March 24th, 2009

legend of hero

The Sunlit World: Act IV

Trent looked around -- noting with some relief that no other pedestrians were in earshot -- and lowered his voice. "What happened to Rosalind being a hallucination?"

"Maybe that's what I thought when she was the only weirdness in my life," Kevin said, remembering that they were in public and trying to restrain his emotions. "But when a living shadow walks into your bedroom and hands you a pendant from another Dragon Legend character, it's time to reconsider. How many times can characters really appear before you start wondering whether there's something real behind the game?"

Trent sighed. "Did none of what we discussed last night sink in? Real life doesn't act the way the Shadowlands acted. It's like you completely ignored everything I said. Speaking of which, I seem to recall -- no offense, Crissy -- you also promised you wouldn't tell anyone else about the portal."

"She insisted on the truth. She's a friend and she deserves that. Besides, she was the one who found out David was gone."

"Yet another person dragged into this mess." Trent shook his head. "Well, Crissy, be aware of what you're getting into here. This isn't Dungeons & Dragons. It's serious."

"Isn't Dungeons & Dragons exactly what it is?" Crissy asked. "You've already mentioned magic portals and weapons and healing potions and monsters to fight off."

"Well, it's not D&D in the sit-around-a-table sense. It'll hurt. Even going through the portal hurts, like you got hit by lightning or something, to the point that you can't even stand up for a while."

"Though it does seem to get better if you keep going in," Kevin chipped in.

"We don't know that," Trent argued. "Look. My point is: This isn't something to just waltz into."

"Yes, yes, it's not a --" Kevin stopped and stared. "Now wait a minute! I call bullshit. You can't tell us it is and isn't a game at the same time."

"Huh? I'm not --"

"Yes you are! You absolutely are. You don't want David and I to take it seriously because it's not real, and you don't want Crissy to go in because it's too real."

"That's not at all what I said!" Trent protested. "I said the game world is fake but the game itself is dangerous. That's not a contradiction."

"It is! By definition, a game's just entertainment. It can't affect the world. Once it can reach out and hurt you -- or heal you! -- it's not a game any more."

"People do dangerous, retarded things for entertainment all the time," Trent pointed out. "Like the senior who got killed two years ago dirt skiing."

"Dirt skiing?" asked Crissy, whose parents had moved to the area after the incident.

"Driving a truck and dragging someone on a rope behind you at high speed," Kevin explained. "It's kind of a cowboy macho thing some kids do."

"That is retarded," Crissy said.

"Exactly," Trent said.

"But I think I'm with Kevin on this one," Crissy said. "If it's some sort of video game -- someone had to design it. Why would anyone make a lethal video game, and how could they possibly keep it on the market?"

Trent sighed. "Whatever. We're here." He cut across Kevin's snowy lawn. "And why did we even go to your house, Kevin? Shouldn't we be triple-checking to make sure he's not at his house before anyone charges into the Shadowlands to rescue him?"

"My room has the portal and the pendant," Kevin said. "If anything was going to happen, it would start there."

"It's easy enough to call David's room before we leave," Crissy added.

"Hang on," Trent said, stopping at Kevin's front door. "What do you mean 'we'?"

"... Exactly what I said?"

Trent shook his head. "No. I can't let you go."

"Excuse me?" Crissy said icily.

"None of us should be going in there at all," Trent said. "But as long as we're mounting an expedition for a missing friend, we need to do it intelligently. So. One: Someone needs to stay here who knows what happened, if we don't make it back. Two: There's too much risk for you. Just going through the portal is damaging -- and we don't have any healing potions, so the first time you get hit by shadow claws it'll probably leave a permanent scar. Three: You're not going to be any use to us anyway, not unless you can pick up a medieval weapon and do more damage to the bad guys than to yourself."

Crissy's face flushed. "I can take care of myself perfectly well, thank you," she snapped. "And if it's as dangerous as you say, you're going to want a bigger team, right?"

"Guys?" Kevin said uncomfortably. "Maybe we can go in the house and talk this out, instead of yelling at each other on the porch."

Trent opened up the screen door and waved Kevin past him. Kevin unlocked the front door and went inside. Trent and Crissy, glaring at each other, followed.

There was a click from the hallway ahead of them, and Kevin's bedroom door opened. Kevin jumped.

David walked through, dressed in the previous day's jeans and jacket, backpack slung over his shoulder. His eyes widened.

"David!" Kevin said.

"Guys?" David stammered.

"You --" Trent started, staring at David and the door to Kevin's room. He glanced behind him at the previously locked front door.

"Are you okay?" Crissy asked David.

Before he could answer, Trent shouldered his way past Kevin, grabbing David and slamming him against the wall. "You did go in by yourself! What do you think you were doing?" he exploded.

The hallway flew into chaos as Kevin and Crissy tried to separate the two. David finally wriggled free and threw himself behind Kevin, cringing.

"Trent!" Kevin pleaded. "Stop it!"

"Look at what you've done!" Trent shouted. "Blowing off school -- breaking into Kevin's house -- lying to all of us -- and now getting your friends so worried someone else got involved! After everything we discussed last night!"

"Trent!" David said. "Let me explain! It's changed --"

"No!" Trent interrupted. "Shut up! Just --" he wheeled and shoved his way to Kevin's front door. "That's it. I can't take it. I'm not going to deal with you guys' damn suicide wish any more!"

David winced as the door slammed, rattling windows.

"Well, shit," Kevin said.

News: Thanks for putting up with the delay for today's section. At the time it was posted, the section was Wandering Moerchant Joix: Act IV, which has since been moved to its proper place in the archives. WMJ:IV is huge, twice the size of most Acts; there were a lot of plot threads to resolve as the "Companions" arc of the novel drew to a close.