I didn’t stop picking flowers as I had a look at the Gathering skill tree. It was easy enough to keep tapping yellow flowers on autopilot in the background behind the translucent skill tree screen that I could see through easily enough.
I’d unlocked Gathering:Herbs, but there was also a skill tree for Gathering:Mining. Which was a delightfully unoriginal way for the game to tell me that armor and weapon crafting were also available skills in the game. Which told me there had to be an entirely different set of skill trees for crafting stuff that I couldn’t see yet because I hadn’t unlocked any of the skills by sitting down at a forge and figuring out how the hell that kind of crafting worked in this game.
I imagined someone out there was going to start doing a brisk business at some point compiling all the different skill trees and telling players how to unlock them. It was very old school of Lotus to throw players to the metaphorical wolves and not hold their hands all the way to skill mastery, but I kind of liked it like that.
It made me feel like I was in the Wild West days of the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Internet and MMOs had been new and anything went because nothing had been solidified into rules designed to help companies Hoover the greatest amount of money possible from their playerbase.
“It’s not telling me much,” I said.
“Sounds about right,” Kristoph said. “This game is old school. Now if you’re done picking flowers we might want to get a move on before those two assholes catch up to us?”
The window showing me the skill tree for Gathering:Herbs disappeared with a wave and I was back in the forest staring at a path that didn’t have nearly as many Nhewb’s Blessing flowers as it had moments ago. Huh. I’d really gone to town grabbing those things on autopilot while I was reading up on skill trees.
“Yeah, I guess I’m done picking flowers for now,” I said. “I don’t think there’s much more I can pick on this stretch of trail.”
“Then let’s get going,” Kristoph said. “We already ran into a goblin and a couple of player killers and that hottie with the disembodied voice, and I’m not in the mood to run into anything else that could kill us.”
“A hottie who you have no idea what she looks like, I might add,” I said with a smirk.
“Whatever. She sounded hot,” Kristoph said. “Now come on. We need to get a move on.”
I looked at the few remaining flowers. They had a faint glowing outline around them. Almost as though once I'd picked one flower the game was pointing them out to me.
That’d be helpful. Or it could be my imagination.
We picked a path through the forest in silence for a little while, but that silence didn’t last long. Kristoph kept glancing into the trees around us like he thought they were hiding more monsters. Or maybe players who’d try to kill us.
Which wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. This was a game, after all, and one of the hallmarks of most MMOs was there was plenty of stuff to kill and plenty of stuff looking to kill players. Monsters and players alike.
I didn’t figure that dynamic would be much different in the most advanced persistent online world ever created, though I did get the feeling that the methods for killing and being killed were going to be a hell of a lot more intense in Lotus than in others.
For all that those assholes hadn’t actually attacked us. Sure we’d been rescued, but Gregor had hesitated with his bow and arrow for some reason. I almost got the feeling there was something to that if I could just stop and reason it out, but Kristoph didn’t give me the chance.
“I really hope there aren’t any more griefer assholes lurking out there waiting to ruin our day,” Kristoph said.
I peered into the woods. The forest seemed like a pretty idyllic place. Like if we hadn’t been attacked by those player killers back in that clearing I would’ve thought we were going on a pleasant stroll through a wooded park in a richer part of the arcology where they could afford to waste money on things like putting together wooded parks and all the infrastructure that was required for maintaining a forest on a skyscraper that reached into the upper atmosphere.
Basically this was the kind of thing I was never going to see on our level in the cramped house I lived in with my parents. For now. Until graduation at the end of this school year when they’d made it clear I was going to be out on my own, which was something I tried not to think about too much considering I didn’t have much hope of moving onto higher education considering I wasted most of my study time playing games.
I focused on the game to distract myself from thoughts of the unpleasantness the future held for me in just a few months if I didn’t figure out something to save my ass when my parents kicked me out.
“I’m not that worried now,” I said.
“You aren’t?” Kristoph asked.
“Nah,” I said. “Maybe those guys came back, but this is a thick forest.”
“And we’re walking along an obvious path leading from the starter area to the biggest town nearby,” Kristoph pointed out. “Doesn’t take a tracking genius to figure out the most likely path we’re taking.”
“Yeah, but it just feels like if they were going to attack us they would’ve done it already,” I said.
Again there was that feeling that there was something I was missing. Some game system or something that was keeping them from coming after us. I really should’ve spent more time reading up on the game’s mechanics and less time reading up on loot tables, but it was too late for that now.
It’s not like I was going to log out of the game to try and figure out why those assholes might’ve given up the chase before it started.
“Whatever. I think what we really have to worry about are monsters our level like that wolf,” I said, leaning down to tap a new group of Nhewb’s Blessing flowers and add them to my inventory. “I’m pretty sure those dudes and that goblin and your allege hot chick were a fluke.”
“Right, and the last thing we need to do if we’re worried about a low level wolf taking a bite out of our ass is bend over presenting an easy target because we’re picking flowers,” Kristoph said.
“Whatever,” I muttered.
I couldn’t help myself. I was hooked, which made sense considering the whole point of a game like this was to get players good and addicted so they kept paying their monthly subscription.
I was getting one hell of a shot of brain pleasure juices every time I tapped a yellow flower and got a notification that I'd added a new cluster of petals to my inventory. I'd even gained enough points in Gathering: Herbs to raise my overall gathering skill by a single point, which gave sent another shot straight to the pleasure centers in my brain.
“This is going to take awhile, isn’t it?” Kristoph asked. “Like there’s no way I’m going to convince you to not stop and smell the flowers at this point, is there?”
I grunted. Kristoph would understand the meaning behind that grunt. It was a grunt he’d heard often enough. The way he rolled his eyes when he heard that grunt was something I’d seen often enough, for that matter.
What can I say? I’d always enjoyed gathering things in a game world and making things out of the things I gathered, and Kristoph was used to it for all that he liked to grouse about it. It was the same as how I liked to grouse about how the only thing he liked doing was smashing things with his hammer, for all that his desire to smash things with his hammer usually dovetailed nicely with my desire to gather materials from the game world since those material nodes were usually surrounded by monsters that didn’t want you to get at them.
It was my thing. While other people were off killing monsters in NuWoW I'd dug up an ancient mod that took maps of all the ore and herb nodes in a zone and created a best fit path through the zone so I could fly around and gather to my heart’s content. There was something zen about zoning out and gathering while a podcast or a show played in the background.
In Lotus the experience was unlike any gathering I'd done in other games. I didn’t have a podcast or a show playing in the background because this was new enough that I wanted to concentrate, but it was still entrancing. It felt all too real, but with the addictive overlay of a video game and leveling up a skill tree to really drive home the addiction.
It was enough to make me wonder about the other skills that were on offer. I wondered what it would take to get into the mining skill, for example. Or get into crafting some potions or something from the flower petals I was gathering. One thing was for sure, I’d need a lot of this stuff if I wanted to level my Alchemy, or whatever the fuck they called potion creation in this game.
“Are you seriously going to pick all these flowers?” Kristoph asked.
“Hey, I’ve only picked a few of the damn things,” I said. “Besides. You never know. These things could be worth some money. I bet they have an auction house or something we can use to make some coin.”
“You and your obsession with in-game money,” Kristoph said.
“Forgive me for wanting to make some extra scratch,” I said. “Extra money means we’ll have funds if we need to pull a job.”
“You think we’ll need to pull a job in Lotus?” Kristoph asked, sounding incredulous.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why the fuck is the Horizon name all over that armor? And why is that guild called Horizon Dawn? It smells.”
I honestly didn’t know if we’d need to pull a job, but I kept thinking about that gear I'd seen on those two assholes. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something going on with Horizon in this game, and we were going to run into those corporate pricks sooner rather than later.
Assuming we hadn’t already run into those corporate pricks in the person of those two wannabe player killer assholes trying and failing to kill that goblin.
“Yeah, right,” Kristoph said. “If you want some money in the game to make up for not having jack shit in the real world that’s your business.”
I ignored the jab. It helped that Kristoph was just as dirt poor as me and everyone else on our level.
Everyone but Trent and his friends. I frowned. It still bothered me that I hadn’t been able to figure out how the fuck they managed to get into the early access, but I pushed those thoughts away. I had new thoughts to occupy my mind now for the first time since we pulled that job on the Horizon Gamemaster, and it felt good to be dusting off the cobwebs.
Gathering herbs was opening my mind to a world of potential gaming commerce just waiting for us to seize the opportunity, and I found myself hoping against hope that this game actually encouraged players to craft interesting things rather than making crafting nothing more than a lame add-on to the raiding experience like other popular juggernaut MMOs that may or may not look like MoM when the letters for its acronym were flipped upside down.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Kristoph said. “And it’s not going to work. You’ve been chasing that dream in every MMO we’ve played from pirate Vanilla WoW servers to NeoSWG to NuWoW and you’re always disappointed. The closest we ever came was that pirate DAoC server running classic and Shrouded Isles. You know the most the Lotus people are going to let you do is make some interesting armor for leveling or some potions that give raiders an edge.”
I looked down at the flowers in my inventory. Thought of all the games we’d played together. All the times I’d hoped and prayed this game would be the one to really open up the world and deliver on the “anything goes” promise that a good MMO, not one of those on-rails theme parks that’d become the norm since WoW solidified the template and killed it, should be.
“No,” I said. “I refuse to believe that. Everything else about this game is so amazing and immersive and open. They’re not going to fuck up crafting.”
“Yeah, we’ll see when we get to Nilbog and have a look around,” Kristoph said, taking a couple of steps and then turning to see if I was following and not picking more little yellow flowers.
It was at that moment that a wolf leapt out of the trees and landed on Kristoph with a muted thump and a snarl now that it’d revealed itself. I started and reached for my puny starter sword, but Kristoph seemed to have things in hand so I let the thing dematerialize back into my inventory.
At least he had his hammer up and the wolf was biting down on the handle rather than biting down on Kristoph’s neck. Kristoph tossed the wolf and stood, his chest heaving, as he held his hammer out in front of him and grinned with a crazed madness he always had when digital bloodlust got the btter of him.
“Now this is more like it,” he growled as he advanced on the wolf. “Way better than picking flowers!”
Meanwhile I went back to picking my flowers, relieved that Kristoph finally had something to occupy his attention that wasn’t bitching at me for gathering shit.
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!