Brittany’s fists clenched as she watched her new guild-mates reap the benefits of her outstanding quests. She was forced to share the spoils of her Discovery Quest when they reached the final resting place of the fallen meteor.
A chime sounded as her character ascended to Level 5.
You have completed your Discovery Quest. In addition to your gained XP, you have been rewarded with the following skills:
She sulked to herself, assuming the game had likely divvied up player enhancement skills rather than allowing her to retain all of them for herself.
While she chewed her bottom lip in frustration, she glanced at the roaring fire from the meteor’s remains and did a double-take. It wasn’t a meteor at all. She could barely make out the CyberBolt symbol from the peeling paint of the mangled burning mass of metal.
“Hey guys, come look at this.” She waved to the three. “This is no meteor.”
“Dang.” Brad whistled. “Looks like a satellite to me. What’s left of one, anyway. That makes no sense!”
“No, it sure doesn’t.” Brittany agreed. “Is it just me, or do you guys sometimes get the vibe that this is RL?”
Blondie scoffed. “No, I think it’s just you.”
Sam exchanged a knowing glance at Brad. “ Actually…”
“Oh, shut up Sam.” Blondie interrupted. “We’re all sick of hearing your conspiracy theories.”
“No, really… I—”
“Just can it.”
Sam grunted in frustration, and Brad came to his aid. “Hold up, Vickie. I think you’ll want to hear this.”
“Fine.” she snarled. “What is it?”
“I, uhh…” Sam stammered, and after a few seconds of hesitation he spoke. “I tried to log out a few hours ago and failed.”
Blondie raised a curious eyebrow, “What do you mean?”
“Well, I went through the standard log out procedure and heard the Conquest chime after the game credits. After a brief moment of static, all my gear disappeared and I was back in my modern clothing…”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“Well, that’s the weird part. I was still standing in the same clearing and could see you and the entire guild—only none of you were wearing gear either, and no matter how much I tried to talk to any of you, you couldn’t hear me. It was like I was invisible.”
A wry grin formed at the corner of Blondie’s mouth. “Invisible, you say? Sounds pretty normal if you ask me.”
Sam breathed a heavy sigh. “See? That’s why I didn’t say anything earlier. I knew you’d come up with some kind of snarky comment like that.”
Blondie rolled her eyes. “I swear you’ve got to be a Goth or some loser nerd in RL. You’re far too sensitive to be a gamer.”
Sam ignored her. “I’m serious. That’s what really happened.”
“Sure it is. You probably just fell asleep with your AR implant still running. Again.”
“You don’t believe me? Fine.” he argued, “You try logging out then.”
“I’m having similar issues,” Brittany added. “I haven’t been able to log out for almost twenty-four hours now.”
Blondie whipped around to face her. “That’s impossible.”
Brittany shrugged. “Maybe you should try too.”
She could discern the alarm on the virtual face of Blondie’s avatar. After a few seconds, she nodded.
“I’m hungry anyway. If I’m not back soon, just know I ordered a pizza.”
In a blaze of swirling light, Blondie’s avatar vanished. Only a few seconds passed before Brittany heard a muffled yell with a faraway echo. “What’s going on here?!”
A few minutes later, Blondie’s avatar reappeared in a blinding flash of light. Her eyes were wide, and she was hyperventilating.
“Holy…” she said, “It’s… it’s true! We’re stuck in the game!”
“That, or this is actually RL,” Brad countered. “That’s what started this debate to begin with.”
“But does that mean we’re actually killing real people?!” Sam asked.
“Dude. Be serious.” Blondie snapped. “Zombies aren’t real. Obviously, this is a game: we just can’t log out.”
Brittany cringed at the news, “Which likely means I’ll have to endure your presence for much longer than I wanted.”
Blondie gave her a terse smile. “The feeling is mutual.”
“Uh, guys…” Brad interrupted, “I think we’ve got company.”
Brittany turned to see the horde of zombies approaching from the distance. They were moving much faster than she would have anticipated. Within moments, she’d whipped out her 1911 and embedded a bullet into the skull of the closest. Surprisingly, the corpse dropped to the ground and didn’t get back up.
That’s odd. Aren’t the undead supposed to keep coming right back at you?
She shrugged off the odd thought and took out two more of the rapidly approaching zombies.
Blondie unloaded an entire thirty-round magazine from the stolen AK-47 within a matter of seconds. The recoil sent her flying backwards and out of control.
Brittany cringed in annoyance as she took another zombie out with a head shot. “Did you even hit anything?”
Blondie scrambled back to her feet. “Yeah… looks like I got five Easy Kills.”
“Vickie!” Sam gasped. “You shot me!”
A large wound gaped in Sam’s abdomen with blood gushing everywhere.
“Sorry about that.” Blondie shrugged. “Go chug some healing potion, and be quick about it. We don’t have time to deal with your drama.”
“If I had some, believe me I would.” He winced. “But all of our inventories reset. Remember?”
Blondie clipped on a new magazine. “Stop being a baby, or I’ll shoot you again and send you back to your respawning point.”
Sam crumpled to the ground, doubled over in perceived pain. The scene was rather ludicrous, but Brittany didn’t have time to think more about it. She checked her clip and frowned as her suspicions were confirmed.
Only one left in the pipe.
She quickly fired off the last round and chucked the useless 1911 aside.
Swinging her last remaining firearm from behind her back, she slid three rounds out of their elastic holders from one of the three partially empty 50-round-capacity sashes that hung heavy on her shoulders. The Remington 700 was not the ideal choice for this type of situation, but she would just have to make do.
Jamming one of the .308 caliber rounds into place, she didn’t even need to aim as she took out another zombie at close range.
She didn’t have enough time to load another round before a female humanoid grabbed her by the arm. With a shriek, she grabbed the hunting knife she had obtained earlier and stabbed the vile creature in the forehead. Its black eyes glazed over and a hoarse whisper escaped from its throat before the corpse slumped to the ground.
“Yield thy soul into me!”
Skill Unlocked: HeadStab
Delivers an Instant Kill when in close range. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 5, Agility > 2, Stamina > 3, Intelligence > 3
A preposterous system message then popped up in her augmented vision:
The Leviathan has offered to consume your soul. Do you wish to accept?
Yes | No
Brittany laughed aloud and selected “No.” Another message appeared.
Are you sure? You will gain–
She didn’t get a chance to finish reading before quickly loading and taking a headshot at another approaching zombie.
A new system alert then overrode the unread message:
Another wisp of darkness swirled at her feet and a chime sounded from the sky as her character ascended to Level 6.
A nagging thought crossed her mind as she loaded another round: What skills and powers might I have gained by yielding my soul unto the Leviathan?
She didn’t have to wait long to find out. Just seconds after Blondie finished mowing down the rest of the zombies with her fourth magazine, a dark cloud began to accumulate at their feet. It grew ominously until it formed into a massive shape. A pair of glowing red eyes burned from somewhere inside the creature’s soul.
When it spoke, it felt like knives were stabbing her ears. “I am the Leviathan. I came before the Beginning, and I shall be the cause of your End.”
Brittany watched in horror as it floated over to where Sam had fallen. “I have heard thy cries, dear child, and I have come to grant thee Redemption!”
Sam spoke with a hoarse voice, “Take me…”
Sam’s body convulsed wildly as a white flame erupted from his chest. The towering figure of the Leviathan leaned down and sucked in the smoke emanating from the flames.
Brittany couldn’t watch anymore. Though it made no logical sense to feel terrified inside a game, she took off at a dead run toward the trees, knowing full well that a host of other monsters lurked in the dark shadows. It was likely however that none of them would be nearly as formidable as the Leviathan.