Sunday, August 30, 2015

Update/ Book info + Possible Contest?

I know you guys hate seeing "update," cause it usually means "no post today." Which is half true even now. I just wanted to catch you guys up on what's going on.

We've taken offline chapters 4 through 10 of book 1. This isn't a "we don't want to provide the service anymore!" this is a "we think that the quality of the work isn't up to par with our expectations." During our editing of even Volume 2 Chapter 1, we found ourselves running into the issue of "continuity" problems, grammar problems, cetera. To leave it online is embarrassing. We'll eventually be removing non fully edited sections of Volume 2 as well, but, to give you an idea of what I mean in quality difference. I'm leaving up the original "Chapter 1 Volume 2" and I'm going to also post this, the fully edited version.
Yes, the online version is a sounding board, but yes, it was also way too embarrassing to leave up until it's reworked.

So, here's the reworked version of Volume 2 chapter 1 (well, almost fully reworked, we're going to do one more pass).

Please inspect this version, and tell me if you think the quality is still too poor.
As soon as we finish volume 2 edits, we're going to go back and tackle volume 1. We've already done a light retackle, catching some errors, that we're going to load to the amazon store soon so they don't have to read as many mistakes, but our goal is to make a better product. Wish us luck!


    Darwin stared out over the glass bowsprit at the ocean ahead. Sleep. What I would give for sleep, he thought, remembering how blissful it was to go to bed and wake up with a clear and refreshed mind. Now days his brain felt like an old computer that couldn’t clear its temporary memory cache. If I’m not insane yet, I will be.
    “Raise your arms,” Stephanie said as she came up behind Darwin, putting one hand on each side of his back.
    “Are you . . . Are you trying to Titanic me?” Darwin laughed, turning around to look at the beautiful blond girl.
    “Shh, just go with it. Afterwards I can, like, paint you like one of my pretty French girls,” Stephanie smiled.
    “Does that mean this will end with one of us wet and hanging onto a piece of wood?” Darwin laughed dorkishly at his own bad innuendo. He had been stuck thinking about so many serious things, even good serious things, that he hadn’t actually just laughed and enjoyed his time in Tiqpa much. There were only sparse conversations with Kass or Stephanie that ever took his mind off his mission to care for his people or how little he knew about how to actually do that.
    “I volunteer to be the one holding onto the wood,” Stephanie did an overly dramatic lurch forward, like she was Rose climbing on top of a piece of the floating debris in the icy waters.
    “Are you just saying that so I’ll be the one who goes down?” Darwin continued the perverted jokes, reminiscing about all the bad puns he had made when he was in highschool.
    “Well, if you’re the one going down, I’ll still be wet, so what does it matter?” Stephanie `countered.
    “I guess not a lot. I did think you’d be waiting for me in the cabin though,” Darwin said, looking over Stephanie’s shoulders to make sure no one could see them, “which is weird.”
    “How so?” She asked, cozying up close and taking his hand.
    “Well, it’s just, I never thought I’d ever get a girlfriend besides my video game, and now I’m dating a girl that’s part of a video game . . . and . . .” Darwin stumbled across his words, trying to put his thoughts together but also being keenly aware of Stephanie’s touch on his skin.
    “And what? Like, it’s okay. I’m not going to make fun of you. You’re my first attempt at dating too,” Stephanie reminded him. “Not that there have been a lot of suitors, granite . . .”
    “You mean granted?”
    “Do I?” she gave a coy smile.
    “Anyway, I just never thought my first dates would feel so sneaky, always having to hide the girl lest someone turn up dead.”
    “I just take stunning to a whole new level. It’s not my fault so many people are blinded by beauty.”
    “Mhmmm, beauty is it?” Darwin gave his first wry smile of the conversation. “I’m sure that’s the case. Wait, as a Gorgon, are you even comfortable being on the water? Not worried about another frat guy Poseidon incident?”
    “Pssshhhh, Poseidon is all washed up. Not to mention, that’s just a myth the greeks tell because they want to make it seem like a good thing that the only way Perseus could get head was through decapitation,” Stephanie joked, making fun of the Greek myths.
    “You know, Perseus probably seems like a terrible frat guy only for those cursed by wisdom,” Darwin continued, punning on the Greek gorgon origin.
    “Either way, Captain, we’re on course for smooth sailing,” Stephanie giggled as she gave a weak salute.
    “Alright, well, if we’re on course for smooth sailing, how about we get some rest in the cabin. I could use it after everything we’ve been through.”
    “Nuh-uh. You can take a rest only after you’ve gotten your lesson in with Alex. You might be my strong, fast and admirable hero, but you've been swinging those swords like a drunk gypsy dancer from bulgaria in the 40's.”
    “That’s actually not a bad idea. I wouldn’t mind learning how to be a ninja, or at least figure out how they always sneak up on me as if they have some magical ‘appear out of thin air’ skill.”
    “Well, I can’t promise you’ll be able to sneak up on anyone, especially with no class abilities to help you or years of training, but you do need to learn how to stop someone from stabbing you in the back at the very least.”
    “I’m convinced. You got me. I’ll go find them and get some training in,” Darwin said, raising his hands in mock surrender.
    “Good boy. I’ll see you in the cabin later, and bring me some chocolate on your way back,” she smiled and then vanished even faster than Alex.
    Where in the heck does one get chocolate on a boat in the middle of the ocean? Darwin thought as he went to go find Alex. I mean, this is a video game. Is there a magic vendor I don’t know about that appears on every boat? Darwin had a lot of other things on his mind like how he was going to deal with telling Kass about Stephanie.
    “I heard you were looking for me, Lord Darwin,” Alex said, tapping Darwin’s shoulder as he pondered his gift-giving dilemma. Normally, Darwin wasn’t easily startled, but the combination of how deep in thought he was and the unseen physical tap attack on his shoulder was enough to make him almost leap out of his own skin.
    “I need to give you a cowbell to wear wherever you go,” Darwin muttered loud enough for Alex to hear.
    “A cowbell?” Alex thought for a minute, resting his hand on his chin in a contemplative stance. “Ah, I understand. You wish for me to wear a cowbell as part of a special training regime to improve my sneaking ability? I am currently lacking as a forward Scout and you are hoping this will help me.”
    “Actually, no,” Darwin thought for a minute, trying to come up with an explanation that wouldn’t just be admitting Alex kept startling him. “That’s not it. It was only a joke.”
    “Ah.” Alex pondered again for a minute. “I don’t get it. Is your joke funny?”
    “To someone watching, I’m sure.” Darwin wanted to hold his head in shame. How could Alex say that with such a straight face? “Back to the topic of training though, that’s actually why I was looking for you.”
    “Ah, you have special training you’d like me to undertake in preparation for future battles,” Alex nodded as if he already knew where the conversation was going to go. “I look forward to serving and learning under your tutelage.”
    “Umm . . . No, that’s not it.” Darwin found it harder and harder to ask what he needed from Alex.
    “Oh,” Alex’s face fell flat for a moment, then it perked up, “I’m sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusion, Lord Darwin, of course you’d want to hold a class for all the military personnel and not just myself. Shall I go round up the others on this ship and have them in rank and file on deck for you?”
    “No, I’d rather you didn’t because the thing is . . .” Darwin started slowly, and then decided to quickly rush his next sentence so that Alex wouldn’t get a chance to further tar his ability to ask. “I actually need you to train me.”
“I’m sorry, Lord Darwin. What was that?” Alex looked so shocked, Darwin couldn’t tell if he was feigning it or it was sincere.
“I need you to train me. I’ve never had a lesson with a sword, so I don’t know the proper way to use one.” Darwin wasn’t lying. He may have played dozens of video games and watched hundreds of hours of television and movies with sword fighting, but that was the extent of his education and none of it had soaked in -- not a single tidbit of how to actually use a blade. It’s not like he could dance across leaves and do exaggerated motions during a fight as if this was one of the oriental action movies he loved, nor was it the case that he could wait for the camera to freeze every five seconds during a battle and pretend like it was 300. No, he had no experience or visual memory to draw on. He only had his instincts, and instincts without training can only get you so far.
“Lord Darwin, what exactly do you need training in? Aren’t you like the newcomers? I know no one talks about them, but I’ve noticed enough to know that their system of education and training isn’t the same as ours,” Alex said with a reticent expression on his face. “I’m not sure I’m the best one to train you.”  
“Wait.” Darwin was about to explain his situation properly when he noticed Alex had mentioned something he hadn’t heard before from another NPC. “The newcomers?”
“Yes, those like you, who only showed up in this world recently. They improve very quickly with combat experience and use a unique system to learn how to fight. I don’t know how I didn’t notice this when I was still human, but after joining the Faction and becoming a Demon, I began to put the pieces together from the conversations I had overheard. Little by little, I realized that they function in our reality with an entirely different set of rules.” When Alex finished his explanation, he looked at his Spear and then back at Darwin. “The group we killed in the woods together . . . I saw them at the battle on the shore. It didn’t make sense. Even if they were capable of traveling faster than we are and reaching the battle before us, we had killed them. They should have been dead, yet they were alive again as if nothing happened. That’s when I put everything I had overheard together and realized it.”
Welp, the cat is out of the bag now for sure. Do I fill him in? Where is Kass or Stephanie to give me a cue on how I’m supposed to handle him discovering this. Darwin looked around, as if his desire to see them and the uncomfortable situation together would somehow summon them out of thin air.
“Alex, do you know how the newcomers train?” Darwin did his best to skirt around the topic, still not sure whether or not he wanted to explain to an NPC that this was all just a game.
“I haven’t been able to figure it out. I can recall overhearing conversations about something to do with Tiqpa combat systems, but that’s it.” Alex returned his hand to his chin for tentative scratching. “Though, I’m sure Kass will be able to tell you. The way she disappears and reappears, when she showed up, the way she talks about things . . . she is definitely a newcomer.”
“Yeah, she is.” Darwin didn’t even bother trying to hide it that time. Lying wasn’t the best way to keep your troops loyal.
“Are you, Lord Darwin?”
“I don’t know what I am, Alex.” Darwin looked around for a minute, trying and failing to find something to change the subject with. Then, unable to find a new topic to change to, he pulled out a sword and went with the first one. “I’m only certain that I need combat training.”
“Alright, but I’ve never actually been an instructor, Lord Darwin, so please be patient with me,” Alex said, putting down the spear he always carried and pulling out two swords. “You are a dual wielder, right?”
“I guess it has worked out that way, yeah,” Darwin said, pulling out his two Burriza’s Blades. He actually wanted to learn how to use the spear--after all, when he was playing his old MMO, Emerald Gardens, he had always liked being a Dragoon. As the great Arch Lance Ser NightVale, the unrivaled spear wielder of the StormGuard Alliance, he had grown to love using that particular weapon. The two swords that had dropped when looting the silver ore mine boss, however, were simply night and day stronger than the spears that had been for sale at the Blacksmith’s shop before he left Valcrest. “So, how do we . . .”
Before Darwin could even begin to ask what they were going to start with, Alex lunged at him with a right thrust. Darwin instinctively used his left blade to strike Alex’s blade away from him while parrying Alex’s follow up slash attack from the left with his right-hand sword.
“Incredible,” Alex said, jumping back from his first feint attack. Darwin almost felt proud for a moment at the compliment until Alex followed it up with, “I can’t believe you’re so good at fighting with such sloppy form.”
Yep, this is going to go swimmingly. “I’m good at fighting, but I lack form?””
“Yeah, you move like the blade is a part of you, and your reaction speed is astounding, but your movements are far too wide and excessive in nature. Something very common from fighters with little to no form.”
“So, I’m basically relying on faster reflexes and movement speed to beat my opponents? Because I have no form?” Darwin nodded uncertainly. He wanted to make sure he understood what Alex was trying to convey.
“Indeed. You fight like a wild animal, concerned only with the goal of your actions and not the best methods to achieve them,” Alex also nodded. “It should be an easy enough fix though.”
“Oh?” Darwin pressed for a more precise answer.
“Yes. I plan to teach you form and root you in one of the great combat styles of the Human Empire. But first, I think first we just need to get you to understand that you don’t need to parry by a mile what you can evade by an inch,” he said, pulling something out of his pockets as he spoke.
“Excellent, just tell me what I need to do next.” Darwin understood the meaning of what Alex was trying to convey, but he also knew that converting theory into practice would be difficult.
“I need you to defend against me, using only these,” he answered, throwing two spoons for Darwin to catch. “Hold them like swords and get used to blocking when you don't have the advantage of reach.”
Darwin looked at the spoons for a minute, then looked at Alex, then looked back at the spoons. Why does this feel eerily familiar, like the spoon is a welcome sign for a new adventure? he thought as he stared at the soup-slaughtering weapons in his hand.
“I know it may seem odd, My Lord, but this was also Stephanie’s suggestion. She had already anticipated your need for this type of training when she told me to go find you.” He raised his swords again, preparing to attack once more.
Wait, does that mean the entire time I was embarrassedly trying to find a way to ask him for help, he already knew what I wanted? Darwin felt a strong urge to facepalm. Does that mean Alex actually has a sense of humor?
Before he could process the fact that Alex had not only managed to troll him, but also do it with such a straight face, Alex dashed at him with both blades. Darwin grabbed each spoon and readied himself for the incoming blows. At first, it felt absolutely ridiculous trying to stop two long swords from cutting him with just cutlery, but every attack he actually blocked gave him confidence in his movements and made them feel more natural. By the time he had stopped forty or fifty life threatening swings--or at least swings that would be life threatening in the real world where things weren’t gauged by damage meters and health bars--he was beginning to feel like he had spent his entire childhood fighting with spoons.
So, is this where I finally get my training montage? Darwin mused to himself as one minute of fighting off Alex’s relentless attacks melted into ten and then twenty and then forty. He was amazed that with the game’s core endurance and fighting systems, he never ran out of stamina. Should I expect to have to run up some stairs, jump rope, do a few ridiculous workout routines and get a theme song after this??
Once the two hour mark had passed though, Alex suddenly stopped his attacks without warning and bowed his head. “With your permission, I’d like to excuse myself, Lord Darwin. I temporarily lost track of time, but I need to complete my duties and make sure everyone is still accounted for and properly taken care of.”
“Of course,” Darwin said, a little disappointed that the training was over. He had actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush he got from warding off and parrying the deadly attacks. “Do what needs to be done.”
“Yes, Lord Darwin.” Alex turned around to leave, but instead of just vanishing as the ninja frequently did, he looked back at Darwin one more time and said, “I can’t remember if I’ve said it, but thank you, Lord Darwin. Captain Elmont really was right about you.” Then he darted off to handle more pressing tasks.
At first, Darwin couldn’t help but feel a little touched, but then a little guilty for the thought that came immediately after. Welp, off to go play pirate on the high seas and see about plundering me some booty. That guilt, however, only lasted until he realized he still hadn’t asked Stephanie about what was going on between her and Eve and why Eve had wanted to stop them from getting together.


    Kass yawned as she opened her eyes and stretched her arms above her head. Eugh . . . Why does it taste like a stray cat pooped in my mouth? I don't own a cat, do I? Dad never let me keep a cat,  she wondered groggily, smacking her lips as she sat up and looked around for the glass of water she typically left on her nightstand. She knew first hand that the awful taste she was experiencing usually only came as an unfortunate side effect of drinking the night before.  The only problem was that she had spent the better part of the night in Tiqpa gaming, not drinking. Not that a vodka tonic wouldn’t have been amazing to take the edge off, she thought, remembering all the tedious traveling she had been doing in the game lately--and not to mention all of the awkward conversations with Darwin. But if I wasn’t out at the bar last night, she puzzled, what caused me to have such awful dry mouth so early in the mor . . . Oh.
    Rather than having to waste more time trying to figure out why her mouth had the smacking taste of an ashtray filled with stale cigarettes, she realized that the culprit was right there in front of her.  Or, rather, underneath her: the outline of a rapidly drying pool of drool on her pillow. She self-consciously glanced both ways with a quick jerk of her head and darting of her eyes, as if she was checking to make sure no one saw her. She knew no one would be in her room, especially while she was asleep, but that didn't stop her from checking anyway.  Reaching down, she unceremoniously flipped her pillow over to hide the evidence and smoothed down the top of the pillowcase as if nothing had ever happened. She then checked herself in the mirror and, much to her relief, was pleased to find that the drool pool demon had left most of her face and all of her hair unaffected.
    As she was wiping off her face, she realized she had a yellow sticky note stuck to the back the sleeve of the t-shirt she had slept in.  I must have rolled over on it in the night, she thought, looking at the quickly scribbled memo containing the media company's hotline number.
    She still wasn't sure what she was going to do with it.  On one hand, as an out of work college graduate with a bad gaming habit that ate up more free time than watching sleepy kittens on youtube, the money it promised was definitely a desperately needed bonus. On the other hand, however, she felt like calling the number would be betraying everyone.  They had spent so much time together, and gone through so much, the whole act of talking about Darwin’s guild and divulging information felt like it would be a stab in the back to the entire Faction.
    She tried not to think about it as she grabbed her fluffy pink bathrobe from the closet, threw it on, and began meandering towards the kitchen downstairs. 12:00? Noon? She questioned herself as she passed by the clock hanging on the wall beside the stairs. Did I actually sleep past noon? When is the last time that’s ever happened?  
    “Don't tell me you're just now waking up,” Robert said as she plodded into the kitchen. He stopped typing and looked up at her over the laptop he had set up on the kitchen table. “Well, at least the coffee's fresh. I just made it.”
    “Well," Kass grumbled in return as she tried to focus on getting her head to stay squarely on top of her shoulders until she could get some proper caffeine in her, "you can blame your stupid game’s traveling system.” Mornings are the worst. It gets harder to wake up every year, like they’re trying to ease you into sleeping forever so death doesn’t come as a shock. “Whoever came up with the idea of 'Hey, let’s make a fully-realized life-sized world for the player to navigate’ should have been made to walk across it himself and spend time considering how annoying it would be to traverse before even having a real mount.”
    “So, you want the game to contain a system that lets you always magically appear wherever you need to be without having to travel?” Robert chuckled, “What would be the fun in that?”
    “Well, maybe not always allow me to instantly get everywhere I want, but at least let me skip the areas that are tedious and only built for travel -- like boat rides, for example.” Kass poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table next to her father.
    “That doesn’t sound so bad, but there is still a problem with that,” Robert said, closing his computer and turning to give Kass his full attention. “You’d lose over half the world, ya' dirty landlubber.”
    “Landlubber?” Kass looked at him, blinking in confusion. “Do people still say that?”
    “Yeah. Do you think that boat rides are all smooth sailing? Don’t you remember that Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise? The ninjas vs. pirate memes? Those days when yaaaaaarrrrrrrg was okay to say in public? And, most importantly, the times you could say landlubber to your daughter without her looking at you like you just said something like YOLO,” Robert explained as he got up to get himself another cup of coffee.
    “Ewwww . . . Isn’t being stuck on the ocean awful enough as it is? Don’t tell me that I have to worry about getting attacked by a bunch of smelly pirates who haven’t taken a shower in three years or something.  Wait . . . I don't, do I?” Kass frowned as she considered the idea of having a bunch of flee ridden pirates suddenly attacking the ship with everyone on it.
    “Kass, you’re the only person I know who gets that sick from a simple boat ride. Don’t act like we’re going to change an entire game function that we spent years developing just because the daughter of someone who works at the company gets seasick so easily.” He shook his head as he poured his coffee. “You shouldn't even be experiencing sea sickness in the game anyway. It's all just in your head. Although," Robert paused dramatically, "I suppose there is at least one form of nepotism that might help you . . .”
    Kass already knew what he was going to suggest before the words even came out of his mouth. “Dad, come on, you know I can’t do that.”
    “Hey, I’m just saying . . . Paying a little rent and helping out with some of the bills sure as hell wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” he grumbled. “It’s been a while, Kass. It’s a cushy job that most people would kill for the opportunity to get.”
    It was also a job that actually meant she would have to give up playing her beloved video game, a game designed by her dad’s company, forever. The contract an employee signed when they joined said that they could only play on the test servers and that they weren't allowed to interfere or interact with the public servers at all. “Dad, we’ve already talked about this. Do we have to have the same talk again?”
    “No. No, we don’t. Do you have any other job prospects?”
    Kass’s hand instinctively squeezed the piece of paper with the number on it that she had held on to for some reason. “Yeah, you could say that I've got an iron in the fire. I’m just trying not to jinx it by talking about it.”
    She was confident this would get him off her back, maybe for a week if she was lucky. Her dad wasn't the kind of guy who was superstitious enough that he wouldn’t pester her about the details, but she knew he wouldn't want to mess up her chances of getting whatever vague job she was referring to if she thought it would. That having been said, he did have some kind magic Dad-power to know when she was lying. She wasn’t able to get away with just vague answers like that very often in the past.
    “Alright, Pumpkin,” he said with a wicked smile. He knew it would irritate her to be called that. “I won’t pressure you, but you better not go at this half cocked.”
    “Fine, fine.” Kass grumbled, resisting the urge to get mad at him for calling her Pumpkin when he knew how much it bothered her. “Now, where is my breakfast?”
    “Do I look like your personal chef?  And don't you mean lunch?” He feigned indignation, but took another shot at mocking her for waking up so late in the day.
    “You’re missing an apron with something silly like, ‘I’m not getting older; I’m marinating,' but, other than that . . . Yep. You do!” Kass laughed as she sipped her coffee again. She wasn’t fully awake, but the caffeine was definitely starting to kick in.
    “Sorry, sweetheart, I have to get back to work. After everything that's gone on lately, things are really starting to get a little hectic and pile up again.” He took another sip of his coffee and stood up. “Someone in the fight went around casting a Stone spell that was way more powerful than anything a player in the game should have access to at the moment. We had to dedicate a ton of time and resources to try and fix the problems it created.”
    “Wait, a Stone spell?” Kass almost spit out her coffee at that little bit of news. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a Gorgon?”
    “No," Robert shook his head with a small laugh.  "It was definitely a petrify spell, but whoever cast it used such an advanced version that it permanently froze NPCs and petrified players for a full twelve hours.” Robert was doing the best he could to grab his coat and pour his coffee into a travel mug at the same time as he began moving around the kitchen. “Even the hardest bosses in the game shouldn’t be capable of freezing a player for more than a few hours; and, even then, they can be countered with high level magic.  Those spells don't even last longer than a three- or four-hour timer when used on players.”
    Wait, Stephanie was the one who froze everyone. Isn’t she a Gorgon? Why would she need to use class based magic? Kass’s brain scrambled for a second. “Are you sure it wasn’t a Gorgon?” she asked again.
    Robert stopped moving about getting ready and looked at his daughter questioningly.  "Yeah, I'm almost positive. Why would there be a Gorgon?  Oh, don't get me wrong, they're in the game alright, but only much later on. How would it get to the starter islands and just happen to show up at the moment that huge fight broke out?"
    “Just . . . Just call it a hunch and look into for me. Please.”
    "I'll . . . See what I can find out." Robert promised, but he still looked curious. "I'm supposed to have a meeting with the illustrious Grand Poobah Charles this afternoon, but I'll try and work in some time to check it out afterwards. The last thing I need is to be late for my first private meeting with the mysterious owner of several multi-billion dollar corporations and have it be under bad circumstances.  Not very many people have ever had the chance at a private meeting, and, even then, they wouldn't say much about what was discussed.  It's almost like it was a very taboo, clan-destine meeting, or something.”
    “Wow, and you want me to sign up and work for him?” Kass laughed at the horrible cliché TV boss figure.
    “Well, the dental is pretty good," Robert flashed a big smile showing lots of teeth to prove his point as he reached for the doorknob on his way out. "Not to mention, you’d have the best carpool buddy; and, he he comes pre-equipped with all the  cool dad jokes.”
    "Yeah, OK Dad, whatever you say."
    Robert had just begun to turn the handle he was holding and leave when there came an abrupt knocking from the outside of the very door he was about to open.  He paused, clearly shocked and uncertain about the unexpected surprise.
    Her attention turning to the door, Kass suddenly realized that the sunlight which normally filtered into the kitchen through the opaque curtain hanging over the window was blocked out almost entirely by a shadowy form.  
    Robert cautiously opened the door halfway before saying,  "Yes?  Hello?"
    Kass couldn't see who was behind the door, since her father blocked her view and it was only partially open to begin with, but she could clearly hear the deep voice that responded.
    "Dr. Charles is ready for you, sir."  The way he said it reminded Kass of being in the waiting room at a doctor's office when a nurse came in to announce the next patient.  She was certain, however, that any man belonging to a voice that sounded like that would have horrible bedside manners.  "The car is waiting around front.  We will take you to meet him."
     Robert nodded to the man behind the door as he spoke. "Hmm, alright.  I wasn't expecting a chauffeur, but why not."  
    As her dad swung the door open to give him enough space to exit the kitchen, Kass was able to catch a glimpse of the man her father had talked with.  It became readily apparent why the sunlight had been blocked out:  the man was massive.  He was so tall that she was almost certain he would have to duck to enter through the doorway and thicker around than most trees throughout the neighborhood.  Kass was immediately reminded of some of the larger football players she had seen on TV when her dad watched ESPN.  
    “Ugh, he really needs to stop ragging me about getting a job before I go crazy and start talking to myself in the kitchen,” Kass mused as she got up and went to the fridge to see what she could dig out for food. Oooo! PopTarts! The food of my people, she mused to herself as she noticed them in the vegetable section of the fridge. Her dad had a way of trying to hide foods he wanted to eat in the vegetable section, confident that Kass would never open that drawer. At least he didn’t put them on the top shelf of the cabinets, she chuckled as she grabbed the box and started to open it, that was so mean. Then again, the only reason he’s probably not doing it is because I used to scratch the counter tops climbing on top of them as a kid to get up there.
    “So, what do I do about you?” Kass muttered aloud for some reason as she stared at the number on the paper.
    After devouring her PopTart like it was the last sheep in a cyclop’s cave, she picked up her phone and finally gave in to temptation.
    It didn’t even ring a second before a friendly female voice answered: “Hello! This is G.O.R.N! The Gamer’s Official Review Network.”
    “Yeah, great, I’m calling about the offer you--” Kass started explaining, before she was interrupted.
    “Someone will be with you in just a moment to take your call. Please enjoy the music while you wait,” the lady’s voice continued.
    What? What happened to robots that sounded like robots? Who puts a long pause after an introduction? Kass tried to feel less stupid about talking to the answering machine like it was a person. That said, the music wasn’t half as bad as some of the other stations that insisted on country or another awful mix of repetitive, downer dirge. Most places she was used to calling seemed to pick out their melodies based on ‘What is most likely to get a person to hang up and commit suicide.’
    “This is Kerrigan from G.O.R.N. How can I be of service?” a peppy voice finally broke into the repeating chorus of the song.
    “Wait, your name . . . your real name is Kerrigan?” Kass had to stop herself from snickering.
    “Yes. Yes, it is. I have absolutely no relation to anyone named Sarah though, so please don’t ask. Now, before we get sidetracked, whatchya callin’ for?”
    “Oh, right! I’m calling about the cash offer made last night for an interview with the hydra-riding lady on Tiqpa.”
    “Excellent! So, tell me what information you have on her. We haven’t been able to get even a single bit of info on her yet, so give me what you have, and I’ll write it down with your name and address. If it turns into a good lead, we’ll send you $50 and some complimentary station memorabilia as thanks.”
    “Actually, I’m the girl who was riding the hydra.” Kass could actually hear her sigh on the other side of the line as soon as she said it.
    “Okay, okay, you’re the fourth one today.” Kerrigan sighed. “Look, do you know how to access the past 24 hours of playtime and put together a game clip?”
    “Yeah, I know how to do that,” Kass said, happy for the first time since she got the game that her dad had made her actually read the manual and had gone over all the features with her.
    “Oh, that’s a surprise. Everyone else who called didn’t even know that was possible. So, that’s great! Then can you put together a one minute clip during the fight, of your choosing, to send to the station?”
    “Good, then put together that clip and send it as well as a number you’d like to be contacted at to”
    “You still use AOL? I thought that went extinct with the dinosaurs. Did you get a free AARP subscription with the account?”
    “ . . . just send the clip.”
    “Okay, will do.”
    “Great, we’ll call you after we confirm you are who you say you are. Look forward to talking to you then.”
    Kass hung up the phone and went upstairs to pick out the clip. She knew she would have to be careful about what clip she sent. She needed them to be able to confirm that she was who she said she was, but she also needed to make sure that she wasn’t giving away important details about the StormGuard Alliance.
    She finally gave up on finding a clip that showed off her good side and decided to just randomly put together a clip of one of the fight scenes that didn’t involve a conversation and submitted it. She had titled the email, “Whatever you say Ghosty, how’s Jim?”  She wasn’t sure if she made the right decision, and was nervous about even doing this, since it still felt a little sleazy to be making money off work that was mostly Darwin’s.
She was about to beat herself up about the whole thing when her phone rang. It hadn’t even been two minutes since she had sent the email when her cell phone started buzzing. Unknown Number. Great, it’s either them or yet another telemarketer.
    “Hello?” she answered, trying to make sure it was the people from G.O.R.N before she identified herself.
    “I am telling you, I have no relation at all to any Sarah or Jim! Well, actually, I have a dog named Jim, but his last name isn’t Raynor! Though he is fine, thanks for asking,” a voice fussed at her over the phone.
    “Whatever you say, Kerrigan. I take it you got my email?”
    “Yeah, I did, and you are definitely the hydra-riding girl in question. Dang, it was amazing just watching that clip. I already emailed it to my boss, but since they don’t get in until they’ve finished doing golf or whatever it is old people do nowadays to avoid work--you know how bosses are--I’m supposed to set up a preliminary meeting with you to discuss the interview and go over all the financial terms. For one interview, you’re probably looking at only two to three thousand dollars . . . Maybe five if you work your cards right and have some unique information to offer. They’ll also want to see some clips and you’ll have to go over exclusivity rights before any money is paid. So, what time is good for you, you know, to have the meeting?”
    Kass was sure she was supposed to stop Kerrigan from going on, but the second $2,000 had been mentioned for a single interview, her mouth promptly touched the floor. Her dad was bugging her over $500 dollars of rent a month, and, yes, she knew she was spoiled, so $2,000 was a really big number to her. That said, when the number grew to five grand, she wasn’t really able to process it anymore. If the amount of drool that had escaped her gaping mouth over the course of a night was considered a puddle, then the drool under her dropped jaw was already collecting enough to be a veritable sea.
“Hello?” Kerrigan said again after a long pause. “I didn’t lose you, did I? Ugh, I hate my cell phone provider. Why is there only one alternative? It’s like picking anything from banks to politicians has to always be the less stinky of two turds. Come on, don’t tell me I lost you, girl. My boss will kill me if I lost rights to the biggest exclusive in Tiqpa this month. Tell you what: I’ll talk to the boss, and we’ll see if we can get you $6,000. Just say something. Tell me you’re on board, and please don’t hang up to go see if you can get a better deal elsewhere. I’ll lose my job! Then how will I feed my zer . . . how will I pay rent?”
“Were you about to say zerglings?”
“No, why would I say that? Just to see if you were still listening? Me? Never.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll come in. I think tomorrow or maybe even today is going to be good for me. Can I email you the best time?”
“Sure, do what you have to do and shoot me an email. If today is good for you, the boss gets in around two, so any time after that he’ll be able to organize the screening. I promise we’ll make this worth your while. Just put together some good clips so we can make a great deal.”
“Alright, will do.”
“Oh, and one last thing . . .”
“Do you know the guy in the bathrobe? Is he a player or an NPC?”
“I . . . I’m not sure I can tell you that.”
“Wow, cryptic much? Anyways, email me what time is good for you. I guess this time I can say I look forward to seeing you.”
Now I just need to figure out how much more boat time I have, Kass thought, logging into the game against her better judgement. After all, every moment she was logged in while the ship was rocking meant she had to deal with the awful queasy feeling that came with the rocking motion of a boat on the water. She stepped out of the cabin she had logged off in and was immediately greeted by Valerie and Mclean.
“Oh! How are you doing, Lady Kass?” Valerie asked cheerfully with a smile so big Kass couldn’t tell if it was fake or not.
“Ummm,” Kass held her stomach in the hope of putting off the inevitable vomit, “I’m . . . I’m okay. How much longer till we reach land?”
“I don’t know. A few hours. Daniel went out to fly around and check on everything, but we haven’t heard back from him in an hour. Figured it was a good chance to catch up on girl time. Want to join?” Mclean sounded as chipper as Valerie did.
How do people stay this cheery on such an awful contraption as a boat? Kass wondered, doing her best to choke down the inevitable upchuck. “No. No, I need to go do something.”
“Ah, gonna join Darwin and Alex for Spoon sparring?”
“Spoon sparring?”
“Yeah, Darwin was dual-wielding spoons and sparring with Alex all morning. I honestly was a little reticent to log on just to wait on a boat, but then I saw Darwin sparring with cutlery. It was a mix between ‘Wow that’s a magnificent sparring match’ and ‘How much more ridiculous could this guy get?’”
“Uhh, no, I need to do something in the real world. Just wanted to see how much longer we had.”
“You have until around mid afternoon if you want to be safe about it. I didn’t expect the trip to be this long, but Justin Yoo said Darwin shifted course to a more eastward point. No idea why, but it does mean less chance of running into any White-Wings wondering why we left the Faction.”
Okay, good, that means I can make it there and be back in time, Kass thought, looking at the two and then looking at the door. I really don’t want to be rude to our new Faction members, but, “Alright, ladies, I have to run. Work stuff. See you round!”
“Later!” the two of them waved her bye as she rushed back in the cabin and logged off.
Even as she returned to reality she could still feel the gentle rocking on the insides of her stomach as her breakfast tried to escape. This game is too real for its own good. Sometimes it feels less like logging into a game and more like traveling to an alternate dimension.

    Qasin looked at each side of his boat as a group of eight half-woman, half-reptile, scaly sea creatures climbed up the sides of the small, black sailboat he was steering. Each one had the upper body of a beautiful woman and the lower body of a very large and long serpent, and was carrying a Trident and Net in her hands as they made their way onto the craft.
    “If you chop up a human and serve him with rice and seaweed, does it still count as sushi?” one of the mermaids said to the other as she stood upright on her long snake-like tail, the others following suit.
    “That all depends, how slimy and scaly of a man is he?” one of the darker-scaled ones laughed, adjusting her Trident and Net into a battle ready stance as she crept closer to Qasin and the boat’s wheel.
    Qasin didn’t even bother moving or deign to give them with a response. He didn’t have to. He could just tell by how they moved that they were slow and  weak. Struggling to even pull themselves up with weapons in their hands, gravity and the elements alone were an enemy to these creatures who had been spoiled by the weightlessness of water. Like sponges in fresh water, they had grown soft and lost all chance of victory in a real battle. It’s why they leaned on underhanded tactics, ambushing the untrained and relying on their numbers.  
“Oh, we have one that is scared speechless. This should be fun.” A reddish-scaled one started twirling her trident like a baton--a difficult task considering its length--as she slithered closer to the statuesque Qasin.
    “Well, I for one am happy for a change that our prey is silent,” one of the slimey guests chuckled to her cohorts, “The main course at a dinner party shouldn’t beg, it’s unsightly.”
As they jabbered on, Qasin pulled out his sword and rested it gently against his leg. Even though he wasn’t waving it around, the message was clear: he was, without a doubt, holding it as if threatening to transfix the first slithering creature to come within arm’s reach. The women, noting his confident posture, reeled back momentarily before casting their nets at him.
Before the nets could even spread out in the air, he had already dropped his weight, shifted his balance and shot out under them, transpiercing the closest one on his right through the chest with his blade. As she let out a blood-gargled scream from the pain, he took his free hand and grabbed the haft of an incoming trident on his left side. Instead of trying to push against it, he yanked it behind him, throwing the trident into the side of the boat and pulling the wielder off balance. The look of shock on her face as the force jerked her forward quickly became the last face she ever made as Qasin’s now free sword as he ripped it right from his first victim’s chest and slashed straight through his second victim’s head, lopping it off just above the jawline.
“Careful! He’s not going to go down easy!” the one furthest in the back yelled at her comrades, but they didn’t listen. Two more of the snakes threw their tridents at him, yet he easily parried one and grabbed the other with his left hand. As the now defenseless fiends tried to turn and run, he hurled the trident back at them, impaling the furthest scaly wretch in the back of the head. He then lunged forward and slashed the closest of the two right between the shoulder blades.
“Run!” One of the small group of remaining attackers yelled, abandoning all hope as the last three Snake-Women went for the sides of the boat.
Qasin just smiled. Weak, soft bodies. They move like sand trying to squeeze through the center of an hourglass, he thought to himself as he hunted down and skewered, sliced, pierced and rended each of one his four slow victims before they could make it over the sides. The last one, pinned to the very railing she was trying to jump over, squirmed.
“Pleas . . . pl . . . let me . . . ive,” she managed to spit out, the loss of blood and crushed lung interrupting and drawing out her useless pleas for mercy.
“It is, as you said, unsightly to see people beg before they die,” Qasin mocked, ripping his sword free and splitting her right down the middle.
“Oh dear, after all the trouble I went through to procure us a small enough boat for you to pilot, you go and ruin it with all these stains,” Eve called out from behind Qasin, causing him to turn and look at her. “What? Don’t look at me. I’m not cleaning it up. You made the mess. You swab the deck.”
“Let the rain take care of it,” Qasin muttered, walking back behind the wheel. “It’s not like red and black don’t go together anyway.”
“Fine, rain. But if it doesn’t come off on its own, you’re paying someone to clean it up when we dock.” Eve paused, then let a wicked grin cross her face. “You’re just happy you had something entertaining to do for a change, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I am,” Qasin nodded, settling his hands back on the ship’s wheel.
“Good. Can’t let your blade dull, either. We have a lot to do in the future.”
“I know, but I don’t think any amount of practice will ever prepare me to fight your friend Stephanie. I don’t think the others could see, but I could. I watched her fight, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.”
“Awww, is my strong little knight growing nervous?” she moved closer, placing one hand on his shoulder.
“Realistic. I think we need a plan if we’re to stop her before she uses your brother to complete her plan.”
“Don’t worry. She may have planned this for a long time, but I’ve been planning how to handle her for almost three decades.” Eve’s usually coy smile faded and a serious expression took its place. “I won’t let her plan come to fruition--not if I can help it.”
Qasin didn’t say anything. He just put one hand on Eve’s shoulder and looked out over the water.

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