Here is the third snippet for LMBPN’s latest series, Middang3ard. Book one is coming!
Robert "Suzuki" Fletcher stared into the flames of his campfire, his avatar's kite shield resting against his knee, as he ran a whetstone over the edge of his sword. The stone gave off a soft, almost crystalline hum as he went about his work.
Suzuki knew he was sharpening a virtual blade. That his hand, encased in its virtual reality glove, was empty back in his apartment as he ran it over nothing. But it felt so real, the stone resistant against the hardness of the blade. Of course,it was just his VR suit's exoskeleton hardening to give the illusion of resistance…not that he really cared.
In the game, sharpening his sword would increase his percentage chances of success, and right now he needed any edge he could get.
He also needed to think, and methodic repetition helped clear his mind.
After all, he was in the Expansion of Middang3ard, and the gamemasters hadn't made it easy. He and his fellow party members—the Mundanes—had been here for days, trying to puzzle out how to enter the Expansion's temple.
And they weren't alone.
Throughout the forest, dozens of small campfires burned as if the other players were trying to light the earth on fire to fight against the blackness of the firmament hanging above. Players crowded around the fire, their suits emanating warmth, as they nursed their wounds and spoke in soft murmurs.
Even though there were hundreds of adventurers, most of them allies, Suzuki had never felt more unsafe in Middang3ard than he did at that moment.
Suzuki stopped running the stone along the blade, silencing the hum, and turned his ear toward the tree line, trying to listen for danger.
But the forest sounds of Middang3ard were an indecipherable blur next to the hushed whispers from the other camps.
Being huddled together in such a group made everything too loud.
Safety in numbers, he mused. But then again, if they were away from the group, they wouldn't be such a large target, and they could, well, listen for danger.
Suzuki really wasn't sure which would be best, alone or in a group, and, figuring that it was half a dozen on the one hand and six on the other, he went back to his thoughts and his blade as he tried to figure out how to solve the secret to opening the door to the Expansion.
Beth, Stew, and Sandy were sitting by the fire, no longer bantering. They'd all been there for hours and were getting bored, as Stew made clear when he stood up and yawned. "I can't keep doing this. I mean, I got a life."
Beth smirked. "What life? This is our life." Of all the Mundanes, she was the most dedicated to the game. "I mean, you deliver pizza, I'm a telemarketer, and Sandy here…what do you do again?"
"I'm part of a marketing enterprise dedicated to fulfilling your make-up and accessory needs."
"In other words, you're part of some pyramid scheme?"
Sandy nodded. "That I am."
Beth pointed the dagger she had been using to whittle a virtual twig at Stew. "So, what life do you need to get back to, exactly?"
Stew cracked his neck. "Whatever. My point stands. We should be doing something."
Sandy threw some twigs into the fire. "Sitting is something."
Stew "Leeroy Jenkins" Harris rolled his eyes. He was a good head taller than anyone else in the party, his massive body perfect for the role of barbarian. He stood and started to pace. The loose animal skin that covered him swayed to his movement so realistically that one might believe they were actually in a forest and not at home, strapped into VR suits.
Beth "GameOver" Lovett glared at Stew, putting back her dagger before pulling out her sword and pointing it in Leeroy's direction.
Her armor was not as heavily plated as Suzuki's, but still thick enough to offer a good amount of protection. "Don't you fucking dare start, douche nozzle." She pushed back her short-clipped hair, exposing the handful of small scars that covered her left cheek. "Do you remember what happened on the last raid when you started to get all antsy?"
Stew shrugged. "If I remember correctly, it was me pulling goblins off of your ass."
"Because you triggered every trap in the damn building."
Sandy "DeeStruck" Poples nodded as she stretched her long slender body in exaggerated boredom. "None of us are playing this so we can sit around. Plus, Stew has all those gorgeous muscles that he has to put to use."
As she spoke, she absentmindedly cast a spark spell that sent tiny glints of electricity floating up in the air. Loose robes draped the sorceress's body, and she appeared to be a priestess from ancient times who worshipped pagan gods using dark arts long lost to humanity.
Stew struck an Olympian's pose. "Thank you very much, DeeStruck." Even though Sandy's handle—DeeStruck—was a bit camp, he pronounced it reverently, because he knew exactly how she'd gotten the name.
He also knew that anyone who made fun of her in-game handle would quickly die for the mistake.
Stew flexed his avatar's pecks, making them dance to some silent drum. It was impressive because it meant Stew actually had those pecks. The VR game only exaggerated your traits, it didn't make them up.
Unlike so many of the other, far less successful VR games on the market, Middang3ard did not let you play other races or customize your looks. You were what you were in real life.
Only a bit more so.
"These biceps crave destruction." Stew did a couple more body-building poses before plopping himself down by the fire, saying, "Can we at least go check out the door again?"
He slapped Suzuki on the back, jarring the warrior-mage from his thoughts and back to reality.
Well, what passed as reality these days.
"You know what?" Suzuki asked with a nod. "For once, Stew is right. We do need to do something. Gear up. Let's check the door and see what we missed."
"Oh, hallelujah." Beth groaned. "I'm pretty sure that Stew being right is one of the signs of the apocalypse."