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Two parties. Eight adventurers wander aimlessly through the maze. They were strangers at first, timid to open themselves to one another until a match making system put them into a group to tackle the same quest.

There was a Knight, Warrior, Defender. In line was an Archer and a Gunslinger. A Tracker guided, a Spellcaster followed. All carefully treaded through the forest, guarding their Priest. Strange magical texts hovered over their heads. They are players, adventurers, and they unknowingly carry out a false mission to claim the world for Zarathous.

They yearned for excitement- for thrill- this game promised to deliver. Everyone earned the best equipment they received through crafting, quest rewards and ordered missing pieces from an NPC blacksmith. Large impossible proportions of weapons stowed away at their character’s back or side, ready to be drawn by the user’s will.

When they hunted down a beast, they celebrated their hard work and were rewarded with money and exp. Sometimes items would be granted. Most of their spoils would be infected by a list of meat from their hunts. Which is useful to sate the hunger system, but not for the equipment they planned to craft.

Tracker lead his team of Knight, Archer and Spellcaster. Dodging areas of where stronger monsters dwell and traps, the team hunted for the boss monster tracks. On Tracker’s minimap, the layout of the forest revealed places he had visited. Through his mapping skill, members of the same party had gained access to the same map displayed on the top corner of their retinal.

The forest almost felt too real for a game. Tracker examined the environment up close, picking off moss grown on trunks and pushed bushes aside. Tiny ants were very lifelike, almost a replica of the real deal as they skittered in a line formation, bringing food back to their nest. Rigid cracks ran across tree barks. He rubbed the moisture caught in between his finger.

“For a VRMMO game, the graphics sure are incredible. I’m already impressed even the game’s not done.” The voice belonged to Knight. “They really put a lot of effort to making this as real as it can get.”

“It’s almost too real that it makes me wonder if I got teleported to another world.” Archer said happily. “To think all this is done by one developer.”

“Weren’t we supposed to meet up with the others up ahead? They’re nowhere near us.”

-Ping!-Beep-Beep!-

“Hold up, monster ahead.” Tracker juggled his daggers skilfully with the auto assist skill which his real body could not perform. His teammates agreed to let him scout while they wait anxiously. He prowled ahead using [Stealth].

That noise forewarned an enemy ahead. Normal monsters would appear as red dots on the map. This one had a red skull.

Tracker had full confidence in his [Stealth]. He put enough points in for monsters 15 levels above failing to detect him. Not to mention, his sneak skill also accounted for his performance, allowing him to hide from bosses if he moved extremely cautious.

He crept around the corner to find a person. Dark blue villainous armor over its green jacket, golden hair, its face is concealed by a mirror mask that reflected the environment clearly. Tracker focused on its weapon it carried without any effort. A mechanical guillotine. Much larger, much intimidating than any player’s; the color schemes matched its armor and rested on its shoulder. The person stood there much like a statue.

“[Analyze].”

Name: Acolyte of Retribution LVL: -Error-

[████████████████████████████████████████████████████████] 100%

The lore presented to players contained a summary of heroes who fought in the past war. Three of the eight were betrayers. Among them, the Acolyte of Retribution was noted to have defected to the enemy’s side. Unlike boss fights, this hero only had one health bar.

I better warn the others.

-Ding- Tracker opened a menu and scrolled to the message tab. He received an urgent message.

Healzyoassits (Priest) (3:07pm): “Get out of area 11 immediately! The boss there is insane. Seriously, what’s with this level design!?”

Tracker looked up again, this time the enemy Acolyte disappeared. The mark disappeared from his map. It might have been an illusion played by the cavern’s trap. That was proven false when he checked his combat log, he wasn’t afflicted with any status affect. His [Stealth] was still in effect. It would have worn off if an enemy noticed him.

There was a passive skill exclusively unique to Trackers. When an enemy in the vicinity used an invisibility skill, they were given a buff and a cursor on the targets that used a conceal skill for a short duration.

But there wasn’t anything.

He opened his menu, clicked the party tab. Two names disappeared, meaning they were respawning to the last Altar they saved at, right…? He didn’t add their names to his friend list and maybe they raged quit.

Dying had a penalty. For NPCs they die, forever and are replaced. The quest consist of them will cease to exist. For adventurers, they lose their character and equipment unless they were revived by a healer character or had a premium item on hand. If they do die, they are given an inheritance system to transfer items stored in banks from deceased character to their new avatars.

Malicious Arts: Astropolis Memorandums was promised to be as realistic in a fantasy world would be. It could be a slice of life game, adventuring career, living the life as a blacksmith, alchemist. Tracker chose to be an adventurer with the most exciting events able to be presented to him. However, he was experiencing a slight horror genre side of this game.

“[Message]. Guardian0253.”

This is scary! Did they create a hero based off sl*nder man? How can anything disappear like that? I don’t want to die and restart. I haven’t saved enough for [Phoenix Feathers].

“What is it? Did you find the boss?” A voice rang telepathically.

“Something else. I found an enemy with a title [Crest Bearer of Vengeance]. I think I stumbled something I shouldn’t have.” Tracker restlessly searched the room. “It might be a glitch or something.”

“Really!? I thought the devs said the main questline won’t be in the beta. Did you take a photo of it?”

“I’ll send it. I’m making my way back now.”

-Beep beep- Tracker swiped the screen to cancel the call. Thunk, crackle! His ear twitched and swiftly turned around with his short sword. He gulped, trembled and tripped on his bottom.

There was nothing. His sneak status is still active, nothing warning him of being detected. He was still invisible looking at his transparent hands.

Fog poured around and submerged him in a thick cloud. The minimap became useless and fog concealed the way out. He was still safe, but something stepped his way dragging its large guillotine blade. A mechanical and ginormous figure crept into view. Then Tracker saw his avatar’s face from a clear reflection beside a weapon.

He met the Acolyte face to face.

“You are here, are you?” Retribution vocalized in a monotone voice, owning neither a male or female’s voice. It forced Tracker to hold his mouth agape, unable to make a noise.

He wanted to, but he just couldn’t afford to scream. The sneak effect still active, the hero shouldn’t be able to see him yet it’s there. His counter detect is active. No notification warned him of being detected. It’s there, his pursuer. In front. Staring at him. So long he didn’t move, the enemy stood still.

His heart beat rapidly, body crawled with in game scentless sweat. He could launch his blade at it, knowing how fast he was capable to swing his sword compare to the giant weapon the enemy hero held. Its weapon was stuck in the ground as well.

Was it worth the risk?

Retribution suddenly slashed horizontally above Tracker and cleared the cloud of mist. Its movements were instant and carved the walls incredibly deep. A boulder from above collapsed and shined skylight that drove away the mist and revealed a field of monster corpse he had not detected. All monster it slayed were above LVL 30 and most were killed on paths hidden behind thick trees within 50m radius.

“That was warning. Come out.”

There’s no way I can fight this guy!

-Ping!-Beep-Beep!- A skull reappeared from the minimap. His [Stealth] icon had disappeared. Tracker was at this man’s mercy, but he was not the first target.

-Blip Blip- Three sub windows under his character’s status window disappeared. He opened his party list to find his most the party had disbanded. In his friend’s list, those names were deleted. Priest and Warrior were the only ones left.

W-what gives? If they died they should have respawned with the same usernames, but they straight up vanished?

Tracker was attacked by anxiety; his hands were sweating in real life and in game. “T-this is too real-, it’s just a game! Log out! I said Log out!” He was replied with silence. “Menu!”

-Ping- Tracker hurriedly scroll for the settings bar to find the log out button had disappeared.

Something told him this was no longer a game. It was a nightmare. His instincts were screaming at him to run.

“You have nowhere to go.” A cold mechanical voice suddenly whispered next to him. He can clearly see the details of his avatar’s reflection. “You invaders, will be an example to whom follow Vassal’s blind lies.”

“[Edging Slash]!” Two horizontal swings cut down the image in front of him. Mist glided parallel to his sword then he immediately back away. He saw a shadow growing over his head and rolled to the side. “W-WAAAAAAH!”

He screamed. Run, ran, running. Who cares if his [Stealth] was placed on eternal cooldown. He no longer owned a minimap to guide him out of the forest and desperately fled from it. A cold breeze hit him. He could feel the cold splashing of droplets raining from dark clouds and something warm dropped down the side of his cheek.

He looked to the side finding a dead beast that was recently slain.

“W-what’s this… blood…? R-real… blood?”

Grim Reaper swung down its enormous weapon with one hand. It shook the earth, flinging debris in all direction. Dust assaulted tracker’s eyes.

Tracker wasted no time to activate primary functions for combat. The auto assists hostile tracking tool quickly materialized in his sight to resume combat. His arms automatically threw knives off his body at sonic speed. He heard stabbing noise, but he couldn’t know if he hit his target.

He double-checked his map. Grim Reaper’s signal had vanished.

His heart pumped extraordinarily fast off from adrenaline. His chest won’t stop climbing up and down.

“Unlike others, you were the first to have considered fighting back. The people you travelled with are dead.” Death stood over him with its giant guillotine blade and stopped short on his neck.

D-dead? Gone? As in… in game?

“Game? This is… a game to you? This is what my sister gave up her life for?”

Death reached for Tracker’s head. Darkness. A petrifying feeling of fear binds him in a seemingly everlasting embrace. The hand of torment summoned a torrent of unstable emotion which he is neither able to act or cry for help. As his toes left the ground, he instinctively fought for his survival. Scratching, squeezing, wriggling like a worm, none of that matters.

Death’s hand was absolute, and nothing budged its grasp.

Through the gap of Death’s fingers. He saw his sorry reflection and realized this was no longer a game. Everything felt real, too real, because it is real. Tears, his avatar could not express ran warm droplets of water down his cheeks. The intensity of physical pain grew tenfold to realistic degrees.

“I believe the summoning ritual is complete.”

Synchronization complete. Target’s soul wave acquired.

ETA: Full spirit migration in 2̸̢̭̩͍̟͇̭̪͖͈̹͍̤̹̦̦̺̟̬̻̺͎̝̤̼͔͍͇̹͇͕̙̗̯̺͚̃3̸̛̛̛̛̮̟̌̊͗̓̌̈͌̍̌̐̇̍͗̈́̎̓́̒̆̏̒͐̿́̊̕͠͝͝͝ͅ:̸̡̣͉͙̪̩̙͉̘̯̭͚̺̫̇̋̓̽̃̚5̷̢̧̧̢͓̻͓̭̻͙̣̜̖̺̜̫̠͇̜͖̖͎̲̈́̾͋̌̈́̃̑͋̾͋̍̒̋̿͂̔͋̍̐́̂͌̑̆͊̅͂̍̏́̆͐͛̀͊͘̚̕͜͝͝9̶̫̍́̓̂̈̚:̷̨̛͇͙̭͖̫͍̼̗̪̗̪̰̱͖̙͖̝̜̙͙͙̗̰̝̯͇̼͉̘̲̋̌̉̏̿̅͊͠ͅ5̵̧̛͓͕̜̮͖͕͕̦͓̩̤̱͔̟̲͖̹̮̬̥̘̦̙͔̍͊͌͒̆̐̆̓̄̅̆͛̉͊̓͂̈̐͆̐́̉̌́̈́̂̾͘̕͘͝͝7̵̣͎̜̤̺̤̲̺̗͍̖̯̤̙͚̜̜̪̪͐̑̽̌̀͜

Synchronization…?

Tracker’s cheeks sealed his own mouth from speaking.

What’s going on!? Why can’t I log out!?

“Blame yourself for not knowing. Your kind killed many people of this world. Note, I do not take pleasure in meaningless conflicts.” Death double tapped its mask. “Master, I have secured a test subject. Heading to Sivaria now.”

Mist exhausted from the sides of Death’s mirror mask. Tracker’s vision distorted and felt his drowsiness ambushing him. Under his status bar, a status aliment of sleeping icon appeared. He tried resisting but his eyelids grew heavier each second ticked. Eventually, everything was covered in black and the fog consumed him.

As for what happened to Tracker, his sword was left alone in the dark, digitizing into the void. There was not a trace of him and the Acolyte afterwards.

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About the author

Cerealisdelicious

Bio: I find cereal delicious. I try writing. Me noob. Me make mistakes. Me learn. Me try.

I write boring stuff.

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