Doyle Huxley wakes up to screaming. The confusing part for him is that one scream sounds like him, but he can’t feel himself screaming. Then he wishes it had stayed that way. His senses return to him and the pain of a throat torn up by what must have been hours of terror filled screams bashes into his mind. This puts him under once again.
Next time he wakes up there are fewer voices screaming but whether that is from them stopping or just losing their voices is up in the air. Then the pain returns and blackness takes him again.
Third time the charm as Doyle wakes up to silence. The pain is there right at the start, but not at the level to knock him out again. Now that the pain is no longer an all-consuming thing, he can feel other bodies around him. None of them are moving, and the chill he can feel from them doesn’t provide any hope. He tries to yell for help, but all that comes out is a croak. Good thing that is enough to draw attention to him. A door opens and light much too bright for him filters in. Someone blocks the light as they enter the room, and a gruff voice enters his ears.
“Well, what do you know! Someone is still alive in here. Took you long enough to synchronize with the tutorial. Most who last this long end up dead or worse. The boss will not be happy so bad luck for you. She already started teaching the others in this batch and she hates having to start over.”
He picks Doyle up and toss him over their shoulder and hauls him out of the room they stored him in. At first the light is too bright for him to see where he is but when he can see the sight stuns him. The land is normal enough, just a flat field of grass. Up in the sky, though, are numerous chunks of dirt. From the size of a fist up to a single mountain like mass in the center. All of them floating through the air without a single sign of support. Doyle can barely make out people on top of the numerous hill sized chunks.
This view soon is broken though as the man tosses him to the ground. Now that Doyle can get a look at him, a few things stand out. The wild beard is as brown as freshly turned earth. Eyes like chunks of coal without a single bit of white to them and leather armor with visible signs of active use. Most of all though is the fact that while he is wider than Doyle, the man is half his height.
The man sighed, “normally at this point I would ask you if you had never seen a dwarf before. The other people had to go and ruin it. I understand them. Really, I do. But I am a DWARF. Not a short human with a disease. Now drink this.” The dwarf grabs Doyles jaw and pours a vial of dull red liquid down his throat.
Doyle sputters on the liquid but tries to keep it in. Whatever else was happening, the vial looked like a classic healing potion. A soothing sensation flows through his body right after as he expected. Best of all, it started with his throat, which right away removed much of his pain.
The dwarf nods, “good. You kept it down. Too many fools decided I was poisoning them. We didn’t ask to be here, but it would only be worse for us if we tried to kill you all. Oh, and it looks like my boss is heading over, so stay right there and keep quiet. The less she has a reason to dislike you, the better for both of us.”
Doyle turns his head towards where the dwarf was pointing. At first he sees nothing, but then from some of the furthest floating islands he spots a dot. This dark spot in the distance appears to be approaching quickly, hopping from one floating mass to another. Moments later he can confirm it is a person as they make it past the center mountain.
They get close enough to Doyle that he can start to make out some details when they jump. A small whistle approaches as the person flies towards Doyle and the dwarf. Behind them the elephant-sized mass of dirt they jumped off of explodes from the force. Doyle doesn’t have enough time to parse this though as a loud crash and a cloud of dirt bursts forth right next to him.
Stood in a new hole deeper than Doyle is tall, he can see the dwarf’s boss. He doesn’t want to assume, but she looks like a modern depiction of a buff orc female. The only thing that separates them from any classic fantasy game is the fact she is properly armored. No leather bikinis in sight.
She pulls her feet out of the ground and hops up next to Doyle. With a snort of disgust, she looks down at him. Easy for her to do being head and shoulders taller than him. From this distance he could see that engraved on her tusks is a battle scene. The deeper lines filled in by some green gem that matches her skin tone, an angry deep green. As she speaks up, it shocks Doyle that her voice sounds like a normal lady, if a little deeper. The expectation of another gruff voice almost distracts him from what she has to say.
“So this is the idiot without the common sense to stay dead? Took him so long to sync I doubt he will survive the first day out of the tutorial. Hey Mud, have you tested his connection yet?” The dwarf shakes his head no. “Well ain’t that lovely. You left all the fun work to me. Stand still.” Doyle doesn’t have much choice with that order. She reaches out and grabs him faster than he can react and jabs him with a needle attached to a small pearl. Moments after she inserts the pin, the pearl flashes through a multitude of colors. At first just the more normal ones, but soon weirder and more arcane shades and tints appear.
After a full minute the pearl shines black for a second then all color fades away. The orc taps her foot as an amount of time that is clearly much too long for her taste goes by. A silvery ding can be heard and the pearl stays dark. That does not please the orc at all. She pokes the pearl, an excruciating experience for Doyle. When still nothing happens, her hands blur and another spot of pain comes from his other shoulder. She had taken the pearl needle out and reinsert it in his other shoulder without his notice.
The same series of colors happens again, and still the pearl is dark at the end. She throws her hands up in disgust. “Welp, I wasn’t wrong. Boy, you’re a waste. Now that you’re out of the entryway, we can’t kill you. Be brought back again and again till we get you to finish the tutorial.”
The dwarf shakes his head and speaks up, “Just a rumor, but I heard that if we don’t get all these fools through this course. We are stuck forever as well.”
The orc smacks him on the head and sends him back a few paces. She raises her hand again but before she can smack him again; The dwarf falls to the floor and kowtows to her. While down there he babbles out an apology. She spits on the dirt in front of him and turns back to Doyle.
“As I was saying, you’re a waste.This little bauble”, and she plucks it out of his shoulder, “detects what you’re most suited to learn. Whether it is magic, qi, crafting, or any of the weirder aspects, it can detect it. It isn’t perfect, but even if it can’t tell us what it is the pearl will glow black to show you have something. You lack any connections. Not even the gods on high or devils below want you.”
“Maybe you could survive in your world before, but now things just will not work out. It’s like you just don’t care about anything! Anyway, this won’t stop you from completing the tutorial. Also, as my lackey over there spilled the beans already, yes, we are stuck here as long as you are. Don’t think this means you can hang around forever to stretch your life out a little longer. I know all kinds of ways to force your compliance.”
“Now onto the tutorial! Your small world which was so pitiful as to only host humans got torn apart at the atomic level. That included you and everyone you ever knew. This happened because of a bunch of science nonsense, but the gist of it is your world was lame. The very rules of existence did not support things like magic in your local space time. When someone popped into your universe way back after the first generation of stars they polluted the place.”
“Just a whiff of what was to your universe anomalous energy and it all started to change. Universes are somewhat big and yours was very much against going anywhere at a reasonable speed so it took a while to spread. Consider it your luck that the guy who stopped by noticed what he had caused and left behind a seed to balance his karma.”
“That seed was the System. It will eventually be a quantum computer that spans the universe. Wherever the change passes, the System follows close behind and puts it all back together. Problem with that is sentient beings don’t transition all that well. Without a connection, it is extremely hard to even exist. You beat those odds, but you really shouldn’t have bothered. Dude who set the System up knew this as well and so here we are! And I do mean we. Everyone who isn’t a person from your world including the very terrain itself are here to make up for some wrong. Some that woke up first compared it to court ordered community service.”
“Anyway, it presses us into service to teach all you noobs how things work now. Top of that list is the System itself. Yes, just like in all those stories and video games. Don’t try to open your status yet because I want to explain what I need to first so I can get back and supervise the others. Next is monsters. They exist now in the first place. Honestly, your Earth is quite unlucky with this. Even though stuff like magic didn’t exist before, other worlds would have super fauna so they would already be used to it. All of yours got a bad case of the dead before humans could evolve. Oh, and yeah, dungeons are a thing too. You’re in one right now. Though of course this one isn’t a native.”
“There is some other stuff, but I can’t bother to explain it to you. Mud here can do that after you finish looking through your stats and what not. Won’t be much use to tell a dead man walking after all. Though I guess I should give you a little hope. While the System restricts extra-universal visitors, there will be a few people setting up shop from nearby dimensions. If you can find something worth their while they might protect you for a smidge of time. Not forever, but every second counts, right? So yeah, that’s all I have to say to you. Have fun and don’t take too long to complete the rest of the tutorial. I would hate to have to unpack all my fun-time tools.”
With one final sneer she jumps back up towards the islands. Doyle hadn’t noticed when but the hole she made had fixed itself, but all that work just got reversed by her. Another hole marks the field of grass. This one even deeper than the last.