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A note from DoopDudes

Sorry for the long break between uploads. I've been doing a lot of editing and re-writing. A good deal of earlier chapters have been re-uploaded with these changes. 

"Come on, guys. Dodge! Block!" Jay called out from her seat underneath a tree. "Cookie, you have two skills now. Use them!" She munched on berries while watching the rest of the party frantically run around an open field as they followed Cookie, who was being charged by a boar. "Don’t be afraid of the wild boar. It’s level fourteen, same as you."

"Sword hilt!" Cookie said, skidding to a stop and smacking the boar with her sword. The boar was unphased, rearing up onto its hind legs to smash its front hooves at her. "It didn’t work!" She turned on her heel and took off.

"Cookie, slow down. Your health bar is getting low!" Raven aimed at Cookie. "Mend!"

Cookie glanced at her wristband, her orange health gauge changing to a bright yellow. "It didn’t turn green like usual!"

"What?" Raven slowed down. "Why is it—"

"Hilt Bash, Cookie! That’s your skill." Lucas rushed past Raven with Tony close behind.

"Oh, that’s right!" Cookie came to a stop, turning to the boar rapidly approaching. "Hilt Bash!" The hilt of her sword gained a yellow aura as she attacked, hitting the boar over the head. The creature immediately stopped. A handful of three dimensional yellow stars appeared and circled its head.

"Tony, now!" Lucas continued running, his wand aimed ahead. "Shock!" Sparks of electricity shot forth, zipping through the air and hitting the boar.

Tony dug his heels into the dirt, flute raised to his lips. A brief high-pitched tune was played. Once finished, a sharp sign, like what you would see in music sheets, appeared in pink and shot at the boar, striking it in the back. A squeal came out as the boar fell over and faded away.

"Woo, let's go! That was the last one we needed." Tony raised his arms triumphantly.

"Thank goodness. Those boars are rambunctious." Cookie slid her sword into its sheath.

"Nice, another pork belly!" Lucas ran ahead, then crouched down, grabbing a few silver coins and a chunk of meat from the spot the boar had died. "I’m definitely making bacon for breakfast tomorrow."

"Wait, bacon? That’s what pork belly is?" Tony rushed over to look at the meat alongside Cookie.

"Good job, guys. That last one was killed pretty quick." Jay said, as she joined the others. Her focus shifted to Raven when the Elf came over. "Hey, what did you mean before when you said health bar?"

"Isn’t that what it's called?" Raven asked, getting a confused look from Jay. "I haven’t played hardly any games the last few years, but I know the green bar above enemies or teammates gets smaller and turns more red when hurt, which is called a health bar."

"Yeah, that’s a health bar. You can use the magnifying glass to see the health bar of enemies. Have you not used it, new girl?" Tony asked.

"Yes, I have." Jay glanced at the Kobold. "Raven, you said Cookie’s health bar was getting low. Did you mean the color on her wristband?"

"What? No. Every time we get into a fight, all of your health bars appear above your heads. The wristband is for seeing your own health and mana." Raven explained.

"You see our health bars?" Tony’s eyebrow ridge perked up.

"I don’t see any of your health bars, even in a battle." Lucas said.

"Why are we talking about bars?" Cookie asked.

"No one else sees them?" Raven received confused looks. "Is that not normal?"

Jay hummed. "Could be a passive for healers. Could you check what your passive is?" She paused for a moment. "Actually, can everyone check? We should know what everyone has. I already know that mine is backstab. I deal twenty-five percent more damage when attacking enemies from behind."

Everyone except Jay pulled out their player journals, with Tony helping Cookie find the right page.

"Charming. More difficult to gain enemy aggression." Tony read aloud. "What the—I get attacked all the time!"

"Mana Conductor. Increased passive mana regen, gaining one percent of max mana every second." Lucas said, lowering his journal. "That’s not very exciting."

"Hm, let’s see." Cookie traced her finger over the page. "Robust. Gain ten percent base health."

"Mine says: Regenerative. Increased passive healing, gaining one percent of max health every second." Raven turned the page. "That’s all. It doesn’t say anything else."

"That’s weird. Maybe it’s a hidden passive or something." Jay said.

"That’d make sense. It would be hard to heal and monitor your team if you couldn’t easily tell what their health is." Lucas shrugged.

"Yeah, I guess." Raven dismissed the conversation with a wave of her hand. "I want to know why my healing isn't helping Cookie as much. I’m supposed to keep her in full health since she has to be in the front."

"Oh, that? You guys have gone up five levels today. Cookie’s max health has gone up a lot, I assume, especially with the passive she has. Your healing is still doing the same amount of work. There is just more to be healed now." Jay explained. "Can I see your mend spell?"

"Sure." Raven flipped to her skill page, then held her journal out for everyone to see.

"Ah, that’s a pretty good heal. It does fifty base healing and then fifteen percent of an ally's max health." Jay said after reading.

"I don’t get it. Fifty doesn’t sound like a lot." Tony leaned in, only for Raven to close it in his face. "Hey!"

"Wait, I get it. The percentage healing means it scales. A flat healing amount would get obsolete fast, but percentage means it grows as your health does." Lucas reasoned.

"That’s exactly it. Cookie's health has grown, so the base fifty healing, even with the extra fifteen percent, is only a small dent." Jay said.

"That doesn’t sound good. Can I lower my health?" Cookie asked.

"No, and you shouldn’t. A high amount of health is good." Tony said. "Tanks can survive longer because of it. They just need more healing is all."

"How am I supposed to keep Cookie safe in fights if I can’t heal a lot at one time?" Raven asked. "Mend has a ten second cooldown."

"You don’t have to worry about that. Healer classes usually get more powerful healing as they level up. For now, Cookie needs to get better at using dodge and block, but we can work on that more tomorrow." Jay pointed to the sun barely peeking over the tree line. "It’s getting late. I’ve run across some annoying enemies at night I don’t see during the day."

"It’s not a good idea to run around in the dark, anyway." Tony said.

"I’m fine with that. We’ve done a lot of work today." Lucas looked down at his journal. "We should get level fifteen when we turn in the quest we just finished."

"Probably, and it’s the one that gives the item belt, which is a must have." Jay stretched her arms. "Anyway, I’ll see you guys tomorrow morning. We’ll do a few more quests, then try the dungeon again. Just shoot me a message whenever you’re all ready."

"You’re not coming with us?" Cookie frowned.

"Where are you going?" Jay asked, brow raised.

"We’re going back to our camp." Raven answered.

"You can join us, if you want." Lucas smiled. "You’re part of the group now."

"Yeah, and you can try Art’s cooking." Tony turned to Lucas. "You got new ingredients for dinner, right?"

Lucas nodded.

"Oh, uh—" Jay looked over the group before Cookie wrapped an arm around her, leading her back to the road.

"Come on, Sweetie. We have a lovely campsite, and we can always fit one more!" Cookie smiled.

"If you don’t mind, then sure." Jay relented, following along as Raven guided them.

"Your plan wouldn’t have worked, anyway. You kind of need to just be with us." Lucas said.

"That’s right! You can’t send or get messages unless you’re in a town." Tony nodded. "I forgot about that."

"Wait. You can’t?" Jay asked. "I guess I haven’t used it much to figure that out."

Cookie released Jay’s side. "It made running the soup kitchen more difficult."

"Oh yeah, I remember seeing you guys there. I went to that mess hall a few times. The food was pretty good." Jay hummed as she slowly studied over each party member. "I don’t remember seeing Tony, though."

"I had a special job for starving people." Tony dismissed it with a wave of his hand.

"You only went a few times? What have you been doing for food?" Cookie asked with a look of concern.

"I’m a botanist. I find plenty of food. It was nice to have a hot meal every now and again, though." Jay looked at Lucas. "You must be a chef, then?"

"Yep." Lucas nodded. "I’ll be making something new tonight with the ingredients I got."

"What jobs do the rest of you guys have?" Jay asked.

"I fish." Tony said.

"Scribe." Raven answered.

"I’m a tailor." Cookie smiled. "Oh, that reminds me! I’ll have to make you something."

"You know how to make clothing already?" Jay asked, to which Cookie nodded. "I think I can make poultices, except I don’t know how yet. The botany hall told all about foraging, but not about crafting anything."

"That makes two of us. I don’t even know what a scribe does." Raven shook her head.

"If it’s like other MMOs I’ve played, scribes can make scrolls and enchantments. I’ve never been a scribe. No idea how it works." Jay explained.

"Raven will figure out how to use her job at some point, hopefully." Tony said.

"Well, Raven copied the map of the island. Maybe making maps is something scribes do?" Lucas pondered out loud.

"Could be." Jay said. She paused when the rest of the group stepped off the dirt road, heading into the trees. "Your campsite is outside the starting city? Aren’t those spiders near here?"

"They’re further out." Raven led the group through the forest. "Here we are, our little campsite."

Jay stopped after stepping into the clearing. "Wow. This is nice. You even have furniture."

"Make yourself at home." Cookie waved Jay to come further in. "We only have four chairs, so you can have mine for now."

"Mine will be free for whoever as I start dinner." Lucas gathered firewood from a stack on the edge of the clearing, then fed it into the circle of stones.

"I’m getting hungry. It’s not going to take too long, is it?" Tony laid out his sleeping bag.

"No, not too long." Lucas answered before aiming his wand at the firestarter underneath the logs. "Ember." In a shower of flame and sparks, the campfire was brought to life. He set up his grill, slid a pot and pan onto it, then took out multiple ingredients from his bag and used his bed roll as counter space.

"Are you sure you don’t want to use the table, Art?" Cookie asked.

"I told you before, I’m fine. You and Raven can use it for now." Lucas said.

Raven was already seated at the table, book opened up and quill in hand.

"If you're sure." Cookie took a seat opposite Raven, then took out fabrics, sewing supplies, and a shirt that was a work in progress. "Stop standing and come sit, honey." She said, looking at Jay.

"Ah, right." Jay walked over and sat in an empty seat. "You guys have made yourself comfortable out here, huh?"

"If we’re going to be stuck here, we might as well be comfy." Tony took the last seat. "Is that my shirt?"

Cookie nodded. "I have the backside done. Now I need to get the front side, but adjusting the fit is the hard part." She began measuring out and marking a large piece of dark green fabric that matched the half finished shirt. "This color should go well with your blue scales, but are you sure I don’t need your measurements?"

"It’s a video game. Any clothing or armor should magically fit whoever puts it on." Tony shrugged. "I say, eyeball it. Even if it doesn’t fit right, I’ll be happy to get rid of this stupid puffy-sleeved shirt."

"Aw, but I like your jester shirt." Raven smirked, glancing up from her book.

"Har har." Tony mimicked a talking mouth with his hand.

"What are you doing?" Jay asked, leaning slightly at Raven.

"Drawing." Raven replied, not looking up from what she was working on.

"Show her some of your drawings, Raven. They’re really good!" Cookie said.

Raven glanced at Cookie, then Jay. "This is what I’m working on." She held her book out for Jay to get a good look.

"That is really good. Is it a Jest—Wait, is that—" Jay glanced at Tony, then at the drawing.

"Shh." Raven smirked, stifling a laugh as she pulled the book back to herself.

Jay giggled.

Tony looked up from his journal and gave the two a confused look, flute in one hand. "Why do you always look like you’re up to no good?" He asked as he looked at Raven. "Don’t corrupt the new girl."

Raven rolled her eyes, then went back to work.

"Don’t call me new girl. It's Jay." Her face was stern, then softened. "Please."

"Okay. Sorry." Tony’s gaze turned back to his journal, his flute raising shortly after as he practiced his skills.

Cookie lifted her head after a few minutes of silence. "So, Art, what’re you making for dinner?" She glanced over her shoulder at the Draconian.

Lucas tapped the rim of his pot, filled with bubbling water. "I have water boiling for garlic rice." He pointed to his pan, taking up the other half of the grill. "Heating oil for fried chicken breasts, and once the chicken is done—" He grabbed a husk of corn and held it up. "I’ll have room to grill corn on the cob."

"Oh my, that sounds delicious!" Cookie smiled, going back to her project.

The music stopped as Tony lowered his flute. "Did you say fried chicken? Damn, that’ll be awesome!"

Cookie shot a look of disapproval at the Kobold.

"Er, I mean dang." Tony cleared his throat. "Anything but fish, and I’ll be happy."

Jay watched Lucas for a few moments before standing up to join him. "This is the cooking skill, huh?"

Lucas glanced at Jay. "Yep. Preparing the chicken right now." He said as he placed chicken breasts onto his cutting board before slicing off fat and removing tendons.

"There isn’t a menu system or anything?" Jay asked, to which Luas shook his head. "Seriously? I’ve done the cooking job before in other games, and it was a lot easier than this. Pick a recipe, and my character would just make it." She paused. "There was one that had you do mini-games and stuff, but nothing like this."

Luas shrugged. "Makes no difference to me. I enjoy cooking."

"I still think they used coding or something from VR cooking games. I played one that was so lifelike in the way you cut and prepared ingredients, but even that had instructions and stuff so you knew what to do." Tony said.

"Could be. It would make sense to hire experienced VR coders, or even just buy the code. I can’t even imagine how hard the Nest helmet would be to make from the ground up without using pre-existing systems." Jay said as she sat down beside the campfire.

"Makes sense to me. A lot of game companies will use the same engine for years because it's cheaper than making a new one." Tony got up, walked over, and sat at the fire opposite of Jay. "What do you think, Art?"

"That sounds logical." Lucas dipped a chicken breast into an egg he had already beaten together, then into a mix of flour and spices. "I don’t know anything about how games are made, though." He dipped the chicken into the egg and flour once more, then carefully slipped it into the pan of hot oil.

"Do you think we’re stuck here because this is such new technology?" Cookie asked, turning away from her work.

"Yes, and no. How do I explain it?" Jay looked up at the night sky. "There’s no way they released the game or the headset without extensive testing. I read that the headset had been in development for over a decade." She lowered her gaze to the fire. "No way would they risk releasing an untested game or headset, not something that directly connects to the brain. Something must have broken in the beta we were put into."

"I still don’t understand why they don’t just change the code and fix everything." Cookie said with a shake of her head.

"Yeah, I don’t get that either. The developers should’ve been able to fix the log out issue by now. Right?" Raven asked.

Lucas and Tony shared glances, then turned to the feline.

Jay looked up after a few seconds of silence. "It isn’t obvious?" She paused, all eyes on her. "Right, you guys don’t play MMOs." She flicked a small twig into the campfire. "Developers can’t push updates into an MMO while people are logged in and playing. They always force people to log out and then update the game. That way, people’s characters and items won’t be at risk of being corrupted or lost."

"Why don’t they just force everyone to log out, then?" Lucas asked as he added another piece of breaded chicken into the pan.

Jay tapped the side of her head. "The Nest. I would guess they don’t want to risk what would happen if they forced us to disconnect from the game or the nest, being directly connected to our brain and such."

"Huh." Tony slumped forward. "So, since they can’t force us to log out and can’t update the game with us in it, there isn’t anything they can do?"

Jay nodded. "That’s what I think."

The clearing grew quiet. Enough so that the sounds of insects, crackling fire, boiling water, and sizzling oil were deafening.

"We kind of figured we were on our own already. Right?" Raven asked, breaking the silence. "That’s why everyone is trying to find a way off the island."

"That’s right! We don’t need those game people. We’ll find our own way out of here!" Cookie turned back to her fabrics.

"Not like we have much choice." Tony said.

"We might as well try. Sitting around and doing nothing won’t get us anywhere." Lucas said as he used a wooden spatula to turn over the sizzling chicken. "The ingredients I can work with have already grown since we explored more. No more boring fish for every meal."

"Oh, that too!" Tony nodded his head. "When is dinner going to be done, anyway?"

Lucas glanced up. "About thirty minutes."

"Aw, man." Tony sighed. "More time to practice my new skills, I guess."

"You guys are something else." Jay chuckled. "Are you all friends in real life?"

"No. We all met here." Lucas answered, removing the fried chicken from his pan and replacing it with two more.

"Technically, Art and I saw our real selves in the lobby. That’s as close to real life as we’ve gotten." Tony said, bringing out his journal.

"Oh, yeah. That seems like so long ago now." Lucas gave a nod of his head.

"Raven and I met in the town square on the first day, then we met Art and Tony that night." Cookie said, her hands pausing. "We’ve been working together ever since."

"Yep. We don’t know each other outside of the game. When we get out, we should meet up or something. Except for Tony." Raven said, her gaze never leaving her book.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Tony grumbled.

"That makes sense. You all seem pretty close." Jay leaned back, arms holding her up. "I haven’t made many friends here, and the few parties I tried to join didn’t need a low defense damage dealer. It's nice being able to hang out with people."

"Well, you’ve got us now, and you can’t get rid of us!" Cookie smiled at Jay from over her shoulder.

"If our amazing personalities won’t keep you here, then the delicious food will!" Tony said with a big grin.

Lucas couldn’t help but laugh. "Thanks, Tony."

"A dedicated cook is a nice bonus, for sure. This’ll be better than the berries and raw carrots I’ve been eating." Jay said. "Oh. Speaking of—" She got her backpack into her lap, then pulled out several carrots, bulbs of garlic, mushrooms, and sprigs of thyme. "Would you like these? I have a lot of this stuff."

"Yeah, that’d be great. I didn’t have much more garlic or thyme left." Lucas accepted the ingredients onto his bedroll. "I won’t be using carrots or mushrooms for a while. I think we’re all burnt out on those, and fish."

"That’s why tonight’s dinner will be so special. We have a full team now, and we’re getting a great meal!" Tony raised his flute into the air, then lowered it after a handful of seconds. "So, is that a strong thirty minutes, or is there some leeway?"

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About the author

DoopDudes

  • Florida

Bio: Amateur writer with too many book/story ideas and not enough time to write.

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