by A. D. Won

“You’re an archeologist,” Commander Bronzetusk grumbled at his desk, “doing a dig in the middle of downtown Ashenguard? Where is the rest of your team? These don’t look like picks and brushes to me.”

“As I told your goblins, I’m an archivist.” Sati gestured toward the neatly ordered arrangement of strange silvery geometric objects on the Commander’s desk in front of her. “Slightly different thing.”

“Sorry, lost in translation I guess. You must admit these looked suspicious.”

“Yes, I understand, and normally I wouldn’t have been so brazen, but time is of the essence.”

“Don’t worry about the Fire Legion. The local quest-takers will handle today’s apocalypse.”

“I’m talking about something far worse than a raid instance, Commander.” Sati brought out one small black rectangle displaying a grid of green squares, each individually, gradually fading into black.

“What is this?”

“This is the real apocalypse. This entire game is being shut down, zone by zone. Tell me, have you noticed a downturn in quest-takers?”

“Not really.”

“I figured not. You’re all programmed to assume everything is status quo. Even me explicitly mentioning that this whole universe is a game is just sliding off your perception right now. I tell you, out in the countryside, people haven’t given quests in months. They’re just standing there, happily waiting for the next rando to come along and strike up a conversation. They never think to just talk to each other. It’s ghoulish.”

“I see.” The Commander stood up and looked out his window overlooking most of Ashenguard. In the distance he saw the port, new ships coming in, a handful of griffin-riders, all seemed normal to him, but he’s learned to eye any complacency suspiciously. “And you intend to stop this apocalypse, I take it?”

“No, I can’t. Running this game isn’t profitable and we’ve tried crowdfunding, but the company’s lost interest in this IP entirely. My guild intends to save what we can before it happens. They’re all on different servers, preserving what they can. I’ve been assigned to this server.”

“You needn’t be so concerned. As I say, the quest-takers will…”

And at that moment, those griffin-riders in the distance began to stretch into hideous, thin triangles. The beaks, the eyes, the legs, all pulling apart into obscenely sharp polygons, like swords that could cut the world in half.

“By Grufmuck's Braid!”

Sati was behind him now, looking through the window. “Just give it a minute, this will pass and they’ll be deleted.”

“You have seen this before?”

“Yes, this is already happening beyond the Fire Fields. Your Mount Cracktooth is already gone, but it was archived from another server so at least it’s safe. Commander, you must let me get back to work. My guild never gave up on this game. We want to save enough to make an emulation and let it run indefinitely, freeing the inhabitants to live out their existence with each other. No more relying on the quest-takers.”

“Ragwind! Buckbottom!” Commander bellowed and a pair of stocky, armored goblins entered the office with a stiff salute.

“Escort Ms. Sati and follow every order she gives you as if it were directly from me. You are under her command until I say otherwise.”

“Yes, sir!” the goblins stood at attention.

“Commander,” Sati began, but he raised his palm to interrupt her. Understanding, she gathered up her tools with the goblin’s help, carrying her bags and other heavier equipment. Commander Bronzetusk returned to the window to wait for the next disintegration.

“Before you go, Ms. Sati.” He turned to look at her, just about to leave the office with her new pair of guards. “Have I been saved?”

“Yes,” Sati said. “Many times.”

“Very well. Go. I will continue my watch.”

“That you will, Commander.”