NEXUS: Part 2

skeletons

IPSUM: You should have gotten lunch meat. It's cheaper and better for you than freakin’ Hot Pockets.

XAVUS: That's not the point.

IPSUM: Well, whatever. You did good. Yokohachi and some others should be here soon.

XAVUS: Oh god, are they coming too? I thought you just wanted to farm for that dumb hat you wanted.

IPSUM: The others need our help.

XAVUS: That's bullshit.

IPSUM: They're not so bad.

XAVUS: They're casuals. *Xavus makes a rude gesture at Ipsum*

IPSUM: I know. But they're lower level and I promised them I'd help. The world is a hard enough place on your own, you know? We may as well make NEXUS a little better than regular old meatspace. *Ipsum laughs*

Together, the two of them waited outside the dark, sinister entrance to the Nameless Tomb, one of the older dungeons in NEXUS. The massively multiplayer online game was Grant's escape and sanctuary. How could it be surprising to his relatives that he would be in NEXUS for the bulk of his waking hours? They were normals just like the rest of the world. Especially his aunt who wouldn't leave him alone after the accident. They wouldn't, couldn't understand.

In the game, Grant was Xavus, a level 102 mage knight. He was a master blacksmith as well as a master potion-maker. In fact, he was a master of most of the skills available in the game. He had well over a million in gold and was working on building his very own fortress. The guild itself had its own fortress but he didn't like how the other members came and went, picking through the loot like they had earned it. They would have died without his intervention; they could at least ask permission before they took anything.

XAVUS: Meatspace...I wish I never had to go back.

IPSUM: It's not that bad.

XAVUS: You don't know! I'd live here if I could!

IPSUM: You don't mean that.

XAVUS: I do! You heard of Brainbacker, right? Where they scan your brain and upload it into a computer? You'd be practically immortal! You could use it to live in NEXUS one day!

IPSUM: It doesn't work that way. I read how they just gather up stuff you post on social media and just assign values to what they think is your personality. Then they run it all through a program millions of times. That's not a person.

XAVUS: I don't see how it isn't.

Ipsum's avatar was still for a time. The black-and-violet armored Deathstalker stood, his legendary twin swords glowing a malicious red. Xavus wasn't sure if he was experiencing some internet slowdown or if he had run to the bathroom. Usually, he announced what he was doing if he was going to leave his computer but for the past couple weeks, Ipsum would go silent for long stretches of time. Sometimes a half-hour would pass before he resumed activity, always apologizing about the interruption. Xavus grew uneasy. The rest of the party should be arriving any moment. He didn't want Ipsum to get all weird on him before that.

IPSUM: I'd never play NEXUS again if it meant I could...

Before Ipsum could continue, three humanoid shapes flickered into existence. Yokohachi the rogue stood with his daggers drawn, like he expected to emerge into battle. His avatar was fitted with the girliest face and the most ridiculous spiky hair available in character creation mode. Yokohachi was an awful Japanophile who couldn't shut up about anime but at least he knew how to subdue and sneak properly.

Behind him stood Ysamyl, the elf priestess. She immediately cast a spell that raised their defense for thirty minutes, causing a graphic of neon leaves to circle everyone for a moment. Xavus didn't mind her so much, despite her insistence on staying in character. She was good for heals, sure, but Xavus doubted she was really a girl. She swore she was but in Xavus' experience, girls simply didn't play these games.

Tarantignome materialized, the last one of the party to arrive. Xavus hated him. He hated his stupid name, he hated the stupid way he talked, and he hated that he had to be a mage knight just like himself. They didn't need two mage knights in the guild and they certainly didn't need one who didn't know how to keep the attention of enemies on himself and off the healer.

YSAMYL: Greetings, all.

IPSUM: Hey guys. You ready to do this?

TARANTIGNOME: d00ds look @ this new cape i got [BLOODSPUN COWL]

IPSUM: That's pretty sweet, man. Did everyone remember to bring healing potions this time?

YOKOHACHI: Hai.

YSAMYL: With Arathe's blessing, we won't need them. But I brought extra just in case.

XAVUS: Good. I don't want a full wipe like last time.

TARANTIGNOME: lol

XAVUS: It's not funny, T. We wasted four hours last time.

TARANTIGNOME: sorry *Tarantignome dances*

Xavus bit his tongue. Saying anything more would just make this take longer. They formed a party, exchanged beneficial spells and journeyed down into the depths of the dungeon. They sat through the loading screen and emerged into a dimly lit, shadowy stone chamber. Cobwebs dusted every corner and skeletons hung from shackles on the walls. Strapped to thick wooden tables were dead bodies in various stages of dismemberment.

They ran through the first few chambers and easily dispatched the ghouls, golems, and other horrors like they were a well-trained machine. Xavus used his sword skills to make sure the monsters stayed away from Ysamyl, who hadn't needed to worry about healing people yet. Yokohachi had no trouble disabling the major spellcasters and Tarantignome hadn't done anything stupid yet, aside from insisting he use his new bow.

XAVUS: Mage knights don't need to use bows! They don't have a natural proficiency for them. They already have ranged attacks! They're called spells!

TARANTIGNOME: im gonna be the first bow mage k?

XAVUS: Can you act like you played this before?

TARANTIGNOME: can you act like its just a gaem lol j/k

Xavus was about to call for a bathroom break. He was irritated already, and they were nearly to the first boss' room. He knew that, depending on which boss was randomly chosen to occupy the room, it could get tricky even with a couple of high-level players.

XAVUS: Hey guys. Let's take a bathroom break.

TARANTIGNOME: wait u guys

XAVUS: What?

TARANTIGNOME: Ipsum is gone.

Either the Deathstalker logged out or had been disconnected long enough for the game to time him out. Xavus cursed. This wasn't like Ipsum. He always saw a run through to the end. Always.

XAVUS: I'm calling it.

YOKOHACHI: Nani sore!!!

XAVUS: Oh my god, shut up with that, will you? No one ever knows what you're saying. We're done with this dungeon.

YOKOHACHI: We can do it with just the four of us.

YSAMYL: That's right! Please, let us continue.

TARANTIGNOME: ya cmon

XAVUS: I'm going to find out what happened. Stay here if you want but the dungeon is going to reset itself soon.