50: An Open Quest
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Dawn and I were feeling a little frisky that night, but unfortunately Ryana had figured out how to escape my inventory on her own. Every time I tried to pop her in there she squirrelled her way out in moments and became rather grumpy with me. I stopped trying after a few attempts.

“What do we do?” Dawn groaned, sending puppy dog eyes at me from the other side of the bed as Ryana snuffled around in the middle between us.

“Just cuddle, I guess,” I sighed, frowning down at the oblivious little beaver dam.

“Well, there’s an obstacle between us right now,” she said wryly, pointing to the dragon.

Slowly, an evil plan grew in my mind, and I smirked down at Ryana.“Well, we’ll just have to work together to overcome that obstacle won’t we?”

Moving quickly, I plucked her up from where she was playing on the bed between us and proceeded to dump her over the side of the bed. She disappeared down onto the floor with a small thump and an undignified squawk of protest, but before she made it back up onto the bed I had wriggled over into Dawn’s arms.

Rolling onto my back to watch the entertainment, I saw the small creature scrabble back up using her claws for purchase. Flopping onto the top of the bedsheets, she promptly curled up into a ball, her wings covering everything they could like a little tent. From beneath that shelter she glared little baby dragon daggers at me, but I just poked my tongue out right back at her.

“If you keep doing things like that, she’s just going to get even more cheeky down the line, you know that right?” Dawn chuckled, raising a pretty ginger eyebrow at me.

“Oh yeah,” I nodded, smiling back at my girlfriend. “That’s the point. The more she learns to be cheeky, the more cunning she’ll get, and then I can point her at my enemies and watch her go to town.”

“Are you sure you won’t be the recipient of that mischievous attitude?” she asked, clearly thinking that I would be.

“That is a distinct possibility,” I nodded, then lowered my eyelids a little, my smile turning hungry. “That’s not what I’m interested in doing right now though.”

My hand came up to her face as I spoke and I ran a teasing finger down the line of her jaw. I was rewarded with the smallest of shivers and a stuttered breath. She lay stock still as I advanced, moving our lips slowly, gently together. I swear I let out a moan of pure relief as our lips met, I’d been aching to get an unhurried kiss out of her for too damn long.

The moment contact was made, Dawn sort of shifted, pressing the length of our bodies together with an urgent, throaty sound.

“God, I’ve been needing that so badly,” she whispered hurriedly as we parted for breath momentarily.

“Same,” I told her, although by that point our lips were together again and all that came out was a sort of strange muffled sound.

The kiss turned long and heart melting, each hurried intake of breath catching the intoxicating scent of my girlfriend, each flicker of hand movement eliciting warm want and affection as we explored each other’s still unfamiliar bodies. We hadn’t actually been together all that long, certainly not long enough to know each other’s bodies inside and out, so to speak.

Eventually though we simply ran out of steam, it had been an incredibly long day after all, and making out actually took energy, believe it or not. So the kiss dissolved into simply laying there with our lips lazily touching, hands around each other until sleep crept up on us out of nowhere.

 

****

 

The next morning, we woke to find that Ryana had joined us by snuggling up against the tops of our heads on the pillow. Dawn and I were still in our cuddled up position from the night before, which led almost immediately to us kissing again. Ryana wasn’t having any of that though, and started grumbling, so we broke apart with a laugh.

“I think she’s hungry,” Dawn said with a grin, giving our little dragon scritches to calm her.

“Yeah, I think so too,” I said I laughed, summoning a scrap of meat from my inventory.

The morsel was gone before I could blink, not even an attempt at chewing from the small girl.

While I fed her, I gave Dawn a look. “How are you dealing with the whole streaming thing?”

It had been a few days now with the two low level celebs, and while I hadn’t really noticed it anymore, I had also failed to check in with my girlfriend about how she felt. Now was the time I guess?

Her hand drifted to my hip, where she began to draw lazy circles as she thought. I loved the casual contact, but it was a little distracting. “I don’t mind as much as I thought I would,” she said. “It’s weird, and I do find myself being a little more… I don’t know, toned down. Still, it’s how they make money so I’m not complaining. I would like to hang out and play without them after this dungeon is over though… it’s not as fun for me when I know there’s a horde of people watching and judging my playstyle. Makes me anxious.”

“Okay…” I nodded, thinking for a moment. “We’ll do that, and maybe take a few days break outside the game afterwards?”

“That would be amazing,” she smiled, shifting forward to kiss me again for a moment. “For now though, we should get up. It’s probably going to be another very long day.”

So that’s what we did, the both of us heading out to make breakfast for everyone while Ryana helped. And by helped, I mean she tried to eat all the food we were preparing. She wasn’t the best little assistant just yet, but I’m sure she’d learn one day.

Everyone slowly filtered into the room as we finished, and surprisingly, Civette gave me a tentative smile when she sat down on a couch. She looked… different, but I couldn’t figure out how. Brighter maybe, or was it the way she was subtly smiling now? Her old vague scowl was definitely gone.

“What’s got you all in a good mood?” I asked with a friendly smile as I handed a plate of sausages, eggs and toasted bread to her.

She seemed almost startled by my question, shrugging a little sheepishly. “Oh, nothing. I just uh… asked for something. They said yes, so… yeah.”

“Something, huh?” I teased, although I was also definitely curious what it was she’d asked for.

“Yup,” she grinned, her eyes twinkling with the kind of mischief that said she could tell I was curious and that no, she was not going to tell me.

“Alright then,” I laughed, going back to handing out breakfast to everyone.

Had our talk yesterday really helped her that much? Or was that something that she mentioned unrelated?

“May was cute,” Civette noted absently, playing with a strand of her blonde hair. “A little strange, but cute.”

“Yeah, you know she’s our adopted little sister now?” I asked, motioning between Taylor and I.

Her eyebrows went up. “Really? An… AI, a SAI?”

“Yeah,” I smiled, giving a shrug. “She’s a person, same as us. Why not give her a loving family?”

“Good point…” Civette replied, her expression falling. “A loving family is important…”

I watched her, waiting for more, but none came. She just looked sad, melancholy in a way that I knew I couldn’t help or fix at the moment. She glanced back up for a moment, giving me a weak smile. Then she visibly shook herself, and her smile turned genuine.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m good.”

What was up with her and family? She’d just closed down at the mention of a happy family...

My musing were interrupted by Taylor, who began to explain the plan to everyone. “Alright, so we’re going to either try and open that big ass door, or find a way around it. I know that it’s welded shut, and I know that it’s probably shut for a reason… but this is a video game. Worst case scenario is we let some unspeakable evil out and start a big regional event that a ton of players get to participate in.”

“That… actually sounds like it would be a lot of fun,” Dawn laughed, and I could see her eyes already dancing with all the wider stories that would play out, the lore that would be uncovered… should I be telling her not to drool?

Taylor nodded, an evil grin overtaking their expression. “Yup… but if not, we probably have the second half of this dungeon to clear. Then, our names will be permanently engraved on it as the discoverers, when it becomes its own instance and shit.”

“Wait… how does that work?” Civette asked sheepishly. “Sorry… I’m not like, that into the mechanics and stuff. I was watching streams of Cora for um, other reasons.”

“When dungeons are first discovered, they’re just a regular area and things will stay dead, but once the whole place is cleared, it changes. The whole thing is turned into its own instance, sort of like our house, only full of angry shit. Multiple groups can go into it at the same time but they will each have their own parallel versions of the dungeon,” Taylor explained with a smile. Had she picked up on Civ’s attitude change too?

“Oh… that makes sense,” she said, her expression one of understanding. “There’s a lot more to this than I thought.”

“Hold on… other reasons? More ‘somethings’ huh?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Something… like that, yeah,” she mumbled, going almost beet red.

Okay… that was an interesting reaction... “Wait, were you watching porn streams?” I blurted, wide eyed.

“What?!” she gaped, followed by a frantic waving of her hands. “No! No, no, no, no… no! I was not watching…” she said stuttering to a halt for a moment, then whispering, like she could barely get herself to say it, “Porn streams.

“I would have been watching them myself, but my experience thus far in the game has been… kinda pornographic in itself,” I remarked, enjoying how embarrassed this was all making her. Of course, there was some collateral damage I noted, as Dawn’s cheeks also began to heat.

Before the situation could get too out of hand, Rusti cleared their throat, shooting an amused glance at Civ before they spoke, “I could look around for another way through… without us having to, you know… explode a big metal door or whatever.”

“What? No! But…” Millie exclaimed abruptly, her expression a mix of despair and outrage. “I was looking forward to exploding the door!”

Oh my god. I laughed, I couldn’t help it, and then as Taylor began trying to placate her little girlfriend, I only laughed harder. Their first real argument, and it was about how we needed to explore all our options before resorting to large amounts of explosives.

“Millie, please,” Taylor sighed, as the smaller girl began to sulk. “If Rusti can’t find anything, you’re welcome to blow the door off its hinges, but… let’s play it safe for now, alright?”

“Fine,” Millie pouted, staring grumpily at the floor.

Decisions made and debates concluded, we began to get ready for a day of dungeoneering. Armour went on, staves were inspected for… well I’m not entirely sure how you cared for a staff… but whatever. Point was, we did the things and stuff.

Oh there was also some levelling up to be done. I’d gained a ton of experience during the fighting yesterday, since we’d been churning through massive hordes of skeleton angel things. I was now level 27, and I’d been putting off that whole dealio for a long time now. Guess I’d have to do something about it.

Daaawwn,” I said, giving her big puppydog eyes. “Can you help me level up and make some abilities and stuff?”

Rolling her eyes, she brushed a thumb across my cheek affectionately and nodded, “Sure thing babe. What have you got to work with?”

“Like, a zillion ability points… and some stat points and… well, just about everything,” I said guiltily. I had really been neglecting things recently and crutching off my dashes and shit.

“Okay, well we should probably flesh out your skillset some more, your fighting style is getting a little stale, that’s for sure,” she told me, just a little gentle ribbing from her.

“Sooo, what can I do?” I asked, trying and failing to think of something.

Her answering smile was devious as she said, “Don’t you remember? You used to take people and throw them at other people. Why not work around that? I also remember you liked to use grabs a lot, and combos with your punches.”

“Oh…” I mumbled, as her words suddenly threw my brain into gear. “Oh!” I exclaimed as ideas from days long past surfaced. “Oh… yes.”

“You’ll probably need some sort of like, shield for yourself, activatable damage mitigation for when you’re going to punch another enemy that’s made of metal or stone,” she mused, clearly enjoying my budding enthusiasm. “More empowering abilities too. If I remember right, the unarmed skill tree is all about powering your punches up with different elements and status effects.”

I had ideas now, and I got to work in the ability creator with a newfound zeal. This was going to be so damn fun!

 

****

 

“Found something!” Rusti called excitedly from god knows where. Their voice was echoing around all over the place in this massive hall.

We’d been waiting for almost half an hour as they bounced about the place poking random pieces of wall and the like. Following the various echoes, we found them behind a pillar, where they had pushed at a section of the dark grey stone. 

“Looks like someone used this before too,” they noted, carefully brushing at the now obvious button.

“How can you tell? Dawn asked, sounding intrigued. “And how long ago?”

“Look at the dust patterning on the floor over there,” they replied, pointing next to us at the main wall. “See how the dust has been disturbed in an arc? I found it because it had already been used. Just had to find the button once I saw that. As for when… a couple hundred years or so? I can’t tell for sure. Definitely well after this whole battle took place.”

“Alright, get ready everyone. Rusti, open on my mark,” Taylor said, taking charge.

Millie looked put out, but she got ready for a fight anyway. We’d have to find something huge for her to blow up later.

Taylor and I stood up front and center, while the others ranged out behind us. The door looked to be pretty small, big enough for one person at a time and no more, so it would be hard to fight if there was anything beyond.

“Everyone ready?” Taylor called, receiving a chorus of agreement. “Alright, hit it Rusti.”

The door swung open with a grinding, grating sound, but it wasn’t as intense as I’d expected. There was no beating of goblin drums from far below, no horns calling out, summoning defenders to battle. Just a blast of old, musty air and that was it.

“Anticlimactic,” Dawn noted with a laugh, and we shared an amused glance. I liked how I was always the one she looked to when she thought something was funny.

“At least the hallway on the other side is bigger than the doorway,” Taylor remarked, carefully stepping through with her shield up.

She was right, but it wasn’t by a whole lot. Three of us could now fit side by side rather than just one. It was a utilitarian looking tunnel, just a square with some skirting boards, all carved out of stone. No additional adornments of any kind. Well… no adornments apart from a thick layer od dust, disturbed by a trail of footprints that lead further inside.

“Looks like some NPCs beat us here,” Dawn said, pointing to the tracks.

“Yeah,” Rusti agreed, staring at them intently. “Who the hell—”

“Found them,” Taylor interrupted, pointing down the way with her sword.

As soon as I could see them, I found myself wincing… hard. By, “found them,” she’d meant what was left of them. They’d been cut into chunks and thrown around the place, although they had since decayed to the point that there wasn’t much left of them besides ragged, dessicated skin and bone.

The cuts that had dismembered these people had been precise, swift and impossibly clean, like they’d been done by some ninja or something. They were also recognisably human, and had once been wearing some fairly fancy armour. Shit, one of them even had gold inlay on theirs. Gold inlay that Rusti was already eyeing up with a gleam in their eye.

“I count… uh, eleven heads… in the literal sense of the word, although… that one is in half, so actually just ten,” Taylor told us, stepping forward to inspect the ancient carnage.

“This is… disgusting,” Civette mumbled near the back, sounding very much like she might hurl at any moment.

Dawn followed my sister, while I stayed back and placed a gauntleted hand on Civ’s shoulder. Rusti was very keen to get in there and start looting too by the looks of things, but also most of the gear was hacked into pieces and unusable. Although… the gear was really nice, which was odd. No normal adventurers would have gear this nice, not even the large majority of player ones.

“Holy shit,” Dawn blurted, kneeling down to inspect a severed hand. “Holy fuck, holy fuck… guys… you’ll never fucking guess who these people were.”

“We definitely won’t if you keep swearing instead of telling us,” Civette grumbled from beside me, then cringed, and sent Dawn an apologetic look. “Sorry.”

“Nah, all good,” my girlfriend smiled as she picked up the hand and slipped a ring off the dead finger. She held the ring up to show us all, positively grinning now. “This is the royal seal of Parcosia. This dude here, whoever owned this hand, they were the last fucking king of this whole island. The one that went missing looking for that stupid sword.”

“Yo… if that’s the royal seal, then that over there is…” Rusti exclaimed, practically dancing through the corpses. They picked up something dusty, but nevertheless incredibly shiny. It was the crown, encrusted with more jewels than I was likely to see like, ever.

“The mother fucking crown of Parcosia…” someone said breathlessly, and I turned in surprise to see that it was Civette who’d spoken. “Um, f-friends?” she continued, her eyes wide. “There’s a quest for that, an open one to all adventurers… anyone who brings that back to one of the dukes or duchesses will get noble titles.”

“You have gained an open Unique Quest! The Crown of Parcosia!

“You and your party have discovered the final resting place of the Last King of Parcosia and his heir. They died on a quest to retrieve a sacred sword in the depths of this dungeon. The crown is eagerly sought after by every political player in the region, with offers of gold and titles up for the person or party that delivers it to one of them. Who will you and your party side with, or will another enterprising adventurer take the matter out of your hands?”

“Oh poop…” Millie squeaked, looking around at the rest of us. “We’re streaming…”

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