Interlude – Niminay
The world was falling apart, but in Niminay’s experience that was it natural state.
“We’re seeing incursions in the [Pelgrathi Highlands] that are hitting at the same time as the Consortium is sending strikes against the [Aquanoids] and the [Rishell Silvermines],” General Aurelite said, as she pushed a series of force markers across the map in the tactical planning room.
Niminay half listened. She’d been the one to deliver two thirds of the intel which Aurelite was working from and as the highest level person in the room she knew she was going to draw the short straw on sorting out whichever problem area was deemed the worst by the collective wisdom of the [Strategists] and [Generals].
“I can see why they’d attack the silver mines, but what do the Aquanoids have that’s worth assaulting them for?” Prince Brandoth asked.
He wasn’t dim, but given the company assembled to wrestle with the problem of the [Consortium of Pain], he looked duller by comparison than usual.
“The Aquanoids don’t build cities, or collect wealth,” Strategist Penswell said, adjusting her glasses as she studied the newest intrusions in light of the previous ones. “A raid on them wouldn’t be predicated on obtaining resources.”
“And yet they attacked both the Highlands and the Silvermines, which are resource rich areas,” General Aurelite said. “Different factions within the same organization perhaps?”
“That would explain why they’re striking so far apart, right?” Brandoth asked. “I mean the highlands are a thousand miles or more from the silver mines.”
“The distance doesn’t matter to them,” Penswell said.
Niminay could see Penny was ticking through some evaluation and only had perhaps ten percent of her attention to spare for answering questions. Feeling charitable, Niminay decided to help her friend out.
“Their [Breacher Ships] are world jumpers,” she said. “That they can get here at all means they can land anywhere on the world they want, at any time they want.”
“But that means we’re in danger everywhere,” Brandoth said.
Give the boy a cookie, Niminay thought, with perhaps a little less charity that she should have felt.
“That’s on the first page of my report, in the first paragraph,” Niminay said. “It’s why we have to treat this as a global crisis. Not one which any single Kingdom can be expected to manage on its own.”
“And would it be so bad to leave the unworthy nations to fall before the invaders might?” General Nalunker asked. “It could clear up a few long standing problems we’ve had.”
He was speaking of the Goblin city of Toothache. Everyone knew what he meant too. The goblins had arisen to power only a few years ago. In that short time though, they’d tried to over turn the delicate balance of power between every nation around them.
Niminay could see the temptation flickering in the Generals’ eyes. Allowing the Consortium to eliminate the goblins without any of the Fallen Kingdoms needing to extend themselves could allow the old status quo to return. No more goblin meant the old borderlines would be respected. It meant the dangerous inter-kingdom squabbling could be replaced with a chance to solidify their hold on territories which had grown unruly despite being nowhere near the goblin’s lands. It meant they could get off the field of battle for a season and just enjoy themselves.
They were idiots. Excepting of course Penny, and Penny wouldn’t have called the others that. She was far more diplomatic. Niminay had been too, but then what felt like several lifetimes worth of calamities had come and gone and rub away all the awe and instinctive respect she’d had for people in high places.
It was hard to be impressed by Kings and Generals when you’d spoken with literal gods. Harder still when you’d had to beat those same gods back into the underworld where they belonged. Niminay smiled. Those were good times. Good times.
“Yes, it would be fine to allow the Consortium to scour own world clean,” Penswell said. “There’s just the small problem that they’re not locusts. They have a plan, and allowing them any victories means allowing them to advance their plans.”
“And if their plans are to run us to the far corners of the world so we’re too spread out to resist their main attack?” General Nalunker asked.
“Then we should respond accordingly,” Penswell said. She reached over and took the stick from Aurelite, pushing pieces from where they were to new locations on the map.
“If we keep our army together, can’t we just beat them again, like when they showed up the first time?” Brandoth asked.
Niminay had been a part of that battle, the first major encounter with the Consortium’s forces. It hadn’t been pretty, or easy, and if it hadn’t been for some truly astounding diplomacy to bring together an almost unprecedented alliance, she was reasonably certain the forces of the Fallen Kingdoms wouldn’t have seen the next dawn.
The stronger adventurer’s would have escaped of course, respawning and fleeing outwards as the Consortium established beachhold. That would have been a massive problem for the Consortium but being able to get revenge for a destroyed village is a far, far lesser thing than being able to protect it.
“The army is no longer assembled,” Penswell said, as the door to the tactical room opened to admit a new participant. “We lost some of its strongest units immediately following the battle, and the adventurers who came when we called for aid are not at all guaranteed to aid us again.”
“They may not, but there are still plenty of us who will,” Glimmerglass said.
“I thought you adventurers tended to rest and recover your ‘Inspiration’ for fighting for months after battle’s like that?” General Nalunker said.
“Usually yeah,” Glimmerglass said. “Something’s changed though. I don’t feel the touch of the divine we normally feel, but I am ready to fight.” She went to the window of the tactical room and opened the shutters to reveal the courtyard which was already thronging with the brightly decorated, motley armor of a dozen adventuring companies. “And so are a lot of others.”
Interlude – Zibby
In the valley below, two young boys were running for their lives. They were supposed to be adventurers. Brave. Strong. Powerful.
But this was also supposed to only be a game.
This wasn’t supposed to be a scenario where monster could actually eat you.
The [Rust Raptor] which pursued them hadn’t been given that memo though, or, at fifteen feet tall, armed with a mouth full of serrated metal death, it had simply eaten the memo bearer too.
“They’re going to be below us in about ten seconds, are you ready for this?” Aiemethia asked. He had his weapons ready, but was doing his best to only glance over the edge of the long fall occasionally.
“I have to be,” Zibby said. No way was a child being hurt on her watch.
Their plan wasn’t a complex one. When faced with a fifteen foot tall robo-dinosaur, the best idea, usually, was ‘run’. The kids were trying that though and it wasn’t working since the [Rust Raptor] could run at least twice as fast as they could. That left them with the next best option; smack the monster hard enough that it stopped trying to eat the kids.
Zibby would have had a hard time imagining herself jumping onto the back of a dinosaur, robotic or otherwise, with the intent to kill the thing if possible, but as the moment approached a fire she’d carried inside all her life lit up and made it so simple.
The kids running and screaming in terror could have been her kids, but they didn’t have to be. She would have protected them because, despite the adventurers’ bodies they wore, they were scared, and small, and they needed her.
“Here we go,” Aiemethia said, leaping off the cliff despite the terror the heights certainly gripped him with.
Zibby felt anger fill her. Not wild and uncontrolled. Not when she had a purpose and a use for it. At other times, it felt like a burning brand, one she didn’t want to wield but couldn’t let go of. Facing down a monster though, it was just the tool she needed.
Aiemethia’s fall was cushioned, to a certain extent, but landing on the robo-raptor’s head and slamming his sword through its neck. On any fleshly creature it would have been a mortal wound but the [Rust Raptor] ran on different systems than a purely organic dinosaur.
Zibby landed directly on its back therefor and plunged her staff into the glowing power module affixed to its side. Even as a low level, mostly protection based, caster, she had a few offensive spells.
And, as a [Mathemagician], she could do all sorts of basic mathematical things with her spells.
“[Force Multiplication][Combinatorial Strike],” she said, outer calm masking the focused rush of channeling almost all of her magic into the single strike.
The [Rust Raptor] exploded.
Picking herself up from the scraps of its remains, she dusted off her robes and turned to the children were were staring back at her, speechless.
Some days were tougher than others, but then some were still pretty good too.
Interlude – Kevin McConnel / Roadkiller
Waiting for the raids to come back online made for a boring night, even if it was Kevin’s last one.
He didn’t know it was his last of course. Sitting in his dorm room, the last thing Kevin McConnel could imagine was that his time could be counted in minutes rather than years or decades.
“Hey, I just heard somebody else say they gotten drawn into the game,” Teddy Jacobs said. Teddy was the raid’s main healer, and while the raid was a no-go because EE had shutdown the zones for some reason, everyone who’d signed up was still hanging out in Discord chatting and waiting for a notice that it was safe to log off.
Kevin didn’t have classes in the morning, only suckers and nerds took early morning classes, so staying up till the stupid hours of the morning wasn’t a problem, but he’d been jazzed to shoot for “World’s First” on at least one of the raids tonight.
His team wouldn’t get it. He knew that before he logged in. They were fine, but kind of losers too. None of them were as good as he was. He basically carried their worthless butts through all the other content they’d done, and in return they didn’t complain much when he snagged the loot he needed first.
“That can’t be real,” he said. “It’s some bored little whiner babies who want attention because we’re all stuck here.”
“I don’t know,” Teddy said. “The people at the tavern I’m in are talking in the local chat channel. They’re passing on things from a Game Master.”
“Can you see the Game Master?” Kevin asked, knowing the answer and wondering how stupid Teddy could be.
“No, they already left,” Teddy said. “But everyone here says there was a GM here about ten minutes ago, so we just missed them.”
“Yeah, right, how would that even be possible?” Kevin asked, but a part of him started to entertain the idea.
It was ridiculous of course. The kind of thing a two year old would come up with.
But it would be cool.
“They said it happens if you try to logoff, or if your character dies in the game. That’s why the zones are closed and they’re keeping us online.”
There were at least ten million reasons that were more realistic and likely but Kevin was intrigued by the idea anyways.
“So why don’t we just do it then?” he asked.
“Log off,” Kevin said. “See if it happens.”
“Uh, cause then we’d be stuck as our characters?” Teddy said.
“Like that wouldn’t be sick? Come on, we’d be so badass. It would be awesome! What could be bad about it?”
“Dude, think about this place,” Teddy said. “Do you really want a dragon to rip you to pieces and then roast those pieces to ash? Cause we’ve seen that happen in cutscenes.”
“Pff, that’s not gonna happen. Come on, let’s do it.”
“No way man. Even if they’re wrong, what if it scrambles our hard drives. Or worse, deletes our characters?”
“That’s stupid. They’d just roll everything back then. Come on. I’m gonna do it.”
“Don’t! Dude. Don’t do it. If you wreck your account, it’s gonna take forever for someone to gear up another tank for us.”
“Too late man. I’m doing it.” Kevin said and clicked the ‘Logout’ button.
The usual countdown began and Kevin felt a little thrill tingle across his fingers. He knew nothing was going to happen, but it was fun to imagine.
“Wait. Dude. If you get sucked in, what do we tell people?” Teddy asked.
“Tell ‘em to make a character and come join us,” Kevin said. “This is going to be awesome.”
The logout countdown hit zero and for a moment, just as he expected, nothing happened.
Then the world and his body dissolved.
When things started making sense again, Kevin saw that nothing made sense.
He was in the [Dead Lands]. In the [Fallen Kingdoms]. As himself.
That didn’t matter though. He’d just go over to the chapel and respawn as Roadkiller and then start going to town on everything.
Behind him, he heard a howl that was absolutely not from a dog, and not from a wolf.
They might have been called the [Hounds of Fate] but the last thing Kevin thought before his story ended was that they were something he should never have met.