Chapter 21: The Ride

You can read the first twenty chapters here.

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Like Seraphina had said, we left the little, nameless village just as the sun was rising over the horizon. I was sitting on a horse with Michelle and holding on tight. It was the first time on a horse for me. We quickly made haste, riding out on the main road. After passing the meadow I had trained on we made a sharp cut into the surrounding forests. Our horses settled into a rhythm, a soft trot. Drake, who had been briefed by Seraphina earlier, rode at the front and Tyler covered our rear. Seraphina travelled next to us. I studied her from my uncomfortable position behind Michelle. Her expression was focused and she was observing everything. She was making mental notes of everything we passed. Roots and Weeds were classified as poisonous or useless, trees were seen as empty or dangerous and animals were either ignored or avoided.

I concentrated on not falling off the horse, but Michelle was an excellent rider. She held total control over the animal, whispering soft commands in its ears. The horse, a dark-haired mare, swiftly followed suit. Sitting behind her gave me the time to think about the rest of our mission. My shoulder still hurt and Seraphina had instructed me to practice moving my aching limbs as often as possible. But travelling at this speed made it more difficult than she had anticipated. So my mind wandered.

Was Laurenar still alive? Or had he been tortured and killed? Where had they brought him? And what would they do to him? Maybe they had brainwashed and turned him?
I wiped away the depressing thoughts by closing my eyes and listening to my surroundings. The only sounds I heard were the hooves of our horses hitting the ground.

I looked over to Seraphina again, who was smiling knowingly. She left our side and rode forward to Drake. The former captain was busy navigating us through the trees. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about; it ended with Drake nodded vigorously.

The forest was not particularly dense, so all of our horses could pass through gaps with ease. But the trees were tall and their crowns full of healthy, green leaves, shielding us from the burning sun. It had been March on Earth when I had left, but here it seemed to be summer, maybe early June or whatever equivalent they used on Illusio. At sea, I hadn’t noticed the temperatures thanks to the cool sea breeze, but now I felt glad for the shade the forest provided.

Seraphina fell back to the rear and exchanged some words with Tyler. The gaps in the trees widened now and we were about to leave the forest. My sense of time was terrible, but I felt we had probably ridden for about an hour. It was getting brighter and my eyes needed a moment to adjust to the additional light. Drake, seeing the last trees of the forest, accelerated, with Seraphina and Michelle following close behind. I held on tight as our mare started to gallop.

We found ourselves on a tiny dirt road. The road probably circled the whole forest, allowing villagers to avoid the dangers and darkness lurking within. The five of us rode north, with the forest on our right and a beautiful field of red and yellow tulips going on for as far as we could see on our left. Their sweet, light scent filled the air as the red-haired sorceress rode up close to Michelle and I.

“They’re following us. But they’re more than the two I expected.”

She spoke very quietly and with supreme confidence in her words. She had spent the whole time in the forests trying to find out how many enemies we had on our trail. Seraphina continued.

“At least one of them continued on the road, when we turned into the forest. Two of them, maybe three, followed us through the forest. They haven’t planned anything yet and have stayed back far enough not to come into view.”

“How can you be sure?” I looked at her surprised at how she had gathered all this information.

She smiled at me. “I have my ways and means.”

With those words she galloped forward to Drake, presumably to discuss the next steps of our route. I had known that she was a powerful sorceress, but I thought her expertise was in fire magic, just as the Queen had power over water. Then again, I understood nearly nothing about the magic in this world. Even playing the online version of this world I had focused on being a fierce warrior rather than an intelligent wizard. Somehow I wished I hadn’t.

We continued on the road and I still couldn’t see a trace of our followers. The sun was shining down on us and I felt hot in the leather armor designed to protect me. It was a pleasant enough journey. Had we not been on a rescue mission I would have enjoyed discovering Illusio’s countryside. The field of tulips seemed endless. We continued by the flowers.

“What do you think will happen next?”

I whispered into Michelle’s ear, carefully studying the movements of Seraphina and Drake at the front.

She shrugged. “We’ll keep on riding until our followers have nowhere to go.”

I nodded, but in the front, Seraphina and Drake abruptly came to a halt. The field of tulips was coming to an end and the road made a sharp left. And unlike what we had anticipated, the road ahead wasn’t empty. Five figures, glad in grey clothing were standing in the middle of the road. They had seen us, but hadn’t made any motion of coming closer. Seraphina turned her horse around and rode back towards Tyler, only to stop as well. Behind us, still a few hundred meters away, three riders emerged from the forest.

The sorceress rode back to our side. “Well, we better hope those figures up ahead are just normal bandits.”

We continued on, speeding up the rhythm of our trot. We got closer, still hoping these bandits would let us pass without too much of a fight. But our hopes were not fulfilled. The moment we got in range, the five figures, three men and two men, got in position. Two of them were kneeling on the ground, with the other tree taking cover behind a makeshift barricade. Seraphina and Drake were now riding directly in front of Michelle and Me, with Tyler sitting next to us. The riders at our back had broken into a gallop, catching up quickly.

All of the figures had crossbows pointed directly at us.

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“An Elusive Hero” continues! Thank you very much for reading so far. As always, I’m very happy to hear feedback, so let me know by mail, comment or on twitter.

Please like, share and subscribe!

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 20: The Plan

The story so far can be found on the page titled “An Elusive Hero“.

The sun was slowly descending as I was putting the finishing touches on my second day of training with Michelle. Again, the endurance potion had helped me push my efforts further. I ignored the cries of my aching body to stop, instead trying to accelerate even in what seemed to my millionth sprint that day. Michelle looked at me and seemed content with my days work.

Her training had consisted of two parts. The whole morning she had shown me various difficult stretches for my arm to perform, hoping to extend the range of motion in my shoulder. This had been far more painful than I anticipated. But it worked. At noon, I was able to lift my arm higher than a 45-degree angle again. Still not enough to block an incoming attack, but it was a noticeable improvement.

She decided that further work would only lead to more soreness in my arm and focused on getting my quickness up to speed after. The drills we did reminded me of my gym class on planet Earth. I had loved the class, but hated running without purpose. This was entirely different. We ran for hours and I followed every one of her steps diligently until I was completely exhausted. The sweat was running down my forehead as I collapsed into the meadow we had flattened over the course of the day. Michelle sat down next to me and looked at me with a pleased smile on her face:

“You’re making good progress. How do you feel?”

My thoughts wandered to Laurenar and the fact we had no idea what exactly we were to do tomorrow.

“Worried.”

I stared straight ahead at the village we had set up camp in. It was a little fishing village, close to the shore. We could see the beach in the background, with the waves slowly flowing against the sand, hour after hour, day after day. I had spent all my time in Illusio close to the sea. The next step of my journey would take me into the heart of the continent. With the sun setting, activity was low, with most inhabitants sitting inside after a hard day’s labor. Only one or two persons remained outside. I decided to ask Michelle a question I had been wondering about:

“Why are you coming with us? I mean, you don’t really have to help me. You could report back to Queen Sophia and be reassigned.”

Michelle stared at me in surprise. It took a moment for her to gather her thoughts, before she slowly shook her head.

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world.” She then looked directly into my eyes and I noticed how sadness crept into her expression. “We were supposed to protect and help you succeed in your mission. A lot of my friends died on the way here. And I think, I think we just want to make sure it wasn’t for nothing.”

Michelle sobbed quietly. I knew she was right. They had been ordered to help me. They had seen their friends die for my cause. And here I was, clueless as before, not sure where to start the search for one of my companions, who was taken while protecting me.

I felt the weight of the world slowly coming down on me. The pace of my breathing quickened and I thought I was going to have a full-blown panic attack, when I saw Seraphina walking towards us. Something seemed different than the days before.

She was standing straight and every step she took was measured and controlled. Her flowing red mane was bound together at the back, while her white robes looked pristine. Seraphina was oozing confidence. I glanced over to Michelle, who wiped away her tears and got to her feet. She was as startled as I was.

“Good Evening.” Seraphina eyed me suspiciously. Michelle was still teary and I was exhausted. Tired from training all day long. And drained from finally realizing what was at stake. “Follow me.”

She walked down to the little hut where I had been recovering, not speaking a word or acknowledging the activities of the day. We just walked down to find Tyler and Drake waiting for us, sitting at a table full of fruits and vegetables. Seraphina motioned us to sit down and eat. I collapsed into the chair, fully expecting to relax, while the sorceress took command again effortlessly. I could see what she had meant with recharging her energy.

“Good, now that you’re all here, we will discuss our preparations and the plan for the next stage of the journey. First of all, the logistics. We have four horses and enough food for a week. If we ration it and hunt every second day, it should even last longer.”

Tyler smiled at the mention of hunting. Seraphina continued. “We have herbs for basic medicine and about two weeks’ worth of endurance potion. Every one of you is equipped with your weapon of choice. Correct?”

Everyone around me nodded. “Good.  Now, this is what we are going to do.”

Now she was looking directly at me. “We will ride tomorrow at dawn. We will take a route leading through the surrounding forests, away from the sea. The enemy has been watching us since we arrived here. I’ve counted two spies tracking our every move. There can only be two reasons why they haven’t attacked during our stay. They are either distracted or not strong enough. We will ride through the forests, making it look like we’re heading for the villages where discontent is growing. They should keep on following us. When the time is right, we’ll turn the tables. With the element of surprise and as long as we are not caught out in the open, we should be able to overcome the spies. After that, they should be more than capable of leading us to Laurenar.”

Drake and Tyler were smiling. I could see they approved the plan wholeheartedly. Michelle nodded, while I thought it through. Without any tangible clues of Laurenar’s whereabouts, it did seem like a plan that could work. But she was wrong in one point. Maybe they hadn’t attacked yet because they knew we were coming.

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Thank you very much for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far. “An Elusive Hero”, the story (not the blog!) is taking a two-week break now, so I can edit the chapters I’ve written so far and put them together a bit smoother. So this is the perfect time to catch up if you’ve skipped certain chapters! The story will continue on October 25.

Please also like, share and subscribe!

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 19: Preparations

Chapter 1 – 18 can be found under “An Elusive Hero“.

Making the decision to save Laurenar had cost me more strength than I had anticipated. I faded away into a dreamless, four-hour long sleep straight away.

When I opened my eyes, I immediately had to get used to the unexpected brightness in my little cot. Seraphina had finally opened the curtains shielding me from sunlight. I looked at her closely. She still looked tired, but her eyes showed a cool sense of determination. It was clear she had used the last few hours I slept to prepare a plan.

“Good afternoon. It’s time for you to start moving. Michelle is waiting for you outside. She will start to get you ready for our journey.”

I nodded slightly. “What have you come up with?”

“Tyler and Drake are out hunting and gathering herbs for the trip. You still need to drink a potion every few hours. But you’re free to walk under the sun now. I’m heading out to the nearest farm to buy horses for our trip.”

“Do you know where we’ll be going?”

She shook her head slowly, but added quickly: “We’ll be riding into the continent, away from this dreaded sea. First, we’ll head to the villages where support for the Queen has started to wane and move our way forward from there.”

Seraphina hesitated for a moment. “Also, we still believe you are the ultimate goal and that the enemy might return for you.”

This information took me by surprise and I wasn’t sure it was true. The first attack on the Lion’s Den was aimed at the Queen and not at me directly. It would have been much easier to plan the bomb right under my window instead of in the courtyard fountain. I could have been the initial target of this recent attack, but after all I was travelling with two of Queen Sophia’s most trusted advisors. The enemy must have been grateful to get hold of at least one of us. I decided to keep my thoughts to myself and nodded.

“I’ll head out to Michelle right away.”

Seraphina smiled kindly. “Don’t exaggerate. We can’t have you knocked out for another day.”

She turned around and left the room to finish her task. I sat up in my bed and looked around my sparse surroundings. On the table next to me I could find a loaf of bread and two glasses, one containing a green liquid and the other one filled with water. A card was placed neatly beneath the plate. “Eat and Drink.”

While having my breakfast (or lunch) my mind finally focused on my body. This was the first time I had been awake by myself without a discussion to distract me from my physical condition. My shoulder was still wrapped in bandages, trying to stabilize my movement. I lifted my arms a few time, but my range of motion had been heavily impacted. A grumbling from my stomach reminded me to finish the loaf of bread. I felt a lot lighter than before. Luckily, my body temperature was normal and I wasn’t suffering from a fever anymore. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the bed. The first steps were difficult, with me needing to hold on the wall, but with every step I grew more in confidence.

I moved out of the cabin into the sunlight to see Michelle shooting a bow at a target with unerring precision. She was a young woman, closer to twenty than thirty, and it was clear that she had been trained from a young age. I watched her fire three arrows at the center of her target before I spoke up:

“Seraphina told me you’d get me ready for the journey.”

Michelle turned around and blew a strand of hair away from her face. Her normally short, auburn hair had grown a bit during the course of the journey and she wasn’t used to having her eyesight being impaired by it. “Good afternoon. How are you feeling?”

The fresh air made me feel ever more confident than before. “As good as new.”

She chuckled. “We’ll see about that. We have two, no, one-and-a-half days to get you ready for travel. But we’ll be continuing to work during the journey. Did you drink the green liquid I gave you?”

“Yes. What was it?”

“The poison left your body. So Tyler used some of the ingredients to prepare some potions to enhance your endurance. You won’t tire as quickly. I assume you’ll be taking that potion for at least the first leg of our journey.”

I nodded. That explained why the short walk from my cabin to this training ground hadn’t fatigued me at all. Michelle looked at my body intently one more time: “We have two goals today and tomorrow. Improve your range of motion in your arm and to make you faster. Follow me!”

She then took off running towards a flat, green meadow. I tried catching up with her, but I never did. Every time I got close, it seemed she shifted into another gear and pulled away ahead. We spent quite a time running circles around the meadows, with her pushing me to catch up to her, to get faster. The endurance potion was working perfectly. I didn’t feel the ill effects of running until Drake, Tyler and Seraphina joined us. But then it hit me all at once and I almost collapsed, gasping for air frantically. My four companions started laughing.

“One of great drawbacks of endurance potions. You never know when they lose their effect. Many great warriors have fallen because they suddenly couldn’t hold their sword in battle anymore.” Drake explained.

“The another one is that they’re just very difficult and expensive to make.” Tyler said with a confident smile.

“Were you successful?” Michelle looked at her two former crewmates, who were now acting as a rescue party for Laurenar.

“Somewhat. We got some boar meat and stocked up on ingredients for the antidote. No luck with herbs for another batch of endurance potions however.”

Tyler nodded. “I found the nightshade for the endurance potion on the island.”

“The horses are waiting by the farmers. We’ll be able to get them when we’re ready. I also managed to get some carrots and turnips for the trip. I will need to recharge my energy now until tomorrow evening, when we’ll come up with the first steps of our plan. You should all get some rest as well.”

We followed Seraphina back to the village, where Seraphina disappeared very quickly. I had no idea where she had gone and the others gave no indication that they would tell me. Drake and Tyler were discussing their plans for the next day, when they planned to make sure our weapons were in mint condition. The former captain of the Crimson Crocodile had fought off the pirates with two one-handed swords, while his two surviving sailors were excellent archers. Seraphina had her magic.

I was surprised with how calm they were preparing for a journey poised to lead us into the unknown. Every one of my current companions faced their tasks confidently and ready to take on whatever came across. I felt safe, but insecure. What if Laurenar had already died? Would we then be riding into our own death ourselves? Where exactly were we going?

Michelle interrupted my thoughts, which were slowly heading down a spiral of negativity.

“Sleep. Tomorrow is another big day!”

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Thank you very much for reading so far! I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far. Chapter 20 will be released next Friday, but afterwards I’m taking a two week break from the story to do some editing. The perfect chance for everyone to catch up on the chapters you’ve missed!

To support my writing, please like, share and subscribe!

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 18: Losing Laurenar

You can find Chapter 1 – 17 here.

Seraphina’s words, spoken so clearly and directly, had knocked me out again. I still hadn’t seen natural light since realizing where I was, so it wasn’t easy for me to decipher how many hours I had already spent trying to recover from the wound the poisoned bolt had caused. But when I woke up to face the soft light the magical orb provided, two friendly faces were there to greet me once more. Drake looked at me warmly and immediately offered me a piece of dark bread, which I accepted eagerly. After quenching my thirst, it was time to still my hunger. I focused on Seraphina, who was pacing the room looking terrible. Her flowing red hair was disheveled and it seemed as if she had been crying for a while. She had lost some weight since leaving the city and did not look healthy at all.

“What happened to Laurenar?” I asked into the room, remembering the conversation I had before my recent blackout. I hoped Drake would answer the question as I finally noticed the pain Seraphina was in. But Seraphina began telling the story:

Drake was set to answer your question about what happened to the Crimson Crocodile, when you fell to the ground. I rushed to see what was wrong with you, while Laurenar and the others took up arms immediately. The bolt had hit you in the shoulder and the impact combined with the poison knocked you out. But we couldn’t see anybody. It was clear we couldn’t stay on the Island any longer. We decided to get you off the Island as quickly as possible. I took care of your wound, while Drake prepared the little boat they used to escape the Crocodile. If you’re still wondering what happened to the ship, the pirates sunk it.”

I looked at Drake, who sighed at the mention of his old ship. The ship had been his pride and his home. Losing it had been a great blow to his confidence. But he still tried to look encouraging and friendly towards me. I appreciated his presence immensely. Seraphina handed me another glass of water before continuing:

“We still hadn’t seen any sign of your attacker. Drake’s crewmembers rowed the boat as close as possible to the beach. But when they came into our view, so did the enemy. A bolt and two arrows were fired from the shadows. Laurenar managed to push me out of the bolt’s way immediately, while his armor absorbed the hit from the two arrows. I conjured a shield around us, which prevented the second wave of projectiles from hitting us. Michelle and Tyler, the two surviving sailors, joined us together with Drake. Laurenar ran to where he expected the enemies to be hiding. They were still concealed. Drake and Tyler used this little break in fighting to drag to the boat. Michelle and I trailed Laurenar by a few steps. But we weren’t close enough. The next wave of projectiles targeted Laurenar. He staggered back after being hit by the first two arrows, but the bolt had managed to find the blind spot in his armor. The leather underneath his plate armor prevented the poison from entering his body immediately. Laurenar motioned us to get off the island as quickly as possible. We followed his advice, running back to the back and pushing us off the beach back in to sea. Drake and Tyler started rowing, while we could see three figures emerge from a hidden spot along the cliffs. One of them could’ve been the same hooded person we encountered at the bombing of the Lion’s Den. They took Laurenar with them, while we took course back to the shore.”

Seraphina looked completely dejected after finishing her story. Drake offered her a glass of water, which she gladly accepted. Laurenar was gone. The person I counted on for protection had been injured and taken. How would I ever manage to face the enemy without him? I examined Drake and Seraphina, who both felt exhausted and hopeless. Like I did. But they had saved me. I couldn’t pay them back by giving up hope. I emptied my glass of water and asked them a follow-up question:

“How long was I passed out?”

Drake answered. “The journey from the Island took a full day and night. You’ve been slipping in and out of consciousness for three days. So today is the fifth day after the attack.”

“Where are we exactly?” I looked around, still in complete darkness.

“We’re in one of the queen’s safe houses in a little fishing town far off the capital.”

I nodded and thought back to the real world. In the video game world, which resembled this game so closely, several safe houses were hidden throughout the world for eager explorers to find. Most of them were empty, only filled with little Easter eggs to be found. It felt strange that even supposed secret locations had made it into the virtual world of Illusio. I noticed how I was starting to feel tired and ready to fall asleep again. The poison hadn’t left my body completely.

“How am I doing?”

Seraphina had regained her composure and a slight smile appeared on her face. “Your recovery has been a very positive surprise. Tyler was an accomplished hunter before he turned to the Queen’s service. He identified the poison and helped find the ingredients for an antidote. It required full darkness to work its magic. And you won’t have full movement in your sword hand for a while.”

“It’s not like I was a master swordsman before.”

Seraphina let my comment pass. “But you’re responding well to the treatment. Much faster than anticipated.”

“Do any of the others have injuries?”

Drake shook his head and I was relieved. It was bad enough that we had lost Laurenar. I stared at the ceiling for a minute. My two colleagues almost thought I had fallen asleep again, when I mumbled: “What would Laurenar do if I was taken?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. The enemy had taken Laurenar. They had been my goal all along. But now, they had upped the stakes and given me a renewed sense of urgency. I knew we couldn’t leave right away, but we didn’t have much time, if we hoped to find him alive. I doubted he would get the same medical treatment I got.

“He would come and get me. We need to get him back.”

“How?”

“Well, I give us two days to figure it out.”

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First of all, I want to thank everybody who has been reading my posts so far and who have been commenting on my work. It’s really motivating and your insights have been really helpful! Please feel free to leave feedback any time in the comments or on Twitter!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 17: Poison

Chapters 1 – 16 can be found here.

I opened my eyes carefully and attempted to look around. But it was no use. I was engulfed in complete darkness. My eyes tried to get used to the strange surroundings, but even then, I had no clue where I was and what exactly was happening. My senses started to pick up that I was lying on a soft, cushioned bed. After enjoying the comfort of the bed for a second, the pain returned as quickly as it had at the beach. I tried to scream and shout, but my cries for help remained silent. The pain started with a throbbing headache, making every moment with my eyes open a challenge. It then moved down my spine, leaving my torso with the feeling of having been on the receiving end of a thousand tiny cuts. My legs, on the other hand, felt entirely numb, causing a totally different kind of panic in me. Soon after, I blacked out again.

I remember opening my eyes two or three times more in complete darkness. Each time, I tried to form a sound, failing every time. My eyes weren’t getting used to the darkness as they were supposed to, leaving me help- and clueless in the bed, which became a soft prison for me. But I never managed to stay awake for long periods, always dozing off or fainting again soon after opening my eyes. After all, it seemed I was completely alone and incapable of action. I wish I could remember the dreams from my unconsciousness. Often the heroes of my childhood had visions or dreams during occurrences like this. Even I had some kind of foreshadowing moment when I slept in the capital what already seemed like ages ago. But nothing of note comes to mind. Only darkness and discomfort remained all around.

The next time I awoke, it was different. First of all, it wasn’t dark anymore. A magical orb of light hung at the ceiling, showing me my humble environment. Secondly, the first thing I felt wasn’t pain, but thirst. My mouth was completely dried out, with my lips cracked. I figured this was the reason my screams and shouts hadn’t been heard before: they weren’t as loud as I had expected.

“Water.” I called, my voice not loud enough to attract any kind of attention. My room was empty bar for the bed and two stools. I could see my leather armor lying useless on the chair and noticed me almost being naked. My head was still aching as if someone was penetrating my forehead with a sledgehammer without stopping. But my upper body now felt as numb as my lower body. I had tried moving while lying in the darkness, but something had stopped me. Now I could see what. I was strapped firmly to the bed, solely able to wiggle. Panic set in once more. Where was I? The empty room was round. Was I back in the lighthouse? And where were Seraphina and Laurenar? My mind was racing. But every thought seemed to induce another round of pain.

“Water.” I whispered again before passing out again. I would get my wish.

A bucket of water splashed across my face to wake me up from my last bout of unconsciousness. Before reacting to the cool liquid with a sound, my dry lips tried to savor as much as possible. Then I opened my eyes, not knowing who or what to expect. I felt relief flowing through my whole body. Seraphina’s friendly, hazel eyes were staring at me with a warm look of concern. I tried to crack a smile for her and reached for the cup of water she was holding. After all, it would have been cruel to wake me with water while denying me a sip of the elixir of life. I emptied the cup quickly and noticed how my body had longed for hydration. Seraphina immediately handed me two more cups, which I downed just as eagerly.

The pain my body was feeling when I had woken up had vanished. Only a slight headache remained and I sincerely hoped that was one of the effects of dehydration. This meant I could feel my upper and lower body again. The straps on my bed had been taken off, which meant I was free to move. With great effort, I sat up in the bed.

Seraphina hadn’t said anything to me so far. She hadn’t taken her eyes off me, while I tried to get used to the movements of my bod. I could feel that something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. Her robes were clean and the staff she carried around to work her magic was leaning against the chair. The bags underneath her eyes indicated her crying or not getting enough sleep. Perhaps it was both.

“Where are we?” I asked slowly. My voice still was extremely quiet, but she was able to pick up my question.

“Safe for the moment.” She replied and quick, forced smile appeared on her face. Something had happened, but she didn’t want to tell me. Or maybe she couldn’t.

“What happened to me?” I drank another cup of water.

“You were poisoned.” Seraphina stood up and began to pace around the room nervously. I stared at her in disbelief.

“Poison? How?”

She didn’t answer immediately, but pulled out a little bolt out of a pocket in her flowing robes. It was made from the same material we had seen on my first evening at the capitol, when Laurenar had chased the hooded figure over the rooftop. It seemed that we didn’t need to find the enemy, but the enemy had found us. She pointed to me and then to the back of her shoulder. I had noticed the bandages wrapped around my left shoulder. The bolt had hit me, when we were talking to Drake and the surviving soldiers. The memories slowly crept back into consciousness.

“Where are the others?”

“Drake and one of the sailors are standing guard.”

“And Laurenar?” I asked, increasingly worried.

She paused for a moment. “He was taken.”

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Thank you very much for reading Chapter 17! Have a great weekend and please like, share and subscribe.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 16: The Fall

Chapters 1 to 15 can be found here.

No trace of the wizard was to be found. The three of us were alone in the room. We looked around one more time, hoping to maybe find a last sign of the oracle, but to no avail. Reluctantly, Seraphina, Laurenar and I decided to follow the received advice. We moved down the stairs effortlessly without suspense or anticipation slowing us down. Gradually, the color in Laurenar’s face returned as well, the closer we got to the ground floor. The platforms we had passed on the way down were unchanged and empty. Again, the only sounds heard were our frantic footsteps.

My two companions and I finally reached the stairs leading to the entrance. Seraphina had taken the lead, with Laurenar walking in second position. When the sorceress stepped of the stair on to the ground floor, suddenly and inexplicably a trap door opened, swallowing her. Strong winds took hold of us immediately and pulled us down. I could hear Seraphina scream turn from surprise to horror to glee, while it seemed as if Laurenar was facing one of his greatest nightmares. Having no solid ground beneath me was a new feeling, but not an unwelcome one. Like many young adults from the real world, bungee jumping or skydiving were unique experiences I hoped to make one day. The only difference was I was falling without any kind of safety net.

The winds had not stopped pulling us and it seemed as if an invisible hand controlled the gusts. We were not moving, as rapidly as such a free fall would suggest. Unfortunately, our surroundings were completely dark, so none of us had an idea where we would land. Seraphina and Laurenar were out of sight, but she tried to communicate something to us. We had no chance of hearing what she had said.

Then our speed started to decline steadily, with the winds blowing from different directions to cushion our fall. The slower our fall got, the more light flooded the tube-like vertical tunnel we were travelling in. Looking down, I could now see Seraphina standing up after landing in a stack of hay. I had looked just in time to see how the same stack of hay caught Laurenar. His fall had been slowed to the extent that it now seemed as if he had just ended a beautiful levitation trick. And just like that, it was my turn to land. The gusts turned around mid-air, so I was bound to land on my feet. It was exactly how I would imagine landing a jetpack. With a simple thud, I fell into the hay.

“What was that?” Laurenar looked extremely displeased. With his heavy armor and unpractical two-handed sword, the ride down had probably been extremely uncomfortable. Seraphina on the other hand was smiling excitedly.

“A very complicated series of spells from the school of air. It’s a very impressive feat to get all three of us down here so quickly and safely.”

Laurenar nodded and looked around. We were standing in a tiny cave, the floor covered with hay. As we looked outside, we could see the sea in front of us, but also the beginning of the vast continent of Illusio. A path lead towards a beach on the other side of the island. Our rescue boat and the statue were nowhere to be seen.

Seraphina remained impressed with the enchantments made to the tunnel. But looking up, the winds had vanished and darkness prevented her from discovering more of the countless secrets on this island. But one thing was clear, the wizard or oracle was a very powerful being and I would probably be wise to follow his advice.

Laurenar took the lead this time, walking along the sea. We could then see a strip of sand a few hundred meters straight ahead. Also visible was a rescue boat, which looked eerily similar to the one we had taken. Had we come back to where we had started? We moved nearer carefully. Seraphina immediately put me under one of her protective spells while the knight never took his eyes off the beach. But this definitely wasn’t the same cove we had anchored on what seemed an eternity ago.

“There’s smoke. There are people there, so be alert.”

The rising smoke came from a campfire. As we got closer, we could see two men and one woman sitting around it. We stopped behind one of the last bushes.

“Stay alert. Maybe they can help us.”

Laurenar took the lead and approached the group on the island. His expression turned to genuine surprise, when he saw who was sitting around the fire. As the oracle said, it was someone we had met before and who was extremely grateful to see the three of us again.

Looking exhausted, with his beard partly singed away and covered in dirt, we were looking at Captain Drake from the Crimson Crocodile.

“So you made it to the island.” The tone of his voice showed genuine happiness. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“More or less.” Laurenar answered.

“What happened to the ship?” Seraphina asked after examining the two sailors sitting around the fire with Drake. Their clothes were covered with blood and dirt, remnants from the attack of the pirates. They looked at us expectantly, hoping that what they had to go through had made our journey worthwhile. I wanted to give them a positive and reaffirming answer. I wanted to say something inspiring, like the heroes in the movies and books of my childhood. But instead, a sudden feeling of nausea and sickness rose up in my body. I wanted to say something to the group accompanying me, but no words came out. I staggered backwards to steps and could see Seraphina mouthing words towards me.

But a second later, I fell backwards and everything went black.

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I hope you enjoy chapter 16 and wish you a great weekend! Please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

 

Chapter 15: Questions and Answers

The first fourteen chapters of An Elusive Hero can be found here.

We stood there in amazement. The transformation of the wizard had been impressive and troubling at once. The round wizard paced the room steadily, with a smirk on his face signalling his amusement at the situation. Seraphina and Laurenar looked at me. I felt paralyzed and unsure of what to do. Our journey had taken us this far, but standing in front of the person capable of answering our questions, I was baffled. It seemed like minutes were passing and we remained silent. The owner of the Lighthouse remained remarkably patient, just making the same, monotone movement. His footsteps were the only sounds disturbing the silence of the rooftop room. I stepped towards to Seraphina and Laurenar.

My thoughts wandered back to the meeting with Queen Sophia, which seemed so far away. She had told us that some of our questions would be answered here. Sophia had said that they had brought me here to deal with the enemy who had arrived in Illusio from my world for a second time. So what exactly did we need to find out? She probably wanted him to stay out of this world altogether. But the queen also didn’t know what exactly would beat him.

I try to project an air of confidence, when I finally addressed the wizard. 
“Are you aware of the situation of the world?”

He stopped his steppes and turned his body fully towards us. His smirk turned into a toothy grin. “The situation of the world? That depends, my young friend. Do you mean the state of the rocks and continents? Or do you mean the well-being of the townsfolk? Or do you mean the politics of power? Which situation should I be aware of? But whatever it is, I can assure you I know more than enough about it.”

I felt my face turn red as if I had said something particularly stupid in class. Laurenar’s eyes narrowed as if the answer had given him a reason to be more suscipicious than normal. Seraphina seemed slightly taken aback by the arrogance of the mage or oracle.

 “Well, the kingdom is threatened by an enemy. We need to know how to stop him?”

“Ah, so it is the politics of power you are concerned with? Tell me, why do you intend to stop him?”

This question seemed to enrage Laurenar, but before he could answer, Seraphina’s soft voice took over: “Our queen has proven to be a wise and just ruler for the country, while our common enemy has brought nothing but war to our shores. We believe it to be in our best interest to stop him.”

“I see. Then why don’t you face him on the battlefield? Your mate here seems to be ready for battle anytime. Surely an army full of knights should be able to crush the rebellion.”

I took over from the sorceress again: “I was brought here from a far way world to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Do you know another option besides open warfare? An option that would not endanger the lives of the townsfolk?

“Well yes, you could lead a high-risk operation into the opposition camp and capture just him to send him back. You could pay off his highest-ranking officers. Or his whole army. You could lay siege to his operation and starve them out. Or you could just give him what he wanted.”

“That is not an option.” Laurenar injected angrily. I could tell he was fuming at the disrespect shown towards the queen and Illusio.

“If we send him back, won’t he just reenter again?”

“Probably, yes.” The wizard was enjoying himself at our expense. Laurenar wasn’t ready to take more of this. The answers we had gotten so far were not helpful at all. I decided to tell him exactly that:

“We came here seeking answers, but yours have been unsatisfactory.”

“If the answers are not good, maybe the questions have been lacking.” He winked at to and began to pace the room from anew.

Stunned by this last answer, I stared at the floor, determined to find the right question for him to answer. What exactly did I expect to achieve on this journey? Queen Sophia said we had to save this world. Not just her kingdom, but the whole world, which was so far away from my little home and the college I aspired to enrol in.

“Will the enemy ruin this world given the chance?” I asked, hoping clearer questions would give me the insight I needed.

“Yes.”

“In your opinion, should we stop him?”

“Yes.”

“Then why aren’t you helping?”

“You have proven to be a person to make sound decision by choosing the Path of the Wise. Had you chosen the right one, you would have found your answer to be war. Had you chosen the left one, you would have found your answer to be peace at the expense of the world. But you chose the third path, the path almost never taken. But the road didn’t just end when you reached the Lighthouse. You have to continue to take wise decisions if you want to save this world without endangering thousands of lives. I can only answer your questions. I am bound to this room and only get to play with the statue when I get visitors. So, ask the questions you really want to know and then move on with your task.”

“Why was I chosen to come to this world?”

“Because you showed the most potential.”

“And how I can stop the enemy from reaching his goal?”

“By showing him the error of his ways. And by proving yourself to him and the world.”

“Those are vague answers once more.”

“That is because not even I can tell you the exact nature of the challenges you face.”

“So, what is next?”

“Before I answer that question. What have you learned from me today?”

I stared at the wizard, who was smiling at me like a teacher in grade school and so hopeful I would give him the right answer.

“There are no simple answers to this conflict. War and Peace are not the solutions. I need to confront him directly. But what exactly challenges lie ahead are unclear, but it is clear I will need to prove myself.”

“Very good. As long as you follow the Path of the Wise, you will succeed. Your next journey will be down to the beach. There you will find somebody you have met already and who will be happy to see you again. From there, the hunt begins.”

And just like that, the oracle vanished.

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Chapter 15 is finally completed! I hope you enjoy it. I’m grateful for any kind of feedback! Please like, share and subscribe, if you like my writing.

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Chapter 14: The Silver Lighthouse

You can find chapters 1 to 13 here.

We looked back over the prism and couldn’t quite believe what just had happened.

“Well done.” Laurenar said dryly, while Seraphina just smiled at me quietly. I sighed in relief; glad the magical bridge had prevented us from tumbling down to sure death. The Silver Lighthouse was only a few steps away and we were unsure what would await us now. The whole journey had been far more adventurous than expected. My eyes wandered towards the sea, eager to find out if I could see the Crimson Crocodile and the pirates that had attacked us earlier. However, no ship was to be seen around. Seraphina placed her hand on my shoulder. “We should probably get going.”

I nodded absentmindedly, thinking of Captain Drake and his crew, who had fought for Queen Sophia and us. Thinking of the queen, I wondered how she had handled the fire, which had engulfed the capital just as we were leaving. In the mean time, Laurenar had surveyed our surroundings. He had seen a few different paths that all lead to the plateau the lighthouse and we were standing on. The other options the statues had told us about.

“I didn’t see anyone else on the way up here, but the Island is probably much bigger than we thought.”

We continued on the short road leading to entrance, finally getting a good look at the lighthouse. Its silver coating reflected the sunlight and made it appear larger than life. The door of the building however was crafted out of hard stone. I never was an expert at geology, but it looked to be similar to granite. A huge bronze ring invited us to politely knock and seek entry. Seraphina took the responsibility and knocked three times, while I observed anxiously and Laurenar stood there stoically. After the third knock, the door opened by an invisible hand.

We stepped into a spacious, circular room. But strangely, it was empty. A spiral wooden staircase would lead us to the top. Looking up, we saw a maze of wooden stairs intertwined with floors. Tentatively, Laurenar climbed up the first steps, unsure if they were enchanted as well. When nothing happened, Seraphina and I followed suit. On the first floor, we only found a wooden table and four chairs set up for dinner. We continued on without giving it much more thought. Looking to the ceiling, it seemed as if we would have to climb four more floors until the top. I hoped we would find some answers to our questions. This journey started to feel very tiring. As we ascended further, Laurenar became more and more uncomfortable, clutching the rails of the stairs tighter and tighter.

I could see his relief when we reached the second floor, which seemed to be a recreational room. Four cushioned armchairs surrounded a coffee table with a full set of tea ready. Again, we moved by effortlessly, continuing up the stairs. Still, nobody was in sight. The only sounds around were the rustling of Laurenar’s heavy armor and the occasional creaking of the staircase. We quickly moved on to the third floor.

There, the only items we found were a suspiciously empty bookcase and a carpet with an elegant red and black pattern. Seraphina stared at the pattern for a moment and seemed to know it from somewhere.

“Do you know where it’s from?”

“It’s an ancient magical pattern. Academy records have shown it’s meaning to be unrecoverable from older scrolls and books.”

“So, we don’t what it is?”

She shook her head and we made our way to the fourth floor. Laurenar was now moving slower than ever, but I began to walk behind him. A brief nod acknowledged his gratitude. On the next platform, we could look on the way we had taken up, but there was still no one to be seen or heard. In the middle of the little plateau, we found a desk with a heavy guestbook and ink on it.

Seraphina wasted no time and opened the book. It immediately jumped to a specific page and didn’t budge when she tried to move it back or forward. She then took the quill and signed the books with “Servants of Queen Sophia.”

The rooftop room seemed closer than ever and Laurenar was also happy that we would finally have stone beneath us again. We raced up the last steps to enter a large circular chamber. On the side, a little ladder led up to the roof and bonfire, which provided the light for the ships on the sea. When the three of us stepped into the room, we found a tall, slim man with round spectacles standing in the middle. He was wearing flowing white robes matching his shoulder-long white hair and held a staff quietly in his hands. I thought he looked exactly how I would imagine a wizard to look like. An instant later, the figure vanished into thin air. Instead a short and round human appeared. His robes had transformed into a crisp white shirt and surprisingly well-tailored pants. The spectacles and the shoulder-long hair had remained, but the coiffure now was pitch black.

“Good day to you, Servants of Queen Sophia. Ask your questions and they will be answered.”

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Thank you very much for reading and please like, share and subscribe!

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 13: The Path of the Wise

Chapters 1-12 can be found here.

The statue started to move, placing his heavy legs in front in him slowly, but surely. It seemed like the first steps were the hardest for him, causing him to expend a lot of energy. But as soon as he had started moving, he became more comfortable with every step he took. Laurenar, Seraphina and I followed his deliberate movements with our eyes, eager to see where he would lead us. The two caves behind him didn’t interest him in the slightest, proving that this path of the wise was a completely different way.

“Do not believe that this path will be an easy one. As a matter of fact, it is probably the most dangerous and perilous path to take. But if you stay close, no harm will come to you.”

Continue reading

Chapter 12: The Test of Sincerity

The first chapters of An elusive hero can be found here.

We stared at each other for a moment. Laurenar had a confused look on his face, as if he did not anticipate getting to the Lighthouse to be a path filled with talking statues. Seraphina was more curious than confused, inspecting the statue carefully. I could do nothing but look into the statues golden eyes, which were firmly planted on me, leaving me feeling queasy and uncomfortable. After around 30 seconds, the statue repeated its startling question: “Who seeks entrance?”

Laurenar and Seraphina now looked to me, as this time it was clear the question was directed at me. I fidgeted with the hem of my new leather armor and my eyes darted around the cave entrance nervously. Then I noticed the beautiful sorceress smiling at me reassuringly. Somehow, this calmed down my breathing. I cleared my throat and answered, hoping to project an air of confidence: “Humble servants of Queen Sophia seek entrance to the Silver Lighthouse.”

The statue nodded heavily, but did not move or show us which direction to take. “And what exactly do you seek, servants of Sophia?”

This time I looked towards Laurenar, who didn’t smile, but nodded lightly in my direction. I relied so much on the skills of my two companions, but this was the first time the two of them were letting me take responsibility for something since I’d arrived in Illusio. I could feel my heart skipping a beat. Again, I calmed down my breathing before I answered: “We seek answers to our questions.”

The statue didn’t hesitate with asking the follow-up question: “And what kind of answers do you seek?”

I didn’t immediately understand what the statue meant. And I didn’t actually know what kind of answers we were looking for. The attack on the ship had taken away our opportunity to discuss our procedure in depth. Rowing to the island had proven to be a tiring adventure, leaving us somewhat clueless. Our lack of preparation showed now and I could see a look of surprise and disappointment in my companion’s faces. This was as new to them as it was to me.

“We seek knowledge to help protect this world from evil.”

I wasn’t proud of this answer, but it seemed vague and true enough to be believed. Weirdly, the statue only chuckled, but it did not continue with another question.

“This Lighthouse possesses a lot of knowledge. But not everything is available for everyone. You must choose your path carefully. I will show you two paths at your disposal and depending on which you take you will receive the answers and knowledge you seek.”

Which one of the two entrances would bring us closer to our goal of learning more about the enemy of Illusio, the first human being from planet Earth to step into this world. The statues ended his pause:

“The right path is the path of the righteous: It is for those who believe their cause to be just and seek a complete victory over their enemies. The left path is the path of the lenient: It is for those who believe there is a place in this world for everyone and who seek a compromise with their enemy. The sword symbolizes the right path. The feather symbolizes the left path. The right path will lead you to honor and glory, but also to agony and pain. The left path will lead you to honesty and selflessness, but also to deceit and betrayal. Following one of these paths will prevent you from fulfilling the destiny of the other. Choose wisely.”

Seraphina, Laurenar and I looked at each other. I looked at them intently. Seraphina broke the silence: “We should choose the right path. We saw what our enemy is capable of and we need to stop him. Sophia is preparing for war.”

I fully expected Laurenar to share her feelings, since he was the greatest knight of the kingdom. “No, I believe we need to seek knowledge to prevent bloodshed and to make peace above all. I’ve seen what war has done to Illusio. Finding a way to crush our enemies will only lead to more innocent lives to be lost. However, finding a way to make peace will be more lives can be saved.”

“In the short run maybe, but we do not know what the so-called Chosen One will do, if we allow him to stay here and have his way. More people might suffer through that.”

Seraphina and Laurenar stared at each other. I examined their faces. Laurenar’s expression was heavy; like this wasn’t the first time he was forced to choose between a rightful fight and a wrong compromise. It seemed to me he chose the former his first time around. Seraphina on the other hand was disappointed in his answer and she was as surprised as I was to find him supporting the path of the lenient. I looked at the statue. It was still staring at me, as if it was clear that I would make the call.

“How long do we have to decide?” I asked, my hand starting to tremble nervously.

“As long as you need. This is a difficult decision.”

I nodded and looked at my two companions, who staring at each other, trying to read each other’s expressions. I was no fighter, but it was clear I did not want the Chosen One to be victorious and I didn’t want Queen Sophia to be forced to pursue a peace she didn’t want. On the other hand, going into battle knowing fully well that compromise was the only option would only lead to holding back on the battlefield. Giving in to demands wasn’t a realistic option for the empire of Illusio. Neither way was perfect.

This kind of black-or-white thinking had always given me problems. Of course, in my favorite books and movies it always seemed to be straightforward: the Jedi were good, the Sith were evil, Harry Potter was good, The One-Who-Must-Not-Named was evil, The Fellowship of the Ring was good, Sauron was evil. But my favorite characters were always the grey ones: Anakin Skywalker, Severus Snape and Boromir. I tried to listen to my guts, but it remained silent except for a slight grumbling reminding me I hadn’t eaten for a day. What was clear to my mind slowly became clear to my entire being. Neither way was perfect. Neither way was bad enough to forsake. Neither way was good enough to take.

Seraphina and Laurenar had let me think, unsure if they were to interrupt my constant circling or if they were supposed to help me with my decision. But I didn’t need their help, I only needed the confirmation by the statue. I cleared my throat and addressed the statue:

“You said you would show me two paths at my disposal.” I sighed and gathered my courage. “Unfortunately, neither of them will provide us with the answers we are seeking. We do not seek complete victory nor will we be forced into compromise with our enemy. What we are looking for is knowledge about our enemy and a way to send him back into his world while protecting as many lives as possible. That is path we have chosen to walk down.”

Seraphina, Laurenar and the statue were staring at me, while I caught my breath. The words had come out effortlessly, but I still wasn’t sure what would happen now.

“Very well then, servants of Queen Sophia. You have chosen your answer to the test of sincerity. You have chosen the path of the wise. Follow me.”

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Thank you very much for reading. If you enjoy my story, please be sure to share, like and subscribe! I’m very open to feedback, so please don’t hesitate to contact me by e-mail or on twitter. Have a great weekend!

Sincerely yours,

Albert