First of this year’s Thirteen Tales, featuring Noel the moogle getting engrossed in a video game.
Meanwhile… At the Lair of Dr. Callyco
“Quick! Up! Now right! Go left! No! I mean my left!” The kitten in a lab coat was sitting on a couch directly next to Dr. Cutie Pup who was holding a game controller.
“What do you mean your left! We have the same left!” Dr. Cutie Pup threw up his hands as the TV flashed the game over screen the same time.
“Oh that’s right, I forgot.” Dr. Callyco stuck his tongue out. “You know it’s just so easy to get engrossed into these games.”
“That doesn’t actually explain it at all.” Dr. Cutie Pup rolled his eyes.
“Oh but it does! And tonight we have a tale that talks just about that! After all… Games have certainly advanced since their first creation… And now with video games the player can have direct agency in the world, taking control of the story, they can become personally invested so to speak… And as technology advances it becomes more and more possible for new levels of immersion in the game.”
“Yeah provided someone isn’t shouting what to do nonstop over your shoulder.” Dr. Cutie Pup crossed his arms grumpily.
“But… have you ever played a game that was so immersive it felt real? Where the border between fiction and reality start to break down. Have you ever felt truly inside the game?” Dr. Callyco asked.
“Ah, so we’re going that direction…” Dr. Cutie Pup tossed the controller aside. “But did you really have to wreck my current run to get here?”
“And this brings us to today’s guest… A moogle by the name of Noel.” Dr. Callyco continued. “Upon trying a new game, he finds himself enveloped in a fantasy that consumes his whole world. The border between reality and the game are completely shattered… And now the game itself is his reality. And Noel conquer the game and escape its reality… Or is he doomed to spend all of eternity on an endless quest. And so… I present to you our first tale. The Tale of the Winter Hero.”
Thirteen Tales From Dr. Callyco
The Tale of the Winter Hero
Written By CalexTheNeko
Noel blinked in surprise as he saw the game had already finished downloading. He had literally just clicked the download link a few seconds ago and it was already installed. That was a bit weird… He knew he was playing a beta copy of the game, but he assumed that the file size would still be closer to that of an actual game and take more time to download.
“Well… Hope that means it’s not just a menu screen and nothing else kupo!” The light brown furred Ivalice moogle sat alone at a desk in the corner of his living room. He was dressed in his usual blue robes and attire with the matching hat atop his head. His legs kicked back and forth over the edge of his chair as he stared at the computer screen waiting for the game to load up. After about two seconds his screen changed to reveal the title screen. It showed a snow-covered forest at night with the words ‘The Eternal Winter’ displayed.
The Eternal Winter was an upcoming fantasy RPG that Noel actually didn’t know a lot about. Other than a few teasers the developers had been very secretive about the exact nature of the game… Only promising it would be a truly immersive experience. With the actual release date still a year out, the developers had run a contest to give people a chance to play a beta copy of the game. That was how Noel came to be playing the game today.
The moogle clicked at the mouse trying to get it to move past the title screen. The game didn’t respond. He tried hitting a few different keys on his keyboard instead. Still nothing… Maybe the file really had only included a title screen.
“Oh come on kupo! Let me play already!” Noel shouted in annoyance. Suddenly, the game screen changed. It showed a darker forest and a voice began to speak.
“Long ago the Enchanted Forest was divided among five tribes who shared its bounty equally. There were the mice, though small in stature large of heart. Squirrels, agile acrobatics who ruled the trees. Raccoons, masters of shadow who moved through the night. Rabbits, wardens of wit known for their speed. And weasels, sly tricksters with silver tongues. For time, their territory in the Enchanted Forest was divided equally… But Disharmony between the tribes began to grow. Each tribe sought to expand their territory, yet none were willing to compromise. Days of peace gave way as the tribes began resorted to force to obtain their desire. Soon the entire forest was enveloped in war. No one remembered who committed the first act of aggression that started the war… But no one would ever forget how the war ended. A devil from the sky. It arrived with a winter storm, drawn to the Enchanted Forest by the dark impulses of its inhabitants it; descended upon all its in denizens. The devil bested the champions of all five tribes and declared itself the sovereign king of the forest. The devil ascended to his throne atop the tallest tree in the forest and declared himself the Horned King, and with his ascension an Eternal Winter began. Before his might the tribes were left with only two choices… Serve or be destroyed.”
“Taking a bit to get to the game kupo…” Noel muttered.
“Centuries have passed, but the Horned King still rules the frozen forest. You, a youth of your own tribe have never seen a Spring. You had no reason to believe you would life would rise above anything more than toiling away in the snowfields desperately hoping to find food for your family. But on your thirteenth name day a single act of cruelty forever intertwined your own fate with the Horned King’s.”
As the narrator finished, the screen faded to black. A single line of blue text appeared on the screen. “To what tribe were you born?” The text stayed perfectly still on the black screen.
“Uhhhh…” Noel tried clicking his mouse, then hitting the spacebar on the keyboard. The prompt never advanced. Was the game frozen? No selection was coming up at all. “Come on kupo what’s wrong!” He tried to close the game, but neither escape or Alt F4 did the trick. It must have frozen up his whole system. With a sigh, he quickly got up from his chair to push down on the computer’s power button to power it off. It wouldn’t turn off. “Okay how do you even freeze up a computer that badly kupo!?” With no other choice left… Noel pulled the plug.
The computer itself appeared to shut down… But the monitor stayed lit up with the same message across it.
“Ok how is that even possible kupo!?” Noel through up his hands. “Ugh… I never even got to see what the character models looked like, or if there was any major difference between mouse and-“ Noel froze mid-sentence as the image on his computer monitor changed. The old texts vanished as new information appeared.
‘Among the smallest of the tribes the mice have had it the hardest under the Horned King’s rule. Since you were old enough to walk you’ve been taken out to hunt for vegetation that still lives, hoping to find nuts or berries that could survive the winter. Failure has always meant an empty stomach but is far from the worst fate. Many other creatures within the forest are also starving… And in their desperation are more than willing to take you for their prey. As a mouse, you’ve been raised to always value cautious and to keep your wits about you. You will never be stronger so you must survive by being wiser.’
“Wait… Is the game still going kupo?” Noel tilted his head. “But… How? The computer is unplugged and I never actually picked- ARGGGGGGHH!” The computer monitor suddenly glowed with an intensely bright light forcing Noel to throw his hands over his eyes.
And when the light faded… He was now in darkness. Something had fallen on top of Noel and blacked out his vision. It wasn’t very heavy… And it was soft like some kind of giant blanket. Noel pushed around at the edges until he eventually found his way out of it… And at that point there were far too many things wrong at once to process them at once.
For starters… He wasn’t inside his own home anymore… And instead was outside in a frozen snow-covered landscape. Said landscape was also rather gigantic, with barren trees and snow-covered bushes reaching high into the sky above him. It was also rather cold… And a large part of that was due to the fact that he was now completely naked! His clothes were nearby… But barely recognizable. The strange fabric he had been stuck underneath was his own hat! And it was currently sitting atop his other clothes which were far bigger than his body. Why was he so small!? And…
Noel paused as he looked over his own body realizing there were more wrong things to observe. He wasn’t just small… His wings and pom were gone. He has a long wormlike tail and his once rabbit-like ears were now short and round. As if that wasn’t enough… His body seemed less developed… Almost like a child… Maybe somewhere around age thirteen.
“Okay what in the heck!?” Noel shouted.
“Noel! There you are!” A voice Noel didn’t recognize called out to him. A few moments later a darker furred mouse that was about twice his size scrambled out from the grass. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“What?” Noel tilted his head. “Do… I know you?”
“Of course! Don’t be silly!” The other mouse beamed. “I’m your uncle Mortimer! I’ve been raising you ever since your parents passed away!”
“I… don’t… Want?” Noel was trying to process everything that happened. He was a mouse, in a frozen forest, and now a crazy person was claiming to be his uncle.
“Yeah I took in both of you when you were just babies.” Uncle Mortimer nodded. “It makes me so proud to see you so grown up on your thirteenth name day. Come to think of it… Your sibling… They’re a year younger than you… Refresh my memory… Did you have a brother or a sister?”
“I don’t have either!” Noel through his arms up. “And can you please explain why I’m a mouse and what’s going on!”
“Oh, Noel, always such a kidder.” Uncle Mortimer laughed. “Now… Was it a brother or a sister?”
“I’m telling you I don’t-“ Noel tried to say.
“A brother or a sister?” Uncle Mortimer interrupted.
“Oh my gosh you’re like! Like!” Noel paused as his eyes grew wide with realization. “Like… An NPC in a video game…” He slapped a paw to his face. “I’m inside the game somehow. That’s what’s happening.”
“A brother or a sister?” Uncle Mortimer continued to repeat.
“Ugh, fine whatever! A sister I guess!” Noel responded.
“That’s right! Your sister Parker! She was waiting for you back in town, wanted to surprise you on your name day! Surely you’ve finished foraging by now and can head back.”
“Uh… Sure?” Noel was getting the feeling he had no choice but to agree in order to advance things.
“Wonderful! I’ll head back and let them know you’re coming!” Uncle Mortimer paused. “Wait… Noel… You didn’t come out here without any equipment at all did you? You know it’s not safe! There are predators everywhere! Not to mention rather ornery insects. Hmmmm, luckily I happen to have an old sword and cloak that are a bit too small for me to use these days.” Despite the fact that this Uncle Mortimer, like Noel was in fact naked except for his fur, he was now holding a bundled-up cloak and a sword in his arms that there was no possible way for him to have been storing on himself. “Go ahead, put these on… Do you need instructions on how to manage your equipment?”
“What? No! I think I can handle put on a cloak.” Noel rolled his eyes. He quickly grabbed the brown cloak and slid it over his shoulders, thankful for some warmth and then gripped the aged looking sword in one hand.
“Oh good! Since you know how to manage your equipment I’ll leave you be! Now… Remember if you get lost, just head north and that will get you back to town!” With that Uncle Mortimer turned and darted back into the grass disappearing.
“Thank goodness for skippable tutorials.” Noel muttered as he looked around. So… This was the world inside the game? Was there a way out? Or was he stuck here forever? Really… It looked like the only option right now was to progress through the game and hope he could pick up clues. He started to walk forward when.
“BZZZZZZZZZZT!” A large wasp flew out from the trees and dove straight for Noel with its stinger drawn.
“Seriously!?” Noel dove to the side just in time to avoid its stinger. The wasp flew back into the air circling around intending to come again. “I guess… What else would I expect low level enemies to be… Still, how the heck are bugs surviving in this winter?” Noel stood up, held up his sword and prepared to fight.
It was three hours before a very exhausted Noel managed to crawl his way into town, dragging his sword behind him. Someone seriously needed to work on the encounter rate in this game. That was ridiculous! But… Apparently, he had leveled up or something… Because now he knew how to toss small fireballs from his free hand. Sadly, that was far from the only fire in this forest today.
The town Noel reached wouldn’t have been considered impressive on the best of days… Maybe five or six huts made out of grass, hardly enough for a very large population to live in. And right now… Those huts were on fire. The sounds of screamed filled the air, though Noel couldn’t see anyone that the screams were coming from. The only person around… Was Uncle Mortimer, who laid face down in the middle of the town.
“N… Noel!” His uncle screamed.
“Are we seriously doing the doomed hometown thing?” Noel asked and walked over.
“Noel… The Horned King’s minions came. They demand a sacrifice from each tribe every year. Our village was chosen this year…”
“Seems like information I should have had already…” Noel muttered.
“Your sister was chosen…” Mortimer continued. “We tried to hide her… But they burnt the entire village to the ground and took her by force.”
“That seems like it happened really fast…” Noel muttered.
“Noel… You must not seek revenge…” Mortimer said. “The Horned King is too powerful… Legends say, only one who can unite the five tribes and restore harmony to the Enchanted Forest could ever hope to defeat him.”
“I see…” Noel could see where this is going.
“You should just forget about your sister, and head east to the Mouse Tribe Capital of Haystack. That just happens to be where the leaders of our own tribe live if someone was on some kind of diplomatic mission and wanted to start there… But you’d have to become some kind of local hero before ever meeting them by saving the town from some kind of disaster.”
“Laying on the foreshadowing a little thick there…” Noel muttered.
“It’s best to just go there to find work and shelter! The odds of any kind of disaster striking in that town that would need a hero is really low!” Mortimer coughed. “And with that… I bid you goodbye.”
“Wait… Are… Are you dying for real?” Noel for the moment forgot his annoyance with these prompts.
“Actually… I think I feel fine…” Mortimer sat up. “I’ll just stay here in the burnt out remains of our hometown, just in case you ever need someone to give you a recap of what’s happened so far or suggestions on where to go next.”
“That… Kind of ruins the drama…” Noel muttered. “I’m… Going to leave now.” With that the light brown mouse slowly left the town…
And thus the journey did begin.
70 Hours of Actual Gameplay Later
Noel was clambering up the side of the Tallest Tree, the silver Cloak of Heroes draped on his shoulders magically protecting him from the wind and cold. The holy sword Iron Oak was strapped to a belt on his waist as he finally reached the top branches of the tree. From here, he could see a hollowed-out hole in the trunk where two glowing red eyes observed him from.
“There you are!” Noel shouted. “Horned King! I’ve come to get my sister! Who’s name I’ve forgotten because I only heard it once! I united the five clans, saved the mouse city of Haystack from destruction by defeating your Iron Tortoise, fulfilled an ancient prophecy of the squirrels that led them to fabled bounty of lost acorns, entered the shadowy dream world and brought back the lost talisman that gave the raccoons their power, proved my chivalry and wits by solving the riddles and challenges of the Rabbit Elder and risked life and limb in the ultimate game of chance against the weasel king to win his own crown before returning it to get his respect. I dove to the bottom of a frozen lake to get the Cloak of Heroes, I found Iron Oak in by exploring the roots beneath the oldest tree and I learned the ultimate spell of Dawnlight by tracking down the Raven Witch who lives at the end of the woods. I have done everything, that can possibly be done in this game… So… Can we have our final boss fight now, and maybe I can go home?”
“You think your deeds impress me tiny warrior?” A raspy voice called out. Then a large brown and white own, with feathers like horn near its eyes stepped forth. Of course, the Horned King was nothing more than a Horned Owl. “I have existed since the birth of the universe! Time itself bends to my will! In the blink of an eye I can undo your deeds!” The owl spread his wings and all of reality seemed to blend and blur. Noel felt a sickening sensation in his stomach. It was as if everything in the world was suddenly stretching out away from him.
And then the sensation ended… And Noel realize the world had stretched out… Everything was bigger again and… And he couldn’t remember any of the spells he had learned on his journey! He looked over himself and discovered that wasn’t all… His body had gotten even smaller! Or… In this case, judging by his proportions younger! He couldn’t be older than five or six now! And as if that wasn’t enough! The Cloak of Heroes was gone, replaced with the starting cloak his uncle had given him, and Iron oak with the aged sword he began with… Of course, with his younger body it took two paws just to hold it steady.
“Even if you should redo your deeds, you will find it far more difficult in a darker world! Only one armed with the power of the Golden Hourglass can stand before my power.” The Horned King rasped. “Will you fight as you are now and die? Or futilely attempt to redo your pasts conquest and search for a power long lost to the forest!”
“Come on this is cheating!” Noel squeaked in a high pitched voice. “There was nothing to imply I needed an hourglass before coming to fight you! How was I supposed to know to even look for that!”
“I care not for your petty complaints!” The Horned King rasped. “My power is absolute and…. NO! THIS CAN NOT BE!” Fear suddenly filled his face. “I sense… A power even beyond the hourglass. It can’t be… The Seeds of Rejuvenation!?”
“Seeds of what?” Noel paused… Then pulled out a small seed from inside his cloak that was an odd emerald green color. “Wait you mean this? I found these all over the place… Kept expecting them to be important but no one ever really talked about them.”
“You have found all 400 Seeds of Rejuvenation?” The Horn King screeched. “Impossible! With those spring will finally come to the forest and my powers will fade!” As he spoke, on cue the snow on the branches around him and Noel began to melt as fresh green leaves began to grow in. The sun rose high into the sky, as the owl let out a squawk of terror before white lines began to glow over his entire body… And then he exploded into a ball of light.
“Well that happened…” Noel just stared dead ahead in disbelief. “Does that mean I win?”
“Noel!” The voice of a young girl squeaked as a young female mouse, probably around twelve years old crawled out of the hollow in the tree. “You saved me! He had planned to eat me! But somehow you defeated him before…” She paused. “Wait… Didn’t you used to be taller than me?”
“Don’t wanna talk about it.” Noel crossed his arms. “Stupid cheating owl. Bet he just had that spell just to sell strategy guides.”
“Right… Whatever that means…” His sister responded. “But you did it! You saved the entire Enchanted Forest! Finally, everything can go back to normal!”
The sun rose higher into the sky, producing beams of light that completely blinded Noel…
And then he was suddenly back in his own house again. The computer was turned off, and everything was as it should be… Except.
“Squeak!?” Noel looked down at himself, seeing he was still a little mouse kid. Being atop his computer chair was like being atop a cliff. “But I beat the game! Why didn’t I change back to normal!”
The answer was fairly simple. The game was in beta. There were still a few bugs to work out…. But sadly, as Noel was too small to reach or use his keyboard this one wouldn’t get reported.