What a Boar!

The forest was a sacred place, one that generations past had lived in, prayed in, and had become part of their livelihood. Shrines were made to honor the dead and the spirits that protected the living.

On a sunny afternoon, a trio of warriors – an orc, an elf, and a barbarian – stood amongst the trees.

“This place sucks,” the orc said. “Can’t we go somewhere else and grind?”

He had the name “TheSupremeChurro” floating above his head. The elf girl, who was fighting with a wild boar next to him, sighed. She had the name “firestar60615″ above her head.

“Stop complaining,” she said. “This is the quickest place enemies spawn.”

“Yeah, but there’s nothing to do.”

“What are you talking about?” Firestar said. “The whole point is to kill the boars. You’re just sitting there!”

Their third member, the barbarian with the name HeroOfJustice94, shook his head.

“You’re the lowest level, too,” Hero said. “So start using that club for something other than scratching your butt.”

“I could always cave your head in,” Churro said. “That’s way more interesting than these stupid pigs.”

“These ‘stupid pigs’ will get you the XP you need to do any damage,” Hero said. “Right now you could barely give me a paper cut.”

“We’ll see about that!”

A shuffling noise in the bushes caught both of their attention.

“What was that?” Churro asked.

“Probably a bunny, or a deer,” Hero said. “Just trying to spook us.”

“Whatever. I’m over it. You should consider yourself lucky, I guess,” Churro said.

“Yeah, you were saved from the worst paper cut of your life,” Firestar said.

“You two mock me now, but just wait until I level up. You’ll be sorry.”

“You can’t level up unless you kill things to get the XP, and all you’ve been doing is sitting,” Firestar said.

Begrudgingly Churro got to his feet and approached a boar nearby.

“So stupid,” he muttered to himself.

He fought two boars before he returned to his tree stump to sit.

“I need a break,” he said.

“I hope you do more work than this at your actual job,” Hero said.

“Probably more than you,” Churro spat.

“It’s hard to make that case, given the evidence.”

“Blah, blah, blah, some stupid Hero joke, we get it.”

Firestar snickered.

“Just put your character on auto-fight mode and do something else,” Hero said.

“I’m on here because I want to play the game, not because I want to do something else,” Churro said. “And besides–“

The end of his sentence was cut off. Hero and Firestar didn’t notice at first. They continued fighting their boars, waiting for him to finish. When it became an awkwardly long pause, Hero turned and saw Churro sitting on his stump, wide-eyed and frozen in place. He was about to ask what was wrong when he saw it: an arrow stuck out of Churro’s neck.
Slowly the orc fell forward until he landed on his face with a loud thud. His body turned into a mesh of colored pixels that disappeared part by part until there was nothing left.

“Damn it,” Hero said as he looked around for the source of the arrow.

“What?” Firestar said.

She was finishing another boar and hadn’t seen anything.

“Someone shot Churro.”

Firestar spun around.

“Where did he go? What happened?”

They waited for more arrows to come, but none did. They were surrounded by what looked like a quiet and abandoned forest.

“Where did you respawn, Churro?” Hero asked.

“Shrine,” Churro replied.

His friends sighed with relief.

“Okay, good, the north or south one?” Firestar asked.

“North,” Churro said. “I’m going to kill whoever shot me!”

“Hopefully they don’t find you before we do,” Hero said.

“Then hurry up!”

The two left mid-battle, leaving behind an annoyed group of boars, and headed north.

Several minutes later they found the shrine where Churro sat, obviously irritated.

“Even as he’s being hunted, he just sits there,” Firestar said. “Props to you for being committed.”

Churro mocked her laugh.

“You guys didn’t see him?”

The barbarian and elf shook their heads.

“Damn it, don’t they have anything better to do?” Churro grumbled.

“They probably finished their boar-killing regimen, so next on the list is hunting orcs,” Hero mused.

“Then he really doesn’t have anything better to do.”

“Should we just head back to town and wait for Churro’s death timer to reset?”

“No way!” Churro said. “If we leave now, we’ll never catch the guy!”

“Yeah, but if you die two more times–“

“I’m not going to die again! He just got a lucky shot! You guys have to help me get him.”

Hero and Firestar exchanged glances.

“I don’t want to hear any complaining if your character dies then,” Firestar said. “You wanted to risk it, so you live with the consequences.”

“I already told you, I’m not going to die! Now let’s hurry up and find him before he gets away.”

The three spread out and searched. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in that part of the forest, but they listened closely.

Churro was the first on his trail.

“Guys, I hear him. Come toward me, he’s around–shit! He sees me! Guys, hurry up!”

Hero and Firestar ran in his direction using their maps. They closed in on his position soon after, and found him sitting on the ground, his body riddled with arrows. As soon as they approached him, his body flopped over and disappeared.

“God damn it,” Churro said, his voice still audible thanks to being in the same virtual party.

Hero and Firestar stood back-to-back as they surveyed their surroundings. Firestar kept her bow ready and held her breath. Hero held his greatsword in front of him with both hands, gripping the hilt tightly. Neither said anything, they just watched for any movement.”

“Why is it always me?” Churro grumbled, breaking the silence. “You two were right there, but did he shoot either of you? Of course not. Just me. This happens every time. So dumb. And now I’m all the way back in town, and have to walk back–“

“No, stay there,” Firestar said. “You have one life left, dummy.”

“So? This game is dumb.”

Movement in the forest caught Hero’s eye.

“Found him!” he said before taking off.

Firestar followed.

The two followed the trail until they saw a figure and a gamertag above their head: [ST] ShadowHunter_QTR.

“You idiot, he’s part of the Smiling Tombs,” Hero said.

“So?”

So that’s why he’s only going after you. Firestar and I aren’t noobs.”

“I’m not a noob!”

“Tell that to him.”

“I will once I get back there!”

“Just stay in town!” Firestar exclaimed.

Hero and Firestar weaved through the trees, slowly gaining on the archer.

Hero drifted to the side and sped up. He was making moves to flank him, but their target noticed and started in the other direction.

Firestar readied her bow as she ran and took a couple shots at him. He dodged the first one, but the second one hit its mark. He toppled over, and was quickly surrounded by Firestar and Hero.

ShadowHunter got to his knees, and avoided looking at the two. His face was covered by his cowl.

“Do we kill him?” Firestar asked.

“Why is that even a question?!” Churro exclaimed.

“He’ll just respawn!”

“This could be his third death today! Just kill him!”

“Picking on low-level players is weak,” Hero said to the archer. “I hope you learned something.”

He raised his greatsword to strike, but ShadowHunter was quicker. In one fluid motion, he grabbed his bow, loaded it with an arrow, and shot it at Hero. The arrow hit his side.

Firestar raised her bow to retaliate, but ShadowHunter released a smoke bomb. Everything was suddenly covered in a thick, gray smoke. Firestar shot an arrow where ShadowHunter was, but she heard it stick into the ground.

Hero pulled out the arrow in his side with a wince.

“He got away,” he said.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Churro said. “You let him go?!”

“No, he used a smoke bomb and fled.”

“What the hell guys?!”

“Hey, we did our best,” Firestar said. “At least we didn’t die.”

“Maybe you should have. It would have been a noble sacrifice.”

“No, it would have been stupid. Now shut up and watch your timer.”

“Are you guys coming to town?”

“Nah,  we’re going back to boar hunting,” Hero said.

“What am I supposed to do?!”

“Keep us entertained with stories while we get fifty levels ahead of you?” Firestar said.

She and Hero laughed.

“I quit. I’m going to bed. Screw this game and screw you guys.”

“You’re welcome,” Hero said.

The two laughed as Churro logged off.

~*~

No One’s Here

“The space between us is just that – space. We’re so small and insignificant when you really think about it. The universe is so vast and we’re just this little speck. Did you know that the width of the Milky Way is around 100,000 light years?”

“Did you know that I don’t care, Revenge?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Yet you’re still going on and on and on…I’m getting a headache.”

“What else can we do while we wait?”

“Literally anything else…please.”

“Wasn’t Nova supposed to get on already?”

“He’s always late. When he says ten minutes, he means an hour.”

The two friends sat in their personal spaceships, drifting lazily in the orbit of a nearby planet. Their gamertags floated above their heads like a halo. One was HellBentRevenge, the other TheDarkBlader.

Each of their spaceships had their own unique look. Revenge’s ship was round with smooth surfaces, and the whole top was a rounded windshield. He looked like he was inside a giant toy capsule that kids got from vending machines. Blader’s spaceship, on the other hand, looked like someone took a tank straight to space. It was big, bulky, and bottom-heavy. Blader sat at the top in his own windowed command center, much smaller than Revenge’s.

“Well, we can’t wait here forever, right?” Revenge said.

Blader rested his chin on the palm of his hand.

“You should know by now we will and do,” Blader said. “We’ll just wait by my planet until he gets around to getting on. Otherwise it’ll take forever for him to find us. Remember what happened last time we told him to meet us at that planet with all the Xs in the name?”

Revenge thought back.

“Oh yeah, we spent the whole night trying to give him directions,” he said slowly. “And then he had to go to bed.”

“Exactly. Better to wait here so he can fast travel.”

“Why didn’t we just wait for him to get on and then we get on?”

“Because we have nothing else to do?”

“Oh, right.”

Fifteen minutes passed uneventfully. Both looked for little ways to entertain themselves while they waited in silence. Then the familiar sound of a microphone shuffling filled their ears.

“Hey guys!” came a friendly voice.

“Finally,” Blader said.

“Oh calm down, I didn’t take that long.”

“I dunno, it sort of felt like forever,” Revenge said.

A square spaceship with a pattern resembling a Rubik’s cube flew in between the other two. The pilot had the gamertag “NovaFrog”.

“You two are so dramatic,” Nova said. “All right, so what are we doing?”

“Did you guys need crafting materials you want to farm?” Revenge asked.

“Ugh, I am so tired of farming for materials on every planet,” Blader said. “They are all practically the same thing.”

“Okay, never mind…”

“Why don’t we try out the new modifications to space battles?” Nova said.

“On each other?” Revenge asked.

“So then we can spend more time collecting craft material to fix our ships? Uh, no,” Blader said. “We’ll go find some noobs!”

“Ohhhh, okay,” Revenge said. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

“I didn’t think I would have to explain every little detail.”

“You should know by now that Revenge requires the utmost details be thoroughly explained to him,” Nova said with a laugh. “And then repeated when he doesn’t pay attention or understand the first time.”

Revenge mockingly laughed.

“You guys are sooo funny,” he said.

“Let’s just go. I’m tired of just waiting around,” Blader said.

“Yeah, really. Me, too” Nova said.

“Wait a second…” Revenge added.

Before they could start up another round, Blader took the lead and started his ship through space. Revenge and Nova followed behind.

They passed floating asteroids, stars burning brightly, and planets of varied colors, all held by the pure black of space. They traveled at the speed of something between a crawl and light speed – the ship monitored their speed on one of the screens at the command center, but it was in a measurement none of them could put into relatable terms.

Revenge and Nova used their boost to try to keep up with Blader, who bolted ahead. He spent the most time in the game, and therefore had the best modifications to his spaceship, but they managed to keep up well enough.

They flew past planet after planet, their sensors identifying each planet and reading off the information. They were diverse in many aspects: the elements available, the climate, the geological formations, the bodies of water, the amount of trees or lack thereof.

This universe stretched on infinitely, housing countless planets. It would be impossible to explore every one. However, some players were excited by a challenge labeled “impossible”.

“Oh man, let’s stop at this planet,” Revenge said, pointing toward a nearby planet. “No one discovered it yet.”

“It’ll take forever to land, then forever to explore the whole thing, then forever to see if we collected everything and identified everything, and then Nova will look at the time and decide he’s going to bed and we’ll have tried out exactly zero space battles,” Blader said.

“Hey, it’s not my fault I work a day job and you guys work the night shift,” Nova said.

“I’m not saying anyone is to blame,” Blader said. “I’m just telling you what will happen.”

Revenge sighed.

“I’ll just mark my map and come back later when I can play by myself.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry we’re holding you back from the super exciting task of identifying planets.”

“Thank you for the apology. I accept.”

“You can’t see me from over there, but I’m rolling my eyes.”

“I figured.”

The trio continued on their journey through the galaxies, gradually speeding up. Blader sighed more than once and muttered curse words under his breath when his minimap remained void of other players. Nova thought it was more and more funny the longer they didn’t find anyone, mostly to watch Blader grow increasingly irritated. Revenge was just happy to be there.

Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. An hour went by. And then two.

“We’ve been out here for almost three hours!” Blader exclaimed.

“Technically it’s been two and a half,” Nova said. “Since I got on at…wait, when did I get on?”

“Who cares?! Two and a half hours?! Are you kidding me?!”

“What do you expect? This universe is huge.”

“I was expecting it to be a lot easier to find other players! What’s the point of space battles if you can’t find anyone to battle?!”

“Why don’t we just battle each other?” Revenge asked, not having spoken for over thirty minutes.

“You want space battles, huh?” Blader said. “I’ll give you space battles!”

Blader turned his ship at Revenge and opened fire. He had one big barrel at the front of his tank-like ship, and blasted out several shots. Revenge easily swayed his small ship back and forth, dodging the blasts, and fired his own machine gun from the bottom of his capsule ship. It sprayed mercilessly, and within seconds the tank’s left side was completely damaged. Blader started to move his ship away, but Revenge got the back of him and damaged the right side. It started smoking from the inside. Blader let out an angry growl as the bottom part of the ship detached and there was nothing left but the small command center with Blader inside.

The three watched as the bullet-riddled tank floated away.

“Great, just great,” Blader said. “Now I have to build another one from scratch.”

“Cool, let’s go back and try that undiscovered planet we passed, see if there’s any good crafting materials,” Revenge said.

“And after that, oh would you look at the time, I should probably head to bed,” Nova said.

Revenge and Nova laughed.

“I hate you both,” Blader said.

~*~