Chapter 1:

Terra Incognito

World's Horizon

Liam wake up in the middle of this forest. He comes to his senses, puzzled as to where he is.

“Heeeyy,” he cries, hoping to call for attention.

He hears some rustling in the bust around him. He starts to panic. Liam picks up a stick near him, holding out in front of him, wary of what danger he might be in. Then Arisa pops out of the bush, with her hair frazzled and her clothes filled with thorns.

“Ughh,” she moans, with a look of slight pain on her face, “Where are the others?”

“Oh man, oh, uhhh, I really don’t know,” replied Liam, who is starting to actually be concerned.

They start looking for Aaron and Ingrid around them, while surveying the forest. They’re in this almost magical place, with glowing vines growing on trees, with fireflies fly about albeit being day and a canopy of trees covering the sky. They see a rabbit with a horn that looks almost fantasy-like. There are crystal-like mushrooms growing at the base of overgrown trees, with the same trees having glowing cracks, almost as if a radioactive material glows from within. The air around them is misty, yet at the same time refreshing.

“HEEEYY,” shouts Arisa. No reply.

They walk around for a bit to stumble upon Aaron, who’s dangling from a tree. Liam picks up a rock, throws it at the branch that Aaron is stuck in and somehow manages to dislodge him.

“Ouch,” exclaims Aaron, he fell from quite a height, not high enough to break a bone, but high enough for him to be in a considerable amount of pain.

“Oh wait, is that Ingrid?” asked Liam, seeing a blond-haired girl running towards them from the distance. Then he hears faint shouting from the distance.

“RUUN!” screams Ingrid. The other take a look behind Ingrid and see a horde of short, green creatures that look like goblins? It takes a second for them to process the situation, to realize that they chasing her.

“OH SHIT, RUN!” yells Aaron.

The group, along with Ingrid, make a break for it out of the forest with a horde of what looks to be 30 goblins chasing them. Everyone runs in panic, trying to lose the goblins on their tail. Liam running in panic manages to somehow trip on a vine on one of the many overgrown trees.

“Hey, get up!” said Arisa, reaching out her hand to help Liam up. He grabs her hand and the two get back to running.

Liam’s sudden trip made them fall slightly behind the other two and the goblins are starting to catch up. Suddenly an arrow flies pass them, barely scraping Liam’s cheek. A shiver goes down Liam’s spine with the

already existing fear of death from the chasing goblins. This experience feels to surreal to him yet all so real at the same time.

As they run the come across a cliff, and with no possible path forwards, it’s either down or they die. Ingrid takes a peek down and sees a lake.

“Hey, there’s a lake below us!” said Ingrid.

Aaron takes a moment to think and once Arisa and Liam caught up he yelled out, “JUMP!”

Aaron jumps first, followed by Ingrid. Liam hesitates to jump, standing still because of fear until Arisa comes along.

“Let’s jump together, okay?” she said. Liam looks behind to see the goblins almost caught up and wants to look, at least, decent in front of his girlfriend.

“Alright,” said Liam, still instilled with some fear but at the same time bravery from his girlfriend’s encouragement. He gulps and they both take the leap of faith. As soon as they jump, a volley of arrows flew at them, missing by a hair’s breadth.

The water they land in makes a big splash, with the lake they jump in to being quite deep. The water they fell into is this crystal clear water, almost like spring water. They two of them swim out of the lake. Aaron, shirtless with it on the floor, and Ingrid squeezing the water out of her pants, were both waiting at the side of the lake.

“So where are we?” asked Liam, still wading through the water.

“I don’t know, probably not Earth that’s for sure. My phone signal hasn’t been working since I woke up,” replied Aaron.

Arisa and Liam both for some odd reason, brought their bags with them. Liam searches through his bag to find a spare shirt to change to, and after that, he dumped all the contents of his bag out. He had his school textbooks and notebooks, his pencil case, a MP3 player, and a pair of earphones. He also had a letter, adorned with a beautifully designed wax seal, in his bag for some odd reason.

“Hey, did anyone of you guys put this in my bag?” he asked, holding up the aforementioned letter.

“No, wait is it a love letter?” jokingly asked Aaron.

Liam opens the letter and proceeds to read it out loud:

“Congratulations, the four of you have been chosen for this fun experiment I’m conducting.
You are now in this world called Ystalrien,
your goal should be to try and get back to your world.
There are 3 dungeons in the world, all known as Labyrinth of Gods.
First, the Aquaris Labyrinth, deep in the ocean, it requires you to be able
to breathe underwater for an extended period of time.
Next, the Jehanna Labyrinth, deep underground,
spanning over 10,000 floors downwards to the depths of the abyss.
Finally, Caelum Labyrinth, a tower at the far reaches of civilization, so tall that it reaches the heavens.
I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavors.”

The letter had no author, it just seemed like a piece of exposition from a movie or video game. It actually seemed very sketchy, however, just based on where they were, it couldn’t be that far-fetched.

“So what? We have to complete a dungeon to go home? Sounds simple enough,” said Aaron.

All of them had the same thoughts on this matter, they all wanted to go home, and this is perhaps the only way to do it.

“But the better question is which one? They all sound tricky, at best,” said Arisa, worried at the dangers of this task ahead of them. One small fatal mistake could be the end for one, or worse, all of them. Making the right choice would have a huge impact on possibly their entire journey.

“Maybe we should, you know. . . Leave this forest first,” said Liam, feeling nervous at the unsettling atmosphere the forest is giving.

“Yeah, let’s walk. . . This way?” said Aaron, who in this dire time is taking up the mantle of leader. Aaron was known to be a charismatic person, never too popular with any one social group, other than this one, while being rather well known throughout the school.

The group start walking through the forest and while trying to find a way out, having some idle talk along the way.

“Hey, Liam, what do you think of all this. . . mess?” asked Arisa.

“Honestly, pretty cool, but I already do miss my computer at home,” replied Liam.

“I thought this was an act at first, but I doubt any film company would put so much into production. This might actually be real,” said Arisa.

The group, although already stricken with fear, have not realized the magnitude of the situation they’re in. It really is so surreal for something like this to happen, it’s almost cliché.

Arisa puts her bag in front of her as they’re walking and starts searching through it, checking what she had on hand. The other two decided to ditch their bags, Aaron when he was in a tree, and Ingrid when she decided to look for them.

“I really hope there’s magic!” said Liam. Although Liam was afraid at the prospect of dying, he really wanted to at least be able to use some magic, he thought that since they’re in a fantasy world already, then there might be some form of magic.

“AND I HOPE WE GET OUT OF HERE!” screamed Aaron, who’s starting to feel the pressure and the endlessness of the forest.

At this point, they’ve been walking for around an hour or so. Ingrid looks up to the sky, the forest starting to get to her. As she looks up, she sees smoke in the sky.

“WOAH, do you guys see smoke up there?” asked Ingrid.

“Oh yeah, there’s smoke,” replied Arisa

“Maybe we should go there,” said Aaron, “There could be people there.”

“Ugh, that looks pretty far,” complained Liam. He was starting to get tired, and being less athletic than the rest, he also has the least amount of stamina in the group.

“We’re going there anyway, whether you like it or not,” sternly replied Aaron.

They make their way towards the smoke, they assumed that there was probably some people there, or at the bare minimum, some form of intelligent life. As they get closer they see a burly man, with a huge sword on his back, a girl holding a mace, and other one, wearing a red robe. The group overhears what the other party is saying.

“So Keith,” said the robed girl, “How do you want to split the rewards?”

“Maybe we should split it evenly,” said the girl with the mace.

“But didn’t Lucile do most of the work?” said the robed girl. Presumably the girl with the mace is Lucile.

“Well let’s just head back to the guild,” said Keith, “I’d rather discuss this somewhere that’s not a forest.”

Liam, while watching them, somehow manages to trip on a branch, rustling the bush that they are in. The other party, hearing this, puts up their guard, with Keith unsheathing his sword.

“Who’s there!” shouts Keith in a frenzy.

Arisa gets out of the bush with her hands up, trying to cover for the rest.

“Who are you?” asked the robed girl.

“Travelers,” replied Arisa, “We got lost.”

Liam stands up with his hands up, followed by Aaron then Ingrid. The other party, seeing as they group was unarmed, also put down the guard and eased up a bit.

“Can you tell us where we are?” nervously asked Liam.

“They look harmless enough, maybe we can be nicer to them,” whispers the robed girl to Keith.

“Uh, are you sure? That boy seems like he can pick a fight,” says Keith, gesturing towards Aaron.

“You guys look rather young for travelers, how old are ya’ll?” asked Lucile.

“We’re seventeen,” answered Liam.

“They seem fine, or so I hope,” whispered Lucile to the robed girl, “Hilde, what do you think?”

“I don’t know, they could be spies from Loethehre,” she answered.

“It’s fine,” said Keith to what seems to be his party members, “We’ll help you guys.”

“You will?” stuttered Liam, “Thanks!”

“Alright, first things first, where did you guys come from?” asks Hilde.

“Somewhere. . . uh, that way?” answered Ingrid, pointing behind her.

“From a lake?” asked Keith.

“Yeah,” replied Aaron.

“Where did you guys stay?” asked Keith, who though the group was starting to sound slightly suspicious.

“There’s an orphanage, on the cliff,” replied Liam, hoping that this lie would fly over their enquirer’s head.

“So you are all orphans?” said Keith, “never mind then.”

He takes out an old, worn-out, stained map, and puts it on the log they were using as a table. He gives a signal to Hilde, who then casts a spell. Runes appear around her wrists as they form a bracelet-like shape in a white light, dimly glowing until suddenly brightly flashing as what looks to be a fireball appear in her palms. Liam seeing this, is mesmerized at all his fantasy video game dreams are starting to come true, seeing that he’s somewhere where there is magic, because science clearly cannot explain what they had just witnessed. Aaron on the other hand, looks at it in fear, understanding that death would probably be much more common with sheer ability to be able to conjure up a flame at will, with what seems to be without any drawbacks or costs.

“This is where we are right now,” said Keith pointing on the map at a place called the ‘Wisp Hollow’, “we need to go this way to reach the town, let’s try to reach back before sunset.”

They all get up, pick up their things and start making their way out of the forest. With the atmosphere being quite awkward and silent, Arisa tries to make some small talk with the adventurers.

“Why is this place called the ‘Wisp Hollow’?” asked Arisa.

“People say you can see ghost in the shape of blue flames at night during full moons. . .” said Hilde.

“Honestly, I doubt that it’s true, still haven’t seen one,” said Lucile.

As they reach the end of the forest, they start to finally be able to see the sky. The group so exhausted after their long walk are so excited to see open plains after what seemed to them like hours. They see birds fly overhead with wyverns chasing them, an airship zooming by, and there they see it, a town in the distance. Looking around the size of a small town, it looks to have high, sturdy, brick walls. Them seeing a town gives the group a sense of relief as they head towards it.