60 Swindling a Swindler
The telltale tap-tapping of a tiny hammer crafting high-quality footwear is music to my ears.
There is also actual music in my ears, lovely Celtic-inspired strings and flutes that have accompanied us as we traipsed all over this forest outside Tara.
Finally, though, that music changes, alerting us to a secret nearby.
"Ohmygod, ohmygod, is it him? Is it the leprechaun?" Taliesin squawks.
He says its ingrained in his Irish soul to be excited about leprechauns, so he can't help it, even though he's positive we're going to fail miserably at trying to trick the faery trickster.
There's something disconcerting about hearing his bubbly excitement coming out of a terrifying, demonic fanged mouth. Grinding in this Level 15 forest as we searched for an elusive little green cobbler was especially good for Taliesin; when he hit Level 10, he unlocked his second magic animal shift: goat-demon.
"Yep, that'll be him. You better shift back human; he might get spooked and disappear if he sees you in this form," I advise.
(To be clear, it's not like *I'm* freaked out by the nightmarish demon with rotting flesh and black pits for eyes, and I'm definitely not two seconds away from gouging my own ears so I can't hear the sweet, innocent voice of a child coming out of a gaping maw of evil...
I'm just worried about the leprechaun.
We follow the sounds of cobbling to a giant oak tree with a hollowed-out trunk. Warm yellow light spills out of a window, a chimney sticks haphazardly out of the bark, tendrils of smoke wisping into the air, and a little red door beckons.
I halt us for a second, so I can mentally prepare. As far as I know, Charisma is a purely passive stat. It's an influencer, not an active creator. But when I purposefully up my own charm and act well, it seems to up my Charisma's potency, and my NPC manipulation works even better.
Well, there's no better NPC to test my theory than this. Here goes nothing.
(I am the NPC whisperer.)
I check to make sure Little Dude's human and also upright; I'm half-concerned he's gonna pass out from excitement.
I also swipe on the video function to record any embarrassing reactions, because that's what friends are for.
Even Taliesin has to hunch to enter the door; I'm practically crawling. But once we enter the warm dwelling, there's plenty of room to stand. I could probably even unfurl my wings, except I'd be afraid of knocking over tiny tools or stands of shoes.
At a small worktable, a pint-sized fae with green-tinged skin, a curly red beard, and a green coat embroided with red thread and shiny gold buttons hammers away on the sole of a boot.
[Flynn the Fae Cobbler] floats above his black hat.
"Eep," Taliesin squeaks, eyes saucer-wide.
Man, that's going to be a great soundbite/gif.
"What might two young gents such as yourself be doin' in my wee shop?" the leprechaun asks without looking up from his work.
"Er...uh...hi!" Taliesin blurts. "We're here for normal reasons! Definitely not to steal your pot of gold!"
I squeeze the kid's shoulder hard in warning and plaster a smile on my face."Sorry Master Flynn. Taliesin here's a fan. Too excited to speak straight, poor bloke."
Flynn chuckles and shakes his head. "At least he gets right to the point."
"Honest to a fault, this one." I side-eye glare at the moron Pu`ca, and he has the sense to look sheepish. "Anyway, it's true we're not here to rob you. Firstly, I'm in need of a pair of boots."
Interest piqued, Flynn can't help but let his eyes flicker over to my feet. He purses his lips and tuts. "Oi, what're you thinking, clunking around in those fur-lined boots during the warm season?"
"There'll all I have, I'm afraid." I sigh sadly.
"That'll not do at all," he grumbles, clambering to his feet. "If you've got materials, I'll move you to the top of my list and have you in proper footwear in two blinks of a kelpie's evil eye."
Assuring him I'm very grateful, I list some materials I've accumulated, and though he harrumphs and dismisses most of them, he eventually selects enough materials to get to work.
Right before he can begin, however, I stop him.
"What now, boy?" he snaps.
"I'd like to propose a wager, if you're interested," I say, challenge glinting in my eyes.
Flynn's pointed ears twitch, and his bushy red eyebrows raise. "Aye? And what kinda wager might that be?"
"I've heard tell that often, when you're in the middle of crafting, the very people you're trying to help get funny ideas; they attack and trap you, all for the sake of your hidden gold."
The leprechaun tries to frown, like this mention pains him, but he can't keep the impish sneer off his face.
I purposefully left out the part that Flynn himself puts those "funny ideas" in their heads in the first place, all so he can watch them fall victim to greed and fail miserably.
"What of it?" he asks.
"I've had a thought, you see," I explain. "We're all civilized here. Let's not bother with the capturing and double-crossing and such nonsense. Instead, why not handle all possible funny business with a simple wager."
"I'm listenin'," he grunts, tiny arms crossed.
He looks like a bearded toddler, looking skeptically at a pile of mashed potatoes, wondering if his parents hid broccoli under it.
'Don't laugh and fuck this up. Don't laugh and fuck this up,' I mentally chastise myself.
"You have hidden three enchanted gold pieces, and the only way to make your pot of gold appear is to find all three, correct?"
He looks surprised that I know so much. "Maybe..."
"What if I say that by the time you finish cobbling me a new pair of boots, we'll have found your gold three times? It's as you love to say: If we find it once, it's luck..."
"Twice is coincidence..." he continues.
"But three times is fate, and that pot is destined to be ours," I finish. "If we can find it before you finish your project, we keep it fair and square, and I walk out of here richer and styling in my new pair of boots. If we can't, we'll do your deadly penalty quest, without complaint."
Flynn rubs his beard, eyes narrowed in suspicion. I keep my face as neutral as possible, and Taliesin always looks innocent and naive, so he's really selling it for me.
"Fine," Flynn says, and I mentally cheer. "But one of you has to stay here while I work, and when you lose, you do my quest and pay double for these boots, besides."
"No problem," I assure him. I'm not the one who's oozing Luck, and besides, I wanted to stay on guard anyway, to make sure Flynn can't interfere and move the coins around if he senses Taliesin getting close.
The leprechaun smiles, and a shiver runs down my spine. Somehow, I feel like I've forgotten an important detail, and now I'm the one who's about to be screwed.
"One more thing, boyo. I get to be the one who decides who stays and who goes hunting for treasure."
I freeze, hand outstretched to shake on our deal. Did he read through my plan?
His poisonous trickster smile deepens. "You think I can't smell the Luck of Gael on this young fae halfling?" he asks, nodding to Taliesin. "I am Luck incarnate. You have a hint of Luck upon ye, but the Pu`ca is drowning in it."
Thinking furiously, I tell Flynn we'll need a few minutes outside to discuss. He laughs confidently and waves us off.
"You didn't tell me you already knew this guy," Taliesin says when we're out of earshot. "Did you beat him in the beta?"
"Not even close. Nobody did. General consensus is that it's impossible without Perceive 30 plus Detect Trace Lvl 3, at least."
"What the hell?!" Taliesin yelps. "It's stupid to even try this, then, right?"
I shake my head. "Not entirely. Each coin found does give a reward. The first one's the easiest, so the reward is just that: 1 gold coin. Only a few people found the second one, and they scored about 50 gold, I think? Pretty sure the game's designed so that no one can find the third one until the game's economy has advanced enough the full reward isn't worth as much."
Taliesin sighs. "So we were always screwed, just as I thought."
"No, I had a solid plan to find all three, and get myself a turret."
I remember a forum post discussing the mysterious Luck stat, and someone posited that quests like this could be completed as easily with enough Luck as with high enough Perception.
There's a fun feature that allows a person to pull up their map and "throw" a dart at it. Certain magic Skills turn this into a type of Divining, when searching for missing items or people. With enough Luck, you should be able to do something similar even without the Skills, but only when on Seek-and-Find Quests with searchable items that give off a magical resonance.
Flynn's gold coins lightly call to the Seeker, and the closer you get in range, the stronger the pull. Ergo, I strongly suspected Taliesin's absurd Luck stat should make it possible for him to fumble his way around and find all three coins, given enough time. Most people in the beta failed not because they couldn't have eventually found the coins, but because they couldn't find them in the time limit.
I figured I could stall, using my Charisma and penchant for causing chaos, and Taliesin would be able to find the gold.
I GOT IT.
I start laughing, mostly because the plan I just came up with is SO FREAKING STUPID OMG.
"What?" Taliesin perks up. "You have a plan, don't you?"
"Hahaha, oh yes, Little Dude. I'ma get me that turret. That, or I'ma piss off a tiny green man so much I'll end up owing him my firstborn child. Either way, it won't be boring."
Taliesin seems uncertain. "He seems nice, though. Isn't it rude to take his life savings?"
Seriously. How is this kid a gamer? "Collecting gold is a hobby for leprechauns. They find it underground while they tunnel about. They don't need it or even miss it. Mostly, they keep pots of gold around just to fuck with greedy humans, which honestly, hilarious. More power to 'em. But if you get your kicks being a trickster dick, you have to be prepared to be swindled right back."
Taliesin looks unconvinced, but he can't help being psyched by the challenge of swindling an epic swindler. He nods.
"Stellar. So here's the plan, little man..."