(For first-time readers, see Chapter 1)
The first thing I noticed was me lying facedown on hard, cold stone. Then the darkness struck me. It was much darker than it should have been. I was completely confused. Where was I? And what had happened?
“Get up.” A deep, male voice speaking with a stern tone interrupted my thinking.
The simple words confused me even more. I started to look around and noticed that I was lying in the small chamber I thought to be part of a virtual library. Three torches, one mounted on each wall, were the sources of the dim light. Of course they couldn’t compete with the artificial light I had been enjoying just seconds ago. It all seemed very real to me. However, I couldn’t make out where the voice was coming from.
“Get up, please.” The voice stressed the last word and sounded increasingly annoyed with my inability to follow a basic command.
I finally managed to push myself up and allowed my eyes to get used to the new surroundings.
“Welcome.” The surprises kept coming. This one word, the only word I had deciphered on the scroll seconds ago, was uttered by a female voice.
Finally, they stepped into the light. Standing at the foot of the stairs at the entrance of the chambers were two characters I had seen so many times before. My own character stood closer to me, not anymore dressed in the festive clothes I had equipped him with the night before. This time he was the imposing figure I had always envisioned him to be. His dark plate armor made him seem a foot taller than he actually was and the one-handed sword by his side looked like it could split a fly in half. There was one big difference to my version of him: his hair was blonde.
Standing slightly behind him was a young woman in midnight blue robes. She wasn’t carrying a weapon, but that didn’t mean anything. Her oval face was framed by flaming red hair and her hazel eyes were now staring at me curiously. In the game she was a powerful sorceress who sent you out on quests and errands. And she saved the day when you as a player had failed. Right now, she was very successful in making me nervous.
Seeing her and a form of my own character standing a few feet away from me probably was the most exciting and troubling moment of my life.
“Where am I? Am I dreaming?”
The sorceress smiled at me. “Where do you think you are?”
I thought I was in the world of the game I spent the last two years playing to escape from reality. It seemed like it was a dream come true. Of course I wasn’t quite sure if I really wasn’t dreaming. But I didn’t say anything.
The armored warrior grew impatient once more. “Mylady, we shouldn’t keep her waiting..
My mind was racing. What were they going to do with me? If they would have wanted to kill me, I wouldn’t have survived the first thirty seconds. Were they here to give that dubious honor to someone else? Why was I here? And what exactly had happened?
The lady nodded slightly in his direction and continued to address me:
“Before we make haste, let me introduce my companion and myself. The man to my right is Laurenar Oruin, Knight of Illusio and Protector of the Portal. You are advised to follow his guidance as often and swiftly as possible. My name is Seraphina and that is all you need to know about me for the time being.”
I wanted to introduce myself, but before I could say anything, Laurenar cut in: “We know who you are. Take this and follow us.”
He handed me a long black cloak to conceal the clothes I was wearing. Pyjamas didn’t really fit the dress code. Taking Seraphina’s advice, I flung the cloak over my shoulders and followed them as they began to ascend the stairs to the main room of the library. Hanging a few steps back, I took the opportunity to make sure I wasn’t dreaming by slapping myself. A burning sensation on my cheek later it seemed as if this was really happening. I could only try to make the best of it.
We quickly made our way through the library. Seeing it in person was even more impressive than seeing the animated version on-screen. Only there was no time to explore the room filled with books and scrolls. We exited the library and stepped into the streets of the city. They were lined with dark blue flags adorned with a silver lion’s fierce head. I always found it interesting how many cities, countries and organizations used the lion as their logo. But then again, the king of the jungle definitely projects more power and grace than other animals. Laurenar was carrying a torch and helped us navigate through the empty and dark alleys of the city. No one but us was on the streets at this time of the night. Only a handful of stray cats crossed our paths. The darkness rendered my attempts at discovering more useless. I had no idea where we were going, so I tried to recall a map of the city in my head.
In the game, the city was a circular construction built around the central square with four main roads leading north, east, south and west. The North road ended at the sea. The South road led to the main gate. The western gate was known as the Merchant gate while the eastern gate was known as the Gate of Glory. It was there where the queen had fought and won her battle for the throne, assisted by thousands of players during the launch event of the game. I remember being part of the event, playing with others to defeat a mutual foe in the pursuit of digital riches. It was the event that led me to spend countless hours of my formative years in Illusio.
The library was located near the central square in the southwest quarter of the city. The quarter was the home of knowledge and magic. Aspiring mages and sorceresses were being trained in the appropriately named academy of the arts. The buildings of the academy surrounded an enormous aspen tree. But at that moment, we didn’t stop to admire the revered plant and continued on to the North road. To the west of the North road lay the trade district. It was home to all kinds of people and tradesmen ranging from potion-making alchemists to hate-spewing zealots. After walking a few hundred meters on the road, Laurenar and Seraphina turned right. We entered the northeast quarter of the city: the Lion’s Den.
Clearly the most affluent city district, it was home to the rulers of Illusio. However, the magnificent city houses of lesser lords, council wizards and high-ranking knights paled in comparison to the building in the most northeastern corner of the city and district. Overlooking the wild sea to the one side and the city on the other sat the Lion’s Den, the home of the queen. A grand palace made of white marble, it managed to brighten even the darkest night. It featured two wings flanked by slim, round guard towers with cone-shaped roofs. The wings were three stories high and identical. Large, round windows which were not visible at night as dark blue curtains protected the inhabitants from unwanted attention. Connecting the two wings and acting simultaneously as an entrance and a warning was the huge jaw of a roaring lion. It was a masterpiece of architecture. Hundreds of tiny sapphires formed the eyes and a patch of black metal unknown to me acted as the nose. It seemed to be the same material Laurenar used for his armor. The teeth were extremely sharp and dangerous. In case of an emergency, they could be released to crush the foes or intruders beneath. In place of a tongue were stairs leading up a round mahogany door guarded two warriors in silver armor.
I had been in the palace in-game, but seeing its stunning beauty in front of me made me stop in my steps.
Seraphina turned around and smiled encouragingly.
“Come. The queen awaits us.”
This is chapter 2 of “An elusive hero”. Please let me know what you think about the story so far. I’m really grateful for any kind of constructive criticism so don’t be a stranger. You can either leave a comment below, write me an e-mail or connect on twitter @AlbertGubler.
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In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and I’ll be back on Monday with the first installment of “Mountains and more”.