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Episode 2: Thirteen

Shattered Rift

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A gentle breeze crept into Nebiros' quarters through the open window. The sun had risen high enough that it no longer cast its rays directly on the odds and ends lying scattered on the floor, nor did it shine directly on Nebiros herself, who sat in a full-back chair in front of a simple desk. The desk was the only part of the room that she had organized, featuring her tablet in the center, a skull wearing her pirate hat on the left, and her camcorder on the right. A handful of art supplies—stylus, pens and pencils, brushes, and a small assortment of miscellaneous odds and ends—were carefully arranged in a drawer that sat open.

Her black jacket rested on the back of the chair, leaving her in a violet hoodie unzipped far enough to reveal the Sparkbomb logo on the graphic tee beneath. She sat biting her lip, pressing her tongue against her lip ring as she stared down at the tablet. She had work to do: two webcomics, official artwork, and whatever special requests would come as a result of the revival. She wanted to work, perhaps to sketch out her idea for an introduction to the Mansion and its primary residents, but she also had a room to finish decorating, and she was missing her chance to film members as they entered the Mansion.

Unpacking and drawing could wait, she decided. Standing up, she pulled her jacket back on, grabbed the camcorder—which she had now taken to calling SparkCam—and rushed out of her room. Though the hallway stretched to the left, back towards the nearest common room and farther towards the southeast tower, she took the path to her right, walking back into the parlor.

This time, she entered from the second floor, stepping onto one of the balconies. Unlike the first floor where the eyes naturally drifted upward, Nebiros felt free to look where she pleased, either up towards the skylight or from balcony to balcony or down towards the first floor. Looking down at the first floor, her gaze fell upon the dais at the base of the stairs. Sunlight fell from the skylight to illuminate yet another piece featuring the Sparkbomb logo. The wolf head shined a brilliant black—ebony, Nebiros guessed—and the spark bomb in its mouth shined with the brilliance of blue sapphire. It was not so colorful as the stained glass, which could be seen from this side just as plainly as it could from the front of the Mansion, but it held a more subtle majesty.

“I hope most people stick to their old usernames,” Blacjak said, walking into the parlor from outside. He came in with three others: Trajectory, HummingGillz, and Sinical. Nebiros knew Blacjak was referring to Sinical. Each name appeared briefly to her eyes, hovering above each of the members in the hazy blue of Mansion text, but SparkCam wasn't privy to the benefits granted to members. It only saw that a ninja had entered with two men and a woman. The ninja, Blacjak, had only one distinguishing feature besides his ninja attire: he had vibrant blue eyes that seemed to glow with excitement.

The others were dressed more simply. Trajectory had ripped jeans above his bare feet, and his azure shirt sported an aqua colored smilie face above the words “A Cool Chatting Place.” Humming stood well short of the others, noteworthy for her small size and long black hair that fell onto a white, knee-length dress. Sinical's outfit simply consisted of jeans and a red tee, but even at a distance Nebiros could distinguish the subtle difference in color between his eyes, one blue and one green.

“Say cheese, guys!” Nebiros said, zooming in on each of them individually as they stepped onto the dais. Trajectory waved up at her enthusiastically, Humming gave a polite curtsey, and Sinical gave a nod.

“What's with the camera?” Blacjak said curiously, taking the stairs two at a time and leaping over the railing once he reached the top. As if in competition, Trajectory did the same, except that he cartwheeled over the railing. Sinical and Humming followed more casually.

“I thought it'd be cool to have video footage to look back on in a few years,” Nebiros said.

“That's a nice thought,” Humming said. “I'm sure Rift will appreciate it.”

“Where is Rift, anyway?” Sinical said.

“You didn't see him on the way in?” Nebiros said. “Sparkbot said something about spambots at the front gate and they took off.”

“Spambots already?” Sinical said with a small shake of his head.

“Taking the low-end member numbers?” Trajectory added.

“Sorry about that,” Rift called up towards the second floor. A soft clinking followed behind him as he led thirteen robots into the parlor. He didn't stop as he walked, nor did the shuffling spambots, though Sparkbot staggered a bit at the rear. Sparkbot's eyes darted wildly between the spambots as if expecting trouble at any moment, but Rift seemed at ease as he led the prisoners up the stairs. “I made sure to change the locks while I was out there. Hopefully we won't have anymore unwanted guests.”

Stopping at the top of the stairs, he palmed a panel beside the door. It slowly opened to reveal an elevator within, and he ushered the spambots inside one by one.

“Oh dear,” Humming said, looking nearly as nervous as Sparkbot about the spambots.

“Don't worry,” Rift said, following Sparkbot into the elevator and turning back to face his friends. “These guys aren't anything to worry about. Sorry I can't give you all a proper welcome. I probably won't be back down 'til this evening for the next announcement. Have fun.” The elevator door closed, leaving the five members to decide how to fill the next few hours.

“Rift sure loves to make a dramatic entrance,” Trajectory said good-naturedly.

“What do you think the announcement's going to be about?” Blacjak said.

“Probably just an update,” Sinical said. “Right now, I want to see if anything's really changed.”

“He mentioned the lounges and the towers,” Nebiros said, still intent on the elevator door.

“Let's check them out,” Blacjak said, turning to leave but abruptly stopping. “Where, uh, are they?”

“Each corner of the Mansion is a tower now, sort of,” Nebiros said, realizing that she didn't quite remember what the distinction was. “Or maybe each corner is a lounge, and they're towers on the top floor? There are also some lounges on the second floor.”

The group turned to go, heading off in the direction Nebiros had originally entered from. Trajectory turned to look back, noticing that she wasn't following. “Aren't you coming with us?”

“In a minute,” she said absentmindedly. Waiting for the others to leave gave her a moment to wonder what Rift intended her position to be in the new community. She was the official artist, a position separate from but related to the staff team, but did that make her a staff member too? Once she was sure the others were gone, she palmed the panel beside the elevator door. A moment passed before the system threw up an error message. So she wasn't staff yet, if she was even going to be. Her eyes traveled up the door, rising up the wall towards the third floor above. Rift had gone somewhere up there to deal with the spambots. Why hadn't he deleted them, and what did he have planned for them?



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