a Log Horizon fic by Mel the Redcap
Komae was a small, quiet village, close enough to Akiba for the Landers living there to be used to Adventurers passing through, but not holding much to attract them. There was a signboard next to Oleg’s house that they’d come to look at, and a few rooms kept for their use – though it might as well have been just one room, Abram always said, since they’d pay their shot, walk into the room, and disappear in that uncanny way they had. They bought food or potions, and sold things; crafting materials, trash, broken weapons and equipment, random strange objects that the villagers couldn’t think of a use for… they accepted them anyway. It didn’t cost much, and the Nobles would always buy them back at a slightly higher price, so nobody lost out on the deal.
What adventurers didn’t do was talk. They’d say things, always the same sentences – “how much for a room?” or “a meal, please” – and it didn’t seem to matter what you said back, because it was plain they didn’t hear you. If they spoke to someone on the street, it would be “where is the inn?” or “where can I buy food?”; you could say “Don’t scare me like that! Where did you come from?!” and they’d just stare at you with their odd, expressionless faces. Then they’d turn around and head straight for the inn, or the stall old Mariya ran, so somehow they’d gotten their answer.
Sometimes they’d walk up to Mariya’s stall when she wasn’t there, request a meal from thin air, and walk off with a lunch basket she hadn’t made.
Sometimes they walked into posts or walls.
Sometimes they just stood there, not moving, for minutes or hours, while the sun set or rain trickled down the back of their necks.
Sometimes they killed people. Not often, but it happened, so you avoided them if you could.
- - - - -
The day of the Catastrophe started like any other. It wasn’t immediately obvious as a catastrophe, either; there was only one Adventurer in town, and he was odd even by their standards. He walked with a stutter, taking several quick steps in a straight line and then jerking to a stop before starting off again; he didn’t run into anything, but he came close a time or two, veering off in a new direction just as it seemed he was about to plough straight into a tree.
He’d ‘stayed’ at the inn a couple of nights before, vanishing the way Adventurers always did instead of sleeping in the bed (Abram muttered about wasting furniture nobody would ever use, but his wife made him keep a decent mattress on the frame and changed the linens every week just in case), then reappeared and walked out that morning. He stutter-stepped his way to the signboard (that nobody ever posted anything on, but always had fresh white papers with unreadable print that never faded in the sun or ripped in the wind) and stood in front of it for about twenty minutes, eyes blank, hair shifting in the breeze, barely breathing… then he turned, took three steps along the road to the west and vanished in a sudden blur, reappearing in front of the inn door and crashing to the ground in a heap.
Adventurers didn’t do that, either. They vanished in a blur all right, but they only blur-reappeared in cities; Oleg had been to Akiba to trade and had seen them, fuzzing out of thin air just inside the gates and running off about their mysterious affairs. Other times, like in the inn, they disappeared with no blur and reappeared exactly where they’d vanished from… and they didn’t fall down when they reappeared. They certainly didn’t lie on the ground, curled in on themselves like a child hugging their pillow, asleep or unconscious or… who knew what?
If a Lander had collapsed in the street, of course they would have helped, but this was an Adventurer. There was no point in helping him. Even if he died, he’d come back – Oleg had been to the Akiba Cathedral, too, peeking in the doors out of pure unadulterated curiosity, and had been looking at just the right moment to see one shimmer into view on the altar, resurrected after whatever mishap had interrupted his strange immortal life – and helping him would definitely not count as avoiding him.
- - - - -
Heisuke blinked open sleep-sticky eyes and groaned as the light hit them, throwing up one arm to cover his face. “Who turned the lights up?”
There was an indrawn breath from behind him, then quick footsteps scrunching away over… gravel? It certainly didn’t sound like sensible flat-heeled shoes on linoleum. Come to think of it, it felt like he was lying on gravel, too, not–
Behind his sheltering arm, Heisuke’s eyes went wide. Gravel, not a firm mattress with starched linens. Sunlight, bright and hot, not filtered through curtains and augmented with cool fluorescents. A warm breeze bringing the scents of plants and dust and animal dung, not sterile air conditioning smelling faintly of antiseptic. Freedom to move, without IVs and ports and his own useless body weighing him down.
Most importantly, apart from the sore spot where his hip seemed to be trying to dig a hole in whatever surface he was lying on… no pain.
Holy crap. What happened?!
I was logged into Elder Tale– I was planning to do a couple of easy fetch quests while I waited for the update, then poke around a bit to see what had changed. That stupid orderly came in and nagged me about still being awake, it took ages to get him to piss off, and then–
He slowly pulled his arm down, squinting until his eyes adjusted, and brought his hands up in front of his face.
They weren’t his hands. Too strong, too healthy, slightly tanned and calloused across the palms, lacking the blue veins and bruised injection sites he’d seen only… minutes? …ago. They moved right, flexing and moving as he wished, just looked wrong.
Wrong? It’s a bad day when looking healthy seems ‘wrong’, he thought, and stifled an incredulous giggle.
Somebody said something behind him and was quickly hushed, starting a conversation in hissing whispers. Heisuke turned to look, pushing with his arms to roll his torso when his neck couldn’t twist far enough to bring the speakers into view; his hip dug into the gravel as his weight shifted, and he automatically brought one knee up and twisted to roll completely onto his back. And it worked.
His legs moved. He felt cloth rub against his knees as they lifted. When he pushed himself up into a sitting position and stared down at himself (clothed in a long robe that looked oddly familiar, but that really didn’t matter to him right then), heart in his mouth, and tried to remember how to move his legs on purpose… his feet twitched.
“Oh gods,” Heisuke choked out, tears welling up in his eyes. “If this is a dream, I hope I never wake up…”
- - - - -
“There’s definitely something weird happening,” Oleg whispered, staring in fascination at the odd Adventurer. He was awake now, sitting up, and although his hair and the direction he was facing obscured his face, as far as Oleg could tell he was just… staring at his own feet?
“Adventurers are all crazy anyway,” Mariya muttered, shaking her head. “So this one is a bit crazier. So what?”
“Adventurers are crazy in a blank way,” he argued half-heartedly. “They act like… like golems, I guess? This one’s different crazy. Look, have you ever seen one act like that?”
Still sitting in the dust of the road, the Adventurer was examining his own equipment now; smoothing out the folds of the robe lying across his lap and tracing the embroidered pattern with one finger, touching the hilt of the sheathed dagger hanging from his belt, picking up the staff lying next to him and staring open-mouthed at it. It was a nice staff, a type Oleg didn’t think he’d seen before, a long metal shaft decorated with ornate scrollwork. There were small red crystals inset into the design and five much larger ones making up its head, light reflecting off their facets as four of them spun lazily in a circle around the fifth. The floating gems lagged slightly behind as the Adventurer moved the staff from side to side, bobbing and swooping in their orbit; it was very pretty, Oleg decided, obviously highly magical, but he didn’t see any reason why the Adventurer should be looking so… astonished? It was his staff, after all. Why should its appearance surprise him?
“Surprised,” he muttered, eyes widening. “Mariya, he looks surprised.”
“So, have you ever seen an Adventurer with any sort of expression on their face?!”
His voice had risen in excitement, and she shushed him hastily, then frowned. “…No,” she admitted, staring even more suspiciously at the Adventurer. “I haven’t.”
“Something is really, definitely, weird,” he said, almost dancing on the spot. “We need a scholar, or a historian, or– you know, the Duke has scholars working for him! I bet they’d be interested–”
“You want to bother the Duke over one Adventurer?!” she hissed, scandalised. “You’re a fool, Oleg, but I didn’t think you were that much of a fool. And wipe that stupid grin off your face!”
“I’m not grinning!” he protested, then realised that he was. “All right, I am, but– Mariya, this is fascinating!”
“Well, you can be as fascinated as you like, just do it from a distance,” she insisted, one bony finger poking him in the short ribs. “No good ever came from messing with Adventurers, so–”
The two Landers blinked and turned to look at the Adventurer… who was looking back at them. Really looking, not staring through them the way they’d always seemed to before. “Don’t answer him,” Mariya hissed, plucking at Oleg’s sleeve. “Just come away and leave him alone, you know they never notice whether you answer them or not–”
“Yes?” Oleg asked, taking a step forward and trying to unobtrusively yank his sleeve out of the old woman’s grasp.
“This place,” the Adventurer said hesitantly, looking around at the village buildings. “Am I– is– is this really Elder Tale?”
Huh? “I’m sorry. I, uh, don’t know what that is?” The Adventurer’s face fell, and for a moment Oleg felt like he’d kicked a puppy. “Uh, this is the village of Komae…?” he offered, not sure whether that would help.
“Komae? That’s right, that’s where I logged in– near Akiba?” the Adventurer asked excitedly, face lighting up. “In the League of Free Cities Eastal? Yamato?”
“That’s right,” Oleg nodded. “Akiba’s a couple of days’ travel by foot that way,” he added, pointing east.
“I’m on Seldeshia,” the Adventurer breathed, a broad grin spreading over his face. “So this is Elder Tale.” He slowly leaned backwards and collapsed onto his back in the middle of the road, arms outspread, staring up at the sky with wide, dazed eyes. “This. Is. Awesome!”
Definitely crazy, Oleg decided, but it was an interesting sort of crazy.
* * * * *
I’m on Seldeshia.
It was the last thought in Heisuke’s mind as he went to sleep that night, and the first when he woke up the next morning.
I’m on Seldeshia. In Elder Tale. I have no idea how this happened and frankly I don’t care.
His staff was leaning against the wall next to the door, crystals somehow managing to keep spinning in their permanent orbit without bumping into the wood. ‘His’ staff… that still felt weird. It was his character’s staff, the best piece of equipment he had, earned from a long and complicated quest chain that had taken nearly six months to finish. His level 90 Sorcerer character, the one he’d designed to look the most like himself and even given his own name–
Huh. Half-Alv is close enough to human that I haven’t found anything noticeably different, but I wonder what would have happened if I’d been logged into one of the others? One of the demi-humans? Under the circumstances, I think I would have adjusted, but it would have been a shock…
He was in the game world, in a body that worked. A body that presumably still had its magical powers.
And I’ll probably need them. If things still work like a game, I’ll need money – heck, I’ll need money if it’s not working like a game. Most of my gold is in the bank, and I’m not going to ride to Akiba to get it without making sure I can look after myself if necessary. So… given that I don’t have my keyboard, or a monitor to call up a menu on, how–?
The only thing that saved him from falling over when the menu shimmered into view in front of his eyes was the fact that he was still lying on the bed. The rope mesh under the mattress creaked and bounced after his startled jerk, but he managed not to yell.
Okay. Okay then. Things do still work like a game. I have a menu, and… okay… yeah, everything’s the same as before, I think… wait.
One thing wasn’t the same; the ‘LOG OUT’ button was greyed out.
Not that I was going to try. Everything else is there… all my spells and skills… inventory…
His hand hovered in mid-air for a moment, then tapped on the icon to expand the list almost without meaning to. About a third of the names were lit up, and his hand hovered again, then drew back.
Not yet. After I get a better handle on how things work now. After I’ve gotten my feet under me– literally, heh! After I’ve made up my mind what to do.
- - - - -
“So, what’s he been doing?”
“The Adventurer,” Mariya said pointedly, digging one finger into Oleg’s ribs in a gesture that was becoming a painful habit. “Since you’ve been following him around for the last couple of days, I thought maybe you’d been paying enough attention to notice what he’s been doing all this time.”
“Practicing, I think,” he replied, shrugging.
“Fighting. He’s been going out into the woods and fighting monsters,” Oleg said slowly, frowning. “He started with little ones, crock-birds and briar weasels, and he was looking for bigger ones this morning.”
Mariya snorted incredulously. “Why would he need to practice?! You only have to look at that staff of his to know he’s one of the strong ones! They go out and fight monsters all the time!”
“I think he forgot how.”
“He what?” Abram said from behind them, strolling over from the inn door, wiping his hands on a clean towel.
“I think he forgot how to fight,” Oleg told them, shrugging again. “The first day he went out, he started by just standing in a clearing and casting spells at a rock all morning. He was really slow, and a couple of times he jumped and laughed, like… like he’d never seen a fireball before and thought it was pretty. Look, you saw him the day he started acting weird. Didn’t that look like he’d forgotten how to walk?!”
“Lad has a point,” the innkeeper agreed reluctantly. He couldn’t argue the facts; when the Adventurer had eventually gotten up, after lying in the dust giggling to himself (and weeping, too, Oleg was sure) for a while, he’d staggered like a newborn calf and used his staff for support until he could reach a wall to cling to. He’d sat on a bench for over an hour, just staring up at the sky; then he’d returned to his room in the inn, still wobbling like a drunk. Abram’s wife Valentina had heard him walking up and down in his room until nearly midnight, steps gradually getting steadier and more confident. He still moved slowly and used his staff like a walking stick, but he didn’t seem to trip over his feet any more… and he was actually sleeping in the bed.
Mariya scowled, but eventually nodded. “He wasn’t sure where he was, either,” she muttered. “So, we have an amnesiac Adventurer living here? Isn’t that wonderful, now!”
“He isn’t hurting anyone,” Oleg protested uncomfortably.
“They never do, until they do, and then it’s too late!” she snapped. “You mark my words, we’ll regret having him around soon enough.”
- - - - -
The sunset was beautiful, and Heisuke was taking a few minutes to sit in the window of his room and just appreciate it, rubbing one hand absent-mindedly up and down the length of his thigh.
It never looked this pretty on screen, he thought, settling his head back against the open shutter and watching the shifting colours through half-closed eyes. Of course, I couldn’t see all of it at once on a laptop screen… and even if I could have, if I was logged in I wanted to be doing stuff in-game, not just looking at the scenery.
Anyway, I have been doing stuff today. I think I earned a bit of a rest. I also earned a surprising amount of money…
Triffids had been a good source of cash and XP when he was in his– when his character was levelling through the 40-50 bracket. They dropped gold and potions, and you could scavenge several useful herbs from their corpses, which made them useful for increasing his Alchemist subclass as well. As he’d found out that afternoon, they still dropped gold and potions – scattered around their corpses and rolling out of their furled leaves when he poked around – but getting the herbs was now a matter of actually physically pulling the plant-monsters to bits, rather than the simple ‘click on the corpse and wait for the progress bar’ it had been before.
I suppose that makes sense, but then why are the gold and potion vials just lying around after they die? And what about the briar weasels I killed yesterday? They used to drop skins and leather, but I didn’t find any… would I have to actually physically skin them now?
Not happening, he decided, wrinkling his nose. I got messy enough with the triffids, and that was just sap. Not to mention that I don’t know how to skin an animal, much less one that has a magic-shooting thorn vine growing out of its ass, and my ritual dagger is a stat booster and magic focus, not a tool.
It’s weird, though. Some things are like the game, so animals drop loot that they’d have no reason to be carrying around or that they couldn’t carry around – one of those weasels yesterday dropped a junk sword longer than its body! – and I’ve got a menu screen and a magic bag. Other things aren’t game-like, so I don’t get animal or plant bits as a drop if I don’t actually pull them off myself, and it turns out I don’t actually need the menu commands to cast spells if I make the gestures and say the commands myself, which is good because the menus suck in actual combat. I wonder–
The clatter of hooves below his window interrupted his train of thought, and he leaned out to peer downwards. Four riders were entering the village on the road that led to Akiba, looking around at the buildings as they slowed from a trot to a walk, and his hands tightened into fists as he realised they were wearing familiar armour.
That’s level 90 Guardian armour, he thought, leaning further out for a better view. Ordinary quest rewards, the sort you get before you start doing max-level dungeons– that’s an Assassin– that one’s a Monk, and the last one is in robes, so he’s either one of the magic DPS classes or a healer. If he’s not a healer, they’re idiots…
They’re Adventurers. Like me. Really like him, he saw, as they craned their necks to peer down the single cross-street, scratched under armour straps, talked between themselves, and generally behaved like real people arriving in a new place instead of computer-generated characters on a screen. Well, that answers that question; it’s not just me. Other players are here for real, too. So… what now? Do I go talk to them? Find out if they know anything about what happened?
They probably want to get out.
…I don’t want to talk to them, he realised, feeling slightly chilled at the thought of going downstairs. I don’t want to know what they think about being in a game world. I’m doing okay, I think I’m going to like it here, I don’t want to explain why I don’t want to leave…
They haven’t seen me. I just have to stay in here and they’ll probably be gone in the morning.
He slid off the windowsill and reached to close the shutters, pausing with them half shut as the four Adventurers dismounted at the little food stall run by the old Lander woman who always eyed him suspiciously when he passed. He’d wondered what would happen if he used his summoning whistle to call a horse, but hadn’t tried it yet, preferring to walk into the woods for his practice sessions.
The horses turned and cantered back down the road as soon as their riders let go of the bridles, and the hoofbeats stopped a few seconds after they went out of sight behind a barn. Huh. That’s… kind of like the game, I guess? Did they vanish, or are they standing in a field grazing right now?
It wasn’t hard to resist the temptation to go look, and he reached for the shutters again.
“Where the fuck do you think you get off, bitch? Asking for money from us?! You’re just a stupid Lander!”
There was a smashing sound, and a cut-off shriek, and when he yanked the shutters back open the Guardian was standing over the old woman, sword drawn. She was down on the ground with one hand raised in a futile defence, blood on her sleeve, and he raised the sword again–
Heisuke didn’t realise he’d jumped out of the window until he was rolling down the sloping verandah roof beneath it, flipping in midair and barely managing to land on his feet. His staff was in his hand, spinning into casting position without a thought, and he spat out the command for the fastest ranged attack spell he knew.
The Guardian screamed as the ball of fire impacted the back of his head, beating clumsily at his burning hair with one gauntleted hand, then yelled again when the flames clung and refused to be extinguished.
Ha! I took the ‘continuing damage’ enhancement to half of my spells, asshole–
“What are you doing?!” the Monk yelled angrily, starting towards Heisuke. “It’s just a fucking Lander!”
“They’re people, dickhead!” Heisuke yelled back, starting the gestures for another spell. “If you haven’t worked that out yet, there’s something wrong with you!” Guess they aren’t going to back off. Shit. Hope I remember my PvP skills!
When he was still levelling – when he was still well enough to play for hours at a time, and had the reflexes you needed to be successful at PvP – Heisuke had taken part in a lot of organised World PvP events. He’d never been the PK type, but sometimes small ‘armies’, raid groups of players who called different cities ‘home’ in the game, would challenge each other to a fight in a neutral location. He’d specced for it, bumping up his attack power at the price of lowered defence, turning his Sorcerer into a true ‘glass cannon’ with a few crucial skills for getting away from someone who wanted to stick a sword in him.
Pretty sure I’ve got the reflexes back. My gear is better. None of them are carrying ranged weapons. And they aren’t PvP specialists, or the Assassin and the Monk would already have used their movement skills to get behind me. The one in the robe– that’s a healer staff, so they do have a healer– he’s hanging back, so they know Rule Number One at least, but they probably don’t know the rule that comes before it.
Rule One in PvP combat is “Kill the healer first.”
Rule Zero is “Crowd control anyone who might be able to kill you before you can get to Rule One.”
“*Ring of Frost!*”
“Shit!” The three melee-types jerked to a stop as frost crystallised under their feet, forming elaborate runes that drew a circle and then snapped upwards into a knee-high slab of ice, trapping all three. The healer’s eyes widened and he started to back away, but Heisuke’s next spell was already arrowing towards him.
“*Arcane Missiles!*” Half a dozen white energy bolts shot from the tip of the ruby staff, and he drew it back ready to cast again, eyes narrowed as he waited to see their effect. They smacked into the target with rapid-fire sizzling sounds, staggering him, but a white glow flashed into view around the healer’s body.
Auto-Heal. He’s a Cleric. Wearing cloth instead of plate, so he’s specced all the way into healing spells instead of improving his defences. Auto-Heal has a maximum of ten charges, so even if he’s boosted it this–
–will knock it down, it won’t recharge for ten minutes, and I just have to overwhelm him faster than he can heal.
“Last chance to surrender,” Heisuke said mildly, spinning his staff back and extending one hand instead. Phantom flames swirled around it, rapidly expanding and darkening, and the healer’s eyes went wide; white healing glow gone, he began to back away, lifting his staff in both hands as if to block the incoming attack.
“Fuck you!” the Guardian screamed, chopping at the ice around his legs with the bottom of his shield.
“Sorry, dude. If he wants to fight, you all gotta go. *Lava Sphere!*”
There was a short, cut-off scream as the spinning ball of flaming molten rock engulfed the Cleric, and the Monk swore.
“You’re going to pay for that!”
“What are you going to do? Kill me twice?” It was just like old times, trash-talking the enemy over his headset, and Heisuke felt himself grin as he spun his staff back to point at the Guardian. Menus flickered in front of his eyes as he concentrated, bringing up the heads-up display for his spells. “Also, for future reference? When the enemy goes after your healer, you’re supposed to taunt them off. You really suck as a tank, dude.” Heh. So I can activate the menus without a hand gesture. Good to know.
“What– you– fine! *Anchor Howl!*”
That was different. Having a spell cast on your character on screen was nothing like the explosion of light and sound around the Guardian that reached out and yanked at his mind, narrowing his focus so that he couldn’t target anything else. Adrenaline came to the rescue, broadening his grin and steadying him through the chill in the pit of his stomach. Getting serious now. “Bit late, isn’t it? Rule Two: take the tank down second. You’re it. Besides which, I have AOE spells. *Blizzard!*”
Hailstones the size of fists began pelting the three Adventurers, smashing into their flesh with sickening thuds. All three swore and yelled, abandoning their efforts to chop their way out of the binding ice as they raised their arms, trying to block the frozen missiles; the Guardian huddled under his shield, but was still taking damage as the hailstones shattered on the ice around his legs, spraying him with shrapnel. Heisuke still couldn’t target anyone else and was having a hard time even looking away, but managed to pull a sliver of his attention away from the fight just long enough to see that the old Lander woman was being helped into one of the houses by several other villagers. Doors slammed and the sound of bolts and bars being fastened echoed down the street.
The timer on Ring of Frost’s binding effect was counting down its last few seconds in front of his eyes, and if the Monk or Assassin pulled themselves together enough to use their own skills it wouldn’t hold them for the full duration. Leaving the Blizzard in place to keep pelting the three trapped players – channelling it would increase the duration and damage and reduce the total mana cost, but letting it run by itself allowed him to cast more spells – he started into a new set of gestures. The cast time on this one was fairly long and the two timers were nearly matched, Ring of Frost beginning to fade as he lifted the staff above his head to call down his next strike–
The Assassin vanished in a swirl of black light just as bolts of lightning crashed down in a circle around the dissipating ice, trapping the Guardian and Monk inside the continuing Blizzard but missing their teammate.
“*Lightning Cage!*” Crap, if he’s doing it right I know exactly where he’ll turn up– hooray for foresight, but this is still going to hurt–
The Assassin swung wildly from behind him, popping out of Silent Move and lashing out before he had quite found his feet, and Heisuke twisted desperately out of the way. He didn’t quite make it and grunted in pain as the sword scored along his ribs, but the Assassin’s cry of triumph turned to a yell of frustration as the Frost Trap he’d set earlier (managing to use the menu screen without moving his hands) went off, trapping the black-clad Adventurer in ice up to the waist this time.
“*Blink,*” Heisuke gritted out through clenched teeth, and teleported along the road to an alley between buildings. Time to move. Frost Trap only lasts eight seconds, five if he took the enhancement to reduce Silent Move’s cooldown, I need to be out of sight before he gets here– I’m bleeding, is he going to have the sense to look for a blood trail? Better assume he will. They’ve been screwing up by the numbers but I can’t count on that.
He made it to the end of the alley, one hand clutched to his bleeding side, and paused for a precious half-second to lever his staff between a pile of crates and one wall, tipping them over to delay pursuit. He took two steps to the right, let go of his wound and shook his bloody hand to produce a nice messy spatter over the ground, then bunched up a handful of his robe and pressed it over the cut to temporarily stop the flow before hurrying to the left, going around the other side of the inn to where he knew there was a side door to the kitchen.
The innkeeper’s wife, a tiny plump woman with heavy braids coiled around her head, was just reaching for the door to bar it as he pushed his way through, breathing hard. She jumped back with a terrified squeak and the innkeeper pulled her back into the corner of the room, standing protectively in front of her with a carving knife in one hand.
“Sorry,” Heisuke managed, fumbling and leaving bloody prints as he tried to bar the door one-handed. He managed to juggle it into the slot, then headed for the barroom and the stairs to the second floor. “They’re mad enough right now that I think they’ll run past you to chase me even if they work out I came in here,” he tossed over his shoulder as he left the room, “but if they get me – well, hiding’s probably better than trying to run away,” he finished weakly. The two Landers were staring at him as he limped out, and he found himself torn between worrying about them and trying to concentrate on tactics.
I don’t know if they trust me enough to listen, or even if they understood– damn. I’ve never really talked to any of them since I first wound up in here, have I? I’ve been concentrating too hard on my own business and treating them like ordinary NPCs, and they’re not any more, at least I noticed that– Stop it. Finish the fight, then worry about the Landers. Hopefully they’ll all live through this. Even if that Assassin gets me, maybe I’ve distracted the jerks from going after anyone else…
Anchor Howl’s still up, I can feel it, he thought, head turning involuntarily towards the front of the inn as he clambered up the stairs. Damn, I need to practice running more, two days obviously wasn’t enough – if the ability’s still in effect, the Guardian’s still alive, and if I manage to break out of it enough to target a spell on one of the others he gets a free unblockable strike at me. Need to finish him off. For one dizzy moment he wondered how that aspect of the Anchor Howl ability would translate out of game terms into the world they were in now; in the game, if a Guardian used Anchor Howl on you and you then attacked one of their party members, the penalty strike would ignore binds and traps and literally fling their character at yours. If he, say, cast a Fireball at the Monk from the edge of the inn roof, would the Guardian fly up, take the strike, and then land on his head in the street (hopefully killing himself with falling damage)?
Not gonna test it, he decided, a little regretfully, and hurried along the upstairs corridor, testing doors as he went until he found one on the right side that was unlocked.
The window let him out onto the sloped roof above the encircling verandah again, and he edged carefully along the wall until he could peer around the corner at the street. The Blizzard had stopped, but his Lightning Cage was still holding, sending regular jolts of electricity through the two trapped Adventurers, and as he brought his staff around to point at the Guardian the Monk staggered and collapsed, lying still.
What the– I didn’t hit him with a single direct spell and he’s down?! Even for someone in basic quest gear, that’s pathetic! His resistances must suck– unless he’s playing dead? He paused for a moment, torn between the two possibilities. They haven’t been fighting smart enough for that, really, but it’s hard to believe a Monk could have hit points and resistances low enough for me to take him out that easily. Damn, I wish I could see their health and status bars, that would– ah. Ha ha. I’m an idiot, he thought, bonking himself gently on the head with his staff as glowing symbols and text superimposed themselves over his view of the street. I can see their health bars and, yep, he’s dead all right. They really do suck that much.
I might even feel sorry for them if they hadn’t tried to kill that old woman, he thought grimly, and started casting again as the Lightning Cage flickered out and the Guardian staggered into the centre of the street, looking around wildly. Heisuke didn’t call out the spell name this time, hoping to keep the Assassin from realising that he’d circled back to the street long enough to finish this opponent off; instead, he sighted down his staff and carefully did the little circle-and-flick motion that went with the first attack spell every Sorcerer started with, one that combined reasonable damage with a slowing effect. No running away for you, asshole. Not letting you get into cover before I can finish you off.
The Guardian nearly fell over as the first Frostbolt slammed into his side, and Heisuke kept casting, eyes narrowed as he sent bolt after bolt into his target. The enemy Adventurer managed to turn and bring his shield up, frost spreading over his armour as the chill effect made him clumsy and forced him to yank his feet out of a thin skin of ice with every step, but he made barely ten feet towards the inn before Heisuke’s eighth Frostbolt chipped the last few percent away from his health bar and he fell.
Straightening up, Heisuke blew a drop of sweat off the end of his nose and checked his own stats. My health’s down about a quarter, that’s pretty good after being backstabbed, and my MP is down about halfway. I’ve got potions… in my bag, which is in my room. Damn. Well, I can–
He never finished the thought. There was a heavy thump on his back, like he’d been punched but somehow more penetrating, and a tickle in his throat, and when he coughed a fine red mist sprayed the air in front of him. Six inches of blood-streaked steel was sticking out of his chest, and he felt the Assassin’s breath on the back of his neck as the enemy player grunted with effort and pushed him off the blade.
For the second time that day, Heisuke rolled down the verandah roof and tumbled into the street, even less gracefully this time but somehow still managing to end up more-or-less on his feet. He staggered a couple of steps away from the building, leaning on his staff for support, and turned in time to see the Assassin jump down, teeth bared in a furious snarl. “You bastard,” he said, biting the words off as he saw all three of his teammates sprawled in the street. “You utter bastard.”
“Feeling’s mutual,” Heisuke wheezed, groping for a spell. He wasn’t going to have enough time to cast, it would only take one focussed strike to finish him off–
The stab took him in the stomach, and he automatically let go of his staff and grabbed at the source of the pain, both hands clenching around the Assassin’s wrist. In-game, it would have been entirely the wrong thing to do – the buffs on your weapon made up a huge percentage of your equipment bonuses, so dropping it immediately weakened all your abilities and defences– and in fact, in-game it wouldn’t have happened. Your character couldn’t drop its weapon unless you deliberately unequipped it through the menus, or an enemy used a Disarm skill to temporarily remove it. You couldn’t grapple an enemy unless you had an actual skill to do it with, either.
It wasn’t a game any more. He did it. And when the Assassin tried to pull out the sword for another strike, he hung on.
“Bad move,” Heisuke gasped out, managing to grin through the blood. “*Shocking Grasp.*”
When his head cleared, he was curled on his side in the gravel and dust of the road, and for a moment he thought he was back on that first day… until he tried to move, and pain stabbed through him from where the sword was still impaling his gut.
“Fuck,” he wheezed, squeezing his eyes shut and holding very still until the pain ebbed a little. Ow. Ow fuck fuck ow fuck. Did I get him?
There was a high-pitched pinging noise in his ears, drowning out whatever other sounds might be around him, and after a moment’s confusion he recognised it as the low health warning. Fighting to concentrate, he managed to call up his status screen, and felt a chill run up his spine as he saw the numbers. Wow. Red health bar, that’s… I’ve got less than a hundred hit points left?! Ow. Really ow. But if he hasn’t finished me off, I guess I got him first?
The Assassin was lying several feet away when he managed to open his eyes again, looking like a bundle of old clothes dropped in the dust. One hand was outstretched, fingers curled, actually smoking where it had taken the full brunt of his last attack.
Well, that’s a relief–
The fingers twitched.
In-game, it hadn’t mattered how low your health was; if you had even one hit point left, you could move and cast just as well as if your health bar was full. As Heisuke was finding out, this was another one of the game rules that no longer applied. Hell of an inconvenient one right now! He couldn’t move, he could barely breathe, and gesturing or speaking coherently enough to cast a spell was… Yeah, probably a bit much to ask right now, he decided, feeling more blood trickle unpleasantly from his nose and mouth. Menus. I cast one spell from the menus without moving at all, I can do it again, damn it–
The Assassin groaned and struggled to roll over, opening his eyes. They were dazed at first, not tracking, but then he saw Heisuke and abruptly focussed, expression pulling back into a scowl. Fumbling at his belt with shaking hands, he pulled out a dagger and began to drag himself over to the helpless Sorcerer.
Come on, one Fireball, that’s all I need, Heisuke thought, desperately trying to concentrate on the menu through the pain. It was far too easy to look through the menu at the slowly advancing enemy, and he wheezed in frustration as he lost his focus and the menu blinked back to the default status screen. Damn it–
The crunching of hard soles on gravel was barely audible through the constant pinging alarm, and both he and the Assassin were taken completely by surprise when the old Lander woman walked up, swung a woodchopping hatchet up over her head with both hands, and buried it in the Assassin’s back. The last of his health bar winked out, and he slumped to the ground, eyes still wide open and disbelieving.
“…Damn,” Heisuke managed, coughing up a bubble of blood and finally clearing his throat enough to speak. “Remind me never to piss you off, ma’am.”
She straightened up, glaring at him through narrowed eyes, and for a moment he thought she was going to pull the hatchet out of the Assassin and use it on him; then she snorted, and a thin, frosty smile barely touched her lips.
“You may be crazy, boy, but you’re a good sort of crazy,” she said, and nodded as if conferring an honour. “We can work with that.”
- end of Chapter 1 -
Elder Tale - the name of the game Heisuke and other players seem to have been physically pulled into. It's an MMORPG, a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, that has been running for decades and has accumulated a huge player base.
Cathedral - the building in each hub city where Adventurers resurrect after death.
PvP - Player versus Player combat.
PK - Player Killer/Killing, usually higher level players attacking lower level players for fun.
Spec - specialisation, how you ‘tune’ your character’s abilities to match your preferred style of play.
Crowd Control - abilities and effects that slow down, trap, or stun enemies to give you an advantage in combat.
AOE - Area of Effect, abilities/spells that are cast on an area rather than a single target.
DPS - Damage Per Second, a measure of how fast you can kill your targets.
MP - Magic Points, used to fuel your abilities.
HP - Hit/Health Points.
Seldeshia - the game world. Generally equivalent to Earth, with ruins where you would expect to find major cities, but half-sized.
Yamato - the Japanese server. The territory is equivalent to the Japanese islands.
League of Free Cities Eastal - one of the Five Territories of Yamato, an alliance of Lander nations and kingdoms ruling over an area equivalent to the eastern mainland of Japan.
Akiba - the main Adventurer hub city within the League of Free Cities Eastal, equivalent to the Akihabara district of Tokyo.
PCs - Player Characters, also called Adventurers.
Human (what it sounds like)
Half-Alv (look human, have an affinity for magic and a symbol on their tongue)
Race of Ritual
- Warrior classes:
Guardian - high defence, can wear plate and use shields, usually played as a tank
Monk - high HP, low defence; rely on evasion and resistance to special attacks. Fight with bare hands or fist weapons and kicks.
- Weapon-based classes:
Assassin - purely offensive, with the highest physical DPS of the twelve classes. Specialise in killing an enemy in one hit by targeting a weak spot, can use poison. Very low defence, rely on evasion.
- Healer classes:
Cleric - can spec into extra-strong healing or increased defence and the ability to use plate armour. Have a powerful automatic self-healing spell triggered by enemy attacks.
- Mage classes:
Sorceror - purely offensive, with the highest magical DPS of the twelve classes. Use mainly elemental attacks (fire, ice, arcane) and have access to a wide range of AOE spells. Very low HP and defence.
NPCs - Non Player Characters. Any creature you can peacefully interact with that isn’t a player character.
Landers - What the NPC races are generally called. They can be any of the PC races, and can also be any of the PC combat classes… though they usually aren’t, having non-combat classes and professions instead. Landers level up much slower than Adventurers, are generally weaker, and cannot resurrect after death.
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