Dreams are a funny thing.
Strange concoctions of memory layered upon layer, unbound by the rules of the waking world. A true menagerie of the mind.
On rare occasions, one might dream too deeply and the conscious mind finds itself present and believing the world it perceives is the true one. Who is to say it isn’t?
I was having one such dream, where the borders of reality and fiction blurred. I woke slowly, my mind muddling through the fog of the fragmented reality it had now realized was false. And when my eyes finally opened, I wasn’t sure the world in front of me wasn’t also a part of the dream.
Who would believe this situation to be anything but a dream?
The first thing to register is the noise, sounds of confusion and escalating alarm. The second is the weird sense of vertigo, heartbeat pounding in my ears. I stumble, or rather my body tries to. But neither my legs nor my arms move. Then comes the panic, snapping me awake as adrenaline forces its way through my veins.
I was standing, straight and still as a board. Bound by some unknown force. My head can move, so I can scan the area, but no other part of me would budge an inch no matter how much I strain my muscles. Nothing I could see was binding me, no ropes or tape, but I was immobile, frozen in space.
I’ve been in enough rough situations in the past to know something very not good is happening, but as to what exact flavor of “not good” I’m still unsure. Moving my attention outward, I scan the nearby area, trying to find clues or a reason for what was happening to me.
It is a strange cavernous space. Smooth well-polished dark gray stone under my feet and roughhewn walls around me. Each wall was roughly 200 feet away from where I’m placed, somewhere roughly in the middle of the room. Scattered around in seemingly no discernable pattern, are broken pieces of furniture of all different designs and materials, along with what appeared to be a hoarders’ collection of strange and random items. Weapons are the overwhelming majority, but most are rusted, broken, or visibly used. Armor, shields, and racks of clothing line the walls in age-worn wooden shelves and cabinets. Hanging from the ceiling is an equally strange collection of chandeliers all alight with burning mismatched colored wax candles. I’m so confused by the bizarreness of the situation that I almost miss it, but my eyes find a strange discoloration on the floor; my heart sinks, blood starting to race. I’ve been in enough altercations to know what dried blood looks like, and there is a noticeable stain of dark brown on the floor.
Forcing myself away, I focus instead on the other people in the room. All of them are also unnaturally stiff, and there seemed to be no obvious rhyme or reason to the gathered. There was an older gentleman to my left dressed in an off-white fuzzy robe with thin wire frame glasses perched on his large nose. He was snoring softly, eyes shut and body lax, somehow asleep while standing up. To my right is a little boy who couldn’t have been in high school yet, dressed like it was his first day of school, with a pressed polo and a stuffed full backpack. The poor kid was glancing around wildly, fear clear in his eyes. My heart lurched, he reminded me of my younger brother, Benjamin, who I had just dropped off at school for his first day of- Wait.
Quickly I glance around, searching the crowd for a familiar face. I don’t remember anything after dropping Benjamin off, but I know I wasn’t alone in the car. Where is Zeke? The panic was rising higher in my throat threatening to cut my air if I didn’t calm down, but how could I, Zeke was missing, how could I not panic? Zeke my brother, my other half, my twin was-
Immediately my attention shifts to the right, where the kid looks equally startled by the sound of his voice, face scrunched in shock, before he shakes himself out of it and gives me a weird stare, concern poorly hidden, “are-uh-are you okay?”
I force myself to take a deep breath, counting slowly in my head. Trying to remind myself of what Zeke always said to do when the panic got too loud. Touch, even though I couldn’t move I could feel the sweater covering my arms; see, I could see piles of rusted metal armor and weapons, a broken arrow was a few inches from my tennis shoes; hear, my heartbeat in my ears and the worried echoing voices of those around us.
Settled enough to not launch into a full breakdown, I force a smile to my face, “Hello kiddo,” I greet as the boy’s brow furrows at the word ‘kiddo’.
Thankfully I’m familiar with handling kids, gained over years and years of living in shelters and foster homes with other random displaced youth. I wouldn’t go out of my way to help, I had plenty of my own problems on top of taking care of my own brother, but Zeke hated it when someone else was hurt, so I got pretty good at handling distressed children. This kid wasn’t crying yet, but he looked one breath away from starting.
“I know this is really weird, but we’re going to figure everything out,” I'm not 100% sure that was meant to reassure him, or my own desperate wish, I needed to find Zeke and I needed to do it quickly, but reassuring one kid wasn’t going to do any harm, plus I knew my brother would never let me hear the end of it if he knew, “Everything will be okay.”
He frowns even harder; his face scrunched up in an unbelieving glare. “You don’t know that!”
“Your right,” I agree, and his face losses its anger to be replaced with confession, “But I will do my best to make sure everything will be alright.”
The boy huffs, glare returned but nowhere near as hostile as it was before, “Just because you want something to happen doesn’t mean it will.” He declares, eyes narrowing in my direction, “Only babies think li-eike tha-!”
Oh, his voice cracked. I try to keep my amused smile from forming but must fail because he turns away sharply, hiding his face as he stares off into the distance at the piles of junk around us. Unfortunately, I can still see his bright red ears.
Embarrassment or annoyance was always a preferable emotion to worry or panic. Thankfully I was good at being annoying, nice to know I haven’t lost that skill. Hopefully, with this little distraction, he will be able to calm down a bit.
But now that the immediate problem is settled, I still need to find-
A sharp artificial “DING!” echoes across the cavern. The older gentleman to my left startles awake with a confused yell and the rest of the people behind me go silent.
A soft blue glow suddenly filters into the room, causing everything to reflect and shift as if we are underwater. Glancing up I find a floating blue screen not unlike a pop-up window from a video game. I watch words appear across the text box, written in a weird hard-to-read cursive and for some reason, colored a bright dandelion yellow.
I squint up at the window as murmurs and mutters from the rest of the crowd break out behind me, a lot of them are also questioning the font and color choice. The little boy next to me sighs loudly and glares up at the screen, “I never learned cursive” he mutters angrily to himself. To be fair, even though I was born at least ten years earlier I don’t fully know how to read cursive either, as it was phasing out of schools when I was in kindergarten, not to mention I didn’t have the most stellar schooling experience in my youth.
Tilting my head, I try to get a different angle on the words, even though I know that it’s probably not going to help.
“What’s all this gibberish?” the man next to me complains, I glance over at him as he wiggles his nose causing his glasses to slide closer to his face, “Fight? Class? Survive?” the old man huffs, “Johnathan haven’t I told you to put those god’s darn it movie games away, it will rot your brain I tell you!”
“Excuse me?” I cut in as the old man turns to look at me, I put on my best customer service smile, perfected after years and years of being forced to suck up to adults who really couldn’t be bothered to deal with me or my brother, “Can you read the words on the screen sir?”
The man huffs, like I just asked if the sky was blue, “Of course, I can! I might be 74 but I’m not dead yet! My eyes work fine little miss.”
I twitch a bit at the “little” comment, I know I’m technically smaller than the average adult female at 5’2” but that didn’t mean he needed to comment on it. “Of course, not sir,” I say with a faked laugh, “It's just I’m a little bit colorblind so I can’t quite read what it says…” I trail off in what the old guy probably thinks is shame, but I just remembered there’s no such thing as yellow-blue colorblindness. Hopefully, he wouldn’t notice, or I would be in trouble.
“In that case worry not little miss!” the old man laughs, smile surprisingly gentle and kind. “Here let me help you…,” and he shifts his attention to the screen where he hums and huffs as he squints up at it.
I accidentally lock eyes with the little boy next to me who looks minorly horrified and also very impressed. I smile and give him a wink, he turns away in a huff, but I can see the small, upturned edge of his smile.
“Ah yes, here we go.” I turn back to the old man and notice a few other people nearby swivel their heads as well, “Welcome to the.. terry? Tortoise? Ah tutorial!” the man states, a proud smirk stretching across his face as he continues, “Group... now that’s either a one or a seven, can’t quite tell. Then 2...4? And a b?” he shakes his head with a frown and jumps lower in the message. “Anyway, players will have one minute to select a class. Then the fight for survival – who wrote this gibberish?”
“Keep reading!” an office worker-looking lady pleads from his other side, he glances at her with a frown but continues.
“Fight for survival will begin. Play areas? Players will need to exit the starting zone, there is no time limit.” The man turns back around to look at me and the rest of his expectant crowd, “That’s all it says, little miss.”
I nod, flashing him a smile, as I try to figure out what in the world that means. ‘”Tutorial?” Like a video game? Are we in a game right now? Why these people? Who-?’
“DING!” the false bell rings again as smaller screens appear around the room, each one in front of a person.
[Would you like to view your status window?]
[yes] or [no]
Almost unconsciously I raise my hand to select [yes] and find that I suddenly have control over my arms again, I twist around and try to take a step. I don’t move. It would seem we are regaining the use of our bodies slowly, though why we had to be restrained in the first place is still a concerning question.
“Hey!” the little boy next to me yells, face twisted in anger, “I’m much cooler than this!” He yells, glaring at the window in front of him. I glance over to see what he's so angry about but only see an empty floating screen. We can only view our own status windows, interesting.
I raise my hand up and select [yes].
The screen immediately changes, showing a standard video game stat box, complete with an outline of my form for equipment. While very creepy, I am impressed by the dedication. I glance over at the other information listed and thank God that the font isn’t in bright yellow cursive.
[Basic Info -
(Ability to learn, determines how well you recall information and what information you are able to learn and understand)
(Physical might, determines how much weight you can carry and your damage with heavy melee weapons).
(Agility, determines speed, your damage with long-range weapons, and your ability to dodge blows.)
(Magic power, determines the spell level, what spells you can cast/learn, and your resistance to magical effects.)
(Force of will, determines how personable you are and how likely you are to be believed/trusted)
(Strength of heart, determines your total HP and your ability to counter toxins and ailments)
10’s in all stats… maybe that was the starting array everyone got? Though, it made sense for most of the chart to not be filled out, it was weird that my name wasn’t on the status window. Was it a bug? Or did they not know our names?
It’s a softer bell sound, more localized instead of the resounding ding from earlier. And hovering right over my stats window was a new screen. While it was once again written in that awful yellow cursive font, it was thankfully close enough to me that I could make out what it read.
[Tutorial beginning in 000:59]
The numbers were slowly counting down, a timer. From what the old man read we would need to select a class before anything really started. Would we get to select from a list? Would it be randomly given to us? Or.. or did we need to do something?
I glance around the room again looking over what I considered piles of junk before. If this was designed with the idea of group play, MMORPG style with both competitive and cooperative elements, then a sort of free-for-all to avoid too many class overlaps would make sense. We had also slowly been regaining use of our bodies… I try moving my feet and watch as my toes slowly flex around in my shoe.
And if we assumed the items laying around were a clue… then most likely whichever item you selected would grant you a different class. There are lots of swords, maces, spears, and hammers. Close-range melee classes most likely. There are some bows and a single crossbow scattered around, but all of them were further away than most of the swords. Maybe the rarer the class the farther you would have to run? What would happen if you couldn’t get a class in time?
[Tutorial beginning in 000:08]
Well, there wasn’t much more time to think about it. From my advantage point, there doesn't seem to be anything super unique, minus the single crossbow, but I wasn’t going to bank my life on how well I could aim a crossbow. I was small, but by no means was I a lithe person. I had been a dancer most of my life, a “non-violent” extracurricular that was forced onto me after too many physical fights in my youth. Sadly, the counselors and officials weren’t counting on me taking the dancing and using it to help me win even more fights.
But even with my experience in a good old-fashioned fist-a-cuffs, I relied mostly on my dexterity to outmaneuver attacks, going for a lot of small quick hits instead of a few big ones. I wouldn’t be able to handle a melee weapon very well. Bows would need impressive arm strength just to pull the string back, much less the hand-eye coordination required to hit something. A fast up-close weapon like daggers wouldn’t be a bad idea with my speed, but even though I always carried a dagger just in case things took a turn for the really ugly, I have never needed to use it. A staff or spear with reach and versatility would most likely be my best bet, but even that wasn’t a super good choice.
[Please select your class
Time remaining : 000:59]