At first, the golem didn't respond. He simply stared off into the distance, as if he were a statue. For a moment, Exra found herself smiling at the thought. Who better could capture the illusion of a statue, could emulate the silent and contemplative look than one made from stone himself?
Then, slowly, he turned to look at her.
Realising that his face could not show any true semblance of emotion, Exra tried to guess at what the man could be thinking at that moment. The towering figure breathed in, and said "IT IS MY FAULT."
Exra felt a knot form in her stomach. She took a step closer to him, navigating her way past the uncertain footing around the crest of the mountain's peak. At that moment, the rock golem's quiet retreat to this secluded area seemed all the more remote, even more distant from the other inhabitants of the world. "No" she said, imploringly, "no, it wasn't."
With a rough-hewn sound of stone rubbing against stone, Biggie shook his head. "I TOOK THE GOLD" he said, matter-of-factly. "THAT IS WHAT MADE ROKA SUSPICIOUS."
Hopping quickly over an especially large boulder, Exra came to rest atop a broken piece of limestone. "He has his own issues to work out" she said. "You're only responsible for your own actions, not his."
The rock golem looked downward towards her. Sadness, she thought, that was what was in his face. "I SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE IT" he said, soberly.
Exra didn't answer. The entire conversation seemed so implausible, so unlikely. "Look" she said, "I know you're not a bad guy. We all know that you only meant the best." She moved closer again, coming to a rest beside him. As she looked at him, the fire witch realised that she could not quite picture playing the game without him. Could not imagine this strange and curious world without the presence of this lumbering, straightforward creature who communicated only in capital letters. She was sure, she realised, that she had played and enjoyed the game for a long while before ever having met him. But yet there was something about him, his uniqueness, that made the experience now feel whole.
He looked at her, and slowly said "BUT IT DID NOT WORK."
She shook her head. Too much of the events of the last few days still felt like a blur to her, like a fog that had yet to settle. She still had not heard from Gunnar. Closing her eyes for a moment, Exra tried to remember if she had kept his email address. He was a good kid, she thought to herself. Good, but never one to share responsibility. Perhaps, she thought, it was that horrible desire he had to play the role of the hero. Quietly, she said "We don't know that yet. Maybe Gunnar will come back. Maybe Aria will help us kill that boss."
The golem looked at her. For a moment, she thought that she was so sure that she could see the uncertainty in his face. That was impossible, she thought. Even with the sculpting on the game's avatars as good as it was, it could never quite give a strong enough likeness for emotions. No she thought, she was simply projecting her own feelings into him, seeing in him all of her sadness and doubts, her worries and insecurities. In a gravely tone, he said "DO YOU REALLY THINK SO?"
She looked up at him, and rested her head against his broad arm. "I don't know" she said, softly. "I just don't really know."
The slugspider made a wet skittery noise, like an insect falling into a puddle of mud, and scrambled into the undergrowth.
Sycorax pushed his way through the bracken, cursing under his breath. He was starting not to like the little creature all that much. "Stay where you are!" snarled the warlock, as he made another lunge for it.
The creature danced back, and started to squelch its way up a nearby tree, leaving a thick viscous trail behind it. Groaning, Sycorax clambered along in its wake. Surely, he thought, the damn thing was not worth this much effort.
He shook the doubt from his mind from the very moment he started to climb the tree. No, the creature was one of the game's rarer vanity pets. Not exactly as difficult to find as the invisible piranha or the gold-plated armageddon hamster, the slugspider could still command a hefty amount of gold on the game's auction house. Players, especially those who liked to play as characters of the evil persuasion, would happily part with up to a hundred gold pieces for one of these skittling pets, who would follow their in-game avatars around wherever they went with an air of sticky loyalty.
The warlock flexed out his fingers, trying to clutch the slugspider in his bony grasp. It shrank back, its spindly limbs carrying it higher into the tree. Sycorax snarled. "Damn your fetid, rancid carcass!" he hissed. "I bloody hate climbing."
The creature made a sound that seemed almost as if it were farting at him, and nimbly moved upwards. The warlock sighed. Maybe, he thought, he could set the tree on fire... As the thought lingered, he tried to grasp onto the branch above. Pulling himself up, the branch gave an aching, angry groan. Sycorax barely had time to mumble something suitably derogatory about the tree's mother before the branch cracked and snapped in two, sending the dark figure hurtling back down to the ground.
Sycorax looked around. Lying on his back, he tried to pull himself up, but found it extremely difficult to do so. He breathed in, and wondered how much damage the fall had caused. Moving his head, the world around him seemed to spin. He tried to sit up, but only managed a slouch. Grumbling, he rasped "I'm going to incinerate that tree for this. And that slugspider."
"Can I help?" asked a voice.
The warlock looked around. His vision was hazy, but quickly settled on a familiar figure. The white-robed figure's canine features looked back at the undead from beside the tree, leaning almost casually against the bark. With a slight hesitation, Sycorax said "Oh. Hello Roka."
The dog stepped closer, turning then to glance up towards the top of the tree. "Gathering acorns?" he asked.
"I'm a great squirrel" replied Sycorax. He stumbled upright, scrambling to his feet. Roka stepped forward, holding a hand out to help, but the undead shook his head at the offer.
Nodding, Roka added "Are you okay?"
"Think I lost my nut" said the warlock, dusting down his robe. "How can I help you?"
Inhaling slightly, Roka glanced back at the warlock. "I need to speak to Aria."
Sycorax looked the dog over. "Well Aria doesn't want to speak to you" he said, bluntly.
"I know" said the dog. "I need to apologise to her."
Plucking a small broken twig free from where it had caught on the hem of his robe, Sycorax shook his head. "Think it's a little late for that, boy scout."
Roka was quiet for a moment. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, and then tentatively added "I'm getting us all back together. We're finishing the boss. Properly this time."
Blinking for a moment, Sycorax stared at the dog. "You're mad" he said.
"Quite probably" replied Roka.
The undead warlock paced slightly, glancing back up the tree as if attempting to decide if it were with risking another attempt. "What makes you think the others will follow you?" he asked. "After what you accused Aria of, what makes you think that anyone would go along with you, without being afraid of being accused of the JFK assassination or something."
For a moment, Roka seemed entirely uncertain how to reply to that. "Just give me a chance" he said, "that's all I ask."
"If you're asking that of Aria, you're asking a lot" explained Sycorax.
The dog looked down. "I've spoken to Exra. She's on-board with us, and I know that she can coax Biggie into giving it a shot."
"So, you hope that if you talk me into it, Aria will come along too?" asked the warlock.
Roka shook his head. "I'm hoping that you can just ask her to hear me out, and I'll do the rest."
Staring at him as if he were crazy, Sycorax sighed. "I'll see what I can do" he said, finally. "What about Gunnar?"
The dog looked down. "I know who did the hack" he said. "It was Brakka. He confessed it to me. Well, bragged about it, if I'm honest."
Sycorax blinked a few times. Stepping closer to the dog, he clenched his hand and said "Then we can get the ban overturned!"
Shaking his head, Roka said "I've already spoke to one of the Games Masters. The message Brakka sent wasn't enough."
"What do you mean?" asked Sycorax, eagerly.
Roka inhaled. "He isn't stupid; he never outright said that he was responsible for it." The dog looked at the warlock, imploringly. "They need something more concrete, and I think I know how to convince them.
"Let me guess" said Sycorax, his voice edged with a playful mock of suspicion, "you have a plan?"
The dog nodded. "A little trap. Something to catch Brakka and gain a confession out of him. Something that I can take before the Games Masters and drop right in their lap. Something that will get the ban overturned."
Leaning back against the tree, Sycorax eyed the dog. "You think it will work?"
He shrugged. "Only one way to find out."
Hesitantly, the warlock nodded. "Alright. I'll talk to Aria. I hope this idea of yours works."
Roka looked down. "Me too" the dog said, "me too."
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/