As they exit the Guild application area, Asa turns to the group, “You mentioned rooms?”
“Yes! Apparently we each get our own room!” Collin’s clearly excited by this.
Asa frowns, “But… that’s...”
Ardine nods, “You realized too? That means they probably intend to keep us in here for a while.”
Collin’s smile flattens, “I guess you’re right.”
Tracy scoffs, “That’s obvious.”
Brandon sighs, “What’s obvious? I’m not sure what you mean.”
Lloyd looks at him incredulously, “Really kid?”
Asa gives them a glare and puts his arm around Brandon, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Ardine nods, “So, I was going to invite you all to my room. After all, I was the one who suggested this venture.”
“That’s fair.” Collin says. Everyone else nods.
“So how do we do this?” Brandon asks.
Ardine walks up to the NPC at the desk. “Hello?”
“Hello. Welcome to the adventurer’s housing. What would you like to do?” The woman responds.
Ardine thinks for a moment and then taps something. After she taps a few more things suddenly her menus become visible to Asa and Collin, “Good! They did implement that option!”
“So you can make your menu visible to everybody?” Collin asks.
Ardine shakes her head, “Not everybody. Your options for menu visibility are private, party and friend.”
Lloyd’s eyes widen, “That’s what you’re talking about?”
Ardine looks at him, “Oh, I forgot to add you didn’t I?”
Lloyd shakes his head, “You didn’t forget. I actively evaded the topic.”
Collin starts tapping his own menu, “Here, I’ve got everyone on my friend list, so I’ll do it.” A moment later Lloyd, Tracy, Asa and Ardine can see his menu.
“So, why did you want your menu visible?” Collin asks.
Ardine walks over to the NPC, “I wanted everyone to watch me navigate the log in menu, not that it’s especially complicated, but I figure we might as well bumble through it together.”
Collin nods, “I can see that.” He walks over to the NPC and then says, “Hi.”
The NPC responds to him identically to how she responded to Ardine, “Hello. Welcome to the adventurer’s housing. What would you like to do?” A menu opens up in front of Collin and Asa steps forward to get a closer look.
The menu has the options: Log In, Request Invite and Invite Friend. “So, if we’re going to Ardine’s room, we should request an invite right?” Asa asks.
Collin nods, “Sure.” When he presses the Request Invite button another menu opens with: Request by ID, Request Friend and Request Guildmate. He presses request friend and his friend list appears. He slides his finger to scroll Bonehead Throkdar onto the list and then taps it. A window opens asking him if he’s sure and he selects yes.
A moment later, Ardine gets his invite request which she accepts. “That wasn’t too bad.” He says.
“Um… what do we do?” Brandon asks.
They turn to him. “You weren’t watching?” Collin asks.
Brandon sighs, “I couldn’t see what you were doing.”
Collin’s face scrunches for a moment before his eyes widen in realization, “I never added you to my friend list! Sorry.”
Asa steps forward, “It’s no big deal. We have to invite ourselves individually anyway.” He says as he quickly traverses the menus and sends the invite.
Brandon is staring at his menu, “Um… I didn’t get added to Ardine’s friend list either...”
“Oh! Well, that can be easily fixed!” Ardine opens her menu, “What’s your ID?” Brandon gives it to here.
Asa thinks for a moment, “Wasn’t guildmate one of the invite request options?”
Brandon taps the menu, “There we go!” He then taps a few more times and sends the request.
“I’m sorry about that as well.” Ardine says as she sends him the friend request. Then she turns to face the group, “So, shall we?”
Asa nods, “I’m really curious to see what’s up there.”
Collin grins, “Me too.”
The door to the upstairs is slightly behind and to the left of the information desk on the far left side of the lodge. They open it, they find some stairs which immediately turn right and go up adjacent to the room.
It doesn’t take long for Asa to realize there’s no way the outside of the building is to scale. The top floor doesn’t look lined up with the bottom floor, and when they reach the top of the stairs, it’s clear he’s right. They went from the far left side of the lodge along the side wall up stairs that T into the center of a hallway, with a door in front of them.
The ceiling of the hallway is needlessly high while the walls are an ugly creamy shade of yellow.
“So, do we know which room is yours?” Collin asks.
Ardine thinks for a moment, “Perhaps the one at the top of the stairs? We did have to sign up after all.”
Tracy looks to the side, “Then what are all these doors for?” She tries to open a door a little ways to the left of the top of the stairs, but finds it won’t budge.
“Uh… according to this...” Brandon starts, “The doors lead to… the rooms of your top friends.”
Asa looks to see Brandon scrutinizing his invisible menu, “What are you looking at?” He asks.
“Oh… I just thought… maybe there’d be something about the lodge in the help menu...” Brandon responds hesitantly.
“Oh? What does it say?” Ardine asks.
“The door at the top of the stairs leads to the room you are invited into. Next to the door is the guest room. The guest room leads to your room if you are currently invited into someone else’. The sixteen doors in the hallway lead to your top friends.” His eyes widen in surprise and a smile covers his face, “Wow! Apparently we all have our own hallways!”
Lloyd raises an eyebrow at him, “What do you mean?”
Brandon jumps up, “I mean that regardless of what room you are logged into, the hallway guest room leads to your room and the doors lead to your top friends. So the doors lead different places for each of us!” He stops for a moment, “Or would if any of us had anyone on our top friend list.”
Asa looks down the hall while Brandon is talking, and he sees that the hallway is shaped like a U. There are two doors on either side of the stairs and a hallway going towards the back of the building at either end of the hall.
He walks down to the end of the hall to look around the corner and finds his assessment of a U shape was accurate. The hallway continues to a dead end with three doors on the outer wall, two doors on the inner wall and one at the end of it.
“Anything interesting?” Lloyd asks him when he heads back.
“Not really.” Asa responds, “Just more doors.”
He walks past everyone and finds an identical set up on the other side. “Yep. Moor doors.”
Tracy shakes her head, “I hope there’s a way to change the color of the walls. This yellow is hideous!”
Ardine nods, “It is quite ugly. I hope the room isn’t similarly adorned.”
Collin grins, “No time like the present to find out!” And then he opens the door to the room, only to find the opening is solid white.
Asa watches as Collin enters the white and disappears, “I wonder how this works?” He asks no one in particular.
“I imagine the doors lead to instanced rooms.” Ardine responds and then steps into the white.
“Why am I nervous?” Brandon asks Asa, “It’s just the lodge.” Tracy scoffs in response and walks into the white. Lloyd follows silently.
Asa turns to Brandon, “To be honest, I’m a little nervous too.”
Brandon’s eyes widen, “You are?”
Asa nods and smiles at him, “I dunno why either. It could be a lot of things.”
“Like what?” Brandon asks.
“Our situation. The fact that I don’t know what awaits me behind that whiteness.” Asa snickers a little, “I’m not really worried. It’s just a room, and aside of being white, this is no different than any other instance entrance.” Asa thinks for a moment, “But maybe that’s it? Instances are usually dangerous places.”
Brandon shakes his head, “I guess.”
Asa looks up at him, “We could walk through the door together?”
“Sure.” Brandon’s smile makes Asa glad he decided to join up with him. He doesn’t have a little brother, but he always loved when he made Luke’s little brother Ira smile. Brandon stirs similar feelings in him.
Of course, when the two of them enter the room it’s anticlimactic. There is a momentary pause before the room loads and seamlessly connects to the hallway.
Asa immediately turns around and looks back into the hallway before waving his arms through the door. He steps back into the hallway and then turns around, to see that he can now look through the door into the room.
He steps forward again and looks around. The door opens closer to the right wall of the room, but there is floor space on either side of it. The room itself is extremely large, far larger than could ever fit in the center of the U shaped hallway. The walls are a blue color darker than royal but not quite midnight and the floor is covered in a similarly blue colored rug.
To the left of the door is a kitchenette that is complete with a stove, cabinets and even a refrigerator, though Asa wonders how much of it is functional and how much of it is just for appearance’ sake. The kitchen is the only part of the room that isn’t blue, instead having pearl colored tile on the floors and lower part of the walls with the rest being a similar pearl color, but untiled.
To the right of the entrance is a door, but as it’s shut, Asa doesn’t know where it leads. Another door can be seen further back. The back of the room has a sliding glass door which leads to some outside area that Asa can’t really make out from his position, though there’s at least a large porch. Despite it’s grandiosity, the room is otherwise devoid of stuff. There isn’t even a generic set of furniture.
“This is huge!” Brandon echoes Asa’s thoughts.
Collin opens the door further from the entrance, “Whoa! There’s a bedroom in here!”
“What would we need a bedroom for?” Tracy asks.
“Perhaps for posterity?” Ardine suggests, “Though, it’s also possible we may actually be able to rest there.”
Lloyd raises his eyebrows at her, “What would we need to rest for?”
Ardine turns to him, “Ignoring the fact that resting is a common thing in games to restore HP and MP, consider that we still have bodies in the real world. Depending on how we are experiencing this virtual reality, we may be in a mentally alert brainwave state, in which case we’d need to sleep eventually.”
“But, aren’t we unconscious?” Brandon asks.
Ardine shrugs, “I don’t really know how this technology works. We clearly aren’t unconscious, because we are aware, but we could be in some kind of dream state, in which case we probably don’t need to sleep. However, if the system has simply hijacked our sensory inputs, then our brains would be processing all of this as if it were real. In that case we’d be as awake now as we would be in real life.”
Asa walks over to them, “Presumably anyway. There’s really no way to know, is there?”
Ardine nods, “No, there isn’t.”
“That’s wicked!” Everyone turns to where Lloyd has opened the sliding glass doors and is looking outside.
“What’s wicked?” Collin walks over to look out the door as he asks.
“There’s a patio and a back yard!” He responds.
Everyone walks over to see what he’s looking at and Asa can’t help but agree. Outside the door is a rather large patio, large enough that you could put furniture out here and it would effectively be another room. But behind it is a large open area you access by going down a flight of stairs. The back yard is an empty field of grass, but it’s extremely likely there are customization options for it.
The back of the yard runs up to a cliffside that disappears into the night sky. Walls, unfortunately the same yellow color as the upstairs hallway, topped by a brown shingled roof block off the sides creating an entirely isolated area. Lights mounted along the walls provide a pleasant amount of illumination, enough to see without any difficulty, but not enough obscure the stars as the sky is visible above them.
“I hope we can recolor this.” Tracy says.
Brandon looks at his menu again, “According to this, we can recolor everything. Even the hallway, but your changes to the hallway will only be visible to you.”
Asa sighs, “This is all really cool, but it’s not very useful unless they plan to keep us here for a long while. We’re talking, a scale of months, possibly years.”
Tracy rolls her eyes, “They can’t keep us in here for years. Our bodies would atrophy, not to mention we’d starve. And what are they doing with our excrement anyway?”
Ardine thinks for a moment, “That is a very good question. Keeping our bodies from atrophying wouldn’t be that hard. We may not be aware of it, but the system may be making us move our muscles, keeping them in use. Sustenance also would be costly, but not difficult. Intravenous life support has existed for quite some time. As for our excrement, I imagine we have some kind of catheter for our urine, and a similar system for feces.”
“They could do that?” Brandon asks.
“In theory, yes. In practice, it should quickly become prohibitively expensive for a small number of people, to say nothing of a thousand.” Ardine continues to ponder their predicament.
“What I wonder is what they hope to gain from this.” Collin says, “Regardless of how they can afford it, it’s a lot of effort to go through. There has to be a point to it.”
Ardine nods, “I agree. No one would do something this extensive purely on a whim. I do have a few theories, however.”
“Like what?” Lloyd asks, curiosity overshadowing his gruff demeanor.
“I think the most plausible explanation is that this is some science experiment. Likely a social or psychological one. We did sign something regarding our brains being scanned. It’s plausible that this brain scanning was actually about measuring our responses to certain stimuli. If we assume that the game itself, especially with the new rules, are the stimuli, then our situation makes a lot of sense.” Ardine responds.
“Wouldn’t that be highly unethical?” Asa asks.
Ardine nods, “It would be. But there are hardly a lack of unethical researchers, and one could make an argument that psychological and social research cannot be done ethically with any accuracy.”
Asa ponders this, “I suppose that makes sense. After all, people being aware they are in an experiment likely affects the results.”
Ardine nods, “Exactly.”
“But if you’re right then the results are being affected anyway!” Tracy yells.
Ardine turns to her, “If I’m right being the key phrase there. We don’t know I’m right, so it’s entirely possible that we’re just being paranoid.”
“So, what were the other options?” Lloyd interrupts.
“That they were using us to test some functionality in the game that went wrong, and we got trapped in here as a result. I admit this is less and less plausible seeming as we find out more about where we are, but initially, it was an implausible but possible explanation.”
“But what would they be testing?” Brandon asks.
“Most likely, they were testing something related to changing our avatars so that they look like us. But there are any number of other things it could be.” Ardine responds.
Tracy scoffs, “And what about the system message?”
Ardine nods, “The system message is one of the many reasons I consider this to be an extremely implausible theory. But there is that axiom, when you’ve removed the impossible, whatever is left, however implausible, must be the truth. Since this isn’t impossible, we shouldn’t simply discard it. At least not until we’re certain it’s not true.”
“Hmm, I had been assuming this was intentional. But it being an accident opens up too many possibilities to count.” Asa says.
Ardine nods, “It’s true.”
Lloyd shakes his head, “Well, I can tell you one thing that couldn’t have been an accident. Changing our avatars.”
Asa ponders this, “He’s right. It couldn’t have been an accident.”
Everyone looks at him. “What do you mean?” Ardine asks.
“They are imperfect. If it was just the tube taking some scans of us and a bug imprinted those images onto us as our avatars, they’d be what we actually look like, but they aren’t. I don’t know if you noticed, but our avatars don’t look exactly like us. They look more like someone rendered a really realistic artist’s drawing of us.” Asa says.
“Huh… he’s right.” Collin says.
“Is he? I did some checking and well, a few odd physics things aside, our avatars are quite detailed. Much more so than the normal ones in the game.” Ardine says.
Asa nods, “And yet, they are also missing things. I first noticed this when I was looking at Luke. We’ve been friends since we were children. There are a number of small scars on his face from various forays into a forest behind his house that were missing from his avatar. The shape of his face was slightly stylized as well.”
Collin nods, “Yeah, I can see it now too. Tracy’s face in real life is a little rounder than it is here, and Lloyd had a zit this morning that isn’t there.”
“Hey!” Lloyd and Tracy say at the same time.
Ardine blinks a few times, “That actually makes what I found even more interesting.”
“What did you find?” Brandon asks.
“I bet you have a penis?” She says, causing everyone to look at her strangely.
Brandon raises an eyebrow, “Uh… yes?”
Ardine shakes her head, “I meant, in game.”
All the guys look down at their crotches. “Really?” Brandon asks at the same time Collin asks, “Are you sure?”; Lloyd exclaims, “Whoa!”; and Asa says, “You know, now that I think about it, I did feel a little different down there.”
“Well, I have a vagina, so it stands to reason that your avatars were given genitals as well.” Ardine says.
Tracy shakes her head, “What would we possibly need genitals for?”
Ardine shrugs, “I have no clue. But if what Asa says is true, and we aren’t picture perfect, that means at least two things. A, that we can safely assume that this wasn’t an accident, not that that was likely to begin with, and that these avatars could not have been made during the six hours we were playing, which means that someone got our physical parameters somehow and did extremely realistic renderings based on them.”
Collin’s smile flattens, “Which means this was premeditated. And possibly even means that the people at the event were chosen intentionally rather than picked at random.”
Asa shakes his head, “Let’s not jump to conclusions. While I agree, that’s looking increasingly more likely, it is possible that they had a computer program which took our physical parameters from the tubes and used those to algorithmically create our avatars. While that would still mean this was premeditated, we might still have essentially been a random group of players.”
Ardine thinks for a moment, “An algorithm is plausible.”
“So, how did you learn about your… uh...” Brandon trails off and looks down at his feet.
Ardine looks at him, “At first I found out accidentally. I unequipped my armor to equip a lighter armor so I could search town more comfortably, and I noticed people were staring at me. That was when I realized my avatar didn’t include underclothes. I went to a more private place and looked myself over after that.”
“So… like this?” Lloyd asks, and then his equipment disappears, leaving him nude.
Everyone looks at him. “Huh… You are in fact anatomically correct.” Collin says.
“Could you put your clothes back on?” Tracy asks. Lloyd turns around and then fiddles with his menu a bit before he is wearing clothes again.
“Wait, doesn’t this mean that people are going to be naked all the time?” Brandon asks.
“Probably for short periods, when changing their equipment.” Ardine says.
Asa thinks for a moment and then checks his menu, “We don’t seem to have underclothes at all. They were built into our previous avatars, and they don’t seem to have been added to the clothing options.”
Tracy sighs in obvious frustration and Lloyd shakes his head. “This is getting weirder and weirder.” He says.
Collin walks over to the railing at the edge of the balcony, “We’ve spent a lot of time on this. Is it okay if we put this conversation on the back burner and explore the room?”
“Sure.” Asa says. Ardine nods while Tracy and Lloyd shrug.
“So! Ardine, what customization options do you have?” Collin asks excitedly.
Ardine opens her menu and then looks around, “I’m not sure exactly.”
“The room customization option is in your inventory sub menu, under furnishings.” Brandon reads off his help menu, “It says while you are in your room there’s additional things you can do there.”
Collin frowns, “There isn’t a more convenient way to access it?”
Brandon frowns, “There doesn’t seem to be.”
Asa shakes his head, “Well, you can put it in your spiral menu. I just did it.”
Collin raises his eyebrow, “Isn’t that a bit wasteful?”
Asa nods, “I think so, but if you wanted more convenient access to your furnishings, that does accomplish that.”
Ardine looks through her menu, “I found it. It appears I have Basic Table, Basic Chair, Basic Lamp and Mini Potted Pine. There doesn’t seem to be a stock for them.” She selects something and then a very boring looking wooden chair appears. “Apparently I move it around using my mini map.” She continues as the chair moves around the deck.
“Can you place it on the deck? Or is there inside and outside only furnishings?” Tracy asks.
Ardine taps her menu again and the chair appears on the deck, “Apparently I can put it anywhere.” She raises her eyebrow, “Now this is strange. It’s asking me if I want it locked or not.”
Brandon responds, “It says here that if it’s locked, it can’t be moved except through your furnishings menu. If it’s not locked, people will be able to pick it up and move it around.”
Ardine smiles, “Thank you. Where is the help menu? It seems quite useful.”
“It’s at the bottom of the menu past config. It’s not visible in the window by default, you have to scroll it on.” He answers.
“I believe I should make this chair unlocked.” Ardine continues. “I wonder if you can lock anything?” She muses to herself.
“I’d assume so, if you can lock the basic wooden chair.” Asa says.
Tracy thinks for a moment, “What does the table look like?” Ardine taps her menu again and a wooden card table appears. “That’s what I thought.” Tracy continues.
“I wonder how you get more furnishings?” Lloyd asks.
“Probably from quests, drops and artisan skills.” Collin says.
“So, the same way you get all other items.” Tracy deadpans. Collin nods in response wearing a teasing grin.
Asa turns and walks inside. “Where are you going?” Brandon asks him.
“The kitchen is the only place with stuff. Seems like a good place to start checking things out.” Asa responds.
“Oh yeah.” Collin says and then everyone follows.
Once they reach the kitchen, Asa opens a drawer and is momentarily surprised when a menu window opens, “Wow, the drawer has an inventory window.” He reaches up to the cabinet but finds the handle is slightly out of his reach.
Somewhat to his dismay, Brandon effortlessly reaches up and opens it for him. His irritation dissipates when Brandon smiles down at him. He seems so happy to help that it’s impossible for Asa to stay mad at him. Asa also notices Brandon has abnormally long arms for his frame, a sign he’s probably going to grow to be a rather tall man.
“It does have a menu!” Brandon exclaims.
“Ugh! It’s not that exciting.” Tracy complains.
“It’s not that surprising,” Ardine says as she puts a table and some chairs in the middle of the room, “But that doesn’t mean it’s not cool.”
Asa moves to the refrigerator and confirms that it too has a menu, “So, I don’t really know what there is to put in the cabinets and refrigerator, since there wasn’t a cooking system before, but they are empty by default.”
“There is a way to find out.” Collin says as he walks over to the stove. When he touches it a window appears in front of him, “So, it says I can make french fries, nachos or rice balls right now. Any requests?”
“I feel like nachos.” Lloyd responds.
“Anyone have a problem with nachos?” Collin asks. Everyone else shakes their head.
“Good. Ooh! It’s letting me make nachos for multiple people. Let’s see, there are six of us, so I’ll make nachos for six.” He taps the menu twice and then an extremely complicated visual appears over the stove.
“What?” Collin says, “Cooking appears to be some kind of mini game.” Asa watches confused as Collin taps the convoluted menu, “Okay, I think I know what to do… darn, this is harder than it looks! So I put this here and… dang it! That didn’t do what I wanted at all!” He continues to play the strange game before he says, “Aha! Apparently I made two star nachos.”
“That looked complicated.” Ardine says.
Collin nods, “It definitely is nothing like actual cooking, I can tell you that much.” He takes a three segmented bowl to the table. The main segment is full of nachos while the smaller segments have salsa and sour cream.
“No guacamole?” Lloyd frowns.
Collin shakes his head, “I think you get guacamole at a higher star rating. I’m still not entirely sure how the cooking works.”
Tracy takes a cheese covered chip and sticks it in her mouth, “This is surprisingly edible.”
Lloyd takes one and tries it, “They’re nothing special, but they’re still pretty tasty.”
Ardine takes one, “It’s astonishing really. Not only is the flavor pretty accurate, but the texture feels right as well. Whoever programmed this did top notch work.”
Collin, Brandon and Asa each take a chip, “Wow. This is much better than I’d expect for a two star meal.” Collin says, “It makes me wonder what five star food tastes like?”
Asa thinks for a moment, “Well, it is food, and this is a game primarily for entertainment. I imagine even one star food is intended to be enjoyable.” He takes a chip, “But you’re right. It’s like… a step above fast food nachos. And the texture of the chips is strangely accurate. And… I felt myself swallow? That was oddly realistic feeling.”
Ardine nods, “It was. Compared to everything else here, the eating experience is eerily realistic. It almost feels wrong.”
Brandon looks at her, “What do you mean?”
“Everything here has a fake quality to it. Like how the attack assister ensures everyone’s attacks are roughly equivalent or how we have to use emotes to express feelings that we can’t portray purely with our bodies. But the food tastes and feels more or less real.” Ardine responds.
Asa shakes his head, “That’s not entirely true. Like you said, the game play elements are definitely fake, but the passive sensations are like the food, detailed and full. I’m not sure how realistic they are, as a lot of them I haven’t experienced in real life, but someone put a lot of time into making our sensations of the environment are detailed and immersive.”
Ardine blinks, “Hmm… I suppose I didn’t stop to smell the roses. Perhaps I should?”
Asa nods, “You definitely should. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“This salsa is bland.” Lloyd complains.
“Does it taste wrong?” Collin asks.
“No, just, like bad supermarket salsa.” Lloyd responds.
Tracy rolls her eyes, “Well, it’s two star salsa. What do you expect?”
Collin shrugs, “You act like supermarket salsa is inedible.”
Lloyd shakes his head, “Am I not allowed to have standards for my Mexican food?”
Tracy smirks at him, “You can have all the standards you want. It’s not ruining my meal!” She picks up a chip, dips it in salsa and sour cream and then slowly eats it, as if savoring every bite.
Lloyd rolls his eyes back at her, but he’s smiling, “Funny.”
Asa decides he might as well check the door opposite the kitchen, but is disappointed when all he finds is a broom closet. It’s not even really a room, just another inventory like the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen.
“What’s in there?” Brandon asks.
“Nothing. It’s a storage closet.” Asa sighs.
“Just a menu?” Brandon continues.
“Yep.” Asa shrugs, “I was hoping it was a bathroom.”
Brandon raises an eyebrow, “You need to go to the bathroom?”
Asa shakes his head, “I wasn’t really looking for a toilet, more a bath tub. I’d even accept a shower. Just the ability to bathe would be great!”
Tracy nods, “I would like a bath.”
Collin thinks for a moment, “Well, there is a bedroom. There might be a bathroom there.”
“We might as well look.” Ardine says, “I wanted to check out the bedroom anyway, since the bed isn’t a furnishing, implying it has some mechanical purpose.”
The bedroom is a slightly darker blue than the main area, and comes with a bed, a desk and a dresser. Ardine walks up to the bed and taps it. “As I suspected, I can use this bed to rest.” She raises an eyebrow, “It seems I can also use it to sleep. This is peculiar, it occurred to me we could sleep, but I didn’t think it would be a menu option.”
“You can?” Brandon asks.
“Yes. And, even more strangely, I can select an amount of time. That makes it extremely unlikely to be for our bodies’ sake. I’m pretty sure resting restores your HP and MP, but now I have no idea what sleeping does.” She says.
“Maybe there’s a fatigue system?” Collin suggests.
Asa thinks for a moment, “If there is, it wasn’t mentioned in the system message, and that message was quite thorough.” He opens his menu and goes to his messages, “So, it just occurred to me we should probably all pin the system message so it won’t get deleted over time.”
Collin nods, “That’s a good idea.”
Ardine also nods, “Yes, we definitely don’t want to lose it.” They both open their menus and lock the message.
“Um… I have an idea.” Brandon says nervously.
Everyone looks at him. “Go on.” Asa says with what he hopes is a calming smile.
Brandon looks around at everyone for a moment before he continues, “I was thinking we could find out what sleep does by having Ardine do it. She could sleep for like five minutes, that way if it’s real time, it won’t take any time out of our day. Then we’ll at least know.”
Collin smiles, “That is a good idea. Ardine?”
Ardine smiles, “I have no problem with this, and I do want to know what that option does.” With that she goes to the bed and opens the menu, “So, it appears the minimum amount of time you can sleep is a minute. I’m going to sleep for five minutes as Brandon suggested. Interesting, its telling me I need to lay in the bed to go to sleep, and that if I leave the room, my request will be canceled.”
She turns to them, “Good night I suppose.” And then she lays down on the bed and… falls asleep.
Collin raises an eyebrow, “She… does appear to be sleeping.”
Tracy harrumphs, “I still don’t know why we’d need to sleep?”
Asa thinks for a moment, “Well, the system message said there is a fixed day and night cycle.” He looks down at Ardine, “I imagine she’s unaware right now. So perhaps sleeping is a way of moving time forward without having to experience it?”
Brandon frowns, “Wouldn’t that be more proof they intend to keep us here for a long time?”
Asa sighs, “Yes. Unfortunately.”
They all go silent at that. Ardine wakes up and breaks the silence, “So… that was a strange experience. I feel like I slept, but I don’t feel in any way rested.” She thinks for a moment, “Though I was never tired either, so perhaps that’s why?” She slides her feet off the bed and stands up, “What’s with all the doom and gloom?”
Asa sighs again, “It’s just. I think sleeping is a way to pass the time, in case you just want it to be morning again. But that’s more proof that they are going to keep us in here for a long time.”
Ardine sighs too, “I don’t know what to tell you. As soon as this whole thing started, I knew we weren’t getting out. At least not any time soon.”
Lloyd’s eyes widen, “But you said...”
Ardine nods, “I know what I said. I acknowledge the possibility that I could be wrong, and we might be out of here tomorrow, but I never thought we would be, and the evidence that we won’t is mounting.”
Collin turns to them, “I think we need to get some perspective here.”
Asa looks at him, “What do you mean?”
Collin sits on the bed, “I mean our situation could be much worse. We’re trapped, but our prison is a game we all spend most of our time playing anyway. It’s true we seem to die if we’re killed, but frankly, that’s no different from the world outside. I’m not saying I want to spend the rest of my life here, I’m just saying, we could have ended up somewhere much worse.”
Tracy stares at him, “Are you crazy!?”
Collin shakes his head with a small smile, “Maybe, but I’d like to think I’m making the best of a bad situation.”
“I uh… I think he’s right.” Brandon says, “I mean, I’m not happy about this, but things could be a lot worse. I think, since there’s nothing we can do about it, there’s no point in fretting about it either.”
“What do you suggest then?” Tracy is livid.
Brandon shrinks away from her, “I dunno, but I know freaking out isn’t helping.”
Lloyd looks down into his hands, “We’ve been in here for almost twelve hours. I bet our parents are worried.”
Asa walks over to Lloyd and once again feels inadequate. He wants to put a supportive hand on his shoulder, but that would be too awkward. “They’ll be fine.” He says, “If anybody can get us out of here, it’s them.”
Ardine shakes her head, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
Asa turns to her, “Why not?”
“I have a question for you. Do you know what will happen if power is cut to our tubes while we’re connected to them?” Ardine asks.
“I guess not.” Asa responds.
Ardine nods, “I can’t imagine it would be good. Worst case scenario, it kills all of us.”
“Why would you bring that up?” Tracy asks.
Ardine’s expression is grim, “Because, I can’t imagine any government would allow a thousand people to be kidnapped so openly and incarcerated against their will. Even if our lives are at stake, they will eventually have to act. If there is a raid, people could get hurt, even die. Equipment could also be damaged. If either happens, our chances of survival lessen greatly. And that’s ignoring the possibility of a power outage or damage to the tubes from a natural disaster. The truth is, we are extremely vulnerable right now to a lot of things entirely outside of anybody’s control.”
Brandon’s eyes widen, “Are you saying we’re already dead?”
Ardine looks up at him, “I could be wrong. Let’s hope that axiom holds true, and the implausible is the truth.”
Collin looks her in the eyes, “You don’t sound convinced.”
Ardine meets his gaze evenly, “I’m not.”
Asa looks around the room to distract himself from the conversation, and sees a door tucked between the dresser and the wall. It occurs to him, that if this was a real house, that door would lead to the balcony, but he can’t remember if there was a door there, so he walks over to it.
“So that’s it? We sign up for a fun afternoon and end up dead!?” Tracy screams. No one seems to have a response to that.
When Asa opens the door, he finds the bathroom he’d been looking for, but it doesn’t make him feel much better. Rather than informing the others of his find, he enters the room.
The bathroom is actually quite nice looking, if quaint. Seeing it, it occurs to him that the entire apartment is strangely modern compared to the rest of the setting, with electricity and modern appliances, and the bathroom is no exception. The ceiling is a soft shade of blue that’s almost white while the floor is tiles of the same color, and there’s a toilet by the back wall. To the right is a rather large bathtub with a separate shower. To the left is a vanity with two sinks and a mirror.
He was going to check out the bathtub in more detail, but instead he finds himself distracted by his reflection in the mirror. His blond hair is ear length, a little longer than he’d like, but he has a hair cut appointment in a few days. He frowns when he realizes he’ll probably miss it.
His skin is pasty white, and he realizes his eyes are a vibrant shade of emerald. His actual eyes were a darker green than that, or maybe he just never noticed how bright they were before. In either case, rather than making him feel better about himself, it only reinforces the artificiality of his reflection. Luke’s scarless face appears in his mind, and he sighs.
“What are you thinking about?” Brandon is standing in the doorway.
“I wonder what Luke’s doing.” Asa says.
“You could message him?” Brandon suggests.
Asa sighs again, “He won’t respond.” He turns to face Brandon, “I have a feeling I know exactly what he’s doing, and if I’m right, a message will just be a distraction.”
Thank''s again for reading chapter 2. I would love to hear your comments/critiques. And, though I'm doing some final proof reads of the chapters before I post them, the story is complete!
Stuff You Might Want to Know
Mechanics - Soul Energy: Soul energy is one of most basic resources in Ring Spiral Online, used both for purchasing items in shops and for creating the soul orbs that are placed in the Fate Wheel to enhance character stats. It is gained from a lot of sources: defeating enemies, doing quests, selling or auctioning items and orbs, etc.; and it can be freely given from player to player.
Mechanics – Soul Orbs: Soul orbs are created using soul energy and each have an associated effect when put into the fate wheel or forged into a piece of equipment. The most common kind of soul orb is a skill orb which is used to increase your rank in a skill. There are also orbs that have a flat increase to statistics, that resist specific elements or ailments and even more esoteric things. After spending some time in a fate wheel, soul orbs can be crystallized, which allows an artisan to customize equipment, allowing the equipped character to benefit from the orb. Loose or crystallized soul orbs can be traded, auctioned or gifted between players; sold or broken down into soul energy to be remade into a different orb (though certain unique boss drop or quest reward orbs cannot be sold, broken down, and in rare cases, even traded between players).