Keith zipped himself into the tight-fitting haptic suit, placed the mask on his face and activated the VR unit. He was immediately transported to Zithia, one of the virtual worlds available on the Real-U network.
Setting off from the Red Wyvern tavern, in search of adventure, he waved in greeting to some of his fellow questers on his way to the Hollow Forest. Today he had agreed to meet Noola of Fortengleam and together they would attempt to take the Silver King’s crown from his barrow, a task many had virtually died for in the past.
The elf was nowhere to be seen and impatient for excitement, Caradog the Unvanquished, as he now was, drew his mighty sword, Deathbringer and set forth into the dank wood. It was not long before the excitement he sought found him as he was set upon by kobolds.
Two fell immediately to a swing from Deathbringer, the blade living up its name. A further kobold came upon his flank only to die pierced by an elvish shaft, Noola had arrived! The rest of the raiding band threw themselves upon the pair, when it was over, Caradog’s sword was black with kobold blood and Noola’s quiver had barely an arrow left.
“You came late to the fray, Noola of Fortengleam,” growled the warrior, cleaning his blade on a dead kobold’s ragged tunic.
“Would you prefer that I had come not at all?” asked the elf, giving him a wry smile. “You would have felt the point of that kobold’s spear otherwise.”
“I had it covered!” boasted Caradog.
“Yeah, sure,” laughed Noola.
“These creatures wear the livery of Gilmash,” declared the warrior. “If he is after the crown too we could have a problem.”
“No matter human, I have a solution to his magic,” replied the elf.
The pair navigated their way through strangely twisted trees to the very centre of the forest.
“We are not far from the barrow, can you not feel dread upon the air?” asked Noola.
“I do not have your elvish instinct.” He replied. “But is it not odd that we have almost reached our goal without meeting a single Barrow-wight?”
“That is because they have fallen to me!” a voice boomed from the trees. “Come hither human, come hither elf and meet your new master.”
Warrior and elf pushed through the undergrowth to see the Silver King’s Barrow with Gilmash the Evil One stood atop it wearing the jewelled crown and surrounded by his kobolds, wight guardians lay dead around its base. “Bow to me inferior beings, for I now wear the crown of the Silver King, the true ruler of all Zithia!”
“I will not bow to you wizard, no matter what fancy headgear you may wear!” shouted Caradog in defiance.
“Then find out why the Silver King was so feared!” replied Gilmash, the crown glowed brightly and the warrior dropped his sword to fall to his knees clutching his head.
“Rursus coronam super te malum!” shouted Noola, holding aloft a golden dagger.
Gilmash screamed as the glow intensified, swallowing up the evil wizard before dying away to leave nothing of the man and his minions but charred bones.
“How did you do that?” asked the warrior, standing up shakily.
“I was concerned that something like this might happen so I consulted Hallar, an elvish sorcerer of great renown and he gave me this enchanted dagger, teaching me a counter-spell in ancient human to turn the power of the crown in on itself.”
Walking up the slope of the barrow a thought occurred to Caradog. “Yet you did not know Gilmash would be here?”
She smiled. “The lure of the crown is well known among my people, it was possible you might want to possess it for yourself.”
“Little chance of that now,” remarked Caradog after rooting through charred bone to find a twisted loop of silvery metal, its features fused and melted as if by some tremendous heat. “Our quest has ended without reward.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Noola with a grin. “I could give you a fine reward.”
“You would do it here, amongst the bones of the wizard and his minions?” asked Caradog, finding the thought quite arousing even so.
“We did it once on the belly of a dead dragon,” she reminded him.
“So we did!” Caradog pulled the laces of Noola’s leather jerkin to release her not inconsiderable bust and in return, the elf thrust her hand down the front of his chain-mail kilt and raised her high arched brows.
“Well hello, mighty warrior…”
Noola, still in virtual post-coital bliss, sat up to watch the twin moons rise over the forest and remarked. “You know, we’ve fought and loved side by side for nearly a year and still we’ve no idea who each other is or what we look like?”
“Isn’t that the whole point of doing this, to escape from the drudgery of our real lives?” asked Caradog, a little peeved at this intrusion into his fantasy.
“Haven’t you ever been curious, just a little bit?” she asked, prodding him in the side.
“I dunno, I mean what if you’re some fat sweaty bloke from Birmingham?”
“I don’t know that you’re not?” she countered.
“I’m not!” replied Caradog indignantly.
“Well to allay your fears, I am a woman in real life although nothing like this pneumatic elf, any more than you’re that muscly hunk, I’ll bet!”
“I might look like this in real life,” suggested Caradog with a grin.
“Yeah!” she laughed.
“So what do you look like then?”
“I’m in my forties and somewhat matronly,” confessed Noola.
“Same sort of age and a bit paunchy.” he admitted.
“You married?” she asked.
Yeah, are you?”
“Yes.” she sighed.
“For the past ten months I’ve been having an affair in virtual reality while pretending to be a sexy elf, what do you think?”
“Sorry about that, similar story with me, we sort of grew apart when the kids were growing up and last year they brought these haptic feedback suits out… my wife doesn’t know, of course, I keep it at my office, I’m there now.” he replied.
She laughed. “Mine doesn’t know either. I use it when he goes out and that’s quite a lot nowadays, it’s hidden in the laundry room he’d never think of going in there.” she snuggled into his embrace. “These suits make everything feel so real.”
“What’s your real name, Noola?”
“No, not going there, it’ll make it seem too real, you know, like I’m cheating on him.”
“Technically you are, we both are,” alleged “Caradog”.
“Hmm, still no!”
“Do you know they installed a mod last month where you can load your profile picture onto your avatar, apparently the mask reads your face and adapts the photo to fit, it’s supposed to be ninety-nine per cent accurate.”
“Ooh, let’s do it, I’m dying to see what you look like!” she said eagerly.
“What about feeling that you’re betraying your husband?” he asked.
“We still won’t know how who we are, do it!” replied “Noola” excitedly.
“Alright, you know, if we do recognise each other, we could perhaps go out together in real life?”
“Maybe, I’m excited, what do we do?”
“Look at your palm screen, press Input Settings – Update Avatar, then press Use Profile Picture. We’ll do it on a countdown of three!”
“Three!” said “Noola”.
“One,” she squeaked.
“Go!” said “Caradog”.
“Oh, god!” she cried, shocked on seeing the person stood before her..
“Shit!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“Er, hi Val,” said Keith.
Husband and wife stood virtually naked atop the White King’s barrow, staring at each other and not quite knowing what to say.