“Is this what you do in the evenings when I leave you here?” Fane leaned against Prince Orlov’s doorframe to watch the man hacking and slashing at the air in his Nurvo Gear.
“You were the one who asked way back when what I enjoyed doing. This lets me have friends without all the social obligations that may or may not be attached to my position as a member of the royal family. You remember Marjorta?” Ishan spun in the room and raised a hand. “May thunder be called down through the plains of Wyrm and Dragon.”
“Marjorta, yes. Nice person. That a spell?” Fane left his post at the wall to check the thermostat screen. “Why’s it so hot in here? You need to get your AC looked at.”
“Marmar was a person I met in college in one of my clubs. Got her business degree before spoofing off somewhere secretive, said she started a gym. We had a tabletop group back in the day.” His shoulders sank as he looked up. “I miss those days. Just the stupid shit we’d come up with. Now, we play on here as a way to get back together, though we’ve all split into our own guilds. I’m in my mid-thirties. All my friends have grown up, bought houses, gotten married, have pets or adopted kids or even had them. Yet they never left me. The one that’s been trapped by his family and their plans for him. We’ve made time for each other. Even if it’s a couple times a year, we’ve all logged on and been able to reconnect.
“You gonna be alright being on tonight rather than Ajay?”
Fane shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter much to me. What else would I be doing? Meditating like I do every evening?”
“You meditate?’ Ishan mimed swinging a staff.
“Yep. Been doing that for years. Not sure it’s doing much, but it’s part of a pattern now.” Fane slipped into the chair he’d sat in the night before.
“Huh. Grandpa does that. Say’s I’d find it useful for my anxiety. Feel like explaining how to one of these days?” Ishan ducked into a crouch, hands going to cover his head. “You could have well killed me, you cow-brained body builder!”
“Do I want to know what you’re fighting?” Fane leaned onto his arm, amused with the man crab walking across the tile.
“Big ass minotaur with an obnoxious number of life bars.” He dove towards Fane. “And not labeled a raid boss! I call B.S.”
“You gonna make it?”
“No, get your butt in here. You’re my bodyguard, right? Guard me!” Ishan fell back, raising his hand to an invisible enemy. “Shield!”
“I can’t do that. I need to have my wits about me in case something happens out here,” the bodyguard sighed.
“Turn on the security camera and toggle it to your Nurvo system. It’ll let you keep a set of field cameras up.” Ishan rolled. “Crap. This guy just isn’t going down.
“There’s a thing, ah! There’s a thing you can do. Your security pass number. When you get the Nurvo Gear on, go into settings. There’s a menu option you can get into, and your number will let you tap into the lighthouses in this room and use them as security cameras. You can, oh crap! I’m gonna die! Haha! Take that sucker! The lighthouses capture the room. If an alarm pings on the system, you can step out of the game and not even have to take the helmet off; oh for the love of earth’s volcanoes die already! You can step into a virtual version of this room to see if anything’s wrong. Ajay and I do this all the time.” Ishan breathed heavily as he got off the floor.
“Saying it’s safe then for me to play in there with you as the primary bodyguard?”
“Yep. I’ll take responsibility if something happens.” Ishan smiled. “Fireball! Haha! Critical hit. Oh, come on, that was epic. Five points? Get in here, Anson. This thing ain’t going down unless I get help.”
Fane rubbed at his arm, his stomach twisting at the idea of not being visually cognizant of the world when he was on guard duty. Resigning himself, he pulled one of the extra Nurvo gear sets from the cabinet and logged in. Half a minute of searching through the settings produced the menu option he needed to commander the lighthouses and generate a virtual image of the living room with both Ishan and him in it. “That is trippy.”
“Got it running? Good. Now get in here. Go into the friends’ call window, and it’ll link to me. I’ll send a teleport gem through it that’ll bring you to me.” Ishan crept away to the other end of the living room in Fane’s generated view.
Pressing the log-in button for the video game, Fane pulled at his nerve gloves, sinching the pins tighter. Carmadoon unfolded around him in its deeply saturated forest intro screen. A square in the left of his visual pulsated an angry red. Flicking a glove, the square unfolded into the friends’ call window list. One of the rectangles blinked orange. Popping it open, a teleport stone clinked into his inventory. “Alright, I have the gem, Bostock. What do I do with it to activate it?”
“It’s a voice command. Say ‘portal to who knows where.’ It’ll send you to me – the ‘who’ in the spell.” Ishan’s mic connected up to Fane’s gear, creating a minor echo as the AI adjusted volumes in the room.
Fane did as he was told and found himself in a nauseating spiral of sparkles that dropped him in front an angry Holstein-spotted minotaur. Bostock, the high elf, green outline showing his hiding spot behind a bush, sighed with relief.
“Spells or weapons with this thing?” Fane ducked to activate sneak and scrambled over to Ishan’s hiding place.
“Your level? I’m hoping for a one-hit kill.” Ishan covered his head as a scythe lopped off the top of the bush they were hiding behind, the green leaves dissolving in a bunch of verdent pixels.
Fane stood up and walked out of the bush toward the minotaur. “Alright. Let’s see what you’ve got.” He threw a straight right into the minotaur’s sternum. Eight life bars popped up on Fane’s screen. The topmost blinked, half the bar disappearing. He smiled. “Been a while since I’ve had a sparring partner that didn’t ask me to pull my punches.” Fane spun, landing a left heel into the beast’s snout. Something in the booties flicked on, whirring to generate friction to provide a feeling of connecting with the creature.
Fane landed smoothly through the movement. Two bars dropped off, and the minotaur’s eyes went red. “This Nurvo gear legit let me do that!”
“Do what?” Ishan asked from behind his bush, peeking out to find Fane bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“I kicked that thing and didn’t lose my balance. I figured I would because what I’m seeing and what’s actually out there aren’t the same thing. Thought it’d be like kicking a ghost, and I’d fall over.” He put up a defence as the creature swung a club, connecting with his arms. Fire and a bruised feeling splashed up his skin. “Ow?”
“Yeah, they’ve got some kind of jet or something in the booties to help with that. Lets the karate kids do some really cool stunts.” Ishan stood from his hiding place. “Fireball!” A giant purple and black flaming ball barreled past Fane’s head and hit the creature, driving it back, half of its face slophing.
A creeping sensation trailed up Fane’s back as the creature’s drool splashed across his screen. Tentacles and nightmares juxtaposed over his sight. Bile rose. He grasped for his back sheath and pulled his knife. His skin coated in a cold sweat. Charging, he buried the blade into the creature’s throat and shoved up, slicing open the face and brain. Blood drenching him from head to toe. He dropped to his knees and pulled the helmet above his eyes.
“Woah! Anson, you got him!” Ishan cheered. “Anson? You alright?”
Fane put a hand to his mouth, dragging in the scent of warm electronics and polyester. “Yep. Give me a second. I didn’t remember the other creatures going bloody on me.”
“Don’t do blood?” Ishan set a gentle hand on his back and rubbed.
“Not really well, no.” Fane swallowed back the sting of bile in his throat. He refused to throw up.
“Sorry. I had the graphics up, and if you jump into a friend’s line, it goes with their setting. I’ll dial it down.” Ishan let up on rubbing Fane’s back and tapped on a set of menus.
“Tell me that thing is down.” Fane put his head between his knees and waited for the wiggle of maggots and smell of rotting meat to stop a misplaced flashback.
“Yep. It’s evaporated. Loot’s laying all over. I’ll chuck stuff at you. It’ll load into your inventory if I do that. Just take your time.” Ishan reassured. “This why you’re a vegetarian?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Reason I wasn’t very keen on ever leaving base. I don’t know how I’ll do with a real event. Might be good at whooping a person’s butt, but blood and the texture of meat gives me flashbacks to things I don’t remember, and it makes me puke.” The AC kicked on overhead, and Fane dragged in the sweet coolness of artificial chill. “Seen people get hurt on base and did okay with those. Somehow I can displace myself and work on an emergency, but once it’s over and I can come back to my body, I don’t know if that makes sense, anyways, yeah, I tend to end up with this weirdness.”
“Man, that’s gotta suck. Thanks for coming in on that. Sorry about the gore. Here, come back in, the thing’s gone. We can go do something better.” Ishan encouraged.
Fane’s cold sweat stopped as he filled his lungs all the way to the bottom finally. He tugged on his helmet to find the little spot in the forest clear of all gore. The intense battle music he had not noticed before had turned back to the gentle acoustics of the main game theme. “Tell me how I’m going to handle a raid boss with this problem.”
“Talk to the leader on the raid. Most players are pretty cool if you say you don’t want the gore. If the raid leader won’t, then don’t join their party. No one needs to put up with that. Sorry again.” Ishan chucked an item at Fane. His inventory menu pinged, notification numbers hovering over it. He opened it to find health and xp pots. A minotaur’s horn spun in a cube.
“I take it this thing is craftable?” Fane pointed at the horn.
“If it isn’t a weapon or armour, most stuff creatures drop are craftable. The weapons and armour can be melded with other items to raise stats. Minotaur horns are uncommon drops, not exactly rare, but it can take killing ten or twelve of them to get one. Two dropped, so I gave you one and his breastplate. Equip that.” Ishan clicked through his menus and equipped a ringlet.
“What did you get?” Fane pressed on the breastplate icon and read through the description.
“Heir of the Milkman. It increases my luck at finding creatures that can speak with me.” Ishan smiled proudly.
Fane chose the breastplate and checked his armour class adjustment. “For giving me a lovely flashback of horrors, it at least made for a nice boost on my numbers.”
“Nice. Looks good on you. Here, come on. I’ll take you to a safe zone.” Ishan tossed him a teleport stone. “It’s got a preset destination. Throw it on the ground, and it’ll shatter.”
Fane fell through the teleport sparkles and joined Ishan in a market town by a seaside. The backdrop sunset cast glittering golds and pinks across the Romanesque-themed town. “Never made it out to the Greco-Italis area. Is this accurate?”
Ishan led him up through the streets. “Not of any one place that I’ve found, but the architecture is pretty on point for some of the coastal areas.”
They continued up flights of stairs and past players and NPCs alike. A breeze ruffled Fane’s hair through the nerve gear. He turned to glance down the stairs they had emerged from, but what he found left him speechless. A café sprawled across a cobblestone culdesac that overlooked a harbour filled with sailing and airships. Seagulls floated in and out of the clouds above.
“Nurvo Gear is one of those really high-end models. It connects up to the nerve at the back of your head that interacts with your brain signals like the rest of the nerve gears, right? Well, it has a couple extra sensors or something. It’s good enough to translate taste.” Ishan waved Fane to the café.
“How’s it do with registering hunger?” Fane followed him to a table and pair of chairs near the wall between the culdesac and the cliff.
“You’ll still be hungry, sadly. But the coders did a pretty good job at rendering flavours. Wanna try something?”
“Sure, but how do I sit down in one of these?” Fane pointed at the chair.
“Oh, right. Put your finger on the chair and pull up your helmet for a second. Find the couch or a different chair and walk over and sit down on it. It’ll jump the image so you can sit in the chair in-game,” Ishan reassured.
Quiche and tea ordered, the two relaxed into their chairs – the couch out in the real world – and watched the rippling of the ocean below them. Fane took his cup from the NPC woman when their food arrived and sipped at it, finding the flavour of chamomile almost convincing. “Weird.”
“It’s not quite perfect, but it’s a fun side bonus to this game.” Ishan’s elf ears wiggled forward, then dropped down in satisfaction with his cup of coffee.
“How do you join a raid?” Fane broke their calm.
“Oh, you show up to the guild hall that has the raid banner flying and see if you can party with them. I had plans of raising a raid banner, but it sounds like Marmar will raise it when we give the signal. You still thinking of doing it?” Ishan perked up, his focus shifting from the ocean to Fane’s face. Brilliant green eyes picked up the sparkle of the sea.
“Your eyes aren’t the same?” Fane frowned.
“Bought an upgrade. I hate my brown eyes. Everyone has them, and they don’t really feel unique. Great-grandpa’s were green.” Ishan laughed.
I like them. Fane swallowed wrong at that thought, bolting upright to cough.
“You alright?” Ishan grabbed for the teacup. “Oh, crap, it’s not real. You breathing?”
“Yeah. Yep. Fine. Swallowed wrong.” Fane waved the man off. Lungs clear and able to breathe again, they returned to their calmness.
“This has been nice.” Ishan sipped at his in-game coffee once more. “Oh, right, thoughts on the raid?”
“When’s it going to be?” Fane glared at his tea, his stomach growling.
“Next Saturday. I coordinated with Marmar that way we’d both have the evening off. Ajay’s on roster to do overnight that evening.” Ishan rose from the table when his cup vanished.
“Well, let’s go get me registered then, I guess?” Fane followed Ishan down the stairs from the café.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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