Kass sat in her half-back, black chair in front of the giant, marble-topped desk trying to stay still as random people came up and hit her face with God only knows what makeup. They had finished a moment earlier, but some of the powder had gone up Kass’s nose, and she ended up letting out a sneeze that blew the rest of it all over her and her dress. At this point, the team was now scrambling to make sure that whatever was messed up was covered and evened out with a new powder and that her dress was properly brushed off.
“It really is the first time that has happened,” Ryan, the anchor for the news show she was about to be on, said. Kass almost crinkled her forehead, a thing that might have gotten her attacked by the now-aggravated makeup team. She was lost as to whether or not he was trying to apologize or simply just reporting the facts as he had been trained to do.
“I guess I’m just special,” Kass remarked as the crew continued to brush loose powder off of her.
“That is why you are here, is it not? You magically managed to do something no one else did, or got close to someone no one else could,” Ryan said in a dry, sarcastic tone. As if her being there was offensive to him. Like she shouldn’t even be on the show.
Maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe Dad was right, she second guessed herself momentarily. It wasn’t often that she liked to admit her dad was right after a fight, but this time she had the sinking feeling that she had just been stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Does doing everything he can to get me a job and help me out in life really make him a bad guy? she wondered. Should I really have been that mean to him? The thoughts vanished though when she remembered how aggressively he had gone after Darwin. He has no right. “I guess you could say that,” she finally answered, shrugging off Ryan’s indifference. “I like to think it’s cause I ended up in a good guild, nothing more.” She tried to underplay the importance of her role in the fight that brought her enough attention to get her on the show.
“Thirty seconds,” the producer notified Ryan and Kass through the handy ear buds that she had been given to them before they sat down.
“Do you know the basics of how this will work?” Ryan asked, still not even bothering to look at Kass as he spoke. He just kept staring at the camera, as if it were the only thing in the room worth noting.
“I have a general idea. Kerrigan prepped me some when I came in.” Kass fought the urge to slap him. She didn’t know why, but every word out of his smug little mouth made her want to pummel him even more. I wonder if reporters get this annoyed with this type of news anchor too.
“Good. Just to make sure,” Ryan responded, condescension leaching out of him as he walked her through the process even after she told him she knew it. “We’re going to start with some questions. We’ve prepared media content, which we’ll use during the questions. If you don’t feel comfortable answering something, just let us know. We’re not here to make this aggressive. We just want the truth. If you have any prepared notes or materials, make sure to have them memorized before the segment starts. Understand?”
I had it the first time, jerk. “Yeah, I got it,” she did her best not to let her anger show.
“We’re live in 5, 4–” the producer spoke again through her ear bud as the makeup crew scrambled off the set, and then a cameraman counted off the remaining three seconds with his fingers for them.
“Just now crawling out of bed at one in the afternoon? Sucking down your first Red Bull for the day and getting ready for some serious gamer updates? Welcome to G.O.R.N’s midday update. I’m Ryan, and this enchanting lady next to me is our special guest of the day, Kass,” Ryan began, his tone and mannerisms instantly changing into that of an affable, nice guy you might want to have a drink with at the bar. It was creepy how fast he transitioned.
Can you be more of a caricature? Kass wanted to say, but bit her tongue. Instead, she just returned his fake smile and answered, “Pleasure to be here, Ryan. Thank you again for having me on.”
“Glad to have you. Now, for astute detail-oriented gamers out there who have been watching the clips from earlier, you may already recognize Kass and know why we have her on our daytime talk segment. That’s because this young lady is the same lady that was riding the Hydra during the famous White-Wing beach battle that has been on everyone’s tongue. Oh, and by the way, I have to ask, how was the footing? Were the scales slimy or slippery from the water?”
“It was actually really easy to stand on. The texture of the Hydra’s exterior gave me more grip than soccer cleats usually do.” Kass kept her smile, but she was already starting to mentally brace herself. Something told her that this was going to go from a nice and friendly interview to something ugly really quick. Dad was right. I shouldn’t be here, her instincts started to scream.
“Now, for players who might not know this, that Hydra she was riding was an altered version of the Hydra that players have to defeat if they want to use the shortcut from the Human to the White-Horn lands,” he said, straight to the camera before turning to Kass. “So, tell me, how is it that you managed to get your hands on one and use it as a mount?”
“Well, actually, I didn’t exactly do that. It was the guild leader who–“
“Right, the guild leader,” Ryan interrupted her. “This is, of course, the guild leader of the newly registered faction, StormGuard Alliance, right?”
“Yes, we’ve only been around–”
“And do you have any confirmation of whether or not this is an offshoot of the one from Emerald Gardens? Was this guild made by an existing member of the massively popular online role playing game, Emerald Gardens, or is it a copycat?” He pressed her, never letting her really complete a thought.
“The guild leader is actually from that guild. He said that he was a high up member in the–” Kass tried her best to answer, but it was fruitless. Ryan was only asking her questions as a way of pretending to extract information, but he already had all the answers. She was his prop, not a person he was interviewing.
“Right, the guild leader, his name is Darwin if I’m not mistaken?”
“Well . . .” Kass was starting to feel more and more uncomfortable.
“Because, as you can see, we’ve looked at the footage and been able to put together a face, here, that we believe is a very accurate representation of the character in the game. Now, other than the red eyes, this face matches up with a famous raid leader from the StormGuard Alliance in Emerald Gardens who recently was reported missing by the police,” Ryan said as he gestured to an imaginary square next to his head where a photo of Darwin would be digitally inserted.
“By the police?” Kass interrupted him for a change, getting her question in before he could continue his thoughts.
“That’s right, Kass, by the police,” he stressed the word police. “You see, around 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, police investigated reports of gunshots in a relatively nice neighborhood. What they found was absolutely shocking. These here are some of the gruesome images from the crime scene. They’re censored but nevertheless graphic, and some viewers may find them quite disturbing.” He pointed to the imaginary square next to his head again, but Kass could see them on a monitor in front of her. Part of the first image was intentionally pixilated, but what was displayed was still clearly a human head, crushed in by what must have been a baseball bat or something larger so many times that the entire skull was caved in.
“What does that have to do with Darwin?” Kass stared at the pictures of the crushed face as they cycled through.
“Well, upon investigating the crime scene, police were able to identify the body as that of a serial burglar and rapist, but did not find any traces of the person who lived there. The only tenant, a man by the name of Darwin, disappeared that night while leaving his game of Emerald Gardens on. His character, Arch Lance Ser NightVale of the StormGuard Alliance, was monitored, but he never signed on from a new or existing location. That’s why police were very interested when we began our investigation of your guild.”
Kass shifted in her seat. This wasn’t a news interview–this was an interrogation with a camera rolling–but she couldn’t take her eyes off the still floating picture of the dead body. What happened? What did you do, Darwin? The question kept rolling around in her head. This can’t be you, Darwin. You wouldn’t do things like this. At first, she rebelled against the idea, but then remembered that this wasn’t the first time she had attempted to console herself with that line of thought. “No . . .” she barely whispered, still in shock.
“Actually, yes. We know that he just defended himself from a burglar in a break-in, that there aren’t any legal ramifications for his actions, but both the police and G.O.R.N. are wondering if this is the same m–” Ryan stopped suddenly and pressed his finger into the earpiece as if to make sure he was hearing everything correctly.
“What’s going on?” Kass asked, looking around as two men in very professionally-tailored black suits came popping out from behind the cameras in front of her like she was stuck in a tacky action movie or spy thriller.
“I’m sorry gamers, but we have to cut this interview short. We’ll resume air after these brief messages,” Ryan smiled to the camera, and then, when the light gave him the signal, he got up and bolted towards the producer’s box.
“What’s going on?” Kass repeated, not understanding what was happening.
“Kass, this is the producer again,” the voice that had counted down the segment said. “These men were sent by Charles. They are going to escort you to a meeting. I’m told that this is not the type of escort you should try to turn down.”
Kass, scared stiff, looked at all the men. She slowly stood up, but she had no idea what was going on. As she took out her earpiece and laid it on the counter, she found herself looking for exits, trying to find a single escape route that wasn’t blocked.
“Please rest assured, miss, no one here means you any harm,” one of the men said. “We’re merely here to bring you to meet a very important friend. Someone we’re told you are acquainted with. Charles said it was a top priority to bring you to the introduction.”
She, seeing no real alternatives, started walking with them, still looking around for a viable exit strategy, but there was none. This Charles fellow, whose name sounded incredibly familiar, was obviously more well-connected than the average person. Even the producer and the staff were apologizing to the two men as they left, saying stuff like ‘We had no idea’ and ‘We’re so sorry. We’ll cut the piece immediately.’
“It’s a long drive, miss,” one of them said to her as they exited the building. “We can pick something up for you to eat on the way if you like.”
“No, I’m okay,” she said. What she meant was: ‘this is freaking me out too much for me to be worried about food.’