This is happening.
“Can you hear me Red?”
“Yes,” I reply, taking a steady breath.
“Be ready for anything, make sure you have plenty of spirits to assist you. This is going to be the worst game yet.”
“I’m fine, “I say.
“Red, I don’t think you understand. This will kill you if you make a mistake,” he says, sounding panicked. “They are saying they have something quite incredible in store for the audience, which is not good for you guys.”
“Ajax,” I say, fighting a smile. “You’re going to make me think you care about me or something.”
“Just be careful,” he says.
“Roger that, boss.”
I take a breath and don’t say anything for a while. We arrive at the mock party by some futuristic limo, all white and black decor. Lila and I were crammed in with our massive ballgowns, knowing we look like dressed up bait. The men are in black tuxs, looking like they are on their way to a royal gathering. Not to a death trap. The enormous sphere arena is made to look like a giant party inside, the deep vibrations of instrumental music can be heard clearly. I shiver when I see the people at this fake party that have no faces, being portrayed as creepy virtual party-goers. You can hear laughter and talking but where it’s coming from, I didn’t know.
The virtual people moved like they’re laughing and talking but clearly this is just a disturbing illusion.
Aaron, McFolas, Lila, and Elok all stand by me, gazing up at the massive arena. I can feel their heaviness, the terror. The stands were muted out by their technology, but I knew Ajax and the other leaders are watching us, along with a hungry crowd of Feys.
Aaron looks at me. “This place gives me the creeps. They have no faces.”
I nod and suppress a shiver. “I don’t see any fire? Where’s the heat?” I ask.
McFolas chuckles, eyes intense. “Not yet you don’t.”
Alok checks his watch, a frown on his handsome features. “The other teams are here, game on people.”
"Everyone make your way in and drink water. I have a feeling you will need it. It’s probably not a bad idea to soak your clothes with water as well,” Ajax says to all. ”I will not get the game updates and rules until it happens unfortunately.”
I grit my teeth. “If I soak this dress, I won’t be able to walk,” I whisper to Aaron. “You are lucky that you do not get affected by fire.”
“I’ll help you Red,” he says as we walk into the large mock party. “You need to wet your skirts; I don’t think it’s against the rules to cut the under linings from your gown.”
“Good idea,” I say and glance at Lila. “Lila, cut your undercarriage.”
She whips out a gleaming blade. “On it.”
Aaron bends down to lift my skirts, pulling out his knife. A thought occurred to me, I bet Ajax is watching this and wondering what the hell Aaron is doing. “Hurry,” I say. I immediately start my hand signals, calling for lots of help. I push out a major distress signal, feeling the impact of the energy used. I shiver, seeing my hands turn bright purple. My heart is pounding as I gaze around, seeing a faceless waiter come up to us, offering champagne. I feel Aaron cutting something and a weight is released.
“It amazing how you men know your way around women’s clothing better than we do,” I say with a smile.
He stands, helping me step out of the large hooped petticoats. He winks at me, “Practice makes perfect.”
I grin at him, hoping Ajax is surrounded by the fey and can’t reprimand me.
I am bracing myself for anything to happen, I can see Lila following close by Alok, looking scared and paranoid, hand on her blade. I see other members from other teams, including the Fairy Godmother Inc. girls. They wink at me and I nod back, having allies on other teams is nice. At least they won’t try and kill me.
The ground rumbles and I gasp, looking at Aaron.
My pulse jumping to life.
“What the hell was that?” Aaron grits out and glances at McFolas.
“Be ready gang,” McFolas says, sweat on his brow.
Alok comes running to us, pushing people out of his way. He is carrying a large picture of water. “Red, drench your skirts. Other teams are doing the same thing.”
My heart drums in my chest as I nod. I let them dump the contents on me as we feel another deep rumble followed by a low ghostly groan.
The groan was loud and inhuman, rumbling the walls.
Aaron’s face is strained, our group is bunch together, ready for all hell to break loose. The deep rumbling is getting closer and closer together. Like contractions, I fear something monstrous will be coming at the end of them.
“Hang tight, team leaders are now getting updates on the objective.” Ajax’s voice says. “There will be four doors, and everyone will have to make it out through the doors. That’s it.”
We all look at each other and nod.
Alok takes a large breath. “Trust me, the easier it sounds, the harder it will—”
The ground drops at least fifteen feet under us, it happens so fast I don’t have a chance to process what happened, or scream. Pain erupts through my body as I hit hard, the air forcefully taken from my lungs. I hiss in pain as I register the intense hellish place we fell into.
I stifle a scream as I gaze around.
The intense heatwaves almost suffocate me, burning my nostrils. All I can see is yellow hues and bright oranges, my vision is distorted due to the thick waves of smoke and vapers. I sit up and notice all the virtual people are screaming, running around the dirt ground, holding their blank faces. Some of them are set on fire, burning rather morbidly. I suck in a breath a stifle a cry.
Wtf is going on!
“Red!” I hear Aaron’s voice through the blinding heat.
He runs up to me and helps me up, the temperature burning the skin on my face like a sunburn. As my eyes adjust to the bright fire lights, I can make out my surroundings. We stand on a football-field size clifftop. Like a moat, this piece of land is surrounded by surging fires and a long cliff-fall. We are stranded. I can make out four platforms at each corner of the fiery arena with large golden doors at each of them.
“Red look!” He points to a sketchy bridge that connects this land mass to one of the platforms with the door. “It moves!”
The bridge is moving, only staying grounded for about ten minutes before it goes to a different corner.
This is like some twisted live video game.
“We just have to make it to the door!” he yells.
A part of my long skirts catches on fire, and I scream, trying to stomp it out. Aaron helps me, and we are able to get it out quickly, my heart pounding.
“Let’s run!” He yells, following the rest of our team to the bridge at the far corner. There are so many competitors running to the same place.
“Team listen up! Too many people on the bridge will cause it to collapse! If you fall you are out of the game. Though it’s not death if you fall, but you will be badly injured! So wait your turn for the bridge, don’t be stupid! We need all players to finish! I don’t care if we are first or last, I just want everyone finishing!”
I see all the teams running to the bridge and I know we are not going to make it across in time. I see some people start to fight each other and a flash of nerves washes over me. Too many people. “Aaron!” He stops as if seeing the same thing. “Let’s go to the opposite end!”
Roll the dice and pray it goes down here next.
Our other teammates follow suit and I can see a blue fire-bug fly fast beside me. One thing that I have learned about these spirit animals now, is that they can sense what I want. They sync with my brain, so they will help with whatever that is on my mind.
I want to run fast.
I touch the bug and instantly I am moving faster, passing Aaron as blue ghost-like mist surrounds my body. The feeling is surreal, like I am light as a feather. The small bugs leave faster than the big ones, their energy not as strong. So, I have about a minute of sprint time. As I sprint, I hike up my skirts, not want to trip on this burning ground.
I feel the ground rumble and turn to see the bridge moving rather violently, rocks falling as it disappears like it never was. I can hear screams of the contests that fell as the bridge moved without warning. They would fall and land on the smoldering rocks below, crushing and searing their bones.
Alas, the bridge did not move in our direction.
“We can just wait here!” Alok says as he runs up to us, half of his face covered by some cloth he ripped off himself. “It’s got to go down here at some point! Right?”
I can see teams fighting against one another, trying to be the first to cross on the bridge. It’s brutal, some player wanting to kill, it seems like.
I feel like I am in a nightmare, not real life.
“So, we just stand here at a corner, until the bridge gets here?!” I ask, shielding my face from the heat waves. My glowing disappears and I do more hand movements.
Seems too easy just to stand here and wait.
I can already see contestants making their way to us.
We all look at each other in question. I can feel sweat dripping down my face and chest, the temperature making me feel dizzy.
That’s when we hear a loud groan so low it sounds like rumbling, our ears unable to pick up such deep frequencies. My skin prickles and fear consumes me, my adrenaline spiking.
No one says a word as we listen to the groaning that slowly morphs into a terrifying roar. My eyes widen, heart beating out of my chest. “What was that?!” I yell, looking all around me. I can barely catch my breath, bracing myself.
“Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Run!” Lila screams hysterically as she points at the massive fiery figure rising out of the cliffside. Another eerie groan emits out of this fiery thing, this monster that could only be found from the, Lord Of The Rings. It’s all ghostly fire, glowing red eyes on a massive head with a large wolf’s snout. It about the size of a ten-story building stealing the breath clean out of my lungs.
I am frozen from shock.
Never have I seen something this real, or this horrifying even on a movie screen.
“Red! Fucking run!” Came Ajax’s strained voice.
I don’t remember running, or the sparrow that flew into me, lifting me up to save me from a fire ball. I can hear my heart beating in my head, my hearing muted, my mouth dry and numb. I land on the other side of the clifftop, the beast blowing fire out of its mouth at other contestants as they try and cross the bridge to safety.
Now, this is close to impossible.
As if by a stroke of luck, the bridge moves and it’s now up by us and away from the beast.
“Now!” McFolas yells as we all sprint to the bridge.
We can make it.
This nightmare can be over.
My skirts slow me down and I do more hand signs, telling my spirit friends I need more. Alok and Lila are across the rocky bridge and are safe making me gasp in relief. Two down three to go.
It moves, too late.
“Shit!” I hear Aaron curse.
That’s when I feel someone punch me to the ground. The burning pain searing me white-hot, my senses on hyper-drive. I roll to my left and barely miss a sword being slashed at me. In the back of my mind I knew I could have just been killed.
I see an Asian looking woman and I recognize her. She is on Sarya’s team, I believe she is the one who knocked me off the bike on the first competition. She is under Sarya’s orders to most likely kill me at any cost.
“Red! Get protection! I can’t call off Sarya’s players!” came Ajax voice.
I have been training hard and I am not complexly helpless in fighting. I grab her dress and yank it aggressively, making her fall on me. I knee her in the stomach making her holler in pain, knocking her off me. Aaron and McFolas are also fighting players, as if the fire breathing monster is not enough.
I stand up and walk over to her, kicking her in the side rather harshly, barely catching my breath. She grabs her side and rolls in pain. She looks a lot more hurt than what I am doing to her, and that’s when I see the blood. The woman must have fell on her small knife.
I hear the beast roar again, and that jumps me out of my sympathy haze.
She tried to kill me.
“Red! Let’s go!” Aaron screams.
I rip off my earpiece because I am sick of Ajax freaking out on the other end. I look up and see most of the contestants who did not fall over the edge make it to a door. Aaron is now crossing the bridge yelling at me to get my ass in gear.
I start running.
I look up and see a giant Chinese looking dragon flying my way, the biggest spirit animal I have seen yet.
But I don’t think I will need it as I make my way across the bridge. I look back and see Sarya’s competitor on the ground crying and screaming, the last one left.
Her foot is stuck in a large crack in the ground, and, in fact, pieces of the cliff are falling away as seconds pass.
Something squeezes in my chest as I see her look back at me, tears streaming down her face in anguish and horror.
She has no life-lines.
I can hear the crowd screaming chants now when earlier I could not. Heartbeats go by and that’s when I see the fire giant climb up on the cliff’s top, eyeing the poor girl, eyes blazing fire.
It almost brought me to my knees in fear for her. His massive form is crawling towards her, roaring at her in pursuit. She screams and covers her head, knowing this will be her last moment alive before she is brutally killed. I close my eyes and feel tears stream down my cheeks, starting my hand signals. I am never this compassionate.
This place has changed a lot about me.
I am either extremely dumb or extremely brave.
I sprint off the bridge towards the girl as the fire monster nears her. Everything is happening in a slower time frame as I sprint as fast as my legs will take me, holding up my scorched skirts. I see my dragon coming towards me and I hope it gets to me in time. It looks like all three of us will get to the woman at almost the same time. If this does not work, I could die.
I close my eyes as I throw myself over the crying woman right as my spirit dragon hits me. The dragon is so big all I see is a flash of white light. I scream and the dragon roars at the fire monster, rivalling it with power and strength.
I can barely see the dragon’s head in-line with the wolfs and both roar at the top of their lungs. If I was not so terrified, I would be watching in awe. I grab onto the woman and yank her leg out and cause her to scream, making the dragon scream.
Fly us to the door!
The dragon flaps his wings and lifts us up, leaving the monster from Hell roaring in fury, blowing fire at us.
We are protected.
I don’t remember landing on the platform, but I vaguely remember seeing Ajax. His silver eyes scanning over me frantically, yelling at the medics.
“Red,” he whispers harshly. “I forgot to tell you not to be the fucking hero.”
“Too late,” I say and glance at him. “Someone has to lead by example.”
He stares down at me and looks away, a smile pulling at his mouth. “Red, you are going to be the death of me.”
I sit up and whisper into his neck before I am whisked away, “Ajax, you never stood a chance against me anyway. I eat men like you for dinner.”
I barely caught his groan.
But I heard it.