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Sunday Scribble – “April NaNo 2016”

April NaNo 2016
Excerpt 4

Sierra replayed the practice simulation over in her mind. Willow was improving her focus on her surroundings. The girl generally got distracted easily with the more powerful senses of whatever animal she transformed into, but she was usually able to keep a good focus on the main goal of the practice. All she needed to do was practice multitasking, to remember the main goal and keep an eye on whatever other threat may pop up in the meantime.

Roy did well with that. He was almost the opposite, in fact. While he kept the focus of the simulation in mind, it was almost an afterthought in regards to him constantly checking out what was going on around him. Part of it, Sierra believed, was due to his paranoia about his powers. He hated being caught by surprise due to not only his nerves making him drip, but also because of his powers protecting him on their own.

Sierra had an inkling that his powers were growing and that Roy may be scrambling to catch up.

The security systems warned her of someone coming toward her room and she waited for the expected knocking.

“Come in, Ian,” she called. He slithered in his pool of shadows under the door crack rather than walk across the threshold.

“Evening,” he said as he settled in his solid, human form at the end of her bed. She gave him a smile from her computer chair as a greeting before waiting patiently for him to speak his mind.

“How are you?” was his question instead.

She raised an eyebrow in slight perplexity before saying, “I’m doing just fine, thank you. And you?”

“Not bad, thanks,” he said.

“Was there something in particular you wanted?”

“Am I interrupting you from something?”

“Not really,” Sierra admitted. “I was replaying Roy’s and Willow’s latest practice simulation.” He glanced at her powered down computer, a ripple of darkness making his brows furrow in confusion. “I was replaying it in my mind.”

“Ah.” He nodded. “Everything seem okay?”

“Yes, I suppose,” Sierra said. “They’re both improving and doing their best, although I am a touch worried that Roy’s powers are growing too quickly for him to keep up.”

“Is this about his gene reacting to his surroundings and emotions rather than his will?” Ian asked, to which Sierra nodded. “Perhaps we should have him practice keeping his emotions calm, such as you with your yoga.”

She blinked, having not thought of the idea. “That would be good. I’ll invite him to join me once in a while.”

“Maybe I can as well?” Ian asked.

“You want to do yoga?” Sierra said. With a slight smile, she teased, “Forgive me, but you seem to be flexible enough.”

He childishly stuck his tongue out at her. “Yes, as a shadow I am. It will be a challenge to keep myself in my solid form. And I’ll be able to hang out with you more.”

“Now, why would you want to do that?” Sierra meant to continue teasing her friend, but he grew serious.

“Because I never did when we were students,” he said, “and I regret that. If you’ll have my friendship, I will gladly give it.”

“I had believed I already had it,” Sierra said.

“Well, yes, you do,” Ian said, running a hand through his mess of dark hair. “I want to continue giving it by getting to know you better, if that makes more sense.”

“It does,” Sierra said. “You’ll have to understand, though… I’m not used to just hanging out for the sake of it. My mind is always working. Relaxing with a friend is a bit of a foreign concept.”

He gave her a fanged smile. “Not for long, I hope.”

Sierra was saved from responding by both of their cell phones beeping from receiving text messages. Rather, Sierra’s beeped. She raised an eyebrow at Ian for having the sound of ducks quacking as his text tone.

He was unabashed as he looked at the message and said what Sierra already knew from mentally reading her own. “Vanessa and Faith are almost home with the new students. Perhaps we should get the rooms ready.”

Sierra stood up. “Two more boys’ rooms and another girl’s, yes?”

“That’s right. It’s about time, too. Roy and I are seriously outnumbered here.” Ian mimicked her, standing up and heading toward the door. Instead of disappearing via his shadows, he held open the door for Sierra. With a jester’s bow, he said, “After you, my lady.”

“Thank you,” Sierra said with a soft shake of her head at his antics. “Perhaps we should warn Roy and Willow as well?”

“Nah, let’s let it be a surprise,” Ian said.

“Ian…”

“Of course we’re going to tell them. Get ready for a full house again, Sierra.”

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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Scribbles

 

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Sunday Scribble – “April NaNo 2016”

April NaNo 2016
Excerpt 3

Oh, good God, there were more of them.

Claudia couldn’t believe the handful of new students that had appeared at the high school in the past month. There was that little chatterbox of a freshman who seemed to believe that everyone in the world was her friend and rainbows sprouted from wherever she walked. Claudia had the misfortune to have home economics with the girl. Her parents must have been hippies to name her Willow. Who names their child after a tree?

As if Willow wasn’t loud enough, there was Eddie, a literal dancing fool. The kid couldn’t walk straight, always doing some sort of jazz square or waltz or foxtrot, and Claudia vaguely wondered if he would be able to pass a sobriety test. She could always tell when Eddie was coming down the hallway. If his dancing steps weren’t loud enough, his voice certainly was. He was almost always humming, at the very least, if not belting out some lyric from a Broadway show.

Nathan didn’t seem too bad, but he was a bit terrifying. He was a looker, that much Claudia and the rest of the high school’s straight gals and gay guys noticed right off the bat. Tall, broad-shouldered, recruited to the football team the moment he set foot into the school, Nathan was the epitome of the strong, silent type of guy that starred in all the good romance novels. Add in sandy-brown hair and steel-blue eyes, and Nathan would never have trouble finding a date on Saturday nights.

He was always just staring, though, at almost nothing in particular if he wasn’t listening in on the other Exception School’s freaks’ conversations. He stuck close to the others, barely speaking, but being an intimidating bodyguard all the same. Claudia would love a chance to talk to him just one-on-one, but she wasn’t sure how to get his attention or drag him away from the others.

Perhaps Heather would know something…

Heather, for the most part, seemed to be the most normal of the lot. In fact, Claudia would have almost felt threatened by her if Heather didn’t hang around such obvious social outcasts. Heather spoke when she needed to, kept her head high as she sauntered through the hallways, and seemed to hang out with Roy and the others just out of loyalty to the Exceptional School. If there was a link in that chain that could be weakened and broken, it may very well be Heather.

Maybe Heather was the key to figuring out what exactly went behind the walls of the Exceptional School for Exceptional Students. At the very least, maybe Claudia could get Nathan’s cell phone number.

Claudia watched through her locker mirror as Heather, with Willow yakking the older girl’s ear off, gathered her belongings from her own locker across the hall. Claudia willed for Willow to take off and find someone else to talk about some birds that were hanging around the school yards – seriously, the little freshman must think she’s Snow White or something – so Claudia could talk to Heather alone.

Someone from up above must have been watching out for Claudia, although even she didn’t know why, for Eddie soon appeared and offered to walk with Willow to her next class. Claudia raised an eyebrow at seeing the pair nearly skip down the hallway. Were the freaks from the Exceptional School dating? How snobby can you be? Was no one at the regular high school good enough for either of them?

Claudia shook her head. Those thoughts weren’t important right now. Instead, she needed to focus on what she was going to say to Heather. Claudia, after being sure her makeup was touched up, slammed her locker in time to see Heather finish up her own business.

With her fake bright smile, Claudia said, “Hi, Heather! Not sure if you remember my name—”

“Claudia Henderson,” Heather said with a nod. “We’re in the same math class.”

“Right.” Claudia kept her smile plastered on her face. “Not sure if you would have known my name. We haven’t really gotten a chance to get acquainted yet.”

“Can’t really talk while math goes on,” Heather said with a shrug. “What’s up?”

“I was thinking of how cheerleader tryouts are coming up soon,” Claudia said. “I’m one of the captains of the squad, and you look to be in the perfect shape to help us out this year. Thought I’d extend the invite.”

“Hm.” Heather didn’t seem too thrilled, which Claudia took as a personal insult. Most of the girls in the high school were ecstatic for cheerleader tryouts. Besides helping the school keep its spirit and whatever, it beat going to the gym to stay in shape.

“Or even the dance team,” Claudia added, hoping that one of the programs she was on would appeal to Heather.

“Not a dancer.” Heather shook her head. “Eddie may be glad to hear that, though. He was the guy who just danced down the hallway with Willow, the girl I was speaking to before you introduced yourself.”

Claudia gave a thoughtful hum to Heather’s words. “Yeah, I’ve definitely seen them around.” She half-hoped that Eddie wouldn’t try out for the dance team and was honestly regretting saying anything. Heather may tell the guy, and Claudia may be stuck seeing him after school twice a week. The dance team could always use more guys, but with the way he moved, Eddie may outshine the rest of them.

“I don’t know,” Heather said. “Maybe I’ll check out the cheerleader tryouts.”

“Perfect!” Claudia said. “They’re after school on Friday right in the gymnasium. You don’t need to do a routine or anything, just show up and show us what you can do.”

Heather nodded and gave Claudia a crooked smile. “Alright then. Thanks.”

“No problem!” Claudia faked a glance at the clock in the hallway and said, “Ah, we better run to our classes. It was great talking to you!”

She dashed off and gave Heather a backwards wave, planning on slipping her number into the other girl’s locker before the end of the day. Going around the corner, Claudia ran smack into someone’s arms.

“Whoa, hey…! I know I’m charming, but you don’t have to literally fall for me,” was the cheeky, and somewhat cute, line from the guy.

Claudia straightened herself out of his arms and smoothed her outfit. “Ugh, sorry Andrew. Mr. Peterson will have a field day if I’m late to his class again.”

“I’ll walk with ya.” Andrew fell in step beside Claudia, his hands casually folded behind his head. Every two steps Claudia took was only one for him.

“And your class?” Claudia asked rhetorically.

He shrugged. “It’s Davidson’s class and she loves me. She doesn’t care when I’m late.”

Claudia rolled her eyes and laughed. “How a little nerd like you manages to get everyone wrapped around his finger is beyond me.”

“Not exactly everyone.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she shook her head. “Besides you, there is another who has resisted my charms so far and it’s quite perplexing. Maybe you can give me some insight as to the female mind…?”

“Stop with the theatrics,” Claudia said. “Any girl who doesn’t want to go out with you is one smart cookie.”

“That’s the thing,” Andrew said. “She hasn’t said no, per se. She just… hasn’t gotten back in touch with me. I thought things were going great when we were first talking. I was flirting, she was receptive, I was charming, she was falling—”

“Is there a point to this?” Claudia asked.

“Yes,” Andrew said. “This is the first time I’m going after a girl from the Exceptional School, so give me some pointers—”

“Heather?” Claudia stopped short and Andrew almost tripped over his own feet to stop with her.

“No, not Heather, although she is a damn fine-lookin—”

“You’re going after the freshman?” Claudia deadpanned.

“They’re usually easier.” Andrew shrugged. “Besides, Willow’s cute, both in looks and in eagerness. Almost like a puppy. But she hasn’t contacted me since I gave her my number.”

“Well, I’m going to see Heather later,” Claudia said. “Trying to convince her to join the cheerleaders, maybe get a little inside on the Exceptional School, you know? I’ll see if she can put in a word for you.”

“Aw, Claudia, that’s so nice of you.” Andrew grinned. “What do you want?”

Claudia dug a chemistry worksheet out of her bag as she paused outside of Mr. Peterson’s door. “It’s due last period. Give it to me at lunch?”

Andrew snatched the sheet with a salute. “Got it. See ya later!”

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2016 in Scribbles

 

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Sunday Scribble – “April NaNo 2016”

April NaNo 2016
Excerpt 2

There was another one.

Claudia stared at the new sophomore, a gangly guy who looked as if he hadn’t yet grown into his skinny limbs. His hair was blue of all things and she almost dismissed him for being a hippie wannabe. He kept his eyes downcast when he wasn’t focused on his own belongings, always just going his own way without glancing at anyone else.

That was what made her seek him out. It wasn’t often at all that a boy didn’t look her way, and she felt slighted. Fortunately for her, maybe not so for him, the pair had the same lunch and she freely took a seat across from him at his table in the corner of the cafeteria.

With a bright smile, she introduced herself. “Hello there! I’m Claudia Henderson. And you?”

He faltered, his roast beef sandwich halfway to his open mouth, one eyebrow arched in confusion. After a second, he composed himself and simply said, “Roy Kingsley.”

“It’s a pleasure.” Claudia made sure to smile again before stabbing a chicken nugget with her fork. She allowed the silence to overtake the pair for a few minutes, letting Roy fall into a sense of security, before asking, “How long have you been here? I don’t remember seeing you around often.”

“Just got here this week,” Roy said.

She waited for him to elaborate, but when he didn’t, she had no problem prompting him. “Where are you from?”

“Ohio,” was the stilted response.

“Wow.” Claudia feigned interest. “What brought you over here to the east coast?”

“The schools, really,” Roy said after a moment. This time Claudia stared at him until he fidgeted in his seat, drained a quarter of his water bottle, and continued speaking. “I’m, uh, enrolled in the Exceptional School for Exceptional Students.”

Color her surprised. Roy didn’t seem particularly gifted in anything, least of all social skills.

“My parents tried to get me in there,” Claudia said, doing her best not to show how annoyed she was at being declined admission. At that point, she hadn’t known exactly what the school was about, but the idea of not being good enough for their precious student body was enough to make her blood boil. At least she could fish for information from Roy. “What do you do at that school?”

His pause was long enough to make her think he either hadn’t heard her or was ignoring her on purpose. Before she could berate him for either reason, Roy said, “It’s weird to explain.”

“We go to a public high school,” she drawled with a quirked smile. “What could be weirder?”

He finally held her gaze, his blue eyes steely enough to startle her, before he cleaned up his tray and capped his water bottle. “Plenty of things. Excuse me.”

Roy dumped his trash and disappeared from the cafeteria before Claudia blinked. After a moment, she stood up herself and did her best not to scowl at anyone who so much as glanced her way. How embarrassing to be left alone, ditched, at the lunch table! Roy would definitely get a piece of her mind the next time she saw him.

Maybe she wasn’t being entirely fair to him. Roy was a new guy, after all. Claudia took a deep breath and tried to be reasonable. Perhaps he was just shy, which was understandable – most boys were shy in her presence. It was just the effect she had on them, and Roy had seemed to be sweating near his hairline. Maybe he really needed the bathroom. He had chugged a whole water bottle, after all. She could give him another chance.

With her head held high, she cleaned up her own lunch, fully intending on pretending that Roy’s and her conversation had mutually ended, and left the cafeteria to wander the halls until her next class.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2016 in Scribbles

 

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Sunday Scribble – “April NaNo 2016”

Here is an unedited excerpt from my Camp NaNo project. Not entirely positive where it’s going to end up, but it’s fun so far! Enjoy!

April NaNo 2016
Excerpt 1

It was called the Exceptional School for Exceptional Students and, by all outward appearances, seemed to be a standard boarding school for the gifted children of the world. Enrollment was by invitation only and the school had gained a few enemies of well-to-do families when their children apparently did not make the cut.

Not many truly knew what the school was about. Much of it was hush-hush, kept on the down-low, from the outside world. Many reporters attempted to contact Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, the headmistress of the school and a well-known scientist in the fields of biology and physics. In the very few interviews she had granted, all she said about the school was that it was a home for higher learning for hand-picked students.

Higher learning indeed. The students of ESES, typically teenagers, were all enrolled in the local city’s high school for their education. It became curious that the teenagers were enrolled in a place that touted higher learning while also in the public education system. The teenagers, when asked, tended to stick to similar responses as to why they were learning algebra and taking physical education with the rest of their peers:

“The Exceptional School is teaching us skills about how to deal with the world, not just the standard subjects in high school.”

“The simplest way to describe our school is that we practice how to navigate in the real world.”

“You kidding? Learning algebra is way easier than the practice I have to do at ESES.”

“High school P.E. is a walk in the park compared to the activities I’m scheduled for at Exceptional.”

Not much else is typically shared. Most of the ESES students tend to band together, seemingly aloof from the rest of the high school populace, earning a few snobby reputations and not many desire to get closer to them. A few try, and a few ESES students are pleasant enough to become friends with those unaffiliated with ESES, but many tend to stay clear.

At least, that was what all the rumors foretold of the Exceptional School for Exceptional Students, and there seemed to be no evidence proving the rumors otherwise. It was with these skeptical thoughts that led Roy Kingsley into deciding whether or not he should go.

He glanced across the table in one of the meeting rooms of the foster house at the woman who came from the Exception School. Vanessa Tucker stared back at him impassively, her green eyes bright against her black skin, apparently waiting with the patience of a saint for him to make up his mind.

“What happens if I say no?” Roy asked.

“You could very well lose control,” was the immediate response. He leaned back from the table at her words and she continued. “We both know what you can do. It will only grow and if you do not keep up with its growth, you will fall behind and get lost.”

“And the Exceptional School can help with that?”

“That is what the Exceptional School does,” Vanessa said. “It is why the school was built, to help those like us.”

“How do you know what I’m like?” Roy asked, his voice quiet.

“Some of our kind have physical evidence.” Vanessa pointed to Roy’s navy-blue hair, and the teen slunk lower into his chair. “Those who do not, however, still share the same activated super gene that grants us our differences from the rest of humankind. That is how we were able to track you down.”

“That’s weird.”

“Perhaps.” Vanessa shrugged. “Nevertheless, we found you and we’re offering you a much better home and education than you would ever get here in the Ohio foster system.” She paused, allowing her words to sink in, before giving Roy a sad smile. “Where do you believe you’ll go after you age out of the system?”

He glared at her, but she wasn’t deterred.

“Roy,” her words were almost gentle, “we both know that you won’t be adopted, not with the medical bills that surround you. You will have the best care available at the Exceptional School for Exceptional Students, and you will never age out of it. The ESES will always be there for its students.”

Roy took deep breaths and trying not to show how Vanessa’s words stung. Of course he had realized long ago that he wouldn’t ever be adopted. He was too much work for a normal pair of middle-class parents. Not only did his blue hair turn off most couples, seeing how he needed to always have water on hand made sure they never took a second look at him.

“I, uh…” He swallowed the lump in his throat as his eyes took another look at the packet of information about the school that Vanessa had given him when they had first sat down together. “I guess I really don’t have too many options…”

“Is that a yes?”

Roy looked back up at Vanessa, her expression schooled into mostly a poker face. A hint of a smile curled on her lips.

He nodded once. “Yes, I guess it is.”

“Wonderful!” Vanessa clapped her hands, making Roy jump with her sudden exaggerated movements, and she stood up from her seat. Her chair scraped noisily across the floor and she took long strides towards the door. Roy heard Vanessa call out to his foster mother, no doubt to get the paperwork rolling so he would officially be under the Exceptional School’s care rather than Ohio’s foster system. He heaved a sigh before getting up himself, grabbing the packet of information before going to join Vanessa.

He probably should start thinking about what to pack.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Scribbles

 

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Short Story Sunday – Camp NaNo Excerpt #3 (April 2015)

Excerpt from NPC (#3)
A continuation of last week’s excerpt

Mount Cataclysm exploded.

Kurt didn’t hear about it right away. He had been around the Central Hub, taking a shift in helping new players with directions and what the game was all about when he noticed that a sudden abundance of players were respawning in the neutral zone. Most had Fire dragons, or at least Spirit hatchlings with the telltale red glow that signaled that Fire was their preferred element for evolving. Almost all of the players were as bewildered as the new players when they realized what had happened.

“The volcano erupted,” players were suddenly saying, and all of the garbles and gibberish that the crowd had generated turned into an excited buzz. Kurt wasn’t sure what was so exciting about a volcano erupting, but he excused himself from the new player he had been helping to soar with Noodles over to Mount Cataclysm.

If Mount Cataclysm had been scheduled to erupt, wouldn’t Animus or Gears have told the NPCs? Or was this an attempt to allow the players more action, more of a hero role rather than just as explorers?

Kurt had arrived in time to see Brent’s Foxtail emit a stream of flames at an engulfed boulder that had been heading their way. The Fire dragon’s efforts had succeeded in pushing the boulder away from them and the few players that they were with only to have it crush another pair of players. Kurt watched as they flickered out of existence, positive that they would respawn back in the Central Hub. The rest of the scene was just as chaotic.

Without too much of Kurt’s direction, Noodles blasted away at the spewing lava and rocks with her own streams of water. Other Water dragon masters, NPCs and players alike, slowly and steadily came over to the area once news of Mount Cataclysm’s eruption reached them. Earth dragons appeared to try to up heave the ground, to bury the flames and unruly rocks, while Wind dragons directed the airs in attempts to control where the lava and boulders fell. The Fire dragon masters could only do so much with their breaths only succeeding in furthering the flames.

“Brent,” Kurt called out, doing his best to have his voice carry over the cacophony of crashing boulders, sizzling flames, and hissing water. “Brent! Is there anyone in the mountain?”

“No idea,” Brent called back, pulling Foxtail away from the erupting site. “What, you suggesting that I go in and save any trapped avatars?”

“Your Fire dragons can resist the heat,” Kurt pointed out. “Why wouldn’t you go to see if they need help?”

“Would they help us if we got trapped?” Brent asked.

“Some would say that’s the point of being a player in a game like this,” Kurt said. “In most games, the players rescue the NPCs, not the other way around.”

“Yeah, well…” Brent took a deep breath. “In most games, NPCs don’t feel as much as we do. Kurt, have you ever gotten into such trouble that you had to respawn?”

Noodles took a sharp turn and Kurt nearly tumbled off of her back. His mind had been on the question, not on the scene around him. Eventually he answered, “No, no, I haven’t.”

“Do you know if you would respawn?” Brent asked. Kurt didn’t have an answer for that, and Brent shook his head. “I didn’t think you would. The players will be fine. If they get trapped, all they gotta do is walk through fire and burn enough to respawn and come back to life. As for us? I don’t know if we’d come back from the dead, and I’m not willing to try it out for a couple of avatars who aren’t even real in this world.”

“What are you, a coward?” Leslie was suddenly by their side, and Rosie grunted as she caught a boulder in the air and tossed it into the surrounding sea.

“For my life?” Brent shot back. “Yes!”

“To help the players is what we’re here for,” Leslie said. “It’s why we were created.”

“I’m all for helping,” Brent said, “you know, giving directions, doing easy delivery or rescue missions, but not for giving them my life.”

Noodles hung back, panting, and Kurt could only stroke what he could reach of her neck. Foxtail twisted to stretch in front of them and block an incoming flying sphere of lava.

“The moderators care too much about us to not let us respawn,” Kurt eventually said. “Why create us just to allow us to easily die?”

“I’m not as positive about our creators’ good virtues as you are,” Brent said. “I just don’t know if they could do that. If I was as sure that this program stretched to let us respawn as sure as I am a Fire dragon master, then, yeah, I’d be in that volcano doing search and rescue, but…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

As if on cue, all three of the NPCs’ wristwatches flashed red with messages from avatars trapped inside the mountain. They mentioned boulders blocking the path and how they didn’t know where lava was flowing down. One wrong break through the mountain’s walls, and they could send lava gushing inside the mountain.

Noodles wouldn’t be able to handle going through the volcano, not with how worn out she was with fighting the eruption from the outside. Kurt glanced from Brent to Leslie and back to Brent. Brent only moved to signal Foxtail to back off from the volcano.

Leslie glowered at Brent. “We’re NPCs,” she repeated, “here to help the avatars. I’m not going to go against my programming!”

She and Rosie dove toward the volcano, flying tightly and twisting whenever necessary to avoid the volcanic debris. With a roar, Rosie broke through the side of the mountain, making a dragon-shaped hole just big enough for them to lead a couple of trapped dragons and their masters out in single file.

Kurt didn’t have time to dwell on Leslie’s or the trapped avatars’ states. Instead, he directed Noodles to help the evacuation efforts around Mount Cataclysm’s base. Noodles still had to rebuild her reservoir of water powers, but she could still herd and hide players and Spirit hatchlings from tumbling debris. Brent eventually directed Foxtail to do the same, his Fire dragon’s bulk doing more blocking than anything.

A whistling from the mountain base’s shoreline stole Kurt’s attention, and he blinked at seeing the wide grin on Pyrobot’s face.

“Hey, everyone!” the player called out. “We got a couple of dragons that are free to tow players to the Central Hub! Come and grab a hold of Mustang and Clyde! Four players to a dragon, as long as you don’t mind getting wet.”

There was Pyrobot’s friend Hydroid helping other avatars to hold onto his and Pyrobot’s Spirit hatchlings, now having grown strong enough to allow a few players to hold on while they swam through the water to the neutral zone. Kurt had Noodles herd the avatars they had been harboring toward Hydroid, and Kurt shared a grateful nod to the player.

With the help of so many NPCs and players, Mount Cataclysm’s island was soon evacuated, and they were able the watch the last bits of the eruption come to a close from the Central Hub. Kurt had all but forgotten about Leslie and Rosie until he overheard a player speaking to another about “the Earth dragon and her master,” and Kurt eavesdropped long enough to know that Leslie had directed the players out of the mountain before getting trapped herself.

Kurt was soaring on Noodles back toward the volcano and they nearly crashed into Brent and Foxtail while trying to find the hole that Rosie had created into the mountain.

“She’s not here anymore,” Brent said even as Noodles and Kurt snaked their way into the found hole. Brent called after him, “Use your built-in scanner, Kurt! You can’t find Leslie!”

Kurt scoured the narrow pathway, finding nothing, no trace of Leslie or her Earth dragon. His code’s scanner couldn’t find her programming.

Brent’s last shouts echoed across the empty walls. “She’s gone, Kurt! Leslie’s gone and she’s never going to respawn! To the administrators, her programming was deleted. To us, she’s dead.”

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Scribbles

 

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Short Story Sunday – Camp NaNo Excerpt #2 (April 2015)

Excerpt from NPC (#2)
A continuation of last week’s excerpt.

The landslides were just the beginning.

Kurt spent more time riding Noodles around the Dragon Tamer realm helping other NPCs save trapped players and their avatars in the recent week than he ever had in the months that the game had been open to the public. From avalanches in the frozen tundra in the northwest to quicksand and sticky swamps in the southeast, the NPCs had their virtual hands full. Kurt rarely saw Animus. When he did get a chance to see the moderator, it was she who found him just to ask for a brief update on the troubles that had been happening around the game. Kurt didn’t think too much of it. Rather, he was busy with his own duties.

Such as responding to a call with other NPCs from avatars stranded in the middle of the sea with too-small dragon partners to help them get back to shore.

“What happened?” Leslie was the first NPC to call down to the players clinging to a slowly sinking ship. It seemed to be a party with about half a dozen players, some with full-grown element dragons but most with Spirit dragons getting ready to evolve.

The player – username Nitrogue – with the largest dragon, an Earth dragon with the name Goliath, spoke up from the ship’s bow. “We hit some of the squid monsters. Our dragons fought ’em off, but not before they cracked a hole in the boat. We’re too far from shore to swim without drowning and some of our dragons aren’t big enough to carry even one person let alone two.”

“Where did you think you were going with such young dragons in the first place?” Leslie snapped. Kurt brought Noodles around to the front of the ship, allowing a couple of the avatars to cling to his dragon rather than the floating debris. Another Water dragon master NPC, Simon, did the same.

“We wanted to explore the other islands on the other side of the sea,” Nitrogue said, pointing to the pixilated landmasses that were off in the distance.

“You didn’t happen to think you were too inexperienced?” Leslie asked. She climbed up as close to the head of her large Earth dragon so two of the avatars with Spirit dragons could sit on Rosie’s back. “If your dragons are Spirits around here in the neutral zone, what makes you think you won’t end up getting your butt kicked and respawning back here?”

Nitrogue huffed as he perched atop of his own dragon after being sure that the rest of the players were secure on their dragons or hitching a ride with an NPC and his or her dragon. “Look, it was supposed to be a challenge. We’re just trying to give this game a self-imposed difficulty setting and seeing how long we’d survive in an unknown environment.”

“Are the monsters not sufficient enough of a challenge for you?” Kurt asked.

“The monsters are fine,” Nitrogue said. “It’s cool to be able to defeat them and defend the realm and whatever. It’s just that…” The player trailed off and didn’t continue until Kurt turned around, silently encouraging the player to speak. “You NPCs are cool and all, and there’s no telling how long we would have been stranded in the ocean like that, but most MMORPGs that I’ve played have the NPCs in situations where they need to be saved by the players. Not the other way around, you know? Certainly not with NPCs that know that they exist only in a game.”

Kurt glanced at Leslie, but the female non-playable character shook her head at Nitrogue’s response. “Sorry you feel that way,” Leslie responded with a tone that sounded as if she was anything but. “I bet the administrators thought the same as well when they first started the game, but with the sheer amount of players that got into trouble with stupid ideas like you guys, they needed a few extra hands.”

“Maybe something’s wrong with the game then,” Nitrogue said, “if the administrators need so many self-aware NPCs.”

“What could be wrong?” Kurt asked gently.

“I don’t know.” Nitrogue shrugged. “The difficulty settings?”

“If it’s difficult enough,” Leslie retorted, “then you wouldn’t have needed to go off into the ocean on a sinking ship.”

That effectively ended all conversation until the group returned to the main land. There Nitrogue and his party gave the NPCs a grudging thank you before they went off toward the Central Hub.

“I don’t understand,” Kurt said as the NPCs watched the players go. “What could be wrong with Dragon Tamer?”

Leslie scratched the back of her head. “Not sure about that,” she said. “Seems like some of the more ambitious players need something to reach for that have more to do with them than with natural disasters in the environment. Maybe we should see if Gears or Animus is on.”

“I haven’t seen either of them in a while,” Kurt said. He gave Noodles’ neck a rub before directing her to follow Leslie and Rosie.

“I know his favorite spot in the Wildlands,” Leslie said. “If he’s on, he’ll be there.”

“How often do you see him?” Kurt asked.

“Probably about as often as you would see Animus,” Leslie said, glancing back at him. “You see her far more often than you see Gears, right?”

“That’s true,” Kurt said. “We tend to find each other around the landscapes that cater more to Water and Wind dragons, while Gears and yourself—”

“We’re more Fire and Earth,” she finished for him. “It works out, I guess. Certain NPCs reporting to certain administrators. Makes sense.”

Kurt merely nodded in response and the rest of the ride to the Wildlands was silent. Eventually, the pair of NPCs landed at the edge of the Labyrinth that looked out over the Wildlands.

The Wildlands had an appropriate name. While the landscape didn’t have quite enough trees to be called a forest, it was rather green and brown with foliage. Thorny and sticky bushes and undergrowth were a favorite hiding spots for the monsters that plagued the area, and it granted those who wished for their Spirit hatchling to grow into an Earth element dragon plenty of opportunities to gain experience. There were areas spotted with barren earth, rich in yellows and reds in color, which boasted sandy terrains and valleys, generally hiding quicksand if one was not swift on his or her feet. While Kurt had some experience in the Wildlands, he was more than content to follow Leslie’s footsteps obediently.

Leslie confidently strode through the Wildlands, finding paths and easier roads to follow rather than the crude trails that most players and NPCs, Kurt himself included, would have taken. She deftly stepped over quicksand spots and Kurt did his best to mimic her footsteps. He was proud that Noodles had to pull him out of a tight spot only once. It wasn’t too long that Leslie pulled back a curtain of vines to reveal a small cave lit with fireflies.

“Just follow the path,” Leslie said, allowing Kurt to go first. Noodles shrunk down to fit in Kurt’s arms and he absently stroked her back as he marveled at the colorful glows around him. The cave was simple to navigate with enough of the bugs to light the path, even as they began to dwindle in number. When Kurt passed the last violet-hued firefly, the pathway became brighter as they emerged into a grassy clearing.

“What is this place?” Kurt asked as Leslie stepped up beside him. Rosie was perched atop of her head.

“Don’t think it has a name,” Leslie admitted after pausing to no doubt run through her memory files. With a quirked smile to Kurt, she added, “It’s probably some little nook that Gears added to the game at the last minute to give himself a spot to work from.”

Kurt shared her smile as he followed her down into the clearing. In the middle of the area were a couple of rather large trees. In between them was an equally large hammock stretched across, large enough for the giant Earth dragon to comfortable lay down and take a snooze at full size. Kurt realized that the Earth dragon was Gears’ dragon Soreth and, upon inspecting the creature closer, Kurt realized that there was Gears himself lounging against Soreth’s neck.

Holographic images with bits and pieces of code were in front of the Dragon Tamer’s administrator as he typed away on a matching keyboard. The images were created from varying shades of green and gray, with their source emitting from the goggles obscuring Gears’ face. Every so often Gears would touch the holographic screen and flip or swipe it to reveal another page of code and programming before continuing to type away.

Despite how absorbed he appeared to be in his work, Gears somehow had noticed that Leslie and Kurt had entered his hideaway. Without looking down at them, Gears smiled and greeted them with, “Hello. Is there something I can do for you?”

“We just rescued a bunch of stupid players,” Leslie said, getting right down to the point. Her choice of words made Gears glance down at them, one dark eyebrow rising from behind his avatar’s goggles before he pushed the goggles up to rest at the top of his forehead.

Leslie elaborated. “A few of us caught a literal S.O.S. message and found half a dozen avatars clinging to a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. Players claimed that they wanted to try a self-imposed difficulty challenge or something.”

“Maybe I should up the levels of some of the monsters, then,” Gears said. “It can’t be too much or too close to the Central Hub and the starting players, of course, but—”

“We’re not sure if it’s just that,” Kurt said. Soreth woke up and snaked down to the ground, allowing Gears to hop off and stand in front of the NPCs. The administrator had a shorter avatar than either of the two NPCs and he didn’t seem to mind looking up at Kurt and Leslie.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Gears said.

“The players that we rescued,” Kurt continued, “said something about how strange it was that us non-playable characters are this self-aware and fully capable of defending ourselves. Apparently it is not the norm in a video game for the non-playable characters to rescue the players. Generally it’s the other way around.”

“That’s true,” Gears said with a nod. “In all honesty, Animus and I hadn’t meant for you all to be this smart, but I think of it as a good thing. We have less to worry about with you NPCs around to help take care of the realm, and I don’t like creating NPCs just for the sole purpose of having them routinely get into trouble for the sake of players’ quests.”

“The players don’t feel the same way,” Leslie pointed out. She crossed her arms, leaning against one of the area’s large trees. “What should we do about it? I don’t like the idea of pandering to them, but you can change the way I feel if you need to.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Gears said.

“Why not?” Kurt found himself asking.

Gears tilted his head, floundering a bit from the question. “Your personalities evolved from the simple two or three traits that Animus and I had originally programmed into you. It wouldn’t be fair to take that away from you.”

“While I appreciate the sentiment,” Leslie said, “you’re the big boss. It really doesn’t matter to us what you do to our programming. We don’t have a choice.”

“Yes you do,” Gears insisted. “That’s why I don’t want to make changes to your code unless you’re okay with it.”

“I am okay with it, though,” Leslie said. “Do whatever you want.”

“Not like that,” Gears said with a shake of his head. “The NPCs are the population of this world. It’s real to you guys. We don’t want to change things unless we absolutely have to or it would be for the better for you guys.”

“What about the players?” Kurt asked. “Isn’t the point of this place to create an entertaining and stimulating game play experience for them?”

“Of course it is,” Gears said.

“Logically,” Kurt said, “you should be more concerned with how they feel about the Dragon Tamer realm. Not us.”

Gears rubbed the back of his head. “I… I do understand what you’re saying,” he said. “I still wouldn’t… It wouldn’t feel ethically right to me or to Animus if we messed with your world. You’re more self-aware than we had originally realized…”

“Is that bad?” Kurt asked.

Gears gave him a brief smile. “No, not at all. Getting back to these players that you rescued…”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Scribbles

 

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Short Story Sunday – Camp NaNo Excerpt (April 2015)

Instead of the usual short stories that I post on Sundays, I thought I would post an excerpt to my Camp NaNo novel. Here is a past post with a brief synopsis of the story currently titled, “NPC.” Basically, it’s a video game/MMORPG world where the players are paired up with dragons.  I hope you enjoy it and have had/are having a wonderful Easter and weekend!

An Excerpt from NPC

“It’s not often we find a Water around these parts,” were Brent’s first words as he hopped off of Foxtail’s back and sauntered toward Kurt and Noodles. “I’m a bit surprised that you contacted me.”

“I figured that Fire dragons and their masters would be the more knowledgeable pairs to ask about this region,” Kurt said with a nod and a gesture toward Mount Cataclysm.

“You’d figure right.” Brent glanced at the mountain range. “So, then, what do you want to know about the mountains?”

“It’s about the players that were caught in the summit earlier today,” Kurt said. “They mentioned that it was a rockslide that had caused them to get stuck. When I spoke to Animus about it—”

Brent scoffed. “Ah, the mod that knows everything about our world, eh?”

“She helped create it, Brent,” Kurt said. “I’d be concerned if she didn’t know enough about the realm.

“Anyway,” he continued, “Animus said that the servers and programming should have withstood the attacks and not have caused a landslide large enough to trap a couple of players. I wanted back-up to check it out.”

Brent raised an eyebrow. “And you called me?”

“You were the first one I thought of,” Kurt admitted. “If you don’t want to help, I can contact someone else. Maybe Josephine—”

“No, I’ll help.” Brent ran his hand through his hair and glanced back up at the mountain. “Foxtail and I aren’t doing anything exciting right now. I just don’t think that there’s really anything you need help with, ya know? I don’t think a landslide is all that uncommon.”

“It isn’t?” Kurt said, glancing over his shoulder at Brent before leading the way into the cavern. Noodles clung to her master’s shoulders. “You have landslides often, then? You should inform Gears or Animus—”

“We don’t have landslides every day or anything.” Brent followed with a shrunken Foxtail gliding along behind him. The Fire dragon gave off a natural glow that lit the cave just enough for the group to see by. “With the extra monsters and the enthusiastic, to put it nicely, players that take care of them to help their dragons grow… Well, landslides happen more often than the administrators care to know.”

“Gears and Animus would care to know, I’m sure,” Kurt said. “If you’re having more landslides that are not supposed to happen in the program, then the code must be—”

“Do you hear yourself?” Brent looked down at Kurt from the crag that they had been climbing. He hauled Kurt up to the top when Kurt had been close enough to reach. “Who do you think you are?”

“I’m Kurt,” Kurt said, taking a step back from Brent and brushing off the dirt and dust that his shirt snagged from the rock face. “I’m a non-playable character moderator for Dragon Tamer—”

“You’re an NPC,” Brent said. “That’s it. No more. That’s all that we’ve been created for. There is nothing else. The administrators are nice, sure, but they have to be in order for us to do our jobs. They don’t care that much about us or our world so long as we do what we’re supposed to.”

“That’s not true,” Kurt said. “They do care about us. Why else would they spend so much time in this world when they have their own? Why would they trust us, help us grow if they didn’t care?”

“It’s their job,” Brent said. “If they don’t act nice to let us do our jobs, then they don’t have their jobs. It’s all one big cycle.”

“They don’t get paid to create and maintain this world,” Kurt said. He brushed past Brent, wishing now that he had called Josephine and her Fire dragon. Josephine was the type to light trees on fire to watch the “pretty flames burn,” but at least she had her zest for exploring.

“They don’t get paid yet, you mean,” Brent said. Kurt gave him a backwards glance, prompting Brent to continue. “Say this game on their world becomes popular. So popular that they need a little donation money to buy a more powerful second server to keep the game going. Because it’s so popular, players are going to pay. They get enough players, they get enough money. They get enough money, one of the big corporations in their world are going to take some interest in Dragon Tamer. If the administrators are smart, they’ll take whatever monetary offer they get.

“If they’re really smart,” Brent continued, “which they seem to be considering they created an entire world and a population of people and creatures to go with it, they may be able to create their own corporation. You get where this is going, Kurt?”

“If their hard work comes to that,” Kurt said, finally looking back at Brent, “then they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.”

Brent’s snort swiftly turned to laughter. “And then what, Kurt? They get all the money, they get a corporation to take care of our world, of this game… Then where do we end up?”

“We’ll still be here,” Kurt said, “helping to care for it—”

“Yeah, sure.” Brent shook his head. “They get enough money they’ll get live moderators to crack down on the players here. They get a big enough corporation and everything in this world, including us, will get strict scripts to live by. Hey, who knows.” Brent shrugged and cut ahead of Kurt again. “With moderators from the real world, our mod codes could be erased. Our self-awareness, something that Gears and Animus thought would be nice to give us, will be gone. They wouldn’t want us to, you know, rebel or anything.”

Kurt paused a moment. “Would you?” he asked. “Would you rebel, Brent?”

Brent didn’t answer as he and Foxtail continued through the cavern, leaving Kurt and Noodles behind in the shadows.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 5, 2015 in Scribbles

 

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