To John Ward and his challenge,
for without it, this story would not exist.
The physical holds no monopoly on reality, for reality is the experience of the mind. In the words of René Descartes, “Cogito, ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am.
—Keonis Raventine, 122 AC
Donovan Idris took two running steps, spun, and raised his pink shield—the one with a heart and kitten heraldry, not the one with a unicorn—just as a burst of white-and-blue flame slammed into the metal and split to either side.
Even with the +23% fire protection, a red -118 lifted above him and faded away. It was a small dent to his overall health, but the battle had gone on longer than anticipated, and he didn’t have any more health potions.
Nini—his beautiful daughter, adorned in matching armor—gripped his arm. She was the leader here, not him. “Do the thing,” she whispered and grinned.
They had practiced all the previous night on the thing. He groaned. What did they have to lose? It was a spell that no middle-aged man would have come up with. But perhaps that gave them an edge?
He coughed to clear his voice and peered over the rim of pink metal, waves of heat distorting his view. The Albino Draka, a dragon of forty feet with pearlescent white scales, leaped to the other end of the cavern, lit by jagged cracks of red in the firestone.
Nini dashed to a stalagmite, her long scythe held to the side. It was the only thing that didn’t match: long blonde hair, pink armor, and the black scythe that exuded clouds of darkness. She waited a moment, then glared back at him, mouthing, Do the thing!
Donovan sighed and nodded. He dismissed the shield, which dispersed into flakes of pink light. The Draka turned to face him, and the narrow gaps between the scales along its neck started to glow a faint blue.
With hands pressed together as if in prayer, Donovan shouted the words. “Pink! My favorite color.” He jumped, placing his weight on his left foot, then jumped again to his right. “Because I’m such a baller / I have heart, to tear you apart! / See my kittens, they are no chickens!”
Donovan wiggled his waist for the final part. “So go, my pretties / white fluffy kitties! / Scratch, hiss, bite!” Matching precisely their registered incantation, a wall of brilliant pink split the ground and hundreds of tiny meows echoed through the cavern. An army of white kittens ran out of the light, some charging from the ground, some running through the air.
The Draka roared. It tore long claws through kittens and shot a blast of white-and-blue flame across dozens of others. It couldn’t stop the swarm. They dove forward and burst against the Draka’s scales. Little -12s and -14s in red text, formed where kittens struck, exploding into hearts.
Much to Donovan’s disbelief, it was working.
Nini was gone from her hiding place. In a blur of pink, she appeared above the Draka; her black scythe pulled back. It sliced through the air, trailing plumes of darkness. The strike cut clean. -348 in bold yellow—indicating a critical strike—lifted and lingered in the air.
The Draka’s head parted from its body and crashed to the firestone. Holographic damage marks glowed pink where the head once was. The dungeon’s boss flaked away, and in its place, a golden chest materialized.
“We did it!” Nini said, then started coughing.
A spike of worry ran through Donovan. If she were coughing in here, it would be much worse in the real world.
Even so, she ran up to the chest and tapped the top of it. Two shimmering blocks of light floated into the air. They spun with pictures of items locked within—a helm, boots, gloves, a ring—all random, like a slot machine waiting for its lever to be pulled.
Donovan tapped the cube meant for him, and it shifted into a long thin sword with a slight curve. A beam of purple light connected to a hovering information screen.
Suralis Demon Blade
- Type: Two-Handed Weapon
- Damage: 317 - 383
- Durability: 160/160
- Effect: Stun [Lvl. 3]
12% chance [4 × Effect Level] to stun for 2.37 seconds [1.17 + (0.40 × Effect Level)]
Nini glanced over with wide eyes. She held a bracelet that shimmered with emeralds in the cavern’s red and yellow light. A beam of blue connected to an ignored information screen with a symbol of a frog at the top.
She swiped the screen away and stepped up to him. “Wow! That’s the perfect weapon for me,” she said, swapping the bracelet for the sword.
“Wait, shouldn’t I get a weapon?” he asked.
“You’re the tank.”
“I know I am, but don’t you think I could help more if I had a weapon?”
“Dad, you have spells! You’re”—she grinned—“a Pink Knight.”
“I don’t think that’s a real thing.”
“Sure it is! I mean, you might be the only one, though that just makes you special.” She had turned that word around. Instead of being daddy’s special girl, he was the special daddy.
Nini tapped a screen. The sword gained a slight outline of white before fading altogether, indicating that it was now equipped, ready for the next battle.
When she looked up again, meeting his eyes, she bit her lower lip, cheeks bunching up like she was holding back from laughing. “I think I’ve come up with another spell.”
“Oh, did you?” he asked, tapping the bracelet to his left wrist twice. It shifted to a stream of light that wrapped around his wrist, reappearing equipped. It doesn’t even match: emerald green with pink.
“It’ll be the best one yet! We need to return to town, so I can register the incantation. Do you know . . . The Floss?”
“Hey, don’t get ahead of yourself. Remember our deal? One dungeon, then you eat something.”
“But I’m not even hungry! And I leveled. I need to choose new attribute points.”
“That can wait. You haven’t eaten all day, and we’ll be coming right back.”
Nini crossed her arms and looked away. “Promise? Can we go to the fairy forest?”
Donovan huffed. It didn’t sound as exciting as fighting dragons. “Fine. You eat something—and not just one bite this time!—then you can teach me this Floss thing, and . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, we can see the fairies. Do we get to kill them?”
“No, dad! Fairies are good! Oh, and by the way, goblins are bad. How do you get this stuff mixed up?”
“That last goblin was alright. In fact, he was going to sell me a sword before you decapitated him.”
“You don’t need a sword! And we don’t want to increase our reputation with goblins. Their cities are ugly, nothing like the beautiful fairy city in the trees.”
“Alright, okay, you win. Goblins, bad; fairies, good.”
Nini smiled. “Don’t you know, I’m always right.”
“I’m going to kick you right in the butt if you don’t log out. Bah, I’ll see you on the flipside.” With that, he summoned his exit door and stepped through.