"Don't stand in the fire!" screamed Roka.
The ground before him blazed with a vibrant, rainbow-like assortment of red and green flames. Roka tried not to think about why the flames may be green, much less why the ogre that had spat the vast splash of fire across the ground might be able to do so in the first place.
Instead, Roka focused on levelling another emergency healing spell at the lizard that was standing in the fire, utterly ignorant to the flames that licked around him. The spell crackled against the lizard's plate armour, and barely made a dent in the warrior's rapidly plummeting health bar.
Roka didn't even want to look at his mana. The lizard was swinging away frantically, hammering against the ogre with his trusty old battle-axe, but Roka had the horrible feeling that it was all for naught. By the time the ogre's health would be at zero, the lizard would be dead. Signing, Roka let fly another glistening, golden-coloured healing blast. "Get out of the fire!" he shouted again.
The lizard didn’t reply. Instead, he tilted his head back as he released a resounding, bloodthirsty cry, bellowing with all the feral power that he possessed. Roka placed his palm against his face. He hadn’t been playing the game for long, not long at all, but he didn’t think that the lizard was going to move out of the fire any time soon. To his left, Roka noticed the lizard’s friends – one of them, a short, stocky little ferret, snapped his fingers together in a sharp staccato rhythm, shards of crystal-like ice leaping from the small wizard’s paws towards the ogre. Another colleague, a cat wrapped in dark fabrics, drove his sharp dagger-like blades into the ogre’s back again and again, each one chipping very slightly away at the monster’s thick hide. Roka hoped that it would be enough.
Just as the ogre hit its next attack, a rather weak spinning attack which missed Roka entirely, the lizard died. He stumbled, teetering for a moment before he landed on the ground. His body lay there, surrounded by the fire that lingered for another few seconds.
Roka felt a rush of fear. The rest of the party didn't stand a chance.
Within the next ten seconds, the ogre had carved its way through the other three colleagues. He knocked the thief to one side with barely a thought, and then proceeded to smash his massive wooden club down onto the third member of the party, some exotic kind of archer that Roka didn’t yet recognise. In desperation, the wizard had tried to run. That had been futile, Roka could have already guessed that a wizard wouldn't get far, and the ogre had taken him down with a single hit. Then the ogre turned his eyes on Roka, who was already halfway down the corridor as he ran.
Words appeared above Roka's head, slightly to the right. He read them, glancing over them as he turned to flee. "Stupid cleric," said the words which hung in the air, "where were my heals?"
Roka tore his way through the dungeon, scrambling frantically. With each step, his canine ears swayed in large bobbing movements, ears large enough to catch the thundering echo of the ogre's feet as it thundered through the tunnel behind him. "You were standing in the fire!" replied Roka.
He felt a pang of annoyance. He had come so close, thought Roka. It they had only been able to kill the ogre, he'd have been able to grab a new robe. A better robe, one that had a higher intelligence stat. Of course, at his measly low level, it would barely have made any difference to Roka. Personally, he would have been happy to just get the experience, enough to perhaps hit fourth level. Although, he thought, a new robe would be nice. His own were aptly dubbed as the 'initiate’s starter robe', and were a hideous mismatching dung-like shades of brown that made Roka eager to find anything else.
He wondered if he had enough gold to buy a new robe yet. He thought that a blue one would suit him. Yes, definitely a blue. Or maybe red, dogs like Roka suited red. He shook his head, remembering that there was an ogre trying to smash his head in. He'd worry about the colour of his robe later.
The ogre clambered up among the tunnel behind him, and not for the first time Roka wished that he had a stronger attack spell that he could use. He glanced at his map. Just a few more turns, he thought, and then he'd be at the start of the dungeon again. The ogre would have to stop chasing him then, wouldn't it? Roka ran frantically, his terribly unfashionable brown robe billowing behind him.
The words "You're a crap healer" appeared above his head.
Grumbling something about the lizard being stupider than dirt, Roka pulled a sharp left. The dungeon was a small one, but certainly seemed large to Roka, full of rocks set in hard spikes and populated by spiders. The ogre, who Roka had been sent to kill on the request of a soldier who evidently had nothing better to do than delegate the more dangerous jobs to the less experienced adventurers, lived quite contently in peace with the array of arachnids, even the ones who spat venom at anyone who came within their respective spheres of attention. That was, until Roka and his companions had come along, killed the spiders, plucked the gold coins from wherever spiders stored gold coins on their bodies, and left their corpses scattered across the dungeon floor. Roka sprinted between several spider corpses, the ogre lumbering behind him with all the subtlety of a twelve-wheeled lorry careening through a shopping centre.
Roka hadn't expected to have an experience like that, not on what was only his first day in the game. "Realms of Valeron" was the hottest MMORPG on the market, in no small part to its promise of a vibrant, friendly base of players. The game had hit the shelves eight months prior, to massive critical acclaim. Sales had skyrocketed, easily dwarfing every rival game on the market. News reports spread across the world, describing the game's success as a cultural phenomenon. It didn't even require a high-end, state of the art computer system to run, making it accessible to gamers who might otherwise have been priced out of the expensive process of upgrading their home PC in order to run such a visually stunning game.
It was the visuals, in part, that had attracted Roka to the game in the first place. He had yearned for a game like this, one that was bright and vibrant, populated with animal-type creatures, a world that seemed truly magical. When he played games with his friends, he quickly grew bored of trudging through battered, war-torn cities, etched in washes of brown and grey and plastered with scorched craters in various shades of ash. He wanted colour, he wanted variety, but he hadn’t wanted the stigma of playing a ‘furry fantasy game’. That would have made him a nerd, someone who even his gamer friends would have thought twice about inviting to their occasional parties.
Then the expansion pack was announced. It had come so quickly after the release of “Realms of Valeron”, and boasted a plethora of new content. New lands to explore, new monsters to fight, more spell to master and special loot to find. More than that, though, it was free. A full-sized expansion pack, released absolutely free of charge to people who had already bought the original game, promising to almost double the size of the already massive online world. Best of all, though, was the secret dungeons, hidden away by the developers, waiting for the enterprising players to discover and explore all for themselves, dungeons that only the hardest and most talented of the players would stand a chance of emerging from victorious. The expansion boosted the sales of the game threefold, quickly sky-rocketing the players from three million to a phenomenal ten million.
Roka hadn’t had to think twice about buying the game. He had picked it up from a local store in the downtown area of the city, deciding that he would go to the shop and discuss his purchase to make sure that his computer was up to the technical specs of a game of this nature. The cashier quickly put his mind to rest, explaining that the game could easily run on even a low-end system like Roka’s. The cashier, a tall man with an unkempt beard whose nametag proudly proclaimed his name as Rusty, had told him that if he played on the same server, he would happily send him a few in-game items to get him started. Sadly, Roka had completely forgotten the name of the server that Rusty played on (fire-something, perhaps) in his eagerness to create a character. After playing around with the character creation screen for almost half an hour, he eventually settled on his first character – a canine cleric, skilled in the arts of healing and slaying the undead through divine prayers.
Roka thought that a few of those divine prayers would be extremely useful right about now. The first of them, though, was a skill aptly called ‘divine smite’, and was not unlocked until his next level. Until then, he was left with a handful of healing spells, a rusty mace (appropriately described in the game’s item description as ‘rusty mace’) and a mismatched brown robe. Those three items were worth next to nothing against the rampaging ogre that was bellowing after him, ready to crush him into a fine paste beneath his thundering heels.
The ogre’s club narrowly missed Roka’s head by a fraction of an inch, and the canine could swear that he could almost feel his hit points threatening to plummet downwards into oblivion. The cleric tore at full speed into the final corridor, and in the distance he caught sight of the distant glimmering light of the cavern’s entrance. It looked so far away, he thought. He ran, hurtling forward for dear life.
The words "Learn to play, noob” appeared above Roka, and the priest almost swore.
That stupid lizard, thought the Canine. He was bitter, Roka thought, angry that he had died. Inhaling, Roka fired back a reply. “It’s your own fault for standing in the fire!” he snapped. “The healers can’t save you from that much damage, you need to move out of it.”
“Loser!” came the reply.
Roka gave an annoyed sigh. Of course the game had people like that in it. Even though it advertised itself as having a friendly group of players, it was just a matter of fact that every online game had players like the lizard. Roka closed his eyes, took a deep sigh, and tried to think of his reply. He wanted it to be witty, something genuinely funny, and something that would put the lizard in his place and – the last thing that Roka saw was the ogre’s large wooden club colliding with his head.
“Damn it” he thought. His avatar staggered, fell to his knees and tumbled to the ground in an animated display signifying the character’s death.
Roka inhaled. He hadn’t died in the game before. After all, he had only been playing it for a few hours. This dungeon had been his first – his first time exploring a dangerous part of the world, his first time venturing underground. It had also been his first time joining a group of other players, moving away from the safety of battling ‘naughty squirrels’ in a field and collecting apples for a farmer, or delivering letters for a tired town guard. Dying, like everything else in the game, was a new adventure for him. He held his breath, waiting to see what would happen next.
The dungeon faded, turning into a haze-filled, washed-out replica of its former self. Roka looked down, seeing himself as a translucent shadow. He tried to move forward, and found that he slid easily over the ground.
Beside him, a short little creature sat on the ground. It was short, white, and round. It had a protruding stomach which reminded Roka of images of the Buddha he had seen in textbooks. Unlike the Buddha, though, it had large fox-like ears. “Hello” said the figure, “You appear to be dead. Would you like a hand with that?”
Roka paused for a moment, and thought. Finally, he answered, “Yes.”
“I can resurrect you” said the figure, “for five gold pieces.”
Roka glanced at his backpack. Tucked safely into it, having survived both the ogre’s wild rampage and the cleric’s passage into the lands of death, were three gold pieces. His backpack also contained several other items such as ‘spider leg’, ‘small rock’, ‘piece of torn paper’ and ‘old cheese’. Roka put the old cheese back into his backpack. “I don’t have that much” he explained.
The Buddha fox smiled. “If you do not have the funds, you can make use of a free resurrection service at your local chapel.”
Roka glanced around. Despite the haze-filled and blue-tinted nature of his environment, he was still definitely in the cave. There certainly didn’t appear to be a chapel anywhere nearby. Hesitantly, he asked “Where is the nearest chapel?”
The figure bounced, flopping up and down on the ground. “Your nearest chapel is at Homestead Farm. Let me mark it on your map for you!”
Roka groaned. Homestead Farm was the first area he had found. It had been pleasant enough, a tranquil and utterly peaceful land, with only the occasional ‘naughty squirrel’ or lost puppy to interrupt the player’s lessons in how to move their characters around the world map and progress their way up to level two. Roka had only been playing the game for several hours, but had already travelled quite a distance. The thought of trudging all the way back to his starting zone made him groan.
The small creature moved his chubby forearms, and a bright, friendly-looking blue arrow materialised in front of Roka. “Right this way!” said the creature.
“Yeah, right, lovely. Thanks, Buddha-fox” he grumbled, and started his long trek back towards Homestead Farm.
Welcome to the first chapter of "Realms of Valeron". A new chapter twice each week!
It was the biggest MMORPG ever created, and took the world by storm. With billions of players from every corner of the planet, 'Realms of Valeron' allowed anybody to interact with one another within the gloriously realized online world.
But for Roka, a young healer, it was more than that. It was a gateway to make friends. Friends like Exra, the hyperactive rabbit rogue; Gunnar the loyal dwarf, Sycorax the maniacal warlock, and many more.
What adventures lurk within the game? In a world full of quests and dangers, the truest and greatest loot is yet to be discovered. Bound together by the oaths of their guild, they would face brutal trials, savage enemies, and more than a few bugs that the game's play-testers really should have caught before release... But this is no trite story of players trapped inside a video game! Our heroes can turn off the game and leave at any time. But why would they, or any of us, ever want to leave when you have friends like these?
Realms of Valeron is a comedy fantasy, part sit-com and part epic adventure, which explores the bonds of friendships in a digital age.