As Darwin pulled his sword from one of the giant Beetle-Bees on his route, he couldn’t help but wonder: How much emotion was this thing given? Did the game designer give it enough feelings to suffer as I killed it? He looked over at Kass only to see her face smiling at him as she cast one final spell at the encampment. Do these questions even cross her mind? He already knew the answer. No, of course not. Why should they?
He looked around the encampment to find there were no mobs left. Between his own efforts at the start, and the two Turtle-Wolves he had brought with them, most of the fights that would have normally lasted a few minutes were often over in mere seconds. Kass had coated their weapons with her ice spell to make the whole thing go even faster and look more beautiful–a fact that would have made Darwin happy if he weren’t too busy being consumed by his own thoughts on the feelings of the creatures he was killing.
“You’re quieter than usual, Darwin.” Kass finally interrupted his thoughts as they walked.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he answered, not really knowing what to say.
“It’s okay, but you haven’t really told me where we are going,” Kass asked, twirling her staff like it was a baton. “Are we going on a magical quest to rescue a princess?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve already rescued one helpless princess in distress. I don’t think I need to rescue another.”
“Aww . . . You think I’m a princess! It’s okay, Darwin, you can admit that I’m the most beautiful princess you’ve ever seen,” Kass said, arrogantly doing a twirl in her white dress. Darwin was beginning to think that she was trying to trademark the move.
“I was just trying to politely say you were helpless.”
“Psh, whatever you say, old man. We both know you think I’m a beautiful princess,” Kass said, smiling.
Is this flirting? Darwin thought for a minute before shaking off the idea. No, it can’t be. Why would I think that? I’m just an old man to her. Darwin had never actually experienced having this type of interaction, or at least, not that he could recall. Even though he had plenty of social interactions in the past, he was having more and more difficulty remembering basic exchanges he had shared with other people in his life before Tiqpa.
“Earth to Darwin, are you there?” she said, nudging his shoulder with her staff as they walked.
“Yeah, sorry. Just been a pretty busy day,” he said, shaking his head clear of the thoughts.
“I can imagine, Mr. Mayor. But you still didn’t answer my question. Where are we headed exactly?”
“We’re headed to Menive Mountain. As good a fix as my situation has been for the townspeople, there is something else we need to get inside the Grennich Dungeon on Menive Mountain.”
“Why? What’s in there?” she pressed.
“Something I must absolutely obtain.” Darwin decided not to answer her question properly. He knew what she was asking, but for some reason he enjoyed withholding the knowledge from her.
“Hmph. I see how it is,” she said, apparently already onto his game. “Be that way. I’ll just have to find out when we get there.”
“Yes. Yes, you will. Anyways, I brought you along because we will be going through some hard trials and hopefully getting some good levels and loot,” he answered, slightly disappointed the little game he was playing with her didn’t drag on any further.
“Oh yeah, speaking of loot, is that sword a drop from the boss we fought last time?” she asked, admiring his Burriza’s Blade.
“This? Yeah. It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Darwin answered, swinging it a few times for show. “It’s a shame his respawn didn’t drop a second.”
“The boss respawned and didn’t drop anything?”
“Yeah. Kind of odd. I guess you can’t get drops from the same boss twice.”
“Ugh! I need to be there to kill it once. I want a cool weapon too,” she complained. Yeah, this was the Kass he had gotten used to partying with.
“Well, it respawns at least once every 24 hours. We can hang around and have some BBQ while we wait for it one day if you want.”
“Sure, sounds great.”
I wonder how great this game would be to experience as a player, Darwin thought, wishing he could share in her excitement. It must be amazing to come to a world like this where you can be anything or do anything, even magic, without any real repercussions. He somewhat envied her laid-back attitude. This game would be a blast if he were a normal player. How come he had never heard of it before he got here? Had he been that wrapped up in his own little MMO?
As they continued northwest through the forest and into the mountains, Darwin saw something amazing. A level five black bear. It was only four feet tall, not that big, and its level meant it really wasn’t a threat. Will it grow up to be a giant bear like Burriza was? Darwin began to think. Burriza hadn’t been as high a level as the other Turtle-Wolves, but he had been significantly more deadly. As he was thinking, he noticed Kass was about to cast and kill it.
“NO!” he instinctively shouted as he jumped between her and the bear. “Don’t kill it,” he said, not sure what was possessing him to stop her. Then he grinned as he realized why he had done it.
Kass looked at him confused. She mistook his intervention for kindness. This isn’t kindness . . . It’s cruelty, Darwin thought, stabbing the black bear through the heart with his Burriza’s Blade. You would have just granted it death, but the fate I have planned for it is probably much worse. He activated his racial ability, Demonic Command, and revived it.
Please name your monster.
Darwin was trying to think of a name for his new, little, cute and cuddly zombie bear, deciding that perhaps ZomBear wasn’t appropriate, when Kass interrupted him.
“Darwin, what the hell? Did you . . . Did you just murder that bear . . . and bring it back to life?”
“Yeah, pretty cool, huh?” Darwin was very happy with his own racial talent.
“But . . . How? I’ve been wondering about it since I first found out you made the Ogres and Turtle-Wolves. It doesn’t make any sense. Aren’t you a fighter-type class? I always see you fighting with your axes and spoons, so I just assumed you were a fighter. You’re not a mage, are you? If you are, you’re one really weird mage,” she said, her face still frozen in confusion. Her eyes darted from the bear to Darwin and then back to the bear again, but her face didn’t change expression at all.
Darwin was about to tell her it was a racial ability, but something made him stop. If I tell her about my racial ability, we’ll have to get into a discussion about my Race. That’s too many questions that I don’t want to have to deal with right now, Darwin thought, deciding that it was better to avoid raising too many red flags about his Race and existence in the world. “Actually, you might not know this, but I still need to come up with a name for this little guy,” he said, ignoring her question altogether as he patted his new pet. “Do you have any ideas?”
Kass stared at him for a good minute. She was clearly deciding whether or not she wanted to pursue questioning him about how his ability worked or if she just wanted to drop it and help him name his new pet. “It . . . Let me think a minute,” she finally said to Darwin’s relief.
“I was thinking ZomBear,” Darwin told her honestly while she was contemplating.
“What? ZomBear? No, you can’t name it that. What about Pedobear?”
“Ewww . . . No one likes a pedobear. Why would you try to name him that?”
“I don’t know. He’s a bear, and with those red eyes he is kind of creepy. ‘Bear’ plus ‘creepy’ tends to yield a pedobear,” Kass said, laughing.
“Yeah, no. Let’s try again. I like the little guy. I may ride him around the world one day. I can’t go around riding a pedobear.” He joined in Kass’ laugh.
“Why not? Is it because you’re too old? Is there an age limit when riding pedobears?”
Darwin wanted to respond, but he couldn’t think of any clever comeback, so he let the subject go.
“How about Fuzzy Wuzzy? He may be a bit creepy, but he’s also super cute! And fuzzy!” Kass said, joining Darwin by the bear and petting him too.
Darwin looked at the bear and touched it again. Actually, he is pretty fuzzy. I didn’t realize touch was this detailed within the VR. I can’t tell the difference between this and real life. “Yeah, Fuzzy Wuzzy works. Good job, Kass,” Darwin said, completing the naming process and adding Fuzzy Wuzzy to the party.
“Alright, Fuzzy Wuzzy, let’s go get you some levels,” Kass said, winking at Darwin.
Wait, is leveling some inside joke that I’m supposed to know? “Yeah, some levels.”
For Darwin, the interesting thing about the landscape as they traveled was that the monsters never felt standardized. Throughout his entire MMO gaming experience, he was very used to finding ‘zones’ drawn with imaginary lines in the sand where only certain monsters, or certain clusters and combinations of monsters, would appear. Here, however, it just felt randomized. He had gone from killing Beetle-Bees to catching a black bear, and Darwin could already see some signs of Demon-Mole-things appearing up ahead. They had even killed a goldfish-butterfly-squirrel looking monster that kept forgetting it was in combat during the fight. This was one Hell of a world, Darwin thought as he grabbed his sword and charged the demon-horned, spiked-back giant moles. It is one Hell of a world indeed.
The further he pressed towards the dungeon, the more Darwin felt that he was being watched. It was hard to shake the feeling. Each time he cleaved into a monster and ripped it with his double swords, he felt as if someone was smiling at him. No, it must just be my imagination.
“So, Kass, can you tell me a bit about this world?”
“I guess? I probably don’t know much more than you. Anyone can log on to the forums and find out almost everything that is known.”
“Yeah, but there is something I’ve been wondering about the map. It seems like the island we’re on is incredibly tiny compared to the giant land mass in the middle. What is that continent?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, this is the noob zone. There aren’t supposed to be monsters over Level 40, and most players are supposed to leave within a few weeks. It’s where us noobs get started, but that land–that’s the goal of this game really. It’s a land infested with creatures of immense power, hidden dungeons with great wealth, and a constantly changing and evolving force for the players to fight against. The best part is that players have no restrictions on what they can do. Players can build castles, erect cities, and change the face of the earth through dams, tunneling and so forth. Due to the level and resource restrictions, though, it’s really hard to do this on the noob islands. A lot of the best minerals for city building are only found on that continent.”
“Really, so we’re just on the noob island?” Darwin was both scared and excited at the prospect of what she was saying. Trying to imagine how big the world must be meant that his challenge, the goal he was slowly realizing he needed to achieve, was going to be that much harder. It also meant that there was that much larger of a world full of challenges to explore and conquer. If this were just a game he’d have squealed at the thought of the main land being so vast. If this were just a game, he’d probably already be there.
“Yeah. There can’t be more than five dungeons total on this entire island; and, other than the regents, none of the regents are over Level 40.”
Darwin cringed at the word NPC. “So you’re saying this is noob island? And that means that since I’m on this island, you’re calling me a noob?”
“Oh no, I would never call the great spoony adventurer a noob!” she joked, moving her hand as if to tip an imaginary hat while faking a bow. “Heaven forbid anyone assume that you are like the rest of us, your Spoonajesty!”
“Hey! I’m not that arrogant!” Darwin insisted, nudging her shoulder. “I’ll have you know I’m a very modest guy.”
“Yes, a modest guy who kills an army, takes over a village, and runs super-secret missions that he can’t tell anyone about. Also, the way you are dressed, I’m not sure you should ever be allowed to refer to yourself as modest.”
“Well, Fuzzy Wuzzy thinks I’m modest, don’t you boy.”
“Is it a boy?” Kass asked, looking around the back of Fuzzy Wuzzy.
“I’m not checking. It’s an it for all I care,” Darwin insisted, knowing whatever gender it was, it wasn’t worth the investigation.
“Okay, well, Mr. Modest, how much longer until we reach this Grennich Dungeon?” she asked, changing the subject.
“That . . . I’m not entirely sure about,” he said again, definitely feeling like something or someone was watching him. The weirdest part of the unshakable gut instinct that told him he was being watched was that it felt more comforting than creepy. Something was watching him, and it didn’t feel creepy. Darwin let his hand rest on Fuzzy Wuzzy’s head as he opened up his map. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.”
“Good, because we’re almost forty, and eventually we’re going to have to leave the noob islands if we’re going to level much more. We can’t be spending extra days trying to find a dungeon that won’t get us any EXP.”
Leave the starting zones? What would happen to the town I’ve been rebuilding once I left this land? “How do you leave the noob island?”
“By ship. The problem is that you can’t come back once you’re gone. It’s designed to stop people from getting to Level 100 and rolling over all the lowbies on the starter islands. So, it’s a one-way venture when someone goes to the mainland.”
“One way only? So there is no way to get back here after you leave?” Darwin began to panic as the realization of what that meant kicked in.
“Yep. The second you leave the starting territories towards the massive continent, that’s it. You’re stuck on the mainland.”
“So there is no way to come back?”
“No. Even if you made a boat yourself and tried to sail it back, it would just run into an imaginary wall and not go any further.”
One way . . . No. No, there has to be a way to protect the people and make it off the island. There has to be a . . . That’s it! Darwin smiled, finally realizing what he needed to do next. Kass gave him the same weird look she always did when she had absolutely no idea what was going on inside his head. This idea, it’ll have to work.