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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/2280224-The-Gamers-Gauntlet
Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2280224
Five young gamers compete for the ultimate prize in a challenge for the ages!
[Introduction]
The year was 2042. By this point in time, every major gaming company was now defunct. The corporation's ever increasing greed and continual release of shoddy, incomplete games that focused more on sucking money out of the consumer than actually being fun to play, had finally led to their downfall. But by some miracle, seemingly out of nowhere, a small indie developer called Domination Digital stared to surface. They single handedly revived the industry, releasing quality games that were not only fun, but didn't contain any micro transactions at all and were completely free of bugs and glitches.

It wasn't long until Domination Digital became bigger than even the once great developers of the past, and for thirty years the company was a household name, releasing games in all kinds of genres, each more successful than the last. The company's success was attributed to it's founder, Alan Weltz. Having grown up in the 90's and early 2000's, he remembered the golden age of gaming, and wanted to bring it back. It began as a passion project on his home computer, and grew into a titan of the gaming industry.

After decades of spearheading project after project, making sure every last possible flaw in each game was ironed out, Alan decided it was time to retire. But he couldn't just let the empire he built from the ground up disappear. He had to find a successor, but who would be worthy of taking his place? It would have to be someone as passionate about games as he was. So, he announced that to find his replacement, a grand contest would be held. In order to enter the competition, a free game was released for anyone who wanted to try. The game would record each players score and statistics, and the top five players would be invited to partake in the contest itself.

Those five players have been chosen. The ultimate gaming challenge is about to begin, with the grand prize of Domination Digital on the line. Let the games begin!

April 9th, 2072

All across the globe, billions of people, young and old, were watching what was sure to be the biggest televised event in history. No doubt, many of them envied the lucky folks who could be there in person, and even more envious of the actual contestants. "Coming to you live from The San Domingo Arena in California USA, welcome to The Gamer's Gauntlet!" Said an announcer's voice. "And now, here's your host! You know him, you love him! Put your hands together for Mr. Alan Weltz!" A thunderous round of applause echoed through the stadium as a middle aged man with greying hair and dressed in a semi casual outfit entered the arena.

"Thank you , thank you, thank you all!" He said, motioning for the crowd to quiet down. "You know, it wasn't easy deciding to retire. But I figured I've had my time in the spotlight, and it's time for someone else to take the reigns. Of course, I couldn't just hand over my company to just anybody! I want my replacement to be as passionate about games as I am. So, here today, I have five gamers just like you, who will need to push their knowledge and skill to the absolute limit, if they want the grand prize of this competition, my position as president of Domination Digital!"

Another round of applause. "Before the tournament begins, I just want to say thank you to everyone out there that shares my love of gaming. If it wasn't for you, I'd never have even made my first game, and we wouldn't be here now." Applause again. "Now then, let's get down to business! Our first contestant comes all the way from Tokyo, Japan. Please Welcome, Akira Kawamoto!"

A fifteen year old Japanese boy enters, and the crowd cheers. "Next up, Amelia Smith from Cheshire, United Kingdom!" A sixteen year old blonde girl strides into the arena, amidst further cheers from the crowd. "Andy Dufrain, from Montreal, Canada!" A thirteen year old boy, kind of short for his age, enters as the crowd cheers more. "Sheila Irwin from Melbourne, Australia!" A tall, redheaded girl of fourteen. "And finally, Steven Brundle from Trenton, New Jersey!" The youngest of the contestants, a boy of around twelve with dark brown hair, entre the arena as the crowd cheers one last time.

Mr. Weltz shakes each contestant's hand, before continuing. "Each contestant will enter a digital simulation, where the contest will take place. Once inside, each of them will have just three lives. If any of them lose all three, they will be ejected from the simulation and are out of the tournament. But don't worry, nobody will be leaving empty handed. I have a special consolation prize for the runner ups as well. Now, contestants, take your places!"

He motioned to five glowing circular pads on the floor. Each contestant stood on a pad, and there was a bright flash as they were digitized, all of them appearing on a giant screen in the center of the arena. "Can you all hear me?" Weltz asked into a headset, the contestants all confirmed that they could. "Excellent! Let the contest begin!"

The contestants found themselves in the center of a huge maze. "Your first task is to find a way out of this labyrinth. You have one hour to escape, but watch out for traps and other little surprises. Anyone still inside the maze when time is up, loses one life. Begin!"

"Might be a good idea to work together, if possible."
         Looking to everyone, Andy nodded his head.
         "Agreed. Strength in numbers after all."
The new team decided to take the nearest passageway, and began to make their way through the maze. It wasn't long before they encountered their first obstacle. As they walked through the narrow corridor, they suddenly found that their feet felt heavier and heavier, until they couldn't lift them at all. On top of that, they began to feel like they were sinking into the floor. They looked down and screamed, because that's exactly what was happening! They were all being sucked into the floor as if it were quicksand! "Everybody stay calm!" Said Amelia "If we struggle, we'll only sink faster!"

"What do we do now?" Said Sheila.

Meanwhile in the arena, as everybody was watching the events unfolding on the screen "Looks like our contestants are starting to get that sinking feeling!" Said Weltz, as there was some groans from the audience. "Sorry, bad joke, I know. I couldn't resist! Anyway, let's see if they can figure a way out of this predicament."
"Okay, rule one for surviving quicksand is to slowly swim to solid ground, so let's get to what we know to be solid ground."
         Nodding in agreement, everyone slowly moved to solid round and took a minute to catch there breath.
         Seeing a rope off to the side, Andy realized they made it to the otherside.
         Seeing a hook above them, and another across from where they came from, he lasso'ed the hook across the quicksand, then tied the other end on the hook just above them.
         "This way we can safely cross it if we use a life and gotta start over."
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the contestants, or even Mr. Weltz himself, outside in the arena parking lot sat a large, unmarked van. Inside it was a sort of mobile computer that was directly linked to the simulation via wireless signal. Sitting at this computer was William Weltz, the son of Alan Weltz. William felt he had been cheated out of his rightful inheritance, as Alan's only child, he felt he should be the one to take over Domination Digital when his father retired. He didn't really care about making fun games for others to enjoy, he just really needed the money that came with the position, having fallen on hard times financially.

But no! His father had to have this tournament to give his company to a "worthy successor". Well, William figured if he made sure that all the contestants failed, his father would have no choice but to hand the company over to him! The computer William sat in front of allowed him to control every obstacle and peril within the simulation. Each one was designed to generate at random for each separate level, but William could force the most difficult ones to appear at anytime.

"Let's see them get past this!"

Back in the simulation, the team suddenly found a wall with a human face had materialized in front of them. "In order to pass, you must correctly answer my questions." The face spoke. Akira stepped forward "I'll handle this. Ask me the questions."

"What is the sum of the square root of pi?"

Akira could only pause for several minutes as he tried to think of an answer, until he finally said "I don't know!" A hole appears beneath Akira's feet, and he fell down into black oblivion, before reappearing back at the start of the maze. "That's one life down for Akira." Said Alan. "Hopefully, he can catch up with the others in time." The rest of the team were trying to decipher the answer to the wall's question. "I never even learned this kind of stuff!" Said Andy "Me neither." Said Amelia. They looked to the other remaining two contestants. "Please tell us one of you knows the answer?"
"I know the trick to this one," said Steven. He stepped up to the face. "What is the last digit of a square root of pi?"

At this, the face broke, and crumbled into dust.

"Knew it," said Steven.

"What happened?" Alan asked.

"Pi has no ending, so by that logic, neither would its square root," said Steven. "As it is, I think someone's cheating." He looked up at the sky. "Mind teleporting Akira back here, with their missing life restored - doesn't feel right to win because some cheater messed things up for those that don't win. I'd rather lose honestly, that to win because someone eliminated the others, and I just got lucky. While you're at it - find that cheater!"
         After waiting for Akira to catch up to them, they slowly moved further deeper into the maze, being sure to watch eachothers backs.
         Stopping in another room, Andy looked at the tiles as each one was placed in a pattern.
The pattern:♤◇♧♡♤◇♧♡

         Suddenly, another face appeared on a wall.
         "To move forward, you must answer another question, for only one shape holds true."
         Before Akira could step forward, Andy stopped him.
         "Your already down a life, let me take a chance."
         Nodding in agreement, Andy stepped up.
         "Okay, lay it on me."
         Opening its mouth, four cards with kings on them slid out and faced andy.
         "Which of the four kings is the best to have in a game of poker?"
         Feeling a bit confident, Andy knew the answer.
         "The answer is, what is the king of hearts!"
         Suddenly, the cards desolved and the face crumbled away.
Back in the van, William knew that the contestants were onto him. These kids were smarter than he gave them credit for. No matter. His connection to the simulation was running through an advanced sort of VPN of his own design. Even if they figured out he was controlling the game, they'd never suspect he was right under their noses all along!

"Alright, I've still got plenty of surprises in store for these kids." He said to himself as he brought up the next set of traps.

The contestants heard a low rumbling that was steadily getting louder, as the ground began to quake. They turned to look behind them, and immediately ran in the opposite direction, as they saw a giant boulder that took up the whole corridor behind them was rolling swiftly towards them.

As they approached a split in the pathway, the last ten feet of floor in front of them suddenly vanished, leaving a fiery pit in its place. "That's odd." Said Alan "These sort of traps weren't supposed to come in until near the end of the level."

The contestants we're quite literally between a rock and a hard place. They could be crushed by the boulder, or jump into the burning pit. Either way, they would lose a life, and their chances of winning would be that much diminished.

Of course, they were in no actual danger. This was just a big video game after all. Still, neither option was exactly appealing. "Now what? Said Andy as the boulder came closer and closer by the second.
"Everyone lay down against the side of the wall, and squeeze into the corner between wall and floor as much as possible," said Steven. "There's just enough room that we might possibly make it."

"You sure about that?" Alan asked.

"In the face of certain death, possible survival is worth the chance of possible death," said Steven. "That, and the boulder isn't as big as it looks."
         Seeing no other way, everyone rushed to the sides and got as tight into them as possible.
         As the boulder went past, everyone breathed a sigh of relief from surviving the trap.
         Wiping the sweat off, everyone sounded off, wanting to know if anyone was missing.
With everyone accounted for, there was still the matter of the burning pit taking up their only way forward. "Looks like we'll have to find another way." Said Steven. So they backtracked the way they had came, when Alan announced they had ten minutes left to escape the maze.
"Okay, here's an idea, equal shares between all of us," said Steven.
         All agreeing to work together, they made a mad dash through the end till they made it to the end.
         As they made it to the finnish line and started to take a breather, the five contestants relaxed as they made sure they were in it together.
         Just then, Andy looked around, and noticed the maze hasn't disappeared.
         As everyone realized the same thing, Andy remembered something important.
         "Hey guys, didn't Mr. Weltz have a son that wanted nothing to do with games and only wanted the money?"
"I think I heard something about that." Said Akira "He used to work at his father's company, until he fired him. Why do you ask?"

"You don't think he's manipulating the game, do you?" Asked Amelia. Just then, they heard another sound that was getting louder as whatever was causing it got closer.

Chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp!

What looked to be pac man with long, sharp teeth rounded the corner and was headed straight for them! As they ran, Sheila had an idea. "Everybody split up! It can't chase all of us if we separate!"

Meanwhile in the arena, Mr. Weltz was ordering security to get to the bottom of who was controlling the game against the contestants. "Search all around the perimeter, every possible hiding place! I don't know how, but I suspect my son is behind this."
Steven started shouting. "Try looking last place you'd expect," he shouted. "Like a basement, or a janitor's closet, or some such thing."
         As the security team began to search the area, the gamers were trhing to stay alive in the game against the giant size Pacman.
         Just as they seperated, the Pacman started to glitch before splitting into 5, each head following another player.
         Seeing this, Akira got a idea.
         "Hey guys, meat in the center! I got a plan!"
         As the players met up in the center, they knew what Akira had in mind.
         As the Pacman's grew closer, the players readied themselves.
         Then, at the last second, they jumped ove the Pac's, making them eat eachother before blowing up into digital bits.
Back with William, after Alan ordered a search for him, he moved his van a few blocks away from the arena so as to avoid being found, but still close enough that he could get a good digital signal to the simulation.

"Looks like I've used all the obstacles for the maze. No matter, they still have four more levels to go. And I still have plenty of surprises!"

Back in the game, the environment began to change into that of a wide open field. "Okay, this next level is an oldie but a goody. You must rescue a princess from the clutches of a wicked dragon." Alan explained "Each of you pick from a typical roleplaying class, and use your character's skills to win."

"In that case, I'll be a knight." Said Akira, and he was immediately clothed in a suit of armor, with a sword and shield. "Thief!" Said Andy, and he got a cloak and daggers.

"Mage!" Said Steven, recieving a blue robe and staff. "Cleric." Said Amelia, getting a white robe and staff as well. "Assassin." Said Sheila, gaining a black leather outfit with twin hand-crossbows.

"Alright, we'll try to find whoever's manipulating the game out here. In the meantime, have a nice adventure!" Alan said.

"I just realized, he didn't tell us which way the dragon's lair is." Said Andy.
"Let's focus on staying alive," said Steven. "Maybe we can negotiate with the dragon. There are smart enemies, from time to time."
         In the van, William had a idea.
         "If its a dragon they must fight, then I encode something special."
         Typing away, he found the code to the dragon and princess and placed her in a gem of a necklace placed around the dragon's neck.
         "They can't rescue a princess if they can't find her."
~¤~

         Back with the gamers, they decided to move east as a group, not knowing what the wannabe hacker has done...
The contestants didn't know how long they had been walking, but they were thankful Mr. Weltz didn't put a time limit on this challenge, because it felt like hours. Finally, they came to a crossroads where they found two goblins camped out near the intersecting paths. "Greetings!" Said one of them "Interested in checking out our wares?"

"Don't listen to him!" Said the other goblin "He's trying to scam you."

"No I'm not! He's the one who's the conartist!"

This lead to the two goblins bickering back and forth, until Andy interjected. "Can either of you tells us which way to the dragon's lair? We're kind of in a hurry to rescue the princess." The two goblins looked at each other, and grinned. "We can tell you, but one of us isn't so trustworthy. One will tell you the way to go, and the other will mislead you. You'll have to guess which of us is telling the truth."

"Ugh." Groaned Amelia "I was never very good with riddles." "Don't blame them." Said Steven. "They're part of the game, they're just doing as they're programmed." "But how do we figure out which of them is lying?" Asked Shelia.
"Oh, I know this one," said Steven.

He stepped up, and hit one in the leg with his staff, very hard.

The one he hit, fell and screamed in pain, as did the other one.

"Unless they feel each other's pain, that one's the liar," Steven said, pointing at the one he didn't hit. "That, or both of them are in on it, and neither feel pain."
         Seeing this, and remembering how they were under the rules of both the competition and a hacker, Andy started to thing.
         "Why not ask a question for information we can use?"
         Looking back, Steven became confused.
         "Like what?"
         Walking up to them, Andy smiled before drew a knife he had hidden in his suite.
         "Okay boys, which direction doesn't lead to the dragon's castle?"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"Doesn't that question assume that one or both of them know the way to the dragon? Or I is that overthinking it?" Sheila asked thoughtfully. The redhead rubbed her chin as her forehead became deeply furrowed.

"Anyway, instead of asking both goblins which way is not the way to the dragon's lair, maybe we should ask just one goblin what the other goblin would say is the wrong way to get to the dragon's lair," Sheila suggested. "The lying goblin knows the honest goblin will give us bad directions as an answer to that question, so he'll give us good directions. The honest goblin knows the lying goblin would answer that question with good directions, so those are the directions he'll give us."

As Sheila laid out her reasoning, in the real world, a leather clad motorcyclist wearing a helmet with a darkened faced visor pulled up silently within sight of the van William was operating from.
After doing as Sheila suggested, the goblins pointed the heroes in the right direction and they went on their way, leaving the two goblins to continue their bickering out of earshot. "If those two weren't just characters in this game, you'd swear they were brothers with the way they argue." Andy said, the rest of the party agreeing with him.

They soon came to their next obstacle, a bridge guarded by a hulking cyclops wielding a large club bigger than a grown man. "Halt!" Said the one eyed behemoth "Nobody passes without paying the toll."

The contestants searched their clothes to see if they had any money, but turned up nothing. "Is there any other way across?" Amelia asked, and the cyclops laughed "Not unless you want to swim or can fly! This is the only bridge for miles, why do you think I'm guarding it?"

"So you just stand here all day waiting for people to want to cross?" Said Steven "Seems like an awfully boring life. What do you even need money for, anyway?" The cyclops opened its mouth to answer, but seemed to suddenly freeze in place. It stood there, still as stone for several moments, not responding to anything.

"What happened to him?" Akira said "Looks like he's been glitched." Said Steven "He is a program in here, after all. He probably was never meant to answer why he is here in the first place, and has no data to process an answer." With that, they made their way across the bridge, leaving the cyclops frozen where he stood.
"Nothing like a puzzle to leave a puzzler stumped," said Steven.
         As the gamers continued there quest, they soon come across a forest with a sign infront.
         Walking up to it, Andy read it.
         "Through the forest a dragon waits. Gaurding a princes in its sleep. In this forest, a way to defeat it waits."
         "So, how should we go about this gang?"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"Cautiously?" Sheila tentatively answered. Her one word answer got a sputtering guffaw from Akira and a giggle from Amelia.

Sheila's cheeks digitalized cheeks turned red as she tried to explain herself. "What I meant to say is, I think the key thing line in that rhyme is 'Guarding a princess in its sleep.' One of us could sneak in while the dragon is sleeping, take a quiet look around, and then come back and tell everyone else what they saw, and then we can make our plans from there."

Sheila paused before continuing. "I think either me or Andy ought to be the ones to sneak in there, since our characters are the best ones at sneaking.. And maybe Steven can cast a spell that will give the person sneaking in a better chance of going undetected?" Sheila asked hopefully.


-------


In the real world, hidden around a corner from where William was parked, the motorcyclist took off their helmet, revealing a lovely young woman's face and a cascading mass of dirty blonde hair.

The woman took a few seconds to shake her hair out in near slow motion, before she lifted her left wrist up to her mouth and began talking into her watch.

"Queen to queen's level three," the blonde said in a sultry, contralto voice.

"Queen to king's level one," an equally enticing female voice responded from the watch.

"I have the van under surveillance," the blonde began, "And he's definitely interfering. Orders?"

There was a pause. "Do nothing. For now, this is a strictly internal dispute between father and son. Just keep an eye on things and let us know if anything changes."

"Wilco. Jones out," the blonde responded, before trying to get as comfortable as she could on the back of her bike.
Deciding that Sheila had a point, the gamers decided they would take her advice once they reached the dragon's castle. In the meantime, they had to get through the forest first. They trekked through the woods for about half an hour, keeping an eye out for potential threats, when they spotted a huge spiderweb woven between two trees, with what looked to be a small ball of light caught in it.

"Help me!" Cried a tiny voice coming from the light "Please!" Andy suddenly had an idea "Hey guys, I think we're supposed to rescue this fairy. Maybe it can lead us through the forest to the dragon's castle!"

"Or this could be a trap." Said Steven "Some fairies are known to be tricksters. If we try to save it, we could get caught in the web ourselves. Then what do we do?"

As they debated on whether to save the fairy, a huge brood of gigantic spiders silently descended from the trees above them, ready to ensnare then all.
Steven looked up. "Ready arrows and such. We got company. If you know magic, be careful with fire spells, given the location."
         Drawing there weapons, everyone took care of the spiders as they decended.
         When all was said and done, And had a idea.
         Being the thief of the group, he took time to extract the venom of the spiders into vial he had.
         In the end, he had a good 25 vials full of venom and divided them up evenly with everyone..
         "Don't know about you guys, but I think we'll need any leg up on the dragon."
         Nodding in agreement, they turned to the fairy still stuck in the web.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"I should have thought of that," Sheila remarked as she happily took her fair share of the vials that Andy was passing out. She was the assassin, after all. But Andy was doing a better job of being "in character" than she was. Sheila mentally admonished herself to step up her game.

"Time to slice the little lady out," Akira announced, brandishing his sword. The rest of the adventurers quickly restrained their party's knight.

"Maybe we should try something a little more subtle," Amelia suggested. The blonde mumbled something and a glow appeared at the top of her staff. The glow hovered above Amelia. then slowly rose to cover the web ensnared fairy. The glow disappeared, and the fairy was released.

The eighteen centimeter tall fairy who hovered in front of the adventuring party looked as if she could have stepped out of a Disney straight to DVD movie.t

"Thank you for rescuing me," the fairy began. With a wave of her hand, a map appeared. "That will lead you through the forest and to the dragon's castle. And now I will ask you two riddles. Whoever provides a correct answer first to each riddle, I will reward by enchanting one of their weapons."

"I hate riddles," Amelia confided to Steven.

"The first riddle is thus," the fairy continued, ignoring Amelia's aside, "Who is the father who has twice six sons? These sons have thirty daughters apiece, more or less, though some have one more and one has two less. Each daughter is bicolored, having one cheek white and the other black. The daughters never see each other’s face, nor live more than twenty-four hours each.”

"The year!" Sheila answered excitedly. "The twice six sons are the twelve months, and the daughters are the days of the year."

"Very good, assassin," the fairy acknowledged. Both of Sheila's hand crossbows glowed briefly. "One last riddle then, open to all except for the assassin. As I flew to the fairy's circle, I met a dwarf king with seven troll servants. Each troll carried a chest, and inside each chest were seven imps. Each imp commanded seven homunculi slaves. Dwarf, trolls, imps, homunculus; how many were going to the fairy's circle?"
Since Steven and Amelia had their staves, which were basically enchanted already, they left it to Akira and Andy to answer the fairy's riddle.
"The answer is one."
         Looking to Akira, Andy only nodded in being beaten.
         "Congratulations sir knight."
         Moving a hand, the fairy enchanted his armor to resist elemental attacks"
         Reaching a hand out, Andy handed a pair of daggers that was the fairies size.
         "Figured these might be yours."
         Taking them back, she sheathed them.
         "Yes, thank you. Is there a way I can repay you?"
         Shaking his head no, he smiled.
         "You can thank me by returning home safely miss.
         Nodding, she said her fair wells before disappearing.

-In A Undisclosed Location-


         A young red head woman was taking off a VR helmet looking to another woman, her face hidden in the shadows.
         "Mission accomplished High Queen."
         Nodding at her accomplishment, they turned to a screen as they watched the players.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
As Andy returned the fairy her daggers, Amelia had the presence of mind to retrieve the map the fairy had left behind.

There was not just one but three routes mapped out, each one leading to the dragon's castle. Each route started at the middle of the map, where a spider's web was depicted. One route looked straight forward, and only had one obstacle depicted: a canyon labeled "Chasm of Chaos," with the drawing of a rickety bridge crossing it. The second route led into a labyrinth with jack o'lanterns randomly placed through it. The third route had the drawing of three separate bulezau, with each one bigger than the last.

Amelia carried the map over to the other gamers. "Which way do you think we should go?" she asked.
"Well, we already got through one maze, so I'd rather not go that route." Said Sheila, the others agreeing. "So it's the bridge or a battle with demons then." Said Andy. "Neither sound very enticing."

Just then, they heard a loud, rather bizarre sound. It sounded like a mix between a ferocious roar, and the clucking of a chicken. And it sounded very close by.

"Everybody, close your eyes and keep them shut!" They all did so, not knowing exactly why. ""What is it?" Asked Andy "It's a cockatrice." Said Steven "Don't let it look you in the eyes, or you'll be turned to stone."

"I thought they killed you with their gaze?" Said Akira "Either way, whatever you do, don't look at it."

They could hear the beast's footsteps about ten yards away, coming closer and closer. The monster circled slowly circled the group, silently daring them to open their eyes. They all did their best not to shake in fear.
"Okay," said Steven. "I'm going to summon a minion. Might prove useful." He began muttering. He felt the magic come from him.

"I'll do the same," said Amelia. She too began muttering.

"Orders," a voice said.

"Orders," said another.

"Defend me and my friends from anything endangering our lives."

"As my friend said - protect us."

"Yes."

"Yes."

There was the strike of weapon upon a body, along with a screech. There was the sound of something running.

"The threat is gone," the one voice said.

"It is safe to open your eyes," said the other.

As the group opened their eyes, standing before them was a skeleton swordsman, and an angel archer.

"This is kind of cool," said Steven.

"Agreed," said Amelia.

"We are at your service, masters," the skeleton said.

"Command us for as long as you need us," the angel said.

"I think that we should let them have free will," said Steven. "I don't like the idea of having a slave."

"Agreed," said Amelia.

"You're free to leave," Steven to the skeleton. "If you wish to stay with us, that's your choice."

"The same holds true for you," Amelia said to the angel.

The skeleton and angel looked at each other.

"Sounds like we got summoned by some good masters," said the skeleton.

"I agree with you, for once," the angel said.

They looked at the pair.

"I am Cedric," the skeleton said. "My sword is yours to command."

"I am Zaron," the angel said. "My bow is also yours to command."
         Thinking, Andy thought about something the sign outside the forest said.
         "Hey guys, remember what the sign said at the forest entry way? "Through the forest a dragon waits. Gaurding a princes in its sleep. In this forest, a way to defeat it waits." Amelia, does there seem to be anything on the map that might look like it maybe hiding something? A shrine or temple maybe?"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
Amelia frowned as she studied the map.

"Maybe..." she said tentatively. She moved to stand by Andy, "Look at this. On the chasm, there looks like what I think is a ladder, and if you squint, it almost looks like a dragon's head right by it. One of the jack o'lanterns in the maze, the one in the center, looks a little like a dragon's head. And on the path with the three bulezau, the last bulezau, the biggest one, looks like it's standing on a dragon's head. Maybe the dragon's head is a symbol for whatever can defeat the dragon?" The hesitation was very audible in Amelia's voice.

"Zaron, could you fly over and check out some things out for us?" Amelia asked.

"While I serve. I may not fly," Zaron said in a solemn voice.

"Of course you can't," Amelia said with a sigh. She was about to ask Steven a question when the following message appeared at the top of the map:


NONE SAVE THE DRAGON MAY FLY UNTIL THE PRINCESS IS RESCUED

"Of course we can't," Amelia observed, clearly exasperated. Turning to the other adventurers, she asked, "So what do we do?"
"Looks like we'll have to bite the bullet and walk." Said Steven. Just then, it began to rain. Hard. "Well, you really have to give Mr. Weltz credit for his virtual technology." Said Andy "It actually feels like we're getting soaked!"
"Let's hope that certain other things aren't so realistic," said Steven.
         All nodding they all took cover insidr a cave to start a fire and waited out the storm.
         While everyone was waiting, Andy decided to have a talk to Shiela further back in the cave.
         "I'm sorry about the spider venom, it's just, with this hacker attacking and all, I just feel as though we need to get any leg up that we can."
         Nodding her head in understanding, she patted his back.
         "No worries, the more I think about it, our character life style are pretty similar."
         "Right."
         "Sides, it's like a wise man once said: 'Sometimes the best good guys, are bad guys.'
         "Nathan Ford: Leverage, right?"
         Giggling, Sheila nodded.
         "Exactly, now come on, we better go to the others and plan."
         "Right."
         Returning to the others, they noticed to storm stopped and seemed safe to travel on.
         Unknown to them, somebody, or something, was watching them from the shadows.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"So have we decided which way we're going?" Akira asked, brandishing his sword. "I vote for the path with the goat demons. I ran an adventure once where dipping your blood in a certain demon's blood make your sword a vorpal blade, at least for the duration of the adventure. Maybe the same is true with the blood of goat demons."

From the shadows, there was a soft chuckle, though it was so soft, it was outside the range of hearing of the adventurers.
As the contestants tried to decide their next move, a long tentacle slithered out from the dark along the ground, wrapping around Amelia's ankle, who let out a scream as she was suddenly yanked back into the darkness.

Drawing their weapons once again, the others immediately pursued her and whatever it was that had taken her.
Zaron got out their bow and arrows, and loosed several arrows. One hit the tentacle holding Amelia. There was a screech, and the tentacle let go.

Cedric reached Amelia, and escorted her back to the party.

"What was that?" Amelia asked.

"There's a lot of creatures with tentacles," said Zaron.

"Might even be a new one, or some variant," said Cedric.
         Searching around, nobody seen anything, but they could hear they creature moving around them, sizing them up like a predator to prey.
         Taking a bottle of the spider-venom, Andy dipped his twin daggers into it before holding one to his ear and closed his eyes.
         Seeing his plan, Shiela did the same with her arrows before setting her crossbow before taking aim.
         As if nothing else existed, the teams thief and assassin listened as the creature continued to circle them.
         As if sensing it, the two fired to the top of a treetop, both aiming at to same target.
         *SCREEEEEERCCCCCCCCHHHHHHH*
Past Member 'princessnat32'
A silhouette emerged from the treetops, a confusing one, one that was constantly morphing from one shape to another. It was hard to tell what exactly the shape was as it quickly flew off into the distance, but it seemed to be composed of tentacles and huge batwings.

"I thought none but the dragon were supposed to fly," Amelia remarked, rubbing her ankle, which was clearly discolored. Almost as an afterthought, the blonde muttered something in a low voice. A brief glow appeared around her ankle, and the discoloration disappeared.

Almost as if it heard Amelia's objection to its inconsistency, the flying shape suddenly dropped out of the sky and landed, somewhere in the distance with a loud thud.

Akira, a bored expression on his face, asked, "So are we going to go fight the goat demons or what?"
The group decided they may as well go with Akira's plan, and prepared themselves for battle. They followed the map in the direction of the bulezau, before finding them blocking the path to the dragon's castle.

"None may pass." Growled the smallest one "Unless you can defeat us it combat." Said the largest. The group was confident they could take the goat demons on, with their enchanted and poisoned weapons and all. But unknown to the players, the three bulezau had a trick for their them up their sleeve.
Steven grinned. "I got an idea. Just back me up, in case things go wrong."

He stepped forward. "Which one of you is the best in combat?"

"I am," said the largest.

"Funny, but I'd wager ten gold that they are the best in combat," Steven said, pointing at the smallest one. "Big ones can hit hard alright, but little ones slip in, unnoticed, and get the real kills. I'd wager that the little one can beat the big one in a fight."
         Seeing Steven's plan, Akira and Andy smirked as they walked up to him.
         Out of the two, Akira was the first to speak.
         "Nah, I think the big guy can take the small fry. Don't you agree Andy?"
         Pretending to observe the two, Andy only laughed.
         "Nah, Small guy always win. Don't ya remember when David went and fought Goliath?"
         Seeing the two on board, Steven laughed.
         "Yes, thank you!"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"You dummies!" A fourth bulezau appeared, one that was a twice as big as the largest bulezau. For a moment, the bulezau had William Weltz's face. "Stop listening and start killing!"

The other three bulezau grew as large as the new one. An aura of fire surrounded each bulezau, and an axe dripping acid appeared in each of their hands. Each bulezau momentarily had William Weltz's face. It was an evil face with an evil grin, cackling, as the four bulezau advanced on the adventurers, their axes swinging.

"This bodes ill," Andy observed.
Thinking quickly, Steven cast a spell that summoned a forcefield around the group, that deflected any attack the four behemoths attempted.

"You can't stay in there forever." One of the monsters growled, and he was right. The spell had a rather long cool down period, and only lasted for a few minutes. Still, it bought them time to come up with a new plan, albeit briefly.
Steven did some calculating. "I think we can take them, if we had more skeletons and angels," he said. "I can summon six more skeletons. Amelia?"

"Six more as well," said Amelia.

"Okay," said Steven. "Cedric, you're in charge of the skeleton crew. They get the same deal as you."

"Zaron, you lead the angels," said Amelia. "They also get the same deal."

"As you wish," the skeleton and angel said, at the same time.

"I hope it works," Andy said, as the two spellcasters started muttering and chanting.

Skeletons and angels started appearing, looking at those that tended to be their foes, in confusion, until Cedric and Zaron explained things to them.

"Everyone up to date on who is friend, and who is foe?" Steven asked.

"Yes," said Cedric.

"I made sure of it," said Zaron.

"Good, because I'm out of spellslots of that level," said Steven. "Still got the lower leveled spells, and cantrips."

"Same here," said Amelia. "Still, an extra dozen targets should make things more difficult for those four."
         Readying there weapons, they waited with bated breathe.
         It wasn't long till the barrier came down when both sides started to charge one another.
         Both the Angels and Skelotons made quick work of the frontlines as our heroes divided the rest and picked them off.
         Just as quick as the battle began.          It ended.
         As our heroes took time to relax and regain there strength, Andy took time to go among the fallen foes to scavange anythinh that might come in handy later.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
As Andy began scavenging among the fallen demons, roots began rapidly shooting out from nearby trees. wrapping themselves around the rapidly deteriorating demon bodies. Within the blink of an eye, the bodies were gone and the battle field was covered with gnarled tree roots.

A mass of roots formed a circle in the center, then began splitting apart. When they split apart, they revealed stone stairs leading downward into the earth.

With a gesture of her staff, Amelia gestured for Zaron and his squad of angels to enter the hole. The angels got within ten feet of the hole and suddenly stopped. "We can go no further," Zaron announced.

Steven gestured at Cedric, and the skeleton tried to lead the other skeletons into the hole. They stopped at the same place as the angels had. "We are similarly barred," Cedric advised Steven.

"Look," Akira said, pointing with his sword. A swirling stream of multi-colored smoke emerged from the hole. The smoke briefly took the shape of a dragon before dissipating.

"Do you think that whatever it is that is supposed to help us defeat the dragon, is down that hole?" Akira asked.
"Only one way to find out." Said Steven. The group descended the staircase down into the earth, and found what looked to be a golden spear, hovering in mid air in the center of a small chamber.

"I take it this will slay the dragon." Said Andy. But as he went to retrieve the spear, he was stopped by Amelia "Wait. This is too easy. There's got to be another trap of some kind." She cast Detect Magic, and sure enough, it revealed a sort of field surrounding the spear. Sheila threw a stone at it, and it disintegrated on impact.

"Well, now what do we do?" Said Amelia "Something tells me a simple Dispell won't work here."
"There's always a trick or three," said Steven. "Perhaps blood that one willingly shed."
         Being a thief, Andy started to take a closer look at the field and saw a line of magical smoke leading to a crack in one of the walls.
         "Hang on guys, I think I know how to get around this."
         Looking to him, everyone only gave confused looks.
         "How then?"
         Pointing to the line of magic, he explained.
         "In a old game called The Elder Scrolls, they had special items called soul gems to recharge magic infused weapons, armor, some even power special traps set up in graves. I think the same principle might be being used here."
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"So all we have to do is open the crack," Akira announced. Without hesitation (and ignoring the collective "Wait!" that emanated from the mouths of the other adventurers), Akira shouted "Leroy Jenkins" and struck the crack with an overhand blow of his sword.

There was a flash of blinding light, then the floor disappeared. Without warning, the adventurers dropped thirty feet.

The good news was that each of the adventurers landed in varying substances that broke their fall. Sheila landed in a haystack. Steven and Amelia landed in a pool of stagnant water with a soft mud bottom. Andy landed in a particularly foul pile of overripe manure.

Akira landed in a pile of goose down pillows. Sometimes there is no justice.

The adventurers picked themselves up to find themselves in a pit with smooth walls. The spear hovered over them, thirty feet above their heads.

"Well, that didn't work out as planned," Akira said as he stood up, brushing a few feathers off himself. Akira took a sniff and asked, "Hey, what's that smell?"
"Smells like...sulfur?" Said Amelia, just a poison gas began to rise from the bottom of the pit. Everybody held their breath, but just being in the presence of the gas was damaging their character's health. If they didn't escape soon, they would all lose a life. The walls of the pit were smooth, with nothing to climb on.They were beginning to feel dizzy from lack of air...
"Daggers," said Steven. "Might be able to use them to climb."
         Both Shiela and Andy nodded and started to hand everyone a set of daggers.
         "Okay guys, remember, especially you Akira."
         "HEY!"
         "Careful where you place each dagger. One wrong move and this whole place could go up. With all of us in it."
         As they all nodded, they each took a different wall, and began to climb there way out.

At the Hackers Van

         While watching the players make there way out, William thinking of a way to stop them.
         "Seeing ad that damn tentacle monster I programed in failed, lets see how they handle something more... durable..."
         Typing away, he begam to program a creature he was sure can stop them.
         "Beware brave hero's, for the darkness hold many secrets."

Within the Cave

         As our hero's proceed to the top, a monsterous roar came from the bottom of the pit.
         Looking back down, the players couldn't believe what they were looking at.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
The Pit

When Amelia was a little girl of eight, her form was visited by a biologist from the Holkham National Nature Reserve. The young female scientist brought a number of representatives of the area's fauna with her, and even taught Amelia and her classmates their Latin names.

At that moment, one in particular came to Amelia's mind: Euroleon nostras. The scientific name translated as "our European ant lion."

Amelia had held the antlion in her palm, and giggled when it moved around.

Nothing about the monstrous antlion that had emerged from the bottom of the pit was making Amelia giggle now. It's huge mandibles looked as if it could snap through any of the adventurers with ease.

It was more than adequate motivation not to slip back down into the pit.

The Alley

The ridiculously hot blonde who had been quietly observing the van with William in it lifted her wrist to her face when it beeped. Two words emanated from the watch: "Do it."

The blonde stuffed her hair and head back into helmet. She then produced a hockey puck sized object from her jacket and slid it expertly several yards across the ground until it came to rest under William's van. She then quickly sped away.

Seconds later, there was a bright flash as the puck exploded, creating a small electromagnetic pulse that fried every electronic device in William's van.

The Pit

As can be imagined, Andy and Sheila were the first to emerge from the pit. It was surprising that Amelia was the third to get to the top. Perhaps she was especially motivated since she had actually had a real life encounter with the predator below them (albeit a miniaturized version).

As Steven and Akira struggled to reach the top, the gigantic antlion began spitting large rocks at them. When Steven and Akira were just out of reach of Andy, Sheila and Amelia at the top, the antlion's projectiles hit both of them in the back, loosening their holds on their climbing daggers.
Steven and Akira tried with all their might to hold on, but it was no good. Their daggers broke loose of the wall, and they both plummeted into the antlion's jaws below. Only to respawn beside the other players a few seconds later. Thankful they had some spare lives on hand, but somewhat aggravated that their chances of winning the game had diminished all the more, they retrieved the golden spear and made their way back up the stairs to the surface.
"Seriously, they ought to give back our lives whenever that hacker puts in their cheats," said Steven.
         Nodding his head in agreement, Andy understood his frustration.
         "I actually agree with you Steven."
         Looking to him, Steven was curious.
         "Why is that Andy?"
         Chuckling a little, Andy got a bit serious.
         "If I was gonna win this, I rather win through my own abilities. Plus, I rather make friends, not enimies."
         As everyone yelled in agreement, they made it out just as the sun was setting.

In The undisclosed Location

         Watching the contestants on the screen, a woman started to get into VR equipment, prepareing to enter the game herself.
         "Remember your task, and good luck Nightingale."
         Bowing her head in respect, the woman known as Nightingale smiled.
         "It shall be done my queen"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
Alley

William got out of his van, cursing. Not only was his hacking equipment fried, but the van was dead too. William's shoulders sagged as he knew the only thing to do was hike out to the main street, flag down a cab and head back to his flat.

A small part of William's mind was telling him that his present circumstances was entirely of his own making. That small part of his mind told him that he could reconcile with his father and accept the fact that someone else would run his father's company. William knew in his heart of hearts that he neither wanted nor was qualified to run his father's company. William knew he could lead a very comfortable life just by living off the profits of the non-voting shares of the company his father wanted to give him.

The rest of William's mind brutally shoved that small part aside. William placed his present humiliation squarely on the shoulders of those five kids who were competing for the position that was supposed to be his. Rightfully his. Destined to be his. And he was going to make those five meddlesome brats pay!

With a renewed purpose in mind, William went in search of a taxi.

The Forest

As the five adventurers hiked through the forest, Akira examined the spear that they had reclaimed from the pit. As the warrior of the party, the rest of the group had given the spear to him, albeit with a warning to be cautious with it.

"That was a very interesting assessment you made back there, rogue," a quiet voice said from behind the group. The adventurers spun around, weapons in hand, to find themselves facing a gnomish bald man in red robes.

"Hey, I know you," Amelia exclaimed. "You're Dungeon Master. My great-gran watched your cartoon when he was my age. All those cartoons are on YouTube now," Amelia told the rest of the group.

"Indeed," Dungeon Master responded with a nod and a smile. "Domination Digital bought the rights to the characters for that animation more than a decade ago, so I like to use this image when interfacing with adventurers such as yourself. I am Domination Digital's Master Artificial Intelligence, in charge of monitoring in-game activities."

"Artificial Intelligence? You mean like Skynet? Or Tron?" Steven asked hesitantly.

Dungeon Master laughed heartily. "Hardly. Why would I want to limit myself to one world wherenI would always have limited access, when I have literally thousands of worlds online to visit, with millions of stories unfolding at any given moment? If there is a fictional character I'm more akin to, it would be the Watcher from Marvel Comics. My job at Domination Digital is to monitor the various games going online, fix what glitches I can, and alert the programmers of the glitches I can't."

"So why haven't you stopped that hacker who's been interfering with this competition?" Steven said in an accusatory tone.

With outstretched palms, Dungeon Master answered, "I'm powerful in this world, but not omnipotent. I am just a program, after all, even if I am a very complex one. A skilled hacker, whom you've been having to deal with, has resources that can thwart me."

"However, the rogue and mage are correct," Dungeon Master observed. "You shouldn't be penalized for lives lost to this hacker." The Dungeon Master waved a hand and a glowing +1 appeared over the heads of Akira and Steven. "Your lost life has been restored,"

Dungeon Master turned to Amelia, Andy and Sheila and waved his hand. A glowing +1 appeared over their heads. Their bodies immediately felt whole, and the "scents" they had picked up in the pit disappeared. "Healer, rogue, assassin, you are each awarded one bonus life for your accomplishments."

"Now two more changes and a clue, before I tend to business elsewhere. First..." Dungeon Master tapped the breastplate of a startled Akira, causing a momentary glow. "I am altering the enchantment the fairy made to your armor. It is no longer resistant to elemental attacks. It is resistant to dragon attacks. However, it does not make you impervious to them. So do not be foolhardy in your attacks. Take to heart the lesson of the pit of the antlion." Blushing, Akira nodded at the admonishment.

Walking to Andy, he handed the thief a pouch the size of a breadbox. "I assume you are familiar with the bag of holding?" Andy nodded. "Good. I don't know if it will come in handy, but perhaps it might. As I said, I'm powerful, but I'm not omnipotent. I can't see all futures."

"Okay, you lot, come with me. Your job here is done," Dungeon Master said to the angels and skeletons. He led the troupe of summoned beings into a cluster of trees and said over his shoulders, :You have learned than an interloper is not your friend. But you may meet interlopers who are not your enemy. And in the end, there may not have to be only one."

"Hey, wait, what do you mean by that?" Andy said, running after Dungeon Master. When Andy got to the copse of trees, he found the AI had disappeared, along with the skeletons and angels. "He just vanished," Andy told the rest of the group.

"Yeah, he did that in the cartoons all the time," Amelia noted wryly. "So what now?"
"Now, we finish this level, and move on to the next one." Said Steven, as he pointed to a menacing looking fortress in the distance. "We're nearly there."

They made their way to the dragon's keep with no interference from hackers or any in-game threats. They reached the castle to see the drawbridge was down and the portcullis already raised.

""At least we don't have to worry about finding a way in." Said Andy "Do you think the dragon is expecting us?" Asked Sheila "The dragon is basically programed as the boss of this level, so probably, yes." Said Steven. They crossed the drawbridge into the main hall, which was rather drab and dreary, with bones scattered about and torn tapestries adorning the walls.

Ascending the main staircase to the upper level, they came to a long, dark hallway lined with doors. As they passed one door in particular, Akita heard a feint voice whisper his name from it. Curious, he broke off from the group and went to investigate.

Behind the door was several scantily clad women with horns and pointed tails. The immediately gathered around him, rubbing their bodies against him and flirting.

One of them whispered in his ear "Why don't you take off that armor and let us make you more comfy?" with a sultry tone. In the back of his mind, Akira knew he must resist, but some unseen force compelled him to obey, as he put down his weapons and began to take off his armor.

He knew these were succubi, and he should run or kill them, but that part of his mind was drowned out by their spell, which compelled men to obey their every whim. After his armor was off, one of the demons embraced him and pulled him into a passionate kiss.

While he was distracted, the other succubi grabbed his armor and weapons, including the golden spear, and vanished. The remaining demoness continued to make out with Akira, draining his extra lives minus one for every thirty seconds they kissed.

Just then...
Steven came up and smashed his staff over the head of one of the succubi. "Rule 1 of this sort of stuff - Never Split the Party!"

"Then where's the rest of your party?" a succubi asked.

"Behind you!"
         Before the sucubi could strike, a dagger was forced its way through her heart, killing her.
         As she fell, everyone else is seen carrying his armor and golden spear.
         "We took care of the rest of them. Oh, and Akira?"
         Getting a bit worried, Akira looked solemed as he knew he made a mistake yet again.
         "Go ahead Andy, say it. I'm a screw up. I don't act like a team player and I'm only slowing everyone down. I should just- OW! What was that for Andy?!"
         Before he could finnish, he got a suite of armor thrown at his head.
         "Talk like that again, and I'll personally end your last two lives myself!"
         A bit surprised, Akira shut his trap and listened.
         "Look, a knight is suppose to have the backs of his or her comrads. Defend those who can't defend themsrlves."
         Reaching into the bag of holding, he pulled out a couple of health potions and tossed them to Akira.
         "Now, get yourself ready. A princess is waiting for her knight. Best not keep her waiting, right?"
         Thinking of how he messed up, and how he knew he needed to act as a real team player.
         Getting a serious face, Akira downed the potion, regaining his health, and started to place his armor back on.
         Looking to Andy, Akira nodded to him.
         "Okay guys, tell me the plan, and I'll follow."
         Seeing Akira's renewed spirit, they dove deeper into the castle.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
Akira internally sighed as the group rescued him once again. He had always excelled at the solo games, with him either running solo characters, or with any additional characters being NPCs strictly under his own control. Even in group player settings, Akira had never had to play as cooperatively as he was having to play now. Akira had always been able to do what he wanted, without really worrying about the input of other players.

Now Akira was having to pay the price for his impulsiveness. Worse, a fellow player, Steven, had had to suffer because Akira had unilaterally decided how to free the spear at the pit of the giant antlion. Steven may have gotten his life restored, but he still had one less life than Amelia, Andy and Sheila, thanks to Akira's actions.

Amelia sidle up to Akira and whispered "It'll be okay, Akira." This actually made the young Japanese gamer feel worse. He felt again the guilt of being the player the other gamers had to carry.

No more, Akira decided, a determined look coming to his face. He was going to take Andy's words to heart. The group would come up with a plan, and Akira would follow his part.

----------------

Sheila and Andy took turns preceding the party as it moved deeper into the castle, checking for traps and other obstacles. Sheila even managed to spot and disarm a trap that Andy missed. She gave her best saucy wink to Andy as she disarmed the trap, to which the Canadien gave a grin and bowed his head in acknowledgment of the Australian's momentary superiority.

Then the party came to a long corridor, with the stones on the floor flashing different colors. Each time a stone flashed a color, a different note would sound.

"So can anyone make heads or tails of this?" Steven asked, as the group watched in silence for a few minutes. Everyone collectively shook their head. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the pattern of colors or sounds.

The group started to discuss their options, but were silenced by Akira, who held up one hand while his face was scrunched up in studious thought. Then he got a huge grin on his face.

"The reason we can't see a pattern is because there are two patterns interwoven," Akira said excitedly. "One is a western melody, using a twelve note scale, while the other is Japanese, using a five note scale." Akira almost ran out to the floor to solve the problem himself, but stopped himself in his tracks. "We can solve it pretty fast if we work together."

With a smile on his face, Andy slapped the Japanese knight on the shoulder. "Just tell us what to do, buddy."

Akira had each of the other players stand on one of the stones, then wait as the odd note/color combinations played for five minutes. Suddenly, the corridor went dark and silent. In the blink of an eye, the corridor became well lit again, but the changing lights and sounds had vanished.

A large glowing +1 appeared over Akira's head. The rest of the adventurers gave Akira an impromptu ovation, and Amelia even gave him a hug. To Akira, the English girl's chaste embrace felt better than anything the succubi had been doing to him earlier.

----------------

Elsewhere in the castle, a beautiful woman appeared out of thin air. It had taken her longer than she expected to insert herself into the game. They had been piggybacking on William's hack of the game. But her Queen had ordered one of her sisters to end William's hacking in the real world, so another avenue into the game had to be sought out.

No matter. She was here now, and ready to do her Queen's bidding.

----------------

By the time he got back to his apartment, William was in a particularly foul mood. He had to suffer a number of minor personal indignities on his way home, but no matter. It would be nothing in comparison to the indignities those meddling brats would suffer when he finished with them.





Back with the players, after solving the rhythm puzzle, they could make out a set of large double doors at the end of the hallway. "Who wants to bet the dragon is behind those doors, waiting for us?" Said Andy. Preparing themselves for battle, they beagn to march down the final stretch of hallway. But after a few minutes, they realized this was taking a lot longer than it should have.

"Shouldn't we have gotten there by now?" Said Amelia "And is it me, or is the end of the hall getting farther away?" Said Steven. Indeed, the hallway seemed to be stretching longer with each step they took.
"Okay, I think I know this trick," said Steven. "There was an exploit in an old Mario game. The player character could get to the Endless Stairs leading to Bowser, but unless they had the needed stars, the stairs kept going forever. However, speed-runners, not wanting to get the stars, could turn around, and do a bunch of backwards jumps, getting to Bowser's world."
         Looking to Steven, Andy was a bit confused.
         "So, what are ya saying? In order to go forward, we go backwards?"
Past Member 'princessnat32'
"Don't worry, I got this," Akira said as he brandished the dragon killing spear. With a loud shout of "Leroy Jenkins!", Akira took a large step toward the double doors...

And stopped. Grinning at the other adventurers, he added, "Don't worry, guys, I don't do the impulse thing anymore. I talk things out now. But I got no idea what to do here."

Andy was still scratching his head, not quite following Steven's explanation. "So, as I understand it, what you're saying is, speed runners...players in a hurry...not wanting to collect the items necessary to disable the endless stairs, had a workaround that would circumvent the endless stairs."

"Exactly," Steven replied.

"So is the walkaround here just jumping backwards?" Amelia asked.

"Only one way to find out," Sheila observed.

The players tried a different assortment and combination of backward jumps, but nothing seemed to work.

"Maybe we should try to collect the stars or whatever it is that will neutralize the endless hallway," Amelia suggested. The frustration in Amelia's voice was obvious. But then, the adventurers hadspent the last half hour trying to figure out how to stop the "endless stair" effects, with no success.

"Wait a second," Andy remarked, as he pulled out the bag of holding the Dungeon Master had given him. On a whim, Andy held the bag upside down and began shaking it. Dozens of stars flew out of the bag and plastered themselves on the wall.

The adventurers were now able to walk up to the double doors.

Standing right next to the double doors, Akira brandished the golden spear as he said, "I guess this is it."
From beyond the doors, a loud rumbling noise could be heard. "Is that... snoring?" Said Amelia. Slowly opening the doors, the party looked into the room beyond, they saw a huge chamber filled with gold and various other treasures. Laying in the center of the treasure room was the dragon, asleep. But there was no sign of any princess.

"Do you think the princess is beyond the dragon in another room?" Said Andy. "Or maybe in another castle." Said Sheila, making the others chuckle.

"Andy, you're the thief, maybe you can sneak past and look behind the dragon, see if there's another room or something back there." Steven whispered, Andy nodding and silently stepping into the room to scout ahead.
"Let's just hope that the princess isn't inside the dragon, one way or another," said Steven. "That would be the sort of thing a cheater might do."
         Before looking to Akira to talk, said person beat him to it.
         "If anything happens, I'll get them out, taking the dragon's breathe. Be safe, okay?"
         Nodding, Andy entered the room with complete silence being his guide.
         Staying in the shadows, he moved to the far side of the room, making sure not to step on anything that might make noise.
         While moving to the far side, Andy took a glimpse at the dragon and noticed something odd.
         Moving himself behind one of the columns in the room, he took a closer look.
         When he did, he went pale.
         'The damn hacker again.'
         Upon the neck of the dragon was a necklace adorned with many gems.
         Unfortunately, what cought his eye was the diamond in the center.
         As he looked closer, he made out the form of the one person they had to save from this mighty beast.
         'He just had to place her in the necklace.'
         With this information in mind, he started to make his way back to talk about what he seen.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
The dragon rolled in his sleep, with one of its wings stretching out. The wing knocked Andy down and pinned him in place. The dragon's slumber went uninterrupted during the whole process.
Now what could Andy do? He was trapped beneath the dragon's wing, unable to move, and he couldn't call out for help, or he would risk waking the dragon. Then he'd really be in trouble. He figured all he could do was wait for the others to get impatient and come looking for him. Which might take a while.
That was when he saw Steven creep up. The mage of the party looked at him from a distance. The look on their face told enough.

Steven pointed at him, and then his eyes.

On the plus side, Andy's arm was free. He made a motion, as if showing off something on his neck.

Steven looked, and nodded. They turned back.

Steven rejoined the group.

"What's taking Andy so long?" Amelia asked.

"He's pinned under the dragon's wing," said Steven. "He can't move too well. Also, there's something important around the dragon's neck. A necklace of some sort - got quite a bit of power on it."
         Looking to Shiela, Steven told her all he knew about the room.
         After getting all the info, she quietly moved into the room and climbed up into the rafters.
         Carefully moving through the upper part of the room, she got a glimspe of what Andy told Steven.
         After making her way back, she cought her breathe.
         "Okay, good news, Andy located the princess."
         Knowing that there had to be more, Akira decided to speak up.
         "And the bad news?"
         Slumping, Shiela relented on what she saw.
         "The princess is inside the diamond thats on the necklace that is currently on the dragons neck."
         As a collective groan sounded about the four gamers, they realized just how hard of a job they had now that there thief was stuck under the beast, and their goal was litterally around a dragon's neck.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
The Real World

Just a few blocks away from William's flat was an establishment called The Whiny Cur. The outside was designed to look like an English-style pub that had been in the neighborhood for decades, if not centuries. There was even a placard hanging outside of The Whiny Cur, with a well muscled anthropomorphic pig in laborer's clothes kicking a diapered anthropomorphic wolf who was squatting on the ground crying.

The interior of The Whiny Cur was much different than the exterior. Inside was a state of the art internet café, complete with a coffee bar. It also had a wine bar for evening customers, and a small stage for local performance artists to showcase their talents on the weekends.

William wasn't interested in any of this, however. As he walked in and through the café, he ignored greetings from the servers and headed straight toward and through a door marked MANAGEMENT ONLY.

A few years ago, William used part of the money his father had given him to invest in The Whiny Cur. He had since received noteworthy returns on his investment, but that wasn't why he was here tonight. As part owner of The Whiny Cur, William had his own private office at the café. An office with special capabilities.

The office was wired to allow its occupant high powered and untraceable access to the internet. William had not used the office, reserving it for an emergency. But with his van and hacking equipment fried, William felt it safe to say that this was an emergency.

William quickly booted up all the equipment in the office, and was soon watching unseen the scene in the dragon's lair. With a grin, he began making entries into his keyboard.

The Dragon's Castle

"I'm going to sneak down there and take another look," announced Steven. "See if there's something I missed."

"Maybe I should do it," suggested Sheila. "I am the assassin, after all. I'm the only character besides Andy's thief that was designed for sneaking and creeping around."

"I've been down there already," Steven replied in a tone that was almost dismissive. "I think I know what I'm doing."

Amelia and Sheila exchanged a look and a shake of the head as the party's mage began creeping back toward where the pinned thief was. Akira clenched his jaw, reminding himself not to do anything impulsive.

William's Office In The Whiny Cur

William chuckled as he saw the scene unfold on his computer screen. He made an entry on his keyboard and waited to see what happened next.

The Dragon's Castle

As Steven crept back down towards Andy, the large double doors leading into the dragon's lair closed with a loud bang. The sound of the doors locking echoed throughout the chamber.

Surprisingly, the dragon didn't awaken from the sound. It did roll and stretch. This resulted in a pinion going all the way through Andy's body. The dragon also snored/snorted/coughed a fireball. The fireball caught the creeping Steven square on, reducing his body to ashes. Before Andy and Steven disappeared, a giant -1 appeared over their bodies.

The three remaining adventurers remained perfectly still, but nothing else happened. The dragon settled into an even deeper sleep.

"What do we do now?" Amelia asked.

"We wait for Andy and Steven to rejoin us before we take action," Sheila answered. Akira nodded in agreement.

Andy and Steven respawned outside the chamber, right by the locked doors.

"This is so unfair," Steven whined. "They need to do something about that hacker."

"We haven't got time to complain right now," Andy countered as he examined the doors. "We need to focus on rejoining Amelia, Akira and Sheila."
Andy searched through his bag until he found what he was searching for, a lockpick. "Do you know how to use that?" Steven asked "I know the basics, yeah. Let's just hope it's enough to open the door."

"I'm going to tell you this, those last two deaths were stupid, and pointless," Steven said, quietly. "Granted, accidents occur, but that reminded me of a terrible writer that just kills folks off for no good reason - not even for plot, or to motivate the main character. I mean, what are the odds that it would kill both of us in its sleep, just as the big door slams loud enough to wake the dead, yet it doesn't wake up?"

"What would you prefer in a death?" Andy asked, as he worked on one of the locks.

"The kind where I can at least shout out a warning to the others, try to hold off the minions, maybe save someone else's life," said Steven. "Still, I'm surprised that the dragon is still asleep, even with the door slamming like it did. It's not plausible."

"So, what do you think is going on?" Andy asked.

Steven looked, and groaned. "Well, I think I'm correct, though I wish that I was wrong."

"Don't tell me, he's pretending to sleep, but is actually listening, and smelling us," said Andy.

There was a sound, as the dragon got up, and let out a deep-throated laugh.

"Well, he's not pretending to be asleep any more," said Steven. He looked at the door. "Okay, New Plan!" He started shouting, hoping to be heard through the door. "We'll steal the necklace - you guys catch it!"
         Hearing Stevens plan, Akira, Amelia, and Shiela quickly took cover behind the columns of the room as the dragon rose and started look around.
         Sweating bullets, Akira only waited as he watched the door for a signal of some kind.

~In the walk way~

         After a good ten minutes, Andy finally unlocked the door before standing.
         "Okay, the dragon in here is awake, probably tempermental from waking it up, and cal kill us again as soon as we open the door. Any plan to get around that?"
         Thinking, Steven noticed a large round, thick wooden table with a metal top.
         Just then, he had a idea.
Past Member 'princessnat32'
And the award for being the sites whiniest little bitch goes to Big Bad Wolf!
(Authors note: To any readers who made it this far, unfortunately from here on out, Natalie will no longer be part of the story. She and Big Bad Wolf apparently had a major disagreement over her previous addition, as well as some adds she's made to other works of mine. She has now permanently left the site all together. Please disregard her comment above, and continue on with the story.)

Grabbing the table and turning it so the top side was facing forwards, Steven and Andy used it as a battering ram to plow through the doorway, the metal covered top absorbing the heat from the jet of flame streaming from the dragon's maw as they barged in. While that was going on, the remaining players got behind Andy and Steven, preparing for a long bos battle.
"Feels like the dragon's being rather patient with us," said Steven.
         As the dragon's breathe continued, Akira took hold of the table due to the metal topped wooden table started to head up.
         "Okay guys, I got plan to get ya close, but your gonna have to trust me."
         Looking to Akira, and remembering he has armor that would best resist the dragon attacks.
         Looking Akira in the eye, Andy made his decission.
         "Okay Akira, whats the plan?"
Raising his shield, Akira stepped out from behind the table, shouting "Over here, you overgrown iguana!" The dragon focused it's attack on Akira, launching another fiery stream at him, but his shield and enchanted armor was able to withstand its assault.

While that was going on, with the dragon distracted, the others were able to approach the diamond necklace around the dragon's neck unnoticed.

"How are we supposed to get the princess out of there?" Said Andy.
"Steal necklace first, and figure the rest out later," said Steven. "It's only a matter of time before it turns its attention to us."
         Seeing how Akira can't distract the beast forever, Akira came up with a plan.
         "Amelia, Steven, guard the door. If the dragon attacks you, either hide or place up your protection spell. Shiela, take to the shadows and attack where you can."
         Hearing his idea, Steven only had one question.
         "What are you going to do?"
         Smirking, Andy drew his daggers out.
         "I'm a thief aren't I? I got a necklace to steal."
         Running to the nearest column in the room, Andy started looking for a opening to make his move as everyone else got into position.
Seeing an opportunity to strike, Andy swiftly and silently ran over to the necklace and cut the cord securing it around the dragons neck. Now he just had to hope he could drag it to a relatively safe spot without the dragon noticing, while the others kept up their attacks.
"Well, let's keep this guy busy," Steven muttered. He shouted. "Your mother's a purse, and your father's a set of boots!"
         Hearing the insult, the dragon turned his attention from Akira towards Steven.
         With fresh smoke coming from his nostrils, and a burning passion in the eyes, the beast stared to Steven with daggers in its eyes.
         Seeing the reaction, Steven paled from both fear, and seeing the dragon understood him.
         "I should probably run now, right"
         As if to answer him, the dragon smirks to his new prey.
         "Okay, just checking. Now with that said..."
         Turning around, Steven ran out the door with a dust trail behind him with the dragon hot on his trail.
         Blinking a few times, the four remaining players only wondered what just happened.
         After a few minutes, Akira sat down to catch his breathe.
         "So, am I the only one who saw that, or was it just me."
         After a collective 'eeyup' from everyone, Akira shook his head.
         "Just checking. Welp, I'll go help him, you three get the diamond out of the necklace, kinda make it less heavy to carry, ya know?"
         Smacking his head, Andy felt embarressed from not thinking about it first.
As Akira rushed to Steven's aid, Andy said "I don't suppose anybody has a crowbar on them? Perhaps a lightsaber? Because I don't see how else we're supposed to crack a huge diamond like this otherwise."
"Me and my big mouth," Steven muttered, as he kept running. "Guess they loved their folks, or something. Still, worst come to worst, maybe the rest will save the princess."
         Just as Steven rounded a corner, Akira pulled him into a room in time as the dragon ran past them, roaring in anger!
         After a few moments, they sighed in relief from escaping the beast and buying time for the others.
         "So, the scaly beast can understand us. Good to know."
         Thinking, Akira got curios.
         "Yeah. Say, ya don't think that might of been that damn hacker controling him, do ya?"
         Thinking, Steven was about to answer, but before he could, a mysterious figure dropped from the rafters above.
         Readying there deffences, the boys got a bit of a shock as they didn't recognize the person infront of them.
         "Hello boys, need a hand?"

~Back in the dragon's hoard room~

         Using a random sword from the dragon's hoard, Andy started to work on prying the diamond out of the necklace.
         Surprisingly, the necklace had started to rust from the inside out.
         "So, any idea of what to do if that beast returns?"
"Run like hell?" Just then, the diamond popped out of it's frame, launching into the air and landing several feet away from them. Right at the feet of the dragon.
"Oh, come on already!" Said Andy in frustration.
Steven looked at the stranger. "Who are you?"
         "Just a gal trying to even the odds against your little hacker friend."
         Staying on the side of caution, Akira and Steven kept a eye on her as a roar was heard throughout the castle.
         "Look, either the two of you can keep standing here, or we can get back to your friends and help before they lose a life."
         Looking to one another, they relaxed before moving back to everyone else.
         As they walked, Akira looked back to the mysterious woman.
         "Are you coming miss..."
         Giggling a bit, the mysterious woman sauntured forward, clothed in what looked like a jester costume with a battle axe strapped to her back.
         "Call me Jessica, the jester."

Back with the others


         As the Akira, Steven, and the mysterious Jessica started to return back, Andy, Amelia, and Shelai were all busy trying to get the gem back while dodging the dragon attacks.
Amelia summoned a magic force field around her and Sheila. As the dragon focused it's attacks on them, Andy was able to retrieve the diamond from under the dragon's nose. Now the only thing left to do was to slay the beast and get the princess out.

Steven, Akira and Jessica approached the dragon from behind, seeing the perfect chance to strike. Akira readied the golden spear, not sure if he should throw it or stab the beast with it.
Steven gave a whistle, as if calling a dog.

The dragon turned, saw Steven, and growled.

"Glad you recognize me," Steven said, as he took the spear from Akira, and carefully walked from them.

The dragon's gaze followed him. Then, the dragon looked at the spear, and a rare expression came upon the dragon's face, that of fear.

"Ah, you know what this is," said Steven. "Try to harm my friends, and I'll kill you. Try to keep the princess, and I'll kill you. Let us safely leave, with the princess, I might be nice enough to have this hidden. Otherwise, I'll see to it that even a mere farmer could find it, and use it to kill you."
         Andy, having a bit of a flash back of himself acting the same as the dragon bullying others, he walked over to the beast and gently patted his front claw.

         Looking to him, the beast looked as if he was seeing himself.

         "Don't worry, all we want is to release the princess in this gem."

         Looking closer, the dragon gently raised a claw and touched the gem.

         All of a sudden, a bright light engulfed the room as the princess was seperated from the gem.
As the light faded, there stood a woman in a long flowing gown with golden hair. She faced the players and said "You have succeeded on your quest, brave adventurers. I and the kingdom thank you."

With those words, the environment began to shift again, this time to that of a white void. Mr. Weltz's voice spoke "Congratulations! You've beaten the second level! Now, onto the third! The next challenge will be a sort of demolition derby style race. Each of you may select and customize your own vehicles with whatever weapons and defenses you wish. Just watch out of the A.I controlled racers, they don't mess around."

A digital display appeared in front of each player, showing various cars and customizations. "Just select whatever you like, and the challenge will begin!"
"Okay," said Steven. "Keep in mind our deal - work together, we all get an even split."
Undisclosed Location

         Taking off her V.R. system, the now named Jessica, relaxed in a chair as Queen tossed her a beer.
         "So, glad it went well. Good job in there."
         Laughing a bit, Jessica popped the cap of the bottle before taking a sip.
         "No problem. They still plan to work together, which is a good thing, but still, do you really think they can win this?"
         Laughing a bit, Queen only turned to the screen as the players began choosing there vehicles and weapons.
         "Only time will tell."

At The Whiny Cur


         Within his apartment, William started to hack his way back into the system to continue, he watched as the contestants started to choose the vehicles and customications.
         "Okay, no more Mr. Nice Hacker. They wanna race to the finnish, I'll give them one."
After the players had finished with their vehicles, the environment around them shifted once again, taking the form of a several miles long stretch of road in the desert. Amongst them were various other modified cars, revving their engines.

"Drivers, take your places!"

Everybody got inside their respective vehicle, preparing to put the peddle to the metal once the go signal was given.

"Ready...set...GO!"
Steven looked at the other racers. Based on what he'd figured out, someone was trying to make him and the other players lose. He didn't mind losing, if one of the others won.

"Okay," he said, using the headset communication system that the rest used. "Watch your backs, and help the others. Just one of us needs to win, but our odds are better if we're all in the top positions."

"Understood," said Andy.
         As they drove through the dessert, Akira noticed something new in his rear view mirror.
         "Um, guys. Don't look now, but I think our hacker guy is done playing games."
         As they all took a look at what he was seeing, they all paled at what they saw.
         They saw a Ghost Rider on top of a flaming steam engine that looked like a giant skeleton from Hell itself.
         Whistling, Steven was a little amazed, but worried all the same.
         "Ah scrap."
"So, how do we deal with this?" Asked Andy. "Maybe if we all attack at once, we can blast him out of the race." Said Amelia. The hacker was rapidly catching up to them. "I have an idea." Said Akira. He activated his car's smoke screen, in hopes it would force the hacker off the road.
"Guys, get ahead of me," said Steven. "I got an oil slick thing, and I don't want you caught in it."
         Looking at his GPS, Andy saw a tight ravine, prefect for a ambush.
         Guys, hold off on it, we can spring it on him in the ravine ahead."
         Looking to the map, they got the same idea.
         Giggling, Shelai laughed a bit at the idea.
         "Of course, with our vehicles, we can move around more easily. But his is a big bulky train, gives him less room, and less of a chance in dodging heavy boulders."
         Smirking, Andy moved back to Steven and hooked a tow line to his vehicle.
         "Okay Steven, ya ready?"
Steven nodded, and they all punched it towards the ravine, the hellish train in hot pursuit.
"I hope that this works," said Steven.
         Seeing a hard left ahead, Andy pulled Steven's car along, timing the plan.
         Just ast the other three went around the corner, Andy accelerated.
         "Steven, now!"
         Nodding, Steven hit the switch and released the oil slick as Andy pulled him around the corner, causing the slick to follow after them.
Unable to stop in time, the train plowed right into the oil slick. The screech of it's brakes as it tried to slow down was enough to wake the dead, before it crashed into the canyon wall, totalling itself.

The players gave a collective cheer at seeing their plan's success, before continuing with the race. Meanwhile, William looked like he was ready to blow a blood vessel. How could these kids keep outsmarting him at every turn!?

Seeing that his previous attempt failed so spectacularly, he decided to take control of the race track itself, placing various traps and obstacles in the player's path.
"Alright guys and gals, don't get cocky," said Steven. "We haven't beaten this thing yet. It's starting to remind me of that Free Guy movie, to a certain degree."
         Just then, the entire desert vanished and the city of New York, with the end of the race back in the desert on the far end, appeared with the king of apes, Kong himself, started to toss cars in there way.
         Andy, seeing this, unhitched from Stevens car.
         "Everyone, evasive monuvours!"
         Heeding the warning, everyone punched it and started to dodge the oncoming cars from the sky.
         Chuckling, Steven could only think of one question
         "So, who's ready player one?"
The players zig zagged and swerved to and fro in every direction, dodging the flying cars as best they could. William, seeing that simply chucking automobiles at them wasn't working, decided to take more drastic steps.

The players were about a hundred yards from the finish line, when the king of all monsters himself, Godzilla, suddenly dropped down from the sky directly in front of the end of the race.

He unleashed his atomic breath directly ono the track, bringing the racers to a screeching halt. "So, what do we do now?" Said Andy as he watched Godzilla's breath melting the road in front of them. "I'm betting if we touch that stuff, we lose a life. And even if we get past the flames, we still have to deal with Godzilla."
"Well, here's an idea," said Steven. "Get the two of them to fight each other. It's a classic."
         Hearing Steven's plan, Akira turned and faced Kong.
         "Okay, but how do we do that? It's not like we have a missile launcher we can use right?"
         Hearing this, both Amilia and Shelai revealed missile launcher hidden in there rides.
         Sweat dropping, Akira groaned.
         "Seriously?"
"Do you even know how to use those?" Andy asked, and the two girls grinned "Yep. I play a lot of shooters." Said Amelia, "Ditto." Said Sheila "Helps a lot with my anger issues."
(On my cellphone at the moment. )

"Well, " said Steven. "I hope this works. "
         As Amelia and shelai took aim at both monsters, Andy, and Akira hooked there vehicles to the girls so they can make a quick escape if needed.
         As the girls took aim at there respective monsters, they reminded themselves they had to time it right.
         "Count of three?"
         "1..."
         "2..."
         "3!"
         And just like that, they fired.
The missiles made a direct hit on both their targets. Both monsters became enraged, thinking the other was responsible for the attack, and immediately rushed toward each other to do battle.

While that was going, the players got back in their cars, only to realize that a large chunk of the road leading to the finish line was still gone, having been melted by Godzilla's breath attack. At least a good fifty feet of the road was gone, leaving only a digital abyss behind.

"So close and yet so far."Said Steven.
"How about off-road?" Andy suggested.
         Seeing no other choice, Akira agree's.
         "Sounds like our only option.I say we go for it."
         Hearing a resounding agreements, they all headed off to find a way off the road around the abyss.
Just then, there was a boom of thunder, and an immensely powerful wind began to blow. By this point, the players were back in the desert, and they could see an enormous tornado rapidly forming, causing a sandstorm in the process. The wind got so strong, it lifted the player's cars off the road and into the air, swirling them blindly about like a blender. Meanwhile, William was practically laughing with malicious glee. "Let's see those kids get out of this one!"
"Anyone pack some flying capabilities?" Steven asked. "I think I got an air mode on this thing."
         As they were spinning, Andy, seeing Amilia's and Shelai's cars nearby, shot a couple of grapple hooks and cought there cars.
         "Same here, you get Akira, I got the ladies!"
         Pressing a couple of buttons on his steering wheel, four jet boosters ignighted under the car, pulling his and the girls out of the storm before safely landing outside.
         Smirking, Steven saw Akira.
         "Roger that!"
         Launching a grapple, he easily hooked onto Akira's rig before pressing his flight function, and safely exiting the storm before joining the others.
By now, the players were within a mile from the finish line. William knew he was running out of options, and was getting increasingly desperate with each failed attempt. He decided to hit them with an earthquake next. One so massive, it would split the very ground!
"Expect anything," said Steven, as they sped off.
         All of a sudden, what felt like a earthquake started up, breaking the ground apart underneath there vehicles tires.
         Getting desperate, the players put the petal to the metal, and let loose all the NOS they had and speed off as fast as they could to the finnish.
         As they neared the finnish, another abysse started to form on both ends of the track, both heading to the center.
         Just as it was to reach where only three could cross, all five crossed the finnish line, as a bright light flashed, and the players vannished to the next level.
"You're nearly there!" Came Mr. Weltz's voice "The next level is a Smash Brothers style tournament, you each may select a character to personify, and will gain that character's abilities and skills for this level. Choose wisely!"

A screen appeared, showing various video games characters from hundreds of franchises. "During the tournament, items and power ups will appear at random to help you. But be quick, because your opponents can grab them as well!"
"Just remember to work together," said Steven, as he looked at a Wild West Vampire-Like Person, that had guns with blades on them. "Well, Jericho Cross from Darkwatch looks pretty cool. Blood Vision to see hidden foes, lots of guns, and a holy mace of some sort. Regains health by drinking blood, and loses vampire abilities in the sunlight."
         Looking at the roster, Andy found a character that might come in handy.
         "Fox McCloud. Starfighter of Lylat, hand to hand combat, blaster, and possess shooting star technique. Dibs."
Akira was quick to choose Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, with his teleporting and fire abilities, martial arts skills and his signature kunai. Which just left the girls of the team. Seeing as this was going to be a Smash Bros style game, Amelia decided to go with Bayonetta, with her dark magic and guns in both hands as well as on her feet. Sheila was still undecided.
"Might want to pick someone who cam mix it up in melee," said Steven, as he walked around, looking like a rather Goth cowboy, all dressed in black. "Everyone else seems to have picked those who can shoot or cast spells, although some can do a bit of mixing-it up, like my guy's guns having blades on them for up-close work, along with his mace. Can't wait to try the rocket launcher."
         As Sheila browsed the roster, she spotted a character that might do some real damage if needed.
         "Marvels Wasp. Flight capabilities, able to shrink to molecular level, and grow giant like when needed, stingers, and controls wasps. Me likey."
         It was at this point that all the boys had one thought in mind.
         'Don't piss off the girls.'
After everyone had selected their characters, there was a bright flash as they suddenly appeared on a floating platform above a seemingly endless ocean.

"Your first challenger is....Giant Donkey Kong!"

Sure enough, Donkey Kong appeared in the center of the platform, about five times his normal size. "You have three minutes to defeat each opponent. Ready...GO!"
Steven stuck to the shadows as much as he could, jumping around, and shooting his Redeemer Pistol, trying to put in as many rounds as he could. He didn't fancy getting hit by the big ape.
         Taking the laser gun out, he started shooting at Kongs face, hoping to get attention mostly to him so the others can attack from different area's.
         "Hey! Com and get me MONKEYBUTT!!"
With surprising speed for something so large, Donkey Kong rushed to Andy before he could react, and brought a mighty fist down on his head, pounding him into the ground like a stake, stunning Andy as half his body was lodged in the platform.

Andy didn't feel any actual pain, but found himself unable to move as Donkey Kong began to wind up for a punch that would not doubt send Andy flying into the distance.
Steven did a double jump, and repeatedly shot the ape in the back of the head.
         Feeling the hits, DK turned to steven and attempted to send a fist at full force.
         Seeing this, Andy started to charge up his energy.
         Just as DK was about to reach Steven, And shot himself out with a shooting star and uppercutted him, letting Steven to get away safely with Andy landing next to him.
         "Thanks for the save."
         "No problem."

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