The old man gave me the biggest grin I’d ever seen. It made me question if he really was an actor or if he was a hologram. His smile didn’t quite look human it was so large and toothy.
“That’s good child. Because now there’s an Arrgorak out there we need to deal with. How do you propose we handle it?”
“Me?” I squeaked. My throat must have been dry. “I don’t know anything about it! Or how to use this thing to beat it!”
“You are the creator!” He said with a snort, “You have the Spark! You must create things and use the Spark to bring them to life to do your bidding! To defeat the monster! Come now, you must know how all the good stories go! They all have their dragons that need defeating.”
“Yeah, but how?”
“Do you have something to create with?”
It took me a minute to remember my small pack and the paper and crayons that were inside. This must have been what they were for! I pulled them out. “Okay, now what?”
He shrugged, “Draw something.”
“A cactus? Why?”
He shrugged again. “Because I’ve never seen one before.”
Okay, that wasn’t weird or anything. Had he never heard of the internet? Well, of course not! I told myself sternly. He might really be an actor who had a posh apartment with a good fiber connection but that’s not who he was right now. He was supposed to be a hermit living in the woods giving random objects of power to people, handing them a neat backstory with it and arming them with the knowledge of how to defeat Big Foot. Of course, this Big Foot was on fire. And sounded like thunder. And rode lightning.
I wasn’t a famous artist or anything but I had been drawing doodles since I could hold a crayon so it only took a few seconds to draw a simple cactus. I held it up. “Okay, here’s a cactus. Now what?”
“You must give the Spark a breath so it can breathe life into the cactus.” He looked at me as if expecting me to know what that meant. I didn’t and stared at him blankly until he rolled his eyes and demonstrated with his hands.
“Hold the Spark in front of your mouth like so,” He posed his hand as if holding an orb of his own about two inches from his mouth. “Then blow through it onto the thing you made that you want to come to life. Hold the image in your head of what you want it to be when you do this.”
“What if I just breathe and don’t think about it?”
“It won’t work. Your drawing might come alive on the paper but on the paper it will remain. It will not become real and leave the page.”
“Okay,” I said then held up the orb and the drawing as he had shown. I blew gently against the orb.
“No, no!” He said, voice taking on a scolding tone, “I said give it a breath. Don’t breathe on it all huh-huh like you are going to polish up something shiny. A full breath!”
Admonished, I took a deeper breath and blew hard against the orb. As I did, I felt as if the air was sucked right out of my lungs, leaving me gasping. The light in the orb flared three times. On the third flash my picture disappeared and was replaced by a live cactus. It stood twelve inches tall in a round, red pot on the floor in front of me.
I looked up at the old man and saw there were tears glimmering in his eyes. “Ah, it has been a long time since anyone chose to take up the Spark in order to create with it.”
He came forward and knelt next to the pot, examining it thoroughly like an eager child. He touched it, pricking a finger on a needle but he didn’t flinch. He just examined his finger and the needle that had pricked it. The hologram technology was incredibly precise because it was able to draw in the bead of blood on the old man’s finger. But, in my opinion, the actor should have flinched in order to make the effect more real. Of course, this was a beta test. Maybe he would flinch in the future, he was probably just focused on not breaking character for my sake.
The sky darkened noticeably outside the cave. There was a flash and a rumble.
“The Arrgorak is coming, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes. Creating is different than the transforming you did earlier. It draws him to you. Best get to work and create some weapons to fight him with. This is where you can draw some real grenades and not lose the Spark by throwing them.” He winked.
I grinned and set to work. Heeding the old man’s warning that each creation drew the Arrgorak closer to me, I assumed I would only be able to create a certain number of things before it found us. Ultimately I decided on a sword, (because swords are awesome, shut up) the One Ring (sans freaky whispered temptations and the burning eye of Sauron whenever you put it on), a pistol, and instead of grenades I went with something a little more point and shoot. I had no idea how modern RPGs worked and only a vague idea of what they looked like. So I settled for the old fashioned version. A simple chinese hand cannon. The kind that sat on your shoulder and shot a nice sized shell when you lit the fuse.
Each creation brought the thunder closer until the old man laid a hand on my shoulder. “Best you make your next piece into something protective for yourself then we need to get out of my home. I don’t want it to be destroyed by your brawl with the Arrgorak.”
I nodded and pondered that for a little while. Whatever I wore had to be strong enough to withstand the Arrgorak but light enough and flexible enough that I could wear it without being constricted or weighed down. Even though I knew it would be a hologram, I couldn’t help but try to be practical about it. So I finally settled on something out of Kerrin Murphy’s substantial arsenal. A kevlar vest with a chainmail mesh sandwiched between the layers. I couldn’t draw it very well with the crayons and in the firelight but I hoped my intent would be understood. For the last time, I blew a breath through the orb and my vest appeared on the ground in front of me.
It was perfectly sized and as I lifted it I found myself staring in amazement. The other pieces I had created I hadn’t actually touched yet. The old man had scooped them up and set them aside, leaving me room to create my next piece. When I lifted the vest, it felt as solid as anything. How did they manage it?
Suddenly I was glad I had thought in practical terms when I was creating it. I put it on and it suited my needs. It was a little heavier than I expected but not by much. The rumbling thunder outside took on an odd quality. Shooting a questioning glance at the old man, I bent and gathered up my gear. Unfortunately I did not think in practical terms when creating the chinese hand cannon. I sighed and left it where it was next to the cactus.
“The Arrgorak circles,” the old man said in response to my questioning glance. “He knows we are in this area but he is not sure exactly where yet. Your next creation will show him. It’s time to go.”
I nodded, “Right. Let’s boogey.”
He shook his head, “I’ll catch up. There are a few things I need to prepare.”
I nodded again and tromped back out into the forest. The rain had stopped except for the occasional fitful drizzle. It seemed chillier now after being inside a cave near a warm fire. Again, I found myself unsure as to where I should be going but figured the beta team could keep up with me no matter where I went. Or I’d get a clue that I was going the wrong way if I went too far. So I kept heading in a, more or less, straight line away from the cave.
To my surprise I found myself back at Mitinia’s tree. I guess here was as good a place as any for a showdown. Now to draw the Arrgorak to me. Get it? Draw? Hah! I kill myself. Chuckling softly, I pulled out my pad of paper and a crayon.
Eyeballing my surroundings I sketched out my idea and hoped it would work. I held up the paper to the orb and blew into it. Several lumps appeared in the ground around the tree. One set of land mines to go, please! I grinned.
Thunder boomed loudly, wiping the grin off my face. Quickly, I sketched, then brought to life a pair of earplugs. I stuffed them in my ears just in time as the Arrgorak appeared on the scene in all his thunderous, fiery, explodey …uh… glory? You know how a good end-boss must have an epic entrance. It was like that, but louder.
I slipped on my One Ring, raised my sword and charged. It was awfully tempting to yell something along the lines of “THIS IS SPARTA!” but yelling would ruin the whole point of wearing a ring that makes you invisible. So this was more like an Alta’ir moment, not a King Leonidas moment.
The Arrgorak snuffled and looked around, ears twitching but he didn’t seem to hear me in the echoes of his own thunder. I thrust, stabbing deep into his side. He howled and flung his arms about, connecting solidly with me and sending me flying. Luckily, I missed all my party poppers. Unluckily, a tree halted my short flight. I crumpled to the ground and just lay there for a minute.
“Ow,” I said, tasting blood in my mouth. I rolled over to my hands and knees and got up. My body ached all over. I muttered under my breath, “Didn’t realize this was going to be a full-contact game.”
I was going to need some padding. The Arrgorak roared and twisted. I hit him at a pretty good angle but he finally caught hold of my sword, yanked it out and threw it away. It landed on the other side of the clearing. Drat. I quickly sketched a shield, well-padded and blew it to life. As I did the Arrgorak’s head whipped around and he stared right at me. Or right through me. I was invisible but I forgot that using the Spark would pinpoint where I was to his senses.
I skittered backwards, nervous without a weapon at the moment. The Arrgorak heard me and grinned a very toothy smile. He advanced but luck was on my side because he stepped right on one of my land mines. It blew up fantastically, throwing him off his feet and onto another landmine. That one promptly blew up too, tossing him like a rag doll. The explosions did not dismember him, much to my disappointment but it gave me a chance to slip on my shield and change the Spark into a sword. One with a chain that latched onto a bracer on my forearm. Hopefully that would keep me from losing it like I’d lost my last one.
Now it was my turn to advance on the Arrgorak as he clawed his way back to his feet. He was seriously burned and had great gashes along his body where he had taken the brunt of the explosions. But he was all fired up and pissed off now. Enrage mode activated! The next few minutes of the fight were not very pretty. I will not grow up to be a silver screen fight scene choreographer. Check. I stabbed and ducked and danced and sliced but even though I was invisible, he obviously had experience fighting.
There was only so far a body could move and only so fast that I could duck and dodge his wild swings. And the more we fought, the more he began to anticipate what I was doing. I got fewer and fewer good hits. After a while, I was barely scratching him. I’d swing for an opening and he would block. I’d stab at a likely spot and he’d dodge.
I was seriously trying to decide whether or not to add knight to my list of things-I-wouldn’t-be-when-I-grow-up when I remembered my pistol. Duh! Stepping back, I let my sword swing out of my grip on it’s chain. Then I went John Wayne on the Arrgorak, drawing from the hip and firing.
I missed. I blame it on the heavy sword swinging from my wrist and throwing off my aim. But my second shot got him! He staggered and I shot again and again. Each time, driving him a step back until he went one step too far. My final land mine blew up. The Arrgorak shrieked. Then in a blinding flash and a crash of thunder, he rode the lightning into the sky.
Panting, I dropped the empty gun. I wanted to drop my heavy shield too but I didn’t dare. Not yet. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around me. I scanned the skies but I could not find him. Then a sound drew my attention to a ridgeline not too far from Mitinia’s tree.
I peered intently but couldn’t make anything out in the dark skies. Then a flash of lightning briefly lit the area and I could just see the outline of something up there. Another flash and I had to rub my eyes. I thought I had just seen a monkey standing on the rocks and holding a bazooka.
The third flash finally revealed what it was. It was the old man. He was holding the chinese hand cannon and yelling something I couldn’t quite hear with all the thunder going around. I saw lightning arc through the clouds, as if circling him.
“NO!” I yelled but it was too late. He fired the cannon and it seemed to me that it’s shell collided with the lightning just as it was coming down to strike the ridge where he stood. There was an explosion. The blinding flash about burned my eyes out but after a few rapid blinks I could see again. Two smoke trails indicated the result of the explosion and I caught a glimpse of two flying bodies.
One was large and on fire; the Arrgorak. The other was also on fire but much smaller. He dropped from sight through the trees. From behind me I heard a loud crash as the Arrgorak hit something satisfyingly solid. Hopefully it killed him. Instantly I knew I had to do what any good roleplayer would do. Screw the Arrgorak. I was a hero. I had to go save the old man. Hopefully he was still alive.
I ran a few steps then did a Picard facepalm and pulled the pad and crayon out of my pocket. A horse would be faster than traveling on foot and more mobile than a modern vehicle in these woods. I drew a horse then added a saddle and bridle on it too. Sometimes, I think ahead. Then, just for fun, I added a unicorn’s horn.
A murmured request changed my sword back to it’s normal form. Holding the picture on one side of the orb, I blew a quick -but full- breath against the other. The Spark pulsed once, twice, three times. Then the paper in my hand disappeared and an honest-to-goodness unicorn was standing in front of me.
I giggled. And I might have done a little dance. A roar that morphed into the sound of thunder sobered me up real quick though. I mounted and galloped at as high a speed as I dared through the forest. Lightning struck first one tree and then another along my path. All far enough away to tell me the Arrgorak couldn’t tell exactly where I was. And all placed in such a way that I was sure I was being herded to the right place for the last phase of this fight.
My unicorn whinnied in panic at all the lightning and noise but held true to the course. We continued like that for a only a few minutes then burst out of the woods into a clearing with a small lake. It was probably a very beautiful lake. The crystal-clear kind that painters just love to mimic on canvas. But it was no such lake today. The waters were turbulent and reflected only the roiling clouds above us.
I spotted the old man pulling himself weakly to shore. He must have landed in the lake. I guess I wasn’t the only one full of luck today. Slipping off the One Ring, I trotted over to him, hopped off the unicorn and helped him get the rest of the way to shore.
The old man coughed and wheezed then choked out a laugh. “Got the bugger didn’t I?”
“Right in the kisser,” I said.
“Good,” He coughed again. “I’m afraid that’s all I can do for you. He’ll be too wounded now to ride the lightning. Now he can only call it down and the Spark prevents him from attacking you directly with it. Do not fear it.”
On que, the Arrgorak crashed into the clearing, following the trail the unicorn and I had broken through the brush. “Game on,” I murmured.
I gave the One Ring to the old man, ordered him to put it on, mount up and get out of here. That was all the time I spared for him as he slipped on the ring and disappeared. I turned to face the boss. The Arrgorak was horribly wounded, as the old man had said, but he advanced on me anyway in a lurching way that reminded me of zombies. I shuddered. I hated zombies.
Without the One Ring I wasn’t invisible. If the Arrgorak was able to so easily avoid my attacks before, what more could he do now that he could see me? Even if it was sorely wounded I didn’t like my chances if I went at him again with a sword. And while the gun and the explosions had wounded him and caused him pain, he had not died. I needed something that would kill him dead.
Lightning struck between my ears instead of in the skies. I had an idea. And I wished the beta team running this game could have analyzed the look on my face because I think that would have been the perfect moment to draw in a light bulb above my head. Whipping out my pad and crayon one more time, I drew furiously. Then I held up the paper and the Spark and blew.
The light of the Spark flashed once and the clouds darkened. The Arrgorak stopped moving and looked up at the sky. The light flashed a second time and the clouds condensed over the lake and began to swirl. The Arrgorak made a keening noise and turned from the lake, stumbling away as fast as he could go. He would not be fast enough. The light flashed a third time and a tornado descended from the sky. It sucked up water from the lake, becoming a giant waterspout. Fast as a striking snake it moved swiftly toward the Arrgorak, locked on target as I had pictured.
The howling, waterlogged tornado sucked him up and I lost sight of him in the vortex. But then I caught sight of a burning light that swirled around inside. It spun and spun and with each spin the light was spread further and further until it seemed to light up the whole whirlwind. My heart beat rapidly in my chest. It was frightening and awe-inspiring, being so close to a force of nature like this, even if it wasn’t really real. I found that I was rooted to the spot and couldn’t tear my gaze away.
Finally, in a shower of light and water, the tornado exploded and dispersed. Nothing was left of the Arrgorak. Not a scrap or ember. The rain poured gently down but it was warmer now and the clouds were getting brighter. It would soon stop. The pounding in my chest subsided after a few minutes. I sat down in the wet grass, exhausted. My brain replayed the last hour or two over and over then I began to laugh. That was fun! Scary sometimes but totally fun! And exactly what I needed.
After a little while I turned back to the lake shore but there was no sign of the old man or my unicorn. Not even hoofprints. I backtracked to his cave but it was empty. Not even a trace of furs or fire. I guess that meant the quest was over. But I still had the Spark. Maybe I needed to turn it in at the ranger’s station? Nodding to myself, I left the cave and began to pick my way back through the forest.
It took me an hour and a half to find my way back to the park ranger’s headquarters. It had stopped raining and the sun was out again. My clothes were still wet but not sopping anymore. I pushed my way inside and found that other event attendees were huddled up in blankets and towels. Some had coffee or hot chocolate in hand. A few of them looked like they had come in at the first sign of bad weather. They were dry as could be, sitting around a tiny table playing Uno and eating pizza.
“Oh! Thank goodness!” Cheryl, the director of the event came trotting up to me. “Are you okay? Do you need an ambulance?”
“What? No, I’m fine. It’s just rain and mud,” I said, giving her a wide grin. “That was, hands-down, the most epicly, awesome, event I have EVER attended! How did you manage the surround sound? And the holograms? And the special effects? Oh, those were so intense!”
Cheryl stood there looking bewildered as I showered her with praise.
“Sound?” She said, “Special effects? What are you talking about? We don’t have the funds for such a thing. But it sounds like you have an extra special imagination! And this adventure was just what you needed to get going again! I’m glad you had fun! You can sign up for our next event over there.”
She pointed toward a table where there were some forms and can full of pens. It didn’t look like anyone else had signed up yet. Before I could question her, she quickly moved off as another bedraggled event attendee stumbled in the door.
I stood there, staring at the event forms and being utterly confused. Then a dawning realization came over me. I reached into my pack and pulled out the Spark.
“It was real?” I whispered softly.
The light flashed once.