Brittany’s head swam. She was floating effortlessly in a thick cloud of darkness. Her feet couldn’t find the ground, and no matter which direction she turned, all she saw were wisps of darkness expanding eternally in every direction.
Am I dead?
A flash of light. And another. A horizontal line blinked at her.
Then she recognized it.
The incessant blinking continued until several letters appeared in successive order, followed by the obnoxious cursor.
She heard a brief sound. An echo from far away, but it was indecipherable.
Would you like to execute the program? Y/N
She heard it again, this time from behind her. It was still unintelligible.
“Hello?” she called out, “Is anybody there?”
Strangely, her own voice hadn’t echoed.
There was that sound again. This time louder, but muffled. The echoing voice increased in volume until two words formed…
A string of coding filled her vision, scrolling at an intense speed. After several long minutes, it finally stopped, replaced by an increasing status bar. She felt a tingling sensation on the right side of her head. The tingling escalated to an uncomfortable warmth, and then a searing pain. She screamed. The pain was excruciating.
And nobody could hear her.
The booming voice said, “Officer Parker! Wake up!”
At the very moment, a calming feeling numbed the pain as the familiar music-box-like hymn of Conquest greeted her, and the game’s logo appeared in front of her.
A moment later, the logo disappeared and was replaced by a message:
MMO | PVP
As she stared at her options, she considered that a few rounds of Player vs. Player would be a good release of her pent-up anger and frustration.
She raised her hand and clicked on the PVP button. A chime sounded, and the wisps of darkness swirled in a vortex around her. In a blinding flash of light, her feet met the underbrush somewhere within a thick forest.
Now clad in metal armor, across the field stood a similarly armored male opponent with oversized pauldrons. He wielded a massive double-sided battle ax, whereas she seemed to be unarmed. She tapped on her right temple, accessing her HUD.
Scrolling with her palm, she selected her favorite magic-enhanced broadsword, and it instantly appeared in her palm. It was double edged with jagged teeth near the hilt, the blade covered in ancient runes.
Her opponent let out a barbaric scream, and charged her. She was ready. She rubbed one of the runes on the end of the hilt, which lit up and her blade ignited with a magical blue flame.
Hesitation flashed across her opponent’s face and he stopped short. He too pressed on his right temple, and seconds later a round object appeared in his palm.
A dark matter grenade? Seriously? Amateur.
He threw the grenade. Brittany reacted quickly by swiping her index finger across another set of magical runes on the broadsword and swung the blue flame in a circular motion.
The grenade hit the ground near her feet and detonated, and a massive beast resembling a land-bound squid arrayed with black tentacles and hundreds of gnashing teeth grew rapidly from the point of impact.
Threat Detected: Level 3 Voidspawn
Strengths: Long black tentacles allow for speed and easy subduing of prey. Head is covered with gnashing mouths full of razor-sharp teeth to allow for rapid devouring of trapped prey. Head is also covered with eyes to allow for 360-degree sight with intense focus. Will not remain killed.
From the center of the swirl of blue flame, a portal opened to an unknown destination in the vast expanse of the universe. As suddenly as the creature appeared, it was swallowed up inside the portal.
“Seriously?!” her opponent bellowed. “Do you have any idea how much that grenade cost me?”
Brittany smirked as the portal closed. She then twisted into a crouch, the flaming sword held at an angle, the hilt clutched in both hands.
“You’re not even going to respond?” he challenged her, raising his battle ax high above his head.
She smiled flirtatiously and shook her head.
“You’re hot.” he whistled. “It’s a shame I have to slaughter you now.”
Brittany ignored him and made an impromptu swing of her blade, searing the flesh of his upper thigh and severing his femoral artery. He collapsed to the ground, eyes wide and staring at her. She towered over him, the flaming broadsword aimed at his chest.
“You were saying?” she sneered, and buried her blade in his heart.
Skill Unlocked: Stab
Delivers an Instant Kill when stabbing opponents. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 5, Agility > 2, Stamina > 3, Intelligence > 1
After a few moments her opponent’s virtual avatar disappeared, and she retrieved her flaming broadsword.
You have subdued your opponent.
Claim your prize:
+1 Agility, +1 Stamina
“That was too easy.” She rolled her eyes at the meager achievements. “Who’s next? I want a challenge.”
Several hours passed, and she remained the PVP victor. A system alert had gone out indicating that she had remained unchallenged, and dozens of experienced players lined up in queue. Each one proved to be more difficult to defeat than the previous one, but despite their efforts she continued to take victory after victory.
She decided to change her username to @IronVixen, for that’s what they were all calling her now.
She sat in the underbrush, catching her breath. She accessed her HUD and pulled up her player Stats.
CONQUEST: Player Stats
Name | @IronVixen
Class | Warrior
Level | 8
Experience | 1,560
XP to next level | 440
HP | 800/800
Mana | 70/80
Strength |Total: 9 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 6 | Bonuses: 2
Agility |Total: 4 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 2 | Bonuses: 1
Stamina |Total: 5 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 3 | Bonuses: 1
Intelligence |Total: 4 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 3 | Bonuses: 0
Willpower |Total: 4 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 2 | Bonuses: 1
She was pleased by the results of her recent activity, but couldn’t shake off the frustration that weighed down her life in the real world. In a matter of minutes, the career she’d spent years achieving had been stripped from her. No longer was her identity Officer Parker of the Chicago South Precinct, but simply Brittany Parker.
What did I do?
She was clearly having an identity crisis. The whole scenario still felt absurd. Usually the only time an officer received a suspension was for insubordinate or reckless behavior, such as accidentally killing an innocent bystander. All she had done was bring up the fact that there had been an anomaly with the CyberBolt servers.
She knew she couldn’t stay here in Conquest forever, and needed to face reality again soon.
I hate my life.
Sighing, she hit the Log Out button on her virtual screen.
Are you sure you want to log out?
We have identified a formidable match.
Log Out | View Profile
Her hand hesitated over the Log Out button. She was exhausted, but still yearned for a real challenge. She clicked on View Profile and compared the player stats for @Andrex. She was surprised to discover that their achievements matched in nearly every area. Her eyes lit up, and she pressed the Accept Challenger button.
Bring it on.
The intense battle had been raging for nearly half an hour, and neither of them had gained much ground. Brittany’s HUD cycled through multiple spell combinations to choose from. She selected:
Potion + Speed + Agility
An explosion of light erupted from the palm of her left hand, throwing her opponent across the clearing.
He retaliated with a spell of his own. A fireball formed in his right palm, and he threw it effortlessly.
Do you wish to use your enchanted broadsword to open a Portal? This will tax 10 Mana.
Yes | No
She punched the YES button without a second’s thought and swung her broadsword in a wide arc, swallowing up the fireball with another portal.
A nagging feeling in the back of her mind told her she needed to limit her portal usage, or else her Mana would run dry and it would only replenish with leveling up or with a bonus. She ignored the thought, and selected another spell:
Potion + Water + Strength
A hailstorm of ice crystals flew at her opponent, and he buffeted the attack with his shield.
After the magical storm passed, her opponent roared and rushed at her with his glowing orange sword. She parried the blow with her flaming broadsword, a shower of sparks raining down on her head.
Suddenly, a system alert broke them out of their intense conflict.
Time Limit Reached
She was surprised by the comparable stats that displayed on her HUD. Her lungs heaving, she eyed her muscle-clad opponent in admiration. Sweat glistened on his forehead as he took the moment to catch his breath.
“Great match,” she gasped. “You’re quite skilled.”
“I have to admit,” he panted, “I didn’t expect you would be quite the challenger.”
“Why?” she teased. “Because I’m a woman?”
“It’s alright.” she giggled, “I get that a lot.”
“Do you practice outside of the game?”
“In a sense.” She straightened up, thrusting her chest out in pride. “I’m a cop.”
At least, I used to be.
“How ironic.” He smiled and extended his hand. “I’m no longer on the force, but that’s the origin of my combat skills too. The name’s Doug.”
She returned the handshake. “Good to meet you. Brittany.”
“Too bad this is just AR.” He flashed her a wry smirk. “Otherwise I’d ask you out.”
“Oh?” she teased. “Why don’t you?”
He laughed. “For all I know, you’re some fat dude dolled up as a hot chick.”
She rolled her eyes. “I could say the same about you.”
He stared at her intently for several moments. His eyes seemed to go on for eternity. Suddenly, a box popped up on her HUD:
@Andrex has extended an offer to join him at the tavern.
Do you wish to accept?
Yes | No
“Is this your idea of a date?” she scoffed. “In game?”
“Why not?” he said. “The game causes your serotonin levels to rise artificially. You can totally get wasted, but won’t have to deal with the consequences in the morning.”
She considered this. “I think I like the sound of that.”
She smirked and punched the YES button. A blur of light swirled around them, and after a moment of static they found themselves seated at a bar inside a bustling tavern.
An unkempt bartender approached them. “What’ll it be for yeh?”
“I’ll have some ale,” Doug requested.
“An’ for yer purdy lady?”
“I’ll have the same.” Brittany cringed at the sight of the bartender’s rotting teeth.
I hope that’s just a simulation.
“Is he an employee of CyberBolt?” she asked Doug.
His face scrunched up in confusion. “The bartender? No. He’s just an NPC.”
I’m an idiot. Of course it’s a Non-Player Character.
The bartender quickly returned with their drinks. “My, yer quite the purdy lady. Yeh remind me of a lass I once met in the Northern Lands. We was explorin’, and stumbled across some ancient runes. Crikey. We never could quite figure out what them old words was sayin’!”
The NPC has offered you a quest to decipher a stone with ancient runes in the Northern Lands. You will receive +10 Intelligence and +5 Willpower for completing this quest.
Do you wish to accept?
Yes | No
Brittany smiled at Doug. “Instead of drinking ourselves into a stupor, I’ve got a better idea for our date.”
They had been traipsing through the snow for about ten minutes now, and the cold had seeped into her bones. Though her armor and force field protected her from critical blows, they did nothing to insulate her against the weather.
Doug had been kind enough to spend some of his Mana to create a series of fireballs for heat, but he was only able to hold each of them in his palm for five minutes max before he started taking damage hits.
Finally, her HUD indicated that they had reached the coordinates where the stone was buried deep in the snow. Borrowing Doug’s shield, she used it to plow away the thick white powder.
There it was: a stone slab covered in a layer of ice. The ice was far too thick to decipher the runes.
“We need to defrost it somehow,” Brittany said. “I’m not sure how much longer I can last in this cold. I’ve taken considerable damage to my health stats already.”
“Me too.” Doug reached down and pulled on the stone. “It’s heavy, but moveable. How about we take it back to my place?”
“Your place?” she asked, confused.
At that moment, a request popped up on her HUD:
@Andrex has extended an offer to join him in his cabin.
Do you wish to accept?
Yes | No
It could be a trap.
She looked into Doug’s deep blue eyes again, and was immediately swallowed up by the fire behind them. She yearned to know more about this mysterious man.
What could go wrong?