Emmanuel took out his phone.
Let’s go do some research at the library, he texted.
“That’s a great idea,” said Dartanian.
“But what would we be looking for?” Miranda asked.
“Incidents where something like this has happened before. Here or any other place,” Dartanian said.
“What am I supposed to put in the search bar? ‘Times that the world became a video game’? God this is so weird. I feel like I’m dreaming,” said Miranda.
“I felt that way for a day or two. It’ll pass,” said Dartanian.
“I don’t think I want it to,” said Miranda.
“I’d rather stay sane. As long as all of this is weird and not normal then I won’t lose my mind,” said Miranda.
“Huh. I didn’t consider that,” said Dartanian, leaning on his wizard staff.
“Sheh ya! Ha! Hiya!” Emmanuel said, waving his arms.
“Oh right. Research,” said Dartanian.
“I’ll help with the search terms. The town library doesn’t have a ton of books but they do have a huge archive of digital resources. I think it’s a good place to start,” said Miranda.
“Okay. Let’s do it,” said Dartanian.
Commencement Library was an old brick building that smelled like musty paper and aged leather. The three youths entered cautiously, not sure what to expect. The library was uncharacteristically occupied.
“So what should we search for?” Dartanian asked.
“Things like mass hallucinations, regional psychological phenomenon, that sort of thing. I doubt something like reality changing around us would have been forgotten, so it’s possible it was explained away as something else.”
“Miranda, that’s brilliant!” Dartanian exclaimed.
“Shh,” the librarian said.
“Sorry, Mrs. Applegate,” Dartanian whispered. Then, turning to Miranda, “Do you think that’s what this all is? A hallucination?”
“I’m not convinced it isn’t. Sorry, but something in the water making us all see things seems more realistic than the laws of physics literally being rewritten.”
“I shot a laser beam out of my staff!” Dartanian objected.
“Lasers exist. It’s not impossible to put one on your staff,” Miranda countered.
“Huh. You know, that’s a level head you got on your shoulders,” said Dartanian.
“Aw, thanks,” Miranda said with a warm smile. Dartanian blushed.
“So, um, search terms. Let’s start at the computer room,” he blurted.
“Shh!” the librarian said.
“Sorry, Mrs. Applegate,” said Dartanian.
“I can do that part. You guys go to the reference section and see if you can find any books on mass hysteria and things like that,” said Miranda.
“Aw yeah, the reference section is my jam,” said Dartanian.
“You cool with that, Emmanuel?” Miranda asked.
“Hiya!” Emmanuel said.
The librarian rose from her seat, adjusting her glasses on her face.
“Another peep and you’re out of here.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Apple-“
“Not. One. More. Peep.”
She sat down.
Find the Answers in the Library without alerting the librarian. Be alert for noisy things!
“What is happening?” Miranda asked.
“Oh no. A mini-game,” said Dartanian.
“Mini-game? Oh come on. We’re just doing research,” Miranda griped.
“Everything is changing. The rules are being replaced,” said Dartanian.
“We don’t know that,” said Miranda.
“Okay. I think this is a stealth type situation, so just go where you gotta go without making noise,” said Dartanian.
“Okay. Makes sense,” said Miranda.
“Uh. Mmm,” Emmanuel nodded.
Dartanian navigated the stacks toward the back where the reference books were kept chained to their tables. Miranda snuck to the left where the entrance to the computer room was. Emmanuel didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. Then he saw several glowing books over in the Psychology section to the right of the information desk. The librarian sat motionless at her station behind the returned books bin.
Emmanuel swallowed hard. He didn’t do sneaking. He wasn’t a sneaker in the least. In fact, he might have been the biggest, clumsiest boy in his grade. He decided to take one step after another. Slow and steady.
Two minutes remaining!
Dartanian came across two teenagers making out next to the biology science books. Dartanian wiped the sweat off his brow. He could get past them. Then the make out pair began to move around, their make out session growing more intense by the second.
“Oh no,” Dartanian whispered.
Miranda was delayed by a group of pre-teens sitting cross legged on the floor, reading trashy YA romance novels about hot but aloof Space Wizards being chased by clumsy and overly dependent Space Cadets. They were thoroughly engrossed and did not move when she approached.
“Oh come on,” Miranda muttered.
Emmanuel was stopped by a giant spider hanging down from the ceiling. It swayed to and fro on a silk web the size of thick steel cable. Its many eyes watched as he approached. Emmanuel didn’t have time for this nonsense. He looked for a way around it, but when he moved to pass it, the spider would swing even more fiercely, taking up the whole row of chest high book cases that wrapped around the tall stacks like a labyrinth.
“Ehhinnnnn,” Emmanuel moaned.
Dartanian waited for an opening between the kissing couple, but they were glomming on each other’s faces like they were fish and the other person was water. Dartanian wanted to gag. He timed his approach. Sensed a pattern to their gyrating bodies. He plotted his course. One. Two.
<Dartanian’s dodge skill is too low!>
The couple bumped into him, knocking him down. To his horror, they fell down with him, rolling in each other’s arm over his prone body.
“Ugh, gross!” Dartanian said.
The librarian poked her head around the corner of the stacks at the end of the row, her eyes darting back and forth, looking for the source of the exclamation. Dartanian whimpered and covered his eyes. After a moment, he opened his eyes again and saw that the librarian had disappeared.
Miranda noticed that the pre-teens were sitting, laying, and lounging about in odd and very uncomfortable positions. But her eye caught a pattern to their positions, and a way forward. She stepped over the pre-teens, glued to their YA novels, oblivious to her presence. She was maybe halfway to the computer room when some of the pre-teens began to shift, moving their legs so their feet wouldn’t go numb from lack of blood flow. Miranda watched them shift, shimmy and shake. There was a way through. There had to be. She saw an opening. She took her chance.
<Miranda’s acrobatic skill is too low!>
One of the pre-teens rolled his body into the leg she was balancing on and toppled her head over heels, crashing into the manga/graphic novel section.
“Ow,” Miranda hissed.
The librarian rose from behind the YA mystery section, eyes searching. Probing. Miranda held her breath. Seconds passed, then the librarian harrumphed and disappeared behind the shelves.
Emmanuel was getting tired of this spider’s crap. It blocked every one of his paths. It wasn’t a matter of finding the right way. He would have to get past it with brute force! Readying his body, he tensed, then ran for a massive “SPI-“
The librarian’s glasses flashed as her head turned straight to Emmanuel’s position.
“-n kick,” Emmanuel whimpered.
<Giant Spider doesn’t feel a thing!>
<Giant Spider used Hiss. Emmanuel is Shaken!>
The librarian waited. When no more noise came, she turned like a statue back to her position. Emmanuel crossed his arms and huffed. Now what was he supposed to do?
One minute remaining!
Dartanian got to his feet and moved quickly to the reference section. But, just before the tables where the giant reference books were chained, a group of rough looking kids were leaning against the stacks.
“Hey, nerd. Where you think you’re going?” one of the young rapscallions asked.
“Not again,” Dartanian said, cringing.
Miranda picked herself up and bounded for the computer room. But, waiting in the doorway were two young street toughs. She’d seen their ilk before.
“Hey, dweeb. Where you think you’re going?” one of the youthful punks asked.
“You again,” Miranda griped.
Emmanuel didn’t see a way past the Giant Spider. That meant he had to finesse the situation somehow. But what could he do? He found his answer lying next to him. A book on exotic kitchen knives. With a well placed throw, he could snap the Giant Spider’s web and leap over it as it fell. It was risky, but he had to move if he wanted to get to the glowing books.
<Emmanuel acquired Book on Cutlery>
He closed one eye and aimed. Then, with a great heave he whipped the book out like a discus.
<Emmanuel threw the Book on Cutlery. Direct Hit!>
The book caught in the Giant Spider’s Web and made it wobble back and forth, knocking several book shelves over. The Giant Spider flailed on the floor for a moment before finding its footing. It hissed and prepared to lunge.
Then, from the shadows, the librarian appeared. She grabbed the Giant Spider’s hind legs and dragged it back into the darkness. The Giant Spider hissed in fright as it struggled to grab ahold of anything it could, but it was no use. The librarian disappeared with the noisy offender, it’s violent hissing echoing off the library walls as it was dragged to its final fate.
Emmanuel did a celebratory fist pump and continued to the glowing books. But, waiting just beyond the shelves was a pair of juvenile hoodlums. Emmanuel remembered them from the forest behind the school.
“Hey, dork. Where you going?” one of the junior hooligans asked.
“Graaaa,” Emmanuel moaned.
“What the heck was that?” the hooligan asked.
“Ha! Toyah! Uaaah!” Emmanuel said, gesturing at them.
“Huh? Do you, like, speak English, dude?”
“Mmmmmra! Sha!” Emmanuel replied.
“Heh. This little geek thinks he can tangle with us?” the second hooligan asked.
What should Emmanuel do? Should he…
* Torture them
+ Traumatize them
^ Persecute them
# Humiliate them
Emmanuel whirled around. He knew that voice. Except it wasn’t so much a voice as it was a scratching inside his head.
“Why you spazzing out, dude?” one of the hooligans asked.
“Eh? Uhhh,” Emmanuel whispered. He really didn’t want to deal with this just now, but what choice did he have?
“You have plenty of choices!”
Emmanuel noticed tunnel guy, still disheveled and messy, reading a book on Herbal Medicine in the corner.
“What are you doing messing around in here? You gotta get your team together and go save the world.”
“Do… do you even remember who I am?”
“The name’s Wallace. I told you guys before. Wallace.”
“It hasn’t been that long. Christ, kids these days. Look, you need to stop wasting your time with these punks. Did you find your wizard friend?”
Emmanuel nodded and pointed to the reference section where Dartanian was facing off against some young rapscallions.
“Oh good. You and that other girl already know each other. You got just one more person to add to your party and you’re good to go to save the world.”
“Eh?” Emmanuel asked.
“Did I not explain this? You need four people to start your epic quest. You should have met at least four qualifying candidates to add to your party by now.”
“Wah? Sheha?” Emmanuel asked.
“What the hell are you saying? Is there something wrong with your voice?” Wallace asked.
“Raa! Hiyah!” Emmanuel moaned.
“Okay, all right. Jeez. Anyway, don’t dawdle. The longer you waste time, the worse it’s going to get for everyone else.”
“You two done yapping already?” one of the hooligans asked.
“Stuff it, kid. I’m the big important Guide here,” Wallace harrumphed before sticking the Herbal Medicine book under his arm and walking off.
“Hmmm,” Emmanuel hummed, suspicious of the guy.
“Okay, hot shot. What are you going to do?” the hooligan asked.
* If it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you get!
+ Why are you guys even here? It’s a library.
^ Don’t you have places to be? Like the forest?
# What do you want? Maybe we can talk this out.