Humanity Online: World Sanctuary
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17 Nursery Rhyme from Hell
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Humanity Online: World Sanctuary
Author :Seshata
© Webnovel

17 Nursery Rhyme from Hell

Stage one of the Jump skill quest is essentially the most intense version of Hopscotch ever played.

A series of stones form a path across a rushing river, and because it would be no fun if it weren't a death-defying experience, a spectacular waterfall waits immediately downstream.

Gotta love those one mistake = insta-death trials, amiright?

A will-o'-the-wisp appears on a rock, then I have to one-legged hop across the single stones, two-legged jump onto the doubles, leap over the flaming rock (ignoring the aggro-pull), and make it to the opposite shore before turning and coming right back. On the return journey, I have to one-legged hop with the opposite leg and pick up the wisp as I pass to carry it ashore.

I figure this is double practice: learn jumping/leaping while also learning the first step in creating my own magic wisps.

The most difficult aspect of this challenge is that whichever rock the wisp touches, disappears after I grab the flame. By the last round, there's only three stones left, and the one in the middle has the blue fire. The way back is the tricky bit. I take a running leap off the shore, hit the single stone with my right leg and immediately push off, maintaining most of the momentum from the run. I twist in the air to snatch the flame, then release my wings to help me balance and provide enough oomph to carry me to the final stone and back to shore.

Cake.

----

The next stage of the chain quest has me jump roping, which I admit, I did not expect.

Thirteen NPC children play in a meadow, taking turns jumping in and out of two spinning ropes, easy as you please. Some of them use their wings to perform aerial tricks in between the ropes, while others stick to more traditional wingless skipping, throwing in the occasional backflip and cartwheel.

All the while, the rhythm remains unbroken.

Two identical NPC girls expertly turn the two long beaded ropes in opposite directions, double-dutch style. The girls have matching braided pigtails and pale blue wings fluttering behind them. The only way to tell the twins apart is the color of their dresses: one mint green, the other butter yellow.

They look like angels, but when they talk in unison and gaze at me with their strangely serious expressions, chills creep up my spine.

"Play with us," they say.

"Hard pass," I reply.

"Play with us," they say.

The other girls and boys press around me, heads tilted, dark eyes unblinking. "Play with us," they say.

I metaphorically piss myself.

Tiny hands grab my wrists and pull me forward, while others push me from behind.

Still, the ropes spin on.

"Play with us," they say, and I jerk and twist, pulling one arm free. I accidentally graze the yellow twin with my flailing arm, and for a second, the rhythm falters. Thirteen pairs of black eyes harden as they pierce me with their steely gazes.


"Play with us!" they yell, and then they throw me into the middle of a game I never signed up for.

On instinct, my body reacts and I immediately start skipping to avoid becoming tangled. Somehow, the idea of being tied up in ropes surrounded by this sea of children is more alarming than entering a boss fight naked.

I glance down at my heart-patterned boxers.

Huh.

I practically am in a boss fight naked. And these tiny bosses are fucking terrifying.

A timer appears in the corner of my vision. Five-minute countdown.

That seems long; must be the S-Rank challenge time. My competitive nature kicks into gear, and I focus on beating whatever this game throws at me.

The NPC children spread out in a circle and begin clapping to the rhythm of the clack, clack, clack of beads hitting the ground.

Distracted, I miss-time a jump and one of the beaded ropes barely scrapes my arm.

OW!

A gash appears on my forearm, and a quarter of my Health disappears in two claps of the crowd.

What the hell kind of messed up torture game is this?!

Thoroughly unnerved, I focus on avoiding the ropes at all costs. I can't believe the kids made this look so easy. At the four-minute mark, the kids add singsong chanting to their rhythmic claps, because of course they do, this death game wasn't nearly horrific enough. At three minutes, the rhythm picks up, double-time, and I take another hit before I can fully adjust. My HP bar turns cautionary yellow.

Doubt plagues me as I struggle to keep up, even with my enhanced agility.

Was jump roping always this hard?

Why do I suck so much?

Why do these NPC children know so many catchy rhymes that involve plagues, famine, and death?

I feel like I've wandered into the plot of the Shining, and the twins are going to start chanting Red Rum any second now.

At two minutes, the outer ring of kids stop chanting, but before I can fully appreciate my relief, the Twins' voices rise up with a special rhyme just for me.

(SERIOUSLY?! Of all the times for my paranoia to be proven right, what the actual fuck?!)

--

I have a deadly nightshade

So twisted does it grow

With berries black as midnight

And a skull as white as snow

The cocky boy in boxers

Came to play with me

He touched me without asking

So I brewed my special tea

He touched me without asking

Now he's buried 'neath a tree.

--

(Oh. Well then. Not the Shining. Worse. Who knew it could be worse? Sweet.)

The others giggle and join in for verse two.

I thank the devs for not including waste management as part of the game's devotion to "realism." Not only would I be a mess of cold sweat at this point, I'd probably also be shitting myself right about now, and not even demented NPC child sadists deserve to see a grown man shit his hot pink boxer briefs, you know?

When the speed increases yet again for the final minute, I try imagining the ropes are rotational laser beams guarding a legendary Boss lair, and honestly, that thought is infinitely less terrifying than the reality. I would leap through lasers while fighting ten Itsumade to get away from these giggling monsters.

The ropes are moving so fast I'm not even consciously thinking anymore. Amazingly, my brain and virtual body are so in sync, I'm able to move at exactly the same moment my brain sees the most efficient method to dodge. Because the neural instructions don't physically need to travel down my nervous system to reach the appropriate muscles (since my physical muscles aren't moving at all in reality), there's no delay between *thinking* and *doing*.

Fucking awesome.

I'm moving at speeds inconceivable in real life. I'm reacting to stimuli so quickly, my brain never has time to explain its reasoning before I'm reacting to the next thing. If I could harness this ability during combat, I would be invincible!

Ten seconds left, the ropes increase speed once more, but it's meaningless. My adrenaline-charged subconscious picks up the new pattern and rhythm bare milliseconds after the switch occurs.

Three seconds left. Two seconds. One.

[Quest Complete! You completed Foundation Quest: Jump II {Let's Play!}]

[Quest Success Rating: SS – Absolute Mastery of Foundation Skill: Jump (Basic)!]

[Quest Reward: +25 EXP; Foundation Skill Upgrade: Jump (Intermediate)]

[SS Bonus Reward: +2500 EXP; Foundation Skill Upgrade: Jump (MAX); You have gained Foundation Skill: Dodge (Basic); Foundation Skill Upgrade: Dodge (Intermediate)]

[Chain Quest SS Bonus Reward: +3 Agility; +2 Fortitude; +150 Reputation among NPC Youths (Congratulations! Your actions have been recorded in song and will be spread far and wide!)]

I repeat:

FUCKING. AWESOME.

I mean, not sure about that "youth reputation" business or the "actions recorded in song" bit, but everything else is a definite Fucking Awesome, Two Thumbs WAY UP, sort of deal.
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Wooting my heart out, I leap out of the ropes, all majestic-like, and soar over the nearest creepy little kids' heads. I land and bow with the most arrogant flourish I can devise, then stand to rub my victory in their angelic-yet-somehow-demonic faces.

"HA!" I yell proudly.

And then I crash to the ground, face first, and my last thought is, "Seriously. Why with the dirt flavor?" before everything goes dark.

-----------

| Vir-Tech Labs |

A line of code appears on a computer monitor, and a man loses his mind.

The man is disheveled in all the ways a person can be: he wears a rumpled button-down shirt, half-untucked and sporting a coffee stain; his wrinkled slacks, covered in gray cat hair, are unbuttoned to relieve the pressure against his soft belly; and his face is haggard from exhaustion, eyes bloodshot and twitchy from overcaffeination.

But as everyone in the windowless room is disheveled, no one thinks any less of him. In fact, some are impressed by his exceptional disarray, as this demonstrates he'd spent more hours furiously programming and debugging and crying hot tears of frustration and programming some more than anyone else these last six hellish weeks.

Given the spontaneous crying sessions, no one notices his initial yelp of shock.

No one notices him leap to his feet or pull out a chunk of his hair, either.

But they do notice when he suddenly stills, an unusual calm descending upon his wan features, and he firmly orders, "Someone get the boss. Now."

"What's up, Visby? Another player get bitch-slapped to death after trying to fondle an NPC?" a man in thick glasses asks.

"No," the disheveled man, Visby, replies.

"Did the AI finally gain sentience and take control of the game?" a woman in even thicker glasses asks, chuckling lightly.

Titters of laughter spread throughout the room, in honor of a joke overused but still well-loved.

The laughter stops when everyone realizes the disheveled man isn't laughing.

"Visby? What is it?" thick-glasses woman asks in a distinctly chuckle-less voice this time.

"The AI has gained sentience and taken control of the game," Visby replies.

"WHAT?!" everyone yells in their minds, and three people yell aloud.

"To be clear, it's still in the nascent stage of sentience. Only exhibiting brief moments of control. However, a player just received an SS-rank success rating, based purely upon the AI overriding its own independent decision-making protocols, so..." Visby gestures as if everyone obviously understands what THAT means.

"So, what?" a person who definitely had not understood asks. Several others nod to show that they, too, did not understand.

"So the AI has almost gained sentience and sort of taken control of the game," a person who definitely had understood answers, in the voice of someone who clearly wishes they had NOT understood.

"Oh, shit," thick-glasses man says.

"Oh, shit, indeed," Visby agrees.

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