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Gamer Girl by Fiona Wilde is a completed story. It is five chapters in length and is currently available in its entirety in the Members' Area of Bethany's Woodshed. It is available both as an "HTML" file for online reading, as well as in a downloadable PDF format. It is also available as a file that can be transferred to your Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, or Apple I Pad, as well as other brand eBook readers. Each completed book that you obtain as a member of Bethany's Woodshed is yours to keep, even if you are no longer a member.

Chapter One


Piper LaRue stood on the windswept ridge, her heart pounding in her chest. The hand on her bow trembled slightly as she pondered the view before her. The deep gulch of Mystic Gorge lay below her. The black rock of the ledge was cool through the soles of her soft leather boots. Above her on the other side of the gorge loomed the Forgotten Mountains. Beyond them lay the Bone Forest. There were the treasures and knowledge she was seeking. There were the dragons.

She'd have to fight the first one of she was to ever see that forest. Piper breathed in and wondered if it was her imagination, the scent of sulfur she detected. She reached behind her, pulling a bow from her quiver. Glancing up she focused on the visor of her helmet.

"Inventory," she said. Holographic images of vials and plants appeared. Her eyes moved left to right, scrolling through the inventory.

"Bloodthorn," she said confidently. She'd remembered well her lessons from the tome she's lifted off the body of a corrupt priest she'd killed in Nightvale. It had spoken of the dragons and said the guardians that lived just beyond Mystic Gorge were vulnerable to the plant that dripped red oil from its spines. Now she coated her blade with Elixer of Bloodthorn as the smell of sulfur grew stronger. She was not exaggerating. The dragon - the first she'd battle - was close.

Piper could feel wind on her face now, but it was not the cool wind of the ridge top. It was warm and pulsing and she knew it could only come from one thing. She braced her feet and drew her bow, preparing herself. She could now hear what was driving the warm, pulsing wind - the dragon's wingbeats.

She'd seen the images in third-person simulations, but with those the dragons were always on the screen. But even the room-size screens that surrounded the Sim Room could not prepare Piper for actually being there, being in the game, alone, with the dragon's wings pumping it up towards the ridge. She saw the head first; each bony scale was as thick as a piece of sheet steel and larger than a dinner place. The scales down the back were far larger and the spines that ran from its neck to its tail were sharp as knives, sharper perhaps.

There were two prominent horns on its head and a smaller one on the tip of its nose. The dragon was silver gray; its eyes red. When it reached the ridge top it hovered there, sniffing the air and cocking its head like a bird. It honed in on Piper immediately. She'd already drawn her bow but as she released the arrow the dragon banked in a surprisingly agile move and dove. The arrow missed.

"Shit!" She dove behind a rock. She could hear the dragon screaming in anger, hear its steady, rapid wingbeats.

Instinct told her to stay where she was and those instincts were right. A blaze of heat covered her; the dragon was above her and spewing fire where she stood. The rock she hid under had grown warm. The fire continued to rain down. She counted the seconds, grateful for each one. This dragon was young an inexperienced; low-level ones like this would take at least five minutes to recharge if they spewed fire for more than a dozen seconds straight. She could see the dragon fly past, its mouth spewing smoke.

Piper pulled another arrow, praying that the dragon would bank back to see if it got her. in Sims, sometimes people under attack by dragons ran around in a panic, allowing the beast to pick a few off. Her breath caught in her throat as she scanned the skies. It was returning. She drew her bow, waiting behind the still hot rock until the searching animal was nearly above her. With a cry she raised her weapon and loosed the arrow. A scream rent the air. She'd hit it.

The dragon wheeled around. It would take more than one arrow to bring it down. She pulled another arrow, scrolled her inventory again and added a double dose of Elixir of Bloodthorn. The dragon was furious, screaming as it flew in tight circles belching smoke. She needed to hit it at least one more time to make it too weak to produce fire again.

She felt bolder now and stepped out from behind the rock. Her muscles strained as she pulled the bow all the way back.

"Steady!" she told herself, but before she could let the arrow fly she felt a searing pain on the side of her arm.

"What the..." She turned just in time to see a trail of flame on the ground behind her. The sleeve of her armor was charred. Had it been made of anything less than Wyrm Scale, her arm would be burnt to a crisp.

Piper's eyes widened in fear as she saw the second dragon wheel and turn back towards her. It was heading in her direction and was obviously smarter than the other dragon. It sought to trap her between the two rocks, giving her no escape as it burnt her to a crisp.

She had no choice but to use her arrow on this new, more powerful dragon. But before she could fire there was a crackling sound and everything went black

"God damnit!" She reached up and pulled her helmet off. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the room and the line of auditors who sat behind the glass.
"Which one of you did it?" She  yelled. "Which one??"

"Calm down, LaRue..."

"No! I will not calm down!" She strode towards the window and pulled off her helmet, her face livid amid a mane of curly auburn hair. Percy was opening the door between the auditor's booth and the gaming chamber. His eyes were impatient behind his glasses. He was about to speak when he looked at her arm.

"Jesus, LaRue. You're smoking..."

"What?" The other auditors stood and rushed into the chamber. They all gathered around to examine her arm. The armor she wore was just simple leather and bore little resemblance to the transformation it adapted in the game itself.  And Percy was right. The shoulder patch was, indeed, smoking. Glancing up at them in shock, she quickly pulled the whole breastplate off and tossed it on the floor. Underneath, her skin was pink and painful to the touch.

Percy put his fingers to his temples. "Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy Shit!!! Do you know what this means?" He stepped back, spreading out his hands. "The experience is real! Not just realistic, but real!"

"Yeah, just like I tried to tell you idiots. But you laughed at me, remember?"

Percy scowled. "No one laughed at you, LaRue..."

"You might as well have for all the condescension." She began to quote Percy, mocking his nasal tone. "Don't be silly, LaRue. You can't possibly have pricked your finger on a plant in the game. It's all sim. Duh..."

Percy scowled, studying her. "This changes everything," he said. "I should have gone with my instincts. From now on, you and Grant go in together, as a team."

Piper suddenly forgot about her burned arm. She reached out and grabbed Percy, who was trying to turn away.

"Are you fucking serious? Tell me you can't be serious."

"I am serious," Percy said, jerking his arm away. "Because this is..."

"...bullshit is what it is," she finished his sentence. "And sexist bullshit. I know none of you guys ever expected me to hold my own in here. But I have. Not only have I kept up with Grant, I got to the dragon first. I'm about to level up ahead of him and you guys can't stand it, can you?"

"LaRue, it has nothing to do with that!"

"The hell it doesn't!" She was raising her voice, pacing now. She was furious. Leveling up past the arrogant Grant McNair would have been a greater victory than killing the dragon. Everyone knew it.

""It's not safe," Percy said.

"He's right.." A tall man with black, shoulder-length wavy hair was walking into the chamber. "This is way beyond what any of us imagined when we started."

"I wasn't talking to you, Grant."

"But I'm talking to you," he said. "Believe me, I'd rather play on opposite sides, too, if nothing more than for the pleasure of beating your ass in this game.."

She scoffed loudly.

"...but in the interest of keeping you safe..."

"Cut the crap, Grant," she hissed. "I love how you suddenly get all chivalrous just when I pull ahead of you. What's wrong? Afraid come ComicCon next year I'll be a bigger star? Well fuck that. I don't need you to protect me."

She turned to Percy. "And go ahead," she said. "Threaten to throw me off the project. If you do and send someone inexperienced in, or let Grant go on alone it will just prove that this was all just a ploy to save his rep."

"You're right," Percy said, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I do need you, LaRue. But I need Grant, too. If you don't do this, then the game just stops and we all lose. It's too big a secret to bring someone else in. And it's too risky. But I'm not going to have someone die in that chamber and try to explain it to the outside world. So if you won't play with Grant then that's the equivalent of taking your ball and going home. It won't just ruin it for you; it'll ruin it for everyone who has worked on DragonSpell - every technician, every programmer, every artist...."

She glared at him. Piper LaRue hated being trumped, and she was just that - trumped. She glanced at Grant, who watched expressionless from across the chamber and then at Percy.

"Fine," she said with a sniff. "If that's what it takes then that's what it takes. I'll keep playing. But who will we be playing against, exactly?"

"You'll be playing the computer," he said. "We'll just reprogram it for a Team Mode."

"Won't that take awhile?"

"Not really.." Percy walked briskly into the next room where a bank of computers sat on a long, low desk. "I started programming a team mode just in case players wanted to do MMO," he said. "I was going to have you guys test it next week but no time like the present. We'll just launch in the morning."

"It'll be just like you're playing now," he said, "only you'll be playing together. You'll need to find a clan to join, like the Woodbanes or the Riverfolk. They'll expect you to assimilate to their culture and in exchange you'll gain some of their skills and attributes. And of course, you'll fall under their protection and they'll join you on major quests to fight beasts. You'll fare better against the dragons with help."

"So why didn't you do that originally, for single players?" asked Piper irritably. "It would have helped today."

Percy sighed. "It's still new, OK? I can't think of everything. Not everyone wants to have companions on their quests. In the MMO's people will have to learn to work together within brotherhoods or guilds or whatever. I thought this would be good practice until we launched that phase."

"Fair enough," she said, stooping to pick up her foam sword. In the game it was The Sword of the Fathers, forged from the melted down bones of the Dragon Whose Flame Forged the World of Worlds. But it had been cursed by an evil sorcerer and had lost its enchantment. The only way to regain the sword's strength and defeat the Sorcerer's Legion of Dark Dragons was by leveling up. Each coating of dragon blood restored strength to the sword by breaking the enchantment by degrees. LaRue looked at the weapon. If she played with Grant, they could not both wield the sword. There could only be one. Who would wield it? She sighed, sheathing the weapon.

"I need to get some lunch," she said.

"Care for some company?" Grant was standing next to her; she'd not even heard him approach. She wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but they were going to be working together now. Time to try and play nice.

"Sure," she said. "Whatever. Lemme change."

Piper would have stayed in her DragonSpell garb all day if she could. It felt more real to her than the jeans and top she pulled on. Piling her hair on top of her head, she secured it with two pins and then frowned in the mirror when several tendrils sprung free to hang loose around her heart-shaped face. She examined her image a moment more.

"You are a warrior," she said to the reflection, and didn't feel at all silly because she felt it to be true. Piper had always believed she'd been born to do something big, something epic even. As a child she'd read fairy stories and imagined herself not in the place of the princess, but as the rescuing prince or some slayer of beasts. The only way to live these persistent fantasies had been through gaming. And she was good, so good. Her skills won her few female friends, but loads of male admirers who saw her as the total package - a hot gamer nerd chick who was so passionate about her roles that she actually learned swordplay and archery in her spare time. She did a stint in LARP and was a favorite in her group, eschewing the gaggle of wenches in their push-up corsets for the knights battling on the field. She led charges, affected battle strategies and held her own in hand-to-hand combat with men nearly twice her size.

When auditions had been held to test a new and innovative game, she'd applied. She still recalled Percy's smirk when she came in to test, and then the shock on his face when she trounced every creature in the first simulation session, or Sim. Her only peer had been Grant and when they reached the final interview stage, the tension between them was so thick that Percy declared that their mutual disdain could only work in his favor.

"Healthy competition," he said. "That's just what I want. No holds barred."

And so they'd gone at it, working in separate chambers towards the same goal. It was Piper who had first discovered that something was very, very different about the experience. The helmets they wore were only supposed to suggest a different reality, but she came out of her session with scratches from briars that didn't really exist and blisters from where heavy armor rubbed her when she only wore light leather. When she mentioned getting cut on a thorn and suffering a reaction very near to the side effects ascribed to the fictional plant, she began to realize that this was far more than just an ordinary simulation. She recounted her experience to Percy, who all but laughed in her face. She wanted to hit him, but because she loved the game she said nothing and continued.

She knew that she could not be the only one, and over sandwiches at the corner deli she finally asked Grant about his experiences and felt a surge of anger when he finally admitted that he, too, had noticed physical affects from what was simply supposed to be what Percy described as "an extended mind trip."

"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked, exasperated.

"Because it's so intense," he said. "And logically it doesn't make sense. Maybe it was easier for you to admit it because..." His voice trailed off and he took a swig of his beer. "Look, Piper. I don't want to fight."

"Right," she said, leaning back and crossing her muscular arms. "So you just sit across from me and come as close as you can to saying that I was able to accept it because I'm an illogical female whose pretty little head can get around things like this.."

"Something like that," he said.

"Fuck you," she spat.
"Listen, Piper," he said, ignoring her outburst. "Love it or hate it, men and women are different. I'm not saying your feminine nature makes you believe mysteries, but I do think females are more open to things that seem unread actually being real. It's that sixth sense thing you have..."

"Spare me, Grant.."

"It is." He tossed up his hands in frustration. "I don't know why the hell I even bother to talk to you. You can't hear past that big chip on your shoulder, Piper. Would it really hurt you to let your guard down for just a few minutes?"

"You're an adversary, Grant."

"I'm a person, Piper. We're playing a game, but our life's not a game. That's your problem. You're too caught up in this. But maybe that's easier because in games you can be all bad ass."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She could feel her face flaming with the heat of anger.

"Just what it sounds like," he said. "In the real world, you keep acting like this and one day somebody's going to give you an ass-busting and put you in your place."

"You're a chauvinistic prick,  you know that, Grant?"

He shrugged. "It's biology, girl. Get used to it. And since you hate me even more now I think I can go ahead and observe that the way you push people it's almost like you're looking for someone to put you in your place. You're begging for it."

She stood, snatching her knapsack off the back of the chair so hard that it flipped over.

"Great strategy, asshole," she said. "We're supposed to work together and you pull some shit like this? Well let me tell you something." She leaned over, lowering her voice so the other diners would not hear. "We may have to be teamed up but don't expect me to treat you like a partner. All we're doing is trying to achieve a common quest. That's it. As far as I'm concerned, you're still on the other side. Got it?"

"No," he said. "I don't. Say what you want, Piper. Once we're in that game I'll have your back whether you like it or not. Who knows. I might even be able to shrink that chip on your shoulder." He paused. "It's awful big for someone so small."

"Fuck you," she said and turned, glancing back over her shoulder as she walked away. "See you at work."