Your guild says you have little hope as an adventurer- and they cast you out. Dejected, you wander- until you discover that the monsters they’ve been slaying are merely misunderstood- now they, as your companions, make up for your missing strength.
The white minivan bore down on my bumper and assaulted my ears with a barrage of honks. I flashed a syrupy sweet smile into the rearview mirror before tapping my brakes, just to piss her off more. On the other side of the windshield, a worn out looking woman flipped me her middle finger. I shrugged and let it go. We were all stuck in rush hour traffic, just like every other day of the week. At least it was going the right way — back towards home.
“TGIF!”, the local DJ hooted over my radio. “I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been a long week. I can’t wait to get home. Have a great weekend! I’ll talk to you all on Monday!”
I grinned to myself. Actually, Deejay would talk to me in about two hours in guild chat on Epic Fantasy, the newest and hottest MMORPG. She was my favorite guild officer. Today was the end of my two week guild trial, and I was pumped about getting promoted to a full member.
Life had been pretty boring before I won my sweet gaming PC and a copy of Epic Fantasy in a radio contest. High school just doesn’t prepare a person for the mind numbing routine of blue collar adulthood. I’m pretty sure the world could go on without me there to man the counter of Gas and Go. Then again, my average customer had the intelligence of an orc. I flashed Miss Impatient a sympathetic glance in the rear view mirror. Maybe she had a boring, cruddy week, too. She flipped me off again. People suck. Screw her.
If only I could just live in Epic Fantasy. Tonight was going to go a long way towards making that happen. Once I was a full member, I would be put on the raid invites. I was going to spend all weekend kicking dragon butt and getting epic loot.
Another round of honks brought me out of my daydream. Minivan was going at it full blast. The entire highway in front of us was blocked off by flashing lights. I squinted my eyes to try and make out the accident. A county’s worth of fire engines almost completely blocked off the wreck, but I caught a glimpse of an overturned SUV engulfed in flames. How did anyone manage to flip their car over in bumper to bumper traffic?
Mercifully, my exit came just before the emergency blockade. I pulled on to the off ramp and tooted my horn vindictively at Miss Minivan.
Residing next to the highway had its perks. A couple more blocks of driving and I had finally reached home sweet apartment. Leaving my car and the parking lot behind, I climbed a mountain of sadistically planned steps. The weight of a full day on my feet grew more painful with each one of them.
Finally, I had made it home. I fiddled with the door handle and swung open the gate to my sanctuary. Everything became more bearable after I locked it back behind me and made my way straight to my command center. My TerraPower CPU tower sat on my dining room table, rainbow LEDs glowing in synchronization around its gleaming silver case. My hand rested on the hard plastic. I made it through the week. Now, I could finally start living.
With a weary “oof”, I slid into my gaming chair and booted up Epic Fantasy. My main character, a sassy looking elf, appeared in the middle of the merchant district. The nonchalant power of my CPU loaded her and everything else in instant high definition. In the real world I drove a piece of crap; but, in the gaming world, I drove a Lamborghini. Between my overpowered rig and my in with Deejay, I had everything it took to become a full fledged member of <Night Warriors>.
I settled into my early evening routine by checking my in game mail. I loved seeing my mailbox full of gold from the auction house. I spent most of my off time grinding crafting mats and rare drops. It beat watching late night T.V. and thinking about my shrinking chances of ever finding a girlfriend.
I clicked collect all on the mailbox and started counting. Somewhere around 40,000 gold, an actual message flipped from the box into my bags. Woah, someone sent me mail? I opened the message. A scroll filled my screen and the words appeared across it in medieval calligraphy.
I’m glad you’re having fun on Epic Fantasy! Thanks for trying out for Night Warriors, but we really need people with more raiding experience. Let us know if you get more gear and we would be more than happy to revisit your membership application!
P.S. Thanks for listening to Rock 107.4!”
I stared at the screen in disbelief, rereading the message over and over again. Then I saw that my <Night Warriors> tag was gone from under my character name. Those jerks kicked me out of the guild when I was offline!
Now what was I going to do all weekend?
I flipped through the achievement window, looking for something that I could solo. I should have known that I would be rejected. My entire life was one big solitary grind. My mouse stopped over the perfect drudgery to fill the next two days until work started again. I was going to get the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon mount — a reward for collecting 5,000 Lava Dragon bladders.
I had never gone to the Fiery Wastes zone before. It was a zone full of elite monsters, the kind of mobs that everyone else joined a raid to fight. Since that zone was undiscovered on my map, I couldn’t even take a taxi to get there. I summoned my Camel mount and put it on auto run as I headed out of town. I hugged the road, hoping none of the higher level mobs would aggro on me.
If I could make it out to the flight master, I could pick up the flight path and hopefully sneak in a few attacks on some Lava Dragons that the raiders were fighting. It wasn’t going to be my dream weekend, but the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon was pretty cool. It had an auction house and a mailbox built in. Heck, with those I could just make enough money from auctions to buy raid run throughs and get all the gear in the game.
I got off my mount and went into stealth mode. The characters on this road were all decked out in epics and it was getting embarrassing to see them target me as I rode by. I felt like I didn’t belong. It sucked. Epic Fantasy had become the one place that I fit in. Now, I didn’t even have any friends on there.
I crept across the map, my toon crouched in stealth. I may as well keep farming for the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon. I didn’t have anything else to do.
The corners of my screen flashed red, indicating that a Lava Dragon was nearby. With my finger on my mouse button, I panned the screen from left to right. They were supposed to be giant. Where the hell could it be? Granted, I hadn’t ever seen a Lava Dragon in game before, but I could imagine what to expect.
While I was trying to find the big bad dragon of doom, I spotted a pet sized creature stuck in a well. I didn’t know what struck me as more odd, the random creature or the well in the middle of the Fiery Wastes. What was it for? Lava? Wait, lava! What kind of creature can live in lava?
My toon had barely touched the side of the well before a little winged lizard shot out of the molten pit and ran around in circles. A yellow exclamation mark popped up over its head. I had spent a lot of time on my phone, looking up quest guides, at work. I didn’t remember anything about this.
I clicked on the lizard and the familiar scroll unfurled across my screen. The stylized writing couldn’t appear fast enough.
My name is Flicker. I need your help! A group of raiders chased me into this well, and now I’m lost! Can you help me find my way home?
I don’t have any gold, but my family are the keepers of the Timeworn Trove. If you can get me back to them, a piece of the treasure will be yours!”
I must have found a secret quest. Secret quests were all the rage with collectors. They usually rewarded vanity pets or toys. None of those things would ever get me into a raiding guild. Realistically, though, the chances of me getting into any kind of guild were slim to none.
“Sure, Flicker.” I said to the screen as I clicked the accept button. “Let’s get you home, little buddy.”
Yeah. I was talking to a computer lizard. Wait, was that a dragon? A red dragon? I hovered my mouse pointer over Flicker to bring up his character information. Flicker, the Lava Whelp. There were Lava Dragon babies? This was starting to get cool.
I opened up my map to see where the quest was going to take me. My heart sank. A dotted line ran all the way from my location to the heart of the Lava Dragon den. How was I going to get past all of those elite mobs without a raid party? I closed my map and looked back at Flicker. He flapped his baby wings and did an occasional somersault.
It was strange that no other players were in this part of the Fiery Wastes, especially on a Friday night. All the big guilds should have raiding parties swarming this whole zone. Maybe if I could find a big raid, I could stick with my original plan and sneak in behind them. I cast stealth again and started creeping back towards the road. Where there are roads, there are eventually people. Where there are people, there are raids. I needed a raid, whether they called me a member or not.
Flicker followed me for a few seconds before darting off into a roadside cave. I opened my map. There was no cave on the map. What was going on? I didn’t want to go into the cave and get one shot by whatever elite mob lived there.
My screen flashed and an urgent sounding horn played in my headset. Bright red text started scrolling over my character.
“Stay close to Flicker, or they will become lost forever!’
Crap! Lost forever? I was probably the first person to find this secret quest, and I was going to miss out on it just because I was afraid of a stupid cave? I broke out of stealth and started sprinting into the darkness.
Everything around my character stayed pitch black. Was the game glitching? There was no way that my brand new TerraPower was lagging. I knew I was going in the right direction because my screen stopped flashing red text. My game music changed to a tribal flute and drum. I couldn’t tell if my character was running into a wall or actually following a path.
Up ahead, Flicker sneezed a fire puff. It was so stinking cute. He was stunned by the sneeze. He stayed put long enough for my elf legs to catch up. Thinking that I hadn’t come across any elite mobs yet, and that this whole adventure might turn out alright, I took my hands off the keyboard and popped my knuckles. My smart watch screen illuminated and caught my eye. 2 A.M.?! There was no way I had been sitting here for seven hours!
My stomach rumbled. This looked like a good place to log off. I hovered my mouse over the logout button. Flicker would be here after I grabbed some McDonalds.
Flicker had other plans. He started flying around the cave and sneezing fire onto the walls. It took me a few minutes to realize that he was lighting torches. Flicker hopped around by my feet as he lit up the entire room. Wait, if Flicker was next to me, then what was shooting fire all over the room?
The cave’s walls started to materialize in the firelight. This wasn’t just a cave, this was a fortress. A massive ceiling spanned across the top of my screen. It was covered in murals of Lava Dragons. These graphics were amazing. I zoomed in to first person and started taking screenshots of everything around me. r/EpicFantasy was going to go crazy over these!
I kept moving down the main path, zooming in and out and turning to get pictures from all angles. As I scrolled my mouse wheel to find just the right distance to capture a statue’s detailed graphics, I saw a hidden door. A hidden door in a hidden cave. My post was going to go viral.
I made sure Flicker was still next to me and ran through the doorway. You didn’t walk anywhere in video games, you just ran. Flicker zoomed ahead of me and stopped in the middle of the room. A yellow question mark showed up over his head. I had completed the quest!
I whooped and clicked on Flicker. I was expecting another scroll with quest text, but everything started to dim as a cut scene loaded. This was getting serious! I pressed a couple keys on my keyboard and started to record the screen.
In the cut scene, Flicker started to morph into a human… girl. She shook out her hair and stretched her arms, like they had been cramped up for a long time. Her piercing red eyes looked past the camera and then lit up with joy. “Papa!”, she called out to the unseen person.
A deep throaty reply played as the camera slowly panned back around to reveal who she was talking to. “Flicker! You’re alive!”, it choked out with emotion. The video panned to look upward. The giant Lava Dragon was looking down, bright red tears rolling down its face and falling to the ground with hot hisses.
As Flicker wrapped her arms around one of the dragon’s giant forearms, a female voice rung out. “Flicker! You’ve come home!” Flicker and the great Lava Dragon embraced while another human female ran into the scene. She had Flicker’s crimson red locks.
“Mama!’ Flicker trilled. “This adventurer saved me from the raiders!” My eyebrows shot up. The raiders? As in, raid raiders? I was in a dragon lair with Lava Dragons, and they thought I had saved one of them from other players?
The giant dragon and beautiful woman moved closer together, with Flicker between them. The three of them faced the camera. The other two morphed back into dragon form as the patriarch spoke.
“Thank you for saving our Flicker. We wish there was more time to express our gratitude, but we are all in grave danger. For centuries, we have been the sole protectors of Fantasy. Because of our sacrifice, no one else in the realm knows of the great evil that lurks underneath the lava. “
“It was only recently that the raiders began to attack. Their relentless greed has driven them into a frenzied assault. It keeps us awake day and night. They slay our kind and take our scales as their epic trophies. The more of us they kill, the stronger their armor and weapons become. With fewer of us remaining to cast our lava magic, the Demonic Horde are starting to break through the magma flows.”
“Adventurer, we are approaching our final hour. Once we are no longer able to protect Fantasy, evil will break through and destroy everything. We need you to wield the ancient artifacts in the Timeworn Trove and restore balance to Fantasy.”
The cutscene ended and my character reappeared in the dragon stronghold. Holy cow. I did a double take and opened my character window. Every gear slot had a legendary item. I looked at my gear score and gaped. The max gear score in the game was 240, and mine was 800!
I was pumped! I closed out of my character window.
I was in the merchant district. I turned the camera around and opened up my map. Everything looked normal, except for the fact that I wasn’t in the dragon stronghold! I closed the game and opened it back up. My character was still standing next to the mailbox.
A whisper message popped up on my chat window. “Dude, wtf u wearing?”
I started to type a reply, but then I got another whisper. And another. And another. My entire screen filled up with walls of text. Repeatedly.
“This a joke?”
“Who r u?”
“U a wiz?”
“Nice gear, lulz!”
Not only was I getting a ton of whispers, but the general chat window was going crazy, too. Everyone on the server was talking about my character’s gear. People started flying in from other zones to inspect me. It was a good thing that I had a brand new computer, because all those players in one place had to be making everything super laggy.
My phone rung. I checked the screen. It was the radio station’s contest line. Apparently that was a thing now, too. I rubbed my eyes and pressed answer.
“Elfina?” Deejay’s tone was urgent.
“Uh, actually this is Tom.”
“Elfina, Tom, whatever. Look, we need to talk. NOW. I’m outside your balcony. Can you open the door?”
I started toward the front door.
“UGH! No! The balcony door!”
I turned back to the balcony door.
Two smoldering eyes illuminated a pair of flapping whelp wings.