As the group traveled through the Brown Forest they continued discussing what they had come across since entering Second World, as well as their experiences with Dream World. Whenever the group inquired Ryu anything about Dream World he kept it to a bare minimum or said nothing at all.
Guy looked at Suki curiously and asked, “By the way, isn’t Suki a Japanese name?”
“It is. My father is Japanese, but my mom is Lebanese. That’s why I’m a bit tan-skinned,” Suki said.
“Ah. So your real name is Suki, too, then?” Guy said.
“Correct,” she said.
“That’s nice,” Guy said. “Mine’s Jackson. How about you?” he said, turning to Kawaii Kitten.
She initially didn’t answer, turning her head away with her arms crossed, but eventually said, “Jess.”
Guy smiled at Kawaii Kitten’s willingness to share a bit of her personal information, even if it was just her name. He then asked Ryu the same. After all, he believed it to be a basic courtesy for everyone to share equally. “What about you, Ryu?”
Ryu said nothing, almost seeming like he ignored the question, but eventually responded. “George,” he said, softly.
“Speaking of which, we didn’t get to choose a race when we created our characters,” said Kawaii Kitten.
“Maybe ‘Human’ is the only playable race. And maybe even the only race in this game,” Suki said.
“Oh…,” Kawaii Kitten said. “That sucks.”
“Yeah,” Guy sighed. “And here I wanted to be an orc.”
Kawaii Kitten scoffed. “Makes sense.”
Annoyed, Guy’s face twitched. “You’re lucky I’m not an orc,” he whispered to himself. He was about to begin bantering again but managed to keep his cool. “Orcs are strong,” he said. “I thought I could get to the top easily if I played as one.”
“I wanted to be a beautiful elf,” Kawaii Kitten said, woefully.
“Of course you’d say that…” thought Guy, his eye twitching.
“That reminds me. Was there an NPC there when you created your character?” Suki said. “I was greeted by a tall, green-haired woman. Really beautiful, too.”
Green? No. She had white-silver hair.
Suki continued. “She took out an orb that turned green when I placed my hand over it. Then she opened a portal. And then—”
“You fell from the sky,” said a woeful Guy. “Yes, we know. How sad. You aren’t the only one, sis.”
“No… I woke up tangled in vines in the forest,” Suki said.
“Pfft. At least you didn’t wake up drowning in the middle of a lake,” said Kawaii. “I had to swim all the way to shore! Not only that, but I had to get rid of my pink kitty converse sneakers to do so. They were limited edition, too! It’s all just… so…sad!” She grieved in the most melodramatic way.
Suddenly the two women silenced themselves, taken aback, and thought about what Guy had just said. “You fell from the sky?!” both of them shouted.
Guy chuckled psychotically. “Yeah. Me and Ryu both….”
Kawaii Kitten’s face jerked with disbelief. “That must have been terrifying…”
“Don’t remind me… I’m still traumatized,” Guy said.
“Wait,” said Kawaii Kitten. “Now that I think about it, my NPC was a guy. Probably middle-aged. He had blue hair, too, and wore an eye patch. My orb turned blue though.”
“Eye patch? Mine had one too. But she was a pretty lady and her hair was red. My orb turned red,” Guy said. “What about you, Ryu?”
Ryu remained silent, but he eventually spoke. “I think mine was an angel.,” he said, remembering the white orb and its strange warmth.
“An angel?” all three of them said, in sync.
“Oh, stop being so dramatic,” Kawaii said. “Tell me, was she really that pretty?”
Ryu did not respond.
“Well?” Kawaii said.
Ryu still didn’t respond, and it was then that Kawaii Kitten took a moment to scan Ryu. “Hmm…?” she muttered. And naughtily, as if she had discovered a secret, she said, “Ah, you sly devil.” She drew close to him. “You bat for the other team, don’t you?”
Ryu was silent, his cheeks turning bright red.
“Aha! My gaydar never lies,” Kawaii said, placing her arm on Ryu’s shoulder. And in an innocent voice, she added, “Don’t worry, this’ll be our little secret.” Of course, she said all of this aloud, but Ryu didn’t refute the claim and kept walking.
When Guy heard this he blushed a little but coughed and recomposed himself. “It’s alright, dude. You are who you are. I’m okay with that,” he said assuredly.
Suki sighed. “Kawaii…Did you really have to do that?”
Ryu spoke out. “It’s fine,” he said calmly.
Kawaii put up a fake, broad smile, attempting to show her innocence.
It was then that Ryu stopped. Once the others saw why they did the same. They had reached the edge of Durn’s western forest. And on the horizon: a giant forest.
Ryu gazed at the sight in front of him.
The Brown Forest was gigantic: dark-barked trees whose trunks were three to five times wider than redwoods, and a tree canopy that reached at least 500 feet. At the entrance, the western road had narrowed down into a smaller, dirt path running through, and all you could see through the trees was darkness.
“What the hell? You want us to go into that?” said Kawaii.
“We have to. It’s part of a quest,” Ryu said, smirking.
Suki and Kawaii Kitten opened their mouths, deciding on how to respond to “It’s part of a quest.” But they ultimately decided not to say anything.
Ryu continued into the direction of the glooming forest that was before them. Guy followed suit, and Suki right after. Kawaii gulped and reluctantly joined them.
In the forest, the only source of light came from a small opening atop the canopy, which illuminated the dirt path. You could see ahead and behind you due to the stream of light coming down over the path, but anything off of the path more than 100 feet away was unseeable. It was complete darkness beyond that point, either because there was no light shining through in that area, or the trunks of the trees simply blended together with the dark background.
Kawaii Kitten finally inquired about the words Ryu said as he entered the forest. “You said you had quest? How? And why the hell is it in here? What if we get attacked by monsters?”
“An elder from the village recommended for us to come here,” Ryu said. “And if we see any monsters…We’ll have no option but to stand our ground.” He did not reply to Kawaii Kitten’s question about how he got the “quest” though, as the “how” was still something that he needed verification about.
“But we have no weapons!” Kawaii Kitten said.
“I have two extra daggers on me,” said Guy. He took out the extra daggers from his satchel and offered them to the two girls.
Kawaii Kitten’s face became long and beholden. She pouted her face, giving in to the reality of the situation. “Fine,” she said, taking one of the daggers, Suki taking the other. “But if I die, I’m never forgiving either of you.”
“It should be fine. We’re here to train anyways, so fighting is inevitable,” Ryu said.
Surprised, Suki said, “Train? You two have already received your first skills?”
“Well, you see…,” Guy said awkwardly. “We haven’t found any skill books yet. So, I guess this is basic training. If we come across any monsters now, we’re probably screwed.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Kawaii Kitten said. “Just when I thought I could depend on you.” She sighed melodramatically.
Guy’s face twitched with anger and annoyance in response to her ungrateful remarks.
“We haven’t found any either skill books either,” said Suki. “We came across a few NPCs yesterday, but when we asked where we could get skill books, they couldn’t tell us. They looked completely clueless and said they didn’t know what skill books were,” Suki said.
“Ah, this sucks!” Kawaii Kitten sighed. “I can’t believe I spent $2,000 for this.”
Ryu doze off in contemplation after hearing Kawaii Kitten mentioning spending $2,000. He initially had his own issues about spending that money for the game. And now, although he had had some interesting encounters in Second World, it all seemed lackluster compared to Dream World. Although it had been an interesting experience so far, it was all underwhelming really, he thought.
“You were able to talk with the NPCs? They didn’t speak in a foreign language?” Guy asked.
“They did,” Suki responded. “But they gave us a strange crystal necklace, and we were able to understand them after that.” She took out a brown crystal from her back pocket.
Guy pulled his own necklace up from underneath his shirt and showed it to the girls.
“So you have them, too,” said Suki. “It’s strange though. I wasn’t expecting for the NPCs to speak a foreign language, especially if this is the Global Server. I thought English would be the default language set for the game. But it seems like that isn’t the case.”
“Yeah,” Kawaii Kitten sighed. “This game is a total bore.”
“Hey now!” said a proud Guy. “This game is pretty fun. Right, Ryu? Tell them we had fun.”
Ryu’s response: none.
Guy thought Ryu was taking his time coming up with a response, so he waited for a response, thinking it would blow the girls away.
Several moments later: still nothing. In other words, what message Ryu was trying to send to Guy was “Ummm. Yeah… You’re on your own, bud.”
Guy’s response: “…” and a red face.
Kawaii Kitten mischievously laughed, a ‘huehuehue’ kind of laugh. Guy, on the other hand, the veins of his temples seemed like they would pop out any second. “This bitch. I’m gonna strangle her ass,” he thought.
Suki ignored the two narcissists, dispersing the tension by asking the young men, “Speaking of which, you two haven’t been able to open up your in-game windows, either, correct?” she said to Ryu and Guy.
Guy nodded. “Only the Log Off screen, but it hasn’t worked.”
“Same. We thought that the GM would make a server announcement, but that hasn’t happened,” Suki said.
Kawaii Kitten yawned. “I’m tired. I just wanna log off.”
Ryu kept walking, seeming as if he had disregarded the entire conversation thus far. But he had only kept quiet til now because he was thinking. Ever since meeting Guy, he had stayed low-profile and quiet, carefully observing and thinking about this world. It’s why he hadn’t interacted much. He thought especially about what had happened in the shop with the sword.
Could it be that you have to—
He stopped mid-thought. He heard faint snapping sounds, probably coming from 40 or 50 feet away. They gradually got louder. “Stop,” he whispered to the group.
The group listened carefully and heard chattering coming from the darkness of the forest. A group of people emerged from the woods and stepped onto the path 40 feet from them.
A girl from the group saw Ryu’s party and alerted her party. “Look, it’s another party!” she said, and then waved her hand in the air, and beckoned to Ryu’s group. “Hey!”
“Hey!” Guy said, smiling and waving back.
“Oh thank God! They speak English!” said a guy from the other party.
The mysterious group approached Ryu’s party and introduced themselves. A man with vibrant hazel eyes, probably a year or two older than Ryu, held out his hand for a handshake. “I’m Holy Dawn.”
Ryu shook his hand.
“Spiritfire here,” said the girl from before, waving her hand.
“Toadstool,” said a plump, round man whose hair was mushroom cut.
There was one more member in Holy Dawn’s group, but he refused to introduce himself. He was grumpy and mean-looking, constantly giving Ryu and the others bad stares. Ryu’s group ignored him and introduced themselves to the other friendly members. After the introducing themselves, the two groups agreed to stick together for the time being and continued through the forest, with Ryu and Holy Dawn leading the party.
“So, what made you guys come here?” asked Holy Dawn. “It’s pretty dangerous in these woods.”
“We’re here to train,” Ryu said.
“You’ve come to hunt?” Holy Dawn said, surprised. “What about skills? Did find one?!”
“No. We’re here just for basic training,” Ryu said.
“Oh…” Holy Dawn said, disappointed. “The thing is, we’ve actually been hunting for the past day. We thought this was a monster zone. But here’s the thing: we haven’t gotten any experience yet. And because we can’t open up the character window, we can’t check our stats or levels. We don’t even know if we’ve leveled up.”
Suki and Kawaii were surprised; Guy only a little, as he had already come across strange things since he’d been here. Ryu remained the same.
They’ve been hunting? Monsters?
Holy Dawn continued. “Don’t worry, there are no monsters here. At least, we haven’t encountered any. Just local animal life. Mostly just foxes, rabbits, and deer.”
Hmm. Just regular animals?
“Did you get your weapons from an NPC?” Ryu asked.
“No,” Holy Dawn said. He paused, and in a serious tone he said,” “From the corpses of players.”
There was a moment of silence.
Holy Dawn continued. “We originally met up and joined a larger party, probably 50 or so. But the majority of them died yesterday when we encountered a bear. It was actually a pretty tough fight. Almost seemed like we were fighting a monster. Luckily, we managed to kill it. What you see now is what’s left of us.”
“Players have already died?” said Suki.
Holy Dawn nodded in confirmation. “However, their bodies disappeared soon after they died. Maybe 30 seconds after. The animals though, their carcasses remained.”
“Do you think they revived in town?” Guy asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been to a town yet,” Holy Dawn said. “And this is a new game, so we don’t fully know how the mechanics work. There’s still so much to explore.”
It was then that the ill-tempered guy spoke out. “No there fuckin’ ain’t. This game is shit and you know it. We all knew it, even before we played it. I just can’t believe I wasted so much time on this trash game when I could’ve been playing Dream World. Shit! My guild had a raid planned, too, and I probably missed it!”
Guy stepped forward, confronting him. “Hey, calm down, bud.”
“Shut the hell up, shitface. I wasn’t talking to you.”
Guy’s face turned an angry red. “You little punk! I should kick y—”
Suddenly, Spiritfire interrupted, breaking the mood. “Yo, the ‘Log Off’ screen! The ‘Yes’ button isn’t faded anymore!”
Upon hearing this, the mean-looking prick quickly gestured his hand in the air. His expression turned into relief—an angry relief. “Tch. Finally! I can leave this shitty game now.” He scoffed with contempt and gave everyone the most demeaning goodbye wave. “See ya nerds. Hope you all die.” He tapped on the ‘Yes’ button with his index finger. It was then that a beam of silver light shone straight down from the sky and encircled him. The light engulfed him completely that you couldn’t even see his silhouette. And when the light dissipated, he was gone.
Seeing this, everyone was astounded and shocked—astounded by sight before them or shocked by the crudeness of the prick’s words as he left. But ultimately, they were relieved. Kawaii Kitten even jumped up in enthusiasm upon seeing it, as it was a sign that she could finally log off.
Holy Dawn sighed. “I should get going, too. I’ve been on too long,” he said. “It was only for a short while, but it was nice meeting you all. If you guys play Dream World, my name there’s the same, so just PM me any time. Maybe we can raid together.”
Ryu half-smiled, signaling his farewell. Holy Dawn gave a warm farewell nod to Ryu and the group. He then pressed ‘Yes’ and a golden beam of light came down.
Gold this time?
Everyone remaining gazed at this sight, as it was much more intense and bright than the previous silver light. It took a little longer for the golden light to dissipate as well.
“Whew. That gave me goosebumps,” said Spiritfire. “Anyways, I’m out, too. See ya!” She gave an amiable smile to everyone, confirmed the logout, and a yellow light came down.
“It was okay. You’re all okay,” Toadstool said in a deep, monotone voice. A brown light engulfed him.
Now, it was only Ryu, Guy, Suki, and Kawaii Kitten left.
“Looks like this is it,” Kawaii Kitten said, frowning a bit. “It was nice meeting you, Suki and Ryu.”
Annoyed, Guy’s face turned a bit red, as Kawaii Kitten didn’t mention his name.
“It was nice meeting you, too, Kat,” Ryu said.
“Kat?” Kawaii Kitten said, stunned.
“It’s alright if I call you ‘Kat,’ right?” Ryu said.
Kawaii Kitten pondered at the thought. “Hmmph. Fine. It probably won’t matter anyway,” she said. “If you guys play Dream World, my character name is the same as this one. I guess I can answer your messages if I’m bored.” She looked at Guy as she said this, to which his expression became agitated, and to which she smiled with sweet cunning. “Anyways, good luck!”
A starry blue light beamed down and she was gone.
Now it was only three of them left. Suki gazed at the canopy, with a wondrous, yet regretful look. “I have an oral exam next week, so I have to leave, too,” Suki said.
“Exam?” Guy asked. “You’re still in school?”
Suki nodded. “Yes. I’m a Ph.D. student.”
“How old are you…?” asked Guy.
Suki raised the rim of her glasses. “Twenty.”
Guy’s mouth dropped. Suki smiled, almost like she was using her smile to rub her genius in Guy’s face.
“This may also be the last time I see you guys. I also play Dream World, so I don’t know if I’ll be coming back here,” she said. “It’s a shame that we could never get the Friends list working. Otherwise, I would add both of you, even if I didn’t return. It was nice partying with you, though.” She smiled.
Before confirming her logout, she took a moment and looked sincerely at Ryu and Guy. She gave a final goodbye smile, and then she, too, disappeared as a brilliant green ray flashed down.
It was only Ryu and Guy now, as it had been since the beginning. It was an awkward farewell for both of them, but also sad in a way.
“Whelp. I guess this is goodbye for me too,” Guy said. “I’m the vice-leader of a guild in Dream World, so I have a lot of duties. One of them was to come try this game and report back. I don’t know if I’ll have the time to come play again, but it was nice partying you with Ryu. I had fun.” And with a stern and confident look, his extended his hand out. “The name’s HotNSexy in Dream World, so just hit me up any time if you’re on.”
Ryu scoffed with a smile in response to Guy’s Dream World name. It wasn’t at all unexpected though.
Ryu smiled, gladly accepting the handshake. “I’m afraid I don’t play Dream World.”
Guy’s happy-go-lucky face turned into a frown. “Ah, well… It was nice knowing you then.” He grasped Ryu’s hand and shook it firmly and strongly, the kind of handshake a man gives another man with the utmost respect. He smiled. “You’d better hurry up and log off before the monsters come,” Guy said, sarcastically. “Ciao!”
A fiery radiance burst down, Guy still visible to Ryu. He gave a gleeful smile and waved goodbye. Then he was gone.
Now alone, Ryu looked up above, looking up at the tiniest bit of light that managed to pierce through the thick canopy.
I guess this is it for me, too, isn’t it?
He sighed. His face was calm, but deep down he was very disappointed that this was what this VR had amounted to. It was an interesting experience, but it was rather dull. His hopes about this adventure had all boiled down to this. It was regretful indeed, but moreso unfortunate, as he had hoped this game would give him a chance to rekindle his passion for VR gaming. But moreso, for his love for adventure.
Looks like I’ll be walking the dogs tomorrow.
Ryu opened up the menu to log off.
But just as he was about to press on ‘Yes,’ he heard a large ‘Snap!’ He jolted in surprise. Doing so inadvertently caused him to close the ‘Log Off’ menu.
More branches were snapped, the sound coming closer.
Shit! I have to log off!
But then he heard a roar and looked up. The snapping had stopped, and there it stood.
Just ten feet from him.