The World Tree
The character sheet read:
Name: Vale dePardon
XP to next level: 123468
Stats: (Total/Original/Level Ups/Bonuses)
Class Skills: Fencing, Ancient Body Magic, Paranoia, Ancient Occult Lore, Map Reading/Cartography
Permanent Bonus Source: Mystic Clover (Luck +3)
Trent Noguero smiled in satisfaction. It had been a long, hard road to hit level ten, but now his character, Vale dePardon, finally had a subclass!
He’d been playing as Vale dePardon in Secret of the Old Ones for a year and had just hit level ten a week ago. It was quite an accomplishment. Of the millions of people who were playing the game around the world, less than a couple thousand players had made it to level ten so far.
Level ten was a huge milestone and allowed a player to choose a subclass. He’d chosen Explorer, which allowed him to choose his fifth skill, [Cartography].
Now he only had a few more steps before he could start his grand, mystical experiment. He carefully tiptoed around the ornate sigils he’d drawn in powder on the floor. He was trying to find one of the reagents he’d taken out of his inventory earlier.
Where is it…where is it? Ah, there it is! He found the glass tube of glowing blue liquid and grinned. He didn’t have many more preparations to make. Vale carefully moved to the most concentrated area of the designs and symbols on the ground, some of which were glowing.
He took a deep breath. He only had enough *Distilled Azure Essence* for one try. He was about to make or break his complex magic gate spell. He uncorked the blue liquid and mumbled a few spells. The liquid began to bubble, and Vale threw it up in the air in a circular motion. In less than a second, the entire vial of liquid had turned to smoke. The sparkles in the air left over from the mystical reaction slowly settled to the designs on the floor.
Vale smiled and tilted his head back for a moment in triumph. Finally, he thought. He squatted down and carefully regarded the center of the spell network. The old, cracked parchment had probably been the luckiest thing he’d found in the game so far…if it actually was what he thought it was.
It was a big “if.”
It had taken him a month to figure out what the map might do, and after he knew, his mouth had gone dry from excitement. However, preparing to discover if he was right had been very expensive and time-consuming. He’d spent every coin he had to buy all the materials for the arcane accelerators and intricate symbols drawn on the floor. All his wealth had been used to cover his hidden cellar in ancient hoodoo.
At least the cellar had been free. He was just hiding in an obscure, out-of-the-way area and would leave when he was done. He wasn’t sure if the cellar actually belonged to someone, and he didn’t care. Their building was helping further science—or magic, whatever.
He traced a finger along the mystic sigils rimming the map’s edges and smiled. He’d been waiting a long time to test his theory. Now that he was so close, he felt anxiety building, the pressure crawling up his spine.
His subclass and his new [Cartography] skill were all part of a plan that he’d been working on for half a year. Secret of the Old Ones deviated from other games with unique bonuses, skills, even rumored one-of-a-kind classes. In a game with 30 starting stat points, a level cap of 30, and only one additional stat point every level for a possible total of 60 stat points at max level…
It was obvious that bonus stats would be a huge advantage.
When Vale had heard about these design decisions prior to playing SOO, he’d decided on his strategy before even creating a character. He’d put as many points into the Luck stat as he could. In a game where stats were so important, where his character sheet even showed his original, level one choices, finding anything that could give him permanent bonuses would be amazing.
Luckily, two months in, his gamble had paid off. What’s more, he was able to find an amazing item that conferred a permanent attribute bonus of +3 Luck. Unfortunately, finding the Mystic Clover had been part of a long, involved adventure that had gained him a full-blown enemy.
Suddenly, he got a flashing system notice:
Unlike other notices, this one popped up and faded away on its own. Vale’s stomach dropped and he whispered, “Oh no.”
His [Paranoia] skill was currently letting him know an enemy was nearby, and he knew it had to be Brutus Vann, his nemesis, his enemy from the expedition where he’d found the Mystic Clover. Vale crossed his arms and tried to decide what to do. It would be a few minutes before Brutus found him…just like he always did.
They had shared history, after all.
In the past, he’d always fled from Brutus, managing to escape through luck and guile. Combat in SOO was a strange combination of in-game skills and real-life abilities. A character couldn’t do things in the game very well unless they had a skill or class for it. On the flip side, if a character had a skill, they performed actions better if they had real-life skill and experience. The game’s system helped for skills that players were unfamiliar with, but there was no substitute for real training…
The strange combat and skill system had actually motivated players to learn how to make antique crafts, pursue knowledge, and practice martial arts outside the game—presumably, as the mysterious designers of Yggdrasil Entertainment had intended.
Unfortunately, Vale was almost certain that Brutus had at least three skills devoted entirely to combat. He was also a skilled fighter, almost unnaturally so. Brutus’s player had to have real skill in ancient weapons and armor. Sometimes Vale wondered who Brutus could be in real life.
Who the hell trained to use a longsword, anyway?
In a game where player deaths forced a mandatory one-week lockout from the game, Brutus was notorious. He’d been challenged by full adventuring parties in the past and still came out as the victor, helping himself to all their gear and becoming an even more formidable player.
Normally if Brutus showed up, Vale would run; he’d have no choice. Unfortunately, the whole reason he was so eager to get his tenth level, his subclass, and the [Cartography] skill was currently filling his laboratory. Six months of work was glowing on the floor.
His back was against the wall. If he fled, he’d lose half a year of progress. He couldn’t let Brutus just have it. Eventually, he made the only decision he really could. His spine steeled, he ascended the stairs out of his borrowed cellar.
He reflected on his chances as he walked out into the moonlight. Luckily, Vale wasn’t a terrible fighter himself. His high-quality Rapier of Twilight was an excellent weapon. Plus, his [Fencing] skill, 3 years of Fencing Club in college, and a year of hands-on combat experience in SOO had made him fairly dangerous in his own right.
Unfortunately, Brutus was a superior fighter in every way, except for one—Vale had magic. He usually avoided using it because of the risks, but the only way he was going to win this fight would be to cheat.
Sure enough, Brutus was standing outside. The shadows on his craggy, brutish face moved as he grinned. His heavy armor shimmered with enchantments, and his enormous sword glowed with fiery runes.
As amazing as the hulking man’s gear was, it was common knowledge he had an even better set stashed away somewhere. The last time someone actually managed to kill Brutus, they’d taken his gear. They’d believed him brought down for good, or at least for a long time. The community had celebrated. However, a week later when Brutus had logged back into the game, he’d hunted down those who killed him. He’d killed them, taken out their friends, and even slaughtered the players who’d planned the celebration of his death.
He was ruthless.
Brutus stood a few inches taller than Vale and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. It was a jagged pill to swallow, but Vale had to admit that the man was incredibly intimidating. Brutus wore full armor while Vale was dressed as an Occultist adventurer. He was wearing the game’s latest adventuring fashion. He had to admit he liked how it looked.
As Vale drew his rapier, Brutus smiled and crowed, “So, we finally meet again and at last—”
Vale wasn’t interested in talking. He sprinted forward, using his [Ancient Body Magic] skill to cast <Arm Speed>, <Leg Speed>, <Superior Aim>, <Enhanced Reflexes>, and <Explosive Strength>. The combination of spells exhausted a great deal of his mana, and he felt the mental strain pushing against his paltry six Willpower.
He fought to stay conscious. If he went under, he would pass out and no doubt Brutus would kill him. He’d be locked out for a week. It was unacceptable to go down now, to lose everything. Vale fought through the pain.
As he closed, he focused on his target and his strategy. SOO supported massive criticals for killing blows. Hitting someone normally took away their health, but particularly deadly attacks could usually kill a player in one shot.
It was obvious that Brutus had not even expected Vale to defend himself. Arrogant bastard, Vale thought, and he snarled. Even just standing there with his sword sheathed, Brutus still almost managed to recover.
He pulled just enough steel and turned his body to block Vale’s first attack. Then Vale dodged Brutus’s hasty, surprised punch and sunk his rapier up to the hilt in the brutish man’s eye socket.
The big man fell; the fight was over amazingly fast. Vale panted and wrenched his sword out of Brutus’ skull. He had been awarded with the kill. The feeling was surreal. Vale closed a window that popped up without looking at the XP he’d earned.
He was a little shocked he was still alive. In any other circumstance, he was sure he would have lost. Only the full combination of all five spells had let him win, but it had been an enormous risk, one that most players, including himself, would usually not have been willing to take. He had come close to passing out just from the spell backlash, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to replicate the feat ever again.
Ancient magic, the magic Occultists used in SOO was no joke. Each spell cast in quick succession got increasingly difficult to control.
Vale didn’t pause to gloat. He didn’t even stop to loot. He just dragged Brutus’s corpse into his cellar laboratory and locked the door. He couldn’t know who else might have been watching, and he had to move forward with his plans immediately. All the reagents, the careful planning, everything had to be used now.
The proper stars were even in alignment. There would be no better time, and he didn’t want to further risk losing all his hard work.
Vale moved to his carefully inscribed circles and realized he was bleeding from somewhere. Oh well, it could wait. All his spells from the fight before were still active, so he was riding a high of magic. He paused for a second, breathed deeply, and called up his [Ancient Occult Lore] activation menu.
Do you want to activate your arcane portal?
Vale chose YES.
Are you sure?
The map tethered to this arcane portal is demanding a
permanent loss of -5 Intelligence to proceed.
Vale paused and thought for a while. The map was asking for an insane loss of Intelligence. It hadn’t even occurred to him that he could lose any stats, that it might cost him more than he’d already given up to use the map.
He should have known there’d be more to it. He’d been a fool. It even made sense that he would have to give up Intelligence, the one stat necessary to have deciphered the map in the first place. It was the core stat for his primary class, too.
He stared at the prompt a long time, but finally gritted his teeth and chose YES. This was going to hurt. He had the bare minimum Intelligence necessary to use the map in the first place, but he had to know where this map led. He had to know if he’d been right.
Suddenly, he felt nothing but pressure, like the entire world was pushing in on him. Flashes of lights and color bombarded him, even with his eyes closed. He felt the brush of catastrophe a number of times. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he knew he was barely avoiding death. He hoped his Luck stat would be enough.
The map had been meant for the transport of a player twice his level, after all.
Eventually, the colors stopped spinning and Vale opened his eyes. He was greeted with the sight of an enormous, ethereal tree.
“Yes, I was right!” He whooped with joy.
He stood on a walkway leading directly into the World Tree. To his left was the aspect of Autumn, the surrounding forest, all shades of honey gold and red. To his right was the aspect of Spring, trees dripping with lush vegetation and radiating the vibrant glow of life. Majestic mountains loomed in the distance, framing the World Tree like supplicants.
He slowly walked forward, giddy from his success. He had no idea what to expect. Over the last year, players had heard rumors of the World Tree, but nobody had found it. Vale was the first.
He stepped into the tree and got a flashing prompt:
You have found the fabled World Tree!
You have a choice…of Power!
The World Tree is ancient and must gift some of its power!
Fire – +Strength +Intelligence
Air – +Agility +Intelligence
Water – +Willpower +Intelligence
Earth – +Stamina +Intelligence
Upon your choice you will receive:
-A Legendary class
-A legendary, elemental magic skill (required, takes one skill slot)
*Please note that this magic skill can be used without affecting player sanity.
*(Does not require a Willpower check)
-Additional awarded XP
-Additional stat points allocated
Do you wish to accept this power?
Vale chose YES.
Choose your Element
Each element can be chosen once by one person
The World Tree’s energy only grows to this level every 1000 years
Vale thought carefully. He’d been working on his character being something of a gentleman scholar with a magical flair, and he decided to stick with that. He also didn’t like the idea of choosing Water, although it would have been a good element for him too.
He chose AIR and all hell broke loose.
Stat points awarded
400,000 XP earned
New title earned: Legendary Air Adept
New legendary class earned: Air Adept
System Alert! Vale dePardon has found the World Tree. Vale dePardon is the Legendary Air Adept of Secret of the Old Ones!
Mandatory skill awarded
It was all a little overwhelming at first, but Vale quickly grasped what was happening. He grinned as he allocated his two stat points from gaining two levels and examined his new character sheet. All his health, mana, and stamina were maxed out again. He’d gotten lucky too. His new attribute points from his new class were applied before he leveled up so he’d gained more mana per level.
Name: Vale dePardon
Hero Class: *At level 20*
Legendary Class: Air Adept
XP to next level: 69458
Stats: (Total/Original/Level Ups/Bonuses)
Class Skills: Fencing, Ancient Body Magic, Paranoia, Ancient Occult Lore, Map Reading/Cartography, Elemental Magic: Air
Permanent Bonus Source: Mystic Clover (Luck +3), World Tree Tithe
(Int -5), World Tree Boon (Int +8, Agi +3)
Smiling from ear to ear, he called up his [Ancient Occult Lore] activation menu.
Do you wish to return?
Vale chose YES, and the World Tree instantly teleported him back to his dank cellar. His eyes glowed as he mentally went through the list of all his new abilities. It was all amazing, completely amazing. He’d made back the Intelligence he’d sacrificed and then some.
Giving up that five Intelligence hadn’t been easy. In retrospect, he figured it’d been a test to determine if he was a real Explorer or something. If he’d been wrong about where the map took him, he would have been screwed.
He immediately folded the precious map and decided he needed to hide it as soon as possible. There were three more elements that the World Tree could give. He had to decide whether to gift them to friends or sell the knowledge. Each element would probably be worth over a million US dollars, but he’d have to sell them all at once. After someone else got an element, he would no longer be the only player that knew how to get to the World Tree.
He was tired, but he got moving. First things first, he had to loot Brutus’s body. After being stalked for so long by the huge psycho, it was going to be super satisfying to sell all his gear. He’d have to find an NPC with decent rates, though. No players would touch it.
Brutus was scary even while he was dead.
Vale knew he was one of the most powerful players in the entire game now. Unfortunately, because of the system alert, the rest of the world knew it too.
Let them come.