Thank you to Arkonia, Inga, RG, SH, Slayer and U32. Special thanks
to Trouble for the idea.
Steam rose in intertwining languorous waves from the still swirling light brown liquid. A tiny ring of a lighter color ran in lazy circles until it eventually petered out and was absorbed into the rest of the fluid.
The cup was one of the large type that seemed so popular anymore. White seagulls and boats stood out in clear relief against the bright orange printing that proclaimed the wonder of that particular brand of coffee and the town it came from.
As the swirls began to die down in strength, a well shaped, yet fine boned hand reached out to take possession of the cup. The fingers snaked around the porcelain and grasped it almost absently.
"Damn it!" the redhead cursed as she withdrew her fingers and shook her hand as if that would help the pain she was feeling from the still very hot cup.
Even with the pain, her eyes were still firmly on the computer screen in front of her as the lines scrolled by at a quick pace. She didn't want to lose track of the story that was unfolding and added a breath of air to her fingers as her eyes absorbed what was happening.
way!" she exclaimed to the screen. With one final shake, her hands almost
flew to the keyboard to answer and she began to type:
"I'll beg your indulgence in your dreams, you jerk!" Erin spat at the computer screen.
This world had become her own in the past several months, from the moment she'd found the chat room where she could become something so completely different. So new and fresh and do things that she'd never dream of doing in the mundane world.
She'd talked to Tral ... Darrien, her lips perked up at the fact that Darrien had shared that name just a few weeks before in private conversation with her about the world they helped to populate.
The Harp And Crown was the name of the room they used. Erin had coined it their own private Twilight Zone, where they could become something so completely different that it was simply out of the realm of imagination in some cases.
Here she was, Lady Emrallt of Amwythig, with power over vassals and peasants and making important decisions that actually affected something, even if it was only the computer scenario that someone had programmed and allowed everyone to use.
It was truly amazing. When someone attacked another, the battle was shown on the computer program that they all left running and the effects became record instantaneously. This was also true of the court intrigue. When someone entered into an alliance or became 'attached' to another, that was also somehow mysteriously recorded immediately.
Darrien had, to Erin's amusement, named the mysterious person behind the program "Rod Serling" and they would occasionally joke about him popping up and proclaiming that this or that had happened and explaining the ramifications.
There was no doubting that it was addictive. So addictive, in fact, that Erin, and most of the others, were present most of their non-working hours and sometimes even during work. However, explaining it to her co-workers or family was useless. They simply didn't understand the appeal or the hours she spent in intense negotiation about this border or that newly discovered mine. She'd long ago given up the attempt.
Erin's computer alerted her to a private message coming in and she smiled in reflex as she saw the logon that Darrien had taken for private communication. It had been such a shock when they'd been tentatively talking about themselves and Erin had let it slip that she adored blue eyes.
a blink of her own green eyes, she'd received a private message from someone
named "Blue Eyes" and that had been the name that Darrien always used after
Erin kept an eye on the room as Heddlu tried to get Serai to explain his actions and the Marchog looked uneasily between the two as she told Darrien about the strip of land that they realized Serai had just made a play for.
rapidly occurred to them that Serai wanted her to go to battle, which was
the normal course of action for insulting her family. She told Darrien
that the land was mostly used for sheep farming and had a couple of non-producing
mines in the northwest region.
the rush of conversation from the bystanders, Erin saw her name in the
Erin could envision Serai standing in the middle of the brightly decorated and torch lit hall, his smug countenance waiting for a personal gauntlet to be thrown. Her mind raced furiously, he must have something special in mind that would enable him to defeat her or anyone she chose as her champion, and therefore she had to make sure the redress she called was careful, yet enough of an insult to make a point.
intrigue was one of the reasons she enjoyed the world she'd found so very
much. It offered her a chance to exercise her agile mind in a myriad of
ways. She thought for a few seconds and, as a thought came to her, a smile
twitched her lips.
paused for effect and had Darrien instantly in her private messages laughing
at her stage presence and wishing her good luck.
A chorus of laughs and both admiring and disappointed statements greeted her demands and Erin simply smiled, the smile grew wider as Darrien sent her a private message congratulating her. Serai, and many of the others, had expected her to fight for the insult and if he won, he would win the land they had been discussing and also a very healthy tithe from her.
making it personal, she had taught Serai a lesson and also stopped Serai's
attempts to get her or her champion in private battle. In the rules of
this world, if Serai refused at this point, others could step in and take
up the gauntlet on Erin's behalf. In point of fact, Serai might end up
with an endless stream of battles and lose quite a chunk of his land and
Erin grinned at the continuing web of intrigue. Trallodi had issued a direct challenge, which would mean that Serai and Trallodi would fight a battle between the two of them if Serai accepted. However, Serai was no match for Trallodi and he knew it. In fact, barring something catastrophic, it was well known that Trallodi was the best knight in the land and had won countless battles of his own and with his armies.
could feel the rest of the people in the chat room waiting for this latest
wrinkle to either iron out or become the biggest blow up in a very long
There was a long pause and Erin waited to see if Serai felt that whatever he had up his sleeve and in his mind was enough to risk a loss of considerable magnitude. She would, of course, care for Serai's son as if he were her own and no harm would come to him.
Erin stopped watching the screen for a moment as she realized what she was thinking. That world, her family line and Serai's son didn't really exist and here she was getting upset over it all, trying to plan to keep an electronic bleep in her computer safe. Serai's son, Sengl, wasn't even a player in the game yet.
were either typed by their 'creator' or simply talked about and not present.
They weren't truly allowed as characters in the world until the court approved
their entrance and with completely separate characters as their father
and mother. One character was hard enough!
Erin blew out a deep breath that she hadn't realized she needed to do. It was amazing just how wrapped up you could get in this world, it was so addictive and became so important. Her aunt and uncle had long since given up trying to set her up with 'nice young men' as they called them.
And, though she felt badly about not seeing them much, they had always made her feel as she and her sister, Leigh, were the impositions they were. Their parents were long dead in a car crash and Leigh was so busy with her work that they hardly ever talked anymore.
This cyber world had become her life and Darrien her one real friend, even though she knew very little about her? She wasn't sure but she felt that was the case, perhaps tonight was a night they could find out a little more about each other.
Heddlu, Bonnie in real life, had talked to her privately and they had even exchanged a couple of very careful phone calls. However, even though Bonnie had been in the room for much longer, she too knew very little about many of the others, especially Darrien. Bonnie had even confessed that she had no idea what Trallodi's real name was but that there were quite a few people in the room that she had to say the same of.
It was odd, they'd agreed. You usually formed relationships with people in rooms and exchanged information. But, not in this land, this world. It was so popular that it had a huge waiting list and you simply accepted the ways of the people in it or you moved on, which people certainly did.
In fact, the rather popular Argel had been removed from the lists just a few days before, as she hadn't been heard from in several weeks. Even Bonnie had been confused by that as she'd spoken with the person behind Argel and she had expressed concern that she hadn't been able to get a hold of her.
That was one problem with this cyber world, if you formed attachments and something happened to one of them, it wasn't always easy to find out. You could, theoretically, simply lose someone. That brought a chill to Erin and she removed her hands from the keyboard in order to wrap her arms around herself. She simply couldn't imagine losing contact with Darrien.
anything, she wanted more and would love to talk to ... "Well, now's as
good a time as any to try and find this out for sure!" she said to the
room as her fingers returned to the keys, her coffee long forgotten.
the silence, Erin's heart began to drop. She knew Darrien was very private
and that perhaps she'd gone too far.
blinked; surprised even as she had been thinking how important the cyber
world was to her earlier.
frown touched Erin's forehead, Darrien was probably playing with her and
she wasn't sure she liked that. Although, if Darrien were from another
country or really introverted, perhaps she didn't understand.
can't believe she asked that!" Erin muttered, as she realized she'd attached
a sex to Darrien whether it was correct or not. "Well, maybe this will
get us that much closer."
sighed. This wasn't getting them far and she blew a breath up through her
Erin began to share parts of herself to try and bring Darrien out of the
shell she was obviously ensconced in. And each night after for two weeks,
she continued to spend hours every night in the attempt to draw Darrien
out of her shell just that bit more until finally, after it seemed to Erin
that she'd almost written a book on herself, there was a breakthrough.
breath caught. She'd never had her importance to another stated in such
a fashion but caution caused her to wonder anyway.
was right!" Erin said to herself as she wiggled in her chair and her nose
wrinkled up as she laughed at her triumph. It was worse than pulling teeth
but she'd finally gotten Darrien to place some trust in her and that particular
tidbit had validated the feeling she'd had that Darrien was female.
As her mind conjured up images of a very large room, with bright tapestries warming the thick stone walls and figures milling about in seeming abandon, an annoying buzzing sound crept into Erin's awareness. She lifted her head up in an attempt to figure out just what was going on. That proved to be a mistake.
"Oh my god!" Erin's hand flew to the back of her neck and the spasm that quickly reminded her, along with the indentations in her arm where her head had been resting, that she'd ended up falling asleep at the computer table. Again.
As her mind finally kicked into gear, Erin realized that her answering machine was answering the phone and the voice on the other end was her supervisor from work asking where she was. She made a quick grab for the phone and interrupted the message being left.
"I'm really sorry, Mrs. Bradley," Erin said, not needing to make up the croak in her voice since she had just woken up. "I really meant to be in but I felt awful when I woke up and just fell asleep again. I'm so sorry."
Erin let her head fall back against her shoulders as Mrs. Bradley ran through just how many times Erin had been late or sick in the past couple of months and how they were less than pleased with that sort of behavior.
With the order of needing to see her the next day, Mrs. Bradley hung up the phone none too gently and Erin groaned. "God, I have to stop doing this," she said softly to herself as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
Over the past several weeks, the room, and especially Darrien, had become something incredibly important to her and she'd been late often to work because she'd stayed up too late. She'd also started to become one of those who logged in from work on the rare occasion that she'd had the opportunity.
Her hands moved to the back of her neck and she tried to ease the ache that still existed in the abused muscles there before her eyes fell on the computer and the dark screen. One hand reached out and touched the mouse and the monitor woke up with a sudden blast of light.
Blinking away the change of brightness level in the room, Erin realized that she'd never left the chat room the night before and that people were simply chatting away about this region or that alliance or whatever.
up her eyes together tightly, she then opened them wide in an attempt to
clear the fogginess and smiled as a familiar name appeared on her screen.
Pulling herself and her chair closer to the keyboard she began to type
a private message.
Erin read the sentence again. "Finally!" she shouted to the ever listening
heart had dropped into her stomach and continued its descent as she pushed
her wayward hair over her shoulders.
Erin tried everything in her considerable repertoire to get Darrien to give her a phone number or some other way to contact her. In the end, she had to settle for giving Darrien her number and hoping that the other woman would call if something happened.
It gnawed on her as she let the water from the shower wash away the last of her aches, and the after effects of a night spent sleeping by the computer, down the drain. She hadn't been able to get Darrien to give her too many details but she felt deep inside that something was there, some connection that she'd never experienced before with someone.
Even with no details, no tangible contact beyond the computer it was a link that should've scared Erin but it didn't. If anything, it made her long for a time when there could be more, when there could be at least vocal contact between them.
As her hands began to bubble the shampoo into her hair, she closed her eyes and almost instantly a flash of the dream she'd been having before the phone woke her up appeared in her mind. She stopped attending to her hair in an attempt to capture the vivid pictures better in her mind.
Torches on walls had flickered slightly, far enough away from the gorgeous tapestries to never be a danger, and huge chandeliers shed light directly down onto the collected throng. She had only been able to recognize a few people but she could've sworn that Argel had been one of them for some odd reason.
Darrien or rather Trallodi had been there, dressed in court finery and looking unbelievably gorgeous in tight fitting black trousers and what appeared to be a white silk shirt under a black embroidered vest. Dark hair streamed freely over her shoulders like water over smooth rocks and brilliant blue eyes swept over the room until they found Erin.
Erin's eyes flashed open at the memory. So vivid, so detailed and she could still feel her heart pounding from the strength of ... A line of shampoo snaked down her forehead and she wiped it away, glad of the interruption in her recollection.
"Don't be stupid, Erin," she admonished herself as she continued the process of washing her hair. "It's not like you have a clue what she looks like. It was a dream for God's sake."
Unfortunately, the scene kept replaying in her mind. It lasted through the shower, the drying off, the making of coffee and here she was with toast in front of her and it was still playing. Like a favorite song set to repeat.
It was as if Trallodi's sapphire eyes had been searching only for her and had lasered right in. It was just too real to her, still. As if she'd just stepped out of the heavy dark blue dress she'd been wearing, the same...
"Wow," Erin breathed as she sat back against the chair, her toast forgotten. She'd just remembered a conversation with Trallodi where Trallodi had told her to wear the dark blue dress because it brought out the spark behind her green eyes the best.
How Trallodi would know that was something else, especially since that was true for some strange reason. Royal blue had always been her color or so she'd been told. But when had this happened? She remembered her conversations with Darrien and Trallodi completely, she thought.
Of course, now that the dam had opened up... it hit Erin just how often she had dreamed about the Harp and Crown room, especially when she'd fallen asleep by the computer. Actually, those were the only times she could remember dreaming about it. As if the nearness connected her to the room more or something. "Weird."
doing some clean up around the apartment, Erin found herself back in front
of the computer.
paused for a moment, rereading the words and felt her pulse raise slightly.
time Erin blinked and slightly tentative fingers reached out for the keyboard
as she realized just how unnerved she was at Darrien seemingly knowing
what she was thinking about.
hit the enter key and waited, wondering which answer would scare her more.
The rest of the day and late into the evening was spent in pleasant conversation and court intrigue. The best part for Erin, though, was finally learning more about Darrien. For some reason, the other woman had decided to trust Erin or, at least, something had changed because now Erin knew that Darrien had no siblings, had been in the room since its inception, had loads of computer experience and loved computers in general.
In addition, Darrien had alluded to other things - such as perhaps she was alone in the world, that perhaps she was independently wealthy and so on. Until, once again, Erin was resting her eyes by the harsh light of the computer screen.
She knew it was a dream, but it didn't honestly matter. She was there, in Trallodi's arms, dancing as if it was the most common event ever. The other dancers whirled around them in an intricate series of steps that somehow Erin knew as if she'd done it a million times. Perhaps she had.
"You're very good at this, Erin," Darrien's voice was low and melodic, and entrancing.
"So are you ... Darrien?" she asked cautiously, somehow surprised but yet not that she was with Darrien and not Trallodi.
"Yes, it's me, Erin. Did you ever doubt?"
"God, I love this dream." Erin said quietly as she laid her head on Darrien's shoulder and smiled as Darrien's amusement played itself out as a long breath of air against her hair.
They danced for another few minutes before she pulled her head back. A slight frown crinkled her forehead. "We've done this before, haven't we?"
"Many times, Erin. And it's always been wonderful."
"I wish it could be this way all the time," Erin sighed.
"It can be," Darrien replied.
"What do you mean?
"You have to believe, Erin."
"Believe what?" Erin queried.
"When the time is right, just say, 'Yes' and it'll happen," was the cryptic reply.
The dream replayed on in Erin's mind as she went through her workday. Somehow, she'd managed to wake up and be at work at the stroke of eight. Of course, the dressing down she'd received from Mrs. Bradley had been a bit rough and she was definitely on probation, but, it didn't stop her from wishing that she'd remembered what happened after Darrien had told her to say yes in her heart. It seemed important, very important and it kept running away from her.
She sighed as she put her key in the door, tired and yet happy to be home so that she could talk to Darrien and the rest of the court too.
Hanging her jacket on the coat rack, she placed her keys carefully on the table and dragged her fingers over the key ring that Leigh had sent her last year. They'd grown so far apart and now she had Darrien.
"Darrien," Erin said aloud, smiling at the wonder that name seemed to bring to her life as no other thing could. Her eyes tracked to her computer, whirring quietly away, and she smiled. She'd changed her screen saver to be one word that was changing colors and moving about the screen as she watched. Darrien.
at the computer she opened up the Harp and Crown and looked to see who
was there. It pleased her to see that there were many of the old timers
and people she knew, it was going to be a good night. Trallodi was in a
deep conversation with several vassals and, though disappointed, Erin didn't
Erin sat back for a few moments relieved to have escaped Bonnie's grasp for the moment and a little chagrined that they'd been so obvious. Yet, how could they not be? They enjoyed each other's company, always supported each other and always gravitated to each other when they were in the room.
She pressed her back against the chair and, a couple of pops from her back later, opened her eyes to look at the screen. She began tracking the various conversations with the ease of someone long used to doing so.
was many hours later that her eyelids began to droop and she realized she
was probably going to fall asleep again. The cup of coffee she'd just made
sat untouched by her arm and she was just about to take a drink when a
private message screen popped up, she leaned forward.
heart felt as if it skipped a beat.
green eyes looked at the screen. The dream was still very present in her
mind and the words that Darrien had whispered in her ear echoed back off
Disappointed that they'd been interrupted, Erin's eyes drooped as Trallodi was nabbed by one of the mine chiefs and they set about discussing wages and needing more workers. None of her vassals or chiefs were present and everyone else she normally spoke with seemed tied up, so she rested her head on her forearm for just a few moments.
"You look beautiful, Erin," Darrien said softly as she took the other woman's hand and led her to the dance floor.
"Thank you," Erin replied as she blushed. "And you look gorgeous, burgundy is definitely your color."
"Thank you, kind lady."
"No, thank you," came the emboldened reply from the redheaded Erin.
Darrien grinned and began to lead the dance.
As they whirled around the dance floor, Erin looked around. Once again seeing a person she was sure was Argel together with a man she didn't know.
"Darrien, is that Argel?"
Erin almost lost her footing when Darrien replied with a breath close to her ear, "Yes."
"Who..." Erin breathed and then looked up in Darrien's gently smiling face, "Who is she with?"
"A friend of hers, Neidyr. He's not been around much lately. They spend most of their time together now."
"Oh, Neidyr, I've heard of him! He doesn't look a thing like the description he has posted."
"He is different," replied Darrien.
"But you're exactly what your description is."
"I am exactly what you want me to be, Erin."
Erin looked up into the sky blue eyes and saw something reflected back that she'd never seen before. "Yes, you are. Exactly what I want." She barely realized they'd stopped dancing and were now standing in one of the quiet, partially recessed corners.
"Am I, Erin?" asked Darrien, her eyes never leaving Erin's face.
Erin started to reply and realized this was it. This was a moment of belief, so profound, so necessary and so important that she could feel her heart pounding in reaction.
It was a breath, a release, a supplication. It was everything and she let go with hardly a thought. "Yes."
The smile on Darrien's face lit up the corner they were in and Erin's heart with it.
"It's a lot to give up. But, will you be with me, Erin?"
"You believe," Darrien stated, instead of questioning.
"Yes," Erin responded, knowing she needed to. Her heart almost pounding
"Three times asked, three times agreed. You are mine, I am yours."
The voice seemed to be inside and out, touching parts of her that she hadn't known existed. And, one final time, as Darrien's face drifted closer to her own, Erin whispered, "Yes."
Darrien's lips touched her own and Erin fell into an embrace so deep she thought she might never escape and wasn't sure she wanted to. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before. Nothing she'd even dreamed about. It was as if she were complete. Finally.
A ringing telephone echoed through the apartment. A cup of cold coffee stood untouched off to the side of the computer and the empty chair appeared pushed back slightly, as if someone had been sitting at the computer. Keys sat lumped on the table and a jacket hung from the coat rack.
The bed was made, a curtain billowed slightly from a slightly open window and the coffee machine continued to heat the full pot of coffee it had made when the timer went off earlier.
The computer screen rolled along with the description of a dance between a redheaded woman in a flowing golden dress and another woman in black pants and a burgundy shirt, lined with golden thread before it blacked out and a screen saver appeared with the words:
"Darrien and Erin. Forever."
An empty room, an unanswered telephone and a cup of cold coffee. Two worlds collide and combine, continuing on? Which is reality, which is truth, which is life? Erin McGill felt that she knew the difference and so became another chapter in The Twilight Zone.