Notifications come crashing in. Trying to read, I can hardly keep up.

World notice:


World first! Clan Nightfallers has completed the Welcome to Imagine Online dungeon, “Yaoguai’s Lair.”



Region notice:


Region first! Clan Nightfallers has completed the Welcome to Imagine Online dungeon, “Yaoguai’s Lair.”





Your clan Nightfallers is the first to complete the Welcome to Imagine Online dungeon “Yaoguai’s Lair” in the game.

Special bonus: 1,000 gold.



You have reached level 13!

You have reached level 14!

You have reached level 15!

Hide skill +5


“OH MY GOD! We all got a thousand gold!” screams Briar, hooting and dancing. “Now let’s loot!”


I toss all my new stat points into my primary stat dexterity, which is now at a whopping sixteen.


“It worked! Damn!” Kian says. But you know this means we will have massive targets on our backs, right? That group we kill-stole this from is gonna be gunning for us. Every other group in the world is working night and day to beat their region’s dungeon.” Kian paces back and forth, the weight of what we did settling in. “You know we have to defend the fortress, right? And not just from other fortress owners—we’ll have to defend it from basically everyone.”


Briar walks up to the chest, points, and says, “Loot time!”


I think I am still in shock as I walk up to Yaoguai’s treasure chest. I flip the lid for our spoils.


I pick up a golden envelope that comes up first.

Elite Fortress Guardian


As clan leader of the first clan to beat the Welcome to Imagine Online dungeon. We have prepared a special fortress guardian for you. Choose between three elite guardians for your new fortress.

This is a gift from the development team. Choose wisely.


This might be worth more than any loot I could get. A fortress guardian like this could defend our fortress from a horde of players for the foreseeable future. Later in the game, the guardian would probably fall to high-level characters, but this gives us a sizable head start and some breathing room before our next school break.


“I think we will be okay for a bit,” I say and show off our new find.


I look at the rest of my loot window and pick up an epic “Belt of the Waterfall”. It’s a belt that allows for limited underwater breathing. The best gear find though is a new level-fifteen +5 knife named “Yaoguai's Finger.” The knife has base damage of 41-77 and applies a magical poison. The poison will damage over time anyone hit with it by 3-8 damage every five seconds for thirty seconds total. The DOT adds up to 18-48 of poison damage. I equip both items and stash the fortress guardian ticket in my bag.


Both Kian and Briar get epic items as well, but being shell-shocked, we are not trying them out yet.

We take one last look around.


We change our display tag for our new clan name. Right now shows it in gold, visible to other players. We don’t need that right now. I fiddle with the interface and change the display tag to an evil-looking green color and make sure we can each toggle the tag off.


Briar tests his tag and says, “I like it. Evil-green is good. Maybe we should have called our clan SlimeLords?”


I laugh, “Next time I will, but now seriously.” I say while activating Perception. I want to see if there are any hidden doors or more chests. “I need to understand all these new menus that just opened for the clan. And, we can claim the first fortress before another team in this region gets their pick. Also, we need to start recruiting.”


“Tomorrow is going to be awesome.” Kian says, waiting at the rune circle we assume is the exit. “But, we need to be careful if we want to recruit people to our clan. We don’t want them thinking we are some raid-core clan. If they want to raid, it’s going to be obvious we didn’t do this dungeon the—" he pauses, looking at a scorch mark on the floor. “The straightforward way.”


I disable our clan tag for now and walk to the circle as Briar trots up. As one we all step on it and wait for a second before a flash envelops up. I am being stretched out and compressed, we are moved in space. We appear in Kesmai town square and there are players everywhere—a lot of players. Among the players are large sentinel-looking creatures which I can Identify as game masters, who each have hovering eyes about them. With the number of players, I figure this must be every person in this whole zone who came here to see who beat the dungeon.




I immediately hide in the shadows and try to drift away from sight. Briar and Kian follow my lead and we all move the side. I see where the instance was is now a mound with a placard stating it moved to its permanent home near Port Yarrow. A buzz of excitement fills the air. Nobody knows what exactly is going on and they are all mobbed around the game masters, trying to find out. The players are hounding the GMs with questions. I move onto a rooftop overlooking the square for a better view.


I look around more now that I have a vantage point and I hear a reporter talking into one of the floating eyes like it’s a camera; it’s a small beholder. The eye floats around one of the GMs and it has a small stalk on the top which has a light like an anglerfish. I move to the edge of the roof to hear the reporter start her broadcast.


She is a red-haired mage in her 20s, “Happy Friday! This is Kisma Carn with U.W. Update News, your source for the latest in-game news inside of U.W.” The crowd around her presses in, but she maintains her composure.She waves, and the beholder scans the crowd. The mob yells behind her. “For those of you here, if you have not, please enter #uwupdate in your interface chat to subscribe to our stream of daily news. We also have a UW tagboard which you can use to post newsworthy items.”

Oh, this is good. I had seen a note about #uwupdate, but I thought it would be a tutorial thing; I did not understand it was an actual news show. I subscribe quickly and turn back to the reporter.


“We’re here in the town of Kesmai, a smaller starting area on the western edge of the continent. Here today the world’s first player group finished the entry dungeon. Their name is the [Nightfallers] clan, a three-member clan. And in record time, they did what teams of dedicated players across the world have been working night and day to do since launch.” She smooths out her hair, “This group beat the expectations of the UW development teams by several days. We would love to see their team makeup and get the video of this world-first achievement.”


Briar starts, "We should—”


“We are not going down there,” I say. “No way. We need to keep low—we used a bug, remember?”


“There is that cleric and his party,” Kian says, and I look down and spot the group.“ They look pissed off and still have their death debuff—fresh from the cemetery.”


I feel momentarily sorry for them, but I know we needed this more than them, this is something I have to do.


We go down and mingle with the crowd. None of us have our clan tag visible, so we can enjoy the spectacle.



It is getting late, and after a couple hours things calm down, Kian and Briar log off and we promise to meet the next morning. As they go, I stick around and see what happens while I go through menus. I check my bathroom icon and see I am fine—I’m not in any danger of peeing myself.

I see a familiar ranger, walking with her mask off and a bow on her back. She lights up red for me as an eye-for-an-eye target; it is Josie.


Without hesitating a second, I slip down to the street and through the shadows, behind her. I have three attacks with my level-fifteen magically poisoned dagger. She is standing in the middle of the crowd as I slide closer, my cloak dragging its shadows behind me. I am right behind her now, and I can smell her.


I am vengeance.


I turn my name and clan tag on, so she knows it is me—I want her to know. I put on my mask and pull my hood up.


My knife slides between her ribs on her left side and she immediately screams out. The knife then slides under her back-right shoulder blade, and finally the knife goes into the right side of her throat. With my hidden status broken, I am standing above her in full view of everyone, my cloak grasping the shadows and my knife dripping neon-green poison. Josie wisps away as black smoke licks around my boots. My tag is visible, and I have multiple beholder eyes focus on me—everyone can see my name and clan tag. The #uwupdate channel light up with my name as live videos begin.

I quickly dip back from the throng and run between buildings. Then, I leap onto a roof and put some distance between myself and them.

A mass of players is trying to find me and I see them climb the buildings. One player closes in, a ranger class like Josie. I tear through the ink of night and end the ranger’s life with a quick slash, in panic. I see I am in player killer state now, and being a PK means the town’s guards will attack on sight. The players won’t have any PK debuffs or downsides killing me. This is bad.


A group of players watches me jump down from a roof as they come running around a corner. Seeing an attackable player, they go for it, one yelling, “it is a GM event!”


They are all level five; I tear through them like paper. Another group with mages burst onto the street. They start casting bolts at me which hit with stinging smacks. I use my epic cloak skill summon spider. As I activate the skill, the shadows dragging behind me form into the spiders' legs and become a level-fifteen sword spider. It scurries off and slices every player and NPC it finds to pieces, it’s the game world’s blender. One beholder spies the spider and follows it around; another one hovers well above me.


I see my PK debuff number shoot up, I need to escape and hide in the woods and let it slowly time out. Kian had said it will take hours. I don’t know how to control the spider—I’m not sure I can. It is high level for these players and will kill everyone here.


I have to take out another small group of players myself and then I see one of the huge Game Masters stomp around a corner and engage the spider. He slices it with a massive sword and the spider turns to pieces of shadow, which all rapidly flow back to my cape to drag on the ground. The GM runs at me with his huge two-handed sword in his hands.


I am screwed.

I pull out the Deck of Transmutation and pray for a bird card, a little bird. I draw and hold up a card to my face. I see a beholder move to get a look at me and I quickly glance at the card, “The Chariot,” and image of a rhino covered in blood.


I wanted a damn bird; you know to fly away—

I am power, but I run from my pursuer, four legs carry me through to the square. With my head down the crowd parts under me like grass, shields bend, swords break, my steps softened. I am trapped here. I turn, I crush more who stand still to die. The creatures strike me; I am slashed again and again, one under me, my horn inside his helmet. I am bleeding, fading.

I know only power.

You have died [Extreme player killer death]


Thank you for playing Imagine Online

Your respawn point: Toldos, the Underworld

Your respawn wait time: 0 minutes

Experience lost: 4,400 (temporary)

Items lost: none

Eye for and Eye target: none


What in the hell happened? It’s like the rhino took over there and I experienced it instead of controlling it. It felt like I was in control, but I wasn’t. The scene of the GMs and the dead rhino is playing, but the pop-up says I don’t have a wait time.


I select to respawn, my body reforms, but I am not in the cemetery of Kesmai. Wherever I am is more like a ghostly town. Around me is a small fenced-in area under a dead tree. I have a chain on my neck and on my hands. I have a glow, but not the regular debuff. What is going on?


I have none of my gear; I see I have access to money, and my character sheet says I am a ghost of myself. The sheet also says I have lost half my levels temporarily, and several levels permanently, unless I meet afterlife atonement conditions. This is a player-killer atonement instance.


I am in digital jail, damn.


I look over the log and my best count is that I killed about 15 players; the spider killed mostly NPCs, but got about 8-10 players, and me as a rhino killed another 20 in the tightly packed square. That would match up with the 4,400xp I would lose. I killed about 44 player characters because I went into a panic after killing Josie.


That was all on beholder-camera. I don’t even want to look at the in-game news.


And apparently I can’t, anyway. Ghosts don’t get news. Figures.


A dull, lumbering specter slowly walks to me and hoists me up by my chains. It says nothing—I can only assume it is a simple NPC and I can’t communicate with this thing. It drags me through the town, passing spectral houses and dead trees. There are bones hanging from strings rattling in a light breeze. The specter dumps me in front of a thick old knotty table in a small wooded area. At the table sits a hooded man, maybe more of a zombie than man, but he is not a ghost. The zombie-like man is writing intensely into a large book. He is in exquisite leather armor, and wears spiked rings and bracers, as well as a necklace with stones. Looking closer at the stones, they are adorned with moving clouds images. He is the boss of the area, of that there is no doubt. The specter shuffles over to the wall and picks up a tombstone.


“Now that was something,” the zombie says as he continues writing. “My name is Toldos. I enjoy your work, I do, but there is a price to pay for these actions. You see, all actions have consequences and you, my friend, you racked up a tab.” He stops writing and sets his pen down deliberately as the specter shuffles back to the table. After a pause, he continues, “You can pay with gold or you can pay with blood. Either way, you will atone with the full weight of your actions.”


The specter slams down the ghostly tombstone in front of me as Toldos closes his book, looks up with cold yellow eyes, and smiles.


A note from joeldg

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About the author


  • Portland, OR

Bio: Joel lives on the side of an extinct volcano with his family, and a cat with markings of a ghost, named after a Roman general. He writes ongoing LitRPG, as well as short-form GameLit and SciFi. He has played nearly every single MMO/MMORPG.

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