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Guidance Withdrawal chapter 11


(Michael Hrenka) #1

Guidance Withdrawal

First chapter | Previous chapter

Chapter 11

Back to Arratan

For a not entirely clear reason, Adano felt very elated about the discovery of Shinpi-tekina Kage, his Mysterious Shadow of unknown origin. The shadow didn’t talk to him, but she didn’t need to. It wasn’t clear whether Kage was wise, but would that really matter? At least Adano had some kind of guidance that resembled the guidance he received from Diolineda. And through the conversation with Inselm the hooded, he got new clues. The first step was trying to find out what the section 73 of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan was really up to.

That’s why he contacted Danisho in private: “I need real answers, and I need them quick!”

“Can this wait? I’m trying to figure out the patterns in this ingress spike to Arratan.”

“What about the pattern that I entered Arratan two minutes after the official lockout? You can’t deny that, do you? I need to know what this tribe is up to.”

“It has been clear from the beginning that you are special. The only question is: How special? Now I know that you are very special. And about the ‘secrets’ of this tribe: They aren’t really too hard to guess, if you combine all the evidence.”

Adano was stumped. He hoped that Danisho might help him out, because he was one of the few members of the tribe that seemed to be possibly genuinely helpful. And now this mysterious answer. What should he make of it? Was it some kind of riddle or test? Well, it definitely was!

He asked: “Is this Zaphenix actually a real person, or is that merely a distraction from the true goal of the Hunters?”

“Oh, Zaphenix is very real. And very dangerous. Everything that our vice chief Lairesh has told that colorful unicorn Vanya is true.”

“What kind of violation has Zaphenix committed to warrant such an extreme response?”

“You aren’t asking the right question, Adano. You shouldn’t ask what Zaphenix has done, but why he has done it!”

Puzzled, Adano tried making sense of that line of reasoning. If it wasn’t the act that was critical, then it was the motive? What motive did Mevara Quest players in Arratan have? Perhaps the same as all Quest players everywhere: Getting more powerful Quest items. And what kind of Quest item could justify betraying one’s own tribe? Only the most powerful one. It must have been an ascendon item! An item, that would turn its wielder into a god! Wow, in hindsight, it seemed to be so obvious!

“Zaphenix has stolen an ascendon item from the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan?”

“And that is so obvious that half of Ailissa will suspect it, too. Still, the price we pay for our generous offer of gratitude to the Ailissans is not too high in this case.”

“Let me guess: This is supposed to be so obvious that nobody will be willing to pay for that information?”

“Bingo!”

“Then I need more details. There’s something special about this particular ascendon item, isn’t there?”

“And what makes you assume that?”

“Once ascendon items are gained by a tribe, there are certain rules which determine who gets that item. The item that Zaphenix has stolen must have remained unbound for some reason, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to steal it.”

“That could be assumed. I like your line of reasoning.”

“The lack of binding might be due to the ascendon item not readily unlocking its powers. Perhaps different members tried to unlock its secrets in succession. Most of them must have failed. And then Zaphenix has seen the opportunity to take possession of something that he may or may not unlock on his own.”

“Hypothetically speaking, of course.”

“Yes, hypothetically. How wrong am I about this?”

“It all sounds like speculation without reasonable evidence. But at least it’s reasonable speculation.”

“Then let me speculate further: You suspect that I might be the key to unlock the powers of that ascendon item that Zaphenix has stolen?”

“You are pretty full of yourself, aren’t you?”

“You aren’t the first person to tell me that. Anyway, there’s no way you would be willing to confirm any of this, or is there one?”

“Hmm, now let me speculate for a change.”

“Ok, go ahead.”

“You want to sell information about our tribe in exchange for some other information.”

“What makes you think that?”

“And that other information is how to leave Arratan as quickly as possible without tarnishing your reputation.”

“Would that be so unreasonable?”

“In your situation I would try the same. But you are dealing with the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan here. You won’t succeed.”

“You won’t help me escape, because you need me, and won’t let me go before I help you to unlock the secrets of the ascendon item?”

“It’s a human cognitive heuristic to assume that two mysteries are related, simply because they are both mysterious to them. That heuristic often leads to pretty ridiculous assumptions, like yours.”

“It was your chief Modi who suggested this connection between your funny ‘Quest item’ and me!”

“Do you really expect me to agree with everything that Modi states as wild guess?”

“Then why do you seem to be so unhelpful to me? I haven’t seen any concerted effort from you to get me out of Arratan, or to solve the question why I was beamed here in the first place. Is that your way of displaying Solan hospitality? What kind of Solans are you?”

“Great, and now you are appealing to our honor as Solans. What a basic move. Don’t you get that I’m trying to help you?”

“Why? And how? Aren’t you too interested in solving the mysteries that surround me to be motivated to really help me?”

“Do you really expect Arratan to let you go easily? That wouldn’t fit the pattern of you being hampered as much as possible. Even if we tried to get you out of here, Arratan probably wouldn’t play along.”

“You can’t know that! That’s just another premature assumptions like those you accuse others of making.”

“Maybe. But what’s the alternative? That the wise place you here on purpose and let you leave easily without struggling to solve this mystery? How would that make any sense?”

“I don’t know. I don’t claim to know how the wise make sense of things. That’s why I need their guidance.”

Suddenly Danisho switched gears and got aggressive: “Don’t act like you’re the innocent ignorant victim here. You must have come here on purpose. Everything else is just ridiculous! What do you want here, if not unlocking the mysteries of Arratan?”

“What? Do you think I’ve chosen coming here? Yes, sure, blame it all on the victim! Everything else isn’t acceptable to you, is it?”

“No, you need to consider it rationally! What’s more likely? That the wise transported you here breaking the Liberty Guidlines for no apparent reason? Or that you willingly agreed to be beamed to Arratan as part of your guidance withdrawal training? The only reason this seems mysterious to you, at least according to your own testament, is that you might at the same time have agreed to have your own memories redacted!”

The problem for Adano here was not that this theory wasn’t plausible. It was that it tread too closely to only of the greatest taboos since the axiological age: The scenario taboo.

“Are you seriously trying to make me consider that my memories have been redacted? Does your way of trying to help me consist of being excessively rude? Don’t you see that you are essentially coercing me to break the scenario taboo?”

“Oh, call me a heretic, if you like. But what’s the exact reasoning behind the scenario taboo?”

Adano assumed this to be a trick question, but maybe Danisho had a point here, so he played along: “The scenario taboo requires people not to consider the possibility of being in a scenario – a simulated reality created for the purpose of testing them. If they are wrong about that assumption, they don’t gain anything. And if they are right that they are in a scenario, they decrease their performance in the scenario by decreasing the urgency of the scenario.”

“Ah, but what if that second part is a faulty assumption? What if assuming that you are in a scenario can improve your performance in the scenario?”

“How so?”

“An apparently exaggerated urgency of the situation can cause excessive stress that impairs one’s ability to think clearly and critically. If one turned it to one’s own philosophy to assume that everything is a scenario, and one always tried one’s best, no matter what, then excessive stress is avoided, and performance becomes optimal.”

“That’s the philosophy of the so-called scenarions. It is well contested. And that’s the reason why the scenario taboo has become orthodox thinking in spite of their objection.”

“That’s an appeal to the authority of the majority. You don’t seem to be willing to consider the possibility that I might be right.”

“Wait a minute. Shouldn’t performance become optimal, if stress levels are optimal? And that might imply that both extremes, those of always or never assuming being in a scenario, are wrong.”

“Welcome to the next level of reasoning, Adano.”

“Sheesh, you are really helpful in this, but don’t be so patronizing about this. People won’t like you for that.”

“People who don’t value what I do, won’t like me for what I do. And those are the people I don’t care about. So, that’s fine with me.”

“You remind me of my mentor Arizzi. And I’m not sure whether I like that, or not.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Anyway, what I got from this conversation is that you want me to consider the possibility that coming here was my choice and my current memories are at least partially false. How would that help me?”

“You need to think this through! If you really decided to go here on your own terms, then why did you do that?”

“To prove that I’m the best, even without my wiseguide?”

“You really are full of yourself!”

“If this is anything comparable to a scenario, then it’s of course a challenge. But what’s the challenge exactly? Not going insane from losing my wiseguide would be a challenge that seems to lowball my abilities too much.”

Adano realized the irony of his latest statement, with him really having come close to the boundary to going insane, or already having stepped over that boundary.

“Let me guess. You are one of those elite trainees of the Exaltation. No wonder that you are full of yourself.”

“And in this case, the challenge should really be me solving the mysteries of Arratan.”

“Yes, with the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan being the perfect tribe for that task.”

Adano wasn’t sure what to think about that. This seemed to be a kind of Socratic sales pitch. He felt quite manipulated. On the other hand, the perspective that Danisho nudged him towards certainly had its clear merits. It wouldn’t have been unfitting for Adano to rush into this kind of crazy adventure – and getting his memories altered in the process. Yet, his impression of the tribe being rather unhelpful to him personally remained. It would have been too convenient for the tribe to stumble upon a person like Adano just to complete their own quest. Adano expected there to be an elaborate plot behind all of this. He questioned whether he should play along, and for what reasons. All of this could easily have been a trap that he would have rushed into.

“Would you think that my appearance in your tribe was an obvious pointer to my connection to the ascendon item you seek?”

“Making this connection seems to be obvious. Too obvious for my taste. I’m inclined to suspect that it’s a red herring.”

“Then what’s the real reason that I’ve materialized in your tribe?”

“Do you have any suspicions?”

“How could I? I hardly know this habitat, or even all the members of your tribe!”

“Good point. Now let me tell you something. Arratan is an attractor for those who seek mysteries. Or for those who have something to hide. A lot of people here have serious secrets that would surprise you … a lot. If there is a real mystery to solve here, then it’s probably one of the members of our tribe.”

“And to which of those groups do you belong? To those who seek mysteries, or those who have something to hide?”

“What do you think?”

“You certainly seem to be fond of mysteries. And that’s probably not a secret of yours. You may or may not have secrets, but I hardly think that I’ve been sent here to unveil your secret, if you have any. That would also be too obvious. Just another red herring.”

‘Or maybe not’ Adano thought for himself. Danisho wore the mask of the mystery hunter well, but it might have been just a distraction from deeper secrets. He kept that thought in his mind, but didn’t pursue it further, in order not to get sidetracked.

Danisho commented: “That’s reasonably observant of you. There are more interesting persons in this tribe that you might want to examine.”

“Who do you think I should examine more closely?”

“I’d start with Zathinax.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s the tribe’s shaman, and Zaphenix’s brother.”

“Wait a minute. Would that mean that I indirectly should follow the red herring of the Quest item anyway?”

“Not necessarily. Zaphenix is already interesting by being the brother of a traitor.”

“If they are brothers, how were they generated?”

“They are the sons of the former high priestess Zartezia Areol of Zartaxis and the dragon king Kyutarvek Anissar.”

“Wait a minute, are you implying that in Arratan people get generated ingame through sexual reproduction?”

In reality, Adano wasn’t too surprised about that possibility. Each habitat had its own reproductive policies and methods. Classical sexual reproduction was really old fashioned even for the standards of the Musean cultures of Sol (even if it involved artificially designed species such as dragons), but suffice to say that there were still a lot people who were into that.

“Yes, and fertility is dependent on ingame rankings. Ordinary players are very unlikely to ever generate more than one offspring. But that’s not the point here. There’s something more interesting about Zathinax. After he had left his family and before he joined the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan, he went on a long solitary journey which has seemingly changed him greatly.”

“How has he changed?”

“He returned very serious, spiritual, and mostly sad. Something must have seriously disturbed him. We don’t know whether he had completed an Odyssey, or retreated to Arratan midway, or did something else entirely. Zathinax doesn’t really talk about that part of his past. But it’s obvious that it must have been a pretty defining and eventful time for him personally.”

“What do you think happened to him?”

“It’s most likely that he has lost someone or something very important to him. And he decided not to get over that loss. Instead, he has chosen to remain incomplete and solitary, forever dwelling in nostalgia about what has been or what could have been.”

“He suffering from a broken heart and doesn’t want it to heal? What madness is that supposed to be?”

“Perhaps he is waiting for something that would allow him his reunification with the entity he has lost.”

“And how am I supposed to find out more about Zathinax than you have managed to?”

“Tell him your secrets. Perhaps he’s willing to open up to you, then.”

“Have you told him yours?”

“My secrets are not very interesting. You seem to be a much more exceptional person.”

Adano was astonished about his own change of mind during this conversation with Danisho. His presence in Arratan certainly appeared to be a kind of test. But what was the objective of this test? There were too many possibilities – especially possibilities that he was not aware of. Leaving Arratan would mean aborting the test, but what if it meant succeeding at this test, rather than forfeiting it?

Who was he really? With the possibility of his memories having being changed, his whole character could have been a fabrication. Even so, would that have been a bad thing? After all, Adano couldn’t recall having a particularly bad character – rather the opposite. Adano was suddenly committed to honoring those memories – regardless whether they were true – and trying to rise above even the proudest deeds he could remember himself having done.

Having thought about all of that, his regulator started nagging: “You seem to have become quite sidetracked. This is not a harmless game you are playing. It’s a serious threat to your mental health. But even if that doesn’t convince you, please start thinking about those who probably miss you a lot outside of Arratan. Can you imagine how worried they must be about you?”

And this was most likely true. Even though Adano had acquired a reputation as a notorious renegade, he met many friends along his journey that never really ceased to care about him. But was that more important than passing the greatest test he had ever faced? If he just had access to Diolineda’s guidance he could have answered this hard question, but he hadn’t.

Staying true to his most recent resolution, he dismissed the idea of fleeing from Arratan for the sake of those who missed them: “Everyone who holds me dear knows that I have to see through the challenges that I have chosen for myself. Everything else would not be acceptable. And I’m pretty sure that in my overflowing vigor, I have brought this challenge on myself. You know me. This must be true. It’s not an accident that I am here. And even if I haven’t chosen this challenge for myself, I am the right person to pursue it, because the challenge has chosen me.”

“The problem is that at this rate, the person chosen for the challenge won’t be the person that will have gone through the challenge.”

“Isn’t that the point of challenges? That they change who you are – to the better?”

“You are assuming that you won’t experience some catastrophic failure that will destroy you completely. That’s not exactly rational.”

“If that’s what’s going to happen, then so be it. This challenge is still worth facing complete annihilation.”

“Oh, that’s so responsible of you.”

“It actually is. What a waste would it be to throw such a unique opportunity for a huge challenge away?”

“It’s not a disgrace to walk away from challenges that you aren’t prepared for dealing with at all!”

“You don’t get it do, you? Have I ever been sufficiently prepared for the hard challenges that I mastered?”

“This is so like you. You are using your desperate coping strategy of trying to convince yourself of being this invincible overachiever. You know that you aren’t the best. Stop pretending that.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve been chosen. And Jethin believed in me. That should suffice.”

“Look, you aren’t assessing this situation calmly and rationally. You are overly optimistic.”

“I have to be overly optimistic, if I want to be successful at this, and now please shut up!”

Even though Adano wasn’t happy after dealing with his regulator in this way, he was feeling more confident now that he dealt with the reasons for not seeing this challenge through.

Finally, Adano got the opportunity to get back to Danisho: “I’m not sure what you are talking about. There’s nothing really special about me. What secrets do you expect me to have?”

“You are definitely hiding something from me. There’s simply no way someone as young and inexperienced as you could cope with this sudden relocation and guidance withdrawal without going insane.”

“Perhaps I have gone insane already and you simply don’t notice that, yet.”

“See, you must be very special. No ordinary person would come up with such an answer in such circumstances!”

“Ok, you are right. I’ve be raised to deal with special circumstances.”

“I’ve heard rumors about a secret ultra elite programme for young PCLRC members. You don’t happen to know about anything like that, do you?”

“Well, I’ve been informed that I wasn’t fit to join any of those programmes.”

Danisho looked Adano fiercely into his eyes without blinking and told him as calmly as imaginable: “I do not believe you!”

Adano gulped and joked: “Well, you’ve got me there. I’ve actually been trained in the most secret and elite PLCRC academy there is. I’ve been sent to solve all of your problems.”

“You know, even though I’m pretty sure you’re joking here, I find your answer more believable than anything else you have told me so far! Please go and tell Zathinax what you just jokingly confessed to me. Perhaps he’ll open up to you.”

“Yeah, as if just telling him that without good reason would make him easily confess to me what had been bothering him, and what he had hidden from all of you for so long. Great plan!”

“I didn’t mean that you should do that immediately and without having a good reason to. Although, sometimes it’s worth taking wild shots. You never know for sure how people will react.”

“That sounds really desperate. And anyway, it feels to me as if you tried to distract me by sending me out on a pointless side quest. Even if I was able to find out what happened to Zathinax exactly, how would that help you in any way?”

“Oh, I get how this must look to you. Ok, let me explain it this way. Arratan certainly has her fingers in all of this. And in this habitat the shamans and priests are the only direct connection to the habitat spirit. Our section of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan only has two shamans: Zathinax and Sapestris. You better turn at least one of them into your ally.”

“Sapestris? That inconspicuous deer? Zathinax and Sapestris are excellent Paradigm players. Is that more than a coincidence?”

“That’s an excellent observation, Adano. What would you expect the most likely connection to be?”

“They probably have played that game a lot. And here in Arratan they often play against each other in order to keep their Paradigm skills sharp. Their level of skill suggests that they have been professional Paradigm gamers at one time.”

“Yes, that’s a reasonable guess and a good start. Please go on.”

Apparently Danisho expected a deeper investigation of the connection between the shamans. Arratan considered some of the possibilities.

“When and where have they met? Was it during the time that Zathinax was away? And where is Sapestris from? If I knew that, I could make better guesses.”

“Sapestris claims to be from the Jupiter system, just as this Desmond Arthur. She claimed to have moved to Arratan, because she eventually found out that she didn’t have the stuff to compete against the more serious Paradigm pro gamers. She told us that Zathinax mentioned his home habitat and inspired her to migrate to it. Both of them joined the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan together. What conclusion do you draw from that, Adano?”

“At the very least this suggests that they have been very good friends. Instead of continuing their Paradigm career, they apparently settled for something else. But why move to Arratan? Wouldn’t that be a regression for Zathinax? And what have they seen in each other? I don’t have any good basis for making guesses about that. But you said that people go to Arratan to seek mysteries, or to hide something. Given the latter option, it stands to suspect that they are hiding something. A common secret perhaps? How is Sapestris doing? Is she also as sad as Zathinax?”

“Occasionally. At least she doesn’t seem to indulge in self-destructive notions as much as Zathinax. She’s also the nicest person in the tribe and offers personal counseling sessions. If something common has hit both of them, she seems do be dealing with it much better than Zathinax. She’s very shy and secretive, though. Probably she had her own fair share of demons to deal with.”

“Has their relationship changed somehow since they joined you?”

“Besides the usual ups and downs, I haven’t noticed anything particular. But then I’m not snooping in their personal affairs too much.”

“And yet you are gossiping about that as if that’s some kind of competitive sport.”

“As I said, it’s crucial to have good connections to the shamans and priests in Arratan to know what’s really going on here.”

“Are you testing me with that, or do you really don’t know what happened to Zathinax and Sapestris?”

“What about ‘a little bit of both’? I mostly like to hear your fresh perspective on them, because they have been a big mystery for me. Of course, I have my own theories, but maybe you have an idea that I haven’t considered yet.”

“I still don’t get why you are making such a big deal about this. Do you really think what happened to them has any connection to what happened to me?”

“Perhaps. Of course I might be wrong about that. But at least you have a mystery to solve until we find the Quest item.”

“I guess I’ll have to thank you for that. Am I allowed to mention that I got this gossip/information from you?”

“Do what you want. It’s not as if I had revealed any huge personal secrets.”

Suddenly something in Adano clicked. A possible connection. Could it be so obvious?

“Wait, do you suspect Zathinax and Sapestris to have been wiseguided and then lost that connection?”

This time, Danisho seemed really surprised about that thought: “Coming from you, this idea should seem to make sense, but what are the odds for that to be the case? They have been too long in Arratan to still be in any kind of guidance withdrawal program.”

“Unless they have dropped out voluntarily. Which was a decision that has broken both of them. Perhaps Sapestris just had more time dealing with that loss. How old was she again?”

“I have no idea how old Sapestris is. People don’t answer or ask such questions here in Arratan! However, your guess might just go into the right direction. What’s exceptional about Arratan is that it’s relatively far from the direct reach of the wise. It’s one of the best places to get away from them.”

“Is anyone in Arratan wiseguided?”

“Nope, Arratan doesn’t even allow direct communication with the wise!”

“And all communication with the outside goes through Arratan, and inhabitants can only connect her via shamans and priests – who are usually super secretive about everything. This adds up to a pretty insane level of isolationism. Arratanians really don’t want to have anything to do with the outside world, do they?”

“You are absolutely right about that. We are doing our own thing here.”

“Was Zathinax and Sapestris having been wiseguided one of your theories?”

Danisho sighed: “Yes, but it’s simply not a very good theory. If they suffered so much from their loss of wiseguidance, why haven’t they gone back to the wise? It’s not as if the wise easily reject people from their guidance.”

“Well, the wise have rejected me.”

“That’s what you claim, but I still don’t believe it.”

Danisho’s comment felt like a punch to the gut to Adano. In other worlds it felt like a minor nuisance for someone who was used to intense indomitability training sessions. Even if Danisho didn’t trust Adano, he still proved to be slightly useful as source of information. Maybe he could tell him something really helpful: “I don’t care whether you believe me, or not. I just need to figure out why I’ve been sent here. Arratan should know about that, either she doesn’t want me to know, or you are holding back information. And why shouldn’t you, if you want to use me for your own machinations? Perhaps I should rather go to a priest here in Ailissa.”

That last sentence was clearly expressed as impatient threat. Danisho wasn’t impressed by that: “What makes you think that the priests in Ailissa will be more helpful than our shamans? And what makes you think that they’ll answer to a complete stranger?”

Suddenly Jolan transmitted some concern to Adano and asked: “What’s the matter? You seem to be angry and frustrated. Perhaps I can help.”

Adano let his assistant handle the rest of the conversation with Dasnisho and answered Jolan in private: “I don’t get the feeling I can trust your tribe. You seem to have ulterior motives for keeping me here.”

“I’m sorry, if you got that impression. What could we do to earn your trust?”

“I finally want some serious information, about me, about your tribe, and about your quest.”

Jolan seemed to consider that request thoroughly and eventually told him: “Fine, I’ll let you talk with vice shaman Sapestris. You haven’t talked with her yet, so at least you should have less reason to mistrust her than anyone else.”

“Ok, thank you for that offer.”

Without pause, Jolan however continued: “There’s just the technical problem that Sapestris is one our delegates who currently reside at the Great Hall of Ailissa. She might be too busy talking with the council members of Ailissa to talk with you, soon. You still can talk with Zathinax who’s not allowed to enter the city. He probably feels a bit lonely, so it wouldn’t be a too bad idea to visit him now. After all, our mission has been surprisingly successful so far thanks to meeting Inselm. We can certainly afford some time to make a visit to Zathinax.”

If they were going to wait anyway, one last try to get Zathinax to talk probably wouldn’t hurt, reasoned Adano. “Fine, I wonder what he’ll think about the lockout. Do you have a copy of the data we got from Insem?”

“Certainly. If you are in a hurry we can go right away.”

Adano and Jolan quickly agreed to go together while the others continued their conversations in the Ravaging Revenant. The others seemed a bit disappointed to see them leaving so soon, especially Janestre Pheros who complained that they’d miss his excellent dessert.

Outside in the streets of Ailissa a strong breeze started flapping the creases in Jolan’s white silk robe. In the distance there were large dark clouds coming in from North West. It looked like it would be raining soon. The apparent temperature already has dropped significantly due to the cool wind.

Jolan confessed to Adano: “I get it. The Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan can seem uncaring and distant due to their persistent secrecy. I also had a hard time finding my place here. And I know that this is not a good comparison to your situation, but I can guess what you are going through here. I wished I had the authority to apologize for all of us, but I don’t.”

Adano didn’t feel like replying to those statements. Jolan then just continued: “Arratan is not a bad place, you know. The Arratanians just take their culture very seriously. If you think about it, a habitat like this would fit much more into a system like Wolf 359. We suck at being good Solans. We don’t get a lot of regular visitors or tourists. This place is made for those who are really dedicated to move here.”

This made Adano lash back: “If you are so conscious about that, then why don’t you make a serious effort to make me feel welcome and respected here?”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but we have been recently quite stressed out due to so many strange things happening here in Arratan, lately.”

“Strange things? Like what? And what does ‘lately’ mean? You can’t mean my arrival or the lockout, since you have learned about them only very recently.”

“Look, that’s all I can afford to tell you. Strange things have been happening and your arrival and the lockout are just the latest in a series of highly unusual events. I’m not authorized to tell you more. If you want to complain about that, then please address chief Modi, Zathinax, or Sapestris – which you should do anyway.”

Adano continued walking along with Jolan silently and eventually started feeling bad about that: “I’m sorry for not being nice or polite. Usually I’m totally not like this. It’s just this incredibly stressful situation. You have done nothing to deserve this treatment by me.”

The first drops of rain started falling. Where they came close to Jolan, they turned into small snowflakes. Jolan commented: “You know, for someone in your situation it must be an immense effort for even excusing yourself for your behavior. I find that very admirable of you. Should I extend my snowflake aura to you?”

“Sure, thank you very much. How does that work anyway? Don’t snowflakes require condensation nuclei and a lot of time to form snowflakes?”

“If you watch closely, you’ll notice that a part of each drop of rain actually vaporizes away and leaves a frozen roughly snowflake shaped object left that quickly grows in fractal complexity.”

“That’s beautiful… oh, wait a moment. Does that mean that you could actually make the blood of a person boil from this distance?”

“In theory yes, but it would be extremely hard for me to overpower the instinctual defense of the magical aura of a player. And any serious magical defense would render such an attack completely ineffective.”

Somehow those details didn’t make Adano feel much better about the mere possibility of his eyeballs suddenly exploding ingame, if Jolan decided that he deserved it. Suddenly he had a terrible suspicion and thought: ‘Wait, how did combat in Quest really work in Arratan?’

They were already on the bridge outside of the Southern gate and approached a newly erected large red tent that probably hid Zathinax and Chahezla from the sight of regular travelers. Squads of unicorns, warriors, archers, and sorcerers were stationed around the tent. Adano still needed an answer to his question: “Jolan, how does the Quest combat system work exactly here?”

“The parties who are in Quest mode fight with their physical bodies, with damage from weapons and magic mostly mediated through the pulson grid, which is directly controlled by Arratan. Backup data of our bodies is collected continually, so that Arratan can reverse injuries and death, if they occur.”

Adano was quite shocked about this revelation: “What? Are you saying that the Quest system here uses Total Physical Immersion rules?”

Jolan stopped walking and stood just outside of the large tent silently. Then she just remarked: “Oh, someone should have told you sooner. I’m sorry.”

“So, you rely on Arratan to actually restore you from her backups when you die in Quest?”

Jolan started smiling: “Sure. Oh, come on. You know that such systems are 100% safe and reliable.”

Adano retorted: “Only if Arratan is 100% reliable. Can you guarantee that to me?”

“Arratan is a complex supervised by wisenet, so yes.”

“Ok, so wisenet is present here in this habitat, but no naïve other than Arratan can interact with it?”

“I thought this should have been obvious to you by now.”

A white unicorn guard looked at them disapprovingly and told them: “In or out please. Don’t just stand around in a restricted area. Do you have urgent matters to discuss with the delegates?”

Adano quickly replied: “Yes, actually very urgent.” Immediately afterwards, he realized that this might have been a very foolish reply. If those squads planned on butchering all members of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan inside the tent, he wouldn’t really want to be inside it in the hope that the “100% reliable” resurrection system also worked for him. Especially after he had been “100% certain” that he wouldn’t get teleported into Arratan without prior notice.

next chapter


Guidance Withdrawal chapter 12