Connor becomes trapped in a fantasy world while playing the online role-playing game, The Quest of Narrigh. He has no memory of how he got there. He played the game well on his brother’s laptop. He defeated his enemies with his acts of defiance and bravery. Now the game has become a reality. And in a world governed by magic, filled with hostile races, warring factions and ferocious beasts, Connor soon finds he does not have the bravery to swat a fly.
As the world around him grows starker and more perilous in his mind, Connor knows that he must master his abilities if he wants to find his way home and muster his courage if he wants to survive. For he is on the verge of making an important discovery that will change his life forever.
The Citizen Scientist - Skelos Dorm - has been exiled to Narrigh from his home planet for carrying out unlawful experiments. Forced to work for the Narrigh government, he holds in his possession a great artefact that, if wielded, could disrupt the balance between the two worlds and ultimately lead to their destruction...
Someone was talking to him, prising him out of the shell he called sleep. The voice was gruesomely loud. Pivotal.
‘Northern beasts, get up!’
Connor woke to find himself in the hollow stump of a tree. He was dressed in strange clothes: a leather tunic over a linen shirt, wool trousers and soggy brown boots. There was a leather bag strapped across his shoulder and a thin metal chain around his neck. The beating of a thousand wings pounded in his ears.
The stump moved. Someone or something was shaking it.
He tried to reassure himself. ‘I’m still dreaming. I haven’t really woken up.’ That happened in dreams sometimes. You wake from one dream only to find yourself in another.
He attempted to steady the stump with his hands. The stump was slippery with moss and yellow fungus. He jerked his head from side to side, willing himself to wake. He gave his hand a hard, quick pinch. That didn’t work either.
A grimy tusk flashed in front of his eyes. His dreams had never felt this real, or his nightmares. There was something out there.
Blood rushed through his veins, thawing out his stiff limbs, sharpening his senses. Northern beasts? The last he remembered, he had been playing The Quest of Narrigh on his brother’s computer with his friend, Riley.
He must have dropped off to sleep.
He gave a loud gasp as a white-hot pain exploded in his ankle. A beast with a beak honed like a steel sword had taken hold of his right foot, clamping down on his flesh, crushing it. The size of the beast’s head was three times the size of his own. On either side of its beak were two great tusks.
Connor breathed through clenched teeth, fighting to push back the pain. He had to dislodge himself from the tree trunk fast.
The beast casually lowered its head and peered in. Its yellow eyes fastened on its victim. Very slowly, it began to reel in its prey.
Connor fought to gather his wits. He braced himself against the trunk and desperately tried to draw himself up to the other end of the stump. The creature responded by forcibly pinching his ankle, determined to drag its squirming-meal out from its ‘wooden container’.
His foot twisted and then cracked. He arched his back. His strangled cry echoed through the tree hollow. ‘Come on,’ he spat. ‘Come on!’ His eyes watered. Bracing himself again, he lashed out with his free leg. The beast moved to skewer it with its tusk.
Connor swung his leg away, snagging his trousers. He clawed at the bark, fighting the pain, vehemently trying to blot it out. He gave a deep-throated growl and, with one vicious kick, struck the beast’s beak with his foot.
It opened its jaws, releasing his leg, which smacked the ground with a grisly thud.
Connor exerted all his energy into scrambling from the trunk. He wrenched himself up, only to find two of the great seething beasts closing in on either side of him. Maggots dripped from the folds of their wings.
He staggered away, grimacing in pain. He was afraid his injured ankle would give out on him, afraid he wouldn’t make it. Instead, he found his strides lengthening.
Very soon, he was running through a forest locked in shadow, his sodden boots squelching in the soil, the wind whistling past his ears.
Squawking noisily, the beasts rose into the air.
Connor spotted a boy just ahead of him, running low to the ground with his bloodied hands wrapped around his head. One of the beasts was on his tail, lunging at him with its talons.
Connor cast about the forest floor, looking for something to ward it off. He grabbed a sturdy, forked tree branch and charged at the wings of the swooping beast. If he could divert its attention, the boy could get away.
He found himself face down in the soil, floored by a blow from the beast’s wing. He scrambled for his piece of tree branch to find it had fallen well out of reach.
Three of the rancid smelling beasts ensnared him. They cocked their heads and sunk their shiny pink claws into the forest floor.
A chill went through Connor’s spine. They’re going to eat me. One night, he had hidden behind the sofa when his brother and his friends were watching a horror film about a man-eating bird. He had nightmares about it for months afterwards.
One of the beasts struck him on the side of the head with its beak. His punishment, he supposed, for trying to outrun them. He clenched his jaw. The pain penetrated his skull. Black and silver sparks flashed before his eyes.
The beasts set to work, scrapping away soil from around him with their wiry claws, showering him with maggots. Connor felt himself sinking on a wet platform. Soil rained down on him in thick wet clumps, blocking his airways.
He would need to act quickly before they buried him alive.
Wheezing and coughing, he heaved himself onto his side and pulled the straps of his bag from around his shoulders.
Then without looking, without thinking, he tore the bag open and drew from it the first thing he could lay his hands on: an apple, soft and bruised. He flung the piece of fruit at the beasts. It missed them. He watched in horror as the lime green apple disappeared into the ground.
The beasts commenced to use their beaks to break up the soil even faster.
Tears stung Connor’s eyes. ‘I can feel the cold shadow of death upon my face.’ That was what the man had said in the film when the giant bird had started gnawing on his neck.
If this was a dream, wasn’t it about time he woke up?
‘You ran away again. Don’t you remember?’ said an Authoritative Voice inside his head. ‘You wanted to come here.’
He fought to regain his reasoning. What if I am in Narrigh?
A Warrior had been his chosen Profession. He didn’t have his armour, his Lightning Sword or the enchanted shield he won in Level Fifteen. He raised his hands and thrust out his fingers. No light shot from them. No orbs of flame.
The thing around his neck! With determined fury, he grappled with his shirt collar. His fingers slid along the thin metal chain. Suspended from it was an egg-shaped pendant. There were bands set in the Egg’s middle encrusted with gemstones. Instinctively, he took the band between his finger and thumb and rotated it in a frenzy. ‘Help me, please!’
Just when he started to believe his instincts had failed him, a spectacular bolt of blue light shot from the pendant, pierced the air, and then vanished.
Screeching in fright, the beasts took to the sky, soaring above the treetops and out of sight.
Coughing up the last of the soil from his throat, Connor reached for his bag and hauled himself from the pit. He hobbled away without looking back.
The reality of the world around him grew starker and more perilous in his mind.
About the Author:
S.K. Holder is a graduate of the London Guildhall University, in London, with a degree in Social Sciences. S.K. Holder is a Local Government Officer, computer programmer and web developer, who also writes fiction under the pen name S.C. Bryce.