By the time they turned in their last quest, the sun had fully set. The streets glowed with soft, yellow light.
Quill nudged Jane’s arm as they walked. “See that?” He nodded towards an unlit alley. A figure slouched against the wall in the darkness, eyes watching them go by.
“Think they introduced thief NPCs into the game?” Jane asked.
“Might be. We’ll need to be careful with our stuff.”
“The, um…” Jane seemed to struggle for words. She looked away. “The NPCs aren’t the only ones we should worry about.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Remember what the kings said at the beginning? No mods here, so no oversight. And basically no rules. Which makes sense, I suppose, because how are you going to program NPC guards to monitor unpredicatable human behaviour. But like they said, players can pretty much do what they want to each other.”
Quill was quiet at that, unsure how to respond. Finally, he glanced at her. “Something happen earlier?”
She shrugged, not looking at him. “I dealt with it.”
“Right. Then let’s see about a room at an inn. We might be vulnerable on the street, but I’ll bet inns have protections against that sort of thing.”
They found a cheap-looking in on a quiet street. The innkeeper greeted them from behind a wooden desk just inside the front door. “Welcome! Are you looking for a room?”
“We are,” Quill answered.
“That will be 25 copper.”
He and Jane both paled.
Quill looked questioningly at her.
She simply shook her head. There was nowhere near that in the sac.
“Thanks anyway,” Quill told the innkeeper and then opened the door for Jane.
“What now?” she asked, standing in the street.
Movement in the shadows of a nearby doorway drew Quill’s attention.
He steered Jane the other way. “Let’s look around.”
They ended up walking around for an hour but couldn’t find any cheaper inns. Nor were there any abandoned houses in this part of town. And none of the other players seemed to have any better luck. People slept on benches, in doorways, on the grass in the park, just about everywhere.
Quill spotted a particularly large tree on an island in one of the canals. “I’ve got an idea,” he told her.
Scrounging around, they found some barrels and crates outside one building, along with a coil of rope. Quill grabbed the rope, then kicked one of the boards out of a nearby fence.
“What the heck are you doing?” Jane asked.
“You’ll see.” He led her to the canal. “Better get undressed. You won’t want your clothes to be wet all night.”
“We’re going swimming?”
“Just to get to that island there.”
She arched a brow at him. “You’re just trying to see me naked again, aren’t you?”
“I will look away while you cross, if you like.”
“I’m kidding.” She hesitated only a moment, then took off the flag she’s used as a sarong. Holding the cloth above her head, she slipped down into the water and slowly made her way towards the island.
Quill was torn between watching her and looking away. It’s not as if she’d told him not to look after he’d suggested he wouldn’t, after all. Maybe only look a little then. Taking off his apron, he entered the water, too, carrying the clothing and the rope and board.
On the island, Jane stood nude under the tree, holding her sarong in front of her. “I’d put it back on but it would just get wet.”
Quill tossed her the apron. “Use this to dry off.”
She caught the item. “Thanks.”
While she dried off and dressed, Quill tried not to be incredibly embarrassed as he tied the board to the end of the rope and then stood under the lowest branch. With a whirl, he flicked the board high into the air, all-too-aware of the way certain things were flapping in the breeze as he moved. Thank goodness it was dark. The weight of the board carried the rope over the branch and back down to the ground. Quill looped the rope and tightened it so that the rope securely hung from the thick branch above.
“So, we’re going to sleep up in a tree?” Jane asked, voice skeptical.
“Should be hard for anyone to reach us up there, right?”
“Is there even going to be room? Maybe we should just sleep here on the ground.”
“Up to you. Want me to climb up and check it out, just in case?”
She fought a smile. “Yes. Yes, you should do that.”
Quill fought his own smile. “Are you amused because you’re thinking about me trying to climb that rope naked, or because I have a strength of 1?”
The amusement vanished from her features. “Quill, I’m not making fun—“
“It’s fine, I told you. My attributes are what they are. I’ll live with it. I was upset before, and maybe I will be again, but I’m trying to be ok with it. I promise. So it’s fine if you joke about it. You poke fun of how dumb I am and I’ll tease you about how the NPCs hate you.”
She snorted. “Ok.” She looked up the tree. “My strength is higher, so maybe I should go first.”
Jane stepped up to rope and grabbed it with both hands. She was obviously not experienced with this sort of thing, but she managed to haul herself up to the branch, panting hard by the time she did. She did have low stamina.
Quill managed not to oggle her too much as she did. “How is it?” he called up.
“Not bad. There are a couple of close branches here. You could probably lay across them and not fall.”
Quill nodded and grabbed the rope. For him, the climb was much harder. In fact, it took all the willpower he had to force his meagre strength stat into getting him up to the branch.
Jane was nice enough not to comment on his struggle. She pointed above them. “See? If we climb up into those branches?”
Quill looked up and squinted. It was very dark up here with the streetlights far away and the leaves blocking what little light there was. He pulled up the rope, and the board attached to the other end. He untied the board and handed it to her. “Put this across the branches. It’ll give you something flat to lay on. Might help.”
“What about you?”
“There’s not really room up there for two. I’ll stay here on this branch. And I’ll be quicker to wake up if anyone comes along.”
“You could fall when you’re asleep!”
“I’ll tie myself to the branches above. No worries. I won’t fall far.”
She frowned. “This is kind of crazy. Maybe we should just sleep on the ground like everyone else. Or find a roof maybe or something.”
“If you want to. I’d rather not lose everything we worked so hard for today though. And this is probably safer.”
“Ok, fine. But make sure you tie the rope tight. Don’t fall in the middle of the night.”
“I’ll just get ressurected, no worries.”
“Probably hurt like hell though. I guess you’re not jus the brawns of the operation, you’re brains, too.”
“Oh, bite me.”
Quill snorted in amusement.
She climbed up to the next set of branches and laid the board across them, then gingerly stretched herself across the board. She seemed to fit snugly into the crevice of the branches.
Quill looped the rope over the branch above his head a few times, then tied the end around his waist. At first, he tried to sit with his back against the tree with his legs along the branch, but the angle was wrong. He shifted around a bit, trying to find a comfortable spot. Finally, he lay face down along the thick branch, arms crossed under his head for a pillow, his knees straddling the branch and his ankles crossed over the branch behind. It wasn’t as comfortable as a bed by any means, but draped over the branch this way, he felt more secure. They’d probably have to figure something else out for tomorrow night though.
“Quill?” Jane called from above.
He smiled. “Goodnight, Jane.”