They say you have to write every day. I had the urge, so I decided to blindly continue a piece I previewed here last year.
“I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong,” I growled.
Everything was white around me. The hills were dunes of snow, blowing away and reforming with the wind. The sky was a slight shade off, shifting as wave after wave of fresh powder hit the ground around me. I could pick out trees, but only because their trunks were a distinct earth tone against the rest of my surroundings.
“You’re waiting too long,” Gritty whispered to me, “I’ve never seen someone react as slow as you.”
I moved a little closer so I could see over the hill in front of me. I couldn’t tell if it could see me, but I didn’t want to risk being outsmarted a third time. It was a stupid animal, this wasn’t supposed to be difficult.
There it was, against the snow, something like a deer. I say like a deer, because it was relatively wooly, like a shaggy llama. Also, whoever thought of those horns needed a lesson or two in overdesigning. Each of its horns was like a tree on its own, arcing up, splitting off in branches that were also burdened with snow.
Gritty moved closer, and I wondered if he wasn’t going to just go after it himself. I still didn’t know why he was helping me. Lord knows I didn’t deserve it. I hefted up my spear as if ready to throw it, pointed at the woolbuck.
The wind picked up in a burst that nearly tossed the spear from my hand.
“Shit,” I whispered. The woolbuck turned this way and that, and for a moment I was afraid I spooked it.
“Yeah,” Gritty said, “That’s the last warning. It’ll get dark soon, which means we need to get back to the island.”
That was what he insisted on calling the starting area. Either that or some other demeaning combination of noob, land, ville, town, or shitter. I tried to ignore it. I was new, I deserved the insults, especially if I couldn’t down a simple animal in the woods.
Gritty told me that first night, “If you don’t kill, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. Sounds obvious, then 50% of new players die once in shitter town and never play again.”
I saw the other players in the noob town. The game had a way of displaying hunger on a character. You could see their faces under their furred hoods, stretched then and turning blue. Some of them gestured wildly, trying to get the attention of any other character they could. They begged with what little breath they had, for food, money, trades. The other half were quiet, standing like statues that turned more stoney by the minute.
I refused to die. I told myself I would play the game, find my brother, for his sake. It wasn’t a matter of life or death, rather a case of ‘maybe I can figure out why my brother can be such an ass.’
It was important to me.
“If you’re going to throw it,” Gritty said, “Do it. I’m not going to get dead because you can’t click a button.”
“Shut up,” I said.
“I’ll give you a hint, if you see it lower its head, you already fucked it up.”
“You can just save me a spear that way.”
I creeped up closer, and readied the spear again. I could see my character test the heft in his hand, and I knew it was primed. Another step up, and I was in range. I needed to close a little distance, and build up enough strength. One step, arm up. The woolbuck ducked down, but the spear was already in the air.
It turned toward me, eyes hidden by fluffy tufts of white fur. With one motion it twirled on the spot, dodging the spear, and then ran through into the hills.
“Wow,” Gritty exclaimed, “Just wow. It’s like you hate food. Are you vegan? You can tell me.”
I grumbled to myself. I didn’t need him to know how mad I was, how much I wished I even had a chance of taking a tick out of his life. How John made it through being this week was beyond me. Maybe my little brother was used to that, people seeing him as the little guy, but that wasn’t me.
“Are we going back?” I asked.
My character was standing tall now, no spears left to throw, and nothing left to attack.
“Better,” Gritty said. He pulled out a spear of his own, clearly of a better make than mine. While I had spears made of a long thick branch, and the sharpest rock I could find, Gritty’s looked like an actual weapon. The wood was straight, balanced. The spearhead was still self-carved, but it wasn’t the awkward rock slapped together with some rope like mine.
“Here,” He said as he threw the spear to me, “In case you need it.”
I caught it, and Gritty took the lead. The horizon was shining purple, we were running low on time.
“You really think someone would attack this close to the island?” I asked.
Gritty didn’t answer for a little. It either meant I was going to be ignored, or he just hadn’t noticed me. Either way, it didn’t make me feel safe.
“I would,” Gritty said, “Only thing keeping it safe is people like me.”
The idea made me tap my toes. Was that true? While in town, I saw the occasional message about players saved by town watch. I always thought those were non-player characters. Was Gritty part of the watch? Why bother? It couldn’t be lucrative, was it fun? This was a game after all, wasn’t fun the point?
On the other hand, I knew exactly why other players would attack new players, noobs. Knowing the kind of kids that kept playing these games, knowing John, that was no surprise at all.
“Stop,” Gritty said, “You hear that?”
I hadn’t heard anything but the howling wind, and the artificial sound of crunching snow as we walked. I readied the spear.