Trent watched the recording of himself in horrified fascination. When he’d actually been fighting, he was just trying to get away and use available tools to finish everything as quickly as possible. In the video, however, his character Vale looked like a merciless, bloodthirsty predator.
The worst part was when he threw the dart, setting the middle-aged woman on fire before kicking her down to skewer her. The audio even picked up where he told her not to shoot at him again. He had actually been growling, like some kind of demon from hell.
Trent shook his head in horror. This was terrible. The news stations had also found out that he’d killed Brutus, the invincible duelist. He absently flipped through channels and written articles online. Not every station was covering SOO news, but a lot of them were. Bloggers were going nuts.
How the fuck had anyone even gotten a video? He hadn’t seen anyone watching from either side of the alley. He did a quick search for who took the video and his eyes widened. ABI, the notorious muckraker/journalist, was credited with the original video. Trent had had an earlier impulse to hunt down whoever took the video, but nobody even knew who ABI was.
ABI was famous, known for dropping random articles or videos about SOO players that had destroyed entire careers. The last person he’d targeted was Elaine Chemise, or just Chemise, the famous Vicar with a streaming contract. Millions of people had watched Chemise’s broadcasts every week…right up until ABI had exposed her as a fake gamer.
It turned out that Chemise was just an actress working for a company that produced the situations and content on her stream. ABI had exposed everything in a lightning exposé, and the fallout had been almost instantaneous. Chemise lost all her fans, all her support, and her account was suspended by Yggdrasil Entertainment. The internet was flooded with Chemise memes for weeks.
Trent sat staring at the wall for a full ten minutes, deep in thought, until he made a decision and pinged Steve on his persocomp. He kept the message simple; <Come to my dorm room. Need to talk.> Steve pinged back an acknowledgement. There was no message.
Good, I need to talk to him. Trent busied himself while he waited for his friend to arrive. He flexed his amazing culinary muscles by pouring hot water in a cup of ramen. Diving always made him thirsty, so he killed a bottle of water, too. Trent felt lucky he could Dive. He loved junk food so much that without being thirsty all the time and spending so much time Diving, he’d probably be fat.
Trent took the time to send off a handful of emails while he slurped on his cheap noodles.
Eventually, Steve arrived. Where Trent was lean and dark, Steve was big, red-headed, and broad-faced. He looked like a linebacker; in fact, maybe he had been in high school. Trent couldn’t remember. Steve wasn’t as good as Trent in SOO, but he was still a good gamer. In Trent’s opinion, his friend’s greatest weakness was a lack of patience.
Steve walked in wearing cargo pants and an old Nintendo t-shirt—fairly typical clothes for him. The t-shirt left his large biceps mostly exposed. Trent didn’t feel inferior, not at all. Sure, Steve could rip Trent in half, but they were best friends. Steve would be much more likely to tear apart anyone who threatened either of them, a fact that wasn’t lost on Trent.
He had a feeling his life might be getting very complicated, very soon. His anonymity couldn’t last forever. Having Steve around if things got hairy would definitely be a good thing. Trent trusted his friend explicitly.
“Okay, dude, what’s up?” asked Steve. He went to Trent’s fridge and helped himself to a beer. Trent kept a few in there at all times just for Steve’s visits. “You’re famous now and you’re about a phone call away from being rich, right? Why are you even staying in school?”
“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. My name was being thrown around a lot before, but now it’s going to be crazy. We’ve seen it with all the SOO streamers once they get famous, right?”
“Yeah, I can see your point. It’s only a matter of time until someone finds out who you are, or someone rats you out to the news for money or something. Plus stalkers, groupies, the works.”
“Exactly,” Trent said, nodding. “Plus, now I have people following me around, taking videos of me and making money off of them.”
“Well, if you weren’t chopping up entire groups of shady people in alleys, maybe they’d have less incentive to record what you do. Anyway, what are you going to do about it?”
“I think I have no choice but to become a streamer.” Trent grimaced.
Steve looked at him out the side of his eyes. “Are you sure about that? You want to deal with a massive surge in popularity by becoming…more public and more popular?”
“Of course not! This is me we’re talking about. I don’t think I have a choice, though. See, as long as I’m being streamed, I get a cut of the profit from my video stream, and people like ABI won’t have a reason to try following me around anymore. In fact, it might be illegal for him to compete with a stream. Streaming will also provide some security in-game and maybe outside of it.
“I may not trust many big e-companies, but I do trust self-interest. If I’m making people money, they have an interest in making sure I don’t just disappear one day.”
Steve nodded. “Okay, that makes sense, but why are you telling me?”
Trent sighed and said, “Two reasons. First, I think I’m going to give you the knowledge of how to get to the World Tree, but you’ll have to wait on it.”
Steve’s expression was resigned. “You know, you don’t have to do that. Not only that, it will change my life. I’m still not sure what I want to do in life in the first place, and you’ll be opening another door for me.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
“What are you apologizing for?” Steve shook his head and grinned. “You’re handing me something worth like a million dollars, maybe more. If I hit the World Tree, I can stream just like you and make more than my parents do. In fact, if I hang out with you, I’d make even more.”
“It’s funny you mention that,” Trent said. “The second reason I invited you over is I need to ask a favor. I’d like you to come with me when I meet a streaming rep in-game. Another set of eyes and ears would be nice.”
“Of course I’ll go, but it’s not like you need my help. You took out those six a while ago without any problem.”
Trent’s tone grew serious. “But what if there are twelve next time, or someone tries to jump me and torture me, or worse, trace me? No, it’s time for me to stop going solo everywhere. This is going to be pretty crazy, and I will be playing a lot. I am going to be asking a lot of you; that’s why I’m eventually giving you access to the World Tree.”
Trent looked Steve directly in the eyes. He had to level that he knew what the favor would cost. “I know that you will probably have to let school slip, if not drop out.”
“Yeah,” said Steve, “the thought occurred to me this might happen when you told me to come over. You wouldn’t have wanted a face-to-face unless it was important. And yet, I was kind of hoping you’d be throwing a few million dollars of in-game power because we’re buddies. It turns out it’s just because I’m big and ugly.”
Trent smiled. “Well, I do still owe you for all the food you gave me in high school. You were my first pick for a reason.”
“Okay, should I hang out here and meet you in-game?”
“Sounds good!” Steve killed the rest of his beer and settled into the comfortable chair that seemed to take up half of Trent’s dorm room. The chair was where Steve usually went to Dive if he was visiting.
Trent flopped onto his bed, but thought better of it and drank another bottle of water first. Then he laid down again and began Diving.
As soon as he was in the game, Vale got a private message from Steve’s character.
Bartholomew: <Hey man, you never told me where you are.>
That’s right, I didn’t, he thought. He sent back:
Vale: <I’m in Gabenz.>
Bartholomew: <Seriously? That dump? I really don’t understand why you like that place so much. Let’s meet halfway at Nodol.>
Vale: <KK heading there.>
First things first. Vale called up an in-game internet browser. He needed to check his email. He read all the replies he’d gotten back from his previous emails. He pursed his lips thoughtfully and sent his own reply to the streaming company he’d decided to work with.
Vermillion Entertainment was one of the largest three e-entertainment companies in the world.
All the companies he’d emailed in the last few hours had made promises about his safety and privacy, but Vermillion was one of the few most likely to deliver. Plus, the rep he was emailing with seemed nice. He let Vermillion know he’d be meeting their company rep in Nodol.
He understood why he would need to meet a company rep in-game. Meeting was necessary to prove his identity, to set up his stream, and to sign an in-game contract. Vermillion would make sure the contract was binding both in and out of the game.
He mentally checked his to-do list. He had to find Bartholomew Holstings in Nodol and choose a location to meet the Vermillion Entertainment rep. He also still had to figure out what to do about his legendary weapon quest.
Vale sighed and went to find a coach he could ride to Nodol. Taking transportation would cut down on his travel time. It would also allow him to read a new occult grimoire he’d just purchased with some of the money from selling off all Brutus’s gear. He hoped he might learn a new spell.
Vale headed towards the stagecoach pickup point, hiding his face as best he could with his cloak. Maybe I should take a train…he thought. He felt an itch between his shoulder blades like somebody was watching him and glanced around. He didn’t see anybody nearby so he dismissed the sensation, continuing on his way.