Novel [VRMMO] Slow Healing Life Online

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by zloi medved, Mar 5, 2019.

  1. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    Hello, this is my story tentatively titled "Slow Healing Life Online". You can also read it on ScribHub now I guess, I just wanted to try out formatting with tables.

    By the year 20XX, VR technology had sufficiently developed to become mainstream, as well as fix many of the movement issues that existed in its early games. However the price was still far beyond affordable, so the games that came to thrive on the system were naturally the ones with the most longevity of play - MMORPGs. Amongst the different VRMMOs on the market, although the MMORPG game “LOGIK Online” wasn't the biggest or fanciest, it gained a foothold with its passionate recurrent userbase and some unique gimmicks.

    When Baxter's cousin bought a new computer, she decided to give him her old one, leaving her copy of LO installed and passing him the details to her old account, barely played and left untouched for years. Although a prolific gamer, Baxter had always shied away from MMOs, finding social interaction difficult.

    Both the VR technology and MMORPG genre are entirely new to Baxter. Let's watch him figure out how to play this new medium of gaming. It's a slow life story about a person who ends up overcoming personal difficulties by exploring a game world.​

    Genre: VRMMO, slice-of-life, adventure(?).

    When reading please keep in mind:
    1. The year, overall level of advancement, and specifics of how the VR physically works are intentionally kept vague. You need to suspend your disbelief and just accept the technology works, and be along for the ride in seeing how that technology impacts the main character's gaming experience.
    2. This is a gaming novel and I am writing it under the assumption you are already familiar with video games or gaming stories. This story uses gaming terminology and assumes reader knowledge about what these things mean. If you do not know what these terms (Eg. aggro, kite, proc, leash, etc.) means in a gaming context, Google is your friend: "word" + gaming terms.
    Table of Contents
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2019
    Night Haze, Westeller, Lukha and 3 others like this.
  2. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    Prologue.

    “Since I got a new computer, I figured you could use my old one.” Olivia tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear, then rested her hand on a hip, the tech in question in a box tucked under her other arm. “It’s still in good shape, and I cleared out most of the hard drive. I only left a copy of LO on it. I don’t play anymore so I thought you could just use my old account.”

    Baxter was sitting on the bed, looking at her with an unimpressed expression.

    “I can’t afford the monthly sub.” He dismissed, toying with the book in his hands. “Besides, I already got my games confiscated, you think my parents would let me play?”

    Olivia smugly tilted her chin up, proudly telling him, “Nice try, I already ran it by Aunt Lara. You have six months credit.”

    Baxter sourly buried his nose in his book, letting his cold shoulder be a response.

    Olivia sighed, setting the box down on his cleared bedroom desk and unpacking it. As she took out the portable computer and VR accessories, she pleaded, “Look, just try it, okay? This stuff cost a fortune and I don’t wanna just throw it out, and you might actually enjoy yourself.”

    Baxter peered over the top of his book, watching her set up the gaming rig. By the year 20XX, VR technology had sufficiently developed to become mainstream, as well as fix many of the movement issues that existed in its early games. However, the price was still far beyond affordable, so the games that came to thrive on the system were naturally the ones with the most longevity of play - MMORPGs.

    When Olivian came tromping down the stairs, her aunt paused her movie to look up at her hopefully.

    “Do you really think this will help?”

    Olivia shrugged. “God only knows. Like I said, there are instances where you’re required to cooperate with other players, but you can still play a lot of the game solo. Maybe it’ll help him, maybe it won’t. We can only wait and see. Sorry, Aunt Lara.”

    Lara sighed, getting up off the couch and wrapping her arms around her niece, squeezing her slightly.

    “You don’t need to apologise. I’m just glad there are others who haven’t given up on him.”

    Within his room, Baxter had gotten up and began circling the gaming rig on his desk with cautious curiosity. MMOs happened to be the type of game Baxter hated most. He preferred to play games the same way he did everything - alone.

    But that didn’t stop him from being curious.

    So while he pretended to ignore everything Olivia was saying as she explained how to use it all to him, as soon as she shut the door behind her when she left, he had crawled off the bed and wandered over to his desk. Eventually, he sat down in his chair and picked up the headset, turning it over in his hand. He’d used VR only once, years ago at a tech show his father had taken him to, and the model and level of technology had already been very different back then. Technology was something that always developed and evolved at breakneck speeds. Although Olivia’s headset was only three or so years old, it could already be considered old fashioned.

    He set the headset down and leant back into his chair, thinking. He wasn’t obtuse, and more or less picked up on the scheme his cousin had set up for him, but he still sorely felt the empty space in his life that video games used inhabit. He was also vaguely familiar with the game she’d left installed - LOGIK Online. It wasn’t the biggest MMORPG out on the market, having a middling player base, but he knew the people who played it tended to be obsessive over it. It was the type of game that had a large bell curve to get into, but once you invested a certain amount of time and energy, it was easy to become hooked.

    Maybe the fact that it wasn’t a hugely popular and crowded game was part of the plan. Or maybe it was just coincidental.

    Baxter got up and paced his room a few more times, but the frustration and curiosity eventually won out over stubbornness, and he sat back down, booting up the portable computer and putting on the rig.

    “Fuck it, it’s free anyway.”

    With the VR rig, a computer monitor wasn’t necessary, as the user could interface with the computer entirely through VR. As Olivia had said, the computer had been almost entirely wiped clean. The desktop had little else on it besides a few basic functions, a desktop sticky note with her LO account login details, and the LO launcher itself.

    The launcher had a crisp, clean, black and white aesthetic, but Baxter immediately fought the urge to swear Olivia’s name up and down the street when he noticed that upon launch, the game began to download three years worth of patch updates. All that energy psyching himself up to play for nothing. He took off the rig grumpily, immediately throwing himself face down onto his bed to sleep his anger off.

    By the time he woke up, it was dark. Due to the fact that he had long ago installed blackout curtains in his room, Baxter had to tweak them open and peer out blearily into the street to gauge the time. It was late enough the streetlamps were already lit up, up and down the street. He cursed and climbed off his bed, pushing the door to his room open and glancing down the hall. All the lights in the house appeared to be off. His stomach rumbled, and Baxter shuffled out of his room, making a necessary pitstop in the bathroom before headed into the darkened kitchen. Warm light spilled out of the fridge as he pulled open the door. A covered container with uneaten dinner had been left for him inside. He’d become accustomed to this enough that he only felt a small pang of guilt when he took the dutifully leftover food and a fork, and headed back upstairs to his room with it.

    By habit, he made a beeline to his desk to eat, but paused when he saw the rig, with its variety of buttons and lights glowing in the dark.

    He’d totally forgotten.

    Baxter sat down and tucked his feet under him in his desk chair, pulling open the container of food and spearing some cold chicken tikka masala. He eyed the VR set like it was a wild animal that had been only momentarily domesticated, but could snap at any moment. In the time it took him to polish off his food, his eyes had become totally accustomed to the dim lighting the rig gave off in his dark room.

    He wiped his fingers and face with his shirt, uncaringly, then began the process of fitting the rig all over again.

    The LO launcher flashed with a notice that he was ready to play.

    Deciding that he was, he pressed play.
     
  3. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    1.

    With only one character, LO directly bypassed the character screen and launched Baxter straight into the game. He had appeared presumably where Olivia had stopped playing years ago, in a lightly wooded area. The trees were enormous, with thick upturned roots that made the terrain treacherous. To his right was a small one metre drop into what sounded like running water. As he peered over the edge, he saw fishes darting about in the winding river. While the graphics quality was standard for the current day, the technology had advanced to a degree where the game could beautifully render the complicated, lush environment even with standard quality.

    The HUD UI was minimal for the sake of immersion, the only things displayed were health, magic, and stamina bars at the bottom of his vision. Having launched straight into a pre-established character, it took Baxter a few minutes to fully work out the various controls.

    The first thing he did once he was done, was open the map. Rather than simply a display screen, it was a magic, character-locked key item, and players were required to take it out of their inventory and physically unfurl it to look at it, maintaining the authenticity of the setting as much as possible. The leather parchment was limited in size, requiring the contents to ‘magically” change on command. Right now, the item was set to display the local map, mapping out the terrain and dotted with markers. In curled letters at the top read the location name:

    Sylvan Road

    He was slightly off the main path. The nearest marker indicated something called “Third Outpost” nearby, presumably an NPC settlement. The map also displayed small dots, some red indicating mobs, some white indicating other players, and a cluster of grey ones in the outpost, indicating NPCs.

    After putting his map away (while muttering over the tedious inconvenience of such “immersion” focused gameplay), the second thing Baxter did was open his character journal. This was used for a variety of things, but primarily for tracking quests and subquests. Right now, the main highlighted quest read:

    Green Thumb

    In order to prove your potential as a future alchemist, you have been tasked by Alchemy Master Widu to first demonstrate your knowledge and tenacity by gathering herbs in the Sylvan Woods.

    Objectives: Gather 20 herbs.
    • 5 Dandafluffs (11/5)
    • 5 Wetirweeds (3/5)
    • 5 Prickleseeds (2/5)
    • 5 Charmbells (0/5)
    Rewards: Alchemist’s gear, alchemy starter pack.

    Okay, he more or less understood. Olivia had been in the middle of doing the starter quest for one of the tradesman classes when she’d quit, and simply never returned to complete it. Whatever, why not complete it? It wasn’t like he had any clue of what else he should be doing in the game.

    Opening the inventory just involved opening up the character’s hip pouch which would cause the inventory screen to appear, mercifully making things like inventory management manageable - in the battle between immersion and quality of life, there are instances where quality of life will always take precedence. Apart from key items, which took up no space, all items shared an ultimate capacity limit of 60, with stacks up to 99. He fiddled with the settings to display items in item type categories, and flicked open the materials page. Clearly his cousin had never been much of a gamer, because her inventory had been stuffed with a random assortment of items with no organisation. It took Baxter a while to find the herbs he was looking for, because she’d appeared to just picked up any plant that was harvestable. He moved the quest items to the top and marked them as important, then reviewed their appearance.

    The most common one appropriately, dandafluffs essentially looked like large dandelion puffs, the head about the size of a fist. Prickleseeds resembled dried up sweetgum seed pods, but around the size of a tennis ball. Lastly, wetirweeds were dark blue-green, almost black, water weeds. Presumably, Olivia had been harvesting them from the river when she logged off. He jumped down the drop into the river, sending fish scattering in all directions, and began to wade through the waist-high water in search of the plants.

    Baxter quickly figured out why Olivia had such a random cluster of materials in her inventory. Because of the level of technology, the game was able to render lush and varied foliage in the forest terrain, and nothing differentiated plants from one another. Everything could be harvest, and only after picking them and examining them in his hand did he get any pop up information, including the name of the plant. He was forced to wade through the river and check each plant one at a time, matching them up to the herbs in his inventory. At least he only had to search in the vicinity of the river for wetirweeds, but he realised that getting the final eight herbs after would require searching the entirety of the forest by eye. The prickleseeds were fine, since he at least had something to go on, but he had no clue about the charmbells.

    He ended up splashing about as he bobbed up and down in the water, pulling up anything that looked right, and by the time he’d found the last two wetirweeds, he’d been soaked through. Baxter hauled himself up onto the riverbank, flopping on the grass and exhaling roughly. Although he hadn’t physically exerted himself, it was mentally tiring, and hard for his brain to adjust to the mental dissonance of being immersed in water, but physically feeling dry.

    Once he’d taken a moment to adjust his mental state, Baxter sat up and peeled off his still wet clothing - like many VR games chasing total immersion, LO developers had made sure to create debuffs for a “soaked” clothing state. When he was halfway through the task, he suddenly froze in shock.

    Since he’d launched straight into game, he hadn’t had a chance to see his character. But there was one simple truth he’d failed to realise: this account was his cousin’s originally.

    His female cousin’s.

    He hopped up to his feed and immediately opened up the character screen. A black cloud seemed to hover over his head as he groaned and scowled at the screen. Of course his cousin had made a female character, why wouldn’t she? It was a catwoman character to be precise. Her general physical appearance more or less resembled Olivia’s of three years ago, when she had just graduated high school, though rather than his cousin’s brunette hair, the character’s hair was a black and white mix, and also had the addition of a black pair of cat ears and a white tail with black rings at the tip. Her blue eyes had vertical cat slits, and pronounced fangs peeked out between her lips, and her nails formed pale claws. Because of Baxter, she was only half dressed, wearing only a bra on her upper half.

    Damnit.

    It wasn’t that Baxter wasn’t comfortable playing female characters - he’d played a variety of games, and many had female protagonists. But the first person, VR nature of LO made it feel much more… creepy.

    Of course, Baxter immediately logged off the character. Opening up on the character select screen, it displayed the half-dressed catwoman. When he desperately hit “New Character”, however, a pop up appeared:

    Notice: You need to play for (53) more hours and reach level 30 on all pre-existing characters before making a new character.​

    Are you fucking kidding me?! What kind of rule was that? Baxter tabbed out of the game and opened up a browser, searching for the game forums. He immediately headed for the FAQ, finding what he needed halfway down the thread:

    Why can’t I make a new character?

    Due to the influx of players abusing the Guild Unity Bonus, we have implemented restrictions on new character creation. Players will be required to have played at least 90 hours of the game before being allowed to make a new character, and any pre-existing characters must be level 30 or higher.

    Although Baxter didn’t have the complete context for the announcement, he understood the message. Players had been creating side characters then mothballing them in order to exploit some kind of bonus system. He groaned and slumped back in his chair. All it added up to was that if he wanted to keep playing, he had to play with the catwoman for now.

    He tabbed back into the game, glumly staring at his character. Bright Eyes, Level 6 Mender. Twenty-four levels and fifty-three hours away from a new character.

    ...hell, whatever, it wasn’t that hard. All he had to do was grind up his levels then leave the game running while he was AFK. Sure, that was doable. Baxter was born with a stubborn streak, and on top of that like many avid gamers, he’d cultivated a kind of competitive streak, even if in this case he was competing against the game’s rules.

    Baxter re-entered the game, muttering his pep talk to himself all the while. It placed him exactly where he had last been, standing up in a neutral position. Not feeling comfortable waiting around half-naked in a female body, he put his wet clothes back on and continued muttering to himself. Right. All he had to do right now was hit level 30.

    Baxter opened up his journal, intending on switching his active quest since the one he was on now didn’t give any experience and would just reset his level back to 1 on a new class. He scanned the two other quests in the list, feeling frustrated. One was a main story quest that required him to be Lvl. 10, the other was a Mender class quest that required him to be Lvl. 10.

    “Olivia, you suuuuck.”

    Although his cousin wasn’t a prolific gamer, Baxter also hadn’t realised that the game had still been fairly newly released three years ago, and the gap in content between then and now was huge. The ongoing income from subscriptions had allowed the development team to introduce a large amount of expansions to the game. As far as early game quests went, three years ago there wasn’t much outside of class quests and repeatable fetch quests.

    Baxter opened his map, repositioning himself to face towards the trail that led to Third Outpost, then began hiking through the woods. Along the way he opened up his character screen, sorting through his character’s skills. Luckily, LO unlocked class skills automatically as you levelled up rather having a skill tree, or he could imagine what kind of a mess Olivia would have made. At level 6, he only had five skills unlocked: as a Mender, besides physically hitting enemies with a cane he had only one attack skill, the LVL. 1 skill “Magic Bullet”. The damage value was on the low end and scaled only slightly with INT, but it had an impressive 30% chance of knockbacking enemies. He also had the LVL. 1 “Quick Heal”, the other beginner skill given to Menders - a heal that traded efficiency for a quick cast time. Besides those two, he had the LVL. 3 single target buffs “Energise”, which slightly increased attack speed and damage, and “Ward”, which raised defence slightly, and finally the LVL. 5 crowd control skill “Daze”.

    He sighed, closing his character select screen. Why couldn’t Olivia have picked an attack class better suited to soloing? Healer characters were support classes and hard to play alone. Well, she’d always been more social than him, no doubt she’d already had a group of friends she’d planned on playing with.

    With his skills confirmed, Baxter took his cane in hand and headed towards some mobs he saw on his path. They were about the size of his chest with a round fat body like a chinchilla, and it balanced on a thick squirrel like tail twice its size, using it like a spring to get around.

    Baxter dashed forward, slamming his cane into one of the animals from behind, landing a first hit crit. The animal let out a shrill cry, and immediately two of its nearby friends bounced over. He swore and backed up quickly, spamming MAGIC BULLET as fast as he could between the brief skill cooldown. He completely didn’t realise they had group aggro. All he could do was keep circling, avoiding their hit range, and cycling through spamming MAGIC BULLET until he knockbacked at least one of them, and then clubbing the two remaining ones, occasionally running back and putting distance between them to cast QH and WARD.

    When he finally managed to kill the three of them, he shakily stopped to take a calming breath. Playing in first person and having the enemies lunge right into your face with the VR made things far more intense, which had caused him to panic a little at the beginning of the fight. He was able to adjust once he found his rhythm, but it’d really threw him for an initial loop.

    Once he’d calmed down, he noticed that two of the chinchilla enemies had dropped a small pouch of loot. He trotted up to one curiously, picking it up and opening it. Immediately, his inventory screen opened up, and beside it was a smaller item screen with an item that looked like a tuft of fur. He examined it curiously.

    Chichi Tail | LVL. 15 | Rare
    The tail of a chichi. These tails are valued for their luxurious fur, and used in the crafting of coats.

    Baxter scrunched his brow. Unexpectedly, he got something good? Perhaps? He threw the tail into his inventory and opened up the second pouch.

    Animal Meat | LVL. 5 | Common
    The meat of a wild animal. Can be used to cook all sorts of things.

    Baum Chestnut | LVL. 1 | Common
    The seed of a chestnut tree. Can be used as a seasoning in cooking.

    Well, he couldn’t always be lucky. Although they were common low level items, they seemed universally useful, and he already had a stack of both of them in his inventory anyway, so he threw them in as well. As he added items to his inventory, the pouches they had dropped in disappeared.

    Baxter bounced on his feet as he eyeballed the remaining mob. To be honest, his favourite game genre was RPG. Being able to throw himself into a mindless task like grinding up levels and skills felt relaxing to him, so once the initial excitement of his first fight had wore off, he had the itch to immediately go and pick another.

    After a moment of thought, he prepared this time and cast an attack buff on himself, then made his way back towards the enemy mobs. As he drew closer, he realised they had extremely low aggro normally, and were the type of mob that would only attack if instigated. This made it hard to kite any of them away from the pack to avoid their mob call. After a moment of thought, however, Baxter thought of a pretty cheap workaround. He positioned himself between his intended target and the rest of the mob, then first cast DAZE, a kind of flashbang skill that stunned the enemy for a few seconds, and taking advantage of that time quickly spammed MAGIC BULLET until the enemy was hit with knockback, sent flying away from the pack. He quickly followed after it to avoid it coming back toward the mob. His cheap strategy worked, and when the chichi called for backup, it was out of range and none of the other mobs came.

    “Cry all you want, no one’s coming.” Baxter gleefully muttered, spinning his cane in his hand then furiously whipping the chichi. He used the same strategy on three of the remaining four mobs until only one was left, and quickly cleaned it up. The total payout from the encounter was 7 more chestnuts, 3 more pieces of meat, and one prickleweed.

    Prickleseed | LVL. 10 | Common
    The seed of a pricklegum tree. When they are still picklefruit they are very sweet and tender, but once they drop off the tree they become extremely hard and their prickles can sting. Can be used in alchemy.

    Feeling invigorated, Baxter stowed away his cane and headed toward Third Outpost.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
  4. The loner

    The loner Well-Known Member

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    I've skimmed it, and actually, I found it interesting.. I also didn't find any grammatical mistake and your choice of words are quite good.. however, I'm a bit discontent about him using female chara..

    will he use male chara later on? how many chapter till it be? do you have any plan to include romance in it? Whether I continue reading your novel would depend on your answers..
     
  5. Innieminnie

    Innieminnie Secret Parrot, Hidden Dodo

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    Well, that quickly sucked me in. I'd definetly read more whenever you have it.
     
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  6. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    1. That would be a spoiler! Right now its just a goal he has set for himself. Journey not destination etc and so forth.
    2. Whether or not he achieves that goal, he will be stuck with his current character for a while.
    3. I don't have romance planned, but I never intentionally plan romances into my stories. He will interact with other players in the future, and based on whether or not I feel there develops a natural chemistry between them, I may further explore their relationship and develop it into romance. I personally am not capable of intentionally writing a romance into my writing, it always comes out flat and forced unfortunately ahaha.
    I don't know if those are the answers you were hoping for! But in my personal experience playing MMOs, lots of people play cross gendered characters - I've heard (male) friends say they intentionally play female characters because they're "nice to look at from behind". :blobtongue: I find it more unrealistic the way so many VRMMO stories have people only playing their own gender, or it even being a strict rule of the game, so my story will have multiple people playing characters very different from their real world selves. That's what makes video games fun, after all!

    Aaah, I'm glad! I'm always worried my lead ins can be slow, so it's very re-affirming to hear that.

    Also, nothing but respect for Puri-Puri Prisoner. :blobsalute:
     
  7. Westeller

    Westeller Bad business days Staff Member

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    Ctrl + F

    “character a magic”
    “top of mob”

    I like it so far.
     
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  8. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    >character a magic
    WOW I DONT EVEN KNOW HOW THAT LEVEL OF STUPID HAPPENED:blobsalt:

    thanks for pointing those out dhfgjkdf fixedddddd



    Also this has gotten way better reception than I was expecting to be honest, thank you everyone who liked and/or commented! It means a lot to me and has also... heavily... motivated me. I'll post chapter 2 a little later today. :blobpeek:
     
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  9. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    2.

    Third Outpost really was what it said on the tin; merely an outpost. Log walls were erected around it with watchtowers located at both entrances, and within the safety of the walls was what looked like perhaps a barracks and across from it a rest house where players could rest and eat. There was nothing else there besides a caravan train that had pulled up within the cleared out space between the two buildings, gathered NPCs beside them. Some were uniformed mercenaries, and some looked like they were merchants or hired hands. Currently, they were carrying a few boxes and bags out of the wagons and into the barracks(?).

    Maybe he was staring too long at them, because a voice called out to him.

    “The merchants travel a set patrol between cities, but players can buy supplies off them if they run into them on the road or at an outpost. If you want something, it’s better to buy now when they’re trading, because they charge more if you meet them while they’re travelling.”

    Baxter almost jumped out of his skin at the sudden voice. To be honest, he’d been so lost in the new experience of the VR game he’d momentarily forgotten this was an MMO. He froze up, eyes darting to the source of the voice. It was some kind of tank class player, judging by the armour. He couldn’t see the player’s face - or their character’s face, whichever.

    Nor did he reply. This was why he didn’t want to play an MMO. He hated, hated, hated having to talk with strangers.

    “Oh, actually, sometimes when they’re on their patrol they get attacked by mobs, so technically the best time to buy is if you help fight off enemy encounters for them because they give you a huge discount as thanks. Unfortunately, because players would kite mobs towards them to scam bargains the devs changed their behaviour to get angry if you lead enemies to them and charge you more, so now you basically just have to wait and follow them and hope for a random encounter.”

    Why. The hell. Was this guy still talking? Baxter gritted his teeth and took a few steps back, instinctively putting distance between them, but still didn’t respond.

    Maybe this dope finally managed to read the room, because he gave an awkward laugh and lifted a hand placatingly.

    “Sorry, I just figured maybe you were a new player and didn’t… uh… didn’t… Look, I’ll leave you to it. Just, you might wanna know, uh, me and my friends are here hunting a wild BOSS that spawned in the area, it’s only level 45 but you’ll wanna be careful of it all the same.”

    He finally backed off and left Baxter be with that, and Baxter exhaled in soft relief. Some people can’t take a hint. He warily watched the other player join up with three other players, and waited until he saw them leave the outpost before moving again.

    Although that guy was annoying, he gave some good advice. Baxter headed straight for the merchant caravan, a little bit curious about his first NPC interaction. VRMMOs had advanced in the direction of trying to make players feel like they’re in as real a world as possible, and NPC behaviour across the board had improved to become fleshed out and nuanced, so it would be a lie to say he wasn’t somewhat looking forward to seeing what the NPCs of LO were like.

    While dealing with real people was a pain, dealing with NPCs, no matter how real they seemed, was different.

    “Ho there, lass. Looking to stock up?” A merchant called. Baxter faltered, feeling immediately diffident. He’d already forgotten he was playing a female character. Was that why that other player had been so insistent? He reaffirmed that it was better to level up and change characters as soon as possible.

    Shyly, Baxter cleared his throat and mumbled, “I’d like to have a look.”

    He wasn’t really sure if that was a good enough answer to initiate conversation originally, but the merchant immediately gestured for Baxter to come over to the caravan to shop. In order to settle a good halfway point between immersion and player quality of life, rather than a pop up window, the back door of the caravan was opened and revealed a chalkboard listing all their wares alongside prices. He felt vaguely impressed.

    Baxter first checked his inventory to see what he already had, and how much money the account had - 8 gal, 120 sil. He didn’t really know the value of money in the game, but although it didn’t feel like a lot, most of the wares listed cost hundreds of sil at the highest. The only inventory that cost gal was gear.

    For his own inventory, he had of note:

    Lesser Health Potion (Small) (6) | LVL. 1 | Common
    A vial of a weak health potion that does a little bit of healing. Cooldown 10s. Instantly heals 18% of health.

    Lesser Mana Potion (Small) (4) | LVL. 1 | Common
    A vial of a weak mana potion that restores a little bit of mana. Cooldown 25s. Restores 18% of mana over 10s.

    Lesser Potion of Enlightenment | LVL. 15 | Common
    A weak concoction that can make your thoughts somewhat clearer. Increase WIS by 8% for 30s.

    Beef Steak | LVL. 8 | Common
    A thick cut steak cooked over an open grill, still piping hot and making for a hearty meal.
    Effects: Increase VIT by 2% for 30m, increase health regen by 4% for 20m.

    Besides that, all he had was an assortment of gathered materials. With no idea what was useful, what was valuable, and what was trash, he avoided selling anything. Inventory space wasn’t an issue for now anyway, and he had always been the type of person who neurotically held on to everything he picked up in case it came in useful later.

    His gear consisted of:

    Novice Medic’s Cowl | LVL. 1 | Cloth | Head | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 1

    A cowl given to all novices on the Mender’s path.

    Novice Medic’s Robe | LVL. 1 | Cloth | Torso | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 1

    A robe given to all novices on the Mender’s path.

    Novice Medic’s Sash | LVL. 1 | Cloth | Waist | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 1

    A belt sash given to all novices on the Mender’s path.

    Novice Medic’s Trousers | LVL. 1 | Cloth | Legs | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 1

    A pair of trousers given to all novices on the Mender’s path.

    Novice Medic’s Shoes | LVL. 1 | Cloth | Feet | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 1

    A pair of shoes given to all novices on the Mender’s path.

    A full set of basic gear given to everyone who became a Mender, as novice gear their stats weren’t worth bringing up. Buying better gear wasn’t a priority for him, however, since everyone knew you’d always end up getting better gear for free through quests or drops. Buying it was a waste of money.

    In the end he purchased four more lesser health potions (small) and one lesser mana potion (small), just because numbers always looked nicer when they were divisible by five. Although it was a little pricey, he also bought five pots of vegetarian stew:

    Vegetarian Stew | LVL. 8 | Common
    Lentils, potatoes, carrots, onion and celery, slow-cooked over several hours. A popular dish amongst poorer families due to the expense of meat, and because it can be made in large servings.
    Effects: Increase EXP gain by 5% for 30m, increase VIT by 4% for 20m.

    5% increased experience for half an hour wasn’t anything to scoff at. Even after fighting eight chichis, he hadn’t gained a level, though his EXP bar was close to the end at least.

    Baxter tentatively headed to the resthouse next, pausing outside the open doorway and peering inside. Maybe because it was a small outpost in a low levelled area, there were luckily only a couple of other players inside. They all looked well equipped - maybe they were here for the wild BOSS too.

    Baxter scuttled inside, making a beeline for the NPC at the counter. The merchant outside had vaguely alluded to the fact that fresh food that had to be eaten in at restaurants gave better effects than packed food. Or at least he had said, “Packed food is fine for the road, but you’ll get more out of a freshly cooked meal.”

    Tentatively, he sat down at the countertop and the bartendress made her way over naturally, giving him a full service smile.

    “You hungry, or just looking for a drink?”

    Even though she was just an NPC, she’d been designed with a pretty appearance - human, with tanned and freckled mahogany skin and dark brown hair in a messy ponytail, wearing a simple green dress with a cotton pinafore apron over it - and he still felt a little flustered at talking with her, but calmed himself down by reminding him that no matter how nuanced her character programming was, she wasn’t a real person. A computer AI with limited responses wasn’t capable of holding prejudices.

    “C-could I please look at the menu?” Although he stumbled slightly at the beginning, he managed to speak clearly in the end.

    “Hungry it is! Feel free to browse.” She slid a slate board over that had the menu of the day written on it in chalk. Even if he touched it, the chalk didn’t rub off. It was just a setting design. The menu listed the names and prices of dishes and drinks, but like with the inventory board of the merchant, if he tapped on an item name with his finger a small pop up window appeared that gave a more detailed explanation in game terms.

    Since he’d just eaten in real life, he wasn’t particularly hungry for anything, and just browsed through to see if anything had an EXP boost side effect, and then selected his dish.

    Venison Stew | LVL. 15 | Uncommon
    Shank from a Sylvan deer with bay and sweet marjoram aromatics, slow-cooked over a low heat in red wine until the meat is tender enough to fall away from the bone. A famous delicacy from Sylvalon that leaves you feeling full.
    Effects: Increase EXP gain by 10% for 40m, increase DEX by 8% for 30m, increase WIS by 8% for 30m.
    Cannot eat packed food for an hour, cannot eat a meal for 6 hours.

    The effects were better and lasted slightly longer, but the cooldown was intense, and it was also fairly costly at 120 sil. The food didn’t take long to arrive, and although he couldn’t smell it, the level of detail on the textures of the dish caused Baxter’s mouth to start watering even though he was already full. He eagerly dug in, but after the first mouthful, he found the disconnect between watching himself eat but not feeling the sensation of food at all a little weird. Eventually he just figured out how to set his character to auto-eat and closed his eyes to get through it.

    The limits of VR were rough. Things like total immersion body capsules were still a dream.

    Once he’d finished his meal, he didn’t waste a moment of his EXP increase and immediately left Third Outpost. Opening his map, he took note of all the nearby mobs marked on it, as well as the extra large dot that denoted the wild BOSS to keep away from, before putting it away and setting off. Naturally there was a higher chance of encountering mobs off the beaten path, so he didn’t stay on the road for long and quickly veered off into the woods.

    While he walked he flipped through his character journal, which included a bestiary. Any monster he encountered would be recorded regardless of whether he actually beat them or ran away, but with each one he defeated more information would be added to their entry. Because information like their names and levels weren’t displayed over the heads of monsters, you had to learn about them through fighting them. For example, the entry for most monsters in this area were already largely halfway complete since Olivia had most likely been exploring the area with friends for a while. The entry for chichis was the only complete one. It denoted that the ones in the Sylvan Woods tended to range between levels 3-8 and what each level’s experience payout was, what areas in the Sylvan woods they were usually found, their battle behaviour, their skillset, a comprehensive list of their drops, and so on. There was also flavour text.

    He immediately flipped through the bestiary entries for the Sylvan Woods, making mental note of the monsters that were higher level but still in his range, then tucked the book away and hurried towards the general area he’d seen mobs. The map only gave markings of enemies that were within a certain range, but didn’t specify what they were.

    When he saw some movement in a small clearing ahead, Baxter slowed down his jog to a trot. Ahead of him was a group of five deer-like animals. Their coats had the colouring of an okapi, with dark chestnut brown bodies and horizontally brown-and-white striped legs which ended in a sharp point rather than a flat hoof. Because their legs were exceedingly long and spindly, the markings made them look like birch trees. Their necks were also exceptionally long, their heads were wide and flat, and the largest deer amongst them was adorned with an exceptional pair of antlers - or rather, because they rose up and then fused together at the ends forming a hoop shape, it was just a single antler with two roots. The rest had smaller individual antlers, about the length of a hand and curved like traditional demon horns.

    This were a small herd of Sylvan deer. Most of them were does, which could range between levels 5-10, and the biggest one was definitely a stag, which could be anywhere between level 10-15. Basically, as long as he was cautious and fought each doe one at a time he could take them, but he was very likely to get stomped by the stag.

    But the stags gave 150% more experience than the does.

    His EXP boost would last for thirty-six more minutes. He had to kill enough does to be able to kite the stag away from the remaining group and try to kill it, all within the time limit.

    Baxter readied his cane in his hand and circled around toward the doe that was furthest from the group, then after a moment of thought cast DAZE to activate its aggro state. DAZE had a 10 second stun that would waste time, but he couldn’t risk the chance of the knockback on MAGIC BULLET proccing and sending the doe flying back into the herd. While waiting for the stun to wear off, he cast ENERGISE on himself, the potency of his support spells boosted by his increase in WIS.

    When the Sylvan doe managed to snap out of its daze, it immediately headed straight for him without alerting the rest of the herd like he’d hoped. As soon as he got the doe into the treeline, he lured it around a big tree trunk so it was just out of the stag’s sightline - according to the bestiary, the does were passive and only become active if attacked, but the stags were aggressive and would aggro on sight or if it saw a doe being attacked, so better safe than sorry.

    It was far more intimidating to fight the Sylvan doe than the chichi, considering the former was twice his height, and he couldn’t help but flinch every time one of those long, sharp legs flew toward him. He decided to go full AT-AT against it, and danced between its long legs, ducking easily under its belly and keeping it constantly off balance, striking it with his cane at every chance. As long as he stayed close to its belly, although the legs managed to knock him at times it couldn’t quite kick him, and it was also completely unable to gore him with its horns. Eventually the doe seemed tired of trying to deal with him and began to try to retreat. Not allowing his hard earned EXP to run away, Baxter nervously chased after it, first casting DAZE to stop it in its tracks, then recasting ENERGISE and quickly bringing his cane down on its neck as hard as he could. It gave a strangled cry, knocked out of its stun by the hit, and fell down to the ground, disappearing a moment later and leaving only a drop pouch.

    He didn’t really have time to check the drops, but didn’t know if they were player-locked, so he simply threw it directly into his inventory without checking and headed back to the clearing. It took him about ten minutes to slowly grind the previous doe’s health down. It would be better to only kill one more as fast as possible and then try to tackle the stag. He drank down a lesser health potion (small), and cast QUICK HEAL on himself twice to bring his health back up to full, then drank a lesser mana potion (small) to regen his mana. He picked out the nearest doe to his position and immediately cast DAZE, recasting the damage buff as he anxiously waiting for the the stun to end as precious seconds ticked by.

    Once again, the doe was successfully aggroed and bounced over to his position angrily. He gently pulled it away from the herd a little more, choosing to sacrifice more mana to repeatedly daze it so he could focus more energy on simply attacking it, instead of splitting time and focus between attacking and dodging. In its stunned state, the deer’s head slumped down as its long neck hung loose and he was able to physically reach its skull which otherwise was far out of his character’s range, striking it with his cane as hard as possible and accruing critical damage. Although the crit knocked it out of stun, the damage trade off was worth it.

    It was a cheap and boring fight, but for a grinding maniac like Baxter it was still quite fun, and the intimacy of the VR still felt extremely novel.

    He threw the drop pouch into his inventory hastily, and checked the time left on his EXP buff again. That time it took roughly seven minutes to beat the doe, leaving him with about 18 minutes with which to fight and kill the stag. It was… probably doable.

    He’d drank a second mana potion over the course of the last fight, leaving him with three. He quickly drank one, polished off another health potion, and cast two QH on himself as he edged back to the clearing. Though the deer had milled about a bit, they were still more or less in a triangle with the stag positioned in an ideal place to kite it away from the remaining two without pulling their aggro too. Taking a deep breath, Baxter cast ENERGISE once more, then stepped out of the treeline, directly into the stag’s line of sight. The moment it saw him, it became agitated, and as Baxter turned and darted back into the trees, he heard the stag thundering behind him.

    The next chapter is gonna be roouggggh.
     
  10. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    This chapter is one extended fight scene so, uh, brace yourself for that I guess. Unfortunately, action sequences are my weak point, so any feedback you have on them - where I succeeded and where I stand to improve going forward etc. - is greatly appreciated. :sweating_profusely: Also, poll at the bottom of post.

    3.

    The VR rig vibrated slightly around Baxter, emulating the feeling of the ground trembling as the huge stag chased after him. When he felt it gaining on him, getting ever closer, he hoped that he’d pulled enough distance from the herd and dodge rolled to the side. Although he managed to avoid the stag’s charge, he realised that this had been the wrong move - he’d yet to dodge roll in the game, and hadn’t prepared himself for the disorienting feeling of it. The whole world turned topside and spun around him, his vision blurring from vertigo, making him feel slightly sick. Even when his character automatically landed him back on his feet, he still felt completely off-kilter. In the end, he couldn’t re-adjust his inner equilibrium in time and he was hit by a sudden impact that once again set the whole world off balance, sending him flying through the air.

    Motherfucker! He’d gotten hit by a knockback! The stag had turned around and charged him after missing him the first time, easily hitting him and sending him hurtling away as well as gouging a third of his health in one hit. Baxter cursed the stag out up and down the street, but he hadn’t invested (wasted) hours of his life with games to not know how to keep a cool head by now. As soon as he hit the ground, he quickly got back up to his feet and drank a health potion while keeping his his feet moving. Luckily, after landing the blow the stag didn’t immediately go into a charge again, probably it had some kind of soft cooldown on the attack. It ran after Baxter quite angrily though, tossing its looped antler at him. He leapt diagonally away, out of the swing’s range, and circled around to its side. He took advantage of its large size and long legs that made it hard for it to turn in tight circles, staying on its side and being careful to keep away from its flank where it could just kick him. He chugged the Potion of Enlightenment, boosting his WIS further, then cast both WARD and ENERGISE on himself. After that he cast DAZE, then quickly dashed forward, wielding his cane and whipping it across the stag’s side, then charged back towards the head, smashing it down on the stag’s skull double-handed and backdashing hastily as it flung its head up in anger.

    Its pointed leg gouged the ground and it snorted angrily, eyes turning red with fury. Baxter got an extremely ominous feeling, his whole body tensed up in response. With a burst of speed, loosened dirt flung out beneath it, the stag lowered its head and charged straight for Baxter. There wasn’t enough time to dodge, so all he could do was hold his cane up defensively and hope WARD would absorb some of the shock of the charge. Maybe because he’d taken up a defensive position and prepared for it, but this time the charge attack didn’t proc a dramatic knockback - although he was pushed back about half a metre, he remained planted on the ground, and had left gouges in the soil. Rather than losing a third of his health, it was more like a quarter.

    Still. It was fucking annoying.

    “You’re not the only one with a knockback attack.” Baxter snapped, and while it was still in its recovery state from charging he cast MAGIC BULLET. Unfortunately, the knockback didn’t proc. Gritting his teeth, his stubborn streak flared up once again, and as soon as the two second cooldown finished he recast it. Once again, it failed to knockback the stag - but it had succeeded in making it angrier.

    “Are you fucking kidding.” Baxter blurted, but then quickly remembered to side dash away as the deer reared up, stabbing towards him with its spiked legs. Earth flew up as it hit the ground with impact, setting off a rumble that travelled all through his body, making his teeth chatter. Should he turn the rumble setting down after this? No, the intensity of the vibrations helped him understand how dire that stomp had been. It probably would have put him on death’s doorstep if it had hit him.

    Maybe falling back on the strategy of casting DAZE and wailing on the stag was smarter, but unfortunately, Baxter’s weird competitive streak had ignited, and after being knockbacked by the deer two times already he knew he wouldn’t be satisfied unless he could send it flying at least once. At this point it was a matter of stupid, bloody-headed pride.

    Glancing around the environment, he plotted a course to circle backwards, keeping distance between himself and the stag as he spammed MAGIC BULLET at it. The damage from it was low, and he only managed to slowly grind away a small chunk of its health, but after the fifth cast he finally got the desired result.

    The deer stumbled back a couple of steps.

    What. The. Fuck?! Was that it? Maybe it was the size difference, or maybe the level gap was too big, but the knockback had been nothing more than a small stumble - it was enough of a chance to take advantage of, though Baxter let the chance slip due to his shock and anger, however it was hardly worth calling a knockback. He snorted, gripping his cane in both hands. He would turn that deer into a goddamn meteorite or die trying.

    The deer paused its movements, tossing its head and gouging at the ground with an angry snort. This time he was ready. After its tell the deer once again charged, but this time he leapt to the side to avoid it, then brought his can down double-handed against its passing body. The battle AI of the stag wasn’t completely simple, however, and after it whiffed its charge it swung its head violently to the side, hitting a blow against Baxter and forcing him to backstep with a grimace. He’d swung at the same time as the stag, unable to cancel in time and dodge away. With a loud CRACK, the cane hit the stag’s neck, and the wood splintered slightly.

    Crap. Although there were durability values on his equipment, he’d already assessed it and thought it would be enough for the encounter. No matter, he didn’t exactly have any other options. He glared at the stag, a determined glint in his eyes as they both backed up and eyed each other warily. Previously, because his weapon was classified as a light and blunt type it had impacted the mobs but left little physical trauma. However, because the strength of his last blow had been enough to splinter his cane slightly, it had left a gash in the stag’s neck, blood dribbling through its thick mane.

    Right now, Baxter was in a tight spot. He didn’t know if his cane would hold until the end of the fight, and MAGIC BULLET wouldn’t be enough to whittle the stag’s health down before the EXP bonus timed out.

    In fact, at that point just trying to beat this fight at all was in question.

    The showdown turned into a quickdraw situation as player and stag eyed each other up and down. Baxter hastily cast DAZE just as the stag began to move, but it seemed to shake it off. He cursed nervously, quickly glancing over the skill info:

    DAZE | LVL. 5 | Cooldown 20s
    Daze your enemy with with a dazzling light. Causes stun for 10s. Enemies higher levelled than the caster have an incremental chance to resist per level.

    At least it seemed that in this encounter the chance of failure was still low. He dodged as the stag swung its head at him in response, but his distraction caused a lag in his reaction time and the antlers glanced against him. Using the backstep to make space between them, he cast a QUICK HEAL to get himself out of the danger zone. He followed it up with a WARD spell, then made a forward push towards the stag’s neck. Turning his cane over in his hands, while it was still thrown off-balance by suddenly having him up close to it, Baxter took the opportunity to thrust the pointed end up into the shallow wound he’d managed to create. The deer let out an angry scream, bucking upwards and jerking away from him, almost pulling his weapon out of his hands. He only managed to keep a grip on it at the last second, locking his hands around the crook at the top of the cane.

    As its legs reared in the air, the stag turned it into a stomp attack. Although he managed to avoid a direct blow, because he was still too close Baxter took some indirect damage from the shockwave. The world turned shaky and blurry, and he sickly realised he’d been knocked into a stun state!

    He’d about had it up to here with this deer using all his own tricks against him. Although he’d been stunned, he had an advantage over the AI which was locked down in place when it was stunned. Although Baxter could barely make out the world around him, he could still move! The stun merely messed with his vision, he still had more or less full control of his body. He closed his eyes to keep the intense blearing of his vision from messing with him, and made a blind gamble. He wrenched his body diagonally to the left, feet colliding with a tree root and causing him to trip, but felt a rumble behind him telling him his bet had paid off - he’d managed to blindly avoid a fatal attack.

    He cracked an eye open, judging that his vision had cleared, and pulled himself up. Although he’d managed to avoid death, between the shockwave and his own self-injury, he’d dropped his health back down to a critical yellow. As for the stag, there was no health bar indicating its current status, he merely had to go off its body language - slightly drooping head, harsh panting, enraged state. He might be in the home stretch.

    His cane was now in an even worse condition, and he decided it would be a miracle if it could survive to the end of the fight.

    Currently, his required win conditions he had arbitrarily set for himself were:
    1. Defeat the Sylvan stag,
    2. before the time limit on the EXP boost runs out
    3. before his cane breaks, and
    4. be sure to send that shitty deer flying at least once!
    More or less, he had to try to achieve all his goals in one last, climactic push. He drank a health potion, then drank down his last mana potion and cast DAZE in preparation. Luckily it worked, and the stag swayed dangerously in its stunned state, its head swinging too and fro loosely from its long neck. He hastily cast ENERGISE, then darted forward and pounded his cane against its skull with full force, praying that it would hold just long enough.

    Once.

    Twice.

    Third time’s the charm, he managed to land a critical hit, snapping the stag out of stun and causing it to stumble.

    Chance! Great and holy god of RNG, please smile on me and make this work out! Baxter prayed silently in his heart, palms sweating, not even sure if his plan was feasible. Holding on to his cane that was barely hanging on by a few splinters, he focused everything he had into casting MAGIC BULLET, aiming it square between the eyes of the staggered deer.

    Go!

    He fired the MAGIC BULLET out, focusing every single sense on watching it collide with the Sylvan stag, heart hammering in his chest.

    In its unsteady state, when the deer was hit by the MAGIC BULLET it was successfully knockbacked, and though it wasn’t a full body lift off the ground, the force caused its head snap backwards hard enough that its front legs lifted from the ground, sending it toppling over backwards and slamming into the ground onto its back.

    Fuck, he’d take it!

    With its antlers buried in the ground from the force of its own bodyweight slamming it down, the stag kicked and struggled feebly, unable to extricate itself. Baxter staggered over to it in elation, looking down at its current pitiful state. There was no time to pay respects. With no finesse, he stabbed down with the pointed end of his cane into the agitated neck wound. The deer gave one final struggle, snapping his cane in two with its wild thrashing, but then eventually stilled.

    Finally, it disappeared into nothing, leaving only a pouch behind.

    Baxter sat down shakily first, then opened his character screen. Beside the name of his character, Bright Eyes, was an icon of a cooking pot, denoting a meal effect. He focused on it and a small pop up showed that there was still 24s of EXP boost left.

    Seems like he’d made it, even if his cane hadn’t.

    Only then did he pick up the loot pouch, opening it up with interest.


    Quick poll: would you rather I 1) post chapters as I finish them, or 2) post on a schedule?

    Pros and cons of 1:
    • More frequent updates (could probably pump out a chapter a day if I'm on a roll),
    • but probably less edited since I'm posting them semi-raw and
    • since I'm posting them upon completion, I won't have a buffer if I hit writers block or get sick.
    Pros and cons of 2:
    • Slower updates (probably weekly or twice weekly depending on my output),
    • but will be a little more polished since by putting space between writing and posting I'll be able to come at them with fresh eyes when editing,
    • and updates will be more reliable and there won't be long breaks/hiatus because I'd have a buffer to fall back on in case of emergency.
    You can just respond with (1) or (2) for the poll unless you have further opinions you want to elaborate on.
     
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  11. Night Haze

    Night Haze Well-Known Member

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    2. Or you can just post once a month (example, 10 chapters a month).
     
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  12. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    You mean post a clump of chapters altogether? It's an interesting idea, but posting one chapter with a smaller period of time between rather than a bunch of chapters together over a larger gap in time seems better for memory retention and just overall pacing. But I'll think about it and see what other people feel!















    :blobpeek: Also... what might thisssss be?
    Trying out tables, dunno how I feel though.
     
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  13. Night Haze

    Night Haze Well-Known Member

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  14. IzKir

    IzKir Well-Known Member

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  15. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    Thanks for everyone continuing to read and "Like"! :cookie:
    Also available on ScribHub.

    4.
    Sylvan Deer Hide | LVL. 15 | Common
    The tough and sturdy hide of a Sylvan deer. After tanning, it can be used to make a variety of things.

    Sylvan Deer Shank | LVL. 15 | Common
    The shank of a Sylvan deer. The dense muscle can make it tough if cooked the wrong way. Can be used in cooking.

    Baxter sighed. It seemed like he didn’t get a rare drop off the stag.

    Perhaps it would be better to consider himself lucky to have beaten it at all despite the wide level gap and the fact he was playing a disadvantageous class. After checking his inventory, he saw there were already a couple stacks of Sylvan deer materials, though the number in the stacks were low. Besides four other shanks and two hides, there was also:

    Sylvan Deer Loin | LVL. 20 | Uncommon
    A loin taken from a Sylvan deer, the meat is tender and full of flavour. Can be used in cooking.

    Though he wasn’t sure if it was something he’d already had in his inventory or if he’d picked it up, since he couldn’t be bothered to looked too closely at the materials tab in his inventory. His other gains from the fight was a level up, putting him at LVL. 7, and his EXP bar was just over half full on the way to LVL. 8.

    He closed his inventory and stood up, stretching his arms to loosen up the muscles that had gone taut after the drawn out fight. Even if he felt bitter about it, there was no point in going back to finish the fight against the last two does since he no longer had a weapon. Instead he checked his position and direction on the map, then put it away and headed back to Third Outpost.

    When he arrived, the main clearing of the outpost appeared far bigger - the caravan train was gone. Dark lines appeared over Baxter’s head as he grimaced at his luck. He didn’t realise they’d leave so quickly! Hurriedly he approached one of the outpost guards - denoted by his green tunic with a gold symbol on it. The NPC was a tall and slender man with a greenish tint to his pale skin, long green hair braided along the crown and the rest all tied up in a bun, cold brown eyes and small pointed ears. He was a foot and a half taller than Baxter, causing him to have to crane his neck a little to speak to them.

    “Um, about the caravan that… that was just here. Do you know, can you tell me, wh-which way…?”

    It felt intimidating to have someone towering over him, even if it was an NPC, let alone one with such an unfriendly expression. The guard was equipped with a long spear, held at the ready at his side, which didn’t help his image. He gave Baxter an exceedingly unimpressed look, and then gradually raised an arm and jerked his thumb over his shoulder - they had headed off through the other gate.

    Baxter awkwardly thanked the guard then hurried through the outpost, exiting out the other side. Although he was nervous to travel with no weapon, he had little choice. By setting his character to auto-walk it allowed him to automatically jog along the road, freeing him up to browse the system menu and search for the help function. He browsed through the battle and item tutorials until he found what he was looking for.

    Gear Durability

    All gear has their own ‘HP bar’ representing their current condition, and you will need to pay attention to it. Once this bar reaches 0%, the gear will break and automatically be sent to your inventory. Although the ‘broken’ items won’t be lost or discarded, until it is repaired by the right craftsperson you will not be able to equip and use it.

    The durability and degradation of gear is influenced by a number of factors. Weapons designed for direct contact combat, such as swords and clubs, have higher durability and lower impact degradation, while weapons intended for distance combat or as magic channelling tools, such as bows and rods, will have lower durability and any impact degradation will be high, but will degrade very slowly as long as they’re being used correctly.

    Degradation is also influenced by level gaps. When fighting an enemy that is more than five levels above yours, your weapon will degrade at a higher rate.​

    Baxter gazed blankly at the forest as he digested this new information. So basically… he was an idiot. All right, he could accept that, he knew when it was time to eat his own hat. Either way this new information presented a big problem for him.

    Although it would be cheaper to repair his broken cane than buy a new one, he didn’t know where to find the nearest blacksmith, it was a low level beginner weapon anyway, and ultimately it still felt like a stop gap measure. Whether he repaired his current cane or bought a new one, it was still not a weapon designed for combat - the damage output was low and the durability was poor. He’d be pouring money into repairing an ineffective weapon. However, weapons seemed to be class locked, so switching to a different weapon likely wasn’t an option. Was the only option remaining then to start over from LVL. 1 in a different class?

    Of course, this was the obvious and logical choice. It’s not like seven levels would be hard to get back to especially with a solo appropriate class, he could probably even pass that within a day of dedicated grinding. The problem lay with Baxter: he was too stubborn to let the game “beat” him. But he was also self-aware enough to realise that reaching LVL. 30 with a support class while playing solo was… theoretically possible, but also would take a huge time and cost investment that wasn’t feasible.

    The skills tab of his character screen showed unlocked skills, as well as grayed out locked skills he would obtain with level ups in the future. According to the chart in front of him, he would only gain his next attack skill at LVL. 15 - a DoT called “Affliction”. Everything between now and then were support skills. Should he hold out until reaching LVL. 15 to see if the new skill would make solo levelling manageable?

    While he was still deep in thought, Baxter had managed to catch up to the caravan train. Luckily it moved just slightly slower than the default jog speed, allowing players to catch up to it eventually. Marching on foot alongside the caravans were the mercenaries, warily gazing out into the treeline. A couple of them gave Baxter a suspicious glare when he neared, making him gulp nervously. They wouldn’t aggro him, right?

    “Ho there, lass! Do you need something?” Although the greeting was the same, it was different merchant to the one he’d spoken to last time. The portly, bearded human NPC leant out the window of the caravan at the end of the train, waving to Baxter. He grimaced at the call of ‘lass’, but sprinted a little to meet the caravan, falling in step beside the merchant.

    “I, uh, I need a new weapon.” Baxter coughed, taking out his broken cane to show the merchant.

    The merchant stroked his beard thoughtfully, giving an annoying “Ohoho?” laugh, then nodding to Baxter. “Well, I think I might have a couple of suitable things back here, but this is all stock I intended to trade when we reached Sylgrenia. I’ll have to surcharge you for the inconvenience.”

    Baxter rolled his eyes slightly. Was that the excuse the developers came up with? It didn’t even make sense!

    He reluctantly acceded, “That’s fine. Please just show me what you’ve got.”

    The merchant disappeared into the caravan, then came back out to the window carrying the two Mender class weapons: a wooden cane and a metal rod.

    Elm Cane | LVL. 5 | Light | Blunt | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 5

    A Mender’s cane made from elm. This traditional weapon helps with channelling, but won’t stand up to a beating. Deals 5 PHYS dmg.
    Bonus(es): +1 WIS

    Bronze Rod | LVL. 5 | Heavy | Blunt | Common
    Required Class MENDER | Required LVL. 5

    A Mender’s rod made from bronze. This heavy weapon isn’t typically used by Menders, but is extremely sturdy. Deals 10 PHYS dmg.
    Bonus(es): Increased DUR against impact, +1 END

    Baxter glanced at both of them briefly, but didn’t hesitate in making his decision. He bought the bronze rod for 4 gal and 600 sil, a considerable rip off, and immediately equipped it. He gave a strained thanks to the merchant before stepping away and letting the caravan pass him by.

    Although that was one thing taken care of, he was still left with a lot of decisions to weigh up. In the end he just went around in circles in his head and couldn’t reach a decision, so resolved to clear his mind with some simple grinding.

    He focused on hunting the lower levelled chichis this time, as well as a kind of pitcher plant monster called a manepenthe - a kind of fat bellied green and pink upside-down bell shaped creature about waist high with stubby legs that seemed cute at a first glance, but would then lift its leaf cap to display dozens of rows of inwardly hooked teeth and a long tongue. Typical to many plant enemies it had an annoying poison attack, however, he could balance it out with QH while waiting for the poison to wear off, and as a plus it was weak to physical attacks.

    When he got to LVL. 8 he gained a new single cast skill, “Remedy”, that cured all status effects and then hunting manepenthes became a breeze.

    By the time he got to LVL. 10, he finally got his first AOE skill - “Healing Aura”, a healing spell that could heal himself and any friendlies within casting range. Baxter didn’t bother to hotbar it.

    Finally at LVL. 11 he felt his eyelids dragging, and his jaw cricked slightly as he fought off a huge yawn. It’d been awhile since he last pulled an all nighter playing games and felt a little nostalgic. Deciding it was time to turn in, Baxter checked the durability of his gear and made a note to try to travel to the nearest city and find someone to fix everything back to full, then picked a good spot just beside the road and logged off.

    He sluggishly pulled the VR rig off his body, rubbing his itchy eyes and dragging himself over to bed. Out of habit, he twitched open the blackout curtain hanging from the window over his bed, blinking blearily at the streets below captured in the peculiar grey haze of cold pre-dawn light and lingering mist. He clocked the time at around 5 AM, perhaps a little later with the late autumn sunrise. Someone he could only presume to have mental deficiency was briskly jogging down the street in full sweats, and Baxter felt exhausted just watching their vague silhouette in the damp white tendrils of fog.

    He didn’t get normies.

    Figuring he had probably an hour or two before his dad woke up and started stomping around downstairs, Baxter pulled apart the small mound he’d made of his blankets and crawled beneath them, tugging the covers over the top of his head. He blindly groped for his pillow, dragging it under the covers with him like a predator dragging away its prey, then promptly fell dead asleep.

    The next chapter is going to be a small turning point, so I'm very excited to get to it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
    IzKir, Night Haze and Lukha like this.
  16. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    ...it's a double update today since chapter five is more exposition than not. :blobgift:
    Chapter 5 and 6 is also live on ScribHub.

    5.

    Olivia arrived at her aunt and uncle’s house at 11, carrying a tote bag stuffed with tupperware containers of food. She called out in greeting as she crossed the threshold, kicking her flip flops off and leaving them messily discarded by the door. Her uncle was at work already, but her aunt popped her head out from around the kitchen doorway, eyes lighting up a little when she saw her niece.

    “You didn’t have to come so quickly.” Lara laughed as she came out from the kitchen, greeting Olivia with a warm hug.

    “Nah, it’s cool, I don’t have classes until three so I was feeling bored anyway.” Olivia slung her free arm around her aunt, hugging tightly in return, then stepped back. She glanced up the stairs, taking in the silence from the second floor. “Bee isn’t up yet?”

    Lara sighed and rolled her eyes.

    “This is why Harvey and I confiscated his games in the first place. I wouldn’t care if he played them casually, but...”

    “Yeah.” Olivia agreed wearily. To put it nicely, her cousin was great at focusing on a single task and wholeheartedly pursuing it. But to put it more realistically, he had an addictive personality. “Well, I brought the dumb idiot some lunch and he’d better appreciate it, so I’ll go wake him.” She lifted up the bag, smiling wryly. “You can leave him safely in my hands, Aunt Lara.”

    Lara just sighed again. It felt like half her time was spent sighing over her son these days. She nodded and gestured for Olivia to follow her upstairs. “Thank you for watching him. I just can’t handle leaving him alone in the house again… Look, I’ll just get changed before I leave. I should be back around two, so you don’t have to worry about missing your classes.”

    “No worries, even if you’re late my friends can just share their notes with me.” Olivia reassured her, following along behind as they made their way to the second floor landing. Lara turned and headed to the master bedroom, while Olivia made her way to Baxter’s room.

    His name was spelled out in big plastic letters on the door, vestiges of childhood, though the X and the R had fallen off and disappeared years ago, leaving it to read BA TE. A more recent edition was a large black sign painted with white letters, warning everybody KEEP OUT.

    Naturally, Olivia completely ignored this sign and pushed open the door, letting herself in. She flicked on the light (Baxter went gonzo whenever anyone tried to open the curtains) and set the food down on the desk - frowning briefly at the dirty food container left from the tikka masala - then headed to the bed.

    “Yo, wake up!” Olivia roughly punched the vaguely human-shaped lump beneath the covers that made Baxter, but he didn’t even twitch in response. While snorting and muttering, “Oh, if that’s how you’re gonna be,” she cracked her knuckles and rolled her neck ominously.

    The next thing Baxter knew, he was forcefully woken up by a heavy impact as something dropped down on him. His whole body jerked, throwing the covers off him, and he gasped for air. He didn’t need to check to know who was responsible for such a rough awakening. He simply grabbed his pillow and blindly swung as hard as he could, repeatedly smacking his cousin with the pillow back and forth.

    “You! Are! The worst! Human being alive!” Baxter roared, still tired and now completely disgruntled. Olivia was just laughing hard as she frantically held up her arms to defend her face, doing a defensive roll to escape his assault. Baxter crawled on his knees across the bed, chasing after her with his makeshift weapon.

    “Oh my god, dude, I tried waking you up the normal way, but you go into a state of like, total sensory deprivation when you sleep you know.” Having gotten some space and gained her bearings, Olivia readied her hands into claws, waited for her chance, then seized Baxter’s pillow, yanking it out of his hands triumphantly. She tucked it under her arm in a football hold, grinning at him gleefully. “So, how did you like the game?”

    Baxter shoved and folded his duvet into a rough orb shape and slouched back against it, arms crossed over his chest.

    “It was alright.”

    Olivia snorted. “Just alright? Is that why you were playing all night and only waking up at, uh,” she mimed checking a nonexistent watch, “midday.”

    “Just because it has a decent gameplay loop doesn’t make it good.” Baxter, a chronic contrarian, argued flatly. Remembering his difficulty, he shot Olivia an accusatory glare. “It’d probably be more fun if I wasn’t stuck playing a healer. You know that class only has two attacks right? It’s impossible to solo.”

    Olivia tossed the pillow back at Baxter’s face, grabbing his desk chair and the food she brought and dragging them both over. She sat down in the desk chair, folding her legs up beneath her and sitting cross-legged, then set the bag down in her lap and unpacked the tupperware containers.

    “Then play in a team. Make friends.” She pointed out the obvious solution, passing him a container and a plastic fork.

    “Not happening.” Baxter’s reply was immediate. He cracked open the tupperware container, glancing over the contents. “I don’t like falafel.”

    “Well you don’t like pesto pasta either, and those are your two options. It’s been deep fried, Bee, so it should be right up your alley.” Olivia snarked, opening up her container and spearing a few pasta spirals, then shoving them into her mouth angrily. “Look, fine. If you wanna play by yourself, I can’t stop you. Just make a new character if it’s a big deal.”

    Baxter snorted, pushing aside a falafel ball with his fork and digging into the salad underneath. “Yeah gosh, of course, why didn’t I think of that! Thanks for the input, it’s super helpful, great and absolutely useful advice with no problems whatsoever as usual.”

    “You can’t make a new character?”

    He gritted his teeth in frustration.

    No, Olivia, I can’t make a new character. They put restrictions on it.”

    Olivia opened her eyes wide a little, apparently genuinely surprised. “Ooooh, really? Well, there wasn’t anything like that when I played.”

    “Three years ago.”

    Her patience for Baxter’s sass reaching its limit, Olivia snapped back with a dramatic roll of her eyes, “Sorry I didn’t know, in the future I’ll be sure to keep up with games I don’t even play anymore! So just use alchemy or the Novice class skills to level up, dumb-dumb.”

    Baxter paused halfway through trying to capture an especially evasive cherry tomato.

    “Run that by me again.”

    Olivia gave him a long what-are-you-an-idiot stare, then dropped her fork into her pasta. Clapping her hands together excitedly, she leant back in the chair and steepled her fingers, smugly smiling at him. “Ohohohoho, what’s this? Do I, Olivia Day,-”

    “Oh my god.”

    “-have gaming knowledge that my esteemed-”

    “Wow, you’re the worst.”

    “-that my esteemed gamer cousin does not?”

    “I will throw falafel at you, I swear to god.”

    Olivia tapped her fingers together in a Burns-like motion, dramatically chuckling. “I wanna hear you say please.”

    Baxter rolled his eyes, putting his food to the side and climbing off his bed. “Oh no, I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself. I’ll just look it up.”

    “Agh, nooo! Give me my time in the sun, you bastard.” Olivia set her food aside hastily and then wrapped her arms around Baxter’s waist, dragging him away from the computer. Baxter dug his feet into the ground, pushing all his body weight away from her, swearing and ordering her to let go. As the two wrestled with one another, Baxter’s bedroom door suddenly opened, Lara leaning in with a perplexed expression on her face.

    Eventually choosing to just ignore the scene in front of her, she cautiously asked, “...I was just popping out to do the groceries, and wanted to ask if either of you wanted me to bring you back something.”

    “Chocolate milk.” - “Breakfast juice.” The cousins replied in unison, frozen in place for the moment until Lara nodded slowly and then gradually shut the door.

    “...Anyway, as I was saying,” Olivia released Baxter from her iron grip, causing him to almost topple over from the sudden lack of counterweight. She grabbed her lunch and once again dug in, nonchalantly lecturing him, “Didn’t you do any reading on the game before now? Every character starts as a Novice so you can learn a bunch of different skills to get a feel for, y’know, how you wanna play and stuff, and then you get to level ten and you can’t level up anymore so you have to go and pick a class teacher who’ll make you do a quest and when you beat it, boom, new class. But, you still get to keep all your skills from when you were a Novice. They should be in their own tab in the skills menu.”

    Baxter rubbed his temples through her garrulous explanation, very slowly asking, “What sort of skills are we talking about here?”

    Olivia waved her pasta-laden fork idly in circles as she combed her memory for three years old information. Finally, she arrived at the conclusion, “Dunno. Check it yourself.”

    Typical.

    Baxter leant against the edge of his desk, arms folded over his chest. “Okay. So what does alchemy have to do with solo levelling? A crafting class is even tougher to level up than a support class, Liv.”

    Olivia just gave him a quizzical look. “Everyone knows alchemists are the best attack class in the game.”

    Baxter fought the urge to tip her whole chair over. Too bad he couldn’t risk breaking his own furniture just to spite her.

    Explain.”

    “Yikes. Okay, how much do you know about the way crafting in the game- nevermind, I can tell by your face. You gotta start looking these things up beforehand, m’dude. So, the crafting is super annoying in LOGIK. You automatically get basic recipes when you level your crafting class, but the end results are all pretty mediocre. All the players were like, whaaaa? Until someone figured out you’re not supposed to follow the recipe exactly, but instead experiment through trial and error and refine your own recipes for stuff, because that’s not counter-intuitive or anything. Also, a complete waste of resources.”

    Annoying? Baxter dug his fingers into his arms excitedly. Maybe for someone who wanted to just casually breeze through “boring” game aspects like crafting it was an annoying system, but to Baxter, the whole thing sounded interesting. A game that discouraged doing the obvious, and instead encouraged players to experiment their own unique way of doing things? Well, it was interesting on paper anyway. He wouldn’t know for sure how well it was executed until he tried it himself.

    Olivia was oblivious to his internal thoughts, continuing to ramble, “Anyway, so, after that a bunch of players went HAM on trying to make up their own recipes altogether and turns out things you make up totally by yourself without any basic recipe are super good, but they also found out a lot of potions blew up in their face. I mean, actually blew up in their face. Some players accidentally killed themselves kind of blew up in their face. And then a whole group of weirdos was like, hey, what if we totally doubled down on this and made bombs? So. Everyone knows alchemists are one of the best attack classes in the game. Or at least they were when I was still playing.”

    Baxter was entirely at a loss for words. He realised he had completely underestimated his cousin - he’d assumed she’d gone off on a side quest to become an alchemist because she was the type to just go with the flow and randomly do anything in a game as long as it was presented to her. But who knew she was so bloodthirsty and had in fact been intending to switch to one of the most dangerous classes the game had to offer.

    A thought still occurred to him though - that was three years ago. Surely the devs would have realised this exploit and nerfed bomb potions, or even phased them out entirely? He frowned, glancing at the floor, then looked up at Olivia.

    “Let me borrow your phone.”

    Ever difficult, Olivia asked, “Why?”

    “You’re the one who told me to look things up myself. I wanna check the forums and see if the devs nerfed alchemy.” Baxter impatiently explained, extending his hand expectantly.

    “...Like the foam gun?”

    He forgot how hard it was to hold a conversation with her when it came to games. Olivia was the type of person to just spam a leg kick in a fighting game “because it works” - and just because it was true didn’t mean she should do it.

    “Can I just borrow your phone or not?”

    Olivia rolled her eyes but passed her phone over. Baxter typed in the passcode to unlock it, then opened up a web browser, searching for the LO user forums. He carefully checked the names of the various subforums, finding a sub-subforum dedicated to users sharing various recipes and blueprints. Very few people shared their own original products and it seemed like a kind of silent taboo to ask, but there was a large community push towards sharing tweaks and improvements on existing basic recipes. The only original work shared were some recycled bomb potion recipes that were more or less common knowledge now anyway, and had gone through years of refinement and improvement, working around patches that nerfed their potency.

    Baxter’s eyes gradually lit up as he browsed through, opening up random threads and reading through posts. It wasn’t just potion recipes. There were cooking recipes that min-maxed ingredient perks to come up with all sorts of advantageous effects. There were blueprints for crafting gear and even furniture for player and guild housing to give unusual buffs to the objects. Most interesting too Baxter, there was a sharing of discoveries about hidden effects of certain materials when paired with other materials. The devs were very nefarious as it seemed like there were a lot of hidden values to each material that were hard to discover. For example, by reading through an improvement thread for a Potion of Finesse recipe, it turned out the extremely common herb dandapuff had a very, very small hidden wind attribute value, and by crushing up enough of them and refining them with something called powdered wind ore, the wind attribute in the common herb would stack and have a near equal effect to a much more rare and expensive herb. There was no in-game information on this wind attribute value, and had been found purely by chance by a player who’d gone mad from their guild’s overstock of dandapuffs and crushed them all up and thrown them into all sorts of random concoctions, only to find out it had caused a wind attribute to be randomly added to some of them.

    Baxter excitedly came to realise this was a game for crazy people with too much time on their hands.

    He quickly shooed Olivia out of his room, ignoring her shouts of protests he shut the door on her face. When she slammed her fist against his door, yelling “Give me my phone!”, he quickly opened the door and threw it into her hands. After a second of thought, he grabbed the half eaten lunches and the dirty leftovers container and passed it to her as well.

    “Oh, cool, anything else? Maybe want me to make you a sandwich with the crusts cut off?” She huffed, holding the containers in disbelief.

    “Nope, I’m good.” Baxter responded, and shut the door in her face.

    6.

    When Baxter logged into the game, it loaded him exactly where he had stopped playing last night - er, rather, early this morning. Naturally the first thing he did was open his character journal and flick over to the pages with his quest logs, immediately setting Green Thumb as his active quest.

    Reading the crafting subforum had been a revelation in many ways: the crafting classes he’d originally dismissed as being side projects better focused on later suddenly became much more interesting, and he’d also been left with a bit of food for thought regarding this quest.

    Dandapuffs were based off a common weed in the real world that carried its extremely feather light seeds on the wind to propagate and become widespread, and happened to have a hidden wind attribute value. Wetirweeds were waterlogged plants found only in the river, and prickleseeds were extremely dense and hard - rocklike, you might even say. He’d originally considered this class quest to be a pretty boring and standard fetch quest, but it seems like the devs had actually deeply hidden some interesting information in it.

    Baxter had incidentally gathered all the prickleseeds he needed by hunting chichis his previous session, but hadn’t found a single charmbell. He’d assumed it to simply be a rare plant as a means to throw a wrench into the quest, but going off his inferrals, he considered that maybe he wouldn’t have to blindly grope in the dark. Perhaps he already had a clue as to where to start looking for it.

    The quest area was bound to the Sylvan Woods, so Baxter knew it had be somewhere in his current zone. He sat down cross legged where he’d spawned at, unfolding his map and spreading it on the flat ground before him and scanning over it. He immediately crossed out any areas with heavy tree growth that would have an excess of shade and anywhere adjacent to a water source. It was still a lot of ground to cover, and nothing on the map jumped out at him as particularly “fiery”. He placed his character journal down beside the map, flipping through the herbology section of the materials almanac for clues, but came up short. Inspirations truck when he remembered that chichis actually dropped prickleweed amongst their loot, and he excitedly flipped through to the bestiary and scanned the entries there.

    Finally he found what he was looking for in the flavour text for a sort of sunflower looking plant type monster called a sunshiner:

    Although not carnivorous, the sunshiner is still an extremely aggressive species of sentient plant. They’ve been known to chase people for miles without giving up. Nobody knows why they get so angry.

    Due to the amount of energy they expend chasing around anyone who annoys them, sunshiners require a massive amount of sunlight to keep themselves active. Their petals open up wide to help them absorb more light. When they absorb too much sunlight, their petals turn from yellow to pink and they give off an intense heat.

    Altogether an extremely bothersome species.

    Baxter looked up the rough information on their locations that was available and then marked a waypoint on his map for the nearest one. He closed his journal, rolled his map back up, then threw them both into his inventory. It was a bit of a jog to where the bestiary hinted the sunshiners would be - a little past Fourth Outpost where the trees cleared up slightly and the terrain looked a little rockier. He could set his character to autorun, but the top speed was jogging and it would bind his path to the road. It would be faster to manually run and cut a straight line through the forest off-road.

    He found a manageably looking game trail and began to rush through the forest. As he was dashing through the forest, Baxter couldn’t help but look around and admire the scenery of the game. Although there were wide swathes of space between trees, because the trees themselves and their foliage was so large and thick, the area was heavily shaded. Only a few golden shards of sunlight managed to filter through, scattering dalmation spots of light over the undergrowth below. There was a feeling of wildness to the forest, with the rustle of small, invisible animals following him, and only natural ambience generated from insects and birdsong for BGM. The current area was littered with walls of dense shrubs, overturned trees, and overgrown chest high grass, together forming natural barriers that herded players around obstacles. As he began to transition into the more open area of the forest, the larger shrubs fell away and undergrowth became ground hugging, making an intense green carpet of creeping shrubbery that would spring back up to life as soon as your foot lifted off it.

    Even with so many interactable visuals on screen the game ran very smoothly, so with the VR it felt truly lifelike.

    When the terrain took a noticeable shift in style, Baxter took out his map to confirm his location and trajectory. According to the bestiary, one place sunshiners congregated was called the Emerald Coliseum. It was a short walk from where he’d stopped, he hadn’t veered too much while traversing the forest, so he only made slight adjustments to his direction and made his way over.

    Although the Emerald Coliseum was called such, it wasn’t a real coliseum but a naturally formed basin covered in sparse growth. The downward slopes toward the flattened centre of the basin happened to have been formed into a terraced structure due to its sedimentary nature, and came to resemble the rows of seating in an ancient coliseum. There were only a few very small trees, about one metre high at most, growing in the hard packed clay-like earth of the basin, providing very little shade. A variety of herbs and flowers that thrived in hard and compacted soil were doing well here where there was less competition, gathered together in colourful copses, making the area very vivid.

    On the bottom plane of the basin were what appeared to be a small garden of sunflowers at first blush, each one ranging between one to three metres high, and some of the petals turning orange and even pink at the tips. Baxter was impressed by the mean-spirited trick - if he’d wandered in here blindly, he was sure he would have really mistaken them for a herb or flower to be harvested, not realising them for the monsters they were.

    These were sunshiners, and only the faint twitching of their petals gave their true nature away.

    Luckily he was already aware of what they really were, nor had he come here to deal with them. While they were in this inactive sunbathing state, merely keeping a generous distance from them would be enough to keep them from aggroing. Their levels were far above his capabilities right now, ranging from LVL. 16 - 24, and beyond that they were the type to all aggro together and overwhelm players as a group, as well as incredibly hard to disengage from. Doing this as carefully as possible was crucial.

    Baxter stood at the lip of the basin, gazing around at the various plant growth within. Although this was a relatively cleared out area, there were enough varieties of shrubbery that he couldn’t tell at a glance if this area even had what he was looking for. Although he could guess at its general appearance, he couldn’t be sure of it, so in the end he had no choice but to search each plant one by one.

    He carefully jumped down the shallow step to the next layer of the basin, circling around it and checking each plant in sequence. As he had to harvest each one before he could learn what it was, he gradually amassed a pile of dud herbs and flowers in his inventory. But Baxter remained slow and methodical in his process, careful not to overlook anything. The only problem was his growing nervousness as he made his way gradually down toward the centre of the basin. He wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination, but it looked like the sunshiners were twitching more often the closer he got.

    In the end he was two levels away from the very bottom before he found what he was looking for: a small easy-to-miss plant, its flowers rising out over long thin leaves, the tall stem gently bowed over in a graceful arc as a group of five or so coral pink bell-shaped flowers hung off it. Although there were only two stalks, it was confirmation his thought process had been correct. After he harvested one of them, he confirmed its identity to be the charmbell he was looking for:

    Charmbell | LVL. 12 | Uncommon
    These flowers give off a mildly sweet scent that makes people feel at ease, making them popular as decorative flowers in gardens. If you plan to grow them make sure they get plenty of sunlight. Can be used in alchemy.

    Baxter hastily harvested the second stalk and stowed both of them away in his inventory, then got up and peered around for any flash of colour to mark more of them.

    After he searched, he was disappointed to find that the only other charmbells in the area were directly beside the sunshiners. He frowned in thought, uncertain how to proceed. On the one hand he could simple travel to the next location sunshiners gathered and see if they had any charmbells growing with them too - but as an upper levelled enemy for the zone with high aggro, the devs had made sure to make them a rarer spawning mob, so the distance between locations was quite far. On the other hand, he could simply try a grab and dash and see how long their leash was, then circle back and harvest the rest.

    Basically he had to weigh up his laziness versus possibly dying.

    After thinking about it, he decided he may as well go for it. At worst he’d probably just lose a level and some money, right?

    Baxter positioned himself so he had a clear shot straight for the nearest charmbell, spent a second or two psyching himself up, then sprinted forward in a burst of speed. He leapt down the terrace steps, carefully judging the timing so he could snatch the flower on his way past as he skid to a halt at the bottom of the basin. He tumbled right into the swaying stalk of a sunshiner, knocking it over like a bowling pin and sending it straight into the rest of the mob.

    Oops.

    Well, whatever. He scrambled to his feet just as the flowers all came alive around him, turning their wide flat sunflower faces towards him in angry unison like a herd of horror movie monsters. Their wide flat leaves curled up into fist shapes and they gnashed their pointed teeth, chittering fiercely.

    “Um. Bye.”

    He dashed out from their encirclement while there was still a gap to take advantage of. The climb back out of the basin was a lot tougher than its descent, with Baxter being forced to leap up the natural steps of the coliseum. They were just slightly too high to step up naturally and had to be jumped over, quickly causing him to lose his lead on the monsters. At his current level they also had a slightly faster run speed than him and it was a matter of moments before they caught up.

    Soon he was surrounded, and with level gap plus the low physical stats of his Mender class they quickly beat him into submission. When his health bar reached red crit his pace slowed down against his will to a weak limp, cutting off any chance of escape.

    Aah, he figured this might happen, but it was pretty pathetic how quickly it all went south. Still, he couldn’t be blamed for trying.

    YOU HAVE DIED

    You have lost 196 Sil and 2,811 EXP.

    You seemed to have dropped some things:
    You have dropped your Novice Mender’s shoes.
    You have dropped charmbells (3).
    You have dropped thyme (14).
    You have dropped deer hide (3).
    You have dropped manepenthe tongue (5).

    You have been returned to the location of your last Soulstone imprint.

    A last few traces of light were just fading away when Baxter’s blackened view came back into focus. He’d been respawned in a small open courtyard, about ten square metres in size, covered by a pergola that was completely draped in creeping ivy that gave it a subdued ambiance. The bulk of the space was taken up by an enormous milky white crystal resembling polished snow quartz, that had been fashioned into a teardrop shape with delicate reliefs, fixed into place by an ornate raised platform. The pointed top was encircled by a golden brace, and four golden chains stretched out to each corner of the space, giving extra support.

    This was the aforementioned “Soulstone”.

    Baxter dismissed the pop up window informing him of his death and its myriad consequences after swiftly reading through them, hastily opening his inventory. The death penalty had caused him to lose a negligible chunk of his wealth and probably a third of his current experience. After all his expenses he didn’t have much left anyway, and after the money drop upon his death he was left with 1 gal and 706 sil, but that didn’t matter to him. What concerned him was the announcement that he had left the charmbells behind on his death too. Not a single one was left.

    Just as he was muttering expletives to himself in frustration, there was a flash of light beside him and a player character materialised in its place. From crown to toe, they measured at about half his height, but their long rabbit ears were half again the length of their body, bringing their total height to around his chest. The were covered in cream fur with a seal point colouration, and had a small pair of forward facing antlers growing from the forehead. He’d have mistaken it for some kind of monster, but it was fully kitted up in leather armour and armed with a flintlock style pistol and rifle, one at the waist and the other over their back, and even had a pair of goggles on.

    It looked Baxter up and… well, up. Then it opened its mouth and spoke.

    “Died, huh newbie.”
     
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  17. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    This chapter is also live on ScrubHub.


    7.


    Baxter spread his map out on the ground before him, trying to ignore the rabbit… thing currently looking over his shoulder at it. Since the map was still set to display his local zone, it mapped out the enormous, complex labyrinth of streets he was in - far from the woods.

    “Where’d you die?” The rabbit queried. Baxter didn’t know if it was the natural pitch of the player or if there was a voice filter on certain races, but their voice was annoyingly squeaky. Either way, he did his best to pretend they weren’t even there.

    The name of the city had been marked across the top of the map, but rather than the delicate and curling letters denoting the Sylvan Woods, the font here was styled in thick, bold strokes:

    Deiso att Ghwerdun

    He immediately zoomed out the map to show the city and surrounding area, but the names of the encompassing zones didn’t strike him as at all familiar.

    “Seriously, you need help? You look super lost.”

    Baxter felt his skin crawl at the sound of that obnoxious voice, but was frustrated enough with his current circumstance that he gradually turned to regard the face hanging right over his shoulder. When the rabbit saw his expression, it backed up and grinned, cocking its head and waiting to see if he was going to say anything.

    Baxter struggled with his bullheaded need to never ask for any kind of assistance for a while, but then finally stuttered out quietly, “Sylvan… something.”

    He wasn’t sure what response he was expecting, but the one he got was concerning. The rabbit’s mouth dropped open, and though Baxter couldn’t see its eyes beneath the goggles, he could imagine they were popping slightly. Not a good sign.

    “Oof, you’re on the wrong continent.” It summoned its own map from its inventory and spread it out on ground next to Baxter’s, quickly setting it to display the world map with practised ease. It was Baxter’s first time viewing the world map - there were five major continents displayed, three of them colour-coded to the three game factions and the final two graded neutral grey, along with a few grey-coded islands. The rabbit pointed a stubby furred finger at the smallest red-coded continent, dotted on all sides by archipelagos and island chains.

    “That’s us, the Redlands. The beast race continent.”

    It traced its claw across the map, to the northern section of the yellow-coded continent furthest on the map from the Redlands.

    “That’s Sylvalon, where you wanna be. It’s the elven country. Yeah, you’re way off.”

    Baxter stared wordlessly at the two maps, then let out a slow, excessively loud sigh. Why the fuck was he sent here? Oh, nevermind, he sort of knew the answer when he glanced up at the milky white Soulstone. If this was the beast continent, then as a catwoman, this was probably his default respawn location.

    Slightly exasperated, he tripped over his words as he asked, “S-so. How do I get… y’know, back. And stay.” He gestured to Sylvalon.

    The rabbit rolled up its map.

    “Well, if you’ve already activated the Soulstone in Sylvalon, it’s cheapest to just warp between stones, and then set it as your rez point - but I guess since you’re here you didn’t do that.”

    “Guess not.” Baxter agreed gloomily.

    “But even so, once you’ve been to a continent once, fast travelling back is easy.”

    Great!

    “Yeah, see that icon there?” The rabbit pointed to an icon with an image of a magic circle on the city section of his area map. “That’s a teleportation house, just pay a couple grand fee and they’ll send you to a teleportation house in Sylgrenia, the elf capital.”

    Baxter frowned at the rabbit warily. “How much are we talking?”

    “From Redlands to Sylvalon? Oh, 3 gal last I checked.”

    …Ah.

    Baxter gazed vacantly in the direction of his map, but was taking none of it in. There was a silence that turned from awkward to heavy, from heavy to gloomy, and then from gloomy all the way through to suffocating. It seemed like it would stretch on forever until it was fortuitously broken by the shimmery sound effect of another player warping in.

    A big brawny wolfman wearing a chef’s hat and apron appeared, a little shocked at seeing two squatters parked next to the Soulstone. In a deep, disgruntled voice he commented as he walked past them, “Don’t block the landing zone.”

    Baxter and the rabbit watched him leave, and with the heavy mood now diffused, the rabbit awkwardly began to speak.

    “Don’t tell me you don’t-”

    I won’t tell you anything don’t worry.

    Baxter cursed hatefully at his past self in the confines of his own heart, but said nothing else aloud. How long would it take to earn that gal back? Early level quests in games generally had smaller reward payouts so forget earning that money back before his drops disappeared, just getting back to the continent within a week was in question. Was it better to put the Alchemist quest aside and find a class teacher on this continent to switch to a more martial class? But he’d also left gear over there. Right now he didn’t have any shoes.

    As Baxter cursed and muttered to himself, he ignored the rabbit player who squatted down beside him until that annoying voice once again interrupted his thoughts.

    “Want me to loan you the money?”

    Baxter paused, raising his vision to the other player and narrowing his eyes in suspicion - there were no free lunches in this world.

    “Heyyyy, no need to look at me like that. 5 gal loan, in return all you needa do is add me to your flist.”

    Baxter snorted, frankly responding in a quiet voice, “I don’t… I don’t intend to make friends here.”

    “So what, I should loan you the money and just hope you find me again by chance?” The rabbit snorted back twice as hard, arms crossed.

    Oh, he thought. He hadn’t considered that. Eyeballing the rabbit, he clarified in a very slow and careful voice, “Just until I repay the loan?”

    “Sure. Then you can delete me.”

    Baxter weighed up the pros and cons of the situation. He was loathe to accept help from someone else, let alone a complete stranger, but he was also loathe to just give up and walk away on the Alchemist quest. It wasn’t his style. Two conflicting feelings of obstinacy battled it out inside his head, but in the end the desire to finish what he started and get his goddamn shoes back won out. Besides, it was only a temporary add, and he wasn’t required to actually talk to them at any point. There was, however, one thing that slightly bothered him.

    “Why?”

    The rabbit tilted its head, long ears swaying dramatically with the movement. “Why what?”

    “Why,” Baxter’s made vague gestures, “why help?”

    He didn’t really understand this game. Although he’d only interacted with two players so far, they’d both presumptuously decided on their own to extend help to him. That wasn’t how people usually acted in games. Hell, that wasn’t how people usually acted in life. Human beings didn’t help each other, they helped themselves.

    “Oh!” The rabbit chuckled slightly, “Well, everyone was a new player at some point, right? It can take a while to learn the ins and outs of any new game, and LO is its own brand of weird, but I still think it’s a great game! And isn’t natural to wanna see people enjoying something you think is great and appreciating things you think deserve more attention? But if that’s not good enough, think of it as an investment. I’m the second of a small clan, but we’re aiming to get enough members to register as a guild. Maybe I’m tryna woo you into joining our ranks?” The rabbit gave a small ‘peace’ gesture with its roly poly fingers, huffing proudly. Baxter didn’t understand most of the second half of what he said, but he more or less got the gist of it - it was soft recruitment.

    He could live with that kind of motivation. It sat with him a lot better than “goodwill and peace on earth”.

    “Fine. But I’m not joining your guild-”

    “Clan.”

    Clan. I’m not joining it. I’m just borrowing money.”

    “Hehe, fine by me.”

    Bunzooka has requested to be your friend.
    User Message: just accept its fine okok douod

    [ ACCEPT ] | [ DENY ] | [ VIEW PROFILE ]

    Baxter did his level best to ignore their choice of username and questionable message, swiftly tapping ACCEPT. He’d prefer to get through his whole interaction as quickly as possible.

    Bunzooka has requested a trade.
    User Message: take ur time payin me back lol~

    [ VIEW TRADE DETAILS ] | [ DENY ]

    Seriously, better not to get too involved with this weirdo. Baxter opened up the trade window, displaying a split inventory screen. The item slots for the trade were empty but 5 gal had faithfully been added to the currency bank. He hesitated a second, finger hovering over CONFIRM TRADE as his pride flared up, whispering at him that accepting help was just admitting failure.

    It’s a loan, not charity, he reassured himself grimly and confirmed the trade. There was a small jingle as the money was added to his bank.

    “Hey, message me if you ever need any advice, heh, ‘Bright Eyes’.” Bunzooka laughed, and Baxter gave a noncommittal grunt in response, internally commenting that was unlikely to ever happen.

    Since he no longer had any kind of reason to put up with the other player’s company, he hastily rolled up his map and tossed it back into his inventory, standing up stiffly. He opened his mouth, momentarily preparing to say something - some kind of farewell, or even a thank you. But then he looked down at its silly goggled face and just felt tired, instead choosing to close his mouth and walk out from the courtyard.

    “H-hey-!”

    Baxter ignored them and hurriedly walked faster. He really couldn’t find it in him to trust cheerful people.

    Stepping straight out of shadow of the small corridor leading away from the Soulstone, he was suddenly blinded by the impact of light searing his unadjusted eyes. He collided with another player, feeling a rumble response from the impact, and stepped back hurriedly in a panic at the harsh “watch it!” that followed.

    Shielding his watery eyes from direct sunlight, he blinked rapidly and allowed his vision to adjust to the scene before him. Although the map gave the flat layout of the city, he was completely unprepared for the sight of the city itself as it stretched out beneath him from his current vantage point.

    Beginning from the horizon, blue met blue, sea and sky folding into each other and becoming impossible to separately define, white clouds perfectly reflected on the calm caribbean blue below. The black pinpoint pricks of birds lazily gliding along warm sea current air pockets were mirrored by boats calmly gliding along the calm, glass-like surface of the water. As he lowered his gaze, the first part of the city in his view was a faraway city square plaza that hung over sheer cliff, giving an unobstructed view of the sea. After that was the labyrinthine streets, with steep roadways and looping stairways cutting up paths along the precipitous side of the mountain it was built on, forcing the city to be constructed in tiers. Buildings were made of stone, insulated all over in mortar to make it smooth, then painted in vibrant shades of salmon, ochre, seafoam green, azure, carmine, and more. The streets were made of perfectly white cobblestones smoothed by time, decorated with coloured turquoise stones forming glyphs of swimming fish and waves carrying you along underfoot. His current location was near the very top of the city’s terraced layout, which gave him full view of the vivacious palette and winding architecture of the city. When he turned his body and tilted his head upwards, the only thing above his level was an enormous statue roughly 60 metres tall poised on the flattened peak of the mountain. It displayed an imposing lion man, posed with his hands resting on the hilt of his stone broad sword planted point down in front of him, a stern expression on his catlike face and a carved crown resting on his thick mane.

    Baxter turned back around and gazed over the seaside cityscape. It was very beautiful. But it was also very loud and very busy. As a main hub, it was populated by not just players, but plenty of NPCs too. The glaring sun, the white noise of chattering background effects and sea tide, the low level volume of players talking, the bright colours, the reflection of light off the dazzling white roads; Baxter felt like he was drowning in visual and audio noise everywhere he turned.

    He muted the headset and closed his eyes to block out the excess stimuli, taking in a deep but shaky breath.

    It’s not real. It’s just a game.

    He slowly opened his eyes, keeping his gaze levelled in front of him and focusing on the path ahead. His mantra looped through his head, carrying him through the sea of people. His heart fluttered in his chest every time he accidentally met with anyone’s gaze, and would immediately drop his sight, staring down at his bare feet.

    With the volume of the city muted a lot of the natural ambience was lost, but it allowed Baxter to feel safe as he moved through the winding streets. After only a few turns he already ended up lost, however, so he decided to just travel with his map out. Once he managed to adjust his mood to the new environment, he began to fully appreciate it.

    This was a hub for the beast continent, so it wasn’t surprising to say that roughly 60% of the players were a beast race, and almost all the NPCs were too. He more or less managed to mentally list four different beast races: lizards, jackalopes, felines and canines. What was interesting about it was that there was no standard level of “beastliness”. Although his character was a fairly stereotypical kemonomimi catgirl, there were players that were playing full-fledged anthropomorphised animal characters propped up on two digitigrade legs, or Egyptian god-like characters that had fully human bodies but completely animal heads. The only consistent thing in each race was their height range - the jackalopes were the shortest, averaging three feet, the cat races were fairly slight at about four or five feet, the lizards started at four and ranged all the way up to six and a half, and not a single canine character was under six foot.

    The detail towards the city structure was interesting too. He’d assumed that many of the buildings of the city would be purely decorative, but it in fact it looked like almost all of them were interactable. Most of them were storefronts with all sorts of odd names, and some of them had plates hanging under their signboard with different insignias.

    While he was staring at one, a small pop up window with the words THE HUNGRY WOLVES GUILD appeared over it. Ah, he understood. The marked stores were owned by player guilds, a method of generating guild income through selling off various gears and items.

    Part of him wanted to take a look around, but unfortunately Baxter wasn’t sure if he had the time to spare. Whatever the conditions of his dropped items and gear–

    Oh, he should probably just search in the tutorial menu, right? Feeling slightly stupid, Baxter opened the search toolbar and typed in “death”.

    Death

    The only lingering memory of the Gods long disappeared from the world are the crystalline drops of blood that came to be now known as Soulstones. These divine crystals are capable of otherwise impossible miracles - they can resurrect the dead without needing any flesh or blood, returning people to life using only the impression of their soul. Of course, something cannot truly be created from nothing, and it is said that with each resurrection, the Soulstone will take from you an echo…

    Upon death, players not in a dungeon or group are automatically resurrected at the last Soulstone they have marked with a soul imprint. Players will lose 30% of their current experience and 10% of their wealth.

    Players will drop one (1) piece of gear, the most recent item they picked up, as well as two randomly selected items from their inventory. Every tenth level an extra randomly selected item will drop. Player drops will be locked to their original owner up to 10 minutes after resurrection at a Soulstone. If not collected in time, the drops will become unlocked and anyone may pick them up. If players die again before collecting their drops, the previous drops will disappear.

    Players in a dungeon cannot be resurrected unless by a team member. Players in a team whilst in the overworld map have the option to either wait for up to 5 minutes for resurrection by a team member or resurrect at their last Soulstone immediately.​

    Get fucked. Exactly how long had he wasted already? Baxter could only hope that his common low level items didn’t interest anyone enough to steal them. Glancing down at his map, he made note of the twists and turns, and hurriedly made his way to the teleportation house.
     
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  18. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    Hey guys, I explained this in an announcement that is going to be released with chapter 9, but in a couple days I'm be going be out of town for about twwwwoooo weeks? I can schedule chapters to post on ScrubHub ahead of time, but won't be able to post them here during that time. I will do an update spam here when I get back, but in the meantime if you want to read the new chapters you'll have to do it over on SH. :blobshh:

    8.

    It cost exactly 3 gal to travel from the teleportation house in Deiso att Ghwerdun to the one in Sylgrenia. Although it was called a teleportation “house”, the one in Deiso was more of an open air pavilion that overlooked the ocean and was brightly lit by the natural lighting, fitting in with the overall aesthetic of a seaside paradise city. There was a gated raised dais in the middle, inlaid with dizzyingly complex designs, creating what was probably intended to be a magic circle for teleportation magic. After paying the attendant, it was a simple matter of stepping through the gate and into the centre of the circle. Seconds later the entirety of his view turned snowy, and when his vision cleared the scenery was very different.

    The teleportation house of Sylgrenia was the same size as the one in Deiso down to the inch, but this one was made entirely out of naturally shaped wood enclosing the space. Head-sized glowing orbs that let out a muted golden light hung from the ceiling and walls in netted bags, dimly illuminating the space. The NPCs in the Sylgrenia teleportation house were all elves, their skin colours ranging from deep rich auburn to papery birch white to warm olive green, feeling like they were halfway between plant and person.

    A female elf with her hair in a half-up style stepped forward and mouthed a few words to Baxter, and with a jolt he realised he’d still had the volume muted the whole time. Quickly unmuting the headset, he followed the elven woman’s gesture and stepped off the dais, making his way down the stairs and out through the heavy wooden door.

    Sylgrenia, the city of elves, really lived up to the feel of its name. Like Deiso att Ghwerdun, it was a layered city, but Sylgrenia was far more vertical - the whole city was wrapped around an unfathomably enormous tree. Baxter stared wide-eyed at the interweaving pathways and bridges connecting suspended platforms to one another, craning his neck up toward the lofty branches far above trying to see just how far it went, but the top of the tree disappeared completely into the clouds.

    He shuffled to the edge of the platform he was currently on, peering over the side.

    Well, good thing heights had never been one of his several fears.

    He took his map out in order to mentally get a handle on the rough layout of the city, pleasantly surprised to find that although it looked elaborate, in fact it was more or less a straight line moving in a single continuous spiral. Most of the exterior structures on the tree were purely pedestrian as the bulk of the actual city had been carved inwards, into the tree. The teleportation house he’d just exited, for instance, had a facade sculpted into the tree trunk with the letters of the signboard carved above the doorway. A wood and rope ladder was propped beside the doorway, leading upwards to an overhanging balcony and doorway.

    Naturally, the top of his priority was to head up first, to find and imprint the Sylgrenia Soulstone.

    The Sylgrenia Soulstone was at the top of the city, the same the one at Deiso. It had been placed in an open balcony courtyard, decorated with heavy greenery and colourful flowers. Net bags held the same glowing orbs, as the heavy foliage of the tree the city was built upon caused the entire place to have a dim half-light. The process of imprinting only required him to press his hand flat against the crystal’s surface for a few seconds, and then a prompt appeared asking him if he wanted to set it as his respawn point. Of course, he accepted. After that he had to head to the bottom layer of the city to leave.

    With most of the available real estate being along the face of the tree, most of the “buildings” had been stacked one on top of the other, with ladders or occasionally carved stairways leading players to the different levels of housing. Sapling branches of the tree were used as streetlights, the strange glowing orbs fixed to the end - no, on closer inspection they were in fact fruits growing in natural clusters on the tree. Most pathways wound around the tree, formed from wood and rope bridges and platforms, but some pathways had been carved into the tree, creating gorgeous arcades lined with NPC stalls.

    Like with Deiso, many of the buildings of the city were utilised as storefronts or workshops under the ownership of various player guilds. As he headed down the tree, making use of elevators to save time, the player stores gave way to NPC stores.

    The lowest level of the city was an enormous city plaza, half of which was undercover and had been formed inside a natural hollow of the tree, the other half precariously positioned on a sprawling platform, braced with multiple arches and chains but still swaying gently in the wind. NPC stalls, storefronts and workshops took up the bulk of it, along with other amenities - an inn-slash-tavern, a high class looking restaurant, a mail service, a guild union house where players could register their guilds, and more. The centre of the plaza displayed a statue of an ornately dressed elven mage, flanked by a human knight wielding a lance and a pint-sized humanoid that was probably some kind of halfling race, naturally dressed as a rogue.

    Baxter didn’t really have time to give the plaza a thorough look through, his ten minutes had definitely already passed. He headed directly toward the immense elevator at the other end of the plaza that would lower him down to the ground level - although this was the lowest level of the city, it was still halfway up the enormous tree.

    As he passed by an open air smithy, however, his footsteps slowed. He wasn’t planning on intentionally making this detour, but since it was just on the way…

    He swerved into the smithy, approaching the counter, but hesitated at the last second. This kind of game that demanded all sorts of extraneous actions in order to achieve realistic immersion wouldn’t require him to strip or something in order to have his gear repaired, right?

    “Welcome to the Heavy Mallet Armoury, did you need help with something?”

    The NPC that appeared at the counter when he saw Baxter coming was a cheerful looking teenage human boy. Although he still had a baby face, as a smithing apprentice his body was beginning to show some brawny qualities and his hands were rough, causing his overall impression to feel incongruous with itself.

    Baxter cleared his throat, hesitantly asking, “Uh, I wanted to… e-enquire about getting my gear fixed?”

    The boy tilted his head, looking confused.

    “Sorry miss, this is a smithy. If you want repair your current gear, you know you’ll need to go to a tailor shop?”

    Ah.

    Ah ah ah ah aaaah!

    Even if the boy wasn’t real, it was still embarrassing enough to die! What if another player overheard him! Baxter wanted to turn tail and sprint out of the smithy as fast as possible, but that would just make him even more conspicuous. What a rookie goddamn mistake. His gear was even marked as “cloth”! Simply because he was used to the streamlined process of other RPGs he’d played, he’d assumed this would be the same, but he ended up looking like a complete moron. He blinked back tears of humiliation and muttered a quiet apology before turning on his heel and walking out in what he hoped was a calm and composed manner.

    He can never! Come back here! Again!

    Baxter headed straight for the exit of the city. Luckily there was a loading screen between major zones, so rather than having to go through the entire descent of the elevator, the screen faded to black, reloading after a second or two on the forest floor. With Sylgrenia located at the heart of the Sylvan Woods, the forest here was dense. Taking out his map, he scanned it to figure out where he had to head to. First and Second Outpost were in area one, Third and Fourth Outpost, as well as the area he died, were in area two, but luckily there was a small red X on the map marking the exact spot he had died and dropped his things. He wasn’t sure if that meant his things were still there, or if it was just a sly reminder of his failure.

    Not wanting to waste anymore time, Baxter put away his map and began running. Having a mount would be so useful right about now.

    There was no loading transition between areas within zones, so he smoothly passed through the beginner-levelled area one and entered area two, continuing on his path. It also became easier to cut through the woods rather than follow the road as the density began to clear and the underbrush became less thick.

    Time in the game world moved twice as fast as in the real world, meaning day and night were six hours each rather than twelve. The game world’s sun was beginning to set and turn the world gold with evening light. Long shadows stretched over the landscape, making everything feel more sinister, giving the feeling that it would be better to hurry lest something jump out at you from the dark. Although the zones right outside major hub cities were populated by lower level mobs, at night stronger ones would come out and he didn’t want to be ambushed by anything troublesome.

    Just as the thought occurred to him, Baxter heard the howl of something very close. At his current position the rough two metres immediately around him were clear, but beyond that he was surrounded on all sides by high brush that could could conceal predators.

    As if reading his thoughts, another howl sounded behind him, and then one more in front. Basically: he was completely penned in.

    Baxter raised his rod over his chest in a defensive stance, all of his senses strained to the max. He didn’t really like his chances fighting against a pack of high agility type monsters like wolves during the best of times, but right now he just wanted to get back to his dropped items as quickly as possible. It’d be easier if he only had a couple more attack options-

    Novice skills! Because he got too caught up in the excitement of the game’s crafting system, he’d thrown what Olivia had said about the novice skills into the back of his mind and forgotten it there, but now was as good a moment as any to take a look at them, whether he had the time or not.

    He quickly opened the skills menu of his character, eyes darting over the tabs. At first he couldn’t locate it, but then when he scanned the screen again he saw a small tab with nothing but the icon of an old fashioned key on it. That couldn’t be it, could it? It was no wonder he’d initially missed it! He opened up the tab, and sure enough there was a varied assortment of skills, but they were listed as “Life Skills” rather than “Novice Skills”.

    He very nearly banged his head against the nearest tree when he saw the list. These were definitely simple skills that could allow a player to learn the different types of playstyle, but most of them were also simply solid, foundational skills that improved the general quality of life in playing the game. There was no time to do an in-depth exploration, but luckily the skills were loosely arranged by type and usage. To begin with, Baxter immediately used the switch-on-switch-off skill “Offensive Stance”, which would raise his damage output but also cause him to take more damage with hits, and set the basic attack skills “Bash” and “Heavy Swing” to his hotbar.

    He was a little slow in setting up, as a flash of grey and brown fur leapt out from the bushes closest to him and fangs dug into his arm, taking off a sizeable chunk of his health due to OFFENSIVE STANCE. He immediately cast QUICK HEAL, not forgetting to dodge as he heard the rustle of bushes on his periphery. He barely avoided the attack in time, but two more wolves jumped out of the thicket, completely flanking him on all sides. With his already low defence further handicapped by OFFENSIVE STANCE, he used WARD to give himself a little bit of protection, but for this encounter he decided to take a chance on going all out with offence in order to create an opening to flee.

    The mobs surrounding him were larger than the average wolf, with pelts ranging from grey to a deep brown that was almost black, but they all had a streak of pale grey-white down their spines that gave them their names - cloudback wolves. They also resembled their names in that they were fast on their feet, as light and uncatchable as mist. Baxter’s only real option in pinning them down was to use his sole crowd control skill - DAZE.

    He picked the wolf located between himself and his best exit, and immediately fell back on his previous strategy - stun, and then spam MAGIC BULLET to try to get the knockback to proc in order to separate it from the group. Unfortunately, it didn’t go smoothly. Even when he managed to DAZE one wolf, three more were still nipping on his heels, and the cooldown for the spell was longer than the length of the stun, so locking down more than one at any moment was impossible. Feeling quickly forced into a corner, he switched over to OFFENSIVE STANCE’s oppositional skill - “Defensive Stance”, which would lower the damage taken but lower also damage output. It also lowered chances of proccing additional attack effects on both player and enemy skills - like knockback. There was a five second cooldown between switching each individual one on or off, but only a one second cooldown when switching between the two.

    With the effects of WARD and DEFENSIVE STANCE, he just did he best to tank through the attacks while focusing on pushing away the dazed wolf. Taking advantage of the low cooldown on MAGIC BULLET, he managed to knock back his chosen target enough to open up a gap in the four wolves’ formation. He chased the dazed wolf out from the pack and, using the two-handed melee attack HEAVY SWING, he aimed for the joint of the wolf’s leg, seeking to cripple it. There was an ugly crunch as the round orb at the end of his rod successfully decimated the leg, the whole thing bent back at an angle.

    Yes! As long as he managed cripple one more wolf, they’d probably back away. As pack hunters, once they felt the numbers were no longer in their favour they’d turn tail and flee, so he just needed to make this battle seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

    Advanced enemy AI is pretty fun as long as it can be used to your advantage, he decided.

    Although fending off three wolves at once was difficult, it was still manageable. It was impossible to dodge or parry most of their attacks, since as soon as he focused on one, the other two would follow up with a pincer attack. He didn’t have the ability to naturally finesse his way through this encounter, so all he could do was take advantage of his class; although it gave him a huge disadvantage in terms of his battle options, he was at least able to keep his health over the halfway point through QUICK HEAL - as long as his mana lasted anyway.

    He managed to break the formation by shoving another wolf away, the knockback causing it to collide with a tree. With one wolf lamed, and the other momentarily winded, the remaining two hesitated on whether to continue the attack. Although it was still a 2:1 numbers advantage, they no longer had the overwhelming majority. For Baxter, this moment of hesitation was enough and he broke away from the encounter, rushing into the treeline.

    He heard the wolves howling behind him. It seemed like they decided to give chase, but they no longer had the opportunity for another ambush. Baxter simply kept running, and soon enough the wolves dropped away, giving up the hunt.

    Internally, he was definitely uncomfortable at simply running away from the encounter. It was a waste of some decent EXP, and the effort put into injuring the wolves just enough to get away but not just kill them felt like a loss. Unfortunately, he was on a timer.

    He finally arrived back at the steps to the Emerald Coliseum, slowing down to a jog as he reached the lip. His stomach lurched as he peered into the basin, and he let out an angry shout before he even paused to think about.

    “Get away from that!”
     
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  19. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    Helloooooooooo I am home and have been catching up on sleep. I'm still dead tired so I'll backpost chapters 10 and 11 tomorrow, but both 9 and 10 are already up on SH.

    9.


    There were two other players currently standing over the ornate miniature chest with a small skull clasp that marked Baxter’s death location. One was a tank class player wearing heavy plate armour, foregoing any kind of weapon entirely in favour of a double-handed shield almost as tall as themselves strapped to his back. The other was wearing a traditional witch’s hat with an enormous brim that obscured their face and a long robe with a tall, stiff neck the covered the lower half of their head, so all that was left visible was a pair of pale yellow glowing dots. Unfortunately the imposing effect was ruined by the fact that they were probably four feet tall in total.

    Baxter’s shout was so instinctual it even startled him, let alone the players below, who both looked up in shock. The tank player grinned, and Baxter immediately wanted to punch him - nothing was quite as infuriating as someone smiling at you when you were upset.

    “Yikes, chill. You Bright Eyes then?” The magic DPS player asked, gesturing to the death chest. Their racial voice was a kind of dusty, croaky rasp. “You didn’t drop anything we wanted, no need to get wound up. Welcome for clearing out the sunshiners though.”

    Baxter leapt down to where they were, grabbing his death chest and taking a few hasty steps back. The tank scratched the back of his head awkwardly and gave a nervous laugh.

    “Sorry. We were just going to hang around a few more minutes to make sure you got your things back.”

    Baxter glowered, taking all his drops from the chest and re-equipping his shoes, then glancing up at the two. “I didn’t ask for or need your help.”

    “Ingrate.” The DPS grumbled.

    “You said it yourself, it’s just some low level junk.” He argued back hotly, feeling frustrated. He knew he was overreacting. But the feeling of vexation had already built up and overwhelmed him, making every word that came out of him one of anger. He already wasn’t good at dealing with people, but he had additional trouble dealing with ones that seemed friendly for no reason. It gave him this low level feeling of dread and anxiety, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why did everyone he meet insist on being so forcefully friendly? He wasn’t a child who needed to be handheld through everything, and if he’d really lost his items, it was a game. He could just earn it back.

    “You’re looking for charmbells, right?” The tanker opened his hip pouch, sorting through his invisible inventory screen, “We have some if you need them.”

    “I already said don’t need your help.”

    “Oh come on, just leave her be. If she wants to be stuck up about some dumb drops, let her.” The caster snorted, tugging on the tank’s arm.

    Baxter felt his cheeks heat up. He felt angry and mentally tired. Just because he wanted to play the game his own way, by himself, he was stuck up? What if he wanted the sense of accomplishment from finishing a quest on his own, without just being handed the quest items by a total stranger?

    It was unfortunate that he always responded to any kind of state of heightened emotion the same way - by getting teary eyed. It didn’t matter if he was angry or happy or truly sad, he always ended up getting overwhelmed and his body’s stress response was to cry. Then he ended up in a cycle where he felt humiliated and it just caused him more stress. As tears caught between his eyelashes and the heat and humidity of his blushing face fogged up the VR, his vision became blurry and unclear. Just as he felt all his emotions bubbling up inside him, ready to burst out, he felt something violently tapping at his shoulder. Instinctively he turned to look, but saw only air.

    He’d almost forgotten, this was only a game. He lifted the headset up, blinking rapidly at the shift in lighting between the game and his room, staring up in confusion at Olivia.

    “What?”

    “I heard you yelling! Why are you crying?” Her tone immediately turned serious and she bent over, trying to peer into the headset at the display. “Was someone in the game bullying you? Want me to yell at them for you?”

    Baxter wiped his eyes on the back of his sleeve, trying to regain his composure. “You remember that I’m older than you, right?”

    “Barely.”

    He rolled his eyes, but the turmoil inside of him had calmed down considerably, and the anxiety that always rushed over him when dealing with people he didn’t know had started to abate. His hands had stopped shaking at least. He pushed her away, but there was no irritation left in his face and instead a half-smile hung from his lips.

    “I’m fine.” He insisted.

    “Ugh, fine. Try to lay off the yelling, though.” Olivia threw him a dubious look, but seemed to think better of trying to push the issue.

    “Y-yeah, sorry.” Baxter awkwardly agreed, glancing impatiently between her and the headset.

    She rolled her eyes, backing out of the room with her hands raised. "I get it. Don't need to be so obvious about it. Remember, no yelling except emergencies!"

    He waited until he heard the click of the door closing and took a deep, calming breath before pulling the headset rig back on and making sure it wouldn’t slip.

    When he got back into the game, it had automatically logged him out to the main menu as a safety measure upon sensing the disconnect. Upon entering back into the game, he found himself alone in the Emerald Coliseum, and breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He realised he’d overreacted to the other players, but he didn’t really know how to back down emotionally once he got heated up, and just not having to deal with the hole he dug was preferable in the end. It was cowardly and pathetic, but... it was what it was.

    Since the sunshiners were respawning, he quickly skittered up the steps away from them and double checked his inventory to make sure nothing had been taken from his drops. Upon seeing the three charmbells still marked as important in his inventory, he finally loosened his shoulders and relaxed.

    Finally, he opened up the skill menu and took a good look at the Life Skills. Due to the fact that they existed outside of character classes, in order to give the skills longevity through the game many of them were given their own level up to a maximum of LVL. 100. The skills included the aforementioned DEFENSIVE STANCE and OFFENSIVE STANCE, but also skills that Baxter came to realise he’d been using already without even knowing - for example, the ever present ANALYSE skill.

    Opening up and binding a new hotbar menu, Baxter immediately placed ANALYSE - now LVL. 6 due to accidentally manually activating it so much - on it, and then added a few more of the Life Skills. One was “Sneak”, a stealth skill that activated manually using slow, crouched movement, and gave a certain % chance depending on armour type and skill level to not draw aggro from aggressive mobs. Another useful one was “Block”, at LVL. 2, and another skill he’d used without realising it when he’d taken up a defensive stance against the Sylvan stag’s charge. The effects were obvious from the skill name - using gear to block an attack, it traded weapon durability for a moment of defence. There were a couple more that seemed practical to have handy and there was plenty of room on the hotbar, so he lined up a few problem solvers from the menu.

    Most of the other useful Life Skills were passive ones that were hard to level up since there was no active way to use them. The one Baxter decided to pay the most attention to was “Athlete” that affected the overall efficiency of non-combat stamina consumption - which basically meant sprinting, jumping, and swimming. No only that, it could slightly increase running speed too, which gave non-DEX classes an opportunity to increase their mobility.

    In any case, with SNEAK now in his arsenal he headed to the next place he’d marked on his map to collect charmbells. It was near the bottleneck passage between area two and area four, meaning the average level of mobs near there would be higher, but the only other area sunshiners spawned was on the opposite side of the map altogether. He didn’t want to be wandering out at night longer than he had to, so he went for the closer option.

    The first person perspective of the game might have given Baxter a limited periphery, but the game’s night cycle was surprisingly forgiving darkness-wise, and he could clearly make out the shape of the terrain around him, making only a few stumbles. The moonlight had a blue cast to it, giving the woods a distinctly ghostly glow that gave the walk an ethereal, otherworldly feel. He moved more quickly on his way.

    Twice on his path he was waylaid by mobs. The first time it was another pack of cloudback wolves, five this time. Although he barely scraped by in the end, using the same tactics of breaking their formation and focusing on crippling two of them to reduce their attack force allowed him to kill two of the wolves before he ended up getting overwhelmed and forced to flee. The second monster was an impossible fight from the beginning - a flying bird monster, with a six metre wingspan and talons a handspan in length, its feathers so dark it was almost invisible from below as it swooped him in an ambush attack. It took off almost all of his health with a single attack, and he probably only survived because he put up a guard and dodged away at the last second. Yet even a glancing blow was very nearly enough to kill him, which screamed “out of his league”. With the huge parity in strength, the only reason he even got away was because it was an aerial hunter and he could hide beneath obstacles it couldn’t path around.

    By the time he arrived at the Bygone Meadow, his nerves were pulled extremely tight. He’d underestimated just how threatening nocturnal mobs could be. His only reprieve was that sunshiners, befitting their name, were a daytime enemy and were mostly inactive at night. There were three visible smaller clusters of the pale yellow-white sleeping state flower monsters spread throughout the meadow. The entire area was on a slightly raised hillock, the pale blue moonlight shining down unobstructed and lighting it up as clear and bright as daytime. The entire meadow was covered in flowers, the pale petals giving off a soft glow of reflected light. Hovering above the flowers was a thick mist of greenish-gold orbs of light as a swarm of fireflies surged over the flowers, like low-hanging stars.

    Baxter moved slowly across the Bygone Meadow, the swarm scattering as he drew near, creating a snake made of darkness that slithered through the field. Looking at the flowers that bowed out of his way as he made his way through the meadow, he wryly thought to himself that he should have come here first. This was a prime harvesting location for all sorts of plants, and he had no doubt he’d find all the charmbells he needed. There was a surplus of dandapuffs here, and thinking it didn’t hurt, he plucked them too as he went on his way, using ANALYSE on every flower that resembled the charmbells distinct shape since it was almost impossible to differentiate colours in the pallid blue wash of moonlight.

    By manually studying plants he’d harvested, ANALYSE would proc on its own to give a detailed rundown of all sorts of information on the item, but as he moved through the meadow directly activating the ANALYSE skill from his hotbar, he could identify the names of different plants within a certain level range of his without first harvesting them - but that was all the information that was given: a name. For some plants, there wasn’t even that. The small pop up box simply presented “???” in place of any information.

    He managed to harvest four more charmbells, giving him an excess for the quest, but decided not to press his luck and try to scour the meadow for more. He wasn’t at a level where he felt safe moving through the zone at night. Now that he had everything he needed, he intended to return to Sylgrenia using “Soul Call”, a Life Skill that would warp him to the Soulstone he’d registered as his rez point. It had a five second cast time that would interrupt if he moved or took damage, and a one hour cooldown, but was an amazingly useful tool all the same.

    Darkness flickered into his vision as something momentarily blocked out the light above him, and Baxter glanced up nervously to see the silhouette of the hunting bird monster pass overhead, circling around and coming at him in a dive. Shit! He should have figured as much given the wide open, high visibility location! It was just a wonder it didn’t find him sooner!

    Baxter rolled out of the way just in time, crushing flower petals underneath, then sprang to his feet as soon as possible. He equipped his rod, keeping one eye on the sky for the avian monster, but it had blended back into deep black night. Keeping low, he tried to make a break for the treeline, but felt a tingle along the back of his neck after only a few steps and dodged once again to the side. Detecting danger was a default-on opt-in feature that activated when facing enemies deemed unwinnable - at his current strength, that was anything with a gap of ten levels or higher - that gave players just barely enough opportunity to try to flee.

    He spent more of his time dodging and rolling away from swooping attacks than running, as his current location gave him no opportunity to make a clean break for it. When he tried using ANALYSE on the bird, nothing but ??? came up. Every time he made any progress towards the treeline, the raptor would circle around and swoop him from that direction, herding him away from safety.

    Right now, death wasn’t an option. He didn’t want to go on a corpse run towards a high levelled area during the night cycle when even stronger mobs were out and about, but the avian monster wasn’t allowing him to make a getaway. Probably the only reason he was still alive at all was that it was clearly toying with him. Baxter internally rolled his eyes at the sadistic programming, yet couldn’t help but be grateful at the same time.

    As if feeling that this was the most inopportune time possible, there was a soft chime and a series of IMs popped up in the lower corner of his periphery.

    Bunzooka: btw u should probs get some gloves
    Bunzooka: ur missing out on the full set bonus
    Bunzooka: lol

    Baxter’s knee jerk reaction was to just ignore it, but looking at the circumstances… beggars can’t be choosers. Maybe this was perfect timing. He turned on the voice-to-text chat, keeping his hands free to manoeuvre out of the way of the swooping attacks, responding in as short a reply as he could.

    Bright Eyes: big bird night monster
    Bright Eyes: how to escape

    Bells went off one after the other as he received a barrage of excited replies.

    Bunzooka: OMG SHE SPEAKS
    Bunzooka: hey hye heyeyeyeye
    Bunzooka: lol bird monster??
    Bunzooka: orite sylv
    Bunzooka: wait
    Bunzooka: lmaoooo
    Bunzooka: u foudn the nach??? wowowow gg
    Bunzooka: bruh rip

    Great! Super helpful!

    Bright Eyes: how to escape
    Bunzooka: srsly?? ur fukt m8 n_n

    Motherf-

    Bunzooka: but if u join my clan i can send spprt!!! eue
    Bright Eyes: i’ll just do corpse run
    Bunzooka: QwQ
    Bunzooka: mean. okok tell me ur loc
    Bunzooka: one of uss should b nice lol QwQ

    Saved! - Hopefully anyway. Nothing about this player's personality seemed reliable, but at least they'd made good on one deal so far.

    Baxter quickly gave his location then closed the chat window directly, ignoring the chimes alerting him to ongoing messages. To be honest, he genuinely considered simply allowing the bird to kill him. It was embarrassing to have to ask for help, but he had just finished one corpse run, and it would be more embarrassing to die so immediately afterwards. As well, the idea of dying again while making his way back here and permanently losing his drops just made him too nervous, the mere thought of eating that kind of loss left a sour taste in his mouth. The monster was clearly way above his capabilities and no amount of cunning and gumption would allow him to overcome the level gap, so in this case he would rather just ask for help.

    The longer he survived, the more the raptor became fed up with playing around with him. He managed to buy a bit of time by baiting it into attacking one of the copses of sunshiners, but the speed with which the bird decimated the monsters after accidentally drawing their aggro made Baxter gulp. He definitely didn’t manage to survive this long based on his own ability.

    About two minutes after the last message arrived, two minutes of hell, getting swiped multiple times and a few times only managing to barely hang on by a magic pixel of health, he finally got a pop up window from his so-called “reinforcements”.

    Goblin Milk has invited you to join her team.
    User Message: BZ sent me. Just accept.

    [ ACCEPT ] | [ DENY ] | [ VIEW TEAM ]

    Baxter’s eyes flickered as the window popped up, immediately slamming the ACCEPT button without a second’s thought.

    There was no way he was ever going to survive up against this bird forever, and so naturally, shortly after he accepted the team invite he ran out of potions, ran out of magic, ran out of options, and died.

    Players in a team whilst in the overworld map have the option to either wait for up to 5 minutes for resurrection by a team member or resurrect at their last Soulstone immediately.

    The blue light faded from the world around him, turning completely grey and eerily silent. When he looked down at his hands, they were slightly transparent, and lying beneath them was his corporeal body. He tried to move from his current spot, but the moment he walked a few steps away from his body, his screen blacked and he reappeared standing over it.

    A window with a countdown timer popped up, letting him know he had shortly under five minutes to be resurrected by a team member before he would automatically be resurrected at the Sylgrenia Soulstone.

    He anxiously watched the treeline, trying to make out any figures in it. Probably since his body hadn’t immediately disappeared, the AI of the bird monster understood he wasn’t alone and thus drew a few lazy circles in the sky, searching for any other players. The meadow was otherwise empty, however.

    It glided down to the ground, standing over his prone body and twisting its head to and fro, staring at him. This close, Baxter could much more clearly make out the design of the bird - although only in black and white. It’s head was completely bare, all flesh and feathers stripped away to reveal a smooth white skull being gradually corrupted by oozing tendrils of black. The skull was fanned by a crest of feathers akin to a harpy eagle, giving it an imperial feeling. It had the long, dark beak of a crow that was covered in some kind of crust, but impossible to make out what exactly with his hazy, ethereal vision. Rather than eyes, it had three empty sockets filled instead with the far-off swirling nebulae of three tiny universes that lit the skull with a glow from the inside. In all other aspects it was a normal bird: two legs, two wings, feathers.

    With roughly two minutes left before he was forcefully resurrected, he anxiously watched the ghostly form of the avian monster grow bored of looking at his inert corpse and realise no one else was coming, taking off back into the sky.

    Suddenly, as it readied to disappear back into the night to grief some other player, there was an intense flash of searing white electricity that lit the entire meadow as brightly as a midday sun. The lightning strike landed square on the back of the bird, and while the explosive impact was completely soundless to him in his ethereal state, his entire rig rumbled around his body in direct response to the force of the strike. The bird was enraged in response, turning and swooping towards the edge of the clearing - just as a dark shadow bolted out from the thicket. It was tiny in comparison to the bird, and as it flew up to meet it at breakneck speeds that blurred it’s silhouette, it was impossible for Baxter to identify just what was going on.

    The shadow deftly swerved around the divebomb, heading straight up into the air far above, and as it pulled to a stop he was able to squint up and barely make out the silhouette of a figure riding a… broomstick?

    The figure gave a dramatic flourish of their sleeve, clasping and waving something in their hand that he couldn't make out, and in response half a dozen glowing circles wound around the raptor, apparently freezing it in place halfway through its dive. The player, positioned roughly twenty metres directly above the bird, suddenly disappeared into a bright flash of light that entirely consumed them, and when the light particles reformed around their body, they were clad entirely in armour, appearing pure white through the greyscale filter of Baxter’s current vision, with a cape draped over a single shoulder. In their right hand was an enormous jousting lance almost twice the length of their body, with ornate wing decals over the grip.

    Without anything to keep them aloft, it was apparent what would happen next: the now-Lancer began to fall. Twisting their body so they were falling down head first in a straight line, with little wind resistance to hold them back they began to fall while holding the lance before them in a single powerful forward thrust.

    The magic circles keeping the avian in place were beginning to crack as it struggled in place, the glowing rings crumbling faster and faster as it felt the looming danger of the Lancer above them. But the distance and timing had clearly been practised to perfection by the player, because they were covering fall distance faster than the bird had time to break free. It was a foregone conclusion from the start.

    In three neat moves, that single player dealt with the monster that had been toying with Baxter. An opening strike to pull aggro and bait it towards the ground, a crowd control spell to lock down its movement, and then a class change turned into a Lancer strike, taking advantage of the gravity physics of the game to land a critical blow.

    The bird slammed into the ground, pinned by the lance like an insect on a specimen board. It wasn’t dead, but also wasn’t capable of causing any further trouble.

    A minute had passed by at most.

    Baxter’s vision turned bright, and his body floated up to meet his disembodied soul, the moment of the two fusing together obscured by an intense whiteness that left him momentarily blinded. When his sight had returned to normal, sound flooded back and he could now clearly hear the shrieking, unnatural cries of the bird monster.

    The Lancer pulled free their weapon, and then thrust down again, dealing a finishing blow to the raptor’s skull, shattering the bone completely. It quickly disappeared, but rather than leaving behind a drop bag it left behind an ornate red chest with gilded reliefs. There was a small, victorious melody and Baxter watched in disbelief as he shot up three levels, making it to LVL. 14 as simply as that.

    Congratulations!

    Goblin Milk, Lee Sunwoo, and Bright Eyes have defeated the Wandering Boss NACHTKRAPP (LVL. 30)!

    The SYLVAN WOODS are finally safe from the lurking terror. For now...​

    Standing stupidly in place, he watched as the Lancer made their way over, weapon dripping a bloody trail behind them. A voice beside him gave a stiff cough.

    “We keep running into each other.”

    Baxter tilted his head, agog to realise he recognised the shield-bearing player who had apparently resurrected him. When the Lancer arrived, the faceguard of their helmet flipped up from their head, revealing their inhuman face. Enormous yellow eyes with dot pupils that, under the darkness of night, could be clearly made out to be glowing just slightly, set in a face with blueish skin, a flattened nose and tiny protruding fangs peeking out from their upper lip. It was his first time seeing their character’s face, but he didn’t need to guess who they were.

    “Are you fucking kidding me!” The Lancer howled, angrily stabbing their weapon into the ground and grabbing their face.

    Baxter laughed weakly, face turning red enough you could squeeze the blood out of it.

    “S-small world, huh.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2019
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  20. zloi medved

    zloi medved Well-Known Green Tea Bitch

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    I know I said I'd post both chapters today but we're getting our power shut off in ten minutes and I'm too lazy to do this on my phone so I'll post this and then if I'm not busy I'll post chapter 11 in the afternoon when our power is back, otherwise I'll post it tomorrow. :blobsalt:

    You can read chapter 11 on SH in the meantime~


    10.


    Baxter stared at his feet and fought the humiliating urge to cry as Goblin Milk let loose an impressive series of curses, most remarkably managing to yell for a full three minutes without repeating a single expletive twice. He didn’t think she stopped for breath even once either.

    When she finally seemed to more or less be done, Baxter, shoulders hunched in tightly, peered up at her and squeaked out in a whisper quiet voice, “I’m sorry. F-for before.”

    Sunwoo beamed stupidly down at the both of them.

    “BZ said you wanted to join our clan?”

    “Not on your fucking life!”

    “We could do with the numbers and would be happy to have you.”

    Baxter fiddled with the hem of his robe nervously, too cowed to say anything in reply. He was too busy obsessing over every stupid thing he’d already said to them previously. It seemed so nice to be the sort of person who didn’t care what other people thought about you, instead of being the type of person who would lie in bed awake at four o’clock in the morning remembering a stupid thing you said eight years ago to a stranger you never spoke to again, and hyperfocusing on how that person probably thought you were a stupid asshole forever.

    Let alone having to come face to face with the people you threw a childish tantrum at not even an hour earlier.

    To call the ensuing silence awkward would be incredibly generous. Rather, it sat somewhere between “thorny” and “outright hostile”.

    “I’m not. Uh. Good at people-ing.” Baxter attempted to explain.

    “That’s an interesting way to say ‘I’m a huge fucking bitch for no reason’!”

    “Aw, c’mon Ash, she said she was sorry.”

    “MOTHERFUCKER DON’T CALL ME BY NAME.”

    “Do you think we should roll for the drops?”

    “DID YOU EVEN-”

    “Looks like a dagger. What do you think, should we give it to Grimlocke or just sell it on the MP?”

    Honestly, the tank’s ability to steamroll right through the sheer wall of anger presented by the Lancer was… kind of impressive. Either he was scarily lackadaisical, or they knew each other well enough that it had become water off a duck’s back.

    “...ugh. Grimlocke’s already nearing level 40 in his Assassin class, the dagger is probably under-levelled for him. Sell.”

    The two of them had crowded around the open chest. Since Baxter had been added to the team and rez’d before the Nachtkrapp was killed, he could also roll for some of the drops.

    But even he wasn’t scummy enough to do something like that. Besides, it was unlikely any of the drops were going to be anything he could use anytime soon anyway. Instead, he stood awkwardly in the exact place he’d been resurrected, unsure what he was expected to do next. Should he just leave the team now? Or would that be perceived as ungrateful? But if he stayed, would they think he was going to try to leech of them or weasel one of the drops? Should he thank them in the team chat, then leave? What was the protocol here? Aaaah, how the hell did this kind of thing come so easily to everyone else!

    Goblin Milk and Lee Sunwoo stood beside the chest, whispering to one another, apparently as unsure as to how to proceed as Baxter was. After a back and forth, the Lancer shrugged, giving a “be my guest” gesture toward the tank. He nodded in response, and both made their way over to where Baxter was timidly standing by.

    “Ahem. The False Infernum is a broad-spec clan that welcomes members from any walk of life. Perks of joining include support for new players, resources for crafters, and help with running dungeons and raids for all levels. Although modest in size, we have plans to expand our membership and establish a Hunting Guild once reaching required membership. By getting in now at the ground floor level, you are guaranteed instant promotion once we reach Guild status.”

    ...what just happened.

    Baxter took a tentative step back, staring in wide-eyed confusion at the two players.

    Goblin Milk gave a dramatic sigh, leaning lazily against her lance, still speared tip down into the ground.

    “It’s called a sales pitch. A clan needs to reach the member cap of 20 players before they can register as a guild, so we’re basically recruiting anyone who looks all right. Of course, I’d prefer we maintain some standards, but,” she jerked her thumb at the tank beside her, “he’s the clan leader, and you’ve already met our second, BZ, and they’re both keen on recruiting you.” Her slightly aglow golden eyes swept Baxter up and down, open judgement in her gaze. “All men’re suckers for a pretty face.”

    “O-oh, I’m not-”

    “Aw, that’s not it. Healers are at a premium nowadays, especially with the recent Abomination of the Desolate expansion!” Sunwoo gave a flustered defence to Baxter. “Half our healers switched over to the new classes, so I’ve been having to heal and tank. Look, BZ already said you seemed like you wanted to play alone, and that’s fine. We are mostly just recruiting to get our numbers up at the moment, so we won’t bother you to volunteer for raids or BOSS hunts or anything like that, and if you’re really set on playing solo you can just quit the guild after we have more than enough members. But, uh, playing Mender alone is tough, you know? I had to play one up to level 30 myself in order to meet the requirements to change class to Paladin, and the only reason I even managed it was because I had help from the clan to do it really fast.”

    Baxter felt that rising bile of frustration that came from anyone else trying to tell him what was best for him, but didn’t really want to start another scene, so he quickly swallowed it down. Giving a smile he knew was ungainly, he tried his best to convey his intentions clearly.

    “That’s why I’m doing the alchemy class quest. I’m going to help myself level with bombs.”

    Milk and Sunwoo exchanged a glance, but no words. Milk was the one speak up.

    “Uh. I guess I’ll be the one to do it. Just so you know, mobs don’t give a flat experience value. I mean, they all have a set base, but there are a lot of hidden values that give bonuses and penalties to your final EXP gain. One of things that penalises you is item usage - any item usage. Using healing potions or buff potions will give you a small penalty, but using bomb potions will give you a way higher penalty, especially if you’re relying on them. And by the way? Using out-of-class skills, like any Life Skills, will give you another penalty.”

    Ah.

    Well, that definitely answered the possible balance issues some of those Life Skills would cause. Baxter felt a headache coming on.

    “So basically I’m fucked.”

    “Kind of? The system helps to protect the value of healers in a party, as well as fixes the issue of Alchemists playing like a battle class, but it definitely screws over solo healers.”

    “Then I should just switch classes.” Baxter decided. He thought he’d found a loophole with the Alchemist, but once again, he’d just taken the surface information for granted and failed to do any real research.

    “Uh.” Sunwoo lifted a hand, interjecting into their back and forth. “It’d be faster if you just let us help you level.”

    “It would be.” Goblin Milk agreed, but then added before Baxter could, “If she wanted to just let other people carry her through the game. But she doesn’t. Right?”

    Baxter grimaced slightly at the misgendering, but it felt a little too late to correct them at this point. He didn’t… really know how. So instead he just nodded, then thoughtfully added, “I don’t. I don’t enjoy games unless I… make my own achievements, you know? Even if it means banging my head against a wall and making no progress. At least by the end when I finally, uh,” he gestured vaguely, finding it harder and harder to think of the words he wanted to say the longer he spoke, the longer they stared at him, “When I finally finish. The thing I was trying to do, I mean. I’ll feel even better because it was more of a challenge? If that… makes sense.”

    His voice trailed off weakly and he dropped his gaze. It didn’t make sense. Of course it didn’t make sense. Words and ideas that made perfect sense inside his own skull always ended up coming out as gibberish when he tried to actually say them.

    “It makes sense.” Goblin Milk suddenly told him.

    “No, I guess I get that too.” Sunwoo agreed. “Sorry. For trying to push you into something you didn’t want.”

    Baxter blinked back tears, not really sure where his emotions were at anymore. Was he still anxious? Definitely. Relieved? Maybe. Embarrassed? Oh, in spades.

    “Well, enough of this Sesame Street bullshit.” He choked out, rapidly trying to reel his intense embarrassment back in. “Look, I uh. Appreciate the tip. A-and the help. With the… cacaw.”

    With the cacaw? What the fuck was wrong with just saying bird? God, just shoot him in the face and bury him.

    “Riiiight.” Milk tilted her head. “Look, here’s another hot tip for you: something interesting will happen if you manage to level both Mender and Alchemist to 30. Also, just join our clan, all right? You’re gonna have a real fuck of a time tryna get alchemy ingredients on your own.”

    Baxter choked slightly, not really sure how to respond to that. He genuinely couldn’t tell if she was being aggressive or… friendly?

    Sunwoo sent her a curious glance too, clearer than anyone else that she’d originally been adamantly against recruiting this new member. Milk rolled her eyes at the both of them, pulling her lance out of the ground and switching back to her Witch build now that the class switch cooldown had finished.

    “No need to ogle me like that, we need the numbers either way.”

    Baxter took a shaky breath, re-confirming, “...I really don’t need to join raids or anything?”

    “Nah, dude. We got a few other ghost members, one more won’t hurt. It’s all good.”

    He thought about it carefully, hands clenched tightly to try to abate the shaking. He could probably just leave if it became too overwhelming, right? The terms and conditions were all in his favour, and most of all…

    He imagined what sort of expression his mother would make if he told her he made some friends in the game. Relief? Joy, even? Of course, it wasn’t exactly true, of course, but she didn’t need to know that. It’d been years since he’d ever done something that made either of his parents anything but miserable or worried.

    “F-fine.” Baxter agreed cautiously. “Temporarily.”

    “Good choice, kitten. Glorious Leader Sunwoo will send you an invite.”

    “Got it. Uuh. How do I… send…” Sunwoo tapped at the air blindly, apparently trying to navigate his menus in search of the clan invite. Milk groaned softly, but seemed to have mostly expected this hiccup as she began to calmly talk him through the process.

    “Are you trying to send an invite through the Social Menu? Look, just click on her name in the team list on your HUD! It will give you options!”

    “Ooh, okay. Oops, nearly put her on my ignored list. Okay, is that it?”

    Lee Sunwoo (Leader) has invited you to join the clan False Infernum.
    You may join four (4) more clans.

    User Message: N/A

    [ ACCEPT ] | [ DENY ] | [ VIEW CLAN ]

    Baxter couldn’t help but stare dubiously at the two of them. He wasn’t sure how to phrase it politely, so he figured he wouldn’t even bother.

    “He’s the clan leader?”

    “Aw.”

    “Nobody else wanted to do it and he’s a doormat. It’s fine, it’s fine, you’ve met BZ, right? She’s the one who actually runs the clan.” Milk reassured him. Baxter figured it was better not to say that he didn’t find them - her? - to be particularly reliable looking either. He still accepted the clan invite, though. While they were all together, both Lee Sunwoo and Goblin Milk sent him a friend request and he begrudgingly accepted.


    Sunwoo and Ash talked the catwoman Mender into levelling with them to help her learn the various hidden EXP values. Things like level gaps had an obvious influence on bonuses and penalties, as well as the variety and efficiency of the skills used, how long the fight took, the amount of damage received over time - like many aspects of the game, it was a system that rewarded creativity and thoughtfulness rather than just rote, repetitive grinding. A melee class simply slashing over and over with their sword and spamming a single high damage skill would at best receive only the base value of EXP each battle, but a warrior who effectively used dodges and parries rather than pure blocking, and varied up their skills rather than repeating the same stale tactics, would see a higher returns on EXP bonuses.

    Using a healing potion would give an EXP penalty, but receiving healing from a Mender’s class skill wouldn’t, and for Mender’s in a team, they would see best returns on their EXP by using a variety of buffs, debuffs, and CCs to actively help their team control the battlefield, rather than just purely standing by the sidelines and healing.

    After finishing off the last batch of mobs - ashridge hogs, a rich source of mats - they agreed to take a break. The catwoman’s head tilted and her voice through the mic was faint, meaning she’d probably shifted the headset to listen to someone IRL talking to her.

    “Oh, already? Okay, I needa pee anyway. I’ll come downstairs.” Her eyes blinked back into focus, and she gave them a nervous, wide-eyed stare. Ash had commented to Sunwoo that this new player always looked like she was on the precipice of a complete nervous meltdown, and although he’d told her that was a rude thing to say, he also hadn’t disagreed with her.

    “S-sorry. I need log off for a bit. My mother - uuh, anyway. Thanks for your help.” She waved stiffly, and didn’t give them a chance to respond before abruptly logging off.

    Well, they’d both more or less come to understand what her level of social aptitude was like by this point. Besides that, if you wanted to talk about someone who made a poor first impression, but was nice once you got to know them…

    Sunwoo look at Aisling, finally asking what he wanted to know since earlier.

    “So, what made you change your mind on recruiting her? You were pretty set against the idea when BZ proposed it.”

    Ash threw him a disgruntled look, responding brusquely, “Maybe I’m weak to a pretty face too, fuck off, you don’t know me.” After a moment of reflection, she added thoughtfully, “Eat shit.”

    Sunwoo nonchalantly nodded, already familiar with her personality. She was a pineapple - prickly on the outside, sweet but acidic on the inside, and grew surprisingly close to the ground.

    She scratched her, sighing and admitting, “She’s a nervous wreck, has no idea how half the game runs, and seems terminally afraid of letting anyone help her in any way. If you saw a stray kitten shivering in the rain, wouldn’t you be tempted to take it home with you even if you had allergies?”

    He nodded wisely. “Pineapple.”

    “What did you just-?”

    “Just compiling a shopping list. I have class in an hour so I’ll have to leave getting the last of the hides to you.” Sunwoo smiled, hastily logging off.