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A note from Balr0g

Sorry for the delay in between chapters. I started a new web serial set in a post-apocalyptic world called Radioactive Evolution here on RR. 

This is the last chapter before they encounter their first enemies. The next chapter is roughly 7,200 words so it will take me a bit to get it polished for posting.

Tyler waited down the road a short distance. No doubt he could have walked right up to the gate, but he chose not to risk a quick death. Aaron and Tyler approved of the gear that Natalia had picked up after she revealed the stat boosts.


Everyone was geared, skills trained, and buffs covered from the items Tristen had picked up. Before they headed towards the quest, he explained what Sai had said about the inspect skill. He wanted no one to waste more time on objects already inspected. He planned inspect all the items again after the skill leveled up. Every time he leveled the skill, he would start the inspection process over to ascertain more information from each item. For now he focused on new items.

A unique feature of the inspect skill included the ability to understand an item as soon as he picked it up. The knowledge felt similar to a remembered subject studied in school. Only, he recalled the inspected item with perfect clarity.

Tristen wondered if he could use the technology in everyday life to recall data. An on-demand library at a simple thought had amazing ramifications. So much of his time inventing and creating involved research and constant learning. If the information was just a thought away, it meant his productivity increased a lot. He already sent out the email for study groups that pertained to the topic and he could broach the subject next time he talked to his team leaders.

All the preparation and planning led to this moment! It was time to embark on their first adventure. Consulting his map, it looked like the closest quest, aside from the various gathering quests, monster hunting. This was the quest they'd gained from the board in the Adventurers Hall and required poison sacks, claws, and eyeballs.

The map revealed a small icon on Tristen's map. He believed this was the proper quest. As he focused on the icon, the quest description popped up which confirmed his suspicion. The quest marker sat within the fog of war and, based on the angle, they would need to veer off the road to get there. The distance between them and the location was half again the distance they'd come from Castille.

They reached the divergence into the woods and Tristen halted. He took a quick look at his inspection skill to see no additional progress. All the herbs and flowers picked were the same he'd found on the way to Kylanoris. If not for the gathering quest, he would have stopped picking them to move faster towards their quest. Perhaps they could fulfill the quest requirements multiple times and get rewarded.

Tristen plunged into the trees and told everyone to keep their eyes peeled for any mobs. He didn't know if there was open-world combat, but wanted to be on guard just in case. When Tristen and the team had worked on developing the game, he insisted they stayed true to the original. That meant any encounter only occurred within an instanced area. That instanced zone was unique for each adventurer group. However, he left most of the actual development to the game designers and they could have worked random encounters into the game.

For now, they exercised caution in the event they stumbled into a mob. Along the way, Tristen found a few more herbs and moss growing on the trees. These new items provided experience for his inspection skill and he raised it a few notches. It would be quite a while before he earned the second level and much longer to master it.

Every few minutes, he checked the map to verify their location. Some games included a mini-map to point the direction, but Tristen thought they broke immersion into the game. Although more tedious, he preferred the way the developers had integrated the map into the game. It resembled a sheet of parchment and showed their party with blue dots. The destination marker was a small red dot.

Based on their current position, they were halfway to the location after fifteen minutes. It would take them as long to reach the location and then they would need to buff and prepare for the quest. The game pace slower than he expected, but it game him an appreciation for the depth and scale that Sai had created. He didn't even know how far any of the main cities were. It could take days or even weeks to travel between destinations.

Tristen knew from a briefing that there were no boundaries. Sai set and generated the boundaries. As a self-aware A.I. with complete control over the dynamics of the game, she could generate anything she wanted, including new boundaries. Aeglenn was a realm of infinite possibilities and when a player reached the “end game” content, Sai could expand the world. Perhaps someday they could expand the game to other worlds.

After they'd passed the quest marker, Tristen called the group to a halt and instructed everyone to activate buffs. He also asked Natalia to summon her light wisp. Then, he passed out the dried meat from the tavern which gave them the Well Fed status.

"Is everyone ready to enter the quest area?"

Everyone nodded their assent, and they walked forward. Once they crossed the threshold into the dungeon, or the instance area, there would be no turning back. They either completed the quest, found an alternate route, or died trying.

Poison sacks, claws, and eyeballs sounded like they were in for a difficult task. Tristen's imagination had run rampant as he thought of potential creature encounters. They walked for a few minutes and Tristen didn't see a boundary or shimmering veil that showed an instanced zone. Curious, he asked his friends to wait while he jogged back the way they'd come.

He jogged away from his friends and a minute later, they were right in front of him. There was no way he got that turned around so fast. Tristen rejoined the group and asked one of his friends to try the same thing. Just a minute or two later, Tyler jogged back with a confused look on his face. Tristen knew an instanced area was a one-way ticket until completion, but he hadn't expected the method Sai used. He assumed a barrier or boundary marked a “hard” edge to the instance, but that wasn't the case. As it worked now, it seemed as though the area had no boundaries.

Escape was not an option and they would need to finish the quest before they could leave the woods. The only path that lay open to them led deeper into the woods.

"Aaron, I think you should lead the way from here on out."
"I think it's a good idea too,", replied Aaron.
"It looks like there is a cave just ahead. There's nothing else around it and I see no evidence of mobs in the area."

Tristen's shoulders slumped. He knew from previous games that groves of trees and caves were often home to spiders. If there was one irrational fear he had, it was spiders. Any kind of spider, it didn't matter. They could all burn in the furthest reaches of hell for all he cared. The spindly little creature invaded everyone. Tristen read statistic somewhere about how the average person consumes five to six spiders a year, primarily while asleep. For the next six months, he slept with a mosquito net over his head. He hoped there were no spiders here and told himself repeatedly this was just a game. A realistic game, but a game all the same.

True to Aaron's description, the cave looked abandoned and overgrown with weeds. Tristen saw nothing in sight, nor did he hear anything that showed inhabitants. He pulled out one torch to light it.

Torch

Description: Provides 3 hours of light per torch

Requirements: Requires Flint


"Requires Flint", Tristen muttered.
"Um, guys. We have a problem here. Did anyone grab a Flint for the torches?"

They all shared a look and shook their heads. Well, that's just epic though Tristen. Their first quest, one they'd prepared for, and they forgot the dang flint.

"Look around and see if you can find a rock. Maybe we can use one our weapons to create a spark."

If only Tristen had chosen the [Illuminate] spell. Sure, the other ones provided better abilities, but right now they needed light. Tyler had [Night Sight] and would scout ahead, but once they engaged in a fight, they had no way to see.

To build on the problem, they might encounter traps in the cave. Although Tyler could disarm traps, he could not detect them. Now, they had no light, which made matters worse. Tristen hoped Tyler learned the skill while they explored the cave or they were in for some painful adventures.

"I found a rock," called Natalia

Tyler pulled his dagger and struck the rock. It created a tiny spark that might be enough to light the torch, but it came nowhere near what a flint produced. Tristen held the torch to the side of the rock and Tyler struck the rock.

"Ouch!" hissed Tristen and yanked his hand back

He looked down and saw blood dripping from a gash on his hand. Tristen's health dipped slightly and a Bleeding status icon appeared on his notification bar. Natalia instructed her light wisp to cast a HoT on Tristen and he watched his health return as the wound healed. Tristen placed the torch on the ground next to the rock and had Tyler try again. It took a dozen slashes, but the torch was lit. Unfortunately, the durability on Tyler's dagger took a hit, but it was worth the price to have visibility in the cave. They needed to watch the durability of the torch and light the other one before the flame died. If they tried to light another one in the cave, it might attract attention from the noise.
Problem solved, it was time to resume the exploration. Tyler stole ahead of the group, outside the radius of light cast by the torch. Tristen saw no webs or sign of spiders yet. He kept his expectation low in the event they stumbled into a den of the critters.

Tyler searched for traps, but so far he had seen none. It's possible the creatures they faced were not intelligent, in which case there may be no traps. If it was spiders, he suspected there would an early warning system or web that notified the critters. Tristen said a silent prayer, hoping that his luck held out and spiders were not their first confrontation. He preferred any other creature. he'd even be okay facing down a swarm of maggots. They continued down the tunnel and claustrophobia crept up on him. He jumped at every noise and expected an attack at any moment.

"Do we seriously have to keep going?" Natalia asked. She shared Tristen's trepidations about the dark cave.

Tyler, turned back and smirked, “somebody scared of the dark?”


“I'm not scared, but the realism here and no idea about the creatures we will face are making me jump at everything. We have to collect poison sacks. There will be something nasty waiting around the corner!”, explained Natalia.

Tyler conceded the point and agreed that it was disconcerting. He, motioned the group to wait and scouted ahead. He returned and told them he hadn't come across any creatures, but that the tunnel branched ahead. The walked to the fork in the road. There was no sign which way to go, the map provided no insight, and they still had seen no indications of inhabitants.


"I have no clue which way to go," said Tristen, "maybe we should flip a coin?"

Tyler pulled a silver from his bag and flipped it into the air.

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A note from Balr0g

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About the author

Balr0g

Bio: This is the section where I'm supposed to write how I have always dreamed of writing books and that there are dozens of five star books out there with my name on them. Reality? I am brand new to writing, and worse, I'm not a creative writer. Most of the stuff that I have written is technical, cyber-related stuff. So, how in the world did I start down this path? The best way to sum it up is D. Rus and Vasiliy Mahenenka. These two Russian authors created books in a new genre called LitRPG, which falls under a more broad category called Gamelit. I devoured any and every book created by these two authors and quickly realized they were not alone in their endeavor. The series they created were translated from Russian to English, but it wasn't long before American authors started pushing their own series. Since starting with the Play to Live series (D.Rus), I've read hundreds of books and dozens of stories on Royal Road. I started posing questions and conversations about plots and book directions in various groups and forums. Eventually, I got the idea to start keeping track of my ideas and instead of giving them away, write my own story. Herein, is born a writer (or at least a wannabe writer)... not a writer to grab a paycheck, and not even for the sake of a job. I am putting this first story together purely for my enjoyment and it has been a fun ride so far.

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