CHAPTER 28 - Power Creep (4)
Zach rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. He observed the sight in front of him, then repeated the gestures again. And once more, just to be sure. He looked behind him to see the vast, empty plains and the other members of his rescue squad. Confirming that the way they came from was the same, he turned around again.
In front of him stood a mountain that seemingly appeared out of thin air just a few steps ago. Morgana was still steering the panther forwards. They were close enough that if Zach looked up to see the top of the massive edifice, he lost his balance and nearly fell off from behind her.
And even still, this wasn’t what caused the majority of his surprise.
As if carved from the mountain itself, countless magnificent houses, castles, terraces, and more had been constructed all the way from the base of the landmass to the very top. Around the bottom of the mountain, extending at least half a mile from where it met the ground, were countless other structures built from what he assumed was the mined portions of the mountain itself.
The size was stupefying. He wasn’t even sure if his home of New York City was this large, in terms of sheer area. Hundreds of thousands, or more likely millions, of people with the same white hair and red eyes as his rescuers milled about and went about their lives. He looked around and couldn’t see any farms or livestock, so he pondered over how they fed such a population.
Such thoughts were rapidly thrust from his mind as Morgana spoke up. She pointed at the peak of the mountain, lightly grazing the dark thunderclouds overhead. Zach could just barely spy the outline of the ornate castle located there as she spoke.
“The Queen is waiting for you. My orders were to bring you directly to her once we arrived at Hell.”
Zach blinked once more, peering at her in confusion.
“Wait, did you just call this place ‘Hell’? Like, THE ‘Hell’? Am I dead?!”
“No, dear Hero. It is… The humans of the kingdoms call us ‘demons’ and chased us out long ago. So, we found our own home, and, as if to mock their own mockery, we named our new home Hell.”
Without waiting, she urged the panther to continue walking forward once more. Zach continued to ask questions like his mind was a broken tap, and his thoughts were the water gushing forth. After her first explanation, however, Morgana only replied that the Queen would be able to answer any other questions he had.
As they moved through the town around the base of the mountain, Zach gave up on his questioning. Instead, he looked around and watched the people called demons go about their daily lives. Aside from the dreary backdrop, it looked like a robust medieval city. He couldn’t help but think that it would make a fantastic setting for a new game.
And, not for the first time, something at the back of his mind made him wonder if this wasn’t just a game, after all. Rumors had been circulating at the company about the advancements that were being made in VR technology. He didn’t remember signing up to be a beta tester for any such tech, however.
‘Wiping memories could be a thing, though…?’
He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts. Even as advanced as VR might have become behind the scenes, this was simply too realistic, right? What kind of RAM would be needed to have all these people with each individual hair rendered?
No, this couldn’t be a dream, and it couldn’t be a game.
He was really here, in this fantasy world.
He was snapped from his reverie as Morgana came to a stop at the base of the mountain. Before them stood a large building carved from the mountain itself. The walls were solid, and the original veins of minerals and ores could be seen along their sides. As he was trying to take in the details, Morgana began to dismount. She held a hand up to him, helping him down, then started walking inside the massive stone doors.
Intricate letters that he couldn’t read were etched into these large doors, and he swore that they changed every time he looked at them. Beyond the open doors, he could see a long stairwell at the back of the building, at least two hundred feet away.
“Wait, are we going to walk all the way up to the top?!”
“No, Hero Zach. Please follow me and stay close.”
It was then that he noticed the residents of this magnificent city were starting to crowd around them. The other rescuers, still mounted, formed a perimeter around the doors he was approaching, stopping anyone from getting through. Children pointed at him, and an excited murmur rose from the crowd.
When he looked back at Morgana, she was quite a way ahead, and he jogged to catch up to her. He rejoined her just as she passed through the doors. Inside the building, countless glowing circles covered the ground, each one guarded by varying numbers of armored demons.
It was towards one of these circles that Morgana lead Zach. The large number of guards parted like the Red Sea as Morgana approached, but otherwise remained perfectly still. They reminded him of the guards he had seen outside the palace when visiting the UK, and he had a sense of what was going on.
As if to answer the question he had yet to ask, Morgan turned to him just outside the circle, and her face grew serious.
“Prepare yourself, Hero. Through here waits the Queen of the Demons.”