Ken put on the clean clothes, hefted on his thick trench coat, and stuffed the balm into one of the coat's many inner pockets. Hanging his head, he shuffled like a zombie down the stairs and through the lobby to the front door. Well, that was a dead end. Even though the local inn always doubled as the post office of a safe zone, it had turned out exactly as the rules had said: in order to maintain full immersion, NPC scripts don't respond to gaming terms. His eyes followed the squiggle of the grain of one of the wooden planks. It stopped at the edge of the wooden plank and his eyes switched to the next squiggle. That's what he'd been doing. Following one possible path to a solution after another and each squiggle was one such path. One squiggle was the logs. The admins would check the logs and find an anomaly, Kenji Shibuyama—a player who'd been logged in for more than twenty-four hours straight. But how long would that take? An algorithm might periodically check. Still, he couldn't stand around twiddling his thumbs and leave it up to algorithmic fate. He had to be proactive.
What if they did find him? They'd simply log the anomaly out. Because, by definition, an anomaly wasn't supposed to happen. Or they might think he was a virus or a Trojan horse or any of the multitude of various malware, only one subset of the multitude of anomalies. They would kill his process and he would be deleted from memory. Where would he go? Back to his body, of course. But what if his body was dead, exactly as the Empress had said. Then where would he go? The anomalous virus shuddered.
He pushed the door open and stepped out onto the stone porch. The clouds glowed from the bright disks in the sky. Twelve of them in all. He could look direclty at them without being blinded. They weren't suns but moons. He paced back and forth. Patches of ominous grey clouds passed overhead and darkened the porch.
That left only one squiggle, only one chance of getting out of this prison and back to his family: the quest, which meant he had to cross the Great Abyss. Whatever that was. He knew it wasn't going to be easy. He had to increase his attributes and skills as fast as possible and he had to do it in a hell of a lot fewer days than twenty-three. One thing for sure, he didn't have time for grinding. Neither did he have time for the random dungeon crawl. He had to be on the quest and accept every challenge, whether it was a newbie pick lock or a level one hundred dungeon boss. Needless to say, he wouldn't be leveling up appropriately. Even with unique legendary item drops—if they even had them—he'd never get his level up fast enough to use them. He needed to find other higher level players or even NPCs. In other words, he had to form an adventurer party. And if he found other players, then they could get a message to Chie. But this quest is a battle royale and what if the other players didn't want to form a party. Instead, they might player kill—
He was knocked off his feet.
Dazed, he rose up on all fours.
Hands grabbed his shoulders and hauled him back up. It was Rob, the blacksmith apprentice NPC who had brought him to this inn. Ken had been so deep in thought, he'd crossed right in front of Rob who was on his way to work at the blacksmith shop. Ken hadn't thought of it, but every player needed weapons and who else other than the local blacksmith would be ideal for telling him about other players.
Together they sauntered down the cobblestone street to the blacksmith shop.
Ken tried to pull up Rob's stats, but as expected nothing came up. "At the blacksmith," Ken said, "I bet you get a lot of adventurers, don't you?"
"Oh, if you mean traders or mercenaries or treasure hunters." Rob's breath fogged up. "Yep, all the time. Why?
"Do you know about a quest for the shards?"
"Of course." Rob shrugged his shoulders. "Everyone knows about the Empress's quest."
"So, what are the shards?"
Rob stopped and squinted at Ken. "You don't know what the shards of the Mirror of Truth are?"
Ken shook his head.
"How could you not know?" Rob crossed his arms.
"I'm not from around here."
"Don't play me for a fool," Rob said and turned on his heel. "Everyone knows."
Ken ran after Rob. "Wait! I—I've got amnesia. I must've hit my head or something up in the mountains. I don't even remember where I'm from."
Rob walked faster.
Ken walked faster too. What's going on? Even though NPC guides like Rob were restricted in their responses, they were still supposed to help you. The game was so life-like, he'd forgotten Rob was an NPC. He needed to get back on the NPC's script. "You know, I'm going to need some weapons."
Rob slowed. "Oh, we have a complete armory. Do you want to drop by and take a look?"
"Absolutely," Ken said. "Say, have you had any the adventurers come by who were going on the Empress's quest? Do you know how I could contact them?"
"No," Rob said.
Ken's head drooped.
"You know that's a legendary quest," Rob said and looked Ken up and down. "You're not at that level yet."
"I know, but I have to. The Empress told me—"
Rob glared at him. "You liar!"
"No, really, this morning, she—"
"Everyone knows she's been exiled in her own citadel for centuries."
Ken frowned, put his hands on his hips, and stared into Rob's eyes. "I saw her with my own two eyes. She appeared in my room and then disappeared."
"Are you mad?" Rob said and turned up his collar. The wind had picked up.
Ken bowed his head and raked his hands through his hair. Snow blew in his face.
Rob rubbed his chin. "The Empress hasn't visited anyone since at least 10,586 when the Blizzard Berserker King devastated her last stronghold on this side of the Great Abyss." Then, Rob smiled at Ken. "But if you're telling the truth, it could've been teleportation."
Ken sighed, smiled back, and pulled the hood out of the pocket on the inside of the trench coat's collar. Since this line of conversation seemed to be part of Rob's script, Ken asked Rob about something that had been bugging him ever since he'd met the Empress. "What will the Mirror of Truth do once it's reconstructed?"
"It can tell you if others are lying or"—Rob smirked—"if you're lying to yourself."
The snow was starting to come down heavy and Rob pulled his hood over his head. "Let's hurry."
Ken mentally hit himself on the head. It wasn't the blacksmith, but the inn that was always the center of the comings and goings of adventurers. He told Rob he'd come to over later and waved goodbye. He couldn't buy anything anyways. He didn't have any money. He didn't even know how he'd managed to pay for his room. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and trudged back to the inn. Deep in thought, he wandered through the winding streets. He walked through a crowded open air market.
He bumped into someone.
"Hey, buddy, watch where you're going," a grizzled man said.
"Sorry," Ken said. "Do you know about the Empress?"
The man walked on.
Ken bumped into a woman carrying a bag of green leafy vegetables. It looked like nappa cabbage. "Pardon me, but do you know..."
Not even glancing at him, she walked away.
Townspeople, your typical low-level NPCs who're just around to add to the atmosphere. He walked past the last stall in the marketplace.
Teleportation? How much mana would he need for a magic spell like that. Just in the off chance, he said, "help mana."
Mana: Magic supply
Oh, c'mon, that's it? "Help." Nothing. "Help mana." The same message displayed. Lame UI. If the item of interest doesn't exist, then nothing is returned, not even a 'topic does not exist' message. Looks like these are the minor nuances Yuri had mentioned.
"Help mana spells."
Nothing like teleportation. "Help teleportation." Nothing.
He rounded the corner of the block. The inn was two more doors down on the left.
What was that other term for it? He snapped his fingers inside of the warm pocket. Projection... "Help Astral Projection."
Description: Projects an astral body to the astral plane, which allows it to travel almost instantaneously an unlimited distance to any location.
Limitations: Original body is unconscious and cannot respond even if attacked.
Chi is extremely powerful! What else can it do? "Help chi spells." Nothing displayed. "Help chi skills?"
Description: Spiritual ability and supply.
Predicting combat actions
Critical hit enhancement
Healing (including medications)
Poison and disease resistance (including medications)
Magic and mana were separate attributes, but Chi was a single attribute. Could Chi as a supply go up indefinitely like mana? Chi was focused on enhancing existing attributes and skills, not on creating new things like magic. If he could get astral projection, then he could collect the shards the fastest. It was a crazy thought, but what if he could use astral projection to project himself outside of the game? Dammit, it was a level one hundred skill.
He shoved the door open, stomped the slush off of his boots, and strode up to the front desk.
"My word, I was worried. I went out to look for you." Harriet smiled at him.
"Sorry, I ran into someone." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, this is kind of embarrassing, but how did I pay for my room?"
"You don't remember?"
He shook his head.
"You were so bone-tired and cold and didn't have any money, so I told you you could work it off."
"I see, how much is it per night?"
"Forty-eight standards, including room and board."
"I could start working now, but before that I have a question."
"Do you know anyone who's going across the Great Abyss?"
"What? Why in the true name of the Empress would you want to do that?" Harriet said. "You look honest and healthy and to be frank I was hoping you'd stay on. Our inn needs an extra hand in the kitchen. Enough for room and board and then a little extra to save up to start a family."
"Thanks, but I've already got a family and I need to get back to them. That's why I need to find—"
"You know, people have been leaving our small village for the big port city Shimonoseki. I'm on a committee in the chamber of commerce and we recently started a program encouraging people to make our village their home. I know a nice girl, Betsy. She arrived here ten days ago and she's already landed a job as a maid in the Johnson household. They're merchants."
His eyes lit up. "Does Mr. Johnson do much traveling?"
"Not these days, but... Betsy, she usually comes in around in the morning to pick up something from our bakery for the Johnsons..." She smiled and winked at Ken.
Ken only smiled back.
"People these days have such outlandish dreams." She sighed. "Speaking of the Johnsons, he does entertain traders fairly often. He might know of someone you could sign on with."
The front door flew open and a person in a blue trench coat, the front emblazoned with a fiery golden Phoenix, stepped through. Snow blew in and the person slammed the door shut. A hood and a balaclava hid the head and face, a wide rough belt cinched around the waist, hands snug inside matching gloves. In regimented and well-practiced movements, the person stomped the snow off of their boots and slapped the freshly fallen snow off of their shoulders. After slipping off their gloves and sliding them into the trench coat pockets, the person flipped back the hood and slipped off the balaclava. Straight jet black hair jagged cut to right above the shoulders. A tiny ruby no larger than a pinky fingernail glinted in the center of the forehead. Hard brown eyes set in a triangular face stared at him.
"Well, look what the blizzard blew in," Harriet said as she waved the woman over. "Betsy, come in, come in."
- 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)