Loki stood next to the ominous glowing portal and went down his mental preparation checklist one last time.
Fraps, his trusty floating holorecorder set to livestream his adventures? Check.
Fire resist gear? Check.
Elemental resistance aura? Check.
Improved Shroud of Invisibility? Check.
Flasks, potions and traps? Check.
He turned towards Fraps and grinned. "... and action!"
He walked into the portal and the world around him shimmered until it took the shape of a giant cavern. Immediately, he was struck by the acrid smell of smoke and a massive wave of heat. Fafnir had a well-deserved reputation as the most difficulty dungeon designer in the World of Yggdrasil community, making him both loved and reviled by the playerbase. Loki personally wasn't a fan. The man was a one-trick pony who lacked even the slightest touch of subtlety. If you could pass the gear check and dodge the fire (or poison or ice or whatever struck Fafnir's fancy), you beat the dungeon. So as Loki predicted, the first challenge to Fafnir's latest masterpiece would be acquiring maximum fire resistance gear.
As he wiped the sweat from his face, Loki cursed Thor for the millionth time for talking him into rolling a Hardcore difficulty toon. Most players who weren't his insane brother rightly chose the Normal difficulty, where virtual environmental damage had no physical effects on the players themselves. Hardcore players however, were hooked up to special sensory contraptions that conveyed every bit of discomfort and pain to the real world as well. It was still imaginary, of course, and any pain inflicted would be toned down to manageable levels for the player's protection. Loki thankfully was not sweating onto his designer-brand gaming chair in real life, though his brain had been tricked into thinking so. Every controller device also had a fail-safe that disabled sensory output before actual character death occurs. Still, every once in awhile, stories would float around about a Hardcore player whose mind simply shut down in response to a particularly gruesome in-game death. Tempest Entertainment would always deny the news with a neutrally-worded press release, but they did not actively discourage the rumours. That bit of morbidity was what ultimately gave the best players risking it all the glamour, fame and endorsement deals that was out-of-reach for the average gamer. It was what elevated World of Yggdrasil from just another Virtual Reality MMO to a wildly popular spectator eSport.
Safely hidden within his Improved Shroud of Invisibility, which made him undetectable by both sight and smell, Loki gestured for Fraps to give him his close-up. "Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared for the World First Solo attempt of Dragon Soul! We're already off to a promising start. Fafnir's so worried that I wouldn't break a sweat that he artificially increased the heat levels just for me!"
Loki elevated himself with a Levitation spell to avoid ground traps, and snuck onward past fearsome half-dragon, half-men abominations and packs of poison-spewing dragon whelplings. Some of the corridors were so narrow that he was forced to shapeshift into a snake and slither past the hostile enemies standing guard. Loki knew there would be inevitable criticism of his decision to shapeshift back and forth, consuming valuable mana in the process. Not to mention the flamewars over the best shapeshift choice for the occasion. More than the praise and the money, being able to rile people up was what Loki enjoyed the most by broadcasting his exploits.
At last, he reached the final chamber of the dragon. Still shrouded, he carefully placed traps all around the sleeping beast in strategic places. The claustrophobic design of this dungeon was almost surely intended to incite panic in the player's mind. A panicked player with a giant dragon breathing in his or her face with only the thinnest margins to move would be a panicked player who made a mistake. And in any dungeon of Fafnir's, a single mistake resulted in certain death. Loki, however, quickly saw the potential in taking advantage of the dragon's lack of mobility to lead it into a death trap.
With a dramatic flourish, Loki removed the Shroud that kept him from detection. Fraps immediately moved to the ceiling where it was provided with an electronic hookup to all the other recording devices in the dungeon as well as a small pocket of immunity afforded to all officially sanctioned holorecorders.
The dragon sensed its prey and roared. Already, it began to take damage from the various traps that Loki had laid down, making it angrier and angrier as he chased Loki around the room, breathing fire and summoning whelplings. Just when it seemed as though he would be overwhelmed, Loki equipped his Staff of Mind Control and cast it in the direction of the whelpings. The dragon screamed this time as its own minions began attacking it.
"And now for the grand finale!" announced Loki, as the number of visitors to his livestream finally hit the dramatic number he had hoped for. He turned and ran towards the pillar where he'd placed the Legendary level Immolation Trap. Widely regarded as a useless trap that required its prey to stand in place while taking damage, no one bothered with the cost of crafting one, which meant that Loki had obtained it at a bargain.
Loki's figure danced playfully around the dragon's snapping jaws, laughing and taunting it. Then the unthinkable: he tripped. Instantly, the dragon's teeth sank into his body. It shook its head and tore at the flesh with glee, spilling intestines and blood all over the floor. A hushed silence fell over the chambers. The dragon looked around, as though it was confused over why its health and position hadn't automatically reset with its victory. Lacking alternate plans, it nipped some more at the tattered corpse in front of it in hopes of making it more dead than it already was.
By the time the dragon realized that its own health had continued to dip while it stood on the Immolation Trap, it was already too late.
CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE DEFEATED THE DRAGON SOUL INSTANCE!
"Yess!" Loki promptly shapeshifted from a tiny fly on the wall back to his human form and cheered as the victory message greeted him. He summoned Fraps back to him for a dramatic kill picture and waved to his viewers. "And that is why Mirror Image is the greatest mage talent ever."
BEFORE YOU ENJOY YOUR VICTORY, I HOPE YOU ARE READY TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF KILLING THE LAIR'S MASTER.
Loki blinked. Well, that was an unusual follow-up to defeating a dungeon.
YOU HAVE CLEARED THE TRASH PACKS BEFORE KILLING THE BOSS, HAVEN'T YOU?
Fafnir. The man clearly could not take his brand new instance being solo'ed within days of its release and was now unleashing an unscripted revenge. Loki tensed up and prepared for battle as thundering steps approached closer and closer. Now this would actually be a challenge.
What burst forth from the narrow corridor was not a giant pack of dragons or other such creatures, however. Instead, it was Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three. Loki grimaced. He had a feeling that he would prefer being devoured alive by a thousand dragon whelplings rather than face the lecture from that group. At least Thor hadn't brought his friends from his new guild, The Avengers. Loki was thankful for small favours.
"Loki!" Bleeding and burned, Thor stumbled towards his little brother. Loki blinked at the severity of the wounds. Surely not even Thor was idiotic enough to try and attack this place without any fire resist!
"Thor, you're hurt. What were you thinking?!" Loki temporarily forgot to be annoyed with Thor and immediately began casting healing spells on his brother's wounds.
Then he was lifted into Thor's arms in a crushing embrace. "Loki. You're alive!"
"We had come to avenge you!" said Sif with a look that promised that he would pay for this later when she was no longer relieved at his status as one of the virtually living.
"Thor, I wouldn't have come if I wasn't promised the pleasure of seeing Loki's defeat. You owe us for this one!" Never one to leave an opening untaken (in more ways than one if Loki were the type to be crude), Fandral was happy to make the obvious joke.
A thousand sarcastic rejoinders came to mind, but Thor was running his fingers through Loki's hair and gently stroking his back and Loki found himself uncharacteristically lost for words. He should probably say something to defuse this needless sentimental moment before Thor realized how much of a soft spot Loki had for him. Instead, Loki sighed and leaned into the touch because Thor really was very good at this hugging business. It wasn't until Hogun coughed awkwardly that Thor pulled away and Loki finally found his voice.
"Thor, didn't you have a raid with the Avengers tonight? Something about a radioactive wolf in Midgard?"
"I thought you had been killed!"
"You do realize I wouldn't actually be dead even if I were defeated here, don't you?"
"We will speak more of this when we are home," replied Thor gruffly, suddenly avoiding eye contact.
Loki frowned. Unfortunately, when Thor was feeling reticent, there would be nothing to get out of him until they had an in-person conversation. He began to teleport home when Sif tapped him on his shoulders. "Mage portal?"
He sighed and grudgingly cast the portal to Asgard. "I'm not just a walking, talking Bifrost, you know! Next time, you can ask Heimdall for a ride like everyone else."
It wasn't until Loki reached his home on the planet Asgard that he spotted his faithful, hovering holorecorder floating onto his bookshelf and turning itself off. He closed his eyes and groaned. He never turned Fraps off after his kill! The entire world had just seen Thor rush to Loki's rescue, and what should have been Loki's moment of triumph would now be nothing more than a footnote in the story of Thor defeating the toughest dungeon completely undergeared just to avenge his little brother. The media always did prefer stories of noble heroes rather than tricksters. Maybe if he was lucky, there would be a thread or two debating whether he was exploiting the game or whether it was simply creative use of game mechanics.
Loki disconnected himself from the game world and stretched his arms and legs. His own room was dull and grey in comparison to the splendour of Asgard, and he never did like to stay in it for long. Still, Thor was a bit of a traditionalist, and preferred conversations in-person when he could. Loki had the sinking feeling that the lecture he thought he had avoided had simply been postponed.