Friday, August 28, 2015

Pre-order discount for The Lag

An offer from the authors! The pre-released price has been dropped to $0.99. Everyone who’s already preordered the book will only be charged $0.99 on the release day. Secure your copy now!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lag (The Game Master: Book #1) Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Chapter Two

His head spun. Attila staggered but kept his balance. He could walk! Okay, let's try it again.
He took another step. And again, trying to relax and breathe in synch. That was it. He was fine. He wasn't wheelchair-bound anymore. He wasn't a cripple. His legs were there: strong and healthy, his amblers, his supports, his very own limbs! He could will them to move! It wasn't his cartoon character on screen but he himself, Ivan Attila, happily sauntering around!
Attila ran his hands down his thighs, then did a few sit-ups. He laughed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this happy.
The wind rippled the grass around the portal station; it ruffled the branches of the towering poplars whose tops pierced the clouds. The sun would come out, revealing patches of bright blue amid the menacing clouds and spotting the valley below with gold. Then the clouds would close in, submerging the world below in a chilly gloom.
Shaking his head, Attila took in the cool air. So this was the Dead Canyon. The land of sorcerers and necromancers, of witches and the undead, vagabond pioneers and Royal legionnaires, peddlers and dark knights; of humans, dwarves and Elves as well as monsters of every possible caliber.
Right. Time to turn to business. No matter how good he felt, he had a few debts to pay. Which meant he had to get the God's Eye off his hands and pretty quickly, too.
He shifted his shield from his arm to his back. Off we go, then! All the way to the Unicorn Tavern, chop chop!
Yeah right, dream on. Immediately he noticed the Rot glowing in front of the castle wall. This was one hell of an acid-like aberration that could eat right through you down to the bone. Next to it lurked an almost indistinguishable Butcher, betrayed only by a slight quivering of the fabric of reality by one of the poplar's roots. This was something much worse: a gravitational aberration that could, if you weren't careful, suck you in and grind you into bone dust, then spew you out scattering your powdered remains to the wind. In daytime you might just about notice it if you were lucky but at night it was virtually invisible.
Aberrations were localized phenomena of magic nature that had been discovered at the Dead Canyon after the first Magic Storm. Although dangerous, they could generate artifacts of unique and useful properties. This generated a considerable infusion into Gryad's economy as its artifact market was estimated at several million dollars.
The area bordering on the Dead Canyon was known as the Frontier Valley and the ruins of a castle and the wall around it, the Fortress. It used to be controlled by the Awesome clan but recently they'd been driven out. Afterward, the area had been trampled by one of the occasional monster stampedes. These days it was a quiet location, neutral and sparsely populated.
Lots of things can change in a game. Players come and go; the internal balance of power can change and so can the map of aberrations. Some things, though, remain the same. Like the Unicorn Tavern, always open in the Fortress donjon: a place to stretch your legs after a raid and to sell or swap your findings.
Attila gave these aberrations a wide berth. He climbed through a breach in the wall and walked past a couple of ruins overgrown with moss. The donjon rose before him. He slapped his belt bag where he kept God's Eye and hurried on, not forgetting to watch where he was going. The Dead Canyon was one dangerous place. If he was killed now, the cheat would probably stay on his corpse. Which meant he'd have to retrace his tracks from the portal station, risking being late for his RV and - much more importantly - risking someone else picking God's Eye up from his dead body.
The tall angular donjon made of large slabs of stone towered before him. A squawk came from above. Mechanically Attila reached for his sword, then swore under his breath. This was Bestia, a harpy that lived alone in her nest on top of the donjon. She was as mad as a bat. Harpies are, normally, but this one had a couple of screws loose. Every time someone approached the center of the fortress she would scream her head off warning the tavern's guards about a new visitor and showering him with her fossilized feces. Although she never actually hit anyone with it.
The breach in the donjon wall that offered access to the tavern faced north. Attila was approaching it from the west. Instead of entering the building, he stole a look around and turned toward a tall copse of bushes. He climbed inside and crouched on the ground. Then he opened the Book and reached for the God's Eye in his belt bag.
No player was ever without his Book. You couldn't lose, sell, steal or give it away. The Book's appearance differed depending on your level. At first it was little more than a miserable-looking journal bound in cheap leather, but as you progressed through levels, it transformed into a precious manuscript inlaid with precious gems. You could leaf through it; alternatively, you could transfer your interface onto its cover. As a level 29 Ranger, Attila owned a beautiful Book bound in embossed morocco leather and topped with a fancy frame surrounding the magic screen. Instead of all the buttons and the joy stick he had four oblong crystals, one in each corner of the Book: white, blue, green and black. You could press them, sinking them into the soft leather, and also turn them knob-like... overall, this was an excellent thing available to everyone level 20 and above. It had cost Attila two hundred gold but it was worth every penny.
He pressed the white crystal, then turned the green one. The bag on his belt twitched. The silver disk of God's Eye soared into the sky, clicking; it splayed its arms out, unfolding into a steel six-pointed star. An open eye glowed in its center, its black pupil floating in a hemispherical pool of mercury. Its arms dripped magical runes that slowly melted in the air.
The artifact stopped about fifty feet above the ground. Attila pressed the white crystal slightly, activating its stealth mode. The star streamed charges of lightning, dematerializing. It wasn't a hundred percent invisible but if you didn't know it was there you'd be hard pressed to find it.
He reached into the bag again, producing his pride and joy: a pair of large copper goggles complete with a leather strap. Attila had modeled them after the Goggles of Underground Gloom which he'd bought from a dwarf player who'd managed to come back from the Steam Tunnels alive and in one piece. The modified goggles still allowed you to move in the dark dungeon without a torch or other source of light, but now they also served a new purpose.
Attila put the goggles on and secured the strap around his head. He turned the black crystal on the book cover. A small round window appeared in the goggles' left lens. He turned the blue crystal slightly, and the Eye in the sky rotated, following its movement.
The little round lens blinked. Overlapping the view around, it offered a bird's eye view of the area. Bestia soared over the donjon, oblivious to God's Eye watching her. Ruins bared their grinning stumps of walls from the sea of greenery. Slowly God's Eye began to rotate, offering a panoramic view.
So, what did we have here? The Eye offered a view of the donjon's flat roof complete with Bestia's nest made of a paraphernalia of twigs, bones and withered pelts of small forest creatures. Then she was back, landing and taking her place in the nest. Harpies were sharp-fanged creatures dressed in scruffy tunics made of animal pelts. They had female bodies, emaciated arms and a pair of scraggly skeletal wings on their backs. Harpies were known for their nasty and quarrelsome character, aggressive with newbs and cowardly with established gamers.
Bestia crouched in her nest and froze, staring into space. Attila couldn't see her face from above but he could well imagine it, spiteful and dumb. Despite the fact that harpies walked around half-naked, they were about as sexy as a geriatric frog.
He motioned the Eye further on and squinted, focusing on a hole in the wall overgrown with brambles. This was the entrance to the Tavern.
A man clambered out and stood up, looking about himself. He wore a checkered bandana, a gray and green hunter's jacket and a tartan kilt. A highlander, oh right.
The man carried a leather backpack. In one hand he held a short spear. And if Attila lowered the Eye slightly and looked at him from a different angle... oh, yes. Now he could see the man's short dark beard and his bushy eyebrows. His powerful legs were stuck into a pair of fur boots.
The highlander shrugged and began forcing his way through the bushes. At least he seemed to be heading in the opposite direction from the portal station. Attila wasn't exactly looking forward to meeting the guy face to face.
In any case, it looked like the Eye was working. True, it wasn't exactly legal. It could easily get him collared by the legionnaires: the players hired by the Admins to perform police functions. The only thing left was to get paid for it.
Attila stood up. The whole thing was a piece of cake. He had the goods; his customer was now waiting for him in the tavern, prepared to part with a hefty sum of money. So why did he have this bad feeling? He seemed to sense someone's stare focused on his back.
Attila changed the Eye's settings so that it hovered nearby the donjon, rotating slowly. The image in his goggles and on the cover of the Book also began to rotate. Good. Let it stay there and scan the area. This wasn't some Mickey Mouse business. Attila was playing big time. Security was key.
He shut down the Book view and began walking around the donjon, keeping an eye on the image in his goggles. Immediately he stumbled into some gelatinous goo. The fabric of reality around him thickened, rippled with interference. Then it all ended. An aberration? There was no record of anyone encountering them so close to the tavern. A glitch? Most likely. Never mind. It didn't seem to have affected anything. Time to move on.
He climbed through the narrow hole and found himself in a room with a door watched by two NPC guards. A torch burned brightly. One of the guards was sitting on an upended bucket; the other was leaning against the wall. Whoever entered the room, their modus operandi didn't change: the one on the bucket raised his loaded crossbow, aiming it at the guest, while the other laid his hand on his broadsword and demanded,
"Who the hell are you? What's your business?"
"Need a drink," Attila dropped as he walked through the door.
"Leave your weapons over there!" the guard barked at his back.
He went down a staircase lit by another torch which was stuck into the crown of an enormous skull that sat on one of the steps. Below, a copper-lined door led into the tavern. Joel the guard stirred next to the shelves laden with various weapons. He was an NPC, too.
"Lay your weapons onto the shelf!" he commanded.
You couldn't enter the tavern while carrying weapons in any shape or form. The door just wouldn't open. Every game had to have safe locations like this.
Attila ran a nonchalant hand across his chest, removing his sword and the shield, then unbuckled his knife and laid it onto the shelf. Joel watched over him, playing with his broadsword. The only thing Attila had kept was a large iron medallion on his neck in the shape of a two-pronged fork. Attila had been allowed through while carrying it hundreds of times before; the game security just failed to detect it. And still he breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened before him.
The tavern was lit by oil lamps hanging from hooks. Two patrons were engrossed in a game of cards at the nearest table; they turned their heads for a look and immediately lost all interest in him. A gaunt stooping Elf nursed his mug on a bar stool; he looked around, saw him and reached for his backpack lying on the spare stool next to him, moving it onto his lap.
Two more men were having dinner at the other end of the room next to the door that led to the castle's dungeons. The one that was facing him raised his head, meeting Attila's stare; then he looked back down at his plateful of meat stew. His friend kept rattling his spoon against his own bowl gulping his food down greedily, his ears moving with the effort.
Attila nodded to the landlord behind the bar. His name was Barb - and he was actually a unicorn. Or rather, an animal humanoid. His body was perfectly human, ending in a horse-like neck and head topped with a long horn. A long time ago, when Attila had still been learning the local lay of the land, someone had told him Barb's story. His name was indeed Barb: a seedy vendor dealing in some questionable goods who one day had the misfortune to rip off a Barbarian Shaman by selling him some run-of-the mill deer horns in place of the unique Unicorn horns famous for their magic properties. The shaman - who happened to be a worshipper of the Beast God - saw right through his little scheme and cursed the landlord, turning him into his current shape. After that, no one wanted to deal with him so he opened the tavern instead.
Upon seeing Attila, the landlord shook his mane and neighed curtly, motioning him to enter. Attila found it funny that he could both speak and neigh like a proper unicorn.
Finally Attila saw his customer.
A large bearded half-orc clad in a shiny bulbous cuirass (he'd identified himself as Beast at their initial RV) was sitting at a table not far from the bar. In front of him lay his helmet adorned with a picture of a fanged orc skull and crossbones. It was tacky as hell but it did catch your eye. An enormous mace lay on the table next to it.
The half-orc raised his huge beam of an arm, motioning Attila to approach. He bared his yellow fangs in a grin, then raised his beer mug by way of greeting him.
Attila took a seat at the table next to him. The half-orc had pale-blue skin. A scar ran across his temple. His long beard was tied in a knot at the end; as for his hair, it was unusually thick, resembling a nest of little snakes. A bowl of pickles stood on the table next to a second mug. Beast reached out and filled it from a keg.
"Cheers, man! May the Canyon be good to us!"
Attila reached for the mug and drank the toast. Beast's Adam's apple twitched as he poured the beer down his neck. Then he grunted, pounding his nearly-empty mug onto the table. Attila barely touched his drink.
"So? Have you got it?" Beast craned his powerful neck toward him. His voice sounded impressively husky but still Attila thought he could detect a sour note. His customer must have been young - most likely using a voice changer attached to a microphone to sound older.
The customer cast a furtive glance around and leaned toward Attila. His dark orcish eyes glistened as he repeated,
"So, you got it? Show me. Can't wait."
His boyish intonation didn't match his militant stance. When an enormous bearded hulk of a half-orc complete with scars, weathered skin and fat greedy lips begins to fidget and pull faces, it admittedly looks funny.
"Relax," Attila said. "Calm down, man. You're attracting attention. You sure you got the money?"
"Where's my cheat?" Beast raised his voice.
Attila cast a worried look around. "Put the voice down, you idiot!" he hissed.
Beast shrunk his head into his shoulders. "Why?" Not receiving an answer, he sat up straight again. "Who do you think you are?"
Jesus. Attila heaved a sigh. "The Eye is hovering over the donjon's roof," he said. "It's transmitting the images here," he reached into his bag for the Book and laid it on the table. "Wait, I'm gonna turn it on now. Can you see? You can control it via these crystals. Here, try it."
Continuing to explain, he pushed the Book toward Beast who immediately began pressing and turning the knobs, open-mouthed with the effort. When the image in the frame obeyed his actions commanding the Eye to move, he beamed like a little boy.
Yes. This was a boy. He must have stolen the money from his parents. Having said that, some of these kids were quite capable of earning large sums by gaming, much more than their dad could bring home by busting his hump on some assembly line. Attila kept explaining the details while casting occasional glances at the helmet. What a stupid logo.
The bad foreboding arose in him again. He cast an inconspicuous look around. No one seemed to be paying any particular attention to them. Everything was business as usual. And still-
The landlord and the hunched-up Elf by the bar were talking in low voices. The Elf finished his mug in one swig and cast a nonchalant glance at Beast and Attila.
Attila didn't like it. Then again, there was nothing suspicious about the man. It wasn't even the patrons that worried him, it was the tavern itself. There was something wrong about the whole setup. What could that be? He didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.
"Cool," Beast mumbled, playing with the Eye. The image on the book cover kept rotating. The picture in Attila's left goggle lens mirrored its movement. He could see the room and he could also see the overlapping view of the ruins outside, the bushes and the donjon.
Beast had found Attila via one of his old clients. He'd contracted him to make the Eye: an absolutely indispensable thing for every ranger, whether alone or in a group. A cheat like that could seriously improve your chances of survival in the Dead Canyon. The problem was, it wasn't exactly legal. The emphasis being on "exactly". The truth was, the Admins had chosen to close their eyes to the players' use of cheats which admittedly added to the game's appeal. On the other hand, they tended to unsettle the game's balance which was why cheat builders were prosecuted, arrested and heavily fined.
Admins didn't bother to arrest them themselves, though. They had specially hired players to do just that. Called Legionnaires, these too were obliged to follow the game's rules just like everybody else. Well, almost. The constant standoff between the legionnaires and cheat masters that often resulted in major confrontations were Gryad's special feature: a fun addition to the game which added to its excitement.
Attila frowned. There was one other strange thing about the tavern. It was nearly empty. Normally, the Unicorn was packed. He'd never seen even half of its tables empty; now virtually all of them were deserted.
"I'll take it," Beast announced.
"Quiet, you," Attila hissed. "What's wrong with you, man? Can't you keep your voice down? It's five and a half grand."
Beast's eyes opened wide with indignation. "You said it was four!"
"I had to buy some native software. Couldn't get any hacked ones. Didn't I warn you that the price might rise? I did. So if you want it, you'd better pay now."
Attila pulled the Book closer and closed the Eye's view on the cover, opening his payment provider instead. Beast stared at him, mouthing something.
Attila knew this old salesmen's trick. You had to hand the goods over to the client so that he could hold it, touch it and feel that it was already as good as his. Then you took it back from him. Subconsciously the client would already regard the item as his own and would be much more prone to buy something he otherwise wouldn't have. So now Attila was sure this Beast wasn't going to reconsider.
He was desperate, too desperate to be unscrupulous over such tricks. Besides, he'd indeed gone over his budget while working on the Eye. A visit from some shady debt collectors was the last thing his wheelchair-bound body needed. He had to raise the money today, by hook or by crook.
Beast sniffed unhappily.
"Have you ever used the in-game banking system?" Attila asked.
"Of course I have. Who do you think I am?"
"I don't know, do I? I'm not talking about shopping. I mean a direct transfer between accounts."
"I know what you mean."
"So send it, then. Or are you not taking it? I'll be off, then," Attila reached for the Book. "It's not a problem to find another customer for this."
"I am!" Beast gasped. Stealing a look around, he reached for his backpack that lay on the bench next to him. He rummaged through it for his own Book and placed it on the table. It looked truly Barbaric with its rough leather cover, all scratched and dented. Instead of crystals, he had four skulls mounted in the cover's four corners. The screen was framed with a pattern of bones.
"Don't look," Beast said, leaning over his Book and covering it with his elbow. "I need to enter the password."
Attila, however, looked hard - but not at the Book. He was peering at the outside view that the Eye was sending to his goggle lens, watching five legionnaires circle the donjon. They were clad in light knee-length chainmail shirts with an emerald sheen. Their signature helmets were topped with birdlike beaks. The legionnaires were armed with bastard swords which they wore whenever they weren't undercover. They never used shields, relying on their powerful arm bracers with which they parried the fiercest of slashing blows.
They hurried through the brambles toward the donjon. Were they just patrolling the area? Or were they on a manhunt?
Slowly Attila turned his head and looked at Beast. The understanding came too late.
Beast glared back at him. "Quit staring! I don't need no password spies!"
Attila cast a quick glance at the two men by the back door. Why had they chosen that particular table? And the card players by the front entrance, weren't they sitting there to cut off all possible escape routes? And this Beast... he was trying too hard pretending he was an unskilled noob.
Shit. This was a sting.
They'd been waiting for him. Wanted to catch him red-handed. He, Attila, had given the RV details to his customer who was in fact an undercover legionnaire. This wasn't the real Tavern: the NPCs had lured him into its copy created specifically for the purpose of entrapping him. What was that spell called - Smoke and Mirrors? A powerful piece of magic and prohibitively expensive, too. To cast it yourself you had to be a level 80 wizard which was something only Elven wizards - and maybe the Drow too - could afford with their racial magic bonus. And the gelatinous goo he'd walked in as he tried to enter the donjon was no glitch, either. By walking through it, he'd triggered the trap.
The Elf by the bar stood up. The landlord leaned over him, explaining something while casting a big horsey eye at the table where Attila and Beast were sitting.
How sure was he that this was indeed Barb? Most likely, the character was being controlled by a legionnaire player, someone in the RussoVirt office who'd taken over from the game's AI for this occasion.
"Whatcha lookin' at?" Beast asked warily.
"Waiting for you to enter the goddamn password," Attila mouthed while undoing the top button of his shirt. Pulling inconspicuously at the chain, he produced the two-pronged medallion. It was flat and almost as large as the palm of his hand. Immediately it began whizzing. Bright blue charges of lightning emitted from both its ends.
"What d'you think you're doing?" Beast tried to grab Attila's hand while reaching for his mace.
Attila stood up and jabbed the fake customer's chest with his weapon. A blue light flared out; the air crackled with static, spreading an aroma of seaweed. Beast flew back like a dry leaf caught in a gust of wind.
Triton's Fork was one hell of a weapon. Triton was an ancient sea god; the medallion had preserved a tiny speck of his strength. To resist Triton's Fury spell, you had to have a top set of armor and a whole bunch of Earth-bound amulets.
Leaping to his feet, Attila scooped his Book from the table and kicked the bench to trip the stooping Elf who was rushing toward him. The Elf clattered over the floor. Beast cussed and grabbed at the wall trying to scramble to his feet, then tumbled back down on his rubber legs.
Attila whipped out a vial from a belt pouch and poured its contents down his throat. He had over a dozen such pouches with a wide choice of potions and elixirs, each in its respective quick access slot. He could feel the Giant's Strength fill him with enough power to lift the table and use it against the two guarding the back door, sweeping them off their feet. Giant's Strength was an enhancing elixir that only worked a few seconds, but that was plenty.
By the time the legionnaires stomped into the room, Attila had broken down the back door, run through a small passage and rammed a second door that led into a small storeroom. Once inside, he slammed the door shut propping a heavy crate against it, and then kept running.
He'd never been in this part of the tavern: a succession of dark pantries and storerooms. Attila very nearly stumbled into a heavy chest that stood in the middle of one such chamber. Without stopping, he leaped over it and ran out, finding himself back in the dark low-ceilinged corridor. The grim pattern of the walls' stonework repeated itself again and again.
Finally, the stairs. They should lead into the donjon's main room. He ran up the steps, simultaneously whipping out the Book and lowering the Eye trying to make it enter the main room. But operating the Eye on the run wasn't easy. He missed. The steel star hit the wall. He could hear screams and a hell of a racket outside.
Attila stopped and began fiddling with the Book's crystal knob. The Eye left the donjon's wall and ducked into a window. Attila rearranged his goggles and hurried on, peering at the view in his eye lens as he ran.
Far below, he could see the donjon's round hall overgrown with grass and small shrubs that grew up through the cracks. The stone floor was littered with bones and bits of broken furniture. Attila noticed a round trapdoor in the floor by the wall. Was it where this staircase was taking him? It definitely looked that way.
Two men stood over the trapdoor. One was wearing the beaked helmet and a bastard sword. The other wore a checkered bandana and a kilt. He was holding a short spear. Had Attila chosen the Imitation mode, he could expect a prompt to jump up next to the player's spear,

A pole weapon used for thrusting and throwing and used both as a projectile and melee weapon.

So this highlander was on the Admins' payroll too? An undercover agent, oh great. They were waiting for him, the tips of their two weapons pointing at the trapdoor.
He heard the sounds of splitting wood far behind him. The crate hadn't stopped them. They were coming for him. He had nowhere to escape.
He could already see the end of the stairs and the barred trapdoor. Attila slowed down, trying to step noiselessly. The two men above him mustn't hear his approach. They had no idea he could see them.
He recognized Beast's indignant bellowing. Attila gulped. Thoughts rushed through his mind, running in circles like a pack of excited dogs. There's always a way out. He spun the crystal knob, causing the immobile image in his eye lens to jerk back into motion. The heads of the two men began to fade away until the Eye reached the room's ceiling.
Attila spun the knob in the opposite direction, forcing the Eye to go back. The bandana agent must have sensed something. He was about to turn around when the eye smashed into his head.
Thump. The image jumped and rippled. Attila didn't watch further. He forced the bar aside and swung the trapdoor open, jumping inside. Before the second agent could recover, Attila sent him flying with a hearty well-aimed punch. Yelling, the man landed crunching onto a heap of stones.
Attila darted across the room, heading for the door. Now: command the Eye to soar up, direct it out of the window and refocus the Eye to watch the area behind it, synchronizing its movements with Attila's own. This way he could see his pursuers.
Actually, he already could. Beast, the five legionnaires, the stooping Elf, the kilted agent - all present and correct, chasing after him.
Attila scrambled deep into the thicket where they couldn't see him. His pursuers ran out of the donjon and paused, looking around and listening.
Should he log out and quit the game in a hurry? But that way, he risked losing the Eye. Then he'd have nowhere to get the money from. This was his own fault, choosing the life of a lone recluse. Not a good thing, especially when you're handicapped. Now he had no friends to urgently borrow the money from. So losing the Eye wasn't an option.
Should he hurry back toward the portal station? If he ran they'd hear him but if he walked fast...
He took a few tentative steps, leaving the donjon behind. The hole in the wall gaped right in front of him. Now run, swiftly as a fox.
He climbed out of the hole and crossed the gooey area again, successfully leaving the virtual trap. Hiding in the tall grass, he peered at the portal station. Shit. They were waiting for him there.
That left him with only one option: the Gamekeeper's hut. This was now the nearest portal station. Not the safest of places, considering the ghoul that lived in the marsh nearby. Few players ever ventured there.
He began walking away, listening to the disturbed donjon's noises and to the voices of his pursuers. As he passed some poplars, he was very nearly caught by another aberration, the Stinging Thorns which pierced everyone they trapped with long bone needles. He gave them a wide berth and entered a small grove while controlling the area via the Eye. His pursuers had split: Beast in his bulbous cuirass and stupid helmet was clutching the mace, leading six legionnaires in the same direction as Attila was heading. The second group had taken a sideways route, gradually moving away from him.
The Stinging Thorns were now in Beast's way. If only they trapped his pursuers! But Beast raised his hand, motioning his men to stop. He'd seen it, the bastard. They circumvented the aberration just like he'd done a moment ago and continued on their way.
Attila walked faster. The legionnaires had to know about the second portal station. That's exactly why they were moving in that direction. Never mind. If he stayed on top of them, they wouldn't be able to catch him red-handed. Their job was to apprehend an offender in flagrante just as the illegal software was changing hands. In order to prosecute him, they needed to catch him in the act. So he absolutely had to beat them to the station. Because if they caught him...

He shrugged the thought away. If they caught him, then he'd have problems. Big ones.

A special pre-release discount! Click here to preorder The Lag (The Game Master Book#1) on Amazon for only $2.99!

Release date: October 12 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Lag (The Game Master: Book #1) by Andrei Levitsky & Alex Bobl

As a shady blackmarket programmer, Ivan "Attila" is never short of customers. The gaming world of MMORPG always needs his services: all those knights and thieves, vendors and vagabonds, monsters and the undead populating the dangerous forests and castles of Gryad Online.

For Attila, things are looking up: the God`s Eye, his latest cheat device, is awaiting its buyer. Now Attila can afford a costly virtual suit for a full immersion online experience. Provided the buyer - a burly half-orc Barbarian nicknamed Beast - sticks to his part of the deal.

But how much does he know about Beast, really? And what evil force is playing with Gryad, disrupting its flow and locking thousands of players inside the game? Who is messing with the world`s gears, summoning the spawn of the Dark from their underground tunnels and lairs?
And how can Attila and his reluctant companions stop evil from tacking over their new world?

In online gaming, lag is a noticeable delay between the action of players and the reaction of the server.

Part One
Danger Looming

Gryad Online:
A massively multiplayer online role-playing game developed and produced by the RussoVirt Company, the fifth in the Gryad series (not counting the add-ons). Gryad Online continues to develop the world already familiar to users through the first games of the series.
The game is set in a world first introduced in the Gryad: Swords Vs. Sorcery game. Its events take place twelve years after the First Storm - a global magical disaster that concluded Gryad IV: Breach of the Magosphere. Despite the game's audience of over 9 mln with an increase of 100,000 new players each month, currently only two large areas of Gryad's enormous world are open to the public: the Dead Canyon and the surrounding area of adjoining kingdoms of Vardis, Selour, Nideria, Cryte, Zygon and the downfallen Warp. According to the RussoVirt press center, the company is planning to unveil more large locations shortly, including its own moon Shard. At the time of writing this article, more definitive information is still unavailable.

 Chapter One

"Die, you bastard!"
Take that! And again!
The knight wielded his heavy two-handed sword with remarkable ease. Attila leapt aside. He could see the enemy's smug face and the disdainful glare behind his slotted visor. The knight's sword glowed with magic, his scarlet cloak floating behind his back, the gold of his armor blinding. Next to him, Attila's gray deerskin jacket and hunter's pants looked decidedly tacky.
The knight's two henchmen smirked as they rounded on Attila. They loved their fun: to ambush a lone ranger on a deserted road and chop him to bits, then watch him die. They probably felt so tough and bold, and they couldn't have cared less that the victim's blood looked so believably red as it gushed onto the green grass.
The whole clearing was studded with small pyramids of bones. Apparently, these three scumbags had been using it for quite a time. A tiny kitten sat by one of the graves miaowing weakly, his eyes tearful and forlorn.
Attila dodged a new blow, then parried the next one with a round shield, apparently too light and fragile to withstand the blow.
The shield didn't break, protected by a Poisonous Light spell. Normally, you couldn't cast it on a shield. But Attila could do many things that an ordinary player couldn't.
The fierce flash blinded everyone with a brief show of colorful runes - everyone but Attila who'd covered his face with his shield just in time.

In fact, it was a cartoon character on the computer screen that shielded his face, obeying the gesture of a hand in a sensory glove. As for Ivan Attila himself, he was sitting at his desk watching the fight unfold. He could actually see everything from two perspectives: both through his char's eyes and via a "God's Eye view" from above, as if soaring high above the fighters' heads.
Attila had been testing this cheat for a good three hours already and he was more or less pleased with the result. Having said that, this "God's Eye" could guarantee him some big problems with the game overseers. To avoid this, he had to send the cheat to the customer quickly. Within half an hour, he'd be done.
The God's Eye dropped lower. Where before a green sea of forest lay and the tiny figures of fighters appeared in the clearing, Attila could now discern a kneeling knight, his two blinded henchmen and a ranger towering over them: himself.
Himself in a game, that is.
He twitched his fingers ever so slightly, then moved his hand slowly to one side. Attila the cartoon chopped through the legs of one of his enemies. In a wide sweep of his sword he decapitated another, then buried the blade in the first one's stomach. Back to your respawn points, noobs!
Two bodies collapsed onto the grass. Having received the lion's share of the spell, the knight kept cussing while his life bar shrank. Initially blue, it was now orange rapidly moving into red. His henchmen lay there dead as dodos. Color rapidly drained from their bodies until they dissolved into nothing, leaving behind two tiny pyramids of bones, a pair of boots, a jacket, a sword, a knife and a money pouch. Dying in Gryad caused you to lose some of your gear and in some cases could even strip you of up to 10% xp - and once you're level 20 and above, each and every xp point costs you dearly.
"You wretched skunk!" the knight's voice rose to a shriek. Skin was peeling off his face; his empty eye sockets had turned black, burned by the spell. "I'll find you wherever you are!"
"Die, you bastard," Attila repeated the knight's earlier words knowing that the microphone would carry the phrase to the Dead Canyon where his victim would hear it, whether the char's owner used a sensory suit, a capsule or the good old butt in chair, eyes on the screen method. Having said that, few gamers used it these days.
The life bar blinked one last time, expiring. The knight collapsed and began to fade. Then he disappeared, leaving behind another bone pyramid. This one seemed even bigger than the other two - grander and more respectable, so to say.
Ivan Attila connected his thumb and index finger into a circle, then moved the gloved hand slowly. Obeying the signal, the "God's Eye" too turned around and flew over the forest. Controlling his char with his other hand, Attila made him lift the sword and the wallet. Where the dematerialized knight had just lain, Attila discovered another pouch, bigger and fatter than the first one. He could almost hear the beaten player cuss wherever he was now as he picked the pouch up.
Ding! the speakers echoed with the clinking of money. The sound pleased his ear. According to the number next to the icon, Attila had just become 120 gold richer. Not bad. That would teach those three idiots a lesson, anyway. What did they expect for assaulting a peaceful passerby?
He crossed the clearing and switched the God's Eye to float mode to make sure it always stayed overhead. Amid the trees stood the conical squat rock of a pagan temple, its doorway blue with the opening of a portal. Such structures styled as ancient ruins were in fact the portal terminals that allowed you to log out without losing contact with the game. Naturally, you could always just quit any time you wanted, but the Gryad world treated such unauthorized logouts as sudden death, entailing loss of property and xp points.
Attila's doorbell rang.
He pressed Esc for the logout window. Still, he wasn't in a hurry to quit the game now that his char was under the temple's protection. Who the hell could that be? His aunt was away; he didn't expect anyone in her absence. They were the only two people living in her apartment, anyway. Could it be the social care people checking on him? If so, they could always ask the woman next door for the spare keys. She always kept them in case of any emergency. Attila had special needs, after all.
Cringing unhappily, he rolled his wheelchair out into the dark hallway, his hands deftly turning the wheels. Why couldn't they let him do his work in peace!
The cheat was practically finished but he wanted to improve the image quality some more. While static, the objects looked perfectly in focus, but the moment you sent the God's Eye flying, the player's field of vision narrowed, blurring the peripheral images. And even though the customer hadn't specified any particular demands to these parameters, Attila still wanted to look into it. This particular cheat meant a lot to him. And if the deal fell through...
His heart missed a beat. He shivered. The lack of money meant trouble. Big trouble. Better not to think about it.
He wheeled himself to the front door and peered into the peephole cut in the door at a normal person's chest height. A young man was waiting on the landing with his back to the elevator. He wore a green overall and a baseball cap. In his hands he was holding a large box.
Already? Wow. Attila's wristwatch announced midday. Talk about prompt delivery.
He swung the door open and wheeled himself aside, letting the delivery man in.
"RussoVirt delivery service," the young man began with a professional smile.
"That's right. It's for me. I've been waiting."
Both fell silent - then both recognized each other.
"Billystick? It can't be you, surely!"
"Attila? No way!" his ex-classmate stopped mid-sentence, taking in the wheelchair. His initial surprise gave way to embarrassment. He looked aside.
"Right, so what are you waiting for?" Attila's voice sounded ruder than he'd intended. "Come in," he turned the wheelchair and rolled it into his room.
The apartment was quiet. For the last year and a half, Attila had been living with his aunt, a flight attendant with some international line or other. She must be now in mid-air halfway to New York. In her absence, Attila never bothered to turn on the radio or even the television.
Kostia the Billystick followed him, inconspicuously studying the tall wheelchair that Attila kept rolling with both hands.
"I did see your name on the receipt but the way they wrote it I couldn't be sure, "Billystick said. "I memorized the address but I didn't put two and two together. You used to live somewhere else, didn't you?"
Attila entered his room and swung the chair round to face his friend. "We sold that place. I live with my aunt now. She's away at the moment."
"I see," Kostia wanted to continue, then fell silent. He didn't ask about Attila's parents.
Silence hung in the air.
"You've done well by ordering Sensorica," Kostia finally blurted.
He lay the box onto the table and prepared to deliver his habitual speech: This suit will make your virtual experiences a breeze! You can use it to walk the vast expanses of the digital world - and not just walk but run, leap or even fly! We guarantee the authenticity of your experience.
He was about to blurt it all out when Attila's grim stare cut his sales pitch short. Kostia lowered his eyes. "We have an anniversary tomorrow."
"What anniversary?"
"Don't you know? RussoVirt is celebrating its ten years in business. I could, if you wish... I mean... we'll have a buffet and some guided tours. I'll be there too. I could show you in. The only thing is..."
"Why would I need to go there? Very well, show me how it works."
Assuming his professional stance, Kostia gave his practiced smile. "Greetings from the RussoVirt delivery service! We're happy to-"
"Cut the crap out. I've already ordered some stuff from your bosses: some gloves and a pair of goggles. So I've heard all this before. Are you new there?"
"Yeah. This is my third delivery."
"I see. Open it, will you? I'd like to take a look."
Kostia reached for the box. His glance chanced on a few pin-ups of a pretty blonde girl on the wall by the desk. Reaching inside the box, he produced a large oblique helmet and handed it to Attila. He looked it over and laid it in his lap. Kostia reached into the box again and pulled out a modest-looking bag. He looked around him for a place to safely lay the expensive item. Attila nodded at the couch.
The bag's zipper whizzed open. The sensory suit glittered in the sunlight which beamed through the window.
"Sensorica Super Suit," Attila was leafing through the fat manual. "Why did they need to call it like that?"
"Why not?"
"A suit I would understand, but why all this fanfare?"
"It's to make it clear this is the latest thing. New generation technology. A special design for people with special nee- never mind. Basically, they thought that Super Suit would sound cool. Now," Kostia once again remembered his job responsibilities, "Now I'm obliged to read the Agreement out to you. The RussoVirt Corporation hereby informs its users that it has conducted the tests necessary to establish the safety of its equipment. Any possible malfunctions may result from..."
"I know, I know. Do you really think I didn't read the fine print before buying something as expensive as this?" Attila rolled his chair away from the couch and reached into the desk drawer, producing a few bank notes. "Here. You've done your job. I appreciate it."
Seeing his friend move around the room in his chair made Kostia feel uneasy. While Attila was just sitting there, you couldn't tell there was anything wrong with him. He was just a guy in a chair - never mind the chair looked funny. But the moment he grabbed hold of those big old wheel rims in order to push himself around, you could clearly see that his ex-classmate was indeed handicapped for life. His legs didn't move at all... or did they? When Attila had reached into the desk for the money, Kostia thought he'd noticed his right knee move ever so slightly.
Attila stared at him as if knowing what kind of thoughts Kostia was thinking.
"You..." Kostia began.
"Are you trying to guess what could have happened? I can tell you. You remember our old Nissan, don't you? Mom was driving. Dad was sitting next to her. I was in the back. We were driving along the railway when this girl in a red SUV shot out from a side street," Attila pointed at the pin-ups on the wall. "An enormous thing. I still have nightmares about it. It rammed right into our car. Mom died on the spot. And Dad... the impact was so strong he was thrown out of the car onto the tracks. Just when a locomotive was speeding past. It... it sliced right through him. The SUV was fine. Just a dent in the bumper. Her father was loaded. It was he who got her all these modeling gigs. So their lawyer pulled all the strings. She was acquitted. Even though she was DUI at the time."
As he spoke, his voice was growing hollow. In the end, Kostia couldn't work out very well what he was saying. He shifted from foot to foot, not knowing where to look, wishing the earth could swallow him whole.
"Auntie and I, we sold my parents' apartment," once again Attila proffered him the money. "To pay for my studies. But it didn't work, as you can see. I quit college - but I did get some IT training. I work from home now. Mess around with different programming stuff. The money is good. Auntie is rarely home. Nobody hassles me. Come on, take it."
Mechanically Kostia took the money. "What's this for?"
"For your delivery."
"But... you paid by card, didn't you?" Kostia faltered. He still had his pitch to finish. There were lots of things he was yet to tell Attila; then he had to help him into the suit and make sure he knew how to connect it.
Crumpling the money in his hand, he mumbled, "Thank you for choosing Sensorica. Super Suit is our latest gaming accessory that runs our dedicated OS developed to control our state-of-the-art softwa-"
"Stop it," Attila said. "I read it all, I tell you. Thanks, Billystick. Off you go."
"No, wait. I still have to tell you about the safety regulations..."
"Don't need to. Thanks. Just go."
"Please go."
Stooping, Kostia left the room. He remembered Attila from school when he used to be an athletic type, active and cheerful. Seeing him now hunched up in his wheelchair... no, he couldn't.
Attila unlocked the door, letting him out, then immediately slammed it shut behind his back. Only in the elevator did Kostia remember that Attila hadn't even signed for the delivery. Still, going back up was beyond him.
Having got rid of the delivery guy, Attila hurried back to his computer. He walked his char into the temple and quit. The chat icon was flashing: someone was trying to get hold of him. Attila chose not to answer. He virtually never used the game chat these days. Instead, he'd managed to build Skype into the game. It was true that Gryad hadn't yet joined Skype's latest array of in-game communications, but things like this never stopped Attila. He simply hacked the code, connecting Skype Messenger to Gryad.
He hooked up the Sensorica helmet to his desktop computer and entered to synchronize them. Then he turned his attention to the suit. He already had everything ready: the special energy drink cartridges and the "gamers' diapers" used by die-hard Net junkies.
All these suits and helmets were being hacked and modified at a frightening speed. The moment a new product hit the market, various shady online dealers would start offering "new improved" gadgets for it. Attila's case was different, though. Because he couldn't walk, regular sensory suits were no good for him. Medical specialists shrugged. It's all in your head, they'd say to him, your nerve endings have fully restored and all they need is a bit of practice so get a grip and get working on it...
Attila was doing his best and still his legs wouldn't obey him. Even the neuromuscular stimulation therapy didn't help. So when RussoVirt had released Sensorica advertising it as the first sensory suit for people with special needs, he didn't hesitate simply because this device would allow him to walk, even if only in virtual reality.
Sensorica cost an arm and a leg. Attila had been forced to turn to loan sharks. By Monday he would have to pay it all back plus the interest. If he didn't, they would contact some shady debt collectors, and then...
Never mind. Once he sent the cheat to the customer, he'd have enough to pay it.
The speakers twinged, reporting the OS's acceptance of the new devices. Attila switched on a news channel on the Net and reached for the helmet. Glancing at the screen, he began tinkering with the energy drink cartridge and the tube, attaching them to the helmet.
He wasn't going to be in the game long. Four hours max. He didn't even need the energy drinks, so after some consideration he decided not to install them. The diapers were good enough. Four hours were plenty to close the deal and test the suit. He was hungry, too. He should have had a proper breakfast and not just a cup of tea. Come to think of it, he hadn't eaten anything last night, either. He'd gotten too carried away with his work and crashed out without dinner.
The news channel was showing an interview with Sergei Bagrov - a billionaire and the owner of RussoVirt. He kept blabbing about the Interplanetary Network and the new opportunities it offered to humanity, mentioning the company's ten-year anniversary and inviting everyone to this "celebration of their achievements". In keeping with the corporation's transparent business policy, he announced an open house day that would allow everyone to witness the inner workings of Russia's biggest IT colossus, including their newest project about to be unveiled for its anniversary.
Soon the conversation turned to the MnemoSensoric helmet - which, according to Bagrov, could revolutionize their business by making sensory suits obsolete.
"Thank you for introducing us to the future - both that of the digital world and humanity as a whole," the anchorman concluded. "The anniversary presentation is to be attended by several very important guests: a few of the leading IT corporation CEOs as well as the communications deputy minister and-"
Attila turned the program off and restarted the game. He put the helmet on and scrambled out of his wheelchair onto the couch. Gingerly he began to put on the suit. Threaded with a fine net of wire, the fabric turned out to be heavy and coarse. The inside of the helmet's visor glowed with two crystal circles. Once the visor was lowered, the crystals covered the eyes almost touching them, reacting to the slightest movement.
He lay down and adjusted the helmet. Cushioned speakers pressed to his ears. He lowered the visor. Everything around him went dark. He couldn't hear the street noises any more, not even the whirr of the computer's cooling fan. He pressed the button on the outside of the helmet, then lay his arms along his body, trying to relax and make himself comfortable.
The suit clung to his skin, squeezing it lightly. Endless white columns of numbers and icons scrolled through the dark before his eyes: Sensorica's boot-up protocol.
A starry night sky replaced the darkness. A woman's soft voice said,
"Welcome to Sensorica's initial tests. My name's Sensy. Now I'm going to name your body parts and would like you to tense the corresponding muscles. You don't need to move. All you need to do is strain them ever so slightly so I can recognize their signals. Are you ready?"
A glowing inscription appeared amid the stars. The voice read it out loud,
"Right hand fingers."
Attila twitched them.
"Too much!" Sensy signaled. "Repeat. Right hand fingers."
This time he barely moved them but rather visualized the action.
"Accepted. Right thumb. Right wrist. Right forearm. Right upper arm..."
As he followed the commands, the suit hugged the respective body part, squeezing it, then becoming imperceptible. Soon the starry sky disappeared, replaced by a yellow triangle, a blue square and a red circle.
"Commencing visual tests. Please concentrate on the triangle. If it is yellow, concentrate on the square. Close your left eye. Now close your right eye."
"Commencing verbal tests. Can you hear the rustle of the trees? If you can, say yes."
"Yes," he enunciated.
"Say no."
"What is your name?"
He paused. "Attila."
"Please repeat the following clearly. I, Attila, hereby assert that I have read and acknowledged the safety regulations for Sensorica users."
He repeated it.
"Monitoring brain activity. You don't need to do anything. The test is perfectly safe."
A prickling sensation rose in the back of his head, gradually moving toward his temples. It felt as if someone was caressing his scalp with a feather. Attila lay motionless - or rather, he floated because by then, he didn't sense the couch under him.
"Congratulations! You've passed the initial tests."
The starry sky disappeared, replaced by pitch-black darkness which then filled with large glowing letters,
RussoVirt Presents
His ears filled with rousing music.

Sensorica Suit. The New Generation Experience

The inscription faded. A dark foreboding castle towered on the horizon.

The customer must have been waiting for him already. Attila concentrated and willed his eyes to press YES.

* * *

Once upon a time the seven greatest wizards decided to unite in order to learn the secret knowledge that no one in Gryad had ever managed to obtain before them. They thought that their combined power could penetrate the veil of the unknown, giving them access to where no mortal before them had dared to tread.
The newly-formed Conclave needed a secluded place to practice their wizardry. They came to the kingdom of Warp where King Gideon granted them a small principality located on a wooded plateau in the mountains. Those lands had been deserted due to the large amounts of deadly beasts and spooky ghosts that inhabited the ruins and catacombs scattered through the mountainous woods. An ancient castle made from slabs of black granite rose in the center of the land. Local people called it the Forest Citadel. And that's where the Conclave of the Seven Wizards made their home.
The sorcerers were assisted by their disciples and served by a multitude of servants sent by King Gideon. Seven years had they spent in the silent woods, practicing magic and alchemy. Many a wondrous thing had they made; many a great feat had they accomplished in the solitude of their citadel. Until one day the Conclave had finally achieved its secret goal by penetrating the Magosphere: the realm of the dead and yet unborn souls, filled with magic energy.
Still, the wizards had bitten more than they could chew. Their power games proved too dangerous, their exercise in magic way too unpredictable. The Conclave's desperate experiments gave birth to some truly cruel and bloodthirsty creatures. What was even worse, was that the wizards used to dispose of all their magic waste by dumping it into the castle's dilapidated dungeons. All the poisonous elixirs and deadly artifacts, botched homunculi and leftover zombies began to spread and escape through the ancient system of tunnels, mine shafts and manmade caves that had allegedly been built by the Titans who'd created Gryad.
Even the wizards themselves wouldn't be able to explain the nature of the processes that soon began to brew under their very feet. As time went by, the dungeons filled with things truly indescribable, the screams emanating from them wild and desperate. Magic oozed from under the castle's floor tiles. Some of the servants had been kidnapped by the dungeon dwellers while others bid a hasty escape.
And still, blinded by their craving for secret knowledge, the wizards persevered with their work. They thought in their vanity that the spawn of their experiments wouldn't dare touch their creators. How wrong they were! Finally the day came when some of the reluctant inhabitants of this underground Inferno had acquired consciousness: a perverted intelligence devoid of life.
That day, the mountains shattered and opened up revealing the depths of hell below. Hordes of monsters flooded the earth, consuming the whole of central Warp. The times of Peril had come, as people would later call this deadly era. The land itself would receive the name of Dead Canyon.
Within days, thousands fell: peasants and artisans, merchants and barons, women and children, fearless heroes and helpless old men. The monsters spared no one in their insatiable hunger and fury. The King's army kept retreating, losing its best knights and legendary warriors. Only the wizards themselves were still safe in their dark Citadel which rose above the desolate blood-drenched land.
The King's castle was taken; good King Gideon died with his Queen and their three children. The new king, a dreadful Lich, sat on his throne. Soon the infernal hordes would pour into the neighboring kingdoms; the armies of ghosts and the undead, necromancers and dragon liches were about to conquer Gryad and subject it to its rule.
Then the mountains shattered again. The Conclave of the Seven Wizards opened the great Portal that unlocked the mysterious Magosphere. Magic burst forth, sweeping everything in its path. Thousands more died that day. But the spawn of the dark perished, too. The world was saved.
Many a year has passed since then. But the mountains are still crawling with infernal creations. In order to prevent them from spreading, people have cordoned the Dead Canyon off with pickets and outposts. Frontier guards tirelessly patrol the ravaged kingdom of Warp. The mountains shudder from new magic storms which distort the fabric of reality, corrupting the laws of magic given to us by the Gods and the Titans. These distortions create artifacts of unusual and dangerous power highly sought after by all alchemists and sorcerers, witches and wizards, druids and mages who will pay any money to lay their hands on the Dead Canyon's magic creations.
Humans too seek the magic artifacts. We call these men Pioneers: fearless vagabonds craving adventure. Hard is their lot; few of them live to see old age. But not one of them begrudges his fortune. The expanse of the Dead Canyon, grim and abounding with mystery, is calling their names.
And in the center of it, the unattainable Citadel still rises its dreary spires.

* * *

The audio was played to the accompaniment of impressive visuals packed with magic, murder and gore. Attila had already seen it when he'd run Gryad the first time. Still, he decided to revisit it now that his suit was making him part of the unfolding events. Together with the seven wizards he opened the Great Portal; he followed them down the terrible dungeons and soared, unseen, over the blood-drenched battlefields.

Game mode alert!
You can choose one of the two following game modes:
(More Information)

Once the game is running, you won't be able to change the game mode!

The two game mode inscriptions blinked, inviting the player to click them. Attila pressed on More Information. A window popped up informing him that All sensory suit users had the choice of two basic Gryad game modes. It went on to tell him that Imitation Mode came with a large number of prompts while preserving all the usual stat bars and menus; the world's map was visible in the right upper corner of the player's field of vision. Basically, it preserved all the usual bells and whistles of a standard computer game.
The Full Immersion mode, however, had none of the traditional interface. As the Information writers put it, this mode "switched the gaming experience to the domain of intuitive logic". The idea was, the player's very own body began to affect the gameplay. Which was only logical because of all the tiny reactions of his reflexes, muscle memory and other psychosomatic stuff.
Had he wanted to use Imitation, he wouldn't have bought the suit to begin with. No. Only full immersion. He needed to walk again, otherwise he wouldn't have splurged all his money on the suit.
Attila clicked on the second button. It went out.

What's New. | Forums | Support | Workshop | Settings

No, not that.

Options | Profile | Last Modified | The Map

He opened the map and focused on the Frontier Valley icon to click it.
Once again the back of his head tingled as if stroked by a feather. The world around him blinked and came back, slowly revealing the insides of a log cabin. Its narrow door stood open; behind it he could see a stone landing and the ruins of a castle wall.
The log cabin was a portal station. The portal's blue circle glowed in the center of its only room. A column of spark-speckled blue light reached out of it toward the low roof, disgorging Attila.
He walked out of the cabin and took in his bearings. A translucent diamond-shaped blue sign hovered in the air above the roof, sporting the holographic image of a spiral topped with a skyward-pointing arrow: the portal icon familiar to every player.
Attila looked up at the grim skies of the Dead Canyon and rearranged the round shield on his elbow, then ran his hand along his sheathed sword.
His heart missed a beat. Disbelieving, Attila took another step. And yet another. His heart pounded now. He beamed, his face lighting up with a wide, happy smile.
He could walk. He really could walk!

A special pre-release discount! Click here to preorder The Lag (The Game Master Book#1) on Amazon for only $2.99!

Release date: October 12 2015