Black Swordsman (600 words)

It has been two years since 12804 people got trapped in the virtual world of the top-selling multiplayer online game called Black Swordsman. To enter the game, a person must first put on an electromagnetic head scanner which sends the player deeper into his cerebral region, effectively trapping his or her consciousness inside the game. Not being able to logout since Day 1, the game’s creator Norman Foreman announced that the players must clear all 50 levels of the game in order for their consciousness to arrive back to the real world.

Each level had their own set of towns, scenery, and climatic conditions. And located in specified areas were the Level Bosses’ hideouts. Eager to leave the game and to go back to reality, the leading group consisting of 50-100 fighters had to defeat the boss in order to advance to the next level. The other unskilled players took on the supporting roles of blacksmiths, chefs, and storekeepers in the towns and were free to go to areas cleared by the leading group.

The head of the leading group was Jericho, a lance user with a massive shield, serving as the General of the White Knights guild. “Behind this door is the boss of level 49.” He looked around the room full of tired warriors and recognized less than a quarter of them. The death probability for a random fighter was over 50 percent for each boss battle. “We are very close, comrades. Only two bosses away from regaining our freedom to the real world. Let us not hesitate now.” He pushed open the arched double doors.

Jericho ran in first, followed by his lieutenants who also used lances and shields. Together, they were to take the brunt of the boss’s attacks. There was only one other member of their guild, a female gunslinger, who enjoyed taking out bosses from the back row. Her user ID was Ava and she was accompanied by her in-game husband BlackS. Jericho, Ava, and BlackS were probably the game’s finest fighters.

Unlike Ava, BlackS would often sneak out from their cozy bed at night to fight powerful monsters solo. “That’s just my style,” he would say to his wife in the morning after. It was the reason behind his 8 million gil, one-handed Excalibur sword, no shield, Cloak of Midnight, and Level 99.

But even he would have a major difficulty in fighting the cardinal-colored boss in front of him, that was easily five times his height and over a hundred times his volume. The creature resembled a standing bull with two one-ton machetes. It exhaled steam from its nostrils and with one quick turn, torched two Level 57 fighters with its fire breath. Those two fighters instantly vaporized, signaling the end of their consciousness in the real world too.

One of Jericho’s lieutenants dropped his shield. “This isn’t good. Our shields won’t be big enough.” He dropped his lance and got down on his shaking knees in front of the nine-meter beast. “We’ll all die here!”

But BlackS didn’t let the words discourage him. He leaped up into the air towards the oversized cow with his mastered Jump skill and punctured through its left arm, while Ava made her first cluster shot that shook the cow’s head. Nine more player deaths later, Jericho’s team defended tactically, carefully hiding behind their shields with each flame breath.

With only five percent of its hit points remaining, the bull went berserk and held two machetes in each hand. One machete swiped clean through Jericho’s shield and through him too, but he didn’t seem affected by it and kept fighting.

BlackS ended the fight by swiping through both eyes of the bull, and received the dual-sword skill as a reward. But before he could celebrate, he pointed the tip of his sword at Jericho. “Who are you? How are you still alive after that blade went through you?”

Jericho looked back confidently. “In real life, I’m known as Norman Foreman, and I’ll eventually meet you again as the Level 50 boss.”

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