“Breaking news at PNS!”
“Ever since the ‘Neo Genesis’ event where humanity was abducted by the alien species referred to as the ‘Esvol,’ society has continued to rapidly fall towards the brink of collapse. All around the world, experts are describing the effects of integrating with the ‘System’ as ‘apocalyptic.’ Our Wolf News reporters are…”
“Places known as ‘Dungeons’ have been popping up in every country near densely populated locations, although some have been reported hidden far from any city or town.”
“Monstros foram vistos vagando pela selva…”
“Employees have been going on strike, refusing to return to their jobs—”
“Gates that supposedly lead to the multiverse have appeared in every major city—”
“Ratusan orang sendirian di Jakarta telah tewas saat mencoba mengatasi Dungeon di bawah kota!”
“No one has seen the entities calling themselves ‘Bob,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘Lee,’—”
“Meer as ‘n miljard mense het nooit van hul ontvoering teruggekeer nie….”
“—and the so-called organisation that has had a meteoric rise to prominence online had this to say:
“The Precursors of Peace will represent humankind in the multiverse. If the world governments refuse to work together in this time of chaos, then we, the people, shall unite ourselves and establish a new world order. We shall pave the path for the rest of society and be the first ones to step through these Gates under the banner of peace!”
Trace turned off the television. “Holy fucking shit. It’s only been one week, and everybody is already going insane.”
“I mean, it is the apocalypse, right?” Liz leaned back on her seat, sipping on some coffee. “I’d be more worried if things were completely normal after all that’s happened.” Setting the cup down, she started for the door as Trace frowned.
“Where are you going?”
“Out,” Liz said. She grabbed a sheathed blade from a coat hanger, hefting it on her shoulder. Her sable hair was tied into a ponytail ready for battle, and her laidback brown eyes curled up as she grinned. “I got pretty far into the Dire Pits before that bladeworm snuck up on me and nicked me on the arm. I bet I could’ve gotten to the boss room if I hadn’t let my guard down.”
That was right. Unlike Trace who had mostly been recovering from the injuries she sustained during the tutorial and was adamantly against the insanity of it all, Liz had actually been going out and delving into these Dungeons and exploring the different structures that had appeared since Neo Genesis. Trace was only at level 4, while her best friend—
[Warrior – Lvl 8.]
“I still can’t believe you chose Warrior as your class. What were you thinking?”
“Hey! I like hitting things. I used to box, remember?” When Liz was ten, she’d go to the Frenzydeck Gym for boxing lessons. That was when the pair first met and became friends.
“I just didn’t expect you to, y’know, embrace this whole weird alien fuckery so quickly. You’re already close to level 10. Are you honestly looking forward to your class evolution?” Apparently, your class would undergo some sort of change at certain ‘capstone levels,’ as Ex put it.
“It is what it is, Trace.” Liz shrugged as she pushed open the metal door. “The Esvol came, they messed with our planet, and now we have to live with all the repercussions. There’s money to be made going into these Dungeons. It’s do or die out there. Dunno about you, but it’s do for me.” The door swung shut behind her, leaving Trace alone in the room.
* * *
The Evergreen Gun Range’s name led most to believe that it’d be the type of shooting range located 20 kilometres from Liberapolis, with a rolling grass field lined with targets in the great outdoors. What they’d realise when they arrived was that it was actually a small two-storey building about the size of a basketball court, just at the edge of the city. If that wasn’t already enough to upset them, the fact that it was closed during the so-called ‘apocalypse’ would draw flying spit from the deep well of their mouths.
“What do you mean you’re not open? We need to buy an AR-15 to protect our homes from looters!” The man’s saliva spilt all over the countertop as a woman stood behind him, tightly hugging his arm.
Trace wiped at her face, offering him a very kind glare in return. “As I’ve said, sir, this establishment is closed. I’m well aware that times are tough right now— we’re all feeling it, not just you— but The Evergreen Gun Range has been closed all summer, and I don’t believe things will be different for autumn.”
“Look—” He set down a duffel bag in front of her. “If it’s a money thing, we have the cash.” That clearly didn’t sit well with his wife or girlfriend or whatever. “This is three thousand dollars,” he said. “You can keep it all for yourself. We just need a gun.”
Ah, shit. Trace felt really bad now, seeing the pleading look on the man’s face. She just assumed he was being entitled at first; nothing about him screamed that he was in trouble. But that was just the impression she got from his green polo shirt and rich sunglasses. If they were being this desperate, it must have truly been important.
There was, however, a problem.
“I really wish I could help you, sir. Unfortunately, I don’t have the keys to the gun safe.” Neither she nor Liz was given access to anything beyond a handgun by Mr Evergreen himself before he left on his trip. “The most I can get you is a Glock. Maybe a revolver?”
The man tightly gripped the edge of the counter. His face twisted, and he raised a fist. “You bitch!” He threw a punch as Trace’s eyes widened.
She took a step back, dodging the swing, and quickly drew the weapon at her waist. The man paused as the woman next to him gasped. “P-please don’t shoo—”
“I’ll only say this one time.” Trace aimed at the man’s bald head. “Fuck. Off.”
And they did. The woman dragged her boyfriend or husband or whatever behind her as he muttered something to himself to mend his wounded ego. They took their cash with them too, not that Trace cared much. Apparently, the value of the dollar was rapidly decreasing. The worst economic crisis in history, they kept saying in the news.
Trace locked the door after the ‘customers’ left. She left it unlocked because she didn’t want Liz to have trouble entering when she was back from Dungeon-diving, but if assholes and weirdos kept showing up, Trace would have no choice but to keep them out.
She glowered as she stalked through the empty room. It had a typical layout for an indoor gun range, with a counter at the front for payment, and some plastic tables and chairs set up around it as a makeshift waiting area. There was a drink fridge in the corner and a kitchen over at the back for those who were hungry or thirsty. A thick wall separated this room from the actual shooting area, with a thin glass window slicing horizontally through its middle.
One of the dangling white lights overhead flickered.
“I’ve got to get that fixed, don’t I?” Trace slumped over on a chair, sighing. “The world is going mad. A week has passed, and everyone’s losing their shit.”
[Trace Taylor,] a voice in her head said.
Speaking of losing your shit… She sat up. “What is it, Ex?”
[It appears you nearly engaged in battle with that Warrior and Spellcaster. As both of their individual levels surpassed yours, it is not recommended that you try to instigate combat with them in the future.]
“Thanks for telling me this ten minutes too late.” Trace rolled her eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be a super-advanced AI? You could’ve warned me of their levels beforehand.”
[My analytical capabilities are limited. I can only provide simple review and advice in regard to the System. Usually, when prompted.]
“Could have fooled me. You’re quite talkative, y’know.”
[Affirmative], he said. [My program is designed to offer guidance to those who appear to struggle acclimating with the System.]
“Are you calling me stupid?”
“I’m pretty sure you just did, Ex.”
[Negative. While your impulsive and obstinate nature initially led me to believe so, I have discerned that there is a keen intuition beneath that façade of foolishness.]
“Oh, piss off.” Trace couldn’t lie and say she wasn’t a little bit offended by that, but she knew Ex meant no insult with what he said. So, that lessened the blow to a certain extent. Also, he was partially right.
Name: Trace Taylor
Race: Human (Earth A314)
Class: Spellshot – Lvl 4
(G) Improved Accuracy – Lvl 4
(F) Deadly Sight – Lvl 3
(F+) Last in the Chamber – Lvl 2
(F+) Recall Weapon – Lvl 2
Trace reviewed her status as a translucent screen appeared in her vision. It was something she could dismiss and summon at a simple thought. It wasn’t even intrusive, either. When she brought it up but didn’t focus on it, it almost slinked into the background like her nose.
She had only levelled once since the tutorial. It was shortly after. The damage she took healed quickly, for whatever reason, but it still pissed her off that she was hurt. So, she had been using the shooting range to vent her frustrations— until a homeless man tried breaking into the building. Trace’s warning shot nearly became a fatal shot because her aim was that much better now, ironically enough.
The ‘accumulated experience,’ as Ex called it, increased the level of her class and two of her skills. Improved Accuracy and Deadly Sight. She felt just how seamlessly her hand drifted to the man’s skull. If she had an itchy trigger finger—
Trace shuddered to even finish the thought.
[Have you made a decision?]
She blinked as she heard Ex’s voice. “Made a decision?”
[For your vocation,] he said. [You pulled up your status to choose a vocation, did you not?]
“Oh.” Trace shook her head, standing up. She glanced out the window and saw the sun setting over the horizon. “No, I have not.”
[While I would like to assist you with choosing a more specialised—]
“That’s not it.” Tapping a finger on her phone, she saw no new messages. She unlocked it as she headed to the back and started up the stairs. “I’m not avoiding choosing a vocation because the options you’ve given me are shite. In fact, I’d say they’re all pretty decent.”
A vocation was like a class, except not for fighting. In her status, it appeared right below her class, above her ‘locked’ craft. There wasn’t anything exceptional about a vocation. It was like a job, except you now had skills too.
“Builder, Fisher, Technician, Cleaner. Oh, and Secretary too.” These were examples of vocations Ex offered her. Other than Secretary, Trace found there to be merits for all of them. While Cleaner or Fisher sounded rather degrading, they would only be useful for her day-to-day life.
It was simple, straightforward, and much easier to understand than a ‘class.’ But that came with its own load of issues.
“I’m just not sure which of these vocations I’d like to choose, Ex. That’s all.” Trace’s indecision might have come from her upbringing and how everything was always decided for her. “They’re all neat, but that’s just it. Nothing really stands out to me. Not like having a craft would.”
Now, a craft actually piqued Trace’s interest. That was because it wasn’t just a handy extra thing to have. According to Ex, it was the pursuit of one’s passion. Art. Music. Ideas. Creativity. The System allowed it all to flow from the abstract into something more concrete.
Trace was pretty sure that meant she’d get a class but for leisure. Unfortunately, it was ‘locked.’
[Delaying choosing a vocation means delaying getting a craft, Trace Taylor.]
“I know that. I know that.” Ex had already explained it to her when she first left the tutorial: to unlock your craft, you needed to reach level 10 for both your class and your vocation.
It was an odd requirement. If Trace had to guess why that was the case, she’d assume it was to ensure that most people levelled their class and vocation, instead of focusing only on their craft.
Trace was always an artsy person. But her parents made her learn music instead. She spent so much time learning the piano and studying, she never could practice her art enough to get good at it. By the time she had any autonomy for herself, she had lost interest in art. Now, though, if she could have skills like she did for her class to help her rapidly improve her art, then she’d like to give it a try at least.
She pulled the door to her room open— a guest room, right across from Liz’s, with the bathroom smooshed in between. It was plain, not decorated with the posters she’d like to have on the walls since she left her home in a hurry. “I’ll figure it out later, Ex. When I wake up.”
With a yawn, she sank into her bed. She was an early bird, always waking up at dawn, a habit since young.
[Affirmative], Ex said and spoke no more.
Plugging in her phone to charge, Trace quickly unlocked it and opened her messenger app. She tapped on one of her contacts.
Liz the bitch <3:
– Gonna b entering the D
– U shld come next time
– No connection inside, ttyl!
– when will you be back?
There was no response. Trace glanced at the top of the screen, right below Liz’s name.
– 9 hours ago
She sighed. You’re going to spend the night in the Dungeon again, aren’t you? Trace quickly typed one last message before putting her phone down and going to sleep.
– locked the door cuz weirdos keep showing up
– text me if u need me to open it
* * *
Trace jolted awake as she heard glass shattering from the first floor. She snatched her phone up, looking at the time. It was just past midnight. Liz hadn’t replied. And she pursed her lip. Just fucking great. It better not be another homeless—
There was a crash, and she hurriedly grabbed her gun as she got out of bed. Whoever was down there didn’t just wander in by accident. They were here with a purpose.
The couple from earlier?
She crept down the stairs, holding her breath, only to see a single figure standing inside the firing room. Trace narrowed her eyes.
Who the fuck is that?
He seemed to speak, a muffled voice seeping through the doorway. “How quaint, for such a place to be. I see. Mayhaps it’s best for me to take my leave.”
Is he high?