Interlude – Hailey MacGilfoyle / GM Burnt Toast
The last time Hailey attended a meeting in Egress Entertainment’s cafeteria had been for a party thrown in celebration of reaching their most profitable quarter since the game’s launch. That hadn’t been the result of a windfall. It had taken hard work and long hours to release Broken Horizons previous expansion, but the results had been worth it as the expansion drove EE’s revenue to new highs and preserved at least half of the jobs of those who’d worked on it.
Hailey had hoped to see another post-launch meeting in the cafeteria but not like the one which lay before her. Instead of a sea of convivial faces, with varying states of intoxication, and dozens of conversations drowning each other out, Hailey walked into a room that felt like a whisper filled morgue.
Someone had ordered pizzas but the boxes sat alone and unopened in stacks on the counter. No one had any appetite it seemed. Or at least none of the support staff or Marketing or Human Resources or Sales. As Hailey scanned the crowd she noticed that no one from Development or IT was present.
“Ok, we’re going to get right down to business,” Marcus said. He was standing with a number of the companies other department heads and executives and had, apparently, drawn the short straw as the one to break the news officially.
“There is a problem with the new expansion…” he started to say and then shook his head. “A problem correlated to the new expansion.”
Hailey could see the invisible cords of the company’s lawyers wrapped around Marcus’s words. Admittedly any culpability was legally irresponsible, though Hailey couldn’t imagine EE was likely to survive the repercussions of their game eating the player base.
“We have determined that under certain conditions, some players are, for lack of a more exact description, disappearing after certain events occur in the game.”
A wave of objection swept through the crowd at the obfuscating vagueness of Marcus’s words. Everyone in the room knew exactly what the ‘certain conditions’ were but it was calling what happened to the player a ‘disappearance’ which set off warning bells in Hailey’s mind.
‘Disappearance’ suggested that they had no idea what happened to the players or where they were, and while the first might be true, the second provably was not.
“Once this meeting is done we will be sending out an in-game message to all players who are still logged in advising them of…” Marcus stopped, wrestling with the words he’d been given. “Advising them of the conditions which have been observed and the response Egress Entertainment will be taking.”
“What the hell is that? What are we going to do?”
Hailey twitched. The question could have come from her, but someone else had shouted it first. Joachim, one of her fellow support staff members.
“As of 12:00pm, Eastern Standard Time, Egress Entertainment will be shutting down the servers for Broken Horizons,” Marcus said. “The servers will be down for an indeterminate period of time while staff and federal authorities review the logs and server code to verify that Egress Entertainment’s assets are neither responsible for, nor play a relevant role, in the disappearances which have been reported.”
“Like hell you will.” This time it was Margret from Marketing who spoke up. “You can’t turn the servers off. That’ll drag everyone who’s still online into the game.”
One of the executives stepped forward.
“At this point we have no proof of that, and we will comply with all directives from the federal agents who are enroute to begin an official investigation into the matter. It is our fiduciary duty and it is the law. Is that clear.”
“No,” Hailey said, but it was only a whisper and a prayer.
Interlude – Azma
Reviewing troops always put Azma in a good mood. If they were her troops, it was a chance to see just what sort of pieces she had to work with in the next game she’d been given to play. If they were other people’s troops, it was a chance to see how many of their toys she could break, ideally without them noticing.
“The Red Ravens are ready for deployment Sir!” Sergeant Eights said as Azma entered the frigate’s launch bay.
At the far end of the room, several hundred yards away, the dark maw of a transport portal stood silent and waiting, the spirits bound in the circle at its periphery forced into slumber by the insulated coils wrapped over them.
Waiting on tracks which lead to the portal, the frigate’s first wave of war machines were parked, as silent as the portal, but just as ready for activation with a moment’s notice. Most were light, agile craft, designed to supplement the frigate’s role during a “Market Opening Excursion”, but a half dozen of the Consortium’s one hundred meter tall [Fortress Crushers] were set for deployment as well.
More important than the machines though were the troops themselves. The “Red Ravens”. Azma hadn’t created the unit but she had inherited it from a rather unlamented [General] after he contracted a vicious case of [Spleen Detonating Plague].
“They look stiff,” she said as she wandered past the front ranks of the assembled unit.
Most [Commanders] knew better than to appear before their subordinates half intoxicated and carrying a carafe of liquor large enough to complete the job. Azma knew better too, but knowing something and caring about it were two different things.
“As requested, Sir!” Sergeant Eights said. Unlike his [Commander], he adhered to the same discipline demanded of his troops. Like most of the wiser staff members though he understood that his [Commander] in an inebriated state was still more competent than anyone else on the ship. It wasn’t so much that she applied special rules to herself either. Anyone else was free to copy her, provided they had the talent and skill to prove they were still well above her required level of effectiveness.
“Not the good kind of stiff,” Azma said, lingering to scrutinize a [Clothwork] soldier more closely than decorum should have allowed. “They’re afraid.”
“Pardon Sir, but they’re [Artifax],” Sergeant Eights said.
“Yes, yes, no fear built in to them, just perfect Consortium design work in every stitch, rivet, and cut. Look at this one though and tell me what you see?”
Eights stepped beside the soldier Azma had singled out and tried to appraise it. No, her.
“She’s within specs Sir. Posture is perfect, attention focused, respiration regular.”
Artifax often weren’t built with a requirement to breath but many included it as an optional method of energy recovery and thermal exchange.
“Oh I agree,” Azma said. “She’s wonderfully made. Top of the line. Just what you’d expect for the Red Ravens. But look here around the corner of her eyes.”
“They seem to be in fine shape.”
“Yes but they’re not moving.”
“No. That’s fear. [Artifax] are supposed to be observing their environments constantly, even when at peace. She’s not doing that. She’s grimly focused on a point on the far wall because she’d afraid. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes sir,” Solider Four Seven Six said. “Am I to be decommissioned?”
“Not at all my dear,” Azma said. “You’re afraid because you’re better built than your makers intended, and because you don’t know what your mission is yet.”
“And knowing our mission will help?”
“Of course,” Azma said. “That’s what we’re here for. Sergeant Eights is going to tell you who the Consortium needs you to fight, and I’m to going to tell you, in detail, how you’re going win.”
Interlude – Niminay
Victory often didn’t come easily, but looking at the adventurers who’d gathered to hear her speech, Niminay was reminded that victory was something the people before her had managed to find despite the most impossible of odds.
“We know we’re going to die,” Glimmerglass said. As one of the few adventurers who was located in [Steel Breezes] and not present via an illusionary projection, Glimmerglass had managed to find a place as Niminay’s assistant. For the most part her help was invaluable but occasionally Niminay was struck by just how different the new breed of adventurers were from the people she was used to dealing with.
“Those don’t look like people with one foot in the grave,” Niminay said, nodding towards the rowdy crowd awaiting her.
“That’s because we don’t intend to stay in the grave for very long,” Glimmerglass said. “You need us, and we’re going to be there, no matter how times we’ve got to come back to handle things.”
“No one is guaranteed to come back though,” Niminay said. “The [Hounds of Fate] are always waiting to ferry souls away to their final rest.”
“Yeah, that is a risk, but you don’t get to be an experienced adventurer unless your ghost can run pretty fast.”
“I wonder that I need to make this speech at all then,” Niminay said. “If even death can’t dim your morale, I doubt any words of mine could bolster it.”
“You might be surprised,” Glimmerglass said. “Half of them are or were madly in love with you at one point. They know you’re not royalty, but trust me when I say that for quite a few of them, you are our Queen.”
“How? Why?” Niminay had a vague notion that she was well regarded, and a clear idea that she’d grown famous over her long career, but the adoration Glimmerglass spoke of seemed a more incredible thing still.
“Your example is what drew many of them to begin adventuring in the first place,” Glimmerglass said. “Getting to interact with you over the years was considered a special treat in adventurer circles.”
“Even when I was asking them to march into hell?” Niminay asked.
“Especially when you were asking them to march into hell. Giving someone inspiration is one thing, giving them purpose though? That’s far more precious.”
Interlude – Brendan Reingold / Mellisandra
Mellisandra wasn’t alone, and, for her, that made all the difference.
“So you can’t see me anymore right?” Brendan asked.
“No. The scrying spell I was practicing isn’t mobile.”
“What did I look like to you when you were able to see me?”
“You looked like a human male. I didn’t see any armor or gear to suggest a class, and you’ve said your world doesn’t have them, right?” Mellisandra found that keeping up the conversation was easy enough. Despite the fact that she was moving through a crowd of over a thousand adventurers, she was effectively invisible to them, not through any spell or skill but merely by not being a part of their team or guild.
“Did I look real or, hmm, I guess you wouldn’t know what computer graphics look like, maybe it would be animated, or like a painting?”
“There was definitely distortion in the scrying image,” Mellisandra said. “You looked slightly hazy. As though you were painted with a blocky brush. Why? What do I look like to you?”
“Well, the interface I see you through makes you look like a cartoon, sort of.”
“I know what that is,” Mellisandra said. “I don’t know why exactly, but I can picture it, I think.”
“That’s not what you look like to yourself though, is it?”
“No. I look real to me. Just like everyone else here.” Mellisandra said and promptly bumped into a wall of steel.
“Oh! Sorry, I thought you were going to go around them!” Brendan said.
“Feel free to move me out of the way next time,” Mellisandra said, rubbing her nose.
“My control is terrible compared to yours,” Brendan said. “You’re much better at the fine controls. I can just help with the big movements I think.”
Mellisandra only heard part of what Brendan was saying though.
“Are you talking with your player too?” the wall of iron asked.
Mellisandra looked up as she stood.
And farther up.
The wall of iron she’d bumped into had a name hanging over her head. Just like all the other adventurers.
“Sorry if that’s a weird question,” Damnazon said.
“No. It’s not,” Mellisandra said. She knew she should tear her eyes off the woman in front of her. Staring was rude. Wasn’t it? Probably? But. Just. Wow. “No, it’s not weird, and yes, I was. You’re talking to yours too?”
“Geez, you sound like me,” Brendan said. “Sorry, I shouldn’t interrupt.”
“Quite a few of us are it seems,” Damnazon said. “And yes, I know that was a blunt way to ask, but blunt is how I am. Oh, sorry, that was for my player. She’s a little more timid than I am.”
“I’m gonna bet that’s more common than not,” Brendan said.
“Mine’s the same, I think,” Mellisandra said. “Which makes sense, their world sounds a lot safer than ours.”
“Yeah, we’re the lucky ones who get to fight off an invasion from beyond the heavens!” Damnazon said. “Well, lucky if we can find a group. I don’t think they’re sending soloists out to fight anywhere yet.”
“You don’t have a party?” Mellisandra asked, shocked that a tank who was so clearly burly wouldn’t have been snapped up hours ago.
“I had a team but they caught a small case of eaten-by-the-[Hounds of Fate]. So I’m kind of on market now.”
“Well if you’d like a [Wizard] teammate who’s still a bit short of max level, I’m all yours.” Mellisandra didn’t mean that to sound like she was flirting, but she didn’t not mean it to sound like that either.
“[Wizard] and [Warrior]? That sounds like a perfect match to me.”
Mellisandra felt a trill of delight sing down her spine. Sometimes it was so hard finding the people you needed, and other times they were just right there waiting for you.