A flash of light appeared in Foria’s town square and Q stepped out of it, stretching her limbs lightly. Once again she felt that strange disconnect between this body and her own in real life, but it was far less noticeable this time around. Nodding to herself, she made a quick check of her equipment before leaving the square.
Opening her friends list Q saw that Sunflower was already online so she decided to send her a message while she waited for Kukis to log in. It didn’t take long for the excited angel to show up, waving her hand enthusiastically.
“Q! Hello Q!” Sunflower greeted with a cheery smile.
“Hey Sunflower. What’s up? You look really happy right now.”
“Ehehe,” Sunflower let out an embarrassed laugh, “Is it really that obvious? I can’t help but feel happy because this is the first time I’ve made plans with a friend and met with them to do stuff! Well… this is a game, but it totally counts right?” Her innocent smile pierced Q’s heart.
“Um, yeah. It absolutely counts. Anyway, we’re waiting here for Cookie to log in, and then we’re going to do some quests for the Primroses. After that…” Q’s eyes flashed with determination, “I need to go level grinding. I can’t let my sister get ahead of me!”
“You have a sister?”
“Aww, I’m a little jealous… I’m an only child so…”
“Let me tell you something, Sunflower,” Q put her hands on Sunflower’s shoulders and spoke with a serious tone. “Having a sibling isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s like… a rash. It itches and annoys you, and you can’t really do anything to get rid of it.”
It was at this point that Kukis appeared in the square just in time to hear Q’s claims. Scoffing, she walked up to the two and said, “That’s what you say, but you two are always so close. Don’t listen to this idiot, she totally loves her sister and would die for her.”
Sunflower’s sparkling eyes made Q feel very uncomfortable. In an attempt to switch the subject she brought up she began rapidly speaking, “Rather than that, let’s go do some quests! I need to seriously start level grinding now. I also have to sell these item drops. Oh, come to think of it I should train a bit with using my runes. Lot’s to do, let’s go girls!”
With that she marched off in the direction of the Primroses’ hideout, leaving the others behind. Along the way Q ran over to a random merchant, sold all of her items that she didn’t need anymore, and ended up with one gold piece and a handful of several silver pieces after. She briefly considered purchasing new items or equipment, but considering that she just recently got a new set of armor she decided to hold off for now.
By the time she entered the alleyway which held the entrance to the hideout, her companions caught up and they entered together. The person at the entrance was still Lily, the nervous looking girl she met the last time she entered.
“Hello Lily!” Q exchanged greetings and the unique ‘handshake’ with the young girl. “Long time no see. How’s life?”
“Hello Q,” Lily bowed politely, “life has been well, if not a little chaotic. The Breckdens and Velories have started recruiting astralites to their cause and… well, mother believes that a storm is coming soon.”
“You’re telling me. Say, do you know if anything in particular needs doing? Like a quest of some sort?”
“Ahaha, it’s nothing so fancy as a ‘quest’ but there certainly is a lot that needs to be done. If you want to do some work then the main board in the hideout contains all sorts of tasks that need doing, even more so now that tension is rising in the town.” Her expression was unreadable underneath her curtain of hair, but Q was able to sense a sort of ‘anticipation’ from the girl.
“I was thinking of something a little more important than hunting outside the town for supplies.” Q kept a close watch on Lily’s face as she continued. “I should add that you shouldn’t think that we’re too weak for some of the special stuff. We can beat down boars and squirrels like they’re nothing! Not to mention just recently… I learned magic!” Q traced a pattern of a sigil in the air, and as it dissipated into thin air Q noticed that Lily was extremely surprised.
“That’s… rune magic! When did you learn such a thing?” Lily’s reclusive nature suddenly seemed to flip as she suddenly became enthusiastic. “Usually it takes at least a year of study and practice to create runes, yet here you are creating one effortlessly!”
“Yeah… I found a grimoire in the… stabby bush place?” Turning to Kukis she looked for confirmation.
“Stabby Shrubs, if Melun is to be believed.” Kukis shrugged.
“That’s the one. Anyway I got a grimoire, it made my head feel like exploding, and now I’m a Rune Meister. So that out of the way, do you have a job for an aspiring mage -er, meister such as myself?”
“Absolutely! My mother is actually a Rune Meister herself, and she’s been waiting for an astralite to show up with the same profession in order to compare differences between us and astralites. If it’s not too much trouble, could I ask you to meet her and exchange information?”
Meet with Sharon
Projected Difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆
Lily has asked you to meet with her mother in order to help in unravelling some of the mysteries behind astralites.
Rewards Upon Completion:
[500 xp, +1 Rune Meister Skill Point]
“That, I can do! Show me some of your magic when I get back alright?” Q waved and walked down the long stairway, only pausing to let Kukis and Sunflower catch up.
“I really can’t believe you just did that.” Kukis was looking at Q with a weird expression.
“Do what? Force a quest to come out? No wait, force sounds wrong. It’s more like… finding one by exploring dialogue?”
“Exactly! I haven’t heard of anyone doing that before…”
“Okay naive little Cookie. Answer me something.” Q took a deep breath and asked, “What do you think about virtual reality as a whole?”
“What do I think?” Kukis pondered for a moment, but Q continued without waiting for a response.
“The biggest thing about virtual reality is it’s so called ‘realism’. If it didn’t have some level of immersion then there’d be no point in making a virtual reality game right? That being the case we can consider this world to be something like another reality, or maybe I should call it ‘virtually real.’” Seeing the two girls nod with uncertainty, Q elaborated.
“In all my interactions with NPCs I’ve come to the conclusion that they have some sort of sentience and aren’t just a bunch of pre-programmed lines. From their reaction to my actions, to their desires and behaviors, all of it makes them almost indistinguishable from a regular person. That being the case why shouldn’t I treat them like a regular person? You might think I’m crazy for believing this, but I really do think of this whole place as just another reality which we happen to be visiting.
“Going back to the first point this place was made with realism in mind, but being immersed in said realism is a two-way street. The developers do their damndest to make this world believable, and it’s up to the players to accept it and blend into the world. I’ve certainly accepted this world as a unique place with its own cultures and customs, and as such I should treat its people as ‘people’. Treating them like a block of text that gives rewards and interesting tidbits doesn’t feel right when they have so much… ‘life’ behind them.
“Well, this has gotten complicated but to wrap up this conversation I’ll say this: This world, Vailus, is a new, wonderful place, and looking down on its residents for not being ‘real’ is just plain rude.” Q put on a thoughtful expression and added, “As for the quest thing, I’m sure someone else has done it already, but they haven’t shared it to keep the benefits.”
Kukis and Sunflower were stunned at this sudden declaration. For a good half minute they tried to digest Q’s thoughts. Kukis soon gave up on trying to understand Q’s viewpoint as it was just a little bit too outlandish for her, but she knew very well where such thoughts came from, and ended up accepting it. Sunflower on the other hand had her eyebrows furrowed, confusion easily visible on her face. For the young girl the thoughts of accepting virtual reality, let alone a ‘game’ as real, was truly a baffling concept for her immature mind.
Watching the two of them struggle to get their brains working, Q shook her head. I really don’t expect people to understand my view on this. After all, not everyone has experienced A.I like I have. Turning around, Q was about to head down to the base when a few lines of text suddenly appeared in front of her.
- Lily Velorie favorability: +40
- Sharon Velorie favorability: +50
- Soul +15
“Well said dear astralite!” A melodious voice rang out in the tunnel, followed by a bout of clapping.
Looking down, Q caught sight of a woman with long, light blue hair, which for some reason made her think of a waterfall. She suddenly recognized her as one of the women who appeared in the square that stopped the fight. According to the system, this woman was Sharon Velorie, the wife of Malcolm! As Q was wondering why she appeared here Sharon gestured to the end of the tunnel.
“Please come in, I feel like I have a lot of things to discuss with you. Lily, come and join us later dear, I’ll send someone to replace you.” Sharon went ahead and walked to the end of the tunnel and Q subconsciously followed her.
Okay, now this is totally unexpected. First off I have no idea how Sharon got here, but it’s clear that she was listening to my speech along with Lily. That much is fine, but how did they interpret it? I already mentioned reality multiple times but they’re not showing any reaction at all. Maybe… the system is covering it up? That makes sense, since it’d be absolute chaos if these people suddenly learned of a world other than their own. Though then again according to the lore the existence of astralites and a higher plane are already established facts, so for them it might just be part of their setting.
Last of all is that gain in Soul. What the heck is up with that? Q began thinking, and soon she remembered the description of what Soul was. It stated that Soul is a representation of not only concentration and magical energy, but also your attunement to the world. That most likely meant that her acceptance of this world as its own thing made her more closely attuned to it. Though Q felt it was a bit strange to quantify these inexplicable thoughts and feelings, she didn’t pay much more attention and treated it as a nice bonus.
Coming back to her senses she noticed that Sharon led them into a room that looked like something between a library and a workshop. The walls were lined with large shelves which held all sorts of books, while the floor was covered in various sheets of paper and parchment. There was a relatively large table in the center which was currently being cleared off by an ethereal hand, and soon multiple hands were moving about the room, quickly cleaning it up.
“Forgive me for the mess, I’ve been terribly busy as of late and haven’t had much time to attend to my study. Help yourself to some tea while you wait.” Sharon waved her hand and a pair of ethereal hands floated down with a teapot and a tray of cups.
Q went ahead and poured herself some tea, as Kukis and Sunflower joined after a moment of hesitation. Sitting down Q looked perfectly content as she enjoyed the aroma of the tea. Kukis, upon seeing how relaxed Q was also settled down, while Sunflower shifted uncomfortably in her chair, her wings fluttering about slightly. By the time Q finished half a cup of tea Sharon finally finished cleaning and took a seat.
“Thank you for waiting. I suppose introductions are in order. I am Sharon Velorie, head of the Velorie household.” Sharon introduced herself, and each of the party gave self introductions in turn. “Now, you’re probably wondering why I brought you here… It’s quite simple really, I’d like to get to know you better.”
“Know me… or my people?” Q raised an eyebrow.
“Ah, and you’re quick on the uptake as well.” Sharon’s eyes gleamed. “Frankly speaking, I’d like to know both. As a resident of this world I believe it to be my duty to understand these goddess sent beings, while as a person I find you to be quite interesting. It’s no exaggeration to say that you astralites are from a higher plane so it’s only natural that you’d look down on us ‘natives’, but you are the first one I’ve seen to treat us as equals.”
“I’m flattered.” Q finished off her cup and poured another one. “So what do you want to know? I’ll tell you right from the get go that I’m not entirely clear on my own purpose here, so there might be questions you have that I have no answers to.”
“I see… so not even the astralites know the goddess’ intentions.” A piece of paper floated in front of Sharon and she began to write on it. “Alright, let us start by comparing our knowledge of the past. How much do you know about the past history of astralites?”
“From what I’ve gathered… we’re the goddess… Stellaria? We’re something like her servants, summoned down from the skies above when there’s trouble that needs to be solved down here.” Q had understood this basic outline from the various conversations she’s heard.
“That is correct. ‘When the world was in its darkest hour, the goddess Stellaria sent down her light to guide our way’. That is what is written in the holy tomes of the Stellaris church.” An ethereal hand flew out to grab a book and opened it up. “There have been many instances that this has happened. During times of dire straits, the goddess would send down her brave warriors to assist us. These warriors wielded great power, allowing them to break through armies and slay monstrosities with ease. This time however…”
“It’s different, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Sharon nodded heavily, “First, why are the astralites here?” Her eyes widened as she realized she said something quite rude, and she apologized. “I mean no offense of course. It’s just that, we’re not exactly in dire straits right now.”
In her mind Q understood that it was simply because the players were playing a game, but looking at it from the point of view of a resident of this world, she thought of a different reason. “Maybe it’s not that there’s danger right now, but maybe in the future? Think about it, you’re right that we astralites shouldn’t be here, and we definitely don’t wield the strength of the astralites in the past. But… what if this upcoming threat is so incredibly dangerous that not only does it need millions of astralites, but also requires us to grow even stronger than our previous iterations?”
Thinking this far, Q felt that it was a logical conclusion. After all, at the end of the day this game is still an MMO of sorts, and something that all MMO games had in common was…
A final boss!