Chapter 1: The Beginning
A month away from spring break, and Malinda Swanson was already counting the days. She gave it her best, but this year's students were especially unteachable, and she didn't want to wait any longer for her well-deserved vacation.
Thanks to advances in cybertech and virtual reality, she had another option. A VR system that would let you create an avatar in a diverse fantasy setting, and the avatar would explore the virtual world while you were offline. Just log in a few days later, and you would "remember" everything your other self experienced.
Like many busy working adults, this sounded ideal to Malinda. The only game to take advantage of this hardware so far was Fantasy Adventure Online. She bought and installed the required headset, then downloaded the game. While waiting for the process to finish, she browsed some forum topics about the game, specifically "What New Players Ought to Know". She mainly intended to use the game to meet an attractive man while in a younger body in perfect shape. The descriptions of "ability scores" and "character classes" and "magic powers" didn't really make sense at first. After looking over the options, she decided her best bet was to choose Fighter as her class, and max out her Strength ability. This would give her the perfect body she was going for. Then, the leftover points would go to Analyze (for some minor spell access) and Luck (to cover most anything else). Feeling confident this new version of herself could do anything, she started the game as soon as the download was complete.
Once she started the game and created her account, she was prompted to put on her head gear. It kind of looked like a motorcycle helmet with several blinking lights. She made sure the battery was fully charged and the wireless connection was working, then put it on.
There was a brief but disorienting sense of moving through a fog. After a moment, the environment solidified into a plain, sterile white room. In the middle stood a blank female mannequin of average height and size. A disembodied voice said, "Welcome to Fantasy Adventure Online; Character Creation. Please describe how you would like to appear." A list of options were displayed in the air in front of her. Words like tall, short, young, old, fat, thin, and muscular scrolled by. Well, she thought, I want to feel younger, so lets start there.
"Make me as young as possible," she told the empty air. Immediatly the mannequin shortened to less than four feet tall. "Whoa, I thought only adults could play this game, why does my avatar look like a kid?!" she shouted at the computer.
"You said as young as possible. Would you like to advance your avatar's age to 18?"
Malinda made the rest of the physical changes without any surprises. Instead of her chubby, aging, short, pasty-skinned self she now looked at a tall, smooth, tanned fitness model with large, firm breasts and thick, long blonde hair. Satisfied with her current appearance, she pressed the floating "Next" button.
"What kind of experiences do you hope to get out of the game?" asked the voice. A list of suggestions materialized in front of her. Malinda read through them all, giving the question some thought.
"I'd like to see places I can't visit in real life, see exotic wildlife, maybe meet someone. . ." Malinda trailed off.
"Meet someone, romantically?" prompted the voice.
"And could you be more specific on the kind of exploration? What terrain? And will this exploration be alone, with a partner, or with a group?"
"Something near water," said Malinda, "and with a group." In a group she could just go with the flow, but she was awkward one on one.
"Thank you. To the best of our ability, we will begin your Fantasy Adventure Online near other players with similar interests. Lastly, choose a character class and adjust your ability scores to your taste." She already looked up this information, so quickly chose Fighter and adjusted her ability scores like so:
Confident this would give her the skills she wanted, the last blank to fill was her name. Malinda was taken, but "Malynda" worked fine. She pressed "Accept" and braced herself to enter this new world.
Again there was a feeling of drifting through a fog. . .
. . . and then she was standing on a pier, looking out over a harbour full of hundreds of ships, from small fishing boats to large three-masted ocean going ships. She could smell the salty ocean air, feel the cold wind on her face, and hear the sounds of a city full of people behind her. Turning around, she looked at the city. Lots of simple stone buildings stood nearby, but behind them she could see the tall spires of more fantastical architecture. For a moment she just stood there, drinking in the sight of this huge medieval city and the diverse appearance of the people. Not just their clothes, but the people themselves. Some were just unexpectedly short or tall, but others had horns, or tusks, or gray skin, or blue hair, or some other impossible-seeming feature.
A fat man in expensive looking clothes, gold jewelry, and a well-groomed beard interrupted her brief reverie. "Excuse me, miss, but you seem to be a warrior who is new here." The word "Tutorial" appeared before her, while the man explained his need for a bodyguard. From what she read on the forum, this is the quest intended to give new players an overview of their starting city, and familiarity with the basic controls and interface. It would also serve as her first "job", earning her some money. She heard someone walk up next to her, and the man addressed the newcomer. "Two guards would be better than one, if you're up for it young man."
The young man in question was tall and muscular, clean-shaven, with blond hair in a buzz cut and intense blue eyes. "What do you say," he asked, "want to do the tutorial together?"
"Sure, alright," Malynda said a little breathlessly.
"Quest accepted" appeared in front of her. She soon learned the other players name was Brandon. As the quest continued, she learned how to use the auto-map, the quest log, and how to use the HUD to tell players from NPC's. She also learned how to use the in-game chat feature, and added Brandon as a friend. It turned out the fat man was a liquor merchant, and visited several bars and restaurants all over town. He talked to the owners to see how much beer and wine they wanted delivered for the coming week. By the end of the tour, all of the city had been revealed on the auto-map. "Quest Complete" popped up and her money pouch suddenly felt heavier.
"Tutorial #2: Visit your trainer." She accepted this quest right away, and turned to Brandon, asking, "Do you want to do this one together too?"
"I'm not a Fighter, but a Paladin. However, after these tutorials are over, I'll message you. Would that be fine?"
"Yes, I'd love that," Malynda answered, happy with how well everything was going so far.
Humming happily to herself, she followed the auto-map to the fighter's training field. She saw a row of people in quilted tunics similar to her own fighting against what looked like wooden mannequins. Her eyes fell on a man walking towards her. He looked her over briefly, then said, "Haven't seen you here before. Are you here for training and evaluation, warrior?" He was shirtless, and the way his muscles stood out made Malynda speechless. Slowly tearing her eyes away from his body, she saw he had dark hair with streaks of gray and a full beard. The few wrinkles around his face gave him an aura of dignity and authority that complemented his deep voice. Checking the HUD, she saw he was an NPC named Vincent.
"Yes," Malynda replied, finding her voice.
"Excellent, just stand over here. Training dummy 22, please!" As he said that, a wooden training dummy approached, holding a club and a small shield. "Okay, warrior, ready your weapon, and when I say 'go', attack the training dummy until it falls down. Don't hold back, because he will be trying to do the same to you." Malynda felt nervous for a moment, but the dummy before her looked like half her weight. Besides, she maxed out Strength, so knocking this thing down should be easy. She took her own small shield off her belt and drew her sword. As soon as Vincent said 'go', she stepped forward and. . .
. . .got hit in the face with something. Then the ground rudely hit her in the back of the head. While she lay there in pain, cursing this stupid game, Vincent kneeled next to her. Gently resting his hand on her face, he whispered a word she didn't quite hear. After that, all her pain melted away quickly, and she felt a warm feeling of energy flow through her. "What was that?" she asked.
"Healing magic. Now, get up and try again, but this time, keep your sword and shield together. That's why you got hit in the face so easily." The aftermath of the healing was still coursing through her. It was invigorating. She was certain she could take on anything like this. "Go," he said again.
Her confidence, and her nose, was shattered a moment later. This time, when she was healed, she paid careful attention and heard the instructor say "Iyashi." Filled with renewed energy, she picked herself up off the ground to go again. After her next failure, she asked him, "Why is this so difficult?"
"When you attack with your right hand, you are throwing your left hand behind you to keep your balance. Your opponent is deflecting your attack with his shield, then striking through the gap between your weapon and shield, giving him an easy shot at your head. You need to widen your stance some, put a little less power behind your attack, and keep your hands together. I've got something that might help," he said. He then turned to get something from the equipment shed.
"Don't get frustrated," said a nearby trainee. She had asian features, with short black hair held back in a headband. She was fighting her training dummy with a staff, and knocking it down every time. "He gives good advice. As long as you don't give up, you'll get the hang of it soon. By the way, I'm Sophia."
Her name was visible through the HUD, but exchanging names seemed like the polite thing to do. "I'm Malynda, nice to meet you. And don't worry about me. His healing magic works incredibly well. I wish he would teach me that instead. Learning to fight is far more difficult than I thought it would be."
"Did you have any martial arts training before playing the game?"
"No, is that bad?"
"Strength and Agility based special abilities won't unlock until you show a basic mastery of those skills. You may have to practice longer to get there."
"What about magic based special abilities, like healing?"
"My best friend is a cleric in this game, and she said you need to be able to pronounce words very precisely. It sounds easy, but it is harder than it seems. Are you gonna try to learn Vincent's healing spell?"
"Yes, that looks like the best choice."
"Hey, can I add you as a friend, so we can group up later?"
"Of course," replied Malynda. She wanted to say more, but heard Vincent walk up behind her. Turning around, she saw a pair of manacles in his hand. "Hold out your hands, Malynda," he ordered. Nervously, she obeyed. She felt even more awkward when Sophia started staring at her. Looking down at her hands, she saw the manacles had already been locked into place, leaving fifteen inches of chain between them.
"Ooh," muttered Sophia.
Why is she staring at me and blushing, she's making this worse, thought Malynda.
Facing off against the training dummy again, she heard Vincent say "Go!" This time, her opponents club clanged off her shield and got caught on the chain. Next to her, she saw Sophia's training dummy move and heard her say "oof." Ignoring her, Malynda pressed forward. The dummy got its club free and moved to attack low as she pushed him down. She landed on top of it, but it was her turn to go "oof." Pain exploded in her gut, but she didn't stop. She hammered the dummy's head with the edge of the shield and the pommel of her sword until it stopped moving.
Feeling victorious, she stood up but then doubled over in pain. "Let me help you," offered Vincent. He grabbed the chain between her wrists and slowly pulled them away from her stomach, and kept on till they were over her head. With his shirtless body pressed so close to hers she could almost forget the pain. Knowing what was coming, she paid close attention to his exact pronunciation of the magic word. He laid his hand on her abdomen and said, "Iyashi." The pain melted away as a warm rush of energy filled her body. But, the warmth in her abdomen continued to build, and she started feeling muscles spasming in a very private area. She tried not to move, but suspected Vincent knew what just happened.
A few moments later, when she regained strength in her legs, Vincent gently released his grip on the chain. He approached Sophia, who was distracted earlier and got blindsided by her training dummy. She waved him off, though. "I want Malynda to heal me," she said, smiling encouragingly.
Sophia was bleeding from the forehead, so Malynda placed her chained hands on the girl's head and said, "Iyashi." The wound closed up completely. Suddenly a new message was displayed on her HUD. "Tutorial 2 completed. New ability unlocked: Basic Heal"
"Thanks," said Sophia, "but now I kinda wish I got hit in the stomach." Unsure how to respond, Malynda just stuttered awkwardly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you. What are you doing next?"
"It's well past my dinnertime, so I'm logging out to eat. Do you know what happens to my character when I leave?"
"It will keep acting like you've been acting so far. If all you've done is the tutorials, you'll just sleep and train when you aren't online."
"That sounds fine. I'll be on again tomorrow morning. How about you?"
"My friends and I will all be on tomorrow! We were planning on spending Saturday together in game. If you're on at the same time, I'll definitely send you an invite!"
"Sounds great, I'll see you tomorrow." Sophia watched as the light next to Malynda's name turned from green to gray, indicating she logged off. Her avatar walked away to the nearest inn, humming happily to herself.
Still wearing the manacles.
"Oh, my friends from the bondage group are gonna just love her," said Sophia with a grin.
story to be continued in part two