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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 556

The first thing Britta noticed was the sky. The light around her was normal daylight, but the sky was pink, white and blue.

Not in the way an early morning sky might blend those colours; these were strips painted across the roof of this world in soft neon, very clearly separated from one another.

There was no pretence that this was the real world. This was fantasy taken to an extreme.

Britta lowered her gaze and took in her immediate surroundings. She was standing in the forecourt of a palace. Towers and minarets rose around her. The building materials were white and smooth, like polished ivory, with decorative designs in blue and gold. There were no stairs that she could see, only ramps and slopes that curled around the towers, giving the palace an elegant, swirling feel, like it was made of whipped cream.

“This is Shangri-la,” said L-15. He was standing a little behind her, patiently waiting for her to take it all in. “Capital city of the Legendary World.”

His voice was smooth and gentle. He gave off an air of complete confidence and tranquillity. None of the pompous swaggering she had seen from the other AI she had met.

“It’s very nice,” said Britta, not really knowing what to say. She hadn’t really taken it in, yet. Everywhere she looked, there was another fantastical structure rising into the air. “Pretty.”

“Yes. We are in the Jade Palace, seat of kings. Please, come this way.” L-15 flowed past her, his robes rippling along the ground behind him like they were made of water.

Britta followed him onto a ramp and was taken by surprise as the floor started to move. She grabbed onto the beautifully carved handrail as they wound their way around the tallest tower.

Peering over the handrail, Britta could see the palace spread out below until it reached white walls manned by soldiers dressed in blue and gold. They were NPCs, as far as she could tell, armed with spears twice as tall as themselves, and wearing helmets with curved brims that made them look a bit like samurai.

None of the soldiers moved, they just stood stiffly erect, facing out. There were other people though, moving about in robes similar to L-15’s. No name tags, so also NPCs. They scurried around with purpose, disappearing into buildings.

Britta couldn’t see past the walls from the angle she was rising at, but there was so much to see inside the walls — gardens, fountains, people in beautiful gowns, and lots and lots of soldiers lined along the battlement at regular intervals. No players, so far, though.

At the top of the ramp was an open area. The sky seemed a lot closer now. As Britta looked up, words appeared inside one of the pink stripes. They were written in Chinese characters, so Britta had no idea what the message was. An advert? It scrolled across the sky and then disappeared. Then appeared in the next stripe — although it might have been a completely new message for all she knew.

L-15 was a little ahead of her and she ran to catch up. Guards were stood to attention on either side, giant spears pointing up. Close up they looked even more intimidating. The helmets came with built-in masks to cover their faces; leering demon scowls with fangs bared and tongues sticking out.

“This is Heaven’s Door,” said L-15, “beyond which is the Pearl Throne. Only the truly worthy may pass through Heaven’s Door to take their place on the throne.”

The door was enormous, reaching so high Britta couldn’t even see the top.

“Who sits on the throne at the moment?” asked Britta.

“Nobody. The throne is empty, but there are currently several contenders vying for the honour. Should they complete their quests and be deemed worthy, they will have the opportunity to become the King of Kings.”

“What if it’s a woman?” asked Britta.

“Then she will become the King of Kings.”

Seemed fair. Players got to be the supreme leader of this world, if they jumped through the necessary hoops and passed the death-defying tests. It probably took a long time and required a great deal of luck to reach the top, but that was what you would expect of an RPG game. This world had a much more traditional feel to it when it came to video game objectives.

At least from the top end. It was how they managed the new player experience that was more to the point. From what L-15 had said, there were players who were approaching the apex of this world, but what about the rest? How were the majority of players finding life in the Legendary World?

The tall doors in front of her were firmly closed, with no sign of a doorbell.

“I don’t suppose I can go inside and have a look,” said Britta.

“No,” said L-15.

“Didn’t think so. It’s all very impressive, though. Why did you bring me here?”

L-15 stroked his beard, grabbing it in a fist and pulling down. “All in good time. First, let me show you the city.” He reached out a hand and placed it gently on her shoulder.

Britta lurched forward like she did when she teleported. An instant later, they were standing on the wall she had seen from above, with soldiers standing on either side, unresponsive to their sudden appearance. It would probably be a very different reaction if Britta had come on her own.

Now she could see what was beyond the battlements.

The city was a ragtag jumble of buildings, stacked precariously on top of each other, mainly wooden, all colourfully painted. Exactly what was going on down there was hard to tell. It was hard to see most of it clearly, because of the plumes of dark smoke rising from buildings and tall chimneys. Black clouds drifted over the city, thick and heavy.

The city had a chaotic, messy feel to it with very little open space. Every gap was filled and on the move. People swarmed around like ants on an anthill. The splendour and majesty of the Jade Palace were nowhere in evidence. The palace was like a rose atop a rubbish tip.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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