“Okay, Meaghan, he’s free,” I said as I put the cuffs back in my pocket.
Meaghan snorted. “Tommy, let’s go.”
“Now, wait a second. Tommy here is answering some questions about your friends that died. I know you want to see their murderer brought to justice. I can see you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. I’ll come along. We can talk on the way. Where are we going?”
She gave me a contemptuous look. “You’re going to go home. Tommy, you’re with me.”
I put a hand to Tommy’s chest and pushed him back into his chair.
“Tommy’s not going anywhere unless you give me some answers.”
The woman looked disgusted. “Why are you putting up with this, Tommy? You have the power to leave. Use it and let’s go!”
Tommy looked at me for a moment. I could see it in his eyes. The kid was going to bolt. He fidgeted in his pocket for that same pair of white glasses he’d been wearing earlier.
“Look, Tommy, you’re not under arrest right now, but I can change that. You don’t want to do this. If you take off after her you’ll be charged with evading arrest and any thing else I can make stick. Just stay here and answer my questions.”
“I’m sorry, detective. You seem like a nice guy, but she is right. You can’t help us. It really is better if you don’t get involved in this.”
Tommy placed the glasses on his head, adjusted the nose piece so they sat flat and then muttered something under his breath. With that single word, he disappeared. From down the hall, I heard a soft pop and there he was again. Fifteen feet away.
“Wha…” I stammered.
Meaghan gave me a gloating smile and sang, “Bye-e-e-e!!” Then, she sprinted down the hall toward Tommy.
I took off after them. For the first time in my life I was grateful that I’d been faithful to my cardio regimen. I was gaining on Meaghan. She was younger, but I had longer legs and the advantage of years of running. Tommy was frozen in place unsure of what to do or where to go. He was waiting for Meaghan to catch up to him.
I was within arm’s reach of her when she screamed, “Don’t just stand there. Run!”
Realizing my opportunity, I switched targets. I let Meaghan flee and lunged for Tommy. My momentum carried me forward and allowed me to land a beautiful tackle. While mid-air, I wrapped my arms around his waist and the two of us crashed to the ground.
The impact sent his glasses flying. I wasn’t sure what the deal with the glasses was, but it was obvious that both he and Meaghan valued them… which meant that I had to have them to ensure that I maintained leverage for my investigation.
I pushed him off to the side and scrambled across the floor and grabbed the white framed glasses.
“No-o-o-o!” Tommy yelled.
“Hey, mister,” Meaghan began. “Just give those glasses back to Tommy. Trust me. Don’t do that. Please don’t do that!”
I don’t know why other than it just seemed like the natural thing to do, but I raised them to my head.
“Stop! It’ll mess up your life. Do you think we want this?” Meaghan’s voice was frantic. Her eyes were pleading.
I placed the glasses along the bridge of my nose. I adjusted one of the arms so they sat straight and glowing words filled my vision: “Welcome, New Player!”
A thin man appeared in front of me. He was dressed entirely in black. He had silver hair and a nose like a hawk-bill. He had the most piercing blue eyes and I found his gaze to be unsettling.
He regarded each of us in turn and as he did so the hospital around me changed. The white walls and gleaming floors gave way to damp stone. Lichen and moss grew in the seams of the ill-fitted bricks that made up the wall. Torches stood in iron sconces and cast flickering light down the hallway.
None of this made sense. I jerked the glasses off and was once more in the hospital. Tommy gave me a gloating look that I ignored. Carefully, I raised the glasses back to eye level. When I looked through the lens, I was in some medieval dungeon but if I looked away from the lens I stood in Sonoma Medical Center.
I glanced into the lens again and saw the old man’s face looming large. I put the glasses on and the man’s voice filled my head. “Tick, tock my children. Only seventeen hours remain before the Wyvern will rise and all will be lost. You must needs level up before the final confrontation.”
“And you, new player, because you are late to join the game, you face the most difficult challenge of all. You have to survive while all of your compatriots have already advanced and are at higher levels than you. Can you do it? Can you live long enough to level up?”
The man stood there waiting for me to respond. Finally, I said, “Yes. Yes, I can.”
He gave me what I can only describe as an evil smile. “Very well. Since you seem up to the challenge, let’s make things even more difficult, shall we? Not only must you survive, but you will concern yourself with making sure your team mates survive as well. You shall be a cleric!”
“Um, what’s a cleric?”
Meaghan walked back to where we had gathered. She reached into a backpack— that the real-world Meaghan wasn’t carrying— and pulled out another pair of white glasses. She gave them to Tommy. “These were Natalie’s.”
Tommy put them on his head and his clothing changed from his torn and blood-stained shirt to dark, form fitting clothing. His face and head were covered by a dark cowl. A belt cinched his tunic close to his waist and from this belt hung a variety of potions, daggers, and small bags. “He’s saying you’re going to be the party’s healer. It means your focus will be on supporting us while we go out and do damage to the people who killed Natalie.”
“Support?” I turned away from Tommy to face the old man. “Listen here, bud. I’m a police officer. I’ve been on the job for decades. Out of the three of us, I’m probably the only person who has actually fired a weapon. I need to be in an offensive role. You got that?”
The old man smiled. “And a fine cleric you will be.”