Monday – 10:17 AM
Ethan strode purposefully down a darkened hall. There was someone he needed to talk to. As he walked, he passed the shadowy forms of other people as they went about their business. None of them so much as glanced at the red-haired man, despite the stark contrast his appearance presented. Ancient iron braziers on the walls contained torches that shone with a creepy purple flame. On the walls, between the arches of the vaulted ceiling were paned glass windows, although nothing but a black void could be seen through them. The floor underneath Ethan’s feet was covered in a dark rug, rendered colorless by the purple flames. Where the rug didn’t reach, the floor was revealed to be a hard stone, the same as the walls.
Something very strange and wrong was happening, and something inside Ethan wouldn’t let him just forget it.
At the end of the hall, he opened a dark wooden door to his left and entered a spiral staircase. The same purple torches lined the outside of the wall. Ethan took the stairs two at a time in his haste to reach his destination.
He knew that someone must have played a role in the obvious sabotage in the setup of the recent game session, and he had a fair idea of who would be a part of it.
At the top of the staircase, Ethan opened a similar wooden door and entered another hallway. This one was smaller, however, and looked very different to the long hall he had previously traversed. This hall had a lower ceiling and in place of the creepy purple torches sported florescent lights tacked onto the stone walls. The rug here looked somewhat disheveled, as if nobody really cared for how it lay on the floor, and wires ran the length of the wall. Most of the wires powered the florescent lights, but some appeared to have different purposes.
At the end of this hall, Ethan pushed through a final wooden door. The room beyond contained rows of computers running some program that Ethan didn’t understand. Behind a wall of glass to Ethan’s left stood rows of servers, humming quietly to themselves. He knew that these were just one of the many server rooms around the facility. The right side of the room opened out onto a balcony, which afforded a beautiful view of the pure blackness outside.
At one of the computers at the far side of the room sat a blonde woman, typing away at some sort of program. Standing beside her, leaning against the wall was a man about the same age as Ethan, but with short brown hair and a black leather jacket. As Ethan approached, the man looked up at Ethan and brought a lit cigarette up to his mouth.
“Dolores,” called Ethan to the woman, as he got closer. She turned slowly in her chair, revealing black-framed glasses and a sardonic expression. Her hair was up in a bun, except for two locks that fell on either side of her face. She wore a grey jacket and dark jeans.
“What do you want?” She asked, as if she found the idea of being bothered by Ethan to be absolutely incredulous.
“I just got back from doing the session intro,” Ethan began, but Dolores cut him off.
“Yeah? That’s great. Why should I care?” She glanced at her nails, obviously not amused by anything Ethan had to say. She turned back to her computer, as if he wasn’t even there.
Ethan wasn’t about to let her blow him off. He knew that was just her way of avoiding a subject. “There’s something wrong with this session, Dolores. Someone switched one of the cubes with a bomb. They tried to kill three of the players before they could enter The Game. Someone’s been sending Beholders after the players and trying to prevent them from entering The Game.”
Dolores gave him a blank look over her glasses. “What, and you think I had something to do with this?”
Ethan returned her stare, determined not to be intimidated. “It seems like the kind of sadistic thing you’d take pleasure in.”
She took a second to respond. “Look, Ethan, I’m flattered that you think I’m up to some devious master plan to sabotage The Game, but the reality is that I just don’t give a shit. Whether or not a couple of teenagers happen to make it through the petty challenges the GM sets for them really doesn’t interest me. Mark my words, though, if and when they do fail, as they probably will, you can count on me to be there to reap the spoils before either of you two have the chance.” Before Ethan could retort, though, she turned to the other man, who had just finished his cigarette. “Logan, whenever you find the time, you need to go brief the last player. She entered kinda late. You know how it is with different time zones.”
Logan nodded, flicking his cigarette butt out of the window to his left. “Yeah, I got ya.” He strolled nonchalantly past Ethan and out of the room.
Dolores clacked away at the computer for another minute before realizing that Ethan was still standing there. “Are you still here?” she said over her shoulder.
“I know you have something to do with this.”
Dolores sighed and turned her chair around to face Ethan. “I really didn’t, and frankly I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I really haven’t been paying attention to the goings-on of this session. I know you have that little sense of justice that makes you want to figure out exactly what’s happening and who may or may not be behind it, but you have to ask yourself, is this really some sort of sabotage, or is this just a strange sort of permutation of The Game?”
“Have any of the other sessions started like this?”
“Well, not that I know of, but you know just as well as I do that every session is different. Maybe the GM changed the rules this time around. I sure as hell don’t know. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t think too much into it. You’ll only get yourself in trouble, and how will that make me look? You are my responsibility, after all. Now can you get out of here? I have something I need to work on.”
Ethan left, but he was not satisfied that Dolores was telling the truth. He was certainly not convinced that she wasn’t interested in how the current session turned out. Besides, it wasn’t unlike her to lie. He wondered, though, what she would stand to gain from sabotaging the session before it even started. Hell, what would any of them gain from that? He couldn’t dismiss the strange abundance of Beholders that hounded the players. Of all the creatures that could be sent after players, the Beholders were Dolores’s favorite.
Overall, though, Ethan had too many questions and not enough answers. He decided to track down Logan and see what he knew.
Ethan left the way he came, back down the spiral staircase and into the long hall with the purple torches. At the far end of that hall, giant wooden doors opened to a courtyard surrounded by battlemented walls of stone. The courtyard looked like it had once contained grass and trees, but now the ground was turned to dusty soil, and the shriveled remains of a few trees could be seen against the walls. The sky above, if you could call it that, was pitch black. The only light came from torches of a normal flame color that burned on all of the walls. A cobblestone pathway ran from the gate of the building that Ethan had just entered to a gate of equal size set into the far walls. Rows of doors ran parallel to the pathway. The doors stood straight up in the ground, standing free from any wall or building. All in all, they seemed pretty pointless doors. Ethan could see, though, that wires ran from the building behind him, down the stairs and into each of the doors, powering each door with a pale blue glow.
Ethan walked slowly down to one of the doors on the left side of the path and turned the handle. The door opened outward, and Ethan looked through it. One would expect to see the barren courtyard continue on the other side of the empty doorframe, but instead a soft blue light filled the void. Ethan, however, was used to this and stepped into the light and disappeared.
A few seconds later, he reappeared on the rooftop of a tall building. The brightness of the sun caused Ethan to squint his eyes while they adjusted. After a couple seconds, he could see relatively well and surveyed his surroundings. He could see the tops of other buildings around him, though few were taller than the one on which he currently stood. In front of him, standing by the edge of the building was Logan, right where he had expected to find him.
Ethan walked over to Logan and looked over the lip of the roof. The northern half of Sombra Island was spread out before him. Far below him on the empty streets, Ethan could see a lone figure making its way eastward.
“Is that her?” Ethan asked, knowing that Logan was looking at the same thing as him. There really wasn’t much else to look at on an empty street. “The fourth player?”
“Yeah, that’s her, alright.”
“What’s she like?” Ethan asked. “I met the other three, but I hadn’t heard anything about her.”
Logan laughed. “She’s got some spunk, that one.”
“But do you think she has what it takes?”
“I suppose we’ll see, won’t we?”
“Do you know what her element is?”
Logan shrugged. “Nah, Dolores wouldn’t tell me.”
Ethan was suddenly more interested. “She knows?”
“Well of course she knows. It’s kinda her job to know. GM appointed her Scribe for this session. I don’t envy her one bit. That’s quite the work-intensive job.”
“What does the Scribe do?” Ethan asked. He had heard about the job, but he wasn’t sure what it entailed.
“Shit, Ethan, don’t you know? The Scribe keeps tabs on all the players, knows just about everything about them.”
“Ah I see.” So Dolores did lie to him about not knowing anything about the session. Ethan utterly failed to register surprise. “Sounds like she’d be in a pretty good position to manipulate events to her advantage.”
“You’re right, she could. Frankly, though, I don’t peg her as the type. If someone was really gonna try to derail the game, it’d be a big-scale operation. Dolores… well she’s not really the ‘big-scale’ type of girl. Not to say that she can’t organize and carry out plans, but her plans are usually simple and to the point. She likes to mess with people and really piss them off. Not only would killing someone utterly not interest her, but if she did, she’d want them to know it was her. What I’m saying is all this cloak-and-dagger sabotage nonsense just isn’t her style, you know?”
Ethan knew Logan was absolutely right. He nodded silently. “So what do you think about what’s been going on?”
Logan was a few seconds answering. “Well, you know we’re not supposed to interfere before The Game begins, and even afterwards, there’s only certain stuff we’re allowed to do. The GM keeps a close watch on just about everything we do. If someone was trying to sabotage the game, they’d have a hell of a time hiding from the GM.”
Logan pulled out another cigarette from his back pocket and lit it up.
“Didn’t you just have one of those?” Ethan asked, trying to waft the acrid smoke away from his face.
“Uh huh. I was trying to quit. You know, before all this.” He took a drag of the cigarette before continuing. “Now, though, I figure what’s the point? It’s not like it can kill me.” He gave a wry laugh.
Ethan was silent for a while. Below him, he could see the girl Logan had briefed surrounded by Beholders. After a few minutes, though, the other three players joined her. They made quick work of the Beholders and their commanding Faceless and ran off out of sight.
“Hey, Ethan,” Logan said, snapping Ethan’s attention back to the immediate surroundings. “You ever miss how things used to be?”
Ethan thought for a second, knowing where this conversation was going. “Yeah, I do sometimes.”
“Well I do. All the time.” There was a pause, and then Logan sighed and continued. “It’s not fucking fair, you know? They get to run around down there and play their little game. They can still go back. They’re still whole.”
“We all had our chance. You know that.”
“Yeah, but they could still win.”
“Logan, nobody wins.”
“Yeah, I know. I know.”
They stood there for a minute more, before Logan stubbed his cigarette out on the small wall that bordered the edge of the building and turned to leave. He walked about ten feet away from Ethan and disappeared into thin air.
Ethan reviewed what he had learned. He was pretty convinced that Dolores had some sort of part in all this, but she wasn’t the one in charge. Whoever was in charge could’ve used her to access information about the players, then gotten someone else to switch the cube with the decoy, etc. He still had way too many questions, too many unknowns. It was too early to make any definitive judgments, but he had a feeling that his assumptions wouldn’t be too far off the mark. For now, though, he’d keep a close eye on the players for any more evidence of foul play.