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As usual, Trent thought the Administration Building looked sort of like a church. The meeting hall was built like a worship center, just a lot smaller. Instead of a long table like most meeting rooms he’d seen before, the chairs were arranged in a semicircle, amphitheater-style.

When the entire team sat down, they barely took up any room compared to the size of the room.

To one side of the room stood Florinia, the general liaison from Vermillion. She was looking as sexy as usual. Trent tried to meet her eyes to waggle his eyebrows but she seemed very distracted. A couple of middle aged men in suits that Trent didn’t recognize were standing next to her. At the front of the room was Julia Mills, the manager that Vermillion Entertainment had recently dispatched to oversee the team. Julia was in her thirties, dark skinned, and heavy set. She almost always dressed like she’d just popped out of a 90’s era sitcom.

Standing by himself on the other side away from the suits was another unfamiliar person, a stocky guy in his 20’s. He leaned against the wall and winked at Trent’s group.

Julia cleared her throat. “I’m sorry to call everyone here early, but we knew that you were all logged out and together anyway. The quicker we get this done, the quicker we can move forward. We have some new developments. Your wait is almost over. We haven’t wanted to drag it out any longer than you all do.”

“I was right,” said Steve in a loud whisper. “Now you owe me a candy. Pay up, lady.” Michelle wordlessly handed a Starburst to her boyfriend.

Julia held up a clicker and the large screen behind her lit up. A slick-looking, polished podium rose from the floor in front of her as well. “Why don’t they put cool stuff like that in our rooms?” wondered Trent out loud. Nobody responded.

“The situation in the game has changed a lot over the last week,” said Julia. “Since you all watch videos, streamers, and lurk forums when you’re not playing, I think most of you probably know the gist of what I’m about to tell you. But you might not know the extent of it.”

The screen behind her lit up and displayed a map of Europa, the continent that most American and European players called home. Trent recognized most of the large cities on the map, but some just by reputation. The game was really large, and the steep penalties for dying made players usually take fewer travel-related risks.

Of course, that was before the big PVP event. Lockout times were much shorter now.

Julia hit a button and a red overlay covered the map...almost all of it. “Everything in red is enemy territory at this point,” she said.

“And the enemy iz?” asked Katya.

“Good question,” said Julia. “Sorry for not clarifying. I just assumed we would all be using the same terminology. For the sake of this briefing, the enemy refers to all non-human race players, and all the players who are allied with them.”

“None of them are friendly?” asked Michelle. “I thought some people were trying to form cross-species alliances.”

“None are friendly that we know of. Even the new races. That includes a new race, and the First Things.” She didn’t look at Trent. It was an open secret now how the Monarch Stone had been extorted from him. “What’s more, this pvp event has allowed most of the new monster-race players to power level. They are growing in level at an alarming rate.”

Trent nodded as he studied the map. Some of his favorite towns had been covered in red. There were still free areas, but he could see what was happening. “We’re running out of resources. They even control some of the newbie dungeons. They’re taking over and pushing everyone in towards Newlondon.”

“Yes. That is our analysis, too. The situation has gotten bad enough over the last few days that some of the larger streaming companies have actually been reaching out about a truce, or even an alliance. I’m sure you all know about the Flying Eels race that was unlocked recently?”

“Yeah, but nobody knows much about them. There’s just been speculation in the forums,” said Michelle. “We all saw the system message, then...nothing. No option to switch races, either.”

Julia sighed. “Well, one of our teams got massacred by them yesterday. So I can brief you on them. They can fly without wings, and they seem small, but we predict they will grow based on level. Their playstyle is different. The player experience would have to be more like a shark sim than an MMO. We have found and destroyed one of their settlements. It looked like a termite mound. Oh, and when they attack you, they also have a SAN attack. That’s how our team was killed despite being higher level.”

“The team. They didn’t have a healer?” asked Trent.

“No. This was over one hundred miles past the line, inside our territory. The Flying Eel players can attack anywhere. They destroyed an NPC quest-giving settlement before hitting our team. After we found out, we sent in the Matthews team to eradicate them.” She added, “This tactical ability of the eels to theoretically strike anywhere is one reason we’re moving forward as quickly as possible now.

Trent frowned. “The Matthews Team,” had to be referring to Samurai Matthews, one of Vermillion’s earliest streamers for SOO. He demanded, “‘Moving forward more quickly,’ you said? Why the hell has Samurai been able to play and level while we’ve been stuck in Vermillliontown?”

Julia regarded him levelly. “Because we are not giving Samurai a flying ship. We have been preparing your ship, your crew, and still trying to maintain some sort of security and secrecy.”

“Oh.” Trent’s righteous anger fizzled.

Steve awkwardly patted Trent’s shoulder in sympathy.

Michelle crossed her arms. “Alright, Julie. All this stuff jives with what I’ve been seeing online the last few days. Basically, all the monster players are being dicks, shutting down quest areas and cities, griefers are joining them, and all the human players are on the defensive. There are more of us, but we respawn slower. Oh, and some human players are still dicks and attacking each other, too.

Julia nodded slowly. “That is about the gist of it.”

Pavlo had his chin in his hand, staring at the map, and seemed to be deep in thought. He said, “The monster players. The game doesn’t have official factions yet, at least that I am aware of, but this sort of thing was common in old MMO’s with different races. Players from different factions or races sometimes couldn’t communicate. In SOO it works that way too. So they can’t talk to us in-game, but has anyone figured out other ways to communicate? Maybe if we could bribe some of them or have an understanding.”

“Sign language?” offered Steve.

Julia shook her head. “As of now, communications hasn’t gotten anywhere. All attempts have just resulted in ambushes. Other than taunts and insults, they aren’t really reaching out online, either.” She shrugged. “PVP has been excellent for levelling...for them, and for us. Now, mostly for them. The monster players have already almost caught up, level-wise. And the First Things race is extremely powerful. It’s not a surprise that Yggdrasil has shut down race changes for the time being. Balance is already shot.”

“Alright, so why are you telling all of us this now?” asked Steve.

One of the men in suits nodded at the lone man on the other side of the room. “That’s your cue, Charles.”

With a smile, the man named Charles stepped away from the wall. Trent studied him more than before and noticed he wasn’t actually heavyset, just muscular. He looked shorter than Trent but probably weighed a lot more. His t-shirt had a graphic of a comic book character smashing a building.

Julia nodded at the comic t-shirt guy. “This is Charles Allison. He is your team’s 6th member. So today you are meeting your new team mate, and getting your new airship. You’ll have to meet your crew in-game. They aren’t on site.”

“Yes!” Trent fist pumped. “Can we leave now?”

Steve elbowed him in the side. “Shhh!” He scratched his chin and muttered, “You have a point, though. I wanna get back in-game.”

“Then why the hell did you elbow me?”

Michelle shook her head and ignored them. She pointed at Charles and said, “So this is our new teammate? That’s great and all, but what can you tell us about him? This is kind of sudden. We were waiting for a couple weeks, then, ‘boom,’ here he is.”

Pavlo raised a big hand and added, “Also, why are we even here? In this building? This meeting could have been virtual.”

Trent knew the answer to that question. “Taxes and stuff,” he said with a Jedi-style handwave.

“What?”

Michelle sighed and said, “It’s because we’re streamers. There are new US laws that force us to have in-person meetings and stuff or we don’t get benefits and the feds might investigate. It’s so steamers have to be in the US and can’t avoid paying taxes or something. Also to prevent human trafficking? I don’t entirely understand all of it.”

Julia turned to one of the suited men. “Please send the welcome packet to all the new teammates again. Make sure they get it.” After the man nodded, Julia said, “Your tax and in-person meeting questions should be answered with our onboarding packet. We need to be here physically right now, but I’d prefer not to waste the time we have with admin matters.”

Then she gestured at the newcomer. “Despite being lower level than all of you, only at twelve, Charles should be an equal and is a good fit for your team. Would you like to explain, Charles?”

“Call me Charlie.” The man in the graphic t-shirt stepped away from the wall with an easy smile. “I’m really excited to be here.”

“So why are you here?” asked Michelle bluntly.

Charlie’s eyes sparkled. “I’m a min-maxer.”

“Aren’t we all?” said Steve with a chuckle.

“Hear me out.” Charlie began to explain without any noticeable nervousness. “I was one of the first SOO players. Rolled a Burglar. But eventually, I rerolled.” He held up a finger. “But I made plans. See, before rerolling, I had a high luck stat and found three BOE items that gave permanent stats, and...other things.”

Trent twitched when he heard the luck stat line. The rest of what Charlie said made him frown and ask, “If they were BOE, and you weren’t going to use them, why not sell?”

“Selling items makes a lot of money, but being a streamer is where the real cash is at. And to stand out, I needed to build a new character using everything I’d learned and a lot of theorycraft.”

“You can’t keep your items if you reroll, though,” pointed out Michelle.

“Yup.” Charlie smiled again. He practically beamed. “Sorry for the enthusiasm. You’ll have to give me a pass here. I don’t get to talk about this much and I’m pretty proud of it. Anyway, before rerolling, I handed over my items to someone I could trust, and they gave them back after I was back in-game.”

Trent appreciated the simple solution. It wasn’t unique, though. Others had done the same, but giving such valuable items to other people to hold onto could be risky. “So what’s your build?” he asked.

Charlie dramatically cracked his knuckles. “My time as a Burglar gave me a lot of opportunity to think about the game and how the system works. I was actually planning a reroll even before I found the last item that I needed. When I found it, there was a local system message about it, too. If I hadn’t rerolled it would have caused problems.”

“Wait,” Trent said. He held up a hand. “So you found something big, like a legendary class or something like that?”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you just use it without rerolling? You probably could have tried streaming then.”

Charlie nodded. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t have been as effective. The synergy wasn’t good with the Burglar class tree at all. Plus, Burglar players are never the top of the heap for streaming. Fans wanna see combat, explosions, magic. Some thieves have done okay, but they have a small, dedicated following. Maybe Thieves will break out if they can start assassinating or something. But I wanted to be mainstream ASAP.”

“Was there a system message when you used your item?” asked Trent.

“Yes. Legendary class. But I timed it to happen right after a big name also used one.”

“Smart,” said Michelle. Her tone had a kernel of respect.

Charlie gave them a big, shit-eating grin. “When I rerolled, I chose Priest and put almost all of my stats into Intelligence and Endurance to maximize my mana and HP gain per level. A normal player would have been way too squishy and wound up dead all the time, but I knew what I was doing and had my items waiting for me.”

“Zey must have been good items,” said Minerva.

“Only so-so, but they came with a set bonus.”

“A set bonus?” Trent had never found an item with a set bonus before.

“Yes. A set bonus. One Luck and 100 Stamina. Not groundbreaking, but helpful at level One.” Charlie continued, “My strength and agility are still low, but it doesn’t matter. At level 12 right now, I still have 180 mana. As long as I keep track of my resources, I can run around with buffs on pretty much 24/7. And because I’m a priest, my failed spells can’t damage me, just fail.”

“But that would just mean you’re a meat shield and hard to kill,” said Steve.

“Uh huh. That would be true if not for my legendary class! It basically gives me armor and offensive magic. Recently I took the Path of War swill. Path of War gives me proficiency with basic, mundane weapons. This is where my build really took off. Since I knew I was going to take Path of war ahead of time, and it scales with holy skills, all of my choices until this point were to eventually buff it. This way I covered my weak points from pushing the magic build.”

Trent shook his head. He could vaguely understand Charlie’s class choices now. “You must be broken as hell. You can heal yourself too, right?”

“Yup!”

“And SAN checks?” asked Trent.

“Not a problem!”

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” said Michelle.

“Wow. Without a killing blow or something, this guy is gonna be scary at max level, huh?” asked Steve.

“He is kind of scary now,” said Julie from behind her podium. “We are very impressed with Mr. Allison’s achievements so far, and how fast he has reached level 12. It might be the fastest power-levelling the game has seen so far.”

“Thank you,” said Charlie.

“So you did all of this to stream?” asked Trent.

“Not just to stream, to stream with people like you. Man, now I’m gonna be rich! And better, I have a chance to be great. You know, I was never super great in school. I can’t sing, can’t dance, but for some reason I’m pretty good with a spear. Maybe I can make my mark on history like this.”

“The money was enough for me,” said Michell. This Steve elbowed her--much more gently than he’d hit Trent. She folded her arms.

Why’d he hit me so hard? Trent mentally complained. He even agreed with me before!

Pavlo fixed Charlie with a neutral look. He said, “Being great. Wonderful. This is all fine, very touching, but can you fight?”

“I can definitely fight,” said Charlie. His tone had changed.

There was a second of silence before Michelle blew a raspberry and said, “You two can see who pees farther later. Are we done here? Julia? Can we Dive?”

Their team’s manager hit a hidden button and her podium began to sink back into the floor. The screen behind her turned off. “Yes, you can all go back to your quarters now. We ask that you be back in-game at the original time this meeting was scheduled for. So about an hour. Once you are in-game, I will join you there and introduce you to your new airship and your new crew.

“After that, we’ll give you all the information we have, some gentle suggestions, and turn you loose.”

“Gentle suggestions, huh?” said Trent quietly. He didn’t try to actually ask any questions, though, just joined everyone else as he left the building. On his way out, he shot a couple furtive, speculating looks at Charlie.

This is the sixth team member, huh? He thought. He talks a big game. Hope he’s not too noob.

Nobody spoke much on the way back to the main building. After Trent’s door was open, he caught Steve’s eye before they entered their rooms, and he knew they both could tell the other was excited.

This day hasn’t turned out to be too bad afterall, thought Trent. I can finally join the war! As he closed the door behind him, he grinned. And level again!

Before he Dove, the only thing he regretted about the day was not being able to hit on Florinia again. He was wearing her down, he could tell.

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A note from BlaiseCorvin

I'm working on chapter 15 right now.

Chapters should start coming out a lot faster.  I'm dedicated to getting this book written by the 28th.  It should be about the same length as the first.


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