Chapter 7:

Kasumi goes to Jail

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Kasumi Hoshino left Paul Etier’s clothing shop with a smile on her face and bouncy steps. Sure, her encounter with Mylo had been a bit of a departure from the normal VRMMO new-player experience. Atypical, but kinda fun. Kasumi, undaunted, chalked it up to the developers wanting to show off their shiny smart AI.Bookmark here

But it hadn’t helped Kasumi figure out how she was going to specialize.Bookmark here

A short walk later, Kasumi arrived in a small park near the town center. Tucked in the gap created by a demolished apartment building, this park was a bit of a work in progress. The flowers were well tended, but only one bench had been installed, and the juvenile beech trees didn’t offer much in the way of shade. Not a popular spot.Bookmark here

Kasumi checked her inventory. Forty slots, all of them empty. They’d started her with the clothes on she had on and nothing besides. Wouldn’t have struck Kasumi as wrong, were it not for her class. Battlecasters were supposed to be equally adept with magic and weapons—she had a few spells, but where was the starter weapon?Bookmark here

No matter, Kasumi would correct that error. She went up to one of the young trees, eyed up the limbs, and jumped for one of the lowest. The branch bent, then snapped when gravity insisted Kasumi come down by any means.Bookmark here

She transferred the stick to her inventory, where it was listed as "broken branch" along with its weight. Kasumi opened the crafting menu and found she would also need a knife to craft a pointed stick. But the recipe for a club, well, that only required a stick.Bookmark here

With a button press it was made. "Well, that was easy."Bookmark here

In her hands, Kasumi held a "Rough Beechwood Club." But the stats made Kasumi despair. 0.3 damage, with a twenty percent chance to inflict splinter status effect on hit.Bookmark here

"Pathetic!" she cried.Bookmark here

Kasumi looked for sturdier branches and repeated the process a few times. By the time she was done, she had drawn a couple onlookers, but she now had a club that did a bit more than one point of damage.Bookmark here

Not great, but at least she’d be able to test whether weapons or magic were more viable, and optimize her character-build from there.Bookmark here

Maybe I could go full bludgeoning? Amp up the blunt impact trauma however possible until I can make earthquakes by smacking the ground. The idea had merit, but wasn’t really her style.Bookmark here

Kasumi finally took note of her small audience. She waved and came over with a bright smile.Bookmark here

"Hi! Can anyone point me to the quest hub?"Bookmark here

The assembled company looked to be all NPCs to Kasumi’s judgment, dressed in casual clothes rather than armor and not carrying any obvious weapons or magical-looking items. A few at first looked puzzled, but their confusion cleared on the spot when a young lady wearing weary eyes and an apron asked if Kasumi meant the Adventuring Bureau.Bookmark here

"Yeah, that sounds right. Where is it?"Bookmark here

They pointed her up the avenue several blocks to a grand, if rather small building with a row of orange agate columns across the front. Dust caked the columns. They hadn’t been cleaned in some time.Bookmark here

Inside, Kasumi found tight rows of uncomfortable chairs and a variety of adventurers. Some decked in heavy armor, some shimmered in their robes, some lounged in leather, but all of them twiddled their thumbs.Bookmark here

Kasumi introduced herself as Pelgram at the front desk.Bookmark here

The lady behind the sunbleached wood counter regarded her with a curious eye. Her tone was terse and flat. "You’re new here?"Bookmark here

"Yep!"Bookmark here

"Registered in another city?"Bookmark here

"Uhh, no."Bookmark here

"Here." She produced a clipboard and a pencil. "Answer the questions and bring it back."Bookmark here

Kasumi found a chair. A written test of some kind? It looked to be three pages. Nice and short. Seemed to be psychological in focus, maybe they would ask her to identify ink blots next. Kasumi looked at the first question:Bookmark here

You have cleared a dungeon and are hauling the loot in a cart down a twisting forest road. Suddenly, a goblin runs out onto the road in front of you. Should you…(circle one).Bookmark here

A: Maintain control of the cart.Bookmark here

B: Swerve to avoid the goblin.Bookmark here

C: Ramming speed.Bookmark here

D: Let the cart roll uncontrolled while you bombard the goblin with projectiles/ranged spell attacks.Bookmark here

"Ha, easy," muttered Kasumi. She drew a bold, triple circle around option D.Bookmark here

Kasumi breezed through the rest of the questions and handed her smug answers to the lady at the desk.Bookmark here

"You almost passed."Bookmark here

"What? I was sure I got them all right."Bookmark here

After a curt explanation that Kasumi could come back and try again next week, she was shooed out of the Bureau.Bookmark here

"A whole week?" she asked of the dusty columns. "But this is my new life—it isn’t supposed to be like this!"Bookmark here

The Adventuring Bureau’s response was given by the pneumatic door closing mechanism, which was a little slow, but finally got around to clicking fully shut.Bookmark here

"Fine! I didn’t want to be part of your system anyways." She walked away in a huff.Bookmark here

Kasumi walked aimlessly for a while, entertaining thoughts of the roguish life. She could be the charming, but slightly dangerous outsider. Play by nobody’s rules except her own. Steal from the rich, give to the poor—Kasumi was poor, the user interface showed a whole page of currencies and a zero next to all of ’em.Bookmark here

Walking by a baker’s shop window, Kasumi smiled, no, she grinned at the thought of being the bad boy. Then she spotted the handsome young man who was her reflection now.Bookmark here

Oh. Right. I look the part a little too well.Bookmark here

Spirits dampened, Kasumi walked on. Try as she might, she couldn’t dislodge the creeping sense that things were not as they should be.Bookmark here

In Edule’s more industrial quarter, Kasumi found a factory, or perhaps it was a warehouse, with a "Help Wanted" sign. Deep in her mind, a little voice said that this surely meant they just wanted someone to operate a metal press, or something menial like that. She pushed the thought down and stomped through the door.Bookmark here

"Hello? Saw the help wanted sign."Bookmark here

Her eyes adjusted to the dim. The place was barren. No machinery nor magical apparatuses, just lots of crates and boxes. Unmarked, unpainted boxes—these wanted as little attention as possible. In front of them stood an old man, bent as if by years of salt spray. He slammed the lid on the crate in front of him and spun around.Bookmark here

"Oh, I thought you were someone else. Sure, we need help. Just load these onto the wagon and don’t peek inside."Bookmark here

Kasumi shook her head. "Not that kind of help. Surely you have something more exciting?"Bookmark here

For a moment the old man looked blank. Then his demeanor changed.Bookmark here

"Oh…I suppose I do. But only for the more…discreet adventurer."Bookmark here

The old man framed the task as returning something stolen to its rightful owner. A simple quest, provided the doer remained unseen. He was careful not to say how a prototype arquebus belonged to him. He was careful not to say exactly how the item had gotten into the hilltop house of one of Edule’s established businessmen. It didn’t take a genius to see that this was sketchy.Bookmark here

But who cares? It’s just a game. The only consequence MMO developers ever put in is a light reduction in my standing with some NPC faction. Put real ramifications in, and the players start worrying and avoid the content the devs worked so hard to make. Let’s go chaos!Bookmark here

"I’ll do it."Bookmark here

"You will?" He sounded surprised but pleased. "Great. Here, let me draw you a map to it. Real ostentatious, won’t miss it once you’re on the right street."Bookmark here

The shady man was right. Kasumi spotted Mr. Morin’s house from two blocks down. Four stories tall, marble archway over the front door, one fish pond on the left of the walkway and a matching one on the right, a wrap-around deck, flying buttresses—Bookmark here

Flying buttresses! On a f—ing house? How much money do you need? The actual f—? Oh, there’s a profanity filter.Bookmark here

Kasumi set aside disabling the filter for later. Right now she had a date with a backyard trellis and a second story window.Bookmark here

Slipping inside was easy. It was low security hiding behind an image that insisted guards were a minor expense. She couldn’t have known, but Mr. Morin believed all his enemies kept themselves and their business in the capital and its immediate surroundings—to not be stained by the frontier, as he was. Still, Kasumi had to scramble behind a chaise lounge to avoid the butler.Bookmark here

Where the exterior had been just plain loud, the interior decor used its inside voice. Everything was deceptively simple, sleek of line and curve, aside from a couple rococo-ish chairs.Bookmark here

Kasumi’s minimap showed the butler as a little red dot, not far from the yellow exclamation point, which likely represented her quest objective. Good thing too, she didn’t like the thought of searching the entire house while its occupants were awake.Bookmark here

A glass decanter clinked into place on its tray, and the butler exited by the door to the hallway. The door swung behind him, almost shutting itself. Still ajar, but just a crack.Bookmark here

Kasumi got up and followed the quest marker to a large cabinet. The flat drawers in the center opened easily. Stationary, Mr. Morin’s stockings, nothing of interest here. That left the two large doors on either side. One opened to reveal a collapsible easel and palette. The other contained a large, coal-dust colored safe with a stubborn brass turn dial.Bookmark here

Oh, c—. How do I get in that?Bookmark here

There had to be a way. Was she supposed to pickpocket the combination off the butler? Off the householder himself? That would be very straightforward, by RPG-quest design standards, but it was an unwanted complication.Bookmark here

Even if she told herself it’s just a game, Kasumi couldn’t help but glance back toward the door, fueled by anxiety most genuine. The immersion of turning her head to look, rather than tapping the keyboard to move a third-person camera, combined with the photo-real graphics? She had to tell herself she was wearing a headset.Bookmark here

Might as well give the dial a spin. Maybe I’ll feel indentations, or something? Yeah right…Oh! There’s a minigame.Bookmark here

Kasumi was treated to tuning fork tone and pop up window in her user interface. It contained a simplistic representation of a keyboard, which played eight notes in sequence. When she moved the dial right, the tuning tone rose in pitch.Bookmark here

"Oh, neat," Kasumi said under her breath, "just match the pitches. Makes this a lot easier."Bookmark here

It took her a couple tries, but the most expensive, most secure safe in Edule opened under Kasumi’s fingers. It took a little over two minutes.Bookmark here

Inside the safe, the arquebus leaned. It was stubby barreled, but not pistol-short, and looked more a work of art than a killing machine. A muzzleloader, yeah, this wasn’t going into a dungeon to mow down monsters. Into Kasumi’s inventory the gun disappeared—she didn’t even have to worry about being seen carrying it back to the factory.Bookmark here

But as she went to close the safe, she saw another, far smaller item. A blue, holographic cube whose surface texture spun and danced glowed in the corner. Kasumi picked it up. The info card in her interface called it a "Perk Cube." Crisp red text in the card alerted her that it was a single use consumable. Strange, the shady old man hadn’t said anything about this.Bookmark here

Kasumi wanted to use the Perk Cube then and there. She felt drawn to it, sure that somehow it would aid her journey. But footsteps in the hallway pulled her out of the trance. Into her inventory it went.Bookmark here

Closing the safe and cabinet quietly as she could, Kasumi made for the window she’d come in by. A quick climb down the tree-shaded trellis. A hop to the wall. A drop into the alley.Bookmark here

Kasumi stood panting and sweating, but not because of the physical exertion. Her skin goosebumped in excitement.Bookmark here

Daylight robbery is fun!Bookmark here

She jogged off, a smile on her face and adrenaline in her veins all the way back to the shady factory/warehouse.Bookmark here

"I did it! I got the thing!"Bookmark here

The old man turned pale and around. "Oh, it’s you. That was pretty quick."Bookmark here

"Yep. Got that item you wanted." Kasumi held the arquebus over her head.Bookmark here

After she reassured him that no, she hadn’t just carried the gun in her hands where everyone could see it, they made the trade. Plus 200 denara to Kasumi.Bookmark here

"Oh, by the way. There was something else in the safe." Kasumi moved the Perk Cube from inventory to her hand and showed him. "You didn’t mention it, but I figured I’d at least ask if you had just forgotten to say." Kasumi’s hand trembled, ready to snap the cube away if he didn’t offer a good price.Bookmark here

The shady old man looked at the dead beetle in Kasumi’s hand.Bookmark here

"Uh…you can keep it."Bookmark here

Kasumi returned the cube to its inventory slot. "Great! Pleasure doing business. Let me know if you have more quests. PEACE!"Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Half an hour saw Kasumi sitting on the edge of a fountain, contented legs swinging, and a piping hot soft pretzel in her mouth.Bookmark here

Maybe I’ll be a thief. That could be f—ing dope.Bookmark here

Someone tapped her shoulder. "Excuse me, sir?"Bookmark here

Kasumi looked up into the polished chest plates of a pair of city guards.Bookmark here

Oh. Oh no.Bookmark here

"Yes?" she asked weakly.Bookmark here

"Were you the one who snapped some branches off the trees in Hyperion Park?"Bookmark here

Kasumi had to stifle relieved giggles before she could answer. Oh, I thought for a second someone saw me in that house. Phew.Bookmark here

"Yeah that was me. I needed a club."Bookmark here

A gauntleted hand came down firm on each of Kasumi’s shoulders. "We are arresting you for destruction of city property. Come along quiet now so we don’t have to add resistin’ arrest to the charges."Bookmark here

Oh f— me.Bookmark here

Marshall Eastman
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