I shall not die here
A cacophony of shouts was dulled by the closing of a bedroom door; the person closing the door sat at their computer; looking at the time, they let a wry smile cross their face. They looked back to the tab they had open on their screen.
‘The brand-new virtual reality headset that has been on sale worldwide for the past year is celebrating its one-year anniversary with the release of a game that is said to have complexities that would rival even the technology of the device that runs it.’
They let out a bigger smile, looking back at the time their smile faded again, then all of a sudden their bedroom door swung open and their parents walked in. The shock drove them to spin in their chair with shock on their face. When they turned around, they were met with the grinning faces of their parents, one holding a VR Headset, the other the anniversary game.
“We know how much you wanted this, so your father went out last night and waited in line for the midnight release.”
“You did what?”
“Well, I figured if you can spend hours a day studying to pass your university exam, I can wait in line for six hours once so you can have the free time you deserve.”
The parents put down the items and gave Lux a hug.
“Thank you so much; I don’t know what to say.”
“Oh, it is all right, we saw how much effort you were putting in, and now that your exams are done, we figured that you could use that insane focus of yours to play away hours of your day instead of working them all away.”
“But, I mean, I have not gotten my results; I could still fail.”
“Oh, who cares, we saw how much effort you have been putting in, and if you fail, we will be very impressed still, and anyway, if you have failed, you won’t find out for several weeks; why worry when you could spend the time having fun?”
Lux’s eyes lit up, and they went back in for a hug. Their dad pushed them off and looked at the time on his watch.
“You better hurry; the server launches in like ten minutes; you won’t have time to build your character before it launches. I heard in the line that the game lets you do a full character build even before the server is up, which means you can jump straight in…” the father paused for a moment as they watched Lux rip apart the packaging as they desperately tried to pull the unit out of its padded cell. “And you are off like an animal. Have a good night, kid; well, see you in a couple weeks.”
The parents left the room as Lux plugged in their headset; pulling a small USB from the game case, they opened a small hatch that had room to insert the small hard drive; closing the hatch, the hard drive was hidden. They plugged the headset into the wall and laid down on their bed; closing their eyes, the system booted up. Their body felt as if it was sinking into their bed, they felt as if they fell a couple of inches before they didn’t feel anything at all, and their vision was occupied with the boot screen of the VR headset.
‘Welcome to the real VR experience; the unmatched power of the Melas Oneiros has dominated the VR headset market for a year now, and to celebrate our great success, we are launching a game that has been in the making since before the Melas was any more than just a fever nightmare in the mind of the creator. With ten years of development, it is finally ready for release, not that we need to tell you that. If you are listening to this, you are one of only one hundred thousand lucky individuals that got to get this year’s worldwide release. In another year, we will be releasing another hundred thousand copies until we don’t sell out, so make sure to get your friends who missed out on this run a copy next year.
Without further ado, please create your character and enter the world of Erebus.’
Lux’s vision went black, and the character creator appeared. It had the usual selection of attributes to be edited for a variety of different species to play as.
“Wholly shit, this character creator is fucking expansive; I don’t think I have ever seen this many playable species….” They paused for a moment as they looked at a small percentage indicator at the bottom of the race they were hovering over. “I wonder what this means?”
‘The percentage indicated at the bottom of the species is the percentage of players that have chosen to play that race. The percentage is based off of the current 99,978 players in the game.’
“Oh, thank you, disembodied voice of the game.”
Lux looked to the corner of their vision to see that there was just one minute before the game servers were to open.
“Oh, hell no, am I going to fall behind? I am slut for being a unique flower. Let’s sort this by lowest percentile, so no point in filtering.”
The game shuffled the playable species, and a new species appeared before them.
“Am I really to do this?” They looked at the time, and there were mere seconds left, so they skim-read the description as fast as they could.
“Got it dumb, slow, pretty tough, spreads disease. You know what, never had a challenge like this; let’s go!”
They said as they selected the species, putting in their usual online handle.
The clock at the top ticked over to midday, and Lux found themselves falling through the floor of the character creator, then darkness. There was a flash of light, and a world appeared before Lux, similar to Earth in color and size, their vision zoomed in to a great city filled with fantasy creatures and strange contraptions, and the voiceover began again as the view of the world changed to reflect what was being said.
‘Here on the planet of Erebus, you will find a veritable world of magic and monsters, cities filled with the bustle of life, both NPC and Player alike. In the wild, there are sprawling forests, expansive oceans, perilous mountains, and a mystery hidden within the world. There are many mysteries to discover and many skills to master. You will find that choice of species and the path you take in this world will have an enormous impact on your in-game experience, as your very involvement with the world will change it, shape it, and eventually dictate how it is played by others.
But that is all too much for you right now; you are but a humble civilian of this world; you will live your life in the cities, the towns, and the world at large; you shall gain power, and when you are ready, you will make your decisions.’
The view panned over a city where Lux could see people starting to spawn into the town square, and they rolled their eyes as they had hoped that they would be done with the intro fast enough to be one of the first in the game. The view went past a collection of small towns and deep into a forest where an old church sat in ruins, around it a small collection of graves with barely visible stone protruding through the tall grasses.
‘Your story is not like others; you are not a species that is respected by the civilizations of this world. You are a scourge, a monster of the wastes of the world; you are a Zombie human, the weakest of all the species, and picked by exactly one player. Where others shall enjoy the perks of civilization and community, you will be lost in the wastes of the world, unable to understand spoken or written language of any kind; you shall likely perish as a monster on someone’s quest, as opposed to achieving greatness.’
Lux was wide-eyed as their view craned over an unmarked grave, a hand bursting through the soft soil.
“Damn, what a brutal intro; also, not being able to understand anyone should be interesting. Good thing I play solo… sort of.”
Their view circled the zombie and flew into the back of its skull, Lux now able to move the zombie as if it were their own body. They looked at their hands; their pale skin was tainted with the greens and blacks of death. Looking down, they could see that their body was still intact; although they had a hole in their chest, they stuck a couple of their fingers in to test it out.
“Okay, so I feel like my alive me was killed by what feels like a dagger. Urgh, I never thought I would ever have the sensation of the inside of my own chest.” They said as they fished around for a moment longer before pulling their fingers out. They opened the menu to get an overview of their species of choice.
‘Zombie humans are socially one of the lowest ranked subspecies of human, as an undead there are many differences from the living. Anything you say or write to the living shall be interpreted as unintelligible moans and scribbles, and anything they say or write will seem the same, but you are able to communicate with any other undead creature that you come across in both written and vocal communication. You do not breath, you cannot be affected by the bleed effect, you cannot gain the unconscious effect, you do not feel pain, and you are able to function with severed limbs, they will not regrow, but can be re attached.
Animals and some other monsters will not see you as a threat and will not agro like it would to living species.
Weak to holy, immune to necrotic, poison, and disease.
Your bite has the potential to spread the undead disease to its target, raising more undead.’
“Okay, that is probably a little more intense than I wanted. But to be fair, it may be nice to have a handicap.” Light bringer laughed, then stopped abruptly when the crooked vocal cords of the zombie failed to make a coherent laugh. “I really am a monster; the world is not ready for what I am going to bring to it.”
Light bringers started to walk, wincing as they did, feeling the pace of the species they chose.
“I ain’t gonna be winning any races anytime soon, but surely my other stats will compensate.”
They opened their character sheet and opened the stat overview description of the zombie.
“Alright, so I am some kind of slow-moving DPS Tank. This should actually be pretty cool; not my usual wheelhouse. Oh, I wonder how the skill tree looks for this sucker.”
Light bringer opened their skill tree to see an extensive network of nodes and connections that all radiated from an enormous central node, where the only ones not greyed out were the ones attached to the starting node.
“That is kind of annoying; how am I supposed to plan my build? I can’t believe they would do this as a default function…Oh, never mind.”
In the corner of the skill tree, Light bringer saw a small pop-up.
‘Due to low intelligence, the vision of pathways has been reduced.’
“To be fair, that is pretty cool; I get the feeling that this game is probably going to make every stat stupidly important annoyingly. I guess I better see what I can see; what do we have here?”
- Endurance: Increase health by 5 points
- Rage: Increase speed by 2 points
- Hatred: Increase physical damage by 1 point
- Monstrosity: Improve Strength stat by 1 point
“I guess I shouldn’t have had high expectations of a significant node as the first one, but all the nodes look the same, so either there are no significant perks, or I am too stupid to see which ones are better. I guess it doesn’t matter this early; I will need a little bit of everything, so not like I am actually making a decision really. So let’s get this grind started.”
Lightbringer ambled their way through the trees to find the low-level boars and other slow-moving targets that they could find; striking with heavy blows, they would deal heavy damage, and their target would either flee from them, deny them the kill, or they would retaliate and be quickly disposed of, but the going was slow, and a new level of tedious.
“I wonder if my friends managed to get a copy in time?”
Meanwhile, across the continent, in a small cave, two small Goblins worked together with great efficiency, gathering supplies to offer to the large king of the cave. In the hubbub of the human capital, there were three humans who were bartering over the price of goods as they scoured for the best deals, buying and selling. They made gold back on every purchase. Over at an academy lost to a mountain range, a frog humanoid learned the ways of magic, studying studiously. In open fields, an abnormally large lizard humanoid fought in pits against other near goliaths, and in the middle of a desert, there stood two individuals studying piety, a small gnome with robes and a book and a tall Ork with a worn but tall shield, and misshapen mace.
After hours of work and several levels gained, Light bringer stopped, blood still dripping from their hands.
“This game is kind of terrifyingly realistic.” They looked around them at the corpses that still remained; looking at their own health, they scrunched up their face. “Maybe I’ll just kill shit until I die, figure out how respawning works, then I will hop off for the night.”
Making their way through several weak enemies, their health dropped to below ten points, and they got another level up. Going into their skill tree, they came across a perk they hadn’t noticed before
- Corpse eater: Eating a corpse gives you one percent of the corpse’s original health.
“Weird, I don’t remember seeing this one before.”
They checked over the prerequisites and smiled.
‘Prerequisites: have health drop below one percent during combat and survive to unlock this skill.’
They took it up without bothering to look at any other perk and tested it out, eating the first boar corpse they came across, watching as their health bar increased by two points.
“Hot damn, two whole points. That took me like a whole minute to eat, so only like another four hundred and fifty boars and a similar number of minutes, and I will be back to full health. God damn, I hope this ability can be upgraded; otherwise, I definitely just wasted a point.”
Light bringer was about to move on to the next boar when suddenly they froze; they were incapable of doing anything.
“What the, did my VR kit just go bust?”
A portal opened in front of Light Bringer, and a man stepped out in modern-day clothes with tired eyes and a hunched frame.
“Do not worry, your system is not frozen, and your headset is not broken. I am the creator of the headset you are wearing and the initial designer of Erebus, the game we are in; my name is Morpheus.”
He gave a pained smile as he mentioned his name; looking down at his feet, he furrowed his brow.
“Some of you have noticed that the logout button is gone; I have been receiving quite a few gm contacts about it, actually, so this is me answering those questions. I am not just standing in front of you,” he said awkwardly, pointing forward, “but with every player in the game, um yeah… So the game was never made with a logout button, and if you take your headset off, you die, and if your hp hits zero, you die… sorry.”
There was a long, drawn-out pause as Morpheus took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He went to put them back on, then paused before dropping them to the ground.
“Quite a few people have died already to headsets being removed or by bad luck in the game. But the rest of you are being taken to local hospitals to be taken care of as per my request, so you should be pretty safe on that front as it has hit international news.’
Morpheus paused again, letting out a small chuckle.
“Sorry, I was expecting a reply, but you are all frozen; it has been a long ten years; I guess I am just tired.”
Morpheus took a deep inhalation and breathed out pursed lips.
“This game was built differently, and you will notice that. Dead things don’t just disappear into particles; there are no quests as such, just real interactions with others. This game was designed to be as life-like as possible, with a player-driven economy, and storyline, and just everything else. You will obviously be limited by your stats, so it doesn’t matter how smart or strong you were in the real world; you need to stack numbers here and find items; you all know the drill; I doubt this is your first time in an MMO, and if it is, I am sure you will figure it out, well actually you probably won’t.”
Morpheus sat down, and with his knees raised, he hugged them with his chin resting on them.
“I have been working towards this day for over a decade, and I don’t think I can actually quite believe that it is here. It is not something you really think will come to fruition, like surely some kind of regulations would stop me from mass producing a death trap you clamp onto your head, but it turns out that money does really buy you anything, even a certificate of safety. Scary, really? I mean, I shouldn’t have to tell you that you are the ones trapped in the horror of it. Well, actually, I should say we.
I am actually in this with you; I have a headset on just like you, and I am in a hospital just like you. Well, actually, I am in a private medical facility, but, you know.”
Standing up, he brushed his clothes down and let out a short-lived yawn.
“Now the only way to safely leave the game is by beating it… Actually, that isn’t right; you can’t really beat the game. There is a pivotal point where there will be an option to turn off the game if someone ever gets it; they will know when they have the option, but it will be just that… an option.
And that about this; I was going to have a speech written for this moment, but in the end, I decided it wouldn’t feel genuine. I am going to be a player like any of you; after I walk through this portal, I will be nothing more than a normal player with no perks, no advantages, hell I don’t even know this world; I just wrote down the initial blurb on a piece of paper and gave it to the actual designers. I obviously won’t look like this, and I probably won’t be using Morpheus as my name, maybe. Just one last note, something that I was debating doing and have just decided to initialize. I am removing the hovering icons above NPCs and players, so everyone will look the same, and it won’t be until you actually talk to them you will know which one they are. That and pvp is active everywhere; there is no such thing as a safe zone.
Best of luck, everyone; I’ll see you in the world, and please understand that I didn’t have a choice in this.”
Morpheus stepped through the portal, it closed behind him, and everyone gained control of their bodies once again.
Light bringer opened the menu and looked for the logout button to no avail. They looked out to the various low-level monsters that were around them, idly ignoring Light Bringer but periodically looking up as if they were sizing them up or judging them as a potential threat.
Light Bringer turned their head and knelt to the first corpse they came across, consuming it with haste. Making their way through the last several hours of grinding, they slowly replenished their life.
“Oh, let’s make it a challenge; let’s pick some weak-ass zombie to make sure I have a sufficient handicap; what could possibly go wrong?” Light Bringer screamed as they chewed their way through another corpse. “Well fuck me, I guess I am a damned fucking zombie, who can’t even talk to anyone else, and this damn game doesn’t show name tags, so it doesn’t even matter if I find my friends because they will probably just fucking kill me for exp before I can groan.”
Lightbringer looked up to their health bar that had only marginally increased, even after the pile of corpses they had made their way through. Looking at their level, they furrowed their brow and tightened all the muscles in their face.
“I will not die here.”