Tyler groans as he finally arrives home after a long day at school and work. Fridays were always the hardest, since he had classes, and always had a closing shift at work afterward. But finally, he was free.
He pushes the front door open, calling out that he was home. He received no reply, so his mom was obviously at work right now. He had a sadly distant relationship with her, one that was mostly through late night phone calls and text messages. The smell of greasy pizza hung in the air as he entered his home.
He sighs, before his eye catches on a package lying on the floor by the front door, pushed in through the mail slot. It was a simple package, wrapped in gift paper. It wasn’t Christmas or his birthday, which is what confused him, but he knelt down and grabbed the package in his hand anyway.
When he saw who the package was from, his friend Sky, it made a little bit more sense. She always seemed kind of… off, and disconnected from the rest of the world. It wasn't because she was some sort of shut in, but it was actually because of her obsessive behavior of reading books.
He slowly opens up the package, revealing a game case for the Hex gaming system, which he fortunately had.
It was a virtual reality system that connected to your nervous system using harmless lasers and an infrared system. Nifty little device, and harmless too. It was recently the subject of a experimental simulation that could render realistic worlds with sights, sounds, smells and tastes. A true virtual reality.
Tyler grabs the note that was tucked along with the game, opening it up to read it.
Dear friend Tyler,
I’m happy to share this with you. It’s a little game called Equestria Online. It’s still in beta testing, but pre-release copies are being sent to all of the family members of the game designers and developers and stuff. How fortunate that my cousin is on the development team.
It’s really unfortunate that I don’t have the system to play it on. But I thought of the next-best alternative. I’d send it to one of my best friends so that they could enjoy it for me. Maybe I could come over one day and watch you play!
It's a massive MMORPG too, with an entire planet of stuff to explore. I’m sure you’d find it exciting.
~Your friend, Sky
P.S. I'm going to return the forty books you let me borrow, I promise.
Tyler chuckles lightly as he folds down the note and tucks it away into his pocket, then takes a look at the game case. It was… peculiar. A collection of multi-colored cartoon horses adorned the case, standing over a cliffside. Even more peculiar were the ones that had horns and wings, as well as the fact that they were all equipped to look like various classes from Dungeons and Dragons. The company logo at the bottom of the box was what looked to be crystallized heart, which glinted in the light with speckles of blue hues that cascaded into a more deeper red color. But the oddest part was it was a sticker, and had the grooves that you would see on a product that was protected with an RFID chip
He shrugs idly, before carrying the case toward his room, and sets it down on his desk. He opens it up, sliding the disc into his computer, and then booting the machine up. He was surprised to find that the game had absolutely no download time. The icon appeared right on his desktop. He found it strange, but then shook his head, waving it off as he plugged the Hex into his computer.
As the machine finishes booting up the lights around the ear muffs turn bright green. He taps the icon to load up the game. He was surprised to see a pure black screen on his monitor, as most of these VR games had a decorative menu to let you know to put the headset on.
He shrugs it off, as the game was still in beta, and makes sure the headset was on, before grabbing it and putting it on.
There was a slight twinge of pain, but that was always present when the VR system plugged into your nervous system and quickly put you into a catatonic-like state.
Tyler finds himself in his chair, before blacking out entirely. Almost instantly, he had reawakened in a pure white space, what the developers of the Hex called their ‘White Room.’ A blank simulation that could be tampered with using game creation software, and acted as the basis of every game.
But the screen was gone quickly, only roughly 10 seconds. Most games on the system had loading times upwards of 10 minutes, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how quickly this one loaded in.
As the white space loaded in, only a few objects took form. Before long, he was standing in a simple cave. Many strange machines decorated the room, all hooked up to a strange swirling red portal. Most weird of all was the white cloth mannequin on the far end of the small room that took the shape of a horse.
Even if it wasn't human-shaped, the mannequin sent shivers down his spine. He hated those things.
After a quick scan of the room, Tyler looked down to scan himself, only to find that his body didn't exist at all. He was getting worried, most games loaded in a temporary body to use until you created your character.
He looks up suddenly, as the sound of metal against stone is heard, then a horse walks into his view from a staircase outside the room.
She had a large figure, taller than even him. Her fur was pure white, and she had a long mane of pastel rainbow colors that constantly moved as if it were a cascading waterfall. She had a long horn that looked like it could skewer him through atop her forehead, and she had a massive pair of wings that were currently folded down to her side. She also had the image of a sun tattooed against her flank on either side.
He stares. He was utterly perplexed by the horse creature. Matters were even more confusing whenever he found it talking to him.
“Hello.” she says with a gentle, motherly smile. “Welcome to Equestria Online. I’m sure you have some questions, please, feel free to ask them.” She says.
He stands, still perplexed for the time being. He tries to move his hand in some kind of worried gesture, but finds he couldn’t move anything. Nothing did exist after all. He tries talking instead, but his voice rings out through the entire room rather than simply coming from his lips.
“Why don’t I have a form?” He asks.
“Simple question,” The horse replies. “You won’t be taking a humanoid form here. Rather, you will be taking the form of one of the denizens of this land. No humans allowed. You see, this canvas here?” Her hoof raises, motioning to the horse mannequin. “That’s your blank slate. Your character creator. We have many races, colors, body shapes. You can be anything here, even something you’re not.” She says with a knowing smile.
A moment of quiet settles over the room as Tyler considers his options, before he nods and looks her way. “May I hear my options in terms of races then?”
The horse nods, smiling gently before she floats out a list, clearing her throat for a brief second before continuing.
Her horn lights up before her magic shifts, and moves about, before shimmering against the ground.
The first form takes a similar shape to that of the mannequin, except it was bulkier, heavier-looking.
“Earth. The strongest and sturdiest of the race. Known for their green hooves and excellence in crafting work. They are the metal workers, the farmers, and the heavy warriors.”
The figure shifts, shrinking in bulk and muscle but growing a pair of large wings.
“Pegasi. They are the mythical wonder of physical beings. They defy the pull of our planet using a lightweight bone structure and powerful wings. They are known for their animal whispering abilities, speed, and grace. They make the weather controllable, and are quick and light on their hooves.”
The figure shifts again, the wings falling away, and growing a horn atop the pony figure’s head.
“Unicorns. The mystics and scholars. They are able to harness the full power of raw, unadulterated magic, turning it into fearsome and powerful attacks and spells, or simple illusions and tricks. They are known for their tactical prowess, scholarly endeavors, and have accomplished some of the greatest achievements in this land’s history.”
He sighs lightly, looking over his options.
“That’s not.. too much variety.” He says, looking toward the horse.
“I’m afraid this is what my magic can do for you. There are more races… but we are at war with them. To produce an enemy within equestria would put you at a harsh disadvantage, I’m sure you’d realize.”
He smiles a bit, and then nods. “So there are other races, you’re just hiding them from me? It’d be like playing a game on a harder difficulty if I just choose a different race?”
She flicks an ear, a stern look crossing her face, before she sighs and relaxes. Her irritation was building up slowly, and she was growing more and more upset with his responses.
“Fine, I can make an exception.” She replies. “But be wary that a race outside of Equestrian you picked would come with the consequences of being an outsider. Are you ready to face that?”
He shrugs a bit, not really threatened by that. “It’s an MMO. If an NPC ends up attacking my because of my race, even if I kill them, they’ll just respawn later on down the road. The same is true with me, right?”
A small smile spreads across her face, a mix of that regal calmness she had presented earlier with something much darker. Dread, fear even. She looked almost sick at the notion, and moved her eyes down, averting her gaze.
“Well..” She begins, before taking a breath to compose herself. “While it is true I could revive you if you fall, death is somewhat of a finality. Thankfully, I will be watching you, much like every other player that has and will join. If death were to overtake you, I would be able to save you. But let’s say, you are beheaded, set ablaze, or succumb to an explosion… I’m afraid no magic in the world could help you then.”
She pauses a long moment, taking a longer breath. “As for my subjects… if harm would befall any innocents at your hooves, you will face a wrath even greater than what those in your world call God.” She says, looking very serious with her words.
Tyler couldn’t help but feel there was some truth to those words, and shuddered at that, at least as much as he could without a body.
“So… if my body is destroyed, the death is permanent...that’s.. Harsh. A good way to enforce permadeath though.” He says, smiling a bit at that. A difficult game was a fun one. “I’d have to create a new character then?”
The horse snorts a little which quickly turns into a laugh, then nods. “This… is more than you expect it might be. Yes, you’d have to create a new body in the event that you do die. And a new life along with it. Your old body would decay, as corpses do.”
He is stunned by this. Hard to believe this game was still in beta, there was a whole lot to it. And he wasn’t even out of the front gates yet.
“Alright. I’m all for this then.” He asks with excitement in his voice. “May I see the bonus races then?”
“If you so desire.” She replies, before her horn glows brightly again, her wisps of magic moving to take the form of some weird horse-bug thing, with small insects wings, and a small horn.
“There are changelings, masters of deceit and deception. They are easy to like, as long as you do not realize they are what they actually are. They are capable of taking whatever form they please, as long as it is within their general size and power range, and are able to keep that form as long as they are fed. Speaking of which, they feed off of love, sucking away the emotion from other ponies until they are no longer capable of feeling it.”
“No, not that one.” Tyler say with a sigh. “Too morbid.”
The horse nods, before her horn lights again, forming the figure into a bulky figure with large eagle wings, a break, and lion’s paws for back legs.
“Gryphons. A pegasus’ antithesis. Not fast, or agile, they make up for their slowness with powerful strength, and the ability to grip their prey. Typically stubborn and somewhat aggressive, they are usually only loyal to two things, coin, and their king. They have strict morals, but are lax with relationships. Males are known to have multiple mates. They also engage in pit fighting as a pastime. The gryphon colosseum was one of the most well known tourist locations in the world.”
He finds himself smiling at that one, then nods. “That one. That’s the form I’ll take.” I say with a nod.
She hums lightly, and the figure fades, before the mannequin shifts in shape, being altered to take the shape of a gryphon.
“Alright, um… what now?” Tyler asks.
“I’ll need you to close your eyes. I want you to visualize your form, what you would look like as a gryphon.”
He’s confused at first, before soon doing so, darkness becoming his vision. “So I can just make myself look however I want as a gryphon?”
“As long as it take the form of a gryphon.” She explains. “Some adjustments will be made of course. But you’ll look generally how you imagine it.”
He nods and takes a deep breath, before imagining himself as a gryphon…
A sleek, slender female with feathers that transition into gold fur. It would have red eyes, and dye pink streaks going through the feather near my head.
There was a moment of silence, before the horse lets out a small giggle. “A female. Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Tyler replies. “I usually play girls in games when I’m given a choice. So yeah, I’m sure.”
“Of course, she says.” Before an intense, almost eerie silence fills the room.
Then that silence was interrupted, replaced by the smell of nature, and the gentle tweets and hums and rustles of the outside world.
He felt different… stronger, yet more feminine. He was also crouched down on all fours, and yet felt natural like that. Slowly, he opened my eyes, looking down at himself, surprised by his sharper vision that saw ever color more vividly, and noticed every little rustles and branch move.
As he investigated myself, he found himself in the form he had described to the large horse, a gryphon female. Just the way he wanted her to be.
He, or now she for the time being, let’s out a sigh, then nods. She messes around with her new body, giving her long tail a small flick before spreading and folding her wings back down. It would take some getting used to.
“I’ll have to learn how to fly later.” She says to herself, aloud. She covers her beak with a hand, surprised by her much more musical, yet simultaneously gruff sounding voice.
She slowly uncovers her beak, only for a new smell to hit her nostrils. Cake, she instantly recognized it. Sweet, delicious cake. She found herself instantly following it, heading down the trail she had spawned in toward the source.
The smell got steadily stronger as she walked toward the source. She suddenly freezes as she hears a loud crack, and the sound of a squeaky voice. Her eyes dart around, trying to look for the source of the crack as the voice was starting to come closer.
A pink dot becomes visible in the distance, hopping along the ground, like some kind of rabbit.
At first, the new gryphon is confused, but starts walking closer to the source, and soon, the pink pony comes into view. A pure pink palette, with blue eyes. She also had the occasional grey streak through her mane, and an image of blue and yellow balloons tattooed on her flank.
Seriously, what was up with the tramp stamps in this place?
“Heeeeelllllloooooo!” The pink pony crise out as her hopping comes to a stop, just in front of the new gryphon. She then proceeds to hug her, which the gryphon finds herself almost immediately sidestepping the attempt.
She glances at the pink pony, wondering how someone that looked so old could possibly have so much energy.
She didn’t seem the slightest bit disappointed that she had just been denied a hug, and instead was hopping circles around the gryphon.
“Hiya! She exclaims. “I’m Pinkamena Diane Pie! All of my friends just call me Pinkie though! What’s your name?” she asks with a big smile, stopping her hopping in front of the gryphon.
She pauses a moment, the gryphon reaching up and scratching her head. “Erm, Neydra. That’s it. That’s my name.”
“Neydra… Exotic!” Pinkie chimes happily, before attempting to hug the gryphon once again. And yet again, she was sidestepped.
“So, where are we right now?” Neydra asks. “In relation to everywhere else?”
“Here? Two miles out from Ponyville!” She giggles out. “Come on, I’ll show you the way!” The old pink pony says before turning and hopping off down the trail at a surprisingly fast speed.
Neydra sighs a bit, reaching up and scratching her head before deciding to follow the energetic mare, following her at a moderately paced run toward the town off in the distance.
Surprisingly, the majority of the trip was only full of idle chit-chat as the pair walked and hopped toward the town in the distance. Neydra had to take some time to get used to walking with her mismatched legs, but eventually got the hang of it, and had finally stopped kicking up dirt with her lion paws.
After a while of quick walking, only 15 minutes to cover that distance, the duo finally arrived into the town.
It was almost picture esque of the medieval ages. Most of the buildings had thatch siding, straw roofing, and viking-style support beams to hold them up. There was a small river, more like a stream, that flowed through the town, and around a large central tower that acted as both the community center and the mayor’s office.
Neydra’s beak hangs open a little as she glances around at all of the detail.
“Welcome to Ponyville!” Pinkie Pie yells with a bright smile.
“This place is really detailed…” Remarks Neydra. “Now, where can I get some equipment?”
“Oh! Here!” Pinkie calls out, before throwing a book at me, which Neydra barely manages to catch, and then holds it up. It was thick, almost reminded her of Les Miserables with how thick the book was. “This is your really big quest book, encyclopedia and journal thing!”
“Erm… that’s a really big book…” Neydra mutters, looking it over, then glancing at the title.
The Encyclopedia of Stuff
~By Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie giggles. “Ask it something! Come on, come on!”
“Uh… right.” Neydra says, before clearing her throat. “So… where can I find equipment in Ponyville?” She asks it before opening it up to look inside.
She was finding the intro to this game weirder and weirder by the second.
The book opens up to a section titled shops, and a little image of Pinkie Pie standing in a town was adorning it. To her surprise, the image starts moving, and then talking.
“Hiya! So, you wanna get stuff but you aren’t any good at making it. Well, the simple solution is to locate a crafts store for the stuff you want. You’ve got stores like blacksmiths, clothing stores, cobblers, woodworkers, general goods, book stores, and of course, pastry shops!” Pinkie spouts out within breaking or breathing, and zooms by a little picture of each respective shop as she says it.
“Shops differ by region, but all are unified by our unique, yet global currency! Bits!”
The picture Pinkie suddenly giggles.
“Little known fact about the bit is that it was named after the mouthpiece on saddles, because the creator, Golden Piles, wanted an entirely golden currency piece. In order to make sure that a pony doesn’t have a counterfeit, he showed that if you bit down, you could bend the coin slightly! This was what earned its first name, the Bite! But overtime, after the introduction of saddle tools on farms, farmers jokingly called the coins Bits because they would have to bite down on the bit rod in order to drag the tool around! The name stuck until its official debut about 7,000 years ago as the official currency of Equestria!”
A bag of metal coins suddenly falls on the book. Neydra jumps, momentarily distracted enough by the moving picture that she forgot the real Pinkie was even there.
“Erm, thanks.” She says and grabs the bag, holding it up. She looks to where Pinkie was, only to find she had disappeared.
Neydra sighs, and after a quick count, reveals she was gifted 50 gold coins by the strange pink mare. They were about the size of a collector's coin, or perhaps a roman currency. They had a golden sheen to them, and were engraved with a horseshoe on one end.
She mentally notes to thank Pinkie again later, before standing and heading out to search for the town blacksmith.
After a short walk, she finds the business district of town, and heads into it, looking about. She walks in, heading toward the blacksmith whenever she finds him. The dusty roads reminded her of a old town that she had visited one time, where the town was replicating the olden days. What she found most odd was that she could taste the dust in her beak, in very intense detail. Everything seemed so detailed and real.
“Armor, weapons and tools!” He barks, looking up. An earth pony, it made sense, thanks to the regal horse’s descriptions earlier. “I got it all, what do you need?”
“I’m looking for weapons for the time being.” Neydra explains to him. “What do you have?”
He looks up at her, before letting out a grunt. “I don’t serve birds. Beat it feather brains.” He says before looking back down and getting back to his work, hammering away at fiery red metal.
Neydra growls slightly before sighing.
“Fine.” She mutters and then backs off, heading back into the district in search of a general goods shop. They’d have to have something.
As she makes her way there, she bumps into a small pony while heading through the door, almost stumbling over them.
“Sorry miss!” He apologizes in a strange accent. He rushes back into the general store, holding the door open for her.
He was short, borderline dwarfish. He had white fur with a brown spot right over his right eye. He was also wearing a red bandana on his head, which held back his brown mane. If she rubbed her eyes a bit, she could mistake the small colt to be a dwarf pirate.
He follows Neydra as she heads in. The pony in charge was a dark brown coated mare, with a blonde mane and freckles.
“Good morning!” She chimes as Neydra approaches, waving her way.
Neydra smiles lightly and waves back. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything in the way of weapons, would you? The blacksmith refuses to serve me.”
She blinks, then frowns. “What? Well ain’t that a bummer, he just doesn’t understand that business is business.” She say before heading into the back room.
“Don’t worry doll, Soil Till will get you all set up!” She calls back before walking back into view, setting a few things on the counter.
“I gotcha a boot knife, some old leather brace and a sickle.” She says, pointing at each respective item.
Neydra nods as she looks over them all. “How much for all three?”
“Ah shoot, you can have them. I don’t have no need for ‘em.” She says. “I feel like you deserve a warmer welcome to town.”
Neydra blinks, and then smiles. “Thank you miss,” She says, before pulling her coin purse out and handing over the ten bits. “A tip, for the nice lady. Oh, and how much for an actual bag to carry my stuff in?”
“I don’t have any more of those like that in stock.” Soil says. “Try the Carousel Boutique, local clothes store. Miss Rarity might let you in.She ain’t as mean or rough as the smithy, so you should just be able to walk in just in time to see her faint over somethin’ mundane.”
Neydra nods, before gathering her things, holding it all awkwardly in her talons. Thank you miss, I really appreciated your help.” She says with a wave before going to head out.
As she walked to the exit, she spotted the small colt again, tiphoofing to reach a book upon a shelf that he couldn’t reach.
Neydra tilts her head a bit, before walking over and grabbing the book in her talons, then handing it over. “Here.” She says.
“Oh, thank ya missus.” The dwarf pony says as he stores away the book in his bag.
“Sure, no problem,” says Neydra,, “that book better have belonged to you, I don’t want to get associated with any crimes.”
“Was going to pay fer it. You’re real nice lady.” He says in his accent again, which Neydra finally recognized as Cockney. Oddly, the accent seemed almost fitting for such a small creature, and it reminded her of some notable dwarven characters in other games.
“I don’t suppose I could have your name? I’m Pip.” He says, and holds a hoof out.
“Oh. Neydra.” She replies and makes room in her arms to grip his hoof with her talons and give it a shake.
He smiles a bit as he pulls his hoof away.
“You should watch it around here. Gryphons aren’t very liked, but yer a’ight in my book.” He says with a nod to himself.
“You look strong as an ox. I could use some help with pullin’ a tree house up into a tree. Kinda too weak to do it myself.” He says with a small sigh.
“Well, I’d be happy to help you,” Neydra begins, “but I’m kinda tied down right now.” She finishes, showing him her armful of stuff.
He nods “It’s alright. I’ll just ask AJ’s big brother to help me out.”
He waves as he heads to the counter to buy his book. “Goodbye Miss Neydra!” He calls.
She smiles and waves back. “Alright then, see you around Pip.” She says as she exits the shop.
She was greeted almost instantly with a large group that had gathered around outside the shop, all huddles in a circle around something. Various mutterings could be heard coming from it.
“I’m gonna be sick…”
“This is horrible…”
Curiosity ends up getting the better of Neydra. She walks over, and taps the shoulder of one of the ponies on the outside whenever she gets to the group.
“What’s going on here?” She asks.
“There’s been a murder! There was a body that was dragged into the town square by two stallions.” Explains a nearby mare.
“Oh! The gutters are full of blood! They left the poor soul to bleed out into the town’s water.” A different mare yells our, which in turn causes a nearby stallion to vomit at the news. She could see through the glimpses of shifting and uncomfortable ponies that there was in fact a corpse lying over a drainage ditch that was carved into the street. Interestingly, the bright red of blood shimmered in the light.
Neydra found herself feeling a little sick herself at the news and view, a little bit of bile clawing up her throat and burning her tongue before she swallowed it back down. This game definitely had an interesting intro sequence.