Inside, the Tomb remains an exact replica of the D&D module, and Wade is thus able to dodge all the trapdoors hidden within it. He moves through each chamber of the dungeon, finding thousands of coins on the way. He picks them up and they are immediately converted into 20,000 credits, the most Wade has ever had. He receives an equal number of XPs through finding them, and he also finds magical items, such as a Flaming Sword, Ring of Protection, and Full Plate armor. Armed with these discoveries, he now feels invincible.
As soon as Wade gets the mere opportunity to compete in the hunt, his fortunes start to improve immediately. Finally, all the research he has done on Halliday and his obsessions is paying off, allowing him to dodge the trapdoors in the Tomb and stay alive. Furthermore, now that he is facing an actual quest, his XPs begin to skyrocket.
Everything continues to go smoothly until Wade reaches the Pillared Throne Room. To his surprise, Acererak is sitting in there. According to the D&D module, Acererak is not supposed to appear until a much deeper chamber. Wade knows that if they fight, he will be killed instantly. The OASIS does not allow users to save their place and log out, so his only choice is to face the demi-lich in this moment. If he is killed, he can return the next day, as the Tomb will be reset at midnight, OASIS time. Acererak greets Wade by his avatar’s name and asks what he seeks. Wade replies that he is seeking the Copper Key, and bows respectfully. Acererak assures him that he is in the right place, and then asks how he can know if Wade is worthy of possessing the Key.
Wade fears that he will have to face Acererak in battle, in which case he will simply have no chance of beating him, as there is such an extreme power differential between the two of them. However, Acererak’s question if Wade is “worthy” indicates that this is not simply going to be a showdown of might. Indeed, recall that “worthy” is the same phrase used in the first clue Halliday provided at the beginning of the hunt. It is becoming clear that winning the hunt is about more than possessing power alone.
Wade asks for the opportunity to prove his worth, and Acererak challenges him to a joust. Acererak’s throne instantly transforms into a coin-operated videogame cabinet featuring a 1982 game called Joust. Acererak explains that it will be best out of three; if Wade wins, he will receive the Copper Key, and if he loses, he will die. Joust is an arcade game in which both players ride birds—an ostrich and a stork—and joust each other, as well as enemy knights. It is one of Aech’s favorite games and there was a period when they played every day. Wade became so good that he would always beat Aech, but now he is “a lot rustier than I thought.”
Suddenly, it is revealed that Acererak is challenging Wade to a game within a game: not testing Wade’s OASIS skills, but rather his skills at vintage coin-operated videogames. Although this skill is a kind of power, it is a power that Wade possesses, because it is based in research, practice, and obsession. The fact that Wade developed his Joust skills with Aech shows that their friendship will help him succeed in the contest.
Acererak wins the first game, and the second gets off to a bad start for Wade. However, Wade then begins to learn Acererak’s “playing style,” which helps him. He notes that talented human players will always have an advantage over AI players in a game like Joust. Wade wins the second game just in the nick of time. The final game is the longest by far, but Wade eventually beats Acererak once again. They bow at one another, and to Wade’s surprise, Acererak transforms into Halliday’s avatar, Anorak.
Wade’s observation that human players will always have an advantage over artificial intelligence is important. While computers are in some was far more intelligent and skilled than the human mind, they have unique shortcomings. If humans exploit these shortcomings, then they can beat an AI opponent.
Suddenly “triumphant” music from the Star Wars soundtrack fills the room, and Anorak hands Wade the Copper Key. At the same moment, Wade gains 50,000 XPs, instantly raising his avatar to the 10th level. Anorak bids Wade farewell and disappears. There are two lines of text written on the key that read: “What you seek lies hidden in the trash on the deepest level of Daggorath.” Wade immediately knows that this refers to an old line of computers from the ‘70s and ‘80s, which included Halliday’s first computer, and that this computer must be the location of the First Gate.
Wade’s immediate jump from the 3rd to the 10th level demonstrates the extent to which he was an underdog whose success was extremely unlikely. On the other hand, the fact that he immediately knows what “the trash on the deepest level of Daggorath” refers to indicates that his powerful level of knowledge may be enough to guide him to victory.
Wade knows that he will find a replica of Halliday’s first computer in Middletown, the planet upon which Halliday recreated his childhood hometown. Dagorath, meanwhile is a word in J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented language Elvish, and “Daggorath” with two g’s must refer to the 1982 game Dungeons of Daggorath, which Halliday claims was the videogame that made him want to be a game designer. Middletown is far away on Sector 7, but Wade is now rich enough to teleport. There are eight hours until the next school day begins, and Wade knows he should sleep, but he also knows he won’t be able to. Just as he is sprinting out of the Tomb of Horrors, an avatar appears and begins to speak to him.
The detail that the school day starts in eight hours reminds readers that Wade is having to juggle the demands of searching for Halliday’s egg in addition to keeping up with the normal tasks of being an 18-year-old kid. At this point, it is unclear whether he will be able to carry on maintaining the life of an ordinary 18-year-old as the search for the egg becomes more and more intense.