“Owwww.” said Cian as he came to. His ears were ringing and his left arm felt strange. He looked down and saw why – it was gone. The blast had blown his left arm clean off at the shoulder. If that wasn’t enough, his right arm was badly burnt and his leg hurt when he put weight on it.
He grabbed the tube of wound gel from his pocket, biting the cap off and smearing the tube on his gushing shoulder. The gel miraculously slowed the bleeding, and one of his bandages stopped it completely. He moved on to rubbing the gel on his side – a large piece of debris was lodged in it. All he could hear was the ringing in his ears – his eardrums were punctured. He checked his effects.
Minor Internal Bleeding: Due to untreated internal injuries, you are slowly losing blood.
Serious Blood Loss: Due to serious loss of blood, all physical attributes operate at 25% of normal.
Ruptured Eardrums: Due to physical trauma to your eardrums, you are suffering from severe tinnitus and near-total hearing loss.
Cian stumbled to his feet and looked around at his surroundings. Everything was down – bodies twitched here and there, but nothing was left standing. There was a lot of loot scattered around…
Across the field, the militia commander stumbled to his feet. His armor was smoking and the shield device built into it was gone, but he was in better shape than Cian. He saluted Cian and said something, but Cian couldn’t hear.
More movement caught both of their attention as the Pa’Ran bodies shifted. The Boundless stood, covered in ichor and missing three arms – but standing. It reached down and pulled the silver thing off one of its broken arms on the ground and began attaching it to his one remaining good arm.
The commander pointed at the Pa’Ran and yelled something. He drew a combat knife and began sprinting toward the creature.
Cian couldn’t hear him, but took the hint – that silver thing must be what gave it the powers, and if it got that thing on… it would be bad for them.
Cian pulled his pistol, which had miraculously stayed in his hip holster, and started limping toward the Pa’Ran and firing. He only had eight shots left, but he made them count – putting each one into the Boundless’ torso.
The creature fell, shrieking loudly. It struggled to push the silver glove-like device over its arm with its mandibles. As the commander drew near, it gave up and dropped the device. It pointed its arm and a faint silvery tendril struck the commander in the head.
The militia commander flinched back and held his head with one hand, but continued toward the Pa’Ran.
Cian threw his empty pistol at the Pa’Ran. The pistol hit the Pa’Ran in the side of the head right as the commander reached it, distracting it at a crucial moment.
The commander jumped onto the Pa’Ran, stabbing it repeatedly; but the Pa’Ran fought back, clawing and biting at the commander despite its grievous wounds.
Cian drew his own knife and approached. The Pa’Ran had stopped moving by the time he reached them.
The Pa’Ran lay lifeless, its black, compound eyes staring at nothing. Wisps of sparkling, silver fog drifted from its corpse.
The commander said something as he rolled off the Pa’Ran, his face bloodied and armor shredded.
Cian pointed to his ears, shaking his head – he still couldn’t hear anything but the incessant ringing.
The commander spasmed and went still. Was he having a seizure?
Cian bent down to check on him and was startled to realize that the shimmering fog from the Pa’Ran was coalescing around the commander’s head and seemed to be seeping into him.
“Oh, hell no.” exclaimed Cian, swinging his knife through the fog as he tried to disperse it.
Suddenly, the commander’s arm shot up – stabbing Cian in his left shoulder, narrowly missing his lung.
Cian stabbed the commander through the eye, killing him instantly.
He checked his status… His health had nearly bottomed out and he was bleeding severely again.
“Damnit!” exclaimed Cian as he grabbed for what was left of his wound gel. He rubbed the last of it into the knife wound and covered it with a bandage. The bleeding stopped, but his blood loss had been upgraded to Severe and his health was down to 7/32.
At some point he had reached level 8 and gained another endurance, but the blood loss had reduced his maximum health to 10% and he still had “Minor Internal Bleeding” from the piece of debris lodged in his side. He wasn’t sure if a bandage alone would stop the bleeding if he removed it.
Quest failed – Eliminate Pa’Ran Boundless threatening Valcim. Your murder of a Valcim militia commander voids all rewards.
“Oh come on! He was mind controlled! I deserve that reward!” yelled Cian at the sky, groaning as a pain shot through his side.
Suddenly Cian noticed a silvery sheen in the air again. It was the same stuff that had taken over Jolan, half the other players, and the commander – but it seemed less thick than it was before.
Cian stumbled back away from it, swatting at it with his knife as it seemed to follow him. He grabbed one of his last two bandages and used it like a swatter, flapping it through the cloud to try to disperse it. Pain spiked in his head and it felt like something was trying to take over his body again. He fought it just like he did before.
Cian couldn’t tell whether his trick with the bandage worked or if it just went away on its own; but after a few frantic seconds the silvery shimmer faded, the pain stopped, and he received an unusual combat log message.
Defeated [Error:unspecified]! Gain 0 experience.
“Stupid glitch! I don’t even get XP? AAAH!” yelled Cian, clutching his side.
Cian looked around at the broken landscape and scattered bodies. It didn’t look like anything else survived, and the smell of burnt flesh and feces was overpowering.
“Gah,” Cian choked. This game is too realistic! This place reeks, and this ringing tinnitus crap is freaking annoying, he thought.
Cian’s health ticked down to 6. “Damnit!” exclaimed Cian again.
A glinting, silver object caught Cian’s attention. It was the thing that the Pa’Ran had been using. It had managed its magic without the thing, but it must have been important.
Cian stumbled over to it and picked it up. It was some kind of strange half glove, with a wrist band, four fingers, and a flexible backing in between – leaving the palm and thumb exposed. It was made out of a silvery metal with a matte finish. The wrist band and finger pieces were hard metal, but had a seam with the same flexible material as the backing – allowing the glove to adjust to fit most hand sizes. Cian’s eyes widened as he examined it and brought up the description.
Artifact – An ancient artifact of high archaeological value. Value: 10,000,000 credits. Immediately return to any Dromon Peacekeeper banking facility for conversion to credits.
This thing was worth a fortune! Way more than the quest award. At the current exchange rate of 98 credits to 1 USD, it was worth just over $102k. It was worth more than many of the starships in the game – a fully kitted out basic interstellar trade ship was around 5,000,000 credits.
He had never heard of something like this – was this how the top players got the money for their fancy ships and tech? And it even said exactly what it was worth on the description – nothing else did that. Selling valuable items usually meant getting them appraised and haggling with merchants. He hadn’t ever heard of the bank buying items. The bank was effectively the WE Corporation – why would it be handing out a hundred grand for in-game prize items? Was this what Jolan had meant when he said they sometimes dropped special loot?
And what did it even do to be worth so much? Did it have some hidden effect? Maybe it would stop his blood loss? Cian tried it on, fitting the device over his hand. A little box popped up.
Initialize [Error:unspecified]? [Yes] [No]
Was it some kind of bugged item? Curiosity got the better of him as Cian mentally hit [Yes] and waited. A new message popped up.
[Error:unspecified] initialization started.
Disabling [Error:unspecified] . . . Failed. Skipping.
Checking package compatibility . . . Negative. Current [Error:unspecified] not compatible with this [Error:unspecified]. See local [Error:unspecified] for more information.
Well, that was weird. Something not compatible? Maybe I need a different class? The thing using this was called a Boundless. Was that a class? Could players be Boundless?
Cian’s health ticked down to 5.
“Okay, sitrep,” Cian mumbled to himself, “This character is screwed. I can’t afford replacing the arm and I’m bleeding out slowly anyway. Nobody is around to help. I have a super valuable piece of loot. The bank places are probably all closed because this invasion is still going on. And I have nowhere else to stash this thing. So… Priorities. I have to find a place to hide this thing so I can respawn and get it.” He looked around, found a promising alley in the distance, and headed toward it.
After a few minutes of walking, Cian reached the alley between two buildings. Debris from the ships, the weird spines the Pa’Ran ships fired, and broken chunks of building littered the place.
By now, Cian’s health had ticked down twice more and he could barely stand. He stumbled over to a large piece of busted concrete-like material. Cian moved some of the debris aside, carefully pushed the Pa’Ran artifact under the chunk of building, and covered it with the smaller pieces. Not satisfied with the way it looked, he blew on it to scatter the dust a bit.
Well, this will have to do.
Cian got up and walked back out of the alley, taking the time to carefully examine his surroundings and local landmarks. He was pretty sure he could find this place again as long as he could find the Mall after respawning.
Cian’s health ticked down again and his vision swam. His missing arm and side ached and his ears were still ringing.
“Forget this. Dying is way too realistic.” thought Cian, mentally tapping the Log Out button. A thirty second countdown appeared and a slew of warning messages popped up, stopping the countdown.
Warning! This area is not safe. Logging out here may result in your death. Warning! Due to your current untreated health conditions, your avatar may not survive while logged out. Are you sure you wish to log out? [Yes] [No]
Cian mentally hit [Yes] and waited.
Cian woke up in his TIVI unit, glad to be rid of the annoying ringing and constant pain. The first thing he noticed was he was hungry. The second thing he noticed was the time – it was 4:30 am. How did it get to be 4:30 am?! Had he really played for over nine hours? He was supposed to be at work in three and a half hours, and he had half an hour drive to get there. He hadn’t even slept.
But the artifact! All that money! Maybe he could log in again real quick, grab it, hide somewhere, then go to work? Or just call in sick. He should definitely call in sick.
Cian quickly made himself a bowl of cereal, scarfed it down, and jumped back in the TIVI unit to start the login process. He was met with a message at the Character Select screen.
Your character, Cian, was killed while you were away, 1 minute 17 seconds ago.
Cause of death: Worsening of prior injuries sustained before log out.
Due to the circumstances of your death, you have been awarded a character creation credit and 50% off re-purchasing skills. Current balance: 25 credits.
Countdown until respawn is available: 11 hours 58 minutes 43 seconds.
“What?!” Cian exclaimed, “TWELVE HOURS?”
Cian logged back out. “Well. Guess I get to go to work after all. Yay.” he mumbled sarcastically to himself.
Maybe I should try out the sleep mode Jolan told me about…
Cian yawned and set the TIVI unit to wake him up at 7:20. He quickly clicked agree through several pages of EULA stuff and clicked to start the sleep cycle.
Suddenly Cian woke up, feeling a lot less tired. “Whoa, it’s already 7:20?” he thought, hopping up and getting ready for work. The drive was uneventful and Tina wasn’t even on shift today.
An hour later Cian was at work, shaking out absorbent powder over another pool of vomit, working out his shift so he could go home and log in again. All he could think about was Worlds & Empires. That artifact was worth a fortune. And what did it even do?
He finished cleaning up the mess and snuck off into a cleaning closet, pulling out his smart phone to look at the W&E forums.
More people were complaining about that Venin Voidsail character showing up, killing them, and stealing their ships. A coalition of guilds were planning an expedition into Fleshreaver space, but most of the thread was arguing over how to “properly” do it. Then he found the thread that all the talk about the ongoing Pa’Ran event was being merged into.
A lot of people were pissed. Players were complaining that they had been taken over and forced to watch as their characters turned on their friends. Some of the veterans of the game who had fought the Pa’Ran before explained that it was due to low mind attributes. Most of the people complaining were playing Brute or Juggernaut classes with really low mind stats. Even logged out players had succumbed to the mind control. One new player had even claimed they had deleted their character in an attempt to save their friends, only for their deleted character to still chase down and kill everyone. Others insisted it was bogus and just a bunch of idiots griefing, pointing at the fact that most of the complainers were newer players with cheap gear.
Still hiding in the closet, Cian searched for information on the Boundless specifically. Most of the posts were complaining about how overpowered it was as an enemy, but one post in particular from a few months ago was talking about it as a player class. There was a long discussion on the viability of it and complaints that it was useless.
One enterprising guy had figured out the requirements of it and posted it on the thread, asking for help in figuring out how it worked. Other veteran players complained, demanding that he remove the spoilers about how to get the class – but a group of interested players had quickly formed to try it out. What followed was a discussion of their efforts, and it didn’t look promising. The last post was a month ago, and they had tried all kinds of different things for months. Starting as the character required a crippling stat distribution, and no one could figure out how to gain the necessary skills otherwise. Worse yet, not one of the dozen or so people using the class could figure out what any of those skills even did.
But did any of them have an artifact like what Cian had found? If these powers were in the game, surely players could use them? Maybe with it he could be the first one to figure it out. He knew that he didn’t have the money to buy back into the game if he couldn’t find the artifact, and it might not even work if he did, but he didn’t care. The Pa’Ran Boundless were powerful, and he wanted that.
Cian planned out his character and spent the rest of his shift daydreaming about fame and fortune from being the first to play such an overpowered class.
He raced home that evening, speeding all the way. It was Saturday night, and he wasn’t scheduled to work until Tuesday. That gave him all weekend to figure out his new character and get started on it. He scarfed down a microwave burrito and dove into his TIVI pod, ready to get things started. The final few minutes of the respawn countdown were unbearable.
Once it finally let him, it only took him a few minutes to plug in the right attributes that he had read about on the forum and try out the character template. With excitement, Cian read over the description of Boundless.
Boundless – Tier 3 – You have unlocked the shackles of your mind. You are no longer bound to the physical, and your Will can extend beyond the limits of your body.
Requirements – Wit: 40. Presence: 40. Will: 50. Mind is free of negative traits.
Skills – Mind over Body, Psionics, Psi Defense, Mental Projection
Gain 3 Wit, 3 Presence, 4 Will, and 5 Character points every 10 levels.
One of those skills must be the one that let him control others. But his character wasn’t pretty. To start as the class, he had picked a hefty physical penalty. It had given him the 20 extra points needed to get more attributes, but could he even play this character?
Infirm – +20 – Significantly reduced health, stamina, and resistance to poisons and disease. May remove penalty by spending 30 Character points.
Cian’s character was going to start with 10s in all physical stats and very poor health. He could potentially be powerful once he leveled up and removed the penalty – but that would mean making it to level 60. Could he even survive that long with such debilitating health and no outside help?
Worse yet, if the artifact didn’t work then none of his skills would even do anything. He wouldn’t have the ability to use any of the expensive tech or equipment. He was so weak, he wouldn’t be able to even swing a sword.
It seemed a bit iffy – but Cian wanted to try it. All he could think about was running around with a horde of weak willed creatures, single-handedly solving quests and becoming a top player. He could make a living in the game, and quit his job! Excited, Cian chose the capital city of Valcim to start in and confirmed his choice. He hoped he would start near the mall. His character sheet was pitiful – an errant wind might blow him over.
Health: 50/50 (-50%)
Stamina: 50/50 (-50%)
|Total Experience: 0/1000|
Mental Projection (C): 10%
Mind over Body (C): 10%
Psi Defense (C): 10%
Psionics (C): 10%
Everything went black and the loading screen appeared.
Loading, please wait…
Generating form… Success.
Preparing consciousness transfer… Success.