Chapter 2


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Perhaps there were a few niceties that accompanied digital immortality? Specifically, the immortality part.

Eizel had never died before, at least, not in this reality. Had this been the real world, she would have been well on her way to meet the glorious Maker and be weighed and measured, not that her tarnished soul was ready for that. . . .

Instead—with an anxious pit in her stomach and the chill of ice through her veins—the world lost its color, and she shattered like glass.

Her fragments of pixels shot straight through the bookshelf, the ornate ceiling of carved angels, the shingled rooftops of Oqertons’ manor, and into the open morning sky.

It was breathtaking! Monotone, yes, but still beautiful in its myriad of grays from light to dark. The whole Land fell away to hundreds of others as she soared higher and higher toward the Celestial Plane of stars.

There . . . voices spoke from all around. Quiet, murmuring voices. None of the words were intelligible, but they seemed kind and somehow familiar. . .?



She couldn’t speak, but a sense of warmth poured into her, assuring her that everything would be okay. She would be okay. It was love and acceptance; it was encouragement; it was the unconditioned embrace of a proud parent.

A map materialized. It revealed the City of Creannan. Since she had not discovered any other possible respawn points, the option was assumed.

But she didn’t want to respawn yet! Let her exist in this warmth, this sense of being loved. Please don’t send me back to be alone. She was so tired of pretending to be okay, holding on to the cooling embers of hope.

The embracing warmth started to slip away. The sound of a thousand people inhaling pressed in from all sides, and the Lands blurred.

Eizel woke beneath a willow tree, its branches hanging around her like an umbrella, long sweeping arms to protect her. Wind chimes played a soft and peaceful bell-like song, one that inspired a sense of reverence.

It all looked rather blurry, to be honest. She sniffled and rubbed her eyes. “Tears don’t solve problems,” she quoted her father, picturing his friendly—if not mock disapproving—face.

She pushed herself up, finding that she was lying on a stone slab in an alcove. An archway on one side connected to a path where other alcoves could be seen.

This is the cemetery?

She had never been to the cemetery before.

Water gurgled through a raised trench. Flowers grew everywhere. If only food grew everywhere, the people wouldn’t be protesting night and day. Leave it up to the government to botch this digital experiment of theirs.

But food wouldn’t bring back her family.

She slapped her cheeks. Enough. This wasn’t the place to dwell on her sorrows, and it most certainly wasn’t the time. If anything, dying saved her a few minutes traveling to this side of the city where errands were in need of being run.

She swung her legs over the edge of her stone slab and caught the glimmer of something overhead.

A . . . flying fish?

A whole school of them! They were tiny, like a betta fish, with bright and beautiful fins of different lengths. They had dark blue and purple scales that shifted to a bright red for the fins as if they wore flowing dresses.

Inspiration struck. She summoned her notebook and drew a new skirt, one that fanned out at mid-thigh on one side and swooped low on the other.

It was perfect. The innumerable ideas she had drawn yesterday lacked that special thing that would make someone say, Wow. It was here all along. She just had to die to find it.

The fish glided elegantly through the cascade of hanging green branches, passing through them as if they didn’t exist. Tiny pink flowers bloomed wherever the fish touched.

Footsteps approached, and she jerked, realizing in that terrible moment that she was naked! Or . . . practically naked, wearing the default brown shorts and shirt that marked society’s laziest members, those who couldn’t even afford clothes despite their starting money.

Eizel shoved herself backward, rolled awkwardly, and crashed to the dirt behind her respawn stone, emitting the tiniest of shrieks.

A dense pain shot through her butt and then vanished. She let out a sigh. That was quick thinking on her part. To be seen like this would not only be beyond embarrassing, it’d ruin her web of lies. She could be nothing less than perfect.

Cogs! You alright, miss?” asked a young man’s voice from the side.

She whipped around and froze. Heat intensified in her ears. Words got lost in a blank mind that didn’t immediately know what to do in such a situation.

Part of her wanted to scream. Screaming always worked in the old world. But to scream would call more attention to herself, and it wasn’t like this young man had invaded her rooms to sneak a peek of her bathing, though that had happened once.

After a long moment of staring into the young man’s brown eyes—his skin the color of sepia, his black hair short, his face pinched in concern—she nodded quickly in an effort to get him to leave. She then noticed he had extended a hand to her.

When she didn’t accept his help, he said, “Is there something the matter?”

She shook her head and said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m . . . hiding.” Which was true. It just so happened that the person she was hiding from was the person she had told.

He grimaced, realizing that he was spoiling her efforts. To rectify this, he immediately ducked and threw his back against the respawn stone, then glanced around the side.

Don’t stay! she thought, now crossing her chest with her arms defensively. It was then that she noticed he wore the same default clothing she did. He was one of the impoverished people, doing nothing to improve their lot in life.

“No one’s coming,” he whispered and turned to her. “Who are you hiding from?”

She swallowed, looked away, then back without an answer. What was another lie? And to someone evidently not important. But the lies were growing in a heap, writhing like living tar, sticking to every surface.

Ah,” he said and smiled. “Let me guess, you’re a scavenger like me? You don’t want people to see you in your default clothing lest they think they can take advantage of you since those more eager to sell will accept a lower amount.”

“I . . . am,” she said, mentally rolling the word scavenger around. People were exploring the Wilds with nothing for protection?

“That’s great. The city needs more of us, people willing to explore the Wilds for resources. Where did you die? Did you find anything valuable?

Cogs! I’m being so rude. Sorry sorry. Sometimes I just get so excited about this stuff. I’m Izaak.”

“I’m Ei . . . me. Aymy? A-and I just started. Died by the lake.”

“Yeah? Get attacked by a Durigot? Those things are horrifying. Their tongues are like thirty feet long—I swear!

“I saw this fisherman get yanked into the lake the other day. And what makes it worse is how the monster uses some sort of silencing magic. No one even noticed their friend had been eaten until I told them they should probably move.”

Eizel nodded as if that was exactly how she had died. It was truly a terrifying experience, one she didn’t have to pretend so much to grasp, not with nearly drowning as a kid in the station’s water reserve park. It was then and there that she had decided swimming was for the pretty fishies, not people smart enough to avoid it.

Izaak then took the time to reveal all of his best scavenging areas on his map, essentially giving his competition everything while asking for nothing in return. How could he be this stupid? This wasn’t how business ventures succeeded.

But she nodded and smiled and asked the right questions, as would an attentive apprentice. Faking it was something she was getting quite good at.

He helped her to her feet, exchanged contact information—she manually changed her name to Aymy for the exchange—and he left after wishing her good luck.

What a strange person. . . .

The moment he stepped out of sight, she slid her index and middle finger up an invisible sheet of glass, trailing red pixels, and her game screen materialized.

Mini-Eizel, her avatar—pale white skin with long loose brunette curls—perfectly dressed in last week’s fashion, smiled and waved. A dialogue balloon above her head said she’d be happy to answer any questions.

The only question Eizel wanted to be answered, however, was a question the simple AI couldn’t help with. That was made evident after asking a thousand variations of, “Where are my parents!”

She breathed a settling breath. Her Stamina was already down to 28 out of a Current Max of 30, losing 4 points per hour to the artificial need for sleep.

Having not eaten for over a week, the icon of a stomach with a red X through it displayed the Depleted debuff, which limited Stamina to a Current Max of 30% of Max.

If everything went well, she could afford one snack today, something to eat slowly, savoring every bite. Maybe she should strip down to her underthings—AKA, default clothing—and try to steal some berries from the Wilds.


It wasn’t just a matter of unequipping her clothing. The death penalty lowered the durability of all inventory items by 20%. She’d have to deposit everything in her Stash and go out into public where everyone would see her for who she really was: a poor orphan.

Oh . . . no. . . . All of her clothes had taken a durability hit from today’s bookshelf incident. She was going to resell those! Now, she’d have to pay for their repair, which would eat into her incredibly small budget.

At least she wasn’t carrying two dozen duplicates of this week’s style. That would have been horrendous. Those clothes had yet to be made, which meant it was time to get on with today’s errands before meeting everyone at noon.

A digital life did have some benefits beyond immortality. Having to never brush her hair or clean her clothes, well . . . not even she could complain about that.

Her brunette hair was curled and tied back to be out of the way while working on new clothing designs last night. She tapped her hairstyles and removed the hair tie, letting her hair fall to her shoulders.

A presentable, if not stylish, pair of tan slacks and a white blouse would do nicely for errands. She made the changes, and the pixels swirled around her, forming into her selection.

With a flick of her hand, the screen broke apart and faded. Life was all about presentation, and she had effectively equipped her mask. This was the true Eizel, the beautiful, confident, perfect Eizel. And it was time to act the part.

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(Dungeon Runner, Book 1.1)
FREE · 31 Pages · 7,626 Words
  • GameLit
  • LitRPG
  • VR Reborn
  • Young Adult