I fly higher to have a better view of the battlefield. The Forgotten Cave ends in a huge boss chamber so I can manoeuvre without problems.
The Skeleton King, a huge bone figure in rusty armour, is eyeing me menacingly. He throws his axe at me but I expect it at this stage. I evade it easily and use those few seconds the enemy needs to pull his weapon back to finally release Meteor Superior I was casting for more than three minutes now. It’s difficult to be preparing such a complex spell and keep evading at the same time but I’ve mastered it over the years.
The explosion is so overwhelming that even I have to quickly fly away to safety. In Draconia, there’s no such thing as protecting the caster or the rest of the party against friendly misfire. Everything that’s supposed to do damage does so to whoever stands in the way.
The ground shakes with a deafening sound and a shockwave almost knocks me down but I manage to balance my fall and fly back up almost immediately because I’ve been training exactly for such situations.
“Yes!” I exclaim.
It’s a clear hit and the boss’s HP drops to 25%. The impact leaves a black crater.
Too early to celebrate, though, the Skeleton King enters the last stage and his behaviour pattern radically changes again. I’ve never been that close before so I have to improvise. I studied stage 4 from the videos of others and my own runs with a party but it’s very different when I don’t have any back-up and the boss focuses entirely on me.
I had all kinds of energy shields in place in the beginning but I’ve lost most of them during stages 2 and 3. Now I have only one shield left which means that two more mistakes and I’m dead. Celestial magic is amazing but my race can’t take any direct hits.
“COME FORTH MY SERVANTS!”
The Skeleton King rages and calls his minions. They’re numerous but these lesser skeletal knights can’t really hurt me when I’m in the air so I don’t worry about them.
Suddenly, something bashes into my energy shield from behind.
Shit, skeletal bats at this stage? Why? They don’t spawn during party raids. Skeletal bats aren’t particularly strong, more of pests really, but they can distract you, especially a magic caster who has to focus.
The boss starts throwing boulders at me which is another unexpected turn of events. He never did that in previously recorded battles. Is it because I’m the only opponent and in the air so the algorithm altered his behaviour accordingly? Did the developers take this scenario into consideration? I guess they could have anticipated that the best Celestial players will definitely try to solo it.
I evade another boulder and this time only by a few inches because skeletal bats keep hindering me. I start flapping my wings wildly and releasing mana to create an air current which sweeps the bats away. I’m pretty exhausted at this point, even virtual limbs tire to make the game more realistic, but I successfully get rid of those pesky critters.
Then I notice the boss is taking two boulders at once. I widen my eyes in horror and I manage to escape one stone but the other hits my last shield and shatters it. As I try to balance the shock wave, the Skeleton King jumps and grabs me.
I gasp for air when he starts clutching me. Some reflexes are hard to ignore. I know that my real body is safe in my bed and breathing normally but Draconia is a hardcore game with pain receptors switched on and my virtual avatar is being squeezed to death right now.
My HP is dropping at astronomical speed and when it reaches 10%, the Skeleton King, as if programmed with malice to be even scarier, tosses me into the mud on the ground. I feel the bones in my wings breaking and it’s excruciating, even though the pain is mostly dulled on purpose.
That didn’t exactly go as planned. Oh, well, it is one of the most difficult bosses in the game and he hasn’t been soloed yet after all…
Type of death: Regular
Penalty: -300 HP for 1 day
-300 MP for 1 day
The pain lasts for three seconds followed by ten seconds of unconsciousness giving my brain time to recover. After that, I wake up, resurrected. My wings are okay again but I’m still a muddy mess.
I check my stats. Dying lowered my health and magic points for one day but nothing dramatic. I’m fortunate that the Skeleton King didn’t hit my weak spot between the wings because the penalty for that is 24 hours with a blocked account.
As I’m standing up and stretching my wings to relieve the strange after-feeling of broken bones, another player rudely bumps into me. As if I don’t get enough accidental bumps in public transport. But touching people here doesn’t trigger my telepathy so I don’t mind that much.
“What are you doing loitering here like that!” he berates impatiently. “In and out swiftly, that’s the rule.”
“Sorry,” I apologize rather than cause an unnecessary quarrel over something so trivial. Some players have rather short tempers.
“You Celestials, always with your heads in the sky,” he murmurs irritably.
He’s right about the in and out swiftly part. Loitering in the Shrine of Resurrection isn’t a good idea because players are being revived all the time. It’s just not so easy for a Celestial to be quick about it. Our magic is highly regarded and always on demand when forming a party for dungeon raids, but on the ground we’re hopelessly clumsy compared to other races.
I watch that guy as he runs out of the Shrine. He’s a feline Clawfang with a cheetah styled avatar, cool look and medium-tier equipment. Around level 45, I guess. Much lower than me but I bet he thought I’m a total noob.
Well, to be honest, I do look shabby right now. My robe is tattered from the battle and my wings are all muddy. I hate that feeling; every Celestial wants their wings to be spotless, call it our quirk. But I need to hide my unique ingame appearance so it’s for the best at the moment.
I tighten the hood around my face and finally step outside the Shrine.
I check my streaming page. Most players are commenting on my mistakes, offering constructive feedback and giving me advice for my next attempt. Only a minority is amused that I failed and ended epically in mud. But they still watched my endeavour which means money from ads so I’m not bothered by that. I spend a few minutes typing responses and thanking everyone for their kind donations.
NEW INCOMING MESSAGE
A familiar dialogue window with a mail symbol pops out of space in front of me.
“Your Highness, please DO participate in our celebratory Council of Seraphs today at 18:30,” the message states. The window contains a confirmation button but just as I’m about to hit ‘dismiss’, there’s an immediate video call.
“Don’t you dare miss this meeting!” the caller shouts at me without any greeting. Her name is Liana and she’s my trusted viceroy. A very demanding person who keeps me in line. At least most of the time.
“We have to appoint new seraphs today,” she says impatiently and flaps her black wings.
“Oh, right, I forgot,” I slap my forehead. “Sorry, Li. Still, can’t we push the developers again to give you that administrative power as well? I’ve been doing it countless times, it gets repetitive.”
“Enjoy your royal shit,” she shrugs. “I’m doing half of your work as it is. Besides, do you have something better to do than fulfilling your obligations?”
“Another attempt in the Forgotten Cave,” I say. “I was sooo close this time.”
Liana narrows her eyes. She always does that when she doesn’t approve. “You know race rulers shouldn’t form parties with just anybody, it breaks game balance.”
“Solo,” I set the record straight so she wouldn’t worry.
“You went alone? To the hardest dungeon for a full four-member party?” her eyes widen. “Did the boss hit your wings?”
“Obviously not or I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
Is she concerned about me or about the work I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise if my account was frozen for one day? It’s often hard to tell with her but I know that she does care. She only has her own way of showing it.
“You’re crazy as always,” she sighs but I don’t miss that she grins a little. She actually likes that side of me.
“I’m trying to make it more fun for my followers. An occasional failure is good too,” I smile but there’s no misguiding my sharp viceroy.
“Come right away and no more excuses!” She ends the call abruptly and doesn’t give me any time to respond.
A short message arrives just a minute after: “There will be Heavenly Lemon Cakes.”
She knows how to bribe me.
I use a portal and teleport to Assiath, the capital of my race. It’s a city floating in the sky, inaccessible to other races unless they get a teleportation permit. It can also be reached by flying but since only Celestials possess wings in this game, other races have no means to visit it conventionally. This is also part of the role-play and lore of this imaginary world. Celestials literally live in the sky.
I decide to visit the trading quarter to buy something sweet before Liana seizes me indefinitely. The street is busy as usual with players shopping and non-player characters running various stalls.
I buy myself a delicious looking candy with a minor energising effect and sit on the edge of a local fountain to relax. As I’m finishing the candy, I hear someone’s squabbling.
“Those who can’t do even a simple pirouette in the air are a disgrace to our race,” a girl with sandy wings spits just a few metres away.
“His Highness is too benevolent. If it was up to me, I’d talk to the developers and force people like you to change their race… to any race, just not ours,” her friend agrees, sounding really aggressive.
I analyze the situation. There are two Celestials, judging from their equipment of cherub rank, around level 35. There is one more player in a malakhim robe, level 15 I guess. She’s clearly intimidated by the couple and they’re blocking her way. They must have seen her clumsy landing or something because one’s flying ability isn’t necessarily tied to the level.
Exemplary bullies. Well, time to make an example out of them.
“We would lose a third of our population that way,” I say out loud and step in.
The couple turns towards me, looking all pissed. The malakhim girl takes this opportunity to run away. Good.
“Can you manage advanced flying?” the girl asks and looks at my tattered clothes with utter disrespect.
“It’s not about speed or air acrobatics,” I oppose. “You have to feel the air in your heart and simply enjoy flying.”
“Exactly because of that laid-back attitude other races don’t bow to us,” the boy hisses angrily.
“It’s just a game, there’s no reason to,” I argue. “Sure, there’s Draconia’s lore and in role-play events it might be nice for a more cinematic feeling but otherwise totally pointless.”
“Let’s duel, you stupid noob,“ the girl challenges me. “Then you’ll see what advanced flying is good for. Seraphs are the strongest amongst us.”
“But you’re not seraphs,” I note. I know all seraphs, at least their faces. Liana made sure of that.
“Not yet but soon we will be,” the girl shouts and passes me a dialogue window with a duel challenge.
Duelling in cities is considered to be bad manners and you can’t duel to the death anyway in peaceful locations but some people can’t seem to help themselves. I accept the duel just to give them a lesson.
As the timer starts to count down, the girl prepares herself to fly as soon as allowed. I don’t give her that luxury. When the window states START, I need just a millisecond to prepare a spell because a high-tier one isn’t necessary. She doesn’t even know what hit her when she finds herself suddenly lying on the ground, unable to breathe.
DUEL FINISHED. WINNER: AEFENER
The couple stares with disbelief, first at the dialogue window, then at me again. It’s impossible for a Celestial not to know the name of their Emperor.
“It seems too early for you to apply for the seraph title,” I observe and try to act cold. “A seraph must be able to put up a protective shield right away.”
“Y-Y-Your Highness,” the boy falls to his knees. The girl would probably do the same but she’s still too busy catching her breath.
“Role-play bullies,” I murmur to myself, unfold my wings and fly away.
Don’t get me wrong, I love role-play in story events. I sympathise with being totally absorbed in playing but there’re limits to that. Some people think that role-play can be an excuse for bullying, narcissism and feeling superior to other races and lower levels.
I glide over Assiath, trying to clear my irritated mind. I detest people who make enjoying the game hard for newcomers. As if being called a noob isn’t bad enough, it’s this kind of behaviour that makes role-playing games unappealing for casual players. People like those two give us a bad reputation.
But I stop thinking about them after a minute. Flying is too pleasant for having negative thoughts. Now all I can think about is enjoying all those things I don’t experience in real life—the feeling of having a pair of fluffy wings on my back, the wind that listens to me and the ultimate freedom of the sky.
I breathe in deeply and when I breathe out, I fold my wings close to my body and start falling. Advanced air acrobatics are popular among higher levels and I utterly love them.
I watch Assiath getting bigger as I get closer to the ground and shiver with excitement when feeling the bursts of air around me. I open my wings at the last minute which most people don’t have the nerve to do. Even if Draconia is just a game, the instinct to survive is too strong and the idea of smashing into the ground too scary. And nobody wants to feel pain needlessly, however dulled. I trained hard to be able to perform a coordinated fall without flinching too soon.
I surprise a bunch of Celestials chatting in a park beneath me. It’s considered rude to use air bursts near other people in non-combat areas but I can’t help it. If I want to make the ending really impressive, I need an air boost. The spell has been on my lips since I started falling and now I simply activate it. The energy sends me violently up but, with the right position of my wings, the ascension looks neat.
The current throws me a few hundred metres above Assiath and I finally slow down. I’m panting but I feel happy and energised. Sorry, Erik. That time you took me for a helicopter flight was amazing but nothing compares to using your own wings.
REMINDER: MEETING IN 45 MINUTES.
I sigh because it means that my flying session is over. I set for the royal palace that shines in the centre of the city.
In a few minutes, I land in front of the main gate. The royal palace is enveloped in a protective shield and the main gate is the only way in. Only seraphs and personnel with permission can enter the premises and even they have to go through the guards. Guards are non-player characters with only limited dialogue options but their stats are high so they would have no problem protecting the palace against intruders.
I’m hoping to get into my quarters before Liana notices my presence but she must have some kind of advanced notification setting that alerts her when I enter the palace grounds. I hear flapping wings and there she stands in front of me—majestic, annoyed and unavoidable.
“Finally you’re here and looking like a vagabond,” she snorts. Her avatar has violet hair, she’s wearing official embroidered attire and as always looks absolutely perfect… unlike me. Her golden Celestial eyes are piercing me fiercely.
“The Forgotten Cave is muddy,” I shrug. “Plus, I can’t exactly go out looking all regal, people wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“You can’t exactly go out without the royal guard either,” Liana retorts. “At least try to role-play a little bit, will you?”
“The game would be boring that way!“ I whine. “I could just abdicate, you know.”
“We both know that you love it too much. And… well… I admit the game wouldn’t be so much fun without you around,” she says reluctantly. I’m surprised by her sudden honesty but she does have a cute side only I get to see from time to time.
“We can duel again,” I suggest. “Last time you almost beat me.”
“The only reason I stood a chance was because I came up with a very solid strategy beforehand,” she says. “You’re such a videogame nerd that your spellcasting and flying abilities are far beyond anybody else among the Celestials.”
I grin. “I’m proud to be geeky and nerdy!”
“Go wash yourself and get dressed, we start in half an hour. Please?” she smiles knowingly.
I resist rolling my eyes in front of her. Liana always means well and I know that. Even though she’s like a nagging mother sometimes, she has that power to push people where she needs them for their own good. I actually enjoy being, within reason, scolded by her. Having things done with minimum procrastination is much easier with her behind my wings. She can never know I think that, of course.
Funny, sometimes I actually wish my telepathy worked here. Liana seems like a strict person both here and in real life but I think she really enjoys my carefree company. I mean, if she didn’t, why would she bother with me in the first place?
I’m lucky that one of the perks of being royalty, and living in a palace, means having personal NPC maids. They capture me the moment I step into my chambers. Maids were programmed by Liana herself to make their master presentable and they don’t rest until the task is finished. They eagerly undress me almost at the doorstep when they see the rags I have on.
Then a bath and meticulous scrubbing of my muddy wings. To be honest, I’m thankful for that part. Having wings dirty for longer than a few minutes gives Celestials an unpleasant itchy feeling.
“Can I choose my attire?” I ask the maids when they finish drying my feathers and hair. Only battle gear can be equipped immediately from the inventory.
“No, Your Highness, Her Eminence Liana has already chosen for you,” one of the maids answers with a pre-prepared dialogue option.
“As expected,” I murmur.
Liana is an utter perfectionist and considers me to be a part of her arrangement.
“Isn’t that enough?” I complain and inspect myself in the mirror.
The royal garment is overkill however you look at it. A long ornamental robe with many layers of cloth makes me look like some kind of princess even if it isn’t technically a dress. Well, my avatar isn’t exactly masculine, just like me in real life, and Celestial males generally can’t have overly muscular builds because we have to be light for flying. But still.
“You look stunning, Your Highness,” a maid compliments me. Can one be glad about a compliment from an NPC? Can their artificial intelligence even analyze appearance properly?
“And your hair is done,” another maid announces. “Please, don’t make yourself that dirty again, it was a chore to wash out all that mud.”
At least my hairstyle isn’t a total disaster; they took advantage of my avatar’s long hair and created a samurai-ish high braid. I suspect that it isn’t historical at all, probably came from some old videogame about samurai warriors, but it looks cool.
I step outside my chamber and the NPC guards automatically follow me and don’t leave until I reach the main reception hall.
“Good, white again,” Liana evaluates me immediately when I show up. “You look presentable enough. Be a good sovereign and act according to the role-play, will you? Newly appointed seraphs worked hard to earn that rank and want their ceremony to be a cinematic experience.”
“Got it,” I nod obediently. “You know I wouldn’t ruin events that are being recorded and streamed. It’s my livelihood, after all.”
Liana pokes me as a reminder that it’s against the code of virtual conduct to talk about real life here; especially during role-play events. But she gets it.
Heavenly fanfares start to play and the event begins. I try to act serious and collected; antagonising Liana is never a good idea. Still, it’s hard not to giggle when I’m being presented as His Godly Emperor Aefener.
There are only two new seraphs today since getting the highest rank is very difficult and usually takes several years depending on how much time one devotes to playing. In addition, not all players aim for the top, most just want to enjoy some leisure time in virtual reality.
I have administrative rights from the developers to promote players of my race to the highest rank possible if they meet certain criteria. And so I do. I touch both of them, perform a prescribed hand gesture recognised by the system and official seraph symbols appear on the back of their left hands. Done, easy business, if it wasn’t for all the theatrics.
A reception follows. The food is tasty but it only stimulates certain parts of one’s brain; it doesn’t really fill my stomach.
“Here, you deserve it,” Liana brings me one of those delicious looking Heavenly Lemon Cakes that were promised.
I dig in and enjoy the warm feeling this special cake produces. It was originally designed as superior buffing food a Celestial was supposed to eat before difficult battles but ingredients are so hard to collect that it’s now more of a luxury item.
“I made it myself,” Liana murmurs and if her avatar could blush, she probably would. She made sure nobody’s looking at us, of course. She relaxes only when we’re alone.
“Thanks, Li, you’re an excellent cook,” I cherish every bite.
“Only if it was so simple in the real world,” she suddenly looks sad. “I don’t have time for cooking.”
I don’t say anything. Liana almost never speaks about her real life and when she does, it’s so super rare that I gobble every word. I guess she needs her virtual escape as much as me.
One of new seraphs appointed today approaches us when I finish eating my cake as if he was waiting for the right opportunity. He probably was.
“Your Highness, my name is Gotrid,” he introduces himself and looks at me with a friendly grin. His avatar is quite muscular for a Celestial but he’s still slim. The game doesn’t allow players to create bodies that wouldn’t match a chosen race.
“Sure, I remember,” I nod. When bestowing new ranks, I have to read that person’s nickname aloud during the ceremony after all.
“Coping well?” Liana asks. “Entering the royal service is a huge game changer for players.”
“You can be a seraph without royal affinity,” I remind him just to be sure he’s clear on that.
Being part of the royal business is a great privilege but it goes with certain obligations like compulsory role-playing during official events and participating in specific raids. And everything is being streamed and recorded. Not many players have the time, vigour and patience for that.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of all that,” he says with confidence. “But thank you for the concern, Your Highness, I’m honoured.”
And then he does something really embarrassing. The leans on one knee in a bow, takes my right hand and kisses it. I don’t turn red only because the VR helmet doesn’t recognise such delicate emotions for projecting.
“T-The s-streaming has e-ended, you know,” I mumble and jerk my hand away. People around me laugh.
“When ingame, I role-play,” he shrugs and looks at me dreamily.
Gay, he’s definitely gay. Since I present my virtual avatar as openly homosexual, from time to time my fans are asking me out and hit on me when they meet me. I always politely decline. It’s mostly only mildly bothersome but no one has ever been as bold as Gotrid.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, Your Highness…”
I whine in annoyance. “Don’t call me that outside official events. It’s weird!”
He’s teasing me! I can tell by his mischievous look.
Liana looks amused by our newest palace member. She must have interviewed him before, I have no doubt, it’s standard procedure. The royal palace is basically just an elite leading guild. And she fancies people like him who take hardcore gaming deadly serious.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he repeats stubbornly, “and forgive me if I’m too curious, Your Highness, but… well, is it true that your VR compatibility level is 100%?”
“Where did you hear that?” I frown.
I peripherally catch that Liana is looking quite guiltily sideways. Li, you traitor!
“Well, yeah,” I say after a short consideration with a deliberately indifferent tone. “So what?”
“So what!” Gotrid gasps. “That’s unbelievable!”
He finally forgets his formal rhetoric when excited.
“Liana has 95%,” I try to distract him, pointing at my viceroy who’s pretending to be choosing one of the delicious-looking canapés. “And other race rulers are also over 90.”
“But nobody exceeds 96. I mean, anyone except you,” he’s not letting it go. “How it is? How real is the game for you?”
I’m saved by an automatic system warning.
ALERT: TIME TO SLEEP
Gotrid looks fairly disappointed. It’s evident he’d like to stay longer but he sighs that he has work next morning.
“See you tomorrow, Your Highness,” he winks at me before his avatar disappears.
Everyone starts to log off.
“Thanks for the event, it was nice.”
“See you tomorrow!”
“Sorry, I can’t log in for two days. I’ll be at in the countryside and internet connection there isn’t fast enough for VR.”
Liana says goodbye to our guild members and then approaches me again when most people go offline.
“You did well,” she says, praising me. “You know what… I think I’d love to form a party. I didn’t have a chance to go on a raid for three weeks because of that new story update. I deserve to have some fun.”
“You’d help me with the Forgotten Cave?” I smile. But I was half-expecting that.
Liana is indeed a workaholic when it comes to ruling our race but she’s still a hardcore player who simply enjoys the game.
“I would, but with a proper party,” she emphasises. “I’m thinking of bringing Gotrid to better assess his abilities. It’s also a great way for you to get to know him because I’ve appointed him as your personal adjutant.”
“An adjutant?” I frown. “I don’t need an adjutant.”
Although… I guess I wouldn’t mind looking at Gotrid’s avatar again. He was a bit too assertive but the flirt was playful. Too bad I can’t read Gotrid’s true intentions here but he seemed like an honest straight-forward guy. The type I enjoy being with. Little bit like Erik. And there’s no harm in flirting in the game. It’s not like we’re going to meet in the real world.
“Yes, you do… the latest story update in just two weeks!” she sings, annoyed that she has to keep reminding me. “He’ll make sure you stay in the palace and work. Tomorrow we’ll have some fun in the dungeon and then…”
“Okay, okay,” I wave my hand. “But I want to choose our tank.”
“You have someone in mind?” she tilts her head. “Cross-species party with a race ruler in it should be approved by the Council, you know that. Game balance.”
Liana is all about game balance.
“Not if it’s my old friend who won’t babble about it,” I persuade her. “And I won’t stream it, promise.”
“You mean Fefnir,” she deducts. “Okay, I have no problem with that, he can be trusted. If it’s our private business, no need to spoil it with bureaucratic procedures.”
“See you tomorrow at, let’s say, six? Fefnir is offline right now,” I find out after briefly checking my friends list, “but I’ll send him an invitation anyway even if he can’t make it.”
We’d be fine with an all-Celestial party if it’s seraphs but I just really like having a reliable tank. It makes casting long complex spells much easier.
“Got it,” Liana nods. “Good night, Aefener.”
“Good night, Liana.”
DRACONIA ONLINE SERVICE
LOG OFF COMPLETE
I take off my VR helmet and yawn.
When full-diving into the virtual reality, the body rests but the brain still continues working so it’s not proper sleep. The research discovered that you can cut sleep by 50% if you spend the rest of the night in VR but no more than that or you’re in for some serious neurological problems.
I pulled several VR all-nighters years ago when I started gaming professionally but I soon found out it simply isn’t worth it. I couldn’t focus at school, I felt groggy all day and once I almost ended up being run over by a car because I didn’t notice the traffic light turned red. Even though I still spend much more hours in VR than is recommended, I don’t pull all-nighters anymore.
My irritated stomach calmed down when I was ingame but I can tell it’s been hurting. Nothing too serious, though, or the system would have logged me off automatically.
My poor back feels even sorer than before. Should I maybe invest in a better mattress? I scratch it and sigh. My back always feels strangely bare immediately after I exit the game. I just miss my wings.
I yawn again. Okay, time to sleep for real.
Please log in to leave a comment.