Deacon raised his hand in anger, ready to smash Hunter’s cell phone on the marble-stained concrete floor, then realized it was wrong—childish even, and he let his arm drop back to his side. He had already pried his friend’s phone from her hands before removing the battery, and he realized that action would be sufficient.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Deacon,” Hunter screamed at him.
“Nothing, my dear Neither-Either? My dear Sister? Tell me, has your Sacrifice to Apollo classified you yet?”
“What?” Hunter said. “I’m on level 13. It says my focus is blue or orange, if that’s what you mean by classify. Or do you mean from the meme that got me started, which says I’m an Heroic Brother. Totally weird—I thought I’d be a Sister Hunter or Neither Hunter.”
Either Deacon grabbed a hold of the armrests on the old teal pleather recliner he sat in, and looked around the university rec room cautiously—even suspiciously. Only a couple of other people were there, and they were busy doing some kind of high level math. He took a deep, dramatic, and possibly impressive breath. Hunter didn’t react, so, the breath was clearly just dramatic, and not impressive. He could do better.
“Look, Hunter, you’ve got to stop playing. Install something else, I don’t know… an emoji designer or fighter RPG, and play it obsessively for a week or two. Don’t talk about Sacrifice to Apollo, and don’t text about it, or text an old, low-tech relative to say it’s boring and derivative of better games. Check in on it a couple of times and then delete it, like you moved on to the next thing.”
“We’re not in the science lab,” she said,” So that means you’re not my boss. Why do you care? I already know they have my contacts list through social media, so who cares?”
“I never told you about Winter Break, did I?” Either Deacon said.
“Yeah, you said you ate too much pie and might have to buy new jeans,” Hunter said.
Either Deacon shook his head and closed his eyes, before letting out a loud, well-timed sigh.
“The pie was a lie,” he said. “I went to a special place—a camp for new recruits.”
Hunter’s pleather recliner squeaked as she slid forward, and leaned in to what Either Deacon had to say. She rewrapped the ponytail her long, straightened, bleached ombre peach-blonde hair was in, and inhaled the rec room’s fresh coffee and stale popcorn-scented air.
“I wasn’t a beta-tester, but I was an early adopter of Sacrifice to Apollo. I got the app from a QR poster with credits codes. Before you ask, yes, that means I was able to fully customize the baby dragon, and the layout of my villa and farmland. I have all the skins, including Aqua, Baroque, Lime, Cherry Cola, Turbulent, and Turbo Stripes. I played it on the Sunken Submarine at Apollo’s Temple hidden option on Aqua. My adviser was the hot pink snow fox.
The camp I went to, well, I thought it was rented out on paper by a 501(c)(3) for tax reasons. It turns out the group is registered as a church or religion. And that’s for very real reasons. They’re a damn cult.”
Hunter raised her brows and crossed her arms and legs. Either Deacon wasn’t sure, but he thought she might be skeptical.
“You don’t believe me?” he asked.
Hunter fidgeted with a scented anthropomorphic strawberry zipper pull on her backpack.
“The game is about a pseudo-Classical mythology secret society in a generic Western European fairy-tale setting, that pledges itself to keeping evil out of the world, and letting brightness and wisdom in. God, my English professor would have a field day if I applied a post-colonial literature analysis to it,” she said.
Either Deacon adjusted the rolled sleeves on the tremendously large university sweatshirt that dwarfed his lean frame. It was a gift from an aunt who really didn’t understand that at 19, he probably wasn’t overdue for that rapid of a growth spurt.
“Deacon, you don’t really expect me to believe all of this, do you think that—”
“I was there. You weren’t, or you wouldn’t doubt this at all.
You think those Sacrifice to Apollo memes are just for marketing, or to supplement consumer profiles later used for targeted ads to sell you cheap crap manufactured by semi-legal quasi-slave labor in other countries? No, they are an actual cult, doing actual recruitment, giving bonus credits and game codes at colleges, dead-end jobs, and other places where people are most likely to be on the brink of change, or open to making major life decisions.
How much you play, your frequency of game-play, your every selection and every classification: that’s how they find you a place in their community. Do you like action? Bloodshed? Nurturing? Farming, recipes, or formulas? Is the gender of your honorary title Sister, Brother, Either, Neither, or a combination? Do you prefer longer story arcs, or short mini-games? Do you like community team events, or do you prefer to have your name alone on a leader-board? Two character classes are especially disturbing: Heroic and Martyr Cleric. That’s why I need you to listen, and it’s also why I couldn’t just text you about it.”
Hunter literally laughed out loud. Literally. She kicked her weathered green ikat print-covered backpack, and knocked over her closed, silicone-cocooned glass water bottle. She slid out of the chair, and fell on the floor, laughing. Perhaps it was due to the muscle built from four and a half miles or so per day she did of walking, but she did not literally laugh her ass off, while rolling on the floor.
“Did you get a psych major friend to help you with this? Was it Diana? You really had me going for a moment,” she said.
Hunter’s deep brown eyes looked even larger than usual, but Either Deacon knew he couldn’t help her if she didn’t believe him.
“I am giving you a paper here with a few phrases to search online. Just promise me you won’t do it from your cell phone, personal computer, or anywhere you’re logged in. Do it from a library or student union computer that’s open to everyone, or has a locational login, not a personal one. Hunter, please, you’re my best friend, I can’t let them hurt you.”
“Fine, whatever,” she said. “I’ll get you back with a bigger joke, when you least expect it.”
She grabbed her water bottle and backpack, before standing up and glaring at Deacon. She reluctantly took the folded paper from him, and then turned her palm upwards until he returned her cell phone, with the battery replaced.
“I didn’t want to tell you the worst part of what happened,” he said.
“Why do you think I’m so afraid for Martyr Cleric and Heroic characters? The name of the game is for real. They are the ones selected as potential sacrifices. You have to listen—”
Hunter winked at Deacon before stomping away, and then walking back to her dorm.
On a whim, she decided to look up some things from the folded piece of paper on her dorm’s break room computer.
She had only searched half a page for one phrase, when a hand closed around her shoulder. She turned, and saw the new RA who’d just started after Winter Break. The RA wore a blue 3D-printed plastic pendant in the shape of Sacrifice to Apollo’s logo.
“Brother Hunter,” the RA said, “We require your immediate help on a mission for Heroes.”