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Humanity Online: World Sanctuary
Author :Seshata
© Webnovel

18 Kuroko no MMO

[Warning! V-Haven Alert: You have consumed three bottles of Nutrient Solution. Final bottle has entered circulation. Nutri-Peak delivery system has been notified. Would you like to decrease neural activity speed to preserve final bottle until delivery?]

"No!"

Gods, no. That idea is worlds more horrifying than a horde of black-eyed children. Purposefully handicapping myself in-game is literally the last thing I'd ever do.

My left hand unconsciously rises to grip my upper arm where my real body has a jagged scar.

I flex my right fist, closed and open, and closed again.

[Understood. Neural activity speed will remain at Peak levels. Warning: If final bottle is depleted, player will be forcefully expelled from Viren's Refuge and will remain unable to log in until new nutrient shipment is inserted into V-Haven. Do you still wish to continue?]

"Yes, yes. Let's get this show on the road!"

A new notification sound rings out, gentler than the strident alarm of the System Warning, but also distinct from the chipper quest alert chime.

If Sunlight had a sound, it would be this.

{Aether Alert: Player Erebus has met Nova Special Protocol #6729. Would you like to maintain current delivery system or enter the trial upgrade system?}

I have a rule in my life. I never realized I had this rule until this moment, but it's a hard and fast rule, all the same:

Never "maintain" when you can "upgrade."

Sure, I have no idea what an Aether Alert is, or what a Nova Special Protocol might be, or even how the hell I managed to use up 3 bottles of A-grade Nutrient Solution in only three real-time hours. But "trial" or no, the answer is upgrade.

Because duh.

The answer is always upgrade.

I hate in those sci-fi novels when the MC gets the option to "gamble" on the chance to upgrade sweet gear, and he's all like, "I don't know, seems risky, oh no, I'm a pansy ass wuss and I'm scared of ruining what I got..." But then he eventually gives in to the "gamble" and BAM, he ends up with super rad overpowered shit.

Then he's so *relieved* afterwards, like he's actually such a flaming moron he didn't realize it was OBVIOUSLY going to be loads better.

Ugh.

Anyway, none of that shame in my game. "Trial upgrade system!" I cheerfully shout.

Do I know what I just signed up for?

No, no I do not.

Do I give a flying fart?

No, no I do not.

Whatever it is, it's going to be cool. Probably. Most likely.

Even if it's not cool, better to know for sure than to be plagued with uncertainty, regret, and "I wonder..." for all eternity.

As the system accepts my response, I'm released from the blackness. A blinking message explains that my neural activity went into overdrive and to protect my brain, the V-Haven put me to sleep. I'm going to need to work on that so I don't pass out mid-combat.


I'll have to practice overloading my brain and reaching that amazing brain-body perfect sync until I get used to it.

I've seen sports anime. I know what that was.

I was in the fucking Zone.

If I were playing basketball, I'd have sparks shooting out of my eyes.

Next step is to figure out how to enter the Zone at will, so I can learn to sustain it without passing out or other adverse effects.

Wow, Nutri-Peak is going to regret that subscription deal SO MUCH by the time I'm through. *laughs maniacally*

---

The meadow is thankfully creepy child-free when I wake up. Clock on my status screen says 08:30, so we're coming up on Nightfall. I Sprint back to the village, annoyed I've wasted almost two hours sleeping. That rando Polemos who scored the first clear of his Foundation Village will only be further ahead.

This vexes me.

The Viren's Refuge server is only up 12 hours a day real-life time, but that equals 36 hours of in-game time. The VR program runs in a similar way to dreams; you know how you feel like hours or days pass in a dream, but when you wake up, you've only been asleep for a few minutes? Somehow, Vir-Tech's harnessed a way to imitate that, though currently it's only a 3-to-1 ratio.

That's still amazing! In one 24-hour period, a person playing the full 12 hours of allotted VR time will experience 48 hours of life. And since the VR experience simulates sleep (unless you overtax your brain like an idgit and it ACTUALLY puts you to sleep), you can be active all 48 hours a day.

This is literally life-changing. Most people haven't caught on to the true amazingness of the potential, but once they do, Vir-Tech stock is going to skyrocket right out of the NASDAQ's orbit.

Throughout history, people have looked to prolong their lives with pills and fad diets, pilates and cybernetics, and all along, Zhao Jianyu was holding onto the real secret to a longer life.

Talk about a great big "Fuck You" to all those people who said video games are a "waste of time."

Hehe.

Anyway, all this means I've been playing for about 3 hours IRL, but almost 9 hours have passed here.

Since it's almost 09:00, I decide I may as well wait until Nightfall for that Quest of Daring. I love me some double EXP and extra-spicy monsters.

I hit up the Chief at his hut. He's as tickled to see me as ever.

"Erebus! Hero of the Ages! You have returned!" Chief Tarabu exclaims, arms raised in joy.

"Yes," I reply. I try to meet him at his excitement level, but I just don't have it in me.

"Let me see...yes, wonderful! You've acquired all your Foundation Skills!"

I hear that chipper chime I know and love. Goodies incoming!

[Title Acquired: The Natural]

Maybe he's born with it. Maybe it's dopamine.

|| You've completed every Foundation Skill Quest with a perfect S Rating! This can only mean you're a true Natural talent!

When equipped, Title grants +5% Boost to all Foundation Skills, +2 to all Base Attributes. Masters will be more inclined to teach you new skills. Any new skill used 10 times at 90% Skill Proficiency will automatically upgrade.

At all times (even when unequipped), Title grants +3% Skill Proficiency on All Skills.||

"YES!" I exclaim, fist pumping in joy.

Aha, there's that peak excitement.

I immediately equip the Title and feel giddy as a gradeschooler on chicken patty day.

Not even the nerdiest joke in human history can put a damper on my good mood. "Maybe it's dopamine"—really, devs?

Dopamine's a neurotransmitter in charge of motor function, memory, attention, and pleasure functions, especially reward and motivation. It's vital to the human ability to think and plan.

V-Havens work on a positive feedback loop with dopamine: you need the dopamine to control virtual body movements, and if you can move well, you'll have more fun. Your brain sees fun as a "reward" that in turn releases more dopamine, which in turn increases your ability to play, which in turn increases your fun, etc.

I wonder if my dopamine levels are particularly high or something. I mean, sure, I'm having fun, the most fun of my entire life, but I'm sure most people are.

Who could possibly not find this fun?

-----------

"He doesn't see it," a figure hidden in the shadows says, smiling ruefully.

{See what?} asks a disembodied female voice.

Erebus would have recognized that warm, gentle voice as the source of the Sunlight sound of the Aether Alert.

"He's having more fun than almost anyone. He's more alive in games than most people ever reach in real life."

{Is that why he's managed to exceed the limits for multiple Nova Protocols?}

The figure tilts his head, thoughtful. "In part. He's also been groomed for this from infancy, though he's unaware of that."

{Even so, is it not a little vexing he's doing so well already?}

The shadowy figure chuckles softly at the hint of frustration in the Sunshine voice.

He's personally thrilled by Erebus's outstanding progress.

After the boy's performance in the beta, he couldn't help himself. He'd desperately wanted to see how this young man would do with these little tests, so he'd completely restructured the Foundation Villages to include the chain quests, among other things.

(He can't wait to see the boy's face when he lays eyes on the weapon reward special-designed for the new Quest of Daring...)

True to form, Erebus had lived up to expectations: S ratings for all skills.

The boy had even semi-woken the Nova AI and caused the creation of a new rating system.

The world might be surprised, if they ever found out how much the shadow-man had changed this game solely to help this young man and a few other promising players. He knows they might say it was wrong, or unfair, but the world isn't fair.

For now.

Too much is at stake to play it safe. If the world is ever to truly be fair and safe, maybe Erebus would be the key.

"This boy has already been through so much," the shadow whispers, "but he'll have to go through even more if he wants to stand on top in the end."

For a fraction of a second, the shadow seems to feel bad.
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But then the moment's gone, and a determined air settles instead upon the shadow-man.

{Should we intervene to ensure he meets the others like him?}

"No need. They'll seek him out. Talent attracts talent, like moths to a flame."

{Don't moths often die when they seek out flames?}

The shadow sighs. "Overwhelming talent burns those too weak to stand close. So the important question is, which talents will emerge from the trial by fire unscathed and stronger than ever..."

{...and which ones shall burn in the inferno that is Erebus the Natural Talent?}

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