Senica Online: A Hair-ifying Tale

Gary smashed the skull of a moldy skeleton, spraying bits of bone and fetid swamp water everywhere even as more skeletons surged toward him, boiling out of the dark water that came up to his waist.

“You were a fool to challenge me here!” cackled the old hag. Her eyes glowed red in the darkness.

She was the culmination of a six-week quest chain and after all that effort, to finally come face to face with her filled Gary with a sense of elation. He activated his whirlwind skill and spun like the world’s deadliest ballet dancer, ripping nearby skeletons apart and sending their body parts flying in every direction like macabre confetti.

The old hag screeched. Her voice like nails on a chalkboard. “No! My children!” she shrieked.

Gary smiled ruthlessly and activated charge. He zipped toward the hag, spraying up fetid water all around him as he closed the distance between them in a blink of an eye.

He slashed down with his enormous sword and cleaved through the hag’s hastily raised staff then kicked her square in the stomach. It was supposed to knock her back far enough for a second charge, but it felt like kicking a brick wall. Pain flared up his leg. Barely more than a tingle with the settings he had on his VR pod, but it still felt incredibly uncomfortable to have the force of his kick stopped so abruptly.

The hag grabbed his head in bony fingers. Her red eyes bored into his own as the hag’s peeling lips split into a vicious, murderous smile that sent shivers of fear down Gary’s back.

“I curse thee, foul murderer! You who destroyed my children and foiled my plans! Now you shall feel the wrath of the darkest of magic! Your hair shall grow and grow without end and no mortal magic shall ever dispel it!”

You have been afflicted with the Rapunzel curse. Cannot be dispelled by normal means.

Gary laughed at the ridiculous curse and activated his whirlwind skill again. At point-blank range, with the old hag grappling him, the move dealt incredible damage. Chunks of hag and swamp water sprayed in every direction.

Gary let out a satisfied sigh. The questline had taken a while, but finally he was done. He looked at the time at the edge of his vision and his satisfaction turned to dread. He’d lost track and now his wife would surely kill him.

Hastily, he brought up the menu to log out from the virtual experience.

The logout button was greyed out. When he focused his attention on it, mentally trying to ‘click’ it, a notification box appeared.

You are unable to log out in combat.

In combat? Gary thought. Did it mean with the hag? But she was dead.

He waited a few minutes and tried again but the result was the same. He looked around for more enemies, but he’d destroyed them all.

Then, his attention drifted to the icon of hair signaling a curse…

Rapunzel’s curse. Cannot be dispelled by normal means. Duration: infinite.

“You’ve got to be joking,” Gary muttered aloud. A spark of fear flared through him, but he pushed it aside. Surely there was an easy way to deal with this.

He brought up the in-game guide and searched for the details of the quest. He quickly found a forum full of people that had the exact issue he had.

“WTF I CAN’T LOGOUT?”

“FIRST!”

“ME TOO!”

Gary sighed and scrolled through a multitude of useless entries that made him question humanity’s right to exist before finding one that renewed that hope.

“The curse is bugged and keeps you in combat without being able to log out. Devs said they’re working on it. Just complete the quest and they dispel the curse anyway.”

Relief washed over Gary like a cleansing shower, and he raced off to hand in his quest. It would only take a few minutes to do and then he could log out. It wouldn’t be much of a problem.

He raced back to the town with the young woman that’d given him the quest. A golden question mark hovered above her head, signaling the quest was ready to be handed in for a reward.

He waved to the quest giver. She began to wave back then froze. As did the entire world. Even Gary himself was stuck mid-stride.

A message appeared in his chat window.

System: Updating servers.

An instant later, everything unfroze. Only the golden question mark was gone.

Gary’s eyes widened. He hurried over to the woman. “I killed the hag,” he said.

“You killed an old lady?” said the woman, her eyes horrified, “how could you?”

-500 reputation with Elizabeth.

“No. No,” said Gary, “the woman who stole your child. I got your kid back and killed the hag. I need you to remove the curse now.”

-750 reputation with Elizabeth.

“What curse? What woman? I don’t have a child. I think you need to leave, sir,” said Elizabeth.

Gary growled with frustration.

-500 reputation with Elizabeth.

“Guards!” Elizabeth screamed.

Guards rushed over and Gary ran off, easily outpacing the lower-level non-player characters in the small town. Killing them would mean a further reputation loss, so he simply fled the city for the forest where he stopped to think.

Supposedly the bugged quest should’ve been resolved and he should’ve been done with it by now, but something was wrong. He pulled up the quest details only to find it was now greyed out and marked as legacy content with a watermark in red over the quest info that read: NO LONGER COMPLETABLE!

Gary kicked a tree in frustration as his mind raced. It took him a while to notice his face was itchy. He scratched at it and found a layer of facial hair had grown. Just long enough to be a nuisance.

He pulled up the game guide and had a look at the most recent patch notes. It didn’t take long to find mention of his quest.

“The Hair-ifying discovery quest chain has been removed due to a troublesome bug.” It said.

“Great!” growled Gary, “how the hell am I supposed to get rid of the curse and log out then!?”

The idea of being stuck inside his VR pod, unable to leave the game was beginning to get to him. The open, brightly colored, incredible game world around him now felt as though it were closing in on him like the bars of a cage. It felt hard to breathe. Hard to think. His heart raced in his chest and images of his body in a VR pod seemed all too much like a coffin now. Even though it supplied his body with nutrients and stimulated his muscles, he was stuck within its confines.

He took in a deep breath. Now wasn’t the time for panic. There had to be a way out of this. It was frightening and worrisome, but surely there were solutions.

He brought up the customer service window and created a ticket explaining his situation to a games master. No doubt they could remove the curse or forcefully log out his character. And, just in case, he put in a bug report about his issue. That way he could be certain this would be fixed.

Three and a half hours later, he received a response from the games master regarding the first ticket.

As Gary read the response, his teeth ground together like millstones.

“We’re sorry to hear about your difficulty. Please try deleting your cache folder and restarting your machine.”

Gary then spent the next 17 hours sending messages back and forth, repeatedly being told to restart, delete folders, or having it explained in the most condescending manner imaginable where he would find the log out button.

No matter how he tried to explain his situation to them, they seemed unwilling to even read his messages and instead gave him copy-paste answers over and over again with no way of fixing it.

He felt exhausted. So tired that the world had begun to seem surreal. Like all of this was just some horrible nightmare and he would surely wake from it at any moment.

Then, he received the response to his bug report.

“We are aware of the issue and a new patch has removed this troublesome quest. You’re welcome! :)”

Gary screamed. Birds took flight all around him. He swung his sword like a madman, hacking apart trees and rocks as he vented his frustrations. No matter what he did, the idiots wouldn’t read a single one of his messages! He was stuck in this damned game world unable to log out. Trapped in his VR pod. He cursed and lashed out at anything and everything around him as rage possessed him.

After an hour, he didn’t feel better in the slightest but his muscles were so exhausted that he sat down on a boulder and had at least the appearance of calm.

“What the hell am I supposed to do now?” he muttered.

He opened up the game guide and searched through it half-heartedly for some kind of answer. The whiskers of hair upon his face had now grown to a full beard. Thankfully, it’d stopped itching. His red, tired eyes watered as he scrolled through entry after entry in the game guide. Then, he saw something that ignited some semblance of hope within him. A datamined item.

Divine Scissors

Blessed by divine power, these scissors can cut through anything.

Drops from: Dark Lord Mythos

And with that last line, Gary’s heart sank yet again. Dark Lord Mythos was the final boss of the Gates of Despair raid. A raid so difficult that the best guild on the planet had taken three years just to beat the first boss. It’d been stuck on the second ever since and according to the game guide, there were sixteen bosses in the raid.

How could he ever hope to kill that boss and get those scissors when even the best in the world were failing to get anywhere near him? Gary thought.

But then he looked at the response to his latest ticket to the GMs asking to delete the same folders again as though the person on the other end hadn’t read even a single thing he’d said. He would keep trying with customer support, but in the meantime… what choice did he have?

Stuck in the game, Gary’s days became an endless grind of practicing in dungeons and raids, gathering powerful items, and improving both his character and his own skills with the game. Gradually working his way up to the top of the skill ladder, set on earning a spot into the top guild in the game. The only way he’d ever have even the slightest hope of getting the scissors he needed to end this insufferable curse. The only way to see his wife and child again…

Day by day, week by week, and month by month, Gary did nothing but practice and climb his way into the notice of some of the best guilds in the world. Soon he reached the tenth best and began his gradual climb up to the pinnacle. The ultimate guild in all the world. The guild that gamers dreamt of joining with the pain of knowing they never would.

The name that struck fear and respect into the hearts of all who heard it.

Cuddle Bunnies

He left guild after guild furious with him as he climbed harder. Each of them believed he somehow owed them something. That he should be ‘loyal’ to people who’d only recruited him because he was the best. He scoffed at them. There was only one thing he wanted. And that was to log out of this damnable game.

He memorized boss attack patterns and honed his reflexes. Able to play the role of a tank, holding the bosses’ attention and keeping them from annihilating his teammates. When he’d run through enough dungeons and raids to make a lesser man weep blood, Gary entered player versus player combat and used it to increase his skills even further. Continuing to innovate long after being widely regarded as the best player in both PvP and PvE. The best player in the entire game.

He convinced his fellow raiders in Cuddle Bunnies to once more assault the Gates of Despair. With his phenomenal tanking ability, Gary weaved around the 60-foot zombie lord Karganax’s great mace avoiding every hit. The healers devoted to keeping him healthy simply stood around marveling at the room’s architecture and occasionally throwing pitiful damage-dealing abilities at the boss.

Karganax fell, his body crashing to the ground and making the world shake as they set a new world record for defeating it.

But, while the members of Cuddle Bunnies considered this to be an achievement, Gary didn’t care in the slightest. There was only one thing he cared about. His life’s singular purpose now.

Getting scissors and a haircut.

His beard and hair were enormous now, covering his chest and back like a carpet despite the intricate braiding techniques he’d developed to keep it out of the way as best as was possible.

And so, he pushed on with the rest of Cuddle Bunnies, egging them ever further.

They took down the second boss with a great deal more difficulty, gaining a world-first announcement across the Virtual Reality world of Senica online.

But Gary did not slow down. After all his thousands of hours of effort, he was so close now. So very close to attaining those scissors. He cleared through an army of lesser monsters on the way to the next boss by himself, while his guildmates celebrated their success.

Gary fought as he had never fought before. Dodging and weaving, blocking and parrying, and unleashing a savage barrage of attacks that made it look as though he were bullying the mighty bosses of the most feared raid in the entire game.

Gary could almost feel his freedom like the itching of his massive beard and he would not be denied. Not now. Not when he was so close he could taste it.

The sixth boss of the raid annihilated the rest of Gary’s team when it was still on half health. His team called for him to let it kill him so they could return to face it together. But Gary would not give in so easily. No mere raid boss could stand in his way. He growled like a savage beast and whittled away its remaining health.

At first, his guildmates were annoyed with him. Yelling at him for wasting time.

But, as the minutes ticked by without the boss landing even so much as a single hit while Gary chipped away at its health, their voices grew quieter and quieter until they fell into an impressed silence. Unwilling to disturb his concentration.

But, for all his skill, Gary was only one man, and he was unable to deal enough damage to the boss before it enraged, growing five times its size as all of its attacks tripled in strength and the speed of its attacks quadrupled.

“Well, it’s over now,” someone muttered.

And normally they’d be all too correct. After all, nobody could withstand even a single attack from the boss now. Not when every hit cracked the floor and shook the room.

Only, the fight did not end. For what did all the damage and speed in the world matter if you could not hit your target?

And so, Cuddle Bunnies’ most elite raiding team watched in stunned silence, mouths agape in their VR pods, as Gary evaded every strike the boss made while still gradually chipping away at the monster’s health.

Finally, with one last brutal strike that erased the last of the boss’s health, the enormous creature fell like a mighty tree. Landing with a thud that reverberated through the entire virtual world. A slew of notifications announced across the virtual world that they’d been the first in the world to kill the impossible boss.

“Holy crap…” said their raid leader, “Which one of you was the monster?”

Gary was so focused on getting his scissors and at last earning his freedom that he was already in the process of using a resurrection scroll on their best healer so they could all be brought back to life and continue on as soon as possible.

Four bosses later, their raid chat had grown deathly silent as the entire raid team began to find themselves almost afraid of Gary. The man’s skill was impressive. There was no doubt about that. But he was so focused, so obsessive. So unrelenting and manic now that a fear of somehow causing the man to snap pervaded the entire team.

They all took the game seriously. Many were professionals for whom this game was their life. But Gary made them feel like childish casuals merely dabbling in an art as they stood beside a master that’d been driven mad by obsession. A few times someone tried to lighten the mood with a joke, but Gary’s stone-faced expressions only made things feel even tenser.

The only time Gary showed any sign of emotion was when he killed bosses. Often laughing, a manic, wild laugh that sent chills running down their spines as his eyes lit up with an inner fire that made their blood run cold.

Finally, at the top of the highest tower in the fortress that was the Gates of Despair, they stood facing the last boss. Dark Lord Mythos himself.

The Dark Lord Mythos was a massive man. Twice the size of all the players, with a sword almost as long as he was tall. His heavy armor rattled as he walked toward the players. Each step the Dark Lord Mythos took left a burning imprint behind as fire and smoke swirled around his armor.

“Ah, the great champions of light, here to smite me down?” Dark Lord Mythos said. His voice sounded like the crackle of fire and his laughter like a raging flame. “I have waited eons for ones such as you to come for me. For the strongest this world has to offer to reach my domain. My minions were nothing but a test. Now, you face a true foe…”

As the Dark Lord Mythos continued monologuing, the raid team’s eyes increasingly turned to Gary. He’d been growing progressively more frightening the deeper into the raid they’d gone and now, he looked like a wild animal. A rabid thing, frothing at the mouth, eyes filled with madness.

“So close… so close… yes… soon it will be mine… soon… so very soon…” he muttered under his breath.

Some members of the raid team shared fear-filled looks as they began to wonder just who they’d really have to worry about up here…

Then, the Dark Lord Mythos’ health bar finally appeared, and the boss fight started in earnest.

Before the Dark Lord Mythos could even advance a single step, Gary charged him. He closed the distance in the blink of an eye and smashed into the boss like a wrecking ball. He followed it up with a flurry of attacks so intense that the most feared boss in the entire world was forced to go on the defensive right from the start.

The rest of the raid team unleashed their own attacks with a level of ferocity none of them had shown before, terrified of what Gary might do to them if they failed…

The Dark Lord Mythos unleashed countless, near impossible to dodge attacks. Each of which dealt such massive damage as to be capable of annihilating even Gary with a single hit. Yet, Gary evaded, parried, and blocked the strikes with smooth, mechanical precision.

All while the Dark Lord Mythos’s minions were rounded up by the second tank. The damage dealers unleashed everything they had while healers struggled to keep everyone but Gary alive.

Great meteors rained from the sky and sinister curses jumped from one player to the next.

At 66% health, The Dark Lord Mythos began his transition phase, turning the entire tower into a swirl of dark energy that ate away at them all. The raid grouped together on Gary as they activated every magical shield and healing ability they had, desperately trying to keep the raiding group alive while burning down the boss’s health as fast as they could.

The Dark Lord Mythos stopped channeling, but the swirling darkness continued. The raid began to panic. They’d spent every resource they had just to survive it for a few seconds, and it wasn’t even going to stop?

Soon, raid members began to die. Dropping like flies under the massive, sustained damage the boss put out. As their numbers dwindled, it became easier for the healers to keep the few who remained alive.

But their other tank died. The world seemed to freeze for an instant as every player watched in horror as the army of minions that’d slaughtered their other tank, now turned their attention on the far more vulnerable damage dealers and healers.

Their hearts sank as they saw their chance to kill this infamous boss slip away.

But, almost instantly, Gary charged into the middle of the pack. He stomped the ground so hard that the shockwave stunned the entire crowd of enemies. Gary unleashed a devastating series of whirlwind attacks, exploiting an extremely difficult-to-use bug in the game’s code to cancel the animation of each while still getting the damage. Allowing him to deal far more damage than would otherwise be possible and weaving in a series of other abilities that not only drew all the minions’ attention but damn near killed them all in an instant. All while still evading the boss’s attacks.

Why are we even here? Shouldn’t this guy just solo the damn thing? Several of the raiders thought. Though they kept their mouths shut. Afraid that he might do just that and leave them without the world first achievement…

The boss grew even stronger at 33% with the void energies that covered the platform increasing until only a handful of the raiding team were alive. Healers struggled to fend off the onslaught of damage and powerful abilities, while Gary remained at full health without their help.

Finally, the boss reached a sliver of health and went berserk. The Dark Lord Mythos unleashed armor-penetrating thrusts that did impossibly high damage with an attack speed too great for even Gary to evade them. A flurry of attacks, each of which could annihilate an entire raid team standing in a line smashed into Gary’s chest… and bounced off the impossibly thick beard that the curse had given Gary. Dealing no damage whatsoever.

Gary laughed and finished the boss with a Brutal Strike.

A dramatic cinematic played as they all got the world first achievement for finally killing the brutal boss. A flurry of messages either praising or cursing them for their achievement barraged each and every member of the raiding team, and despite their earlier fears of Gary, they were each beaming with great smiles.

One of the few surviving healers resurrected everyone and the raid leader went over to distribute the boss’s loot.

“Hey,” said the raid leader, “check out these weird scissors.”

NoobPwner has acquired Divine Scissors.

“Those are mine,” Gary said.

NoobPwner, their raid leader, laughed. “You were serious? It’s a toy item. Who cares?” he said.

“I care. We had an agreement. Give them to me,” Gary said.

NoobPwner laughed. “Whatever man. You can get them next week,” he said.

“Hey… maybe you should just give him the scissors… he sounds kind of… scary,” said their best healer, MissSquiggles.

“He always sounds like that. It’s just Gary. Relax,” NoobPwner said.

Gary walked over to NoobPwner. His heavy boots thudding upon the scarred metal tower.

“Give me my scissors,” Gary said. His tone was deadly serious and brooked no argument.

NoobPwner rolled his eyes. “Chill man. I said you can have them next week,” he said.

Gary unleashed a flurry of attacks that turned the so-called best warlock in the world into a red stain on the ground in less than half a second.

“What the hell!? Are you crazy!? Bonus loot to whoever kills this asshole!” NoobPwner said.

The entire raiding team of Cuddle Bunnies looked at each other and all but a handful turned to face Gary, their weapons drawn.

MissSquiggles and the rest of those not interested in the fight simply walked off to one side of the enormous platform.

“I’m taking a smoke break. A thousand gold says you morons are all dead before I get back,” she said and her character faded out of the game.

“Oh please. He’s not that good,” said one of the top rogues in the world as the entire raiding team attacked Gary at once.

Gary chained a series of charges through all those attacking him while unleashing a flurry of animation-canceled whirlwind attacks and applying an incredible number of bleed effects.

In an instant, all but the other tank lay dead upon the floor.

“How…” muttered the other tank before the bleed effects triggered on him again and he died.

“Hey, Gary. You know I’m streaming this right? Wave to the camera! You’re famous!” said one of those that’d simply stepped aside.

Gary ignored them and walked over to what was left of NoobPwner’s corpse. Gary tapped the bloody paste and looted everything.

The sheer amount of loot filled up his bags, but Gary didn’t care. He searched through his inventory and at last… he saw them.

He took the divine scissors in hand and brought them to his beard.

Snip… snip…. Snip… snip….

The divine scissors cut through even his thickly braided beard and with just the first cut, the curse that had haunted him and kept him trapped within the game for all this time vanished.

At last… Gary was free.

For the first time in what felt like forever, Gary clicked the logout button and it actually worked.

He climbed clumsily out of his VR capsule, his muscles would’ve made a bodybuilder jealous as the VR capsule had been stimulating them all this time. They’d grown so many times over that his clothes had ripped. His usually short hair had turned into an unruly mop that came past his shoulders and his face now sported a long, scraggly beard.

His apartment was covered in a thick layer of dust and a spark of fear raced through him as he worried for his wife and child.

That’s when he found a post-it note lying on the floor in front of the fridge where it seemed to have fallen a long time ago. He picked it up and brushed a layer of dust off the yellow slip.

“If that game is more important than us, then we’re leaving!” was scrawled on the slip in red ink. Each letter possessing an angry flourish.

The words hit Gary like a hammer to the heart. Even after all that effort… he’d lost everything.

He looked over his desolate apartment again as the idea of piecing his shattered life together loomed ahead of him like a mountain. But, unlike with breaking the curse, he felt no real motivation now. With no wife and no child to count on him now. With no reason to make it work… why even try?

His gaze turned back to the VR capsule and he thought of the notoriety he’d gained. The fame. Not to mention the money… there was a fortune of items just sitting in his bags. Easily worth millions of dollars in real-world currency. Not to mention he could make a fortune streaming. And easily go pro. He was the best in the world at this now.

He let the slip of paper fall from his fingers and walked back to his VR pod. There was much to be done.

END




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