I lounged in bed enjoying that blissful weekend feeling. No alarm clocks, no hasty breakfast before rushing off to work alongside equally sleepy and grumpy—never knew why—fellow citizens. Birds' songs poured in through the open window. The heavy door all but blocked out the ground-floor sounds: quiet voices and the rattling of plates. Someone burst out in cheerful laughter. The smell of fried bacon tickled my nostrils. I stretched with a happy smile—my joints made no cracking or clicking—and sat up in one smooth motion, enjoying the sensation of a perfectly healthy body. The thought of its potential use intoxicated me. Enough larking about. Time to kill some gnolls. They had to be missing me. Before I left I decided to spend my last gold piece on another night. The innkeeper scooped the coin off the bar. "What time should I expect you?" "Not before nighttime, I suppose. Time to let some gnolls' blood." He nodded his understanding. "Wait a sec. I'll arrange for some sandwiches." Shit. I kept forgetting to eat. This wasn't real life where you could skip a meal. Here, once you're hungry, you'd better quit whatever you're doing double quick before you're flat out of mana. "Thank you, Sir. I completely forgot." The innkeeper gave me a knowing smile, like, he'd been young too once. The red-faced waitress rushed in from the kitchen and handed me a sizable packet and a still warm flask. I looked inside. Three Little Pigs Sandwich, courtesy of chef. Amt: 5. Use: +3 to Strength, +3 to Constitution for 2 hrs. Strong Herbal Tea Use: Speeds up mana regeneration 3% for 2 hrs. Surprised, I looked up at the innkeeper. "Are you sure? This stuff sure costs more than the gold piece I gave you for the room." He gave me a wink, grinning. "On the house, kid. Eric gave me a whisper about you last night. You're one of the locals, almost. It's all right, really. Just enjoy your food." I thanked him again, wistfully packed up the delicious-smelling goodies and headed for the door. On my way to the Gnoll Hill I checked my friend list. Cryl was offline. But the sad Taali girl was there. I sent her a toothy smiley, just to cheer her up. A couple minutes later I received a cheeky winking face. My mood upped a few degrees. Life was moving on. There it was, the hill from yesterday. Still lots of people but nothing like last night. I wasn't going to join a group, not quite yet. I wanted to play solo for a while to explore my char's potential. I raised a rather average zombie, attracting a few curious glances in the process. It wasn't often they saw a Necro right here in the heart of the Lands of Light. I placed the remaining Soul Stone in a separate pocket in case I had to raise the pet again right in the heat of battle. And then we got cooking. Four hours and two stupid deaths later, I was almost level nine. Two gold pieces clinked in my wallet, plus about six hundred copper. Luckily, virtual money didn't weigh much: a thousand pieces equaled two and a half pounds. Twice I'd been to town to get rid of my hefty nickel-and-dime loot. I had about forty bracelets and the same amount of Soul Stones. I kept leveling slowly but surely, the few deaths resulting mainly from a couple of unlucky pulls. Gnolls had a large aggro zone what with their constant scurrying about, messengers running to and fro. Turned out it wasn't a good place for an easy hunt. I wasn't bored, running an angler's adrenaline rush as I scooped the loot out of bodies. I spent meditation breaks scrolling through the location chat. Somebody was still looking for a Red Bear, offering first three and later ten gold for the creature's whereabouts. A quest pet, apparently. Petty peddlers squabbled among themselves buying and selling stuff. Bracelets were in constant demand so I could have done a bit of haggling if I wanted to. Plenty of buyers around. Having restored mana to full, I rose, mechanically dusting my pants. I had to get myself some clothes, really, walking around in a basic free kit like a green newb. And the cloak... better not say anything about it. I just hoped that Taali had chosen a different leveling location.
I noticed a ranger player appearing from the nearby woods, his health flashing an orange alarm. He took a dozen paces, turned toward the trees and shot a few arrows at a yet unseen target. His gear was quite impressive, his armor gleaming with complex traceries, his rings glistening with gems. Even the arrows he shot left strange purple residue in the air. I peered at him. Karish. Level 38. A big fish, too big for this location. Who was he firing off at? Then I saw it. Red Bear himself, as large as life and twice as ugly. About six foot eight shoulder height, he was studded with arrows like a pin cushion and was also twice as scary for it. His frantic eyes sparkled yellow, each the size of a saucer. The beast bared his teeth, each a good dagger long. The ranger lunged forward, shortening the distance between them. The bear was having a hard time. He had barely 10% life left. As the fighters approached, I looked around for a place as far from the bear as possible. One swing of his paw, and I could do another corpse run. The archer stopped within ten paces from me. He turned round and grabbed his bow. Twang, twang, twang. The bear's life bar shrunk to the size of a hair. He was toast. But the bear still had enough in him to surprise us. He reared up, knocked an arrow aside in full flight and bellowed. Not just any old bellow, either: You hear the wild roar of a primeval beast! You're petrified! Your body is paralyzed with fear! Jesus. Just then my pet remembered his default owner-protection settings, grumbled and lunged toward the bear. Where did he think he was going? Veins bulged on the motionless raider's neck as he struggled against the invisible chains. The bear limped toward the man and in one powerful jolt pulled him under himself. I could hear the smacking of heavy paws. A few seconds later, everything was over. A small grave appeared where the archer had died. The bear turned to my zombie pet who had during all that time pounded the beast's wide back. Absolutely pointless. The level gap was too big. The zombie either missed or couldn't pierce the armor resulting in zero damage hits. When the paralysis finally ended, I stirred, racking my brains for a solution. The pet was little help, I could see that. He could only defer the monster two seconds max. And if I cast the DoT or the Deadman's Hand? He was almost sure to resist both. The only thing that might work was Life Absorption. It had always worked, ignoring the target's resistance to magic. How much life could the bear have left? One or two percent at most. Definitely not a hundred. I couldn't escape so I could just as well try it. I selected the bear as target and activated the spell. Red Bear has sustained 14 points Damage! You've received 14 points Life! 90/90 The zombie gnoll has been clawed! Damage sustained: 190 points! The zombie gnoll tried to punch Red Bear but missed! Red Bear has sustained 15 points Damage! You've received 15pt Life! 90/90 A critical hit received! Red Bear has clawed the zombie gnoll resulting in 390 points Damage! The zombie gnoll is dead! The bear hobbled toward me. Pointless running: even though he could barely move his legs, each step was so wide he'd catch up with me in no time. And he also had that bellowing skill. He'd just paralyze me and kill me. Oh shit. He was rearing up. The bear stood up glaring at me with hatred. Red Bear has sustained 13 points Damage! You've received 13 points Life! 90/90. The beast opened his jaws wide and bellowed just as I finished casting the spell again. You hear the wild roar of a primeval beast! You're petrified! Your body is paralyzed with fear! You've dealt a critical hit! Red Bear has sustained 28 points Damage! You've received 28 points Life! 90/90. Red Bear is dead! You've received Experience! Congratulations! You've reached level 9! Racial bonus: +1 to Intellect! Class bonus: +1 to Intellect, +1 to Spirit! 5 Characteristic points available! You now have 20 Characteristic points! Congratulations! You've received achievement: Goliath! You've killed a creature 10 levels higher than you! You've been awarded +100 points Fame!
Congratulations! You've received achievement: Colossus! You've killed a creature 20 levels higher than you! You've been awarded +500 points Fame! I just stood there frozen, my mouth gaping in a silent whoopee, my dropped jaw fully describing my feelings. What a coincidence. Un-freakin'-believable. Had the archer stayed alive, I'd have dealt a certain amount of damage but gotten no experience at all. More than that: had the ranger been bound to this location, then he'd have received all of the experience even in death. But the archer must have either arrived from afar or teleported to the city and hadn't yet bound to the location. Enter me. His damage list was now empty. God only knows where he'd respawn now. Having said that, hardly any class allowed you to wrestle down a bear while there was at least one percent life in him. No steel or magic would have made a dent in him. What incredible, enormous luck. The paralysis released me. Rubber-legged, I hobbled over to the beast. I reached out to touch his powerful frame and sank to the ground in awe. The Soul Stone. I clenched it and peered at the properties: A Soul Stone. Contains the soul of level 36 Red Bear. Use the Summoning the Undead spell to raise it. Not yet realizing the full scope of my luck, I moved the rest of the loot into my bag. Besides the Stone, I also had Red Bear's Heart and two vials of Bear's Blood. I'd have to look into them later. I sat down on the ground, dumbfounded, rolling the little rock in my hand admiring the play of light on its facets. Wonder if I could use it? Apparently, the mana level required for summoning depended on the player's level and not on that of the summoned creature's. I didn't see any problems in that respect. I could only explain what happened next by the catatonic state I was still in. You wouldn't expect me to admit I acted like an idiot, right? Why, oh why did I try to cast that summoning spell? The earth bulged. The enormous bulk of a zombie bear crawled out of the depth. Summon my aunt! How did you go about burying him back in the ground? Why on earth had I had to summon him? I heard stifled cries behind me. A group of three minor Elves stood behind my back. "What... what's that?" a level five female warrior pointed a trembling finger at the beast's bulk. "That," I said bitterly, "is my pet. Model My Brain Hurts, version I'll Rip Your Head Off. Cute, isn't he? Just don't disturb him, he's easily excited. Aren't you, Hummungus?"