He fully prepared to die but nothing happened. The blinding blue light soon expired. He took a few more paces, obeying the girl's pulling hand, and found himself in a strange place. It looked like a dug-out devoid of doors or windows, its walls, floor and ceiling made of compacted earth. In the corner behind their backs, charges of lightning snaked out of the Magneto. Apparently, this was the only entrance into this in-game wormhole.
"We're in the cellar beneath the hut," the Elfa explained. "Or so I think."
A narrow plank bed stood by the wall next to a small table and a stool. An oil lamp burned on the table. One wall was lined with shelves piled with weapons.
"Who lit the lamp?" Attila asked.
"It's always been like this."
"Could it be... well, I don't know... some leftover location fragment? It probably used to belong to some discontinued quest or other."
She shrugged and perched herself on the stool. She looked perfect - even though she was only a well-generated avatar. Girls like that only belonged on magazine covers.
The funny thing was, she was probably totally different in real life. To splurge this amount of money on her appearance, she must have been emotionally unstable and insecure. Now she was playing the tough chick, sharp-tongued and hung with weapons. Which meant that in real life she was probably a sheer troll with a dog's face and legs to match, taking her revenge on disinterested men by either ignoring them or visualizing them in place of the mobs she smoked. Talking about which-
To the right of the Magneto on the wall hung the head of an enormous rat the size of a dog. Next to it was nailed the head of a blind wolf followed by a huge wild boar. The Elfa apparently hadn't bothered to stuff them properly even though the game offered the choice of leveling up taxidermy. The boar's eyes had leaked out; its snout was shriveled, its right fang broken. You couldn't fell one of these with a single shot: its skull could sustain a direct crossbow hit. You had to shoot it in the eye before it got the chance to sink its fangs into your stomach, ripping it and trampling you down.
And next to these, a chimera. An amazing creature. Even now, chopped off and nailed to the wall, its head was almost invisible, its outline glistening like a transparent lump of molten glass. The chimera itself had long been dead, of course, but its natural invisibility magic still affected its severed head.
Further along the wall hung a gnoll's spotted skull, its skin dangling in shreds, followed by shriveled rats' heads. The collection was crowned - literally - by the enormous domelike skull of a grummer: a highland giant about eight foot tall. Gryad harbored all sorts of giants: voloths and grummers, cyclops, ogres and titans... The latter were technically gods so few players ever had a chance to meet them. The grummer's dark bulbous head pouted its fat lips, its vicious little eyes staring into space.
Attila whewed. "Did you smoke them all?"
"I'm a hunter," she said wryly. "Of course I did."
"Jeez. You a High Elf? You're such a goody two-shoes lot. I thought you loved all sorts of critters. That's a strange racial choice, if you ask me. A High Elfa leveling hunting! That's what they call going against the flow, isn't it? What's your name?"
He couldn't believe he'd said that. Asking for a player's name! Normally, all you had to do was point the cursor at a char. At least that's how it used to be. But this full immersion thing demanded you introduce yourself properly.
This was the way virtual worlds were going. Gaming conventions were blurring; game developers kept stripping the traditional interface of its control and communication functions which gradually became the players' domain, its slots and buttons turning into actual skills and abilities. For many people, virtuality might soon replace real life, turning millions of humans into motionless capsule-bound bodies wound with wires like the ones he'd seen in an old movie.
"I'm Yanna," the girl said.
"Whatever. Where's my money?"
"Wait. Keep your hair on."
Yanna removed her weapons and laid them onto the shelf by the bed, leaving only a dagger on her belt. Attila saw the other weapons piled upon it: two bows, a heavy crossbow, a couple of quivers and a hunting knife.
Attila perched on the end of the bed and stretched his aching legs. The girl, once finished, sat next to him and elbowed his ribs. "So?"
He took out his Book. She did so, too. "My game bank account number: triple seven, Yankee Yankee one-seven," she spelled out. "Come on, send it."
"You sound like my school teacher," he grumbled as he entered the number. His heart bled as he confirmed the transfer of five hundred gold. Great job, Game Master. So much for today's windfall.
A message in a fancy frame popped up on the screen:
The operation you requested has failed to complete.
Attila cussed and tried again. Same result.
He shrugged. "Doesn't seem to work."
The girl's doe eyes widened. "Pardon me?"
"The bank doesn't seem to work."
"No way! Are you trying to rip me off? You think I'm stupid? Let me try."
The grimace of anger looked cartoonish on her doll-perfect face. Gasping with impatience, she tried to activate her PM box. To no avail: it was dead, too. As was the game chat. Attila had never used it: a lone player, he'd never had friends worth mentioning, but Yanna did have a list of contacts - all of which were unavailable.
"WTF!" she jumped back to her feet and began pacing the room.
Attila didn't like any of it. Still, he tried to keep his cool. After all, he'd escaped the legionnaires and rescued the Eye which was now safely tucked away in his bag. A buggy hole like this one was a good hiding place: even legionnaires couldn't always locate them. And if this jittery girl didn't get his money, so much the better. Now he had to wait for the admins to fix the glitch and log out, preferably without paying her first. A hundred he'd have understood; a hundred and fifty even, but she'd been trying to fleece him like a Moscow cabbie!
He decided to give it another try and opened his Skype Messenger. It sort of worked, although his contacts' online status icons kept changing color from green to yellow: fading completely, then turning to green again.
Yanna craned her neck, trying to see his manipulations with the book. "Where'd you get Skype from? I thought Gryad didn't have it?"
"It doesn't. I do. But at the moment, it doesn't make much sense. Look at the icons. It's probably glitchy because of the Storm. It was weird, wasn't it? Or maybe it's the glitches that caused the Storm. Relax. Once everything's back up, I'll send you the money."
The girl tried to look calm. Still, her lip-biting and sleeve-tagging betrayed her feelings. "Hope we're not stuck here for too long," she said.
Her voice seemed to come from afar. Attila's ears were blocked - also as a result of the Storm, he guessed. His brain felt like jelly. And that was here, in the hole - outside on the surface his head might have already burst like a watermelon.
Attila pressed his hands to his ears, then let go sharply. With a painful pop, his eardrums twitched. He gulped. That didn't work, either.
"I shouldn't go out if I were you," he said. "Have you been in Gryad long? How many Storms have you seen?"
"That's none of your business."
So much for the conversation starter. He shrugged. Whatever. Himself he only remembered one Storm - and that was ages ago when he'd first come here. Storms were part of the Dead Canyon's plotline. They came from the Citadel. According to the storybook, they came to our reality via the Great Portal opened by the Conclave of the Seven Wizards in order to combat the dark hordes they'd inadvertently let out of the Citadel's catacombs.
The Storms were capable of affecting the very fabric of reality, creating new monsters and even changing the world's geography by occasionally closing old locations and opening up new ones. In theory, that was the developers' way of explaining away certain changes they'd introduced like the discovery of new locations or the arrival of new mobs and aberrations without disturbing the world's balance.
All Storms had one thing in common: the powerful surge of magic anomalies killed all players who had weak magic defenses and failed to take cover underground.
Attila made another attempt to get to know her. "Where are you from? I'm from Moscow in case you're interested. You?"
"St.P," she said reluctantly.
"You studying?" he asked, convinced she was still at high school.
"Yeah," she said. "I read medicine. Why?"
He cast her an incredulous look. Did she really? Then again, what difference did it make. Not to a cripple like himself, anyway. This player could be male for all he knew.
"Why were the legionnaires after you?" she asked.
"I was trying to sell some software. It was a trap."
"What kind of software?"
He slapped his pocket. "This one here. It's a flying thingy that sends a picture to your Book - or to your goggles. I made it."
"Yeah, right. Pull the other one."
What was she like! He felt like giving her a slap. "I made it," he said, trying to stay calm. "You don't have to believe me if you don't want to."
"You wanna say you're a game master? A cheat master, a programmer? A hacker, to be precise. Is that it?"
"Then you should know, Mister Game Master, how come the portal stations don't work. What's going on, for crissakes?"
He shrugged again. "No idea. The whole game is based on the principle of portal stations. They just can't fail. It's like... like gravity stopped working on Earth, you understand? The stations are firmly rooted in the world's laws. You have any idea of the kind of money involved? They just can't afford a glitch like that. They would lose their partners."
"Could that mean there're serious problems with the game?"
He shook his head. He didn't like the way this conversation was going. "I shouldn't jump to conclusions."
"Why not?" she stomped her foot. "Did you see what kind of Storm it was? It's not at all like the stuff I've seen on YouTube."
"It was unusual, yes. Visually at least. But if it happened, it means that the game still works. What do you mean by serious problems? Had the game shut down, we'd have exited it automatically. But that's not the case. It's exiting that's the problem. Actually," he snapped his fingers, "I've only just realized it. This shouldn't be happening! Portals can't just shut down. It's never happened before."
"Aha, so you can't wrap your melon around it, Mr. Smart Programmer, can you?"
"He's the one with the melon," Attila pointed at the grummer's skull. "Mine is called a head. But you're right, I can't wrap it around all this. This is surreal. As in, impossible."
"So do you think the Storm could have damaged the portals?"
He gave it some thought. "Dunno. I can't tell."
"You're not a programmer, you're a noob."
Attila shrugged. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. Yanna did, too.
"I can't think straight," she admitted. "It must be the Storm. I need a break. I've been in the game for the last twenty-four hours. Right. Piss off now. Go sit on the floor."
"Move to the floor, I say. Don't make me lose it. This is my bed. Can't you see it's not big enough for two?"
He rose. The girl peeled off her boots and stretched out on the bed. He sat on the floor with his back to the wall. After a while, he tried to lie down. He turned this way and that trying to find a comfortable position. "What if I have a blanket?"
"What if you don't," she mumbled. "Mind putting the light out? There's a snuffer on the lamp. I need some sleep."
Attila rose, snuffed out the lamp and lay back down again. Then he removed the bag from his belt and shoved it under his head. The floor was cold against his back. There was no way he could fall asleep.
The bed rustled. A blanket dropped onto his head.
"Thanks," Attila wrapped it around himself and closed his eyes. His head felt like a whirlpool of murky jelly. Whatever had happened to the portals? What if this one was simply out of order? Could the other ones be working still? Why had he and the girl thought they were all down?
No, it didn't make sense. He didn't have enough information to draw any conclusions. Besides, he could always use the emergency logout if he really wanted to. It wasn't difficult: when you logged in in full immersion, there was a pop-up window that explained to you how you could do it. But if he did so, the girl would probably lay her hands on both the Eye and the Triton's Bident. No, that wasn't an option. He would get some sleep and then he'd check other portals. By then, the admins might have already fixed the chat and the bank system.
He fell asleep without noticing it. And when he awoke, it took him some time to work out where he was. For a moment he thought he was still within the crumpled car, Mom bleeding to death by his side.
With a yelp Attila sat up, bashing his elbow on the wall. The pain sobered him.
"Baby's scared? Baby had a bad dream?" she scoffed. Her voice was sleepy.
This bodylicious bitch! He sprang to his feet, bundled up the blanket and threw it over her head. "Wakey wakey, Big Ears!"
She pulled the blanket off her head and jumped up, clenching her fist. "You do that again and you're toast!"
"What's wrong with you?" He chuckled. "No need to be so aggressive. So how do we get out, back via Magneto? Is it going to take us back inside the oven, do you know? Do we need to climb the chimney again?"
Yanna pulled on her boots, not bothering to answer. She walked over to the shelf and began putting her weapons back on.
"Listen," Attila added. "You've got an awful lot of gear here. Can I borrow me a knife? You can add it to the bill if you want."
"Oh yeah," she perked up. "The Storm should be over by now. The bank should be working. You can transfer the money now. A hunting knife you can buy, why not. It'll be ten gold."
He couldn't believe it. "You don't want much, do you? I can buy one in a shop for three gold!"
"So piss off to the shop, then."
Seething with indignation, Attila turned his back to her. He paused in front of the Magneto spitting bolts of lightning, then mustered up some courage and stepped into it.
Reality blinked. His legs gave under him.
Attila found himself standing on the Gamekeeper's doorstep. That was better. He'd have hated to climb that chimney again.
The five legionnaires lay sprawled in the grass next to the hut: some face up, others face down. Attila raised an inquiring eyebrow. Now why hadn't their bodies disappeared? Curiouser and curiouser.
He walked over and poked one of the bodies with his boot, turning it onto its back. The guy was as dead as a doornail.
The air popped in the doorway behind him, releasing Yanna enshrouded by blue lightning. She leaped forward and grabbed his shoulder. "Where d'you think you're going? You're not gonna leg it, you sly bastard!"
Attila shrugged her hand off. "If I wanted to leg it, I'd have done it back in the hole. Come have a look."
But she wouldn't have any of it. "Something tells me that's what you're doing! Trying to rip me off! In any case, what are you doing here in the open? The ghoul respawns in no time. Where is he? We'll have to kill him again now. Hey... what's this?" she finally noticed the dead legionnaires.
Attila sensed greed rising inside him. He bent over the body. A scabbarded bastard sword; a dagger with a magic stone set into its hilt; and what was that? An elixir, excellent. Shame the legionnaire didn't have any more of them.
"You can keep your overpriced penknife," he mumbled as he lifted the player's belt and put it around his own waist, sword and all.
"Looting, are we?" Yanna quipped. "No, wait! They must have some legionnaire's cheats on them," she bent over another body. "I just don't understand why their avatars didn't disappear. Normally, loot is left over. There should be nothing but loot left here."
"How do I know? Better, anyway. This way we don't need to check the grass for stuff."
He opened a legionnaire's bag, found nothing of interest and moved on to the next body, casting jealous glances at the girl. Trust her to collect more loot than he did.
A couple of magic charms; another knife, another sword. Shame he couldn't take it all with him. Too heavy without a weight-reducing artifact. By the same token, he could go to the lake and look for a Crusher: Storms caused them to erupt all over the place like spots on a teenager's face. If he managed to disable it and extract the AntiGravity artifact, then find another Catapult somewhere in the vicinity...
He forgot about all this when his gaze chanced on the wide belt of the third legionnaire - a sergeant, judging by the stripes on his sleeve. A dedicated four-slot cheat bag dangled from his belt. Just what the doctor ordered!
It was a good job he'd been the one to have noticed it first. He slung the belt over his shoulder: this wasn't the time or place to study its contents.
He wondered if the legionnaire had a weight-reducing artifact. It could considerably ease his load, depending on its level and charge. But even if he hadn't, it was still a very good find.
Attila grinned and stood up, facing an arrow head pointing at his face.
He grabbed at his sword. "What d'you think you're doing?"
"Freeze!" she commanded.
"Why? Are you all right?"
"No, I'm not all right! I won't till you pay me! You think I can't see you're just waiting for me to turn my back?"
"Jesus Christ, woman! Who have you been dealing with? Can't you trust anyone for a change?"
"Trust? Who, a hacker?"
"Why not? I may not be a hundred percent honest but at least I'm correct. See the difference?"
"Very well, Mr. Correct. Out with your Book and out with my money."
He reached into his pocket for the Book. "You're something, you. Give me the account number again," he shook the Book, then tapped it against his hand. "Nope. Won't work."
"What?" the bow in the girl's hands quivered, so angry she was. "Quit playing me!"
Attila stepped toward her, the arrowhead nearly stabbing his forehead. "Here, have a look if you don't believe me," he drew the bow aside and brought his Book right up to her pretty little nose. "Let's open our eyes wide and look carefully!"
The framed screen flickered, rippled with interference. Not any old interference, either: it looked like some kaleidoscope gone mad. Attila tried to access the map. No way. He started a couple of programs which failed to open, too. Nothing worked.
He looked up at the girl. She stood motionless, the bow lowered in her hands. She definitely looked scared.
He was scared, too. Apparently, it wasn't just the portal that had packed up. Everything had: the chat, system messages, the PM box and the navigation. And the bank! Gryad wasn't some small corner shop, oh no: it had the budget of a small African country. They should have fixed the bank already, surely?
"Listen," Yanna said, mulling over something. "This doesn't look good," she removed the arrow from her bow. "The portals and all. We must try the emergency logout and-"
She didn't finish. Both heard screams coming from behind the Crooked Lake.
"What kind of day is this!" Attila grabbed his sword.
They ran toward the noise. Something had changed around them; the place didn't feel the same. There were no distinct changes: they seemed to be spread thinly over the entire world. A bit like a morning mist: it made your clothes all wet even though it wasn't raining.
Attila wished he could stop and concentrate on his surroundings, listening in to the weird sensations. That might suggest an explanation of this hunch that everything just wasn't right.
They were finally back by the lake, next to the stone pipe where the murky swill splashed against the rusty grating. Someone was moving and groaning in the bulrushes by the sewer. A burly Pioneer stood up on one knee with his back to Attila. He wore a round helmet, a mace slung across his back.
Cautiously Attila walked around him and peeked at the bearded blue face behind the visor. A half-orc. This was Beast!
Beast sniffed heavily, his arms outstretched in front of him just like he'd done earlier when casting fireballs. A dozen feet away from the shore, the lake bubbled, its murky water rippling. The ghoul resurfaced by the pipe and shook his head free of algae. His enormous mouth was fringed with horned spikes.
Attila stepped back. His shoulder brushed Yanna who'd stopped behind him. Without saying a word, she raised her bow. He couldn't believe the speed at which she loosed off arrows. Snap, snap, snap, she shot twin arrows piercing the mob's hide with each flight.
Gryad had two types of mobs: mutants and monsters. Mutants were more or less humanoid; some even boasted some rudimentary intelligence, like this ghoul or a harpy. This category also included giants, zombies and some of the undead such as walking skeletons and liches. Monsters were mainly of magical nature: sniffer wolves, chimeras, armadillos, sabretooths, basilisks, winged inches and many-headed hydras.
Beast turned round for a look, saw her and ducked down face to the ground. But instead of fleeing for dear life the ghoul charged at them, pin-cushioned with arrows. Raising a cascade of murky water, the ghoul rushed onto the shore and came directly for them. With a dull thumping sound arrows kept hitting him but he couldn't care less.
Halfway to them the ghoul began to disappear, his outline dissolving in the air, droplets of blood splattering everywhere.
"Sturdy as hell," Yanna commented as she reached for two more arrows. "Come on, Blue, smoke him!"
"I can't!" a desperate Beast raised his head and tried to crawl along the bank. "I'm all empty!"
The monster had enough arrows in it to kill a platoon and still he wouldn't stop. Attila spread his legs wide and raised his sword, preparing to meet the bastard. Luckily, the ghoul had to wade through a lot of water on his way which slowed his progress down considerably.
A dozen feet away from them, the ghoul slowed down, his arrow-studded body gaining color. He collapsed to his knees and dropped face down.
Beast had already made it to the bulrushes. He sat up, tensing; then sprang to his feet. Only now had Attila realized that there was someone else hiding in the bulrushes next to the sewer. He could hear whimpering and the sound of a body thudding down like someone trying to scramble to their feet.
Beast cast them a warning glare, then headed for the sewer. Attila and Yanna hurried to join him.
A newbie Pioneer lay behind the sewage pipe, clad in cheap generic gear. His bloodied Adam's apple twitched. His neck was covered in dark marks where the ghoul's facial spikes had dug into his skin. The front of his jacket was ripped open. His right hand had mauled red stumps where fingers should have been.
He was sniveling and twitching his legs. His eyes rolled; he wheezed. Beast crouched next to him and reached into his bag for his own Book. It looked weird: thin but extraordinarily large. You could see straight away this was a custom-made model with lots of options unavailable to regular players. Mouthing something, Beast began turning the crystal knobs, all eight of them.
Attila and Yanna exchanged meaningful glances. She sneaked closer to him and nodded at Beast,
"Why is he so interested in him? The guy's a newb!"
Attila shrugged. He held on to his sword just in case. The wounded player's wheezing grew louder.
"He's toast," the girl said. "No way we can help him."
"It hurts!" the boy whimpered. "Help me! Please!"
"Shit, he's too young," Attila said. "How old are you, man?"
The boy sniffled one last time and froze.
Beast cussed, still spinning the crystal knobs. He laid the Book on the ground and stared in front of him. "This one's gone, too," he murmured.
Yanna walked over to him and shoved him in the shoulder. "What's all this shit? What d'you mean? The guy is a kid. He logged out, that's all."
Beast cast a desperate look around him. "Methinks he died for real," he said. "They all did."
"For real? That's bullshit," Attila said.
"Bullshit?" Beast sprang back to his feet, his fists clenched.
Yanna immediately sprang up with her bow.
"Put it down!" he yelled. "Don't shoot! You idiot! Don't you know that we can't log out? The portals have stopped working!"
"They have," Attila nodded, lowering his sword. "At least one that I know of. So the other ones have packed up too, then? That's one hell of a glitch you're having here. So what else do you know?"
"I, that is us," Beast hurried to shove the Book down his back, "Those you saw me with, I mean... I really don't know what happened! So we were caught in the Storm. I have this top level spell," he knocked on his helmet, "the Dome of Goodness. It must have protected me. And the others... why are their avatars still here? They shouldn't be! And man, you should have heard them scream as they died. I nearly shat myself. It was as if they died for real. In real life too, you understand?"
"Bullshit," Yanna frowned. "How can you be sure that someone died in real life? You can't. Okay, so their avatars failed to disappear. It's probably a glitch. Sorry man, but I don't buy it. Show me the facts."
"I don't have the facts," Beast's shoulders hunched up as he stared at the dead player. "But if you heard them scream when the Storm caught up with us... if you saw them wriggle... It was as if their brains were sliced open in real life. This one doesn't disappear, either. Can you tell me why the chat's not working? We can always use our Books to contact other legionnaires and our real-life controllers in their offices. Even the HQ if we want to. They're all unavailable. Why?"
"You're right," Attila said. "The bank doesn't work, either. The portals are gone and communications have packed up," he shrugged. "Weird. But still it doesn't mean-"
"Don't you understand that even the emergency logout doesn't work?" Beast slammed his fist on his own steel breastplate. His face was distorted with fury. He leaned sharply toward Attila who barely suppressed the desire to slap him with his sword. "What else do you need?"
This enormous scruffy male was shuddering like a scared little boy. What did he mean, the emergency logout didn't work? That was a load of bull!
Attila thought of his body lying sprawled on the couch back in his apartment: suit, helmet and all. How long could it stay like that? It was a good job he'd put on some diapers but by the same token, he hadn't bothered to insert an energy drink cartridge into the helmet. He hadn't thought about having some water at hand, which was even worse. And he hadn't had a proper meal or a drink for ages. How long would his body last without food or water considering it couldn't even breathe properly in that suit? He was going to die, as simple as that!
To hell with all his skills and software! Fuck the Eye! He had to leg it!
"I've tried," Yanna said as if she'd read his thoughts. "Nope. Won't work. I think he's telling the truth. But I... I shot all those people. I didn't kill them for real, did I? That can't be right!"
She was trying to maintain an air of self-confidence but she wasn't succeeding. Attila closed his eyes and tried to open the Logout window. It came up faded. The logout button was disabled.
He opened his eyes, trying to stay calm. "You're a legionnaire, aren't you?" he asked, trying to keep his voice under control. "You work for RussoVirt. Can you tell us how to quit the game?"
"And you're a hacker," Beast snapped. "An outlaw. An enemy of society. So shut it," he paused, then continued more humbly, "Don't you know that legionnaires are hired players? They don't accept everyone who applies, of course. They have a selection to pass. I've only joined recently."
"So how come they assigned you to this op? I'm not some petty criminal, you know."
Beast flustered and began rearranging the mace slung across his back. "That's why. Because I'm, like, your age demographic, the way I speak and all. They thought you wouldn't smell a rat."
"I see," Yanna squinted at him. "It's true that your manners are a bit off. You're just a kid, you."
"That's what you think," Beast snapped. "I'm in senior high."
"So!" she nodded. "Can't they create something to filter kids out?" Yanna turned to face Attila. "Sometimes I feel like shooting them all and nailing their heads to the wall in my room. They're worse than mobs. Constantly in the way."
"And you're an adult, are you?" Beast retorted. "You're only a spring chicken yourself. You think if your avatar grows a pair of tits that makes you an adult, right?"
"You little shit!"
Attila shifted his gaze between the two. This banter was probably their way of dealing with stress. He listened to their exchange for a while, then clapped his hands, "Enough! Shut up, you two. You've vented enough. We've got to decide what to do. You... what's your name?"
"You know I'm Beast," the kid mumbled.
"And in real life?"
"It's Misha. Misha Bolshakov."
"And I'm Ivan, Ivan Attila. Or just Attila. And you?"
The girl gave him a crooked smile. "Didn't you hear the first time? It's Yanna."
"Same as your name, then? Okay. Nice to meet you, everyone. Now Misha Bolshakov, if you're such a smart legionnaire, you're obliged to know more about this than we do. Any suggestions how we can get out of this mess?"
Beast shrugged. Then he almost jumped out of his skin as his Book woke up with a cheerful jingle. "Connection's back!" he grabbed the book and began spinning the knobs.
His joy was short-lived. His shoulders drooped. He shook his head, "Doesn't work anymore."
The other two had already readied their books and were now staring at dead screens too. There was no connection at all, they couldn't even open the map.
"This was the emergency channel," Beast explained. "Just something we all have. Oh, look! A message from Legate, our chief. He wrote it personally for each of us!"
"What's he saying?" Attila asked.
Beast silently mouthed the message, moving his fat orcish lips. His eyes opened wide. "What do they mean, Code Crimson? It can't," he spun the knob some more, "it can't be! They told us it's never happened in Gryad before! Ever!"
"What d'you mean?" Yanna asked.
"Well, you know, legionnaires have these emergency codes. Like, Code Green, Code Yellow, Code Red... depending on their urgency. Crimson is the worst. It means that we're really in shit. Here, take a look."
He showed them the screen. The red letters of the message glowed bright.
To all of you! Code Crimson! Gryad is facing extinction! All personnel to report to the Valley of Death. I have vital information to convey to you. Repeat. This is Code Crimson. Numerous fatalities among players are confirmed.
End of Chapter Four
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