Hey, Edan? It’s Senior Moderator Hiraku Maki. We’ve met several times in the Realms. I was the one that spot fixed the RNG at the last chest before The Demragon’s Lair? And from what I understand, you’re older brother appreciated that staff he got. But I digress. Mr. Friel, everyone has seen the coverage. Even those with old fiber and WiFi know of what’s going on. And we here at EthereaSoft believe that you, along with a handful of others, can help with it. All Moderators are shut out, and we re-coded what we could beforehand, but the Realms… It’s angry. It’s… We have yet to pinpoint the origins of it all, but we are getting to the bottom of it. There are real, live people caught within it. You and several others are good at PVE. Great, even. And we need that. They need that. Can you do this for us? For them? Call me back at this number, its my personal LENZ. I won’t miss your call.
The sun is ignites the sky whilst disappearing beneath the horizon. He holds his smart phone to his ear. It’s asking him if he wishes to replay the voice mail or to delete it. Steady and still, he glares out the window and allows himself to be distracted. A wisp of clouds dancing its way across the open sky. Don’t tarry, he thinks, just answer. He already took too long to respond to the question he was asked. He didn’t want to answer in a way that didn’t seem solid, nor honest. The only answer he wanted to say “Why me?” Nothing wrong with how the question was formed, but he wanted to feign ignorance. He wanted to stall. But so many people hang in the balance. Why would he say no? Arms drape on each side, phone nearly sliding out of his grip. The cloud still dancing it’s way.
“Hey, MIRA?” Asks Edan, his smart phone chimes on and asks, “Yes sir?” He looks at his phone screen. Brows furrowed, he sighs “Delete the message. And call him back immediately.” And he grabs his key-fob.
“Hiraku. I got your message, and I have to comply.” Edan says while steering his vintage automobile around the others.
“Mr. Friel, thank you so much! Rest assured, you will have all of our support on this. Anything you need, anything at all. With the nano-cams monitoring you, we will be able to anticipate your ever-” Edan had heard enough, “That’s fantastic Hiraku, but who am I running with? I imagine I’m not the only call you made, and I have no time to babysit.”
“Yes, Mr. Friel. The others were… They were handpicked due to their records and achievements in PVE, much like yourself. So no worries, there. We… I don’t have those names just yet. We are still compiling.” He answers. Edan isn’t surprised, nor pleased. He speeds around a corner, squealing the tires and stopping a turning vehicle before colliding. The man gives Edan the middle finger. Edan didn’t notice.
“Do you know how many? Is there a set rendezvous of some sort?” He asks.
“Somewhere in the teens at the moment, Mr. Friel. And not a rendezvous just yet. Once we code in a Realm-wide communication spell hot-fix, you should be able to talk to the others once you enter.” He responds, pausing slightly on certain words. He isn’t entirely comfortable with English, and according to the keystrokes that are audible through the call’s feed, he is distracted. Edan runs through a red light. Should cut this short, he thinks.
“Good. Do you know where I’ll begin? Who I’m rescuing first?” He asks, hoping this answer will last until he gets to his nearest Portal; an entry point for all players to the Realms. He hears the keystrokes stop and a perturbed sigh from Hiraku.
“We don’t know, Mr. Friel.” He says.
“You don’t know?” Edan asks with troubled resonance. Another sigh on the other end, more upset than the last.
“Since the Realms started abducting people, we had to suspend all of the accounts. Since then, the game has been… changing itself? I can’t think of another word. There are lines of code that like new, and unfamiliar. For every change we make, it’s overwritten within minutes. Not even Kurosawa-sensei knows where you’ll end up or where exactly you’ll need to be. All of this is unprecedented. We were hoping the nano-cams will be our eyes and allow us to scan whats changed and what we can do to… Circle… circa… uh...” “Circumvent?” “Yes, thank you. Circumvent any more surprises.” Edan isn’t the biggest fan of being monitored.
“Why not send the nano-cams in and investigate yourselves?” He asks. Keystrokes begin again, but much slower.
“The nano-cams can only go so far with the control we have here in EthereaSoft. Once you enter, you can manipulate them and help us see what we can.” Hiraku responds. Edan rounds another corner and can see the portal straight down the empty street.
“I can be your investigator, then. Coming up on the portal now. Do I just log in normally?” He asks as he passes under the banner that informs all passers-by about the location of the nearest doorway to the Realms. Showing wear and tear from the years of being suspended. No one seemed to mind. Considering the game’s popularity and how commonplace it is, most people know where to find the portal. Every portal has the same setup; a great arch made to look like stone, statues of varying non-playable characters from the Realms stand on each side, the banner. This would be the first time Edan has seen the Portal off.
“We have bypassed the log in, as long as you have the Auto-Log In enabled. Enter the Portal when ready.” By the time he finished his answer, Edan put his car in park and powers it down.
“Alright, Hiraku. Letting you go for now. I’ll put my Vital Extension Vestments [Veeve] on before I head in. I’d imagine I’ll be in there for a while. I’ll ping you once I’m in. Anything else other than that happens, I’m calling you back. Got it?” Hiraku says he understands and disconnects. Edan opens the trunk and pulls out a case that reads “V. E. V., copyrighted technologies of EthereaSoft Inc.” He then looks around to see if anyone is around. This place used to a park; where children would run freely; the fountain would never shut off; dogs would run and sniff everything, chirping birds, yoga pads for rent, food trucks, holoscreens filled with exploits from the Realms, and more importantly restrooms. They were barred up due to lack of use. City didn’t want to spend money on an area that wasn’t being utilized, nor did they want the homeless to exploit an empty bathroom that no one is supposed to use.
Fuck it, Edan thought, I’ll expose myself for the greater good. The Veeve must have direct access to the players body, allowing it to emulate all of the feelings the Avatar in the Realms would feel; rumbling during direct hits, become heavy when slowed, accelerated when quickened, and allows the slowing of organs using certain frequencies of ultra-sound for extended play. It also allowed players to choose a different mode of play called Visceral Mode. This mode gave the players the most realistic feel, like rushing wind, or dripping wetness, when those situations came about. This also meant that the players had to act out their skills and abilities using bodily movements. But due to the Veeve’s purpose of play extension, the wear and tear of muscles wouldn’t felt until the player left the game. Much like the exhaustion one would feel after swimming thousands of meters then exiting the pool.
Edan undresses and places on the Veeve in habitual fashion. He stretches his arms and adjusts his legs as he approaches one of the statues. The heroic Crusader known as Therzadriel, an elven warrior that fights in the name of Nazoth, stands before him. Edan pushes the emblem on her shield that primes the Portal, signified by the runes on the archway beginning to glow. Edan then makes his way to the other hero, Adrak, soulthief of Ravansfall. Mid way, the portal activates with a blinding flare. Edan adjusted his eyes to the brightness whilst taking a few strides away. Without need of the ignition protocol, the portal is open. It was a sickly green glow, and the texture it was showing was not of the surface of water—not what it normally was—but rather had the surface of a muddy and bubbling marsh. Edan approaches the statue of Adrak anyway, and motions the statue’s arm as to sheath his dagger. The ignition protocol. Nothing about the portal changed, but the dagger stayed in it’s sheath.
Edan contacts Hiraku and informs him of what happened, “What’s going on with this?” Edan asks. He was then told to hold for a moment.
“Hello, Mr. Friel. This is Director Ryuu Kurosawa. We have been notified of this anomaly a few times before. As mentioned before, there is no log in process. It’s instantaneous and it is safe. I have appointed Hiraku-san as your handler; a liaison between yourself and us here at EthereaSoft. Enter when you are ready, veiw your map and use the added EKG function. If it’s green, head there and get them out. Report anything of interest. Best of luck, and God speed.” His English is very convincing and fluent, due to the vast amounts of meetings with the United States. The tone was velvety, almost disarming. But with the concentration of aiming a rifle at unsuspecting prey.
“Understood, Kurosawa-sensei.” Edan responds, as if getting direct orders from his father. He hears the man smile on the other line.
“I insist, Edan, you may call me Ryuu. No one is more important than the other. Not at a time like this.” He says. Edan agrees by nodding. Then he realizes that no one saw him do that.
“You got it, Ryuu. I’m about to enter. I’ll be in contact. God speed to you as well.” He says. He puts his phone in one of the pouches on the side and approaches the Portal. He hesitates before stepping in. He looks behind him, with the abandoned park and the vacant squares. He looks up to see a sky, empty of clouds. I’ll be damned, he thinks, that cloud finally made it.
The portal allowed him to enter easily enough, and all of the sound effects and lights and graphics were unaltered. But there was no Log In screen, as promised. The triumphant music that would play during that screen instead cuts straight to something ethereal and melodic. The music of the starting areas known as Frizma Glade. Edan’s avatar materialized in the center of a quaint town, knee deep in grass. He is dressed in a gray overcoat, a leather cuirass underneath, a hunters hat, and a pair of metal lined greaves. Edan made a note that the grass wasn’t pixelated, and it reflected light like tall blades should. Peering up he begins to take in how much of a graphical update everything had received; logs that built a few houses look splintered, water isn’t overly reflective, clouds looked like objects instead of shapes painted on a ceiling. It seemed real. So real.
Edan heads for the tavern known as the Frizma Tap Room, and attempts to initiate a dialogue window that shows the choices of what can be discussed. Typically, all an avatar needs to do is approach the non-playable character [NPC], the NPC will greet you, and a dialogue window will emerge. Yet no window did. Perplexed, he takes a few steps back and tries again. Again, no window. On his third attempt, the NPC speaks up with a complete American accent, full audio, and full annoyance of what lay before his bar, “What in the name of Qall are you doing?” He asks. Edan stops his approach and stares at the NPC for a moment, admitting with his shrug that he had no idea.
“Hail, barkeep?” He attempts. The NPC looks around, mocking a genuine look of confusion that seemed natural. There was no one else around. Due to it’s repute for potions, rumors, and directions to quests, this place would sometimes be filled wall to wall with Avatars.
“Yeah, that’ll be me. What can I do ya for?” He inquires. Edan looks at his left arm as if he had a watch on his wrist. This gesture opens up what is called the Avatar Screen, and it hovers above his left forearm. This screen is translucent and gives off a faint glow. While it is up, he can use his right hand to move and alter it, much like a tablet or any other touch screen apparatus. He gestures with his right hand to move from his inventory, to his journal, to his skills, and finally to map with the EKG sensor updated to it. He then moved his arm to highlight the Barkeep only to affirm that this individual was in fact an NPC. There wasn’t a person there. Despite his facial features, his tone of voice, and how he moved. It wasn’t machine or rigid. It’s was fluid and natural, imperfect yet normal. Human. Edan stood a distance in front of the bar in stunned silence.
“Were you put up to this or something, Inquisitor?” Asks the Barkeep. This snapped Edan out of his gawking, but only to stammer in response.
“Um, I was… Was coming here to, you know. Rumors. I’m here to catch up on the latest gossip.” Edan stated, sure that he had found his footing. He was met with a laugh.
“Gossip? Here? As you can see, traveler, you’re my first customer in a fortnight! You know as much as I do.” This response was the antithesis of what a Barkeep does in the Realms. There is coding that ensures all Barkeeps know of what surrounds them, giving hints to players about where to go next.
“Oh. My mistake.” Edan says, surprised that he was treating this conversation as if with a human.
“Anything else I can help you out with? A drink, perhaps? Our acorn mead is brewed fresh every day, and it drives tourism,” the Barkeep says, quickly looking around, donning a disappointed sag in his face, “but as you can see, it does no good.”
“Could you point me to the stables?” Edan asks, thinking of summoning his winged mount to hasten the travel time between himself and his target, which he just remembered that he has no idea where the closest one is.
“Yeah… of course,” He says, sagging more into the disappointment. Edan feels a twinge of pity.
“Tell you what: fetch me a keg of that mead, and I’ll sample it out to people. When they ask where it came from, I’ll tell them of the Tap Room.” Edan suggests. The Barkeep’s face lit up, and a short fanfare could be heard in Edan’s ear. He reacts to it, unsure of what it meant. But the Barkeep is still happy, he thinks, so I must’ve done something right.
“Friend, you have a deal! I’ll give it to you half the price, and I’ll walk to your mount for ya!” Says the Barkeep, using natural inflections denoting happiness and glee. Like a person would. Edan nods and smirks. The Barkeep disappears a moment, and Edan takes the opportunity to glance around and notice the fibers in the floor boards, how the cloth banners of Frizma sway in the slight breeze, how the lanterns flicker and illuminate the surrounding--”Alright, that’ll be 8 Halos. Follow me to the stables.”
Edan snaps out of his observations again, and produces the Halos. At least I have my treasure, he thinks. He follow the Barkeep, who is happily carrying the keg on his shoulder. The stables largely look the same, but has also received the realistic update. Edan had to tell himself to look past the aesthetics and get to the closest target. He thanks the Barkeep, and collects the keg. As the Barkeep leaves, Edan easily places the entire keg into his inventory screen, and produces it again, just to make sure those systems worked. Otherwise, he would have to physically lug a keg around. The window produces itself easily enough and his winged mount is still available. He selects it and Edan’s wyvern materializes inside of the stables. The wyvern is a dragon-like creature, but smaller. Its lizard like head is adorned in a black tangled mane, has bat-like wings and claws to match, a horse-sized body covered in scales with a saddle atop, and bears a tail of that of a scorpion.
Nodding, Edan opens his Avatar screen once more and views his Character Statistics screen. In this screen, it mentions all of the traits, skills, class benefits, and minute details of what this current Avatar is capable of. On the top it reads “Inquisitor Level 80”. 80th level is the highest level for any Character to achieve. The Inquisitor class allows Edan access to protective, mobility, and enhancement spells, a skill set geared towards discovering answers and information at any cost, and combat prowess to that of a Warpriest. Everything seemed to be up to Edan’s standards. He switches to the Map screen and activates the EKG reader. He moves his arm around to find the closest EKG ping. He then opens up a Chat Channel between him and Hiraku.
“Hey, Hiraku?” Edan asks aloud. After a brief moment of static, he hears his familiar voice.
“Yes, Mr. Friel, I hear you. Have anything to report?” Hiraku asks.
“Listen, Hiraku. Things here are much different than what I remember. You need to get the nano-cams around me soon as you can.” Stunned silence on the other line.
“Different, Mr. Friel? How so?” Asks Hiraku. Edan shakes his head.
“Honestly, Hiraku, just get the nano-cams here. I simply don’t have time to explain. I’m heading towards the target in Shidall Peaks. I’m going to test if my Avatar is still in working order.” Edan explains as he mounts his wyvern and orients both of them towards the Peaks.
“Testing it out, Mr. Friel? Will you be actively looking for combat?” Hiraku inquires, more worried than curious.
“Like I said,” Edan answers, “I’m heading to Shidall Peaks.”