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Episode 4: Crow's Nest

Shattered Rift

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The member lounge was filled with couches, giving it a more relaxed atmosphere than even the General Lounge. Nebiros wondered if Rift had designed General Discussion first, creating a more game-oriented atmosphere with tables, relaxed things going into General Lounge, and then gone completely relaxed with the member lounge a floor above it.

A pink wizard's hat stood out from the lighter colors of the room. At first Nebiros mistook the long hair and ponytail beneath the hat as belonging to a female member, but once she could see Bed clearly, faded blue bathrobe and all, she recognized him.

“Decided to go with a new name?” she said.

“Yeah, the old one was getting too popular,” Bed said. His voice was naturally soft, almost too quiet for someone tall, but that didn't bother Nebiros. “I hear you're the official artist now.”

“Something like that,” Nebiros said, wondering once again how she fit into Rift's plan. Maybe he would explain her role during his announcement. “I'm sure Rift wouldn't mind if you wanted to do some drawing from time to time.”

“I don't think so,” Bed said. “Everyone seems kind of critical.”

Nebiros shrugged. She understood that some people felt that way, but she had learned long ago to appreciate drawing for the sake of drawing and for the people that enjoyed what she drew. Except when she saw any of her drawings that were more than a few years old. Those needed to be burned.

“I think the announcement is supposed to be soon,” Bed said. “We should probably head upstairs.” Nebiros nodded her assent, and the two climbed the stairs to the tower. Even though Bed was taller than her, especially so with the several inches the wizard's hat added, his demeanor and slight slouch made him feel shorter than he really was. Both of them felt short inside the tower.

The tower's ceiling rose two stories into the air, and the balcony on the upper half was reminiscent of the parlor. They stood in awe for a moment, Nebiros barely remembering to lift SparkCam to take in the view. Several chairs were set up on the floor of the tower, prepared to seat an audience for the announcement. At the head of the chairs was a podium, no doubt where Rift would give his speech from. Past the podium was the staircase that led to the balcony, and the balcony wove around nearly the full circumference of the tower.

“I've worn this watch since college,” a woman said to Kirby-oh. The two stood talking in the aisle between the chairs. Nebiros could see the woman's name, Celairiel, written in Mansion text in the air above her. Celairiel was someone new, brown hair clipped on the left side of her head and falling just above her shoulders. Her denim jacket covered a black-and-white mottled shirt. Kirby was tall, and his blonde hair and beard were getting long to the point of unwieldy. His gray speckled polo offered a contrast of propriety to his hair, but the pink watch on his arm was so flamboyant that it made Nebiros giggle.

“How's it going, guys?” Nebiros said, walking up and joining the two.

“It's going good,” Kirby said, smiling at Nebiros.

“Hi, I'm Celairiel!” Celairiel said, face beaming as she reached out her hand to Nebiros and Bed. Nebiros hesitated for a second, not at the friendliness but at the way Celairiel had pronounced her name with a K sound. She had misread it a moment before.

“Nebiros,” Nebiros said, shaking Celairiel's hand.

“I'm Bed,” Bed said.

“Right, I can see your names,” Celairiel said, enthusiasm suddenly replaced by uncertainty. “That makes introductions a bit silly, doesn't it?”

“Not at all,” Kirby said. “It's good manners.” Celairiel started beaming again, but her curiosity turned back to Nebiros. “Are you recording us?”

“Yup,” Nebiros said. “Getting everything I can for anyone who joins Sparkbomb later and wonders what things used to be like.” She looked around the room. “Speaking of, I need to be finding somewhere to set up for the announcement. I'll catch you all later.”

The back of the room where she had climbed up the stairs was an option, but there was no knowing how many people might be blocking her view. It seemed like everyone who had come back to Sparkbomb was tall, and while she didn't mind standing to see over the crowd, she thought there must be a better option. A sudden sensation of being watched made her look up to the balcony, and she spotted Liz staring down at the group. The balcony would be perfect. Giving Liz a thumbs up in thanks, she quickly made her way up to the balcony.

Tables were arranged at even intervals along the balcony, hidden from the lower floor of the tower. Nebiros assumed that anyone who planned to listen to the announcement from up here would be standing at the railing, looking down from it the same way Liz was. Before she reached Liz, Nebiros' eyes settled on something odd. The entire outside wall of the Mansion was a window, but at one particular point there was a rectangular impression that looked like a door. The door, if it was a door, led outside into the air! She had to be mistaken, but she couldn't think of what else it might be.

Liz had chosen to observe from the back corner of the balcony, the spot least likely to be noticed by the people below. It was a shame to go unnoticed, Nebiros thought, since her usual sense of style was just as prominent as it had ever been. Liz wore a long black wool coat that flared out like a skirt at the bottom. Like so many others in the Mansion, she too wore jeans, and the dark skin-tight fabric disappeared into ankle-high boots. The silver on the boot buckles stood out against the near-black of the rest of her outfit, matching, in a way, with the three crows circling each other in the pendant she wore on her neck.

The two said nothing to each other. Liz simply noticed both Nebiros and SparkCam before looking back at the gathering crowd below. Nebiros, having already given her thumbs up for the idea of filming from the balcony, had nothing more to say.

Familiar faces made their way into the tower. Blacjak, Humming, and Sinical all entered and took their seats. TheLastStarMaker followed Traj, and she stood out as one of the few people wearing glasses. Her clothes were all black except for the brightly colored, mismatched socks that she was wearing.

Some two dozen members filled up the chairs, and soon all discussion became a clamor of sound. Nebiros took the spare moment to confirm SparkCam's settings. The lighting was good, interior light supplemented by the twilight outside. Her angle captured both the podium and the front row of the audience where Kirby, Celairiel, and Bed had taken seats.

The quieting of the tower told her Rift was coming more surely than the slowly turning heads. Unlike the members, who had climbed the stairs into the tower, he was coming from the hall. When he came into her view, she immediately recognized the tiredness about him. It was something the others might overlook, but she could see it in the way he smiled just a little bit less than usual. His eyes still held determination, however, and she was certain that everyone could see that.

Rather than taking his spot behind the podium, he stopped in front of it, nearly within arm's reach of the front row. He smiled at his friends, letting his gaze slowly sweep across the audience while he captured their attention.

“Welcome to Sparkbomb!” he said simply, spreading his arms out to encompass the audience. “That might sound like an odd thing to say. All but one of you have been here for months, and all but a few of you have been here for years. I called our last era a renaissance, a time of revival and change. The era we enter today is similar in that regard. Like a spectre, Sparkbomb retains a part of what it was. Like a phoenix, Sparkbomb is resurrected from its ashes once again. And like a werewolf, Sparkbomb changes to a new way of living.

“Thank you all for coming.” The sincerity in Rift's tone echoed what Nebiros had heard in the video announcement he had sent out a few days earlier. “And thank you for joining me in this tower. This tower is an example of what Sparkbomb will become. Like the lounges, this tower will be customizable based on your input. There are thirteen lounges and four towers, and I'm certain that all of us will be able to carve out our own niche in the Mansion. All of us will be able to find a place here that we are able to call home.

“In light of this, I hope that you'll be patient as I continue rebuilding.” Rift gave a small incline of his head. “I plan to reopen forum rooms and lounges over time. Likewise, the Mansion grounds are also a part of the reconstruction process. I promise, almost everything else will become accessible with time. The third floor, however, besides the towers, will remain off-limits.

“For now, I will refrain from forming a Staff Team.” Murmurs followed at this. How could Sparkbomb function without its Staff members? “I want all of you to have a voice, and I want all of you to feel that you have a voice. In time, the Staff Team will be reassembled, but that day is not today. Remember, all of you are equal. Explore the Mansion as it reopens. Test new features. Give me your feedback.”

For a moment, Rift became quiet. His eyes glinted and his weight shifted forward ever so slightly. SparkCam zoomed in.

“There's one last thing,” Rift said lightly, trying to make it sound like an afterthought. “A few items—no, not those kind of items; let's call them relics—have been hidden within the Mansion and its grounds. These relics contain the power to grant wishes.”

Nebiros' first thought was of the Mansion being reshaped to look like a pirate ship. SparkCam panned out, catching bits and pieces of others' reactions. Blacjak's eyes glimmered an incredibly vibrant blue. Celairiel's face was uncertain excitement. Humming looked thoughtful. Nebiros couldn't help but wonder what wishes Sparkbomb could grant for them.

“My wish,” Rift said, “is that these relics help us to usher in a new era of Sparkbomb.” He gave a small bow to indicate that his speech was finished. Standing there, he took only a few moments to enjoy the sudden buzz that filled the tower. Having given the announcement, and having left the community with a treasure hunt to fill their time, he quickly disappeared back into the hallway. It took only a couple of minutes before the members were tearing at couch cushions and turning over furniture in their search for the relics.



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