This chapter is dedicated to Churchpants. Roses are red, violets are blue, this chapter's awesome, and so is Choo. ;)
NOTE: This chapter basically introduces the epic challenge that will be a major part of the plot from this point on. Also, for the record, the new character near the end does have a name already but I decided not to reveal it yet at this point in time. :P
Chapter 17: The Challenge
After a long night of moping and brooding, Isabel found comfort in the familiarity of the cottage. The assortment of homey decorations such as the painted plates and the cuckoo clock soothed and consoled her as she meandered about. Once she made it outside, the fresh air relaxed her further. With an immensely deep breath, she settled down on the rocking chair on the front porch; taking pure delight in the fact that she was alone. Overall, she was content.
However, as she stared at the lovely vines that covered the outside of the house, she couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty for running off and leaving the rest of the users. As much as she treasured her alone-time, she also knew that abandoning the others in such an unpredictable place was both awkward and selfish. On the other hand, if she had stayed, she knew would be feeling inept and out of place amongst a large group of people, which was debatably much worse than actually being on her own.
Finally, Isabel decided to put all her decadence aside and get back to her friends. After all, they were her friends.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was stuck on the other side of the door since the portal had since closed up again. Unlike the last time, they had decided to stay put until Isabel came back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they all slept like babies after the past exhilarating few days they had gone through.
Churchpants was the first to get up. Jon, who was resting peacefully beside her, had his back turned and was snoring and drooling heavily. In a sudden fit of aggravation, Churchpants kicked Jon in the back.
“Get up, you lazy-butt!” she hollered.
Barely responsive, Jon moaned and groaned and shook his hand at her.
“Jon, I mean it! Get up!” CP insisted.
At that, Jon grumbled and reluctantly stood up.
In truth, CP was feeling a bit ill at ease being the only one awake. No matter how unwilling they would be to cooperate, her mission was to wake up as many people as possible to accompany her in the dark, quiet, violet void.
“JUICY! I KNOW YOU’RE AWAKE!!!” she brazenly yelled over at Samlovesham.
Not at all thrown off by her shameless boldness, SLH stretched her arms slightly and sat up.
“BARF! BIGHEAD! Y’ALL NEED TO STOP CANOODLING AND WAKE UP FROM YOUR DREAMS!!!”
She was referring to Marc and Rosalie, who appeared to be unknowingly nestling and nuzzling as they slept. Upon realizing they were snuggling, they both let go quickly and vaguely grimaced.
“I think I was dreaming about canoodling…” Marc joked as he smirked lightly.
Rosalie scoffed and pushed him aside.
“Psst,” PurpleJerk opened one eye as she laid in irritation. “Do you guys mind? I’m trying to get my beauty sleep, here…”
“I wonder what happened to Cartoon, last night…” Samlovesham said drowsily as she muffled a yawn.
“Maybe she didn’t enjoy Arts Alive…” Jon jadedly suggested.
“Don’t be silly, Jon! Arts Alive was so much fun! I was really getting into the music!” SFG exclaimed as she happily recalled dancing to the side all by herself.
“It was especially fun when Yoshi pulled a Gibby and joined you…” Samlovesham added with a smile.
“Oh, yeah! I took off my shirt and started dancing with her!” Yoshi remembered.
Churchpants giggled with SLH and Yoshi at the memory.
“No one really wanted to see that, by the way…” Ar0n sternly pointed out.
On the other side of the closet door, Isabel was anxiously waiting for the portal to open up again so that she could get back to her cohorts.
Growing impatient, she began to throw random junk at the door that was lying around. While doing this, she discovered a giant lever that was exposed in a corner. Giving the handle a curious look, she strained to pull it down. Frighteningly, she noticed that the more she pulled the more erratic and unpredictable the closet would become. Loose rubbish would begin to fly, strange noises would be heard, extraordinary bursts of color would emit from the entryway. Prepared to embrace just about anything at this point, Isabel shut her eyes, took all of her might and valorously flipped the switch all the way down.
All of a sudden, a powerful burst of energy became concentrated in one area. Gusts of wind blew everything around. Isabel stared in both pride and fascination. She had created a portal.
It took a moment for the entire ruckus to reach the other side. Still half-asleep, the rest of the users were abruptly and effectively blown away by the vortex. Without warning, the transporting whirlpool was present and swirling in front of them.
“Look! Here comes Loony!” Churchpants was overjoyed.
Feeling pretty thrilled and over the moon herself, Isabel jubilantly ran over to her peers to embrace them. Clearly, everyone was delighted to at last be reunited.
“Let’s go back to the cottage,” Isabel recommended.
Bearing in mind everything they had been through, no one objected.
Elatedly, everyone sprinted through the portal and once again roamed throughout the beautiful, lush green fields and meadows that surrounded the cottage. As always, the air was warm and the sun was high and bright.
Admiring the dazzling and magnificent scenery, Ar0n and Alica walked hand in hand from one end of the trail to the other.
Face to face, their eyes enlarged and their cheeks reddened, they leaned over to kiss each other. Right when their lips were about to touch, Alica stopped.
“…WAIT A MINUTE!” she suddenly enraged as her face scrunched up in discontent.
Dragging Ar0n by the hand, she angrily made her way to where Isabel was standing.
“Why are we falling in love!?” Alica demanded.
“Uh…I don’t know. I guess since I always imagined you guys getting together, it just sort of…happened in my fantasy world…” Isabel replied as she smiled and shrugged sheepishly.
“No one just falls in love the way we fell in love, especially not online.” Ar0n supplemented. “We had no prior build-up or any development. Heck, we didn’t even have feelings, to begin with. We basically just dived right into it, uncontrollably…”
Isabel stuttered nervously, “..I-I—”
“And since when do I choose a guy over a friend!?!?” Alica persisted.
“Yeah, and since when would I pick Reason over a friend!?” Becky chimed in.
“Hey!” Reason retorted.
Alica nodded and put her arm around the troubled Brit, “Becky is my best friend; we’ve had our fair share of fights before but we would never fight over something so petty…”
“Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve been doing things that are completely and totally unlike me…” Becky continued.
“YES! SAME HERE!” Alica approved.
Isabel chuckled disquietly, “Ditto.”
Across the way, Churchpants was hanging out with PurpleJerk, Marc, Rosalie and Maryan.
“I’m going to go find Loony so she can join us,” Churchpants announced.
“Okay, have fun,” Maryan amiably acknowledged.
Once Isabel was found standing on the other side, they took their time getting back as they walked leisurely across the dirt path.
Enjoying this unhurried pace, Churchpants took this opportunity to initiate some conversation with her close friend.
“So, how are you?” she started.
Isabel appeared to be distracted, “…I’m okay…”
“What’s on your mind?” Churchpants inquired.
“Just thinking about stuff,” Isabel cryptically responded.
“What kind of stuff..?”
Isabel watched the charming cottontail rabbits dart and scurry around the bushes as she spoke, “Those characters—the ones that were in those imageries in the portal—I have so many ideas for them but they’re all so scrambled. I’m constantly creating plots and stories for them in my mind. I would love to write a novel or something that features them but since I never write my ideas for them down, it will be nearly impossible to include everything that I’ve come up with…”
Churchpants nodded as she listened closely and focused intently on what her long-time wiki buddy was saying. Although Churchpants was 12 and Isabel was 17, they had so much in common and were practically inseparable from the start. It was because of this that Isabel had always cherished CP and viewed her as her little sister.
Isabel scoffed in discouragement, “To think, over the years, I have come up with so many different plots for Sydney and her allies but I didn’t write a single one of them down…think of what I could have done with her…she could’ve been legendary…”
“She is legendary because you created her and she’s a part of you. Besides, I never wrote anything down for Rosalie, either. I hate writing…” CP referred to a character she had created that happened to have the same name as one of the users on the wiki.
Isabel smirked, “You should’ve named your character’s love-interest Marc instead of Carson.”
They both shared a chuckle.
“Plus, my ideas are structured more like episodes. It might not translate well into novelization…”
“Well, no one says you have to make it into a book…” CP pointed out.
“I know,” Isabel acknowledged. “But writing—it’s really the only thing I’m any good at and it comes naturally to me. I tend to make things pretty crappy for myself, but I was still blessed with this one gift. It would be a shame if I didn’t share my characters and ideas with the rest of the world…”
CP once again nodded.
“The thing is,” Isabel sustained. “If I do write a book about these characters, it becomes more of a chore because then it would mean whenever I get inspired and start to daydream, I’d have to write everything down and by writing everything down, I’m making my ideas real instead of just fantasizing about them and if I no longer have fantasies, would this place even exist…?”
CP groaned and rolled her eyes, “Loony, you’re over thinking it. Do you even like it here..?”
Isabel desolately looked down at her feet, “I like when I have control over it…”
By this time, the two figurative online siblings had made it to the end of the trail.
Alica still seemed fairly upset about being inexplicably linked to Ar0n against her will. Ar0n, himself, was a bit ticked. Being robbed of one personality and then replacing it with an entirely different one that lusts over random online individuals is enough to make anyone aghast and appalled.
In contrast, Maryan affably greeted the returning girls.
“Hey, you guys are back!” she said.
“OMG! Finally!” PurpleJerk hailed.
Isabel chortled softly, “Hey, guys…”
Just then, the clouds darkened and the all too familiar cold winds began to blow and the unsolicited, translucent figure once again welcomed itself in the field.
“Hello, fellow fantasy world dwellers!” Vulnerare received them. “I am Vulnerare!”
“We’ve met,” SunriseDaisy said contritely.
“Oh, have we now…?” Vulnerare gently stroked her chin in deep thought.
“Yeah, at the beach, remember…?” PurpleCandyCaneXX recapped.
“Oh, yes. Quite right…” Vulnerare grinned at the memory.
She then looked over at Isabel and elegantly glided towards her, “And how are you my dear…? Have you enjoyed residing in your fantasy world…?”
“It’s been bittersweet,” Isabel said flatly as she scowled.
“Ugh, I still can’t believe I love Ar0n…” Alica grimaced.
Vulnerare cackled joyously, “Oh, how I adore influencing and controlling the feelings of others!”
“Why would you do that…?” xx asked in distress.
Vulnerare beamed smugly, “It was surprisingly easy! You kiddies are like putty in my hands…”
“Oooh! Kitties!? I love kitties!” McFan13 ecstatically commented.
Vulnerare laughed softly to herself, “She’s a cute one…”
“You take pleasure in manipulating feelings!? That’s sick…” PurpleJerk remarked.
“Well…some feelings are real…” Vulnerare scathingly glanced over at Lucy, then Slappy, then back at Isabel.
By now, everyone was getting very squirmy and uncomfortable.
“You kiddies are practically my giant chess game,” Vulnerare said pompously. “…And what would a chess game be without a queen—or in this case, a princess…?” She once again eyed Isabel as she smiled smartly.
Isabel said nothing as she glared at her in disgust.
“But allow me to enlighten you on why I am really here. As you all know, the fantasy world is currently no longer under your rheostat. Long story short, I am taking over.” Vulnerare simply stated.
Isabel scoffed and smirked slightly, “You mean trying to take over…Sydney warned me about you…”
In return, Vulnerare also scoffed and shot Isabel a similar expression.
“Sydney’s a minor threat,” she said with a titter. “Especially now that she’s dead…”
“Um, excuse me, Miss Vulnerare, ma’am. Is there any way we could get out of here…please?” Holy Chiz tentatively asked.
Vulnerare laughed diabolically, “There is no way out!”
Isabel looked up with a disbelieving look on her face, “I know that’s not true. Sydney told me there was a way out.”
Vulnerare snickered at the cyclic mention of Sydney.
“Quite right, there is,” she confessed. “But t’would be foolish to even attempt it. And then I would have to bring it upon myself to stop you guys…”
Everyone stood blinking in vacancy for a moment.
“Then again, it would be fun to see you guys fail…so…what they hey!? I’ll tell you!”
Isabel crossed her arms, “Okay, we’re listening.”
“Escaping the fantasy world entails you to fulfill a specific challenge; you must complete the tasks I’m about to assign…” Vulnerare began.
“Once you accomplish these tasks, you, my dear Isabel, may flee from the fantasy world and then you’ll be able to come in and out as you choose and you and all of your friends shall be set free!” she continued in a scornful tone.
“And what are these tasks?” Isabel asked.
Vulnerare chuckled, “I’m sure your precious Sydney already explained them to you. Let me once again remind you that it will be very difficult for you to achieve; almost unfeasible.”
Isabel nodded with as her face glowered in anguish.
“Basically,” Vulnerare explained. “The tasks require you to overcome obstacles; some of which are physical and some that are emotional. In addition, you must face your fears, admit your faults and overall undergo severe torment and the ultimate peril…”
“…I see…” Isabel fearfully replied.
“Now, granted, for some of this you will have the aid of your beloved acquaintances. However, you will also need to face some tasks individually with absolutely no outside help whatsoever.”
“Got it,” Isabel said as she bit her lip.
Vulnerare smiled sinisterly, “So, do you truly believe you are ready to rise up to this occasion…?”
Isabel took a deep breath, “…Anything to save this place and get us all out of here…”
Vulnerare chortled, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge…especially since just about everything and everyone you care about is on the line…”
Isabel apprehensively looked down at her feet as Vulnerare gradually disintegrated and fragmented away.
Anxiously, everyone glanced at one another.
“We start training, tomorrow.” Alica soberly announced.
Later that night, discreet noises could be heard coming from upstairs in Isabel’s canopy bed.
“Oh, Vulnerare, you truly are brilliant…” a male voice gushed.
“Ohhhh, do go on…” Vulnerare responded as she blissfully moaned at the way he rubbed her back.
“I mean, the way you tricked that poor girl into accepting your challenge just to get her and her friends out of the way…you’re simply a mastermind…”
Vulnerare closed her eyes and smiled brightly in pride and pleasure, “Oh, I certainly try…”
The gentleman pondered thoughtfully as he continued to rub the villainess’ back, “There are words to describe you, Vulnerare: cruel, hard-hearted, pitiless…”
“Oh, do continue, my darling…”
“…Harsh, ruthless, remorseless, vindictive and above all else, unforgiving…”
“Oh, music to my ears! This is why you’re my henchman!”
Then, at that moment, more moans and groans of pleasure could be heard as they wrapped themselves up in the bed for the night.