Playable Character

Eric J. Juneau

Logging in to server......

Parsing protocol.......

Client XTP:1020//:4545......loading

Logged in!

Cyril was standing in the marketplace, looking between a Frost Dagger and Harbinger Leggings of Strength, when his player logged in. The sharp jolt made him grit his teeth. Then he smiled pastily.

"Hello, player," Cyril said. "Welcome back to Izzi San'Yattrib. The world time is 3:11, and you have no new messages," Every single time, he had to say that. It was like being a Non-Playable Character again, back when all he did was point out how many years it had been since the Thuggian fields were plagued by Razor-Clawed Rats.

"Where are we going today?" Cyril asked.

There was no immediate response. Either there was some lag, or his player was taking his sweet time.

"Hey, hello? I'm standing here, looking pretty. What are we going to do today? I hope you didn't log on just to admire my armor. Hint, hint."

Cyril's armor consisted mostly of things he wore when he was still Level 11. The best thing he had was a golden chestplate he'd received as a rare drop from a Murfeter Ox. Clerics didn't get a very high armor class, and it was the only thing that kept him out of newbie missions.

"Hey, how about we check some Clan boards. Maybe join one?" No response. "Or we could harvest some Thysil Greens?" No response. "Hey, it's your credit card. Or your parents. Waste your time, see if I care."

Then Cyril received his response.

"What? Oh, not the Serpent Dragon. Come on, I don't feel like fighting today. Yes, I know we have all the requirements, but that doesn't mean-"

His player headed him towards the Flagpole to look for a party of adventurers.

"You sure? Don't you want to look for some new armor first? No? All right."

He heard the ambient noise of a crowd before he saw it. Sound loaded faster than objects. Then the rest of the world formed around him.

A medieval pig-man walked by, snorting through the gold ring in his nose and holding a sticking spear. A pale-skinned Unicronian with six arms shook a carpet out his window. Elves, centaurs, gargoyles, and dwarves passed him on their way to the fields.

The streets never used to be this crowded, but a lot of avatars' players had become bored and never logged back in. Without a player, avatars were limited to safe zones. It was an old world, and Cyril was glad his player was still active, even though he obviously hadn't read a single FAQ.

"Birdoco license! Get a Birdoco License!" a shopkeeper shouted.

Cyril looked over. "Birdoco license? We could train a Birdoco. That way I wouldn't have to walk everywhere. It would take less time to get places." He was ignored.

In the center of the marketplace, a large crowd had gathered, all focused on a central point. "Hey, what's this?" Cyril said. "Let's check it out." Thankfully, his player obeyed his request and steered him towards the thick mass.

There were too many tall races in the back to see what was going on. He could hear swords swinging and muffled explosions of magic spells.

"Why is there a battle going on in the middle of town?" Cyril asked. He jumped up and down, trying to find a space between two Mammothites.

"Cyril! What ho!"

Cyril looked towards the voice. A giant man with an axe on his back and wild cinnamon hair waved at him.

"Oh geez, Bolbadir," Cyril covered his face with his hand and looked away. "Don't connect with him, please?" Cyril asked. But it was too late.

Bolbadir raised his axe and pointed, "Cyril! A battle! Doth it not excite the blood?" He pointed over the heads of others. "Come hither. Methinks here be the best view for thee."

Cyril sighed and trudged over to Bolbadir. He still had that obnoxious AuthenticSpeak mod installed, but at least there was a vacant spot by him.

The Barbarian clapped a beefy hand on his shoulder. If it wasn't for his armor, Cyril would have lost 5 HP. "How doth the morrow find you, yon Cyril?" he asked.

"I'm fine, dude. You don't need to talk like that."

"In what manner of speech dost my friend protesteth?"

Cyril slumped his shoulders. "Never mind."

Two knights stood facing each other in a circle, casting magic spells and skillchain attacks. A white ring encircled them, marking off the boundaries of the arena.

"It's a Player vs. Player fight?" Cyril said. "In the middle of Jastok square? What's going on?"

"Well, the gladiator in the guise of silver yonder hath pooched the other of a Reggai Mirror, that which hath come from hours of grinding in the stygian depths of the Garuda Plains. Yonder truth-seeker with the blade of vermilion decries this. The Game Judge wrought his decision that the avatars shall hold contest to render verdict."

A Game Judge stood stiff in the corner, watching the two. His hands rested on a long cleaver-like sword plunged in the dirt. He was dressed in thick cast-iron armor, covering every bit of skin. A knee-high mirror with gold trim sat at his feet.

Cyril said, "So you're saying one of those guys tried to scam an item from the other. And the Game Judge is having them duke it out?"

"For sooth!" Bolbadir said.

"You get all that?" Cyril asked his player, who confirmed that he did.

The black knight held out his hand and a white protective dome appeared over his head. The silver knight took the opportunity to strike a blow, but it wasn't very effective.

Cyril asked, "Why is the Judge having them fight about it instead of just making a judgment?"

Bolbadir shrugged his heaving shoulders. "Tis knowledge unbeknownst to me. Perhaps he was vexed earlier, and wishes to project his wrath. Who knoweth if any Judges have players any longer. They may be no more than lost souls wandering the landscapes, hoisting their own brand of justice upon the unfortunate."

The black knight lifted his sword overhead and brought it down. It passed through the other knight's body, and the number 2456 appeared over his head. A basic, but strong attack.

The defender stretched his purple blade into the air and a white wind full of sparkling fairies swirled around him. The number 1435 appeared in green, then faded away.

Bolbadir nudged Cyril. "Yonder black knight hath been proving his mettle for some time now. All the gray-clad warrior may do is heal a score as much as strike."

"What?"

No sooner had he said that than the black knight brought down his sword like he was chopping wood. The silver knight dropped to his knees and collapsed in the dirt as soon as the white numbers of doom blinked over his forehead. Some avatars clapped their hands in courtesy.

The black knight turned to the Game Judge and said, "All right, I won. Give me the mirror," he said.

The Game Judge remained motionless. "Aye, you have. Judgment is rendered fair to you." His tone sounded stilted and emotionless under the metal.

The Game Judge picked up the mirror, tucked it under the crook of his arm, and walked away to the edge of the crowd.

"Hey," the black knight called back. "Don't I get my mirror back?"

The judge turned around. "The battle was to decide justice, not reward. There is no reward for liars, and stupidity is its own punishment. Do I make myself clear?"

"What? You can't do that. I earned that mirror."

The Game Judge pointed his saber at him, raising it as slow and menacing as possible. "All judgments rendered by the Game Judge are final," he said, quoting the sacred Terms of Use. "Or would you receive a different judgment?"

The black knight stood motionless for a moment, clenching his fists, trying to find words. The audience held their breath.

No one had ever seen an avatar take on a Game Judge. In fact, the Terms of Use considered that to be illegal. Those who spread rumors about such an event were dismissed as having been on the losing end of one of their decisions. Would the rules be broken this time?

The knight huffed and walked back into the crowd. This instance would not be different.

The Game Judge walked back into the market, and the crowd dispersed.

Bolbadir said, "Twas a fine match. Nothing like a bit of spectacle before a day's work." He breathed in and out. "So Cyril, what news? For what reason dost you partake of the market?"

Cyril didn't respond for a second. "Hang on, my player's trying to make me wave, but he keeps opening the system menu." Cyril waved his arm back and forth outlandishly. "Ah, there we go. I'm going to the Flag to raise a group for the Serpent Dragon today."

"The white wyvern of Rofitunia? Ooh, 'tis many a fellow who's gone to the graveyard thanks to that beastie. Ye'd be best to stay clear, for his aggression meter speaketh of gross exuberance."

"I just need a Topaz Gem. I'm probably the only person in the world who's trying to get it without buying it."

"Ye have enough Thalassian Elfgrass, I'd wager?"

"Yep."

"And ye've paid your tribute to the Phoenix Woman? Shown her your title and deed?"

"Yeah, did that."

"Thou art well met. For this journey I shall accompany you, for no doubt a strong hand with an axe in your corner shall pull the victory for you, and earn you your just reward." He pulled his rune axe out of the scabbard on his back and held it to the sun so the razor-thin blade sparkled.

"Fantastic," Cyril monotoned. "Well, you can be a damage-dealer."

"Zounds, tis the role I was born for. Naught but a healer dost we require now, and we mayest be on our way. Though finding one may takest time."

Cyril smiled and looked over Bolbadir's spiked shoulder. "Don't worry, I think I see one on the way now." He waved at the oncomer. Bolbadir looked puzzled for a split second longer than a smarter avatar would, then turned around.

"By the surly beard of Mrifk!"

Her head was covered in a shiny chitin carapace, hiding her hair, if she had any. She barely looked human with her bulging red eyes, purple skin, and body armor that was more organic than metallic. Thick wooly hair grew on her shins. When she opened her mouth, two top teeth clicked back and forth like mandibles. It looked like an aborted fetus that had grown up and merged with a black widow spider.

"Hey, Cyril," it waved.

Bolbadir's hand went to his axe as he darted in front of Cyril. "A venomous monster in a safe town! What vile abomination did ye crawl from? Get thee behind me, demon!"

"Dude." Cyril elbowed Bolbadir in the ribs. "It's cool, I know her. She's one of us."

The monster said, "Hey, I didn't choose to be an Arachneborg. My player's kid brother mashed the keys when she was picking an avatar, so I got confirmed as her choice. She wanted one of those unicorn people, so thanks for your consideration."

"Sorry about that," Cyril said.

"Yes, I mourn deeply for your condition," Bolbadir said.

Cyril elbowed him again.

"I mean, my reaction," Bolbadir said.

"Your reaction!?" she said, "My player's a twelve-year-old blonde girl from upstate New York. She named me 'Peachbutt'. How do you think I reacted to that?"

Bolbadir snickered. Cyril resisted the temptation to smack him over the head, which might have provoked a PvP. "It's cool, okay? She's a good healer. I've been in a few dungeon crawls with her before."

Bolbadir cleared his throat and returned to a serious countenance. "Any allies of yours are allies of mine."

Peachbutt said, "I heard you were going to take on the Serpent Dragon. We're trying to get the Quest Completion reward. My player gets a trophy in our Save House if she gets ten quests in a day." She sighed, "She tells me to tell you it's 'sparkly and glittery," she rolled her eyes. "Also she desperately wants to do your hair," she pointed at Bolbadir.

He looked startled and touched his beard. "What? My curly locks?"

Cyril rolled his eyes and asked Peachbutt, "Do you have any white magic?"

She laughed, "I pick up nothing but white spells. I've got enough items to heal an army."

"All right, that's good. Let's get going." Cyril took off towards the Serpent Dragon's cavern.

"Wait," Peachbutt said, "We're walking? Don't you have a Birdoco License or an Airship Ticket?"

"Talk to my cheap player," Cyril said.

~

The journey to the Ignatius Cavern took ten real-time minutes on foot. They expected to see an empty cave on a hill, leading into the Serpent Dragon's lair, but when they arrived, they saw a group of rigid avatars standing in formation. They were all dressed in a stylized version of samurai armor - plated vermilion tunics drawn down around the leggings. Shogun helmets trimmed with bronze completed the garb.

"Blood Knights? What are they doing here?"

"For sooth! Doth my eyes deceive me? Be all ten of them staking a claim?" Bolbadir said.

"But they're all the same class," Cyril said. "You'd need a party with a lot more variety than that to defeat the Serpent Dragon."

"Are they NPC's?" Peachbutt asked.

"I think not," Bolbadir said. "Why doth they stand like that? Art they guarding the cave?"

"Oh no," Cyril said. "Their sigs all match."

"What does that mean?" Peachbutt said.

"They're RMTs."

"What?"

"You don't know what RMTs are?"

"I know what they are. She doesn't." She pointed to the sky.

"RMT stands for Real Money Traders. They're usually people in Korea or China, sweating over computers twenty hours a day. They camp in front of rare monsters, wait for them to respawn, and kill them for their items. Then they sell you the item in real life and give it to you here."

Bolbadir added, "None may pass where they set stakes, for their strength is unmatched from grinding day upon day."

Peachbutt paused to roll her eyes. "My player wants you to know that they sound like real meanies."

"Yeah," Cyril said, "Dammit, do you know how many bunyips I had to kill to get the Wolf Key?" Cyril felt a sudden series of jolts. "Hey, hey, don't pound the keyboard. You'll overload me. We're all frustrated down here."

"A pox!" Bolbadir said. "A pox on those parasites on the boils of society. Their grim countenances shall be-"

"Yeah, yeah," Cyril nodded. "You don't need to get all melodramatic on me."

"This land is not owned by them," Bolbadir yelled and hoisted his axe. "It belongs to all of us. For is not fairness of the trade our right and task?"

"Are you gonna tell that to them?" Cyril said.

Even a seven-foot man with an ogre-killing axe couldn't win a battle with ten maxed-out warriors. Bolbadir plunged his handle into the dirt and grunted in frustration.

"This lawless world brings forth the rage in my blood," Bolbadir said.

Peachbutt said, "I'm so sick of this. I get messages saying they're banning accounts, I get updated and patched till I can't tell where my original code is anymore, and then we still have this crap."

"Life is far from fair," Bolbadir said.

"I'm not asking life to be fair, I'm asking the game to be fair." Cyril sighed and waited for instructions. "Guess we gotta go back," he said. "Maybe we can buy a Topaz Gem in the marketplace. We could sell the Thalassian Grass and Phoenix Woman's contract - Hey!"

Cyril didn't even realize the override had been engaged when his legs started up the hill.

Bolbadir called out, "Cyril? What vexes thee?"

Cyril cried out, "What are you doing, player? I don't want to talk to them."

It looked like his player intended to walk past the RMTs. Maybe they wouldn't do anything at all. Maybe they were just bots.

Cyril made it within a foot of the cavern before the nearest one pulled out a pole arm and held it to the side, blocking the path.

Cyril bounced against it, and pawed it away, eyeing the RMT.

"We have a claim," the Blood Knight said stiffly, as if a translator was doing the talking.

"No," Cyril spat back. "You guys are just camping here. Why don't you give someone else a chance?"

"Do you want a Topaz Gem? We can sell it to you for twenty-five American dollars. Go to w w w dot-"

"No. I don't want to buy it. I want to earn it. I did the work to get to this monster. I did the leveling to fight it and win."

"Do you want a Topaz Gem? We can sell it to you for twenty-five American dollars. Go to-"

"I'm not buying anything from you-"

A white beam of light shot out of the ground in front of Cyril, divided, and spun around them, creating a circle around the two.

Cyril shouted to his player, "What are you doing? You're starting a PvP? Are you insane?"

"I detected an insult. Aggressive behavior will not be tolerated," the RMT said. He stepped forward, holding his polearm across his chest.

Cyril didn't see too many options anymore. Escape was impossible in PvP's, and the arena ring was impenetrable by outside or inside forces. He had no choice but to attack. Fortunately, his Cleric speed allowed him to make the first action.

Cyril withdrew his dagger and shouted "Winding Thrust!". Winding Thrust was a new ability that combined magic and strength. It was so powerful he could only do it once a day.

Pools of pinkish magic energy sparked around Cyril as he darted to the left and dove forward. He held the dagger over his head like an axe, then sliced it across the RMT's chest. It made 188 points of damage. Cyril smiled, thinking that was a pretty good hit.

The Blood Knight held his lance to the sky. A spiral of effervescent magic power absorbed into the tip. The RMT thrust the spear forward with a burst of yellow energy. The last thing Cyril saw before everything went black was the number 3,846.

~

When he came to, he was back in bed in his Save House, staring up at the ceiling. He felt tired, a little weaker, but mostly embarrassed.

"Jeez, what happened?" Cyril asked.

"Dude, you took on an RMT. What did you expect?"

Peachbutt and Bolbadir were hovering over his bed.

"I'm not in the graveyard?"

"I gave you a Phaedra Tail," Peachbutt said. "Had to warp you out of there before you croaked. And my player says you look really cute sleeping."

Bolbadir said, "Had our irons been forged as much as our hearts, we would have conquered our foes. I personally wouldst have sliced them from gizzard to gullet."

"Thanks, Bolbadir." Cyril sat up and checked his stats. "Where's my chestplate?"

"Your foe seized it as reward," Bolbadir said.

Cyril grunted. An RMT could sell it for fifty bucks. "Damn."

He swung his legs out of the bed and rubbed his face. His health was full, but there was no item to heal his ego.

"Player, contact a Game Judge," Cyril said. He received an acknowledgement and felt the message go through.

"Be that wise?" Bolbadir said, "They do not seem to be in a merry mood these days."

"I don't care. This is something they're supposed to take care of. This is supposed to be a fair game." He got off the bed. "Meanwhile, I've got to find something to replace my armor. Wanna go to the marketplace?"

Peachbutt said, "Sounds good. My player can't get enough shopping in a day."

Cyril opened the door and saw a giant black-armored knight standing in his doorway - the Game Judge. He stood with his hands on his hips.

"Hail, avatar," he said. "A fine day to you, blah, blah, blah. What do you want?"

"Uh... uh..." Cyril couldn't think for a minute. Staring face to face with an over-powered warrior, holding a sword as big as him, made him forget what he wanted in the first place. "How'd you get here so fast?"

"Apparently, you don't know what the term 'Game Judge' means. Game Judge means I have total power. If I want to give you purple spots, I can do that. If I want to switch your arms and legs around, I can do that too. Now what's the problem?"

"Uh, there... Oh, there are RMTs at the cave for the Serpent Dragon."

"Yeah. And?"

"And... are you going to do something about it?"

"What for?"

Cyril scowled at him. "They're ruining the game for everyone else. They're breaking the rules. They're blocking anyone from getting to the Serpent Dragon."

The Game Judge shrugged. "The Serpent Dragon? You haven't fought him yet?"

"I'm trying to get a Topaz Gem."

The judge scoffed, "Just buy one."

"I don't want to buy one. I want to earn one fairly."

"Look, do you really want to annoy someone like me with your petty problems?" the Game Judge said.

Cyril didn't know which response would keep his neck and head together. "But you're a Game Judge. You're supposed to enforce the rules. Isn't this against the rules?"

"What rule are they breaking? It's not illegal to stay in one place for a long time. Not illegal for anyone to want to defeat a Serpent Dragon."

"They're camping! The Serpent Dragon's no match for someone at Level 75."

"There ain't no law against running over an ant with a steamroller," the Game Judge scoffed.

Cyril said, "You know they're just trying to harvest items to sell."

"That's the real world's problem. Not mine."

"They're making the game unfair. That's why there are so many wandering avatars these days. Their players never logged back in because it wasn't fun anymore. Because of things like this."

"Look son, there's always gonna be RMTs. We kill a hundred, they come back with a thousand. As long as there're assholes who don't want to wait for anything in life, there'll be someone to sell it to them. We could wipe a thousand avatars, they'll still come back with new ones. Nuff said. Anything else you want to complain about, or do you want to get fed to a dragon?"

Cyril opened his mouth, struggling for something to say. But he'd used up all his arguments and just shook his head.

The Game Judge nodded. "Next time, don't bug us Judges. It's just a game, lighten up." He disappeared in a flash of light.

Cyril closed the door to his house.

Peachbutt said, "Wow, that was harsh."

Cyril said, "I hate this. I feel like I'm an NPC again - no power to do anything. And I'm sick of it. If only someone could kill those guys."

Bolbadir looked puzzled. "Cyril, those are words of courage, but their truth is fallacy."

Peachbutt said, "Those RMTs might as well be invulnerable. They've got the best armor, best weapons. Just like," she sighed, "Just like Chrissy at school, who's apparently very proud of her Prada backpack."

"Isn't Prada the potion-maker in Gahanasburg?" Bolbadir asked.

"Look," Cyril turned up to his player, "If the Game Judge can't do anything about it, then let's just buy a Topaz Gem. I mean, really, what were you doing, engaging a RMT in PvP? Their stats are maxed-out and they have Crystal Spears and Relic Armor. You'd need a party of a hundred to take on all those guys."

~

"I can't believe you got a party of a hundred people," Peachbutt said.

"I know. It took my player ten straight days, 270 e-mails, and three sacrificed dinners. He talked to people from Indonesia, South Africa, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He e-mailed everyone in the school directory, including parents and teachers. Plus he got in an argument with his parents that almost got his account cancelled."

Cyril had never seen so many avatars at the Flagpole. They mulled about like a cocktail party, sharing tips, bragging about their latest menial accomplishments, level raises, or spells obtained.

"I have counteth fewer than a hundred," Bolbadir said, at his side. "Be that enough?"

Cyril sighed, "It better be. We've got some high-levels here looking for a challenge, so that's good. Oh god, no."

"What?" Peachbutt said.

"My player wants me to make a speech. You've got to be kidding me," he mumbled as he hoisted himself up on a tree stump. "Attention everyone!" he shouted and waved his arms. "Thank you all for coming. I hope you're all prepped and ready."

A collection of fists pumped in the air and shouted, encouraging Cyril to keep going.

"Today we're going to make a stand for all players over the world. That we're not going to take the abuse of the system lying down. This is a world for everyone. A world where we all work together to build a community. And it should be fair. If some people-"

"Um, Cyril."

Cyril looked down at Peachbutt. "What?"

"I have to go. My player says her parents are telling her to get off the computer."

"What? But you're one of our primary healers!"

"I know, but last time, they took away her TV for a week, and she couldn't watch Jazzy Girls."

"You're passing up the battle of the century for Jazzy Girls?"

"Sorry." Peachbutt walked away, heading back into the forest. Cyril turned back to the crowd, deflated. "Let's go do this!" He jumped off the stump, and headed in the direction of the cave, with an army of soldiers behind him.

The same ten RMTs were standing at the cave mouth like royal guards. They did not react to the sight of a horde of rebels riding over the hill.

"Split up! Remember your assignments. Engage the enemy!" Cyril shouted.

The set of ninety-odd players divided among the ten targets. Every group had at least three times as many members as a basic party needed. Each could probably take out a final boss in five minutes, but these opponents were way beyond that.

Each of the RMTs responded in synchronization. They were caught unawares, but not unprepared, and unleashed their strongest attacks first. Cyril saw a Level 10 Knave disintegrate in one cast of Moon Bonanza.

Cyril called out. "Cast Resurrection! Someone cast Resurrection on him." Before he could finish the phrase, someone did.

Cyril was shocked. People were listening to him.

"Man down in Group Three," someone said.

"I'm on it. Use that Amulet of Zovirax. Cast wide area Carapace."

"Got it. Sending. I'm generating a buff for group nine."

As Cyril hacked away at his opponent, his consciousness flooded with status updates and messages. When someone needed to be healed, he got someone to do it. When someone had been poisoned, he found someone with an antidote. When an avatar was fatigued, he told someone to step up.

They had been locked in combat for twenty full minutes, and no one had been killed yet, which was an accomplishment itself. He couldn't tell if they were winning, but they were holding their own.

"We got one!" a Mage-Rogue said.

Cyril saw the black light of an avatar death shoot over the heads of nine people. He held his breath. If one of the other Blood Knights was going to resurrect him, he had thirty seconds to do so before he would be warped to the graveyard.

Thirty seconds went by and the prone body disappeared. Of course, Blood Knights were meant for a single purpose - attacking. They had no healing items, not magic spells. Not only that, but they didn't care enough about each other to help. They were too focused on their own battles.

However, the death brought the RMTs to their senses and they started fighting like they meant it. They switched to more suitable weapons and armor for fighting avatars and cast defensive spells instead of using pure attack strength.

"We're losing more men," Cyril heard. The party member stats started to decline. They couldn't heal fast enough to do damage without being overpowered.

The RMT Cyril was fighting unsheathed a glowing yellow sword and swiped it horizontally. Cyril jumped back, but it slashed through the Mercenary nearest him for instant death. No one could heal him before he fell to his knees and disappeared. Now, instead of fighting to win, they were just trying to stay alive.

"Hold together people. We can still do this!" Cyril said.

Even Cyril couldn't believe his words, and he silently cursed his player for bringing him into this. Blood Knights were still dying, but for every one they killed, six of them fell.

"I'm out of items."

"Me too! We'll have to ignore healing if we're going to get them."

Cyril thought this would be a slaughter, but not on both sides. If even one RMT was left, they would have failed. "Then that's what we do," he said to the others, "Fight! Keep fighting! Don't worry about healing! We've got their backs against the wall. Don't let up."

Cyril caught the sword coming at him out of the corner of his eye, and held up his dagger to block. While pushing against the blade, he looked behind him to scope the situation.

The RMT being attacked by Bolbadir's party, the only other remaining, raised his spear, charging up a special attack.

"Look out, it's an AOE!" Cyril shouted.

Bolbadir heard the warning and lumbered away as the wave of magic spread out in a runic circle. The eight others surrounding him collapsed from the area effect.

"Foul beast! Taste my steel!" Bolbadir lunged forward with a speedy special technique, plunging his axe into his foe. The RMT sagged back, defeated.

Cyril's foe brought his weapon around and targeted the dwarven warrior behind him. With a sharp poke, he fell into a heap. It was just him and Bolbadir left to defeat this last RMT.

Cyril dodged the next attack. His HP was so low, a normal blow might kill him, let alone any special attacks.

Bolbadir shouted, "Yonder Cyril! Fearless leader! Where art thou?"

"Over here!" Cyril shouted.

Given his current resources, Cyril could never finish him one-on-one. He didn't have enough health left to endure more than one blow. But the two of them together could do it.

"I'm coming, squire." Bolbadir scraped up his axe. Energy glowed around him as he hoisted the weapon high over his head, glinting off the artificial sun.

Cyril smiled. If he could let Bolbadir charge an attack, that would be enough to finish the last RMT.

Cyril danced around with his dagger, using his cleric speed to avoid being hit. Bolbadir hurtled forward like a Viking berserker, primal savagery in his eyes.

The RMT heard the roars behind him and saw a maniac rushing down the hill with a gigantic axe.

"I will bathe in the blood of my enemies! My axe will rain blows unto your skull, and release you to a land beyond human suffering, dishonorable scum!"

Cyril liked to think the RMT's eyes widened in surprise and fear, but the helmet obscured his face. He couldn't believe they were actually going to win.

"Your days of terror are at an end. None shall pass before my bl-"

Bolbadir paused in mid-step, his axe above his head. Frozen. Did someone cast a spell on him?

His body became a vapid blue outline, a blink of snowy static, then winked out of existence.

-Bolbadir has disconnected from the game-

"Oh, crap," Cyril muttered and turned back to the RMT. He raised his pole arm over his head and gathered magic energy into it.

Cyril held up his arm, waiting for the impending blow. He hoped they wouldn't recycle him into an NPC stable-cleaner.

"Hey, hey, hey, what the hell is going on here?"

The Blood Knight and Cyril stopped and looked the cave's mouth for the source of the voice. A Game Judge walked out.

"Jesus Christ, you're slowing all our servers down. There must be, like, a hundred people in the same area. Do you know how much lag you're making?"

Cyril didn't know what to say, but the Blood Knight turned away from him and moved towards the Game Judge.

"What's this? A Level 75 Blood Knight with complete armor? That's awful suspicious, don't you think, Mr. Dret49585849. Shucky-darns, you wouldn't happen to be an RMT, would you?"

Cyril said, "See, I told you."

"Shut up, kid," the judge said.

The Blood Knight brought out a Mega-Life Juice and drank it. It was a rare item that restored all his HP instantly. Then he pointed his spear at the Game Judge.

"We have a claim. Aggressive behavior will not be tolerated."

The Game Judge laughed in his hollow armor. "Oh, that's cute. You're challenging me? I like that." He snapped his fingers. "Serpy, if you please."

SNAP! A white blur came down on the RMT's upper body, and snatched him up like a fish on a line. Cyril uttered a girlish shriek and crab-crawled away.

The Serpent Dragon shook the body in its jaws like a doll, then with a whip of his snake-like neck, spit him back out, slamming him on the ground. The RMT bounced like a ball.

The number 58,579 appeared in white over his corpse, which promptly vanished.

"Holy mackerel," Cyril said.

The Serpent Dragon lowered its opal head closer to the ground and stared at him with beady sapphire eyes. Its snout was wide and flat like a wyvern, with two tiny nostrils expanding and contracting with breath. The rest of his body was burrowed within its grotto.

"Not bad, kid," the judge said. "You took on all those goldsellers and lived. Someday, you will earn this Topaz Gem," he patted the wyvern's cheek. "But it won't be today."

The dragon retracted its long scaled neck back into the darkness of the cave and disappeared.

The judge said, "Go home, kid. Get some rest."

Cyril said, "No problem there. My player's been online since four in the morning."

The Game Judge snapped his head back, startled.

"Four in the morning? Jeez, kid, get a life. It's only a video game."

.....Logged out.