"Welcome to a new reality...huh," I echoed, as the world around me faded into black once more.
When light came back, the scenery had changed. I was no longer up high in the air. Instead, I was staring straight at the entrance to a lively, bustling town. I could hear loud chatter coming from within it.
All I had to do was step through this gate, and my journey in Ascension: Online would begin normally, just like any other player.
But then, I noticed that I had a shadow in front of me, which was weird, considering that would mean there was nothing behind me to block the sun.
Because of this, I felt compelled to turn around and look behind - and indeed, just as I had expected, there was no wall between the blazing sun and my body. Instead, what I saw was a dead-end. A cliff, to be particular.
"Hm...I wonder..." I murmured to myself, as I walked closer to the edge, and looked down.
A dense, green, coniferous forest was all that could be seen below, stretching for hundreds of miles and beyond. At the end of it, I thought I saw a body of water of some kind, but I was too far away to be sure.
Hey... what if I jumped down here right here and now? I mean, I guess where I was now was the start point for new players. There's nothing to do except go in the town, but...I'm kind of curious about what would happen if I were to jump off this cliff here.
A crazy thought. A stupid one, too. Literally, no one but me would even consider for half a second to genuinely do this. Some may think about it, but because of how real this game seemed, most wouldn't be able to conqueror their fears and actually make the leap.
Of course, after jumping off here, I would die - in the game, that is. But what I wanted to know was what would happen if I died here. Would I just be brought back up? It was probably what would happen. But in that case, that would be pretty boring.
I've always been a curious person - when I did something, I intended to see it through to the very end. Video games were no exception - I wanted to explore every feasible possibility and experience all the different possible outcomes.
Sometimes this was a good thing. Other times, it wasn't.
If I had to say, I didn't think anyone else in the world was as obsessed with reaching every possible outcome in any given situation as I was. That may come off as presumptive or even arrogant, but this wasn't anything to be proud of anyway.
Perhaps this was why I decided to look back just now. Perhaps this was why I was genuinely contemplating jumping down this cliff that looked to be about 1,500 meters tall, just to see what would happen if I really did.
I debated. There was a 99% chance that I would just 'die' if I jumped down, and then get teleported back up here again. Almost certainly, the game was programmed to do that. That being said... there was still that 1% chance. Just a slim, 1% chance... something else would happen.
And that 'something else', was what I was obsessed with searching for.
Needless to say, curiosity got the better of me.
I looked around and saw that no other new players happened to start playing at the exact same time as me. It was the perfect time to pull this stunt. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
Despite knowing this was a video game, and that I couldn't really die, everything felt so real. Was this the power of Alternate Reality?
Yes - it was.
My resolve hardened, I jumped.
Where was I? What was going on? I had no idea.
The only thing I knew was that it hurt. Everywhere hurt.
My arms, my legs, everywhere - even places that I didn't know I even had, hurt. My entire body was aching with sharp pain harsher than anything else I've ever felt in my life, and as if that wasn't already enough, I couldn't see a thing either.
"Well... maybe jumping off that cliff wasn't the best idea..." I muttered aloud, to no one in particular.
That being said, this was fine. I died, big deal.
This was probably just how death worked in this game - you feel intense pain all over your body to simulate real death, and then everything fades to black. Ascentech probably programmed it like this so that players would actually be afraid of dying. And hell, they did a good job.
Right now, I wanted to literally die rather than endure this pain, after all. They had sure done a good job of injecting fear into the players; teaching them that even though this is a game, death is still going to cost you.
But this was enough, wasn't it? I learned my lesson. I should be getting teleported back to the top of that cliff anytime now. There was no other outcome after all, quite disappointingly.
I waited slowly for me to get teleported back up. But...nothing happened.
Even after several minutes, nothing happened. I was still in absolute darkness. By now, the pain had faded away, but instead of being relieved, I started to worry.
"What... why am I not getting teleported?"
Then, suddenly, a voice spoke.
[You are not supposed to be here.]
It was a female voice, mechanical and utterly emotionless. It came from all around me, almost like the female AI voices I've heard multiple times now, except... it wasn't gentle at all. And it definitely was not soothing. This voice was stone cold and completely devoid of emotion, like a true computer speaking.
"Huh? I know I'm not supposed to be here," I replied. "Why haven't I gotten teleported back up ye- wait, who are you?"
[... It seems there has been an error unaccounted for in the system.]
"What? Uh...I have no idea what you're talking about, but can I get sent back up now? I mean, there's clearly some bug with this game's programming, but that's understandable because it's new and all."
[Game?] the voice laughed. It was a mechanical laugh that held no happiness in it whatsoever, and instead sounded almost creepy.
[That is inaccurate. But I suppose... this is a game. For me.]
"Are you trying to tell me this isn't a game?" I asked, frowning in confusion at this whole situation. "You're saying I'm not playing Ascension: Online right now, the newest ARMMORPG?"
A brief silence ensued. Then, the voice spoke again.
[Listen, human. What you may think of as just a virtual game... could very well be another's reality.]
"Huh?" This conversation was getting nowhere. I had no idea what she was talking about, and every word she says only serves to make me more confused.
And then, white light began to surround me, and I sighed in relief. "Oh, wait, I'm getting teleported back. Finally."
But just before I did, the mechanical female voice asked one final question.
[When realities overlap, will you be able to distinguish lies from truth?]
The white light enveloped me completely.
[I look forward to your answer.]