“You wouldn’t happen to know where the artifacts are would you?” I ask Chalice, as I lean against the side of the chest.
It’s been half a day since I first ran in here to escape the lizard monsters. All the stress and exhaustion had finally taken its toll and I was asleep within minutes of laying down. It wasn’t the most restful sleep I’ve ever had, but my body does feel a little less like it’s going to just stop functioning on me.
There’s a low rumbling sound when I wake up, that immediately has me alert, afraid the monsters had broken in while I was asleep. After a quick glance around to confirm that it was just me and Chalice in the room, my confusion is interrupted by another growl, that with a flush of embarrassment, I realize is coming from me. In my rush to not become lizard food, I had forgotten that I needed to eat too.
Now faced with a new problem I hadn’t thought to consider, I start wondering how I can get food in a place with no dirt or water. Oh god water. I could survive a few weeks without food but without water, I was really going to be in trouble.
“Players are such high maintenance,” Chalice grumbled, tossing over a water skin and a wrapped piece of jerky. When I looked over at it, confused by the sudden generosity, the treasure bear remained in its chest, grumbling about it not being able to sell them anyway. Amused and thankful I didn’t press the matter and took a few bites. The water is old, carrying a faint dusty texture, and leaving a weird aftertaste of dirt. The jerky wasn’t any better. I couldn’t quite place the flavor which made it all the more unappetizing, but it serves its purpose of keeping me from starvation.
Chalice shifts inside the chest, looking up at me with its mismatched eyes, “What artifacts?”
“The ones for the quest,” I clarify, gesturing over towards my window, where the quest tracker still reads, [Artifacts 0/5].
It glances over at the textbox and for a second I wonder if it can see the screen before it shakes its head no, “I’m not a player, how would I know?”
“But you’re a treasure bear,” I counter, “isn’t knowing everything about all priceless treasures your whole thing?”
“Well, I just-,” it huffs like a puff of steam and turns away from me, crossing its paws, “I don’t know why I helped you, you are just a big meanie player.”
“Aww come on now Chalice, I wasn’t trying to be mean,” I coax, layering my tone with false sweetness. Chalice's eyes narrow like it knows what I’m doing, but I continue to lay it on thick. “I mean you can’t fault me for being surprised that the all-knowing treasure bear wouldn’t want to help on this very important mission?”
It glances back at me, before turning away sharply, making a show of keeping its back turned, muttering softly, “Why should I even care, pink meanie?”
Just a bit more and I’ll have it, “Because if I get those artifacts, I can find the way out of the maze.”
“A way out?” it asks glancing over its shoulder in poorly hidden excitement, “you just need these artifacts?”
I smile, got it hook, line, and sinker, “That’s all I need.”
It glances around like it’s afraid of someone eavesdropping on us and shuffles closer, I lean down to play along, “You didn’t hear this me little old me,” it starts, and I nod eagerly. “And I can’t guarantee anything,” Chalice enunciates, glancing around once more even though it’s only the two of us in the room, “but I did run across a weird gemstone that I couldn’t move. Maybe that’s what you want?”
“It’s worth a shot,” I agree, pointing towards the door over my shoulder, “think you can give me directions?”
Chalice looks nervously at the door before shaking its head and moving back to the center of the chest, “Take two rights, then three lefts, then a right, and then another left. Two more rights, then go straight till you find a broken lantern and a shattered red vase, turn left there. Keep going till you pass the third door, it will be in the next room on the left side of the wall.”
There’s no way I’m remembering that. “You happen to sell paper?”
One begrudging freebie redeemed later, I have a crude list of directions.
“Thanks, Chalice,” I say, pushing myself to my feet. I’m still sore from yesterday, but I’m never going to get out of here if I just laze around, even though Chalice makes for surprisingly good company.
The treasure bear huffs, steam puffing out of its golden button nose, but does give me a little smile and wave, “Try not to become monster food, pink player.”
“Same to you little dragon monkey.” I agree, leaning against the door, listening to make sure I don’t hear any sound of lizard-porcupine monsters before I open it.
There’s a sound not too dissimilar to a steam whistle, “YOU! YOU!” The noise rises in pitch and becomes more like a tea kettle, sharp and loud. “I take it all back! Get out of my shop! Evil meanie player!”
I can’t help the laugh that bubbles in my chest at the annoyed look on its little mechanical face, “I’m going, I’m going!” I promise, opening the door and confirming the coast is clear.
There’s a weird mechanical shifting noise over my shoulder, I turn to find Chalice peering over the top of the chest, mismatched jewel eyes narrowed at me. I raise an eyebrow and it flushes an embarrassed green, ducking back into the chest out of view. I wait for a few more seconds and when nothing happens, I turn back around to leave. I get one foot out of the doorway and-
“Don’t die, meanie player,” Chalice grumbles after me, “you still need to pay for that paper.”
A smile creeps onto my face as I stare at the tile lining the floor in the hallway. I ponder turning around, but it is already hard enough forcing myself back out into this death trap. I can’t falter now.
“Don’t worry,” I assure, forcing my voice full of false bravado, “I’ll bring some money next time!” and the door closes behind me.
I take a few minutes to make sure the door is as secure as possible, Chalice was a rather fun little NPC, plus it might be the only shopkeeper in the starting zone, don’t want to lose it to the teeth of a monster. To make sure I can find the little treasure bear again I take time to carve a few little symbols into the stonework around the door. At first, I try drawing a bear, but it just becomes a weird lopsided blob, so I settle for just defacing the nearby stonework in random patterns. Then I’m off on my way, following the directions Chalice gave me.
I ponder trying to find my way back to the path I was making yesterday but seeing as how Chalice’s instructions start from its room, it seems a wiser idea to find the artifact first and then return to the main path.
Much like before, I take time to carve a symbol at each fork, this time pointed behind me. Later if I need to visit Chalice again or just need a semi-safe place to rest, I can follow the symbols back to its room. To avoid future confusion, I make the new symbols little suns, with one ray of the sun larger and longer than the others, pointed back in the direction I came from.
I squint at the little map every time I get to a fork in the road, Chalice might be a rather helpful NPC but it was pretty bad with directions. It had tried giving me the directions in a written form, and I had to realize very suddenly that I can’t read the language of this world, even if I could somehow magically speak it.
I pass by a few other doors on my way, but not wanting to risk an encounter with the lizard-porcupines I keep moving on.
There’s one uncomfortably close brush with a monster, but it’s busy trying to get at something behind a cabinet and I’m able to sneak by without alerting it. The thought of fighting it does cross my mind, but I’m on a mission right now, and I’m still sore from the first one, best to pace myself before I really do end up monster food.
It takes me around an hour to finally reach the door Chalice specified. It looks the same as every other door I’ve come across, simple dark wood, reinforced with iron bolts, metal doorknob with an obvious key lock. Just to make sure I try the handle, it turns, clicking into place and swinging inward with a creak.
“That was…,” I glance around checking to see if anything is approaching, “a bit too easy.”
Despite my hesitations and concerns I quickly move into the room, shutting the door behind me. It’s a rather simple room, there’s a four-poster bed pushed into the back wall, a wardrobe against the left wall, and a chest at the foot of the bed. A desk and a vanity sit on the right wall, with a book and forgotten bottles of makeup covering each. And atop one of the two nightstands that flank the bed, in perfect view of the door, is a baseball-sized red gemstone.
“Again, this feels too easy,” I mutter, pulling out my spear and tapping against the tiles in front of me, checking for anything that could be a trap. I really should have asked Chalice if there were any traps here, because being so overly cautious is going to cost me a lot of time, but it’s better to be late than dead.
Slowly I make my way over to the nightstand. The stone looks like a ruby, with a deep red color, shaped into the form of a perfect circle. I stare at the jewel for a minute before I let my paranoia get the better of me.
I take a step back and gently nudge the stone with my spear. It rolls away and slides off the edge of the nightstand spinning slowly as it comes to a stop by the desk. Now satisfied that the jewel isn’t trapped I make my way over.
“I’m going to assume this is what Chalice meant,” and I lean down to pick up the weird gemstone.
As soon as my fingers touch it-
[Artifact found!] It dings as little holographic confetti explodes around me.
[1/5 Artifacts collected. Once all Artifacts are found, return them to the Treasury Guards on the lowest floor.]
“I still don’t trust this, but I’m not going to complain.”