My opponent had noticed my hesitation and charged into my defensive zone. He knew that I was distracted, but had no way of knowing what had changed. The blood on my body had already soaked through my clothing and armor, thus he had no way to know that the fatal wounds that he dealt had healed. His smirk was quite visible, as he unleased another flurry of blows.
Quite reasonably, his smirk turned into a frown as I took his blows and returned a counter back to him. Both of us were jolted from our exchange, yet I returned back into my stance just a moment faster than he did, and I activated my attack skill <<Hurricane Sweep>>. The sharp longsword held in my two hands glowed blindingly, as I directed it in a clockwise motion around my opponent. A gust of wind appeared out of nowhere, and lifted him up and spun him in a cartwheel motion while I drew back my weapon and slashed relentlessly. As the gust of wind died down, my opponent was loudly deposited onto the granite arena floor. Taking this chance, I swung my sword while he was on the floor, but unfortunately, I had only struck stone.
Since this was the final match of the month, spectators roared and screamed in excitement as my attack missed the gladiator champion. His years of experience coupled with his flexible yet highly defensive equipment allowed him to survive thus far, yet we both knew that the fight is near the end. Both his mana and stamina must be close to empty, as the fight has been dragging on for nearly fifteen minutes. My passive-enhancement skill sets gave me an advantages in longer fights, yet none of my active attack skills could kill him with a decisive blow. Alas, my love for passive-strength builds is also my greatest weakness – the stamina of a dragon yet the attack strength of an insect. But that is not to say a relentless swarm of wasps cannot kill.
I quickly dashed forward, giving pressure to the champion to prevent him into getting into a proper stance, or god-forbid, throw me into another stun-lock chain. I swung my longsword with both hands, hacking and slashing wildly with the intent to distract him rather than connect with any hits. The champion stumbled backward, yet expertly dodged all of my powerful swings. I took one particularly large swing, and then released and flung my longsword toward him while I drew a pair of sabres. As the champion attempted to dodge and avoid the large, hulking metal flying toward him, I dashed and sidestepped to his left side. A flurry of blows exchanged between my twin sabres and the champion’s left hand weapon, before both of us stood in a proper stance. I grinned wildly as I charged with reckless abandon, as I knew that I if I could not win the match now, the champion would have enough mana to activate his stun skills.
I slashed wildly with my right hand, while I carefully aimed my left sabre toward the gap underneath his armpit. I groaned as I received a heavy slash upon my right shoulder, but in retaliation, I stepped forward with a heavy stomp and leaned into the stab with all my weight. At the last second, the champion positioned his weapon between the two of us, and I jabbed myself into it, while I introduced the entire length of my sabre into the Champion’s chest. I watched grimly as my HP bar steadily fell, and hoped that the last blow I inflicted would earn me the victory. The two of us stared at one another while we gripped the weapon penetrated in our torso. After what felt like an eternity, the champion released his grip and fell down to his knees. The spectators erupted into a maelstrom of screams and cheers, as the gladiatorial champion dramatically fell face-first into the granite arena floor.
Stunned, I stood in my exact spot as the weapon in my body disappeared. I closed my eyes and reveled in the chaotic cheers and screams from the spectator stands. The cheers can be described as raw, emotional and relentless, and it made my blood boil and my heart pound. Cheers and shouts came from every side of the arena, and I simply enjoyed the feeling of warmth as I stood at the centre of attention. A large number of notifications flooded my screen, as I closed them with an automated habit. The notifications were guild invitations, level-ups, skill increases and quest completions. I struggled to put on a smile, as I limped and walked into the preparation pits. As soon as I reached the first bench, I slumped down onto it and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I quickly logged myself out of Royal Road, as the adrenaline rush of victory felt suffocating to me. I climbed out of my virtual reality console, I noticed my sheen of sweat despite the strong A/C being blasted in the typical Chinese summer. I took a few deep breaths, and felt my heart-beat slowly return to normal. I was definitely buzzed from the win, and knew that I had to calm down before going back. I shut down the console and the A/C, and decided to go out for a quick walk. The Saturday afternoon heat is quite oppressive, yet I wanted to go for a walk and buy some cool melon-cream flavoured popsicles as a prize for winning.
Jumping down the flights of stairs, I sighed deeply as I turned myself into deep thought. As a recently graduated engineer from university, I was lucky to be able to find a job immediately, while most of my classmates struggled. The spanking new job allowed me to splurge and buy a virtual reality console. Royal Road had already been in existence for three years, and it seems like everybody played it as if it was their second life. I had always been playing RPGs and fantasy-combat games since I was a child, with retro-games such as the black-and-white text MUD games, all the way up to Free To Play - Pay To Win fantasy RPG genres that seem to populate the Asian gaming industry previous to Royal Road. As I was an engineer, I had a penchant for numbers and optimization. A large number of my character builds were designed around passive enhancement skill trees. I always strived to maximize damage and health, while spending the least amount of effort and time (after all, a lazy engineer is the best engineer). Being of Chinese descent, my parent had drilled into me since early childhood that hard-work can always beat raw talent, 99% of the time. But of course, my favourite variation of the saying is that it wouldn’t hurt to have both talent and good work-ethics.
Absorbed in my own train of thought while walking to the 7-Eleven convenience store, I never noticed how the usual crowd of people slowly dwindled away and how the brutishly oppressive Chinese summer heat gave way to a chilling aura. I was still pumped up from the recent victory in Royal Road and lost deep in my own thought. I never noticed the signs until it was too late. I bumped into someone standing in front of me, and I quickly backed away. I quickly bowed my head as if I was still in university, I apologized before I continue on my way.
By the time I looked up, the person I was apologizing limped toward me, and grabbed my right arm with both hands. I screamed in shock as he suddenly jerked on my arm that gave me an excruciating pain in my shoulder. While I screamed and flailed against my attacker, and I delivered a strong front-kick, straight into the person’s chin. I silently thanked all the close-quarter combat training I had done in Royal Road, while I grabbed onto my now-dislocated shoulder with my left hand. Although the attacker released its grip on my arm, it stumbled back a few steps, before issuing a loud moan, and resumed his advance toward me. I noticed that the person in front of me had zombie-like pale blue skin and blood-shot eyes, and he slowly limped toward me like that of a typical zombie. I held onto my dislocated shoulder, and quickly ran away from it. Every step was a painful jolt to my shoulder, yet I had no intention of stopping. A few zombies could be seen, yet by the time they saw or heard me, I had already sprinted past them.
As the minutes wore on into what seems like hours, I leaned my back against a brick wall and tried to make sense of the situation. The normally packed street was completely empty, save for an eerie-looking sky and random zombies walking around. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have to say that I was transported to a beginner dungeon in a RPG, where I had to fight and gain experience against the slow moving zombies. A ridiculous hyena-like laughter came roaring through the empty streets, and I quickly looked around for the source. I noticed a well-dressed man approximately 100 metres away, and he approached me in full confidence. As he got closer, I knew instantly that he was a dangerous person, despite him being neither a monster nor a zombie.
“Well, well… Never thought there’d be another one’a ya here” The well-dressed man spoke, as his laughter never leaving his taunting tone.
“I ain’ one ta judge, but ya seem like a young punk. Just a friendly piece of advice: dun be comin’ into dis world, ‘less ya never wanna go back!”
I stared quizzically at the man as I noticed a line of letters and symbols above his head. I turned my attention back to his snobby smirk when suddenly, my vision seems to distort. I closed my eyes and shook my head to steady myself. As I turned back to look at the figure, it seems the world returned back to normal, and the streets became packed like a normal Saturday afternoon. Slowly and cautiously, I walked back to my apartment while I held onto my right shoulder. The pain was no longer an issue and I decided not to visit a doctor immediately. I needed to calm myself down and think of a logical explanation for what happened. Perhaps I had gone insane by playing too many games?
I cautiously opened the door to my apartment, and quizzically stared at the clock on the wall. I had only been out for five minutes, while the whole ordeal that I had gone through must have felt like hours. I gingerly removed my shirt in front of a mirror, and decided to take a look at my presumably-dislocated shoulder. There was no visible injury or swelling as I examined my shoulder, and I soon was able to move it freely, almost as if it nothing had happened at all. As I stopped focusing on my shoulder, I looked up and saw the following words appear above my head: