An offering of a short story while I do other things. Aili the NPC, by the Millenial King etc.
I am killing goblins on a quest to save my NPC wife from her kidnapper, the Goblin king. I and fifteen million other players are stuck in a video game, whether our bodies are unconscious or we were transfigured into the game itself, the method doesn’t matter. I’m stuck here, level one hundred, max in the game, killing level fifteen goblins.
You might say. “Well, Samurai Thunder, Conqueror of the Underdark, why are you so hung up on a chunk of data?” Hurr hurr, look at me, I still have flesh and can distinguish reality objectively, rather than subjectively. There’s a damn good answer to that. So sit still and shut up, I’m going to tell a story.
Imagine you are part of the beta for the biggest Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game released on western shores. Fifteen million players from all over the world on the greatest server ever forged by the mad engineers of Silicon Valley. All the greatest gaming, information crunching and software technology available to all civilization had been put into this game, and it was damn good. It was the dream.
We all logged in on opening day and fell unconscious. We woke up in the world itself. A million of us in one area, fourteen million in other areas waking up and realizing they were participating in an anime. Great. I’m a jaded guy, and immediately began grinding my way up the ranks. While others panicked or despaired, I had that hope that I’d find something in the end game content.
I met her during the grind up. She was walking about town and talking to people. I had drifted into the unpopular areas of the game. Places people just breezed through so fast you don’t really have memories of it, unless you make them there. This was about twenty days into it. Some players just gave up, others became ravenous beasts. I became anti-social. Some wanted to create a society, and good on them. I hear they did quite well.
Most of the NPCs were believed to have souls. Most didn’t act like it. A shopkeeper in the beta acted like a shopkeeper in, what, real life? I still don’t know what to call it. Farmers still worked fields in a strange, unproductive fashion, yet still had crops they harvested in a second. It all tasted like the same, terrible slop, so I didn’t question it. They never answered anyway.
But, as I was low level questing through Oak Valley l found her talking to her fellow NPCs. I had taken out a small goblin army and saved the city. I think it was a quest line, anyway. There was a reward from the town and title “Defender of Oak Valley” for saving the town. I’m not sure where the quest line begins. After I got the title, everyone became more friendly, but still, there were problems.
They interact with me, as if choosing from drop down menus. They respond the same ways to me, but I’m observant. I see hints of personal interaction between those NPCs. A gesture of the hand or a wink, but never to us. Never a chance for human interaction with them. So when I saw her actually interacting with others, I talked to her too. Her name, which I can taste on my tongue, was Aili.
Aili was dressed like a German peasant. All browns, greens and whites with an ankle length dress and a neckline. Her clothing was restrictive, but hinted at a healthy figure, just the right proportions everywhere, like every other woman of the ‘4’ body type. She had a wimple. That head gear hadn’t been in vogue for, what, five centuries? But it was becoming on her. I had dealings with females in the past, but who knows in the game world who is a real girl and who is a GIRL, guy in real life? Not a chance I want to take. I’m a straight shooter, so to say, and could never even stomach the thought of myself with a guy, even with a girl’s body.
So, it was nice. She played coy, and I followed her along. Did some things for her. Killing moles and plucking the fruit from the venomous and living People Eater plant. Then we’d have a conversation. I had been the only one of my social circles back home to play the game. These conversations became longer, and we’d spend more time together. Aili was a sweet girl, and she treated me like a human.
We talked about whatever we wanted. My old life, what her childhood was like and how I dealt with this new reality. She had a lilting voice, that rose and fell with her amusement and seriousness. A high titter to a bad joke was as pleasurable as a low question. I treasured what experiences I could gather.
No one coded the texture of dirt or the taste of an egg. The NPCs could, and did enjoy those senses. To see them enjoy the simplest piece of toast, or roll tobacco for a cigarette, would send me into paroxysms of envy. It was one of the few murderous feelings I’d feel for them. I could send my fingers through the earth and feel only the resistance. I was a bit of a sense freak back in real life.
You can taste certain things with your fingers. You could feel that grease from a fried drumstick. I could feel all the little different rocks and minerals in a pile of dirt. It was a pleasure I did not appreciate. Taste I did appreciate, but somehow I missed it less, as I could smell some of the foods. I could stick my hand into lava, and only feel the damage being done to me, though I could smell the sulfur. Sticking my mits into the guts of a treasure laden beast felt like sticking hands to jello, no smell. More like going into the local church’s haunted house and sticking your arms elbows deep into ‘brains’ or rather, spaghetti.
The shock of checking your first dire wolf’s stomach for a gold ring loses its effect after gutting your five hundredth goblin. I was counting. You realize there’s no smell, and nothing to distinguish the textures and then you’ll gladly eviscerate an elder dragon for his horde.
I went onto the next area when I could gain no more experience. People went through the major areas. From the Mountain of Beginnings to several different choices, each layer had more choices to go. I once met some sort of map maker. He said that the world was at least the size of Russia. He figured it out by measuring the angle of the sun-shadow at different locations with pillars he had erected at certain places.
All I got from that is that the size of our world is analogous to the largest country back home. Tells me a lot. I left him to his work. Because Oak Valley was the most peaceful zone of the game. The quests were just glorified fetch quests, “bring us twenty fae bear asses” and “any step towards the goblin genocide is a good step”. Most people tried it, then left when they could.
The next levels overlapped with Oak Valley and its sister regions, meaning you didn’t have to stay even a quarter long as I did. The place I went to when I moved on was Cyberopolis. From the idyllic life of villagers in the middle of the forest to the concrete jungle. It was not a great step. Too much of a shock from one environment to another. If it wasn’t for the soul sucking thing, that would knock a star and a half off their rating.
“The game was great and all, but poor level progression, too much focus on end game raids and a high level of grind means that you’ll be stuck forever figuring out the unifying themes, the overarching plotline, if there is one and figuring out a way to escape this gilded cage. The good points is that the combat seems very real, the graphics are life-like and there is plenty of loot to be found on the grind. 8.5/10.”
I had made myself with the strongest and tallest looking male figure, with black hair and eyes that could pierce your soul. Squinty of course, I ‘named’ myself SAMURAI THUNDER. I could not help but give myself an Asian looking character. There was hue and cry about the character design being racist. Then the developer said that it would be racist to remove them because of it. They said it’s still racist, then they added a thousand layers of detail to the face at 90 FPS and put it next to the picture of a human they modeled it after. Wrong fifty percent of the time. I remember laughing my behind off at the live showing.
It only brought more people in. Seems like it doesn’t matter any more though.
At level 100, I finished up most of the quests and started toiling through the endgame content. That’s where I heard the legend of the Underdark. Rumor had it that players went in, never to come back again.
I think that something was keeping players from respawning. I don’t know whether it’s the final death that all face at the end of their lives, or just a temporary inability to respawn. Did they find a portal to the real world, only to find that their bodies had perished? I didn’t like thinking about it. Only rumors and the wild gesticulations of those who found religion to deal with despair.
The Underdark could not be ignored forever. It had something to draw us to it. A siren call that brought the best players to test their mettle. Forty at a time, led by some encouraging individual. Hundreds lost to the depths and the darkness within. I joined a group eventually. There was nothing else to do. I had covered everything, wore the best gear. I had to find something.
The raid leader, Mud’Dibe, a Bedouin looking psychic, hired me on for my crowd control abilities and general tankiness. My class, samurai, had a series of high-damage, high area of effect skills and could switch styles between fighting hordes of creatures and just one at range with a bow or with my legendary katana. I had no magical abilities, nor could I heal. I would be the vanguard, taking out lesser foes with ease, scouting for the main body. Suicide squad, but I didn’t care. I wanted to live, but I didn’t want it that badly. Going down fighting was a warrior’s death.
The great gates of the Underdark lie in the Land of Shadow, home to most of the end game content. They depicted demons feasting on the souls of mortals, as well as the torments that lay within. I had gone past them many times, they closed when forty people had entered it that day, and opened in the morning. No one had come out, no one had heard anything.
The Underdark was popular in those days, and there was a waiting list. We had prepared ourselves, potions drunk and mana topped up. I buzzed on the power ups given to me through my comrades. I myself gave the ‘mind of steel’, which provided a little resistance to fear.
I could hear everyone who came daily to watch who would go in chattering around us. Another group, so soon after the first. Yes and so many famous people, like by Mud’Dibe. There’s AXslippus, the warrior healer. There was Ranger Dan, a bowman of renown, skilled even without his abilities. The enchantress, Medea, whose spells were of the highest quality, so on.
They were all top tier, and I had done quests with them in the past. I was the only one who came out of those doors in the morning, coming out into the open as the first sunrise the Land of Shadow had seen in one hundred years.
The great gates swung open too slowly. They creaked at every milimeter, as if they were reluctant to open themselves. I walked forward, ahead of the team of five that were there to support me and add their own damage.
The Underdark was well lit by willow-the-wisps and Saint Elmo’s fire. Green light shown from all the walls, which were inscribed by demon runes. I could not understand them, but to look at them caused headaches. The magician could read them, and he would not say a thing about them, vomiting. Skulls were on every lintel and door frame, and there was red fire in their eyes. The floor was made of large, evenly cut stones, which held esoteric symbols.
I halted them at the entrance, there were still the bodies of many adventurers like me piled in the center of the foyer. I saw that this was a group, or multiple groups that had rushed in at once, and were slain by some devilry. I tossed a Skull from which no fire glowed, and it was hit by a bolt of hellfire from the skulls above the lintel for the next room. With careful tread, I avoided all stones that had ashes or a body on them and marked my way for the main party.
We encountered and slew some minions of the Underdark. Orcs and Goblins as big or bigger than ourselves, and cunning fighters. Were it not for my abilities to slice through many ranks of flesh, we would have been overcome. I cut my way with the rest of my party to the next room, as the main body came behind us to clean up.
The next room held a torture chamber upon which things with the figure of a man were being tortured, screaming for mercy. I saw that the bones and loot of adventurers was about their torment tables, and I drew my bow, slaying those demons who attempted to deceive us. They burned when struck, and turned to dust when killed. I left warnings not to touch the loot and moved on.
The first true boss was a elephantine horror that slew Medea with a thrust of its tusk. She could not be resurrected. The elephantine horror dropped nothing, but a treasure chest bit off the grasping hand of Mud’Dibe as he reached into to pull out loot. It is lucky that he did not feel pain as he would as a normal human.
The next room held pits of acid. Another held a room where if you stepped on the wrong tile, a spider would reach down and grab you up, screaming. The next rooms held a maze. The solution was to find the opposite wall from where you came in, and to break through the walls. After that was the minotaur boss, he was easy, and slew no one. Again, there was a treasure chest, but no one touched it.
Through out, a room would take one of our number, or someone would touch a gold piece that would turn him into gold himself. Another died after blasting at the spider with fire balls, thinking it a boss. I pushed through. Ever cautious, it was my ability to read how the unfortunates before us died that kept the main group together.
After slaying the Fire Drake that stood guard over the final room and the immense treasure horde that was certainly cursed, we came to the throne room. On the throne, which was gold and blood rubies in the shape of a skull with the seat the lower jaw of its hideous grin, sat the most hideous demon in the whole game.
The commoner says that Lucifer is ugly, yet the Bible states that he is a Prince of Light. This was ugly satan. A ruler of hell covered in horns, warts, wounds, the limbs of players before and maggots poured out of his mouth with every word. His eyes were sulfurous yellow, with red in every other spot. In his hands, he held a sword, an orb, a scepter and a scroll. Each glowed with power, though in the orb I saw the souls of the damned swirling. It took all my will to stand against this awful presence.
He laughed at us. Anyone who asked a question was told their deepest shame. He stood and we readied for the fight. I began directing the battle, noticing channels that smelt of brimstone and others that were covered in slick blood. Yet, in that moment, Mud’Dibe, maddened by what he saw, and what secret was revealed of him, screamed and directed everyone to attack.
The arch-daemon laughed and spewed leeches from the scroll. I saw, as with the other bodies, that they fell like so many others had. Those who survived banded to me, but Mud’Dibe, who entered a psychic battle with the arch-daemon until his eyes bled and his bones melted. I directed them as best I could, but one by one they became exhausted and fell. Some were pulled into a river of blood that flowed suddenly from his left foot and others were drowned in brimstone, that came from his right foot and pulled itself up their armor and down into their lungs.
I survived, but barely. I could not except this fate. I had to leave to tell others. The demon, after a time, got off of his throne. “SON OF ADAM, YOU ALONE HAVE CAUSED ME TO STAND.” His words cut my ears like glass. “YOU WILL JOIN ALL YOUR COMPANIONS IN THIS ORB, AND BE FORGOTTEN. AFTER ALL, YOU ABANDONED FLESH, YET KEPT YOUR SOUL.”
I don’t remember the rest of the fight. Every word smote my mind, and every dodge or attack threatened my life. It became arrogant, but still formidable. It threw my dead companions at me. I had to fight their reanimated bodies. He summoned a demon lion, whose roar would send me flying. Everything was ugly and I could not stand it.
I fell to my knees after a long time. I could not move. My health was full, but my will was empty. The arch-daemon sauntered up to me, each step leaving claw marks and vapors. “I WILL STEAL YOUR SOUL, SON OF ADAM. LO, EVEN AS YOU YET LIVE.” I felt my soul begin to leave my body. My health slowly fell.
I nearly gave up, but at a certain mark, my abilities changed, and I received increased health and stamina, and freed me of all despair. I found strength, leapt up and away, the arch-daemon roared to the sky. I saw a chink in his skull-armor. I charged forward, plunging my katana deeply into the being’s face. The roaring became higher pitched, and the Arch daemon fell backwards, dead, onto its throne. The body dissipated in a black mist I guarded my nostrils and mouth from. The orb was the only thing that remained, and I shattered it on the stone slabs of the floor.
The Underdark changed character. Blood waterfalls were replaced by silvery streams. The will’o the wisps became fairies. The bodies disappeared, leaving their belongings. I fell senseless onto the throne. I did not know anything for, I think, a day. Fairies had been ministering to me, and I felt rejuvenated of body, but not of spirit. I looked at all the death with despair. I took, though, all the gold, gems, armor and weaponry that was in the dungeon. The demon itself had dropped armor for me, which I de-cursed in the silver-water waterfalls by the direction of the fairies. The daemons in each piece screamed under the silver water and fell silent.
Thus arrayed, I walked out. I had bag of holdings, and in it, I put everything I could, even the fairies. The great gates remained shut, and this time, they held carvings of me slaying the arch-daemon, though every other wall showed the tragic deaths of all who had come before. I pushed them open and walked into the waiting crowd. We had spent five days in the Underdark. And only I came out whole. The rest had to begin from level one, as new characters. Some sort of reincarnation. I waved them off, and distributed the wealth and information I had gotten to those around me.
After that, I walked away. The sun was rising over the Land of Shadow, but I could not feel the warmth. I couldn’t feel anything. You need time to recover after that sort of travail. I had saved everyone, but it was hollow as I had borne the full brunt of the arch-daemon’s malice in those final seconds. I wanted to kill myself, but I knew it futile.
I walked into the Land of Crystals to the Forest Always Twilit. I feasted with elves, who attempted to mend my soul, but could not. They offered me passage to their heaven, which lay to the West. I denied it, though, asked them if I found nothing to live for, could I join them on one of their Ships of Twilight and pass into the Healing Islands and the Neverwinter shores? They promised me that. I kept moving through the places I quested while leveling, searching for something to trigger any other than what I felt now. Everywhere I went, I was congratulated. Nothing.
Then I traversed the Mountains of Ice and Fire. From there, I crossed the Canyon Fields. I touched upon the Red City, which promised me every decadence. I refused, I could only see what was real, and escape seemed cowardly. I went through zone after zone, land after land. Until I came to Oak Valley, where I was told that I had one quest left. I touched it with my mind.
It told me to go to a certain part of the massive forest and release the fairies that had come with me from the Underdark. Simple enough. I walked through Oak Valley, and the shopkeepers waved at me, I found I could wave back. The mayor clapped my armored shoulder and said what a tribute to this town I was. I wandered off to that spot when I could.
There, in a glen, was a small house. It was surrounded by flowers. Upon their request, I released them to the flowers. One knocked on the door, and Aili came out. She was not wearing her wimple, and golden hair streamed down below her back. She was smiling at the fairie, and held a pot she had been cleaning. She was wearing an apron over a simple brown dress and white blouse. Barefoot. I would never forget this.
Aili followed the fairie’s line of sight and saw me. She dropped her pan and put her hands to her mouth. I stood their. I must have looked terrifying. I was wearing the armor of the arch-daemon, which, despite having no curses, still put out a black shadow, much bigger than I was. My own face was gaunt and drawn compared to what it was when I had left her to continue the adventure.
She ran forward and grasped me, and kissed me. It tasted like a holy chocolate from God’s own bon-bon box. It soothed something in my soul and I didn’t feel as tired as I had been. She’s been with me ever since.
I don’t know what happens after Underdark, I don’t care. I’ve kept an ear out, and while nothing has popped up, that hasn’t stopped fools from going back into the Underdark when everything respawned, but I hear that a few others have actually succeeded.
So you can imagine why I am particularly attached to this NPC named Aili. I had us married by the Mayor six months after I came back. Ring and everything, I killed a dragon for it. And now, as part of the ‘marriage quest line’, I have to rescue my Aili from goblins before midnight. It is our marriage night. I’ve been playing things traditional, and I am in no mood for this. Level FIFTEEN Goblins stand between me and our consummation. You get me? I step on one and it kills the blighter. I shout “ZANTETSUKEN”, and my blade flashes, killing one hundred in a blow.
I kill the three lieutenants, make it through the maze and finally, to the Goblin King. Who is a David Bowie from the Labyrinth parody. I am not happy. I can see the outline of his crotch in his over-large codpiece. He is singing and dancing while I am temporarily immobilized. His eyes are so dead, yet his nose so shapely. His buttocks is perfectly defined by gray-white yoga pants. His hair bounces with each flouncing leap he makes. His crotch is thrusting at me. This is dreadful. I would say I’d rather fight the arch-daemon again, but at least maggots aren’t pouring from his cod-piece. It is purple and throbs. I am not sure it is an article of clothing.
He is singing that, as a babe, she was promised to him as a bride on her coming of age day, which, apparently, coincided with our marriage day. So, he whisked her away to his mountain lair, where he has tested me and tried to keep me away with the Labyrinth and his lieutenants. I tell him that I’m kind of overpowered for this quest, and that if he releases us both, I won’t cut his head off. He laughs and goes into a song about how powerful his magics are.
I am freed from the stun for the fight and cut the bastard in half with a single blow. He erupts into bubbles, and Aili and I find ourselves back in the glen. She starts giggling at me. Apparently she found the entire thing funny. I had been stunned kicking the door open with a determined look on my face.
I sigh and pick her up, walking into the house on the glen.