Level 43 Stay Out!
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The last few preparations for Rydr's interview with Little John proceeded without incident. The sun was already setting, casting a golden glow over Grotto's lush greenery outside the tower window.

Urginok and Hermes still had questions they wanted to ask, but they were content to hold them until the stream was over. Izor and the rest of the group stepped outside the tower's top room to avoid appearing in the frame, although Izor had no idea what they were talking about.

The mage was still asking the team why they had to leave the room as Little John turned to face Rydr.

"Are you ready?" The streamer questioned the Titan.

Rydr put a hand on his chest, trying to calm his heart rate before he gave up. He was too nervous. The giant's heart pounded in his chest.

It wasn't as if the colossus hadn't given a public speech before. There were plenty of times where Rydr presented science projects.

It's a little different when the audience could number in the millions—Rydr thought to himself, full of trepidation.

What if I say the wrong thing?

Rydr shook his head to clear away the disparaging thoughts. That's not what this is about. This is about sending a message. Rydr's message.

The Titan looked up at Little John and nodded, "I'm ready. How do we begin?"

*****

Outside the top room in Izor's tower, Urginok, Syrna, and Hermes waved their hands as they navigated online menus to pull up Little John's stream.

Izor watched them in open fascination. He desperately wanted to take apart the innate magic all Travelers seemed to wield so effortlessly. The team explained to him that the other man would use recording magic to display the room's image and events to millions of souls.

After the explanation, Izor was all too ready to step out of the limelight, which actually puzzled Urginok. Where was the mage's crazy attempt to propagate magic to all Travelers?

Nothing seemed to add up when it came to Izor, further cementing Urginok's determination to get away from him.

Although they were tuned into Little John's channel, the stream wasn't open or titled yet. A few of the streamer's regular audience members were milling around the chat room, wondering why Little John hadn't started yet.

[This isn't like him. What's up?]

[Maybe he died in Grotto? The place is a shit-shot after it turned into a Dungeon.]

[Little John should've left while he could. The guilds would have taken him out for the coverage alone.]

[He mentioned that he might have a scoop, though?]

[Upstairs is right. He's definitely setting up for a big scoop!]

The group chuckled as they read the chat at the same time. Hermes was in the middle of adding his own reply when the stream's title changed, distracting the gleeful teen.

[In a Titan's Wake: Interviewing Rydr!!!]

The stream still wasn't open, but the number of viewers in the lobby started to skyrocket. There were originally a few dozen viewers idling in the chatroom. There were over twenty thousand now.

And that number was growing by the second. When Hermes navigated back to the stream channel, over two million viewers were blowing up the chatroom.

[Start the stream!]

[Of course, it was a Titan. They shouldn't be allowed to play games like this.]

[Upstairs is right. Titans should be nerfed!]

[Rydr owes me a new account! I started in Grotto! Why should he get buffs while I die!?]

[Nerf Titans!]

[Nerf Titans!]

More similarly minded divers upvoted the original complainer, making theirs the top comment in the chatroom. Urginok clicked his tongue as he read them, glad that Rydr was too busy to read the comments.

A moment later, a timer appeared at the channel's top, counting down till the stream began. The five-minute timer seemed to vanish in a moment as Syrna and the team watched the number of viewers hit 150,000,000.

Just as the team was really growing uncomfortable with the amount of hate their teammate was receiving, the stream began, silencing the comment section.

*****

The screen remained blank for just a moment before Little John appeared, standing in the stone room at the top of Izor's tower. Experienced with his trade, the streamer kept Rydr out of view as he made his introductions.

"Welcome back to BlackHeart Gaming! This is Little John, coming at you netizens with a huge scoop!" Little John manipulated his camera feed, so it circled the room as he walked, carefully keeping Rydr out of frame.

"As you all know, Frontier Online's first Legendary feat was claimed earlier today! At the same time, the system informed us that Grotto is now a Growth-Type Dungeon. The effects began several days ago, and since then, the guilds have cleared out of Grotto!" Little John put a hand up to his ear, cupping it while he pantomimed listening.

"Nothing? No nay-sayers? Normally I couldn't say that without a guild groupie beating my door down. Are they scared of Grotto? Or, maybe, they're scared shitless of my guest today."

Little John spun the camera slowly to reveal Rydr, starting at the Titan's feet, "After I shamelessly begged him to give us an update, here he is, the man, the myth, this game's first Legend, the Titan Wolf, Rydr!"

The comment section in Little John's channel was going berserk, complaining about the amateur intro and demanding to see the Titan until the stream revealed Rydr's towering form.

Rydr's bare feet came into view first, followed by his tree-trunk-like legs, before his tattered pants and grisly wolf's pelt made it on-screen. Rippling muscles covered Rydr's body from head to toe, his chest revealed behind crossed arms and the giant's runic vambraces.

By the time Rydr's hooded head came into view, silhouetted against the tower's window, the chatroom was completely dead. The Titan's red eyes gleamed within his gnarly hood, lit up by [Aetheric Eye], which Rydr activated for effect.

Rydr remained silent as Little John walked back into the frame to stand beside the Titan.

"If the title wasn't obvious enough, here he is. The Titan Wolf, Rydr, in the flesh- for me at least." Little John walked to the table nearby and grabbed a chair before sitting down a small distance away from Rydr.

The move was calculated on his part, meant to alter his camera's angle to look up at Rydr from a lower vantage point.

Rydr remained standing where he was, near the tower's window. More than anything, the Titan was trying to exude impatience. His aura was that of a surly warrior, upset that their training was interrupted- which wasn't far from the truth.

Rydr had so much he had to get done in the game. He was still struggling to decide where to begin. The quest to save Grotto from the Wellspring had its own timer, with an unknown curse looming on the horizon.

Somehow, the giant suspected he wouldn't get a "quest cleared" notice if he let the town get wiped off the map before that happened. It would most likely speed up the failure consequence and curse his avatar.

The more Rydr thought about it, the less his act was truly an act.

Little John looked up at Rydr when he was ready, "So, Rydr, tell me. What is it like to, at least for now, call yourself the strongest diver in Frontier Online?"

The comment section blew up again when Little John stated that Rydr was the strongest, giving the streamer a little jolt of happy adrenaline as tips continued to pour in.

Rydr tilted his head to the side before he growled, "Annoying."

Little John laughed, "For someone capable of achieving a Legendary feat on the first night, I guess it might be. Where would you rather be right now?"

The Titan grunted, "Fighting. A Growth-Type Dungeon is the best thing I could have asked for." Despite Rydr's noncommittal answers, the Titan was doing his part to steer the conversation.

"You know, a lot of viewers watching right now disagree with you. A lot of divers had to restart their accounts because of you. They're saying you should compensate them for their lost time."

Rydr shrugged, getting into the role as he stopped acting and channeled his pride, "So? It's not my fault they wasted the best opportunity to get a head-start."

Little John watched his comments surge once again as he grinned and asked, "Why is Grotto the best opportunity?"

Rydr laughed, his voice booming through the room, "This is a game where only those who push themselves will succeed. The 'guilds,'" the giant allowed heavy cynicism to creep into his voice, "And strong parties ran away as soon as things got hard."

The Titan clenched his fists, flexing his arms as he declared, "Me? I got the first Legendary feat. I killed the plant elemental cutting off Grotto. And, I'm not going anywhere."

Rydr spread his arms wide, "So, come find me if you have a bone to pick with me! Tomorrow, I'll be running a one-way shuttle service to get the rest of the weaklings out of town."

The giant stabbed his finger at Little John and hopefully at his camera, saying, "To anyone else who isn't up to the challenge. Stay out! Grotto is mine, now."

Little John began to slowly clap as the Titan finished speaking, "Big words, even if they do come from the game's strongest player. What will you do if divers do come after you?" As the streamer eagerly watched, his view count hit three hundred million viewers.

Although though most viewers weren't tipping him, Little John earned over one hundred thousand credits throughout the five minutes that the stream was live.

Rydr threw his head back and guffawed, "Let them! The top is lonely, and I need challenges." The giant leaned in towards Little John, getting closer to the camera, "I'll even do them a favor. Wanna know what my build is?"

The colossus stood back up and flexed, causing his muscles to ripple, "I'm pure Strength. I have not, nor will I, place a single stat point anywhere other than Strength."

Rydr shrugged again, "The secret will get out eventually. I've already got two Legendary feats. And, for any meta-slaves who laugh at me...where's your crown?"

Then Rydr waved his hand imperiously, signaling Little John to cut the stream short.

*****

Even after the stream shut down, divers continued to spam the chatroom with comments and tips rolled in.

[Two Legendary Feats? TWO!?!?]

[He's huge!]

[That's what she said.]

[Nice.]

[Who wants to ambush him? Pure Strength? I'll run circles around him and take the title of strongest!]

[Are you dreaming up there? I'm in Grotto. Shing Star was already looking for Rydr because he killed Spectre, the guild leader, and stole his gear. You aren't faster than a ranked PK, dude.]

[Rydr killed Spectre?!?! Why hasn't anyone heard about this?]

[The guild kept it quiet while they searched for "a Titan that started in Grotto." Rydr is the only Titan in Grotto, and I think he's one of maybe six Titans that started within the Kingdom of Aard, from what I've heard.]

Little John avidly read through his comment section while Rydr crossed the room and sat next to him.

"How did we do?" Rydr asked.

"Amazing- better than amazing, actually. We capped at three hundred million viewers, over ten million comments, and finished with 250,000 credits- although people are still sending in tips, so that's going to go up."

Little John made certain to post the interview on the game's forums with the same title, where it continued to accrue views and tips.

"Did you get any new subscribers?"

The streamer got out of his chair and danced, "Did I? Over twenty million new subscribers, with more coming in! Dude, I can't thank you enough. Even if you never got me another interview, you just handed me a career."

In Little John's head, he was already planning to send Rydr seventy percent of the video's revenue instead of the original thirty-five percent they agreed on.

The twenty million subscribers more than made up for the loss on Little John's part, and he wanted to ingratiate himself with the Titan.

Rydr was about to ask another question when the room's door opened. The rest of the team, plus Izor, filtered back into the room.

Hermes immediately jumped to the side, half-crouched, and pumped his fists in the air, "Fuck yeah! Where's your mother-fucking crown?" The teen brought his arms down repeatedly as he thrust his hips forward.

An instant later, the teen stood up and charged over to Rydr, "You have two legendary feats? Spill!"

Urginok and Syrna laughed at the teen's antics, but even they were feeling pumped after watching Rydr's interview.

"Taking credit for the elemental, are you?" Urginok teased the giant.

Rydr waved his hands to reassure the tank, but Urginok was already laughing at him. They'd agreed on the walk back through the forest that Rydr would take the credit to boost his public persona's image.

"You never did tell us what your first Legendary feat was." Urginok reminded the Titan.

Rydr scratched the back of his head awkwardly, "I- uh, I got the first feat in Frontier Online on the launch night."

"Duuuude!" Hermes lept into the air and pumped his fist again.

Urginok and Syrna let out matching low whistles, impressed at the Titan's feats for once instead of accepting it as part of who he was.

Izor stood behind the group and with a strange smile on his face. The mage's eyes briefly glowed brilliant blue before the mage shook his head and walked up to the group.

"What are your plans now, Rydr?" Izor questioned the giant, curious how he would prioritize events.

The team quieted down as they thought about their next steps. Urginok was wary of Izor and didn't want to discuss their plans in front of the mage.

So Rydr's next words relieved him.

"Amos wants us to meet with Grotto's mayor, Ausch Otto before we leave town again. We should find Amos and meet the mayor. After that, I need to get back into the mines." Rydr nodded to himself but quickly checked with the others to see if they were on board.

They nodded at him.

Little John chose that moment to stand up, "I'll leave you guys to it. Rydr, I'll send your share of the tips once they stop coming in. The credits will stay in your game account until you transfer them, so don't panic when you check, and they don't show on your balance."

Rydr chuckled and nodded at the streamer, "What was with that " The Titan Wolf" stuff anyway?"

Little John laughed and waved his hand at the giant before leaving the room.

"So, when are you going to craft a usable identity?" Syrna asked the Titan. Now that the interview was over, she wondered how he planned to disguise himself.

Rydr shook his head, "One thing at a time. I probably won't be able to make another persona until we leave Grotto."

AN:

Thank you for reading chapter 43! If you see a typo, let me know ASAP~

Looking forward to posting the first chapter of my second novel on Patreon! The title is "Slave Soul." Set in modern-day Memphis, TN. I'll have the synopsis out soon~

[Frontier Online] Discord Server is online! https://discord.gg/5sqwPeJrYf

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