4 Township Woes

Cora sat on a roughly cut stone square. It was one of a dozen scattered around the ruined plaza of her town. From what she could tell, at one point it had been part of a bench or decorative low wall of some sort. She rested her chin on the palm of her hand and wobbled her elbow on her leg, appreciating the slight pain that caused. The level of reality in the game capsules continued to fascinate her.

The thought of the capsule made her mind wander back to her predicament. She fully realized that she needed some form of help, but she hesitated to ask Nate for it. Her cousin hadn't told her anything as she'd been slowly puzzling out. Cora had taken an hour to skim the game forums and realized that his postings went back months, not weeks. That meant that he'd been playing since almost the beginning.

She now highly doubted the whole 'oh, I won a pair of capsules! Take one!' spiel he'd fed her a week ago. More than likely, he wanted her playing something he could help her with while also keeping an eye on her. If Cora didn't know any better, she would have thought that her best friends, Heidi and Lorenz had ratted her out.

Nate hadn't been in the country when that thing with Gerald happened. He'd been off hiking in the hinterlands of the Philippines. When he'd come back, the dust had long settled, and he'd been wildly enthusiastic about some game that was coming out.

In retrospect, he'd probably been talking about this one. Worlds of Glory was pretty popular. She had heard rumors that people had been making small fortunes since the cash platforms had opened. Cora had had an interesting crash course in gold mining after hearing Nate mention it as part of the reason she should accept the capsule. While an interesting concept, Cora made more just from her monthly dividend payouts.

Cora sighed. Thoughts of dividends made her realize that she hadn't been tracking her favorite stocks lately. Between getting the capsule installed and dealing with the aftermath of the Gerald thing, she'd been slacking. She tiredly rubbed her forehead. If it wasn't for the fact that the game was a much better place to brood, she'd be sitting on her overstuffed couch, munching on brownie crisps.

At least this was better than putting on unnecessary pounds.

Cora stood up and brushed off her pants. She looked around the destroyed town. There were no clues as to why it had been destroyed or even if it had been. For all she knew, the people abandoned the town for some strange reason and it just fell into ruin. She had been all over the buildings surrounding the plaza, and none of them showed any damage from weapons, just old age.

"Oh? A visitor? No, a new mayor for Wilderven," a smooth, silky voice said from behind her.

Cora jumped and whirled around, her heart beating in her throat. She hadn't heard anyone walking. Seeing the speaker, she sort of understood why even as the reason sent her heartbeat ratcheting up even higher.

Behind her sat a giant cat. It looked like a leopard but instead of brown or black fur, it had fur the color of the sky. Its rosettes were the color of clouds, varying from pristine white to furious grey-black. It sat there, watching her with golden eyes, the tip of its tail flickering.

"N-Nice kitty," Cora stuttered, jumping on top of the block. She realized it was a silly gesture even as she registered that the cat seemed to be laughing at her with a hacking, coughing sound.

"So, I'm a kitty, am I? Do I get milk and mousies?" The leopard asked, slowly standing up. It stretched. "So, dear new mayor, what are you going to do?"

"Wait! You talk! And how did you know that I'm the mayor?" Cora asked, her eyes wide. She could feel some of the panic subside as curiosity ate away at it.

The leopard flexed its paws, drawing sparks from the desolate bricks of the plaza. Cora eyed the sharp black claws, realizing belatedly that she didn't have any weapons of any sort.

"As to how I know, of course I know," the leopard purred. "Anyone of any sort of renown always knows the information they need."

"Of course they do," Cora agreed, cautiously descending from the block. It had occurred to her that she was only making herself a bigger target by perching there. "Perhaps you could tell me just how?"

The leopard sat back on its haunches. It studied Cora with narrowed eyes that slowly widened.

"If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. Just how did you get so lucky unlucky at the same time? To be named mayor at such an unbelievably low level? How are you even grown up?" The leopard stood up and paced around Cora who tried to keep herself perfectly still.

"Of course I'm a grown up. Kids aren't allowed to play Worlds of Glory until they're at least fifteen." Cora shrugged. "What does my age have to do with anything?"

The leopard leapt upon the stone Cora had vacated. It sat primly, its still twitching tail wrapped around its legs.

"Listen well, because I'm not in the habit of educating younglings," the leopard began. "My name is Blue because that is the most desirable color there is." Cora nodded anxiously. The leopard's expression relaxed just a bit. "Most beings start at the egg level and then level up until they hit the appropriate one to evolve to the next stage."

"So babies suddenly become toddlers?" Cora frowned.

"I don't know. I'm not a two-legger." Blue yawned. "Everything follows the proper stages though if you regress too much, you die."


"If I, the gods forbid, ran into something that reaped enough levels to bring me back to cub level, then I would die afterwards, no matter the level then." The leopard cocked its head at Cora. "You would gain experience if you were that something. Battles are frequent, especially in the areas around Wilderven."

"Wilderven?" Cora glanced around. "Is that what this area is called?"

"No, no, no, this is the Wildlands. Wilderven is the capital, this little ruin here." The leopard jumped down. "It is so exhausting talking to children."

Cora wanted to protest but kept remembering those sharp claws and teeth. While she wasn't quite sure she understood the mechanics the giant cat had just explained to her, she was a player and that meant death was death. She really had no interest in dealing with Limbo if the forums and players could be believed.

"Let me at least gift you some modicum of survival. It would be too tedious if another new mayor was appointed," Blue sighed. Its tail flicked in Cora's direction, shooting a tiny ball of light.

Cora was too shocked to dodge. The ball smacked into her forehead, leaving behind a small pang of irritation. She fought down the urge to scratch. Something told her that that would be a very bad idea, no matter how easygoing Blue might appear.

"At least you're not an entirely lost cause," Blue muttered. "Let me show you the mayor's fields. You need some experience if you want to get anywhere but here, especially since you'll need things to rebuild with. That requires that money stuff, right?" It got up and sauntered towards a gap in the ruined buildings.

Cora opened her mouth to reply when she was distracted by a muted ding. It reminded her of when she'd activated her skills earlier. She glanced upwards at the slowly darkening sky. It was too late for any of the skills she'd already found to work. Now Cora was starting to appreciate all the threads complaining about time-based skills on the forums.

"Inspect + Identify + Examine = Appraise ─ Intelligence +4, Charisma +2 omni

"Congratulations! Charisma stat unlocked. Congratulations! Luck stat unlocked. Charisma set to 6. Luck set to 8.

"Congratulations! Extra experience earned! Wildland's Favorite quest passed. Experience +30."

"Do you always stare into thin air? How did you ever get nominated mayor?" Blue asked as it walked back towards her. "Is that a new thing in the Low Lands? To just stare idiotically?"

"I was checking on things," Cora said. The game literature said to not mention being a player, but the dragons hadn't seemed to care and even knew about it somehow. WIth her luck, it was a glitch of some sort.

"Oh, you're one of those weird two-leggers, aren't you? That puts things in perspective," Blue said with a yawn. "One of my cousins is on punishment duty near one of those new villages. Has to put in two hundred levels before he's free to go." Blue made that weird gagging noise that was her laugh. "He was an idiot to have been caught."

"Two hundred levels?" Cora asked.

"It's not a big deal. He's an older leopard anyways. A few hundred isn't going to buck him down to even adolescence, let alone a measly two hundred. It's not like he's not going to eat while there. Easily recouped," Blue added with another annoyed swish of her tail. "Now follow me."

Cora gave up and followed after the leopard as she led her to a desolate looking field. The field was easily the size of half a football field. To one side were rusty farming implements along with a dusty sack of what looked like corn kernels.

"Being mayor of an uninhabited town isn't easy," Blue sighed. "You need to grow some corn or something to earn experience."

"What?" Cora stared at the field. She could even smell the soil from here. While it wasn't dead and smelled green, it wasn't plowed. "I don't know how to farm."

"Well, since you didn't get here the usual way, you have no other way to earn experience other than farming or mining," Blue said. It walked over to the farming tools and sniffed them. "Lucky for you, once you start, they'll renew since they're just ownerless. If you take them to the Low Lands, you could probably get a pretty penny for them. Magic farm tools aren't that common anymore." The leopard looked up at the sky. "At least that's what my cousins tell me. You can never truly trust their words."

Cora stared at the leopard. Her brain was having difficulties in adjusting to what she just heard. She took a step backwards, unsure of what to do. She vaguely remembered her cousin saying that he had a friend who'd taken a crafting class and only got experience from creating things related to it. That should have been her first clue that he wasn't a newbie like her to the game.

"I have to farm?" Cora repeated faintly.

"You're level one, dumpling. Even if you wanted to trek out of here, any wrong move would turn you into a pancake," Blue tossed over its shoulder as it stood up and started walking away. "I'm going to go catch a fish."

"What do you mean by that?" Cora called after Blue.

"You're in the Wildlands, dumpling. Even I, the most glorious me, am level 330. I'm afraid to even sneeze on you."

Cora stood, dumbstruck. She watched as the shadow of the leopard faintly faded away.

A little display popped up next to her. The tiny square seemed to have a multitude of tabs, but the opening screen contained only two stark lines.

"Wilderven Management Details

Population 1/800"

Cora stared at the display for a moment before angrily dismissing it. She just wasn't in the mood to pay it any attention at the moment.

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