58 Loose Morality and Jedi Mind Tricks
When we leave Silken Strands, I'm holding an address written in Arachne's tidy handwriting. As I'd hoped, she's already made contact with my second-favorite Lifestyle Player and therefore knows where I can find him.
To my surprise, he's here, in Tara.
During the beta, he'd been the owner of the second amazing shop I'd discovered in Lough Gur. Unlike Logane and Arachne, this particular shop owner has never once tried to kill me or evict me from his premises.
Weird guy, right?
According to Arachne, the second he arrived in Gael, he ditched his starting town and beelined straight for the Capitol. His goal? Apprenticeship with a Master.
I can only hope he's been successful. I need him to be able to work.
On our way across the city, Taliesin and I pop in and out of various shops, on the hunt for a vial of happy fog juice, the final material required to upgrade Zen. If I hadn't gotten the evil fog in the dungeon, I probably wouldn't have cared, but since I found the perfect ingredient for Aku, I feel like I owe it to Zen to do the same.
I don't bother keeping my intentions secret from Taliesin. He's rocking Ex-fucking-caliber; the kid probably knows more about upgradeable weapons than I do.
In fact, he scores a few points in my esteem when he not only understands my predicament, he even agrees with me.
"It's all about symmetry with dual blades! What if one starts to feel like you're favoring the other? Jealousy, resentment—not the harmonious vibes you want from your steel partners, for sure."
He then gently pats Excalibur and assures the blade he'll always find primo materials for upgrading, so the sword can always be at its best.
So, yeah. Maybe we're both insane. There are worse things we could be.
We could be boring.
A few blocks from our final destination, Taliesin (of course) randomly stumbles across an apothecary with a collection of Fog Essences. He immediately points out the pure white Holy Mist, but a different vial of bloodred mist catches my eye.
Phantom Queen Fog.
This is the one.
Zen is a blade of righteousness, not holiness or peace. While protecting the innocent, Zen slays the unrighteous with a zeal similar to Aku.
The Phantom Queen is the same.
Also known as the Morrigan, she is the goddess of war and fate. She wages war to protect her people, which is why she is also a goddess of sovereignty and the People's Guardian. A shapeshifter sorceress who can turn the tides of battle and foretell the deaths of righteous warriors, Morrigan is often seen near rivers and lakes, washing blood from the uniforms of soldiers days before their deaths. Blood billows out like a cloud in the clear water, surrounding her like a crimson mist.
This must be the essence of that fateful image.
"Good call," Taliesin says when he sees my choice. "But there's no price tag. Probably not a good sign."
Finally. My time to shine. Taliesin's Luck may have led us here, but my Charisma's gonna seal the deal.
I saunter up to the counter and lean forward, elbows resting on the wood. I flash a cocky grin that shows off my pearly whites and make eye contact with the flora fae [Agnes the Apothecary]. "Good evening, Agnes. I'm Erebus. You may have heard of me; I once saved a Spirit of the Forest. It was no big deal. Just doing my part, being a hero."
Her yellow eyes widen in recognition. "Wow. How can I help a hero like you?"
"It just so happens, your lovely little shop here has exactly what I've been searching for."
Then I flip my hair out of my face like a boyband jackass, and wink.
When she shyly pushes hear leafy hair behind her pointy ears, and her green face blushes red, I know I've already won.
Not five minutes later, I'm back outside, basking in the glorious musical chime alerting me that the final upgrade material for Zen'aku has been collected.
Taliesin's gaping. "What kind of jedi mind trick bs was that?! You traded common herbs and a handful of coppers for what I suspect is a Blue-tier limited edition item!"
I smirk. "Items with no price tag have no set value in the game. The price is determined almost entirely by the Player's negotiation techniques, relevant Reputation points, and Charisma stat. With a little more time and effort, I could have probably lowered the price to a stick of gum."
"With a little more effort, I think you could have gotten Agnes for a stick of gum!"
Laughing, I clap him on the shoulder. "Impressed, young padawan?"
"More like, I'm thinking Arachne was right, and I better keep a closer eye on you."
"Come again?" I choke.
Damn woman. Only she would tell a stalker to keep a *closer* watch on me.
Taliesin nods sagely. "This power could be dangerous in your hands. Who knows what you might be tempted to do, in the name of science?"
"Urk!" I yelp, as I trip over nothing.
Kid has me there.
I hear the forge before I see it, and I shove the no longer-needed address in my pocket. The steady clink, clink, clink of a hammer on heated steel draws me in, and I can feel Zen'Aku vibrating with excitement behind me.
They know why we're here.
This near the edge of Tara, the buildings are more spread out, so I bypass the shop itself and wander around to the back, where the open-air forge is set up.
Taliesin gestures to the brawny dwarven fae forging an axe. "Is that who we're looking for?"
Before I can respond, long, lean arms wrap around both of our shoulders, and a high-pitched male voice laughs prettily. "Hardly. Boys this cute must be looking for me."
"Aah!" Taliesin yells, jumping half out of his skin.
"Hey Vulcan," I say, turning to the best blacksmith PC in the world.
"Hello handsome," he replies, air kissing both my cheeks. I indulge him out of habit. "Spider Wench told me you'd be coming."
"One of these days, I'm going to tell Arachne you call her that."
He grins, and his teeth look extra white against his tan skin. "Oh honey, it's a term of endearment. I call her that to her face."
I raise an eyebrow. "What's she call you?"
"I don't want to say in front of the minor."
Taliesin looks relieved, but also a little disappointed. Can't say I blame him.
"Speaking of, who is this delightful young Pu`ca?" Vulcan asks.
I block him with an arm. "Down, boy. No ruining innocent children."
Vulcan gasps, scandalized. "I would never!"
I snort my disbelief.
"Don't give me that," he huffs. "Neither of you cute things are anything close to my type."
True. His type is burly muscles, grizzled beards, and battle scars. He admitted to me once, System-drunk on in-game wine, that the only reason he became a blacksmith was to meet guys.
It should be annoying, considering he ended up a freaking god-level blacksmith on accident while drooling over muscles and facial hair. But maybe it's just so quintessentially him, or maybe he just has so many things about him that should be annoying, in the end, nothing's annoying.
For example, it's somehow not annoying he looks more like Adonis than any blacksmith I've ever seen. He's even wearing a spotless baby blue slim-fit sleeveless tunic that I'm betting he had Arachne custom design for him.
"Are you playing Human?" I ask, surprised.
"Of course not. How boring." Vulcan walks out of the forge into the small grassy yard. Two white wings unfurl from runic markings on his back.
"You're a Valkyrie!" Taliesin exclaims.
He's the first male Valkyrie I've seen, and I feel like I should have known. Vulcan may be attracted to the blacksmith stereotype, but in real life, the man's a ballet dancer. Pure muscle, without an inch of bulk. The Valkyrie avatar is designed to be tall and lean, pure deadly muscle hidden in a body of grace and beauty and otherworldly hand-eye coordination.
It's why it's also the perfect race for my own goddess, Kara Geir.
I must let a lovesick expression cross my face for a second, because Vulcan narrows his eyes in a knowing look, and I groan.
"Nope, not even gonna go there right now," I warn. "I'm here on special business."
Interest piqued, Vulcan lets the love-related gossip go (for now). He ushers us into the actual shop and asks for business-related details instead.
I immediately hand over Zen'aku, and explain everything I know of the Cursed blades and the upgrade. There's not point keeping anything secret from Vulcan; if everything goes well, he's going to be my weapons specialist and blacksmith for years to come.
Besides, right after I finish speaking, he proves trying to keep a secret would have been pointless. His reward for placing in the Top Five Lifestyle Players during the beta was apparently an Appraisal Skill.
After he uses it, he knows more about my damn weapons than I do.
Whatever he sees, gets him incredibly excited. So excited, he refuses to waste time telling me what's got him so hot and bothered.
"Hand over the upgrade materials, and shoo until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?!" I'm taken aback and more than a little despondent at the thought of letting them go for so long. I'd hoped the upgrade might only take an hour or so. "Can't you at least tell me what you learned?"
"No point just yet. Once they upgrade, the information will change again. The sooner I can get started, the sooner I'll be able to uncover all the secrets of your beautiful blades."
"Can you even handle the upgrade?" I ask, worriedly.
"You doubt my skills?" He's not quite offended, more surprised.
"I just mean, I didn't think the System would let an unofficial blacksmith complete the process."
"Who's unofficial? You're looking at the game's first and as of yet only Apprentice Blacksmith, Level Two."
"No way!" Taliesin cries, jaw dropping in shock.
Smirking, Vulcan holds out his hand expectantly. "Upgrade materials," he insists.
Sighing, I pass him what he wants. I feel like a new parent leaving my kid at daycare for the first time.
"Now shoo! You're too handsome to stick around. You'll distract me."
"You're just saying that in the hopes I'm flattered enough to leave without complaint."
"Fine. Then shoo! You're a total freak when it comes to your weapon babies, and your constant hovering and endless stream of encouragement, muttered not to me but to your weapons, is a horrendous distraction and makes me feel like pulling an Arachne and stabbing you."
"Truth hurts, babe. Now buzz off. I have work to do."