Chapter 1 - Rebooting
His mind still echoed with the last events, playing back over and over like some movie rewind…
The sky was bloody, the battlefield was torn and littered with broken arms and armor. Horses were screaming, almost human, and the wind was blowing, filling the air with the sickly sweet smell of spilled blood. Nobody was moving, they had settled into a tense confrontation. Life and death brothers that fought shoulder to shoulder a moment before were now against each other in arms. In this moment, even the air seemed to have grown firm.
Not far from the center of the fight lay the body of a large and hideous man, all stained with blood from a massive fight. He had been Song Heitar, leader of the Black Wind House, a King-level master, nineteenth on the Six Door List of villains in the game. Below the corpse, the purple glow of a mighty treasure glowed around him, waiting to be claimed.
“Why?” Spoke a handsome young man, tall and straight, clad in strong armor and with powerful gear upon him, holding his signature Cloud Dragon Halberd.
He was seriously injured, half kneeling on the ground, his bloody halberd keeping him upright as he leaned on it. Blood was pouring down his chest, soaking into his armor. Looking carefully, the wound was actually from a small, one-handed blade driven through his back into his chest, the handle shorn off by a blow from his halberd.
Opposite him stood a middle-aged man, with a dark beard, thick eyebrows, and large, intent eyes. The man wore mithral chainmail, and held a golden lance at the ready. At the left side of his waist was an empty scabbard, cold and alone and seeming to shout out the cruelty of reality to all watching.
“In order to live...a better life.” The hoarse voice of the older man responded. His voice was firm, as if less to respond to the question than to convince himself of his own actions. After saying these words, he stopped speaking, calmly watching the young man dying before him.
“Ha, for that?” The younger man’s face was full of ridicule, pointing at the armor under the corpse. “Just for a Platinum-level equipment, hahaha, really ridiculous.” His voice became cold and sharp.
“I really did not expect that it had such a magic, to mess with people’s minds like this. The one who’d always watched my back, my respected brother, turned and stabbed me in it. You were someone who was respected by everyone, and you gave up all your dignity.”
He was very weak, but his black eyes were still clear and sharp. But now, there was a lingering sense of self-condemnation within them that had not been there before.
“Big brother, no matter what, in the end, it is only a game. One day, we will have to leave here and go back to the real world. I did not expect...the end of our brotherhood, five years of friendship, to be worth even less than a mere precious equipment drop in the game.”
“Sorry, Third Brother.” His voice was still calm and unfeeling.
“Hahaha! ‘Sorry’. Haha! So ridiculous. Big brother, this is the last time I will call you this. Greed is the original sin; I do not blame you.” The young man became unusually calm, his face without a trace of emotion upon it. His eyes were as bright as the sea, boundless and fathomless.
Those looking on recognized that face, which earned him his nickname, the Two-Faced Demon. When he was cold, he was terrifying to his foes; when he was warm, to his friends he was as fresh as a spring breeze.
“But the next time we meet, I will kill you,” He said coldly to the older man.
He grabbed the sword impaling him, blood running from the palm of his hand. Face as calm as water, with no ripples upon it, he ignored the pain as he pulled. With a tearing of flesh, the sword was pulled free from his body in a spray of heart’s blood, a bloody flower gracing the battlefield for a quiet instant.
And the screen froze.
A bloody sky, a burst of blood sprinkling upwards towards heaven, so small, so stubborn. As if it were someone else, Ouyang Shuo silently watched as he fell to the ground and didn’t stand up again, bleeding out and finally dying.
This was not the first time that Ouyang Shuo had reincarnated, but this was definitely the most painful time. Reincarnation meant everything started over from scratch. Unlike other games, in this one, at every death you lost everything. Your character level cleared, and your equipment was lost. It was the cruelest ultimate death penalty.
“I will not be defeated by this betrayal. I will get back everything I have lost.” Thinking of his sister, whom he was waiting for to come back from the city, Ouyang Shuo put aside all the distractions, sealing his vow in his heart, and slowly opened his heavy eyelids.
Above him was a spotless white ceiling. The walls were metallic and smooth, empty except for one thing. In addition to the bed he was on, there was no other furniture in the room, it was simple to the extreme. On the opposite wall from him there was a game poster, and that was it.
“This is...where?” Ouyang Shuo asked aloud, confused. This was certainly not a reincarnation hall. Rebirths always took place at the temple. Rebirth at the temple had always been accompanied by the wailing of ghosts, surrounded by the calls of demons as he moved towards the light of a new life.
Had he been booted back to the real world? That wasn’t right, if he had come offline and back to reality, he should’ve been lying in the game room, rather on a bed like now.
His eyes focused on that game poster without thinking, it was hard to look at anything else, and he was instantly stunned. The poster was too familiar, how could he not recognize it? It was the announcement poster of the game from five years ago.
The first game in history to feature personal adventure, territory construction, and grand warfare in internet history, Earth Online, is expected to enter official beta on January 1, 2190, so stay tuned!
Seeing that eye-catching propaganda line stunned Ouyang Shuo, rewinding back years in time with jarring suddenness. Five years ago, this was their home. Dormant memories flooded back across his brain, tearing him from the game world and back to Earth.
In 2170, abnormal fluctuations were detected in the Earth’s core. After three months of testing and observations, calculations by scientists from all over the world reached a terrifying conclusion: In thirty years or so, the core was going to explode. Molten magma would gush out of the mantle and incinerate all life on Earth. Earth was going to be like the Sun, a world of fire.
When the report was sent to the federal government, desperate panic ensued. Although space travel had developed well in the last two hundred years, such that mankind had been able to undertake long-range stellar exploration and wormhole crossings, humanity had not found another life-planet like Earth. The only extraplanetary base was on Mars, and could hold only a limited population while still needing support from the homeworld.
If Earth was going to be destroyed, mankind still had no place to live. After the road to disaster was confirmed, the government first turned to the idea of transforming Mars and making it more habitable. And then, a miracle happened.
The latest reports from the interstellar explorers had found a new life-bearing world out in the galaxy. The government didn’t have time to celebrate and instead planned out a great interplanetary migration plan in under three months.
The new planet was named ‘Hope’, as it was the last home of mankind. In order to avoid widespread panic, immigration plans were kept strictly confidential.
The whole plan was divided into many independent parts, with different organizations and departments responsible. It could be said that except for the Federal President, no other person on Earth knew the complete plan.
‘Earth Online’ was an important part of the plan, functioning as a distraction and new hope for people to immerse themselves into. Naturally, the game put on layers of mysterious veils as it came about. The game’s planning and design, its ability to adapt and grow to accommodate countless numbers of players, and its claims for plotlines far exceeding the tired rehashing of serial TV series - nobody could get enough details to satisfy them.
The game’s template was built using the entire world as the template, with the area expanded tenfold. The game design team was only responsible for the coding architecture and game mode design, the specific game scenes and NPC were based on historical data for their templates.
The true design team would be the national historical archives, with all video content, text materials, and cultural artifacts scanned into the primary game host ‘Gaia’, the artificial intelligence that would oversee the game. Even the designers and programmers did not know the game outside their specific tasks and design parameters.
Fifteen years later, in 2185, the first secret tests of Earth Online started, with all participants having to sign strict confidentiality agreements. Naturally, there was much competition for these initial testing slots, some of it even bloody, but this was all quietly hushed up.
In order to ensure the relative fairness of the game, Gaia generated a new land, and the measured map did not appear in the official game material. Through the closed beta, Gaia could observe the players’ game behaviors and NPC responses. Using the massive amount of first-hand observation data, Gaia kept analyzing and summarizing, constantly adjusting and perfecting the game settings.
Participation was carried out in batches, each session lasting for six months. Every time the ones testing are not the same, and the game content was not the same. After four years and a total of eight closed betas, Gaia completely shut down the game for a full year of computations and deductive calculations, with January 1, 2190 scheduled for the official public beta. Nobody in the MMORPG industry, even insiders who worked on the game, are sure what was going to happen.
On December 20, 2189, the Earth Online official website launched. It was divided into the standard three sections: databases, malls, and forums. The database had only the basic information about the game architecture, and no detailed information about the game.
In the mall, the only commodity for sale was the game landing cabin, at a price of one hundred thousand credits. The expensive price discouraged a lot of the ordinary players. Coupled with the lack of game information, even with the issuance of posters and showing some graphics, the publicity for the game did not make a big impact, merely garnering some notes that it might be a little unusual.
As a reincarnator, Ouyang Shuo knew that the abnormal marketing was the result of a compromise between several involved parties and the federal president. The purpose was very simple, and that was to slow down initial enrollment into the game by ordinary players, so that their staff gained early access and play advantages against later arrivals.
Of course, to gain such an advantage involved paying a heavy price. That price was high enough that even the most radical parties could not say anything years later when the truth was announced.
A knock on the door interrupted this river of memories in Ouyang Shuo’s head. “Brother, you big lazy bum, get up! Bing’er is hungry-hungry!”
Ouyang Shuo picked up the cell phone on his bed and looked at the time. December 28, 2189. This was three days before the game opened! What wonderful moments those were, everything was like a new life…
Everything in the past is a dream, let it die with the wind, Ouyang Shuo thought. After rebirth, his knowledge of the game and familiarity of the players and all their forces, coupled with his own good talent, Ouyang Shuo believed that as long as he put in the effort, he would be able to make a new world in the game, a shelter for his sister and himself.
In that world, he would never let his sister be alone. Not only that, he would let Bing’er become the princess in the game, a real princess.
“Good Bing’er, I’m waking up to make you breakfast!” Ouyang Shuo did not notice when he became so relaxed and happy.