Kass had to admit that the idea of a boat ride didn’t calm her stomach much. Her dad had taken her out on the water once or twice as a kid, and both times had resulted in the type of nausea one only gets from eating raw eggs, chugging spoiled milk and then spinning in place while listening to bad country music. She had only ever considered riding on a boat again if she needed to lose weight bulimic style; yet here she was, standing in front of a giant glass ship.
The ship all the standard boat properties that made one feel like they were on the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Even looking at the central mast with its hanging sails tempted her to plant a Jolly Roger. It was a long galleon made entirely of transparent glass, save for the cabins and quarters, which were gray-tinted. Other than the fact that the deck was much larger and longer than she had anticipated, and the ship didn’t ride nearly as high in the water as she had expected of a galleon, it was quite striking. For all the horrible things the White-Wings had set out to do, they had done at least one good thing: they created masterpieces like this. Apparently, this was one of the many boats Darwin had confiscated for the StormGuard Alliance.
As soon as Kass stepped onto the boat, she had felt her eyes constantly drawn to Darwin no matter where he was on the ship. She had simply never been as confused about her feelings for a man as she was with Darwin. She liked him, and she couldn’t lie to herself about that–no matter how much a part of her wanted to. After all, he was stuck here. No matter what relationship she pursued with him, it would always end with her logging off and him being stuck in Tiqpa. Nothing real could come of it.
“Lady Kass, is everything alright?” Justin had managed to sneak up on her yet again.
“Yeah, Justin, I’m okay. I’ve just had a rough day,” she said, shrugging off whatever look had concerned Justin and forcing herself to smile. “It’s over now though, and we have nothing but blue skies ahead of us for the moment.”
“Excellent. Lady Kass, Darwin is about to give some words of thanks to those who risked their lives on the beach today. I’m going to join them in a moment. Would you like to come as well?” He managed to ask without ever making eye contact with her, only staring at the top of her head instead.
“No, I think I’m just going to catch some sleep.” Kass was somewhat curious about what Darwin would say, but she was also starting to reach the end of her rope.
“As you say, Lady Kass. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take my leave to join the others,” Justin said as he ran off to the group gathering around Darwin.
While the others excitedly went off to listen to Darwin likely give another speech–apparently he wasn’t half bad at them if people were this excited about the idea of him giving another–she found herself a cabin below decks in which to log off unnoticed, satisfied that she wouldn’t have to lose her lunch like the only kid with glasses in a high school drama. She knew most people wouldn’t worry about an NPC seeing them log off, but for some reason it still bothered her–like she had been caught someone she shouldn’t have been.
When she finally finished logging off and walked downstairs, she was surprised to find that her dad wasn’t home from work yet. She was exhausted from staying on as many consecutive hours as she had, and the only reason she didn’t pass out right then was the need for food. After rummaging through the kitchen, she grabbed a yogurt pack to snack on.
Kass almost fell out of her chair as soon as she turned the gamer news station on. There, right in front of her eyes on the overhead screens surrounding the newscaster, were clips of the StormGuard Alliance cutting through the White-Wings from the conflict she had just finished.
“As you can see, Ryan, the events of the day really did take a surprising turn. Going into the battle we had all assumed that it was to be a guaranteed loss, with the only viable card being King Qasin–a wild card as of late.” The newscaster, a short, dark-haired girl in a white dress, spoke to the camera and not her co-anchor. “That’s why, even though a victory alone was surprising, the way the victory was achieved that really captured Tiqpa players’ attentions.”
“You’ve said that before, Daria, but why don’t you go over exactly why this is important for gamers to pay attention to. What exactly does the average, causal Tiqpa gamer need to notice from the video uploads of the battle?” Her co-anchor, a tall blonde-haired, blue-eyed man with an overly pronounced chin, pressed her for more details.
“Well, for starters, Ryan, this girl here is indeed a player. We’ve managed to piece together a good, clear image of her from all the replays uploaded. We won’t show for her privacy’s sake, but we’ve been able to confirm through various sources that she is in fact a player. Now, while that in itself isn’t a big deal, it is when you look at the fact that she’s riding a Hydra and appears to be commanding these monsters on her front lines.” Daria pointed to a circle that appeared around Kass’s image on the screen. “We can’t say for certain if she’s the one in charge, but given her back-line position, the fact that we have clips of her interacting with them during the battle, and the fact that she is the only one mounted. . . Well, it’s a pretty safe bet that she is leading the strike.”
What? That’s me! They think I’m the one leading the faction? Kass watched in wide-eyed bemusement as the newscasters talked about her, explaining why she was such a noteworthy anomaly in the game.
“Now, if I’m not mistaken, you mentioned there was another possible leader in this force that struck from the north and dispersed the White-Wing legions, didn’t you?” Ryan said, his face still ignoring his co-anchor and focused solely on the camera. “I believe you called him ‘that bathrobe dude’?”
“Yes, you’re right. I should also mention that, from the clips we have, the other possible leader is this man,” Daria pointed to another still image, this one of Darwin with a blurred-out face, “who is the other significant part of the fight we have to note. From what we gather, he’s likely one of the most unique and crucial characters to appear in Tiqpa. For starters, this our first time across every racial starting area to even see a bathrobe in the game. Next–and here is the real kicker–everything he kills seems to come back to life and fight for him.”
“It comes back to life and fights for him?” Ryan asked, he didn’t even bother trying to look surprised as he clearly just read the line off the teleprompter.
“Well, as you can see from this clip, his blade clearly kills this diving White-Wing. However, just moments later, we see the same White-Wing reappear, the only difference being that it now has red eyes. It then takes off at the approaching White-Wings and fights the very force it was once a part of.” Daria, a much better actor than Ryan, managed to talk as much with her hands as she did with her mouth, pointing out every detail she mentioned on the video clip next to her as the events occurred. “Now, there is one final important detail to pay attention to with this one. At one point, he’s engaged by the commander of the White-Wing forces, the equivalent of a Level 70 raid boss.”
“What happened then?” Ryan asked, ignoring the camera and teleprompter as Daria told the story.
“Well, that’s the thing: we don’t know. What we do know is that the commander failed to kill him in a dive. Then we know that he, King Qasin, and the White-Wing commander faced off for a few moments. After that, we don’t know anything else,” Daria put her hand down. There was nothing to point out on the last image they had of the three squaring off.
“So we don’t know anything after that?” Ryan asked, looking at the image behind him.
“Well, we do have one final detail. It’s at this point that no one is able to capture any more images of the man or his group. Everyone who was managing to get close enough to capture him on their replay cameras either turned to stone or died almost immediately after these three confronted each other.” Daria spoke into the camera as Ryan paid close attention to her. “It’s starting to be speculated that he was the cause of it, though other rumors are flying around all over about the game creators possibly breaking their vow to not interfere and saving the starter island from the full-scale White-Wing invasion. One way or another though, it’s all speculation.”
So no one has even seen enough to guess about Stephanie doing it . . . Then again, none of them even know Stephanie, Kass thought as she ate more of her yogurt.
“Wow, that’s really fascinating Daria,” Ryan said excitedly. “In fact, I’d have to say I can’t wait to find out what the players uncover and send us. Also, is there any way we can get more information on this bathrobe-wearing man? He’s definitely a unique character, and the more information we can get on him for our Tipqa Wiki, the better.”
“That’s right, folks. Send in as many details and clips of this bathrobe-sporting warrior and this Hydra-riding player as you can. As soon as we find out how to get mounts or raise monster armies, we’ll be sure to patch the details straight to you, the viewer.” Daria gave her best fake smile as she spoke.
Ryan held his hand to his earpiece for a moment, then added one final note, “Viewers, this just in: We are actually prepared to offer a cash reward if either the man, if he is a player, or this woman were to set up an interview with us next week. We’ll need to verify that the player is in fact the person in question, but the network is willing to provide a cash prize in order to secure an interview with one of these two key individuals from the White-Wing invasion. The number is at the bottom of the screen. Call any time.”
As the segment faded to a commercial break, Kass couldn’t help but start saying the number at the bottom of the screen over and over again in her head so she wouldn’t forget it. She hadn’t had a job in a while; and, while she wasn’t certain that she’d take the network up on their offer, she was very certain it wasn’t something she wanted to dismiss.