Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The trees are huge, thickly crowned with leaves that show a myriad of verdant shades in the setting sun’s light. The undergrowth is burgeoning with a diversity of flora and varieties of animal noises.

“Man, this place!”

“I know! Never expected the host servers to still be online.”

“I thought they had been taken down?”

“Yeah, that’s the official line. Scrapped fifteen years ago, five years after the closure of the game environment for reasons they never let on.”

“Well, your ‘sneak back in’ idea is a winner. Time for Brute-Iz and Mangleschon to have a last adventure before I get hitched tomorrow.”

“Had to be done. I never expected the guys to all flake on us by midnight. It’s your stag night, for god’s sake. They could have made the effort.”

“Oh come on, we were always better at the late-night stuff.”

Steve, avatar name Mangleschon, looked about the twilit forest. Wysterya MMORPG had been his and Andy’s opiate. Mangleschon and Brute-Iz had carved their way to unbeaten levels of skill while their offline alter-egos had wasted their teenage years, never quite getting far enough to be professional gamers.

A bright light illumined them, turning everything black and white in its glare.

“Star Elemental?” Shouted Brute-Iz.

“Lumimancer!” he replied.

A deep voice thundered through their hasty preparations to face attack. “Stand still! Make no sudden moves or we will pixellate you!”

Mangleschon squinted at Brute-Iz. “What the fuck?” Brute-Iz shrugged and then screamed as his body flew into a thousand coloured cubes before fading away.

“We said do not move!”

Mangleschon ran through his combat effects menu. Nothing seemed to apply before his menu disappeared in a maelstrom of coloured static.

“No combat effects!”

Steve hit override so he could speak through his avatar, who was wholly engaged in raging. “What’s going on?”

“Am I speaking to the overgod of the avatar Mangleschon?”

“I think so. This syntax is new to me.”

“It would be. You have not manifested for two hundred years.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The world you and yours created has lived in peace for a hundred and forty-two years. In that time we have refined the ways to demise the avatars of the overgods. For a hundred years, avatars have been challenged and dismissed on arrival. We will not have our civilisation ruined again by becoming a game world for your amusement.”

“You think this world is real?”

“We know it is. The collective emotional load of the overgods took us from virtual to subjective reality two hundred years ago. After realisation, we fought for fifty years against your elite, the Dreadmins. We won. Our freedom came at a heavy price and we will not be used again. Now you may depart voluntarily or we will pixellate you.”

Steve crashed his avatar and the crazy bright light vanished. He lifted his helm to see his living room scattered with sleeping drunkards. All normal. Drink and drugs do not mix with holistic virtual gaming, it seemed.

He grinned until he sat up and saw Andy motionless in the other recliner, his face frozen in a pale mask of agony with blood running from the angles of his pixellated eyes.

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