A new book of the Way of the Shaman, a LitRPG series by V. Mahanenko, has just gone live on Kindle! Buy The Phantom Castle (The Way of the Shaman Book #4) here:
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
A new LitRPG title is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle! You're In Game is a collection of novellas and short stories by bestselling LitRPG authors V. Mahanenko, A. Osadchuk, A. Livadny, M. Atamanov, P. Kornev and A. Novak. They've teamed up together to write this anthology for their readers, set in their signature game worlds.
To view and preorder You're In Game, click here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
"It's your call, big-ears. Should we stay together, or split up?"
My sister continued playing up our original conceit, putting on a show for potential observers that we "didn't know one another and met coincidentally." Good girl. She was acting out the role admirably. For a fourteen-year-old girl, it was just a perfect job. I agreed with her:
"Together good. We two be together night, no die," I answered the Forest Nymph and the girl's face lit up.
"Great! Because I, to be honest, am afraid of the dark. I know it's stupid, all the more so in a computer game, but there's nothing I can do. Now is the exact time to determine how we can best complement one another. I'll take Cartography as a primary skill..."
Plant! The way I felt at that moment was probably exactly how a casino patron feels after winning a jackpot. I forgot about everything on earth and threw myself at an inconspicuous bush with wide, lobed leaves and underripe greenish-red berries. My Herbalism skill finally activated, leveling my Perception up to five, and Agility to twelve.
Unlike the other bushes and trees nearby, this plant lit up green when I got near, indicating that it was possible to interact with. I ripped down a handful of the underripe berries.
Swamp Currant (alchemy ingredient)
Experience received: 4 Exp
My Herbalism bar filled up by ten percent. Cool! Another ten bunches of berries and it’ll be level two! But right after I ripped down one bunch, the bush stopped glowing. I couldn't take any of the other berries from it. I had to look for other usable plants.
"Big-ears, you need to stay on task!" My sister chided me, unhappy with the fact that I had gotten distracted by a berry bush.
But I didn't think myself guilty and tried to explain my actions:
"Plant, me getting-getting. Sight jump on up. Good for look nighttime. Nine herb finding. See all, good."
My visual radius really did grow noticeably as my Perception increased to five, which also raised our chances of surviving the night in this forest, which was swarming with dangerous beasts. So raising my Herbalism skill to level two and as a result increasing my Perception and visual radius had become a priority mission.
Despite the confusing nature of my explanation, Valerianna understood me perfectly:
"Alright, Amra. Gather your herbs and level up Perception. It's helpful to us both. I took Cartography as a primary skill. That's another one that levels Intelligence. It also gives more light radius on the map, and could end up allowing us to discover many useful locations. But we need to worry about more than just seeing far; we also need to make sure no predators see us. That's why I'm taking Stealth as a secondary skill. On top of my racial bonus as a Nymph of 50% to discovery radius, that should be no problem. You also chose Stealth, I realized that as soon as we met. And also, your Agility will be higher than mine, so I'm not too worried about you. Just turn off the bright colors when you level up in the game settings. After all what's the point of us being invisible, if at the worst possible moment, you level up some skill and light up like a firework?"
It was a very practical piece of advice. I called up the game settings menu and chose the visual effect window, then turned all the colorful illumination off. Of course, all these multi-colored little glowing lights looked pretty, but they were really inappropriate for a forest at night.
Beyond that, I hadn't forgotten about another tool useful to my survival: the Night Vision skill I had gotten when I became a level 2 Vampire. I didn't say it out loud, but activated it when it got dark, which cost 15 Endurance points. The world became more contrasting in color, and I could clearly make out a bright silhouette far in the distance, which must have been some kind of forest creature.
"Me seeing enemy. There. Skull mark," I whispered to the Nymph, and she commented just as quietly:
"If there is a red skull marker over a beast, that means the difference in levels is more than twenty, so we'd better stay away. And if the skull is black, the difference is more than fifty levels, so we’d be goners for sure."
The skull was red. It could have been worse, but still we walked a wide arc around the enemy. As we walked, I watched with unhidden surprise how quickly my Stealth skill bar was filling up. I just needed a few more meager points for the skill to hit level three. I even wanted to stay there intentionally and wait a few minutes, but my sister dragged me forward:
"I assure you, Amra, that is not the only monster in this forest. And if we have to walk a big circle around every one, we'll never get anywhere. In just one minute, according to the rules of Boundless Realm, night will fall, so there will be even more dangerous beasts about."
I looked at the timer. There were a few seconds remaining before nine in the evening. Not long after that, a few messages jumped up on my screen:
Night is not a good time for walks outside the city.
Mission received: Survive the night outside of city walls
Mission class: One-time, personal
Reward: 160 Exp, +2 stat points
Additional mission received: Find safe shelter
Mission class: Optional
Reward: 80 Exp, one random piece of equipment
Based on the fact that my sister was also frozen, she had just gotten the same messages. The Nymph turned to me and whispered:
"If I can complete both missions I'll get exactly enough experience to reach level five. But now, not a word. We'll walk the rest of the night in Stealth mode without talking. Most nocturnal predators don't need to see you to find you. They hunt with their ears."
* * *
THE CREATORS of Boundless Realm had managed to recreate the atmosphere of a spooky, deadly swamp forest perfectly. The howling and roaring of predators could be heard from all directions. Sometimes we would hear something hooting above us and laughing evilly, every time making my heart freeze in fear. Several times, on the very edge of my vision, I noticed some ghastly silhouettes scurrying by. Every one of them had a red skull over their head. My sister and I were constantly forced to change the direction we were walking or hide among the gnarled roots of ancient trees, waiting out some nearby danger.
There were monsters everywhere. Only by some kind of miracle were we able to remain unnoticed. Freezing in fear, we were terrified of giving ourselves away with our footsteps, breathing or just heartbeats. Once, when Valerianna stepped on a dry branch and it snapped, I practically pissed myself in a very real sense.
But at that, I was clever enough to gather some plants on our journey: Swamp Currant, Swamp Blackberry, and Swamp Horsetail. When I had gotten Herbalism to level two, the variety of valuable herbs and berries I found immediately grew as well. By level three, Bitter Lily-of-the-Valley, Wild Heather, Bitter Wormwood and Wild Clover had all become old hat. I was elated to have found a bag, otherwise I wouldn't have had enough slots in my inventory to store all these different herbs.
At a certain point, the Forest Nymph carefully touched my shoulder and pointed in the direction of a far-away looming black splotch. Danger? It turned out to be the opposite. My sister was insisting that we turn in the direction of whatever that was. Soon, I could also see why she was interested. On the local map, there was a marker showing three interlocking gray rings. As the interactive hint told us, that symbol stood for a respawn point.
Then, hiding behind a shaggy lichen-covered tree, we hid from an overgrown wolf the size of a fatted calf that ran across our path. After that, we rushed to the marker on the map. And also from afar, I felt the earth below our feet start to tremble. In that place, I could feel some kind of natural force. The center of the anomaly was a huge boulder dug into the earth on top of a small hill. The boulder was covered with worn-down carved runes in a language I didn’t recognize.
"We can talk here no problem," my sister assured me. "NPC's don't come near respawn points. The game mechanics don't allow it. That is why the only people you need to worry about in these places are living players. Scoundrels commonly use a method where they provoke their victim to aggression or tempt them to steal, thus making that person get the Criminal marker. After that, they can kill them unpunished and wait at the same respawn point, killing them again and again, getting experience and dropped items as they do so. But you're not like that, are you Amra? Can I leave the game here? It's safe here, so I'll survive the night. Of course, I'd like to finish the side quest, but my eyes are starting to sag."
"Nymph sleeping. Amra no is evil. No bad Goblin," I assured Valerianna, though I did get slightly upset that my sister had temporarily left me.
From her perspective, I could easily understand – it was already after midnight, and the fourteen-year-old girl really should have been sleeping some time ago. Normally, I put her to bed at nine or ten, so today she had surpassed her average activity level by a good deal. The little Nymph took a seat on an outcropping of warm stone and closed her eyes. I called out to her, but no reaction followed. My sister had signed off.
What should I do, then? Should I also just be happy to have finished the primary mission and go to sleep? There was an internal voice telling me that option was obviously mistaken, and would not make my employer happy. What kind of game tester was I, if I was satisfied with the slightest bit of play, and would now sit stupidly in one place for a few hours? Also, I only needed seventeen experience points to reach level four, and I could easily get that by gathering forest plants.
And, if you thought about it, where would I go in the real world when I crawled out of the virtual reality capsule? It was the middle of the night outside. The metro and trolley-buses weren't running, and I wouldn't be able to convince a cabbie to bring me to the crime-ridden outskirts of the megalopolis. Even the police tried not to go there at night. That meant it was decided. I would continue to play alone, even though it was twice as dangerous.
Do you really want to change your respawn point?
Yes, of course. I definitely didn't want to start the game over from that far-off Orcish galley, if I did get eaten by some monster. I sighed and walked off decisively into the dark night. And three minutes later, I had already found a fairly well trodden path. On my map, it was shown as a thin red line.
If there was a road, that meant there must have also been someone walking on it, cutting vegetation and keeping it in order. But where should I go, right or left? For some reason, I couldn't make up my mind. Both ways led into the dense, deadly forest. Should I flip a coin to let fate herself make the decision?
I took a heptagonal silver coin from my inventory with a round hole in the middle, which was to allow you to wear it as a necklace. So then, if the coin fell with the carved forest tower up, I'd go right. If it fell with the... what was that, anyway? The coin was old and worn and the drawing could barely be made out. It was probably a dragon, or maybe it was an octopus. It didn't matter. If that weird creature fell up, I'd go left. I threw the coin and caught it gracefully in the air. I unclenched my fingers. The up-side was showing the dragon or octopus creature.
At that moment, I noticed that the interactive map was showing a red marker suspiciously close to me. Too close. There was a monster next to me. I turned in fear and, a step from me, saw an overgrown wolf looking like the one my sister and I had hidden from.
Seasoned Forest Wolf, level 27
The red skull over the forest predator's head confirmed that the difference between us made up more than twenty levels. Epic fail. That's what I got for walking around without my sister. At least the respawn point was very close. There was absolutely no reason to run. Even less to fight...
Successful check for Seasoned Forest Wolf reaction
Experience received: 20 Exp
The wolf's marker on the map unexpectedly changed from red to yellow. I suspect that was my Goblin racial bonus of +30 to reaction of all forest and swamp beasts. But I never imagined that would actually come in handy. For some reason, the Seasoned Wolf didn't walk away, instead looking at me in curiosity and sniffing. What did it want from me?
I unbuttoned my side bag and took out some Rat meat. It's gnashing teeth practically ripped my fingers off. I even winced for a few seconds. The wolf swallowed the food, slightly waved its tail just like a dog, and began staring at me again with its unblinking yellow eyes. I dismissed the suggestion to take Animal Empathy (Ch I) as a secondary skill, then fed the wolf the remaining two pieces of Rat meat I had on me.
"That all. Food no," I told the predator and showed my empty hands.
The wolf sniffed around me incredulously, and even stuck his impudent snout into my bag to make sure he wasn't being tricked. And only after that did the toothy predator turn away from me and retreat. The animal's marker on the map acquired a green color. Friendship. Well, alright...
"Wait! Goblin house live where?" I asked aloud.
The thought that an animal might understand my speech seemed nonsensical. On the other hand, it was no worse than my idea to gnaw off my own thumb, which had actually worked. The wolf turned to me, looked for a long time with an unblinking gaze, then unexpectedly lay down on its belly.
SYSTEM ERROR! You cannot change class from Herbalist to Wolf Rider
Would you like to choose Animal Riding (A Ch) as a secondary skill?
I refused the tempting suggestion, then climbed up on the animal's back. The wolf stood just then and got scared, hiding in the bushes. I had to jump up so the branches wouldn't scratch my face. On the map, a whole group of red markers showed up, indicating hostile creatures. And we were going, as it were, right in their direction.
Successful check for Seasoned Forest Wolf reaction
Experience received: 20 Exp
Successful check for Seasoned Forest Wolf (female) reaction
Experience received: 16 Exp
Successful check for Seasoned Forest Wolf reaction
Experience received: 20 Exp
Racial ability unlocked: Search for life (lasts 3 hours, discovery radius: Perception * 2m, uses 20 EP)
I didn't manage to come to from the cascade of messages before the Seasoned Wolf took off at full speed, crossed a shallow stream and unexpectedly stopped before some kind of long, dark barricade. I looked more carefully at the object and recognized it as a stockade fence three times my height, thickly crisscrossed with thorny ivy and made of weathered beams driven into the earth. It was a well-made fence. Its creators must have spared nothing in its construction. The wolf lowered down on its belly, showing with all its appearance that the ride was over.
I had barely jumped onto the earth before the predator silently disappeared into the forest, leaving me alone with the stockade. I walked the perimeter of the fence, cursing out an oath from the thick bushes. Everything was overgrown with the horrible ivy, its flexible vines covered with sharp thorns ten centimeters in length. Soon, I hit on the wooden gates. One side was ripped from the hinges and was lying on the ground, while another was coming off and just barely still standing. But both of them had deep grooves from the claws of some kind of gigantic predator in them. The fissures in the wood had grown dark with time. No matter what had happened here, it had happened quite a long time ago.
I walked carefully inside the barricade and saw a high dark blockhouse. Long ago, when the builders had made it, they had used beams of approximately a whole meter in diameter. I do not know what race this construction was made for, but it was more like a fortress than a simple residence. Its walls were incredibly thick, and it had very narrow arrowslit windows, that even a cat wouldn't be able to crawl through. And though the door of the building was sitting cordially open, I didn't rush inside.
First, I called up my Life Detection ability and walked a circle around the wooden opening. It was all clean. I couldn't detect the presence of any creatures inside. Only then did I get up on the porch and enter the building. Once inside, I saw a heavy beam that locked the door. I placed it in its slot.
Mission completed: Find safe shelter
Experience received: 80 Exp
It was a dark room. The only source of light was the narrow arrowslits. It had a small entryway, a stairway to the second floor and a neighboring room, which must have been a kitchen based on the massive table and fireplace made of cement-bound stones. I got up to the second floor, scraping my way up the high steps as I went. The sleeping room was clearly here. There was a huge bedroll made of old, stinking animal pelts, a stool, a small table and an empty box. And in the very middle of the room, there was a huge dark spot, dirty fragments of clothing and a great many old, picked-clean bones. I squirmed in horror and disgust. Based on what I could see, the previous owner of this building had been eaten in this very location, and the high stockade and thick gates had done nothing to save him.
Near the site of the bloody drama, next to the pelt bed, there was a pair of leather boots that looked about size thirty standing totally untouched. If I wanted to, I could have crawled into one with both legs, and it would have come up approximately to my belt. Based on that, this was the "random piece of equipment," I had been promised for finishing the quest. Yes, game developers knew how to joke, they just had a very particular sense of humor...
Before my eyes there appeared a yellow, semi-transparent image: a plate overlaid with a crossed fork and spoon. Based on that, my big-eared Goblin was getting hungry. I opened a page of more detailed information on my character. The hunger bar had fallen below twenty-five percent. The hint told me that I had just six hours left before I would suffer a penalty. But much worse was that, together with the hunger, I was now threatened by Thirst for Blood. My Sating the Thirst bar was only at 5/15, which threatened lots of problems five hours down the line. And though I could overcome normal hunger by eating the berries I'd gathered during the night, I had no desire whatsoever to turn into a Vampire who'd lost his mind from Thirst for Blood, unable to control his behavior.
So I made myself a mission. I had to eat before dawn, and it had to be meat and raw at that. That meant I had to go on a night hunt. But who could I kill if there were all these monsters of a much higher level than me walking around? And also, if I approached the problem from a simply technical perspective, how could I handle it? Certainly not with this pitiful kitchen knife, right? I needed another weapon, and it had to do damage that depended on my main stat, Agility. Bow, for example. But the Bow skill used both hands, and my left hand was still injured and wouldn't be able to hold a weapon for another day and a half. I needed a one-handed weapon with Agility. There just had to be something like that!
Finding such information while inside the Boundless Realm world was very difficult, so I called up the game menu and pressed the button "Leave the Game." I opened the virtual reality capsule and crawled out, taking off my helmet and suit immediately. Sitting in just my skivvies on a chair, I took out my smartphone and, before anything else, called my sister, wanting to tell her about finding shelter. Valeria answered, but it took her some time.
"Timur, it's one in the morning. I've been asleep for a while. What do you want?"
I told her about the blockhouse I'd found where she could finish the optional quest and told her what direction it was in, but I didn't hear any enthusiasm in my sister's voice.
"One hundred exp is not worth sacrificing my sleep and risking the experience I've already gotten. Without you, I'll be totally blind in the dark. I'll be eaten by wolves or something else, so I not only won't finish the side mission, I'll also fail the main one. But I’ll set my alarm for five in the morning, when it starts to get light again. If the nastier creatures are sleeping by that point, I'll come before sunup to your house and finish the side mission. Just make sure to send me a personal message about it in the game, otherwise there might be questions about how I was able to get the information about the shelter. Also, when are you coming home?"
I answered that I would be coming back no earlier than morning when municipal public transportation started running again, then hung up. After that, I went into the Boundless Realm forum and set about carefully studying the advice of authoritative players on weapon choice. There were in fact a good number of one-handed weapons with the main stat Agility in the game: One-handed Crossbows, Throwing Knives, Darts, all kinds of thrown pointed weapons, Bolases and a lot of other things.
I was most interested in the Blowgun, which allowed you to shoot needles and thorns. The guide informed me that I could also use various kinds of poisons on the thorns, which would be able to cause various negative effects to my victims: loss of orientation, stat reductions and even paralysis. Blowguns used the Exotic Weapon (A P) skill, and training in it allowed you to also use Lassos and Throwing Nets, though they were weapons that required using both hands.
A great option for me! That was that. I had more than enough thorns near my shelter on the ivy that wrapped around my stockade. And Horsetail, which had a hollow stem, as far as I'd seen, grew abundantly along the banks of the swamp. Not wasting time, I crawled back into the virtual reality capsule and headed off to get ready. I found a nearly meter-long tube and cut it right away. I cleaned it with a thin branch and was very satisfied with the result:
Hand-made blowgun (weapon)
It was harder to gather thorns. They were too hard to take off the ivy branches. I had to work for a long time with the knife before getting twenty spines to fill one slot of my inventory. I returned to the building, cut a few small fur-covered skin pieces from one of the old pelts and drove each one through with a long needle.
Hand-made blowgun ammunition, damage done (1-3)*Agility
And then finally, in my first test, I blew sharply and a thorn embedded itself deep into the wood wall of the building with a dull thump.
Would you like to choose Exotic Weapon (L P) as a secondary skill?
Would I?! That was all. I'd taken the last of the possible skills, then only at level ten could I add anything new to my character's abilities. I trained by shooting at targets I scratched into the wall, and was left very satisfied with the result. Finally, I had an appropriate weapon for my big-eared Goblin.
Of the stat points I'd received at level four, other than those that went by default into Strength and Constitution, I placed one into Intelligence, Agility and Perception. The detailed character information showed that where I was, at level one Exotic Weapons skill, considering the modifiers from Agility (now 14.15) and Taste for Blood (1.02), I was capable of dealing from 28 to 57 HP of damage. I was simply a horror of the night! Beware of me!
It was already past three in the morning, so I didn't try to use the remaining time before sunup to prepare a powerful poison or anything. I understood that without a recipe, without the necessary equipment and without leveling up Alchemy a good deal, that wasn't very likely. I had to press on with normal, totally poison-free thorns for my weapon.
* * *
IT WAS JUST a Duck. A normal Duck, all gray with little splotches of color. It wasn't even the size of a large turkey. The bird was sleeping on an island in the middle of the swamp.
Level 11 Swamp Duck
The words were red, meaning that the Duck was quite a fearsome enemy. Though on the other hand, it was the first time I had ever seen anything in this area without the skull symbol. Based on that, the level-eleven Duck was one of the weakest inhabitants of the whole region. Not counting me, of course. I was lying in the bushes near the water, seven meters from my potential victim and couldn't make up my mind to attack. The tempting idea to come closer and kill the Duck with a Vampire Bite had to be thrown out. Right next to the shore, there was a squelching thick muck that I would never be able to walk through unnoticed.
Stealth Skill increased to level 6!
After seeing the pleasant message, I decided to go on the attack. I raised my weapon very slowly, aimed and gave a firm blow! The thorn went straight into the Duck's neck, right where I was aiming.
Damage dealt: 31 (Missile damage 48 - armor 17)
The Duck's health bar went down by a slightly noticeable amount, just seven or eight percent. Jesus! It had more life than three Trong Divers! Now I'd stepped in it! The bird woke up and turned unflinchingly in my direction, flapping its wings loudly, quacking and basically expressing the strongest disapproval of its rude awakening. I jumped to my feet and reloaded the tube with another thorn.
Damage dealt: 12 (Missile damage 29 - armor 17)
No luck. I got almost the minimum possible damage. In reply, the Duck went silent, made a strange swallowing motion and, spit at me! I barely managed to jump away.
Acrobatics skill increased to level 2!
In the place I was standing, the pebbles by the shore gave off an eerie hiss and were dissolved in acid. Hey, no fair! Was this really a Duck, or an alien from a horror movie?! The next two shots missed. The bird sharply tore off upward and set about spinning circles above me with an uncanny quacking, periodically spitting its acid down from above. I couldn't hit the tiny far-off spot, so I decided not to waste the ammo. On the plus side, it also took no effort on my part to jump away from the Duck's spit.
Dodge Skill increased to level 5!
Great! Perfect timing! I was happy with the growth of the useful skill all on its own. The parallel increase in Agility, which also brought with it increased damage taking and aiming ability, was even better. After making an allowance for my target being in motion, I tried to shoot again.
Critical damage dealt: 126 (Missile damage 63*2 - armor ignored)
Exotic Weapons skill increased to level 2!
The thorn hit the Duck right in the eye. My enemy's life bar sagged down by half, and also the bird was blinded in the left eye. The Duck did a few awkward somersaults in midair, then spit a few times at God-knows-what, apparently having lost me from view. But after that, it discovered me again, changed tactics and decided to come in for close combat. I flipped away, dodging the pecks it was aiming straight at me. I shot it on its way back up, but missed. And again, in a kite-like motion, the Swamp Duck turned around and dived straight at me. But this time, I was expecting it:
Damage dealt: 42 (Missile damage 59 - armor 17)
After that, I had to contort myself away again to get away from the hit. After taking a shot to the chest, the bird was unable to change its flight trajectory and crashed into the dry swamp-shore pebbles. While the Duck was on the ground, I attacked it again.
Damage dealt: 30 (Missile damage 47 - armor 17)
The bird, flapping its wings and scrambling with its feet, threw itself at me, but I dodged toward its blind left eye. The Duck stopped, having lost sight of me.
Damage dealt: 51 (Missile damage 68 - armor 17)
The Duck's life bar was down deep in the red zone and was barely visible at all any more. It had just a few life points left. I walked a semi-circle around the bird to get back on its blind side and hit it with a bite.
Damage dealt: 23 (Vampire Bite)
Experience received: 504 Exp
Objects received: Duck meat * 3 (food), Hand-made ammunition for blowgun * 6
Achievement unlocked: Taste tester (3/1000)
Racial ability unlocked: 10% resistance to poison
Racial ability improved: Taste for Blood (+3% of damage done for every unique being killed with Vampire Bite)
Now that's what I'm talking about! That battle with the Duck had brought me almost the same amount of experience my character had received up until that point! And my Thirst for Blood was totally sated (15/15). It should also be said, as for thirst... I took the empty alchemy container and filled it with the bird's spilled blood. I walked up to the nearest tree and cut a piece of its bark out with my knife, whittled it down and made it into a cork for the vial.
Duck Blood (alchemy ingredient)
It was already starting to get light out. In just half an hour, the deadly sun was going to rise. But I was in no rush to seek shelter just yet. I needed just seven or eight more useful plants to level up my Herbalism skill. It wasn't very far to the building, so I calmly set about gathering herbs.
Herbalism skill increased to level 3!
Alright, that was enough. I hurried to the wooden blockhouse. With four minutes left until morning, I ran up onto the porch... but the door was locked from the inside! The map obligingly informed me that the player Valerianna Quickfoot was inside the building. My sister! She got here after all!
I started pounding on the door, but she wouldn't open up. Had Val gone back to sleep or something?! If she didn't open the door for me in the three minutes I had left, it would be the dumbest death a Vampire had died in the game's history. Dying, not in a battle with a holy warrior, but right before the front door of his own home, which his own beloved sister had locked! That's what you call bad luck! And also, the respawn point was on an exposed stone square, and appearing there after the sun rose would have meant a guaranteed death...
I wrote a personal message to Valerianna to make her open the door right away, but I wasn't especially counting on salvation. Around the house, there was nowhere I could hide myself from the sun's rays, only inside the building. As the last minute was passing, I was in a true state of panic. Fifteen seconds. Ten...
I heard the sound of the heavy beam being moved off the door.
Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. The door peeked open a few centimeters.
"What's all the racket about, Amra?" The yawning Forest Nymph was standing in the doorway.
I flung open the door and pushed the girl from my path in one fluid motion, then threw myself up the stairs. Here in the entryway, it was still too bright. The sun's rays could come in through the windows. Five. Four. Three. In the two seconds before the sun came up, I threw myself at the bedroll and buried myself in the pile of animal pelts. I made it!
Mission completed: Surviving the Night
Experience Received: 160 Exp
Reward: +2 stat points
Number of Thirst for Blood points increased: 15/20
"Sorry, it's just time for me to get out. It was an emergency. I've got business waiting for me in the real world," I told the Nymph, who was in a state of total confusion, then left the game without even assigning the stat points I'd accumulated.
* * *
AFTER TAKING OFF the helmet and sensor suit, I sat powerless right on the floor. My hands were still shaking and my heart was pounding in my ribcage. I really had worried in the game as much as if I was living in the real world, and the rising sun really could have lead not to just the loss of a few hundred experience points, but to a painful death. After all, the thought didn't even cross my mind that "if you think about it, dying in the game is nothing. I'll get the experience back." I wanted to survive with all the cells in my body.
After growing a bit calmer, I got dressed and walked out of my cubicle. I wanted unbearably to go to the bathroom. I rushed down to the end of the long balcony where the nearest bathroom was. There were just two doors on the whole floor with a red light over them, mine and that of the red-headed lady. The other three hundred doors, as well as all the doors on the opposite walkway were showing green: free rooms. That meant just her and I were still here. So I immediately noticed the sound of water coming out of the locked shower. At such an early hour on an empty floor, someone was taking a shower.
Putting myself in order after freshening up, I walked up to the coffee machine. My eyes were sagging. I needed a pick-me-up. Here at the end of the floor for employees of the Boundless Realm Corporation, there was a break room with tables, couches, a television on the wall which was now off, and vending machines selling snacks and water. With a mug of hot coffee in my hand, I walked down the row of vending machines and looked over the assortment. It should be said that I was trying to buy a pack of gum drops for my sister. She loved that stuff. I tried paying for the food with my card, but a fully predictable message came up on the screen: "Transaction denied. Insufficient funds." I had to go through my pockets to find coins. Cash had practically gone out of circulation, but snack machines still took coins. Just after fishing out all the money, I lowered the coins into the slit. What had I done to deserve this?! The baggy of gum drops got stuck without falling down into the hole.
"Woah! I wasn't expecting to see anyone here so early!" A sonorous woman's voice rang out behind my back.
I turned around. Beyond all doubt, this was the very same mystery girl I had seen earlier in a chic emerald-green dress with a hat over her fire-red hair. But now, she was standing before me with containers of shampoo and lotion in her hands, while the only thing covering her nakedness was a towel wrapped around her body.
"Excuse me, I didn't mean to startle you," I answered, but the woman laughed:
"You?! Startle me?! Believe me, I'm a pretty hard person to startle. It's just that the last half year I've been the only person on this floor to work at night. I wasn't expecting to see anyone, which is why I came out looking like this," she said, pointing at the towel.
"Don't worry about it. I won't bother you. I just finished the quest 'Surviving the Night.' You know it, I'm sure. It's for beginners."
"Oh, you could say I know it," the mystery girl smiled. "I'm the one who designed it two years ago. It was the only way of getting people out of cities at night. So then, did you make it?"
"Yeah, I made it, but it wasn't easy," I answered, talking myself up.
"Good job. Lots of people try, but not many manage to survive to morning. But now, inhabitants of the night do have regular prey," the girl licked her lips in a display of her predatory nature, as if to say she was personally eating the careless unfortunates.
Though perhaps she really was. Who could say what kind of character she played at night? Clearly having noticed my changed behavior, the beauty spoke:
"Your eyes just grew wide in horror as if you'd seen a monster. I assure you, there's no reason to be afraid of me at all," the woman looked at the stuck bag of gum drops and extended me a whole armful of cosmetics. "Here, hold this!"
Without a remark, I took the mountain of bottles and tubes, while the woman walked over to the vending machine and extended a hand. The machine went into action. On the upper level, a spiral began spinning, moving forward the chocolate bar the red-headed beauty had chosen. Would you look at that! She had an implanted identification chip instead of any kind of document or bank card! I had heard of such technology, but this was the first time I was actually seeing it.
The bar fell top-down on the trapped gum-drop bag and plunked down together with it into the slot.
"So you see, I don't bite," smiled the red-headed beauty with curly bunches of fine wet hair. "And don't worry about being too formal with me. I'm not much older than you are. By the way, my name is Kira."
"Timur," I introduced myself and handed the cosmetics back.
The beauty took the products in her arms and wanted to say something, but then... the woman's towel fell to the floor. An awkward situation. Her arms were occupied, and the woman couldn't pick up the fallen towel, or even cover her body.
"Kira, let me. I'll help!" with these words, I picked up the towel and wrapped the young woman in it.
Touching her skin, tender and hot after the shower, was insanely pleasant, but I didn't take too long. Even when the red-headed beauty kissed me on the cheek as thanks, I didn't hesitate. This was no place for impossible dreams. Kira and I were too different and had met for too short a time.
"Thank you, Timur. Maybe we'll see each other around. You can have the chocolate bar. I don't eat chocolate, anyway."
Kira went back to get dressed in her cubicle. I spent some time standing and watching her walk away. Before my eyes there was still the picture of the seductive curves of the woman's naked body, frozen in time. Well then, now I knew where and when Kira worked, and arranging another meeting with her wouldn't be too hard at all.
An hour later, I was already jangling my key ring against the door of my rented apartment. I didn't ring the bell as not to wake up Val, but my sister wasn't sleeping at all and rolled out to meet me in her chair.
"Could you explain to me, what the hell that was in the game? You blasted me off my feet and tore into the building as if there was a whole horde of demons after you!"
I saw no reason to hide the truth from my sister, so I told her the details of my character’s dark side. Valeria's reaction was unexpected:
"Why were you being so stupid back then, bro? You should have killed me with a bite right there at the respawn point, then used Veil to change my logs so no trace remained! At these low levels, a small experience loss for me would be absolutely nothing, but then where would you find a second Forest Nymph for your Taste Tester achievement?"
After hearing out my answer, that I definitely wouldn't be killing my own sister, Val shook her head in reproach.
"You know best. Alright, Timur, go eat breakfast. Everything's warm. And, as this is how it is now, go get some sleep before another night shift. For now, I'll read about Vampires in Boundless Realm and think up how your character should progress."
A new LitRPG series from Michael Atamanov, the bestselling author of Perimeter Defense! Video Game Plotline Tester (Book One of The Dark Herbalist series) is available for preorder on Amazon.
Support the author and preorder the book.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Fear. Cold. Pain. Hunger. My beaten body ached and tingled. Through the pain and fatigue, I could also make out some loud noises. What I tried to do was just ignore them and lose myself further in a calming dream, but the sounds kept growing louder and louder. I could hear weapons clanging, cries of rage and the screams of the dying. My nostrils caught the smell of freshly spilled blood. I strained to peel back my eyelids and discovered myself in some kind of dark room on a floor covered in a layer of rotten straw. I tried to move and discovered that my left wrist was firmly secured in a heavy metal cuff, which was attached to a chain that led to a brace hammered into the wall. So I was a captive?
At the edge of my vision, I saw a tall Orc dressed in leather armor run by with a crooked saber. Then, literally a couple seconds later, I saw his bloodied body fall to the ground. The Orc's killer, who turned out to be a huge armored Human, walked up to the body on the floor and prudently finished the Orc off, driving a short spear into his chest.
"Seems to be the last of them!" He shouted out to someone far behind and was answered in a creaky voice:
"Great! Free the prisoners and bring them out to our ship! That Orcish galley will soon break on the riverside cliffs!"
Now I was going to be freed! I wasn't even able to feel happy before the huge soldier turned toward me, took a close look, then made a disgusted face and drove his spear through my chest!
* * *
DARKNESS CAME over again. I was lying there fully dumbfounded and could not believe what was happening. That man had killed me, or at least, seriously wounded me, even though he was clearly supposed to save me! Why?
An internal voice laughed and hinted mockingly that it couldn't be any other way. The Goblin race already had a -20 penalty to human reaction, and I had totally removed my Charisma. So now, that was how every Human, Elf or Dwarf I met would treat me.
The pain returned and I opened my eyes. I saw the world in dark and red tones. As before, I was lying on old putrid hay, but now that hay was also soaked in a thick dark blood. My blood.
+1 HP from Regeneration
The spear wound to my stomach had almost totally healed, but my health level was flashing alarmingly at 3 of 21. And it should be said that I didn't even know Goblins could regenerate health. Why did none of the guides say anything about that? Maybe regeneration was recently put in to make the race more playable? In any case... the wound to my stomach was causing severe pain! Whether I wanted to or not, I was forced to admit that dying was extremely unpleasant, even in a computer game.
I’m not sure what I would have thought up next, or what I would have done, because a Rat suddenly scurried under the wooden bars of my cell.
Rat, level 1.
The little creature was following its nose inquisitively, bewitched by the intoxicating aroma of blood. I moved slightly, pulling my right leg a bit in. The Rat instantly turned toward me, but didn't run away. Instead, it started looking at me. And what was more, he clearly had an ever-growing interest in my culinary properties. Probably, in a healthy condition, my Goblin would have an easy time dealing with such a creature, but with just three pitiful hitpoints... It was gonna bite me to death!
Clearly, the creature also came to that conclusion and headed in my direction. What happened next, neither I nor the Rat were expecting:
Damage dealt: 10 (Vampire Bite)
Health restored: +5 HP
Experience received: 8 Exp
Object received: Rat meat (food)
Achievement unlocked: Taste Tester (1/1000)
Racial ability unlocked: Taste for Blood (+1% of damage done for every unique being killed with Vampire Bite)
Parameter Unlocked: Sating the Thirst (current status 10/15)
I sat for a few long seconds, taking in the vile flavor of Rat blood and digesting what happened in all senses of the word. So, I was a Vampire? I opened my character window to check, and it left me with no doubt on the matter:
Race: Goblin Vampire
It should be said that the second part of my race could be hidden simply by placing a check in a special field reading "do not show other players." I read the description of the Vampire race, and thanked the heavens and the developers of the game for the ability to not reveal myself:
-50 penalty to reaction of all living races upon discovery
Penalty: Legal target for murder by players and NPC's of living races upon discovery
Penalty: Cannot hide your true nature when in the state Thirst for Blood
Penalty: Instant death when hit by sunlight.
That was quite the pickle... From this moment on, my biggest mission of all would be keeping that secret. There were good plusses, though, too. At level one, for example, a Vampire could get +1 HP regeneration per minute and an additional attack (to the right or left hand):
Vampire Bite, cost: 10 EP (endurance points)
Damage done: (1-6)*Strength of Character, 50% of damage dealt goes to Healing
When attacking a sleeping, unconscious, or paralyzed target, special attack has 100% chance of success. Vampire's choice of: (Instant death/6-hour deep sleep/Infect with Vampirism)
I read the description of the attack again. There was no limit on the level of the creature killed? That meant I could now kill even a level-one-hundred monster with one bite, if I could get lucky enough to find it sleeping? What a great source of experience for leveling the character! And I could do the same to players... Stop! I rebuffed myself. I only had to use that ability against a player once and it was over. My secret would be revealed. I would become a victim of the hunt, and time after time I would be killed just because the rules allowed it. Every death would bring physical pain and loss of experience. So then, I had to keep the secret of my vampirism safe.
"Who's making noise over there?" As if bringing my fears to life, I heard a voice beyond the bars.
Then I jumped up in surprise and quickly wiped off my lips with the back of my hand. The last thing I needed was for this stranger to see blood on my face.
"Rat to beat. To attack. Hard you beat," I answered.
What the hell?! That wasn’t what I’d actually said, but the only thing that would come out of my character’s mouth were these awkward broken phrases. All the same, even three Intelligence points was not enough, and it was scary to imagine how my character would be talking if the number had been lower.
"Rat? Yes, I saw it. It looked at me for a long time, but it ran on. Have you figured out how to get your arm out of the chain yet? I'm not strong enough."
Mission received: Escape from the slave-trader's galley
Mission class: Required, training
Reward: 80 Exp, access to main game world
"Chain I no know. To pain. Spear stabbing. Man."
From behind the wall, I heard the strange, gurgling laughter of the other voice.
"I can only imagine what your Charisma must be like if they wanted to kill you instead of save you. But it's strange that they didn't kill you. All the soldiers are level twenty-five; they should be able to send you to respawn in one hit. The soldiers simply didn't notice me. As soon as the massacre started in the hold, I used my Stealth skill and even managed to get it to level two before they left. Though I rushed to hide. Maybe they would have freed me along with the other prisoners. Or sent me for respawn, and I would come back over at the respawn point, but out of the chain."
I froze in fear. The respawn point this creature was talking about couldn't be seen from where I was. But what if the only way to freedom for characters with such disarming appearances as mine was through death and subsequent rebirth? Come on, that was nonsense! There must have been other normal ways of getting out. I looked at the short rusty, half-meter long chain holding my arm. At first, I just tried to break the chain.
Your character doesn't have enough Strength to complete this action
Strength required to break chain: 7
Alright, I clearly didn’t have enough Strength. But what about breaking the shackle at my wrist?
Your character doesn't have enough Agility to complete this action
Agility required to break chain: 7
Another fail. I looked closely at my left hand. I had a thin wrist. My palm was also thin, but I had a big thumb jutting out to the side stopping me from slipping out of the manacles. But what if... The idea of gnawing off my own thumb seemed utterly barbaric, but I didn't chase it off right away. I did have Regeneration, and the thumb would soon grow back. What way out of this situation could possibly be more fitting of a true Goblin?
I tore my teeth into my own flesh. The pain was overwhelming and my hitpoints started falling fast. I even had to quickly eat the Rat meat to restore some health. But my idea worked! I pulled my bloodied hand from the rusty shackle. Freedom! The blood immediately stopped, leaving me just two hitpoints of my full twenty-one. But what did that matter? Regeneration would gradually restore my life to max. Just then, though, a debuff popped up...
Your left hand is injured
For the next two days, you will not be able to use any weapon in your left hand, nor swim or climb cliffs and trees
All other actions done with the left hand will be subject to a penalty of 30%
I didn't get any experience for taking off the chain. Either the developers didn’t like my method, or the mission simply hadn't been fully completed.
"What was that sound?" My acquaintance asked from behind the wall.
"Me chain off. Now go you."
I finally got up and looked into the neighboring cell. What a freak was sitting there, too! It was an exhausted, blue-colored half-human/half-fish with huge puffy eyes lying on the dirty floor inhaling air greedily.
Level One Diver
"You look pretty freaky, Amra!" The fish's reaction to my appearance was the same as the man's.
We both laughed, then he answered the question I had yet to ask:
"When making the character, I had no idea what to name myself. I figured the second word should show my profession. So now, I'm Mr. Diver, the Diver. But it's nothing. I'd rather you tell me how you got that chain off."
I did my best to explain in layman's terms my method and the two-day debuff I'd gotten as a result. The fish shook his head.
"Cripes... No, that's not for me. I need to be able to dive and swim underwater. But with my left hand broken, I won't be able to do that. It's easier for me to simply die and be reborn in an hour, totally free and without any debuffs from a crippled body. How about this: I'll try a bit longer to think up a way to get free, but if nothing sensible comes to mind, you can send me to respawn. I need the hour away anyway. I've got mail to answer and a bunch of little issues to take care of. You can go off somewhere and eat or just take a walk, then we can keep playing together. It seems to me that it's way too hard to get out of this alone. Sound good?"
At first, his suggestion made me squirm. Trong Diver was talking so calmly about his own death. It was as if he wasn't at all worried about the pain it would cause. But afterwards, I realized that he was just a regular player without a virtual reality capsule. He was sitting at home in front of his monitor or wearing a virtual-reality helmet on his head and trying to get out of the boring training location and into the huge game world as quickly as possible, no matter what it took. That explained a lot, as any player with full ability to feel through his character would clearly have preferred other ways of getting free.
"Good. Agreement. I wander and looking there," I stopped the shackled Naiad and walked further into the dark room.
The time had come to figure out how to control the game. First of all, I called up the location map, made it semitransparent and placed it in the upper right corner. It should also be said that the map told me I was in the hold of a slavers' galley. Trong Diver, behind me, was shown on the map as a yellow triangle, while before me in the darkness, there were three red markers lying in wait. I looked at the information on the marker colors, and found out that red (as I would have guessed) indicated a hostile enemy. Yellow meant NPC's and players whose opinion of you was unknown.
I went carefully and slowly forward. It smelled of recently spilled blood, but the bodies of the prostrated soldiers hadn't disappeared, as happened after a certain amount of time in most games. I felt something with my leg, and a glass container rolled down the floor.
Empty vial. Used to store alchemical elixirs.
I picked up the vessel. Maybe I'd need it. I stopped my gaze on it, trying to figure out how the container should be sealed. A few seconds later, a message popped up:
Would you like to choose Alchemy (I A) as a primary skill?
I was slightly taken aback. It was that easy to pick up a skill? No teachers and missions, no insanely expensive scrolls? Alchemy... It could, of course, be very useful to me. I would be finding a lot of herbs and roots in my profession, and this way I didn’t have to sell them raw for little money. I would be able to prepare the plants into valuable elixirs, which would probably be more expensive than normal herbs. I chose the option "Yes."
You have taken Alchemy as a primary skill
Skill level: 1
Primary skills chosen (3 of 4)
Only then, after a long delay, did I realize what I had just done. I had filled one of the two remaining skill slots with a totally random skill, which also leveled up Intelligence, a stat that the Goblin race had a 50% penalty to training speed for! Nothing to sneeze at. What a muttonhead I was!!!
Instead of Alchemy, I should have chosen a skill that leveled up Agility and Perception, the Goblin's strong points. If I increased the level of such a skill to, let's say level one hundred, I would get 130 Agility points (100*1.3) plus 65 Perception points (50*1.3). In the end, it would have added up to an improvement of stat points by a whole 195! But with Alchemy at level one hundred, considering the 50% penalty to Intelligence leveling, I would get just 50 points (100*0.5) of Intelligence and 65 points (50*1.3) Agility points, adding up to a total of 115 statistic points for my character instead of the 195 I could have counted on if I'd been thinking with my head...
Feeling ashamed, I practically smashed the ill-fated vial on the wall, but still I tried to keep calm and took it with me. I don't know for sure where the game thought I could put objects – I was wearing nothing but a dirty loincloth – but I was still able to store things in my inventory. In any case, there were just eight slots in my inventory. It was very little. I wanted to find a bag to store my things in.
A few steps later, I found another such container, then another four. In that place, based on the abundance of drying blood and deep gouges in the wooden table, there had been a raging battle, and enemies had applied alchemical substances for strengthening and healing. The six identical containers, fortunately, took up just one slot of the eight available in my inventory.
There was less and less distance between the red dots on the map and me. I couldn't see the enemies yet, but I walked a bit more carefully. And literally instantaneously, another message popped up:
Would you like to choose Stealth (A C) as a primary skill?
I didn't rush the decision this time. On the one hand, using Stealth would level up Agility, which was useful. But on the other, I’d be filling up all four available primary skill slots before I’d even started to play... What if I needed something else entirely to develop the character? And also... I shouldn't forget that I was a Vampire. Being able to conceal my main character skills from others was not something the game mechanics allowed for. When meeting characters, you had to be able to figure out who it was in front of you, right? That would only raise the logical question of why a peaceable Goblin Herbalist had the Stealth skill. With some measure of pity, I refused to make Stealth one of my primary skills, but I did make it a secondary. Though secondary skills didn't increase stat points, the very ability to move in hiding could be quite useful for a nocturnal Vampire, and also secondary skills were not shown to other players.
You have taken Stealth as a secondary skill
Skill level: 1
It was no challenge to enter stealth mode. But it did make my character walk significantly slower. I wasn’t in a hurry, though, so I kept walking in stealth mode. As I was already looking at my stats, I didn't miss the moment when the empty Stealth-skill bar suddenly began to gradually fill up. Look at that bar go! Someone might see me if I started moving carelessly. With redoubled caution, I went on into the darkness of the ship's hold.
Rat, level 1
I noticed it while still invisible.
Stealth Skill increased to level 2!
Feeling happy, I looked at the message and carelessly tripped over a little step I hadn't noticed, laying myself out on the floor. At that very moment, the Rat noticed me. In huge leaps, the aggressive animal threw itself on the attack, but I didn't even have any weapons!
Damage taken: 4 (Rat bite)
Health level: 6/21
Two more bites and I was done for! I then punched the Rat twice. Once with my left fist and once with my right. No damage! I missed.
Damage taken: 4 (Rat bite)
Health level: 2/21
No longer hoping for my weak punches to do anything, I made a determined attempt to bite the enemy.
Damage dealt: 8 (Vampire Bite)
Health restored: +4 HP
Health level: 6/21
Ha! Hot diggedy! What was some little Rat against a terrifying creature of the night! The next bite came from the Rat, cutting another 4 HP from my bar, but then it was my turn...
Not enough endurance points to use the Vampire Bite skill.
What a bad time to run out of endurance! I'll be eaten right away! In despair, I began striking at the Rat with my fists once again.
Damage dealt: 2 (Punch)
Experience received: 8 Exp
Object received: Rat meat (food)
I dismissed the importune suggestion that I choose Manual Combat (S C) as a primary skill. Instead, I sat down on the damp straw-covered floor in exhaustion. My hitpoint bar was flashing alarmingly at 2/21 HP, while my endurance was at just 1/20. Hrmph... I had to honestly admit, at least to myself, that my big-eared Goblin had escaped from the encounter with the Rat only by a miracle. I shouldn't keep asking for trouble, that was for sure. So, before coming across any more Rats, I had to get ready, at least by restoring my health and endurance, ideally also finding some kind of weapon.
I sat for ten minutes, just breathing. In that time, my endurance rose to ten points, while my health, due to Regeneration and the meat I ate, came back all the way. For that reason, I risked going onward, and almost immediately discovered a knife lying forgotten on the ground.
Rusty kitchen knife
Damage done: (1-4)*Strength
It was clearly better than punching with my bare fists at (1-2)*Strength! I had barely picked up the knife when the system suggested I choose Dagger (S A) as a primary skill. I snorted unhappily. Stop trying to get me to do things without thinking them through! If Agility were the primary stat in that skill, I may have even considered it, but Strength with its 50% penalty... No thank you. Alchemy, with its penalized Intelligence stat was quite enough for me! I also didn't want to choose Dagger as a secondary skill.
It was much easier to take down Rats with the kitchen knife. I would take a 4 HP bite, answer with a knife strike for 6 HP, then finish the beast off with a Vampire Bite. My endurance was again sagging down in the single digits, so I had to wait. And though there was another Rat in front of me, and I had even already seen it, the time had come to return to Trong Diver.
The fish-man was sitting in the same pose as before, fettered to the wall with metal shackles. A few times I called Trong by name, but it took him several minutes to come to and answer:
"Sorry, I was afk. As soon as you finish your business, send me to respawn as we agreed. I'll run out to the store and buy dinner. Just make sure to wait an hour for me, alright? We can make it further together!"
I raised the dagger above the Naiad and drove it into the fish-man's chest. And though the strike roll was not bad, doing 8 HP of damage, Trong's life bar only drooped down by a quarter. Son of a gun! His life points were one and a half times higher than my big-eared Goblin's! I had to hit him again and again. After my fourth stab, Trong's life indicator was flashing in the critical zone... I stopped and asked the fish-man if I should finish him off or not. No answer followed. The player had clearly already walked away from the monitor. So I made up my mind!
I had read about this in the forums. I had come across some information saying that, for the professions Assassin or Thief, it was desirable to have the Veil skill to remove or modify the game logs in order to hide criminal actions from your victims, reduce the amount of time the Criminal tag would last, and with time erase the marker altogether. And that was just what I needed! I tried to edit the last game message about the knife strike.
Would you like to choose Veil (I A) as a primary skill?
No, taking Veil as a primary skill was not the right move. There was no reason for a peaceable Goblin Herbalist to advertise his dark inclinations. But as a secondary skill, the ability was useful and then some!
You have taken Veil as a secondary skill
Skill level: 1
Effect time: 1 minute, uses 5 EP
I clicked the Veil icon. Now I had a whole minute to do this all in secret:
Damage dealt: 6 (Vampire Bite)
Health restored: +3 HP
Experience received: 80 Exp
Achievement unlocked: Taste tester (2/1000)
Achievement unlocked: Player killer (1)
Racial ability unlocked: Night vision (lasts 12 hours, costs 15 EP)
Racial ability improved: Taste for Blood (+2% of damage done for every unique being killed with Vampire Bite)
Attention! Your character is marked as a Criminal! For the next eight hours, you will be a legal target for attack!
Trong Diver's silhouette started flashing and became semitransparent. No, I hadn't acted thoughtlessly. This time, I really had done everything in a calculated fashion. I had found a target to level up my very useful ability Taste for Blood, and Naiads were a very rare race. When else would I get the chance to add one to the list of unique species I'd bitten? But I wasn't the only one who could see the game logs. What would Trong Diver's reaction be when he discovered the messages about his death and read in the logs that a Vampire had killed him? I had to do something to keep my secret.
So what could I do with the log? I was able to open the message Trong Diver would see in fifty seconds for editing:
Damage taken: 6 HP from the player Amra (Vampire Bite)
You have died
I didn't delete it entirely, though I could have. Instead, I edited it, changing out Vampire Bite for Rusty Knife Stab. Much better!
Veil Skill increased to level 2!
Not bad, not bad at all! Life was turning around! Now I just had to distribute the stat points I got when leveling up, and get back to new adventures! By the way... For some reason, two of the five points were automatically spent. My Strength had grown to three, while Constitution had grown to four. Strange...
Digging around in the race guides, I figured out that it was a peculiarity of Vampires: like it or not, Strength and Constitution would grow every level. I'd have to make peace with that. There was nothing to be done. I just had three stat points left.
I decided I should put two straight into Charisma. I didn't like dying from the first person I saw just because of my ugly face! And my last stat point, after long consideration I placed in Intelligence. It was time to become smarter than a stool!
* * *
THE LAST RAT didn't cause me any troubles, dying after just two stabs; evidence of my character's increased Strength. After picking up a piece of Rat meat, I headed further into the visible end of the dark hold where there was a stairwell to an upper deck. Just after getting on the first step, the map updated, now showing not the hold, but the oarsman deck.
On this level, there was a stench. It smelled of filth, dirty bodies and rotting blood, all mixed into such a cocktail that I was practically knocked off my feet. My Goblin had to cover his nose with his crippled left hand. Alright, message received. Boundless Realm was praised for its hyperrealism, but what was the point of making such an unpleasant location? And also, if I thought about it, how had the designers even managed to convey the horrible smells of this wretched place? Even the slight breeze wasn't carrying away the stench that wound its way through the deck.
Slightly coming to, I took a look around. Everything around me bore witness to a recent slaughter: drying blood on the floor, oarsmen's benches broken and splintered by blade strikes, pieces of chain, and tatters of dirty clothes. There were no corpses. They had already managed to disappear in the game world. Then, on the map, beyond the markers for a few far-off Rats, I saw a yellow triangle. A player?! I stole up closer, and was able to see him, or more accurately her:
Level 2 Beast Master
My sister! I recognized her right away. The disabled Valeria had always used the same name for her main character, no matter the game. I didn't come up any closer. My sister and I had agreed that we wouldn't advertise our relationship, or prior acquaintance. So I crawled forward, watching with satisfaction as the Stealth skill level bar crawled upward.
And meanwhile, the graceful Nymph with her long blue-green hair was busy exterminating Rats. She was doing it in a fairly unique way, too: trying to stay far from the vermin, she would use a spell to take one under her control and set it against the others. I read the information on Valerianna's primary skills:
Level 2 Animal Control
Level 1 Water Magic
Suddenly, the girl froze and turned sharply.
"Who are you?" There was no hint of having been startled in her voice, more like curiosity or even warning.
I really had given away my presence somehow, and was discovered. It would have been dumb to keep hiding, so I stepped forward.
"You're a criminal! Stay away!" The frightened Nymph placed her palms together and put them in front of herself, and when she split them apart, a blue little flame shone up from a spell she must have cast.
"I no bad-hurt for you!" I hurried to assure her, mentally cursing my tongue-tiedness. "I just to start game. Chain to take off hand. Then other fish-player say to help. To kill. He be reborn without chain. No other way. He no can did take chain off."
The Nymph, a well-built, very thin girl in a short green cape, couldn't hold back a smile.
"You're funny, Goblin. But you clearly don't have a great mind. Are you saying there weren’t enough Strength, Agility, Intelligence, or Perception points between the two of you to add up to seven? You could have helped one another!"
I froze surprised and embarrassed, as the idea to have both of us try to pull Trong Diver's chain from the wall had truly not come to mind. It couldn’t be that the Goblin's chuckleheadedness had rubbed off on me, right? It was all so elementary! And by the way, Valerianna thought for a couple seconds and said with worry in her voice:
"I think I figured out what happened between you. It is a standard PvP con. You killed a player on his request, and now have the status Criminal for the next hour. That player knew that he could easily deal with you. But there would have been no point to kill you at the very beginning of the game. You wouldn't lose anything from dying, while the enemy would get just a hundred experience points. That was why he gave you the chance to level up on Rats and training missions, get a few levels, then he'd kill you. I'm sure he asked you to wait for him, so you could go on together. Or am I wrong?"
I nodded, confirming my sister's theory.
"So you see. His character must have been specialized for PvP. He probably has a tendency for some kind of combat stat, for example Strength, and is preparing to use a close-combat weapon. And I'm sure he also has Constitution leveled up, so he'll have a large number of hitpoints. With you at level three, he will get three hundred experience points for killing you, not just one hundred. That makes quite a big difference at the beginning of the game, and is more than enough to get him up to level four in one go. Also, some races and classes get extra experience for killing players or special bonuses and missions, so your acquaintance is sure to kill you to get out into the main world already fairly prepared and without the eight-hour Criminal marker."
I realized Valeria had taken off her virtual reality helmet, opened the Boundless Realm forum on the second monitor, and was reading from there. That meant that Trong Diver's suggestion that I kill him was in fact a trap. He was letting his prey get a little exercise so it would taste better later. He must have been planning to kill me after he came back.
"If it's not a secret, what race was he?" asked the Nymph, sending another Rat into the far off herd of vermin.
"Naiad, Diver," I answered, and my sister froze in contemplation.
While she stood motionless, the Rat under her control kept fighting against its former buddies. Unexpectedly, the body of the frozen Nymph lit up in different colors. That must have been a skill leveling up. I looked at her visible stats. That was right! Valeria's Animal Control skill had gone up to level 3. By that time, my sister had come back to actively playing the game.
"Just so you know, Naiad Divers are their version of Human Soldiers or Dwarven Berserkers. They get an extra ten life points for every Constitution point, and double endurance points when doing any combo attack as well as an additional bonus to Strength."
"I running away?" I clarified, but the Nymph shook her head "no," and asked how long it would be for the Naiad to respawn.
I looked at the time shown and answered that it would be forty minutes.
"Don't run, Goblin. If he really does attack, I'll help you. I don't like tricksters and con-artists. But I'll only get involved if he attacks you first. For now, I'll raise my water magic skill to level two, then my Intelligence will go up from primary skill bonuses to seventeen."
What she said didn't get through to me right away. Valerianna was already at level two, and had already leveled up her Intelligence to seventeen. But how?! I myself didn't have any stats above four, where I had Agility, Intelligence and Constitution.
The Nymph explained with gusto:
"My race has a bonus to Charisma and Intelligence leveling. So I skewed it toward Intelligence above all else. Both of my predefined primary skills leveled Intelligence first as well. I just took the shackles from my own wrists, as I immediately figured out how the latch lock worked and simply swung it open."
After these words, the Nymph called a Rat under her control over, and I noticed that the animal had become slightly larger, having leveled up on its own compatriots to two. After that, Valerianna, ordering her pet to sit at attention, released an icy blue arrow into a far-off, barely visible hostile Rat, killing it in one strike. She had the same success with two neighboring Rats. Again the Nymph lit up in various colors. Her Water Magic skill had raised to level two.
"Cool! Another fifty or so experience points, and I'll be level three!" The Nymph laughed happily. "Amra, I need to take a break for a bit and restore my mana. After that, I can cast up to nine ice arrows, each one doing an average of forty HP damage. No matter how much your Naiad friend leveled up Constitution, he won't be able to survive that. But it is important that you not let him get near me. I have only eleven HP, so he'd be able to kill me with just spit. By the way, why are you not leveling up? There are a few more Rats left. Take them for yourself.
I nodded obediently and walked out in front. And it should be said my thoughts were fairly far from the Rats. I was only thinking about the attack I was now expecting from Trong Diver. Valerianna promised to intervene if the Naiad attacked. But in any case, I had to survive one or two blows from the fish-man. And if his character really was specialized for PvP with all modifiers for dealing damage, then... I wonder how much damage he could do with one strike? It probably was no less than the Nymph with her magic, and my sister had said something about forty hitpoints per ice arrow. If I took forty HP as a reference point, how would I survive the attack, given that I had just twenty-seven myself?! Could I hope to dodge? It seemed that was the very way out I needed.
When the nearest level 1 Rat threw itself at me, I didn't hit it right away, instead jumping back and to the side.
Would you like to choose Dodge (A P) as a primary skill?
The skill leveled up Agility and Perception, my strongest stats! That was the one for me! I agreed right away.
You have taken Dodge as a primary skill
Skill level: 1
Primary skills chosen (4 of 4)
You may choose a fifth primary skill at level 10
Having already taken care of the Rat (it managed to bite me once, the pest, but it meant nothing. Regeneration heals all wounds, after all.), I noticed that my Dodge skill had increased my Agility to five and slightly increased my Perception.
At that, of the four primary skills, only Dodge had been activated. The others were marked with an inactive gray and clearly had yet to influence my main stats. Was that because I hadn't used them yet? Perhaps that was exactly the reason.
I took an empty vial from my inventory and filled it with the blood of the dead Rat.
Rat Blood (alchemy ingredient)
The Alchemy skill lit up. My Intelligence and Agility immediately went up just barely. So that was how it worked! To activate a primary skill and have it start influencing your stats, you just needed to use it once! What else did I have that wasn't "turned on" yet? Herbalism and Trading. I'd have to wait a bit to use Herbalism. We were on a galley. No flowers would be growing here. But Trading couldn't have been easier. I went back to my sister and tried to sell her the container of Rat blood.
Valerianna began squirming in disgust, and the Nymph, of course, refused. But I didn't actually have to sell the object. After noticing with a satisfied look that Trading had already been activated as well, raising my Charisma by a whole point and slightly bringing up my Intelligence with it, I poured the blood out on the floor, as I didn't actually have a cork for it.
I spent ten minutes evading the last vermin, as I wanted to raise my Dodge skill to level three quickly. Covered in bites and impossibly happy with myself, I returned to my sister.
"Hey dumbo, have you got far to go until level three?" The Nymph inquired with a bored look as she sat on the oarsman's bench looking at her well-kept nails.
"Three hundred forty experience is. Five hundred want," I reported.
My sister frowned in dismay and seemingly grew upset:
"Raise your Intelligence to at least five. It's hard to talk with you. But that's for later. For now, listen carefully, big-ears. We've just got to get up to the upper deck of the galley. I found a description of the location in the guides. There is an angry sea up there. The waves might crash through the broken ship. If you don't have enough Agility, you'll be washed overboard, then you'll lose experience and have to wait an hour at the respawn point. Or can you swim, Amra?"
"No can. Agility is enough."
"Are you sure? Alright then. I have an underwater breathing spell, so I'll just sink to the bottom. Your Naiad friend is a sea creature, so he won't drown in any case. But you will have to lower the boat with a crane, despite the waves and weather, then you'll have to oar your way in to the shore. That is a side quest, so you'll get a hundred extra experience points. That means, when you reach the shore, that quest will be fulfilled as well as the main training mission, which gives you another one hundred experience points. So, as soon as you set foot on shore, you'll reach level three. But once you get there, don’t just kick your feet up. Either run as fast as you can from the shore, or prepare for combat. Your friend will definitely be attacking you, so stay on your guard. Got it? Then let's go up. You should lower the boat without my help so all the experience will go to you. Otherwise you won't reach level three, and you'll be weak. The Naiad would be sure to kill you, then."
* * *
MY SISTER REALLY was a clever girl. Once above board, the only thing that kept me from going over the side was her warning. Because of it, I took hold of a taut rope as soon as I got up there, which helped me stay on the boat when a jet of water blasted me off my feet. The Orcish galley smashed into the cliff and got wedged between the rocks. Huge waves rolled over the deck, taking with them all kinds of trash, barrels, broken oars and furniture.
The dingy, which had survived all this chaos only by a miracle, I spotted on the aft of the broken ship. To get to it, I had to run across the slippery, inclined deck, which had foamy breaks of water rolling over it constantly.
"I'll be waiting for you on the shore!" My sister managed to shout before a wave pulled her down to the depths.
The level 2 Rat my sister had been controlling swam past me. It had lost its link with its master, and was now aggressive to me again. But the Rat didn't care about me at all. It was flailing its paws in desperation, trying to struggle against the raging elements. I then, after waiting for the wave to ebb, threw myself toward the boat up the inclined deck.
Successful Agility check
Experience received: 8 Exp
Before the next breaker slammed into the broken ship, I managed to overcome the open space and latched into the side of the canvas-covered boat.
Mission received: Use the dingy
Mission class: Optional, training
Reward: 80 Exp, Small bag
The dingy was tied to a set of ropes that led up to a crane on the side of the boat. I had to turn a crank on the crane to lower the fragile vessel into the water. At that moment, I totally forgot that I was in a game, so realistic were the sensations I was feeling. The storm, the wind, the creak of the stretched out ropes, the foamy waves, the cold wind and the smell of seaweed all combined to form something very close to reality. My wounded left hand burned as if on fire in the salty water. I laboriously twirled the spinning mechanism with my one good hand. Finally, the boat made it into the water.
"So then, there you are, Goblin!" The satisfied voice of Trong Diver rang out from behind my back.
I turned. The Naiad, smiling a toothy grin, took a seat on the side wall of the galley.
"This weather is just awesome for me! I love stormy seas. So then, you go on the boat, and I'll swim in underwater. We'll meet up on shore."
After these words, the fish-man made an agile jump overboard. I then saw that the Naiad was holding a trident in his hands, but it wasn’t clear where he’d gotten it. He suddenly had a weapon. Bad news!
I let go of the rope and took hold of the oar. Damn! I wasn't able to row with my left hand. So I pulled the oar from the ring and grabbed it with both hands. This way was much easier. When rowing, I gradually lost Endurance Points, but I wasn't too worried, as I had plenty of them left. Navigating around the sharp stones jutting up from the water, I pointed the boat at the lagoon. Beyond the reefs, which served as natural water breaks, the sea grew much calmer. A few minutes later, I had reached a sandy point, wedging out into the sea in a thin band. My sister was already waiting for me on the shore and waving from afar. I had just touched foot on the wet sand when my body began to light up:
Mission completed: Use the dingy
Experience received: 80 Exp
Mission completed: Escape from the slave-trader's galley
Experience received: 80 Exp
Racial ability unlocked: The Apathy of the Undead (lasts 3 hours, costs 20 EP)
Alright, so where was the bag it promised me then? I looked under the rowing bench and found a canvas bag that could be carried over the shoulder.
Small bag +10 inventory slots.
Before Trong had come ashore, I set about assigning the new stat points. Strength and Constitution went up by default. From the three points that remained, I put another in Constitution, and two in Agility. I now had 39 hitpoints.
I had barely finished with the stats when Trong Diver emerged from the salty sea water onto the sandy peninsula, cutting off my path to the shore. His body was also glowing in various colors. The Naiad had also hit level three. The fish-man shot me a malignant grin, demonstrating several rows of needle-like teeth, then suddenly rolled his bright red back flippers and screeched out in dismay, having discovered another player not far from me.
"Hey! That's my trophy," Trong Diver declared, pointing his trident at me. "I've been shepherding him along since the beginning of the game!"
The Nymph didn't answer the insidious Naiad in any way, but between her hands there appeared the bright blue flame of a spell being cast.
"Alright, we can split it down the middle," suggested Trong Diver, and that was when my sister attacked.
The ice arrow that tore itself from her fingers instantly overtook the distance between the two and broke into a hail of pieces on the Naiad's scales, at which Trong Diver's health fell by about a quarter. The spell to take forty hitpoints had only reduced the Naiad's health by a third?! How many hitpoints did he have?!
"Not expecting that, were you Nymph?" The fish-man laughed. "I have a natural resistance to Water Magic!"
After these words, Trong Diver got a better grip on his trident and threw himself at my sister in order to stop her from casting another spell. I, without thinking it through, dashed off after him. The Naiad was almost half way to her when his path was blocked by a level 1 Crab crawling out of the sea onto the sandy shore.
The Naiad slowed his pace and destroyed the unexpected obstacle with a flick of his trident. But even that second of delay was enough for me to catch up to him and work my knife into his back.
Damage dealt: 9 (Rusty kitchen knife stab 11 – armor 2)
Trong Diver's life bar went down, but not very much at all, just ten percent. Hrmph, I should have taken the Dagger skill. Perhaps then, I could have gotten a critical hit from the stab in the back. Now then, probably feeling more surprised at my impudence than really feeling injured by the attack, Trong turned toward me.
"So that's where you’ve gone off to, Amra! There's nowhere for you to run now!"
Another ice arrow flew into the fish-man's back, lowering the Naiad's health to forty percent. His health bar changed color from green to yellow. Trong Diver winced in pain:
"It's nothing, I'll survive another icicle attack, and then I'll have two nice trophies, you and the Nymph! Sixty experience points from the two of you is enough to get me straight to level five!"
At these words, the Naiad made a sharp lunge forward and stabbed my chest with his trident. I tried to dodge the attack, but I didn’t manage. Son of a bitch! That hurt like hell!!!
Damage taken: 34 (Trident strike)
Health level: 5/39
The shooting pain caused me to miss the chance for a return strike. The Naiad jumped back and pulled away from me, making it impossible to hit him with the knife again. But, fortunately, my sister didn't hesitate, and sent another magic icicle into my attacker's back. Trong Diver's health was flashing in the red, but the fish-man started smiling strangely:
"Ha! I survived! Now, you're dead and I'll get the experience for level four from you, bringing my health all the way back up!" With these words, Trong jumped toward me and jabbed with his trident.
In an incredible jump with simultaneous front flip, I craftily evaded the sharp points under his raised left hand. But doing so had made my Endurance Points fall severely. In that the enemy was very close, I made an abrupt strike at his fine-scaled throat, helped by the fact that the Naiad was no taller than me.
Damage dealt: 16 (rusty kitchen knife stab 18 - armor 2)
Experience received: 120 Exp
Dodge Skill increased to level 4!
Would you like to choose Acrobatics (A S) as a secondary skill?
So that's what that was! In my attempt to elude the certain death flying toward my chest, I had used not only Dodge, but also Acrobatics! What could I say? It was a skill that was useful to my survival. I should take it. In the distance, the Nymph lit up like a projector, having reached level four already.
After figuring out the game parameters, I took a look around. The body of Trong Diver was lying in the shallows giving off a slight glow. I bent down over it and tried to pick up the trident lying on the sand, but my fingers went straight through the object. It must have been that the laws of the game world didn't consider the weapon to have "dropped" and was thus still in his inventory. Too bad. Bowing over my vanquished enemy, I tried to look at him. I didn't have to rummage through the body. The trophy window opened. My take was three silver coins, two empty vials and another with a cork, filled with a pale blue liquid.
Insufficient Intelligence to identify object
Alright, I'll figure that out later or show it to my sister. I headed to Valerianna. The Forest Nymph was peeved:
"All my pets die too fast, both Rats and Crabs. What kind of a Beastmaster am I with no beasts at my service?! And also, I now have a red Criminal marker over my head. I had to attack the Naiad preemptively, which means I committed a crime. Now, my character won't leave the game world for eight hours, even if I leave the game. Also, have you looked at the map?"
I shook my head "no," then looked at the game map on my sister's advice. There was just a tiny lit-up circle of discovered area: the sea shore, the two of us, and a huge black mass representing undiscovered territory. I increased the scale, but no additional markers showed on the map. Our little circle just got smaller and smaller until it became a dot. The words on it didn't add any information, either:
"So you see," the Nymph agreed after seeing the look of dismayed confusion on my green face. "We're like in the middle of nowhere, and the only known respawn point is on the broken galley, which I really don't want to go back to. And, unfortunately, the weather today is cloudy and it's quickly growing dark. Night will come before we can do anything. Soon, just being out here will be a threat to our lives. But there's no reason to wait on the sea shore. We need to go somewhere. Maybe we'll get lucky and find other respawn points. At least then it wouldn't be so bad to die. We wouldn't have to get out of that stinking galley again."
I agreed with Valerianna that staying where we were was stupid, and went onward. The Forest Nymph followed after me. We started walking down the sandy beach and, just after we got close to the dark bushes, before our eyes flashed a message:
Congratulations, you have passed the training mission!
Welcome to Boundless Realm!
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