There’s a break after his song concludes before it loops again. In the brief moment of silence, the soft sounds of gentle weeping echo around us. I glance around, wondering if this is the beginning of some strange attack, but the sobs persist until Orpheus resumes his sorrowful ballad.
“Why is he singing?” Yumi asks. “It must be sad enough to make the spirits cry.” She swipes her hand towards him, making contact with him, instead of passing through his body. “Oh shit! He’s alive!”
I make a tsk-tsk sound at her, replying, “Of course he is. I told you falling asleep in history class would come to bite you in the butt.”
She nudges me in annoyance, but says nothing.
“He’s here because the Gods have allowed it. No living person could enter the Underworld without the blessing of Hades and Persephone. Otherwise, how else would he get this far? You’d have to be dead!” Braeden explains. “But there’s nothing to be scared of. He’s not here to cause trouble, he’s here to find his lost lover. Haven’t you heard the myth of Eurydice? I’m sure Mai has.”
All eyes turn towards me and I begin to feel the pressure. When did I become a teacher? “His song says everything we need to know. He wants to find Eurydice and he’s asking for permission to go further into the Underworld, which means he’s stuck here. He must know she’s on the other end of this tunnel.” But Braeden knows this. Why is he asking me? I glance at him and he’s watching me patiently, like he has something to add. Must be hard to fight know-it-all syndrome. If you can’t restrain yourself, why have other people try to explain it?
“So, it doesn’t sound like this will be another battle,” Mist says, nodding to himself. “A retrieval mission seems simple enough, but we should remain on guard. If they have guards for letting people in, imagine trying to get out.” He turns to Serafina and adds, “But don’t worry. We’ve got a strong group. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“There’s more than me in the group, Mist,” she replies with a chuckle. “Don’t forget to shield the others. Besides, I’ve a got a new staff! No one’s dying on my watch.”
Why is everyone talking about dying? Surely there are better, less morbid topics they can think of. “As much fun as this is, can we move on to more important things? Standing in a dimly lit corridor in hell is not exactly how I pictured my time in this game,” I say, failing to keep the annoyance out of my voice. I feel like the longer we stay in the Underworld, the bigger the risk for our lives grow. Where we stand is not an optimal location to respond to an ambush if we bumped into players who got off to killing other players.
“Mai’s right. We should keep moving,” Braeden agrees to my surprise. “The Underworld is an easy place for new players to get stuck. I’d prefer not to be around when more reach this quest. As strange as it sounds, PKers like to target large groups of people, especially when they consist of inexperienced gamers. All they’d need is to set off a grenade and or a large burst of magic and it’d wipe out plenty of competition. Once they’ve picked the weaker players off, they’ll look for opportunities to ambush higher-level players stealthily. We can’t always be together. It would be unreasonable to ask everyone to stick to each other like glue for twenty-four seven. Our only hope is to continue completing side quests and killing bosses.”
Thank you, Captain Obvious. Braeden always has a penchant for over-explaining things, and he does so with an exuberant grin on his face. Is it arrogance? Or is he that ignorant by how insufferable he sounds? Does anything scare him?
Yumi taps Orpheus’ shoulder, pulling him out of idleness. He perks up and stops playing his lyre. He opens his eyes to reveal bright blue orbs.
“Forgive the intrusion. I’ve come to find my beloved Eurydice. I was told I could find her in the Underworld. Lord Hades granted me passage through the Elysian Fields and Asphodel Meadows, but I’m afraid Taratarus is off-limits. Will you help me find my Eury?” he asks, even his voice sounds like a harmonious tune.
One by one, we each accept the prompt and Orpheus continues his programmed script, that could not be interrupted. “This lyre was gifted to me by Apollo. He taught me how to pluck its strings, while my mother introduced me to musical verses and my eight aunts instructed me how to polish my skills to create a perfectly crafted melody. Because of my gift of music, they called me the Father of Songs and the Descendant of the Arts. You see, my mother was Calliope, the Chief Muse and Inspirational Goddess of eloquence and epic poetry. Her gift of prose fueled my lyrical education. Although Mother’s family cherished me dearly, I struggled with finding a place in the mortal world. When I performed my first song, I discovered I had the ability to charm and entice anyone who listened. I never knew if anyone liked me for me, or for my music. It all changed when I met Eurydice.”
“Why would Apollo give a random person an instrument?” Yumi whispers to me.
I shrug my shoulders. “The Gods don’t need a reason to intervene in mortal matters. Besides, Orpheus isn’t a random person. If he’s the son of Calliope, that makes him part-god.”
Suddenly, the area arounds us becomes this blinding white light, forcing us to close our eyes. When I reopen my eyes, I feel a wave of tranquility wash over me. Meadows filled with flowers of all shapes and sizes blanketed every inch of the ground—from tulips and daffodils to orchids and lilacs. I glance up at the sky and there’s not a cloud in sight. I have never seen the sky so blue and clear before. The breeze gently blows by, enveloping me in a comforting embrace, filling me with peace.
There are children rolling around in the grass, laughing happily as their families look on. A distance away, I notice a large lake with fresh, clear water that glows like aquamarine as the sunlight shines down on its surface. On the other side of the lake are a row of houses with varying architectural designs—from straw and clay to the classic Rococo. I assume it’s where the souls retire for the day, but it’s such a serene scene, they could probably sleep in the middle of the grass and have no worries. Every soul here has a right to be in the Elysian Fields, as it’s a place equivalent to heaven, a home for good, exceptional souls.
“I never thought people had homes in the Elysian Fields,” Mist comments.
“It’s probably a projection of what they had when they were alive. The Elysian Fields provides peace to its residents, but also grants nostalgia. Although they lost their memories after drinking from the River of Lethe, they’ll always recognize something’s missing. This is Hades’ way of keeping the spirits happy so they will never wish for more. Eternal happiness,” Braeden replies with an alarmingly sad tone, but it disappears before I can confirm it ever existed. “They don’t know pain, they don’t know loss. They’re truly in harmony here.”
My gaze shifts to a girl my age, with brown hair and green eyes, eating snacks and drinking tea with her mother and father while they laugh at some joke that I can’t hear. Jealousy creeps its way into my heart, wrapping its sinister claws around it. Why can’t it be me? The thought repeats in my mind. Why can’t I have a complete family? Did I do something bad in a past life to warrant such cruelty?
The release of the newly developed headset, known as SoulDive, reignites interest in virtual reality massive multiplayer online role-playing games (VRMMORPG). Mythic Kingdoms (MK), a recent game offered on the new console, provides players the opportunity to traverse fantastical worlds inspired by mythologies around the world and interact with artificially intelligent characters that behave like real people.
The game's fun comes to a halt when everyone ends up trapped in the game. With the "log-out" button disabled, the only way to escape is to complete MK's one hundred and fifty levels. To make matters complicated, players learn that in-game deaths will leave them in a permanently catatonic state.
Mai Chongrak is among the thousands of players trapped in MK and is determined to overcome the game's challenges. When she first logs in, she notices she has an ancient grimoire in her inventory called the "Book of Fate" that no one else seems to have. It contains the history of MK's worlds, but also serves as a powerful spell book to the first mage, the Enchanter. With her guild, they uncover a sinister plot concocted by an evil organization known as Venomous Hearts, who have captured the hearts of the Goddesses of Light in order to conquer MK and break out of the game to wreak havoc on reality.
"Mythic Kingdoms" is a virtual reality gaming novel inspired by KINGDOM HEARTS and the light novel, SWORD ART ONLINE by Reki Kawahara.
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Illustration by Kat Miller
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