01.04 – A Close Call

Cian and Jolan sat in the grass for a few minutes while their stamina regenerated.

Jolan was staring into space, probably looking at his interface.

Cian scanned the horizon, taking in the surroundings and marveling at how beautiful this world was. He spotted something.

“Hey, there’s another bare patch right there.” said Cian, pointing to a big empty patch in the next field over, past the line of trees dividing the fields.

“Good eye. Let’s go.” said Jolan, hopping up.

Cian and Jolan crept through the lightly wooded area, carefully approaching the other bare patch from downwind.

Jolan suddenly stopped, holding up his hand and pointing. “Wait, did you see that?” he whispered.

Cian looked where he was pointing, whispering. “By the tree?”

“No, between them. The big rock. I swear I saw movement.” said Jolan.

Cian and Jolan both stared at the spot for a minute before something seemed to minutely shift on top of the rock.

“There! Did you see that?” whispered Jolan.

“Yeah. Sunning on the rock? Nest?” whispered Cian.

“Let’s find out!” whispered Jolan as the two began their approach.

As they got closer, they could make out more shapes that looked out of place. There had to be at least a dozen camouflaged Kel rats, sunning themselves around the large rock.

“Think we can take them?” whispered Cian.

“We got this! Take your shot.” whispered Jolan back.

Cian aimed and shot the nearest camouflaged rat.

Immediately, the rock and grass around it churned as well over a dozen Kel rats started moving and revealed themselves.

Jolan positioned himself to intercept the Kel rats while Cian continued firing.

Cian emptied his gun and quickly swapped magazines, taking aim again as the creatures swarmed towards him, ignoring Jolan.

As soon as they got in range, Jolan sprung into action – stabbing and slashing his way through their sides as they tried to rush past at Cian.

Cian quickly aimed and fired his pistol, firing his last shot at near point-blank range right between the eyes of a Kel rat as it leapt at him.

Two more took its place, charging at Cian with terrifying ferocity.

Cian switched hands and pistol whipped one with his left hand as he drew his knife with his right and slashed the other across the snout. Unfazed, the first rat clamped down on Cian’s left arm as the other went for his right leg. Even toned down, the pain from the rats biting him to the bone was nearly unbearable.

Jolan struggled to keep the rats off of him as seven of them dug into his legs, arms, and hip. Only the tightly knit chain mesh prevented him from being torn apart. He barely held onto his blade, slamming it repeatedly into whatever he could reach.

Cian glanced at Jolan and realized they were in trouble. He just hadn’t killed enough with his pistol. Resolving to fix that, Cian pushed through the pain and stabbed repeatedly at the Kel rat on his leg while the other chewed on his left arm.

Six stabs later, the Kel rat on Cian’s leg went limp. Cian focused his attention on the other animal, still chewing on his now mangled arm. He felt dizzy from the blood loss, and knew his hit points had to be at an all time low.

Meanwhile, Jolan managed to cut apart two of the beasts before being drug to the ground and losing his sword. He punched and kicked the creatures, barely managing to keep them away from his unarmored face.

Cian thrust his knife into the eye of the Kel rat on his arm.

The beast squealed in terror and released Cian, turning and running with the blade still buried in its skull.

With his blade running away, Cian was without a weapon. He grabbed his pistol and began frantically pushing bullets into the magazine. One, two, three, four, five… He fumbled and dropped the rest of his bullets in the grass.

Jolan screamed as one of the five remaining Kel rats managed to get hold of his unarmored head, clamping down on his skull with bone-crushing force and clawing at his face.

Five would have to do. With blood pouring from his mangled leg and arm, Cian grit his teeth and stumbled the few feet over to Jolan’s writhing form.

BANG. The Kel rat on Jolan’s head fell.

BANG. The one chewing through the armor at his thigh collapsed.

BANG. Another rat lunging for Jolan’s face stiffened and dropped.

BANG. Oops, that one hit Jolan’s arm.

BANG. The rat on Jolan’s arm fell dead.

Jolan cursed and started punching at the last Kel rat on his leg, waving his injured arm around to find his sword.

Cian weakly hit it with his pistol, then collapsed. He seemed almost disconnected from his body, able to see his status screen without the dizziness he was experiencing a moment before. His health was at 0. If this is what it felt like to die in-game, it wasn’t that bad.

Jolan’s arm finally bumped into his sword. He grabbed it with his good hand and slammed the blade right through the creature’s head, cutting into his leg a bit in the process.

“Damn that hurt. You okay?” asked Jolan, looking over at Cian.

Cian could do nothing but watch as his health dropped below 0 and everything started to get dimmer.

“Oh. Damn. One sec.” said Jolan, grabbing his first aid kit.

Jolan liberally sprayed the sticky wound gel on Cian’s mangled limbs, stopping the flow of blood. He then pulled out what looked like some kind of transfusion kit and a large syringe. He found a vein in Cian’s uninjured arm and started a transfusion.

“Artificial blood. This’ll top you off and get you awake again.” explained Jolan.

Cian saw his health stop falling and slowly tick back up.

Jolan began tending his own bleeding wounds, sealing up the gashes on his face and the bullet hole in his arm – Cian’s bullet had made a clean hole straight through his forearm. He applied the wound gel and glue to close up those wounds and numerous small holes across his body from sharp teeth going between chain mesh. Once he was satisfied with his own treatment, he began working on Cian again.

It was several minutes before Cian’s focus shifted back to his body, and he immediately regretted it. Everything was spinning and his head was pounding.

“Hang in there man. It’s hell now, but it gets better after a bit.” said Jolan as he worked to patch together Cian’s arm, which looked more like ground beef at this point.

“Shit that hurts. I thought the pain was supposed to be deadened in this game.” said Cian.

“Oh, it is. Imagine getting this torn up in real life? You wouldn’t be conscious. That was one hell of a fight. How many did we… Whoa” said Jolan.

“What?” asked Cian.

“Check your combat log, dude. How many did you shoot?!” said Jolan.

Cian looked through his messages to find the end of battle announcements.

Defeated Kel rat x29! Gain 3,480 experience.

Level up! +1 Strength.

“Oh. Wow.” said Cian.

“I only got seven of them before I lost my sword. Plus that one at the end. That means you got twenty one by yourself! And with your newbie gun! Respect, dude. You got skills.” said Jolan.

Cian looked through his log. He had fired 36 shots. Of those, only two missed. Plus the one that hit Jolan.

“Uh, thanks. I did shoot you, though. Sorry about that.” said Cian.

“It aint nothing, man. Took you longer to shoot me than most marksmen I group with. I thought I’d be carrying you, but you’re putting me to shame out here. How many bullets you got left?” said Jolan.

“Um. Twelve? But they’re all over the ground over there somewhere.” said Cian, pointing to where he had dropped the box of bullets into the grass.

“I’ll help you find them. We need to find the eggs, too. I bet it’s a bunch with this many guarding it. This many Kel rats, it’s gotta be a nest.” said Jolan.

Cian’s head was still spinning. “Uh, yeah. I’ll get right on that.”

“Ha! Don’t worry man, I got your back. I know how being revived feels. It’s gonna suck for a bit longer. I’ll tag the kills and find the eggs, you rest. You earned it.” said Jolan as he moved to find Cian’s bullets.

“Right. Thanks.” said Cian.

Cian lay back and closed his eyes. He checked over the settings and searched on the in-game knowledge base to see if he could dial the pain down a bit, but according to what he found it was part of the “experience” and couldn’t be changed. He checked his status page.

Name: Cian
Class: Marksman
Strength: 3.1(31)
Endurance: 3(30)
Presence: 10
Health: 1/30
Level: 2
Agility: 4.1(41)
Wit: 10
Will: 30
Stamina: 3/30
Experience: 5280/6000
Ongoing Effects: Severe Blood Loss

Severe Blood Loss: Due to severe loss of blood, all physical attributes operate at 10% of normal.

“How long does severe blood loss take to go away?” asked Cian, still laying in the grass.

Jolan looked up as he dug around for Cian’s bullets, “Severe? Dang, you got the worst one. That takes at least a week on its own. Blood bags like from the kit would help, but it only comes with one and you would need a bunch. Your best bet is the clinic in the Valcim Capital Mall. They mostly do cybernetics and junk, but you can get wound treatment and a blood transfusion too. It should cost you around a thousand credits, better than waiting a week.”

Cian looked down at his pale hands before remarking, “I know the game’s supposed to be realistic, but this takes the cake. I’m dizzy, weak, and I look like a freaking zombie.”

“Recovery times are sped way up, but I heard they pulled in a whole team of doctors to get all the details right. From the dizziness all the way down to the tingles. Fun, right?” laughed Jolan.

Cian just groaned and stayed in the grass.

“I found ten of your bullets. Can’t find the other two in this mess. I put them in your mag, since the box is all wet. Cardboard physics and all. Really does blow your mind when you think about the details, huh? I’m gonna start tagging the kills. Can I get your tags? By my count, we got forty four, so I need all but six of yours.” said Jolan.

“Sure” said Cian as he grabbed the box of transmitters from his belt pouch and exchanged it with Jolan for his magazine. He took a moment to reload his pistol and stow the empty magazine in his pouch before flopping back down into the grass, squirming a bit when he landed on a stick.

A few minutes later, Jolan shouted “Whoa! Cian! You gotta see this!”

Cian rolled over and woozily sat up, shouting back “What is it?”

“Eggs. Hundreds of them! Biggest nest I ever saw! Both the trees are heavy with ‘em!” exclaimed Jolan. He held a flashing transponder, already having signaled for a drone.

“Nice. That will help with the medical bills.” said Cian, still seated in the grass a ways away.

If Jolan heard him, he didn’t acknowledge it. A few moments later he exclaimed “Whoa, even more over here! This whole rock is coated with them too. I thought it looked lumpy, but dang!”

Cian groaned and stumbled to his feet, walking over unsteadily so he could talk with Jolan.

Something moved in the bushes behind Jolan, but the man was still poking at shapes on the big rock.

“Jolan! Something behind you man!” shouted Cian as he picked up the pace, still over fifty feet away.

Three blurry shapes loped toward Jolan from behind as Cian frantically waved, pointed, and shouted, “Behind you! More Kel rats!”

Jolan finally caught on at the last second, whirling around and catching one across the jaw with his blade.

With the bottom half of its head missing, the lead rat rolled and squealed as it turned to run. The other two rats didn’t hesitate, clamping down on Jolan’s leg and thigh.

Already weakened from the fight before, Jolan went down hard. The bushes shook as more blurred shapes dove through them toward Jolan.

Cian tried to run, but only managed a pained shuffle as his legs refused to cooperate. He took aim and fired off six shots at the shapes moving toward Jolan, but then they were on him and he didn’t want to risk hitting Jolan again.

Jolan struggled as rats piled onto him. He had managed to kill the initial two on his legs, but before he could get his feet under him he had more leaping onto him, clawing and biting at his face.

Cian collapsed to his knees as his legs refused to move. His stamina was at zero again. He shakily aimed at the rats on Jolan’s face and risked firing his last shots. The slide locked, his magazine empty.

Cian had no bullets, no knife, and one hit point. Two of the rats had fallen off Jolan, but it looked like at least six more were still ravaging him.

Jolan fought weakly, stabbing at the animals and barely keeping them off his bloodied face.

A strange hum filled the air. Flames suddenly shot from above, scorching the rats a bit but mostly just scaring them. The remaining rats squealed and ran.

A drone hovered in the air above them. Reinherd’s voice came over the speakers, “Are you fellows alright? It appears that you have found quite a large nest.”

Jolan bust out laughing, blood still pouring from his ruined nose. “Aint you a sight for sore eyes. My man Reinherd, you have impeccable timing. Thanks for the save!”

“My pleasure, good fellows. You have done a fine job in locating this nest.” said Reinherd through the drone.

Half of Jolan’s scalp was torn off his head. His face was a bloody mess. His whole body was drenched in blood. The chain mesh had held, but the sharp claws and teeth had pierced it in numerous places.

Cian stumbled over. “You okay man? You, uh, don’t look so good.”

By the time Cian got to him, Jolan had already stripped off the chain mesh and was busy with his medical kit, applying the wound gel to stop a sea of oozing wounds across his body. “I’m good. Seen worse. You get used to it. Gonna need a new medical kit, though – this one’s about empty.”

“How are you still alive? They got me on the arm and leg and I bled out. You look like you’ve been through a wood chipper.” asked Cian.

Jolan laughed. “The Brute class is tough. We get a toughness skill that helps us resist damage. We don’t bleed out as fast, either. But I’m going with you to Valcim. I got serious blood loss now, that’s one step down from severe.”

Reinherd’s voice interrupted from the drone, “I must also point out that my chain mesh armor has proven itself invaluable once again. Thanks to it, none of Jolan’s wounds were deep enough to hit an artery. For only three thousand credits, it’s quite the bargain!”

Jolan smirked, “Yeah, yeah. Your armor works, old man. Now get that drone scanning the nest. There’s two big clumps in the trees, and all over that rock in between them.”

“I fear half a dozen Kel rats escaped. Be wary, they may approach and attempt to save the nest.” said Reinherd from the drone’s speakers.

Cian held up his empty gun. “Not much I could do if they did. No bullets. No knife.”

“Oh hey, we leveled up again.” said Jolan absently.

Cian checked his notifications.

Defeated Kel rat x7! Gain 840 experience.

Level up! +1 Endurance.

“So that’s 51? Heh, shame we only have tags for 50.” said Cian.

“Even fifty, actually. Couldn’t find the one with your knife in it. Sorry.” said Jolan.

“Oh. Dang. I liked that knife.” said Cian.

“Tag these for me?” said Jolan, tossing the last seven tags to Cian and going back to tending his wounds.

Cian had just finished tagging the rats when a monotone, robotic voice broke the silence. “Scan complete. Eight hundred seventy four eggs identified. Initiating purge.”

The drone’s flamethrower ignited again, systematically torching every inch of both trees and the rock. Sickening sizzling and popping sounds filled the air as hundreds of eggs ignited and burst.

“Cha-ching! Biggest nest I ever seen. Smells like money, baby!” said Jolan excitedly.

“Gah, it smells horrible! I thought bad smells were supposed to be muted?” said Cian, gagging.

Jolan shrugged. “You get used to it.”

Reinherd’s voice came over the drone’s speaker again. “Apologies. I had a customer. My, that was quite the nest. On behalf of the Holray Farming Association, I thank you for your brave service. A shuttle should be by shortly to pick you up.”

As if waiting for his announcement, a shuttle suddenly zoomed in and landed next to Jolan.

“Now that’s customer service! Thanks, Reinherd.” said Jolan, grabbing his things and hopping into the shuttle. He was still rubbing his legs down with wound gel – there were too many small cuts to attempt tending them individually.

Cian walked over and hopped in, glad to escape the awful smell.

“Whew, that was intense.” said Cian as the door closed and the shuttle smoothly lifted off. He checked the clock in his interface. “Whoa, how was all that only an hour?”

Jolan chuckled. “It gets way more intense than that. Pretty sweet though, right?”

“Yeah.” said Cian, leaning back in the comfortable seat and closing his eyes.

Cian woke up with Jolan shaking him. “Hey, we’re back at Reinherd’s. Gotta collect our bounty.”

“Guhh, sorry. I fell asleep? I didn’t know you could sleep in VR.” said Cian, hopping out of the little pod. Unlike before, the pod didn’t zoom off when they got out of it.

“I set it to take us to the Valcim mall. We just gotta get paid and hop back in. We can get bullets there, it’s a little cheaper.” said Jolan, walking into Reinherd’s shop.

Cian followed him in, stumbling a bit.

A few locals were browsing, but none of them had name tags so Cian assumed they must be AI villagers. Reinherd was standing at the counter. He smiled as they came in.

“Welcome back! I have 11,290 credits ready for you. Eight hundred and seventy four eggs, plus fifty one rats. My drone located the one with your knife thanks to the metallic signature. I have here a replacement knife for you if you would like to take it now, I can recover the other later.” said Reinherd.

“Wow, thanks!” said Cian, picking up a knife that looked identical to the one he had lost. That was convenient.

“Give Cian here two hundred of mine to cover bullets. So I’ll take… 5,445. Whew, nice haul for an hour – even with the medical bills we’re gonna have to pay.” said Jolan as Reinherd held up his tablet to transfer the funds.

“Thanks Jolan.” said Cian, taking his turn tapping the tablet and seeing his interface inform him that he now had 5,845 credits. He even had a quest completion message.

Quest Completed – Exterminate Kel Rats around Holray. You defeated 51 rats and destroyed 874 eggs. Rewards: Increased reputation with Reinherd. +5845 Credits. +2258 experience.

“I have also taken the liberty of paying for your trip to Valcim. I assume you will be returning once you have recovered?” asked Reinherd.

“Thanks buddy, generous as always. We’ll be back, right Cian? Get some blood in us and we can take out another nest eh?” said Jolan.

“Sure, just as soon as I can walk straight.” said Cian.

“You should get a set of my chain mesh! It would have protected you. Only three thousand credits, money well spent I assure you!” said Reinherd.

“I’ll think about it. I don’t want to make any decisions until my head is clear.” said Cian.

“A sound choice. I will see you soon then gentlemen, have a nice flight.” said Reinherd, turning his attention to another customer.

Cian and Jolan walked out and hopped back into the waiting shuttle. As soon as they were in, it lifted off and zoomed toward Valcim.

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