Arthur closed his eyes in anticipation, his body began slowly losing consciousness, until he was completely disconnected from reality.
All of the sounds Arthur was hearing began fading out. The sounds from various machines, the nearby personnel talking loudly, the strange excited squeals emanating from the neighbouring capsules. Eventually it was all gone, replaced by nothing but deafening silence.
Arthur was floating in a black void, and then he opened his eyes.
What stood before him was a bright white room that seemed to endlessly expand into the horizon, this was the virtual hub that Arthur was all too familiar with. It stood as the boundary between the real world and the game world, the benefit of this being that you didn't have to log out of the capsule every time you wanted to take a short break from the game.
One of the options this hub world offered was the option to interact with the real world from within the virtual one, this was much harder to do from within the game outside of emergency contact and streaming.
Yet another option of the hub was being able to join lobbies, simulated environments that allowed you to interact with others currently in the virtual hub. Everyone in the beta test was directed to join the only public lobby currently open when they logged in, letting them interact with others while the server was coming online.
Arthur stared at his hands, on his arms were an assortment of glowing buttons used to traverse the virtual hub, although there were more ways to do so, such as verbally or with gestures. Arthur was curious if they had implemented a method to control it with his thoughts as he had asked, but it didn't seem like that had been implemented yet, or if it was, he wasn't yet able to control it.
Clicking on one of buttons, one with a silhouette of several people standing alongside each other, a holographic user interface appeared in front of him. It was labelled the "lobby menu". Within the menu were tools for searching for and filtering through lobbies, however there was only one lobby available at this time.
Arthur clicked the lobby titled "Beta Testers Join!". His body was suddenly enveloped in a white light, and when it faded away he was in a new environment, it was some kind of downtown city area. He was surrounded by various buildings, food courts, coffee shops, there was even a large playground a little further away. If Arthur didn't know he was in a virtual world, he would have thought this was reality, although the lack of life anywhere to be seen also gave it away somewhat.
Yet another amazing thing about virtual lobbies was that due to everything in the virtual world being replicated, including taste, you could eat anything you wanted without facing repercussions, no dieting required, and since it was virtual everything could be replicated infinitely, for free.
Arthur swiped a slice of cake from the coffee shop, and poured himself a hot chocolate from the coffee machine.
As Arthur sat down outside and began eating his cake, flashes of light dotted the scenery, fading away to reveal a player from the beta team. The silent scenery devoid of life Arthur had started getting used to was now ruined by the recent influx of people and their loud gasps in awe and amazement.
Arthur understood their feelings, he had over thirty-one years of experience within the virtual realm and was still amazed at it. Eventually the gasps of amazement died down somewhat, mostly due to most of the crowd now staring at the one boy who had peacefully been eating cake this whole time, the same boy who had the obnoxiously gaudy custom VR capsule.
Not much was known about Arthur, the only parties he really attended were hosted by his father's company, and only those were out of obligation most of the time. He wasn't fond of public gatherings, this much typically stayed the same even after he gained confidence and lost his shy nature with age.
"What?" Arthur spoke out to the crowd. "The food is free."
Taking one last bite of his cake, Arthur placed down his cutlery. Feeling a little uncomfortable with everyone staring at him, Arthur decided he was going to just wait alone. "I'd recommend the pavlova."
Arthur waved goodbye to the crowd before slapping the "return to hub" button on his arm. From everyone else's point of view, he was enveloped in a flash of light and suddenly vanished.
Back in the endless white room, Arthur laid down on the cold floor, mumbling to himself. "This is going to be tiring."
Eventually he heard the mechanical jingle indicating that the server had come online. Sitting back up, he pressed the play button, his body once again being enveloped in light, only for it to fade, but once it did, he was in a black void once more, the only difference being a duplicate of himself was standing still in front of him.
Various menus, sliders, colour wheels and the like appeared around the clone, this was the character creation window, he could adjust his in-game avatar as he liked, with limitations such as his physical mass.
Arthur knew what changes he wanted, he kept it relatively simple, still wanting his avatar to look like him somewhat.
He started with colour, opening the colour menu and selecting skin to start with, Arthur was presented with a few sliders. His first change was adjusting his skin tone, Arthur dragged the slider for tone almost all the way down, causing what was an almost beige skin tone to instantly lighten to a very fair tone, almost white.
While still on the colour menu, he moved on to hair. Adjusting tone and hue, all of the colour from his long straight golden brown hair drained away, leaving bright white hair, with streaks of silver and dark grey.
With these two changes Arthur immediately took on a more albino appearance.
For his last change within the colour menu, Arthur selected his pale blue eyes. He changed the colour to a deep royal purple and then maxed out the slider that controlled vibrancy.
The vibrant purple eyes stood out amongst the pale face and white hair, with this Arthur was happy.
His next change was the length of his hair, while he already had long hair that almost reached his shoulders, he wanted it to be much longer. He ramped up the slider as far as it would allow, causing his hair to extend down to his thighs.
'Actually, if it's too long it'll just inconvenience me.' He thought to himself, pulling the slider back a bit.
He eventually settled on his hair reaching his waist. It was long enough that it'd flow nicely and fit his aesthetic, but short enough that he wouldn't trip or sit on it.
Arthur made a few final changes, just a few aesthetic changes to the things he felt self-conscious about, such as sharpening his jaw somewhat and choosing to remove all blemishes from his skin, such as pore scarring.
When he was satisfied, he was presented with a holographic keyboard, and a holographic screen that asked him to pick his username. Arthur wrote "Merlin" and pressed enter. Some things changed, but this was going to stay the same.
Upon agreeing to his username choice, Arthur was enveloped in white light once more, as it faded, he was presented with an endless green field of rolling hills. A rush of wind blew past, caressing his skin.
Arthur-- no, Merlin couldn't help but smile, he was finally back in his world.
"Welcome to New Genesis, Merlin." A voice echoed through the wind, it sounded feminine, but also somewhat robotic. This was the voice of Gaia, the god with absolute control over the world, and also the smartest artificial intelligence humanity has ever created. "Please, choose a weapon. Do not worry, there is no class system in New Genesis, you will not be restricted, and may switch out your play style as you wish."
Rows of beginner weapons materialised around Merlin, floating at chest height. There were various generic weapons you'd expect, such as swords, axes, short and longbows, various staffs and wands. But there were also more exotic weapons, such as scythes, chakrams, various assortments of throwing weapons, hook swords, brass knuckles, etc.
Merlin knew grabbing something exotic and cumbersome would be at his own detriment, so he settled for a shield and a short sword. Merlin decided he would choose a round shield rather than a kite, heater or tower shield to improve his mobility.
He was used to running a build with high mobility, but they weren't cut out for levelling this early on in the game. Especially not until he obtained a class that gave him abilities to support such a build. The safest choice was to rely on a shield and sword combination.
Merlin picked a set that contained a buckle strapped round shield, similar to a targe, paired with a Roman gladius sword. He was allowed to go around and test each weapon if he wished, but he felt happy with his choice. When a screen appeared asking if Merlin was content with his choice or if he would like to test other weapons, Merlin confirmed his weapon selection, causing the other weapons to fade away.
"The tutorial will now begin, please slay as many beasts as you can within the given time limit." Gaia's voice resounded once more. Moments later, gelatinous spheres started forming in the air around Merlin, dropping to the ground once they reached a certain size.
The first enemy everyone had to face, the classic slime.