Chapter One: Building Tara MacQueen
Doom was rising over the Skorcrest mountains. The portents were visible from the Vale of the Unending Watch to the Grayscape, where travelers on the road could see the mystery with their own eyes, especially under the night sky. Even the three moons of Allerion could not hide the electric display on the far horizon that spoke of neither storm nor dragon war, but a new and far more terrible danger.
The fair elves spoke of a battle that heralded the end of ages. The dark elves warned of desolation that would leave the Grayscape a waste. The gnomes, deep in their tunnels, patiently worked with no eye towards either the future or their past. Their business was the present, and making certain that whatever came, they and their kin would be ready.
But preparations were vain. For it had been foretold by the ancient dragons, the last prophecy of Marathaiin, that in the days of Allerion’s greatest trial only one could save the peoples—one born not of their world or time, but a stranger who would be sent from both above and below, the last hero of Allerion.
Tara O’Toole fumbled her keys trying to get through the door. The traffic on I-95 had been a disaster thanks to the snow, and it had taken a full hour and forty-five minutes to drive from work to her two-bedroom apartment. Usually, Tara wouldn’t complain. She loved the snow like crazy, especially since it reminded her so much of the distant, mysterious mountains in her favorite MMO of all time, Swords of Allerion. She would have given anything to be cold and freezing on one of the perilous trails to the mountain peaks.
But today wasn’t any other day. Today, the developer of Swords of Allerion was holding a special showcase event, live on YouTube. Tara was already ten minutes late and she didn’t even bother taking her jacket off before she grabbed the game controller and turned on the Playstation.
“Someone’s in a hurry.” Tara glanced up at the dry voice of her flatmate, Juliana. “You don’t usually start playing until after supper. What’s up?”
“It’s the showcase event,” Tara gasped. She wished her internet was faster. “Do you think they’ll announce a new expansion?”
“For that old dinosaur?” Juliana sat down beside her. “I can’t believe even you still play it. You must be the only person who still logs in.”
Tara snorted, even though she knew Juliana wasn’t exactly exaggerating. Allerion’s popularity wasn’t what it used to be. Ten years ago, it had been the biggest fantasy MMO of all time. Thousands of players all over the world competed in yearly, seasonal, and surprise events, or just enjoyed exploring the vastness of the fantasy world. But as time went by, the game’s developer had showed less interest in add-ons and expansions. But Tara couldn’t believe she was the only one left who enjoyed it. There was nothing like Allerion—it was a world she could spend hours just living in.
“I’m so excited!” she said, grabbing a pillow and hugging it to her chest. “Maybe they’re going to do an event, finally. Or add a new character class! That would be awesome.”
Juliana rolled her eyes. “At least I’d know where to find you,” she said ironically.
The CEO of the company was speaking when Tara clicked the live video. He was an older man, gray hair slicked back.
“—and we’re excited to share with you an exclusive preview of Nightmare Wheels, where you and your friends can race each other in real-world locations with a paranormal twist. Take a look!”
Tara was relieved. She hadn’t really missed anything. She wasn’t really interested in the racing simulator, but she was sure they would mention Allerion during the showcase.
As the minutes ticked by with more game announcements and still no sign of Allerion, she was more restless.
Were they going to mention Allerion at all? It seemed incredible that they would act like it didn’t even exist.
“Unfortunately, we do have bad news for our heroes of Allerion,” announced the CEO. “After many wonderful, extraordinary hours of adventure in an unforgettable world, our active user numbers have reached the lowest percentile in the game’s history. It is with great regret that I announce our decision to discontinue Swords of Allerion.”
Tara stared at the screen. Beside her, Juliana was unusually focused as well.
“Believe me, the decision wasn’t made lightly,” went on the CEO. “Allerion’s upkeep is just too expensive. We’ll be shutting down the server in the next six months. Until then, your character accounts will still be accessible.”
Tara was certain she must be in a nightmare.
“I’m very sorry about this,” said the CEO. “I’d like to keep Allerion running forever. But at least we have the memories. And we have future offerings that I believe will more than make up for Allerion’s loss. Let me give you an advance preview of our exciting new—”
Tara turned off the screen.
The silence that followed was awkward. Juliana leaned forward to look into her friend’s face.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” said Tara.
Juliana looked like she wanted to say more. Instead, she opted for a simpler approach. She pressured Tara’s shoulder sympathetically.
“You’ve still got the game for a little while,” she said. “And all those YouTube playthroughs.”
“Yeah. I think—I’ll just be in my room.”
Tara knew Juliana was trying to understand, but it was impossible for her. She’d never understood Tara’s love for Allerion. She would never understand the wonder of that first glimpse into Allerion’s harsh yet beautiful world, the harrowing delves into deep dungeons with no companion but your sword or bow. Juliana had never experienced the satisfaction of helping a villager or traveler in need, escorting skittish merchants through the dangerous, frozen woods of the fair elves, or meditating under the sunlit sky on the plateau of the Lightkin.
And she would never know the particular pride of winning the infamously difficult favor of the darkly handsome ranger, Acalon, rider of the black dragon Fenryx.
In the privacy of her room, Tara dropped her head in her hands. It seemed incredible to Tara that her favorite world could simply be eliminated like this, as absolutely and irreversibly as Grand Moff Tarkin pulverizing Alderaan. Maybe it would be better if she was like Juliana and everyone else. How could she lose all of this? So what if she was the last player of Sword of Allerion? That had to count for something.
With a flare of defiance, Tara woke her PC out of sleep. She loaded up Allerion and stared for a long time at the title screen, just listening to the music and letting the memories wash over her. She remembered the first time she had started the game, skeptical and amused with a group of friends. Her friends had moved on, not just from Allerion. Why couldn’t she?
I’ll make a new character, she decided. I’ll start over. Just to experience it all one last time.
Character creation was always exciting. Tara had played almost every character type, from trolls to elves to humans. Each race had their advantages and disadvantages.
Tara decided she would play as a Borzerk, a human race that dominated the flatlands of the Grayscape. They were by no means the most attractive group, but they were impressively strong.
The Borzerk’s special skill of Bloodrage, although it cost 67% stamina, was always useful in a tight spot. Borzerk were able to fight with +50 strength (their base strength was 150, already impressive) during Bloodrage, and sustain terrible injuries for a short time. By comparison, the Gnomes had the worst base strength at 50, compensated for by 250 intelligence.
And Tara liked the Borzerk. They were a warlike people, but they were fiercely loyal. They had to be hardy and strong to endure the open plains and crags of their home. They were one of the few humanoid peoples who did not fear trolls in hand-to-hand combat.
Sitting at her computer desk, Tara knew she didn’t look much like anyone’s idea of a warrior, a slim young woman in jeans with straight brown hair reaching just past her shoulders. The default female model had thicker shoulders than Tara, so she adjusted the character’s build until it was more gawkish. Very gawkish, she thought with a slight smile. She lengthened the character’s hair to shoulder length and colored it the lightest shade of brown.
Should she choose violet eyes? No. For the bleak terrain of the Grayscape, gray eyes seemed more appropriate, or even blue. Tara chose gray.
Now, the hardest part. Naming a character was always a high-risk moment. Tara steepled her fingers, thinking. Her previous characters had either humorous or noble names, from Brandy Bigshoes to Solaya, princess of the dark elves and Namer of Stars.
“Tara MacQueen,” murmured Tara. It was a silly name, but she needed humor after today’s bad news. A Borzerk named Tara MacQueen, somewhat gawkish but with an earnest, alert, and attractive face seemed about right. Tara imagined it had been hard for her character growing up among her more rugged kinsmen. She would have had to learn to think for herself and be creative in her defense, being smaller and lighter than the others. Everyone probably underestimated her. But Tara MacQueen was tough, tougher than anyone gave her credit for. And it was time for her to leave her clan and journey to the world beyond the Grayscape, to the white woods, and the mountains of Skorcrest where the Skor lived under the fire and wings of dragons.
Tara took a deep breath. She reviewed her character one last time, and clicked “Finish.”
Eric Vanderlip ago
I can’t even believe even you still play it
she said, grabbinged a pillow and hugging it to her chest
At least I’dll know where to find you
As the minutes ticked by with more game announcements and still no sign of Allerion, she wasgrew more restless.
Tara knew Juliana was trying to understandsympathize, but it was impossible for her.
She would never understandcomprehend the wonder of that first glimpse into Allerion’s harsh yet beautiful world
She remembered the first time she had startedbooted up the game
Tara had played almost every character typechoice, from trolls to elves to humans
Did you ever play everquest I wonder? Allerion reminds me of it.
No, I never played Everquest, but you've made me curious about it! Thanks for the edit suggestions. :)
Definitely both. I based it off of my own experience, where I have one account for an MMO but switch platforms occasionally.
Thanks for reading!
Haha, great question. My inspiration is the damage, health count, etc. from ESO. They were pretty shocking after coming from Skyrim (which feels like a completely different game).
I really enjoyed this. I love the vib and the start of lore. It has some good hooks in this chapter.