Arwyn sat up and removed the headset, imagination still occupied with the game. Mechanically, she ate breakfast (cereal) and got dressed for the day (professional white collared shirt and black dress pants). Checking her new laptop, she saw that the file transfer was complete. Having been on the computer for less than thirty seconds, she got an instant message:
Leah-IfIHadAMillionDollars... – Hi!!! Did you play Fantasia last night?
ArwynTheElf – Yes. I didn’t see you around. What’s your avatar name?
Leah-IfIHadAMillionDollars... – It’s ‘Sirena.’ I picked a mermaid race, and it turns out that I don’t learn how to breathe above water until level 30. You? I know you picked an elf.
ArwynTheElf – ‘Arwyn’ was taken, so I picked ‘Fey.’
Leah-IfIHadAMillionDollars... – ‘Fey’ for an elf. How creative.
ArwynTheElf – I wouldn’t be throwing stones, ‘Siren.’
Leah-IfIHadAMillionDollars... – It’s ‘SirenA’ with an A.
ArwynTheElf – ‘Siren’ without an A was taken, wasn’t it?
Leah-IfIHadAMillionDollars... – Hmph. I shall not deign to answer that question.
With an amused chuckle, Arwyn logged off and shut the laptop lid. It looks like I’ll be playing solo for a while. Arwyn usually only teamed up with people she knew in real life to avoid meeting annoying and unreliable people. With Leah being unable to leave the water until level 30 and nobody else she knew playing Fantasia yet, she was on her own. This was another reason she always chose the warrior class: it was best for playing solo, and Arwyn almost always played alone. With her thoughts busily planning what she was going to do the next night, she headed off to work.
Leandriel dodged yet another flying shard of rock debris and shot a blast of holy light at the demon Beloth. He was a level 100 celestial, and on his quest to earn his angel wings by slaying the demon lord. The black-skinned humanoid was about three stories tall and capable of throwing huge fireballs that exploded on impact, making it nearly impossible to get close enough to bring his sword to bear; all he could do was continuously dodge and send holy light attacks. He was a celestial warrior, known as a Guardian, so his holy magic was on par with that of a human paladin’s, but not nearly as powerful as that of a cleric or a celestial wizard.
Wistfully, he thought of how much easier the battle would be if he could fly, but that was the whole point: he had to prove himself worthy of the immense power gained by advancing to the angel sub-species.
After hours of combat, he was getting tired, his movements coming more slowly, but Beloth seemed to be weakening as well. It was time.
He blasted the demon with a continuous stream of holy light, blinding it and causing it to bellow in pain. By consuming all of his remaining mana, he managed to get behind Beloth unseen. Using all the strength and agility gained over a hundred levels, he leaped onto the demon lord’s head from behind. The move would have been suicidal if Beloth had seen it; as he had no ability to change direction once in the air, Beloth would easily have swatted him aside like a fly.
Feeling Leandriel’s weight on his head, Beloth sent a massive hand up to catch him, but it was too late: Leandriel plunged his sword into the demon lord’s vital spot, a tattoo of a third eye in the centre of its forehead.
<Leandriel had defeated the demon lord Beloth!>
<Leandriel has gained 2588 experience.>
<Leandriel gains 1,150,000 experience.>
<Leandriel has advanced to Guardian Angel!>
Just as Leandriel received the system notices, Beloth’s massive hand completed its journey, despite the death of its owner. The hand, as long as his entire body, collided with him, pulverizing what felt like every bone in his body.
<Leandriel has died.>
<Level decreases to 99.>
<Please wait. You will be reborn at the nearest rebirth point.>
“Oww,” Leander groaned, pulling off his game helmet before his avatar could be reborn. Phantom pains coursed through his whole body. Even with the pain setting down to 20%, the feeling of having his entire body crushed was not easy to shake off. Of course, as a beta tester, Leander had been playing Fantasia since the outset, when the pain had been set to 100% of real-life injuries. It had been reduced to 50%, then 30%, and finally 20% after too many testers reported being incapacitated by what were considered minor wounds.
After eating breakfast, though it was almost noon, he left his apartment on the VirtualReality company campus and headed down to the gym. Company policy dictated that all employees had to have a minimum of two hours of exercise daily, as they often spent over ten hours a day motionless and asleep while playing Fantasia. He ran around the track, managing to lose the phantom pains after half an hour. Walking until he cooled down, he then went to lift weights and ended his workout by stretching. Other employees getting their workouts in nodded in greeting, but nobody tried to talk to him, knowing that he liked to focus on his exercise in silence.
Hitting the shower, he contemplated his tasks for the day. Other than giving feedback to the programmers, almost all of his work was accomplished within Fantasia, while asleep. Even extending sleeping time to ten or eleven hours a day, it left him and other VirtualReality employees with a lot of free time.
Leander’s job was to test quests and monster areas for glitches and appropriate difficulty level. Although the game had already been released to the market, many higher-level areas were still in development. Fantasia had an extremely steep experience curve, but no maximum level, meaning that the developers could leisurely create new and ever-more difficult areas as the average player level rose. It had taken Leandriel over two years to reach level 100, even with his employee-only ring that increased experience gained by 15%. The developers were already putting the finishing touches on the level 300 areas, so they were in no danger of players quitting the game due to boredom.
Leander decided to consult with the programmers, then head back into the game for a few hours. He still had to figure out how to control his new wings. This was an action that had no real-life parallel, so there were bound to be a few problems.
Arwyn returned home after a busy but boring day at the office. Barely resisting the urge to immediately start playing Fantasia, she cooked and ate dinner, then prepared for bed. Even then, it was still only 8:00p.m., but none of the activities she normally did at night appealed as much as the shiny game helmet that beckoned to her. (We’re not addicted, not at all *denial*) She put it on. It was Friday, so she did not bother setting a wake-up time.
Darkness. “Scanning,” said the same disembodied voice Fey had heard the night before. “Player detected. Welcome back to Fantasia, Fey.”
A pause. “Due to the decreasing number of available unique names in Fantasia, please select a surname to go with your character name.”
Noo, not more naming. Fey really had no idea what her last name should be. Elves’ last names in books were always some strange collection of almost unpronounceable syllables, punctuated with apostrophes. The only one she could remember was Do’Urden, but that last name was from a family of dark elves (that was dead except for the one survivor, Drizzt, so it didn’t seem like a fortuitous choice). After many minutes of dithering, Fey decided, “E’lan. E-apostrophe-L-A-N.” She thought it was appropriate. “Élan” meant vigour and impetus, and reminded her of the word ‘eladrin,’ a species of elf from the Forgotten Realms universe.
“Welcome back to Fantasia, Fey E’lan. Your adventure continues.” A blinding flash of light.
Fey reappeared standing in the spot where she had logged off. The first thing she noticed was that she was miraculously clean. Not a trace of the blood or slug slime from the previous night’s adventures remained on her person (yaaaay). However, her sleeve was still tattered from the damage it had taken from the spikester (booo). Equipment durability in Fantasia was fairly consistent with that of other games, so if Fey wanted the shirt repaired, she would have to take it to the tailor’s. However, Fey did not need to bother repairing her shirt.
I have a class now, so that means … (wait for it…) NEW EQUIPMENT!!! Yay! (This was far more exciting than a shopping trip in real life, as you don’t get to change outfits that often in the course of a game).
Fey’s excitement had to be shared, so she plucked Amethyst off her head and cooed, “I’m getting new equipment.” Amethyst blinked (cutely), not really understanding Fey’s words. Mood undampened, she plucked Magic off her boot and repeated the process. He also blinked (cutely).
“Hmm. Can pets wear armour?” Trying to imagine the strange armour that would be required for a slime and a mushroom, Fey walked over to the armour shop.
Inside the shop were a few other players, most still wearing newbie outfits, as Fantasia had only been released a few days ago. Most of them were just browsing, so Fey immediately got the attention of the shopkeeper.
“Oh my, what an adorable slime! And a little mushroom, too!” The speaker was Senaia, the blacksmith’s daughter and keeper of the armour shop.
Figuring it would not hurt to be nice, Fey handed her pets over and introduced, “This is Amethyst and that’s Magic.”
Senaia played with the pets for a few minutes, petting them and bouncing them into the air. (Thankfully, Magic did not appear to be poisonous at the time.) Realizing that she was ignoring Fey, she exclaimed, “Oh my, but where are my manners? Greetings, adventurer, my name is Senaia.”
“Greetings, I am called Fey.”
“I will definitely remember the owner of such cute pets!”
<Fey’s fame has risen to 3! (+1)>
“So what brings you here today? Are you just browsing?”
“No, not at all. I have recently attained the warrior class, and was wondering if you could recommend some equipment suitable for me.”
“Ah, level ten warrior, is it? Follow me.” Senaia led the way to two particular armour stands along the wall. One set was made of shiny blackened metal, the other dark hardened leather. “One is for strength-based warriors, the other for agility-based,” she explained.
…They look like BDSM outfits… Indeed, the metal outfit’s chest piece looked like a corset, while the leather’s was a vest with a plunging neckline almost down to the waist. The outfits were completed on the bottom with a plate metal skirt and tight leather pants, respectively.
After Fey had stared in silence for a while, Senaia asked, “Would you like to try one on? Are you strength-based or agility based?”
“Agility-based,” Fey replied numbly. Before she realized what was happening, she was alone in the changing room with the set of leather armour. She touched the armour hesitantly. …Am I really going to try this on? Oh, what the hell. She reached for the first piece.
When Fey stepped out of the dressing room, she attracted the attention of all the other players in the shop (they happened to all be male, as the majority of gamers were). Senaia bustled over from the counter (where she had been playing with Magic and Amethyst) and began to pull on the ties that adjusted the fit.
Looking in the mirror, Fey had to admit that the overall effect was not as bad as she had feared (it’s unlikely that anything could be as bad as she had feared). Arwyn already had the thin, slight build typical of the elven race; choosing to play as an elf made Fey even more slight and delicate. Her tall, willowy build made the outfit more ‘at one with nature’ than ‘sex kitten’ (there was still a little ‘sex kitten’ in there, though).
Experimentally, she raised her arms over her head, then reached down to touch her toes without bending her knees. Despite the close fit of the outfit, it was flexible enough to allow her full range of motion. The set offered her +15 defence without any penalty to agility. In Fantasia, armour effects are not additive; each piece only protects the body part it covers, so Fey knew she had to buy the whole set (she really did not want to get injured at all). “How much does this cost?”
“300g each for the chest and legs, and 100g each for the boots, forearm guards, and hat.”
900 gold… Not including the money she had earned selling the twiggy, Fey had only collected just over 700g so far in her adventures. Haggle, she told herself. (Fey was really bad at haggling.) “Can I get a discount for buying the whole set at once?”
“I’ll take 100g off the total price, then.”
*Minor victory* but still, “I’ll have to go to the bank, then.”
Leaving her pets behind as collateral, Fey went to the bank wearing the new outfit and withdrew 100g. Returning to the armour shop, she paid Senaia 800g and collected her pets.
“Come back any time,” said the shopkeeper after giving the pets one final pat. “Your pets are just so cute,” she sighed wistfully.
“Would you like one?” Fey asked hesitantly.
Senaia’s eyes widened. “You would sell me one of your pets?”
“I meant that I could go and tame another slime or mushroom for you,” Fey clarified. She had worked hard to raise her pets level (not really, since all they did was mooch half her experience points automatically) and was not just about to give them away randomly. While she might start selling pets for money at some time in the future, she could not imagine an instance where she would give Magic away, and she definitely was not selling Amethyst.
Senaia clapped her hands together in delight. “Would you really? I would just love to have a slime for a pet. If you get one for me, I shall give you a permanent 20% discount at the store.
Senaia had spontaneously created a quest for the occasion, and Fey could not resist the reward. A 20% discount on the equipment she had already purchased would have been 180g, and the higher-level sets only increased in price. This way, she would not have to rely on her (pathetic) haggling skills to save money. “It’s a deal.” Fey started to leave immediately, but then turned back to ask, “What colour would you like?”
“I think a yellow one would be nice and cheerful.”
Fey nodded and made her way into the forest.
The slime area in the forest was quite large to accommodate the large number of newbies that wanted to train on them. Fey managed to get a rather large area to herself, with the closest person just visible way off in the distance, paying no attention to her. Confident that nobody would observe her antics (she didn’t want anybody to learn Monster Tamer from her, as she was selfish), she began setting up her (yellow) slime-taming system.
First, she put Amethyst on the ground and told her, “Use Whip and eat as many bubbles as you want, but don’t kill any yellow slimes, okay? And don’t go too far away from me.” Amethyst nodded and hopped happily away. Soon, fatal squelching sounds could be heard in the vicinity. The wild slimes, which had only 5 health and no defence, stood no chance against Amethyst’s level 16 Whip skill, which could break a sturdy twiggy in half (*doomed*).
Next, Fey picked Magic up and put him on her head. “Cast Spore, but don’t hit me.” Obediently, Magic sent out a cloud of spores in a circle 10 metres in radius.
<Attack failed. The slime is unaffected.>
<Spore was successful. The slime has been paralysed.>
Fey smiled and began to walk.
Fey’s analytical mind had come up with an incredibly efficient way to both train her pets’ skills and collect yellow slimes. By telling Amethyst to kill all the slimes except the yellow ones, she increased the local concentration of yellow slimes as they respawned. The system notices that appeared whenever Magic cast Spore told her how many slimes were in the vicinity, even when the skill failed. The status effects inflicted also made the slimes easier to catch. Spore gained experience whenever it hit a target, not when it was cast, so the multiple targets made it gain experience extremely quickly. Fey would then search out the slimes to check their colour; if they were yellow, she picked them up, and if they were not, they were left for Amethyst (*squelch*). After walking beyond the range of Magic’s last Spore cast, she would repeat the process.
After about fifteen minutes, Fey started seeing piles of goo that sometimes had coins in them, the result of Amethyst’s efforts. She picked up the coins that she could see, but it hurt her heart (a.k.a. greediness) to think of the ones that she had probably overlooked. I wonder if I could get Amethyst to pick them up for me. She called out, “Amethyst, pick up any coins you find.” She heard a squeak of acknowledgement from somewhere nearby and continued collecting yellow slimes.
Another two hours, many respawns, and countless piles of goo later, Fey had collected four yellow slimes, and Magic’s Spore skill had reached level 6 (35% chance of success, 20m radius). Since her level 3 Monster Tamer skill had a 27% chance of success, she decided to try her luck with the four before looking for any more (plus, it was getting hard to carry so many slimes that were trying to run away).
She dumped them into a pile on the ground and sat down beside them. Thanks to her new armour, they were incapable of inflicting any damage and she could handle them with impunity (*evil laughter*). Terrified of her level 11 strength, the slimes immediately tried to run away (*hop*hop*hop*). Whenever they were almost out of arm’s reach, Fey would pick them up by the bubble and plop them right back to their starting position. After several minutes (of Fey enjoying herself immensely), one of the slimes finally stopped trying to escape. She grabbed the other three slimes in one hand to keep them from escaping (*dangle*) and extended a hand towards it. It cringed and started running away again. Sighing, Fey plopped it back into place and released the other three, leaving the stationary one alone and continuing to catch the running slimes.
Another half hour later, all the slimes had stopped running away. Now what? She still could not touch any of them without making them run again. She tried talking. “Hello, little slimeys,” she said in a baby voice. “I’m here to take you to a nice new home with a nice lady named Senaia. She’ll take very good care of you, and play with you, and feed you, and you won’t need to worry about any mean people trying to kill you.” She reached slowly towards the slimes and they stayed still. “That’s it,” she cooed, inching her hand forward. “I’m not going to hurt you.” She continued babbling soothing nonsense while creeping her hand forward ever so slowly, until finally she touched the first slime that had stopped running away (or so she thought; they all look exactly the same). It flinched, but stayed in place. “Good slimey,” she crooned, gently petting it until it snuggled (cutely) against her hand. Then she picked it up.
<Fey has tamed the slime!>
<Fey receives a pet!>
<Please select a name for your pet: ____>
“Topaz,” Fey decided, continuing with her gemstone theme. If Senaia doesn’t like it, she can just change it. Standing up with her new acquisition, she contemplated the other three yellow slimes, still huddling on the ground at her feet. She thought that she could probably tame at least one more of them, but could not think of what to do with the extra slime afterwards. Still, it seemed a shame to just leave them here, half-tamed. Ah well. She looked around for Amethyst, having completely lost track of her surroundings while playing catch-a-slime. What she saw had panic coursing through her veins (well, probably adrenaline actually) and pushed her into a sprint: the other person in the clearing was now much, much closer, and his sword was descending upon an oblivious Amethyst.
“Stop!” she screamed. She had never run so fast in her life.
(<Fey’s agility has increased to 22! (+1)> )
Blade was a level 15 human warrior, one of the highest levels currently in the game, having started playing Fantasia on the very day it was released. Level 15 was strong enough to take the relatively safe route between beginner cities (without dying), and so he had wandered over to the Moonwood from the (very creatively named) human starter town, Newtown. After exploring and speaking with the NPCs, he had decided to hunt down the King Slime, a boss monster that appeared periodically, whenever a certain number of slimes were killed. Boss monsters were all significantly stronger than their normal counterparts, but the slimes were so weak that Blade felt that he could handle the King Slime alone. Thus, he had been leisurely killing slimes (and earning next to no experience due to his elevated level) when he had spotted a strange slime that appeared to have coins floating around inside its body.
Aha! The King Slime! Eagerly, he thrust his sword towards it when he heard someone yell, “Stop!” Distracted, he turned towards the voice, causing his strike to lose most of its force, but it still landed with what should have been severely damaging power. He was dumbfounded when his sword simply bounced off the slime, which appeared completely unharmed. His attention was split between the invulnerable slime and the figure sprinting towards him when the slime sent its bubble flying to connect with his foot. He heard a cracking sound before the pain registered[i]. “Ouch!” he yelled, grabbing his foot and hopping for a few steps (the word wasn’t ‘ouch,’ if you know what I mean, but we’re trying to keep things family-friendly)
<Your foot is broken.>
<-30% agility until healed.>
Completely uninterested in his plight, the sprinting figure flew straight past him and snatched up the slime, appearing to frantically check it for injuries before hugging it in relief.
“Amethyst, you can give me those coins now,” said a low, feminine voice (alto in the musical classification). Blade finally identified the person as a female elf as the slime spat out a bunch of coins into her hand, leaving it with the exact same appearance as a normal (purple) slime.
“So it’s not the King Slime?” he muttered in disbelief.
The elf heard him and finally paid him any attention: she rounded on him furiously and yelled, “Of course not, you idiot!” Her voice was surprisingly loud for someone with such a willowy build. She appeared to be about to yell some more, but then her eye caught on the foot he was still heavily favouring. Blade followed the direction of her gaze to his boot, which had a circular indent that exactly matched the dimensions of a slime’s bubble. The right side of her mouth crooked up in an amused smile, and she began walking away without another word.
“Hey, wait!” called out a voice as Fey prepared to return to the Moonwood, “What are you doing with that slime?”
Fey was amused because Amethyst was perfectly fine, and had broken the human warrior’s foot, but she was deadly serious about the lives of her pets. When an avatar died in Fantasia, it only lost one level and the associated attribute points, but when pets died, they lost all their skills and reverted back to level one. The thought of that fate befalling Amethyst chilled her expression into a (scary) mask as she turned around and said in a cold, clear voice, “If you ever attack one of my pets again, I will kill you.”
Satisfied at the spooked look on his face, she turned to leave again. There were some penalties for killing a player outside of an official duel or player-versus-player competition, but they were not very severe and Fey was perfectly willing to incur them in defence of her pets. Before she had taken more than a few steps, a giant (green) slime hopped out of the trees, blocking her path.
“King Slime?” she heard muttered behind her. This huuuge thing looks nothing like Amethyst at all! (Actually, the King Slime is identical to normal slimes except around a hundred times bigger, so it did resemble Amethyst quite a bit). Incensed at this creature for indirectly putting her pet at risk, Fey sent her mind into battle mode. The two opponents (i.e. Fey and the King Slime; the idiot with the broken foot is currently irrelevant) watched each other motionlessly while Fey analyzed the situation and came up with a battle plan (Loading… Please wait.). Then Fey exploded into action.
Drawing her sword in her right hand and dagger in the left, she sprinted at the King Slime. When she was within range of his huge bubble, she dodged sideways, neatly anticipating and avoiding its first attack, so similar to Amethyst’s. Activating her Mana Blade ability, she hit the King Slime as hard as she could with Vicious Strike, increasing the damage of the skill from +300% to +340%. Guh, this is so awkward. Fey knew that her sword technique was terrible; it did not feel graceful or natural at all. Still, a huge hole had been torn in the King Slime’s membrane and goo was splashing out.
Taking advantage of its flinch, Fey used both sword and dagger to inflict as many Bleed wounds as possible; more slime oozed out. Fey saw the King Slime’s bubble whipping out again, but was too slow to dodge; a sphere slightly larger than a grapefruit (and much harder and denser) impacted her left arm, just below the shoulder. “Oww!” she yelled (this time, the word really was “oww.” Fey tries not to swear except in situations where it helps). She could still move her arm, so she guessed that it was not broken. Gotta love armour. Deciding that with an opponent so large, she could sacrifice accuracy for attack power, she activated Rage, which could only be activated after taking damage from an enemy.
Fey had long ago determined that slimes had no vital spots; they simply died when they lost too much slime, so she kept up a barrage of continuous strikes, aiming for large wounds and activating Bleed as often as its cooldown allowed. As the slime weakened, its strikes lost power, so she did not receive any injuries worse than the blow to her arm. Her mana ran out rather quickly and the flames left her sword, but her initial heavy attacks gained her an advantage that she did not relinquish. After about ten minutes, the King Slime finally died and a flood of system notices popped into Fey’s head:
<Fey has defeated the King Slime!>
<Fey has gained 108 experience. Amethyst has gained 54 experience. Magic has gained 54 experience. Topaz has gained 54 experience.>
<Topaz has achieved level 2!>
<Topaz has achieved level 3!>
<Topaz has achieved level 4!>
<Mana Blade has reached level 2!>
<Vicious Strike has reached level 2!>
<Rage has reached level 2!>
<Bleed has reached level 3! Bleed has reached level 4!>
<Fey has attained level 1 Slime Mastery! (details in Bestiary)>
The skill level increases were to be expected, as going from level one to level two was an extremely easy task. More surprising to Fey was the Slime Mastery. By observing (i.e. killing) a large number of the same monster, it was possible to gain data that is placed into a player’s personal Bestiary and could be referenced at any time. This information was extremely useful, from the monster’s level, health, and mana levels to special abilities, dropped loot, geographical areas found, and boss information. More information was gained at higher levels of mastery, but so many of the same monster had to be killed that players rarely even achieved level one. What Fey did not realize was the number of slimes that Amethyst had killed while alone in the woods. When a certain distance away, Fey no longer received system notices from her pets. Amethyst had in fact eaten so many slime bubbles that her Double Membrane ability had gone from level one to level six – now requiring seven times normal force to inflict damage, which was how she had survived the human warrior's attack – and she had reached level 10, putting her ahead of Magic, who was still at level 9. Combined with the Mastery bonus from killing the boss monster, Fey had easily reached level one Slime Mastery.
The results of the battle were still not finished: the King Slime’s remains held loot. Fey picked up a small (blue) gem and a thin copper ring. Shaking off the slime, Fey examined each item. “Description.”
<Small water gem (uncommon): can be used to enchant items. Gives 10% water affinity.>
<Minor ring of speed (common): gives +1SPD when worn. Multiple rings can be worn for stacked effects.>
Cooool. Fey placed the gem into her pouch and the ring onto her left middle finger. Gathering her pets (they had somehow ended up in a nearby tree as spectators in her battle), she again started towards town. Just in time, she remembered to collect the King Slime’s bubble. I bet Kallara will have a use for this. Having completely forgotten the guy she had issued a death threat to (even though he was still there, staring agape at her extremely wide array of abilities), she made her way back to town.
[i] Since the foot is the farthest body part from the brain, it takes a longer time for a signal (such as pain or sound) to reach the brain from the foot than from the ear.