As days went, this was a pretty nice one. The sun was bright but not hot, he was hanging out with the Hermits and they weren’t angry with him, and he was in no immediate danger. Stress had laid out some wool to serve as a picnic blanket, and they were all eating steak and chatting and watching Iskall and False practice their PVP skills on each other.
“Say, Ex, why don’t you ever participate in PVP?” asked Wels. “Seems like it’d be your kind of thing.”
Ex ignored the sudden nervous swooping feeling in his gut and shrugged his shoulders. “I just don’t, I guess.”
“Wanna give it a shot?” offered Iskall, leaning on his sword. “I think False is going to win if I keep fighting her, and my respawn is all the way back at my base.”
False nudged his shoulder. “You admitting defeat?”
“Not at all! It’s a tactical retreat.”
“No thanks,” said Ex.
“Aw, come on, it’s fun! Even Mumbo enjoys it, and he’s the worst there is.”
“I object to that statement,” said Mumbo, but everybody ignored him.
Iskall exchanged his sword for his bow and notched an arrow. “Just for a few minutes?”
Without warning, he let the arrow fly, and it wedged itself into Ex’s arm. Ex gasped and grabbed his arm, narrowing his eyes at Iskall, who only grinned and notched another arrow. Ex grabbed his sword and jumped behind a large rock just as Iskall shot the second arrow.
The other Hermits muttered excitedly, some even going so far as to whistle and clap.
Ex hunched down behind his rock, trying to strategize. He didn’t have a long-ranged weapon, only his sword, so Iskall had the upper hand. He needed to gain an advantage. Higher ground? That would only work if Iskall lost his bow.
Ex peered cautiously out from behind his rock, hoping to pinpoint Iskall’s location. Instead, he caught two arrows to the shoulder and ducked behind the rock again, cursing.
The cheers from the other Hermits made it a bit difficult to hear, but there were definitely footsteps coming his way.
Quick as a viper, Ex leapt out from behind the rock and struck a blow to Iskall’s chest with his sword. Iskall stumbled backwards, but only for a moment. Before Ex could take cover behind the rock, Iskall swung his sword, forcing Ex to retreat into the center of the clearing.
There was no cover. All he could do was dodge and weave, but that wasn’t enough: Iskall got one amazing hit on Ex’s torso, then on his sword arm. Ex’s sword fell uselessly to the ground. Ex himself wasn’t far behind.
He was at two hearts. Above him, Iskall grinned victoriously, preparing to deliver the final blow. This was it for him - this was permadeath. Ex wasn’t a real player, he was an accident, a void creature; there was no respawn for him.
Ex closed his eyes and rested his head against the dirt.
Ex opened his eyes again to find Xisuma running toward them, helmet in hand and a horrified expression on his face.
“Xisuma?” said Iskall. “I thought you were doing admin stuff today?”
Xisuma completely ignored his question. “What are you doing?”
“Relax, dude, it’s just some friendly PVP.”
“He’s almost dead!”
“I mean, his respawn point might be far from here, but otherwise, what’s the worst that could hap-”
“He doesn’t have a respawn point,” Xisuma shouted. “He’s not a player! When he dies, it’s permadeath!”
All of the colour drained from Iskall’s face; even his diamond eye seemed paler. His sword dropped to the dirt at his feet. “But…”
This was it, then. They knew. They weren’t going to waste any time, now that they knew there was a way to get rid of him permanently. He tried to relax his body; it would hurt worse if he was tense.
“Someone get me a regen potion,” said Xisuma.
That took a few seconds to comprehend. A regen potion? Were they going to bring him back up to full health, only to prolong his agony? He hadn’t thought Xisuma would be that cruel.
“I’ve got two, but they aren’t splash potions,” said Stress.
“That’ll have to do.” Xisuma took one of the potions and kneeled down next to Ex. “Can you drink?”
“I’ve got an arrow in one arm and a giant sword wound in the other.”
Xisuma nodded like he’d expected that answer. “Iskall, can you help him sit up?”
Iskall also kneeled down and maneuvered Ex so that his head was propped up on Iskall’s knees. Xisuma removed the cork from the potion bottle and helped Ex drink it.
He began to feel its effects almost immediately. The wounds in his torso and sword arm shrank enough that he was no longer losing unsustainable amounts of blood. The pain eased. He couldn’t help but close his eyes and sigh in relief.
“Iskall, help me get those arrows out of his shoulder while the potion’s still in effect.”
A sharp, tight pain twinged in his shoulder once, then again. The potion took care of his shoulder, too, once the arrows were gone. That left only his arm, and then someone - Xisuma? - pulled out that arrow, too, and the potion encompassed him completely. His eyes were heavy and his head was cottony.
“Let him sleep, he needs the rest,” someone said, and Ex drifted away to tranquility.
He didn’t want to open his eyes. He could tell that his wounds had healed, but phantom pains still lingered, and he felt like if he opened his eyes and looked at his scars the pain would be worse.
“Ex? You awake?”
He sighed. “No.”
Xisuma chuckled. “Did you sleep well?”
“Does it matter?”
Xisuma’s voice seemed taken-aback. “Of course it matters.”
“Why? I’m just going to die anyway.”
Ex opened his eyes. He was in a bed inside a hastily constructed tent made out of wool. Xisuma was sitting on a chair next to his bed, looking sticken.
“Well, you’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”
“What?” Xisuma exclaimed again.
“You know I don’t respawn, so you’re going to kill me now. I don’t know why you bothered to keep me around, because apparently you’ve known for a while, but -”
“What are you talking about? I’m not going to kill you!”
It was Ex’s turn to be confused. “Why not?”
Xisuma stood up. “Why not?” He shoved his hands into his hair, apparently incredibly distressed. “Why not? Ex, I’m not going to condemn my own friend to permadeath!”
Ex clenched his fingers in his blanket and stared, wide-eyed, at Xisuma. “I’m… I’m your friend?”
Xisuma dropped back onto his chair. “You didn’t know?”
“Why - what reason could you possibly have to consider me your friend?”
Xisuma threw his hands up in their air. “I dunno, you haven’t tried to destroy the server in a while, you hang around a lot, I enjoy your company?”
“But - the other Hermits -”
“They think of you as a friend, too, Ex. You should have seen Iskall’s face right before you fell asleep. He thought you were dying despite the potion and he thought it was his fault. He’s been sitting outside waiting for you to wake up this whole time.”
“He’s worried about me?”
“We all are.”
“I… I thought you all hated me. I thought if you knew I couldn’t respawn, you’d kill me as fast as you could just to get rid of me. I thought everyone would forget I’d ever existed and be happier for it.”
“Oh, Ex, no.” Xisuma leaned in and put his hand on Ex’s shoulder. “We could never be happier without you. We’re a family, and you’re part of it.”
His eyes burned. Something wet rolled down his cheek, and Ex was shocked to find that he was crying.
“Hey, hey now -” Xisuma wrapped his arms around Ex and Ex leaned his forehead on Xisuma’s shoulder. Ex’s own shoulders were shaking with silent sobs. “Shhh, you’re okay.”
Some time later, Ex drew back, wiping his eyes. It was only then that he noticed his helmet was missing, and he spotted it on the floor at the foot of the bed.
“Do you want to rest in here for a while or do you feel up to heading back home?” Xisuma asked gently.
“I - I think I’d like to go back home.” He pushed the blanket back and climbed out of bed. He eyed his helmet, wondering whether or not he should put it back on. He decided against it. He’d always used it as a barrier between him and the world; he didn’t need that anymore.
Ex and Xisuma left the tent side by side. Iskall was sitting just outside the tent, and scrambled to meet them. He threw his arms around Ex, laughing. “Ex! You’re okay!”
Ex smiled and couldn’t help but hug back. “Yeah. I’m okay.”