In a digital galaxy filled with magic, myths, monsters, and mayhem, one young man struggles to reunite with his oldest friends and his own inner child. By day he lives in a dystopian skyline, struggling to make ends meet by whatever means he must. By night he is a swashbuckling Spellsword carving his way through a greco-roman-themed fantasy VRPG called Triskelion Saga Online; the reboot to a once beloved franchise now under new ownership.
Join him as he journeys across multiple worlds to reforge his old guild and claim his place amongst the stars of Triskelion!
Luxury apartments don't come cheap in the big city. Which is why Carter couldn’t afford one. His apartment was barely big enough for a kitchen, a toilet, a bed, and a suitcase. A skinny window that had a glorious view of a brick wall that he could reach out and touch if he felt like it, a single vent for an A/C unit built back in the 2130s that oscillated wildly between Desert and Tundra climates, and a fridge that took up the majority of his living space were his only amenities.
Both of his door's hinges squeaked at different octaves as he shouldered it open and shoved his way inside. The building shook from the roar of a passing hover-train, but this did not slow Carter in the slightest.
He dumped his backpack unceremoniously onto his mattress in the same moment that he kicked the door shut with enough force to loosen some flakes from the popcorn ceiling that drifted down lazily and landed on his shoulders as he turned towards the kitchen. But the small box in his hands he treated only with reverence, placing it upon the small cutting board with the care of a new parent setting their first child in its crib. He grabbed his chef's knife, the same one he used for everything, and perforated the package with the most delicate of incisions.
A thin sheath of plastic and three useless layers of child-proofing that could not keep out a teething chihuahua were all that stood between him and his prize, and they stood no chance. In minutes he was holding the Oneiron Dreamcatcher in one hand and the instruction manual in the other.
'Manual' is a strong word. It was actually just a rectangular plastic chit with a barcode and the company logo on it. Carter scanned the barcode with his embedded Eye-Ris implant and downloaded the information. Muscle memory he did not possess three seconds prior now drove him through the steps to setting up the Dreamcatcher, which was no larger than a shot glass. It took some tinkering but eventually, he set it up on top of his fridge and took one of the two starter bottles of nano drops from the ruined package.
Oneiron knew what they were doing when they designed the delivery method for the nanobots. Eyedrops that transport users into an escapist fantasy world during a time when most addictive drugs are delivered optically? They knew.
Carter took a deep breath and held the drops tight in his hand. It was not too late. All he had to do was shove it all back in a bag and walk to the Oneiron Dispensary. No refund necessary, because the Dreamcatchers and the first dose were both free to him, thanks to his participation in the game's Beta.
He knew himself. One dose of this game, all that nostalgia mixed with the euphoria of a new experience… he would be hooked. All he had to do was say no.
The building shook once more as a passing hover-train roared past. Scattered flakes of loosened drywall drifted down from his ceiling like embers in a forest fire.
His fist opened, and the nano drops were still there.
Carter shoved one of the small vials in his fridge and applied one drop to each eye before setting the other vial beside it.
His Eye-Ris system began scanning the hundreds of nanobots and communicating with them as they invaded his system and started altering his brain chemistry as they saw fit. He knew from the 'manual' that he'd have about 10 minutes before it was game time, so he spent that time pulling up the group chat he had set up over the past month since the announcement.
(User: Chefs_Kiss has entered the chat)
(User: Sam8nTheSame says "About time! Everybody else is already in. You booting up?")
(User: Chefs_Kiss says "Just dropped, 9 minutes and counting")
(User: Sam8nTheSame says "Right behind you Carth. Any word from Ghost?")
Carter paused halfway through undressing for bed and tossed his shirt down the recycle chute by his door. With a small shake of his head, he dropped down to his mattress and got as comfortable as he could.
(User: Chefs_Kiss says "Nah. You know how she was though. Her name says it all. She probably just ghosted us like last time.")
A beat passed without a reply, then his friend shot back.
(User: Sam8TheSame says "We aren't kids anymore Carth. People grow up. Maybe she just doesn't want to play games anymore, you know? Don't trip. You still got us!")
Carter smiled, alone in his small apartment.
(User: Chefs_Kiss says "Thanks, Sam. You're right, as per always. See you in-game. Know what you're gonna be playing as?")
(User: Sam8nTheSame says "Guess")
(User: Sam8TheSame has left the chat)
Carter snickered to himself and rolled over, succumbing to the lull of the nanobots' artificial sleep. Without their aide, there was no way he would have been able to fall asleep. Not while he was this excited.
His eyelids sealed and his mind expanded. An Oneiron logo flashed once, twice, and then blazed against the back of his eyelids before fading along with his consciousness.
⸻ ♦ ⸻
"For Hope. May you find her still wandering these worlds she used to love so much."
⸻ ♦ ⸻
Carter opened his eyes and found himself knee-deep in cool water. Above him was a swirling nebula of vibrant colors, multiple suns, and dozens of planets that made up the Triskelion Galaxy.
It had been ten long years since the third release in the Triskelion Saga franchise had gone live. Despite Odyssey Across the Stars—the glorious finale of the old trilogy—largely being regarded as the greatest entry into the franchise, Carth and his friends still preferred the second title; Red Harvest. Either way, it had been too long since he had last stepped foot in the Triskelion Galaxy.
At long last… he was home.
Carter spun in place, creating ripples in the knee-high water that stretched as far as the horizon, and found himself staring at… himself.
Appearing exactly as he just was when he fell asleep, PJs and all, this ghostly image of Carter's real body floated above the water that Carter was standing in.
"Uuhhh. Is that really what I look like? Damn, I need to eat more."
Carter's mirror image blinked dispassionately.
"Welcome, Seeker, to the Triskelion Galaxy. Here we hope you will find endless adventure and perilous danger as you journey all across these mythical shores. From Goldreef to Redwater, the denizens of Triskelion will know you are a Seeker and look to you for aid. As death holds little sway over your kind, you will often be asked to risk life and limb for these tasks, but completing them will grant you great rewards."
"Yes, I know how RPGs work. Is there a skip function?"
"Don't be rude."
"Wait, did you just respond to me? I thought you were an NPC!"
"I am an NPC. We are all characters playing roles in the lives of others, after all. Why should that mean you get to be rude to them just because they are separate from you? Perhaps it would be wise to treat everyone with respect, regardless of how real or fake you might think they are."
Carter took a step away from his doppelganger.
"Okay, I did not boot up a videogame to get a lecture in philosophy. What the quark?" Carter's eyes narrowed. "Quark. No, I'm trying to say quark, not quark. Oh, what the flux! Flux? What the quark! Why can't I say whatever the flux I want in this game?"
The ghostly image of Carter shook its head slowly.
"This game differs from its predecessors in that it has implemented a content filter which removes some of the more… shall we say drastic elements from the game world. The original game was published by a studio most well known for their entries into the horror genre, thus their take on Triskelion was filled with the sort of gore and nudity that turns a good portion of the population against purchasing a game. So we now have a more audience-friendly setting which is set as default."
"Okay. How do I remove this setting?"
"Are you over 18?"
"Great, please look to the left."
Carter glanced towards his right, having expected the strange ghost NPC to be referring to its left.
"No, no. Your left, dumbass."
"Wait, how come you can say dumbass?" Carter gasped as he realized that now he could say dumbass too!
The NPC let out a long-suffering sigh. "I take it by your idiotic expression that it has now occurred to you that the filter has been deactivated. Please look to your left," He repeated.
Carter did as instructed and was immediately assaulted by a wave of nausea as a truly foul smell wafted over him. Something 10x more potent than the rotten and decaying trash he had to empty out at his diner job each day.
"Ugh, what is that stench?" He asked, turning to look at the ghost of himself.
Carter toppled down into the water as he caught sight of the tutorial NPC, which was now a horribly mutilated vision of his own body hovering above him. It looked like he had barely escaped being tortured, wandered blindly through a jungle, only to be mauled to death by a bear. Every grisly detail he could have imagined was thrown into sharper-than-necessary relief.
He landed with a splash and shook himself for being so startled. Deciding to man up, he started to rise from the waters only for a swarm of desiccated arms to rise up and grab onto him; slowly and inexorably dragging him back down into the suddenly much deeper waters than he had been standing in a moment prior.
"Aaaahhhh! What the hell?"
Beneath the rising water's surface, he was treated to the stunning all-too-life-like details of what happens to a bunch of bodies left to decompose underwater. Never in Carter's life had nudity in a video game appealed to him less.
He violently shook away from the tightening grasp of all those arms, sealing his eyes in a vain attempt to drive away the mental images swimming through the murky waters.
A monotonous voice suddenly cleared its throat.
"Seeker? Are you alright?"
Carter opened his eyes to find himself kneeling in the same waters as earlier, minus the corpse limbs, panting heavily.
"What the flux was that?"
"That was but a taste of this game's restricted content mode. Would you like me to disengage the content filter agai-"
"NO! No, no… no, and also nope! I'm good. Flux all that."
"Very well Seeker. Would you like to visit the game's tutorial mode or are you experienced with the worlds of Triskelion?"
Carter rose and shook himself.
“Um, we can skip the tutorial. I played this game when I was a kid and just a month or two ago I participated in the Beta, so I'm good."
The NPC covered up a wry grin by asking, "Oh you played the Beta? That sounds… memorable. How was it?"
Carter started to answer excitedly, but words failed him. "I- uh… well it was. Um… I don’t really remember, actually," He realized. A wave of panic suddenly swelled in his chest as he started to wonder where those memories went, yet it vanished just as quickly.
"Hmm. Sounds thrilling. Shall we skip ahead to character creation?"
"Yes please!" Carter said, his momentary confusion overshadowed by his excitement.
The moment, along with the memories of his time in the Beta, faded from his attention.
"Excellent! I assume you are familiar with the base species you can choose from, but some things have changed in the Seekers’ long absence. Would you like a refresher course?"
"Sure. But keep it brief 'cause I already know what I'm picking. Elf all the way."
"Ah, of course. But which kind?"
"There's… only one kind of elf."
"Not anymore, Seeker. Now there are Golden Elves, Silver Elves, Bronze Elves, and Red Elves."
"What the hell is a Red Elf? Oh, and why can I say hell?"
"Red Elves are Elves that have been warped by the substance known as Ether. There are multiple hellish dimensions in Triskelion, some are even good trade partners with the mortal worlds. Saying ‘hell’ in Triskelion is about as frowned upon as swearing by a particular sports team. Kinda weird in most circles, and only likely to start a fight in one or two specific instances."
"Ah. So saying 'go to hell' is probably not that bad here. Interesting. What is Ether?"
"Ether is a magical element that has been introduced to Triskelion in the Seekers' absence. It is a mercurial force that has strange effects on all that encounter it. Basic elements such as fire and water behave strangely when introduced to Ether, and practitioners of Ether Magic can alter the makeup of spells in strange ways."
"I find that answer vague and unhelpful."
"Are you going to elaborate further?"
"Great," Carter said, resigning himself to figuring out that new mystery for himself. "Back to character creation, please."
The tutorial NPC proceeded to give him the rundown on all seven major species he was familiar with, and their new Ether-soaked counterparts. In addition to Elves, there were also Dwarves, Elemental Nymphs, Satyrs, Harpies, and Orcs. Each of those had a long list of sub-species. There was also a long list of new species beneath a banner labeled ‘fringe worlds,’ that he completely ignored.
Carter spent a while pouring over the extensive changes before making his decision.
Originally he had been planning on going with the basic elf as it used to be what he played during the second and third games in the series. Their racial bonuses to Agility and Spirit used to give him an edge when playing as his preferred class of Spelldagger, which let him combine Stealth and Magical gameplay into a deadly combo.
This time around the four races, or ‘tribes’ of Elves all had slightly different bonuses that did not quite seem to add up to what he was used to. He decided to toy around with some of the other options instead.
Orcs were too brawny for his tastes.
Dwarves were too stout and slow.
Dryads held no appeal for him, though he knew his old gaming buddy Merrick would probably pick that option.
Harpies and Satyrs just weren’t his thing at the end of the day.
But nymphs? Nymphs he might be able to work with, especially given their strong connection with elemental magic.
"Alright. I've decided to go with an Air Nymph."
"Very good, Seeker. And what tribe of Air Nymph will you be? A storm nymph, a cloud nymph, a smoke nymph, a-"
"How about just a… tornado nymph? Is that possible?"
"Done. Any modifications you would like to make to your avatar?"
The NPC's appearance changed with the word 'done' and became a gray-skinned version of Carter's body with zebra stripes that seemed to ripple in the wind.
"Uh, more muscles. A little more fat, please. A little taller. I'd like to fix my hair while-"
“No need to speak. You may use your imagination and I shall craft what you wish.”
Carth closed his eyes and focused on what he was after for a few seconds.
"Understood. How's this?" The NPC asked.
Carter blinked and saw his dream body now rendered in perfect detail. He was more solid-looking than he had ever been in real life, and his hair looked effortlessly quaffed.
"Wow. That's exactly what I had in mind. Accept."
"Excellent. You will be able to name your character shortly. Please enjoy your first steps in the Triskelion Saga."
Carter felt his feet lift off the ground and suddenly he was plummeting away into the sky as he felt his body undergoing changes to match the image of his avatar. He screamed as he fell and felt no shame about it, for anyone who thinks they could plummet through a strange and vibrant cosmos teeming with danger and beauty without feeling a little intimidated is just plain wrong.
His perspective soared through the spiraling nebulae of Triskelion and alighted upon a small storm-tossed frigate adrift at sea…