Tuesday, April 5

Warriors of Khor part one

In the interests of trying something new, I'm going to try serializing a short story here.  Episodic storytelling's something that's always appealed to me, as a kid who grew up reading comic books and now as an adult who's developed a love for podiobooks.  It feels like a natural thing to try, but at the same time is something I've never really attempted, so it should make for an interesting experiment.

The story's called "The Warriors of Khor", and is about a MMORPG player named Stuart.  Updates will happen here every Tuesday and will be labeled with the tag Khor.  Hope you enjoy the story as it develops!

Stuart couldn't believe how poor his luck was. It was the worldwide release date of the latest expansion for Warriors of Khor: all over the country his fellow gamers were having release parties, installing updates, and kicking digital ass all over the Hill of Har'Magidon. Yet he was not at home, arm in arm with his digital compatriots. He was, instead, stuck in a meeting. A marketing meeting, no less; the type of meeting that Graeden, his level 60 elven barbarian, would never have attended.
    The worst part of it was that there was a copy of the game sitting in his cubicle at that very moment. Stuart didn't consider himself dedicated enough of a fan to attend one of the midnight opening LAN parties that his local game store had sponsored that day, he had stopped in at his local MegaMart on his way to work and picked up a copy of the expansion pack. If releases of past expansions were any indication, Stuart knew that any store selling video games would be jam-packed by the end of the work day, as his fellow cubicle jockeys left their workplaces for a night of slashing swords and sizzling spells.
    Stuart started to play with his tie, rolling the end of it around his index fingers, as Mr. Daniels continued to drone through his collection of powerpoint slides. He felt himself start to nod off, so to keep himself awake, Stuart started to mentally list off everything that he knew about the game so far.
    The trailer had provided some details as to the story – two new races of playable creatures arrived to the Khorian OverWorld, both of them claiming a previously inaccessible-to-players hill named Har'Magidon as their own. On top of that, there were the leaked gameplay footage and screencaps that had started appearing on Khor message boards two nights ago, which hinted at higher skill levels and new character abilities.
    The meeting finally came to end. Stuart couldn't remember anything that the Mr. Daniels had said for the past ten minutes, but he knew that ultimately that didn't matter; as long as someone was paying attention, meeting notes would have been written down and would be distributed. On the off chance that something important had been discussed, he would find out about it eventually.

    “Come on, dudes, let's do this!” Graeden said, his elven muscles flexing as he paced back and forth across the glen.
    “Milord Graeden,” Sasha, the healer of the group, said, “once again your words shock us.  Never before have any in this guild heard a resident of the Overworld use such a term as 'dude'.  Do you find yourself ill?”
    On the other side of the screen, Stuart grimaced.  He knew the guild's prohibition about speaking out of character, and generally he favoured it, but Sasha could be so annoying when trying to enforce it.  It also bugged him a little that she was the one to be the rules lawyer about it – after all, who names a medieval witch 'Sasha'?
    “We need to wait for Arphax,” Cilolaas, the noble troll that made up the remainder of the guild currently present, added.  “Methinks we will need the aid of his offensive magics for the current campaign.”
    Graeden kicked an idle rock that lay on the glen.  “Well, I hope that Arphax can join us shortly,” he grunted, “as I wish to explore the hills beyond this glen, and I hear the howling of direwolves in the distance.”
    “Surely a warrior with the might and experience of Graeden does not fear a few direwolves?” came a voice from across the glen.  The three players turned to see the familiar avatar of Arphax the Prismatic walking towards them.
    “I fear nothing,” Graeden said.  “My time is better spent exploring the hills beyond than grinding the bones of direwolves against my sword, however.” 
    Stuart grinned at his wordplay, managing to work in a reference to game mechanics without getting another lecture from Sasha.
    “Very well, then.  Let us begin,” Arphax said. 
    They started to march toward the hill together.  “Look, over there, there is a cave,” Cilolaas announced shortly.  “Maybe that should be the first area that we explore?”
    They agreed, and headed to the cave.  As they entered, Stuart noticed the characteristic slight shift in graphics that signaled a dungeon instance was beginning.  “Everyone see that?” he asked, with the others all agreeing that they had. 
    Arphax cast a light ball spell, which illuminated the cave ahead, but also brought the attention of the three cave trolls ahead of them.
    As the trolls started to charge toward them, the four members of the guild assumed their regular positions, with Cilolaas and Graeden taking the front positions and the two magic users standing further back.
    A ball of fire hit Graeden from behind, knocking him to the ground.  “What in the seven hells was that?”  he called out.  It had always bugged Stuart that members of a party could accidentally attack each other.  He knew that it was necessary for the occasional PvP scenarios that the game allowed for, but wished there was a way to turn it off.
    “Sorry,” Arphax said.  “I mistargeted.”
    “Don't let it happen again,” Graeden growled.  “In fact, just hold back and throw up a shield around you and Sasha.  Cilolaas and I should be able to deal with these trolls on our own.”
    Arphax did so, and the elven barbarian and troll moved forwards, swords and battle clubs swinging.  They were outnumbered, but both characters had been raised to high enough levels that they made short work of the trolls, who moved slowly and clumsily.  Arphax cast another light spell, this one the more powerful sun spell, which served to blind them temporarily.
    “Good thinking!” Graeden called out as his sword sliced through the neck of one of the trolls, decapitating him.  The body quickly faded away, as did the one that Cilolaas was whacking with his warclub.  That left one more, and the two of them teamed up on him, taking turns hitting him until he fell and faded. 
    Once all three trolls were dead, the pile of treasure that they had been guarding appeared in the centre of the cave.  Graeden knelt to examine it in more detail.  As he did, Cilolaas came up behind him, swinging his mighty war club and bringing it down on Graeden's skull.  “Okay, seriously, what the hell was that?” he asked as he turned to face the troll. 
    The only response that he received was another fire ball, this one hitting him straight on.  The force of it knocked Graeden to one of the walls of the cave, and before he could recover from it, another swing of the troll's club met him in the chest.
    Another spell after that.  Stuart didn't recognize the casting runes displayed above it as the spell came toward him, but realized it was an entrapment spell as its white, glowing tendrils started to stretch across his avatar's body.  Entrapment was a difficult spell, meaning that it used up a lot of Arphax's magical energy. 
    Stuart watched as his character stood there, immobile.  “What the hell is going on here?” he screamed into his microphone as Arphax and Cilolaas took turns striking him with their weapons, the camera shaking with each hit.  Stuart furiously mashed buttons on his keyboard, trying to get any response from his character.  Finally they stopped, and Sasha walked up to him, readying a spell.  Stuart let out a sigh of relief.  For all his annoyances with her, Sasha  was a competant healer.  Whatever sick joke the last few minutes had been, her spell would bring him back to full health, and then he could start getting some answers from those around him.  As the spell hit him, though, Stuart saw his health start to decline, the bar steadily streaming down towards zero.  Towards death, and respawning.
    The screen went blank, and eventually returned to the Warriors of Khor title screen.  Stuart stood there staring at it for the next twenty minutes, doing nothing.  What the hell had just happened to him?

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