CAPS – Chapter 8: The Chief Strategist

When her HUD pinged and Laaysa saw the message that appeared, she froze, then let out a small joyful laugh. She was in the middle of producing a complex 3d object in her DR workspace with the help of an AI assistant when the message came through. She checked the date.

Two months had passed since Chryses lost the tournament against Maxen Mellinfous and Constellation had been shut down.

She still remembered the moment clearly. She had been in the stands with the rest of Capricorn and thousands of Constellation’s active players, along with many old players who had logged on to see Chryses and Maxen fight.

During the weeks running up to the duel, Laaysa had aided Shen with preparing as the guild’s chief strategist. They knew that Maxen’s paladin was strong on healing. As in any match, potions were limited. Shen and Jasmine had chosen a PVP berserker build that would reduce the paladin’s HP rapidly while limiting his opportunities to heal.

In the beginning, it looked like Chryses was ahead as he pushed forward offensively with aggressive attacks against Maxen. But then the paladin landed a blow, and from that moment, the direction of the match turned. Chryses’s speed and swordplay began to falter and he could not keep up with Maxen’s attacks.

Laaysa was on the edge of her seat the entire time. She had suggested that Shen use a build that incorporated his class’s rage mode. Although he was known for never using anger, each class’s heart mode greatly boosted abilities, giving the character unparalleled power for a few short seconds. Laaysa’s Cursemancer transformed into a monstrous shadow she could summon by feeling fear—one of the easier emotions to experience during a fight. The limit on the heart mode was that it could only be used once every two weeks. But Shen had denied this tactic. Instead they went with a build that did not rely on the rage mode.

When Maxen plunged his sword in Chryses’s neck for the final blow, the entire game world went black. The next thing she knew, she was awake in her room, back in the real world. She was both stunned and crestfallen. Chryses had lost. And Colossus’s plan to shut down Constellation immediately went into effect.

The first thing she did was contact Shen, Chryses’s real name. She had gotten his mobile contact card a few years prior. He was the only person in the guild that she had contact with in real life. That was her doing, of course. He was an extremely immersive player and never talked about his life outside the game. If anything, it appeared to Laaysa that the game was his life. Chryses truly cared for his guild and worked tirelessly to keep it active even as players were bleeding from Constellation. He wasn’t exactly charismatic in a traditional sense, but Chryses was the one who pushed people to care about their world, the guild, and each other. With him around, it didn’t matter that game bugs multiplied as Colossus’s developers stopped supporting the game. They had their guild, and even as other players left, Capricorn continued to thrive.

It was all because of their guildmaster. The same guildmaster that Laaysa began to find herself falling for in the months after she joined. It didn’t happen immediately or all at once. Her feelings for Chryses grew slowly and incrementally until she had to admit their existence to herself. Then one day, nearly three years ago, she admitted them to him.

After discovering that Chryses’s real name was Shen and that he lived in the same city she did (much to her joy), she asked him out on a date. A real date.

“I’m not really good at real-world stuff,” he had told her.

But she didn’t care. She wanted to give it a shot. He acquiesced to a meeting.

She spent an hour in front of the mirror getting ready for the date. She’d always been confident about her looks, she knew she was attractive, but the thought of an in-person meeting a boy she liked who’d only known her by another appearance set her slightly on edge. She had to remind herself that Shen was likely going through the same thing.

Constellation’s physical attributes could be fully modified to a player’s desire and changed as often as they wanted. Chryses’s avatar was a massive brutish man with broad shoulders and a generic chiseled face. Laaysa herself played the game with the face of a cat for the first couple of years before she chose a female human figure that was more similar to her real appearance.

She often wondered what Shen looked like in person. Though she knew he could not be the 7-foot giant he personified in Constellation, she could not imagine him as anything else. Not with a personality like his.

She had been the first to arrive at Jay Cafe, a casual restaurant near the center of the city about halfway between their respective residences. She chose a spot in the back corner, and ten minutes later, Shen walked through the door. She saw him enter but did not realize it was him until he walked to her seat, and without looking her in the eye, he said, “Are you Laaysa?”

He was not a 7-foot giant, and in reality, if his features were described, he’d likely be placed on the other end of the spectrum and deemed a little short and quite skinny. He was 21 years old, five years her junior, and spent his time working towards a Mathematics degree online while he wasn’t playing games.

When the waiter came by, he ordered an orange iced tea, and Laaysa had a cappuccino. He drank his drink all too quickly—within the first five minutes—and made three trips to the bathroom during the date.

They spent the time talking about Constellation, Capricorn, and their fellow players. Laaysa told him about her full-time job as a programmer, which explained why she only played at night.

When she tried to ask more questions about his personal life or what he enjoyed doing outside the game world, he fidgeted with the sleeves of his shirt and replied with short, unrevealing answers. It did not seem he had anything to hide, only that he did not know what to say, or, perhaps it was that he could not bring himself to speak the words that were there.

The date ended with them agreeing to meet up later in the game, which they did, but Laaysa never asked him out again. She had fallen for Chryses, the guildmaster. Not Shen, the gamer. She did not hold it against him and he did not hold it against her. He seemed to have guessed the outcome from the beginning. They continued to play Constellation together and remained close friends.

They never spoke about their date again, and they never contacted each other using their mobile contact cards until three years later, when Constellation’s servers were shut down and Laaysa sent him the message, Are you okay?

Shen did not respond. After sending several more messages, she tried to call him directly. But he did not pick up.

He didn’t reply to her the next day either, nor the day after, nor the next week. Laaysa was afraid that something had happened to him, but in her heart, she knew what it was. He simply did not want to talk. It wasn’t just Constellation that had been lost. Chryses, the man she had fallen for three years ago, the one hailed throughout Constellation as the Guildmaster of the Greatest Guild, was gone. Killed. A death that could not be resurrected because the world he inhabited no longer existed.

So when her heads-up-display pinged, and a message from her mobile account popped up before her eyes, she let out a small joyful laugh.

The message read:

Emergency War Council Meeting tomorrow @ 2pm at Jay Cafe. Chief Strategist attendance is mandatory by order of the GM.

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