Pain pierced through Chitra’s eyes like white-hot needles, directly assaulting her brain. She stiffened, muscles contracting violently from the attack on her eyes. Just one glance overwhelmed all her senses. She didn’t know how long had passed when her lungs started burning. Sucking in a desperate stream of air, she turned her head away, but the burning sensation still remained glued to her eyes.
It hurts! She clutched her head so hard that her nails dug into her virtual skin. Somehow! She had to get away from it somehow!
[Close your eyes, quickly!] Loki shouted. Just a few seconds and Chitra’s heartbeat already neared the critical threshold.
Chitra pinched her eyes shut, shrinking back into the secure reassurance of her dark world. She shook hard enough for her bones to rattle.
So scary! That was sight? That was a minute of pure, painful nightmare! How could people live in that?
[Are you mad!] Loki scolded her. [Don’t you know you’re supposed to open your eyes slowly?]
Chitra pinched her temples. Her head was killing her.
Everything she imagined, everything she expected, none of them came close to the real thing. She lowered her hands, clenching them shut to stop them from shaking.
I should have prepared more!
Didn’t the TV programs say she’d be inside a white character creation field first? That was white? An involuntary shiver ran up her spine. That? No, those. There wasn’t just one or two. A whole confusing mess of strangeness– colours, she guessed. They… they had pounced on her eyes like a nest of hornets. If all of them were white, that’d be ridiculous.
Of course, it wasn’t white. Loki’s idea of a pleasant surprise backfired wonderfully.
[The girl has a real problem with surprises today.] Loki thought. [Try to open your eyes now.] she said. [But slowly this time.]
Chitra’s heart hammered away at her eardrums as she slowly registered Loki’s words. She hesitated, her eyelashes shivering from the effort. She had to take it slow. Not too fast… not too fast…
A quarter of a minute later she opened her eyes enough to finally see and wished she hadn’t. The twisted, Blurry mess of confusion in front of her was so utterly sickening that her stomach lurched.
She clenched her teeth, taking deep breaths as the world slowly came to focus. But what the hell was this? Colours? Shapes? She understood nothing before her.
[Ah! You’ve never seen before, so of course, you won’t understand anything.]
“Huh! What?” Chitra’s brows shot up. ‘Seeing’ messed with her brain before, so she never thought about it, but who was speaking? She couldn’t get a read on the location, just like the capsule’s voice, but this voice seemed different. It had life.
[Just wait, I’ll be back with you in a bit.] Loki vanished before Chitra could say anything else.
[Requesting permission to transfer memory.]
“Transfer memory?” M frowned. “What are you planning, Loki? I won’t agree to give the subjects unfair advantages. I won’t break a rule I made, not even for her.”
[Yeah, I know. You don’t have to remind me.] Loki grumbled. [It’s not like you never bend those rules of yours.]
“Only for the plan, Loki, only for the plan. And I don’t think Chitra’s going to be a part of it. Besides, I’ve already given her enough special consideration.”
[Hmph! If you can call that special consideration.] Loki said sarcastically. [And I’m not breaking your stupid rules, but the way she is now, it’s worse than being blind. She’d be stumbling around if she enters that world in her condition.]
“Oh! You mean that kind of memory.” M sighed and looked at the screen where Chitra stood, trying to open her eyes again and again, but closing them soon after. “How do you know she wouldn’t want to figure those things herself?”
[I don’t, but I’m going to give her the chance to decide that for herself.]
“Ok, ok! Geez, just do whatever the hell you want.” M said, raising a finger. “But no next time. Remember that!”
Chitra closed her eyes for the eighth time and focused on her other, more familiar senses instead. The gentle heat touching her skin should be sunlight, the whistling of the wind, also the gurgling sound of running water; was there a river nearby? She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the fresh scent of grass and river water.
That confirmed her guess. This wasn’t the character creation field, but outdoors. Maybe a grassland or something.
Special treatment because of her blindness? That would be quite considerate if it were true. It would have been even more considerate if they informed her beforehand.
Anyway, I need to try for a clear picture before I open my eyes.
The mark her first experience of vision left in her mind was deep enough, so remembering it was easy. She could pretty much grasp the shape of things with sound and touch alone, but the other thing bugged her.
She had an idea of how to handle that issue, but it wasn’t a sure thing. She tried applying it, comparing ‘colours’ to the closest thing she knew, ‘sounds’. Meticulously arranging each colour to an individual note of sound, glueing them to the ‘shapes’ of things, she smiled. It was like composing music.
The picture before her gradually took form, becoming the grandest orchestra she ever heard. Ready once again, she opened her eyes.
Ok! So maybe not music then.
She took deep breaths, trying to push down the staggering amount of visual noise. The loudest among them was still too much. She couldn’t even look at it. Was that the sun?
Huh... That explained the pain. That was the first thing she had seen. Whose bright idea was it to make her face the sun when she opened her eyes?
[I didn’t think you’d directly stare at it.]
Chitra stiffened. The voice came back!
“Who?” she asked, frowning. Did she just read her thoughts?
[I’m an Active. An A.I. administrator assigned to this server to help you.] She paused for a second, observing Chitra. [So you’ve made some progress, huh! That’s good, but It’d take a lot of time to figure things out this way.]
“Yeah, it’s troublesome,” Chitra said in a guarded voice. She was sure now. Her thoughts weren’t entirely safe here. “But nothing I can do about that, can I?”
[You can, actually,] Loki said. [I have something for you. Would you grant me access to your memories for a second?]
“My memories?” Chitra’s frown deepened. Being able to read her thoughts was already bad enough, now it wanted to access her memories again?
“Is it necessary?”
[If you want to solve your vision problem, then yes. And you don’t have to worry.] Loki giggled. [I won’t mess with your mind.]
“Mess with my mind?” That sounded bad. “Can you?”
[That’s a secret!] Loki said mischievously.
Chitra gulped. She was actually joking! Was she really an AI? Since when did they get so advanced? If she ever tried to mess with her mind…
[I said don’t worry, didn’t I?] Loki huffed. [I’m just going to upload some general understanding and experience of sight in your brain. Trust me, it’d make things a lot smoother for you.]
Chitra pinched her forehead, glancing at the scenery spreading far and wide in front of her from below her hand. A complete overload of visual noise. Psychedelic! Disturbing! Headache-inducing! But granting access to her memory, that would be a huge risk.
And one I took just a while ago.
“Ok.” Chitra sighed. I’m so stupid!
[Great! Here it comes then!] Loki said. [Brace yourself.]
The familiar warm ripple once again entered Chitra’s mind, and after a flash of light, her vision suddenly turned black.
[Don’t worry! Your vision’s just recalibrating. It’d be fine after it reboots.]
Loki’s voice calmed the sudden panic inside her. Odd things filled her mind. Sort of like obscure memories or stray thoughts that disappeared if she focused on them.
Red-coloured letters appeared in the darkness before her. Chitra gawked at them.
[Surprising, isn’t it?]
Yes, it was! She recognised them as if she had known them her entire life.
The darkness drew back, filling her vision with the warm, golden glow of…
“Sunlight! Yes, sunlight!” She gripped her fist. All right!
She couldn’t wait anymore, opening her eyes wide to take in all the scenery like a starving person. She knew them all, recognising them just like she did the letters. It was so natural!
This is surreal!
She stared everywhere, not wanting to miss a single detail, but there were so many that it was tiring her eyes out. She had no choice but to close them.
[Have you finished appreciating the view?]
“Not really.” Chitra shook her head. A lifetime won’t be enough for that.
“It’s gonna take a few days to get used to this, I think.” Once again, she tried to spot the source of voice with her eyes, but still nothing. So bothersome.
“Who are you exactly?” she asked. “I mean, what do I call you?”
[Oh, don’t worry about that! I’m only temporarily assigned to assist you. Though, if you want to know, you might find out in the game. Now, are you ready to create your character?]
“Hmm…” Chitra’s attention fell on her body, or the lack of it. She wasn’t sure which one it was. On one hand, she couldn’t see her body, instead, the grass stood a few feet below her as if she was hovering, on the other, she could feel it was there. She raised her fingers, tracing her cheeks, her arm. The skin was hers all right.
“Why am I invisible?”
[You can only see yourself after you create your character. That’s the form your avatar will take.]
“That seems… unnecessary,” Chitra muttered.
[Yeah, it is, but some people don’t like the look of their body.]
Chitra sighed. She would have liked it.
[Now if you’re satisfied, let’s hurry. Under ordinary circumstances, users can only remain in the game at a time for 10 outside hours and 30 in-game hours as a safety measure. So the sooner you get to it, the better.]
A tall figure wrapped in a brown tunic, and breeches zoomed into existence before her. A girl of 5 feet 9 inches. Her skin was light olive. The long legs and open, unruly hair stood out on her slim form.
[How does it feel? Your first look at yourself?]
Chitra remained silent, reaching out to touch the sharp, angular face. She traced the pink lips, the straight, slightly thin nose, her eyes trailed her angled eyebrows, stopping just over her big, upturned eyes. Her jaws hardened as she stared at those cloudy, white irises.
Even if she had never seen eyes before, those somehow felt wrong. But on that face, they sat just right.
“What’s the point of not showing my body if I’m gonna see it, anyway?” She asked, trying to push down the bitterness in her mouth.
[Don’t ask me, I wasn’t in charge of this.] Loki’s reply was careless. [Anyway, do you like your body?]
Chitra stared at her own face. She used to not like it, when she was a little kid, mostly due to her aunt, Anushka.
“I don’t like your face, It’s too much like that ugly guy,” she used to say. “My sister’s so soft! Why aren’t you more like her?”
Her father was handsome. Or at least that was the gossip among her tutors and caretakers. She was a beauty too according to them, though not the cute type.
Well, as far as her experience with faces went, her opinions hardly mattered.
“I don’t like the eyes.” She turned her face away.
Loki nodded. [There’s an option to change them in the character menu. Let’s—]
“Wait!” Chitra called out on an impulse. “Can I… look at my body? Without the clothes, I mean.”
[Your body?] Loki thought for a moment. [Why not? You’re already a legal adult, so you do have the necessary qualifications. Just wait a minute.] Loki’s voice disappeared and a while later, a nagging feeling of being watched was also gone.
Oh! I forgot about that! Chitra shifted uncomfortably.
[Now you can.] Loki was back again.
Chitra gaped at dozens of smaller versions of herself standing in a circle around her character.
So many! Taller than her, shorter, pointed ears, scales, wings, each of them unique and different. Strangely though, most of them had an overall hue of grey to them. Only one of them was colourful.
[Race: Human. Selected by default as currently, only the human race is playable.]
All the figures disappeared, leaving her character unchanged. Chitra chuckled. Another pointless thing.
[It is now, but once someone unlocks another race in the game, it won’t be anymore.] Loki said. [Now, time to customize your appearance. You can’t make big changes though, our policy is to keep yourself closer to your actual appearance.]
Black screens with red borders appeared around the character. Each had many default variations of eyes, nose, lips, skin and a whole lot of other bodily features, along with multiple sliders.
Changes? Seeing herself after all these years, does she need any? Once again she looked at the white eyes of her character.
“At least you have my sister’s eyes.” She remembered another comment of Anushka. “Just a pity they are even uglier.”
Chitra rubbed her forehead. She’d been remembering that aunt of hers an awful lot today. That woman had been the nightmare of her childhood; at least until she learned enough tricks to strike back.
Just the eyes, then.
Among the many various colours of irises, one struck Chitra as soon as she looked at it. It’s warm brown hue almost spoke to her.
Did mom have eyes like this?
“This one,” she said.
[So you chose that, huh...] A curious smile played in Loki’s voice as the character’s eyes turned brown. [Any other changes?]
[Sure you won’t like to do something about that hair of yours? Many people change the colour and stuff, you know.]
Chitra took a glance at the dark, wavy hair cascading down to her knees. It always grew fast and was a nightmare to groom, but...
“I like it this way.” She reached out and flicked the two unruly locks of hair that refused to lie down.
[As you want.] Loki shrugged. [Next. Choose your clothing.]
The variations of clothing options were more impressive than appearance modification. Plain, gaudy, shiny, each tiny detail with its own colour modification options.
“N- no thanks,” Chitra said. All of that would be a headache to go through.
[Really? Not even the colour?] Loki’s voice filled with disappointment.
“Okay. Just the colour,” Chitra somehow felt bad.
Maybe it’s the little girl’s voice.
She kept most of the colour brown as it was, only changing the collar, sleeves and boots to a light red, but before she finalized her choice, something caught her eyes.
“Capes…” she muttered. “I want that one too” She pointed at one of the side capes that hung from one shoulder.
The cape appeared over her right shoulder. The deep, almost dark green colour it came with was good enough, no need to fiddle with it.
[Good decision! It’s a good item with natural camouflage, especially for forest terrain.] Loki gave a nod. [Next, your starting element. It would decide your starting perks. You can unlock more elements ingame.]
“Wow!” Chitra gawked at the small video demonstration screens beside each of the seven elements. They were so… flashy!
And here I thought this couldn’t get any better.
Water, wind, dark, lightning, she stopped for a bit on each element before choosing.
“Fire.” She said, looking at the video of a pillar of red fire lighting up the night sky. Though lightning was quite flashy too, she hated thunder!
[Fire, huh!] Loki said. [There’s a light element too if you must know.]
The element zoomed-in in front of Chitra.
The element of light lights up the whole world, banishing all darkness. The bearers of light are the bane of all creatures of darkness. They are a beacon of hope to their allies and their mere presence blind their enemies.
|Active effects: Glowing Aura
|Passive effects: 1% chance of triggering Skill: Blind
Chitra squinted at the video feed of the element, a white ball of light hanging in midair like the sun.
“Ugh!” she wrinkled her nose. ”No, fire’s all right,” One sun already gave her eyes enough grief, no need for another. Besides…
What kind of moron names a skill ‘blind’?
Loki burst out laughing. [Oh! If only Nimbus was watching this.]
[No one you need to know now. Time to choose your starting equipment.]
Swords, axes, magic wands, Chitra gave them only a passing glance out of curiosity, but when it came to choosing from them, she didn’t need to think too much.
[Are you… sure about that weapon?] Loki asked.
“Of course!” Chitra said, running her fingers over the smooth surface of the yew longbow. In all the stories she had read throughout her life, Archers and snipers were one of the characters she admired the most. Picking off enemies from far away without breaking a sweat, that was so cool! She smiled.
I can do it too!
[If you want.] Loki sighed. Without directly spelling out the reasons, she could only have a minimal influence on Chitra’s choices. And “spelling out the reasons” was in the taboo region.
[I like pushing the rules, not breaking them.] Loki dismissed her thought. [The next phase will be important.]
[With that all relevant choices are done. Next comes your starting spawn point.]
Chitra shot upward, going higher and higher at breakneck speed as the ground kept shrinking below her. The air grazed her skin, beating past her eyes and nose and turning her hair into a dark, chaotic sea.
I can’t breathe!
“stop!” She tried to scream but the wind pressure shut her up. Just as she started to feel lightheaded, the voyage stopped.
[Oh, I’m so sorry! I was impatient.] Loki’s voice was riddled with guilt.
Impatient? Peeved, Chitra opened her eyes. “What the hell…”
She forgot to close her mouth. A black nothingness sprinkled with tiny pinpricks of light spread before her. “Space!” she muttered, eyes opening wider. “Stars!”
This is amazing!
[Pay attention below you.] Loki said.
Chitra looked down. The tiny land masses spread out below her like a huge hand-drawn map. It was another amazing scene full of unique aesthetics.
Grey clouds covered most of the map, except a few bright, colourful places shining like islands floating on a grey sea. About ten or so red dots scattered throughout the exposed places, marking some miniature building structures.
[Those red markings are the ten starting points unlocked so far. You can choose one of them. People of the Asian continent mostly choose Grandarc city as their starting point. They have a great community there.] Loki paused for a bit, throwing in a last, almost careless comment. [I would advise you against that though.]
[See the numbers beside the red marks?] Loki asked, drawing Chitra’s attention to some parenthesised numbers floating above the spawn point.
“What is it?”
[That’s the player traffic. The ratio of current active players near the spawn point versus the players that started the game there. Grandarc is the third popular starting point.]
Chitra inspected the number above Grandarc.
(5043353 : 3089921).
“So many…” Chitra’s head hurt. Can she even face such a crowd now? “Uh… I’m not sure I can…”
[Exactly!] Loki grabbed on to her doubt as if she was waiting for it. [You just got your eyes back. So I think you need a quieter place to get used to it.]
Chitra played with a lock of her hair, a contemplative look in her eyes. That enthusiasm was kinda suspicious. “Where’s the least amount of traffic?”
[Least amount? Got it.]
Two places in the map suddenly brightened up. The first one, a miniature of a town in the northeast, had (1 : 5) above it, and in the southern part, a fairly large village had the number (2 : 13).
[These are the two newly unlocked places.]
“Uh...” Chitra didn’t know what to say. Was there even a need to bring up the village?
“Then I’ll—” she was about to point at the town, but the village option on the other side of the map suddenly became bigger and started blinking, as if screaming “notice me!”
So that’s what’s going on, huh!
She decided to play along. “Why don’t you recommend me one?”
[Oh, can I?] Loki’s excitement was as clear as crystal.
“Yes, go on. Tell me which one I should choose.”
[Caramis village!] Loki strongly emphasised her words. [Choose it.]
“Why? The town has less people, doesn’t it?”
[That’s not the whole picture. The village was just unlocked a couple of months earlier than Marasford town. Also, It’s a village, whether player or NPC, the population is less than a town. There are some fun quests too, if you can find them. It’s a great place to develop yourself.]
“Hmm…” Chitra tilted her head. “I wonder if I should...”
[Yes, of course, you should! It’s the best place for you, trust me!]
Chitra chuckled. “You really want me to choose it, huh!”
An awkward silence fell between them. A moment later Loki gave a quiet, guilty reply. [Yes, but I only want the best for you.]
“Okay!” Chitra threw up her hand. “I’ll choose Caramis like you want. Happy?”
[Great!] Loki squealed. [Thank you!]
Chitra rubbed her forehead. How could she say no to a little girl’ pleading? She wasn’t that heartless.
[With that, almost everything is done. Only one last thing before you start.] Loki paused dramatically.
[Choose your character’s name.]