Interlude – Hailey MacGilfoyle / GM Burnt Toast
The overtime never ended. Hailey thought she was on her nineteenth hour at work but it might have been twenty or twenty three. Had she come in early for the launch? Was it dawn yet? Was it noon? It didn’t matter. She had more players to reach out to. More people to save.
When she could.
Too many weren’t showing up in the system anymore.
Hailye looked at her call queue. There were so many entries in it that the quick count icon was pegged at “999+”. No one had ever expected there to be more than a dozen or so calls pending for the whole team at any one time so the use of three digits in the notification icon had been an extravagance by the call system’s developers.
A part of Hailey grimly wished they’d stopped at 666+ to indicate that, if there were ever that many calls in the queue, all hell had broken loose.
“Hailey, tell me you got your list done,” Marcus said. He looked like he’d been hit by a semi. Hailey felt that put him about three tiers better off than she was doing.
“Almost there,” she said. “Uncontacted accounts are down to twenty now. I’ve got no idea how many need follow up though. The pending count is broken.”
“Ok, just get those twenty done then,” Marcus said. “We’re having a full staff meeting in fifteen minutes. Mandatory attendance.”
Fifteen minutes to save maybe twenty lives. Or at least delay the inevitable.
She tried making contact with the next account on her list. Character name “Road Killer”.
No response. Unknown character. Null reference.
Hailey could translate that, in fact as much as she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but see the real meaning of those words.
He was dead.
“Road Killer” or “Kevin McConnel” had been erased, or eaten, or whatever it was that happened to people whose luck came up on the wrong side of the cosmic coin flip.
Hailey searched the logs to see if there was any record of “Road Killer”, any links to friends, or contact information which had been left behind.
Sometimes there were a few breadcrumbs to follow.
Not for Kevin McConnel though.
He was gone. She’d failed another one.
She ran a search for “Pillowcase”. She’d run the search a hundred times already, and just like each of those time the result came back the same. Pillowcase was online. Pillowcase was actrive. Pillowcase was ready to receive texts.
Hailey moved on to her next account, trying not to imagine running her search and finding Pillowcase was gone. She didn’t think she could bear it.
Interlude – Amza
Listening to General Whitemore engendered the most profound homicidal tendencies. Amza found it refreshing. Few others gave her produced such pure emotions for her anymore.
It wasn’t that Azma was questioning her loyalty to the [Consortium of Pain] in her desire to murder her superior officer as brutally as possible.
Far from it. Azma knew exactly what the Consortium did to those who betrayed it.
Or at least to the betrayers who were foolish enough to find themselves powerless with the Consortium’s grasp.
If she were to betray the Consortium, she would be far wiser than that.
Not that she had detailed plans drawn up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. After all those would certainly have been recognized and dealt with by her superiors, who were clearly more clever and insightful than herself, and not placed in their positions through a combination of nepotism and the antipathy of those even further up the chain of command for dealing with Amza or people like her directly.
In that regards, General Whitemore was the ideal superior officer. He was distant enough that Azma couldn’t eliminate him easily and yet near enough that she couldn’t go around him and instead eliminate any of the people who had given her current, rather disagreeable orders.
“Delays [General]? Really? At this stage?” She knew her protests would yield no results but reminding people of why she was going to eventually eliminate them was both therapeutic for her and effective at keeping them in line.
“You should be enjoying this time off [Commander],” Whitemore said. “An extra day or two to get your forces in order should be just the thing to prevent another debacle like Commander Gernal suffered.”
Amza smiled. Suggesting that her forces weren’t already in order or that they could ever be as ineptly managed as that fool Gernal’s troops had been? For that, she would make his eventual disintegration particularly painful.
“The projected duration of this campaign is two months,” Amza said. “Surely the Regional VP’s office wishes to expedite matters. Otherwise however will I be able to be present for the Quarterly Review Meeting?”
That delays were entirely intended to keep her in the field so that the Consortium’s Quarterly Review could be held without her presence was not lost on Amza. She made too many of her fellow [Commanders] and superior officers nervous when she had immediate and personal access to them.
She’d never slain any of them at an official Consortium function.
That they could prove.
Sometimes drunken managers went missing through. It was part of the price of doing business. They weren’t anything to worry about.
The worrisome ones were the ones they eventually found later.
Sometimes leaving the broken shell of an enemy was the only method of conveying the proper message to others though.
“I’m sure they’ll come through the approvals shortly,” Whitemore said. “Don’t youy worry your pretty little head about that.”
Amza’s smile deepened. Whitemore thought he was safe. It was always so much more fun when they thought nothing could touch them.
Interlude – Niminay
The only thing less fun than organizing a force to prevent the end of the world was dealing with hundreds of adventurers who were intent on doing the same thing. Niminay wasn’t surprised by this fact, but she was surprised at how many people were looking to her to handle the problem anyways.
“You’re a hero to them,” Penswell said. “Of course they’re going to look to you for support and guidance.”
“That doesn’t make sense though,” Niminay said. “Most of them are as powerful as I am.”
She gestured out of the command tent which had been setup on the fields outside of [Steel Breezes]. The capital of the [Kingdom of Fal’Crimas] had known war since its founding before the [Fallen Kingdoms] had fallen. Though enemies had broken its gates and battered holes in its walls, [Steel Breezes] had never fallen before them, which made it a fitting sight to gather the army which would be tasked with ensuring the entire world didn’t fall before the [Consortium of Pain’s] invasion.
Even a city as vast and well defended as [Steel Breezes] couldn’t house the army which was being assembled though.
Or rather the one which the leaders of the [Grand Coalition] were striving to make appear as though it were assembling.
A woman walked past the command tent carrying two wagons, one on each shoulder. Somewhere in the world she was shouldering that inhuman load, but the image Niminay saw, the one she could reach out and touch, was nothing more than a projection.
Behind the woman, an Orc gentleman in noble finery carried a glass wand with extreme care. The wand was unbreakable – Niminay knew because she’d tried to shattered it once – so the nobleman’s concern was less that he might damage it and more that he might set it off. [The Scepter of Heaven’s Disfavor] was a divine artifact and anything which could release the literal wrath of a god was worthy of respect no matter how many levels the person carrying it possessed.
“It’s not about how powerful you are,” Penswell said. “It’s about what you’ve done. They admire you and look to you because you have a history of being there when the world has needed you the most.”
“I’ve never done anything like this though,” Niminay said.
The figures around her were illusions, mostly, but they were still working as one combined force. With the sort of portal and teleportation magics high level adventurers had access to it simply made more sense to stage everyone in different locations, both to provide faster responses if the Consortium’s forces showed up somewhere unexpected and to prevent any single attack from wiping them all out at once.
“Neither have any of us,” Glimmerglass said. “We’re all used to working in teams of eight, with our largest efforts typically being up to six teams acting together.”
Glimmerglass was speaking of the tens of thousands of adventurers who’d risen to answer the [Grand Coalition’s] call for help. They were outnumbered by the regular armies of the coalition’s member states, but in terms of fighting power there was no force in the world which could come close to equalling them.
“It’s fascinating to see so many of you gathered together,” Penswell said. “I was under the impression that the spark which drove adventurers to fight was a fleeting and rare thing. There have been other calamities where the vas majority of you have sat out from the fighting, citing a lack of inner power to fuel your abilities, and yet here you all are?”
“I’m not sure I can explain it,” Glimmerglass said. “For years I was driven by what we call our ‘Inspiration’, and then it faded. I’ve spent the time since then living a quiet, peaceful life. I didn’t miss adventuring but I didn’t dread the idea of returning to it either. It simply felt like I was on a long holiday and was free to focus on the other parts of my life.”
“So what changed? Why are you here?” Niminay asked.
“I was called,” Glimmerglass said. “Not by someone, and not by the Inspiration I felt years ago. I don’t feel anything external pulling me into this. It’s more like after years of living, my soul finally awoke. It’s like I became my own Inspiration.”
Interlude – Brendan Reingold / Mellisandra
Soul mates aren’t supposed to be made of pixels. Brendan knew that, but after speaking with Mellisandra for close to two hours, he was having a harder and harder time believing it.
“I can’t believe you remember all of the things we’ve played through,” he said. “God I am so sorry for all of the stupid risks I took with you.”
Mellisandra laughed, the animated figure of her on his screen performing an animation which he knew had never been programmed into the game.
“I can’t believe you’ve seen all the stupid risks I’ve taken!” she said. “I had no idea there was someone who was scrying me the whole time.”
“Am I though?” Brendan asked. “I mean, I’ve been playing a game. I push a button and you run in that direction. I push the space bar and you hop up.”
Mellisandra jumped in place.
“Did you push this space bar just then?” she asked.
“No, which is amazing, but I guess it could be part of an idle animation?”
“Try pressing it now then,” she said.
“I don’t know. It feels weird. I mean, you’re alive. Or your such a good AI program that the difference is meaningless. I don’t want to control you. That seems creepy.”
“I agree. So let’s see what’s possible. If you could control me before when, in my view, I’ve been moving around of my own volition this whole time, let’s see if you’re a puppetmaster or whether it changes what I’m thinking too.”
“Are you sure? What if I am changing your mind? That sounds freaking horrifiying.”
“It is. Which is why I want to know now and not discover it at some worse time, let when someone else takes over your controls.”
“Ok. I’ll try to make you jump again,” Brendan said. “And that’s it. Anything else isn’t me.”
“I trust you,” Mellisandra said.
Brendan hit the space bar and watched his character stay resolutely in place.
“You didn’t move!” He wasn’t sure he felt overjoyed by the notion. Maybe because it was one more tiny bit of confirmation that he was speaking to a real person, despite her pixel-based appearance.
“Ok. Good to know.” Mellisandra sounded relieved. “Now let’s try something else. When I saw ‘go’, try to make me jump again.”
“I have a theory I want to test.”
Brendan wasn’t surprised, the Mellisandra he’d always envisioned when he played her was deeply analytical.
“Say when,” he offered with his finger hovering over the space bar.
This time she did jump into the air, higher than before. Brendan’s heart wanted to plummet into his gut but he held off his rising concern, waiting to hear what Mellisandra had been testing.
“I was right! Do it again!”
Brendan hit the space bar once more and watched Mellisandra almost bang her head on the ceiling of the inn room she was in.
“Yes! I knew it! You’re my Inspiration! You’re not controlling me, but if I’m open to you, we can do so much more than I can do alone.”