“Status! Reveal.” Jane pushed a blue box toward Erick as they walked. “This is mine.”
Human, age: 22
Level 0, Class: None
160 per day
200 per day
Erick repeated her words, then pushed his status her way.
After a moment, he declared, “I have one more willpower than you!”
Jane threw him a mocking look, then glanced down at their feet to scan their trail. She looked up at the sun then over at the nearest crystal splash, making a minute course correction. She ensured they were still on the correct path every ten minutes. Thanks to that, they probably were still on the right path.
She looked over his status again, then closed the window, saying, “Looks like trekking in the desert takes some constant HP. Let me know if you get low.” She looked at a nearby crystal plant, that was still forty feet away. Neither of them wanted to get anywhere near the probably-deadly flora. “I wonder if those make good tequila.”
Ah. Yeah. They did look like giant crystal agaves.
Erick closed Jane’s status window. “They’re probably poisoned.”
“Or full of spiders. Something has to live out here besides the plants.”
A breeze flowed across the land, setting the sparse crystal growths to tinkling. They had both decided a bit ago that, yes, the crystal agaves were definitely plants. Unless this world had flexible crystals, too. Which was a possibility considering what they’d seen so far. But still, flexible crystal was a long shot of an explanation. They were more likely disguised plants.
Erick almost took a sip from the canteen, but decided against it. That registrar had summoned the canteen with a shoulder strap, so it wasn’t that heavy of a weight to carry around. But it was starting to weigh on him. If the settlement was really two days away, they would need all the water they could get. Though the phrase 'Hydrate or Die' was very true, Erick didn't really feel thirsty.
Jane said, “Good news: Looks like MP refreshes. I gained three back since we landed.”
“You’re taking this so seriously.”
“Because I know you won’t.”
Well that was true. When Erick encountered physical danger he usually laughed it off. He had the same reaction to ridiculous social constructs, like avoiding the gangs who lived in his town. He had been mugged twice because of that, but he had also helped several young gang members get back on their feet and out of their violent lives. For the last few years he had even attended the Quince Fiesta the gang threw every month. He waved to the dealers on the streets, and sometimes they waved back.
… He was going to miss them. Really some of the best beef empanadas in the world at that party.
“You know… There’s help for understanding the Script, if you want it. The command is Menu Help.”
Ah. She had misconstrued his silence. That’s okay, he’d roll with it. He was kinda mad at the blue boxes. Magic was supposed to be mystical! Not this video-gamey nonsense.
“I’m not doing that. This whole magic thing is stupid.”
“It’s crazy to not use the systems given to everyone. You’re no ascetic, Dad.”
“Okay. Well. That’s a different argument entirely, but tabling that for now— I’m not ‘Eight Strength’, or 160 max MP.”
“Your Status says otherwise.”
They walked in silence under the temperate sun. The walk wasn’t as bad as Erick thought it would be. It was dusty and dry, and sandy in a few places, for sure. But it wasn’t ‘desert hot’.
“No man-made climate change on Veird!”
Jane smiled. “That’s the spirit!” She thrust her huge knife forward, punching the sky. “No more big problems! Only survival!”
“To not dying of dehydration!”
“To cooking a rat over an open fire!”
“To walking away from a skydive!”
They laughed together, their voices floating away on the breeze as they walked toward the unknown.
- - - -
Hours passed. The sun was on its way to the horizon. Erick had already [Mend]ed the scrap of blanket twice, bringing it back into existence, and handed it over to Jane. She carried a few other things to be mended inside the thick cloth. The [Mend] on the book went less well. One[Mend] accomplished almost nothing. Books must be complicated objects.
Erick had no idea how far they had gone, though his HP had dipped below half three times. Jane topped him off when he asked, and one time when he didn’t, but they had driven through the night before they landed on Veird. HP did not seem to be a problem, but exhaustion was.
Jane said, “Fuck I’m tired!”
“Where!” Jane threw her hand wide. “There’s nothing but crystal agave for miles and miles!”
“We should sleep on the blanket while the sun is still up—”
Jane slapped her forehead. “Duh. Of course. Monsters might come out at night. We’ll need to be awake for that. Work out some shifts.”
That was not what Erick meant. “Fuck. You think so?”
“Well yeah. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that I could sleep for 12 hours.”
“… Yeah. That too.” She looked around. She looked up. “This is as good a spot as any.” She stepped to the side of the path, then took out her knife and carved a deep groove into the ground, along the direction they were going, ending the carving in a large arrow “I’d love a compass but this is the best we have.”
“We’re both close to level 1. There might be more points and more survival skills.”
Jane nodded, then stepped away from the path. Erick followed her to a spot similar to all the rest; well away from the agave and in the middle of nowhere. She unwrapped the blanket from around her chest, then set it down, carefully extracting what they had managed to salvage from the crash. The gaming book. Erick’s phone remains. A fried car charger. A piece of a paper coffee cup. A shred of a diet coke bottle, all melted and twisted onto itself. A piece of the windshield. It was more trash than treasure, but it might be worth something in the future. Jane seemed to think that they could use something called a ‘scry’ on the windshield fragment to find the car, if they wanted to. The charger was to make charging the phones easier, if they could somehow manufacture the right electrical current. The cups were for additional water containers, if they found any sources of water out here. Jane was sure that the phones themselves could probably be linked together as communication devices, if maybe they had access to other magics. There were a lot of ‘if’s, but that’s how life was sometimes.
Jane plopped down on her half of the blanket, her face pointed outward. Erick took his position on the other half of the blanket, looking in the other direction. If there were monsters out there, they were well hidden. All Erick saw were tall crystal agaves and lots of flat dirt.
She asked, “What’s your HP at now?”
“What? I’m fine.”
Jane poked him in the side.
He sat up in time to see her sitting up and poking him with another glow on her fingers, for another 26 HP. Then again. He realized something was different after the third healing poke. He should have noticed right away, but damn was he tired.
“It’s healing twice now?”
“Yeah. [Rejuvenation] got to 2. One extra second of healing per level.”
“I did.” She laid back down. “I got two points and about a dozen different ideas of what I want to do with them, so I’m saving ‘em for now.”
Erick laid back down, too. There were no changes either locally or on the horizon.
“Is there a cleaning option in those menus?”
“It’s called Cleanse and I think I’m going to take it, but not right now. You’ve noticed that there has been no wildlife at all ever since we landed, right? Either this land is truly dead, or that Darkness marked us, somehow. Maybe a scent marker? Maybe something else.”
“Yeah. Like. I know we must smell like food because I don’t even want to talk about what kinda gore slipped out of my pants while we walked. But we really should have been attacked before this.”
A moment passed.
He asked, “What’s your plan?”
Rolling with the idea, Erick said, “Don’t you have to pledge to a god, or...”
“Maybe. Maybe not. If there’s a god out there that embodies my ideals, I might pledge to them. If that’s how Veird works. I don’t know enough to make a call like that right now, but teleporting is obviously a real thing. We’ve been through at least one teleport, and I'm not sure what I would call our arrival on Veird, but that was sort of like a teleport. That purple dude for sure teleported.”
“That registrar was an asshole.”
“That didn’t bother me. This system, the Script? That’s what bothers me. It seems horribly unbalanced.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Not enough parameters, for one. There’s no way to express the complexities of a person with only four main stats. HP, MP, and the two regens are just direct numerical expressions of the four main stats.”
“Does your healing spell still cost 5 MP at level 2?”
“And that’s another thing! It is still 5 MP, and it adds another tick every level. The most basic damaging spell is 5 MP for 10 damage plus half your Willpower. Now… I don’t know if you can cast twenty damaging spells at the same time for 200 plus ten times your Willpower in damage, but I’ve tried to cast two rejuves at once and it either wasn’t allowed, or I just couldn’t do it. I think there's a global cooldown, or something.”
“Maybe that just means the makers weren’t trying for balance.” He added, "Or balance as we think of balance."
“… Yeah. I guess so. Hmm.”
Erick closed his eyes.
He was almost asleep when Jane huffed.
Jane said, “I can’t sleep like this. I’m setting up a ward.”
The air shifted in a ten foot circle around the blanket, marking the edge of the space with a slight dent in the ground and a glitter in the air. Erick almost sat up, but he was really tired.
Jane said, “An Alarm Ward, first. Then… [Ward].”
The air sparkled again. The same edge of the space took on a red glitter.
Erick almost wanted to touch it, but he wanted to sleep more.
“First one is to let me know if something crosses the edge. The second is to prevent fifty points of damage. They should last for 24 hours, or until dispelled.” She laid down. “And it looks like level 2 requires the same amount of experience for both your skills and your personal level. 200 experience needed.” She whispered, “Good night, Dad.”
Eyes closed, Erick said, “Good night, Jane.”
She whispered, “The second ward was the expensive one. 60 mana. 10 to start, then it’s a point of mana to prevent a point of damage.”
Erick said nothing.
She whispered, “Unbalanced.”
Erick whispered, “Good night, Jane.”
“The sun isn’t even down yet!”
She brought up a good point. He had way more mana than he needed, and most of it would likely be back by the time he woke up, if his sleep wasn’t interrupted. He [Mend]ed his pants and the phone charger. Then he poked Jane in the shoulder with a [Mend], fixing her shirt.
“Serves you right, poking me with healing.”
+2 Ability Points
“Plus two ability points? That’s it?”
“Yeah. Kinda underwhelming.”
Mend has reached level 2!
[Mend 2], instant, touch, 10 mana
Touch a small, non-magical, non-complicated object and restore it to its prime.
“Mend didn’t change at all.”
Jane snorted. “Needs more levels!”
So many problems.
Erick said, “Fuck. I’m hungry.”
“… Are we going to beg when we get to the settlement? Are you comfortable with that?”
“Shit.” He asked, “Are there any ‘create food’ spells?”
“Look it up!”
“But you already know the answer.”
“… Look it up, Dad.”
Grumbling, Erick thought really hard about Menu, then Abilities, then Search: Create Food. Nothing. Maybe his search was wrong. Summon Food. Create Meal. Delicious Food! Food! Water! Sustenance!
Menus flashed in and out as he Searched, each of them returning the same answer.
Ability not found. Please try again.
“Yep,” agreed Jane. “On the plus side, [Cleanse] sounds like it would work on anything edible. Might even turn a crystal agave into food, if they’re actually organic.”
Cleanse 1, instant, short range, 10 mana.
Purge an area equal to the level of the spell in meters of all Toxins, Disease, Filth, and Corruption.
Jane just laughed.
- - - -
Erick shot awake at Jane’s scream.
Jane instantly said, “Sorry, sorry. Nothing happened. Neither ward triggered.”
Crisis averted, Erick stared outward. The sky was black with a billion billion stars adorning the heavens. The slivers of three moons accented the darkness. One small pink, one large grey, and one small white, the moons were fuzzy on their sun-touched edges. They might have had atmospheres.
Jane whispered, “Good news: Apparently when we rest our regen scores turn from ‘per day’ to ‘per hour’. So I added two more wards while you were sleeping. One for warmth when it got cold, another when a big bug landed on me. It didn’t bite, or anything. Just plopped on my pants. I woke up and kicked it away.”
Erick breathed out, staring at the sky.
“… It was the size of a small bird. I don’t know how it got past the damage and the alarm ward.”
“That is good news about the regen rates.”
“Yeah… it is...”
Erick looked over to Jane. She was not doing well. With a short shuffle, he scooted over and wrapped her in his arms. She folded onto him without complaint. Soft sobs came and went as Erick whispered that everything was going to be okay. He was a liar, of course, and she called him on it, but having hope was better than falling to despair.
They laid down, their backs pressed tight against each other, staring out into different darknesses.
- - - -
Morning shone over the horizon, bringing with it a raging thirst and a full bladder.
And full HP and MP.
He was the second to wake, of course. Jane was walking back from somewhere beyond the [Ward] boundary, her arms crossed, hugging herself as though she was freezing. She quickly relaxed as she crossed the [Ward] threshold.
“It’s fucking cold out there!” She thumbed over her shoulder. “You need to go?” She handed him the knife. “Use it to dig, not to bury.”
He took the knife. “I’ve been camping since before you were born.”
She smiled. “Don’t go too far, or get too close to the crystal agaves.”
“Oh? Do you think I should ration my water as well?” he asked, sarcastically, and in a wholly good mannered way.
“Yes. I’ve calculated that one sip per hour should be appropriate,” she responded in kind.
“Thank you, Daughter," he said, smiling.
He stepped to the edge of the ward and poked it with a knife. The knife passed through the space with no resistance.
“Thank God.” Jane said, “I thought I would have to take it down for you and then suffer in the cold while I waited. Guess it doesn’t work like that.” She added, "And we're not rationing water."
"Yup." Erick said, "Hydrate or die, as they say."
Erick walked about thirty feet away, dug a hole in the ground, ditched his drawers, and popped a squat. When he was done, he found a nearby stone and used that as toilet paper. It was not his most dignified moment, that’s for sure.
This is intolerable. I’m buying Cleanse as soon as I can.
Their daily routines buried in the desert, Erick and Jane each drank enough water to wet their throats, and not much more. As they broke camp, which amounted to little more than gathering up their few non-pocketable possessions and wrapping them in the blanket, Erick had a thought.
“How big of a bug was it? Did it look edible?”
“It was fat fucker, for sure. Big beetle-thing, all shiny black. Probably fry up real good.”
“Mmm. Fried bug and waffles.”
“Lotsa maple syrup.”
“Can’t forget the homefries.”
Jane went right to the line in the dirt she carved yesterday. It was still there, untouched. They followed the arrow, making sure they lined up with the correct path, setting off a little bit left of sunrise. One and a half more days go to. Hopefully they’d see something besides crystal agave before then.
- - - -
Erick wished he had not wished to see something besides agave. Agaves are great! Agaves are beautiful!
Agaves did not want to eat them, as far as he knew. The thing chasing them? There was a 90% chance that thing wanted to eat them, and a 100% chance it wanted to murder them.
The Spike Monster crashed through yet another agave, cutting itself on the sharp crystal. Black blood scattered across the desert. The monster hurt itself each time it smashed through an agave instead of run around, like Jane and Erick were forced to do, but it didn’t care. It was ten feet tall, made solely of six long arms that each ended in a five foot black spike, with no visible mouth. It had lifted up from the ground twenty minutes ago and gave chase at a little faster than a jog. They couldn’t outrun the monster, but it either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, catch up.
There was another problem.
Jane poked him with a [Rejuvenation] as they ran.
Running ate up HP. A lot of HP. But as long as Erick was full, running was easy. This right here? This almost-sprint? Erick could do this all day. He couldn’t have done 10 minutes of this back on Earth.
“It has no mouth!” Jane complained, “How is it screaming!”