Any feedback please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org - if you don't like the story, e-mail me instead of adding me to some other stupid mailing list, I get enough of those anyway.
Also, probably I'll have a website for this story available at http://winterblade.hypermart.net - if I have it, you'll be able to find a map, and possibly some notes on my characters there, as well as an updated copy of the story (which you'll find here too). This story, and the characters and devices contained herein are all copyright 2002, Matthew DeCosta.
*beep, beep, beep, beep* Jeremy groaned as he rolled over. *beep, beep, beep* "Infernal alarm clock" *beep, beep, bezzzppt* "Damn things should be gotten rid of all together" Jeremy muttered as he rolled back over after turning the alarm clock off. Unfortunately, the alarm clock had done its job, and he was now fully awake. Pulling the covers back he sat on the edge of the bed and looked at himself, 145 pounds, 6 foot, dyed silver-blonde hair, muscles under toned from lack of exercise. 'Damn computers, if it weren't for them I might have a job that required physical work, instead of mental', he thought. Pulling on a pair of boxers he leaned over and kissed the still sleeping form of his boyfriend, "David, love, time to wake up."
"Mmph... but its too early", David replied sleepily.
"Hate to say it, but its already 9 o'clock", Jeremy replied as he was pulling out their clothes for the day.
"Yeah... but... it's a Saturday"
"I know, love, but we have that appointment with... err... whats-his-name... you know.... the dude"
"Hendrick, the new game manager Hexon hired," David provided.
"Yeah, him, and to do this, we've got to drive down to Reno, that'll take an hour. Then catch our flight at noon, which you know these days we've got to be there two hours early, even for a private jet. Then fly to Santa Clara just so we can get to their, quote 'corporate office', and have them tell us where we're supposed to meet the guy to discuss Winterblade taking over the Dark Years project. All of this, and a return flight back today, damn I hate people who insist on doing things in person." Resigned to actually having to get up, David joined Jeremy in choosing the wardrobe.
"Dear, you know this would be a lot easier if we had waited to manage the company until after we were out of High School," David reminded again.
"Aww shut up and lets get going," replied Jeremy, playfully, and giving David another kiss stepped into the bathroom to prepare the shower. David shook his head again and followed him into the bathroom and eventually into the shower.
*** Thirty minutes later ***
Thirty minutes of washing, scrubbing, kissing and tonguing later, the pair were dressed and headed out of the Winterblade Productions main office / family house and down into the parking garage. "Take the Porsche or the Mitsubishi?" asked David, looking at the key ring.
"Well, personally I like the Eclipse Spyder, but if you want we'll take your Boxter", Jeremy replied to the common morning quandary over whose car to take. David replied by selecting the key to the Mitsubishi, allowing Jeremy a small inward smile, all the while thinking 'It's the little concessions we make to each other that make this relationship wonderful.'
David got in, passenger side, and tossed Jeremy the keys, "Coming?" he asked, sticking his tongue out.
Jeremy just laughed and sat down behind the wheel, still marveling at the idea of owning such an excellently made vehicle. He was no car person, especially considering the fact that the car had to be specially fitted with both a hybrid gas-electric engine and an automatic gearshift, but still he had never considered that he would ever have the money to pay for it.
Turning the ignition he checked the computer display where the temperature controls usually are, the small monitor lit up with the request to 'Enter Access Code', punching in the twelve digit password, Jeremy was presented with the car status view, telling him everything from fuel, oil, and battery charges to tire air-pressure. He quickly punched the radio tab and selected the XM tuning band, no use in trying to pick a station out in this town, the whole three that would be available were 'Country crap', 'Old crap', and 'Worst hits, worst variety crap'. However, when he punched the button to 'Select Station', an error pop-ed up stating 'XM Service Currently unavailable', swearing under his breath he hit the 'Cancel' button and switched to 'MP3 Play'.
After the momentary delay, they finally got underway, stopping only for the parking garage door, and at a local gas station / bar / deli / motel three miles away to purchase breakfast, consisting of soda and a deli sandwich.
*** Meanwhile - in another part of the Winterblade complex***
*click, click, splurch*
*click, click, splurch*
*click, click, splurch*
*click... click... click... thunk* "Shit!" muttered Jeremy's mother, Sue, as the game displayed the 'Defeat' message. "Jeremy! Jeremy! Damn... they're already gone", Sue muttered at her computer screen. Quickly following that, she punched the button on the intercom and voice mail system to leave a message for Jeremy and David, "Jeremy, the battle in the first orchard of the manor is too difficult for being a minor battle. David, I have a feeling you were responsible for that, remember, we're trying to sell games, not piss gamers off. Talk to you two when you get home", Sue finished and hit the send button. Clicking on the 'Continue from saved' button, Sue quickly enabled the debugging mode and toggled invincibility on, going back into the orchard, she quickly knocked around a few skeleton heads and, after checking the coast was clear again, saved, and toggled invincibility back off.
*** Also occurring at about this moment - in a nearby 'town' ***
Shaun quickly typed in the Winterblade Productions URL into his browser and was instantly at the WPI (Winterblade Productions, Inc.) homepage. He smiled to himself and muttered, "I guess this shithole county does have some benefits, going to school with the heads of Winterblade and living no more than 10 miles away from their corporate office ain't bad at all." Shaun, of course, had known Jeremy and David before they had become 'famous', hell, before David even realized that he was gay. The three of them had always worked well together, but Shaun was neither gay nor a computer programmer, so he tended to be less involved these days.
Breaking out of his reverie, Shaun logged into the 'Staff' section, using the 'VIP guest' login Jeremy had offered him. After a moment of pause, the server processed his login and checked the IP listing for valid addresses for that entry. Shaun was then presented with the company database. Quickly he scrolled to the status logs section and began reading up on the latest Winterblade projects. He noticed a new entry, and suddenly was quite pleased; there was finally a playable beta of their latest game available. Without having direct access to the terminals at the company complex, Shaun hadn't been able to see more than the screenshots that had been provided on the on-line server. He shook his head a slight bit at that, it was confusing, how they had a secure staff page section, and yet you could only access actual development files if you were at the Winterblade complex itself. 'Security reasons, I guess' Shaun decided. Once again shaking himself back into reality, he began the download of the demo and decided to go get food.
*** Occurring sometime in between the beginning of this chapter and before Jeremy and David arrive at Reno - near Shaun's house ***
Tyler woke with a start, his dreams of wielding sorcery against a horde of skeletons broken when 'he' was 'stabbed' with a 'sword'... all in the dream world... 'But... it had felt so real... as if I was there' he thought, possibly aloud, to himself. He slowly shook the feeling from himself and got up to take a shower. The cold water washed over his slim form and washed the last vestiges of sleep and dreams from his mind. However, one thing remained clear in his mind, the image emblazoned on the robes in his dreams. A shield, black as night, with a blizzard swirling about, and a magnificent sword sheathed behind the shield.
*** Still elsewhere and at the same moment... ***
Crystal was practicing her morning routine of karate, followed by an extensive session of meditating upon the flows of energy in the body. An interesting combination, a martial arts form, and the teachings of magic. It was similar in the fact that both required absolute discipline, but different in culture and whatnot. Finishing her katas, she spent some time in refining some of the magical lines that had become clouded during the previous day. Then Crystal decided to do something less serious, like play on the computer some.
*** Lastly, in another plane of existence all together... ***
The mage sat back and pondered the events in the world called 'Earth'. Such amazing technology that he marveled at, and yet their apparent lack of magical knowledge puzzled him. How could people with that much latent talent not be aware of it. He pondered upon this while the images of his chosen ones floated in the air in front of him. 'Yes', he thought, 'those six are strong, and they will serve well in the coming weeks. I shall summon them tonight.'
*** Later on in the day - in Santa Clara, near the boardwalk ***
"Listen, the players need new quests, new places, and new everything, which apparently neither you, nor Hexon, is willing to grant... now, we are offering a nice settlement, and all of the proceeds, minus our standard fifteen percent developer fee, still go to Hexon." Jeremy stated wearily, discussions with the Dark Years game manager, as well as the bitch Hexon called a 'Vice President', had continued mostly in the same vein for the past two hours, revolving constantly around the subject of costs and motives.
"Yes, but what's in it for you? Nobody hands out a deal like this without there being something in it for them" snapped Jenny, the Vice President of Hexon.
"What's in it for us is we get to see the game that you allowed to stagnate get some much needed work added to it. The only other stipulation is that we get administrative access to the server, meaning we can cancel and, or IP block accounts, if we deem the user to be... devaluing the game play", David replied, just as wearily as Jeremy, but not willing to let this deal go. Both he and Jeremy were avid players of Dark Years, and both were fed up by the little snippets of patronizing additions that Hexon gave every six months, if they were lucky.
"Just how do we know that you won't use favoritism, you know we don't normally allow players to act in any form of administrative position" queried Hendrick, the game manager.
"As far as playing favorites go, firstly, you've had a game director that did that, the players got rid of him well enough. We, on the other hand, will be using that power primarily to deal with the major troublemakers in the game... this self-styled 'Yakuza' guild for example; I'm surprised you people have allowed it to go this far. I'm sure the... group... from which they 'borrowed' the name of would be so pleased of you for allowing it as well" Jeremy warned, MMORPGs were fun, but they could have serious repercussions in the case of player idiocy, especially when said idiocy dealt with things such as real world issues.
"Very well, we'll consent to this, but a full list of terms will be faxed to your office on Thursday, once we've had time to discuss this with the full Dark Years staff," Jenny finished off the negotiations, without much tact, and rose with Hendrick in tow, displaying contempt towards the two lovers.
As soon as they were out of earshot, David muttered, "Full Dark Years staff... hah... that's what... that guy, 'Lilith' and 'Emma', hell the last two aren't even Dark Years staff, they're Hexon billing and Hexon Masturbation-while-pretending-to-answer-phones-and-emails." Laughing at David's comments, Jeremy rose from the table at the seaside restaurant, looking down at his uneaten plate of shrimp. David, noticing this, scolded him, "You need to eat more, you're loosing weight and working too much for the amount of food you do eat."
Jeremy smiled wearily at David, "Love, I'll be fine," then added with a wink, "the food just tasted like crap, that's all"
*** Much later on that day, back at the Winterblade complex ***
Jeremy and David were glad to be home, not so much that they didn't like traveling, but the company of Winterblade Productions was such a soothing place, everybody was family, and they ate like it too. Seated at the large dining room table, which seated not only Jeremy, David, and Jeremy's family (his mother, step-father, sister, and one pair of grandparents) but also the rest of the staff that lived at the complex, as well as their children, many of whom worked alongside their parents during the afternoons. Many speculated that it was the children who really made the games great, what better design staff than the target audience.
Jeremy mused over the environment here, compared to the rest of the world, 'One rule of Winterblade was that there was to be no discrimination from unchangeable properties, only against those who chose to be rude or otherwise... well... evil, for lack of a better term. Even the children, given over to society's prejudices, were polite to all who deserved it. No wonder it just feels good to be with these people'
At the same time, David was musing over how much sleep they were missing out on, 'At this rate we'll have to spend less time having sex and more time sleeping... how annoying.'
Dinner was over all too quickly, and the families all went either upstairs to finish up some last minute work, or off into the many recreation rooms about the first level of the complex. Jeremy and David rose from their seats, almost in unison, as the table had cleared, and walked hand-in-hand out into the center of the complex, where, surrounded on three sides by the offices, bedrooms and other rooms, and on one side by a wall of floor to ceiling windows, which rose to the top of the three story complex. The roof itself, at least the part covering this large light filled garden, was made of glass as well, of much the same variety as the material in the 'window-wall', a thick glass that would withstand most anything, yet was almost so clear you couldn't tell it was there.
Within this large garden was everything from a small stand of trees, to a pond and stream, running towards the entryway, where it dropped off in a waterfall to splash out into the fountain outside, and eventually be pumped back to the pond. On the edge of the stand of trees, and bordering the pond was Jeremy and David's destination, a small collection of stone benches and pillars, looking none so much like a mythical setting from one of their games. Of course, this place, unlike in their games, had a single computer terminal set into the stone, so that anybody could be reached there with a minimum of effort.
Jeremy reclined onto one of the benches, leaching against a pillar that abutted the bench. David followed suit, reclining cradled in Jeremy's arms. Of course, the bench they chose was next to the computer terminal, since they needed to be all too easily reachable, no telling what would need their approval, even in the evening work at Winterblade never ceased. When they had started the company, neither would have imagined that their employees would willingly work at this hour, or do it so contentedly as they did, accompanied by their families hovering around, or sitting at nearby terminals typing away at their own projects.
All too soon, their silent reverie was broken by the monotone voice of the computer terminal state 'Incoming message for Mr. Winterblade and Mr. d'Winter.' Jeremy groaned while mentally regarding the list of current projects under development by the company. 'Lets see, we've got the development of our latest game, Misty could be wanting approval on her latest book, or, now there's an interesting thought, perhaps we've got some new news about the development on our defense contract.' Jeremy untwined an arm from about David and brought it over to the terminal to hit the 'Accept' button. The voice of the secretary quickly buzzed over the computer-made-intercom, "Excuse me sir, but a person by the name of Shaun Alexander is here to see you..." the voice of the secretary trailed off, though it was obvious she wanted to know if she was to allow Shaun in.
"Thank you Anna, tell Shaun to meet us at the Gate-stones" Jeremy replied to the unspoken question, using the popular term for the bench / pillar arrangement, a term derived from the in-game title of its computerized counterpart. Everybody who spent more than an hour at the Winterblade complex automatically knew what the 'Gate-stones' were.
"Of course, sir," the secretary replied crisply and the transmission cut off, ending in an undignified warble from the terminal. In only a few seconds, Shaun arrived at the Gate-stones and parked himself on a bench near the one Jeremy and David were reclined on.
"Hello Shaun, I'll get right to the point, what's up?" greeted David in askance.
Shaun nodded in reply, shrugged, and said, "I have... absolutely no clue why I came here, but it just seemed like something I had to do. Strange, isn't it"
David and Jeremy started to nod, but the computer terminal beeped again, automatically connecting the transmission after a moments pause. "Sir, sorry to bother you again, but I have a Tyler Lavitz and a Crystal Sanchez here to see you as well," the secretary chimed in.
Looking slightly puzzled, Jeremy nevertheless replied, in a slightly detached voice, "Sure... send them to the Gate-stones." Not even bothering to say anything, the secretary buzzed out. Before Tyler and Crystal could arrive, however, the scene was interrupted by Sue wandering in and sitting down on a bench, looking somewhat confused herself. Tyler and Crystal took that moment to show up, and looking around at the oddly assembled group, sat down, Tyler on the floor leaning against the same pillar Jeremy and David were using as a backrest, and Crystal on one of the smaller benches with a curved and surprisingly, for being made of stone, soft back.
Jeremy looked at the group, his arms still firmly around David's waist, and stated, "You know, right now, I'm starting to find this odd." Most of the group just looked back and nodded in assent. Tyler, however, with his head level with Jeremy's elbow, asked, "Did everybody somehow feel like they had to come here?" Strangely, his question met the same set of nods that had just been given.
David, intent on the mystery of the situation, sat up and, disentangling himself from Jeremy, causing Jeremy to sit up as well, leaned forward from the bench slightly. "So, everybody felt that they had to get here, at the same time, and be in this very place all together. Now if that isn't weird."
Jeremy started to further discuss the situation, if it could be called that, but as he prepared to open his mouth, there was a sound like the crackling of energy, followed by a bright blast of bluish light, and then all went black and he was overcome by a powerful sense of vertigo... before he lost consciousness....