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A note from Gastoly

I am not a philosophy major, but I enjoy the waxing of it. Let me know your own thoughts on the subject of free will!

Enjoy the chapter :)

Stepping through the portal took less than a second. Shane took in his surroundings and noticed how wherever he was now located was surrounded by mountains. One moment Shane was surrounded by a field of short grass, trees, and the general hum of nature. Next, he was standing on an ornate balcony, one-hundred feet above the ground.

Shane's body began to shiver as he realized frigid mountain air was peppering his skin with oversized snowflakes. He looked to his left to see Alabaster trying to hold back laughter.

"I-is my dissscomfort hu-humorous to..you?" Shane's voice came out broken due to chattering teeth and body convulsions.

"I'm sorry, Shane, let's get you inside. I want to hear more about the magic you used to make this world," said Alabaster, his chuckles fading.

The balcony's railing behind him looked like a thin, black metal shaped more for elegance than protection from falling over or under it. Snow had been collecting on it and on the part of the balcony floor closest to the edge. Thankfully the portal seemed to melt any snow near it, so he didn't have to risk getting snow in his not-made-for-winter boots. Shane immediately knew how poorly insulted his attire was for these kinds of frigid climates.

He faced forward and saw a large decorated pane of glass. It looked less like a window functionally and more of a mirror in the shape of a square. The glass went down to the balcony floor and perfectly reflected everything behind him. Shane was about to ask where the door was when he watched Alabaster casually enter the mirror as if it weren't there.

Feeling more frozen than shocked, Shane did the same and was delighted when the glass offered zero resistance. Warm air immediately greeted Shane as he passed through. A sigh of relief escaped his throat as the new environment left him without words. He didn't know what to expect before arriving, maybe floating candles, blood dripping down the walls, and a chained-up corpse? What Shane saw was much closer to an opulent library and laboratory mixed into one.

Rows and rows of ornate bookshelves lined the long room's walls. Each shelf easily had dozens of books, scrolls, and even a few potions. Sitting atop rich wood flooring was a long mahogany dinner table in the middle of the room. Various devices, beakers, boiling liquids, and other miscellaneous laboratory equipment sat on the rich wooden table.

Shane was taken aback by the science and knowledge put on display. Alabaster must have noticed Shane's stunned gaze because the vampire struggled to hide a prideful grin.

"You look like you expected to find blood dripping from the walls." he teased.

Shane simply nodded, mostly ignoring the playful ribbing.

"What do you study here?" Asked Shane as he studied multiple book spines.

"The contradictory theories of light and shadow magic volume one? Alabaster, where did you find all of these books?" Shane wasn't aware of any outsourcing his game's publisher hired to write lore for Endless Veil.

"That one you're holding, and some of those that you see here, I wrote myself," said Alabaster, trying to hide his self-satisfaction.

That explains it, thought Shane. Given what he knew NPCs were capable of now, they could write and record information about the world around them.

Alabaster spent the next hour showing Shane the various rooms that populated his castle in the mountains. Shane opened his map at some point, curious to see how far the portal took him. To his absolute shock, even after fully zooming out the map, he still couldn't see the city of Krooth. In fact, Shane's waypoint to Krooth was over one-hundred-thousand meters away.

During this tour, Shane took the time to explain his history to Alabaster, what this world was, what they both were, and what controlled everything. For the most part, Alabaster was silent. To Shane's relief, he didn't once freeze up even after such a big revelation.

Alabaster walked Shane to large bronze double doors. Before Alabaster pushed the doors inward, he turned towards Shane—his face serious.

"If what you say is all true, then do I have free will, or am I following a path set out for me by this AI director of yours?"

Shane paused for a few moments to consider such a question, initially unsure of how to answer. He decided to answer Alabaster's question partially.

"I don't believe you have free will. In fact, I don't believe anyone, including myself, has it either. The people like me and the NPCs like you, no offense—"

"None was taken, Shane," said Alabaster, as he stared at the tiled flooring in deep thought.

"I think we're all just operating in the best ways we think we should, and that part of us that thinks, to me, is just a culmination of our mind and body physiology communicating together."

Shane continued, feeling like he was on a roll.

"The reason I feel you and I are similar is that until we really know ourselves and how our minds work, we will tend to think that our actions are solely derived from who we are. Some would call that free will. I'd call it ignorance, willful or otherwise."

Shane was relieved and thankful Alabaster could still process his words the entire time. The truth was he was initially doubtful the AI systems powering the NPCs of this game were advanced enough to be sentient.

If Shane represented a ten out of ten for sentience, then the NPCs would have been around six or seven. After talking with the bandits and now Alabaster, Shane began to think that number had already risen.

Alabaster grunted as he continued to stare blankly into space, pulling Shane out of his thoughts.

"Shane, In the many dozens of decades I've been alive, I could only question what I know to be true. Now that everything has been recontextualized, I want to know the greater truths you have presented to me."

Alabaster then made a formal bow in front of Shane.

"It would be the greatest of privileges to accompany you on your travels from here on if you would have me. Not only can I continue to see and experience new magic, but I can help protect you from this world in my limited ways."

Alabaster said that with such formality that it made Shane do a double-take.

"Oh! Wow," was all Shane could initially muster.

Before he could answer, Alabaster pushed open the double doors revealing a room full of items, artifacts, weaponry, and armor. Dancing fire-lit sconces that lined the corridor they were standing in flickered as the heavy doors came to a screeching halt.

Alabaster turned to Shane, beckoning him to walk inside.

"We can continue that conversation later. For now, let me offer my thanks for not only the exciting duel earlier but also for giving me a higher truth."

Shane's eyes couldn't focus on any particular item, as there were more objects than space to walk.

"You are usually so regal, not to be rude, but doesn't this kind of mess bother you?" asked Shane tentatively.

Alabaster gave Shane a short chuckle in response.

"Dearest Shane," he said in an almost mocking tone. "This isn't the mess you think it is. If you had my senses, you would know everything here is sorted by magical potency!"

Shane realized upon touching various objects from one side of the room to the other that Alabaster was right! In fact, this room had quite a few scarce and powerful items. This fact made Shane's heart race as he imagined how much stronger he could get with such gear in his care. Curiosity eventually overcame that excitement.

"How in the world do you have all of these things??" asked Shane, in a state of increasing curiosity.

"The vast majority of these items belong to my master, Segari Durne. I would have liked you to meet her, but she is currently away exploring the edges of this world."

That's wild! I didn't know NPCs could have such complex relationships; Shane was careful not to say it aloud.

"That might be a problem," Shane said, frowning. "Does your master know the world extends infinitely in all directions?"

"WHAT?!" Alabaster barked. "That's insanity, but knowing her, she wouldn't stop traveling until she found the damnable end of it all. Shit!"

Shane could see how upset Alabaster was. He wanted to help, even if just a little.

"Is there any way I can assist in finding her?" he asked. Suddenly a screen appeared in front of his eyes, startling him enough to make him jump.

-Level 50 Rescue Quest-

Find and Stop Segari Durne From Reaching ?????

Accept/Reject

The last word on the menu was distorted and indecipherable. Shane thought with mild concern at the question marks instead of an actual destination.

"Looks like the director found a quest opportunity for me regarding your master," said Shane flatly.

"Shane, I would be most appreciative if you could help me find her," said Alabaster with great reverence.

Shane thought for a moment. He could always reject the quest and give Alabaster an excuse. Ultimately giving him more freedom to pursue his own future quests. After a few moments of deliberation, he decided helping him find his master was the right thing to do.

Shane gave Alabaster an enthusiastic thumbs up. "Alright! It's settled then. You have my assistance, and meeting her sounds like it would be interesting. I just hope she will be alright. The farther you travel, the stronger your encounters will likely be."

Alabaster rested a hand on his hip and beamed. "If you thought I was strong, My master is several dozens of times stronger."

He looks so proud, Shane thought, and that made him smile.

After a moment, Alabaster cleared his throat and regained his composure. "Good, now with that out of the way, I would still like to reward you. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to give a lot of what you see here."

He then pointed to the far left corner of the room.

"Anything on that table in the corner you can have."

"That's very kind of you, Alabaster, when all I did was show you a few spells and hit you with a heavy mace."

"The pleasure of that fight is all mine. Don't discount your abilities either, as they were quite impressive. You would be shocked how most humans I meet have little aptitude for spell casting and thus become sustenance for my master and I."

That probably explains most of the items here, Shane thought with a grim fascination as he made his way to the table.

"I'm going to head back to the library for a moment. I hope you find some goods to your liking, Shane. Please excuse me."

Shane nodded to him and started browsing the various goods on display. One thing that immediately stood out among the semi-sorted pile was a shiny metallic-looking orb the size of a soccer ball.

Shane grabbed it and picked it up. He hefted it closer to his face for inspection, hoping to see a menu pop up to explain what it was. To his surprise, it felt as heavy as a bowling ball.

"What are you?" he asked the metal ball.

As soon as the question was asked, the metal quickly split into geometric fragments. These fragments then seemed to be absorbed into tiny slits in the now slightly smaller, gun-metal gray ball. In the middle of the ball was an LCD screen of around ten inches.

Without warning, the screen lit up to show a pair of pixelated, anime-styled female eyes. The eyes blinked their simulated eyelids a couple of times before focusing on Shane.

It spoke in a bubbly feminine voice.

"I can answer that question! I'm Liz, short for Lizzie, and I'm yours, Shane!" said the ball fondly.

 

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A note from Gastoly

I appreciate any and all feedback and ratings as I strive to improve! Thank you.


About the author

Gastoly

Bio: I'm a gamer, writer, reader, and lover of audiobooks. I'm currently working on my first novel. A LitRPG with sci-fi undertones :)

Im always looking to review swap and read interesting stories!

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