Glimmerglass wiped bone chunks and blood off her staff as she paused to catch her breath.
“I really need to put together a better set of melee gear,” she said accepting Cambrell’s hand to help her stand.
“I have to admit your defense was pretty damn impressive and it’s not that often I’ve seen a [Healing Staff] used to split someone’s head one,” Cambrell said. “Is that why it’s got the pointy bits on the end?”
“No,” Glimmerglass said, casting a minor [Mending] spell to repair the slash which had cut through her sleeve. “Those are supposed to be decorative. A symbol that the [Dawn’s Light Staff] will do no harm.”
“You sure about that?” Cambrell asked. “The sun rays coming out of it seem awfully sharp for a symbol of peace.”
“Sorry you had to use it like that at all,” Damnazon said. “Wasn’t expecting the crew to swarm us. Stupid [Aura of Boiling Vengeance] was on cooldown after the last fight.”
“It’s ok,” Glimmerglass said. “We’re all running low on resources.”
“It’s a hell of a dungeon,” Mellisandra said, gesturing vaguely around at the ruins of the engine room they stood in, as she caught her breath too.
Overhead, four stories worth of equipment and machinery stood with vast rents torn through it. Sparks flew from some of the units. Oils, and acids, and more toxic liquids spurted from other bits of broken wreckage. Completely absent though was the sound of any of the systems still working.
“Where do we go from here?” Cambrel asked.
“From the schematics we found, it seems like the bridge is as heavily defended as the engine room was,” Damnazon said.
“Got any more of those potions?” Cambrell asked the assembled group, glancing over to the group of adventurers who’d first picked him up.
“We don’t need more potions,” Glimmerglass said.
“I took a bolt of energy straight through my right lung,” Cambrell said. “And that was with your shield in place to diminish it. I’d really like to have another bandolier of healing magic before we try to repeat our last go at these guys.”
“I mean we shouldn’t need much more healing. Niminay said to treat this like a dungeon,” Glimmerglass said. “Unless anyone objects, I say we do that and pull back. We’re too far down on our resources to move forward and we’ve gathered a lot of information on how their defenses work.”
“If we pull back, we’ll be giving them a chance to arrange a much worse reception for us the next time we return,” Mellisandra said.
“We haven’t gotten any good loot yet either,” Damnazon said.
“Yeah, but we haven’t died yet either,” Cambrell said.
“The lack of loot is pretty typical,” Glimmerglass said. “I mean we collected the weapons and armor from the fallen, and sure, it’s subpar compared to what we already have but there’s plenty of lower level adventurers we can give it to.”
“Trash mobs dropping trash loot,” Mellisandra said. “That does sound like a typical dungeon.”
“Should we try to find out if the [Captain’s] the equivalent of a raid boss?” Damnazon asked.
“Seems like it’d be a safe bet they are,” Cambrell said.
“Safe bet they’ll kick our butts too,” Mellisandra said. “I mean look at the trouble we had with the cleaning staff we ran into.”
“Janitors really should not be packing guns that can melt through reinforced bulkheads,” Cambrell said. “That’s just unreasonable in general and particularly on a ship where breeching the walls is a really bad idea!”
Mellisandra had explained to the group the dangers they were likely to face if the ship suffered a hull breech. She’d also covered which of their magics would be able to counteract the effects of exposure to the vacuum of space the best. The apparent eagerness with which the crew had seemed determined to cause such a breech had been an unpleasant surprise they’d had to work around in every fight they’d been in since they left the [Field Carrier’s] [Portal Room].
“That’s why we need to get back,” Glimmerglass said. “If we’re going to raid this place properly we need the right supplies and we need to let everyone know what we’ve discovered.”
“She’s got a good point,” Mellisandra said. “This is the first time I was the first one in a raid in, well, ever.”
“Yeah, me too,” Damnazon said. “We always went in with a pretty good preview of what the strategy should be.”
“I…wasn’t much for raiding,” Cambrell said.
“That’s right, you’re an NPC aren’t you?” Damnazon asked.
“I’m an [Assassin]. There’s not much reason for me to be crawling down into a dungeon,” Cambrell said.
“Until now,” Glimmerglass said. “Like Niminay said, at this point we all need to act like heroes, and sometimes being a hero means making it back with the information people need so that the others can make it back too.”
“It’s a shame the shared inventory spaces are blocked by the [Consortium Fleet’s] disruptors,” Damnazon said. “It’d be a lot easier to restock here if we had someone back home filling our packs for us.”
“I’d settle for the comm channels being accessible,” Cambrell said. “Glimmer’s right about needing to get info back to our homebase. Even if we have to go back in person I’d feel a lot better if we could pass on what we know as soon as possible.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Mellisandra said. “I’ve got that angle covered.”
Brendan was missing classes but he didn’t care. His live stream was getting more views than he’d ever had before. But he didn’t care about that either.
The FBI agents in his house though? That he cared about.
“How is your character speaking like that?” Agent Jackson asked, watching the dialog between Mellisandra and the characters on the screen scroll past on its own.
“I told you. She’s alive. She’s real,” Brendan said. “You can talk to her if you want. If they get into a fight though, I’ve got to help her out.”
“He’s right Agent Jackson,” Mellisandra said, speaking in a whisper, on a private channel to herself. “The things we’re fighting in here are too tough for me to do alone.”
“How does she know my name?” Agent Jackson asked.
“Because she can hear what I’m saying? What we’re saying.”
“Seriously,” Mellisandra replied and waved, though not towards the screen, since Brendan had the camera positioned behind her to approximate her field of view.
“Who are you waving at?” Glimmerglass asked, her question rolling up as the next line of text on the screen.
“We’re not as along as you might think,” Mellisandra said.
“This so far above my pay grade,” Jackson said.
“I think it’s above everybody’s pay grade sir,” Brendan said. “I mean, this shouldn’t be possible but you’ve seen the other streams right? I mean we’ve got footage of someone literally vanishing into thin air the second their character died. And then appearing in the game like ten seconds later.”
“Yeah, as a ghost. That’s….”
“Science fiction? Something out of the Twilight Zone?” Brendan suggested.
“Not within our usual jurisdiction,” Agent Turner said.
Brendan had been terrified when the two FBI agents showed up at his door. Letting them in hadn’t seemed like an actual choice under the circumstances between their badges, their (still holstered) guns, and the fact that Agent Jackson had at least six inched of height and eighty pounds of muscle on Brendan.
By that measure Agent Turner should have been the more comforting of the two. She had a calm, gentle voice and was smaller and lighter than Brendan. It took him all of two minutes to work out that he’d slotted them two of them into the wrong mental categories.
Turner was calm because she knew she could destroy him, legally, physically, emotionally, and probably spiritually, and was rather clinically deciding if any of those were warranted or not. Jackson was her junior and was as blown away by the current events as Brendan was.
“Why did you get called in?” Brendan asked. By which he meant ‘why are you here, in my house’, but that exact question seemed unwise to ask.
“When people start disappearing, and it extends across state lines, it falls on us to look into it,” Jackson said.
“This is international though,” Brendan said.
“Still our job to sort it out,” Turner said. “At least the part that pertains to US citizens.”
“Brendan, how’s the information transfer going. Have the people connected with the ones back at the Observatory seen what we had to fight through so far?” The text from Mellisandra scrolled up as a whisper to herself.
“Yeah Melli. The live stream had a lot of people tune in. Some of the top end players who weren’t logged in are going over the different streams and coming up with recommendations for things to look out for, or try next time.” Brendan spoke into the microphone on his desk and said a silent ‘thank you’ that Agent Turner had been willing to let him leave it on.
He suspected it wasn’t entirely altruistic. Anything he said almost certainly would be used against him in a court of law if he ever wound up there, but under the circumstances he was willing to risk it. Whatever their connection was, even if they were nothing more than strangers who’d been bumped together by fate or a random number generator, Mellisandra was facing a life and death struggle, and Brendan couldn’t imagine letting her face it alone.
“Good,” Mellisandra said. “We’re getting out of here. If they can have some tactics worked up and a restocking package put together, we can head right back as soon as we’ve recovered and resupplied.”
“You’re going to raid the ship again?” Brendan asked, his quiet joy at the thought of Mellisandra escaping to safety evaporating under the promise of a return to the Field Carrier / raid dungeon.
“It’s not the most fun plan I’ve ever been a part of, but Niminay is right. We treat this like a raid until we’ve beaten them back, and that means we keep hammering at them, trying new strategies and upgrading our gear with each run until they break and run, or we reach the end boss and cut their head off.”
“That’s got to be worth at least a conspiracy charge,” Jackson said. “Or it would be if this wasn’t a video game.”
“You know, technically, I think the State Department should be the one handling this,” Turner said.
“Really?” Jackson asked, a brief flicker of relief crossing his face.
“No. Or maybe. I don’t know,” Turner said. “We haven’t exactly recognized these Fallen Whatever places as foreign nations. For all I know it’s the Post Office that’s got jurisdiction here.”
“You’re going to make me call this one in, aren’t you?” Jackson asked.
“You did forget to pick up coffee this morning,” Turner said.
“I bet the team at Egress is having a real fun time too,” Jackson said.
“There’s an FBI team at the game’s headquarters?” Brendan asked. “What are they going to do there?”
“Investigating,” Turner said, clearly not willing to discuss official business with someone who wasn’t part of her chain of command.
The IT staff at Egress had the door to the server room barricaded like a scene out of Les Miserable by the time the FBI team arrived. Hailey was impressed. It was probably the fastest they’d responded to any issue in the entire team she’d been a part of the Egress Entertainment team.
“This really isn’t necessary,” Agent Limner said, rolling his eyes at the collection of office furniture which was stacked on the far side of the server room’s door. “If we want to, we could simply cut your cable outside the building.”
“Good luck with that,” Hailey said. “The fiber connections are all buried. You’d need a backhoe to get at them. And the IT guys said they were hooking up a backup wireless connection.”
The first part of what she said was true as far as Hailey knew, although if she’d been forced to tell the complete truth she would have been compelled to add that the cables were all accessible from a substation about a quarter mile away and could be easily disconnected from there.
The bit about the wireless backup was a complete fiction in terms of feasibility. There was no wireless network in the area that could have supported the bandwidth needs to run an MMO server farm. That the servers were located within Egress’s headquarters was only a partial truth as well. Only a few of the shards were still hosted locally, and those were mostly used for testing purposes.
Dropping them would pull in close to a thousand players, but the majority were connected to data centers around the world, a fact which Agent Limner seemed more or less incapable of comprehending.
Fortunately he had bought the line about “calling for expert assistance in cybernetics” to evaluate the situation. That had given Hailey some hope, but she knew things could still go horribly awry if even one person with too much authority got the wrong idea stuck in their head.
The only hope of preventing that she could see was for the right people to speak up and speak up loudly enough to be heard. However tempting it might have been, checking out was simply not an option any longer.
Tessa found herself laying on the floor of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] staring up in to the face of a vampire.
“Huh, red eyes can be pretty,” she said before the haze of unconsciousness passed and she saw who she was speaking too.
“Thanks,” Lisa said. “You feeling any better now?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tessa said, pushing herself up to a sitting position. “What happened?”
“You blacked out,” Lisa said. “Just as we got here. You said something about ‘she needs me’ and then you kind of faceplanted into the ground.”
“Huh. That’s weird.”
“Yeah, what’s weirder is that you were talking in your sleep. Were you in the Navy in real life?”
“Cause it sounded like you were assaulting some kind of ship.”
“Why would I do that?” Tessa asked.
“It sounded like Niminay told you to.”