My little brother frantically tapped away at our shared laptop. He’d been on it literally all day.
I leaned on the bar area of our kitchen that smelled of toast and poked him with my barefoot. “Come on. It’s totally my turn.”
He ignored me.
The time on the microwave went up another minute. I waved my hand in front of his face.
“Stop it, Kelly!” He screamed.
I stepped back at the unexpected reaction then took a good look at the screen. He’d been playing some kind of 2D mining game but it had turned into a psychedelic first person cutscene.
A stunningly beautiful man in elegant robes appeared from behind a carved rainbow crystal wall. He strode to the screen’s center.
“So, another human child has found their way to the entrance of my kingdom.” His smile was oil crawling towards a fire.
“I, Prince Nenveri Esreth, invoke the law of three. Your first choice is to leave and never come back. Your second is to defeat me. And your third is to willingly join the children who’ve failed before you in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses. Am I not magnanimous?”
A pop up appeared with those options listed.
Matt looked like he was about to press something so I grabbed his hands. “That’s enough. You can come back to this game later.”
“No!” He pushed me away. “He has Megan. I have to get her back.”
“No, he doesn’t. I just saw her playing outside with one of your other friends.”
“That’s not Megan.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re 11 not 5. You should know the difference between a game and reality. Now get off. It’s my turn.”
He pressed 2. “I know the difference between a game and reality. Megan is in trouble and I have to save her. Just let me fight him and I promise that I won’t tell mom you’re seeing that stoner.”
“We’re not going out and Jake isn’t a stoner.”
“That’s not what mom said.”
I bit my lip. Mom only judged people by how they dressed, but I'd still be grounded if she found out. “Fine.”
“Human child, you have chosen 2. Remember these rules,” Prince Nenvari said. “Your machine will take damage when your spurious body does. You no longer have infinite chances, only three deaths and rebirths. If you die your third time, or if you look away from your machine you will lose, forfeiting your freedom. Are you ready?”
“Woah. This mining game is dark.”
“I’m ready,” Matt said.
I had no idea what was going on, but it looked like Matt’s avatar used a shimmery pickaxe to swiftly mine through squares of rainbow crystals above Nenvari. The obsidian stones above those the fell in waves, but the prince sidestepped every time one neared him
Matt’s avatar dropped next to Nevari. The Prince drew a sword and stabbed him.
An electric current visibly ran through the laptop. Matt screamed and jerked his hands away from the keyboard.
A black screen with the words, “Press to Continue,” appeared.
“Don’t continue. This game is obviously some kind of virus.”
The scent of scouched plastic wafted from the computer. The edges of the screen were visibly seared.
Viruses could do that, right?
My idiot brother pressed enter.
Nenvari appeared in a cutscene polishing his blade.
“So, you’ve returned,” He said then shrugged. “I suppose I didn’t give you much choice. En garde!”
The 2D game appeared. Matt switched from a pickaxe to a sword and charged his avatar at Nenvari.
The Prince shot a bolt of light at Matt. He dodged by destroying a crystal block and moving above in one stroke.
“What? Swords can be used to mine now?”
“Shut up, Kelly.”
Nenvari stepped under Matt, going for the kill. Matt destroyed a block to his side, sending the boulder above him hurtling towards the boss. The man flattened under the stone and then appeared beside it. He wiped the blood from his lips.
“Alright, child. If you can do that 83 more times I shall concede defeat.”
Matt began hyperventilating. I rubbed his back.
“Okay, this game is getting you too worked up. I’m turning it off.”
“No. I can’t afford to lose.”
Nenvari shooed the obsidian boulder and sent it flying towards Matt. Matt dodged up but he hadn’t noticed a slightly darker square. A web of black enveloped his avatar and he died.
Another bolt of electricity ran through our laptop, and another Continue screen appeared.
“Alright, you’re done.” I closed the laptop.
“No!” Matt grabbed my wrist and tried to pull it off. “I had one more chance.”
“You had no chance. This game is a virus and I’m going to remove it.”
A cool white mist blew out of the closed computer.
I stepped back.
“Matt, get away from the there!”
It was too late, the billowing mist had already enveloped him.
A laughter like burnt mulled wine echoed through our kitchen.
When the area cleared the elegant Nenvari stood in Matt’s place. His white robes flowed unnaturally around him.
“I’m thankful to you, Miss Kelly Knight.” He gave me a slight bow.
I did not return it. Anger and fear made sticks of my legs and a trunk of my spine.
“Where?” I choked out, still not believing what was in front of me.
“Mr. Matt Knight is quite safe and happy in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses.”
“Something tells me that, ‘Kindness,’ doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it does to me.”
He frowned. “Nonsense.”
A vein ticked in my forehead. “Whatever, just give me my brother back!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“Why not? You’re the one doing all this, aren’t you?”
“I am obligated to follow the rules, and so must you.” His face suddenly appeared too close to me and his icy hand gripped my chin. I had no time to react. An indescribably cold chill ran through me.
He tilted his head, like a curious kitten. “Odd. You’re a not a child, nor are you an adult.” His eyes glanced at the completely ruined laptop. “Nor can you challenge the game with that device. In this instance, I shall make a deal with you.”
He released me. I sucked in a breath.
“I shall allow you to challenge the game within the Realm Under the Hill, instead of on your crude machines. But since I have invoked the law of three I must also give you two more gifts. The powers of a spurious body, and attire befitting an empress. Am I not magnanimous?”
“No, you’re not. If you were you would give me my brother back.”
His irises shrank to menacing pin pricks.
“You insult me, and by law I must return insult with a wound. And so I regretfully add a flaw. Your body will feel pain when you die.”
I held back a colorful curse. “Whatever, let’s just get this over with.”
“First do you acknowledge and reject your two other choices, to either join me or have your memories edited before swearing to never play the game again?”
“Yes!” I said, jaw tight.
He leaned down and gently kissed my forehead.
For the first time in my life, I wanted to stab someone.