It all started about a week ago. It was a cold and stormy night, the streetlights held a distinct foggy glaze. Throughout the eerily quiet street, the noise of windows rattling in the forceful wind could be heard...
I’m kidding, obviously. Although last Tuesday night when this all started, there was a storm, just not a storm of the weather variety. I’d been following the news all day, everyone had. 6 boys now, all aged between 14-21, had been found dead in their homes. All of them were wearing the undeniably recognisable X.R.Y patented VR goggles and sleeves, as if they’d died right in the middle of a game; and they had. But that’s not the most curious part. What was even more intriguing and un-explainable was that at the moment they died, so had their avatars.
So there I was sat in front of the television, crossed legged and making my way through a pot noodle, eyes glued to the screen as I listened to a news anchor report on the story for the eighth time today. See this was the interesting bit, since the story broke the news vultures had eaten up the weird and un-explainable circumstances of the whole thing, and every story since had been linking things together and talking crazy conspiracies. The police of course, had come out to say X.R.Y couldn’t have had anything to do with it and stated that it was impossible the two things were related. This only made things worse, as most people, including me, disagreed. There were now picketers outside their Office, screaming viciously for justice for “their” boys. There were forums that were full of theories, people talking about electrical currents, or the dark web and some even talking about magic, real magic, not just the kind you find in X.R.Y and that was just the real world repercussions. More importantly, were the things happening virtually. People around the world were darning their virtual reality gear and airing their grief online. There were virtual flowers bought from virtual stores laid down at the place where the avatars powered out for the last time. There were regular flowers, like lilies and chrysanthemums but they were nothing compared to the mythical bouquets most people would leave. There were snapdragons that actually snapped and breathed fire. Giant Venus-Flytraps that passed the time catching AI bots that inhabited the games’ land and FlameFreesia’s, with charcoal stems blooming into petals resembling flames, just to name a few. People were changing their names to “justice4thewarriors” and “NeverForget1604”, some avatars darned t-shirts bearing the victims’ faces, bought from some capitalist who runs a “Skins” shop. Some people had gone as far as changing their avatars entire likeness to one of the victims.
I on the other hand didn’t take flowers, or like some people even a live “teddy” bear, to their resting place, as I didn’t own that world. There was also no way I was going to spend my Xdollars on some tacky t-shirt just for the proceeds to go to the seller’s pocket instead of the families. Besides, I’d put a lot of hard work into creating my Avatars appearance. As inside the virtual world of X.R.Y, just like the real world before it became secondary in importance, appearances were everything. My avatar looked somewhat like me, and yet entirely different, where I was tall and brunette covered in freckles, my avatar was short and her mousy blonde hair, cut into a long bob was held in place by a baby pink headband. She wore clothes from a different decade with a pleated, tartan brown skirt and matching jacket and a pink roll neck underneath. She had knee high socks in the same colour with plimsolls on her feet, but I on the other hand spent my days in tracksuit bottoms and plain t-shirts, a standard uniform for most people outside the You-niverse. That’s what we called the virtual world, named after the company that made it; X.R.Y- short for Xtreme Reality You-niverse but everyone pronounced it like “x-ray”. But there was one thing the same about my avatar and I, our faces, although hers’ was almost cartoony, it held an uncanny resemblance to mine. Big brown eyes, a long sharp nose to match my sharp chin and cheekbones and a full pink mouth, made even more obvious from the amount of time I spent biting my lip. Which thanks to my X.R.Y issued You-Camera that hung from my game enhancing visor tracking and copying my every facial move, my avatar did too. You may think that my avatar’s look was pretty basic, especially considering I could be anything in a world full of 14 year old girls walking around as ten foot dragons with purple iridescent scales, and your old lady neighbour tearing apart worlds as a sultry witch that has thousands of boys drooling after her every move. Yet I was perfectly content with how I looked because it was perfect for my game play. You see, while most were off gallivanting on worlds inhabited by giants and fairies, going to battle with Players who duel as ancient wizards who can kill you with one flick of their magic staff, I had decided to pursue a different kind of online life. But I’m not the only one, the You-niverse, after all, was made and sold as a virtual world completely personal to you, you could fill your virtual space with whatever worlds you wanted as they were just one click (and Xdollars) away.
When I was too young to fit into a pair of goggles, to keep me entertained my mother would leave me in the real world with only some headphones and a vast selection of audio books to act as my babysitter. I discovered mysteries as soon as I could choose my own books. I was three years old; listening to Nancy Drew as she discovered the ghost next door was just a weird old man with a vengeance, when I decided there and then that’s what I wanted to do with my life. Good old Nancy, the inspiration for my avatar, kept me entertained to the ripe old age of 7. But by then I had grown out of the basic format of those novels. You see, in the old world, where children went to school and learned to read and write above just the simple necessities, I would have been considered a child prodigy. So I would sneak out of my house, while my family were busy playing away, and walk to the crumbling old library, I would spend my days there reading all sorts of books, teaching myself any skill available. But mostly I would find myself in the mystery section. So that’s why, when I turned 14, and I got given my own X.R.Y world to make my own, I knew exactly what I would do with it.
With the 100 Xdollars I received with my rig I bought 3 games. Murder Miss-Stories, Nancy Drew Files and Lady Killers. All the games were made by ladies and had a feminist twist and I loved every one, and I was pretty good at them, by 16 I had entered and won 100s of virtual murder mystery competitions and gained not only some big Xbucks but a lot of notoriety too. I was the most renowned Avatar in my field of worlds and in just over 2 years I’d become the main earner in my family. My career was in the virtual space but it put real food on our table.
I was reminded of that, when my mother cleared her throat and muted the television, I turned around to hear her say “Candice, baby, don’t you think it’s about time you get to work?” Silently I took that as my cue to get up off the floor and go upstairs to my room, or what I call, my office. Inside, I placed my gear on and powered up X.R.Y. The first thing I saw when I logged in was my message board, this wasn't unusual for me; success garners attention after all. But one message pulled my focus, the name MattyPattyPal with the subject simply stating: Help me. It wasn’t the subject that really bothered me, it was the tag; I knew it because I’d heard it all day. He was one of the six. The message had been sent a few days before but I knew he was the last of them to die, just last night. With suddenly clammy hands, I opened it and began to read its contents.
I need your help. My friends are dead, and I think I’m next. You only get one shot. Don’t blow it.
The message contained an already purchased game, EdenofOrthal, the game all six boys were playing when they died. I had goosebumps all over my body; my breath was coming hot and fast, my mind was racing, Matty knew he was going to die and what did he do, he didn’t go to the police, he came to me. A mystery, a real mystery dropped into my message box, and I was going to solve it.
But first I needed supplies. EofO was the most popular world inside the You-niverse for boys aged 14-28 being a PvP world where anyone was fair game. The story goes that a wise old wizard named Orthal was tired of Saxos, the world he came from, so he used his power to create a new world, an Eden if you will. As years past however, the evil Saxoners found a way to break through to Orthal’s Eden in want of killing him and taking his Land. Orthal used up the last of his powers to go into hiding, leaving behind clues for the revolutionaries to find him and stop the evil Saxoners. In the game, you get to choose who you’ll be: A Saxoner or A Rebel. But whatever I chose, I knew I’d have to be heavily armed.
I exited the message board and logged into The Corridor walking over to the Mall door, inside was the biggest shopping mall to ever grace the human world, well, technically. Virtual shops lined every inch of the world, available for anyone in the You-niverse. But to have what was inside, well that came for a price. There was a special store for what I needed called EquiptofOrthal, it had everything from wand making, to guns bigger than my arms. I went simple but efficient, sleek body armour, and easily disguisable but effective weapons. Before leaving the mall I made one last stop in preparation of what could come.
Back inside The Corridor I set up EdenofOrthal and made my way towards its door. It stood out compared to my other world doors, covered in ivy and glowing under the crack, I reached out for the ancient doorknob and pulled, making my way into a whole new world.
I spent my first days talking to other players, asking questions and trying to make connections, but it was harder than I thought it would be. I wasn’t stupid, I knew why. I stood out, not because I was a newbie, because I was a woman. The statistics weren’t lying, but they didn’t tell me how uncomfortable I’d be here. Nobody wanted to talk with me, I wasn’t asked to join any quests, and you would think that meant I didn’t get challenged, but I did. On Thursday night, I was talking to a level 26 warlock about Matty, and I was finally getting somewhere. DionysisTheIII was telling me how he knew Matty and had been on a few quests with him, Matty apparently was a valuable player. Just as I was getting into the good stuff my avatar was thrown forcefully into a stone wall. “Woman, you do not belong here!”A hulking Ogre stood across from me, in battle pose and as I stood up he continued to talk. “You shall prove your worthiness, by battling me!” His voice echoed across the land as spectators began to watch on. I scoffed, indignant “I don’t want to fight you, I’m here to save you, all of you, people are dying and I am the only one trying to figure out why!”
He was speechless, they all were, and one by one they all began to walk away, ashamed of their sexist actions, including the ogre, who mumbled a sorry as he left. DionysisTheIII patted me on the back stating simply, “good for you, he challenged me once, I lost,” as he walked away.
Things got better from there; on Sunday I spoke to some of Matty’s friends Stylis33 and Magnarok_AG, they told me that the last time they saw him he spoke of a secret quest he’d been invited on, and that he was nervous to “finish all this”. I left them straight after as I needed to think, once again I was covered in goose-bumps, luckily I had turned off my You-camera, as I didn’t want people to be able to read my expressions, while investigating. I had it, my first lead, and my Nancy-senses were tingling. This quest must be important.
Monday morning as I logged in another curious message caught my attention.
It is I, Orthal. I have been watching you, and I know that you are the one. You have been chosen to go on the quest of Orthal! Others have tried but failed to find me, you only have one shot. Find me where the stone meets the water.
The quest, this is what the boys were talking about, and that phrase “you only have one shot,” that’s exactly what Matty had said in his message! This was it; I was going to solve the mystery. I came out of the game and started to prepare. If I was right, when I lose this quest, the murderer will come here, I don’t know how yet but I know he will. I locked the front door and made sure not to put earphones on, just in-case.
At the bottom of the message was a link, at first I didn’t understand why I had to access the game through it, instead of just through the door, but it all made sense once I clicked the link and it sucked me back into the world of Eden. I didn’t notice straight away but after a few seconds I spotted the blinking light that told me my You-camera had been remotely turned on. I had been hacked, and now, I was being watched. I made sure not to show I knew, carrying on towards the giant stone in the middle of river Geiffel. The clue led me there. As I got closer I noticed that the stone was actually an archway and I knew, to continue on, I had to walk though.
That’s when I heard it, the click of someone unlocking the front door. My hand twitched as I went to grab what was in front of me but then remembered I was being watched, I had to wait for the right moment. I entered a dark alley as I listened to footsteps coming up the stairs. A shadow of a person appeared and I knew as I got closer to them, in reality, they got closer to me. Just as my door started to creak open I saw him, DionysisTheIV. That was all the proof I needed. In real time I whipped off my goggles and grabbed the gun I had ordered that day in the Mall. Quickly I turned around to face the killer, but what I saw made me hesitate. A young girl, perhaps my age stood in front of me holding a gun ready to kill, the other holding a phone, my face visible on the screen. The real world suddenly became a PvP zone and I knew, I had to shoot before she shot me. I held my breath, and pulled the trigger...
It’s been two days, and only now, does it all make sense. Sissy or DionysisTheIV, had been taken into an ambulance, shoulder bleeding. I rode with her, desperate to find out why, although I already had a good idea. Sissy had logged into the You-niverse for the first time and like me was excited to try her hand at some new games. But poor 14 year old Sissy wasn’t prepared for the misogyny that awaited her or the battle with an ogre that left her powered out and humiliated, she begged her parents for the 15 Xdollars that would buy her a new life but she knew this time when she came back to EdenofOrthal it would have to be different. So she came back as DionysisTheIV, the spelling mistake a clever tell, and she became a level 26 Warlock before realising it wasn’t enough. She needed revenge. She created a wormhole that sent people into her own mini game within the world and even managed to hack her way through to 7 peoples hard-drives with one link, turns out I’m not the only child prodigy around! She went on her very own Saxoner Killing spree. That was of course, until I got involved, she knew I was getting too close to the answer and so sent me the same email she’d sent the 6 boys hoping to get rid of the threat. But she underestimated me. Later, in the ambulance she would tell me it was only fitting she got caught by another girl and that if she had to go down, at least it was like that.
And me, well I started getting far more requests for help after that, but I’d decided to retire from real life sleuthing and get back to the You-niverse kind. And that, is how I solved The Case of The Virtual Killer.