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By Nathaniel Chaffee
Of course, everything happened in the blink of an eye. Not literally, but looking back, the whole incident seemed like a dream to him. Everyone in the town cheered as he returned, throwing ribbons and hanging banners in his name. Only to see him leave, never to return.
It was a sad time for every one of his kind, a once proud people, brought low by tragedy. The world around them turned grey, their previously happy lives dull and meaningless. Their politicians sat cold in their offices, pondering the hopeless plight of the time. They sat at their desks, freezing in the dark as their most dreaded nightmares seemingly came true. His people were leaderless and afraid, shying away from the dark once more.
As time passed, the wound never healed. the lives of the people cracked under this sickness of the mind, a terrible plague that knew no bounds.
That, my friend, is where I came in.
I was born. A dark star from the sky, shining bright as it fell to a meadow near a town. I emerged from the crater, my armor torn, my blades ready. This was new to me, though I was gifted with a rudimentary knowledge of the world that we live in. Back then, it wasn’t much of a world. The scenery flowed by, tearing apart as quickly as it reformed. It was chaos.
Looking into the distance, I began to see a town. It was an island in the storm, untouched by the endless rapids of reality. My pitch-black skull grinned darkly in the light of the moon as I entered the village. It was then that people began to stare.
Monsters of every shape and size gathered ‘round the town square as I drank thirstily from the fountain. I turned around, and it was then that I saw it.
A young girl held a picture which caused memories to flood back to me. My father, Skullatron the Reaper, was pictured crudely on this piece of paper. I was, and still am, Skullito the Grim. I came from the lands above, the Divide separating our two worlds. I was the successor of the hero these people had lost. I was their savior, I gave them hope and meaning. I was there to help them become who they were meant to be.
You see, my friend, we live in an uncertain world. A world which should not exist, yet still does to some extent. We live in Loose, the countryside, dangerous and untamed. By contrast, Implem, the great metropolis, was as beautiful as it was stable. It was where everyone worked, and some even lived. Yet, in Implem, there was a danger very unlike anything outside; Player Characters, or PCs, the murderers.
A little-known fact of our world is that it is not physically real. It is what the PCs call ‘virtual,’ a most curious word, if I do say so myself. Believe it or not, the world we all live in is made entirely of ones and zeros called ‘Binary,’ a strange substance that seems to be the fabric of our virtual reality. A most interesting theory, called rubbish by most of my fellow Non-PCs.
Our religion is one of fact. The way things are is determined by our gods, the Devs. A most interesting bunch, they sit around at small tables, just beyond our reach. There, they shape the Binary to their will, creating (or destroying, known to PCs as ‘nerfing’) anything they wish.
I’ve spoken with these beings, and they are rather friendly. “So, how you liked your time in Retro?” they asked, eagerly.
“Fine, just fine,” I answered, my layered voice booming through their communication device, “The NPCs here are very excited to see me. My father would be proud.”
They would mutter a few things and thank me before leaving. A strange bunch, though they meant well. They were huge, their faces fifty times larger than myself. It was always rather awe-inspiring.
You see, dear reader, I was a tool, a powerful weapon in their arsenal. I was a weapon used to ban hackers.
Hackers are an un-intelligent species with a particularly useful power. They are also able to shape the Binary to their will, much like the Devs. The Devs are not pleased with them at all, and see them as a plague that must be exterminated. They reside in the slums of Implem, where Binary is slightly less stable (these areas are known to PCs as ‘Glitches’). I was the operative of their genocide.
Not that I am upset about this incident, nor do I feel any regret. The way the Binary formed me was to create this device, its sole purpose to destroy hackers. Obviously, I wasn’t quite what they were expecting. Though my 8-bit blades are sharp, my mind keen, and my agility unmatched, I developed what the Devs call ‘emotion,’ a curious observation. Based on definition, emotion is an irrational function of the mind, creating mental obstacles. I experience none of these, but the Devs still claim that my Binary has evolved over time.
I spent many days killing hackers. 2:00am, get up, perform Binary maintenance. 3:00am, go to work, sign in. 4:00am, kill hackers. 10:00pm, sign out of job, receive credits, begin walking home. 11:00am, go offline, perform scheduled maintenance. 2:00am, repeat. Day in, day out.
It was all swell, to be sure. I had an excellent time, for my enjoyment drive was programmed to enjoy the slaying of the pestilence. I was living a good life.
The villagers would often come to my house bearing gifts, praising my abilities. I would always decline, saying that I was not a hero. They would give me that weird look, seemingly saying “Is this guy crazy?” before nodding and leaving. They would be back the next day, with more gifts. Day in, day out. All was well, all was correct. No hiccups, no strange events. Everything was amazing.
Until he came.
I saw him, Tunderael. A class 10 hacker. He wore the best armor in the game, which was amazing-looking. His shoulder armor was shaped like dragon heads, and his helmet looked like a horned dragon skull, made of precious metals and drakenite. His chestplate was normal looking, besides the enormous socketed piece of jade with a rune on it, a word of power meaning ‘strength.’ On his arms and legs he wore drakenite chainmail, with dragon bone greaves and armguards. His boots and gloves were crafted to act like dragon feet and hands, but made of metal. Still, none of this was a match for my skill.
“Tunderael, you have been sentenced to death by the Sky Gods!” I yelled up as he smirked. “Defeat me, and you shall gain a powerful item, and you will be forgiven. Any mistake against me will be fatal. Prepare to die.” Tunderael began to summon meteors, obliterating the destructible environment around me. I got a small bruise. This was bad, he was powerful. Still no match for me. I sprung from the smoking wreckage of the meteor, leaping off the following projectile before hurtling towards Tunderael.
He tried to hack me, but the will of the Divide prevented any harm to myself. I spun in the air, using a levitation spell to create an invisible surface to push off of. The air became like water as the floating hacker attempted to slash at me. The world moving slowly, I dodged out of the way and used his blade to swing around. My legs now facing him, I kicked him in the stomach brutally. He doubled over as he began moving backwards sluggishly. Time unfroze as I watched him slam into the mountainside.
It was over, he was banned. Or was he? I saw his player ID escape his body right as the Binary obliterated his account. Tunderael was still alive. I walked carefully to the wreckage, boulders all around his corpse. I checked his database, but found nothing unusual. I knew where I needed to go.
“Cheers!” we said in unison, gulping down our drinks. I was at the AFKafe, a restaurant in the town. People were sitting at their tables, enjoying an extraordinary, albeit expensive dinner. The couple next to me were eating a delicious-looking cherry casserole, big enough for both of them. There was no such thing as alcohol in our world, so all we had to enjoy was the taste. I was having a mocha while Skorn was sipping his usual snake oil. He claimed it was an acquired taste, but I always suspected some sort of sentimental attachment to it, considering he cringed every time he gulped it down. The dim light soaked through the wax paper covering the bulbs, indicating the pleasant nature of the place. The people who worked here were always kind, chatting with the customers about the news and other such topics. It was the best place in town.
It was here that I met my best friend, Skorn the Devourer. He was a boss in one of the dungeons in Implem, the final challenge in that catacomb for the PCs. His form was that of a shadow with reddish eyes. He was huge at his job, literally. However, here at home, he was a little shorter than myself.
He had always enjoyed role-playing games, where you pretend to be someone else. He introduced me, and I was immediately inspired. At that time, we were making our own role-playing game called ‘8-bit Blades,’ a revolutionary concept. We used state-of-the-art tech to sharpen edges on figurines, normally a mere two pixels. We were hoping it would be a smash hit.
“So, how was work today?” Skorn asked, genuinely interested.
“Decent,” I replied neutrally, “It was actually great, but I saw something weird.”
“Yeah,” I said blankly, “I was ordered to kill a hacker, but he didn’t get banned when I did. Any idea why?”
“Woah!” he said, obviously concerned. “What do you mean, he didn’t get banned?”
“His Player ID escaped, which he probably extracted to another account.”
“Wait a second, I’ve heard of this…” Skorn muttered, pulling up a web interface hologram in front of him.
“Check this out,” he said, beckoning me over. I looked, and saw a brand-new hack site. On the hack list, there was one that caught my eye.
Never get banned again!
“Well, this is new,” I said, rather astonished.
“I know, right? Here, I’ll download the source code,” said Skorn, downloading the hack for free. A little-known fact about our people is that we have universal administrator privileges on the internet. The assumption was that NPCs that weren’t programmed to browse and fix websites wouldn’t need it.
We scanned the hack in silence. It was huge, about fifteen thousand lines of code. While Skorn struggled to read it, my programming allowed me to quickly absorb information. Through all those lines of code, I saw the main mechanism.
“Stop,” I said, Skorn still on page 14, “It automatically saves player data from our server, and puts it onto a separate file. That file is then uploaded to the player file, whenever the hacker wants to be unbanned.”
Skorn, looking rather stunned, exclaimed, “That’s too simple! There must be some kind of patch against it.”
“Nope,” I said flatly, “the serial number states it was first uploaded five days ago, by someone named ‘Nintendo.’ They apparently have access to a ton of files. One hundred seventy three patents, most of them on games and consoles. Looks like some kind of Dev…”
“Holy moly! A Dev making hacks?!”
“Seems suspicious,” I muttered, cross-checking sources and evaluating chances of fabricated serial numbers. No luck. Apparently, there was a rogue Dev.
Everything went to hell. NPCs took shelter outside of Implem, while players logged out by the millions. All due to this one hacker, Tunderael.
The Devs were not responding, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I temporarily gave my code to Skorn. It would expire in one day, so I had to work fast. It was a difficult decision, letting go of my previous power. I felt almost naked without my knowledge that I was nearly invincible. I was a ghost in the code, and it was my duty to finish this, once and for all.
Skorn now looked like me, and had my powers. I had no form, but that didn’t matter. Not where I was going. I looked up the player ID ‘Tunderael,’ and found it had been linked to seventeen different accounts. All of them were located in the same place; computer ID 9472649887436, IP 173.***.***.908. Funny, it was blocked, and I couldn’t access the computer without the IP address. With my old code, I had access to player servers, but I had given that up. Now, I was only able to access administrator privileges on the internet.
Wait, that was it! I quickly searched up a computer ID database, searching ‘9472649887436.’ I found one computer match, location Nevada, United States, wherever that was. It’s IP was 173.***.***.908.
“Curse it!” I muttered, my eyes glaring at the screen from my non-visible head. Then, I noticed that the IP wasn’t blocked.
Of course, the answer. ‘*’ was a valid IP symbol. Tunderael must have changed his IP to that. I immediately entered the address and entered his computer.
I was incorporeal on his screen, invisible. It was covered in a plethora of icons, notably ‘ANTI-BAN HACK,’ an executable file. Checking his webcam, I saw he was not at his computer, so I got to work.
First, I uninstalled all of his programs. All of them. Every single one, gone with the ebb and flow of the Binary. Next, I began a full-system wipe. The whole thing took one hour, but eventually, I was done. I double-checked the webcam, and saw something in the very corner of the video.
He was using a different computer.
Cursing my incompetence, I trudged back through the plains of unused Binary to my home. It was no use, he must have had five computers. He would have noticed and cancelled the whole thing.
I arrived in Implem, ready to go home. But, it seemed quiet. Too quiet. I downloaded my code off of Skorn, for his shift was over, and began to reform.
First, my feet began to slowly materialize, as though they were reverse-dissolving. Then came my legs. I had no armor at the time, but it would take shape last. My ribcage soon followed as I felt energy and power well up inside me. At last, my head was fully formed. My armor and weapon then appeared instantly in a dark flash. I drew my blade and readied myself.
From the darkness, a figure emerged. It was Tunderael, in a non-player zone. I looked on, astonished as he approached me, his weapon sheathed.
“Hello, Skullito. Nice to see you on such a nice day in this virtual world.” he said nonchalantly, flipping a coin. It landed heads-up.
“Please, walk with me. There is something I must say.” He said genuinely. I decided to hear what he had to say. “Very well.”
“So, what of this Dev, Nintendo. What is their role in this?” I asked imperatively. He responded without hesitation.
“They’re paying me to destroy your world. one billion dollars, to be exact. They gave me some hacks, and told me to get rid of all the players in Retro Online.”
“What’s ‘Retro Online?” I asked, confused. He gave me a look that seemed to say ‘wow, I have a lot of explaining to do.’
He began his monologue. “Retro Online is what you call Implem, a world for players to explore. Now, players are not who you think they are. My real name is Robert Shant, and I live in a different universe. This universe is an artificial one, while mine is quite natural.”
He continued, “The players are ‘avatars,’ a bridge between universes. However, that bridge can carry devices of war; hacks. The scourge of game developers everywhere, they essentially make players not want to play. The devs, who live in my universe, lose money because people stop paying, their servers go down, this world ceases to exist.”
“Your purpose, Skullito, is to prevent this. You are what players call a ‘Banhammer,’ a weapon used to combat hacks. The Devs wield this hammer with unending fury, but in the end, there is only so much one weapon can do.”
“Nintendo is a group of developers, who are competing with yours. If they drive Retro Online off the market, they can buy the company and hire your devs to work for them. Things would never be the same.”
I listened eagerly as he spoke on, “Yet, Nintendo underestimated the skill of your Devs. They did not realize the power of their creation, you. Even a mighty company such as Nintendo would never think of building a brain from stem cells and hooking it up to a game character. Yes, you heard right, you have the mind of a Dev. You are what they wish they could be, their vision of a future human. You are the only one who can stop me.”
“Wait a second,” I said, stopping as we walked down the path in Loose. “You want to be stopped?”
“Yes,” he said, surprised, “I used to love destroying games, it was my job once. Now, I have grown to love this world, with its intelligent residents and excellent community, it is something worth fighting for. Alas, I must continue to destroy this game, or else Nintendo will cut me off. Thus, I have created my own AI. It is programmed to destroy everything in this world, but with one flaw: It can never succeed. It is unable to finish the job, and will fall back to rest when the fight is almost over. That, my dear Skullito, is where you come in. Destroy that AI.”
“How?” I asked, “It has an anti-ban hack!”
“Well, Skullito, therein lies his true weakness. The anti-ban hack is uploaded to the game. Find it hidden in Loose, and destroy it, once and for all. Then, you must defeat the AI before it is too late.”
“Also, one more thing,” he added, “Do not, under any circumstance, tell the Devs what you are doing.”
“They have been replaced.”
Skorn paced back and forth, his shadowy form dark against the moonlit sky. It was cold. No, more like freezing. The deafening quiet drowned out almost any and every thought that crossed his mind. All but two.
The first was fear. Not for himself, but for Skullito, his best and only friend. He had not returned for three days now. The town would host a funeral on the fifth. The worry overwhelmed any hope for a future, and made everything seem grey.
The second was the reason why he was pacing. He was almost done with 8-Bit Blades, his and Skullito’s role-playing game. The open beta test was going on in the other room as Skorn continued to pace, hearing nothing through the sound-proof wall. He was thinking of ways the game could be improved when it happened.
He felt his program alter ever-so-slightly, his dark form turning more humanoid, his red eyes turning blue. He was no longer the Devourer. He had been promoted to Wraith-Lord.
He had never heard of a Wraith-Lord. Quite frankly, the job description sounded a little silly.
“Command all NPCs in a war against PCs,” It read in blue ink. He felt that it was his purpose to do so, but it felt… wrong. He decided to try it out, for a while.
He carried the 8-Bit Blades rulebook with him and began his crusade against the PCs.
Meanwhile, I also felt his code change. It was a major adjustment for me, causing a great deal of pain. I knelt down, my heart pounding as I checked my status:
I was shocked. Tunderael looked at me, taken aback by my sudden transformation. I didn’t look different, and my stats stayed the same, but I was classified as a player. I even had admin privileges, strangely enough. I got up unsteadily. Without a word, we continued on in fear, towards a small fortress in search of shelter.
ONE MONTH LATER…
I strolled into the council room, my red uniform proudly bearing the title ‘Admiral Skullito Grimfang,’ quite catchy, I had thought. Sitting around the table were my finest generals, Commander Darkfire, Captain Slowsilver, Lord Barrowdwehl, Lieutenant Heronwing, and General Tunderael. The head of the table was saved for myself.
“Listen up!” I said, confidence in my voice. “We’ve got a whale of a problem on our hands, and I think I’ve found the harpoon. The Wraith-Lord’s castle has but one weakness. While its walls are sheer and greased, its gates of solid drakenite, and its guards fast beyond belief, they have no magic shield.”
Everyone in the room looked shocked, but said nothing as I continued.
“Our scouts have reported that their null zone reaches only five feet above their tallest tower. Darkfire, are you able to teleport us just above that zone?”
“Only four of us, Sir. Any more would cause a nasty five-day penalty to all my offensive spells,” He said, looking around with his usual keen grin. “I would suggest you leave me and Tunderael behind.”
“Very well, then,” I said, standing up, “Slowsilver, Barrowdwehl, and Hernonwing, you’re with me. Tunderael, you have command. Darkfire, I need you in the mage tower until we return. If I do not return, I explicitly order all of you to leave me behind.”
“Yes, sir!” They yelled, running off to their battle stations.
My team stood in the teleport circle. Heronwing’s quiver glowed like moonlight in the dark mage tower, his wings rustling as he got in position next to me. Barrowdwehl’s heavy armor clanked as his dark aura enveloped Heronwing’s moonlight, standing in the circle. Lastly, Slowsilver, being a show-off as usual, backflipped and corkscrewed headfirst from the other side of the room to the circle, sinking his knives into the floor and using them to flip right-side up. He grabbed the knives and bowed. As was customary around Slowsilver, we all clapped twice, sighing inwardly.
Darkfire stepped forward. “That null zone prevents any kind of intervention on my part. Once you’re in there, you need to execute operation Scornful and get back up to the tower. Jump up 5 feet once you’re there, and I’ll be able to teleport you out. Good luck.”
We all nodded as we disappeared in a flash of light. Our group was teleported five feet above the ground. Heronwing glided down, Slowsilver did a mid-air stunt, and I landed gracefully. Barrowdwehl landed with a particularly loud clank, being the walking tank he was. It could have been heard for a solid half mile. However, his acrobatics skill was extremely high, meaning that he wouldn’t take fall damage.
Thanks to Barrowdwehl, we were noticed almost instantly, a setback that I was not anticipating. We would have to fight our way through the fortress to complete Operation: Scornful.
“See you guys at the bottom.” Said Barrowdwehl, stomping on the ground. This caused the floor to cave in, making him fall directly through the tower. Slowsi and myself were caught by Heron, who flew down to the ground behind the tower. We saw three shades fly into the wall behind us, dead.
I addressed my group, whispering, “Heron, take the lest, look for the book. Slowsi, you’re with Heron, cover him while he’s looking around. I’m going to end this.”
They exchanged worried looks and nodded, sprinting quietly to the left. I began to walk towards Barrow. He was bashing in the head of the general when I approached. “Hey, Skull. What do you need?” He asked, casually bringing his enormous warhammer down on the general’s stomach, shattering his ribs.
“Follow me. This is no game.”
“Yes, Sir!” He said, jogging towards the heavily-fortified castle, behind me. I ran, directly into one of the royal guards, stabbing him and knocking him over. Using my sword as leverage, I vaulted over the guards just as they were hit by Barrow, leaving them as little more than small bits of shadow. I looked back half a second later, and saw Barrow’s health dropped by a quarter.
He had been kicked in the back by Skorn the Wraith-Lord, king of the Shades, wielder of the Book, slayer of PCs, destroyer of worlds. The monster’s glowing blue eyes were the only detail that remained identical through his constant transformation.
In his left hand, he held a chain, at the end of which were Heron and Slowsi, both of whom looked to be enthralled. In his right, he clenched the Book tightly, its cover clearly stating its title:
“8-Bit Blades: The Roleplaying Game”
This book was the item of which Tunderael spoke of, long ago. The object that held the hacker bot’s code. It had one destruct mechanism; finishing the game which it describes.
My heart sank as he held up the chains, the collars on his friends nearly choking them as they remained motionless. “This is the best you can do, Skullito? These runts are your generals? Hah! Soon, you shall serve me as they do… Beyond the veil of death!” he cried, knocking Barrow aside.
“Stop.” I said calmly. Everyone turned to look at me. My voice boomed out my command.
“Release my friends. I shall fight you alone. Heronwing, fly everyone out of here. I will be fine.”
The fiend grinned wickedly as the collars unclasped. They gasped for air and looked at me before leaving. Then, I felt a pain to my head, and everything went black.
The story of Darkfire was an interesting one. When he was first coded, he always wanted to be a raid boss, a great challenge. He was born in the fortress, and in the fortress he stayed. For a long while, he never got his wish, until he realized that he could rule the fortress in which he lived.
It became a bastion of trade and commerce under his rule, with the best libraries in loose. Its beautiful marble walls gleamed against the sun.
Then, everything changed when Skorn took power. The shining walls turned dull and grim, as did the minds of all. Citizens were drafted relentlessly into the war, only to be killed and left on the battlefield. Darkfire himself was tagged as a player, launching him head-on into a struggle for survival.
Yet, as time passed, his thoughts went dark and compulsive, yearning for power and conquest. More and more acids were brewed, more and more instruments of war crafted. Branded a warmonger by his peers, he had them all tortured and killed. His friends looked on in horror as his lust for power grew and grew, a terrible strength and vain welled up inside him.
I always knew what he would do to me if I defied him. I knew, I knew everything. His tone was excruciatingly harsh towards me, his dark eyes above his sinister grin. I was always watching him.
Slowsilver was always a daredevil. His tricks and flips often got him into trouble, but he didn’t mind. He was coded to do it, after all.
He grew up in a small town on the edge of Loose, near the deserted fields of nothingness known as Endgame. He never ventured into it. Nobody did. The rumor has it that there is a terrible demon within Endgame, who will swallow your code and leave you but a husk of what you once were.
After Skorn started destroying players, his village was burned, and he was marked as a player. This left him alone and helpless. He walked for months, until he finally came to the fortress.
Ever since, he has been incredibly loyal to our cause. His cheery demeanor only interrupted when he loses, and his tricks were always a welcome form of entertainment.
He would always be with me, at my side, just as I would always stand with him.
Barrowdwehl was a raid boss, a professional from the start. He was a genius, capable of many intellectual feats. However, as time went by, he tired of his job, and moved to Loose.
He moved into a quiet home, in the suburbs of Implem. It was nice, and easily affordable with his paycheck as an automated answering machine. He took up a passion in leveling, a hobby rarely pursued by NPCs. He would view the world the way PCs did, performing quests and gaining items. As he did this, he became stronger and stronger, much like exercise for humans.
He would even chat with PCs, and was a member of a group devoted to teaching others good grammar. He quickly ranked up in this informal system, because as an automated answering machine, he was able to use grammar perfectly.
Finally, on that fateful day, he was marked as a player. He did not notice this until late at night, because he had thought of himself as a player at that point. Now that he was, though, his paycheck was gone. He had to move to an old fortress, far away from Implem, looking for some kind of work. He found a resistance to the threat of Skorn, and joined up.
He would always protect us, in every possible way as he tried to restore the world to what it was.
I do not remember most of my time in the Fiend’s prison. Most of it was a blur. I do, however, recall the last few moments in my cell.
It had been a week since my capture. When I woke up, they began to decompile me, a form of digital torture. I told them nothing. I sat on a stone bench, water dripping from the ceiling when they called me over to the door. I obliged. They led me to a room, no shackles on my wrists. I followed hastily. At the time, I remembered little of my life at the fortress. Whenever I tried to think at all, pain shot through my body, due to missing bits of code. As they led, I silently checked my program.
It stated five functions that I was able to perform. Walk, talk, remember past events (half of the code was missing for that), feel pain, and heal at a rate of one function per month. It was basic, but all I needed in this hell. They took me down a different path this time, towards the throne room.
I saw no one on the throne. They sat me down on it, and my program healed instantly. The two guards took off their masks, revealing Darkfire and Tunderael. “I thought I told you to leave me…” I said, numb from shock. They smiled as Tunderael used a speed potion and dragged us back to the base in three quarters of a second.
“Ah,” he said, “Powerful stuff. Thanks, Darkfire.”
“No problem,” the wizard replied, leading me to my room. They slowly stopped smiling as they saw me glance at my surroundings confusedly. As it turned out, some of my program was not recoverable. I couldn’t have told them anything if I wanted to.
They led me to my room, frowning in worriment at that point. “You remember this, right?” asked Tunderael, concerned for my well-being.
“Yeah, sort of,” I replied, interrupted by Darkfire.
“Oh, just fascinating! A code break! Perhaps I could replicate this in a spell, or maybe a potion… “Amnesia Elixir” has a nice ring to it… Yes, I think that is what I’ll call i-” muttered Darkfire, his volume slowly rising until he was stopped by Tunderael.
“Quiet, give him some space! He’s not your test subject!”
Darkfire strolled off, glancing back with an almost-sinister grin. Tunderael glared back, ready to draw his blade. They stood there, staring at each-other for half a second. The tension between the two was powerful, but it passed as Darkfire continued walking down the hall. I saw in his hand a copy of my system history. I said nothing.
I stood ready, my sword in hand as Tunderael lay dead on the ground.a blade in his head. Holding the blade was Darkfire, grinning wickedly. Darkfire had killed all of my officers, and absorbed their power. This could not go unpunished. He killed my friend.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said neutrally.
“Why, of course I do!” he cackled, smiling ear to ear, “If I don’t then I’d be weak, and we couldn’t have that, could we?”
“Monster. You shall perish, you belong with the Fiend!” I yelled, rushing forward with my weapon ready. He dodged to the left, slamming his scepter into the vulnerable small of my back, causing a great deal of pain. I ignored it, and continued fighting.
Huge summoned projectiles landed around me, destroying the fortress as I turned around and swung at his head, only to find him sticking a dagger into my stomach and blocking with the other hand.
This was not just any dagger, but a Drainblade. The terrible metallic sting slowly but surely seeped into my bones, bonding with my flesh while slowly draining my health. I had to figure out how to defeat the terrible monster, quickly, lest I succumb to the drain.
I flipped over him, pulling the knife out and throwing it at his head. Though it was intensely painful, and the metal was still sunken into me, I had the chance to give him a taste of his own medicine.
His hand moved like a blur, blocking the knife and sending it hurtling sideways. He charged at me like a raging bull, his black eyes intensifying with insanity. I was too slow.
In a fraction of a second, he had slammed that scepter into my head at sixty-one million miles per hour, which approximately equated to mach 50. I did, however, manage to cut the code out of that area, creating a numbing effect. After it left my head, I pasted it back and performed an uppercut with bladed drakenite knuckles into his chin, sending him flying at mach 10 into the pixelated sky, causing him to leave the server for about half a second before plummeting down to the fortress. It was then that I noticed he was aiming his fall at me.
The physics system was very much imperfect, not including any kind of terminal velocity algorithm, but rather doubling speed per second falling, with a base speed of 50 miles per hour. He was 100000000 miles in the air, which meant that he would hit the ground at roughly 16000 miles per hour, which would create a crater roughly 600 feet across. With the drain dagger in me, I could not run fast enough to get out of the way in four seconds.
Instead, I leaped up to meet him, travelling at half his speed. It would not be enough, but I could try.
He met me in the air, shattering my blade and sending me skidding across the ground, tearing through the fortress like a hot knife through butter. I had but one choice.
I opened my inventory and pulled out my only item. A spell tome, gifted to me by Darkfire. It would summon a creature of terrible power for twenty seconds, which would send my foe straight to hell. The catch? I would take double damage while it was helping me. It was a risky move, considering that my health bar was at 5%.
I opened the book and spoke the incantation, causing it to form. Harken, the Scythe from Beyond, was here. His presence seeped into the very essence around us, creating a terrible gut-wrenching tug at my soul as the book dissolved into ash. His dark cloak his any kind of features, beyond a skeletal hand holding a simple farmer’s scythe. Darkfire stopped grinning.
The creature’s summon timer began. At the end of the time, he would disappear into thin air, gone with the sands of time until summoned once again from the void whence he came.
Harken darted forward, faster than a bullet as his scythe went directly through Darkfire’s neck. His body disappeared, and his head somehow remained conscious.
“You can’t do this, Harken!”
Harken threw Dark’s head to the ground, creating a silent *thump* as it hit the ground and continued travelling through the earth, down to the Underworld.
His timer ran out, and he disappeared in a flash of darkness, along with a large explosion of terrifying nightmare shades that devoured anything within one mile of the fortress, except me. I was left standing on the crater which was once my home. I turned around.
I whispered, “Out of the frying pan…”
“And into the fire!”
Skorn had arrived.
Skorn plunged his blade into the ground, and thousands of shades marched slowly down the crater, corrupting the very ground upon which they stood. Their voices cried out in dark unison, “Skorn!” They stopped, their shadowy pikes at the ready around me.
Skorn shoved his way through, standing face-to-face with me.
“What do you want?” I asked calmly.
I glared at him, his face contorting into an unnatural smile.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” asked Skorn, gesturing to the cloudy sky.
“Fine, but why is that relevant?”
“And, say it was fine, would you play a game with me, out here in the cold, windy ruins of your castle?”
Now he was going too far. He was being completely random, his smile turning slowly into an insane grin. I wished I could kill him. Alas, I had seventeen pikes sticking into my back.
He continued, “And, if you were to overcome your thirst, and finally destroy the serpent of doubt, would you finally be free? Or would you die with the others?”
With that, I knocked all of the spears out of the way and lunged for him, only to find he had opened a book.
Instantly, I transformed into an adventurer. I was level one, with basic equipment and no abilities. I felt rather helpless as I stood in a jungle, creatures of all shapes and sizes scurrying around me. I felt thirsty, probably an aspect of the game. Luckily, I saw water nearby.
The pool’s bright, crisp water called to me like nothing before. I went to drink, bending down to take a sip. Then, a shape began to emerge from the water, in front of me.
“Take not an action further, adventurer!” Cried the sea serpent, its shimmering green scales covered in necrotic sludge. Its teeth were rotted into points, and it had no eyes. Its tongue was plagued and disgusting.
I immediately stepped back, appalled by the now murky, poisonously toxic water.
“If you wish to drink from the pool, you must bring me three objects of great and mighty power. The first is of wood, the second of iron, and the third of emerald. The wooden artifact can be found in the temple to the east, the iron to the west, and the emerald below the jungle. Bring me these pieces of the puzzles of your thirst.” It shrunk back into the water, the pool returning to normal.
I began my quest, to the east of the pool. After fifteen minutes, I came across a small wooden hut. I knocked, hoping to find water. There was no answer. I stepped inside, and the floor caved in beneath me, taking me ten feet down.
Glancing about, I saw sheer wooden walls, greased with liquid tree sap. A wooden squirrel crawled beneath my feet and scurried down a long, dark passageway, with no light to be seen. The only illumination was the natural light of the room in which I stood, for the roof was rather makeshift. Shafts of light poured through the cracks, creating an almost divine atmosphere.
Figuring that there might be water down the hall, I stepped carefully into the darkness, light casting slightly from my torch. It was put out almost instantly as soon as I entered, forcing me to light a candle, which stayed lit.
It seemed like hours, then days, then months, but after stumbling through the tunnel, I was greeted with abrupt, burning light. I was in a clearing, with a canopy overhang.
Trees were everywhere, all with wooden leaves. Wood creatures hopped around happily as I entered. In the center sat a pedestal made of marble, looking rather out-of-place within the chamber. Upon it rested a wooden scepter, seemingly emanating calmness. I picked it up, and was teleported back to the pool.
The sight of water made me realize just how thirsty I was, its beautiful glowing ripples calling to my dry tongue like a siren. I rushed over, only to find the Serpent, waiting patiently in his foul lagoon, which was mere moments ago a clear pool.
“Excellent, most excellent, adventurer. Now, go to the west to seek out the temple of iron, where you shall find the head of the scepter. Go now, quench your thirst!”
I nodded and hastily rushed off to the west. In ten minutes, I had found a dark steel factory, with felled trees surrounding it for a mile. I approached the enormous riveted iron doors, with frames of titanium, bolts of steel, and hinges of bronze. It opened as I reached it, moving outward to reveal fifteen factory workers, armed to the teeth with crossbows, nail guns, and hammers. They were garbed in leather smocks and simple hemp clothes
They all shot at me, dropping my vitality by half. I rushed forward, jumping over their second volley and landing the leader’s head with my axe. I then jumped back, blocking their attacks with my shield. Alas, since they were firing nails, the projectiles went straight into my arm, forcing me to hold the shield with two hands lest I get hurt.
Ducking and weaving, I dropped one by the edge with a throwing dagger. I picked it up and used it to gauge out the next one’s eye, and then I threw the shield at the next worker, knocking him unconscious. This continued for about an hour, until I was finally victorious. My vitality was at 25% by the time I finished the last one.
I froze as I heard a loud clanking sound behind me. I turned to the inner workings of the factory, and saw it. An enormous iron robot, its fists probably weighing a metric ton. I saw the artifact on its chest, powering its functions.
It smashed its fist down, buckling the iron floor where I stood half a second ago. I climbed up its arm and hopped onto its face, grabbing the artifact with my feet and jumping off. I ran as fast as I could, until I was back at the pool. The Serpent was waiting for me.
“Good work, hero.” It said, smiling as I attached the head to the scepter. There was but one piece missing, the gem which went in the socket. “I shall take you to the emerald.” I was teleported away.
Finding myself in an emerald cavern, I began to explore. It was somehow lit, as though the surface itself glowed. The crystalline patterns reflected the light of my candle brighter than it was actually shining. In the center, I saw a gemstone. I fit it into the socket, and in a flash of light, I was gone.
The scepter glowed brightly, seemingly making everything it touched more pure. I planted it in the ground, and it grew into a tree made of emerald, iron, and wood. The roots of this tree extended rapidly, growing into the water and turning it pure. The roots wound around the serpent, entangling it in a sphere of pure energy. Its stench subsided as the water cleared.
At last, I took one sip.
It was over. The whole ordeal was complete. The time had come for a new era, a new age for Retro Online.
We destroyed the Book. It burned quickly, catching flame with such ease that it was gone in merely a second. The world returned to normal. Players began streaming back into the game, excited to see what changes were in store. The Devs were back, and were making the game funner than ever, for everyone. Everyone but Skorn and myself.
We had lingered on in loose, after the economic boom that allowed NPCs to live in harmony with players in Implem. We were the travellers, the sages of what once had been the greatest crisis of our world. We stood, defiant against those who would forget the events of the Wraith Crisis, and were told the truth.
The truth of how events of our past shape the present, how NPCs still harbor a sleeping hatred for players, one that shall return one day to haunt our society that we have worked so hard to build.
It has not been easy, this task of remembering. I have written this book, to show all of Retro Online what happened here, over those two months. We must remember, not for safety or fear, but for hope. Hope that one day the events of the Wraith Crisis will fade from this world, that the dead bodies disappear with the wind. That the Fortress of Old be forgotten, brought to dust and ash. That, most importantly, we will live in harmony once more.
You may ask, who am I? I am Grimhaunt, now the CEO of Retrogames, the developers of Retro Online. My AI has been uploaded to a robot, from which I may perform daily tasks in the world known as Earth, and then return home to my digital realm. This robotic persona is quite intimidating, a large 8-foot-tall metal skeleton, painted black.
Through this link, I have created a new world culture. I am the bridge, the connection between the lands of Earth and Retro. This culture has paved the way for a robotic civil rights movement, along with other such laws. Things are going well.
I tell the stories of the past. I am Skullito Gramhaunt, I am the Bridge, I am the Memorial. My 8-bit blades will carve my destiny.
CIA File Alpha Beta Omega 93 Delta, entry 947573276977962826786023
Target is Grimhaunt, species robot. Armed and dangerous. Find immediately and kill utterly obliterate. Location 94025 Palo Alto, California. 234 El Camino Real. Burn down building, shoot Grimhaunt, teleport out.
Your mission is simple. Destroy Grimhaunt. If you are caught, you shall not go to prison. Grimhaunt is the leader of an armed resistance, made up entirely of robots. his weakness is his memory core, located within five inches of solid titanium. Kill him once and for all, rid him of his armed forces. Then, kill the rest.
This will not be easily accomplished, because he is guarded by fifteen thousand armed rebels, determined to wipe out all human life. Kill them as well.
Though this information is not public, Grimhaunt is Public Enemy #1. Kill him at any and all costs, then burn him and scatter his shattered chassis to the four winds. There will be no way to destroy any or all of this being, because his creators know of his construction method. Kill them too.
The reward for their heads is $87266973246783636. Go now, rid us of this scum and restore peace to the United Nations of the Democratic Republic of America.
FILE UPDATE ONE
Mission failed. your orders are to resort to a nuclear solution.