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As a gamer, Ryedia jumped at the opportunity to test a new virtual reality game that Atarbox had created. But when things go horribly wrong, Ryedia discovers she is trapped in the world of Aerdrewthan At a school career day, Ryedia meets Bill and Nolan, the founders of Atrabox. She signs up to be a beta tester for the new virtual reality game, Aerdrewthan. But something does not want her to leave the world and Ryedia finds herself trapped in the game. A darkness is moving through Aerdrewthan and Ryedia begins to wonder if it is a game at all. With the help of some friends she meets along the way, Ryedia learns that she is the key to Aerdrewthan and returning to her world.

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Chapter 1 Career day

The lone, elven warrior ducked silently behind the thick, overgrown shrubs, her dark brown, hide armor creating the perfect camouflage. She had a single arrow posed on the string of her longbow, ready to be released into the body of the ugly orc, standing several feet in front of her.

The orc swung its mighty, blood stained, barbed club, striking one of the poor, defenseless villagers that had attempted to heed its attack, sending its body flying through the air. The beast was far too busy harassing another villager to notice the silent elf, creeping further out from behind the thick, chocolate-colored leaves.

The warrior released the arrow into the afternoon, watching with its ruby eyes as it sailed true to its mark, the arrowhead digging deep into the rough, gray skin of the orc. The elf readied another arrow as the orc cried out madly, stomping its heavy feet in pain, the ground shaking from his weight.

“Ryedia, for the last time! Get ready for school!” Her mother shouted angrily at her from the door frame of her bedroom, interrupting her concentration. Ryedia’s hand jerked forward as in fright, moving the mouse as the elf released the arrow. She watched in dismay as the arrow flew into the air, nearly piercing one of the helpless villagers.

“I will shut the power off again!”

Ryedia roughly tapped the escape key on her keyboard, pausing her game, and pushed her worn chair away from her desk. Saving the world will have to wait until after school.

Ryedia quickly changed out of her pajamas, throwing on a knee length, black skirt that had a rhinestone skull on the side, pairing it with a striped red top. She then ran down the hall and into the bathroom as her mother barked at her once more to hurry.

Ryedia grabbed her long, frizzy, brown hair and rolled it up into a puffy bun, securing it in place with several hair ties and bobby pins. She then snapped in a few barrettes to help tame her wild locks. She stared at her reflection for a brief moment, smiling weakly, before deciding she looked good enough.

“Bye, mom!” Ryedia shouted as she tugged on her black high tops, ripping her backpack off the couch where she had dumped it the night before. Her stomach rumbling loudly, but there was no time for breakfast.

“Bye!” Her mother called back as Ryedia slammed the door, skipping out into the crisp, fall morning. The weather was becoming increasingly too cold for skirts and she would have to resort to wearing pants again. Ryedia paused, debating whether or not to go back and grab at least a sweater as the cool wind rushed over her, causing a shiver to run through her body.

But it was too late for that, she discovered, watching in disappointment as the smelly, yellow bus rounded the corner at the end of the block. Ryedia broke out into a sprint, knowing that the driver would not wait for her if she was even a second behind. He was a cruel old man who should have retired years ago and seemed to take pleasure in leaving the kids behind.

“Run, Forest!” Jewel called out from the bus stop, laughing at her own joke as Ryedia pumped her legs, doing her best not fall as she slipped on a patch of ice. Jewel had more than likely been standing there for a good ten minutes as she was in love with being first. She was shivering slightly, wrapping her arms around her thin body as the wind rushed past them once more.

“Let me guess, you were playing that stupid game again?” Jewel teased as Ryedia made it to her side, bending over as she tried to catch her breath. Gym class was doing nothing to help her stamina, she realized as she gasped for air like a fish plucked out of the water. But, perhaps it was because she was a watcher, standing on the sidelines, only participating enough so as not to fail.

“Remind me again why we are friends?” Ryedia teased, standing tall, listening in horror as her back crack loudly in several places. She had spent far too many hours sitting in that worn computer chair, hunched over, fingers dancing along the keyboard. She was positive she would become a hunchback if she did not learn to sit up straight. Or at least take a break here and there.

“Rude,” Jewel responded with a laugh as the bus finally stopped in front of them, the doors swinging open, releasing the disgusting, foul warmth within.

“Why must the bus always stink?” Ryedia whined, pushing her way to the middle of the bus and plopping down on the ugly, crack, green, plastic seat. She was not anywhere cool enough to sit in the back of the bus but not nearly nerdy enough for the front. The middle seemed like an appropriate fit for a gamer such as herself.

Jewel sat lightly beside her, removing her homework from the night before, doubling checking her answers. Her tongue was sticking out of her mouth as she concentrated on her work. Jewel was too nerdy for the front, Ryedia often teased, as her friend always checked her work on the way to school.

“Nerd,” Ryedia teased as she put her earbuds in her ears, turning her media player on, the rock music playing softly.

“At least I do my homework.” Jewel countered slightly annoyed at being teased as she erased an answer on the worksheet only to re-rewrite it exactly as it was.

Ryedia shrugged her shoulders and peered out the window that was dripping with condensation, hoping that the day would not be as terrible as it usually was.

Ryedia wandered slowly into first period English a few seconds before the bell rang, dropping her bag onto the ugly tiled floor and plopping loudly in her chair. She quickly removed her earbuds and tucked them into her backpack as the teacher, Mrs. Henry, waltzed in, bringing with her the scent of cigarette smoke and disappointment. She was a middle-aged woman who seemed unable to feel joy. Her nails were long and pink, her hair short and wavy.

Mrs. Henry was in a foul mood, which was her usual demeanor, and wasted no time issuing a pop quiz that Ryedia was in no way prepared for. She glanced over at Jewel, watching as she scribbled away, her blonde head bent over in determination.

Ryedia wrote her name at the top of her paper in a long, drawn out, fancy script, just to annoy Mrs. Henry. She then glanced over the test, finding it was for a book that they had read together in class the previous week. Ryedia had spent most of that time daydreaming and willing the hands of the clock to move faster.

Ryedia answered the questions to the best of her knowledge, (putting Captain Jean Luke Picard as the main character of the story even though he hadn’t been), and flipped the sheet over to doodle on the back. She had just finished outlining the eye of the buck-tooth beast she had created when Mrs. Henry swooped in on Ryedia like an owl on its prey, quickly snatching the quiz off of Ryedia’s desk with her chipped, manicured hand. She was disappointed to discover that she had not, in fact, caught Ryedia drawing on the actual quiz.

“At 9 o’clock, I will lead you all to the gym. Apparently, it is career day.” Mrs. Henry was saying, making air quotation marks, as she returned to her desk, removing her favorite red pen from the drawer. She locked eyes with Ryedia before scanning the confiscated quiz. Ryedia rolled her jade eyes as she placed her head on the desk, staring at the hands of the clock and waiting for 9 o’clock freedom.

The gym was overflowing with noisy students, most of which were using the time to gossip with friends rather than to approach any of the booths that lined three of the gym walls. The bleachers had been pushed back to give them more space, making the room appear larger than it really was. It was a last minute situation to move to the gym as a light fall rain had begun to fall outside.

The principle was rushing towards a group of boys who had taken a basketball from the rack and were attempting to shoot it into the hoop. The lady at the booth that was resting under the hoop had fled, fearing she would be hit with the ball.

Ryedia snickered as she noticed Jewel pushing roughly past everyone, standing on her tip-toes, trying to find the best booth. She was several inches shorter than most of the other students and had to jump a couple of times in order to attempt to see over their heads. She resembled a small child trying to catch a glimpse of Santa at the mall.

Ryedia casually strolled along the floor, glancing up here and there to read the various signs as she passed the booths. She was fifteen years old, but still had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Well, besides gaming, that is. But she knew that if came back to class empty handed, Mrs. Henry would find some reason to give her detention.

“Be a chef!” One guy eagerly called out, waving a pamphlet high in the air. Ryedia shook her head no and continued walking, ignoring the woman from the bank booth altogether. The woman sighed in audible dismay. Not a single student seemed interested in joining the fascinating world of banking.

The college booths were quite popular, Ryedia discovered as she wove her way through the crowds, pushing against backpacks just to get by. She had not yet decided if college was the right place for her, even if her mother kept dropping hints.

“Image if you went to Harvard!” She gushed, knowing full well Ryedia’s grades were not nearly impressive enough for that. But Ryedia had learned to just smile and nod as her mom rambled on. She also learned to eat her dinner quickly when her mother brought the subject up. The quicker her food was gone, the quicker she could flee.

Ryedia reached the end of the row of booths and turned as sharply as a soldier on her heels, heading to the other wall of the gym. She spotted Jewel rushing past a group of students, her arms full of pamphlets and flyers. She seemed overwhelmed, her eyes wide, taking papers out of every hand she passed. But even she ignored the woman from the bank.

Ryedia wondered why Jewel did that to herself as she glanced up at one of the booths and paused. “Your sign is blank.” She informed the two young guys sitting on the other side.

“Yeah, we know,” One of them answered, looking down uncomfortably at the pen that he was twirling in his fingers. He appeared to be in his early twenties with short, brown hair that was already thinning. He had on a pair of black-rimmed glasses that he adjusted awkwardly, glancing at his partner.

“Did you sneak in here and just threw this booth together?” Ryedia teased, causing the other guy to laughed as he scratched the back of his head. He was maybe a little older than the guy beside him, with medium length, brown hair, and a thin beard. He reached into his bag and removed a piece of paper, extending it out to Ryedia.

“Ah, no, actually. It seems your principal does not see virtual reality games as a suitable career. She allowed us into the event at the last moment after I offered to clean up the event when it was over. We didn’t really have any time to prepare.” He explained as Ryedia took her first flyer of the day. She casually glanced it over, doing her best not to appear as excited as she felt.

“Atarbox?” Ryedia read out loud, finding that the gentlemen in front of her went by the names of Bill and Nolan.

“Yeah, I know, it’s an awesome name!” Bill said, smiling wide and giving a double thumbs up for some reason. Ryedia decided not to tell him otherwise as she nodded saying, “Yeah, awesome.”

“We are actually just here looking for some beta testers for our new game. We figured a high school career day would be the best place to find a great candidate.” Nolan was saying as he watched in disappointment as yet another student strolled by without even glancing his way.

“Oh? What kind of game? Is it a ‘war never changes’ kind of game? Or a, ‘your princess is in another castle?’ thing?” Ryedia asked casually as her heart pounded with excitement.

Bill raised his eyebrows as a wide smile crossed his face. “So, you’re a gamer? Then you should totally come by our office this Saturday! You can sign up here to be a tester and we’ll have everything ready for you when you get there! Believe me, it’s not like anything you’ve ever played before!” He did not exactly answer the question, but he did grab hold of her attention none the less.

Ryedia knew that she would need to come up with a believable story for where she was going Saturday as she knew full well her mother would never let her go to test out a game.

“Yeah, I guess I can be there,” Ryedia said, doing her best to remain nonchalant, but she could not help bouncing on her toes as she put the only signature on their blank sign-up sheet.

“Awesome, here is our business card. Just come to the address listed on it around, let’s say, 10 o’clock, and we’ll get started! Just make sure you get your parent or guardian to fill out this form. They are encouraged to come as well!” Nolan informed her as she took the card from his hand. It was shaped like an old school Nintendo controller and she was pleased to discover that their office was here in town.

“Alright, cool, see you then,” Ryedia said knowing full well she was not going to mention it to her mother as she strolled away from them, making her way back to the front of the gym. She grabbed several pamphlets out of the many outstretched hands, not even bothering to discover which career or college they were for. Ryedia even grabbed a flier from the poor woman at the bank booth, who smiled weakly.

Ryedia tucked the Atarbox business card and flyer into her backpack so Mrs. Henry did not see them as she made her way out into the hall where her teacher’s eagle eyes were searching everyone’s hands for a suitable amount of fliers.

Thankfully the bell rang, meaning first period was over and she was free of that dreadful woman for the day. Ryedia made her way to second period gym class, knowing they would be outside today as the gym was currently occupied and they would never just cancel the class. Rain might not be good for the vendors, but it was never problem for the students.

Ryedia glanced at the clock on the far wall as she entered the girl’s locker rooms, feeling as though time had decided to stand still.

“Hurry and get changed, Ryedia. We have to run the mile today!” Jewel informed her brightly as she tightened her snow white shoelaces, and jogged out of the gym through the side door.

“Not the mile!” Ryedia groaned as she threw her head back in annoyance, slamming it against the front of another locker, acting as though the gesture did not hurt.

“And it’s raining!” She groaned, hanging her head as she heard the soft staccato of rain on the metal roof above her. She glanced once more at the clock on the wall, knowing that Saturday could not come quickly enough.
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