“My dear young lady,’ said the professor…’there is one plan which no one has yet suggested and which is well worth trying.’
‘What’s that?’ said Susan.
‘We might all try minding our own business…”
― C.S. Lewis,
“Victory is a matter of will!”
“You ever get tired of Shaxx saying that?” asked Rill.
“It’s just a prerecorded announcement,” I replied, not taking my eyes from the screen. “Although I’m pretty sure he believes it.”
Henrik, Rill’s boyfriend, grunted and swigged from a brown bottle. “Victory is a matter of weapons and skill.”
I didn’t disagree with him and stood up. “I’m getting another drink before the match gets too far along. Anyone need a refill?”
“I’ll take another,” said Emma. The others shook their heads. I made my way to the bar, hood drawn still drawn up, and slid my glass to the frame behind the bar. “Need another of Cosmodrome IPA, too,” I added. The frame blinked and dutifully began to refill my glass.
“I didn’t know Exos could drink,” said a voice at my elbow. The speaker was Awoken, pale blue skin and jet black hair that had the slightest bluish tinge that contrasted starkly with her pure white robes. Her Ghost’s shell was gold and green, depicting a committed Iron Banner contestant that matched her shining green eyes.
“Thought you Warlocks knew everything,” I quipped.
The Awoken rolled her eyes and threw up her hands in a mock defensive pose. “Oh, you’ve wounded me, oh witty Hunter. Seriously, are you really one of those?”
“One of those what?” I asked //tersely.
“One of those guys who thinks if they’re insulting and standoffish it’s somehow endearing?”
I blinked at her, suddenly //flustered. “You’re defensive.”
“Really? Someone makes a casual observation and your first reaction is to put them down for being different from you. Which of us has their defenses up?”
I opened my mouth to retort…then rethought it. “OK, you got me. My mistake.” I drew my hood back and stuck out a hand. “Morc-35, of the Valherjar and the Erickssons.”
“That’s better.” She shook my hand. “Gwendolen, Vanguard. My friends call me Gwen.” She looked at one of the large screens in the half-empty taproom. “So that’s your unit fighting in the Iron Banner, Shores of Time match?”
“Yeah.” I glanced at the screen. Farstride, Findlay, Heisenberg and Telrik were tearing through the competition as only a team of Titans could. Magnus was holding ground near the B-Zone, and a random sixth Bladedancer, unaffiliated as far as I could see, had rounded out the roster for the match. “They’re moving up the rankings pretty well this tournament.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
“I’ve been out of the Crucible for about a year now. The Iron Banner would eat me alive.”
“Ah. So it has nothing to do with your fear of not being able to revive?”
A host of different emotions roiled through me before I locked down the answer. “You’re the Warlock that Father Ericksson told me about.”
Gwen nodded. “He’s given up trying to convince you to see me, so he asked me to find you. He says you need help. I would like to try, if you’ll let me.”
I took my refilled glass and the bottle from the bar where the frame had placed them. “I’m not a specimen for you to study. Go ply your magic tricks elsewhere.” I turned to leave.
She placed a hand on my arm. “Morc-35, listen: if your condition is what it sounds like, you may be infected with something. Which means you might be curable. Your family is worried about you.”
I shook off her hand and walked back to the table and placed Emma’s drink in front of her. I sat down and studiously kept my back to the bar and Gwen.
“I’m telling you,” Emma was saying to Rill, “these matches are rigged. Look at that!” She pointed at the screen with the scoreboards, showing the different rankings of each team of contestants. “There is a clear bias of matching teams that are imbalanced with one type of Light against teams that have 2 of each energy type, and the teams with 2 of each almost always win.”
“That’s a load of BS,” Rill shot back. “Look at the bracket for the next match: the Fifth Circle is almost purely Golden Guns and Sunsingers, and they haven’t even lost a match yet!”
“Well sure, when you have 3 Guardians who can self-revive it’s impossible to take territory back from them. If this were a Clash tourney they would be just as badly off. My point still stands.”
“Whatever. You’re still going down. The Northern Paladins are winning.”
“Because the Valherjar are almost all Arc-types and the Paladins came with a rounded team. Rigged.”
I checked the score on the match we were watching: 8325 to 7650 with 2:31 on the clock. Although the Valherjar held only a single zone, they were closing the gap through attrition – an effective strategy for a team comprised mostly of Titans. Another screen in the bar flipped over to the match to provide an additional angle and we got a good look at Telrik rushing an enemy zone: he hit with a Fist of Havoc and scattered half the enemy team. In moments Farstride reinforced his position with a shield. A few seconds later and another rush, and all 3 zones were held by the Valherjar, turning the match into a massacre.
The final score was 10150 to 9950. The bar erupted into cheers and groans, and the Iron Banner brackets shifted with the new standings.
“Woo!” Emma slammed her drink on the heavy wood table and stood up on her chair, dancing. “Valherjar, Valherjar! Woo! Enjoy that extra delivery shift this weekend while I’m sunning myself, sis!”
Rill leaned her head on Henrik’s shoulder and shut her eyes. “Damn it. I’ve haven’t had a weekend off in almost a month.” She looked at Emma. “Double or nothing if they lose their next match.”
“You’re on!” Emma dropped back into her chair, laughing.
I risked a look over at my shoulder. The Warlock was gone, as far as I could see.
Emma noticed the look and followed my gaze. “You lose something?”
“Someone,” I said. I turned in my chair again to watch the next match.
“So did you talk with her?” asked Emma.
I glared at her. “Please say you didn’t tell that Warlock where to find me.”
Emma had the good grace to look embarrassed. “I thought-”
“Blood of the Traveler.” I kicked my chair back and stood up. “I don’t need this, Emma.”
“Morc – ”
I drew my hood back up and left the bar.
Ebony spoke in my ear. “Far be it from me to disagree with you,” he said. “But if the Warlock is right, I am in danger as well. We should talk with her.”
“Shut up,” I snapped.
“Guardian – ”