Trent tried to pay attention in class, but ultimately gave up. He couldn’t fight the inevitable; he had way too much on his mind.

His virtual university classroom didn’t have the same level of realism as Secret of the Old Ones, but it was still fairly immersive. Everyone in the class looked as they did in real life. Avatars and cosmetic alterations were not allowed.

The professor droned on, displaying incredible skill. The man could somehow even make Astronomy boring, a subject Trent cared about deeply.

Trent secretly smiled as he overheard one of the other students whispering about Vale dePardon. SOO was such a popular game, important news was even more highly regarded internationally than the largest e-sports.

The whole world knew the name of Trent’s in-game avatar. It was a strange feeling knowing that his virtual self was so famous.

Trent still had to figure out what he was going to do with his hard-won knowledge, though. Should he procure real-world money, or in-game favors?

The decision was even more complicated due to how so many players actually made money by selling items in-game. The line between wealth in the virtual world and wealth in the real world was a bit fuzzy.

Part of the problem was that Trent wasn’t sure how he could sell such expensive information at once, nor even what path to take. There were websites dedicated to trading things in-game for real money, but they were all third party and relied heavily on trust. One player sent money, the other player met the paying party in-game to give them what they paid for.

This worked fine for most items, but for information worth a fortune, it would be risky.

Trent tapped his finger on his virtual desk while he thought. The feeling wasn’t quite as satisfying as tapping a real desk. Still, if any of his classmates looked at him, he knew they’d see him exactly as he looked in real life; just shy of tall, dark hair, dark eyes, lean face, an air of wariness.

The virtual classroom perfectly captured the clothing he was wearing, too. He had on jeans, a t-shirt, and his Bluetooth-connected sneakers. Nothing fancy. He wasn’t sure how his persocomp told the VR classroom what he was wearing, but it was hard to hide from something in your own head. He really wasn’t sure why he needed to wear any clothes at all in the real world.

Whoever had built the VR infrastructure for private and public education had obviously not liked the idea of students hanging out at home naked while virtually attending class…or something.

Of course, students without persocomps, usually for religious reasons, and students who just wanted some social, face-to-face interaction went to the public pod facilities, but Trent usually couldn’t be bothered. He wanted to log into SOO as soon as he was done with class.

He also hated public restrooms.

After class was done, Trent logged out. He glanced around his little dorm room before sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes. He knew some people liked to Dive while sitting, but Trent preferred to lie down.

He knew some people thought colleges should do away with dorm rooms since classes were virtual, but Trent actually enjoyed staying in a dorm. If he wasn’t living in student housing, he probably wouldn’t have any in-person friends at all. The birth rate for the world was down enough, too. He agreed with the politicians who said that young people should still actually interact with other—Trent just didn’t like to do so too often.

He got up and poured himself a drink while he thought about what he should do in-game. He needed to hydrate before Diving anyway, so he sipped his sports drink while thinking about the game itself.

Secret of the Old Ones, the second global deep dive VR game (DDVRG) was a multiplayer RPG with some very distinct differences from other games.

One of its greatest strengths was its realism. Players could not differentiate between Secret of the Old Ones and reality other than the in-game mechanics. It was even more immersive than Strength and Magic Online had been.

The first DDVRG, Strength and Magic Online, had been a revolutionary experience. For almost forty years before SMO was created, various companies had tinkered with deep dive VR tech. The gaming industry had always been huge, and it didn’t take a genius to understand how much money truly immersive gaming could make.

One of the greatest hurdles developers had to overcome was hardware constraints. VR headsets and haptic suits had become incredibly advanced, but still couldn’t offer a full deep dive experience. It wasn’t until the invention of the persocomp, a personal computer link implanted in the brain, that true deep dive VR was possible. Plus, the United World Council’s decision that a persocomp was a human right was a godsend for gamers.

Strength and Magic Online had been revolutionary, the greatest game made for its time. However, Secret of the Old Ones, or SOO had surpassed it in every way.

The design decision by Yggdrasil Entertainment to build its new game in an HP Lovecraft-style horror universe had made some early industry pundits scratch their heads. That was before the game came out. The emphasis on personal skills and learning, the difficulty in leveling, the compelling world and quests…it was all amazing.

Trent personally loved the game’s setting. It was the perfect mix of fantasy, horror, and the familiar. Players who didn’t like the combat aspect could play a largely social game in towns and cities. Meanwhile, power gamers like Trent could explore ancient ruins, poking around for buried treasure.

Trent suddenly realized he’d killed his sports drink. He knew he’d have to pee eventually, but luckily, his persocomp slowed most of his body’s processes to a crawl after Diving.

He reclined on his bed and decided to visit a market while Diving. He still had all of Brutus’s shit to sell.


Like always, Diving was a riot of colors and sensations. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience, like being connected to the universe. Trent tried to keep his mind as calm as possible. He didn’t want to be one of those people who acted high their first 30 minutes in-game after Diving.


Trent found himself back in his body as Vale dePardon. He’d logged out before on the outskirts of one of his favorite towns, so he only had a short trip to the market. He’d already stashed his precious map. The map itself acted as a mystical anchor in the game. He couldn’t just get away with memorizing the information it held.

He couldn’t chance it being stolen if he was killed. Hiding things was always a risk in SOO because anything hidden could be found, but more experienced players like Vale all had special stash spots.

Vale smiled grimly. Anyone who went after his stash spot would get a very nasty surprise.

He trudged forward, his loot sack so full it actually felt heavy. Compressed packs were one way the creators of SOO had bent reality that Vale was deeply thankful for. Lugging gear and loot around in wheelbarrows would not have been very immersive or dignified.

Eventually, Vale cut across one last field and found himself on the main road into Gabenz, a coastal town, and one of his favorite places to trade. In-game, it was near sunset, and the town’s buildings made an interesting backdrop against the multicolored sky.

He made his way through familiar back alleys, dodging other players and troublesome NPCs alike. He didn’t feel like dealing with an encounter or learning of a new quest. He was here to make money.

Gabenz was a coastal town, and most of the markets, the best markets known to adventurers, were near the docks. Trent continued to keep a close eye out, warily watching shifty men in top hats and ladies in bustles go about their business.

Vale ruefully thought about how easy it was to tell female players from NPCs. Most modern women hated bustles and petticoats. There were some hardcore role-players or female gamers who liked how they looked enough to put up with the inconveniences, though. The thought sobered Vale. There were plenty of female assassins.

His head was on a swivel as he grew even more paranoid. It wasn’t too much longer until he got to the docks and the fringe of the commercial district.

Vale cautiously passed couples arm in arm, nearing the location of one of his favorite NPC fences. However, as he turned a corner, a piece of paper caught his eye. It said, “WANTED!” and it had a picture of his face.

Oh fuck.

Vale jumped as he heard a voice behind him say, “Just keep walking. Don’t turn around or things will get really bad, really fast.”

Vale didn’t move at first until he felt the barrel of a pistol pressed into his back. “Go straight, right up into that alley up ahead. We wouldn’t want to involve the town constables in any unpleasantness, right?” Vale heard laughter from at least a couple other people.

How had he missed them? He took a mental step back. His face was probably plastered all over town. If groups were actively looking for him, they could be sneakier than he was being vigilant, or they could be using special skills.

Vale was not in a good position, not at all.

Oh fuck, indeed.


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