Fantasy Writings -- Occam's Razor: Nothing Unreal Exists version 2.1
Occam's Razor:
Nothing Unreal Exists, version 2.1
James Justin
Original story © 1996. Edited edition © 2000.


I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
>and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
--Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

You slammed your head against yet another low hanging tree branch as you were trying to step over a man-sized boulder. The branch snapped like a twig, and made enough noise to wake the dead as it landed on you. The fact that this caused you to trip over the boulder didn't help any.
"Fuck!" you screamed as you rose to your feet, and kicked the boulder.
It sailed fifteen feet down the valley you were climbing when it hit a small tree, shattered it with a loud crack, and proceeded to roll down the valley. You suddenly felt very stupid. The entire purpose of climbing up the valley slowly was so that your prey wouldn't discover you. The sound of trees splintering and boulders being dislodged echoing throughout the valley made you certain that stealth was now useless.
You swore to yourself for still not being used to being an ogre. It seemed that you hit every low hanging branch you tried to step under, and accidentally uprooted every tree you leaned against.
The echoes stopped, and the valley suddenly became very silent. You were certain that any second, your prey would charge out here and dismember you. You paused for thirty thundering heartbeats, then slowly lifted the branch off of yourself and placed it on the ground behind you. Trying once again to be quiet, you walked forward.
You winced as a twig snapped under your feet. Although the sound was absorbed in the air around you, in your ears it sounded like you had managed to snap a log in half. You paused once again to see if your prey had discovered you. Nothing happened, so you proceeded, hoping that you weren't walking into your doom.
It was an eternity before you neared the creature's lair. You were ten paces away from what you knew had to be the illusionary bushes that concealed the lair of the beast that you had to slay when you stepped on a very large, very dry leaf. The leaf collapsed under your bare, wart-infested foot with a crunch that echoed several times from the valley. Somehow, you could imagine that was what your spine was going to sound like as the beast crushes it when it discovers you out here.
As you again paused to see if the monster had heard you, you shook the disturbing thought away. After all, you were a member of the elite warrior tribe Je Magnu. That thought vanished, though, when you remembered how many of your friends have come charging up the mountain to complete the rite of manhood only to have their entrails discovered piecemeal over a three mile area the next day.
You slowly lifted your foot off the leaf and paused before the bushes. You considered abandoning your task, and just going back to fighting simple stuff like mountain lions and the occasional human. But, no, if you were ever going to make your mark on this world, you would have to do this, so that you can begin the advanced training and be sent into the wilds to earn the glory due to you. You continued.
As expected, the bushes melted through your body. The cold mountain air was suddenly replaced by warm, stagnant air as you entered a cave. The sound of the world around you suddenly became muted, and when you eyes adjusted to the darkness, you saw your target: a baby red dragon curled up in a ball, still asleep.
It let out a pathetic little snore, like the one you would expect to hear from a kitten. This was no kitten, however. This creature was thirty feet long and was in most circumstances more than a match for an ogre in single combat. This was also a creature with a mother.
You had timed your approach so that she was out hunting, so that you could proudly bring back the head of her kid before she ever arrived. But, she could actually return at any moment.
'Computer-- what time is it?' you thought quietly, as if the sleeping dragon could hear your thoughts if you dared to think them too loudly.
The computer responded cheerfully, and loudly, as only a computer can: "It is two-twelve forty-seven P.M. Monday, November 13th, the Year of our Lord two thousand..."
'SHUT UP!!!' you screamed mentally as the computer's voice was still echoing throughout the chamber. You then berated yourself for being foolish. The dragon was programmed not to respond to the computer's voice-- it hadn't even stirred.
Since your physics lab was at three, you had plenty of time to complete this task and get to class on time. That was good; your lab T.A. would rip you apart if you missed another lab. Then you remembered that you hadn't done the pre-lab work yet. That would take the rest of the time until lab.
You looked at the peacefully sleeping dragon, and thought of how it took you an hour just to manage to sneak up here, and how you would probably never again get a better time to complete the rite of manhood. You sighed; your grades were slipping badly enough. Sometimes, you felt like mentally kicking yourself for getting addicted to these games.
You silently unsheathed your man sized dwarven-crafted mithral bastard sword and considered the dragon. Its scales were a deep crimson, indicating that they were still thin and would rip apart like paper against your fine blade.
You buried your sword to the hilt at the wing joint, snapping several bones. The dragon's eyes shot open, and a high-pitched scream erupted from its mouth. Your teeth hurt and your ear drums threatened to erupt as the sound reverberated throughout the cavern. Then, the dragon tried to jump to its feet. Before it could do so, though, you viciously yanked your sword out and made a brutal downward slice, connecting with the beast's left rear leg and breaking the shin. It fell sidelong, crying out in both fury and pain.
Although it had nowhere to run to, it was far from defeated. The dragon head whipped around and unleashed flames that seemed to lazily flow upward all over your towering form. You could feel your skin blister, and you could smell your hide armor scorching under the heat. It was only a baby, though, and your tough skin could take a lot more punishment than that.
As you considered your predicament, you were glad that you had the forethought to turn the pain relay on your jack to minimum. Although you knew of many people who said that it made these games more realistic when you experience the fullness of the agony caused by battle wounds, you had to disagree. Somehow you didn't think that experiencing being scorched alive could in any way be a good thing. It hurt badly enough with the jack adjusted to minimum-- you didn't want to think of what it would feel like at maximum or even at normal settings.
It began to inhale for another attack. You knew that the flame reservoir had to be in there somewhere, so you struck repeatedly, impaling the wretched creature several times in the chest, to no avail. Your only victory was that the dragon wheezed a little as it breathed fire over you again.
The sweat evaporated from your body and the blisters boiled and popped, leaving ugly scorched patches throughout your thick hide. The flames didn't relent, and your armor was soon little more than thin black leather straps handing loosely over you. You squinted your eyes, looking for any clue as to where the flames came from, which resulted in your eyes drying up and heating up painfully under the flames. The price was worth it, however, as you saw something like spittle shooting from a gland beneath the tongue, which was hurled forward by the air from the lungs, bursting into flames as it goes.
The dragon began to take a wheezing breath in, but you quickly took the advantage by thrusting your sword into its mouth, piercing the gland. When you withdrew your sword, you could see the terror in the dragon's eyes as blood and pungent liquid squirted from the gland, covering the dragon's head and bursting into flame.
The blinded dragon squealed as it fell back against the cavern wall, raking furiously at the flames spreading over its head, neck and down its throat. Flames began to emerge from the holes that you had put into its chest, and although dragons are supposed to be resistant to flame, it was simply unable to resist the intensity of the fire that bathed the beast. By the time that the fuel was gone, the dragon lay in a lump on the cavern floor, its front half fully charred, barely breathing with shallow breaths, wheezing from the sound of blood and air escaping from the charred holes in its chest.
It was still alive, but certainly unable to put up any sort of fight. You raised your sword, though, as the dragon began to mumble something strange in its high-pitched voice. Yet, no spell came forth from the dragon as it repeated whatever it was that it was saying.
At first, you thought the dragon was trying to call out to its mother using its native tongue, but then you recognized a badly pronounced "don't" come from its mouth. It was trying to beg for mercy in English, but its tongue, vocal cords and lungs were charred too badly for anything it said to be understood.
At first, you considered accepting the plea, but then you considered what value having a crippled baby dragon would be: none. Besides, its mother would hunt for it day and night until she found it, and then you would be more than dead. The baby dragon didn't even try to raise its arms in defense as you raised your sword.
"What the Hell do you think you're doing?!" you heard a booming voice say behind and above you.
Your heart skipped several beats, and cold sweat erupted onto your palms. For several seconds, you could only stand there, paralyzed with fright. Then, you slowly turned your head.
The first thing you saw was a huge claw at your face level about twenty feet away. That was bad enough, until you realized that the claw belonged to a toe that was firmly planted on the ground, and you knew that the claws that would your tear you apart were still much, much higher. Lifting your eyes, you saw the bulk of the beast. The scales were a fiery reddish orange, and glistened even in the gloom of the cave as a testimony against you and what seemed then like your pathetic sword. As you tilted you head back, you saw the neck extend into the darkness, where the head could not be seen except for two glowing orange eyes, easily three hundred feet above you. How this thing entered the cave unnoticed was a mystery; how you were going to get out alive was even a greater one.
You rushed forward and tried to plunge your sword into the belly of the beast, throwing all of your weight into the blow. Yet, your sword bounced off of her scales, and a lightning bolt erupted from her belly and into your sword. Your body seemed to explode as searing heat bathed you. Your sword melted in your hand, and the jolt threw you into the wall ten feet above the baby dragon, and completely destroyed your sword arm, which was now little more than a charred husk attached to your blackened shoulder.
Before you could fall on the baby dragon, a clawed fist slammed into your chest, cracking most of your ribs and blasting the breath from your lungs. The fist then opened within a blink of an eye, and the hand grasped your limp body.
You were then hurled towards the chamber ceiling at speeds that you didn't think that an ogre could travel. At the last second, you could see what the dragon had thrown you at: a fifteen foot long stalactite hanging from the ceiling waiting eagerly to impale you. You tried to twist your battered form about to avoid hitting it, and as a result, you were only impaled on your left shoulder, rather than through the heart. Your left arm went numb as the stone spike pierced your nerve bundle and continued through your body for another 10 feet before you finally came to rest, hanging 350 feet above the chamber floor, with the dragon's head looking up at you, only thirty feet away, with hatred burning so clearly in her eyes.
" You son of a bitch! Do you have no honor? That child is the only survivor of the four that I've had!"
You groaned a pathetic reply; your left lung had collapsed when you were impaled and your right one was refusing to work. You considered logging out now, but by the time the logout procedure had completed, the dragon would have roasted you and be well on her way to having an ogre for a snack.
She continued: "Fucking adventurers like you killed them all. Can you even imagine what that feels like?"
"Am I interrupting something?" a woman's voice said from behind the dragon.
The dragon whipped her head around to glare at the intruder. Far below, at the cave's entrance you could see a human woman, barely five feet tall, standing defiantly about ten feet away from the dragon's curled tail with her small glowing sword drawn.
"This is a private conversation," the dragon said to her.
You could barely see the woman smile. "No; it WAS a private conversation."
The dragon tried to smash her tail into this unwelcome guest with blinding speed. But the woman calmly brought her sword down to parry the blow, and when the tail hit her sword, it was severed in half, and blood poured all over the human warrior.
The dragon opened her mouth in an expression of surprise that turned into a grimace of rage. Then, she screamed. Her high pitched cry felt like it was about to crush what remained of your body into dust. Several stalactites were dislodged from the ceiling of the chamber and fell towards the floor far below. You could feel the stalactite that you were impaled on crack, and begin to shift under your bulk, but it held. A hot explosion erupted from your left ear, and you could feel the blood run out of it, as your eardrum ruptured.
The dragon breathed. Flames hit the floor surrounding the human and spread out for fifteen feet around her. She didn't even try to dodge them, and it seemed she was consumed by the fire spewing from the dragon's mouth. The flames did not relent, and the stone floor began to glow bright red, and then it cracked under the intense heat. Two minutes later, the dragon stopped breathing, and there was only a small puddle of quickly cooling molten rock where the human had been standing.
"You need to learn to control your temper," the woman's voice rang out when the dragon stopped. "You can really made your lair an unpleasant place to live if you keep doing stuff like that."
The dragon swerved her head searching for the source of the echoing voice, and you did likewise. You had no idea that she could survive a breath attack like that.
A small scream brought both yours and the dragon's attention to the baby dragon, whom the woman had moved away from the wall to put her sword up to its throat. You could see even from up here that the baby dragon's skin had split open when she forced it to move, and that was no doubt the source of the scream. The woman didn't have even so much as a single hair singed.
"Look," the woman said to the dragon as the beast's lungs were again filling with air, "I don't really want to kill your kid, here. I don't want to kill you, either. So, I'll let your kid go and I'll walk away from here without killing either you or your child here if you simply pluck the ogre from the ceiling and let us walk out of here."
The dragon seemed to smile and looked back up to you. Your right lung was about to let in a breath of air, but when you saw the calculating eyes of the dragon drill into you, you figured that it would be safer just not to take that breath yet. She reached up and broke the stalactite above you, so that the stone spike still was impaled on your shoulder. Then, with all of the considerable might of an angry adult dragon, she hurled you down at the woman.
The human reacted with the reflexes of a cat, for before you could even cry out in surprise (even if your right lung was up to the task), she had shoved the baby dragon into your path. The stalactite bore straight through the baby dragon's head, with the force of a falling ogre behind it. The creature was dead before it even knew that it had been struck.
The corpse did manage to break a great deal of your fall, though. You expected to be killed, but instead, you felt a hot wet tear in your shoulder at the stalactite ripped through what remained of your flesh. Looking down at it, you could only stare at your collarbone sticking out of a gaping wound, and your left arm attached to your body only by the skin on your back.
"NO!! My baby!" you could feel more than hear the dragon scream behind you.
The stone around you began to shine with an eerie orange glow, and you wondered why until you looked upward. A column of fire over three hundred feet long was on its way down to greet you. You passed out.
By the time you regained consciousness, you were sitting behind the dragon, staring at the bloody stump of her tail as she was breathing fire furiously at the far wall. Beside you, the human woman calmly sat, watching the dragon melt half of the surface of the wall.
"What the.." you began.
"Shh," she chided. "I teleported us here a split second before the flames hit, so she is just giving her baby a proper cremation without knowing that we're not being incinerated with the corpse. She's been breathing now for almost three minutes. In the meantime, I forced you to drink a healing potion, and I slipped a ring of invisibility on your finger. I didn't think you wanted to continue to face off against that dragon; I hope you don't mind."
You looked over at the dragon so consumed with fury, and especially on the fact that the flames of her fury had now been raging for over three minutes and was melting a good section of her lair. No, you didn't mind not facing off against her at all.
You then considered the entrance behind you and said, "Why don't we just leave while she is distracted?"
She looked down at you with her steel blue eyes and winked, saying: "I came here to kill a dragon. She's still alive."
The dragon then stopped breathing, and the woman smiled, and vanished. You saw her re-appear standing on the dragon's nose. This woman was obviously nuts. You considered leaving her to face the death she deserved for her foolishness. The potion she gave you seemed to be working. You could breathe easily; your shoulder was healed; and, your sword arm was only red and blistering rather than charred and useless. Besides, you really had to at least TRY the pre-lab work, and now that the head of the baby dragon that you needed to show the chief of the Je Magnu tribe was ashes mixed with liquid stone, there was no way you could finish the rite of manhood. But, it wasn't every day that you get to see a cute lady get her butt kicked by a dragon 70 times her size. This might be interesting.
You couldn't see the fury in the dragon's eyes that you knew had to be there. (Which was a good thing, you thought, since you didn't know how effective this ring was against dragons.) The fury was more than evident, however, when the dragon simply exclaimed: "YOU..."
The human gave a curtsey to the dragon, which was silly, since she was wearing breast plate armor and metal leggings, and not a dress. The dragon snapped its head back and opened its mouth to bite the woman as she was hanging in mid-air. The woman didn't hesitate, however. She simply threw a glowing object below the dragon's tongue and vanished.
She appeared before you. Before you had a chance to protest, she lifted you to your feet, looked up into your eyes and said: "RUN."
Looking into her eyes, you knew that something terrible was about to happen if you disobeyed, so you ran towards the cave entrance, jumping over the severed dragon's tail on the way out. The dragon must have heard you, for you heard her turn around and inhale.
You expected to be reduced to ashes as you passed the illusionary bushes and began to stumble down the hill. You were then hit from behind, and fell flat on your face. You realized that it was the woman who hit you as she jumped over your prone form and hit the ground herself, covering up her head. You were about to question her when you saw a brilliant flash, then a shock wave struck you from behind. Searing heat hit your healing back, and your skin began to blister again. Several nearby trees were uprooted and burned as the blast wave hit them, and rock particles began to rain down everywhere.
Your right ear was ringing, and you could feel your heart pounding. You felt like you had survived a nuclear blast. In the distance, trees were being consumed by a fire that the blast had produced, and you could see your shadow etched in the nearby trees that were still standing. Glowing rocks were all around you, and charred pieces of dragon flesh assailed your nostrils with their stench. You turned your head back towards the cave. The illusionary bushes were gone, revealing the cave entrance, which was two hundred feet in width and a hundred feet in height: perfect to accommodate a flying adult dragon. The cave was well lit now, and you could see the blackened headless body of the dragon lying on the glowing cave floor. You couldn't believe you were alive to see this sight.
"Not bad, huh?" the woman said cheerfully as she jumped to her feet behind you.
"What the Hell was that?" was all that you could bring yourself to say.
"I'll take that as a thank you for saving your ugly hide. That was about the magical equivalent of a flask of nitroglycerin. The dragon couldn't see me throw it in there when she was about to eat me. So, I teleported away from her bite, and when she later breathed, it set off the explosive, rupturing the gland while it was under pressure. This caused it to explode. I've fought many dragons and that technique works very well."
You sighed and thanked her heartily. You suddenly felt guilty for wanting to abandon this woman who obviously risked her life to save yours. You also felt pathetic that this woman was so capable of defeating the dragon and you were afraid to even take on her kid.
She then said: "So, what it your name, any way? I never managed to catch it while you were impaled on the ceiling."
You paused as your nearly gave her your real name. This game was so realistic that sometimes it was hard to distinguish fantasy from reality. "Imperious of Je Magnu," you said. "What is yours, milady?"
"Cut the milady bull. I don't really care for it. Just call me Illogica. I don't exactly have a clan; few warrior mages do. So, what were you doing in the cave fighting a baby dragon when you weren't ready for its mother?"
You puffed out your chest (and felt your chest nearly collapse in response; you weren't quite fully healed, yet), and said proudly, "I have earned the right to quest for the right of manhood so that I can achieve the rank of Adventurer to seek my glory."
She laughed. You looked down at her, hurt. You didn't care that she was more powerful than you, but you had earned this right, and you were actually proud your yourself for doing it. Heck, you had even skipped more than a few class sessions to earn this right, for you knew that was when the real fun of the game would begin. But here this woman was, mocking you.
"How long have you been playing MUVARs?" she asked.
It took a few seconds before you remembered what MUVAR meant: Multi-User Virtual Action Realm. You always just referred to it as the game, and were still not used to the acronym. "Four weeks," you answered. "Why do you ask?"
She sighed, then said: "Well, I don't want to offend you, but the chief of Je Magnu hates newbies like you. That is why he gives them sub-standard training and sub-standard equipment while filling their heads with garbage saying that they're all-powerful because they're part of an ogre clan with many powerful warriors as members. I hate to break it to you, but those who survive to be that powerful were trained elsewhere and were able to pass their right to manhood quest with ease. Your chief simply pushes you guys into the ritual too early so that he doesn't have to baby-sit you guys as you try to figure out stuff like where the flame gland is on a dragon."
You felt offended. "Hey! The chief himself gave me my sword 'rock splitter' and he told me exactly where the dragon's lair was, and how to recognize the illusionary bushes. He said that he was confident that I would emerge from this victoriously."
"Imperious, look: if you had an enchanted blade made out of cardboard, it would be able to cut better than any non-enchanted blade. Your sword looked like it was made out of mithral alloy, which is the cheapest, most common alloy in the realms. He probably took the sword from a troll once, gave it an impressive name and handed it to you. It certainly didn't seem to endure the lightning bolt too well. My blade is enchanted bronze, and certainly faired better than yours did. Its enchantment even prevented the lightning bolt from going off when I chopped her tail in half. My friend, believe me; it's fairly cheap to buy an enchanted blade. You can get one of your own. Also, the chief didn't do you a favor by leading you up the mountain. He nearly got you killed. If I weren't tracking the mother when she returned to her nest, you would have been dinner by now."
You let the words sink in. What she was saying was certainly true. But, what could you do in a world that you were unfamiliar with without a clan to lean on? Besides, you had no money to buy stuff with. You asked: "So, what do I do now?"
She looked at the cave and said: "Well, the dragon's treasure is still in there. Once it cools off, we can split it. Then, I'll lead you into the nearest city, where you can buy good weapons and armor. From there, you're on your own."
You were confused. You didn't remember seeing any treasure. "Where is the treasure?"
She laughed. "I see the chief didn't expect you to kill the dragon if he didn't bother telling you where dragons keep their treasure. They swallow it."
You winced at the thought of entering the dead dragon's stomach to scoop out its slimy treasure. Illogica certainly didn't seem to have a problem with it; she was already looking greedily at the headless corpse. You shook your head at the irony of the situation: you, the ugly brutish ogre warrior was afraid to chop up a corpse to get treasure while the frail looking and fair human lady was looking forward to the macabre task.
Looking at the stone floor still glowing an angry red, you figured it would be a while before the treasure could be recovered. You looked over at the Illogica, who was scowling at the cavern floor impatiently. Letting your eyes wander, you scanned her black hair neatly braided down to the small of her back, then the armor she wore, which was very well crafted to fit her perfectly, not leaning much of her slender yet well muscled physique to the imagination. You would let your eyes wander further, but you held yourself in check, in case she caught you staring at her.
You then sighed softly to yourself. You never had much luck with women in real life, and so far all the women you met in the game were computer generated slaves or peasants. While you knew of some people who had no problem going after artificially intelligent fantasy women, you somehow couldn't bring yourself to do that. That was the problem: for some reason, few women liked games like these, so female characters not played by the computer were few and far between. Illogica was the first you had managed to meet, but you didn't see how anything could develop out of it.
You began to ponder the wisdom of playing an ogre, for it seemed now more than ever how painfully obvious how ugly you really were. You ran your hand down your face, and every wart, every scar seemed to shout as you felt each one in turn. Your nose felt so large and pig-like that you wished that you could just cut it off. You could almost sense your knobbed hears sticking out from under your long matted unwashed dung colored hair. You were glad that you were still wearing the ring of invisibility, so that Illogica didn't have too look upon you. But, you wouldn't be wearing the ring forever.
Illogica's voice knocked you from your thoughts: "Let's do it. Put those calluses to good use."
"Excuse me?"
She pointed to the floor, which had cooled to a very dull crimson while you were lost in your thoughts. "I think the floor's cool enough where the typical ogre foot calluses will prevent you from getting hurt, and my wooden soled boots should be more than enough to keep me safe. Let's get the loot!"
Getting the loot wasn't as easy as Illogica let on. She didn't want to crawl into the dragon's body, so she craved at it with her sword for almost ten minutes, until the stomach split open and a stream of coins mixed with half digested human flesh poured out. Because of your strength, you then carried the gruesome mixture bit by slimy bit to the cave entrance, where you and Illogica then separated the treasure from the other stomach contents and split it. You managed to get about 4500 gold coins, which is more than you have ever seen since you started playing.
"That's it?!" Illogica wailed. "I used up a flask of detonation to kill a dragon that couldn't even afford to buy one? I feel like a fool!"
There wasn't much you could say to comfort her, since you had no idea how to get a flask of detonation and you were ecstatic because you never had more than a few hundred coins before. Then, you remembered one thing you did have to offer, but you didn't quite know how to offer it.
You gruffly cleared your throat, then said, "Milady, it seems that I am in your debt for saving my life. If it pleases you, I would like to repay that debt by becoming your apprentice and serving you, even if it means giving my life to save you. Once I am properly trained, I believe that my strength will..."
"Strength is not an excuse for a brain," she cut in. "I told you to knock the milady crap off. If you want to serve me, that will be the first thing to go. If I hear you say milady once again, I will find the lair of the largest dragon I can find and drop you in there with a sign around your neck saying 'eat me.' I don't like to repeat myself."
You didn't know what to say. Her answer wasn't a yes, but it wasn't a no, either. Her pause only made you more nervous. It was then that you heard a beeping in your ear. Damn. You told the computer to warn you when it was ten before three o'clock. If you stayed here much longer, you would be late again for your physics lab.
"Uh, I need to leave soon," you said sheepishly. "Will you let me be your apprentice?"
She gave you a grin that froze any further words in your mouth. Perhaps you had made a mistake by asking her that, for it was clear that she had plans for you that you would not approve of.
Her smile vanished and you felt yourself relax. She then turned toward the East and said: "I'm going to travel to the city of Chakkor, where I expect to meet you. I will make sure that you are properly equipped for what you will have to face in the world. Then, you will enter the maze of Therix the Trainer to learn what you will really need to know in order to survive in the world. If you live through that, I will then decide if I will let you be my apprentice.
"You will also give me your e-mail address so that we can coordinate our meeting times, and you will also turn the pain sensitivity on your jack to maximum."
You were relaxed no longer. You gave her your e-mail address, but you were apprehensive to turn the pain sensitivity on the jack to maximum. You didn't care how cute she was; no woman was worth experiencing the full agony of intense combat. "Why should I turn my jack up? That's nuts, I don't want to feel..."
Before you cold go on, Illogica calmly unsheathed her glowing sword and quickly sliced your abdomen open. You stared in shock as you saw your guts begin to spill out. Soon, you were busy trying just to keep your severed intestines from falling on the ground.
"Why the Hell did you..." you screamed in horror.
"What does that feel like?" she calmly asked.
"It's slimy, and pretty disgusting! I can't believe that you just..." "You should be writhing in agony by now," she said as she handed you another healing potion. "When you turn the pain sensitivity on your jack to maximum, you learn quickly to dodge stuff like that. Your mind overwhelms the jack with urgency when you are about to be struck, and the jack responds to the mind's commands. Remember-- physical laws work differently here. You can move your 800 pound frame just as quickly as I can move my body, for the only limitation to how fast you move is how fast you want to move. Your first lesson is over; get out of here. E-mail me when you are about to log on again, so that we can meet in Chakkor."
You were still in shock about just having your abdomen sliced open, but you could clearly see where she was coming from. You had quaffed the healing potion when she was talking, so your intestines were already healed, and the skin was once again sealing itself. When she hit you, it felt as if she hit you with a small stick, rather than an enchanted blade. Somehow, you didn't want to know what that blow would have felt like with the jack's pain sensors at maximum. But, that was her point. You knew that she was going to slice you when she unsheathed her sword, but you just figured that being an ogre, you could take the damage. But, being able to take the damage and being able to avoid the damage was the difference between a foolish warrior and a good one.
"Mila... um, Illogica, what is your e-mail address so I can contact you?"
She gave it to you, and you made a mental note to write it down once you were logged off, so that you wouldn't forget it.
"I'll probably be back on in an hour or two, " you said to her.
"I'll probably still be on. If not, I'll e-mail you and let you know when I'll be on next. Have fun." She said as she was wiping your blood from her sword with a rag from her pack.
"Good bye."
She gave you a sly wink. "No good byes. Simply fare thee well will do."
"Fare thee well, then."
'Computer,' you reluctantly thought, 'log off.'
The world melted around you and was replaced by a dull gray, which you found yourself floating in. You were next to a red swirling mist, which you knew was the gate for the game you were just in. A thin silvery cord connected with your chest and traveled away from you, into the gray void before you. This cord you knew was your connection to the real world.
"Your command?" the cheery computer voice seemed to echo in the void.
"Quit virtual telnet connection." you said.
"Please wait."
Soon, you found yourself moving rapidly away from the game's portal as if you were being reeled in by your cord. Far in the distance, you could see many other gates floating in the void, and users were moving to and from these gates. It was always amusing to see what shapes the various users chose for their bodies in cyber-nullspace, for you have seen everything ranging from pixies to dragons to 70 foot tall images of the various mythical gods. You, however, liked simplicity. You were an ogre in the game; you were an ogre in cyber-nullspace. You couldn't see anyone else's cords though, for they were only visible to the user. Although cyber-nullspace was by its nature infinite in size, computers were the master navigators, so trips between the gates were always short. Soon enough, you found yourself nearing the gate that your cord originated from, and entered it.
The feeling of sheer strength began to ebb from you as the computer began to relinquish control of your real body. Soon, your 800 pound bulk was replaced by a scant 130 pound human frame sitting in a chair before a computer wearing a helmet jack. You lifted the small device off of your head, and waited until the head rush that accompanies ending the link went away. Placing the helmet jack on top of the monitor, you leaned forward in your chair. The computer screen proudly displayed:
Link completed. Connection closed.
Command, please>>>
You typed "exit" and glanced at your watch. As you feared, it was well past 3 in the afternoon. You were once again late for physics.
The walk to class was uneventful. It was a warm day, for mid-November. The Santa Ana winds were blowing today, and that kept the temperature well above 100 for the past several days, which didn't surprise you, since Southern California temperatures rarely dipped below 85, even in the dead of winter, ever since the rain forest depletion was complete in 2002. You remember the experts shouting about ice caps melting and doomsday stuff when you were younger, but none of those things have happened yet. It just seemed that the Southwest United States simply became hot year round instead of 9 months out of the year.
Ignoring the heat as you walked towards the physics building from your dorm room, you considered the wisdom of becoming Illogica's apprentice. In High School, you never really did anything serious with women. In fact, you generally tried to avoid them, because you didn't want anything getting in the way of your GPA. You knew that if your GPA dropped, your parents would make life more than miserable for you. But, when you got here, living life in the books became a near impossibility, especially in the dorms. It seemed like everyone who had a boyfriend/girlfriend from high school was dumping them like yesterday's garbage and getting hitched up with everyone who was available... everyone except you, that is. You simply didn't have the courage to go up to any of the girls and ask, so you resigned to living in your books instead, which led to utter boredom and loneliness.
The game changed all that. In the computer lab for your Intro. to Computers class, you saw one of the computer science majors hooked up to the helmet link but obviously not using it to do the lab work. You asked him what he was doing, and he let you have a taste. You were hooked from then on out. Then only problem arose when you later discovered that the ethernet ports in the dorm rooms supported virtual telnet connections, because you had bought a helmet link for your computer, and have been playing it almost continually ever since, even missing classes to play more of the game.
Playing an ogre was an obvious choice, for you could be strong, powerful and nearly invincible from the start. Combat had always been a snap for you, for you usually just hit whatever it was you were attacking once, and your strength would decimate them. For the first time in your life, you felt powerful, strong and in control, and you liked it. You decided that the rest of the people on your hall could indulge in their relationships, such as they were. You had what you needed, and you didn't need a girlfriend.
Or so it seemed. Illogica stirred things inside you that you weren't comfortable with. She made you feel pathetic, weak and clueless when she killed the dragon that had you beaten so easily. She mocked everything about yourself that made you proud, yet you still wanted to be her apprentice, simply to be close to her. What bothered you was the fact that you didn't understand why. Was having a girlfriend actually that important to you?
Physics was uneventful. You had entered under the intense glare of your Physics T.A., and when you didn't finish the lab, he simply shook his head in shame. You noticed that he had marked you absent because you were twenty minutes late. By now, you didn't care any more. In the past four weeks since you started playing the game, you had missed thee labs and were late to a fourth. Being late to this one didn't seem to matter.
After running back to the dorms and wolfing down dinner, you checked your e-mail looking for any sign that Illogica was still waiting for you in the game. You saw one message from someone named Chris Sim, with the reply e-mail address the same as the one Illogica gave you. You highlighted it and hit the mouse button to display the message:

Imperious,
11/13/06

Sorry, but I won't be on the MUVAR tonight, because a friend stopped by. I'll see you tomorrow. I'm already in Chakkor. Go ahead and go there yourself, but be careful not to fight anything inside the city, no matter how pathetic something may look, for many of the most powerful characters look the weakest. Take care.
Love,
--Illogica

Disappointed, you took the helmet link and cradled it in your hands. For some reason, you didn't really want to enter the game if Illogica wasn't there. Well, it was either play the game again or try to socialize with the hall. You quit out of the mail reader and put on the helmet link.
You felt the computer begin to probe your mind trying to establish a connection. After about ten seconds, an eerie feeling of relaxation came over your body. The computer had control of your body now; you were set to go.
The trip to Chakkor wasn't very exciting. Despite Illogica's advice, you didn't change the pain settings on the jack, but it didn't matter. The only thing you fought with were some goblin raiders, and because you were still wearing the ring of invisibility, they didn't get a chance to hit you before you caved in their skulls with your bare fist. Once you got there, you logged off, since you didn't want to make a mistake by buying something cursed or getting into a fight with something you couldn't handle. After you logged off, you went to sleep.
Illogica wasn't there the next day, or even the day after that. Both days you received e-mail from her player, Chris, saying that her friend had spent the night at her apartment, and that she couldn't play as a result. You hoped that this friend she spoke of wasn't a boyfriend, but it certainly looked like it.
Finally, on Thursday you received an e-mail message after your English class:

Imperious,
11/16/06

I am on the MUVAR, and I am in Chakkor waiting for you. Please meet me there.
Love,
--Illogica

You couldn't get the helmet link on fast enough. As soon as it was done making the connection with your brain, you stated the command: "Computer, begin virtual telnet connection, now!"
"Location and settings filename?" the computer said cheerfully.
Usually this process didn't irritate you at all, but you wanted to get onto the game quickly, and the usual computer run-around wasn't doing anything to improve your mood. Someday, you were going to learn how to write a macro to by-pass all of this stuff, but today was not that day.
"File is called 'biteme1', damn it! Get on with it!"
"File 'biteme1' accessed and loading. Please wait." the computer calmly said with its typical upbeat tone that seemed to you to almost be an insult to your current mood.
You paused for what seemed to be an eternity as the computer loaded all of the information regarding the game-mind interface. "Enjoy," it said when it was finished, and the world around you melted and you found yourself floating in the gray expanse of cyber-nullspace.
You almost gave the command to take you to the game, but you remembered what Illogica told you to do. If you kept the pain settings to minimum, she would know about it the first time you got hit.
'Computer,' you thought, 'change pain settings to maximum.'
'Pain setting now at level 35. Warning-- this setting may be hazardous to users with heart problems or any physical ailment involving the pancreas, liver, bladder or cardiovascular system. If you have any of these problems, or have a history of seizures, please set the level below 10 for your safety. Thank you."
That warning didn't make you comfortable. You paused to consider the pain you knew that Illogica was going to make certain you felt. But, it seemed that in order to become a good warrior, and to near Illogica, you would need to endure it. So, you said: "Computer, take me to the game."
"Connected to 192.216.48.20 4321. Please wait."
Your journey began. Swiftly, you moved through the gray expanse littered with gates and users. You managed to see a clump of users congregated together talking about something. Curious, you strained your ears to listen, but they were too far away. Soon, you saw a gate closing in, and you knew by the fact that the computer didn't try to move you away from it that this was the gate to the game.
You entered the gate and felt the familiar sensation of vertigo wash over you as your body shifted from the weightless void of cyber-nullspace to materializing before the gates of Chakkor. You looked around. Two human guards were standing by the city gate, looking bored, and there was a leprous peasant sitting in front of them with his hat before him, begging for coins. These three wretches were probably computer characters, and there were no player characters in sight.
The guards didn't bat an eye as you walked into the city of Chakkor. You looked about. You were standing on the west side of Chakkor, and the buildings were pretty run down over here. Nobody was in sight-- not even computer characters. For a city, it seemed pretty abandoned.
You turned around and asked a guard: "Where is everybody? Isn't this supposed to be a city?"
The guard didn't turn to look at you, but said: "Milord, you are standing in the bowels of Chakkor. Everyone here is either a fool like yourself, dead, or in hiding."
You wondered why neither of the guards bothered to look at you, and why the beggar hadn't solicited you for gold. Then, you remembered that you have yet to take the ring of invisibility off since you Illogica first slipped it onto your finger. You guessed that being invisible while searching for her would be bad, so you removed the ring and wandered away from the gate.
When you were far enough away where you wouldn't be disturbed my anyone entering the gate, you thought to yourself: 'Computer, locate Illogica.'
"Illogica is in the city of Chakkor," the computer replied happily.
'No duh, you stupid machine!,' you thought. 'Computer, where IN THE CITY is Illogica?'
"No need to be rude," the computer said, sounding hurt. Then, it chirped happily: "Illogica is 4.35 feet in front and 1.78 feet left of the fruit stand owned by Klax the Dwarven Axe-Eater, which lies in the marketplace of the Rising Third Moon, which is 563.12 yards East and 12.80 yards north of your current location."
Well, that was certainly more helpful. You started to walk down the avenue before you, which traveled almost due East. You could almost feel eyes upon you from every empty building and alleyway that you passed. You held the ring of invisibility in your palm tightly, ready to slip it on in case anything jumped out at you.
Being an ogre has its advantages, for no one apparently liked the idea of attacking you, since you reached the edge of the market unchallenged. Once you reached the market, however, you also reached a sea of people who didn't seem to want to part to let you through. Even being over 8 feet in height, you felt crushed by the weight of people of every fantasy race you could think of pressed in this tight area. So, you gave up walking and instead used your height to scan for fruit stands.
Sure enough, you saw a watermelon stand with a banner showing a gray bearded dwarf chopping a watermelon in half with an axe. Looking behind the mountain of watermelons, you saw the same gray bearded dwarf trying to sell a watermelon to a giant who was passing by. His axe, however, was not to be seen.
Neither was Illogica, it seemed. The giant that the dwarf was talking with was part of a group of giants who were all standing in front of the watermelon stand who seemed to be waiting for their companion to either buy a watermelon to shut the dwarf up or try to pound the dwarf for disturbing their walk through the market. Either way, there was no way that Illogica's five foot frame could be seen through the towering forms of the giants.
"Looking for a friend?" a female voice said lustfully behind and far below you.
You turned around and looked down to where the voice originated from. You couldn't believe your eyes, for you saw a halfling woman wearing a transparent dress that revealed literally everything (especially viewing from your angle), with the fur from her feet straining against the ties of her gaudy snake skin sandals. The worst part of it was the fact that she couldn't possibly be taller that 2 1/2 feet tall.
She winked at you and said, "I can make your wait more pleasant, if you know what I mean."
You didn't know what to say. Prostitutes were one thing, but she was barely the size of a child!
"You're not a player character, are you?" you asked her.
She purred: "I prefer to be called a synthetic lover, honey. Not that it matters if I'm short and digital, I can still go all day and night with someone like you."
"Sorry, lady, but he's taken," you heard Illogica's voice say as she walked out of the crowd.
A scowl appeared of the halfling's face. She looked up at you and said: "Meet me at the Dragon's Codpiece, midnight. I'll make your stay in Chakkor something to remember. You don't need a human slut like her to show you a good time."
Illogica walked up to your side and said to the halfling: "Beat it, fuzzfoot. Go back to sleeping with sewer rats."
The halfling swore at Illogica then disappeared into the crowd.
"Sorry it took me so long to get here once I spotted you, but the stupid giants didn't want to let me through." Illogica said while looking towards the watermelon stand.
"Well, I see Chakkor is an interesting place," you said, then added hopefully: "So, I'm taken, am I?"
Her gaze pierced you. "Damn right, if you want to be my apprentice. I won't have you chasing halfling synthoids when you need to be learning how to fight."
You didn't give up. "Jealous?"
She didn't answer. Instead, she said: "We need to get you some good weapons and armor. Also, take this." She tossed you a silver ring with a tiny ruby in it.
"What's this?"
"A ring of regeneration. Consider it a gift, for you could never afford to buy one on your own. You're going to need it when we spar. You did turn your pain relay to maximum?"
You meekly nodded as you slipped on the ring.
"Good. Let's buy some good stuff."
It took you four hours to buy stuff, and you missed your Math class as a result. But, by the time the twin suns were getting low in the horizon, you were wearing a good suit of enchanted bronze chest plate armor, complete with steel leg and arm bands, and you were holding a 7 foot long enchanted copper sword. Even Illogica had to admit that you looked impressive.
"Now," she said, "we train. Fighting in the city is illegal, so we have to leave first."
She led you out of the west gate, and you noticed that the beggar that you saw when you first logged in was lying on the ground, cut to ribbons. The two guards were both lying at their posts, similarly cut down. All three of the bodies had been looted.
Illogica sighed loudly when she saw the sight.
"This is why you need to train, Imperious. Many of the player characters are bloodthirsty idiots who kill anything in their path just for the thrill of it. The way I see it, when I first met you, assuming that you lived through the dragon encounter, you were on the path to either becoming a victim of these morons, or becoming a moron yourself. I'm going to try to teach you to fight well so you can defend yourself, but with control, so you don't become a kill happy sadist. If you fail in either of these tasks, I walk away and will forever consider you my enemy. Is this clear?"
You slowly nodded. Having seen what Illogica is capable of, you didn't ever want her as an enemy. She led you south along the city wall for almost 100 yards just to get away from the gruesome scene so you could spar. Then she reached into her pack, removed four sheathed daggers and calmly placed them on her belt.
You tightened the grip on your sword, and felt your pulse explode. The warning that your computer gave you when you set the pain settings to maximum rang clearly in your head over and over again. You were so focused on the warning that you didn't even notice that Illogica had unsheathed one of her daggers until she was already throwing it at your face.
You screamed mentally for your body to jump out of the way, and you moved faster than you have ever moved before, but you simply couldn't get your 800 pound bulk out of the way of the dagger. With a sickening thud, the dagger's blade sailed into you, hitting you where your right shoulder connects with the neck, just above your armor.
You cried out in horror and rage before you even felt the pain. Then, it hit like the force of a thunderbolt. Searing cold erupted from where the dagger stuck into you, then it was replaced by an unbearable heat, as if Satan himself had tore out your shoulder and throat. The pain spread outward from the impact point, and consumed your chest, head and entire right arm. You were certain that your scream could be heard throughout the world, and even in cyber-nullspace.
Adrenaline hit your heart, and you could feel it begin to pound with the strength of a gravel crusher. The unholy pain was soon overwhelmed by the adrenaline as it spread throughout your body, and an eerie numbness washed over the impact point. The adrenaline hit your head, and your scream changed to a scream of fury.
With unnatural speed, you rushed forward and grabbed Illogica. She didn't even have time to cry out her surprise before you hurled her with all of your considerable might at the city wall, only ten feet away. It wasn't until you had already thrown her that you realized what you did, and that the impact could kill her.
She vanished before she hit the wall, however.
"Temper, temper, my friend," you heard her say from behind you.
You whirled around to see Illogica calmly spinning a dagger in her left hand. Before she could react, you swept her into a hug, until the pain in your shoulder flared up again and you were forced to put her down.
"What was that for?" she asked.
You began to pull the dagger out, sending more waves of agony through your right shoulder and neck. After it was out, you dropped it on the ground and said: "I thought I had killed you when I threw you. I was glad that I didn't, that's all."
She smiled. "I see," she said. "Do you think that an adult dragon couldn't kill me, but you could do it in one throw, hmm? Or did you just have similar plans for me as you have for that halfling?"
You shook with fury. She had no right to accuse you like that! You screamed: "The halfling wench means nothing to me, damn it! Why do you mock everything I do?!"
Her smile vanished and she looked at you sternly. "Imperious, calm down. Relax. There is still a lot of adrenaline in your system and it is making you emotionally unstable. Here, sit down next to me and..."
"Emotionally unstable?!" you shouted, feeding off of the rage building within you. "I'll show you emotionally unstable!"
You swung your sword at her head with greater speed than you ever have moved before. She raised her dagger to parry the blow, but your sword shattered her dagger's blade when it hit it, and you sliced her left forearm open. She cried out in pain.
"Imperious stop! I don't want to hurt you."
The wound on your right shoulder was almost healed, and your adrenaline had almost worn out as a result. Somewhere, you knew that you had snapped and that you needed to stop this rampage, but rage controlled you, and all that the rage knew was that its fuel supply, the adrenaline, was getting depleted. You needed more, and the meant that you had to force her to hurt you.
You rushed her. Her remaining two daggers appeared in her hands before you had moved a step. You were about to grab her and try to start breaking bones when she nimbly leaped over you, planting both of her daggers in the back of your neck. Two lances of unholy pain rushed down your spine and washed over your whole body, but instead of fearing it, you welcomed it. You screamed a cry mixed with both unnatural fury and sadistic joy, for a fresh adrenaline rush flowed through your veins.
You whipped around to face her, and you followed through with your sword aimed to hit her exposed legs. She tumbled over your blade, and as you were overbalanced, she unsheathed her sword and began to carve at your knees and your groin.
You were beyond pain by this point, though. Somehow, all that you felt after each blow was the rush of more adrenaline hitting you. Your heart was thundering away, sounding like a battle drum calling you to victory. Before she could react, you brought the hilt of your sword inward and was rewarded by a sickening crunch as it connected with her sword arm.
Her cry of anguish only brought an evil grin to your face. She had dropped her sword, and you had her within striking range, defenseless.
"Who mocks now?!" you shouted victoriously at her as you began to bring your sword about for the killing strike.
Before you could deliver the blow, however, she rushed you and grabbed your left hand. You simply raised your weapon in response, meaning to cave in her skull with the hilt of your sword. You didn't even notice that she had taken the ring of regeneration off of your hand.
As the final blow descended, she turned towards you, and you could see clearly the anguish in her eyes as she said, "Mas eclec."
The killing strike never had time to hit her. A searing flash burned your eyes, then you could feel your blood begin to boil as lightning erupted from her directly into your chest. Your heart stopped beating and you could feel the skin on the front half of your body blister, then char. Several seconds later, you vaguely could feel your body hit the ground before you faded into darkness.

You awoke in a light room, with a man dressed in all white leaning over you. You were lying on what felt like marble. It was obvious that Illogica was forced to kill you. The adrenaline was gone, and without it, so was the rage. That left you with only guilt.
"You can't be an angel," you said.
The man laughed. "You're right. Angels wouldn't bother with ogre scum such as yourself. I am but a humble cleric of the temple of Good in Chakkor. Your friend Illogica paid us to resurrect you. Now that you're alive, you will find your stuff sitting by the door. Please get dressed and get out as soon as you can. Your kind are not usually welcome here."
You sat up and watched him walk towards the door. It was then that you noticed that you were naked. The cleric opened the door and you saw Illogica enter after he left. Even though the ogre body wasn't exactly your own, you still instinctively tried to cover yourself up.
She giggled at your reaction and brought your belongings from the door over to the marble table where you were sitting. "I guess you would prefer to be alone for a while," she said.
"Uh..." was all you could being yourself to say.
"I'll take that as a yes. I'll be waiting for you outside."
As she was walking away, you shook your head in disbelief. Within moments, you have gone from trying to kill this woman to being naked in the same room as her. Something was definitely out of order here. It didn't matter, though. The fact remained that, even though this world wasn't exactly real, this was your first time being naked in front of a woman that you were interested in, and you were blowing it badly.
As she was about to open the door, you sheepishly said: "I, uh, don't mind, I guess."
She turned her head towards you. "I guess? By the way that you're covering up yourself, I would guess that you were never even naked before your mother as a baby."
You tried to act macho, as if you had been naked in front of dozens of women before, and nonchalantly ceased to cover yourself up, then slowly stood up off of the table. What you didn't realize was that you only succeeded in looking like a fool.
"So," you said trying not to let the terror get into your voice as you reached for your loincloth as quickly as possible, "why did you have me resurrected after I tried to kill you?"
She sighed and looked down at the floor (which you used to quickly throw your loincloth on), then said: "That wasn't your fault. I should have known that if you went from minimum setting to maximum that your body may not be able to take it. But I guess it taught you the lesson I wanted to teach you. You see, adrenaline can be either a warrior's greatest tool or their worst enemy. That was why I emphasized control. I already saw by the way you moved that you have the ability to react as quickly as I do, but your rage wouldn't let you take control once it took control of you.
"There are many player characters in this game that have their pain settings to maximum for the sole purpose of getting the adrenaline rushes like one you just experienced. They kill anything and everything in their path, and they think that the adrenaline is their edge, for it makes them great warriors. I'll tell you right now-- they aren't great warriors; they are simply psychopaths on the 'net.
"I fear for you, Imperious. By what I just saw, I know that you will survive Therix's maze with ease. But, what I don't know is: will you survive by letting rage control you, or will you survive by controlling the rage?"
You didn't know what to say. "What would you do if I survive by letting the rage control me?"
She locked her steel blue eyes on you and said: "I would kill you, and if you made another character, I would learn about it, find them and kill them too. Your life on this game would forever be at an end."
You paused. That disturbed you, badly. The worst part about it is that the only way you could stop her would be to kill her. "Illogica, what happens when someone dies and no one resurrects them?"
She looked away from you and said, "The computer only lets you be unconscious for ten minutes. After that, your body dissolves, the character is permanently dead and you are returned to cyber-nullspace. I should know. It happened to me before, and it wasn't pleasant."
You grunted as you tried to get an uncooperative buckle to cooperate. "What happened?"
She frowned and looked at the floor. "A good friend of mine went psycho on me, and I wouldn't go along with his plans for mayhem. So, he said that he was going to kill me, and kill every other character I made. He tortured me for an hour then killed me. I tried to make another character to get my revenge, but he discovered me and killed that one too." She gave you a weak smile. "That's why I don't really like the chief of the Je Magnu tribe. So far, he has yet to find this character."
She shook her thoughts away, then said, "What time zone are you MUVARing from?"
"Pacific Standard," you said.
"Good. So am I. I have to leave; I'm expecting a guest. Will I be able to meet with you daily say at... 4pm outside the west gate so we can spar? Tomorrow after sparring, I'll lead you to Therix's maze."
You thought about it. Well, you did have your math discussion section at 4pm on Wednesdays, but all they ever did was go over homework that you haven't done yet anyway. You could probably afford to miss that. "Sure, "you answered. "May I inquire as to the nature of your guest?"
She gave a sly smile. "No, you may not. Fare thee well, and I shall see thee upon the morrow."
"Fare thee well, mila... uh, never mind."
She laughed as her body dissolved before you.
You finished putting on your gear. When she told you that your loosing it wasn't your fault, you believed her. But, you had to learn control, as she said.
Yet, you were now convinced that she had a boyfriend in real life. So be it. She seemed to like you, and you somehow knew that you would find some way of edging out the competition. But first, you had to overcome Therix's maze without being overcome with rage. This had to be done one step at a time.
You heard the temple door slam behind you as you walked down the steps into the marketplace. It was dark, and the vendors had gone home. There were few people about, so you were unimpeded as you walked west towards the slums. Near the entrance to the slums, you saw a familiar face walking about, looking for clients.
Barefoot and in the shadows, you were able speak up to the halfling quite easily. She didn't notice you until you lifted her up and gave her a lusty kiss on her lips. You then put her down and started to walk westward.
"Well, I like that change of attitude!" the short prostitute called after you.
You smiled as you walked towards the west gate, where you were going to log out. Life was good.

Over the next few days, you sparred with Illogica every day at 4pm. Then, you would go to the entrance of Therix's maze and train there on the twelve basic strikes for a sword, the basic parries and fighting stances. You would have found it quite boring except for the fact that Illogica was always there, encouraging you. Finally, Therix himself arrived to view and personally supervise the training process, and to select those who were capable to go into the maze proper.
You were chosen, as Illogica told you that you probably would be, and were magically transported into the maze. The maze was actually the ruins of old Chakkor, which, according to Therix, had sunk when two of the most powerful mages had a duel in the center of downtown old Chakkor. It was reported that there were no survivors. Therix later purchased the crater as a training maze and made a fortune by graduating only the finest warriors in Chakkor. He did this by having only a 16% survival rate. Those who entered the maze entered in groups of twelve. The maze was stocked with monsters from throughout the game world, and in order to leave, one had to kill 50 monsters and at least 3 trainees. Typically, only 2 from the group of twelve left alive.
The maze was supervised by Therix himself, who was reported to also be a renowned mage. He set up spells to seal the maze to prevent monsters and trainees from escaping. Once someone fulfilled the requirements, Therix would teleport them out.
Illogica had given you a kiss on the cheek and wished you good luck, for she couldn't see you until you finished the maze. After the kiss, she slipped the ring of regeneration that she removed from your hand from you when you first fought her.
After you were teleported in there, you immediately slipped on the ring of invisibility as well as the ring of regeneration. Almost immediately, there was fighting heard in the distance. It seemed that some of the trainees had decided that the best way to get out of here was to claim the 3 trainee kills first. You had something else in mind.
It seemed to you that you had to control your rage, and the best way to do that wouldn't be to advertise yourself at a target. Instead, you decided to practice the basic fighting techniques on a few monsters and discover which strikes and parries worked well together in combat. That way, you would be ready for when the surviving trainees found you. Readiness and patience were all necessary elements of controlling yourself under pressure. This all had to be done step be step.
Days passed, and you avoided any trainee contact like the plague. Only seven of the twelve trainees survived the first day, and by now the count was down to five. Two of the trainees already had their three required kills, but the other three still hunting for it. The maze was huge-- about two miles long and a mile wide. According to the computer, you were still in the lead with monster deaths, at 39 while the next competitor was only at 18. But, you had yet to kill a trainee. You also found traps everywhere. Since most of the stuff in old Chakkor could not really be used to create lethal traps, most of the traps were designed simply to make noise.
It was one of those traps that led you to your first trainee. You heard a pile of rubble slide and some muted swearing about a block from the abandoned building that you had adapted into your personal practice room. Slipping on your ring of invisibility, you exited the building to find another ogre looking around suspiciously. You would have let him be on his way until he cried out: "I smell another ogre! Show yourself, so I can eat your flesh raw."
Sneaking up behind him was easy to do. You had customized the area around your practice room to allow hidden paths to every place you could think of within a block radius.
"You're close. I can smell 'ya."
You could smell him too, and he didn't smell good. 'Yikes!' you thought, 'if I smell anything like that, why does Illogica hang around me?'
You raised your sword to impale him through the back when he swiftly turned, chopping with his blade right where you were standing. You neatly tumbled out of harm's way, and drove your sword up into his groin. The ogre made a sadistic grin when you hit him, then broke into a rage.
You fell a step back when you saw this. You could see what Illogica was talking about when she said that many characters were adrenaline junkies. It seemed that this ogre was one as well.
The ogre charged you. It seemed as if he were convinced that his adrenaline rush would simply overpower you. You let some adrenaline build yourself as you saw him charge forward, but you didn't need rage or pain to feed your adrenaline. The reality of how much it would hurt if you allowed this ogre to connect was enough to get all the adrenaline you needed, which really wasn't that much. You raised your sword before you in the standard defensive stance taught to all of the trainees. He didn't even slow, but instead impaled himself on your sword because he was too blind by his rage to realize that you were in that stance.
Shocked by the ease of the kill, you dumped the body and went back into your practice room to think. It seemed that since this trainee had survived this long and yet had abandoned standard training for pure adrenaline instead, that the other trainees would be just as easy to defeat.
They were. The next day, you found and intentionally triggered a trap which caused a small cacophony to ring throughout the maze. Two minutes later, a dwarf showed up holding a glowing axe. You started to insult him. You didn't get past saying "short" when he bellowed in rage and charged wildly, axe leading. You intentionally made a loose parry and your sword went flying. The dwarf howled in victory and made a lumbering chop to your knees. Expecting this, you nimbly jumped forward, your smelly feet connecting solidly with the dwarf's face, and your 800 pounds of force behind it easily broke his neck.
It seemed that the dwarf had a companion, for as you were finishing looting the body, you saw a human holding a bow standing 20 yards away. You didn't know what to do, since you had no missile weapons and you neglected to retrieve your sword. He fired, and although you tried to dodge, an arrow hit you in the thigh, causing an explosion of pain to erupt throughout your left leg. A wash of adrenaline soon followed, but you forced yourself to maintain control. As the human was loading the next arrow, you leaped to the right and retrieved the fallen axe, causing even more pain to erupt from the wound. He fired, and you quickly brought the axe blade forward and deflected the arrow into the air. Then, as the human was loading the next arrow, you hurled the axe with all of your might at his bow.
As you expected, the human let go of his bow to try to dodge the spinning axe. The blade caught the bow, and both the axe and the bow flew far into the distance. You then yanked the arrow out of your leg. The human drew his sword, and charged you. You forced yourself to wait, then drove forward as the human began his swing, catching his sword arm over your shoulder and driving the arrow under the human's windpipe. The human dropped his sword as he clutched at his windpipe while you picked up the fallen sword and drove it into the man's skull.
You now knew what Illogica meant by defeating Therix's maze by getting control over rage. Although adrenaline was these fighters' greatest tool, it was also their greatest weakness. It took you two more days to complete the remaining 11 monster kills, and you were teleported out of the maze. Illogica was nowhere to be found, however. You received a platinum amulet from Therix as proof of the completion of his training course, but you wish that Illogica could have been there to see you.
Once again, you stood before the west gate of Chakkor, disappointed. You had missed more than a few classes to complete the maze as early as possible, and you wanted to go adventuring with Illogica, now that you were trained and certified by Therix to be up to the task.
'Computer,' you thought, 'where is Illogica?'
The computer merrily replied: "Illogica is not here."
Irate, you logged off and checked your e-mail. Sure enough, there was a message from Chris Sim.

Imperious,
11/28/06

Sorry, but my friend dropped by and will be spending a few days out here. So, I won't be back on the game until Friday. Looking forward to adventuring with you when you finish the maze. Good luck!
Love,
--Illogica

You did not approve. Since it was Tuesday, you wouldn't be able to do anything with Illogica for three days. That left you three days to be bored. You sent her a reply:

Illogica--
I already finished Therix's maze, and I was disappointed not to see you there when I finished. Well, anyway, the quarter's about to end here, and I would like you meet you in person to discuss what we want to do with our characters. Please respond soon.

>>>>>>Imperious>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
P.S. I look forward to our future adventures. ;-)

Not surprising, you didn't find any response in your mailbox until Friday. That message was a lengthy one, in which Chris said that she would love to see you, but would probably not be on the game very much because the quarter was coming to an end pretty soon as well, and she needed to study for finals. She did enclose the address for her apartment in Garden Grove, however, and she invited you to come visit her after the end of her finals week, which was on Saturday, December 16th. Since your finals ended on the 9th, you would be free to visit. Looking at the calendar you winced as you remembered that finals would start Monday.

It was definitely a Monday. You put up with your parents nagging about studying for the upcoming quarter as you wandered up to your room. You couldn't believe it! You had gotten academic probation for the first quarter of college! How you could have failed Math and received a C- in English and in Physics and a D in Intro. to Computers was a mystery. You had always been an excellent student in High School, and working with a computer was like breathing for you, it was that natural, yet you still got on academic probation!
You turned on the computer, and waited for it to boot up. You wish that you had an ethernet connection in your parent's home so that you could play the game now that you had nothing but free time for the next three weeks. The blinking icon told you that you had e-mail. You double clicked on it, and the mail handler screen opened up. There was a message from Chris Sim. Jeez! You hadn't heard from her in a long time.
You double clicked on the message and you saw:

Imperious,
12/18/06

I just finished my Finals. Yuk. How did you do, and where have you been? I haven't heard from you in almost three weeks! I would like to meet you, if that is possible. Take care.
Love,
--Illogica

You wanted to see Chris, if for no other reason than just to be able to talk to someone who wouldn't rip into you verbally like your parents always did. But, you knew there was no way that your father would let you borrow the Jeep to drive to Garden Grove to visit Chris. Of course, in the past he did let you borrow the car without asking....
You shut off the computer, and snuck down the stairs. You could hear your parents complaining that they should have had two children so at least one might be successful. You burst into the kitchen, where your father kept the keys to the Jeep. You snatched the keys, and before your parents could object, you ran out screaming: "Thanks for letting me use the car; I'll be right back!"
You heard your father's protests as you shut the house door and ran into the streets. You quickly unlocked the driver's side door, got in and started the car. Sure enough, your father had arrived at the house door and was sending a steady stream of curses in your direction. You revved the engine to drown out his protests, and took off.
The drive to Garden Grove was uneventful, since there was really little traffic on a Monday. It did take you a few minutes before you could find the street that Chris said was the major cross street to the one leading to her apartment complex. After fighting surface street traffic for half an hour, you managed to pull into the parking lot labeled "guest parking," and you parked the Jeep.
Chris said that her apartment was number 124. Scanning the first floor, you saw it almost immediately, nestled in a corner by the pool. The apartment complex was quite impressive, for it had green lawns between the buildings and stone pathways complete with halogen safety lamps. It was obvious that this was one of the new apartment buildings that were constructed with ethernet ports built-in. Walking across the lawn and behind the pool, you approached number 124, and knocked. To your dismay, there was no answer. You thought no one was home, until you could hear the tell-tale moans and creaks of an apparent amorous meeting going on behind the door.
"Is Chris screwing again?" you heard a lady call from the pool area. "Just bang on the door really hard; they'll stop."
Blushing, you pounded as hard as you dared three times. Sure enough, the sounds did stop. Thirty seconds later, a bare-chested Asian man opened the door.
"Yes?" he asked impatiently.
You were certain you were facing Chris' boyfriend. You fought past the lump in your throat and forced yourself to say: "I'm looking for Chris Sim, the player of Illogica."
The man smiled. "Well, you found him. But, I'm kinda busy right now. Can you come back in about twenty minutes?"
You didn't know what you say. You figured that standing there with your mouth open wasn't doing much good, so you slowly nodded your head.
You never bothered to return. Instead, you got into the Jeep and drove back to your house. You couldn't believe how much of a fool that you felt like. You had fallen in love with a fictional character, and couldn't discern fantasy from reality. You had even bombed your classes trying to chase this fantasy. It was then that you realized that for all your effort, you were chasing after the wind.


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