I stood up in the grassy clearing. Hoarfrost still covered the pine trees, and I could feel the cold pulling me into its cold embrace. I blew into my hands, trying to keep warm. The first thing I noticed was a small sack, wreathed in a vague, shining glow. I bent down towards it, and a small pop-up materialized in front of my eyes.
Bag (not searched)
I opened the bag, and the popup vanished. Two screens appeared in front of me. On one screen, four squares. Two of them were occupied by a dagger. On the other screen, there was my own inventory. An image of me was off to the side, changing as I moved. There were nine squares in my inventory. God dammit, this is gonna be one of those stupid tetris systems, isn’t it? I’m probably gonna be spending hours and hours arranging everything. I picked up the bag, sliding the dagger out and letting it drop into my hand.
The screens in front of me closed. I looked around the clearing, looking for any sign of life, any civilization. Damned random spawn. For all I know, I could be in the middle of nowhere. Hell, I could be in the middle of an island a thousand miles away from the nearest city. I heard about that happening before, one of my friends loaded up the game and spawned on an island with a single palm tree. They ended up grinding sharks for a few hours until a ship passed by on its way to Mentasi.
“Hello?” I called out. “Hello! Anyone around here?!”
Silence. I stepped out of the clearing, pushing aside the tree branches. I called out again and again, waiting for someone to answer. There was nothing. Every so often, I checked the stats and inventory screen. A few meters and lists appeared, including current status effects and how much I needed to drink or eat. Nothing of particular note, really.
The forest gave way to a massive fjord. I heard the flowing water before I saw it, smelled the freshness of the river. When I finally saw it, I took a moment to absorb the beauty. It was twenty meters wide, slow-moving water with a peaceful, small waterfall off to one side, and mossy stones sticking up from the river. It looked like something you would see in a postcard, a picture taken for an Alaskan tourism advertisement.
I took a single step into the water. It was cold, colder than it looked. Maybe it was mountain runnoff, or something? Damn, this game really was next generation. The other “full immersion” games I had played didn’t have anything like this. I waded into the water, taking in the feeling of water splashing up up my leg and draining off the fabric of my pants. It didn’t feel good, but I could handle it. Besides, I’m a sucker for realism.
The water was crystal clear. The fish darted away as I took step after step, disturbing the mud and stirring up clay. I bent down and picked up a small, flat rock on the riverbed. As I examined it, a white tongue darted out and then back it. It was a clam, of all things.
I put it in my sack. You never know when these kinds of things will be useful, after all. Maybe it was an alchemical ingredient or something. Anything, really. You never known.
A sharp pain tore through my calf. I gasped, the tearing muscle rushing to the forefront of my mind. I looked behind me, and there were…things. Things following me. Big, red, flatworms paddling their way through the water. One was attached to my leg. With a terrified scream, I ran to the other side. At least two or three of those things were after me. Had to get away. Had to run!
I stumbled and tumbled on to the shore, the red thing still firmly on my calf. It undulated and pulsed, moving its disgusting mouthpiece bit by bit. I drew my dagger, and stabbed it right in the side. The entire thing contracted to a fraction of its original size, flailing and writhing on the ground. Blood pooled where it lay. My blood, or it’s own blood. I couldn’t tell. I raised the dagger up again, plunging it into the slimy underbelly. It twisted itself around my wrist, the toothless sucker searching for a grip.
I wouldn’t let it touch me again. I wouldn’t let one of those things ever touch me again. I waited until the leech stopped moving. I pulled the sucker off of my arm. There was a wet sound, sort of like someone smacking their lips. Then, and only after I was sure it was dead, I stood up.
It glowed with a faint blue, just like the bag did. A popup appeared beside it, with a few potential actions listed.
Butcher Blood Leech
Pick up Blood Leech
Dispose of Blood Leech
I moved my hand over to the butcher option, curious. It guided me along. Not exactly forced, but more of a compulsion welling up in me. I somehow knew exactly how to butcher the thing, take it apart bit by bit. Soon, I had everything I could glean from it. A pile of guts, three large and bloody teeth, and the rest of the…thing. I picked up the teeth. Information displayed itself. Stackable up to 8. Classed as a serrated blade. A quick inventory check confirmed that I had enough space.
My bleeding still hadn’t stopped. But it had slowed down a bit, enough to manage. I stood up, the body of the leech in my hand. I wanted to try something. Test the AI. I threw the body gently into the water. The other leeches turned to the body of their comrade, biting into it. I wiped my hands on my pants and carried on, half-limping into the forest. I found a stick to support myself, which made my life a little easier.
Eventually, I found something. A small clearing with a log cabin right in the centre. There was a set of racks outside the cabin, I’d assume for drying or hanging clothing. I called out.
“Hello? Anyone here? Hello!?” I tested the door. It creaked open. Dust swirled in the sunlight. No one had been here in a long time. At least two or three weeks. I stepped into the cabin, and smelled something truly foul. It was like a mix of rotten flesh and feces. As I opened the door wider, the source was illuminated.
Pale and shriveled skin hung on the body of a man, impaled through the neck by a crossbow bolt. The expression of shock and fear was still frozen on his face. Bitter bile welled up in the back of my throat. I slammed the door behind me as I ran. There was no way in hell that I was going to be in the same room as a corpse. Maybe there was something else I could find? Maybe whoever, or whatever, killed him left something behind?
It’s a game. I needed to remind myself of that fact. It was just a game. But, still…the line was blurred here, and I didn’t particularly feel like seeing how far over I could go. I’m sure some sickos goes their kicks by doing the most depraved things they could. I mean, at least they weren’t out doing it in real life, but…still. Seeing that body was a little too close to real life for me.
I looked around the clearing. Nothing. Maybe raiders or bandits or something had come and taken everything. Poor guy, probably spent hours creating his character, and days making the hovel. Were it not for that disgusting scene inside the cabin, I would have had half a mind to have taken it myself. Could always have used the head start.
“Hello?” I called out again. If there was someone nearby, then I could at least get some help. Maybe gets directions, to the nearest village or something.
A few hours passed, of me just walking and walking through the seemingly endless forest. Every so often, I would take time to shout for anyone to show themselves, or I’d admire the virtual beauty of the game. So far, I was impressed. Really impressed.
The sound of an arrow flying through the air was the first unnatural thing I had heard in hours. My eyes were instantly drawn to it, and then to where it flew from. A woman, a short and petite woman, dressed in leather armor, sat on a tree branch. A grappling hook was wrapped around her left arm, and her right had a bow slung over it.
“Bloody noobs,” she scoffed. “So unaware. You know, if you had looked to your left a kilometer ago, you would have seen the woods thin out. There’s a road…fairly close. That leads you to Sontrai. Lovely village, a two-one.”
“Uh…okay.” I looked at the arrow buried in the ground. “But…why not just say ‘hey!’ or something?”
She snorted, and shook her head. “You didn’t notice me, I could have shot you if you had anything worthwhile. You were screaming your head off, probably got noticed by every bandit, PC or otherwise, in the last five miles. I figured I didn’t wanna get seen and killed cuz of your stupidity.”
She notched an arrow loosely in her bow. “Now, why don’t you tell me what you got?”
“Uh…just…just a dagger, a bag, a clam…and some teeth.”
“Yeah. I was attacked. Uh. By Blood Leeches or something. I don’t know, it was…it was weird.”
“By Blood Leeches? Dear God, don’t you know…no, of course you wouldn’t. God. Do you even, like, have food or anything with you? A clam’s not gonna do you much good, you know.”
I shrugged. She scowled, putting her arrow back in her quiver and jumping down. “Alright, I’ll lead you to Sontrai. Just so you don’t get murdered by a goose or something.” She drew a short sword and pointed the blade in the direction she wanted me to go. Then, almost as an afterthought, “by the way, hand me your dagger.”
“You heard me, didn’t you? Last I checked, this game didn’t start you off deaf. Give me your dagger. I’m not having you stab me in the back, I spent weeks getting this gear. Tylurvian leather and all.”
I scoffed. “I’m not giving you my only weapon! What, you think I’m an idiot?”
She shrugged in a sort of “eh?” I shook my head. “Not giving it to you. If you’re really so concerned, I’ll walk beside you so you can see me at all times. I’m still adjusting to this game, so I doubt I could even kill anything that attacked me first.”
“Yeah. Sure. A hundred other people use the ‘adjustment syndrome’ excuse. And a hundred suckers fall for it every day. Sorry to say, but I’m not a sucker. Give me the damn dagger.”
I drew my dagger and flung it to the ground. “Take it.” She squat down, looking me directly in the eye as she took the dagger. Every action she took was cautious, almost too cautious to be healthy. It was almost like she thought everything and everyone was out to kill her. Either way, she seemed content now that she had my dagger. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, I was rather pissed. Hours spent wandering, only to be found by a slightly less than sane woman, telling me I was an absolute idiot.
“Thank you,” she chimed. “What’s your name?”
“This character’s name.”
I sighed, and resigned myself to simply not knowing. She wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t strictly required, so I gave up trying to pry.
We walked in silence for around a half hour, until we came to a thinning part of the forest. We had to have been getting closer. Thank God, I was getting tired of trees. Nothing but trees, and nature. As beautiful as it was, I just really wanted to experience this game. After all, what was an MMO without the Multiplayer? I mean, sure, this woman was helping me out, but I had the distinct feeling she would abandon me as soon as she could. Less a fellow player, and more like a person who helps the poor noobs.
She stopped short of entering the village, instead standing at the threshold. She threw my dagger on the ground, and turned around.
“There. I may just see you around, if you stick by here long enough. Check with Raldo, he’s the blacksmith. If you do something for him, he might like you enough to give you something. Otherwise, the Baker NPC offers jobs. You’ll notice who’s an NPC instantly.”
“How do I tell?”
“They have name tags over their head. It’s pretty damn easy to tell. Anyways, bye.” She turned and ran into the forest, and within seconds, she was gone again.
I stared at the now empty forest. The only thought that crossed my mind was a simple ‘Oh.’ I looked around myself awkwardly before picking up my dagger and walking into the village. It was a simple village, with stone walls bordering the houses. Some houses had the aforementioned NPCs, dressed in simple farm clothes and doing work. I didn’t bother trying to speak to them. No amount of funny dialogue would make me waste any more time.
A dog with thick, black cords of fur came barking and running up to me, jumping up and trying to grab the bag. Maybe they smelled the blood from the teeth or something. I pushed the dog away, holding my bag tightly. It jumped up on me. I pushed it down again.
“Hey, go!” I shooed it away. The dog wouldn’t stop following me, no matter what I did. Eventually, I just kinda accepted the dog, figuring it would wander away after a while.
It didn’t. I ended up going to the blacksmith’s, and specifically closing the door on the dog. I mean, part of it was I didn’t want the thing following me at all, and another part was that a very furry dog plus hot fires and sparks can’t end well for anyone. The blacksmith was in the corner, pouring over designs written in parchment with charcoal. I had to knock on the table to actually get his attention. He turned around, frowning at me.
“Not seen you ‘ere before. Yer’a new player, eh? Did Lusoria bring you here?”
“Woman. Grappling ‘ook, leather armor. ‘Er name’s Lusoria. Anyways, she tell you I needed ‘elp with somethin’?”
“Oh! Yeah. She mentioned that…uh…you could help me out if I needed it.”
Raldo grunted. “Yeah, I can ‘elp you. ‘Ow’s about this…you tell me what you want, and tomorrow you, me, and two others are gonna root out a certain problem we’ve been ‘avin’.”
“Problem? What sort of problem?”
“Bandits. Not NPCs, those ones we can handle. These are PC Bandits, fancy callin’ themselves
the Kings of this ‘ere land, and say this village is part of their ‘oldings. Now, I didn’t consent to bein’ ruled by no King or nothing, and neither did the rest o’ us. So, we’re gonna go ahead and kill ‘em all.” Raldo chuckled, picking up a spear. “Take this, easiest damn thing to learn in this game.”
“Oh…uh…okay.” I said, staring at the spear as it was thrust into my hands. “I…alright.” Being asked to kill on my first day was…it didn’t feel good. Raldo just assumed I was some sort of tough, experienced player who would have no qualms. How could someone misjudge so badly?
Did he misjudge? Or was this some sort of plan of his?
I felt less and less sure about this with every passing moment, but if I wanted a chance, I would have to do it. It’s just a game, I reminded myself.
Just a game.