Chapter 10:

Mushroom for Improvement

Maniavolution


As great as Aksara Online was, the game still had its flaws. Some might consider it part of its charm, but the general consensus was that it lacked polish in some areas. One of the most glaring examples was the survival aspect. Some dev decided to just slap on Hunger and Thirst and decided to call it a day.

Back on the official servers, Jason never really cared for food and drink. Sure, some buffs were good, but they were mostly an afterthought. Official AO was so generous with resources, his inventory slots runneth over.

But in this hellhole, he was starting to see a side of the survival gameplay he had never seen before. Resources were scarce—any piece of wood or stone felt so much more valuable. His inventory, a pocket dimension that used to store just junk in AO, turned into a delicate puzzle. Solving it meant throwing away the pieces that didn’t fit.

Even Alice, in all of her overpoweredness, demonstrated humility and caution with her eye for items. If it didn’t have any use for survival, she didn’t bat an eye—irrespective of its financial value.

Overcoming the RPG player’s base instinct of hoarding everything took some getting used to, but Jason finally felt like a true-blue survivalist.

“Hey Alice, look! Mushrooms!” he held out his haul towards her. “Are these poisonous?”

“Nope. Good work!”

Seeing her sign of approval, Jason took a bite of the mushrooms. Thankfully, they weren’t poisonous and even restored some of his Hunger.

He started performing an epileptic dance due to Paralysis instead.

Looking around the wooded area, Alice felt satisfied, “Once you’re done with your Kegels, we’ll set up base here and call it a day.”

Kegels my ass! You just wanted to see me Paralysed!

“Oh and by the way, here’s a tip,” she picked up one of the mushrooms that Jason dropped. “If you lick something instead of eating it right away, the game tells you if it’s safe to eat or not. Like this.”

It was more than just a lick.

It almost seemed as if Alice put her entire soul into that “lick.” Her tongue slobbered all over the fleshy mushroom in one sloppy motion. It was a scene straight out of one of those ads tucked away on the corner of certain websites, the kind that went, “Hot singles in your area!”

If Jason could sigh, he would, but he was too busy flailing his limbs on the ground like some sort of possessed snow angel. Judging from her overexaggerated technique, she clearly did not have any experience. Ironically, the gamer’s game was weak—even the Shield Hero wasn’t rising, whoever that was.

As Jason got up from his seizures, the first thing he did was offer thunderous applause. Alice expected embarrassment, maybe even arousal, but definitely not this.

“Umm…why are you clapping?”

“I’m impressed.”

It was such a bizarre reaction. Was it normal for guys to clap after witnessing such acts? The thought raced through her mind, “Err…okay…thanks?”

“I’m not clapping for you. I’m clapping for the mushroom for putting up with your shit.”

Stunned, flustered and feeling utterly betrayed, Alice sent the mushroom flying right into his face, landing on his nose with a smack. But Jason stood unflinching like a rock.

“You do know that your saliva is all over this thing, right?” he said as he picked the mushroom off his face, giving the latter a wipedown.

“Shut up! Just go and craft a damn shovel!”

He decided that it was best that he followed her instructions and made a shovel, lest he be digging his grave any deeper. Internally, he celebrated. Being able to put Alice into her place was rare, but always a welcome treat.

It was crude, but Jason made a Stone Shovel from all the rocks he had picked up along the way. The tool likely wouldn’t last long, so hopefully there wasn’t a lot of landscaping to do.

“So I’m guessing you want me to flatten the ground here so we can build a house?”

“A house?” she facepalmed. “You obviously never played on a PvP server before.”

“I mean, I did play Arena and Clan Wars on the official server.”

“Well, you can take what you’ve learned there and throw it into the bin. Most of the fighting here happens when you’re asleep or away. So if you don’t want to end up waking up dead, you follow what I say.”

“Okay okay, but it’s not like I’ll die or anything, sheesh.”

“Nope, much worse. You ever woke up in a lava trap before?”

“You mean like spawn?”

“No, I mean your base being completely encased in lava on the inside and an outer shell of Elderstone on the outside.”

Ah.

Jason got what she meant. Instead of fighting an AFK player for an easy win, Maniavolution players might take it up a notch. Such an evil trap meant that even if you logged in, you were stuck. And if you died, you’d just respawn back on the bed, permanently trapped. Maybe he could break out of such a trap since the lava did nothing, but the outer wall would take maybe even hours to escape. And that was only IF the enemy wasn’t outside repairing it.

“Got it. So we’re living in caves then.”

“Attaboy. Dig about 30 units down. Should be safe enough. And whatever you do, DO NOT DIG STRAIGHT DOWN.”

It sounded like less of a warning and more of a threat.

“Alright sure, but err…don’t make fun of me for asking, but why?”

“Look,” she stomped her foot on the ground, “the ground sounds solid, but it isn’t. There are holes in there. Caves, whatever you call them. Lucky for you, falling from a high place or into lava won’t do anything, but you might still get stuck. So, use your brain, dig diagonally or sideways, and put a torch every few metres or so so we’re not blind.

Oh, and if you see any mobs, just ignore them and keep digging. I’ll deal with them later.”

“Wait, what are you doing then?”

“I’ll build a house nearby. Think of it as a diversion. Whoever rolls up will be more likely to destroy it, instead of checking underground.”

Good Lord…

The amount of preparation that was needed just to set up a base on this server was insane. False buildings, cave homes—so many steps just to not die. If he had played on this server instead of the official one, he’d probably give up or go mad just like Alice.

“Alright. But on the off chance that I do get lava trapped, what should I do?”

“Take this,” she handed him a weird-looking amulet. Upon inspection, it was called Heavenforged Desire. At first glance, Jason thought it was a rare Accessory that happened to not have a level lock, but it was actually a consumable.

“This lets you teleport to the location of whoever holds a Hellforged Desire, which just happens to be yours truly. It works the other way too, but why would I ever need to teleport to you?” she shrugged. “Anyways, this thing’s extremely rare and a one-time-use only, so don’t waste it.”

Despite her condescending attitude, Jason felt the faith she had in him. Offering him such an item was a symbol of her trust, one that she did not hand out freely. He made sure to treasure the Heavenforged Desire as it disappeared into his inventory.

“Got it, thanks. I’ll contact you once I’m done.”

“Likewise.”

And just like that, she vanished deeper into the woods.

In a way, not only did she entrust him with a prized possession, she was also entrusting her life to him. The base that he built had to be safe enough for them to survive. A challenging task for the PvP server fledgling, but one that he felt proud of.

With Stone Shovel in hand, Jason dug into the earth. Thankfully, unlike in real life, shovelling didn’t take hours. In less than a minute, he was already completely underground, the only source of light being the small hole above him. Soon, he would have to rely on torches to keep the light going.

Cold, damp and uncomfortable—he had never experienced such a feeling before. There was no need to go to such great lengths in the official release. Sure, exploring underground was always an option, but some other player had already made the perfect subterranean transport system. Everything had already been laid out and handed to him on a platter. But now, he was blazing a trail that he never imagined he would.

All he did was dig. But it was much deeper than that. To experience something new for the first time. To have that sense of expectation and worry fluttering around in his heart. These were the same emotions he felt so many years ago when he could play to his heart’s content. Exploring the unknown was exhilarating. He didn’t realise it, but underneath the VirtuaSim in real life, a smile was starting to form on his cheek.

Maniavolution was fun.