Legends Of The Multiverse #4 - Vassal Online
The ambulance arrived a week too late.
Daniel bolted out of the passenger side before it came to a complete stop and dropped into a dangerous sprint given the heat. He bridged the gap to the building entrance in just a few seconds, but already felt sweat soaking through his shirt.
Daniel stepped through the sealed outer door of the building into the vestibule. The doors hissed shut behind him and the inner doors release a perfect tidal wave of cool air.
Flashing an I.D., Daniel raced through the lobby into the elevator, stopping only to grab a key from the outstretched hand of the doorman.
In the brief interegnum, as he was lifted 45 stories in silence, Daniel let himself wonder why he pretended time was of the essence. He guessed it made him feel better.
The elevator door slid open to reveal a long hallway. Daniel stepped out and began looking for 45Y. As he walked he took note of the subtle odor in the air, a hint of rotting meat and sulphuric eggs. It grew stronger as he reached the end of the hall. A neighbor had called in the scent.
Now Daniel stood before the closed door of apartment 45Y. He placed the key in the lock. But before he turned the key, he bent down, took off his right glove, and placed his hand by the thin crack at the door's bottom. A small jet stream of hot air warmed his fingers.
He bent even lower and placed his nose near the breeze, only to quickly recoil at the overwhelming odor of putrefication.
The sudden backward jerk landed him sitting in front of the apartment door. Daniel looked up at it, then buried his face in his hands to hold back quiet, racking sobs.
The story was so ubiquitous it wouldn't even make the news. It happened every day. A blockage in an AC vent, maybe an accident maybe on purpose, and an apartment of corpses - maybe old, maybe young, maybe both. All of them rotten, more meat than human, taken by the heat and moisture during a nap that turns into a coma that turns into nothingness.
How many corpses had Daniel seen since returning to the real world. How many people had he saved? He was trained as an EMT - but in reality he was a glorified coroner.
Was this why he left Vassal? To expose himself to some kind of ritual suffering? He'd told himself the online world was not real - no matter how effective the neural illusion was. In reality, his physical body had been wasting away, sustained in a kind of pseudo-hibernation, while his mind played pretend inside of the neural network.
Meanwhile the real world fell apart, piece by rusty piece, and what was left of the analog human race - the ones who had survived famine, disease and war - slowly but surely succumbed to bad luck and poor maintanence.
Vassal was the ultimate crutch, and Daniel left at the height of his power because he felt the real world needed him more.
But now he sat outside 45Y, caressed gently by particles of torrid decomposition, trying to will himself to enter a hellscape he could do nothing to change.
Daniel left the key in the lock, his badge on the floor, and called a taxi back to his apartment.
Barad-el Gazrul, demon lord of the undead legion, stood before the great castle of Erast Senad, last stronghold of the forces of light.
Every other township in Vassal Online, over 1000 cities and towns, had been overcome by the demon horde.
With each advance of darkness, each defeated champion, hope in the way of the light faded and more and more avatars were forced to live under the tyranny of the dark lord.
Now the greatest champions on the server - warriors of legendary renown and mages of extraordinary power - gathered at Erast Senad to make their final stand against the tide of evil.
But as the giant hammer of Barad-el Gazrul, the weapon called Gorlaff the Devourer, slammed into the gates of the castle, even the greatest among the heroes of light felt the shadow of despair smother their hearts.
It was in this darkest of moments, when all hope seemed lost, that the greatest hero of all returned. He came from the sky on his unique mount, the Dragon Sarador, and layed down a cleansing flame in a blazing ring around the castle.
So began the War for the Light. The Dragonrider was Dainéil, who would be called Dainéil Lightbringer, and he had a world to save.