Chapter 3 – Funny Me In The Fog (Character Creation)
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“Are you sure it will work?”

“What's the point? My assurance means nothing.”

“Huh, she's right. You suck at this comforting thing.”

“The only solace I have to provide is that we meet at midnight.”

- - - - -

“Ow!” I cried out as I fell to my bedroom floor in a tangled web of blankets.

“Mew!” Smokey yelped as he darted out of my room via his cat door.

Cupping my hands to my mouth, I called after him, “Sorry!” I hope I only scared him, and that he’s not hurt. I need to check on him when I get a chance.

“Wasn’t I... dream, isn’t it?” I mumbled as a tsunami of varying emotions, both from the dream and reality, slammed into me. I can’t remember the exact scenery of the dream, but I believe I can, unfortunately, pinpoint the topic. I don’t even recall going to sleep, but the fact that a remnant of my slumber remains is unsurprising. I was dreaming of Ruby, I think. I need to stop dreaming of her. It’s not healthy.

Topic change, I need a change of topic. I need to take my mind off things. Sleep is not going to happen tonight. At least not after that. I can never get back to sleep after these dreams.

I grimaced at the thought of another sleeple... wait, the headset. I can use it and sleep that way. Yes, no more nightmares! I glanced over at the digital clock on my nightstand and felt a sense of reprieve spread through me. It's 12:13. The beta's started already.

But should I jump in? The last time I played, I got into an argument so heated I told my party to go fuck themselves and logged out. That was two years ago. I did feel somewhat bad seeing as how I left my team without a healer. Still, Taylor, our highest source of damage, said I was an appalling medic anyway, so it’s not much of a loss. It’s not my fault he sucks at dodging.

His remarks about my parents were unwarranted. That by itself sent me far enough over the edge that I stabbed him in the stomach and left the game for good. The most vivid memory I have of that day was the shock on his face when my blade punctured his armor. Well, that and how hard I was clutching my dagger. I’m convinced I fractured the handle.

Nodding, I rose to my feet with a begrudging sigh. “I guess I can give it another go.” Worst case scenario, I get some mental fuel to add to the fire for my art. The statistical odds of me running into them again are so miniscule I’d have a higher likelihood of winning the lottery anyway.

I whipped out the VR box from underneath my bed and felt myself grow a bit excited at the prospect. As if I was recreating the first time, I slowly pulled up the cardboard flaps and started sorting through the plethora of wires. After tossing a manual aside, I found my target.

A carbon fiber black headset that wraps around your head with transparent grey lens. Are those my initials engraved on it too? On the side, two golden letters spelling, “A. W.” How much did they spend on this?

“Hey,” I greeted the machine as I sat it on my bed.

Failing to bite back the urge, I burst into a bright smile as a truck of nostalgia ran right into me. “I know a sibling of yours, maybe they told you about me?” Those days were a lot of fun looking back. Minus the disputes with Taylor, I genuinely had an enjoyable time with everyone.

Plugging in the headset, I flopped on my bed and slipped it on, dragging my finger to the power switch.

With a deep breath, I flipped the switch to have a deluge of color dye my vision.

- - - - -

I awoke in a white void with two swipes of my index finger, bringing up the Needs page in sync with the Login screen.

I set my hunger and dehydration meters to sixteen hours. The headset would remind me and pull me from the game if we surpassed seventeen consecutive hours. I typed in my details with ease, grateful my sister left them as is. I hit Login and watched as the menu was reduced to cinders by a sapphire flame.

Unlike the old menu, the flame persisted. It grew in strength with my first step forward, as if it was excited at the prospect of our paths once again crossing.

I trailed the flame with my finger, unveiling my custom menu: Yellowed parchment paper with fresh black ink. Blue fire crackled on its edges, reminiscent of a hearth.

Library

Friends - 8/23 Online

Messages (7 Unread)

Statistics

Customization

Redeem Code

Needs

Settings

Log Out

“Seven new messages?” I said aloud as I selected the tab. It ignited in an instant, burning away to reveal my inbox ordered from oldest to newest. I love this theme...

“Nat?” I scratched my head. Why would she message me? I wasn’t expecting any messages upon logging in, let alone ones from her. These are from two years ago... damn.

6/18/X9: Look, I’m sorry about Taylor. If you’d like to group up, just you and me, I’d be more than happy next time you get on.

6/21/X9: I get he really pissed you off, but you don’t have to ignore me too. You can at least respond. You’re appearing offline, aren’t you?

6/24/X9: I got him to agree to apologize if that’s the problem. Even he thinks he went too far. You stabbing him probably helped with that.

7/1/X9: It’s been over a week now, and you still aren’t back on? I thought you were just pissed. You were bluffing, right?

7/2/X9: Were you serious?

7/10/X9: I guess that’s a yes. If you see this someday, I’d like to thank you. Thanks for showing me how to play. You gave me some useful tips, and you were fun to play with despite how quiet you are somedays when we have a big group. You didn’t have to acknowledge me either. I was a random newbie that you decided to give healing items to free of charge while you showed her how to play. Again, thank you for that. And more importantly, thanks for all the memories. I hope you see this.

“Thanks, Nat.” I smiled slightly. She honestly didn’t have to go out of her way to message me, but I appreciate it. That last message, she’d never say that to my face either. I’d likely poke fun at her for it too because she hates getting emotional.

“What’s up with you?” I asked the page as I hovered my finger over a small envelope with a snow-white seal, imprinted with the image of a dove. Messages aren’t generally like this. Even when game developers sent things out, they never did this.

I tapped the seal, fully expecting the letter to simply open naturally. Not even close. The message burst free, accompanied by the cry of a dove with a note attached to its back. With vigor in its flight, the dove shot into the air with a spin, positioning itself for a dive bomb.

“The hell?!” I jumped as it stopped right before my face as if to give me the note. It was so fast I barely had time to react. Wait, no, it is offering me the note.

Hesitantly, I grabbed the note with a confused, “Thank you?” Seemingly proud of itself, the animal cast me a nod before dispersing into a sparkling dust cloud.

Removing the crimson ribbon from the letter, I tossed it aside, mumbling under my breath, “that’s new.”

12/16/X1: I know it’s been over two years, but I’m gonna send this in case you see it. You’re bound to log in someday. A new beta’s about to drop for Viicirne’s latest expansion, and I thought we should all play it together. You, me, and Taylor. I know, you’re most likely still pissed at him, but he wants to apologize. He feels bad and thinks he’s the primary reason you stopped playing. If you don’t have a key, don’t worry. I know a guy ;) Oh, hope you like my seal. I spent a good while designing it. You should give it a try. I’m confident you can come up with some extravagant ones.

“Pass,” I answered in disgust as I discarded the message like the piece of trash that it was. I’m not dealing with Taylor anymore. I appreciate her offer, and maybe I’ll respond later, but at this rate, I’m going to solo the entire beta. There’s a slim chance I pair up with randoms, but that’s it.

“I’m not angry anymore, just done,” I said to myself, navigating to the Settings section of my menu while I waited for my room to load. Let’s not poison this beta with toxic teammates.

Each player has a personal room, which is effectively just a display area for people and a convenient means of keeping your party intact while you switch games. Some people do use it to show off, though. Taylor is one of them... douche.

“Max out anisotropic filtering.” I hummed in sync with the generic eight-bit room theme. I wonder what I have my theme set to. “Motion blur stays off completely since it’s a crime against humanity.” No, I’m not being hyperbolic. Motion blur is appalling, end of discussion.

“Settings are done!” I shouted out with a dramatic over the top spin as I slammed my fist down on Apply Changes. I’m... just happy at the prospect of some more artistic inspiration. I’m not even sure if I’ll still enjoy this game.

My room’s still not loaded? Maybe it takes longer if you use a new device. I’ll deal with that later. It’s beta time!

“Perfect.” I grinned as an image of my beta code popped up right next to me.

Let's see, the code is:

25 15 21 22 5 18 5 20 21 18 14 5 4 9 19 5 5

Nice! It worked with no issues!

A series of new lines overtook my current menu in moments. My weak embers didn’t stand a chance against the hunger of the blazing emerald inferno.

Here’s hoping the game isn’t in a complete state of disarray when it comes to the balancing department. I’ve seen plenty of speed kills back in the day. This game used to be no stranger to broken builds.

Appearance

Race: (_dlc04_race06_shattered_)

Class: None

Starting Gift: Crimson Widow’s Lotus

Alignment: unavailable

Starting Area: destination unknown

Background: corrupted

Player Status: Legacy

“Oh, come on.” I exhaled, massaging the bridge of my nose out of annoyance. I’m tapping the race button, but nothing’s happening. A game bug already? Thank you, Lady Luck. At least they were upfront about it being in beta. It doesn’t make it any less aggravating, but it’s excusable.

“Please give me something good to work with.” I pled internally as I shakily selected appearance. I’m not hopeful I’ll luck out with a character that pleases me. The base game has character types more on the monstrous side, and I would prefer to avoid them at all costs. At least 90% flesh, please. I get why some people play them. Some types are simply bulkier, so it’s easier to tank with them. You get bonuses based around the race, too, so picking in tandem with your class is ideal.

As if on cue, my room quickly filled with a wave of fog so thick, I couldn’t make out anything beyond the soft silhouettes of two people.

A transparent green box appeared in front of me, stating:

This beta is vastly different from the base game. As such, characters at this time will not transfer. Loot from the base game shall progressively be sprinkled in for balancing purposes. Differences between the game and the conscious world shall still be present such as time scale. Do you acknowledge?

“I do. I’m not backing out now.” I told the screen as I checked the yes box.

Excellent. Welcome to Viicirne. Enjoy your stay.

The message faded into the fog as the two silhouettes of people had their details filled in.

Taking a step back, I let out a soft, “Woah.” The presets for these characters are almost perfect. To my left stood a boy who looked to be my age, balancing a small silver dagger on his nose. To my right, a girl shaking her head at the sight before her as she strung a makeshift bow.

Something about them was off, though. They just seemed different to me. Almost as if they’re smaller, more dainty in a way. They had a certain allure to them. As if they couldn’t bring themselves to harm even a fly unless their life depended on it. That might just be literal perfection when it comes to healing if the vibe they’re giving off translates to abilities.

“I’ll barely have to adjust anything.” I thought as a smile blossomed. I might have lucked out.

Alright, we’ll choose male and start with his eye color. They almost have the proper shade I want. A bluish-purple hovering around the purple side, like someone, couldn’t decide which they preferred. Their ears too, they’re pointed straight up. That means they’re clearly a type of elf or some derivative of one. Their ears aren’t enormous either, so that’s another point in their favor.

I offered a hand to the guy, indicating my choice. Both of them exchanged glances filled with what I assume is doubt. They added new idle animations apparently.

My fingers grazed the boy’s hand as I pulled them back, peering over at the girl as a thought crept its way into my head. I could play a female character for the first time.

“Don’t be weird, Ashe.” I scolded myself at the thought and turned my gaze back to the guy. There might not be a single person on the planet who wouldn’t find that strange at the very least.

“Then again,” I murmured as I stopped short of my decision yet again. No one will have the slightest inkling to who I am. I have privacy settings on even for my close friends. By default, you can’t preview my character’s appearance. You can still inspect builds, but that’s irrelevant to me. I’ll take myself off the map as well.

“You know what?” I told myself as I started studying the finer details of the guy. Relatively prominent adam’s apple, a nose broad enough that it was practically begging to be changed, and a very clearly defined jawline.

“I’ll do what I want. Screw what other people think about me.” Taylor’s remarks have given me enough fuel to stop giving a shit about what random players online say.

Fuck it. If I wanna be a girl, I’ll damn well be one. Some of the armor looks better on them anyway. Besides, people will be less likely to recognize me that way.

In a single stride, I stepped over and grabbed the girl’s hand, filling her eyes with astonishment.

A box popped up shortly after our hands made contact, revealing to me the new character creation. They’ve outdone themselves. The details it provides now are all kinds of intricate.

Let’s see, hand size, how well maintained your nails are, and the ability to make your hairstyle from scratch? They don’t just use presets anymore? Finally! There are some templates for suggestions, but overall it’s entirely freeform now! My prayers from two years ago have been answered!

“Let’s go.” I beamed as I got to work, filling every last detail my heart instructed me to. I blended her eye color for a more sky like feel, leaning towards a shade of purple you’d witness in a sunset mixed with the sky’s blue on a sunny day. I arched her eyebrows up a few degrees, I need to be precise with this. Moving on to her lips, I tweaked both them and her smile in a way that she can look genuinely joyful, but pout at other times. I don’t want her, want me, to be overtly sexual, just to look cute.

Her oval-shaped face and cute little nose were already to my liking; thus, I moved onward to other features. Namely her breasts, waist, and skin tone. I decided on a fair skin tone, settling multiple hues above pale.

Her breasts stood high on her chest, them being proportional to her petite figure. I opted to leave them be. They were large enough that they were noticeable sure, but not enough so that they’d prove to be cumbersome. Her hips and waist weren’t looking to be an issue either. Fine by me.

“Okay...” I nodded with a bright smile plastered to my face. “I think that’s everything... oh right, her hair.” I stuck to its default color, a simple black that rivals midnight. My only grievance was how the hair rested and its length, so I adjusted her shoulder-length hair to her mid-back and added a small curl.

I stepped back to admire my work and felt my words escape me when it clicked what I had just done.

“You look like them,” I whispered in wonder at the girl standing before me. Did I do that intentionally? I was only following what felt right to me. I created the character to my liking, so that makes sense, actually. I abhor how I look in real life. I’m not remotely close to the appearance of my family. Why did I have to be adopted?

I shook myself out of my self-loathing stupor and returned to my character with a resolve to stay cheerful. I won’t look like that whenever I’m playing, and that’s what matters.

I was eager to see how it felt from her point of view, so I seized her hand as she yanked on mine, pulling us into each other.

“Agh!” I cried out as my perspective shift cemented itself. What just happ... I fell? God, why does it feel like I haven’t walked in years? Did I do something? Maybe something with my background? I think there are options for being comatose, so that’d explain quite a bit. You get bonuses for each one, so that leads to some relatively absurd picks.

Glancing down at my toned legs, I scratched my head, brushing a strand of hair from my face. It seems like my legs are strong enough to carry me. Then why aren’t they?

I attempted to get back to my feet with only failure in my wake. My legs were shaky yet, so I cut my losses instead of risking another encounter with the floor.

“Finalize my appearance, please!” I shouted, hearing my feminine voice reverberate back to me. My voice... it was lovely. In no way was it harsh on the ears. If I had to place a type, maybe Soprano?

“Another menu?” I murmured as another box manifest itself before me.

Name:

Enter my name? I’ll just use Ashe. I’m happy with the name, so there’s not much point in changing it. If people who know me, manage to track me down, it won’t matter in the end. By default, a spinning diamond with your name is above your head.

That’s compounded by the fact that a few people, Nat included, are allowed to see my real name. Nat’s the only person I’m worried about, and I’d like to believe she’d keep it a secret from Taylor if she managed to decipher things. I have him blocked so...

“Name’s...” I trailed, placing my hands against my heart. That’s ermh... odd. It’s like there’s a disconnect. Almost as if I’m touching and feeling my male chest, yet the headset’s telling me, “no, that chest is very much a woman’s.”

What about my vag... okay, let’s not do that again. That is so uncanny it’s almost beyond description. I can very clearly feel the smooth fabric of my character’s underwear and the “equipment” accompanying it. The disconcerting catch is that I can also still sense my old tools, so to speak.

I finalized my appearance and tapped the class bar, unveiling the exact same classes as the base game? They recycled assets right from the get-go?

I was hoping for something new, but I’ll play with the cards I’m dealt. I’ll go with a healer again, so Vestal it is. I prefer support roles in games in spite of the fact that many games have it set so that healers are a higher priority target. There’s just something fulfilling about being the backbone of a team and their success. About keeping everyone alive so they can tear through the rest of the field, unfettered. Of course, there’s the inverse to that, but I can’t categorize everything by only their negatives.

“I stand corrected.” I laughed at the sight of the tree. It seems they changed it. Upon setting my class, the page dropped down to a tab with my tree in the center, paired with two other trees. The caveat is I can change them too? Depending on how many trees they have... the builds are almost limitless. How would they balance that for PvP?

Barely containing my enthusiasm, I quickly scrolled through the onslaught of varying trees presented to me.

Chaos, Gambler, Rogue, Trapper, Pariah, Sharpshooter. There were so many I was overwhelmed. Are they going to do a server wipe for this when it becomes official?

I paused on a tree named Entourage. The very first skill had caught my eye.

After Me - Summon a follower of your choosing to assist you in battle. Bonuses and combat effectiveness are determined based on the type of follower. Note: The follower’s behavior can be manipulated to the user’s choosing. Stats will scale in accordance to the player's.

The possibilities for that... are nervewracking. I’m getting giddy just thinking of what I can do with that. I can create a small group of supporters that’ll defend me during combat.

Now for the last skill tree. Do I do something based around defensive capabilities or stealth potential? I suppose I can pick stealth. Stealth related classes, in the vanilla game, tended to enhance your speed in some way.

I found my stealth tree, one named Shadows. Its first ability, much like Entourage, was appealing.

(I’m Always) Gone With The Wind {Movement Ability} - A short distance teleport that provides agile movement at the expense of a harsh defensive penalty for a small period after activation. Notes: Cooldown - Short. Damage can be incurred whilst in this state. Must be Airborne.

The only catch to this tree was one that made me a bit uneasy. Most of the abilities it featured, while centered on not receiving damage, would decrease my defense. Depending on my racial ability, I could be treading perilous territory for a Vestal. They aren’t exactly sponges when it comes to health.

I nervously muttered to myself, hitting finalize once more, “I hope there’s a respec just in case.”

Item(s) Added: Crimson Widow’s Lotus x 3

Crescent Moon Grass x 2

Wayfarer’s Mark

Thank you for your time. At this point in the game, the character sheet is being suspended. Its integration will occur at a later date. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Now, let the game commence.

 

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