The Siege of Balen Moor
So, this post is a little different. I composed this piece for a Flash Fiction Challenge because I was instantly captured by the premise. Take a lyric from a song that moves you... really gets you to your soul, and write 1000 words based on that lyric. I chose the song All The Kings Men by Tom Cochrane (of Life Is A Highway fame.) It's a moving and fantastical song. If you've never heard it, please go listen to it and you will immediately understand the mood of this piece you're about to read.
I wrote this in literally 30 minutes, I couldn't get my typing to go fast enough to keep up with the story I wanted to tell. I stole a few things from my good friend, A.M. True, who is about to release her first book called Emalickel and dragged her into my story. None of this piece is from her book, but was inspired by the lyrics, but, if you want to hop on my mailing list, I'll keep you posted when her book is released.. it's really good!
“Shut your eyes my darling. There’s nothing you can say. The man on the moon won’t follow you. He doesn’t live there anyway.”
-Tom Cochraine, All The Kings Men
BALEN MOOR, by David Berens
Adrienne tore the virtual reality headset down from her eyes. It wasn’t doing her any good through the tears anyway. The world of Emalickel disappeared and her one room New York studio apartment faded into the gray dawn before her. A roach skittered across the floor and she almost… almost got up to chase it down. Sobs wracked her body as she realized that the city of moonlight that she had been living in for the last year was gone. And so too was the being she came to know as Emalickel.
Tessie meowed and nuzzled her nose against Adrienne’s arm. Feeling too heavy for this world, she finally got up and opened a can of tuna. Tessie showed her appreciation by turning up her nose at it. Adrienne threw the crumpled metal lid at the cat sending her careening down the hall, claws scraping on the tile floor. In an emotion that wasn’t quite desperation and not really hunger, Adrienne scooped the tuna out and began smearing it on a single slice of bread from her last loaf… it was the heel and it was all she had left.
Rain drizzled her window and hung in drops from the steel fire escape rail on her balcony. She plopped down on the red, green, and yellow beanbag and stared out at the brick façade of the building across the street as she ate her beggar’s sandwich.
“I will come back to you,” he had said as his white stallion had reared and crashed its hooves into the surf on the beach of Balen Moor.
The moon shone like diamonds crashing in every wave that came to foam about her feet. Before she could protest, he was gone. The war had called them all. The celestials’ realm was under attack and they were duty bound to defend her. Even the squires had been ordered to the front line.
The true heartache came from the fact that they were to be wed on the very next day. Prince Emalickel of Balen Moor and the young girl, Adrienne… the mystery girl from far, far away. She never had the heart to tell him she was nothing but a fraud. She was no princess and had no claim to any throne but the cracked porcelain seat that sat leaking into her one bathroom.
Her nostrils picked up the distant scent of mold coming from down the hall. She tossed last remnant of bread to Tessie who again scoffed at it and turned away. Opening the window, she climbed out onto the balcony and let the rain wash over her face and mingle with her tears.
It was all a game, of course, the second edition of The Siege of Balen Moor. She’d completed every campaign in it and had almost gotten bored with it enough to turn it off for good. And that’s when she found it. The egg. Gamers know these as little hidden gems scattered throughout the world of the game for experienced hunters to discover. A secret level, or new campaign, sometimes fancy swag for your avatar that announced to everyone that you had found the egg.
The egg Adrienne had uncovered turned her avatar into a beautiful princess… unlike the dirty thief character she had created for herself. The game took on an entirely new look through the eyes of the princess avatar. She began to be noticed by the other characters in her campaigns… human and AI alike. Balen Moor was a place that treated these two types of characters as equal, going to great lengths to hide from the gamer which was which. You never knew whether you were talking to a person… or a computer-generated intelligence. Sometimes a glitch in the game repeated an AI character and the gig was up. Adrienne had only once seen the same person in a pauper’s prison and on the baron’s throne of Calderon. Oops. Glitch. Gotcha.
And for the most part, the dialog of the AI’s was pretty standard stuff. The longer you played, the longer you figured out who was real and who wasn’t. Adrienne had bought her headset with her Christmas bonus. She spent every last penny on a pawnshop pair of goggles and had gotten lucky… they worked.
A friend had loaned her a pirated copy of The Siege of Balen Moor and she had turned it on one drizzly day like this over a year ago. The world she found inside the game was so much better than reality. She found it hard to put down. At first, she would spend an hour gaming… that soon became two… and soon four became eight. She was spending the entire night playing.
Two months in, she had found the egg and had become, Adrianna, Princess of Nuevo Yorko. (She couldn’t come up with anything better on the spot.) Not long after, the suitors had come. One by one, she shot them down. She wasn’t here for dating… ugh. She was escaping all of that, along with her shitty job down at the diner and her creepy landlord she figured had a camera somewhere in her apartment.
But Emalickel had changed all that. He found her. He knew her. He loved her. And she had grown to love him. She found herself hunting trolls and gutting wyverns, just to spend more time with him. And he came around often too. She started missing work to keep playing. Groceries went uneaten, the litter box became a nasty mess, her boss had given her an ultimatum on missing any more work and she had flipped him off.
I’ll run away with Emalickel, she thought, he’ll take me away from all of this. She was sure that he was someone important in real life and she would find him and they would live happily ever after.
As Balen Moor flickered into view and the bright moonlit sky lit up with the magical bombs of the dark horde attack, she frantically ran toward the castle to find Emalickel. No one knew where he was; he had surely been called to fight. The stable, he would be in the stable. She ran along the sand toward the barn where the warhorses were kept. She burst through the door and found it… empty. The horses were all gone and so were the men… except for one squire, mucking the stalls.
“Excuse me, squire,” she ran to him, “have you seen…”
Her question died in her throat as the boy turned toward her. It was him… but not him. It was a younger version of him, perhaps only thirteen. But the squire, who was smiling back at her, was a younger copy of Emalickel… an AI character. Her chest felt like it had a gaping hole in it where her heart had been.
And then she saw his horse out on the beach and she ran to him. He spoke to her in the whipping wind and promised he would be back. When he was gone, she exited the game and left the single blue moon of Balen Moor forever.
“I will not come back to you,” she said as she let the headset go to clang down the fire escape and smash on the ground below.