59 Final bits of Housekeeping, before House Getting
I am in no way offended when I find myself outside the smithy, heavy door closed in my face.
It's a Vulcan thing.
It means he's taking upgrading my babies seriously, so I'm happy.
I sling an arm around Taliesin's shoulders and steer us back to the inner city. "Welp. We've been officially shoo-ed, Little Dude. How bout some grub?"
His face brightens with his trademark 100 megawatt grin. "Hey, my brother calls me that! My name's Liam Dunleavy, initials LD, so he calls me Little Dude all the time."
I smack him upside the head. "Yo, don't just tell people that, you dope!"
"I don't! I'm not stupid."
With a withering look, I snap, "The evidence is to the contrary, dumbass."
He rolls his eyes. "It's just you here. You're not people. You're Erebus."
"Kid, you have no clue who I am!"
"I consider myself an excellent judge of character."
Now I roll my eyes. "I thought you were keeping an eye on me because you think I might be a closet perv."
He nods, merrily. "That's an entirely separate issue. If anything, it proves you can keep a secret!"
I can't even.
This kid, I swear. Shake. My. Head.
We enter a tavern and order. Taliesin scarfs down thick stew and a loaf of rustic bread, baked to perfection: cripsy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
Have you ever read a Western high fantasy novel, and gotten so into the worldbuilding that every time they eat, you start craving the same foods: rich stew, warm bread, and hunks of cheese?
That's what eating in Tara is like.
Not for me, though, right now. I start stress-eating an entire pie because fuck it, it's imaginary calories anyway.
"Why are you so" (obsessed with) "interested in me?" I ask eventually.
It's difficult to talk while my taste buds are reeling from the sweet-yet-tart berries and buttery crust so flaky it should be illegal.
He shrugs but doesn't stop inhaling food. "A bunch of reasons, I guess. Mostly, I feel like playing with you will be the most fun."
"At first, 'cause of that emblem." To my surprise, he points to my Windflower. "It's unique. I haven't seen anyone else with that. You must have been Top 16 during the Beta Tournament."
"Why d'you think that?"
"The Top 100 all have the same emblem. Haven't you noticed it on Kara and my brother's chest? The scythe and skull?"
What the hell.
I get a flower. They get Intimidating Sigil of Death.
"Were you in the beta, too?" I ask.
"Sort of. For, uh...reasons, I was recruited for a special closed beta. It was as much testing hardware as software, and our focus was different. We weren't part of the in-game ranking.
But my brother was! Nanuk ranked 22nd after the tournament. All of us from the special beta got to come watch the tournament. It was awesome!"
"Is that how Nanuk met Kara?"
"Nah, they'd played together on other games, along with Jade and Rahotep. Mostly Jade, though. Rah just kinda keeps tagging along."
I stare at him. Gee, who else tags along?
"They were in a guild?"
"Not exactly." He does one of those half-headshake, half-nods. "I mean, yes, but it was one of those solo guilds."
"Thoses don't always work well, from what I've seen."
The kid nods. "Yeah, they got fed up a few times. Rah eventually joined a real guild. Bro always said what they needed was a better Guild Leader."
He gives me a meaningful look and waggles his eyebrows.
I laugh my ass off. "Never gonna happen."
He sighs. "Figured as much."
For the rest of our meal, Taliesin tells me stories, and since they involve my Great Love, obviously I'm intrigued.
He's a great storyteller, actually. Does spot-on impressions, especially of his brother. Apparently, the kid's a streamer with a decent following, largely due to his knack for finding in-game secrets and his storytelling abilities.
Taliesin, from myth, is a heroic shapeshifting bard from Celtic legend, and I have to say, it suits Liam Dunleavy of Ireland.
"Step right up to this Game of Chance! Only 5 silvers for a chance to win; 50 silvers if you want to Win Big!"
A sketchy-looking fae, hunched over and wearing a garish purple suit, smiles wickedly as he tries to draw us closer.
Normally, I'd avoid hawkers like the 1% avoid taxes, especially one charging such ridiculous prices. Even when my Luck isn't specifically a negative number, I've never had much luck with games of chance.
I spent 3000 rupees playing the Ocarina of Time Treasure Chest Game and never once found the fucking Piece of Heart.
"All right, Little Dude. Do your thing." I push the kid toward the smarmy gambler. To avoid money-farming hacks due to Luck stats, you can only win games of chance once, but to make up for it, the grand prizes are usually considerable.
I have him select [Ultimate Challenge - 50 Silvers].
As soon as he does, he enters a mini-instance. Essentially, he can only see, hear, or otherwise sense the sketchy hawker; the rest of the street will appear deserted to him. He also won't be able to access his Status Window or the internet.
Everyone not playing is actually still around; I can see the challenge perfectly, hear everything the two of them say. In this way, it's realistic for a street gambling game, but it keeps the participating Player from being able to cheat.
It's clever, but ineffective this time around.
Taliesin IS the cheat.
He's the demihuman equivalent of a die that only rolls Nat 20s.
Three minutes after he enters the instance, he's back out, beaming and throwing me a thumbs up, sketchy fae is drooping and gnashing yellow pointed teeth, and my 50 silver bet has transformed into 10 gold coins. That's 1000 silvers.
Normally, by the time a person has enough to silvers to waste on this game, 10 gold isn't worth that much.
Right now, though? We're practically kings.
We head to the Adventurer's Association next.
It's a ginormous building with gothic cathedral vibes. The open ground floor has counters set up all over and bulletin boards filled with Quests. Most of the quests found on Association bulletins will include local Reputation as part of the reward.
Though the outside conforms to the Tara aesthetic, the inside is almost identical to every Adventurer's Association in every major town and city.
The NPCs trip over themselves to help me, mostly because the Association is the one place Reputation matters more than anything.
When I explain I'm here to upgrade a business, the highest-ranking officials step forward, expressions varying between excited, calculating, and greedy. Most everyone else looks depressed and envious, like they wish more than anything they could be the ones serving us.
It's good to be the king.
Now I have a big decision to make. The first time you use the Adventurer's Association for a high-level task, you're presented with a series of still-available NPCs, and you get to choose the one who will remain your Association Liaison the rest of your time in that Realm.
It matters way more than people realized at first in the beta. The NPCs are purposefully designed differently, with varying degrees of motivation, dedication to their client, intelligence, and influence/negoiation skills. Also, their personalities vastly differ, and since you'll end up talking to your Liaison frequently, finding one that suits you is vitally important.
As a certified NPC Whisperer, I'm not concerned with Motivation or Dedication. Those two stats can be influenced by the Player, and let's be real.
I gots the influence.
And since I'm the first to utilize this feature, all of the best possible NPC choices are available to me. Greed lights up my eyes, and my tattoos spread a little more across my face.
I use Thread Reader and scan the crowd for names I might recognize and levels. Unsurprisingly, several of the "lower-ranked" officials are actually higher-leveled than the high-ranking ones. The general consensus in the beta is that the absolute best possible Liaison can first be found among the low-ranking NPCs, but that the high-ranking ones are always good, so they're the safest bet.
I'm not here for the safest bet.
I send Taliesin off to complete a few simple in-city quests, and I take my time, meandering throughout the crowd of NPCs and using every ounce of Charisma I possess to learn about the officials who caught my eye during my initial scan.
After the first hour of this, my introvert soul is crying inside, an exhausted shriveled husk, but I'm making progress, so I perservere.
Because Intelligence is discernible through conversation, I use Thread Reader II to see the Influence stat of NPCs who seem most interesting. Influence affects negotiation, uncovering secrets, speaking to other NPCs on the Player's behalf, and gaining admission to important functions that the Liaison can then invite the Player to attend as well.
I use the half hour between Thread Reader II cooldowns to talk to NPCs and choose the next one who seems worthy of the skill. It's tedious, and several of the NPCs don't have the high-level AI I've come to expect, like I saw with Dina and Logane. But if the NPC is boring and doesn't seem to have an interesting personality quirk, it makes it easier for me to dismiss them. I want an NPC with a backstory that may provide an easter egg later.
Finally, on the fourth use of Thread Reader II, I find what I'm looking for.
His name is Alfryd, and he looks exactly like Batman's butler Alfred, and I'd like to say this doesn't factor into my decision-making process at all, but that would be a big, fat lie.
But I promise it only factored into my decision to speak to him and test his mettle. My final decision is entirely logical.
At Level 80, he's almost ten levels above the highest-ranking official. Alfryd is only a 2-Star Intermediate Associate, but after speaking with him, I found out this is because he's only been with the AA for a few months. Previously, he ran a wealthy nobleman's estate.
"Was his name Bruce Wayne, perchance?" I ask nonchalantly.
I appreciate he doesn't mince words.
(I also appreciate his crisp Bristish-ish accent which I admit, makes him sound smart, because I'm a dumb American and can't help it, and I think posh butlers are cool, so sue me.)
When he's asked an intelligent question, he answers thoughtfully, using precise language. He's never vague or euphemistic, and he has absolutely zero qualms saying things I don't want to hear.
For example, when I ask him to characterize my personality based on my aesthetic, he gives me a skeptical once-over and answers:
"Thinks he's mysterious like the depths of an ocean or the dark side of a moon. Is actually mysterious in the way it's odd when you look in the same place over and over again for a missing item, and it's not there, but then you check on last time, with a sigh of futility, and somehow, there it is. Worth noting, but hardly warrants further investigation."
"But I am the darkness," I say.
"Too right you are, sir. The darkness indeed."
Needless to say, I think Arachne's going to love him.
Given his brusque personality, I can tell he's motivated, or he wouldn't be as advanced an official as he is. He stayed with the same nobleman for forty years, including the final years when the man was bedridden and had lost his mental faculties, so dedication seems like a given. He's smarter than me, which is a good sign, and I think he might even smarter than Arachne, which is the best sign.
And his Influence stat is 94. 100 is the max for all four Associate NPC-specific stats. I've never heard of an NPC with Influence above 80, though that doesn't mean much. I'm sure as hell not telling people about Alfryd.
Taliesin returns after I've officially selected Alfryd as my Liaison, right as I sign the form transforming Silken Strands into a 1-Star Business.
Turns out, the devs had made some changes to the requirements for a 1-Star Business, probably specifically to keep Arachne from upgrading so soon; if I hadn't had 2 gold on me, I wouldn't have been able to pay the Upgrade Fee.
I stick out my tongue in the general direction of "up" where I image the devs might be observing.
I imagine I can hear quiet weeping from Vir-Tech.
Alfryd looks unimpressed.
[World Notification: Congratulations to Silken Strands for being the first Player-owned business to upgrade to 1-Star Status! Business Rewarded +100 World Reputation Points, +25 Gold. Owners Arachne and Erebus Rewarded +500,000 EXP]
[Realm Notification (Gael): FIRST 1-STAR BUSINESS - Silken Strands, located in Tara - Owners: Arachne, Erebus ; Business Rewarded +100 Gael Reputation Points, +10 Gold. Owners Rewarded +100,000 EXP]
[City Notification (Tara): FIRST 1-STAR BUSINESS - Silken Strands, located in the Central Market - Owners: Arachne, Erebus ; Business Rewarded +100 Tara Reputation Points, +5 Gold, Will Now Appear on City Map. Owners Rewarded +50,000 EXP]
"My name's Erebus, and I can't imagine why anyone would think playing with me is interesting. Oho! What do you know, there's my name on the World Notification for the second time in one day. La ti da, I'm an idiot." It's alarming how much Taliesin matches my voice to mock me. He's in his shadow cat form, probably because it can Sprint faster, and I swear he manages to even flick his tail sarcastically.
I karate chop him on the head.
He looks surprised, and pouts. I smirk. Can't dodge my AGI, Little Dude.
"Are you ready to go now? We don't have much time left before the day ends."
"Almost. Just one last thing." Still pouting, he jumps onto the counter and curls up like a panther-sized housecat. Chuckling, I turn to Alfryd. "Could you pull up the list of available Housing Units in Tara? Preferably towards the outer wall, where there's a bit more space and privacy."
There might be the slightest forehead wrinkle to suggest Alfryd is surprised by this request, but it's gone in a heartbeat, and then he's pulling up the list as if it's no bigger a deal than if I'd asked him to pull up a breakfast menu.
One eye opens as Taliesin looks at me curiously.
Ignoring the obvious question, I skip the first entire section and open the second tab of housing options. On page thirteen, my breath catches at the sight of a beautiful house/mini mansion with gray and green slate roof tiles and sloping wooden walls. A round turret rises up, taller than the surrounding buildings, with huge windows and a chimney.
Gods, I'm a sucker for a good turret.
"No way you can afford that, right? I figured I'd be lucky to snag a hut at this level in the game." Taliesin's no longer pretending not to care, and he leans over, tufted ears twitching in front of me.
Grinning, I pull out one of my most coveted treasures from the Oni no Gekido: my 2-star Housing Deed.
"I'll take it."
Taliesin falls off the counter.
Alfryd looks almost impressed. I swear, I saw it.
"I'm afraid you don't have the funds, sir. You don't even have the 5 gold required to activate the Housing Deed, let alone the 100 gold required to purchase the property."
"You can borrow my 5 gold if you want. There's nothing I can buy with that much money yet."
It's so rare to come across such a generous gamer. We're hoarders by nature. As soon as you tell me a material is rare or hard to find, I hear "Hold onto every scrap of this material you find and never use it for anything; you are a dragon now and this is your precious hoard."
"Unnecessary. Instead, simply accompany me on an adventure!"
"HECK YES THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT."
In his excitment, Taliesin poofs back into a human. He's really got to work on that. Battles do have a level of excitement, you know.
"Great! Let's go make some money! Are you ready?"
Taliesin grins and pumps his fist. "For anything! What are we doing?"
I grin as well, but it seems evil when I do it for some reason.
"Swindling a leprechaun, my dude."
"Sounds gre--ACK! WHAT?!"