by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Commander Annie and Other Adventures, November 2023
QuestCrusher20 zipped through the zone, zooming from one quest to the next without reading the text. She didn’t need to. Just follow the dots on the game map, and like breadcrumbs they led her from a cluster of satyrcorns to kill for their horns to an area strewn with mecha gears that the friendly robots of Robotica needed her to gather. Quest after quest, she could figure them out on the fly, and it only slowed her down to read the flavor text or listen to the NPCs tell their backstories.
QuestCrusher20 didn’t need to know why she was gathering lost pocket watches or killing fierce tiger dragons. She just needed to do it, return to Robotica for her rewards, and level as fast as possible. She needed to reach level 100, because she wouldn’t qualify for playing through the really good dungeons until then. She’d seen the good dungeons. The good dungeons were the ones her parents played through after she’d gone to bed, but sometimes she snuck out of bed and watched them playing from her hiding place behind the credenza, wishing all the while that she were playing too.
Her parents had been playing Worldscape since before she was born. Their characters — AngelDemon and ForeverQuester — were so old, they didn’t even have to have numbers tacked on to their ends. So cool.
Whereas Maddie had only been QuestCrusher20 for a few months. Before that, she’d spent ten years being plain old Maddie. Or Maddie B. at school where she shared her name with three other Maddies in the fifth grade. She much preferred being QuestCrusher20. As QuestCrusher20, she had plate mail and an axe bigger than herself that she could swing in circles, causing her avatar to spin around like a whirling top of destruction. In Worldscape, she was a powerful warrior, instead of a fifth grade girl, afraid of the other kids teasing her.
QuestCrusher20 flew her winged antelope mount to the nearest location on her game map that was lit up with a glowy symbol meaning there was questing for her to do — she landed on a cliff edge, overlooking a green ocean. The green waves crashed against the base of the cliff. Beautiful animations. Higher resolution than real life. On the ground, only a few inches from the cliff edge, a purple crystal pulsed with energy. QuestCrusher20 dismounted her flying antelope and reached for the crystal.
The auto-complete action available to her was to pick up the crystal and throw it in the ocean, so without any thought or concern, she did so, fully expecting one of the quests from her adventuring log to pop up as “Completed!”
Instead the pulsing purple crystal sailed through the air in a satisfying arc toward the ocean. When it splashed down, purple rippled outward, changing the color of the waves. Nothing else happened, and QuestCrusher20 began to worry that the quest was bugged. Maybe she should open a complaint ticket to an admin…
Then an oblong silver shape broke the surface of the purple water below. The silver shape rose upward, resolving into the shape of a giant head on the end of a gracefully curved neck, dripping purple droplets back down to the ocean. The gigantic mechanical plesiosaur looked around until its camera lens-like eyes focused on QuestCrusher20, still standing impatiently at the edge of the cliff.
“Have you come to kill me,” the robotic plesiosaur said in a voice like the wheezing of an ancient machine, “and take my power for your own?”
“Uh…” QuestCrusher20 stammered. She wasn’t sure. The plesiosaur wasn’t showing up as an attackable creature. She flipped open her adventurer’s log and scanned through it, trying hurriedly to find the right quest text and read it. But she’d picked up so many quests that her adventuring log was full of unrelated stories from NPCs about why she needed to gather frost flowers or kill goblin mice. She couldn’t find the right quest.
“Usually, you guys know if I’m here to kill you…” she muttered. When she finally looked up from her adventuring log, frustrated and confused, she saw a timer floating above the plesiosaur’s head, counting down. Her eyes widened. “No, no, no! What am I supposed to do?” She didn’t want to fight such a large, imposing opponent. Her plate mail was enchanted with protective spells, but a robotic dinosaur as big as this plesiosaur could probably crunch her armor between its fearsome teeth like a tin can.
Scanning back through the world log, she saw that the plesiosaur had kept talking to her while she’d been scanning through unrelated quests. She skimmed the plesiosaur’s speech — “Blah, blah, prove yourself, blah blah, pitiful mortal, blah blah, empire of aquatic dinosaur robots.”
Okay, that was actually really cool. QuestCrusher20 had seen her parents doing an underwater dungeon, and it was the coolest thing ever. She’d dreamed about it for weeks. Could this be how she unlocked that dungeon? But how was she supposed to prove herself? The timer above the plesiosaur’s head had almost run out, and there were still several paragraphs of its speech left for her to read…
Then the plesiosaur said, “I repeat, pitiful mortal, if you are not here for a fight to the death, you must jump into the ocean to show your fealty, and I will lead you to the kingdom of Roboquatica. Or else…”
QuestCrusher20 flung herself over the cliff’s edge. As she fell toward the ocean, she heard the plesiosaur finish its sentence, “…I will squash you as you deserve.”
The air rushed past her, and QuestCrusher20 prayed to every god in Worldscape that she would hit the purple water below before the timer ran out. Or else she’d find herself trying to fight a gigantic robotic plesiosaur while flailing about in the ocean.
Water splashed around her, and the purple ripples faded back to green. QuestCrusher20 cringed, expecting the plesiosaur to attack, but instead a quest in her log, “Into Roboquatica…”, popped up as “Completed!”
The plesiosaur lowered its gigantic silver head down to her level, smiled with those ferocious teeth, and said, “I can see you are a brave adventurer. Climb onto my back, use this aqua-breather, and I will take you deep under the ocean to my home.”
An aqua-breather appeared in QuestCrusher20’s backpack, and a new quest appeared in her adventuring log as the plesiosaur said, “My people could use your help. An evil wizard has been trying to conquer Roboquatica for many years now and has conjured an army of rust demons…”
QuestCrusher20 couldn’t wait to tell her parents that she’d finally unlocked Roboquatica. She put on her aqua-breather, wrapped her arms around the robotic dinosaur’s silver neck, thick as a tree trunk, and listened to the plesiosaur as it swam down through the ocean, its voice burbling back to her in clusters of bubbles. Maybe this time, she thought, she’d listen to the backstory.