The grass was the perfect shade of green, vibrant and youthful. Grass that often begged one to just lay down upon it to soak up the light from the equally perfect sun. In this land, everything seemed to be just that, perfect. Imagine the shock to the Hunter’s Guild that there had been a murder. Murder was not common in the lands of Tisrendel, the occupants were almost unscathed in their day to day lives. Adventuring, exploring, and conquering the wild lands beyond.
So, how did someone die?
Bow slung over her shoulder, Sheyera knelt at the body. Cold to the touch and still, the face was a familiar one, belonging to Ifnar the half-orc. A polite fellow, whose tusked face always wore a friendly smile when you entered his shop. Why did someone want him dead? More to the point, how was it done?
In the small wooden shop, shelves stocked with the various goods and knickknacks, Shey walked around checking the room. She pulled a small gem from the pouch on her belt. Golden eyes closing as words were chanted softly, the stone in her hand starting to heat up until it glowed a bright red that washed over the interior. Several heartbeats seemed to pass with no change in the room until faint footsteps started to appear.
Frowning, she knelt again, using her hands to measure the size of the print, making a mental note of it while some curious onlookers tried to peer in through the mostly shuttered windows. The leather of her armor creaked as she stood and went to address the group. Golden eyes scanned those around, taking in every single movement of their bodies. Every gesture and lip quiver to see if, perhaps, the culprit was among those gathered.
Fortunately for those within the crowd, nothing seemed out of place or even suspect to make Sheyera pull them aside for further questioning. Instead, she placed herself in an almost relaxed stance, the thumbs of her hands resting in her belt as she addressed the crowd.
“Ifnar was slain today,” looks of shock and concern increasing in number as hushed whispers fell over the collective menagerie. “As of this moment, I have no clues as to who has done it or how he has died, but rest assured, I will find the one responsible and they will pay for it to the fullest extent of the law. Be sure to remain close to home and beware of any strangers in the interim. Understand?” Without waiting for the barrage of questions, Shey set to work.
Using a wolf token from her pouch, the beast was summoned with but a word. Its grey fur holding a slight glow as it shook itself before sitting and waiting for her command. “Scent,” a simple enough command given as the wolf instantly went to work. Sniffing along the ground, honing in on the boot prints that still glowed faintly. Suddenly, his tail went rigid and he stared off into the distance, almost like he could see through the door. Not wanting to wait for the trail to go cold, she opened the door and the beast shot off like a bolt. Pressed to keep pace, she rushed through the thick underbrush feeling the snags and pricks of thorns. Thin lines of red marring her flesh only to slowly close after a moment or two.
It felt like they had run for hours when the wolf finally stopped. Giving a low growl to the cave in front of them, the opening which was less than inviting. Blackness, total and complete, without the barest of hints of light is what greeted the Hunter and her companion. Daring her to step forth and find the truth or shy away. Tell a lie to those that waited back, wondering if they would be the next to go. Trying to understand what monster or person had taken it upon themselves to break the peace and gentle life of the citizens of Tisrendel. As tempting as that would be, there was a code to follow and a guilty party to find.
Unslinging the bow from her back and nocking an arrow whose tip had a faint blue glow, she took a deep breath and journeyed forth. Feeling the blackness swallow them like a long forgotten friend, another word of power and her eyes glowed brightly for a moment before she was given the gift of night vision. The textures and details losing their crisp definition, but now she could follow behind the wolf with confidence. Each step taken, a sure one that left no room for error on the somewhat uneven and gravel-filled terrain.
The faint scent of burned wood and scorched meat wafted toward them in the stale air of the cave. And just barely, when she stopped and held her breath, she could hear voices. One for certain, possibly a second one, but the signs of life were clear and aided in pushing her forward. Grip tightening on her bow, fingers working on the string wanting to make sure it would be ready should she need it. Step after careful step, the darkness drew her in deeper and deeper. Further from escape and closer to an unknown form of danger.
Closer to the sound of voices, Shey could make out a turn ahead and on the wall played shadows from those engaged in a heated conversation. It was clear now; it was more than one of them and they appeared to be having an argument. Stopping just on the wall where it would turn into the opening, she listened.
“This was not part of the plan!” a gruff almost growl like voice grumbled out in anger at the other. “A hunter? How are we supposed to complete the job with a Hunter tailing us?”
“Relax! We did the job already. Now, we just have to make it to the location to complete it,” this voice sounded younger and far more confident.
Not wanting to wait or waste anymore time, Shey stepped around the corner, bow drawn. Without seeming to need any command the wolf was at her side, teeth bared, and hackles raised. Before her stood a human male, whom she thought to be the one that appeared more confident. The well-kept armor and groomed facial hair hinted that not only was he put together, but he was also not doing this for any coin. Beside him was a Gnoll, the large canine head covered in spots with an ink black stripe of back hair and munching jaws that had snapped shut when she came into view.
The Gnoll growled and tensed, prompting her to aim her bow at them, “Easy there. I am not here to kill like the two of you,” her wolf growling when the male acted as if he was going to grab the sword at his hip. “Now, the trail led me to this cave, to you both, and from what I overheard…I do believe I have those that I was hunting,” trying to keep an eye on both becoming more difficult as the spell for her night vision began to wane.
“What makes you think we have done anything?” the human asked, a smirk playing across his lips. “Just a couple of friends hanging out in a cave. Nothing bad about that, right?”
Again, his hand moved, and she brought the bow back to him, “By the order of the crown and her royal Majesty of Evenfall, you are under arrest for the crime of murder. A most heinous charge that one would hope keeps you up at night,” speaking clearly and with the authority of her station.
Just as her vision started to flicker, similar to someone lighting and extinguishing a candle, the low light from their camp was snuffed out when the human winked. The next thing she can recall was the sensation of pain at her back, the Gnoll slamming into her and against the cave wall. Cries of pain echoing off the stone, instinctively she curled into herself to protect her core from the onslaught of the Gnoll. The humanoid was stronger than her and was using its weight to keep her pinned while unleashing a flurry of blows to where it could reach.
As it felt like this might be the end, her wolf appeared, dragging the Gnoll from her and giving Shey the chance to gain the upper hand. Another spell and the coals erupted into flames, revealing the human had escaped leaving just them and Gnoll now. The fight was vicious with the valiant Hunter finding herself wounded but alive. Already healing slowly, as she pushed the Gnoll along with her wolf trotting at her side.
Back in town, the Gnoll was handed over to the town guard and the woman gave the description of the human to them as well, so that they could keep an eye out for him. As she started to leave, however, she stopped looking down at the wolf that wagged its tail looking back at her. Without much warning she kicked the wolf that yelped as it slid across the floor back into town. People gathering around in shock, Shey pulled another gem from her belt and held it to the neck of the beast, speaking a word of power. A jolt of power emanated, striking beast whose yelp was more akin to man’s outcry of pain.
In awe the crowd watched as the wolf turned into a man and was promptly placed under arrest by the Hunter. Case closed, the human thought he could polymorph into the wolf when the light went out but got the eye color wrong. Grateful citizens praised her for helping them, but it was different. The town did not feel the same, the people moved differently now.
Returning to her hut, the bow was placed against the wall as she laid back in the bed and closed her eyes.
“How was it?”
The voice came from the darkness, somewhat muted as she lifted her visor. Squinting at the artificial lights, looking at the tech that took the helmet from her. “So, that is the new questline?” voice feeling somewhat hoarse and underused despite having been talking to the people within Evenfall, the latest and most popular MMORPG in the virtual circuit. Featuring the latest in AI technology to give you the most authentic experience.
“Yes! Adding in some danger and adventure!” the tech seemed very pleased with the Questline.
“It’s murder though,” Shey said, shaking her head. “That cannot be good for the game.”
“What do you mean?” asking without looking up, intently watching the screen and the date from her recent run.
“Infar? He was not there even after I completed the quest. So, he is gone for good?”
“Oh! Yeah, part of the new world editing quest system we are implementing.”
“That is the worst Quest I have ever been on in any game.” To his questioning look, she added, “He was killed…and the people there? They looked completely…devastated. Changed…” There was sorrow in her voice.
“I know! Imagine how many unique interactions we are going to be able to make for our consumer base!” returning to his screen.
“How can that be right?” she asked softly.
“It’s just AI and they adapt to what we tell them to,” shrugging. “Our AI is the best in the market, so we are going to make a killing with this new update.”
Seeing there was no point in talking, Shey left the room, passing by the user that had been the human murderer. Hatred burning in his eyes as he recognized her, “You ruined my perfect run! Now I have to try that again!” practically spitting at her. Ignoring his anger, the woman continued on her way home. On the subway that had people connected to the VRworld even while in transit, wondering if they too thought it was just AIs and nothing else.
The lights to her apartment clicked on automatically as she entered, tossing her jacket onto the couch before she sat down at her personal console and logged in. Greeted by the birds chirping and fresh air of Fallensprite, one of the smaller towns in Evenfall.
“There you are,” the warm loving voice of her partner greeting her and Shey opened her eyes to see her love walk toward her from their kitchen. “You slept for a long time today,” fresh field flowers wafted toward her as the woman pressed a sweet kiss on her lips.
“I am sorry, love. I did not mean to worry you,” reaching up to cup the side of her face.
“It is alright, I know you have to sleep for so long or else you get sick,” another kiss and Shey’s heart skipped a beat. “I missed you today,” leaving to go and get Shey some water from their small kitchen.
“I missed you too,” sitting up in the bed and wondering how she would protect Eryn if the world out there saw her as only AI? What if she was the target of one of the new quests?