Five figures floated in a vast sea of blue.
Below them was a strange structure. It was unlike anything that existed on earth. Part pyramid and part fortress, it squatted on the seafloor and stretched far into the distance. The structure was a gross shade of green. It looked almost poisonous.
But the structure was also grand. It all but dared them to enter.
The figures hovered quietly before it. They couldn’t talk underwater. But even if they could, the massive monument might have awed them into silence. The only sounds came from the air bubbles quietly purring, popping, and gurgling around them.
One of them held up a map.
The map showed a big red X.
They all looked from the monument to the map and back again.
The figure with the map put it away and nodded in the direction of the structure. Colorful sea creatures drifted past. The five kicked their legs and swam deeper.
The monument and all its many mysteries awaited.
Harper Houston held her breath. She strained her eyes in the moonlight. She knew the white-and-green-speckled eggs sitting in the sand would hatch soon. And she didn’t want to miss a moment of it.
Harper had seen many amazing things over the last several weeks. That’s how long she and her friends had been using special VR headsets to visit a virtual world. They weren’t playing Minecraft anymore. They were living Minecraft.
It was all so real. She could feel the sand beneath her feet. She could hear the snap and crackle of her torch. And she could see cracks appearing on the sea turtle eggs they’d found on the beach.
“I wish I could take a picture of this,” her friend Po Chen said. “Can you say ‘seashore eggshell selfie’ five times fast?” Po liked to change his appearance in the game. Tonight he was dressed for the beach, with swim trunks, snorkeling gear, an inflatable float wrapped around his waist, and a shirt that only a dad would wear.
“I wish I could bring a turtle home with us,” said Jodi Mercado. “I just know they’re going to be adorable.” Jodi was the youngest member of the group. She had a soft spot for animals.
“I wish they’d hurry up and hatch,” Ash Kapoor said. “We can’t stay on this beach forever.” Ash loved exploration. She wanted to see everything there was to see in this digital land. She didn’t do a lot of standing around, either here or in the real world.
“I wish you would be quiet,” Jodi’s older brother Morgan said, shushing them. “It isn’t safe at night. Anything could be out there.” Morgan played more Minecraft than any of them. His knowledge frequently came in handy. And he was very serious about keeping the others safe.
Harper smiled to herself. All of her friends were wishing for something. She didn’t have anything to wish for, though. To her, this moment was perfect just as it was.
The eggs hatched, one after another. Tiny baby sea turtles emerged to crawl along the sand. The friends all took a step back.
“That way, little guys,” Harper said, pointing to the ocean. “Go swim!”
Harper knew a bit about real-life sea turtles. She knew that hatchlings immediately made their way across the sand and into the ocean. She assumed Minecraft sea turtles would do the same thing.
“I was right,” said Jodi. “They are one hundred percent adorable.”
“But they sound weird,” Po added.
Harper strained her ears. She heard a low growl nearby. “I don’t think that sound is coming from the turtles,” she warned.
Morgan hopped in alarm. “Zombies!” he cried.
There were four zombies in total. They appeared at the tree line where the forest met the beach. They raised their arms, groaned, and stepped onto the sand.
“Will they hurt the babies?” Jodi asked. She knew less than the others did about Minecraft’s hazards. She usually just ran toward the cute mobs and away from the ones she called yucky.
“No, they won’t,” said Ash. “Because we’ll stop them.”
Harper nodded. Ash was right to be confident. As a team, they’d been on several adventures together. They had built a castle, defeated hostile mobs, and even saved a village by helping some monsters.
And Harper had a new tool she was eager to try. She held up a bow and lined up her shot.
“Nice!” said Po. “Where’d you get a bow?”
“I made it,” Harper answered. “With a few sticks, and strings from a spider’s web.” For Harper, nothing beat the thrill of making something useful.
Although the thrill of defeating hordes of zombies came very close.
She let an arrow fly. It met its mark, striking a zombie right in the chest. At the same time, the rest of the group ran forward and attacked with their swords.
“I’ll have to make bows for the rest of you,” she said. She fired another arrow. “It’s much nicer fighting those things from a safe distance.”
“No kidding!” said Po. He dodged as a zombie swiped at him. “Anytime you want to trade spots, just let me know.”
Harper chuckled. She knew Po wasn’t in any real danger. It would take more than a few zombies to scare her.
But then a low moan sounded at her back. It didn’t make sense. Harper was standing on the beach. She had the ocean behind her. How could anything sneak up on her from that direction?
She turned to see a creature rising from the surface of the water. At first, she thought it was another zombie. But there was something different about it. Its skin was a sickly shade of blue. Limp strands of seaweed hung from its head.
“It’s a drowned!” cried Morgan.
“A what?” said Harper. She took several quick steps to distance herself from the slimy mob.
“A drowned is like an underwater zombie,” Ash shouted from across the beach. She swung her sword at one of the regular zombies.
“It’s not underwater at the moment,” Harper pointed out.
“It’s drawn to the baby turtles,” Morgan said. He jumped to avoid a zombie’s grasp. “Harper, you have to stop it!”
Harper saw that Morgan was right. The drowned was ignoring her and shuffling toward the turtles. It would catch them before they could make it to the water.
All of her friends had their hands full. It was up to Harper.
She fired an arrow at the monster’s back. Direct hit!
The drowned flashed red. It uttered a fearsome groan and turned to face her.
“Well, I got its attention,” Harper said. It lurched toward her. “Uh-oh.” Harper lifted her bow as the creature came at her. But she was out of arrows.
“Don’t panic,” she said. “You’ve still got a—”
Harper held up . . . a loaf of bread.
A block of wool.
Her square eyes toggled back and forth in exasperation. I really need to organize my inventory, she thought.
The drowned was almost close enough to slash her. Leading it away from the baby turtles, she backed up all the way to the line of trees at the edge of the beach.
A low hissing sound came from the forest. It was the sound of a creeper, about to explode.
“Oh no,” Harper said. She had nowhere to run. The drowned was right in front of her, blocking her escape. She could see past it, though. She watched the baby sea turtles make it to the water. They scuttled into the ocean.
At least she’d been able to save them.
That was her last thought before the creeper blew up.
Get 5% off your total order by adding 3 or more audiobooks from A Stepping Stone Book(TM)