As we exited the ‘Bee in the Barrel’ I silently thanked myself for making the day and night cycle exactly the same as our own. It became clear (after my 5th pint of mead,) that the human limitations of becoming tired (and drunk,) were just as they were back at home. Meaning, trying to exist on a ten minute night cycle would have been difficult. The game could have converted it to real-life time but I was happy I had made the decision either way as the warm, late afternoon sun painted us in an orange hue. In my defeat upon arrival I had failed to notice the beauty of the world I had created when wrung through the colour palette of reality.
The trees that bordered the small town of Largen were robust and beautiful, offering plenty of shade during the hot days. The small river that ran the length of the town babbled softly, underlining the entire scene. People, if they could be called that, moved about their day from shop to shop as the tweeting of birds and the sound of crickets made the town come alive... and it really was alive. As I said earlier, I had noticed the deviations of pathing in the bar but out here it was beyond impressive. Interactions that were entirely unscripted, movements that I couldn’t have planned for let alone imagined were happening before our eyes and while I studied everything that lay before me like a scientist watching organisms through a microscope lens, Silas walked towards the stables.
“Would ya like to paint me portrait?”
I caught myself ogling a man milking a goat when he turned and locked eyes with me, spouting his question in a thick English accent that caught me off guard.
“No, no, sorry, enjoy.” I said nervously and headed towards the stables.
“Enjoy?!” he said out loud as I ran past him and stopped to walk alongside Silas who was rifling through his sack with purpose. He retrieved a handful of gold and looked towards the stable owner who was leaning against the dull wood of the barn chewing on a thick strand of wheat.
My head was on a swivel, looking around at all there was to see and glancing at the angry man who had brushed me off before turning back to Silas. “I don’t remember programming them to be so angry,” I said, more to myself then to him. As I spoke, I saw the gold he had in his satchel. It was nearly a hundred pieces of shiny gold that glinted in the sunlight.
“How many quests have you done?!” I said, loud enough for a passing woman to scowl.
“None,” he said, “I’ve only sold things.”
For a moment I considered what he meant. The game was populated with hundreds of thousands of objects; cheese, apples, bread, arrows, spoons, even wood could be sold and most of the barrels that lined the streets had a randomly assigned integer that would grant any number of these objects and more. Some barrels would maybe have ten apples, another maybe a bunch of arrows and all of these could be sold to a vendor.
“Marcus… sorry Silas; you’re a genius.” I said a bit taken aback.
“I’ve sold everything I could however the vendor in town only has 100 gold and carry weight is real,” and I knew exactly what he meant. In a video game your carry weight (as in the amount of stuff you can carry) is nothing more than a number but in here, the sacks were not infinite. I couldn't stash 1000 apples in this small satchel no matter my carry weight.
“Fair enough, great job Silas.” I said as we stopped in front of the stables. Silas handed half of the coins to the stable owner, who was about to accept, when I interjected.
“Oh, hold on one second,” I said, much to the stable owner’s irritation. I turned to Silas and whispered,
“Does persuasion work like in the game?” I asked, remembering that I had built Raydor with a relatively high charisma score. Silas shrugged an innocent I don’t know back at me. Marcus was never one to play social characters as he didn’t understand the difference between the various social skills; deception, intimidation, persuasion or charm. To him they all seemed the same and it frustrated him. I nodded to Silas and turned back to the stable keeper. Despite there already being 50 gold in his hand I said,
“Would you take 40?” I smiled a toothy grin. For a moment the man’s face stayed flat an unresponsive. Then, as if something clicked behind his eyes, he smiled back and said,
“I can do 40, sure.”
I beamed at Silas who seemed not to care one way or the other and took 10 gold back from him. After a few moments, he took out a black horse with a thin, brown mane and saddle and led it to the front of the stable.
“She’s gorgeous,” I said in awe as Silas approached and mounted her. Then the stable owner came out with my horse; a brownish-gold horse with a shorter, paler mane. She was far from ugly but definitely paled in comparison to Silas’ steed, which he clearly must have paid a lot of money for. I was about to climb on when Silas said,
“You need to name her first.”
I studied the horse for a moment and searched through my memory. When I was a kid at my grandmother’s house, before Marcus came along, we would watch old black and white movies together. One of her favourite film-series that we used to watch were called; The Thin Man. It was about a pair of detectives, a husband and wife team, that would solve murders in the 1920’s. I used to love the companionship of this team; two lovers who worked together, arm in arm, helping the city. They were everything I hoped to one day have in a relationship. That and they had a cute little dog, a wire fox terrier named…
“Asta,” I said out loud and the horse immediately moved a half-step closer to me. Silas rode ahead and I mounted Asta, ready to follow.
Silas headed to the bridge out of town and after scanning the few shops and buildings around us, I rode up alongside to talk. “Where are we going? There are a few missions in town that we could probably do…” I said, a bit upset that I was in the dark. Silas, whose goblin body sat atop the large horse in an obtuse way, waited to reach the edge of town before answering. Then without looking towards me said, “We need to do the Stone Breaker quest,”
“Why the Stone Breaker quest specifically? I don’t remember it being that important…” I said searching my mind,
“It isn’t, it won’t give us anything to get us closer to the end of the game.” He said, as if that were enough to make me understand. I waited for him to connect the dots for me and after a long pause, almost frustrated, he said, “It will give us three diamond garnets, 200 gold and the Staff of Antioch.”
It clicked in my head an embarrassing amount of time later. Even if we wanted to do the main story quest right now it would be impossible for a number of reasons; the first and foremost being that we haven’t actually done enough in game to trigger the initial quest line. I wrote the game so that you can poke around a bit before the game forces to you start on the main story line. The initial hook adventures are closed and end without leading into the main story, giving you plenty of time to discover the world on your own. Additionally, the main quest line was hard and if we wanted to try to solve it in any way shape or form, we’d need to have better armor, stronger weapons and a great deal more experience. More than the gold, the Staff of Antioch was valuable because having it started the ‘Deal or no Deal’ quest line and that quest had almost two thousand gold as a reward; enough to set Silas and I up for the entirety of the game.
We rode for a while longer as I started to realize the scope of what lay before us and it made me excited. I could never fully move past the concern I had for the people of the world – whether they were merely saved on my PC or deleted altogether, I wouldn’t allow myself to consider - but opposite that fear was the understanding that I was in my game. That my brother and I were in the fantasy world of my dreams, a world created from my imagination and it was stunning. All of this is to say that it was difficult not to get excited at the possibilities that lay before us as we cut off the path and headed towards Mandrel’s Cave; the start of the Stone Breaker quest.
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- Harlan Guthrie
Bio: Harlan Guthrie, known also by the online pseudonym TheLiriValley, is the author of many short Horror stories including; The Rotted Man, The Prank, Cheyenne to Portland, and Now & Forever. His work has been featured in several NoSleep Podcasts since 2013. Guthrie started writing and starring in his own comedic short films at a young age and has more recently been focused on writing his first novel. He is also the co-creator and host of the online gaming group The INVICTUS Stream.