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Orpheus and the Speedrunners



FUN FACT: The original version of this story was deleted after I graduated college. I'd originally wrote it for a class, and must have accidentally deleted it along with the rest of my school folder, thinking I had saved it elsewhere. So special thanks goes out to Aedrah, for, and I quote:

So thank you again to this absolutely legend from saving the text from oblivion!



Orpheus and the Speedrunners

“I wanna get better, doctor. I just… I feel worthless, and anxious all the time. And I don’t wanna be, I can barely leave the house.”


“Well, anxiety and depression are not uncommon in child actors. Would you like me to up your prescription?”

“Not really. I mean, they help, but I don’t want to be reliant on a pill like that, not forever.”

“Hmmm… well, there isn’t a way for you to be completely better, that’s not really how the human mind works. But there are some things we can do to improve your condition. What you need is a way to work out your anxieties in a safe environment. Tell me, have you heard of the new Psych Headgear?”

“The new VR thing? Isn’t it like, full-body virtual reality or something?”

“Exactly. I want you to get one.”


~~ o ~~


He had only been playing around in VR for about two weeks before he met the speedrunners. Of course, that was after all the time spent setting up the headset, allowing it to map out his brain, calibrate to his eyes, and all of the other bizarre, pedantic things the headset required to give him the full Virtual Reality Experience™. So it was on a Wednesday afternoon that he sat down in his bedroom, the afternoon sun falling over the posters with his much younger face staring back at him, and experienced virtual space for the first time.


He wasn’t going to lie, he had been a bit nervous the first time he’d stuck it on his head, felt the familiar walls fade around him. How many horror stories had he heard about people getting stuck in there, not able to log out, their real bodies wasting slowly away in the real world all the while they were trying to find a way out? But, those were just urban legends. He should know.


He’d done research.


Probably a little too much, if he was honest, but he’d always lived by the mantra of ‘better safe than sorry,’ and he wanted to be absolutely sure that he was going to be alright when he hopped into this thing. So, eventually, he was able to keep the panic down long enough to push the slightly awkward plastic headset over his eyes, and lay back on the bed.

It was all going to be alright.


Everything was going to be fine.

Maybe he should take a valium before he did this.


No, buck up. It was all going to be ok. Hadn’t his therapist told him this would be a good first step? He couldn’t back down now.


~~ o ~~


It had been difficult to find his way around at first; reading the manual did not give you a good idea of what the inside actually was like. And he nearly passed out once or twice from the stress. He didn’t remain a newbie for very long, however. The system was actually very elegant; you could only see the lobbies of games you owned, unless there was some advertisement up for a new game or whatever, and once inside, the games themselves were all fairly normal. Shoot’em-Ups, fantasy adventures, puzzle games, small single-player experiences, and huge party games. The only difference was that any game you played, you were inside of it.


Perhaps Skysoul hadn’t been the best first experience for a VR game. It was the type of game he usually enjoyed; big fantasy world to explore and discover, challenging dungeons and creative enemies, but he hadn’t accounted for the fact that he would actually be in the game. The first time a skeleton popped out from behind a corner he nearly pissed himself. The headset had done an emergency shutdown because it registered that his heart rate was too high. He did end up taking a valium after that. Just the one. Just to make it through that first dungeon. Only a month or two later he would look back on his first foray and laugh. A lot had happened since then, because shortly after that is when he met the speedrunners.


He’d beamed into the main lobby one afternoon after class, only to find a huge commotion going on a short distance away from his spawn point. A bunch of people were crowded around a huge projected window, which seemed to be a livestream of some kind. He approached, and couldn’t help noticing a timer in the corner of the screen. The footage looked like the virtual equivalent of wearing a Go-Pro on your forehead; it was shaking, he could hear the labored breathing of whoever was behind it. The game looked an awful lot like Skysoul, but it couldn’t be. Because whoever the player was, he was running faster than it was possible to run in game, practically zooming across the field like a comet. He pushed his way through the crowd, curious, before turning to someone, a woman with big combat boots and a nose ring, and asked:

“What’s going on here?”


“We’re watching Pythagoras’ newest speedrun.” She replied, before quickly turning back to the screen and clicking her tongue in disapproval. “I told him he should’ve used the De Dannan Skip, woulda saved another five seconds, but does he listen?”


Pythagoras, he gathered, must have been the name of the streamer, but he still had several questions.


“Speedrun?” He frowned.


“Never heard of it?” She raised an eyebrow. “It’s pretty self explanatory. You try to beat a game as fast as possible. This is a glitch run. The record right now is three hours, but we’re still working on it.”


“So you know this guy, Pythagoras, then?” The woman finally turned properly to face him.


“You ask a lot of questions. Yeah I know him, I helped him devise the run. Name’s Lovelace. You?”


He almost said his real name. He wasn’t used to interacting with people online much. It had made him nervous in the past, unable to see people’s faces. Of course, you could look like anyone you wanted in here, but, it was easier on his head to put a face with a name.


“Orpheus,” he said finally. “And I’m just... curious.” They watched as the speedrunner, Pythagoras, glitched through the floor of a map, and stumbled over the half-modeled geometry under the building. “How do you guys figure out how to do these things?”

Lovelace glanced over at him appraisingly for a moment. “You wanna see?”


It took Orpheus a second to process the question. A pretty—probably—girl asking him to do something with her? Unheard of. An improbability. It must’ve not actually happened. He must have not heard her correctly.


Hellooo?” she asked after a solid minute had passed.

“Uh, me? Play a game, w-with you?” He stuttered out.


“Yeah.”


“S-sure, that-that’d be a lot of fun.”


“You own Skysoul?” She said after shaking her head and chuckling at his nerves. “That’s the one we’re working on at the moment.”

“What a coincidence.” He tried to be at least a little smooth, and failed. “That’s the only game I own.”


Both eyebrows were raised at him now, followed quickly by an eye-roll. “Alright then, weirdo, then let’s go. I’ve got another friend who can hold down the stream fort for a moment.”


She began walking through the crowd, and Orpheus followed her, still a little bit unsure that this was not a dream. It did sometimes feel like he was in a dream here, because sometimes he’d still be aware of his body lying on his bed, back a million miles away. But yet, at the same time, the virtual space was still here. It was an odd disconnect, and he usually tried to ignore the feeling.


Lovelace got a little ahead of him, as he nearly got trapped by the crowd several times, so she waited by the lobby entrance to Skysoul as he ran across the common area.


“Wait a second,” he frowned. “Isn’t Skysoul a single-player game?”

“Usually,” she nodded, heading inside. “But there’s limited support for multiplayer. It’ll be your game, and only you will make the progress. I’m essentially tagging along as support.”


“Makes sense. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to beat some of those bosses by yourself,” he said, pushing past a few other people milling about in the dark, dungeon-like lobby. It was designed after the opening area of the game, and despite being entirely virtual, still managed to make him feel wet and clammy from the general dank atmosphere.


Pushing the lever that opened the gate to the game proper, Lovelace waited one last second for Orpheus to catch up, and then jump through. Orpheus hesitated for a moment. This part always scared him a little. It was pitch-dark in there while the menu loaded; a small part of him was always afraid that the game would crash and he’d be stuck in that black void forever.


But he followed the pretty lady and after only a moment of darkness the menu options faded up in front of him. It had always been very strange to him that for such a high budget game the menu was so simple, just white text options and a black screen.


“Choose a new game,” Lovelace said. “I wanna give you the full experience,” he obeyed, and grabbed the New Game option.

“TWO PLAYERS DETECTED,” came the same chirping robotic voice that spoke out all the usual text prompts. “[[PLAYER TWO]], YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO MAKE ANY PROGRESS, AND WILL BE SET AT THE SAME LEVEL AS [[PLAYER ONE]]. IS THIS OK?”


“Yes indeed,” Lovelace said, almost before the prompt was finished.

“THANK YOU,” said the voice. “PLEASE ENJOY THE WORLD OF SKYSOUL.”


There was a whooshing sound as the menu options faded away, and Orpheus’ view was black for a second. After a small pause his view began to fade in. He was in the back of a prison wagon. His only view in the dark space was through the bars in the back, to the road falling away behind him. He was wearing itchy prison rags, which looked absolutely hideous on everyone with no exceptions. That was the problem with VR, he supposed. You could feel the shitty starting armor.


There were a couple of other people in the wagon, mostly forlorn non-player characters looking down at their tied hands. You could go up and talk to any of them if you wanted, which was what most new players tended to do on their first playthrough, as they tried to figure out how to end the exceptionally long cart-ride, but eventually they just start repeating themselves, so, Orpheus left them alone. Finally one NPC looked up from where he was sitting, and glanced over at Orpheus and Lovelace, who had spawned in a split second after him.


“Ah,” he said. “You’re finally awake!”

“Okay yeah that’s enough of that,” Lovelace said. “Alright Orpheus, here’s the first skip of the game. For a while, passing this obnoxious cutscene was like, the holy grail of skips, but, I found it alright. You know how to make a quick save, right?”


“Uhh,” he stuttered. Usually he just went to the menu when he wanted to save. He knew there must be some shortcut for it but, he never figured it out.

“Ho boy,” she sighed. “Okay, twitch the index finger on your left hand.” He did. Nothing happened. “No, your real hand dingus.”

“Wait, y-you can do that?”


She rolled her eyes dramatically. “You really are a n00b, aren’t you? Okay, can you feel your real body?”


“Yeah…” He nodded slowly.


“Alright, now focus on that, and shift your finger.”


He closed his eyes, focusing hard on his bed back home, the feeling of sheets under his fingers. And his finger twitched. A small message flashed briefly on the right side of his vision.


‘Quick save Created.’


“Holy shit that’s cool.”


“Alright, now I want you to load that quick save by twitching your right finger.” It was a little easier the second time, but he still had to close his eyes, but when he opened them again, he nearly screamed. He was no longer in the cart, but on the cobblestone road between the wheels, and the floor of the cart was clipping through his torso. Lovelace laughed from besides him. “And now we’ve skipped the entire tutorial section.”


“Are…are you kidding me? How does that even work!?” His eyes widened to approximately saucer width.


“I’ll explain on the way,” she said. “If you want the true speedrunning experience, you better get used to the actual running part.” Tall oak trees surrounded the thin road, which Lovelace began to run down. Orpheus followed, panicking slightly at being left behind.


“Okay, so here’s how it works,” Lovelace began to explain between deep breaths. “You’re not really supposed to quick save in the cart, but because of some sort of weird bug it starts out as enabled. Since the cart is technically a ‘cutscene’ and you’re not really supposed to move, the cart floor hasn’t been properly programmed for collision. So, when you load a quick save, the game no longer registers that you’re in a cutscene, and the cart keeps going right through you.”


“That’s…” he was starting to pant a little from all the running. “That’s... really cool.”


VR was a little weird when it came to physical actions. If everyone was limited by their real-life ability, then no one would be much of a ‘hero’ would they? But if you were able to do things too superhumanly, your subconscious would register that something was not right, and could crash the headset. And that would be bad. Obviously.


After only another minute—thank god—Orpheus caught a glimpse of the starting village ahead of them. This was usually where players ended up heading after the tutorial. He could never remember its name. It was pretty forgettable compared to the rest of the game.


“Alright!” Lovelace said. “Quick pit-stop and then it’s right to Hellfire Grotto!” Orpheus slowed down a bit.


“Wait. Did you just say what I think you said?”


“Yup, I did.”


”But isn’t Hellfire Grotto one of the hardest areas of the game?”


Lovelace pounded up the stairs to one of the small cottages, which if Orpheus remembered correctly, actually belonged to the man who wakes you up in the cart. Yeah, you could find his diary and everything if you decided to snoop around.


“Yeah, but the rest of the game will be a cakewalk if we can get Dolamalog early.” She opened the door without knocking and barged right inside. Of course, there was no one in there, but Orpheus still always felt a little weird about going into what looked like people’s houses without being invited.


“But, isn’t that suicide? I know you can do the dungeons in any order, but there’s no way you can beat it at level one! It’s one of the longest dungeons in the game, and it’s got three, THREE minibosses, and lava pits that enemies constantly trying to knock you into, and-”


“And we won’t be dealing with any of it.” Lovelace interrupted, glancing back and forth around the room.


“Why not?”


Eyes brightening, Lovelace seemed to find what she was looking for. “Because we… have this!”


He was expecting her to hoist up some secret prize, or weapon, that maybe Orpheus had missed the first few times in here, but instead, wielding it like it was the holiest of the holy, Lovelace held out a wooden bucket.


“A bucket?”


“A bucket.” She nodded.


He sighed as she put the small bucket in the satchel at her waist that in no way should have been able to contain it, and exited the cottage. “Alright, but how are we even going to get there? Hellfire Grotto is all the way across the map!”


She grinned at him. “Very carefully. Now, take this sword,” she handed him a dinky iron sword that she had also snagged from the cottage, “and I want you to jump attack the corner of that fence.”


He followed her finger over to the crumbling stone fence beside the cottage; one of its support sections was sticking out at just about waist height. “And hurt myself?”


“No,” she rolled her eyes, “you’re aiming for this little corner. Here, watch.” She grabbed the sword back and jumped at the fence, though she stopped before she reached the target. “You want to hit this bit of it.” She tapped the tip of the sword on a specific part of the stone.


He sighed. “Okay…” And feeling rather silly, he took a deep breath, gave it a good run-up, jumped, and swung. Just as the sword made contact with the stone, all of a sudden the ground gave out from underneath him and for a brief moment he felt his body ragdoll and contort itself in strange ways. It was horrifying, almost more so than briefly catching a glimpse of the underside of the map. Orpheus closed his eyes, before collapsing into a heap as his feet made contact with the ground once more.


A second later he heard Lovelace laughing next to him. He felt like throwing up, or just laying down here and dying, until he noticed that it was suddenly very hot. He opened his eyes, curious, and nearly passed out again. Here they were, at the entrance to Hellfire Grotto. They had just made a journey that would’ve taken several hours by foot in seconds!


“H-how…?”

Lovelace just laughed harder. “That’s the best part,” she said, “Nobody knows!”


“What.”


“Yup! One day some chump was playing around with his buddies, hit that fence at that exact angle, and was instantly teleported here!”


“How.”


“This game, is so well programmed. Now, here comes the best part. Are you ready for the Hellfire Skip?”


“As long as it doesn’t involve glitch teleporting.”


“It doesn’t. Promise.” Lovelace grabbed the bucket, held it out in front of her, and ran towards the nearest wall. And she clipped right into it. Orpheus felt like he was slowly losing his mind. Seeing all this frankly impossible stuff right before his eyes was incredibly unnerving, and a little terrifying. His heart was about to pound out of his chest. Where had Lovelace gone? Had she teleported again? Was he supposed to follow behind her? Or had she just left him in the most dangerous part of the game as a sort of hazing ritual? He had been through one of those in college and had one of the worst panic attacks of his life.


“L-Lovelace?” he managed to stutter out after a solid minute. He nearly jumped a foot in the air as the bucket came shooting back through the wall.


“Oh! Yeah, sorry, forgot to give you the bucket back!” Her voice came crystal clear, as if she was directly in front of the wall, not invisible behind it.


“Alright, what’s this trick then?”


“Well, walls are more suggestions than anything in this game, and when you hold an object, say a bucket, the game registers that object as part of you, the player. So, when you shove a bucket against a wall, the game detects you as being stuck in the wall and gives you a nudge to get out of it. If you’re lucky, it’ll be in the wrong direction, and boom! You’re outside the map.”


“But if I’m outside the map won’t I just fall?” he asked. “There’s nothing out there!”


“Just keep your hand on the wall. You’ll see.”


“I don’t know about this, what if I fuck it up?”


“Then just quit out of the game and try again. This isn’t real life Orpheus, nothing can actually happen to you. Don’t worry about it.”


He shook his head slightly. This was all insane. But he was in the thick of it now, might as well see the thing through. Orpheus grabbed the bucket, nearly receiving a splinter for his troubles. Why did they have to make everything so damn realistic? Not giving himself enough time to think about it, he shoved the bucket out in front of him and ran for the wall, which stopped him for half a second, before the game shrugged and pushed him through, slow enough that he could luckily grab onto the wall, where his hand simply stuck.


“Up here!” Lovelace called from somewhere above him, probably on top of the ceiling. Orpheus tried to keep the panic down from hanging by his hand above a bottomless green void. He placed another hand on the wall, which also simply stuck to the surface, and then a foot, and slowly climbed his way up the twenty-seven feet to the top of the room.


Lovelace was waiting for him, sitting and looking at the dungeon spread out below them. It was really strange, because only half of the walls were at an angle that he could see them, so he was given a partial view into the rooms below.


“Wow,” he said simply. Enemies patrolled, lava bubbled, but it all seemed so distant. So far below him. It was surreal. He felt nearly… godlike.


“It is really cool, isn’t it?” Lovelace turned to him, smiling. “Alright,” she stood, “Here’s the last part I’m going to show you today.” She started moving again, along the ceiling of the dungeon, and Orpheus found himself following her. “Time to skip the boss!”


“We haven’t even fought anything at all!” Orpheus panted. “That-that’s incredible!”


“Fighting takes time,” she nodded. “Every second counts, especially when the world record’s at stake.”


By this point they had already made their way to the far end of what should have taken them many hours to traverse. Now they were staring down into the final boss chamber. The door remained closed, so Vulcos, an enormous man with a flaming braided beard and tangled hair, hadn’t aggro-ed yet. He sat perfectly still on his anvil throne, cycling repeatedly through his same default animations, shifted repeatedly back and forth.


“So now all we have to do is walk past him and open the chest behind the throne. Easy as pie,” Lovelace grinned. Everything was going well so far. They were making good progress, until about halfway through the ceiling Orpheus’ foot slipped right through the floor. Immediately, Volkos sensed a player. His head shot up, and in one motion he stood and swung his massive hammer upwards. It arced right through the ceiling, directly in the spot where Orpheus’ foot would still be had Lovelace not yanked him forward.


“What the hell?!” she shouted through the booming boss music that had just kicked in. “What happened?!”


“My foot just slipped through!” he managed to gasp out. They dodged out of the way as the hammer whooshed through the air again.


“The opening animation!” Lovelace realized. “They never properly mapped that part of the ceiling so his sword could just go right through. Lazy assholes. But that could come in handy, nice find!”


“So, what happens now?” Vulcos slammed his hammer into the ground and the massive vibration that ensued shook them from the ceiling and clipped them back into the map. The boss now towered over Orpheus, who shuddered and for a solid few seconds couldn’t breathe. The red flash over his vision to indicate his fall damage didn’t help.


Before he had even gotten back to his feet Lovelace was already sprinting in front of him, holding the bucket in front of her. Vulcos’ hammer should’ve slammed right through it, but instead he staggered backwards as the bucket took the hit, before crumbling a second later.


“W-wha?” Orpheus began.


“No time!” Lovelace snapped. “Get up!” She yanked him back to his feet. “I need you to get Dolamalog!”


“I don’t-”


“It’s right behind his throne, just run and get it! I can hold him off, I know his attack patterns better than I know your mom in bed!”


Now his mind was not only reeling from the giant boss monster towering over the two defenseless players, but also from the fact that Lovelace made ‘yo momma’ jokes. And not even good ones at that. But the serious look on her face kicked him into gear, so he ran. The chamber was huge, big enough for Vulcos obviously, but way too big for someone of normal proportions. He was still only half way there.


As he continued, he could hear Lovelace talking to herself behind him. “Alright, here’s the windup attack, three, two, one-!” She rolled off to the right. “And now the- Oh don’t throw your hammer across the room you bastard! Ok, now here’s the- Oh fuck, oh shit oh shit shit shit shit shit shit-!” Then his heart fell as he heard the low bong and fluttering wings that signaled a player death. But he was so close, he couldn’t stop now! Orpheus streaked behind the throne and there, lo and behold, was a highly ornate chest. He wrenched it open, and there it was, a glowing ball that indicated an item was inside. He wrenched his hand towards it, and the ball faded. In its place, a weapon flashed over the chest.


‘[[Weapon acquired: Dolamalog!]]’


“YEAH!” He shouted, pumping his fist. “I GOT IT! WOOO! WHO’S THE MAN? WHO’S-”


There came a roar from behind him, and he turned, only to be a few inches away from Vulcos’ hammer. He had conveniently forgotten that he actually had to go into his inventory to equip the sword which, he did not have enough time to do before the hammer pulverized his skull and his vision went black, accompanied by the timeless words: ‘YOU EXPIRED.’


When his eyes next opened, he was lying in the middle of a dirt road staring up at the forest canopy. Right back where the cart had been. Back at his spawn point.


“So, did you get it?” Lovelace asked from where she was lying besides him.


“I thought you said you knew the boss as well as-”


“Your mom? It-that was the joke. I don’t know your mom at all. So, did you get it?”


“I mean, immediately after, I was two inches away from a very pissed off fire god’s very large hammer, but I got it.”


Lovelace broke into laughter then, and after a second he joined in.


“Aha sorry.” She wheezed between giggles. “I can-I can just imagine the look on your face.”


Thank god you keep your inventory,” he added. “Or we would’ve had to do that whole thing over again!” They laughed for a few more minutes, their giggles gradually fading to silence.


“But y’know,” Lovelace said suddenly, “That’s part of the reason why I speedrun. To get so familiar with the game that you’re ready for anything. It’s amazing. I’m not quite there yet, but, I’m trying. Part of that is finding everything. All the tricks, the secret paths, the things the developers accidentally left in. Like that hole in the ceiling you found. You never know when we’ll be needing that. That’s kind of my specialty.”

“So you’re more of a glitch-finder than anything.”

“Yeah, I’m usually the one who finds the exploits, and then Pythagoras will put them to use.”

“That… that sounds like a lot of fun.” The words were out of his mouth before he could think about them, and he realized that they were actually true. Despite the confusion and terror of the last few minutes, now that he was up here, he seemed to be smiling. She considered something for a moment, and then turned to properly face him.


“I’d have to ask Py and the gang first of course, but, y’know, this is a big game. Like, a really big game. And you did well today. You got Dolamalog after all. It’s one of the hardest weapons to acquire in game, glitches or no. We could always use some help finding everything in it.”


“Are you… asking me to join you guys?”


“Hmm, yeah, I guess so!” She smiled, genuinely, and Orpheus realized it was a really nice smile. He kinda wanted to see more of it.


“Alright,” he said, smiling back at her. “When do we get started?”

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