Joss found Leslie at her desk, watching The Exorcist on Netflix. “Where’s Brice?”
She paused, removed her headphones. “What’s got your panties in a bunch?”
“My computer’s not doing anything.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“The screen is black, the keyboard and mouse don’t do anything.”
“Also not working. You don’t know about these things. I need Brice.”
“He’s in your dad’s office.”
Leslie slipped her headphones on and clicked play.
“What are they talking about?”
Leslie paused and removed her headphones. “Probably how annoying you can be.”
“I swear, I thought his dvd drive was a toaster oven.”
The intercom crackled. “I need all available hunters in my office, at once,” Mr. Huntsman said.
Leslie activated her screensaver, a rotating display of spreadsheets and reports.
Brock started from his desk when Joss snapped fingers, gesturing. Brock sighed, then fetched his communication board.
Mr. Huntsman was at his desk, while Brice stood by a white screen, gesturing at the chairs in front of the projector.
“What’s up?” Joss asked his father.
“Take a seat. Brice has a mission for all of you.”
“Somebody’s stepping up in the world,” Leslie said, pulling one of the chairs back to the wall.
Brock almost said something, looked at his board, then sat. When Joss sat next to him, Brock scooted his chair a few inches away.
“This better be good, bro,” Joss said.
“I’ve got important work to do,” Leslie said.
“Everyone, settle down,” Mr. Huntsman said. “This is important. If Brice is right—”
“The Brice is Right.” Joss chuckled.
“If Brice is correct, there could be a good deal of bounty money to be made from this mission. You will give him your undivided attention.”
“Thank you, sir. Leslie, if you could kill the light, please.”
She reached above her shoulder and flipped the switch, leaving Brice illuminated by the projector. Something white, small, and wet immediately struck him in the cheek, causing him to flinch.
He was struck twice more, in quick succession.
“Lights!” Brice shouted, just as he was struck again.
Leslie flicked the switch. A lake of crumbs surrounded her chair, having fallen from the bag of popcorn on her lap, and there was a noticeable smear of butter on the light switch.
“Where did that come from?” Mr. Huntsman asked, scowling.
“You just carry that around?”
“I carry a sausage around in my pocket,” Joss said. “Anybody want to—”
“No!” Brice and Brock shouted together.
“I’d need my reading glasses,” Leslie said.
“What if it’s a braille sausage?” Joss asked.
Brice retrieved a straw and a strip of torn paper from beneath Joss’ chair, holding up the evidence for everyone to see.
“How did that get there?” Joss asked.
“Let’s just leave the light on, shall we,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Continue, Brice.”
Brice glared at Joss as he wiped his cheek with a handkerchief, then activated the first slide, projecting a hand drawn map onto the wall.
“Are we going to France?” Leslie asked, hopeful.
“Garkon,” Brice said dramatically.
“Gesundheit,” Joss said.
Brice ignored him. “Most of you are aware that I belong to a fantasy gaming organization called Garkon, a—”
“A world within our world. Garkon—”
“—Intelligence has determined a host of demons have infiltrated the annual Gathering of the Kingdoms in Mystic Park.”
“Big park.” Leslie crammed popcorn into her mouth as if feeding a wood chipper, crumbs falling steadily on both sides of her chair.
“Small for our needs, really. We suspect the worshipers of Rathgar are behind this, intending to use the blood of the victims to locate the second of five pieces of Rathgar’s apocalyptic weapon. More specifically, we believe that the demons are targeting the Sorceress Queen Francine Quintella of Garkon’s—”
Brice took a deep breath. “—Largest kingdom, Penlaninaninon.”
“That’s a mouthful,” Joss said.
Brice stared daggers. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”
“I have medication. I just choose not to take it.”
“She’s not really a queen, though,” Leslie said. “Why would the demons target her?”
“Maybe they’re stupid demons,” Joss said.
“We don’t know why she is targeted, but we can’t afford to find out.”
“I assume you have scientific evidence to back up your claims.”
A click of the remote and the slide changed to a graph of a single red line, climbing steeply. “As you can see, the rumors have increased dramatically over the last few weeks.”
“Plan?” Brock asked.
“The demons are obviously disguised, so we’ll need boots on the ground, in-game, to identify them. One of you will need to guard the queen while the other two work to identify the demons.”
“How long is this going to take?” Leslie asked.
“The Gathering of the Kingdoms runs through the weekend.”
“Can’t do it. I’ve got obligations.”
“The potential bounties should more than compensate for your time.”
“How much are we talking about here?”
Brice changed to a slide of a large dollar symbol. When Leslie remained skeptical, he clicked to next slide, which displayed two dollar symbols.
“Oh,” she said, placated.
“Cool,” Joss said.
Brock looked at his watch.
“One of you will infiltrate a camp of barbarians known as the Krokahn, allies of the queen who camp and raid from her lands. Their king, Chokto, has brought in a large number of new recruits to help him unite the tribes under the wicker throne. Another will infiltrate the pirates of the Red Wine Sea, an entirely new group petitioning Garkon—”
“Damnit. Petitioning the kingdom for membership. Almost nothing is known about the pirates.”
“How do we identify the demons?” Leslie asked.
“Nothing new there. Sugar should do it.”
Brock snorted derisively.
“Or piss them off enough they’ll shed their disguise. Lastly, one of you,” Brice looked to Joss, “will guard the queen.”
“I want to be a pirate,” Joss said.
Brice clicked the remote, revealing a photo of a young woman in the dress of a medieval queen, her bleached blond hair dangling just low enough to rest on her ample cleavage.
“Dibs,” Joss said.
“I’ll take the barbarians,” Leslie said, bored. She shifted in the chair, spilling her bag of popcorn onto the floor. “Oops.”
Mr. Huntsman sighed.
“Guess you’re going to be a pirate, bro.” Joss slapped Brock on the shoulder.
“Brock, no.” Brock folded his arms across his chest.
“I don’t understand, Brock,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Is there something you don’t like about the plan? Use your picture words. That’s why you have them, you know.”
Brock looked down at his board, sighed. “Brock…” he tapped a pair of dark clouds, then a thermometer.
“I think Brock is saying he’s too sick to join us,” Leslie said.
“Could be a big bounty, bro. You’ll miss out.”
“Tell you what, you can guard the queen and I’ll be a pirate,” Joss said. Brice frowned and clicked to the next slide, a close up of the queen’s cleavage. “Dibs.”
“You can stay if you want to, Brock,” Mr. Huntsman said.
Brock nodded, satisfied.
“Someone needs to clean the toilets. Perhaps a little humility—”
“Brock pirate. Brock pirate.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, bro, you don’t sound sure,” Joss said. “Perhaps you can elaborate.”
Brock tapped the board until Joss read aloud, “Cake.”