Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mirror World, Book #3: read online

The Way of the Outcast

by Alexey Osadchuk
Mirror World

Chapter One

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The message glowed an acid red. I felt as if I was about to press the proverbial nuclear button.
Well, it might not come to that but still. Some people I know would have given a lot for access to some of Mirror World players' accounts.
This was another considerable drawback of Daily Grind accounts. The Bronze plan allowed you to access your char from your computer without having to climb into the immersion capsule. Even though the only feature available in this mode was the player's Dashboard, the mere fact was enough to make you rub your hands with glee.

Now I could at least check my email or copy my screenshots to a memory stick. My girls had been pestering me to show them Boris and Prankster but I'd never managed to get around to it.
What a shame I didn't have computer access to the auction. You had to have at least a Silver account to have those kinds of perks. Never mind. I'd have to work with what I had.
Vicky had stayed true to her word. We'd gotten the loan. Much to our joy, the money had already been wired to the respective German and Japanese bank accounts. Christina's growing new heart had been paid in full.
When I saw the money transfer confirmation, I felt as if someone had pulled out my backbone.
Sveta, my wife, was crying. It had been ages since I'd seen her like this. She'd always been the strong one. But that day emotions got the better of us.
What a shame I couldn't have been with them. Damn this occupational therapy! After twenty-eight days of lying motionless in the capsule, my body was pretty much useless.
My eyesight was even worse. For the first two days I thought I'd gone blind. Strangely enough, it didn't scare me. I had somehow distanced myself from the fact. The main thing was, we'd done it. The rest was paperwork. In any case, by the evening of the third day I had already been able to enjoy sunset views from the comfort of my wheelchair. Even the fact that my new glasses were much more powerful didn't bother me. It was well worth it.
I knew it wasn't over yet. I'd say, it was only the beginning.
The total of the loan was awesome. The bankers had been well and truly generous with us. They'd offered me exactly what I'd asked for: a quarter of a million.
Most of it went on Christina's hospital bills. Having gotten that out of the way, I immediately paid what I owed to Shantarsky's bank and closed my account. I didn't give a damn about my long-term credit history there. I didn't even want to think about that person.
Next item on my spending list was my Bronze account. That had cost me fifty grand. Plus another five for saving all of my character's stats. My professions, my gear, my levels and Rep points, my race and my pets — all was present and correct.
What a shame I couldn't change my name though. This was one option Mirror World didn't have. If you were born Olgerd into that world, Olgerd you would stay.
If you fancied changing race, this wasn't a problem provided the money was right. There was virtually no attribute you couldn't change if you didn't mind the price tag. None but a player's name, that is. Having said that, the game offered countless short-term anonymity options — again, if you were prepared to pay.
Actually, the five grand I'd paid for saving my stats included their discount. Regular players had to pay more. Vicky had been especially generous that day. According to her, I'd been lucky to have come when I had. Half a year previously, the interest rate wouldn't have been so, ahem, interesting.
Talking about the interest rate, we'd agreed on 11%. Agreed was actually an exaggeration. She simply told me that this was the best they could do. She admitted they were trying to accommodate me as it was.
The amount was mind-boggling. I managed to make them agree to my paying it back within ten years. Thirty-five hundred a month. Dmitry had been right: Mirror World was the only place where I could earn this kind of money.
I signed the contract without hesitation. All in all, I'd have to pay back over four hundred thousand. I didn't care. I'd reached my main goal. Christina would live!
And the loan... well, I'd have to look into it. I already had a few ideas.
Oh, and one other thing. The insurance.
Before I signed the contract, I'd had to ensure my life and my health. Now if anything happened to me, the bank would still get its money back. Still, a stone-faced Vicky made it clear they were not at all interested in this scenario. Which was why my next login was to be performed from their state-of-the-art module center under the supervision of several medical professionals.
That made sense. First I needed to do what I had to do. I could always die afterwards. Something told me that they would be perfectly comfortable with this scenario. At first I'd thought it was my paranoia playing up, but no: both Dmitry and Sveta told me more or less the same thing.
So as of now, I was going to take care of myself. I had to make full use of their occupational therapy facilities. I shouldn't even think of any more extended-immersion gigs. I really had to start visiting their gym and swimming pool. Dmitry had promised Sveta to keep an eye on me in order to make sure I did it. He'd looked as if he'd meant it, too.

Login successful!

Excellent. Admittedly, the game developers took their clients' data protection very seriously. I couldn't just open my Dashboard: I needed an ID authenticator, or 'an IDA' as Dmitry called it. It was a small gizmo that looked a bit like a smartphone with a computer connection.
Once you entered your password, the gadget would ask you to press your thumb to its sensory panel to take a fingerprint reading. That done, you had to sit straight without blinking as the camera scanned your irises.
Next, the box would ask you to pronounce certain words. According to Dmitry, this was to check your voice tone and also to see if it betrayed any fear or anxiety. You might be entering your Dashboard at gunpoint, you never know. If the system smelled a rat, it would forward the data to security operators at the main server. Putting it plainly, this was one hell of a useful little machine.
Right. I was logged in. I did a quick check of my stuff just to see if everything was there. It was okay.
My inbox kept winking its little light at me as if saying, Come on, master, check me already!
Heh. No points for guessing what's inside. Lady Mel's representatives had already contacted Dmitry, asking him very nicely why I hadn't showed up at work. They were obliged to be nice to us because my contract specified that I got paid on extracted value. Basically a freelancer. I sort of rented her mines and declared the resources I'd farmed for remuneration. I didn't have a set wage. I didn't owe anything to anyone and kept my own schedule. This had been the first condition I'd discussed with Weigner. What if I had to drop everything and rush to my sick daughter's side? So this was one of the contract's main clauses, as far as I was concerned. And had I not known anything of my bosses' agendas, I might had even felt touched by their consideration.
Once Dmitry had offered his explanations, they'd stopped bothering him. For a Mirror World player, occupational therapy is sacred, especially following a month-long immersion job. Actually, the girl who'd called him had tried inconspicuously to find out which center I'd been taken to. To which Dmitry, brusque as usual, reminded the girl that as a company worker he had no right to disclose sensitive information. And if anything like that happened again, he'd be forced to report the incident to the security team.
When Dmitry had told me all that, I'd been surprised by the fact that the secretary — or whoever that girl was — had seemed to have really chickened out. She began offering excuses saying they were worried about their best worker and wanted to know if he needed any help. Yeah, right. Messing with the Glasshouse's bosses wasn't a healthy idea.
I found the thought both scary and reassuring. I felt like a tiny remora fish accompanying a Great White: so far, the shark didn't seem to be interested in the little fishie but still could snap at me at any moment. The pros of the situation: other smaller sharks seemed reluctant to approach. Cons: my shark, even if it chose to ignore my culinary qualities, could with a single shake of its tail dive to the deep where I couldn't follow her, leaving me to be ripped apart by smaller predators.
I opened my mail.
There. Just as I'd thought.
Three letters from Weigner and another one from my new so-called friend, Tanor. Uncle Vanya too had dropped me a line.
Quite a backlog in only forty-eight hours.
Heh. I'd better start with Uncle Vanya, then.

What the hell happened to you? We wanted to meet, no? You're never available. We're a bit worried.
Let me know when you're back online.
Your share of the Darkies loot is safe with me.

Right. This was pretty much clear. The guys must have smelled a rat. I needed to decide how to answer their questions. Never mind. This was nothing serious. Once I was back in game, I might write to him and tell him I'd been in therapy. If I did it now, they'd put two and two together and see right through my account-changing game.
Now Weigner.
The tone of his three letters grew exponentially in various stages of hysterics. The man was panicking. He must have had his bosses on his back. Well, this demanded a similar "therapy letter" from me just to calm him down. I'd have to write it later. Not now. I might mention the phone call to Dmitry too, just to reassure Weigner. I had no idea what his role in the Steel Shirts clan was but he was okay.
And last but by no means least, Tanor's message,

My dear Olgerd,
Judging by your sudden and prolonged disappearance, I'd venture a guess that your immersion period has run out. To the best of our knowledge, you'd stayed in game for almost a month trying to raise the necessary Reputation points with Mellenville. It would be logical to surmise that you're currently in occupational therapy.
I don't for one second doubt that the bank has refused your loan application. Just as I told you, basically.
What a shame. All this time wasted. Don't you think?
Never mind. You need to get some rest now. Take your time. Get your strength up. We're looking forward to seeing you back.
If, by some chance, you log in earlier than expected, I just want to let you know you don't need to worry about the money. The sum you need is already here, awaiting you.
We could meat IRL if you wish to discuss all the details. I'm pretty sure you need the money now. Just let us know where to find you and we'll be there.
Do you remember me telling you about our clan's state-of-the-art module center? We could transfer you there anytime — today if you so wish.
I've just been told that our clan's treasury has a complete brand new Master gear set waiting for you! They say it's the best you can get. Don't you think it's cool?
Hope I've managed to cheer you up a bit,
Looking forward to greeting you back,


He cheered me up, yeah right. You could say that.
So their clan had started with the proverbial carrot. They're doing their best not to pressurize me into anything. They have the money ready; they'd even found some nice gear for me. So they thought the bank hadn't given me the money? Actually, it was good. The small shark was readying to attack the little fish, not yet seeing the huge fanged monster it was skirting.
Let them think they had me in their pocket. In the meantime, we'd play for time. Dmitry could easily pull the wool over their eyes for another week, telling them I was still in therapy and wasn't allowed to go online. By the time they decided to turn to the proverbial stick, I had to be ready.
I had a week to master the Combat class. The stronger I was, the higher my chances of survival in No-Man's Lands.
The good news was, my new immersion would be nothing like the first time when metaphorically speaking I'd taken a leap into the dark, blindfolded. Now I'd seen it all. I'd tried and tested myself in the game. I'd witnessed what combat classes could do. I now had a lot of advantages compared to first-time newbs.
If I wanted to succeed, I had to do some quality research on combat classes. I couldn't study all of it, of course: the Net was absolutely bursting with information, some of it helpful, most of it useless. I decided to limit myself to the most popular resources.
Take the Mirror World Wiki, for instance. It had virtually everything you needed to know about the game. Naturally, no one was going to share any truly yummy bits of intel but even so, according to Rrhorgus' son Max, it was "chock full of cool stuff".
"You could say that," I mumbled, staring at all the charts and diagrams on the computer screen. "I don't know where to start."
Funny I'd never visited it before. Having said that, these sites were so numerous these days that you could make neither head nor tail of it all.
"I'll get used to it," I said, just to cheer myself up.
Even if I managed to work out the very basics, that in itself would be a considerable result.
What a shame I couldn't access my class stats! You had to be in full immersion to do that. According to Dmitry, it was a security measure.
Which left me with a problem. The Wiki had nothing on Ennans: nada, zilch, zero. In other words, the only person who was qualified to add entries about Ennans was yours truly.
So I had to switch to my "cousins": the dwarves and gnomes.
Now... where were they?
A click of the mouse summoned a fearsome-looking bearded dwarf. In his powerful suit of armor, he looked twice as big as he really was, which in turn made his head seem disproportionally small.
And how about gnomes? Same, really. If anything, they appeared even more menacing.
Now let's check the classes available to me.
I wanted the standard package. Close combat, magic attacks, distance weapons, this sort of thing.
Close combat was more or less clear. I wasn’t going to be much good at it, period. I couldn't even imagine myself brandishing a dwarven battle axe or a gnome's hammer. Besides, what was the point in having heavy weapons if I had my Boris? Despite his zero level, he already had a whole cartload of Stamina points. And once his experience began to grow... and once I bought him a purpose-built set of gear... what would happen then? Oh no, forget close combat.
This wasn't the problem. Problem was, I'd be constantly on my own — and far behind enemy lines, too, surrounded by the most dangerous wildlife that existed in the game. I had to decide how best to capitalize on everything I already had. Which was quite a lot, actually.
Had I been a member in an established and — which was equally important — strong group, I wouldn't have had to ponder over this dilemma. But as it was, I had to start thinking about creating my own team which, although small, had to be promising.
Judging by the bits of description I'd managed to piece together from all sorts of sources, all mounts were basically fighters: strong, fit and extremely tenacious. In gamers' lingo, they were tanks. In other words, having Boris in my group, I could forget close combat: I just didn't fit in the picture myself — neither as a heavily-armed warrior nor as a light ambidextrous one.
In all honesty, my first urge was to concentrate on magic classes. That way, Boris could make mincemeat out of our enemies while I could heal and support him. But in thinking so, I'd completely overlooked our last but by no means least team member: Prankster. Providing magic support for the group was apparently his job — as part of his pet class. At least that's what all Mirror World experts said. The phrase used by the Wiki, "a healer and a buffer rolled into one", seemed to describe Prankster's potential perfectly well once I'd managed to translate it into normal human parlance. To put it short, the higher my level, the more useful would my little menagerie be.
I had a tank. I also had a buffer/healer. Now I had to decide how I could fit into it.
Oh, well. Let's have a look.
I clicked through to a picture of a gnome in light armor. He clenched a monstrous crossbow fitted with optical sights and a complex set of gear wheels. A bagful of bolts and screws dangled from his belt.
I immediately thought about the Caltean attack in the Citadel and the gnome fighting the "hedgehog". He'd been the last man standing, perfectly alive when all other players including the top-level wizard had already kicked the bucket. He'd even managed to bid a hasty retreat when the shit had hit the fan.
I liked this crossbowman. He was light and agile. A distance weapon: exactly what our little group needed in order to be full of surprises. That's settled, then.
I needed to check out this class with other races, too, to find out all its pros and cons: what weapons they could use, etc.
The gnome was more or less clear. Now the dwarf.
A stocky black-bearded guy, clenching an arbalest. Same as a crossbow: different name, slightly bulkier and heavier.
Humans and Alves were archers; Dwandes excelled at dart throwing. Large races didn't seem to have this class at all.
Having spent a good half-hour studying the facts, I'd finally come to the following conclusion: if one wanted to use distance weapons, he couldn't do better than choosing the Alven race.
Undoubtedly, forest dwellers had their drawbacks. Their gear was flimsy to say the least. If an Alven archer was forced to engage in a hand-to-hand, he wouldn't last long. Even a dart-throwing Dwand could make quick work of him.
Still, their gear's shortcomings were more than compensated by excellent Range, Precision and Rate of Fire bonuses. No other race had anything like them.
A gnome crossbowman's gear was virtually the same as that of a Human swordsman but the former had serious problems in regards to his Range and Rate of Fire. Still, if a gnome's bolt hit the target it could deal just as much damage as a proverbial cannonball.
Humans really didn't impress in any of these respects. Their domain was magic and witchcraft. If I'd understood it well, Humans were the best wizards in Mirror World.
The further I read, the fewer illusions I had about the information's seemingly chaotic nature. Everything had in fact turned out very logical and organized.
There was a certain balance between classes and anti-classes. This in itself made the gameplay much more interesting and, let's be honest, more intelligent. Once you'd chosen Mirror World, you had to be ready for a learning curve. Now I had some idea of the sheer amount of guidebooks and manuals a potential player had to peruse before even entering his new virtual home. You couldn't expect to conquer this world by sheer enthusiasm. An arrogant newb wouldn't last five minutes against more advanced and prepared ones.
Normally, at this point I would be racked by doubt. How sure was I that I had to get into it all? Was I even up to it? Playing was one thing but this wasn’t my case. I was about to become the epicenter of a future war the likes of which Mirror World hadn't yet seen.
In any other situation I'd have already had my brains in a twist with worry. But right now I felt something totally different. I wouldn't say I wasn't afraid. Still, this wasn't fear fear. I felt a little anxious but that was normal, I suppose.
Also, this strange mix of emotions betrayed some sort of fighting spirit. How strange. I'd never have thought I'd experience something like this.
An insistent incoming call distracted me from my research. The phone's panel lit up with the word, Brother.
I pressed Accept. "Hi there."
"Hi," Dmitry's voice was typically brusque and serious. "How are you?"
"Fine today. I'm busy now studying your leads."
"Wrap it up, man. End of boot camp. Time to go to the front line."
"Great. You coming?"
"No. I might burn your cover."
"You think they'd stoop so low as to spy on somebody in the real world?" I asked, doubtful.
"They might," Dmitry said with confidence. "We'd better play it safe and bide our time. As soon as they find out you're off the hook, all hell will break loose. So this week you'll have to work hard, I'm afraid. Make sure you don't overexert yourself. Knowing your tendency to self-destruct..."
"I'll be careful, I promise."
"Good," he heaved a sigh. "Now, location. Have you decided on anything?"
"I have. The Nameless Isles."
"Good choice. There're at least twenty of them there. Easy to get lost. Their mobs are low-level, too. A newb location. You'll level up to 30 easy."
"Sure. And what's even better, there're no Steel Shirts there."
"The fact that they use their own lands to level up their recruits says nothing," Dmitry warned. "Keep your eyes peeled. Good luck!"
"Thanks, man."
"You've done good," he added. "The Nameless Isles are a good choice. Over and out," he hung up.
I nodded to myself. Indeed, the Nameless Isles were a godsend.
When I'd first tried to come up with a plan, I'd asked myself: where was I supposed to begin? No-Man's Lands didn't sound too promising. I couldn't expect to level up my current char properly there. Hoping for a streak of good luck wasn't an option.
All Lands of Light had been carved up between clans who were bound to notice my presence pretty soon. I'd even had a crazy idea to fly over to the Dark side at night and level up there. But that was risky.
My grand plans had ground to a halt.
That's when I'd turned to Dmitry for advice. He explained that when the game had still been in its infancy, the developers had come up with special locations they used to help combat classes grow and evolve. Those nurseries were some sort of training ground for inexperienced players, complete with low-level mobs and simple quests issued by NPCs.
That was all good and well, with one drawback, or so players said. The developers had apparently decided to add a fly to the ointment simply to make sure life wasn't all fun and games for newcomers. Nothing critical: just slight fluctuations in weather conditions. At North Ridge, for instance, there were occasional ground frosts and snowfalls. The Snake Desert had hot spells. And the Nameless Isles were known for their rains. Well, rains — more like sunshowers.
But newbs in their starting clothes hadn't appreciated weather fluctuations. They'd absolutely flooded Support with protests and complaints saying that the game developers were applying pressure to players, forcing them to buy expensive runes, elemental protection or even cloaks. The developers had turned a deaf ear to their pleas — for which I was now eternally grateful.
Over time, the flood of complaints had subsided. Newb locations stood abandoned.
How had it happened?
Easy. After the end of the clan wars, all Lands of Light had been divided between the strongest clans. New castles had been erected in locations with neutral climates, promptly surrounded by new towns and villages. Now why would you suffer in silence, freezing to near death or getting soaked when there were more comfortable locations available?
Dmitry had forwarded me the classified login data. Apparently, the old newb locations had only 2% of all game logins. The remaining 98% players chose to log in to clan-controlled territories.
That was perfect.
According to Dmitry, I had the choice of three types of locations: cold, hot or rainy. And as much as I hated the latter, I'd had to choose it in the end.
Having no Anti-Heat protection, I'd immediately rejected the Snake Desert. For a while I'd been quite serious about the North Ridge: I'd already had rain up to here. Besides, I'd already had my Anti-Frost protection, anyway — I'd installed it before my first trip to No-Man's Lands.
But that was before I'd seen the map.
The North Ridge was a long narrow hill range stretching all along the border, smooth-sloped and gently-rounded. The Nameless Isles, however, were a smattering of islets big and small in the southern part of the Great Ocean. It offered much better protection from any prying eyes.
I'd also found out that the North Ridge was exactly where the remaining 2% of players chose to log in. Apparently, I wasn't the only person averse to humidity. Then again, how was I to know?
Never mind. Enough research. Time to go downstairs. My module awaited me.
I rode the elevator alone, studying my gaunt aspect in the mirror. I'd seen corpses with better complexions. Having said that, compared to my first day offline I was as fit as a fiddle. I could even walk unassisted now. I had no need for crutches anymore.
The elevator dinged softly, announcing its arrival at the first floor.
The corridor was flooded with light.
It was busy here. So many operators! Their lab coats were everywhere. You could tell this was a VIP center.
Having said that, if the game developers weren't entitled to it, who was?
Would they kick me out of here once I'd completed my mission? Or would they allow me to stay? Too early to even think about it.
This center was exactly why I'd had to move town. Dmitry had simply ordered me to do it. After I'd told him about the bank's offer and the fake Pierrot, my brother had grown even more focused. Without him, I wouldn't have gotten very far at all.
I turned around. A girl stood behind me. About twenty-five, lab coat, pale-blue doctor's hat. The name tag on her chest said Irene.
I nodded. "That's me. Hi."
"Hi. You ready?"
"Let's go, then."
My new "coffin" wasn't too far. We reached the end of the corridor, then entered a hall.
There were other capsules there, all closed. They looked like nothing I'd used in the past. Even though I was no technical expert, I could see these were the latest top-of-the-range models.
"There it is," she pointed at the only open capsule.
The familiar purple goo welcomed me, enveloping my body. "Mind if I ask?"
"Absolutely," she said without taking her eyes from the screen.
"Is it my imagination or has something changed? I feel as if I've been dropped into jelly. Just please don't use science speak."
She smiled. "This is the latest model. To put it plainly, in earlier versions we had to use a gel bed which vibrated-"
"-to prevent bedsores," I helpfully offered.
She nodded. "Exactly. But now we have this special type of gel which envelops your whole body, sending electric impulses through it. Which is a very healthy idea. And as a bonus, it adds new sensations to your virtual experience."
"Oh. I'm curious."
I'd have dearly loved to ask her a few more questions but she beat me to it,
"That's it, Oleg. Let's initiate the immersion procedure."
Her delicate fingers ran over the screen, tapping the invisible keyboard. The lid began to lower.
"Good luck," Irene smiled. "Enjoy your immersion!"
"Thanks," I whispered back.
A few moments later, the already-familiar void embraced me.
Silence. Darkness.
I glimpsed a flicker of light approaching faster and faster, accelerating toward me.
Before I could even blink, the light took me in.
Still no sounds. I looked around me. Where was I?
A round room, about five paces wide. A stone floor. Torches burning on the walls. No windows.
I raised my head. Powerful wooden beams supported a gloomy vaulted ceiling. This could be one of the Citadel's towers, only without their characteristic arrowslits.

Greetings, Olgerd! Welcome back to Mirror World!
In order to fully experience the beauty of our world, complete the registration of your Bronze account!
Register now: Accept/Decline


Congratulations! Your registration is now complete!
Would you like to choose a new class?

My heart missed a beat. Even though I'd already made up my mind, I had a nasty feeling I'd forgotten something important.

Generating your character's settings and characteristics should take less than a minute. Please wait.

Of course. This was a new race. Did that make me some sort of pioneer? Never mind. I could wait. The halo around my head won't fall.
Jesus. Their minute was taking quite a while.

Sorry about the delay! Your character's settings have been reset.
Would you like to continue: Yes/No

About time! I heaved a sigh and pressed Yes, ready to face an exhaustive list of various combat classes.
Wait a sec. What the hell was this? Was it some kind of mistake?
A holographic image of my Ennan char clad in a simple starting kit appeared at the room's center. But it wasn't his clothes that had thrown me. I had all my gear safe in my bag. It was the class list. It consisted of only one entry:

Army Mechanic

My hands shook as I went through the settings. It couldn't be. What, only one class?
I looked at my Ennan. He stood there legs akimbo, hands on his hips, grinning from ear to ear. Who the hell did he think he was?
Wait a sec... what on earth was this? I took another look at my first weapon dangling from his belt.
Shit. I look up at the powers that be and heaved a fatalistic sigh. "A slingshot? You have to be joking, right? You want me to conquer No-Man's Lands with a freakin' slingshot?"

Chapter Two

Calm down, Olgerd.
Take a deep breath. No need to panic.
Inhale. Exhale.
Like that... good.
Now let's have a look.
A mechanic, so what? So I hadn't gotten an archer or a crossbowman. What was my problem? That they didn't have suitable classes?
Big deal. Take Narchs, for instance: they had four arms, of all things. I dreaded to think how they managed, but apparently they did. Quite successfully too, judging by the Plateau battle. Very efficiently, if I may say so.
Oh, and here was a parchment scroll containing my Lore Info. It was ancient and yellowed.

It happened in early fall, just as I traveled the foothills of the Steely Mountains. I was visiting my friend Rold from the Tinkh people. His folk were nothing really special. Just some Ennans living in a village. They kept themselves to themselves. Never took part in any feuds or clan wars. They worshipped the Lord of the Underworld.
Contrary to what people usually think, their clan lived by trade, not by mining or smithing. It might actually have been one of the reasons for their isolation.
So one night as he sat by the fire warming his aching joints and smoking his best old pipe, Rold told me about some tragic recent events.
As it turned out, one of the oldest clans in the whole of the Steely Mountains had recently ceased to exist. The Tinkhs didn't know much about what had happened there. Some said that the Der Swyor miners had come across a rich vein. Others said that the clan leader had behaved disrespectfully at the last Elders Council. But my friend Rold, he thought that it was all about Master Grilby who must have uncovered the ancient secret of raising people from the dead.

Here the text paused. The whole of the next paragraph was blurred as if whoever had written it had spilled some liquid onto the parchment. Whether he'd done so accidentally or for a reason, I couldn't say. I moved on to the next paragraph.

...the clan's warriors put up a valiant resistance. But what could they do against the Alliance's army? There were fifty attackers to each defender. Many a hero found his death that tragic day. You need to give the Der Swyors justice: they fought as one man. According to Rold, a handful of common workmen barricaded themselves in the Tower of the Winds and successfully held the enemy back for a while. His story left a lasting impression on me.

That was the end of this so-called Lore Info. Actually, no. There was a signature below,

The Chronicles of Arvein. Page 25.

The game developers weren't exactly generous with information. Or was it just me?
What a weird class description. If you thought logically, my mechanic just might be the descendant of those brave defenders of the Tower of the Winds.
Oh, well. I suppose it's better than nothing at all. There was only one thing I'd love to know. Had those tower defenders used slingshots against the enemy too?
Talking about slingshots. I remembered a YouTube video in which a burly guy fired a slingshot at cows' skulls, using steel bolts. I still remembered the loud snapping sounds and the popping of exploding bones.
Besides, somehow I didn't think it was going to disrupt the gameplay. Most likely, I was about to fit into the combat classes nicely, slingshot and all. Judging by the char's grinning mug, I was in for quite a ride.
Never mind. One problem at a time. What's with my characteristics?
On top of the existing Speed, Strength and Stamina, now I also had Health, Protection and Intellect. Next to the blue Energy bar I discovered a red one for Life, green for Experience and yellow for Knowledge.
Thanks to what I'd gleaned from the forums, I already knew that the Life bar corresponded to Health. It was the same mechanism as the correlation between Stamina and Energy. As your Health grew so did your Life bar.
I really needed to look into it properly. I had plenty of Energy; but judging by my Life reading, I could die from the first sneeze!
The bar was calibrated into forty units. Each Health point gave me 20 points Life.
Now, Strength.
Before, it only used to affect Energy regeneration speed. Now it was going to do the same for Life as well. The damage dealt, too, directly depended on its numbers. Which was definitely good news.
Protection was more or less clear. Knowledge, however, was a bit of a dark horse for me. Could it be some analog of mages' Wisdom? I really couldn't tell. I might need to try it out first.
The next hurdle was the absence of the so-called bonus points. The game developers must have decided — and rightly so — that those I'd received at registration were enough.
So the whole thing was a bit off balance, really. I had to enter a warrior's path with zero Protection and minimum Life. The weakest of the Nameless Isles mobs would be able to blow me over with a feather.
I also had some advantages, though.
First, my gear's stats were quite high for level 1. And second but not least, my little menagerie.
Also, according to forum messages, I was entitled to five bonus points to distribute as I saw fit with every fifth level gained. If I lived long enough to see that, that is.
Very well. My characteristics were more or less clear. Let's check my inventory.
Five icons were highlighted in my bag: two of Clothes, two Miscellaneous and one Weapon icon.
I started with the clothes. What did our generous admins have for me?
No surprises there. A leather vest and a pair of canvas pants, a standard newbie kit.
The vest added 1 pt. to both Health and Speed while the pants did the same for Strength and Stamina.
All this was a pittance, of course, compared to my Reflection kit even if you forgot the fact that it was hung with runes like a Christmas tree.
Any newb was bound to find their starting kit very useful, of course. Anyone but unfortunately not me, although I could admittedly use the extra point to Health.
Still, the game's rules dictated that if I wanted to wear this leather excuse for a garment, I'd have to remove some of my outerwear, breaking the set. Which would lead to the loss of both the precious Strength and Stamina points and my impressive Speed bonus. Putting it simply, one puny extra point to Health wasn't worth all the trouble.
Seeing as my new clothes were non-transferable, I might need to delete them from my inventory later simply not to clutter my bag. Having said that, there was no rush. I could always get rid of a potentially useless item.
That was me done clothes-wise. Now, weapons. Oh! How interesting. Apparently, my slingshot had a very cute name:

Name: a Minor Pocket Slingshot
Category: Simple
Weapon type: Main (non-transferable)
Level: 0+
Restriction: only Ennan race
Range: +0.5
Rate of fire: +0.5
Precision: +0.5
Damage: +1.0 ... +1.6
Durability: 25

Well, let's just hope I might procure something more impressive at a later date. I'd even agree to a Major Pocket Slingshot.
Now, Miscellaneous.
If the truth were known, forums said nothing about it. Normally, new arrivals received their bonus points, a set of tattered clothes and a basic weapon. No Miscellaneous items had ever been mentioned.
Then again, who knows? Did I really think that forum members shared all their gaming secrets? Highly unlikely.
Now. Item one, a small leather case.

Name: a Standard Tool Kit
Pcs: 4

Nice name, simple and informative. Wish I could say the same about its contents.

Sharpthorn, 1
Wambler, 1
Measurometer, 1
Fix Box, 1

Their logic was understandable. Being a mechanic, I had to use some sort of tools. Only I didn't have the slightest idea how I was supposed to defeat even the lowest-level monster by brandishing a measurometer or, God forbid, a wambler? The best I could do was probably load my slingshot with the sharpthorn, then immobilize the enemy by giving him a whack with the Fix Box, just to be on the safe side.
Relax, Olgerd, I said to myself. It could have been worse. Of course I was upset, seeing as I'd looked forward to choosing a standard combat class. On the other hand, I had to give my Ennan credit. So far, he'd never let me down.
The last item in my inventory aroused mixed feelings: a reluctant optimism tinted with perplexity.

Name: A Pocket Book of Blueprints and Bind Lines

The book was quite fat, its dirty brown cover worn and spotted with burn marks and engine oil. The spine was hanging on a thread. A fine net of cracks and little holes riddled the cover. I got the impression that either the book's previous owner hadn't valued it at all or he'd used it in a less than sterile environment.
I opened the book, about to start reading, but found nothing inside apart from some dimmed pages and a welcome message,

Greetings, Olgerd!
We're sorry. You can't read the book yet. Your Knowledge level is too low. Please try again later.

Yeah, right. Please try again when you get smarter, is that it?
In any case, I discovered a few empty pages at the end of the book. The tool case, too, had a lot of empty slots. I suppose that was their way of telling me that if I wanted to fill them up, I'd have to do it myself.
Never mind. I was done studying my freebies.

Greetings, Olgerd!
Would you like to complete account activation?

I cast one last look over my inventory and clicked Yes.
The magic torches dimmed. The holographic Ennan floated toward me, still grinning.
The darkness consumed me.
When I opened my eyes, I stood on the sea shore. Or should I say, on the Great Ocean shore.

Congratulations! Activation complete!
Welcome to the Nameless Isles!
Would you like to download and install our free app: Fact Sheet of the Nameless Isles?

The stench of brine and rotting algae assaulted my nose. The roaring of the surf and the sound of rain pattering on the sand mixed with the rustle of palm leaves and the hum of the empty bamboo stems in the wind.
Black thunderclouds hung low in the sky. The wind blew hard. The swell was rough. The downpour was every bit as bad as it had been back in Drammen.
Was it the admins playing with me? Or was this kind of weather normal here? In which case I could understand why no one was in a hurry to use this location.
I felt heavy, pressure pinning me down. I'd already forgotten how it felt to walk around naked. Mirror World never let you off the hook.
I needed to rectify the situation pretty quickly. I hurried to get dressed.

You've received +1660 pt. To Energy!
Current Energy levels: 1700.

Much better. Even the rain didn't feel so wet anymore. The clouds overhead seemed lighter somehow. The ocean, too, wasn't as murderous as it had originally looked. Things were looking up.
Time to take my bearings.
The long strip of sandy beach was about forty of fifty paces wide. It arced like a sleeping snake between the ocean and the green wall of the jungle. Nice big beach. I liked it.
The sand was technically white but you couldn't tell its color straight away because it was mixed with tiny fragments of sea shells, dried algae, petty bits of driftwood and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam.
This definitely wasn't meant to be a tourist destination. Having said that, there's no accounting for taste. Personally, I wouldn't enjoy lying on the littered sand staring at the raging ocean.
The forest's edge didn't look too inviting, either. The location was probably prone to tornadoes, judging by all the uprooted palm trees.
Excuse me? Anyone hear me? Was this a newb location or what? I found it hard to believe this place was meant for beginners. It was spooky.

Success! The Fact Sheet of the Nameless Isles has been installed and is ready for use!

Very well. What did we have here?
The app was good. It contained the location's detailed map and its bestiary. Judging by which, the local wildlife was quite diverse.
The map also listed all the natural resources and the settlements of the local NPCs.
Now I could believe that this used to be a starting location once. I'd never received such detailed instructions during my first registration. Then again, Grinders didn't need this kind of info, did they? All they had to worry about was finding an employer and getting to work.
Now, however, my situation was quite different. The sooner I managed to adapt the easier I might find it in the future.
So let's start with the map.
Once synchronized, my satnav dutifully reported my bearings. According to it, I was in the northern part of this rather large location: on its smallest and furthermost island.
The nearest NPC village was on the biggest isle to the east. It looked more like a continent on my map.
I told my satnav to lay a course to the village. After a brief pause, it offered what it believed to be the shortest route.
Oh. To get there, I'd have to cross two more islands. It would have been much easier to just summon Boris. Still, I didn't want to attract any unwanted attention. Even though the sight of my gear didn't add to my inconspicuousness, still a Grinder dwarf who'd managed to scrape together enough small change to buy a Bronze account was a more common sight than a Grinder dwarf soaring in the sky astride a black Gryphon-like creature.
Never mind. A walk might do me good. I could have a good look around in the process, seeing as I was stuck here for a week at least.
Off we go, then, to face any unwelcome adventures!
I didn't have to go very far before I stumbled across an enormous fish carcass. It must have been at least twenty feet long. The smell... you can't even imagine.
Its stomach had been ripped open, rotting flesh and guts spilled everywhere. Had it not been for the rain, I would have smelled it much earlier.
I stood there staring at the gory scene. It looked believable indeed, as if I was on a God-forsaken desert island amid the ocean.
Distracted by studying the fish's fin, I failed to notice the footprints at once. They were triangular, about a foot and a half long and half as wide.
Well, well, well. If that wasn't... I was no expert, of course, but even I could tell a bird's prints when I saw them.
Mechanically I raised my head. If this place was inhabited by birdies of this shoe size, I should really keep closer to the trees.
Then again, that might not be the best option either. You never know what the jungle might have in store for a curious traveler. I'd had this nasty sensation of being watched the whole time I'd been on the beach. Every time I turned to face the forest, the feeling disappeared only to resume later.
So much for their newb location. It made me shudder. Even Spider's Grotto felt safe and comfy in comparison.
I was about to turn round and continue on my way when I finally realized something simple but paramountly important. My weapon! I hadn't even thought about checking it!
I just couldn't believe it. Hey, mobs and predators, come quick! Enjoy the juicy flesh of a reckless nerd, a worthy specimen of modern society!
My hands reached for the Minor Pocket Slingshot, still stuck under my belt. I didn't even know how to use it!
Actually, who hadn't used one at a tender age? I wasn't an exception. We didn't call it a slingshot then: we actually called it a catapult. It had been a long time ago though... in real life, too.
I had no idea about slingshot ballistics in the virtual world. But this wasn't a question I should be asking myself. Why oh why hadn't I even thought of testing my only weapon first and foremost? Olgerd, Olgerd. You're a dork to end all dorks. Think that someone like you was about to venture into No-Man's Lands!
Right, time to rectify my blunder.
I closed my left hand around the slingshot handle, made of dark wood and fitted out with what looked like an ordinary elastic. The pouch in the back was made of a piece of leather. That was basically it.
The only little thing lacking was finding some ammo. Seeing as my inventory listed nothing of the kind, I might need to forage around for something suitable. Not forage even. There was plenty of ammo lying literally underfoot.
That small pebble over there might do nicely.

You've received an item!
Name: A Beach Pebble

The moment I placed the pebble into the pouch, the system told me something very interesting,

The Minor Pocket Slingshot is loaded!
Missile: a Beach Pebble
Fit for Purpose: Yes
Range: +0.6
Rate of Fire: +0.4
Precision: +0.4
Damage: +1.0 ... +1.1

Aha! The little pebble had increased Range but negatively affected both Rate of Fire and Precision. As well as Damage.
Very well. What if I pick up a smaller one?
I lay a new pebble into the pouch.

The Minor Pocket Slingshot is loaded!
Missile: a Beach Pebble
Fit for Purpose: Yes
Range: +0.8
Rate of Fire: +0.6
Precision: +0.6
Damage: +0.8 ... +1.0

How interesting. The new pebble had improved all stats apart from Damage. It had dropped quite considerably. Which was exactly what I didn't need.
What if I took a bigger stone? Like that gray rock over there...

The Minor Pocket Slingshot is loaded!
Missile: a Beach Pebble
Fit for Purpose: Yes
Range: +0.3
Rate of Fire: +0.3
Precision: +0.3
Damage: +1.8 ... +2.2

Well, that made it pretty clear. A heavier "missile" improved Damage but lowered all other stats. All I had to do now was put it to the test. Meaning, I needed an enemy.
A powerful roar came from the rainforest, making every hair on my virtual body stand bolt upright. Did they say we should be careful of what we wish for?

End of Preview Sample
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  1. Excellent. really looking forward to this book

    1. Thanks! We're waiting for it too!

    2. Thanks for the extra chapters. now i'm really looking forward to getting the book on the 19th

  2. Can we have a few mor chapters please?

  3. When is this book going to audible?