Playdate Postponed

“Let me in, please,” Jared said. Vannessa had trouble hearing his voice over the pouring rain, but the gun pointed at her chest clued her in. She nodded and stepped aside while pulling her robe tighter around her. She was expecting pizza, not an intruder.

Jared walked in. He entered at an angle to keep his eyes and gun on Vanessa and his back to the wall. Once he was in he waved the gun at the door and Vanessa closed it.

“What do you want?” she asked. Jared spun the gun around. In one smooth motion, he offered her the handle of the gun with his right hand while he kept his left up and in plain view.

“To talk,” he said. “I needed to get your attention.” Vanessa yanked the offered gun out of his hands and he promptly stuck his right hand in the air too. A quick inspection of the weapon revealed the safety was on and it wasn’t loaded.

“About what?” Vanessa asked.

“I came to say goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye?” Vanessa asked. After obsessing over Jared and chasing his trail for the last decade, she felt pang of worry for her nemesis’ mental health. She held on to the gun and gestured at a recliner for him. She sat on her couch, next to the drawer that she kept her gun in.

“Yeah,” Jared replied. “It’s been fun, but real life is starting to get in the way of my leisure time, so it’s time to take a break. After ten years, I’ve gotten kind of attached to you,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s probably dumb, but I didn’t want you to worry about me, you know?”

“No matter where on Earth you hide, I’ll find you,” Vanessa said. “You can’t just hide on some beach somewhere expecting to get away with your crimes.” Jared laughed some more.

“I know, that’s why I’m here. You’d go crazy trying to find me, and I won’t even be on this Earth anymore.”

“So, what? Now you’re an alien?” Vanessa asked. Jared shook his head.

“I’m human, I just have a special soul. But, this Earth isn’t the only Earth; there are alternate realities. I’m leaving this one and going to a different one.” Vanessa was suddenly very worried about her own mental health. She took every word he said at face value, no matter how little sense it made.

“That sounds dangerous,” she said. “Is anyone going to get hurt on your way out?”

“Not at all,” Jared replied. “It’s as easy as going from one room to the next. I was planning to leave from here just to give you some proof.”  Jared pulled a glass card out of his pocket and held it up to show Vanessa.

“This is a node, it’s standard multiverse tech,” Then, he tapped at it like a smartphone. After several taps he pinched one edge of the glassy card and pulled. He produced a pitch-black card, darker than anything Vanessa had seen before, out of the transparent node.

“This is a Traverse card,” he threw the black card at the wall. It ballooned into a large black hole. “That’s a black portal,” Jared said. “There’s another universe on the other side of that.”

“It’s that easy?” Vanessa asked. Her mind raced to try and solve the torrent of questions piling up. “Why have I been chasing you for ten years?” she asked. Jared tilted his head at her.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Why didn’t you go to a different Earth a long time ago to escape from me?” Jared chuckled.

“Who says I haven’t been?” he asked; his smile grew broader. “The only reason I come to this server is to play with you. I log out every night though,” he said. “It’s just that this time, it might be a while before I can play again.”

“All those.. atrocities… this is just a game to you?” Vanessa asked. She didn’t quite understand everything he said, but she recognized that he sounded like a gamer. Jared shook his head, but the smile remained. He lifted his hand and swiped at his node.

“No, it’s not just a game to me,” he said.  Suddenly golden floating text appeared in Vanessa’s living room.

[Heist Server Rankings:

Most Wanted: Jared Smith

Crime Spree:  10 yrs, 3 mnths,

3 wks, 1 day, 17 hrs, 40 mins,

18 scnds]   Vanessa’s eyes widened as she read the intruding text and made sense of it. She watched the ‘scnd’ line count up as the seconds past.

“It’s just a game. Period.”

Wonder. Girl.

“Stay where I can see you!” Becky shouted at her daughter across the playground. The sunny Saturday afternoon encouraged a mother-daughter outing to the park; they weren’t the only ones. The park was crowded with barbecuing families and children running to and fro.

“Okay!” Lucy replied, but her attention was already on something else. She spotted something shiny in a patch of grass next to the slide. The twisting, bright-red slide was in constant use; but, none of the half-dozen children sharing it noticed the sparkle. They would reach the end of the ride then run around to climb again, without so much as looking down. Lucy wandered to the patch of grass and looked down.

“Hello, phone!” the 5-year old giggled with glee when she found something that resembled her mother’s phone. It was a small perfect rectangle of glass, and it was very thin.

[Hello, girl.] Text that Lucy could not read appeared on the display, and at the same time she heard a soft, feminine voice in her ears. She gasped when it responded. [I am not a phone. I am a node.] Lucy immediately pouted and she crouched to return the node to where she found it.

“Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t mean to make you ‘nnoyed.”

[Hahaha.] The node replied with soft laughter and the display filled with bright yellow smiling faces. [I’m not annoyed. I. Am. A. Node. I’m like a phone, but better.] Lucy smiled at the laughing faces and she felt relieved she didn’t annoy her new friend. Her parents reminded her often to not be annoying.

“Okay!” Lucy stood again and held the node close to her. She glanced around the playground but none of the kids paid her any attention. Her mother appeared to be deep in a conversation with the rest of the gathered parents. She carried the node to a lonely bench away from the playground, but still technically visible by her mom. If she checked. “My name is Lucy, what’s yours?”

[I don’t have one, Lucy.]

“Oh no! You need a name, everyone has a name. OH! Can I give you a name?”

[I’d like that, Lucy.]

“Okay! Umm… let me think…,” Lucy tapped her chin thoughtfully the way she’d seen adults do. “Why are you better than a phone?” she asked. At her question, the node disintegrated into a fine white powder and trickled between her tiny fingers.

“Uh oh! What happened?” Lucy leaned forward on the bench and stared at the grass trying to find the white powder, but there was none to be found; then, she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“I can do this,” Lucy heard the node as she turned around to check who tapped her shoulder. It was a white mannequin with a featureless face; it hovered above the ground.

“You’re pretty!” Lucy smiled at the figure, then she nodded. “Mommy’s phone can’t do that, you’re wonderful!” Then she gasped in surprise.

“OH! That’s your name! I’m calling you, ‘Wonder’.” The mannequin stiffened, then tapped her chin the same way Lucy did.

“Wonder…. yes! I like it. Thank you, Lucy,” Wonder bowed politely at the waist. “I want to give you something to thank you for my name. What would you like?” Wonder asked.

“Ummm… What can I have?” Lucy asked. She was used to her parents giving her very limited options.

“Anything at all,” Wonder answered. “Pretend I’m a genie. What would you wish for, Lucy?”

“Anything?” Lucy asked. Wonder’s smooth white head tilted forward in a nod. “Anything anything?”

“Of course, Lucy,” Wonder nodded again.

“Dragons!” Lucy said.

“You want a pet dragon?” Lucy shook her head, then paused and nodded.

“I DO want a pet dragon, but I want dragons in the world too!” She gave an exaggerated shrug. “That’s two wishes…” Wonder laughed.

“I’ll grant your wish for a pet dragon, BUT, it would be lonely all by itself, so I’ll make sure it has friends too. How’s that?”

“YES!” Lucy cheered.

“Alright,” Wonder said. “Let there be dragons!”

Upgraded Service

“James!” Kelly rushed into the office. She shut and locked the door behind her, then turned to her boss whose first name she never used before that moment.

“Something wrong?” he asked. The question came as a reflex, he saw obvious panic on her face. Her dark brown eyes danced around the office as if expecting something or someone to pop out at her. He moved the computer mouse to bring up the security feed, but Kelly grabbed his hand. She pulled him away from the desk and the large scenic window behind him.

“Stay away from the windows! She yanked him down to the carpeted floor in the middle of his office. “Security said an armed group is trying to come up. They heard your name mentioned and told me to warn you,” she explained. Images of armed gunmen wearing balaclavas and speaking with foreign accents rushed through James’ mind.

“What.. what’d I do?” He asked her as if she knew the answer.

“I don’t know,” she hissed back. James realized she was far more terrified than he was. He realized he should probably be as scared as her. “What did you do on vacation?” Kelly asked. They both lay flat on the floor staring up at the drop-out panels.

“Nothing!” James felt a gnawing sensation in his gut. The burning sensation of a lie about to come to light.

“You had to have done something,” she replied. James shook his head, but she pressed him again. “People don’t just show up to an office building with weapons without a reason. THINK. Maybe you did something accidentally. Tell me everything you did over there.”

“I uh…” James wondered if he could bluff his way through this. He recalled what few facts he could about Saudi Arabia. “You know. Just visited the Red Sea and stuff. It was pretty boring.”

“That’s it? That’s all you did for a week?” James nodded, not that she could see.

“Yeah. It was pretty enough that I went almost every day, different spots you know.” Kelly sat up and stared into his eyes.

“You didn’t come back with a tan. In fact, I think you came back paler somehow. I remember because I was worried you weren’t eating enough.”

She was worried about me?” The realization made James feel worse about his lies. “If we get through this she is getting such a raise. If we don’t…,” James sighed.

“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, Kelly, but I need to be honest. I lied to you about my vacation. I didn’t go to Saudi Arabia,” he looked up into her eyes. “My favorite game got a new update and I spent the week playing.”

“WHAT?!” She immediately pelted his shoulder with blows. The floor supporting him ensured he took the full force of the hits. “You told me you had that vacation planned for a year! I missed my daughter’s graduation because of you!”

“From Kindergarten!” he tried to rationalize his lie.

“YOU LIED!” she hit him again several times. He knew he’d have a bruise or three in the morning, and he knew he deserved it too. “I’m sorry! If I survive this you’ll get a raise and two weeks vacation!” She only hit him once more after that.

“I’d better,” she said with stern eyes.

“Mr. Jelee?” A man’s voice came from the intercom on his desk. “The intruders are demanding to speak with, ‘The Final Boss’.”

“What?” James sat up.

“How do they know your nickname?” Kelly asked. James stood up then gave Kelly a hand up.

“I don’t know,” he said as he made his way to the desk. He opened the security feed on his monitor and saw a group of armed and armored adventurers. A paladin in heavy, black iron armor stood at the front of the group. A spellslinger and gunslinger duo, each with holstered guns on each hip stood on each side of a white-robed healer.

“No waaay,” James whispered under his breath.

“What the hell? Security said they were armed, but it’s just a group of cosplayers,” Kelly commented. James pressed the red intercom button.

“Send them up,” he said.

“Yes, sir.” The security guard on the monitor replied. He pointed the group toward the elevator.

“Well..,” James looked at Kelly. “We lived through it. Go ahead and take the rest of the day off and you can start your vacation tomorrow.”

“Really??!” Kelly asked. James nodded, but Kelly was already half-way out the door.

“See you in two weeks!” she shouted over her shoulder. James sat down in his high-back leather chair and waited. After several minutes, he heard heavy clanking approaching from the other side of the door. Then, a knock.

“Come in,” James said. The paladin walked in first followed by the spellslinger, the healer, then the gunslinger at the rear. The group approached his desk. “Really guys? I’m working right now.”

“That’s all you can say?!” The healer stepped forward and pulled her hood down. Her long silver hair cascaded over her shoulders. “Have you seen what we’re wearing?” James nodded.

“Yes, Mia. They’re really cool costumes but I’m working. Don’t you guys have jobs too?” The spellslinger drew her gun and pointed it at James.

“Duck,” she said. James ducked his head to the desk. He was used to taking orders from her. She pulled the trigger and a marble-sized blue ball flew out of the barrel. James felt a chill on his neck as the projectile shot by. He heard a crisp, cracking sound and turned around to face the window. It was now completely iced over.

“They’re not just costumes, idiot. Your Earth’s been upgraded to a server. How do you not know?” James shrugged, but the news made him smile.

“Been busy in real life. Haven’t logged in for a while,” he said. “But I can fix that today,” he stood from his seat with a smile, but then he grew worried.

“WAIT. This is a server now?” He asked. His static party nodded.

“Yeah, let’s go. Time to slay the dragon!” The paladin smiled. They did not slay dragons all that often, but he liked saying it.

“Guys.  You don’t get it,” James shook his head. “No one told us,” he said. The frozen window behind him shattered. He turned around and saw a group of gargoyles attacking the building across the street.

Pineapple Bill

[WP] You’re the first person to enter a black hole and discover a new universe on the other side. from WritingPrompts

“Commander Williams, the people of Earth will not think any less of you if you have a change of heart,” a male voice said over the radio. Bill sat in his shuttle at the edge of the gravity well. “For all intents and purposes, this is a suicide mission. This is your last chance to step back.”

“Thank you, Sir. I understand, but I’m honored to have this opportunity. Commander Bill Williams, signing out and going in,” he said. He turned the radio off, stared at the abyss before him, and activated the ship’s propulsion. As the ship moved forward, he felt the hole’s gravitational force grip the ship to pull him faster. He maximized thrust and shot forward, still gaining speed.

Bill felt alone in a sea of black, his inner introvert loved the quiet darkness. He turned off all non-essential lights in the cabin and reduced the brightness on the displays he needed on to enjoy the solitude. He stared at the void and smiled. To him, it felt like coming home to a warm bed on a cold day. The trip to the center was the best 15 minutes of his life until that point, and he felt content. The moment he reached the center his ship rocked violently for several seconds, then it was still again. Blue light began to glow in front of him, he was flying straight towards Earth. He turned the radio on.

“Uh.. Mission Control? Are you there?” he asked

“Unidentified Spacecraft.. identify yourself,” a youthful, female voice responded.

“My name is Commander Bill Williams. I traveled through a black hole on a peaceful mission of exploration from Earth.”

“Your name is William Williams?” the voice replied carrying an obvious smile.

“It’s Bill Williams,” he corrected her. The response was a reflex at this point.

“From Earth? Which Earth?” the girl asked.

“Earth One I guess?” Laughter erupted through the radio. Bill felt insulted as the laugh carried on, it felt intentionally dragged out. After nearly a minute her laughter died down, then she asked him a random question.

“What’s your favorite fruit?” Bill flew through a black hole and was now approaching Earth, but the mystery voice did not seem the least bit surprised. He shrugged and decided to go with the situation.

“Pineapple,” he said.

“‘Kay, hold on.” After several minutes, each one drawing closer to the Earth, the voice came back.

“Okay, your home Earth is registered as ‘Pineapple’. Head towards North America,” she said. “Oh wait, do you guys call it that?”

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.

“When you get close enough we’ll land you, and the medics will meet you on the runway.”

“It sounds like you’re well organized for this kind of thing. Can I ask how long I’ll be in quarantine?” As the Earth grew in front of him he felt his ship lurch forward like his run at the black hole, and he let go of the controls. They were guiding his ship now.

“Nah, no quarantine. It’s just a quick scan. Since you asked, I’m guessing our tech is totally better than yours. By the way, what’s your favorite number?” Bill shrugged in his seat.

“Never really had one I guess.” His ship shook as he re-entered the atmosphere. Bill sat up eager to see what this Earth looked like.

” ‘Kay,” she replied. He passed through the clouds, and his jaw dropped. The first thing he saw was a tall, crystalline spire. It seemed to be made of purple quartz. He followed the spire down to see a large purple castle made from the same translucent material. He looked across the landscape and saw several other castles dotting a lush green plain. Something glimmered in the air and called his attention. He thought it might be another craft, but he saw sunlight reflecting off the scales of a golden dragon. The dragon appeared to head in his general direction, but Bill did not think it was coming to him.

“Um,” he spoke into the radio but paused to gather his thoughts. He called on his years of military training to keep a level head. “I see a dragon. Is that normal, and am I in any danger?” A soft giggle replied, followed by a more direct answer.

“Yeah, it’s cool. That’s just the guild leader headed out for his dailies,” the voice replied. The purple castle drew closer. Bill’s ship headed towards a long, glassy white stretch of land. His ship slowed, and hovered over the smooth runway, and landed gently. He spotted two figures in white walking towards his ship, and he stood to lower the boarding ramp. He walked down the ramp and stopped in his tracks. He assumed the two figures were human, but up close he realized both were orcs. A light grey male and a mint green female, the pair smiled at him, and he realized he was staring.

“Sorry. I was expecting..,” he half gestured at himself, “humans.” The female orc nodded.

“It’s gonna take some explaining,” she said. Bill recognized her voice as the one that named his Earth “Pineapple”. The male orc made a gesture in the air and a smokey translucent slate appeared in front of him. Then, the male brought both hands to it and began moving his fingers as if typing on it, but Bill could not see anything.  He assumed he was being scanned.

“So, where am I? Does this Earth have a name? And is there anything I can do to change mine from Pineapple?”

“Aww man, you should’ve asked that before the scan,” she said. She shook her head but gave a faint smirk. “Now your frequency is in the registry, and it can’t be changed,” she shrugged. “Sorry. But yeah. This Earth is called AlterNet Server: Violet.”

“All set,” the male orc said. He made another gesture and the slate disappeared. He waved at Bill, then turned and walked away.

“Awesome,” she smiled at Bill. “Let’s go make your character.”

AlterNet Update (6-25-18)

[CW] Tell a story that’s only told through patch notes. [Link to post.]

AlterNet 1.0: Commercial Release

      The AlterNet streams your consciousness from your body to a shell in an alternate universe. The AlterNet game world is an Earth populated by nanos, tiny programmable machines that can learn to be more efficient. Your AlterNet body is composed of a swarm of nanos that relay sensory feedback. You can touch, feel, and perform magic in the AlterNet! 

      Choose from 25 different races, and classes to customize your character the way you want. Endgame character customization and advancement exists in the form of the OverSoul system. Completing an OverSoul legendary quest will allow you to learn special abilities from one of nine races.

      The races include: Human, Orc, Troll, Goblin, Ogre, Gnome, Elf, Dwarf, Slime, Sappons(Frog humanoid), Naga, Mermaid, Angel, Demon, Fuan, Flora(Plant humanoid), Fairies, Minotaur, Centaur, Elemental, Jax(Cat humanoid), Gobois(Dog humanoid), Avennia (Bird humanoid), Gemmela(gemstone humanoid), Coldbloods(Reptilian humanoid)

      At launch, the nine OverSoul races available are: Dog, Bear, Cat, Unicorn, Dragon, Spider, Vampire, Cyborg, Skeleton. 

     The classes include: Knight, Healer, Bard, Thief, Monk, Ranger, Wizard, Necromancer, Druid, Paladin, Merchant, Craftsman, Hacker, Clown, Ninja, Elementalist, Dancer, Beastmaster, Samurai, Card Mage, Spellslinger, Gunslinger, Librarian, Berzerker, Swordmage.

     Crafting raids are available for endgame crafting guilds. Put on a royal wedding, celebrate a coronation, and more! Coordinate with merchants, smiths, bakers, tailors and carpenters to earn fantastic rewards. 

AlterNet 2.0: PvP Upgraded Framework Release

     Users can now create their own games using nanos. Players can challenge each other to games, and the nanos will enforce the rules. Please be sure to look over all the rules when accepting a challenge. We hold no responsibility for lost items if you agree unfair rules. To encourage experimentation 2.0 is launching with a set of ready-made new challenges.

     Introducing three core games: Roller Derby, Karaoke Jam Music Party(KJMP), and Towers & Assaults. Each of these core games has a flexible ruleset that allows them to be played on its own, or it can augment any other game (including other core games). Roller Derby is an action-packed athletic competition where competitors race around a track using power-ups. KJMP is a rhythm and dance game that requires lightning reflexes and a great ear for music. Towers & Assaults is a tower defense TCG. Use cards to summon monsters and cast spells to keep your Tower safe from the opponent. 

     Along with the three core games we are also releasing three mini-games. Combo Drop, a classic match 3 game. Pong and  Tic-ta-toe. Mix and match these with any (or all!) of the core games to show what you can really do. 

    The OverSoul system has been streamlined. OverSoul can now be chosen upon reaching maximum level and no longer require a legendary quest. However, the quests are still available, and will now offer appropriate rewards. 

     Halfbreeds are now available to all races. Now you can build that half-Minotaur half-Centaur rodeo Clown you’ve always wanted. 

     Due to consumer demand we will be launching a Zero-only server for players that do not wish to play with Unique Souls. More information on Unique Souls can be found in the Hugoverse Guidebook if you are not familiar with them. We recommend that all players read through the information to decide if they would like to choose a Zero-only server. 

     Unique Souls are able to physically travel to the AlterNet. They often have special abilities that are enhanced in the AlterNet. Please remember that you may face an unfair advantage if competing against a Unique. Please read all the rules before agreeing to a contest.

AlterNet 2.0

[WP] The first fully immersive online VR game has released in which anything is possible. After months of saving you eagerly log in and hit ‘random server.’ [Link to post.]

Thomas Fincher smiled at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His dark brown eyes roamed up and down his mostly naked body, making sure he attached the electrodes in all the right places. He grabbed the instruction pamphlet and checked all the marked spots on the pamphlet and himself.

“Wrists.” He checked the golden stickers on each wrist, each had a golden AlterNet logo on it. “Temples.” He looked in the mirror, the stickers appeared to be affixed in the right places. “Back of the neck.” Thomas reached behind his neck and felt the textured sticker attached to where he guessed his spine connected to his head. He grabbed his phone from the grey marble counter top in his bathroom and padded out, in just his boxers, to his newly built ‘Game room’. It’d taken him a long time to save up enough money for the remodel, but his patience was rewarded with the release of AlterNet 2.0 just as he reached his financial goal. He smiled at the large pit of soil taking up the center of the room.  He placed his phone on a nearby table attached to a charger, then grabbed a small vial of thick, bright red liquid and walked to the pit.

He stepped a bare foot into the soil and enjoyed the cool sensation as he squeezed it with his toes. He giggled with excitement, then laid down in the center making sure he was completely on the soil. He lay on his back and stared up at the clock he placed in the ceiling to keep his bearings about him whenever he logged out. He sat up, opened the small vial then drank the liquid inside in one gulp. Thomas laid back down. He kept his hands to his sides, making sure to keep the golden electrodes in the soil. It wasn’t long before he felt a tingling in the back of his neck, then he felt nothing. He closed his eyes.

“Welcome to the AlterNet 2.0,” a bright female voice spoke in his ear. “You may be aware of a sense of paralysis, please understand that this an intentional safety feature. Your body will remained paralyzed until you choose to log out of the AlterNet.” The voice said. Thomas’ eyes remained closed, but images and light filled his vision. He stood outside in a large empty wheat field, the golden grains swaying in the wind. He felt the wind brush his skin. A dark black, featureless, female mannequin appeared in the middle of the field then walked towards Thomas.

“Please select a server,” the mannequin said though it had no mouth. Around her small windowed images appeared, each with a different name.

“Random server,” Thomas said. The figure nodded, then projected a single image in front of itself. “Server: Random chosen.”

“Wait, there’s a server named, ‘Random’?” Thomas asked. The mannequin nodded. “Alright, whatever. What’s next?”

“AlterNet 2.0 is an upgraded version of the AlterNet. There are several varieties of games played within the AlterNet. Though you do not need a character profile for each game, it is recommended. Would you like to go through the games?” Thomas shook his virtual head.

“No thanks, I’m just here for Derby,” he said.

“Okay. Let’s create your Roller Derby character,” the mannequin said. Again, Thomas shook his head, in a hurry to play.

“Just default everything,” he said.

“While Roller Derby allows you to customize your character as you progress, there are some choices that cannot be changed later. Due to the nature of the AlterNet, it is recommended you think about these choices carefully. You will be unable to create a new character later.”

“Default everything,” Thomas repeated. The mannequin nodded its blank head.

“Default character created. Switching to tutorial mode,” the mannequin said. Thomas’ vision went black and he lost all sense of feeling again. Instead of the wind and grains brushing his legs he felt nothing. When he regained vision the wheat field was gone. Instead he stood in the center of a stadium surrounded by winding Roller Derby track. He moved around, taking in the sights. The stadium was empty, but the track was impressive. Sharp turns and corkscrew ramps dotted sections of the track.

“*Totally worth the wait*,” Thomas thought to himself. He pumped his fist in the air happily, then realized his body felt wrong. He looked down and realized his character was a girl.

“Uh, help?” He squeaked out the word. The black mannequin appeared next to him.

“How may I help?” she asked.

“I don’t want to be a girl,” Thomas said.

“I’m sorry. Once your character is attuned, that is one of the choices that cannot be undone.”

Jail Time (4-24-18)

[WP] “The jailer is the key, kill him and you’ll be free…” [Link to post.]

“So that’s it? We just gotta kill the jailer?” Mickey hovered around Fig, the tall blue skinned troll that gave him the hint. It was Mickey’s first day in the prison and he took to exploring the exercise yard when he ran into the aged troll. Fig shook his head, almost swinging one of his tusks into Mickey’s fluttering form. 

“You’re new. You’ve still got hope, that’s understandable. But let me tell you, ain’t no way you’re killing the jailer,” Fig laughed heartily and gestured at Mickey, “you’re not even a fighting class, you’re a merchant. Maybe you can save up enough to bribe him, eh?” 

“Bribe him? But isn’t he one of the Forest guards?” Mickey asked. The Forest was the virtual prison they were sentenced to, destined to live out the rest of their days as player characters. A sly smile came over Fig.

“Nope. Everything thinks that, but he’s just an overpowered NPC. I’ve tried talking to him a few times, it’s all scripted. Anyway, good luck. Let me know if you need any help getting situated.” Fig gave Mickey a dismissive wave and walked away towards a group of of assorted trolls and ogres. Mickey hovered in place while he debated about his options. Fig was right, he didn’t stand a fighting chance as a merchant, but he had other skills. The jailer being an NPC meant he had a chance. Before he entered the Forest, Michael Anderson chose to be a merchant in the hopes that they wouldn’t think much of his skills. He brought up a skill menu, translucent blue text formed in front of him, then scrolled through it. He smiled widely when he realized his skills were still intact, he was after one skill in particular. Charming Gift – Once a day give a gift to someone to increase their favor of you by 5 points. Rewards 10XP

“That’ll do it,” Mickey said to himself. He flapped his wings and scoured the prison yard looking for anything suitable. He found a small red flower blooming in one corner. He plucked the flower and flew it to the Jailer’s tent. He kept a presence in the yard whenever the prisoners were outdoors. The jailer was a tall naga. The bottom half of his body looked like a diamondback rattler, complete with rattle at the tip of his tail. The rattle came to life the second Mickey flew into the tent.

“Sorry sir! I don’t mean any trouble, I just wanted to give you a gift,” Mickey said. He held the flower, fluttering just inside the tent’s entrance. The jailer stared at Mickey, but the rattling stopped. Mickey flew forward slowly, holding the flower in front of him, stem out, to make his offering clear. He smiled when the Jailer reached out and accepted the flower. A green +5 appeared over his head for a second, then disappeared. Mickey used another of his merchant skills, Appraisal, to gauge his favor with the Jailer. He needed to give him 999 more gifts to get to the next level of favor.

“Well, I’ve got nothing else to do,” Mickey sighed and flew out of the tent. His mind began to fill with ideas about how he would kill the jailer once his favor got high enough. While scrolling through his menu he also noticed he earned experience points for using the skill. He flew to Fig in a hurry, the troll seemed surprised to see him.

“Accepted it already?” Fig asked. 

“Can’t we take him if we level up?” Mickey asked. Fig shook his head.

“They nerfed all our XP skills, and they won’t let us out to kill in the world anyway. No one’s leveling up in here.” Mickey nodded. He would tell Fig some day, maybe after he already had a couple of levels under his belt. But it did not need to be today. It was only the first day, and he had plenty of time to plan his escape. 

Living Forest (4-14-18)

[WP] In the distant future, prisoners have their brains extracted and uploaded into a computer system in order to save space and maintain peace within prisons. [Link to post.]

“You are hereby sentenced *immediately* to the Forest.” The judge’s gavel slammed down. Michael Anderson broke down into heaving sobs while the bailiff escorted him out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He had no resistance to give as the burly guard walked him to the transport, and he remained silent for most of the two hour drive. An hour and a half into the trip the driver yelled back at him.

“Man, I’m sorry you got Judge ‘Appleseed’. Shitty luck.” Michael nodded his head ever so slightly. “Hey. You want a burger or something? Look. I don’t know if you’re guilty or not, but even if you are… the Forest ain’t right. It’s too much.” The vehicle slowed down, but Michael kept his silence and shook his head. The guard shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The van sped up again. Half an hour later they stopped moving, then the guard opened the door. Michael stared out at purple-orange sky. The sun began its descent into the treetops. He stepped out of the paddy wagon and looked over the edge; the Forest inmate processing station functioned as a dam once. The guard guided Michael along the tall sheer wall towards the elevator. He glanced at the trees. Giant redwoods grew tall and proud for miles and miles, as far as Michael could see. Thousands of trees taking up hundreds of miles. The guard undid Michael’s handcuffs then pressed the elevator button. The doors slid open, waiting for Michael.

“God bless you,” the guard patted Michael on the shoulder and walked off. The elevator was as spacious as a bedroom, at least 10′ x 10′. A female orderly stood next to a comfortable looking chair  in the center. She nodded her head at the chair and Michael stepped in to sit down. 

“It’s a slow, deliberate, ride down. We prepare you on the way,” she said quietly. Michael nodded his head to indicate he heard what she said. 

“What do you know about the Forest?” she asked while she pressed the button closing the elevator doors. Michael watched the sunlight disappear for the last time, then he felt the elevator begin its descent. He knew he couldn’t get by with a nod this time.

“Everything,” Michael said. 

“Oh you’re one of those? Well there is some info that you won’t find on the internet, even on the conspiracy sites,” she said. She presented him with a glass of water and a small white cardboard cup full of pills. “We’re supposed to show you an orientation video, but most people skip it.” Michael lifted the white cup of pills and poured them all into his mouth, then he grabbed the water to wash them down. 

“Those pills I swallowed will start germinating in a few hours,” Michael said, staring directly into her dark brown eyes. Her mouth dropped slightly, then she recovered with a smile.

“A lucky guess. Pretty much everyone has *some* idea what the Forest actually is,” she said. She grabbed the empty glass and cup from him, then turned to put them on a counter top against one of the Elevator walls. She turned back to hand him a brown mesh jumpsuit that resembled a burlap sack. Michael stood and began to change into it. She turned her back to give him privacy. 

“You ever wonder what it’d be like if you could be someone else? Some *thing* else?” she tilted her head back slightly to ask. “Like, wouldn’t it be cool to be a fairy, or an ogre or something?” Michael chuckled behind her. 

“I’m dressed,” he said. The orderly turned around to find him sitting in his seat again. 

“So? Pretend you could be anything you wanted to be. What would you choose?” She asked with a friendly smile. Michael scratched at the itchy uniform, then smiled at her. Now that he took the pills he felt at peace with his fate. He decided to have some fun. 

“A dragon,” he said. She giggled, then shook her head. 

“No c’mon. Something more reasonable. Like maybe an elf, or a dwarf.”

“Oh. I’ve always thought something like a ferret man would be cool.” Her eyes rolled upward to think, then she shook her head. 

“Nah those don’t count. What about like a cat man or a dog man?” she asked. She grabbed a strap from under the chair and began to fasten him to it. 

“A moth man,” Michael said. She paused while tightening the strap. 

“No, but how about-,” she paused. Her eyes narrowed and she stared at him for a second before gasping. “You *DO* know! You’re doing it on purpose.” Michael nodded.

“Alright wiseguy,” she stood and crossed her arms, the smiled. “Tell me what you know so I can do my job. I’m supposed to make sure you know the process.” 

“You’re going to connect me to the AlterNet where my consciousness can live on in another universe. Of course it’s a prison so there are guards over there keeping us prisoner. While I’m in there I’ll be planted so that taking care of my body isn’t a burden on the State. The pills I took will bond with me and grow. The soil and sun will keep me alive until my body becomes a tree. Eventually my consciousness will just fade away into nothing. Even if there’s no pain, it’s like a death sentence. Just crueler. Sound about right?” Michael asked. The orderly nodded then walked around him to tighten the strap around his other wrist. 

“Yeah. You got it all,” she said. The elevator stopped moving suddenly. “Race and class?” she asked. 

“Fairy Merchant,” Michael said. The doors opened. 

Bright Future (4-9-18)

[ImagePrompt] Cybermonk [Link to post.]

The bright orange morning sun illuminated the temple’s courtyard and the small group of prospective students standing within. The temple master double checked the list displayed as a hologram hovering over his metal hand, then counted the recruits again.

Only Seven out of 15 showed up. Good, this’ll be easy,” he smiled to himself and walked out of the shadows to approach the group. When they saw him approach the newbies made an effort to stand at attention. 

“Good Morning,” the monk smiled at the group. He noticed a human female, the only human in the group, flinching. She tried to keep her eyes forward, but her head seemed to involuntarily turn to her left while her left eye blinked rapidly. He approached her.

“Something wrong?” The monk asked the woman. She now faced forward with ease.

“Sorry, Sir. I had something in my eye. I think it’s gone now,” she said. The monk nodded, though a couple other group members chuckled. The monk stepped back and addressed them.

“My name is SteelDragon7, and I run this guild,” he paced back and forth in front of them, then paused. He turned to face a minotaur. Every recruitment brought a hotshot that thought he could take on SteelDragon7, and it was always the minotaur. “I’m sure some of you think I don’t look like much,” the master held his metal hand up for the group to see. “But let me remind you; I’m the first, and so far *ONLY* player to finish the Oversoul quest.” The human raised her hand.

“Is that good?” She asked, after SteelDragon7 gave her his attention. The other six, two elves, a slime folk, a faun, a naga, and the minotaur, burst into laughter at her question. The monk walked to the girl, though he noticed she began flinching and blinking her left eye again. Her fidgeting stopped when he stood in front of her. 

“What level are you?” the monk asked. She looked down at the ground, seemingly embarrassed.

“One, it’s my first day. I finished the tutorial and saw a monk guild recruiting.” The six laughed even harder. The monk held his metal hand up.

“Silence! All of you were new once, as was I.” SteelDragon7 caught the woman flinching again out of the corner of his eye, but ignored it for the moment. He lowered his hand and the minotaur spoke out.

“Yeah we were all new, but we didn’t try out for the best monk guild on our first day,” the big black cow head said, not bothering to conceal the glee in his deep voice. 

“Of course *you* didn’t.” SteelDragon7 faced the woman again, gave her a slight smile. “The Oversoul quest lets you choose an elite race, and you get those bonuses on top of whatever race benefits you already have. I’ll be happy to explain more in depth later, but I hope that satisfies your question for now?” he asked her. She nodded so the monk paced back to stand in front of the entire group. 

“It’s a small group today, we can take all of you if you’re worthy. Normally we’d have a tournament to whittle down the numbers, but I think we’ll try something different this time. I’m going to ask a single question. Your answer will dictate whether you join my guild or not.” SteelDragon7 looked over the recruits and tried to guess which ones would give the right answer, then he noticed the human flinching again. He shook his head to ignore it for the moment, but decided to ask her about it after. Whether she made it into the guild or not. 

“The question is this: Why do you want to join this guild?” As soon as he finished speaking the woman raised her hand. “You can take time to think about your answer, it’s not a race.” 

“But I know why I’m here.” The monk nodded and extended his hand to encourage her to speak up. 
“I’m a monk, and I thought it’d be fun to hang out with other monks, and this is a monk only guild, and I just want to have fun.” SteelDragon7 walked toward the girl, ignoring the laughter of the rest of the recruits. 

“That’s your answer, then?” he asked her. She nodded. “Very well. Now that you’ve given me your answer please go wait over there.” He pointed her toward a shaded spot near the courtyard entrance. The minotaur spoke up while she walked away.

“I’m here because this is the strongest guild, and I’m planning to be the strongest monk.” The master monk looked the minotaur up and down, then nodded. 

“Please go wait over there.” Instead of sending the minotaur to the shaded spot next to the human, SteelDragon7 sent the beast man to a sunny spot near the temple’s dorm rooms. The next five had their answers ready shortly after that. The two elves and the faun also wanted to grow their strength at the temple, they were sent to stand in the sun next to the minotaur. The slime folk and the naga admitted to just wanting help in progressing toward their Oversoul. They were sent to stand in the shade. Each time SteelDragon7 sent someone towards the human, he noticed her flinching. It began to get on his nerves. After everyone gave their answer the monk stood in the middle of the courtyard and waved both groups to join him. 

“I’m sure you’ve realized by now that you’re divided into groups of yes and no. I won’t waste time with suspense,” he turned to face the human, slime folk, and naga. “Congratulations and welcome to the guild. You’re in.” While they cheered the other team made their outrage known. The minotaur going so far as to grab SteelDragon7 by his orange training robes and lifting him into the air.

“HOW did those losers get in, and not us?” SteelDragon7 smiled. 

“The success of this guild is not due to us having the strongest people. We’ve succeeded because we choose people that *want* to be here. We support each other, we have fun. You four are looking to selfishly use this guild as a stepping stone to greater strength. They just want friends. I’d also like to remind you that this courtyard is a PvP zone. If you don’t unhand me, you’re going to have a long walk from your respawn point, and I can’t guarantee your items will still be here when you get back. The minotaur loosened his grip and SteelDragon7 fell two feet to the floor.

“This guild’s going downhill anyway. C’mon guys, we’ll start our own monk guild.” The minotaur led the two elves and the faun away. The monk master turned to watch them leave, then noticed the human flinching again. He walked over to her quickly.

“Are you sure nothing’s wrong? Why are you flinching so much?” he asked. She looked at her two new friends. The naga stood about a foot taller than her, and the slime folk was shorter by about two feet. 

“Sorry, Sir. You’re just so *shiny*. Your head’s been blinding me like crazy. 

Logging Lesson (3-18-18)

[WP] Sunday Free Write [Link to post.]

“Go ahead and take off,” [Jake]( said to the pale boy. They talked in a dim cave while the sounds of battle echoed from up ahead. “We need to finish up the demo, [Eva](’s probably bored out of her mind by now.” Jake’s mention of Eva caused [Oren]( to giggle. 

“She’s gonna smack you for taking so long already,” Oren said. The boy’s form dissipated into red glowing dust, his high pitched glee continued to echo off the stone walls even after he disappeared. Jake walked toward the cave’s exit, and caught up with [Elle]( Jake noted the last of the goblins from the fourth ambush disintegrating into dust. 

“Where’s Oren?” She asked Jake when she noticed him approach.

“He got bored,” Jake said with a shrug. 

“Don’t we need him to fight the boss?” Elle asked. She sheathed both her daggers, anticipating a wait.

“Nah, it’ll be fine.” Jake waved his hand dismissively. “There’s some other things I wanted to show you anyway, this is a great opportunity,” he added. “Let’s go fight the boss and get out of here.” Jake walked past Elle, the back hem of his red wizard robes dragged in the dirt behind him leaving a smooth streak. He led her forward about 50 feet, then stopped. 

“Boss ambush up ahead. We’ll try the original plan we had before Oren showed up. The champion spawns with two elite guards, so stealth up. I’ll distract them, and you take them out from behind. Okay?” Elle nodded and disappeared. Her body seemed to empty out like liquid out of a leaking jug, leaving a thin black outline around her form that only Jake could see. “One more thing. The goblin champion, Screampig, is immune to backstab. Save him for last,” Jake said. The top of the empty form moved slightly, Jake assumed she nodded. He walked forward and triggered the scripted ambush. 

“[THAT’S MINE!]( DIE!!!” a squealing, high pitched voice yelled. Three goblins appeared in front of Jake while Elle’s ghost moved along the wall without making a sound. She left no footprints as she positioned herself behind them. They resembled a trio of homeless, emaciated, short men. Their sickly green skin almost looked like it was stretched too tight over their bones. The outline of every bone and joint was clearly visible. A mishmash of chain, leather and cloth scraps protected them. The middle one with the name “Screampig” over his head stood several inches taller than the other two, and appeared to be better fed. His potbelly hung over a leather belt, contrasting the rest of his bony body. The goblins charged toward Jake, the only intruder they could see. The wizard lifted his heavy wooden staff. 

“Alright Elle,” Jake shouted past the oncoming goblins. He knew they wouldn’t care who he was talking to, they were not programmed to be that aware. “First thing you have to learn about is friendly fire.” The tip of Jake’s staff glowed with bright orange light. “Blazing Rain.” He said flatly. A shower of glowing, molten sparks began falling in a large area around the goblins, including Elle. The super-heated drops burned anything they touched. 

“OW! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Elle shouted. The damage she took from the sparks revealed her. Without stealth the goblins noticed her, but their focus remained on Jake because he was the only one to cause them any damage so far. They continued moving toward him. 

“Second thing you have to learn is how to logout,” Jake said with a smile. He tapped his staff on the ground, and remained still. His bright red robe dulled and transitioned into a dark grey color. The features on his face melded together as his tan skin also shifted to grey. Within seconds a simple dark grey mannequin stood in Jake’s place, then it dissolved into grey ash dispersed by a breeze that Elle did not feel. 

“JAKE!!!” Elle yelled, grabbing the attention of the goblins. All three turned and charged toward her.