Grand Illusion

[There Will Be Lies competition] Jared is just another gamer with a close group of online friends and no social life. It just so happens that he's an online gamer during the outbreak of WWIII, and is recruited for a special, secret military program. With recent advancements in technology, the government has all kinds of new hi-tech equipment to test, but what Jared and his friends don't know is that they're testing it on them. Soon they'll have to decide whether or not to do the right thing, assuming they can discover what the right thing is.

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1. Chapter 1

    The dungeon was dark; it was hard to make out the figures waiting inside. Moss clung to the stone walls in a green film, and the torches flickering on the wall did little to light the area. It was ironic, really, that they didn’t serve their primary function. Koromosa inched into the room on light feet, sword in hand. She was tense, adrenaline pumping and ready for a fight. Jaaran was right behind her, his twin daggers spinning in his hands. He glanced over his shoulder, saying, “Cast a light orb.”

    Noir obeyed him, closing his eyes and summoning the bright white light to flow through his palms and condense, hovering in the center of the dungeon. There it was; they could see it clearly now.

    The chest.

    Weeks of hard work would finally pay off. They were so close. Jaaran stepped forward eagerly, just as Koromosa shouted, “Jaaran! Behind you!”

    He spun just as a huge misshapen orc stepped from the shadows, his battle axe singing as it sailed through the air and cut Jaaran’s head clean off. He hadn’t even had time to activate a block. Everything went black.

 

    “Damn it!” Jared shouted, ripping off his headset and throwing it angrily at the keyboard on his desk. He ran a hand over his face with a groan. “Crap.” Weeks of work down the drain. The chances that the others would be able to breach the dungeon on their own were slim. After losing Gailik so early on, it was a miracle that they had even made it to the dungeon entrance. He sighed. It looked like they’d have to start all over. 

    Reluctantly, Jared jammed his headset back over his mop of curly brown hair. QuestMaster Pro flashed a loading message on his desktop before reseting Jared’s avatar to its spawn point. He chewed his lip in frustration. “Koromosa? Noir? Please tell me you managed to get the chest.”

    “No thanks to you dying on us,” Noir grumbled from the other end. His voice crackled over the connection, but his irritation was clear. Jared ignored it.

    “So you did get it then?” he demanded, heart picking up speed. Maybe they had managed on their own. After all, they’re both level twenty or above. 

    Koromosa appeared next to Jaaran at the spawn point. “Don’t be stupid. Of course we didn’t. The orcs came out of the shadows like they do; we had no chance without Gailik.”

    “Sorry, guys,” Gailik’s smooth voice came floating through the headset. “I tried to tell her-“

    “Sure,” Koromosa said sarcastically, her figure sinking to the forest floor with a clink of armor.

    “My mom said she’d disable the wifi if I didn’t unload the dishwasher! What was I supposed to do?”

    It was somehow made clear by the following silence that Koromosa was rolling her eyes. Noir re-spawned, looking annoyed. “Way to leave me there, guys.”

    “You lasted longer than I thought,” Jared commented.

    Noir was quiet for a half second. “I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or as an insult,” he said flatly.

    Jared grinned, even though his friend couldn’t see it. “So,” he said, “When do you want to try again?”

    “After a nice long nap,” Noir replied.

    Jared glanced at the clock, shocked to find that it was already one in the morning. Time really flew. “Tomorrow is Saturday. You all free?” he asked.

    “‘Course,” Gailik replied. “It’s not like we have any kind of life,” he said bitterly.

    “Yeah, but… Are you sure you want to try again?” Koromosa asked. “When do we reach the point where it’s time to just give up?”

    “I think we’ve reached it,” Noir muttered. Gailik grunted in agreement.

    Jared blinked. “Guys! We were so close! We can’t give up now - the chest was in sight! We almost had the Stone of Goevin, and you know what that would mean for us.”

    “Yeah, fame, riches, power, respect…” Koromosa trailed off. “That’s great and all, but you have to weigh what it costs. Look, it’s one in the morning where you are, and you’re up playing a stupid game. Getting the stone isn’t going to get you anything in real life. Virtual respect is worth…what, really?”

    “Don’t go getting all deep with me, Koromosa. I thought we agreed not to discuss real life in the game?” Jared snapped.

    “Yeah, well…”

    “We’re not giving up on the stone,” he said adamantly. “I said I would get it, and I will, whatever it takes. We’re not quitters.” A snore drifted over the line. “Noir. Noir!”

    “Wha-What?” came the reply.

    “Be here at noon tomorrow, okay?” Jared said. “All of you. And be ready to fight.” He swiveled his view to Koromosa.

    She grudgingly replied, “Fine.”

    “Great. See you then,” Jared said. “Goodnight.”

    He pressed a quick series of keys and logged off; the window closed. Jared tore off his headset and tossed it on a pile of books on his desk. Leaning back in his squeaky swivel chair, he closed his eyes, his mind still in the game. He felt more alive there than he did in real life. Jared prided himself on his in game reflexes, one of the reasons he fought with daggers. He was quick, fast, attentive. 

    And yet it was a wonder he didn’t notice the cloaked user following their every move.

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