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Gladiators of Warsong

Gladiators of Warsong

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Book 2 of the Gamemakers Online series

Not all games were meant to be beaten.

After the first year in Gamemakers Online, one of near solitude, Alex is looking forward to pitting herself against the gladiators of the Warsong Plains. But she quickly learns why she was warned away from challenging the zone—the game is rigged. With the clans conspiring against her, Alex must lead a team to uncertain victory in the battle circle. If she can't defeat them at their own game, then she'll be kicked out of the Hundred Halls forever.

Synopsis

After a solitary first year in Gamemakers Online, Alex eagerly faces the gladiators of the Warsong Plains, only to find the game rigged against her. With clans conspiring against her, she must lead a team to victory or risk being expelled from the Hundred Halls forever.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One

A heavy metal version of the Mario Bros' theme playing at max volume made Alex squint as she stepped into the Game Castle store, the noise from the little bell lost within the blaring music. Stepping into the neat rows of colorful game boxes with cartoon figures and stylized warriors using guns and swords to battle their foes normally gave her a thrill, but today her heart was bound with wire.
Alex shifted the oversized duffle bag, trying to prevent the strap from biting into her shoulder. But the heavy, awkward load had no natural resting place.
In Gamemakers Online, she could have conjured up a solution to her problem, but magic in the real world wasn't as simple as it was in the game.
The counter was empty, so Alex headed into the back of the store. The place had a lingering smell of stale cigarettes. She wondered what it'd been before it'd been turned into a game store.
Frank had loaned her his rusty Toyota truck, which she'd taken into Mt. Vernon. This was her fifth and final stop. None of the other places bought the kind of high-end gear she owned.
When she saw the girl stocking shelves, hope bloomed that she might be able to make a good deal. The girl had purple streaks in her hair and a sleeve of tattoos—a Pikachu peeked from her elbow—and she wore a black ensemble with chains hanging from random points.
"Excuse me," said Alex, letting the duffle bag carefully rest on the stained carpet. "I'm looking to sell some gear."
Without turning around, the girl said, "Come back tonight, I'm busy."
Alex bit her lower lip. She needed to get back to town to drop off the truck before heading to the Hundred Halls. The bills from the hospital visits last year had come due, and Alex didn't want to leave her mom struggling with the debts, especially since she'd been working long hours at the diner to catch up for the work she'd missed while she was sick.
She gamed the various responses in her head before deciding the best approach was brutal honesty. A girl wearing that much black didn't want to be bothered with "sorry to bother you" or "I'm sorry."
"I see you're very busy," said Alex. "But I have to leave for the Hundred Halls tonight and I need to sell this gear so my mom can pay for her hospital bills."
The girl's hand froze in the air, a copy of Snark Hunters halfway into the shelf slot. With a practiced flick of her wrist, she shoved the game into its hole and spun around on her heels, her lips curled as if she'd just smelled a fart.
The store clerk raised her hands in the air for exaggerated air quotes. "If you really go to the Hundred Halls, I doubt you need to bother with mundane realities like cash and bills like the rest of us poor shits have to deal with."
"I'm not lying to you," said Alex, holding herself still as if a sudden movement might provoke the girl. "I've got some pretty sweet gear in this bag, stuff I've won over the years. I need to sell it."
The rapid appraisal was followed by a sour expression. The girl crossed her arms. "You probably don't even go there. You're just making it up because you thought you could intimidate me into giving you a good deal."
If this wasn't the last store in Mt. Vernon, she would have walked out, but she was out of options. "I really need to sell this stuff."
"Prove it, magic girl. Make me levitate or some shit like that," she said.
Heat rose to Alex's cheeks. "Does your boss know you talk to your customers like this?"
"My boss is my uncle, and he's in Vegas for the next week," said the girl with a head tilt. "Were you going for the 'I need to talk to your manager' gambit? Sorry, little liar girl, ain't gonna work with me."
A cold rage turned the heat in her face to icicles. It wasn't the rudeness so much that bothered her, but the absolute naked judgement. Alex quickly switched from her polite public persona to the gamer girl who'd been presented with a difficult NPC problem.
A quick glance to the sleeve of colorful tattoos revealed a less hard-core image than the one she was currently portraying. The dark clothes and sour attitude were probably recent, triggered by events she thought out of her control. Alex had a sudden image of herself as this girl, if her mom had died and she hadn't been to the Hundred Halls.
Her heartbeat slowed in response, the rage dissipating.
"Would you like a new tattoo? Something you can only get with magic?" asked Alex.
The girl flinched as if she hadn't expected the offer. "Is this a trick?"
"No trick. You said you wanted to see magic. I could give you a unique tattoo, one you can't get any other way," said Alex.
She wasn't completely sure her idea would work, but there was no way this girl was going to buy her equipment if she wasn't on her side.
"What kind of tattoo?" asked the clerk, squinting.
"Grab a game box with a cool image, one you'd like to see as a tattoo. Then I'll show you a real trick," said Alex.
The girl took a step, then hesitated, before disappearing into the back. When she returned, she no longer bristled. She held a plastic game box in her hands as if she were walking into church.
There was a moment when Alex thought the girl was going to turn and run into the back, but she handed the game box over without making eye contact. Alex thought she'd been handed a box of Pepto-Bismol by the amount of pink displayed.
"Princess Power," said Alex. "I remember this game."
The princess in a pink dress on the front of the box held a massive, oversized rocket launcher. Alex recalled it was a loot and shoot with a minimum of story, but clearly there was something within the game that had appealed to the store clerk. She wasn't bristling with her tough girl image, and Alex thought if she flicked her with her finger, she would have shattered to pieces.
"I think I've played it, like, a thousand times," said the girl. "It's my all-time favorite."
Alex smiled. Everyone had a favorite game that spoke to them in inexplicable ways. She wasn't even going to ask her why she liked it because it didn't matter. The right game was like a balm for the hurts of the soul.
"I'm Alex. What's your name?"
"Gabby."
Alex nodded. "Nice to meet you, Gabby. Do you have a place we can sit?"
Gabby led her behind the counter, where two short stools waited. Alex took one and motioned for the girl to take the other.
"Where do you want the tattoo?" asked Alex.
Gabby pulled up the sleeve of her arm without the tattoos. "Right here."
"Hold your sleeve back. I need to do some prep work first," said Alex, setting the game box in her lap as she leaned forward.
She placed her hands on the girl's arm, pushing faez—the raw stuff of magic—into her arm to reveal the nodes. The points of power within Gabby's flesh glowed with purpose.
"I can feel my arm warming," said Gabby breathlessly.
While holding the magic steady, Alex picked up the game box and started imbuing it with faez. There were few nodes on the princess image, and they didn't quite match with the number on Gabby's arm. It wasn't going to be an easy transfer, as the matrix calculations would be challenging, but she was willing to give it a shot.
"Okay, don't move," said Alex.
Coaxing the image away from the box felt like trying to paint using a marionette. She couldn't get a feel for the edges, and she worried she'd slag the box with too much magic, but eventually she made the connections between the image and Gabby's arm.
"Mother of Merlin," whispered Gabby. "I felt that."
Alex held her breath and completed the transference spell. For a moment, she thought it wasn't going to work, but then the image appeared on Gabby's arm. It didn't look quite like a tattoo, since it had kept its glossy game box look, but it appeared solid.
"Whoa," said Gabby, probing the princess image with her fingertips. "That was wicked cool."
"I'd be careful, I don't know if it'll stay or for how long," said Alex. "I've never done that before."
Gabby blinked hard and shook her head. "Even if it doesn't last the day, that was the coolest thing ever. I've never actually seen magic before. I don't have a lick of ability." She blushed. "I'm sorry about before. I just thought you were messing with me."
"Bad day?" asked Alex.
Gabby let out a breath. "Bad year."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Alex.
The store clerk lifted one shoulder. She glanced at her black shoes, a light blush forming on her cheeks. "Do you think we could go out for coffee later?"
Gabby lifted her gaze, meeting Alex's. A spike of warmth went through her middle. She hadn't dated much in high school, as gaming took up her free time, but if she hadn't had somewhere to go, she would have taken Gabby up on her offer.
"Hundred Halls," said Alex.
"Oh yeah, I'm an idiot," said Gabby with a huff.
"Sorry," said Alex, biting her lower lip and glancing towards the duffle bag. "Do you have time now?"
"Yeah, bring it over, let's see what you got," said Gabby, the corner of her lip twitching with an awkward smile.
The earlier animosity was completely erased from the store clerk during the remainder of her visit as they discussed the gear, their favorite games, and her new tattoo. By the time she left, Alex had gotten more than she'd hoped for from the gear. She headed back home in Frank's truck, buzzing with excitement at getting to return to the Hundred Halls for her second year.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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