Eric felt his consciousness being ripped apart. Then, like an elastic snapping into place, his body pulled itself together. Liquid had enveloped him within some sort of squishy tube. He tried to open his eyes but failed. His arms and legs wouldn’t move properly either. Eric tried to scream, but his mouth wouldn’t open. Then, the tube began to squeeze him and get pushed out. He tried desperately to cling to something, by his arms could only wave up and down. A cry reverberated in his ears. His cry. Eric felt his head go lightheaded as he passed out.
Eric woke up on his feet. The shock of consciousness made him dizzy. He gasped for air as he collapsed to the ground.
Looking down with blurry vision, he found tiny hands digging into the grass. Startled, he fell on his face. “Oof!” The voice was a child’s. He sat up and took stock of his body. His hands were tiny, his limbs short, and he felt awkward. A child, maybe about five or six years old. He was wearing a dark tank top and tan leather shorts.
“What the crap was that? A bit disorienting?” Eric moaned. “Yeah, whatever.” Had he just gone through some type of birth? Had he been a baby in that tube?
Looking around his surroundings, Eric found himself in a large grassy field within a domed cave; light radiated from the pure white walls. He was near a wall so he touched it; solid and smooth. In the middle of the cave, he saw two pedestals: one with a large crystal and the other with a grey orb about the size of a baseball.
Other children were standing or wandering around the field. They wore the same clothes as Eric and a single white sphere hovered above each of their heads. Eric looked up and found a sphere of his own. He reached up to touch it, but the ball simply floated through his hand.
Blue particles condensed next to Eric and a moment later, a child popped into existence. Eric jumped back in surprise.
“Woah, you scared me,” Eric said; his voice sounded odd to his ears. “Do you know where we are?” Eric asked. The child’s face remained blank, then he silently walked away without responding.
“Freaking NPC,” Eric muttered. The other kids also had blank expressions on their faces and moved somewhat mechanically. A new child would periodically appear at a random location in the cave. A girl grabbed the orb in the center of the cave which disappeared in her hand; a new orb took its place on the pedestal. A moment later, the white orb above her head turned grey; the orb lit up and a new outfit appeared around her. She touched the crystal and disappeared in a puff of blue mist. Another child touched the crystal without having those new clothes on, but nothing happened.
“This is different than I expected,” Eric said to himself as he stood up. A wave of vertigo washed over him; he didn’t stand as tall as he was used to and almost fell over again. It took a moment for him not to get lightheaded.
Eric heard coughing about twenty feet away. A boy with a shaved head, tanned skin, and similar clothes was on his knees, gasping for breath, and then fell on his face. Eric laughed as the boy went through the same process as him a few moments before. Definitely a real person.
The other boy looked at Eric. “Who’re you? Wow, is that my voice?”
Eric laughed and stood up. He extended a hand to the other boy. “I’m Eric. You are?”
“Eric?” Recognition passed through the boy’s eyes and laughed. “You look different. It’s me, Ben.” Ben reached up and took Eric’s hand.
The moment their hands touched, something flashed above his left wrist. A small screen had popped up. It stayed fixed above his wrist no matter how he moved it. It read:
<[Social] Become friends with Piper? ~Yes~ | ~No~>
Eric stared at it for a couple of seconds until it disappeared automatically. He noticed a green circle had started to blink on and off on his wrist like a watch with a silent alarm. He poked it and the screen reappeared, except with more information.
All | General | Battle | Quest | Social
- [Social] Become friends with Piper? ~Yes~ | ~No~>
Eric poked at the <Yes> button. He felt a cool resistance like he was pushing against a thin layer of floating water or condensed air. The notification cleared and a new one took its place:
<[Social] You have become friends with Piper.>
“Cool beans,” Ben said; he was looking at his wrist as well, though Eric couldn’t see anything.
“I know,” Eric said. “After all of these years, we’re finally friends.” Ben snorted. Eric tapped the green button on his wrist to close the screen and looked around again. “This is so surreal. We really are in a game. Feels so real.”
“Yeah, we even have stats and everything,” Ben said, still looking intently at his wrist.
“What? Where?” Eric asked.
Ben pointed at his left wrist. “You saw the flashing notification, right? Well, there are other buttons you can press.”
“Geez, you’re here for only a few seconds and already figuring the game out,” Eric said. Ben laughed distractedly.
Eric looked at his left arm. He found three circles: yellow, green, and white. The yellow and green circles were over his left wrist while the white circle was near the middle of his left forearm with a 100 in it. Eric pressed the white circle. A new screen opened up above his arm:
Mana: 100 / 100
Carry Limit: 0 / 4
- Slot 1: (Empty) – 100 / 100>
Eric exited the screen once he couldn’t find any more information. He tried the yellow circle. A new screen hovered over his left wrist, but it was much larger than the notifications and orb sheets.
Stats | Skills | Quests | Inventory | Friends>
To the right of the menu was an image of a boy with red hair. The avatar that he had painstakingly created the week before, though he was much younger than the character he created. It was surreal to see a picture of a stranger and realize it was his current body. Beneath his profile picture, blue lines appeared at consistent intervals like a clock. It counted up to ten, and restarted, adding a purple line below that set. He would have said it was a weird clock or a timer, but the lines appeared once every three seconds.
The Stats option was automatically open.
<Syn [Level: 1]
Low Human [Rank 1, Copper], Male
Attribute Points: 0
- Strength: 4 (+1) [Power: 4 (+0) | Carry Limit: 4 (+0)]
- Endurance: 4 (+1) [Stamina: 4 (+0) | Armor: 4 (+0)]
- Agility: 3 (+0) [(Dexterity: 3 (+0) | Speed: 3 (+0)]
- Mind: 3 (+0) [Mana Regen: 3 (+0) | Perception: 3 (+0)]>
Eric nodded. Fairly typical RPG stats, though they could be interpreted in different ways; it was organized differently than he was used to as well. He’d have to figure out exactly what they mean. He clicked through the tabs. The Skills and Inventory were empty, but he did have a Quest.
<[Quest: In Progress] Assigning Your First Orb
- Description: Welcome to the Realm of Beginnings! Learn the basics and begin the Trial.
- Complete the following (0 / 3):
- Collect the Orb on the pedestal in the center of the room. (0 / 1)
- Assign Orb to Slot 1. (0 / 1)
- Touch the Mana Crystal with the Orb Equipped. (0 / 1)
- Gain access to the Trial [Realm 1].>
The Quest seemed easy enough. He had already seen a few NPCs complete it. Clicking on Social, he only had one Friend.
<Piper – ~Message¹~>
Eric opened up the message from Ben. A smaller sheet opened up like a text message on a phone.
Piper: <Testing, 1, 2, 3, testing.>.
“I got your message,” Eric said. “Riveting stuff.”
“Hey, I put a lot of thought into that,” Ben said with mock offense. “This is different from the game we played. We don’t have a health bar, but we have Mana. Lots of empty or low stats that I have no idea how they work.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Eric said as a goofy smile spread across his face.
“You know it,” Ben said, returning his grin. His boyish smile fit his new body perfectly. Ben glanced around and looked at the crystal in the center of the cave; an NPC just teleported away. “I take it we’re supposed to leave through there?”
Before Eric could answer, another cloud of blue particles materialized into a person next to them. A young girl about the same age and wearing the same clothes as the other two followed the same pattern: fall to her knees then face. She had dark blue hair that fell down her back.
Eric stepped over with a laugh and reached out to help her up. “Here, let me help you up.”
She looked up at him and took his hand to climb to her feet. “Thanks, kid.” Eric glanced at the notification:
<Become friends with Trist? ~Yes~ | ~No~>
“Wait, what?” Eric said. “Todd, is that you?”
“Yes? Do I know you?” the girl responded, then noticed her wrist as well; she tapped it. “Friend? Syn? Wait, Eric, is that you? Why are you a kid?” She looked at her hands. “Why am I a kid?” She was talking kind of fast.
“I think the better question is, why are you a girl?” Eric asked.
“Oh, right,” Todd said, pulling her hair in front of her face. “I guess I did make a female character. I kind of forgot. Oh well, it should make the game more interesting.”
Eric briefly explained to Todd what they had learned, like how to accept the friend request, check the stats, and see the other menus. “Hey, Ben, did I miss- where’d you go?”
“Ben’s here too?” Todd asked.
“He was a second ago. Ah, there he is.”
Ben had walked over to the pedestals and was looking at an invisible screen over his left wrist. Eric and Todd walked over to him. Eric asked, “You figure something out, Ben?”
“What?” Ben looked up distractedly. “Oh yeah, let me try something.”
Eric saw the white Orb above his head turn grey. Ben pressed something on his right arm. The Orb above his head glowed and blue mist emerged from it to surround Ben. Within a few moments, the mist materialized into clothing. A leather sleeveless tunic and long pants hung around his torso and legs. They looked simple but durable.
Todd came back over. “Woah, that’s awesome, Ben.”
“Todd, is that you?” Ben asked, looking at Todd for the first time.
“Took your time to notice me,” Todd said with a laugh.
“Don’t you think it’s a little weird he’s a girl?” Eric asked as his friends shook hands.
“People do it all the time in games,” Ben said with a shrug. “He’s done it before, and so have you and I.”
“That’s, um . . . That’s completely different. Guess I’m the only weird one that finds it strange,” Eric said.
“Anyway, where did those clothes come from?” Trist asked.
Ben motioned at the Orb on the pedestal that had replaced the one Ben had taken. “Just pick it up and follow the prompts.”
Eric picked up the Orb which disappeared in his hand, then Todd picked up the one that took its place. Eric checked his notification.
<[General] You have found Tutorial Loot. Tunic Orb x1 added to your Inventory.>
Eric also got a notification he completed the first part of the Quest. He opened his Inventory. The Tunic Orb took up the first spot of twenty-five squares. When he poked it, new options appeared:
<Assign [Body] | Trade | Discard>
The Trade and Discard options were faded out. He selected Assign [Body].
Something flashed on his right arm. Like his left arm, he found a button. This one was a grey button in the middle of his right forearm. It had a 100 with a picture of clothes in the background. He looked up and found the Orb above his head had turned grey. Following Ben’s example, Eric hesitantly pressed the button on his arm. Blue mist surrounded him and then materialized into the same type of clothing that appeared around Ben. He moved around experimentally; it fit him like it was tailor-made. The circle on his arm had started glowing, and he received another notification he completed the next stage of the Quest.
He remembered the empty stats on his Orb page and pressed the white circle on his left arm.
<Orbs (100 / 100)
Carry Limit: 1 / 4
- Slot 1 [Body]: Basic Tunic [Level 1 (Low)] – 100 / 100
- [Neutral, Rank 1, Iron]
- Stats: Weight: 1, Armor: +3>
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a glimmer. The crystal. It had large enough surfaces to display a reflection. He got a look at his new body for the first time. A boy with bright emerald eyes and flaming red hair stared back at him. Eric was expecting the new face, as he had designed it himself and he had seen the profile picture, but it didn’t make it less surreal to see a different person stare back, raise an eyebrow, and touch his face. Seeing his avatar mimic his every move, Eric’s world shifted. He was Syn, the character he had been playing for years. Ben became Piper, and Todd became Trist. Syn smiled.
“What the . . .” Trist’s voice rang out. Syn looked over to see Trist had equipped her gear. She had on Tunic as well, but the collar was a bit wider. Also . . . “Why am I in a skirt? No way this offers the same protection!” A leather pleated skirt fell just above her knees, leaving her legs exposed.
Syn burst out laughing, and Piper was holding back a smile. Trist glared at them. After he recovered, Syn asked, “Isn’t it because you’re a girl?”
“That’s sexist,” Trist complained. “Will all my clothes be like this?”
As they bantered, a new child approached them. He had short brown hair, an average build, and an average face. In short, he was the default character without any edits. His steps were smooth and confident.
“Yo, what’s up?” the boy called out. “Are you the guys from the lab?”
“Yep, we’re the civilians,” Trist said as she extended her hand. “I’m Todd or Trist. Whatever you like.”
The boy took her hand. “Name’s Tyson. Wait, Todd? You’re a guy?”
Trist grinned. “Not at the moment.”
Tyson, one of the military guys, chuckled. “Fair enough. Easiest sex change I’ve ever seen. What’s the deal with this . . . screen?” He gingerly touched his arm. “Woah! That’s cool. Friends with Trist? What’s that mean?”
Syn explained how to accept the friend request, open up the character screen, and equip the Orb.
“Games sure have evolved since last I played,” Tyson said as he scratched his head while reading over the details. “It’s been a while since I’ve played.”
“Not this far,” Syn said, still with awe in his voice. “This is incredible.”
“Any ideas why we’re kids?” Trist asked.
“I can think of a few possibilities,” Piper answered. “Maybe we’ll age up as we progress. Or we’ll just age up naturally over time.”
Another person jogged up to them as they were talking. He looked like an identical twin to Tyson; another default character from the military. He introduced himself as Aaron, and they showed him the ropes as well.
“So, why are you the default characters?” Syn asked. “Could you not make your own?”
“We were in the middle of training. We told the office to make them for us.” Aaron spoke with a clear and precise voice. Syn found it somewhat comical to hear a kid speak so seriously. “They must have not bothered.”
“We didn’t have the time or inclination either,” Tyson added; he was much more friendly and casual. “I was so confused when we received our orders. Play video games for a month? I thought we were getting demoted or released from duty, not taking part in some secret government program. I think they want us to report how effective it will be to train here.”
“I can see the applications for that,” Piper said. “You’ll be able to train without the fear of serious injury. Plus with the time dilation, you’ll be able to train longer.”
“I’m still skeptical,” Aaron said. “I don’t think it’ll carry over very effectively in the real world.”
A boy popped into existence a short distance away and fell to his knees immediately, revealing him to be a player. The group walked over to the newcomer. The boy was identical to the other two military guys. Aaron and Tyson looked at each other and broke out laughing.
“I can’t believe they gave you the male default character, too, Carol,” Tyson said between laughs.
Tyson helped Carol to his feet. Carol looked around and quickly got adjusted to his new situation as his compatriots explained their situation.
Tyson put his arm around Carol’s shoulders, still laughing. “At least now you’re officially one of the guys.”
Carol gave Tyson the stink eye, then smirked. “Oh please, I’ve always had more balls than both of you combined.” Carol twisted out of Tyson’s arm, grabbed his wrist, and threw him over his shoulder in one fluid motion. Syn expected Tyson to land right in front of Carol, but Tyson flew five feet before skidding to a stop.
Carol rushed to his side. “Woah, sorry, didn’t mean to do that. You alright?”
With Carol’s help, Tyson got to his feet. “Yeah, just caught me off-guard. What’s this? The number on my arm decreased.”
“Really?” Piper jumped in. “How much? Did it hurt? Anything stand out?”
Tyson looked up, surprised at Piper’s interjection and intensity. “Um, it’s at 97 right now. So, 3? And, no, it didn’t hurt much, at least compared to real life.”
“I see, I see,” Piper began mumbling to himself. “I wonder how it calculates the damage. Is our Mana our health? Odd that it’s linked to our clothes. Will we deal more damage if you get hit in a more sensitive location? What if . . .”
Tyson turned to Trist. “Is he alright?”
“Yeah,” Trist replied. “He gets like this whenever we start a new game. He likes to figure out all of the details.”
“He goes into his own little world,” Syn said with a laugh.
“That was pretty weird,” Jason interjected. “Carol shouldn’t have been able to throw Tyson like that.” He flexed. “I do feel different, aside from being a child.”
“We are in a game,” Carol said. “Maybe we have super strength or something silly like that.”
“I want to try something,” Trist said. She bent her knees and jumped as high as she could. She jumped at least three feet in the air. Nothing too incredible, but much higher than would be otherwise possible. “Woah, that was cool.” She then sprinted off, running faster than she had any right to go.
Syn and the three military guys looked at each other. Syn shrugged. He took two steps and jumped. He felt the wind push past him as he easily long jumped about ten feet. Syn laughed as he tripped and rolled to a stop. Syn jogged back to the group, who were doing tests, like jumping or lifting each other above their heads.
“I guess we are stronger,” Tyson said. “At least, comparatively with these smaller bodies. Oh, my number went up to 98 now.”
Syn nodded. “We do have Mana Regen. Wonder how we can increase it.”
Piper spun to Syn. “Syn, I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
“You what?” Syn asked.
“Punch. Me. In. The. Face.” Piper said slowly, pointing at his face. “I want to see what happens.”
“I don’t know-” Syn trailed off.
Trist zipped back over to them, breathing heavily. “What’s going on?”
“Piper wants me to punch him in the face,” Syn said. Piper nodded.
“Is that it?” Trist said. Before someone could stop her, she stepped forward and punched Piper on the chin. Piper crumpled to the ground.
Right when Trist was punching Piper, a new person approached them. He had dark brown hair and pale skin. He rushed over as he saw Trist punching Piper. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Trist quickly pointed at Piper. “He asked for it.”
The new boy rubbed his temples. “Just because you look like a child doesn’t mean you have to act like one. Help him up. When you touch your hands, you should get a friend request. Press right here to look at your notifications.” He pointed at his wrist.
“We already took care of that,” Syn said as extended his hand to the new boy; it didn’t hurt to improve his impression of them. He really wanted the job. Syn confirmed the boy was Paul, one of the Mythic employees. Everybody else besides him and his friends seemed to be using their real names.
“Good, yes. That will make things go faster,” Paul said, nodding with approval. “I see you have also put on your clothing as well. Looks like everyone is here . . . except Ashley.”
“I’m here!” a voice called out. A girl with black hair and dark skin matching her real body rushed to join them. “I’m here.” She looked flustered.
“Good, good,” Paul said, taking charge. “Before we start, does anyone have any questions?”
Carol raised his hand. “How do we go to the bathroom?”
Paul rubbed his temples. “What did I say about acting like a child?”
“I’m serious,” Carol said. “I’m no expert, but I don’t seem to have the proper plumbing. It’s like I’m a doll, completely smooth down there. I checked.” All of the others, through an involuntary compulsion, checked their pants. Nothing. Carol kept on going, “I’m a guy here, but I don’t have a d-“
“Yes, yes, thank you, I’ll explain,” Paul said, cutting him off. His tone shifted from an annoyed babysitter to a patient teacher. “I needed to explain this anyway. These bodies are made up of pure Mana. You have no blood and no internal organs. You do not need to go to the bathroom. Whenever you take damage, you lose Mana. Here, I can show you.”
Paul used his fingernail and sliced his palm. Paul showed off the injury; a thin blue line was drawn across it with blue mist seeping out. The line was gradually shrinking.
“This is Mana leaving me,” Paul continued. “Your Mana is contained within Mana Orbs.” He pointed at the white Orb above his head; Syn thought the color had faded slightly to look more transparent. “Since you have already equipped your Tunic, you would have noticed you had to link the Orb to an empty slot. Specifically, to your body. You’ll be able to easily see and activate your Orbs by using your right arm and seeing your Orb information on your left. When an Orb gets damaged, the color in the Orb above your head will fade. Each Orb will have a different rarity. Iron is the beginning rarity and will be displayed as grey. Above that, in order, it will go from Copper, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Always be aware of your Mana Orbs and of those around you.”
“Is there a way to get more Orbs?” Syn asked.
Ashley raised her hand. “I’m, I can answer.” Paul nodded for her to continue. “Um, you get more Orbs by leveling up your other Orbs. Open your Orb menu by touching the white circle on your left arm. Got it? Good. Do you see the <Low> next to the Basic Tunic? That is the progress to the next level; think of it like experience in other games. It goes from Low, Low-Mid, Mid, High-Mid, High, and Max. Once you reach Max, you can choose to level it up and gain a new Orb. Two things to note: each time you level up will make all of your Orbs more difficult to level up again and the maximum amount of Orbs is 10, though you can keep on leveling up your Orbs. Five Orbs will connect to different parts of your body, specifically, your body, head, face, feet, and hands. The other five Orbs will be two weapons, two spells, and a summon.”
“How do we increase the rarity?” Piper asked.
Ashley nodded. “You increase it by feeding it specific materials. Be aware, since our race is Copper rarity, we can only upgrade our Orbs to Copper.”
“Thank you, Ashley,” Paul said. “We will discuss how to upgrade when we get closer. Back to Mana. Whenever you take damage, the highest slot Mana Orb will decrease. If an Orb gets reduced to 0, you will no longer be able to use what is linked to that Orb. When you restore Mana, it will always restore the lowest Orb Slot first. So, it is wise to put your most important Orbs in the lower slots. Damaging or using your Orbs will also decrease the Mana Orb they are linked to. If your total Mana reaches 0, you die.”
Syn let that sink in for a moment. It was weird to think his life was tied to a number. Even if it was a virtual life.
“What if we don’t like the Orb we have equipped? Is there a way we can swap out orbs for another one?” Piper asked.
“No,” Paul answered. “You’ll be stuck with what you have.”
“There is a way,” Ashley piped in. “Whenever you die, you’ll lose a bit of experience. If you end up losing a level because of it, the slot with the lowest progress will get destroyed along with its Orb. Once you level up again, you can assign a new Orb to that slot. Oh, another way is when you Rank up. Your Orbs will reset, and you can assign new Orbs then.” The group stared at Ashley, and she blushed and stared at her feet as she noticed the attention.
“Yes, thank you,” Paul said after a long pause. “I stand corrected. Thank you, Ashley. Don’t worry about Ranking up for now.”
Piper raised his hand. “You mentioned we could change the slot order. How do we do that?”
“Only at Mana Crystals,” Paul said and pointed at the crystal on a pedestal. “Mana Crystals are very important to the game. You’ll be able to teleport, go to your Room, and change your Orb slot order, among other things. You will see these Crystals at Settlements and Dungeons. Only the Mana Crystal at Alpine [Outpost] will you be able to communicate with the outside world; it is your spawn point. When you die, you’ll be sent back to that spot. None of the other Mana Crystals in the Realm will do that.” Paul paused and looked at Carol. “Does that answer your question?”
Carol had a blank expression. “About why we don’t need to go to the bathroom? No, not at all. I’m gonna be honest, most of that went right over my head.” He swung his hand over his head. Tyson and Aaron nodded in agreement.
“I see,” Paul said slowly. “I might have gone deeper than I should have. The short version of why our bodies are set up like this is that Terrance fed the AI who made this game very specific information, mainly video games. He did not explain to the AI how human bodies work. By the time other people got involved, the AI wouldn’t listen to us. You’ll get used to it. I think it might be best to separate into our different groups now. Ashley, can you handle the civilians?”
“Y-yes,” Ashley said nervously. “I think so.”
Paul pulled the military triplets aside, while Ashley did the same for Syn’s group.
“We’ll be in your care,” Trist said with a bright smile. That seemed to calm Ashley down a bit.
“Yes, before we start,” Ashley said. “I’m going to grab my Tunic, especially since it looks like you’ve already figured it out.” She grabbed the Orb off of the pillar and equipped the Basic Tunic. A leather tunic and pants appeared over her underclothes.
“What the . . .” Trist exclaimed when she saw her outfit. “Why do you get to wear pants, and I’m stuck in a skirt?”
“I believe you selected the ‘Feminine Clothes’ feature when you created your character,” Ashley said quietly. “It’s a feature included with the character creation.”
“Oh, oh crap,” Trist said, smacking her head as she remembered. The group chuckled at her expense; Trist’s face turned bright red.
Syn teased, “That’s what you get for trying to play dress-up with your character.”
“Why in the world is that an option? Is there a way to change it?” Trist asked, her eyes pleading.
Ashley shook her head. “Afraid not. It’s built within the character; it’s one of the weird quirks the AI has. There might be a way within the game to change that setting, but we don’t know of it. However, your clothes offer the same stats as otherwise; even if you get hit on your skin, you’ll still be protected the same. You’d have to log out and make a new character. I . . . don’t think they’d let you back in if the reason you wasted a dive was that you didn’t want to wear a skirt.”
Trist grumbled but accepted her fate. “Might as well make the best of it. I’ll be the hottest girl in the game.”
After shaking their hands to befriend them, Ashley asked in her soft voice, “Do you have any questions?”
Piper’s hand shot up. “I’ve got a bunch. What does each of the attributes mean in the character sheet? What does it mean to go up a Rank? What’s the best way to increase the level of the Orbs? What-“
“Woah, hold on there buddy,” Trist said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Let her answer before asking more.”
“Thank you,” Ashley said, nodding at Trist. She turned back to Piper. “First of all, Ben, I want to say your work has helped us more than you realize. It was my responsibility before to dig through the data. I constantly referenced your website and videos. I even made a guide for the people coming in here based on the information you provided. When I learned you were going to come in for a dive, I just had to join the team!”
Piper blushed and looked away. “Thanks,” he mumbled. Ashley realized what she said and blushed as well. An awkward silence settled between them. Syn couldn’t help but smile.
Trist slapped Piper on the shoulder. “Looks like you’ve got yourself a fan. Anyway, Ashley, can we go through Ben’s questions?”
“Hmm?” Ashley snapped back to the present. “Oh, yes, sorry. Attributes, right? We have four attributes: Strength, Endurance, Agility, and Mind. Each Attribute is connected to two other stats. Increase Attributes to increase the Stats. Go ahead and check your character sheet.” Syn opened his page again.
- Strength: 4 (+1) [Power: 4 (+0) | Carry Limit: 4 (+0)]
- Endurance: 4 (+1) [Stamina: 4 (+0) | Armor: 7 (+3)]
- Agility: 3 (+0) [(Dexterity: 3 (+0) | Speed: 3 (+0)]
- Mind: 3 (+0) [Mana Regen: 3 (+0) | Perception: 3 (+0)]>
“Hey, our Armor is higher,” Trist observed. “Why- Oh! Because of our tunic, right?”
Ashley nodded. “You typically won’t be able to increase your base Attributes other than gaining Attribute Points through leveling and some Skills, but you can change your Stats through equipment and other things. I guess I can explain what each Stat does. Power is how much damage you deal with your weapon. Carry Limit is how much equipment weight you can carry; you’ll see your total Weight equipped on your Orb page. Stamina is how long you can push yourself without getting tired. Armor is how much damage you’ll prevent from physical attacks. Dexterity is your precision of movement. Speed is how fast you can move. Mana Regen is how fast you restore Mana. And Perception is how fast you perceive the world. Of course, there are nuances to each of those stats. You following so far?”
Piper nodded eagerly as he hung on her every word. Syn and Trist looked at each other and then back to Ashley.
“Uh, maybe,” Syn said. “Perceive the world? Is that like time slowing down? The time dilation?”
“Basically,” Ashley nodded. “Um, that leads to Gravity next. Each realm has a Gravity Rank, which is a bit of a misnomer since it has very little to do with actual gravity; I mean, heavy things fall faster here.”
“I guess the AI missed physics class,” Trist retorted.
“Yeah, we joke about that a lot too,” Ashley smiled. “A lot of things do act the way they do in the real world. This place’s Gravity Rank is 1. You can find out the Gravity Rank on the Map screen when you touch a Mana Crystal. When your Stats are above the Gravity Rank, you’ll feel lighter, time will move slower, and so on. The opposite is true going the other way. Each Stat will have different effects. One specific example is that the clock in your menu is based on the Gravity of your realm; since your Perception is higher than Gravity, each tick feels that much longer. Each tick is one second in the outside world.”
“So a high Perception will make the world look like it’s standing still?” Syn asked, still amazed that time was flowing differently here.
“Yes, but that’s including you as well,” Ashley said. “If your Perception is too high above Speed, you will feel trapped in your own body. I’ve heard it can be . . . difficult and wouldn’t recommend it.” Syn nodded while planning on disregarding that advice.
“One thing to be aware of,” Ashley continued. “Gender and Race will affect your Attributes. Low Humans don’t have any pros or cons, but girls will have a higher Agility and Mind, while guys will have higher Strength and Endurance. For example, Trist and I have a higher Agility and Mind than you two boys. You can see the bonuses next to the Attributes.”
“Nice, finally, being a girl is paying off,” Trist smiled. “Assassin for me. Move and attack fast. Just wish I wasn’t in a skirt. Is that why you guys are talking so slowly?”
“Yes,” Ashley nodded. “Your Perception is slightly higher than the guys’.”
Piper spoke up. “I’ll probably boost my Endurance for the high Armor.”
Ashley nodded. “Tanks are usually in high demand. Not too many people or Natives want to get hit on purpose.” Piper paled as he realized what his role implied.
“Man, this is unfair,” Syn pouted. “I want to be a support mage.”
“Not many guys are mages, but it’s possible,” Ashley commented. “The boost is one bonus Attribute for every five.”
“Maybe if we find a gender swap potion, you could use it,” Trist teased. “After me, of course.”
Syn grinned. “I’m sure if you used it, it’d glitch the system and you’d still be stuck in skirts.”
“Oh, ha ha,” Trist replied dryly. “I bet I could pull it off. All it takes is confidence.”
“Does something like that exist?” Piper asked Ashley. “Gender swap potions or stuff like that to permanently change your character?”
“Yes, though not through potions,” Ashley said slowly. “We have three support items: Meals, Pills, and Shards. Meals temporarily alter your Stats. Pills offer permanent effects. And Shards offer one-time special abilities. I am not sure if a Gender Swap Pill exists. We haven’t encountered one before, but Prestige is a big game.”
Trust shrugged. “Pity.”
“Um,” Ashley said, turning back to Ben. “What was your next question again?”
“Rank, I believe,” Piper said. “And then the best way to level up.”
“Let’s hold off on Rank for now,” Ashley said. “We’re a long way until then. But, I can talk about leveling up. The best way to level up is in combat using our Orbs. So, with our tunic, each time we get hit, we will gain a bit of Experience. Same thing with weapons and spells. The more we use it, the more we get. If we go against more difficult enemies, we will get more.”
“I’ve got a question,” Trist said, raising her hand with a yawn. “Can we start playing now? I’m more of the learn-as-I-play type of person. We’ll be here all day if you let Ben pick your brain.” She watched with jealousy as a constant stream of NPCs exited through the Mana Crystal.
Ashley glanced over at Paul. “I suppose that’ll be fine. Let me just-“
Before she could finish her sentence, Trist let out a “Woop!” and touched the Mana Crystal. Ashley stared at the spot Trist had disappeared from with her mouth open.
“Is she, er, he always like that?” Ashley asked.
“Jump into a shallow pool head first?” Syn asked. “Yeah, basically.”
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