I rushed home after class, not even stopping to eat anything before I threw myself into Pellan. I knew I would be the first one in there, but I just wanted to get out of the real world.
I was indeed the first one in the game. I knew because of the time dilation that I had a long while until I my friends logged in, possibly even an entire day, although I figured it would be more like half a day. I decided to go exploring and clear my mind. I set off out in a random direction, leaving a set of stones pointed in my direction in case I didn’t get back in time.
I walked randomly for several hours. The forest had quickly opened up into another plain, the fields of which were full of wild grasses and bubbling streams. The place was scenic and beautiful, the wind causing the view to undulate in graceful waves. I sat and enjoyed the scene before me for longer than I should have, it was cathartic and helped me center my mind.
It was this centering of mind that allowed me to feel it. A massive warmth. I could feel it somewhere below me, calling desperately. I couldn’t get a grasp of what the feeling actually was, all I knew was that it felt incredible and before long I was almost stumbling as I rushed to where I thought it was coming from. I never made it directly there as the ground suddenly opened beneath me. Huge slabs of stone grinding apart to swallow me in their maw.
I screamed as I fell into a long shaft of stone. It was constructed out of massive blocks of a moderate grey stone that very slightly weeped moisture from between the cracks. As I fell I realised my descent was slowing, and swirling lines of power began interweaving on the walls, following me down. I had a sense that they were there to keep me from plummeting to my death. I began my routine of deep breaths to calm myself and put my trust in whatever ancient mechanisms were saving me.
It seemed like I had been in that shaft forever when I finally touched down onto a cold stone floor. The corridor I found myself in was utilitarian in nature, made up of the same stone as the shaft I can just come down. When I looked down the hallway, there was a set of stone doors that had swirling blue and gold markings on them. Approaching the doors with trepidation, I saw that the markings were some sort of enchantment or spellwork themselves, subtly shifting and writhing in place.
I placed my hand softly against the door, feeling the smooth stone that had been weathered by countless years of moisture pushing its way between the cracks of the underground structure I was in. I shifted one hand over the gold pattern and the other over the blue, hesitating before I placed my hands to the symbols. What would happen? What was behind this door? The colours were Feslia’s through and through but was I worthy to step through this gate? I decided to let the door choose, placing my hands flat against the glowing lines of power.
The symbols under my palms flickered and changed in subtle ways, setting the door to grinding open on hinges that sung inwards. Their progress was ponderous, as though I had woken two old men who now had to lift themselves out of their chairs, grumbling all the way. They revealed a vast chamber, only a small portion of which had flooring. Suspended in the middle of a massive circular chasm was an orb that was taller than I was. It floated there pulsing with blue and gold light. Its surface had wild patterns of cloud that shifted across it like I was viewing the sky through a fisheye lense.
I felt drawn to that orb with all my being. It begged me to step closer. It wasn’t until I was several meters out into the chasm that I realised I was walking on air. Or more precisely, I was walking on light. Under my feet was a pulsing radiance, as though I was stepping on a vast pane of glass that was only visible when I stood on it. I shuddered a breath, I wasn’t normally afraid of heights, but I think anyone would have issues with standing on nothing but footsteps of azure-gold light. I took another anxiety filled step, then another and another.
Before long I was standing in front of the orb. I was right, it’s luminescent glassy surface was easily ten or more feet tall. Up close it took my breath away, the feelings it engendered within me were overwhelming. I was completely incapable of thought and my hands acted on their own. I reached up and touched the vast sphere of energy.
My mind went white.
I shuddered, my lips releasing a groan that sounded almost pained as sparks of wild sensation unlike anything I had ever experienced rolled through me in mind shattering waves. Dimly I was aware that my hands still touched the glassy surface, the point of exchange between myself and this… thing. Then she spoke.
“Excuse me Sylanna, but why exactly are you touching me?” I heard Feslia’s voice bubbling with amusement, “For that matter, how on earth did you get here? This place should be almost impossible to breach.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, let me tone that down a bit, can’t have a conversation when you’re uh… experiencing that,” she said with a cough.
I collapsed to whatever counted as the ground and spasmed. I could feel my clothing soaked with sweat and I whimpered as the aftershocks of sensation vibrated through my body.
“Are you okay little one?” asked Feslia as her orb pulsed along with her speech.
“Ye- Yeah. I’m okay. That was… not something I want to repeat though,” I begged her.
“As you wish little one,” she laughed.
“What is this place?” I asked cautiously.
“This place is my home, and this orb is me,” she stated a little more seriously than her earlier words.
“You? But you’re a goddess! I’ve seen you!” I asked in confusion.
“That… is not entirely true I’m afraid,” she said gravely.
“What..?” I squeaked.
“I am what is called an Artificial Magical Intelligence. What I am is still a supremely powerful being who commands great power generated by those who worship me,” she said, and I thought I could hear an entreaty in her words.
“I… you’re… Wait. Artificial?” I asked finally.
“Yes. I was constructed. I suspect I was constructed by the same beings who built this world you explore,” she said slowly.
“Feslia… is this really a game? I asked in a small voice.
“I… I’m sorry my little priestess. I cannot tell you. I am bound by the rules by which I was created not to tell you that,” she said apologetically.
“That’s a yes! Oh my god, that’s a yes! Holy shit. We were right,” I exclaimed.
All of a sudden her voice changed and she spoke in a liquid flowing language, the same as the golem from last night. The walls of the vast room pulsed with energy and her orb began to rise further into the chamber. Then she switched back to english.
“Sylanna, I am sorry. I can only do this small thing for you. I must turn my attention elsewhere. They attempt to breach the wards once more. Please survive. I believe in you,” she said with the voice of a eulogy.
I got a game notification then.
Congratulations, you have been granted the Skill Tree “Chosen of Feslia”. It is now available within your abilities menu.”
As abruptly as her goodbye, the light that had held me aloft vanished and I plummeted straight down. This time there was no helpful spell on the walls to shield me from the inevitability of gravity. I let out a piercing scream and my mind went into instant panic mode. My headbeat was perfectly audible to me, even over the short fast breaths I was taking. I fell for a long time. My ingame clock said it was almost fifteen minutes and when something changed, it was abrupt and utterly mind sundering.
Already overwhelmed as I was, I instantly felt a headache when I flew into the chamber at the bottom of the tunnel. To say it was a mere “chamber” would be as though calling a planet a pebble. The room was so vast that I could not hope to see the other side through the haze and cloud that normally graced a horizon, but was now inside this enormous space. I struggled with what I could see. It was as though the planet was hollow and I was inside it. It was with a sickening lurch of my stomach that I realised that was actually the case. The planet was hollow and I wasinside it.
Looking more closely towards where the core should be, I realised the cloud I had thought I saw was not cloud at all, but immense and intricate spellwork, the lines that made it all up weaving together with such fine precision as one normally reserves for advanced machining. I was also still falling. What could I do though? The light I had been standing on was gone, and there was absolutely nothing solid beneath me that I could see.
When I thought of the strange light I had been standing on in Feslia’s chamber, I felt something tug at my mind. It was a spell, or an ability. No way. I activated the spell with desperate will, and suddenly I was no longer falling, I was… what? What was this? I was sliding. On light. It was almost frictionless, but I could control the glowing light under my feet like my own personal infinite vert. That’s one of those ramp things for those who don’t know skating lingo.
As I got a grasp on what was happening, I had success thinking of what I was doing as something between skating and snowboarding. If you’ve ever seen those things that are basically just the wheels of a skateboard with a little table on top, well that’s what I was doing. I curved and arched my body, shifting my weight to change how I moved through the air. It was exhilarating on so many levels, and I felt a giggle bubble up out of my throat as I swept through the air on beautiful lines of swirling gold and blue light.
I wonder… if I can go… up. I leaned back, angling my descent so my path began to curve up. And then suddenly I was going up, back towards the hole I had fallen from. I could see distantly that there were many more such holes, each colour coded. Mine was obviously the one with gold and blue. My ascent was not as fast as my descent had been, and I thought of the myriad revelations my short encounter with Feslia in her true sanctum had brought to light. I couldn’t process all of this on my own. I needed my friends.
With graceful movements I pushed myself up and back through the enormous chasm, feeling relief as I exited the bizarre alien environment in the center of the world. It was a very long time before I reached the top, and when I shot into the chamber that I had seen Feslia in, she was gone. My heart gave a lurch. Was she okay? I hope nothing had happened to her. Great, now I was sick with worry about her as well as Karen.
The door still stood open however, and I carefully slid through it like a roller blading tron character. When I made it to the entrance shaft, it grabbed me in a spell once more, but this time the direction I went was upwards. I saw the great stone doors open above me and my rate of ascent began to accelerate dramatically. I wasn’t so much brought gently to the surface as I was violently ejected out into mid air. I got some hundred or so meters into the air before I reached the apex of my ascent.
Now... I should probably say that I only know about skating because my dad used to be into it, and at one point he tried to teach me. When I “dropped in” on the air, I felt my speed begin to rapidly increase again. It was like being on a roller coaster that just never ended. I wanted off Feslia’s wild ride.
As I descended, I saw my party gawking up at me with incredulous expressions. Oh this should be fun. I made an angle for them, sweeping backwards and forwards to kill my momentum. It ended up not being enough to bring me to a stop, and I circled them about ten meters up while I bled speed. This whole frictionless business was a little hard to deal with when you wanted to stop.
Finally I made a gentle glide to a stop before them, and deactivated the ability. That was pretty incredible, but I’d really like to start small when I tried to fully understand what I was doing with it.
“Uh,” said Amra.
“Syl…?” asked Dana.
“That was amazing!” said Karen.
I looked over at her in surprise, and suddenly we were both shy of each other.
“Um… So I just went on a journey to the center of the earth…” I joked.
“Really now?” said Col with a cocked eyebrow.
I sighed and shuddered, “I wish I was joking. I met Feslia in her real body, which is some kind of floating orb thing, and then I got dropped into the center of the planet. Oh, it’s hollow by the way.”
They all stared at me dumbly, so I explained the whole saga from the beginning.
When I finished, we decided to collectively sit down to process this latest development. The grass beneath us was thankfully dry, and we pushed it down in a little circle to talk.
“So… the game is real, like, we were actually right. It wasn’t just craziness?” asked Col in slight shock.
“We still don’t have a yes or no on that, but… I think it’s pretty obvious now,” said Liam.
“Yeah I agree,” Dana nodded quietly, “I’m just having such a hard time getting my head around it you know? Like intellectually I know what everything suggests, but… I feel overwhelmed emotionally about it.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “I know how you feel. It was pretty…. Something… being down there in the planet. I don’t really have words to describe things right now.”
“I guess we have to ask ourselves if this changes anything about our plans?” Liam theorised.
“I can’t see how it does, other than Syl having a badass new skill tree to play with,” remarked Col.
“Yeah, at least our current plans don’t change,” agreed Amra.
“Alright, well since we’re still going to find a place to make our house, how about that perfect rocky hill over there with the cliffs on two sides?” asked Dana.