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I dug my hands into soft dirt and grass. I inhaled and let it out in a long sigh.

One month. One whole entire fucking month where the only people who could get into Lotus Online were rich bastards who could pay for early access. And Trent and his asshole friends. They’d been having a grand time lording it over everyone that they were in Lotus, and it annoyed me that I still hadn’t figured out how they pulled that off.

It’d been a month of torture not being able to use the hardware for its intended purpose because of that Horizon ban.

That month of torture was over though. Lotus was finally open to the public, and that meant all the peasants could finally play. I didn’t even care that I was one of the peasants.

All I cared about was we were in. A stupid grin split my face.

Being back in the game world felt damn good. Like I was the real me again. It’d been torture waiting for Lotus Online to be opened to the general public, but I was finally here.

I needed to make up for lost time.

It’s not like those early access jerks could’ve gotten too far ahead of me or changed the game world all that much in the month they’d been roaming around, though the tantalizing glimpses of the game I’d gotten from those early access rich folks who lorded it over everyone else by livestreaming their exploits had been pure torture.

To the point that after the first few days I decided to go on a spoiler blackout for anything related to Lotus Online.  I didn’t do any of my usual obsessive prep work because I wanted to come into this with fresh eyes. Avoiding those spoilers was no small feat considering it’s all anyone wanted to talk about, but I’d mostly done it.

I took in my surroundings. A clearing in the middle of a generic looking old growth fantasy forest wasn’t exactly the rousing introduction to the game I’d been expecting. I’d figured they’d have some amazing cutscene, or maybe a quicktime event that had me fighting off a goblin or an orc or some other generic fantasy nasty to get a feel for the game, but instead I stood in a field with birds chirping and butterflies fluttering around minding their own business.

They weren’t even oversized death butterflies with sleeping powder attacks or antenna whips or mandibles of death or any of a number of ridiculously improbable attacks game designers had come up with for the order lepidoptera over the years.

Though even seeing butterflies felt odd. Butterflies weren’t something I’d ever really seen. Insects weren’t really a thing on our level of the arcology, it was mostly humans and their pets packed in as tightly as possible in shanty houses, but I hadn’t even seen them on field trips to some of the agricultural levels over the years.

There were always people going on about how it was some sign of a slow motion ecological disaster, one of many that were constantly threatening humanity who continued to gleefully bulldoze the natural world and exist despite numerous predictions of civilization’s impending collapse, but a lack of butterflies had been the least of my worries growing up so I hadn't thought about them all that much.

Besides, things like taking down Horizon were far more pressing on my mind these days.

Though now that I was in Lotus Online I figured Horizon could wait for just a little while. It’s not like they could bother me in this game. No, I was finally safe from those assholes.

I looked around for some sign of movement that didn’t involve VR butterflies or insects. Kristoph should’ve been here by now, but there was no sign of him.

I did see something interesting that drew my attention though. Small yellow flowers that dotted the clearing. Those yellow flowers were bright enough compared to their surroundings that I’d bet good money they were supposed to draw a player’s attention.

This was an artificial world, after all, for all that it looked very real. That meant that everything in here had been deliberately placed by someone. I needed to remember that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and everything happened for a reason. At least in the environment.

Though come to think of it even the old inhabitants of Kansas weren’t in Kansas anymore. Not since the supercell outbreak that’d leveled the arcologies on those plains a few decades back and turned the place into a no man’s land where the only people who could live were crazy survivalists in decommissioned Minuteman silos who preferred the global warming fueled supertornadoes to the government intervening in their lives in any way, shape or form.

I leaned down and brushed my hand against the flower, which caused a notification to pop up in front of me.

 

Nhewb’s Blessing. A beautiful yellow flower said to be placed on this world by the goddess Nhewb who looks down fondly on those beginning a journey. Try putting it in your mouth. See how it feels. You know you want to.

 

I blinked at the tooltip. If I didn’t know any better I’d say the game was coming onto me. Then again if the tooltip was coded by a bunch of neckbeards who only emerged from their parents’ basement to gather new supplies of sacred Mountain Dew and Doritos for the trash altar to the coding gods growing in their nest then I wasn’t surprised.

I shook my head. I was about to collect the flower and see what was what, I’d always liked gathering, when an odd sound stopped me.

It was a whine that started low, but it was getting steadily louder. Like there was some sort of giant insect that was about to burst through the trees and attack me or something.

Okay then. Maybe the butterflies in the game were going to get revenge for what humanity had done to them in the real world, though as far as I knew butterflies didn’t buzz like that. Maybe there was some other variety of insect of doom coming for me.

Giant insects would be a weird choice for your typical fantasy forest, but it was a new game and they still had some bugs to work out. Maybe one of those bugs would have me literally running into a giant bug in which case it would be a simple matter of…

I didn’t think to look up until it was too late. By that point the object screaming through the sky was coming at me too fast. Had I been one step to the left the thing, whatever the hell it was, would’ve flattened me on its way to creating a hole in the ground that looked roughly human shaped.

It was as though an ancient cartoon coyote had decided to use some comically outdated technology to catch his favorite food and suffered the typical consequences.

I peered over the edge of the hole and saw none other than Kristoph. I even saw the name appear over Kristoph’s head when I thought about it. That was a neat little trick. All I had to do was think about inspecting someone and…

A translucent window popped up that showed Kristoph’s key stats and gear slots as well as a bored looking avatar standin for Kristoph standing in the middle of said window scratching his ass. That bored avatar was a far cry from the spluttering but very much alive Kristoph covered in dirt down in that hole.

Not that there was much point in inspecting him. Kristoph’s gear wasn’t impressive. It was the kind of stuff you’d expect to find in a starter zone, but it was still neat the way the information popped up like that.

I wondered if I could do the same for myself, and like magic my own abbreviated character sheet popped up along with a live view of my character also looking very bored.

At least he wasn’t in the middle of scratching his ass.

My gear wasn’t anything to write home about either. I wouldn’t be in very good shape if I was attacked by a big scary monster. Not that I was all that worried since we were in a starter area where it wasn’t likely we’d run into anything too terrifying.

No, I was more worried about Kristoph after that nasty fall. Giant monsters might be in short supply around these here parts, but falling damage was universal no matter what your level. Not to mention the lower your level and the lower your hit points the more likely it was a fall would be able to take out all of those hit points in one hit.

“Have a nice fall?” I asked, half expecting my friend to fall dead at any moment as his avatar caught up to the damage that’d been done.

Though, oddly enough, he seemed to be at full hit points. At least when I started thinking about his hit points a bar popped up that was full.

“Something like that,” Kristoph said, reaching up with a beefy hand to pull himself out of the Kristoph shaped hole he’d made. He coughed a couple of times and some dirt flew out of his mouth.

“I see you decided to mix things up this time around and go with a healer priest,” I said.

“Go fuck yourself,” Kristoph said with a laugh and a middle finger thrust in my general direction.

Kristoph looked like anything but a healer with his leather armor and a massive two-handed hammer attached to his back. A hammer that looked pretty nasty, for all that inspecting it showed me stats that made it clear Kristoph would be lucky to land a hit on a tree with the thing, let alone an actual monster.

The healer thing wasn’t a very good joke, but repeating it every time we created characters in a game had made it go from kinda funny to unfunny until it came around to funny again.

Kristoph and healing didn’t go together unless it was someone else healing him as he waded into the center of a group of monsters swinging his weapons. Usually it took a couple of healers to keep him topped off with the way he loved wading into crowds of monsters that were usually way bigger than his armor and skills could handle at a given level.

“Um. So do you maybe want to tell me what the hell you were doing falling from the sky like that?” I asked.

Kristoph reached up and stuck a finger in his ear. When he pulled it out it was coated in dirt that’d gotten lodged in there, presumably during his landing, and the wriggling end of a worm. He winced as he realized he’d just reenacted a scene straight out of Wrath of Khan with the local worm population.

“Gross,” I muttered.

“As best I can tell I ran into a launch bug,” Kristoph said. “Like I was floating in the character creation screen getting ready to enter the world, and next thing I know I’m being shoved out of a portal but I’m like a hundred feet above ground.”

I frowned. That definitely sounded like a bug. I’d gone from character creation, mostly cosmetic without much in the way of stats, straight through a portal to this clearing in the forest. No fall necessary, thank you very much.

“Definitely sounds like a bug, but at least no one was hurt, right?” I said.

“Speak for yourself,” Kristoph said. “That fucking hurt when I landed, but I guess I didn’t die so whatever.”

“Right. We should probably figure out where the local town is and get some quests or something,” I said, looking around the clearing again. “It’s a good thing your starter zone is tied to your physical location in the real world at least.”

“Why is that a good thing?” Kristoph asked. “As far as I can tell that means we’re gonna be stuck playing with all the assholes I already can’t stand in the real world.”

“Maybe,” I said, thinking about all the drug addicts we had to run from on a daily basis. Something told me they weren’t going to spend much time in a VRMMO.

Getting the earbuds was expensive enough without adding in the cost of early access that Trent and his buddies were somehow able to pull. Or even the cost to get into the game once it was live for everyone.

“The arcology is a big place with millions of people,” I said. “I doubt we run into too many people we know. Besides, if they didn’t have that localized start we’d have to worry about randomly generating on opposite sides of the game world from each other and hoofing it through some nasty areas way above our skill level to play together.”

Kristoph laughed. “Remember that time you had to go all the way across both continents on Azeroth on that Vanilla WoW pirate server so you could start your precious Night Elf in Elwynn with me?”

“Shut up,” I muttered.

“That Night Elf was uuuuugly too. I can’t believe that game was considered revolutionary,” he continued.

“You should see what it was going up against at the time. Remember that Everquest server we played on? Or Dark Age of Camelot?”

“Yeah, they were nothing like this,” Kristoph said, letting out a low whistle as he looked at our surroundings. “I’m not gonna lie. I was hoping for more than your typical starter zone bullshit.”

“Come on,” I said. “It’s not like they’re going to throw us into the fires of Orodruin on the first day.”

“Yeah, but it’d be interesting if someone designed a game that did something like that,” Kristoph said.

“People have. They’re called cutscenes with quick time events, and they suck and delay the inevitable deposit of your ass in the lame starter zone after they show you the awesome stuff,” I said. “No thanks. Now let’s get out of here.”

“Right,” Kristoph said.

He hefted his two-handed hammer and giving it a twirl that nearly took both our heads off. It was only years of experience playing games with Kristoph and an instinct to duck when he started wielding his weapon in a VRMMO that saved me.

“Would you watch that?” I growled. “I’d rather not get killed by friendly fire on my first hour in the game!”

“Sorry,” Kristoph said, hitting me with a grin that said he wasn’t sorry at all. “So what’s the plan?”

I opened my mouth, then realized that I didn’t have a plan. For the first time since we started using the Lotus earbuds I didn’t have a plan. There was just a game before us ready to be played.

It was kind of a nice feeling not having to think about the next step in my grand plan to fuck over Horizon. Even if it also left me feeling kind of empty.

Talk about a fucking weird sensation!

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A note from Daecrist

Thanks so much for reading! If you like the story consider leaving a rating or review to help me get some visibility!


About the author

Daecrist

Bio: Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!

I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!

I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!

Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.

I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!

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