Chapter 2: What Happens When You Step Into a Portal?

Ryu found himself in the most precarious situation: He was falling from the sky. “AHHHHH!” he screamed. The wind was horrifically beating against his face and his body was flipping about. After a mortifying ten minutes, he eventually crashed onto the sweet earth.

POOF! He made a full, frontal landing on his face.

Miraculously, he got up just fine. His only discomfort came from the dirt, dust, and pieces of grass that had entered through his nostrils.

“What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck! What the fuck was that portal doing there!?” he shouted. He felt his body and face all over, laughing hysterically. “I’m alive!”

He shook his body vigorously to rid himself of the thick dirt that had covered him. As he was dusting off his arm, he noticed something peculiar about his shirt.

These are… my real-world clothes! Was I wearing them when I first entered the game? How—

Suddenly, he heard faint screaming. It grew louder and louder.

“AAHHH!” someone screamed.

Then shortly—POOF! Someone hit the ground on the other side of a hill not too far from his landing site. Ryu wiped the remaining dirt and grass off and went to investigate.

The person, who turned out to be a tall, young man, also around the same age as him, was coughing and dusting himself. He wore a blue t-shirt and grey sweatpants. He looked up and noticed Ryu walking toward him. “Hey!” he waved, coughing.

Ryu approached, carefully trudging down the hill.

When the two finally came face-to-face, the young man extended out his right hand for a handshake. “The name’s Sexy Guy! What’s yours?” he said, smiling with a dirt-covered face.

Ryu’s expression momentarily became one of embarrassment. He had no qualms with people and personalities like this ‘Sexy Guy.’ In fact, Ryu remembered that Chase was the same. Although in Chase’s case, his character name had been ‘Hot Chase.’ When Ryu first met him in Dream World, he gagged with humiliation, as he believed people like Chase to exist as stereotypes in manga or anime. Basically, just a dumb brute. However, it turned out that he was a very sweet guy. Although, truth be told…he was a little slow…in the head….

Ryu sighed, lips slightly upturned.

Company’s nice at least. It’s probably best to party up anyways.

Ryu accepted the handshake. “Ryu.”

“It’s night to meet you, Ryu!” said Sexy Guy, gleeful-faced. Sexy Guy turned his head left and right, sweeping around. But he couldn’t see much since the hills were blocking the view. “So, what do we do now?”

“I don’t know. I just got here as well,” said Ryu.

The two of them hiked up one of the bigger hills and scouted the landscape. All around were endless fields and hills of crops, seemingly going on for miles, and a dirt road running through. But off in the distance, across a ravine, they noticed the horizon of trees and a hazy part in the sky, which signaled to them that there was fire—a village. And so, the two of them set out in that direction.

While they had been walking, Ryu had tried to open up the in-game menus. He was stuck in thought, his finger to his chin. “Hmm…” he pondered aloud.

“What’s up?” said Sexy Guy.

“I’ve been trying to open up the character screen, but it isn’t showing up. I can’t even open up the communication or party menu. Not even the basic menu is showing. The only thing that I’ve been able to open is the ‘Log Off’ screen…”

Would you like to log off?
Yes No

“…But the ‘Yes’ button is faded. I keep tapping on it, but it’s not doing anything.”

“Well, the developer did say there wasn’t any testing done on this game. Maybe it’s just a bug. They’ll probably make a server announcement sooner or later. Don’t think too much about it.”

“Yeah… You’re probably right,” said Ryu. He was a little worried, but Sexy Guy’s words re-assured him, for the moment.

“Look!” Sexy Guy pointed. He pointed to a horse caravan up ahead, which was just about to cross the river’s bridge.

The two rushed towards the caravan, waving their hands in the air and yelling, trying to get the attention of the elderly man who was riding on it. But the elderly man didn’t seem to notice or hear them.

It was then, as the caravan was crossing the river, that a section of the bridge collapsed. One of the back wheels fumbled between a gap in the planks and caused the caravan to momentarily tip over sideways. This, in turn, caused a barrel from inside the caravan to roll out. It broke open and spilled its content over the area. The back wheel landed on the slippery mess and slid across the planks of the bridge. It created just enough momentum to knock the old man off and cause the back part of the caravan to slide over the edge. Several barrels and crates of goods slipped out, crashing into the water.

“Hey! Watch out!” Sexy Guy yelled, rushing to the scene with Ryu.

“You get the horse! I’ll get the elder!” said Ryu.

Sexy Guy nodded.

The horse was right on the edge of slipping off, but Sexy Guy managed to grab hold of the reins. Fortunately, the caravan was still on the bridge, still sliding over, but slow enough so Sexy Guy could react in time. He quickly undid the reins of the horse and pulled the heavy creature off the bridge. Once most of the caravan’s bulk was over the edge, the entire cart suddenly slipped. The vehicle splashed into the turbulent water some forty feet below.

At the same time that Sexy Guy saved the horse, the elderly man had tumbled to the edge of the bridge. But because the bridge had become slippery, he couldn’t properly stop himself and ended up slipping halfway off. He tried to pull himself up, but the planks were too slimy. He fell.

Zooming into the scene, Ryu leaped across the planks, grabbing ahold of the elder’s arm. However, the old man was heavier than Ryu expected.

Shit! I can’t hold on!

“Don’t let go!” Ryu said. “I’ve got y—”

The liquid on the elder’s hands caused Ryu to lose hold. The old man’s hand soon slipped away. But just as that happened, a long arm appeared from behind Ryu and managed to grab the old man’s wrist. It was Sexy Guy, who after securing the safety of the horse, came to Ryu’s aid. The two struggled for a bit, but they eventually saved the elderly man.

In a strange language, the elder graciously thanked the two, bowing his head, to which Ryu and Sexy Guy responded by also bowing their heads. The elder then walked over to his horse, which was now safe from harm, and comforted it. As they were also stressed from the encounter, the two players went and rested under a tree next to the old man.

“That was close,” Ryu sighed. “Thanks.”

“Eh, it was no biggie,” Sexy Guy said, casually.

It was at this time that a group of riders on horses was coming over the pass, riding towards the group. The elder stood up, signaling where he was.

When the horsemen finally arrived, they greeted the old man in a respectful manner. One of the riders came down and helped him get on the caravan horse. Once he was straddled on, the elder gestured to Ryu and Sexy Guy to come over. He pointed in the direction beyond the pass and muttered in his strange language. The elder shook his head with a smile and left with the horsemen. Ryu and Sexy Guy nodded to each other and followed suit. On foot, of course.

Just a short while after the riders left, Sexy Guy curiously said aloud, “Don’t you find it strange?”

“Hmm?” muttered Ryu.

“The NPCs spoke in a foreign language,” Guy said. “We won’t be able to do anything if we can’t talk to them. I for sure thought that languages would be automatically translated for us. Maybe it’s a glitch?”

Ryu remained composed. He had already been thinking about the oddities of this new game ever since entering it. He fixed his eyes to the ground, thinking.

…It really is too unconventional. Impractical, really. Could it really just be a glitch?

He spoke softly, turning his back up, “Yeah. Perhaps.” He remained vigilant as the two continued their way.

As the two players approached the village, they noticed the town’s stone fencing and guard towers. They weren’t defenses worthy of a king, but they seemed to do their jobs just fine. Although, it seemed like they weren’t even needed, as the town had a warmth and a safe feeling to it. The encompassing pine forest complimented the cobblestone walls nicely, adding a rustic charm as well. The tower guards didn’t have a mean grimace as you’d expect, either. In fact, they waved at the two players when they came in sight.

Upon reaching the village entrance, Ryu and Sexy Guy saw that the old man from before was waiting for them. He was waiting with an elderly woman who dressed most modestly: a well-knit beige gown that dropped just above her ankles; laced moccasins that were mildly worn; and vibrant grey hair that was tied in a bun to reveal the most gentle features of a well-aged woman.

The woman approached them and spoke in the foreign language from before.

Sexy Guy whispered to Ryu. “I still don’t think they can understand us.”

Ryu nodded but did not stray his attention from the elderly woman.

The elderly woman took out a pouch, and from it, she took out two brown crystal necklaces. She gestured to Sexy Guy.

“Me?” Sexy Guy said, pointing to himself.

The elderly woman nodded.

Sexy Guy went up to her and instinctively lowered his head, around which the elderly woman laid the brown crystal necklace. She then gestured to Ryu to do the same, which he did, and she gently lowered the other necklace over his head.

“There we go,” she said. “I hope you two can understand me now.”

The elderly man walked forwards and bowed. “Thank you, youngsters,” he said, grateful. “You saved my life. I’m forever grateful. That old bridge, I’ve been telling my grandson to fix it.” He laughed in embarrassment. “Please do forgive me for the trouble that I’ve caused.”

“It was no trouble at all,” Sexy Guy said, proudly.

The elderly man chuckled. “I’m Roland. I’m the elder of this village.”

“I am Sexy Guy.”

“I am Ryu.”

“Well, Sexy Guy and Ryu, please, if it isn’t too much trouble to you both, why don’t you stay for the night?” he said. “By the looks of it, you two have traveled far. Please, I insist.”

Both Ryu and Sexy Guy jolted out of surprise, but they were as subtle as possible with their reaction.

He spoke our names!

In Dream World, NPCs could inquire players about their avatar names via system logs. This was simply for book-keeping and system-keeping measures. It was common protocol for NPCs to record the names of players so that the system could keep track of all player-to-NPC interactions. However, in Dream World, no NPCs spoke the names of players. AI-voiced system messages sometimes included player names, depending on what kind of message and how lengthy the player name was. But for NPCs? No. Never.

There are two reasons for this: first, there was no set maximum character length for avatar names. Therefore, if an NPC could speak a player’s name, for those players with ridiculously long names, it would have taken loads of time voicing the names. This applied to system messages as well. It would have been a huge inconvenience.

And second, the most obvious reason: even though Dream World had been the most technologically advanced with its VR and AI, the developers could not fully program all the nuances of name pronunciation for every possible name and character in the world. Therefore, they decided not to include name voicing into the NPC’s coding. Simply put, the knowledge and technology didn’t exist to make it available.

Is this AI even more advanced than Dream World’s?

Ryu stopped with his thinking and continued on with the formalities. He addressed Roland with the greatest of formalities. “Sir, we would be beyond appreciative if you let us stay for the night.”

“Hoh. You’re quite polite, youngster,” he laughed.

Upon hearing his laughter, the woman casually hit his hand with hers. Roland stop chuckling when she did so.

Roland coughed, composing himself in a respectful manner. “I’m sorry, but I have duties to attend to. It was a pleasure meeting you both. This is my wife, Mirvena.” Roland gestured his hand to the elderly woman. “She’ll help settle you in.” He put up a broad smile and left.

The elderly woman remained behind. She clasped her hands together and lowered her head. “Thank you for saving that clumsy husband of mine,” she said. “I am Mirvena. As part of our thanks, we have arranged for you to stay at the Buckwheat Inn. If you would please follow me.”

Mirvena brought the two players to the Buckwheat Inn’s door, which was just about a block from the entrance.

“The innkeeper has left town to take care of business, but she should return tomorrow,” Mirvena said. “The door has been unlocked just for you two. If you two would like, I could have someone come and give you a short tour of the town while the sun hasn’t set.”

Ryu raised his hand. “We appreciate it, but we have walked a long way today. I think we will stay here and rest for now.”

Guy respectfully gave an agreeing nod.

Mirvena lowered her head. “Please, let us know if you need anything. And thank you both again for your help.” She bowed gracefully and left.

Upon her leave, the two players opened the door to see a spacious tavern. It was well-kept; the windows maintained a sheen to them as if they were scrubbed and cleaned every morning, and the chairs and furniture weren’t splintered, a good indication of how well the patrons treated the place. There was a healthy basket of fruit on each table, each filled with exotic fruits the two men had never seen before. Across the room was an open hearth behind a long wooden counter with stool seating, almost looking like a bar.

An aromatic steam was coming from the kitchen area.

Sexy Guy’s stomach growled. He dashed over to the counter, on which two generously portioned plates laid. They looked piping hot, as if they had just been prepared and served. “Ah! This smells…*inhale*…so …*inhale*…gooood!” He was drooling. He looked around to see if anyone was around but saw no one.

Ryu was about to let out a stomach growl, too, but he stretched and tensed his stomach muscles to lessen the sound. He was quite the humble character. He gently pulled the stool to the side, sat down, and began eating.

“Wah?!” Sexy Guy said. “Dude, that’s just rude. You just stole someone’s meal.”

Ryu ignored Sexy Guy’s remarks and continued eating.

Sexy Guy surveyed the inn one more time, seeing no one. He gulped and hesitantly sat himself down, too. “Well, if we get caught, I’ll say it was your idea,” he said, pouting his mouth. He dug his face into the plate, munching on a slab of meat that tasted like steak.

The corner of Ryu’s mouth slid upwards, but he didn’t bother commenting. Both players simply appreciated what was before them and appeased their appetites, thankful for the meal.

After they were done, they settled into a medium-sized room that had been unlocked. There were two beds on each side of the wall, and a small oval window in-between that let just the perfect amount of moonlight through. Sexy Guy claimed the right bed, giving Ryu the left. Ryu didn’t care which bed he got though.

Ryu checked the ‘Log Off’ screen periodically, but to no avail, still nothing.

“You’re still doing that?” said Sexy Guy, lying on his bed, yawning and looking at Ryu with tired eyes.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure the developer will make an announcement tomorrow. Go to bed,” Sexy Guy said and turned to the wall.

“Shouldn’t you be worried?”

“Hmm? Why should I be? It’s just a game… Anyways, I’m going to sleep now. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

Ryu lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

Just a game, huh?

Suddenly, Sexy Guy yelled and stood up on his bed. “Aahhh! Sleeping!? In a game?!”

“…You realized that just now?” said Ryu, blankly.

Both players looked at each other, Sexy Guy totally shocked, with a comic, baffled expression.

Ryu turned away to his side of the wall. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” he said.

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