When the timer on Vittoria Cruz’s smart watch beeped, she dropped her game controller and hurried through her house, switching off lights. The mandatory blackout on the island would soon darken the neighborhood, and she didn’t want to draw any attention that would make her feel guilty. Conspicuous consumption and all that.
Their house always had electricity. You couldn’t live-stream gameplay or practice for tournaments without stable power and high-speed internet, and they had both—thanks to him and his elite gaming skills.
She grabbed a snack and a soda and retreated into her brother’s room. She shut the door, closed the thick curtains, and set up for her own live stream—Vitty Plays. She was as good as her brother in some games, mostly the newer ones that required faster response times than he could muster anymore, but the tournament circuit was for her. Whatever her big brother was away doing, whatever sponsorships or favors or shady deals he was involved in that had disappeared his ass for the last couple of months was definitely not for her.
She just wondered what Dante would think of her growing success whenever he got back. She hadn’t been trying to capitalize on being his sister, but she also didn’t mind the little boost it gave her channel when people made the connection.
She was worried about him. He couldn’t stay on top forever; truthfully, he hadn’t been on top for a while now. And when he ultimately fell from grace, she wanted to be there to support him the way he’d always been there for her–if he let her. Dante hated failing, and he had a hard time accepting help from anyone.
Hey, Vitty! Pl4yer8910 wrote in the chat. How are you? Other followers began chiming in with their own excited greetings.
“I’m awesome,” she said into the microphone. Vittoria slipped on headphones, picked up the controller, and resumed taking out enemy soldiers with a sniper rifle. “How is everyone else tonight? I don’t care, really. I’m just curious.”
Tandy | Class: Veiled Archer | Level: 2
HP: 10/32 | Status: Normal
XP: 16,045 | Next Level: 1,000
Tandy and her teammates looked at one another in stunned silence following their hasty escape from the Skull King’s tomb.
Tandy’s heart raced. Her whole body trembled from the fear and exertion of fighting for her life.
She just hadn’t dealt enough damage to the undead creatures, nor had the team coordinated its efforts well.
“That was a narrow escape. Literally.” She gestured at the tall, thin window they each had just squeezed through. A Death Knight lunged toward the opening and Tandy jumped. But the creature could only watch them from the other side; it wasn’t programmed to crawl out of the castle casement to pursue them, thank goodness.
“I guess we weren’t quite ready for that yet,” Tandy added.
If looks could instakill, the one Dante gave her would have been useful inside the tomb, easily wiping out all their enemies at once.
Dante raised his sword, staring hard at Tandy. She instinctively took a step back, bringing her bow up protectively. But he stabbed past her, toward the window. His sword pierced the skeleton between its eye sockets. The tiny blue flames that burned inside them dimmed and guttered out as the undead monster succumbed to its final death.
“So they can be killed,” Etta said. “Good to know. For next time.”
“One down, a few hundred to go,” Ben said.
Dante yanked the blade back out of the window, pulling the skeletal knight along with it; it disintegrated into pixels as it crossed the window’s threshold. Then, Dante sheathed his sword and started climbing back up the cliff without a word.
“Ugh. We have to go back the way we came?” Etta said.
“We obviously can’t go through the castle,” Ben said. “I was expecting to walk out the front door triumphantly, with the Skull King’s Crown. But that was FUBAR.” He shook his head and climbed up after Dante.
“Hey, hold on guys! I have to heal you,” Etta called. When Dante and Ben didn’t acknowledge her, she turned to Tandy and shrugged. “How about you?”
Tandy nodded. Etta began working her healing spell.
“What did I say?” Tandy whispered. “Dante was furious.”
“You basically said, ‘I told you so,’” Etta said.
“I was trying to lighten the mood. Stupid!” She knocked her knuckles on her forehead. She always said the wrong thing when she was nervous or upset.
Right now Tandy was both. Her palms were tingling and itchy the way they got when she was worked up over a tricky section in a game. Only, instead of guiding a computer mouse, she was holding a bow. She stowed it on her back and wiped her sweaty palms on her leggings.
“There you go,” Etta said....