He approached the castle, not knowing what to expect. He knew that the amulet would respond in some way to the castle’s defenses, and he knew he needed to get inside if there was any chance of ending it all.
He didn’t know, however, that the amulet would completely destroy the eastern wall. Running to avoid the resulting bits of stone flying through the air, he managed to shield himself behind a tree.
For a moment he touched the tree that saved his life, with no small degree of appreciation. Then, looking at the wreckage, he noticed that someone had already gotten inside the castle, without the amulet. She was looking at him with profound frustration.
“You moron,” she said. “What was your plan?”
He said nothing, wondering how she managed to get inside the castle.
“Never mind that; get over here!” she quickly said. “Don’t just stand there.”
“I didn’t expect the wall to explode,” he finally said, approaching the now absent wall. “I kind of thought a door would appear or something.”
“Whatever, just get over here,” she said, pulling him behind into a nearby room. A closet, as it turns out, and not one with a lot of space. They were pressed against each other.
“All said, I really can’t complain about this turn of events,” he said, smiling.
“Shut up,” she hissed. “What are we supposed to do now? This entire side of the castle will soon be crawling with guards. We’ll never get to the crystals.”
“You worry too much. We have the amulet, and that scares them. I say we work with that.”
He opened the door and looked around. Clear. He approached the area just outside the former wall and used his sword to cut out a little sod. He then dug a hole and placed the amulet inside. He restored the sod, patted it in place to obscure the hole, and ran back to the closet.
“Great, now we’re stuck in a closet with no amulet,” she whispered.
“Trust me.” he replied. And so they waited.
“What happened here?” they soon heard a voice say.
“I don’t know” said another. Behind them the slow but steady sound of steps announced the approach of the wizard. Then a deep, rich voice.
“Obviously,” said the wizard, “someone has the amulet. They probably hope to steal the crystals.”
“Well, then we’d better rebuild the wall,” said one of the guards.
“Really? You think that might be a good idea?” replied the wizard, clearly exhausted with the quality of his help. “Just find the amulet and leave the wall to me.”
All that could be heard after that was a slow chant, followed by the sound of stones being pulled into each other. The wall was rebuilt.
For an instant, anyway. Another explosion quickly took the wall down again.
“It worked!” she whispered.
“Yep. Now we just wait for the second explosion…”
More chanting, then stones coming together, then an explosion. Chaos.
They ran out the door, headed straight towards the crystals. The guards were busy looking for the amulet, and the wizard was busy cursing at them.
And there, in the next room, were the crystals. Three of them, all on pedestals, all glimmering in their respective shades of blue, yellow and red.
“They’re…” he gasped, his breath taken away by majesty of it all.
“Beautiful,” she helpfully concluded. “Now let’s grab them and get out of here.”
And so they did. Behind them they heard the continuous explosion and re-construction of the eastern wall, highlighted by panicked guards and the alternating yelling and chanting of the wizard. With all the panic no one was watching the western door, allowing for an easy escape toward the forest.
“No chance anyone can see us now,” she said, gasping.
“Nope; none at all,” he said, admiring what was around him. They were in a small meadow, nestled in trees beside the mountains. A small stream flowed nearby.
“It’s beautiful here. Reminds me of what we need to protect. Of why we fight.”
“Indeed,” she said, looking around. “I have to hand it to you, I was pretty upset at first but you did come through,” she added, looking straight into his eyes.
“Well, I try,” he said, returning her gaze. His heart beat quickly. He took his helmet off.
Instantly he found himself in a sterile white room. Three walls were lined with people wearing white body suits and plastic helmets, miming sword fights and spell casting. He didn’t recognize any of them.
At the far wall was a desk manned by a petite woman, who was looking at her computer screen. “Done for the day then, buddy?” she asked, her eyes never looking away from the monitor.
“Yeah, I should get going,” he said. She didn’t say a thing.
He took off the suit and left it at the desk. He grabbed his keys and wallet from a nearby locker, then headed outside to his car. Plugging his phone into the car’s stereo, he turned on some music.
Merging onto the freeway, he stopped paying attention. During his drive he passed mostly parking lots: three Taco Bells, an IKEA, five strip malls, two McDonald’s franchises.
And one park, nestled in trees beside the mountains. A small stream flowed nearby.
In this park a group of children were playing a pickup game of soccer, and at the precise moment he passed half of them were loudly celebrating a goal with a flurry of high-fives.
He saw none of this, however. He just kept driving, not really looking at anything and not even listening to his music. When he got home he spent a couple of hours online before falling asleep on the couch, alone.