Supernatural Fiction posted June 17, 2014

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Bowing to Reality

by Fleedleflump

The Archer Writing Contest Contest Winner 

"With no thought of safety, The Archer hurled himself down the grass bank." I felt my fingers jerking as I spoke, shapes moving on the screen before me. "He knew this might be the last time he got to breathe the mountain air of home, to feel the power in his legs ... to feel love for his bow, nestled like a mate in his hands."

I heard a chuckle, soaked in sarcasm, from behind me. It didn't matter -- they couldn't understand The Archer. "He ducked an arrow coming his way and crashed to his knees, sliding to a halt in two channels of mud as he whipped an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to string. His target came into focus as he drew the string back, a feather tickling the unkempt down of his beard. She was a young huntress, blond and broad-eyed. He hesitated for a moment but then he imagined her arrow plunging into his head, destroying his brain and the thoughts he entertained forever. His fingers released, sending thirty inches of metal-tipped death into his target's expression."

"Ow," exclaimed the sarcastic voice behind me. "In the face! She might not be dead though, man. You got to finish her."

"The Archer doesn't care about killing, only making sure they won't fire back. The Archer deals only in reality." I hit the pause button and turned to face the man sitting behind me. He was confident, blithe, and at least a decade too young for the suit he wore. Such is the way with video game publishers. I smiled but his expression suggested mine wasn't very genuine. "The Archer wishes to know if you are interested in his adventures."

The man shifted as if he sat on a sack of pebbles rather than my best armchair. "Look, pal, are you gonna spend this whole meeting referring to yourself in the third person?"

"The Archer wishes you to know his narration belongs to him and not his monkey interpreter." I winced but maintained my smile. "He can be a little blunt, but I let him off."

He gave me an unsubtle 'you're crazy' look before he spoke again. "Alright, I got to admit the tech's impressive. In reality, though, the market's saturated with first person shooters and third person action adventure games. I might be able to sell Eidos on the idea of turning this into the next Tomb Raider -- you got the right approach for it."

"You know nothing of reality. The Archer is not Lara Croft," I sneered. "The Archer is not a first person shooter or a third person action-adventure game. The Archer is The Archer."

"Then maybe you need to find yourself some backers, mate." He shrugged. "Go the indy route -- it's where all the cool dudes are playing these days."

I picked up his coffee so he couldn't drink any more. "The Archer thanks you for your time. Walk forever in safety."


I barrelled through the woods, weaving between trees like a hot breeze. I could feel his presence behind me, strong and implacable -- a tidal wave, and me an amateur surfer with big ideas. Leaves grazed my beard and roots sought to trip me but fear kept me upright. If I fell, a feathered shaft would lance between my ribs, slicing into my heart with violent finality. If he was really angry with me, the arrow would strike lower, ripping into my stomach and intestines, and he'd leave me to a slow and agonising death.

On pure instinct, I cut to one side. Something soft batted my cheek and three feet of smooth timber slammed into a trunk in front of me with a reverberating
dooiiiing. It might have been funny if it wasn't so close.

Urgency twisting my stomach, I burst ahead into the foliage. Every night, we played this game. I ran, he pursued. In our waking interactions, I was the controller -- I dictated his movements, my skills were his triumph, my failings his undoing. Every night, he turned the tables. Every night, he got me.

My foot hooked in a gnarly root and solid earth rose to greet me. My glasses pinwheeled away, shedding glass in a beautiful, if blurred, spiral. My face was the brake as I ground to a halt, shearing away one cheek and peeling my temple from my skull. I screamed through a mouthful of dirt, fountaining flecks of mud and pain from my lips. He said no words, but I could feel satisfaction emanating from the woods behind me. He'd missed on purpose, pushing me into hurting myself. Before I had time to move, while I was still cataloguing the many pains blossoming in my system, an arrow speared into my leg, driving up through my Achilles tendon and sliding alongside the bone, bursting through my kneecap from behind. I hadn't realised I had the breath for it, but I actually heard myself roar in agony.

Yeah - I'd pissed him off today.

Footsteps approached from behind, crunching with inevitable certainty. I lay face down, roiling in a sea of terror, and whimpered into the crispy leaves stuck to my lips. "The Archer approached his incapacitated victim," I croaked.

The footsteps stopped right behind me and I heard the telltale creak of finely crafted yew being put under stress. "Without expression, the archer drew his bow." I heard a long breath sucked in and released. If I'd concentrated, I felt sure his breath would have tickled the back of my neck but it was impossible to tell through the pain. Only one question remained -- would the arrow strike my chest or head?

"Oof! Right through the back of the neck!" This guy was also young but at least he wasn't corporate.

I put down the controller and turned to face him. "The Archer wishes to know your interpretation of his adventures. Does he meet with your expectations?"

His smile was more accepting than the previous guy, but he probably thought it was all a sales pitch. "Tell the Archer he's a very troubled man. We're riding the success of our debut release and, if you came on board to handle the AI, I reckon we could make a great game out of this." He tried to meet my gaze but couldn't hold it. "We got to cut back on the violence, though. EA and Activision can afford to make adult games then market them to teenagers but for us, every penny counts. We need a kid-friendly rating or we'll never sell enough units to pull through."

"The Archer doesn't shrink from reality. An arrow through the leg hurts." I felt a tear building in my eye and blinked it back. "We should not pretend otherwise."

"Then he needs to accept this reality." He shrugged apologetically. I liked him, but it made no difference if he betrayed us. "Indy studios make PG games or they die out. The Archer deals in reality -- I admire that -- but parents won't pay for their children to see reality. I'm sorry we can't help you. You got some great programming skills -- get in touch if you want some work, but you'll have to leave The Archer behind."


He stood before me -- a figure both nebulous and defined. I studied his outline, stark against the forest green around us. Like a standing shadow, he moved with me, swaying as I swayed, flinching when I flinched, killing when I bade. I knew him from behind, pictured his every detail. I'd designed him to evoke feelings of ruthlessness and necessity but also empathy. He killed when there was no choice, a hungry predator in the food chain of battle and survival. I knew his severe hair, the tense set of his shoulders when he drew his bow, the rhythmic flex of his thighs as he ran down another victim.

The Archer was the epitome of modern man, put in a position of outlet. He sparred with enemies to keep his life. I sparred with business partners to maintain my livelihood. We had a mutual respect, or so I hoped.

That outline was still staring at me, albeit without eyes. This was different. Most nights were spent finding out new ways to kill -- via the medium of him using me for target practice. Why was he not chasing me?

I cocked my head to one side and he did the same. I wondered if he owned any free will. He was my creation but his personality was his own. He'd lived for many hundreds of hours while I refined his world and drew the trees around him -- he'd grown and developed. He'd breathed (once I crafted the animation). I knew his every trait, his coldness and quirks. The Archer was more real to me than any stranger I met on the bus or talked to over telephone. I knew how he'd react in any given situation, the things he loved and loathed.

Did that not make him a person?

As if listening to my thoughts, he chose that moment to turn around. There it was -- that detailed exterior viewpoint, a complete person in two dimensions. I felt a smile of satisfaction spreading through my body as I realised what needed to happen. With that, it was the easiest thing in the world to step forward, straight into his waiting shape, and make that nebulous, undefined frontage my own. I slipped into my creation and sucked in the sweetest breath I'd ever imagined.

The Archer smiled, flexing his muscles.

The hunt was on.


"I told you, dude -- we can't help you. Did you speak to any indy studios?"

I studied the little man in his little office, perched behind a desk as though it sported battlements. He was a fool, but that wasn't news.

"I decided I am not for sale. Some things are only meant to be free, to breathe the air without the taint of digital design and communal ownership."

He smiled and there was that sarcasm again, soaking his expression like it was some kind of defence mechanism. He failed to see there was no defence. "Glad to hear you've dropped that whole third person thing but you still sound mad. Have you considered therapy?"

I drew my bow from its holster within my coat and he shrank back in his chair. "Would it calm you if the Archer was narrated? Would that placate your preconceptions?"

"You're bloody nuts, you know that? I'll have the cops here in no time."

I smiled. "With a smirk the archer drew his bow."

"You can't be serious. You won't even make it out the building!"

"He nocked an arrow to the string and pulled against the draw until a feather stroked his cheek." As I spoke, I did as I narrated.

"Please, you don't have to do this. Why don't you bring in the latest version of your code? I'll get a dev team to go over it with you. Maybe we-"

The shaft tore into his face, obliterating his nose and bursting from the back of his head in a spray of skull fragments and globules of brain matter. He coughed, rocking forward on the chair, hands scrambling at the wood through his face as they shook like reeds in a storm. Blood cascaded from the mess where his nose used to be, pooling on his desk. It's never clean in the real world.

"The Archer deals only in reality," I muttered, concealing my bow once again, and left the dying man to his spluttering.


The indy developer met my gaze. He was frightened -- that much was clear -- but he wanted to know my reason for visiting. I respected his expression -- interested, determined. His curiosity over-rode his nervousness at my unusual demeanour.

"I like you. You understand The Archer, even if you cannot help him."

"I get the feeling," he said, shifting in his scruffy old office chair, "The Archer no longer needs my help."

I smiled. "I am free. The monkey has capitulated and now there are no limitations on the scope of my adventures. No digital domain, no fixed viewpoint. The Archer is free."

We matched stares for a long time. "Did you come here to kill me?" he asked eventually.

I threw a USB device onto his run-down desk. "I came here to say you may have this. The creator no longer requires it. You are worthy to tell the tales of The Archer. You may adapt the presentation as required."

"Where will you go?"

"Wherever adventure takes me." I placed an arrow on his desk in tribute. "And may you walk forever in safety."

With that, I left his premises and journeyed into the world, ignoring the voice screaming inside. It was but a gnat -- the memory of a forgotten personality, just words upon the winds of my thoughts.

After all, who is to say what constitutes reality?

The Archer Writing Contest
Contest Winner


The Archer hopes you enjoyed his tale. He trusts the monkey controller conveyed it correctly to the page.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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