Chapter 3, huzzah! A happy new year to anyone who sees this!
Chapter 3: Pre-exam jitters
Darkness. After spending so much time in a world full of colour and light, the darkness that filled his vision immediately after logging out was a bit disconcerting. Pulling off the helmet Nevil rose from his bed and shuffled towards the door. He entered the kitchen to root around for something to eat before his nap. A quick glance at the clock told him it had only been around an hour since he’d gone into the game, even though it felt like a huge portion of the day.
He’d pulled out a packet of crackers and was about to start munching on them when his sister walked in.
“That was a brief session.” She sarcastically said.
Nevil looked up at her then turned away, nodding in reply. He wanted to excitedly tell all about the wonders he’d seen in New World, how realistic and extraordinary it was. But just seeing his sister had already put a damper on his enthusiasm. He wasn’t playing this game to enjoy it; this needed to be his job. Besides, she wouldn’t have cared anyway.
“Having lunch?” Clair asked, “Should I-“ Then she broke off, the small room sinking into silence once more.
After a while Nevil spoke up, “I’ll make s-something for us, j-just take a seat.” He had planned just to dine on the plain crackers, however he needed to make something more nutritious for his sister and quickly pulled out some dwindling ingredients out of the fridge.
Amazingly enough Nevil was a good cook; he’d always been in the kitchen before the accident. Though in the past few years he’d just eaten basic rations for himself, and only recently had he started cooking for his sister. He started cutting up some vegetables while putting some noodles on to cook, planning a simple stir fry.
With nothing else to do Clair took a seat at the small table behind him and took out her phone. The conversation between them died once more and neither made an attempt to restart it as Nevil cooked. After a couple of minutes he began to serve up, careful to secretly make sure Clair got the lion’s share of the broccoli, which she loved. He placed the larger bowl in front of his sister and sat down with his own portion and began to eat.
Having seen the situation of the fridge earlier Nevil grimly realised that soon they’d need to go shopping. He didn’t want to leave the house himself but he hated giving orders to his little sister. He could make an online delivery, but he’d still need to meet and talk to a stranger. While pondering his dilemma quietly to himself Clair spoke up from across the table.
“You don’t have much broccoli Nevil,” She remarked, “I thought that was your favourite.”
Nevil looked at his bowl and faked a surprised expression, “Oh you’re right! Well that’s a shame… Oh well, I’m almost done anyway!”
As he quickly finished off what was left in his bowl he felt his sister’s stare upon him. Glancing up he saw her with a slightly conflicted expression, her mouth open as if she wanted to say something. Noticing him look at her Clair quickly shut her mouth and turned back to her own meal.
Nevil picked up his empty bowl and left it in the sink, walking back to his room without another word. He flopped onto his bed and stared up towards the ceiling, hundreds of tiny worries trying to surface in his mind. Enough money was left for at least another three months of rent, bills and food, but Nevil needed to make some headway as soon as he could. Pulling an archaic old mobile from his pocket he set an alarm for 2 hours, then closed his eyes to try to sleep.
Dash grinned broadly as he skewered another rabbit with his new sword.
At last! Level 4! He turned to find his comrades to tell them he’d levelled up again. Trevor sliced up another bunny, while Beauty was still battling with hers a little further away. They were both still equipped with their crappy beginner knives, so fighting the small, agile rabbits was still quite difficult. His investment in the ‘Rusty Iron sword’ had been an excellent decision, even if it had taken all the money he’d saved from selling rabbit carcases. However even with their Level ups and new equipment, they’d still be stuck in their earlier formation if it weren’t for that kindly hunter they’d met earlier.
“Hey guys, hurry up!” Dash yelled excitedly as he entered his stat screen and put his points into strength and agility. He’d already decided to go into a warrior profession so those were the handiest skills to boost.
Trevor walked over to him, slinging the rabbit he’d killed into his rucksack, while Beauty finally finished off her target. “This is getting so much easier!” They’d all bought similar bags in the city, fairly cheap and tacky ones just to so they could fit in all the rabbits. The original worry about the lack of space for loot had vanished when they heard magical backpacks with extended space were available for not too much money.
“Yeah, I just levelled up as well! Soon we’ll be able to go after the foxes as well!”
As the two boys talked excitedly about their kill counts Beauty approached with a little less vigour. “I’m definitely going for a support class…” She muttered, chucking her dead rabbit to Dash.
“Hey, why are you chucking that at me?” He complained.
“You’ve put all your points into strength, it’ll be easier for you to carry!”
Trevor chuckled to himself at the side, earning an angry glare from the others. “Well let’s head back to town for now, to sell these!” He suggested, and so they turned back to Richmond.
Their old traveling formation, Dash and Beauty at the front chatting away, while Trevor followed just behind, had disappeared with all of them now walking in a line. They all talked animatedly together, the slightly more taciturn Trevor fully accepted as a member of the group.
“It was really lucky that hunter was passing by and taught us what to do.” Buzzed Dash.
“We’d been playing this much too like any other game,” Trevor agreed, “New World is far more like reality than it is a game.”
The hunter had taught them some of the same things Peter had taught Divus, just not to anywhere near the same extent or with the degree of harshness. They’d just been taught that their enemies acted like any other living creature would, that they needed to stop being so straight forward with their attacks. Thanks to that the group were able to hunt rabbits individually, quickly levelling up. The only problem was that as time went on most groups found similar mentors so everyone was back on the same level playing field.
“So you guys say, I don’t think it made anything much easier…” moaned Beauty, who had almost zero combat sense.
“It’s a shame Divus wasn’t there to learn too.” Sighed Trevor.
The group fell into a guilty silence. After they’d escaped the rampaging rabbit horde they’d immediately headed back to the city square to recover their fallen comrade. But when they arrived there was no sign of him. After searching the city for half an hour they’d given up and headed back to the woods, hopeful they might catch a glimpse of him at some point later. There was a friend system, and they could send messages to friends even from a distance, but none of them had thought to befriend Divus earlier.
“He must have given up and logged out.” Dash guessed.
“No way, you saw how crazy he got when it came to fights! I doubt someone like that would just quit!” Trevor retorted.
“But he was quite literally torn apart by bunnies.” Beauty quietly said.
“That would put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm…”
They changed the topic away from that slightly depressing subject and chatted on other things. The sky was darkening as they finally made it back to the city gates. It was hardly suprising, they’d been in the game world for around 15 hours now and at the start it’d been early morning. All the stalls were beginning to shut so they quickly ran to where they’d sold their rabbits earlier.
“Excuse me! Wait up a sec! We’d like to sell these please!” Dash cried as he brought the rabbits out to show the packing merchant.
The trader had turned as Dash had shouted and briefly scrutinized the goods, before giving a snort and he continued to pack his store.
“More little bunnies? Enough, I don’t want to buy them!” He shouted angrily.
“Wah-? But why? I thought you traded in meat?” Dash questioned in confusion.
“Aye I do lad, but you bliddy foreigners have absolutely saturated the market with the furry little buggers! Enough’s enough, I don’t want no more!”
Dash was taken aback. Everyone had heard how realistic this game was meant to be, but this was ridiculous! Player actions had actually changed the market demand for an item! The merchant had already stowed away all his goods and disappeared, leaving the small shocked party behind.
“Well that was…. Unexpected.” Trevor said dumbly.
“Yeah… C’mon, we’ve been on this game for ages, it must have been a few hours in real life as well. We better log out.” Dash tiredly decided. It was the truth, they’d been running around fighting for over half a day! Thought they weren’t sleepy they were all pretty exhausted. Not only that, but they also needed to take care of their bodies as well. They had no sense whatsoever of what state they were in in real life. It wouldn’t be funny if he crapped himself.
“Sure, but before we do I want to see what sleeping at a tavern does, you guys want to see too?” Trevor asked.
“Might as well I suppose.” Dash agreed.
“I want a separate room!” Beauty demanded, though Dash didn’t think she was in much danger from Trevor.
They walked through the medieval streets towards where they’d seen an Inn earlier. Dash marvelled at the game once more as they walked, all the NPCs were headed off home as well, entering their house or going to a tavern to drink after work. It really felt like an actual town. There were far less players on the streets as well, though hundreds of the creepy stone statues they left had littered the square and streets.
“Wait a sec. Isn’t that…” Trevor tailed off as he pointed to a young man walking along in the distance.
They all immediately recognised it as Divus, who was walking alongside a scruffy looking older man. However even as scruffy as it was it was obviously not the beginner garb that they were all stuck with. He’d gotten an NPC mentor? Well that might explain his disappearance but Dash’s relief soon gave way to a slight envy. While they were slaving away trying to kill rabbits he’d managed to hitch a ride on the coat-tails of some higher level NPC character, he might even have gotten a class already!
“Let’s go say hi!” Beauty suggested, while Trevor already headed off towards him.
Divus and his friend turned down an alley, vanishing from sight. Unwilling to lose him again Trevor and Beauty broke into a run to catch up, Dash following slightly more reluctantly. They sped down the alley he’d gone down and out into the road on the other side, but there was no sign of them. Beauty and Trevor sighed in disappointment, both annoyed that they missed a chance to reunite with their former comrade. Though they’d only known him briefly his general shy awkwardness and stubborn determination in danger had endeared him to them. Dash however was surprised to find he felt a little relieved.
“Come on guys, let’s find an Inn then log out.”
After logging in Divus was immediately confronted by the rough features of Peter examining him from mere inches away.
He yelped and pushed himself quickly away while Peter stood and began laughing to himself.
“Sorry about that! I was just taking a look at that weird stone form you foreigners take when you leave.” He explained, walking over to help Divus to his feet. “Anyway lad, are you ready.”
While rubbing his behind Divus looked directly into his eyes and gave a completely stutter-less “Yes sir!”
Smiling at the fearless response Peter began walking towards the door. “Well lad I got some things to prepare before we can begin, tag along.” It wasn’t so much an order as a suggestion, but the words still compelled Divus to quickly clamber to his feet and follow after the retreating form of his teacher.
They exited the old warehouse into the pale red light of the early evening. Disappearing behind the buildings down at the end of the street, the setting sun cast elongated shadows covering the packing stalls of street vendors. The crowds that thronged the streets earlier in the day were slowly dispersing home. With the vanishing light the city began to change, peaceful shortcuts instantly becoming dangerous death traps.
Peter led them down one such dark alley, which was luckily deserted , and began hammering on a door halfway down. When no reply seemed to be forthcoming he tried the lock, which seemed to be locked. Finally losing his patience he began yelling at the barred entry.
“Holstein, it’s me, Peter! I have’ne any qualms with knocking this door down if you don’t let me in!”
Almost instantly after he began yelling the door was unlatched and pulled open, a nervous, rat like face peering out. “Ah Peter! Why didn’t you say it was you? You can never be too careful at this hour, all kinds of people are after a way to get to me!” Confided a shrill voice. Before Divus could comment on the remarkable lack of clandestine pursuers Holstein quickly ushered them and slammed the door behind them. He then waited for a few moments with his ear pressed against the wood.
Just as Divus was about to comment on how silly it all was they heard the sound of multiple feet rushing down the alley. Holstein waited until the footsteps died away before finally turning to face his guests.
“You see! I told you they were after me. Oh the woes of being Richmond’s greatest alchemist!” He lamented.
Divus was quite taken aback by this surprising turn of events while Peter, who had just been trying to stifle a bored yawn, realised Holstein’s crazy episode was at an end and they could do business.
“So doc, I just swung by to see if you’d any mana crystals for sale?”
“Why do you never come during normal opening hours? No matter, of course I do, hundreds! Big ones, small ones, weird cursed ones!” He said with a giggle, “Got a nice experiment to do? No you meatheads are too busy killing things; need it for a job I guess. What do you fancy, 500? 1000? Or is it a big enough beasty for a 10,000?”
Dr Holstein span around, his mouth slightly agape in shock while he fell squarely onto his ass. “W-w-w-what do you need that for?!” He spluttered.
Divus, who was watching the scene from the side, could no longer contain his curiosity. “What do those numbers me?”
“Mana crystals are crystallisations of pure magic concentrates; s’like we all have a measurable supply a’ mana in our bodies the crystals have a similar unit.” Peter explained. “We can use the crystals as an extra mana supply alongside our own, however they aren’t rechargeable.”
That makes sense, Divus thought, like an external memory drive added onto your computer. Well not really, but close enough. But still how much was 100,000? If he remembered right he had about 130 points of mana…. Oh. It was a lot.
“What could you possibly need that much for!?” Holstein cried, finally recovering enough to re-join the conversation.
“That’s my business, isn’t it?” Peter coldly replied
“Who says I’ve even got one?! Who’d keep something that large?”
“I know you have one. Don worry, you’ll get generous compensation. You know we’re good for it.”
“No, you can’t! It’s not for sa-“ Holstein began to spout, but he suddenly shut his mouth. After squirming around for while he continued. “Very well, since it’s you. But I want 10,000 gold for it! Not a penny less!”
“Done!” Declared Peter, the usual jovial smile quickly returning to his face. “Hurry and get it, then we’ll be out o’ ya hair.”
Holstein disappeared down the corridor, the pair hearing him distantly climb down some stairs. After a couple of minutes he’d returned carrying a large wooden box. Passing it to Peter he tiredly sat down with a disappointed expression. A blue light washed over Peter’s face as he opened the box and he gave a satisfied smile. Swiftly closing it again he said his goodbyes and led Divus back out onto the street.
They headed straight back to the old warehouse, the streets now nearly empty. As they walked Divus thought back on how readily old Holstein had given up on the crystal. He could not help but wonder once again; who was his enigmatic new master?
The sun had finished setting and darkness had smothered the streets by the time they’d returned to the warehouse. With Peter stopping at the entrance and sweeping his gaze up and down the street before ushering Divus inside, it felt as if they were about to do something very illicit.
Closing the door behind him, Peter walked briskly to the corner of the old storeroom where their intense training had finished just hours before and pulled open a hatch into a basement. The old trapdoor had gone completely unnoticed by Divus earlier, thick layers of dust made it indiscernible from the rest of the floor. At this point a torch was produced, the pale moonlight peeking through the gaps in the wall failed to penetrate the murky depths of the cellar stairs they now had to descend. He paused briefly to position the box that held the mana crystal at the edge of the opening.
As they climbed carefully downwards, Divus gingerly testing his footing with each step, a ridiculously large and cavernous room was revealed. The light of the torch could not even reach the walls, making it impossible to estimate a distance. There was only endless black space that stretched out in all directions.
Peter broke the eerily silent atmosphere. “I’ll mention it once again. This test you’ve will push your mind as far as it can possibly go, and then further. Ya seem to have your own reasons, and I won’t pry, but be aware that this is not the only path you can take lad. And it is most certainly the longest.”
Shocked speechless at the immense basement he’d been led to Divus responded with only silence. However even without words his determination could easily be felt. Peter led him off the staircase and a few paces into the vast room. Catching his prospective apprentices eye as he turned he could do nought but sigh. While fear and curiosity easily made themselves known not a trace of doubt marred Divus’ face.
“Take this, and these,” Peter said, handing him a scabbarded sword and a large backpack. “The test can last for days, in some cases even longer. Unfortunately I cannae do anything more to prepare you. Quit anytime you want, but that will mean failure. I don’t think I need to say it, but death also means failure. When you pass… well, you’ll know. Do you accept this quest?”
Quest: Fear Slaying Test
You have been offered the chance to take an extremely difficult examination by the wandering warrior Peter, if you succeed in this test he will take you on as his apprentice.
· Difficulty: Unknown
· Completion conditions: Unknown
· Rewards: Hidden class tree
Yes / No
“Of course!” Unperturbed by the ominous name.
Peter’s Mysterious Test accepted.
They squarely stared at each other for another half minute before Peter nodded and turned away. Divus released a pent up breath, it had been the longest he’d maintained eye contact for years.
“The test’ll begin a few moments after I leave, th-“
“Wait you’re leaving?” He flusteredly interrupted.
The grim expression Peter had sported momentarily broke. “Aye lad I can’t sit in on this one with you.” He laughed, “You wanna quit though an I’ll be right down. Now as I was saying, don’ worry about the light, you won’t need it. And lad…”
He paused, his serious attitude returned and he began to walk back towards the stairs, carrying the torch with him. As he started to ascend he looked back over his shoulder and left some final parting words. “What we see here, we don’t tell any of the others. Them’s the rules we’ve been following so far. Good luck lad.”
Divus watched his shrinking back as the light began to retreat from the huge basement. Soon he was left alone in silent darkness, even Peter’s footsteps being swallowed by the void. Without the light everything seemed much colder and a chill crept across his shoulder. He briefly pondered on the rationality of his actions, was there really any need to go so far for a game. But he would not turn back now. This was no longer a game at all for Divus, this was his life.
While waiting in silence he realised that he hadn’t used any of his stat points from levelling up. Bringing up his character screen he began to choose what to improve. Useful as they were he decided not to put to many points into vitality and endurance, he only had to risk his life to improve those so he focused on agility, dexterity and strength.
He also unsheathed his sword to have a better look. He brought it close to his head, wondering how to display its stats. “Identify,” he said aloud with vague hope. A familiar blue screen popped into existence before him; though this time he managed to keep his footing.
Plain Steel Sword
An ordinary, but decent, blade. Sharp and easy to use.
Damage: 35 (p)
Divus sheathed the sword with a pleased expression. Although he was not quite sure what it meant, a level 25 weapon was probably excellent for his current state. The blue window, somehow clearly visible despite not seeming to give off its own light, disappeared and he returned to his silent vigil.
Suddenly the world of darkness was shattered, a light almost as bright as the noon sun washing away the thick mass of shadows. Covering his eyes with his hand to block the intense brightness that suddenly enveloped him Divus swung his arms in fright. His blind panic landed him on his arse, where his free hand made a shocking discovery. He was sat on grass. In a basement.
As his eyes slowly adjusted to the light he was finally able to explore his surroundings. Above him the sun blazed magnificently in the sky, while a vast meadow spread all around. Had he been teleported he wondered as he stared dumbly at this impossible sight. Was that possible? He had no idea how magic worked in New World, but it was possible. But why, and where too?
His questions were cut short as he noticed his fellow inhabitants of these idyllic grasslands. He was surrounded, by the worst possible foe. A horde of bunnies raised the adorable heads to stare at him, and then more started appearing from all directions. Within seconds the green grass had been blotted out by a terrifying sea of white, fluffy cuteness. But the nightmare did not stop there.
The rabbits started to climb atop each other, clumping together at a single point to culminate into a massive structure. Bunny upon bunny built upwards and began to merge together until Divus no longer faced an army of tiny critters but one towering Super Rabbit. This gargantuan beast, that would dwarf two story buildings, turned its head towards him and let out an ear-splitting roar.
But as soon as he’d seen it’s sinister, beady black eyes Divus had not been considering how to escape it’s fluffy clutches, he’d been planning how to kill it. He could not have asked for a better target for his vengeance.
“Nevil? What the hell is this?” Asked a shocked and familiar voice from behind him.
Cautiously turning, Divus found his legs abruptly turn to putty. Stood opposite him and the rabbit stood a figure that couldn’t possibly be in this world. Wearing a simultaneously fearful and disgruntled expression was Nevil Thompson’s little sister, Clair.