I couldn’t get over the smell of it. The world seemed slightly stale to me, almost like a gym locker.
I definitely was not in a gym locker. In fact it looked like an old village you might find in Holland, pre cars,, complete with tulips in every yard. The stones clicked away beneath my feet as I walked around the little clearing, and the grass at the side of the path squished a bit when I strayed from the path, just like back in the real world.
With everything looking and feeling so beautiful it seemed odd that the flowery area smelled like a gross gym locker. Shouldn’t it smell like a spring day? Maybe the head set I had couldn’t produce the correct olfactory signal. I’d have to get it checked.
On my third pass around the area another figure materialize, their back to me. The faint glow of immunity shimmered over them as it did with anyone just entering the game in a safe zone.
I squinted just over their head and saw the blue letters hovering there.
Level 1 rogue 20/20 HP
She was not what I expected.
“Cas!” I called.
Startled, she turned around, and jumped back another foot. Definitely a rogue with that move.
“Who goes there?” she asked, blades ready.
“Really? I’m right here in front of you,” I snarled, shifting from one side to another. The armor was lighter than I thought it would be, and the spiked shoulders only impinged on my vision a little. “Cas, it’s me.”
“Freddy?” Carla asked.
“No, my names Jupiter here, remember? And you’re Cas. Who else would it be? We spawned in together.”
“How would I know? This place is huge! Someone else could have spawned in at the same time.”
“With the same name?”
She shifted from foot to foot, the dusky skin of her avatar shimmering in the sunlight. Her face actually blushed. Bloody hell, but the graphics were good.
“I didn’t think to look at your avatar name,” she said, sheepishly.
“Ah,well just focus just above my head a bit. You’ll see it there.”
Her eyes moved to the spot above my head and unfocused for a moment. She would see my own stats and health, also level one, but as a fighter I had almost twice as many hit points.
“Now stop fooling around,” I said, giving her another smile. “We’re in spawn, we can’t hurt each other here anyway.”
She relaxed, and I took a moment to look over her avatar. Willowy, with long black hair streaked with blue dye. Her chocolate colored skin fairly gleamed in the sunlight, and she wore a triangular mask that covered her mouth and nose, but left her cheeks visible for blushing. There were stylized shark teeth emblazoned across the mask.
“I thought for sure you’d be an elf or something,” I said.
“Humans get more perks available at higher levels.”
“Already min maxing? I should have known.”
“Well I’m not surprised you took dwarf. You and your obsession with beards.”
“It is pretty glorious, isn’t it?” I said, stroking the beard in question. Through my haptic gloves I could feel the rough bristly beard, and the thick braids on either side of my mouth. I couldn’t grow a beard offline, just a tiny little scraggly stubble that looked more like a rabid bear rug than a beard, thanks to my mixed genetics. But here I could be anything, so of course I went with the beard.
“What are those?” she asked, pointing at my spiked shoulder pieces.
I turned from side to side, showing off the evil looking shoulder spikes.
“Like them? They’re Dadron’s Blessed Shoulders, a pre-order perk. It doesn’t look like much, and it has crap for armor, but it levels with you so you never have to get another pair of shoulders again. Might save me in the long run.”
“You pre-ordered?” Her avatars eyes grew wide, her mask clad chin dropping a bit in a good illusion of shock.
“The first mmorpg on an Octo-Nerve VR system? You bet your sweet blades I did.”
She rolled her eyes, turning her back on me.
“Alright, alright, I guess I can’t fault you that much,” she said. “Come on, genius, let’s go find a quest.”
Steel Soul, like any other mmorpg of the age, made it simple to find the first quest. There was an npc right next to the spawn point clad in the shiniest armor, rendered in exquisite detail, just walking back and forth on the cobblestone.
“Should we group before we go in?” Cas asked.
“Maybe,” I said, “ I’m not quite sure how this all works, I just jumped in.”
“You call up the menu with a cupped hand moving from the left, like you’re pulling something,” she said, miming the action.
I tried it and a floating menu appeared. My name, Jupiter08, was written in neat blue script at the top. Right underneath it read “Level 1 fighter, 32/32 HP”. Beneath that were several menus. Inventory, skills, friends, options, and a few others. There was a soft ring in my ear, and an orange marker appeared next to friends. I tapped it and saw a request from Cas at the top.
“You’ve got this all figured out already?” I asked, as I tapped the accept button.
“Only the basic controls. I read a few things, watched a let’s play last night, and got the gist of it all.”
“You read all that, but couldn’t look up how to read avatar names?”
“It didn’t come up.”
“Well, you’re elected group leader then, oh wise one. I’ll follow your lead.”
She rolled her eyes at me again. Oddly it felt just like we were back on the college campus. She held the same simmering disdain for my witty humor.
“Who goes there?” asked the npc as we walked up to him. Cas gave me a look as if to say ‘see, he gets it’ before answering.
“Cassidaya Briefoot,” she said with a half bow.
“Jupiter Rocklore,” I said.
“And why are you here?” he asked.
I blinked at this. It was an NPC, a computer algorithm searching for keywords. We just had to say the right keywords to get it to give us the quest. But it wasn’t giving us much to go on. Most algorithms mentioned a word, or phrase, to further the conversation. What would this NPC react to? Greed? Altruism? An NPC of little words made finding the quest a little tougher.
“We’re adventurers seeking fame and fortune,” I said with a smile.
“Adventurers? Pah!” he said, spitting on the ground.
Well, greed was out.
“You lot are the reason the town is in ruins!” the NPC said.
I squinted above his head, looking for more information and saw his name light up in soft blue text.
Captain Thanas Lightbringer
Level 30 1000/1000 hp
Captain of the once glorious elven village, Trelisa, now one of the sole survivors tasked with restoration.
Rebuilding a ravaged city didn’t seem like much of a quest. Probably fetching supplies, but at level one I couldn’t be that picky.
“Adventurers like us?” Cas asked. “What happened?”
Captain Thanas looked back over his shoulder at a tall building at the end of the plaza. It was the only three story building in the village, and there was foul green smoke coming out of all the windows.
“I’m sure you can smell it,” he said, and spat in our direction again before walking away from the plaza.
“Well, I think we know where to go,” I said.
Immediately a card popped up in front of me.
Quest Granted: Noxious Smells. Find out what caused the green fog in the Trelisa mayor’s office.
“The mayor’s office, huh?” Cas said. “I was wondering why it smelled like gym socks around here.”
“I thought I had a broken olfactory device.”
“Doesn’t look like it. Shall we go?”
I tightened my grip on my hand ax, the only weapon I had at the moment, and nodded.