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.

Home Track

Sunday Free Write

“Let’s see how you did,” Jelly_Jim stood in front of the Dirge and Dread, the sun glistened through his green translucent body. Once the girls returned from their first task he took them to the derby track for a quick test. “Let’s see your beast,” he asked Dread. The tall white-haired girl nodded and stepped forward. She took a deep breath and summoned Thunder without using her menu. A golden tiger leapt out of the yin-yang symbol on the back of her leather jacket and padded around to the stand between her and Jelly_Jim. The slime man nodded at her.

“Nice. How ‘bout you?” He looked at Dirge. The shorter girl with raven curls nodded and held her hand out. A silver bell with a black strap materialized in her hand. He gave her an approving nod, then looked at both girls.

“Now I can train you. A million Cubes each,” he said with a smile.

“What?” Dread asked.

“You didn’t mention that!” Dirge added as she stamped her foot in anger. Jelly_Jim’s viscous shoulders flowed upward in a shrug.

“It didn’t matter because you weren’t ready. I gave you some advice, but I didn’t think you’d survive from the Schoolyard,” he said. “I’ll admit it, you’re better than I thought.” Dirge and Dread high fived each other, but the gelatinous man shook his head. His body wobbled. “But, still not good enough to train for free.”  Dirge smirked. She brought her hand up to show Jelly-Jim a red and white poker chip, then she flipped it at him with her thumb. Jelly-Jim snatched the token out of the air and inspected it. His eyes widened.

“How’d you get this?” His hand swallowed the token into his translucent body and it flowed up his arm, then it disappeared when it reached his torso.

“You just agreed to train us, right?” Dread asked. His head wobbled when he shook it back and forth.

“I agreed to take a closer look at you. Maybe you’ll be worth training for free. Where’d you get the chip?” He asked again.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dirge chirped with a smile.Jelly_Jim gave a lopsided grin.

“That’s fair. Okay, no hustles this time. You two against me in a straight knockdown contest. Sound good?” Both girls nodded in agreement.

“Excellent, don’t hold back.” A translucent square menu coalesced in the air in front of them to present the game invite.

“Challenge from Jelly_Jim: Knockdown Contest.”

[Ready? -Dirge] Dread felt the Whisper tickle her inner ear.

[Yeah. -Dread] She replied. Dread clenched her fists. Dirge still held the bell in her right hand, and she reached out to accept the invite with her left. She touched the display to accept the invite, and it began to disintegrate into nanos. Before it completely disappeared Dirge shouted at Jelly_Jim to distract him.

“HEY!” A small, flat silver blade shot from her mouth and embedded itself inside Jelly_Jim’s see-through body. Dirge rang her bell and the silver spike began to glow inside him with golden light.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Dread yelled the blade with her Tiger’s Roar ability. Jelly_Jim doubled over to hold his stomach. He groaned for a split second before he exploded.

“Winners: Dirge and Dread,” A deep voice announced from the scoreboard. Dirge and Dread gave each other another high five while green slime rained down on them. Green slugs crawled their way back to the the bottom half of his slime body lay. They melded into one mass and formed Jelly_Jim again. He smiled at them.

“I really underestimated you, that was brilliant,” he said.

“So you’ll teach us?” Dirge asked. Jelly_Jim shook his head again.

“I specialize in teaching Uniques to use their powers in the game. You’ve got that down. Looks to me like you just don’t know how to play the game,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to teach you.”

“You could teach us to play?” Dread asked.

“The game is too complicated. The best way to learn is practice, go play some games,” he said. “I’ll let you use this track any time you want,” he held his hand up and produced the red and white poker chip again. “Consider this a rental fee.” It disappeared into his hand again. “But playing against other Uniques is the only way you’re going to get better.” Dirge looked at Dread.

“Try-outs?” she asked. She pulled the flyer out to remind Dread. The taller girl nodded.

“Yeah, Sounds fun,” Dread smiled. She glanced around the smooth white track. “And we’ve got a home track to practice on.”

Tutorial Start (6-10-18)

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

Dread’s black helmet dissolved into nothing, then she looked down at the bearded elf with narrowed eyes. He smiled up at her from the team bench beside the derby track.

“You know we’re Uniques?” Dread asked Jelly_Jim.

“You picked the Slime Soul just to hustle? At least it has a use,” Dirge added her own question as she handed a gold coin to Jelly_Jim.

“It was useful in beating you.” The elf’s green eyes rolled up and he turned his head away as if he embarrassed himself with the comment.

“Wait a minute…” Dirge said then reached for her Node. She pulled the transparent rectangle from the white dock that decorated her wrist; the rainbow in her hair faded to black and her black sailor skirt grew and became her favorite black and orange lolita dress. She made several swipes, then watched the Node intently. After a few seconds her jaw dropped and she looked at Dread.

“He cheated.” She looked down at the seated elf. “You cheated!” A hearty guffaw left his mouth followed by several more as he leaned over his stomach.

“You can’t cheat in the AlterNet, nanos won’t let you. It’s why you can’t use your Unique abilities,” Jelly_Jim said. He stood from the bench and stared at Dread. “Yeah, I know you’re Uniques,” he extended his hand. “#25 El Borracho, you can call me Jack.” Dread accepted his hand shake.

“I’m #42 La Calavera, and that’s #14 La Muerte.” Dread introduced them.

“This server in particular attracts more Uniques than Zeroes.” He shrugged. “After a while they get easy to spot.” Dirge continued watching her Node, then shook her head.

“Dread was powered up, how’d you knock her down?” She asked.

“As far as the system is concerned Dread knocked herself down,” Jack explained with a growing smile. He brought his hand up to show a small puddle of green translucent slime resting in is palm.  He poked it with his other hand, then his finger pulled back several viscous strands. “This stuff is sticky, and it gets everywhere. It’s not my fault you skated over some and didn’t clean it off.”

“But if she ‘fell’,” Dirge used air quotes. “why did you earn the point?”

“Because you didn’t read the rules carefully. If you check them you’ll see, ‘Friendly Fire’ enabled. And she counts against herself.”

“That’s a pretty slimy thing to do,” Dirge said with a small pout. Jack nodded.

“It’s effective.” He turned his attention back to Dread. “If I’m going to train you, I need to know what I’m working with.” He walked around her in a slow circle while examining her up and down. “What are you?” Dread felt her heart jump to action; it pounded on the inside of her chest and she clenched her fists.

“What?” She asked.

“There’s something unnatural about you,” Jack said. The moment he finished speaking Dirge responded.

“HEY!” She yelled at him with a sharp edge in her voice. Dirge used a bard skill to attack as she yelled, a small blade shot from her mouth at Jack; but, he caught it between his fingers.

“Don’t worry we’ll get to PvP later,” He said, then tossed the silver blade on the white track. It disintegrated into the surface. “You’re obviously a Beastmaster,” Jack focused on Dread again. “I can’t tell what race you are, but I know it’s not human. There’s magic disguising you.” Dread giggled in the back of her mind as she let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s just do it like this,” Jack said.

“I’m Jack, my character Jelly_Jim is an elf card mage with Slime Oversoul. Alright, you go.” He pointed at Dread.

“I’m Dread, my character Dread is a mermaid beastmaster with Tiger Oversoul,” she said.

“Your actual name is Dread? What kind of parents name their child Dread?” Jack asked while scratching his beard.

“Cool ones,” Dread said. Then Dirge jumped in.

“I’m Threnody, my character Dirge is a fairy bard with Unicorn Oversoul,” Dirge said. Jack nodded.

“Are you just a mermaid, or did you pick a variant?” Jack asked Dread.

“Shark variant,” she said with a nod.

“I’m going to guess that you don’t know how to access your beasts, or you would have used them,” he said.

“Beasts? I get more than one?” Dread asked.

“You are NEW, aren’t you?” Jack glanced at Dirge and noticed she wore the same lost look that Dread did. “Very well. In that case I’ll give you a primer on each of your characters.” He gestured to Dread. “The beastmaster of course gets a beast to fight alongside, however you picked an excellent combination. I don’t know if it was luck or if you planned it out. Shark mermaids have a racial ability that grants them a shark pet, no matter what class they are. Then, Cat Oversoul grants the ability to have a pet of whatever soul you get. On top of that beastmasters have a class ability that upgrades pets to beasts that can battle. BUT, you’re a Unique. Zeroes that log in from their own universes get a pet as soon as they make their character. Uniques that play beastmaster need to tame their own, real, pet and bond with it.” Jack focused on Dirge.

“You picked a great combination too. You can change your size as a fairy, and Unicorn soul doubles all your magic stats. That nimbleness is fantastic for a bard, you can hide and keep your team buffed.” Jack turned his back to them and walked away from them and the derby track without warning. The two girls decided to follow. After several steps he looked over his shoulder to check if they were following, then he started talking again.

“I can’t start training you until you’re ready.” He lead them through the main walkway, winding through the crowds around several different derby tracks. “I can’t train a beastmaster without her beasts, and I can’t train a bard,… ” Jack reached a green door in a black brick wall. “… without her instrument.” He opened the door and walked in. The girls found a small, messy office on the other side of the door. Jack gestured at Dirge, the last one in, to close the door. She did, then he sat down at a desk overflowing with papers. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out two black keys, then handed one to each of the girls.

“So go do it. Separately.” Dirge smiled eagerly. Dread thought about it, a corner of her mouth twitched. “I need to see how well you can can do without each other,” he said. Dirge burst out laughing.

“Dread spent 400 years vandalizing Ballisea’s property, and I’ve killed entire worlds. I think we can handle ourselves,” Dirge said. Jack burst out into laughter.

“Welcome to being a Unique, that’s kid’s stuff,” he gestured to them to make his point. “But those keys’ll give you a real challenge. You’re in the big pond now, girls.”

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