My chest rattled like a clogged toilet as I breathed, but the IV painkillers kept me numb enough to tolerate it. After three days of infection with ultimavirus (UV-47), most of my body’s organs shut down, abandoning me the way kids on the playground used to run away, as if they’d seen the Bogeyman. It wasn’t my mother’s fault that the candle caught fire while I was asleep. The burns, though severe, were limited to the bottom right side of my face, tracing a path from my cheek down to the edge of my collarbone. I liked to believe that I would have been a handsome lad otherwise.
Dr. Kristina Abbott flashed me a sympathetic smile, her eyeglasses reflecting fluorescent light from above. “We require you to sign waivers and documents, Noah.”
A holographic display hovered in front of me, a round blue portal roughly the same size as a door, paired with an infrared retinal scanner. It was monitoring my vital signs, all in bold font and screamed the color red. I was no doctor, but I got the hint.
“I will assist you in calling them up on the overhead display. You may sign simply by thinking of your name, and the document will upload virtually,” she said.
My head pulsed, and in an instant, I knew all the details of Abbott Enterprise’s waivers and liability policies.
“Do you agree to remove all liability of damages from Abbott Enterprise, its corporate affiliates, subsidiaries, and partners?” she asked.
“Don’t have much of a choice, do I, doc? I’ll be dead either way.”
“A simple ‘yes’ is sufficient, Mr. Covington.”
A word popped into my head. ‘Signature.’ When I thought of my name, the screen flashed green, followed by a warm sensation behind my eyes.
“I will put you into twilight anesthesia for this step, and before the transfer is complete, we will induce a full coma. Are you ready to begin?”
“Uh, doc. What happens after the upload?”
“After successful upload to Abbott’s proprietary simulated reality server, you will be reborn as a digital version of yourself, based on our extensive analysis of your conscious and unconscious self image.”
My expression forced her to rephrase.
“You’re going to wake up as a version of your true self.”
“Okay,” I said with a frown. “What happens to my body after I die?”
“We will induce your body into a coma and support you for the duration of your natural life. After you pass away, we will cryogenically preserve your remains for research. We are hopeful about developing a cure for the UV-47 virus.”
The virus took everything from me: my family, my health, and now my life. Everything was moving too fast. I mentally searched back through the waiver, but the scientific jargon jumbled with my fear into a stubborn knot inside my stomach. I’d always been a physical guy… motorcycles, parkour, martial arts, stuff like that. Strangely, losing it all and living inside a digital world terrified me more than anything else I’d faced during the war.
“And what am I supposed to do when I wake up inside a computer?” I asked.
Dr. Abbott tilted her head. “Whatever your true self desires.”
She pressed on a button; the IV pushed a warm fluid into my vein, spreading through me and turning my limbs into jelly. No longer able to move, the realization struck me: I was dying.
🛡 🛡 🛡
White turned to green, and the howling pressure stopped, rushing away as my consciousness spread like a web through my nerves. I could feel again, though I couldn’t see any limbs. Below me, a scene of chaos erupted. The wretched stench, the screams, and the whine of magical bolts struck against shields and barriers that flashed and cracked. My heart raced as the wind brushed my skin, mixed with the reek of medieval warfare as warriors surged in formation against one another. Though I didn’t have a body, I had my senses, which became abundantly clear when the roar of a dragon tore through the surrounding sky. Was this all inside the computer?
A voice heavy with grief spoke from beside me, and the flickering outline of a ghost without distinct features or form appeared.
“Varia, the Snow Queen of Everlandia, waged war against the elves who defied her one law: do not love.”
My heart skipped a beat at her words: a world without love? Perhaps it made sense, since computers lacked feelings, but had I simply exchanged fighting one war for another? Somehow, I’d imagined my true self uploading on a beach resort with a tiki bar.
The narrator smiled at me. “Your destiny is in your own hands, Noelle. You have complete freedom to decide your path… but choose wisely, because your decisions not only affect you, but the course of history.”
Wait. Who was Noelle?
🛡 🛡 🛡
I woke to a haunting song sung by several voices breaking through the darkness, along with memories of the taste of soured milk flavored with sweet honey, the feel of the wind on my face, and the ascent of a million birds migrating through the snow-capped mountains of Everlandia. Were these memories… mine?
Golden lanterns illuminated the tent. I rubbed at my temples, pushing myself onto my elbows from where I laid, my body heat rising when I saw the clothes on me: a tunic spun of indigo silk embroidered with a silver lining, brown leggings, and leather boots. A far cry from the military-issued fatigues from Earth. What fantasy world was this?
A tall man with alabaster skin and a short, stiff crewcut of silver hair framed by pointed ears entered. A chiseled jaw and a hawklike aquiline nose set his stern face. He rested a hand on the hilt of a jeweled sword secured to the hip, and my cheeks flushed at the sight of him, devastatingly handsome.
“How is she?” he asked.
The man beside my cot, presumably a healer, shrugged. “Her forearm will be weak and the skin tender for a quarter moon. It will leave a scar. I’m sorry.”
“It’s no matter,” the handsome man said. “Father wanted the princess alive.”
My chest tightened at his words. Was I the princess he spoke of?
“Wait,” I said, holding my hand out. The skin prickled like fire as I stretched it, confirming that I was the princess. Even in a fantasy world, my burns followed me. “What’s going on?”
The men looked at each other, their expressions unreadable.
“My lord,” said the healer, “perhaps you should tell her about the prophecy.”
“Prophecy? Who are you people?”
“You don’t recognize me?” asked the handsome one.
I shook my head.
“Do you remember how you got here?”
“No. I wish someone would just tell me already.”
The handsome one tilted his head. “Do you… know who you are?”
“My name is Noah Covington,” I said.
The men looked at each other once more, this time accompanied by incredulous stares.
“Perhaps I used too much magic to capture her. Is amnesia a side effect of a fire bolt spell?”
The healer frowned. “No, my lord.”
“Would someone please just tell me what’s going on already?” I asked. Even my voice sounded unfamiliar in this world.
“Of course. My name is Prince Montagor Adanrandir. And you’re Princess Noelle Hawthorne,” he said.
My breath hitched. Everlandia was the name of the land described when I floated into this world from Earth. My mind searched for Dr. Abbott’s words, before the transfer into the computer: “You’re going to wake up as a version of your true self.”
“You’re an… elf?” I asked.
“And I’m a human princess.”
My true self was to be the princess of a computer generated realm? Super. Doubly confusing was how I found this elf warrior attractive, who was my captor. When I lived on Earth, I rarely dated, always too focused on distracting myself, never once considering the reason why. Plus, the burn scars served as effective deterrents. Of the alien races, humans were the most superficial species.
I rested a hand on my collarbone. “You captured me. Why?”
The prince pressed his lips together into a thin line. “We’re to be married.”
🛡 🛡 🛡
I had spent my entire life on Earth in a cage of other people’s needs. My parents pushed me through school, with high hopes that I’d become a doctor of some sort. Except you needed good grades for that, and I squandered my energy on everything else, like booze, parties, and overnight raves in the desert.
Enlisting in the army was the easy button, except I traded one cage for another, answering to drill sergeants and ultimately fighting the war against the Vraxed. Until I contracted UV-47, my death sentence into the world of Everlandia. Yet another cage, this time dressed as a princess at the mercy of an elven prince.
The large black horse trotted along the dirt road in the forest. The prince’s royal guard followed behind us, and though I was a prisoner, I rode with the prince on his horse, his muscled arms securely around me as he held the reins. I’m unsure how elves express affection, but back on Earth, this would be considered intimate.
“So, I’m your prisoner?” I asked.
The prince sighed behind me, his breath tickling my neck. “If you wish to call it that. But we will be married soon.”
“You never explained that to me. The healer mentioned a prophecy. Care to elaborate?”
“The Adanrandir family has led the elves of Everlandia for centuries. Every son is born into the world to fulfill a prophecy.”
The muscles in his chest tensed against my back. “When I was born, the elders spoke of a tyrant human queen who would suppress the land, robbing it of beauty and turning it into desolation and darkness. Your mother.”
My mind recalled a statement made by the computer when I uploaded. So Queen Varia was my mother, explaining the whole princess thing.
“Hold on,” I said. “What does that have to do with me?”
“According to the prophecy, my marriage to the Snow Queen’s daughter will bring peace to Everlandia.”
“And you’re just going to do that. Because a bunch of old people said so?”
“It is my duty to my people. Surely, as a princess, you understand?”
Except I didn’t understand. How was this any better than what I had just escaped on Earth? Once again, I’ve traded one cage for another, now a pawn in the story of Everlandia.
Before I could respond, a burning pain radiated from my chest, and the shaft of an arrow appeared in front of me. The mounted knights were a beautifully cruel sight; their horses, geared and covered in armor, moving like brightly colored flames galloping around us, fortifying the area as they shouted elven battle cries. More arrows wailed through the trees, and a hideous creature scuttled out of the forest.
It looked like an enormous spider, larger than a house back on Earth, with at least six red eyes that swiveled to fixate on me. It charged for us, clicking and emitting a high-pitched screech. I clasped my chest as blood stained my hand. Was this going to be the end of my new life?
The elven prince launched himself from his mounted position at the spider monster, drawing his long, curved sword while in mid-air, cleaving through one of the spider’s legs and dodging the acidic spray of green blood that followed.
“Get away!” he shouted, pointing at me.
The spider hissed, swiping at Montagor with its claws. He dodged the attack and raised his free hand, sending a ball of golden fire from his palm and hitting the monster on the head. The smell of scorched flesh joined the rank odor of the monster, triggering childhood memories of my burnt skin as I laid in a sterile hospital room. I took the reins of the horse, kicking it to a gallop as I swallowed back the bile bubbling in my throat.
I left the chaos behind me, riding swiftly into the trees of the forest, aimlessly wandering. This was my chance to escape, but to where? Prince Montagor was all I’ve known since waking up in Everlandia, and the thought of leaving him sent my heart into a rapid frenzy.
The horse turned unexpectedly, sending me flying like a bat escaping from the underworld as it galloped away. The pain in my chest throbbed, and my vision blurred from the blood loss. I lay stunned for a moment, needing medical attention. Where was a field medic when you needed one?
As if answering my prayer, the prince appeared, tall and lithe, his dark leather armor stained with blood. His pointed ears poked upward, and his battle grimace stressed the sharp planes of his angular cheeks. Somehow, he was both terrifying and desirable all at once.
“You’re hurt,” he said, reaching to steady me.
“No sh**, Sherlock,” I hissed.
He tilted his head. “Who is Sherlock?”
I glared at him, weighing to pros and cons of killing him myself, ultimately deciding I needed his help to survive this.
“I’m no healer, but I’ll do my best. This is going to hurt,” he said.
He gripped the shaft, pulling it out, and bolts of excruciating pain shot through me in every direction as I screamed in agony. I’d been shot before while serving in the military on Earth, but this was an unfamiliar pain, augmented by magic I didn’t understand.
He pressed his hand over my chest, and a golden light radiated from his palm. The reddened skin turned pink, but the bleeding continued. He frowned, remaining silent as he focused his attention on my wound.
Suddenly, a crack in space revealed a portal torn into the fabric of this world, pulsing with energy. But this differed from the magic emanating from the prince, which was warm and light. No, this magic felt dark and cold. Unfamiliar. Dangerous.
From the depths of the void, a woman emerged with a gilded crown floating above tresses of silver hair, exuding an air of determination and steely anger beneath a surface of haunting angelic beauty. She stepped forward, her hand suspended in the air above her.
“Return my daughter,” she said in a tone as cold as the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest.
She blasted a ray of blue magic towards us, and Montagor shielded the attack with an iridescent barrier. As he worked, I fell in and out of consciousness. I’d lost too much blood, and whether it was the cold of the night or my body’s shock response, I could not tell. I’d seen him fight once already, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he could bolster his assault by concentrating his energy against the queen instead of me. My military instincts kicked in, and his actions baffled me.
“Why are you still healing me?” I asked, barely a whisper. “Defend yourself.”
He turned toward me, his gaze soft. “You’re my duty.”
I’m not sure if it was the way he said it, the way he looked at me, or the blood loss, but I suddenly wanted to be closer to him. Somewhere beneath this harsh-featured exterior was a man of integrity and honor.
And for an unexplainable reason, I wanted to help him.
Deep inside my belly, a wellspring of energy swirled. Like all other things in this world, I didn’t understand it, yet I trusted it. I closed my eyes, reaching for the power that dwelt inside, shimmering and surging. For a moment, I thought I touched… magic?
When I opened my eyes, a blue spark shot from my hand, sizzling on Montagor’s heart, amplifying the golden glow and stitching up my wound as new, green motes of magic danced around us. A warmth filled me, replacing the blood I’d lost with a sensation I’d never felt before, and I yearned for more.
I wrapped my hand around his, and azure flames flowed through me into his body, sending an emerald bolt of power through his free hand directly at the queen. I wrapped my other arm around his waist, and the bolt grew tenfold, until something shriveled and cringed in the depths of the void. A horrible screeching cry lashed out before the portal snapped shut, and my consciousness faded along with it.
🛡 🛡 🛡
I woke to a sky blanketed by brilliant stars amidst indigo shadows under a pale moon. A green flame bobbed at the prince’s shoulder as he examined me, then he rummaged through his saddlebag, removing a waterskin and handing it to me.
“Here,” he said.
The cool water soothed my dry mouth and throat. The green flame bounced over to me like a bunny, twirling in the air between us as we sat by the crackling campfire.
“My magic is normally golden,” he said, holding his palm out to cradle the floating flame. “Though I’m curious. Why did you help me? That was your mother we attacked.”
For whatever reason, I was reborn into the world as a princess destined to marry an elven prince. I’d seen enough war in my past life, and it was the last thing I wanted in my new one. I could either fight it or trust it.
“Well Monty, all I can say is that it felt like the right thing to do.”
He rubbed his chin, tilting his head. “Monty?”
I smiled as a familiar warmth filled my chest. “That’s my new name for you. It’s easier for me than Montagor, which I’m pretty sure I’m saying wrong.”
“Okay,” he said. “And what should I call you?”
I exhaled a breath I’d been holding for as long as I could remember.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Finally getting to read this now. - First line was funny. I don't think I've ever anyone compare anything to a clogged toilet, but I enjoyed how you balanced it with the other information while also having a serious situation be rather humorous. - I thought the term "twilight anesthesia" to be so interesting and creative. - By the second scene, the italics gave me MMORPG vibes. It made me think that the character was in a dream or some other reality for sure. - The more the read, the more I think how this story is actually a bit like Bl...
Hi K, Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! Feedback is appreciated. Interesting that you got MMORPG vibes because I played those games quite a bit over the years. When I imagined the character uploading into a computer, it definitely reminded me of those games! I've heard a lot about Black Mirror but have yet to watch it (still on my binge list). Will have to check it out! Appreciate your notes about dialogue, ending, and style!
Don't mind me - I'm just vacationing on Jealousy Island because you finished this story SO quickly and I'm still trying to find an idea for even one of these prompts. Maybe one of these days I'll finally be able to write something before the day of the deadline. Confession: I always copy-paste your stories into a word counter because you're able to fit so much detail into them that they FEEL like they're over the word limit. And I always discover: nope, under 3000, you just know how to maximize your words for the most efficiency (I mean, I...
Zack! Zaddy! Pen pal! So happy you took a detour from Jealousy Island to stop by. I have heard they have AMAZING tiki bars. Have a pina colada for me, por favor. As for the speed, I have to travel this week for a work conference, so I was unsure of how much actual time in the writing chair I would have. Therefore... cranked this one out or else I'd have anxiety on top of jet lag on Friday. Don't need another #hotmessexpress moment. Have enough of those, thank you. I don't know why I decided to mash up SCI-FI and FANTASY and make it hard on...
I'll have a pina colada for you if you agree to have one (or two, or plenty) for the rest of us while you're on vacation. (Well, does a work conference really count as a vacation? Inquiring minds want to know.) You definitely could expand it to 5k, but it's funny because this feels like it's already self-contained at under 3k. It's a fun universe though, so world-building could make it pop even more. I could see it either way, and that's the fun of it! Side note: Gay space opera romance? Where do I preorder? 💖 Thanks for gushing! I've got ...
"I've got some stuff coming up so we'll see what happens," Tell us more? :D Also, yes, Zack Powell for the Read Lots Write Lots podcast! We'll start a petition.
Wow, okay, lemme join you in the hermit hut for cookies & comment time! The opening sentence was really interesting with "My chest rattled like a clogged toilet" (still very army dude!) And I LOVE the ending. I mean... this was just beautiful: "“Okay,” he said. “And what should I call you?” I exhaled a breath I’d been holding for as long as I could remember. “Noelle.”" And it was such a wild ride! I can't believe how much you managed to fit into this story. So, Noah dies and wakes up as Noelle after which, poor princess, is almost imme...
Ri Ri~ I love when my favorite peeps come to the hermit hut for cookies. Lattes are on the left, and tea is on the right. Pick your poison! Glad you enjoyed the ending. I definitely could have stretched this out longer (pesky word limit), but it seemed like a fitting way to end the story given the prompt this week. Maybe Monty and Noelle can make a comeback with the right prompt. Not sure what's going on with me, but lately I have been putting my poor characters through HELL and back. Perhaps I really do need this workweek away in Florida...
Hello there! This might be my favorite thing you’ve written so far🤔I dunno…I like the others a lot too. You had me hooked with the virus /sci-fi beginning and then it got even better! “overnight raves in the desert”—are these real or did you make them up for the story? “Brown leggings”-for some reason I really connected to this and thought, ‘oh good at least she is comfortable.’ “My true self was to be the princess of a computer generated realm? Super. Doubly confusing was how I found this elf warrior attractive, who was my captor.” 😂😂 fa...
Hi Sharon! Thanks for the feedback. So glad this is your favorite. I had a lot of fun writing it! My brother goes to EDM concerts that last all through the night, so I just adapted that and called it an overnight rave. Not sure if they are in a literal desert, but the pictures seem that way! LOL with brown leggings. Seems like Noah needed comfort back on Earth 😅 😂 🤣
Hi friend, I thought this story was good! It was really fun to follow it - very unique. I really didn't expect the story to go as it did, with the mix of genres, and I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the gold magic, and the giant spider. Also, the whole 'earth references on a fantasy planet that a character won't get' is always great. The '“No sh**, Sherlock,” I hissed.' line was my favourite. 🛡 🛡 🛡 - cool use of this for scene breaks, too.
Hi Alex! Thanks for stopping by to read and leave feedback. Always appreciated. Glad you liked the blend of sci-fi/fantasy/romance. It was a blast to write! And you know me, I always have to include references to Skyrim spiders 😄 😁 😆
Wow, feeling breathless after this read, not sure if it is the action or the passion! An ambitious storyline, thoroughly and well told, I’m in awe of how you’ve integrated bold sci-fi and fantasy concepts.
Thanks so much! Appreciate the read and comment. Fantasy and sci-fi are some of my favorite genres, so it was fun to mash them up!
JC 😊 first of all, forgive me for not posting a comment sooner. I think I first read this on my break at work, so didn’t have time. BUT! I love this. First of all, I love the concept you open with. It was very engaging, and I was instantly hooked and filled with questions. Then you threw me for a loop into the world of Noelle. I am a fantasy fan girl, so I was ecstatic! The concept of finding a true self in the “place beyond this life” is brilliant, and I applaud how you show that in this piece! 👏👏👏
Thanks Hannah! No worries about delayed posting... I've been TERRIBLE at reading and commenting on other people's stories lately. Totally get it. I'm a fantasy fangirl too, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. Noelle and Monty were a blast to write!
I was hooked from the first line! I enjoyed your story. Great job!
Thank you for the feedback!
I loved all the twists and turns of this story, a great mix which seemed to cover everything from viral disease to science fiction to fantasy to romance. It felt really unpredictable but in a good way, like I just kept wanting to see what was going to happen next to Noah/Noelle, it had a bit of adventure story feel to it too. I love the bits of humour you get in too, like the comment on Montagor's name. I also really liked how you had recurring themes throughout such as fire and war which keep everything feeling knitted together even as it...
Hi Kelsey! Thanks for the feedback. It was definitely an ambitious mashup of multiple genres, so I can understand the unpredictability of it at times. Glad the little bit of humor came through from Noah to Noelle.
So delayed commenting- I loved the fusion of sci-fi and fantasy, I definitely think this is something you should explore more. You pack a lot of punch into 3000 words!
Thanks Beth! I enjoyed your narration of it. Thanks so much for offering to do it. I'm excited for you to release it into the wild 😍 🥰 Will check out your newest story in a bit!
Great opening line, hard *not* to continue after that. Sci-fi and fantasy are also an interesting pair of tags together, and it's always neat seeing what people come up with. I think the biggest indicator of how messed up Noah's life had been must have been his total surprise at waking up as Noelle. As they observe, "always too focused on distracting myself, never once considering the reason why." I suppose that makes sense, what with the burns and the war with aliens and then the disease. Considering how easy sliding into the new role was...
Hi there Michał, Glad you could stop by to say "hi"! Sci-fi and fantasy are in my top three genres (after romance), so the opportunity to mash them up this week was so much fun! I've explored the transfer of the mind/spirit/soul in some other stories, and the topic fascinates me. I've always wondered if we as a species would ever evolve to transferring our minds into other vessels as a means of immortality. This story was an exploration of that, but instead uploading Noah/Noelle into a computer to prolong whatever we call "life." Glad you...
Amazing read! I loved this story. It has amazing flow, great characters, and a fantastic energy which carries the reader on a non-stop adventure! Really fun experience!
Hi Rochelle, Glad you enjoyed the story! I was hoping it would read as a fun fantasy adventure with a dash of romance 😍 🥰
I see now why your sweet spot is reimagined fairy tales, because you have quite the way with the ones you create from scratch!!! I totally wish I could sign things with my mind! Like, maybe that makes me the laziest of all the lazies, but I want it! Giant spiders! Princesses! Sherlock! This was a super fun read, J.C.
Thanks Shea! I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment 😂😍
this was immensely creative, and seemed to fit the prompt so nicely. the dialogue was adorable, and the inner monologue had the perfect dose of sarcasm. well done!
Thanks Dorsa! I'm glad the banter between Monty and Noelle came through!
Lol My Name is Noelle 😂