Scott Bayani unlocked and shouldered open the door of his shitty studio apartment, tossed his keys onto the kitchen table, and flung his Taco Bell visor across the dark room. It landed on the couch beside his InfiniTab, triggering the motion sensor alert system. A gorgeous, naked redhead flashed to life in midair. The holograph flickered slightly aas Scott walked through it, peeling off his uniform shirt.

“Hey sexy,” the redhead purred, tousling her long hair and batting heavy eyelids at him, “you have eight unread notifications from today. Would you like me to read—”

“Delete,” Scott snapped.

“Are you sure?” she purred, rubbing a hand along her chest.

“Yes,” he replied flatly, hardly noticing or caring about the holograph.

The notifications would all be from his stupid guild anyway wanting to know where the hell Pwnrbwner had been for the last week. Or it would be Kelly and Kevin wanting him to help power-level their alts or get some stupid enchanted armor.

He shook his head. It was all so fucking stupid. Just a fucking game.

Well, Scott Bayani wasn’t playing anymore.

For all he cared, Pwnbwner_OG and his various alts could rot away in the limbo of unused characters. Let the wonder twins and everybody in his guild waste their pathetic lives in a made-up world where nothing you did mattered, and you never got any closer to winning because some modding asshole fucking cheated you at the last second. Sometimes it was a sudden evolution and overpowered spells that weren’t even a part of the game. Sometimes it was exploding weaponized severed heads. But it was always bullshit.

Scott emptied his pockets on the table, then shucked out of the rest of his clothes and left them where they fell. He needed a shower. He stunk like ground up chihuahua meat and the Bell’s All-New Baja Blast Twists.

“All right, sexy,” the redhead said. “Eight unread notifications deleted. Is there anything else I can—”

“No,” he said without looking over his shoulder. “Go back to sleep. No, you know what? Shut down. All the way.”

There was no reason to keep it on. He wasn’t going to be logging in anytime soon.

“Okay, sexy,” the redhead said. “Shutting down. I’ll miss you.”

The apartment went dark.

“Yeah, well, I won’t miss you,” Scott grumbled, stepping into his tiny bathroom. He had to turn sideways and edge between the toilet and the sink to get to the shower. “Probably sell you to somebody too dumb to know what a waste you are.”

He cranked the shower knob. Of course the hot water was still broken. That lazy-ass super was probably waiting around until Scott complained to the building manager again. Well, he wouldn’t have to wait long. One freezing shower and Scott would be good and ready to spam them both with complaints. Not that anybody would do anything about it. That was one thing Hearthworld and the real world had in common: a severe lack of people doing their jobs to fix the problems that came up.

Scott held his breath, shielded his junk, and ducked into the icy spray. He’d tried to brace himself for the cold, but let out a shriek anyway as it pelted his chest.

Welcome to reality. Working shitty hours to pay for a shitty apartment where you couldn’t even get a hot shower. No awesome magic flying from your gauntleted fists, no slaying hordes of evil monsters in kickass combat, no feeling of accomplishment from leveling up.

But also no cheating griefers.

He shivered as he raced through washing his hair. His fingertips were starting to tingle, and it felt like his skin was on fire.

Life was a system of tradeoffs, and it turned out they all sucked. But as long as that dickface Roark was out of the equation, Scott was happy.

Well, maybe not happy. Whatever he was, at least he didn’t have to listen to that fake-ass pirate accent snarking out stupid lines that ended in mate. Man, what he wouldn’t give to punch the life out of that smug Troll face with his bare hands just once—

But no. That kind of thinking just made shit worse. He was so done. That modding punk could find somebody else to kick around, because Scott Bayani was never going back.

He shut off the water with almost-numb hands, sidestepped out of the bathroom, and toweled off.

The sun was coming up outside his dirt-encrusted window, the weak light beginning to illuminate the dumpy couch, clothing-strewn floors, and old pizza boxes. Scott sighed with a combination of disgust and resignation, then began the search for some sweats that didn’t need to be washed yet.

This was his life now. Time to get used to it.


About the author

Shadow Alley Press

Bio: We love books and we are crazy-passionate about publishing the best adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Action-Adventure around.

Though our stories can be thought provoking at times, our primary goal is to entertain readers with wild stories and interesting characters you can’t walk away from. We want to whisk readers into a different world where the impossible is possible, where monsters lurk around every corner, but so do heroes, always ready to swoop in and fight back the dark.

We are also deeply dedicated to the authors we work with. For us, publishing is less about individual titles and more about supporting the authors we love. We want our writers to succeed, to thrive, to sell books, and to pursue their fiction passionately. We also want ALL writers to succeed and achieve their dreams of crafting excellent books and connecting with an audience who will love what they do. We firmly believe there has never been a better time to be an author. We also believe publishing is not a zero-sum game and that a rising tide lifts all boats. For that reason, we offer a variety of writing resources for folks looking to grow as wordsmiths or publish their books independently.

Welcome to Shadow Alley Press, Where Independent Authors Thrive.

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