Chapter 16:

LEVEL 16: Full Virtual

CREO: Game of Creation

Run Function(Act [2]);

It’s not a game, I’m no good at it, and it doesn’t matter.

The ground shook from the impact of another lightning tiger—they’d been on the prowl lately in that region. Most of the forest had burned away, leaving a charred mess in the wake of those horrible creatures. It was my job to take care of them. So out into the barren field of ash I went, held up my metal rod, and waited. How else would you catch a creature made of lightning? Dangerous, you say? Yeah, I was the fifth bounty hunter they’d called in for this job. The others met a similar fate to the trees. But in the end, what did it matter? I was a nobody who didn’t belong anywhere. No one would mourn my death.

Thunder roared closer, louder, from all directions until the sky opened into a beam of blinding light centered on my rod. The power was immense, overwhelming, and I only had a split-second to react or I’d be fried like the others. I swung the rod in a grand movement, casting it into the rubber solution I made as a custom monster catching net for the electrically inclined. The first time was terrifying, but after about a dozen, it became quite dull. You can only face a near death experience so many times before it gets old.

Into town I returned, my quarry in tow. The burnt rubble slowly gave way to the healthy portions of the forest, until I reached Amissa, the Town of the Lost. When I was first cast into this world, I wandered around aimlessly, on the brink of death but unable to die. Until I found this place. They say only those with nowhere else to go can find Amissa, the sanctuary and graveyard of the lost. The faces of those who found their way here were always the same—empty, hollow of any purpose or meaning.

I took my payment from the guild, always less than it should be, and trudged back to my room off one of the many alleys that crisscrossed the stone-woven village. There wasn’t much to the room: a hard-as-a-rock bed, table, chair, chamber pot. Better than sleeping on the street or in the forest. It was after long, tiring days that my mother’s cooking popped into my mind, along with flashes of my past luxuries, like a warm, comfortable bed, baths every night, and someone to talk to.

I wondered how Mom was doing, if she still worked too hard. I’d never been much good at being a son. Did Teo and Lucy get to continue in the tournament? I didn’t get to say goodbye, so who knows what happened to them. Whenever they came to mind, I tried to push them out before I felt bad. I never tried to get to know them—they had been allies of convenience, not real teammates or friends. Why did Lucy love her stories and puzzles so much? What was her home and family like? Teo was so much younger than I realized—why did he play? What was the significance behind his avatar—that strange hulking creature that always made me feel the need to stand on my toes when I spoke to him?

And of course, more than anyone else, I thought about Adam. Stuck in a foreign world without his creator—was he alright? Was he safe? Had he been confiscated by CREO? Was it true he was just my reflection? If so, did he even exist anymore? The last time I saw him, he was crying and calling my name, even though I always treated him like a tool, if not a nuisance. How cruel that I would never get to apologize to him, or anyone else. After all, I wasn’t a person anymore. My place in that world was erased, and I was banished to this fake world, where nothing matters and nobody is anybody.

This was Full Virtual.

The specifics of my sentence were fuzzy to me, perhaps because of the after-effects of my banishment. I remember being taken into the police station, separated from Adam and the others. Then I remember waking up in Update Alpha without the creation window, or any UI, no player or architect abilities, indistinguishable from an NPC. My appearance matched my physical self rather than my former avatar, and I was nameless, choosing to go by Yuurei, or ghost.

I traveled around what I learned was the continent of Vandalia, going from village to village, taking on odd jobs and slowly building up a reputation as a feared apparition and part-time folk hero. Eventually I found Amissa and got a break from the constant sleeping outdoors and never-ending chase from bandits, monsters, or some ghastly combination of the two. It was hard to call Amissa comfortable, but it was safer than the wilderness. Even so, I knew I’d have to leave eventually. From time to time I’d hear whispers of the Chaos Dragon—a fearsome beast created by a malevolent wizard—responsible for laying waste to the entire province of Zoran. The identity of this wizard was obvious—so while I was stranded in Alpha, I figured I might as well right one of my wrongs.

“Hey, dude!” A traveler shouted at me from the other side of my table at the tavern. “Got a side quest for me or not?” I rolled my eyes. Little by little, beta testers streamed into Alpha, treating it like an RPG. It was an insult to everything that CREO was—rather than a set of predetermined levels or quests, CREO was about creation, possibilities. CREO was both an art form, like Teo saw it, a method of storytelling, like Lucy’s puzzle worlds, a game, a sport, a limitless world. These new players desecrated that ideal. I glared at him from under a hood, doing my best to look foreboding and mysterious.

“That depends…” I said in a scruffy voice. “What brings you to the town of the lost?”

“Heard there was loot here, duh.” The little shoe-stain of a player said. “Been thinking about hoarding tons of gold, then going full virtual and living it up in a mansion for eternity.”

“That’s what you really want out of life?”

“What else is there? Look, I’m tired of dialogue, you gonna help me be the best, or not?” I laughed low and slow, just long enough to make him squirm in his seat.

“If you were the real deal, wouldn’t you be in the CREO tournament? How’s that been going?”

“Geez, you’re a weird NPC. Anyway, the tournament scene is lame, anyway. I’m a gamer, not a game designer.”


“Whatever. Pluton, Artemis, and that other guy are gonna win, anyway. They’re already in the finals next week.”


“Whoever wins between Team War Dog and Team KAI.”

“D-did you say Team KAI?”

“I know, you’d think they’d get disqualified after that whole LianHua fiasco. But they turned into total lapdogs for CREO’s marketing team, so I guess they got on their good side. Maybe the whole thing’s rigged like the forums say.” I sat back and digested what I’d learned. Something strange was going on—was my team okay, or had they really been replaced, like Seth warned? Without access to the real world, or even Kuu, I was stuck in the dark. The adventurer tapped my arm. “Side quest?” I hated his kind of player with a passion, but he gave me good info. I tossed him a bounty quest I’d taken and left.

What was the point of staying there, rotting away while the world spun on without me? It had been 3 months of feeling sorry for myself. Now that I knew the tournament was going forward without me, it was time to accomplish something and give my lowly non-existence some illusion of purpose. And who knew? If I survived and had the chance to see my old comrades again, I’d have one hell of a story to tell.