Author Note: GGCE Is basically Sky Garden but … better? yeah. Better.
Cinders popped as a fire burned dimly inside its circular stone pit as a black iron poker struck it. The wood fire didn’t respond or crackle to the prodding, but the girl who held it seemed to be doing so out of boredom rather than stoking the fire. The stone went out by two feet before meeting a stone border that rose two feet into a bench for patrons to by the fire.
A short woman sat slumped, an elbow on her right knee with the arm propping up her chin. Snow-white hair cascaded off the right side of her head like silk curtains. Two half-opened eyes held two dimly glowing iris. Deep gold feline eyes. Her long eyelashes occasionally as her lips were parted as her tongue toyed with her fangs. Her white skin glowed in the firelight, revealing rosy cheeks. Dressed in a black sleeveless shirt, black cargo pants, and black boots, her exposed arms and head could have been seen to be floating in mid-air.
Above her was the boundless starry night sky, slightly illuminating a clearing nearly fifty feet in a rough diameter around her. Large oak trees towered around, reaching for the sky with all their might. In the distance, a mountain covered in lava, fires, and slightly visible smoke columns could be seen. The distant roars of monsters could be heard. As a large lion-sized silver wolf padded over to her before laying down behind her and faced the tree line protectively.
Before long, a group of hundreds of players came from the south, her left. Their laughter seemed to brighten the clearing instantly. The girl’s head rose with a beaming smile. “Finally on time I see.” She said in jest. “Haha! I see our Hearth Mother is keeping the fires again!” A large burly ogre said. His large body towered nearly ten feet. Covered in full blue armor ornated in magical runes on the rims. A large greatsword nearly as tall as him strapped to his back
“Someone’s got to bring a homely touch to these raids.” She beamed. The girl’s name was Avery Bailey, better known as the Hearth Mother inside the VRMMO EOS. Her handle wasn’t named Hearth Mother, but Glacier. The game’s most prominent individual. Known for helping other players with encouragement, items, and giving a shoulder to cry on. She was eventually given the unofficial name of ‘Hearth Mother’ eventually.
EOS was a Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online game. It was the only one of its kind due to legal ramifications, programming and the sheer amount of workforce needed to keep such a game running. It housed nearly a hundred thousand players. Due to the monetary barrier, such as Full-Dive-Helms costing nearly two-thousand dollars each, it didn’t rise higher. But the players who people who had money so the game thrived.
Avert was a unique individual compared to all the others
Avery was the only person in EOS that was a resident of the game. Among the sea of non-playable characters and monsters, a lone soul transversed the game day and night. Being the daughter of a wealthy family, she was the victim of a botched assassination attempt. Publicly it was called a failed attempt, however, the truth was far more heartbreaking. Avery, the daughter of Camila and Edward Bailey, she lived a peaceful life. Given a stern but peaceful family, one day when she was picked up by her father… A man tried to gun him down.
Of the three bullets, one struck her thigh, one struck her mid-spine and the last one struck her spine. Three rounds were all the man could fire off before he was gunned down by Edwards guards.
And Avery was plunged into the cold… Unforgiving darkness.
Nearly a year later, she awoke from her coma and found herself standing – more as floating- in the middle of a field that she could obviously tell was a game. From the low-pixel grass textures and the area boundary that circled her with that background image of distant mountains. She didn’t understand what was going on a portal opened and a rough figure of her father stepped through. For a moment she thought she was dreaming, seeing her father’s likeness pasted to one of those old arcade-body figures.
From there, her nightmare began. Her father told her what happened to her and that she was now thirteen, almost fourteen years old… That she didn’t have long to live. The most they could keep her alive was seven years and that was by keeping her in a coma. He told her that he had been developing a real full-dive virtual reality machine so she could get to be with her family while keeping her body under…
In the coming months, after Avery had managed to come to that painful terms of her new life, her father made large strides with the Full-dive technology and eventually the world became so large that it rivaled a small country. Yet, in all this, she was still all alone. Her father always came in once in a few hours. Her mother came in once an hour, but they would always leave. The animals were just buggy AIs and no other souls inhabited her virtual prison.
Then she finally asked her father…
“Could I go back to the real world…? Its… too lonely here.” Basked in the dying sunlight in her would as the dusk was coming to its end. Her father sat beside her along with her mother. “No my sweet love. It would only kill you quicker…” Unwilling to part with his only child. He wasn’t going to father another, afraid that one too would be killed by some vicious family member again.
The one who tried to kill him was his half-brother, a stupid man who thought he’d become the owner in the will. The man never asked if he was even in the will. He wasn’t. Only Avery and Camila was. He wasn’t close to his brother and his parents. He didn’t talk about that his side of the family and after they both found out, they didn’t ask anymore either.
But on that day, EOS was birthed. By the lonely request of his beloved child.
. . . .
In the coming years, EOS was born. Becoming a profitable business that could weather storms and still thrive. EOS, the company name, and the name of its flagship game – created a full world just for one person and opened it to the public. Avery wasn’t the mascot of the game, but everyone was well aware of why EOS was created. The company never shied away from that fact. It was even publically stated multiple times in interviews.
She was the world’s master and the unofficial mascot. With the handle Glacier, she eventually became nicknamed ‘Hearth Mother’ or ‘Fire Keeper’.
A strange name, but as a full-time resident of the game world, what else was she to do? She slept, ate and even bathed in that world. One couldn’t sleep in the game as it would automatically eject the player once they sensed the player’s brainwaves slow and one couldn’t strip in the game as it was supposed to child-friendly. However, Avery was allowed to do so within reason of her own private area space, a dimensional rift only she could access.
Yet, with all the great strides brought by medicine and treatment within those three years . . . The gods did not see fit to spare Avery.
. . . . . . . .
Static tents arose all around the clear all the raiders took up camp. Even though they did it, it was more for the immersion. They were only taking time to set their equipment and plan the raid. Only one fire burned. In that lone stone pit in the center where most of the players gathered and joked. “Avery, are you going to set up a fire inside the boss room again?” An elven man asked her jokingly, remembering her antics. “Maybe, maybe not. The Demon King’s palace doesn’t seem to be pretty.” She shrugged with a grin.” Maybe if the view is pretty enough.”
Avery was known to set a small camp to enjoy views. Everyone knew her ties to the company and accepted it as is. She leveled fairly with them all and treated them like people, leaving no complaints at all. In fact, places Avery had set up had become a sort of in-game bucket list “The Glacier Road!” it was called. A sort of scenic tour that high-level players took to enjoy themselves on slow days. While most spots were just little areas Avery found pretty in some forest or beside the road.
Some were even in boss areas!
One inside the Troll King Cave, where once the king was killed, the large bonfire would die. The cave ceiling would glow with thousands of small blue lights like a night sky that reflected on the lightly flooded floor. It was almost like walking on the night sky itself.
And that was the raid that they joked about. But even still! They knew she would seriously do it if there was something good to look at! With everyone laughing, very few had a downed expression as they looked at a distant mountain, outlined against the starry sky in the horizon. Many were laughing, but what would come after. They knew. They all knew.
. . . .
At the tip of the world, the mountain summit rose higher than any other in the game as fifty-odd people danced around a dragon. Black and bloodied scales. One wing completely severed, lightening boomed down. Fire spit casters and ice rained upon it before warriors charged between intervals. One or two warriors were flung from the mountaintop like shooting stars with one swipe of its massive paw.
The dragon boomed in desperation. “I, the Demon King, shall burn your corpses and devour all of thy kin!” Manic eyes swiveled, searching for an opportune target as it swiped aimlessly at the loosely scattered, but well-placed player. Seeing as any target was as good as the rest, it bellowed out a stream of magma-hot fire that scorched over tens of players.
When the fire cleared, all that was left were groups of closely huddled players underneath glowing white bubbles of holy barriers. Hovering above the rest was a single lone woman, snow white fluttering hair and wings of white mana that hovered mere inches from her back was holding the casting orb of Holy Barrier. Her golden eyes glowing. “Not today you overgrown lizard!” She laughed.
Angered, the King tried to snap at her before a golden hammer crashed down onto the back of his head. A human-male dressed in dazzling holy armor, white gleaming metal with dim-glowing magical runes that pulsed gold with each attack. The man was Gerald and her best friend. “Ho! I got’em!” He roared as he jumped back to avoid a swipe of the dragon’s paw. Avery let go of the spell and the holy bubbles popped, leaving illusionary white feathers in their wake.
The mountain shook with each thump of the dragon’s limbs as it tried desperately to fend off the attackers. While it managed to halve the raiders, it also was on its last breath as the last of its demons swarmed up the summit’s edge. Ferocious mutant hounds, twisted monstrosities like Greater Demons and lesser demons crawled desperately to help. Nearly a hundred players took the summit top, with Avery leading the charge – and doing the most damage- the rest of the raiders were down below on the mountain path fending off the Demon King’s Army. The ones who managed to climb to the summit where demons who evaded the skirmishes below
“King!” One after another they called as they managed to climb over the edge. “Damn it! Call the fighters up!” Gerald called, seeing the mobs finally reaching them. The only information they knew was that raid limit for players as the most in the game’s history.
Five hundred player limit!
One party consisted of five members! That’s was a crap ton of parties! Even then, the raid leader – Gerald or SilverWolfSpanker – was having a hard time managing them all as the highest count raid before was only eighty players! Now their numbers were nearing two-fifty, they were having problems holding off the mobs that charged the mountain top once they realized their king was under attack.
One by one, Demons were flung from the submit top as Assassins and rangers kicked them off or killed them with their weapons. As more players began to reach the mountain top, army nipping at their heels. Brilliant streaks of blue, red, and yellow shined into the sky as the submit became a target rich environment for the Demon King. With one last swipe, he took nearly thirty players and fifty demons. Sending flying off the summit as the new-comers became aware of the King’s reach before delegating themselves to the summit edge to fend off the climbing demons and defend the entrance.
They were the top five hundred players! The ones left standing now were the top two hundred!
With one last bellow of defiance, the Demon King Reared back and was about to cast its last trump-card, the Endless Night! A power used once in the game’s beginning cutscene that would capture souls of the dead to revitalize its health! Yet, before it could cast it… A streak of brilliant reds, oranges, and gold struck the demon king in the chest.
Avery’s strongest attack in the Goddess of Flames tree!
With a large explosion of fire and black mist, a concussion wave nearly took all the players off their feet and wiped the Demons from existence. The wave traveled down the mountain, explosions of black mist erupting from each demon before being banished back to the Nether Realms.
. . . .
Campfires crackled all over the mountain as the raiders relaxed, taking in the scenic view. The night sky became brighter as the moon was brought back into existence, once captured by the King of the Night. His demon army vanquished, the game would be coming to an end in the coming months. Giant armored golems patroled up and down the mountain top. The army of the Hearth Mother!
Avery sat on the edge of the summit, overlooking the edge of the world. Lone Cloud Mountain, the name of this area, was on the edge of the game map. Overlooking the starry filled void that was colored with streaks of pastel violets, purples, oranges, and blues. As the nebulas shone in the distance, stars began to fly past. “Ohs!” and “Ah!”s began to rise from the hundreds, now thousands of players who joined the celebration. The area, once the Demon King’s fortress was now turned into a player hub!
A fitting end to the once impenetrable fortress!
Soon, the hub would be filled with plants, buildings, and NPCs within the days. Personally placed by Glacier. Behind the spectators, the Demon’s castle stood in ruins. The carcass of the Demon King laid leaning against his destroyed throne.
Done with the view, Avery stood before the dead King or mostly dead king. The dragon looked at Avery with tender eyes. “Did you have fun sweetie?” A deep voice rumbled from the Dragon.