Chapter 7 - Settling down

"'Twas my little bro's 14th birthday the day after tomorrow. I was gonna bake him a cake." Carol mumbled.

We were all resting on the bridge, sitting down, and coming to terms with our current predicament. When we first appeared here, we were confused. Soon we got busy hunting slimes. Now that we had a moment to reflect, reality hit us like a freight train.

"What sort of cake?" I asked just to keep the conversation flowing.

"A cheesecake, perhaps. My mum was set on strawberries though," she chuckled. I sniggered as well, more out of formality than amusement.

The conversation would have died then, if not for Julie. "My boyfriend and I were going to visit my folks. I was going to introduce him." She chuckled as well, more morose than amused, "I was quite nervous; we were going steady and I really wanted them to all like each other. Guess that's one thing I don't have to worry about anymore." I decided not to add my formal snigger this time.

"Well, you'll have to worry about it as soon as we go back," I tried to cheer her up. Julie looked at me confused. Even the others did the same.

"You do know where we are, right? We've been here for what, a few days already? I don't know how fucking long this test shit is going to last but what I do know is that, steady or not, Jake isn't gonna wait decades for me to come back," she growled, with barely concealed anger and deep sadness.

"Didn't you hear what Betty said? Time flows differently here and back home," I offered. Then I remembered that I was the one who had asked the question and received an answer. Others probably didn't catch on it. "Isn't that right Betty? What exactly is the time difference between the simulation and the real... er, reality?" I turned to the ball of light in our midst.

"Every month in the Simulation is a second in your world. And every month in the Tutorial is a second in the Simulation, a month being a standard 30 day period." she intoned.

"See? Our time in the Tutorial scarcely counts back home. Once we complete the Tutorial and find an exit back home, barely a second or two would have passed," I concluded. I also wondered how many humans these guys must have kidnapped and tested on out here. Time dilation was quite convenient.

The conversation tapered off after that. This time though, the people did less wallowing in self-pity and more figuring out how this new information affected their situation. The way I saw it, it didn't really matter how long we spent inside the Simulation. Even if we spent 100 years inside, back home barely 20 minutes would've passed. Not that it mattered to me. I wasn't gonna stay away from my friend and family for years on end. Besides, I hated being pushed around by others. Become a guinea pig for some weird test? Fuck that! I was gonna bug out ASAP.

¤ ¤ ¤

I wasn't particularly thirsty. But for some reason, I craved water. Never in my life had I been through such an onerous exercise and did not need a drop of water. It felt weird. I also wanted some food. Not that I was hungry. I wondered how long it had been since I last ate. In fact, I asked Betty, "Hey Betty, how long have we been in this Tutorial?" She replied "16 hours and 43 minutes." 'Not even a day has passed? I feel like I've been here for eons. Damn!' The others were shocked as well. Taro had a particularly funny look on his face. 'Time dilation affects us mentally too, eh?' I joked to myself.

We had been here for a while. Our clothes were clean as if new. The slime remains worked surprisingly as dry cleaning. The sky was still dark of dusk. Some stars really would've been nice, it gets damn depressing looking up to nothing. I wished we had a fire going. Not that I was cold. The temperature was just right. Since none of us was a Craftsman nor had we any clue otherwise of how to start a fire, we just laid about like drunken sailors, sitting with our backs against the railings in the middle of the bridge.

The entrance of the next "level" was visible ahead, although I couldn't peer past it to see the terrain. While we were resting, I opened my Status Window and decided it was high time to experiment. I still remembered Betty's float spell, so I emulated it.

incendio o = (( o.temperature = o.temperature * 2 ))

petrificus_totalus o = (( o.temperature = o.temperature / 2 ))

float o = (( o.elevation = (o.elevation + 1) * 2 ))

'While I have no control over gravity yet, doubling the elevation should be enough. Added one in case the elevation was zero. Anyway, let us test,' I thought and pointed my palm at a nearby pebble. "Float," I whispered, as quietly as possible so I didn't disturb others from their ruminations, and the pebble moved. In place. It barely left the ground. 'So gravity is still pulling it down eh?', I thought, 'No leviosa for me today!' I wasn't that bummed about the failure, I even sort of expected it. I asked Betty if she had any other spells. She replied in negative. Her shape-shifting was not a standard "Spell" according to her and besides floating around, she couldn't do much else.

I messed around a bit with float spell and put in different variables, and still made no tangible progress in it. With a thought, the float spell was removed. I tried writing random code to see what syntax worked. Apparently, while a spell could be multi-line, it had to be a proper function. No direct external calls or global variables. I also tried several shell utilities that I remembered being built-in. Few worked, most didn't. The only "error" I got was that it didn't produce any effect or open new window; with no idea why not or where the issue was. After a while, I decided I'd rather catch some shut-eye, even if I didn't need it. I closed my eyes against the gloomy dark and made myself as comfortable as possible on the hard stone. I couldn't sleep right away, I never did anyway even back home. Everyone had quieted down. Silence reigned for a while. Soon I heard heavy breathing coming from Divin's side. I even perceived someone sniffling softly. I decided to feign sleep until I actually did.

¤ ¤ ¤

Julie was the first to move. "We should get going," she spoke in a tone filled with cold determination. Probably more for her own sake than others. We all got up. There was no way out but through.

While it was true that we didn't need sleep when speaking in terms of stats and points, but as humans, it certainly helped a lot. Of course, we didn't wake up filled with happiness or anything of the sort. Things just seemed... More manageable, somehow. No one commented on Carol's puffy eyes. I personally felt slightly chipper now than I did before.

As we reached the entrance, Betty's light casting long shadows ahead of us, a sight of ruin welcomed us. It was literally, a ruin. Alabaster statues with missing heads decorated the buildings made of tilted pillars and broken walls. I couldn't see how far this ruin extended, the decaying structures blocked my view further.

Suddenly, I noticed movement in the corner of my eye. I focused on it and saw a solitary vine swinging down. "Monkey?" Taro questioned no one in particular. "Yeah, it looked like a baboon," Julie answered. I must've missed it. 'Monkey ain't that bad, right?' I thought.

That was when Betty decided to make an announcement: "This is Level 1 of the Tutorial Dungeon - The Imp Ruins!"

Chapter 6 - Level Up
Chapter 8 - Impish Impulse