A note from CoCop

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Arnold left and the rest of her shift passed in a blur. Jamal came out of his office near the end, leaning heavily on the cane he’d needed since an industrial accident had mangled his left leg and ‘promoted’ him from a foreman to the manager of a convenience store. After he completed his nightly audit of her register, she went home, her head whirling.

Michelle, her younger sister, was watching an educational special on the smartglass, their mother passed out after a long shift at the factory next to her on the couch. Kat blankly greeted her sister before going to the apartment’s kitchenette and microwaving herself an instant meal.

Kat knew that she should have admonished Michelle about staying up late and woken up their mother so she could get a decent night’s rest in bed, but she was in too much of a daze to really process the situation.

She barely even registered the bland mac and cheese as it burned her mouth, still too hot from the microwave. She was a player.

As much as she needed to protest and argue with Arnold for the sake of propriety, there was no denying that this was what she’d wanted. Hell, almost half of her life plan was devoted to fighting, begging, and stealing to put herself in a position where she’d be up for a lottery that might select her.

Even then, she’d be tied to the corporation. Slotted into a corporate team, her build and class selected for her by a specialist. In all likelihood she’d be groomed into some brand of support class, focused on helping an executive candidate in their climb.

With Arnold’s gift, she was free. Kat could take whatever class she wanted and develop her skills in a direction that actually suited her. True, she wouldn’t have the support and resources of the corporation, but that was a small price to pay for finally escaping their control, if only in her sleep.

The second she finished the grainy mac and cheese, Kat threw the plastic tray in the trash and bid Michelle goodnight.

Kat slipped into their shared bedroom, not even bothering to turn on the lights. With practiced ease she changed out of her work clothes and into pajamas before slipping into her bed, excitement thrumming through her.

She closed her eyes, and nothing happened.

Mentally she couldn’t help but chuckle at her fate. A player would only enter the Tower of Somnus once their body entered a REM state. Unfortunately for her, an excess of nervous energy kept her from calming down enough to actually sleep.

Multiplication tables and the stale facts regarding chemical bonds flowed through her head as Kat tried to slow her racing pulse to a more reasonable rate. Finally, just as she was compiling a calculation for the potential energy in a theoretical hydrocarbon, clouds filled her vision.

Kat found herself in the sky, falling next to what appeared to be an ancient windowless tower constructed from a sort of reddish grey brick. For a second, panic filled her as air rushed past her, but Kat was quickly able to bring her emotions under control.

Finally, after almost a minute falling, Kat slammed into the town square of a small village, little more than ten six to twelve wooden huts with a wall of dried mud around them. In the millisecond before she hit the ground, her momentum arrested itself completely, gently depositing her on the sun baked dirt surrounding the town’s well and a large brass bell.

She stood up, dusting herself off and taking stock of the situation. She was wearing a nondescript brown outfit, loose enough that she could move freely, but otherwise utterly unremarkable. Around her, a dozen or so figures, almost none of them human, went about their daily business, ignoring her sudden and violent arrival.

“Kat!” Arnold jogged over, a huge smile on his face. He was wearing a chain shirt, noticeably a size too large for his body, and the longsword scabbarded at his belt slapped against his leather clad thigh awkwardly, but Kat had to admit. He at least looked like he had seen some action.

“I was waiting for you,” he gushed. “There isn’t much by way of a tutorial, but I can at least walk you through the basics before we set out.”

“Where are all the people?” Kat asked, frowning slightly at the denizens of the town. Each and every one was an alien of some sort. Two looked more or less like humans except with orange fur and long ears, but the rest had the wrong number of eyes, arms, or even heads.

Arnold was the only other human in sight, making it very clear that they were anywhere but one of the safe starting zones designated for their race. One or two glanced in their direction, but the vast majority seemed to not care about the humans in their midst, instead going about their daily activities without pause.

“Errr,” Arnold scratched the back of his neck, unable to meet Kat’s eyes. “Apparently you spawn in the starting zone nearest where the person granting you the subscription is at the time you first go to sleep. The guy I bought the subscription from wouldn’t let me see his face and this is pretty far from the rest of the human settlements in Somnus so-”

“You bought a black market subscription from someone that didn’t want to be caught selling him,” Kat crossed her arms, raising a single eyebrow at Arnold. “That means that he was probably corporate.”

“Hey,” Arnold threw up both of his hands. “That’s just speculation. There could be any number of reasons why he did what he did. I didn’t quiz the guy, just paid his fee and took the product.”

“Which makes you in receipt of stolen corporate property,” Kat shook her head before muttering. “You’re lucky that you’re cute.”

“What was that?” Arnold asked, blushing slightly.

“I said that you’re lucky that you didn’t get caught Arnold,” Kat lied as smoothly as she could while her cheeks flushed beet red.

“Yeah,” he scratched the back of his neck nervously. “Listen we should probably just practice out here in the xeno sectors of the tower until we get a bit stronger. I’m not saying that the guy I bought the subscription from was corporate, for all I know he was a shy street samurai. I just think that it would be best not to advertise that we’re players until we ascend a level or two.”

“I’m fine with caution,” Kat agreed. “Now, how are we going to go about this? I’m wearing a burlap sack in a hamlet full of aliens. I’m going to rely on you for my next steps.”

“Say ‘status’ while thinking about your abilities to bring up your character sheet,” Arnold spoke quickly, relief at changing the subject evident in his voice. “We’ll go through what each stat means so that we can start talking about a class and a build for you.”

“What is there that’s agility based?” Kat asked. “I’m more of a ‘fast and nimble’ type than I am a strong bruiser.”

“Not anymore,” Arnold muttered unhappily.

“What do you mean by that?” She asked, a hint of worry creeping into her voice.

“Just open your status sheet,” Arnold responded. “It’s easier to show you than to tell you, and I know that the two of us could just banter until we wake up if given half a chance.”

“Status,” as soon as the word left Kat’s lips, a translucent blue box appeared in front of her.


Katherine Debs



Max Level








Damage Mitigation




















Spells Known

Skills Known



“That,” Katherine’s voice was heavy with disappointment, “doesn’t look very impressive to me. In fact, I’d say that my stats are downright pedestrian.”

“I know,” Arnold grumbled. “Apparently everyone starts out with exactly the same abilities and without any skills in order to ‘even the playing field.’ Given how big and nasty some of the xenos around here look, I appreciate the effort even if it does make me feel fairly generic and pathetic.”

“The good news is that your stats can improve,” Arnold shrugged. “Hell, that’s half the point of playing the game. You can gain attributes both as you level and as rewards from conquering dungeons. Of course, dungeons are incredibly dangerous and their awards can be almost anything. It might be a stat point, it might be the ability to smell common poisons in food and drink.”

“At least tell me what they do,” Kat sighed. “If I’m going to be mediocre, I should know what my specific brand of mediocrity looks like.”

“I’ll start with attributes,” Arnold tapped his chin thoughtfully. “They’re kind of the basis of everything else. Those are the eight stats that start at level three. Each of the eight abilities comes in a pair with the ability to the right or left of it on your status sheet.”

“Strength is self explanatory,” Arnold slapped two fingers against his bicep. “It’s how much you can lift and how hard you hit. Agility is a combination of hand eye coordination and body control. It helps you perform delicate tasks as well as striking monsters and avoiding being hit in return. These two attributes are generally considered to be your ‘force’ attributes as they govern your ability to fight physically.”

“Fortitude is how hard you are to hurt,” he continued. “It governs your damage mitigation stat as well as your hit points. Endurance is your ability to perform sustained activities like swimming or jogging for long periods of time, generally it helps determine both your hit points and your stamina. Fortitude and endurance are generally known as ‘resilience’ when they are referred to together.”

“The mind attribute is a combination of memory and the raw ability to process information,” Kat noticed one of the nearby aliens was meandering over as Arnold kept speaking. “It’s used in a lot of spellcasting related abilities and helps determine your mana. The reaction stat is fairly simple. It summarizes your reflexes and your ability to act intuitively without having to consciously think about an action in a split second situation. Unsurprisingly, it plays a part in your dodge stat. The pair of mind and reaction are commonly known as ‘intellect.’

“Finally, we have your ‘will,’ Arnold frowned slightly at the four armed reptilian alien that was watching him attentively. Charisma represents the force of your character, and it influences your mana. Spirit governs your willpower and the raw magical force you can bring to bear, and together with your endurance it determines your stamina stat.”

“Wait,” Kat frowned. “I don’t understand. Why does spirit empower my stamina rather than my mana? It makes sense that mind helps determine my MP, but I don’t understand why charisma is involved in the equation.”

“That’s because charisma represents your force of character and ego,” the lizard standing next to them interjected helpfully. “Magic is a manifestation of you being able to visualize and enforce your will upon the world. Those are the core elements of mind and charisma. Spirit might be the manifestation of your raw magical power, but it mainly deals with the impact of a spell once it is cast.”

Somehow the creature had a vaguely British accent, a fact almost as surprising as the fact that Kat could understand an obvious alien being perfectly.

“I apologize,” the creature’s crest flared as one arm on its right side pressed against its scaly chest while the other reached, offering a handshake to Arnold. “My name is Dorrik Ahn and I couldn’t help but notice that you were trying to educate a newcomer.”

“Yes,” Arnold responded, shaking the alien’s clawed hand quickly and with visible distaste. “I was trying to get Kat here up to speed.”

“Wonderful!” It pumped Arnold’s hand with its lower arm while the upper pair threw themselves in the air in delight. “Have you picked a class yet? Perhaps a weapon that you think they should focus on?”

Kat took mercy on Arnold, pinched voice and the uncontrolled grit of his teeth as the alien maintained its death grip on his poor hand.

“My name is Katherine Debs by the way,” she extended her arm to the alien, prompting it to let go of Arnold in order to clasp hands with her. “I fight with a knife. Really any bladed weapon will do so long as it's shorter than my forearm.”

“Good, good!” Dorrik grinned, revealing a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. “A precision fighter then? It sounds like you should look into the footpad class. It primarily focuses on fast and accurate strikes with a secondary goal of sneaking up on opponents unaware in order to land critical blows on its opponent.”

“Kat might fight with a knife for now,” Arnold’s jaw was still clenched and his eyes burned as he glared at the gregarious alien, “but that’ll change once we find a skill. Neither of us can afford to be picky. We’ll fight with whatever the Tower gives us. I know I didn’t know the first thing about longswords until I lucked upon a skill stone.”

“Oh come now,” Dorrik waved one of its upper hands and Arnold dismissively. “If your friend has training with a knife, it is best to equip them with a knife. The system here tends to take note of your activities. There are no promises, but when an elite monster drops a skill stone, the system tends to… tailor the stone to the one that slew it. If Katherine fights for days with a dagger and then kills such a beast, it will likely drop a knife skill stone.”

“Thank you for the advice,” Kat glanced worriedly at where Arnold stood fuming at the alien’s sudden interruption. “I am a female by the way and you should feel free to shorten my name to Kat, everyone does so. What pronouns should I use for you?”

“They is appropriate,” Dorrik replied brightly. “I am a brood carrier, an immature Lokkel male. In the life cycle of our species, adult females will deposit eggs in our pouch-”

It slapped a leathery flap of skin on its stomach by way of demonstration.

“And I will carry the young to term,” it continued either ignoring or not caring about the sheer look of exasperation on Arnold’s face. “Once I grow older, I will mature into a male and then I will use the pronoun ‘he.’ Immature females of my race serve a similar role, raising the young as ‘rearers’ without pronouns of their own. I find the lack of genders in your race fasc-”

“If you don’t mind,” Arnold bit out, doing everything he could to maintain a bare veneer of civility. “Kat and I were about to go hunting. We have limited hours of sleep and we wanted to put them to good use.”

“Oh by all means,” Dorrik withdrew its clawed hands, clapping them together. “I apologize! It’s just that your species has been incredibly reclusive since Captain Fillonws discovered you. I was surprised to see a pair of you outside of your usual racial starting zones.”

“Come,” Dorrik waved them on, a toothy smile on its face. “Let us buy Kat a knife so that we can go hunt. Classes and skill stones won’t earn themselves.”

“We?” Arnold muttered, frustration twisting his features.


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About the author


  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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