I got lost.
I mean, not so lost that I’d never make it back to civilization before I starved to death. Just lost enough that I could pretend I didn’t live in suburbia in 2020 for a few hours.
Renaissance, I thought to myself. Knights and lords and ladies. A simpler time where your enemies were known and you knew exactly how to deal with them; with a sword to be precise. These woods could be the King’s Forest – protected for the King’s pleasure. Perhaps I was a servant gathering deadwood for winter. Or maybe I was a woodsman, tasked with keeping trespassers out. Maybe I was tracking down a poacher!
Liking that idea, I knelt and examined the ground. Normally, if there were people around I would just casually look. But there was no one to see me – ‘lost’ as I was. Which was the point. A right-brainer like myself needs to jump start the creativity now and again and this little “create your own adventure” ad I saw in the classifieds on the local news site sounded like fun. So far, it had been.
We met at the park, were given some packs and then ushered onto a bus for a two hour drive to the closest National Park. On the way there we had opened our packs to discover some water, granola bars, paper, crayons (crayons? seriously? who puts crayons in an adult’s pack?), a pocket knife, a flashlight, and some rope. Upon arrival at a Park Ranger station we were given a few hiker safety instructions then told to simply wander and go have an adventure. This was an exercise meant to help jumpstart our creativity.
So I tried not to feel silly as I squatted and began poking around at the leaves and dirt on the ground. To my surprise, I did find some tracks. They were small but there were several sets of them. Or just one animal walking around all over the place. I wasn’t really sure. It looks liked a four-legged critter to me. And there was some spiney looking fur on some bushes nearby too. Maybe it was a raccoon? Or a porcupine? Or a hedgehog? Maybe a prickle of hedgehogs?
I guess I was really getting into my examination of the forest floor because I jumped when I heard a quiet, soprano voice about an inch away from my ear.
“Um, excuse me?”
“Gah!” I said and fell back against a tree. Some master woodsman I was if someone could sneak up on me like that so easily. Yay me! World’s shortest gig as a woodsman!
“I’m sorry!” The voice said. “I didn’t mean to startle you!”
I looked around but I didn’t see anyone. Someone hadn’t snuck up on me after all. Were there speakers wired into the trees? Probably, though I’m not sure how they would have managed to wire up the whole forest. I had headed off on my little adventure in a pretty random direction. Maybe someone super stealthy was following me with portable gear. I played along.
“That’s okay,” I said. I stood, brushing the dirt and leaves from my jeans. Looking around again I still failed to see anyone. I leaned against a tree and asked, “Where are you?”
The tree moved.
Not just a little bit either. The whole freaking tree sort of shivered and shook. I jumped away from it as a part of the tree’s trunk began to disentangle itself from the rest of the tree. Holy crap. I had to remind myself it wasn’t real but it looked so very, very real. It even sounded real. No single-direction sound that would be heard from a single speaker. My heart thudded in my chest as I watched the process of a small humanoid figure step out of the tree. Her skin was made of bark and her hair made of leaves. She was a dryad, I realized. My mind raced.
I have no idea how they were pulling it off but it was magnificent. Maybe some of the latest and greatest in the technology world. There were lots of rumors going around about all the big company’s next holographic projects.
Or maybe someone figured out how to make magic work in our world.(Please wait, your sarcasm font is loading.) Yeeeeessssss, I thought, That was it, technology and sorcery! Technorcery!
“I am here,” the dryad lady said, pulling me out of my technorcery train of thought. Her musical voice was a little stronger now that she wasn’t inside her tree. “My name is Mitinia and I need your help.”
Excellent! A quest!
A deep rumbling started in the distance and quickly rolled over us. Thunder? I looked up at the clear sky, slowly turning darker with the promise of a summer storm. Crap. It was supposed to be clear all day today. I was going to get soaked.
I looked back at Mitinia but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking toward the west. Toward the storm. Her eyes were very round as she looked back at me.
“Please,” she said, her voice so quiet, I barely heard it.
“What do you need?” I said, trying hard not to bounce up and down like an excited five year old. I was helping test new stuff! I couldn’t wait to get back to an internet connection and twitter. My friends were going to flip.
Mitinia reached a hand back inside the tree and pulled out an orb. It was a fist sized marble of clear glass. In the very center was a mote of light that glowed dimly. She held it out to me. It was gorgeous in it’s simplicity. Probably made with solar-powered fiber optic lighting but so cleverly designed I couldn’t see any bit of the electrical work.
Another crack of thunder rumbled through the forest. Strange that I had seen no flash of lightning before it. It sounded like the leading edge of the storm front was getting close very quickly. Then the wind came howling through on the heels of the thunder. It brought with it an unusual chill for this time of year. I looked up worriedly. Such a rapid temperature change with the sudden appearance of storm clouds usually meant tornado weather. But it was not tornado season.
“You are the worthy one. Take it.” Mitinia said, drawing my eyes back to hers. I found I could not look away, even when another boom shook the ground and made me think that the lightning strike could not have been very far away. I felt that she stared right into my soul. She let go of the orb, dropping it right into my outstretched hands. Then I was released from Mitinia’s gaze. I blinked and looked down at my hands. I didn’t remember lifting them up to take the orb.
The orb felt warm and comforting. It continued to glow, soft and steady. It seemed all the brighter now as the sky was getting darker and darker.
“Now,” Mitinia said, “Run.”
“Um, what?” I said, wittily.
“Run!” She said, more forcefully. Still I didn’t move, confused. This wasn’t much clear direction for an adventure. Run where? And why?
“RUN!” She yelled at me, throwing her hands up as if I were a bronco that needed encouragement to get out the open gate.
Startled, I took a step back from her. My hair stood on end and I felt prickly all over. Suddenly, I was afraid. Didn’t I read somewhere that this feeling meant lightning was going to strike nearby? Mitinia turned away from me and started gesturing with her hands. I didn’t stay to watch it, though a part of me wanted to. I just turned and started to run. I had only gotten about a dozen yards when I heard her scream. Then there was a brilliant flash of light, a booming roar, and I was knocked off my feet. The roar was so loud it was painful.
After a moment, I realized the noise was gone but my ears were still ringing. I tried to get to my feet but couldn’t even make it to my knees. I was dizzy. That lightning was real. Not, I was sure, intended as part of the game. I held still for a few minutes and the world eventually stopped spinning. Some of my hearing returned too though there was still a ring and a roaring.
Shakily, I got to my feet. Clutching the orb tightly in one hand, I turned back to Mitinia. She stood exactly where she had been, silhouetted by the light of her tree. Her burning tree. It must have been struck by the lightning.
“RUN!” Mitinia screamed, though she was not facing me. She raised her hands and a transparent wall of green light appeared in front of her. From the flames of her tree, a great beast rose. It roared, sounding like all the thunder in the world. I stifled a half-terrified, half-excited giggle. It looked like a balrog from Lord of the Rings.
“RUN!” Mitinia screamed again, startling me into motion again. Her voice was filled with such anguish that it twisted my gut. But I couldn’t get my feet to move right. I turned and lurched a few steps then looked over my shoulder again.
I was just in time to see the wanna-be-balrog bring both fists down on Mitinia’s wall and shatter it. She fell and the beast raised it’s fists again to bring them slamming down onto Mitinia’s body. I flinched and looked away, deciding I didn’t want to see if the gore of death in this holo projection was as detailed as the rest of it had been so far.
Obviously this was the bad guy. But I didn’t know how to beat him yet. So I ran away, still not sure of what direction I should be going. The thunder rumbled by me again. Then again. And again. It wasn’t long before I felt like the thunder was chasing me. A quick glance over my shoulder and I could see the glow of fire behind me. The beast may or may not be making the noise, but it certainly was chasing me.
Then the rain started to pour down in sheets. I was soaked almost instantly. I heard the monster shriek and howl. I grinned. Fire and water really don’t mix. I know this was supposed to be a brand new event (and possibly a beta test for some epic new software) but it seemed very polished to me. No kinks other than me not being clear on where to run. The team that was working with whatever technorcery they were using were able to adapt it and change it in real time to keep up with the actual weather!
That lightning was real enough, knocking me off my feet as it had. Just about scared the crap out of me too. But that crack team had taken that event and shaped it into something they could use for my adventure. Absolutely amazing.
So there I was, jogging through the rain in the middle of the woods, grinning like a fool when a hand shoots out of nowhere and grabs me!
To Be Continued on 2/9/2015