“Before you go..”
The old lady’s voice interrupts my enjoyment.
“The time has come to find the Summerling.”
I straighten up and walk over to their pool.
“Okay, I’m up for that, but where do I start? The legends say that it was lost up north, in the mountains somewhere. Do you have any new information?”
A long moment is drenched in silence before the little girl answers.
“The Summerling is strong and wise. You should be able to see it with one of your sensing abilities.”
Wait.. How do they know about my abilities..
“What do you mean? Which ability?”
“Don’t be coy now. To be able to sense minds, you need to open your own mind. You stood out like a lighthouse on a dark coast when you contacted your companion.”
“But I can’t use my abilities very much. If I do, I run out of Mana, and then I start.. You know..”
I raise my hand, displaying my predicament.
“Oh child, you just haven’t learnt how to manage your resources properly. With time, you will become more aware of the streams of energy available to you, and more adept at managing them. Until then, I recommend you practice your abilities more actively.”
The old lady seemed almost exasperated with me.
“You’re too passive!”
The middle aged man bellowed.
“You rely on your almost non-existent skills in martial combat, neglecting the simplest defences available to you, disregarding any synergy you might have with your magics.”
Their words make sense. I could use more training, more presence in combat. So why are my eyes tearing up. Why am I getting angry.. As I’m about to raise my voice in protest, the little girl cut me off.
“You’ve been gifted with so many talents nobody else has! You can gather light to you, but you can also take light away. If you practice some more, you could be invisible!”
“Not to mention your portal abilities.. With the right training, you’d be a force nearly unmatched. All you need is to stop dragging your feet and put the work in! You’ve been floating around on luck, pure and simple. Sooner or later, it will run out.”
Having said his peace, the man's voice stops. My ragged breath is the only sound right now. Unable to think of a response, I turn around and leave, exiting the way I came in. My face goes red as I increase my pace, until I burst out of the barn doors, toppling one of the guards in the process. Ignoring the confused shouts behind me, I run with no clear goal in mind. Blinking away angry tears as my face feels warmer and warmer.
What the fuck! How do they know about my abilities. Who are they to talk to me like that!
I don’t know where I’m running to, I just need a silent place to gather myself back together. Before long I find myself in front of Loes burrow. A place to hide. At this time of day he’ll be out on patrol. I rush inside, slamming the doors as I pass, making my way down to his apartment. I’ve done everything my way so far. I’ve gone from success to success. Fieldrunner queen, Swamp serpent and darkling all fell to my so called non-existing skills. And they say I’m doing it wrong? That it’s all about luck?
I throw myself onto the bed, slamming the door behind me. Stupid. Why am I acting so stupid? They’re right. And they gave me hints on how to proceed, how to get better! What’s wrong with me. I briefly contemplate exiting the game for a while, getting some rest in the real world. I could do some exercises, relax with some tea and calm down before I continue. No, I’ve got too much to do here. Time is going to run out soon, and I have to finish my quest before the other players get here. I take a deep breath, try to center myself. I’m in turmoil, my mind a teacup in the stormy sea of my soul. Even as I feel myself drowning, I know I can beat it. I have to. This is why I’m here after all. Every little setback breaks me, enrages me, forces me to attack instead of reflect. Sitting straight in the bed, I focus on the things Dr Peters taught me about anger, about managing it. Deep breaths. Rise above it. Slowly, I can feel my pulse slowing down.
After almost an hour of meditating, I feel stable enough to focus on other things. I pull out the mysterious book I got from the fieldrunner hive.
I open the book and begin to read. It turns out to be the musings of a weke who lived in the house once, before it was overrun by the vicious insects. He seemed very proud of his son, who was training to be a scout in the town militia. There are entries about other family members, birth dates, wedding dates and the like. The entries stop pretty suddenly. If he used the same date system I have access to in the game, the book was abandoned nearly 20 years prior.
You have received a quest: The old journal The mysterious old journal seems to have belonged to a Weke from this village. See if you can find out who he was, and who the book now belongs to. Rewards: Variable.
I get up from the bed and wash up. I guess I’m going on a sidequest. Going back outside to the sunshine feels jarring to my bleary eyes.
It doesn’t take me long to find the local militia. They were both standing around the only road going into town. Two furry creatures in leather armor, one equipped with a trident, the other with a small axe and a shield. I raise my hand in greeting as I approach.
The trident wielder spins around and fixes me with a scrutinising eye.
“What do you want, smoothie?”
The other one seems less than interested in the interaction, keeping a watchful eye outwards.
“I was wondering if you knew anything about an old abandoned Weke hutch south of the village? I went into it to try to find a fieldrunner heart, and ..“
He interrupts me by blowing air past his lips.
“A fieldrunner heart? You? Hah. The only way to get one of those is from a queen, and let me tell you, killing one of those is..”
I fold my arms across my chest, raising an eyebrow. His eyes go from suspicious to wide eyed wonder.
“You killed the queen?”
“Yep. Killed her dead. Made it out alive.”
I feel a sting of pride from the awestruck look he gives me.
“It’s an honour, brave warrior. Few queens are defeated. The fieldrunners guard them well, and they are fierce warriors on their own. Especially when they transform into their combat form.”
“Uhm, yeah.. Vicious fighter really, almost crushed me at one point. But hey, I found this book in the hive, and wanted to see if I could find the person it belongs to, or his family.”
He leafs through the book quickly, hemming and hawing as his finger slides down the lists of names.
“Ah, here, see this signature?”
He points to a scratch on the page.
“That’s the writers family name. Scragh. Or as we’re forced to call him, scout commander Ta’ron Scragh. You’ll find him if you follow the road about an hour. There’s a small outpost there to keep watch over the road in case of intruders. Just make a lot of noise as you go along, and they’ll stop you.”
Your standing with the Village of Poroto has increased to Impressed. Your standing with the Militia of Poroto Village has increased to Grudging Respect.
I thank the guards, and get ready to leave the village. I grab some more supplies from the grumpy old shopkeeper, torches, some food and a length of rope. As I set off from the town gate, I see that the road goes more north than east. At least I can follow it to get to the mountains more easily.
An hour after I left the village, I start making noise. First, I throw rocks into the tall grass. Without much warning, a very grumpy looking armoured horse came crashing through the grass. After it had chased me for 10 minutes or so, it gave up. I decided to switch tactics after that, swishing a stick through the grass instead. That gets me another few minutes down the road, until I slap it into some kind of hornets nest. They chase me for 20 minutes, until I have to use my racial ability to get them to reconsider. Finally, I just start singing. Or, well, screeching. I don’t really know the words to many songs, so I make one up about a pig and an amorous wizard. I get to the second verse before I’m smacked upside the head.
“Stop that infernal racket right now! The armourfax and the grasshornet swarm was funny, but now you’re just torturing us.”
I turn around, startled. Loe is standing there in full combat garb, leather, spear and grin. I grab his spear and try to pull it away from him. Having learnt from our last encounter, he doesn’t release it this time.
“You saw it? You were there for both of those? You furry little shit, I should stick this spear up your ass and turn you into a lollipop for the creatures!”
I emphasize my feelings by smacking him in the face with the spear, thwarting his attempts at controlling the situation. The grass next to us begins to rattle with laughter, and I push him through at the most active point. I am rewarded by the sound of weke colliding. As I step through the barrier to join them, I see three of them in a pile, Loe on top. Over to the side stands an older male, seemingly much more experienced than the ones on the ground. Clad in the same leather as the others, he carries a shortsword, currently pointing downwards, ready to snap to defence if needed.
“So you’re the fool corpse that got us all into this predicament.”
The fallen ones go quiet, and sort themselves out quickly now that their boss is involved.
“I guess I am. I’m looking for Ta’ron Scragh, the..”
He snorts, interrupting my question.
“*Commander* Scragh has no time to waste on people who cause nothing but trouble. I’ll take a message to him if I think it’s worth his time.”
His tone is dismissive, and I feel my blood rising. I calm myself, thinking of my exercises, pushing it down. I answer through clenched teeth.
“You can tell your ‘Commander’ that I have an heirloom belonging to one of his ancestors, and if he wants it before I use it for toilet paper and burn the rest, he can find me and apologize for your fucking attitude.”
I turn and leave, ignoring the impulse to flip him off. I can see the mountains in the distance, so I head in that general direction. I’m reasonably certain that’s where I’ll find the Summerling. I’ve barely started walking when rustling alerts me to someone walking after me, catching up. As I turn, I see the same weke, with a different look on his face.
“What, not done insulting me? Want to beat me up as well?”
I draw my own sword, it’s bronze gleam highlighting the ebon darkness within it.
“It gonna hurt a lot more than you think it will.”
He raises his hands in the air.
“I’m not here to fight. I want to know about this heirloom you mentioned. What is it? Where did you find it.”
His tone hasn’t changed much.
“I know where you’re going to find it if you don’t start treating me with a little more decency.”
He takes a deep breath, holds it for a few seconds and releases it.
“I’m sorry for my disrespect earlier. I let my preconceptions about your reputation colour the way I spoke to you without investigating for myself whether you deserved it. Now please, can you tell me anything about the heirloom?”
“That’s a terrible apology. And you’re a terrible person. How you made it to commander, I’ll never know.”
He’s surprised at first, then smiling. It was fairly obvious that either he was related to the commander, desiring some dirt on him, or the commander himself.
“But I guess I’m not going to get any better, and this thing is only weighing me down.”
I remove the book from my backpack, getting ready to hand it over to him. As he starts moving towards me, I succumb to my base instincts, throwing it on some wet ground between us. He rushes to pick it up, scraping off some mud and grass debris, and opens it up.
You have completed a quest: The old journal You delivered the journal to a weke you assume cares about it. Well done. Rewards: Slightly increased reputation amongst the weke. Reputation as one who does not accept a certain tone. Reputation as one who will take the ball with them when they leave.
I turn to leave. I don’t care about the rewards if this is the kind of person who gives them out.
“Wait. Where are you going? There’s only wilderness in that direction.”
I stop, sigh, turn around.
“I’m going to those mountains up there to find the Summerling, so I can get its blessing and save all you furry little bastards. Can I go now?”
He takes a moment to center himself before he replies.
“The Summerling is a myth. All you’ll find in that direction is wild animals, poisonous plants and a painful death. If you want to help with the trouble you caused, go that direction instead.”
He points to the north-east.
“You’ll find the front lines and the scout companies. They’re gonna need help when the enemy warbands finally begin to march.”
I roll my eyes and leave.
As I trek towards the mountains, I start to calm down. The solitude helps me relax, and birdsong makes my rage go still. The terrain shifts slowly from plains to rockier ground. The fauna around here is new as well, and I see various animals I haven’t seen before. I almost get bitten looking for water, when I encounter a rattlesnake like creature with a glowing tail. Every time it shook it, the sound of running water filled the air. I get back at it by planting an arrow in it, and enjoy a nice roasted tube steak with mushed rainleaf drizzle. The flavour is zesty, almost like lemon, and I’m rewarded with a buff increasing my mana regen slightly.
After some hours, night begins to fall, and I scope out a place to make camp. A small overhang seems to have been the home of small creatures at some point, but nothing remains of them now. I build up a large fire and stock up on firewood, curling up on Huntex old sleeping bag, enjoying the darkness. I drift away with a warning that the chances of random encounters are low.
With a start, I wake up with a sharp pain in my head. As I frantically look around me, I spot the fireplace. I can feel the heat as strongly as before, but the light seems hazy, far away. Scrambling to find my weapon, I finally notice the campsite is completely greyscale. I cautiously wave a hand in front of my face to confirm, and find it’s like moving through thick smoke, wisps of darkness moving with my motion. My pulse racing, I try to gather my thoughts. Random encounter? No, I’m not taking any further damage. My hitpoints have dropped by 10%, but are regenerating. I’m staring at the fire when I see it. I’m not inside a fog, I’m inside a swarm. The Motelings. They must have come out when I slept outside for the first time since the night at the river with old Les. I take a deep breath, but halt when I realize I’m breathing in the tiny elementals. Desperately, I focus on my illusionist ability. I gather the remaining light around me, from the fireplace, and anything I can get from the moons and stars. After a minute, the place is as dark as the grave, and the motelings seem to get excited. I drag the collected light right above me, and let it all go in the brightest burst I can manage, jamming my eyes shut as hard as I can.
When I can see again, the motes are gone. I sit up, and realise I’m covered with a fine layer of dark dust. I scoop up what I can into a spare pouch sealing it tight. Who knows when it’ll come in handy. Or what it is, for that matter. I shrug and lay down to continue my nap, when I notice something laying on the ground by my head. A small, grey critter covered in fur. It’s been dessicated, the life sucked right out of it. My hand goes to the top of my head, where I felt the pain earlier, and it comes back with blood. Wait, the motelings weren’t trying to eat me? Aw man, I just disabled my own passive defences? The thought makes me feel pretty bad. I sullenly throw some more wood on the fire and go back to sleep.
As morning breaks, I get up and stretch. Doing my morning exercises in the Below is more out of habit than any real need. I proceed to quickly scout the nearby area, making sure it’s safe. Afterwards, I log out to take care of my other bodys needs. As usual, the experience of going back to the other world is pretty unpleasant, but this time I’m met with an even more lovely sight than normal. The real world is still dreary, boring and hard. Compounding this is the mess all around me, covering my body, my sheets and the nice new mat I bought. I guess I was under for longer than the safeguards were rated. As I clean up, changing my sheets and putting everything in the washer, I realise how dehydrated I am. Rehydrating with a combination of water and a product tastefully named ‘Gamer Fluids’, I carefully start my real world workout routine. By the time I feel I’m back inside my own body, two hours have passed. Lying back on the bed, I notice my communicator is flashing. In the time I’ve been under, dozens of new messages have been received. Most of them from my mother.
‘Hi Sharon, it’s your mother. Let me know when you’re out of the machine. I’d like to chat.’
Whatever. Several iterations of that message follows.
‘Sharon, I’m getting worried about you. Please tell me when you’re back. I’ve been seeing a group at night for game addicts, and I really think you should come with me for a session, just to see what it’s about.’
Delete. Variations of the same follow on.
‘Hello Ms. Reisen. My name is Dirk, and I’m a member of the society for recovering our future. Your mother has expressed some concerns about your activity and I think…’
Delete thread. I tag all messages from my mother, erasing them all. Two messages remain.
‘Hey Shaz, how’ve you been? Haven’t seen you in forever. Gonna enjoy meeting up and discussing old times. T.’
Huh. Burner address, mysterious signature. If it was a bit more spammy, I’d think it was a random hoax, but Shaz.. They’d chant it at me in school, taunting me as I was unable to catch any of them, laughing as my rage turned to tears. I catch myself falling into an emotional hole, and I shake it off. I don’t have the time for it, and I know just where to go where nobody from my old life can find me.
I reset my safeguards. Double Checking the seals, I make sure I won’t wake up to a leak next time. Setting an alarm for 4 hours realtime, I engage the OS, feeling the world fade out once more.
The first thing I notice is how late it is. The time dilation effect is really messing with my trips to the real world. Taking a little time to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, I pack up my little camp. I say a quick goodbye to the quaint little overhang I used for a campsite, and head off towards the mountains to continue my search.
A raspy voice drags out the word behind me. Spinning around, I see a figure on top of the overhang. Human, kinda. He looks deteriorated, but not like me. His face is drooping on one side, and his eyes are glassy. If the smells drifting down towards me are indication, he hasn’t cleaned himself for a while either. Still, he’s practically glowing with power. Something about him seems weirdly familiar as well. As I’m staring, he jumps down, landing heavily. Raising his head, he stares at me with his cold, glassy eyes.
His voice is hoarse, as if he’s been screaming for a long time. I can feel a chill go down my spine.
“Who are you?”
The sound of my voice makes him snap to attention, straightening him up for a moment, before he lurches backwards, almost falling, then shambling forwards.
“Kill. Kill. Kill you.”
He’s so much faster than I’d expected. I barely have the time to throw myself to the side when he lunges, trying to grapple me. As he stops to turn, he teeters for a moment, as if about to fall. In the last moment, he flops towards me, kicking off from the ground, launching himself towards me. I barely dodge his attack, feeling his presence pass me by millimetres. This time, his momentum carries him further away, so I have time to draw a weapon. I find myself wishing he was far enough away for me to draw my bow instead, but trusty shortsword has to be enough. Somehow, it feels wildly inadequate against this kind of foe. I doubt the old club would be much more efficient. Having recovered, he charges me again. This time, I’m ready for him, meeting his attack by swinging the sword against his meaty arms. I can feel my blade strike his flesh, slice through tendons and finally impact the bone with a jarring shock. If he feels it, he doesn’t let on. I lose my grip, and his follow up attack tags me across the shoulder, knocking me to the ground with an angry warning from my HP meter. I flip over to my back just in time for him to straddle me, his stench overpowering this close. I use the opportunity to punch him in the crotch, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Furthermore, it’s all soft and squishy. His hands wrap around my throat, making my feelings of disgust take the backseat to the encroaching darkness. Every thump of my heart resounds in my skull as he squeezes the life out of me.
“I kill you now. No waking up for you”
Each word is slurred and drawn out. Slowly but certainly I feel my consciousness leaving me. As my air supply warning begins to turn critical, I can’t help but think of how familiar he is. Reality around me begins to focus into pinpricks of light, and I barely notice the shadow which suddenly looms over the both of us.
- 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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