More Than Meets the Eye

 
 

The idea hit him a day after the message. “Come to Solin alone.” She’d said. But how? The question played over and over. After that solo game (he didn’t win) Panda got on and they played a few games, then Panda left and Ac1d played a couple with Gold and Cri. He wasn’t at his best, that message “Come to Solin alone” banging around. They won a single game.

The next morning something Cri said the day before came to him. It was in their final game. Cri and Gold had been gunned down, it was just Ac1d and one other player left. Cri said, “Leave us, man. You got this. Do it solo.”

I need to get in a squad with a couple terrible randos, let them die, and do the whole thing myself. I can’t go to Solin alone, but I’ll end up alone. It was the only thing he could think of. There’s no possible way to enter a game on Solin without being in a squad. After four games he got the Solin map. Before Solin it was Havved twice and Kvoka once.

When he launched the fourth game and saw they were headed to Solin he hoped, for maybe the first time in his gaming life, that his teammates would be trash. He’d considered asking them to die, or leave, but didn’t think they’d respond well to that. If they asked him Why? he didn’t want to have to answer. As it turned out they were about as bad as possible. So bad Ac1d wondered if there’d been a recent mobile release of LBR that he was unaware of.

Solin’s system for pushing players closer together is unique to that planet. Instead of a minefield, rising tide, or closing electrical storm the planet’s forest grows ever more dense. Stay where it’s open and you live, get caught in the woods and you’ll have a hard time finding your way. The screen dims as ambient light fades, the foliage grows thick, sometimes a clump of trees will lock you in place only for another to fill the space and turn you to mush.

Once his two teammates die Ac1d dashes into open where he’ll be safe from the encroaching trees the next few minutes. The plant life grows over his dead pals and they leave the match. He grins. On Solin alone. Now what? His internalized question is soon answered as a gas pours from the border of the forest.

 
 
 

He’s never seen anything like this happen before. Like a cross between a zombie and a hyper-advanced soldier, the thing screams pure violence. A monster—built? created? bred?—for one use: destruction. Ac1d has enough time to process this before the thing draws a P90-style submachine gun and begins firing. Ac1d sprints down a slope, hits slide, and slips up against one of Solin’s many tepee tower structures. The moment he turns he sees a second of the monsters walking out of the forest amid a cloud of gas. This one looks like it’s been mixed with a rose bush.

Ac1d starts firing Lasher rounds into the thing. Where each shot hits flower pedals fall. Am I even hurting it? he wonders. The thing lifts a hand and fires a flurry of thorns from its palm. Ac1d empties the bottom half of his magazine while strafing to his left, away from the first monster. He hears it moving around the tower’s base and turns as it opens fire. Ac1d starts running, wondering what the hell is going on.

 
 
 

PandaNam to Ac1d:

-Hey, dude. You solo-queueing? Want to game?

Ac1d ignores the message. Can’t think about that now, the first two…things have been joined by a third. Too-long arms, smoke pouring from its back. It moves in an erratic pattern, too fast to see. One second here, another there. Each time getting closer. Each time swinging those arms, slashing the air. Leaving a trail of glittering smoke in its wake.

A fourth joins the fray. This one begins attacking the three monsters. Her smooth ruby head is patterned with leaves, or maybe they’re feathers. Her armor is black, skintight, and sleek, she moves like a dancer after years of training Tai Chi and Jiu Jitsu. An odd combination, but it’s the only thing Ac1d can think of. Above her head is the name Crystalis.

When the three monsters are dead, she turns to Ac1d. “Thank you for coming to Solin.” The words are heard, and appear in a jagged comic book style speech bubble.

This is brand new. An NPC in LBR? And those monsters? Ac1d feels a swell of giddy joy bubble in his stomach. A game hasn’t done this for him since…Since he was a kid, the first time he played Ocarina of Time. The grin on his face is so big, his eyes so wide, it starts to hurt.

“What. The. Hell.” He asks aloud.