Back in reality, I never found an interest in walking. I just saw it as a boring method of getting from one place to another. Beyond that it always felt like such a waste of time. Just trundling along, left foot, right foot. Landmarks passing by at a snail's pace, new landmarks arriving over the horizon. Then you arrive, do what you need to, and often have to repeat the process on the way back. Down below, I felt differently. All the colours were so much sharper. The meadow was brilliant emerald in the slowly fading golden sunlight. The animals around were so lifelike, even the ones with no natural analogue. Especially those. My body was different too. Besides the ‘being dead’ part. Stretching, reaching, holding, running, jumping. The real world never felt as.. well.. real as this. On a whim I decide to take a small detour, slipping from fast run to low sneaking gait as tall grass covers my approach towards a small family of rabbits frolicking in the afternoon peace. Closer and closer, my excitement grows, carrying me along. My heart would be beating now, if I had one. So close, right in front of me were the three smallest rabbits with two larger ones doing a poor job of keeping an eye out for interlopers. As my shadowed form approaches the little family I boggle at the way my skill has increased in such a short amount of time. I draw my blade as silently as a panther unsheathes it’s claws, my body tensing in preparation of the lunge. In a moment, it was over. I spring forward, thrusting the wicked blade of darkness into the largest of the bunnies, piercing it lengthwise. The other rabbits scatter as I lift my sword towards the sky, the dying screams like a salve on my tired psyche. Releasing a stuttered breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding, I lower the poor creature and end it’s misery with a quick twist of its neck.
Afterwards, I spend a few minutes at a nearby watering hole to wash off the worst mess. Gloopy slime mixed with soot. Gore from the queen, innards from the fieldrunners, blood from the bunny I just slew. When I’m clean, I realise I’m feeling relaxed. Unexpectedly so. All around me there's a sense of wariness, like the animals in the vicinity giving me a wide berth. The new predator on the plains, where no new beasts had been seen since the valley was locked away. Grinning, I run on.
I make it to the village shortly before sundown. The peaceful settlement seems to have prepared for the night by lighting lanterns, heating up fireplaces, and sending all their children out at the same time. A dozen little furballs are running around. As they spot me, they shout in excitement, flocking around me as I slow down to avoid trampling them.
“Wow, are you the new herb lady?”
“Where’d you get that cool bow?”
“Ew, there’s blood dripping from your belt!”
“Oh my gosh, is that a dead rabbit?”
I’m swarmed by tiny little creatures, which is fine at first. Then they start touching me.
“Where’d you find these?”
A kid is pulling at my belt pouch containing coins.
“Why is this so filthy?”
I can feel my cloak constrict around my neck as one of the little imps pull on it. My vision starts to go red, but I push it down. Hurting these kids isn’t on the table. Can I blind them? Nah, can’t permanently hurt them. Stab them a little? Better to blind them. Still no. Acid? Look, if I’m gonna talk to myself, at least give me some good ideas. My ideas are good.. Your ideas stink..
I grin and activate my ability. There’s a noticeable shift in the mood around me almost immediately. First the closest kids start to wrinkle their noses. When the ones further away start, the closest ones begin waving their hands around, trying to remove the smell. The cloud of ill will is almost visible by the time the last one has run away. I cackle with glee. I finally got to use my racial special ability. I spend some time near the river to freshen up a little. Removing all my clothes, I give them a rinse with the soap I’d gotten from Huntex, finally getting out some of the most stubborn stains. As I walk back to Loes place, nearly naked, I get a lot of stares. I’m guessing they haven’t actually seen a furless person before. Especially not one in my state of decomposition walking around.
As I reach Loes place, I find it empty. I’m happy about that, in a way. Company wasn’t really what I wanted right now. I hang my catch over the bind in the kitchen, sneak off to my room and lay down to rest a bit, taking the opportunity to check out my abilities in more detail.
Agility 1 Agility measures your ability to move your avatar in the world below. A high agility helps with moving, attacking, dodging and falling amongst other things. Curiosity 1 Curiosity affects your ability to notice things in your environment. It can also affect the way others regard you. Endurance 7 Endurance affects your avatars health and fitness. A high endurance gives you more hitpoints and aids your fatigue regeneration. Focus 6 Focus allows you to concentrate on your actions, letting you perform actions and maintain abilities through physical discomfort. Luck 3 Luck is an esoteric ability that may affect anything, everything and nothing you experience. Generally considered a good thing. Strength 3 Strength is the sheer physical power you can bring to bear against an obstacle. Also affects carry capacity and hitpoints.
Okay, that’s about the level of vagueness I’ve come to expect in this place. I close my eyes and let the darkness of sleep take me away from the general feeling of exhaustion. What feels like seconds later, I open my eyes. The sounds and smells of cooking are emanating from the door, and I assume Loe is back home. I put on my now reasonably clean clothes and join him.
“Morning stinky one.”
I’m greeted by his jovial voice.
“Did you have a good nap?”
“What do you mean, ‘stinky one’?”
I sit down at the table, and he serves up a plate of fried rabbit and potatoes.
“You’re the talk of the town today. All the village kids came running home as one, complaining of the smelly dead creature who came back at dusk. A few of them pretty ripe themselves.”
His shit-eating grin is appropriate.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was a perfect lady.”
I sample the dish he brought out as I try to hide my own grin.
“And if you don’t believe me, I dare you to pull my finger.”
He laughs as I extend my middle finger, and we eat together, sharing stories of the previous day.
“I’m getting worried, Shae”
He reaches for another plate after handing me one for drying.
“The new passages between the outside world and this valley have been peaceful so far, but there aren’t any animals there. I’d expect a few wandering wolves or big cats looking at the new territory. Maybe even a monster or two, but there isn’t even a squirrel. We’ve sent a patrol to see what’s out there. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
I place the dry plate into a cupboard and receive the next one.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. I mean, how would anyone even know about this place so soon. We shouldn’t expect the first scouts for at least another couple of weeks, and by then I’ll have finished the crown. Look at this.”
I put down the rags and pull the heart from my backpack. It’s perfectly cut, a royal gem of unrivalled clarity. Loe draws a sharp breath and almost fails to restrain himself, holding his hands tightly at his sides.
“It’s beautiful. I’ll never understand how you managed to kill the fieldrunner queen all alone, when this is what she was guarding. I’d never let you escape with it..”
I put it back in my backpack and smack him gently upside the head.
“It’s not as if I gave her a choice. Haven’t you noticed how awesome I am?”
I strut around a bit more before I excuse myself and run outside. It’s early morning in Wekeville. I notice some children walking around who see me, pinch their noses and run away. I smile in delight over my newfound reputation as I find my way to the elders barn. I avoid antagonising the guard this time, letting them open the doors instead of barging in as before. When I reach the pool, I greet them politely, presenting the gem.
“Well done Shae. The first hurdle of your quest has been conquered, and a small reward is in order.”
The old woman's voice seems happy enough as she instructs me to dump the gem into the pool. In its place I get a small pile of silver which I scoop into my coin bag.
“I have a question, if you would indulge me. I had an encounter on my way out of the fieldrunner hive that I don’t understand. A voice in the darkness congratulated me and wanted to protect me from Spider. He also warned me about something called Ashlad and Basilisk. Do these names mean anything to you?”
The pool starts bubbling as I finish speaking, and soon the hoarse voice is back.
“You bring with you names of great power and dire danger, Shae of the undead. Basilisk is an avatar of Evil, an old and powerful force in this world. Ashlad is one of Chaos, much younger, less powerful, but still an avatar. They will not fight directly, but may send their champions to execute their will. As for the voice you heard, there are many possibilities, from an avatar of Darkness to an avatar that employs lies. I would be careful, considering the danger any such entity can pose.”
I thank them for their advice, and leave the room.
Your quest Clean up your Shtuuuu*Error* has been updated. You have completed the task: Obtain the heart of a fieldrunner.
On my way out of the village, I stop by Hakat. I really need more equipment. Presenting my fresh silver, I obtain a few torches, a length of rope, a potion of mana and a flask of what I now know is acid. He grins all through the transaction, and at the end he throws in a bar of soap, free of charge. I blush, partly from embarrassment and partly from anger, as I leave his store.
Perot is the first person I talk to who doesn’t reference my little stinky spell. She welcomes me and we exchange pleasantries while I do more chores for her. When I finish, we sit down for some tea.
“Mother Perot, I was wondering what you could tell me about the swamps..”
She gazes into the distance as I sip from my mug.
“The swamps are a shitty place. It’s only redeeming quality is that it makes the surrounding area look nicer by comparison.”
“Oh.. Uhm.. I was wondering more like.. What will I find there? And how do I recover bog iron?”
A few more seconds of gazing passes.
“Mud. Sludge. Insects. There are some useful herbs there, but not so useful that I’d bother going there. The iron, however, can be made into powerful weapons against fay creatures. Much like the the dryads I’m told you’ll be hunting soon.”
“That’s why I decided to tackle this quest now. As long as I don’t have to fight some sort of ancient guardian of the swamps, it can’t possibly be harder than the queen.”
She smiles at me, knowingly.
“Child, you should never challenge fate like that. She likes to make examples of those who feel they have the right. I wouldn’t worry about any large monsters there though. There might be lizards, but as long as you stay out of the waters and keep your wits about you, you’ll be fine. The only other creatures that might enjoy it are the magical sort, and the iron keeps them at bay.”
Sounds nearly too good to be true. I sip the tea thoughtfully before I continue.
“What exactly does the bog iron do to magical creatures?”
“The cold iron in the bogs came from a place beyond our skies. It’s exposure to alien elements have left traces in it that interferes with the flow of magic. If a magical creature ingests it, or is attacked by it, the consequences can be terrible”
She gives me a comforting smile.
“But if you take proper care and avoid drinking the water there, you should be fine.”
I sigh deeply and finish my tea.
Before I leave, she instructs me in how to find the iron, what sights to look for and wishes me luck. We hug, and I take off towards the west.
I’m starting to enjoy the solitude of the plains now. No kids to touch me, no noobs to invade my personal space. Only me and the wildlife, which seems to have learnt that the undead are to be avoided, on penalty of death. I make it to the swamps slightly before noon, and I realise Perot was not kidding, this place is miserable. The trees were all dark green and rotting browns. The ground all soft and squishy. Sounds of things slithering, flying, croaking and splashing everywhere. I really wish I didn’t fit in so well here. At least I’m not being eaten by mosquitoes. Not so hungry for dead flesh I guess. I spend some time climbing the trees here, searching for a place there might be iron. She told me to look for a depression in the ground, a place there might have been an impact once upon a time. As I’m busily looking around, I fail to notice a large hole in the ground, splashing right into the chilling dark waters below.
As I struggle to get purchase on the edges around the hole, I struggle against the roots surrounding me. Grabbing them doesn’t work, it’s all too fragile to hold my weight, and each time I manage to grab something, I fall back into the water with a splash. Suddenly, there’s a pain in my leg, and I’m pulled underwater.
You are drowning. You have received 10% damage.
A fresh shock of cold hits my body as I’m completely disoriented, floating around in the muddy depths. I feel something touching my side as it moves past me, and I try to reach out for it, too slowly to even brush against it. I try to calm down, examining my surroundings.
90% air remaining
From this angle I can see that the surface I’ve been walking on is really just the top layer, roots and moss intertwined to create a false sense of security, floating on the waters like an ice flake. This revelation gets shunted to the very back of my consciousness as I see a pair of glowing eyes moving towards me in a waving motion. Two slit pupils stare at me, yellow and white, shining in the darkness.
85% air remaining Swamp Serpent. Beautiful apex predator of the marshes. Sensitive to vibrations, and will follow its prey until an opportunity presents itself to attack. Zoology skill has increased.
Good job Shae. Not messing around, are you. Straight to the big bad boss of the swamp. I draw my sword clumsily, nearly dropping it in the unusual environment. The snake is out of my field of view already, and I have no way to track it under here. The water is too deep for me to stand, so I kick off from the bottom instead. I make it to the edge of the hole and lift myself up, gasping for air.
You are no longer drowning.
No shit. I use my blade to gain purchase on the swampland around the hole, and just as I finally find a spot where it’ll stick, I feel something brush against my leg again. There’s pain, a yank, and suddenly I’m underwater again. I see the vicious eyes sidling towards me in the floating darkness, and I thrust my blade towards the snake. Just a moment too late, I realise my sword is still embedded in the ground above me.
You have been bitten for 30% damage Poison resistance successful Health: 60% Stamina: 70% Mana: 80%
Sharp teeth emerge from beneath the eyes, and savage my hand. Blood muddies the water, and the eyes take on a crimson hue while I frantically try to kick at the advancing beast. I can see the hole above me, further away than ever. Weak light shines down from the afternoon sun. In desperation, I try to use my magic to focus the few rays available, but all I get is a small flash that blinds me more than anything else.
82% air remaining.
The snake shoots out of the darkness, barreling into my chest and pushing me back, further away from salvation. My back thumps against something solid and craggy. I grab onto it for purchase, to realign myself, and I get a cut for my trouble.
75% air remaining. You have been tackled for 13% damage You have cut yourself on bog iron for 2% damage.
My eyes open wider, and I scramble to get a stronger hold on the lump of ore, the angry serpent forgotten in my excitement. I can’t actually make out the rock properly under here, but it’s just about small enough for me to lift it. When I finally manage to get a grip on the little boulder, my elation practically lifts me to the surface, right past the swampy covering, all the way back to the weke village.
Oh, right, still underwater. I push ahead, but only make it a few steps before I run out of air and need to resurface. I make it up, barely, and reach for my sword just as I feel a tearing in my leg.
You have been bitten for 20% damage Poison resistance successful Health: 25% Stamina: 40% Mana: 50%
I’m pulled under again. This time, however, I have my sword. Time for some tube steak. I float in place under the hole, pretty well illuminated, waiting. I catch a glimpse of it a few times, but it seems to keep its distance now. As I run out of air and have to catch my breath again, it strikes, taking another chunk out of my thigh.
Health: 15% Stamina: 30% Mana: 45%
I look around underwater, scanning the darkness for the waterborne horror. Changing my angle, my head points downwards as my legs break the surface splashing. Out of the corner of my eye I see the sleek form charging towards me with abandon, teeth gleaming in the scant light. This time, I manage to interpose my blade. It notices my trap a moment too late, and I manage to cut it from cheek to mid-body. The water muddies even more with the blood of the swamp monster as it slithers off into the darkness. I spend another hour in the water, waiting, resurfacing quickly and trying to lure it out again, but it doesn’t show up. It takes me more than an hour to tug the giant lump of ore to the break in the surface. More than that to get the rope around it, and to pull it up. In the end, when I’m finally standing there with my prize, I can barely carry it, sinking into the bog just a little with each step. The journey home is not particularly pleasant. When I finally make it back to the Weke village, the moons are out in force. The primary moon, Paraton, is large and red. Groves and patterns flow across its surface like aqueducts on Mars. Further away is Mian’Shi, the blue wanderer. Too far to make out any details, but it makes its way across the sky faster than the others. Elaph, the green marble is faint, more like the stars behind them. Lore says they all wander, caught in an ancient pattern where they trade places every few hundred years, but so far ingame it hasn’t happened. I make my way back to Loes burrow, and manage to stumble down the stairs without making too much of a racket. The doors are never locked here, since there are no thieves to guard against. I find a prepared meal on the counter in his living space, and I have a pleasant meal alone by candlelight. I notice my health hasn’t restored fully yet, which is a bit odd considering the time involved.
Health: 58% Stamina: 75% Mana: 10%
My stamina and health are increasing slowly due to a buff from the food, but my mana is nearly stationary. I look at the lump of bog iron.
“Is this your doing?”
I am supposed to be a ‘magical’ creature. Maybe it’s affecting my ability to regenerate.. I put a throw over it, and retire to my room. A quick wash gets the worst of the grime off, and as I take off my filthy adventuring gear, I notice that my fancy boots are still as dry and supple as ever, with a fresh leather smell. Maybe the enchantment is that they just don’t get filthy. Lying down allows me to feel in my body how exhausted I actually am. With some distance to the ore, my mana is climbing steadily, but I’m unable to keep my eyes open for much longer.
The night passes with its usual alacrity. I realise I’ve slept in when I see that Loe has left already. The lump of ore has been placed on the kitchen counter, and a smiley face has been drawn on the throw covering it. I sigh and pick it up, lumbering back up the stairs as carefully as possible. When I get outside, I see the children playing in the streets again. I call out to some and ask for assistance, but all I get is rude gestures. Karma, I guess… I make my way to the elder fungus’ barn, glaring at the guards when they take far too much enjoyment in seeing me struggle. This village has no chivalric spirit at all. Finally, I manage to elbow the door open and stagger inside. I realise my mana is dropping in pace with my stamina regeneration. I guess it’s not actually draining me, just preventing me from gaining more. This stuff must make some pretty effective weapons against .. well, me. The shrooms are unusually quiet when I enter. The room is pulsing with a gentle thrum, pale yellow light seeping in through skylights.
The little girl's voice is clear and strong today.
“What news have you?”
The middle aged man seems eager today.
“I got the bog-iron. I didn’t realise it would stop my mana regeneration. Are you really going to make a crown out of this?”
“We are indeed, child. The insulating qualities of the iron will help in generating a masking field over our valley, and help us prevent the coming apocalypse.”
I lump the ore into their pool, and as a reward for another subquest completed, I receive a ring with a blue gem inset.
Mana Battery Ring Stores mana. Charges from your personal regeneration at a 2/1 ratio. Can be activated to drain all mana from the ring into your personal reserves once per day, restoring 20% mana. Capacity linked to user max mana.
I smile, and thank them profusely. Putting on the ring, I feel it charging as the blue gem takes on a soft glow.
“You’re gonna save my life one day, aren’t you?”
- 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.
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