"What are they up to, Uncle?" Robin asked. Their eagerness matched the faces of every other listener.
"Coda," Coda corrected. "Try to stay in character."
Vil demonstrated the least patience, demanding, "Come on Coda, just tell us already."
"Pretty soon, the population of Star Town will start shifting to other newbie zones. No one wants to live in a dead end. And word will get around outside. Fewer new players w ill pick Star Town. You can bet at least one of the other newbie zones is ready and waiting for an increase, as are many of the local rulers. The balance of labour, production, trade, and wealth will shift. Unless the blockade is dealt with very quickly."
"That sounds dire," Garthol said in his characteristic rumble. The others nodded in agreement.
Coda shrugged. "It doesn't really matter much to us as characters. It'll be a nuisance in the short term. As for the longer term impact on Riches of Renfros, well it's always changing with wars and alliances between the powerful. Of course, there'll be some external impact too. This affects the profits of and relations between the great families. As to whether the result will be good or bad for everyone else..." He shrugged again. "Who's to say?"
"Nothing this underhanded can be good," Bindiby declared with brash certainty. "Good for the people on top, sure, but don't expect it to benefit anyone else. Besides, it's much more interesting and fun to try thwarting it."
"Why not just message all the local rulers and have them break the blockade right away?" Vil suggested. "Wouldn't that be easier than trying to break through?"
"You can't just instantly message people in VIVID," Coda explained. "You've got to actually send a written message. So it still comes down to getting a messenger past the blockade. The mayor might be able to send a message by bird, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are mercenaries with predator birds waiting to prevent such an attempt. And trained birds are expensive."
Vil looked frustrated by that explanation. "But can't we just message them outside of VIVID?"
"I don't actually know who any of the relevant characters are played by. Even if I knew their names, they would surely have filters blocking messages from the thousands of strangers who would try to contact them."
Robin rolled their eyes. "Really, Uncle, you've got to think beyond that. We just need a few players outside the blockade to hear about what's going on and they'll pass the information up to their rulers."
Coda looked thoughtful for a minute, but eventually shook his head. "No, I don't think we want to make global news out of this if we can help it. And using out of game channels like that would have Berrentan working against us for sure. So let's try actually keeping in character, alright? That means feeling out the extent of the blockade and then helping a messenger get past it."
"That means finding out what everyone else knows," Bindiby said. "And coordinating scouting parties. That's a job for the mayor, with the help of the most skilled people in the town, of course."
"Us," said Garthol, in case that wasn't clear to all.
"After we get proper outfits," Vil said, looking down disgustedly as the very basic respawn clothes. "We all look like complete noobs."
"There's not really any point in me visiting the bank," said Lira, who'd been listening and watching in silence. "So I might as well get out of the line. Is there anything I can do to help in the meantime?"
"You seem to have learned a lot in a short time," Coda said, looking up at her with a mildly paternal expression. "A curious trait for a teacher. Anyhow, keep doing that. After we're outfitted we'll visit the town council chambers, so if you can't find any of us, that's where we'll be."
"Sounds good," Lira agreed. "I'll see what else I can learn about the situation. We don't want to make any rash moves." She stepped out of the line and looked to see where she might next explore. Behind her, she heard Coda and Bindiby start talking with the queueing patrons ahead and behind them. An idea occured to her and she turned back. "Sorry to interrupt but I just thought of something. While you're all waiting in line you might have time for everyone to pass stories up and down the line of how and where all died lately.
Vil stared back with wide eyes and dropped jaw. "Wow. That's got to be the dumbest idea I've heard in at least a week. No, only six days. But still, wow! Passing dozens of stories up and down a chain of dozens of people is asking for the most exaggerated misinformation humanly possible, even if everyone tried to be as honest and accurate as possible."
"Um. Sure, then don't do that," Lira muttered before fleeing in an unplanned direction. She quickly left the bank behind and found herself between a tavern and a theatre.
Yeah, yeah, thanks for the reminder of how low all those are. I did not expect that sort of response from Vil. Guess she has hidden depths. Never mind that, I need to talk to more players. Obviously I'll look in the tavern. There's sure to be adventurers planning adventures and talking about past exploits. Meeting new players seems good for my Teacher abilities.
Her eye briefly scanned the many playbills posted on a huge noticeboard in front of the theatre, advertising various past and future performances. They were bold and bright to grab attention, but she quickly dismissed them as irrelevant to her mission. She turned away and entered the tavern, ducking for fear of whacking her head on the way in. It's interior somehow maintained an ancient, homey feel while also looking neat and clean. A young man in an apron mopped a distant corner of the floor, while another polished an empty table with a cloth. Besides them, no one else was visible.
"Uh, hello?" she said, not quite raising her voice. She wanted to be heard, but she also felt completely out of place.
"Yeah?" said the nearer one right before the other said, "Welcome to the Tired Tinkerer, may I take your... Oh, sorry, the cooks are just starting prep for the lunch menu but I can get you a drink. Nothing harder than a beer though."
"Er..." Lira felt for the coppers in her pocket. She'd overlooked the 'ordering food' aspect of taverns, and Stoni couldn't find any flashes of relevant memories. "I'm not familiar with your menu," she managed to say. "Do you have any, um, drinks with fruit in them?"
"Six copper for a glass of freshy squeezed orange, seven for apple or pear. And five for the house special," said the closer young man, who was still dusting tables.
Lira tried to read the name above his shirt pocket, but the dancing shapes in Stoni's vision got in the way. "I'm tight on funds, so I'll go with the special," she said.
"One special shake coming right up." He stuffed his cloth in a pocket and set off to the left side of the tavern which held the bar and kitchen.
"Sit wherever you like, " said the other man, who was still mopping. "Though if you're sticking through lunch, some of the regulars have regular spots."
"I'd like to talk with some regulars if I could," Lira said. "If they don't mind."
The man used his mop to point out a table by the near wall, halfway between the door and the bar. "There's your best bet. Halonis and Wai will love to chat with you."
"Thanks, sounds good," Lira said, and quickly slid into a seat at the table that faced the door.
The other man reappeared with a tall glass of something dark and cold. "Here ya go, one special shake. Enjoy! Oh, and that'll be five coppers."
Realising how thirsty she was, Lira slapped the coins on the table and took a long pull from the glass. The flavour registered and she immediately spat it out. "Figs!"
The world faded away.
"Really? Couldn't that have happened five seconds sooner? Aargh!"