On the way back to the coin merchant, a message appeared before my eyes.
New coin acquired!
Before long, the green misty letters disappeared.
Still in the Meltdown Jungle, wanting desperately to make sure I didn’t run into any more monsters, I didn’t open my inventory.
Instead, I pushed forward. Pushed through kaleidoscopic foliage.
Once back in the city of Charon, I checked my inventory. Saw the coin. Took it out of the inventory and watched it land in my hand.
Just like before, the grooves on the coin didn’t mean much of anything to me, at first glance.
I weighed the coin in my hand. Rubbed my thumb against the grooves.
In that moment, it became apparent that my low Wit was a problem. I wasn’t recognizing things quickly. What wasn’t I seeing? How was low Wit affecting my perception of this digital world?
I turned the coin in my hand. Flipped it between my fingers. Stared at the coin. Before too long, I came to the realization.
The grooves on the coin depicted Jhaness.
Stomach seized up.
I’d gotten a coin for killing her. I walked through Charon without really processing my surroundings.
The wait at the coin merchant was irrelevant. By the time I reached the merchant, I still didn’t know what to say.
I placed the coin on the table separating the coin merchant and me.
He looked up with a sort of grimace.
“You finished the mission,” he said.
You’ve reached Level 6!
The irrelevant letters flashed before my eyes. I ignored them. Decided it would be best to level up my Durability, which meant not spending the Ability Point at that moment.
“What do you mean, why?” the dwarf coin merchant responded.
“Why’d you want me to kill her?”
“It was the mission,” he said.
“But I don’t know why I did it. Jhaness was…” No idea what to say. What could I say?
“You did it because it was the mission. I don’t know anything else about your motives. That’s something to be squared with you and your deity. Look, there’s a long line, so don’t keep everyone else waiting.”
Taking the coin with me, I left the merchant. Whole head was spinning.
Why had I completed the mission so blindly? What was Alex’s long-term goal that made her create a game like this?
Aimlessly, I walked around for a while.
Before too long, The Thorny Sword stood before me — equal parts charming and decrepit. I took a step inside.
Within just a couple seconds of walking into the place, you could get a pretty good feel for it. It had low, warm lighting. A couple of people sat on bar stools, huddled over their drinks. You had one of those elves with the diamond-like skin, a human, and a short purple goblin.
No idea if they were PCs or NPCs. There just wasn’t any way to tell.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked. She was a green-skinned orc.
It took me a second to remember how to speak. That often happened when I hadn’t been talking for awhile.
“How much for a drink?”
“It’s free for PCs,” she told me. “You all can’t actually get drunk, anyway.”
I nodded, sitting a few seats away from the other patrons. The bartender must’ve been an NPC; the PCs didn’t call themselves PCs.
“Tastes like shit,” the goblin told me, wrinkly purple skin contrasting sharply with its bright yellow eyes.
“Tastes like beer,” the bartender said, getting beer from the tap. “If you like beer, that’s a good taste. If you don’t, it’s not.”
She slid the beer my way, and I tasted it. Sure enough, it tasted like beer, which made it pretty okay in my book.
“You look upset,” the bartender said. She leaned her hand against the bar. “Something on your mind?”
“You have any missions for me?” I took another sip of beer.
“Don’t wanna talk your problems out?”
“I want a mission. That’s what NPCs are for, right?”
The bartender gave me a judging look, which was almost funny to me. Surely, her whole point was to hand out missions!
“I’ve got some missions, but given your low Charisma, you’re going to have to take the worst one I’ve got.”
“I’m used to that.” Another sip of beer. “What is it?”
“There’s a troll who’s been causing some trouble in the tavern. He’s been getting too drunk. Yelling at people, threatening them. Can you go over there and talk to him?”
“Talk to a troll? Sounds easy. He an NPC?”
A pause. “Yeah.”
“Alright.” I kicked the mug back, finishing the beer. Then slammed the mug back onto the bar counter.
Without another word, I left The Thorny Sword.
— — —
It was hard to get a good impression of the city of Charon. It was a mish-mash of architectural styles: a bit of Ancient Rome here, a bit of pseudo-medieval epic fantasy there. Most everything was adorned with some sort of shrubbery.
Vines came through the cracks of the cobblestone walking paths. They dangled from ceilings and rooves.
Then there was the fact that so much of the city was adorned with little bits of gold. The corners of tables, bits of people’s clothes. Everywhere you turned and looked, your eye might catch a glimmer of gold.
The longer you spent here, the more you came to appreciate those little glimmers. They gave the place so much of its character.
Had to check the map a few times while travelling towards the troll, but eventually I found the place where he was living. It was one of a long stretch of multi-story houses.
All sorts of creatures seemed to live inside the walls. While passing by, I heard two hard-skinned elves in a third-story room. There was a dwarf sleeping naked in a first-story room, and then a human sharpening his sword in a second-story apartment across the way.
These all had to be NPCs, right? How much time were PCs spending in game? And why would you sit inside a room, when you could go outside and complete missions, gain XP?
The questions became irrelevant, as I stood outside the troll’s building.