The True Endgame
It turns out that Serra was paying close attention to everything Fenrir was explaining and demonstrating to Cassiel because she’s able to properly cast the line right from her first try! Naturally, this triggers Cassiel’s competitive side. The two girls get into a competition to see who can cast the line the farthest and with the most accuracy. Meanwhile, Fenrir gets some bonding time with Rock.
Fenrir lies on his back with Rock curled up on top of his chest. One hand rests atop Rock’s back to pet her as he stares up at the sky. There are only a few clouds dotting what would otherwise be a clear sky. The sun is brightly shining down on everything around them, but fortunately, they are safe from the sun’s direct rays thanks to the tower providing them shade.
Serra reels in her second fish. Cassiel has yet to get another bite since her first fish.
Three fish are flopping around within the barrel now trying to escape.
Fenrir thinks about how they’re going to eat these fish.
“You bastards! Stop pricking me!” Cassiel shouts at the bucket of shrimp.
“Having trouble over there?” Fenrir asks, still staring up at the sky.
A shrimp lands right between his eyes before jumping off of his face. Amazingly, the shrimp gets lucky over and over with its jumps until it flings itself right back into the ocean!
He looks over at Cassiel. She’s pouting with crossed arms.
“That bait was a gift, don’t waste it,” Fenrir scolds her.
When she remembers how generous the men were to give them the free bait, she looks down and makes a mental apology to the two masculine men back on the pier.
“Boat,” Serra says.
Fenrir lifts Rock off of his chest and stands up. Surely enough, another boat is heading right for them.
The other boat is roughly the same size as The Shoebill, but shorter and simpler in design.
Seven people are standing aboard it. A few of them are waving to the girls and Fenrir. They appear friendly.
The boat pulls right up next to The Shoebill on the side where they aren’t casting their lines.
“Hey there! Ole’ Jax tell you about this spot?” the man behind the other boat’s steering wheel shouts over. He looks like one of the most appropriately-dressed men that Fenrir has seen thus far. Everything about his outfit from the bandana around his head to the slightly-open vest and thick boots screams that he’s a sailor in an old fantasy setting. He’s even got a perfect pirate accent!
“Yeah, decided to come over here for some training for the tournament. You here for the same?” Fenrir shouts back over. Cassiel and Serra both look like they’re pouting since he was the one whom told them not to make much noise, yet now he and this other man are shouting back and forth at one another.
“Aye! Reckoned that we oughta get some more practice in to compete with all of you adventurin’ folk!” the man shouts back.
“Not adventurers yourself?”
“Nay, we’re just fishers and sailors tryin’ to make a living and enjoying life while we’re at it!”
“That sounds like a pretty nice goal. By the way, is there anything that you can tell us about the tournament? I didn’t want to bother Jax with too many questions since he already helped us so much.” Fenrir wastes no time getting to asking questions.
“No problem! Mind if I come over there so we’re not disturbin’ the fish for everybody else?”
“Not at all, hang on.” Fenrir drops The Shoebill’s gangplank onto the neighboring vessel, allowing its captain to come aboard. “I’m Fenrir, by the way. What’s your name?”
“They call me Morven, and I’m captain o’ The Yellow Minnow. Pleasure to meet ya, Fenrir,” Morven says. Now that Morven is standing before Fenrir and shaking hands with him, Fenrir can see that this man looks – well, he looks normal. Almost every other player that Fenrir has met thus far has been an exaggeration of one thing or another. Fenrir himself knows that he’s perfected how he looks so that there aren’t any flaws in his appearance, Bonekraka and the two men from the pier are all personifications of macho masculinity, Oleander is a trap, and even Thelmes was a stereotypical looking goblin. Yet, before him stands a middle-aged man with wrinkles, a crooked nose, a few missing teeth with the ones that he does have showing signs of yellow, and more. He looks truly realistic.
“You can tell, can’t ya?” Morven asks.
“Tell what?” Fenrir answers the question with a question.
“That I’m what you and yours call an ‘NPC?’”
“I – I didn’t know, actually. I just thought you were… one of us, but… different? Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re used to gettin’ that sort of look. It’s what happens when you’re born ugly in a world full o’ attractive adventurers!”
Aside from how Morven looks, Fenrir can’t find a single thing about the man to give away that he’s an NPC. He sounds like a real human, has little ticks in his speech and gestures that perfectly matches what some humans have, and doesn’t look any different other than not looking perfect. “Saya, NPCs are controlled by AIs, right? Are they controlled by the overseer, or do they have their own AIs like Rock has now?” Fenrir thinks.
“It depends! Random animals and monsters and villagers and stuff will just be controlled by the overseer, but the ones who gain lives of their own and really develop their own personalities will have their own AIs controlling them. Basically, anybody who acts like more than just a background character is an AI living its own life out here,” Saya explains.
So, even if this man is an NPC, he’s just as real as anybody else is. There is a real AI controlling his speech, thoughts, movements – this man may be an NPC, but he’s still real. He has his own goals, dreams, desires, life, memories, and more.
“Tell me about yourself before we get into me asking you a bunch of boring questions, Morven. I want to hear about your life,” Fenrir says.
Cassiel and Serra get back to fishing while Fenrir, Rock, and Morven sit at the stern of The Shoebill.
“So you have a wife, kids, a brother, and all of that?” Fenrir asks.
“Aye! Ain’t it normal for a man to have a family?” Morven asks back.
“Yeah, of course it is. I just… so you don’t remember growing up, but you remember having all of your family?”
“Aye. That’s how most of those like me are. All crewmembers of The Yellow Minnow are the same. We’ve each got our own families and lives, but none o’ us remember anythin' before arriving in this city. I can tell ya what, though. We may not have many memories, but we still love and feel as much as any o’ you adventurers. We can also fish just as good as ya!”
“I don’t doubt it. Anyways, about the tournament.”
“Alright. How many rounds are there, and what are they like? Are they all the same?”
“Assumin’ it’s going to be the same as the last one a few months ago, there’ll be three rounds. The first round is a free for all to see who can catch the most fish in a limited amount o’ time, and to see who survives.”
“What do you mean by who survives?”
“Look around ya! This is a city o’ pirates. They may be tight on the rules on land, but on open waters, anythin’ goes. The less ships that make it back to the pier when the first round is over, the less competition there is.”
“Isn’t that way too dangerous for you and your crew then? What if something happens?” Fenrir may not know what happens to NPCs when they die, like whether they respawn or not, but he figures they don't get all the same advantages as players do.
“It ain’t a problem for us! I know it might sound like an unfair advantage, but the folk here know our ship and flag. They won’t be attackin’ us. Can’t say the same for anybody else, though.”
“Makes sense. Alright, what about the other rounds?”
“The second round is a race! All competin’ crews start at the same spot with their vessels, and they have to race out to an island off the coast, loop around to the back of it, catch a fish that only lives on the far side o’ the island, and then come back!”
“And the third round?”
“The final round. This is the main show. It’ll be narrowed down to three crews by this point, and they’ll be in for a fierce competition. They have to worry about defending against each other while huntin’ down a baby serpent. Whoever brings the serpent back is the one who wins.”
“A baby serpent?”
“Aye. Imagine a giant eel several times the size of your ship here with a mouth that can tear a man in half! I reckon it’d even be able to tear your hound here in two if it got ahold of it.”
Rock whimpers, cuddling up against Fenrir’s leg.
“How are we supposed to catch something like that? I doubt a regular fishing rod would work,” Fenrir asks.
“That’s up to each crew to figure out. Some use giant hooks, others use magic, and I’ve even seen baited cages used before! It’s all up to the individual crews to figure out,” Morven explains.
“Alright, that’s all helpful. Thanks for answering my questions.”
“Don’t worry about it, Captain Fenrir. We may be pirates down here, but we look out for one another,” Morven extends his hand for a parting shake.
Fenrir gladly accepts.
“I’ve got to get back to my ship now. Gotta make sure those slackers are properly practicin’!” Morven explains, heading back to the gangplank.
“We’ll see you at the tournament, Morven,” Fenrir says.
“Lookin’ forward to it! Just don’t be too upset if we show ya adventurers that the rest of us have got a place in this world as well.”