Book I: Welcome to Lore

Chapter One: Preparations

"Today is the day!" A young boy shouted as he sprang out of his bed. He scrambled to his parents' bedroom and woke them up with his youthful energy. "Dad! You promised to show me the new game thing today!"

"Ugh…" The boy's father rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock by his head. It read 12:01 AM. "It's still too early, Curtis. Go back to sleep, and we'll go to Virtuon when it opens at ten."

"But I'm not sleepy!" Curtis complained.

"I can see that, son," the father laughed as he patted the boy on the head. "But if you don't sleep now, you will be too tired to play the new game." Curtis immediately rushed out of the room and dove back into his bed. His father let out a slight chuckle as he rolled over and fell asleep once more.

Curtis stared up at his ceiling, wishing for sleep to come. He was expecting the next day to be the best day ever; a day that would change his life forever. He soon fell asleep, his dreams filled with his expectations of the new game.

"Today is the day," mused a boy as he glanced at the clock in his room. 4:32 AM shone brightly on its face as the boy, already changed into an icy-blue shirt and brown trousers, gathered his belongings. In his possession were two bags of clothing, one for a boy and one for a girl; a sack full of food, mostly granola and nuts; a child's inhaler, prescribed to Penelope McKnight; and a partially burned picture of him with his family. He crept past his father's room and entered the room of his younger sister. "Wake up, Penelope," he coaxed as he gently shook her awake.

"Stanley? It's too early…" Penelope answered groggily as she rubbed her eyes.

"We have to leave now, before Delilah wakes up," Stanley said as he shifted under the weight of the bags. "You know what she will do when she does." Penelope climbed out of her bed, already dressed in a denim skirt and a green shirt. "We just have to get to the bus stop, and then you will be able to sleep on the bus." Stanley led his sister to the front door and glanced back to his father's room. "You might have Dad eating out of your hands, Delilah, but you will never have the satisfaction of controlling us. This is good-bye and good riddance!" he thought to himself as he and his sister fled from home into the darkness of the early morning, with no intention of ever returning.

"Today is the day, Dr. Robinson," a woman announced, not lifting her eyes from her work. Her long, brown hair was tightly wound up in a bun and her glasses reflected the light from her computer. "It's amazing; we are about to completely change the way people can play games, interact, or do anything, really." The doctor sat across the room, staring intently at a large, hollow machine. "You're going to be famous, that's for sure!"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Dr. Robinson cautioned. He periodically glanced at his monitor, then grabbed a microphone. "Mr. Isaacs, thanks again for coming back on such short notice. How are you holding up in there?"

"Everything's perfect on my end, as usual," a voice answered from Dr. Robinson's monitor. "I'm just going through the actions that those beta kids are likely going to try." Mr. Isaacs bit down on an apple and savored its flavor. "Is my nutrition system working out there?"

"Yes, Mr. Isaacs," the woman scientist answered. "Right now, your body is receiving all the crucial vitamins from both the food you eat and the sunlight your body absorbs, just as if you were in the real world."

"I see. And what of the actual storyline of the world? Is that ready?" Isaacs added as he glanced at a farming village, filled with people and animals.

"Not quite," Dr. Robinson admitted. "But until its ready, the world's primary figures are programmed to aid and protect the children when they arrive."

"Children," Isaacs scoffed. "this whole world is wasted on them. This place is art, Doc. Those kids won't be able to comprehend it as more than some video game."

"Jude, you know as well as I do that Virtuon has thrived on the gaming industry." The brunette argued. "This particular model is the first to solve the problem of players becoming too enraptured by the game to eat or sleep. If we can get this project off the ground, a person could spend long periods of time playing with no adverse effects." The brunette turned from her cluttered computer screen to a nearby clock. "Dr. Robinson, it's almost nine. Should we bring Jude out of the game?"

"Wait a second!" Jude shouted. "I want to check out the weapons system one more time first."

"No time for that," Dr. Robinson answered as he rapidly typed the extraction code. Jude's body in the game reduced to zeroes and ones as the hollow machine began to hiss. The door on the capsule opened as Jude woke up inside the lab. "Welcome back, Dr. Isaacs. Let's get ready for the kids."

"Today is the day you all have been waiting for, children! Here at Virtuon, we have been working tirelessly to create the…" a peppy young woman began as she spoke to the group of child testers and their parents. Curtis fidgeted as the tour guide continued to talk about the history of Virtuon, a boring subject that he held no interest in. He glanced around at the other beta players; some of them were older than him, few were younger, and a couple of them looked to be about the same age as him.

"Are you excited, Curtis?" the boy's father asked quietly once he realized the child stopped listening to the hostess.

"I sure am!" Curtis answered in a tone that could barely count as a whisper. "I wish we could just get to the game already. This part is so boring."

"…the leading virtual reality programmer of our time, Dr. Kain Robinson," the hostess concluded, unaware of the fact that her tour was largely ignored. As she gestured to a door, a man opened it from the other side and faced the young crowd.

"Good morning, everyone, and thank you for coming," Dr. Robinson stated as he pushed up his glasses. "My assistants have been tirelessly helping me prepare for you all today. Please follow me." The group obediently followed the doctor as he brought them to a large room. There were computer screens lining all four walls and a mess of wires and cables leading to a gigantic machine in the center of the room.

"Whoa," Curtis gasped in awe as he gazed upon the contraption. Many of the other children, and even some of the parents, held the same look of wonder on their faces. "Awesome!"

"The woman outside mentioned a safety feature unlike any other," one of the parents mentioned. "What is it, exactly?

"I'm glad you asked!" Dr. Robinson answered emphatically as he motioned for Jude to approach the group. "This is my colleague, Doctor Judas Arnold Isaacs. The science behind the Nutri-System is all accredited to his tireless work. He can answer you better than I possibly could."

"Yes, it's my pride and joy to explain such a complex system to a bunch of kids," Jude added dryly. "I work for the Harper Institute of Medical Science, where we have been researching methods of keeping a person in a state of comatose safe from the threat of muscle atrophy, as many such patients would require assistance from a machine to keep living.." His introduction was met with blank stares, as he had expected from a group of impatient children. "But we were met with little success until I started working on the virtual world Dr. Robinson created."

"What does this have to do with the safety of our kids?" the parent asked impatiently.

"Ah, yes. I'm glad at least one of you cares," Jude groaned. "Tell me, have you all heard those reports about those idiot gamers that play a computer game so long that they starve themselves? Virtuon had feared that someone could be so immersed in the game that they would die in it days after jumping in. That was when they asked for my assistance, and since I believed the request was going to further my studies, I agreed. After nearly a full year after I began, I had finally perfected the Nutri-System. Now, when a person goes into the game world, some of the things they do will be replicated in the real world." Once again, Jude was sure the crowd wasn't comprehending his explanation. "For example, if a child were to eat, say, an apple in the game, the Nutri-System is calibrated to supply the child's real body with the exact vitamins and nutrients found in a farm-fresh apple. If a man fell asleep in the game, the body would enter into the same rest cycle as it would normally. Of course, the harmful effects of combat, poison, and illness are filtered out of the system, so eating a poisonous plant or catching a cold in the game has no effect on the real body."

"What about the game itself?" another adult asked. "What kind of setting is it? It better not be something too intense for my son."

"Dad!" the man's son whined in embarrassment.

"Don't worry, sir." Dr. Robinson chuckled. "It's set in a fantasy world, with magical creatures like elves and fairies and the like. In addition, the area the children will start in is the safest place in the game."

"Are we going to start playing soon, or what?" a child complained loudly. All the other children seemed to want to say it, but only one was rude enough to actually voice his impatience.

"Sorry, kids," Dr. Robinson laughed. "I guess we got carried away." He pointed to the brunette in the corner of the room. "My assistant Miss Blake will sign you up right over there. Why don't you kids see her while we discuss more of the safety features." The children gladly ran for Miss Blake, leaving their parents free to listen to Dr. Robinson's explanation on the emergency logout and the monitoring system.

"Today is the day, my lady," a lavender-haired girl announced as she bowed in respect. "The children are coming here."

"I know," a strong, yet feminine voice replied. "We must keep them safe. I have witnessed the dangers that threaten them, and I will not allow them to face such trials."

"What shall you have me do, my lady?" the girl asked warily.

"Guide them," the voice answered. "Set them in their desired paths, and use your power to aid them. I will do my part as well, and protect them in a way only I can." The girl nodded and left the presence of the voice. A hand drew letters in the air as the voice spoke them. "Help me save the children, as we agreed, and I can give you the immortality you desire. Time is short, so you must act quickly!" The message, once completed, condensed into a ball of light and flew to its intended recipient.