NOTE: This story is currently undergoing an extensive proofreading process. May take a few months, depending on how much time I have. In the meantime, enjoy the skeleton.
Life. It sounds simple, right? Get out of bed in the morning, survive, and go to bed. It may seem like the best way to experience life; but the truth is far from evident. Life is to watch as the human body performs its daily activities: churning and dissolving food, the rush of blood after a long sprint, the taste of mutton and pork in a hearty meal. To witness life, to be a part of life, is life. Even the taste of the blood after accidentally biting your tongue is… almost refreshing, in a way. It lets you know that you’re still alive.
A bit melodramatic for this story, though. Allow me to punch through the heart of the plot: I am dead. Plain and simple. The cause, on the other hand, is far more convoluted. Now heed the warnings of the dead, and never make the same mistakes.
You know the Elder Scrolls series, right? Well, as most of you may know, the first two games, namely Arena and Daggerfall, had been released for free. All it took was a DOS emulator and a bit of know-how to operate fluidly.
Now I wanted to give Daggerfall a shot. The procedure was simple: download Daggerfall from Bethesda’s website, download a good DOS emulator, and play after a complicated and repetitive sequence of steps.
From the offset, nothing at all went wrong. I went through the opening sequence and FMV, chose my character (a male Breton knight I had named Captain Barrels; don’t ask), and began the game. After that point, I underwent the same sequence of steps any newcomer would go through: explore the first dungeon, die, get pissed off because I never saved, restart, explore again (with liberal saving), exit after a number of attempts, and fast travel to Daggerfall.
Days passed, and I finally got word from the person I was supposed to meet: Lady Brisienna. I went to meet with her, and she spoke of my mission. What particularly interested me, however, was her mention of the ghost of King Lysandus, who was slain in the battle of Balfiera before the events of the game. She mentioned the ghost would haunt the city streets at night, and that I’d do best to avoid him at all costs.
Ignoring her advice, I foolishly decided to charge into Lysandus head-on. Amid his wails of “VEEEENGEANCE” and the chuckles of his little sidekick – who was no larger than a rat – I learned the difficulty of the game the hard way.
Frustrated, I figuratively put the game down for a while. That same day, with nothing I’d be bollocksed to do, I went to the web to find information on Lysandus. King of Daggerfall, yadda yadda, killed in Balfiera, yadda yadda… but wait…
The wiki provided ample topics on King Lysandus. However, there was nothing at all detailing that diminutive henchman of his. I asked around on forums, and nobody could confirm that they had seen him. Bizarre, aye. But in no way disheartening.
That night, however, I awoke to a rustling. The ghostly imaginary henchman of Lysandus was standing next to my bed, watching me as I slept. The strangest part of this encounter, however, was that I felt no fear; only curiosity. I asked, “Are you going to kill me?”
“No, no, that is not my job,” he replied with a nasal accent. “I am but a herald; a forerunner, if you will. It is my job to inform you of my liege’s arrival.”
“Lysandus?” my stomach churned, “What does he want? When is he coming?”
“Your fate shall be determined at the festival of Sheogorath. Tarry not, my friend. Your fortune shall soon turn.”
I awoke to a start. The vision of that little bugger was nothing but a false awakening. Who’d be dumb enough to believe King Lysandus could exist in real life?
Immediately the next morning, I booted up the game, unsullied by the previous night’s experience. I journeyed to a graveyard near Daggerfall, and proceeded to wipe out the inhabitants for a modest amount of loot.
The first rat I found, I took a swing at it. And again, and again. I hit it the fourth time. Now things were getting strange. Instead of the little spurt of blood that would come out of the sprite, there was… nothing. I had just flung the rat back and heard the trademark squeal. I continued hitting it, and no blood erupted from the sprite. Finally, I killed it.
Now, normally, when you see a dead rat in the game, it would be bundled up where it died, with trickles of blood down its side. Instead, there were nothing but empty textures, flowing down the side of the deceased sprite.
One thing you should know about Daggerfall is the “Childgard” feature. During installation, you can activate Childgard, and this will essentially deactivate all blood and nudity within the game. Although I could have sworn I never activated it (nudge nudge, wink wink… sorry, I’m not a pervert), and even if I did, it most certainly would not look this… broken.
Shrugging it off, I cleared the cemetery and travelled to the nearest temple of Kynareth. What I saw made me doubt the true nature of my actions: the dancer, who was usually nude, was still nude. Saving my game, I equipped my Morningstar (this is not to be misconstrued) and promptly struck her with it. No blood, but still a great, if extremely pixelated, pair.
The wind began to blow outside my room. Carried by the wind, I could have sworn I heard the faint chant of “vengeance” blow in through my window.
That night, I woke up again. The herald of Lysandus was waiting at my bedside yet again.
“What do you want now?” I muttered in frustration.
“Vengeance is a ploy. He seeks no vengeance; merely justice. To waste a life is to waste rights to a life. He seeks you to reclaim his rights.”
This was pure nonsense. What, was he going to kill me? How? He’s a character in a video game. The little herald here was just a figment of my dreams. There was nothing he could do.
I was fatally mistaken.
Years passed in-game, and finally the festival of Sheogorath was upon Daggerfall… again. Insanity reigned, as the followers of Sheogorath performed their bizarre rituals. I thought nothing of it, though. At the time, I was locked in an epic struggle with a centaur just outside a nearby village (by “nearby,” I mean a few real-time hours walk. The game world is, after all, the actual size of the UK). The centaur’s annoying repetition of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” as if he was some sort of pimp Santa Claus was suddenly interrupted by the screeching of static in my ears. I ripped the earphones out of my ears and yelled in surprise.
As my ears recovered from the shock, the word “vengeance” was repeated every few seconds. Over time, however, it gradually changed.
“Vengeance; vengeace; vengice; vesgice; vestice; jestice; justice.”
The words startled me, and I bit my tongue in shock. His final words rang out, clear as daylight: “Your life… is forfeit.”
I moved my tongue around my mouth. It was a powerful bite, just barely lacking the force to cut it in two. And yet… I could taste nothing. There was no blood in my mouth. Normally, I would have remained unperturbed, but given the circumstances, I did what I would never thought I would do. Just to make sure.
I slit my own wrist. I felt no pain. I saw no blood. I had been drained. My lifeblood had been sapped from me. My life was forfeit, and he took it from me.
He took it.
I could not bleed. I could not be harmed.
But to feel life; the joys and pains of life.
To taste blood…
To feel blood…
To be alive…