In books we live

Submitted into Contest #186 in response to: Write a story within a story within a story within a ...... view prompt

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Romance Fantasy Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Baffling…! Infinite possibilities and all we do is indulge in the same dopamine shenanigans as we do in real life, only more absurd…

Maybe I should build my own server… But that is so difficult. I really regret not delving deeper into programming when I was younger.

Su stretched his legs. In real life his toes twitched a little. He was laying on his couch like he had just been knocked out. This was the way he liked to lay.

At least the people in the last server talked to me. Right before going back to doing it on an amount of drugs that would kill you in real life.

Hm, one more server before going to bed. This one has the icon of a fox on it, it can’t be that bad.

He spawned in a big wooden house with doors everywhere. A yellow door on the ceiling, a door with a crooked knob right on the floor, and four huge open doors with writing above them: [NORTH], [EAST], [SOUTH], [WEST].

A message popped up in his screen. Su frowned. Hmm, these kinds of popups kind of mess with the immersion I’m trying to escape reality here you know. Welp, it better be important.

Warning: This server utilizes a mod to increase the amount of LSD that MetaVR gives you in real life to completely immerse yourself into the kingdoms! Click here to accept the Terms of Agreement or click here to disconnect.

Su chuckled at the fact that the server owner added ‘in real life’ to the warning. Then he remembered how brain shrimped most of the people he met on other servers were.

He clicked on accept.

Something soft thudded on Su’s head. He perked up and grabbed it from his head.

“Wow, this letter looks incredibly real, you did a real good job there with the immersion man.”

He pointed up in the air. He always thought the server owner was secretly watching him on any server he joined.

In real life, Su’s pinkie twitched as he opened the letter and read what was inside.

Hello there friend. You have wandered into Foxia :) This server was created by a fantasy lover who wants to forget that he is playing a game. And is happy to do his best to give you the same experience!

So of course, I’m very sorry for breaking your immersion in the beginning with the pop-up Curse the law! Just kidding, I wouldn’t want to mess with your MetaVR without your permission :).

Take a good look around you. When you are ready, find and head into the portal that spawned somewhere [EAST] for you. Don’t worry, it’s not too far away. This portal will teleport you to a random place so you can begin building your Kingdom!  

Su wondered whether this was an automated message or whether only he got this message upon joining the server.

Well, this is a pretty cool guy. He seems to really care about the experience his server gives.

Su’s eyes brightened as he wandered around. Outside the house was a garden covered with vivid moss and pungent flowers. Su went back into the house and headed towards the [EAST] door. I guess it’s time to find my portal.

He startled a bit as he noticed a girl wandering around the beginning area.

Grey hairs. She seems aloof. I will immediately inspect her… with my monocular. Su grinned, a bit of saliva dripped out of his mouth in real life.

He pointed a monocular at her and inspected her… very closely.

The girl noticed him and they stared at each other for a while. Su looked in her eyes through the monocle, bright green eyes stared back at him. Then he looked down for a while and up again. When she approached him he walked away towards the [EAST] door.

He heard her footsteps stop and paused briefly.

“Here” she rummaged around her satchel and thew some red glowing stones on the floor next to Su and smiled at him.

“I’ll be going back to my kingdom now.” She went towards the [NORTH] door.

Su picked up the stones and his eyes widened. He put them in his pants and headed towards the [EAST] door.

#

The wooden floor creaked under Su's feet as he approached the door. He found himself in a vast expanse of wilderness. Trees towered above him, their leaves rustling in the breeze, and the sun was beginning to set in the distance. A path of cobblestones led off to his right, disappearing into the dense foliage.

What… the door was the portal? Su frowned. Then a feeling of freedom overwhelmed him and made him forget the beginning area. Lush wilderness stretched out before him, a seemingly endless expanse of untamed beauty. Rolling hills and distant mountains dot the horizon, their rugged peaks reaching up to touch the sky.

Su took in a deep breath and felt the coolness of air fill his lungs, refreshing. He began walking down the path, marvelling at the intricate details of the environment around him. The sound of a nearby stream caught his attention, and he veered off the path towards it.

As he approached the water, he noticed a small clearing with a cosy-looking cottage nestled amongst the trees. Smoke was curling lazily from the chimney, and the smell of cooking food wafted through the air. Su's stomach grumbled… he felt hunger.

He approached the cottage and knocked on the door. It swung open to reveal a kindly-looking old woman with a beaming smile. "Hello, dearie! Come in, come in. You look like you could use a bite to eat."

The old woman welcomed Su into her cottage and offered him a seat by the fire. She introduced herself as Hilda and offered him some warm stew and fresh bread. Su gratefully accepted and they chatted as he ate.

Hilda was a round and jovial lady and Su found himself opening up to her about his real-life struggle about not knowing his real parents and feeling out of place.

When he finished speaking, Hilda reached out and took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You aren’t alone.”

After finishing his meal, Su thanked Hilda and prepared to leave. As he stood up, she handed him a small pouch. "This is a gift for you, dearie. Keep it safe on your travels."

Su took the pouch and peeked inside. It was filled with some sort of powder. "What is it?" he asked.

Hilda smiled mysteriously. "That, my dear, is a special blend of herbs and spices. It will help you see things more clearly and aid you in your journey."

Su was intrigued but also a bit skeptical. "Thank you, Hilda. I will keep it safe."

The sun had set, and the stars twinkled overhead. He turned to head back towards the path, he noticed a sideroad that he hadn't noticed before. Roots of a tree had formed a path, intricately patterned with vines and leaves. Su approached it, hesitating for a moment before following it.

A thought fell into his head: Welcome to Regimen, in books we live.

He started occasionally noticing books hanging from some trees. He smiled.

Wow, that looks so good! It almost looks like those trees grew those books themselves. And the choice of colours of every individual book… It’s perfect.

He noticed that some of the titles seemed eerily familiar. In fact, he was sure that he had read some of these books before, in his real life.

This person has the same taste in books as I do…?

#

As he reached the end of the path, he came across a small library tucked away in a grove of trees. The library was made entirely of wood and seemed to blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment. Su pushed open the door and stepped inside. The shelves were lined with an impressive array of books, from classic novels to obscure volumes on esoteric subjects. A few other adventurers were scattered throughout the library, engrossed in their reading.

Su browsed the shelves, pulling out a few books that caught his eye. He sank into a comfortable armchair and began to read. Hours passed as Su lost himself in the world of books. He read stories of adventure and romance, tales of heroes and villains, and histories of far-off lands. Some books even felt so real it was as though he was reading his own real life.

He felt as if he could stay in the library forever, exploring the infinite worlds contained within its walls. Eventually, though, the thought of what lies waiting outside intrigued him more than the magically immersive books. He made his way back outside.

His eyes widened as he stared into bright green eyes waiting for him outside the library.

“I see you like it here.” She smiled warmly.

#

Su was taken aback by the sudden appearance of the girl with the green eyes, but he couldn't help but feel drawn to her kind smile. "Yes, it's amazing," he replied, gesturing frantically towards the library. "I've never seen anything like it in any of the other servers I've played on."

The girl's smile widened. "I'm glad you like it. I built this library myself, you know. It's one of my favourite places in Regimen."

Su was impressed. "You built this entire library by yourself?"

The girl nodded. "Yes, I've been playing on this server for a while now. I've built many things along the way. I spent most time on Regimen, but you’ll find some other cute little builds from me here and there around the world.”

Su couldn't help but feel a sense of admiration for the girl's dedication to the server.

"So you must be the Queen of Regimen then. Do you mind showing me around some more?"

His hips cracked as he bowed.

The girl's eyes lit up. "Of course! There's so much more to see. Follow me. It looks like you could go for a walk”.

#

As they walked through the dense forests and lush fields of Regimen, the girl pointed out various landmarks and structures she had built. Su was amazed at the creativity and attention to detail that went into each one. He was so inspired that he visualized nature going through everything she built.

The brewery looks so great! Look at that tree over there. I bet it would look amazing if that tree grew through that brewery. And then maybe some vines hanging down from the branch could enter the brewery so that you can climb up. Or you could build a pond right next to the brewery, with magic lights coming out of them… of course the magic lights would come from the leftover potions that we dispose of in the brewery.

They arrived at a more densely built place as the girl told Su stories about her adventures on the server. She had battled fierce monsters, braved treacherous terrain, and even formed alliances with other players. But his attention always went somewhere else when she started talking about other players.

Eventually, they arrived at a charming castle. The girl gestured towards it.

“I want to show you one more thing before we go inside.”

As he followed her a feeling of deep peace filled his heart. Glowing vines caressed his face as he walked onward. They stared at a beautiful grave with an array of different flowers and plants growing around it.

Here lies Ashlan Jade.

“This is from a show I watched.”

Su frowned. That’s so anti-immersive, please don’t talk about real life. He wanted to say. But he smiled and said; “This place really fills me with peace. It’s a beautiful cemetery.”

She smiled. “The show is every full moon at the Akatsuki kingdom. We have linked our portals so we can watch it together next time if you want.”

Su looked at her for a while and nodded.

“I’m sorry but I have to go now.” She said.

“Could I join your kingdom? I’m but a lowly thief but mayhap I could be of service to you.” He made a respectful gesture.

“Of course, remember those stones I gave to you? Just eat them and you will become part of Regimen.”

Su rummaged through his pants and threw half of the stones in his mouth. He opened his mouth wide as if to ‘say here we go!’ But before he could bite down she pushed him and the stones fell out of his mouth.

“I was joking of course, you’re funny aren’t you?” She frowned as if to say, ‘you jerk!’

Su chuckled. “You think I was actually going to eat them? It’s tuned down of course but I think the feeling of rocks in my belly wouldn’t feel very nice.”

“Hey, now you’re breaking immersion.” She smiled and gestured; [tut, tut]

“Well you’re going to do the biggest immersion break by leaving.” Su smirked. “But of course we all have a real life that we have to go to sometimes. We all have to eat.”

She smiled and agreed. “I will see you later.” She sat on the ground and folded her legs into a lotus position. “Oh and by the way, I let you into Regimen, from now on you’re general Sun Tzu of Regimen.”

Su’s eyes brightened, he waved as she slowly fainted away from Regimen.

A sound fell down in his head. “By the way, my name is Kronos.”

#

Oh my god, I am in love with what you did to the brewery, and the castle too! Do you think we could do something similar to the library? I have always wanted a tree on top of the library with roots hanging down from the ceiling, but I find it so difficult to get it to look realistic. Only if you have time of course. By the way, I am usually online at around 6pm my time. I think we are in different time zones right? My time zone is EST (Sorry for breaking the immersion). I hope I will see you again soon! I really liked meeting you that day :).

Su smiled as he read the sign planted in front of the castle. He knew they lived in different time zones. He knew a lot more things about Kronos now. For example at what exact time she joins and leaves every day. He also knew that he was the only other active member of Regimen.

What a beautiful idea! The roots hanging from the ceiling could have books with some of my writing in them. I could remake that beautiful Egyptian tree I saw the other day, where did I see that again? Ah it doesn’t matter, let’s head to the library.

The same sense of awe filled Su’s heart when he entered the library.

I should read a few books for extra inspiration, Su thought.

There was one particularly ancient looking book floating in the middle of the library.

Seems like there’s no other people around… I can actually read this book now! People always stare at me when I try to read that book, how inconsiderate.

He approached the book and for the first time, he noticed writing engraved on the cover.

The lonely boy

Damn this is probably one of those eerie books. I always love those, they are the most immersive.

Su smiled as he turned around the first few pages, they were blank. He couldn’t sit down in his favourite chair as this book was somehow tied to the middle of the library. But it didn’t matter since he was immersed after glancing at the first page with writing.

#

Su suddenly snapped his eyes open.

Wow, I don’t even know what’s real anymore. It felt like that book just pulled me into another reality… What if Kronos wrote this book? The writing feels kind of similar to hers. Su Smiled. Ah, one last page:

In books we live

When she tried to log off, it did not work.

“Oh shit do you think this is a bug?”

“I think so, could you maybe try to call my phone in real life? I think my mother will hear my phone. I sent you my phone number a while ago remember?” She smiled but was obviously anxious.

“Yes I remember! Sorry for not responding to that by the way, I wasn’t sure if you expected a response… We’ll get this fixed, don’t you worry!” He wanted to hug her but he smiled and logged of.

Saliva was dripping from his open mouth as he awakened from his couch.

An eerie feeling creeped up on his back as he looked through his messages to find her phone number.

He kept scrolling and scrolling.

Uhm.

He immediately put his MetaVR headset back on. But as he logged on he was welcomed by vast wilderness. Regimen was nowhere to be found.

He froze…

But a sound dropped in his head. “In books we live.”

He desperately searched for a book but couldn’t find any. Everyone had been playing MetaVR for the past decennia so books were a rarity. He ran out of his house into nature. He wandered and found an eerie paperbark tree. He started to rip at the tree and his fingers started to bleed. Be put the bark of the paperbark tree together into something that represented a book. He smiled and hummed and started writing with his fingers about him and Kronos, building together in Regimen, as if nothing horrible had ever happened.

He lied next to the paperbark and curled up in a ball. A magical wind blew away the paper, Su saw a flash of writing on the paperbarks that was not written with his blood. They were bright shining letters that said.

“In books we live.”

Su smiled and closed his eyes, where he woke up? I think that is written in a book somewhere.

February 25, 2023 04:52

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05:31 Feb 25, 2023

Wanted to clarify one thing :) Su smiled as he read the sign planted in front of the castle. He knew they lived in different time zones. He knew a lot more things about Kronos now. For example at what exact time she joins and leaves every day. He also knew that he was the only other active member of Regimen. It is very subtle but an important detail to the story: Su knows exactly when Kronos is on but makes sure he is not online / nowhere to be found when she is. This is why the sign is planted with her message for him wishing they'll mee...

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