Interlude – Yawlorna
Yawlorna’s life had become a swirling vortex of chaos and confusion and, as a demon, she felt rather put out that she hadn’t been the cause of any of it.
“I think the pit’s finally starting to cool down,” Balegritz said, standing at still glowing edge of the pit to the underworld which Yawlorna’s forces had previously had sealed shut.
“And we are sure no one was injured in the passing of that…whatever that thing was?” Yawlorna asked. She was sitting down. Not in a particularly dignified pose, but it was better than sprawling on the ground or curling up in a corner, so she gave herself points for that. It had been that kind of day, which was saying something given how bad her people’s luck had been over the last few months.
“All present and accounted for,” Balegritz said. “There’s a new hole in the cliff face outside the main gate though, and, uh, it’s not exactly a small one.”
“The lava creature melted a path through the earth rather than simply climbing the cliff? Why?” Yawlorna asked, knowing the answer was likely nothing sensible.
“Maybe it likes digging?” Balegritz said. “It looked like it was long enough to scale the cliff without trying all that hard.”
“And the two who were riding it? The adventurers? Pillowcase and Lost Alice?” Yawlorna had been concerned about them to a small degree, and about what they might lure back to the surface if they returned to a larger degree. In hindsight, she judged that ‘concern’ was far too mild an outlook. Outright terror seemed appropriate, with perhaps a dash of unadulterated panic thrown in for good measure.
“They seem to be doing fine,” Balegritz said.
“That thing melted solid stone with its touch and burrowed through it faster than we can run. What sort of aberrations were those two that they weren’t reduced to cinders?”
“I don’t know if it was the thing’s touch that melted the stone,” Balegritz said. “It seemed to project some kind of field ahead of it.”
“It was made of lava,” Yawlorna said. “Glowing. Hot. Lava.”
“It’s head seemed to be stone though. Maybe that part wasn’t that hot?” Balegritz said.
“That’s…that’s not how heat works!” Yawlorna objected, finding herself on her feet without noticing she’d stood up. Before she did anything rash on the poor, undeserving Balegritz, she took a calming breath and composed herself. “Traveling through melting rock should have raised any number of fatal issues. Convection not being the least of them.”
“It…didn’t?” Balegritz offered. “You know we don’t understand everything about this world. Maybe convection works differently here?”
“No…that’s not…” Yawlorna paused and pinched the bridge of her nose.
The basics of heat exchange had to work the same on this unstable world as it did on the far more sensible one her people hailed from. If it didn’t, things like lighting one of the hundreds of torches they used wouldn’t have been possible.
Once, Yawlorna would have been endlessly fascinated by the contradictions between the observable physical phenomena. She could have written countless thesis papers and applied for nearly infinite grants to study the underlying physics of the realm she was trapped in. The answers to the deepest mysteries of creation might well be visible in the cracks between the conflicting “laws” which defined the [Fallen Kingdoms].
That was Yawlorna-the-scientist though. Yawlorna-the-castaway and Yawlorna-the-commander-of-the-crash-survivors were not the woman she’d once been. In place of the scientific curiosity which had led her to the particular Hell she was currently residing in, Yawlorna had only an ever-growing yearning for home.
She shuddered as a terrible thought swept through her.
The yearning within her was strong. Strong enough that she was going to take the worse risk she could imagine. It was a choice she knew she should flee from, a choice that was more likely to lead to a spectacularly horrible fate, but in the end she wasn’t sure it was even a choice at all.
“Send a message to the adventurers,” she said, with the sensation that she was casting herself into an unknowable abyss. “Tell them they’ve proven their point. We should be allies.”
Interlude – Hailey MacGilfoyle / GM Burnt Toast
As Hailey had predicted the FBI’s “Cyber Security Expert” was every bit as clueless as everyone else when it came to understanding the “worldwide kidnapping event”.
“Clearly, something like this is unprecedented,” Special Agent Roger Marscom said as he reviewed the server logs Egress Entertainment’s IT staff had provided from inside their makeshift bunker.
“That’s why you can’t turn the servers off!” Martha Clark called out from the other side of the barricaded door.
“Yes, yes, clearly,” Marscom said. “We have no idea what that would do. We should…uh, we should…”
It was painful to watch the poor man flounder trying to absorb what he was seeing. Hailey had passed through denial, anger, bargaining, and despair but somehow had wound up on eagerness rather than acceptance.
She knew what her next step was, but it was sufficiently foolish that every instinct for self-preservation was holding her back.
For the moment.
She still had work to do where she was after all.
“We were thinking isolation would be the proper next step,” she offered. As a mid-tier support representative her words carried no authority or weight. As someone with a clear view of what was going on and intelligent contributions to make though, she felt qualified to speak nonetheless.
“I don’t know that’s been agreed too,” Agent Limner said, disagreeing with her on principal from what Hailey could see.
“It was what we discussed,” Marcus said. He was a manager, so his words should have carried some authority, but they were colored by the color of his skin and so Limner shook his head to shake them off as well.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Marscom said, grasping at any plausible suggestion regardless of its origin.
“We can’t disconnect the people who are already connected,” Hailey said, not caring that her words were going to fall on uncaring ears. She had to know she’d done what she could to make things right, before she took her next step. “What we can do though is limit their systems’ connections to other systems for time being. If whatever is behind this is spreading through the game client then we might be able to halt its spread if we lock down the game files.”
“But that’s ridiculous. Game files can’t be responsible for this. You must have installed some other whozamawhatsit,” Limner said waving his hands in dismissal of everything around him.
“There’s no harm in locking down the game files,” Marscom said. “We should see if we can lock the players who are still on out of the rest of the internet as well.”
“That’s more difficult,” Marcus said. “We know many of them have been frequenting message boards, and Discord servers, and streaming what’s going on.”
Also, Hailey thought, how do you lock them out of using another computer? Or their tablet? Or their phone? She suspected mass incarceration would be the obvious choice though she doubted that would work either.
“Yes, the news media is on fire with the story,” Marscom said.
“I’m impressed you got through the reporters outside,” Hailey said.
“Don’t worry about them,” Limner said. “We’ve got a cordone setup. And I’ve got agents interviewing some of those steamer guys.”
“Streamer,” Marscom corrected, saving Hailey the need of doing it herself.
“Those streams are being watched and rewatched by tens or hundreds of thousands of people,” Hailey said. “If you’re not getting reports of people vanishing after watching one, then they’re probably not a vector for whatever’s happening.”
“We can’t be sure of that. We just can’t be sure,” Limner said.
Because, of course, Hailey couldn’t be right about anything.
“It’s too early to be sure of anything, but those streamers are providing an import service,” Marcus said.
“Stirring up panic? How is that a service?” Limner asked.
“They’re helping the players coordinate their efforts,” Hailey said. “You’ve seen the kind of things they’re fighting against. They need all the support they can get.”
No one else heard the declaration she was making, which was just as well since it meant no one would try to stop her.
Interlude – Azma
Things had not gone to plan. Azma was not unhappy with that. Things never to went to plan. If she allowed that to dictate her mood, she would be perpetually disgruntled. Instead she took joy in the victories she’d achieved and looked for opportunities to reverse her losses.
“What’s the status of the ships which we allowed to be invaded?” she asked. She’d been reviewing the footage from the first ship where the [Stasis Webs] had failed and hadn’t been keeping track of the final outcome of the various battles which had erupted.
“All exposed ships have been pulled back beyond the ‘apparent’ range of the defender’s teleportation portals,” Ryschild said.
“Two of the ships have live captives,” Grenslaw said. “Three others had corpses but the bodies have disintegrated.”
“How long did that take?” Azma asked, changing mental gears to process the new information.
“One minute from the time the last defender fell,” Grenslaw said.
“And did all of the bodies disintegrate at once?” Azma asked.
“No. There was a delay of eight seconds between the disintegration of the first body and the last.”
“And did that gap correspond to the times between their deaths?” Azma asked.
“No. They fell two minutes and twelve seconds apart,” Grenslaw said. “And they were not the first and last to fall.”
“Curious,” Azma said. “Likely a phenomena triggered by individual will rather than an automatic process. See if any of our sensors picked up unusual energy transmissions between the time of the first death and the last disintegration. Perhaps we can rig up a more comprehensive capture system next time.”
“Ground forces are reporting increased resistance as well,” Ryschild said. “They’re seeing movement by some of the greater powers we had been warned about.”
“Wonderful,” Azma said. “If they’re entering the fray already it means the primary defenders are extended well beyond their sustainable capacity.”
“We can begin recalling our forces for resupply whenever you give the order [Supreme Commander]” Grenslaw said.
“Leave the ones on the planet for now,” Azma said. “They need to push forward and raze more territory.”
“We have the complete list of secondary targets from our [Field Scouts]. What direction should we provide?” Grenslaw asked.
“Skip the secondary targets,” Azma said. “Those still possess some value. We don’t want to destroy the wealth we are trying to capture. Focus on tertiary areas. Place a high value on targets which are unlikely to have sentimental value. I want our adversaries to wonder what our aims are and I want them to understand there is a cost to diverting resources away from fighting our ground forces.”
“What about our forces on the satellite moon?” Grenslaw asked. “Do we send a new wave of troops in there.”
“No,” Azma said. “That’s not a particularly significant target yet. Our opponents would be using it as a staging platform if it was. Just have the troops we sent secure the area for now.”
“Apologies [Supreme Commander] but we have no forces in that area any longer,” Grenslaw said.
“What?” Azma had been so distracted by the fighting on her ships that she’d lost track of the fighting on the relatively less important [High Beyond]. Glancing at her console though she found a series of priority alerts, first signalling unexpected resistance, then overwhelming resistance, then confirmation on her strike forces obliteration.
“I can have a platoon ready to transport directly there within twenty minutes,” Ryschild said.
“No,” Azma said, locking down any troop movement to the [High Beyond] from her console. “The answer to an unexpected loss is not to through more troops at it until the problem goes away. Something interesting is happening on the [High Beyond], and someone is fighting to protect it a lot harder than they should be. Let’s find out the answer to those mysteries first. Then we can deal with whoever thinks they can stand against us.”