Sunday Serial: Wrathburnt Sands 13

Because life can be interesting when you are a character in a video game…

Ruffkin got up and started barking. Milla groaned. Another Visitor.
“Go away,” she called “The quest is off until tomorrow it’s…” She tried to remember the word the Visitors used. “It’s gritched.”
Her heart skipped a beat and she was at the door in a moment opening it. Pew stood there dressed in his shimmering red Firecaster robes, ineffable runes swirling around him, looking as if he was being chased by a pack of enraged landsharks. He staggered into the room, ignored the welcoming bound from Ruffkin and dropped into the chair she had just vacated, cupping his hands around her mug of fruit tea, his crest flattened against his head and the colour washed out from his scales. Ruffkin retreated to his bed and looked at them both mournfully.
Milla found another mug and poured herself some more fruit tea, then searched around in her pantry for the emergency supply of flyberry cookies. She scooped a few onto a wooden plate and put them on the table beside the desolate Pew before taking the other chair herself.
That was when she knew whatever it was, it must be really bad. He didn’t even pick up a cookie. His favourites. He just put his mug down, pushed the plate a bit away and stared at the cookies miserably.
“It’s string.”
Milla blinked.
“No. Flyberry. I bought them from One Eye. He’d not put odd things like that in his cookies.”
Pew gave her a very odd look.
“Not string. String. You must remember him?”
Milla did. But sometimes she wished she didn’t. He’d been with herself and Pew on her one and only venture and he’d not been the nicest Visitor she’d ever met. Too much like that elf.
“I thought you said he’d rage quit, whatever that means, and gone away for good?”
“Not for good. Not String. He’s a gamer like me. He’ll always come back.”
Milla reached out a hand and put it over one of his.
“I’m glad you always come back. But String… I thought you weren’t really friends?”
Pew gripped her hand.
“I’ll always come back because you’re here. And no… Maybe not friends. But he and I…well… we played through this game from launch together. We’ve been guildies most of the time and I guess that means something.”
Milla didn’t pretend to understand. This was a Visitor thing, clearly. But she could see Pew needed her, that was very obvious.
“Tell me what’s happened?” she prompted.
“First I knew he was back in the game was when I got a private whisper from his roomie today. Said he’s in some kind of coma or trance. He was in his room playing the game and they were chatting on the ‘chord – then it went quiet.”
“So String has gone missing?”
Pew ate a second cookie before replying. “Yes. But I think it’s worse than that.”
“Worse than going missing?”
Milla wondered if he meant String had vanished in the same way people sometimes vanished after an Expansion. Sometimes they simply weren’t there any more. She shivered at the thought. She hadn’t really liked String much but she wouldn’t wish that on him.
“Yes. Worse. When the roomie checked String was sitting in his chair with a smile on his face but unaware and unresponsive. His machine was still on, game still running. That happened yesterday and he’s been the same way ever since.” Pew picked up one of the cookies and ate it.
Milla filtered out the meaningless words as she always had to when talking with Pew and focused on the key point.
“So he is sick? Don’t you have healers in… wherever he is?”
“We do. But I don’t think they’ll be any help. The thing is String was soloing around Lustrous Lake, trying to build faction with the Lamia so he could get that cool looking water-dragon mount. And String always had a thing about the Lamia, their uber-long blue and green hair, their huge aquamarine eyes, their water breathing ability…”
“Their lack of virtually any clothing?”
Pew’s crest flushed.
“The point is he always said if he had to live anywhere in game it’d be in the Lamia village.”

We will return to Wrathburnt Sands by E.M. Swift-Hook next Sunday.

Return to Wrathburnt Sands was first published in Rise and Rescue Volume 2: Protect and Recover.

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