I opened up the scroll; the patchy animal skin item smoothly unrolling as I tugged. It had a smell of ink and an odd leathery milieu. Nothing quite like I had ever seen or smelt before. The smell probably took me off guard more than anything else since I was not expecting to be able to smell complex odors; instead, I had started to notice that I was able to whiff more and more the longer I stayed in this world. I supposed that the game world must require new players to synchronize with the servers some before the full experience could really be had.
Looking at the scroll, Reno was surprised it find that it was in English. Or, he thought that it was in English. Perhaps it was merely a trick of the game. Whatever was the case, Reno thought that this was a pretty basic fetch quest. The gist of the scroll was that a piece of cloth had been stolen by kobolds. Damn, didn’t get any more basic than that!
“Okay, sounds simple enough.” Said Sora. “Where do you think Kobolds hang out?”
“Not sure. My knowledge of European mythological monsters isn’t exactly up to date. Can we access the general web while in Vingaard?” replied and asked Reno.
“Nah. It is a closed experience. You have to rely on whatever you can find with in-game assets.” Sora said slightly disparaged. “But let’s just walk around a bit and see what we find. This area isn’t that big; it’s just a practice area, after all, not even part of Dr. Algrotto’s class proper. I’ve participated in inconsequential activities like these fetch quests when I was in my Freshman Technology Seminar. It’s always simple.”
“Oh, good to know.” Said Reno. “Is there a purpose to today’s outing, then? I mean, most of the seminar are Juniors and Seniors, right?”
“Yeah. True. Well, aside from just sorta of getting to know our teammates— which I supposed for us hasn’t gone that well since they have pretty much ditched us, the fuckers— I think we are to think about the knightly code and stuff. Usually, in these Interactive Seminars, professors want you to embody the idea being explored in class. Eventually, they want you to have a ceaseless ability to forge connections between text and behavior. That’s how it was in my Victorian Literature course, anyways. Here, since we have only read some Charny, some basic stuff on chivalry, I can only guess that the professor wants us to think about knightly conduct; I mean, hell, the dude named experience points ‘Knight Points’ so I think it is a decent guess!” Sora concluded, chuckling a bit at his own extrapolations.
Reno was impressed. Heck, Sora was only a Sophomore. Yet, he already had seemingly taken so many courses and knew so much about the university. Shit. It took Reno twice as long before he knew anything decent about a new place. He complimented Sora but he shuffled anxiously. They resumed their search for magical European monsters.
In other words, they wandered. As Tolkien had once said, not all who wander are lost but they sure as hell were lost.
But, Sora was right, of course. After maybe an hour or so of fruitless searching, they finally located a kobold. Sparkling like some sort of shiny Pokemon, it shined with a dazzling hue; unfortunately, it appeared skittish for when Reno and Sora tried to approach, it bolted like a homeless man stealing a warm pair of gloves.
Neither of the boys, though, were having it. They both tried their best to closely follow the devious fellow; though it was short, it was fast. Plus, with the dense forest ripe with the many sorts of kooks and crannies perfect for hiding, it was easy for it to find hiding places. Through a combination of teamwork, close environmental tracking, and just good old-fashioned environmental destruction, however, they managed to flush it out from whatever hole it hid.
“Just get your ass out here!” yelled Sora, clearly tired of an affair that had seemingly dragged on for hours.
The creature didn’t relent, however. “Jesus. ‘I, therefore, say: whoever does best is worth most’” Sora sarcastically muttered under his breath once they had stopped chasing the kobold for the tenth frickin’ time.
“What?” Reno gasped. “What did you say?”
“Nothing.” Sora said waving Reno off. “Just a quote I remember from the early sections of the Charny book where he talks about knights performing deeds outside of their homeland.”
The kobold was cornered. It had nowhere to go now that a mound of earth had blocked its progress. Rasping with its tiny lungs, the small human-like creature with goblin-like features— including a rather disconcerting pair of hooked ears— tried to scale the mound; luckily, Reno anticipated just such an action and leaped on it before the kobold even had gotten a quarter of the way up the mound.
Reno jumped onto the mound, holding the loose vines and crumbly dirt tightly in his hands, while he roughly nudged the kobold with his side. This took the kobold off-guard but it still tried to climb. By this time, though, Reno just managed to grab hold of its grotesquely pointy foot and tug. What ensued was a vicious tug of war with the kobold occasionally trying to swipe at Reno’s hand with its gnarly tail. Thankfully, though, the altercation came to an end when Sora threw a rock at the back of the kobold’s head and with one final well-placed tug on Reno’s part, the kobold fell to the ground where Sora then firmly held the kobold in place, using his knees as the ultimate in magical creature restraint.
“ENOUGH!” bellowed Sora. “Give us the piece of cloth you stole and be done with it!”
The kobold hissed. A moment passed. Then it smiled.
In a tone which reminded Reno a little too much of how leprechauns always sounded in movies, the kobold said, “fine, take your worthless garment!” and rustled in his tiny jacket’s interior pocket eventually pulling out a dazzlingly beautiful cloth.
Taking the cloth into his hand, Reno’s grip on the beast lessened for just a moment, but that was all it took for the kobold to wiggle free and vanish without a trace.
It was a long winding trip back to the tiny village. Reno wondered where his fellow group mates had been. Had they already completed a variation of this quest or had they found another side-quest to handle? There wasn’t any communication with his other teammates and it was there idea in the first place to go into Vingaard today. Had his “tardiness” really been such an affront?
Neither Sora nor Reno spoke much. Eventually, both remained silent as they walked back. Reno figured that Sora was drained like himself. Though, Reno was undoubtedly drained far more than Sora, someone who already knew what to expect from entering Vingaard and the basic systems; Reno, meanwhile, was exhausted. He wanted to simply return to his dorm and sleep.
Maybe it was his ragged mind playing tricks on him or his newness to Vingaard, but as he walked, things seemed different. Reality appeared to waver in places. Likely, the game world was imperfect; perhaps updates were being applied to certain places or other players were causing the world to shift its behavior to accommodate immersion. Who knew. Reno just remembered being momentarily unnerved when he had seen a kobold in the forest, deep away from the trail Sora and he was walking on, simply staring at them; then Reno had noticed more and more Kobolds— dozens, all just blankly gazing at him and Sora as they returned to the village. Reno tried to whisper if Sora had seen the gathered kobolds but by the time Sora tried to find them, they had all vanished without a trace (because of course, they had).
Thinking about his teammates and then the weird kobold gathering, Reno got bummed out. But, he must have been in his mind longer than he thought, because before he could go into over-thinking mode and really get depressed, they had arrived back at the church, legs weary and bodies surprisingly sore. Entering the private study of the monk, or priest, Reno didn’t know which, they handed him the piece of precious cloth.
The priest’s eyes lighted up when he saw it. Excitedly explaining something in a dated language, the game world hurriedly translated as the monk spoke.
“Praise be unto God for your wonderful service! I thought this cloth was lost; this cloth is a most precious fragment of a once treasured shroud. Unfortunately, the shroud was torn asunder by a deamon and its pieces scattered to the winds. ‘Such men [like yourself], deserve to be praised and honored everywhere’; truly, this task must have been taxing. But, as a wise man once said, ‘And no one should give up performing great exploits, for when the body can do no more, the heart and determination should take over.’”
At that, the side-quest was complete; Sora and Reno earned a small chunk of Knight Points, the tattoo on their wrists glowing with urgency and gaining some spines on the dragon’s back ridge, something they would later learn means that they are living in accordance with knightly virtues. Though both earned only a few coins as a reward, the monk had said in compensation that ‘there are many people who have been more fortunate in the end than they hoped for at the beginning in relation to the nature of their enterprise.’
Reno still thought that was a bogus excuse. But, whatever, he was new and this wasn’t even part of the seminar. This was training. Training that he hoped would prove helpful in attaining better rewards.
On the way out, it was only belatedly that Sora realized the monk had finished the quotation that he himself had remembered during the perusal of the kobold. Later on, that night as he confirmed his suspicion, he learned that the dialog— large chunks of it— were torn directly from the opening sections of Charny’s tract on chivalry.