Playing Her Secret Crush(10)

By: Casey Griffin

“What is a herald doing in the depths of the Dwarf Mountains?” Trevor asked.

“I don’t know.” Alex moved his cursor over the talk icon above the herald’s head and clicked on it.

The man drew himself up, and a snooty voice came through his headphones. “I have been traveling the lands far and wide. I come bearing an invitation.”

Penny gasped. “Ooh. Is it a party?”

The herald reached into his leather satchel and produced a scroll. With a practiced flick, he rolled it out. He waited patiently for someone to hit the next button. Alex clicked on it.

The herald cleared his throat dramatically and began to read. “Hear ye, hear ye. By royal decree, all citizens of Caroon are eligible to enter a tournament. The grand prize shall be a treasure trove worth one hundred thousand US dollars. The first five parties to complete the qualifying trials and find the key will be sent by the crown to battle each other at Ultra Con in Las Vegas, Nevada, this November.”

Alex inhaled sharply. The announcement immediately brought back memories of Jason. He’d been the one to get Alex hooked on Conquerors in the first place. By the time they’d started spending more time together, Jason had been bedridden. It wasn’t like they could toss a football around. Instead, they played Conquerors of Caroon together every day in his hospital room.

Once Katie had joined, they did a local search through the game and found two other players near them that wanted to form a team: Pizzalover and Sugarplum. Together, they became MegaByte. They started breaking records and setting top scores. When the annual Ultra Con tournament was announced, Jason was pumped for it, but before they could qualify to enter, he died.

“Are you interested in more information?” the herald asked pleasantly. A new text box appeared on the screen. Yes or No.

When no one spoke, Alex looked at Katie. She was staring at him, as though waiting for some cue. There was a certain reverence about the silence in his headphones. For the group of warriors, competing meant so much more than money or Ultra Con tickets.

Finally, he moved his cursor and clicked Yes. A window popped up with a giant document to scroll through for the Official Rules released by the game designer, Maxware Studios.

“Are you sure?” Katie asked. “If it’s too much, we don’t have to. I know you wanted to do this with Jason.”

“I did. But I didn’t get to.” No regrets, he told himself. “All the more reason to compete this year. Jason wanted to go so badly, so we’ll go and win it in his memory.”

Katie smiled. “Then I’m in.”

“Me, too,” Penny said, and the ogre swung his mace in the air like a sort of “whoop whoop.”

“Same here,” Trevor said.

Alex moved his cursor to next, and the herald continued. “To prove you are worthy, you must complete several perilous trials and defeat a foe unlike any creature to walk the face of Caroon. If successful, you will receive a key to enter the tournament. It is hidden somewhere within Caroon. The sky’s the limit, but you must find it before October fifteenth.”

Trevor’s laugh barked in Alex’s headphones. “But Caroon is practically endless. New regions and storylines are being added almost weekly. That means the key could be anywhere.”

Alex banged his head on Katie’s headboard. Anywhere? That made it next to impossible. But he supposed the online role-playing game was more popular than ever. They had to weed out the amateurs somehow.

There didn’t seem to be any other next button to get more information, so Alex clicked on Goodbye.

The herald rolled his parchment back up and tucked it away. “Good luck, and may Valhalla shine favorably upon you all.” With a flamboyant bow, he flung his velvet caplet around him and headed back the way he’d come.

As they watched him leave, Sugarplum ran around in circles on the screen. “Yippee! We could go to Ultra Con for free. I’ve always wanted to go.”

“I hear the Doctor is going to be there this year,” Trevor said.

Sugarplum stopped. “Doctor who?”

“Exactly,” he replied. “And more importantly, there’s the grand prize of one hundred thousand dollars. I could afford some night classes at the college. I don’t want to be stuck in my dead-end serving job forever.”

“I could convince my mom to take me to Disneyland,” Penny said. “She can’t say no if it’s my treat.”

A slow smile crept over Alex’s face. “I could buy that Ducati I’ve been checking out.”

“Really?” Katie shot him a look. “A motorcycle? They’re so dangerous. But look who I’m telling,” she said sarcastically. “The adrenaline addict.”