Landscape was chatting with Hyzenthlay, a female sylvan played by what sounded like a junior high boy, when she noticed a stalactite in the ceiling dripping red ooze into the river. ”Wait a sec…” she called to the others, and to her surprise everybody stopped and turned to look at her.
She stopped and used her left pad to open the RiptureWiki, doing a search for “Blood Pool dripping stalactite”. And there it was: Alchemist’s Folly. There was a hidden door across the river that only opened for five minutes each hour. There was a series of passages with rooms full of undine, and doors on timers, so you had to fight the monsters quickly to be in position when the door opened. Mistiming one could put you out of sync on all of them. If you timed it right, you could be through to the treasure room and back at the stalactite in under an hour, but if you mistimed it, you could be trapped for days.
The treasure room was famous for occasional juicy drops. Even though Landscape had never brought Lidia down here, she’d read the walkthroughs a couple of times, and had that rush of excitement every lottery player feels when she read about the guy who found the treasure room had a Bag of Golding, or a Tangled Web of Weaving, or a Beast with Two Backs. Rare items, worth fortunes.
Usually there wasn’t anything quite that good, but it was still highly profitable, and it looked like the Velvet Bunnies had been planning to march right by it.
She pointed to the spot on the wall where the secret entrance was supposed to appear. ”Does anybody know the next opening time of the Alchemist’s Folly door?”
There was a chorus of, “The what?” Everybody’s character froze stupidly as their drivers went to the web to look up what she was talking about.
Woundwort laughed. ”Would you believe that we’ve done The Blood Pool twenty times and never once went through that door?”
Hyzenthlay said, “I remember — the first couple of times we went through, we knew we were too weak to not get trapped in there forever, so we passed, and then I guess we just got used to passing it.”
Hrairoo apparently finished doing some math. ”It opens in six minutes, I think.”
“Sweet,” Woundwort said. ”That’ll give us time to review what’s going to be in there.” The chatter fell silent as every Velvet Bunny and Landscape read the wiki description of the series of rooms and their elaborate timed doors.
Studying the full descriptions of a dungeon before exploring it kind of takes the thrill out of them, but when you’re trying to gain power and wealth as quickly as possible, thrill takes a backseat to trying to make rapid progress. When Landscape played Pink Castle, she almost never read up on her adventure before doing it. Most of that game was puzzles, and if you looked up the answer instead of figuring it out, what was the point, really?
Besides, her ponycorn, Chuckles, was relatively advanced compared to Lilia, and when Landscape explored with the Aussie Posse, they often found themselves beyond the edges of good documentation — where the fun was.
The Velvet Bunnies were ready and waiting, counting down the seconds aloud, waiting for the timed passage to open. ”Three, two, one…” they chanted in unison. And boom, there it was, a black hole in the rough rock wall. As usual, Woundwort went through first, followed by Blackavar and Thlayli and the rest. Landscape hesitated for a split second when it was Lilia’s turn — what if she had to go to the bathroom or something and messed up the run? — but she pushed her worried down and leapt through the hole, landing in a confusing jumble of fighting as the party tried to organize into a defensive perimeter to fight off the hordes of undine. She looked for Woundwort to heal him, but saw that Hrairoo was about to fall, so she started healing him instead. Lilia’s feet seemed paralyzed, and something was causing her damage, but she focused her attention on keeping her new friends alive, assuming they would make good on their promise to keep her safe.
And they did. After maybe thirty seconds of excitement, things got under control, and they cleared the room. They had a couple of minutes to discuss tactics before the next door opened, so they worked out a plan to get everybody through faster, and to keep the spellcasters better protected in the haphazard jumble they were thrown into after the doorways.
There were seven more rooms, and they knocked them down methodically, easily polishing off the Darshak Lich that guarded the treasure room at the end. Landscape held her breath as Blackberry opened the chest, hoping they’d catch a miracle drop. Even Haven would be impressed if she turned up with a Bag of Golding.
It was not to be. The chest was full of gems: Nice, valuable, but not unique or exciting. Ah, well.
They caught the timed door back to the dripping stalactite, and she did her duty all the way to the Blood Pool, where another nice treasure awaited. The experience bonus when the collected it was enough to push her to level eighteen, and her character’s telltale glow and anthem let them all know she’d just leveled, and she was barraged with hearty congratulations. They were done.
“Do you mind homestoning from here?” Thlayli asked. We’re done for the day, and it takes forever to walk out of here, even after we’ve cleared all the rooms.”
“You’ve been great. Do you mind if we call you tomorrow, and take you to Metz? You might fall a couple of times, but we’ll take care of you, and you’ll be up to our level in no time.”
Her script said to stay far away from Metz. ”That would be great!”
She was surprised when Thlayli’s character walked up to Lilia and wrapped her in his arms, bending her backward and kissing her. She flushed and froze, not knowing how to respond. Thlayli didn’t seem to notice. ”Tomorrow!” he called, activating his homestone to teleport away.
“Yeah!” she responded, though it seemed he’d already signed off. She activated her own homestone, the last to leave the dungeon. ”I am smooth. Not.”
Landscape parked Lilia in the school and logged off. She slept the station and looked around the Field. A dozen residents had rolled their stations in a cluster, and were attacking a Ripture dungeon intently. Another ten or so were doing things on their own, playing games, surfing the net, chatting with friends. Tinker, Evers, and Chance were sitting at a small table near the kitchen, sharing fancy coffees prepared by the Farm’s fancy automated espresso machine.
Landscape stood up, stretching. The session had been much more intense than usual, and she was stiff from hunching over the station without a break for so long. Plus she was starving. She wandered over to the kitchen, pretending not to notice the three women chatting over their drinks. She pushed the cook’s big green button and spoke into its microphone. ”Large Char Siu Fan, please.” Cheese had mocked her more than once for her tendency to say courtesies to the bots (”Landscape’s raising their expectations, and now the little fuckers are starting to get uppity when I don’t kiss their silicon asses.”), but she couldn’t help it.
“Large Char Siu Fan, one minute,” the Cook replied.
There was always rice and pork pre-cooked, so she wouldn’t have to wait for it to be prepared. Landscape didn’t like waiting around the kitchen for food to cook. She was afraid people would think she was spending a lot of time eating. Better to order something quick, eat it quietly, and move on to something else.
She listened to the whirring of the machine as it scooped rice into a bowl and covered it with a layer of barbecued pork, steamed vegetables, a fried egg, ginger paste, and soy sauce. She took the time to grab a fork and a napkin. She had tried to use chopsticks, like all the other residents, but it had been an embarrassing fiasco she didn’t want to repeat. The fork worked fine.
The Cook’s door opened. ”Large Char Siu Fan.” She grabbed the steaming bowl and turned to her favorite corner, where she could face the wall and eat alone.
Tinker’s voice stopped her. ”Hey, Sweetie — come sit with us.”
There were only 19 women in Haven’s Farm, and these three ruled the hen house.
Tinker was 33, short, slim, and kept her straight black hair in a pair of ponytails high on her head. She had a fondness for plaid skirts and scrunchy white knee-high socks, giving her an unnerving schoolgirl look. Cheese called her a “half-Asia hybrid super baby permanently trapped in the eighth grade for crimes against humanity.” She was the only one in Haven’s Farm besides Landscape who had ever had a character in Pink Castle. (She had created the character as a joke — Belle the boogerpoo — but had been surprised to enjoy the game. In Ripture she played Tiara, Sylvan Fetch who was a specialist in chests, both picking their locks and disarming their traps. The best toys were guarded by the fiercest traps, and everbody who had seen their whole party wiped out by a nasty box loved having Tiara in their party.
Evers was 38, short, curvy, and blond. She had a tendency to bounce and laugh an annoying and far-too-loud laugh that nonetheless made everyone around her happy.