writing chapter 14.4
As Josh and Anomia were staring out to sea, watching the black rain of players falling to their deaths offshore, they were startled by a noise.
“Sure and might you be looking for a wee spot o’help now?” It sounded like one of Fairy’s non-playing characters.
They looked around and saw no-one, then turned back toward the rain of death. They felt a tug on the legs of their pants and looked down to see a leprechaun with a long flowing white beard, no higher than their knees, dressed in a tiny little green and brown woodland outfit with pointy red shoes and a pointy red hat.
He swept off his had and bowed. “Darby O’Gill, at your service,” he said gallantly, fitting the hat back on his balding head. They stared at him. “And isn’t it lovely weather?” he asked rhetorically. They failed to respond. He stared back, tilting his head expectantly, “Have yez no tongues in your heads?” he asked finally.
Anomia shook her head. “It’s just that we thought we were alone here, that’s all,” she said.
“Are you an npc?” Josh asked hopefully.
The leprechaun swept his hat off his head and bowed low. “Darby O’Gill, at your service,” he repeated in exactly the same way as before.
Josh and Anomia looked at each other. “Where were you when we were stuck up on the mountain?” Anomia demanded. “We needed help then.”
“Yeah, we almost died,” Josh added.
The leprechaun looked hurt. “Ah now, stop. I’m brought low by your displeasure,” he lamented. “Begging your pardon, many apologies, no excuse. I am your humble servant.”
“Well, how about getting us some food?” Josh suggested, whereupon the leprechaun whipped out two mugs of steaming tea and handed them to the couple.
“Would you ever care for a wee drop of the creature?” he asked as they took their mugs, pulling a hip flask out form under his vest. “For the cold,” he explained. Anomia declined warily. Josh eagerly accepted. The leprechaun drained the bottle after tipping a few glugs into Josh’s mug and gave a great gasping sigh as he put the empty bottle away. “Better than food,” he pronounced.
Anomia rolled her eyes. “Why are you here now, then?” she asked.
The leprechaun shrugged. “Mine not to reason why…” he started.
Josh pointed at the cloud of falling players. “Maybe he’s here because of them,” he suggested. They looked at the leprechaun.
“No rainbow, no pot of gold,” he said cryptically.
“Now what the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Josh asked. The leprechaun looked sheepish.
Anomia pointed at the cloud of falling players. “Can you help us or not?” she demanded. “People are dying out there.”
The leprechaun took his hat off and held it over his heart. A tear rolled down his cheek. “A terrible terrible predicament,” he said mournfully.
Anomia looked at Josh. “I’m not sure he’s going to be any use,” she said.
“Maybe we’re going about it the wrong way,” he suggested. “Now see here,” he addressed the leprechaun, who looked at him expectantly. “What can you tell us about what’s going on here?”
The npc immediately began reeling off a lot of technical details about the players’ fall – the distance of fall and rate of descent, prevailing winds, water temperature, probability of surviving the landing, concentration of predator species waiting beneath the surface, probability of survival in the water, chance of survival until individuals could reach shore, probability of reaching shore before drowning or being eaten – all given in a mournful monotone in a thick brogue they could barely understand. The specs were all very depressing.
Anomia cut him off. “Is there any way we can rescue them?” she asked.
The leprechaun brightened. “Sure you could try looking in your wee bag o’tricks and see if there’s anything you could use to make a seaworthy vessel,” he suggested.
They pulled up their virtual bags and looked. Driftwood, fish bones, shells, seaweed. “But this is useless. What can we do with shells and seaweed?” Anomia asked.
The leprechaun tapped the side of his head and winked. “Use your noggins,” he replied. She scowled at him.
Meanwhile, the cloud of falling players had moved closer to shore, and now they could see the hapless players falling into the water just beyond the breakers, making huge fountaining splashes. Most of them disappeared into the water, but a few bobbed back up – still alive – and struggled feebly toward shore. Most of these were swallowed by the breaking waves, but some were swept to shore and washed up on the rocky beach. A few of them seemed to be moving, or was it just the waves rolling their limbs around?
Josh and Anomia went to look, Josh hoping to find them ready to eat, Anomia hoping to find them alive. The leprechaun followed, twisting his hat with worry that he might have to offer a wee drop of poteen to everyone.
The dead players faded out as soon as they were truly dead. Most of the badly injured ones followed soon after, but a very few struggled to their feet and staggered up the beach to dry land.
Anomia raced from one to the next, trying to help. The leprechaun followed, trying to make conversation about the weather and solicit questions like a good npc.
Still the cloud of players fell, but it never came onshore, which was fortunate for those few that survived the fall into the drink. Now and then a player managed to flare to a safe landing as most of them continued to drop to their deaths.
Anomia noticed this improvement and asked the leprechaun, “Is it because there are more players that you suddenly appeared?”
The leprechaun nodded sagely, “Safety in numbers, madam. Power with, not power over.”
This was one of the tenets of the philosophy Anomia tried to teach in her Dragoncon seminars. Dragoncon seemed so far away, even tho it must still be going on in the realworld. She wondered why the npc would quote her to herself, but figured Fairy must have programmed him with various other pearls of wisdom as well.
“But what do you mean?” she asked.
“Safety in numbers,” he repeated, twirling his hat.
She wondered if he was talking about the idea of critical mass, which was the main goal of getting people to play the game. The more people, the stronger the group consciousness they participated in. Maybe there was hope.
She scanned the cloud of falling players. Some of them appeared to be flying, more were gliding, exerting some sort of control over their fall. She wondered if that meant their own abilities were coming back, hers and Josh’s. She turned her attention within and began searching for happy thoughts. Players were surviving; there was hope after all. She felt a bubbling feeling near her heart.
“Josh,” she called.
He was looking out to sea, wondering if he could reach the drowning players before they were rendered inedible thru death and fadeout. “What?” he snapped, turning to glower at her.
“I think maybe we can fly again.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Idiot,” she said, losing her temper. “It means we have our powers back. It means the game’s not broken.”
“Okay, I don’t think I care at the moment. I’m starving.” He thought. “No wait, maybe we can materialize something to eat.” He concentrated and a mug of beer appeared in the air in front of him. He grabbed it and chugged it down, instantly refilling it. “Oh yeah,” he sighed with satisfaction. “Who wants a burger?”