dreaming of something happening...

Welcome to my world!

Hello, Internet. You've found Tessa's blog. I don't know what you'll find here, but I hope it's fun.

Why did I start my blog now? Call it a “new month's resolution”. Or maybe in honour of Hallowe'en.

Anyway, it's midnight and I have to be halfway awake at work tomorrow, so I'll sign off for now. But who can tell what will happen in the dramatic adventures of our heroine in the coming weeks?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Speculative. Current music: A Place for my Head – Linkin Park

Posted at 00:01, Nov 1st.


by princess-of-china at 00:32 on Nov 1st

You called your blog “dreaming of something happening”? Is your life really that boring, or are you just being a bit melodramatic?

Still, I'll look forward to seeing what you write on here. Just be sure to say nice things about me, okay, sweetie?

by taleteller at 08:12 on Nov 1st

Hi Paula. How did I guess you'd be first to comment on here? :) Well, my life's not exactly bursting with interest at the moment, but yes, I am being a little melodramatic. But it might help me not to take things too seriously. See you at the party on Friday night?

by princess-of-china at 08:43 on Nov 1st

Yes, I'll be there. By the way, I just noticed you made your post at 12:01. You must have been gutted to miss midnight by a few seconds, eh?

by taleteller at 12:12 on Nov 1st


Nothing happening...

So... I've had a blog for a day, but nothing has happened worth posting about. Life at work is boring, but I'm certainly not going to rant about work here. This should be a place for more exciting things.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Bored. Current music: Jaded – Green Day

Posted at 19:42 on Nov 1st

1 comment:

by princess-of-china at 22:19 on Nov 1st

Please, don't rant about your job. We don't want to hear about the goings-on in a department store. Although this post wasn't exactly exciting either.

A party

We went to Ben's birthday party tonight. It was quite good fun. He's 25 today, so we took the opportunity to give him lots of “old geezer” comments.

As you'd expect from a party of Ben's, there was lots of booze: he'd filled a table with bottles of tequila, Bailey's, and some beers. (I don't drink beer, so I can't remember what those were.) He'd got Nathan to bring a bunch of cocktail sausages, and Ben had made a cake with obscene decorations on, just like he always does.

And there were some people being dodgy off in a corner. Apparently one of the couples was already a couple when they came, in which case I don't know why they didn't just stay home and grope each other there. Maybe they decided to drink lots of alcohol that other people brought. The others weren't a couple, honest, so we're told – they just decided to take their tops off and dance together. The rest of us tried to ignore them.

In between the raucousness (as well as general drinking and drunken singing), though, Paula and I met some interesting people. There was a girl called Catherine or something like that who earns her living making board games. Quite an achievement. We spent ages talking about what you need to create a game that's really playable – not something I'd really thought about before. I haven't played many board games since I was a kid, but there are apparently loads of strategy games that adults get into, and this Catherine girl had got two of hers published. She was only about my age, though – she couldn't have been older than 26 – so she must have got into it early. She was interesting to chat to, anyway.

There was a guy called Stuart who seemed just the wrong side of arrogant. He did a couple of really quite cool things, like spinning three plates at once on his fingers, but I think he thought he was a bit too cool, with his slicked-back hair and leather jacket and everything. Still, he livened up the party. He did make some rather amusing jokes about Paula's spiky haircut... some of them I even hadn't heard before.

Oh yeah, there was also a gorgeous guy called Michael who I got chatting to, and I got his email address. Score!

-- taleteller

Current mood: Jubilant. Current music: Stroke Of Luck – Garbage

Posted at 01:42 on Nov 4th


by princess-of-china at 02:23 on Nov 4th

That guy's jokes about my hair were so lame. Just because they were new doesn't mean they were good.

But you got Michael's email address? (Must have been because of that gorgeous black dress you were wearing.) Still, nice work, girl!

by taleteller at 02:44 on Nov 4th

Hell yeah. :D

An invitation

So... I emailed Michael. Hey, he's good looking and we chatted a bit at the party – I don't need any more reason to email someone, right?

(Yes, he calls himself Michael, even though everybody in the world would abbreviate that to Mike. So he's strange. Maybe it makes him interesting.)

And he wrote back, and suggested meeting up. Great news, right? Well, maybe. He said that Ben's coming over to his on Sunday to play computer games, and that me and Paula could come over as well if we wanted. Not exactly my ideal date. But, well, it's a chance to get to know him better, so what the heck. Maybe Ben and Paula won't be able to come...

-- taleteller

Current mood: Musing. Current music: What If – Coldplay

Posted at 18:42 on Nov 4th


by princess-of-china at 15:59 on Nov 4th

Do you really want me to duck out? I thought I'd come along, since Ben's likely to. If you want I'll say I've got a cold or something, though.

(And if you're finding someone interesting just because of the way they write their name, you need to get out more, girl.)

by taleteller at 17:12 on Nov 4th

Naah, it's fine. I don't know if I want anything seriously, I was just idly wondering.

(And no, it's not just because of the way he writes his name. Sigh.)

by lilcutie89 at 21:26 on Nov 4th

Hey sis! Found you! I'm going to be watching all that you're up to! At least it's a way to keep up with what you're doing – despite living in the same house, we practically never see you!

by taleteller at 23:04 on Nov 4th

Hi, Lisa! How on earth did you find this blog? Still, you're welcome to keep tabs on me if you want. Say hi to mum and dad for me, since I never seem to pass through the house at the same time as them...

Okay, he's a geek.

Hmm. That was interesting.

So, Paula and I went over to Michael's flat, that he emailed us the address of. It wasn't far – Paula suggested we could cycle, but I'm glad I drove the two of us over there. It's blimmin' cold this time of year.

We came in, and Ben was already there, and the two guys were playing on some games console. They were fighting each other in some Kung Fu game. He told us to help ourselves to anything we wanted from the fridge, so we did, and took the opportunity to look around the place.

Not a bad flat – two rooms and a kitchen. He's got it done up nicely – deep red and purple paint on the walls, just like every kid wants to be able to paint their bedroom. Only a few beer cans and just one dirty plate on the floor. A couple of shelves of books, a couple I even recognise. Lots and lots of video games, though.

When we got talking to the guys once they'd dragged themselves away from beating each other senseless, Michael said he's got about ten games consoles. Says he gets the new Nintendo and Sony ones whenever they come out. He plonked some grey sphere with lots of wires coming out of it in front of the TV and told us it was the newest console... I can't say I'd have recognised it, to be honest, but whatever. It did some fancy swirly graphics when he turned it on.

Then the four of us started playing this game together that involved rolling around this platform inside giant hamster balls, and firing dolphins at one another. Or something strange like that. I didn't quite follow the plot, but it was quite a lot of fun.

After we'd played that for a bit, he asked us what kind of games we'd like to play... (Yes, that's right, afterwards. Go figure.)

Paula didn't have a clue, so I asked if there were any with a kind of fantasy setting. Michael exchanged a glance with Ben and they both laughed. (Humph.) Then he said there were loads, and he gestured at the posters around the room. I guess I hadn't quite taken them in, but there were quite a number of posters scattered around the walls of his living room. He went through a number of them, pointing at one and saying the character's name and what game she's from, then the next one. I did notice that almost all of them seemed to be female... It seems the guy seriously likes his video game character ladies. In quite a few cases they were quite implausibly curvy as well, but there were a number of more sensibly proportioned girls as well, which is good news for those of us with a less voluptuous figure.

Not all the posters were girls... there were a few dragons and airships and things. There was one with a whole group of characters. I only noticed it because Ben pointed at it and said, “Hey, you know that game's come out now?”

Michael's eyes went so wide, it was comical. “Really? Cool!”

“Yeah, I've got it on order.” Ben sounded rather smug about that. He's good at sounding smug.

“Nice. I hadn't even heard it was released yet.”

“Well, you're not on the internet, are you? You're a bit cut off, mate.”

That puzzled me, so I asked Michael, “Not on the internet? But I sent you an email, and you replied...”

He laughed and said, “I got a friend to set me up some autoforward or something. It goes to my mobile phone.” He waved his mobile phone around... it looked fancy and modern, sufficiently so that he could probably connect to the internet just from that phone if he wanted.

So then we got talking a bit more about fantasy-themed games, and he said they exist in every different genre I could think of. Puzzle game, fighting story, adventure, and loads more. I perked up at the mention of adventures, because as you all know, I quite like the odd fantasy adventure story in book form, so I thought I'd like to see what a game in that style would be.

Michael said, “The problem with playing an adventure story with you guys is that generally, they take hours and hours to play through. So you'd be welcome to play the first hour or two today, but you'd kinda have to come over a few more times to get through to the end. You'd be welcome to do that too, of course, but... It's up to you.”

How do I interpret a comment like that?? Does it mean he fancies one of us?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Satisfied. Current music: Good Enough – Dodgy

Posted at 20:41 on Nov 5th


by princess-of-china at 20:52 on Nov 5th

Well, at least all those game girls on his walls probably mean he's not gay :) If you want to catch his eye, though, Tessa, maybe you'd have to wear one of those crazy costumes they were wearing...

by taleteller at 20:59 on Nov 5th

Yah. I think I'll pass on that. They looked cold and uncomfortable. Not to mention completely ineffective in combat, in most cases.

by lilcutie89 at 23:12 on Nov 5th

He definitely fancies you, sis! hehehe

Nothing much to say today...

Monday back at the store's still boring. I decided to email Michael about going over to play some of those games of his. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Bored. Current music: This is a Low – Blur

Posted at 19:13 on Nov 6th


by princess-of-china at 20:01 on Nov 6th

Yeah, you should definitely email him. I enjoyed our afternoon over there yesterday, so you should suggest another one.

by bringiton at 20:38 on Nov 6th

Hey, Tessa! Happened to surf by chance onto your blog. I'll probably pop back from time to time. And well, well, it seems my birthday party may have started a beautiful friendship, eh? I wonder if Michael would be interested to hear what you've been writing about him, eh?

by taleteller at 20:58 on Nov 6th

Oh, please don't, Ben. If I want to ask him out I will. Please don't say anything until then?

by bringiton at 22:41 on Nov 6th

Haha, don't worry, I wouldn't. He pretty much never goes web surfing anyway – he reads offline magazines to get reviews of the newest games and everything. He's a strange guy like that.

by taleteller at 18:32 on Nov 7th

Good, good, then I won't have to break your shins.

by bringiton at 23:05 on Nov 7th

...That's good to know... *looks around nervously*

By the way, Tessa, you might like to know: you know Ultimate Dream, that game we mentioned at the weekend? It arrived at the office today :) I could bring it over to Michael's at the weekend, if he's up for it. You should email him.

A good night

Tonight was lots of fun. Paula and I enjoyed trying some new cocktails at Jaunty Jerry's. And on top of that, Michael emailed back and said it'd be great to have us over to play games together on Saturday. Hear that? Not just “fine”, but “great”! Heehee, he wants to meet us again!

-- taleteller

Current mood: Inebriated. Current music: Wonderful Night – Don McLean

Posted at 00:34 on Nov 9th


by taleteller at 23:14 on Nov 9th

No comments? Nobody has anything to say about this scintillating masterpiece of descriptive prose? Maybe I should try not to post when drunk in future.

by princess-of-china at 00:42 on Nov 10th

Well, to be honest, Tessa, there isn't much to say. Although our alcohol consumption was entirely justified... those strawberry liqueur shooters were too good not to have a third and fourth time.

Ultimate Dream

I think I'd been looking forward to this afternoon a bit too much. You know how your imagination builds up a mental image of somewhere you're going to go or something you're going to do, and you start picturing all these different ways it could go, each better than the last? Well, I think I let my imagination go a bit rampant. In my defence, the store was deathly dull on Thursday and Friday, so I had to think of something I was looking forward to. But still... I think I might have imagined myself sitting next to Michael, gaily laughing and effortlessly guiding some character around on screen while he did the same, in an elaborate virtual dance, and our eyes meeting. Or something strange like that.

In fact, we just went over and Ben brought over this new Ultimate Dream game. And we spent two or three hours playing it, and then Michael had to go out, so we all left and I drove Paula home. It was fun and all, but nothing particularly special.

Still, this game was interesting. I haven't really seen anything like it before. It starts off in a pretty stereotypical fantasy world, with some spiky-haired bloke getting kicked out of his peasant village and wandering around with a big sword. Pretty quickly he finds two or three girls in different circumstances who end up travelling around with him, principally because it's convenient to the plot, as far as I could tell. One of them is some wussy cleric girl who's all shy and soft-spoken, and won't attack anybody, but casts healing spells when they get attacked by random goblins and things. Naturally, her robes are white and she's got long flowing hair.

The next one is a sorceress who was about to get in serious trouble with the law in this little village – she seemed to be having a serious slagging-off match with a guard in armour, and his captain walked around the corner and was starting shouting – except then the main bloke walked up and defused the situation. Sorceress, check; fiery temper, check; excessively revealing mage's robes, check; pendant inlaid with some magical gem, check; and she even had red hair. It's like someone went out for putting all the fantasy clichés together. I seriously hope she acquires some more personality beyond a quick temper, and not just some family trauma to explain it all.

So anyway, when the main character (his name's Varyn or something like that) meets the first girl, a second player can pick up the next control pad and start controlling this girl as the two of them walk around. Then the third member of the party lets a third player join in the havoc. It's a bit hard to co-ordinate walking in the same direction, but quite good fun working together in the combats and things.

All of a sudden, the party started finding villages burned down to the ground, starting with Varyn's hometown. (Oh, the angst!) Seems there's a dragon going around terrorising the countryside. Naturally, our plucky protagonists volunteered to rid the land of the beast. But it seems to tame a dragon takes the power of a mysterious crystal called a Heartstone. And so off we set, in search of the mystical stone which will ease all the world's ills.

Except that we had to leave the story there, because Michael had to go out, as I said. So you may never know the fate of the brave adventurers seeking to save their world.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Average. Current music: There's More to Life Than This – Björk

Posted at 21:30 on Nov 11th


by princess-of-china at 21:52 on Nov 11th

Wow, aren't you getting wordy! How come you can write two lines about our night out, but two pages about a day with dear sweet Michael? (And spend most of that talking about what happened inside that game. I mean, it was fun and all, but...)

(And as for the first bit, your imagination is a strange, strange thing, my dear.)

by taleteller at 22:41 on Nov 11th

Heh. You should have seen my diaries as a teenager – whenever I read a book that captured my imagination, I'd write pages and pages about it in my diary. Like a review, but more incoherent and biased.

And in fact, I think I may still have the diary entries from when you and I were first getting to know one another, back when we were 14. You remember that, Paula? I'm sure I could type them in here for historical interest...

by princess-of-china at 23:02 on Nov 11th

Ah, no, that's fine, sweetie. Let's leave the past in the past. Ten-year-old diaries definitely don't need resurrecting, right?

Gaming again

Looks like the gaming sessions are going to become a regular occurrence. I emailed Michael again on Monday (yesterday), and we went over tonight. He said as we were heading off that we could make it a regular thing, every Tuesday and Saturday. Paula and I were both up for it – it's quite good fun.

Ultimate Dream did a little fourth-wall-breaking today. Varyn and the party had a meeting with the King of the nation of Elysia, in a big fairytale castle with turrets and a drawbridge and everything. It's funny: the way the RPG works makes it that you want to go around talking to everyone in the castle before talking to the person who you're actually there to see... and so we went traipsing around the kitchens, the dungeons, and the soldiers' barracks before finally going into the throne room to talk to the King who'd sent us the urgent summons. Cause that's what every adventurer who's been summoned by the King would do, right?

The reason for all that is that occasionally, there'll be items lying on tables or in treasure chests or something, that'd be useful to the characters on their adventure. And it seems the characters are total kleptomaniacs. Seriously, anything that isn't bolted down, they'll happily nick, without the slightest comment on the morality of doing so.

This was a bit interesting, actually, because I commented on that and Paula agreed, and Michael seemed a bit surprised. He asked us if we'd ever taken soap or books from people we'd visited. I think I was a bit indignant as I replied “Of course not!”

Paula, to be fair, did point out that we'll happily pinch pens from work and things like that, which was true. (If unhelpful when trying to take the moral high ground.) But I wouldn't nick stuff from friends, or from shops, both of which Michael admitted freely to doing, as if he didn't see anything wrong with it. A bit surprising.

Aaanyway, as I was saying before I went off on a tangent from the tangent... The game did a nice little fourth-wall-breaking moment, when we eventually walked in to see the King. He was all “ancient evil has awoken” and “Varyn, you are the Chosen One of Destiny” and stuff like that – this was all facing Varyn, mostly, occasionally looking at Terena or Alleria (the cleric and the fire sorceress). And then he turned to look slightly upwards, which happened to be straight at the camera, and said “And these adventurers will also need the help of you gods beyond our realm.”

It was quite nice, quite subtly done. I like it when a story just fractionally breaks the fourth wall, so you wouldn't even notice unless you were paying attention. Don't you agree, o reader?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Musing. Current music: This Is Your Song – Elton John

Posted at 23:14 on Nov 14th


by princess-of-china at 23:57 on Nov 14th

What, you're telling me you never even stole chocolate from a corner shop when you were a teenager, Tessa?

by taleteller at 00:17 on Nov 15th

Well... Okay, I can't say never. But not for years and years. Anyway, that is different... right?

by princess-of-china at 00:42 on Nov 15th

I'd say it's different, sure. The law might not agree, and the shopkeepers might not. And I guess Michael doesn't. But... Hmm. I don't know any more.

Seriously freaky

Okay, there's something definitely strange going on.

Paula and I went over to Michael's like last week. We carried on playing through Ultimate Dream. Varyn had to go to this ancient ruined tower to retreive a magical artifact from it, blah de blah de blah. Usual generic fantasy fare. While the party were leaving the palace, they got robbed by a street thief, and so we went off on a side quest to track this guy down and get our stuff back.

(It was actually quite important, because one of the things in the bag that was stolen was our collection of Phoenix Feathers. You use them when one of the characters dies in combat, and it makes them not actually die. So obviously, any sensible party keeps a huge stock of the things, because you really don't want to lose one of your party permanently. (And no, the mechanics of how it works obviously aren't explained. It's a magical feather, that you wave over a character's body in combat. And then they rise from the dead. And the feather gets used up. Yeah, right. I can see that potions and bombs would get used up when you use them, but... Aaanyway.))

So we tracked the thief to his hidden lair, fought our way through a rather large number of bandits willing to selflessly sacrifice themselves, and caught the guy as he was trying to escape. The party got their stuff back, and Varyn mentioned that they were heading on to the tower to get this gemstone. Yeah, it's a magical gemstone, off in a tower of an abandoned ruin. Never heard that one before, have we? So this thief looked up intently at Varyn and said he wants to come with them, because he's been wanting to go to this tower for years because of all the treasures strewn around it, but it's too dangerous.

So to cut a long story short, we've got a fourth character on the party, this thief called Maitland. Except that Alleria turned her nose up in disdain at the prospect of letting a thief join, and said that if Varyn let Maitland come with them, she'd stay behind. Personally, I think this was because the battle screen and character display is obviously laid out to show three characters on the party... but you have to overlook these little plot conveniences.

Michael was quite pleased – he gave his wide grin and said he likes playing thief or rogue characters. So I took over playing Terena and passed him the controller for Maitland. (Paula's got Varyn and she won't let go of him. She likes being in the driving seat.)

So we went off to this ruin, and fought our way up to the highest tower, and then down to the lowest dungeon. Turns out Maitland's got some rather nice sneak attack techniques and can steal items from enemies... he's quite handy to have on the party. Terena's personality's a bit wimpy, but her healing spells are invaluable, whereas we don't miss Alleria's attack magic too much with Varyn's sword skills levelling up and Maitland's new attack moves.

We wondered whether we should save the game after we beat the dungeon boss and got the gemstone, as it was getting a bit late, but Michael wanted to head back and see what the King said. So we trekked back across the wilderness to the city (there's only one city, everywhere else is little villages) and made our way back into the palace.

We had to persuade the King's Chancellor that we needed to talk to him. The Chancellor is a thin, nasty man who is blatantly evil, even if Varyn and the others can't see it. But when Varyn told him they'd spoken to the King before, he gave a thin-lipped frown and stepped aside.

So the King went through the script about “you've retrieved one of the mystical Heartstones, you just need two more” (never saw that one coming either). Then he said to Varyn, “You have been truly blessed. The gods have guided you well.” And he looked out of the screen again and said, “Thank you, Paula.”

Paula jumped a bit. Michael and I just laughed – either at the concept of the world having a god called Paula, or because Paula thought it was talking about her.

Then the King said, “And Michael and Tessa too. Your guidance has been invaluable.”

I swear, we all looked round at one another as if we'd seen a ghost.

The old geezer on the screen continued, “Won't you continue to guide this quest to save the world of Elysia?”

Paula obviously decided to get into the mood of things, so she said, “Of course we will!”

She pressed the “advance speech” button on the controller, and the game just carried on as normal with the King briefing Varyn on the ancient underwater temple that they need to head for next. (He addressed a couple of lines to the rogue, Maitland – something like “your inner nobility belies your reputation”. Naturally, Maitland just snorted and shook his head.)

I think all of us were a little spooked. We decided to save the game there and call it a night. (The fact that it had gone 9pm and we were all really hungry might have had something to do with that as well.) So we said goodbye until Tuesday, and I drove Paula back to hers then came home to finally eat something.

It seems a bit less freaky now that I've written it down. I guess Ben or someone must have entered in our names when we started the game. It's a good way to get people immersed in the story, I guess, if only it weren't so blimmin' clichéd all the time.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Puzzled. Current music: Strange Days – The Doors

Posted at 23:15 on Nov 18th


by bringiton at 23:50 on Nov 18th

Hi, Tessa! I think you guys must be getting confused, or maybe you misread the dialogue. I've read some sites about UltiDri, and there's no mention of taking the players' names. Maybe the geezer just mentioned some gods of their country, and you misread them ;)

by taleteller at 23:57 on Nov 18th

Hi Ben – good to see you on here again. We ought to meet up again sometime, it's been a while. I dunno... maybe we did misread the names. It all seems a bit silly now.

On a different note – “UltiDri”?? What on earth kind of abbreviation is that?

by bringiton at 01:03 on Nov 19th

It's the nickname that the game got given by its original Japanese fans. The name in Japanese is ARUCHIMATO DORIIMU, so they keep the “ii” of “DORIIMU” to go in “Dri” to make “UltiDri”. Don't look at me like that, I didn't make this stuff up :)

by princess-of-china at 02:19 on Nov 19th

Riiight. Those Japanese are crazy. I didn't know this game was originally Japanese, though.

by bringiton at 11:12 on Nov 19th

Pretty much all of the RPGs you'll see at Michael's were originally Japanese, actually. For some reason they seem to be the only country that makes them... and the West just get them translated. But you seem to be enjoying it despite that, so it's all good :)

My mind is strange

Heh. Looks like I was so into the game yesterday that last night, I had a strange dream about it :)

In the dream, Michael, Paula and I were adventuring round the land of Elysia. I think we pretty much picked up where we left the game yesterday: the party were leaving the royal city to go look for a wizard who can give us some “underwater breathing” spells. Except instead of Maitland, Michael was there, wearing Maitland's clothes and carrying Maitland's equipment and everything. Likewise, I was in the place of Terena, in her cleric's robes, and Paula was in Varyn's outfit. She looked very chuffed at having this big sword to swing around - and she actually had the strength to swing it, too.

First we went to the chemist in the royal city to buy health potions and Phoenix Feathers and things. Michael was the one with the cash, and after we'd paid he commented, “Right, we've only got about 10 gold pieces left. Guess there's no weapon upgrades for us right now.”

So we set off across the wilderness to head for the coastal village where this water wizard lives. And en route we got attacked by monsters, just like always happens in the game whenever you have to cross the wilderness.

It was so scary! They were lizardmen, a type of monster that I recognised from the game, and I knew they weren't too tough; but seeing them running out of the undergrowth at us, screaming and gurgling, was really a bit disconcerting. Paula reacted fastest, and just drew her sword and charged towards the monsters. Michael and I were a little more taken aback, and Paula had already got in one hit by the time we got there.

One of the scariest bits was seeing the effect of the monsters' attacks. The resolution of the game's graphics isn't quite good enough to show wounds from enemy attacks; but this dream didn't have such problems. The beast put a huge scrape in Paula's shoulder, with a vicious-looking scimitar, and she started bleeding. I'm afraid I had a bit of a girlish reaction – I screamed.

Thankfully, Michael didn't get distracted like that. His eyes just blazed in anger at the creatures, and he rushed at them. That's one of Maitland's skills, which Michael obviously picked up from being in Maitland's place: a run-and-slash attack with his poisoned daggers. He was faster than any of the lizardmen, who seemed to be mostly concentrating on Paula anyway.

Finally I got my act together and figured Paula needed healing, since that's part of what Terena's best at. I didn't quite know how to cast the spell, I just knew that Terena had a <Cure2> spell and I wanted to cast it. So I kinda pushed my hands in the direction of Paula and concentrated, and it just came naturally... the white and blue energy started flowing, and I said some words that I don't understand, and the gash in her shoulder just suddenly healed up.

It only took another attack or two by Paula and Michael to kill the things. We all just looked around at one another and spent at least a minute catching our breath. Then I cast <Cure2> again at Michael, to heal the worst of his wounds. I could feel some kind of strength running out of me as I did so – I guess that would have been me using up my magic points. Casting that spell twice would use about a third of Terena's MP in the game at the moment, so that would be what it is. It was quite funny to feel it in the dream, though.

Michael started picking the dead lizardmen up and turning them over. I asked him what on earth he was doing – it looked quite disgusting. One of the things was literally chopped in two. But Michael just answered matter-of-factly, “Looking for what treasure they might have.”

It had never really hit me before, but it's true that in the game, when you kill some monsters, you get money as well as experience points. That must mean that the party loot the bodies of the enemies. It's quite gross – I really hadn't realised.

Anyway, the others cleaned up their weapons and we set off again. I don't know about them, but I was feeling really shaken. But onwards we trekked.

I don't remember much more before I woke up. Isn't my brain strange?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Amused. Current music: Where is my Mind – Placebo

Posted at 08:35 on Nov 19th


by bringiton at 11:19 on Nov 19th

Ah, you must have been writing this while I was commenting on your last entry.

Yes, Tessa, yes, your brain definitely is strange :)

Glad to have supplied you with a game you got so much into ;)

by lilcutie89 at 12:43 on Nov 19th

Sis, you are really weird.

by princess-of-china at 12:45 on Nov 19th

... ... ... Okay. I'm officially freaked out now, Tessa.

I had the *exact* *same* *dream*. Right down to Michael looking on the bodies of the strange lizardy things for any money. It really felt like my shoulder hurt, although I guess it didn't really, being in a dream and all.

...It was rather cool, having this big kickass sword to intimidate people with. Though I didn't really feel like I fitted into Varyn's clothes. I was a little worried I was going to pop out of that vest of his during the fight with the lizards.

I guess our minds must be totally synched up, eh, sweetie?

by taleteller at 18:05 on Nov 19th

Huh. That is pretty strange. I mean, I'm not normally the type to have strange dreams like that.

Another Elysian dream

This is getting really odd. I've never been the kind of person who has dreams in the world of any fiction I see, and I've never had a recurring dream before. But last night, there I was, back in Elysia playing the role of Terena.

I suppose it wasn't quite a recurring dream per se, because it carried on right where the last one had left off: the party were travelling through the wilderness, just arriving at the village where we hoped to find some underwater breathing spells.

We got to the village without any more combats. Paula (still dressed in Varyn's clothing – it looks so odd!) walked up to the first villager we saw, standing by the village gate, and called to him straight out, “Greetings! Do you know where the wizard Vrathia lives?” But the villager didn't really answer the question, he just smiled at us all and said “Welcome to Haniton!”

Paula looked sideways at us, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Thank you. Do you know where the wizard Vrathia lives?”

The bumpkin looked blankly at us, paused a little, and said again, “Welcome to Haniton!”

Paula's reaction was just... entertaining. She narrowed her eyes, walked right up in front of the guy, and took him by the scruff of his tunic. “Look you,” she growled, “we're looking for the wizard Vrathia. We'd feel a lot more welcome to Haniton if you'd just tell us whether you know where he lives or not.”

I was trying to stifle a gasp, somewhere in between shock and laughter. The villager's eyes darted from side to side and he whispered something like, “Look, I'm not meant to tell you that! I'm just meant to welcome you!” When Paula glared at him, he babbled, “It's easy enough to find! None of us are allowed to tell you where it is, but it's really obvious!”

At this point Michael was looking concerned, and he called out, “Paula, let the guy go. I'm sure we can find the place ourselves.”

She relented, and let him go. He gasped a little. Trying to pacify things, I smiled at him and said, “Thank you.”

He looked at me apologetically, glanced nervously at Paula, and then said helplessly, “Welcome to Haniton...” Then he put back on the same fixed smile and went over to stand by the gate. He might have been shaking slightly.

So we wandered on round the village of Haniton, to which we'd been so emphatically welcomed. There were a couple of kids chasing one another around the village green... I wasn't going to try to talk to them, but Michael said he reckoned it was worth a shot, and so he bent over to talk to one of them and said, “Hello!”

The boy pointed at the girl and said plaintively, “She stole my fish!”

I couldn't help laughing at that. But Michael just smiled at the kid – the boy can't have been older than eight – and said, “Oh dear! What's your name?”

“Ilt– um...” The kid seemed to have been about to answer, but trailed off. Valiantly soldiering on, Michael said, “Could you get another fish?”

The boy seemed to be having a sudden attack of shyness, and just looked at him for a moment. Then he pointed at the girl (now over the far side of the green) and repeated, “She stole my fish!” And off he ran, chasing the girl again.

Things were getting a bit eerie by this point. We just walked on through the village, not stopping to talk to anyone else, looking for someplace that looked like a wizard would live there. Haniton is a coastal settlement, and we'd been able to see the sea as we approached; now we just made our way straight through to the beach. Sure enough, there were two or three houses there, and one of them looked vaguely more magical than the other... In that it had a sign above the door with a picture of a potion on it. There wasn't much else to distinguish between them, so that was all we had to go on. Paula was wanting to just barge in, but at my urging, she knocked at the door. An old man's voice cried tremulously, “Come in!” So in we went.

The door opened straight into one big main room. There was an open fire burning in the far wall, giving the place a warm homely feeling. Most of the rest of the walls were either oak panelled or covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. There was a small dining table in one half of the room, and a few chairs and a desk in the other. Sitting at the desk was a guy who had to be the Wizard Vrathia. He had grey hair and an old lined face. He wasn't wearing wizard's robes, but he was dressed in a fancy blue and green shirt of some kind to go with his deep blue trousers. He turned his chair away from the desk to face us, and said, “Good day to you. How can I help you?”

Paula stepped forward unhesitatingly and said, “Are you the wizard Vrathia?”

The old man nodded once and said, “I am.”

Paula smiled at Michael and me, and then continued, “We've been sent from the King. We're on a quest to reach the Atlantean City. We understand you could provide us with some water-breathing spells to go there?”

“Well, now, is that true,” mused the old mage. “Old Balshazzar sent you here, did he?”

At our blank looks he clarified testily, “The King.”

Paula looked like she was stifling a giggle as she agreed, “Yes, the King sent us to you.”

“And what are you seeking in the Atlantean City?”

“We need to retreive the Heartstone of Water. We've already obtained the Heartstone of Earth,” she added proudly.

The wizard ruminated for a little, while we stood there waiting. In the end he said, “Well, Balshazzar knows what he's doing. I can make the spells you need, yes.”

The three of us turned to one another and grinned broadly. Then Vrathia added, “But... I will need you to fetch me some ingredients.”

We really, really should have seen that one coming.

So, off we traipsed along the coast, to find a little bay where some rare crabs breed. We made our way there easily enough, and had to scramble down the clifflike rock front to get to the water. Once we were down there – surprise, surprise! – we had to fight the crabs.

They were huge! I mean, I guess on screen they'd be pretty much normal size, the way things look in the in-game graphics. But when we actually had to attack them ourselves... They were literally two feet long or more. And they scuttled damn quickly. One of them got me on the shins – it hurt like anything, a really nasty graze. I had to smash its shell with my staff. Paula dispatched a couple with Varyn's huge sword, and Michael did some nifty move that ended up in him chopping all the legs off the last one, letting him finish it off at his leisure.

Before we left we had a look around the rest of the bay. There were a few caves, half-full of water... We decided to have a little fun exploring. At the back of this cave was an old wooden box, and in there was a suit of chain mail armour – hauberk and leggings. Pretty random. In another remarkable coincidence, it was exactly the right size for Varyn – or rather, for Paula. I asked her, “Do you want to put this on now? You may as well – it'll give more protection than those leathers you've got on at the moment.”

She agreed and started taking off her trousers. Suddenly I realised that Michael was just standing there watching... with a rather dirty grin on his face, I might add. He was practically drooling. I may have been a bit snappier than necessary when I told him, “Turn round! You can't just watch a lady changing clothes!”

So while Paula took off Varyn's leather vest and trousers, I divided my time between watching her and making sure that Michael wasn't peeking. It did strike me that this is Michael whose room is covered in posters of female video game stars. Now that Ultimate Dream's main character Varyn has been replaced with the rather curvier Paula, is he going to start fantasising over her all the time? I don't like that!

Anyway, after Paula had dressed in the chain mail (somehow she just knew how to put it on... I wouldn't have a clue), we picked up as much of the crab carcasses as we could carry (they were blimmin' big things, remember), and lugged them back to Vrathia.

The wizard nodded in approval, and said, “All right. I'll get to work on these, making up some potions for you. You can have a walk around the village for a bit if you want, and come back when they're done.”

At this point, Michael's eyes lit up in comprehension. He nodded to Vrathia, said “Thank you”, and dragged Paula and me outside. “Right, I know how this kind of event goes,” he said. “We have to find something in the village to do that'll trigger him to finish the spells for us. Just waiting around won't do it. Every game has something like this.”

“So we have to go round talking to those creepy people again?” That was Paula.

“I'm afraid so. Just let me handle it,” he said confidently. We kinda fell into step behind him.

It's funny, the village literally only had about six houses. They were each built of wood, and most of them had only one room inside when we made our way in. Michael led us into each of the houses in turn – not bothering to knock, just like Paula earlier. Nobody seemed to mind, though. He went round talking to the inhabitants, and then he'd go picking stuff up off their tables or out of their wardrobes! I mean, I knew he nicked stuff occasionally, but this was really quite blatant. And the people didn't seem to mind... even when he'd peer into their pots and pull out a healing potion or something. (What is it with pots in this place? Everybody seems to have pots in or around their house... Anyway...)

Most disturbing of all was the way that all the people in the houses only had about one or two things to say, and if we talked to them again, they'd just end up repeating themselves. Like, one of them ranted about the way he hadn't been able to catch many fish recently, due to a sea monster eating them all. Paula asked him what he'd been doing instead, but he just looked at her funny and said the exact same thing again. Michael just urged us to walk away (after scanning the guy's table for anything we could take). I realised as we were walking around that the guy at the gate did exactly the same, too.

One guy we talked to was telling us about his son, Mac, who'd gone fishing and got lost at sea a few days ago. He begged us to go look for him (so I guess we know he wasn't really lost at sea). And he gave us this whistle that he said would always make the boy's dog come running.

When we left that house, Michael said, “That was probably the event we needed to trigger. Let's go back and see Vrathia.” Paula and I, unnerved by the people who'd repeat the same things over and over, happily agreed.

Sure enough, the wizard welcomed us in, saying, “Good timing, young adventurers. I've just finished your potions.” He handed them over and said, “I guess you'd better go speak to Barlin the sailor. He'll probably let you use one of his ships.”

But I wasn't quite ready to leave just yet. “Before we go, sir,” I asked in a rush, “is there something wrong with the people of Haniton? They all seem to only say the same things over and over again.” I wasn't sure what the others would think of me asking that, but Paula at least seemed just as curious about it.

Vrathia just looked at us speculatively for several seconds. “You really aren't the normal kind of visitors, are you?” he said rhetorically, stroking his beard. We just stood there watching him, waiting for an answer. At length he said, “The people are fine. As for the question behind your question... You should seek out the Wizards' Academy. The sages there are the people to answer your concerns.” We looked at each other for a few moments, wondering what to make of this, until Vrathia clapped his hands and said briskly, “Now... I believe you have a sunken City to find.”

So like good little plot-obeying bunnies, we walked along the seafront looking for a sailor. We got as far as the edge of town, and had to turn round and walk back the other way... But that wasn't very far, given that it only has six buildings in it. Once we'd walked back past Vrathia's house, it was quite obvious where the sailor had to live. The house had a little wooden sign with a picture of a ship on it.

The sailor took remarkably little persuasion – it seems the name of the King works wonders in little villages like these. (Doesn't anybody ever pretend to be on a mission from the King and then just steal a boat or something?) Helpfully, he also answered a question that we didn't quite ask, and told us how to find the Atlantean City.

And so in no time, we were sailing off into the bay, looking for a sea monster and/or the entrance to the Atlantean City...

And then I woke up.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Sleepy. Current music: Dream of Mirrors – Iron Maiden

Posted at 09:01 on Nov 20th


by varynfan at 11:25 on Nov 20th

I love your version of UltiDri! You tell the story in a really funny way. Keep it up! I want to hear what happens when you get to the World of Darkness... hehehe.

by princess-of-china at 12:02 on Nov 20th


I had exactly the same dream as you, again! All of it! Including the scary crabs and the really creepy villagers who kept saying the same things over and over again!

That's so freaky!!!

by bringiton at 12:34 on Nov 20th

Hey, you've been playing further in Ultimate Dream than I thought you had. I didn't realise you'd got as far as giving Vrathia the crabs and meeting Barlin. There's no need to pretend you're dreaming it, though, Tessa. Although your storytelling style is quite fun, the way you point out the holes in the plot :)

by princess-of-china at 12:39 on Nov 20th

Ben, we've not played that far. Really. We've only played as far as getting told we need the underwater potions. I don't even know if the way these dreams are going is how the game goes.

by bringiton at 12:57 on Nov 20th

Yeah, yeah ;) I can still tell, even if you're all in it together ;)

Not the kind of gaming evening we'd been expecting

Ha, I guess that title sounds really intriguing and exciting. It was a bit disappointing, really.

Paula and I went over to Michael's like we always do on Tuesdays. After chatting a bit we went straight to load our game from Ultimate Dream...

And the savegame wouldn't load.

We were all totally dismayed. We tried a few things like pulling out the memory card and putting it back in, and so on, and none of it worked. We were all really gutted.

But then we were talking about it, and we described the place in the game we'd been at. And then I said, “And, well, I would be really wanting to see what happened next, except...” I trailed off, looked at Paula and giggled slightly.

Michael got this intent look in his eyes and said, “Except? Except what?”

I wasn't sure what to tell him. But Paula saved me the trouble by saying, “Michael, you have to promise not to tell anyone what we're about to tell you.” (I don't know why she said that given I've already described it on my blog, but whatever.)

Anyway, he just looked at her and said, “...You haven't been having dreams where we're going through the adventure in the place of the characters, have you?”

It was Paula's and my turn to be surprised. Paula spoke first, going “Yes, that's precisely it! Both of us have! How did you know?”

And then it just hit me and I said, “Of course, Michael has too. Haven't you?”

“Yes, that's right,” he said. “But I just thought they were normal dreams – well, normal isn't exactly the right word... But I thought it was just a dream. But... Hang on. In your dreams, did we go to a village and meet Vrathia and get sent to capture some crabs?”

“Yes, exactly that!” I exclaimed.

“You mean when I decided to go around talking to the different villagers because he was preparing our potions... you saw that?”

“And the way that you just swiped stuff off their tables,” Paula added with a giggle. “Is that the way you nick stuff from friends?”

He actually had the decency to look a bit embarrassed at that point. “No, of course not!” he replied, a little red-faced. Then his face acquired his trademark rogueish grin as he continued, “That's just what you do in RPGs. We did it in the King's palace last time we met up to play this, remember? Walking around the kitchen and barracks and things, picking up anything that wasn't nailed down? That's just what you do in games.”

“Well... fair enough, I suppose,” I admitted grudgingly. Glancing at Paula I added, “We were rather glad of your experience of the way those places work. It was creepy seeing the townsfolk just repeating the same words over and over.”

“So freaky!!” Paula interjected. (I'm pretty sure she pronounced the double exclamation mark.) “I mean... I know that that's what they do in the game, but...”

“Yeah, it was a bit disconcerting seeing them face-to-face, as it were,” Michael said. “Still, we're on our way to the Atlantean City, which should be quite fun.”

“Fun?” Paula exclaimed incredulously. “Our dreams are being... taken over by this gameworld, and you think it's fun?”

Michael just looked puzzled. “Well... yeah,” he replied, as if it was obvious. “It's the same events that we'd see if we were playing the game. We're just getting to experience them up close and personal. I imagine that when virtual reality consoles get good enough, people will pay lots of money to get what we're getting for free.”

I nodded slowly. He does have a point.

Paula asked somewhat plaintively, “But how is it happening?”

Michael and I exchanged glances and said pretty much simultaneously, “I have no idea.”

We all sat there for a minute or two. Eventually I said, “So... shall we play another game for the moment, then?”

And we did.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Overwhelmed. Current music: Revelations – Iron Maiden

Posted at 23:42 on Nov 20th


by princess-of-china at 23:47 on Nov 20th

Aaa! It was so wacky!

You didn't mention anything about the other games we played. They were fun too!

by varynfan at 03:45 on Nov 21st

No update from Elysia today? I want to see your version of the Atlantean City... hehehe.

by bringiton at 19:18 on Nov 21st

Just to say I got the game back from Michael. I guess I'll have to play through it myself now to see all this stuff from the player's perspective, now that you've intrigued me by making up the “character's perspective” version of things :)

An update from Elysia, as requested

Actually, it's not much to do with varynfan's post requesting the update... we seem to be having these dreams most nights now, and there's not much we can do about it!

As soon as I was back to sleep, I was back on the boat, heading for the place where we knew the Atlantean City was. Pretty quickly we arrived at the spot, according to Barlin. But he begged us not to leave just yet, because he was scared of the sea monster that had been terrorising the fishing lanes recently.

It didn't take long sitting there before the boat started rocking and being buffeted around, even though the wind was quite calm. Then the boat received a couple of fierce bumps.

We had been wondering if we'd find a sea monster, and sure enough, out of the water rose this huge serpent. Well, I say huge – it was much bigger than any snake I've ever seen in real life, but it was small enough that we had some chance of tackling it. So, naturally, that's just what Paula did: whipped out Varyn's huge sword and took an almighty swing at the thing. And she missed. She very nearly chopped a significant hole in the boat!

I tried to think what I'd make Terena do if this were a combat in the game... I figured it'd be worth casting the <Bless> spell on Paula and Michael, so that's what I did. Again, I don't know quite how I knew how to do it, but it just worked. I wonder what it'll be like when the character levels up and I learn a new spell?

The serpent, thankfully, was focused entirely on attacking the three of us. If it had tried to smash the boat itself, we'd have been doomed in no time. As it was, we took some serious beatings, but managed to chop enough holes in the creature that eventually it suddenly collapsed. It was a total on/off thing, it went straight from trying to bite our arms off to falling down dead.

Paula started swinging her sword around and going, “Hey, I think I'm getting the hang of this.”

Michael seemed to be appreciating the way her chest swung around with the sword a bit too much, so I decided it was time to remind them what we'd come here for... And so we took our water-breathing potions and dived over the edge of the boat.

Wow, it's really hard to breathe water. Even if you know you're able to, the body has all sorts of reflexes that kick in to make you try to choke. I flailed about for at least a couple of minutes before I could convince my lungs that actually, they could extract oxygen from the water – I kept splashing back up to the surface and gasping for breath. I think I might have nightmares about that. (If I ever have any other dreams!)

When I'd eventually just about got the hang of breathing underwater, I looked around and saw the others just about swimming capably. Meeting one another's eyes, we started trying to swim downwards, looking out for anything that looked like an Atlantean City. It's not easy, swimming straight down, actually – it's quite exhausting. Your body keeps wanting to straighten out.

As we headed downwards, the sea got darker and darker. This was a factor I hadn't considered. It started getting really quite hard to make out anything more than a few feet away. But we could make out some dark shapes emerging out of the murk, which resolved into shadowy buildings... more and more of them.

As we approached, I was wondering how we'd know which buildings to investigate. I didn't relish the idea of searching through endless deserted ruins for one specific stone. Then I spotted a faint glow through the murk, which turned out to come from the entrance to a particularly large and imposing temple-like building. I turned to check the others were following me, and called out to them.

Then I heard my own voice in my ears, and remembered I was totally immersed in seawater. Wow, it sounds really strange to hear yourself talk underwater. But Michael and Alleria did turn towards me. I gestured towards the light. Michael squinted, and called to Paula in turn. Everyone's reactions were delayed by the water, and so they seemed to be moving in slow motion as they turned towards me. But eventually we were all together and heading for the one source of light in the murk.

We approached closer, and found that it seemed the corridor extended deep into the temple complex. And it was illuminated by ghostly blue light. I couldn't tell where that was coming from; maybe the walls and floors themselves were glowing. Anyway, this was pretty clearly the place to go, and so into the depths we swam.

The passage opened out into another temple court, but this one had two routes out of it. The walls were made of huge chunks of stone, like an Egyptian pyramid or something, and the pillars had stone faces carved into them that made me think of some South American tribe or something. Paula swam slowly past me, looked down each of the two passages, and gestured left then right, shrugging her shoulders. None of us knew which way to choose, so we randomly chose to go left, and swam onwards.

We set off exploring our aquatic environment. To my surprise, pretty quickly we ascended a sunken staircase that wasn't completely sunken: there was some air trapped at the top of it. We emerged from the unexpected surface splashing and spluttering. “For some reason I'd been thinking there wouldn't be any air down here,” commented Michael, in between hacking and spitting out water onto the damp flagstones of the staircase.

“It won't interfere with our water breathing spell, will it?” Paula asked anxiously.

“What, coming up for air? I wouldn't think so. Vrathia said the effect would last for a day or more,” I replied. “But even if we can stay down here for a day if we want, I don't want to be down here any longer than necessary. Shall we press on?”

We continued exploring, making faster progress now that we could actually walk, rather than having to swim. In not-particularly-surprising fashion, we got attacked by some amphibious creatures, and had a few combats as we made our way through this dungeon.

I kept catching sight of Michael's face as we were fighting... He looks so focused, on keeping us safe. His hair frames his face so well, and he's got a great profile. Ohhh... I really, really like him. I ought to act on that.

Ahem, anyway. The Atlantean City had some pretty funky puzzles. There were some chambers that were flooded with water, and we had to pull levers to drain them; there were others that were drained and we had to pull levels to flood them. And sometimes the levers were only accessible if another place was flooded... you get the idea. Fun stuff. (If not particularly architecturally plausible... I mean, it's reasonable that the ancients could build sections of their temples that would channel water into or out of them if levers were pulled... but why would they bother? The temple wasn't even underwater when it was built. And making some sections floodable doesn't seem to achieve much except making it a pleasing challenge to get to the far end. But never mind.)

After one of these puzzles, we found ourselves on a balcony along the top of a big chamber. Far below us we saw a stone floor, and sitting on it, a boy and a dog! “That must be Mac!” whispered Paula, and then without waiting for a reply from us, she called out in a resounding voice, “Hey, Mac!”

The sound bounced and echoed around the chamber, and gained an immediate response from the kid, although he didn't seem to be able to tell where the sound was calling from. That was easily dealt with: Paula cried out again, “Up here! We've come to rescue you!”

“Paula, we can't get to him from here,” I said urgently in a low voice.

Completely unfazed, she called again, “We don't quite know how we're going to get to you yet. So wait a little. But we'll get there!”

Finally spotting us, and demonstrating for the first time any sense of comprehension or indeed sentience, the boy shouted, “Okay!”

We followed the balcony around, and found another puzzle-room, where we could only reach the next section if a pit in front of us were flooded. Except the lever to activate that was nowhere to be seen... until Michael spotted a lever several floors below us. We puzzled over this for a while, until eventually Paula had an idea: “Hey, we could get Mac to come and push the lever for us!”

“But isn't he, you know, trapped?”

“No,” said Paula airily, “there's a ledge just below his platform that he could jump to if he knew it was there. Come on, let's go tell him.”

I let myself be swept away by Paula's exuberant decisiveness. It seems Michael was getting to know Paula a bit better, as he exchanged a helpless grin with me and mutely followed Paula.

Her idea worked like a charm: once we'd communicated to Mac what we needed him to do, he was happy to help. Next there were some levers we could reach that affected the region he and his dog were stuck in. Then there were some rooms where Mac had to go one way and we had to call his dog along a different path... lucky we'd been given that whistle by the guy in Haniton, eh?

So we made our way through the watery maze, and eventually met up with Mac and his dog. The kid had seemed so scared and depressed when we met him; now he seemed full of beans and blazing with energy. When we had the next combat with a bunch of crab-people, he was terrified, and ran and hid until it was all over. But mostly, he seemed a good kid, although not very talkative.

It wasn't too long after that that we arrived at the Boss Chamber. You could tell that was what it was by the ornate passageway on the approach, the imposing doors at the entrance, and the sparkling magical field beside the doors... once we figured out that this patch of sparkles was in fact a save point :) The air inside it seemed to be charged with magical energy, but it didn't seem to do very much. I don't know what I was hoping for... a big grey menu to appear in the air in front of us listing the contents of some memory card? That would be somewhat unlikely. Anyway, it seemed that saving the game was something you only get to do when you're playing the game. When you're living it, you have to win first time.

So we took deep breaths, and opened the door. The room beyond was mostly flooded, with a few platforms of stone jutting out of the pool at different heights. No creature was immediately visible – it was only when all of us were through the door and standing looking around warily that the doors rumbled shut, and a huge octopus-like thing emerged from the pool. First came a tentacle, sliding up the side of the pool and onto the platform next to us. Then another tentacle poked into the air and waved around, showing us some evil-looking suckers, before landing on another platform further away. Then finally a rounded head slowly surfaced, turned around, and faced us.

For several seconds, nobody spoke. Then a watery gurgle emanated from the octopus creature, which resolved itself into words: “Vvvaryn. Iiiii ammm the Guaarrrrdiann of Waaaterr. Leeeeaavvve thhhe Waaaterrr Shhhriiiine nnnowwww.”

“Sorry, mister Guardian,” chirped Paula nonchalantly. “We came here for the Heartstone of Water, and we aren't leaving till we get it.”

“Youuu will onllly brinng dessstruuuctionnn upoonn youursellllf,” bubbled the Guardian.

“Yeah, yeah, that's what the last guy said. Everything's been fine so far,” she replied cockily.

“Thennn prrrepaaarre youuurselllves,” came the gurgle in response. And suddenly a tentacle shot out of the water and wrapped around the child, who shrieked in shock and fright.

“Mac!” Paula cried out. Michael leapt to follow Mac, drawing his daggers and slashing at the tentacle in one fluid movement. (He looked so cool and dynamic when he moved.) The squid-thing let out a roar of pain and released the boy, who fell into the water and splashed about, shouting “Help! I can't swim!”

I jumped into the pool and swam a few strokes to where he was floundering, put one arm around him and swam to the nearest solid footing. Then I turned to the Guardian and gave it such a glare. “Pick on the kid, would you?”

At that moment I felt so much like just bashing the thing in any way I could, so I just swung at it with my staff. I missed horribly: it was far too far away. I could only stand there and fume.

Luckily, the others hadn't been just idling while I rescued our charge. Paula had been swimming to one of the platforms closer to the monster, and now she was hacking and slashing at a tentacle that was attacking her.

Michael was initially nowhere to be seen. As I watched, he surfaced on the far side of the Guardian, swimming with his daggers. I realised he'd been attacking the creature underwater – a clever idea. I decided to give it a try myself, and jumped into the slow-motion world under the surface... except it turns out that when your movements are forced into slow-motion by the drag of water, a staff really isn't an effective weapon. And when I resurfaced, the tentacle had grabbed Mac again!

I resigned myself to playing a support role yet again, and spent the rest of the combat defending Mac, casting <Bless> on the others, and <Cure2> when necessary. Paula and Michael got the job done, though. Eventually the Guardian, defeated, fell into the pool. “Yyyouu brrringg only doooooommm,” it warned liquidly. With that, the octopus gurgled its last.

Suddenly, the walls and ceiling started shaking. I looked up, started. The rumbling was increasing, and dust and small fragments of stone started falling from the ceiling.

“What? How did killing that thing make this place collapse?” asked Paula frantically.

Michael replied in an ironic tone, “It must have been a load-bearing boss!” He continued more seriously, “Quick, we don't have much time. Give Mac and his dog water-breathing potions, and I'll get the Heartstone!” Without waiting for an answer he dived smoothly into the pool towards the Guardian's corpse, where I could see something faintly shining through the water.

Paula hurried to extract the potions from her pack. By the time she'd poured some down Mac's throat and got him to open his dog's mouth, the rumbling was making conversation impossible, big chunks of stone tile were falling past us from above, and water was streaming through several holes in the walls and ceiling already.

Michael resurfaced, and dodged a lump of masonry aimed at his head. “Got it!” he exclaimed, waving a glowing blue orb in the rapidly disappearing air. “Is everybody ready?” he asked urgently. We all nodded. With a grimace he said, “Then I guess we wait until we can swim out of here.”

“Shouldn't we take a look outside?” asked Paula, pulling at the firmly closed doors through which we'd entered. “Hmm,” she frowned, as they seemed stuck. She gave a big yank, and the door flew open... with a sudden huge gush of water immediately following.

And then it was just a long swim up from the depths, to find our sailor friend and start sailing back to Haniton... Before we woke up.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Refreshed. Current music: Sunshine After The Rain – Berri

Posted at 08:43 on Nov 21st


by princess-of-china at 10:54 on Nov 21st

It was really weird figuring out how to breathe water. I kept realising I was trapped under the sea and having to fight back the urge to choke.

But do you really think Michael was interested in me? I didn't mean to distract him with swinging that sword around, I promise!

by varynfan at 14:19 on Nov 21st

Wow, so cool to see your description of the Atlantean City! ^^

Yeah, I always thought that having an NPC to protect in only the second boss fight was quite an evil decision on the part of the game makers.

by taleteller at 18:54 on Nov 21st

I know you weren't doing it deliberately, Paula. It was just a bit offputting to see his eyes swinging from side to side as you did.

A strange interview

Back in Elysia again. We travelled back from Haniton across the wilderness to the Royal City. There were two more combats – one with a bunch of strange green slimy things (they were quite easy to beat), and one with some bandits. That was a real gulp-in-the-throat moment, as we had to suddenly fight to the death with these figures who really looked completely human. They were coming for us, and so I guess it was self-defence, but still... We killed people today. That's not something to easily take on board.

They weren't easily beaten, either. There were only two of them, but one of them gave me a huge whack with this horrible club with spikes in, that probably broke my arm. Paula and even Michael had seemed a bit reticent until that point, but when I screamed and clutched my forearm, that seemed to shock them into action. I had to use <Cure2> on myself and <Cure> on each of the others afterwards. That was quite a strange feeling, actually, channeling magic into myself, and feeling the agony drain away as the spell tingled and healed me.

Anyway, we made it back to the Royal City (and why doesn't that place have a better name?). We stocked up on potions and Phoenix Feathers at the item shop on the outskirts, and then went straight to the Palace. We were met by a distinctly creepy courtier, who looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Literally, he had the hunch, the stoop, the misshapen head with uneven eyes, the works. Thankfully we didn't have to spend long with him, but he did escort us to see the Chancellor even though we asked to see the King.

The Chancellor greeted us slimily and was very inquisitive of how our quest had gone. (His outfit is so ridiculous, with that big floppy hood and the sticky-out shoulder pads. It looks even sillier when you see it up close.) Paula seemed a bit too willing to divulge all the details to him, so I butted in (perhaps a bit rudely) to request that we see the King. The Chancellor frowned, but ushered us in to the throne room.

The King wasn't busy (funny that), and he was delighted to see us. “Do come in, Varyn, Terena, Maitland.” When we got up in front of his throne, he seemed to do a double-take, and then he caught each of our eye in turn and gave us a broad grin. I didn't quite get what he was meaning at that point. All he said out loud was, “Goodness me, Varyn, that new armour suits you. Your figure was completely hidden by the outfit you were wearing at our last meeting.”

Paula actually blushed as we all realised that this was the first time we'd seen the King in the flesh, as it were, and so last time he'd seen us Varyn was a spiky-haired, rugged teenage boy, rather than a spiky-haired and definitely female adult.

“So,” the King continued, “how went your expedition to the Atlantean City?”

Paula reached into her pack and brandished the Heartstone of Water. “Successfully, my liege!” she proclaimed proudly. “And we freed a trapped boy and his dog as well.”

I definitely saw an amused smile flicker across the King's face at that. “Excellent. Then you must head for Doom Mountain to retreive the final part, the Heartstone of Fire.”

At this point the Chancellor interrupted. “Sire, might I suggest the adventurers leave their two Heartstones here for safekeeping while they make the perilous trek to Doom Mountain?”

The King looked around sharply at that. He peered at the Chancellor with what looked like a suspicious expression for a moment, then said, “Chancellor Binkley, you overstep your mark. All things in good time.”

Then he turned his attention back to us. “There is a legend which tells of a stone gate in the face of Doom Mountain, which can only be opened by the bearer of an opaline pendant shaped in the likeness of a wyrm. Within the mountain there is said to be a cave of fire, and it is in the mountain's heart where the Heartstone of Fire has lain for centuries. You must make your way north-west, through the Kamichika Pass, to Doom Mountain. But you should be sure to have one with you who bears the legendary pendant.”

Are all Kings this credulous of ancient legends?

Still, it was our best shot, so we took his advice and thanked him. Before we left, he proclaimed a blessing over us – something like “May you know the inward guidance of gods from beyond our realm.” The phrasing echoed what he'd said in the game, last time we saw him, when he said our real names. I got the distinct impression that his “inward guidance” turn of phrase was no accident.

Once we were safely out of the palace, Paula and I cracked up laughing. “Binkley! The evil Chancellor is called Binkley! Hahahahaha!”

Once we were done with our giggles, we started brainstorming where we might find someone with this wyrm-shaped pendant. Problem is, the only notable pendant we've seen so far belonged to that sorceress Alleria, and she didn't want to be on the party with Maitland. I wonder if she'll be persuadable now that Maitland is Michael?

-- taleteller

Current mood: Suspicious. Current music: Warning Sign – Coldplay

Posted at 08:42 on Nov 22nd


by princess-of-china at 12:02 on Nov 22nd

I love the “perhaps a bit rudely”. You, Tessa, say something a bit rudely to someone who winds you up? As if you'd do that!

The throne room was really impressive to see in person, though. All that blue and gold decorations, and the statues and everything... Quite awe-inspiring.

Why do you think he looked so suspiciously at the Chancellor?

by take-me-to-elysia at 14:13 on Nov 22nd

Oh, congratulations on finishing the game. I know you must have done because Chancellor Binkley's name is only revealed right at the end... naughty you for bringing it in so much earlier, teehee! Still, even if Binkley doesn't actually ask for the Heartstones at that point, it's fun to see your version of events ^_^

by varynfan at 17:09 on Nov 22nd

Hehehe, good to see you found this blog, takeme ^^ Great stuff as always, taleteller, keep it up!

by ilovealleria at 17:56 on Nov 22nd

This is lots of fun! *.*

by taleteller at 19:02 on Nov 22nd

Oh my God, my blog's been invaded by people who use strange Japanese smileys! Where did you all come from?? (Yikes, double punctuation marks, I must be being influenced by Paula.) Oh well, you're all welcome.

by take-me-to-elysia at 22:48 on Nov 22nd

Teehee... I got here from a link on the ElysianLore site, and I'll definitely keep reading ^_^

by taleteller at 23:37 on Nov 22nd

To Paula: I don't know why the King gave the Chancellor such a dodgy look. But I think he recognised us – as in, Paula, Michael and Tessa, not just Varyn, Maitland and Terena. Remember it was him who originally said our names, last time we actually played the game?

Reunion with a sorceress

We tracked down Alleria to the fancy inn where she'd been staying. She acted all snubbed when we asked her to join the party again, but Paula and I wheedled and flattered and persuaded her to come with us. The fact that the King had specifically mentioned her pendant and its magical powers helped quite a bit.

I did actually get the feeling that she'd been expecting us to come back. She looked closely at Paula when we first turned up – of course, she's another one who last time she saw the party, Varyn was still Varyn. And of course, she added her usual condition that if we wanted her to travel with us, Maitland had to stay behind.

We'd planned for this. Michael had agreed that he'd act all hurt for a little bit and then go away, shadow us for a while, and then rejoin the group when we were some way out of the city. He played his role admirably, and Paula hardly needed to do any further persuasion to get her to agree. Alleria disappeared back into the inn to fetch her things, and before we knew it, we were off.

We set off along the road towards the Kamichika Pass. It was several hours' walk away, but the dream sort of sped through most of it. (Except the combat, of course... We had to fight some more lizardmen on one occasion. Alleria's fire spells made quick work of them in combination with Paula's sword.) I do remember looking around and not being able to see Michael. It wasn't until we could see the Kamichika Gate in the distance that Michael snuck up on us... I guess Alleria must have not looked around, and obviously Paula and I weren't going to say anything when we could tell that the figure closing on us from behind was our friend. He jogged right up beside us and said, “Good afternoon, ladies. May I join you?”

Paula smirked and grinned at him. Alleria looked positively outraged. “What are you doing here, Maitland?! You were meant to stay behind in the Royal City! We can't all go to Doom Mountain together!”

Michael replied relaxedly, “My dear sorceress, why would that be? Seems to me that the more, the merrier...”

Alleria still looked most put out. “I, I, I won't stand for this trickery! I shall return to the Royal City at once!”

“Please don't do that, milady. We need you with us. And we want you with us as well,” I appealed.

Michael added, “If you like, I can stay hidden. I'm a rogue, see? That's what I do. I snuck up on you, I can sneak up on dozy guards.”

“I... But...” Her expression went from affront to objection, and on to bemusement. “And the rest of you are okay with this?” she asked, seemingly as a last resort.

Paula and I nodded. Alleria shook her head and said, “...Very well, then, let's travel on as a four.” She looked around at the three of us and said, “You really aren't the normal kind of adventurers, are you?”

The three of us just grinned again. We had our sorceress and her opaline wyrm pendant; and we'd proved that the three-character limit on the party wasn't an absolute hard and fast rule.

* * *

We had one more combat en route: as we travelled through the foothills, some bandits sprang out of practically nowhere and attacked. Once again I had to steel myself to fighting to the death with humans, or dreamworld semblances thereof that were indistinguishable from real ones. Alleria did comment to me in a low voice afterwards that she hated the fights with humans, and always had to wrestle with herself to cast the attack spells on them. It was a rare moment of vulnerability from the normally confident and imperious lady.

We quickly reached Yamakiri, the little village that had formed just below the Kamichika Gate. The terrain was pretty mountainous and the air was bracing, but the locals didn't seem to mind. An old guy was relaxing by a small fountain, and there were a few buildings scattered around. We took the opportunity to restock – by some amazing coincidence, there happened to be an item shop and indeed a weapon shop and an armour shop amongst the total of about eight structures in front of the Gate.

When we emerged, there was a loud conversation going on in the village square. An outlandishly-dressed man was exclaiming, “In that case, does anyone know how to get into the temple inside the mountain?”

The four of us exchanged significant looks.

We didn't have to say anything; he looked around, and when he spotted us coming out of the shop, he lost all interest in the middle-aged man he'd been talking to and strode up to us. Taking off his wide-brimmed hat and giving us a sweeping bow, he said, “Good day, fair ladies. An exceedingly good one, that my presence might be graced by three ladies as beautiful and intriguing as yourselves. Do I take it that you too are travellers, passing through this place?”

How do you reply to someone who greets you like that? Paula – as both party leader and the most outspoken of us all – was the first to try. “Many thanks for your graceful – er, gracious welcome, good sir. We are indeed merely visiting this settlement briefly. I am, um...” She paused for a moment as she tried to decide how to introduce herself, and seemed to settle on “Varyn, a travelling swords...woman. These are Terena, a skilled cleric, and Alleria, a noble sorceress.” Michael had slipped into the background. Paula added, “And you are?”

“I am Randall, a knight and paladin of the Elysian Court. Currently I have been trying to help the people of Yamakiri to retrieve the platinum Staff of Eldership, formerly used by the mayor to hold office and inspire fealty. But it seems to have been lost in the depths of the caverns of Doom Mountain, and the entrance is obstructed by an ancient gate, magically sealed.”

(A likely story. How on earth would some platinum stick get stuck inside a volcano?? But then, I suppose our quest for a legendary Heartstone of Fire is no better...)

So at this point, I confess the guy's style was a bit charming, but it was slightly starting to grate. I was thinking that we ought to just tell him no and be on our way. But Paula piped up, “What a fortuitous coincidence! We have in our possession the magic item needed to open that very gate, for our objective too is within the depths of the mountain. We can solve both our missions simultaneously.”

(Fortuitous? Simultaneously? Where'd you learn words like that, girl??)

Anyway, I just about stopped myself from slapping my forehead with my palm. Alleria looked similarly dischuffed. Paula just looked around at us with an innocent smile.

Sir Randall appeared somewhat taken aback with Paula's announcement – understandably, I suppose. But recovering quickly, he gave us another standing bow with a flourish, and replied, “With the greatest of happiness would I join your expedition.”

“Well then, shall we be on our way?” Paula asked us. Still a little fazed, Alleria and I just agreed. I did catch Michael's eye as he blended in with the small crowd that had formed to watch the flamboyant Sir Randall; Michael nodded in the general direction of the Gate and slipped away.

So it was as a different group of four that we progressed through the forbidding Kamichika Pass and on the final trek towards Doom Mountain. Ignoring the descent towards forest and plains below, we followed a rocky path that just climbed and climbed, rising steadily towards the face of Doom Mountain itself.

...And that's where I woke up this morning. I'm quite looking forward to seeing what happens next time :)

And I really must start writing these posts a little earlier and actually make it to work on time...

-- taleteller

Current mood: Anticipatory. Current music: Time Is On My Side – The Rolling Stones

Posted at 08:57 on Nov 23rd


by princess-of-china at 12:19 on Nov 23rd

That Sir Randall guy was quite fun. I don't know why you wouldn't want him to come with us into the volcano.

And :PPP to Tessa for insulting my vocabulary!

...Particularly as it was you I learned the words from :) :P

by take-me-to-elysia at 13:08 on Nov 23rd

Wow, having Randall join your party?? That's quite a break from the game ^_^ And with a party of four as well! I wonder how that'll affect things inside the mountain?

by varynfan at 17:09 on Nov 23rd

Yeah, normally he just turns up for brief moments in the Fire Shrine, and then disappears again. I bet Randall leaves them again soon ^^

A world of flame and fury

Our nighttime narration rejoins our heroines as they approach the foreboding face of Doom Mountain. The rocky path petering out into a rugged climb, we pressed on. Michael had rejoined us shortly after we left Yamakiri, and he met with disapproving looks from Sir Randall, but there wasn't much he could do.

The rockface was populated by a few oversized lizardy creatures, which meant – yes, you guessed it! – more combats. Sir Randall has a fencing sword, something like a rapier, and although it looks pretty silly, he was actually pretty good with it. I continued to feel a bit unnecessary during the fighting – I felt like I was strictly in a support role, that could be played just as well by a few health potions – but I kept trying not to let it bug me.

Eventually we stood before a vast stone gate. You could almost miss it, it was so large and looked like it was – how do they say it? – “hewn from the very rock itself”. But there were Ancient Carvings™ in it, and it was basically shaped like two huge double doors in the shape of a big arch.

Alleria's eyes seemed to be glowing as she looked at it. She muttered something that sounded like “This is of my ancestors...” as she approached the gate, holding out a hand to touch it. We all clustered around the centre where the two doors met, as the carvings seemed focused around a certain point there. There was a dragon-shaped indentation about the size of a hand right at the point where all the lines converged.

Our eyes went to Alleria, and she reached for her pendant. Sure enough, it had already started to glow. She took the mystical relic and placed it into the socket, where it fit perfectly, and immediately a deep rumbling started. You could just tell that a background theme song indicating Deep Significance would have been playing if we'd been watching this on a screen. But any deficiency in the atmosphere caused by lack of musical accompaniment was more than made up for by physically standing at the base of these thirty-foot-high doors as they shuddered apart sideways while the ground literally trembled beneath us.

(Looking back on it now, I am forced to wonder where the hidden recess was in the side of the mountain into which the doors slid? It's pretty fortunate that the mountainside hadn't been eroded to expose the hole to the elements. It'd suck for an ancient race to build some magical sliding doors, and then when they get opened by the Adventurers of Destiny, have the doors jam because they got stuck on a fallen boulder.)

Still, at the time, the effect was quite awe-inspiring. The passage revealed was lit by an ominous red glow coming from the walls. But what else could we do? We walked into it.

At first, the tunnels were formed of granite, with glowing red-and-yellow cracks running through the walls and ceiling (thankfully not the floors). There were a number of enemies scattered throughout the place, from salamanders and hostile animate flames (flame elementals, Michael called them), to goblins and imps. Many of them were utterly invulnerable to fire-type attacks, which really vexed Alleria as those are her strongest spells. She discovered that her <Ice> spell, although she says it's much lower level than her <Fireball> and <Hail of Fire>, worked particularly well against the enemies in here. I was pretty useless through all these fights, because my staff is pretty useless in combat. The only thing I'm good for is healing everybody afterwards. (Yep, that's Tessa, our walking medical kit.)

This place had some fun puzzles in. Although a couple of them didn't seem to work so well from a point of view actually inside the place... And there was one room that was clearly supposed to be a puzzle, but it was really easy! There were these switches that lifted a section of path up out of this pool of lava; and it was just totally trivial for Paula to just walk straight up the middle while the other four of us just stood on these switches to make the path stay clear. It looked like if there were just three of you, it'd be really quite tricky and you'd have to do lots of moving back and forth... But somehow the ancients who created the place must have only imagined that the adventurers visiting would be in groups of three.

When we got through that room, we made it into a huge, roughly circular cavern, full of acrid smoke that made us all cough. Almost all of the floor was a huge bubbling pool of lava, which radiated heat and made your face hurt. Looking up, we could see the night sky: we were actually within the central crater of the volcano. There were some oversized crows and things flying around, which made a beeline (crowline?) for us, so we started by fighting them off. After that we could look around a bit more. There were a load of rocks floating in the lava, somehow not melting, forming a few chains of stepping-stones. There were a load more rocks floating in the air above the lava, magically hovering over the crater and tracing paths up and down and around. It was quite a sight. We had to each leap in turn between the stones, and climb onto the circling levitating ones when they were down low, in order to reach the higher platforms.

Another memorable part of the Fire Shrine was right at the end, as we approached what would turn out to be the boss's room, we passed along a very narrow granite walkway – basically just the top of a wall – with cascading curtains of lava falling on either side. I was willing to ignore considerations of the practicalities of how one would pump all this lava around, because the effect of walking between these two red-hot waterfalls of molten rock was pretty damn cool.

Then was the huge iron studded door that led into the boss's chamber. I asked Michael if it was worth me casting <Bless> on the party before we went in, rather than waiting for the whatever-it-would-turn-out-to-be to attack us. He reckoned it would almost certainly get dispelled when we entered, but I thought it was worth a go. Unfortunately, he was right – their golden auras disappeared as we passed through the doors.

Passing through those doors, we entered a big circular chamber. Its walls were hung with decorations, and interspersed with more constantly-falling curtains of lava. The place was full of treasures, and there was an intimidating-looking creature standing in the middle of it. The thing looked somewhere between an ogre and a demon. It was about eight feet tall, and almost as wide, basically humanoid but very heavy-set, clad in dark metal armour, and with two big spiralling horns emblazoned on its head.

“I am the Fire Shrine's Guardian,” the creature rumbled in a gravelly, booming voice. “Thou wilt not claim the Heartstone of Fire while I live.” It paused for a moment, then looked directly at Paula and added, “Human known as Varyn. Thy actions will bring nothing but misfortune and doom. Thou shouldst abandon this misguided quest.”

Paula looked at me, and she looked genuinely troubled. “...What is it?” I asked after a few seconds.

“You know, Tessa, maybe we should do as he says,” she said hesitantly.

“Whaaat?” I was gobsmacked, and it seems Alleria and Michael hadn't been expecting that either. Even the Fire Shrine Guardian looked surprised.

Paula valiantly continued, “Well, both this guy and the Water Shrine Guardian said it was a really bad idea. Even the guy in the Earth Shrine said something like that. They all keep going on about doom, as well. So maybe we should take their advice?”

Michael replied uncomprehendingly, “But... the game's plot clearly has the party obtaining the three Heartstones.”

She acquired a positively mischievous grin as she looked at Michael and said, “But we don't have to follow the game's plot, do we?”

At this point Alleria chipped in. “What is this ''game'' you keep talking about? This is no time for games!”

The three of us started a little. I'd forgotten Alleria and Sir Randall were there. The paladin was standing watching us expressionlessly, but Alleria looked very confused. Paula, Michael and I exchanged helpless glances, and unanimously decided not to even try to explain. (What would we say? “You see, Alleria, we come from a world where people entertain themselves by guiding your life through this kind of adventure, and controlling where you walk and what kind of spells you cast, and thousands of people around our world play this game?”)

Sir Randall spoke up. “From what you told me earlier, I understand that you've been appointed by the King of Elysia to fetch the Heartstones under his orders. And I only seek the platinum staff of the Yamakiri, but this creature appears to be holding that as part of its hoard as well. So I believe our duty, as loyal citizens, is to fulfil our King's commission.”

Paula still hesitated. “Even if that's leading to doom and destruction?”

Solemnly Sir Randall affirmed, “Even then.”

Paula looked thoughtful for a moment longer, and then her expression totally changed to a carefree smile. She shrugged and said, “Well then, let's get on with it!”

“You will not be deterred?” rumbled the Guardian.

“Afraid not,” said Paula cheerily.

“Then prepare yourselves!” With that, the hellish thing drew two savage-looking blades, practically cleavers, and leapt at us.

It was fast! Paula was just about able to draw her sword and parry in time, and even then, the force of the thing's blow drove her backwards at least a foot and knocked her to the ground. Sir Randall was immediately lunging at the thing with his rapier, Michael surged off on a sweeping run with his daggers, and I set about recasting the <Bless> spells that we'd wasted outside the door.

Alleria, to her credit, spotted that the beast's speed was one of the most dangerous traits about it, and started casting her <TimeSlow> spell on it. When the Guardian noticed this, it turned at her and roared the most menacing roar I've ever heard. It stamped on the ground, which shook and disrupted Sir Randall's charge, and then aimed a slicing blow of its weapon at Alleria. Her spell took hold of the thing and its blade slowed in midair... but that didn't quite give her time to dodge. She tried, but the vicious blade chopped her arm off. The thing literally chopped Alleria's arm off.

She screamed, and so did Paula and I. Michael had the presence of mind not to slow his attack, which is just as well because the Guardian kept on attacking, at his reduced pace (which is to say, at about the pace most of the other enemies we've fought had). I choked back my terror and, shaking, cast <Cure2>.

That was really weird to see, as well. The spell started swirling around both Alleria, clutching her shoulder in agony, and the arm lying on the floor... and it lifted her arm up to her and knitted it back together. (She moved her hand away from her shoulder pretty quickly when she realised what I was doing.) There was still a bleeding gash there, but she flexed her fingers and bent her elbow in wonder. This all took just a few seconds, and she threw me a quick look of profound appreciation and relief, then went straight back to casting attack spells at the beast.

It didn't look like it knew how to fight five people. Paula, Michael and Sir Randall were pressing in on it and falling back, nipping in to get in an attack and then ducking as the Guardian's flailing blades whooshed past. But it heard the sound of Alleria's chanting, and turned to direct its attention back at her. For some reason the creature really seemed to hate having spells cast on it, and so it started slashing at Alleria. She was just about managing to dodge the evil swords while keeping up her spellcasting, but it was touch and go. The attacks of the others seemed to be doing serious damage – I was sure the thing couldn't have many hit points left – but it was focusing on Alleria. Finally, she stood up straight and defiant as she cast <Ice> straight at its face.

The Guardian howled in pain and anger, and viciously swung its outstretched arms together. Alleria looked to her left and right in terror, and then there was no time left and nowhere to dodge...

She got cut in two. Hacked through the waist by a demon's cleaver. Her look of horror stayed on her face as she slumped to the ground.

But the Guardian had left itself exposed. Shock- and anger-fuelled attacks from Paula, Michael, and Sir Randall converged on the demon-thing and dealt the final damage needed. It lurched, swayed, and toppled to the ground, its impact shaking the floor.

For several seconds, the four of us left alive just looked at one another and around the room, gasping for breath.

Then I felt tears welling up and I cried, “Alleria–!”

Michael looked grave for a few moments. Then he said, “Paula, do you have the Phoenix Feathers?”

“Phoenix...? Oh my goodness, of course!” Paula was looking seriously shocked, but she reached into the pack and brought out one of the magical things.

I hadn't actually looked at one since we'd been in the gameworld “up close and personal”, and peering through a haze of tears, it just looked like any other feather. Paula was staring at the magic item similarly and asked Michael after a second, “How do we use it?”

For the first occasion in quite some time, Michael looked uncertain. He hesitantly said, “I guess, just... place it on her body...?”

Paula looked like she was hoping against hope as she stepped up to our fallen comrade, lying gruesomely on the floor. She took the Phoenix Feather in two hands, held them both out straight above Alleria's body, and let the Feather fall.

It drifted downwards, gently, seeming buffeted by the breeze, achingly slow, and eventually landed on Alleria's chest...

And magic happened.

I can't describe what I saw. There was gold and light and sound of rushing wind and crackling flame. I think my hair stood on end a bit. And then I heard a spluttering cough, and Alleria got up.

She was looking distinctly the worse for wear, and I remembered the way that in the game, if you use a Phoenix Feather then the recovered character comes back with a tiny fraction of their hit points. I knew what to do about that. “<Cure2>!”. (Yes, I actually cried out the spell name as I cast it. I was feeling emotional, all right?)

I don't think I let the spell finish before I ran to give Alleria a fierce embrace. She looked at me rather strangely and didn't exactly hug me back, but I didn't care. I was just so relieved to see her back alive. And even then, I realised that I didn't quite know whether she was really alive or not, whether she was just a figment of our dreams or a character from a game or what... And I didn't really care. Just having seen her... die... and now being able to see her and talk to her again... It was scary.

Of course, I did realise that from her point of view, this wasn't the first time this had happened, and she'd not really known Terena for that long. So I let go of her fairly quickly, and she stepped back. But looking around I saw Paula looking just as relieved as I felt.

Sir Randall, meanwhile, had been looking around the room. “Aha!” he exclaimed, picking up a thick shiny rod. Then he looked at us and said, “Didn't you ladies have a Stone of some kind you were looking for?”

Paula nodded enthusiastically and jumped to search. She wasn't searching for long: there was a big pedestal prominently positioned opposite the door, with a large red gemstone displayed on it that looked, well, like a red version of the Heartstones of Earth and Water.

“Here we go, guys!” exclaimed Paula with gusto, and lifted the stone high. “We made it!”

“My congratulations to you all,” said Sir Randall with a bow. “Where are you bound now?”

Paula answered happily, “Back to the palace!”

“Then it seems our paths may coincide for a little longer,” he stated solemnly. “May I accompany you back to the Royal City?”

“Of course!” Paula and I said at the same time. Then we glanced at one another and shared a smile. I don't quite know what was on her mind, but I know that I rather enjoyed having Sir Randall with his exaggerated courtesy around.

So, that was pretty much that. We left Doom Mountain; Sir Randall delivered his platinum staff back to the Yamakiri elder, who was overjoyed; and the five of us started the boring trek back to Elysia's Royal City, to see what happens now we've got all three Heartstones. Wish us luck!

-- taleteller

Current mood: A mixture of many things. Current music: Hot Stuff – The Rolling Stones

Posted at 08:48 on Nov 24th


by princess-of-china at 09:15 on Nov 24th

Good luck, us! :-)

It's funny how when we're in the gameworld, we recognise that we're dreaming. You don't normally get that in dreams, do you?

By take-me-to-elysia at 09:19 on Nov 24th

Wow. I never thought what it would be like for a character to see one of their friends get killed in battle, even if you can use a Phoenix Feather. Intense.

I love the way you made Varyn almost decide to give it all up! That made me giggle!

by varynfan at 09:45 on Nov 24th

Yeah, that bit was scary. I stayed up waiting to read this next chapter... I need to go to bed now, it's 2am ^^

by bringiton at 13:40 on Nov 24th

Your international friends are funny, Tessa :)

It'll be interesting to see what variations you decide to make up for the next scene in the palace... ;)

by taleteller at 17:56 on Nov 24th

I'm not making this up, Ben, really. It was damn scary in there. Not that it bothers me much either way whether you believe me or not.

by princess-of-china, at 18:03 on Nov 24th

Hey, Tessa, we don't view you as just a “walking medical kit”. We are glad to have you with us, really!

by taleteller, at 18:11 on Nov 24th

...Thanks, Paula. I know you are. It's just... All the rest of you have skills that are actually useful in combat. My staff couldn't hurt a slime. Having to stand around like a lemon just gets to me sometimes.

A night out

Paula and I went clubbing tonight. A new place has just opened, so we decided to check it out. Even if, in Paula's words, “just to give you something except Elysia to write about on your blog, right, Tessa?”

After we'd been there only half an hour or so, I spotted Ben, strutting his funky stuff on the dancefloor! I called Paula over and we went to say hi (yelling over the music, obviously). He pointed out his mate who he was with – a guy called Stuart, who I think we've met once before. He had sharp taste in clothes, and danced pretty well, and wasn't bad looking... Somehow though, something was telling me to steer clear.

I figured out what it was a bit later, when the four of us went to get a drink. Stuart commented that Paula had looked good with the blue highlights in her hair, and asked why she'd ditched them. Paula pointed at him in horror and shrieked, “You're the guy who was making rude comments about my hair at Ben's party!”

Now that I looked for it, I could recognise him. Paula carried on, “You insulted it then, why are you saying now that it looked good?”

The guy shrugged, and replied with a grin, “Maybe they grew on me afterwards.”

Anyway, despite his rudeness, he was an okay guy to be around. And we all had fun losing ourselves in music and movement. So all in all, it was a good night.

I wonder whether the late night will mean I get less time in Elysia tonight? I wonder whether it waits for all of us to sleep before we all go into it in our dreams? What would happen if one of us stayed up all night, and the other two slept? So many things we don't understand about this connection to the gameworld that we have :)

Anyway, I'm off to bed... I'll update in the morning to tell you what happened in Elysia!

-- taleteller

Current mood: Sleepy. Current music: Dazed And Confused – Led Zeppelin

Posted at 02:48 on Nov 25th


by varynfan, at 04:19 on Nov 25th

Hehehe... We don't often see you post when it's evening over here. Good to see a little peek into your life ^^ But I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens in your version of UltiDri, so hurry up and get to sleep!

by princess-of-china, at 07:45 on Nov 25th

You had the right idea to steer cleer of that Stuart guy. He made a pass at me as we were leaving the club, and needed telling no two or three times. Slimeball.

Anyway, hurry up and tell them about what happened last night, with the weird swirly hole and everything! Or else I'll describe it here, but I'm not as good as you at that, so you should!

The doom that was impending

Okay, okay, Paula, varynfan, here you go! The latest update from Elysia, complete with weird swirly hole. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I found myself back with Paula, Michael, Alleria and Sir Randall, on the road from Yamakiri to the Royal City. “Did I miss anything?” I asked – not a very sensible thing to say in retrospect, I guess. It certainly earned me a strange look from Alleria. But Paula giggled a bit, so it seems she understood why I said it.

The trip back was fairly uneventful, as they often are in these games: a couple of combats as we made our long trek north, and that was about it. (I don't know whether it's a good or bad thing that killing bandits has become a routine event for us and I don't think much of it...)

However, things were plenty eventful enough in the palace.

Sir Randall took his leave from us once we arrived at the Royal City, declaring that although he'd love to accompany us to the palace, he had to return to the paladins' court. We urged him to stay a little longer, but he wouldn't be swayed. So we bade him farewell. I was sad to see him go – having him with us has been by turns reassuring, amusing and exciting. Reassuring because although I'm sure we could cope without him, he is a strong fighter; amusing because his outlandish clothing and mannerisms have grown on me; and exciting... I don't think I'm going to go into any further detail on that one.

So we arrived at the palace. The creepy courtier we'd seen before met us with a cackle, and escorted us to the Chancellor as before. The Chancellor looked positively delighted that we were back successfully. At the time I didn't know why...

Once again, we were able to go and see the King without any further delays. He also looked delighted to see us. “My congratulations, Varyn,” he said warmly. “With these three stones, we can establish communication with the Realm of the Dragons, and prevent any more occurrences of the kind of disaster that befell your home town.” Paula nodded solemnly... I wonder if she, like me, had forgotten the actual reason we had been collecting the Heartstones?

The King said formally, “Chancellor, would you perform the ritual?”

“Gladly, my liege,” murmured the silly man, and stepped towards us. He held out a hand towards us, and I wondered what he wanted. When nobody moved for a few seconds, he said irritably, “Well, hand over the Heartstones, then. I need them to perform the ritual, you know.”

“Oh... of course. Sorry,” said Paula rather embarrassedly. She pulled the three gemstones out, each one pulsing and shimmering with power. The greedy expression on the Chancellor's face really should have alerted me that something was up, but I just stood there like a lemon. I think Michael might have been looking a bit suspicious of the Chancellor's intentions, but he didn't do anything either.

The Chancellor lifted the three Heartstones together in his hands, and began to incant. It was clearly a powerful spell, as gusts of wind started swirling around us, and beads of sweat appeared on the Chancellor's forehead.

Suddenly, the gusts turned into a whirling disc in front of us, and we could gradually see some kind of scene in it, like it was some kind of screen. Or rather, a portal... a “weird swirly hole”, as Paula so succinctly put it. The Chancellor continued incanting under his breath.

“Good work, Chancellor!” commented the King jovially. “Now, do you have a messenger to the Dragons?”

“Ah. I'm afraid that that won't be possible... your Majesty,” cackled Binkley. And suddenly, I couldn't move. As in, literally I was paralysed in place. I happened to have been just turning my head to glance between Michael and Paula, and so I could see that they'd both frozen as well.

The Chancellor laughed maniacally. “Muhahaha... Look at that, Kraus! The mass paralysis spell can be cast so quickly when amplified by these stones!”

And I heard a higher-pitch cackle from behind me, in the unmistakable tones of the Chancellor's misshapen assistant.

“But I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, your Majesty, that no emissary to the Dragons will be needed,” continued the Chancellor. “After all, we can control them using the enchanted gold from the Goblin Mines in the World of Darkness. As ruler of the World of Darkness, I've already prepared enough of that gold to command twenty Dragons. So sending an emissary would be fairly pointless.”

I confess, I was shocked at this point. It had been blindingly obvious that the Chancellor had been up to no good, but I certainly hadn't been expecting him to turn out to be an evil ruler of the realm we'd been working so hard to enter.

“But... Chancellor... Why?” The King croaked the words with immense effort.

The Chancellor turned to him with a mocking version of the expression a teacher uses to praise a child who's done particularly good work. “Goodness me, your Majesty, you can move your lips! And indeed vocal chords – even through my Heartstone-amplified paralysis spell. I do congratulate you. But as for your question, the answer is simple: because ruling the World of Darkness isn't enough! Knowing that there's this entire realm just sitting here, not being ruled by me, became intolerable. So I warped myself though to this world and set myself up my courtesan identity. But even with my immense powers and the finest Warpwood from the Twisted Forest, I still couldn't create portals large enough for what I needed. That's where Paula and her friends came in.”

He paused in his spiel to laugh demonically, and then continued, “And now, thanks to these Heartstones you so generously fetched for me, I've finally been able to open this portal to the World of Darkness!” He turned to give a mock-bow to us, while we fumed impotently. “So Kraus, tie up his Majesty and these fools!”

“Nyehehehe. Yes, Your Excellency,” snickered Kraus, and started scampering around us to tie us up with rope. We just stood there helplessly. When he tried to tie me up, my arms were splayed out from my sides where they'd been when Binkley cast the spell. He scowled at me, then focused intently and muttered, “<Motion>!” And my arms just moved down to my side. Part of me was thinking 'Hey, that's a pretty neat spell', while the rest of me was being tied up. Then suddenly, we could move again, and Alleria stumbled, nearly falling over. I looked around at the others: we were all tied around waist and arms, and bearing expressions of fury at Binkley's betrayal.

“Now,” gloated the Chancellor. “Time for you all to be thrown in the dungeon! But since you foolishly neglected the need for a dungeon in this palace, 'your Majesty', we'll have to take you through this nice new portal... to the Citadel of Darkness!”

And Kraus cackled one last time, long and loud, as he yanked on the rope and shuffled to follow his master, pulling all of us into the swirling depths of the portal.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Afraid. Current music: Trap – The Cure

Posted at 08:50 on Nov 25th


by ilovealleria, at 10:07 on Nov 25th

Ohhh... You can't leave it there! *.*

by princess-of-china, at 12:31 on Nov 25th

Sorry, ilovealleria, but that's where the dream left us! :-)

What worried me a bit was the way that Binkley, when he was revealing his masterplan in the way villains do, called me Paula. Most people in Elysia call me Varyn – the only people who don't are those we travel with like Alleria and Sir Randall, and the King who said our names before we ever got into Elysia face-to-face at all. How does Binkley know our real names?

by taleteller, at 13:02 on Nov 25th

You know, that's a good point, Paula. Scary.

by bringiton, at 17:31 on Nov 25th

Heh. Maybe he just overheard you talking among yourselves? Or maybe he's been spying on you with mystical evil eyes :)

by taleteller, at 18:12 on Nov 25th

Thanks, Ben, really helpful :P

by bringiton, at 21:06 on Nov 25th

I do my best ;) (And after all, I didn't mention the most obvious possibility, that you're all just making it up...)

Thrown into the World of Darkness

I was looking forward to going to sleep last night, but dreading it as well. We'd just been pushed into a portal into some evil alternate dimension, after all. What on earth would be waiting for us?

(Yes, okay, I know, it's not actually on earth at all...)

Well, we didn't see much of the World of Darkness at first. We stumbled into a cavernous chamber, lit with guttering torches mounted high up the walls. Looking up, I saw the ceiling was vaulted and impressively high. There was a throne in the place where King Balshazzar's throne had been, but it looked nothing like it: this one was set on a high platform, made of black marble and adorned with skulls. I got a seriously stereotypical “Evil Throne Room” vibe from the whole place.

The Chancellor had gone through before us, and now he stood on the raised dais and laughed a true evil villain laugh. “Welcome to my realm, Paula, Michael, Tessa, Alleria, your Majesty. Welcome... to the World of Darkness.” That was a good cue for another evil laugh, and Binkley was never one to pass up an opportunity like that.

Anyway, once he'd finished posing, he got Kraus to drag us down a stone staircase and into a dungeon, complete with cells made from metal bars. There was some kind of hobgoblin-like creature down there with a jangling bunch of keys; after Kraus had separated our ropes and thrown each of us into a separate cell, the jailer locked each gate and then went back to sit down and pick its nose.

Before he left, Kraus stood at the dungeon's exit and said to us, “If it'd been up to me... I'd have killed you all.” Then the misshapen servant cackled to himself and walked up the staircase.

I feel a bit ashamed... when the five of us were sitting down and looking at each other, I started feeling a bit despondent. Paula, on the other hand, wasted no time in figuring out how we were going to get out of there. She started off, “Right. Michael, can you reach any of your daggers?”

“Hmm. Good question. It's going to be difficult. I'll try,” he said, with a note of respect for Paula's businesslike attitude in his normally casual voice.

“Hey! No talking!” rasped our hobgoblin captor, waving a stick at us.

Paula completely ignored it as she continued, “Good. Give it a try. In the meantime... Alleria, can you cast spells with your arms tied like that?”

“Only the most basic ones,” replied our sorceress doubtfully. “Why?”

“Isn't it obvious? You need to burn the rope that's holding you. If you hurt yourself we'll get Tessa to heal you.”

“Hey, be quiet!” The jailed wandered over to Paula's cell and lashed out through the bars with his stick. She jumped backwards, scowled at the creature, and then said to Alleria, “Well, give it a try, then.”

Paula clearly had the right idea: even with its armour and the sword by its side, the jailer couldn't possibly unlock our cells to come in to punish us, because any one of us (except perhaps me) would have been able to easily beat it in a fight. The monster could only shout impotently from outside the cells.

Alleria looked at Paula in frustration, and then concentrated. I could see her fingers wiggling and her hands twisting slightly as she tried to cast the spell with her motion so impeded. At least a minute passed before a faint plume of smoke came from her hands, tied behind her back, and not visible to the jailer. She caught my eye and I smiled encouragingly. She returned the smile, redoubling her efforts. I was sure I spotted her wince in pain as the rope singed and blackened behind her.

The jailer seemed oblivious to her efforts, just glancing around suspiciously from time to time as he stood watching us. I think it hadn't understood our plans because it didn't speak very much English... Or whatever language we were speaking. That's a whole other rant that I'll leave for another time!

Anyway, Alleria freed her hands. I called to her, “How about <Sleep>?” I was well aware that this would call the jailer's attention to me; that was part of what I wanted. It worked like a charm (as it were). The hobgoblin came over to my cell's door to tell me to shut up; Alleria swung her hands around from behind her to cast <Sleep> on the creature; and it fell over, hitting its head on the bars of my cell door.

Unfortunately, this was a bit too far away from the door to Alleria's cell for her to be able to reach. “Do you think you'll be able to burn away my rope like you did yours?” I asked her.

She replied hesitantly, “It'll be harder to control, but I can try...”

There followed a distinctly painful time of standing with my back pressed to my cell door, while Alleria tried to summon the smallest possible ball of fire and keep it from burning me too badly while it gradually burned a hole in my ropes.

Once that was done, I immediately relieved the hobgoblin of the jangling bunch of keys, and awkwardly opened my own cell door by reaching round and inserting the key from the outside.

“Nice!” cried Michael appreciatively as I leapt to open the others' doors. I beamed at him.

There was one other prisoner in the jail besides the King and our party. He introduced himself while I was healing Alleria's self-inflicted burns. “My name is Lothar, of the Borgendon Dwarves,” he stated. “I am in debt to ye for releasin' me.”

“Why were you locked up here?” Paula asked.

“For defying the Dark Lord. Why else?” snorted the dwarf. “I insulted a goblin when he lashed one of my brethren; the Dark Lord happened to be visitin' the Goblin Mines that day, so the goblins drew me before him. I swore at him, and he ordered me to be bound and brought back here.”

We were looking at one another. “The Dark Lord?” Paula asked.

“That, I fear, is my Chancellor's true identity,” said the King sorrowfully. “Or at least, the name he goes by in this world.”

We were silent for a moment, taking in that the guy we'd known as Binkley was in fact Dark Lord of an entire parallel world.

“Why did you swear at the Dark Lord? You must have known that was a risky thing to do,” said Michael after a moment.

“Ah... I was... a wee bit tanked up,” said the dwarf, looking a bit embarrassed. Paula giggled.

Then she appeared to move on, and said briskly, “Right. We've got out – well done. Now, what how do we get back to our world? Er... I mean, back to Elysia?”

Alleria looked puzzled at the correction. Michael and I grinned at it, as did the King.

The dwarf, however, looked as us as if we'd all turned into baboons. “Elysia?” He peered at us more closely, and his expression turned incredulous. “Wait... ye're not serious, are ye? Ye've come from Elysia?”

“Yes, good dwarf, I'm afraid we have,” said the King, sighing. “Your Dark Lord has taken over Elysia as well. I was its king... now I'm just an outdated old man.” Suddenly he looked very tired.

“Ye gods. And I thought that place was just a fairy tale. And that bastard has kicked ye out? Well if there's anything ye can do wi' a bunch of enslaved dwarves, ye'll have our support. We hate that maggot.” Lothar spat in the corner of his cell, and then rubbed his forehead. “Man... I'd think I must have been drinking, except I know damn well that I've not had a drop since I've been locked up in this cursed place.”

“Well, you're on your way out of it now,” said Paula with a grin. “Shall we go?”

“Ah, wait a moment, Paula,” said Alleria hurriedly. “If we climb those stairs, we'll be going straight back where the Dark Lord was.”

Michael looked at her analytically for a moment, then said, “I don't see any other exits from this dungeon. But there could be secret passages, or something, I suppose. Anybody good at finding secret doors?”

Lothar replied gruffly, “It's one of the things dwarves are known for. I'll have a look in each of these cells. Give me those keys.”

He only took about two or three minutes to discover a way to do something to one of the stones in the wall of the furthest cell that caused a portion of the wall – what had looked like solid stone – to slip away, revealing a dark tunnel. “I assume none of ye can see in the dark?” he asked. We assured him that none of us could. Irrationally, I felt embarrassed at the admission. Nobody had ever expected me to be able to see in the dark before!

Lothar gave us a rough smile and said, “Well, I can, so don't ye worry. Just follow me closely, and we'll see where this leads.”

Once we got through the initial pitch-black section, we quickly emerged into stone tunnels... and the torches on the wall of the tunnels were burning, despite the dust and cobwebs seeming to indicate that nobody had been in this passage for years. Obviously, they must be magical. Surprising nobody, we had to fight a few times as we made our way out through the passages, mostly against giant overgrown spiders. Their bite seemed to inflict some kind of poison, and I don't have a spell to cure poison, so the guys had to use Herbs from Paula's pack to alleviate that. However, I did find myself longing for some kind of way to be useful in the combats... and I just found myself channeling the magical energy into some kind of attack spell! It glowed white and silver, and a beam of light just appeared from overhead (even though we were in a tunnel) and kind of... consumed the spider.

I have to admit, the looks of the others as they saw what I'd done felt really good.

We carried on, having to flick a switch or two to open some locked doors. We had one more combat where I got to cast my attack spell again, and realised how draining it was – I drank one of the potions that are normally only used by Alleria, the ones to restore magic points. I was a little worried she might object to my using up her reserves, but she just smiled at me as I asked for it. Pretty soon after that, we found a tunnel with a light at the end of it. We exchanged glances and ran towards it. And finally, we were out of the secret passages and out into blissful light.

Except that the relief was pretty short-lived, as we took in the kind of world we'd found ourselves in.

The sky was all clouded over. Not like the kind of clouds we're used to living in England – these were reddish-brown, hazy clouds, in strange shapes, and the sky behind them was a weird greenish orange. The grass all looked kind of blighted and withered. Perhaps the strangest bit was the trees: they weren't really trees at all, although they were just as tall as you'd expect trees to be; but they were bulbous and globular, coloured a sort of vomit green, and their trunks were smooth and slimy. There was a strange smell in the air, like an unpleasant food. Everything about the whole place was just a bit disturbing, a little twisted, slightly off from how you'd expect it to be. It all combined to have a distinctly unnerving effect.

Looking round, I saw that Alleria and Paula were looking astonished and disgusted. Michael was looking paranoid and unsettled, and the King was just looking sad and somehow very old. Lothar the dwarf, on the other hand, was smiling. After a minute or so he said, “Ah, it's good to be back in the open air. Months I've been in that damn citadel. Right, what are we going to do with the lot of ye? Where do ye need to go?”

Still looking upset, Paula said, “I guess we need to get back to Elysia. Does anyone have any idea how to do that?”

Michael said thoughtfully, “Well, when Binkley was gloating back in the Royal City, he mentioned that he needed the Heartstones to open a big portal, because some kind of Warpwood couldn't do it.”

“Oh yeah,” Paula said. “Something like... Warpwood from a Twisted Forest? Lothar, do you know where that is?”

“The Twisted Forest? You guys don't waste any time throwin' yerselves back into danger's way, do ye?” The dwarf laughed shortly, and then said, “Aye, I can point ye the way to that place.”

The King spoke up at this point. “Noble Lothar, I don't think I can travel around this World of Darkness with these young adventurers. Do you know of anywhere near here where I can rest?”

Lothar looked away thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “Aye. There's a small group of dwarves who escaped the Goblin Mines and are livin' in the ruined town of Hanick. They can probably shelter ye.”

“In which case, let us depart thence forthwith,” said the King. Once the rest of us figured out what he meant, we agreed.

As we travelled away from the place we'd been imprisoned, we were able to see more of it. The Dark Citadel really did dominate the landscape for miles around, set on top of a forbidding crag. The landscape we were travelling through continued to be unsettling – what had seemed like grass was rubbery and yellowed, and rather creepily, turned to continually point towards us as we walked past. The sky was slowly changing colour as the afternoon turned into evening, but it never looked like a normal sky – always a bit alien and disturbing. The shape of the hills and arrangement of the roads started feeling familar, and we realised that the lay of the land was almost exactly like that in Elysia around the Royal City. The Dark Citadel occupied the space corresponding to the palace, and we were heading towards where Haniton had been.

Except once we got there, the difference really drove itself home: where Haniton had been a happy, thriving fishing town, Hanick was a ruined town.

All the buildings were about where they had been in Haniton, but not one of them was intact. Most were missing one or more walls; those that weren't were missing a roof or windows. There were even a couple of wooden posts where Haniton's gate had been, where the “welcoming” villager had been resting on the gate. The wind was harsh, blowing through the empty structures and cutting to the bone.

We got attacked by a skeleton before we'd had a chance to do more than look around the place. I was a bit freaked out by seeing these disconnected bones and grinning skull swinging a rusty sword at us. Michael, however, said, “Aha, undead! Tessa, try casting <Cure> on it.”

I looked at him as if he'd turned into a haddock. “On it?! Why would I want to try to heal the thing that's” – I dodged a swing of its blade – “trying to kill us?”

“Just trust me,” he said softly. I gazed at him for a moment, still frightened, then nodded.

Well, sure enough, the <Cure> spell turned out to damage the creature significantly – enough for one swing of Paula's sword to finish it off. I raised an eyebrow at Michael and said more confidently, “Let me guess. That's the way the stereotype in RPGs goes?”

He grinned at me.

“Come along, ye gawkers,” called our dwarven guide. “The dwarves will be hidin' themselves in the basement of one of these houses. We'd best get searchin'.”

After looking in almost all of the buildings (and fighting off several more skeletons), we found a basement that looked intact. Entering the cellar, I scanned it for dwarves or doors, but couldn't see any sign of either. Disappointed, I told the others, but Lothar just gave a faint smile and said, “Let me take a look.”

He found the secret trapdoor within a minute, of course. I sheepishly followed him down the narrow ladder, with the others behind me. The King had some difficulty making his way down the ladder, and we had to wait for him at the bottom. Lothar then led us confidently through a couple of earthen tunnels before we came out a wide entrance into a large cave... with several dwarves glaring in hostility at us, and pointing an intimidating assortment of swords, axes and halberds in our direction.

“Peace, brothers,” said Lothar. “I'm a refugee from the Dark Lord like ye all. These humans are warrin' to bring him down.”

That was enough to earn the acceptance of the fugitive dwarves. We were beckoned in, and arrangements made for the King to stay with them. The dwarves initially came across as quite a taciturn lot, but we were soon to discover the reason for that. Shudder.

One of them, a burly dwarf called Barghok, asked us if we needed any supplies. Paula and Michael jumped at the chance to resupply, and spend some of the cash and things we'd been accumulating from the corpses of monsters we fought. “Just go see our friend Pattor over there,” he replied gruffly, gesturing vaguely at the other side of the cave.

I looked across where he pointed: there were several dwarves standing around on the far side. “Sorry, which one was that?” I asked.

The dwarf looked at me very strangely and didn't speak. I repeated my question, “Which dwarf was that, sorry?”

“...Our friend Pattor over there,” said Barghok, with a cough. I sighed, and decided we might as well go talk to all of them anyway.

On the far wall, we spoke to several dwarves in turn. The first one was probably Pattor, as he said, “Would you be needin' any items?” We bought a number of potions from him, which he just pulled out of a large barrel behind him. The second one grinned at us and said proudly, “I bet ye'd love to get hold of some handcrafted Dwarven armour!” We bought a suit of heavy plate armour from him, for Paula – conveniently, it was a perfect fit. He had some bracers and chest plates and things that might fit the rest of us, but I didn't think they looked like they'd be much good. The third one was selling weapons, so we got an upgraded sword for Paula and some more daggers for Michael.

The fourth one just said, “It's hard, makin' ourselves a home from home down here. But it's better than life in the Goblin Mines.”

“Oh, yes, Lothar mentioned those,” I replied casually. “What was it like there?”

Once again I got greeted with a strange look and a silence. I wondered if it was a sensitive subject, so I tried asking a slightly different question, “I assume the goblins are on the side of the Dark Lord, then?”

The dwarf looked at me for a few seconds, and then said, “It's hard, makin' ourselves a home from home down here. But it's better than life in the Goblin Mines.”

A shiver ran down my spine as I realised what was going on. Just like in Haniton, the everyday people here only had one line, and would just repeat it if we kept talking to them. (Yes, call me slow if you want.) I started feeling sorry for this dwarf: whatever the reason behind it, it must be quite hampering to only have nineteen words you can say. But I also realised there was no point trying to talk any further to this guy.

I returned to the others, who were talking to Lothar. Paula was saying, “...Showing us the route is all very well, but will you come with us?”

“I don't have much place to be goin' now that I'm out of the Dark Lord's dungeon, that's for sure,” said the stocky dwarf slowly. “But one of ye would have to stay behind. Er...” He looked at me, Paula, Michael and Alleria, and said, “...Two of ye would have to stay behind here.” He looked puzzled.

Paula asked him, “Why's that? Surely it'd be better to travel in a bigger group?”

Now it was Lothar's turn to look at Paula strangely. Then he caught Alleria's eye: she was gesturing something at him with an apologetic look on her face. Lothar seemed to be avoiding Paula's eye as he mumbled, “It's just not a good idea to have too many of ye.”

Paula continued, “But wouldn't it be –“

“Give it a rest, Paula,” interrupted Michael with a strange smile. “I don't think we're going to be able to persuade him.” Alleria nodded, looking relieved.

Paula just shrugged. Then she yawned and said, “It's been a long day. Is there anywhere you guys have that we could rest?”

Lothar regained his normal confident expression as he replied, “Aye, that there is. It's no' luxury, but it'll give ye a place to catch up on some sleep.”

And so following Lothar and the vocabularily-impaired Barghok, we made our way to the sleeping caves and bedded down. I dropped off to sleep in the World of Darkness, and woke up in my bedroom in my parents' house.

And that's about that.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Apprehensive. Current music: The Edge Of Darkness – Iron Maiden

Posted at 8:47 on Nov 26th


by princess-of-china, at 11:58 on Nov 26th

Heehee, it looks funny reading Lothar's accent on paper. (Well, on screen. You know what I mean.) You're right, though, that is precisely how he speaks.

And your expression when you realised you'd cast some kind of attack magic was so funny as well, Tessa. You were elated and astonished and delighted, all at once.

by take-me-to-elysia, at 14:10 on Nov 26th

Hey, you only just got <Holy>? That should have happened some time ago. When I played I got it while my party were in the Fire Shrine.

by varynfan, at 15:31 on Nov 26th

I think it's because there's been four of them in the party for a while, sometimes even five... They've been sharing out the experience points between more characters than in the game, so each party member levels up less often ^^

by bringiton, at 19:12 on Nov 26th

Wow. Listen to this!

““Just trust me,” he said softly. I gazed at him for a moment, still frightened, then nodded.”

Gawd, Tessa, you should be writing trash romance ;)

by taleteller, at 20:04 on Nov 26th

:P:P:P to you, Ben :)

A forest of twists and warps

And going to sleep in my parents' house, I woke up in Hanick. The dwarven pallet was remarkably refreshing to have slept on: I felt totally rejuvenated compared to my exhausted state when I fell asleep (both in the World of Darkness and in my bedroom). After attempting to breakfast on dwarven bread (they must have teeth like chainsaws!), we bid farewell to Lothar and the King, and set off following the directions Lothar had given us to the Twisted Forest.

The strange sights of the World of Darkness resumed very shortly after we emerged onto the surface, into the ruined town of Hanick. We headed for the coastline, which was in the same place as it had been in Haniton. The sea, however, was... different. And when I say “different”, I mean “not there”.

At the edge of town, where the beach was in Haniton, the land just disappeared. A sudden cliff continued as far downwards as the eye could see. Looking out over where we'd expected to see the ocean (that we'd swum through to retrieve the Heartstone of Water), there was just a vast emptiness. Clouds were floating through it, although the clouds were a brownish-yellow colour, because this was the World of Darkness, after all.

There was just one feature in the huge, disconcerting sea of nothingness. A castle was floating in the middle of the nothing. It wasn't on an island of ground or anything – it was just literally the castle and nothing else there. The castle itself seemed obviously magical: its stones were pulsing with light and slowly changing colour, from cyan to yellow to green and back again.

“What is that thing?” I exclaimed. But Paula, Michael and Alleria were just as astonished by it as I was. I guess it would have been useful having Lothar with us, to be a guide. But not worth leaving two of us behind for!

So we trekked on, beside the Sea of Nothing, dealing with the usual combats, although the wandering enemies in the World of Darkness were as strange and misshapen as the plants and everything else. Alleria acquired a new spell, <Elements>, which creates a simultaneous hail of fire and ice – it was quite something to see, as well as being very effective against groups of small enemies. Before too long we saw a forest in the distance. The forest itself was shimmering like a mirage, even though it wasn't especially hot, as the sky was covered in the usual World of Darkness haze. But as we drew closer, the forest didn't stop shimmering as you'd expect. It was still wavering back and forth before us when we were standing right in front of it.

Michael said, “Okay, guys, we'd better be careful and stay close together. Usually if a place indicates like this that it's got some kind of illusory nature, that means there are paths that don't take you back where you came from if you walk back the way you came, and things like that. Let's just take care.”

The rest of us soberly nodded and moved into a tighter huddle. The entire region was shrouded in mist, making the treeline disappear into greys within a few metres from where we were. It was eerily quiet, as well. Taking a gulp, we stepped into the haunted place.

The Twisted Forest lived up to its name. There were paths going through it, but they looped and snaked their routes in every which way. There were times when, as Michael had suspected, we retraced our steps only to find ourselves somewhere entirely new, or back somewhere else that we'd been ten minutes earlier. There were times when I could swear what looked like a path shimmered and disappeared as we walked towards it. And all the time we were being attacked by malevolent creatures from out of the trees, each a twisted version of some kind of forest creature: disturbing fox-things with two heads and three tails, rabid squirrels with hugely oversized and overly pointed teeth, flocks of green-and-orange wasplike things each as large as my fist, packs of huge scorpions with razor-sharp pincers, and so on and so on.

We were looking for a particular type of tree that was especially given to warping the space around it. This, according to the Hanick dwarves, was the source of Warpwood and the most likely way to be able to return to Elysia. And according to RPG clichés, it was going to be at the furthest reach of the forest, past all the puzzles, and probably guarded by a stronger monster than most of those around.

So it was no surprise that we had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get there. We had to follow a track that was hinted at by a piece of paper we found in a treasure chest. (Lucky nobody else had taken the paper, isn't it? Unless some of the forest denizens take the paper from the corpses of unsuccessful adventurers and return it to the treasure chest...) We had to spot which tree was shimmering the most and walk through that one, as it turned out to be illusory. We had to trace our way through a region where any wrong step would wind us up back at the start. We had to fight lots and lots of the ubiquitous demented forest beasts. We had to solve puzzles involving rolling logs around, which is quite some effort, actually.

Eventually, though, we made it to a glade where the trees warped and wavered wildly, and one tree grew in the centre of the glade, as if all attention was focused on it. Michael said, “Is everybody fully healed from the combats?”

After a chorus of assent, he nodded to Paula, who grinned defiantly and said, “Let's see what defences this tree's got.”

Boldly we stepped forward towards the tree. And sure enough, its wavering intensified, as did that of the glade around us. None of us were particularly surprised when the tree uprooted itself and started moving its branches towards us in defence. More startling was the way that the space around us was flickering and fading to some kind of starfield. We started fighting, and it was as it we were running around on a big invisible plain. The only interruptions in the star-studded blackness were one another and the tree. It was quite trippy.

So we fought. Alleria tried a few spells of different elements, and confirmed that fire was the most effective against this particular boss, so continued launching fireballs into its trunk and branches. Paula and Michael were finding ways to use their edged weapons against it. (I guess Lothar with his axe would have been a sensible choice – they often do that, it seems, having the first boss after a new party member becomes available particularly susceptible to that character's attacks.)

I was dividing my time between casting <Holy>, healing people after they got hit by the immense branches swinging around with awesome force, and trying to dodge the big tree. It seemed to be concentrating its attacks on me for some reason. I got hit by those huge fists of wood three times. The first time I'm sure it broke my shoulder. I forced myself to concentrate through the agony on casting <Cure2> on myself, and the pain was relieved significantly. The second time it knocked me flying across the empty space, bruising my ribs and slamming me into the invisible ground. I didn't immediately cure myself: Alleria was lying flat on the ground as well, crying in pain and clutching her leg after a hit from the tree, so I decided to try to alleviate her pain first. <Cure2> did the job quite nicely... but it seems I was distracted by concentrating on her. I heard Michael cry “Tessa!” and turned to look at him – and suddenly saw a hundred tons of angry tree hurtling towards me. I didn't have time to do anything but flinch before I felt the impact, straight upon my head, and then nothing more.

* * *

The next thing I knew was warmth, and a sensation of... fluttering, almost tickling. I blinked a few times, seeing golden light swirling before my eyes. There was some kind of tingling all over my body. I realised I was lying supine on the ground, so I shakily stood up. I was almost knocked right over again by Michael and Tessa both running to give me a fierce hug. Their words were tumbling over one another. “You're all right!” “You're alive!” “We were so worried!” “It was such a shock!” I was still quite stunned by what had happened, and I just let them hug me for a while. I noticed Alleria standing close, and I felt warmed also to see the obvious relief on her face too.

Something that did make my heart leap was when I spotted tears not only in Paula's eyes, but in Michael's too... Paula cries easily, but I've never ever Michael like that. It's rare to see him express any emotion at all. Not quite knowing what to think, I just held tightly onto them both, immensely relieved to be back.

My friends released me after a bit, and I asked, “What happened with the tree?”

“It was tough without you. Potions aren't as good as your spells. We only just managed to take it down. Alleria did most of the work.”

Paula pointed. I noticed that we were back in the glade, and she was indicating a fallen tree lying at its centre, still shifting slightly as one looked at it. I said, “Shall we go get a piece of this Warpwood then?”


I attempted to stride over to the fallen tree, but it was more of a wobble at first, as I was still finding my feet, a bit shaky post-Phoenix Feather. Still, I got there, and there was one obvious branch of the thing that was loose – well, more of a twig compared to the size of the vicious creature that had attacked us, but this twig was easily as big as my staff.

I picked it up, and gasped aloud at the energy I felt in the thing. It was practically humming. I experimentally tried waving it and pointing it. Paula exclaimed, “Don't do that!”

“Why not?” I said, slightly chastened.

“It might warp you off to another world or something.”

Something about the way she said that made me laugh. “You know, Paula, in many other contexts that concern would have been completely absurd. But in this case, that's pretty much precisely what we're hoping for, isn't it?”

She smiled a little shame-facedly. “I guess so. But... should we all hold hands or something? So that if one of us gets teleported away, we all do?”

“That might make sense,” I shrugged. I offered a hand to Michael, trying to keep my expression casual as I did so. He looked me in the eye for just a moment before he took it, with the faintest of smiles. Paula took the warpwood from my other hand and exclaimed, “Wow, this does feel like it's full of power, doesn't it?” Michael took hold of Alleria's hand. Then Paula held the stick in the air – er, I mean, held the warpwood aloft – and concentrated. I was watching the stick, and I saw it suddenly stop wavering and hold perfectly still, while everything around us suddenly shifted, warped, turned hazy and phased out. In its place appeared... what looked like a very similar glade in another forest. But the trees were actually tree-coloured: the green didn't have the bluish tinge we'd got used to, and their trunks were a refreshingly normal brown. The grass underfoot was actually green, and looking up at the sky, it was blue! And the clouds were white and puffy, not the strange angular patches of fog that had so unsettled us.

Alleria seemed the most uplifted by the change. I heard her breath catch in her throat as she gasped. Then she exclaimed, “Elysia! We're back in Elysia at last!”

“So how come it worked for Paula and not for me?” I asked.

Michael caught my eyes and said with a grin, “She's the main character, remember?”

My laugh was meant to come out more cynical, but I think I was too happy to really pull that off. How vexing.

Paula turned to smile at all of us and said, “Good job, guys! Now, where to next?”

“You're insatiable, you know that?” I told her. More seriously, I added, “I think we need to get out of this woodland and figure out where we are. If it's the same place in Elysia, then I guess we could wander back to the palace.”

Alleria looked at me. I couldn't place her expression. She seemed to be about to say something, change her mind, and then said lamely, “Isn't Haniton closer?”

Michael didn't seem to have noticed her vacillation. “Good point – we're running low on potions after that forest,” he mused. “What do you reckon, Paula?”

She shrugged. “Doesn't bother me too much. Let's get moving.”

Guess what? In this forest, we got attacked by things! This time they were ghosts. Lots and lots of ghosts, drifting out of the trees at regular intervals and trying to suck away our life. Thankfully, though, the ghosts were perfectly susceptible to normal physical weapons as wielded by Paula and Michael. Convenient, that. The normality of the trees was still a pleasant change, even if the ghosts and fog added up to make the place distinctly creepy.

We finally emerged from the place, and saw the rather reassuring sight of the Western Sea, calmly filled with water, and comforting in its presence and reality. So we followed Alleria's suggestion of heading for Haniton, as we'd come out on that edge of the forest. We were steadily plodding along the fairly short journey to the familiar coastal town when I woke up.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Upbeat. Current music: Who Says You Can't Go Home – Bon Jovi

Posted at 08:31 on Nov 27th


by bringiton, at 08:58 on Nov 27th

Ah, Tessa, you neglected the basic RPG principle: always heal your healer first :)

by princess-of-china, at 12:12 on Nov 27th

It was so scary seeing you get killed by that boss, Tessa. Michael was in tears, and really mad with the tree – he went berserk, swinging at it with his daggers. Obviously I was too. I never want to see that again... I mean, I know we had Phoenix Feathers, but still.

by varynfan, at 12:37 on Nov 27th

Hehehe, I like the way you have Alleria point you to follow the game's plot when you try to go in a different direction! In the jail, and then again here ^.^

by taleteller, at 17:52 on Nov 27th

Hmm. I did idly wonder if that was what she was doing. I can't quite tell what's the deal with Alleria – she's not restricted in what she can say, like some other characters we meet, and she usually seems like she's just going through experiencing the events with us. But sometimes she seems to know more than she's letting on. Maybe I should just come out and ask her straight what's going on.

by ilovealleria, at 21:19 on Nov 27th

You make it all sound so real! *.* I'm looking forward to seeing how you take what happens in Haniton... muhahaha

by taleteller, at 22:08 on Nov 27th

Should I be scared?

Haniton and what happened there

Oh boy. Things are getting creepier.

When Haniton first appeared over the horizon, we could tell something was wrong, because there was a plume of dirty black smoke rising from it. I wondered if they were just doing some kind of controlled crop burning, or just a bonfire or something.

When we got closer, the dragon that we saw running amok kinda put paid to that theory.

It was a huge, sinuous thing. It did basically look just like every stereotype dragon on the cover of every fantasy book. And it was breathing fire at houses. People were running away – several of them passed us on the road, and shouted at us to run for our lives. It might have been a sensible thing to do, but hey, we're adventurers, right?

What was a real shock, although we should have been expecting it, was when we saw Chancellor Binkley there, along with Kraus. We didn't initially recognise him – he'd ditched his silly Chancellor's robe (with its big floppy hood) for a costume much more fitting for a Dark Lord. It was black, obviously, and studded with diamonds or something. It had serious spiky shoulderpads and flowed down his body. He looked basically like every Grand Vizier after he's imprisoned the King and risen to power.

He spotted us as we approached. I'd been hoping for an infuriated or even terrified cry of “What are you doing here?” But instead, he just laughed maniacally. “Ah, Paula and her friends. I've been expecting you.”

Paula cried angrily, “What, you expected us to escape the jail, and not just that but get the Warpwood too??”

“But of course,” he said with a smug grin. And then he said something that made me shiver. “After all, that's how the game's plot goes, doesn't it?”

“You sent this dragon?” I asked accusingly.

“What, this cute little thing?” He gestured fondly at the rampaging monster.

“Cute in a “bite your hand off and roast you” kind of way?”

“Is there any other?”

He gave a mad laugh, and then continued deprecatingly, “I just brought it with me purely as insurance. How was I to know the mayor of Haniton would reject my generous offer?”

“What did you “offer” to them?” I spat.

Totally unfazed by our hatred, Binkley replied, “Why, simply that they join my empire. I offered them very generous terms – not only would I invite them all to my Ball tomorrow at the Floating Castle in the Sea of Nowhere, but I wouldn't burn down their town! Alas, they didn't want to pay my modest taxes, and declared a misguided loyalty to the former King. So I set the dragon loose. I'll stop it after it's taken out half the town, and see if they want to renegotiate then.”

That was interesting. “You can control it to that level? How do you do that?”

With a smug grin, our nemesis replied, “Yes, I'm sure you'd like to know that, wouldn't you?”

This made Alleria gasp for some reason. “But... you... they...”

“Oh, don't worry, my dear,” said the Dark Lord in a tone of mock reassurance – for what, I didn't quite know, although I have a disturbing guess. To Paula he said, “It's all in the Wyrmstone. You see this?” He held up his hand, containing a red orb which was glowing malignantly, like a sinister tomato. “Holding one of these puts you in a telepathic link with a particular dragon. One can use this link to talk to the beasts, if one's that way inclined. Or one can override the dragon's will and... force it into action. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a mayor to blackm... um, I mean, negotiate with.”

Then he looked straight into my eyes, and with a truly demonic smile, he added, “Oh, by the way, Tessa – I look forward to seeing how you describe this encounter on your blog.”

AAAHHH!! How is this happening?! There's this crazy villain from a computer game who knows our real names and is reading my blog!! How much else does he know about me??

...Okay, okay, I'll breathe.

Anyway, at that point he said, “I'm off to talk to the mayor. Enforcement Director Kraus, could you keep our visitors entertained while I'm busy?”

Kraus looked at us and cackled in a truly insane way. “Gladly, master!”

Kraus had also acquired a new costume for his new role. It was grey and red, with highlights of gold. But it couldn't hide his deformed shape, and nothing could have hidden his deranged expression. It did, however, effectively hide the two swords he was carrying until he'd already charged at us and whipped them out at the last minute. Paula dodged, but still got a nasty cut from one of the scimitars, whose blade had blazed with flame when it hit her.

All thoughts of following Binkley disappeared when Kraus followed up his attack with a spell that hurled spikes from the sky. That really hurt all of us. The others got busy attacking him while I got busy healing Paula and the rest of us.

He was tough. He had an evil evil spell that paralysed a person for a full minute – I guess it was similar to the version that Binkley cast on us in the King's throne room. Whenever that one came out (and thankfully it was only every few minutes), I grabbed a magic-points potion and spent most of the minute healing the paralysed member, because not being able to dodge makes you seriously vulnerable. He had several other powerful spells. He had the one sword that dealt flame damage that I've already mentioned. And his other sword imparted cold... not just chilling, but painful iciness that slowed down its target as well as hurting disproportionately to the damage it dealt.

Still, with four of us we had an advantage beyond what one's meant to have in the game. (If we're even still following the game at this point? I have no idea what Binkley's knowledge of our presence from outside the gameworld will mean. He certainly sounds like he's aware of the fact that we're in a game... does that make him free to change it? I just don't know!!) But anyway, we managed to beat Kraus... except that we didn't actually get to kill him: when he collapsed to the ground and we were standing over him inexorably, he cackled nervously and cast some kind of Smokescreen spell. By the time it cleared, he had gone.

We ran urgently into Haniton, hoping to catch up with Binkley, or at least find out what had happened. We only made it to the village in time for the latter: the Dark Lord was nowhere to be seen, but the effects of his visit were dreadfully obvious. Even besides the charred and devastated buildings, there was the glum expression on the face of the mayor, as he stood shambolically outside the town hall. We walked up and hesitantly asked him what had happened.

“I gave in,” he sighed. “I agreed our town would pledge fealty to him. What was left of us would, anyway,” he added bitterly. “What else could I do? I feel like a double failure... I failed our King by not standing up for him, and I failed my people by not immediately capitulating.”

There wasn't much to say to that, so we just stood in commiserative silence for a few moments. With a glance at the rest of us, Alleria changed the subject slightly by asking him if he knew what Binkley had been referring to when he mentioned the Ball. The mayor answered sadly, “Yes, we're letting ourselves be exploited straight away. He's going to create a huge magical bridge from Haniton pier, out across the sea, and the end will somehow warp you off to some other world of darkness. Apparently he's got some fancy castle there, which is where he lives, and he's holding a party to celebrate taking over Elysia, and he's invited every Elysian to come. Of course, most people are too busy working the fields to come, so it'll just be the aristocracy there.”

We exchanged glances. “And this is tomorrow night?”

“Yes, apparently so,” said the mayor despondently.

We walked off and huddled. “Okay, gang,” said Paula. “We need to stop him terrorising these towns. That Wyrmstone is the key to that. And the one place and time we know where he's going to be is tomorrow evening. So... we go to the party, pretend we're aristocrats, and then sneak away and steal the stone while he's entertaining visitors. Sound good?”

“Do I have to dress up like a ponce?” asked Michael, making a face.

I smiled flirtily at him and told him, “It might quite suit you, you know.” He looked unconvinced, but didn't push the point.

“Now,” Paula mused, “Where do we get some aristocratic clothes?”

And so it was that we found ourselves trekking across the Elysian wilderness (still a blessed relief compared to the downright strangeness of the World of Darkness) to the Royal City, with the aim of finding some high-class tailors. It turned out the tailors were all closed by the time we got there (the evening was rather advanced), so we found rooms in the inn for the night. (Funny how the Royal City only has one inn.) And sleeping in the inn, just as we'd been working ourselves up to get ourselves really kitted out to stun the party... we woke up in our own beds.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Flashy. Current music: Fashion – David Bowie

Posted at 08:51 on Nov 28th


by princess-of-china, at 08:59 on Nov 28th

Aww! I was looking forward to going girly shopping with you, Tessababes! I guess it'll have to wait until tonight...

by bringiton, at 09:23 on Nov 28th

Heh. I'm sure you'll figure out eventually what's going on with the evil villain who seems to know too much. :) That is, assuming you don't decide to stop making this up in the meantime ;)

by taleteller, at 13:15 on Nov 28th

Paula: Me too! It won't be long, though.

Ben: You're not helping.

You evil, lying bastard

Ooooh... I think I may have just snapped us out of Elysia by sheer force of anger! ...I'll get to the reason why in a bit.

When we initially woke up back in Elysia, though, we were in an inn in the Royal City, and feeling ready to spend. The new day dawned bright and quick, as we hit the clothes shops and made an impact.

The dressmakers were pretty busy, with a lot of aristocracy crawling out of the woodwork to shop for the same event we were. Even despite that, though, it was a load of fun, trying on different styles of absurdly over-the-top evening dresses and fancy gowns. Alleria reluctantly joined in, after we persuaded her that although her sorceress' robes were elegant enough, they were far too identifiable, with Binkley having seen her in them at least three times. She started getting into it a bit as time went on, although she wasn't as giggly as Paula and me.

The same can't be said for Michael, who scoffed at and pointblank refused most of the suggestions for his costume. In the end we found one understated black-and-silver outfit that he considered tolerable, and agreed to purchase that, even if it may have been just to stop our pestering.

Paula and I got very much into the spirit, suggesting to one another different designs and fashions from the range the tailors offered, egged on by the salesladies themselves. In the end, we got Paula a beautiful pink shimmery princess-style outfit, with a feathered tiara, while I went for a black and green velvet ball gown with a slightly daring décolletage and some black shoes studded with sparkly emeralds. The four outfits cost us a sizeable fraction of our treasury, but it's not real money, anyway, right? (Michael sensibly insisted we visit the other shops in the city during some of our remaining time before the ball. Surprise, surprise! – they had a new shipment of upgraded weapons and armour in! Amazing, that. Nobody was quite sure where it had come from, either... but it continued to have the miraculous perfect fit.)

So before long, we were ready to return to Haniton and cross Binkley's bridge to the World of Darkness. The day in the Royal City had revived our spirits a bit – although I wouldn't say it had exactly been restful, with all the jostling past minor nobles in the dressmakers – so we were raring to go. The bandits were out in force along the road to Haniton, which I guess makes sense, with all the aristocracy travelling; we were glad we'd stayed in our travelling gear for the journey, because we'd have got blood on our nice new clothes more than once if we'd been wearing them.

I was faintly disgusted to see that in Haniton, the houses that had been incinerated by the Dark Lord's dragon yesterday were already rebuilt and gaudily painted. ...Or rather, it turned out, illusions of them had been set in place, as I discovered when I reached out to touch one in astonishment, which quickly turned into a cynical grimace. None of the rest of the passers-by even noticed the blackened grass and other telltale signs, though. Their attention was caught in all cases by the huge golden, glimmering bridge that dominated the landscape. Leaving from the pier where we'd set off to sail to the Atlantean City so long ago, it rose quickly and stretched out over the sea until it went into a “weird swirly hole” (to reuse Paula's phrase), just like the one we'd seen in the King's throne room. Obviously Binkley had laid this one on especially for his party.

We decided to nip inside one of the illusory buildings to change into our glad rags. Again I had to force Michael out when Paula was about to take her top off. Sigh... Just as he seems to be noticing me and paying me more attention, he pulls something like that.

We emerged in our elegant party costumes, and Michael wasn't back yet! Haha, and blokes complain about girls taking a long time getting changed. It was at least two more minutes before he reappeared in his black-and-grey evening wear. He did look very fetching – I was almost ready to forgive him. And the poor thing also looked like he was uncomfortable in it, fidgeting with his belt. He had apparently managed to conceal both his daggers (plus his two spares) in the costume, which was faintly impressive.

Climbing the magical golden ramp towards the portal, I was starting to get really into a party mood. Having the assorted notable personages around us, each in their fancy ball attire, definitely helped. Plus it was quite an evocative setting, walking out across the ocean in the twilight, on this bright shining bridge.

We stepped through the warp with a certain sense of foreboding, remembering last time we'd seen one. But there was no dungeon on the other side of this one: the bridge continued up to the entrance of what was clearly the levitating castle of magic we'd seen before. I was a little surprised to see that the bridge went straight to one of the highest levels – the castle was easily eight storeys high, and we were walking up towards a gate in what was perhaps the seventh. I guess when you've got a castle that people need magic to get into anyway, you may as well let your guests come right in to the upper ballroom.

It was rather spooky looking over the edge of the golden platform and seeing that we were indeed suspended over utter nothingness. What if Binkley decided to suddenly banish the bridge, and let all the assembled nobles plummet into the void?

But it seems that, at least thus far, the Dark Lord had no such plans. We set foot safely on the Floating Castle, and got to see the unreality of its architecture up close. Not only were the stones constantly shifting colour softly, but they were humming with power, and very faintly vibrating to the touch. It was as if the entire castle was continually being recreated by some immensely powerful spell, for a fraction of a second each time. Or maybe that was just me making up silly explanations for things. Anyway, it was distinctly cool. (Not to mention the whole “levitating over the Sea of Nothing” factor, which also has serious style points.)

Several nobles and minor barons were gawping over the castle's outer walls in unattractive fashion, so I hastily stopped loitering and continued in towards the entrance hall. The décor inside was suitably opulent, and a bit of a change from the “skulls and blood-red cloth” motif that Binkley had had in his throne room in the citadel. This was just like some rich and ostentatious duke's study, with gold-edged tapestry along the side walls, gilt framing to the portraits, and luxurious carpets in some Persianesque style.

Binkley himself was standing in this antechamber, and shaking hands with each of the guests as they entered. Ooops. We'd planned to mingle, and not be especially conspicuous. This way he was pretty likely to see straight through our disguise – we hadn't exactly got masks on or anything. Unless he was so used to our travel garments that he didn't recognise us all dressed up... Oh well, there was no hope for it, so we just walked up to him. He'd changed costume again – this one was crimson and indigo, decorated with brocade, every bit living up to the “lavish lord” impression he was giving with the rest of the place.

He smiled savagely to see us. “Welcome, welcome, my good friends,” he said in genteel tones.

Paula, to her credit, dropped a very refined curtsey, and with her head down replied, “Not at all, my lord. The pleasure is all ours.”

With a beatific smile, our host and nemesis said, “It's all right, Paula, you don't have to stand on ceremony with me.”

We all froze for a moment. He gave a cultured laugh, and said, “Don't worry. I'm not going to attack you here at the party.” He added with a dangerous grin, “Better be careful after that, of course.”

“Why?” I asked him bluntly. “Why are you letting us in here?”

“Because this is my party, to celebrate my coronation as ruler of Elysia,” he said expansively.

“Yeah, sure,” I said skeptically.

“Hey, can't I enjoy throwing a party for people every now and then?” he replied, fractionally defensively. And then, gesturing at Michael and me, he accidentally dropped the bombshell. “After all, you two seemed to hit it off well at the last one.”

At first I didn't quite understand what he'd said. “...What?” I asked him, puzzled.

He suddenly widened his eyes in shock, and backpedalled. “Ahahaha, I mean... When the two of you, um, were tied up in my throne room. Muhahaha.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Wait... Michael and I? At your party?” The shock was dawning on me. I glanced to my side at Paula, whose jaw was also dropping. We exclaimed together, “...Ben?!

The Dark Lord's eyes were darting rapidly from side to side. After a few seconds he shrugged and returned to his confident smile. “Ah, well, you were going to figure it out sooner or later.”

“...Ben? You're inside the game?”

His smile managed to be nervous and rogueish at the same time. “Yeah, somehow I kinda ended up here.”

“What...? But... You kept... making out it wasn't real!”

He shiftily replied, “Well, I couldn't just come out and say it, could I? 'Oh, by the way, I got sucked in too, in the role of the villain'?”

I looked to my friends, seeking backup for my astonished fury. Michael was giving Ben a look that was approaching a glare, in his understated way. Paula was still gaping. Alleria seemed almost embarrassed, and looked like she was trying to avoid the whole confrontation. Understandable, I guess.

I rounded on Ben once more. “You little piece of...!”

“Hey, hey, Tessa, calm down,” he said somewhat frantically. “This doesn't have to be a problem. After all, we can still have fun together here, right? Even more so with us being on different sides. I can come up with challenges and things that are tailored to you guys specifically. We can make this into a load of fun for all of us!”

The lying little turd.

“You lied to us! You insulted us for pretending this was all real! You made out we were making it all up, while every minute you were scheming how to get in our way and make things harder for us?!”

“No, that's not the way it was at –”

“You treacherous little git! What else were you planning to lie to us about, huh?”

Paula's expression was rather mixed as she pulled on my arm. “Hey, Tessa, calm down. It's true, he's a piece of scum, but you don't have to –”

“You deceitful bastard! I thought we were meant to be friends! You, you –!”

And I think it's at about that point that I sat bolt upright in bed, with my teeth and fists clenched, and realised I was sweating all over. It was already almost 7am, so I just got up. I think I almost scalded myself with the shower... trying to take the anger out in temperature of water not the best idea.

So I'm just going to go to work, and woe betide any customer who tries to speak to me.

And woe betide you, Ben, when I get hold of you.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Enraged. Current music: I Hate Everything About You – Three Days Grace

Posted at 08:07 on Nov 29th


by princess-of-china, at 08:25 on Nov 29th

Wow. I was wondering if you'd post when you were still angry. Look, Tessa, he might be a lying so-and-so, but I'm sure he didn't mean any harm by it. Right?

by taleteller, at 08:29 on Nov 29th

That's as may be. He still betrayed our trust.

by bringiton, at 08:58 on Nov 29th

Ohhh boy. I guess I've got some explaining to do. Except I don't know if there's any point. Should I just wait a bit?

by princess-of-china, at 12:05 on Nov 29th

I think so, Ben. Give it a day or so.

On a different note, Tessa, did you consider that Michael might have been hoping to ogle you rather than me, when we were changing? :)

by taleteller, at 17:51 on Nov 29th

Hmm... I suppose it's possible. But it certainly looked like it was you he was drooling over. Sometimes I just want to slap the guy. Not as much as I want to slap someone else right now, but still.

Anyway, I'm coming over to give you a lift to Michael's right now, assuming gaming's still on. Although I may just want to punch things instead.

Calmed down a little

Okay, having a gaming evening with Michael today was more helpful than I thought it would be. I thought I'd just be snapping at everyone and getting mad with the console. But it wasn't that bad.

When I went round to collect Paula, she gave me a big hug, which was much appreciated. Michael looked distinctly sympathetic when he opened the door to let us in, too. I didn't know what I'd been wanting him to be like. But sympathetic wasn't bad.

I raged briefly about Ben to them. They were... noncommittal. I think they agreed that he was a scumbag, they just weren't as vigorous about it as I was.

Anyway, at my request, we played some fighting and shooting games. I've not played that many of those, and I think in general I'd still prefer the RPGs, but those were just what I needed tonight.

Ben, you said you had some explaining to do. Get talking.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Defiant. Current music: This Is A Lie – The Cure

Posted at 22:48 on Nov 29th


by princess-of-china, at 23:01 on Nov 29th

That is, assuming you can get it posted before Tessa goes to bed, as I'm sure you'll have to say it all again when we see you at your castle!

by bringiton, at 23:27 on Nov 29th

Heh. Hopefully you're still awake.

I don't know quite what to say. I never meant to hurt you. I thought of it all as a big game. After all, that's what it is, right?

I thought I could take the Binkley that the plot provided, and play him as even more fun for you guys. I thought I could make up specific challenges that can only be solved with the four of you – after all, the puzzles from the game are designed for a party of three, not four, aren't they? And aren't you finding them a bit too easy? So I was just going to give you more of a run for your money. I know you like a challenge, right, Tessa?

I still think of us as friends. Hopefully you can do too.

The ball on the floating castle

...Wow. That was quite a party. I'm still mad at Ben, but I have to admit he knows how to throw a party.

So when I got to sleep (around midnight – yes, I did read Ben's explanations first), suddenly we were all back in the foyer of Binkley's magical floating castle. Paula was hanging onto my arm, Michael was beside me, and Binkley was standing in front of us. I could recognise Binkley's expressions as Ben's, now that I knew to look for them.

It was quite weird, with a day's worth of emotions and conversation having suddenly passed in between one in-game instant and the next. My throat was even feeling a bit hoarse from how I'd been shouting last night. I didn't say anything more... I'm not sure what I would have said. I wasn't feeling as enraged as I had been earlier, but still not exactly happy. So I just turned on my heel and strode off through the foyer.

Paula and Michael hurried to keep up. Ben called from behind us, somewhat plaintively, “Enjoy the party, my friends!” Then he was back into his role greeting the guests.

We walked into the main hall, and the party was in full swing. A small group was playing classical music quietly on a slight stage at one side. There was a big shiny ballroom floor. There were several tables around the edges with fruit and meat and things, prepared in ways that looked both mediæval, and also deeply appetising. And there were already the beginnings of a throng of fancily dressed upper classes there. It was like that moment near the start of a party where people are standing around, nibbling at the food, faintly enjoying themselves but waiting for things to get going.

The four of us wandered over to a corner where we could talk quietly out of earshot, on the pretence of looking around the hall. (I quite wanted to look around the hall as well.) Paula murmured, “Right. Do you reckon this might be a reasonable time to go do our sneaking mission, before too many people come in, and while Binkley's still at the door?”

Alleria looked thoughtful. “I don't know. It might be better to wait until the party's in full swing, and there's more noise coming from the party to cover whatever noise we might make.”

Michael gave a rare smile and said, “Well, it means we get to enjoy the festivities for a bit.”

So we did.

We tried mingling and chatting, but the nobles weren't much for conversation. Like, each of them had just one line, in that disturbing fashion. (We really must find out what's going on with all those. Vrathia was no help at all.) But the food was good.

About half an hour after we entered, the musicians struck up playing a much louder and jauntier piece, and the assembled snobs took this as their cue to move to the dance-floor. I just stood there and watched them for at least ten minutes, two or three dances' worth. They were impressive, very ballroom style. I wouldn't know whether it was a waltz or a quickstep or what, but they did it very well. A couple of the youngest and oldest ones were a bit incompetent, and tripped over one another and things, but everyone else seemed to know the dances with an awe-inspiring detail and level of choreography. After I'd watched a couple of dances I started recognising two or three of the most basic moves. But I didn't think I'd be able to dance them myself, so it was still very impressive to watch.

They mostly changed partners after each dance, as well. This meant that after the third dance, a couple of flamboyantly-dressed youngish courtiers approached Paula and me as we were standing by the side, and asked us if we'd dance. Wide-eyed, we looked at one another... this style of dancing wasn't exactly what we practiced at our nights out clubbing. But Paula shrugged and accepted with a grin. Watching the young man take her hand and lead her away, I decided it was worth a try, and so I smiled at the remaining guy standing before me and offered my hand.

He led me up to the dancefloor as the musicians started a new tune. And it was strange: it was almost as if something took over, except it wasn't quite like that... I was in full control the whole time, I just turned out to know how to waltz. It was one of the more dreamlike moments of this weird second-life-in-dreams that I'm getting used to. I suppose it's just like discovering I know how to cast spells, which is really saying that I've picked up Terena's knowledge of how to cast spells: it seems Terena knew ballroom dancing as well.

So that was quite fun. We kinda got swept away from one another as we whirled deftly around the room. I did spot Michael and Alleria avoiding joining in... I guess Maitland's from a gang of thieves in a seedy suburb, so not exactly the place to pick up a Viennese Waltz. (Although wouldn't Terena have been in some kind of convent or abbey? And wouldn't Varyn have grown up in a small peasant village? Neither of those exactly lends itself to just happening to learn the finer delicacies of the American Tango. Ehh, I guess I shouldn't question too much.)

Anyway, after the guy let go of me with a gracious bow at the end of the dance, I thanked him and stood there for a few moments to catch my breath. And then who should come up to me but Sir Randall! He was dressed in a different costume from when we adventured into the Fire Shrine together, but it was just as exuberant. Thing is, it was no more or less excessive than the rest of the outfits around, and so I hadn't spotted him in the sea of colourfully dressed aristocrats.

“Lady Tessa! What a marvel and a delight to see you here!” He swept his hat from his head and in front of himself as he bowed almost to the ground. “After we parted ways in the Royal City and I then heard no more of you, I had feared my encounter with you to have been but a fleeting dream, a wishful imagining. How goes the quest?”

I couldn't help smiling at his typical overly-flowery speech: it was silly, but in an entertaining way, and a girl's not exactly going to be offended at somebody being so lavishly grateful to see her again. So I gave him a curtsey in my wonderful black and green velvet dress (I must see if I can find anything like it in the real world, because it's wonderful), and then replied, “Very well, thank you.” (In retrospect I guess it's not going so well, what with having all our amassed magical orbs stolen by a Dark Lord and having to escape from jail and so on. But hey.) I added, “How goes the paladinning and soldier of fortuneing? Um, I mean, soldiering of fortune?”

He gave me a sparkling smile of amusement, before his face sobered as he answered, “The paladins of the Elysian Court were greatly distressed to hear of our King's sudden illness. However, the Chancellor has been most noble in his donations towards relations with the governors of the World of Darkness.”

I spluttered. “Illness? Donations? So that's how he's claiming it went, is it?”

Sir Randall addressed me an uncomprehending look. In low, furtive tones, I explained to him something of what had been really going on. At first he was shocked, then thoughtful, then serious. When I finished he responded, “'Tis greatly distressing to hear of this betrayal and perfidy. When I return to the Court, I shall rally the paladins to your cause.”

Looking around, he added, “But for the moment, milady, if I would not be too bold for asking... might I have the pleasure of the next dance?”

With a smile I answered, “The pleasure would be all mine, Sir Randall.”

He took my hand and drew me close to himself as the music started. Wow... he's a good dancer. He guided us strongly and confidently around the floor, leading me into elegant spins under his arm and then pulling me close again. We glided across the hall and back again, tracing patterns on the floor as I felt his warmth against me.

When the music finished and he bowed to me as I curtseyed, I found myself slightly flushed. He seemed to notice, because he asked with a knowing smile, “May I perhaps escort you to the drinks table, Lady Tessa?”

So we drank together, and danced together. It was fun. At one point I spotted Paula and Michael slipping through a side door – I guess they were going off on their scouting mission. (Well, stealing mission.) At one point I asked Sir Randall, “Aren't you supposed to change partners after each dance?”

He made a mock-sad face. “There is such a custom among some of the aristocracy, it is true. And of course, if you wish, I will leave you. But I feared you might not know many more of the revellers here.” He had a point. “Besides which, your presence is so charming, and I would far rather be at your side than with anyone else.” It was probably exaggerated, but it was nice. So I let him continue to lead me in magnificent dances and make my heart beat faster.

The next dance featured lots of spinning. In evil fashion, the ladies spin around lots while the men just hold their hands above the lady. So afterwards, I was rather dizzy but Sir Randall wasn't. How sexist. Anyway, I was rather craving a sit down, and he asked me if the music was a bit loud, which I had been thinking myself. So the two of us went looking through the nearest side door to see if there was a room to relax in away from the music.

The corridor was sumptuously decorated, but the rooms that we looked into were kitchens and storerooms and such. Sir Randall suggested we might find more comfortable places to rest on an upper floor, so we climbed a staircase, me offering him a hand. When we got to the top of the stairs I was wondering whether to remove my hand or leave it in his, but he solved my quandary by offering me his arm like a gentleman. I took it with a smile.

The rooms on this upper floor were far more luxurious. I'm sure some of the floating castle must be full of puzzles and enemies, but this bit was just Victorian-looking expansive rooms – drawing rooms and bedrooms, mostly. The second one we looked in had a piano. I gave a little squeal of delight and ran over to it, sat down on the wooden chair that was in front of it, and gently laid my hands on the keys. I haven't played the piano for five or six years, since I left school, and so I was more than a bit rusty. But I was able to recall a couple of my favourite pieces of music, and closed my eyes and immersed myself in music for a bit.

When I resurfaced, Sir Randall gave me a standing ovation. (Although he was standing beside me anyway, so I don't know if the “standing” bit counts for much.) I felt myself blush as he knelt before me and said, “That was magnificent.”

“Not at all,” I protested, turning to face him. “I'm out of practice and was never very good.”

“Your soul shows when you play the piano. And your face was more beautiful than ever.” He knelt to kiss my hand, and I smiled. I was going all fluttery.

He didn't release my hand when he'd kissed it, but then kissed my wrist, and on up my arm, brushing black strands of my hair out of the way, all the way to the velveted shoulder of my ball gown. “Lady Tessa, you are truly beautiful,” he said softly, his face very close to mine. I was feeling hot flushes rise up my neck and cheeks, and when he leaned towards me, I willingly closed my eyes and submitted to his kiss. His lips on mine were soft and gentle. When he pulled away after a few moments, he took my hand and drew me to my feet. I noticed that he must have closed the door when he followed me into the room.

We stood and embraced for a while. I'm not sure what thoughts were running through my head. I do recall feeling a bit heady on the atmosphere and the emotions. But I know that I initiated the next kiss, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling himself to me.

He reciprocated gladly, and then left my lips to plant soft, tantalising kisses on my neck, eliciting a tiny cry from me. His hands were stroking up and down my back through the velvet of my dress. As they strayed to my backside I yelped a little, but didn't resist. His embrace was warm and comforting, and his touch was exciting and tantalising.

The caress of his lips moved down the front of my neck, along my clavicle, and further, into the plunging décolletage of my ball gown. I idly wondered whether to stop him. But his butterfly kisses were delighting my senses, and I rationalised to myself that this was all unreal anyway. Even Sir Randall himself didn't exist in the real world. My dream lover.

His hands were squeezing my rear as his lips were teasing my front. He traced a gentle curve with his kisses around the tops of my breasts and down my cleavage. I think I was running my fingers through his hair. He slowly nudged the fabric of my dress down by a millimetre, then a millimetre further, all the while twisting and twirling with his tongue. I'm not sure I'd known the sides of my breasts were that sensitive. Maybe it was the heat of the moment.

It was quite arousing when he carefully took my dress's neckline in his teeth and pulled it down below my breast. Then he moved a hand up to my chest, and oh-so-gently stroked a feather-light fingertip from my side, around the breast's perimeter, adding occasional feather-touches of his other fingertips, until his whole hand was hovering an inch from my naked boob and I was holding my breath in anticipation. He was looking up into my eyes, searching, inquiring, asking permission.

I wanted him to continue. Did I want him to continue? I didn't know the guy that well. He didn't really even exist. But his touch was so exciting and gentle, and he was checking with me each time he wanted to go further. (Which I was letting him do each time. I'm not like this with guys I've just met in clubs. But Sir Randall was... different, somehow.) I wanted him to continue if I could trust him. Could I trust him? I decided I could.

I smiled in acquiescence and desire. He smiled in victory and stroked my skin with each of his fingers, in a tiny circle, with his palm still hovering just above my nipple. He was deliberately tantalising me, and my anticipation was building. I wondered if my firming nipple would graze his palm, and tried to arch my back to touch his hand. But he murmured teasingly, “Ah-ah, not just yet...” His fingertips brushed the sides of my breast, and then he suddenly grasped me with his whole hand, and I gasped in pleasure. His other hand returned to squeezing my rump while he kneaded my boob and kissed my neck. Hungrily my lips reached for his, and our tongues intertwined as he massaged my chest.

Then his head dropped to my dress's stretched neckline once more, and his tongue traced sensitising curves down my breasts. He repeated his feat of uncovering a breast with his teeth, and this time he ran his tongue around it, along the crease at its base, and up, in a slow spiral converging on my awaiting nipple. All the while his hand was squeezing and stroking my other breast and providing a background of erotic sensations as I anticipated the touch of his mouth.

Then he flicked my nipple with his tongue, once, twice. I cried out again and tried once more to curve my back to move my chest closer to his mouth. This time he complied with my unspoken request and sucked my nipple into his mouth. He tugged and sucked at it, and all the while meeting my eyes, judging the effect his ministrations were having on me. As his tongue swirled around my nipple, an unbidden “Ohhh...” escaped my lips, and I pressed his head to my chest once more.

I gradually became conscious that as he sucked my naked breasts and squeezed my rear through the velvet, his other hand was stroking at my bare ankles, where my dress ended. In my senses' heightened state, the caress of his fingertips on my leg was extremely nice. Not surprisingly, he started stroking upwards, letting his arm lift my dress as his fingers continued their maddening ascent. He was flitting between the inside of one thigh and the other, each set of sensations making me want him to continue where he was until he flicked back. Then he started planting quick kisses on each of my nipples in turn. I got lost in those feelings for a bit, and the next time I noticed his hands was when his finger was stroking the very top of my inner thighs, just millimetres from my underwear.

Suddenly he was pushing me to sit down on the chair again – I didn't much object to that, as my legs had gone decidedly weak at the knees. He shifted himself to be kneeling between my legs, and lifted my dress so that his head had free access to kiss the thighs he'd just been gingerly stroking. His hand was stroking my breasts and playing with my nipples, while the same butterfly kisses that had worked his magic on my neck were now rolling along my upper thighs and around the edges of my knickers. (I never thought I'd be describing on my blog the underwear that RPG characters wear, but in this case, it was a silky dark green thong to go with the dress.)

The pressure of his head gradually forced my legs wider apart, as he traced intimate kisses around my centre, still skirting around anywhere covered by my underwear. I could feel his breath through the silk, further arousing me. Then suddenly his teeth were at the upper hem of my knickers, and gently, carefully, he started tugging them down. I gasped, this time in realising what he was after, but I compliantly lifted myself slightly off the stool so that he could tug my underwear down over my hips. As he was pulling the thong down and over one foot, the sudden feeling of the fresh air on my most sensitive parts caught me aback... but it was nothing compared to suddenly being able to feel Sir Randall's breath on them.

His voice was thick as he said, “You are truly beautiful and a delight to the senses, Lady Tessa.” I didn't know quite how to respond to that, but thankfully I wasn't really feeling in much of a condition to speak anything coherent anyway.

He recommenced his gentle kisses, taking care at first not to even brush anywhere particularly sensitive. It was still immensely erotic. I could feel his warmth against my skin, and I'm sure he could feel mine. But he wasn't recoiling in disgust, but making sounds of satisfaction and pleasure, as the soft touches of his lips and tongue tantalised me further and further. His tongue traced the crease at the top of one leg, then the other, skipping maddeningly over the vital region in between. And then I felt kisses working inwards, alternating from the soft skin on one side to the other, and then back to the first but a bit closer, closer, closer still...

And then he kissed me directly on my lower lips, and I went wild.

Thankfully, so did he. Detecting my abandon, he started kissing and licking and sucking me all over the most sensitive regions, frantically, and I couldn't tell apart the details of which and where. I just knew that it felt wonderfully, amazingly good, and I took hold of his head in my hands and pulled him urgently towards me, closer in to the place to which he was giving such delicious attention. I leaned back in the seat and abandoned myself to the intense sensations washing over me, of this delightful knight bringing me so much pleasure.

Slowly but surely I felt a tightness building in me, and I found myself murmuring, “Oh, yes... don't stop... oh, yes...” He heard me and redoubled his ministrations, kissing and sucking and nibbling, and not objecting to my fingers tensing and clutching at his hair in a way that must have been painful. And then I was catapulted up into the stratosphere, flying and writhing and exploding and crying and laughing.

When I drifted back down, I found myself being held in a fierce embrace by Sir Randall, with intense sensations still periodically fluttering and pulsing through me. I wasn't feeling up to standing just yet, but I took hold of him and smiled weakly at him and said “That... was wonderful.”

He gave me such a beam of confidence and charm that it made my heart skip a beat, and replied, “No, you were wonderful, Lady Tessa. It was my delight and privilege to see you in the throes of such passion.”

He put his arms around me and half-lifted me to stand from the chair. Then he unhurriedly started removing his ruffled top. My head was still all full of euphoria, but I was just about conscious enough to give a confused “Um...”

“Purely for the sake of holding you closer, my dear,” he explained without interrupting his strip. Even at the time I thought that unlikely, but I considered and decided I didn't much mind. After all, he'd just brought me such wonderful feelings. And I was rather aroused by the thought of seeing him naked. So I gave him an encouraging grin, and looked around the room. There was no bed, but there was a gigantic chaise-longue. I removed my dress – it was a fairly pointless garment given it was rolled down below my breasts and had just been proven to be no obstruction to my crotch either – and, nude, went to lie down on the big sofa-like thing, and watch the pleasing sight of Sir Randall removing his clothes.

He joined me, and to his credit, did just lie down beside me, squeezing in to the gap between me and the cushioned back and just relaxing and holding me. It was warm and reassuring, feeling his bare chest pressed against my back, and being held in his arms. However, his erection had been a particularly pleasing part of what he'd revealed, and was now making itself pretty prominent, pressing into my behind as we lay there together. I reached down between my legs to touch it... I had had no idea what it was going to feel like, but it was warm and hard and fleshy and very, very exciting.

I kind of wiggled against him encouragingly, and Sir Randall replied in a mock-warning tone, “My dear wonderful Lady Tessa, if you keep that up I may not be able to control myself.”

I pondered his implication. Did I want to lose my virginity to him? Would it hurt? Would it be safe, here inside an RPG? I certainly wouldn't have unprotected sex in real life. But Sir Randall didn't even exist outside of this fantasy world... In the end, it was the very fact that he warned me that convinced me to go ahead. He was chivalrous even in this situation: he was a good guy.

So I giggled slightly, and kept wiggling my backside against the hardness that had excited me so much. He groaned a bit, and reached around with his hand to squeeze one of my breasts. That was nice too. He started some kind of thrusting that felt good, so we pushed back and forth against each other for a bit while he massaged my boob and nibbled on my ear.

Then he said to me once more, “Are you sure this is all right, Lady Tessa?”

In my best reassuring and alluring tone I told him, “Very much. I want this.”

That was all he needed. He shuffled himself about a bit on the chaise-longue, reached down with his free hand to position himself, and thrust straight into me.

I cried out – more in surprise than either pain or pleasure. He withdrew almost entirely, and then drove himself into my depths once again. “Oh... oh my goodness,” I breathed. This was very different to how it had felt playing with my dildos myself. (Yeah, never thought I'd mention them on my blog either...) He was warm and textured and alive and moving in and out of me, and slightly driving me wild. It did hurt, a bit, but it felt extremely sexy as well.

He got into a rhythm pretty quickly, his hand on my breast doing double duty by both holding me in place relative to him, and also letting him play with my nipple. Mostly I just let myself get swept away by the intense sensations of him moving within me; but I did try to help matters by wiggling and moving at what seemed to be the right times.

Soon I was rewarded by his breath getting more ragged, his thrusts and squeezes getting faster. “Oh, Tessa,” he gasped. “Oh, Tessa... OH!” He seemed to reach his peak, and I felt him convulse inside me as he pulsed in orgasm.

Then he lay back on the sofa and pulled both arms around me to hold me tight. I turned my head to kiss him passionately. But it was a bit of an awkward angle to hold for long, so I let him end the kiss, kissed his lips, and returned to just lying in his embrace and holding onto his arms with my own. I could still feel him inside me, which still felt very nice, and so I was very content.

I don't know quite how long we lay there. I don't think I fell to sleep, but we certainly did rest, naked, still joined, for at least ten minutes. Eventually, though, he stirred, and I could tell he was trying to get up, so I lifted myself to let him out.

He moved to stand in front of me, and performed his characteristic sweeping bow. I had to cover my giggle because it did look a bit incongruous with him doing that in the nude. He met me with a smile full of affection and said, “Dear Lady Tessa, you have brought me indescribable pleasure this night. I would love dearly to spend the rest of the evening unclad with you, but should we return to your compatriots?”

“Paula and Michael!” I exclaimed. “And Alleria. They were going to explore the castle and steal a stone that Binkley's using to control a dragon!”

“I am sure they can manage that without you,” he declared with a grin. “But what will they do upon the completion of their theft?”

I realised I didn't actually know. “Quite possibly they'll make a break for it and run across the magical bridge,” I mused.

“In which case, we should return to the ballroom and attend their reappearance,” replied Sir Randall.

“You're right. In which case, um...” I blushed as I pointed by his feet. “Could you pass me my underwear?”

I swear the smile he gave me as he did was positively dirty.

* * *

Back in the ballroom, we danced some more. I revelled in being pressed close against Sir Randall as he led us gracefully twirling across the floor. He gave me those kind of special glances that I suppose you give people who you've just made love to. (Not that I'd know.) It was too tiring to dance for more than two dances in a row, so I made frequent visits to the drinks table. It really was an excellent party.

I didn't see any sign of Paula, Michael or Alleria until in the middle of a waltz, they suddenly appeared at the top of the grand staircase and hurtled down it, with some orcs in armour and hot pursuit. (They were the first nonhumans I'd seen on this entire visit to the gameworld. Interesting that Binkley uses orcs as his guards.) Guests started screaming at seeing these armed orcs waving vicious-looking swords around.

I grabbed my pack, held on to Sir Randall's hand and ran towards the exit, where the others were headed. Falling into step beside Paula, I asked her, “Success?”

“Yep,” she said with a happy smile. “But we need... to get out of here... right now.”

The five of us ran through the door, greeted by the cool night air, the disquieting mauve night sky of the World of Darkness, and the golden magical bridge over the empty nothingness below. “Uh-oh,” I said. “If Binkley summoned this bridge, can he make it disappear?”

“I guess so,” said Paula, running even faster onto the platform in question. “In which case we need to make it to the end before he does!”

“Stop, thieves!” cried a booming voice from behind us, which I'm sure must have been magically amplified. We kept running. A bolt of lightning shot through the air just above our heads. We ran faster.

“Stop, or I'll banish the bridge!” Ben shouted. I turned my head just for a moment, and caught his eye. He was grinning confidently at us, and I could swear I saw him wink at me.

“Run for it, everybody!” exhorted Paula. Michael was almost at the portal already, and Sir Randall and Paula keeping up quite well, but Alleria and I were trailing slightly. I tried to sprint as fast as I could.

Behind me I heard Ben boom, “Five!” I grabbed Alleria's hand and urged my legs to run faster. “Four!” I looked at the portal ahead. There was no way we were going to make it! “Three!” Michael passed through the black swirls into Elysia. “Two!” Paula glanced round at us in concern and then followed him. “One!” Sir Randall disappeared into its depths as I glanced sidelong at Alleria in horror.

“<Banishment>!” cried Ben, and the bridge flickered. The portal was just a couple of metres away...

We leapt, and the bridge disappeared underneath us.

There was one of those split-seconds that lasts an eternity. We hung in mid-air, with the castle behind us, the black swirls in front of us, and an endless nothing spread out below us.

And then somehow, impossibly, we made it into the portal.

Of course, this wasn't much better, because the bridge had disappeared on this side as well. We were high over the sea, and plummeting towards it fast. I just about had time to look around in my freefall and spot the others slightly further ahead, also falling towards the sea.

Then we all hit it with a big splash.

It takes a long time for water to absorb all your downwards momentum, before you can actually start swimming upwards again. We were gasping for air when we surfaced. Splashing around and managing to stay afloat, I looked around for each of the others. Michael was there. Alleria appeared. Paula was there. Sir Randall?

Sir Randall was nowhere to be seen.

I was just starting to panic, and then with strong strokes, he emerged from the water. He smiled at me and Paula and said, “I'd forgotten what an eventful life you adventurers lead.”

We grinned, and started the long swim back to shore.

When we made it onto Haniton beach, Alleria created a <Fireball> for us to huddle up around and dry off a bit. And then we made our way to the Haniton inn. It was pretty late at night, but the innkeeper was happy to put us up. And so we went our separate ways to go to sleep in rooms in the inn. And it was as I fell asleep that I woke up.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Racy. Current music: One Wild Night – Bon Jovi

Posted at 08:59 on Nov 30th


by princess-of-china, at 12:33 on Nov 30th

Wow. Go Tessa! That dress was very sexy, but I hadn't expected you to pull Randall just because of that! Not that it was just because of that, of course. I'd noticed he fancied you even back in the Fire Shrine.

But back at the party – oh, it was so strange when I was dancing! It was really quite hard to follow the lead of the guys, because I think Varyn only knows how to dance the male part! So I couldn't just relax into it like you could...

by take-me-to-elysia, at 13:01 on Nov 30th

Wooowww... hot stuff *.* Definitely one of the steamiest Randall fanfics I've seen! Pity you had to add so much to the party that wasn't in the game, but it was worth it for that love scene. Hehehe.

by bringiton, at 13:25 on Nov 30th

Heh. Glad to hear you had such a good time at the party. Come on, at two successive parties I throw, you pick up two different gorgeous blokes. How can you still be mad with me?

(You might be interested to know that as take-me-to-elysia pointed out, the Floating Castle as provided by the game didn't have the musicians or drinks tables. It would have been just lots of aristocrats standing around if I hadn't made those special arrangements. Even in the World of Darkness, I want my reputation to be that I know how to have a good time.)

by taleteller, at 18:15 on Nov 30th

Okay. I guess I've almost forgiven you.

Two very interesting conversations

When we were back in Elysia, we found ourselves waking up in the inn in Haniton. Thankfully I'd remembered to grab my pack when we suddenly fled the party, so I didn't have to wear the ball gown again today... as Paula pointed out, it was very sexy, but not exactly travelling wear. I went down for breakfast, and found the others there already.

“Ah, Tessa. Welcome back. I guess you needed a lot of sleep?” Paula smirked.

“Hmm?” Michael looked confused, as did Alleria. Sir Randall raised an eyebrow and grinned, without meeting my eyes.

Of course, Paula was the only one who'd read my blog post about last night. “Um, it's nothing,” I said hastily, with a glare at Paula. “So what are we going to do next?”

“Well, we've got this Wyrmstone. We could try seeing if we can talk to a dragon with it,” suggested Alleria.

And so it was that after breakfast, we found ourselves sat on the grass outside Haniton, pulling out the malevolently glowing stone from Paula's pack, where presumably she'd stowed it last night.

“Do you want to go first?” she asked me. I pondered – I think I'd been assuming Paula would.

Alleria seemed to think the same, and asked, “Shouldn't you do that, Paula?”

“Why me?” she asked casually.

Alleria didn't seem to have a very good answer. “Because you... you're...”

Michael came in with a laugh, “You mean the way she's the main character and everything? Yeah, I guess you have a point there.” Alleria seemed to be a bit uncomfortable with Michael putting it so plainly, but she didn't contradict him.

Paula just shrugged and said, “I guess...”

She took the stone in hand and concentrated. The rest of us sat there and watched her. And watched, and watched.

After a minute or so I said, “Um, Paula, are you getting anything?” There was no response, so I guessed she must be seeing something. I said to the others, “I guess we wait another five or ten minutes, and then try shaking her out of it?”

So we sat staring at Paula and feeling somewhat foolish. Her facial expression was changing a little – now surprise, now concern, now frowning – but nothing else happened for several minutes, until eventually she blinked her eyes hard a few times, swayed slightly, and said, “Whoa.”

We showered her with questions about what she'd seen. She laughed and said “Calm down, calm down! I'll tell you all about it.

“Um... When I concentrated, I could see the world through the eyes of some dragon. It seemed to be hunting in a forest – I think it was the Twisted Forest where we got the warpwood. It could tell straight away when I arrived in its head. It seemed all gloomy and said to me, “What do you want now, tyrant?” So I tried to reassure it that we weren't Ben and we weren't going to force it to do anything it didn't want to. It was like, “But you have invoked the Wyrmstone.” And I was telling it that we didn't know how it worked, and we didn't want to order it around, and it didn't seem to understand. It said, “Do you want me to go to attack the tyrant's castle?” and I said that might be a reasonable idea but wasn't necessarily what we wanted it to do and we'd have to discuss things and it didn't quite seem to get it, and in the end it said, “Are you opposed to the tyrant?” and I was like yes, he's our enemy, and the dragon said “Then you will want me to attack the tyrant's castle” and flew off towards Ben's floating castle. Is that what I should have done, or should I try to talk to it again to tell it not to?”

We blinked a few times ourselves, catching our breath after a Paula explanation.

Then Michael said with a smile, “No, I think that's fine.”

“So it's en route to the castle now?” I asked.

Paula shrugged and said “I guess so.”

“Then I guess we have a little time...”

“In which we can go shopping,” Michael interrupted. It's quite funny, the way he's the most emphatic about going shopping. But he's right that it's good to keep our supplies stocked, and I guess they must have used up quite some potions in the floating castle without me around to cast <Cure2>.

So we visited the Haniton weapon, armour and item shops. The town was showing its devastation now, very different to when Ben's illusions had been in force last night. Amazingly (spot the irony), the weapon and armour shops had just had new deliveries of top-class dwarven-forged supplies, for which they were naturally charging a hefty bill. But it seems the others had found some storerooms to loot in the castle last night, so we could afford to kit us all out.

After that, Paula got the Wyrmstone out again and disappeared into her trance. This time she was able to give us some kind of running commentary, though: after a minute or so she suddenly said, “The dragon says it's already killed twenty of the Dark Lord's orcish soldiers.” We nodded soberly: having seen the thing in action just a few days ago in this very town, we had no doubt it could beat several times that many.

“And now it's approaching the Floating Castle,” she added. We continued to wait. Suddenly her face acquired a look of concern as she said, “Oh no! The Dark Lord's got more dragons!”

I winced: that wasn't good news. Michael and Sir Randall seemed similarly dismayed. Alleria, however, was incredulous. “What? No, it can't be!” she exclaimed.

I tried to ask her, “Why's that, Alleria? I mean, presumably he can get more of these Wyrmstones if he got this one...”

But she replied anguishedly, “But it's too soon! That's not meant to be for another two days!”

“Two days? What?” I was really confused now.

Alleria suddenly seemed to realise what she'd been saying, and tried to back up. “Um... nothing. I must have been getting confused.”

But at this point my eyes had narrowed, as had Michael's. “Alleria...?” I said slowly. “Do you know more about what's going on than you've been telling us?”

“What? No! I'm completely loyal to you and to the King!” she cried defensively. A bit too defensively.

“How about we put it another way,” said Michael. “You know that I am not, in fact, Maitland the thief, but Michael, a guy who has his skills but not really his personality. Likewise Tessa isn't Terena the cleric but finds herself playing that role. And Paula most definitely isn't Varyn, the sword-swinging boy who first met you.”

Alleria looked uncomfortable, but nodded.

“You, on the other hand, are still Alleria, right? I mean, you're not someone from our world who's found herself playing someone else's role, are you?”

“No... no, that's right, I'm not,” she said, not looking at us.

“So... what's going on? Do you have any idea how come we were just watching your story one minute and the next found ourselves in here?”

She sighed. “No, I'm afraid I don't,” she said. “I did notice the change when you came to take me to the Fire Shrine, though. I was totally surprised, I'm afraid – I really had no idea what had happened, and I still don't.”

Paula was back with us at this point, and said, “We believe you.” Michael looked sharply at her – I'm not sure Michael in fact did believe our sorceress – but Paula continued, “What I want to know is, how can you tell when we do things that are different to the way the game goes?”

Alleria looked a little shocked, but just said, “I... I'm not sure what you mean.”

“No, she's got a good point, Alleria,” I said suspiciously. “For example, why were you so insistent that only three of us could travel around together? That when we decided to be four, you were so amazed?”

“In fact, you said that we were “not the usual kind of adventurers”, as I recall,” Michael added. “What is the “normal kind of adventurers”?”

Alleria sighed, and smiled in defeat. “All right, I'll explain what I know. No group has ever asked anything like this before!”

“There you go again. What other groups have there been?”

“Let me try to put this into words,” she said, still with the faintly amazed smile. She paused to collect her thoughts.

“This world... goes in cycles, I suppose you could say. Everybody here has been living the same events over and over. That's just what happens. Time passed normally when I was growing up, and studying at the Wizards' Academy, and then I met your group for the first time. Or perhaps I should say, Varyn's group. And we went adventuring around the Earth Shrine and the Water Shrine and the Fire Shrine and the World of Darkness, and we fought monsters and enemies, and climactic events happened. And then Varyn and Terena and I fought the final enemy, and won the final combat. And then, suddenly... I was back on the road, the day before it all started.

“And so the next day I met Varyn again, and I didn't know what was happening, but I acted the same way. And we went through the same adventures, but some things happened slightly differently. I wasn't with that second group all the way through, because they left me behind when Lothar joined the group. So I passed the time at the dwarven enclave in Hanick for a few days, and then I found myself back on the road, and it was the day before it all started again.

“I've lived through this adventure hundreds of times now. Thousands. And every time it goes slightly differently, and they'll buy different items or explore things in a different order, and I'm with the group for a different portion of the time... but it's the same events happening.

“And this time was going like any other. Varyn arrived, we adventured a little, I got left behind when you met Maitland, and then brought back to open the Fire Shrine. Except when the group came to take me to the Fire Shrine, it wasn't Varyn and Maitland and Terena, but you three. And you did things differently. You travel in a group of more than three! You don't say the things that the group always says! That's another thing... Until you came along, everyone was saying the precise same words every time anything happened around Varyn. We could talk however we wanted when Varyn wasn't around, but with him there, there's just a...” She searched for a word. “Like an urge, a compulsion, to say specific things. You guys don't have that, do you?”

“Not in the way you're describing, no,” I replied, thoughtfully. “So that's what's happening when people say the same thing when we keep talking to them?”

“Yes,” she said. With a rueful smile, she said, “Normally nobody's surprised by it! But you guys seemed so freaked out! I heard you talking about the villager at the gate of Haniton... What did you do to him, exactly?!”

Michael and I laughed while Paula looked a bit shame-faced. “Um, I was just trying to get him to tell us the way to Vrathia's,” she mumbled. “It seemed a reasonable question! I didn't get why he was avoiding it, so I, um...”

“You threatened to rough him up a little,” said Michael, laughing.

Paula nodded. Then she added, “But he was able to say other things, when he was, um, under duress. So those dwarves and aristocrats and everyone else who only has one line. That doesn't mean that's the only words they know, right?”

“No, of course not,” replied Alleria. “It's just that that's all they're allowed to say when you're around.”

“Why on earth am I – is Varyn – so special?!” exclaimed Paula.

“Because you're the main character, my dear,” Michael grinned. Then he looked curiously at Alleria and said, “Right?”

She shrugged helplessly. “Well, something like that. That's we've all come to assume. Everybody has to be at their places when Varyn's group might be likely to visit. Nobody really knows why, except perhaps the wizards at the Academy.”

“The Wizards' Academy, eh? Sounds like we should talk to these guys,” Paula said decisively. “We haven't heard yet where that is.”

“You'll, ah, be there before too long,” Alleria said, blushing a little.

Michael narrowed his eyes at her. “That's another point. You must know what's going to happen, right? If you've lived through it thousands of times.”

“Well... yes...” She seemed a bit uncomfortable again. “Lots of us do. But we certainly couldn't tell you. Even without the compulsion on what we can say, it would just feel... wrong. I mean, don't you have that? That it'd feel wrong to tell someone their future?”

Paula mused, “Yeah, I can understand that a bit, I think.”

“But although I wouldn't tell you what's going to happen...” The sorceress was choosing her words carefully. “It seems with you guys I sometimes have to, ah, steer things a little.”

“You mean, to make us follow the plot the way it's meant to go?” Michael looked unimpressed.

Alleria said plaintively, “Well, because otherwise you don't say the things you're meant to say! Like when we were in the Dark Lord's dungeon, you were going to go back up the stairs! Varyn always says at that point “I wonder if there's some other way out?”, but you weren't going to look for it. What would have happened if we'd gone back up to the Dark Lord's throne room?”

“The story would have been different,” said Michael with a strange look on his face. “Is that a bad thing?”

Alleria looked distinctly unhappy. “It's... not how it's meant to go,” she said at last. “There are lots of variations that can happen in the adventure – I've lived all of them many times over. That's... not one of them. The Dark Lord would have... well, I suppose he's from your world too, now, isn't he? He could probably cope, then. Most of us... aren't very good at improvising, at coping with things that are different to the way they always are.”

“Speaking of which, you said it was too soon for him to acquire some more dragons,” I said. “How has he done that in the first place? I thought he only had the one Wyrmstone.”

“I... shouldn't tell you,” she said, sounding actually apologetic. “But he's diverging from the way things normally go. I guess a couple of days ago, he must have pre-emptively set about doing what he'd normally just be starting to do today. You find out what that is a bit later.”

“So where should we go now?” asked Paula directly.

Alleria smiled. “This is one point where lots of groups go wandering around wondering that. If you make your way to the King in Hanick, he'll give you advice. Or if you return to Kamichika, then Sir Randall is there...” She trailed off, looking at Sir Randall, who was sitting in the circle beside me. “Ah, normally, that is,” she finished lamely.

“Hanick is quite a long way to just get some advice. Couldn't you tell it to us yourself, since you know it?” Paula's directness is wonderfully refreshing sometimes.

Our sorceress looked taken aback. She looked plaintively at Sir Randall, who just shrugged and gestured to her. In the end she sighed and said in baffled tones, “You guys are... good at this whole “put Alleria on the spot” thing, you know?”

I laughed. She smiled and said, “Well, basically the King would just ask you what your problem is. You'd tell him that you need to get into the Floating Castle, but it's defended by dragons. He'd tell you to go to the Wizards' Academy.”

“Then the Wizards' Academy is where we'll go,” said Paula with a grin.

“Wait, though,” Alleria said with a frown. “Where did your dragon say the Castle was?”

“Where? Where it always has been, I assume – over the Sea of Nothing. Right?”

“That's where I'd think it would be, but... Perhaps you'd better check.” She seemed a little troubled.

Paula and I exchanged a look, and she returned her concentration to the Wyrmstone.

I leaned sideways and rested my head on Sir Randall's shoulder, and he put his arm round me. Suddenly I noticed Michael wearing a real glare. I think it was aimed at Sir Randall, but I couldn't see his reaction. I wondered if Michael was jealous.

The idea made me think. What did last night's events between me and Sir Randall mean? Was I still pursuing Michael in the real world? What about in the gameworld? These weren't easy questions to answer.

I pondered. I do fancy Michael, that's very clear. I do also fancy Sir Randall. I really like Michael's personality, his attentiveness, his sense of humour, his intellect... What about Sir Randall's personality? Certainly his overdone chivalry and flattery is a lot of fun. How do I feel about him? (And how is it sensible to feel about him, given he's just a character from a game?! Goodness me, I was so disparaging of Michael's posters and the way he fancies fictional video game characters... I bet he hasn't had sex with one!!)

I was saved from my circling train of thoughts by Paula returning from communing with her dragon. She looked distinctly perplexed. “The dragon didn't seem to know where the Floating Castle was. But it said it wasn't over any kind of sea. It was in Elysia, though, not the World of Darkness.”

“The Floating Castle – in Elysia?” I exclaimed. “It can't be! ...Can it?”

“Well, it's obviously only levitating by magic,” mused Michael. “And presumably that magic is controlled from within the castle. So I'd guess that if magic can hold the thing up, magic can move it around.”

“But into Elysia, from the World of Darkness? The dragon must have been mistaken, right?”

“Hang on, I'll ask it,” said Paula, and concentrated. She was getting better at that, and pretty quickly returned saying, “No, the dragon says that after it fought the orcs, it got to the Sea of Nothing, and there was no castle there, but there was a huge portal, so it flew through that and into Elysia. The castle's now on its way to Yamakiri.”

“To Yamakiri? What's Ben going to do there?” Michael asked nobody in particular.

“I don't know, but I think we might want to be there to find out,” I said grimly.

“Yes, let's go,” said Alleria. I wonder if that was what she'd been wanting us to say?

Anyway, we travelled towards Kamichika Pass and the village of Yamakiri. We had to fight some monsters en route, to nobody's surprise. The lizardmen have definitely got a lot tougher since we first fought some, but so have we. With my <Holy>, Alleria's <Elements> and another new spell, <Inferno>, Michael's growing speed, and Sir Randall's and Paula's upgraded weaponry, we're quite a force to be reckoned with. Michael tells me that the possessions of these higher-level lizardmen are worth a lot more in barter in shops, so we're getting richer from the combats, too. Except the items and weapons we're needing to buy are getting more expensive, so in the end it all balances out...

Anyway (do I say anyway too much?), we made it to Yamakiri without much incident. But it was very scary... even before we could make out Yamakiri itself in the mountain range on the horizon, we could see the Floating Castle above the mountains, hovering over where we knew the pass was. It looked so out-of-place, here in Elysia. Also intimidating and visible from when we were still a long way away were the two dragons flying round and round the spires of the castle.

We approached with a deep sense of foreboding. There was another dragon clearly visible on the ground outside the mayor's house. As we climbed the final metres of the path, we could see the mayor himself was outside, and trembling before Ben, who was standing there in full Dark Lord regalia, with Kraus cackling beside him.

“Please, sire,” he was saying as we drew near. “The taxes you demand would cripple us. We are a poor people and could not afford the food to stay alive if we had to pay such a levy.”

“I'm sure you could find a way, good mayor,” said Ben evilly. “After all, I wouldn't want to have to let my dragons teach your people a lesson the way they did the people of Haniton.”

“Never!” cried a miner who was standing nearby, swinging his pickaxe defiantly at the tyrant. “We'll fight you off before we give you a single copper piece!”

Kraus snickered, and clutched at the Wyrmstone in his hand. The dragon suddenly lumbered towards the hapless villager. The man tried to run, but the dragon caught up to him in a moment.

“Help me!” cried the miner, suddenly looking terrified and not at all defiant. “Anybody!” he howled, but his eyes were looking straight at Paula and me, watching in horror from concealment behind a wall.

Then the dragon ate him. Just like that. Its head rushed forward, snapped the man out of the air, and crunched, and he was gone.

“Jarak!” shouted the mayor, but it was too late. Kraus cackled dementedly as the dragon swallowed.

The elder slumped, defeated. “As you demand, sire,” he said with a deep sigh. “We shall find your taxes... somehow.”

“Excellent, excellent,” Ben said oilily. “I can tell the people of Yamakiri will fit in well to my new world order. Oh, by the way, hello, Paula and friends,” he said off-handedly, turning to face us. Whoops. We emerged from our hiding places behind nearby buildings and faced him defiantly.

“You can't just go around extorting the citizens of Elysia like this!” said Paula, heroically.

“My dear, I think you'll find I can. In fact, as the ruler of Elysia now, I can do whatever I want,” Ben smirked.

“We're loyal to the true King!” Paula shot back. (She was really getting into this. She'd be a great actress.)

“Old Balshazzar's time has passed, little hero. I am the ruler now.”

“You're just bullying people around with your dragons!”

“It's called power, my dear, and it's how the world works,” said the Dark Lord. (Or Ben in the role of the Dark Lord. It's hard to tell them apart...) “Now, Kraus, would you like to teach these meddlers a lesson?”

“Nyehehehe. With pleasure, master!” And Kraus stepped towards us, leering, while Ben gave us a gloating wave and walked away.

I'm sure I heard Michael say, as he and Paula were drawing their weapons, “Oh no, he's one of those bosses.” I shall have to ask him what he meant.

Anyway, we fought Kraus. Again. He'd acquired some new spells since last time, and he was bad enough then. This time he had a horrendous <Grinder> spell that shaved its target to within an inch of life, no matter how healthy they were before that. And he still had <Hourglass>, that blasted one-minute paralysis spell, too. But thankfully both of those were less effective against five enemies than they would have been against three. He did have mass-attack spells too, and they were a lot more powerful than last time we fought him. And I'm sure his flame sword and ice sword were dealing more damage than last time. Obviously he's been working out.

But for all of that, we were tougher too, and there were five of us. So between lots of <Bless> and <Cure2>, lots of teaming up in attack between Paula and Sir Randall or between Michael and Sir Randall, and lots of persistence, we beat him in the end.

At least, I think we did. He was looking pretty beaten and on the ropes when he waved an arm in summoning, and suddenly a huge dragon flew down and raged at us. He cast his <Smokescreen> thing again, and we decided there was no point trying to take on this dragon when Kraus himself had disappeared, so we legged it.

The mayor of Yamakiri was pathetically grateful for our defiance, but he said it wouldn't change what he had to do. “If we don't pay, the Dark Lord will return and raze Yamakiri to the ground,” he moaned. So with determination, we set off to travel to the Wizards' Academy.

En route, however, the second very interesting conversation happened. (You know, that I mentioned back in my post title about a year ago?) Michael dropped back slightly and motioned to me to do the same. “Um, Tessa,” he said hesitantly, in a quiet voice so as not to be heard by the other three. “I was wondering if you'd like to come over to mine, tonight? That is... Friday night in the real world, when we wake up from all this.”

I laughed. “It feels really weird to be planning this when we're in the gameworld, you know.”

He smiled back at me. “I know, but I thought it was simpler than emailing you...”

“That's just funny. But um, yes, I think Paula and I are both free tonight.”

“If you want...” His normal laconic reticence was particularly noticeable as he paused. “You could come without Paula?”

My reactions couldn't have been more different inside from out. Inside, I turned a double flip-somersault for joy. Outside, I think my face may have been stonily expressionless as I said, “Sure.” (At least I didn't panic and say something stupid like “no, no, it'd be great to have her along”. You know I love you, Paula babe, but when the guy I've fancied majorly for weeks invites me to come over to his alone, I don't want to lose that opportunity by some crazy panic reaction.)

Michael must have a better instinct for when we're going to leave Elysia than I do. It was less than five minutes' travel after he invited me over that I woke up.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Jubilant. Current music: God Put a Smile Upon Your Face – Coldplay

Posted at 09:07 on Dec 1st


by princess-of-china, at 12:41 on Dec 1st

Oh, you allowed him to invite you over without me! Oh, Tessababes, how could you! Oh, you'll have to excuse me while I get over my anguish... Okay, done now. Congrats! :)

And your description of my big long description is funny. Probably fairly accurate, I suppose. It was weird seeing through that dragon's eyes. I felt like if I spent too long doing it, I'd turn into the dragon myself. So I think the words must have just tumbled out as I tried to describe it.

I want you to know that the whole “extorting taxes from the poor” thing is just the way the game's plot has Binkley go. I wouldn't choose to do that myself. But it does make for good drama, you have to admit.

And yes, you do say “anyway” too much ;)

by taleteller, at 18:06 on Dec 1st

Oh, Ben. Since you're here, would you be able to explain just what happened with you having those dragons? Given we just made off with your Wyrmstone and everything. If it's a vital plot point don't worry, but I was curious, and it looks like Alleria wasn't expecting it either.

by bringiton, at 18:20 on Dec 1st

Ah, yes, that. Normally the way the game plot goes is that I discover you've nicked my stone, and immediately send Kraus off to the Goblin Mines to get them working overtime and direct all their energy into finding more. You guys have a few days before I get the extra dragons and starting flying the castle around. So I just decided to pre-emptively send Kraus off to get the goblins mining, a few days ago, so that when you lot arrived he could already be making his way back with the haul. He was very shocked at the suggestion – he needed quite some persuading to leave the official script. But I thought this way would keep things moving faster for you guys, get things a bit better paced.

Fascinating conversation with Alleria, by the way. I'd been wondering a lot of the same things. My NPCs aren't as intellectually gifted as yours, though, so I wouldn't expect to be able to get an explanation from mine :) Ah, it's lonely at the top, when you're a Dark Lord...

by taleteller, at 18:52 on Dec 1st

My heart bleeds for you ;)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a potential boyfriend to visit.

by princess-of-china, at 20:37 on Dec 1st

Oooh, “potential boyfriend”, sounds so exciting!

Go on, then, tell us how it went! We're waiting!

The date

I went over to Michael's tonight. On my own.

Things started off pretty much like they've been when Paula and I went over for games. He welcomed me in (but without a hug or kiss or anything), offered me a drink (but asked me what I wanted rather than knowing I'd have a lemonade like I always do when I'm driving), and invited me to play a game.

I thought, “Hey, it's a reasonable way to start off any kind of evening, and it is a lot of fun.” So we spent a happy half-hour beating one another up with a variety of martial arts moves, and then another happy hour racing one another in assorted implausible high-speed vehicles. It was lots of fun – there's a great rivalry in overtaking someone just before the finish line, or zapping them with a lightning ray just before they're about to do a jump. (No, this wasn't the most realistic driving simulation I've ever played. But it was a lot more fun.) Somehow the competitive smiles as we jostled for position were building a relaxed intimacy, a closeness, and my heart was beating fast from more than just the thrill of the game.

After we finished one particularly close race and we both dropped the controller and gasped for breath, I thought this might be a reasonable time to drive things beyond just competitive smiles. So after we'd exchanged a couple of laughing comments about the track, I asked in what I hoped was a casual tone of voice, “So was there any reason in particular for inviting me over tonight?”

“Heh. That was quite funny, inviting you during our shared dream to come over in real life,” he said with a smile. Which wasn't answering the question, but I decided not to push it.

So I laughed with him. “Definitely. Crazy stuff. The whole “dreaming into Elysia” thing is pretty crazy itself, though, isn't it?”

“Indeed,” he said with a slight frown. “I still want to find out how that happened. I'm hoping the Academy will be able to give us some insight.”

“Yeah. It's pretty cool, though, isn't it?”

“You're enjoying it now?” He seemed surprised.

“Yeah.” I smiled happily. “It's an exciting story – I'd want to play it even if it was still just an RPG. But now, wow, we're really immersed. We can see the Sea of Nothing, feel the heat from the dragons, hear the music at the ball...” I trailed off, realising that wasn't exactly an experience I wanted to be remembering when I was here with Michael sitting only a metre away from me.

Michael, however, had picked up on it. “Mmm, that reminds me. You seemed to be having a good time with Randall at that ball. We had to cope without you when we were working our way through the castle's guards and puzzles.”

“Yeah...” I'm sure I blushed a little. But it was just as much embarrassment from not making it for the adventure part. “Sorry about that.”

He regarded me speculatively for a moment. “Do you have a thing for him?”

I'm sure I blushed more. But I answered, “Not really. He's just... charming.”

“Hmm. All right then.”

It was my turn to give him a speculative look. “Why do you ask?”

“Hmm...” He smiled slightly, but looked away. ”No reason.”

This was fun, so I pursued him. “Go on, why?”

He hesitated a moment longer, then turned to look me in the eye, with a faint smile. “Ah, well. Since you insist. It's the same answer as to your question from earlier about why I asked you over: it's just because I was thinking of asking you out.”

Inside, my heart did a triple somersault. Outside, I just nodded casually and said, “Sounds like a good reason.” But I couldn't help a warm smile from showing through.

He gazed at me with the relaxed warmth we'd felt playing games together. “What do you think you'd answer if I did?”

“I think you'd better do it and find out.”

He rolled his eyes and grinned. “Fine. Ahem. Tessa, could I take you out for a meal sometime?”

For a moment, I considered teasing him a little longer. But this somehow felt like a significant time, so I smiled happily at him and said, “I'd love that. When did you have in mind?”

“Well, I'm quite hungry at the moment. How about now?”

That threw me for a loop. My eyes widened. “Now?!”

“Is there a problem with that?”

“Um...” Well, I'd been hoping for weeks to get to go out with him, or something. So... “I guess not. Let's go.”

So we did. Right there and then, we just left his games console and drove out to a restaurant. Nothing like a little spontaneity to spice things up, right?

We went to a Chinese place quite close to his. Not a cheap takeaway, though, a nice Chinese with a good atmosphere and nice tablecloths and quiet music in the background and things. We ordered a table for two. And we sat together and ate and chatted.

It was so good, getting to just sit and chat with Michael. I've known him for about a month now, and spent a lot of time around him thanks to this bizarre immersion in Elysia that we share. I've seen him fight, and think, and worry, and laugh. But I haven't spent much time talking with him, and even less on our own.

So we chatted, about many things. He told me that when I was killed by the warpwood tree, he cried and went mad. I told him how I'd always thought he was good looking, but had come to find his personality immensely attractive as well. (Just like the stereotype, he didn't know how to react to that. He said so. I laughed and told him he didn't have to.)

And then we drove back to his, and said goodnight...

And then we kissed. Oh, wow, did we kiss. At first it was so soft and gentle, but not like a peck, more like a tentative contact with something you think might give you an electric shock. And in a way, it did. He kissed me again, more firmly, and then we kissed downright passionately, tongues tearing at one another.

When we came up for air, we just gave each other these huge smiles, full of meaning, none of which needed putting into words. All he said was, “...I guess I'll say goodnight, and then see you in a couple of hours back in the game.”

I laughed again. (I did that a lot tonight.) I nodded and said warmly, “Yep, I guess so.”

Then I gave him one more quick kiss, and said “Goodnight!”, and drove away.

And I am completely floating on air.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Over the moon. Current music: Happy Together – The Turtles

Posted at 23:40 on Dec 1st


by bringiton, at 23:59 on Dec 1st

Aww! Isn't she cute?

by princess-of-china, at 00:19 on Dec 2nd

Yaaaay! That's sooooo wonderful!

by varynfan, at 02:36 on Dec 2nd

Congratulations Tessa! \(^_^\)

The Wizards' Academy

“Alleria,” Michael said when we were back in Elysia, en route to the Wizards' Academy. “You told us before about the life that you live now, cycling endlessly through the same story.”

“Yes...?” replied the sorceress guardedly.

“Do you like it?”

“What?” She certainly hadn't been expecting that. Nor had I.

Paula, however, nodded soberly. “Yeah, I'd been wondering that as well. Do you mind being forced to live through the same events, over and over? Knowing that you're going to go through the same thing, or a variation on it, in another few days' time?”

Alleria drew a deep breath, and gradually let it out, looking thoughtful.

“I try not to think about it,” she answered, slowly. “Because it's not so bad for me? You know, I get to be part of the group that goes around saving the world. I get to go to the party on the Floating Castle, and see the wonder and strangeness of the World of Darkness. I even used to be able to think I was making a difference. But not everybody gets that.”

“The random extras? Like the dwarves and villagers?” I asked.

“It's not even so bad for them. They have to get into position whenever Varyn's group might be passing, but otherwise they can just get on with their lives. No, what bothers me is...” She looked genuinely troubled as she continued, “The people who get attacked or killed. Like that villager Jarak from Yamakiri.” Her face was a mask of anguish. “How many times have I seen him eaten by that dragon? Five hundred? A thousand? And that's just the times I've been there. His life must be utter hell. He gets resurrected, but knows that he's got about five days before a Dark Lord descends with a dragon, and he'll be forced to defy him, and he's going to die again. Over and over and over again.”

We were all looking a bit sickened by the thought. But she continued relentlessly. “All the people of Haniton, living in their houses, knowing that in three days' time they're going to have to watch them be burned to the ground and have to live in poverty from then on. The bandits who we fight... I've come to recognise their faces. They all look the same superficially, but they're not – each one is a different guy: one has a moustache, one has lighter hair, there's one with a limp, one with a pendant. We see the same bandits – the same people – every time round, and every time they die. I mean, I know they chose a life of crime, but they could at least expect to only have to face the death penalty once! Not to live a nightmare where you get decapitated by a sword, then raised to life, to get killed by a <Fire2> spell, to get raised to life to get killed by a bludgeon from a staff? That's got to be truly hellish. And you can see it in their eyes. There's a haunted look, even as they're dying.”

“So,” she concluded grimly, “I don't exactly mind it, but it's impossible to enjoy it so much knowing that so many of the people I interact with are experiencing things like that.”

I was reeling. I had idly wondered, slightly, about what it was like to live in the cycle of this video game plot. Alleria had lived it, a thousand times over.

There was only one question that could be asked after that. “Can anyone stop it?”

She grimaced. Her face was truly sad as she replied, “I have no idea.”

Our journey was rather sombre after that.

Particularly poignant was the encounter we had with three bandits, as we trod the route to the Academy following Alleria's directions. When they leapt out of the foothills and attacked us, we winced in memory of what Alleria had said. Paula went as far as to say to them, “Look, guys! Please! We have no quarrel with you. We're plenty strong enough to kill you, and you must know that, right? But if you just leave us alone, you can go on living!”

They responded by simply attacking more viciously... but I'm sure I saw a hopeless anguish in the guy's expression as he swung his dagger at me. We tried to wound them enough to disable them without killing them, but somehow the fighting skills we'd inherited from Varyn, Terena and friends didn't include striking with the flat of the blade, or pulling the blow. Only by fighting to kill could we defend ourselves at all. So it was with extremely heavy hearts that we dispatched them. We exchanged looks as we were cleaning up – no words were necessary. Thankfully the other combat we had en route was with some decidedly non-human blobs of corrosive slime. Even there, I fear Paula may have been wondering whether her occasional animal rights morals should extend to slime globs.

We were very glad to arrive at the Wizards' Academy.

It was an awesome place. Set on a cliff over a stormy sea, approached along a rocky mountain path, they seemed not to be especially tolerant to visitors. However, when we made our way into the door of the main building that we first reached, the young mage girl behind the desk had a perfectly welcoming tone as she said, “Hello, can I help you?”

Paula stepped up and said, “Um, we'd like to see a...” She paused, unsure how to proceed.

Alleria smiled, and walked up to the desk where Paula was hesitating. “Is Professor Archimeld still in the Thaumaturgics faculty?”

“Um... Yes, he is.” The girl, presumably an undergraduate student, had widened her eyes in surprise when Alleria approached, but answered readily enough. She smiled wryly as she added, “Not much chance of moving him in the next two decades.”

“Excellent. I know the way. Thanks.” She marched confidently on, leaving Paula, Michael, Sir Randall and me to scramble to follow her across the spacious foyer, out an open doorway at the other end, and into a surprising courtyard of cobbled paths and green grass. Turning to us, she said with a slightly naughty smile, “Normally you're meant to flounder your way through the conversation there, but I thought I'd just speed things up a bit.”

Michael looked at me in amazement and murmured, “And she's an NPC?!” I just nodded... the sorceress must be picking up some defiance of the conventional script from being around us outsiders.

We followed her along paths, through passageways, and through a sudden doorway on the right into an expansive hall. There were blackboards in several places on the walls, covered in arcane scribblings. There were oak coffee tables, with books on them that would definitely be best described as grimoires. There were three or four corridors extending from the space, and it was along one of these that Alleria led us with a confident stride.

She knocked at the third of a series of unassuming wooden doors on the left. A coughing was heard from within, and after a few moments, a cantankerous voice called out, “Yes?”

Alleria pushed at the door, and beckoned us to follow. We obediently entered a study, that turned out to be completely stuffed with books, in completely stereotypical fashion. There was a fat old wizard sitting in an armchair, with a tome open in front of him and eight more piled haphazardly on his desk. Somewhat less predictably, he was staring wide-eyed at us.

“Um... Varyn's party? Aren't you meant to be seeing Professor Middicule? And I was sure you're not meant to get here for another day or two!”

“That's right, Professor, that's the way things normally go. But this group is a bit different.” Alleria spoke familarly to the old academic – I assume she knew him from her student days.

“But why have you brought them to me, young lady?” he demanded of Alleria. “It's Middicule they need to see, to get their vertical teleport spell, isn't it? That'll get them into the Floating Castle just fine, won't it?”

“That's right, Professor, but this group need to ask about more than that, about things that might be more your area of expertise.”

He gave Alleria a suspicious look. “But... aren't you meant to be one of their inflexible companions, my dear?”

“Less of the “inflexible”, thank you,” she said in mock-affronted tone, impressing me again. “Like I told you, this group is different. Just look at them.”

The old wizard peered through his glasses at us. At length he pointed an accusing finger at Paula and said, “Hmm... You, young lady, look altogether too female to be wearing Varyn's clothes.”

She looked from side to side and said, “Um... sorry?”

Professor Archimeld's beady eyes looked at us again. “So what are you doing here?”

“That's what we came to ask you, sir,” replied Paula earnestly. “We were just playing a game, in our world, which is very different to here, and I guess you'd say we were watching Varyn and the party and controlling their actions. But then one time King Balshazzar looked out of the screen at us and said our real names, and we were surprised because we hadn't told the game our real names, and then when we went to sleep in our world we woke up here. And we gave the game back to one of our friends and he played it and ended up replacing Chancellor Binkley. So we need to find out how to get back to our world. Except Alleria told us about the way people keep on dying over and over again, and actually we need to find our how to stop this whole time looping thing.”

The wizard's eyebrows had risen significantly. “Well now. Visitors from another world? Goodness, Richtonsin will be pleased.”

“Why's that, Professor?” asked Alleria in slight confusion.

“He's always been a believer in the Many-Worlds Hypothesis. He's convinced that there are a multitude of universes, each different. This has been borne out to a certain extent by some experiments that have revealed glimpses of what look like other worlds, through our scrying glasses and suchlike. But the research has become rather harder to perpetuate since the chronocycling – for example, any experiment that lasts longer than a week would be right out.

“If you want to return to your world, I suggest you ask Richtonsin. He may be able to suggest some rituals that might have a non-zero chance of success.”

“But we actually wanted to end the... chronocycling, Professor,” I said. “Is there any way you can suggest to do that?”

“Oh dear. That's a subject many of us in the Thaumaturgics Faculty would be interested in, if you have any insights,” replied Archimeld testily. “But we're currently without much of a clue.”

Alleria frowned. “Oh well. Thank you very much for your time, Professor,” she said.

We left his room, and wondered where to find the mysterious Richtonsin. Alleria, for the first time since arriving at this place, looked lost. “I've never had to go to his office,” she explained uncertainly, “so I don't know where it is. I guess we'll have to look at the map... Although this faculty is a notorious maze – well, just like all the others are.”

Lacking any better suggestions, we returned to the chaotic hall where we'd entered the faculty... We spotted a noticeboard on the far side, and on it, half-hidden underneath a piece of paper instructing students to please not test their incendiary thaumaturgical experiments indoors, was a scribbled, semi-legible list of current staff and their offices.

Peering at the paper, I said, “I'm not sure which is odder – that I can read the names of the professors, orthat I can't read the names of the rooms.”

Alleria glanced at the list. “Makes sense: the names are written in Standard but the rooms are in Old Script.”

Michael took a look, and said, “Interesting. It looks like English to me, not “Standard”.” He tapped his lip for a moment, and then asked, “Alleria, how many languages do your people have?”

“Three,” she replied promptly. “There's Standard, Eastern and Old Script. Most of the books in the Wizards' Academy are in Old Script. That's what that room number is written in – Richtonsin's in room zogroth-four. But Standard is used for most common interactions these days. All of Varyn's group speak Standard. Although, now that I come to think about it, when the chronocycling started, we spoke to people in Eastern...” She frowned, looking disconcerted. “In fact, I think both Standard and Eastern have only become common since the chronocycling's been happening. At first it was Eastern, I'm sure. But now everyone uses Standard, and pretty much nobody uses Eastern.”

We all looked at each other for a moment, trying to make sense of this. Then Alleria shrugged and said, “Anyway, we've found out where Professor Richtonsin's room is... Oh dear. Room zogroth-four means we'll have to climb the Impossible Tower. Come on.”

Baffled, we followed her to a different staircase, which we climbed for just a single flight of stairs; then doggedly along a corridor, round a left turn, through a door to the right, and into a raised courtyard, from which we could see an... edifice of some kind, that was something like a tower. The Impossible Tower seemed to amply deserve the name. Its shape wiggled, bent, and seemed to distort as you looked at it... it was always firm (if crazy) in shape when you just stand and stare, but walking towards it it seemed to shift to the side, or bend, or skew and slant. Definitely a place where normal laws of physics need not apply.

Alleria was amused at our reaction. “Cool, isn't it?” she grinned. She was really enjoying herself. Then she strode away towards the implausible steeple, and we had to hurry to keep up. I was sure I saw someone walk past a window in the thing who was walking vertically – like, on the walls, from the floor towards the ceiling. But our sorceress didn't seem bothered – she just marched up to the door and pushed it open. It opened slowly, reluctantly, to show a dim stairwell, going up. She climbed, so we nerved ourselves and so did she.

That was definitely one of the stranger places I've been in all of the gameworld, including the World of Darkness. You'd put your foot to climb a step, and find your foot falling further than you expected, like when you get to the top of the stairs in the dark. Except further, and suddenly your whole body would swing to follow your foot and you'd find yourself standing on what had been a wall. There were regions where perspective inverted itself, and the others, climbing away from me, looked larger the further they were away. There were times when the stairs just continued straight, but somehow managed to be bending away in two paths to the left and the right, while still staying straight. We had to take care to stay on the side that Alleria had been on.

The door we took to leave that insane staircase was pretty freaky as well. It was in the front of one particularly large step. Peering at the arcane symbol inscribed on its front, Alleria said, “Through here,” and pushed at this short wall with a sideways door in it: the door opened along its hinges, and swung up and away from us (onto the inside of the next step). Then she somehow twisted herself, almost lying down on the stairs, and pushed herself through the narrow door that was at right angles to us. I just looked at Michael, then at Paula and Sir Randall, who all looked equally intimidated. Michael hesitantly stepped towards it. I held onto his hand.

I've no idea how, but we made it through that door, and into the corridor beyond, which looked like a perfectly normal oak panelled corridor. We walked up to the door labelled with a number 4 on it, and knocked.

The door was pulled swiftly open, and a deep, sonorous voice said, “Welcome! Do come in!”

“Professor Richtonsin! Wow, it's been a while,” said Alleria fondly. We made our way into the study, which was much like the previous professor's study, but the man himself was rather different. Tall, broad-shouldered, and portly, he looked a bit like an opera singer and had the voice to match. He was gazing at Alleria, and snapped his fingers in astonishment.

“Goodness me! Teleatha, isn't it? Alleria Teleatha?”

She gave the academic a smile. “I'm impressed you remember me, sir. Yes, I'm here with the latest version of Varyn's group. They're a bit... different from previous iterations.”

“Yes, so Archimeld informed me,” said the wizard. “So you four are the ones apparently from another world?” he asked, looking at us speculatively.

“Us and our friend Ben, who's in the role of Chancellor Binkley at the moment, sir,” I replied.

“Fascinating, fascinating! Tell me, do you have a huge comet hovering in the sky in your world?”

“Er...” I was a bit taken aback. “Not unless you mean the moon, no.”

“Hmm, I see. A large mountain in the shape of a pair of spectacles?”

I looked at the others, who looked blankly back at me. “I haven't heard of such a place, and I'm pretty sure our people have explored all the mountain ranges in our world. So I don't think so.”

“Ah well.” Richtonsin stroked his beard. “Those are a couple of the worlds we've seen the best, in the occasional fragmentary glimpses we get in our scrying glasses,” he explained. “No matter. So, I understand you want to return to your world?”

“Well, yes,” I said. I was about to continue “That's only part of it,” but he didn't give me the chance.

“So there's a reasonable chance that you may end up back in your world at the next chronocycling. Of course, you're the ones who'll bring that about, with your assault on the Black Citadel.”

“If we complete the game?” Michael mused. “I suppose it would make sense.”

“Do you have any idea why we're in here, sir?” I asked him.

“Well. As it happens, there was a huge magical surge just before the last chronocycle, from the Dark Citadel,” said the wizard. “We suspect that the one known as Kraus may have cast some vast spell, beyond anything cast since the time of the Ancients. The thaumaturgical energy readings were off most of our scales. It may have been enough to bridge the gap between worlds. This does seem an interesting coincidence, given that you turned up the very next cycle. Varyn's instantly recognisable to anyone in the world, so to see someone else in his clothes was a bit unexpected.”

“Kraus... summoned us here?” I hadn't been expecting that. “Why would he do that?”

“Who knows. Maybe he was trying to extend the dominion over more worlds, now that it's become clear this one is cycling endlessly?”

“He doesn't seem like the kind of guy you can persuade out of something.” Paula's statement was undeniable. “But sir,” Paula continued, “we've got something more important we want to do. We want to stop the chronocycling from happening any more.”

Alleria looked at Paula in pained appreciation.

“Do you, now. Well, I'm sure Archimeld told you that a lot of wizards here would like that. But we've been researching the phenomenon since it began, and not made much progress, despite it having been almost three years. What do you think you could contribute in three days?” He wasn't being sarcastic or dismissive, just frank. It was a reasonable question.

“Well... Do you know why it happens?” I asked, the glimmerings of an idea taking shape in my mind.

“Not a clue. It's obviously tied to Varyn's group saving the world, with the compulsions everyone feels to act the same way around the group that they did first time through. We've got many hypotheses, but not really anything to base them on.”

“You see, Professor, the thing is, in our world, Varyn's story is being told, over and over again,” I said slowly. “Thousands of people have watched the story, and guided bits of it, in some parts where they have some degree of control. We were just a group of friends, watching that story together.” I gestured to Michael and Paula, remembering sitting down in Michael's lounge to play Ultimate Dream, what felt like a lifetime ago.

“...Iiiinteresting,” said Richtonsin eventually. “And you think that the constant repetition of the story across your world is forcing the chronocycling?”

I shrugged. “In the end I suppose it's just another theory.”

“But it is one that's borne out by certain things in this world,” Michael said suddenly, to my surprise.

“What are you thinking of?” I asked.

“Well, the way that the Water Shrine was set up more to provide effective puzzles for Varyn's party when they visit than for any kind of normal shrine-like purposes, like worship or suchlike,” he said. “The way that the kid somehow ended up alive and stuck in that dungeon. The way that the Yamakiri staff of leadership got stuck in the treasure room of the Fire Guardian. The way that the tunnels inside the volcano just happened to lead through to that Guardian's room, if you're able to jump the length a human can, and pull a few switches. The way the doors weren't locked unless there was a key or switch accessible that would unlock them, for goodness' sake! Whole areas of your world are designed not for your people but for the people in our world, playing games.”

He stated his conclusion as a challenge, almost an accusation, directed at Richtonsin. The wizard mused for a while. “We have seen the regions you refer to, through our scrying glasses,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time considering the possible reasons they could be formed in that way. No definite conclusion has been reached, but when you put it as you did, your position does seem... the natural explanation.”

“So hang on, are you saying the whole of Elysia and the World of Darkness were made up by people in our world?” said Paula incredulously.

Michael answered with a shrug, “Not necessarily, but at least some of it does seem to have been undeniably shaped to the needs of an RPG.”

The Professor asked, “This story is constantly being retold across your world, you say? How does it keep from being told differently each time?”

We boggled briefly at one another. How do you describe video game consoles to a wizard? I decided to have a go. “There are these machines we have in our world, that are quite widespread – a lot of people can buy them. And there are stories... in the form of games... that you can also go out and buy. These games are, um, nothing but a huge amount of information. Data. And these machines know how to take that information and show it in the form of a story. People in our world who play these games can control how a few of the characters move around and fight. Because each copy of the game about your world is identical, everyone who buys that game will see the same story, but they'll get to control Varyn's choices differently. ...Did that make any sense?”

“But information has no physical reality,” the wizard pointed out astutely. “Is this data inscribed on scrolls?”

“A slightly more advanced idea, but a similar basic concept, I suppose,” I said, marvelling. “It happens to be in the form of a disc, but that's fairly incidental. The instructions on the disc tell the machine how to show the story, where to let the player have control, what will happen when the player takes certain actions, and so on.”

“I see. And I assume these discs are in some arcane language, incomprehensible by mankind?”

“Indeed.” I grinned.

“So there are a multitude of copies of this disc, each one of which lets a person in your world control one cycle through our chronocycling,” summarised Richtonsin.

“That... seems likely to be the case, sir,” Michael affirmed.

“In which case, one would have to eliminate all of those discs to cause the chronocycling to cease.”

“That'd be impossible,” I said, looking at Michael and Paula for confirmation. “Track down all copies of the game in warehouses and game shops around the world? And the manufacturers could just make more. No, that won't work. But...” I slowed down as I reasoned this out in my head. “In our world, all that's happening is the console is moving lots of bits around. For it to correspond to something real out here in this world... There's got to be magic involved in our world, at some level.”

“Intriguing,” Michael said. “I wonder if it's the console or the game? That is, are the other games also affected by this magical correspondence?”

“Not the exact same link, certainly, because this world doesn't have any monkeys rolling around in giant hamster balls in it, that I've seen! No, there's got to be something specific that means when the console reads the Ultimate Dream game in particular, it stops being just a machine to shuffle bits around, and makes the link to this world, and creates another chronocycle. But it's not just any one copy of UltiDri – it's all of them ever printed. Which to me sounds like it's specific to the data, the information that makes up the game.”

“Would you be able to bring me a copy of this information?” asked Professor Richtonsin suddenly.

“Er...” I exchanged looks with Paula and Michael. “I... don't know. We haven't tried to bring anything in from our world, have we?”

“Actually, I tried it earlier,” said Paula brightly, to my astonishment. “A few days ago, I thought I'd like to see if I could bring some chocolate in from our world. So I held it very close to me as I was going to sleep, and thought with all my might, “Chocolate! Hold on to the chocolate!” And when I woke up in Elysia, I had a chocolate bar with me. It was still in its plastic wrapper and everything. When I woke up the next morning, it was gone.”

I didn't know whether to slap my face with my palm or to hug Paula in delight. I settled for saying, “...Why didn't you tell us at the time?”

She looked rather bashful as she replied, “I got hungry, so I ate it for breakfast. I threw the wrapper into the lava in the Fire Shrine.”

...She's unique, isn't she?

“...Okay, so it seems like we might be able to bring the disc in here,” I answered the wizard, who appeared rather amused by our exchange. “Why? What can you do with it?”

“Well, we can analyse it, see if there are any traces of magic on it, see if we can track down the enchantment that's letting people from your world force ours to re-enact the same events over and over like this. Ultimately, we'd like to uncover that enchantment and dispel it once and for all. With your help, for the first time, we might be making some progress on getting Elysia free from this endless cycling.” He beamed at us.

“In which case...” I looked at him. “It might be a somewhat cheeky request, but is there anywhere we could stay the night here? Going to sleep for the night seems to be one of the things that triggers us going back to our world. We might be able to get hold of that disc straight away and have it in your hands in the morning.”

“Well, we don't have anything much in the way of guest rooms here, but there may be some space in the dormitories. I'll contact the mage on reception and get her to find you somewhere. Be sure to let me know as soon as you have anything! I'll get the thaumaturgical spectrometer warming up so that it's ready in the morning.” He opened his door and gestured to us. We filed out, and he locked it behind us and then set off at a brisk jog towards the door at the far end of the corridor.

I felt a sudden queasiness as I recalled the physics-defying climb beyond that door. Richtonsin, however, was beaming at us as he stood outside the door (and thus at ninety degrees to the angle we were standing at). So I tried not to think about anything much while I stepped through. There was a sickening lurch and I wobbled, but found myself standing just about stably on the stairs.

Paula, Alleria, Sir Randall and Michael followed. However, Michael and Sir Randall must have done something different, because they came out standing on the sides of the steps, not the tops!

Richtonsin just laughed and said, “Whoops. Looks like it's an uphill climb for you boys. I love this tower – I get to go downstairs on the way to my office and on the way back!”

Paula looked accusingly at Alleria, who gave an apologetic smile and said, “Sorry! Some people find it easy, but I could never do that bit...”

Anyway, we made it “down” the Impossible Tower to the reception, where the friendly girl from before spent quite a while shuffling around lots of bits of paper before allocating a room to each of us. Richtonsin smiled at her and said, “Here's a good challenge for you, my dear. Can you invoke <GuideLight> to lead each of these to the room they've been given?

The girl gulped, and just said, “I can try...” She concentrated, and stretched out her fingertips towards each of us in turn, incanting under her breath, as one after another, five balls of light appeared, levitating at around waist height and bobbing up and down gently in the air. She looked quite exhausted by the end of it, but the professor smiled approvingly at her and said, “Well done. You're making definite progress. Keep that study up!”

She gave him a somewhat dreamy smile, and I'm sure she was blushing as she mumbled, “Thank you very much, sir.” Each to their own, I suppose.

So as you might be able to guess, we each followed a different one of the floating lights, which led us off to different places around the Academy. Before Michael's and my paths separated, he murmured to me in a low voice, “It's Saturday back in our world, isn't it? Do you want to come over to mine again this afternoon?”

I gazed at him happily, and said, “I'd love to.” A whole lot better than tidying my parents' house, which is all I had lined up for today in the real world.

He touched my fingertips with his for a moment, smiled, and then went to follow the lead of his own guiding light.

The reception mage's spellcasting did seem impressive to me, because the will-o'-the-wisp led me right to the door of the room they'd given me. It was a pretty basic room, but it had a bed that was a definite step up from those in the Haniton inn. And so we went to sleep in the Wizards' Academy, and woke up back in England. And I suppose now I've spent ages on the computer already, I'll help my family tidy up briefly, and then head over to Michael's. Yay!

-- taleteller

Current mood: Exuberant. Current music: Bold As Love – Jimi Hendrix

Posted at 11:15 on Dec 2nd


by bringiton, at 11:26 on Dec 2nd

Would you like me to come over and drop off the UltiDri disc, then? I've got it back from the friend I lent it to – it looks like it's not actually any use for playing now anyway – so you'd be welcome to take it into Elysia :)

by taleteller, at 11:31 on Dec 2nd

Could you? That'd be great. I was going to email you to ask you, but since you're too fast, I'll just take you up on the idea now.

by bringiton, at 11:33 on Dec 2nd

No problem :) I'm afraid I can't make it today, as I'm going to be busy literally all day. But I'll drop it over tomorrow at some point.

by princess-of-china, at 13:04 on Dec 2nd

That guiding light thingy led me to the wrong place! I was in room squiggle-three, but it led me to squiggle-two, and I didn't even notice until I'd wrestled with the door briefly and a girl in a nightrobe suddenly opened it from the inside and said, “What do you want?” I was so embarrassed!

by ilovealleria, at 15:19 on Dec 2nd

Wow! So cool to see some more of the Wizards' Academy than the game shows you! And great to see Alleria so confident and capable, hehehe. Back on her home turf, eh? I wish I could write Alleria fanfiction as well as you can!

A wonderful day

Wow. That was the best Saturday I've had for ages.

I drove over to Michael's after lunch, and he gave me a warm hug as he welcomed me in. We stood looking into one another's eyes for what must have been at least a minute, his hands around my waist and mine on his. Then wordlessly, he leaned in to kiss me. Wow, even when it's so gentle, it's so intense!

We went into the flat. “It's funny... It was only last night that I was over here,” I said.

He smiled and raised his eyebrows. “True. It feels like quite a long time ago, with having spent the night discussing magical metaphysics in an impossible tower.” He has a great way with words.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon chatting, playing games, and hugging and kissing on the sofa. Mmmmm. He started stroking my belly and sides where my T-shirt had ridden up, and I made some kind of pleased or encouraging sound. He reached up to stroke my side inside my T-shirt, which was even nicer, and started my pulse racing a bit.

Then, with his hand up at the side of my stomach... he tickled me! The sneaky so-and-so. I shrieked and jumped backwards, giving him an “Ooh, I'm going to get you” smile. We chased one another round the sofa for a bit, and I tackled him to his (carpeted) floor. I sat down on him to hold him in place (I'm not very heavy, but neither is he), and tickled his sides mercilessly while he writhed and laughed helplessly. That was lots of fun, until he reached up my T-shirt and tickled me some more.

I fell back to the sofa, and he dived after me, and reached for my sides again. I moved to hold him away and he said, “No, I won't tickle this time.” I was suspicious, but I didn't block him. He reached to touch my sides, but didn't tickle this time, just stroked very gently. I went “Mmmm” and smiled and closed my eyes. He reached higher, keeping the touch of his fingers on my skin very light and sensual, until he was stroking the underneath of my breasts in my bra. He paused, and said, “Is this too fast?”

I was breathing quite fast, so I took a moment to catch my breath, before trying to figure out what to answer. In the end I said, “No... it's not like we're teenagers.”

(Am I just easy? I don't like to think so, and the only guys I've let get anywhere are the two who I've had big crushes on... but I still worry sometimes...)

So he smiled in a faintly predatorial way – just enough to make me shiver – and continued stroking his fingertips across whatever bare skin they could find. When he had softly traced ten paths upwards across my chest, he lifted to pull my T-shirt over my head. I figured that was fair game given what I'd already permitted, so I tried not to blush too much as he revealed my bra to his eyes. When dressing this morning I'd idly considered the possibility Michael might see my underwear today, so I'd chosen one of my sexier bras, a pink one with slightly lacy edges that's quite flattering.

He took a deep breath and smiled in approval. “Wow, Tessa, you're stunning,” he said. I don't think of my chest as particularly stunning or large by comparison with the models and people, so I wasn't especially convinced, but I liked the effect the sight seemed to have on him.

I reached out to grab hold of his T-shirt. “Turnabout's fair play,” I said with a wicked grin, as I tried to yank it off his torso in one swift movement.

The effect was slightly hampered by his head, and he said, “Owowow, hang on,” and moved his arms to make it easier for me. Bah.

Still, once we were both T-shirt-less our eyes met, travelled up and down the sight of each other, and met again. The electricity in the air was tangible as we moved together to embrace, caressing one another's naked backs and resting in each other's arms.

“You're gorgeous,” I told him honestly.

“I fancy you so much, Tessa,” he replied. That's one way to give my spirits and morale a serious boost.

Then he said, “Tessa?”


“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” I said with a smile. I pulled back a little so that I could look at his face. “What is it?”

“Um...” His eyes were lowered for a moment or two, then he raised his eyes to look straight into mine and said, “Have you ever... had sex?”

I paused, remembering the Floating Castle. “Er... Yes, I have.”

That wasn't the answer he was hoping for. He seemed to get a little flustered. “Yeah. Fair enough. Sorry for asking that. Of course you would have, I mean, I guess it's like you said... it's not like we're teenagers any more...”

I thought, What am I doing? What am I saying? That was off in a dream world, with a guy who doesn't exist. It's nothing like what he's asking about.

And so overtaken with some unidentified emotion, I pulled him close to me, gave him a brief but firm kiss on the lips, and said, “...I was just trying to sound mature. The truth is, I haven't. I've never even really got close.”

He looked up into my eyes, his expression full of uncertainty. “Really?”


He said, “Because I... I haven't.” His voice, usually so confident and matter-of-fact, seemed to waver when talking about emotional subjects. “So... I think we shouldn't rush into anything. Let's just... take things relatively slow and have fun?”

My first reaction was amused incredulity. “This from the guy who just took off my T-shirt?”

He laughed with embarrassment. “I guess this is partly me asking if it's okay to stop there for the moment.”

Poor thing. He seemed to feel like that was going to be a disappointment to me. While I love the feeling his fingers can give me just running along neutral areas like my back, and love to imagine what they might be able to make me feel in other places... that's not the reason I'm going out with him at all. So I'm not going to object to him saying he sees our relationship as having a long enough future that we can approach that gradually.

“That's absolutely fine,” I said in my best reassuring tone. “Slow and fun sounds good to me.” I ran my fingertips gently up and down his back, once, just long enough for him to lift his head slightly in pleasure... and then tickled him on both sides.

Yep, this relationship is going to be a lot of fun!

We played more video games a bit in the early evening, sitting around with him topless and me semi-topless. That was definitely exciting, and I know the way my heart beat so fast certainly wasn't just due to the games. We sent out for takeaway pizza, with me expressing disappointment when he had to put his T-shirt back on to go get the food from the delivery boy. And we chatted a lot more. We told each other secrets (that I won't reproduce here).

I told him I ought to not stay too late, because my parents will be taking me to church tomorrow morning. (One of these days I ought to decide what I think about all that stuff.) So at around ten, I retrieved my discarded garment, gave my boyfriend a big kiss, and drove home.

My back and sides are still tingling from the touch of his fingers, though.

-- taleteller

Current mood: On fire. Current music: You Want Me – Chantal Chamandy

Posted at 22:44 on Dec 2nd

1 comment:

by bringiton, at 23:08 on Dec 2nd

To answer your question, Tessa, yeah, you're a floozy ;)

Aaaargh, my life is falling apart!

Aaaargh! How can a situation that seemed so rosy and straightforward when I went to sleep have become so complicated and screwed up by the time I wake up??

Okay, I'll tell you the story...

We woke up in our rooms in the Wizards' Academy. The <GuideLight> sprites hadn't stayed around to greet us when we got up. I found Sir Randall wandering around the courtyards looking lost, and we spotted Michael a minute later. Between us we managed to return to the reception area, where Paula and Alleria were chatting to Richtonsin.

I told him that we wouldn't be able to get the game disc until the next time we leave and return. He was disappointed, but said, “Ah, well, I suppose there's nothing that can be done about that. Please do bring it to us here as soon as you can. Now, I assume you'll be resuming your quest?”

We looked at one another. “I guess so,” Paula said.

“In which case, you'll need to go see Professor Middicule about the teleportation spell that you need to get into that Floating Castle. I'll show you the way to his office. <GuideLight>.”

With an offhand gesture, he effortlessly summoned one of the floating guides we'd seen the night before. We thanked Richtonsin effusively for his help, and followed the leading of the glowing ball through to another region of the Academy. It was quite close to where Alleria had led us before, and we passed through the same chaotic foyer, but took a different passage out of it, and down two flights of a staircase (thankfully this one obeyed the laws of physics) to a door.

Like last time, we let Alleria take the lead. She knocked smartly. “Enter,” replied a crotchety, old voice from within. The office was rather tidier than others we'd seen, but was characterised by the same collections of tomes and paper. “What do you want?” said the wizened figure behind the desk bluntly, not looking up from the tome he was holding.

“The same thing Varyn's group always wants, sir,” Alleria said. “Except this lot are able to just come out and say that.”

“The spell to get you into the Castle? Well, you'll have to fetch me a few books so that I can look it up.”

“I'm sure that's not necessary, sir,” replied the young sorceress with a smile. “We know you've looked it up hundreds of times already.”

For the first time, the wizard actually looked at us. His face, one of those that looks like it's not used to any expression but a frown, gave Alleria a suspicious look. “Young lady, you seem to be deviating rather from the script.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied patiently. “This group have more... free will than normal. So we can skip some of the formalities. We've already spoken to Professor Archimeld and Professor Richtonsin, and you know the script doesn't involve visiting either of those.”

“Do you still require the same spell?” asked the ancient wizard testily.

“What do you mean, sir?” asked Alleria respectfully.

“Well, if you're actually able to break with tradition, you might be interested in some refinements I've been able to make to it.” The old man cracked a smile, quite a scary sight itself. “The version I usually give you is the first one I concocted, which drops you on the lowest level of the Castle's dungeons. But in the time since the chronocycling started, I've enhanced it with more control. There's a version that I think should get you onto the Castle's rooftop.”

“On the rooftop? Is there a way into the throne room from the rooftop?”

Middicule shrugged. “Not to my knowledge. I thought it might be of interest to you anyway. If you just want to get to the throne room, then there's one that will put you on that floor, although I can't guarantee where on the floor it'll put you.”

Alleria nodded, impressed. “So we can skip the four floors of dungeons and two floors of palace? Sounds good! I never knew you had anything like this!”

The professor laughed, a hoarse, scraping sound. “At first I thought I'd be able to help out Varyn's group some more, by getting on with the research before they got here. But then that blasted script compulsion put paid to that plan. Since then it was just a matter of academic interest. I have been researching other things as well, but that's the one that'll be of relevance to you.” He slowly, creakily lifted himself from his chair, and tottered to a tall cupboard. Rummaging within it for a little, he produced a staff, and incanted over it for several seconds. Then he handed it to Paula. “There you go. Point that at the Castle when you're directly beneath it and you'll teleport to the floor of the throne room.”

“Thank you very much, sir! Is there anything we can do to repay you?” Paula exclaimed.

I looked askance at her – we didn't particularly want to be going on quests for bunion cream or suchlike – but the professor replied, “Not at all! Just get good use out of my spell. An academic loves to see their research turn out to have practical use.”

“Thank you very much.” Paula bowed and left. The rest of us followed.

* * *

We bid our farewells to the receptionist girl, and set off for the long trek back to the rest of Elysia. It was Michael who thought to ask the question that should have been bothering all of us.

“So if the Dark Lord is flying this castle around, how do we know where it is?”

Alleria looked troubled. “Ah. Yes. That's interesting. That could be a problem.”

“What do you mean? How do the group normally do it?” I asked.

“That's the problem,” she said wryly. “I don't actually know. There are three or four places where the group usually find the Castle, but it varies each time. Sometimes it's at Haniton, sometimes the Royal City, sometimes Yamakiri; or sometimes it's in the World of Darkness – at Hanick, the Goblin Mines, or the Witch's Swamp. But I can never tell how Varyn knows where to go. We always just wander in what ends up being the correct direction.”

“Well, if that always works, that sounds good,” said Paula brightly.

“Not if the reason it always works is because the player can see the Floating Castle from the map screen,” Michael pointed out.

I said vexedly, “Oh, I see. That could be problematic, couldn't it?”

“This “map screen” is some... view of what's going on, where the person from your world who's controlling things can see the whole map of Elysia?” asked Alleria, puzzling it out as she went.

I nodded. “Impressive. Yes, that's precisely what it is. We get a view that's zoomed out, so we can see miles and miles around. I guess the Floating Castle is visible on that map.”

“So... if we can't use such a screen, then the only way we can find it is going to be...”

“Wandering around looking for it,” said Michael sourly. “I think so. Hmph. Normally by this point in a game, the party have obtained some implausible vehicle to travel around the map in.”

Alleria gave us a wry smile, and said, “Almost, but not quite yet.” We laughed: of course, she knows the way this is going to go.

This put a slight spring in our step as we plodded on along the road towards the Royal City.... for a bit. We wandered up to the City, but not seeing any particularly conspicuous flying fortresses in the air above it, we walked on. The next turning we got was the one down towards Yamakiri, and we trudged that way until we could see the village, with another distinct absence of levitating battlements in its airspace. It was another long walk back.

I think we were all getting fed up (and the day was definitely wearing on) by the time we approached Haniton, and finally, the Floating Castle appeared out of the haze, hanging ominously over the poor beleaguered town, with two dragons circling it while a third menaced the citizens. “Right,” I said grimly for all of us, “Let's get in there and put a stop to this reign of terror.”

Getting in there was a little more easily said than done. The dragon on the ground was busy, but one of the pair that was orbiting the Castle flew down towards us, roaring. We broke into a run. There followed a scary time of running and dodging, scattering round the houses and hiding behind corners from bursts of flame from the beast's maw, until eventually we all gathered finally in the village square. I was the last to arrive, the dragon chasing hard on my tail, and I stretched out my hand to Paula's as she looked behind me in terror and lifted the staff high. Everything seemed to go in slow motion: the dragon's jet of fire rushed towards us, the magic flowed around the group, Paula and the others flickered for a moment, and then I grabbed hold of her hand and the heat surrounded me for just a fraction of a second and then I was nowhere, we were tingling, we were out of phase with the world, and then we were suddenly in a fancy-looking room a few inches off the ground and we fell with a bump and then we were still.

For several seconds we just caught our breath. Paula was the first to speak. “Cutting that a bit close, weren't you, Tessa?” she said with a grin. I just sat there gasping for a bit longer and looked around.

The room had an open doorway at its far end, where a staircase led downwards. Presumably it was in fact the stairs up from the previous level, that we would have had to fight our way through if we'd been following the game. Otherwise it looked just like the rooms had done the last time Sir Randall and I had been at the castle (ahem).

Upon leaving through the other doorway, we were immediately attacked by a pair of orc guards. From then on it was straight back into the same kind of action we'd seen in the shrines and suchlike. Puzzles and switches and moveable statues galore.

It was during one of the last of these puzzles that my life started falling apart. There were three statues that needed pushing around into certain significant spaces in the room, and once all of them were positioned, they'd then come to life to attack us. The first time we got caught unawares, and Paula got really badly wounded and knocked unconscious. We grabbed her and ran out of the room, away from these hostile stone lifeforms, which thankfully wouldn't leave their room. When we'd healed up and went back in, they were back in the places where they'd started.

So we split into three groups, one taking care of each gargoyle. Paula and Alleria between them started shoving one off to the far side of the room, Michael took the one in the centre, and Sir Randall and I turned our attention to the third one on the other side. As we pushed, Sir Randall commented casually, “I still recollect the last time we were in this castle together with rapture.”

The memory brought a flush to my cheeks and a smile to my face. “Me too,” I said. “How could I forget?”

“Still,” he continued as we moved around to push the statue from a different angle for the final few inches, “since then we have had regrettably little time alone together.”

My feeble efforts to move the thing weren't helping at all, so I just gave up and stood back to get out of his way. “Your point is true,” I said thoughtfully. “But already we find ourselves approaching the Dark Lord's throne room, planning his downfall. After that I may be snatched away from Elysia forever.”

“Well then, perhaps we could meet not in Elysia?”

“What do you mean?”

“For example, how about a rendezvous at a restaurant in London?”

“Er...” I was somewhat confused. “How do you plan to get there?”

“Why, the same way you would, my lady,” he said. “When I wake up from this living dream, jump on the Underground and get a tube to Leicester Square.”

That was the first shock. “Wh- wh- wh- what?” I tried to get my words coherent. “Y- you're not an NPC? You're from London?”

“As assuredly as you are, my dear,” he said with a bow.

“Since when?” I said, trembling.

“Since we first met in the village of Yamakiri, when I accompanied you on your quest through the Fire Shrine,” came the unruffled reply.

I was really shaking as I repeated in horror, “You mean, you were already a guy from the real world, when we... that night, when we...”

“When you what?” asked Michael coolly from behind me.

I think I literally screamed and jumped to face him. He was watching us with an unreadable expression, but I could certainly tell he wasn't happy. But he added, in a casual tone lined with ice, “No, don't let me interrupt. I'm interested to hear precisely what you did get up to that night.”

I felt so ashamed. I covered my face in my hands – I couldn't face him.

“Did you, in fact, do the things you told me just yesterday that you'd never done?” he continued implacably.

I couldn't answer. I just stood there crying.

“How much of what you told me yesterday was, in fact, a lie?” he asked, still in this icily casual tone that was worse than if he'd been shouting.

I looked at him from tear-filled eyes. “It – it wasn't...” I didn't know how to finish. I hadn't meant it as a lie. It wasn't meant to be one. It didn't feel like one at the time. But how could I say any of that? I had told Michael that I hadn't slept with anyone, when a couple of days earlier I had slept with Sir Randall.

Or whoever Sir Randall turned out to be in the real world.

Michael was just looking at me, with his face expressionless except for his eyes, his beautiful eyes so cold, so hurt, so betrayed.

And then the statue came to life behind us. All three of us, startled, looked over to Paula and Alleria, to see that they'd just finished moving their statue into its required spot. And suddenly we couldn't focus on my crisis with these two blokes, because we were being attacked and had to defend ourselves.

In a way it was good, to have a distraction, any distraction, from the tension and the pain. But even as I cast <Cure2> and <Holy>, I still had that cold feeling around my heart, reminding me that I'd still have to face up to the fact I'd lied to Michael.

I was almost glad when, after we finished that combat and had entered another corridor, I woke up in my bed.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Anguished. Current music: Big Mistake – Natalie Imbruglia

Posted at 10:02 on Dec 3rd


by varynfan, at 13:47 on Dec 3rd

Oh my goodness, quite a pickle you've found yourself in there, Tessa ^^;;;

by princess-of-china, at 14:25 on Dec 3rd

Yeah, I don't think I can say it any better than varynfan did!

Visit from a friend

My parents dragged me off to church as they do most Sundays. (I just about managed to get last night's events posted here before we had to leave!) I still can't decide what I think about all that stuff, but the little sermon on “faithfulness and truthfulness” cut right to my heart.

What with all the events of yesterday and last night, I'd forgotten that Ben was coming over today. He knocked on my door around 7pm, and Lisa let him in. With things being so bad with Michael and Sir Randall, I was glad to see a sympathetic face.

He seemed a bit diffident at first. “Hiya,” he said, a little awkwardly.

I just smiled at him. “Hi. Come in.”

The house was full of activity with my parents and Lisa buzzing around doing things, so we escaped up to my room. I offered him my chair to sit on. “Did you bring the game?” I asked him, and he brandished a DVD case with a grin.

“Cool,” I said, taking it and peering at the cover. Varyn, Alleria and Binkley were striking poses in the picture, surrounded by dragonfire. “It's quite a while since I've actually looked at the game...”

Ben smiled in understanding. “Yeah. We've kinda gone beyond that stage now. It's got into our heads,” he said with relish. I chuckled a little.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Then he said, “Um, I read on your blog about what happened with Randall and Michael.”

I rolled my eyes and flopped onto my bed. “Yeah... everything's gone wrong,” I said morosely.

“I'm not sure I'd go that far,” he said. I gave him a questioning look, and he added, “Well, it seems to me like all you need to do is decide which one of them you like the most.”

“But... they were never meant to be even comparable to each other! Michael was always in real life, and Sir Randall was always inside the game...”

“Except that they both turn out to be both, right?” I nodded in depression. “Well, that's no problem,” he said pragmatically. “They may not have started out comparable, but they've got that way now. So just decide: which of them do you want to carry things on with?”

I made an unconvinced sound and rolled onto my back, staring at the ceiling. Ben continued doggedly, “I mean, if you want Randall the most, then it sounds like he's still very much into you. So I'm sure he'd be delighted to see you in the real world again.”

“Again?” I queried.

“Oh, yeah, you don't know who he is. After I played the game and got sucked in, I lent it to my friend Stuart.” I looked blankly at him. Ben frowned and said, “I'm sure you've met him a couple of times. He was at my birthday party where you met Michael, and he was at that club.”

“Oh... I see.” Somehow the discovery of quite who Sir Randall was in the real world didn't have much impact to me. It was the fact he existed out here at all that was the problem.

“Whereas, if you want to keep things going with Michael, then you just need to talk to him. Be honest and ask him to forgive you.”

“Mmmmm.” Somehow I didn't think it would be that easy.

Ben's voice took on a different tone as he said, “By the way... speaking of asking forgiveness...” He made a supplicatory face at me.

I sat up and smiled ruefully at him. “Yeah, yeah, okay. I forgive you.”

“I only ever meant to arrange things so that you guys could enjoy yourselves. I shouldn't have deceived you as part of that, though. I'm sorry.” He walked over and offered his hand. “Friends?”

I shook it warmly. “Friends.”

That was about it; he had to go pretty soon after that, so he drove off, and left me to do some serious soul-searching before bed.

Now I get to see whether I can take this game into Elysia with me. So I'll be heading to bed shortly, probably feeling rather silly while I clutch a video game, and hopefully be back in the Floating Castle, with the first DVD ever to enter its walls.


-- taleteller

Current mood: Tired. Current music: To Wish Impossible Things – The Cure

Posted at 22:39 on Dec 3rd


by varynfan, at 22:50 on Dec 3rd

Sounds like you've got a good friend there.

One thing I don't understand, though: why didn't you have him bring the game in, and give it to you when you next see him? (Which is soon... ^.^)

by princess-of-china, at 23:02 on Dec 3rd

Probably because we didn't know when we were going to see Binkley in-game!

Confrontation on the Castle

Well, I did indeed feel rather silly holding a video game as if it were a teddy-bear, willing myself to hold on to it as whatever magical transportation has become the norm in our nightly patterns took place. But I was rewarded when I found myself back in a corridor at the top of the Floating Castle, holding my staff in one hand and a brightly-coloured DVD case in the other.

Paula looked at me immediately, and exclaimed, “Yay, it worked!”

“Seems so,” I marvelled.

Michael and Sir Randall – Stuart, I guess I should start calling him – wah, that just doesn't fit with the fanciable things about him, him having a normal name from our world – anyway... Michael and Sir Randall just smiled on seeing the familiar game. Alleria, on the other hand, had never seen anything like it. “Where did that come from?” she asked in astonishment.

“I just brought it from our world,” I said.

“You guys just returned to your world? But I've been with you the whole time. Hang on... is this the same thing that causes you all to suddenly change mood or expression in the middle of the day?”

“Um... I suppose so,” I smiled. “We wake up in our world, have a full day there, and then go to sleep and end up here. Then at some point while we're here – sometimes when we go to sleep, sometimes not – we'll find ourselves back in our world, waking up at the start of a new day.”

Our conversation was interrupted by some kind of shadow elemental that slithered up the corridor and tried to attack us. Those things are evil – they seem to be basically two-dimensional. Luckily physical weapons still seem able to damage them. We've seen them a few times in the castle.

Once we'd dealt with the threat, we stowed the precious DVD in Paula's pack, and ventured on. We ended up in a huge room, that looked quite familiar. With a sudden shock I realised that it was where the ball had been – and I could see the door that led to the foyer through which we'd entered last time, and the door that led to the staircase that Sir Randall and I had taken... However, this time it was not so welcoming. Rather than being full of aristocrats and music, it was full of orcs and shadows, that all rushed at us. Alleria's <Elements> spell was pretty handy there, but that was still a long and draining fight. However, it did seem that when I was healing people afterwards, I had an instinct leading me to a new spell... it seemed to completely restore someone's health, and so I called it <FullCure>.

With the monsters dead and the party healed, our attention turned to a huge pair of double doors at the far end of the ballroom. There were four gigantic stone statues in front of it, ten or fifteen foot tall, two on each side. “Looks like we'll have to go through those to get past here,” commented Paula. “Shall we get on with it?”

The statues rumbled to life as soon as anyone stepped in between them. We'd been expecting this, which is why the one to step in between them was Michael, our fastest mover. There followed another pretty epic combat against these stone giants. Once we'd beaten them, we were finally able to make our way through the big double doors...

Into the Dark Lord's throne room.

(Wait, his throne room was in the Dark Citadel. Okay, this must be his throne away from throne then.)

Ben was sitting on a huge, shimmering throne, dressed in his full Dark Lord regalia. Kraus was standing beside him, and they both laughed as we walked in.

“Well, well. Welcome, Paula, Tessa, and friends. You've made a long trek to find me, I can tell. Did you enjoy my Floating Castle?”

“We enjoyed smashing our way through the feeble so-called guardians you put in our way, yes,” said Paula fiercely. Somehow I could tell, though, that she wasn't angry with Ben; she was just playing the part of Varyn being angry with Binkley.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Ben suavely. “And what can I do for you?”

“You know our demands, Chancellor,” she cried. “Stop terrorising Elysia with your dragons! And return King Balshazzar to his rightful place.”

“You insult me,” Ben said in mock protest. “Do you not think my reign will be beneficial for the people of Elysia? They need a strong ruler, one with power, and the courage to defend his convictions. Not that weakling Balshazzar.”

“Enough of this,” said Paula defiantly, drawing her sword and pointing it at Ben. “If you won't do as we ask, we challenge you!”

“To the death?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

Paula replied grimly, “If that's what it takes.”

“So you'll force the ruler to do what you want by threatening violence. How very democratic and noble of you.” Ben was clearly enjoying this a bit too much. “Kraus, it seems the meddlers didn't learn your last lesson. You obviously need more practice as a teacher. Would you like another try?”

“Gladly, master!” exclaimed the hunchback, looking at us with hatred.

“In which case, I'm going up to look at the stars. The sight is enhanced so well by the smell of dragonfire.” And with a wink, he disappeared up a staircase at the back of the room.

So we had to fight Kraus... again. He was even tougher than last time. His <Grinder> and <Hourglass> spells were just as frustrating as before, and he'd got an upgraded version called <MassGrinder>, which shaved everyone to within an inch of their life. When he cast that, mindful of Ben's advice after I fought the tree, I cast <FullCure> on myself first. Paula and Michael reached for health potions, but the next thing Kraus did was lunge at Sir Randall with his flame sword. It's been some time since somebody's been killed before my eyes, and it's always going to be a shock. Thankfully we had plenty of Phoenix Feathers, and Michael used one of them while I healed Alleria and she and Paula piled in the damage to our adversary.

We coped in a similar fashion on the one other occasion he cast that <MassGrinder> spell. I got through three potions of magic points during that fight. But we beat him.

As usual, he cast his <Smokescreen> to slip away at the end of the battle. He appeared at the far side of the room, and croaking and stumbling, made his way down a staircase, still cackling madly. We considered giving chase, but Ben was our main objective, so up that staircase we went.

It opened out onto a roof balcony, with turrets and battlements all around. The twilight air was fresh and cool, and the sky was a beautiful deep purple, strewn with stars, twinkling in the smoke. Ah, yes, the effect was a little spoiled by the way the air was full of acrid smoke, and pierced by occasional screams, as the people of Haniton tried in vain to defend against the dragon rampaging below.

“Beautiful, isn't it?” said Ben, who was relaxing against a battlement.

“You're twisted, you know that?” I told him.

He grinned. “Still, I hope you've enjoyed what I've been able to prepare for you. I fear that after this encounter, you'll be denied any further expressions of my creative genius.”

“You mean killing you isn't the end of the game?” said Paula in surprise. I wasn't that surprised – I'd kinda picked up from things a couple of people had said that there was more after this point.

“Alas, no, the world doesn't quite revolve around me to that extent,” Ben mock-lamented. “But if it did, you wouldn't be able to get any use out of that DVD I brought to Tessa last night, would you?”

I chuckled. “True. Yes, we must make a point of going to the Academy after this. Thanks for bringing that over.”

He smiled, and for a moment was just the friend I'd seen last night. “Did you get it into Elysia okay?”

“We sure did,” I laughed. Then my thoughts clouded, and I said with concern, “Ben, will it be all right to kill you in this world?”

“I reckon it should be fine,” he said airily. “After all, you've been killed once or twice, haven't you?”

“Yeah, but there were Phoenix Feathers involved there,” I said doubtfully.

“Don't worry about it. This is a different world. I reckon I'll just wake up back in London and that'll be me done with involvement in your adventure.” He added with a grin, “Or maybe I'll come back in someone else's role? Balshazzar might be fun.”

“Are you sure?” asked Paula anxiously.

“Hey, it's what I'm here for,” he replied with confidence. “And it's what you came here for as well, isn't it? What are you going to do if you return without having beaten me?”

“Try to persuade you to abdicate and let King Balshazzar reclaim his rightful place?” You could tell from Paula's face that she felt a bit foolish even suggesting it.

Ben agreed. “Persuade the Dark Lord to give up his reign? A noble goal, my dear, but one that's sadly doomed. Now, I think we could do with, as Elvis once said, a little less conversation, and a little more action!”

And with that, we were suddenly assaulted by a scarily fast Dark Lord wielding a scythe, that he seemed to have summoned from pure energy.

He was a very different opponent to Kraus. Where Kraus tried to keep us busy and locked down, Ben just conjured force shields out of the air and summoned evil flying shadow monsters to attack us. It was the first time we've fought against anyone else from our world. Hopefully the last as well, because he probably based his combat style on what Binkley knew, but I'd bet that the variety of subtle or dirty little tricks – going as far as tripping us up with his scythe – were Ben's own invention.

He was I think the first enemy we've fought who had a way to completely neutralise certain attacks, which was those force shields I mentioned. They only lasted for a second or less, and were only about a metre in diameter, but they were completely impervious for the duration of their brief existence. We quickly figured out there was no point attacking him if he could see it coming more than a second or two away, as he'd just conjure a force shield to absorb the entire impact. So we had to work as a team, one distracting him while two others approached from rear left and rear right, hoping to get a hit in. And that of course put them within range of his energy scythe. I had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of one strike from that: it hurt a lot.

And whenever we'd give him a few seconds' respite, he'd summon another one of those blasted shadow imp things... just little bundles of teeth and claws with wings, really, and slightly insubstantial, but their hits still packed a definite sting as well. It took me some time to learn how to swat one of them out of the air with my staff.

Most of Alleria's and my spells were blocked by those shields as well, but Alleria's <Elements> was able to hit him from more sides at once than he could block, so she spent most of her time casting that (and dodging sweeps of Ben's scythe).

That scythe connected a bit too well with Sir Randall at one point. He emitted a scream and fell to the ground. I leapt to try to <FullCure> him, but somehow I could tell there wouldn't be any point. “You – you killed him...!” I exclaimed.

“Sorry, Tessa, but that's what this is about...” shouted Ben, throwing up a force shield to defend against Paula's strike.

I grabbed a Phoenix Feather and used it on Sir Randall, quickly followed by a <FullCure>. As he was healing, Sir Randall called out, “I'll get you for that!”

Ben actually laughed and said, “You're welcome to try, Stuart!”

I was surprised by the tone both of them used – it was playful, as if this were nothing but a game between young boys. Maybe I did need to lighten up a bit.

Slowly but inevitably, the battle swung in our favour. We were five against one, if you didn't count the little shadow elementals that he kept summoning and we kept dispatching. Three of us would charge at him from different directions: he'd block two of us but get hit by the third. He did stop at one point to drink a potion from under his robes, just like our health potions, which seemed to refresh and invigorate him for a while.

But eventually, he seemed to be on his last legs. It was a bit disturbing seeing our friend wounded and exhausted, and not trying to help him; I did have to remind myself that this was just the roles we were playing in the gameworld, and we'd be able to laugh together about it afterwards. We didn't have much choice, though – he was attacking us just as viciously.

Michael was wounded as well, and I was going to heal him, but he told me, “I've got health potions! Focus on finishing him off!”

So I turned to face Ben, and cast <Holy>. He was too busy fending off twin strikes from Paula and Sir Randall, and so my spell caught him in the back and knocked him to the ground.

We all rushed to stand around him. Blood was seeping from a corner of his mouth, but he was smiling. “Nice work... guys,” he said raggedly. “I'll see you back... in the real world. Have fun with... the castle!”

And there before us, he died.

We stood staring for a minute or so, catching our breath. (I had a strange instinct to reach for a Phoenix Feather.) Then we heard a cry from behind us: “What have you done to the master?!” Kraus was standing there at the top of the stairs.

Paula said to him in challenge, “His reign of terror is over. Surrender now, or face the same fate!”

“Surrender to you? Never!” cried Kraus maniacally, striding to the battlements. He seems to have lost what little grip on sanity he ever had. Then he gave a demented grin. “Why would I do that, when you've just done me such a favour?”

I remember very clearly thinking, “Uh-oh.”

“Without that fool in the way, now I can finally start to bring humanity the destruction it deserves!” And he held a Wyrmstone high, and suddenly rising up behind him like a helicopter appeared one of the dragons that had been causing such devastation below.

Michael shouted, “Run for it! Get inside the castle!”

We legged it towards the stairs as Kraus jumped over the battlements and onto the back of the dragon. The deranged hunchback cried, “Now all the Wyrmstones are mine alone, and the days of humanity are numbered! Muhahaha!!”

A burst of dragonfire rushed into the top of the staircase as we hurled ourselves down it. None of us got hit by anything worse than a rush of hot air, but we were somewhat shaken.

“You may hide,” came Kraus' voice echoing behind us, “but you are powerless to stop the end of the world that my dragons will instigate! Bwahahahahaa! Now, my beauties, fly me to my Citadel!”

“Is he talking to us?” asked Paula in confusion.

Alleria laughed, and said, “No, that was to his dragons. Um... what is it?”

That last was addressed to Michael, who was standing with his gaze levelled at Alleria. He smiled without taking his eyes off her and replied, “Nothing... I was just thinking we seem to have found ourselves inside a Floating Castle without a master. And you commented earlier that we were about to obtain a vehicle.”

The sight of Alleria trying to look innocent was rather amusing. She's not very good at it. Looking rather self-consciously away from Michael, she said, “Um... what could you mean?”

He giggled a little as he said, “I was just thinking we could probably save some time if you could be persuaded to show us the way to the engine room, or wherever this thing is navigated from.”

She tried to maintain the façade a little longer, and then gave up. Sighing vexedly at us, she said, “Okay, okay. It's down on the third level of the dungeons. Behind a door that you'd have found if you'd come up through the levels in the normal fashion. You would have discovered it was locked and you didn't have a key to it. You'll, um, have to go back up and get the key from... his body at some point.”

The thought of looting the fallen body of someone who was a friend of ours from the real world was a somewhat disturbing one. Even the normally unflappable Michael seemed to shudder briefly, although he was the one who then asked, “Has Kraus gone?”

“Yes, he's flown off on a dragon to his Citadel,” replied Alleria.

Michael nodded soberly, said, “I'll be back soon,” and disappeared up the stairs. He reappeared a minute or two later with a big solid metal key, and probably assorted other things liberated from the Dark Lord's possession.

Following Alleria's reluctant guidance, we made our way straight to the navigation room. Behind the steely metal door which clanged satisfyingly as it swung open, there was a fascinating control room. Levers and Steam Age-style piping filled it, and there were analogue gauges scattered across a panel. In front of the panel was sitting a goblin... at least, I think that's what he was. But he had on a pair of goggles, a big metal hat, and what looked like flight overalls, with tools poking out of pockets all over the place.

He looked up when we entered and exclaimed, “Agh! Don't hurt me!”

“Why would we hurt you?” asked Paula gently.

He looked at us and sighed. “No, no, that's not what you're meant to say. Are you new? You're meant to say, “We're not going to hurt you. We're your new masters now.” Do you want to go out and try again?”

Paula and I giggled. Even Alleria seemed to be trying to hold back a chuckle. Then she said, “Don't worry, Scroogle. This group are new, yes, but they're doing things differently. You're not the first one to be confused by their unconventional approach.” She threw us a smile at that point. “But just go with the flow. Um... I guess I should introduce you all. This is Scroogle, the engineer and navigator of the Floating Castle. He keeps the place running and sends it where you want it to go. Scroogle, this is Tessa, Paula, and Michael. You've met Sir Randall, right?”

“On the previous visits to the Kamichika area, yes,” said the engineer. “You don't normally come around with Varyn's group, though, do you?” He peered at Sir Randall suspiciously and added, “You look different...”

“Yes, I'm a guest as well, from the same world as these guys,” he admitted casually.

I was a little irritated at his admitting that in such an unconcerned way, when that revelation had caused me such stress not too long ago. Alleria gasped and said, “Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise...”

Paula seemed astonished – she gaped at him and exclaimed, “Are you?!”

Michael just nodded thoughtfully and murmured, “I did wonder...” (Did he now. It'd have been nice if he'd let the rest of us know he'd been wondering.)

“Anyway, where do you all want to go?” interrupted Scroogle testily, rather ruining the effect by looking at Alleria and adding in a concerned tone, “It is okay to skip the rest of the script, then, isn't it?”

She giggled and replied, “Yes, this lot don't worry about scripts too much.” I'm sure she gave us another wry look at that point.

“So? Where'll it be?” pressed the goblin.

“Um... Where do you normally go at this point?” Paula asked.

Scroogle laughed, a strange barking sound. “Depends which of the side quests the group want to go and do. There's a superpowered weapon for Varyn. There's someone who can turbo-charge all of your magic power. There's a couple in two different towns whose love letters you can go delivering back and forth – that one's popular, for some reason. There's a crazy mission back and forth between Elysia and the World of Darkness that ends up just giving you one not-particularly-magical stone. You could go and free the dwarves from their captivity in the Goblin Mines. Or you could press on towards the Dark Citadel and overthrowing Kraus. Your choice.” He folded his arms and watched us expectantly.

Paula's voice was curiously hesitant, almost childlike, as she said, “Could we just see what things look like when this castle's flying around?”

She looked worried that the engineer would think she was frivolous for asking, but he just smiled knowingly and said, “Yes, of course. A lot of times the group will start off by flying it nowhere in particular. I should have offered you that as an option, I suppose. Come over here.”

He beckoned us over to what turned out to be a screen inset into a kind of console desk. It had some kind of coloured picture, which we quickly figured out was a map of Elysia. A little icon of a castle was floating by the town of Haniton.

I noticed on peering closer that the little representation of Haniton itself was blackened and smoking. It was depressing to realise that Binkley's oppressive regime had caused that; heartening to think that we'd put a stop to it; and sobering to think that Kraus would now be starting to go round causing even worse havoc until we stop him. Except then, of course, it'll just all start again... What we need to stop isn't Kraus, but this chronocycling.

“What's that?” I asked, pointing at a little sparkling patch on the map, over the Sea of Nothing.

The goblin smiled at me in a curiously gratified way. “It's nice to hear someone ask that! I always thought I must be just dumb, because the group always seem to know what it is instinctively. It represents the portal back into the World of Darkness, but look at it – is it that obvious?” His voice had become almost plaintive by this point.

Michael replied archly, “I wouldn't worry about that too much. It's probably in the manual.”

“In the what?” asked Scroogle in confusion.

Paula decided this conversation was worth avoiding, and interrupted, “Why don't you just fly us to the Royal City for now?”

“Yessir!” The engineer set about manipulating controls, and pulled on his goggles to incant a brief spell. There was a brief lurch, and then everything was back to normal.

“Um... what now?” asked Paula.

“What now? Nothing now. We're on our way, but it'll take a few minutes to fly all the way up there.”

“We're flying?”

The engineer looked at her as if she was an idiot. “Yes, we're flying.” He gestured to the panel, and we could see the castle icon on the magical screen was slowly moving north.

Then he stared speculatively into space for a moment, and then said, “Actually, here. I'll show you something I don't show all the groups.” He manipulated a control or two, and suddenly a patch of wall just... vanished! Gusts of unexpectedly cold air blew around us, and an astonishing view could be seen through the sudden window: trees and fields were rushing towards us as the castle flew.

“Coool!” exclaimed Paula.

Scroogle grinned at her, then said, “But that's not all. Watch this.” He did something else to the console, and suddenly the same window wasn't showing the view from ahead, but the view behind. The trees and fields were rushing away from us rather than towards us, and I could see a rapidly retreating patch of brown that was the village we'd just left.

“I can point it sideways too if you want,” said the goblin, in an odd tone. I think, for all his gruff exterior, he was wanting us to be impressed with the magic he wielded.

So I put on an enthusiastic tone and said, “Ooh, yes! Can I see that?”

He smiled widely for a moment, and then seemed to remember his normal exterior, and said gruffly, “Coming right up.” And sure enough, we got a sideways view of the landscape, first one way then the other.

The Floating Castle moves really quite fast. (Well, I suppose that since magic is all that's keeping it up anyway, it ought to.) So almost before we knew it, we were approaching the Royal City. Scroogle slowed us down and swtched the window back to pointing forwards.

“Hey, look,” I said. “There are farmers in these fields, but they're all running away from us as we approach. They look terrified!”

“Well, of course,” said Scroogle without looking up. “Wouldn't you be? Remember that as far as they know, the Castle is still controlled by a bloodthirsty tyrant.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, feeling a bit silly.

“Well, we should reassure them!” declared Paula. “Go out and tell them that the oppressor Binkley is dead, and his Floating Castle is in safe hands now!”

Michael replied dryly, “Well, I'm sure they'd be reassured to know that the dragons are now controlled by somebody who aims to destroy humanity rather than enslave it.”

That rather took the wind out of Paula's sails, but she added, “Well, we should at least tell the people of the Royal City.”

“Certainly,” Michael said. “Just don't expect them to be overjoyed when we tell them the full story.”

But as it turned out, we didn't have much chance to find out how overjoyed they were. We had just moored the Castle outside the city and set off through the gates when suddenly I woke up back in my room.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Worried. Current music: On The Run – Pink Floyd

Posted at 08:59 on Dec 4th



...Funny how your mood can change so suddenly, isn't it? I was quite happy when I came into work, after the events of last night...

Then I received a phone call.

It was a number I didn't recognise, and that wasn't in my mobile's memory. A strange voice asked for me.

“Yes, speaking. Who is this?”

“Ah... This is William Clarke. I'm Ben's father. You're a friend of Ben's, right?”

“Yes, that's right,” I said with caution, because I thought something in his tone indicated there was something wrong.

I had no idea.

“Ah. Good. I, ah... I'm afraid I have to tell you, ah...” He paused, and then said, “...Ben died overnight.”


“He doesn't seem to have suffered,” continued his father with a sigh. “Which is something, at least. As far as the coroner can tell, he was dreaming when he had a sudden heart attack. He died with a smile on his face.”

I stopped cold in shock, remembering last night's events in Elysia. Ben's dad continued obliviously, “But it's still so unexpected, so absurd, so...” He trailed off... I think he didn't want to let his voice show how much he was affected. As if anyone could look down on him for crying at having his son taken from him!

Of course, I was being overwhelmed with thoughts of what had happened on the Floating Castle. What we'd done on the Floating Castle. How could I tell this guy that actually it was me and a couple of our friends who'd killed Ben?!

“We're having the funeral tomorrow,” he continued after a few moments. “We're trying to contact his friends and the people he socialised with. He happened to have your number on a piece of paper in his room. I'm sorry to ask you this, but, ah, would you be willing to contact any of them that you could and let them know?”

Numbly I said, “...Sure, I guess I can do that.”

He thanked me, told me the time and place, and said goodbye awkwardly. Not that I would have done any better.

I went and asked my floor manager for tomorrow off. She said it'd have to come out of my annual leave, since he wasn't family, but that was fine. She was sympathetic, which I guess was nice. I think I must have been visibly showing the shock.

Then I had the unenviable task of phoning round those of Ben's friends whose numbers I had, to let them know. Some people thought I was joking at first, which just made it more painful. Almost everyone was shocked, which I guess isn't surprising. It's not like he was elderly and expecting to go one of these months; nobody could have expected it... Except for the four of us who were in Elysia with him last night.

Paula was at least sober about it, knowing that this isn't the kind of thing I'd joke about. She also made the connection to our castletop battle. “Oh my God, Tessa,” she gasped, “that was us!”

“I know,” I agreed miserably. “We killed him. We killed him!”

“Of course, he did tell us to,” she added after a pause. “He thought he'd be waking up as normal.”

“Well, we should have tried harder to talk him out of it, then... or something...” I retaliated, tears coming to my eyes. “Look, I... need to call the others, to tell them. So I ought to go.”

“Would you like me to do that, babe?” Paula asked in a concerned tone. “You sound distraught.”

“...Would you?” I was pathetically grateful. “...Thanks, I appreciate it. You've probably got more people's numbers than I have, anyway.”

“No problem. Shall I leave you to call Michael?”

I sighed. “Things aren't so great between us at the moment...”


“What do you mean, still? I screwed him around. Pretty much literally, in fact. He's entitled to think I'm awful.”

“So you're just going to let him walk away?” Paula exclaimed.

I winced and said, “Look, Paula... not now. I've had enough stress for one day.”

I think she was going to say something else, but she seemed to think better of it, paused for a moment, and then just said, “...Okay. I'll call him and then anyone else who might want to come to the funeral. You take it easy.”

“Thanks,” I said again, as a rush of relieved tiredness came over me. “You're a good friend.”

“Take care for now, and I'll see you tonight,” she said, and hung up.

I groaned as I realised she was right. There'll be no rest tonight, no matter how tired I'm feeling – just more warts-and-all adventuring and all-too-real terrorising of innocents.

Somehow I made it through the rest of the day. I don't know what to think or feel... I just feel numb.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Numb. Current music: Say It Isn't So – Bon Jovi

Posted at 20:42 on Dec 4th


by lilcutie89, at 22:21 on Dec 4th

...Oh my goodness. That's awful. Come give me a hug in the morning, sis, because that must be devastating.

by taleteller, at 23:40 on Dec 4th

Thanks, Lisa. I'll do that. I just wanted to be on my own tonight.

by princess-of-china, at 00:12 on Dec 5th

I'm glad you're okay, honey. You sounded really bad on the phone. I'll see you soon, but this is just to let you know that I contacted everyone I could think of who knew Ben, and most of them are going to be there tomorrow.

Take care of yourself.

Oh, for a night of rest

If we were plugging in a games console and loading up Ultimate Dream, we could choose not to. But with it taking over our dreams by force, we don't get a choice about anything.

So we were back in Elysia. And things happened, in the implacable, unstoppable way they do. But I'm not up to typing them up right now.

Alleria visited the dragons and got them on our side. But we were all just so shocked. I'd like to be able to sleep and actually just rest, rather than be off saving the world when a friend has just died.

Now I have to go to a funeral.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Exhausted. Current music: If Only Tonight We Could Sleep – The Cure.

Posted at 08:19 on Dec 5th


by varynfan, at 09:12 on Dec 5th

What? But we want to know what happened in the gameworld!

by ilovealleria, at 09:27 on Dec 5th

Yeah, you can't just say that and not tell us the details! X(

by princess-of-china, at 09:45 on Dec 5th

You're disappointing your fans, Tessa :)

But cut her a little slack, guys. It's scary news to have got... terrifying, really. Have any of you ever been told you've unintentionally killed your friend?

I'll try to summarise the night's events for you. Basically, we discovered that Kraus is running rampant trying to destroy both Elysia and the World of Darkness, and he's using his six wyrmstones to control the dragons. So we had to go visit a place called Dragon Crag, to talk to the dragons, and on the way we passed through the Swamp of Despair and got attacked by a dragon, and it was far more powerful than anything we've fought before, and it was going to kill us but Alleria managed to somehow talk to it, and persuaded it not to kill us after all. She seemed to feel some kind of affinity, like some mystical connection to this big scary dragon thing. Well, that's how I thought of it, anyway.

So this dragon flew overhead while we struggled through the swamp and approached Dragon Crag. And then it swooped down and spoke into our minds and said, “Wait here, humans. I will summon the Conflagration.” And we were like, “Um, what?” And it said in our heads, “The Conflagration, the Great Council of Dragons, will come to you.” And it flew off and then about twelve dragons suddenly dropped out of the sky and landed around us and, like, peered at us, as if they were inspecting us. And then they started arguing with each other about whether Alleria really was the dragons' heir and whether to roast her or to venerate her. At one point I thought it might be a good idea to get away and so I tried to sneak away but one dragon just caught me with a claw and said in my head, “Stay here, human, unless you want your flesh burned to a crisp.” So I gave up on that idea.

The Conflagration asked Alleria some questions. She answered quite quickly, and I'm sure at one point she said something like “You know how you're going to decide in the end, so you don't have to go through all this charade, you know.” That seemed to really surprise them, but after a moment they were quite willing to move things on pretty quickly, which surprised me, so it all balances out. Dragons are very flexible, it seems.

So in the end it was all right, because the Conflagration concluded that Alleria was actually the heir to the royal Dragon line, as demonstrated by her pendant and her magic and her fiery temper and her “thinking like a Dragon would”. Then they all bowed down, which was a really strange sight, and then they swore fealty to Alleria. She smiled at them and told them, “Remain here for the moment, my kin. I will summon you when we assault your oppressor and ours in his Dark Citadel.” They agreed and gave us some more Wyrmstones, not to control them but to be able to communicate with them from a long way away.

Then we had to decide where to go next. Alleria wanted to go straight to kill Kraus in the Dark Citadel, but Michael pointed out that we have the game to take to the Wizards in the Academy so we can hopefully figure out what's going on, so we wandered back from Dragon Crag, through the Swamp of Despair, to the Floating Castle where we'd left it moored at the edge of the swamp. (Well, not really moored because it wasn't anchored to anything, but...) We told Scroogle to fly us to the Wizards' Academy back in Elysia, and decided to get some rest in the bedrooms on the Castle, and then we woke up.

by varynfan, at 13:03 on Dec 5th

Wow, your writing style is so much fun to read, Paula! You should make Tessa let you write more of the story ^.^

by take-me-to-elysia, at 14:20 on Dec 5th

Naah, I don't think so, somehow. Paula's fun, but Tessa makes more sense.

Funeral for a friend

Ben's funeral was today.

I turned up, wearing sombre black and a sombre expression. Michael was already there, along with a few other people I vaguely recognised from Ben's parties. I wanted to talk to him, but had no idea what I'd say; but he spotted me and didn't seem to have any inclination to come and talk. Saddening, but not surprising.

Looking at the other people our age who were there, I shuddered as I suddenly spotted Sir Randall, and realised that outside the context of the game I could indeed recognise him as Stuart, the guy I'd met a couple of times, last month, a lifetime ago. I avoided meeting his eyes.

Paula arrived just before the service was due to start. So, early by her standards. As the vicar started to read the liturgy, she sidled up to me, and we gave each other a hug, holding tight as the terrible reality of what we'd done was rubbed in.

“Those who knew Benjamin,” the minister intoned, “will have known him as a lively young man; intelligent, sociable and quick-witted.” (A euphemism for “he was famous for being sarcastic and holding great parties”, I thought.) The priest continued, “In this life we may never know why such a promising life was cut so tragically short.”

Believe me, I really wish that was the case. I really wish I had no idea why he's dead. Far better that than to know that I killed him.

He continued with the liturgy, and then the vicar signalled for the coffin to be lowered into the grave. Paula and I clung to each other, exchanging looks of sickened remorse.

Afterwards, we exchanged condolences with Ben's family, and then we Elysians drifted into a group. Paula looked at me, Michael and Stuart, and then back at the grave. With a troubled face she said, “Well, I guess this makes it really clear: we've really got to stop the chronocycling.”

Michael and Stuart nodded soberly, but my reaction surprised me. I found myself conflicted inside. Paula must have seen it in my face, as she asked in concern, “Tessa... you do want to stop the chronocycling, right?”

“I...” I had a little difficulty putting it into words. “Clearly it's got potential to turn out horribly wrong. That's why we're here today, after all. But... it's... It's like Michael said, when we first got into Elysia. We're in a big adventure now! And people would pay loads to get into a virtual reality world this good!

“Think about how you feel when you're swinging Varyn's sword around. Or when we're casting spells. Or when we visit the crazy magical places in Elysia, or even in the World of Darkness. It's exciting, right?”

Michael was looking at me with a serious expression. “Do you really feel like it's just a game, Tessa?”

I sighed. “No, of course not. It's not just a game, but for all its dangers, don't you guys feel exhilarated?”

Paula actually giggled as she asked, “What happened to you, Tessababes? I thought you felt like you were just a walking medikit?”

“...Well, even when I was doing nothing but boring healing all the time, it was still more interesting than working in a department store all day. But yeah... I guess since I got an attack spell, I've been able to be more part of the group in combat. And all the drama of being part of this big adventure... Come on, don't you find it thrilling?”

Michael looked at me coldly. “Tessa... Were you there when Alleria talked about what the chronocycling looks like from her perspective? The people who suffer each time through, knowing that they're going to have it all happen again in a few days' time? The one who –”

“Okay, okay,” I said in defeat. I think I was silenced as much by his icy tone, and the fact that it was him saying it, as the content. I can't blame him for being angry with me, I know that. But it still hurts.

As I thought about it more, though, the terrifying aspects of Elysia did keep rattling around my head. “Yeah,” I found myself saying, “that is pretty horrible.”

“So you're with us, against the chronocycling?” Paula asked.

I remembered Jarak, the villager who got eaten by the dragon every time through... And the bandits, and the haunted look in their eyes. And then I looked once more at Ben's coffin. I shuddered, and said, “Yes, definitely.”

Michael looked at me for a few seconds, and then said simply, “Good.”

There wasn't much more to say after that. We just had to wait for tonight, and hope that the wizards in the Academy will be able to do something with the anachronous DVD we brought them. If not, I don't know what we'll do.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Sobered. Current music: Dirge – Bob Dylan

Posted at 20:11 on Dec 5th


Investigations in a magical laboratory, and learning in the Wizards' Academy

Back in Elysia, it didn't take the Castle long to reach the Academy. Scroogle moored it outside the gates, and we teleported down to ground level. As we walked up the path to the gates, I looked up at the Floating Castle, and mused how incongruous it was to be travelling around in a vehicle about the same size as the academy which we were visiting!

We made our way back up the perception-defying Impossible Tower, through the bizarre sideways door, and to the door of Professor Richtonsin's office in room zogroth-four. Alleria rapped smartly on the door, and we were greeted with a deep, musical voice calling, “Come in!”

“Hello again, my friends from another world,” said Richtonsin warmly as we walked into his office. “I've been talking to people a lot since your last visit, trying to figure out what kind of magic might have brought you here and how to stop it.”

“Excellent,” said Michael. “Any conclusions?”

“Well...” Richtonsin looked a little embarrassed. “Plenty of hypotheses... but no real conclusions without this disc of yours.”

“Oh, yes, the game disc! I'd forgotten.” I rummaged in the pack, and brought out the DVD case and handed it to him.

Richtonsin took it gingerly, with a kind of awe. He just looked at it and turned it over, studying first the colourful, dramatic poses of Varyn, Alleria and Binkley, then the lettering of the title, then the screenshots and cheesy blurb on the back. At length he looked at the front again, and then told Alleria wryly, “You've come out quite well, my dear – they've got quite a flattering picture of you on here.”

Alleria gasped and peered at the image quickly. “It's... me...” I realised that in a world without cameras, the only times an Elysian would see herself would be in a mirror or pool of water. She stared for several seconds before saying, “Does this mean that in your world, I'm... famous?”

Paula giggled and said cheerily, “Yeah, I suppose so. Michael's got a poster of you in his room – that's like a big picture that people have of people they like or find attr–”

“Anyway,” Michael interrupted with a cough, “do you think you'll be able to find out anything from this disc, Professor?” He took the case from Alleria and opened it, exposing the shiny DVD.

The big wizard shrugged expansively. “We'll just have to do what we can. I think the first thing to do is to take it down to one of the Faculty's labs, and see if we can identify the enchantment that's connecting these discs to our world.” Rubbing his chin, he added, “The problem is that it's far harder to track down the magic that's created things – it's much easier if the enchantment is still on it. But they've been having a few ideas over the past couple of days, so we'll see what we can do. I've made arrangements to take it down to one of the Faculty's labs. Shall we go?”

And with that, he stood up and set off at a brisk pace. So we braved the incomprehensible architecture of the Impossible Tower once more, and then followed Richtonsin through a couple of serene and beautiful courtyards. Turning into a side passage, we took a narrow stairway down underground, and then from a low stone passage, we entered a weird room that looked like it was once a dungeon. There were shelves all around the walls, untidily heaped with books, jars, and strange unidentifiable items. The same things were scattered across three or four tables, fighting for space with sheets of paper covered with incomprehensible scribblings. Purple smoke was hanging in the air around the door, making us cough as we followed Richtonsin through to the back of the room, where a wizard was flipping impatiently through a tome.

He looked up as we approached, showing us an amazing moustache and a crazy mass of disorderly white hair, and said, “Ah, Rallian! How are you, what? Who are these – your latest experimental subjects?”

Richtonsin smiled wryly. “You joke, Rogan, but that's not as far off as you might think. This is Paula, Tessa, Michael and Stuart, the visitors from another world that I told you about. Everyone, this is Professor Yarmolant, the Thaumaturgics Faculty's foremost experimental wizard.”

Addressing his attention back to the wild-haired Yarmolant, he continued, “Now, this is the disc that transported this lot to our world in the first place. I was thinking we could start with a normal thaumaturgical profile, because apparently there isn't any magic in their world, so there shouldn't be too much contamination.”

The lab wizard grinned with relish. “I'll get right onto it. This can wait,” he said, gesturing at the book he'd been looking at when we arrived. Then he suddenly cried, “Murlington!”

“Yes?” came the reply, from the lab's third inhabitant, a gangly youth over the far side of the room, wearing a brown smock.

“We've got an important item to investigate. Come with me!” And with that, the two of them traipsed out of the door and off who knows where.

Richtonsin looked at us and said, “Right. It might be best if you lot stay in the Academy's grounds for a while, as we might need to ask you things once Professor Yarmolant gets back. So in the meantime... are you hungry?”

Paula and I looked at each other, and realised we definitely were.

* * *

After brunch in the Academy's cafeteria (and that was another strange place), we sat and talked with Richtonsin for a bit while Yarmolant and his assistant investigated the Ultimate Dream DVD. Apparently it wasn't quite what they were expecting, so it took them some time to reach any conclusions.

Richtonsin's got some interesting ideas. His theory is that in our world, when some bloke in a games company is designing a fictional universe, he'll see genuine other worlds in his dreams. Those worlds will start off untainted by the needs of RPGs to have dungeons, puzzles and so on, as long as they're only seen by a few people. But when the games are mass-duplicated, the accumulated mass of storytelling, reinforced over and over in exactly the same way, transforms the world to match the game. So he reckons the Shrines of Earth, Water and Fire used to be actual shrines, temples to old gods of this world, and that was how the game developers saw it in their dreams; but obviously when those developers were writing a game in this world that they thought they'd dreamed up, they needed to create puzzles and things somewhere. And it was only as the game was seen by thousands upon thousands of people in our world that the Shrines in Elysia got transformed from places of worship into puzzle dungeons.

“The good point about this theory,” Richtonsin added, “is that presumably from what you say, the storytelling ends when you defeat Kraus?”

“I'd assume so,” I said hesitantly, looking to the others for confirmation.

Michael nodded and said, “That seems likely, sir, yes. Or a little while afterwards, to allow for a short ending sequence.”

“Good. In that case, the people of our world should be able to resume their normal lives if we do manage to break the chronocycling,” Richtonsin said approvingly. “Of course, that all depends on what Yarmolant's investigations come up with...”

We had to wait for several hours while the strange wizards performed who-knows-what rites on the DVD – certainly things that a DVD must never have been subjected to before. The afternoon was well underway when they emerged and found us sitting in the Academy common room.

“Ah, Rogan. How did it go?” asked Richtonsin tensely.

The crazy-haired wizard replied, “Well, it wasn't easy. There's not much special about this silver disc – the basic chronocycling enchantment seems tied to the data on here, but only very remotely, as if it were just one of thousands that carry the enchantment between them.” Michael and I exchanged looks, musing that that was pretty much the case.

“But... can we stop it?” Richtonsin asked with bated breath.

“I reckon so,” said Yarmolant cockily. “The inherent thaumic trace on this thing resonated with the whole of Elysia, so I think it's likely we've got ourselves the enchantment in question. Now, breaking it's a bit of a challenge, but we've come up with an idea or two.” He paused for a moment. “It seems that the two enchantments – the chronocycling and the effect that's brought you people here – are closely related. It doesn't look like we'd be able to break the one without breaking the other, and sending you back to your world.”

“That's fine,” said Paula. “One of our friends got killed here. We want to go back. But did you find anything out about why we got brought here in the first place?”

Yarmolant grimaced. “Not really, I'm afraid. All we can tell is that shortly before the end of the last cycle, Kraus cast some immense spell, channeling all the magical power in a truly vast region. We don't have much contact with the World of Darkness, but it seems they felt it too. But as for why he did it... no idea there, I'm afraid.”

Richtonsin added soberly, “Kraus's power is intimidating. It's a bit worrying that such a deranged man is probably the most magically powerful being in either of our worlds.”

I exchanged a glance with Paula and Michael, and gulped.

“Still,” Paula said after a sobering pause, “that means it's Kraus's fault that Ben...”

“...Yeah, I suppose. He's got a lot to answer for,” I said grimly. Of course I still feel responsible, but Kraus does have to shoulder some of the blame. When we face him, I plan to extract from him an explanation of why he called us here – what on earth he was up to – before we finish him off.

“So, breaking this enchantment,” I asked. “Is it something you can do now?”

“An eager young lady, aren't you?” said Yarmolant with a cackle. I just kept looking at him. “...Yes, we can give it a go. All right... You four are the visitors from the other world, right?” We nodded.

“Right. I'll be casting the main spell, but I'll need all of you four to cast <Channel>, and hold it until I give the cue... What is it?”

We were all staring at him. Paula spoke first. “Um, Professor, we can't cast any spells.”

“What? Nonsense, my dear! It's just a simple channelling incantation, the kind of thing you learn in your first or second year.”

“But sir,” I added in what I hoped was a patient tone, “none of us have studied at a Wizards' Academy. There's no magic in our world.”

Yarmolant stared at us, his moustache quivering in shock. “But... it needs someone from your world to cast <Channel> so that we're using magical energies from both worlds.”

Paula and Michael both turned to look at me. I said nervously, “What is it?”

“Well, you're the only spellcaster out of us,” Michael said. “Alleria's from this world, and none of the rest of us have magic.”

“But I'm not a spellcaster!” I cried. “I'm just a normal girl who's slipped into the role of Terena the cleric! I don't know how to cast her spells, I just somehow manage to do it anyway!”

“If you are the one of your friends who finds herself with magical powers in our world, then you must be the one to help me, my dear,” said Yarmolant, in a gentle tone but with a steely expression.

“Yeah, Tessa... I mean, you may not know what you're doing, but you're still actually using magic, which is more than we can say,” said Paula hesitantly.

I looked at them helplessly. After a moment I said, “...Okay, but you're going to have to explain it all to me very slowly...”

So Richtonsin took me off to another room and gave me a lesson in magic. It was very weird. He confessed that they're not that familiar with cleric spells, as priests and priestesses tend to have their own magical tutelage in their cloisters. But “white magic”, as they call it, apparently follows the same basic principles as the magic they study in the Academy (which I noticed they didn't call “black magic”). From my fantasy reading, it seems about 50/50 split between whether healers get their power from their gods or from the same source as other magic users, so I couldn't say much to that except “Okay”.

And so, for the first time, I learned how my magic works. I learned the mental focus, the art of consciously directing your mind, drawing on the latent energy around and shaping it into a spell. A lot of it I recognised, from watching what I did when using Terena's skills; but now I learned to put it all together.

It was quite exhausting. At first I did wonder why I needed to bother training like this, when I'd inherited Terena's spells automatically. But the comparison occurred to me of Paula and Varyn's swordskill. If Paula were to try to take up swordfighting, it'd take her a lot more than a couple of hours to learn the fluidity, speed and precision that she's picked up from Varyn, not to mention the sheer strength and stamina.

So I didn't grumble too much when after two hours, I was first able to cast a spell that Terena doesn't know: a weak and hesitant floating ball of light, but still a spell that I'd learned, not just got given for free.

We took a break at that point, and went to get something to drink and meet up with the others. Paula, Sir Randall and even Michael were asking me eagerly how it had gone and what it was like. I think I wasn't very coherent. Alleria was very encouraging, saying she'd taken much longer to successfully cast her first controlled spell.

Then it was back into training. It's the hardest I've worked since school! But I learned about the <Channel> spell: it basically lets you direct magical energy towards another caster, so that they've got more power for their spell. Richtonsin wasn't sure why Yarmolant thought my <Channel> would be so important: for all his support of what he called his Many-Worlds Hypothesis, he didn't think the world where the energy originated should make much of a difference. He asked me what I thought – as if I'd have a clue! But I think he quite enjoyed teaching me – I guess I'm going to be a bit different to your typical brainy apprentice sorceress...

After about a third hour (which is at least two more hours than I've tried to spend learning anything for years), I succeeded in casting <Channel>. So Richtonsin said, at least. I couldn't really tell whether it had worked or not. He got me to try it a few more times, then when he was satisfied, brought me back down from the classroom to meet up with the others.

Yarmolant was delighted to hear I'd managed, and the others were congratulatory too. He was also itching to get started, but before Richtonsin would let him, he insited that I drink a magic points potion, so I'd be fully topped up for the big spell. It was an amusing intrusion of the RPG mechanics into the very realistic world of the Wizards' Academy.

Anyway, as soon as I'd glugged the potion, we set off for a special room in the Academy where they cast all their particularly big and notable spells. It was a grand hall, octagonal in shape, with stained-glass windows high up the walls and wooden panelling on the rest of them. There was a raised dais in the centre, which is where Yarmolant led us. It was a very dramatic place – overly so, in fact, so that it looked like a place you wouldn't get in a real Academy, but would be vital in any movie or game. I can't believe the game designers didn't make use of it, as it would be perfect for some of the melodramatic scenes in UltiDri!

Anyway, we laid the Ultimate Dream DVD in the centre of the dais, and Richtonsin and Yarmolant stood at two points of a triangle centred on it. At their urging, I reluctantly took the third spot. Michael and the others stood a little way back, watching tensely. The two academics drew a couple of deep breaths, and then Yarmolant gave Richtonsin a terse nod.

“<Channel>!” declared Richtonsin in a deep voice. I'd heard him do it a few times in the past few hours, but this time he sounded more serious: this was clearly for real, in a way that our earlier training emphatically wasn't. A breeze started gusting around us, and the air became a little more charged.

He kept his look of concentration, but said out of the corner of his mouth, “Now you, Tessa. You did a fine job earlier. Remember to keep channelling till we're done!”

So I gulped, took a deep breath, and cried, “<Channel>!”

Immediately the gusts amplified into a strong wind whipping around us, as if we were standing in the middle of a storm. And with it the wind brought faint, tantalising scents of home... even trivial things like car exhausts and fast food, but they still evoked our world quite powerfully. The air felt like it was full of static electricity.

Yarmolant nodded approvingly, with his wild white hair flapping everywhere in the wind. Then he looked sternly at the DVD, lying inertly between us, and said, “<Revelation>!”

The game leapt up into the air, and started spinning slowly at head height. We stood there for a few moments, spellcasting, and then a ghostly purple smoke started seeping out of the DVD case. Before our astonished eyes, it formed itself into the shape of a chain, the individual links wavering as the smoke blew in the wind, but the shape clearly visible. Separately, seemingly independently, there was a faint red glow all around.

“Ah... is that so,” said Yarmolant slowly. “My earlier investigations suggested this could be the case, but having the channelling from your world makes it much clearer. Yes...”

I'd barely been able to hear him over the wind as he murmured. Now he raised his voice and said, “All right, we'll give this a try! If this works, we'll break the spell tying you here once and for all! Keep that concentration focused... and now... <CounterSpell>!”

A bolt of lightning cracked from his fingers into the hovering game, and there was a deafening BANG!

The sudden bolt had been so bright that it took my eyes a few seconds to recover. But floating before us, defiantly encircling the DVD, was the smoky purple chain, and the air was full of an acrid smell of charcoal.

“Yes, I was afraid of that,” said Yarmolant, disappointment evident on his face. “All right, Tessa, Rallian, you can stop now.”

Letting my concentration drop, I breathed out, exhausted. Richtonsin did the same, and the levitating Ultimate Dream case suddenly dropped to the ground, the malignant purple chain disappearing as the plastic clattered on the floor.

“So... what does that mean, Professor?” asked Paula anxiously, as the charcoal odour dissipated.

She'd been addressing Yarmolant, but it was Richtonsin who replied. “It means that the person who cast the spell summoning you here applied a SoulBind to it,” he said, his deep voice sounding troubled. “Kraus didn't want that spell dispersing by a simple <CounterSpell>, so he tied its continued existence to his.”

“You mean we've got to kill Kraus to get free of this place,” Michael said. It was more of a statement than a question.

“But it's not all bad news,” Yarmolant chipped in, twirling his moustache. “Besides the purple chains of the enchantment that's brought you here, did you notice that faint red spelltrace?”

I had a sudden moment of insight. “Oh! It was faint, but it was as if it was diffused across a huge region... Was that the chronocycling itself?”

“Well done, my dear,” said Richtonsin approvingly. “Yes, that was there, and that effect was almost entirely banished by the <CounterSpell>.”

“Which is very different from how it went before,” Yarmolant added. “We tried a <CounterSpell> on the disc earlier, you know, but the spelltrace was very tenacious. It wouldn't be banished by just that. But having had the energy from your world channelled seems to have enabled the <CounterSpell> to have far greater effect. I suspect it's only Kraus's SoulBind that's keeping either of those enchantments intact now.”

“So when we kill Kraus this time, that'll free us all from the chronocycling?” asked Alleria, with a curiously determined note in her voice.

“I think so, yes,” said the old wizard as he cracked a grin.

None of the rest of us were smiling, though. Michael looked very serious as he said, “Then our course is set.”

“Looks like we'll be rejoining the... plot of the game... for the final stretch,” said Alleria grimly. I looked appraisingly at her, realising again how far she's come.

“Yes, Varyn's party do always end with an assault on Kraus in his Dark Citadel, don't they?” mused Richtonsin. Then he cheerfully added, “Why don't you stay the night here first, though? I'm sure you could do with some supplies, and a good meal. Tackle the Dark Lord well rested, eh?”

“Good point – we definitely do need to stock up on potions,” Michael said. “Do you have a shop somewhere on campus I could visit?”

“We're the magical capital of Elysia,” Richtonsin said in mock-offence. “We most certainly do have such a shop. The shopkeeper is utterly fanatical about keeping it stocked and open all hours of the day or night. Especially when Varyn's group are at the Academy, for some reason...”

Michael grinned, and then said, “Could you show me the way?”

“<GuideLight>!” said Richtonsin by way of reply. The familiar floating ball appeared in front of Michael, and drifted to the door before pausing to wait for him.

“Well, I'll go and stock us up,” said Michael. “Shall I see the rest of you back at the canteen?”

Paula nodded. I, however, had been overcome by the sight of Michael's profile, and on the spur of the moment I said, “I'll go with him. I'll catch you guys up later.”

Michael looked at me in surprise, then quickly reacquired his usual unreadable expression and turned to go after the glowing guide. Paula caught my eye, nodded in understanding, and shepherded the others off with the Professors towards the food hall, while Michael and I followed the <GuideLight> to the Academy's magic shop.

He walked on ahead of me in silence for a little. Realising I'd have to be the one to speak, I said, “Michael, can't we talk about things?”

He stopped and sighed. “What's to talk about?” he said simply. “You lied to me.”

“I... I know I did. But it was wrong, and I'm sorry! And it's not going to happen again...”

He looked up and met my gaze. The juxtaposition between his lovely eyes and the regretful expression on his face was painful. “How do I know I can trust you?” He paused for a second, and then turned and walked on, following the GuideLight. It was a lonely walk back to see the others.

So, finally, we all went to bed in rooms provided by the Academy once more. The events of the day (night?) spent a long time churning around in my head before I eventually got to sleep, and woke up back in my house again.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Down. Current music: If I Could Turn Back Time – Cher

Posted at 09:11 on Dec 6th

1 comment:

by princess-of-china, at 12:09 on Dec 6th

“Things that a DVD must never have been subjected to before”, you said. I wonder if that's really true? I could imagine that some other RPG had some evil villain who cast a spell that sucked in some players, and they had to bring the game disc into the game to let the spell be broken. I wouldn't be surprised if that happened to every RPG that came out! There may be hundreds of DVDs being transported from our world to all sorts of fantasy worlds, for all we know... :)

Still, well done for talking to Michael. He'll come round. Just keep being honest with him.

Dragons, dungeons and dread

Well, we woke up in the Academy, and gathered back at the canteen for breakfast and a council of war. Alleria took the lead. “Kraus's citadel is very strongly defended. There are dragons circling it and an army of orcs and undead. But we have one massive advantage: I've infiltrated it hundreds of times before. Normally at this point the group would be agonising to figure out how to get in, but since we've skipped so much of the... conventional plot, I suggest we just skip to the plan we always use eventually. Does that sound all right?”

“Definitely,” replied Paula with a grin.

Alleria answered with a warm smile in return, before continuing, “Okay. So the way it normally goes is, we fly in there on dragons, who obey my summons. First, Varyn – er, Paula – uses Wyrmstones to guide some riderless dragons in combat with other dragons. Then we each mount a dragon and have to fly in, defending ourselves against even more dragons. Finally, we enter the Citadel itself, fight our way through lots of troops and levels, and confront Kraus in his throne room.”

“Hmm,” Michael mused. “And there's no way to skip any of that?”

The sorceress gave him a knowing smile. “Well, if you'd done one of the more laborious side quests, you'd find out about a back route...”

“Come on, tell us, Alleria, pleeeease!” wheedled Paula.

Alleria laughed helplessly and said, “I was going to! I don't see any reason to go and risk my life in front of a wing of dragons for a thousandth time when we know the back way. We just have to fight through a ghost-filled dungeon, instead of two hours of terrifying dragon combat.” She paused, and then added, “It's quite a well hidden secret... only about one in ten players find it. ”

Paula looked at her and said, “You're getting used to the idea that... your actions have been being controlled, then?”

“It's... distressing,” the Elysian admitted. “But it... It makes sense. There have been many things that have seemed odd... and I've just seemed to go along with them. And some of the things I've done...” She laughed wryly. “Wouldn't we all like some excuse for some of the times we've done really silly things? An excuse like 'my life was being controlled by somebody else at the time'?”

We couldn't say much in response to that. So Paula said instead, “Hang on, doesn't that mean that all that getting the dragons on our side was unnecessary, if we're going in the back way? Why did we bother?”

“Not at all! The dragons distract the guards for us while we go in.” Alleria wagged a finger at Paula in mock sternness. “And watch how you talk about them! They're still my kin, you know. My family... Not much of a family, to be fair, but they're all I've got. So don't go insulting them!” She sounded quite fierce. If it hadn't been for the smile dancing in her eyes, I might have thought she was serious.

“So is there anything else we need to do to prepare?” asked Michael, in a serious tone.

“You stocked us up on potions? Then no, that's it. I mean, there are side quests to get other items that'll help, but they're completely optional. We can move on the Citadel any time.”

Looking at the others, I asked, “Are we all in agreement, then?” Michael, Paula, and Sir Randall nodded in turn.

“Then let's go!”

* * *

Scroogle raised his eyebrows when we came back and told him we wanted to go to the Dark Citadel. “Somehow I'd thought you were the kind of group who'd want to do all the optional quests before you go to the Citadel,” he said, without further explanation. But he was happy to obey, and soon the Floating Castle was speeding across the landscape towards the rift between the worlds, under the goblin's able control.

I got him to turn on the window panel as we approached it. We were flying across the sea, that we'd dived under to find the Heartstone of Water, so many nights ago. There was a big, shimmering portal hanging in the air, its edges a deep red tinged with black sparks, with the empty sky visible through it. And then we were through, into the World of Darkness, and instead of water below us there was just nothingness.

Then Alleria took the Wyrmstone (apparently it's okay for her to use them now that her relationship to the dragons has been proved) and concentrated for a while, before telling us, “The Conflagration agrees to the plan, and they're en route to the Citadel: they'll begin the decoy attack when we're ready to move.”

And very soon, the Dark Citadel loomed over the horizon in one direction, and many huge winged creatures in the other. As they got closer as we approached our common goal, we could see their wings flapping majestically. There were precisely twelve of them (how did Paula manage to count them so accurately when we saw them before?).

Soon, we drew to a halt above the acid lake near the Citadel, that corresponded to a more normal lake in Elysia. We could make out several dragon shapes circling the Citadel, silhouetted in the twilight. “Kraus's dragons are obviously on patrol,” said Alleria. “There'll be no sneaking up on them in the Castle, but that's fine...”

She took the Wyrmstone once more, paused for a few moments, and then said to Scroogle, “Could you open a portal to the outside, Scroogle?” The goblin nodded curtly, fiddled with the controls, and a chunk of the wall opened, just like last time. As the wind suddenly blew around us, we saw the strange sky of the World of Darkness, and the eerie landscape stretching off towards the horizon... I looked for the Dark Citadel, but quickly realised it must be behind us.

Alleria stepped right up to the edge of the stone floor, standing in the window, the wind whipping her hair and robes around her. She raised her hands, and all of a sudden, a vast dragon rose up into view behind her.

She turned to us and, with a confident smile, said, “Looks like our lift is here.”

* * *

A dragon isn't exactly the subtlest mode of transport either, so we flew away from the Citadel for a bit, before tracing a wide circle and approaching it from the north. There were a number of dirty hovels and outbuildings scattered around the approach, but we stopped well short of them, on a track heading into the icy mountains.

“All right,” said Alleria as we dismounted the dragon, which took to the air the moment we were on the ground. “This is where I cast the spell that we'd have learned if you'd finished that quest. Gather round.” We huddled close around her, and then the sorceress proclaimed, “<Invisibility>!”

“Excellent!” said Michael, looking at his hands as all of us faded from view. In just a second or two, I couldn't tell where he or anyone else was looking. We'd all literally disappeared.

“All right,” came Alleria's disembodied voice, “we need to get through the village to the Citadel's back entrance. This spell won't work on the ghosts in the dungeon, but it'll get us past the orcs in these outbuildings.”

“Ummm... where are we going exactly?” I asked, feeling a little foolish as I addressed the empty air.

“Look towards the Citadel,” came the instruction. I obediently looked at the black tower, dominating the skyline. “Just at its base, on the right-hand side, there's a craggy outcropping. See it? That's where the tunnel from the dungeons comes out. I'll see you all just inside the tunnel entrance.”

And so we marched straight through the heart of an orcish settlement, past all sorts of orcs: soldiers and guards, cooks and servants. The smell was revolting, and I'm sure one of them spat straight at me as we slowly walked past... but I assume it was a coincidence, because we weren't stopped.

I found the tunnel Alleria's voice had mentioned, and waited there nervously, with no idea where the others were. Then suddenly a voice cried, “<CounterSpell>!” And Alleria appeared, as did Michael, Paula, Sir Randall, and indeed me. It was rather comforting to be able to see my arms and legs again.

We made our way up the tunnel, and fought our way through the dungeon, which was indeed infested with ghosts. What was quite interesting was the way that Paula had to periodically watch and guide the dragon combat that was going on outside: we'd occasionally stop while she went into her trance (and the rest of us healed up). We had just got out of the dungeon into the Dark Citadel proper when we woke up.

The most significant part of the night's events, though, was actually completely unrelated to the Dark Citadel. As we made our way up the stairs towards Kraus's inner sanctum, Michael tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Um... Tessa...”

I stopped and turned to face him, as the others went on ahead. He was looking at me with an unreadable expression. Well, it was better than him avoiding me or being coldly critical. I smiled and said, “Yes, what is it?”

Not meeting my eyes, he said, “I...” He paused. I've never seen him so hesitant. “I'm... getting an internet connection put in tomorrow. Today. So... I wondered if I could have the address of your blog.”

My heart was in my mouth. I've written so much about him on here! And about Sir Randall... I gulped. “Um...”

“If you don't want to, that's fine... I guess...” he said, a trace of cold reserve back in his voice.

I frantically tried to remember what I'd put on here, and how incriminating it was. I couldn't remember the details, but I knew it would be pretty bad. What would he do if I said “no”? It hit me that even if I didn't tell him, he could easily search the Net and find it for himself.

All sorts of increasingly implausible possibilities ran through my head: I could filter all the posts to “everyone but him”. I could delete the whole blog and send future updates by email. I could do any number of fiddly or frustrating things. But if I want my blog to stay in the form it's in, none of them are really plausible.

I sighed, and thought to myself, what's the worst that could happen? I'm already not exactly in his good books. At the worst, it'll just confirm all his worst imaginings about me, that he already suspects.

So with trepidation, I said all right, and told him the address.

I made him promise to tell me what he thinks, and so now all I can do is wait... wait to find out.

-- taleteller

Current mood: Tense. Current music: I Need A Miracle – Grateful Dead

Posted at 08:37 on Dec 7th


by princess-of-china, at 09:30 on Dec 7th

Ohmygosh, he's going to be reading this! What will he think?!

by taleteller at 09:45 on Dec 7th

I know. I'm going to be refreshing this page all day from work, to see if he's commented. Not that he necessarily would, but...

by varynfan, at 13:19 on Dec 7th

I'm sure it's cheating to have Alleria know the <Invisibility> spell if they didn't do the side quest to learn it, you know.

But still, good luck with Michael, Tessa! ^^

by taleteller, at 13:48 on Dec 7th

Thanks, varynfan! I don't know you, but I want to say I've appreciated your comments and encouragement!

by princess-of-china, at 18:42 on Dec 7th

Oh, I'm all tense waiting to find out what Michael thought! When will he read this?

by taleteller, at 19:04 on Dec 7th

Not everyone compulsively checks the internet as soon as they get home from work, Paula. He might not even read it today. And even if he did, there's no guarantee he'd comment. After all, this blog does reveal how I did lie to him, just like he thinks. He'd be completely justified to never speak to me again.

by princess-of-china, at 19:51 on Dec 7th

Maybe, but still, he ought to at least say something! Michael, if you're reading this, please post a comment to say what you think of Tessa...

by MichaelQ, at 22:28 on Dec 7th

Hmm. Looks like people have been somewhat waiting for me.

Well, Tessa, I have to say I'm surprised how much you open up on here. I didn't realise you'd been attracted to me right from the first time we met at Ben's party. Nor did I expect you to post the details of our times together on here... it's just as well I'm not shy about certain things!

But I suppose you'll want to know what I'm feeling about us.

This isn't easy, you know. You did lie to me, about an important thing in our relationship. And for that matter, you posted a lot of details on here that I think I'd have preferred it if you'd asked me first.

You should have just told me about Stuart. I know he's a charmer, and I can understand the way you acted at the ball on the Floating Castle, if you thought he only existed in Elysia.

After all's said and done, though, I forgive you.

by taleteller, at 22:36 on Dec 7th

...Are you serious? I... I didn't want to let myself dare hope for this. I care for you so much, and I'd been dreaming that we could get back together, but I thought that was never going to happen...

by MichaelQ, at 23:41 on Dec 7th

I care about you too.

But I do have one condition if we're going to get back together...

No more dream lovers, no matter how unreal their world is!

by taleteller, at 23:59 on Dec 7th

Sounds like a good deal to me! :)

by princess-of-china, at 00:24 on Dec 8th

Oooo, how romantic! Yay, congrats to both of you on sorting things out!

by lilcutie89, at 01:12 on Dec 8th

Yay, well done, sis! I knew the two of you would work things out eventually!

The final battle

Wow. Just when I thought I knew what to expect from Elysia, it takes us totally by surprise... But I suppose I should have realised, really...

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself!

Well, things are far far better in my love life since my last post :) But there's no point me going into details, since those of you who read comments will have seen it all for yourselves! Suffice to say that I'm really looking forward to the weekend tomorrow, when Michael and I get to meet up and have fun together in the real world. Although that might be a bit complicated by... Hang on, I'm getting there :)

So I went to sleep in my bed, and woke up standing in a corridor in the Dark Citadel. I caught Michael's eye, and the warm smile he gave me made me just melt where I stood.

I was rather less comforted when Sir Randall looked around and then walked purposefully over to Michael and me. I stood my ground, determined to tell him that there couldn't be anything more between us.

He drew up in front of us, gave us both a flourishing bow, and said, “I read the thread. Congratulations. It looks like the best man won.”

My jaw dropped, and I exchanged an astonished look with Michael. He slowly shook Sir Randall's proffered hand, and replied, “Uh... thanks.”

Sir Randall continued, “I shall forthwith halt my advances, no matter how ravishing Lady Tessa appears: it would be only proper.”

His turn of phrase made me smile, as it so often does. I looked at him quizzically and said, “I've been wondering this for ages. You're from our world, right?”


“Then how come you talk like that? I mean, do you talk like that to people in our world, in London?”

With a disarming grin he gestured at our surroundings. “Not at all, milady. But when in Rome...”

Somehow I could tell that that was about all the explanation I was going to get. Paula and Alleria had been watching with amused looks, and I smiled in return, before saying, “Shall we get moving?”

We had one final level of the Dark Citadel to fight our way through: lots of fiercely strong orcs, demons and shadowbeasts. They were tough enough that I had to use three potions of MP to keep healing the others, even with our unfair party size of 5, when I assume the dungeon was designed for a party of 3.

We actually found the door to Kraus's inner sanctum fairly quickly, but it had four sockets, each of which needed filling with a black skull carved from gemstone. And of course, those were scattered around the rest of the floor, naturally. There were a bunch of evil traps and so on, and when we plugged them in, a big boss-before-the-boss appeared who was really frustrating to beat.

But eventually he fell to the floor, and we were ready to enter Kraus's inner sanctum. Standing in front of the imposing black-and-golden door, I shivered, but firmly took one of the solid bronze handles while Paula took the other. We caught each other's eyes, then resolutely pushed the door wide open.

“Welcome, my guests from another world,” came a confident and grimly familiar voice, from the far end of the throne room beyond.

The five of us marched up to Kraus, and stood before the throne glaring at him. Paula declared, “This is the end of the road, Kraus!”

He looked at us contemptuously and said, “Still ignoring the script, I see. There's only meant to be three of you here!”

Paula proclaimed, “But before we kill you, there's something I want to know.”

I did a doubletake at that, and whispered to her, “Isn't it meant to be bad guys who say that?”

She looked puzzled for a moment, then grinned briefly at me before resuming. “It was you that brought us here, wasn't it? From our world? I just want to know... Why? What purpose did it serve, summoning us here?”

I halfway expected Kraus to laugh and refuse to answer. There was certainly no reason for him to tell us. But of course, he's very much the traditional Bad Guy, and so he was very happy to expound at length before we fought.

His expression was truly chilling as he looked at each of us in turn and said, “Why, my dear, simply because that way I could cause more suffering!”

I gasped at his sheer callous evil, as he continued, “After I took over from Binkley I've been able to cause a delicious amount of pain to the inhabitants of both Elysia and the World of Darkness. Humans, orcs, goblins, dragons, all are agonised under my rule. I was content with that, at first. Even when the time cycling started, I realised that they were all aware of the cycle, and aware of the suffering they'd experience when I came to power each time round... and the anticipation of pain is almost as fulfilling as the pain itself.

“But after some cycles, I realised that there were beings from another world, guiding the actions of Varyn's group. Entities outside my realm – entities on which I couldn't inflict pain!” His eyes bulged as he continued dementedly, “This was intolerable! This simply could not be allowed! And so I began turning my efforts towards a summoning spell greater than any in our history... a spell to invoke not demons from the underworld, or elementals of raw power from the planet, but the creatures from another world who were deriving pleasure” – he spat the word – “from my actions. A spell to summon... you.”

“I hadn't been expecting you to arrive in the bodies of Varyn's group. But that was even better – I got to torment you while following the script. Having your friend Ben in Binkley's place was the best of all... he enjoyed himself a bit too much, but then his death made up for it.”

Suddenly he acquired an almost childlike curiosity, in his twisted fashion. “By the way, I assume Ben had family in your world? Did they mourn him?”

Paula exclaimed in fury, “Of course they did, you maniac!”

“Oh good,” he replied sweetly.

“You killed our friend, you bastard!” That was me. “And now it's time to pay. You can't be allowed to keep torturing this world's people. Will you yield?”

“Yield? To you, Tessa?” He gave me an infuriating laugh. “No, no, that's not what's going to happen. I'm going to kill you all. You do know it takes most groups about ten reloads to beat me? And we all know you don't have that luxury.”

I trembled a little. We've seen now that if you die in this world, you're really dead... I had a bit of an urge to run, but I quelled it, knowing this was what we'd come here for.

“But we have the advantage that there are five of us,” Paula said defiantly.

Kraus frowned at her. “Yes, about that detail...” Suddenly he cried, “<MassHourglass>!”, and all five of us froze. Then he added, “<Binding>! <Binding>!” As we stood there helplessly, ropes appeared out of mid-air, binding Sir Randall and Michael hand and foot.

“That's better. This battle is to be fought with three of you, no more! Stop trying to deviate from the script!”

And abruptly Alleria, Paula and I could move again, just in time for Kraus to hit us hard with one of his swords. I shot a helpless look at Michael, who was wobbling as he struggled against the ropes, and then I turned my full attention to the insane hunchback attacking us.

He was horrifically strong. He had all his spells from before – <Hourglass>, <Grinder>, and that evil <MassGrinder> that shaved everyone to within an inch of death and I had to <FullCure> everyone. And then he whipped out an even more upgraded version, <UltraGrinder>. At first I couldn't tell the difference, but then I just thought about casting a healing spell and realised how exhausted I was: he'd drained not just our health but our magic points as well!

So I first drank a health potion so that I wouldn't immediately die if he attacked me, then a magic points potion, and finally started healing the others (who'd been drinking potions themselves).

His two swords – the flaming one and the freezing one – were powered up as well. I think the slowdown from the ice sword was approaching the effect of his <HourGlass>, and the burning one left a magical flaming aura around us, that kept hurting for several seconds after he hit.

But for all that, he didn't seem impossibly hard... just, like, final-boss level. You'd expect us to have really no chance at all against the most powerful magical being in any of our worlds, but we could deal him damage. Gradually.

The problem was, though, that Paula and I really aren't accomplished RPG players. So even with Alleria (who's obviously had more experience at this than any of us), we weren't that practiced at combat.

At one point he had... killed... both Paula and Alleria (I swear, I'll never get used to seeing my friends killed before my eyes), and I was the only one left alive. For a moment I stood there, face to face with this utterly sadistic homicidal mage. Then I jumped to cast <Raise> on Paula. I dodged one spell from Kraus, then <Raise>d Alleria, caught a potion from Paula, just in time to get hit in the shoulder by Kraus's ice sword...

What turned it around was when we did some moves that seemed perfectly natural to us, but were obviously outside the repertoire of the game. Occasionally he'd cry, “Stop that! Play... by... the... rules, damn you!” But simple things like all three attacking at once – he was completely dumbfounded (and frustrated) by that, and so slowly we whittled his hit points down.

And so eventually, we were at the point where he was clearly on his last legs. He was still hitting as hard as always, somehow, but he was visibly wounded and tottering. We were getting through our potion supply, but staying alive.

After Paula hit Kraus with a blow that left him struggling to get up, she cried dramatically, “Give up, Kraus! It's over!”

“I have... never yielded, and I... will never yield!” he croaked.

“Are you completely sure?” I asked him.

“You're going to stop the time cycling, aren't you? Then I'll... die for good anyway.”

Thoughts of the confrontation with Ben had been running through my mind, and I added, “Please, if you're someone from our world, tell us. Killing one of our friends is bad enough. We could figure out some other way.”

“Oh, so you'd happily kill an Elysian, but not someone from your own world, eh?” he sneered, climbing to his feet.

Paula looked at me in anguish. “That's... a good point...” she said slowly. “Tessa, what are we doing? Can we really just kill this guy? I mean, yes, he's evil, but shouldn't we try to get him arrested, or something like –”

Her attack of conscience was interrupted brutally, as Kraus swung his sword...

And lopped off her head.

“PAULA!” I cried. I glared furiously at Kraus as he cackled uglily, and then I got myself under control and said, “<Raise>!”

Paula stepped out of the glowing golden light once more, and caught the health potion that Alleria threw her. She drained it in a moment, and then turned to Kraus, her eyes narrowing.

And suddenly it was as if everything was in slow motion. Paula lifted her weapon high and took a single step towards him. Kraus raised his hands to vainly try to protect himself, his face twisted in rage and fear, as Paula swung her sword towards him, and dealt the final blow.

“Urrk...” he said feebly, and collapsed to the ground.

A cry behind me made me turn around: Michael and Sir Randall were running towards us, their mystical bonds vanished. Michael gave me a fierce embrace, which I returned every bit as vehemently.

The five of us stood for a moment watching Kraus's body, when to our surprise a glittering dust rose from it, glowing purple. Then Paula sniffed. “Hey, what's that smell?”

It took me a moment to recognise it, and then I exclaimed, “It's charcoal... like back in the Wizards' Academy, when we tried to break the spell holding us here!”

Alleria nodded slowly and said, “The SoulBind that stopped us dispelling both that and the chronocycling. They were both bound to Kraus's life.”

And suddenly gusts of wind were whipping around us. They started faint, but grew rapidly in intensity as Paula said, “That must mean we're finally free... We're about to leave Elysia for the last time!”

I turned to Alleria, and said in shock, “We might never see you again...” I thought about how the sorceress has grown since we've known her.

“Alleria!” exclaimed Paula in sorrow, the magical winds blowing fiercely around us. She looked at us, and I was touched to see tears in her eyes.

“Thank you all,” she said, her voice catching. Slightly unexpectedly, she reached out and pulled me into an embrace. I hugged her back, as we were about to separate for the last time.

The winds rose to gale force, and then suddenly I was back in my bedroom, in my pyjamas, standing up...

...And I was still hugging Alleria.

My jaw dropped. So did hers.

She looked around in astonishment, her eyes wide as she took in my bed, desk, computer, and the urban view through my window.

At length she said, “...This is your world, isn't it, Tessa? I've been transported the same way you brought the game disc in from your world, haven't I?”

“Er. Um. That does seem to have happened, yes.” I took a deep breath. “Um, I'm really sorry! It didn't even cross my mind that this could happen! I – ”

Laughing, she interrupted, “Don't worry about it, Tessa. I know you didn't do it deliberately.”

“But... we might never be able to get you back!”

“True, but...” She seemed to be searching for words. “Since getting to know you guys, the future I had planned for me in Elysia has somehow started seeming less attractive. I wouldn't have thought to ask you to bring me back, but... I think this could be fun.” And she gave me such a smile – confident and excited – that I was convinced.

I looked at my bedside clock, and jumped. “Er, right, I'm going to have to go off to work fairly soon. Um... I suppose I ought to show you around...”

I gave her a tour of the house. My parents were both already out at work, thankfully – that'll be an interesting conversation to have. But we bumped into Lisa on the landing. My little sister took one look at the sorceress (still wearing her Elysian robes) and said, “...You must be Alleria, right?”

She's a bright kid.

So the three of us had breakfast while I tried to explain a bit of what had happened, before I gave up and told Lisa to just read it on my blog. And then an idea suddenly occurred to me. I gestured to a few of the books on the kitchen shelves, and asked Alleria, “You can read our text, right?”

“Of course I can read it! I did graduate from the Wizards' Academy with a top grade, you know!”

I was too pleased with my idea to get irritated with her. “All right. Let me show you a wonderful device that you don't have in your world. We call it a computer...”

After having explained the basic concepts of computers and the Internet to her – and she picked it up very quickly – I pointed her to my blog, and hurried off to work. My bosses seemed happy to see me in a bit earlier than I have been recently, although I bet they wouldn't be pleased to know I've just spent the last hour typing this all up for you, my faithful readers.

So, um, yeah. Our adventures in Elysia may be over, but things aren't exactly setting down to normal just yet!

-- taleteller

Current mood: Amazed. Current music: Welcome To Wherever You Are – Bon Jovi

Posted at 10:03 on Dec 8th


by princess-of-china, at 11:42 on Dec 8th

Oh my God! I saw you and Alleria vanish, but I assumed it was just because I was sucked back to my room a moment later! It never occurred to me that she might get transported to our world... Oh my God, it's amazing!

by taleteller, at 13:28 on Dec 8th

I know. It's completely mindblowing, isn't it?

by ASorceress, at 18:00 on Dec 8th

Hello, Tessa! I've just finished reading through the whole of this blog. (With some pauses to look things up on the Internet. Your sister's been very helpful.)

It's unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's like the opportunity to see events through someone else's eyes.

I managed to create myself a user account so that I can comment. I just wanted to say thanks for everything so far, and to ask if I could stay with you for a bit longer. I've no idea what I'm going to do with myself now I'm in this world for good, but it'll be exciting finding out.

...Particularly as I discovered earlier that I can still cast spells here!

I'll see you later. Bye for now.