Chapter 19: Tuttle Joe

Tuttle Joe, 31 years of age, and a core member of the former “Sacred Crows” bandit gang.

No one is born with a desire to be a criminal.
Hailing from a middle-class family in the Rhine Kingdom, Tuttle spent 10 years tirelessly honing his physical fitness and archery skills under his father's guidance from the age of 10.
Becoming a bandit had never been his intention.

If Tuttle Joe's father hadn't obstructed the golden path of a certain influential young master, then the Tuttle in his prime would have probably succeeded his father's position and served as the captain of the archer squad in the National Guard at Kargas, the largest and capital city of the Kingdom of Rhine.
He would have received a generous salary, enjoyed privileges far surpassing that of ordinary citizens, and happily fulfilled his role as a respectable member of the middle class.

Unfortunately, there weren't what-ifs in real life.
Thus, six years ago, when Tuttle was down and out, he encountered Hal Maxwell in a tavern, who was plotting a big score.
Thus, without any hesitation, Tuttle was drawn into the web of criminality.

In any case, whether it was on Earth or on this magic plane, the middle class, or rather, middle-income earners weren't that fundamentally different from the common folk—if they had a bit more resilience, they would keep growing and allow themselves to be exploited time and again; if their resilience was weak, a single instance of exploitation would cause them to fall into despair.

Coming from a relatively decent background, Tuttle was one who paid more attention to the finer details of life among the group of savage thugs.
His tent was the cleanest, and when Yang Qiu issued the employee welfare of daily necessities obtained from a supermarket clearance sale, it was only Tuttle who took the time to shave his beard neatly, change and wash his clothes, and even use insect repellent as perfume… In short, he groomed himself well and wouldn't be out of place if he were in a large city.

However, players didn't care whether the NPCs that issued quests looked clean and decent, or sloppy and awful.
Despite Tuttle's best efforts to present himself in the best possible manner, he still got to “experience” being openly intruded upon in his tent, having players attempt to snatch his quest tools, and being harassed during his resting time.

That wasn't all.
What Tuttle found most unbearable was the merciless scrutiny he faced whenever he sat down to eat his meals like a normal person, as these despicable undead would shamelessly gather around to observe…

At 12 noon, Tuttle glanced at the sun directly overhead and returned to his tent to prepare his meal.

All of the advanced NPCs' daily necessities and meals were taken care of by Black Mage Yang.
Once a week (OtherWorld time), they would personally go to Yang's place to collect the following supplies:

Soft bread wrapped in a strange film—this was currently Tuttle's favorite staple, no less delicious than bread he had eaten when his father was still around.

Crispy and sweet biscuits of varying flavors, dried vegetables, cucumber slices, sweet potatoes, hawthorn slices, and other snacks—Tuttle had a habit of eating snacks, so this generous snack package was rather thoughtful for him.

A box of instant noodles—this item was popular among Hal and the others, but Tuttle found the taste too intense and didn't particularly enjoy it.
He had received a box when he first arrived and had yet to finish it.

Besides those, there were also oatmeal, energy bars, candies, and starched ham sausages as supplementary foods for quick replenishment.

Well… all of the above were products removed from supermarket shelves due to hitting the expiration date or being near expiration.
Yang Qiu didn't mind at all and would take anything, regardless of how unappetizing or unsellable it was.
The supermarkets liked having this type of long-term customer who was willing to handle their expired products in bulk and even paid a six-month deposit upfront for them.
After the items were removed from the shelves, they would be sent over to Yang's rented place in a small truck.

These surplus industrial products, a result of overproduction, were repackaged in bulk after removing the packaging, then brought over to the magic plane by Yang, directly solving the problem of meals for his human employees.

If Yang Qiu was even more unscrupulous, he might have even brought expired cat food over…

The absence of meat (as it was currently summer in the OtherWorld, and the Taranthan Wasteland was rather hot, meaning that it would be hard to preserve cheap expired frozen meat for a week) made the welfare food lacking in some ways.
However, including Tuttle, who originated from the middle class, the group of former bandits were rather satisfied.
Despite the constant harassment from the undead, they were still willing to stay and work.

A fire was kindled outside Tuttle's tent using stacked stones.
Over the fire, a cast-iron pot of hot water dangled.
Tuttle made a bowl of warm oatmeal and added dried vegetables, sweet potato strips, and biscuit crumbs to enhance the flavor.

He then retrieved a small square stool and a cushion, fashioning them into an improvised dining table.
Carefully arranging the assortment of mixed-grain oatmeal, two thick slices of bread, a portion of starched ham sausage, and a plate of biscuits and candies as snacks, Tuttle commenced his meal.

Having learned from the unsettling experience of being surrounded by repulsive undead while dining in the open last night, Tuttle opted to enjoy his meal within the confines of the tent this time.

While slightly stifling, it was far preferable to be curiously encircled by skeletons exclaiming crazy stuff such as, “He's really eating!” or “Whoa, the food isn't just texture, he's actually eating it bite by bite!” or “What the heck, the devs have gone mad in their pursuit of realism!”

And if being surrounded and listening to their bewildering ramblings weren't enough, what Tuttle really couldn't tolerate was the curious skeletons trying to poke their dirty finger bones into his plates…

Under the protection of soundproof barriers and various defensive traps outside the tent, Tuttle enjoyed a lunch that he considered “respectable for a middle-class person.” After tidying up the “table,” Tuttle took the plates outside to wash them.

Even though Exile Town had been abandoned for many years and the town's wells were in a state of disuse, there was still groundwater available.
To ensure that human “NPCs” had peace of mind, Yang Qiu had gone and purchased hand-operated water pumps from an agriculture machinery store and, with some effort, reinforced and repaired a few usable wells using earth magic, as well as adding water purification tablets to them.
These wells were now functioning properly, and there was one located next to the designated construction site for the Wanderer Guild.

As Tuttle pressed the handle to pump water and wash his dishes, a player that had just logged in curiously approached and squatted nearby with astonishment…

“Is this NPC washing dishes? NPCs eat and wash dishes too?”

The voice that came from this skeleton with the ID Once Your Teacher was a clear, feminine, and intelligent one that piqued Tuttle's interest despite his lack of fondness for these eccentric undead beings, and he couldn't help but glance over.

“Yeah, before you came, he was making a fire, heating water, and preparing oatmeal,” another skeleton with a sweet, youthful female voice chuckled.
“Teacher Yu Chi, why did you choose such a peculiar game ID?”

“Oh, when I created the ID on the official site, it didn't warn me that IDs with more than six characters won't be displayed.
I originally wanted to have 'Once Your Teacher Forever Your Teacher,'” Once Your Teacher shrugged and stood up.
“This game is really different, Xiao Liu.
The three hundred yuan spent on the helmet was totally worth it.”

That's right, Teacher Yu Chi's helmet had been bought from a studio, allowing the middleman to make a profit…

However, the studio boss that had bought quite a number of helmets and promptly resold them was probably regretting that decision when the server was opened.

“Well, of course,” the female player who was addressed as Xiao Liu chuckled.
“I came on earlier and have been playing for quite a while, earning a few copper coins while completing coins.
Just now, I saw someone saying they would buy game currency coins at a ratio of five yuan to one.
And that's more than enough to cover a meal.”

“Heh, earning money while playing,” chuckled Teacher Yu Chi.
“Totally worth it.
Alright, you go ahead.
I'll go look around.”

“Aren't you going to do quests, Teacher Yu Chi?” Xiao Liu pointed at Tuttle, who squatted by the well, washing dishes.
“Quite a few people are farming this NPC's reputation, and I reckon the Ranger job would be quite popular.
Why don't you try playing as a Ranger?”

Tuttle glanced expressionlessly at the skeleton that was rudely pointing at him.
Were it not for Yang's rule against indiscriminately killing these filthy undead, just this rude transgression would have been sufficient for Tuttle to draw his bow… Even if it had a sweet and beautiful death, it ought to die!

Teacher Yu Chi noticed Tuttle reacting to what Xiao Liu had said and exclaimed in surprise, “Hey, Xiao Liu, does it seem like he's displeased with your attitude?”

“That's quite normal.
The NPCs of this game are particularly intelligent and have bad tempers,” Xiao Liu replied nonchalantly.
“During noon, when it became nightfall in the game, and this NPC went to sleep, a bunch of players rushing to log off for lunch came to submit their quests.
This fella ended up coming out with a bow and chasing those players down eight streets.
Afterward, he even went to complain to the lord, and a bunch of traps were set up around their tents.
These NPCs are more high and mighty than the players themselves!”

“Ha! NPCs complaining?” Teacher Yu Chi laughed again.
“This game is really interesting.
Anyway, you go ahead and do your quests.
I need to quickly explore and see what else is fun.”

“Alright, you go have fun, Teacher,” Xiao Liu said.
“Just be careful not to go to the south side of the town.
There's a particularly large rat over there, and it's killed quite a number of people today.”

As Teacher Yu Chi was about to leave, several players came running toward them.

“Your attention please, brothers and sisters! We are purchasing game coins, highest rate in the market, eight yuan to one coin.
Alipay and WeChat transactions welcomed.
Offer ends once 300 copper coins are collected.
Anyone willing to sell game coins better hurry!”

“It rose so quickly? It was 5 to 1 just a while ago.” Xiao Liu looked over in astonishment.

“Why are they collecting the in-game currency for? And why such high prices?” Teacher Yu Chi was also rather surprised.
“Even the peak prices of gold coins in World of Warcraft Classic weren't outrageous.”

“Oh, it's because of some sort of bidding event that the NPCs have put up,” explained Xiao Liu.
“Over at that construction site, the Treasure Expert NPC has put up three Orbs of Deception, and there's the Knight Instructor at the side who has an Undead Horse.
It's especially this Undead Horse with a starting bid of one thousand copper coins.”

“What? Doesn't that mean buying a mount costs several thousand RMB? That's practically daylight robbery!” Teacher Yu Chi exclaimed in shock.

“Some people value having the first mount in the game; it's a matter of prestige,” explained Xiao Liu.
“The next Undead Horse will only be available for bidding a month later.
By then, the server would have more in-game currency in circulation, and who knows how much the price would rise.
It definitely won't be cheaper than the first one.”

“It's just a game, things shouldn't be like this,” Teacher Yu Chi shook her head repeatedly.

“Don't forget those online PC games with limited edition mounts.
People will go to great lengths to acquire them, even spending hundreds of thousands just so their characters can ride them.
At least in this game, players can ride mounts for themselves, and the experience would probably be amazing,” Xiao Liu chuckled.

“It still seems excessive to me,” Teacher Yu Chi remained unconvinced.

At that moment, two new players rushed to the construction site where there were the most brick-carrying players, shouting at the top of their lungs, “We'll buy in-game currency at a rate of ten to one! We'll take all that you have! Contact us quickly! We are collecting till tomorrow morning!”

Teacher Yu Chi and Xiao Liu: “What the heck?!”

“I won't be focusing on farming Ranger reputation for now, Teacher, I'll go carry bricks for the zombie NPCs instead,” Xiao Liu decided resolutely.
“They give out one more copper coin over there, and there are opportunities to increase Potential value during quests.
I'll go and make back the money spent on my helmet first.”

With that said, the young lady dashed off eagerly…

The brick-carrying players, who were diligently working to farm reputation and collect copper coins, immediately approached buyers to convert their copper coins into real money, though there were some who believed that copper coins would still appreciate in value and decided to wait and observe.
Regardless of whether they were players cashing in on the spot or those observing, all of them quickly packed up their tools and prepared to move to another location.

Just as Tuttle finished keeping away his cleaned utensils, a group of skeletons rushed maniacally toward him, demanding to complete a quest.

Tuttle expressionlessly retreated into the tent and retrieved his longbow.

The players who had just been rushing like mad dogs for the front row immediately became obedient and lined up in an orderly fashion…

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