When Baxter logged into the game, it loaded him exactly where he had stopped playing last night - er, rather, early this morning. Naturally the first thing he did was open his character journal and flick over to the pages with his quest logs, immediately setting Green Thumb as his active quest.
Reading the crafting subforum had been a revelation in many ways: the crafting classes he’d originally dismissed as being side projects better focused on later suddenly became much more interesting, and he’d also been left with a bit of food for thought regarding this quest.
Dandapuffs were based off a common weed in the real world that carried its extremely feather light seeds on the wind to propagate and become widespread, and happened to have a hidden wind attribute value. Wetirweeds were waterlogged plants found only in the river, and prickleseeds were extremely dense and hard - rocklike, you might even say. He’d originally considered this class quest to be a pretty boring and standard fetch quest, but it seems like the devs had actually deeply hidden some interesting information in it.
Baxter had incidentally gathered all the prickleseeds he needed by hunting chichis his previous session, but hadn’t found a single charmbell. He’d assumed it to simply be a rare plant as a means to throw a wrench into the quest, but going off his inferrals, he considered that maybe he wouldn’t have to blindly grope in the dark. Perhaps he already had a clue as to where to start looking for it.
The quest area was bound to the Sylvan Woods, so Baxter knew it had be somewhere in his current zone. He sat down cross legged where he’d spawned at, unfolding his map and spreading it on the flat ground before him and scanning over it. He immediately crossed out any areas with heavy tree growth that would have an excess of shade and anywhere adjacent to a water source. It was still a lot of ground to cover, and nothing on the map jumped out at him as particularly “fiery”. He placed his character journal down beside the map, flipping through the herbology section of the materials almanac for clues, but came up short. Inspirations truck when he remembered that chichis actually dropped prickleweed amongst their loot, and he excitedly flipped through to the bestiary and scanned the entries there.
Finally he found what he was looking for in the flavour text for a sort of sunflower looking plant type monster called a sunshiner:
Although not carnivorous, the sunshiner is still an extremely aggressive species of sentient plant. They’ve been known to chase people for miles without giving up. Nobody knows why they get so angry.
Due to the amount of energy they expend chasing around anyone who annoys them, sunshiners require a massive amount of sunlight to keep themselves active. Their petals open up wide to help them absorb more light. When they absorb too much sunlight, their petals turn from yellow to pink and they give off an intense heat.
Altogether an extremely bothersome species.
Baxter looked up the rough information on their locations that was available and then marked a waypoint on his map for the nearest one. He closed his journal, rolled his map back up, then threw them both into his inventory. It was a bit of a jog to where the bestiary hinted the sunshiners would be - a little past Fourth Outpost where the trees cleared up slightly and the terrain looked a little rockier. He could set his character to autorun, but the top speed was jogging and it would bind his path to the road. It would be faster to manually run and cut a straight line through the forest off-road.
He found a manageably looking game trail and began to rush through the forest. As he was dashing through the forest, Baxter couldn’t help but look around and admire the scenery of the game. Although there were wide swathes of space between trees, because the trees themselves and their foliage was so large and thick, the area was heavily shaded. Only a few golden shards of sunlight managed to filter through, scattering dalmation spots of light over the undergrowth below. There was a feeling of wildness to the forest, with the rustle of small, invisible animals following him, and only natural ambience generated from insects and birdsong for BGM. The current area was littered with walls of dense shrubs, overturned trees, and overgrown chest high grass, together forming natural barriers that herded players around obstacles. As he began to transition into the more open area of the forest, the larger shrubs fell away and undergrowth became ground hugging, making an intense green carpet of creeping shrubbery that would spring back up to life as soon as your foot lifted off it.
Even with so many interactable visuals on screen the game ran very smoothly, so with the VR it felt truly lifelike.
When the terrain took a noticeable shift in style, Baxter took out his map to confirm his location and trajectory. According to the bestiary, one place sunshiners congregated was called the Emerald Coliseum. It was a short walk from where he’d stopped, he hadn’t veered too much while traversing the forest, so he only made slight adjustments to his direction and made his way over.
Although the Emerald Coliseum was called such, it wasn’t a real coliseum but a naturally formed basin covered in sparse growth. The downward slopes toward the flattened centre of the basin happened to have been formed into a terraced structure due to its sedimentary nature, and came to resemble the rows of seating in an ancient coliseum. There were only a few very small trees, about one metre high at most, growing in the hard packed clay-like earth of the basin, providing very little shade. A variety of herbs and flowers that thrived in hard and compacted soil were doing well here where there was less competition, gathered together in colourful copses, making the area very vivid.
On the bottom plane of the basin were what appeared to be a small garden of sunflowers at first blush, each one ranging between one to three metres high, and some of the petals turning orange and even pink at the tips. Baxter was impressed by the mean-spirited trick - if he’d wandered in here blindly, he was sure he would have really mistaken them for a herb or flower to be harvested, not realising them for the monsters they were.
These were sunshiners, and only the faint twitching of their petals gave their true nature away.
Luckily he was already aware of what they really were, nor had he come here to deal with them. While they were in this inactive sunbathing state, merely keeping a generous distance from them would be enough to keep them from aggroing. Their levels were far above his capabilities right now, ranging from LVL. 16 - 24, and beyond that they were the type to all aggro together and overwhelm players as a group, as well as incredibly hard to disengage from. Doing this as carefully as possible was crucial.
Baxter stood at the lip of the basin, gazing around at the various plant growth within. Although this was a relatively cleared out area, there were enough varieties of shrubbery that he couldn’t tell at a glance if this area even had what he was looking for. Although he could guess at its general appearance, he couldn’t be sure of it, so in the end he had no choice but to search each plant one by one.
He carefully jumped down the shallow step to the next layer of the basin, circling around it and checking each plant in sequence. As he had to harvest each one before he could learn what it was, he gradually amassed a pile of dud herbs and flowers in his inventory. But Baxter remained slow and methodical in his process, careful not to overlook anything. The only problem was his growing nervousness as he made his way gradually down toward the centre of the basin. He wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination, but it looked like the sunshiners were twitching more often the closer he got.
In the end he was two levels away from the very bottom before he found what he was looking for: a small easy-to-miss plant, its flowers rising out over long thin leaves, the tall stem gently bowed over in a graceful arc as a group of five or so coral pink bell-shaped flowers hung off it. Although there were only two stalks, it was confirmation his thought process had been correct. After he harvested one of them, he confirmed its identity to be the charmbell he was looking for:
Charmbell | LVL. 12 | Uncommon
These flowers give off a mildly sweet scent that makes people feel at ease, making them popular as decorative flowers in gardens. If you plan to grow them make sure they get plenty of sunlight. Can be used in alchemy.
Baxter hastily harvested the second stalk and stowed both of them away in his inventory, then got up and peered around for any flash of colour to mark more of them.
After he searched, he was disappointed to find that the only other charmbells in the area were directly beside the sunshiners. He frowned in thought, uncertain how to proceed. On the one hand he could simple travel to the next location sunshiners gathered and see if they had any charmbells growing with them too - but as an upper levelled enemy for the zone with high aggro, the devs had made sure to make them a rarer spawning mob, so the distance between locations was quite far. On the other hand, he could simply try a grab and dash and see how long their leash was, then circle back and harvest the rest.
Basically he had to weigh up his laziness versus possibly dying.
After thinking about it, he decided he may as well go for it. At worst he’d probably just lose a level and some money, right?
Baxter positioned himself so he had a clear shot straight for the nearest charmbell, spent a second or two psyching himself up, then sprinted forward in a burst of speed. He leapt down the terrace steps, carefully judging the timing so he could snatch the flower on his way past as he skid to a halt at the bottom of the basin. He tumbled right into the swaying stalk of a sunshiner, knocking it over like a bowling pin and sending it straight into the rest of the mob.
Well, whatever. He scrambled to his feet just as the flowers all came alive around him, turning their wide flat sunflower faces towards him in angry unison like a herd of horror movie monsters. Their wide flat leaves curled up into fist shapes and they gnashed their pointed teeth, chittering fiercely.
He dashed out from their encirclement while there was still a gap to take advantage of. The climb back out of the basin was a lot tougher than its descent, with Baxter being forced to leap up the natural steps of the coliseum. They were just slightly too high to step up naturally and had to be jumped over, quickly causing him to lose his lead on the monsters. At his current level they also had a slightly faster run speed than him and it was a matter of moments before they caught up.
Soon he was surrounded, and with level gap plus the low physical stats of his Mender class they quickly beat him into submission. When his health bar reached red crit his pace slowed down against his will to a weak limp, cutting off any chance of escape.
Aah, he figured this might happen, but it was pretty pathetic how quickly it all went south. Still, he couldn’t be blamed for trying.
YOU HAVE DIED
You have lost 196 Sil and 2,811 EXP.
You seemed to have dropped some things:
You have been returned to the location of your last Soulstone imprint.
A last few traces of light were just fading away when Baxter’s blackened view came back into focus. He’d been respawned in a small open courtyard, about ten square metres in size, covered by a pergola that was completely draped in creeping ivy that gave it a subdued ambiance. The bulk of the space was taken up by an enormous milky white crystal resembling polished snow quartz, that had been fashioned into a teardrop shape with delicate reliefs, fixed into place by an ornate raised platform. The pointed top was encircled by a golden brace, and four golden chains stretched out to each corner of the space, giving extra support.
This was the aforementioned “Soulstone”.
Baxter dismissed the pop up window informing him of his death and its myriad consequences after swiftly reading through them, hastily opening his inventory. The death penalty had caused him to lose a negligible chunk of his wealth and probably a third of his current experience. After all his expenses he didn’t have much left anyway, and after the money drop upon his death he was left with 1 gal and 706 sil, but that didn’t matter to him. What concerned him was the announcement that he had left the charmbells behind on his death too. Not a single one was left.
Just as he was muttering expletives to himself in frustration, there was a flash of light beside him and a player character materialised in its place. From crown to toe, they measured at about half his height, but their long rabbit ears were half again the length of their body, bringing their total height to around his chest. The were covered in cream fur with a seal point colouration, and had a small pair of forward facing antlers growing from the forehead. He’d have mistaken it for some kind of monster, but it was fully kitted up in leather armour and armed with a flintlock style pistol and rifle, one at the waist and the other over their back, and even had a pair of goggles on.
It looked Baxter up and… well, up. Then it opened its mouth and spoke.
“Died, huh newbie.”