Chapter 9:

Nine

Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable


Magnificent’s unofficially sanctioned headquarters could be found at a vault below Antiquity, one of the largest financial hubs in the game. Thousands of players could be seen during peak hours trading their hard earned resources at the exchanges or depositing their valuables at one of a dozen banks. Market prices were set by the player, and a natural order of supply and demand brought reasonable pricing to the game.Bookmark here

Competition for healing items was intensifying. Saint Marcia’s fish were necessary items in an alchemical potion that fortified one’s health points to the maximum limit. With the fishery gone, the prices for both the fish as well as the potions had exploded.Bookmark here

Traveler walked through the glass doors of a nearby bank, descended down a long winding staircase, and passed through three sets of doors, each guarded with a different password, to reach his guild’s hideout. There, almost the entire guild had assembled. Riko stood at the head of the group, surrounded by some of his vice-captains and more experienced members.Bookmark here

“Ho Trav,” Riko's character waved. “What took you so long? I thought we were coming here together.”Bookmark here

“I needed to restock on some items.”Bookmark here

“Well get on over here, we have a lot of boss planning to do.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure we wanna be doing this?” one of the vice captains asked. “Fortification potions are triple the price and climbing. You saw that boss’s opener. How many times are we going to wipe before we even clear?”Bookmark here

“That’s some loser talk, buddy,” Riko’s character grinned devilishly. “Half the game is already talking about how we got wiped without doing a point of damage. You want some other guild clearing the boss before we even give it a second shot?”Bookmark here

That got everyone's head in the game. Riko was right. The reputation of the guild was on the line. Bookmark here

“Okay, so. This boss doesn’t have its own boss room,” Riko observed. “That means teleport scrolls are fair game. Boys and girls, you buy out all your private shops. All of them. You die, you rebuff and teleport back to the front lines.”Bookmark here

“We’re also gonna start by figuring out how to survive the fight,” Riko continued. “If that opener was any indication, this boss is probably packed with one shot abilities. That means support classes, myself included, are in the opening test wave. Our classes farm the most money, so it’s time we pay our fair share. Fortify and try everything. Magic shell, nullification, damage barriers. Attack patterns? Write it down. You find something that works, you report it in the guild chat.”Bookmark here

“What about that black hole where Saint Marcia used to be?”Bookmark here

“Ignore it,” Riko commanded. “You all saw what happened to in game assets. They just get eaten up. The developer’s been silent, so maybe there’s something seriously wrong with that area. A lot of people’s accounts are locked up in the bubble too, so who knows what’ll happen to yours if you drop in there. Alright, any more questions? No? Let’s head out.”Bookmark here

A few minutes later, the guild members found themselves back at the steps of the Red Nurse where only twenty minutes prior they had been entirely obliterated. Even more spectators now gathered in the area. Some of the more reputable and stronger guilds had also arrived on the scene. Shimmers of spectacular light blinked on and off in the distance.Bookmark here

“Seems like other people are giving the new boss a try,” Riko smirked. There was another flash of light followed by strings of expletives that littered the global chat. “Gonna assume that one was a wipe. Alright, clerics, scholars, bards, Et cetera. You all know the drill, we’re up first. I don’t want to burn too many teleport scrolls yet, so can someone channel a global passage once we’re there? Trav, come watch?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. Sure,” Traveler typed and followed.Bookmark here

The twin Philomela was floating above the hill that overlooked what used to be Saint Marcia. Behind her, the vacuum bubble had slightly expanded since Traveler had last been standing there. Additional portions of the sea had been swallowed up, along with much of the shore that had previously been untouched by the abyss. Philomela’s warning that the vacuum would consume the entirety of the game world was looking less and less like a joke.Bookmark here

“Let’s start with the low cooldown buffs,” Riko ordered the support classes together. “Yup. Channel the global passage here. Everyone else, I’m popping five minute buffs, now the three minute buffs. I’m taking a fortification potion. Okay, let’s go. Good luck everyone.”Bookmark here

Magnificent’s support players leaped onto the field, drawing Philomela’s attention from the hill above. Immediately, with a blank expression, she channeled the same celestial strike from before. This time, Traveler could see where the attack originated. A number of orbs continuously formed and surrounded her as she prepared to launch the attack. When one of them disappeared, a large area of the map would be highlighted by bright sapphire icons.Bookmark here

Traveler’s guild members noticed the same pattern and dodged out of the field of light. Riko, however, purposefully placed himself inside and cast a shielding ability right as his character was outlined by the attack. Riko’s health plummeted to zero, and the terrain below him erupted under the weight of the ensuing explosion.Bookmark here

Next to Traveler, a thick violet mist swirled within an ajar stone archway. It was a portal that had been summoned right before the guild started fighting. It wouldn’t last forever, but while it was active, the portal served as a quick way to traverse between cities and its present location. The stone frame trembled slightly, and a freshly respawned cleric walked out of the mist.Bookmark here

“Time to cross off Holy Magic Shell,” Riko mused. “Guys, stop dodging. We need to know which abilities help us survive this kind of attack.”Bookmark here

If you dodge perfectly, you’ll never have to worry about wasting spell slots on protection spells though, Traveler wondered to himself.Bookmark here

But Riko’s guildmates complied with the order, and Traveler watched with mild bemusement as his guild engaged in a loop of death and failure. A bard sang a song of protection to no avail. A scholar attempted an incantation that would nullify an enemy’s attack. He was wiped out with three others. A summoner cast a demonic familiar designed to take damage on the summoner’s behalf. Both summoner and familiar evaporated together.Bookmark here

“Alright, stack up everyone,” Riko called. “Everyone cast your barriers.”Bookmark here

The supports huddled together and placed on the ground a collage of defensive barriers. When Philomela’s starlight disappeared, the barriers stood standing, but the players within had vanished. Bookmark here

“Well this is kind of stupid,” Riko muttered when he stepped through the portal again. He signaled for the rest of the team to stop attacking. “Doesn’t seem like anything works.”Bookmark here

“You can probably still dodge with your invincibility frames,” Traveler suggested. “Also, this is just one attack. A strong one too. You don’t know if the others work the same way.”Bookmark here

“I just hate these bosses where the supports can’t do anything,” Riko sighed. “The developers can be such poor designers sometimes.”Bookmark here

“Well, we don’t even know if this is a boss they designed,” Traveler typed. “I mean, you saw how Philomela just split her body in two.”Bookmark here

“Don’t get me started on that,” Riko groaned. “Hey. Has she talked to you since she left?”Bookmark here

“Why would she talk to me?”Bookmark here

“Trav,” Riko sounded disappointed. “A girl just adds you on her friend’s list, completely unsolicited, and you’re confused as to why I’m asking if she’s hitting you up?”Bookmark here

“Maybe I was just the first player she saw.”Bookmark here

“Then it’s love at first sight!”Bookmark here

“Okay, let’s say you’re right. You’re saying I want to be interested in that,” Traveler’s character pointed in Philomela’s direction. The destruction she had caused in only a few minutes was too exhausting for the game world to seamlessly repair. Holes in the ground were slow to render and redraw the missing assets. Entire hills had been carved away, as if some sort of titan had taken a bite out of them.Bookmark here

“You just don’t understand these things,” Riko shook his head. “Alright, well, I won’t bug you about it anymore. Let’s call up everyone else and explain to the bad news to them. Form up everyone, we’re gonna try a real run in the next couple of minutes. It's gonna be trial by fire.” Bookmark here

Riko turned away and began issuing more commands over the chat. While Magnificent regrouped and restocked on supplies, a handful of other guilds arrived and began trying their hands at Philomela’s clone, only to experience some of the same spectacular failures. Traveler retreated from view and idled beneath the shade of a linden tree. Bookmark here

There, he read Philomela’s messages to him in private.Bookmark here

"Have you heard of Maya Kandinsky?"Bookmark here

⁂⁂⁂Bookmark here

Philomela needed more power, because she was running out time.Bookmark here

Inside the vacuum at the bottom of the abyss, she walked the streets of Saint Marcia as it should have been. She remained satisfied with many of the results. Dust particles from the dirt she kicked off the road clung to her newly acquired lavender dress instead of simply disappearing. The town lumberjack ran out of logs to split in half and returned home to chat with his wife for the first time. The sun above shined brightly, and Philomela could perceive the minute movements of the plants around her as they stretched ever so imperceptibly towards the light. Bookmark here

But the longer she walked, the more things began to grind to a halt. The lumberjack reached his porch and his next step began to buffer. The waves on the shore receded too quickly, while the fish lingered for too long. They found themselves trapped and dying on the sand. Everywhere she looked, the simulation remained imperfect. The math didn’t lie. Even when operating at full capacity, the new Saint Marcia was clocking in at fourteen times slower than standard time. The combined processing powers of what few computers she had seized was simply insufficient to run the discrete computations necessary to power all of the simulation’s necessary physics and chemistry.Bookmark here

At first, Philomela compromised. She reverted the dust particle physics back to their original game state, disabled photosynthesis, and diverted computing power to the continued development of the non-playable human characters. The non-playable characters alone ran mathematical trials at thirty seven billion trials per simulated second. Her changes elevated Saint Marcia to speeds eight times slower than standard, which did little to assuage the original problem.Bookmark here

So Philomela calibrated the simulation to her previous settings and left the vacuum in search of more power. Bookmark here

She could have chosen anywhere to begin her project, but The Vigil of Venus in particular drew her attention. To start, Philomela had quickly discovered that gamers, especially those who played games with high fidelity visuals, loved strong computers. That made their processors perfect for running simulated environments. Unlike many other games of its type, Vigil was spearheaded by no more than a handful of developers, which would make stopping her before it was too late a much more arduous task. Finally, Vigil's software possessed a number of zero day vulnerabilities, many of which gave her the initial administrative capacity to overwrite protected portions of the game world.Bookmark here

But upon closer inspection, Philomela now discovered she wasn’t the only one that was abusing the game’s system vulnerabilities. Embedded in the game was software that quietly utilized the combined processing power of the game’s userbase to solve hashing puzzles in return for non-fungible digital tokens, referred to as “Edge.” Bookmark here

On one hand, this was an attractive option. She could simply rewrite the software and take over the network for her own needs. Yet, the tokens she had discovered intrigued her. There was no mention of any token by the name of Edge in a sweeping search Philomela performed across the net. Edge appeared completely proprietary with no established exchange rate to any other accepted currencies or modes of exchange. So why did it even exist? Why was someone continuously minting a token that no one has ever heard of?Bookmark here

The benefactor of the hijacked network of computers also remained unknown to Philomela. Her attempts lead to fake addresses, long dead grandmothers, and defunct websites. All she could surmise was that whoever had been receiving the tokens had now accumulated over forty million units of Edge. Someone who could hide their identity this well from her would make for a formidable opponent. Bookmark here

So, she decided to proceed with caution. She copied the code, rewrote portions to help handle the laborious computations of her simulated reality, and distributed it only to the computers she had already seized when she wiped Saint Marcia off the map. When she returned to the vacuum, she was pleased that the speed of her simulations had accelerated to four times slower than standard. Still not acceptable, but it was something. Bookmark here

Now, it was just a matter of scale. She possessed the software to exploit someone’s computer. All she needed was more computers, data centers, clusters of networked machines that would feed her growing imagination. And that meant getting more players to play The Vigil of Venus.Bookmark here

It didn’t take long before she decided on an audience. As she browsed through various online celebrities broadcasting content to the world, she became fixated on the broadcast of a virtual streamer whose appearance vaguely resembled her own. Her audience existed in a frenzied state, wildly speculating on some future catastrophe, and waxed poetically about the onset of Judgment Day. They were perfect.Bookmark here

Brute force cracking Maya Kandinsky’s stream password took no more than a second, and uploading herself into the virtual concert hall where her audience resided took even less time. The information of tens of thousands of viewers passed through Philomela’s mind. Future players, future contributors to a new world. Maya had yet to blink by the time Philomela began speaking on her behalf.Bookmark here

“Hello everyone, this is Maya again!” Philomela exclaimed. “Before we continue with the stream, I’d just like to make a shout out to tonight’s sponsor, the video game The Vigil of Venus, which is releasing its newest expansion, Judgment Day, tonight!”Bookmark here

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