Author: DiamondSkies13 PM
Kendra is wrapped up in a conspiracy that she doesn't understand. Devon is a college dropout with an insatiable appetite for video games. Vincent is a figment of somebody else's imagination. Kristina just needs to be rescued. Shall we begin?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Chapters: 2 - Words: 9,618 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 05-05-11 - Published: 04-17-11 - id: 2908307
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: I haven't written anything in awhile and thought I'd give this a whirl. Reviews and con crit would be much appreciated
Chapter One: Down the Rabbit Hole
Kendra was bored.
It wasn't t the itchy, restless strain of boredom that afflicted her – the kind that strikes one on a rainy day and compels them to learn a new recipe or clean their whole house. Instead it was a slowly simmering boredom that had begun to infect everything she did. She didn't have many friends, her parents were wrapped up in their wildly successful trading company, and her first semester of college felt uninspired at best. She wanted to make a bold move to stimulate something that she felt was missing inside of herself– perhaps find a sketchy but attractive guy with a motorbike and invite danger by following him around for awhile, but another opportunity came her way before she had a chance to do so.
Looking back on that night, all she remembered before he appeared was lying awake thinking about how the cracks in the ceiling looked like tiny, concrete spiderwebs.
Kendra's insomnia had a tendency to rear its ugly head whenever she had important things to do the next day, and the eve of her daunting chemistry final was no exception. She lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling, tracing the cracks with her sight and imagining tiny, concrete spiders scurrying about to their homes and families. It was then that she first heard the tapping at her window.
Tap, tap. Tap, tap.
She dismissed it at first, writing it off as the product of her always lively imagination. She turned her thoughts to the upcoming exam and began to mentally cycle through chemistry formulas, but the tapping persisted despite her best efforts to ignore it.
Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.
She groaned and pulled her goose feather pillow up around her ears. She would stay put – the idea that anybody would be tapping at her window at one o' clock in the morning was absurd. After a certain point, however, once the tapping had crossed the threshold of full-blown knocking, Kendra couldn't justify ignoring the strange noises any longer.
Knock, knock. Knock, knock. Knock, knock, knock.
"There's absolutely nothing there," she assured herself as she threw her legs over the side of her bed and padded across the plum carpet. "You're just going bananas from way too much studying."
She reached her bedroom window and peeled back a tiny corner of her lilac curtains to peer outside, and what she saw struck her as weirder than anything she could have imagined.
A bright yellow cloud was bobbing up and down in stark contrast to the dull blackness of night. Sitting on top of it was a boy who looked to be in his early twenties with his legs crossed and his arms folded. He wore a loose-fitting button up red shirt that hung off of his lean frame like a drape and wide black gaucho pants, and the whole ensemble looked to Kendra like something out of one of her twelve year old cousin's kung fu movies. He was blonde with thin, shiny hair that traveled down the nape of his neck. And he was staring right at her.
Before she could stop herself, she emitted a shrill squeak and dropped the curtain, rubbing her eyes in disbelief. She peeked through it again and saw annoyance brewing in his eyes as he glanced pointedly at the window latch. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the window back just slightly enough so that he could hear her.
"Can I help you?"
"Not exactly," he smirked, but it was hollow. "I'm here to help you."
Kendra didn't say aloud that disturbing her at one in the morning the night before her chemistry final was hardly considered helpful by her standards. What she said instead was, "If this is some newfangled way of trying to sell me something, I would appreciate it if you would stick to normal business hours."
The boy didn't respond. Instead, he leaned forward and shoved his hand into the crack of her window, pushing it back until a human-sized rectangle had emerged. Then, before Kendra could visibly react, he'd leapt nimbly from his seat on the cloud into the middle of her bedroom.
"This is hardly a sales call," he said, dusting off his pant legs. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she edged up against the windowsill, feeling mesmerized and trapped by this stranger. A rabbit's quick heartbeat thudded audibly through her chest.
"I swear, if you come near me, I will scream so loud that the cops in their donut shops on the other side of town will be here in ten minutes."
He rolled his eyes but kept his distance. "This is so frustrating. You don't know it yet, but I'm actually doing you a favor."
Kendra's eyes darted briefly out the window to the yellow puff of smoke that still floated idly in the night sky, and she wondered if it might support her as easily as it had him.
"Why are you here then?" she demanded, gripping the windowsill so hard that her knuckles began to whiten. Her inner monologue urged her to jump and use the cloud as an escape vehicle, but she didn't trust it to respond to her the way it had to him.
He lowered his gaze to the carpet for a few precious seconds, collecting his thoughts before he spoke.
"Your sister's in trouble."
Whatever she'd expected to hear, it wasn't that. "Kristina?" she blurted out.
"Yes," the boy nodded gravely.
Her gnawing terror began to give way to curiosity, because she was positive this boy did not know her older sister. She chose her words next words carefully, just in case this boy was a psychotic admirer of Kristina's looking for some clue to her whereabouts.
"Kristina's been living out-of-state for two years. She's probably fast asleep in her apartment right now. What do you know about her?"
He shrugged. "I've never actually met her. But I do know that she's the oldest daughter of the CEO of Cirkland Enterprises, which is due for a regime change due to your father's retirement."
"So you know current events. Congratulations, you can use the internet," she quipped.
"This fact has made her some powerful enemies. There are people that want to get their hands on the company, and it's well known that Kristina was being groomed by your father to take over after his retirement. She was kidnapped from her apartment in New York about three hours ago."
"That's insane," she said tersely. "You expect me to believe that my sister's been kidnapped based on some Wall Street gossip fodder?'
"Kendra, I was floating outside your window on a cloud. You might want to re-think your definition of insane."
Kendra waved away his words. "I don't know what kind of cheap party trick that was, but I'm not buying it."
"Call Kristina then," he insisted, rising to her bait. "See if she picks up."
Wordlessly, Kendra darted across the room to her nightstand, picked up her cell-phone, and punched in her sister's number in record time. The boy eyed her pityingly as the call went straight to voicemail and shook his head as he watched her dial in vain again and again.
"Hi, you've reached Kristina Cirkland. I'm not able to make it to the phone right now…"
Her eyes turned on him accusingly, and pinpricks of sapphire blue rooted him the spot. "What have you done to her?"
He sighed ruefully. "Kendra, I don't enjoy being the bearer of bad news. Think about it logically. I wouldn't be here if I'd had anything to do with this."
"Why are you here then? How do you know about this? How do you know my name?"
Her thoughts began whirling inside of her like a tornado, spinning her out of control and past any hope of logical reasoning. She wanted to lash out and do something outrageous – punch her headboard or perhaps wring the skinny neck of the mysterious stranger until he confessed that this was all a giant hoax. Seeming to sense her distress, the boy appeared behind her in a flash and encircled her with his arms, pinning her smaller ones to her sides until her breathing became less frenzied.
"Where is she?"
He whispered soothingly in her ear. "Calm down Kendra. She's going to be all right. I can't take you to her until you calm down."
She wriggled in his arms but he held her taut with a strength she wouldn't have imagined he possessed. Gradually, her breathing became less shallow and her hysteria began to subside, but the boy still did not release her.
"You're going to take me to her?" She felt him nod into the back of her head.
"Only if you want me to," he amended. "I will warn you that there is no surefire guarantee that you can save her, and there are…risks…involved in trying."
"Fine," she spat out instantly. "Now let me go." He loosened his hold on her and she tore away from him, putting a generous amount of distance between them.
"You sure you don't want to take a moment to think about it? Maybe chew it over with a Twix?"
She shook her head, and he appraised her calmly from across the room, taking in her tear-streaked cheeks, disheveled pajamas, and white blonde hair sticking out from every direction. But she stood tall with her fists balled and her eyes ablaze with fury, and some instinctual part of him was satisfied that he'd chosen the right candidate for the job ahead.
"Hitch up your cloud buggy thing while I put on some clothes, and let's go before I change my mind," she said as she crossed the room to her chest of drawers and pulled out her most comfortable jeans. He turned away out of modesty until she was clad in her jeans and a green sweatshirt, and then he led the way to the windowsill where the cloud did a flip of joy in the air – she supposed upon recognizing its master.
He stepped onto it with ease and then held her hand as she clambered onto it after him. She situated herself so that she was centered on it, unsure of how a substance she knew to be water vapor was able to withstand her weight, but before she had time to mull it over any further, she was spirited away from her bedroom window. She peered over her shoulder and watched as her two-story brick house morphed into a speck in the distance. The ride was surprisingly smooth and she found herself relaxing into it, clutching the boy securely as the cloud-mobile twisted and turned through the night sky. The twinkling city lights below her soothed her like a visual lullaby, and for a split second she was able to forget the dark nature of her journey until the boy's voice brought it all crashing down on her again. He pushed a scrap of cloth into her hand as he spoke to her.
"In a second, you're going to have to wear this as a blindfold," he cautioned her. "We'll be going too fast for you to risk keeping your eyes open."
She glanced at the bandana in bewilderment. "This is nuts," she mumbled. "I should have just called the cops on you."
"Good luck with that," he retorted loudly, and she wondered how he'd heard her whisper with the wind roaring in his ears. "I'm not exactly on file."
"What, are you like an illegal immigrant or something?"
He threw his head back and laughed, but to her it sounded more like he was trying to simulate laughter than experiencing actual mirth. "Yeah, I'm something like that. Oh, time to put the blindfold on!"
She threw the bandana over her eyes and tied it behind her, squeezing her eyes shut for added measure. Something in the atmosphere shifted around her and the howling wind quieted down to a dull whisper. She felt as if she were hovering somewhere outside of space and time, and for some reason, despite the blindfold, her sight became flooded with the color pink. For a few short seconds she floated there with him, suspended in this supernatural cavity of a place that she couldn't identify.
The wind reappeared as suddenly as it had gone, rushing past her like a strong current in her eardrums, and she hesitantly peeked through the blindfold. Her eyes widened in astonishment when she realized that they were traveling through a place where dusk was only beginning to fall, though it had been past midnight in her bedroom mere moments ago. A field of enormous redwood trees lay beneath them for as far as her sight extended, and she felt as if she'd been plunged into another universe altogether. The cloud slowed until it was hovering far above the treetops, and she thought she could make out the shimmer of a body of water through the branches. The boy turned to face her and regarded her with an unfathomable expression, and she fiddled with the strings on her sweatshirt self-consciously.
"Where the hell are we?" she asked him. "And why'd we stop? Are we going to camp out here for the night?"
His eyes darted to the left so fast that she almost missed it. "Yeah, sort of."
"What do you mean sort of?" she pestered. "And can you at least tell me your name, please?"
He sighed heavily and withdrew his hands from the sleeves of his baggy shirt.
"It's Vincent," he told her, and that was the last thing she registered before his strong arms gripped hers and threw her into the dusty sky.
He sped out of the forest like lightning so that he would not hear her screams as she spiraled down towards the earth.
Devon Palmer had been having an extremely discouraging morning so far. First, he'd overslept and missed a dentist's appointment, and then his girlfriend had called and berated him for twenty minutes over forgetting Earth Day or something similarly trivial. After rescheduling his dentist appointment and promising Nicole that he would take her to her favorite environmentally friendly coffee shop the next morning, he decided to escape into the world of Quest Sphere for the afternoon to blow off some steam. But after donning his virtual reality helmet and teleporting into Quest Sphere, his string of bad luck continued with him being immediately ambushed by a strangely powerful alliance in the wilderness.
A group of five men rushed him, each riding his own Dark Pegasus, which itself was cause for alarm since the Dark Pegasus character had to be unlocked by players who had leveled up to a ridiculous degree. Two of them jumped off immediately and engaged him in swordplay while another two remained on their horses and fired flaming arrows at his feet, so that he was forced to dodge and strike simultaneously. The fifth had been encircled by the other four, creating a shield of blinding white light that hovered around the large bundle of cloth he held in his arms. All five assailants were clothed head to toe in long, draping black cloaks that whirled around them as they attacked. Each wore a black mask with only an eye-slit visible for his eyes to peer through, and every glance Devon caught them in held no trace of human sympathy. Each strike they made was smooth, precise, and loaded with merciless intent.
Finally, Devon's health had been depleted enough to where his only option was to flee into the densest part of the forest and hope that his attackers had more urgent desires to attend to than pursuing a defeated player. He turned and fled on instinct, shooting a deception spell behind him that would create duplicates of himself to run in various directions and confuse his attackers. Adrenaline moved like an invisible hand on his back, pushing him forward and picking him up when he stumbled as he raced through the clusters of trees, not daring to pause for breath.
Eventually, the deep evergreens and the mystery of the black assailants began to fade into the distance as the wilderness opened up into the bustling town of Planto Fortuna, a place where players often rested or restocked their supplies before braving the unknown wilderness. The wilderness was the only area of Quest Sphere where players could openly attack or steal from one another, and the landscape of it was constantly shifting. You could save your game while skipping through a field of daisies and picking off Level Twos like an irritating fungus and then come back to the game two hours later and be in a skull-ridden graveyard doing battle with Level Fifty-Fives. The opportunity to test one's skill as a fighter combined with the constant presence of chance made it one of the biggest attractions that Quest Sphere had to offer, and enterprise in Planto Fortuna flourished as a result.
Devon pocketed his wand and made his way down the crowded thoroughfare that ran through the town's center, waving away the constant stream of would-be entrepreneurs trying to sell him such nonsense as an enchanted sword that could never dull or a clover talisman that guaranteed every victory to the wearer. A rather haggard woman pushing a cart of apples that would replenish one's health by three points came barreling down the center of the road, and Devon reached out to flag her down and bought a dozen. With a swish of his wand, he shrunk them down to microscopic size and swallowed them three at a time as if they were pain relievers.
He continued down the road past Fortune's Folly, the town brewery where groups of husky men constantly sat on the front stoop clinking beer mugs, and the town bank, until he reached the Three Leaf Clover Inn. The Inn was a three-story wooden building with a huge windmill off to one side and a golden three leaf clover protruding from its pointed roof. The clover was inscribed with the city's motto: Planto Vestri Fortuna, which was Latin for "Make Your Luck" and served as the guiding principle for all those players who gravitated towards the risks innate to the wilderness.
Devon had planned to make a reservation for that evening and fully restore his health but first decided to take a side-trip to a small stream that ran through a wooded area just outside of Planto Fortuna. He strode outside of the city limits and followed the familiar pathway until he found the stream, twinkling blue under the sunlight as always. One of the biggest selling points of virtual reality to Devon was the fact that he constantly felt like he was walking through a landscape painting. There was no shortage of beauty in the Quest Sphere universe, and one didn't have to book expensive flights and Niagra Falls tours to witness it. He didn't bother disrobing before submerging himself in the water and soaking his body to rid it of the musky wilderness scent that he could smell permeating from him.
For no apparent reason, he felt a spike in his consciousness. It felt almost as if a grand shift in the cosmos had occurred – like some unseen force had rearranged the stars above.
Suddenly, a body fell out of the sky.
His wand arm acted of its own accord and extended towards the body, shooting forth a streak of gold sparks that enveloped the body like a firework and sank it slowly to the ground. He had managed to slow its fall but had not completely been able to stop the impact, and so he raced over to it to assess the damage and see if he could offer any help to whoever it was.
The first thing he noticed was that the body belonged to a female. The second thing he noticed was that her chest was moving, which meant that she was still alive. The third thing he noticed was the green sweatshirt and jeans she was wearing, which were entirely alien in Quest Sphere. These were clearly clothes that had come from her real life, which branded her as a first-time player.
Her eyes fluttered open. The fourth thing he noticed was that she had the most stunning blue eyes that he'd ever seen.
He was entranced by her for a moment until he remembered that he had a mostly unconscious body on his hands. He crouched down beside her and waited to see what she would do. Her arms quivered like jelly, but finally she managed to pull herself into a sitting position, and she rubbed her eyes blearily as she took in her surroundings.
"Where am I?" She blinked several times after saying this, as if she expected the scenery to change.
"You're right outside of Planto Fortuna," Devon answered with an amicable smile. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up, and you can stay at the Three Leaf Clover tonight and heal fully."
The girl cocked her head. "What?"
"Right, I forgot that you're a new player. I don't know how you ended up here – new players generally stay in the town of Principium until they've leveled up a bit more. We're right outside of the wilderness where you can get attacked by other players, so it's lucky you didn't fall much further."
Kendra's expression still looked like she thought he was speaking Chinese. "I'm sorry, but I really don't know what you're talking about. You were saying something about wilderness, players, and a plant fort?"
Devon couldn't suppress a chuckle at her use of "plant fort". "No, we're in Planto Fortuna. It's one of the most difficult cities to get to in all of Quest Sphere."
"Quest Sphere?" she parroted as she wrinkled her nose. "Isn't Quest Sphere some kind of video game?"
"Yes, Quest Sphere," Devon replied slowly, beginning to wonder if perhaps she'd severely bumped her head when she'd fallen. "You're playing Quest Sphere right now."
"No, I'm not," she asserted, her voice growing stronger. "I'm lying in the middle of a strange place with a man I don't know, and some weird ninja showed up at my window riding a cloud last night to tell me that my sister's been kidnapped, and then he brought me here and tried to kill me, and I'm supposed to have a chemistry final this morning." She glared stoically at him, silently daring him to tell her that she was spouting nonsense.
"Wow, and I thought I was having a crappy day," he empathized. "I'm Devon, by the way."
"I'm Kendra," she reciprocated after a moment. Her arms were clasped tightly around her knees, pulling her legs close as if she suspected that they'd flee from her at the first opportunity.
"Well it's nice to meet you Kendra," Devon finally said when she offered no further introduction. "I wish it were under pleasanter circumstances."
"You're telling me," she sighed, and he detected more than a trace of bitterness. "You just told me that I'm in a video game. How in the hell am I supposed to get home from here? Click my heels three times?"
Devon chuckled, finally electing to sprawl on the ground next to her with his palms thrust backwards into the dirt. "You can just take off your virtual reality helmet," he explained. "There should be a tiny switch behind your right ear, and you just push up on it to return to wherever you were when you started playing."
Kendra feebly raised her right arm up to her ear and massaged the tiny area behind it, but she came in contact with nothing but skin. "There's nothing there," she whispered, willing herself not to start panicking again. "I don't think this is virtual reality for me. I think I'm really here."
Devon did not appear bothered by her appraisal of the situation. "That's impossible. Quest Sphere is a virtual reality system. It's creating perceptions of a fake universe for us, but it's not like you could be physically teleported somewhere else."
"Look, I'm not pretending to know how this works, okay? Feel for yourself if you don't believe me," she snapped, more harshly then she'd meant to.
His hand hesitantly crept up behind her ear, fingers reaching for the familiar touchstone that had transported him out of the game countless times before. Just as she'd predicted, he felt nothing but a smooth patch of skin at first, but a moment later something drummed under his fingertips that alarmed him even further.
It was barely distinguishable, but it was her pulse.
"W-what the fuck?" he stammered, yanking his hand away as if she'd electrocuted him. "That should be impossible!"
"It should be, but it's happening," Kendra said logically, and there was silence for a moment as Devon sat with his brows furrowed, reeling from this new development.
"How did you say you got here again?"
"Well, I'm not a hundred percent sure. I was in bed, and this boy showed up at my window riding a yellow cloud, and he told me my sister had been kidnapped by evil business executives and that he would take me to her. So he brought me here," she gestured to the space around them, "and then pushed me off his cloud, and you did some kind of voodoo magic that saved my life, and now here we are. Ugh, and my head is killing me."
"I see," he said absently, mulling over this information and trying to fit the pieces of this bizarre puzzle into something he could comprehend. "Did that guy tell you his name?"
Kendra didn't respond, and when he looked over at her, he saw that she was lying flat on her back again with an arm shielding her eyes.
"Kendra?" he said as he nudged her shoulder softly. "Kendra, can you hear me?"
"Vincent," she mumbled softly, and he leaned over her as he strained to decipher her words.
"His name was Vincent?"
"Or maybe it was Elvis....but no. He was blond. There isn't a blond Elvis."
Her voice sounded as if it was coming from some faraway dream, and he realized that she was no longer conscious of what she was saying. He was now faced with the dilemma of what to do with the sleeping girl, and he glanced around at the scenery as if waiting for some kind of omnipotent inspiration to strike him. The lush greenery rose up around them in all directions, and in the distance he could hear the rumble of the waterfall that flowed into the ravine beside them. The world was tranquil and still, but he couldn't justify leaving the injured girl to her own devices now that an actual human life hung in the balance. He knelt down and wedged his hands underneath her so that he could scoop her into his arms, mentally cursing his arsenal of magic for not containing a shrinking or floating spell that worked on human targets. She nestled deep into his arms as he strode through the forest, having decided that their destination for the evening would be the Three Leaf Clover Inn, where they could both rack up some health before devising some way to send Kendra back to wherever she came from.
On the outskirts of the city, a blonde boy watched the pair of them disappear through the bulky, wooden doors of the hotel lobby before he blended himself into the city's crowd and vanished, satisfied that something significant had been set in motion.