David appearing inside Kevin's locked house had been bizarre. Trent exploding at his friend and storming out had been surreal. But it wasn't until Kevin's curse broke the silence that Crissy felt the whole thing sink in. She looked around at her friends uncertainly.
"Dammit!" David said, deflated.
"David, why did you skip school to go back into the Shadowlands?" Kevin said accusingly. "He was right. That was stupid."
"I know it was," David said sheepishly. "But I had to prove there was more to the Hall of Heroes than getting scratched by shadowlings and gored by Quinotauros. And there is! You guys have gotta see it!"
"Kweeno who?" Kevin asked.
"Quinotauros. The boss." David's face lit up. "Oh! And the best part! There's another Dragon Legend character in there!" He grabbed Kevin by the shoulders. "One of Lord Blue's Dragon Knights! We explored the place together!"
"There is?" Kevin's face lit up. "That makes three. This can't be coincidence!"
"David?" Crissy interjected. "What's going on? Will someone tell me the whole story?"
"Yeah!" David said, grabbing Crissy's arm and pulling her toward Kevin's room. "Come into the Shadowlands with us. Trent was right -- it's a game, the best one there ever was. You wouldn't believe how real everything is. And just wait until you learn magic. Real magic, Crissy! I was casting spells! And the powerup system could keep us busy for days -- there's this crystal modification system, the weapons have four different types of slots and Joix can weave them into armor -- and, and ... and where did the portal go?"
Kevin, hustling to keep up with them, stared open-mouthed at his closet. "It's gone! David, what did you do?"
"Nothing!" he protested. "It was here when I came back two minutes ago, and all I did was put on my backpack and leave."
"Well, it's gone now." Kevin walked over to his closet and pressed his palm against the dull, solid wall.
"What's this portal you all keep talking about?" Crissy asked.
"Where's the pendant?" David said. He answered his own question by pointing over at the Super NES, where Kevin's controller was still tied around the two ends of the chain. He snatched it up and examined the golden sun. "Something must have happened to it."
"Maybe the portal's got a 24-hour time limit?" Kevin ventured.
"Guys? What portal?" Crissy asked, but they continued to ignore her.
"Then it wouldn't run out until after 4--" David said, glancing at his watch and breaking off with a cry. "It's 3:20! How'd that happen? I left the Shadowlands at quarter to 3!"
"Huh?" Kevin said.
"No wonder you three were home from school early. You weren't. My watch must have stopped."
Crissy sighed and tried to edge into the conversation again. "If that had happened," she pointed out, "wouldn't it still be reading 2:45?"
David stopped, puzzled, and looked down. "Huh. You're right."
Kevin took the pendant. "Well, let's reactivate it. Here, Crissy -- loop the controller cable around your neck."
"You can't see the portal unless you wear the pendant while it's activated."
"Ah!" David said. "That explains it. Crissy has never worn the pendant. So the portal must vanish in the presence of an outside observer."
"That seems pretty clever," Crissy said.
"We'll fix that soon enough," Kevin said, looping the cable around her neck. "Here, and touch the chain, too."
Crissy stood there while Kevin fiddled with the sun's rays, wiggling them gently.
"We'll have to make you a healer," David said. "That'll work best for party balance. We already have two fighters and a mage. Three fighters, if you count Emile. I can't be certain which weapon specifically would start you in the healer class, but there was this one staff --"
"David!" Kevin said. "I'm trying to concentrate here."
"Now what?" Crissy said, looking over at Kevin's closet.
"Um ..." Kevin said. "Hang on."
"What's wrong?" David asked, worry edging into his tone.
"I don't know," Kevin said.
"You just move the little thing here." David grabbed the pendant and fiddled with one of the sun's top rays. "That's what Trent did."
"Well, it's not working."
Crissy waited, increasingly impatiently, for several minutes as David and Kevin prodded the pendant. Finally she slipped out from under the controller cord. "I'm going to go get a drink," she said. "Be right back."
She was nearly at the kitchen when she heard David cry out from Kevin's room. She turned around and poked her head through the door.
"Dammit!" David said, kneeling at Kevin's closet and staring into its shadows. "It's gone again."
"Crissy's back," Kevin told him, staring at her.
"Oh," David said, standing back up. "The portal reappeared just after you left."
"Ah," Crissy said caustically. "Isn't that convenient."
Kevin's face went deep red. "It's real, Crissy! I swear to you! Look -- if you go out to the kitchen, I can go through it and you can come back and see me be gone."
"Oh, I believe it's real," Crissy said. "It just doesn't seem to like me around."
"That's not true," David said desperately. "We just don't fully understand the pendant yet."
"Give us more time and we'll make it work," David said.
Crissy stepped forward and examined the blank closet wall. "David -- Kevin. Let me ask you this. Do you actually want me to go in there with you?"
"Yes!" David answered immediately.
"Yes," Kevin said, then hedged, "I mean, only if you want to go."
"You do? You're really sure?"
David -- and then Kevin, slowly -- nodded.
"Because that portal isn't making itself vanish when I'm here. It's clear someone who can control it doesn't want me." Crissy picked up her backpack and paused on her way out of the room. "And I should point out that Trent's not around to see whether I'm in the room or not."
"Wait!" David pleaded, jogging up to her. "Stick around. We can fix it."
"Nah," Crissy said evenly. "I've gotta get home."
"You ... don't think I'm doing it, do you?" Kevin said. "Because I swear --"
"Look," Crissy cut him off. "I've had a long and kind of weird day, and I'm not in the mood for an argument over who's keeping me out of your video game. You can give me a call if anything changes, okay?"
Kevin looked down guiltily. "I'm sorry. I'll find a way to get you in. I promise."
"Sure. See ya."
As Crissy left Kevin's house, she stopped and looked back for several seconds. Then she shook her head and walked straight for home, sticking her hand in her pocket and closing her fingers around the business card.