20. Why Can’t Medicine Taste Good?

    After the accident, I spent what felt like weeks in a daze, not fully comprehending what had happened to me. When it finally registered that I couldn’t move my legs anymore, I cried. I screamed. I felt true and utter despair. ‘What’s the point of living if I can’t do what I live for?’ Dangerous thoughts like that filled my head, drowning the voices of my friends and family. I only heard about it long after, but apparently I was in this state for a whole week. 

    So what snapped me out of it? Why am I still here? The answer to that is simply: Simon. More than anyone else he stayed by my side, only reluctantly leaving the hospital when the nurses ushered him out of the room. He would spend every minute of every day sitting by my side. Whether I was asleep or awake, unresponsive or aware, he was there. For a whole week he would do whatever he could to get me to talk. He told funny stories, brought me my favorite food, and even tried to dance (though he quickly stopped when my tears started to fall).

    All of his efforts went ignored. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care – especially when he was part of the reason I was like this – and even though deep down inside I knew that it wasn’t his fault, I couldn’t help but put the blame on him. The me inside resented him, and the me outside ignored him. At least I did… until he ended up in a bed beside me.

*****

    “Greetings, dear sister of mine!” Simon’s voice filled the mostly empty room. For a moment he was puzzled at the lack of a response, but then noticed a large and conspicuous game pod which hadn’t been there the last time he visited.

    “Well aren’t you awfully excited, dear brother of mine.” That was the first thing Helen said as she lifted her upper body out of the game pod. “If you had been any later I would have already dived into a dungeon.”

    “Looks like I’m just on time then.” Simon grinned. “Hey Helen, guess what?”

    “What?”

    “I brought donuts-!”

    “Yaay!”

    “-and Diana.”

    “Booo…”

    “Oh come on! You always act like this every time!” Diana poked her head out from behind Simon, pouting.

    “That’s because you keep trying to feed me weird stuff!” The two girls began to bicker with each other but were soon interrupted by Simon who stuffed a donut into Diana’s mouth and lifted Helen from the game pod.

    “Hey! *munch* *munch* Simon, I didn’t want to eat a donut!” Diana protested, but the speed at which she ate lent little credibility to her claim.

    “Unfortunately for you, it’s too late! Feel the sugar rush as it spreads through your body!”

    “Grrr-!” As if taking her anger out on the donut, she began to ravenously consume it, and then reached for another one.

    “I thought you brought these for me…” Helen absentmindedly grabbed a donut.

    “Did you seriously think you could finish a dozen all on your own?” Simon raised an eyebrow.

    “You never know if you don’t try!”

    Instead of responding, Simon flicked her forehead and brought out a thermos saying, “Here, wash it down with this.”

    “Oh, thanks bro-.” She took a sip and immediately froze in place as the mysterious liquid penetrated the coating of sugar, allowing her to taste the contents. Just as she was about to spit it out she noticed Simon and Diana’s serious expression, and subconsciously gulped. Under the combined pressure she chugged down the rest of the drink and then stuffed another donut to rid her mouth of the taste. “You… *munch* guys suck… *munch* *munch*”

    “It’s good for you! …Probably.” Simon waited for Helen to settle down before opening his mouth and asking the question that had been on his mind for a while now. “So… how does it feel to walk again?”

    At this, Helen pauses, unsure of what to say. Despite already playing Myriad Myths for a while it was only now that it really hit her that she was moving with her own two feet once more. Her mouth opens and closes multiple times, as many words come to mind but none come out. Eventually she summarizes her entire experience in two words: “It’s nice.”

    “That’s good.” Simon looked as if a heavy weight was suddenly lifted from his shoulders, as for a moment a gentle smile surfaces on his face. Helen is stunned, while Diana stealthily snaps a photo with her phone. This rare moment of genuine emotion is quickly blown away as Simon asks his next question.

    “Class and level?”

    Helen’s eyes instantly sharpen as she holds her answer for a moment, then says, “Pugilist, level 21.”

    “Whaaaaat!? How! How much level grinding are you doing!?” 

    “More than you obviously.” Helen smirked, causing Simon to collapse to his knees.

    “No way… I started earlier than you and yet…”

    “To be fair you spent a lot of time fooling around the town instead of doing quests and dungeon diving. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Helen found a dungeon and single mindedly ran it until now.” Diana’s hypothesis seemed to have hit the mark, as both siblings inadvertently avoided meeting her eyes.

    “Well, that settles it. I’ll be seeing you in game soon enough, and then we’ll see who reigns supreme!” Simon pointed at Helen and posed like a second-rate villain.

    “Hmph! The game world is my domain, you’ll never surpass me!” Helen made an equally ridiculous pose.

    “These idiots…” Diana shook her head and let out an exasperated sigh.

*****

    “Hmm… Simon’s going to get serious now, so I better kick it up a notch.” Zeilan stretched out his limbs and tried to keep a neutral expression, but he couldn’t help himself from breaking into a wide grin. It had already been a few days since he started using his legs, and he felt great joy spread through his body everytime he did. Truth be told, this was part of the reason that he kept hunting monsters so often as he could freely use his legs to his heart’s desire.

    Zeilan moved through the streets of Wuuly, wondering whether or not he should continue running through another dungeon or moving on. He passed through the town square and glanced over at the players logging in. The differences between the newbies and regulars were easy enough to spot, as the regulars would immediately begin walking to their destination the moment they logged in, while the newbies would look around in wonder.

    “Hey Big Z, you got a grudge against one of the newbies?”

    “What? No.” Zeilan scanned the area around him and quickly found a short, blue-haired girl. “What are you doing here Caroline?”

    The blue haired girl rolled her eyes in response. After adding her onto his friends list, Zeilan got to know a little about this dwarven misfit. She was someone who Zeilan would describe as ‘shrewd’ as she was always looking for ways to make money, and constantly got into trouble when doing so. At this point she was something like a personal merchant for Zeilan, as he would always sell the items he didn’t need to her. Caroline stared at him for a while, then opened her mouth. “I just logged in, and guess what I saw when I stepped out of the square? A scary looking dragonkin giving a death glare to the log in point.”

    “Okay I know I made my face kind of intimidating, but is it really that scary?” Zeilan rubbed his chin.

    “You really got to look in a mirror sometime hun.” Caroline shook her head and laughed. “Anyway, you look like you’ve got something on your mind. Thinking about challenging that level thirty dungeon? I do need some drops from that place now that players are starting to expand past Wuuly.”

    “That’s exactly what I’m thinking about. Should I start moving outside this town or keep grinding for a bit longer?”

    “Ohh, thinking of moving on from the beginner town huh?” Caroline eyed Zeilan up and down before nodding. “If I were you I’d have moved on long ago. Players level up quick and outgrow the town quickly. Though considering your circumstances I’d probably wait a bit longer.”

    “What circumstances?” Zeilan blinked in surprise.

    “Uh, you’re a complete social recluse, duh!” She once again rolled her eyes. “I don’t care how good you are at solo-ing, there’s no way you’ll be faster – or stronger – than other players in parties.” 

    At this Zeilan was suddenly struck with a realization. Ever since he started playing, he hasn’t joined a party at all! As he went out hunting or delved into the dungeons, not once did it ever cross his mind that he should have someone else to watch his back. This didn’t come from his confidence in his skills – he wasn’t that arrogant – but rather from lack of confidence in others. For one reason or another Zeilan was convinced that he didn’t need help and could solo his way through the game, despite the entire reason behind MMOs like this was to join up with other players and take down progressively stronger enemies. 

    It was as if the scales had fallen from his eyes, and he began to scrutinize his previous actions. His interactions with other NPCs and players could be summed up with one word: brief. He never talked with others more than necessary, and only went up to NPCs to complete quests. The only player he talked to for long periods of time was Caroline, and that was most likely due to her being the one to constantly approach him with one deal or another.

When the heck did I get so wimpy? Zeilan tried to think back to how he was able to easily interact with others in the previous games he played. Back then… It wasn’t in person? There was a big difference between using text to chat, and talking with someone face to face. Due to the long stays at the hospital she rarely interacted with anyone and gradually became more and more reclusive, only talking to direct family or friends who came to visit. 

“Wow. I really am a social recluse.” Zeilan slapped his cheeks, and a determined flame erupted within. “Caroline, introduce me to some people! Preferably ones with agreeable personalities!”

Caroline seemed taken aback from this sudden change in attitude, but quickly changed gears. “Oh-ho, so you want me to introduce you to others huh? Well you see, Big Z, nothing in this world is free, so this is going to cost y-”

“Actually nevermind. I’ll find someone myself.”

“Hey wait! Don’t you know it’s rude to leave a merchant before they finish their sales pitch?” With a surprising amount of strength she managed to keep Zeilan in place as she explained further. “Alright I won’t mess around. I have a contact in another starting town who learned of a new dungeon a ways away from here. Normally he’d have already taken it for himself, but it’s a tough one and happens to be smack dab in the most inconvenient of places.”

“So you want to put together an expedition?” Zeilan’s interest had been piqued. Despite the game being newly released, it still had many features that were familiar to players who had been in similar situations. Expeditions were simply sending teams into new dungeons to scout out the place, learn its quirks, and essentially pave the way for other players to farm levels and equipment. 

“Yup. The thing is we can’t gather a large number of players, or we’ll attract the guilds and then all our potential profit goes down the drain.” 

“Ah, that’s definitely a problem. It’s a good thing that this game doesn’t have real money transfers yet, otherwise they’d be completely out of hand.” Being someone who had joined many guilds in previous games, Zeilan was very familiar with their behaviors. More often than not guilds would constantly recruit and amass players and money in a bid to be the number one guild on a server. Some of the more unscrupulous ones would resort to dishonest means, whether it be coercion, back-alley deals, or straight out threats against other players. 

Guilds were already forming, with famous ones from other games all flocking towards Myriad Mythologies and beginning to gather and build up their forces. As a matter of fact Q’s previous guild already had their core members in the game, though Zeilan hadn’t heard about it yet. While it wouldn’t particularly be a problem for them to show up, it would definitely cause some chaos to erupt when they get their foundations set down and begin to expand. Case in point, if one of these said guilds found out about this dungeon – that Caroline was certain would be profitable – and managed to monopolize it, they would be able to get a head start for sure. 

“Yeah. Some of the more troublesome guilds are starting to pop up as well. Stolen Paradise, Highjackers, Palladium, and Deadlight Brigade to name a few.” Zeilan flinched at the last name, but kept quiet as Caroline continued. “I need to get larger capitol, before they outgrow and try to swallow me. My contact knows this as well which is why he’s willing to split the profits this time. So, Big Z, this request is really important to me,” she looked at Zeilan with pleading eyes, “and I know you have the skills to get it done, considering you somehow managed to finish the Tenura dungeon by yourself at level… whatever you were.”

“By the way I still haven’t forgiven you for sending me to the ‘newbie killer’ dungeon with no warning beforehand.”

“You made it out just fine didn’t you? Anyway, are you willing to do this?”

“Hmm…” Honestly speaking there was no reason for Zeilan to refuse as this fulfilled his desire to get into a party, leave the town and challenge a tough dungeon. Despite this he didn’t accept her offer just yet due to something Simon had said in the past.

“Hey Helen, do you wanna know how to deal with crafty merchants? You need to know two things. First, what they want from you. Second, what their bottom line is.”

“How do I learn what their bottom line is?”

“That’s going to depend mostly on your people skills, but here we can play the rule of three! Drag things out, and play hard to get until they make a third offer. Bonus points if they make an expression like they’re eating shit. A more shrewd person can probably hide their expression, but looking into their eyes will probably give it away.”

“Why are you teaching me this anyway?”

“Well earlier I almost got scammed by… wait no, nevermind. Just… keep it in mind if you ever come across in a situation like that in the future.”

“Well you see, Caroline, nothing in this world is free, so this is going to cost you.”

Caroline’s mouth dropped open, as if she couldn’t believe that Zeilan was able to twist her words on herself. “Oh come on Z, think of the fun times we had together! It’s just doing a small favor from me okay? I’ll owe you big time!”

Zeilan looked unimpressed.

“Ugh… fine, I’ll pay for the consumables you use in there.”

Zeilan yawned.

“…I’ll pay for the drops wholesale.”

“You’ve got a deal!” With a wide grin Zeilan shook her hand, leaving Caroline to stew with a frustrated expression. Thankfully I stopped at three. I think. Looking at her eyes I feel like something bad would’ve happened if I tried to push any further.

“*Sigh* It’s like your whole personality changed the moment I pointed out your flaws. Where did you learn to be such a good negotiator?”

“Now that… is a trade secret.” The smile on his face only grew wider as he watched Caroline frown. 

Heh, this must be what Simon feels when he messes with someone… Oh crap, I’m starting to think like him! Shaking the tainted thoughts from his mind, Zeilan began enthusiastically talking about details for the expedition as they headed off to meet the other members participating.






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