10 Of Faceplants and Strippers
I materialize in a forest clearing that smells of damp earth and rich pine. A light breeze ruffles my hair and carries a hint of lavender, chamomile, and mint.
Viren's Refuge. I'm finally back home.
I tilt back my head and open my arms wide…
…and immediately fall on my ass.
Grumbling, I try to stand, but my huge black wings seem to have a mind of their own, and the imbalance makes me topple again. I roll onto my stomach and push up, but my wings curl forward, and the ticklish, brushing sensation against my arms freaks me out so much I spasm and faceplant.
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The red earth tastes like dirt. I want to shake whatever over-zealous programmer decided THAT was a valuable piece of code for the delicate taste engine.
Where's a bloody tutorial when you actually want one?
"Greetings, Erebus. Would you like me to teach you how to stabilize your balance?"
"Nope, I got it," I reject automatically.
"Goodbye, then. Please find me in the Village later. I have a task for you."
"Sure thing." My reply is a bit lackluster, given my face is still smushed into the dirt.
What am I saying?!
I heave myself up in time to see an elderly tengu flap his gray wings and fly off through the trees.
Whyyyy? Why must I be like this?!
I swear it's a freaking instinctual response! I'm as naturally averse to tutorials as I am to freaky shit like snakes (why no legs?) and centipedes (why so many legs?) and drinking the milk left in the bottom of a cereal bowl with all the gross soggy bits floating in it (okay, that one's just because I'm a fucking child, I KNOW).
As I slump in defeat, a little yellow bird lands on a branch to my left.
Its cheerful chirping mocks me.
I throw a rock, but it calls my bluff and stares me down while the rock flies wide. Then it takes off, effortlessly flying loops around the clearing while singing its damnably merry song, only to alight right back on the branch.
"Show-off," I mutter, annoyed.
It chirps even louder in response.
Cocky little shit.
Determined, I force myself to my feet. Half-hunched over, I hold my hands out to counterbalance and start my feeble wobble around the small clearing.
I'm about as graceful as a one-legged toddler with rickets.
It's going to be a long morning.
"Welcome to Foundation Village, Erebus!"
I stare at the enthusiastic greeter with flat, dead eyes.
The NPC doesn't seem to notice; if anything, the guy's smile widens even more. "I've been expecting you! We thought you'd arrive sooner."
You and me both, asshat.
It took two hours to walk/stumble/crawl the three-quarters of a mile to Foundation Village. The yellow bird followed me the entire time, noisily chirping away like some sort of demonic Tweety Bird sent to annoy my soul to Hell.
The NPC clasps his hands in excitement. "This is such an honor! You look the way I'd always imagined the legendary hero to appear!"
My eye twitches in disbelief. I'm covered in dirt and sore everywhere. There are twigs stuck in my wings. I've fallen on my ass so many times my trash Beginner Trousers only have 2 points of durability left.
Vaguely, I wonder if NPCs can still be murdered in safe zones...
"You're probably in a hurry to meet the Chief. I can tell you how to find his hut!"
Deciding now's not the time to be murdery, I follow the eager NPC's directions to a large thatched hut in the center of the village.
Recognizing I'll have to play nice to get my first Quest, I try to make my frown less frown-y as I enter. "Hello," I say.
Sometimes my charming eloquence astounds even me.
A gray-haired NPC stands on a colorful rug in the middle of the one-roomed hut. [Village Chief Tarabu] floats above his head. The name glows orange, signifying he has a quest.
"Erebus, you've returned to us," he says with a relieved smile.
"Welcome home, Hero of Legends."
"We all look forward to your future exploits, now that you have gone through the prophesied Heroic Transformation. All tengu look to you in hope."
"You're a tengu? Where's your wings?"
At first, the Chief looks concerned, but then he nods in understanding. "Ah yes, this confusion was also prophesied. After the Transformation, much of what was once known is forgotten."
"You will need to relearn actions that once came as natural as breathing. For example," Chief Tarabu says, then he unties the cloth belt holding his red-and-gray robe closed.
"HUH?!" I yelp, stumbling back toward to the door. What kind of programming was this?!
Thankfully, the old dude is wearing pants. More surprising than the unannounced stripping, however, is the fact that the old geezer is totally jacked – the guy's rocking an eight-pack, and his pecs look solid as iron.
I may need some more sessions with Ken.
The Chief turns, and I see his entire back is covered in tattooed wings. He rolls his shoulders, and the ink ripples. Very real feathers rise out of his skin, the gray wings sprouting from his shoulder blades. He flaps them a couple times, lightly shaking the feathers into place like a bird.
"To retract your wings, first spread them as widely as they'll go." I follow his directions and realize with a small shock my wingspan is actually greater than his. The tips of my wings brush the wooden walls. "Now visualize the wings becoming one with you, each feather etching itself onto your skin." It takes me a few seconds, but I think of his tattoo and try to imagine what my ink-black wings would look like as actual ink, dark against my pale skin.
The sudden lightness as my wings disappear throws me off-balance for the millionth time today. Luckily, my brain is familiar with the wing-less version of my body, so it doesn't take nearly as long to acclimate to my virtual human form.
"Very good," Chief Tarabu praises.
I try not think about how much time I could have saved if I'd let him teach me that hours ago.
"I had thought to humbly ask you to accept a quest of daring for the village, but I now believe it is too soon. I know it must seem beneath your heroic greatness, but would you be willing to first complete a series of tasks meant to teach you the basics lost during the Heroic Transformation?"
Though it pains me to sacrifice the efficiency of simply skipping ahead to the 'quest of daring,' I can't help but admit I probably need whatever boring lessons these tutorial tasks are going to teach.
I shrug. "Sure. Makes sense."
"Your wisdom in the face of adversity always inspires me," Chief Tarabu says wistfully. To my horror, a tear glistens on the Chief's eyelash.
I'm starting to think perhaps the AI needs to re-evaluate some of its pre-programmed NPC responses.