Jennet faced the Dark Queen, her mage staff at the ready. Excitement fizzed through her blood like it was carbonated. This was it. She’d completed the quests, mastered each level of the game, and made it here. The final boss fight.
“Fair Jennet.” The queen’s voice was laced with stars and shadow. “You think to best me in battle?” A faint smile crossed her pitiless, beautiful face. Her dress swirled around her like tatters of midnight mist.
“I plan on it,” Jennet said. She tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear, then shook off the sudden anxiety that settled on her shoulders, cold as snow.
She had no idea what this particular fight held. Feyland was the hardest sim she’d ever played, full of weird twists and turns. She thought about it all the time. The game filtered into her dreams, shaded the edge of her days. Sometimes the computer-generated world felt more real than her ordinary life.
“Very well,” the queen said. “I accept your challenge.”
Jennet couldn’t see any weapons on her opponent, and that dress was no substitute for armor. Safe bet that this was going to be a magical duel, spell-caster against spell-caster. Jennet flexed her fingers around the smooth wood of her staff. Anticipation spiked through her, tightening her breath.
Fantastical creatures watched from the edges of the clearing: feral-faced women with gossamer wings, dark riders with red-eyed hounds at their heels. The sound of drums and pipes wove through the shadows. Overhead, a sliver of moon tangled in the black branches of the trees. Then, between one heartbeat and the next, silence fell.
A dark figure stepped forward, forbidding in midnight armor and a wicked helm, and Jennet’s stomach clenched. The Black Knight. She’d barely beaten him in an earlier quest. If he got involved in this fight, she was in severe trouble.
He held his gauntleted fist high and grated out a single word. “Begin.”
It echoed eerily through the glade, and the fey-folk let out a rough cheer. There was no one to cheer for Jennet.
Without hesitation, she tipped her staff and shot a bolt of fiery white light at the queen. A sphere of shadow appeared, blocking her attack and swallowing the fire into its dark depths. More spheres materialized and began floating toward her, called by the Dark Queen. Jennet ducked and wove, avoiding their deadly touch.
Lightning crackled from her staff, illuminating the clearing with shocking white light, but the queen evaded her bolts. Still, Jennet kept pressing the attack. The dark spheres were multiplying now, bobbing in the air on all sides. A low, menacing hum surrounded her as she tried to find a clear shot.
She couldn’t afford any mistakes - but the fight was pushing her to her limits. Worry started to nibble at the edges of her concentration. She just had to watch for an opening… there. She took aim and sent another bolt crackling through the air.
White fire sizzled and Jennet heard the queen gasp. Yes! She could do it. She could beat this game. The first player ever to claim victory over Feyland.
A dark sphere brushed against her shoulder. Ice stabbed into her skin, sent numbness down her arm until she could barely hold onto her staff. She stumbled back, trying to regain the rhythm of the battle. Keep breathing. Keep fighting. But where was the queen? The place where her opponent had stood was now filled with twisting shadows.
Everything rippled, as though the clearing was made of cloth billowing in a sudden gust. Jennet heard high, chiming laughter as she fell backward...
And landed in an ornate chair set before a feasting table. What? She jumped up, heart racing, and knocked the edge of the table. A goblet sitting in front of her shook, sending a drop of deep red liquid to stain the white tablecloth.
“Sit down, Fair Jennet,” the queen said from her place across the table. “This is the next stage of our battle.”
Pale candles in thorny candelabra illuminated the feast. Their silver flames reflected in the queen’s fathomless eyes.
“You changed the rules! You can’t do that.” Jennet’s legs felt shaky as she edged back into her chair. She was so not prepared for this.
The queen laughed. It was the sound of ice shattering on a black lake. “Of course I can. This is my court. My realm. You are but a visitor. Please - drink.” She waved one delicate hand at the goblet.