Olav nudged Geoffrey awake.
“Mr. Napadayushyi? Mr. Napadayushyi?”
Geffrey propped himself up on an elbow. “Did we have a meeting scheduled? We did, didn’t we?”
“No, no, I mean, yes, you wanted to talk to me today, but this is about something else. Duke Percheval would like you to come up to his suite.” Olav straightened up and backed away. “Why don’t I give you a few minutes to get ready.”
After splashing some cold water on his face, Geoffrey followed Olav up the stairs to the second floor, past the ornate doors that were the entrance to the Duke’s personal suite, down a corridor and out on to a balcony where the Duke was sitting, looking out over the mountains.
“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” The Duke leaned back. “I’ve always wanted to have a little kingdom of my own, and here I am. They said I was never going to rise past middle management.” The Duke looked up at Geoffrey. “Sit down, sit down. Did you know I used to work for a regional paper supply company? At first we were doing office stationary , but then companies started moving to paperless offices, and we refocused on hobbyist markets. There was a big fad for calligraphy for a while. Then we pivoted into paper decorations. Chinese lanterns, that kind of thing. Let me tell you something about Chinese lanterns…”
As the Duke droned on, Geoffrey sat down and accepted a mug of lemon-flavored water from Olav. He squinted up. It was around noon, and the sun was high in the sky, and directly head. He was facing south, back towards Krim City.
There were mountains to the left, and mountains to the right, and the road wound between them, down down past Orowell Bay. He could just barely make the water out, where it curved around south of the mountains and nearly met the road.
If Heartburgh was going to grow, they needed to build a port on the bay so that people could sail down to Krim City instead of going over land.
The Duke slapped his palms against his knees. “And that’s how I learned about the importance of team work and group morale,” he said. “What do you think?”
“I agree,” said Geoffrey. “Group morale is important.”
“Excellent. At first, I was thinking of doing a ropes course, but that would take too long to set up. So I’ve decided to do quests, instead. Well, not so much quests, as research trips. Kill two birds and all that.”
“You’ll be going on a quest?” Geoffrey couldn’t imagine the Duke on a horse.
“No, not me,” the Duke laughed. “I mean, I’d love to. I would like nothing better than to get out of the castle and get some fresh air. But with my schedule… It’s not that I don’t want to. But heavy is the head and all that. I have to put Heartburgh first. No gallivanting around for me. Maybe after things settle down, and we have our gate, I’ll be able to afford to take time off. You know, back when I was at the paper company, my regional manager used to tell me that I wasn’t taking advantage of all my paid time off. It expired if you didn’t use it, you know. But I told him the same thing that I’m telling you: my responsibilities come first. You leave the office even for a couple of days, and God knows what could happen. You leave as the branch manager and you come back and you’re now managing the overnight shift at the warehouse. Not that anything like that ever happened to me.”
“Of course not,” said Geoffrey, and looked around. Olav was long gone. There was no escape. He should have brought a flask of whiskey with him.
“Every year, we used to do company off-sites. We did a ropes course once. Trust falls and all that. Smores by the campfire at night. Did you know that only female mosquitoes suck blood? They’re the deadliest creature in the world. Or were. I don’t know if they are anymore. That’s how I died, anyway. Caught something from a mosquito bite. And I know you’re not supposed to say that you died. But technically, I was dead for five minutes before my life insurance kicked in and they brought me back. But you know, I don’t mind living online. Not at all. I can snap my fingers and I’m on Mars. I’ve never been, but I could go. No reason not to. Maybe once everthing settles down, and we have our gate, I could take some time off, travel. Have you ever been to Mars?”
“No, I pretty much stayed on World of Battle all my life,” said Geoffrey.
“But what about before? Did you go anywhere?”
“I didn’t have a before,” said Geoffrey. “I was born online.”
“I didn’t travel much before. It was expensive, and took a long time. Didn’t want to take the days off. Taking care of my team was my top priority. Can’t just teleport around when you have a physical body, you know.”
Geoffrey nodded. He’d never had a physical body but he was familiar with the concept.
“Now I could snap my fingers and go anywhere I wanted. In the link of an eye and all that. Maybe after we get our gate and things settle down.”
“Are you coming down with something?” The Duke said up in his chair. “The reason I had you meet with me outside was because I saw that Flame was coughing this morning. She said she was feeling bad last night, too. I hope it’s not contagious.”
Geoffrey coughed again. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said.
“So my idea is to have you all pair up and go do some field research,” the Duke said, speaking faster. “Flame is going up north…”
“I’ll go with her,” said Geoffrey.
“Up to Cleig Grijan and the surrounding area…”
“I’ll join her.”
“To talk to local leaders about what support they need from us, and what they’re seeing with their neighbors.”
“Abigail is going south to Leswana. At first I was thinking of pairing them up, but they’ve spent a lot of time together this past week, anyway. The two of them have so much in common. Two birds and all that.”
Geoffrey coughed again, pounding his chest with his fist for emphasis.
“Why don’t you go with Flame?” the Duke suggested. “Just don’t get killed. It will take you two weeks to get back here again.”
“Excellent idea,” said Geoffrey. “I’ll try to stay alive.”