I fleshed out the conclussion more than I thought I would, so this isn't the finale quite yet.
I hope it doesn't overstay its welcome.
I hope it doesn't overstay its welcome.
The capital welcomed every race with open arms, or at least so was said. The reality was a bit different.
It was true that the beautiful elves of any land were hailed respectfully at the city, and the same could be said about most humans, though the Barbaric tribes were often frowned upon. Centaurs were respected because of their wisdom and strength, but they were too proud to live among others, so they rarely ventured to the capital and preferred to keep to themselves on the Eastern Kingdom. Mermaids were also too distrusting of others to be interested on Castle Ivory, and since there was only one important lake in the city, they didn’t have much business there. Nobody cared either way about having fairies around; unless you were a Dust smuggler and wanted to kidnap them. They weren’t very useful, but since they were pretty, people enjoyed their shiny presences. And of course, no giant had ever set a foot on the capital.
Even if the city was never as diverse as it was intended, at least it had been tolerant enough, but now not even that could be said. Things had changed radically ever since the Dark Sorceress took over.
Almost two years had passed since the players had been absorbed into the game’s universe, and Karina had already spread her reign of terror through most of the land. Castle Ivory was now her fortress, and it wasn’t either white or benign any more.
The citizens were mostly unharmed unless they directly opposed her regime: any resistance was instantly crushed by the Sorceress herself or by one of the many Wraiths and other dark beings who had joined her after she seized power.
Of course, being the Grand Mage herself, Odette was at the head of that movement. Barely a month ago she had finally reached the capital, after helping organize the defenses of the many victims she found during her travels.
She now lived in the woods around the city, waiting for the right moment to strike. And she wasn’t alone. After defeating a couple of robbers, she had found they had caught a little, defenseless fairy, probably looking for someone who would buy her dust. Odette had released her and had been quite surprised (an a little amused) when she discovered that the tiny woman was Dawn, her formerly tall friend.
Since then, Dawn had become Odette’s companion. She was now sitting at her shoulder, as they overlooked the devastated capital from the branches of a tall tree. The pretty fairy seemed downcast.
“Are you sure it’s really Karina?” she asked in her annoyingly squeaky voice.
“Yes, I’m afraid the Dark Sorceress is really your little sister,” said Odette with sadness. “I’m sorry, but it’s true. I saw it in one of my visions.”
“But how could she do this? She was a bit spoiled, but she could never… I mean, this is pure evil! She can’t be a wicked witch!”
“She is one in here,” shrugged Odette. “This is a role game after all. A very literal role game. Maybe she’s just in character, as we all are.”
“But she’s doing bad things to people!”
“She is, Dawn, but maybe this is just a game to her. We’ve been in her place before. Have you never played as an orc or a necromancer in other games? And you did dastardly things as those characters, because it was just playing.”
“But that was different. Those games were pretend. This is real. And she’s killed real people!”
Odette reflected on that.
“I don’t know. We are not sure how “real” this is. I don’t think anyone else is actually real here. They’re just characters. I think only the seven of us can be considered authentic people.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I hope that too, because I’ve killed too, if always in self-defense.”
Odette threw herself from the tree to the ground and, as always, she landed on her feet. Dawn glided gracefully alongside her.
“What’s our plan now that we’re here?” she asked. Odette thought it out.
“I need to get closer, I need to understand the Castle’s defenses if we’re to breach them.”
“But… you can’t! It’s too dangerous! They’ll recognize you and they’ll kill you! You’re the Grand Mage!”
“Luckily I am, because that means I can do this…”
Odette clapped her staff against the ground and she immediately started to change. It was over in a few seconds. She still was a blonde elf, but her face was much different, her body curvier and her clothes less elegant. Her staff was now also disguised as a bow.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot you could do that…”
“This form has been really useful, yes,” she said, looking down and admiring the realistic illusion she had projected around herself.
“How come you can do that and I was just turned into a shiny insect?”
Odette shrugged before turning around to face the city.
“Lucky dice, I guess.”
Mia waved her long honey-colored hair and smiled at the three fish swimming inside the glass water tank.
“Very soon, my friends, you shall be free,” she said cheerfully.
It was so strange having legs again and walking around, not to mention being in the open air instead of underwater, but she could bear it.
Suddenly, her chambers darkened and her smile vanished. That could only mean one thing. She turned to face the presence behind her.
Dark Sorceress Karina was stretched there, looking malevolent as usual.
“Still talking to them? I’ve told you, they can’t hear you.”
“I know, my lady.”
After her long journey, the mermaid princess had finally arrived to the capital two months ago. She had emerged in the middle of Castle Ivory’s lake and was immediately captured by Wraiths and conducted before Karina.
The Dark Sorceress had turned Mia’s three guards into fish and locked them into a tank. The princess had fared better: she was given human legs.
“You’ll live and be my servant,” she had declared, and then had proceeded to reveal her true identity.
Mia couldn’t believe that Dawn’s annoying sister was now this monster.
“Why don’t you destroy me?” the mermaid had asked. “I’ve heard all you’ve done. You’ve killed hundreds.”
“Oh, but you are different. All those people weren’t real. Just mere illusions conjured by the game, just like your fish guards. But you’re a player. I don’t wish you any harm, just to give you my gift. And of all the players, I think you’ll take what I have to offer with the most delight.”
“And what is it that you’re offering?”
“Staying in the game forever. That’s what you want, I do know it. And why wouldn’t you? You were a nerd, a nobody, in the outside world. In here you look like a model… you’re a real princess!”
Mia looked down.
“I can’t deny this is like a dream,” she admitted. “But it’s not our real life. We need the game to eventually end.”
“But why?!” Karina asked in fury. “Look at us here! I’m all powerful! Who cares about real life when we have EVERYTHING here?”
“I thought you mocked us when we played role games. You said it was silly to pretend being someone else. That’s why you called me a nerd, isn’t it?”
“But that was before! Now I’ve come to understand the appeal. This world is at my feet. I can make you, a princess, into my servant.”
“But... you’ve got plenty of servants already.”
“Wraiths and abominations, yes. All of them characters within the game. I need someone real to acknowledge my superiority. I want to collect all of you, especially my sister and the Grand Mage. And once you all bow before me, you’ll be free to do as you want in MY world.”
Mia didn’t answer.
“Think about it,” pressed Karina. “Once I win this war, we’ll remove that fake mother of yours from her Pearly Throne and I’ll make you Empress of all Seas.”