The arrow sliced the air. The rabbit turned its head, eyes widening. Socrates sensed he aimed true—until the head of another wolf appeared, jaws reaching for the rabbit. Only the arrow, intended for the rabbit, sheared the wolf’s ear and landed point buried at the feet of the hare. The wolf yelped with pain.
Socrates cursed, as he reached for another arrow, fumbled it, and watched it land in the high grass.
Father rabbit disappeared into the trees.
The wolf snarled at Socrates. Glaring, she crouched as if gauging the distance to her new prey.
Drawing another arrow, Socrates’ hands shook. He suddenly felt a shortness of breath. The sun felt hotter. “Come on, breathe, breathe, breathe.” Repeating the word, he struggled to steady his limbs. The wolf’s calmness, as she stared balefully, sent a chill through his body. “You can do this. Take a breath. Hold, and…”
He released the arrow. The wolf leaped. The arrow missed badly. The wolf zigged and zagged, closing the distance. Socrates ran.
Placing the bow in an equipment slot, Socrates pumped his arms for greater speed. The grove was too spread out. The trees grew closer with each stride. His breath felt sharper as he pumped his arms. The fatigue bar was close to red lining, dropping below fifteen percent. When it did, he’d collapse and be wolf food.
His instincts screamed, ‘Dive!’ He tumbled right. The hair on the back of his neck tickled as he sensed then saw the wolf’s shadow rise over him. Its rear claws found purchase on his back, pushing off powerfully and leaving a searing line of pain. His roll became a sprawl, grass whipped sharply against his face and arms. Sweat slicked his back, enflaming from the wolf’s claws.
A message box appeared before his face, translucent so that he could see his surroundings through the text: “You’ve been clawed by a matron wolf avenging its mate. 8pts damage plus one bleed point per minute unless bound.” Socrates was suddenly reminded that he was inside a virtual world.
Dismissing the message, Socrates breathing slowed, readied to sprint, and froze. The heavy growl in the wolf’s throat left the man drained of energy. His arms hung at his sides as his breathing slowly settled.
This was it, Socrates thought. First death in the game. Too soon to earn the “undying” bonus for lasting three game weeks, as he’d only been fully immersed in this three-dimensional world for three hours.
A couple strides away, Socrates spotted trees with climbable branches. But they might as well be a hundred meters with the angry animal in his way. Socrates racked his brain for a solution, any option that could save him.
Suddenly, an idea came to him.
The wolf crouched, growling low in her throat.
The man reached into his inventory.
The wolf leaped.
Jaws closed toward Socrates’ head. He grunted with effort, shoving the bow into the wolf’s mouth, and used the animal’s momentum to push himself away.
Reaching the first tree, he gripped the rough bark and scrambled up the trunk to the first branches, the second, and finally the third. Sitting exhausted, he looked down at the wolf. It bounded from broken bow to the tree.
Socrates smiled in relief that he was safe for the moment. He’d wait until the wolf got tired and left. His smile froze with horror as the wolf leapt and scrambled onto the first branch. She stared at him, and then the next branch.
Socrates muttered, “No, no, no…”
The wolf leaped, scrabbled with its claws, and…
The wolf climbed to the second branch. She watched as the man raised his legs and stood. She seemed to grin with triumph and expectation.
Socrates’ heart sank.