The fumes and smokes of unknown chemicals and concoctions wafted through the air. I was surprised to see such a complex lab existed within the dilapidated building. Keke hadn’t said a word since she’d admitted to not carving the minotaurs, so Cannoli had taken this opportunity to fill the awkward silence, pointing out any and all alchemical tools.
“So I can learn any craft then, right? And [Alchemy] is one?”
Cannoli nodded approvingly. “Of course!” There seemed to be a renewed spring in her step. She was practically skipping through the lab, much to the dismay of some of the other students. None of the faces I saw from the catgirl cluster earlier seemed to be in this room. Some passed curious glances my way, but most paid little attention, their focus on their craft.
“Cannoli!” barked a gnarled voice.
Cannoli froze on the spot halfway through one hop and nearly lost her balance. “Y-yes?”
“How many times have I told you not to gallivant in here?” An older woman, possibly in her fifties, was approaching us, glaring at Cannoli through her pince-nez glasses. The weathered woman was dark-skinned and shorter than even Cannoli. She was wiping her hands with a rag that looked like it had been dragged through mud and motor oil. Smelled like it too. “You do it one more damn time, and I’ll have you kicked out for good, young lady!”
“S-sorry! H-hey though, look what I brought!” Cannoli stepped aside as if presenting me like some As Seen on TV centerpiece. Felt a bit like a piece of meat. Part of me didn’t mind, though.
“Hello,” I said with a single hand gesture and the best smile I could muster.
The woman squinted, looking me up and down. “This is our new man? Ha! He won’t last three minutes,” she said, turning her attention back to Cannoli.
I pondered on what she meant by that, eager to defend myself for a jab I had no context to. Won’t last where exactly? I thought I’d been doing well so far. Besides, a simple ‘how do you do?’ or ‘nice to meet you’ would’ve been nice.
“You don’t know that! You haven’t seen what he’s capable of!” argued a blushing Cannoli. Her outburst drew the staring ire of others in the room, and she shifted uncomfortably. Her ears bowed forward as another catgirl cleared her throat in a reprimanding tone. “Sorry.”
“Mhm.” The older woman knitted her brow and crossed her arms, drumming her fingers against one forearm.
I looked over my shoulder, realizing that Keke hadn’t followed us inside. Instead, she stood outside, leaning against the doorway, her attention entirely elsewhere. As much as I wanted to go and fix the rift between us, I was still bitter about the loss of the minotaur parts. Espada’s axe could have meant the difference between victory or another arrow in my shoulder. Cannoli could have watched over me just fine—part of a Scout’s job, it seemed, was to get us cash. And we were woefully poor.
“Granny Nauka, could you please teach Matt [Alchemy]?” Cannoli leaned forward while drumming the tips of her fingers together. “He wants to help me, so I want to help him too!”
Nauka looked at me once more—this time, directly into my eyes. I was suddenly reminded of an old woman who lived in my apartment complex when I was a kid. She was a nasty old thing; I imagined thirty years older than even Nauka. She’d take any chance she could to bicker about how ‘good things were back in her day,’ and how today’s youth ‘was spoiled and rude.’ I braced for a Boomer onslaught.
“You don’t seem the insightful type. Or the type who knows how to problem-solve. Both of which are absolutely necessities for learning this complicated craft. You sure you want to learn [Alchemy], sonny? You may blow yourself up,” she cackled.
You don’t seem the warm grandma type either. But hey, here we are.
“I’m sure. Keke told me she got a concoction from an Alchemist. Was that you?” I asked.
Nauka paused. I got the impression she believed she was looking at some inferior insect, weighing up whether or not it was even possible to teach it. “Hm. Fine. I’ll teach you.”
“Thank you very much,” I said as I clapped my hands together appreciatively. “You w—”
“That is if you can gather me a few items.”
My chin dropped to my chest. I felt like she’d just knocked the wind out of me. Why did I think this would be easy?
“But, Granny Nauka, he’s still healing from his last battle,” Cannoli reasoned.
Nauka readjusted her glasses and glared at my companion. “Then all the more reason he better hop to it. You can wait to heal, go get the supplies now, or give up altogether. No skin off my tail.”
“It’s okay, Matt, I’ll help you gather the items,” Cannoli said, flashing her pouting lips at Granny.
Nauka chuckled. “Give me a moment to find that list.”
Great. A fetch quest. I love doing grocery shopping for lazy people.
While we waited, Cannoli took me around the lab, explaining the uses of the numerous devices in the room. And while we received the occasional impertinent glance from Granny Nauka, she never once yelled at us.
Soon, Granny returned just as she promised, a rolled-up parchment in her hand. Cannoli reached for it, and Nauka pulled back. “It’s not your job, little lady.” Dejected, Cannoli dropped her arm and bowed her head as Nauka handed the scroll to me.
An increasingly familiar sense flowed through me as soon as my fingers touched the paper. Sure enough, the notification was there when I glanced at the iPaw.
[Alchemy Quest: A Green Thumb]
So, you want to be an alchemist? Gather 5 Nyapples and 5 Cat’s Paws for me, sonny!
- 20 XP
- 5 Glass Bottles
- Knowledge [Alchemy]
- [Alchemy] Craft Unlocked
"Don’t lose your way back,” said Nauka.
I bit my tongue and instead nodded, turning and cursing under my breath. “Let’s go, Cannoli. There are some… nyapples to gather.”
“Oh! Those are easy,” she mused on the way out. “Keke and I used to collect those for Granny Nauka when we were kittens. Follow me. I know where they grow!”
Keke pushed herself away from the doorway and trailed behind me as I followed Cannoli. Her expression hadn’t changed much. I started to wonder if I should be concerned.
The coastal town was surrounded by foliage. Groves wedged in between thickets of harsh, dense canopies, pierced by bright beams of sunlight. They looked out of place when compared to the darker, more unforgiving patches of jungle and forest. As if the designers just put them there as beginner gathering spots to lure in unsuspecting players.
Shiny red app— nyapples hung from lush trees. They didn’t look much different from apples—they bore almost universal similarities. That is, save for one thing.
“How did you carry these back as children?” I marveled.
“The [Cat Pack] of course!” Cannoli said, swelling with pride.
“Of course.” The nyapples were the size of melons, and it seemed there was only a handful hanging from each tree. The stems were thick and dark, and there was this sort of uneasiness in my veins when I approached the trunk. “So, I should be able to just fit them in the bag. Is that right?”
Keke nodded. “Yes. You needed five?”
Oh, she can talk again, I see.
“Yeah. Best we should do it fast so we can get the [Cat’s Paw] next. I want to make some strong potions as soon as possible,” I said.
“Cannoli?” Keke called.
“The usual?” Cannoli asked with a knowing smile.
“What’s ‘the usual?’” My eyes narrowed. Usually, I was the one giving vague orders. Being on the other side made me surprisingly uncomfortable.
The girls nodded to each other and proceeded to demonstrate [The Usual]. Cannoli ran underneath one of the trees and bent at the knees, her fingers wriggling with anticipation. Seconds later, she leaped into the air. And, might I point out, she leapt quite high—much higher than I ever could. Her arms enveloped the nyapple, and the branch bent down, but the stem held firm. Her feet dangled freely in the air.
The whole thing was giving me anxiety.
Then Keke arrived. I don’t know when she started climbing, but she suddenly appeared on the same branch where Cannoli hung. Squirming along the length of it like a caterpillar, Keke made her way to the nyapple before pulling a small knife from her belt’s sheath.
“Wait, don’t!” I cried out, my hand extending on its own.
Keke ignored me. With her legs and free hand wrapped around the branch, she reached over and sawed through the stem in a fluid back and forward momentum. In my mind, I pictured a number of awful conclusions to this display, including, but not limited to:
- The branch breaking from their combined weight, causing them to fall on top of each other and snap their necks.
- The branch flinging Keke away and into the ocean, where the Defiled would eat her.
- The branch swinging back and smacking Cannoli in the face, also snapping her neck.
But none of my scenarios played out. Cannoli dropped a bit awkwardly to the ground when the nyapple was cut free, and the branch swayed as if struck by an afternoon breeze. The girls were safe, and that was what mattered.
Cannoli held the nyapple above her head with pride, not unlike an elven hero from another video game I was familiar with. The tune played in my head as I breathed a sigh of relief. With bouncy steps, she ran toward me and held out the precious red fruit.
“Here you go!”
Matt has gained: Nyapple x1!
[Alchemy Test: A Green Thumb]
Red Nyapple 1/5
Cat’s Paw 0/5
Huh. Well, that went smoother than expected.
Keke’s descent drew my attention. She stood before us with a graceful roll of her shoulder. Her smile was strangely vacant. I had figured Keke to be more of a business first, fun later type of girl, but something was up.
“You feeling okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said with a raised brow. “What about you?”
I rolled my shoulder and— good lord, the pain. I was once again reminded of the searing agony of the arrow, of our battle with the minotaurs. I pushed them away and forced a smile. “I’m coming around, thanks to you two.”
“Hmm.” Keke’s eyes went to the sky.
What’s with her?
“Keke, Keke! Let’s go get another nyapple!” Cannoli tugged at Keke’s arm excitedly, a sparkle in her eye.
Thank you, Cannoli.
“Okay, okay.” Keke smiled wryly, but she was quick to make her way back up the tree, pointing to the next nyapple she’d set her sights on. Cannoli lagged behind.
“They have a bad history.” Cannoli’s statement caught me by surprise. “Keke tries to avoid going there. To see Grandma Nauka.”
Cannoli bowed her head thoughtfully. “It’s a long story. But I think she should be the one to tell you, not me. I just wanted to let you know she isn’t mad at you or anything. Quite the opposite.” She turned to me and gave me one of those bright smiles that only Cannoli could give. “I haven’t seen her this happy in a long time.”
“Cannoli! What are you waiting for?” Keke called out, shaking the branch, so it rustled the leaves.
I watched as Cannoli ran. Watched as they worked together, cut down the nyapples, supported each other.
What a great friendship they have.
“I have another one for you!” Cannoli proudly presented another nyapple to me, and I threw it into my [Cat Pack].
Matt has gained: Nyapple x1!
[Alchemy Test: A Green Thumb]
Red Nyapple 2/5
Cat’s Paw 0/5
WARNING! Inventory space is low!
That was weird. Inventory space was low? I mean, yeah, I still had the fishing bait and all that other useless gear I got for fishing, but I was sure I still had four or five more spots. I loaded up the iPaw, and my jaw dropped.
There, in the box where my inventory displayed, were two red nyapples, taking up two of my inventory spots. Not one. Two.
“They don’t stack?” I asked, incredulous.
“‘Stack?’ What do you mean, ‘stack’?” said a confused Cannoli.
“Multiple amounts of the same items. They don’t stack together? You know, in order to save inventory space?” I gestured wildly to the iPaw.
“What are you talking about?” Keke seemed equally confused.
No. This was impossible. Something was wrong with my [Cat Pack], and I just wasn’t explaining it right. “My nyapples. Why are they occupying two spots? They should only take up one.”
“I’m still not following,” said Keke.
“Ohhhh, I think I get it!” Cannoli’s face lit in a picturesque moment where a lightbulb should have hovered above her head. “Do you mean that you could have one-hundred—or even two-hundred—of the same item, and they would all take up the same spot in your [Cat Pack]?”
I dropped the [Cat Pack] and took her hands in mine. “That is exactly what I mean.”
Cannoli’s face turned bright red.
Keke seemed to grow flustered, gently pushing my hands away from Cannoli’s. “How would that even work?”
Oh. My. God.