There they were, in a valley gorge of all place, perched behind the precarious boulders and numerous rubble. The gorge, apparently, had been the hidey-hole for centuries of military and economic activity from anyone who cared to settle the land; whether it was mining for gems or etching out building materials, this was the place where it all originated. As Reno and Sora laid low alongside Ulfius, they noticed the ramshackle nature of their locale.
According to Ulfius, this gorge also has been known to be used by the kings and lords as a secret express route during times of strife. Hardly anyone would suspect a king or lord of using such a lowly travel route as a place of exploitation. No one except Ulfius, who knew for a fact that Uther’s rival, the Duke of Cornewaill, used this very route to quickly travel between his strong points.
Reno didn’t much care if he was honest. Vingaard was particularly cold this evening and he cursed the ultra-realistic ground— even with his gaudy leathers on, he still felt the chill. He cursed the game more than he normally would since he didn’t remember this part of the book. Reading ahead, he only remembered seeing that the duke had tried to harass Uther when he rode for the siege at Tarabil, and from that, he attempted to leave the castle and through this and that, was killed. Reno couldn’t remember the exact details.
“Shhh!” Sora loudly mumbled. “Enough Reno, jeez. Vingaard is taking a few ‘liberties’ with the source material, it’s nothing to stress over. Remember, this book was written hundreds of years ago. Our ideas of narrative aren’t anything like Malory’s own; there is no harm in Dr. Algrotto pontificating on the natural gaps or lack of details. In my Victorian Literature course, my professor did this all the time with whatever we read. You just roll with it and appreciate the creativity.”
Reno didn’t reply. He supposed that Sora was right. It was true, after all, that the text was very minimalist. It left a lot to the imagination and if one was going to re-enact the text, then it was only natural that those gaps would be filled in somehow. Still, looking over at Sora, Reno noticed that Sora looked confused as well. Likely, Sora accepted what was happening but he was still trying to lock down a definite answer, something he would have recognized from his apparent Victorian Lit. course.
“Look!” said Ulfius, and he pointed toward a riding figure far off in the landscape, just crossing the horizon.
“The Duke.” Replied Reno half-unsure of what he was even saying.
“Indeed.” Ulfius took a deep breath and then said, “Listen, young knights, I am going to sneak over to that pile of rubble over there” Ulfius vaguely motioned to some large formation of rock, “and take him by surprise. Once I have him from his horse, I will rely on you two to help me finish him off for our Lord. The duke is a known fighter so it will take all of us to send him to his maker.”
And at that, Ulfius was off, stealthily sneaking away to some forlorn pile of dust. To Sora’s estimation, the pile was about as far to the left of their position as where they currently hid, so once Ulfius surprised the Duke, he and Reno would have to immediately run out from their cover and make a quick strike at the duke. Sora wasn’t too keen on making violence again, but he had to get over this fear of virtual bloodletting. It was as Reno said— it’s all just data.
Some moments passed and the Duke came close. On edge for most of it, Reno was just itching for the second when the Duke came within range. Unlike his friend, Reno had relatively enjoyed the violence from before, gave him an adrenaline rush and made him feel alive. He was expecting the rustle with the duke to give him another hefty dose of excitement; Vingaard was, after all, the ultimate video game.
Then, the trap was sprung!
The duke crossed the line and Ulfius leaped; jumping from out underneath the large pile of rubble, the duke came hurtling to the ground with a large groan. The Duke knew what was happening, though, and had his sword drawn in a moment. Sora and Reno both emerged from their own hiding places as soon as Ulfius made the jump, but it did little good as the duke was a skilled combatant and knew that his life was on the line. The Duke, then, was a formidable target.
Even so, Reno didn’t waste any time in drawing his own sword. Rushing toward the duke he went in to lunge at the duke’s abdomen, but the Duke gracefully turned and parried. Taking the initiative, Ulfius attempted to hack away at the Duke’s head while he parried Reno’s assault, but it did little good since the Duke seemed acrobatic in his body movements and seemed able to predict with perfect accuracy each and every attack.
Even once Sora had joined the fray, his inclusion did precious little to help. In response, the Duke simply became an even more complex whirlwind. Reflecting on it later, Reno would remember this encounter like a ballet but with bloodied blades instead of beautiful limbs. Reno mused that the Duke must have been their first boss (or, at least their first mini-boss). So, the battle dragged on until there seemed to be a stalemate.
Huffing and puffing, all three of the brave knights stole glances at one another wondering how to overcome this, apparently, master of the blade. But, before a strategy could be decided upon, the Duke spoke.
“Vermin; does thou truly believe that I did not know rats such as yourself were in hiding, waiting to ambush me?!” the Duke exclaimed. “No. You, like your lord, are blind. Followers of the Heresy. Your plot was revealed to me far ahead of time; evidently, your false God cannot give you enough power to glimpse your inevitable demise. Pity.”
Reno was confused. He didn’t remember this from the book. Recalling the section from chapter two, the Duke’s death was simply a short affair covered in half a paragraph. This was an underdeveloped character at best— a stepping stone for Uther securing his hold over the dominion in preparation of Arthur taking control. What was this talk of ‘heresy’ and ‘gods’? That wasn’t in Malory’s text.
“No. I have a vision. A vision of a land united not under the banner of ‘Pendragon’” he spat, “but under the Original Divines. The true inhabitants of this world. Young knights,” the Duke said not turning to both Reno and Sora, “Be prepared.”
The Duke did not elaborate. Steeling his blade in front of his body at a horizontal angle, it began to glow fiery red and then a brilliant blue followed by a variety of colors. Soon, the aura grew so intense that it was impossible to look at it with unshielded eyes. Backing away from the otherworldly radiance, Reno was only vaguely away of what next happened— the Duke raised the sword into the sky and then gravity shifted; Reno and company were lifted from their feet and seemed to float into the sky before the inextricable fibers of reality shredded into an ineffable scream.
Reno had no clue what happened. One minute he was fighting the Duke and then the next he was riding back to Uther alongside Ulfius and Sora, Sora looking equally as dumbfounded and like he was just woken up from a deep sleep.
Awkwardly angeling his horse so that it was alongside Sora’s, he asked if Sora had ever before experienced something like what had just happened. Sora didn’t have a response right away; instead, he was wide-eyed as though he had just seen a ghost.
“N… no… never. I don’t have any idea what just happened.”
“Maybe it is a bug?” Reno wondered aloud. “I wonder if this counts as one of the two Corruptions? Not like we actually ‘rectified’ it, though… so…”
Sora mumbled something. The truth was that neither of the boys knew anything of what happened. Sora mused that it could have been a bug, some kind of error in the programming… but it seemed so sophisticated, so alive. That went way off script. Sure, the first time they rectified a Corruption it was a pretty zaney— silly, really— Corruption, and that seemed in line with the Duke’s spiel, but what happened after, with the reality… he just didn’t know.
Reno wasn’t any better off. Obviously. What he was confused about, though, was why the game leaped back to normalcy. He and Sora clearly didn’t rectify the Corruption and yet the game had treated them as though they had. Weird. It must have been the game’s general reaction to programming inconsistencies? Who knew. Reno had never experienced something like this on the home version but he supposed that the Virtual Reality enhanced edition likely had just a wee higher amount of bugs…