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The Warped Forest

The Warped Forest

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Book 1 of the Gamemakers Online series

Could you defeat the world's hardest immersive game?

Alexandria Duke must learn how to or risk losing everything.

When Alex joins Gamemakers Online, she finds there are no newbie areas, no tutorials, and nothing but vicious critters hunting her down. This seems like an impossible task but Alex is a veteran platinum achievement hunter who has solved previously unwinnable scenarios. She won't give up now.As she delves deeper into the game, she discovers it hides sinister secrets. If she can't survive the first year in Gamemakers Online then she'll lose more than her own life.

Synopsis

Alexandria Duke, a veteran achievement hunter, joins Gamemakers Online, an unforgiving immersive game with no tutorials and constant danger. As she faces deadly challenges and uncovers sinister secrets, she must survive the first year or risk losing everything.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One

The final boss was never intended to be beaten by one player. Alex crouched behind the rocky outcropping, running the numbers through her head again. While surviving the encounter was going to take a series of flawlessly executed maneuvers, it wasn't her agility that was going to bring her to victory, it was her math.
Alex let her calculations flow through her mind like a Buddhist koan, which in turn calmed her shaking hands. Sometimes she hated the realism that modern VR units brought. Beating impossible challenges were easier when she only had to work a console controller or mouse/keyboard setup, not worry about the finger dexterity required for spellcasting.
The ground beneath her bare feet rumbled, a warning that she would have to engage the final boss soon. It felt strange not to have the comforting embrace of her God Tier Hellion Plate Armor protecting every inch of her body. The Brutalist Class not only had the highest armor class in the game, but its abilities were based on that number, which meant that wearing no armor had effectively neutralized her character.
With a subvocalized command word, Alex brought her background screen up to confirm that she was still streaming the encounter. Her heart thumped around her chest when she realized the obscene number of people watching, then she cursed, remembering that her mom hadn't signed her up as a monetized streamer.
She started to read the comments, but stopped after the first couple went past:

[Aggro187] Don't suck Xandr!!
[FatBoiXX] I hope u die in a fire
[Angelpoop] Xploitrs are the worst! U should be banned!!!

They weren't all bad. A few comments were positive, cheering her on and encouraging her on the attempt for a double platinum achievement. If she beat Avatar of Destruction on her first try, and solo, she would receive two ultra platinums and earn a bounty of a cool five thousand dollars. It was the only reason she was streaming, so she could prove that she’d beat the final boss. Five thousand would be like hitting a big lottery for her and her mom. She knew her mom was behind on trailer payments. Winning would pay off the debt and give them a cushion until the next crisis. She also wanted to take her mom out for a birthday dinner next week.
The ground shook hard enough to rattle Alex's teeth, so she switched back to full game mode.
The Avatar of Destruction was a mountain-sized final boss meant to challenge raid groups of twenty players. One hit usually killed a player unless they had max armor and health. The way most guilds killed the AoD was through careful management of agro between a series of multiple tanks to soak up the damage while the rest of the players plinked away at the boss's massive hit points. The raid had to balance overaggroing with an enrage timer. If they didn't defeat the boss in a thirty-minute window, it would double its damage and triple its hit speed, wiping the raid.
Alex wouldn't have the luxury of multiple tanks to spread agro and damage, and since she wasn't wearing armor, one hit meant she'd be a pink smear.
Really, there was no reason she should be able to beat the AoD. It was a nearly unbeatable boss for full raid groups. Only the top guilds had conquered it.
Normally, a solo attempt wouldn't attract much of a streamer base, but Alex, or rather, her online handle, Xandr, had solved other supposedly impossible challenges. Plus, she'd been confirming her calculations with the rest of the ultra-platinum trophy hunters, so they knew she had a remote chance of winning.
When a chunk of rock broke free from the nearby outcropping, sending a small plume of dust into the air, Alex spied the AoD coming around the bend. She had to bend her neck back to see the head of the final boss. It looked like the statue of a bearded warrior with a horned helmet, wielding an axe-like weapon called the Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade. Crimson robes flowed around the gargantuan creature.
"Time to die," said Alex, stepping into the maze-like canyon where the AoD roamed.
When the AoD agro'd on her, a faint red mist formed at the edge of her vision, letting her know the boss was gunning for her.
As the AoD neared, Alex counted its paces, waiting until it'd passed the broken wall before setting a timer and casting her signature spell, Burning Soul, on it. The Damage-Over-Time spell would tick off hit points as long as she held agro, growing moderately throughout the fight, but never threatening to kill the boss. It was one of the few spells that didn't scale with her armor rating, an important caveat that meant she could go armorless to kite the boss. But even if she could avoid it for the full thirty minutes, she'd only knock off five percent of the AoD's hit points.
With the AoD on her tail, Alex maneuvered through the canyon, following a carefully choreographed path that she'd been practicing for weeks. She'd discovered the path from watching countless boss attempts from the guilds that frequently streamed. She had to thread a narrow window between staying ahead of the boss and not getting too far ahead and losing agro, which would reset the encounter.
Alex counted off the steps, leaping from outcroppings to gain a little distance when she felt the AoD was getting too close. The constant movement was the reason she couldn't wear armor for the fight, not that it would have done anything since she didn't have a healer.
For her viewers, the fight was probably boring as hell, but for Alex, every moment was heart-pumping excitement. After ten minutes she tried not to think about the five thousand dollars and how her mom might finally understand that she could make a living as a gamer.
Her mom really wanted her to get a real job like an accountant, or a civil engineer, something that her high mathematical abilities would earn a scholarship to pay for. She would even accept joining the Mathmagics at the Hundred Halls, but Alex's scores during the last Merlin testing had barely qualified her for the magical university, and her guidance counselor had warned her that she would likely fail the entrance trials with such little magical ability.
Distracted by thoughts of her mother's disappointment, Alex stumbled over a rock. Her knees crashed into the dirt, leaving her momentarily vulnerable to the AoD. Alex sensed the final boss swinging the Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade at her exposed back, and she quickly cast Sprint to speed out of the path of the weapon.
The Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade crashed into the rock where she'd been kneeling a breath before, sending shards into her back. The area-of-effect took off thirty percent of her health, but Alex didn't care, as long as she avoided getting killed.
The next ten minutes time seemed to slow down. The closer she got to the end of her timer, the sweatier her palms got. The AoD was only at ninety-four percent health.
Alex kept ahead of the AoD, counting out the steps, focusing on the details so the weight of what she might achieve didn't distract her.
When it got down to the final seconds of her timer, Alex made arcane gestures to place a protective enchantment on herself before turning to face the AoD. The timing was critical. If she'd calculated wrong, then her attempt would be a failure.
This time, the final boss didn't miss with the Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade. The weapon came down in an arc longer than a football field, before smashing into Alex.
[You have died]
A massive skull filled her vision.
Alex was given one breath before her protective enchantment Bloody Last Stand kicked in, resurrecting her with ten percent health. Her bloody avatar stood before the AoD, looking like Carrie after the bucket of blood had been dumped on her. It was one of the more disgusting abilities in the game, but Alex didn't care as long as it worked.
She hovered her hand over the AoD to see the Burning Soul spell was still active, breathing a sigh of relief. If it'd faded in the brief time she was dead then her attempt would have failed.
Before the AoD could bring its Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade back into the air to smash it into her again, Alex cast Burning Soul. A second spell icon formed on the AoD next to the first. There were two Burning Souls on the final boss.
Normally this wasn't possible, since a recast replaced the initial spell, but her Bloody Last Stand ability actually created a different version of herself, which allowed the secondary effect.
Before the Daemon-Heart Crescent Blade could kill her resurrected avatar, Alex sped ahead, resuming the chase while the two Burning Souls ticked down the final boss's health. For the first twenty-five minutes, the damage had slowly increased to a decent number, but now with two spells active, the pace climbed exponentially.
Alex knew that the game makers would fix the exploit after her attempt, but that wouldn't matter as long as she won. The last five minutes seemed to take forever, but Alex stayed focused on her steps, only occasionally checking the AoD's health to see it plummeting rapidly.
When it got down to the final thirty seconds, Alex knew she was going to win. Five thousand dollars. Her mother would be so proud of her. Maybe it would finally repair the breach that was growing between them. Her mom had worked so hard since Dad had died, and it left her little room for mother-daughter time.
Alex leapt over the spot she'd stumbled on earlier, checking the distance between her and the boss to find she was perfectly positioned.
Five thousand dollars.
Her mind could barely comprehend that much money. She'd won a lot of gaming gear over the years—mostly from gaming companies that wanted exploiters to find bugs so they could plug them—but rarely did anyone offer actual hard cash.
Ten seconds.
She knew her streaming account was probably blowing up. No one thought it was possible to get the double ultra-platinum on the Avatar of Destruction. Maybe the win would finally convince her mom to sign her up for a monetized streaming account.
Seven seconds.
Alex's whole body tingled with the anticipation of victory.
Six seconds.
Then the world froze around her.
"No!"
[You have been disconnected]

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  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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