Interlude – Hailey MacGilfoyle / GM Burnt Toast
As riots went, the defection of the EE staff wasn’t as bloody as it could have been. Michael Kimmler, the company’s Vice President of Sales received a broken nose for trying to order the staff back to the seats when they rose en mass to prevent the server shutdown, and Craig Scott, the VP of Business Relations, was tossed through a glass door when he threatened to lock them all into the cafeteria.
In Kimmler’s case, the response had been a instant and visceral one. He said the wrong thing, to the wrong person, in the wrong tone and that person had a few dozen people who agreed with the position that Kimmler deserved a punch to the face. When Kimmler’s butt hit the floor and he stayed down, out of the crowd’s path, the matter was essentially settled.
Scott on the other hand had been the one to argue several times for “lowering head count” so the anger he received had been simmering for significantly longer than the current crisis. As the glass door in question was not made of candy glass like many movie doors were, Scott’s injuries were significantly more extensive than Kimmler’s, though none were especially life threatening, to the dismay of at least a hand full of the staff.
Hailey wasn’t concerned about either Kimmler or Scott’s predicament though. Nor did she join those of her coworkers who went to the IT labs to ensure the server monkeys didn’t follow the orders they’d been given. In her mind the real threat lay outside.
The FBI was bound to arrive in minutes.
“This isn’t going to go well,” Marcus said, staring out the ruined front door with Hailey.
“What? Like it’s going well now?” She wanted to punch him. A little violent release of her own seemed justified given the day and night and day she was having.
But Marcus was a poor target for her anger. She could see it in the tremble at the corner of his lips. He didn’t want this either.
“No, but all this? Calling in the FBI? The staff doing whatever they just did? It’s all going to make things worse.”
He wasn’t wrong. Hailey knew that. By framing it as a case of “mass disappearances”, the FBI was going to read it as “mass kidnappings” and that wasn’t going to engender anything like a calm, measured response. The EE staff’s action would be fuel for that fire, but the alternative was unthinkable.
“I’m going into the game,” Hailey said. She’d made the decision hours ago but the words tumbling from her lips were the first time she was consciously aware of it.
“Don’t even joke about that,” Marcus said. “You know we haven’t seen either of the GMs that we lost.”
“I’m not joking. I’m not going in on my GM account. I’m going in on my main. She’s all ready to log in.”
“What? Why would you do that? We cleared out all the pending logins! We made sure you all were safe!”
“Yeah. We’re safe. But everyone we ever played with? They’re not.”
Interlude – Azma
Azma beheld the gathered might of her empire and saw the destruction and ruin which it was about to unleash. It put bubbles of joy on her tongue.
Or maybe that was the fizzy liquor?
She took another swig to be sure.
It was half from the liquor.
Which was fair. The troops she had assembled weren’t exactly her empire. Technically they were property of the Consortium. For the duration of the coming conflict though she could use and expend them as she fit. In theory she could request additional resources if they were needed as well. The Consortium was concerned with results and, to an extent, they were willing to invest what it took to get those results.
Azma would never call on more troops or materiel though. Even operating under the strange and unfamiliar rules of the [Fallen Kingdoms], including the odd resonant echo whenever she thought or said certain words, Azma had no doubt that she would be victorious. The defenders might be able to match her troops, they might be able to overcome her engines of war, they might even be able to anticipate her battle strategies, but they were still laboring under an insurmountable disadvantage.
None of them were her.
“Sir! All bays report ready. Portals are locked and targeted. We can begin the operation at your command.”
“Excellent. We’ll start as soon as I finish this bottle,” Azma said, taking another short pull of whatever it was that had wound up in her hand. The fizzy part was pleasant but it was the firey kick that was managing to hold Azma’s interest.
After Azma’s rather violent insistence that she be allowed to begin the invasion, she couldn’t blame her subordinates for being confused by her decision to delay when everything was at last in place.
All things have their proper time though, and as Azma watched the remote scans of the defenders marshalling throughout the [Fallen Kingdoms] she saw the positioning, readiness and mood of the pieces shifting inexorably into just the arrangement she desired.
“It’s good…wine? Harlac juice? Brandy? No. It’s something else,” Azma said. “But good stuff. Don’t want to rush it. There are moment you simply need to savor after all.”
“Is there anything you want to say to the troops? Anything they can do to prepare?”
“Yes. Tell them to picture what they want me to say about each one of them in the final battle report,” Azma said. “They know their part in the plan. They know why what they’re doing is essential. Tell them to envision how things will go wrong and how they, personally, are are going to rise to the challenge and make it all work out anyways.”
“Even the Artifax Sir?”
“Especially the Artifax. They’re crafted to think of themselves as elites. The best of the best, made to a perfect design by the finest builders the Consortium has to offer. I want them to think of themselves as something more than that. They need to understand that they’re not just the perfect troops. They’re my perfect troops.”
Interlude – Niminay
Niminay hated speeches. Giving them, listening to them, it didn’t matter. Words mattered but she’d always been one better suited to taking action.
“You’ve all heard this tale before,” she began, deviating from the script that had been prepared for her from word one. “The world stands in peril. A new threat has emerged, more dangerous than any which has been seen before. Blah, blah, blah.”
The convocation of adventurers gave a hearty chuckle at that. Somehow in the last decade there had been more world-ending crises than in the last ten millenia of recorded history. That the [Fallen Kingdoms] still remained as anything other than ash stains on a barren plain was due in no small part to the adventurers who were gathered before Niminay.
“I’m not going to tell you that you stand between the end of the world and all we hold dear,” Niminay said. “You know that already. It’s where you always stand. What I will tell you is that you do not stand alone.”
The crowd didn’t chuckle at that. A gravity settled over the adventurers and Niminay felt the weight of their regard and expectations focus on her.
“We fought this foe before,” she said. “We rallied an army to hold them back and met them with a force unmatched in speed or might. We claimed victory that day and drove them back through their portals. We shattered their army and brought ruin to their vessels.”
A cheer went up which was carried by the crowd, but not for long. Everyone felt more was coming.
“We beat them but they are returning, and we all know what that means.”
“That we’ll beat them again!” one of the adventurer’s shouted, which drew another cheer from the crowds.
“Of course we will,” Niminay said, allowing a little of her own pride to shine through. “We don’t have a choice.” She let the smile fade from her lips as she continued though. “We know it won’t be easy though. The [Consortium of Pain] brought powerful troops to bear last time and they wouldn’t be returning if they didn’t have something better to hit us with.”
From Penny’s estimations, Niminay knew they could expect the next force to be at least 20% stronger than the previous one, with a more plausible chance of it being twice to three times as powerful. Niminay didn’t like those odds, and wasn’t overly eager to share them with the adventurers. Crushing people’s spirits was a terrible idea on the eve of a battle.
“The good news is that they aren’t the only ones who’ve been able to marshall a bigger army. I know that you are spread out, scattered around the world, but if you can hear my voice, then you are fighting with me, and I with you.”
Niminay gathered herself up, feeling the warmth of conviction burning in her chest.
“We have long been divided, playing games against one another, but for every squabble which separates us there is a deeper bond which holds us together. We are the children of those who fell, and though we fall and fall again, still we rise. Whether it be for love of this world of ours, or spite at those who would take it from us, or sheer stubbornness, we rise. Adventurers, soldiers, civilians, in this cause we fight with one heart which will never falter and never despair, no matter what may come.”
Interlude – Brendan Reingold / Mellisandra
Brendan’s eyes felt like they were lidded with lead sheets. Despite Niminay’s rousing speech and the effect it seemed to have on the assembled adventurers, he could feel the merciless claws of fatigue dragging him under.
“I think I have to catch some zzz’s,” he said to Mellisandra. He’d heard noises earlier indicating him roommates had been up and making breakfast. From the silence which had returned to the apartment, he guessed they were off to work already, the same as he should have been hours ago. “Are you going to be ok without me for a few hours?”
“I think I should be,” Mellisandra said. “Damnazon and I are going to see if we can find a bigger group to partner up with.”
“Safety in numbers? I like it,” Brendan said. “I’ll send in an email to take a sick day today and tomorrow if we need. And I think I should be fine with just a few hours of sleep, so I shouldn’t be away too long.”
“Get as much sleep as you need,” Mellisandra said. “If we are linked in some manner, your rest may benefit me as well.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to miss anything.”
“We’re still setting up,” Mellisandra said. “If anything happens while you’re away, it’ll be because the Consortium made their move early.”
“That’s more or less exactly what I’m worried about,” Brendan said. “If your world is influenced by how the game developers in my world set things up, I’m willing to bet there’ll be the first big event with the Consortium kicking off soon. The developers would want to introduce that sort of thing as early as possible.”
“If so, it’s surprising one hasn’t happened already,” Mellisandra said. “You’re already far beyond the normal length of time you would have been connected for, isn’t that true?”
“Yeah, but it’s for a good cause.” He smiled, and felt stupid a moment later when he remembered that while he could see Mellisandra (or at least an animated rendition of her), she couldn’t see him at all anymore.
On the screen, he watched as Mellisandra and her half-giant companion met up with a group of adventurers that seemed to include a goblin in their ranks.
“Rest and reclaim your strength then,” Mellisandra said as Damnazon began chatting with the other team. “It’s almost the first rule of adventuring – recover resources at every possible opportunity. Like you said, this is a good cause, and we’ll need to fight for it with everything we have.”