Lani Kahananui pulled the Cup Noodles from the microwave and brought them to the living room, where she settled back onto the couch and swiped her tablet once. The movie on her television had continued without her as her long-distance friends tuned in; last Lani had seen, the ambitious ingenue had been about to decide whether to acquiesce to her boss’s demands or attend her boyfriend’s birthday party.
“What did I miss?” Lani said. “She picked her job over her boyfriend?”
A tinny voice came over the tablet. “She’s trying”—the connection lagged—“both.”
“Yoshiko,” Lani said. “Hang on, you’re breaking up.”
Just as a water droplet sound indicated their call had disconnected, the movie paused and the loading symbol rotated endlessly on the screen. Lani muttered to herself and uselessly poked at her tablet’s connectivity.
Internet down again for the fifth time this week. Cup Noodles for dinner thanks to mainland meat imports sky-high and Indonesian trade routes in some kind of negotiation stalemate. At least the power—
The lights flickered.
Moving to the mainland to live near Tandy was looking better and better, if only she could get her to stop working long enough to call her mother.
Tandy | Class: Veiled Archer | Level: 5
HP: 71/71 | Status: Normal
XP: 6,882 | Next Level: 10,000
The forest weasel let out a high-pitched shriek as the fireball exploded against its furry body, and when it disintegrated into pixels, Tandy gained another 15 shared party experience points and 3 silver.
“One-hundred and forty-one weasels,” Ben said, then instinctively shook out his hand. “I’m glad I spent so much time on tours of duty. Clearly it was all worth it so I could end up here, killing digital vermin.”
Dante rolled his eyes. “Grinding is part of every MMO. Especially level grinding.”
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t just take one of the quests. Worked for us before.”
“Hotfix,” Tandy muttered. More changes to her game than they’d already made.
Dante gave her a sideways look, then just kept talking. “Not only did they do a major nerf on the XP bonus for the quests we can grab right now, they also increased the XP for some of the mobs, lowered some of the others. They also seem to have reworked the vulnerabilities for several of the mobs and increased the chain kill bonus, but some of these changes almost seem random to me. I’m telling you, I reworked the formulas for my leveling sheet post-hotfix and this is exactly what we need to be doing right now. We have to get Tandy high enough to take the next quest that would be worth our while, otherwise we’ll be wasting our time. She needs to be at least level six. I had a much faster leveling strategy aaaaall planned out—we were just going to coast on through the next couple of levels. They had to go and screw with everything. So, lucky us, grinding is the best way to get there for now. Just think of yourself as participating in a long gaming tradition. I just wish we had some damn Doritos.”
“There has to be something better than this.”
Another weasel spawned about ten feet away from Tandy. She loosed an arrow into its torso, sending it screeching into death: 15 XP, 3 silver. Thankfully, they had replenished her arrows and their other supplies in Knightsholt before camping the weasels.
Etta lifted her eyebrows. “This is why we have him, Ben. He’s the one who does this for a living. Give him a little credit.”
They had been grinding for what had to have been hours. Tandy easily could have checked exactly how long, but that would only serve to make the rest of their grind feel even more torturous. It already seemed as if the respawn times between weasels grew longer by the minute, and the tedium of doing the same thing over and over was amplified by the frosty attitudes of her teammates. They hadn’t said much to her directly since their initial conversation about Tandy’s role in creating the game. She wasn’t sure if she should be grateful for that or not.
“This would go much faster if half the clearing weren’t taken over by Team Russia.” Ben annihilated another weasel at the spawn point he was camping; it barely had a chance to bare its teeth before being engulfed in flame. “So when exactly are we going to figure out why they’ve decided to ground the same monster? They’re higher level than we are.”
“Grind. Not ground.” Dante sheathed his sword, then moved his hands in midair, fingers swiping and tapping deftly as he accessed his interface. He waved impatiently at them, not taking his eyes off his HUD. “Give me a minute. Keep killing. Don’t waste time.”
Tandy complied in silence, keeping her eye on her teammates, trying to read their...