The Sun was playfully warming my face. Short blades of grass moved like waves under the breeze, and the air smelled of hay. The village was surrounded by fields. It felt like the end of August. As if autumn was a caring mother and was waiting behind a door to take the naughty kids to bed, tuck them in and tell them a story. But she's not in the room yet, the kids aren't even thinking of stopping their games. And yet the door is creaking open, and a cold draft is seeping through, a harbinger of the things to come. The view was so incredibly colorful, and everything that happened up to this point seemed like a bad dream. The gates of the small town were getting closer and closer. But I was suddenly distracted by a notification.
Player MorgenHand would like to add you to his friend list.
"Salut! I'm surprised!"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I kinda gave your group an exclusive murder session! Hell, you got the piano!"
"This is a game! People usually kill each other here. And then again that was the most expensive killing of four players in gaming history. At least you didn't eat me alive, Thanks! Oh, and visit the forum. There's a lot of ruckus concerning you."
"Really? What about?"
"Well, one of the topics was opened by BoyScout Cookie, formally known as Zachariah the Fiery. He is suggesting adding you to the continental wanted list. He has never been so humiliated!"
"I don't see what the problem is! They should have sent a raid party to kill the Boyscout."
"Right, that's what they did."
"Now there are at least seven BoyScout Cookies! And the administrators are ignoring all the complaints."
"That was quick! It's only been like 4 hours!"
"Fast travel, coordinated teleportation."
"Where do I get one?"
"Fillin, do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"How long have you been playing the game? You fight like an expert Reroler, you've picked a hard-core class(nobody has the stones for it), you're waving around a freaky donator's spear (where'd you get it?). Your clothes were weird (I've never seen anything like them), but you ask questions as if you just started playing. And that thing you summoned doesn't categorize as usual either!
"Three days. I'm no donator, This is my first time, I made the spear myself, I got the clothes from the start, but kind of altered them along the way. And FreakHead's not some summoned thing! He's my pet."
"Three days? О_о How the fuck did you get to level 29 in THREE days? You made the spear YOURSELF?"
"I earned most of my levels at the starting location during the first hours. There was a tricky situation, so I was forced to improvise my way out. Right from the start, I was being taken to a keep of some Fuck-up Baron. You actually have the pleasure of knowing him, partially at least... So I was held captive, along with a whole bunch of peasants. The children were about to be given away to a local Necromancer for experimentin'. I'm not used to such bad behavior. So I went ape-shit crazy... A little bit. And since then I've just been trying to survive.
"So that was you?"
"You know! In the starting Cutscene!"
"Dude, when was the last time you left the game?"
"Well, I kinda haven't actually."
"Are you Vegetable? Or one of those nut-jobs, who play with complete immersion?"
"Worse, I'm a dead man."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm dead. My conscience has been transferred to a hard-drive."
"So when did you pass away? How old are you?"
"Uuum... First things first, where can I get some beer? How are things with alcohol in general around here?"
"Things have never been better, why do you ask?"
"Because when I tell you how old I am, you'll freak out, and offer me a drink. So much shit went down over the last few days - I simply need to get shitfaced."
"OK, Hit me."
"О_о The Horned Donkey Tavern, half an hour."
Near the gates, I was greeted by a pair of bored guards.
"M'lord? What business brings you ThreeField village, barony of lord Zagrald?"
"Personal. I've heard that the Baron's having some trouble with one of his neighbors. So I come bearing valuable information for his lordship."
"A scout are you? Well, scout, you ought to go to the Baron's keep."
"How do I get there?"
"You follow this here road, good sir, and you'll find the castle in 4 hours or so, you can't miss it, Right across the river it is, sir."
"Thanks for the directions, but I think business can wait a day or two, meanwhile tell me where the Horned Donkey tavern is."
The guard spent quite some time staring at me in confusion.
"Aaaah, I think you mean the Regal Unicorn. Turn left at the gate and make your way to the town square, then turn down Grey Face street and keep going, you can't miss the sign.
The town felt weird. It was as if modern-day civilization (oOK, to be fair, my perception of culture was three centuries out of date) was pretending to be ancient medieval times, and everybody around was zealously playing along.
The stone and wooden buildings were too neat and shapely. The facades sparkled with windows that looked like they were made from fiberglass. The pipes of the shower drains went under the streets. And several houses looked generically alike, like twins with different hairstyles. In other words, this was a perfect pastoral.
There was a small marketplace in the town square, where it looked like they sold almost anything. I strolled through the rows of shops, trying to figure out what in this world has value. The alchemist's shack could have caused a severe cognitive dissonance to anyone, who was relatively familiar with classic chemistry. The Magician's shop was stuffed with all kinds of fancy shit with ridiculously high prices. Although several magic staff's looked pretty badass. I bought several shirts and pairs of underwear for two silver pieces in some clothes shops.
The local smithy commanded respect and made me want to by a set of extra-large can openers. My attention was drawn to a pair of curved menacing kerambites. I had fond memories of a pair of knives just like them from my past life. Like this one time, I was stabbed in my left calf with one of these babies... Unable to contain this wave of nostalgia, I asked the trader's permission and took the knives into my hands. It felt like they were made for me! The wooden handle, which seemed to be crafted from the rootstock of some tree, was pleasant to the touch, and they were perfectly balanced. Sure, you couldn't do much with these against an armored opponent. Traditionally this was more like a self-defense weapon. But in a knife fight, these babies could make all the difference. So I bought the whole set, sheathes included and strapped them on my waist.
I came out of the store extremely pleased with myself. That was when somebody stole FreakHead. Stunned I watched a puny man drift away through the crowd with my self-made satchel in hand.
"What a shame! Was there anything expensive in that bag of yours?"
"Well... What's the penalty for thievery in these parts?"
"The law states that you lose an arm. But we aren't savages. We just beat the shit out of 'em."
"Damn... This is awkward. What if the thief dies? Will I be held accountable if there's an extremely hazardous object in my handbag?"
"Accountable, m" lord? What for? If he dies, then that's the way it was supposed to be."
"I still don't feel right about this. What if he was trying to feed his kids or something?"
The guy in the arms store laughed.
"If he wanted to provide for his kids, he could have worked in the fields. They're always short of men there, and the land loves labor. An honest worker will never starve. He's a lost soul, that one."
A notification informed me that my reputation as a merchant has increased. I scooped up the paper bag containing my underwear and moved on. But my attention was soon caught by a small book store in one of the buildings surrounding the square.
A player was standing at the counter. How could I tell that he was a player? Hanging from the desk was a sign which stated the following in large spitefully written letters:
Do NOT ask for quests! Do NOT talk to me just for the sake of increasing your reputation! Do NOT attempt to seduce! I am NOT an NPC! Yes, I wrote this by myself! Yes, I'm tired of all your bullshit!
A smart looking old man granted me with a politely interested glance through his spectacles.
"Good day, Young man!" His voice was harsh and a little chattery.
"Hello! Mind if I look around?"
"Be my guest. Are you looking for something in particular?"
"Yes, I would like something to read..."
"Read? What kind of person is interested in reading BOOKs in online video games?"
"The kind that hasn't held a good book in his hands for quite some time now. Do you have any examples of classical literature written in the last 3 centuries? Oh, and a history book that covers the same period."
"Interesting choice. Do you mind if I ask why?"
"It's no secret, really. The last time I held a book was on the twenty-eighth of June, 2025."
The Bookseller's eyes gleamed with unfakable interest.
"If I understand you correctly, you're one of the..."
"Of the Digitized, right. I was uploaded 3 days ago. And I don't plan on staying here forever. To adapt, I need to be familiar with the harsh realities of today. Plus, I aim even to get a job."
"This is getting more peculiar by the second! You are a unique witness of times long past! Real live impressions! You may even have been close to some historical figures!"
"Well, I've attended a lecture by Hiroshi Ishiguro, that name rang a bell to the guy, who showed me in here."
"Wonderful! How Wonderful! Pardon my manners, young man, I seem to have forgotten to introduce myself. My name is Anatoliy Nikodimov, I'm a professor of history in the MSU. Also digitized, not three years ago. I work as a teacher for more than a century now. "
The professor rose, jumped down with a loud thud, and disappeared behind the counter. In a few seconds in front of me stood a...
"I'm a midget, a poor choice of race but, I'm afraid it's the only one with access to the librarian class. I level up by learning new things. Now it's your turn, you seem to be using an artifact of some sort of an ability."
"Oh, of course! Oleg Fillin! Shapeshifter and mentalist. There was one other thing I was meaning to ask you about. I need books with mentalist incantations. Can you help me?"
"You're just full of surprises, aren't you? Unfortunately, I cant help you with that right now. Introducing this class into the game caused a great deal of unrest and unbalanced the equation, so to speak. This happened two centuries ago, few now remember those times. The class couldn't be cut out, because of the main concept of the game: once something is created, it cannot be erased. So a hefty penalty system was installed which works in-game, as well as in the real world. It's easy to understand why everyone's so afraid of Mentalists. So any literature concerning them is confiscated out of public use and kept under strict control by the local in-game authorities and large clans. Your race is even more intriguing. The local Lord and Creator, an artificial intelligence, predicted the mess it would cause even before it's installation, and a monstrous level of imagination was set as a restriction."
"What do you mean a Monstrous level? Have people with rich imaginations become endangered or something?"
"Something like that. Standardization has reached its pinnacle over the past 3 centuries. And, unfortunately, it has touched people's minds as well. Everything you can think of is being visualized. While reading a book, a person can feel the entire specter of emotions, even taste, and smell, whatever happens in the story. Every detail, every nuance. All toys are now animatronic with complete behavioral imitation. People don't need to imagine or make anything up by themselves anymore. Of course, now there are special programs designed to rehabilitate that which humans have lost. But the number of people who successfully finish these programs is like a drop of water in an ocean. The present generation has forgotten how to dream, and the average level of imagination is 30 units."
"Daaaamn... I used to play with a pon-pon from a hat as a kid. I called him Fluffy. And a wooden splinter the size of my finger was my best friend - a dwarf. And before bed-time every night I told him stories that I made up by myself."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about! How about we proceed into my study. May I interest you in a large assortment of tea?"
"Pardon me, Mr. Ignatyev. I would gladly join you, but I've got a meeting with some new friends. Time to ease into this brave new world and pick up a few survival tricks. I have an extremely high enemy level, considering I have only been playing for three days. I even have special bounties on my head. This morning I ran into a raid party, which had my name on it. It was a close call. How about I take a rain check, and we'll talk tomorrow evening. Because I want to learn nearly as bad as I want to breathe."
"Of course, of course! Then I'll be waiting for you tomorrow after dusk. That'll give me time to prepare a list of books for you."
"Do you mind if I ask one last question?"
"Be my guest."
"Why the Plains?"
"Because of the fascinating social and cultural environment that this game has given birth to. Here the basic rules of an individual's role in history are broken! Myths born from stories! Stories grander than songs of old! Legends brought to life, Gods Awakened! All of this can be found right here."
"I see... See you tomorrow, Prof!"
"Have fun, young man!"
I stepped outside, feeling thoughtful and concerned. The old professor's speech jogged several deepset thoughts. Like Heaven... What is Heaven supposed to be like? What did I imagine it to be? Did I imagine a world of endless happiness and bliss reserved for righteous souls? Or of countless battles and feasts? Everlasting nirvana inside a lotus flower? Or maybe just life... Life on an endless road. Spellbound travelers, with the eyes of wise men, and souls as innocent as children? Do I really want to break out of this Eden?"
Musing I reached the tavern. It really was hard to miss. A massive signboard with a Unicorn didn't leave me any chances of walking past.