Percival the Bard glanced out nervously from the deep shadows of the barns farthest stall. A great hero had just arrived, the first to visit this remote part of the Fog kingdom in many long months, and Percival could tell in all his bardly wisdom that they were unhappy with the situation at hand.
Naomi stared blankly at the deteriorating boards all hugging a pair of giant rusty hinges, a sour expression slowly spreading across her face. “You mean to tell me..” She said slowly turning from the barn doors, “That now I can’t leave?” Her eyes strained as the darkness gave way to the flickering torchlight keeping the shadows surrounding her at bay.
Six iron cast torches lined a wide center aisle of cobbled stone, with a mass of giant timber stalls to either side of it. Sprawling cobwebs with spiders a plenty claimed every corner and crevice, and while no animals had seen the inside of these walls in years, the smell of stale straw and moss drifted from every corner. Naomi reached up to adjust her headset, the sour expression spreading further as the smell engulfed her.
She’d put more hours into this RPG than she cared to think about, and while the virtual reality headset had all but become a brand new appendage when she was playing, Naomi could never seem to shake the ephemeral need to make sure the head straps were tightened.
The Dark Forest was a massive fantasy role playing game that had everything you could possibly ask for as a gamer. Epic gear and weapons, an ever growing amount of side quests, a breathtaking world to explore with characters to match, and of course the never ending opportunity to explore every castle, every cave,… and well… every barn.
“You do know I can see you right?” She peered intently into the shadows, her sour expression giving way to one of frustration. Her silver heroes broadsword glittering from its scabbard on her back to match Naomi’s bridling temper.
Her need to explore the entirety of The Dark Forest’s world and beat every quest big or small had ultimately led her here. A quiet part of the Fog Kingdom, where in a quiet snowy forest hid an abandoned village. On the outskirts of that village? An old barn. Perhaps older than the trees that had grown up around it, or the village no doubt lost to the ages. A brittle thing, yet somehow still mighty and majestic in the trees.
Percival glanced down at the midnight black spider the size of a grown man's fist crouched in its web beside him and nodded solemnly, “You’ve given us away my many eyed friend. Indeed your prowess to evade seems singularly compromised. Ah well! It’s left to me to salvage the day!” He straightened, adjusting his bedraggled robes.
Movement in the shadows beyond the torchlight, a figure slowly shuffling forward. Naomi stepped forward to meet the stranger, eyes tracking them as the giant golden exclamation point hovering above their head whispered a promise that she had been dreaming of for the last week… 100% completion.
What was this fabled 100% completion? Each realm in The Dark Forest held within its borders a multitude of quests for players to take on. Some only fit for the most cunning of heroes, some that only the bravest champion would challenge, and some… well somewhere fit for a rainy Tuesday afternoon when riding dragons and capturing evil warlords just seemed too labor intensive.
Naomi had made it her goal to achieve this glorious moment of 100% completion. A game achievement that had its fair share of perks, from rare gear and weapons to character skills inaccessible to any other players. So, with quite a bit of determination Naomi had poured her heart into this virtual world to gain the achievement. Until finally, after all this time, here she stood. One quest away. In the gloom of this mysterious barn where it would all come to fruition.
The glowing exclamation point continued to hover towards her. The nervous AI below it edging ever forward with an impressive combination of both grace and clumsiness. “The doors are locked?” she said with an edge to her tone that made the young man flinch back slightly as he approached.
“Ahhh great hero!” he said, exuberance filling his voice as he neared, “You have arrived just in time! Evil lurks in these woods, and I shall never survive unless…”
What could it be she thought, Naomi grinned to herself in excitement as all frustration melted away. An escort quest facing hordes of fog goblins? A puzzle to free this bard from the barn before the evil spiders swarmed them from the shadows of the hayloft above?
Percival grinned as the silence stretched, the anticipation builds to unprecedented levels, he thought to himself. Shall I reveal this quest of all quests or keep rattling on to myself? No more or she’ll think I’m quite mad!
He let out a slightly maniacal giggle, “Great hero of the Northern lights, I must find my three lucky stones! Will you aid me in this quest of utter import?”.
Silence in the barn, Percival’s grin slowly broadening all the while, wide eyes glittering.
Stones… Naomi stared at him, murderous thoughts fluttering through her mind. “Stones? You want me to find… stones?”. The man before her nodded fervently, and then slowly held up three fingers. Text boxes hovered before him: accept quest, decline quest. She had slain dragons in the Valley of Lost Pharaohs, she’d conquered the fire elves of the dark gate, and now.. she’d walked halfway across the world to collect stones?
Concern flickered in Percival. Oh dear he thought, She has seen stones hasn’t she? He began to contemplate how best to describe them to her.
“You see oh hero of all heroes,” the boisterous tone returning, “These stones are among my most prized possessions! Imagine if you will-” he paused, Oh dear, how does one describe a stone to someone who’s never seen one?
Thoughts of the Pictionary game to come entered the bards mind, but alas he’d never been the artistic type, and moreover he hadn't any chalk! “Oh dear” he murmured, “Things are quickly unwinding in a most expected fashion.”
“Unwinding?” he glanced at yet another spider in the shadows and chuckled as he murmured, “You clever fool you.”.
Naomi stared at the man before her, he’s mad she thought shaking herself, “Accept Quest” she groaned.
“Excellent!” Percival straightened yet further before her, “The mischievous spiders of this barn have misplaced my precious stones while I slept! Thank the gods you arrived or all hope would truly be lost!”.
Naomi opened her game menu and began scrolling through her inventory. Where was that damn scepter she’d found earlier in the week? Epic items were always a nightmare to uncover in The Dark Forest’s sprawling world, and yet hidden away in the ruins of an old astronomy tower she’d discovered it. Night vision goggles! Well kind of, a night vision specter. What would the developers think of next? she thought as she equipped it, looking out onto the newly illuminated barn.
Percival watched as the barn's shadows peeled away to reveal every detail before them, “Our quest into infamy begins!” he declared, spinning around in anticipation and glee. Truly no other could compare, he thought. Sharp of this hero to save the best of her quests for last. Wisdom is an ever refreshing quality to find in a hero!
Naomi stared at the AI’s back shrugging off her disappointment, and began scanning the barns stalls and hay piles. The sooner this was out of the way the better. Three stones and then she’d reach that 100% completion achievement, and after that? A new DLC for the game was launching in only a few days with a whole new realm to explore. Excitement fluttered across her face.
Percival watched as the hero smiled, Ah yes, he thought, the spiders, the shadows, the straw, this was truly the greatest piece of this illustrious world of his. Greatness is ever wrapped in the smallest of packages! He paused in his thoughts, No that didn’t sound right at all… “Where’s that damn spider to help me sort this out?”
Naomi glanced over at the bard as they began searching the stalls, definitely mad, she thought, continuing to search. “AH HA!” The red outline of a small gray object revealed itself within a stall directly to her left. She strode over, adjusted her head straps once more, and then bent down to pick it up.
“Excellent work hero!” Percival was nodding as he conjured into existence the most solemn expression possible, “Only two more remain!”
Naomi sighed, turning to the barn again, “Two more..” she muttered, continuing to scan each stall as she made her way to one of the twin ladders leading to the hay lofts above. “So close to 100% completion” she said softly as she reached the bottom of the ladder, and saw yet another red outline hidden behind it.
Percival beamed with pride as the hero reached down to collect the second stone. Throughout all the varying kingdoms and realms across this vast world, each with their own cities and castles, their mountains and their oceans, there could truly be no argument could there?
Perfection is ever a singular thing he thought as the hero began her climb to the hay lofts, and this my kingdom of cobwebs and cobbles is truly the pinnacle of peaks in this grandiose world. He paused in his thoughts to begin the climb after the hero and pondered. Or rather.. the peak of pinnacles! Who’s to tell? “Where is that accursed spider when I need it?”
Naomi hurried her climb as the bard began murmuring to himself below. Reaching the lofts above she once more began to scan for the third and final stone. Her specter of light only lasted so long, and as the light slowly began to fade around her she quickened her pace. Dancing around piles of rotten hay, and kicking at the fist sized spiders as they scurried out of her path she continued on.
The light Dimmed yet more, giving the barn an ambient glow resembling a late afternoon, she began to worry. She was so close.
She reached the very edge of the hay lofts and turned to face rafters before her, she couldn’t fall short could she? Not like this, she shook herself and suddenly glancing down there it was! The final stone not five paces to her right hidden in a particularly rank mound of hay and cobwebs.
Striding forward Naomi grasped the stone and couldn’t help but smile, after months of grinding through quest after quest she’d finally done it! The 100% completion achievement for the Fog Kingdom popped up directly in front of her on screen, and as she stared at it in pride the barn doors swung open below to reveal the predawn light.
With that her smile widened and she began to make her way out, one more realm completed, and yet another on the way.
Beside her Percival nodded knowingly as he saw her smile. A truly momentous achievement! Her finishing his quest that is. What a day for the ages! After all, no other barn among the many realms could possibly compare to his own! Moreover, no realm could truly ever be complete without his glorious kingdom of spiders and straw within it.
He watched as the hero made her way to the barn doors, pride flooding him in waves. “Another day of exultation my friends” he said, folding his hands together and looking around at the newly reformed shadows. He frowned suddenly, we must set back up for our next hero! This unpreparedness simply won’t do!
“Where is that damn spider anyway?” he murmured, and with that he began edging into the shadows.