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This will be enjoyed (if not hated) best by the people who play PSO. send all hate mail to the trash can. it'll magically appear on my desk :P

* pd = photon drop. the basic currency in the game. they are rare and extremely difficult to find.

Chapter 1

The boy watched as his parents drove away for their 1-week retreat to the mountains. They had asked the boy to come along, but he had made some excuses – a little homework here, some odd jobs there.

The real reason lied somewhere else, however – in a laptop placed on his study table, beside his physics book, one that had not been opened once since the 2 years it had been bought.

The boy opened his laptop and logged on to his Phantasy Star Online account. The server had changed drastically in the past 4 years. It had evolved, not in terms of graphical resolution, but in it's ability to offer more “freedom”.

The boy chose his best character on the roster - “Light”, his HUmar. He generally preferred using “Kaila”, his FOrce, since it offered a large variety of long-range attacks. But, the assignment he had just accepted on the PS Forums called for someone who could fight up close and personal and be flexible.

The ship system had changed the most. With the ever-growing number of users, the server owners had decided to completely overhaul the lobby system, instead placing “towns”. Since about 30% of the users on at a time simply opened a party to trade, the server had added the functions like Trading, Weapon conversion, Shops at the towns itself. Also, unlike the lobbies, towns were a much bigger place, capable of housing upto 800 users at a time.

The HUmar, Light went to the town called “Yuba” and waited on a spot near the “Grace Cafe”, the same spot that he and his friends had always met ever since they joined up.

Light had just taken a photon chair when the first of his team – Sonic showed up. Sonic was a RAmar but just as his name suggested, he always wore a Sonic skin.

Light : whats up man? hows it going?

Sonic : not too shabby. found myself 2 phonon masers yesterday and dumped em on an idiot for 6 pd. lol, the guy said he was sorry he ripped ME off!!!

Light : it wasn't a noob though, right? u know how i feel about cheating off the newbies.

Sonic : i don't know. the guy was a lv 156. so, either he's stupid or he hasn't played in a loooooong while.

Light : whatever. anyways, when are the others arriving? i've got us a big one.

Sonic : <rolls his eyes> what is it? another kid wants help leveling? I'm getting tired of those.

Light : aaand ... they're here.

The rest of the team – Jin and PI arrived just as Light was finishing his statement. Jin was the team's other HUmar.

The only difference between him and Light was that Jin specialised in using daggers and claws, while Light was a sword user.

PI, a FOnewman, was the best Force on the team, lightyears ahead of Light's “Kaila”. With his maxed Shifta/Deband, he could raise Light and Jin's power high enough to kill in a maximum of 3 hits.

PI : well well. Look who showed up on time for once.

Light : can the comments PI. I just got us the biggest job of our lives.

Jin : <frowning> it better be. The last job we had got us a total of 8 pd total, our lowest amount yet.

Light : <grins> oh, it is. It's the most difficult job that has ever come on the request page, and there's not likely to be another like this EVER again.

Sonic : well, stop withthe suspense building then. What is it? How much is the pay?

Light : the request came from a HUnewearl called ASHA. The pay is 10,000 pd's.

Edited by Emotional Outlet

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thnx ba11ard. good to hear that. here comes chapter 2.

Chapter 2

What followed was a long period of silence while everyone digested the importance of Light's last statement. The first to break the silence was Jin.

Jin : nope. I don't believe it. The girl's either lying or wants to screw us over. There's no way one person can have that much.

Light : <smiles> i didn't believe it either, but she's put up a video. you guys know what a photon sphere is, right?

Photon spheres are like photon drops, a form of currency, except that if you look at it, a pd is a $1 bill and a photon sphere is a $100 bill.

Light : this girl has been saving her pd's ever since she joined the game. She even made a video to brag about it an put it on the request forum as proof. It showed her running over 100 dropped photon spheres!!!!!!

Sonic : holy ****. i've gotta check it.

PI : ........ in that case, we may have just hit the biggest case of our lives :D!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jin : well, i checked the video. It looks authentic. But, there MUST be a catch. Why would someone just give away their entire life savings???

Light : i was hoping you would say that. That brings me to our assignment. You guys know about the Falzoga Maze, right?

Sonic : <snorts> who doesn't?? it's the biggest thing in PSO. And the only thing which hasn't been beaten ... ever.

PI : it was launched over 5 years ago in an attempt to attract ven more gamers. The server owners noticed that people started playing less when they reached a high level and thus introduces a place which was a challenge to even level 200's.

Jin : exactly. That's why we still play. We're all at lv 167, give or take for some of us. We're gonna need really high-level items to get through it.

Light : <nods> and u know what's hidden in there, right? At the exact middle????

Jin : yeah, the strongest item in the entire game. A rare with 14 stars, that can change into any kind of weapon the user want. Sabers, daggers, claws, guns, you name it. But, that's all talk. No one has ever gotten there to see for themselves. Hell, it may not even exist!!!!!

Light : well, here comes the shocker of the year. She says she's got it.

The second period of silence was shorter but it was there, and the end result this time was not disbelief, but surprise.

Sonic : whoa!!! really???

PI : if this is true, it'll change the entire face of PSO. It'll make Dark Flow look like a kid's toy.

Light : hey!!!!!!!

Dark Flow was Light's most prized possession. Once said to be the strongest sword on the server, it could only be made by obtaining a highly rare item by killing the last boss on Ultimate difficulty over and over again and then using that item on an S-rank sword.

Light had been to hell and back to get that item and wasn't gonna tolerate any nonsense against it.

Light : you had better take that comment back, PI!!!

PI : jeez, ok relax. I just don't get why you just couldn't buy it from someone.

Light : it was too expensive. Besides, after this job, we won't ever have to worry about financial problems again.

Jin : i'm sorry. But, i still don't get what the hell this girls wants??????????? if she has an item that's that strong, what does she need us for? Sparring lessons???

Light : i was getting to it. You know that the Falzago Maze is just full of rare items, don't you? Everything there drops a rare, UNCONDITIONALLY.

Sonic : yeah, i tried getting rares off that little condition, but i couldn't even kill a stupid Rappy, remember?

Rappy's are penguin-like creatures. They are incrdibly stupid and attack head-on at everything. While they can be beaten easily by a high leveler at Ultimate level, it is extremely difficult to get even a scratch on them in the Falzago Maze.

Light : exactly. But, even if you get a rare, you have to escape from the place alive!!!!! or you lose it the next time you spawn. This was done to prevent a sudden outbreak of rare items everywhere. You can't even drop a pipe there. It's take the Entry or Exit portal only to get out.

“Dropping a pipe” was a term used to tell a player to open a temporary portal to the town, either by using an item or magic. This portal would remain until the creator uses it to return to the battle.

Light : so you see. This girl got the item, tried to make it out, but got attacked from the behind on her way out. Now, she's lying dead there. She's put a message on the Request page asking for someone to come revive her.

That is our assignment. We are gonna go in there and get her out.

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Chapter 3

It wasn't as if there wasn't an argument. There was.

One of the biggest the team had. They had all had an idea of what the assignment would me, had tried to be prepared for it, but had reacted nonetheless.

Sonic : that is some of the biggest bull i have heard in a while!!!! we'll get massacred. We don't stand a chance.

PI : i agree with Sonic. Not only will we have to go up against those monsters with monstrously high HP, we also have to fight other players. The maze is No-Man's Land and can accomadate as many players as needed. The monsters also re-spawn after a set interval of time. It's a permanent battle ground. Even if we can dodge around the monsters, we'll surely get 1-hit killed by the lv 200's.

Light : listen, i thought this through. We weren't the only ones who accepted the request. There are gonna be tons of other guys with the same objective. We let them distract each other and make a run for it.

Sonic : you really are an idiot. This is what i hate about you. You go around recklessly accepting requests that either have a low pay or are impossible to accomplish.

Light : listen, those guys have high levels only 'cause they spammed TTF.

TTF was the abbreviated form for “Towards The Future”, a quest that had been available since the beginning of PSO. It featured fighting all of the bosses in the game one after the other in a VR room. The EXP received was the same as for a normal boss fight. This system was soon exploited by players to quickly gain EXP, by spamming the same quest all day long.

Light : besides, we have skills. I could take on any of those big, bad level 200's and you know it. There's no one faster than me with a sword and no one stronger than Jin with his daggers, right Jin?

Jin however had remained silent during the entire conversation. No responce came from him in a while, then .....

Jin : right. sorry guys. I was checking something for a while. Now, according to my research, you can't even see the map in the Maze. You have to move entirely on memory and no official map has ever been released.

Pay attention, as this is gonna save our lives in this mission. You guys remember when we tried to hack some of the rare items, right?

Sonic : <groan> the biggest mistake of my life. I made over 200 of them and when i tried to sell it, it appeared RED. i almost got busted and banned.

Jin : that's what happens when you try to hack an item, it's name appears in the colour red.

Now, i've obtained certain maps from the internet. They were made by some players who didn't get killed after the first wave. They may be true, they may be false. It doesn't matter. They're just for a little bit of reference.

To survive, we just need to get past the first room, the Portal Room. After that, we can choose any of over 60 routes to reach the middle.

Now, i'd suggest that we wait for a lv 200 party to go ahead of us and then take a route while they're busy battling the monsters.

Now remember, this is called a maze, so we're gonna have to leave trails at the places that lead to dead ends.

Light : that's where the hacked items come into play, then? No player would be stupid enough to pick it up, so we leave it as a sing that we've been there.

Jin : <nods> exactly. We're also gonna need to stock up on moons. But, we only use them to revive PI.

PI : that's a logical decision. Being a force, i can use reverser to bring any of you back at any time.

Moon Atomizers are items available at any shop throughout the server and can be used o bring a fallen team-mate back to life. Forces, however specialise in magic techniques and at a high enough level, can use the technique known as “Reverser” to bring team-mates back to life.

Sonic : well, then i guess it's settled. We're gonna be in the game for a looooong while though. We can't just save our progress at a point and log off.

Jin : that and the fact that we all need sleep. We can't just leave our characters unguarded. Someone may literally attack us in our sleeps and ruin all our work. So, we're gonna be taking shifts, agreed?

PI : normally, i'd say no, but the reward is too good to resist. So, i guess i'm in.

Light : perfect, we'll meet at the portal in half an hour. Someone or another is always trying their luck at the maze. We'll use the portal shortly after they do and run past them. Hopefully, we won't sustain too much damage in the first encounter.

Also, remember to talk only using TEAM CHAT so that no one else can intercept your messages.

Jin : right, then. Let's move, people.

The incursion was about to begin. And it wouldn't end quickly.

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Chapter 4

They didn't have to wait long.

As Light had said, the Maze, with it's enormous structure, priceless rares and an undefeated winning streak against all players attracted Lv 200's like a lamp attracted mosquitos.

They knew they were going to their doom, but continued on anyways.

The group consisted of 2 forces and 2 rangers. It was a group that believed solely in mid to long range combat, prefering to stay as far away from the claws, teeth, and poison of the monsters as possible.

Light and the others waited a good 3 minutes before they went in, just to make sure that they wouldn't get attacked first by the force-ranger team by being early.

Light : allright, guys. Remember, stay together. We can't afford to get separated. The one who's furthest ahead, pick a door and keep moving. Everyone else follow, got it?

Jin : it's of vital importance that we don't get everyone killed. If the entire party dies, we won't be able to return for another 12 hours.

Sonic : WHAT???????? you're telling me this NOW of all times. Oh well, whatever. No turning back anyways.

PI : we're almost at the Maze, guys. Prepare yourselves.

They arrived at the portal of the Maze in a dazzling light. The first thing Jin did was to make sure that the lv 200's had not noticed their entry.

Just a few yards ahead, the lv 200's were attempting to take down a rappy. All 4 had used their Shifta/Deband and raised their power as high as they could, yet were still doing minimal damage to the rappy. The same rappy who had offered them no trouble whatsoever at even the Ultimate level of the game.

The 4 took the distraction as their cue to move.

Ahead of them were 6 doorways, all hidden in the darkness. No one could tell what lay beyond them. The one in the lead was Sonic, who had equipped the weakest but fastest weapon in his arsenal :- a Chaos Vulcan, which fired 3 shots in rapid succession.

Sonic moved quickly, shooting away at all the traps that were waiting for them, disabling them all in seconds.

Next in line was PI, ready to use his Resta technique to heal his comrades, should any of them sustain even the slightest damage.

Jin and Light were moving side by side, keeping a lookout to their side as well as behind them, should a Sinow Beat suddenly appear.

Sinow Beats are robotic creatures, who went beserk after a virus spread through their AI system. With a wide range of tricks, incuding becoming invisible and generating “Shadow Clones”, they had proven themselves to be more than an annoyance to players.

They had become so famous that a room that appeared in the “MINES” part of Episode 1 where they continuously spawned and attacked from the sky had been given a special nick name by players – The Rape Room.

Sonic : <grunt> almost there guys, keep on moving. We're gonna make it.

As if by jinx, it was at that exact moment that a Sinow Beat appeared right IN FRONT OF Sonic!!!!!

Jin : dammit! Sonic, get to the right. He's gonna cut you in two!!

Sonic : damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn .

Sonic tried to move out of the way, but was a millisecond too late. The Sinow readied itself, then leapt, it's blades in the open, aimed straight at Sonic ............

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sorry for the wait guys, here it comes...

Chapter 5

..... The Sinow's blades went RIGHT PAST Sonic and implanted themselves into PI's arms.

PI went limp for a second, then fell to the ground, almost lifeless.

Jin and Light leapt straight into action. While taking on a Sinow Beat in one-on-one combat in the Maze was practically suicide, the Humar duo had developed a technique over the years.

A maximum of 3 strikes with any kind of weapon could be made. But, after the third strike, the player would be left vulnerable for a brief instant of time. At that instant, it would be impossible to block the blows of an enemy, let alone dodge it.

Jin and Light's system consisted of one Hunter attacking first, then the other going in when the first was open.

Light equipped “Sange”, one of his katanas and proceeded to slash away at the Sinow. With the first two blows, he was able to put a dent in it's armour. He turned his third strike into a heavy attacked and brought the katana down with all his might, cutting down one of it's arms.

Just as he finished, Jin used his “Daylight Scar”, a powerful pair of daggers and made incisions along the Sinow's entire body.

Oil rushed out the Sinow, weakening it's attack and defence, making it more vulnerable.

Sonic brought up his bazooka and with 5 blasts blew the Sinow to kingdom come.

Sonic : Holy crap. That was too close. How's PI doing?

Light : he's doing fine. We won't have to use a moon to resuscitate him. He had kept his finger on the Healing spell the entire time, and was able to keep himself from dying.

Jin : if that Sinow had gone at Sonic instead, we would've been too far away to stop it in time. We got very, VERY lucky.

Light : PI. Good to see your'e okay. Come on, we need to continue forward.

Jin looked back at the Lv 200's. They were still engaged in combat with the Rappy. No matter how many shots the ranger fired, or how much the forces emmersed it in flames, ice and lightning, not a single point of damage had been done to it.

Jin : we've just killed a monster here. Forget about the rare it dropped. It's likely that more will come. We need to MOVE now!!!!

Sonic : way ahead of you, pal.

PI : RESTA!!!!!!!!

PI used the healing spell known as Resta to restore full health to himself and his colleagues.

At full health again, the four moved on towards the 3rd doorway from the left.

However, nothing was to go according to plan.

As they approached the doorway, a group of 5 Baranz materialized.

Sonic : OMFG, this is not good, not good at all!!!!

Baranz were considered a type of mini-boss on “MINES”. They were robots that were shaped like tanks and were capable of firing homing missilies. In addition to the high amount of damage they did, they had a monstrous amount of HP and were almost impossible to kill in one-on-one combat without using the Resta spell a number of times.

Light : there's no way we can take on all of these guys. We're gonna have to change the plans. Everyone - split up, avoid their missiles and take the route nearest to you.

The baranz squad fired it's missiles, aiming at no one in particular, just the first player foolish enough to come close enough.

The four weaved sideways, moved in a zig-zag pattern, anything to make sure the missiles didn't collide. Despite their best efforts, the Baranz barrage continued, their never-ending supply of missiles sometimes missing by a mile, sometimes by an inch.

Light moved around in a circle, trying to draw in the huge robots, so the path ahead could be cleared. After launching it's 7th missile, the 4th Baranz took the bait, and moved in closer to eliminate the hostile target.

Light saw Jin and Sonic move towards the clearing.

Try to stay together, he desperately thought and made his way over as well.

Light kept maneuvering left and right, dodging the attacks of 5 furious Baranz at the same time.

In the midst of the fighting, Light had forgotten about the Lv 200's they had followed. Their gaze fell over to where the Sinow had been killed, the place replaced by a red box, a box containing a rare item.

Greedily, they hurried towards it, a move that saved Light's life.

Noticing the presence of 4 more intruders, the Baranz concentrated their attack more widely, leaving a way wide open for Light to escape through.

Light took it and went over to the passageways.

In front of him were 6 doorways, out of which 3 were marked with the hacked items.

All 3 had gone separate ways ....

Light swore under his breath, calmed himself, then took the 2nd path from the left, at the base of which was a hacked item marked in red “CLUB OF IDIOCY” ...........

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well, it's finally here. a little short though.

Chapter 6

The “CLUB OF IDIOCY” was a FOrce weapon.

Light knew he needed to stay with PI. If they lost their force, everything would be over in an instant. The four of them had taken 3 different paths.

Light opened up the team chat channel.

Light : everyone report in. I'm currently on PI's tail.

Sonic : well,the plan has pretty much gone to hell.

Jin : not much we can do about it anyways. You wanna go back to the Baranz room?

Sonic : I still have a brain left. I'm never going back there.

PI : so ... what's the new plan?

Light : we continue on course. If we come across an intersection, we'll re-group. Other than that, Sonic and Jin are on their own.

Sonic : Great. Just perfect. I'm about to become fish food in this ...

After that, transmission from Sonic was lost.

Light : WHAT THE HELL ???

Jin : could we be losing reception dow ...

Jin's lines didn't come through either.

This maze!!! it's a lot more trouble than i had imagined, thought Light as he raced along the passage.

As he ran along the path towards PI, a being came into focus from the shadows. It opened it's eyes, as red as blood and smiled ......

FOOD!!!

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      “Said the Satanist?” Jennifer raised her eyebrow.

      “It's not for everyone,” he retorted; I smiled; Sir Lancel turned his head away from the entire scene.

      “My song today is about finding true love on Craigslist and finding out it's your spouse,” Henna said, beaming in her ingenuity.

       

      The second rule of Write Club is you never point out when a story is a rip off.

       

      On the bus, I was struck with a vision of my story, I saw what it could be and what it should be. I felt it run through my blood like a virus, an amoeba swimming as fast as possible to my death. I pulled out my cell phone and, chubby fingers fumbling over the touchscreen, I wrote the last act of my story. The words were there; the spell was written. All that was left for me to do was to put it all together and cast it on the world.

      When I got home, I was happy to be done for the night. My daily word count achieve, I was content to give myself over to slumber. I quickly stripped to my boxers, climbed in to bed, and let a snake-fueled ax-murder drift gently out of my mind – or perhaps it just sunk deeper in.

      After I went to bed I woke up in my protagonists room. A three-legged crow tapping it's nine talons impatiently against my dresser. It was crimson red and flecked with gold. The bird opened it's mouth to caw, but nothing came out. All I could hear was the hissing.

      “Sssacrificce,” I heard, turning instinctively to the golden snake in the aquarium by the bed.

      I straightened in the bed and tried to stand up, but, as I turned to stand up, I realized my legs were both flayed and bleeding; I realized I was not the hero.

      The hero was standing over the bed with an ax.

      I heard the crow's cawing like an echo as he lifted his weapon. I grabbed the nightstand and pulled myself to the ground as the ax dropped deep into the mattress. My hand slipped into the nightstand drawer and pulled out the gun I'd left for my ill-fated heroine. It was unloaded and unhelpful, but that was the story and my body couldn't help but follow through. I squeezed the trigger and listened in terror as the gun clicked impotently as the hero – wearing my face, as all my heroes do – climbed over the bed, ax raised, ready to end the story.

      Then the bird flew between us, the hero slipped fell backward off the bed and his hatchet fell helplessly behind him.

      Then the hissing returned.

      I turned to the sound and saw the snake, scales aglow, growing fatter and longer in it's coil in the small glass box. The snake grew until it could no longer be held back; the sides of the aquarium popped and sand and water spilled from the perch. The snake continued to grow as it crawled toward me hissing:

      “Ssssacrifice. . .”

      The snake turned and snapped at the bird. I watched it dance in the air and then fly out the open window. I was alone.

      The snake raised it's expanding mass and hissed provocatively, its tail rattled like the muffler on my first car.. Make a move, try your luck, it seemed to say – though it could clearly say so if it wanted to.

      That's how I wrote it.

      That's when my protagonist grabbed me by the shoulder and, hand choked up on the ax, released the mortal blow. I winced as the blade sunk easily through my collarbone; I felt the very tip touch my heart.

      “Thank you,” the snake hissed, coiling itself back up.

      My protagonist dropped me back to the ground and began hacking cleaving blows into my chest, the blood sprayed like a water fountain in hell, all the way up to the ceiling fan.

       

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