Kurt and Sebastian Play SBURB: A Short Story

WORK:

[S]: BE THE BIRTHDAY GUY

A young man stands in his bedroom. It just so happens that today, the 13th of April, is his birthday. Sebastian would like more for his birthday than what he’s gotten so far: a couple sweaters from his dad, an exploding cake that his brother left for him this morning, and a hypothetical check that’s supposedly coming in the mail from his grandmother.

Turning twenty two has felt boring and adult, unlike his twenty first birthday, on which he was plastered in a gay bar for the first time, legally anyway. As far as Sebastian’s concerned, after 21, every birthday you have is just you rolling that much closer to 30, and then 40, and then senility, and then death.

Sebastian doesn’t have school or work today, so he’s planning on sitting at home, maybe getting a little wine drunk, and doing exactly jack shit. He’s never really been a social person, on account of his patience for most people is nonexistent. His dad and his brother, when they’re not playing pranks on him, tend to leave him alone to his own devices. Today, he decides he’ll stay in his room and waste his glorious free time on gaming. Maybe online. He can probably bother Kurt to get in on one with him.

Sebastian looks out his bedroom window for the little red flag on the mailbox, which should’ve been erected hours ago. Finally, the postman seems to have come, so Sebastian goes downstairs and heads outside to his front yard. The check from his grandmother is there, along with a slick, grey envelope with four green boxes printed on it, addressed to his brother. He takes the mail inside to the kitchen, not above opening his sibling’s packages, as the same is often done to him. Most of the time, his brother gets sent advance copies of PC games which Sebastian can steal. It appears that this is another one.

He has no idea what the hell SBURB is though. Inside the envelope are two discs – labeled “SBURB: server” and “SBURB: client” – wrapped in thin white sleeves. There’s nothing else in the envelope.

He takes both discs back upstairs to his room, logs onto his computer, and tries to find GameFAQs or reviews or something. He learns from very vague information, mostly hearsay on forums, that SBURB is some kind of experimental reality manipulator. “The Sims in real life but with monsters,” someone put it. What’s important that he finds out, from skim reading, is that the person who plays “God,” the server player, doesn’t actually get to be in the game itself. Through their computer, they watch the client complete objectives and slay monsters. The only control they actually have is, like, building new rooms around your house and putting up pretty wallpaper and shit.

Cool, Sebastian thinks, slipping the client into one his drives. That’s the perfect role for Kurt to play. 

Kurt and Sebastian are online friends who’ve never met, but talk almost every day. They’ve been at it ever since they both joined a message board about show choirs – they were both thirteen, sue them – and nine years later, Sebastian considers Kurt one of his only closest friends.

Okay, so “friends” might be overthrowing it. They’ve spent probably eighty percent of their conversations insulting each other while falling into deeply unhealthy avoidance patterns. Most of what they do together is first-person shooters, RPGs, staying online with each other indoors for fifteen hours a day. Kurt is surprisingly, terrifyingly good at violent games, for all that his pictures present a delicate paper doll. Nine years, and most of what they do is stare at a screen of each other’s words, though occasionally, Kurt’s high pitched voice is in Sebastian’s headphones, cursing like a sailor, if they need to do a particularly difficult co-op. But that’s rare.

They message using a program called pesterChum, an AOL Instant Messenger throwback that was popular when they were greasy teenagers. It’s outdated as fuck, but Sebastian only uses it to talk to Kurt now and vice versa. Sebastian’s chumhandle is taintMisbehaving and Kurt’s is youngBettyWhite.

Sebastian eventually finds a near-complete SBURB walkthrough, the only one in existence apparently, posted on GameFAQs by a user called tentacleTherapist, exactly one year ago. He should probably read it all before he starts, but it’s sixty pages long, and he’s never been a planner. Sebastian likes to take life as it comes.

tentacleTherapist’s walkthrough begins so long-winded, Sebastian can barely make it through the first paragraph:

I’d be inclined to dispense with the trite even under less pressing circumstances. Needless to say I’ll forego the inscrutable ASCII banner which typically heralds the striking freefall of these documents. I’ll also resist the urge to brandish any copyright marks, or the particular neurosis that concerns itself with the theft of the utterly mundane. I’ll allow other deranged prospectors to stake claims on their worthless plots as the woods burn around them. My introduction will be sparse. There will be no majestic prose blustering into the sails of a galleon as we embark on this voyage together. Nor will there be any hamfisted prose whipping its limbs under a bedsheet like a retarded ghost, for that matter. I won’t set the stage, or dim the lights. The mood, you will see, will be set soon enough.

“Holy shit,” Sebastian mutters, “just show us the dick already.”

He scrolls past the next couple paragraphs until his eyes skim the words “server” and “client,” where he finds somewhat less convoluted advice as to how to set up the world once the game is installed. The game seems to be at its core a system of vertical, linked gates, stretching skyward, leading to other planets and worlds. He will have to ascend through all four of his gates, fighting enemies for “grist” or currency, by climbing the lofted construction of his server player’s machinations. So okay, Kurt’s going to have more to do than hang some wallpaper. He’s going to have to build skyscrapers. Whatever. Sebastian can trust him with that. It also appears that both players will need to use both discs. At some point, Sebastian serves Kurt, and it’s important to the game’s continuity that that duality happens. That’s fine, too. He guesses.

Kurt lives four thousand eight hundred and six miles away – he doesn’t wanna talk about that – so he’ll have to get Kurt his copies of both discs digitally, right away. He’s got a software that can rip and convert anything – call the cops, he doesn’t give a fuck – so he gets to work on that, the CDs whirring away in his drives.

Meanwhile, he hasn’t told Kurt about any of their plans today yet. No matter. Kurt always comes around.

— taintMisbehaving [TM]started pestering youngBettyWhite [YB] —

taintMisbehaving: happy birthday.

youngBettyWhite: My birthday is in December.

taintMisbehaving: no shit. i’m telling you to tell me happy birthday.

youngBettyWhite: God, you’re insufferable.

youngBettyWhite: It’s five in the morning my time, you know.

youngBettyWhite: I was going to wake up, on my accord I might add, maybe acquire some nourishment, shower, before doing the most important thing I have on my agenda today.

taintMisbehaving: if you’re saying all that to say i’m the most important thing on your agenda, you’re right.

taintMisbehaving: but you still haven’t said it.

youngBettyWhite: How long have you known me, Sebastian? Do you know the best way to get me to not do something?

taintMisbehaving: wow, okay. not only is it the day the best thing that’s ever happened to you crawled out of some labia, it’s also our nine year anniversary.

youngBettyWhite: And only the first year, when I was naive enough to feed that ego of yours, did I wish you happy.

youngBettyWhite: We have this conversation every time.

taintMisbehaving: whatever.

taintMisbehaving: i know what i want you to give me as my present.

youngBettyWhite: My body is off limits. We’ve also had this conversation.

taintMisbehaving: as if i’d wanna go blind from seeing you naked.

taintMisbehaving: i actually just stole this cryptic reality manip game from my brother. humor me, and play it.

youngBettyWhite: You so have no one else to play this game with today, do you?

taintMisbehaving: fuck off.

youngBettyWhite: You love me.

taintMisbehaving:  marginally.

The discs have both finished being ripped, so Sebastian attaches the enormous files into his conversation with Kurt. He copy-pastes some of tentacleTherapist’s explanations about basic gameplay, gates and building, that he didn’t read fully. Kurt asks a couple of questions, genuine questions, including wanting a link to the walkthrough, which Sebastian ignores, but Kurt doesn’t act like he’s not on board. He says it sounds like controlled danger. Sounds like fun.

TM: burn your server copy first. when i start playing, you’ll run that, use it to control my surroundings.

TM: keep the client copy on you. once i’m through the first gate, switch to your client and i’ll use my server to get you in whatever the medium is.

YB: Done.

TM: i’m installing. are you?

YB: Yeah.

Sebastian sits and waits for the client, watching the strange, green spirogaph spin on his screen, the buffering loading bar. tentacleTherapist says to be patient with the process: The Reckoning is coming.

YB: My side is up and running. From what I understand, once you connect to me, this viewport is going to let me see you and your entire neighborhood in real time.

YB: Sort of like I’m meeting you in real life for the first time, huh?

TM: yeah, kind of.

TM:  it’s more than we’ve ever seen of each other, that’s for sure.

TM: don’t you dare trash my house.

YB: Bet you’re uglier in person ;)

Sebastian finally sees the loading bar reach 100%. He doesn’t immediately feel any different, but he knows that something’s changed when a large, green, box-shaped cursor floats above his head. Presumably, that’s Kurt, able to reach in and manipulate him now as he pleases.

On his computer screen, there is only an emoticon smiley face. Clicking around or pressing keys does nothing to remove it. He supposes that as the client, the hero with all the action, all of it, he won’t need his computer for the time being anyway, and should probably go look around.

He opens pesterChum on his phone to keep communicating with Kurt. When he stands up from his desk, a pink, simple menu floats out just in front of him, which it seems he can reach out and touch. One of the options in the menu is the SYLLADEX, which seems to be an inventory for items. It’s empty, save for a plain blue column of something that looks like plastic. Something called CRUXITE. Looks boring. He ignores that.

He vaguely remembers reading tentacleTherapist’s advice to take what you think you’ll need from your house before you enter the first gate, in case you get “separated from your house.” He knows he’ll need his laptop to use the server function later, so he packs that, a backup battery, and the server disc.

As soon as he does this, he feels something poke him in the back of the head. Kurt’s cursor. Kurt then seems to think it’s hilarious to start picking up random objects in Sebastian’s room: he moves the bedspreads to the floor, opens and closes Sebastian’s windows, and starts rummaging through the clothes in Sebastian’s dressers. Sebastian rolls his eyes, sends Kurt a message that he should probably start building a third floor, so that they can find the first gate in the sky. Kurt acquieses, the cursor dragging a random slab of drywall right through Sebastian’s bedroom.

In the control panel SYLLADEX of the server, there are four items to consider, each playing a role in a process which appears to have a singular purpose: to manufacture objects out of thin air. The designers of the game, judging by the language used, regard this process as a sort of alchemy. The items in question are the CRUXTRUDER (tread lightly with this one), the  TOTEM LATHE, the ALCHEMITER, and the PRE-PUNCHED CARD

First, deploy all of these objects in convenient proximity to each other. Be sure not to block doors or pathways with them. You can always “revise” the dimensions of rooms to make space for them, but I’d advise against this, or even experimenting with the function. Doing so comes at the expense of “build grist”, a commodity which appears to be at a premium at the onset, and one you’d best be advised to save for later.

 A CRUXITE ARTIFECT must be created by a SBURB player in order to enter the first gate. It must be alchemized from the TOTEM LATHE and PRE-PUNCHED CARD.

[S]: BE THE OTHER GUY

TM: you can see me, right.

TM: tell me what is wrong with this picture.

Kurt’s staring at the server viewport on his laptop after having just lost his internet connection briefly. Sebastian is standing in the bathtub that Kurt dicked around and lifted from the bathroom tile, jagged and leaking as it went, intending to only hover it around and then put it loosely back in its place. Apparently, when his connection dropped off, the bathtub fell into the hallway just outside Sebastian’s bedroom door. He’s currently standing inside of said tub, brows furrowed, texting furiously via pesterChum.

Kurt fucking loves this game.

Watching Sebastian walk around his house in real time has been intriguing to Kurt for a number of reasons. Firstly, for all that he’s known Sebastian’s online persona for nine years now, he never completely realized that Sebastian was so…well. Hot. Objectively. As if he’d ever say that to Sebastian’s face, or rather, pesterChum. They exchange photos every now and again, circumstantially. Four months ago, Sebastian was particularly proud of a round of mirror selfies he’d taken and Kurt told him he’d be the judge of how great they actually were. Mostly that was just an excuse to see how he looked; it had been almost a year at that point since he’d gotten a picture, and neither of them have ever had social media for each other to stalk. Kurt wonders, sometimes, exactly how Sebastian is aging as the years go on. That’s all.

But Sebastian was very good looking after his gangly puberty ended, Kurt knew that before on some level, but looking at the way he moves in a space is…like he said, he’s never going to tell Sebastian any of this. The dude’s already got an ego the size of Mars.

Kurt has enjoyed perusing his green, box-shaped cursor through Sebastian’s house, egregiously snooping through drawers of clothes and holding up the ugly things for Sebastian to complain about, disassembling light fixtures and plumbing just to fuck with him. It’s only seven in the morning, and this game doesn’t seem to have much of a point, but it’s not like Kurt’s got anything better to do today.

Kurt lives alone in a loft on a remote island in the Pacific, mostly empty save for when vacationers and tourists arrive for the summer. His parents are both dead; his mother passed away when he was eight, to her longstanding battle with breast cancer. Ten years later, his father also lost his life to a longerstanding battle with prostate cancer. Despite his apparently doomed genes, Kurt himself does not seem to be barreling towards death any time soon. At least, not physically. He’s horrifically pale by nature, and the fact that he hardly goes outdoors if he can help it. But his loneliness, which he’s mostly grown apathetic to as an adult, has swung towards suicidal more times than he’d like to admit.

Video games help. He stays alone and focuses on those when he’s not working at the consignment shop down the street from his house. He also makes clothes for himself here and there, collects vintage jewelry, and reads horror literature from the bookshop in town that’s supposedly run by a witch.

He stares outside his window at the gray, looming volcano, asleep for thousands of years, just up the grassy hill in the ocean that surrounds his loft. Sometimes, his anxiety forces him to look at it particularly, like the dark part of his brain knows it won’t be long before it erupts again. Some of the long time residents say that it could be any day now. The storming, thundering weather outside currently doesn’t help this thought.

For as long as he can remember, almost every night, Kurt has dreamed that he lives somewhere else: a golden, glimmering palace called Prospit. In those dreams, he can walk, fly, and explore this vast world, which is otherwise inhabited by faceless, voiceless, white carapicians. The interlocking system of castles, turrets and towers would seem to be a planet all on its own; from afar, when Kurt flies away in his yellow robes to look at it, sunny Prospit looks like a golden sphere floating alone through space. It even has its own moon, orbiting the planet connected by a gold chain.

Sebastian has been continuing to blow up Kurt’s persterChum as the latter has been dozing off into thought. Sebastian says he’s bored with Kurt abusing his “Sims God powers” and “directly defying my orders not to trash my house.” Kurt sends him an emoji with its tongue sticking out and asks him what he’d like him to do to be productive, since so far, there haven’t been any monsters to kill. Building ugly drywall sticking out of Sebastian’s bedroom isn’t very fun when he doesn’t have the money to do it effectively. The grist he was given to start with is low as fuck, when he finds out the prices of building materials. There doesn’t seem to be any way to increase it, at least not yet. No “motherlode” cheat. He’s used a third of it on the aimless construction he’s already done.

Sebastian says that they should probably start using the four items for alchemy, and maybe that will produce more grist. Kurt navigates to the inventory part of his menu called the Sylladex and observes said items, which thankfully, don’t cost any grist to deploy.

He moves the two largest ones, the Alchemiter and Cruxtruder, out of his panel and into Sebastian’s house. He places the former downstairs in the kitchen and the latter on the large balcony upstairs, outside of the master bedroom. The Totem Lathe he places in the middle of Sebastian’s room, which Sebastian doesn’t look pleased about. Overall, all three of these items are extremely large and don’t resemble any machinery he can think of in the real world. He isn’t sure how they work because Sebastian won’t send him the link to the walkthrough explaining them. He hasn’t been able to use Google Chrome for the last two hours, as his internet connection is suffering from the weather outside.

He wonders how it’s possible that SBURB still runs with only minor hiccups. 

Sebastian does something with the Totem Lathe, placing a blue column that he says is called Cruxite into the Lathe’s mechanical arms. He then asks Kurt to hand him the Pre-Punched Card, which he feeds into the machine. The machine’s arms whir into action, carving the column into a strange, vase-like shape. Sebastian leaves the column in the Lathe and walks to the balcony to look at the Cruxtruder, telling Kurt that in order for him to use it, Kurt needs to pick up something heavy and drop it onto the lid that extends from the top.

Kurt drops the bathtub from the hallway. Sebastian gives him the finger.

Suddenly, a surge of bright light crackles around the Cruxtruder. A strange glowing orb, flickering black, blue, and white, spews from the lid and hovers around Sebastian, moving erratically as he attempts to swat it away of his face.

Kurt’s viewport involuntarily zooms out to show a bird’s eye view of Sebastian’s house. A black screen has appeared above the roof, beginning a slow, cryptic countdown.

00:04:13 … 00:04:12 …

Kurt zooms back in on Sebastian, who temporarily ignores him asking what the countdown means, instead frantically scrolling through the walkthrough on his phone.

Finding out that a fiery meteor storm will be crushing his house in 04:13.

TM: so apparently the point of this game is to bring the reckoning,’ a flaming deadly meteor shower that’s going to gradually destroy the entire world.

TM: not the game one. the real one. when the counter ends.

TM: did not know that.

YB: How? How did you not know that?

YB: I thought you said you read the walkthrough!

TM: i did.

TM: the first paragraph.

TM: then i skipped some.

YB: So I gather “the entire world” means it’s coming for me too?

TM: yeah.

TM: not right this second. not until you see a timer, which starts once you hit your cruxtruder i guess.

TM: but yeah.

TM: sorry.

Sebastian continues telling Kurt, as he runs around performing the actions, that in order to save the house and himself, he has to place the vase-shaped Cruxite on the Alchemiter, “utilize the artifect somehow,” and prototype the glowing “kernel” that just rose from the Cruxtruder by feeding it “an organism, living or dead.” Kurt doesn’t know how he’s supposed to help with any of that, but he does what he can when Sebastian asks, including moving the Totem Lathe and Alchemiter to the balcony. It’s crowded, but it all fits, so Sebastian doesn’t have to run between them.

TM: look in my bedroom.

TM: there are a bunch of taxidermy spiders on my bookshelf.

TM: hopefully that’s organism enough for this kernel.

Sure enough, Kurt drags his cursor through various things on Sebastian’s bookshelf, and there they are, about a dozen, brittle, floof-filled spider corpses. Mostly tarantulas. He doesn’t have time to ask why the hell and drops one, a black widow, into the center of the glowing kernel, which proves difficult as the kernel keeps moving more and more erratically, the brighter and oranger Sebastian’s surroundings become.

Kurt zooms out as far as he can and observes meteors very certainly falling from the sky. The forestry around Sebastian’s neighborhood is billowing wildly from the meteors’ oncoming wind. One and half minutes remain on the timer as Sebastian places the blue Cruxite onto the Alchemiter’s center; suddenly, the column transforms into a large blue tree with an apple hanging from it.

The apple falls onto the ground. Sebastian looks perplexed and goes back to the walkthrough on his phone, tapping his foot impatiently as the screen reloads.

YB: Are you sure you’re doing the right thing??

YB: How is a blue apple tree supposed to help??

TM: could fucking tell you if my phone wasn’t

Forty five seconds. Sebastian stops typing abruptly and picks up the apple. He looks up into the sky as hot wind gusts all around him. The meteors scorch the tops of trees, sweltering heat waves enveloping Sebastian’s neighborhood. Kurt watches in horror as the game constructs clearly aren’t beyond the capability of actually destroying things; zooms out and watches flaming rocks decimate houses, crumbling others into pieces from the accessory earthquake.

Kurt’s heart pounds as he zooms back in on Sebastian, who at fifteen seconds left is taking a bite out of the apple. Suddenly, Sebastian’s entire house vanishes into thin air, just as a meteor explodes into the crater the house left in the land.

Kurt’s viewport goes black. He holds his breath until it returns, showing that somehow, Sebastian was saved, just in time.

Kurt exhales. Sebastian’s house has been transported, dropped with crustle and its foundations and part of the front yard, into a strange, black void, in which Kurt can now see the four gates: blue spirographs, slowly spinning, hovering high.

Their grist count seems to have increased from the meteor endeavor, but not by much. How the hell is he supposed to build enough walls, floors, and stairs to get Sebastian high enough to reach all four gates? Just to get to the first one, he calculates that he’ll have to build fifteen stories.

What are those black arachnid creatures slinking through Sebastian’s grass? The kernel has also changed, into an eerie, glowing black widow, lingering over Sebastian’s head where he stands on the balcony. What kind of freak has taxidermied spiders just laying around?

Kurt doesn’t move from where he’s hunched up on the floor with his laptop. Looks around his dusty, cluttered studio, the flickering lights growing ever browner, a pit forming in his stomach when he imagines the whole room scorching, bright red flames. His antique books, his jewelry, the urn of his mother’s ashes – yes he knows he’s a hypocrite for judging Sebastian’s taxidermy spiders when he knowingly has a vase of human remains on his mantle. Still, it’s his mother, or at least, the ghost of her.

Sometimes he talks to it. He doesn’t want to talk about that.

The point: his laptop is running this virus of a program, hot in his lap, and it won’t let him exit. He tried. His power’s probably going to go out soon, and what if the inclement weather is a sign of SBURB’s oncoming storm? He hasn’t deployed his own Cruxtruder, slammed it on its head, he can’t see the timer, but what if Sebasatian’s actions just set it all into motion for him?

The point: he needs answers. Needs to understand why he’s staring at this young man’s house floating in an apocalyptic void God knows where. Stupid him for letting emotion trust a stranger – he may know Sebastian’s words, nine years of those words, may be holding onto some of them just to occupy the empty space in his head – but he needs to look at that walkthrough himself, that’s what needs to happen now.

— youngBettyWhite [YB] started pestering taintMisbehaving [TM] —

YB: Sebastian.

YB: I’m glad you made it out, but I don’t have enough grist to build you up to your first gate.

TM: those spider underlings down there will give you grist.

TM: there’s a lot coming up. i’ll be able to grind. you get a higher amount now.

TM: i need to alchemize a weapon

TM: or just use my brother’s katana in his room. yeah, that’s what i’m doing.

TM: tentaclebitch said once i start chain killing, building towers will be easy.

TM: the black widow kernel sprite is also sentient, somehow. supposed to be my guide or something.

YB: Send me tentacleTherapist’s walkthrough.

YB: I have no idea, no good idea, what the hell I’m doing, besides you breaking every chance you get to translate their script for me.

TM: fuck me for only having four minutes to narrowly escape death, kurt.

YB: Can you not? You narrowly escaped death because you skipped the part in the walkthrough that surely would’ve warned you about the first huge obstacle the game was going to throw at you.

YB: It doesn’t make sense for me to keep guessing around the functions of my control panel. As much as I want to go back to dressing you in frat boy clothes and dislodging your toilets.

YB: What even happens after we go through our four gates? Is this superimposed? Did the world just actually end for you? Because everything burned up around your house. Not special effects, everything goes back to normal afterward burning.

YB: How experimental is this game exactly??

TM: okay. you should read it. as you build my house.

TM: tell me what you find out.

Since you are reading this, chances are you have installed this game on your computer already. If this is true, like many others, you have just participated in bringing about the end of the world.

But don’t beat yourself up about it. There was never anything you could have done to prevent it. The end is happening right now, as I type, and as you read. I have come to understand that we were always doomed through our collective ignorance, and now further doomed by those few who know, and struggle to flee. If you’re lucky, you’ll be among the smaller subset of the latter who are successful.

What I mean is, while that game you installed is just one more grinding slab of rock sealing our planet’s crypt, it is also your only hope to live.  I’m presently faced with the same conundrum as you, and though I speak with more experience, my own outcome is far from assured. 

I will “play the game”, as much of it as there is to play, and record my findings here. If you want to live, you will do as I instruct.

My condolences.

Why doesn’t Sebastian know how to read?

Kurt downsizes the walkthrough’s window, places it next to SBURB, and continues to watch Sebastian, who, as promised, is currently slashing giant spiders to pieces. More grist than ever before spews out of them, so much that Kurt does have enough to start building rooms and stairs on top of Sebastian’s roof. He does this while absently watching Sebastian flail against monsters, climb up higher as they follow him, pausing only when he breaks to send messages to Kurt, which Kurt is ignoring to read the walkthrough.

He discovers from tentacleTherapist that, as second player, he does have some time before his Reckoning starts, a longer stretch than would be if his server activated his Cruxtruder now. TT estimates that the allotted time, from her experiences, is somewhere around twenty minutes. Kurt info-loads as much as possibly can before he becomes the client, subject to Sebastian’s whims.

He feels an odd calmness, though not without urgency, as he sees before him a coherent plan to get them out of this mess:

In a Two Player Session, the client player’s home is transported into The Medium, the main body of SBURB’s Inciphisphere. The first gate leads to a location on the client’s designated planet, the second leads to the client’s extended house on their server’s planet, the third leads further into the server’s planet, and the fourth leads to the lair of the client’s denzien. The denzien is an immensely powerful being, said to guard an immense grist hoard, to be released upon their defeat and used for The Ultimate Alchemy. However, their true purpose appears to be to offering players The Choice, which seems to be based on facing your mortality.

Skaia is the center of the Inciphisphere, a dormant crucible of unlimited creative potential. Under its thick atmosphere lies The Battlefield, a planet that changes every time a player enters The Medium with a prototyped kernel. It is here, on a vast, chess board landscape, that a war between the forces of light and dark takes place, which the light must always lose. This war is always headed by The White King and The Black King respectively.

Once the war has ended, The Black King, using the defeated White King’s scepter, initializes The Reckoning, Part Two – a 24 hour event that results in a rain of meteors upon Skaia. Although Skaia tries to defend itself by redirecting meteors through defense portals, it will eventually be destroyed. These are the same meteors that initially barrage the players’ home and urge them to enter the game. It becomes the job of the players, then, after quelling their denziens, to fight and defeat The Black King before the 24 hours are up.

The Ultimate Reward is what awaits players who have successfully won a session. After the necessary actions for winning are performed, a victory platform appears beneath Skaia, bearing a structure that resembles the SBURB logo. The structure has a single door, adorned with a glowing spirograph, through which the players can escape final moments of The Reckoning. The door serves as the entrance into a new universe, which will restore or replace their old world, which the players will have already created towards the end of their game.

For instructions on new universe creation, or The Ultimate Alchemy, see Genesis Frog.

Kurt is more concerned right now about something that just occurred to him, reading about fights and defeating a King. If they die in this game, if one of the monsters guts them or a meteors crushes them, do they die in real life? Surely, it would be too easy if they could just knock out, return to the world as it was, and close the game.

He scrolls further to the segment about extra lives:

A dream self is a feature of SBURB that can be used as a sort of “extra life” in the game, should the “real” self of a player die. However, this is not an automatic process, and a dream self can suffer the same wounds as the real self, after some delay. Each player only gets one dream self. Use it wisely.

The dream self is an alternate version of the player that awakens whenever the real person falls asleep in game. Dream selves are not necessarily independent entities, but rather, representations of the dreamers. Despite this, they do appear to be two separate bodies. One can be used if the other perishes, for a limited amount of time.

Dream selves operate from lavish towers on the moons of Prospit and Derse –

“Wait.” Kurt’s voice is hoarse from disuse. “Prospit?”

Kurt scrolls to the section describing the Skaian dream worlds:

Prospit, also known as the Kingdom of Light, is one of two kingdoms in the Incipisphere. Prospit is a massive golden city planet that orbits close to Skaia. It is connected to a single moon by a golden chain.

Prospit is ruled by The White Queen and the planet is inhabited by white carapacian citizens.  The moon of Prospit possesses a series of tall towers, one for each of the dream selves of half the players in any session. The other half of the dream selves reside in similar towers on Derse. 

There is always at least one player, usually the Hero of Space, whose dream self on Prospit or Derse was awake before entering the game. Indeed, our Hero of Space Jade reports that she has dreamed of Prospit since she was a child.  This raises questions, of course, about fate and inevitability.

SBURB, it would seem, is a game you were always meant to play.

Kurt stops. Closes his eyes. Just last night, he dreamed of Prospit. Fate and inevitably come shrouding around him, then, telling him that this whole morning, the sense of doom that he’s felt in the back of his mind since he woke up, the Sebastian of it all – the person he’s somehow allowed and gone back to every morning for close to a decade – maybe they were always meant, chosen from childhood, to be forced into each other’s lives.

Kurt open his eyes. Shuts that dramatic thought down, goes back to absently building walls, ceilings, and stairs. The skeptic in him doesn’t want to believe any of this. He soundly and will forever be a Godless Atheist. He’s never believed that “all things happen for reason.” His mother and father died when he was so young for no good reason. But then there’s this game, and Prospit possibly being real, and the dark part of his brain that tells him he knew a volcano would erupt: The Reckoning.

One thing is for sure, though. He knows one hundred percent that he has no choice but to take SBURB on, try with one last shred of doubt to prove it wrong.

Go to Prospit, awake, and see it for himself.

[S]: RISE UP

Once Sebastian is through the first gate and on his designated planet, The Land Of Darkness And Ice (LODAI), he has to stop and use his copy of the server disc to get Kurt in. His ECHELADDER hovers out in front him at the moment, showing him that he’s almost gone from level 2 to level 3 on his combat scale, a still meager ranking in the 10 possible levels of his role as The Prince of Time. Whatever that means. He’s just glad that he’s stopped having to shred so many spiders with the katana. There are still some nasty ones here and there on his planet, but they are greatly outnumbered by the talking NPCs that live on LODAI, called consorts instead of underlings. They are also giant spiders, but they mostly just want to help him.

Sebastian stops walking for a moment, taking a seat on a patch of ice, wishing he’d known that the world waiting for him past the first gate was going to be so goddamn cold. That he’d able to actually feel it. What kind of fun reality video game doesn’t give your human body’s insert immunity to temperature? Or pain? Fucking spider bites.

tentacleTherapist, that flighty broad, claims that the climate and conditions of a player’s planet are a combination of their personality and the first item used to prototype their kernel. What the fuck does it say about him that the world he has to deal with in SBURB is frozen, blackened, and cavernous? He has no idea. He may be negative and selfish and closed-off and impulsive and –

He doesn’t have time to complain about the world anymore. He opens his laptop, feeding the server disc into the C: drive. Kurt says that he has about eight minutes left to enter The Medium, so Sebastian opens his viewport, waiting for Kurt’s elusive island loft to appear.

What he thinks as he looks at Kurt in real time is… holy shit. He’s so graceful.  He seems to be a whole fuckload calmer about all of this than Sebastian was, despite the fact that the weather on his island is already atrocious. Thunderstorms, lightning, pouring rain, mini tornadoes. Fuck it; Kurt catalogs kitting needles, yarn, his laptop, a battery backup, and the client disc into his Sylladex like he’s going about his normal morning routine. In near complete darkness to boot, as the power at his place has long gone out. Sebastian doesn’t bother playing revengeful pranks on him, but he does need to expand the dimensions of Kurt’s loft, carefully, so that the Cruxtruder, Alchemiter, and Totem Lathe fit inside. He sets the Pre-Punched Card atop Kurt’s desk, for whenever he needs it.

Sebastian zooms in on some of Kurt’s belongings, while he can, as Kurt forms the Cruxite in the Lathe. His mother’s ashes sit in an urn on the mantle of the darkened fireplace. His diaries – he no shit writes by hand in diaries? Like fucking Emily Bronte? – are leather-bound, neatly lined in stacks along the rest of his books. They’re dated by the year on the binding; Sebastian wishes he could read them. The place is kind of mess; not dirty, never that, he knows Kurt better than that, but too much stuff to fit in one place, stacked high on top of itself. Things in piles that Kurt probably knows the contents of, but that Sebastian wouldn’t have the first clue about searching. It reminds him that Kurt does truly live alone here: no family to speak of, what little he could take with him and stuff here from his childhood home, which was foreclosed on four years ago.

By the time Kurt says he’s ready for Sebastian to drop something on his Cruxtruder – the petty part of him wants to use Kurt’s bathtub as revenge, but he goes with the couch instead – Kurt has already alchemized the Cruxite into a red apple tree. The timer shows five minutes and thirty two seconds remaining.

Kurt doesn’t ask Sebastian to prototype his kernel for him. He looks down at the shirt he’s wearing, on which he has an animal head broach that looks like a red fox. Tosses that in there. The metallic fox sprite comes to life, hovering around as Kurt picks up the red apple, almost bites into it.

Kurt pauses, takes his mother’s ashes off the mantle, and places them into his Sylladex.

With more than enough time to spare – four minutes and thirteen seconds, before the meteors can do any real damage to him – Kurt’s house transports itself into The Medium, with more of the land surrounding it than Sebastian expected. Some of the ocean, a cliff, as well as the giant volcano. Fox-shaped underlings are crawling around the grass, looking for Kurt.

YB: Can you see me?

TM: yep.

YB: I’m about to curtsy. Are you watching?

TM: 

YB: You’re welcome. I am the loveliest client ever.

YB: With four whole minutes to spare, here I am in your Medium. Now, do you see how painless life’s unexpected hurdles can be when you properly prepare?

Kurt’s Echeladder has defined his combat role as the Seer of Space. His designated planet is the Land Of Brightness And Frogs (LOBAF), all sweeping yellow valleys, white sun, some light rain and fog, and silvery, rushing rivers. There certainly are a lot of green frogs here, but he doesn’t have to kill them. Mostly they just sort of get his way, skipping and croaking and almost making him crush them on accident, while he’s tearing the occasional rabid fox-like underling apart. Kurt’s weapons are the knitting needles he stowed in his Sylladex in case he got bored – as if – alchemized with kitchen knives from his loft for sharper points.

Kurt has some moments to spare before he enters the second gate. From this point, he’ll be moving onto Sebastian’s LODAI which, from the looks of what he’s seen while continuing to build Sebastian’s house thirty stories through it on his laptop, does not look pleasant. At all.

He re-deploys the Alchemiter from his Sylladex, having read from tentacleTherapist as to how to create custom objects that can give him the power of flight, among other things. It takes some doing, combining random items from the hoard of stuff he packed into his Sylladex before leaving the loft’s base floor, climbing to his first gate. But he seems to have some luck with flight starting with his bicycle.

As a Space player, now that he is already at level 5, he is able to alter the relative sizes of small objects using his PHYSICS BOX, which he created by combining a physics textbook, a gyroscope, and his microwave. Somehow it works. He found a large dead moth in his house before leaving it too, figured he could use another “organism, living or dead” at some point, since the game seems to love them so much. Once he learned the nature of his Space powers, he figured he might be able to do something with the wings later. The alchemized MOTHBIKE doesn’t work like a charm, but it does enough.

Kurt flies, using the winged Mothbike, out of the atmosphere of his planet and into the greater Inciphisphere. Mostly, it’s just empty black space, though he can see the glowing blue skies of Skaia in the center, as well as a rocky ring of meteors called The Furthest Ring, hovering far outside the Inciphisphere, representing its edge. He can also see two distant dots, one gold and one violet, which are Prospit and Derse. He’ll go there later.

He moves towards The Battlefield on Skaia for firsthand observation first, careful as to not to get too close, as the War raging on between The White and Black Kings and Queens is one he knows he’s not leveled up enough to participate in. From a safe distance in the blue sky, he sees a lot of black and white pawn corpses scatted around the chess board landscape, along with rivers of their red blood. Why do the chess pieces have blood? This game is so morbid.

The glowing fox sprite, which Kurt has mostly kept stowed away in the Sylladex, makes a noise that tells him he should let it out to give him some guidance. The fox sprite lets him know that The Battle should be nearing its end in around eight hours. He and Sebastian should be finishing up with their denziens by that time. Points Kurt’s attention to two larger fallen pieces on the chess board. Says that they are both the slain bodies of The White Queen and The Black Queen, and on their hands, they wear powerful golden rings, one each. He will need these rings for some greater purpose later on. Kurt doesn’t look a gift ring in the mouth. Descends to the bodies, removes their jewelry, and places them in his Sylladex, flying off quickly.

Thanks the fox sprite for its help, but there’s something greater he needs to do with it now.

He goes back to LOBAF, finds a safe, shaded, quiet spot, and opens his laptop. He scrolls to a walkthrough portion of interest. tentacleTherapist said early on that the guidance kernel can be prototyped with another item a second time. He learned it was not ideal for him to throw an inanimate fox-shaped broach into the kernel. He thinks that’s why he still finds TT more of a help than his supposed in-game guide. He should still actually prototype his sprite with an organism, living or dead.

The urn of his mother’s ashes is still in his Sylladex. tentacleTherapist used the body of her dead cat Jasper for her second prototyping – morbid, yes, but he’s not surprised, given her ominous writing style. Jaspersprite was not only TT’s in-game guide for the rest of the session; she writes that it was an opportunity to properly say goodbye to the being he was once was, as any organism you prototype retains its memories, personality, and looks. Kurt wagers he can do something of the sort with his long dead mother.

Elizabethsprite comes to before his eyes. Though she is adorned with some light fox-like features, pointed ears, whiskers, and a black nose tip, it still looks like her. Her voice sounds just the same. She knows and remembers him.

“Mom?”

Elizabethsprite floats closer to him.

“I’m happy to see you, Kurt. This isn’t at all how I imagined meeting you in heaven.” She laughs. “My god, you look so much like your dad. I could cry.”

Kurt wants to talk his seemingly reincarnated mother for an extraordinarly longer amount of time than he has. Still, it’s something life altering, getting to tell her about his adult life now, however disappointing he thinks that it is. It’s unavoidably strange, though, that she is both a construct of the game and a ghost of herself: she doesn’t want to allow their conversation to veer too far off the circumstances of them coming together. She knows the rules and possible outcomes of SBURB more than enough to remind him that she’s only a shell, really. He won’t be able to keep her by his side the whole time, he knows that. She also won’t exist outside SBURB, if he survives it.

He goes back to business on his laptop for a while, using his backup battery source, Elizabethspite hovering peacefully and quietly behind him. He opens his viewport of Sebastian, who is through his second gate now. He has apparently gained some kind of time travel ability due to his role as The Prince of Time. Currently, he’s on LODAI arguing with two identical copies of himself. Kurt doesn’t intervene. Dealing with one Sebastian is plenty.

Kurt knows he needs to read up from tentacleTherapist on what both he and Sebastian’s combat roles in this game mean, if they are ever going to reach the top of their Echeladders to battle their denziens. God knows Sebastian ain’t doing this reading:

The Prince class is an active one that destroys via their aspect in order to potentially make new opportunities for creation, for rebuilding and improvement on their aspect. On the other hand, the Prince may simply destroy his aspect outright. The Prince’s powers seem to include, aside from his obvious ability to channel his aspect to destroy, phenomenal offensive abilities. They are known to be the strongest warriors of in-game combat.

The Time aspect is one of the two basic fabrics of paradox space, with its counterpart being Space. It is associated with timetables, time travel and exploits, and Alpha timeline maintenance in general. The Time player could be very powerful in battle, if they are able to time-hop effectively and coordinate attacks using the short but vital life spans of their alternate timeline selves.

In addition, the Time aspect appears to have a connection with death.

Those bound to the aspect of Time are fighters, full stop. They value action over passive acceptance, even if that may not be the wisest or safest choice. Don’t try to tell the Time-bound to sit still and look pretty. They tend to value the destination over the journey. You won’t find them making that journey in any traditional sort of way. To quote cheesy posters found on many a guidance counselor’s wall: “Impossible is just a word”. If you need a miracle, they are who you call. At their best, the Time-bound are empathetic and relentless problem solvers. At their worst, they are ruthless, defensive, and impulsive.

“Yep, that sounds like Sebastian,” Kurt says to himself.

Sebastian destroyed their time right off the bat by making he and Kurt waste the earliest moments of their session: wanting to be in control, impulsively skipping instructions, and not letting Kurt see the walkthrough.

Sebastian does, however, appear to be making progress, fast: on the viewport as he read, Kurt watched as some future iteration of Sebastian time traveled to LODAI and prototyped himself with the black widow kernel sprite. The Future Sebastian sprite, complete with uncanny spider legs, is now giving Present Sebastian advice on how to grind levels.

The Seer class is a passive one that uses extensive knowledge to coordinate their teammates. They understand their aspect comprehensively and are uniquely adept at comprehending others’ aspects. Seers keep their party from making grave mistakes. It is as if they have a strategy guide for SBURB imprinted deep in their mind. Information is power, the single greatest weapon one can wield.

Space is the other basic fabric of paradox space, along with Time as its counterpart. It has to do with the size of things and their velocity; their position in existence with regards to physics. It also ties in strongly with the aspect of creation, in contrast to Time’s association with destruction and decay. The Space player should be able to move through paradox space with ease, and might create some sort of item to facilitate that. They could be very versatile in battle, if they are able to manipulate the size of their weapons or surroundings to their advantage. 

Similar to Time players having a connection to death, Space players have a connection with life.

Those bound to the aspect of Space are, as the name suggests, concerned with the bigger picture. They are patient. That isn’t to say that they’re pushovers or willing to let injustice lie. They just choose their battles wisely. To this effect, they tend to be innovators, concerned with recreation and redemption. Catch them recycling the old to make the new, the fresh, and the beautiful. For the Space-bound, the journey is as, if not more, important than the destination. How they do something is as important as what they do. At their best, they are steady, impartial, and creative. At their worst, they can be detached, apathetic, and witholding.

Kurt doesn’t want to get into what all that means right now. With himself.

As a matter of fact, he’d like to go to sleep. From what he understands, there is currently a dream Kurt, perhaps one he has always been, unconscious in a tower in Prospit. To become him, he needs to relax enough here to able to go to sleep. He brought his bottle of Ambien with him in his Sylladex, but he thinks it unwise to sleep through the whole game. Soon, he needs to go back and check on the skycraper version of his house in the center of LOBAF, make sure Sebastian has been still been logging in and building it up enough so that it comfortably reaches the second gate. Though now that he has the MOTHBIKE, couldn’t he just fly to it?

He’ll do all of that, but he’d like twenty minutes or so first. He closes the laptop, curls up on the yellow grass on his side, and sets a very loud alarm on his phone.

Elizabethsprite comes to his side.

“Tired, love?”

“Not really. Did you know that I’ve been dreaming of Prospit my whole life? Before I knew that I was going to end up here.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve always had wisdom beyond your years. If you need to fall asleep, I can help you with that. I’ll make sure the consorts don’t come and talk. I’ll keep the underlings away. Close your eyes now…”

Sebastian doesn’t know who he hates more, past him or future him.

He was minding his own business with the black widow sprite on Kurt’s LOBAF – the opposite side of where Kurt’s towering house currently stood, and he was sort of planning on asking Kurt to meet him at some halfway point so they could work together, since, y’know, they’re finally not five thousand miles apart – when someone who looked just like him, but slightly older, appeared before him suddenly. This Future Sebastian had the audacity to snatch Sebastian’s phone right out of his hands, right in the middle of the pesterChum message to Kurt it’d taken three whole minutes to conjure up.

“Trust me,” Future Sebastian said. “You don’t wanna do that.”

Sebastian just stared. Nothing in the goddamn impossibly-wordy walkthrough he’d been trying to read – on top of the climbing, building Kurt’s house, underling fighting, and failing to alchemize shit that doesn’t look like a pile of trash – prepared him for dealing with clones of himself.

“I’m sorry,” Sebastian said, “but if you actually are me, which, looks like you are, you know that next to nothing is gonna stop me from doing whatever the hell it is I wanna do.”

“If you do this now,” Future Sebastian said, backspacing all of Sebastian’s text on his phone and sticking it in his own pants pocket, “you’re gonna end up getting Kurt killed. And now you’re about to ask me, ‘how do you know that, gay face?’ I know, because I’m you. I was standing right here too, thinking that forcing Kurt to deal with me in person before he was ready was actually a great idea. But I’m from a timeline where our fucked up selfish priorities made us lose the game, and by ‘our’ I mean you and I. There are a lot of those timelines and a lot of fucked up Sebastians. So, I’ve time traveled back here because somehow you’re the Alpha, to make sure you and your Kurt don’t wind up dead. Because trust me, he’s very much dead in my timeline.”

Future Sebastian then jumped inside the black widow sprite, combining with it into a ghostly humanoid form with the telltale black and red pouch of the spider, and all of its legs, dangling from his back.

“What the fuck?” Sebastian equipped his katana from his Sylladex. “What did you with my phone?”

“Stand down, dick wielder. The phone is fine. I’ll give it back once I’m sure you’re not gonna do anything reckless with it. For now, we’re going back to LODAI for as little time as it takes, and take it from me, you don’t have very much time.”

Sebastian lowered his weapon. He really shouldn’t threaten the entity currently holding the lifeline to his partner.

“I hate LODAI. Why are we going back there?”

“To teach you how to time travel.”

Which is how he ended up in his current predicament:

It wasn’t all bad, at first. Future Sebastiansprite was holding onto a lot of alchemized items in his Sylladex that he no longer needed, so he gave them to Present Sebastian free of grist, showing him how to use them and combining them with other items using Sebastian’s Alchemiter. Useful as all get out will be the HOVERBOARD, which was alchemized with Sebastiansprite’s old skateboard, one his dad’s old car engines, and two fireworks. Somehow it works. The most deus ex-machina of the things are the TIMETABLES: two hovering, spinning, time travel capable records that Sebastiansprite made by combining his brother’s DJ turntables, a quill from a denzien in his timeline called Echidna, and a broken sword from his planet, LOHAC, called Caledfwlch. Scratching the records with the resulting sword-like quills manipulates time, apparently. Sebastian doesn’t get it, but he’s not looking a magical gift disc in the mouth.

Sebastian knows enough about time travel concepts in other games to know that he can’t just use the Timetables for random, quick workarounds. He can only travel if he can be sure that he can complete a stable time loop: once he’s traveled to a point in the in-game future or past, his actions must be internally consistent with the workings of the present, so he does not create a path of actions that his present self cannot or has not already fulfilled. When this rule is violated in SBURB, Sebastiansprite explains, a doomed timeline is created, splitting his present self off from the main or Alpha timeline. He can’t become the Alpha again once he’s left; all he can do is hop through other dead timelines, or try to assist whatever version of Sebastian is the Alpha at any given second. The latter is the choice Sebastiansprite made.

“How can I trust you to make sure I stay the Alpha?” Sebastian asked him. “You could be trying to sabotage me.”

“I may hate myself just as much as you hate yourself, but not enough to put you through seeing Kurt die right in front of you.”

Sebastiansprite just seems so sure that Sebastian’s going to end up causing Kurt’s demise. He doesn’t want to not take this guy’s word for it, given his outstanding help. But he wants to know why. What actions he needs to not perform to lose the game that badly. He also really, really doesn’t want Kurt to die; that’s been a major undercurrent of their relationship, even though neither of them have spoken it into tangible existence. For nine whole years. That gut-wrenching feeling, that kind of a deep emotion for someone he’s never even actually met, sort of makes him uncomfortable overall. Deeply so.

And then, Sebastiansprite is calling in reinforcements: another doomed version of Sebastian has showed up to share horror stories about how his Kurt, who he abandoned for a side quest to hack SBURB’s internal grist system via his planet’s stock exchange, fell to his death when coming out of his second gate, because Sebastian had been too distracted to keep building up his house. “I thought I was helping us by hacking the system to get us hundreds of thousands of grist. All I was doing was leaving him alone.”

They then both, Future and Past him, ream him viscerally for being an “asshat” at the start of his session. Telling him the story of the version of him who died immediately in the first Reckoning: Kurt had no server player, and no reliable internet connection to find out what to do, so he was destroyed with the rest of the world in the meteor shower.

Sebastian just doesn’t wanna hear it anymore, at this point. He can’t go back and change what he already did. All three of them have established this. So what’s the point of them wasting his time and making him feel like shit?

“Look, you asked me to tell you what not to do,” Sebastiansprite tells him. “Remember that, five minutes ago? Or do we need to turntable ourselves back to that point, remind you?”

“Alright, you fucking look.” Sebastian’s done. “Both of you. I realize I fucked up, almost got myself killed because I was lazy, and made things way more difficult for Kurt in the beginning than they needed to be. But, if you haven’t noticed, Kurt was fine once it was his turn to enter the game. More than…he was prolific. I didn’t have to lift a finger, and he rode in early. He’s also, like, constantly two or three levels higher on his Echeladder than I am, which I’ll admit, I’m a little competitive and salty about, because like, does he have to better at everything? But I’m also clearly still the Alpha me, since both of you felt so inclined to come over here and jack off into my mouth about how terrible I am. I’m paying attention from now on, okay? Full stop. My every waking fucking second in this game is gonna be spent making sure he doesn’t so much as break a fingernail.”

Sebastiansprite and Past Sebastian look at each other, nod. Sebastiansprite pulls Sebastian’s phone out of his pocket, though he still doesn’t hand it over.

“And that little radical epiphany is why I brought you back to LODAI,” the sprite says instead.

As soon as he says it, Past Sebastian is suddenly accosted by a wild black widow underling, way fucking bigger and stronger than any of the ones Sebastian’s seen so far. It bites into Past Sebastian with enough strength to tear him on open one side. He falls, meeting his death just seconds later. Sebastiansprite equips another copy of his Caledfwlch sword and slays the monster, causing it into explode into a pile of grist. Sebastian can do nothing but stare at the split image of himself, dead on the ground. The blood and guts are real.

“Wasn’t expecting that to happen so soon,” Sebastiansprite says. “This is why you listen to me, and keep time traveling to a minimum. Once you’re doomed, SBURB does whatever it can to end the timelines it doesn’t need anymore. Takes up too much RAM or something. The longer you exist as a doomed Sebastian with no purpose, the harder the game works to murder you brutally. More than it already is.”

Sebastiansprite finally throws Sebastian his phone. Message received.

“So aren’t you just gonna die the same way?” Sebastian asks.

“Not now, because I have a purpose. I’m useful again as your kernel sprite.”

Sebastian remembers himself again, on account of the sudden cold gust sweeping through and chilling him to the bone. Opens pesterChum on his phone; Kurt hasn’t messaged, so he must be good right now. He does need to get on his laptop and check on him in the viewport.

When Sebastian does so, with Sebastiansprite hovering peacefully and quietly behind him, he finds Kurt curled up in ball on LOBAF, next to some new prototype for his kernel that looks like a woman. The ashes. His mother. Kurt is asleep.

“You’re gonna wanna take a power nap right now too,” Sebastiansprite tells him. “Not very long. Kurt will be back up soon. I’ll wake you up when it’s time…”

[S]: DREAM

Kurt awakens as his dream self on Prospit. He’s lying on his back on a yellow slab, just like the one he always finds in his room at the top of the tallest tower, on the moon. He wears the same yellow robes.

The Prospit of SBURB looks identical to the one of his dreams, or at least it does so far from his turret window. He can fly here too, so he does, leaving the round opening in the stone and hovering into the blue sky, observing the vast gold city scape.

The only thing that has changed about Prospit is that it is empty. All the carapacians who usually wander the roads, in and out of the arches and tunnels, are gone. That was them, he understands, fighting in the War.

This makes him a touch sadder than he feels is reasonable. He never spoke to any of them in his vivid dreams, as they had no faces and couldn’t communicate, but they always seemed to be looking up at him, facing whatever way he flew as he passed over. Some of them even waved.

Kurt flies high enough to observe that Prospit’s moon is still connected to the rest of the planet with a golden chain. Knowing all that he knows now, he returns to the tower bedroom, lies back on the bed.

He has to talk to someone about this. Maybe not even that. He just needs to know that he’s not imagining it. He knows that no one else, living or dead, and everyone’s dead now, would even be to explain how exactly this is possible. He isn’t even sure that’s what he wants. He doesn’t really know anything about his own life, apparently, that’s what he’s learning here. SBURB is some kind of universe that has somehow always existed, that his mind was connected to for so long. That is not a game. He’s never wanted anything so fantastical to be real. He’s always been empowered by the idea that he has total free will. If no matter what he did, he was always going to end up here and be trapped for the foreseeable future? What was the point of any of it?

tentacleTherapist said that the dream selves in SBURB cannot communicate with any real selves, but they can do so to each other in any way that they would normally. As long as both players are awake on their respective dream worlds, they can communicate electronically from Derse to Prospit and back. Unfortunately, Kurt hasn’t had time to wax about his fascinating information on Prospit and Derse to Sebastian. They’ve mostly discussed the need-to-know, traded barbs, and talked strategy. This is all kinds of off-topic existential.

And knowing Sebastian, his dream self on Derse is out fucking cold. Might be for the rest of the game.

Still, Kurt logs onto pesterChum on his phone, which he still has with him along with all of the other items in his Sylladex.

Somehow, Sebastian’s dream self is online.

— youngBettyWhite [YB] started pestering taintMisbehaving [TM] 

YB: You’re awake?

TM: i have no idea what or where i am, actually.

TM: sebastiansprite told me to go to sleep. all of a sudden, i’m here.

YB: What does it look like where you are?

TM: dark as fuck. purple as fuck. towers, intricate architecture. i woke up in a room with no doors and just a window.

YB: Have you tried to fly?

TM: are you on ambien? have i tried to

TM: oh

TM: okay. so i can fly now.

TM: i just spend an inordinate amount of time listening to sebastiansprite call me a piece of shit, just because i felt bad that he gave me his hoverboard.

TM: and now you’re telling me i don’t even need it?

YB: God, Sebastian.

YB: Please read the walkthrough.

TM: yeah. i know.

TM: i’m really sorry. i’m not trying to make things difficult on purpose. i’m just

TM: frustrated.

TM: this entire thing happening is my fault. i should’ve read more before installing that disc, and asking you to load yours, but i didn’t. as soon as i realized shit was hitting the fan, i started rushing. i still am rushing. it’s a lot of information, the stakes are as high as possible, and the countdown doesn’t stop.

TM: i mean, this is fucking insane. we’re alone in this scheme of machinations and no one can get us out.

TM: i just don’t want to hurt you.

TM: i know that i’ve made today hell enough already. and i’m sorry about that. really.

YB: Thank you for apologizing.

YB: Hey, can I tell you something?

TM: of course.

YB: Haven’t I ever told you about the dreams I have? The golden place? I can fly, there’s a moon with a chain. I’ve had the same dreams almost every night since I was a kid.

TM: yeah, you’ve talked about that before. a couple times, not in a long time. why?

YB: Because I’m here. tentacleTherapist says that the Hero of Space, which I am, is aware of Prospit before they actually get here.

YB: In my dreams, it was literally called Prospit. The chess pieces who are fighting in the War right now are familiar to me. I’ve seen all of this before, over and over again. Not the big picture, not Skaia, not SBURB. Not you being a part of it.

YB: But, yeah.

TM: that’s…heavy.

TM: i think.

TM: i mean, i believe you. i made fun of you the first time you ever talked about it like six years ago, because i was salty that you’d been making fun of the haircut my brother gave me when he was really drunk.

YB: Oh, God. That was so bad.

TM: but every time you talked about it after that, i thought it was really interesting. i just didn’t wanna seem, you know.

TM: gay.

YB: You are gay.

TM: so are you. that’s not what i mean. i mean like, gay for you, specifically.

TM: we haven’t talked about a lot of things going on in our real lives, kurt. don’t get me wrong, that’s totally okay with me, because whatever. what happens online stays online. what happens offline stays offline. you shoot things and i shoot things and we log off. i’ve never met you before. you lived on some crazy remote island that no one’s ever heard of. half the time, i was sure you were fake or a dirty old man.

TM: until i heard your voice.

TM: for all intents and purposes, even though every day we wake up and bother each other like some kind of bad habit that won’t die, you’re still kind of a stranger to me, as an actual person.

TM: so i wasn’t gonna ask you to tell me more about your dreams and your feelings, if you didn’t offer up.

TM: that’s not something we really do.

YB: That is a good point.

YB: I don’t share certain things. Most things, probably. As you know, I spend almost all of my time alone. On days where I don’t work, sometimes I don’t even speak.

TM: yeah, me too.

TM: …but you said that you wanted to tell me something.

YB: Oh, that was it. About Prospit. I’m just going through an existential crisis. Understandable, you must agree, since everything about my previous existence, save for somehow you, probably just permanently ended.

YB: I’ve been reading about the new universe we’re supposed to create. As a Space player, that is most of what my personal quest involves. I’m learning how to manipulate objects in space time and alchemize things so quickly because it’s supposed to have something to do our with undo-ing the First Reckoning. The new world we bring with us through the reward gate may not be exactly like it was. It won’t be called Earth. Or maybe it will. We may not go back to the time period we even came from, once we get there. How exactly the replacement world turns out depends on how well we do in the session. Whatever the game ends up defining “well” as.

TM: how do you think we’re doing?

YB: Well, we seem to be doing better than tentacleTherapist and her friends. At the part of the walkthrough I’m in, she explains that their Black King got killed by a rogue Derse carapacian called Jack Noir before the War on The Battlefield could even really get started. That sent everything out of whack and corrupted their session permanently. They manged to get out before the whole Inciphisphere collapsed on itself in error, but now they’re stuck on a meteor somewhere past The Furthest Ring, and have been for a year. They’re also dealing with some kind of virus injected into their game software.

YB: So we have none of that going on. Things seem to be progressing as chaotically “standard” as they’re meant to.

YB: As long as we keep our heads down and clear the gates in the next couple of hours, we should be leveled up and ready to fight the denziens. And then The Black King.

TM: okay.

TM: thank you.

TM: so, since you understand everything somehow. would you mind telling me how i got to this purple room?

YB: Since you are illiterate, I suppose ;)

YB: If we ever need to rest or grab an extra life, copies of ourselves exist on Prospit, my dream world, and Derse, your dream world. They’re asleep when our real bodies are out playing in The Medium. Presumably, we can leave our dream towers right now and go back to our planets, our gates, and our passed out real selves. But I’m not sure we’d have the same Echeladder levels as our other selves. I’m not sure if we’d lose our progress if we died and had to use these bodies instead. Still, it’s a back up function.

YB: Your Derse is just before the Furthest Ring, the string of dead meteors at the outermost edge of this universe. Look outside your window. What do you see?

TM: looks like a ring of meteors to me. makes me nervous. i never thought an actual meteor shower was going to be something i’d have to develop a complex over. this isn’t a fucking cartoon. but now i’m looking at these rocks

TM: those aren’t something i need to be worried about right now, right?

YB: I don’t think so. The meteors from The Reckoning, Part Two are from some place else. And we still have some time before that starts.

YB: Speaking of which, I think I’m going to be waking up soon.

TM: how the fuck do you know that?

TM: sorry, it’s not you. sebastiansprite just didn’t explain anything about this and knocked me out somehow.

YB:  You should ask him why when you wake up.

YB: Our sprites are here to help us. I’m sure you’re just antagonizing yours, and he’s antagonizing you back to mirror your energy, because he’s you. But he’s more of a game construct than a Sebastian, so he should genuinely want to help.

YB: I set an alarm on my phone out there, which I assume will wake me up.

YB: Also, my mom promised to wake me up.

TM: so that was your mom in your kernel sprite.

YB: Yes.

TM: do you mind if i ask you what that’s like?

YB: A little bit.

YB: But, you are the only person I have left to say anything to, ever, for the forseeable future. I could do worse than have you for company, by the way.

YB: I just don’t talk to anyone about her, really.

TM: you don’t have to.

YB: Thank you.

YB: It is good to see her. I know that it’s not real and it’s not going to last. But I’m taking what I can out of the situation. And that’s all I’ll say for now.

[S]: MEET

They were supposed to meet once, three years ago. Sebastian was going to fly four thousand eight hundred and six miles, but two days before his departure, Kurt messaged him and told him that he “couldn’t.” He said he wasn’t ready.

Now that they have both progressed through their third gates, the time has come in their session where the Hero of Space, assisted by the Hero of Time, is responsible for breeding the green frogs on their planet to produce one with a perfect genetic code. That perfect frog is what tentacleTherapist calls The Genesis Frog, which contains the blueprints for a new universe in its body. The real world outside of SBURB can only be restored if this universal frog is brought by the Space player through the reward gate.

To successfully breed frogs, Kurt needs to use the ECTOBIOLOGY APPARATUS on LOBAF, located in a small laboratory under THE FORGE, or the giant volcano that was transported with the base of Kurt’s house. It was always supposed to be a part of the game. While hunting for frogs around the planet, he must return to the lab periodically and run them through a part of the Apparatus called the APPEARIFIER, which produces a PARADOX SLIME out of the frogs. This slime can be used to determine the genetic code of an organism, and be used in the creation of a paradox clones of that organism. Paradox slime piles can be partially isolated and combined to create new codes, and thus new genetically enhanced frogs.

Kurt does’t know exactly how long this very involved process will take, but Sebastian plays a vital role as a Time player, now that he has control of the alternate versions of himself, at level 9 on his Echeladder. He can summon them at will now, send them around to do most of the dirty work. At least, until they die horrific deaths. Kurt still doesn’t believe that part. He’d have to see it. Sebastian insists that they help him willingly.

All the while, The Black King has decimated the forces of light. Elizabethspite and Sebastiansprite have informed their players that The War is now over. The Black King’s Second Reckoning to end Skaia is already in progress. They have twenty two hours.

There is no other option at this point but for Kurt and Sebastian to search LOBAF, together, in person. Kurt waits for him to show up near the base of The Forge, so sick to his stomach that he actually thinks he’s going to hurl into one of the rivers. It’s not Sebastian. It’s him. His agoraphobia is the real reason he and Sebastian could never meet. The miles were a fantastic excuse, but Kurt has serious issues letting anyone into his life. So far, he never has. The problem is, Sebastian is already in it. He has been for a long time.

This is just all about acknowledging it. Welcoming Sebastian in as much as he’s able to. As has already been established, he has no other choice.

TM: heading over there now.

TM: you sure you aren’t a catfish?

YB: Ha! If I were a catfish, I’d be using the photos of someone better looking.

TM: bullshit.

TM: you’re beautiful.

Sebastian did ask Sebastiansprite, as soon as he woke up from he and Kurt’s conversation on Derse, why the sprite thought that he should also sleep at that time:

“You needed to have that conversation,” Sebastiansprite said. “Because you need to acknowledge that your feelings about him are deeper than you want to admit. There’s literally no point in avoiding it now. Think about it. You win your game, by some stroke of you performing every correct action by the second and staying with the Alpha timeline. You and him are the only two souls who enter this new world initially, with no fucking idea what you’re going to get when you get there. You’re going to have to stay together for a long time. Kurt doesn’t want to be as alone as he thinks he does. My Kurt didn’t, yours doesn’t. None of the Kurts, in any timeline, when they enter this game have wanted that. He’s got strong, formidable walls up, but you know you can see right through them, and he can see through yours. Neither of you are saying anything about that, but that’s why you pester him about bullshit everyday, and part of that is why he always answers. You both know this is going to happen. You love him so much you’d probably die for him. Get used to it.”

And Sebastian couldn’t front it, after that. Watching Kurt ascend to the highest levels, all the way up to 10 on his Echeladder throughout the third gate, building him a house so grand that he didn’t even need, because Kurt was a hundred steps ahead of Sebastian’s work before he could even give it to him. The Kurt who he watches now is still that same delicate boy he remembers from the blurry pictures of old, with the clear eyes and shy smile, but he has grown for nine years into a complicated, arresting, wise-beyond-his-years adult.

Sebastian doesn’t want to hide what he thinks about seeing him, the real him, up close.

He doesn’t want to scare Kurt off at this stage, either. Force them to separate here and lose the game. It has already been stated, they both know, that SBURB cannot be beat without the two counterparts of paradox space working together in unison. But Sebastian also knows now that Kurt is strong enough to handle what has grown between them. Deep inside, he is. Hell, he’s singlehandedly led them with his knowledge to completing eighty percent of this nightmare of a game. He’s strong enough to reap the rewards of what he’s sown.

As the beginnings of The Reckoning’s meteors start to glow far off in the sky, Kurt watches as Sebastian descends through the fog on his glowing, red hoverboard. Heat blooms in Kurt’s face and some of the nausea in his stomach settles. Sebastian looks so horrifically normal, disengaging the hoverboard and trying to act like he doesn’t have a little motion sickness from flying all that way. He looks like he’s walking on baby giraffe legs.

And God, if Kurt didn’t think he was hot before. It’s unfair that such a stubborn, mischievous, goofball of an axe wound, as a personality, gets to exist in that godly exterior. Sebastian’s grinning at him now, and Kurt’s unable to contain the memories, years of sharing so many horribly perverted jokes, doing things to NPCs online together that would give them the death penalty had they done it in real life. Kurt thinks that this is the same sixteen year old loser who lost his phone on the bus one day because he’d been reading a porn mag and got distracted, and proceeded to get on every single bus line for the rest of the night, searching for it all around the city.

Sebastian feels a flood of relief to see Kurt not reflexively bolt, fly away on his clever Mothbike. He’s actually doing something very suspiciously like smiling. He stands completely still, holding his hands together. Waiting for Sebastian to speak first.

“Hi,” Sebastian says.

“You’re really tall,” Kurt says.

They don’t say anything to each other that isn’t about the task at hand, after that. Sebastian actually read the part of the walkthrough that detailed the mechanics of what they’d be doing. He read it seven times, until he knew he wouldn’t have to ask questions Kurt about it. Catching frogs is boring and tedious anyway, so there isn’t much to say.

Their respective work is somewhat separated as well. Sebastian actives a power he gained at level 8, CONGREGATE SELF, and several doomed Sebastians who haven’t been offed by SBURB yet come hovering to his aid. Kurt watches him from inside the open doors of the laboratory, where Sebastian stands with his clones in the yellow field. Watches as Sebastian points around the planet and the clones scatter, chasing after jumping frogs and filing in and out of the lab to hand their spoils over to Kurt, who stays inside identifying genetic codes and managing the Apparatus.

Kurt doesn’t even know which one the real Sebastian is for a good amount of the time. He can’t keep count of how many there. Seventy at least. Soon, though, the real Sebastian is the one who walks into the lab, stays in, and starts a conversation. The others don’t say anything – Kurt gets the sense that they’ve been told they aren’t allowed to – besides a little quip here and there about how hard it was to catch the particular frog they just handed off. The Alpha Sebastian has these motherfuckers whipped.

“So did you actually wanna search for any frogs yourself?” Sebastian is on his phone as he asks Kurt this, scrolling through what Kurt can only assume is the walkthrough; on second glance, it appears Sebastian has coded some kind of app that lets him track the locations of his doomed selves like some kind of evil dictator. “I know we’re making some progress, but I have a feeling your Space powers will make that perfect frog jump right out at you from wherever it’s ass-deep in some sludge right now, hump your leg like you’re some kind of amphibian whispering magnet.”

Kurt holds in his laugh. “My God, you actually do talk like that.”

“Talk like what?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re acting like you’ve never heard my voice before.”

“I know. But every time we were on the headset, you were…we were killing…virtual zombies. On a console. I thought you only brandished your vulgar ranting for inconsequential things. Online things.”

“Oh, no, I’m this much of an blithering asshole, all the time.”

Kurt looks away, and Sebastian doesn’t think he’s seen anything like him. There’s no way in hell he’s letting Kurt die now.

“And why do you talk like that?” Sebastian bluffs.

“Talk like what?”

“You seem to be able to rip me ten different kinds of new anuses, on any given topic, on the fly, on pesterChum. You’re Mr. Smarty Pants. Even those times we co-oped, you had it in you. I didn’t realize you talked so…slowly…in person. Like you’re deeply, mortally considering every word that passes your delicate lips.”

“Well, that’s…kind of because I am.”

Sebastian stares Kurt down, hoping to stare hard enough that Kurt will release the full fledged smile.

“That’s it?” Sebastian teases. “That’s all you got?”

“Oh, boo. I told you I spend most of my day not speaking to literally anyone. At least I’m not like you, Mr. No Filter. That mouth is why I’m your only friend.”

“There it is. You wound me, Kurt. I want more.”

They eventually do leave and move outside of the lab together, stooping over and searching the gold foliage for green little frogs. Kurt does know that Sebastian is right on some level, that as a Space player with all the potential he’s built, the odds of the right frog jumping onto his radar is somewhat great. They locate it after another hour, spent in and out of the laboratory combining paradox slime and clones, until the last frog with the perfect code finally shows itself on the Apparatus.

The Genesis Frog is a small, glowing, multicolored little thing, at least for now. Kurt stows his reward safely into his Sylladex.

“What now?” Sebastian says.

They stand beneath The Forge, wind passing around them. Kurt takes a slow, deep breath; he has no reason to be nervous about having conversations with Sebastian, in person, anymore.

“You go through your fourth gate, I go through mine,” Kurt says. “Then, we face our denziens.”

“Alone?”

“I…presume so.”

“Is it against the rules if we join each other? ‘Cause I’m just saying, double teaming these bitches will get this done a lot faster. The War is over. We don’t have much time.”

Kurt knows it isn’t explicitly against the rules. He hadn’t imagined that they’d go at their denziens side-by-side, because he hadn’t let himself imagine that them meeting like this would happen at all. Part of him wants to protect himself from getting attached. Sebastian could very well die in the next couple of hours, and Kurt would have to remember that, for as long as he survived it. That kind of hopelessness is not something he wants to feel ever again. Part of him still knows that, logistically, combining their powers gives them their best odds at defeating the denziens and the ticking clock.

“Okay.” Kurt recedes. “Together.”

He turns around and deploys his Mothbike, watching as the sky starts to darken above their heads.

“See you on the other side.”

They prepare for Sebastian’s denzien first, geared up for battle, and possibly death. Before they enter its lair, Sebastian talks to the widow consorts of LODAI one last time. What he find outs from their chatter is that Hephaestus, the Time denzien, requires lava from The Forge on LOBAF in order to awaken in the first place. Even though Sebastian is finally at level 10, the denzien will lie dormant until this is done. One of the black widow consorts tells them what they have to do. With the gold rings Kurt collected from the bodies of the Black and White Queen on The Battlefield, they fly on Sebastian’s hoverboard to back to The Forge, throwing both rings into the mouth of the rock. The lava blows into an eruption as they hover off, just like Kurt always saw in his mind’s eye.

Hephaestus does not look, or act, the way they anticipated at all. The large, bubbling volcanic creature, who has started to melt the planet’s ice with his heat – and really, Sebastian was expecting some kind of abominable snowman or some shit – is sluggish, calm, does not stir when they enter his lair. Sebastian hears something then, a deep voice that is barely a whisper, in his mind. Hephaestus speaks in a language that only the player assigned to him can understand. The creature does not want a fight, but only wants to offer Sebastian The Choice:

There exists a Scratch construct, deep within the planet of the Hero of Time, to be used in order to reset the game and start over in another session. In order to reboot, the massive timetable spinning in the frozen core of LODAI, called the Beat Mesa, must be physically scratched using the quill of another denzien. Sebastian doesn’t understand why they should want to ever restart and do all of this again, but then, his doomed selves have told him about all the times they couldn’t save Kurt. Hephaestus tells Sebastian that most of the Time-bound who play the game ruin their session irreparably, and though Sebastian and Kurt seem to be close to the end, there is still time for failure. He only says that should the situation arise that they will lose, Sebastian can choose now, without inherently dooming himself: another shot at life, or death.

Echidna, the denizen of the Hero of Space, is described as the “mother of all monsters” by the fox consorts Kurt talks to one last time on LOBAF. She is said to know all things related to creation and the restoration of life via SBURB, and furthermore, they say, the Scratch construct is a union of Space and Time. Echidna’s quills are the ones necessary to perform the Scratch on the Beat Mesa. There is no need to wake her. Now that Kurt is fully leveled and aware of his powers so far, she is already waiting for him.

Echidna watches Kurt and Sebastian enter her lair, also calm, all silvery blue scales, so massive, her serpentine body weaves in and out of caverns. She speaks to Kurt’s mind in a soothing voice. She explains that there is one more level they can ascend to past 10, complete with its own Echeladder, called God Tier. This mode will allow players to no longer be restricted to only one in-game life, and one extra life. If they are killed, they are resurrected as long as the death was Heroic. If it was a Just killing, they will die. Echinda reassures Kurt, however, that he and Sebastian’s coherence at this point, evidenced by them standing here before her together, should deem any deaths that they endure fighting to save each other Heroic. As a Hero of Space, too, becoming a God Tier ensures that the universe he created in The Genesis Frog will be enhanced, and more likely to be fruitful, by his increased powers.

In order to ascend to Godhood, which they should do if they want any chance at not being slain by The Black King, they both must die on their respective Quest Beds, which are located on their planets. Kurt remembers the strange, stone slab resembling a bed at the top of the highest mountains on his planet. It can be from self-sacrificial death, she says, or from an inflicted wound. That if he is wise, he will go there now, and rise. This is The Choice that she gives Kurt.

Kurt and Sebastian separate, then, to go to their Quest Beds. Kurt lies on his back on the stone slab, needles down at his sides, holding onto his phone with shaking hands. Stares up into the glowing screen, against the backdrop of The Medium’s glowing, fiery sky.

— youngBettyWhite [YB] started pestering taintMisbehaving [TM] 

YB: I don’t think I can do this.

YB: I can’t kill myself.

TM: i know…it’s bleak.

TM: i’m just gonna do it though. katana to the jugulars. should be quick.

TM: supposedly being god tier is boss as fuck, and our powers will be OP, so.

TM: just look forward to that after.

YB: Do you think the denziens told us all of that stuff as a fluke?

YB: I mean, I cross-referenced the walkthrough, and this sounds about right. But still. Maybe doing this will actually end the game. Maybe they want us to lose.

YB: I’ve spent so long wanting to die. Not actually die. Go to sleep for a long time, maybe. Come back as something better. Someone better.

YB: That’s why I numb myself to everything. With isolation, with the games.

YB: With you.

TM: fuck.

TM: i wanted to kiss you so bad on LOBAF, kurt.

TM: i realize this is probably the worst time to say it.

TM: you’re so fucking brave. i don’t know you dealt with losing your parents, living all alone on that island. i’ve always wanted to come to you and end your loneliness.

TM: i know it’s not that simple, but i

TM: holy shit

TM: you see that explosion?

YB: The Reckoning, Part Two is getting bad.

TM: okay. i’m doing this now.

TM: in case it doesn’t work and we really die

TM: i love you.

Kurt drops his phone onto his stomach. The realization takes him over, the inevitably that he can no longer run  from.

Because that’s it. Between them, it is love.

YB: Wait.

YB: Will you come here first?And kill me?

[S]: BECOME GOD

Sebastian drives his sword through Kurt’s heart. The blood pools all over The Quest Bed as Sebastian cowers back, drops to his knees on the rough stone. Cold dread and sickness sweep over him as he hunches over in defeat.

Fuck, he thinks. It was a lie.

I just killed the love of my life.

Sebastian knows the mortal consequences of time traveling now. They’re so close, and dooming himself means spending the rest of his hours trapped in The Medium, nothing more than a virtual ghost with a hit out on him. This timeline, everything they’ve accomplished, driven off into abyss. Still, he thinks it’s worth it, if he doesn’t have to live with what he’s just done.

The Scratch is to be considered. He could travel to LODAI’s core, try to wind it all back. But would the Kurt in that session remember any of this? Meeting for real, finally ending their loneliness? Does Sebastian even have time now, to acquire Echinda’s quills, with The Reckoning upon them so?

He’s about to turn the tables when Kurt groans and shifts on the Quest Bed slab. Through blurred, burning eyesight, Sebastian watches as dozens of fireflies surround Kurt’s body, lift him from the stone, and envelope him in a cloud of light and stars, so much so that his figure is obscured from view.

When Kurt flies back down, awake, he’s in a new regalia: a black hood covers his head, drapes over his shoulders, sweeps the floor. His gown is embellished with a white, spiral symbol. Gray tights cover his legs, and on his feet, there are red, almost ballerina-like slippers. Some kind of aura resembling a galaxy surrounds him.

God like he certainly does look.

“Well,” Kurt says, smiling sideways, “looks like it works.”

Sebastian doesn’t waste a moment more: steps in towards Kurt and kisses him. Kurt kisses him back, knowing only that they should’ve done this years ago. That one day, they would be destined to do it together. Sebastian’s body feels like heat, like every moment they spent hissing back and forth at each other online, staying up until four in the morning, whispers of ‘I love you,’ past, present and future coming to fruition.

Sebastian feels like he’s home.

The ground suddenly shakes violently beneath them, as meteors continue hurling themselves at Skaia, illuminating flames above their heads.

“You don’t have to stab me back,” Sebastian says. He kisses Kurt once more, quick. “Wait for me here.”

When Sebastian returns to LOBAF, flying with no hoverboard needed to the Quest Bed, Kurt laughs outright in disbelief at the garish outfit relegated to the Prince of Time: Sebastian stands before him in a deep red hood that looks more like a windsock, fingerless gloves, an actual cape, a sparkling crown, and those shorts. They practically balloon out from his long legs, complete with lacy white stockings.

“Nice pantaloons you got there, Prince.”

“I hate you.”

Kurt pulls the Prince of Time in for one last kiss.

“I love you too.”

[S]: SPACETIME

The battle with The Black King has begun. The giant carapacian is a formidabble foe, armed with The White King’s scepter, but Kurt and Sebastian now have God Tier powers to give him a run for his grist.

Sebastian does all of the attacks he’s been slowly building towards in this game: CHRONOSMASH, a move which stops time for 60 seconds, gives him time to rack up combos and get rid of The Black King’s stamina bar steadily. RUSH HOUR, in which dozens of iterations of himself move through the field at warp speed, laying into the King with their weapons. TOO LATE, which temporarily slows oncoming attacks down to a near pause. Kurt is astounded, watching Sebastian truly come alive into his role.

Kurt’s moves are passive, but his support role is much needed as Sebastian focuses on the offensive: MOVE BITCH, which teleports his fellow player or himself away from a meteor blow or scepter blast for quick evasion. RENDER, in which he can temporarily manipulate the Space around The Black King to make him smaller, morph the shape of him, move him around so Sebastian can hit him directly. UNIVERSAL CROAK, in which he channels a beam of superheated gas from the Genesis Frog, harnessing it from his hands. He uses this mostly to destroy oncoming meteors, which he can see coming long before they arrive.

It is this UNIVERSAL CROAK that serves to be the final move on The King: with a blast so powerful that unleashes a blinding light, Kurt blows The Black King into crumpling defeat. Kurt and Sebastian know now that they are free to maneuver the last of the meteors and fly below Skaia, find the victory platform hovering in wait.

[S]: WIN

On the platform, they float before the blue towering structure, four squares resembling a house. A door with a narrow spirograph adorning its glowing knob waits for them. All they have to do now is go through it. Still, Kurt and Sebastian are sort of stunned into silence, looking at it.

“What if the universe you created ends up being, like, some kind of post-apocalyptic graveyard. With zombies.”

Sebastian means it mostly as a joke, but it goes without saying. They may have gotten through SBURB, but no new Earth, no new world, was going to be without its pain. He could only assume.

“You’d think that after all that we just went through, SBURB would let us catch a break.” Kurt smiles. “But who knows? The Genesis Frog looks promising, I suppose, and tentacleTherapist says that your family who was alive before and threads of what we used to know will be back. I’m still having a hard time understanding how or why a frog contains the fabric of an entire universe. Maybe it is going to be worse. Maybe my parents won’t be there. Maybe you’ll still be an asshole and I’ll still be cripplingly agoraphobic.”

Sebastian shakes his head then, chuckling.

“I’ll still put up with you if you are.”

Kurt holds his hand over the doorknob, turning it open.

“So will I.”

One thought on “Kurt and Sebastian Play SBURB: A Short Story

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