“Attention valued subscriber.”

The voice boomed like a god coming down from on high. Which, in game terms, was basically what this guy was for all that he was probably some neckbeard with anime figurines decorating his cubicle in the real world.

I grinned. We had the asshole here, after all, so why not have some fun with the prick? Besides, there was an undercurrent to that booming voice that said the gamemaster didn’t value me at all.

“Does it chap your ass that you have to kiss my ass like that when I’m breaking your precious rules?” I asked with a grin.

“My feelings are irrelevant. There is a violation of the game terms taking place in this simulation.”

“Um, excuse me,” I asked. “But could you tell me exactly what game term is being violated? I thought we were having a little fun here.”

Besides. I’d checked the rules. Sure what I’d done might be seen as an exploit from a certain point of view, but it’s not like I’d hacked them or anything. Everything I did to kill the king had used systems that were available to anyone.

I’d just been the one who figured out how to combine them in a unique way that let this exploit work. I’m sure some dev’s head was going to roll over that one.

The gamemaster, for that was the only thing this person could possibly be with that over the top entrance and ridiculous sense of style that lived in a fashion grey area somewhere between Liberace and Imperial Guard, stared down at us with open disdain. 

Though that disdain was more in the body language than anything I could see on the gamemaster’s face considering that face was covered by a mask that looked a little like a certain bounty hunter who’d gained a badass reputation despite his only professional claim to fame being a swan dive down an embarrassingly stationary monster’s gullet.

The similarities were close enough to get the idea across while at the same time being distinct enough that Horizon’s lawyers could make a case that it was different enough that the mouse’s lawyers could pound sand.

“You were breaking the game scenario,” the gamemaster said. “Your purpose in this scene is to die. You aren’t supposed to reach a victory condition in the defeat cut scene.”

For a moment the gamemaster lost some of their theatricality. Sure their voice still boomed across the room, but there was a subtle shift in the way they spoke that said they were astonished they’d even need to state something so mind bogglingly obvious.

“Excuse me,” I said. “But could you explain to us exactly where in the rules it says we aren’t allowed to win the game when we’re in the game over cut scene? Because I looked through your terms of service, that shit is a great sleep aid by the way, and I’m pretty sure it’s not against any rules.”

“Good one,” Kristoph muttered.

“I thought so,” I said, glancing at viewer numbers that were now in the millions. This was getting way bigger than I’d ever dreamed, and that question had been more for those viewers than for the gamemaster. I figured I’d let the asshole hoist himself by his company’s hypocrisy.

The gamemaster glared at me, but for a surprise he seemed to seriously consider the question. He cocked his head to the side, and I got the feeling the guy was listening to some communication from the higher ups at Horizon.

Management would be getting involved with this since it was streaming live, after all. Especially since it was getting so much attention.

They were already in the middle of a hell of a PR disaster, and no doubt my gamemaster friend had suits with fancy ties stepping in to try and micromanage their way out of the disaster.

The gamemaster finally came back to reality. Or back to unreality, as it were, since we were in a virtual reality simulation of a gaudy 1980s set designer’s idea of what a cross between the middle ages and the far future might look like. Assuming that at some point in the far future humanity lost all sense of taste and decorum.

“The terms of service contain a clause that states we may revoke your access to our modules at any time,” the gamemaster finally said. “And that clause is being invoked now. You are violating the spirit of the game even if you aren’t breaking the letter of the law, and you know it.”

“But you put these mechanics in the damn game,” I said. “If you didn’t want people to do something like this then why make it possible in the first place?”

Sure doing this had involved a little skullduggery, but if there was one thing I’d learned in my fight against Horizon it was that perception mattered more than truth. It was an unfortunate truth of the post-truth era of the information age.

Besides, there were enough people rooting against Horizon these days that it’s not like anyone would give me shit for taking advantage of some dev forgetting to put in an inventory failsafe that prevented me from carrying that crystal into a game over screen where it definitely shouldn’t exist. The game let us do it. It’s not my fault no one else ever thought to try it. It’s not like it was my fault that some overworked dev didn’t think of that use case while they were working hundred hour weeks in one of Horizon’s infamous crunch times.

There was another pause. The gamemaster’s head cocked to the side again. Oh yeah. This dude was definitely having a consultation with a social media team or something. 

“Your feedback about the game systems has been noted,” the gamemaster said. “Please be assured that our development team is already hard at work patching the features that you used to manipulate this scenario.”

“Manipulate is such a harsh word,” I said, but the GM rode right over my protests.

Not that I cared. Again, those protests were more for the viewing audience at home than they were for the gamemaster or anyone who might be watching at Horizon.

“Also be assured that you will have a chance to enjoy these features after your seventy-two hour ban from this module has been lifted. Thank you for playing a Horizon Online Entertainment property. Power to the gamers.”

I rolled my eyes. I was impressed that this asshole was able to stick to the script even though he was dealing with a situation that was a little more difficult than your typical tier one Horizon game support puke was used to. Maybe they’d patched in someone from management to handle this one.

The gamemaster held his hands up readying a well known high level attack. The official name was balefire, and I couldn’t decide if that was because the scenario designers were ripping off mythology or The Wheel of Time. Either way, it sent a blast of multicolored blinding light at a target and, if it hit, rapidly reduced that target to a state of nonexistence. 

My scalp tingled. This was the last part of the plan. There was a chance this wouldn’t work. If it didn’t then we’d already accomplished a hell of a lot, but I really wanted this next bit to work. It was the piece de resistance of this whole thing.

Besides, I never thought we’d get this far with this scheme. Maybe we’d keep getting lucky and take it all the way.

A blinding multicolored light appeared at the tips of the gamemaster’s fingers and blasted out at me. I pulled another little something out of my inventory that totally shouldn’t be available in the game over scenario.

Oops. He’d said they were patching the oversight that allowed me to carry things I shouldn’t have into the game over scenario, but that didn’t apply to things I’d already brought with me.

In this game all I had to do was hold my hand up and think of the item I wanted. No rummaging around in stupid inventory squares in an active battle like you’d have to in an old fashioned MMO. I could still look at those inventory squares if I wanted to, but it wasn’t necessary to bind them to an action bar or anything primitive like that from the old days.

A translucent pink shield that matched the “ancient weapons meet anachronistic cyberpunk Vaporwave aesthetic” look everything around here had materialized on my arm and reflected the beam back at the gamemaster as I did my best Link vs. Guardian impression. I had to take a couple of steps back as the beam hit, but the important thing was the beam bounced back to its source instead of instantly incinerating me.

I’d been hoping that’d happen, but I couldn’t be sure it would work until I actually tested it in combat. Which meant provoking a gamemaster to come down from on high to lay down a little bit of the law on us.

This shield was another one of those items I wasn’t supposed to have, but when we’d stolen the cyber army control gem I went ahead and raided the good king’s weapons storage. So a shield that was meant to help out the old king, a raid boss who was usually far more spry and dangerous than his old visage would make him seem, at least when he wasn’t getting surprise ganked in a Game Over screen where that shouldn’t have been possible, was now mine to use as I pleased.

And it pleased me very much to send the gamemaster’s ban beam blasting back on the asshole.

The beam hit the prick. I liked to think there was a moment of surprise, though of course it was impossible to see that surprise considering the asshole was wearing that helmet that looked like something someone picked up at a garage sale at Skywalker ranch back in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s when the world very briefly didn’t seem to give a shit about Star Wars.

The gamemaster’s colors reversed. It was a neat little effect, and I’d only ever seen it being used on players who were being either temporarily suspended or permanently banned in Horizon games. A moment later there was no gamemaster.

“Holy shit,” Kristoph breathed. “That actually worked.”

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 2Chapter 4>>