It starts the moment you enter the medium; imps coming at you from all sides, never a lull or a moment of respite. Even as you cut down swathes of enemies, you keep a continuous stream of communication going between yourself and the other three members of your session, working in tandem with AR to ensure everything is running smoothly.
You notice when things start going wrong, Jake’s answers become shorter, more distracted. Eventually, they stop completely and you desperately want to go check on him, but you’re pinned down by the sheer volume of foes the game is throwing at you and it’s a struggle just to stay alive. The Land of Beat and Blades is an unforgiving place, you can’t afford to let your guard down.
After what seems like an eternity, his chum handle lights up again, and you get a single message:
“They killed him, dirk. he saved me and they killed him.”
That was all. You had no idea what he was talking about, but like hell you were going to wait around to find out. Somehow, you retrieve your rocketboard and set out skipping through the gates, speeding toward him recklessly.
The Land of Caves and Doves is a much more welcoming world than yours, you think as you glide overhead, scanning the ground for any sign of Jake. The entire place is still crawling with imps and ogres, but at least the ground itself isn’t trying to murder you.
Finally, you spot him, standing in the center of an enormous ring of slaughtered opponents, pistols smoking on the grass. The ground around him is soaked black with their blood, and at his feet lays the broken chassis of Brobot. There are deep gouges in his chest and the wiring that once made him tick and whirr is plainly visible through the wounds.
“English!” You land a few yards away and call out, relieved to find him still alive and well. You take a few steps in his direction, and he throws up one hand to warn you away.
“I’m afraid you need to leave, old chap.” He gives you a sad, pained smile and you see there’s fear in his eyes. “It seems something has gone rather badly wrong.”
At first you can’t see what he’s talking about, but as your eyes scan him for any sign of injury you notice the convulsions pulsing down his right arm.
“What the hell hap-”
“Go, Strider, dammit.” He cuts you off, panic creeping into his voice. “I don’t know how much longer I can hold it off. I didn’t mean to lose control, I just got so angry. It was like watching you die…” His gaze falls to Brobot, and you begin to understand. You disregard his order, though, closing the space between you as your mind frantically searches for a way to fix this.
“I won’t abandon you,” It was a fact as much as a promise, for all your planning and strategizing, you would throw everything away if it meant saving him.
“You don’t understand; I can see this thing’s mind. It’s utterly mad, hell-bent on destruction. I can only resist for so long, and if you stick around it will kill you. I can’t be responsible for that.” His arm was elongating, growing thicker and more monstrous, becoming too big for his body. His face twisted in an agonized expression, and for the first time real fear was starting to claw at your insides.
I have waited too fucking long for it to end like this,” you spit through gritted teeth, grabbing fistfuls of his green over shirt. “You fight this, Jake; you’ve never given up on anything in your life so you fucking fight this.”
There’s an inhuman roar and a flicker of movement, then all you can feel is a searing pain. Your back burns where his mutated hand had clawed deep groves in your skin. He looks horrified at what he’d just done, but you know it wasn’t really him. It was the thing taking control; he was starting to lose the battle of wills.
“Dirk,” he gasps, half in agony and half in terror, tears starting to course down his face. “You’re going to have to end it. Jesus, it’s so much worse than I thought. It will doom us all, if it gets through; we have to think about Jane and Roxy, too.”
You’re shaking your head, trying to deny the very thought of what he was suggesting. “I can’t you oblivious asshole. This was supposed to be my moment. I was going to tell you I loved you.” To your horror, there are tears forming in your own eyes.
He just smiles and shakes his head, “I knew, I always knew. And I loved you, too. But now, I need you to be brave for me, okay? Don’t let this thing take my body.” His voice cracked, and his words were punctuated by an anguished cry. His left arm was beginning to twitch now, following the same patterns as his right.
Shaking, you equip your strife specibus and suddenly your katana is in your hand.
“I was never very brave, Jake. If I had been, it wouldn’t have taken me three years to tell you.” You remove your shades so you can look directly into his eyes, free hand moving to cup his cheek. It’s almost like you imagined it would be.
“Better late than never, old friend.”
When you kiss him, he tastes like tears and you don’t know if they’re his or yours. Neither of you dared to blink as you raise your sword, bringing the point to rest directly over his heart. You hesitate, and those green eyes plead with you to do what needs to be done.
One thrust, quick and clean.
You watch the light leave his eyes, and his lips detach themselves from yours as his legs collapse. The dead weight almost tears the hilt from your hand, but you hold on, pulling the blade from his body and stowing it away.
For some time, you don’t know how long, you sit beside him, holding his hand as his skin turns cold against yours. A single thought runs repeatedly through your mind.
So this is what it is to be the Prince of Heart.
The picture above is what inspired me to write this drabble, and was done by the very talented: http://kitkaloid.tumblr.com/