“You don’t honestly think you can beat all 30 of us, do you?” A lone figure stood in the path of a host of players. It was wielding an intimidating looking sword in its right hand. They were enroute to raid the town of Lothriel in the name of the Halfad Empire. The game of Warblaze had 3 large factions constantly in a state of war. Often many players in a single faction group together to attack the opposing factions for gold, armor, and to increase their standing in the faction. The path was a wide forest road but this stranger chose to be directly in the path of the group, a sign that he wanted to stop them. There was no movement from the player except for the small movements of the cloak in the slight breeze. There were 3 species that were available to the players to choose and while no race is barred from any of the factions, there was definitely a more beneficial faction to go to for each race. The humans mainly populated the Halfad Empire while the Baros Horde was populated mostly by orcs. The third and smallest was the Demon Dominion but to make up for their numbers, the strength of a demon was greater than either an orc or human. The group that approached were mainly human with a few orcs in the mix. “That’s exactly what I intend to do,” called back the figure. The leader of the rag tag group started laughing and more and more of them started to join in. “We average around level 750 with some even in the 800s. What hope do you have against us, noob?” The stranger readied his sword in response and waited for the fighting to begin. The leader, Vicus, was amused by this but there was uncertainty in the back of his mind. No one could be this stupid, it had to be a trap. He had played the game for a few years now and knew to trust his instincts here. “Beras, Flex go deal with him. Everyone else watch the treelines. This might be a trap!” The stranger scoffed in response at the thought of asking for backup. Warblaze had no true level cap but nearly all abilities are maxed out when the player hits around 1200. The requirements to level up began to demand more and more from the players around level 350. Most casual players were in the 400s after a few years with more of the serious players in the range of 600-800 range. Some of the original players were rumored to be in the 1000s if they were serious enough throughout all this time. Beras was dressed more like a standard warrior with a large claymore taking up both his hands while Flex was using 2 long daggers. Both players sprinted at the stranger, Flex was in range to attack first as he was not slowed down by heavy armor and weapons but as his daggers were about to impact the stranger, he noticed the stranger had yet to move. A spark of pride filled the owner of Flex as he felt it was just his speed being too quick for this noob, as he had many points invested in both his movement and attack speed. The spark was replaced by confusion as the stanger’s image began to shimmer and faded as his daggers hit where the body used to be. The stranger used Afterimage! A utility spell that required a good amount of points to unlock. The moment of confusion was enough time for the stranger to appear behind Flex and stabbed into him. Red flashed on the screen of Flex’s owner as he tried to dodge. He was an experienced player and yet he only had time to avoid a blow to his chest. The sword sliced across his character’s shoulder right through the armor! It only nicked him but it drove him to a red state. That was only possible when a player was below 5% hp. Quickly assessing the damage, Flex was shocked that his hp was nearly gone from a glancing blow! Fear spread through him as he realized he was outclassed...miserably. A player with the strength to nearly one shot a level 776 from a glancing blow was way beyond him. His screen turned grey only a moment later as a martial arts skill was used as a follow up to the sword attack. Death in Warblaze was signified by a grey screen of the defeated player and all text and voice chats were disabled. He could only watch helplessly as Beras arrived and he could not warn his friend of the danger he was in. Beras stopped in his tracks a few meters before the stranger. He watched his friend Flex die in a matter of a few seconds. He cursed loudly in anger but he held his emotions in check. Rushing in against this unknown enemy was stupid. In a traditional mmorpg, Beras would classify more as a tank and Flex more as a damage dealer. Naturally Flex had a lot less health than Beras but a level 776 still had hp in the hundreds of thousands. Warblaze did not have a traditional class system but rather gave the players the freedom to choose their own stat increases via skill points. As Beras was a tank of the group, he had invested heavily into armor, health and strength with points in his taunts, personal buffs, and mitigation for the high end boss fights and pvp (player vs player). Taking that into consideration, Beras opened with a leap and a wide swing in order to attempt to hit the stranger. He could afford to take damage as he wanted to test what this player’s capabilities were. His attack left him wide open and as expected, the player struck. What was not expected was the damage nor the grey screen that followed. The player stabbed him straight through the chest, players could only do that if their target was within one shot range of their weapons damage. It was a flashy animation the developers put in to make the players feel more badass but was rarely used in combat because it took time to finish the animation and the player was exposed to counter attack from other enemies.. That’s impossible! He was a tank, very few people in the game could oneshot a geared tank and they were the high end original players. He was in the presence of one of the god-tier players of old. But which one? Only a few dozen still played the game. That answer was given to everyone as soul orbs began to leave the bodies of the fallen and entered the gem placed in the crossguard of the sword of the god tier player. Legendary weapons only existed as a single item. Only one player at a time could hold one and all were known to the elite players as they all had dreams of acquiring one. Legendary weapons could not be hidden in the banks of players and will drop 100% of the time of the wielders death. This was to keep the weapon in rotation and prevent someone from keeping it away from the general populace forever. It would also disappear out of a player’s inventory if they did not log in after a month and reenter the game as a boss drop. The sword before them was Soulbane, Drinker of Souls. Every time it killed a player or npc, it takes a piece of the victim’s soul and it absorbs small percentage of the fallen’s stats and adds it to its own. It was an infinite scaling weapon that was only reset on its drop. It is one of the most sought after weapons in the game and has been in the hands of 1 player since it was awarded to the player for winning the first world championship. The player they attacked was known as Aeldan, the Avatar of Death! The remaining 28 players froze in horror at the identity of the player before them. Aeldan was considered one of the greatest players to grace the game. The game has been out for 8 years and Aeldan had attended all 8 championships. He was the winner of 3 of them and many considered him the king of Warblaze. Soulbane is only one piece of Aeldan’s deadly arsenal. Besides the weapon, he has some of the best gear collected over years of grinding and battling but what is perhaps scariest all is his race. After his 3rd title, the game developers of Warblaze decided to award Aeldan with a truly priceless gift, his own race. His character was transformed into a Shald, its more akin to a vampire as he looks human and has many of their fabled abilities such as unnatural strength, stamina, shape shifting, etc. Many stories were spun on what he could do but many believe it to be an exaggeration as the class specifics are known only to the game developers and Aeldan’s user. What was known was the light did not affect him like a traditional vampire as he was seen during the in game daylight hours, and that he did not drink blood but rather fed off the souls that he collects in his sword. In order to balance the race, it required to feed off souls to maintain its form and strength and so it required to kill many npcs and players to remain in its dominant state or else it would be weakened significantly. A loophole to this was his sword which could store souls for later use, there was no telling how many were in it but the number was not small. The group’s collective recalling of the stories of Aeldan disappeared as the distance between them and Aeldan diminished quickly as he transformed to a cloud of bats and surged toward them with great speed. He was upon them in seconds. _______ Mark allowed himself to relax after killing the last of the raid group. His wrists ached slightly at the overexertion of killing those players. His constant playing for 8 years had given him some serious carpal tunnel issues. Mark laughed bitterly as the pain began to subside. A 22 year old should not have serious carpal tunnel issues. Nothing of note was dropped by the players but that was expected. Their equipment was too low level to give any kind of stat increase to him. The souls were much more valuable as they did give stat increases. The experience bar barely moved after the encounter as 30 player kills were nothing to the mountain of experience required by a level 1052 to progress. Taking note of the time, Mark moved off the main road and deep into the forest to log out. He was not due to turn in his success to the player in charge of Lothriel for another hour; he had time for a quick snack. Mark walked the cluttered halls of his childhood home toward the kitchen. Mark’s life could be considered both tragic and lucky. His parents won the lottery when he was 13 and he fondly recalled them jumping for joy at their luck but a ticket to the good life was not in the cards for them as only a week after they collected their lump sum winnings of $40 million, they died in a robbery attempt for their money. Mark’s parents already put the money in the bank system but some guy assumed that they would keep large amounts on them and shot them for the money in their wallets. Mark’s aunt moved into the house for a time to raise the 13 year old as she was listed as next of kin. She had no husband or children so the move was a simple affair. His parents’ death drove him to quit school and have his aunt hire personal tutors to teach him. The following year, he discovered Warblaze, the newest mmorpg on the market. It was like love at first sight as the game soon consumed most of his time. He hurried through his lessons just to get back to playing. It helped him overcome his depression but it could not be considered just his savior but his addiction as well. When he finished his schooling at 18, he dove himself fully into the game as he did not have to worry about money for the rest of his life. His aunt, knowing she had no control of the young adult or his addiction to the game, grew increasingly frustrated with Mark until she decided to move out. Mark sent her a portion of the money he inherited from his parents as a way of thank you but after that he rarely saw her. He did get a postcard from Hawaii a couple years down the road but their interaction ceased beyond that. Mark soon entered the kitchen but stopped in his place at the sight before him. A 40ish year old looking man was casually sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a cup coffee. What kind of robbery was this? Mark cautiously tried to reach for one of the knives next to the door but froze in his place as the man looked up from the coffee. “You look well, Mark.” Mark was caught off guard by the compliment but quickly recovered. “What are you doing in my home?” The man leaned back and sighed. “Oh, where to even begin. I suppose I’m the closest thing to God that anyone can encounter. “Right and I’m Santa Clause, now tell me who you really are before I call the cops. You obviously came here to talk if you have been just sitting here, drinking my coffee, waiting for me to come out of my room.” The man seemed amused by that answer as a faint smile on his face appeared. “Mortals put so much faith in their beliefs and yet they never believe when actual divinity is staring them in the face. At least you are clever enough to pick up on that I mean you no harm. Now come have a seat cause I came on urgent business.” “I’m good right where I’m standing, creep.” The man sighed as he raised up a hand and produced an orb of light. He sent it toward Mark and Mark flinched as it entered his body and emitted warmth in his chest that he had not felt in years. Mark’s eyes widened and slowly gave into curiosity as he made his way to the chair on the opposite side of the table. “So...God, why are you here?” “I need your help and I think you would enjoy the task.” “And why would an all powerful deity need my help?” “Here’s a quick history lesson. In the start, there was an all powerful being that created many universes. You humans are kind of close with your “multiverse theory” to a point but as more and more universes it started to become a lot of effort to keep watch over the universes and keep their existences grounded. It’s a constant effort as everything wants to become nothing as it was taken from a thing called The Void and it wants to return there. That being split itself into many different pieces, some to manage the strain of keeping the fabric of the universes in tact while others keep vigil over scores of universes. As time went on, the pieces of the original began to develop their own personalities. Some began to hunger for more power and began to take over universes that belonged to other fractions of God. It’s complicated but as we are tied to our universes, each time one is lost, we start to lose some of the power given to us to manage that universe. When all of a god’s universes are taken they fade into nothingness and are cast into The Void.” “You could say that there is a war of universal proportions going on and now mine are under attack. As my power fades, I cannot protect my dominion as I once could and it puts this universe and many others at risk as I am tied to them.” Mark took a minute to take it all in but the same question kept popping up in his mind. “You mentioned you needed my help, yet I cannot foresee how I can be of service.” “Think of the alignment of universes as a spider web. You need to follow the strands to get anywhere and some universes are like hubs and have multiple strands to other universes which lets one spread with greater ease. The rogue gods have reached one of these hub universes that is under my control and I need to protect it at all cost or it will be like opening the floodgates and they will be impossible to stop as they spread to more and more of my territory. A universe is lost when its prime planet, or the planet that is designated as a capital of sorts is taken as there is a font of energy at the core of the planet. For this universe, it is Earth but it changes universe to universe. This hub universe is a near identical replica of your game, Warblaze.” “How is that even possible.” All universes in a god’s territory are connected and through something called the ”bleed effect” where thoughts, ideas and images are sent and some are received by other sentient species. This occurs more often with prime planets as their power sources are nearby and projects images of their planet to other connect universes. Many of the artist and game developers of Warblaze got some of the feedback from that and created that world in the form of their game.” “You are the most renowned expert of that world and I know you are not tainted by the war. The rogue gods already sent scouts to infiltrate Warblaze’s planet of Aldir and I cannot trust any of the populace to not be corrupted, thus I needed a mortal from a different universe. I can create an empty shell replica of your character Aeldan with its skills and abilities intact and put your mind and soul into it. I only have enough power to do this once and if I wait too long the opportunity will be lost. Your life is a tragic one and I know you aren't happy with your lonely existence on this world so I’m offering you a chance at rebirth, a clean slate. Will you save the lives of not only the populace of Aldir and its universe but your own as well?” To say Mark was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Leaving his home, his life, his universe to save another. The idea was sounding more appealing as he thought more on it. He didn’t really have any connections with anyone here so he wouldn’t lose anything on that front. He would also get to live the life of his character in the world he enjoyed. Memories of the game flooded his mind as he thought of all the good times he had in Warblaze. This world existed and it needed his help, is that not the core purpose of the game? He had dedicated years of his life fighting on the virtual ground of Warblaze and would this not be an opportunity to prove his dominance on a whole new level? “I’m in.” God blinked in mild surprise at the quick decision but smiled his approval. “Very well, check your bag when you wake up.” God lifted a hand and emitted a powerful beam of light that forced Mark to close his eyes. He felt a lurch in his chest and he suddenly felt extremely dizzy. His mind was being overloaded with information and he soon gave into the bliss of the unconscious world.