Fluffy burbled her way down the forest path, leaving a viscous wet trail behind her. Its many mouths snapped and rasped at the adventurers, while one set of jaws continued to chew on the remnants of the rat chief. At times, one of the globular creature's eyes would turn towards Biggie's hulking grizzly bear, as if to size the gargantuan ursine up for a potential dessert.
Biggie seemed utterly oblivious to Fluffy's culinary inclinations. If anything, his scepticism about the abomination of nature and its deathly owner had been quelled entirely when he had received his share of the rat chief's belongings. He walked confidently down the path, a large musket rifle slung with one stony hand across his broad shoulders.
Roka looked at the rifle, uncertainly. "How can you even use that?"
"IT IS HUNTER WEPON" explained Biggie, confidently.
The cleric nodded, "Yes, I get that. But realistically, have you ever equipped a gun type weapon before?"
The towering golem shook his head.
"Exactly" said the Canine, "I've only ever seen you with a bow. A gun is completely different to a bow, right? I mean, they operate entirely differently."
Biggie hefted the rifle from his shoulder and stared at it. "IT IS HUNTER WEPON" he reiterated, enthusiastically.
The cleric shook his head, "Just because you can use a bow doesn't mean that you can use a gun. That's what I mean. The targeting is different. A gun like that has recoil. Even the ammunition-"
The golem scratched his crag-like head. "IT IS HUNTER WEPON" he repeated, pleading his case.
"But, logically, there is no way that you should be able to just pick it up and use it, not if the only weaponry experience you have is with a bow" explained Roka. "It doesn't make sense."
Biggie glanced around for a moment. He looked around the forest, examining the tree line. Then, with a smile, his eyes fell onto a small fox. He pointed towards it, and Roka turned to observe. He noted that it was a level five critter and was labelled as a Densewood Forest Fox, presumable to differentiate it from every single other fox in the world.
The golem brought the gun to his eye and, with a resounding explosion of gunpowder, blew the very tip of the creature's tail off. Roka blinked a few times in disbelief at the shot. Slinging his rifle across his shoulder again, Biggie explained with finality, "IT IS HUNTER WEPON."
Roka turned towards Exra. "How does this even make sense?" he demanded.
The fire witch shrugged. "It shouldn't, but bows and guns both share the 'ranged attack' skill, along with crossbows and javelins."
"Wait," Roka asked, holding his paw up, "Javelins? Shouldn't they use the 'throw' skill?"
The rabbit shook her head, "No, the 'throw' skill is only ever used by the assassin class for throwing shrunken."
Roka blinked. "But... But none of that makes any sense!"
Gunnar glanced over towards Roka. “Laddie, you’ve been unusually down today. What’s wrong?”
The comment forced Roka to think for a moment. He had been rather down, he hadn’t even realised it yet but he definitely wasn’t feeling his usual chipper, optimistic self. “I’m sorry” he said. He tried to think what might be causing it. Quickly, he managed to rule out any real-life factors. His friends were good, his social life fairly active. His work life was a monotonous, but ultimately non-challenging drawl, which left him with little real stress in his otherwise laid-back life. No, he thought, the only thing that was really stressing him out had to be something in the game. Then, smoothly as if it were wrapped in wet butter, the realisation of just what that something was came to him. “I guess I just don’t think that we’re going to be able to kill this secret boss” he said, glancing downwards a little, “and I don’t want all our effort to be for nothing.”
Gunnar stopped, mid-step. He glanced around to everyone else in the party, “You guys keep going ahead, I’ll catch up.” Then he turned to the cleric. “Roka, really. I’m going to talk to you completely out-of-character here for a moment, okay?”
The other three continued onwards, down the winding forest path.
The buffalo smiled to Roka, “I know that this idea is actually a massive longshot.”
The cleric replied, “I’m worried that we’re just setting ourselves up to fail at this.”
Inhaling, Gunnar said “That’s a risk, yeah. I have to be honest with you; the chances of us being able to accomplish it are pretty slim. We need to get to max level, and we need to get some of the best gear in the game, and that’s before we can even start trying to find the boss. But ultimately, what I was really aiming for was to have a goal. Something to pull all of us together and give us a reason to be here.”
“But don’t you think we’re going to be upset if we can’t accomplish this?” asked the Canine.
“It’s an MMO, bro” said the warrior, “It’s going to keep adding end-game content. At the very worst, it’ll take us years to accomplish. If we really need to, we can wait until the next expansion, which will doubtless raise the maximum level that the players can achieve. That, along with the new gear, would basically allow us to get through the boss easily enough. We may have to sacrifice being the first to kill him in the world, but it’d be worth it to keep us all playing together. At least, I think so.”
Roka smiled. “But what about the new guys?”
“You uncertain on them?”
The cleric shook his head. “Biggie’s okay, although every time I say his name I think we’re about to burst into a rap song. I’m not sure about the warlock though.”
“Sycorax?” asked Gunnar. “Did you get the reference in his name?”
“He named his character after a witch from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. He chose the name carefully,” said Gunnar, “that means he’s actually pretty smart, probably smarter than Biggie.”
Roka gave the buffalo a quizzical look. “How do you know that? About the name?”
“I study English Literature at university” he said. “That’s what I do in real-life. But yeah, it means that he probably will play his class very, very well. Also, check the guild bank.”
“What?” asked the canine.
“Check it” said Gunnar.
Roka thought for a moment. He hesitated for a moment, before pulling up his inventory menu. The guild bank section took up only a small option beneath his inventory, but when he selected it he found the window bloomed open like a vast and very sudden flood. He blinked. “We have twenty-five thousand gold?” he stuttered.
“And the potions,” said Gunnar, “and the armour buffs, the crafting materials, a whole load of things. The warlock gave us it when he joined.”
Roka gave the warrior a bewildered look. “He’s rich?”
“We’re rich” replied Gunnar.
Roka gave the warrior a playful look. “Is this why you were so eager to overlook his obvious evilness?”
The buffalo grinned. “Hey, I’ve got to find some in-character reason to let him in.”
The cleric wanted to laugh. “You were just playing dumb!” he said.
With a wry grin, the warrior said “Shall we go and catch up with the others?”
The first clue to Roka that anything was wrong were the flickering, snapping lights in the distance. They jumped in a way that he hasn't seen before, wild and full of clashing colours, as if vying with one another for supremacy.
When he and Gunnar finally caught up, Exra was already dead. The cleric had no idea how it had happened, but she lay by the side of the forest path as if she had been trying to flee the chaos. The canine noticed Sycorax, the tall warlock stumbling backwards as he tried to gain a moment's purchase to let fly with a spell.
The two attackers, Roka noticed, were far higher level than he. One was short, perhaps a ferret or a rat, decked in black sharp armour that glistened with magic. The other was a dog like Roka, but dressed in the higher level clothing of a fire witch that made him appear as nothing less than a wolf-like witch doctor, his robes shot through with crimson and a necklace swaying with tiny skulls. Both were focusing their attacks on the undead, the ferret stabbing away with a furious flurry of cuts that left a shimmering silver hue in their wake.
Catching sight of Biggie, Roka saw him standing to one side, firing his rifle into the fray blindly. The golem stood back on the main path, beside what Roka recognised as the slain form of his bear. The ferret, he thought, must have taken down the pet in one shot. Neither of the two attackers seemed to even notice the hunter, dismissing the shots as though they were flea bites.
Gunnar charged ahead of the cleric into the conflict. Roka didn't have time to think - he didn't want to fight, not when the odds seemed completely against him. The two enemies were attacking fiercely, much quicker than any of the monsters that he had fought before. He felt a churning in his bowels as he realised that he didn't stand a chance. Without a second to react, he fired a healing spell towards Sycorax, who was already down to half his considerable health bar.
As the spell landed and the undead's vitality shot back up, a large message appeared above Roka. He glanced up, reading the large, crimson letters. "PvP Enabled" they warned him. The canine felt a shudder of fear. That shouldn't have been possible! In order to take part in PvP, or player versus player content, where any player could attack and try to slay other players wholesale, was to activate it in the character menu. Roka had specifically chosen to avoid doing so, fearing the powerful destruction that a higher level character might unleash upon him. But now it had activated on its own. The only way that this should have been possible, he remembered, is if he had taken part and joined in on a PvP battle.
Then the realisation hit him. By healing Sycorax, he had joined in. The two attackers weren't monsters, they were other players!
Gunnar met the rival dog quickly, his hammer swaying brightly to and fro as the hirsute warrior channelled his strongest powers, his armour radiating with a shimmering vibrancy. The fire witch barely seemed to notice him, keeping his focus locked strong on the warlock as he unleashed another arcing ball of flame.
Roka felt a sudden grip of panic clasp around him; he didn't know what to do. He hasn't learned how to fight other players! He could barely manage to fend off monsters of his own level; he was completely out of his depth. He hurled another heal, but even he could see that it wouldn't be enough to last forever.
The thundering sound of Biggie's footsteps hammered forward, passing by the cleric with a thundering repertoire of rifle shots. Between the buffalo and the golem, they might be able to take down one of them, perhaps. Maybe. He shouted out, running to keep abreast of the golem, "All on the fire witch!"
It was a mad rush for that moment, with the ferret momentarily forgotten in the scuffle. Each slash of the little combatant's blades knocked Sycorax back, keeping him from being able to cast any spells. Roka felt a wash of guilt, leaving his new companion, but he knew that they had to focus on one of their enemies before the two of them took down the whole group. Biggie hurried into place, firing again and again, all the while Gunnar pounded at the target with all his strength.
For a few moments it appeared that they were having no effect, that they were only chipping away at something and reaching no closer to success. Then, leaping back away from the buffalo, the fire witch turned his focus away from Sycorax and towards the rest of the group.
That gave Roka the opening he needed to push through. Aiming several quick bursts of shining healing light at the warlock, he began to split his attention between the undead and the fire witch's new target, Gunnar. Each took less damage, their health depleting far slower.
He glanced up. His mana would be running low any moment now. His heart pounded. What if he had gone about this wrong? What if he should have focused on the ferret, or even resurrected Exra first instead? He grumbled, frantically trying to think of his next move. Why couldn't this be a turn-based game, he thought to himself.
The ferret turned. Quick as a flash, it left the undead, rushing across the battlefield like some tiny little venomous spider. It leapt up at Roka, and the canine backpeddled furiously. The ferret cut deep, and Roka glanced at the wound. It had taken almost half his health down in a single blow! Worse, he noticed that it had left a sickly, puss-like orange discharge across the wound. He looked up at his status, and read the word there, 'poisoned'. Damn it, he thought, he wasn't even sure he could remember what that status effect did.
Gunnar was down too, he noticed. Somewhere in the space of only a few seconds. Damn it, the Canine thought again, he hadn't even seen it. No doubt the distraction that the ferret had caused had slowed Roka's healing just enough for the fire witch to land a fatal blow on the warrior. It was all happening too fast, Roka thought, he couldn't keep up. He turned to run, but he found that he wasn't able to move at any speed faster than a casual stroll. The poison, he realised.
As he watched, the ferret stepped away and sprinted over towards Biggie, lashing out wildly with his daggers. The golem stood resolute, refusing to give an inch, rifle blazing. Then, with a crackling finality, the fire witch advanced, jets of raw seething flame blazing from his outstretched palms. Roka tried to level a healing spell, but it was too late. Biggie crumpled to the ground, leaving only the cleric and the warlock to face their silent enemies.
Roka glanced towards Sycorax. They were both technically magic classes, even though they were worlds different in how they worked. Their cloth robes would accord them no protection. They didn't stand a chance.
Then, behind the warlock, Roka caught sight of something. A flicker of movement at the corner of his eye, a red blur approaching the scene at speed. Roka blinked, and almost missed the figure's approach.
The crimson shape moved directly towards the ferret, barely pausing for only a moment. In that fraction of a second, Roka was sure that he caught the image of a figure, lean and thin and wrapped in bright red armour. Then the figure was in motion again, and the ferret stood stunned, his body swaying as if in a daze. Rooted in place, the ferret was unable to react as the blur moved in towards his companion.
For a split second, the figure paused, and Roka caught sight of her. Yes, he realised, she was a woman, a female cat avatar moving at the accelerated combat speed that could only be possible with an assassin class. Already the fire witch was preparing, readying a spell at the newcomer. The air around the flame witch seemed to shimmer, growing hazy and distorted. Then the ground around her erupted, pulsing out from around her in a great nova of flame.
Roka and the warlock stumbled backwards, hurrying away from the fire's snarling reach. The assassin stopped in her sprint. She paused, and then raised an arm upwards into the air. Then the assassin was gone, enveloped in a thick plume of smoke. The cleric glanced around. The assassin was nowhere in sight.
Then he heard her strike. Appearing as if from the shadows behind the flame witch, the assassin lunged at his target, driving a blade home into her prey's back. Roka noticed that the assassin held two blades, each serrated and glistening, one clutched ready to deliver a finishing blow to the back of the flame witch's head, the other erupting from the mage's chest. Almost disdainfully, the assassin pulled the embedded blade free, and drove both of them against the witch's skull with enough force to server the neck.
As the flame witch collapsed to the ground in several pieces, the assassin charged towards the paralysed ferret. She bisected the ferret with a flurry of strikes that reminded Roka of late-night infomercials for titanium-bladed juicers.
As the last part of the ferret hit the ground, the assassin turned to Sycorax and said "Sorry I'm late."
The warlock shrugged. "They kept us company for a while until you arrived."
Roka looked around at the slaughter. He knew that the two attackers would be back, that they were no doubt bartering their return with that weird Buddha fox thing even as he stood there. Wasting no time, he began to cast his resurrection spell.
Gunnar was first, the buffalo looking somewhat put out. "I think my helmet's broken" he grumbled. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, "Oh, and thank thee, goodly cleric, for plucking me from death's cold clutches."
"Any idea who those guys were?" asked Roka as he began his resurrection on Biggie.
"I wouldn't worry about them. Probably just bandits" said Sycorax, "anyone mind if I eat their bodies? I really need to regain some health."
"I think it'd be more socially acceptable if you just let Roka heal you" said Gunnar, still sounding a little shaken.
The undead shrugged, and scooped a few gold pieces from the tattered remnant of the fire witch. "Hmmph, only twenty gold. Looting bodies from PvP fatalities doesn't bring many gold pieces, but it’s always a nice little extra."
The warrior looked around, trying to find the assassin in red.Eventually he caught sight of her. She was leaning back against a nearby tree, shaded from the game's radiant sunlight. The deep crimson of her armour, in the darkness, looked almost like blood. Stepping over uncertainly towards the assassin, Gunnar said "You have my thanks, stranger."
The assassin flicked her victim's blood from the edge of her blades, splashing it across the grass. With an almost cowboy-like spin, she dropped her daggers into a pair of hip-slung holsters. "First one's free" she said, in a tone that was almost not entirely like an attempt at John Wayne. She looked at him, as if assessing his strength. "Name's Aria" she said.
Gunnar smiled, and extended a paw. She looked at it as if it were a foreign object. At length he tucked his paw back into his pocket. "Well, thank you again, great warrior. Woman. Assassin. Person." muttered the buffalo, uncertainly.
She nodded, and then walked over towards Sycorax. She stood beside him, and asked in a cool voice "This the guild you were telling me about?"
The skeleton nodded, his robe swaying. "They are planning to take down Abbadon the Scourge."
Aria raised an eyebrow, and gave a chuckle that sounded like summer wind whistling sweetly through a graveyard. "Really? They think they have a chance?" she asked.
Roka glanced over, his resurrection spell finished. Biggie stumbled back into being, his lifeless form once more as full of life as a walking pile of rocks could possess. "Yes," said the cleric, "we do."
She looked over at him. "You're serious, aren't you?" asked Aria.
Roka nodded. He meant it. For the first time, he believed it, really and truly did believe it. It felt different to him now. It wasn't simply Gunnar's goal, something that the Buffalo wanted to accomplish. It was something that Roka believed in, that Roka wanted. "We're going to do it" he said, resolved.
The assassin smiled. "Alright then. Sure, if it'll get my little brother to stop going on about you guys and gives me a few minutes to PvP in peace, then yes, count me in. I’ll join your guild.”
Gunnar blinked for a moment. Then, slowly, the words fell into place. He turned his eyes wide towards Sycorax. “The undead warlock is your brother?”
“Shhh!” hissed the skeletal figure, “I told you not to tell them. God, you’re so embarrassing!”
Roka gasped in shock!
“Dun dun duuun!” announced Biggie.
“Could, uhm, could someone give me a rez, please?” asked Exra.
Welcome to the next chapter of "Realms of Valeron". A new chapter twice each week!
It was the biggest MMORPG ever created, and took the world by storm. With billions of players from every corner of the planet, 'Realms of Valeron' allowed anybody to interact with one another within the gloriously realized online world.
But for Roka, a young healer, it was more than that. It was a gateway to make friends. Friends like Exra, the hyperactive rabbit rogue; Gunnar the loyal buffalo, Sycorax the maniacal warlock, and many more.
What adventures lurk within the game? In a world full of quests and dangers, the truest and greatest loot is yet to be discovered. Bound together by the oaths of their guild, they would face brutal trials, savage enemies, and more than a few bugs that the game's play-testers really should have caught before release... But this is no trite story of players trapped inside a video game! Our heroes can turn off the game and leave at any time. But why would they, or any of us, ever want to leave when you have friends like these?
Realms of Valeron is a comedy fantasy, part sit-com and part epic adventure, which explores the bonds of friendships in a digital age.
Look here if you would like a story commission of your very own! - https://www.furaffinity.net/view/30458500/