The first hour –
I have 875 leet, which I have no idea as to what amount of money that equates to in dollars. Or yen, knuts, or denarii. What I do know is that I don’t want that prick Ian to get any of it, so I’ve got to spend it on especially useless stuff before bed or give it to the girls. Any quality gear I buy might be taken by Ian, or he might get angry I’m spending money I allegedly owe him. Regardless of the outcome, I just want the attitude I take in the meantime to be ‘screw that guy’. He knocked my tooth out, after all. That’s worth a little obstinacy. To this very moment, I’m still sticking my tongue in the hole where the tooth used to be.
Ignoring my someday revenge, it occurs to me that I don’t know anything about this city, despite living here in my dream for several days. Since I have several hours to waste, it is time for some reconnaissance. I’ll start by going to a different chicken on a stick shop than where I usually go. For some reason, this city is chocked full of these shops. Some of them seem strangely upscale… but all they sell is various bits of chicken on a stick and some sort of fruity soda. Since this city is derived from my subconscious, I think I might need to broaden my horizons when I wake up. At least include my three favorite vegetables too… pizza, mac and cheese, and bacon burgers.
I push the curtain out of the way of the entrance to the shop and sit down at the bar. I order several sticks for myself and a round of the fruity club soda for every person in the establishment.
<Kyuu> “These drinks were brought to you by the ‘slay the imps’ foundation!”
People must like these drinks, because they all happily accept them with a cheer. A man sitting next to me turned with a broad grin on his face and thanked me gratefully. To be honest, it was only like 200 leet worth. I just ordered the drinks as a formality for getting information. I didn’t want to bother people with begging them for something and not offering anything in return. What I didn’t expect was for the people to be so… enthusiastic.
<Kyuu> “I’m new to the city, so if you don’t mind, I have a lot of questions…”
No one around had any issues answering my questions as they drained their drinks.
<Kyuu> “What is the name of the city, and what can you tell me about it?”
And so at the low, low cost of only 14 imp deaths… okay, that seems outrageously expensive in hindsight… I learned the basics. The labyrinth city is called “Erosion”, like the process of wearing something down. The city is divided up with the Gateway plaza and surrounding circular bazaar making a somewhat small center, with three equally sized districts surrounding it like pie pieces. There is the guild district, which houses all of the various training halls for obtaining new classes including production classes. There is the residential district, which ‘houses’ all of the inns, motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, taverns, pubs, bars, restaurants, shops, stores, and of course houses. Finally, there is the royal district which houses the royal castle and surrounding noble’s mansions. The guilds hold the real power in the city because they generate most of the leet from labyrinth exploration.
The royal family is a nuclear family, consisting of a married couple, an older son and a younger daughter. I have absolutely nothing to base this assumption off of, but I imagine this…
(The crown prince is cocksure with an angry side and poor martial skills. The crown princess is likely extremely cold to people, but secretly has an easily embarrassed cute side. Oh, and she is almost certainly far more skilled than her brother at sword fighting, but because she is a girl she is always unjustly treated inferior to him. His Majesty the King is either a well-known philanderer with a pointlessly sweet tooth and a daughter complex, or he completely ignores his family in favor of sneaking out of the castle to spend time with the ‘common folk’, and he’s always safe because he’s basically the strongest swordsman in the world for some reason. Her Majesty the Queen is either a total b-word that had both of her children with the duke that always hangs out in the castle unbeknownst by the king, and they are secretly conspiring to murder the king to put her rotten son on the throne as a puppet… or she is pretty face that serves no purpose other than occasionally threatening the king with a smile so that he stops sleeping leering at the maids, or trying to marry off his daughter to the first rando-adventurer that comes by.)
<Random man> “The royal family are figure heads only. They lost all of their power when the guilds went on strike and the country went bankrupt. They are just a regular family, are super nice to people, and frequent establishments like this one as a family date night on a fairly regular basis. The prince is an outspoken advocate of abolishing ‘slave-summoning’ and the princess spends most of her free day working at the “Children of the Labyrinth” orphanage as a housekeeper. That orphanage was founded by the Queen, who donated her childhood mansion in the Royal District to accommodate it. Both her and the King work full time as combat trainers and teachers at the orphanage as well.”
<Kyuu> “Ha… as you’d expect of royalty.”
I was way wrong!
<Random man> “What else to tell you… oh! The surrounding zones! The plains are moderately safe. It’s where we keep the farms, and many adventurers and knights patrol and protect the area from monsters. If you head towards the ocean, be prepared to fight pirates. If you head towards the forest, be prepared to fight bandits. If you head to the mountains… don’t ever head to the mountains.”
<Kyuu> “What… do dragons live in the mountains or something? Or a xenophobic dwarf community?”
The man just shuddered and refused to speak further on the matter. In fact, the whole room became somber when he mentioned the mountains.
<Kyuu> “Got it… don’t go to the mountains, ocean, or forest… Or the mountains. Especially the mountains.”
As a final ‘F you!’ to Ian, and another ‘thank you!’ to the helpful people at the chicken on a stick shop, I bought another round of drinks for them. They thanked me again, but honestly, I’m mostly just trying to be petty. No need to thank me for my own selfish desire to flip Ian the bird.
I left the chicken on a stick shop and started strolling down the main road leading through the residential district. I noticed that there wasn’t a drainage system in place. Basically, unless it doesn’t rain here, the whole street would flood every time there was a light downpour. But it isn’t like there is no concept of drainage and sewage here. The city is pretty huge based on my rough evaluation of it, since I had seen it from the sky while it hurled through time to kill me. If the city really is so massive, there really should be sanitation in place or the streets will be filled with filth before the evening bell rings.
Thinking back, the inn the girls and I had been staying in had sinks with faucets and flushing toilets. Is that normal for gaming worlds? I half expected to not even need to use the bathroom when I got here. After all, who dreams about dropping deuces? I was told by Lola that it is fine to use the labyrinth like a huge toilet since it cleans itself when it resets and changes shape the next day, but I’m a little reluctant to drop trou in front of little girls. Or anyone else, for that matter. I’m prudish that way.
Two men are playing some sort of dice game in an alleyway. It looked like a cross between liar’s dice and poker, and they were really getting into it. I stopped to watch, since one of them looked like they were about to lose their shirt and was getting even more aggressive with his bets. Unfortunately for him, both liar’s dice and poker are best played by people who don’t exhibit so much emotion. For a few minutes, I quietly watched over the game until it reached its finale. The loser bluffed that he had a straight flush, the winner called him a liar, and was right… and put a slave collar on him. They didn’t have a slave collar before. It just materialized in his hand as he thrust it on the losing player.
<Winning guy> “Ah! Bad luck for you! I’ll have you work that bet off in the labyrinth! You still as skilled as you used to be?”
<Losing guy> “Eh… I don’t really like the labyrinth. Can’t I work it off in the fields or a warehouse or something? Or a brothel? I’d love to work there! C’mon Harrison! You know how I feel about the maze.”
<Harrison> “I do, Avery. But I also know you will be in my debt for months in the fields. If you go to the fifth floor of the labyrinth, you’ll be free and clear by tomorrow!”
<Avery> “Oh… fine. I don’t really have a choice in the matter anyway. Where am I going to find a party though? You know what happened to my last group. I’m cursed.”
Oh oh? This guy is confident enough for the fifth floor? What is he? Analyze.
Class: Level 10 Blade Warden
HP: 65 MP: 30 STR: 50 AGI: 20 VIT: 20 INT: 15 MND: 15
Spells: Shield Sword (3 MP), Disengage (10 MP)
<Kyuu> “My party is hoping to break through to the fourth floor in about two and a half hours. Why don’t you come with us?”
I interrupt their conversation. They seemed to be friends with each other, and for that reason I suspected that that Harrison guy wouldn’t send Avery to his death. Furthermore, Harrison might see this as a great opportunity and for Avery to come with us. Finally, he has a skill called Shield Sword, and he has some crazy high STR… which might be exactly what we need for the third floor.
<Harrison> “Third floor is kind of low. What do monsters give there? 25 leet? He could earn 100 leet a monster on the fifth floor.”
<Kyuu> “How much does he owe?”
<Harrison> “400 leet, kid. Like I said, he’ll be done in a day if he’s by himself. You’ll just slow him down.”
No wonder those people were so happy with the rounds of drinks. I forget that normal people rarely encounter monsters in the labyrinth unless they map out the whole thing. The floors are pretty huge, after all.
<Kyuu> “I’ll buy him. I can guarantee we’ll make way more than that in two hours, even on the third floor.”
<Harrison> “I’m not interested in selling my friend just because he owes me a little money. Who knows what you’d make him do? Get out of here, kid.”
<Kyuu> “Fine, I’ll pay 450 leet right now for his services for two hours in the labyrinth. After that, he’ll have paid off his debt to you whether we fought one monster or thirty. And he gets money too you know.”
<Harrison> “Well if you’re going to go that far, fine! I agree to those terms. I hope none of us come to regret this.”
I check my own status and see that I only had 25 leet remaining.
<Kyuu> “Wonderful. Meet my party and I at the Gateway in a little over two hours.”
<Avery> “Uh… it’s a little inconvenient, but alright. I hope we can earn a lot safely. Harry, can I borrow a sword?”
I didn’t stay to listen to their conversation. If nothing else, we’d buy him something cheap with Lola and Reena’s money. I doubt they’d mind, given that we’ll more than make it back. I should really be careful… this dream is going to warp my sense of money. Good thing my wife keeps track of our finances. I’m definitely the irresponsible one.
I wander the streets a bit more, looking here and there at the various houses and I’ve come to notice something rather disappointing. All of the architecture, pottery, art, road design… it’s all really rudimentary and plain. These streets weren’t made for walking and admiring, or even functioning. They were made for running past from quest point A to quest point B, without taking the time to look at them. If you did, you’d note the ugliness of all the walls, and how five houses in a row have the exact same plant. Literally the exact same plant, not even turned 45 degrees to change its appearance. This city was not made lovingly. It uses the minimum number of assets to accomplish the ‘semblance’ of function.
<Kyuu> “No wonder you’ve grown bored, Enigma.” I say to no one in particular.
<Reena> “Who you talking to, Big brother?” Reena seems to have arrived.
<Kyuu> “Myself. I’m just too darn interesting not to.” Reena rolls her eyes.
<Reena> “You’re reminding me how you’re old. Whatever, hand over the battery, I’m topped off.”
She dumped all her MP into the Slime battery and ran off again without a word. So cold for her… I wonder what the problem is.
<Lola> “Ah! Did I just miss Reena?” Lola comes from behind me and puts her hand on the battery.
<Kyuu> “Yes… oh! Lola, do you have enough leet to buy a sword? I contracted a Blade Warden for two hours, but it cost me basically all of my money. He might not have a weapon.”
<Lola> “Yes, I think I should have enough. If I run into Reena again I’ll make sure she doesn’t spend everything too just in case. For the cost of one sword, we could make loads more money clearing the floor.”
<Kyuu> “That was my thought too. Anyway, thanks for the MP. I’ll see you again in an hour.”
The second hour –
I next tried going to the Royal district, but other than the main road, I was blocked by spear wielding guards. I walked along that road for a long time, but the only building with an entrance facing the road was the orphanage. I couldn’t help them, so I didn’t go in. I wasted nearly 45 minutes exploring the empty road, but I found that the Royal District suffered from much of the same issues as the Residential District… the artist in charge of designing it was really lazy.
<Kyuu> “Seriously Enigma… fix your boredom yourself. This is just laziness.”
I spent the next 15 minutes walking back to, and perusing, the bazaar. They have loads of shops lined up… but now that I’m really looking closely, there are very few adventurers. Way fewer adventurers than should be out in the early afternoon. I never once saw a blue dot on the floor maps that wasn’t in our party. How did I not notice it before? The design was rushed, the player base is low, and most people in the city have nothing to do with the labyrinth other than reap the benefits of those few people who do go in. The economy is in shambles, based on how cheap I thought the drinks were, but how expensive everyone else thought they were… and my party was the only one staying at the inn. There is only one conclusion.
… this MMO is dying.
The third hour –
Reena and Lola charged the battery again when they found me. Lola was again polite and engaged in small talk before disappearing. Reena was uncordial and hurried away. When I asked Lola what was bothering Reena she said she didn’t know, but also seemed unperturbed.
<Lola> “Reena’s always been super tough. Even though my mom was real supportive and nice, I was a meek kid that spent all their time playing games by myself or soloing online. Even though her mom was a drunk basket case, Reena was super friendly, sporty, and was constantly trying to pressure me into coming outside.”
<Kyuu> “You two aren’t sisters?”
<Lola> “Ah… we are. Half sisters to be exact. We share a pretty seedy father. Despite being married to my mother, both of his daughters were born a day apart. He’s not in the picture for either of us.”
<Kyuu> “I’m sorry to hear that about both of you… any way I can help?”
<Lola> “Eh? No, not really. Just help us not die, and that’s more than enough. The fact that you’ve resurrected me and paid off her slavery debt is far kinder than most have ever been to us. This world can be a little unforgiving, it seems… so just keep being our elderly friend.”
Why you little…
<Kyuu> “Yeah yeah… get out of her. Enjoy your hour. Or don’t. It’s your time and you can do whatever you want with it.”
Lola smiled and wandered off towards the Residential district. I used my party sense to follow Reena. Whatever she was doing on her time off, it put her in a terrible mood. It didn’t matter if she noticed me because she was in the Guild district, and it was the only place I hadn’t explored yet. I passed by several gated buildings with large yards leading to their front doors. Inside appeared to be training centers for the various classes, but there weren’t any students. There were trainers standing outside the doors of each of the buildings, but they lacked pupils.
Ugh, they’re all standing uniformly to the left of their doors. The dojo/training centers all look and feel the exact same. If there wasn’t a cookie cutter sign above each entrance gate that said “Swordsman” or “Knight”, I wouldn’t be able to tell what they were even learning. Come on! That supposed “Sorcerer” trainer has a rack of swords in his hall, just like all the other trainers. Enigma! This is too pathetic! I wouldn’t want to play this game unless it had really beautiful character models, or the gameplay outside of town was way better… preferably both. Oh, or if it had sim management aspects… I love me some management sims.
While lost in my train of thought, which was me just being critical of everything Enigma had created, I had passed up where Reena was. At least, I had passed her according to the party sense. When I back peddled, I found she was in the dojo for “Assassin”. Or rather, she was inside the grounds, but not in the building. She was sitting at a bench near the entrance crying with her hand on her head.
Oi… no one is good at these situations, so it seems pointless to say “I’m no good in this situation.” Should I leave? No… she’s in my party, so she definitely can feel my presence right in front of her. If I just wander off now after seeing her, I’ll definitely be in the wrong.
Since she was sitting on the right side of the bench, I silently sat down on her armless side and waited quietly for her. I might not be able to comfort her… mostly because I don’t know what is wrong… but I’ll at least go down in history as trying.
After a few minutes of sitting quietly with her, so sobbed, and asked me one simple question.
<Reena> “Were you aware that once you are damaged, you have only two hours to be returned to normal via magic? Any longer than that, and the spell won’t activate… or recognize the wound or something. It was the same with Lola. I was so frantic to get her to that alter… because a few minutes later and it wouldn’t have activated. She’d be gone for good. Just like my left arm.”
Ah… that sucks. I had pondered over whether we could pay a healer to fix her arm, or perhaps even if Lola leveled up she could do it. To hear it is impossible is pretty crappy. Lola was right, and I was being unkind. This whole time she’s been acting like losing her arm was no big deal, and I agreed.
<Reena> “Had you noticed that I hadn’t used my thief skills lately? They require an open palm to activate via touching the monster… I can use my skills… but I’d have to go into battle without a weapon to do so. Our party can’t work with that.”
I just thought she’s been using up all her MP to charge the Slime Battery. It was appreciated. I was thanking her for the MP charge, despite it being a drop in leet.
<Reena> “And the thief class isn’t really unique in that regard. Of the classes I fulfill the prerequisites for… let’s see…
A swordsman requires the learning of sword and shield skills.
Brawler uses both hands in its skills.
Beserker uses two handed axes.
Assassins use empty hands in conjunction with a dagger or hidden-blade gauntlets.
Spearmen use two handed spears, or short spears with a shield.
Basically, I don’t have the affinity and stats for a caster class, but I can’t actually use any of the martial class’ skills. I’ve been an adventurer for a month, and I’ve peaked. I’m never going to do anything but hold groups back unless I live for guiding lowbies through the first two floors… and I’m still a lowbie myself! This game is too hard! It’s too unfair! If it wasn’t for you, I would have likely died my first night as a prostitute. Even if I had survived… would I have wanted to? Ugh this life sucks! To think this is what I wanted…”
That’s kinda heavy… but what was it that Lola said? The world can be unforgiving, but just keep being their friend? That Lola really is pretty sharp, isn’t she?
I just put my arm over her shoulder and held her lightly and quietly. I was pretty sure my voice would just be grating in the uncomfortable silence. She leaned her head against me for a long time, just staring at the totally boring road with the totally boring training centers.
Class: Level 7 Time Wizard
EXP : 580/800
Age: 15 (30)
HP: 20 MP: 70 STR: 11 AGI: 11 VIT: 11 INT: 16 MND: 16
Spells: Anchor Moment (10 MP), Recall Moment (3000 MP), Summon Slime (Level 1 Guppy, 15 MP + 3 MP/Minute)
Equipment: Chipped Gladius (+4 stabbing/slashing), Slime Battery (943/5000 MP)