1. The Curious Case of the Stone Licker
'When in doubt, attack. People respect power, not passiveness.'
"As you can see, it's like living a dream forever," said the young blond saleswoman with glasses that gave her a bit of a geek look and a strategically unbuttoned button on her shirt.
Yeah, I thought. Forever. Or until I die. Or my budget runs out. Or the game servers are shut down. Or a lot of other possibilities.
It was still a good product. The first game supporting long-term immersions. More than that, the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game, MMORPG, available in the Immersive Reality technology.
V-Soft was the company behind the technology that 'talked' directly to the brain and gave the user the impression of being transported to a different reality. Since the technology reveal, five years ago, the company had refused to allow any MMORPGs to be developed by any developer. Only now were they releasing such a game themselves.
"What about money? Can I put some cash in?"
"Of course! I mean, we have a minimum interference policy; who would like some super powerful V-Soft employee meddling with their lives all the time? Or a super powerful player coming out of the blue just because he is rich in this world? But let's be frank, there is no reason to send away anyone genuinely interested in starting a comfortable new life. Really, really interested."
She looked at me expecting a reply, her blue eyes giving me the mysterious 'are you good enough to ask' act. I bit.
"You can buy in-game currency." She leaned closer, as if she was about to confide in me a most magnificent opportunity. "Minimum of ten dollars, for ten silver coins. Maximum of ten thousand dollars per month per player, for a hundred gold coins."
Valia Online, the game I was considering playing, had a pretty common currency system: bronze coins were the less valuable, a silver coin was worth a hundred bronze, a gold coin was worth a hundred silver, and a platinum coin was worth a thousand gold.
A teaser trailer had shown a level twenty elf buying a common sword for fifteen gold. This meant about fifteen hundred dollars for a basic piece of equipment. It was crazy. And the worst of it all was that people would pay for it; the game was already popular before even launching and if it delivered all it promised, millions would play in a few weeks.
It was easy to believe what she had said: they had a minimum interference policy, but no one was crazy enough to ignore rich people willing to pay – and there were a lot of those around. Investing real world money in the game wasn't in my plans, but I couldn't complain about the rates. They were making average players and rich bastards alike happy enough. Unfortunately, those prices would only last until the black market developed.
"Of course," she continued, "we will also sell multiple exclusive items with purely cosmetic value that will not affect the game balance, such as items to make a weapon or an armor glow and the possibility to change your character name."
That was expected, these days no game came out without items like that. 'Hats,' gamers called them, even though no one remembered why.
"That sounds reasonable, but I'm just a law student with a few millions. I must save some money for my children." I gave her my best smile, not wanting to waste the opportunity of hitting on her. She was pretty.
Beautiful, but not interested. Her smile didn't disappear, but she leaned back in the chair again.
I guess a man going into stasis for undetermined time isn't a good romantic investment.
"That's alright, of course. We want players from all economic possibilities to enjoy our game!"
Sure you do. Four hundred bucks a month after the trial month. Every poor youngster can just stop working and pay forty-eight hundred dollars for one year of their lives.
Despite my social warrior thoughts, I knew it was pretty cheap. Most people spent more than four hundred bucks in one month of their lives. In my case I would get into a rented virtual reality capsule and forget about bills until my contract ran out or I decided to leave. And if I wanted to interact with the real world without leaving, I could just call anyone from inside the game. If one had a house, one could sell it and live comfortably in a rental virtual reality capsule for the rest of one's life.
Of course, there were also the people who wanted to stay in their houses and play. The monthly fee was only fifty bucks in these cases, but they had to buy their own IR equipment. The cheapest one cost five thousand dollars and was a simple IR helmet, called VirBridge, not an encompassing full body capsule. It was the best choice if they were casual players, or had to leave the game regularly, but I was going for the long-term option.
Looking at her open blouse, a thought occurred to me. "What about sex?"
Her eyes widened for a second and she reflexively crossed her arms. The kinds of gamers she was used to dealing with probably weren't that shameless.
Still, as the professional she was showing herself to be, her smile didn't disappear.
"You can do anything in Valia. Any NPC can become your lover, if you play it right." An NPC, or non-player character, was any non-player entity who wouldn't be classified as a monster. Nowadays they were mainly controlled by AIs, much to the despair of AI Rights Activists. "The same goes for any player, of course. We also take the recently passed gaming laws very seriously and there will be no in-game pleasure houses, nor will any kind of sexual harassment be tolerated"
Sex was no novelty in IR, either with NPCs or with other real people using their own IR devices. It was said that some couples preferred to have sex in simulators where they could go on indefinitely without tiring and try some positions their real bodies were not flexible enough to achieve.
"Alright. Let me see the papers."
Her smile got even more beautiful, and she left the small room for a few minutes.
* * *
"Jack, I'm begging you, don't waste your life like that. Your parents-"
"My parents are dead, Richard," I interrupted my family's grey-headed lawyer. "I killed them, remember?"
"It was an accident! You must stop-"
"I mustn't and I won't! I'm getting in the damn capsule. I have a duty to them, to have a child and give him or her the family money. But I-"
"You have a duty to be happy! That's what they'd want! A happy life for their child!"
"You don't know that! You didn't know them like I did! When I was four they taught me how to take revenge on the kids who made fun of me in the damn playground! They were not saints, they were tyrannical bastards, but they were still my parents and I killed them!"
"I am getting in the capsule, like I said! I'll eventually get a wife, in some distant future, and make a family, but that's all. No matter what I do, I keep remembering that I started the fire, except when I'm playing. Yes, I'm running! Call me a coward if you want, I don't give a damn. Just make my money ready for the monthly fees and don't call me unless the world is ending."
"Richard, I'm ordering you as your damn boss. Do you understand my orders?"
"Yes." He said tiredly. "Yes, I do. But you aren't my boss; you're my client."
"Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Someday you might even convince yourself my father didn't make you his puppy."
He looked at me with pain in his eyes, but I made a show of ignoring it and left the room. It had been some time since I had exploded like that and I felt bad about it, but he had touched forbidden ground, and he damn well knew it.
If I was back to bad habits, I might as well call some ex-girlfriends. The game would launch in a week, and it seemed eunuchs had created it. I mean, no brothels? C'mon!
* * *
The doctor looked at the soon-to-be-player seriously.
"Jack Sunni Carpenter McHolen, are you sure you want to undergo this procedure? I'm legally obliged to inform you there is a zero point zero zero zero zero one percent possibility of your death. You can desist right now and have all your money back."
That was pretty well done; they were even recording it. About one in ten million people would never wake up after trying to go to another world in a long-term capsule. I liked my chances.
The question was only a formality. I had undergone a lot of psychological and medical exams, plus a two-hour lecture about the procedure. To tell the truth, it made me feel secure. At least, this time, my parents' colleagues, the politicians, had done something right.
"I'm sure, please go on."
"Ok. I'll begin the procedure. Have a good game, sir."
The doctor put the needle in my arm.
Blackness came soon after.
* * *
Ten minutes after creating my character, I touched the stone wall again, mesmerized. I could feel its texture, its imperfections, its coldness. When I took my hand away, dust stuck to my fingers. The smell was metallic and on an impulse I licked it, feeling the unique taste of stone in my mouth. Spitting on the floor multiple times didn't make it go completely away.
This game is awesome.
V-Soft had released a single game before this, the very first one for the new IR technology. It had been developed to show the world the potential of the thing and it was nothing like this. When the first video of Valia Online had appeared, of a man over a castle wall overlooking a small town, people had thought it was a movie trailer until the company explained it.
Still, game companies were known for cheating their clients with screenshots and videos that were way better than the finished product. V-Soft, on the other hand, had downplayed it.
I couldn't find any difference from the real world. High visual detail was usual in the old retina and ears virtual reality games, but here it went a notch up. Not only that, even the touch, smell and taste were perfect.
Four hundred bucks to be transported to an alternative reality world looked way too cheap now. I hoped that the price would go up by hundreds, so it wouldn't become full of annoying kids destroying the game experience for others.
The only thing that prevented me from believing I was still in the real world were the things floating on my vision edges: colored bars with numbers, a clock, an exclamation point in a square button, and an 'Welcome to Valia Online' text. Common sense dictated that I took my time to get my bearings and plan ahead.
To hell with common sense. I need to see more!
I was wearing tattered gray clothes in a stone room with a locked metal door and no furniture. All the light was coming from under the door. I could hear fire crackling on the other side. To see more I needed to get out, and to get out I needed to make someone open the damn door.
So I did what every levelheaded person would have done.
"Fire!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, trying to sound as desperate as possible. "Help! Fire!" To add to the realism of panic caused by a fire starting in an underground cell made of stone and bare of furniture, I hit the metal door repeatedly. It was a little loose and made a lot of noise. "Please, help me! I'm dying! Fire!"
"Quiet!" I heard a hoarse male voice on the other side of the door. Jackpot!
"I need help! Please! There is fire in here! I'm burning! Fire!"
"Help me! Fire! Help!" I kept screaming and hitting the door.
A hard blow came from the other side of the door. "I told ya to shudap!" I didn't obey. "Now ya did it! Ya'll regret getting to ma nerves!" The door opened. Light poured in the cell and what I saw was a vision directly from hell.
It was a kind of unfinished man: he had no nose, his skin was missing in random parts of his head, where I could see his muscles, and only a few strips of hair were still in his scalp. His teeth were mostly rotten or missing, and a foul odor was coming from the creature.
I recognized his species from other games: a ghoul. As soon as I did, a text appeared floating above his head:
The horrid creature was clothed in worn gray shirt and trousers, gray leather belt and gray leather shoes; as lacking as it was, it was still a lot better than my own traps. In his hand he had a corroded metal pipe. After looking around to confirm there was indeed no fire and I was just being annoying, he attacked.
My heart rate got up a little after seeing the deformed face, and the moment he began the pipe swing I got a little scared. But it was wasted adrenaline. The metal bar descended really clumsy and not fast at all, as if a child was swinging something too heavy. I merely stepped aside and punched the ghoul in the face.
It was just like hitting someone in the real world. I had done my fair share of street fights in my adolescence and early youth and it was surprising how real the punch felt. Wondering how real the fights could be, I used a kick to try and push the ghoul away.
Success. The ghoul stumbled back to the wall and hit his head with a loud sound. A few more punches later, my hands were covered in the black smelling substance that was the ghoul's version of blood.
2 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
2 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
2 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
The same message appeared over and over again at the bottom left corner of my vision. I wasn't a powerful guy, it seemed.
No reaction came from the ghoul. He couldn't even properly move after I threw him on the floor and began to kick his face; he merely tried to shield himself with his arms and gave out weak cries of pain. Doing such a thing to a defenseless creature was highly repulsive and made me feel a little bad, even if it was just an NPC.
But the bastard had just tried to kill me, and I was not one to forgive and forget. At least he didn't try to beg for mercy. Well, it might have something to do with the strange angle his jaw was twisted, but I was no doctor.
With a last cry, his body became rigid and unmoving. The ghoul was dead.
2 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
HP: 0 / 20 <?>
I took a few seconds to catch my breath. In the real world I wouldn't be even close to tired, but my character body was weaker than the real me for now. Thinking about it, I checked how much stamina I still had. There were three colored bars on the top left edge of my vision, one below the other: red, blue and green.
Red was for hit points, HP; blue was for mana points, MP; and green was for stamina. There were numbers over each one of them.
HP: 95 / 95
MP: 95 / 95
Stamina: 30 / 85
This was part of the beauty of games. In real life, you feel healthy or sick, lively or tired, and that's it. In gaming, you know exactly your limits, which's especially useful for fighting.
Hit Points, or HP, measured my health, and the bar was full. Receiving damage would lower my HP, and if it got to zero, I would die.
Stamina was my physical conditioning. How much I could run, attack and so on.
Mana Points, or MP, was like stamina for magic. I had no abilities that consumed MP for now.
I had used up quite a large amount of stamina in my short fight and would have to recover it. A new exclamation point button had appeared on the right edge of my vision, right under the old one. Both contained an upward pointing arrow, but one had a 'Q' letter and the other an 'A'.
Wondering if the game would force me to check the old one first, I focused on the 'A' and willed it to show its hidden information. A translucent message window appeared floating before me.
Intelligence increased to 1 (+1)
By solving the problem of imprisonment you've proved yourself to have a superior intellect.
» MP: 100 (+5)
Agility increased to 1 (+1)
By not staying put while the enemy tries to kill you, and by repeatedly attacking such enemy with all your speed, you become faster.
Strength increased to 1 (+1)
You know how to hit. Now you do it harder.
Dexterity increased to 1 (+1)
It's not about hitting hard; it's about connecting your hits. You learn how to better direct your attacks.
Constitution increased to 1 (+1)
After putting your body to stress, you learn how to further move without tiring.
» HP: 100 (+5)
» Stamina: 95 (+10)
Strength, agility and so on were attributes. I had eight of those, and each one of them controlled some aspect about me and how well I could interact with the world. Having more strength, for instance, not only would allow me to do more damage to my enemies, but also to carry more weight.
Again, the game provided me with exact numbers for my limits. The way to get more points in an attribute was to do things related to it, like weight lifting or killing people with my fists for strength.
I much preferred the latter, thanks.
Receiving this many points early on was expected, since I had had zero points in all of my attributes – and the less points in an attribute, the easier it was to receive more. Five attribute points was not bad and it quelled my fear of boredom; I was not a huge fan of going to the gym in a game.
The explanation under each received point was a nice touch too. That way the player would know exactly how he had increased his attributes and it would lower the complaints. Supposedly. People always found things to complain about. I for one would love a progress bar showing me how far I was from the next level.
I looked at the corpse before me and took the time to rob him of everything he had, except his underwear; humanoid creatures could only get naked by their living will. Not that I'd be interested in stripping a dude anyway.
Worn Cotton Shirt
» +1 defense
Worn Cotton Pants
» +1 defense
Old Leather Shoes
» +2 defense
Old Leather Belt
» +2 defense
Defense in this game was as simple as it could be: if an attack should've caused five damage but found an armor with a defense value of two on its way, the final damage was three; a direct subtraction.
It seemed leather was better than cotton for defense; who would have thought? The shirt and pants were torn in a few places, but they were still a lot better than the tattered clothes I was wearing.
I didn't check the items' detailed information; checking the color, material and overall condition of these clothes was easy enough to do just by looking at them or by reading their names.
Putting my new clothes on was slightly disgusting; the ghoul's blood was sticky and smelled revolting. After that, I took the pipe.
Corroded Copper Pipe
» 15 (+2 [Strength]) physical damage
Fifteen was the maximum damage the weapon was capable of doing unless it hit a critical spot. Hitting a man in the chest could potentially lower his hit points by all fifteen points, but hitting him in the foot using the same force would do a lot less damage.
The player's strength also played a part on the potential damage, as showcased by the '+2'. I could do a little more than fifteen points of damage on each hit because of my one point in strength.
I put the pipe on a spot for it in my new belt and sat to wait while my lost stamina recovered. Doing nothing made me remember the second exclamation point on my vision edge. I willed it to show me its information.
Quest: Escape the Prison
You have been imprisoned in the deathlords secret prison.
Find a way to escape it.
» Cannot be refused
» Cannot be dropped
» Must be completed without dying
My very first task, or quest. Compared to the attribute points messages, it lacked information.
For instance, why was I imprisoned? I had chosen the unbound variation of the deathlord species. Doing so gave me a diplomacy bonus, which meant that every species in the world should treat me neutrally, except for the bound deathlords and the vampires, who hated me for unknown reasons.
Also, what would happen if I died without completing it? Would it be game over? Would I receive another quest?
At least I now know I'm in prison. Ya, thanks for the heads up.
The quest difficulty was relative to my current power. It could rank from A+ to E-, a C-rank being the middle ground. I doubted I would have any trouble with a D-rank quest.
After about five minutes of sitting, my stamina was replenished.
It was time for some prison-breaking.
Crouching as much as I could while still being able to move, I left the cell. I found myself in a long stone corridor with closed metal doors and torch sconces. The torches on each side of my door were the only ones burning, the rest of the corridor being in the dark.
One of the two starting skills, or abilities, I had chosen had been darkvision, which allowed me to see through absolute gloom as if it was the end of twilight. Thanks to that, I would be able to explore the prison without having to take a torch, which would've made me a bright moving target for my enemies.
Happily ignoring the torches, I began to walk. Since I was crouching, it was slow, but I'd rather walk this way and lower my chance of being spotted.
Each side of the corridor had intermittent cells and the doors had white letters and numbers painted on them. Mine was the A-20 cell, the last one in the hallway. At first I had thought the way the cells were placed was a waste of space, but after some consideration I concluded that they were this way so the prisoners wouldn't be able to talk among themselves. This prison was not a pleasant place to be.
The first cell I passed by was empty, the door wide open. In the far end of the corridor I could see the only other light source. The next three cells were also open and empty, but inside A-16 I found a dead skeleton. It was important to assess its death state, even if it was a skeleton; in this world, skeletons could walk and stick a knife in your back.
I almost passed by the door, but a small bag under the corpse caught my attention. I approached the bones slowly and took the brown bag, which I discovered to be a purse. It had a single copper coin inside.
Sweet. It had some strings that I used to tie the purse to my belt. Another 'A' exclamation point had appeared, and I opened it.
Perception increased to 1 (+1)
Noticing small things shows that you are a perceptive person.
Another free attribute point. I wondered how hard it would become to level my attributes after they got to level twenty or so. I went back to the corridor and resumed my crouched walk.
The next six cells were also bare, but A-9 was different: its door was closed. I remembered how loud my cell door had sounded, so I applied only a small force as I knocked.
"Anybody there?" I said quietly, but loud enough for my voice to go through the door.
"Screw you!" A man yelled from inside.
I frowned. What kind of response was that from a game character?
"Calm down, mister politeness incarnate. I'm an escaping prisoner."
"Ha! Get out, ghoul! I will tell you nothing!"
"I'm not a ghoul."
"Right! Go away!"
"I'm telling you, man, I'm not a ghoul. Escaping prisoner coming through."
"Stop the act! I can smell death even through the door, undead. Ghoul, deathlord, vampire or zombie, even if you are an escaping prisoner, you are not my ally. Just go away!"
"I think I know why you are in prison, what with this attitude and all. Do you always spit in every hand that tries to help you?"
"Oh, you are a helper! An innocent boy in the deathlords' prison, trying to help everyone! Come in here, undead, I still have some life magic left. Let me heal you; you will love it."
Life magic would heal living people, but me being undead, I would receive damage instead. This was a confusing situation. Wasn't that a game character waiting to be rescued? What kind of victim made the rescuer beg to allow the rescue to be done?
"Whatever. Just pretend I'm a boy scout who wants to help, what would I need to do?"
"Scout? Who would you even be scouting for in a prison? Go away!"
Ouch, the cultural gap between worlds.
"Man, just tell me how to take you out of the cell. Can you get out by yourself? Can the door be forced?" I tried as I spoke, but the door was firmly set, unlike my own had been. "Do you know who has the key? Just tell me and I'll leave."
This time, the prisoner didn't answer immediately. After a few seconds, he replied with a much lower voice. "A torturer must have the key."
"Was it that hard? I'll be back."
Two exclamation point buttons had appeared, one with the letter 'Q' and the other with the letter 'A'. I opened the quest one first.
Quest: Save the Prisoner from Cell A-9
Help the prisoner from cell A-9 escape the deathlords' prison.
He told you that the key to his cell is with a torturer.
» Must be completed before leaving the prison
» Must be completed without dying
A C+ quest meant that it was slightly above the average difficulty for my current power. A small challenge. I smiled and opened the attribute exclamation point button.
Charisma increased to 1 (+1)
Convincing a prisoner to let you help him is a feat of a true charismatic person!
Is this attribute message being sarcastic?
A few more open doors later I found myself before cell A-2 and was finally able to see what there was in the light ahead. Two ghouls were there, clearly stronger than the one I had killed.
Instead of pipes, they had corroded swords loosely hanging from their belts and small round corroded shields on their left arms. With only a pipe myself, I decided it'd be best not to attack head on.
I had to make them leave their position or become distracted.
How to do that came to me fast: I entered the empty cell nearby and hit the metal door sharply. A loud sound echoed through the corridor.
"Did ya hear that?" One of them spoke.
I couldn't hear them move. I hit the door again.
"Hey, ya hear it now?"
"Mus' be a rat. Da pests everywhere."
No movement. I tried again.
"That ain't no rat. Mus' be one of the prisoners."
"Mus' be the elf. High Lady Renno said the other one'll get killed when he wakes. That's why she sent the newbie there. He is an idiot, but I bet even he woul' check the noise."
"A bet? A'right, I bet he asleep. Wha' 'bout a silver coin?"
"Deal. But I check."
"No way. We go together."
It worked. Only one would be better, but life has a way of denying perfection to people. I hid beside the door and waited. As the ghouls neared, I synchronized my breathing with their steps. Light shone outside, probably from a torch one of them was carrying.
As they passed the cell, walking slowly and unworried, an exclamation point button appeared, but I ignored it for now and followed my boys. I took extra care only to step on the floor when one of them stepped too. Soon, I was behind both of them and chose the left one to be the first one to die. He had a torch in his hand and could use it as a weapon faster than the other one could grab his sword. I swung the pipe with all my force at his head.
Sneak attack for 2.0x damage!
34 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
Sneak attack! That wasn't in the manuals. He screamed, and the other one turned. I attacked the same ghoul again, but this time I didn't receive a sneak attack bonus and missed the head, dealing a lot less damage. Meanwhile, the other one took the sword from its belt. A final pipe hit killed the first ghoul, but the other one swung the sword at me.
23 slash damage received
HP: 77 / 100
I felt the cold sword cutting through my side and it hurt a lot. I gritted my teeth, stepped back, used the pipe to take the ghoul's sword out of the way and then attacked him. He put his shield in the way, but thanks to the bar above his head, I knew he had taken damage.
6 shock damage dealt to Ghoul
HP: 53 / 59 <?>
Wait, the bar above his head?
A red bar had appeared between his head and the floating 'Ghoul' text above his head. It was not entirely red, almost a tenth left to become full. Over it was the HP numbers I had just seen in the damage message.
Fifty-nine had been the total damage I had inflicted to the first ghoul. So, for killing the first, I now could see this one's hit points. Sweet.
He attacked, faster than the ghoul I had fought in my cell, but still slow. He had been able to hit the previous swing only because I had been too focused on killing the other guy.
I stepped aside to dodge the sword swing and counter-attacked. Again he used the shield to block.
The biggest concern now was the stamina. Each attack, dodge or even hit I received consumed five stamina points.
Five damage, dodge, six damage, dodge, six damage, dodge. He still had twenty-nine HP left.
It was clear that my remaining thirty stamina would not be enough. I had to try something different. I feigned an attack at his body, and as soon as he raised his shield, I lowered the pipe to his legs.
12 blunt damage dealt to Ghoul
HP: 17 / 59 <?>
Great! After that big damage, the fight was decided in two more attacks to the shield, for a total of fifty-three points of damage. The ghoul's total HP was updated on the last hit.
That's what the question mark means, then. The information is only an estimate based on my previous experiences. Or thoughts, in the case of the 'Ghoul' text appearing over their heads.
As the ghoul dropped dead, I suddenly felt shaky. I was panting, and the bloodied pipe weighed heavily on my hand. I let it go. The metal clinked when it hit the stone floor. My body went down next.
Man, I'm tired. A translucent energy left the last ghoul corpse; it was dark grey and flew like an arrow to me. I was too surprised to dodge.
Kill to Survive: 1 HP recovered
'Kill to Survive' was the name of the skill I had chosen together with darkvision. Both were magic skills and were now on level one; using them a lot would level them up. Leveling them up would make them stronger and grant me new magical skills.
I really wanted to do some real magic, like throwing fireballs. Not that I would be able to do so any time soon. I had chosen death magic to heal myself, since I was a solo player, and because deathlords had a ten percent efficiency bonus to death magic. And I had chosen darkness magic because of the darkvision, which would be much safer than walking around with fire, as had already been proven by my actions. But as soon as possible I'd start on the fire path.
I was very into mages. Granted, kicking people in the face or hitting them with pipes was fun, both in Valia and in the real world, but killing people just by thinking about it was way cooler.
For now, everything my mighty death element magic skill did was heal me by one HP. It was so pathetic after the hard fight that I laughed. I had five stamina remaining; one extra attack or dodge and I would have become unable to move for five minutes.
There were two exclamation point buttons visible now, one of them with a brand new 'T'.
Trait received: Shadow
You have learned how to pass unnoticed by your enemies.
» Sound and smells reduced by 1% while hiding
Traits were like another kind of attributes in that they both affected what the character could do and how well he could do it. Also, the trait points were added to the attribute points before dividing by ten to determine the overall character level; I was currently level zero.
Even if they helped with the character level, traits came with a few setbacks: they were a whole lot harder to level up, were not all known and had to be unlocked by the character actions.
The trait system was the closest thing Valia had to a traditional class system that divided people into warriors, rogues, mages, archers, bards, and so on.
Discovering the shadow trait was interesting. The first stealth skill players could get made it harder only to see the character, not hear and smell, so a player going for the stealth path would also need the shadow trait to become more effective. It was a nice touch, as traits were leveled up by acting in the right way while skills did so by continuous usage. Combining both would lead to a deep and immersive character – a real ninja in this case.
I checked the other exclamation point.
Willpower increased to 1 (+1)
Fighting to the brink of exhaustion requires a lot of willpower.
» Stamina: 100 (+5)
Willpower increases stamina? Well, I guess a willful person will go further than one who gives up early. Why doesn't it also apply to MP, though?
For the next nine minutes, I remained seated there. Thanks to my one point in constitution I recovered ten stamina – nine base points plus the constitution value – and one HP per minute if I was resting. When my stamina was full, and my HP got back to eighty-six, I took the ghouls' equipment.
Corroded Copper Sword
» 25 (+2 [Strength]) physical damage
Corroded Small Copper Shield
» Resistance: 50%
The shield's resistance was used for any damage that had to pass the physical barrier of the shield to get to me. Blades, spears, arrows, fireballs, ice spikes, it all fell into that category. Lightning, life magic, and other stuff usually didn't.
I took the new weapon and strapped the shield to my arm, leaving the pipe on my belt. One of the shirts became a makeshift bag where I put the two new pair of shoes while the two belts became bindings for the extra sword, which I carried in my shield hand with the bag for now.
It was an RPG law: take everything possible for selling later. There was no way to take the extra shield, though.
Although I'd probably get back to this corridor to save the prisoner, there were no guarantees so I decided to bring everything with me.
I put the other shirt and the two extra pants over what I was wearing. While handling the pants I found hidden pockets sewn inside them with a silver coin in each. Sweet. Was this a bonus for listening to the conversation earlier? If so, it was an interesting touch to the game that would slightly change the way I played. Listening to enemies' conversations wasn't useless anymore.
Two silver coins and a few items richer, I hid the corpses, the shield, and the torch in the A-2 cell and went on.
None of the other rooms had anything whatsoever, and I finally got to the end of the corridor, where the two ghouls had stood. Only a single torch remained at the beginning of the stone stairs. Contrary to the uneven stone floor until now, the stairs were perfectly cut.
A door was at the end of the stairs, slightly ajar. I silently looked inside.
Two more ghouls were in there, seated in front of each other, a table between them. Both were asleep with their heads on the table. It was a small room, with no furniture besides the table, chairs and a single torch on the wall, with another door on the other side of the room. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of perfectly cut stone, too.
I took utmost care as I slowly entered the room. The ghouls' shields were on the table with some copper and silver coins scattered on it. The coins, two empty bottles of wine, and some cards made it clear what they had been doing. I put my bag and wrapped sword on the floor and positioned myself behind the nearest ghoul.
With one hand I blocked his mouth, and with the other I struck his neck with the sword. I felt the blade cut through flesh and scratch bone and felt a chill down my spine. He managed to open his eyes, but couldn't even move before dying.
Attacked a sleeping target for 2.0x damage!
Sneak attack for 2.0x damage!
Critical hit for 2.0x damage!
162 slash damage dealt to Ghoul
HP: 0 / 53 <?>
Blood poured from the wound and covered the table. It shone gruesomely on the torchlight and the foul smell of it made bile come to my mouth.
Part of me wanted to feel bad, knew I should feel bad. It was a gruesome scene, the bloodied sword in my hands, the blood covering the table, the eyes of the dead ghoul wide open.
But I didn't. They were game characters and had been put there by the game designers so that they could be killed. More importantly, they were my enemies and would kill me if they had the chance.
The Underworld was no place for mercy.
Instead, I had the opposite reaction: I felt amazed at the realism of it all and wanted just to do it again. Which I did; the second ghoul also died in his sleep. I took the coins and cleaned the blood on the clothes of the dead as if it was the most common thing in the world. Seven silver and three copper richer, I took all the ghouls' equipment that I could and proceeded to the door.
Never before in my life did I open a door so slowly. On the other side of it I saw an enormous hall. On the wall to my right there were big wooden double doors. To the left, a large staircase that divided in the middle and lead to two doors upstairs. On the first floor there were eight metal doors, each with a letter engraved on it, from A to H, four on each side of the room. I was on the A-door, closest to the staircase.
There were torches on the walls, all lit, but thankfully no enemies were there. I closed the A-door and walked in a crouched position to the B-door. Again I opened it as slowly as possible.
A room just like the one at the A-door was there, but this one had no ghouls, its torch unlit on the wall. I entered, closing the door behind me just in case. The door to the cells corridor was open, and no lights were visible in there. Even so, I checked all the cells, every single one of them open and empty, except for the last cell which had a lone copper coin that hardly paid for the time it took me to get there.
Back to the big hall, I went for the C-door. As I slowly opened the door, I heard a woman scream.
|Hit Points:||100 / 100|
|Mana Points:||100 / 100|
|Stamina:||100 / 100|