Level Up!

by RisuUmbra

Chapter 18: Best Laid Plans

Chapter 18: Best Laid Plans

Both Morgana and David were pretty torn about the news from the meetings, on one hoof/hand we had followed Morgana’s plan which she was ecstatic about. She was also excited about our next adventure, though her mood was dampened slightly by the fact that we wouldn’t be there for the guild founding. David found a particular kind of satisfaction by my retelling of Aaron’s sendoff, Aaron’s general demeanor towards him did nothing to endear the man/stallion to him. Our next act of getting ready to leave started with a few bumps, we had no real way of transporting anything besides the few grass bags and baskets Morgana could make. So we had to split up the gathering of supplies between the three of us. I put David in charge of getting us a bag from someone in the village, Morgana wanted to be in charge of getting our armor repaired which was smart. We would have to leave getting the food until after we had the bags and while I’m sure whatever family that lived here had some, I couldn’t in good conscious take them (Oh, so now I grow a conscious?). I would be in charge of getting a map and some general information, like how much bits were worth (if they even used bits…), the most influential creatures nearby, and if any dangerous creatures were sighted nearby. I’ve always hated going into something blind.

We made plans to meet back up at around sunset and make a plan of action. David flew off after saying something about going to speak to some of the shopkeepers near the front of the village. Morgana galloped off to find the few village ponies she worked with to make the salvaged armor, so I decided to go find a few other players and see if they learned anything about this world while they were at Southtown. It had been a bit since the meeting so talk of the guild founding was floating around, the players had since started to settle down and find places to relax after their journey. A few had claimed a corner of the market area and were sitting either on the ground or some crates, so I decided to talk to them first.

There were five in total, Two earth pony males, two unicorns (a male and female) that I vaguely recognized from the magic discussion, and the pure white pegasus that scouted the raided town. All were wearing clothing of some kind though none of it was armor, most likely for comfort or human habit. The two Earth pony players looked similar in color but not in size, both had a dark green coat and had a grey and black mane respectfully. One was taller and was wearing what looked like a simple brown coat that didn’t look all that comfortable, the shorter one with a black mane was wearing a grey scarf that he had pulled up over his mouth. I now realize that scarf-y was making a point not to speak to the others and looked like he was brooding behind his taller counterpart… ugh I really hoped there wouldn’t be any edge lords, that would be so annoying. The two other unicorns weren’t as memorable as the other two, The mare was grey with a dark blue mane and was wearing an equally grey vest. The other was a dark pink stallion with a black mane, he had a cloak instead of a coat of some kind and was wearing glasses. I assume he appeared with them judging by the fact that they were cracked in one lens… I wonder if I have a repair spell somewhere? The pegasus had donned a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and currently was struggling to stay awake on the crate he was laying on.

“Pardon me, do you mind if I ask you all a few questions?” Dark and broody over there had seen my approach but either neglected to tell his companions or had just chosen not to. I was starting to get used to the looks of startled recognition that pops up whenever we try to speak to anyone, a reputation has its good points and bad. Grabbing their collective attention was pretty easy as their current conversations were winding down, the only one who didn’t turn to look at me was the brooding one. The brooding player's counterpart perked up when I spoke to them and raised both their right hoof for a moment before flinching and going still, suddenly disheartened. The odd gamut of emotions on their face confused me for a moment until the female player spoke up while sending an understanding look at the down player.

“You didn’t do anything, Gabriel’s mute, and now that he’s a pony, he can’t use sign language to communicate… and he loves to talk so his brother does most of the talking for him” I felt horrible for the guy, It didn’t even cross my mind that there would be some players with physical or mental disabilities here too.

“Don’t let that dishearten you, you said you wanted to ask some questions?” Apparently, I let my emotions show on my face as the girl picked up on it instantly. Gabriel nodded along with her now wearing a slightly happier expression, he leaned forward on his crate to show he was eagerly listening. Shaking myself from my sudden melancholy I proceed to ask them the first and maybe most important question I had.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with that on top of this whole mess, but I need to know a few things about pony society. You probably haven't heard yet but my group is going to be sent out to meet up with a few other groups of players like ours and see what's going on. What I wanted to ask is the basics, do you know how much 1 Bit is compared to 1 USD? Do you remember hearing about any important figures or dangerous monsters while you were in Southtown, and do you know any taboo topics or places we should stay away from… we don’t want to accidentally insult someone's mother then somehow step on her grave” I took a deep breath from the veritable speech and waited for a response. All of them looked like they didn’t know what to feel about the knowledge that there are other groups of players, glad that they’re not alone or horrified that countless other people got trapped here.

“ Well… I traded herbs and fruits for my jacket and didn’t get any bits in return so I don’t know, sorry” The girl turned mare looked at the others in her group as they thought deeply about my questions… until a muffled gurgling sound coming from Gabriel's brother cut through everyone's thoughts. The muffled sounds grew louder and louder until I finally realized it was his attempt at a ‘foreboding laugh’. The skinny stallion slowly rose while giving off his vague parody of a laugh. At some point it occurred to me that his voice was just way too high to make a deep voice at all, so when he actually spoke it sounded much more comical than he had most likely hoped… not that he noticed.

“I completely understand, Great mages and warriors like us require both information and power if we wish to prevail over our dark adversaries!” He then proceeded to flip his hair (which was already out of the way) then raise one hoof and cover one of his eyes all the while posing dramatically. Oh, God! He’s going full JoJo’s bizarre adventure on me, this is a new level of awkwardness that I never thought I would reach… I have been physically rendered speechless! My stunned silence didn’t register I guess and he continued with his slew of dramatic soliloquies and poses, I tuned out when he started going on about how since we were both born with the ancient potential to lead that fate herself or something dictated that we should take different paths… this is giving me a headache.

“-he time will come when we must join forces even if the very fabric of reality would be torn asunder by your Filibuster and my Durandal, for even in destruction shou-” My vacant gaze raised past the now rapidly posing player (I think the term is Chuunibyo?) up to his brother Gabriel who was gesturing for my attention. His brother hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t looking at him anymore, seeing he had my attention Gabriel reached behind him and pulled out a small burlap bag which he promptly poured out on the crate next to him. I chanced a glance back down at the brother and caught a snippet of… something?

“ -hough we may lose those we hold dear along the way, our determination will not sway! For it is with the power of shadows themselv-'' Momentarily regretting my choices of tuning back in, I turned back to look at Gabriel who had situated himself and held up a gold coin that was about the size of a silver dollar. Gabriel lifted his other hoof (and almost lost his balance for a moment) and traced a number in the air (I missed it the first few times when the brothers posing blocked my line of sight). It was a five, so a 5:1 exchange rate on the silver dollar-sized bits. A small nod showed him I understood and let him put the coin down and go and grab another smaller, much more brass-looking bit. It was around the size of a nickel and the single line drawn by Gabriel told me it was worth just one dollar.

“ Yes! Battle brothers like you and I are fated to always be at the helm of armies and kingdoms. I, leading the shadows themselves and you with your legions of light, we can save all of causality itself! Don’t you agree!”... This kid needs a chill pill. While I appreciate Gabriel telling me a bit about the local currency I feel like there's a fair bit more to it and I don’t have the patience nor the energy to endure more of this guy’s… expositions. The easiest way to end this conversation would be to… play to his delusions I guess?

“ You’ll need to train hard if you're gonna get to that level, I hope to see you on my level by the time I return from my travels. The guild will be a perfect place for you to train and… gain dominion over the esoteric forces. Thank you all for speaking with me, I’m sorry for cutting this short but I must continue gathering supplies for our journey ahead. Rest easy everyone” God! I hate how overly pretentious and dramatic I sounded there, I feel kind of nauseous hearing that come out of my voice. The unnamed unicorn and the white pegasus clearly enjoyed that exchange as they were doing all that they could to not laugh their tail off. My words reached the chuuni player as for the first time since he started talking did he smile like it was Christmas morning.

I turned and started my totally nonchalant walk back to the shopping area and away from the now wildly posing chuuni and his very amused friends. This is making me remember why I don’t talk to people. Before all this happened I was a Forensic Major in college, I had filled my schedule so full that I didn’t even have any time to make any friends… and that was just how I liked it. The last friend I had made ended up becoming obsessed with me, she stole my dirty clothes, followed me everywhere, threatened anyone else that tried to get close to me, and even tried to wiretap my phone which was the last straw. I felt a shiver of revulsion shoot up my spine as I thought about what happened after the police checked her dorm room looking for my stuff… she had a god da- dang shrine made out of all the stuff she stole from me. Anyway, that put me off making friends for a while, though that doesn’t make me some dysfunctional friendless character straight from an MLP plotline (Starlight). I know how to make and maintain relationships… I just don’t let people in.

I stopped in the shadow of one of the derelict houses as a thought occurred to me… I haven't had a single pleasant moment with anyone outside of Morgana and David, even then the only times we ever get along is before, during, or after a fight. That time in the cave was preceded by the Thunder Lion chasing us and the confrontation with Arthur, David had a run-in with some timber wolves before encountering us, and the very next day the lion attacked. I think today is the first day the three of us have had the chance to really sit down and talk of our own volition and yet we haven’t. Another darker thought followed that one… I might not be traveling with those two forever. One of us might be needed elsewhere or one of us could… die. I guess I shouldn’t get too overly attached, though I shouldn't distance myself or anything. I shook the dark thoughts from my head and continued, I tried to move on to much brighter and more interesting topics. Thinking about the eventual deaths of my companions doesn’t do anybody good and you know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies.

“Excuse me, do you know anywhere that sells maps?” I asked a nearby local mare who was in the process of dismantling some of the makeshift weapons from the bandit incursion. She sent me a kindly smile and pointed across the street to a building with a shattered display window… ah, that’s the window I shattered when I killed the boss (Someone had removed the Dragonslayer sword from the ground). Thanking the kind old mare I turned to trot over to the store, the ground in the middle of the square was still stained from the remains of the boss. I wonder if an equivalent of ionized bleach has been invented here, I hear that's good for getting rid of bloodstains.

“Hello dearie, just come on inside!” The voice of a kindly old mare came through the shattered display and was directed to me, the shop itself was pretty damaged on the outside. Besides the display window being broken, the outside was covered in scorch marks and superficial surface damage. The actual structural integrity of the shop seemed alright so I entered without a second thought. The inside of the shop looked like an idyllic shop in the country, with wooden floors and shelving with glass casing here and there for display purposes. This place was a travelers shop, there’s wagon quick repair kits here and there, dried food rations (which we might grab later), small and light tools for on the road, various maps and binds of blank paper (Yes!), and various other consumables and trinkets. In the center of all this was a clear path between the shelves leading up to a counter where the store owner waited with a grandmotherly smile adorning her face.

“Well if it isn’t one of our newest heroes! What can I do for you dear?” The warm reception brought a fond smile to my face as I started to approach the counter, the elderly store owner’s voice had a slight Scottish accent to it which amused me slightly. The mare had a similar coat color to Lucky Harvest which made me wonder if they were related, though her mane had fully turned grey in her old age.

“Sorry to bother you Ma'am, but I and two of my friends have been chosen to travel ahead and meet up with some of our sister tribes. I was wondering if you could spare some maps and maybe a compass for our travels… we currently don’t have any bits to play with but we-” I was cut off by the light laughter of the shopkeeper, letting her laughter abate she reached under her counter and pulled out a compass.

“No need to go and tell me yer whole sob story, I know yer good for it. I’ll give ya whatcha need iffin ya do me a small favor in return?” The old mare’s eyes sparkled in amusement while she spoke to me, usually, I would be skeptical about doing anyone a favor but I couldn’t bring myself to be suspicious of this nice old woman… She reminds me of my grandmother before she passed.

“ My husband Feldspar, the grumpy old lout. Is currently traveling in a caravan up towards the nearest city-state known as Param, but he forgot some important cargo. I want you to bring this to him, he should be staying in an inn nearby the market. Just tell him that his gemstone sent it” The still-unnamed shopkeeper hoofed over an ornately carved wooden box, the box was adorned with many etching of leaves and swooping vines. I couldn’t sense anything magical about it, it just looked really pretty. Grabbing the box with my [Levitation] and holding it to the side I took a few steps back in surprise as the old but surprisingly spry mare hopped over the counter with ease.

“Alright! Let’s see what you need for a journey… “ What happened next was less me getting the bare minimum for me and my friends and more her giving me everything I might need in any eventuality. The first and most obvious was the maps of which I got three. One was the standard land map which I would study much more in-depth later. Another was a simple road map that showed nearby visited settlements and safe caravan routes, the last and most interesting was a personal ‘invention’ of the old mare. It was called a ‘Danger Map’ that mapped all the most dangerous or perilous areas nearby, the back even had a legend used to show what kind of monster or threat was in the area ranging from timberwolves to cliffs, to even giant poisonous frogs (avoiding those!). The shopkeeper would constantly be making and updating these maps and it was free of charge to come and update them.

After that was a plethora of trinkets and gadgets ranging from the obvious compass to a clever tool called a ‘Fog view’ which was a monocle-like glass that made it so you could see through… well… fog. Most of the trinkets were small and easy to carry through most were kind of ridiculous like why would I need a waterproof towel, won’t I need it to be wet at some points. The point is I expected to be leaving with a few maps and a compass, now I'm leaving with a canvas bag filled with maps, a compass, a small first aid kit, a few firestarters, and a book on herbology that doubled as a road cookbook. When I saw the cookbook I was reminded of something that began the fall of kingdoms and the rise of empires… books. If I could get some books on magic then I wouldn’t need to spend my skill points on basic abilities, I could learn the basics of many different types of magic then use the skill points on the rare kinds. The kind of magic that doesn’t have easily accessible material, of course, there will be the kinds of magic that my skill points can’t buy like my [Ritual Magic].

I placed the slightly cumbersome bag on my back and waved goodbye to the nice old mare, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be the last I would see of her. The sun had finally started to head towards the horizon after such a long day which means it was about time to head back and meet up with the others. While the village had been pretty busy in the morning, it was a stark difference in the evening. The NPC’s had entered their homes leaving mostly players out and about in the low light, though most of the players were just sitting still with the trademark vacant look of perusing their menus.

Every once in a while a player would look up and see me, their reactions to me were surprisingly varied. Some smiled, others waved, some simply disregarded me, some surprised me by actually gazing at me in fear before averting their eyes or moving somewhere else. I guess not everyone is okay with my gory spectacle which is completely understandable. Though I won’t lie and say that thought of other players being scared of me rubs me all the wrong ways. Being feared has never been a goal of mine, respected maybe but feared? Forcing myself out of that dark place I continued on my path to the house, Morgana was the first I saw as she was standing out in front of the house and was slowly breaking down the stone pillar she made… do no other earth pony players have the [Earth Manipulation] skill? Morgana only caught sight of me after she finished smoothing out the ground, she sent a giddy smile in my direction then gestured inside before bounding off inside herself. I let a good-natured chuckle out and felt the fond smile on my face grow a bit larger, at this rate I might actually get attached to these two.