Ken slumped to the floor. His health bar was at about seventy-five percent. "Attributes," he said and winced.
|Hit Points||128 (-50 (minor attack: Blizzard Shuriken) + critical hit)|
Only eighty-nine strength? I'm a tank and the legendary Yamabushi Rock! Level one-hundred twenty! What the hell's going on? "Basic stats."
Level zero! That's bullshit! They said players could start with their characters from the Three Kingdoms. How am I going to win the quest in twenty-four days. And the other players are going to carry over their high-level characters.
The blood in the hundreds of micro-lacerations had clotted and his perforated shirt was soaked red. He stood up. Although his skin stung all over, he didn't feel horrible. No broken bones. No vomiting or numbness indicating poisoning. His eyes traveled back up to his attributes. You've got to be kidding? That was only a minor hit from the Empress. I'd hate to think what a full-on major attack would do. And what critical hit? Damn, this constant pain, sure is distracting. "Update sensorial max." Did he really believe for a moment it would work when logging out didn't? Nothing happened. He tried a bunch of different commands and even reached behind his back to push the emergency cutoff switch, but nothing worked. He wasn't surprised.
Twenty-four days would soon turn into twenty-three and a few little bee stings never hurt anyone. Along with the Empress, all of his hopes for a quick escape had now evaporated. There was no time to waste. He needed to start on the quest right away. Wait, shouldn't he ask the NPC clerk at the front desk to send a message? I mean they wouldn't have set it up so only admins could communicate outside the game, right? There must be some kind of emergency notification system. He must've been really out of it not to have asked her last night.
Loud running outside in the hallway. "Is this where it was coming from?" a woman said.
"Yes, Ma'am," another woman said.
He pulled himself up by the doorknob and took a step with his right leg. The wooden floorboard creaked. Then an excruciating pain shot through his kneecap and he collapsed onto the floor.
Banging on the door. "Are you okay in there?" the first woman said.
It was the NPC clerk.
The doorknob rattled.
"Hand me the master key," the NPC clerk said on the other side of the door.
The doorknob turned and the door swung open.
The clerk and another woman in a dull gold kimono, a tiny ruby set in between her eyebrows, and a white bandana covering her hair rushed in.
The clerk dropped down on both knees next to Ken. "Let me see," she said, lifting his hands off of his knee. The blood-soaked pantleg was ripped in several places.
The clerk held his leg up. "Qian, grab him under the arms," the clerk said to the other woman. "The bed."
Qian stumbled on one of the gouges in the floor.
As the clerk ripped the tear in his pantleg above his knee wider, he sucked in air through gritted teeth.
While the clerk examined Ken's kneecap, Qian slipped her long fingers underneath his wrist and, with her thumb on top, squeezed. With eyes narrowed in concentration, she watched Ken's face.
Ken was about to ask her whether she was applying acupressure when she let go and turned her back to him.
She surveyed the room. "It's a mess, I can't clean it up all by myself." After kicking at one of the gouges with the toe of her boot, she crossed her arms and harrumphed. "And look at these floorboards, they're all torn up. Sebastian is going to have to fix them before I do anything in here." She glanced back at Ken over her shoulder. "Looks like a brawl happened in here and that's against the house rules."
"Stop your yapping and get the first aid kit," the clerk said and shooed Qian out.
Qian rushed out.
"My goodness, what in the Empress's true name happened to you?" the clerk said, standing up. "The kneecap's fractured in multiple places and you're cut up all over. And look at your shirt."
"It's a skin condition," Ken said. "And I fell down." He didn't need to get into any more trouble, no matter how small.
She squinted at him.
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. The clerk had helped him to his room last night. He'd forgotten her name and tried to pull up her NPC character sheet but nothing displayed. "Thanks, Mrs..."
"Harriet." She pulled a long hairpin out of her bun at the back of her head and then reinserted it.
Qian walked into the room and set a basin of steaming hot water on the table. After sliding clothes off of her shoulder and flipping them onto the back of the chair, she slipped a bag off of her other shoulder and handed it to Harriet.
Harriet pulled a towel out of the bag, poured a clear liquid on it from a flask, dipped the towel in the hot water and wiped his knee.
"Shit!" Ken said. It stung like hell. Must be an antiseptic.
"What's this?" Harriet held up a small metal canister.
"An instant healing balm." Qian frowned.
"It's not part of the first aid kit."
"So what, just use it on him." Qian walked over to the window, wiped the steam from one of the panes with the wide sleeve of her kimono, and looked out, her back to Ken and Harriet.
Harriet spread glob of the balm over his kneecap.
His health bar instantly jumped up to ninety percent.
"Oh my God, stop wasting it." Qian snatched the canister from Harriet's hand.
"My word," Harriet said but didn't argue back.
"Like this." Qian scooped a smidgen of balm with two fingers. "Close your eyes," she said to Ken.
After closing them, he felt her fingers spreading and rubbing the balm all over his face. She pushed his head around like it was a soccer ball. "Can't you keep your head still?" She grabbed the back of his head with her other hand to steady him.
It was soothing.
"Ma'am, you do it now."
He opened his eyes.
Qian grasped the bottom of his t-shirt and pulled it up over his head and then she shucked his pants and underwear off.
After Harriet finished rubbing balm all over his body, his health bar had topped off at one-hundred percent.
"Thank you so much," Ken, still naked, said clasped his hands together in front of him and bowed to them on his hands and knees on the bed. "I really owe you two."
"Think nothing of it," Harriet said.
"If there's nothing more, Ma'am, I'll be going. My shift's over," Qian said and turned to go without waiting for an answer.
"Of course," Harriet said to Qian's back.
Qian opened the door and, without turning, said, "Don't forget the clothes on the chair. There're always unclaimed clothes in the laundry room, so I grabbed a few. Besides, if I were you, I wouldn't be caught dead in a dungeon quest in your old ones. They're so last year's style." She slammed the door behind her.
His mouth agape, Ken stared at the back of the door, pockmarked by the Empress's Blizzard Shuriken. Was dungeon quest a gaming term?
Harriet laughed. "Don't pay her any mind, she's a really caring person, and my hardest worker."
The emergency notification system. He opened and shut his mouth several times like a fish. "Uh, I hate to ask you for another favor after all you've already done for me, but could you send a message to my wife?"
"Sure, the messenger comes every afternoon."
"No, I meant a message out of the game."
"Out of the game?" She scratched her head.
"Yeah, you know, through a chat or an email. Can you contact the admins?"
"Admins?" She tilted her head and closed one eye.
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about. You were exhausted when you stumbled in last night, near death, I should say. I should've called the doctor, but after we got you up to bed and got some hot soup into you, you slept like a baby." She gathered up the first aid kit into her bag. "I'm going to ask Margie to get the doctor right now."
Ken laughed. "No need. I was just joking. Ha ha, see I'm fine." He jumped off the bed and spun around on his formerly injured leg. "I'm going to get a little fresh air."
She harrumphed. "Okay, I hope you know you won't last out there very long in your birthday suit." She pointed to the clean clothes on the chair.
"Yes, Ma'am." He saluted.
"You're still not fully recovered, so don't wander off anywhere, stay on the porch, okay? I'm going to come out and check on you in a half an hour." She started to the door.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ken saw the canister of balm lying on the bed. "Harriet, you left the balm." He picked it up and handed it to her.
She held her hand up. "Why don't you keep it and return it to Qian? She went to her kendo practice. She always does after her shift. But she'll be back this evening. She lives right at the end of this floor, room two-eleven." She winked and left.
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Quantum Katana
Tech writer by day / Dungeon master by night
Be immersed in my TechnoPhantasia stories and strike down charging oni with your blood-splattered digital katana.
Discord: quantum katana#8807 (hanging out on the LitRPG Forum and GameLit Forum servers)