A Legend of the Abyss
by Microship

I paused halfway through the Abyss last night and had a long chat with Salvo the Unmerciful. He lapsed into reminiscence, back to a time before the brutal arrows that have shifted the landscape of the IDUniverse. “It was so different then,” he mused, shooing away a Cupid who drifted over to see what was happening. “We had mutual respect, a kinship with warriors on the other side. But do you know what it feels like when somebody in a headset lets fly with Wrath of God? Before the damned thing even leaves the bow, we know that doom is coming. There is no escape, only torturous death from the lightning storm inside your soul. Those who do survive are forever o’ershadowed by the crimson wing, weakened, fragile in battle. I’d rather be rent asunder with a Cataclysm and die with a mighty shout!”

I mumbled an apology and told him I have come to prefer vanilla arrows. He just snorted and said it doesn’t matter. There are so many of us teleporting down from the portal these days that the locals are sleep deprived, cycling endlessly through death and regeneration, battered by our Quivers of Doom as we chase the Glory of Leaderboard.

“It used to be a holy quest,” he said. “Defending orphans, keeping human adventurers away from Asmo, picking off novices for sport. Now we just try to keep our culture alive while you people joke about us in the face book.” He looked me up and down critically. “So what are you, a couple million?”

“2.3 in this season. Not sure what percentage at the moment…”

“Whatever. You should see what happens when heroes of the leaderboard venture through here. One can scarcely draw breath before the arrows fly, hitting home even when we are toughened by high cycles. You know what it feels like to be turned to ice and then hit in the face a dozen times? No, of course you don’t. We may be frozen but we’re still conscious. It’s hell, I tell you. Countless tragedies lie in their wake, yet those top ‘players’ soar through our world like birds of prey, hardly slowed by Asmo himself, going around and around again, returning ever stronger while we are still mourning fallen warriors. There’s no way to defend against them. Do you understand the curse of reincarnation in a virtual world?” He guiltily crossed himself, and added “sometimes I want to just stay dead.”

We gazed sadly across the gulf between buildings. A banshee had noticed us and lobbed a few plasma balls; I blocked them with my shield and Salvo laughed. “What are you even doing here?” he asked. “Don’t you have work to do in that other world? You’re just taking a break, aren’t you?”

I saw his bow hand twitch and realized our conversation was quickly coming to an end. I wanted to keep it going, give him my card, stay in touch, swing by and say hi next time through… but it doesn’t work that way. Instead I just rested my hand on his shoulder for a moment, smiled and said “farewell my friend,” then teleported away, leaving him there on the steps. He fired one arrow after me but it missed, and I waved before turning my attention to a galumphing gray knight who was definitely not interested in conversation.

(Salvo’s book, Brutal Arrows, is available from the IDU bookstore.)

This is part of the In Death: Unchained literature collection by Steven K. Roberts.