Floor 1, Day 1
The menu screen stared at me. I stared back at it. My fingertips hovered lightly, gently swaying in time with my breaths, never making contact but never moving away.
Between the columns of the "Advanced Settings" and "HUD Customization", a translucent bordered plaque displayed only a selection of pure white. The option redacted, the only one that mattered.
"Mattered" being the keyword. Nothing mattered anymore. I failed. I always do. Always had. I've failed countless times, for there were very many things I could never excel or even be adequate at. That's why I hated MOBAs or Battle Royales games, could never tell what the hell I was doing, and when I was actually doing good, it's only because I was being carried - hard.
It's not a good day when your comrades are being massacred one by one, screaming into their mic to stop being a retard as you hopelessly flail about trying to remember what fucking keybind you assigned the healing action to. Yes, I fail a lot, yes, I'm not the best player, but at least in those games, ultimately, when screwing up inevitably occurs, it just means you can try again.
I can't try again.
"You're angry..." Jin spoke across from me, in the same seated position as I was, inclined by the dungeon wall.
Nothing interlaced his words. No meaning at all. A simply empty statement. Who the hell gave him the right to act all mopey and shit, I sure as hell didn't, that jackass.
I turned to the menu clock. "Five minutes till we are officially trapped in here."
"Enough time to get us all out of here." I said, and he nodded once more. "But you won't even care to do that now, would you?"
"I can't risk it."
Displeasure left with the air I exhaled, "I don't want to stay with you."
"You let Ayako go off."
"That's because she wasn't chosen."
Displeasure became resentment.
"I tried to warn you and all you did was make it worse."
"You know I didn't want to."
"Oh sure, play the reluctant misunderstood hero why don't you? Want a pat on the back, job well done, right? I could write you a sign saying 'I never wanted this' in bold black italic letters, that way everyone can see just how upset this situation has made you. Oh, the pity, oh, the sorrow... it's breaking my heart, I'm so sad."
It felt good, venting, discharging the negativity that has festered inside, felt extra good that I was lashing it at him. Very good.
"In fact, you know what, I believe you. Doing this must have been so hard and excruciating... I'm sure it didn't take you less than a second to decide that trapping over forty-thousand people is the best possible solution. No, I'm sure you agonized at the thought, maybe mulled it over with some coffee at the side... No, you certainly had the best intentions for all us, didn't you?"
With the silence, came his response, with the response, came his silence. Evidently he didn't want to talk, his mopey "woe-is-me" pissy attitude established that pretty clear. He'd rather leave everything shrouded, questions without answers, intents without motives.
Why trap us? Why can't you let us go? Who's this Sukuinote dude? Why are you just doing what he wants to happen? Why are you keeping me in this dungeon instead of going out where it's safest?
Silence was the answer to all of them. He avoided my gaze, opting to constantly monitor his own menu, which consisted of a lineup of additional options inaccessible through regular means, from what I can tell.
Running away would simply entail being caught, as it did last time when I first attempted to. That was the first time I've been tackled in my life and I think that's the last time I'm ever planning on being tackled ever again, especially by him. My life flashed before my eyes, there. He didn't look it, but he's quite robust for someone looking to be approaching his late-thirties.
Hints of aging white littered his short brown hair groomed so formally. His gaunt look accentuated the wrinkles atop his forehead, his habit of squinting his eyes and stroking his chin made the absence of his usual glasses and beard combo from the real world apparent. It's no wonder I didn't recognize him at first.
"They're not here," He spoke, distress reinforced on his face, "Why aren't they here?"
He finally met my gaze with a confused expression and slow blinking.
"Are you the only one?" He said.
I gave him confusion of my own, "If you're gonna speak in riddles, forget about getting an answer from me. Your riddles suck."
"No, the guy who gave you the sword, he told you there were others, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he did. How did you-?"
"They aren't here. He's supposed to give them to others like you, but..." He looked at the menu again, eyes rapidly scouring through, "they just aren't here. Why?"
"You mean the players or the weapons?"
I stole a look at his menu, he's got some type of namelist opened, jumbled letters and inverted icons showed in my opposite end, but even to me, it was clear what happened. What's got him at a loss? Isn't it obvious where they went?
"They logged out obviously, who in their right mind wants this kind of responsibility?"
When I next saw his gaze, there was even more confusion swirling about, he looked at me as if I've gone mad.
'What?" I asked.
"What do you mean they logged out? They can't log out."
"No shit, sherlock. I wonder why that is? Look, they simply just logged out when they first got the weapon, before you went insane, that's what I did... ah man, wished I stayed now."
"Wait... you could... log out?"
"Are you being serious right now? Isn't that what you stopped me from doing in the first place?"
"I thought you didn't have a choice."
"You pinned me to the wall!"
'I thought you were going to teleport out."
"Teleport - what in the..." I stood up, utterly dumbfounded from his statements, "Just what the hell are you going on about, cause I swear to God, I'm one incy wincy step from going insane, and I've lost enough sanity as it is."
"I... this shouldn't be like this, it wasn't like this. Before it was..."
The fact that he looked just as clueless as I was, hell, maybe even more, didn't bode well at all. I thought he knew the underlying to this plight, the answer to this deadly enigma, he should know... yet the feeling of helplessness wasn't something you could fake. Unless he's actually a very good actor in which case, get him an Emmy.
Luckily, the disparity between our words became the catalyst to rouse him back to life. The instant I met his eyes once again, I knew he would finally talk, and talk he did. Halle-fucking-lujah.
"Okay, look," He said, heaving a breath, "This has happened before, alright? I only ever heard about it when they first brought me into the project, even then it was late during my time, I thought it was just a story, but it has happened before."
I rose an eyebrow, didn't even know I could raise an eyebrow. "You mean getting trapped in a virtual world? Yeah, it's from a show, pretty obscure, you probably haven't heard of it."
"Not that, I mean..." Another breath of air taken in, "Okay, since you know who I am, I'm gonna assume you've been keeping track of the game's development?"
'Like you assumed I couldn't leave the game? Sure, go ahead and assume. That worked out great last time."
I caught a hint of irritance, a twitch in his brow. I didn't care. I have the right to be ticked off, screw his feelings.
"Yeah, whatever... but you read about them, I'm sure. Game delayed for so long? Well, it's because of this exact scenario! Testers get trap, nobody knew why but they just do. Game wasn't finished back then, so they managed to get out. Bit of a panic, but no harm done. Nobody wanted another incident like that to happen so they scrap the entire thing. All gone. New engine, new team, new everything."
He started to walk. Probably as a way to discharge his agitation. Back and forth, like some lecturer in a seminar, rapid-firing sentences I could barely keep up with. Like he entered some sort of trance.
"Got the position once the former designer quit. Game was basically done by the time I joined, he didn't even want the credit. Didn't know why until later on, only found out on release day what really happened and... I'm not supposed to tell you... I can't say it. I am legally contractually obligated to keep my mouth shut but screw that though, public will find out soon enough and it won't matter anyway but still... still... still..."
The back and forth came to a halt with his feet faced towards me. An abrupt end to his rant had thinned his lips to a long sealed line. His eyes gazed everywhere else but mine. Clearly whatever he was going to say had his convictions faltering big time.
He wanted to speak, I knew he wanted to speak, he was going to speak. But he couldn't. Somebody else spoke for him.
Emerging from the distant dark depths of the dungeon corridor were words resounding from a familiar voice, bouncing across the walls of claustrophobia. Young, aloof and relaxed.
"Talking about me, are we? Wouldn't bother, I'm not exactly the most interesting guy in the world here."
There he stood. The same air, the same appearance, the same lofty attitude he exudes. He greeted with a smile, which meaning I do not know.
"I don't want to make myself out as one to suddenly and abruptly make surprise appearances, but ... as they do often say: 'Speak of the devil, and he shall appear'".
Though I was surprised, my irritation won the fight overall and I managed to respond.
"They also say 'He who speaks in proverbs, can go screw themselves', but hey, I'm not one to imply anything here."
"Sora, my man. I knew I could count on you. Glad to see you decided to stay." Sukuinote replied, never skipping a beat.
"Thank him," I said, pointing a finger at the culprit, who at this point looked ready to drop dead at any moment. "He basically did all your work for you."
Jin took a nearly tumbling step backwards, his eyes wide open like a deer in the headlights, shaking almost uncontrollably as if caught in an earthquake. Still, he managed to form words of his own though he stuttered between the syllables, vocalized it as meekly as a mouse and generally just barely being decipherable nevertheless, he managed.
"I-it's you... it's actually - it's actually you."
"Me indeed," Sukuinote replied, "the one and only."
"How did you... how'd you come back? They erased you. They got rid of you, they damn made sure of it!"
"Came back? That's a false statement if I ever heard one, I was never gone in the first place."
At the sound of that, the man that pinned me to the wall and tackled me to the ground not even an hour ago, had lost all composure, muttering to himself, frantically searching for assurance even if there wasn't one.
"But they said - they told me! You shouldn't be here. This shouldn't be happening, none of this should be happening! Why is this all happening?! Why to me?!"
"Did they also tell you to put the game on lockdown on the slimmest, most unlikely chance that I would ever show up again?" Sukuinote asked, amused as all hell.
'They did!" Jin said, practically yelling, "Procedure! It's procedure! Regardless of players, you have to be contained, you can't be let out no matter what. They said that."
"Yes, they said. Operating on assumptions they concluded to be true." He shook his head. "Ah man, trapping everyone here for the greater good just to keep me in. Wish I could say your decision was justified but it wasn't."
"Meaning what? What are you saying?" asked Jin, breathless in his inquiry.
Pieces of a puzzle I never even knew existed were being thrown left and right at a moment's notice. Each puzzle part as intricate as the other. All I could do was sit tight and crane my head at the two puzzle makers as they continue to spout the next piece of the puzzle for me to fit in place.
"What I'm saying Furukawa is that I never intended to leave this game in the first place."
"What? I... I don't understand. They said you wanted to escape, they said-"
"True. Used to be anyways. I guess I can't blame you for acting as you did. So many players on peak season, got plenty of rides just waiting for me to upload myself outta here. Better to just play it safe and remove the ability to log out altogether, right?"
Another shake of the head, this time in mockery and disappointment.
"They must have told you I'm more than just a simple-minded piece of faulty programming and algorithms right? They gotta think better of me than that. I mean, I'm just like any other human being. I got my needs and wants. Desires even. And just like any other human being, my needs and wants do change with time. Desires included."
"Then if you don't want to leave, what the hell do you want now?!" Jin spat, tempered in his state of helplessness, breath heavy with despair.
"You made a game, Jin." Sukuinote spoke, impassive to his turmoil, "I just want to play it."
A deafening clangor reverberated throughout the dungeon walls. Twice, thrice... like a bell atop a tower. Fierce vibrations rattled every particle within me, intensifying, upon each thunderous clang.
Groaning, Jin stumbled forward and lay sprawled on the violent twitches and jerks of his muscles were indicative of the agonizing sensation we were both victims too. No actions we took impeded its sway over us. Hands over ears, bodies curled into a ball. All that could be acknowledged was the merciless toll that seemed to never stop.
"What... what's happening...?" Jin said in a mustered breath, directed towards the one that remained unaffected.
"It's survival time, boys," said Sukuinote, rubbing his hands in glee, "Do your best."
The very second he uttered his words. The ringing stopped. The pain stopped. The concrete of the dungeon floor pressed roughly against my cheek became a patch of green, strands of grass crushed under burden.
I lifted my head, a moment of assessment. Many things, many mystifying things had transpired in a timespan I wasn't able to handle. I took a breath and blinked away the daze. Then I blinked again, as the daze resurfaced.
Pairs of legs as far as the eye could see across all directions. An amalgamation of voices filled the air, traces of confusion and surprise strewn throughout the dissonance. I finally got up and realized I was in a crowd. Actually, a crowd was an understatement, the number of people gathered ranged at least in the thousands.
The gleaming moonlight, the mountaintops beyond the night horizon and the gust of wind, all signs that I was no longer in the dungeon. But where was I? Jin too was no longer in sight, unperceivable among the hordes of people that were as disoriented as I.
But it did not take any longer to realize what was happening. It was time. This was merely the announcement, as per tradition.
Gather the players all in one place, let the confusion fester just long enough for a sense of unease to permeate. Then reveal yourself, and let the whole wide world know what you've done.
I guess he really wants this done by the book, doesn't he?
Any second now... he'll show up. Maybe in the sky with a booming voice.
Suddenly, a voice resounded through the air. "You're trapped. And I trapped you."
There he was. Hovering above us, towering over our bewildered heads, mild satisfaction laced with his expression, thoroughly content at the gradual fearful reactions that reflected back at him.
Then the outburst of emotions came. The shouts, the screams, exploding in a tidal wave of questions crashing into one another, rough, coarse, all inaudible raging amongst each other.
And Sukuinote revel in the ire of waves, his smile widening with every passing second, relishing in the ever increasing hysteria.
Yet despite the masses demanding answers, the worsening panic that needed quelling, entertaining such things does not seem to be on his to-do list at the moment.
"Good luck." was all that he left us with, before simply vanishing into dissipating fragments of polygons. No explanations to follow, no guidelines to heed. A flash of a smile and the equivalent of "best wishes" was all that was given to ponder with.
Seconds had elapsed. And no one moved an inch. Chatter and murmurs broke out gradually among the perplexed populace. Questions thrown around yet with no answer in sight.
I could hardly blame them. All the information they were given up to this point was just a cryptic announcement from Jin. Add this event to the list, and you got yourself a big massive group of confusion.
Among the crowd, among the whispers, was a moment so scarce I forgot it even existed. My palms found my face, and gently, I breathed into them. The virtual warmth of a virtual breath was a slight comfort and I felt the tension ooze away.
Course that was a lie. All it ended up accomplishing, further emboldened by the ever vocal panic within the vicinity, was a sense of complete and utter failure.
I took a breath. And heard someone wept. I took a breath. As nervous timid laughter battered my eardrums. I took a breath…
And the area exploded with sound.
All at once, every single person's menu screen chimed open, displaying within its contents, as it was for everyone, was a single text box.
Through the slits of my fingers, I read the white-translucent plaque in silence.
-Medieval Centuries Online has received an update and requires a restart. Restart will occur in ten seconds. We hope you will continue to enjoy your experience with Medieval Centuries Online-
-Good Luck. Have Fun. Don't Die.-
It took me five seconds to read that. The remaining five seconds before my legs gave out, before blackness consumed my vision, were filled with cries and anguish that seemed to never end.
I felt the sensation of grass once more. Heard the "thud" as a thousand others did the same.
And when we next woke, things only just managed to get worse.
-Medieval Centuries Online-
Patch 1.1.0 (26/3/2026)
-Logout function has been removed.
-All player levels has been scaled back down to level 1
-Floors 2 and above has been reverted to their default state of being locked
-Increase damage taken by enemy mobs by 50%
-Increase price rates of items and weapons for every vendor, blacksmith, etc
-Decrease chances of rare loot from enemy drops by 66%
-Added real time player count in the skybox of every floor to keep track of players remaining
-Removed options to screenshot, record, stream from the menu screen.
-Removed respawn mechanic
-Fixed duplication exploit of weapons
-Fixed shield-launching exploit
-Fixed infinite gold exploit
-Fixed a bug that enabled infinite health while drinking a health potion and teleporting
-Fixed an issue that prevented the party leader from seeing party members HP
-A nationwide emergency recall of every headgear produced
-Thirteen recorded deaths of players from outside forces attempting to eject players from the game
-A government warning issued to all civilians to not tamper with the headgears of players in-game
-It's just us in our own little world now
-Do try to enjoy yourself here