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Well, today should be fun fun fun. I have to pack and finish as much homework as I can. >.< And go shopping for new shoes, which isn't bad.

I finished my quarter project yesterday, so I'll put it up here. I'll add it to my site later. Maybe I'll even *gasp* continue it sometime. ^.^;; Just don't wait on it.

Oh, and any title suggestions are *very* welcome. I suck at making up titles.



Mara twirled a loose strand of her black hair with one hand and slid lower in her plush chair. Letting the sweet warmth of her cappuccino sooth her, she was amazed at how realistic her hair felt. Everything felt real, even the background music was soft enough that Mara could almost pretend that she was sitting in a real coffee shop, a quiet little place in a tiny town somewhere. Mara let her eyelids flutter down over her red eyes, holding on to the calm moment.

The peace and the illusion lasted for about ten seconds before someone burst in screaming, "Dragon! There's a dragon on the loose, everyone run for your lives!" The intruder fled out the door, continuing to scream his message at the top of his lungs. Mara set her mug on the low wooden table with a sigh. The computer controlled players, called NPCs, were always stepping in at the wrong times with their messages of death and destruction. Mara glanced around the shop, a tiny smile quirking the corner of her mouth. Not a single player had moved from their places, too intent on getting a date to be bothered with killing a pesky dragon.

The online virtual reality game simply titled, "Sanctuary" promised and delivered exactly what it's name stated, a sanctuary from ordinary life and boredom. The game was originally targeted at a teenage audience, but no one in the company complained when it was adopted by people of every age group. The online world had expanded multiple times, trying to keep up with its growing popularity and massive number of users, and there were now more places to explore than any one person could cover in a lifetime. Most players stayed in one area, sticking to their "home" town, but two types of players were always on the move.

The first were wandering do-gooders, constantly searching for more people to help. All but a few of them had ego problems bigger than the lag in a busy town, and the often ended up being more trouble than their help was worth. The second were the player killers, usually shortened to PKers, who travelled around killing any player they could get their hands on. The PKers were unpredictable, some killing on commission, others acting on their own twisted urges.

"Not going to go play 'Chase the Dragon?' I thought all knights hungered for adventure and glory." Mara jumped and turned to see a man dressed in all black leaning on the back of her chair. Her eyes darted over the infocube that popped up with his character information.

Silken_Shadow
Class: Ninja
Level: 76


"You've obviously taken down quite a few dragons to get to such a high level," Mara replied, "I thought ninja only hid in the shadows and killed people."

"Not everyone fits their class stereotype, miss Valiant Rose'" Shadow stepped around Mara's chair and stood in front of her. "You don't seem to fit in with the heroic knight class or your screen name if you're sitting around instead of driving people insane by trying to 'help' them."

Mara laughed. "A good point, Silken Shadow. Want to call it even and join me for a cup of coffee? I'd like to continue the discussion without you hovering over me, if you don't mind."

"Just Shadow, please. I'd be happy to join you. It's so rare to find someone who has something intelligent to say, don't you think?" Shadow rolled his eyes, his only visible feature behind the ninja's traditional mask and hood. "Most of the people here are so shallow, it disgusts me." Shadow pulled up a chair and perched on the edge of it, leaning forward with interest.

Mara shrugged. "You shouldn't be so hard to everyone here, we all have a lot in common."

"And what would that be?" Shadow asked, tapping a menu on the table to order a cup of coffee.

"No one that spends much time here likes their 'real' life. As wonderful and realistic as Sanctuary is, most people prefer reality unless they have something they need to get away from." Mara glanced to the side, pretending a fascination with the tacky wallpaper.

"I like it here well enough," Shadow shrugged, taking his coffee from an NPC waiter. "Sanctuary has so much more potential than reality. Here, you can act out your dreams and dark fantasies, everything you've ever wanted to do, with no consequences. Isn't that perfection?"

Mara looked around, noticing the muttering and stares of the people around them. "Maybe we should take this conversation somewhere else," she suggested, "Like out of town. People are giving us funny looks."

"Of course, we wouldn't want to upset the little mindless people, would we?" Shadow muttered with a sneer, standing and leaving the cafe. Mara hurried after him, almost running to keep up with his stride. Shadow shoved through the crowded streets, not even pausing at the edge of the town, before plunging into the forest with Mara trailing nervously behind.

He seemed nice, but now he's acting really strange.... I'd better be on guard. Mara reached for her sword with painful slowness, hoping that the gesture seemed nonchalant. As her hand touched the hilt, she found Shadow in her face with a dagger against her throat.

"What are you doing, my pretty little Rose? Trying to stab me in the back? You thought I wasn't paying attention, didn't you?" Shadow's voice had changed from a rational flow to a soft stream of menace touched with insanity.

"This forest has monsters in it. I'd rather be alert and prepared than monster food." Mara tried to keep fear from making her voice waver.

"Are you trying to be brave, my Rose? To protect me from the world?" Shadow's voice changed again, dripping with a poisonous honey. "Trying to show me love, Rose? I'm flattered, but it's not an emotion I have any more. All I can do is pretend."

Mara closed her eyes, waiting for Shadow to decide whether she lived or died. Death wasn't permanent in the game, but it hurt, you were banned from the game for days and lost most of your items and money. Mara tried to relax, telling herself that it wasn't real even as she became aware of how real it felt. Shadow's breath warmed her cheek in a steady rhythm, a striking contrast to the cool breeze that brushed against the rest of her face. As the trees' leaves whispered of peace and calm, Mara heard the soft sound of fabric sliding against skin, and then Shadow spoke.

"Don't move." Mara felt the words shaped across her cheek by Shadow's lips, soft and dry like a dying flower. Some part of Mara's mind realized that he had taken his mask off, while the rest was busy taking in the contrast between Shadow's mouth brushing over hers and his cold blade still resting on her throat.

Within a few seconds Mara's thoughts came back into focus and she shoved Shadow away with all her strength. He stumbled back with a snarl, reaching into a pouch at his waist. Mara backed up against a tree, then froze as Shadow sent three throwing stars flying at her head.

The soft thunk of the stars sinking into wood rang in Mara's ears just as she took in the mage staff floating in the air before her. A figure in a hooded white robe appeared holding onto the staff with his back turned to Mara.

"My, my, I think you've ruined my staff," a melodic tenor voice scolded, "I just bought it this morning and it was so pretty too!"

Shadow tossed out a few more stars that bounced off of an invisible wall. The mage shook his head with melodramatic sigh.

"Well, I think we'll just be going now, nice meeting you and all." He bowed and gestured with his staff. "Teleportation!"

Mara blinked as the world faded out, all her senses fading away. Burned into Mara's mind was Shadow's silver haired figure and his parting words ringing in her ears.

"I will find you."


*sigh* I have to leave tomorrow morning EARLY. We have to be to the airport at about 7am. >.< Gaaaaah, I hate morning flights!

Oh, and I just realized I printed out my quarter project *before* I spell checked it. Baka, baka, baka me. ~.~