second or so, but there was a blur around the edges that indicated that a hand would pass through them. All three of them were clearly hilarious attempts to make Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur out of pieces of Fantasia’s “native” inhabitants. There were dragon legs, and a turtle shell, and plenty of pieces that she recognized from the herb gardens. She was curious as to how the images had come to be.
“How’d you make these?” She asked, walking all around them. The Pokemon didn’t react to her; they were clearly not alive.
“There’s an NPC in the dwarf starter village that will make custom illusions for you. They’re meant originally as home decor, I think, but I, uh, commissioned him to draw these up. But I think he only has access to stock assets in the game, so that’s why they look a little hacky,” Reyok admitted. “I’m hopeful that with time I can learn to make custom illusions that don’t use Fantasia assets, or if they do, that I can use them better,” Reyok said. “Anyway, that’s not the point. Pick your starter!”
Of the three of them, the Bulbasaur was the most natural looking, so that was who Fey chose.
“You want to play, Blade?” Reyok asked.
“I’ll trounce you,” Blade said to Fey and walked around to the other side of the circle.
“Just call out the move that you want them to do. Fantasia has great voice recognition that I was able to, er, tap into,” Reyok said.
It was not a very even matchup. Blade chose Squirtle, and Fey beat him handily several times. She jumped up and down excitedly when she won, and Blade played along with it good naturedly. Reyok seemed to be taking mental notes as he watched them play.
“First priority is more models…” he muttered.
The holographic franken-Pokemon leapt about surprisingly well as Fey and Blade shouted out commands. The magic effects of their moves were quite impressive, and the way the frankenmon reacted when they scored a hit was very cute.
After a few fights, though, the novelty of it wore thin. There weren’t a ton of different combinations of fights that could be done with just those three starters and their basic moves. Still, it was a really intriguing proof of concept, especially considering that the whole thing was powered and programmed entirely through mana and runes carved into the floor.
Reyok understood when they were done. He scratched his head some more, clearly a nervous habit he had. “Yeah, I need to get some variety in here. I’m hoping eventually to make a whole playable game, but battles were the first proof of concept. How did you like it?”
“It really is amazing,” Fey said. Her enthusiasm was genuine, though tempered by the scale of the project and the thought of what could be in the future. “I can’t wait to see what you do with it.”
“Come back any time,” Reyok said. “Can always use more playtesters. Mostly it’s just me and Turing here.”
“You should get out more, man,” Blade said. “I promise the actual game is more fun than this.”
“If you say so,” Reyok said, though it was clear he had no desire to wander out into the larger world of Fantasia. “I just like having eight extra hours a day to work on fun projects,” he admitted. “Finally makes sleeping worthwhile.”
Fey was abruptly glad she was not encountering Reyok in the real world. She was slightly worried about the man’s health.
“Thank you for showing it to me,” Fey said.
“Hey, thank me for bringing you here,” Blade added with a smile.
Fey waved goodbye to Turing the duck, and they departed back to their own adventures.
[i] Programmers talk to (rubber) ducks.
[ii] Named after Alan Turing, famous computer scientist.
[iii] This is a reference to the author’s browsing of the r/writing subreddit, which provides endless amusement in the form of dumb questions.