Excerpt From The Mists of Arathia

Back in 2021, I entered a publishing competition hosted by Inkfort Press: the Publishing Derby.

The idea was that up to 100 writers could enter the competition, get a free book cover under an assigned alias, and start over from scratch without anyone knowing who they are. New name, new book, new platform. The writing had to be done by a certain date, and then the winners would come in different categories such as the most sales, the most reviews, the highest rated, and so on. I loved the idea and had to enter, especially because the cover for The Mists of Arathia was downright incredible.

But. As I am sometimes prone to doing, I took on too many projects and didn’t really have the time to write it… 😅

So I ended up asking if Alex would write it instead! For some reason he said yes, and the rest is history. What started as a solo project turned into a fun co-authorship. Up until the final day of the competition, we worked away on our little book: The Mists of Arathia. It was a small story, just an idea, and since then it has flourished so much more. In a series of 6 with more books coming, our idea developed into a fun fantasy world inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, classic fantasy, and a love for video games.

Alex is now publishing under the name Derrick Ward for his fantasy books.

About Derrick Ward

To bring my friends together during the pandemic, I got really into being a Dungeon Master. I looked up YouTube videos and spent a disproportionate amount of time catering to my players, building a world in which they’d fall in love with. One in which they could escape from their woes and worries and engage in a fantasy, if for a little while.

But then my creativity took me further. I wanted to tell a story. I wanted to create a story that mattered to my players, but we could never do it at the pace I wanted.

Then I saw a meme, “What if I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons by myself, what if I wanted to create stories and play through them by myself?” The response was, “That’s called writing a book.” I imagined a Key and Peele sketch about robbing a bank. “That’s called getting a job.”

Basically, if you want to tell a story, tell the story.

I have a passion for narrative and telling the story of the everyman. Here we follow Reynar, who struggles with a world not too much unlike our own, in which we attempt to break through the barriers between nature and humanity. Reality is shaped by forces which we cannot control. What if, instead of being dragged along by the current, we take control?

Welcome to Arathia, the world where every person can build the fantasy life of their dreams from the ground up.

After two years though, we decided to revisit this novella and beef it up a little. Now a deeper story that fully expresses itself and the greater world it’s a part of, we’re so proud to introduce you to the second edition of The Mists of Arathia!

Reynar the Woodsman lost everything when the Mists arrived.

The plague killed his wife, two-thirds of the population, and trapped Reynar in his dead-end village. Those who didn’t succumb to the illness were marked with cryptic black tattoos called Pitch, thrusting them into a world permanently changed by the addition of levels, skills, and monsters.

The easily flustered Glen is a butcher but has no business holding a sword. Back at home, John’s horde of siblings rely on his silent and dexterous talents for survival. Meanwhile the eccentric bushman, Samson, and his bizarre inventions freeze up in the face of danger.

But Samson is determined to pursue his outlandish idea: become adventurers and unlock the mysteries of the Pitch.

Without Rey, they’ll surely bumble themselves into an early grave.

However, nothing is as it seems. Guided by her mysterious quest log, Guinevere—a power gamer from another world—is set on confronting the true source of the Mists, no matter who gets in her way.

Time is running out. Will these unlikely heroes impede her, or help save their world?

For fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Terry Pratchett, Lunar Insurrection is an experimental GameLit/LitRPG series featuring a twist on the Isekai genre and a dark sense of humour. Each novella-length installment builds on the larger story and world.

***

Prologue

“Do you have a minute to spare to talk about our only salvation against our impending doom?”

Before the man finished asking the question, Guinevere knew what he was after. She had seen these zealots on the news; they were mostly a persistent group of people who used the opportunity created by the inconsistency of public transit, appearing as if from another dimension between the gaps of time when the bus was supposed to arrive and when it finally did to talk to you about The Saviour. In the past, they would have been peddlers of dogma; today they were more akin to a used car salesperson. Nobody wanted to talk at bus stops; it was common courtesy to understand that everyone minded their own business. It was best advised that you didn’t so much as look at someone else, let alone actually speak to them while you waited for the bus.

Guinevere kept her eyes trained on the road. If only she’d remembered to bring her earphones today, she might have avoided the unnecessary attention by having a plausible excuse not to hear him speak.

“I noticed you like reading, so I came to offer you some literature on The Saviour.”

She clutched her bookbag and checked the time on her watch. “The bus will be here any second. I’d rather not.”

“It won’t take but a moment of your time.” His wrinkled hand reached out, velvet skin brushing against Guinevere’s hand. “Besides, we both know if the bus is this late, it’s going to be at least another five minutes.”

She recoiled and leaned forward to look down the road for a sign of salvation from the zealous peddler. Cars drove by, but there was no brightly lit bus. Guen sighed, trying to fabricate a half-truth to disengage from the zealot. The streetlights flickered, along with the lights in each of the buildings around them. The rolling electricity outages began to affect more than just the high-density housing complexes. Without an easy escape and the pull of his intense eyes, she conceded that it would be safer to let him talk rather than risk a confrontation.

“Alright, if I take your pamphlet and listen to your shpiel, will you leave me alone?”

His jacket hood slipped down to reveal rows of pearly teeth. Tired eyes fell under loose bangs, and then a pamphlet appeared in Guen’s hand. “After we’re done, you’ll never be alone again. The Saviour will connect you with yourself. He’ll help you go beyond this world.”

“Yeah. I’ve heard the commercials.” Guen glanced at the pamphlet: New combination of medical and video game technology. An advanced VR experience brought to you by the Saviour Gaming Corporation! “I can’t afford to join your weird cult. And don’t talk to me about no hustle.”

“That’s the best part! It doesn’t cost anything. The Saviour Corp. has partnered with NGOs and charitable organizations to initiate low-cost initiatives which allow for early access testers to negotiate on any terms suitable for their financial status.”

“That’s not what the commercial said. The game is in the pre-order phase for tens of thousands of dollars per rig, and that’s before setup fees.”

The bus pulled around the corner. The tension in Guen’s shoulders loosened with the knowledge of surviving another bus stop without being stabbed. Most thieves likely didn’t believe she would be worth the hassle of all the blood because she didn’t look like she had any money.

“Yes, but I’m not talking about pre-orders.” The preacher leaned forward, blocking Guen’s view of the incoming bus. “I’m talking about early access testing. You’ll be among the first to play in the new world. You’ll be given the opportunity to provide feedback and prepare the way for future players.”

“There’s always a price for something.” Guen leaned farther over her seat. The bus was a block away, so she began to stand up. “If your game is so amazing, you shouldn’t have to be out here begging for game testers.”

A hand gently clasped the cuff of her jacket. “This wasn’t a random encounter. This is an offer, a place among the pioneers of the new world. You were selected for great things, Guinevere.”

Guen flicked her wrist away and stepped closer to the curb as the bus pulled up. The door opened, and the driver waved her in. She hopped on board and left the Saviour zealot behind.

“Sorry, power outages are affecting the city power now, too,” the driver apologized. “Only people that can afford electricity at these hours are fairer folk than we; find a seat.”

Guen scanned her pass and went down the row to the back of the bus. She sat and saw the Saviour zealot waving at her from outside as her bus accelerated away. A breeze whistled through the crack in the open window, and Guen stuck the pamphlet into the gap and wiggled it until the wind began to catch the paper. Only then did she realize how strange it was for the man to refer to her by name. She hadn’t told him by mistake, had she?

Curiosity got the better of her, and she pulled the papers in and opened them.

A transcendent advancement! Through a collaboration between the most advanced medical engineering and computer gaming technologies, Saviour Corporation brings you the next best gaming experience since the dawn of VR. Full immersion! We will transcend your consciousness to the next level, giving you untold access to realities beyond our own. Experience them personally, as if beyond your body.

“VR gaming has been around for years. This is the same dry old soapbox pitch they used to sell the first virtual reality consoles.”

A new combination of neurological technology and advances in quantum gaming. Our expert designers created an entirely new experience, one which taps into the complexities of a multiverse to provide an escape from the struggles of this world.

There was a loud ping when one of the other passengers pulled the cord to alert the bus driver to let them off at the next stop. The banner display on the bus read: Downtown Library Terminal. Guen stuffed the pamphlet into her bag next to the books she was returning. She shielded her eyes from the smog-shrouded sun as she got off the bus and trudged through the trash-filled streets, then turned towards the crumbling exterior of the library.

The library was the only place Guen still left her apartment to visit. Mostly to take part in the great exchange of overdue books. Those books become amalgamated amongst the personal collection until one day, a librarian’s smile becomes a reminder to return said books so they may fill the space between another set of spines. At first, Guen set her schedule by those beautiful smiles, then as she came to the library more and more frequently, the due date seemed to matter less and less. She started taking out books as it suited her and returning overdue books as she found them in her collection.

Today, she brought all of the library’s books back. Her overdue books, and even the one on surviving in the wilderness she took out last week.

“Planning on going somewhere?” the librarian asked. Her kind smile was a reminder of more than just to come and bring back the library books. Librarians always saw a little more than Guen had ever wanted them to know. A soft touch, practiced from the gentleness of book spines, landed on the handle of the book return chute, stopping Guen from opening it. “You know you can keep them as long as you need them unl—”

“There’s a request, I know.” Guen finished the Overdue Convention. The unsaid, unwritten, understood rule.

“So, where are you going?”

“Somewhere safe, if that’s what you are worried about.” Guen brushed her hand aside and started to put the overdue books in the slot. “I’m worried about the rising sea levels and the longer summers. It’s becoming unbearable to stay here.”

“More of a reason for you to keep the books then.” The librarian’s smile fell as she followed Guen’s downcast gaze. “You’ll come back when you’re done with them.”

Guen couldn’t help but join in with her own smile. It was the least she could do for the comfort the librarian had brought her over the years.

“Hey Guen! We’re meeting in here.” The only other reason to come to the library shouted from the front door. The Game Master clung to the frame and waved at her. “We’re all waiting for you to start, hurry up! You best have brought some snacks.”

Tonight was the zenith of their campaign. Everything they worked for came down to tonight. It had all started in a humble tavern years ago. Their quest had taken the group of unlikely companions through forests, caves, mountains, cityscapes, and they even slayed a dragon or two.

Tonight, they challenged the gods of the universe, Ikandr, the creator, and Dikanu, the destroyer. Their challenge had been the culmination of years of the party playing together.

Although the group loosely committed to picking up again with a new campaign after they finished, the realists knew this was the end. The Game Master was leaving. Not far, as he would say at the end of each session. He assured them that he wasn’t moving far, but it wasn’t the distance that was going to be the trouble. He was moving to start his family. To a place worth starting a family, away from the coastlines, which were now only habituated for the ease of transportation. Everyone was aware of the risks as the sea levels rose. Like most, he was headed for the mountains. In the mountain’s river valleys, shreds of humanity dug in.

The rest, who couldn’t afford to leave, watched the sea.

“So, in our last session we left off…”

***

“And with a thrust of your halberd, you pierce the god’s skull. Light erupts from every orifice, shooting into the void.”

The Game Master was silhouetted by the bright light over the game’s table. Outside their space, the lights were off as the library closed hours ago. The overnight janitors would leave this room for last, so long as the tribute was paid, primarily as snacks.

“As Ikandr exploded into a purple dust cloud, Dikanu’s head snapped back and together they floated into the air, arms outstretched. A kaleidoscopic mist gushed from Dikanu’s body, mingling with the cloud from Ikandr. The mixing essences began to collate until they formed a single glowing ball. It floats in front of your party.”

“I reach out for it, with my palm facing up.” Guen illustrated the action, standing up from her chair and reaching her hand out over the table.

The Game Master reached out and placed a large marble in Guen’s hand. Inside, a crystal flashed a brilliant display that danced on the ceiling. “As your hand comes in contact with the object, your mind flashes with a series of images. Three images stick out in your head, one of the objects expanding, before retracting into a humanoid shape. The blinking of baby’s eyes.”

“Is this the seed of a god?” one of the others asked.

The Game Master closed his computer screen with a dramatic flourish. “Yes. I wanted to give you all the seed of a new world. A new campaign. This may be the end of this one, but that doesn’t mean the end of this.” He gestured to the people around the table.

The room went quiet, the six faces around the table peering at each other through the dark and coming to the same conclusion. “There isn’t going to be a follow-up campaign, is there?”

“I don’t know.” The Game Master replied, “That’s up to you all to decide.”

The silence was like ice in spring, ready to crack at the lightest touch. Breaths were held as composures solidified. The others did not know it yet, but this would be Guen’s last campaign too, even if they chose to continue.

Then a voice, as gentle as a hammer, broke the moment. “Well, let’s celebrate what we did have. Who’s up for a post-game round?”

A palm slammed into the table, “Huzzah! I need something to knock it all loose.”

“Aye Aye!”

Pencils and dice were gathered. Smudged sheets of paper were put away reverently into binders, some into plastic sheathes: a final resting place for the tired paper.

Before Guen could leave, her cousin, The Game Master, grasped her shoulder. “Can we talk?”

***

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to run that by me one more time.”

Guen gawked at the immense console. Her eyes followed the wires which connected the helmet resting on top of a specialized lounge chair and connected it to the gaming console. While a fleeting vestige of the headset Guen had at home, this was a full helmet intended to wrap around the user’s head.

“This must be breaking some NDA. You have a spot to alpha test the newest gaming technology, and you want to give the spot to me?”

“Well, the shortest answer is yes.” Her cousin sat on a chair across from the console; unlike her skinny, gaunt self, he had grown a healthy layer of fat and muscle. He had never talked about it, but something had changed sometime during the campaign. They went from killing, to saving. Liberating and subduing “When I signed up to be a tester, I was at a different place in my life. Now, things have changed. I found a wife. For the first time in years, there’s been a spark of hope. I don’t need this anymore.”

Guen grabbed the helmet, rubbing the glossy surface. The machine looked a lot like the tech on the pamphlet she’d had shoved into her hand and seen on countless expensive commercials. “I would have picked a different colour.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, too late for that now. So what do you think? You want to try out the new game?”

She leaned back into the lounge chair. Coming from her cousin, the suggestion that she could play without selling a kidney to afford the machine made considering the game at least somewhat plausible. “I heard rumours the alpha testers don’t ever want to come out. Is it that good?”

“I’ve heard that too.”

“You haven’t tried it yet!?”

“I was waiting till after the campaign. I wanted to make sure I could set aside enough time to play it fully, you know?”

“So no spoilers, right?”

He smirked. “I’ll take that as a yes. Here, let me help you.”

As Guen sunk into the lounge further, the cushion began to cocoon around her body. The helmet descended over her head, and the light in the room was completely shut out as the helmet dipped over her eyes.

“How do you feel?”

“Comfortable.”

“Excellent, you could be in there a while.”

Lights began to flash in front of Guen’s eyes, and the real world faded away.

Welcome! To the Mists of Arathia. You may call me Diana. I have been waiting for you, Guinevere. You’ve been chosen as my Champion. Please, choose your class. I have a special gift for you once you’re done.

***

I hope you loved reading this short prologue from the book. Are you ready to read the rest of The Mists of Arathia? The initial release was only in Kindle Unlimited, but the book is officially available in all WIDE retailers for the first time ever! The rest of the series will follow over the next few months.

What are you waiting for? Buy The Mists of Arathia NOW!

Buy The Mists of Arathia NOW!

—Erynn

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