Emerging on to the battlefield, more airy, smoky words like from the Region map once more puffed across his vision.

 

“Thenne in all haste came Uther with a grete hoost and leyd a syege about the castle Terrabil, and ther he pyght many pavelyons; and there was grete warre made on bothe partyes, and moche peple slayne.”

 

It took Reno a moment to realize that the text was Malorian Middle English.He had only skimmed a facsimile of Morte’s original version, so he was hardly fresh; neither was he expecting the original Middle English to be seen in-game since professor Algrotto hadn’t mentioned it anywhere in the syllabus. Great, Reno inwardly commented, another thing to study.

 
“So… do you think we fight our way through?” A visibly nervous Sora said.

 
Reno looked at him oddly. Raised his eyebrow slightly. “Hey… I’ve never been in an Interactive Seminar where the professor has actually required us to fight; this is another level all together. I’ve heard of, like, Ph.D. students who study military history and tactics and the sort having to engage in such violence but never at the Undergraduate level. This is ultra-realistic shit.”

 
Reno could tell that Sora was practically whimpering. He was really scared. Clearly, this was far more than he had been expecting. Reno, of course, could hardly blame Sora. After all, this virtual reality was indistinguishable from reality itself. If the violence was rendered as convincingly as the rest of the world, then participating in combat could potentially be a traumatizing event.

 
Whatever it said about him, though, Reno wasn’t concerned about combat. He supposed that the game would somehow take the edge off the violence. That it wouldn’t be as convincingly rendered as the rest of the world or there would be simply something of a poor quality to it that would wash over the player’s heads. At any rate, this was his chance to be the leader and carry them through, to help Sora through an uncertain period just as he had done for him up to this point.

 
“Hey, bud. Stick close by me. Let’s just try to get through this event and reach the castle; I am sure that is where we need to go. Short and simple combat.” I walked over and lightly patted his back, not easy to do in their modestly armored bodies. Reno was happy that he saw a smile pass over Sora’s lips.

 
“Ok” said Sora, Let’s go.”

 

 

~

 

The battle burned. All around Reno screams and blood flew freely. Men on horseback and lances from the castle charged Uther’s men with devastating results; men pierced on spears and covered in arrows torn into pieces; limbs and arms everywhere in red pools, the crimson result spraying in large, persistent bursts as though the field was not a death zone but a pool filled with playing children.

 

It was realistic. Very.

 

For several minutes, Reno and Sora had simply froze. Both were terrified. Neither could get a grip on the situation, how loud it was or the scale of violence. Each huddled tight against the other with their eyes closed shut. It wasn’t until one of Uther’s knights came and shook them loose that they came to their senses.

 

“Come to your senses lads!” screamed the knight. “Draw your swords, remember your training, and let’s give these traitors some taste of their sin!”

 

Reno and Sora gradually acclimated. Drawing their swords, both seemed to become infused with a previously missing energy. An experience, almost, that they had lacked before; holding their weapons in hand, Reno became steeled slightly against the violence pervading all around. It was still a gruesome sight to behold but it was one that he thought he could just barely stomach. He was about to muse on why this would be but the sight of a charging infantryman quickly changed his tune from ‘philosophical’ to ‘solider’.

 

Instinctively, he sidestepped then parried. Before he even had time to think it over, he found his arm flourishing a series of strikes and blows which he was sure he had never learned; shocking, his combat prowess culminated in him stabbing the enemy solider through the gut. He fell over rolling in pain and screaming bloody murder. Reno could tell that he was quickly bleeding out, despite the fact that he had never before in his life been in a situation where he would have been able to judge, or even know what ‘bleeding out’ meant.

 

Shaking, Reno was in disbelief. He had killed a man. By his own hand, he had taken another person’s life. No, not a life, an elaborate line of code; numbers, of ones and zeros.

 

Still, it was so realistic… so visceral. Just data. Just data.

 

Looking to his left, he saw Sora, whom judging by his slumped poster kneeling over a slain foe— his short sword still stuck through the man’s neck in a bloody display of the struggle recently concluded— he was not taking his first encounter well, even with the newly found courage offered by tightly clasping is weapon. Reno trotted over, being careful to side-step the enormous amount of corpses and body parts.

 

“Jesus man, you alright?” Reno gasped while throwing his arm over Sora’s shoulder. He clasped Sora’s hand and pulled the blade out of the fallen soldier’s neck. Sora looked traumatized.

 

“Come on, man, snap out of it!” Reno yelled. “We gotta get moving!”

 

All around them the carnage continued. Though Sora was slowly rising from his feet, it wasn’t fast enough and another grunt came barreling toward them; Reno instinctively rushed forward with his blade drawn. He crossed blades with his contender though the contest was quickly over. The reason due to a friendly archer quickly ending the grunt’s life with a well-placed shot.

 

Rushing back to Sora, who still looked blank, the friendly archer, whose name was Ulfius, had been yelling at Sora. “Get your head out of the clouds, lad! Your battle-brother nearly died protecting you; you need to be on the guard! Now, draw up that bow and sling an arrow and help your fucking comrade!” It seemed that that got through to Sora at least a little bit since he sleepily looked at me with something like realization on his face.

 

“I’m sorry… I just wasn’t expecting things to be so… intense” Sora rasped. Mechanically, he drew his bow and nicked an arrow. Perhaps Reno had misjudged and Sora didn’t receive any courage from holding his blade, because it was only with him taking hold of his bow that he appeared to regain a bit of his old self and his face became more human. If so, then he had to end that NPC’s life all on his own. Shit. At least he had the mysterious and artificial courage granted to him by his sword; maybe the courage only worked when one held their primary weapon?

 

“Come on, Sora, bud, we still have to get to the end of this; I need you to focus. These ‘people’” Reno emphasized the word “people” with his fingers making air quotation marks, “aren’t real. They are just data. Ones and zeros!”

 

He seemed to perk up at this like the mental clouds of his head had finally parted.
“Yeah… yeah, you’re right! Jeez. Sorry. Okay, let’s move on.” Sora said, his voice much more confident now though a hint of unnerving remained.

 

Sora and Reno continued to make advancements. The battle moved in tides with sometimes it appearing orderly while other times it appearing disorderly with the fighting a full-frontal melee maelstrom. Sometimes they had battle buddies with some of Uther’s troops while other times they had nothing but themselves to rely upon. After hours of fighting, and at least a couple of dozen enemies felled, the call to fall-back was given.

 

Sora and Reno had survived their first episode of combat.

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