Chapter 3 - Level 0

A dream is only a dream after you wake up. While you are dreaming, it becomes your reality. I believe all of us here had taken being kidnapped quite well, considering everything. At least no one broke down. I could tell Carol was putting up a brave front. Taro was actively enjoying it. Julie was still on the fence about whether to laugh or cry, but she was distracting herself by taking charge. Arya was silently sulking. I couldn’t get a read on Divin though. As for me? I was wondering what my folks at home would be up to, they must’ve lost it by now. I decided to ask the Betty about it, not expecting an answer, “Hey, what about the people back on our planet, surely they would’ve noticed us missing?” Surprisingly, I got a response. “The Simulation is not subject to the space-time constraints of your world; just like the Tutorial is separate from the Simulation, the Simulation is separate from your reality.” ‘Ah, makes sense. It is like time has stopped there, eh?’

We gathered around Betty, ready to go where fate would lead us. Julie was just about to say something when Betty spoke up again - “So, you have all got your Classes, allow me to lend your starting equipment!” So saying, she raised her hand and down came a stream of light in front of each of us. Two swords in front of Taro and Divin, a bow and quiver full of arrows in front of Julie, a dagger for Carol and staff for Arya. I got nothing. “Ummm, my equipment seems to be missing?” I queried. “Mages don’t need a physical weapon to attack,” she said. ‘What, are you kidding me?’. “At least, give me a dagger or something, just in case!” I begged. “I’m afraid I cannot.” I looked around and got only sympathetic looks. I didn’t give up though, “But I do not know any magic spells. How am I supposed to defend myself?” “I’d recommend creating a spell,” she said. “I didn’t really go to Hogwarts, you know. I have absolutely no clue how to go about making or using a spell!” I bit back. “While I do not have the data of how you should create your spell, I am certain you must use your Status Window to create one. For reference, allow me to upload my floating spell into your repository…”

I opened up my Status Window again and immediately noticed that the tilde (~) symbol at the bottom was bold. I focused on it and a terminal-like screen opened up. It was blank save for one line:

float o = (while (o.elevation < 2.73) _____.gravity--)

I was dumbstruck. ‘Shit… It’s a god damned program. True, it looks like an unholy union of Haskell and Javascript, with bits of Lisp and redacted stuff in between; but I recognize it nonetheless. And I actually have a shell to work on? Fucking A!’ I almost did a small victory dance but contained myself hastily. My smile must have betrayed me, however, as Arya had a weird look in her eyes.

“Perhaps we should get going now?” Julie broke the awkward silence and looked at Betty. Betty didn’t move a muscle. Seems like she meant it literally when she said she will be following us. Another moment later, Julie huffed a bit, shouldered her bow and arrows, then led the way out of the Spawn Point clearing. Just as we stepped out of the choke point leading out onto a wide road, Betty turned from Cleopatra to Will-‘O-the-Wisp. It was Carol who spoke up, “Why’d ya turn into a ball of light?” to which Betty replied, “It is easier to split into multiple entities in this form, and it is also lighter on resource consumption” ‘Ah, she did say she would follow us all even after we went individually. So this is how. Weird, but logical.’ Apparently, Carol thought so too, because she didn’t have any follow-up questions.

¤ ¤ ¤

The unremarkable road eventually lead us to an unremarkable field. It was big enough to fit a couple of football stadiums. Albeit barren of any fauna, it was sprouting something oozy in large quantities. Wait, are these slimes? “What is this?” Julie enquired, motioning in the general direction of the slimes. Betty-the-wisp spoke up, “This is Level 0 of the Tutorial Dungeon - The Slime Field” ‘Clever naming sense there’ “The entrance to Level 1 is on the opposite side of our current position; you must cross this field and reach level 1 before you can proceed to the next Level”

I looked around the field. If was filled with slimes of all sizes and colors. The one thing they all had in common was how lazily they were ambling towards nowhere in particular. I was quite absorbed in taking in the view, so I missed the moment when Taro and Julie made their move. Taro jumped ahead, sword held up in both hands in front of him, while Julie took out her bow and notched an arrow. This was when I noticed their actions and thought to myself ‘We should have made a plan first. Even a signal would’ve been appreciated’.

Julie let loose the arrow, which zoomed in quite rapidly towards a particularly large green slime ball. I was impressed - until it harmlessly hit the ground. Taro wasn’t faring any better. He tried slashing his sword into a smaller blue slime, but the creature brushed it off and bounced back. The attack had caused a commotion and three more slimes were headed to Taro’s location. Another arrow, another slash - no effect. The slimes were gathering. Carol had joined in at some point, covering Taro’s flank. Divin, Arya and I were standing a distance away, behind Julie.

The other slimes were now closer and surrounding Taro and Carol. Some others were headed in our direction, probably due to Julie digging up dirt near them with her arrows. Suddenly, a blue slime jumped out of the crowd and slammed into Taro’s chest. He fell flat on his butt. Carol came to him and gave him her hand when another yellow slime smashed into her back. Thankfully, she braced herself somehow. Both of them ran back to where we were standing. Julie also stopped shooting. The crowd of slimes was now considerable and headed in our direction like an avalanche. We hightailed it out of there and almost came back to the Spawn Point itself.

¤ ¤ ¤

“Well, that sucked!” Julie started, “I am down to half my arrows” she moaned.

“I tried hitting their core, but they kept slipping in and out of the crowd” Taro continued.

“Perhaps we need a plan?” Carol chimed in.

“Yes. They are attracted to arrows, which we can use to draw one in; isolate it from others and destroy its core.” Divin suggested.

This back and forth continued while I realized there wasn’t anything I could contribute. ‘No, can’t keep things like this. Need to create a spell somehow.’ I excused myself, letting them know of my intentions and headed further back to the center of the Spawn Point.

While I hyped myself up, I couldn’t change the fact that I had no clue what to do. A splinter of Betty followed me, the original staying with the rest. I opened up my Status Window and focused on the tilde symbol. The terminal opened up and I gave it a closer look.

Focus with an intent - this was how I concluded the interaction worked. So I focused on the window, willing it to write down the words in my head. Wait, what spell do I want? Let’s go with the most generic one.

fireball =

‘Holy Shit! Is this awesome or what? Editing with literal thoughts. These guys have achieved perfection itself!’

It took me a minute to wrap my head around this, but eventually, I calmed down. I looked at the float spell again. It took an argument of ‘o’. ‘Perhaps I could give a target to the fireball with an argument? How do I actually throw a ball of fire anyway? Wish there was a manual page I could refer to - man, do I miss the internet! Oh wait, I have a literal AI chatbot by my side. Let’s see if I can scrape something out of her. It is only a matter of asking the right questions!’

“Hey Betty, do you know how I can create a fireball spell?” I asked a straight question, not expecting an answer. I wasn’t disappointed. “I’m afraid I do not,” she said. “So, how do I interact with the environment?” I continued. “You must use the environment variables,” she replied. For a moment I thought she was having a laugh. She wasn’t. ‘OK good, got something’ “How do I list the environment variables?” I asked. “I’m afraid I cannot answer that.” ‘Hmm… Would’ve been nice if you could’ I decided to change the phrasing slightly, “How do I use the environment variables?” “You can modify the environment variables in your spell by focusing your intent inside the Status Window.” ‘Damn, no luck. Wait, how did she pass an argument to her float spell?’ like a light bulb went off in my head, I was almost giddy when I asked her “Can you show me how you cast the float spell?” In retrospect, this should have been my first question, but I wasn’t going to demean myself. While I was wondering about my shortcomings, she changed from her wisp form back to Cleopatra. I leveled a hard stare, not willing to miss a single twitch or whisper out of her. And then, she cast the float spell.