A couple of days after my first venture into Vingaard, I received another group email from my seminar classmates. Opening it, it said that professor Algrotto had posted another assignment— this time optional. It was a quest which we could do to better acquaint ourselves with some of the material which Le Morte Darthur will cover.

 
I haven’t yet experienced a full quest in my time at Tangagile. The side-quest I undertook several days ago alongside Sora was just a warm-up exercise. An actual quest, though, that should be something different. Overhearing conversations with other students, it seemed that Quests were really where the challenge in these Interactive Seminars resided. Judging what happened last time, however, I could only hope that this venture into Vingaard ended better than last time.

 
Speaking of time, though, it has passed oddly since I came to university. I have only been here just over a week, but it feels far longer. I went back last weekend for a day and upon returning home then back to my dorm, it felt like more than ever two separate worlds. Each locale, home, and school felt so alien to one another that spending any time in one after spending so much time in the other felt like traveling into a storybook world once experienced as a child only to be rudely returned to reality a bit later. On top of my foray into Vingaard, it felt like my person-hood was stretched thin. I had a home, I had a dorm, and then I had Vingaard and all three excluded one another.

 
Airya had sent the email. She was the cute lady at the study session a few days ago. She seemed a little high-strung but her face had a perfectly smooth surface that drove me crazy; she had been the subject of more than one personal fantasy in the lonely, intervening nights since I first laid eyes on her. I would make my move eventually.

 
But for now, it was school shit. Airya had said, if we didn’t already know, that professor Algrotto’s optional quest would be a good way to rack up some experience points and get ahead a bit. She said that the group should make an effort to complete said quest before the next class session in a couple of days.

 
In the ensuing email thread, numerous people from the group chimed in. At the end, Chad and Mike Imo said that they had prior obligations and couldn’t attend. I was thankful for that since those were the two that got overly confrontational with me last time. Quite frankly, I didn’t care if I never saw them two again.

 
I replied with my response. In another hour the date was set. Tomorrow morning the group would meet in the Technology Commons; and this time, I mentally remarked, I would be early!

 

~

 

This time I wasn’t late.

 
In fact, I was early! But, I guess that would happen when you arrive a couple hours ahead of the scheduled time. I wasn’t taking any chances this go-around. When the first teammate came in, Issac, I took note of the time so I would know just how early I should arrive.

 
Issac paid me no heed. He just sat at the other end of the row of plush seats facing directly opposite of The Cube and minded his own business. He was a stoic individual, I thought.

 
While waiting for the others to arrive, I did my biology homework. The course was on “Global Change Ecology”; though it wasn’t a difficult course, per se, it was tedious in its own way. I found it most needless when I was required to manipulate data in this way and that way on an old-fashioned Microsoft Excel program. It did a number on my processes and on more than one occasion I almost decided to simply not do the work and have my grade take one for the team. But, I had nothing better to do right now, so I minus well rough it out.

 
Soon enough, the others came. Everyone got in their Cloister chamber as soon as everyone was clear on the goal for the day. After a brief pep talk, I knew I would do better today than last time. Hopefully, I would shine a little brighter in the eyes of my classmates; though, to be honest, it was really only Mike and Chad that had taken offense to me being “late” during our previous outing, so…

 
Climbing into my Cloister, the door closed, and I, along with Sora’s help, strapped myself in and allowed the machine to have its way with me.

~

Emerging into Vingaard was still a jarring experience. Not really because it was stressful, more because it seemed so unnatural, like a barrier between two worlds was slowly being wrenched open by perverse means. As one sank deeper into the neural connections, the lines of demarcation gradually dissolved and much like falling asleep, was a seamless experience; one smoothly emerged into Vingaard only later being able to differentiate between the stages of integration as they happened.

 
When he did finally come to, though, Reno found himself near a forest’s edge. Like last time, the world was rendered beautifully with the sweetest scents hanging in the air and a plethora of bugs wafting in the breeze as clouds of pollen moved beyond the horizon. Reno again complimented the game on its stupendous particle effects.

 
His teammates were close. They had emerged into the world a little further into the forest, so Reno ran to catch up. It didn’t take but a moment.

 
“Glad you could finally join us” remarked Airya spitefully.

 
Reno was confused.

 
“You need to set your Beacon, Reno” droned Issac. “Seriously, dude. You need to go down to the Help Desk in the Tech. Commons and have them walk you through everything; you’re missing basic stuff. Honestly, why you thought you would be able to actively participate in an Interactive Seminar is beyond me.”

 
Upset, Reno didn’t say anything, instead settling for simply grunting through his teeth ‘I’m trying the best I can’ to which the others shrugged off. Sora was close and had his hand on his shoulder offering him emotional support by way of physical proxy. Sora whispered in his ears, “Ignore them. They’re just testy, overworked Seniors. Every semester is there some student behind on their Interactive Profile and that ticks off the Interactive Media majors. You’ll get the hang of it after a while; they had the benefit of having a Freshman-level Interactive Seminar their first year where they became wholly integrated for credit. You and I didn’t have that benefit. The deal clincher for people like us in these advanced interactive courses is how well we do in quests. That is where we live or die.”

 
I nodded, feeling a bit better. Sora stretched his arm over the rest of my shoulder and clenched my left arm in a friendly way. It did feel good to have a brotherly presence in my corner. I held back in stress tears I might have wished to express and pressed on. Sora detached himself from me and we joined the rest of the group already decently ahead of us along a forest trail.

 
We caught up with them and continued to walk. While walking Airya sighed and began to lecture on the dynamics of the quest.

 
“So, this is obviously just a basic quest,” Airya said. “The difficulty level is one and it is adapted from the second reading professor Algrotto assigned, the paper from The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Literature, ‘The Societal Role of Chivalry in Romance: Northwestern Europe’ by Richard Kaeuper.” Airya paused before asking whether everyone had a chance to read it.

 
For once, it seemed that I wasn’t a burden since I was able to affirmatively chime that I had read the paper; hurriedly, yes, but I did read it. Glancing over at Sora, he had a dorky smile on his face that seemed to say, ‘good going for actually reading your homework!’ and despite my best efforts to the contrary, I smiled and had to choke back a laugh.

 
“Good.” Airya spat. “So, this is just a grade 1 quest. It shouldn’t take any longer than a couple of hours to complete. In game time, that is. As long as each of us contributes to getting this thing done, we should earn a high-ranking and set the stage well for the rest of the semester.”

 
Everyone seemed to agree for no one objected otherwise. Reno simply hoped that he would be able to carry his own weight. Unfortunately, he had a negative premonition that today would be another ‘learning experience’. Likely, by the end of the term, he would never live down the scorn from his classmates.

 
Finally, after much belaboring, the group came to a small forest shrine. Old and clearly crumbling, it was obvious to any gamer that something of note would happen here. Sure enough, resting on the altar at the center of the shrine overgrown with vines, laid a beautiful woman.

 

 

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“You will come back here in due time. The trauma and terror buried in this place is more horrifying than you youth have been led to believe; return when you’ve dealt with the shadow interlopers.”

 

 
“That’s a Quest Maiden” whispered Sora into my ear. “They are the ones who disseminate all of the quests.”

 
Good to know, Reno said to himself.

 
Issac approached the maiden. He gently shook her awake. In a manner overly dramatic yet somehow appropriate, the maiden swooned, placing her hand over her forehead and careening slightly into Issac’s arms. Issac, clearly a bit awkward, stoically tolerated it.

 
“My brave knights!” the quest maiden exclaimed, “I am so glad that you’ve heard an heeded my call. For, I have been plagued by awful dreams and am in great need of potent medicines!”

 
No one quite knew what to do. This pleased Reno who was happy to see that when it comes to the specifics of interacting with the virtual characters, everyone was still a bit tripped up on just how far the conversations should go. Reno, though, taking the initiative and deciding to go all in, came over and said, “no fear, pure one; just tells us what ye desire and we shall deliver!”

 
The maiden’s face alighted; the answer that Reno has given clearly was on the right path, though he suspected that perhaps very few answers were incorrect so as long as they had vaguely suggested the possibility of helping the maiden. After all, none of them knew the dynamics of the A.I running the game.

 
“Indeed!” the maiden squealed with a zest not seen from Reno himself since he was in elementary school. “Here is what you brave adventurers must do: days ago, I received from an herbalist this translucent stone; he suggested to keep it under my pillow and that would cure my bad dreams but it only made it worse! Now, I am at my rope’s end and require the assistance of you knights!”

 
Airya next responded, her avatar so heavily encased in plate mail that it would have been impossible to discern her feminine body through the heavy, practical suit of armor. “No problem, maiden. Give us the stone and let us handle it from here.”

 
“Certainly” the maiden responded. “But be careful. The herbalist said that the magicks within the stone could be deadly to anyone not prepared for its power.”

 
The maiden then left the stone— a deep blue gem of perfectly smooth and rounded edges— on the altar. She herself had gone back to lean on one of the crumbling pillars, coolly watching us as we assembled around the gem in a circle.

 
“Okay,” said Airya, “I am going to guess that the moment we touch this gem we are going to be transported to the quest area. The maiden mentioned dreams, so I supposed we are going to be knocked unconscious and experience— somewhere and how— the dreams that she was referring to; the gem likely trapped them within and we have to sort them out. Obviously, these dreams, if that is the case, will be coded as the content from the essay we read. I’ve completed similar quests before in other classes so this should be a walk in the park.”

 
Issac looked bored. Clearly, both of them— Issac and Airya— had completed many such quests before. One would figure that the Administrators responsible for such quests would try harder to offer their students a variety, but he supposed that there could only be such a variety. Thinking back on it, however, Reno had finished a number of dream-related quests back when he explored Vingaard on the non-Academic Adventure mode back on his school’s desktop. Kind of different back then, however.

 
On the count of three, it was decided everyone would place their hand on the gem.
Airya began the countdown. “1… 2… 3…”

 
And they were away; touching their hands at the same time, all of them lost consciousness simultaneously and were transported, just as Airya had predicted, into an otherworldly dreamscape.

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