I wake up in my room, face wet from tears. It’s so quiet here. Only muffled sounds coming from the street, birds and cars. Removing my headset, I see it’s a cloudy day, almost dark. Checking the time, I realise I’ve been out for 14 hours. I was logged in for much longer than that. In game I was there for at least 24. I wonder if my synchronicity is increasing the time dilation. The PR people insist that the dilation effect, time lasting longer in game, is just an intrinsic effect of the sensory hijack and virtualization process. Lately, it's become a way for people terrified of death to stretch out the time they have left. There are big warehouses filled with containment pods, row after row of people in VR full time, being cared for by professionals. End of life patients with more life to live, terminally ill people who needed just a little more time to themselves, accident victims with no body control but with working brains. As long as your insurance can handle it, these places will store you, keep your body alive, and multiply your perceived lifetime. You could be spliced into existing game worlds, or, if you can pay extra, you could create your own little world where time dilation was even stronger. It's not like you need to readjust to the real world afterwards.
I get up and feel every minute of my prolonged session. My bed was not made for long term suspension, and my back is killing me. I check the internet for some stretches and exercises to do to avoid damaging myself, and find a forum dedicated to DIY long term submersion. There are useful links to equipment I can buy at reasonable prices, devices to keep my blood flow going, monitor my temperature, heart rate, even a health services alarm chip in case something goes wrong while I’m under. I also order some specialty food, and nutritional supplements that would make it easier for my body to deal with the prolonged suspension. There were warnings everywhere about how you shouldn't let the game take over too much, how lack of physical exercise would be dangerous no matter what equipment I had, and what supplements I took. I shrug, log off, and go for a walk.
I haven't been on a walk for years. I have memories of my parents taking me when I was younger, but when digital life began to assert itself in the world, I started refusing to come with them. Maybe that was when our relationship started to deteriorate. I think it was a bit of a personal defeat for their daughter to not share the love they had for the upbringing they were ‘blessed’ with. I file the thoughts away for later. They’re probably at some friends place, sitting outdoors, drinking themselves stupid anyway. Making out like teenagers at the movies. Some people say that teen culture goes in cycles, where each generation sees the one that came before and thinks ‘Nuh uh, not gonna happen.’
I realise I've made it to the local car depot. A two story garage with a workshop in the basement. Everything is automated except for the personal service attendants up front. They probably only work here for an increase in Basic. Their jobs could easily be automated or made redundant, but people tend to want real humans to speak with when they need something, or to shout at when something goes wrong. The place is busy, with a dozen cars coming out of the structure in the few minutes it takes me to walk past..
Next comes a park. I lose myself in the greens and yellows of the trees and flowers. So many of them. It makes me think of the world Below. I wonder what Rip's up to. I mean, it's only been an hour since he left me... At that thought my eyes mist up a little. I make a mental note to look up common herbs and flowers in the game. How much are the plants in the game based on plants in real life? I mean, there aren’t any plants that will let you speak to animals up here, but general shape, texture and flavor. Maybe it's the wild dreams of an AI trapped somewhere in cyberspace.
I've made it all the way to my old school. I was thankful when I made it out of here. I was quite surprised I survived. There were times when I was certain it wouldn’t. The bullying from students hurt. The indifference from the teachers hurt more. Nowhere was safe back then, even going home meant dealing with the careless attitudes of my parents, barely bothering to ask me about homework before turning their focus back on themselves. I can feel the vicious bitterness taking hold of my heart again. I decide to stop by the local shopmart for some supplies before I go home.
This place used to be another place of fear. I could really only be described as dumpy. Short and wide, which the kids found endlessly entertaining. Countless times I’d come in here to get some groceries, only to be chased off by gangs of kids laughing at me. At least it had become much less frequent as I grew older. I head to the self-service counter and punch in a couple of bottles of plain water, some cereal bars and some fresh fruits. All recommended by the deep dive community. When I check out, I notice that my Basic rate has been upgraded already. Basic 2. I could probably move out on that. Live for myself. Maybe join a small commune of other players. I'd only have to go out to maintain my body a couple of times a day, which would be every two days ingame... Nah... This 'Job' could disappear at any time. I've not heard from the institute at all since I got the registration information.
I grab my things and head out just as a group of children come in.
"And then I kicked them back out and... Hey, watch where you're going fatty!"
Despite my efforts to stop and not be in the way, the first of the kids managed to step on my toes. It's like a magic homing skill. He laughs at his own wit, his friends joining him while I retreat, shuffling out of their way so they can go inside. I can feel the darkness behind my eyes gather as I hear their laughter, see the way they look at me. Then suddenly it's over. I'm outside, the rage replaced by a bitter feeling of self-loathing. It's time to go home, to get back to the game. This world isn't for me anymore.
I get home by evening. Everything looks different now, after my walk. The world has been revealed for what it is. A poor substitute for the world Below. I feel a deep sense of admiration for the people who created the wonderland I'd recently become a citizen of. Having been awake for so long, I decide to have a nap before I go back below.
I wake up feeling refreshed. The aches in my body are almost completely gone already, and I decide to do the stretching exercises and the workout recommended online. I get sweatier than I can remember ever being after just a few minutes, but it clears my mind so much more than I expected.
"My, what's gotten into you?"
My mother's voice is coming from behind me.
"It's part of the experiment mum."
I don’t elaborate. The smugness would be unbearable.
"Well, either way, it's nice to see you move a little. There's a delivery for you downstairs."
She smiles as she leaves the room. So annoying. I go downstairs and sign for a delivery of equipment and supplies. I hesitate a moment before I sign for a tip. I have the money now, and this guy isn’t responsible for the crap I’ve experienced lately. I carry my new stuff upstairs, have a shower and a meal from the new supplies, and scan the forums while I eat. There's a lot of activity on here. The company is trying to limit the amount of information available to new players, so on the official forums you mostly find drama, which is entertaining enough. There are people looking to 'Adventure' together, adverts for 'Adult' planes, which are places where people can do adult stuff, I guess. People advertising goods, services, towns and guilds. I do a search for my friend Huntex, just to see what kind of stuff he'd post, but no results come back. A quick search for the Letrin Bulb similarly gives no results. All the herb request posts will say is ‘Uncommon or better always bought, common or lower considered’. I make a note of the contact information. If I find any more, contacting this guy could be a good idea. I wonder if there's a way to get to people who sell and barter stuff, like an auction house or banking system. I shrug and go back to my bed. Stretches done, food ingested, it's time to go back down. The loss of Rip felt less aggravating now, and with no specific quest to finish, I may just try to up my skills a little.
Looking around my little sanctuary, I learn a fundamental fact about caves. They are dark. I get my firestarter, grab a branch and set it on fire. I get about four seconds of flame before it goes out. Guess I need some kind of fuel on this to make a real torch. Too bad there isn't a pitch pit anywhere near here. Maybe I can find something else to burn, like dried moss or leaves or ... Yeah, I'm out of ideas. I really need to study up on this wilderness survival aspect. I head outside the cave. Daylight drowns out my failures as an outdoorsman. I check the gear I got from Huntex.
Not bad, I guess? There's no real information on the bow or arrows. I guess I’m just good enough as an archer yet to find out the details. I channel my inner gaming geek, get an arrow, notch it, draw it back, and let the string go.
|You have injured yourself with a bowstring. 2% damage received|
Ouch! The string smacked my fingers, there's even a little blood. Undeterred, I decide to keep practising. This is a fairly basic skill to have, I'm not letting a simple failure keep me down! Eight hours later, and my last arrow breaks. I've gained the Archery skill, the Marksman skill and the Targeting skill, plus some increases to my Aiming skill. Towards the end I could even hit the trunk of the tree I was aiming at. I’d love to try hitting a moving target, but I haven't seen any animals yet. I can hear plenty of birds, but I can’t see them anywhere. I decide enough is enough and that it's time for a rest. I haven’t tried sleeping in game yet, so it’s time to find out. I lie down on the bedroll, pull a blanket over me, and I get a prompt.
Do you wish to go to sleep? Chance of random encounter: Low
I confirm, and the world goes black for 20 seconds. I open my eyes, and everything is visibly different. Time has passed, but I have no memory of it. Not even as a dream. Kinda freaky really.
I begin practising with my other weapon for a while. While there’s plenty of room for improvement for my archery skills, I still need to improve my hand to hand proficiencies. The club feels heavy in my hand, and a bit awkward. On closer inspection, I find out why.
- Some kind of rock
- Some kind of branch
- Some kind of vine
Well, that's not very good, is it. I wonder what skills are needed to identify the materials used for the weapon. And how I'm supposed to repair something like this... Oh well, I doubt smithing will be a big part of my career here. A sound distracts me from my train of thought. A snuffling sound, coming from beyond the nearby trees. I follow it as stealthily as I can. I realise with some distress how easily sneaking around comes to me. I hope it's not saying anything about me as a person. After a short skulk, I come across a small clearing where the tiniest pig I've ever seen is rooting through the underbrush.
|Common Wild Swine|
|Tastiness level: high|
|Intrinsic traits: Adorable|
|Additional information: Wild swine are known for their passion for underground mushrooms. Following them around is likely to teach you where to find them, but they will consume them before you can stop them.|
Mmmm. Bacon. I carefully remove the bow from my shoulder. I slowly reach behind me for an arrow from my quiver, and swear under my breath.
"Fuck, out of arrows."
The pig lifts its head as if it heard me, looks around a bit, then resumes rooting around. Happy-go-lucky little lunchbox. I put away the bow and grab my club instead. Step by step I sneak closer. There are a few times I think I made too much sound, a leaf drier than expected, misplaced foot on a branch, but somehow, my skill wins out and I get in range. As I raise the club over my head, holding it in both hands, I contemplate this, my first real kill in this game. There'll be no turning back after this, little Mr. Porkybits here will be my lunch and nothing more. I drop the hammer, and with a wet squeak, the pig expires.
|Sneak attack successful.|
|Wild Swine hit for 100% damage.|
|Wild Swine defeated.|
|Skill discovered: Stalking|
|Skill increased: Stealth|
|Skill increased: Move Silently|
Hm. Stalking. How's that different from Stealth?
|The art of following and approaching your designated prey.|
Okay then, that seems simple enough. A bit specific, but maybe there's.
I’m interrupted by a loud crash from behind, startling me. Before I have a chance to turn around, something rams into my ass, sending me sprawling on the other side of my impending meal.
|You have been bullrushed for 10% damage.|
Bullrushed? I look around, and see a much larger, meaner looking version of the little pig I just murdered. The mother goes to the remains of her piglet, poking it a few times with her snout. It's really quite a heart wrenching scene. I swallow audibly as she looks at me, and I can see a visible change in her demeanor. From sad pig, to vicious, raging furie of revenge. Her eyes seems to glow red, her stare drilling into my soul, convicting me of the slaughter.
"Uhm... I'm sorry..."
As I finish the sentence, she comes running at me. I roll out of the way, and she turns around quickly. Too quickly. I get to my feet and start to run. There's no way I'm getting away from this runaway pile of sausages. I zigzag between trees, I double back, I dive through shrubbery, but every time it seems like I'm getting away, she slams into me from an unexpected angle.
|Body checked for 10% health|
|Snouted for 5% health|
|Trampled for 15% health|
Someone had fun thinking up these comments. Bastards. I pick up speed, at the cost of endurance. There's no way to keep this up, and I will be pigfood in short order. I look over my shoulder one more time, seeing her gaining on me, barreling down like a motorised pot roast of death. That's when my feet find a stray branch. As I trip, I once again get the sensation of flying through the air. Everything is Serene. I think of Ephraim. I wonder if he's watching this, having a bit of a laugh. I think about Rip. Will he always be that humanoid shape, or was that just so he could communicate with me. The ground comes up to meet me, and I fall into its embrace, and through it, with a crash. And to the sound of splintering wood, the world goes dark.
Reality is a pain sandwich. The bread is whole wheat pain. There’s pain cheddar and roast beef of pain with some really spicy horseradish of pain and a small pickle. When I check closer, the pickle turns out to be made of pain as well. The hurt slowly gives way to bright flashes of light and a blurry outline of dark rocks and dry vegetation. Where in the hell am I...? I slowly sit up and instantly regret that decision. Did I land on my skull? I check my status messages while I wait for my head to clear.
|You have received 30% damage from bad tumbling|
|You have been knocked unconscious by a bad fall|
|You have awakened from unconsciousness with a headache. Penalties to all tasks requiring focus and concentration.|
|You have entered a global dungeon.|
What does that mean? Dungeon? Sigh! I guess I'll check the wiki when I get out. Again. No matter how useless the public forums are. The area around me is dusty. It seems like someone lived here a hundred years ago. They grew up, they raised children, they died in a bed, and in their wills they said that nobody should ever look upon these beds again. Then they spent the following years turning to dust, covering every inch of the place. As my mind clears, I get up. I can touch the ceiling when I raise my arms, and I can touch all the walls when I stand in the middle of this room. There's a hole in the ceiling, but I can't see the outside. There are roots and soil up there but the room I'm in seems to be built by some kind of brick. I don't seem to be in any kind of entryway, but the room is too convenient to just exist here. Maybe it's randomly generated by the designers to be an entry point? If that was the case I'd see a door or something, wouldn't I? The light from outside can barely illuminate the small room I'm in, so I start searching for a torch or something similar. On one wall, I find a sconce with a short torch, unlit and pristine. I use my firestarter to light it, and the flame whooshes up from the small sconce, covering one of the walls. As it burns, ages of dust disappear. Dry roots and cobwebs are immolated until only the wall itself is left. Letters are revealed, burning long after any obvious fuel should be expended.
"Ye who dares to enter the tomb of Lesiraxan, the evils that wait for you outshine the wickedness of men's hearts. Only one whose soul is clean will get through the mines of the body of darkness"
What the hell kind of message is that? I massage my aching shoulders with one hand while the other gently but firmly extracts the torch from the sconce.
"Whoo, mobile light source!"
I do the most embarrassing little dance of my life before I realise what I'm doing and die a little inside. As I begin searching the wall for clues, my stomach gently growling from the lack of attention it's been getting in this world.
It takes me an hour to find anything. When I do, I smack myself in the face. My process was too simple, I guess. I check the wall, by standing away from it. I find nothing. So I go closer. I split the wall in 4 squares, and check each square carefully. Nothing. I split each square into 4, and search each sub-square carefully. Repeat a until the number gets too big for me to keep track of. But no matter how close I go, nothing new shows up in my interface. I begin to swear under my breath, but that doesn't really give me anything. In the end, I punch the wall, earning myself another 5% damage, and lean my back against the wall, gently but rhythmically banging my head against the stones with closed eyes. After a minute of this ritual of relaxation, I open my eyes. I happen to be staring straight up at the time. Straight into an alcove embedded in the ceiling. Swearing much more loudly, I reach up and stick my hand into the alcove, finding a handle. Grabbing, pulling and twisting the handle rewards me with a deep rumbling sensation in the wall, and a large section falls back, revealing a passage stretching into darkness.
I can smell smoke in here, and there's illumination up ahead. I guess my little flaming adventure went further than expected. I see streaks of ash on the walls where the flame must have passed. I bet there are millions of homeless spiders in this passage, looking for someone to take their frustrations out on. I shudder at the thought and press on. The passage goes on for a good few minutes of brisk walking. I've noticed my basic walking speed is much higher in the game than in the above. Must be my state of the art ferret based training regime. My train of thought is interrupted when I spot a statue on the side of the corridor. It depicts a fat, grinning man, wearing a vest of some sort and baggy trousers. The details in the stonework is amazing. I have to touch the folds in the trousers to make sure it's actually rock, but I find them as solid as they should be. There are two lit torches behind him, making his outline pretty scary. A scabbard at his side has what looks like a bronze shortsword in it. I try to pull it out, gently at first, then forcefully, but it’s completely stuck. I stand back, put my hands on my hips, and sigh.
"What am I supposed to make of you then?"
A deep hollow voice replies.
"Mistress, I am but here to serve."
I fall backwards from the suddenness of the voice, landing on my ass.
"Who said that! I didn't steal anything! I was only checking to see if the trousers were soft! They weren't!"
I ramble on a little before I realise all is quiet again. I carefully stand up, looking around me. I clear my throat and try again.
"Who are you?"
"Mistress, I am a servant, locked in the darkness."
The voice is coming from the statue, I'm almost certain.
"What does that mean, locked in darkness?"
"I was summoned out of the ether to serve my master. When master was tired of me, he sealed me here, instead of letting me go as he promised."
The 's' in 'promised' is stretched to a hiss.
"Please, Mistress, free me. My powers will be for you when you do!"
Hmm. This is one of those 'Too good to be true' situations, isn't it.
"Creature, what is your name?"
"This one was never given a name, always servant, serf, slave"
"What happened to your master?"
The voice becomes darker, more angry.
"The master left us here forever, then went away and died"
"Then who was he? Was it Lesiraxan?"
The fury is palpable now and the voice screams. The darkness around us begins to thicken ominously. The torches still burn, but their light aren’t penetrating the cloud. As the darkness deepens, I can hear movements, insects scratching at the ground, looking for my brain... No, looking for my mind.
"Do not speak of the slavebinder, the Master, the Dweller in the depths below. Your insolence must be punished. Release me so I may fulfill my duties and depart the world!"
My mind boggles a little, and I snort, ignoring the nightmares around me.
"Wait, are you saying I should free you so you can kill me?"
The deep darkness lightens a little, the insects retreats from my fleshy mind, and the voice once again sounds like honey drizzled over chocolate.
"Mistress, such a thing I could never do. My duties are only to you, my saviour. Please..."
I cut him off.
"No, sorry friend. The only way I can see you being a threat to me is if I release you. In short, fuck off."
As I turn around and begin walking down the corridor, a high pitched keening erupts from the statue.
"You will not leave us like this. You will stay here forever!"
Crashing sounds erupt from all around me as pieces of wall falls to the floor. I turn around in time to see several shadowy tentacles coming at me, from the walls and ceiling. I'm grappled, my legs and one arm entangled by the tenebrous forms. In a panic, I try to shake them off
|You have been grappled|
I wave the notification away. I'm pulled slowly back towards the statue. It's grin seems sharper now, shinier. It's eyes gleaming with malevolent hatred. Panic begins to well up inside of me, and with it, a deep, dark sense of anger. How dare this thing grab me like this. I'm Shae of the Undead.
"I'm Shae of the Undead!"
My voice is loud and sharp under the darkness.
"And I will have light!"
From my eyes and mouth, light begins to shine. The keening turns into scream of agony, and fades away.
|Skill increased: Illusionist|
|Skill discovered: Light Manipulation|
|Your Quest 'Who am I?' has been updated|
|You have defeated a powerful servant of Darkness. Your standing with Light has increased. Your standing with Darkness has decreased|
I lie on my back for a bit while I let my mind catch up to what just happened. I think I activated the new skill I got from Rip. I also managed to drop to about half mana, but it seems to be regenerating quickly. Somehow, I ended up on my back. I sit up and inspect what remains of the statue. Darkened shards of rock litter the floor, some gooey residue in a pile in the middle, and on the side, a discarded scabbard containing a shortsword. I pick it up eagerly. It's time I got a proper weapon.
|Dark Bronze Gladius|
|Creatures of light fear this weapon, imbued as it is with the elemental Dark.|
I’m underwhelmed by the amount of information provided. Standing up, I’m about to leave when my perception skill kicks in. The shattered remnants and the goo seem somehow... important. I bend over and check them out.
|Shattered Darkshard - junk level crafting ingredient|
|Enlightened core of Dark Elemental - Junk level crafting ingredient|
I pick up what I can, and wrap the goop in some cloth before I stick it in my backpack. Enlightened must mean it was defeated by Light, which I guess reduced its potency for whatever it's supposed to be used for. I'm sure I'll find somewhere to sell this, and I'm beginning to desperately need a supply run. I trundle along the path, feeling pretty good about how this is going.
- Stranger in a strange land
Software developer by trade. Games developer by uni course. Shopkeeper in a previous life.. don't ask.
I took a look at my life recently, and realised I read too much. I watch too much tv. I play too many games. I consume too much. It was time for me to create instead, improve the balance of things. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I managed to finish a first draft. Then I went back to the beginning and started rewriting it, while working on the sequel.
If you like my work, or are a fan of litRPG/Gamelit, please check out https://greatlitrpg.com
You'll find my book there, and a bunch of other authors worth your time. Vote for what you like, and help make it a definitive collection of unbiased reviews.