The world faded in in fits and starts. It wasn’t smooth as had become the standard for similar games. It was a sensation not too easy to describe, it was almost like a series of bubble popping. For every bubble that popped, a new part of the world, a building, a group of people, a tree, a bench, etc., existed.
“Haa, finally I can relax a little!” a young boy sounded, elated, “I know this is supposed to be a preparatory year for when I begin to work, but they really are driving me to my wit’s end!”
He looked around him. His eyes sparkled. The world was bright and playful. Birds darted around in the trees, dancing to the song the wind played on the leaves. Some were bright and multi-coloured, the parrots chatting on the branches above, and the peacocks strutting on the grass below, others were more plain, the grey and white doves, chirping away on the rooftops and window-sills. They jumped up and flew off every so often to avoid a cat playfully searching for lunch.
THe people were just as bright. Voices echoed back and forth all around the boy. Stalls were selling items of every kind, with tenders and prospective buyers haggling over prices. Guards stood at the entrances to the plaza, gazing out over the lively activity within, at once enjoying the cheer of the crowds, and keeping a watchful eye for any troublemakers. There were few to be found, however. Everyone busied themselves with their tasks.
The buildings stood in an ever-so-Tuscan style along the roads; plastered walls in every imaginable shade of yellow, topped with copper-coloured, tiled roofs. Every other house had a chimney that burst through the roof like a dolphin jumping above the waves. And above the rooftops, above the pergolas, stretched a clear, azure sky. Ocassionally a cotton swab or two would drift past, and every now and again a flock of birds would sweep overhead, singing as they went.
The boy stretched. His arms cracked above his head, then swung back and forth, up and down along his sides. His neck followed, and then his back. The cracks descended like a lift from the base of his skull to the base of his spine. Finally, he bent over and touched his feet, an action which solicited a few more cracks, this time from his hips and coccyx.
“Ah, this feels great!”
His hand swept out in front of him and tapped in the air. Several swipes and a couple more taps followed. His eyes were focused on an indeterminate point somehwere above his hand during this whole process. After a final downward sipe, he smiled and set off.
“Time to go get set up. I only have a few hours before I have to go to bed.”
He walked slowly, his eyes darted between the various stalls and stands as he passed them by.
“What should I do first? I suppose it would make sense to go to the guidhall and register. Ah, it won’t be that simple, though. I’ll need to choose a class first. Oh, wait… I’m stupid… Cosmos Gate doesn’t have a class system… Hmm… Well, I suppose picking a general direction to go for would help me choose something directed, in that case. There’s no sense in just picking what sounds nice all willy-nilly, now does it?
“Hmm… I’m not really one for builds that force one to be dependent on others. I don’t have an issue with relying on others, but I want to be able to fend for myself first and foremost. Should I go for something that’s more of an all-rounder then? No, no, that would be way to generic. Something with good agility and damage output, but that is at the same time capable of controlling the battlefield and healing himself sounds much better. Hmm… An agility, awareness and damage output focused build then?
“Let’s see, new people get to choose four skills, right? So, an agility skill, an awareness skill, a damage skill, and a healing skill? Yes, that sounds nice. Riiight, let’s get to it!
By the time his thoughts had come this far, he stood in front of one of the mercenary guilds in the city. This particular street had several similar buildings up and down both sides of the street. In front of each hung a board with a different name.
“Devil’s Cry, he? Sounds nice enough. Right, we’ll pick this guild,” he stepped forward and disappeared into the darker interior of the building.
THe inside of the building, whilst being considerably darker than outside, was still quite bright. Several large glass panes allowed ample light into the room, and lamps were strategically placed to light the furthest, darker corners. Several banners hung from the pillars, each different from the next, and more impressive than the last. Bright reds, dark greens, deep blues, regal purples, all the colours of the rainbow were caught in those banners.
“Amazing, they’re so beautiful!” they boy couldn’t help but exclaim as he stared at them.
“They are, aren’t they? They are the banners of our top teams. THe best of the best,” a voice sounded from behind the boy.
“You’re new, aren’tcha boy?” The man stood up from a table nearby and came closer.
His hadn outstretched, he smiled, “Name’s Carl, how can I help you?”
“Hmm,” the boy nodded, “I’m Michael. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he bowed slightly as he said it before clasping Carl’s hand firmly, “Brand spanking new. I came to register, in fact.”
“Great, you won’t regret choosing Devil’s Cry as your guild, I can promise you that! The counter’s over there. Don’t be shy; ask if you have any questions.”
“Thanks, I will.”
The two finished their greetings and introductions. Carl returned to his seat, and Michael continued on to the counter.
“Isn’t that boy cute? Jet black hair, and those ice-blue eyes, he looks almost like a husky, doesn’t he?”
“Hmm-hmm. I could just eat him up!”
Several girls whispered to one another not-to-discreetly in a corner, occasionally stealing grancles of Michael as he passed. He didn’t pay much heed to their banter.
‘Well, I should have expected such a reaction, I did choose to be handsome and astoundingly attractive, after all,’ he thought.
Behind the counter was a young-ish lady, probably in her mid-to-late twenties. She looked very much like the builings that lined the streets, copper-brown hair tied in a bun at the top of her head, with two side-burns hanging down just in front of her ears to her jaw-line, a tan, almost dark yellow complexion, grass-green eyes with the purest white surriounding them, framed by the darkest brown eye-lashes ever seen.
She smiled as Michael approached.
“Good morning, sir. How can we help you today?”
‘Wow, the NPCs are really well done!’ Michael immediately thought as he looked at her for a moment longer than was probably appropriate before answering.
“Good morning. I’m looking to register with the guild.”
“Excellent, sir. Are you new, or do you already have a registered profession?”
“I’m now, no profession yet.”
“I see, would you like to take our aptitude test for a recommendation?”
“Aptitude test? I thought you just chose your skills and went with it from there. Come to think of it, why would one need to register a profession if Cosmos Gate doesn’t have any classes?
“Dear me, sir, you really are new. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the lady said, covering her mouth with her hands. Her shoulders shook a few times before she regained her composure.
Michael slapped his forehead, ‘Of course! This is supposed to be real hardcore roleplay… The NPCs don’t ‘know’ that this is a game… Ahhhh, I’m so stupid… Really.’
“Please, forgive my senseless remarks just now. Yes, I would like to take the aptitude test.”
“That’s okay, sir. Please, follow me.”
The lady stepped out from behind the coutner and led Michael through a side door into the rear part of the building. THe pair walked for a minute or so, winding left and right down corridors, and changing them several times before reaching the rear of the building.
The plot on which the building was built seemed to be rather large. ANd directly behind the plot was a large park. It seemed the other bildings in this street were similar, there were no building sillhouettes besides the others that lined the same street as the one from which they had just emerged.
The yard in which Michael found himself was about half a hectare: 100 by 50 metres. It stretched lengthwise out from the building towards the park. It was boxed in by a one and a half metre tall wall. To either side of the wall were other training yards, and beyond it stretched the park.
THe space within this enclosure, the yard, was dotted with people practising and training (the difference being whether they exercised alone, or had a partner as opponent or comrade). Sweat flew through the air like water from a sprinkler, jewels twinkling in the sunlight. The people appeared to be star-studded, hundreds of droplets twinkled on their skin. It made for quite an impressive scene.
“This way, please,” the lady woke Michael.
The two proceeded along the centre of the yard to the far end. They passed groups of men and women practicing various disciplines. Some were practising swordplay, either on dummies on posts, or duelling with more lively opponents, some spearplay, other were making pincushions of targets with bows and arrows, knives, etc. One was even throwing what appeared to be what the history books call ‘shuriken’.
‘Well, I suppose technically anything that can be hidden is a shuriken, but it appears that the popular perception two hundred years ago was that shuriken were these short, double-edged blades that one threw with the flick of the wrist.
They finally arrived at the far end of the yard. There, supervising several other youngsters, was a lion. Well, he wasn’t strictly speaking a lion. He stood two and a half metres tall. He had what could only be described as a mane of golden hair, and his hands were at least the same size lions’ paws would have been had they not gone extinct a hundred and fifty years ago.
The man saw the two of them approaching a few dozen metres before they arrived, and walked up to meet them.
“Good morning, Liscia, another prospective guildmember?” the man asked, looking at Michael.
His face was split in half by a massive smile, it was like his mouth was a ‘zipper’ – those ancient ways of closing up parts of people’s garments that had been out of fashion for a hundred and seventy years already – that had come undone.
Liscia didn’t say anything. She smiply returned his smile – in a far more modest and elegant form, of course – and nodded slightly.
“Dar here will explain everything to you, come see me once you’re done, okay?” she said to Michael.
Thereafter she made an almost military like, though elegant – then again, it seemed impossible for her to do anything that wasn’t elegent – about-turn and began the trek back to the guild’s counter.
“That woman… Is she really still mad at me? Sheesh…” the lion, Dar, asked himself, scratching his head.
Then again, he might just as well have been rummaging through his mane for something he had stowed there earlier. It was difficult to say, as his mane swallowed his arm from about halfway between the elbow and the hand.
He maintained the posture for only just more than a second, before unzipping his face once-more.
“Well, hello there, young man. I’m Dar, as Liscial just mentioned. So, you’re here to take the aptitude test, I assume?”
Michael nodded, “Yes, indeed I am.”
“Great! Well, let’s get started.”