This story is by Noelle Alana Intal and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Impossible? You wait and see. I’ll conquer the top tier of The Runemaster Saga and I’ll do it in only two years.” Anya tucked the VR helmet under her arm. “Wanna bet?”
That was one year, nine months and ten thousand quid ago.
Anya scowled. Beneath her character’s steel gorget, her white fur bristled. She stamped her sabatons against the packed earth. She was close, but not that close. She needed more time!
If only there was a way.
The holiday crowd streamed about her. Their brightly costumed bodies pushed against her thin frame. She tucked her tail into her armour and trudged past the endless rows of booths and festooned streets of Carnival Dziwne.
“Welcome, one and all, to the Future Lottery!”
The high-pitched voice floated above the rabble. Anya paused mid-stride. Her long lynx ears twitched.
Future Lottery? Was a new game feature implemented recently that she didn’t know about?
“Win and you can have everything you ever desired, be anyone you ever wanted.”
Turning to find the voice’s source, she spotted the blue and purple tent to her right. An impish man with slicked back hair stood at its entrance. He wore a blue pinstripe suit with a white pocket square. Periwinkle suspenders peeked out from beneath the too-small jacket. He caught her eye and grinned.
“Miss, why not try the Future Lottery? All it takes is one golden ticket.”
The man pointed a slender finger at the ticket she gripped in one gloved hand. The late afternoon light had darkened its golden hue. The black letters embossed on its surface could, however, still clearly be read. Proof of 10,000 Completed Quests. Exchangeable at Madame Mira’s Shop of Wonders.
Anya’s heart hammered in her chest. “What you said just now, are you serious?”
“Absolutely! I know. How can I promise something like that? I assure you it’s all real. All one hundred percent legit.”
He peered up into Anya’s amber eyes. “I’m Lysergees by the way.” The man extended his hand, avoiding the sword that hung at her side.
When she didn’t immediately take his hand, he grabbed hers and pumped it. Once. Twice. Thrice. He rolled his shoulders with every movement. The wide arc of his arms made it look like his entire body was being shaken.
“So how does it work?” Anya slipped her hands into her breeches as quickly as she could.
“For one golden ticket you can buy a chance to win a new future, a new fortune. You know how everything here is decided by what fortune is in your stats? Well, with the Future Lottery you can overwrite that. Like choosing your own karma.”
Anya sucked her breath in. No way. She stared at him. Her stomach churned. “There’s a catch. There’s always a catch.”
Lysergees beckoned her closer. He shuffled forward so the tip of his nose almost touched the black metal of her cuirass. She smelled tallow, lavender, and Cuban cigars. He swiveled his head from side to side, eyes darting to check if anyone else was listening in.
His whisper could barely be heard above the noise of spinning roulettes and popping balloons. “You ever heard of Zergg and Mayalith?”
Anya nodded. Who hadn’t? They were two of the top players in the game. They were legends. Even though he was an Arc Knight, Zergg had god-level ranger skills and tamed mythical beasts. Mayalith, on the other hand, was a Saint Healer who could resurrect an entire five hundred-man battlefield to full life with just one spell.
Lysergees glowed. He wiggled his brows at her. “They were once my clients too.”
Anya took a half step back. Her eyes were wide against her pale face.
He chuckled. “I could let you experience what those possible futures could be, you know. You can see for yourself if I’m bluffing.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Lysergees placed a finger to his lips. He ushered her inside his tent. Once inside he took out a pea-sized pink orb from one of his pockets. He rolled the crystal pearl in the palm of his hand. An inner fire swirled within it. Flickering light spilled from the cracks of his fingers like bottled sunlight.
Lysergees placed the crystal in Anya’s hand. “Swallow it. Then think of the future you want. Imagine it and it will be so.”
The pearl was cold and smooth on her tongue. Anya closed her eyes. She imagined herself as an Elemental Slayer, her enchanted sword singing in the breeze as the smell of burning wood and sulphur filled the air.
Wait. Burning wood? Sulphur? That can’t be right. Opening her eyes, Anya gasped.
The tent was gone. She was surrounded by a dense forest of trees transformed into fiery pillars. Witch fires sparked from her fingertips. High above her the sky whirled with storm clouds. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
The heat from the inferno slapped her face. Anya’s eyes watered from the smoke. She began to hack. “I need to douse these flames first.”
Unclasping her sword, she lifted it up. She screamed a word of command. Lightning snaked down like a jagged knife. Electricity screeched through her arms. She was a living lightning rod. The sky cracked open. Rain poured.
Anya swallowed hard. She shivered. Wasn’t this what she wanted? It could all simply be hers. No more questing. No more days of grinding through mindless hunts.
The world melted into the blue and purple of the tent. The energy that filled her veins evaporated. Her limbs sagged. She lifted her eyes to find Lysergees perched on a bright orange pillow.
“How was it?”
Anya sank down where she stood. She opened her mouth. No sound came out.
His head bobbed. “It is something, isn’t it.” Lysergees popped a toffee into his mouth before offering her a piece.
“As I said before, all that’s needed is your golden ticket. Participate in the lottery and what you experienced could become permanent.”
Anya stared at the ticket in her hand. There was only a slim chance that she would make it before her two years were up and her debts called. Or she could give it to Lysergees and, if she was lucky, she would be able to achieve everything she wanted now.
Anya’s hands trembled as she handed it to him. He bounded up from his seat and clapped his hands.
“Excellent! Now if you will just sign these papers, we can get the show started.”
He ferreted out a form from beneath a pile of books. The paper was thick and the printed text small. She squinted.
“I hereby absolve the proprietor of The Future Lottery, Mr. Lysergees Cranshaw, from any liabilities arising from my choice to participate in said event. I also hereby confirm that my choice to participate in said event has been done of my own free will….”
Anya shoved the document back at him. “What’s the meaning of this?”
He flapped his hands. “Oh don’t worry. It’s just a standard document that all lottery providers are expected to keep on record. Never really understood why they made that legal mumbo jumbo sound so scary. Trust me. What’s important is the new future that could be yours.”
Anya eyed the golden ticket in his hands. It was only a few inches away. She could snatch it, walk out, and never think about this episode ever again.
But then, what have I got to lose?
Anya backed down and nodded. She watched as Lysergees took out a fishbowl from a corner of the tent. At least a hundred crystal pearls, blue instead of the earlier pink, were in it.
He presented the bowl to her with a flourish. “Pick one and watch your life change forever.”
At Lysergees’s encouragement she took one and swallowed it in one dry gulp.
And then she waited.
And waited some more.
She felt nothing. In fact, if anything, her armour bore down on her as it never had before. Anya turned to Lysergees.
He wrung his hands. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground. Anya’s stomach dropped.
“I’m so sorry. You really have the worst of luck. There was only one pearl with ‘Terrible Fortune’ in the bowl and you just had to get it.”
Terrible Fortune? Anya opened her stats window. Her knees buckled. She grabbed a table for support.
Gone. Everything is gone. One year and nine month’s worth of effort wiped out in one moment. “Strength: 95% penalty. Wisdom: 90% penalty. Dexterity: 99% penalty. Luck: Disastrous. Chance of promotion to next tier: Zero.”
Anya wanted to scream but even that felt like too much effort. She should have just walked away when she still had a chance.
Picking herself up, she stepped outside into the dying light.
She barely lifted her head when a man bumped into her. Behind her she could hear Lysergees’s high-pitched voice float above the crowd.
“Welcome, one and all, to the Future Lottery!”