Eizel woke in the cemetery, teeth grinding. Who in all the stars would place such a dangerous trap near a waypoint stone?
So she did what any responsible person would. She slinked back to her place of death, nicely marked by a red skull on her map, and summoned her notebook.
The defaults were set for clothing design—white paper with an outline of the female figure—so she swapped the style profile, created the largest pad she could, tapped the black marker setting, and wrote, Warning! then drew an arrow that, when the sheet was attached to the tree, pointed to the now obvious pit.
Maybe it was always obvious? The top of the pit had been covered in wicker, which stuck out in places. At least now she knew what to look for. Chalk it up to life lessons she’d never forget.
She dismissed her notebook and rolled her eyes at the trap. Aymy was free to do as she pleased and felt a great need to besmirch the trap’s quality.
Good luck trapping anyone else!
She continued down the path four more steps and crashed into a second pit. Death was abrupt, slightly painful—the sort of pain that hit softly and didn’t last, despite three spikes through her chest—and, before she knew it, she was back at the cemetery. . . .
The gate guard—who she had been ignoring up to this point—now having seen her three times in an hour, asked in an astonished voice, “Again?”
She glared at him, actually seeing that he was a short and plump Lumarian man in ancient-looking plate armor. He had a bushy orange mustache, matching orange eyes, and some sort of orange tattoo that ran up his neck.
“Again,” she said firmly, feeling a touch more comfortable talking to an NPC than a real person who might identify her.
The waypoint distorted the world, and she snapped back into reality twenty feet from the two traps. Maybe she shouldn’t go in that direction? Then again, maybe someone was hiding all the best berry bushes over there.
That thought won out. People didn’t make traps for the fun of it. They had better things to do. So someone was trying to deter the competition, trying to keep all the good resources to themselves.
Apparently, everything was a competition. Well, she’d be victorious here, too!
Eizel—carefully sticking close to the trees and keeping an eye out for the telltale signs of more traps—progressed further into the forest.
With each step, it grew darker. The above canopy blocked out the pink glow of a new dawn. A knot of tension was building between her shoulder blades. She crossed her arms, refusing to touch anything.
Eww, that’s ick. The dark gray-blue bark of a fallen tree was mulching under the onslaught of any army of tiny white insects, their bodies fat and wiggly.
The ground sloped and twisted. Things moved about, making plants shake. She whipped toward one sound, then another, but there was never anything there to see.
Cold mud pressed up between her toes as she crept along, following bare bushes that beguiled her with the promise of something sweet if only she continued deeper.
The dark shadows were offset by purple mushrooms that glowed softly. Tiny flecks of luminescent pixels hung in the air, sparkling.
They’re . . . pretty.
The Wilds were always described as dangerous and scary. And by the Maker, they were! But pretty was never a descriptor. Yet, here she was, inspired in the most unlikely of places!
She opened her notebook, swapped the profile back to clothing design, and quickly sketched a new dress idea.
The main stroke of fabric, from under the bust to knee, would match the dark bark of the trees. The top, however, expanded out in a brilliant purple, the edges illuminated.
Hmm. How would she capture the light? Could she pick a mushroom? Were they edible!
Eizel, like a puff of magic—or frantically racing across the gnarled roots that clung to the ground—appeared next to a patch of mushrooms.
They looked like stemware with thin bowls, filled with a rich wine from Old Earth, not that she had ever indulged in such things . . . when her parents were looking. . . .
These quickly dimmed and receded.
“Don’t go,” she said, almost pleadingly. Her words, however, had no effect. Within a few seconds, the mushrooms were gone, sucked back down into their magical mycelial network.
Fantasy plants. Go figure.
This, however, brought her focus to something else, something delightfully better. A single berry across the way clung to a thin green branch, drooping from the weight of such a succulent find.
She paused only long enough to scan the ground for dirt-covered wicker, then sprang forward, sprinting the distance.
The berry practically fell off into her hand, just as eager to be picked as she was eager to pick it. The only thing that prevented her from shoving it into her mouth on the spot was a quiet voice at the back of her mind whispering its concern that the berry might be poisonous.
These were the Wilds. It wasn’t a groundless concern. She pointed her index and middle finger at the berry and twisted her wrist, summoning an Information Box.
A large wild berry. When ripe, will appear pink near the top and dark purple near the bottom. Does not drop seeds. Can be reduced to Luicon Sugar.
Eizel grinned. Anything that could be reduced to sugar simply had to taste heavenly!
This was the first piece of food she had touched since the beginning of this digital experiment, the day she woke as an orphan in a massive and strange house alone.
And she got it herself! “The fruits of your labor,” her father had repeated throughout her childhood, “best flavor to savor.”
She twisted the green stem off and lifted the berry to her mouth, only to be interrupted by a deep growl from behind.
Her heart stopped. She sucked in a breath, jumped, and whipped around to face a large white wolf baring its fangs. It hadn’t been there a second ago. She looked!
“Nice . . . doggy.” Her voice cracked. She held her shaking hands out, doing her best to pad the air. Her legs refused to move.
She and animals—especially large carnivorous ones—never quite got along. They couldn’t be reasoned with, not with how they stared hungrily like this one did.
It couldn’t have been a coincidence that the moment she picked her first berry, the wolf appeared. Maybe it had wanted the berry?
That thought faced resistance, most notably from her selfish desire to keep the berry. It was hers. She found it first! But . . . between being wolf meat and giving up a berry. . .?
There’ll be other berries!
She tossed it to the wolf, and it bounced off its very upset snout, which confirmed just how foolish she really was.
Wolves don’t eat berries!
They ate terribly prepared idiots.
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