That night, James found himself unable to fall asleep. The rest of his party had long ago went quiet and disappeared into warm piles of Ingo furs, but James had just laid still, letting his party fall asleep as he stared off into the stars. It was a pleasant way to pass the time. The game world wasn’t plagued by things like light pollution, so the sky came alive with stars and planets every night. James wondered if the sky here was different than the one back at home. He wondered what would happen if he was somehow able to build a rocket ship and fly off into space. Would he hit an invisible wall? Would he get an error message and just glitch out? What if none of that happened, and he was actually able to explore the vast sky above him. If that did happen, would that mean that the game wasn’t actually a game or would it just mean that the game was much larger than James had previously thought?
James’s spacefaring and game-living thoughts mingled with his thoughts on his class and the safety of the village. He assured himself that the village would be safe one last time and slowly crawled from his pile of furs to finally accomplish what had been keeping him awake. It took James a good half hour to get out of hearing range from his party, mostly because he didn’t want to wake them up so he had to move very slowly. Every step he took was like opening a bag of chips, but eventually, he got far enough away from his party to experiment with his new abilities in peace. James pulled up his interface and navigated to his skills page.
Sneak, Level 8 – Visibility & sound decreased by 8% while sneaking
Skinning, Level 24 – Time to skin & error rate decreased by 19% while skinning.
Tough-Skinned Augment - Error rate when skinning tougher skinned creatures reduced by an additional 50%.
Hardened Skin Augment - Error rate when skinning hardened skinned creatures reduced by an additional 50%.
Cooking, Level 29 – Food is 29% more delicious. Stat buffs from meals that award them increased by 29%.
Spiced Cider Recipe - Increases moral by 10 for 30 minutes.
Roasted Ingo & Spiced Tucca Recipe - Increases Constitution by 1 for 12 hours.
Fire, Level 26 – Your mastery of fire is increased by 26%.
Fire Bolt Spell - Damage is equal to 2.5x Intelligence.
Short Swords, Level 33 – Damage done with short swords increased by 33%.
Jump Strike Sub-Skill, level 14 - Chance to stun 95% (25% + 5%/lvl).
Tremor Augment - Land with such force the ground trembles beneath you. Surrounding enemies are slowed for 1 second. (change to meteor)
Dual Wield Sub-Skill, Level 6 - Damage penalty from dual wielding decreased by 6%. Current damage penalty when dual wielding equals 54% for both weapons.
Party Leader. Level 8 - Damage taken by party members reduced by 8% (1%/lvl)
James had made quite a few improvements to his skills and abilities over the past few weeks. He augmented his skinning ability to reduce error rates on creatures with hardened skin. The other option he was given was another weak attempt at making him drop his progress in the skill. He was offered a few points in agility, but it didn’t temp James at all. He hadn’t been able to find a tougher skinned creature for sure yet, but he suspected the Ingo bosses could have been one. However, James had a sneaking suspicion that he had come across a hardened skin animal before. In fact, it was one of the only creatures that managed to kill him so far, the giant No-No. The creature had obviously hardened hide and James was hoping to come across one again so he could skin it. He mentioned that he wanted to hunt the creature for its hide to Torunn, just in case such a thing was forbidden and was surprised to find out that the Martyrs used to have hunting parties for such a thing. The Martyr’s kept a keen eye on the creatures of the Great Savanna and hunted down populations that were becoming overcrowded and upsetting the balance of the ecosystem. Torunn said it would probably be smart to kill a No-No if they ever were able to leave the village since the Martyrs have not been able to conduct hunting expeditions in a long time. So James quickly chose his hardened skin augment just for such an occasion. He was very interested in finding out what a crafter such as Lilly would be able to make with the hardened skin. He wasn’t sure if the material fit into the cloth category, but either way someone should be able to make something out of it. James hoped that if he got the hardened skin someone would be able to fashion some sort of light armor. Such a thing would be perfect for him, as the cloth armor he currently had equipped didn’t make him feel as safe as he wanted to feel, but he knew that he was not strong enough to fight in metal armor.
Suddenly, something clicked in James’s mind. When he completed Dreng’s quest in the library he got a snippet of extra lore due to his Adventurer’s interface. The lore stated that the Martyr’s took an ancient oath to protect the Great Savanna. The hunting parties that Torunn mentioned the other day must have been one of the ways that the Martyr’s did just that. James briefly wondered what kind of state the Great Savanna was in if all the creatures were left to multiply on their own accord for so long. James hadn’t actually seen much of the Great Savanna in his time in the game, but he imagined that it should be overrun with creatures since the Martyr’s haven’t been strong enough to manage them. Maybe the Great Savanna used to be a peaceful place when the Martyrs were at large? James wasn’t sure what the repercussions were, but did manage to day-dream of a world without Ingos running around everywhere and waking everyone up with their annoying calls.
James also managed to upgrade his fire mastery to the point where he was offered to choose between another spell or upgrading his firebolt. The spell offered wasn’t impressive, so James chose to upgrade his weak firebolt to a regular firebolt. The resulting upgrade increased the damage of the spell to 2.5 times his intelligence, instead of the previous 1.5 times, which James felt was an pretty substantial increase in his power. The upgrade also made his firebolt more impressive visually. It was no longer a wisp of fire, but a more substantial bolt. It wasn’t as angry and menacing as when he cast the firebolts after Frode buffed up his intelligence, but it was certainly closer to that level.
James mentally hovered over his short sword skill and got to work on what he snuck away from his camp to accomplish. Prior to selecting his class, James’s short sword skill had surpassed level 30. The new options available were cool, but James didn’t select anything when he saw the notification a few days ago. Now though, James had a class and one that gave him the option to augment his abilities with fire. That fact was exactly what James intended to investigate.
Congratulations! Your Short Swords skill has surpassed level 30. You can now choose from the below 2 sub-skills or augments.
Deflect Sub-Skill – You have a 1% chance of reflecting 50% of damage back onto your attacker. Choosing this sub-skill will replace Jump Strike.
Meteor Augment (Embrant Class) – You land your Jump Strike with a fiery explosion. Surrounding enemies are slowed for 1 second and take burn damage for 5 seconds or until they are extinguished. This augment replaces the Tremor augment.
James read the prompt and his suspicions were confirmed. One of his options to upgrade his short sword skill was replaced with one that was related to his class. The deflect skill would be useful, but James had a party and had no need to fight alone, so he immediately selected the Meteor augment and began to build a snowman that he could test it out on. The process was pretty slow because he couldn’t just roll a snowball until it got bigger. The hardened layer of ice on top of all the fluffy snow prevented it, so James was forced to build the snowman bit by bit. Luckily, James’s hands didn’t freeze even though he didn’t have gloves. When James discovered this phenomenon he placed his hands directly into the snow to see how long he could keep them there. After a few minutes, James realized his hands were never going to freeze and pulled his hands out of the snow. Looking down into the hole in the snow from his hands, James saw a small puddle of water.
“Sweeeet,” James said, congratulating himself on the awesome new side-effects of his Embrant class.
Finally, James was ready to test out his newly augmented Jump Strike ability. He stood about 100 paces from his snowman, close enough that he could still see it, but not so close that he would risk flying extremely high into the air. James was still iffy when it came to very high heights, so he had gotten better at activating his Jump Strike further away from his targets. It seemed that the ability required him to be airborne for a set amount of time, so if he was too close to his target then he would launch far too high into the air.
James felt his legs curl up underneath him as he took in one last breath of the wintry night air. Then he released the energy building up in his legs and a moment later he was flying. He expected to be chilled from the sudden rush of cold air, but was instead the opposite. The slightly higher body heat he generated from his new class grew until he began to sweat. James flew higher and higher and got hotter and hotter until he burst into flames at the apex of his ability. His adrenaline spiked, partly from being so high up above the frozen Great Savanna and partly from the sight of seeing his body on fire. James began to fall, the butterflies in his stomach serving as a reminder to position his weapons above his head. James landed with an explosion that caused his ears to ring. He did his best to watch the effects of his meteoric landing, but everything was a blur of fire and earth. The shrapnel from his explosive landing settled and one thing was clear to James; anything within his explosion zone was fucked.
James let out an involuntary laugh of power. When his adrenaline returned to normal levels only one thought remained in James’s head, I need to have someone take a video of that!
James laid down directly in the snow without any furs to protect him. Now that he wasn’t as susceptible to the cold he would take advantage of it. James opened his interface and studied his skill descriptions. It had been bothering him how his most recent options to improve his short sword ability said that they would replace other sub-skills. He couldn’t recall any of his upgrades ever saying they would replace another before. James wondered if there was a limit to how many sub-skill or augments he could have.
After studying his skill list for much longer than he intended, James came to a depressing realization. He was put into the game early so he could figure out how to improve the interface for future players. The military members that hired him to beta test said that they needed him to test out functionality. Now, James finally realized what that functionality was. It was the interface. Since James entered the game up until recently, his interface had been nothing but confusing and more than a little frustrating. It was nothing like any of the games he ever played before. The reason for that wasn’t a design flaw, James realized, it was because the game wasn’t finished. James wasn’t sure how long he had been in the game, but he finally felt like he had a decent grasp on his interface. It was now clear that his skills should have been separated into categories. Fighting skills and abilities should be separate from gathering skills and so on. James came to this conclusion because of the of his new short sword prompts. It was clear that James could only have 2 sub-skills, each with their own augments, for every fighting skill he had. James did some more studying and realized his cooking skill probably wouldn’t be limited so it should go in its own category. It wasn’t clear which skills fit into what categories just yet, but it was clear that his skills should be categorized by their limits. His fighting skills clearly had limits as they could only have two sub-skills each, but James’s suspected his gathering and crafting type skills wouldn’t have those limits because they essentially only had recipes listed below them.
James felt like he was trying to decipher a complex puzzle without instructions or a picture of what the final piece was suppose to look like once finished.
“Holy shit,” James sighed in the cool night air.
James was suppose to take notes on how to improve the interface then leave the game. But that never happened. It wasn’t clear to James if the military meant to put everyone in the game or not just yet, but what was clear was that the game interface wasn’t intended to stay in its current state. There was just no way it was possible. It was too confusing and was practically useless unless you had a high intelligence.
James let his body fall back into the snow, “I am not only stuck in a game world… All of humanity is stuck in a game world. And an incomplete one at that…”