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ANNOUNCEMENT: Darkness Named, by Riley S. Keene

Darkness Named

QSFer Riley S. Keene has a new queer fantasy LitRPG book out: Darkness Named.

In the False Lands, it’s either git gud or die.

Tanisha Richards, known as Koest in dARkness: Online, isn’t your typical augmented reality mobile gamer. She’s a deer-hunting engineer from Oregon who lives in a self-sustainable house but drives a really inefficient truck.

She also happens to be in a wheelchair.

When the loot of a lifetime shows up during a potentially bugged event, Tanisha rushes out into the wilderness to capitalize on some intern’s mistake. She was expecting some amazing drops. What she got was dropped into the False Lands.

Will Tanisha be able to survive in a reality ruled by the systems in dARkness: Online, or is it GG?

Darkness Named is the first in a the dARkness: Online Trilogy. It features a diverse cast of characters, LitRPG crafting and building elements, augmented reality gaming, and a ton of references to the games we’ve enjoyed over the years!

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Yet another hill stood in her way—a titan fit to slay the mighty Heracles. It was steep and yet rounded, littered with the fallen debris of the forest and coiled with gnarled tree roots and fallen branches. Tanisha Richards glared at the pine-needle covered incline, willing it away. “Of course,” she said after a moment, returning her bitter stare to her phone screen. “I don’t know who you are, but I will find you. And I will make you pay for this.”

She wanted to just obstinately scowl at the hill until the world shifted to be slightly more convenient, but she’d done that at the last three hills and it hadn’t helped one bit. It seemed unlikely to offer assistance here, either.

Returning her phone gently to the stand on the arm of her chair, Tanisha willed herself to breathe deep. There was a vehement part of her that wanted to slam the phone down—maybe smash it around a few times in frustration—but a temper wouldn’t help her here. She was already mildly lost, and the last thing she needed was to accidentally damage her phone while so far from the nearest road.

It wasn’t like she was too far from civilization—only a few dozen miles northeast of Tillamook—and she knew she could easily just turn south and get to the Wilson River Highway before full dark.

But it would be a challenge to find someone able to give her a ride back to her truck. There were always people by the dozen willing to help, but not everyone’s vehicle could accommodate her wheelchair. It was more like they felt guilty for her situation, and Tanisha didn’t have patience for misplaced shame right now. 

Thus, instead of damaging her one lifeline to knowing how to get out of the woods safely, Tanisha returned her hands to the reinforced handles on the sides of the wheels and began to follow the trail she’d been after for the last hour. The thick tread on the outdoor chair helped her retrain traction on the loose pine needles, which allowed her to focus on more important things.

Like coming up with an elaborate curse for whomever was responsible for this situation.

Not that it was entirely their fault. The augmented reality game they played, dARkness: Online, was a survival roleplaying game by a Native-owned company called DeKR. They’d built the game around an Artificial Intelligence that was tasked with learning how to build accessibility options, especially in photo-recognition and pathfinding. Players would upload pictures of things in nature to gather them, which would in turn help the AI learn to recognize the objects. GPS functionality was used to create monsters and other objectives to hunt, and dARkness tracked the paths used by players to help the AI build maps of trails in the wilderness. It also learned how to create maps of unexplored areas using the user-uploaded paths combined with existing data to extrapolate.

Unfortunately, the system wasn’t foolproof.

Tanisha wasn’t sure if some smartass had trekked through these woods by a route that went against the landscape at every opportunity on purpose, and that route had then been learned by the dARkness AI, or if the AI was producing this route due to a mistake in the algorithm.

Either way, she hoped whomever was responsible would find the next elevator they had to take out of service.

Tanisha carefully navigated her chair around yet another wheel-damaging snarl of root. She had originally come out here in search of actual prey—bear season started soon, and she wanted to scout the area to mark some spots on her GPS—but an extremely rare monster spawn had caught her attention instead.

Outside of the holiday event, an Uber Sleipdeer was rumored to have a spawn chance of below 0.01%, and during the event it was still under 10%. Tanisha had hunted hard for the creature during the holiday event, driving all around Washington state with her phone illegally in her lap instead of spending time with friends and family. But she hadn’t found one. 

She wanted that gold-bordered antler. 

Her legendary weapon was nearly complete. The next—and possibly last—chance she had at the weapon wouldn’t be for another five months. She wasn’t about to let go of her potential for Christmas in July, even if it meant hauling her chair up every hill in the entire state of Oregon—and it seemed like it might.

When she finally crested the top of the hill, Tanisha let out a little cry of excitement. She tried to ignore the dryness in her throat. The late July heat, combined with the uneven trail she had to wrestle her wheelchair over, was wearing her down. Her brown skin was spotted with beads of sweat. She’d made the noob mistake of only bringing one bottle of water with her on the trail. And it was almost empty. The backup bottle was still in her truck, and was likely a nuclear temperature by now.

At least the shade of the forest was holding back the worst of the heat.

“Stop running, stupid deer,” Tanisha said as she checked her phone once again. Her target had moved along a little further, but it was much closer than the last time she checked. Maybe this would be it. 

Tanisha said a little prayer to the Creator and rolled her chair forward. The creature’s marker disappeared under her orienting arrow on the game map, and for a long second Tanisha held her breath. But eventually the message she was hoping for popped up on her screen and she shouted in joy.

You are about to engage in combat,the app alerted her. Are you in a safe place? Please examine your surroundings carefully, and get to a safe area. Do not fight around steep drops, sharp objects, or…

The alert paused the game, just like it always did, and Tanisha was likely one of the only players in the world who still actually stopped and looked around before clicking through the message. She hadn’t read the whole thing since the first time she saw it, but she appreciated the opportunity it afforded her.

Tanisha had a look around and gauged her surroundings.

She knew the regular sleipdeer’s attack pattern, and the Uber’s pattern was said to be similar, just with larger arcs and damage numbers. Tanisha figured she would need adequate space to roll back and forth to avoid the attacks.

It only took a cursory glance to see this space would do.

There were a lot of large trees, mostly coniferous, but they were spaced in a way that allowed for some clear track between their exposed roots. Mushrooms and other fungus grew sporadically, leaving swaths of bark that were nearly lost to bright green moss. In every other situation, this place would have been a sanctuary—it was quiet, far from civilization, and had a magnificent view of the valley below just past the edge of a very serious cliff.

But today it was a battleground, an arena in which Tanisha refused to lose.

With a deep, steadying breath, she clicked through the alert.

The game’s map faded away and the phone’s camera activated. But the image shown was different than what her eyes saw. Standing amid the trees was a lofty beast, with six legs and an impressive rack of antlers. It grazed at a shrub that didn’t exist in the real world, but Tanisha was able to see the accurate way it snapped at the leaves with its near photorealistic muzzle. It was just the color that was off.

The Uber form of the common sleipdeer was little more than a holiday-themed recolor. This one had a red pelt and light green antlers, and it was fitting for something originating from the holiday event. The more substantial difference, of course, was in its stats. It would be fast and it would be deadly, almost in spite of its ridiculous appearance.

A voice in her mind urged Tanisha to wait for a better shot, but that was the part of her that hunted actual deer. She would gain nothing from hitting a critical area. Enemies in dARkness didn’t have massive glowing weak points, and they couldn’t be felled by a well-placed shot to the neck or lungs.

With another wordless prayer to the Creator, she tapped her screen and sent her first arrow streaking towards the creature.

A little number popped up, indicating her damage to it, but she didn’t have a moment to spare for the actual digit. It wasn’t a sad blue “0” that indicated damage immunity, and that was all that mattered.

The creature immediately abandoned the bush and roared in a way no deer ever could. It turned and charged her—another thing no injured deer would do—and it was all Tanisha could do to get out of the way of those spearing antlers.

Tanisha’s character build focused on archery over other weapons. Her bow did less damage than comparable weapons of the same level, but she didn’t need to navigate near the enemy to deal damage. There had been a time when she’d toyed around with swords and spears when she had lived in Seattle, but the parks there had been flat and even—easy for her to manage in her chair. But now? She had limited space and many obstacles. The range of her bow was the only option.

Before the creature could turn and charge again, Tanisha was already moving out of the way. She spun the chair around so she could target the creature with her camera and she tapped on her screen again, sending another arrow at it. Before attacking again, she paused, watching. The creature’s attack pattern shifted wildly, and instead of charging again it stood in place, kicking and bucking with all six legs and massive antlers. An area around it was filled with a complicated rhythm of conical attacks that were designed to frustrate players using melee weapons.

Thankfully, Tanisha didn’t have to worry about that.

She was able to send two more arrows into its red pelt before it turned and charged her again.

Tanisha was back across the ridge before the creature reached her. She fired her arrows, keeping her head firmly in the game. There was no way to know her progress. Uber forms of creatures were classified as mega-boss monsters, and so they had no health bar display. Tanisha’s character, Koest, had a lot of hit points, and while she could afford to take a couple of hits, she didn’t know how long this fight was going to take, and trading away her health frivolously could lead to an ending she didn’t want. So, she would just have to keep dodging and taking potshots when she could.

Their dance repeated a few times as the creature charged and failed to strike her over and over. Tanisha stayed one wheel ahead of it. She whittled down the creature, and thanked the Creator that she had spent so much time crafting ammo the day before. Thanking the nameless deity for something in-game related seemed almost silly, but it came to mind without hesitation.

Tanisha had studied the event during the holidays, and so she knew that there would be three scripted portions to the fight. Every time she whittled away 25% of the Uber Sleipdeer’s health there would be a special attack.

It didn’t take long for the first trigger. The Uber Sleipdeer shook its massive head and screamed in a way that seemed both human and inhuman.

An angry red damage number popped up on Tanisha’s phone, and she watched as 200 unavoidable and unmitigated damage chunked at her health bar. She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. Sure, she could easily take the 600 damage over the course of the fight, especially since she was ranged and fast enough to get away from the creature’s other attacks. But there weren’t many people who willingly went with the lower-damage bow, and so this fight would be really dangerous for anyone who had to be within hoof range to damage it.

“Come on,” Tanisha said, pelting the flailing creature with arrows from her safe distance. “You know you can’t beat me like this. Just give up and give me your loot!”

The creature charged her again, almost as if in answer, and there was a terrifying moment where the treads of her wheelchair slipped a little on the loose pine needles. Her arms were strong though, and the combination of the wide-set wheels and her practiced sense of balance kept her from pitching over sideways. She was able to scoot to safety shortly before the attack pattern began.

Tanisha tapped her phone screen rapidly, sending volley after volley of arrows back at the Uber Sleipdeer. She was rewarded with another scream from the beast, accompanied by another angry chunk of health missing.

One had to wonder about the design behind this unavoidable damage. Some quick math told her that no one below level 41 could fight one of these and win, since their HP max would be exactly 600. They’d just fall over during the last scream. It wasn’t exactly bad design—a level 40 fighting Ubers was madness—but having the damage metered out over the fight was ridiculous. A low-level player who was skilled or patient could take over an hour to get the creature whittled down to 25% HP, but then they would die to that stupid scream. Why not just have the damage front loaded so that people didn’t waste their time?

As soon as the second scream faded away, the creature entered its weak phase, and the delay between its attacks grew shorter. Tanisha nearly capsized herself in an attempt to get away from the much faster attack animations. Her yelp of fear would have been comical to any bystander, but it filled her with determination.

She had it now.

Two more dashes from the creature—and only one more startled yelp and scramble from Tanisha—and the third and final scream came from her quarry. Tanisha grinned as the damage was done to her, and waited to see what type of final phase she was going to get. All Ubers had a “very weak” phase, and they varied pretty drastically. Some creatures would try to flee, and this is what Tanisha hoped would happen. She would be able to pelt it from safety as it failed to out range her attacks.

But no such luck.

This creature was made of sterner stuff, and its attack patterns became shorter between charges, forcing Tanisha to focus on scuttling away with less time for pelting it with arrows. Ultimately though, the fight came to an end just inside of twenty minutes, and her final arrow caused the screen to flash as the Uber Sleipdeer reared up, pawing at the air before falling to the ground.

But there was no time for victory dances. At least, not yet. She had to claim her kill.

Tanisha rolled over to the creature and pointed her phone at it. She navigated the menus to harvest her haul with a shaking hand. There was no loot luck here—what she was after was a 100% drop rate—but she still prayed for luck that her GPS didn’t crap out, or the game’s servers didn’t glitch.

Items popped out of the deer’s corpse and flew around the screen in a single ring before dropping into her inventory. She barely glimpsed the yellow tag of her prize before it vanished into the backpack on the bottom corner of her phone screen. Tanisha jammed her thumb against the icon, chasing it. She needed to see it in her inventory before she could celebrate.

There it was.

A legendary-quality Uber Sleipdeer antler.

“Got you!” Tanisha did a little dance, gyrating her shoulders and bobbing her head as if to some imaginary victory fanfare. “And that’s one thing off the list!” She held up a finger and scratched a little “x” in the air, marking her accomplishment on a fictional board.

It felt good. She’d been chasing her dream weapon for months now, but without the antler it was nothing more than a fevered dream. Yoichi’s Bow had a slower attack speed than other bows, but the high per-hit damage made it rival all but the best spears and swords. And it would soon be hers. Tanisha knew she didn’t have all of the common items ready and waiting to begin the craft, but she would be able to wrap that up during her morning routine tomorrow. She’d start the legendary craft job before noon. It meant she wouldn’t have the bow in her hands until tomorrow evening, but that was still a fair sight better than five more months down the line, when the holiday event came back around.

Tanisha squeezed the power button on her phone and took a screenshot of her drop. She’d upload it to the Eris chat server later.

In the meantime…

Tanisha stopped and looked around the forest. “Right,” she said to no one in particular before sweeping the dARkness app into the background so she could look at her GPS. “Where am I?”

Author Bio

Riley S. Keene is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing duo, also known as Robert and Kristen. They live in the Pacific Northwest and enjoy the rainstorms, lack of sunlight, and excess oxygen that come with living in that part of the US.

Robert is a Pacific Northwest native who has a degree in Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences. He has a love for video games and a dislike for pretty much everything else. Robert is in charge of writing the first draft for all of our books.

Kristen was born and raised in a town outside of Philadelphia. She has a degree in Multimedia Design and works full-time as a marketer for a Seattle engineering firm. She loves gloomy weather, good books, food made from animals, and spending time with Robert. Kristen is in charge of outlining and editing for all of our books.

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