Bob, still in his silver body armour, looked around at the game
cube's environment. Trees dotted the rolling hillside and in the distance the
sparkling blue ribbon of a river meandered down from a snow-capped mountain
into a field of flowers. Also dotting the hill and field were hundreds of
sprites, dressed in various colourful costumes. Bob closed his eyes for a
moment, then shoulders tensed.
"Is something wrong?" Matrix, at Bob's left shoulder, looked at him in concern. "Where are we?"
"We're in a game called Elementia. It's a role-playing game of fairies, ogres, humans, wizards and elves." Bob frowned down at the multitudes of sprites below them until Dot nudged him with her elbow.
"What's the objective of this game, and where's the User?"
Bob closed his eyes, but this time it was in an intangible sort of pain. "The object of the game is to find five jewels: blue, green, red, white, and one that shines all the colours at different angles. The User..." Bob swallowed with difficulty and opened his eyes to look at the ring of concerned faces. "They are all Users," he said hoarsely, with a gesture toward the field with it's hundred of occupants. "This is a multiplayer game, which was why it looked so random."
Dot stared down at the gathered sprites. "They're all Users? So how do we win? We can't delete them all!"
"We have to find our User and kill him. But first we have to find him. That's the tough part."
"Find "im, sugah? How in the Net can we do that? There's hundred of "em, and I doubt he's wearin" a sign sayin" "User from Mainframe!"" Mouse, who had been silently observing, replied indignantly.
"I can identify him if I get close to him. We do come from the same location, so our ID signals match. Now, let's get started. Reboot!" Bob was instantly covered by a shimmering green light, and when it dissipated he was dressed as an elf, his black and silver hair now completely black and his ears pointed. His skin was tinted a faint blue, much lighter than it's usual color and he was dressed in dark grey clothing, a
bow slung over his shoulder next to a full quiver of arrows.
Dot double clicked on her icon with a quick "Reboot!" The same green light covered her then lifted to reveal Dot dressed as a faerie. Her dark green hair had turned pale blonde and now rippled down her back, falling in waves and curls to her hips. Her skin had turned light peach and tiny transparent wings, like those on a butterfly and nearly hidden in the folds of her clothes, protruded from her back. She was dressed in a short, airy blue dress and her feet were bare. Carried in one hand, although it could obviously be stored in a sling on her back was a carved wooden staff.
"Reboot!" "Reboot!" Matrix and AndrAIa rebooted in unison and were immediately bathed in green light. When it lifted it revealed both of them as human warriors, Matrix as a tall, muscular, bare-chested and dark-haired man in skintight green leather pants. He carried a broadsword and shield with ease and his long dark hair fell past his shoulders with a small braid at his temple banded with a green piece
of cloth to match his pants. AndrAIa"s outfit matched his, but with her longer hair completely bound in a complex braid that flowed down her back. A short bow and several holsters of throwing knives completed her outfit. Frisket, whose icon had been tapped after Matrix completed his reboot, had become a large, lean and very cruel looking grey wolf.
"Reboot!" "Reboot!" Mouse and ray clicked on their icons and began the reboot. When the light cleared away Mouse was dressed in a long, dark blue wizard's robe and carrying a carved staff with a round crystal set into the end. The web Surfr, however, now towered over everyone else's heads at a startling nine feet and his skin had become grey-green. He wore brown cut-off shorts, carried a knobby wooden club and looked stunned and horrified. Mouse snickered.
"Ya look adorable, sugah. Is that a fashion statement?" Matrix laughed and landed a resounding *thwack* on Ray's back.
"Now you're even more fashionable Tracer, and you didn't even have to click your icon to change into your web suit. Not to mention you've grown a bit."
Dot looked slightly annoyed. "I thought I was the wizard in games. What am I now, a faerie? I look ridiculous, not to mention I doubt I could hurt a program bug with this stick." She hefted the carved staff, making her topic unmistakable. Bob smiled at her irritated tone, trying to avoid staring since the blue dress was low cut enough to leave very little to the imagination.
"I think you look beautiful Dot. Anyway, your dress matches my skin tine." He jumped back to avoid her half-hearted swipe, grinning like he had before the web had forced him to adopt a serious demeanour. Despite their amused and casual momentary pause, Bob's face still showed tension lines, and as the group returned to the original workmanlike state of mind his worry spread until even Frisket was quietly anxious.
Dot, ever the planner, began to voice ideas. "Let's split up into teams and search out the User. Matrix, you and AndrAIa head for those mountains. Mouse and Ray, you two check the field down there and that town over the hill. Frisket, go with Matrix and AndrAIa as usual. Bob and I will head for the lake, since our characters can find upgrades so that we can breathe underwater."
Bob accessed his Glitch side and continued where Dot had left off. "The User is an elf, wearing a dark blue shirt with a white vest over it, dark green pants, a dark green hat and his skin is light green with short black hair. We can use small vidwindows in games, so if you spot the User contact everyone else and let us know where you are. Don't try to be a hero and delete him yourselves: he's very powerful in this game. Try to get the jewels as well, since we stand a better chance of winning by using two strategies. Good luck." The others repeated the sentiment back to him and moved off, leaving Dot and Bob to watch them go. Dot looked at Bob out of the corner of her eyes.
"Do we really stand a chance of winning, Bob?"
Instead of answering her question he asked his own. "Are all of our icons configured like Matrix and AndrAIa"s so we can switch to game sprite mode?"
Dot nodded. "Yes, we did that first thing after the restart so that we wouldn't have to worry about anyone ever getting nullified again. Why do you ask?"
Bob looked grim. "Because we might need to switch them, Dot. I don't think we can possibly win."
to Chapter 3