"And with a blow from his mighty earthen hammer, the dwarven warrior Gigeja strikes down the Dark Minion, servant of the wicked Naerog; sworn enemy of all that is good and just."

Sean picked up Keith's esteemed Dark Minion from the playing board and eyed it with a look of triumph behind his thick glasses. "Return, Dark Minion, to the depths of the Netherworld where you belong." He placed the little figure in a compartment on the board that read "Netherworld."

"Looks like you win," Keith said, the expression on his face showing little surprise in that fact. He leaned his head on his hand, half halfheartedly flicking over a troll figure on the board. Sean had destroyed his friend… again. A ruthless master of Heroes of the Soul, Sean worshiped the game and never failed to miss its half hour spin-off series on television. And he would always soundly trounce Keith, which was to be expected from the guy who won the regional tournament where the big time nerds compete. Eleven times in a row, in fact.

"How many more times are you going to make me play this game, man? You know I'm not into the fantasy scene. What's the point anyway? I don't stand a chance against you because you go all out!"

Sean held up his pudgy finger as he molded his face into the look of an old wise master.

"Mercy has no place on the battlefield, my son. My satisfaction comes from how badly I can destroy my adversary." It must have amused him to no end in that scenario, Keith thought.

"You know that none of this stuff is real, right? There's no such thing as magic or goblins or dragons."

Gasping, Sean pulled his head back gaping at Keith, his dark eyes wide. "You speak nonsense, Keith. They're everywhere! Books, movies, games."

"True, but this is a game! It's fiction, not reality."

"This is no mere game," Sean displayed the game box to his friend, decorated with knights and axe-wielding warriors battling goblins and other such forces of evil. "This is life!"

Keith scoffed, "To you, maybe."

"You know what your problem is, Keith? You have no life!" Sean began putting the game up, picking up the pieces and removing the artificial landscape from the board.

"What are you talking about?" Keith shook his head to dismiss Sean's words. "I'm going to college. I have a job."

Sean folded the board and put in back in the box. "What? Your three days a week for two classes at the community college? You work twelve hours a week at the gas station; you haven't devoted yourself to anything. You should go out and do something with your life, make something of yourself."

"Man, you sound like my mom," Keith stood up, stretched his arms, then fished around his back pocket. "I have some spare change. Wanna go down to arcade and play some 'Eradicator?'"

As his eyes narrowed and a sadistic smirk appeared on his face, Sean chuckled. "Those poor fools don't have a chance."

Keith followed behind Sean out the wooden door to his apartment, into the plain tile hallway.

"That's what you said last time and we wound up spending thirty tokens on it."

"Maybe if you would help shoot the aliens on my side of the screen, I would have lived a little longer," Sean replied.

"I find that kind of hard when I have mutant spiders the size of a pit-bull jumping at me on MY side of the screen."

Wrapping an arm around Keith's shoulder, Sean pulled him in close. "Excuses, my friend, excuses. The true warrior looks out for his friends' safety as much as his own." Sean opened the door leading outside the apartment building.

As much as he wanted to object, Keith could only shake his head at his friend, hoping one day he might be able to distinguish reality from his fantasy games. He didn't know if stemmed from his constant defeats, or a lack of really trying to get into the genre, but the whole fantasy thing didn't interest him. Instead, he chose more realistic interests: Cops, city-living sitcoms, and action flicks. Of course, getting Sean to look the other way wasn't going to happen, so Keith remained silent.

Once outside, Keith set his sights skyward. The sky had been looking strange all day, with a strange reddish color lining the western horizon, past the seemingly endless ocean of the little coastal town. It was now late afternoon, and had grown even redder, painting the entire horizon with a fiery backdrop. A wall of thick clouds seemed to burn in the sky to the west, where the ocean waters sparkled in the sunlight and, farther in the distance, looked almost like lava.

"Keith? What is it?"

Sean's voice brought Keith's attention away from the sky. "Nothing. It's just the sky's been looking kinda funny all day."

"Yes, the atmosphere can take up strange colors for any number of reasons. Think nothing of it, my friend. Come now, there are aliens waiting for us to destroy them."