Jack

Jack threw his controller down and buried his face into the sofa.

“FUCCCKKKKKKKKK!”

A string of muffled curses left his mouth. He pounded his fist on the seat and whimpered. Red eyes looked up from the cushion and to the television screen. Jack was laughing.

He sat back up feeling both bleary eyed and tired. He had been playing since the early morning and he was at his breaking point.

Jack was obsessed with Compatriots. He’d spent hundreds of dollars on the best gear for and had put in more time into the game that he would like to admit, although the time counter at the top-right of the game’s menu constantly reminded him of the time sink.

The game also had a bit of a quirk because the companion you were paired up with was your companion for life. Identifying yourself was strictly prohibited in the game as the developers thought that it broke the immersion.

Your partner could be a player on the other side of the world or someone living across the street. The point was that you simply didn’t know. The other player was only really required for story quests in the game, otherwise players wouldn’t be able to do anything if you lived in opposite hemispheres.

The reward at the end of the game was a single photo of your companion taken by the console’s camera. Jack was really eager to find out at least where his partner lived because his console was still clearly on.

Jack stared at his partner who stood in his underwear looking at him. Whoever his partner was had started the game up once and never actually played it.

Jack was clad in shining armour and brandished a large sword that he had bought through the game’s marketplace. The thing could cut through enemies like a hot knife through butter and his armour could deflect the meanest of strikes.

His partner’s character was just a template.

A few weeks ago, Jack had spent a little money giving him some amulets that automatically provided some defense even when unequipped, but that hadn’t helped the character survive the harder story quests.

It was only through sheer luck that Jack had even managed to make it this far.

His friends at school laughed when they heard about his dilemma, but none of them could say they had the same experience.

“That’s really funny, Jack,” Effie, a girl he knew from school, told him. “Then again it kind of sucks. I really get along with my partner in the game, but I don’t think he’s exactly on my level quite yet.”

“What are you going to do to help him get better?” Jack asked.

“I guess just guide him toward the right fights and maybe spend a little cash getting him some new armour.”

“Must be nice.”

“Oh, it is. And we’re nearing the end of the game.”

“So you’ll get to see what he or she looks like.”

“Yep, and who knows maybe it’s someone from school!”

Jack sat on the leather sofa staring as deeply as he could into his partner’s eyes. He took a few playful stabs at his partner of course being unable to hit him.

“You’ve got to work with me on this one,” Jack mumbled as he started to move toward the quest marker.

***

Jack watched as his partner faded into the distance unable to follow along. As he triggered the quest and entered into the next room, his partner reappeared still with the same stupid expression on his face.

It was a matter of going through the motions at this point since Jack had played through the mission at least 20 times. Every time his partner got into trouble because a stray monster had taken interest, he had to dive into action to save him.

Jack was able to nudge his partner ever so slightly, but it wasn’t possible to carry him through the entire level like that.

Not before long, Jack had reached the door that lead to the boss. He ran back to his partner, cast a protective spell that would give his partner a little bit of protection, and ran inside spells blazing.

The boss, an indescribable horror clad in rusting armour, arose from a large pile of rubble and roared in his direction. Most of the spells did a negligible amount of damage, but they were part of a larger game plan.

Without a partner, Jack was forced to learn how to deal massive amounts of damage through being two classes at once. Typically, one partner would act as the meat wall while the other would do the damage. Or one partner would set the monster up by tossing oil or flammable liquid onto the beast while the other built up power for a strong fire spell. The game was all about working as a team, but Jack was on his own.

After soaking up thousands of points of damage and dousing the boss in all kinds of damage enhancing spells and tonics, he cast a single lightning spell that rocked the screen and shaved down the boss’s health to near zero.

The jig was up and the boss knew it, but the game was smart too. The rusted knight looked to Jack’s partner. Jack’s grip on the controller tightened. Two good hits would be enough to kill his companion and then the mission would end. Only with two people could you open the door leading out of the quest.

The knight lunged and scored its first hit. The boss went back to its idle circling following a powerful attack. Jack swooped in firing off everything in his arsenal to finish off the boss. On the sofa, Jack was shaking. He was so close. He was so close. He was so close.

As the knight wound up for its final attack, Jack covered his eyes in defeat.

The game didn’t end.

Somehow his companion had dodged out of the way. Jack seized his controller and fired off a few more spells that sent the boss reeling. Another tense few seconds passed as he built up another powerful attack and that was it.

Jack punched the air as the boss disappeared in a haze of sparks and mist.

He looked to his companion who stood there with barely a sliver of health left. He went up to the television screen and planted a kiss on the face of the character.

“Whoever you are, thank you you beautiful son of a bitch,” Jack said.

Next up was the final area.

Jack’s companion glitched up to the podium that opened the large double doors and they walked through. It would be a long time before Jack would be ready for the final area, so hopefully whoever was on the other end was actually paying attention now.

***

“Still nothing,” Jack told Effie. “He moved once and then never again. I’ve been trying to take down the last boss for a week… I think I’m going to just buy an entirely new game and start over.”

“I don’t think that’ll work,” Effie said. “The developers were pretty definite when they said you get one companion for life. I think it’s tied into your online account somehow, so unless you want to get an entirely new console, create an entirely new account, and buy the game again you’re kind of shit out of luck. It also doesn’t help that you’re broke.”

“I just want to finish the game, man. I want to see who my partner is or whatever their empty chair looks like at least. I want to be like you, bro… not that you liked what you saw.”

“What kind of sicko takes off all of his clothes just on the off chance the person he’s playing with is a girl?”

“Unless he was naked to begin with.”

“There was so much hair,” Effie said with a shiver.

***

Another week passed.

Jack sat at his sofa staring at him who had been buffed to the point of gleaming. His armour and weapons were as powerful as you could get, but he had been forced to over compensate.

His companion stared at him dressed in his underwear still with that stupid smile on his face. He had at least thirty protective amulets in his inventory now, which gave him enough protection to survive one hit from the last boss.

The end boss resembled a dragon, but it was more horrific than anyone even Wayne Barlow could have imagined. It’s fanged mouth was a gaping maw that sucked characters in while its claws slashed at them.

The only way to keep his companion safe was to stand in front of him when the boss tried to suck them in and soak up the damage. The strikes hurt a lot, but he had maxed out stats.

Jack sighed as another wave of slashes caught his companion once taking him down to a sliver of health. Jack brought his health back up using a spell, but he was starting to run low on supplies.

Things were looking dire.

Jack took off to deal some damage to the boss. His sword slashed through the air sending it reeling, but his attacks weren’t enough take him down. It’s health bar was so close to being in the red. In the final stages of the fight, he became sluggish making him easier to beat, but no less dangerous.

His companion stood in the distance slowly recovering his hit points, but his relaxed stance was annoying. He should have been fighting. He should have been doing something. Jack gritted his teeth, but he had made a mistake.

The boss took off toward his companion in his momentary distraction. A flash of anger arose in Jack as defeat loomed. He had to do something. He threw everything he had at the monster to agro him, but nothing seemed to work. As the beast drew back his arm, Jack prayed to whatever video game god that was listening.

To his amazement, the companion started to move.

He ran to the left and away from the boss giving Jack just enough distance to taunt the boss into fighting him instead. After a few powerful spells cast and giants swings of the blade landed, the boss reeled and fell to the ground.

It was over. The game was won.

Jack ran his character up to the podium at the end of the room and hit the prompt. His companion stopped running and appeared in front of him. The two characters held hands above a large bowl that swirled with mystical energy. The magic sloshed and a fountain engulfed them giving them back the souls that had been stolen from them.

Jack was in tears at home as the catharsis washed over him. It was a moment of pure jubilation. Whoever was on the other end had moved at just the right moment.

He looked up at the console below his television. A little red light appeared and disappeared. The photo had been taken. He watched the credits and the screen faded to black.

The words: “Your Companion” appeared on the screen and the image of a man appeared.

Jack’s eyes widened.

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