Hey all! I hope you’re liking the story so far. If you’re reading, please drop me some feedback at the bottom of the chapter. We’re almost halfway done with the first novella now!
It didn’t take much longer to clean up the last of the zombies. After the last shambler was down for good, the little group spent a solid hour looking around for whatever it was Vale needed. Vale missed old school video game logic a little bit. In an antique game, the deepest part of the structure or where the zombies were most concentrated would have been where he was supposed to go.
S.O.O. was not that predictable.
It was Bartholomew who finally found the hidden door to an old, cobweb filled study. Disturbing drawings covered the walls, barely visible in the gloom. An old brazier in the corner stood in solemn vigil for the desk that dominated one corner of the room. An entire wall of the room was lined with a heavy table covered in old books and glass beakers.
“Well, this is… cheery,” complained Abigail. She sneezed and took a step back. “I’ll hang out right here. Vale, if you use any wind mojo in here, I will shoot you.”
“Okay, okay, don’t worry about it. Also, I already told you like ten times that I’m sorry I didn’t think of using my magic earlier. It’s just new to me, okay?”
Abigail narrowed her eyes, obviously skeptical. “Maybe after I forget how we spent two days grinding waves of zombies, I’ll bring myself to forgive you.”
Bart was walking around the room, ignoring Vale and Abigail completely. Vale walked to his friend and quietly asked, “See anything interesting? I really don’t know what we’re looking for here.”
“Yeah, there is a box over there on that counter.” Bart pointed and said, “You’re the one with the high luck stat, maybe you should check it out in case it’s a loot crate.”
“Shhh, keep that shit on the down low!” Vale whispered.
Bart shrugged and began poking around near the desk.
Vale walked over to examine the strange box. When we was right next to it, he hesitantly reached out a hand and suddenly got a prompt.
|Open the box?|
Vale chose, YES.
The box slowly fell apart, kicking up a small cloud of dust and a faint glow lit up Vale’s face. Where the box had once stood was a lumpy, luminescent rock. The strange crystal was held in a rune-cover stand. It pulsed purple, the light throwing weird shadows around the room.
The entire group stood completely still for a while until they were sure nothing was going to happen. Vale blew a sigh of relief. It seemed the box probably had been some sort of loot, but he still wanted to play it safe.
“Hey wait,” Abigail called behind them. “Randomly glowing crystal notwithstanding, didn’t you say this was a quest?”
Vale answered, “Well, yeah, but like I said earlier, it’s part of a chain and I’ve already done the first two parts. Plus, I only got it because of my legendary class and some other stuff I can’t remember. I can’t share it.”
“I dunno, man. This room is pretty wild,” said Bart. His chrome spiked boots were leaving tracks on the dusty floor. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Are you sure?” Vale was skeptical. “I’ve pretty much lived in places like this for the last year.”
“You haven’t achieved the next step of your quest chain, right?” asked Abigail. “Like, nothing popped up with the crystal came out, right?”
“Okay, try sharing it anyway. This game makes a lot of exceptions.” Abigail was glaring at him again.
Vale had to admit the steampunk girl in bloomer shorts was right. In fact, Vale had built his entire gaming experience in S.O.O on how deep and surprising the game world could be. He shrugged and tried sharing his quest.
|Do you want to share your quest, “Rumors of a Weapon?”|
Vale selected, YES.
Bart and Abigail’s eyes immediately went vacant and they touched the empty air in front of them.
|Abigail Qiao Smith and Bartholomew Holstings
have accepted your quest, “Rumors of a Weapon.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” muttered Vale.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. A legendary weapon quest? I didn’t even know they existed!” Abigail looked completely floored. “Seriously, are you fucking kidding me? Just how lucky are you?”
Vale hid a smile. This was exactly why he wanted to keep his luck stat as secret as he could. He was hoping it would pay off even further at higher levels. All three players began searching the room again for anything that looked odd or interesting while Abigail muttered to herself.
Bart began reaching for the glowing crystal but Vale grabbed his friend, stopping him in time. “Don’t touch that!”
“Just look at it. It’s a glowing crystal in a magic horror game. It’s like a big red button.” Vale carefully pushed his friend away. “Plus, I’ve heard rumors of crystals like this. They supposedly have something to do with changing players’ races. The asshole guilds like Lords of Finality are always on the lookout for these things. I don’t think the crystal has anything to do with the quest. Let’s just leave it for right now.”
“What about the stream? We can’t just leave it here or people will know where to look for it.” Bart’s voice was mellow, but he cocked an eyebrow. Unfortunately, he also had a point.
Vale facepalmed and said, “You’re right. You and Abbey keep looking for what we’re here for. I will take care of the crystal. Maybe. Hopefully.”
Bart nodded and moved off. Vale began moving around the crystal without touching it. He tried using some of his passive magical abilities but got no information. He rubbed his chin for a while, shrugged, and decided to try something new.
He thought carefully about his skills, [Ancient Occult Lore] and [Ancient Body Magic]. He thought about recalling things he’d read before in the game. He also though deeply about improving his memory. It was a gamble, but it worked! He got a system message:
|You have created a new spell. Would you like to name your spell?|
Vale chose, YES.
|What would you like to name your spell?|
Vale thought about it and decided on, Lore Recall. As soon as the spell was available, he concentrated and casted it. He didn’t want to risk more than five mana and he hoped it be enough. If the spell functioned like he hoped, it would effectively buff his [Ancient Occult Lore] skill enough to figure out what the hell the crystal was.
He activated the spell and succeeded his Willpower check. Then he reached out with his hand and was about to use his magical senses when Bart cried, “Found it!”
Vale jumped. He shook his head and walked over to see what his friend was looking at. Bart said, “It was behind this old calendar. Look, it’s a folded note with a wax seal.” Bart broke the seal and all three players craned their neck to see.
The note was surrounded by a border of hand-drawn mystical sigils. The center of the note read,
Go to the caverns of Y’Nule to find your destiny, nephew. -Percival
Suddenly, an alert popped up:
|You have been marked for greatness! Continue on your
journey to understand what this means.
Vale closed the message and figured his companions both got one too when Abigail muttered, “Well, that’s not cryptic or anything.
Bart flipped the note over and said, “Yes! Look! There’s a map on the back!”
Vale nodded and said, “Okay, pocket it. I still need to figure this crystal out.” He went back to the crystal studied it again. The pulsing was eerie, and the crystal itself appeared bulbous and disturbingly organic in nature. Vale reached out again and extended his senses.
|Congratulations! Touching this item physically or with magic results in instant death, but you have avoided destruction!|
What the hell? A chill ran up his spine as he thought of how close he’d come to accidentally dying. Another prompt popped up.
|You have three choices.
Vale chose to inspect the crystal. When he did, the crystal flashed, searing his vision. He heard Abbey scream, but the sound seemed distant.
|Secret of the Old Ones
This crystal has several unique properties in the Secret of the Old Ones game.
Player will become First Things race.
First Things will be unlocked as a class for new players in S.O.O.
Vale’s mouth opened in shock. This item was more valuable than knowledge of how to get the World Tree… and it was far more portable and easier to use. He was shaking his head in denial when another message popped up
|You have three choices.
Vale’s head rang. The implications of the crystal and what it could mean… it was staggering. It was probably worth a fortune, the only item like it in the game.
He drew a shaky breath and chose to put the crystal in his inventory.
Suddenly, the ground shook and the entire sky flashed violet so brightly that some of the light found its way to Vale and his group in the dingy little study.
The system message popped up, buzzing Vale so loudly it felt like someone had hit him in the head.
|System Alert! Player Vale DePardon has discovered the
Secret of the Old Ones! The First Things race will be unlocked as
soon as it is used and the First Things ruler is crowned!
“What the hell did you just do?” Abbey whispered in horror. “The entire game is going to be after you now. That’s a unique power up item. It will drop when you die!”
Vale opened his hands and stared at his palms. How could so much have happened so fast? Just a few weeks ago he’d just been an Astrophysics major who enjoyed playing the most popular game in the world. He’d had a strange map.
Now he was going to be the most wanted player around the world. Abbey was right. He needed to think.
“Guys, I’m gonna log. I need to Surface.”
Bart said, “Okay man, do what you need to do. Do you want me to come over?”
Vale felt like he was in a daze. He absently replied, “Yeah, sure. That sounds fine. Please bring me a burger or something. I think I am going to just take an hour to listen to music.”
Abigail gave Bart a meaningful look. Bart nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ll ask him.” Vale caught the whole exchange, but he had too much of his mind to think much of it.
He mentally reached out for his connection and Surfaced, his persocom drawing his consciousness back into the real world.