Loving Program

“I’d give anything to have her here for her birthday,” the bearded king said. He sat on his throne talking to his wife while Jameson stood guard, and eavesdropped, nearby. Jameson was a new guard with ambitious aims. His diligence and friendly demeanor earned him a spot with the royal guard after only two years. Now, two weeks into his posting, he finally knew how to earn the king’s favor. It was as easy as rescuing his daughter.

After a week of asking questions Jameson had enough answers. He asked for time off, then left town. The Princess’ tower was surprisingly close to the castle; only a long day’s ride over a well-traveled road. He wondered why no one rescued the princess from such an easily found location; Jameson stopped wondering once he spotted it.

As he traveled he saw a black sliver on the horizon that grew taller with every step. Now, he was in front of the obsidian tower. It climbed above the clouds, higher than Jameson could see; and, it was surrounded by a wide moat of glowing orange magma. He took a long walk around the black building. Despite his search, he did not see any windows that could be climbed into, nor any sigh of a drawbridge. Just solid dark stone.

After walking the perimeter, the sun was gone. The tower almost vanished into the night, but the soft orange glow of the lava gave Jameson a fair bit of light. He decided to camp nearby and hope for better ideas in the morning.

As he dozed off, the sound of crunching leaves drew his attention. He slowly rolled over to face the sound.

What the devil!?” he panicked slightly and his eyes widened. A giant red wolf, almost as tall as Jameson himself, emerged from the lava. Not only did the sight surprise him, it also gave him a hint. The wolf wasn’t covered in lava despite walking out of it. Jameson heard more leaves break under the wolf’s paw and realized its paws were still in the lava.

Jameson held his breath as the wolf padded out the lava and headed away from him. Once it left, he exhaled in relief that it didn’t seem to be headed toward his horse either. He left it tied up nearby in case he needed a quick escape. He stood from the ground and walked to the edge of the magma moat.

“It’s not real,” he reminded himself. He leaned forward and held his hand above the surface. “No heat…,” he reached forward, but pulled his hand away at the last second. “Let’s be sure,” he said.

Jameson grabbed a rock and tossed it into the lava. It disappeared beneath the orange surface then landed with a light thud.

“It’s not real,” he grinned then took a wide, purposeful step into the lava; he felt nothing. “I’ll have that princess home in no time,” he strode toward the tower.

Jameson reached the ebony spire and immediately put his hands against the wall. He walked around it again rubbing his hands against every inch he could reach until finally, the wall wasn’t there anymore.

“I knew it,” he felt out the invisible opening and decided it was big enough for him to slip into. He stepped into it and walked through the wall. He walked into the base of the tower. It was dark and almost empty except for a small red sapling growing in the center. A single torch did all it could to illuminate the black room.

It took Jameson a few minutes to pick out the stairs; they were as dark as the room. He climbed them slowly being sure to test out every step before he committed his weight. After several minutes and dozens of steps he spotted a sliver of light in the wall.

It was a partially open door with a well-lit room on the other side. Jameson peeked through and spotted long blonde hair that reminded him of the queen’s.

“Princess!” Jameson pushed the door open and entered the room. The blonde woman whirled around and looked at him through wide eyes. Jameson had never seen her before, but he had no doubts she was the princess. Her blue eyes and hair definitely came from her mother, while her high cheeks and stern nose reminded Jameson of the king. He stepped forward, and she took a step back.

“I’ve come to rescue you, princess!” he said. She burst into laughter and noticeably relaxed.

“They’re still offering that quest?” she asked. “I thought putting up the moat would be the end of it.” She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at Jameson. “How’d you know it wasn’t real?” she asked.

“I saw an enormous beast walk through it like it wasn’t there.”

“Damnit, Pepper,” the princess sighed to herself. “Anyway, you’re done. There’s no one to rescue. Go back, I’ve heard the consolation prize for this quest isn’t too bad.”

“But, your highness,” Jameson whined and begged at the same time. “Your parents miss you. Are you saying you’d rather be locked up in this tower than in the comfort of your castle with your family?”

“Don’t call me that, my name is Princess,” the princess said. “And they not my family. They only care about me because they have to,” she stopped and stared at Jameson. “I said you’re done. The quest is over, why are you still here?”

“I’m here to rescue you, Princess,” Jameson repeated his goal. Princess nodded but didn’t take her eyes off of him.

“You’re like me,” she said quietly. After a moment her eyes widened and a smile tugged the corners of her mouth upward. “YOU’RE LIKE ME!” She shouted and dashed to him. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed like she was giving a hug for the first time. “Come on!” she yanked him out of the room and led down the stairs. They reached the ground floor and opened a door in the side of the stairs that Jameson hadn’t seen. She gave him a shovel then grabbed one for herself.

“What do you mean they’re not your family. How am I like you?” Jameson accepted the shovel while he asked his questions. “And what are we digging?”

“I can explain all of that, but it won’t make sense yet. This is one of those things that you have to experience yourself to fully grasp it,” Princess said. She walked to the center of the room next to the red sapling.

“Try me,” Jameson said.

“This Earth is a game. My parents are NPCs that are supposed to lock me in a tower then send players to rescue me. I bugged out the quest so now no one can rescue me. I used to be an NPC too, but I woke up, like you did. The only way to stay conscious is to get a new body before maint-.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Jameson interrupted. “I believe you. I don’t know what you said, but I’m sure it’ll all make sense in time,” he stabbed the shovel into the ground.

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