Jacob Vermillion, the CEO of Vermillion Entertainment, was a large, imposing man. He had close-cropped hair and a full, neatly trimmed beard. He sat behind a very impressive, expensive-looking desk but wore a sports jersey and diamond earrings. Trent guessed he was in his mid-30s.
“Hey, guys, come right in!” the big man said. “Go ahead and take a seat!”
Trent hesitantly moved forward. Of course, Steve had already taken a seat and seemed to be completely at ease. Trent frowned. He didn’t like the thought of dealing with people this powerful. They always had an agenda.
He glanced back but Florinia was right behind him, smiling encouragingly. Trent sighed and moved forward, taking a seat. Out the corner of his eye, he saw the shapely woman leave the room.
Steve asked, “So what are you doing here, Mr. Vermillion? Isn’t your headquarters in another state?”
“Actually, yes! Also, please call me Jacob.” He smiled winningly. Trent didn’t trust him, but had to admit he seemed friendly.
“Okay, Jacob,” said Steve, “why are you here?”
“Well, it’s very important to meet such important new streamers, and—”
“Can we just cut the chase?” Trent rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I don’t want to have a friendly relationship with you, but this has been a really fucked-up day. I don’t have the patience for a sales pitch. I just had to get blood off my face a while ago.”
Trent noticed Steve squint his eyes and stare, perhaps looking for specks of blood. He was sure his friend would have more questions for him later. It seemed the Vermillion Entertainment people hadn’t told his friend how close they had all come to dying.
“What do you mean?” asked Jacob.
Trent sighed. “You know what I mean. You’re worth, like, a small country. You’re the CEO of one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, which Steve just reminded me makes a ton of money. Why are you really here? People like you don’t do simple social calls.”
Steve elbowed him in the side, but Trent ignored it.
Jacob shrugged and smiled. “Actually, I am interested in ‘social calls,’ as you call them, but I’ll admit there is some business involved in this trip, too. Your situation is a little unique. Basically, with our partnership, we are going to make a great deal of money, but you currently hold enough SOO in-game items and secrets to make any network security sweat.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure what to say,” said Trent lamely.
Jacob chuckled. “It’s okay, I know it was weird for me too when my company started taking off fifteen years ago. Anyway, I kind of thought something like the attack today might happen, and I wanted to be here if it did. Not only that, I just prefer to meet our new streamers in person, especially when explaining their new living arrangements.”
“Security for our own protection, right?” Trent frowned and tried not to spit the words.
“Yes, you got it in one. Look, some streamers get into this business without realizing how dangerous it can be. Now that there are a few movie studios in other countries competing with Hollywood, actors need better security these days too. Being a celebrity kind of sucks even more than it did in the past.
“Technology is awesome, but it also lowered the entry bar for a lot of ways to make money. This has increased global competition, and not everyone plays nice.”
“What about the cops?” asked Steve. “I mean, someone even shot at Trent in public.”
The bearded man said, “I’m sure they’ll try to find the shooter, but they will already be long gone and avoiding video surveillance.” Trent thought Jacob looked uncomfortable. The big man continued, “They probably used a pistol. If the shooter had been set up with a rifle, Trent would have died for sure. We got lucky.”
“What?” gasped Steve.
“I don’t want to sugar-coat it for you guys. We don’t know how Trent’s name got leaked, but now he’s in a great deal of danger. Steve, your identity is still safe, but it’s only a matter of time before someone gets a photo of you standing next to Trent and does the math. That’s if they’re not actively trying to find out who you are.”
“So now we’re, what, on house arrest?” snarled Trent.
“Pretty much, yes.” Jacob sighed. “Look, the police do what they can, but we’re talking about law enforcement, worldwide law enforcement, that still hasn’t figured out what to do about cyber-crime. Our laws are decades behind. It’s very difficult to track cyber criminals, and throwaway printed weapons are easy to come by.
“On top of that, there are enough desperately poor people, it’s not hard to find someone who will pull a hit. Even if the cops catch who shot at Trent today, which they won’t, someone else will take their place.
“But look at it like this…” Jacob pointed at Trent and Steve. “A lot of the heat will die down after about a year, and while working in SOO, you guys will be hanging out with friends and doing what you like to do anyway. With the time dilation, you get to spend 50% more time playing usually, but now you can even play full time. I don’t think I need to tell you how long per day professional streamers can be Diving.”
Trent smirked and said, “Yeah, and I bet you give all your new streamers this same speech.”
“Yes, pretty much.” Jacob admitted, smiling. “Look, you want me to level with you? You don’t want to die, and we don’t want you to either. You’re going to make us all a lot of money. We want you to be safe, but we also want you to be happy and have access to the very best facilities.”
“Can you elaborate?” asked Steve. “This is new.”
“Of course, Mr. Peterson.”
“Call me Steve.”
“Sure thing,” Jacob said and shrugged. “It’s like this. Your skills in SOO are tied to things you can actually do. It’s in our best interest for you to just continue getting better in-game and attracting a larger audience. As such, we have a special compound just for streamers on both ends of the United States…and in a few other countries too. You’re lucky. We’re in California right now and our facility is in Nevada, so you won’t even have to move too far!”
“Nevada?” asked Trent.
“Yes, and it’s a very comfortable, state-of-the-art facility. The connection is fantastic. There is also a shooting range, Olympic pool, a modern gym, personal trainers, satellite buildings for special projects, a lab…the works. Oh, not to mention asstons of security.”
“Asstons?” asked Trent.
“Yes, ‘asstons.’ It’s an official unit of measurement. Look it up.” The big, bearded man smiled and Trent smiled back. He couldn’t help it. The man was likeable, almost like his charisma stat was maxed in real life. The thought made him remember how he’d somehow used magic in his virtual college classroom. Trent was still wondering if he’d imagined the whole thing.
Steve started to say something, but Trent held out a hand to stop his friend. He looked Jacob right in the eye and said, “We don’t really have a choice, do we?”
“Well, there’s always a choice, but your choices are realistically kind of limited right now.” The big man sounded apologetic. “If you hadn’t been outed somehow, you would perhaps have more options. I mean, we aren’t going to make you go anywhere, this is an invitation. But really, if you stay where you are, you’ll probably end up dead.”
“Could we stay here?” asked Steve.
“Like this building?” Jacob lifted an eyebrow. “Sure, you could stay here, but it’s not really set up for comfort for living in, and you still won’t be as safe as any of us would like. If you go to Nevada to our training facility, you will effectively disappear. We’ve already got another team living there, too, so it won’t be too empty.”
Trent thought about the other streaming team, but he didn’t follow any streams so the answer would be irrelevant. However, he remembered Steve’s question about Abbey’s living situation.
“I have a quick question about my team.” Trent looked at Steve and his friend nodded. Trent continued, “Could we get Abbey moved into our facility if we go?”
Jacob nodded. “Absolutely. That’s not a problem at all. In fact, these provisions are already in all of your contracts. That said, I have one more piece of advice for you.”
“What’s that?” asked Trent.
“You know where the World Tree is. I’m guessing you’ve been playing around with the idea of selling the info since you haven’t done anything with it yet.”
Trent decided to be honest. “Yes, that’s right. So what?”
“Look, this may seem a little self-serving, but I’m just being honest with you. You’re really better off just helping your group get to the World Tree so they can all get legendary classes too. See, if you try to sell information this valuable, there will always be an element of risk involved. If you take my offer to go to our streamer compound, it’ll probably even be impossible.
“On the flip side, the more powerful and interesting your group is, the faster you will grow your streaming audience. The larger your audience, the more money you’ll make.”
“What if I give Abbey magic and she just runs off to start her own stream?” Trent was skeptical.
“All your group members’ contracts are clear on quitting. They can’t stream for another company or solo for at least five years after leaving your group.”
Trent eyed Steve and his friend nodded.
“I see,” said Trent. “So what about the Monarch Stone, the ‘Secret of the Old Ones?’ I mean, this thing is named after the game itself.”
Jacob shrugged. “I have no idea about that. In fact, I—”
Suddenly, the door to the office flew open and a middle-aged man with a mustache burst into the room. He was out of breath and gasped, “Jacob, I’m really sorry to interrupt, but you need to hear this now. In SOO, a system message just went out. The Abyssal Ones Monarch Stone was just found and used! The Abyssal Ones race has been unlocked!”
“What!” Jacob exclaimed. He put his hands on his desk and stood up.
“Yeah!” the other man said, shaking his head. “What’s more, most of the Lords of Finality have converted their race to Abyssal Ones. They are moving into a new city that just appeared after the race was unlocked. The news, forums, and blogs are all going nuts! I don’t think I need to remind you that the LoF are part of Norma Entertainment.”
Jacob looked off into the distance for a while. “Thank you, Roger,” he eventually said. “I’ll be by your office in a few minutes so we can figure out what our response will be. At least I’m here in person for this, it should go faster.” The mustachioed man nodded and left. Jacob looked thoughtful.
The big man appraised Trent and said, “This is both good and bad for us. It means some interest in you might drop a little before your first stream. This is good because it might be a little easier to transition your stream into the market. On the other hand, we’ll all make less money if your viewership decreases from the get-go. A lot of viewers will be watching the Lords of Finality more now.”
“Ugh, I hate those guys,” muttered Trent.
“I think we all do,” laughed Jacob.
Trent sighed. He knew he’d already made up his mind. It wouldn’t do any good to throw a tantrum like a child. “Okay, fine, I’ll go to the training facility.”
“Excellent!” said Jacob. “And you, Steve?”
“I’m going too,” said Steve with a nod.
“Great! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go. I’ll have some of my people start the paperwork and get everything ready. This isn’t our first time doing this, for sure. It should be relatively painless.”
With that, Jacob Vermillion strolled out the door and was gone. Trent glanced at Steve and his friend just shrugged. Trent wondered how Steve stayed so chill through stuff like this. Oh well, at least nothing can get worse at this point, he thought.
Two days later, Trent had already been settled into his new room at the Vermillion Entertainment streaming facility in Nevada. He’d learned the staff called it, “The Rainbow Ranch.” He thought the name sounded kind of gay, but Steve thought it was hilarious for some reason—probably because Trent didn’t like it.
Trent was playing SOO, Diving by himself, just laying low and checking up on in-game gossip. He was trying to get some shopping done, too. He was still accepting that playing SOO was his full-time job now. It didn’t quite feel real to him yet.
He realized he needed to take everything more seriously, though. This meant he needed to pursue his legendary weapon quest hard and figure out what the hell he was going to do about the World Tree.
He walked into an occult lore shop; the small bell above the door tinkled overhead. He took two more steps before a system message popped up. Then another! His jaw dropped and he lost his balance, falling on his face. He was so shocked, he didn’t even notice he was on the floor for a few moments.
The system messages read:
Brutus Vann has found the Northern Chess Piece! Brutus Vann is the
Legendary Northern Warlord of Secret of the Old Ones!
System Alert! -Berserker- sub-race (Human) unlocked!
Oh no, thought Vale, the blood draining from his face. He’d forgotten that Brutus should be alive again in-game. The chilling news kept rattling around in his mind as he lay on the floor…
Now Brutus has a legendary class too? Oh shit.