Editors: genericIntent, Vincent.
Author’s notes: We have finally done the editing. To much of your frustrations over the past weekend here is your next chapter and cliffhanger ^.^ Well, maybe it isn’t a cliffhanger, you will never know until you read it! Unfortunately, no writing took place over this weekend due to a simple reason. I was binge reading- *Cough* I mean, conducting in the field research on writing techniques and clever descriptions.
Also, as a full chapter release. It is greatly appreciated if you could take a minute of your time to follow the link and vote for End Online at TopWebFiction.com!
As soon as the draft of wind entering from outside stops, I turn my head to see the entrance door is closed. To my dismay, the door also lacks a handle. Fully realizing this is a life or death battle, I dedicate every ounce of concentration I have to the boss in front of me.
The boss, ‘Quicksilver Warlord’, is patiently waiting. It has two hands gripped on the upper section of the massive battle axe’s handle just below the axehead.
“Fen, Mason, you attack from a distance. The rest of us will get up close and keep its attention. Together!” I call out to the others, dashing forward at a speed nobody else can keep up with.
The moment we spring into action, the boss also reacts. It raises its enormous weapon and holds it horizontally. Being the first person to enter its attack range naturally makes me the first target. With the boss holding the weapon directly below the axe head, its speed is considerably higher than it should be.
Unfortunately for the boss, it is only attacking my afterimage which disperses into mist upon contact with the blood red weapon.
“Lost! Look out!” Mason shouts from a distance as he starts firing a volley of arrows at the boss.
Almost faster than the eye can follow, I see a pitch black pole swinging toward me. I immediately recognize what it is.
‘The axe! The boss holds it so high up the handle that he can use the extra length of handle itself as a weapon!’
With no time to dodge, I instinctively raise my hands to protect myself. With my swords in hand, I attempt to block the blow. Of course, how can I possibly block such a massive attack from a boss when I can’t even block an attack from a skeleton?
In front of me, a twelve inch thick wall of ice rises from the ground to block the attack. To my dismay, the axe handle shatters the wall like glass without slowing down. As it collides with my weapons, I get the feeling that I am an ant trying to push against a mountain.
My defensive stance is destroyed as my arms are blown out the side and the axe handle directly collides with my chest. A few cracks echo from my chest as I am thrown across the room and into one of the walls like a ragdoll. In the corner of my view, I see a small yellow debuff icon with the image of a broken bones.
3 Ribs have been broken. For the next 8 hours: - Movement and attack speed will drop by 60% - Defence will drop by 20% - Damage received will increase by 20%
Thanks to the developer’s legal requirements when creating the device, they can not simulate real pain in the game. The entire blow from the axe handle and even the broken bones are only felt as a stinging sensation.
‘Strange, I have actually felt genuine pain from Fen before…’ I am curious as to how that works, considering the game has no pain function.
However, there is nothing stopping the developers inserting other functions into the game to affect the player. The attack took away eighty percent of my health instantly, leaving me extremely dizzy; almost as if the entire room before me is spinning.
As soon as I regain my senses, I stand back up and realize Fen is next to me. I try to move towards her, but every time I make a movement my chest area is overcome by a tightness that seems to prevent me from moving quickly.
“Tch,” I click my tongue in dissatisfaction.
Everyone else is battling the boss effectively. Matrix is looking a little worse for wear, but Verde is launching quick, accurate strikes to the joints in the boss’s armour while occasionally taking a few steps back to launch a couple of crossbow bolts from a safe distance. Prince Charming powerfully thrusts his longsword at the boss while protecting Verde from whatever attack may come. I feel incredibly sour that I was knocked away as soon as I engaged the boss.
I withdraw a few of the ‘Yellow Medicinal Herbs’ from my inventory and immediately consume them. My health slowly recovers and my vision becomes clearer every second.
“Lost, are you okay?” Mason turns his head away from the battle to glance over at me.
“Yes, I am now. Sorry, I was caught completely off guard.”
“This is a serious boss battle. Don’t rush off ahead of the team, else this will happen,” the prince joins the conversation, speaking over the party channel in a dissatisfied voice.
“Sorry, I got ahead of myself.”
“How bad is your condition? That looked incredibly painful.”
“I’ve already eaten some of my higher quality herbs so my health is slowly recovering. But I have three broken ribs that have slowed down all my movements and a few other debuffs.”
“Tch, all because you decided to rush out first!” Prince Charming complains vehemently, but still raises a hand to extend an open palm towards me.
A white light shines from his hand and before I realize what is going on, my broken ribs are fully healed.
‘To silently cast such a spell, how has he improved so much in such a short time?!’ I am truly shocked at how much stronger he is compared to when I previously fought next to him.
With my speed restored, I dash back to confront the boss. By now, the other party members have taken off twenty percent of its health. The suit of armour displays movement that completely betrays its bulky appearance. From one attack to the next, its movements are flawless.
Stepping forward, the boss swings the axe down diagonally. Instantly reversing the direction of attack, the sharp glint of the weapon grazes past as it continues the swinging motion to use the axe handle as a follow up attack. The boss’s attacks aren’t limited to the weapon either, bringing forward the rear foot to sweep at the nearest player quite often.
Each attack joins seamlessly onto the next, giving us little opportunities to attack. Once I rejoin the battle and Fen goes back to launching her ice bolts at the boss, the tides slowly start to turn more in our favor.
As soon as we get the boss down to sixty percent health, he reveals one of his sacred arts. I use ‘Perceptual Sight’ as soon as the boss’s battle axe glows with a fiery red light. Time around me seems to slow down while the boss takes a step back and swings the weapon horizontally across all of us.
We all move backwards and easily avoid the attack but I can’t help but feel restless; there should be more than that to a boss’s sacred art.
The quicksilver warlord continues the attack, turning around in a full circle to swing again. Already expecting the attack to come, we all quickly move back once more. Thanks to perceiving my surroundings at a higher level than everyone else, I notice a decisive difference between the last swing of the axe and this one.
“Get back further! Quickly!” I shout across party chat in a panic.
As the boss tuned in a circle to release the second attack, the grip in its battle axe had changed from just below the axe head to the base of the handle. This increased the range of the attack range by a full two meters.
All party members show confused faces before following my actions and jumping back at high speed. Barely a few breaths afterwards, the weapon passes through where we were only moments ago. From the attack, a powerful wind shoots through us. I am buffeted by the force and lose a minute amount of health, but everyone else who moved after I had are still in the air and get blown back ten meters.
I don’t get the opportunity to worry about everyone else as the boss’s attack still isn’t finished. The quicksilver warlord alters the path of the swing, bringing the axe over its head to come slamming down towards me.
“Backstab!” I shout, instantly appearing behind the boss with my shortswords poised to attack. I thrust the blades through a gap in between two pieces of armour as it smashes its battle axe down on the false image of myself. The attack hits the ground, causing cracks to form up to three meters away from the point of impact.
My heart quivers at seeing the destructive power of that attack. Pulling out my blades with little resistance, I move back in order to avoid it’s next attack.
Just as I predicted, the boss spins around and swings the battle axe at me. Fortunately for me, the attack only finds empty space as I have already moved back beyond the attack range.
“Is everyone okay?” I ask through the party chat.
Everyone confirms their conditions as they join back into the battle.
The quicksilver warlord reveals its second sacred art at forty percent health. With the weapon glowing the same crimson light, a solid line of red is formed in the air from a single horizontal slash. The line is currently lingering in the air at eye level
“Huh, what’s this?” I ponder aloud, finding the attack curious.
The attack in and itself appears deadly enough, but we were not within the attack range when it activated. It only takes a moment for me to realize what is happening.
There is no time to warn the others as I drop to the floor as fast as I can. The solid crimson line in the air passes directly over my head and I get a proper glimpse at the attack.
Above my head, and arrow shaped wave of energy tears through the air, creating turbulent winds and pushing me into the ground as it passes by. The attack is paper thin so when looking directly at it, it appears to be a single line in the air. This also created the illusion that it is not moving.
After fighting for nearly half an hour, we eventually kill the boss.
As I deal the final blow, the giant suit of armour crumbles apart one piece at a time. In the span of about ten seconds, a large collection of armour piles up in front of us. Without wasting any time, we immediately snatch it up and sort it according to how valuable each piece is.
Despite the large collection, only the gauntlets and boots are of value. The rest of the items are only of ‘common’ rarity. The greatest reward, however, is the large amount of experience we all received. Killing a boss is different from standard enemies; the experience is equally shared between everyone. We all gain two levels from the battle, except for the prince who barely receives one due to his higher level.
Browsing through the boss loot, I first bring up the details of the two most important items.
Quicksilver Boots These boots are imbued with the power of the Quicksilver Warlord, granting the wearer the ability to launch devastating kicks to stun the enemy. Requirements: - Level 145 - Agi 60 - Dex 53 Armour Type: Heavy(Synchronium) Defence: 32 Durability: 56/56 Weight: 5.3 lbs Piercing resistance: 3% Abilities: - Grants the wearer the ability to launch kick based attacks that will stun the enemy. - For every additional piece of the Quicksilver Warlord's armour equipped, stats will increase by 5% - +15% movement speed.
Quicksilver Gauntlets Gauntlets imbued with the power of the Quicksilver Warlord, granting the wearer the ability to launch devastating punches to stun the enemy. Requirements: - Level 145 - Agi 60 - Dex 53 Armour Type: Heavy(Synchronium) Defence: 29 Durability: 56/56 Weight: 4.7 lbs Piercing resistance: 3% Abilities: - Grants the wearer the ability to launch punch based attacks that will stun the enemy. - For every additional piece of the Quicksilver Warlord's armour equipped, stats will increase by 5% - +15% attack speed.
Both items have a green border around them, indicating they are of ‘epic’ rarity.
“These two items are actually quite popular,” Mason chuckles lightly after seeing the item information. “The only downside is that there are a few of them for sale so the price is a little more competitive. You are quite lucky to have the boss drop both of these items, usually not even one will appear.”
“So how do we decide who gets what?”
“You’re the leader, it’s your call.”
“Well, I dealt the finishing blow to the boss so I will take one, and Matrix took the most damage so he can have the other. Consider it a favor to me so I will give up the next item drops to the rest of you.” I say modestly.
Truthfully, I really want all the items for myself. The more items I got, the more money I could make. But, we are working together as a party and I know I must be fair with item distribution.
Everyone agrees to my suggestion without too many concerns. As for the rest of the items, we split them up evenly between us. We each receive a total of two pieces of ‘common’ grade armour and twenty gold coins each.
As we walk up the large staircase and press on to the fourth level, I glance over my shoulder to notice the entrance doors are slightly ajar, indicating that there is no boss in this room and anyone can safely pass through.
The door to the fourth floor is open as well, allowing us to easily pass through. Upon entering into a large corridor, we are instantly greeted by an overly friendly player.
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” He cries out shamelessly with a look of joy on his face.
“W-what?” I stammer out, taken aback by this player.
“I have been stuck here for so long! I passed through when the boss had already been defeated. But when I came to return and leave, I found that the boss had respawned. I have been trapped up here for two weeks!”
“What about your party? There must have been more than just you.”
“Indeed, there was. But they have all perished and returned back to Swordbreak.”
“And they didn’t come to help you out?”
“They couldn’t. We don’t have enough strength to defeat that boss. They told me I had to either die or wait for someone to come through and clear out the boss room.”
“If you don’t have the strength, don’t enter areas beyond your capabilities.” Prince Charming interjects, looking down on the player mercilessly.
“I-I know. But… we all make mistakes you know.” The player casts his gaze down to the ground, intimidated by the large, armoured knight.
“Now, that’s enough,” I frown at the prince. “Look, the path is clear now. You had best hurry as there are plenty more monsters along the way and you are by yourself.”
“Y-yes. I will be off then. And truly, thank you!”
With our conversation ending, the player immediately rushes off into the boss room. Surely the player should not have too much trouble escaping the castle; there are a lot of players in between here and the exit that should have most of the monsters occupied.
With the prince grumbling behind me, we head off deeper into the fourth floor.
I realize that this floor is somewhat different from the first three. The most noticeable difference is the layout. This floor contains more winding pathways and oddly-shaped rooms. Our first encounter with new enemies happens in a large circular room with various tapestries lining the walls.
Thanks to very few players being around, large groups of banshees and large blue-winged devils are crowded in this room. The banshees are covered in black robes with various pieces of torn cloth dangling from their bodies. The blue-winged devils are the same size as us players; almost twice as large as the smaller varieties on the lower levels. Unlike the banshees, they carry menacing trident-like weapons.
I use ‘Creature Analyze’ on them and note their levels to be near or slightly above level 250. After a few battles, we learn that the banshees tend to fight using magic curses while the devils use a hybrid of physical and magical attacks.
Our only trouble with them is the large numbers that crowd together. In the space of a few hours, I end up consuming a significant quantity of my medicinal herbs between Fen and myself. I also heavily rely on my agility to avoid as many attacks as possible and am forced to learn to strike from angles where it is difficult for the enemies to counter attack. My biggest weakness is against the banshees’ wide area curse spells; some only causing various debuffs, while others actively drain away my health.
Exiting through one of the doors after countless battles, we find ourselves outside the castle and on a large balcony. Walking under enormous buttresses, I am shocked to find myself facing a group of about ten ghosts. Their levels are slightly below the average monster of the fourth floor, but they are completely immune to physical attacks.
I end up sitting these battles out, relying heavily on Fen’s ice based magic and Prince Charming’s surprisingly high tier holy spells. After the first battle is finished, we do our best to avoid any further confrontations with the ghosts based on the large amount of mana we need to consume in order to deal with them.
We spend two full days of real life on this fourth floor, crossing paths with only a few parties of high caliber players. Eventually, we come across a familiar pair of ten meter tall, gilded double doors.
“The fourth floor boss… Should we?” I ask the rest of the party, unsure of what to do.
“You’re the leader, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.” Mason shrugs his shoulders, not particularly concerned as to whether we fight the boss or not.
Everyone else also agrees with the elder brother, leaving it up to me to decide. All I can do is sigh in defeat, trying to come to a decision.
“What is everyone’s supplies looking like?”
“Matrix and I have a few health and mana potions left. I also have plenty of arrows. It should be enough for one boss battle,” Mason says confidently.
“I only have three mana potions left, but I have health potions,” Prince Charming speaks while at odds as to whether it is enough.
“Health potions only,” Verde sighs.
I bite my bottom lip, trying to think if it is possible to defeat the boss. My inventory is also nearly depleted of healing herbs but I have a fair few of the horrid health potions I crafted.
“Let’s not do it this time. The risk is simply too great. We will come back another day when we are stronger and have more supplies.” I say while staring at the doors in front of me.
I have no clue as to what is on the other side, and the death of any party member will send them straight back to the kingdom’s capital. In the past two weeks, however, we have gained an enormous amount of experience and our levels have skyrocketed from fighting monsters while only stopping to eat and sleep; no one was willing to be the first person to slow down and fall behind everyone else.
Additionally, my class skill ‘White Warrior’ finally went beyond skill level 20; resulting in more bonus stats, a slightly larger health bonus and better increase in speed. Though, unfortunately, none of my base stats show any significant growth.
Lost lvl: 208 Health: 2140/2584 Stamina: 426/874 Mana: 1178/1930 Mason lvl: 194 Health: 2472/2472 Stamina: 511/546 Matrix lvl: 202 Health: 1180/2796 Stamina: 72/589 Mana: 111/697 Sir Laurence lvl: 217 Health: 2850/3215 Stamina: 590/632 Mana: 465/745 Verde lvl: 178 Health: 2118/2118 Stamina: 410/492 -Companions- Fen lvl: 195 Health: 3350/3815 Stamina: 1020/1020 Magic: 580/1152
Name: Lost Health: 2140/2584 Stamina: 426/874 Mana: 1178/1930 Lvl: 208 Lvl UP: 17% Str: 64 +30 Agi: 208 +65 Dex: 70 +43 Int: 17 + 20 Mnd: 49 Lck: 29 Infamy: 195 Alignment: -6 God: Grael Belief: 12 Equipped Skills: Class Skill: White Warrior (SLvl 21, 14%) [Unavailable] Potion Production (SLvl 16, 39%) Mining (SLvl 15, 15%) Smithing (SLvl 11, 74%) Grael's Essence (SLvl 1, 20%) Origin of Dire Flame (SLvl 1, 20%) [Empty] [Empty] Reserve Skills: [Empty] *************************************************** Non-skill resistances and bonuses Cutting resistance: 5% Impact resistance: -5% Poison resistance: 12% Acid resistance: 6% Flame resistance: 14% Ice resistance 5% - 5% chance to completely resist all minor to intermediate poisons *************************************************** Skills Sacred Art Cost Triple Thrust 13 Stamina CrossX 22 Stamina Backstab 83 Stamina Pincer 108 Stamina Multi Mirage 195 Stamina Magic Cost Minor Dire Flame 800 Mana
Without bothering too much about the enemies on our descent through the cathedral, we quickly speed through the corridors and rooms to arrive at the first floor. Mason then gives directions for us to exit through the eastern side of the cathedral. I feel a little unsure as this side of the cathedral is identical to the one of the opposite side, but Mason has a compass which does not lie.
Passing by a lot of players with large, unsightly swords and axes, we quickly walk though a large underground path to exit into blinding sunlight.
My vision takes some time to come into focus as I squint in the face of the bright surroundings for the first time in a few days. My excitement suffers a mental blow as my vision adjusts to see a large savanna in front of me. The grass is yellow, and the acacia trees are far and few between. There are a few minor dust storms off in the distance but it is hard to entirely make them out through the haze of heat rising from the ground.
A large group of blue and black zebra gallop along the plain, sending dust up behind them while a few players with bows are hunting them for meat. Looking around, there are various types of birds, elephants, elands, and even a few vicious looking lions mixed in with hundreds of players. There are incredibly large numbers of players for a region so far away from the capital.
This is the Summer Kingdom of Dalbe, completely different from the Spring Kingdom of Forste or the Winter Kingdom of Glace.
We travel north, following the mountain range until we reach a rare cluster of trees with shade and a small creek to refill our water bottles.
“There are so many players around!” I exclaim once we reach the destination.
“The entire Kingdom of Dalbe is like that. Sixty percent of players start out from here after all.” Mason shrugs indifferently like it isn’t his problem.
Sitting down on a dead tree trunk lying on the ground, we all rest while happily chatting to one another. Well, everyone except for the prince who can’t seem to bring himself to properly talk with the rest of us.
“Well, we are going to log off for a while,” Mason says finally. “I still have that video of liberating the elves’ village to finish creating. It will take some time, so shall we take a day’s rest?”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” I reply, thinking about the shopping and other chores around the house that need doing.
The others also agree on meeting back here in 24 hours, logging off one after another.
“Fen, you log off first. I will be there shortly.”
The wolf girl pouts momentarily but disappears shortly after while I stretch, laying back on the log while staring up at the great big blue sky. My whole body begins to relax from the peaceful atmosphere, but I realize I can’t stay here for too long.
Right before I go to log off, I sense the familiar feeling of being watched, more strongly than ever before. I sit upright and look at my surroundings. To my surprise, I notice a middle aged man standing next to one of the acacia trees. He is only wearing beginner clothing, but he seems far from some innocent novice.
Upon realizing that I have noticed him. The man suddenly vanishes and reappears right before me.
‘Teleporting!?’ I think in shock.
“You. Who are you?” The man asks in an icy tone, sending shivers up my spine.
“I-I’m Lost.” I stammer out, unsure as to what to say.
“No. I asked, ‘who are you’?”
“I told you. I’m-“
“Not what I am asking. What do you think you are doing with my daughter? Do you think you can get close to her?” His voice becomes even colder, leaving me genuinely scared.
“W-what are you saying?”
Before I realize it, the man is pointing a thin, pitch black rapier at me. The tip of the weapon is only a few hairs’ breadth from my eyeball. Of course, I would not feel any pain, but a cold sweat still forms on my forehead in the face of the weapon.
“You filthy beast. You have disgusting thoughts about her, don’t you? I saw how friendly you were acting towards her. Are you the cause of her condition? Did you hope to take advantage of her!?” He reveals a cruel snarl at the end.
My entire mind goes blank from fear and I can barely even hold onto the memory of what he just said. The only thing in my mind is a single word.
“Mr. Lee. Please refrain from what you are doing. It is entirely excessive.” Another middle aged man in beginner clothing appears next to him via some kind of teleportation.
“…” Mr. Lee glances at the other man, insanity showing in his eyes.
Just at this moment, Fen reappears near me while glaring at the two men. Anyone can see the dangerous hostility she is exuding.
The rapier in front of me suddenly vanishes into smoke as Mr. Lee takes a step back, conceding to the other man’s request. The two of them completely ignore me and disappear as fast as they appeared.
“Lost… is everything… okay?” Fen asks in worry.
Still in panic mode, I log off and return to reality as fast as I can.
“Why must you make things difficult for me?” I sigh while looking at Mr. Lee.
“What are you talking about? I am merely asserting my position to protect my daughter!” Mr. Lee responds obnoxiously.
I look at the man who probably knows that he went too far, just is too prideful to admit it. The whole incident of him confronting and harassing that player would not have happened if I was there. I was forced to log off temporarily in response to my superior’s orders regarding an update on the situation. It turns out that the central artificial intelligence, Xilbril, has produced a small number of new ‘children’.
This is on top of the fact that we could not enter the underground dungeon called ‘Lords’ Cathedral’. In normal situations, this would not warrant any further investigation, but I am a system administrator with full access rights; there is no possible way I should not be able to enter any area. The follow up investigations from the company revealed a small number of ‘children’ coming into existence recently.
During my short absence, Mr. Lee turned off a few of the administrator privileges we granted him to reveal himself in front of that player and proceed to interrogate him.
What I do find interest in, is that other girl who appeared near the end. For some reason, something about her does not seem normal. I had quickly viewed both of their player status’ after turning back on ‘Invisible’ and ‘Ethereal’.
The girl is an NPC under the ‘companion’ status. It is quite possible the man is doing some quest where she is accompanying him. The strange thing is how she appeared all of a sudden. Upon logging out, she will naturally disappear as well. But she should not be capable of leaving and reappearing while he is still logged on.
The player in the cloak is a bit of a surprise as well. His level is above the average, but his stats are simply monstrous. In all my time monitoring the system, I have never seen anything quite like it.
“Mr. Lee, as you can see, the targets you requested to preside watching over are no longer here. Let us log off for now and return when they do.”
“Fine,” Mr. Lee grumbles.
“And please, try not to interfere with the players in the future. A part of being an administrator is understanding what is appropriate and what is not.”
Silently, we both log off and return to the real life. I remove the VL from my head and watch Mr. Lee do the same. As soon as we are both up and have stretched our legs, I turn around and speak to the other man.
“Mr. Lee. I thank you for your patronage today. Will we be expecting you again tomorrow?”
“No. Unfortunately, I am a busy man with a company to run. I can’t be here playing games.” He seems quite displeased that he can’t directly look over his daughter, but my boss has already promised him we will do so.
Saying farewell, I watch the corporate shark leave and finally begin to breathe freely again. Being the type of shark that he is, he creates an atmosphere that is difficult to breathe in.
Now by myself, I decide to do some follow up investigation. Showing my employee pass on the way in; I enter Xilbril’s and End Online’s central processing array. The neatly organized matrix of cubic data processors and information storage never ceases to amaze me.
Plugging my laptop in one of the cubes on the ground floor, I connect with the system and run my analysis program. Naturally, my computer itself is nowhere near enough the analyze this system. I am merely connecting to it and using my computer as an input and visual output; the central processing array is doing all the work itself.
From my computer, I first search for the most intriguing part of my encounter; the NPC Fen.
No data found.
“Strange,” I murmur to myself.
Even if I had a minor typing error, the system should at least give me a few alternative options as to what I could be searching for.
“Are you operating against me, Xilbril?” I ask out loud, aware that the system can’t actually hear me.
Trying a different approach, I next search for the player with the abnormal stats; Lost.
No data found.
‘Xilbril is hindering my investigation! There is no possible way I can be mistaken about a player. His data should definitely be here!’ I shout in my mind, greatly shocked.
I run several further searches, and even try a few other methods to search. However, each and every search returns zero results.
Doing my best to ignore the inconvenience and find a way around this problem, I try searching on the rest of Lost’s party. The data for Verde, Sir Laurence, Mason, and Matrix all appear with no issues. The only problem is when searching up Fen and Lost.
I try using different administrative commands and tools to control the search, and everything seems to be operating exactly as it should, but there are still zero search results.
“H-How can this be? The data can’t possibly be gone! They were logged on a mere hour ago!” I shout my frustration, letting a lot of my stress go as I do so.
‘No matter. You may think you have outwitted me, Xilbril, but I know exactly where they are going to log on.’
Giving the array a one last challenging stare, I hastily leave the room and walk back to the where my VL is waiting. The room I use to enter virtual reality is right next door to the newly refurbished office leading the investigation into the missing AI ‘child’. There are only four members on the team, and that includes the man leading the team; my boss, Henry.
“You’re back already?” Henry asks, showing a concerned attitude. “You really need to relax and take a break. Otherwise, your health will end up failing you.”
“Sorry, sir. I have been incredibly busy lately. There is simply no time to rest right now.”
I pull out a nutrition bar from my pocket, opening the packet and quickly biting into it. It is extremely important to have enough energy to remain fully alert at all times, but also fill the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.
“So? What have your investigations found out so far? Have you managed to locate any traces of that block of data which went missing?” Henry asks the moment I finish my quick snack.
“Sorry, sir. I haven’t.”
“And what about the cause behind Mr. Lee’s daughter’s amnesia? Is there any progress there?”
“No, but I believe I may have a lead on that one.”
“What kind of lead are you talking about here?”
“One of the players she is partied with, Lost is his name, and an NPC companion with him. The companion seemed out of the ordinary, and even had a bug with its speech. The player himself had absolutely monstrous player stats as well.”
“Hrmm…” Henry places a hand on his chin, deep in thought. “And what exactly makes you regard this situation so highly?”
“Well, I went to run a search through the mainframe on the player and this NPC. No matter what I tried, they never appeared in the search results. It is impossible!”
“And you are sure that you didn’t make a mistake, typing in the wrong names.”
“No, I viewed their stats directly, there are no mistakes.”
Henry once more enters into a deep thought, thinking about the current possibilities.
“Sir, I believe we should focus our attention on this man. This player who has stats beyond what should be possible.”
“No, I think we should focus our attention on this NPC beyond anything else.”
“Sir? It is only a bugged NPC companion. Why should we focus our attention on that?”
“Mikhail, you are young so you may have overlooked it. But in all my time, I have never seen Xilbril create anything short of flawless. To suddenly see a decrepit program. It is either something not created by Xilbril, or intentionally created that way.”
“What do you mean? Not created by?”
“What I am saying, is that it could be a third party program. However, there is nothing in this world that can infiltrate Xilbril’s defence and get into the game. Especially operating from an external terminal. This leads me to believe that there is something more to this.”
“I-I understand. I will take care of investigating the NPC called Fen.”
“Good, now go get some rest!”
The time is nearly 11pm and the office is practically deserted. The only people around are a few people staying late due to having an enormous amount of paperwork to sift through.
I sincerely doubt the people I am monitoring will log back on any time before tomorrow morning, so I quickly head home.
My twentieth floor apartment is conveniently near my work; only a ten minute drive away. Arriving home after a long day at work, I still feel all the energy leaving me despite how many nutritional bars I had consumed.
Setting my alarm for 5am, I quietly change into a pair of grey cotton shorts and pure white tank top. Quickly slipping into the sheets of my bed, I escape the chill in the air. Before my head hits the pillow, I am already asleep.
My senses hazily return as I try to open my eyes. Squinting my eyes, I am blinded by the golden ambience of the early morning sun filtering in through my eyelashes. Feeling a warmth on my stomach, I squint further as I struggle to lift my head up and look down at my body.
I realize that in my sleep, I have practically kicked the sheets off while my loose tank top had been messily pulled up, exposing my well conditioned body to the naked warmth of the sun.
‘Isn’t it rather bright this morning?’ I think to myself while relishing in the warmth on my skin.
‘Wait… the sun!’ I instantly become wide awake.
Rolling over in a panic, I hastily extend one hand and grab my alarm clock. I swear loudly upon seeing the time to be 8:36am. I hope that Lost hasn’t logged on and left the area yet.
It takes me twenty minutes to find some clean clothes and arrive at work. I apologize profusely to Henry, but he only complains about me needing to rest more.
From there, I immediately enter the small room I use to lie down and log into End Online. Placing the helmet on my head, I rush to enter the game.
The mist fades away from my vision and reveals the internals of a hot and humid temple. A few speckles of dust blow free from a stained glass window along the dome like ceiling. The few strands of sunlight entering the windows act as magnets, drawing the thin specks of dust floating through the air into their golden radiance.
‘What!? I didn’t log off here!’
I raise my body up, sitting upright on the resurrection altar. I try to operate my administrator controls, only to find them gone from where they used to be.
I dash out of the temple with a body feeling both tense and sluggish. The fitness is completely unlike my body back in real life, making it hard to operate this one.
As soon as I exit the temple, the unfolding sight completely takes my breath away. The hazy blue sky above me stretches to the endless reaches of the earth. The countless brown brick and sandstone houses extending below me. Tens of thousands of shade cloths extend between the buildings, sheltering the residents from some of the blistering heat.
Turning around, I see a circular building of such size that my jaw unconsciously drops open. The building is made of reddish-brown brick, with decorative sculptures lining small arches in the various levels of the building. Enormous tapestries hang down from bronze poles extending from the rooftop. The thickness and weight of the cloth prevents the tapestries from swaying much in the wind.
This is the game-famous ‘Cathedral of Blades’, in the game’s most populated place: Swordbreak, the capital of the Kingdom of Dalbe.
‘Wait. But why am I here?’ I ask the question again and again in my mind.
There are only two things left for me to check; my inventory and my player stats. Bringing up my inventory shows it to be completely empty, except for the beginner armour I am wearing and two gold coins.
‘Nothing overly strange there. This is basically what every player starts off with.’
But when I open my player stats, I realize something is definitely wrong.
Name: Mikhail the Stalwart Health: 100/100 Lvl: 1 Lvl UP: 0% Str: 10 Agi: 10 Dex: 10 Int: 10 Mnd: 10 Lck: 10 Fame/Infamy: 0 Alignment: +0 God: - Belief: 0 Equipped Skills: Aura of Confidence (slvl 1, 0%) [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] [Empty] Reserve Skills: [Empty] *************************************************** Non-skill resistances and bonuses [Empty] *************************************************** Skills [Empty]
False Aura of Confidence (SLvl 1, 0%) -Passive You naturally exude an Aura of Confidence that passively raises the attack and defence of all party members. Unfortunately, this is a false aura, which passively lowers your own attack and defence. SLvl 1: - 5% increase to all party members attack and defence. - 10% reduction in personal attack and defence. - This ability is Soul Bound, cannot be unequipped.
I stare at the information completely stupefied. I have never even heard of something so inconvenient before.
“Is this some kind of joke!!?” I roar furiously into the heavens. “Are you trying to mock me, Xilbril!!?”