July 9, 2019
The coliseum marble was hard against his face. He tasted dirt and grit in his mouth. He told his body to stand, but it would not obey. All he could feel was the pain, like hot lashes across his limbs and chest where he had been cut.
Never had this world felt more real.
The monstrous golden paladin wielding two shining swords pushed back the faceplate of its helmet, revealing the perfectly replicated face of Maxen Mellinfous, President of Colossus Industries, son to the CEO, and sole heir of the Mellinfous family.
“This is your last chance to get angry for me,” Maxen said to the fallen berserker.
Still he could not stand. With a short gesture of his fingers, he opened his inventory screen, producing a small white feather. All of his allotted potions had already been used and there was little left he could do.
Maxen raised both gleaming blades over his head and yanked downward, splitting the marble floor where the berserker had been a half moment earlier.
Maxen looked up and found the berserker thirty meters away. “Feather of Hermes,” Maxen said. “A waste of an item and my time.” He pulled his swords from the ground and made his way toward the berserker who was now struggling to his feet.
In the distance, there was a growing murmur among the colosseum’s audience. Tens of thousands had gathered to see him fight. He was their final hope, their last chance at saving this world.
Their voices began slowly and softly, then grew until the entire coliseum was chanting his name.
Maxen glanced around, a vicious smile on his face. “Listen, they are calling to you. They think you are their savior…”
It felt so real. The berserker’s body was sore and aching and weak. But he wouldn’t accept defeat. Not before and not now.
“But soon they will see that they were wrong to put their trust in you,” Maxen continued. “You are dirt under my feet. A tick to be squashed. You are nothing.”
“No… you are wrong… I am not nothing…” the berserker said, standing now. Tears began to flow freely from his eyes—from the pain or from a final muster of strength, or perhaps because it was what happened when he felt strong emotion. Slowly, painfully, he raised his left fist high into the air. “I am Silverfeet, The Black Sword, Rageless, Second of the Seven, Leader of the Northern Alliance,” the berserker said, straightening his arm, a devilish grin breaking past the tears. “But most of all, I am Chryses, Guildmaster of the Greatest Guild!”
The coliseum erupted. People leapt up from their seats, cheering, shouting, waving their fists in the air.
Maxen howled with laughter. “What a joke!” He readied his swords into a fighting stance and said, “Then I am the one who will end you.”
Chryses lowered his hand and raised his sword, taking his own stance, wincing as he pointed his broadsword at the paladin.
“Come now,” Maxen said. “Use the Rage Mode. Do it for me.”
Chryses had never used the Heart Mode, which allowed the user a short sprint of extreme power. For the berserker class, it was triggered by the real emotion of anger. He enjoyed the berserker class, but he disliked what anger could do to a person, so he vowed to never enter into Rage Mode. It was a source of pride that he never did, and it had earned him the moniker ‘Rageless’.
“Even if you destroy this world,” he said to Maxen. “We will come together again. We will start over in one that isn’t yours.”
“Oh, you poor little fool,” Maxen said. He waved his hand, opening his virtual console and entered a command. A secure voice box popped up beside Chryses that only he could hear.
“I’m not just going to shut down Constellation’s servers,” Maxen said to Chryses. “I’m going to wipe your accounts clean.”
Chryses froze, immediately grasping the meaning of Maxen’s threat. “Y-you can’t do that-“
“Of course I can. That was the agreement. You and your guild gathered all those signatures for this fight, you know the terms. If you win, Constellation will be extended for two more years. But if you lose…” Maxen said, his smile curving. “Colossus is free to do as it pleases. And let me tell you, my pleasure is to delete your guild, your avatar data, your contacts list, and all you’re little virtual friendships. I hope you know how to find each other offline, but I’m guessing immersive players like you don’t even know each other’s real names.”
“No!” Chryses screamed, charging at the paladin. He felt the heat rising in his body, fury flaring. Then it happened. Black flames blazed around him, his armor turned into a crimson red, and he did what he had never done in the dozen years since he entered this world.
He broke his vow.
Maxen broke into raucous laughter at the sight. “Yes! I have enraged the Rageless! And now I will kill the Guildmaster of Capricorn in front of his people!”
Chryses could not control himself. He forgot about the pain and his mission and he charged at the paladin, slashing with his broadsword.
Maxen took the blow for he could not dodge it, dropping his health an entire third, but as he passed the berserker, he stuck a sword into Chryses’s back.
He felt a shooting pain and fell to the hard marble floor. In an instant the rage was gone. The pain was unbearable now. He’d felt nothing like it, not even in the real world. It was as if the game’s pain limiter had been broken.
His heath bar was blinking. He had to warn everyone. They didn’t know what was about to happen. They didn’t know they’d soon lose each other. He could see them in the stands, angry, worried, terrified. He had to warn them. He crawled towards them, extending his hand.
Crim, Enn, Hasdee, Armont, Dax Sono, Scale… my guildmates, my friends!
He felt the final blow in the back of his neck. And all went to black.
* * *
Shen opened his eyes and found them damp, starting up at the low grey ceiling of his room. He sat up and pulled off the SenseDrive strip from the back of his neck and rubbed it as if the wound had been real. He checked the SenseDrive’s console screen beside his bed and saw that he had been logged out of his DreamPlay account. He reloaded Colossus’s DreamPlay portal, entering in his ColoID and password. Where his Constellation game data should have been, a little heading read “no data”. He opened his contacts list that was tied to the Constellation account. It was entirely empty.
There was a loud knock at the door. After a moment, the knock came again. Louder this time. Shen got off his bed, his body moving automatically, and opened it. It was his landlord who lived upstairs standing in front of him. She was a large, overweight woman who wore a perpetual scowl on her face.
“The internet is lagging again! I can’t run Royal Casino. How many times do I have to tell you not to play your stupid fantasy game during the day?”
“Sorry,” Shen said quietly. He wanted to tell her it was a one-time thing for something important, but it all seemed meaningless now.
She peered at him. “Oh great, are you crying?”
Shen blinked. “N-no.”
“Whatever,” the woman said. “Do it again and I’ll kick you out. Good luck finding a private room for 500 credits a month in this city.” She turned and stomped away without another word.
Shen closed the door and sat back on his bed. He was 22 years old and five minutes ago, he had lost everything dear to him in the world. He thought about Maxen Mellinfous and Colossus Industries. He thought about the thousands of his fellow players who had depended on him. He thought about his friends and his guildmates.
For the first time since his parents died, Shen felt a deep piercing pain in the core of his heart. But, as it had been in the physical world for the past several years, the tears would not come.