Here I am, sprinting down this pitch black tunnel wondering why I thought that living in a virtual world would be any easier than living in the real one. I guess I’m just an idiot. I expected this game to be just that—a game—filled with cheery animated characters and some sword-based combat. But just like real life, I’m in way over my head. So far, it’s all blood and no waifu.
Everything is just too realistic for my mind to tell that this isn’t the real world. The natural cavern walls are cold and slick to the touch. The humid air clings to my clothes and skin, leaving me feeling clammy. Staring at the fire on my torch for too long temporarily blinds me, and those rat-faced bastards coming up behind me are absolutely terrifying.
I can hear their claws scratching as they run after me. Their teeth chatter as they communicate to one another with squeaks and growls. The tunnel widens, and I find myself next to an underground stream that reflects the torchlight against the far end of the cavern.There are three tunnels ahead, and all of them are just as black and hopeless as the next. I narrowly jump from stone to stone across the stream, ice cold water splashing up into my boots. By the time I get across, I can see the creatures are catching up.
Their clawed hands tighten around the leather grips of their swords and the wood of their bows. They have crooks in their backs like Quazzy, long noses with whiskers, and are completely covered in hair and old scars. One of them spots me and lets out a horrible screech and points to show the others. Three of them begin racing towards me with a frenzy in their eyes and foaming at the mouth, and I, yet again, wonder how this could be a video game. Seeing these rats come at me feels like real life. My gut and my human instincts don’t know any better. Even though I’m not in any way eager to experience death again, I freeze up in terror for a few seconds, sick to my stomach.
I snap out of it and think I may have been going about this the wrong way. I drop my torch and pull the bow from my shoulder. Luckily for me, the rat-people don’t seem to be able to see very well in the dark without their torches, so I can see them clearly. I reach behind my head and an arrow materializes in my hand as I withdraw it from my inventory. Notch it, pull the string back, aim down the shaft, and let it loose. The arrow whizzes forward and ricochets off of a stalagmite right next to the one I was aiming for.
That pisses a few of them off. They take out bows and pull back their strings. I scoop down and grab my torch, ducking to the side as I look at for cover when they return fire. Behind a boulder, I set my torch back down and ease up against the stone until I get view of them again. I fire off at them three more times before I get my first blow in.
You hit the Yishi Scavenger for 17 damage!
Finally! At least I know what these things are called now, and thin red health bar appears above the one I hit. I manage to fire off a few more rounds before the Yishi realize where I am and begin shooting arrows at me again. Based on what’s left of the Yishi’s health bar, I decide that these things are too strong for me, and I really don’t want to die again.
I make a break for the closest tunnel in a dead sprint, the arrows whistling all around me.The uneven cave floor almost trips me twice before I reach the threshold. Once I’m inside the narrow passageway, I can see the flicker of torchlight around the bend ahead. Knowing that those rats are still going to chase me, I continue to run towards the fire. I don’t care whether I win or I lose at this game, the only thing I want is to escape what I’m leaving behind. But so far, this place doesn’t seem to be any better.
I feel a tug on my ankles and hear the line snap. A massive iron grate covered with spikes swings down from the tunnel ceiling like a pendulum. I try to roll on my heels and swing my weight to the side but three of the spikes connect with my torso.
The iron spike hits you for 32 damage! 50/82 HP remaining!
The iron spike hits you for 27 damage! 18/82 HP remaining!
The iron spike hits you for 25 damage! 0/82 HP remaining!
You have died!
I understand that the developers have tried to find a balance in the how they simulate pain, without losing realism, but the steel spikes embedded into me do not tickle. It’s a mixture of heat and numbness that still feels like an ache, or a bruise. But the thought of a foot long spike stabbing me in the gut brings my head to a spin. A nauseous and sickening feeling washes over me as it feels as though I am leaving my own body. I rise up almost ten feet off the ground and look down on my own corpse. A timer for one hour appears in front of my eyes, and the game asks me if I would like to create another character.
I’m not entirely sure with the timer is for, and I don’t know whether I should be happy or pissed that I’m still in the tutorial, because the idea of investing hours, maybe even days into a character just to lose all progress seems like such a waste of time. But, I bet there’s a way to mitigate the effects of dying later on in the game, and I guess that time is all most of us have nowadays anyhow. Time to kill by playing games, designing 3D models for our own virtual spaces, or time for sleeping.
It’s only been a day since I decided that sleeping away my problems probably isn’t the healthiest thing for me. Well, sleeping isn’t just sleeping. It’s more like conscious hibernating if you want it to be. I can think about things, send messages to others that are still connected to our network of satellites, but I’m still in the same pod reminiscing on everything that’s happened.
I’m not the only person that’s chosen a solitary existence for a few years. There are others out there who build their own virtual homes and just try to pass the time like nothing ever happened to Earth. I don’t blame them. They just needed the personal space to grieve, move on, and just be alone like I did.
So, when we sleep time can move fast, or slow, depending on our subconscious. Shoot, I woke myself up once or twice to see what was happening in the real world. Eventually, I figured it would be better if I fill my time with entertainment, like Libertas. No more hiding from my pain. I need to move on. I need to heal. My mind will occupied while and maybe I’ll make a few friends. Maybe.
I’m not really into online games like MMO’s, I’ll admit. I used to work help my father and sister in his hardware shop, so I’m really more comfortable with computer’s hardware than the software they run, and I preferred to read or play single player experiences, but ever since the attack we’ve lost a lot of things we used to take for granted. Most entertainment, be they books, video games, or movies are gone. But, luckily for us, a game developer snuck a copy of his game he was creating up into space with him.
When humanity first fled Earth, we were bored out of our minds as we spread out over the cosmos, and we realized that we couldn’t continue living like we did or we’d go crazy. The designer got the go-ahead to assemble a team, and a year later Libertas Online was fully integrated with our sleeping pods across all seven exploratory ships to help fill the time. By leaving behind triangulating satellites, we found ways to stay connected with one another, no matter how far apart we grow.
The day of the invasion is a spotty memory. I remember I was stocking shelves when I felt the first tremor. It seemed like the whole building rumbled and shifted, and the next thing I knew the ceiling was coming down on top of us. I could barely hear the sirens blaring as everything fell apart around me. But, luckily for me, I wasn’t crushed so bad that I couldn’t pull myself out with my arms.
I’m almost certain my family isn’t around anymore. I have tried searching their names in databases in the hope they made it to a ship off Earth, sent them messages, reached out to other ships and officials, but no one is ever been able to tell me if there are alive. It’s hard to even get updates on the status of the invasion, anymore. Last I knew, Earth was almost completely taken by a species we’ve just been calling ‘the Culicidae’.
I can only vaguely remember my run-in with the alien species. As I broke through to the surface of the shopping center’s rubble, a hulking creature was standing over me. Its arms bent in two places and its hands could touch the ground. Big black eyes stared out at me from behind a helmet visor and it made this weird clicking sound. It poked me with something in the gut, hard, and while I couldn’t see it very clearly, it looked a lot like an extra appendage from its face.
Luckily, our shopping complex was relatively close to an emergency response station. So before the alien thing could finish me off, the Marines did it in. I was hauled off the site and given immediate medical attention. I’d probably been examined by hundreds of doctors, and they began to realize that something was growing inside of me. A kind of tumor was forming where I had been wounded, something to do with incompatible DNA. I try not to think about what happened to me, and steer clear of any conversations about the aliens, but sometimes those thoughts resurface.
We ran from the aliens for more than two years. Sometimes we fought them, but it never ended well, and in the end we gave up. While I was sick in bed, others were out there dying, watching everything fall apart until the United States called for the evacuation of Earth. Rather than stay and be eradicated, it was decided that fleeing would be the best way to ensure humanity’s survival. Seven ships from different nations left the planet Earth all around the same time. We split up, and headed out into different directions in space so that the Culicidae could never catch all of us at once. That was four years ago.
I was taken along as a lab rat, but my doctor seems relatively optimistic that someday they’ll be able to successfully remove the growth or help my body reject it. I’m fine with it, honestly. With my family gone for so long, I didn’t have anything to stay on Earth for anyways. Since euthanasia is illegal and they won’t allow sleeping pods to give people the feeling of pure euphoria, stasis and Libertas is all I’ve got. It’ll slow the growth on my stomach and keep my mind busy at the same time. Too bad this ‘game’ isn’t very fun yet.
With a sigh, I focus my mind on the ‘yes’ in front of my eyes and everything around me turns black. Next thing I know, I’m standing in what feels like a large white expanse. It goes on and on as far as I can see, and while it doesn’t seem like there’s a floor beneath my feet, I’m still standing upright.
A sultry woman’s voice narrates blue words that appear in front of me. “Remember, everyone’s brain interprets physical sensations differently. Some people are more severely affected by pain, alcohol, fatigue, and other simulated effects. If any of these are un-tolerable, please contact your ship’s pod specialists, and consult with your physician. Do you understand? ”
“Yes,” I say.
“Very well. Let’s start you a new life, shall we?”
A great golden-framed mirror slides into my view and stops right in front of me. By looking at my reflection, I can use the game’s character customization features, but I only make minor adjustments. The game takes scans of my body from my stasis pod, so my character looks pretty similar to me. I make myself a few inches taller, because who wouldn’t, and I also give myself a slightly different face. But underneath the changes I can still see what I know I look like in the real world: shaggy brown hair and a thin frame.
Once I confirm that that’s how I want to look in Libertas, the mirror slides away from me and an ornate table of sculpted white marble floats up in front of me. All across it are different kinds of weapons. From left to right, there’s a short sword, an axe, a pair of cesti, daggers, a bow, spear, a staff, a strange looking voodoo doll, an orb that seems to glow, a wand made out of bone, a book with symbols on the cover, and a mace.
Last time I made a character I picked up the bow, and I’ve tried to pick up all of them before, but the game won’t let me pick up half of them because they are locked classes. It’s like they’re glued down.
At first, I begin to reach for the bow again out of habit, and then I remember just how great it felt to die the last three times. Honestly, I don’t know if I have the patience to continue playing this game if I keep dying over and over and never escape these damn caves. So, I pick up the orb. It pulses red light as it spins and floats above my hand.
More blue text appears in front of me and the woman’s voice returns.
The summoner calls upon otherworldly powers and beings for spells. By using seeing orbs, they can bring forth elements or creatures from other dimensions.
Roles: DPS or Tank.
I spend a few minutes thinking about it as I observe the orb. With the Ranger, I could take the role of Support or DPS. I know that DPS stands for damage per second, but that didn’t seem to help me at all this last time around. I didn’t have enough HP to survive that trap, and I need to focus on surviving with a class with high hit points.
I put the orb back down on the table. Moving my way left, I pick up the short sword. The idea of being a magic user sounds like it could be really fun. I can just imagine casting lightning from my fingertips as I scream “unlimited power”, but being up in the heat of battle sounds like such a rush too. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that shooting at things from afar is probably the safest bet, but something about the warrior tells me it might be worth a shot. Hell, maybe I’ll just try them all.
The warrior calls upon deities to strengthen their blows, shield them and their allies, and often have the largest hit point pool. As a result, they frequent the front lines of battle.
Roles: DPS or Tank.
I’m not an expert, but I know that ‘tank’ doesn’t have anything to do with the massive canons on them, but their armor. It absorbs the damage and protects the people inside. Considering that the class description even mentions how it has a large hit point pool, I’m convinced, and I focus on yes.
“You’ve chosen the warrior.”
The table fades away and the mirror slides back into view again. In a fraction of a second I’ve already donned a tattered tunic and some breeches. A rusty short sword hangs on my hip and a buckler is strapped to my arm. Next to my reflection, a list of all my character’s attributes appears.
The woman’s voice tells me she’s “Rolling random character statistics,” and I see scrolling numbers appear next to each attribute. After a moment, they stop.
“Congratulations, Aiden, your new character is ready. Welcome to Libertas.”