Chapter 1 – Camp
The ground began to settle and the sky found a fixed hue. Neither fire nor ice fell from the sky. The trees were made of wood and didn’t secrete acid or poison. It was finally calm. After decades of troubles, it was finally calm. What felt like millennia, but was closer to years, of shifting, panic, chaos and death, as the worlds collapsed, was finally over.
In the beginning there was twelve worlds; planets separated by an endless void. By touching the hearts of each world, those who lived on the worlds were able to venture between worlds. With great pride, the best workers shaped a city in the void, a city at the centre of twelve worlds; The glorious city of Zen. For hundreds of years that city grew, with wealth, power and governance centralising itself there. For hundreds of years energy was taken away from the hearts of the worlds without being returned.
When the worlds became too exhausted to go on, they made one final attempt to survive. They moved themselves to the city in the void, collapsing themselves into one world. The process was not a subtle one and the resulting world was unstable, falling apart and rebuilding each section of the surface on a near daily basis. The world’s heart was also different, the power wielders of old, who could shape worlds and bring life to a void, couldn’t hear the voice of the planet any longer.
Cities were lost. Countries were lost. People were lost.
But despite the loss, life went on. In the middle of a canyon, that had once been a mountain, a small camp, the start of a village, had been set up. There were young ones, born after the birth of the one world, who lived every day only vaguely aware that it was possible to have a sunrise in a consistent direction. From their perspective, that the ground had stopped shaking was something to fear.
But the danger was only just beginning, with the environment finally stabilised beasts and monsters could once again repopulate. Within a week the camp’s population had been halved. The only way they lasted as long as they did was because some researchers, former power wielders, found new ways to reach the heart of the world. The new heart was different. It was far more powerful than the old ones but far less kind. The old hearts would attempt to communicate, would guess and empathise to try and reach the desired result. The new heart, the One Heart, however, did none of those things. It ignored communication, was apathetic and would only react to exact requests if they somehow made it to it. To make matters worse, it seemed to favour beasts and monsters. Beasts that appeared on the twelve worlds grew much faster than they previously did and would often carry the ability to project power is some form. Monsters were far worse; they seemed to be able to wield power as freely as man could on the twelve.
As the camp was on the brink of collapse, one researcher finished his experiment. It was a vein hope; something that could be described as escapism. He gathered all the energy, all the power, from the crystals, bones, scrolls, books and staffs. Naturally, that was done without permission and all of those things could have helped save lives in the fight against the beasts; but he didn’t care. His hope, his dream, was to use the gate spell, to escape the forest, to return the city in the void; return to Zen and his family that lived there. The spell failed. He tried again. The spell failed. He tried again. The spell failed.
He could hear the sound of people dying getting ever closer. The battle was being lost and they were being pushed back. He had enough energy for one more attempt. He had failed three times. Something wasn’t right. The spell should work. In a panic he thought to himself, what could he do to make it work?
He had an idea.
It was a crazy idea; even for him.
He restarted the spell, this time without a destination.
The spell would open a gate between that world and the nearest other world. He knew that the spell would most likely fail; after all, the thirteenth world was the only world left. Would the destination-less spell target the city? Would it simply break? He had no way of knowing.
The gate opened. The gate opened but what he saw wasn’t the city. A pulse of white light spread out of the gate and encompassed the horizon. When he regained his sight, he could see strange green, yellow and blue bars floating above everyone, himself included. Furthermore their names were displayed, as was a number. Similar bars could be seen over the heads of the nearby beasts.
By the end of the day that camp was destroyed.
It was an odd occurrence. In the games library of all virtual reality capsules was a game that no-one purchased. No company was listed and no-one credible was taking claim to it. No-one downloaded it, yet it existed fully downloaded. At first, it was believed to be a hacking incident, as it couldn’t be uninstalled and was still on the drive after a hard reset. After a short while it was found to be even stranger than that. After replacing the hard-drive on an unused device, and running it in off-line mode, the game still appeared in the library. It was like an urban ghost story, but everyone had it. To make matters stranger, when playing it, no internet data was metered. It was a game that didn’t exist, but did everywhere, that was played online, but didn’t use any data.
The publicity over the strange event lead to a sharp increase to the number of capsules sold, leading in turn to the event being called a publicity stunt. What made that idea less likely was that it didn’t just appear on one type of capsule. Any capsule capable of complete immersion, even home-made ones, had the game in the library. The game itself also made the idea that it was a publicity stunt less likely. There were law about the level of realism a game could have, especially around the amount of pain the user could feel before pain was disconnected. The game followed none of those laws and would see the makes imprisoned if they were discovered.
Players would get hungry, thirsty, hot, cold and tired. They’d get sick and diseased, could be scared and deformed. It also had a nonsensical level or difficulty that provided very little rewards. What it did have, that other virtual games didn’t, was a detailed character customisation. As laws were put in place to protect users the customisation options of most games were limited. That game, however, didn’t follow those laws any more than it did pain reduction. There were many calls to ban the game, but since it existed without anyone doing anything there was little that could be done about it.
The game was called Saviours of the Wild; it was a massively multiplayer online role playing game (mmorpg) with a strong emphasis on survival. There was no real theme or common environment, and often gave the impression that it was several different places, with different cultures, rather than one. Also in contrast were the available classes. While the game seemed to focus heavily on a serious atmosphere the playable classes seemed to disregard that entirely. While there were normal classes, like swordsman, rouge, wizard and archer, there were strange classes like fisherman, tattoo artist, meteorologist and gambler. To make matters worse, people who chose to be wizards couldn’t use magic. They had a spell list and available components, but no matter what anyone tried they couldn’t get a spell to cast. There was also a strange double up, with there being a bard class and a bard of the wild class. A normal bard had the same problem as the wizard, it had a spell list that no-one could use. It really didn’t take long for them to be labelled broken classes or scrap data from development that was never removed.
The classes that were able to use magic, however, required strange and different methods for casting. A geomancer collected energy from creatures and stones, storing it in crystals, and then used them as spells later. The summoner, on the other hand, worked through a strange process of drawing energy from spiritual animals. They had four major spiritual animals, from cardinal directions, and could draw spells from them while facing the correct compass direction. It was noticed fairly quickly, by those who used that class, that the sun didn’t rise in a constraint direction, however the direction they drew power from stayed the same. There were also classes like the witch doctor, which gained magic by harvesting the souls of the dead. They were considered to be unpleasant to be around, as they had a tendency to kill other players for extra spell resources.
When Laura first started playing she saw a class that appealed to here almost instantly. The apothecary; amongst the classes that could heal it was by far the most criticized. It had a bad health stat growth rate, it could only equip three types of weapons, and its healing method was non-magical and was slow when compared to other healers. The worst part was that at low levels, they could only provide healing in certain environments. Despite knowing all that, Laura still wanted to be one. She had dreamed about being a wise, all knowing doctor, at-peace with nature with a small shop that was soaked with the smells of herbs.
To fulfil that dream she entered her capsule and booted the game. When prompted to make a username she entered “Lotus Crane” and was taken to the character creation menu.