Millie made her way through the battleground with her mighty broadsword. The fighting was going well.
She knew enough about war, and she wasn’t naïve, so she did not entertain any fictions about winning the battle permanently. Yes, the centaurs were stronger, but the Wraiths had numbers in their favor. They were pushing them back momentarily, but that was all. Before long, the dark creatures would start regaining terrain.
But that didn’t matter. Millie’s plan involved a different course. The battle was just a way of getting into the city. She had now managed to do that, and she galloped at full speed towards Castle Ivory. If she managed to kill the Dark Sorceress, victory would be theirs despite the outcome of the battle.
Grand Mage Odette arrived to the Throne Room, flanked by her two friends, Dawn the tiny fairy and Mia the mermaid princess, who at the moment had legs.
The elf immediately raised her magical staff, ready to fend off the Dark Sorceress, but the place was seemingly empty. It was a large chamber, placed at the very highest tower of Castle Ivory. The throne itself was carved directly within the bones that formed the farthest wall. But like everything else in the castle, it had been blackened by the evil magic.
There was something else that differed from the Ivory Throne that Odette had seen illustrated on countless books of the lands she had visited: a heavy iron trunk full of chains and an enormous padlock, stored underneath the bony chair. As they looked at it, it stirred slightly, as if there were something alive inside trying to get out.
“Can you guess who is in there?” a malevolent voice hissed nearby.
They were all startled. Kneeling in front of the Throne was a figure that hadn’t been there a second before. It was a curvy elf woman with blue hair and white eyes, holding a staff of her own that was more like a gigantic and horrific axe. It was the Sorceress herself. Odette wasn’t too surprised that she knew how to become invisible.
“So we finally meet in here, Odette,” she said with a laugh. “You look much better than the last time we saw each other, though you still aren’t a match for me, and neither are your powers.”
The axe started to glow with a bluish hue, as Odette’s crystal shone red. Neither elf was moving, but they stared at each other in a battle of wills. If any of them failed, their staffs would be destroyed.
It soon became apparent that the Sorceress was indeed more powerful than the Mage. While Odette was struggling to maintain control, her enemy just smiled and permitted herself to center her attention elsewhere.
“Mia, I must say I’m disappointed in you. I expected your betrayal, to be honest, but it also served its purpose. I’ve been waiting for your friend to come here.”
Mia wanted to cry, but she didn’t. She glared defiantly at her captor.
“Still, I thought you valued the many gifts this world had for you, and treachery can’t go unpunished, so…” said the Sorceress. “I’ll take care of you later.”
Mia looked down at herself in time to see her legs fusing together and growing colorful scales again. Unable to stand anymore, she fell over the floor, fully back to her mermaid self. Though much more comfortable in this form, she couldn’t do anything to help her friends in the coming battle, not to mention there was no way to get into the water on time. She would die in a few hours… that if the Sorceress didn’t kill her first.
“You’re a monster!” said Dawn, staring at the dark elf with tears on her eyes. She had tried to deny that her little sister was really that bad, but now she knew. “What happened to you, Karina?”
The evil ruler looked at the tiny woman at the mention of her real name.
“A fairy? Ha! I hadn’t even noticed you there! And who…? Wait… Dawn, is that you?”
Karina laugh was long and chilling.
“Look at you, big sister! I’ve been waiting for you too, but I had no idea… I mean, it’s hilarious!”
Dawn just wanted to slap her smug face, but she knew she was powerless to take on her. Had she been a dragon still… but no, right now, Odette was the only shot they had at winning.
“So, you got here,” continued Karina. “The last spot of the board game. You’re supposed to win now, aren’t you? Yet the game is still on! Why would that be? So, care to take a guess? Who is in the iron chest?”
“The rest of our friends…” said Dawn horrified.
Karina laughed again.
“No, not at all! You’re the only players I’ve met so far” she confessed. “The one I got there is an old man who goes by the name of Gamemaster. He created all of this. He controls the game. Or well… he used to control it. I don’t think he expected me to be so powerful to actually defeat him and trap him in there. But I did, and now I am the Master of the Game!”
“So our next goal is self-evident…” said Odette.
Bringing out her full strength, which she had been saving, she managed to overpower Karina for a second. Her axe didn’t break, but the Sorceress was pushed away a couple of steps.
Ready to fight, Odette faced her opponent, pointing her staff at her while she produced a flaming ball with her other hand.
“Try to open that trunk, Dawn!” said the Grand Mage, releasing the fire against Karina.
The witch deflected it on time and got on her feet, her axe ready to meet Odette’s staff.
Dawn tried to fly in direction of the Throne, but she wasn’t fast enough. Karina slapped at her and the small fairy fell against the ground, next to Mia, her little wings too hurt to take flight again.
The battle between the two powerful elves was extravagant. Spells flew around as their weapons swung against each other. It wasn’t clear who would win, since they looked evenly matched, at least in the inexperienced eyes of Dawn and Mia. Karina’s power was raw and wilder, but Odette’s practiced and elegant attacks kept her at bay.
Finally, it looked like the Dark Sorceress was getting tired, and for an instant it appeared like Odette would disarm her. But then, Karina took advantage of a well-placed attack and withdrew towards the Throne, putting some distance between her and her enemy.
Then, she hit the floor with the tip of her axe and a gigantic blue force field erupted around it, protecting both Karina herself and the chest below the Throne.
“You can’t win!” she teased from inside her glowing bubble. “Maybe I can’t defeat you, but you can’t get to the chest either, and I just have to wait! You have nowhere to go! The city is surrounded by thousands of my wraiths. Once they defeat the centaurs, they’ll come for you!”
“I don’t know,” said Odette, trying to hide how exhausted she also was. “It seems to me like Millie could win that battle.”
“For a while, maybe. But even centaurs can’t fight forever. Wraiths don’t tire, they’re not living beings! Before long those centaurs will be slaughtered, and then they’ll come for you and trap you.”
Dawn wanted to think that Odette had another plan, but that didn’t seem to be the case. So they were truly doomed.
“And don’t expect any help from the outside,” continued Karina. “This field I’ve created is too powerful. There’s nothing that could…”
The whole castle trembled. Something had hit the walls with such strength that everyone thought it had to be an earthquake.
One side of the tower shattered with the clash, and Karina’s defensive spell flickered before vanishing entirely. Half the castle had fallen, and they were now facing the outside, most of the Throne Room’s walls completely destroyed.
The person responsible for the strike was immediately revealed. Standing beside the tower, almost as tall as it, there was an enormous blonde woman: a giantess.
Mia stared at the massive features in front of her and gasped. Despite the fact that she was so large, and that she had aged a couple of decades, she could recognize the face of her best friend. Her usually very young, very little friend.
“Alexandra?” she called.
The Queen of the Giants didn’t listen. She fell on her knees, too tired to even raise her fingers again. She had managed to destroy the Dark Sorceress’ powerful shield, but the magic had taken its toll on her. She looked weakly at the small creatures inside.
Karina seemed shaken and afraid for the first time, but she was quickly recovering. She used her axe as support to get back on her feet and laughed dismissively again.
“Very impressive… a giantess. One of the biggest ones, I think. But she has also failed, as you all have.”
But Alexandra’s attack, if brief, had served a purpose. The castle’s defenses were completely down. Anyone could enter now. And someone did.
Jumping across one of the enormous holes in the walls with her powerful legs, Millie had finally arrived to get her revenge. Before Karina could even react, she took the broadsword across her back and swung it cleanly through her enemy’s axe, which shattered with a blue explosion.
The Dark Sorceress was positively terrified. The centauress seemed ready to take off her head with her next strike.
“Prepare to die, witch,” Millie said in her fierce voice. “Vengeance is mine.”
“No, Millie, don’t kill her!” someone said behind her… an elf dressed in red. “It’s me… Odette. You can’t kill her! She’s not a character! She’s a real person, she’s Karina!”
“She’s my sister!” said Dawn weakly from the floor “Please don’t harm her, Millie.”
The centauress captain hesitated for a second, and taking advantage of that, Karina got back to her feet. Even without her axe, she was a formidable fighter. She produced quick spells from her hands which Odette and Millie deflected with their weapons, but that wasn’t slowing down the Sorceress.
“She got more powerful!” noted Odette, panting.
“It was Millie’s inner darkness that did it,” commented Karina with a smirk. “For a second there, she really wanted to kill me! Can you believe that? Your meek friend is full of rage, and I fed with that. You can’t stop me now.”
Mille was pushed aside. Odette was about to fall too, but then she smiled, looking over Karina’s shoulder.
“We can’t stop you, but maybe she can.”
The Sorceress looked at the Throne. Sitting casually in there, her bow pointing directly at the iron chest’s lock, there was a large Amazon woman.
Nobody had noticed it when Charlene, the barbarian Forest Dweller had quietly entered Castle Ivory behind Odette and Dawn, just when Mia had opened the doors.
She had crawled unnoticed towards the Throne Room, agile as a monkey and silent as a shadow. She had listened to every conversation and seen every battle, and had patiently waited for her moment. Every time Karina attacked one of her friends, Charlene got closer and closer to the Throne.
Now there she was, one of her explosive flaming arrows pointed directly towards the prize. The Dark Sorceress’ fastest spell couldn’t prevent what was about to happen, so she just stared in horror at the chest.
Smiling teasingly, Charlene released the string. The padlock exploded and the chest opened itself.
It was empty.
It was Karina who had spoken. She looked at the vacant box in disbelief. And the voice that responded was that of a stranger:
“You didn’t think I would wait patiently in there, did you? And miss all the fun that’s been going all around the game?”
They all turned in the direction of the lovely voice that had just spoken.
Striding slowly downstairs there was a beautiful woman, clad in a white dress so bright it was almost hurtful to see.
“Gamemaster?” asked Karina dumbfounded. “But… but… you were an old geezer!”
The powerful being smiled kindly.
“I can take any form imaginable. That’s what you wanted me to be that day at the dungeons, so that’s how I revealed myself to you. But this is my true form… or close enough. There was a time, thousands of years ago, when I was just a little human girl, not much younger than you all really are. But I lived in a different world than yours, one that was a lot like the one you’ve seen here.”
The Gamemaster looked around her with a sad smile.
“It was a dangerous but beautiful realm, until it was destroyed by a magical cataclysm. I was the only survivor, chosen by the Gods because of my creativity. They made me almost like them. They invested me with their powers of creation.”
“Why?” asked Odette.
“So that a part of my world would survive. My homeland only lives in my memory, but now others can experience through this game I’ve created. Of course, it’s only an echo of the real one, but it feels real to you, doesn’t it?”
The Gamemaster looked proud of that achievement.
“So the actual purpose of the game is… to have humans share the experiences from your extinct world?” asked the giantess Alexandra, who was recovering slowly.
“Yes, what you’ve experienced was mostly real in a different time and place. There were giants in my world, and there was a war between the Fenneris and the Mirells, not much different from what you experienced. Of course, the decisions you make affect the outcome, which might differ from the historical one… mostly, at least. Like in every game, there were certain paths that each of you was meant to follow.”
“But…” this time it was Karina who spoke. She still looked the most confused of them all. “Even for me? I wasn’t a player! You told me I was the villain, I… I went off-script and kidnapped you!”
The woman smiled delightfully.
“No, you didn’t. You were meant to think you went off-script, but you did exactly what I needed you to do when you caught me. Or rather, when I pretended to be caught. You know, Karina, maybe you’re not as evil as you think you are, you were just doing what the game required!”
Karina seemed crestfallen.
“But you played your role wonderfully. You’re a natural for this kind of game! We’ve had many people playing our villains through the years, but you were one of the most convincing ones!”
Karina looked imploringly at Dawn.
“I would have never harmed you, I promise,” she said. “None of you. I just wanted you to…”
But Dawn, who was once again able to fly, looked at her sternly.
“You did very bad things in here, Karina!”
“Now, don’t judge her too harshly,” the Gamemaster said. “You’ve all noticed how your personalities changed to fit the characters you’ve become. Hers did too. Also, unlike the rest of you, she had talked to me, and she knew this was just a game to its full extent. She was just playing… But yes, part of what she did came from her own actual nature, from things she has felt inside all along.”
“Like her hate for us!” said Dawn, who still seemed mad at her sister.
“No, no, I’ve never hated you! I… Okay, I’ve been kind of an asshole to all of you, but you were once too, and I bet you don’t even remember it!” said Karina.
Dawn was shocked.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember when we were all younger, the first time you came around to the house to play role games with your friends? I really wanted to join, but you pushed me aside because you didn’t want to play with your uncool little sister any more. I was really sad, so I decided to hate the games, and be horrible to your friends, because I was really jealous of them!”
Despite her mature appearance, at the moment Karina was acting very much like the young girl she really was inside. Gone were her evil impulses and brashness. She was scared and vulnerable again.
In fact, all the other girls also noticed that the personality traits they had gained inside the game were gone. Odette didn’t feel as wise anymore, or Mia so conceited. But the one who felt the strangest was Millie. She wasn’t brave and aggressive anymore. She was back to her shy self, and she felt mortified about being a half-naked centauress in front of her friends.
“I just wanted to be like you, Dawn,” continued Karina. “And in this world, I had the chance to make you and your friends look up to me. I’m sorry if I got too caught up in that.”
“But why didn’t you tell me how you felt?” asked Dawn.
“I don’t think girls our age are very comfortable expressing their true feelings,” sobbed Karina. “It was much easier for me to pretend that you were all losers and that I was much better. But I guess that’s what every bully does. I have no excuse.”
Dawn embraced her sister. It was a funny sight, the curvy elf hugging a tiny fairy while trying not to squash her.
“So, what happens to us now?,” asked Mia from the floor, still a bit uncomfortable on dry land because of her large tail. “Will we get back home now that the game is over?”
“Yes,” said the Gamemaster with simplicity, but then she turned to look at Charlene, who was still sitting on the Throne. “But we have a winner, don’t we? And that has to count for something.”
Charlene got up. Despite still being tall and athletic, she felt awkward and underdressed again for the first time since her change. She wasn’t looking forward to going back to her chubby body.
“What does that mean?” she asked timidly.
“Well, you all have to go back home. That’s mandatory,” said the Gamemaster. “But as the winner, you get to pick the exact conditions of your return.”
“So you powers can also reshape our world?” asked Millie curiously.
“I’m a demigodess with powers of creation, so yes.”
Everyone looked intently at Charlene, who felt pressed to make her choice. The Gamemaster approached her too and they talked lowly for a while.