Interlude – Grunvan
Grunvan wasn’t anything special as [Goblins] went. Average height, average strength, average smarts. She’d lived an average life and been, on average, ok with that.
As a kid, the “call to adventure” had been something to knocked on other people’s doors, usually with disastrous results. She’d gone into the not-at-all lucrative career of wagon-driving with her eyes open to both the risks she was taking and the one’s she was stepping well out of her path to avoid.
[Wagon Town] was a big enough city that the roads leading to it were generally secure. The “big money” (for extremely modest values of “big”) among wagon routes were the ones which lead through places like the [Fire Fields] or the [Cryptmist Woods]. That a fair percentage of drivers on those routes didn’t live long enough to claim their big pay days was enough to convince Grunvan that she was happier with the common routes doing either regular deliveries within town or out to the constellation of small villages and communities which [Wagon Town] extensively with.
Despite her life long commitment to making sensible and safe choices though, Grunvan still found herself huddling behind an giant shield she could barely lift, clad in scraps of armor which showed in too many places where they’d failed to protect their previous wearer.
“They’ve got to be sending help right?” Argwin said after she snuck a glance over the hastily assembled battlements they’d finished throwing up an hour before.
Grunvan was reasonably sure Agwin was not looking for an honest opinion on that matter. None of the thirty or so goblins on their section of the defensive earthworks wanted to be where they were, and none of them really expected anyone else to throw themselves into the proverbial frying pan. Not with the horde of nightmares that had rolled up and begun constructing a camp right outside the small village of [Apple Plate].
There were unbelievable reports that the whole world was under attack by monsters from beyond the stars. Unbelievable except for the part where a few hundred yards away there was a giant horde of monsters from beyond the stars waiting to destroy [Apple Plate], [Wagon Town], and probably every other goblin town they could get their talons and tentacles on.
Grunvan could imagine a lot of things, but imagining the armed forces from any of the other nations choosing to lend a forgettable little village like [Apple Plate] a hand was not one of them.
“Sure,” she said. “The [Silver Spears Gryphon Brigade] could still make it here before trouble starts.”
It wasn’t a lie if no one was going to believe it.
“I just don’t get why they’re waiting,” Argwin said, clutching her spiked war club as though a better grip would matter against the [Trainsaw Transport] that was fueling up on the other side of the apple orchard.
“They’re definitely afraid of these mighty thews,” Grunvan said and flexed her bicep for effect.
Flexing did give her arm a little more definition. Average strength for someone who spent their life hauling crates and fighting with ornery [Gum Lizards] was enough to swing a club with a decent amount of force. Against an indecently powerful enemy though it wasn’t going to mean anything.
Argwin groaned out short laugh.
“You can take that big spikey thing then,” she said, gesturing to the [Trainsaw Transport].
“Oh, does that mean I can leave all the littler ones to you then?” Grunvan asked.
“Sure. That seems fair. You smash that spikey thing to bits and we’ll beat up the other ten million or so beasties out there. Typical wagon driver.”
Argwin’s smile wasn’t a sign that her fear was banished, only that she’d managed to shove it over so she could coexist with it.
“Just because we know how to take the jobs that let us sit on our butts most of the day is no reason for you to be jealous,” Grunvan said. “We can’t all be bakers who get up at the crack of dawn and then flounce off before lunch to spend the rest of the day writing bad love poems.”
“You’re just jealous you never got one,” Argwin said.
“Like I’d ever need one? You read them all to me!”
“Ah, not all of them,” Argwin said and let out of a long and slow sigh. “You know I think I had a really good one in me today.”
“Save it for tomorrow,” Grunvan said.
Not that there was going to be a tomorrow. At least not for either of them.
Grunvan had answered the call to arms because the news had reached [Apple Plate] of what had happened to [Stone Puddle], the village on the side of the far hill.
For whatever alien reason they might have, the [Consortium of Pain] had chosen to portal their force in and around [Stone Puddle]. There hadn’t been any negotiations. The Consortium had simply arrived, corralled everyone they could, and thrown them into some kind of conversion machine.
The goblins who walked out were hollow eyes and drained of all color. As far as the survivors who’s escaped could tell, the converted were still alive, but it wasn’t the sort of life Grunvan ever wanted to experience. Better to resist with everything she had, even if all she had to resist with was very little.
Grunvan knew she wasn’t anything special, but her world had become one that needed everyone to save it, even if they could only do a little bit.
Interlude – Gabriel Santiago
Gabriel never had any luck. The whole world was exploding with the news that some “gamer rapture” was happening and he was stuck playing the wrong game.
“Teddy’s saying he read it’s all a hoax,” Luna said as the two of them banked in towards the Crimson Empire’s asteroid mining installation.
Gabriel watched on the screen as the particle battery emplacements popped up from around the base’s perimeter as Luna’s faster fighter drew into range.
“So, you’re saying it’s definitely not a hoax then?”
He fired a shield recharge at Luna’s ship to help her weather the barrage of fire and cranked his speed down to a sustainable combat velocity.
“One hundred percent real,” Luna said, as she danced her fighter in to score their first solid hit on the mining platform. “I mean given Teddy’s track record, it’s gotta be right?”
“Given the websites Teddy reads? Yeah, no way it’s not real, even if it’s ridiculous.”
“Can you imagine though? It sounds there’s like a hundred thousand people who all got swooped up. Like one second they’re playing and then bam, sucked right into the game.”
“This was their launch day wasn’t it? I bet it’s a lot more than a hundred thousand,” Gabriel said, though the idea of even a hundred thousand people doing anything was hard to picture.
“I think it was. That is a lot of people suddenly vanishing. I mean Crystal Stars has, what, a half million concurrent users? If we all went poof can you imagine the havoc that would cause?”
Gabriel wanted to say something slick. Something about how he would go poof with her any day, except not excruciatingly pathetic. Since he felt like he’d been born without any slick genes at all, he instead opted to engage with what Luna was saying.
“I know Andy works traffic control at La Guardia and I think there’s a bunch of others on his team that do too. Bet it wouldn’t be easy landing planes with three quarters of your staff vanishing into thin air.”
The mining base on screen launched a cluster of automated fighters as the last of its defensive turrets fell before Luna and Gabriel’s combined fire.
“He doesn’t play at work does he?” Luna asked.
“He claims he doesn’t, but I’ve seen him on checking his auctions out pretty much throughout the day sometimes.”
“Must be nice to not have to worry about getting fired,” Luna said.
“Oh, I think he should be worried, he just doesn’t.”
“That sounds like Andy,” Luna said. “How about you? You said you had a big project coming up didn’t you? I didn’t know if I’d see you on tonight?”
“I got ‘Part One’ of the big project knocked out already. It was just rough drafts really. ‘Part Two’ is taking those to a polished state but I can’t do that until the customer picks out the ones they like.”
“So you’ll have time for the raid on the Emperor’s Lost Throne tomorrow night then?” Luna asked, a note of joy in her voice which Gabriel hoped was a good sign.
He knew he should just tell her how he was feeling. That getting to play with her was one of the high points of his week and that he was crushing on her pretty hard. Unfortunately there were enough douchey guys like Teddy who he could be confused with if he presented things poorly and the last thing he wanted to do was make someone he liked feel uncomfortable.
Also there was the small factor that they lived three thousand miles apart, so it wasn’t like a confession would lead to them casually getting together for coffee to see where things went. He figured he had time to take it slow and see whether this would be a nice friendship or something more.
He didn’t have as much time as he imagined, but that was true of so many people that he was hardly unique on that count.
“Yeah, even if the customer gets back to us and wants a rush order I can push them off for a night. I mean you can’t rush greatness right?”
Luna laughed as they turned to face the mining base’s final defense, a Techno-Organic War Beast from the Old Centinium.
“Do they usually buy that?” she asked, charging her shields and burning a cooldown ability to reload her missile bays instantly.
“The customers? Oh hell no,” Gabriel said, moving his ship ahead of hers so he’d be able to tank the War Beast’s heavy hits. “My boss is cool though. She knows we need down time or the staff gets cranky so she charges absurd rates for overtime work.”
“She sounds like my boss,” Luna said. “I must have gone through more than a dozen jobs before I got here and now I will stop working for Shanti about four days after I die.”
“That is the kind of praise you do not hear for bosses very often,” Gabriel said.
“I mean, she’s nice to us. She treats us like people. It’s not exactly hard,” Luna said. “Which I can’t say is true about this War Beast. Think we’re up for tackling it?”
“Probably not,” Gabriel said. “We should really have a full team for this.”
“Think we can jet before it evolves to its second form?”
“Maybe? We can definitely get away before it goes Third Form, but our repair bills will be ugly.”
“Eh, I’m pretty flush with cred,” Luna said. “And I’ve got a backup fighter I’ve been meaning to try out. Why don’t we give it a shot?”
That was one of the reasons Gabriel like Luna so much. She’d taken the words right out of his mouth. Flying through the vastness of space in Crystal Stars, he’d run into a lot of other players, but Luna was the first one who seemed to have the same instincts he did. Not just for when to attack or what to engage, but smaller things like how she flew and the locals she liked to hang out in while waiting for the game to finish automated tasks like ship repair or bot construction. He didn’t have to explain why the planet of floating pink octopi was relaxing. She just got it.
“Why don’t we indeed?” Gabriel said and queued up his reserve shielding as he powered in towards the War Beast.
The War Beast which was already morphing into a new form.
“How is it changing already? We haven’t even damaged it yet?” Luna asked.
“Stealth update?” Gabriel was sure he would have heard of one if it had happened but what he was seeing on the screen wasn’t anything like the War Beasts he’d encountered in the game before.
In place of the black and grey steel threads the War Beasts were constructed of, slivers of white and blue static were tearing through the creatures superstructure.
“That does not look right at all,” he got to say before an overcharged plasma beam lanced out from the mutating War Beast.
Gabriel was correct. It was not right at all. What was even less right to his eyes were the motes of iridescent light which began rising from his hands as his fighter on the screen disintegrated.