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About Nightlit

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    Oakland, CA
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    Writing, video games (mainly eastern RPGs and 2d platform games), tabletop gaming, loads of other geeky things.

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  1. Nightlit

    Inner Sanctum

    OH! Yeah. Literally the ONLY reason they did that? Was to try and instigate a situation where the central group consisting of significant people to the boss fight? Encountered literally no monsters at all. Since the post combat lull is location based, not team based. So if the first group kills all the enemies fast enough, and the rearguard kills any random/respawns as they occur? Then the central group could theoretically move through the entire Temple following the vanguard entirely through zones currently in post combat lull. And if that seems overly convoluted and with a potential to go wrong? That's absolutely true! Especially since they plan to use items at the end to restore, and the central group consists entirely of people who have literally done the temple in one form or another without assistance, so there's little need to shield them from combat. It's like all those fantasy stories and games where you have a battle princess, who fights as good as, if not better, than the knights around her, and yet everyone goes out of their way to protect her, making everything more difficult than it would be if they just considered her a combatant in the first place.
  2. Nightlit

    Inner Sanctum

    Only initial spawns in this game stick to their own rooms. Respawns both occur based on time rather than location and wander the dungeon rather than staying where they start. (In fact, ALL spawns in dungeons outside of specific predetermined room layouts work like this. The spawns in hallways and stuff are both random and spawn infinitely, though there is still a post combat lull, a limited number of enemies that can exist at any given time in the entire dungeon, and enemies don't spawn in locations no player has gone to yet, whether or not said location has a predetermined enemy layout). And like I said? It's mostly to save time. It still would take 3 times as long to go through all three paths independently rather than doing them all at once. There is also another mechanic in the game that hasn't come up in the story yet that makes fighting in super large groups less effective. There is an arbitrary limitation to the number of things that can currently be happening to any given combat entity (player or monster). It's in the teens, except for raid bosses where it's significantly higher, so it mostly doesn't impact individual parties, but it does mean that there are diminishing returns to having large groups of people fighting together, especially fighting enemies with AOEs, because the limitation is individual based, so if 50 players are fighting one enemy, that enemy can potentially affect all 50 of those players with an AOE, while only a fraction of the players could even target the enemy with actions.
  3. Nightlit

    Inner Sanctum

    Efficiency mostly. They weren't worried about people dying before the boss, as many of them had already done runs, sans boss, in smaller groups. By splitting up they delineate the drops more evenly, which helps with inventory space and makes it take less time to search the dungeon. This is the intro raid, meaning it's actually easy content, for the most part. The reason why the initial runs at the beginning of the story failed was partially just because they were under powered (there are 3 dungeons meant to be completed by players before they'd be ready for the raid). Chances are, had they been at the proper power level, and not stressed out from being trapped? The second or third attempt would have been successful (or, they would have realized they didn't have the tools and wouldn't have attempted them at all), if only because they'd have seen the pattern from the earlier attempts. The only reason they are even organizing as much as they are is because they are trying to do the boss deathless without knowing the vast majority of its pattern. Mind you, they are being foolish. There is a big part of them that still thinks of this the way they did when it was a game. Where stuff like time was significant, because they had external lives and the like, so they couldn't necessarily spend hours moving through the Temple one room at a time as a single huge group (not that the intro Temple would take that long, but still).
  4. Asa looks at the names, “We should have done this earlier. There are so many names missing.” Collin sighs, “Where would we have done it?” Asa can’t answer that. Before today, he didn’t even know there was an in game forum. It explicitly wasn’t implemented during the afternoon event, so he’d never bothered looking for it. It seemed no one else had either, as when Brandon had found it via the help menu it was completely empty. The only thing there now is the list of names. Every player anyone could remember who is no longer on the server. The list is far from complete and probably never will be. “Is there a way to pin the post?” Ardine asks. Collin turns to Brandon, “Does the help menu mention anything?” Brandon sighs, “It said that a board administrator can pin it. I made this board, so I guess that means me.” “You can make one of us an admin if this is too much for you?” Collin offers. Brandon shakes his head, “No. I think I want to do this.” Collin puts a hand on his shoulder and smiles at him in response. Asa thins his eyes, “I never thought we’d be pinning a post to a message board as a memorial. Its like a cosmic joke is being played on us.” Brandon turns to him, “Asa?” Asa looks at the names again, “When I look at this list, I feel like I did when we were first trapped here. Angry and frustrated.” “You did a good job of hiding it.” Ardine notes. Asa looks at her, “It seemed more important to do other things at the time. And then, everything just… started getting better. But… now I think about all those conversations we had about it and I wonder why anyone would do this to us! And the only answers I can think of are all sick!” Ardine looks down, “I wish I could disagree.” “But there isn’t anything we can do about it, is there?” Brandon posits. Asa shakes his head, “That just makes it worse! We can’t even fucking cry! How are we supposed to deal with stuff when we can’t even fucking cry?!” Wake walks over to Asa and pulls him into a hug, “That’s how you’d resolve your feelings IRL isn’t it? You’d go by yourself and cry.” Asa punches Wake’s chest in frustration. “It’s pathetic, I know.” Wake shakes his head, “There’s nothing pathetic about that. Allowing yourself to cry, even in the privacy of your own space, is hard for most men.” Asa sighs, “Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. Now I can’t even do that!” Collin walks over to Asa, “To tell you the truth, I feel the same way. I realize I’ve been trying to distract myself from it, but now that I think about it. Now that I see the list of names. Now that I consider why anyone would do this? It’s like I’m suddenly full of a million emotions with no adequate way to express any of them.” “Whoever came up with the term emote for icons was a fool.” Brandon says. “They can’t possibly express what we need them to.” He walks over to Asa and Wake. “We need to figure out another way to express the loss.” He hugs them, “I know it’s hard.” Collin closes the forum window, “I don’t feel like looking at that anymore.” Ardine nods, “That’s understandable.” She walks over to Collin, “Brandon’s right. We do need to figure out how to really express our losses. I think we’re all feeling it now. The pressure of being unable to express ourselves. Feelings we repressed, not because we didn’t want to feel them, but because we had no outlet to express them. But that’s not healthy.” Collin nods, “It’s so easy to express anger here. Frustration. It’s also easy to express joy. But sadness. Loss. The truly important things to resolve. What do we do about those?” “Talk.” Wake says. “We can always express what we feel with words, like we are now.” Collin looks down, “Is talking enough though?” “We have to find a way to make it be.” Ardine says, “Because Wake’s right. It’s all we have. Expressing emotion via action is dangerous. Talking can be worked through. It may not be able to be taken back, but we can, at least somewhat, choose our reactions to it.” “But actions have consequences.” Brandon finishes. “Right?” Ardine nods, “Exactly.” “We shouldn’t totally discount action as a means of expression.” Asa says. He then turns to Collin, “For example. I want to change my build. As good as I am with it, I’m so limited in what I can do. And I’ve been thinking about it. I want to try a build that many have sought but few have mastered. The unarmed, dual menu spiral mastery build.” He turns to everyone. “I’m no longer going to sit around and wait for things. I’m going to make my own opportunities.” Despite his anger and frustration, he smiles, “It’s going to be hard. I’m going to have to learn an entirely new way of fighting. Fighting as part of a team.” Ardine grins at him, “You know what? I should do the same. Not that I’m going to change my build. I think my build is great for our team. But I have to admit, I’ve mostly just been doing my own thing while the rest of you do yours. Brandon and Wake have perfected their roles. It’s time we became a four person team.” Collin looks down, “I should do that too. Lloyd told me something before we did the boss fight. That I had to get my head out of my ass. That you guys would execute my plan perfectly, but that it’d be my plan. And you did execute the plan as well as could be expected under the circumstances, but the plan was doomed all along. It was made with a bunch of assumptions that turned out not to be true. It wasn’t my plan. My plan left almost nothing to chance.” He shakes his head, “If only I hadn’t lost faith in myself. If only I hadn’t been comparing myself to you. I kept thinking ‘I may be great at builds, but the actual top players are so much better at the game than me that they’ll be integral to the fight.’ It never even occurred to me that I might be.” Ardine sighs, “I must say, I made the same mistake. I didn’t even consider your build.” She shakes her head, “Or my own for that matter.” Asa nods, “I can’t say that I always trusted you, but now? You don’t give yourself enough credit.” Collin nods, “You’re right. And that stops now. As Ardine once said, we shouldn’t be underconfident. I need to find the right amount of confidence. Not overconfident, but trusting in my abilities.” He smiles and waves at them as he walks off, “And I think I need Lloyd and Tracy for that.” “I hope you find what you’re looking for!” Wake yells. “Good luck!” Brandon yells after him. While The A team watches as Collin leaves the lodge, Ardine addresses Asa, “So. You aren’t going to ask Collin about your build?” Asa shakes his head, “I made and mastered my original build myself. Collin may be the master of the game mechanics, but that just means I need to step up. Besides, I think the best way for me to master my build is to make it myself. Learn both what does and doesn’t work.” He puts his arms around his guild mates. “And I have the perfect team to help me.” They grin at him, “Always.” Meanwhile Brent looks over at Nina, “Are you sure you wanna do this?” Nina nods, “It’s what Shirley would want.” “But you hated that suggestion.” Brent responds. Nina shakes her head, “I didn’t hate it. I was just angry. But… Shirley wouldn’t have wanted us to be angry.” Nina sighs, “It’s so unfair! Why’d she, of all people, have to die?” Brent has no answer, so he holds up the kilt they’d been altering. What was once the traditional red and white plaid was now solid purple with a lighter purple daisy on the bottom left corner. They’d been surprised when that was one of the available prints. It makes Brent wonder why clothing is gender locked at all. “How is this?” Nina nods, “It looks better than I thought it would.” Brent give it to her, “Equip it?” Nina does and then looks in the mirror in the clothing shop. She smiles, “That does look nice.” Brent smiles at her, “It complements your short hair.” Nina frowns, “I wish I could grow it out.” Brent shakes his head, “Girls look great with short hair.” He pauses for a moment, “You look great with short hair.” Nina looks at him, “I look great with short hair?” Brent nods, “You do. I’ve always digged girls with short hair.” Nina sighs, “You mean boys right?” Brent shakes his head, “No.” He turns her around so she’s facing the mirror. “I mean girls.” He points to a flower hairpiece. “You should wear that. It’ll look great with that skirt.” Nina is about to correct him that it’s actually a kilt, but she stops herself. She can do this. She can be positive. This is a skirt because she’s wearing it as a skirt. If Brent, a cisgendered heterosexual boy, can see her as a cute girl, then she can do it. She can see herself as one too! Then something else occurs to her, “But what do I do about my chest? And shoulders?” She frowns. She’s always had broad shoulders for her height. It annoys her. “Accept that butch is another kind of feminine.” He says, “What if you weren’t assigned male at birth? You could still have just as wide shoulders. What’d you do then?” Nina shakes her head, “I don’t think that’s helping.” Brent sighs, “I just mean, lots of cisgendered people are unhappy with their bodies. There’s nothing we can do about your shoulders, right? So rather than doing something about them, lets see if we can do something with them.” Nina looks at him, “You’re full of surprises. I’d never pick you out as caring about fashion.” He snickers a bit, “I’ve never really thought about it before now. But you… you’re so beautiful and you don’t even see it. You don’t need slender shoulders or wide hips or long hair to be beautiful. You have a great heart and are super strong. You accepted me when I had nothing but anger and self loathing. I wish I could just show you how I see you.” Nina is glad she can’t blush, “Really? You mean that?” He nods, “Yeah.” She unequips everything, revealing herself to him, “Even now?” He looks down at her crotch, then looks up at her and grins, “It’s strange. I wouldn’t have thought so. But even now, you’re just a beautiful girl to me.” Nina can’t help herself. As awkward as it was, that’s the best thing anyone has ever said to her. She hugs him, “Thank you!” A moment later she turns around and looks at herself in the mirror. “I wish I could see myself that way.” “Until then. Cover yourself up however you need to to feel right.” Brent says. “You seem so sure I will.” She says. Brent nods, “I know you will, because you’re strong. A lot of people would have given up. Just accepted their situation and tried to ignore their feelings. But you aren’t. I wish I could have done that. Maybe my brother would still be alive.” Nina looks at him, “What do you mean?” Brent looks down, “When I think back on it, I never wanted to PK. I just wanted to hang out with my older brother. Since he loved it, that’s what we did. Maybe if I’d been more assertive… or independent, he’d still be alive.” Nina hugs him, “Don’t think like that.” She smiles at him, “Your smile is too beautiful.” He smiles at her sheepishly, “My smile is beautiful? Not ruggedly handsome?” She pokes him in the chest. “Rugged handsomeness is a kind of beauty.” She teases, causing him to laugh. He’s not sure it’s good or bad that he can’t feel aroused, but he definitely can feel something more than friendship. Whatever else Nina might be, she’s someone who makes him happy. “So, about your top. I know you don’t want to show off your figure, and want to de-emphasize your shoulders, so how about a vest?” He suggests. “A vest? Keep my shoulders visible? And what about my chest?” She asks. He nods, “If we pick a color that stands out more than your skin tone, it’ll keep eyes off your shoulders. And it’ll be easy enough to choose an undershirt that covers you up.” He smiles at her, “I might not be a fashion designer, but I love to draw. Color, shadowing. That I can do.” “You’re full of surprises today.” Nina says. Brent looks down, “That’s the thing. I shouldn’t be. I never meant to hide anything from you guys.” He motions towards the sky. “Everyone out there knows I love to draw.” Nina hugs him again, this time a friendly side hug, “You should do that here. You have a real talent.” Brent looks at her, “Draw with what?” Nina points at her clothing in the mirror, “Clothing. People's rooms. There’s loads of stuff to use.” She looks at him, “If you can see beauty in me, you can find it in anything.” Brent shakes his head, “Don’t do that to yourself. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see your beauty.” She looks down, “I… that’s not what I meant…” She pauses, shuts her eyes, and takes a breath. “You’re right, but that’s not what I meant.” She looks at him. “You’re just so happy. It can’t just be me, as much as I’d love it if it was.” She looks towards the mirror, “If it was your eyes would have lit up long before now.” Brent wants to protest, but he can’t really argue with that. It took him a while to open up to her. And then it took him longer to really accept her as a girl. Noticing how beautiful she is to him took more time. But this took almost no time at all. As soon as they’d started looking at the clothing and prints, he instantly felt at peace. But he has to make something clear to her, “You’re right. But I’m not going to let it go. I’m not just in some trance cause I’m happy. I… really do think you’re beautiful.” “Can I kiss you?” She asks nervously. “Can I kiss you?” He asks just as nervously in response. She responds by putting her lips on his, and then frowns. “I can’t feel anything. It feels like kissing my mother.” He holds her, “Yeah. Does that mean you don’t feel the same way I do?” She tilts her head to the side, “I don’t know if it’s you. I’ve been told you can’t really love others until you love yourself.” “I understand.” He says. Then he laughs, this time sardonically. “Normally when they say ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ that’s a blow. But I understand. I do. And even if you never feel like I do? I’ll always be your friend. You can count on that.” Nina nods then turns back to the mirror, “I hate to say it, but a grass green vest would do exactly what you said wouldn’t it?” Brent snickers a bit, “So, what are you going to say to Collin when you see him?” Nina looks down sheepishly, “I don’t know! It’ll be embarrassing enough after the fuss I made.” Brent laughs, “I see how it is! I’m too young for you.” Nina smiles, “He is just. I know it’s a teenage crush. I know he’d never take advantage of me like that.” “But you want him to.” Brent’s response isn’t a question. Nina laughs, “God yes!” Brent grins, “At least I’m losing to someone I never had a chance against in the first place.” Nina rolls her eyes, “I’m not a prize!” Brent grins at her, “Says you! You’re the best prize in the whole wide world.” Nina swats his shoulder, but she can’t deny how good that makes her feel. “This is what Shirley would have wanted.” Brent nods, “Yeah. She’d say something like ‘But you can’t be unhappy I died! Cause then I’d be making you unhappy and I’d never make you unhappy!’” Nina laughs, “She would say that.” Nina equips a dark teal shirt below the vest, “She’d love this outfit.” Brent nods, “She would. She loved everyone for who they were. She could see in both of us what we couldn’t see in ourselves.” “She could.” She turns to Brent, “You’re not a bad person Brent. I know it’ll take time for you to see that. If anyone knows that I do, but I’ll be there for you. You have a beautiful soul.” She grins at him, “I just wish you could see you the way I do.” His sheepish smile is all the response she needs. Meanwhile Jacklyn and Jerome sit in the oasis. After the boss fight, no one else is here, but both of them were in the mood for some warmth, so they decided to come. “I hope whoever locked us in here is getting a laugh at our expense.” Jacklyn deadpans. Jerome thins his eyes at her, “Why would you say that?” She thins her eyes back at him, though her malice isn’t directed his way. “Because someone fucking better be getting some enjoyment out of this! We certainly aren’t.” Jerome nods, “It wasn’t even a fun fight!” Jacklyn shakes her head, “Right? I’m glad I was there. I’m growing fond of Luke now that I know him, but I had nothing to do for most of it but stand around and watch people block shit.” Jerome snickers a little, “How does that guy grow on you?” Jacklyn shrugs, “I have no idea. But he had to have some good qualities right? Asa loves the guy, and he’s great.” Jerome nods, “That’s true. But I really am asking, cause I don’t get it either. I kind of hated him originally. So stuck up and elitist. But now… he’s alright.” Jacklyn snickers, “It helps that he’s stepping up. That he’s using his skill to help others get better rather than being a pretentious asshole.” Jerome thinks about how Luke treated Sean, “He’s still an asshole.” Jacklyn guffaws, “Right? Totally an asshole.” She shakes her head, “And I’d call him honest and blunt? But he talks out of his ass all the time! Now that I know him? I wonder if he’s made an actual threat he meant to keep in his entire life.” Jerome laughs, “I was just thinking about that too. How he was all ‘you have failed this game!’ to that guy. And Brandon just calls his bluff, calmly walks over to him and moves his sword and Luke doesn’t do a thing about it.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “Man. Brandon. He’s become a pillar of the community and he doesn’t even know it.” “I think he knows it more than he lets on.” Jerome responds. She nods, “Probably. The A team has really stepped up in general. And unlike Collin, they weren’t doing it for the spot light.” Jerome looks down, “Poor Collin. He has to be feeling terrible right now.” “He saved us.” Jacklyn says, unsure what Jerome means. “Yeah. But he saved us using the plan we should have been using all along, and I’m sure he knows it.” Jerome says. Jacklyn thinks for a moment, “Huh. You know, you’re probably right?” “You’ve stepped up too. No one has been grinding for Ben and Theo more than you. No one.” Jerome says. Jacklyn grins, “Stop acting like I’m being super altruistic. I’ve always loved grinding. One of my favorite things about this game is the spiritual energy system allows you to give other people what would functionally be experience locked to you in other games.” She smiles, “I was always happy to help grind people!” Jerome tilts his head to the side, “But it’s more than that. You’ve also been making sure people get guilds. And generally pointing people in the right direction when they need help. Not to mention how you’ve been on Ben and Theo’s side.” Jacklyn sighs, “I wonder what Ben and Theo think of all this. What all the non-combatants think?” Jerome looks down, “To be honest? They probably aren’t as shocked as we were. Without the ability to fight? The world must seem like a dangerous place.” Jacklyn thinks for a moment, “I wish you weren’t right, but yeah. That doesn’t mean they aren’t sad. And Theo. Theo would try to be strong for Ben. He’d keep his trauma all balled up.” Jerome sighs, “Yeah. And that’s not healthy.” Jacklyn looks at him, “Speaking of keeping things balled up. We’ve been talking a lot about other people, but what about you? How are you handling this?” Jerome shakes his head, “I don’t know. Honestly. I was with Sean. I was never under any illusions that we’d all make it out. Not that I don’t agree with what Luke said. I wasn’t resigned to letting people die. I was more… hardened to the fact that some deaths were inevitable, even if we won.” “But that means its hard to know how you actually feel about it?” Jacklyn asks. Jerome nods, “Yeah. I might be in shock. I’m not the most social guy, but I was on friendly terms with some of the people who died. And then there’s Tyrone. Everyone who was a part of that night shares a bond.” Jacklyn kicks a rock, “Yeah. That’s probably a big part of why Luke grew on us. It’s hard to stay angry at someone when you’ve seen them that vulnerable.” Jerome nods, “He was trying to be so strong for everyone else. I think that’s the biggest change. He’s beginning to realize that he has to care about himself too.” Jacklyn smiles, “I agree.” Jerome turns to her, “But enough about Luke. What about you?” Jacklyn shakes her head, “I feel a bit guilty actually. Cause I… don’t think I care as much as I should. Every time I try to think about how they lost their lives it occurs to me that we don’t know what happens to people who die. They could just wake up in the real world!” She shakes her head, “Even though I don’t really believe that. Some part of me can’t shake the hope. That maybe we’ll be let out. That maybe this isn’t the horror story it seems to be.” She growls, “Then I realize I’m being naive. That if that were true they’d have let us out a long time ago. Or at least fucking told us that we weren’t dead! And I’m angry.” She looks down, “But I don’t feel that bad about the dead. I feel guilty about not feeling anything.” She sighs, “Isn’t that fucked up?” Jerome isn’t sure what to say, “I don’t know. I don’t think we get to control our feelings.” Jacklyn looks up, “Am I a sociopath?” “You can’t be serious. You care too much about other people for that to be true.” Jerome responds. “But, shouldn’t I care about the dead?” Jacklyn asks. Jerome thinks for a moment, “Maybe you are just more accepting of death than other people? You save your emotions for the living, and let the dead remain at peace.” Jacklyn ponders this, “I guess I was exposed to death at a young age.” “What do you mean?” Jerome asks. Jacklyn shrugs, “Just, a lot of people I knew died when I was very young. So death has never been that strange to me.” Her tone more than her words convey her meaning. To her, death isn’t insignificant, merely mundane. “In some ways that’s enviable. You can mourn without the sensationalism of death getting in the way.” He says. She smiles, “I never thought about it that way.” She then sombers a bit, “Do you think people will come?” Jerome looks down, “I don’t know. It’s all a bit morbid, so I’d understand people not wanting to be reminded of it all. But I’ll be there.” Jacklyn nods, “Me too.” Meanwhile “Where’s Jerome?” Armon asks Stephan as they sit with Mitchell in the park. Stephan shrugs, “I think he’s with Jacklyn. I think he needed to be alone.” “He’s a fine young man. It’s too bad the world hasn’t treated him well.” Mitchell says. Armon nods, “Yeah.” He sighs, “I feel numb. Is it normal to feel like this?” Mitchell thinks for a moment, “Do you really feel numb? Or is it just that this isn’t as significant to you as you’d hope?” Armon looks at him, “What do you mean?” “I mean, you understand the gravity of the loss, but you didn’t really know any of them personally did you?” Mitchell responds. Armon looks down, “Not really. But should that matter?” Mitchell smiles at him, “It probably shouldn’t, but it does. Don’t feel bad for not feeling bad. People die every day. We can’t possibly mourn for them all.” “So who should we mourn for then?” Stephan asks. Mitchell smiles at them, “Whoever you feel the need to. Mourning is something you do to resolve your feelings. If you miss someone, you should mourn for them. If you don’t, then you should respect their passing, and respect those who do feel the need to mourn.” Stephan looks down, “How long does it take to mourn?” Mitchell shakes his head, “For some, mourning can be as short as a moment of silence. For others, it’s an ongoing process that never ends.” Stephan looks at him, “How can we mourn when we can’t cry?” Mitchell shows a rare frown, “I wish I had all the answers. That’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.” “I still feel empty.” Armon says. Stephan puts a hand on Armon’s shoulder, “It’s okay. I sometimes feel empty too.” He thinks for a moment. “Should we go to the memorial?” Mitchell smiles at them, “I’m going. I don’t know if either of you will get anything out of it, but I think you’d both regret it if you don’t go.” Armon nods, “I think you’re right.” “I need to go. My brother’s name is on that list.” Stephan says. Armon smiles, “Supporting you is reason enough for me.” Mitchell grins at them, “We should go together.” “You don’t have to do that.” Stephan says, a tad sheepishly. Mitchell laughs, “Does having an old man around cramp your style?” Stephan rolls his eyes, “Old man? You’re what? Four going on five?” Mitchell’s laugh becomes a guffaw, “I wish! Trust me. Eventually, being five again is all you’ll wish for.” Stephan shakes his head and laughs, “Then fine. Let’s go together.” Armon nods, “You know Stephan. You did great. You were front and center for the entire fight and you were awesome. I’m sure your brother would be proud.” Mitchell grins, “I agree! You were phenomenal.” Stephan looks down, “I wasn’t that great.” “Ardine was looking to you Stephan. Ardine. She’s one of the best players, both at combat and strategy, and she was looking to you.” Armon responds. Stephan shakes his head, “It was only because of the shield I got. Anyone else with it could have done the same thing.” “So what?” Mitchell says, “It wasn’t anyone else who did it. It was you. Own that.” Stephan smiles wistfully, “I think my brother would have told me to do that too.” He shakes his head, “Actually. He’d have taken the shield himself, made a defensive build, and told me to be the DPS from behind him using my lance.” Armon puts a hand on his shoulder, “Is that what you’d want?” “I don’t know. I was the younger brother, so he always took care of me. But I guess... Sometimes I wished it was me taking care of him.” Stephan answers. Armon nods, “You are definitely taking care of us. Jerome even trusts you to take care of him.” Stephan takes the shield out of his inventory and looks at it, “It is a nice shield.” Mitchell smiles, “Is that your signature item now?” Stephan thinks for a moment, “I guess it is.” “Then name it!” Mitchell says. Stephan’s eyes widen, “That feature does exist doesn’t it?” Mitchell nods, “It does. It costs a lot of soul energy to customize a good item like that, but I think this is worth it.” Stephan looks at the shield, “Craig.” “Is that your brother’s name?” Armon asks. Stephan nods, “Yeah.” Mitchell nods at him, “It’s perfect.” Meanwhile Zuri stabs a Goblin and watches it disintegrate, “Why is it that I don’t feel like they’re gone?” Kaja raises an eyebrow at her, “What do you mean?” She turns and starts walking towards a safe zone, “I mean that when my IRL friend died I was a mess for weeks before I finally got over it. But now, I don’t really feel anything. Like, it’s not real.” Kaja nods, “Maybe because this isn’t real?” Zuri stops, “You really think that?” Kaja shakes her head, “I mean, it is, but it isn’t. It’s so absurd that it’s hard to take seriously. It’s like, how do I take death seriously when there’s no body. When I can’t take life seriously!” Zuri thinks for a moment, “Having fun… Maybe that’s our way of not accepting what’s happened.” She turns to Kaja, “Life outside wasn’t always fun.” Kaja nods, “I’m not really having fun anymore. It’s just the same thing over and over again.” Zuri looks around, “I see other people smiling.” She shakes her head, “Now we’re like that kid and Jerome.” Kaja’s eyes widens, “Oh my God! We need to find a way to get out of this funk!” Zuri shakes her head, “Or maybe we need to revel in the funk! Let ourselves be negative for once.” Kaja shakes her head, “Says you! I never let myself be negative. Not even IRL!” Zuri shrugs, “Then how do you handle loss?” “Loss doesn’t exist if you don’t let it!” Kaja insists. Zuri starts walking again, “Sounds to me like you just avoid losing things by avoiding caring about them.” Kaja sighs, “You aren’t the first person to tell me that.” Zuri nods, “I’d guessed.” When they reach the safe zone, Zuri sits down on a bench, “I just want to accept what’s happened to us. I think I need to do that. To move on to… whatever I move on to.” Kaja shrugs, “Move on to what though?” Zuri thinks, “Other people have found stuff here. They’ve moved on. There must be something to move on to if other people have.” “How do you know they aren’t just delusional?” Kaja asks. Zuri smirks at her, “Now whose being negative.” Kaja shrugs defensively, “What? I’m just saying.” Zuri laughs, “You’re being ridiculous! You’re saying to keep positive, and then saying that all the people who are positive are insane?” Kaja shakes her head, slightly frustrated, “That’s not what I meant.” “Then what did you mean?” Zuri asks. Kaja ponders this for a moment, “That. I dunno. They might be happy. But that isn’t the same thing as moving forward?” Zuri blinks at her, “Maybe not. But that’s not the same thing as there being nowhere to move forward too either.” Kaja frowns, “I guess not.” Before they can continue, Rika appears from the teleporter. She takes one look at them and says, “Huh. This is not what I expected to find at all.” “Hey.” Zuri says while Kaja says, “What?” “Just you guys being so down. What happened to keeping it positive?” She sounds legitimately curious. “I think we’re realizing this is our lives now.” Zuri says. Kaja scoffs, “More like the end of our lives.” Rika rolls her eyes, “Is that all?” Kaja thins her eyes at Rika, “It’s a big deal.” Rika shakes her head, “So what?” Zuri raises an eyebrow at her, “You don’t think it’s a big deal?” “I think whether it’s a big deal or nor is irrelevant. It is what it is.” Rika responds. Zuri stands up, “That’s what I was trying to say.” Kaja sighs, “Not dealing with it isn’t an option is it?” Rika shakes her head, “Nope. Even doing nothing would be dealing with it, badly, but still.” Kaja stands up, “Ugh. How did I let myself get all mopey?” Zuri smiles, “It’s okay. You can be mopey.” Kaja grins, “Yeah. I can!” Rika puts her hand in the air for an imaginary toast, “To mopeyness!” Kaja and Zuri do the same, “To mopeyness!” Meanwhile Luke stares at Kwame as they stand on a mountain top safe zone overlooking the edge of the world ring. Now that the Temple raid is completed, the basic topography of outer ring, around half of which is water, is clearly visible. Kwame had originally meant to go to the tropical beach area, but when he saw Jacklyn and Jerome there, he decided against it. He felt like being alone, and it looked like they didn’t want to be interrupted, so he’d left and come here. Luke followed him and he’s now trying to figure out how to broach the subject on his mind. In some ways, he wishes he didn’t have to, but he knows he can’t just let it go. Eventually, Luke just decides to ask the question, “So. Are you going to the memorial?” Kwame turns to him, “Duh.” Luke can tell Kwame is trying to seem more nonchalant than he actually is, but that’s also nothing new. He’s been like that since Tyrone was killed in the boss fight. “That’s good.” Luke ponders what to say next, “Are you going to say anything?” Kwame thinks for a moment, “What is there to say?” Luke looks down, “I don’t know. Maybe nothing? But if you do have something to say and don’t say it, you won’t get another chance.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “I might have something to say. Depends on what others say.” “Care to try it out on someone?” Luke asks. Kwame turns and looks at him, “Nothing that special. Just gonna shoot down anyone whose like: ‘See! We can’t do the game! We need to stay alive.’ Fuck that. We didn’t do all that. They didn’t die, just so we could put our tails between our legs and fucking sulk!” Luke puts a hand on Kwame’s shoulder, “I never intended to stop.” Kwame looks down, “It’s disrespectful for anyone to stop.” Luke sighs, “What about respecting them?” Kwame looks up at him, “Are you joking?” Luke shakes his head, “No. I’m saying that not everyone feels the same way.” Kwame looks down at his hands, “But if I can’t get people to respect the dead...” Luke sighs, “Kwame. There isn’t just one way to respect things. I used to think that I had all the answers. That I knew everything. Like my relationship with Asa. It took being in here and seeing him go off on his own for me to realize that he didn’t need me. And that I shouldn’t need him.” “Yeah, so?” Kwame says. Luke sits down with his legs dangling off the cliffside, “I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told you before. Something that might change things for you.” Kwame looks at him, “What?” “I knew Kwame. I knew the entire time, how Asa felt about me. I knew how he felt about me before I even understood it myself. Before I knew what it even was.” Luke says. Kwame shrugs, “So? You were his best friend. You should have known.” “Maybe. But that’s not why this is important.” Luke looks at Kwame, “What’s important is that I said nothing. I didn’t try to understand his feelings. I didn’t bring it up at all. Even when I knew something was up but didn’t understand exactly what, I didn’t, because I thought I needed to give him the chance to realize for himself. I thought telling him what to feel, even when I knew they were his feelings, was disrespectful.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “And you think me telling people what to think is disrespectful in the same way?” Luke shakes his head, “The opposite. In hindsight, I know what I knew was genuine. But I also know, in hindsight, that I was more worried about losing him than about him. I convinced myself I was protecting him. Respecting his right to do things at his own pace. And maybe that was true, but it wasn’t my true motivation. Just like respecting Tyrone isn’t your true motivation right now.” Kwame thins his eyes at him, “So you think you can tell me what I think?” Luke shakes his head, “I don’t. I just know what you don’t. And I think you do too.” Kwame shakes his head, “So, master of me. What am I thinking?” Luke shrugs, “Like I said, I honestly don’t know what your real motivations are. I wish I did, so I could give you better advice, but all I can tell is that what you’re saying isn’t real.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “Why?” Luke looks at him, “Because, if you were really this adamant about respect, you’d have mentioned it before now.” He sighs, “Kwame. One of my favorite things about you is how earnest you are. You always wear your feelings openly and unabashedly. Or at least, you did. And one thing I almost never saw from you, is indignation or anger.” He looks at him, “Am I wrong? Were you secretly super angry and just good at hiding it from me?” Kwame sighs, “No. I wasn’t hiding.” Luke nods, “Then you’ve gone from expressing every emotion but anger, to all anger all the time. Doesn’t that bother you?” Kwame looks down, “I dunno.” Luke grabs Kwame’s hand, “You have every right to be angry. The anger is too unfettered to be fake. But, what else are you feeling? Is it really just anger now?” Kwame sighs, “What does this have to do with respect?” Luke loos up into Kwame’s eyes, “Nothing. That’s the point. This isn’t about respect. I’ve been disrespectful in front of you, to you even, and you never seemed to notice or care.” Kwame’s expression becomes pensive. He can’t deny the truth of Luke’s words, “Do you think you could guess?” Luke nods, “I wish I could tell you what it is about, but I can’t. And I don’t want guess because I don’t want to tell you what to think.” Kwame thinks for a moment. “Fuck!” He yells, “How am I supposed to deal with this shit!” Luke shakes his head and puts an arm around Kwame’s shoulder, “I don’t know. But I’m here to help you figure that out.” Kwame looks up at him, “You’re gonna make a girl really happy some day, you know that?” Luke sighs, “Sometimes I wonder about that.” Some Time Later Collin stares out at the huge group of people. Enough to almost fill up the garden entirely. There’s even lag in some of the automated animations, for example the grass has entirely stopped waving. Fortunately, none of the players seem to be affected. He wonders if this is everyone left on the server. He does know it’s way more people than he was expecting to show up, but that puts a smile on his face. He’s glad to be wrong about that. “This is a great turnout.” Ardine says. Lloyd grins, “Why are you guys always so surprised? People trust you.” Tracy shakes her head, “Yeah.” “Should we start?” Brandon asks. “There are a few people who aren’t here yet.” Wake says. Collin nods, “We set a starting time for a reason. We should start when we said we’d start.” Ardine looks around, “Does anyone know where Asa is?” Wake nods, “He’s around. He just left because the number of people in the zone was starting to lag the fate wheel.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “He’s serious about changing his build?” Brandon nods, “You sound surprised.” “More intrigued.” He shakes his head. “You’ll PM him when we’re ready?” Wake and Brandon nod in response. Jerome and Jacklyn walk over to them. Jacklyn whistles, “Wow. This is a lot.” She smiles at the group, “Looks like this was the right thing to do.” Jerome scans the room, “It feels good.” He smiles, “It actually feels good.” Collin nods, “It does, but I think this is going to be a somber event.” Jacklyn half smiles, “Maybe. We’ll see.” Brandon looks out at the crowd, “A lot of people seem to be reminiscing. Or talking at least.” “I hope they’re thinking of good times.” Wake says. Tracy laughs, “Maybe they’re laughing at bad times?” Lloyd shakes his head, “Must you be so negative?” Tracy shrugs, “We are at a mass funeral.” Jerome looks down, “Its so inadequate though. We don’t even have grave markers.” He opens his menu and looks at the forum post. “Is a stupid forum post really the only way we have to document people?” Brandon sighs, “It’s worse than that. We have no way of documenting people who weren’t on any lists.” “Cheer up guys.” Asa says as he walks over to them. “This is about honoring, not remembering.” He looks at the forum post, “We’ve never remembered every person who dies. There’s no way anyone can. But in honoring them all, we honor each of them.” Luke blinks at him, “You should say that at the memorial.” Asa thinks for a moment, “Hmm… doesn’t that fit with what you were going to say?” Luke thinks for a moment, “I guess it does. But I still think you should be the one to say it.” Asa nods, “Then let’s say what you have to say together.” Luke smiles at him, “Okay.” When the agreed upon time arrives, Collin steps forward. “I wish there was a way we could make this visible to everybody. Some way to immortalize it such that you don’t have to open it in your menu to see it. And perhaps there will be at some point, but for now, you can view it in the forums option in the communications sub menu.” He waits while a bunch of people mess with their menus. Once people have stopped accessing their menus, he continues. “Though most of you probably know why we’re here, I’ll say it, both for the people who might not, and in reverence for those we have lost. This is a memorial. While it was instigated because of the people who were lost on the Temple raid, it was never solely for those people. We want to honor everyone whose been lost, whether we remember them or not. Before we continue, let us have a moment of silence.” He lowers his head and shuts his eyes. He smiles when the entire crowd follows suit. After a short while he raises his head again. “Those of us who organized this have a few announcements, but this is a time for everyone. Anyone who wants to say something should, and we hope everyone will wait however long that takes and respect what others have to say.” He motions to Brandon who steps forward and begins to speak, “When we made this, we wanted to give no one special treatment. The memorial itself is simply a list of every name we could think of who is no longer on the server. The list is in alphabetical order, because we wanted to ensure it was clear that no one on the list is more important than anyone else. “While the post is locked to the administrator, who is currently me, that is only because we wanted to make sure the only way the post is changed is by adding more names. For that reason, comments are enabled, however only to post names we might have missed so that we can add them. While we encourage you to create posts and talk about the memorial there, we think it would be best if we keep the memorial itself free of personal bias. Any comments in the memorial itself will be deleted after the names are added to the list. We were hoping no one would have a problem with that.” When he looks around the room, there isn’t anyone who agrees, but no one dissents either and given the morbidity of the topic, he can understand why people wouldn’t speak up if they don’t have a problem with it. He then motions to Ardine who steps forward. “We know the list of names is not exhaustive, and likely never will be. We also know that we could count the number of names and figure out how many we are missing, but we ultimately decided we didn’t want to do that. Part of the point of the memorial is to remind us of what we’ve lost. To keep us aware of those who are no longer with us. There is something about a number that makes something less impactful. Attaching a number to it makes it a statistic. If someone thinks this is something we should do, we may do it in the future. And if you want to do it yourself and talk about it in your own posts, that’s your prerogative.” She sighs, “I wish we didn’t have to talk about logistics, but that’s unavoidable.” She then motions to Luke, who gulps but steps forward. Asa steps forward alongside him. “As Brandon and Collin said, this memorial is for everyone who was lost. I wanted to stress that this means everyone. Not just the people who we approved of.” He takes a deep breath, “That includes the PKers that we culled those first few nights. It’s easy to think of them as villains, and I think what we did was necessary, but we should never forget that they were victims just like the rest of us.” He takes another deep breath, “Many of them were mean or unsporting in game, but I want to be clear that I think they were probably doing the right thing. They were taking out their darker impulses in a game rather than in the real world. And maybe they should have stopped once the stakes were real, but they did not ask to be trapped here any more than the rest of us did. and there are plenty of others of us who used the game to express the darker sides of ourselves.” He motions to himself, “Some of us isolated ourselves from others, keeping to ourselves and putting our all into getting as skilled as we could. Others became obsessed with the meta, caring about power above all else, and often even looking down on those who didn’t value the same things. Others became envious of the people who were more powerful than them and spent their time complaining about the culture that sprung up around the prestige power grants.” He looks around at everyone, “I say this not to point fingers, just to point out that I think, when this was a game, this was possibly healthy behavior. A way to be dark while minimizing your impact on the real world. Whether or not anyone has your compassion is up to you, but I do think we need to remember and honor them just the same.” Asa smiles up at Luke, happy that he was able to say what he felt needed to be said. Kwame steps forward, “I know some of you are thinking we made a mistake. That all the deaths were for nothing. I think we need to keep going. There’s a whole new ring to the world now, waiting to be explored. They died so we could continue. One way to honor them is to continue, despite the risks.” He looks at Luke, “I was gonna say some fucked up shit about how those who want to give up are cowards, but thankfully I was talked out of it.” Luke shakes his head. Collin steps forward, “You’ve heard from us. How we all have different opinions on what’s important right now. And we know you undoubtedly have different ideas as well. If anyone has anything else to say, please do. But remember, even after this ends, that doesn’t mean we don’t want you to mourn, or to say what you need to. The honor we feel for those who have been lost will remain, as will our support for each other.” A number of people stand up, both to speak and to add names to the list, which Brandon does without question. Though the day had started somber, by the end a calm has fallen over the garden. People smile at each other and there’s a sense of camaraderie that hasn’t been on the server before. As the proceeding ends, Collin makes on final announcement. “I just have one more thing to say before we end. I have been treating this like a game. And I have said this before, but this memorial has given me perspective. Even if this is a game, it is also our lives now. This place is our home. We are a society.” He smiles, “And I’m proud of that. It took some doing. We had to make some hard decisions. But I look around and I see all of you and I think that we’ve started something great. That we’ve started something to be proud of. I hope you all think about that and remember that as you honor those who are no longer with us.” Collin smiles when a slow clap starts and moves through the crowd in response to his words. Despite everything that’s happened, he’s feeling good. Gabriel wouldn’t have wanted him to feel badly. Neither would Gail, Shirley, Tyrone or any of the others on that list. He’s finally telling the truth when he says it’s time for them to stop playing games and start living.
  5. Thanks! Half the reason I wrote this was just to have it exist. But I also always felt like similar stories either get lost in their protagonist or forget they are in a virtual world entirely and just become fantasy. My goals with this story are to have a focus more on the setting and how the protagonists interact with that setting to create the eventual society that exists within it, and also to never forget that it is a science fiction story about people in a virtual fantasy world, not a fantasy story with characters trapped from a real one. I hope you enjoy it!
  6. Understandable. And you are in luck! Cause the story is about to shift to being more action oriented (though the long talks never disappear). As for tanking. That's mostly because the game uses a free form stat customization system, inspired by things like the Sphere Grid in FFX and the Lillium Orb in Tales of Xillia, rather than locking stats and builds together in jobs like most MMOs do, which means that there are a wider range of stat balance/build setups, since you can do wonky things like make a spellcaster who has tank stats (and thus WANTS to get hit out of their casting, because they are using said casting to generate aggro rather than actually complete spells) and mixed builds are common, so it's not uncommon for a group to not have a truly dedicated tank, and instead to have multiple tanks and off tanks that trade around aggro. And many battles are designed with this in mind, with enemies able to shift around aggro, either their own or even other enemies, like how the lightning tank mage build can move aggro around. As for Asa and Wake "like liking" each other? I don't see it like that. It's not "love at first sight." Its more them both being lonely, and interested in a relationship, and upon finding out the other is potentially available? Taking a leap of Faith. Asa, in specific, had recently decided to live in the moment, and so when the opportunity presented itself he went for it, without worrying about the consequences. And Wake, for the first time in a long time, was approached by someone who wasn't just trying to get in his pants for superficial reasons (or, at least, wasn't being overt about it). In short, they both had personal reasons independently of their interest in each other for starting the relationship. That it ended up working out positively the way it did? Is because they are both generally nice people who want to support others who were also looking for someone to support them. Meaning, at least some of it was just lucking into being in the right place at the right time to fit their individual needs. They also just clicked platonically, independently of any potential romantic feelings, which helped them connect faster than they might have otherwise. Believe it or not, I actually thought about this vary question when I was writing it to begin with, I was like, "This is a bit fast. Do I want to make it happen this fast?" And I ultimately decided that I did, because I did have IC and narrative justifications for it, and I didn't want to waste a huge amount of time on preamble for something that's ultimately tertiary to the overplot.
  7. It takes some time for everyone to get their inventories straight, but fortunately, the safe room connects to a hallway without any spawns that leads to the boss. So they don’t have to worry about clearing out enemies before the fight. Once that’s complete, Collin, Ardine, Wake, Luke, Brandon, the guy who offered to cast the teleportation circle and a group of tanks and healers approach the door. The door is large and has an ornate looking frame, but does not otherwise stand out. A moment after they open it, a large room with sky blue walls that blend with a white floor spawns. The room’s look makes it feel like fighting on a cloud, which is strange considering the boss is a large spiky beaked pill bug. “Let’s go!” Ardine says, “We need to get it’s attention so that it won’t go after the support. Remember to lure it towards the far side of the room if you can, that way even if it bowls you over, it still won’t end up near the setup area.” The small group of tanks enter the room through the one way door and moves around the edge of the map as far as they can before the boss lets out a screech, rolls into a spiked ball and charges them. “Brandon! Go!” Ardine yells. Brandon casts his shield and moves out to get the boss’ attention. That proves to be easy, unfortunately, as they predicted, it bowls straight through him knocking him out of the way. The first potential hitch in the plan rears its head immediately. The roll has some effect that either breaks magic shields, or perhaps even dispels buff altogether. “Okay! We have to know how that works. Someone cast an Ice Armor and try and get hit by it. Following that we’ll do the same thing with a stat enchant. Be durable, because you’ll have to take the full brunt of the assault for us to truly know what it can do!” Ardine says. Meanwhile the boss charges at someone who attempts to block it with their tower shield, but it deals some damage to them and knocks them out of the way. Ardine smiles when Wake is already casting a small healing spell on him. The guy with Ice Armor steps forward, attempting to get it to target him. Fortunately, it does, unfortunately, the Ice Armor breaks just like the shield when he’s knocked down. Since it’s still targeting him, he jumps out of the way before casting a quick defense up buff before intentionally letting himself get hit again. “It doesn’t stop stat enchants! Just constructs.” He announces as he retreats to the healers. Ardine nods, “Good! Tower Shielders, Go!” While this is going on, Luke annexes a small area near the entrance for Collin and their staging area. The guy casts a teleportation circle right next to the wall. Once that’s done, Kwame teleports in, as does Asa, Jerome and a number of other people with more support oriented builds. “How are they doing?” Asa asks. “Not so good.” Collin says. “Its rolls seem to break constructs.” Asa sighs, “That’s unfortunate, but not a deal breaker.” Collin nods in response. As this is happening, the tanks with tower shields move forward to block the boss one by one. But it’s not until Stephan that they make some headway with their plan. He steps forward with his rare shield, holding it in both hands. He braces himself for the impact, but feels nothing. The attack stops at the shield doing no damage at all and causing no impact either. “It’s a secondary effect!” He yells as the pill bug unrolls and growls at him before changing direction and trying to bowl over someone else. “Damn!” Ardine says, “It’s good that we know it can be stopped with parries now, but it seems to swap targets if its roll is completely blocked.” “We only need to stop it once though right?” Stephan notes. Ardine looks at him, “You mean, for the blindsiders?” Stephan nods, “Did you see it stop and growl? That should be plenty of time to get blindsides off, shouldn’t it?” “It also might not redirect from a parry. After all, it still would deal damage.” Wake adds. Ardine nods, “That’s a good point.” She turns and yells at everyone, “Someone needs to parry it.” A girl wielding a long spear steps forward, “I’ll try.” She gets knocked over a couple of times, but she succeeds on her third attempt. And not only does it stop, but it also rolls into her again immediately. Gabriel is on top of healing and she ends up no worse for wear when it moves on to charge another tank after he taunts it away from her. “So parries are an option.” Ardine announces. “But the timing is tight.” She yells over towards Collin. “We should retreat and regroup!” Collin nods, “That’s a good idea! Everyone. We’re going to retreat. The boss room may despawn, but don’t worry about it. We’ve done a negligible amount of damage regardless.” He turns to the guy who cast the teleportation circle, “Don’t worry about MP or cooldowns. Just make sure you wait until everyone else has left before you go.” “I’ll make sure everyone gets out.” Luke says. Collin nods and then takes the teleporter. Escaping the boss room with everyone intact proves easy and soon they are standing in the safe zone again. “As we suspected. The boss despawned as soon as there was no one left in the room.” Ardine says. Collin nods, “So, what do we know?” Stephan raises his hand, “Can I speak?” Ardine nods at him, “Go ahead.” Stephan smiles, “We know for certain now that its using a knockdown effect. Its attacks have no actual impact. I can block it and take no damage, but then it immediately retargets a different person.” The girl who parried it stands up, “Yeah. And you can parry it to stop it too, but it’s tight and it will keep attacking you. Which is good right?” Ardine nods, “Yes. That’s the long and the short of it so far. We also know that it stops and screeches whenever its roll is blocked or parried, which leaves it open to attack for a few seconds. That’s likely our window.” Collin thinks for a moment, “Is there anything else that might be significant?” Tyrone steps forward, “I had a thought. The pill bugs could be knocked out of their rolling with enough impact. Such as from a bomb or a trap. Do you think we should try that?” “That is a good point. We ought to try, though I don’t know how easy it would be to get it to stop in a good position by using a trap.” Ardine muses. “Since it resists magic and breaks ice armor, my build it not especially useful.” Jacklyn says. “Should I sit this one out?” Ardine looks at her, “It’s your call, but I’d feel better with you at least by Collin in case your skill set becomes relevant.” Jacklyn nods, “That’s fair.” Collin looks at everyone else, “So the first thing we’ll do when we get back in is see if we can’t use a bomb to knock it out of rolling. Then we’ll try traps.” He turns to Tyrone, “I believe you are the best person here for traps. Do you mind being in charge of that?” Tyrone shakes his head, “Nope. I’ll do it.” Collin smiles, “Good.” He then looks around at everyone else, “Does anyone else have any ideas?” Nina raises her hand, “It targets someone different after the roll is blocked right?” Ardine nods, “That appears to be the case.” “But how does that work?” Nina continues, “Does it just pick a random target? Or does it like, change around aggro? Do you think we could use taunts to get it back targeting the same person with the next roll by taunting it while it’s choosing a new target?” Ardine thinks for a moment, “That sounds plausible.” “But?” Nina asks hesitantly. Collin smiles at her, “But it would require the person to have extremely good timing to pull it off. So it might work, and could actually be quite useful, but we’d need a tank with exceptional skill with their menu. Not necessarily a spiral master, but that would be preferable.” He sighs, “And the truth is, spiral masters rarely take non DPS roles, since spiral mastery generally isn’t as pertinent to them.” Nina sighs, “Oh. I just thought that could be helpful.” Ardine nods, “Don’t think badly of yourself. That is actually very important information to have. Even if it does not pan out, we need people to make suggestions like that. If anything, I feel a bit silly for not thinking of that myself. I’m sure Collin feels the same way.” Collin nods, “It’s true. It’s something we should have thought of.” Nina smiles, “Oh.” Sean shakes his head, “Are you telling me we’re working with an incomplete plan?” “We always were.” Asa says, “There was no way to gather enough information to have a complete plan without a boss run. But as we’d have to do the boss anyway to collect the info, we should be at least prepared enough for a potential victory.” Sean grumbles, “So why didn’t you guys do a run first? You are the top players.” Gabriel rolls his eyes, “You do realize that’s a stupid idea, right? Basically, what that means is that either the top players go in and beat the boss themselves, meaning no one else gets any practice on the fight, or things go horribly wrong and they all die, leaving us without any top players. The top players aren’t going to go into the fight half cocked, and in any case, they have a lopsided set of mostly DPS builds which wouldn’t work on this boss anyway.” Sean looks down, “I just want some kind of reassurance that this isn’t a dead end plan.” Ardine shakes her head, “Unfortunately, we can’t give you any. What we can say is that all the top players, and plenty of others as well, agreed that this is the best plan we could think of for the fight as we know it.” Sean looks at Luke, who nods. He then looks at Jacklyn, who also nods. Jerome is the first to speak, “We thought a lot about it. Hours even. That’s the best reassurance we can give.” Sean sighs again, “Okay. I’m still here. I just felt… maybe I spoke out of turn.” Collin shakes his head, “No. What you said is true. And I’d rather have everything get brought up than miss something because someone didn’t say what they thought.” Sean looks at him, “After earlier...” Luke walks over and puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “Earlier, you were speaking about yourself and about giving up. That’s different from being cautious.” Sean nods, “Thank you.” Collin stands up, “With that in mind, after we know whether or not we can use bombs and traps, we should then retreat again, so we can create a final plan. How does that sound?” A series of different acquiesces come from the crowd. After the meeting the group gets ready to go. Asa walks over to Collin, “Is there anything I can do while we’re waiting? Cause if we’re just going to retreat anyway, wouldn’t it be best for me to just wait here?” Collin shakes his head, “I agree with Ardine. You should be there, in case we need you. If you have nothing to do, that’s good. It just means everything is going well.” He puts a hand on Asa’s shoulder, “I get that you are feeling a bit antsy right now.” Asa sighs, “I’m beginning to see the limitations to my build.” Collin nods, “I understand. And if you want to change your build later, I support that, but this entire plan hinges on you doing what you currently do.” Asa nods, “I know. And maybe that’s part of it. I’ve only really ever played with Luke. I’ve been on Temple raids before, but I was never crucial before.” Collin shakes his head, “I remember one time when you were. Absolutely crucial. It was the Minotaur Siblings, back when the labyrinth Temple was first created. You and Luke took down the most dangerous of the brothers, by yourselves. And while Luke could keep it at bay, it was your huge damage spikes that allowed him to survive. It was incredible to watch, but also a bit harrowing.” “Why?” Asa asked. Collin sighed, “I dunno. I guess it was when I realized that the stories about BunnyAce and Tall&Zxy were true.” Asa tilts his head to the side, “What do you mean?” Collin laughs a little, “You were more social than Luke, but you still only really played with him. There were snippets of your skill when you went on Temple raids or partied with other people, but a lot of people didn’t believe you were that skilled, since you didn’t show off that much.” Asa laughs, “Oh. Yeah. I meant what were the stories?” Collin nods, “The rumors were that you were one of the best spiral masters in the game. But the people who partied with you said they must be exaggerated. I believed that to until I saw that boss fight. It was kind of humbling.” “Collin. Why are you so down on yourself?” Asa asks. Collin looks at him, “Anyone can use my build. It’s nothing special.” “Maybe anyone can use it. But not just anyone would think of it, would they? I’ve honestly always been envious of you, if you’ll believe that. You’ve taken things everyone thought were useless and masterfully built around them. In fact, I never told anyone else this, but my original flash step build? Was yours. It was before you were big, back when you were just a kid, a little older than me, who was theorycrafting this game you really loved. And no one took you seriously cause no one knew who you were and a lot of what you were talking about involved stuff everyone wrote off as useless. But I saw your flash step build and fell in love with it.” Asa responds. Collin laughs, “That old thing? That build was barely adequate.” Asa nods, “Yeah. But it was what got me to love the mechanic.” Asa laughs, “You know, if I’d met you? I’d have been totally smitten. You’d have been the hot sixteen year old red head and I’d have been the short awkward fourteen year old nerd. And now that I’ve met you, I’m sure you’d have been cool to me.” Collin shakes his head, “Maybe. I could be a real dick too.” Asa elbows him, “You forget. I’d also have been sucking you off.” Collin lets out a huge guffaw, “I suppose that might change things.” He puts a hand on Asa’s shoulder. “But don’t kid yourself. I might have been a jerk sometimes, but I’d never have used you like that. I’d have been sucking you off too, if that happened at all.” Asa looks at the rest of them, “You know they’re counting on us right? Not just me. You too.” Collin nods, “I know. But my main job is done. I’m moral support now.” Asa thinks for a moment, “But even that’s important. You even make me feel better. I know you trust me to execute your plan and that gives me confidence.” Collin smiles at that, “I’m glad. That makes me feel a lot better.” “Collin. Don’t forget this okay? A lot of people see you as a leader, or as a master of the game, and that’s fine, but aren’t we friends?” Asa asks. Collin nods, “Definitely. We’re definitely friends.” Asa stands up and reaches over to Collin, “Then let’s kick this giant pill bug’s ass.” Collin grins as Asa pulls him to his feet. “Yes.” He says. “You know? You’re sounding a lot more like Brandon and Wake.” Asa nods, “It’s funny that the real grade A members of the A team are the ones whose names don’t actually start with A.” Collin shakes his head, “I’d like to make a joke about Ardine, but I think she’d agree with you.” “I absolutely do.” Ardine says from behind them, “But a big part of that is that they’ve been given a chance we didn’t. The chance to find their own place. The top players could be nothing but top players.” Asa stands up, “You came here to get us?” Ardine nods, “Yes. But I heard what you were talking about, and it seemed like both of you needed to hash it out, so I waited.” Collin shakes his head, “Eavesdropped you mean.” Ardine lets out something between a snicker and a chuckle, “That was incidental. I couldn’t very well know when a good place to interrupt would be otherwise, now could I?” Asa laughs and rolls his eyes, “Yes. Because that’s the only reason you’d listen to our conversation.” Ardine grins back, “Life has fringe benefits at times.” Collin laughs and shakes his head again, “I think it’s time for us to go.” He then walks back to where everyone else is milling about. Asa nods, “I think so to.” He follows. Ardine follows behind them, but when she speaks, her tone is more serious. “I hope you two got whatever you needed out of that, because we can’t afford to lose either of you. And I don’t just mean to death. Regardless of what happens, I’m sure we’ll need you both by the end of the day.” As they approach the door Ardine turns to Tyrone, “You’re the trap master, I’m going to leave it to you how we should proceed.” Tyrone raises an eyebrow at him, “But your build uses traps.” She nods, “It does, but in a very subsidiary way. I’ve never actually used traps for their intended function.” Tyrone raises an eyebrow, “Okay. I guess I’ll ask about that later.” He turns to the small group of trappers and the few tanks that can completely block the boss, “Okay. This is a short in out. We just want to see if trap explosions can knock it out of its charges, and then to see if explosives can do the same.” He turns to the tanks, “We’ll need to keep it as contained as possible, otherwise setting up traps will be tricky.” Stephan raises his hand, “In order to do that, we’ll all have to be in close quarters. I think each trapper should be paired with a tank. That way the tank can keep the trapper protected and simply move out of the way when its time for the trap to trigger.” He looks at everyone, “Does that seem good?” Ardine nods, “That seems like a solid plan to me.” Tyrone nods, “Agreed.” Luke looks at Collin, “Should I take a partner? With how the fight went before it should be easy for us to ensure it goes nowhere near you.” Collin thinks for a moment, “I agree. But be careful. If you feel yourself in any danger, retreat.” Luke nods, “Okay.” It takes a moment for the small group to pair up and then Ardine makes one final statement, “Remember. You’re going to have to be able to hoof it to the teleporter once we’re done. And if it looks like it’s taking too much damage, we retreat. We do not want to find out if it has any threshold pattern changes with such a small group.” With that, the group charges into the room. Tyrone and Stephan take point, with Tyrone casting a low damage, but high impact concussion trap. The boss chooses to go after another pair however, but Stephan takes the opportunity to try a taunt as it turns away from them, causing it to turn around again and go after him. Stephan jumps backwards over the tap where Tyrone catches him. The boss hits it and the resulting explosion knocks it up into the air, causing it to unroll. “It works!” Ardine yells, “Stephan, Tyrone, retreat! Gail, Nash, you’re up!” Gail and a tank named Nash step forward. Since it doesn’t need to be near Gail for her explosives to work, Nash is mostly there as insurance in case the bomb garners enough aggro to get it to target her. When it turns towards Tyrone and Stephan, Luke intervenes, parrying it to stop it from rolling. Gail takes that time to throw a bomb, whose impact knocks it into the air. “We’re not done.” Ardine says, “We still need to know if we can blow it up in motion.” “How do we do that?” Nash asks. “With this!” Gail grins as she equips a homing rocket launcher. Nash stares, “What is that doing in a fantasy game!?” Gail’s grin widens, “Rule of cool!” Luke runs around the thing to get it to turn towards him, “You’re only going to have a tiny firing window.” Gail nods, “I got this. Just don’t get yourself killed.” Luke turns around just in time to face it as its facing him. Gail pulls the trigger a fraction of a second before it starts rolling. Luke prepares for a parry, but it turns out to be unnecessary. The impact from the explosion has the same effect as the trap, and it unrolls. “That’s it!” Ardine yells, “Everyone get out of here!” Everyone but Luke, Gabriel, Collin and the teleport circle caster run towards the teleportation circle. The boss is still targeting Luke. “Ugh! This is annoying.” Luke yells. Stephan stops by the teleporter, rather than going through, “Luke! Lead it over here! I’ll taunt it, then you take the teleporter. I’ll block it and it’ll retarget. Then the last of us jump into the teleporter.” Collin nods, “Good plan.” “Go! We’ll be fine.” Luke says to Collin, who nods and then leaves. “What should I do?” The guy asks. “Stand behind me.” Stephan says to him, “After I block it, it’ll target you, since you’ll be the only one it can. Take off your weapons so you can lift me up and then carry me into the teleporter.” “Carry you?” He asks incredulously. “Yes.” Luke says as he parries the thing again, “This is getting close here guys.” Stephan nods, “Get ready.” It happens in an instant. Luke parries the boss one more time and then Stephan taunts it, causing it to turn to face him. Luke sprints into the teleporter while the boss starts to roll at Stephan. Stephan blocks it and it turns towards him again as it target the guy standing behind him. Then he’s pulled through the teleporter and they are standing in the safe room again. The boss room despawns as the screen in the safe room turns black. “Very nice.” Gabriel says. Ardine nods, “That was quite good.” Stephan nods, “So, what do you think? Do you think we have enough intel to go for a kill?” Collin nods, “I think we do.” He turns to Ardine, “Shall we?” Ardine nods, “Gladly.” Asa walks over to Luke as they wait for Collin and Ardine to finalize the plan, “So, how does it feel?” Luke smiles down at Asa, “What feel?” “Being part of a bigger group.” Asa answers. Luke shakes his head and snickers, “It’s not as if I haven’t done Temple raids before.” Asa nods, “True. But, isn’t this different?” Luke ponders this, “I guess it is.” “But you can’t explain exactly what it feels like?” Asa surmises. Luke nods, “And I can’t figure out if it’s that I’m part of a bigger group?” He looks down, “Or that I’m not with you.” Asa puts a hand on his shoulder, “Either way, it’s a difference worth experiencing.” Luke smiles at him, “You think?” Asa nods, “I’m here aren’t I? Which means if you are feeling like you’re not with me, then doesn’t that mean you’ve moved on at least a little?” Luke looks down, “I guess it does. But I’m not sure it’s a good feeling.” Asa nods, “I didn’t think it would be Luke. I’ve missed you too, but I still think this is for the best. And I think when it’s time for this to end. When we’re both ready to be together again? We’ll know.” “Yeah. Because you’re right. Even though I miss you, I don’t feel a need to return things to how they were. Maybe I just need to feel some pain now.” Luke responds. Asa sighs, “Luke. Don’t you think its time for you to stop thinking in terms of what you don’t have and start thinking in terms of what you do?” Luke looks over at Kwame, “The thing is Asa. I don’t know what I have.” Asa shakes his head and snickers, “Of course you don’t. That’s my entire point. You’ve been so focused on what you’ve lost that you haven’t even bothered to look.” Luke ponders this, “Out of curiosity, what do you think I have?” Asa shrugs, “To be perfectly honest? I have no idea. I’ve missed you, but when I think about you I think about what we had, not who you are now. And then I try to put that out of my head because it’ll never be like that again. Don’t take it the wrong way, but I try to think about you as little as possible.” Luke smiles wistfully, “I’m glad actually. I don’t want you pining over me.” “I haven’t done that in a long time Luke.” Asa responds. Luke looks down, “I’m sorry that you ever did that at all.” Asa shrugs, “I’m not. You were my best friend and I’m gay. How could I not pine over you a bit? You’d have to be the biggest jerk, and then I’d just have to wonder how we became best friends in the first place.” Luke laughs, “I never thought about it that way. That does make me feel better.” Asa slaps a hand on Luke’s back and looks over at Wake, “And now I’ve stopped pining.” “You two deserve each other.” Luke says, then he laughs, “Either that or you are the luckiest fuck and don’t deserve a guy as awesome as him.” Asa snorts, “It’s the latter. Definitely the latter.” Luke snickers, “Still, I’m glad you’re happy.” Asa motions towards Collin and Ardine, “Should we go help?” Luke tilts his head to the side, “I think they’ve got this, but sure, why not?” The two of them walk over to where Collin and Ardine are talking. Some Time Later Collin and Ardine have finished the plan and explained everyone their roles and the group is going through the last finishing touches before going into the fight. Collin addresses the group one last time while Theo and Ben do one final check to make sure everyone has what they need before heading off to the boss room, “This is it. This time we’re going for the kill. That means that we’re going to push harder, take more risks. While we don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we also can’t just retreat and respawn the room whenever something little goes wrong either. In short, this is our last chance to bow out.” He smiles at them, “So far this raid has gone great. If you don’t feel comfortable with our plan or want to sit out for any reason, you’ve already contributed more than anyone could have asked.” He smiles when he receives cheers. Even Sean gives him a grin and a thumbs up. Ben stands next to Collin and addresses the group, “Um… I just wanted to say that we’ll be rooting for you. And, to thank you all, for being here for us. I know you say you’re getting more out of it, but… I still want to thank you all and to say. You got this.” Theo smiles at Ben while Collin puts a supportive hand on his shoulder as another group of cheers fills the room before the group heads off towards the boss. Collin addresses the group one last time as they stand in front of the boss room, “Everyone ready?” A series of positive responses follow. “Then let’s do this.” Ardine charges towards the boss as soon as they enter the room, trying to get it to target her with its roll. She sighs when it goes right past her. She turns around to see it slam through two people with shields before Luke parries it. “Someone get that thing off him!” She yells. “I’m fine.” Luke says, and then he maneuvers himself so it’ll go where Ardine had intended to lead it anyway, and lets it knock him out of the way. He then waits for it to target someone else so he can retreat to where Nash has taken his previous position guarding Collin as he annexes their staging area. “Block team, get into position.” Ardine says, now that it’s in the target vicinity for their plan. Once again a hitch in the plan occurs as the boss goes after Luke again, but this time Gail is ready. She shoots it with the rocket launcher as it charges knocking it into the air and giving Stephan’s team of tanks who can block it with shields to get between it and Luke. With them in position, Luke runs over to trade places with Nash. “That could have gone better.” Luke says. “Still within acceptable parameters.” Collin responds. Kwame heals him. “I gotcha.” He says before he salutes and then moves to support the team engaging the boss. While this is going on Ardine continues with the plan. “Are you ready?” She yells at the blocker team. They all give various accedences. “Then trap team go.” While the blocking team tries to keep it in the same place, Tyrone and the small number of other trap casters begin casting a wide circle of traps to keep it from getting away from the tanks. Hitch two happens now as a critical hit causes it to bowl over Stephan at an unfortunate angle where it ends up leaving the circle. “What now?” One of the trappers asks. “This can still work! We just need to encircle it such that it can’t reach our staging area.” Tyrone yells. “Absolutely! Parry team, try to keep it in check so that the shield team can get back to it. And… never mind. Gabriel has it.” Ardine grins as she cuts herself off, seeing Gabriel is already healing Stephan. Tyrone goes himself to set up the traps between it and the staging area. He’s about done when a missed parry causes the boss to almost hit him and set off the traps. “It’s getting too close to Luke and Collin.” He yells. “On it!” Stephan yells as he has manages to get into a reasonable position again, “Can’t we do it here?” He asks as he taunts the boss to target him. “If we can contain it here, is that acceptable?” Ardine yells towards Asa. “That’s fine!” Asa yells back. Jerome, Brent and the rest of the backstabbers give thumps up emojis. “And you?” Ardine asks Luke. “Doesn’t matter where it is.” Luke responds, “It won’t get past me.” Ardine nods, “Then let’s do this!” Tyrone’s team has been casting trap circles as the shield tanks manage to keep it in place much better this time. Stephan sends Asa a PM. [ Rhymes Even: Asa, since it can bowl me over with a critical hit, we’re gonna have to alter the plan slightly. BunnyAce: Already on it. I should still be able to get into its blindside before it rolls again even if I wait to see whether the block succeeds. ] Asa turns to Jerome, “We can’t go until we know it didn’t crit. There isn’t time for you to see the effects of my blindside and get yours in is there?” Jerome shakes his head, “I might be able to do it, but the others.” “I know I can’t.” Brent says, “It was gonna be tight enough waiting for you anyway.” The others give similar responses. “We’ll just go for it then.” Jerome says, “Remember if you can’t get an escape hatch or someone between it and you, don’t go for the blindside. That includes you Brent. Asa can get him and me out of there, but he can’t take everyone. Better to not have him have to decide who to save.” Brent nods, “I got flash escape specifically for that.” Jerome smiles, “Good man.” “Are we ready to start the buffing?” Asa yells towards the containment team. “Stephan?” Ardine asks. “Do it!” Stephan yells. Asa turns to Collin, “We need the buff team.” Collin nods, “We should bring in the crowd clearing team too, in case of a surprise. As well as anyone else who wants to risk it for the spoils.” Collin sends his prepped message to the safe room for the remaining combatants. The buff team enters the boss room via the teleportation circle while the various other people enter through the boss door. Asa, Jerome, Brent and the other backstabbers get ready to receive buffs. “Buffers in place!” Asa yells. Ardine nods, “Stephan, are you ready to taunt?” Stephan nods, “I can taunt when ready.” Asa turns to the buff team, “You can go now.” While the blindsiders receive their buffs, Stephan watches the boss as it charges one of his compatriots. He has to get himself into a position where he can stop the boss within range of the blindside team. Fortunately, barring critical hits, the boss is doing no damage to any of the shielders, so the biggest time constraint buff durations. Of larger concern is the fact that they get one shot at this, meaning he has to get it right the first time. “Ardine, am I close enough?” He asks. “Asa! Is Stephan in place?” Ardine asks. “I can reach it.” Asa says. Jerome shakes his head, “It depends on the angle for me, since I’m coming from above.” Brent shakes his head, “I’m not even sure what I’m looking at.” “I can move you into position when I go, if you trust me. But you’ll have to attack as soon as I drop you otherwise you might not get the attack in.” Asa says. Brent takes a breath and nods, “Okay.” Jerome takes a look, “Stephan, I’m PMing you a position that’ll be better for those of us who aren’t flash stepping.” Jerome yells. Asa looks at it, “That’s better for us too.” “Got it.” Stephan says and he’s about to run into position when it rolls at him again. He’s barely able to get the shield in place, but he’s crit again and it rolls past him into a trap. One of the other blockers taunts it, but Stephan can’t get out of the way, nor block it since it’s no longer in the middle of the blocker circle. “Hold on!” “We don’t have infinite buff time!” Asa yells. Stephan lets himself get bowled over, and the yellow border indicating he’s below half health appears. He stands up and moves into position, “I can’t do this without a heal.” “Which healer still has MP!” Ardine calls out. “I got it.” Wake moves to cast a heal on Stephan. Gabriel also moves forward, “We gotta get him to full.” He casts a spell that temporarily negates the refractory period so the other healers can burst heal him. Stephan moves into position, “I’m ready.” “Are everyone’s buffs still up?” Asa asks. The blindside team nods. Stephan points to one of the other blockers, “Taunt if you can!” She nods in response. As the boss is blocked once again, she taunts it as it turns and it rolls towards her. Her shield blocks the attack entirely causing it to predictably unroll and growl. Stephan taunts it. It turns towards him and rolls. He holds it up and this time it does not get a critical hit. Asa grabs Brent as it unrolls and flash steps into position dropping him. Jerome drops from above aiming for where its blindside should be. Asa activates his skill just as it finishes unrolling and slashes into its blindside. Brent and Jerome connect at nearly the exact same time. Asa’s eyes widen when he sees the Damage Normalization skill trigger three times, negating all the bonus blindside damage. The other blindsiders hit shortly after that, also dealing the base damage for their skills. By the end of the chain, the boss has lost just over twenty-five percent of its life. Asa swears. From the damage it had taken compared to its life gauge, they’d have easily killed it if it didn’t have damage normalization. But now they have used up their one time offense buffs and he’s certain the boss pattern is about to get ugly. He’s not wrong. The boss launches a huge number of small spiked balls in every direction, which unroll when they hit the ground into what looks like smaller versions of the boss. It then starts charging again, scattering more of them as it initiates the skill for each charge, before a parry could potentially negate it. To make matters worse, its doing more damage, so none of the shield tanks can consistently block it anymore. “Retreat?” Asa asks. Ardine nods, “That seems prudent.” But when they look they see that for many people retreat is not going to be a simple task. The majority of the mooks have landed near the edge of the room, a fact that both of them are certain was intentional given that that would be the place safest from the boss itself. That includes the area with the teleporter. “We need to clear some of these out before we find out what they do!” Ardine says moving to one that is nearby and on its own. It dies instantly when she hits it. “That was too easy. That can’t be good.” Asa nods, “We gotta be fast.” Collin, Luke and the guy who cast the teleporter find themselves totally surrounded by bugs. “Luke. Can we do this alone?” Collin asks. Luke shakes his head, “Not forever.” The guy looks at them, “I’ll be careful.” Collin nods, “Yeah. I’d say let us handle it, but I don’t think that’s possible.” He nods, “I know.” Collin moves towards the three of them that are slowly moving towards him. The fact that they aren’t very mobile after they land is good at least. He casts chain lighting and all three of them die instantly. He thins is eyes, that was too easy. Then his eyes widen. “Wait!” He yells, but he turns around to see he’s too late. The guy who cast their teleporter has already engaged one of the three that landed near him. And his attack did a lot. More than seventy percent of its life. But it wasn’t enough. The thing uses a Reaction skill that causes it to roll into a ball and then explode in a whirl of spikes, destroying itself in the process. The spikes flinch him and deal a moderate amount of damage. In fact, if that’s all it did, the fight would easily be containable. But it isn’t. One of the other two is in the area of the explosion, which hits it, and it responds by doing the same thing. But it doesn’t just explode, the explosion is fast enough to chain with the first one and Collin’s eyes widen in horror when the 100% Chain Area Boost and 100% Chain Damage Boost skills trigger, causing the explosion to double in size and double its base damage and flinch him again. The third one then explodes in kind, triggering 100% Chain Cap Boost in addition to the previous two skills, dealing triple base damage and killing him. The teleportation circle disappears with its caster, removing their escape hatch as Collin realizes the true terrifying nature of the fight. The boss is generating more of them as it rolls around. They have to be killed instantly or nearly instantly or they explode, meaning only main DPS can safely clear them out. While one explosion is more annoying than anything, the way they chain will get deadly very fast, which means that the fight now has a soft time limit. Eventually, if they can’t end the fight, there will be enough of them in the room that one explosion will cause a chain reaction wiping the entire raid. He watches one of the bugs explode on its own, sealing their fate. Even if they don’t attack them at all, they’ll explode eventually. And that still leaves them with the problem of how to actually defeat the boss! While three more blindside chains would end the fight, that chain had taken way longer to execute then they realistically had. Looking around, Collin realizes there’s no realistic way anyone can cast a teleportation circle. The teleportation circle spell takes a minute to cast, and they’d already learned, unfortunately, that Brandon’s roulette skill doesn’t affect it regardless of its casting time. The time limit was easy for them to do when they could contain the boss, but the adds don’t just explode, they also bite and are clearly scattered starting from the edges to corral everyone to the center of the room where the boss is. Escape is no longer an option. If they can’t win this, they’re all doomed. He panics for a moment, his mind blank of any solution to their situation. He begins scanning his skills, stats, inventory, everything looking for something, anything that might help them. That’s when he sees his spear, and everything falls into place. Lloyd had been right all along. The other top players had executed the plan he made, despite the setbacks, but it wasn’t his plan. He’d overlooked what seems to have been the most important factor: himself. But now he knows what has to be done. “Anyone who can one shot the adds, kill them. Everyone else try to stay clear or contain the boss.” He yells. “Asa! Luke! I need you.” Luke turns to face him and Asa is next to him via flash step in a moment. The expressions on their faces are firm but determined and Collin realizes what he should have realized all along: whatever anyone might have felt about him before, now everyone, even the top players, trust him with their lives. “Luke. I need you to parry it. And I mean, forever. You have to keep it locked down. I don’t think it can even roll into a ball. You are the only person who has the skill and durability to do this.” He nods and then charges towards it without hesitation. Collin’s eyes widen as people clear a path for Luke without anymore having to be said. He turns to Asa, “Asa, I need to get behind it. Far enough that I can throw, but close enough that there’s no chance I’ll miss its blindside.” Asa nods and then grabs him and from there it’s like clockwork. Collin has heard about how in tune Luke and Asa are, but to be a part of it is another thing entirely. Luke has already parried it twice at this point, and upon the third parry, Asa is already moving. Collin is behind it as Luke readies his fourth parry. He equips his javelin and then readies his throw. It’s all in the hands of fate now. Time seems to slow for him as he rears back and makes his throw. His tension rises as the javelin hits its mark. And then he sees the fateful words: Lodge Skill – Lightning Rod appear above where his lance strikes home. Collin doesn’t even have to do anything. Before he can react Asa has already flash stepped to a non-blindside angle and cast Bolt, doing normal damage. “Everyone! Use Lightning!” Collin screams, and then the room explodes. He watches as people he knows don’t have any lightning at all access their menus and then start casting Bolt. He casts it himself and it watches as the bosses life gauge decreases at a steady rate, all the while Luke doing his part to make sure it never unlodges the javelin. That’s when Collin’s eyes widen. There is still one problem. Even with people healing him, Luke’s life is still going down faster than the bosses. And if Luke goes down, the entire plan falls apart. He’s about to panic when Luke’s life hits the red when suddenly Jacklyn swoops out of nowhere, shoves Luke out of the way and perfectly parries it with her wand. It makes a large dent in her hit points, but its enough. The two of them glance at each other and then Collin knows they’ve done it. They’ve won. Jacklyn parries every third roll and on the third cycle the rainbow glow of the temple raid boss explosion fills the room as not just the boss, but all the adds it summoned also go with it in a massive explosion of fireworks. A giant “Congratulations!” appears and a large amount of spiritual energy and a long list of drops appears across the room. A moment later the room fills with elated cheers. Collin sighs in relief and then laughs at their success, “We did it!” The elation only lasts a few moments however. “Tyrone!” Kwame yells frantically. “Where is my cousin!” Collin’s eyes widen in horror. He checks his friend list. Tyrone isn’t on it anymore. Neither is Gabriel. He sighs in relief when he sees Lloyd and Tracy are still there. “Gail!” Jerome yells then he clicks a few things and his eyes also widen in horror. “Shirley! Shirley’s gone!” Nina yells. Collin shakes, unable to contain his emotion. The elation he felt is replaced with guilt as more people catalog their casualties. By the end, seventeen people have been confirmed lost, and Collin knows there could be more. With those numbers, the victory seems hollow. Pyrrhic even. “What do we do now?” Collin asks no one in particular. Kwame stands up, a harsh look on his face. “We knew this was a fools errand, but we did it anyway.” Collin is about to apologize when Kwame continues. “But if we stop now! If we give in! All these deaths will be in fucking vain! No! We’re doing this. We’re gonna fucking own this game! In the name of all those fallen. I swear it.” Collin shivers again. Kwame’s speech may be noble seeming, but his tone is cold. The once happy, optimistic guy is no more and Collin wonders if he’ll ever see him again. Luke walks over to him. “Kwame’s right.” His tone is harsh. “And even if he isn’t, we both know we’re not stopping now. We’re going to continue if it kills all of us.” Ardine walks over to them, “It may sound harsh, but this was a victory. It could have gone far worse, especially after how hard the plan failed.” Ardine puts a hand on Collin’s shoulder. “You saved us Collin. Everyone who survived is still here because of you.” Collin sighs at that. He can’t deny the truth of their words. Despite the tragedy, they’ve done it. They’ve won. Even if they stop for a while, at some point this will fade into the past and become a memory and they will venture out anew. “This can’t happen again.” Collin says. He looks Luke in the eyes, feeling a determination he hasn’t felt since he got here. Luke’s expression mirrors his own. When he looks at Ardine, her expression is the same. “We will not let this happen again.”
  8. Nightlit

    Inner Sanctum

    “Incoming!” Zuri readies herself for an attack as she hears Gail announce another explosive. The explosion causes the pill bugs in front of her to scatter and, most importantly, unroll, giving Zuri another chance to attack. Two more of the annoying things disappear as both she and Kaja’s strikes land. Two more are taken out by a spread of arrows from Rika. They’d just finished an encounter with one pill bug and some spiders in the first room of the inner sanctum and encountered more pill bugs in one of the three hallways leaving from it. The first encounter had had proved much less frustrating than the second. “Ugh! These things are annoying!” Kaja complains as the last three roll up into a ball again. “At least you guys can attack them.” Rika yelps. They’d found, quite to their annoyance, that the pill bugs have immense amounts of damage resistance, especially to ranged attacks, while rolled up into a ball. Large enough impacts are the only thing that seems to open them up. “Someone should have brought a shield.” Gail reasons, “Or, parry them? Can anyone parry them? I don’t have an infinite supply of explosives!” “Would that even work?” Kaja asks as she swings her staff at one of the pill bugs to little effect. Zuri decides to try it out. She gets herself ready and when one rolls at her she swings at it and, misses the parry, but does score a hit before it rams her for some more damage. “I can’t do it if it does!” She says, “At least they are low damage.” It takes them an excruciatingly long time to defeat the last three, and by the time they are done they are all very unhappy. “How is this remotely fun?” Kaja asks. Zuri shakes her head, “Were we missing something?” Rika sighs, “Gail’s probably right. A shield or parrying. Or a fire mage.” Gail shakes her head, “Requiring such specific stuff is bad game design.” “Right?” Kaja exclaims. The A team approaches them from behind. “Are you guys okay?” Asa asks. “Do you need healing?” Wake inquires. Kaja sighs and shakes her head, “I got it. You guys need to save your resources.” “Did the fight really take that long?” Rika asks exasperatedly. Gail sighs, “Apparently.” She turns to the A team. “Is there a trick to the pill bugs?” “A shield or parry, or impact.” Ardine answers. “They’re so hard to parry!” Zuri exclaims. Luke nods, “They are one of the tighter things to parry. But there is a trick you can use for impact. Kick it. Your damage will suck, unless you have unarmed skill, but kicks have a good amount of impact and, unlike most unarmed attacks, you don’t need a hand free to do them, so you can easily follow them up with a weapon attack.” Kaja’s eyes widen, “Really? That works?” Luke nods, “It’s what I did for stuff like this when I wasn’t as good at parrying.” Asa nods, “Yeah. I can second that.” “Axes also have enough natural impact to knock them out of it, so that’s another option.” Ardine adds. “Thanks.” Zuri says. “Think nothing of it.” Ardine answers. Brandon steps forward, “Since we’re already here, do you want us to wait? Or should we just continue to explore together?” Kaja looks at the rest of her guild, “What do you guys think?” Zuri sighs in relief, “After that? I’ll be happy to have someone else around.” Rika nods, “I think it’s a good idea.” Gail nods, “I’m almost out of stuff! Soon I’ll be dead weight!” “Then you should probably stand in the middle of the formation.” Luke says, “No use putting yourself in danger needlessly.” “Whew! I’ll take it.” Gail says. “So, what about the rest of you?” Ardine asks. Rika nods, “No point in not.” She readies her bow, “I guess I’ll stick to the center too.” “I should be in front.” Zuri says. Kaja grins, “I’ll be on point too!” Ardine looks at them, “You two seem to be low on MP. Are you sure you want to take point?” Kaja frowns, “You guys think you’re better than us?” Ardine shakes her head, “No. If I were in your place, I’d definitely one someone else to take point.” Luke nods, “So would I.” Asa rolls his eyes, “Don’t lie.” Luke shakes his head, “I’m not lying. Before, I’d have taken point anyway out of, I dunno, obligation I guess? But that’s not really what I’d want to do.” He turns to them, “But that was then, this is now. Take point if you want, but there’s no shame in taking a breather when you need it.” Gail steps on, “You should listen to them. They know their stuff.” Zuri raises an eyebrow, “Are you sure? You guys need to conserve resources, don’t you?” Asa shrugs, “Maybe. But conserving resources isn’t the same thing as not using them at all.” Wake thinks for a moment, “We’re not conserving resources for the boss, not really. We’ll recharge everyone before we do that.” Kaja blinks, “Ya think?” Rika shakes her head, “That’s pretty obvious.” Zuri nods, “It really is. I just hadn’t really thought about it.” “Yeah yeah!” Kaja grumbles, “I’ll let you guys take point.” Zuri sighs, “What’s wrong?” Kaja sighs back, “I dunno. Just, what’s the point if they’re just gonna protect us anyway?” Rika puts a hand on Kaja’s shoulder, “Isn’t this about us protecting each other?” Gail grins, “Oh stop being a stick in the mud! So you stand behind someone for a bit! Some of us do that all the time.” She grins at the A team, “And, ya know, if you’re gonna stand behind someone, you could pick worse people.” Kaja shakes her head, “It’s not about that.” Ardine grins, “It’s about you wanting to fight not stand around right?” Kaja blinks at her, “Yeah.” Ardine nods, “Don’t worry. Just let your MP regen. We’ll be glad to let you take point again once you’re ready.” Luke nods, “It’ll be a load off honestly.” Kaja raises an eyebrow at him, “What do you mean?” “He means the pill bugs are frustrating to fight.” Asa responds. Kaja laughs, “So it’s not just us?” Asa shakes his head, “No. It’s not. Our team is ideal for them, and they are still extremely annoying! I can only imagine what it must be like for people who don’t have impact, parrying or shields as a big part of their builds.” Zuri grumbles, “It’s long and tedious.” Kaja lets out an irritated groan, “Yes. That.” Wake motions towards the next room, “We should go then. Otherwise they’ll respawn.” Brandon nods, “We’ll be fighting enough of them on the way without having to deal with respawns.” Kaja stands up, “Right! Let’s go.” The Rear Guard The guilds in the rear guard end up in the first room of the inner sanctum with a hefty respawn “We’ll take care of this!” Stephan says as he prepares to fight. “We’ll cover you.” Guy says. Jerome motions towards the three exits, “Everyone else! Go ahead.” The two guilds then set themselves upon the enemies in the room. Stephan blocks the pill bug with his shield, watching as it unrolls and then Guy slams into it with his ax. Stephan bashes it with the shield as it tries to roll up again, then Guy crushes it. Shirley grins with glee as she stabs at a spider. When it turns to her Brent, her guild’s resident backstabber, strikes out at a spider’s blindside with his knife, causing it to disappear. Stephan looks over at Armon and Jerome, who are busy helping Nina with a super elite goblin. “What do I do!” Nina asks, clearly scared. “You’re doing fine.” Armon yells, “Once we have it’s attention, all we have to do is keep it from throwing shockwaves at the others!” “But how do we kill it!” She yells as she stabs forward with her spear then jumps back away from the swipe, only taking some damage from the shockwave. Stephan notes that, while her voice is high and she sounds scared, her movements are precise. “We don’t have to.” Armon yells. “Just stay near my wolf so I can heal you.” “Okay.” Nina responds shakily. The goblin rears up to do its most powerful attack when it disappears before their eyes. Jerome’s form is revealed behind it. “Yes!” Armon yells. Nina grins at him, “Thank you.” She looks down and frowns, “That was scary.” Jerome puts a hand on her head, “It’s okay to be scared. You handled yourself really well. If you can keep your cool like that? You’ll be a top player in no time.” Her eyes widen, “Really?” “Really.” Jerome says. He then turns to the rest of them, “The same goes for all of you. You may not realize, but this was a fight that could have wiped some parties. I knew you guys could handle it, that’s why I didn’t tell you all to stop.” He grins, “But you didn’t just handle it! You pwned it.” Guy grins sheepishly, “We did?” Jerome nods, “Absolutely.” He walks over to Brent, “Brent. I’d like to talk to you for a moment.” Brent blinks up at him, “Why should I? You were out there with Tall&Zxy killing PKers.” Jerome nods, “It’s true. I also was a PKer. I guess I could say what I have to say in front of the others, but you might not want me to.” Brent frowns at him, “You’re gonna say it anyway aren’t you?” Jerome nods, “I am. Because it’s something I wish someone had said to me when I was your age and first starting to play.” “What.” Brent sounds mildly, but cautiously, curious now. “Be angry. But choose what that means.” Jerome says. Brent stares at him, “What?” Jerome sighs, “You have reasons to be angry. But you can also choose what to do with that anger. It can be a good thing or a bad thing, only you can decide that. That’s all that I mean.” Brent looks down, “But how?” Jerome shakes his head, “I don’t know. But whatever you do, don’t do it alone, and try to think about what it means. The anger may be part of who you are, but that doesn’t mean it has to define who you become.” Stephan looks over at Brent. He knows Brent’s brother was killed during the culling. His brother was killed too. The difference is, Brent’s brother was part of the problem. Stephan can’t help but resent the man, even though he has no idea who he was. His feelings around Brent are more complicated. Sure, Brent was a PKer, he admits it himself. But he also lost a brother he clearly cares deeply about. Stephan knows what that’s like. “Come on.” Nina says, “Can’t we walk and talk?” Jerome nods, “If that’s what you want.” Brent looks at Jerome, “Uh… I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying but… thank you.” Stephan walks over to him, “My brother died that night.” Brent looks at him, but says nothing. “He told me to run when we were ambushed by a group of PKers.” He looks at Brent whose eyes are a little wider, “Luke, Tall&Zxy, saved me.” Brent’s expression hardens, “So what? You’re brother is a hero and mine is a monster?” Stephan shakes his head, “I never met your brother. But I do know what it feels like to lose a brother. I just wanted to say, there are other people who’ve lost people, and who are grieving.” “So what? You wanna be my friend?” Brent asks, a bit incredulously. Stephan looks at him, “Honestly? No I don’t. You are a selfish brat. You act like the world is out to get you when really, your brother dug his own grave. You blame Luke? Well, let me ask you this. What should they have done?” Brent looks down, “They had no right.” Stephan shrugs, “No one said they did. But our choices were let PKers live and slowly watch the entire server die. Or take them out and protect everyone else. We had no justice system, and even if we had laws, we had no way of enforcing them. Getting rid of them before they got rid of us was the only solution. Unless you can think of a different one?” Brent kicks the wall, “No! I can’t okay? I wish I’d told him that night that he should stop! But I didn’t!” He looks down, “Now I wish I’d never started PKing.” The group entire group is silent. Stephan eventually looks up at him, “But do you really wish that? Or are you just afraid of what might happen if you did? Do you think that what you were doing was wrong? Or are you just pissed off that there were consequences for it?” Brent looks down, and Stephan is surprised to see his anger deflate, “I don’t know.” He looks over at Stephan, “I don’t want anyone to feel like I do now. I don’t want to cause anyone that kind of pain. That’s the truth.” Jerome puts an arm around Brent’s shoulder, “Then you do know. Maybe at one point it was about getting away with it, but that feeling you have now? That you don’t want other people to feel the way you do? That’s how you know.” He looks at Stephan whose looking down in shame. “Look at him Brent. There is a person who was made to feel like you, by someone who was like who you, and your brother,” he takes a breath, “and me used to be. How does that make you feel?” “I want to cry.” Brent says. Shirley puts her arms around him, “You aren’t gonna do anything bad. You’re good. You’re the best.” Brent smiles a bit at her, “I’m not. But thanks.” “Ugh! More pill bugs.” Nina says, as a respawn interrupts their conversation. Stephan readies his shield. Jerome pushes Brent towards him, “Fight together. Learn to tolerate each other at least, or you’ll never survive the boss.” Stephan and Brent look at each other, then steel themselves and nod. Stephan charges one of the pill bugs and bashes it with his shield. A moment later Brent flash steps through him to behind the pill bug and blindsides it. Stephan rushes forward yanking Brent behind him as he blocks a pill bug trying to blindside him. Brent steps out from behind the shield and throws a knife before stepping back. Stephan shield bashes the bug again and then sidles around it. It only takes Brent a moment to catch on and as soon as the pill bug’s blindside is in reach he stabs it. Another bug slams into Brent’s side and he runs behind Stephan’s shield again. His eyes widen when Stephan gives him a potion. He looks into Stephan’s eyes and sees something he doesn’t expect. They are filled with something like disdain, but at the same time, there’s a sense of camaraderie too. His eyes say, ‘I don’t like you, but no comrade of mine is going to die.’ Brent can’t help but admire Stephan after this. Stephan had figured out what Jerome was trying to tell him all on his own. To use his anger to move forward, rather than turn it to hate. His own feelings seem so petty now that he thinks about it. He isn’t even sure who he’s really mad at. Luke? His brother? He can’t help feeling anger when Luke enters his thoughts and he wonders if he’ll ever feel differently. Maybe not. He’ll probably never forget, but maybe he can forgive. And by forgiving, become a better man. The Indecisive Ones The room is a chest room with a trap that drops a bunch of pill bugs on them, something they initially find quite irritating, but Collin, Lloyd and Tracy are quickly amused as they watch Tracy’s bunnip rip pill bugs apart. It turns out that the bunnip’s head ram attack has enough impact and priority to cancel the pill bugs’ roll, and its regular attacks are powerful enough to kill them before they can roll again. Lloyd throws a heal at the bunnip as Collin casts chain lightning at a group of four pill bugs to keep them at bay. Gabriel hits one of the pill bugs with his staff causing it to unroll. His damage as a healer may be small, but at least he can help with that. Collin finishes it off with a blast of lightning. The bunnip defeats another while Tracy and Gabriel flank the last one, with Gabriel unrolling it with his staff before Tracy blindsides it with a sword. “Do we have too much healing?” Gabriel asks. Lloyd shrugs, “I dunno. Do we? I could respec after this.” Collin thinks for a moment, “I’m not sure. It’s not as if we need our tank to DPS.” “But we do need DPS.” Gabriel adds. Tracy grins, “We’re doing fine aren’t we?” Collin nods, “Better than I expected honestly.” “So you do think we have too much healing?” Lloyd asks. “I was never really worried about it, but it did occur to me that we might have excess healing and a little lower DPS when compared to most parties.” Collin responds. “Seems like not a terrible thing in a game where we can die.” Gabriel says. Collin nods, “That occurred to me too.” “So does anyone find it strange that the vast majority of the enemies here are the pill bugs? We see spiders every so often, but most of the encounters are just pill bugs. More and more pill bugs!” Tracy’s tone is quite irritable. Collin nods, “It is a bit strange to have so many fights with only one kind of monster in a Temple raid. But it is an early game dungeon, and there were different enemies in the first half.” Lloyd raises an eyebrow, “You don’t sound convinced.” Collin nods, “If they are testing new content, it may be that they aren’t putting a lot of effort into making it interesting for us.” Gabriel sighs, “So we just have to roll with the punches?” Collin shrugs, “In a manner of speaking.” Lloyd shakes his head, “Not much else we can do.” Tracy laughs, “I thought I was going to hate this. But this isn’t turning out that bad.” Collin nods, “The run or being trapped in the game?” “Both.” Tracy responds. Lloyd walks over to the chest, “Should I open it?” Collin nods, “Probably, You are the most durable of us.” The chest has a large amount of soul energy in it, which Lloyd collects, “The chest just had soul energy.” Collin stands up, “We should go.” Tracy raises an eyebrow at him, “You’ve been less and less excited as we go further into the Temple.” Collin nods, “I’m mentally preparing myself for the fight. I still have to make sure everyone knows what they are doing, and I may need to coordinate during the battle.” He looks over at Lloyd, “The top players will do what we need them to, but we’ll need other people for the plan to work.” Gabriel shrugs, “I think we’ve got this.” Lloyd sends Collin a PM. [ Devoyd: Don’t get complacent. There are still a lot of unknowns. GoldenrodBoy: I can’t worry about that, and I won’t speculate. We just have to trust that we know what we’re doing. ] He responds to Gabriel as he types, “I’m glad you have confidence in me.” Gabriel nods, “I have confidence in everyone. We have the best players on the server, and the boss is super simple. We just gotta make sure we do it right.” Tracy smiles at him, “Have some confidence.” She motions to her bunnip, “I couldn’t have this without you. And there are a lot of other people in the raid that you made the builds for, including top players.” Collin smiles at her, “Okay. Let’s go.” The A Team and The Highlanders When they enter the last room before the boss, they find it strangely empty. “This is ominous.” Luke says. “Is that the safe room?” Rika asks. Brandon nods, “It is, but be careful. Usually there’s a spawn here.” Kwame looks up, “No spiders on the ceiling. What gives?” “Everyone! Get into Brandon’s shield! Hurry!” Asa yells. “Luke, cover his blindside.” Ardine and Luke think for a moment before their eyes widen and they run over. Soon all ten of them are crowded around Brandon, and Asa sighs in relief when there’s barely enough room. “What’s going on?” Brandon asks. “It might be invisible stalkers, or some kind of stealth enemy that can hide in plain sight.” Ardine answers. “Anything with that much stealth has the potential to severely injure or kill one of us with a successful blindside.” “Do either of you have a strong AOE?” Asa asks the other group. Gail sighs, “I would if I hadn’t used all my bombs on the stupid pill bugs.” “I could try using arrow storm.” Rika says, “But I don’t know where to center it.” Ardine looks over at the side wall, “Perhaps we don’t center it. Nothing has attacked us yet, which leads me to believe that if there is something here, we haven’t entered it’s threat zone yet.” “What are you thinking?” Luke asks. “If one of us picks up Brandon, like Wake for example, then we can move over to the safe room as a group without risking anyone being left out of the shield. Then we can simply wait there until other people arrive.” Ardine says. “But what about the other people? Will they be able to handle this?” Asa asks. Ardine swears, “You’re right. But what do we do? We don’t even know that anything is in here.” “Do we know no one cleared the room already?” Zuri asks. “If they did, then they either doubled back or didn’t inform anyone they’d reached the safe zone like they were supposed to.” Wake says. Luke growls, “There’s definitely something here. I can see a red dot on my mini map.” “Where.” Asa asks. Luke responds by making his mini map visible to the rest of the party. “I see it.” Asa says. “I think I can...” He steps out of the field and walks towards the dot. “Is he gonna be okay?” Zuri asks. “Yeah.” Luke responds. Everyone but Luke’s eyes widen at what happens next, even Ardine. A giant goblin appears and teleports behind him, but as it appears Asa is already teleporting through it with such precision that he scores a blindside as its hit box appears before it’s completed the teleport, defeating it instantly. “Well. I suppose I never really did see how good you are.” Ardine comments as they walk towards the safe zone. “Yeah. That was incredible.” Kaja says. Zuri and Rika nod. Luke shakes his head, “That was nothing. I’ve seem him chain flash steps before and then cap his own chain, all of them blindsides.” Kwame lets out an impressed whistle, “Man. I’d love to see that.” Brandon nods, “Yeah.” Asa let’s out an amused laugh, “Maybe you will.” Wake sighs, “You scared me Asa. You aren’t the most durable person, and we need your extra life for the boss fight.” Asa moves over the Wake, “I wasn’t in any real danger. Had it fully materialized, I had a flash step back to the safety of the field ready.” He touches Wake’s face, “I used to fight with just Luke with no healer often, which was effectively soloing. In some ways that was more natural to me than fighting in a larger group is.” Ardine looks at Luke, “You knew what he was going to do, didn’t you?” Luke nods, “This sort of thing is what he excels at. His old build had as much perception as mine, and since he uses a large number of flash steps, he navigates almost entirely by mini map during a fight.” “Oh. So he almost can’t be surprised.” Brandon says. Luke nods, “Yep.” Ardine smiles, “That I already knew. You may not know this, but that’s actually what Asa is more known for among top players. Not that his skill with flash stepping isn’t well known, but his awareness of combat is a skill that few other’s possess.” Wake sighs when they enter the safe zone, “I’m sorry.” Asa shakes his head, “I’m sorry for worrying you. I always took for granted that people know what I can do, so I never thought to mention it.” Wake smiles at him in response. Gail produces a couch and sits on it, “I am so glad that they allow the use of furniture in the final safe zone.” “You seem oddly unimpressed.” Rika says. Gail shrugs, “Jerome does bullshitty stuff too. I’m sure Ardine and Luke are also capable of similar things. The top players rock, what can I say?” Ardine laughs, “But you’re not surprised by us.” Gail shakes her head, “In fact, if Asa had been hit, I’d have been a bit disappointed.” Asa rolls hie eyes, “I’m not perfect you know.” Gail grins at him, “Of course not. But that wasn’t even hard for you, was it?” Asa smiles and shakes his head, “True.” Rika shakes her head in response, “You’re saying that was easy?” Asa thinks, “More like practiced. Get enough skill and you can make anything seem easy.” She whistles, “I wanna get that good.” Asa grins at her, “Then keep going. I’m sure most people in here will be incredible. After all, it’s our life now.” Rika grins, “Thanks.” Luke walks over to the window, currently just solid black, “I suppose we have to actually spawn the boss room to look through this?” Kwame nods, “Yeah.” “So what now?” Kaja asks. Ardine shrugs, “I suppose we wait for everyone else to get here. Given that they intend to search the entire area, it could be a while.” “Is there anything we can do?” Zuri asks. “If you know any teleportation magic, we could start setting up the teleportation circles for the others, but if not, then the best thing you can do is relax and prepare for the boss.” Ardine says. Zuri nods, “I’ll prepare then.” The next group of people to enter is the PhalanxPhantoms and the MuckRack, who had convened together at some point while searching the rooms for treasure. The MuckRack members start working on teleporters, causing Ardine to smile. It’s a bit later when the rear guard starts to fill in, starting with Jerome and a bunch of kids. Luke is surprised when one of them walks up to him, a kid he recognizes. “Um… You’re Tall&Zxy right?” Luke looks down at him, “I know there’s nothing I can say to you.” “You know who I am?” The kid’s eyes widen. Luke nods, “I do. I wish things could have been different, but I won’t tell you I’m sorry, nor tell you not to hate me. I hate myself for what I did that night. I firmly believe it was the lesser evil, but evil it was, and I will not attempt to justify it. You were wronged, and there is nothing I can say or do that will change that.” The boy sighs, “I don’t want to hate you.” “I’m glad.” Luke says. “I thought you’d be more self righteous.” The boy muses. Luke sighs, “I was when I started. I was certain I was doing the right thing. The best thing. Maybe not the moral thing, but I felt it was justified. But the things I saw that night. The depths of depravity. Even the lengths I was willing to go.” He looks at the boy, “None of us came out of that unscathed. By the end, I just wanted it to be over.” “I’m Brent.” He says. “Luke.” Luke says. Brent looks over at Asa, “I should go apologize to BunnyAce too.” Luke nods, “If that’ll make you feel better.” Brent shakes his head, “He doesn’t deserve what I said.” Luke simply nods in response. When Brent walks up to Asa, Asa seems hesitant, “Hello?” Brent sighs, “I’m here to apologize to you. For the things I said.” Asa nods, “Are you okay? You don’t look okay.” “I’m not okay.” Brent says. Asa looks around for Wake, “See the big scary guy?” Brent looks over at him, “What about him?” “He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. And he has a way of soothing even the darkest days.” Asa responds. “He’s right.” Luke says. Brent nods, “Thank you.” Luke sighs as Brent walks away, “He shouldn’t take part in the fight.” Asa ponders this, “I’m not so sure. He might need it. You don’t just cry and your anger goes away.” Luke considers Asa’s words, “Yeah. I guess so.” When Brent reaches Wake he looks up at the man. He’s large and tall and his expression looks, for lack of a better word, evil. And yet his body language is open. “Asa said you might be able to help me?” Wake tilts his head to the side, “I will do what I can. Wait, I recognize you.” He sighs, “Are you still angry?” Brent looks down, “I don’t know.” Wake nods, “That’s good.” Brent blinks, “How is me not knowing good?” “I suppose if you want to be angry, that might be bad.” Wake reasons. “I don’t.” Brent responds. Wake smirks at him, “Then not knowing if you are angry or not is an improvement over definitive anger.” Brent looks up at him, “Are you making a joke?” Wake nods, “I wanted to see if I could make you smile. Just a tiny bit of joy can go a long way.” “What if I have nothing to feel joy about?” Brent asks. Wake looks at him, “Maybe you don’t. But sometimes the joy comes first, or even entirely on its own.” “So… fake it?” Brent sounds confused. Wake shrugs, “If that helps you. As long as your joy isn’t hurting anyone, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from.” Wake takes Brent over towards Brandon and Ardine. Lloyd whispers to Collin from where they’ve been standing after quietly entering the safe zone, “There he goes.” Lloyd shakes his head, “I wish I could do that.” Collin smiles, “You’re good at kicking me in the pants. That’s important too.” Lloyd nods, “Don’t forget what I said.” Collin shakes his head, “I won’t.” He then looks around as the rest of the teams enter the large communal safe zone. After searching the entire area, the original team entry order has largely been eradicated, with some of the advance team being among the last group of people reaching the safe zone. Of course, those people were the ones who scoured the area for loot, and thus have the best drops. Collin smiles when he realizes everyone is accounted for. So far, so good. “So, the first thing we need to do is finish getting the non-combatants here so they can start to fill out our group.” He turns to Gabriel, “In the mean time, Gabriel has an inventory full of potions he can access at any time.” He points to an open area in the center of the room. “If any of you have any loot you don’t need, drop it there in a pile. Ben and Theo will make sure it gets to someone who can use it. But if you got a drop that you feel is perfect for your build, feel free to keep it. We’re trying to all be the best that we can be. That means we don’t want anyone to sacrifice power for anyone else. It may take time, but we’ll get there.” He produces a table and goes to stand on it, “So, will those of you who know you have specific roles in the upcoming boss fight please come stand up here. Those of you who haven’t been given a specific role but who are still taking part in the fight take heed, you are important. It may come down to you to make sure that everything goes to plan. There are a lot of unknowns still, and we may retreat if the fight seems unwinnable. But hopefully it won’t come down to that. “I will give you the specific plan after the non-combatants arrive, so that we are all on the same page as the non-combatants have an important role in this fight. Just because you aren’t on the front lines doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing. “Any of you who have any excess gear that you don’t want to lose, there is time for you to return to town and deposit it into your inventory, however, Ben and Theo have assigned a number of trustworthy non combatants to hold stuff if you’d rather stay here. They will return it to you once the fight is over. I highly recommend only keeping the stuff you absolutely need on you. That way, we won’t lose anything in an inventory to a death.” Everyone goes silent at that, “I know that sounds morbid, and our goal is still to keep everyone alive, but we are taking a risk. Likely a huge risk. I have given everything that I had that I don’t need to Ben and Theo for this. Because I want to ensure that if I don’t make it, that all of you still have the best chance.” Asa steps forward, “I did the same thing.” “You’re worried about dying?” A boy asks. “It’s not a question of worry. Any of use could die. Even the best of us aren’t invulnerable. Collin or my death’s would be a huge blow to the server. I don’t want to take anything else with me.” Asa responds. “All of the top players feel the same way.” Ardine says, “It’s not about expecting the worst, it’s about being prepared. If we didn’t think we could win, we wouldn’t be here.” “I did the same.” Luke says. Jerome raises an arm, “I did to.” Brent looks up at Wake, “Did they really do that?” Wake nods, “Yes. Brandon and I did as well.” “Yeah. But you’re not top players.” Brent says. Wake looks down at him, “That doesn’t really matter. Everyone here is taking a risk.” Brent gulps nervously, “Oh.” Soon enough the last teleporter is in place and Jacklyn appears with Ben and Theo in tow. The entourage of non-combatants and protectors appear shortly. “So, what did we miss?’ Jacklyn asks. “Just the preamble.” Collin responds, “We were waiting for you to explain the plan.” Jacklyn nods, “First of all. Theo has something he wants to say. While people are talking, Ben will be going around so that you can store stuff you don’t need.” That causes some murmuring. Theo steps forward, “So. We are officially ready to start our first Temple raid boss, and I have to say I’m glad to be a part of it. Before we start, there are too many items of great power that haven’t been claimed. While I’m happy to see people not hoarding things for themselves, we want them so we can get them to people who will use them, not to hoard them ourselves. So especially if you have had bad luck with drops, or are using a new build you didn’t have time to get equipment for, please come over to me!” When people still seem hesitant, Collin claps to get everyone’s attention, “I highly recommend taking Theo up on this. Remember, you can always give the item back after the boss fight, so you don’t have to think of yourself as being selfish.” With that, more people, including Brent, go and get items. While that’s going on Ben goes around and gathers items from people and then goes and picks up the pile of stuff that was dropped earlier in the middle of the room. Once all of this is done, Collin addresses the group again, “So. Regarding the plan. Our current plan is centered around Asa. If you don’t know him, you probably know him by his old screen name, BunnyAce. Jerome, who you might know as Talyris.” Jerome sighs at his old SN. The only thing Talyris was ever known for was being a jerk. “Is our back up plan, and we hope that between the two of them we’ll be able to complete this quickly.” Collin looks around, “Now the biggest obstacle to achieving this is how mobile the boss is. We’ll be needing whoever blindsides it to use their most powerful skill, which means they won’t be able to quickly maneuver into position and strike in one go. We’ll need someone to keep it at bay. That’s the first place where you all come in. While you are waylaying it, someone is going to cast a teleportation circle so we can connect back to the safe zone. Kwame can do that, but given that he has a good amount of healing, it would be better if someone who can stay out of the fight could do it.” He sighs, “Unfortunately, this is using the version of the game where they addressed the teleportation circle exploit. While they haven’t prevented us from making them, anyone who exits the instance immediately loses any ongoing effects, including a teleportation circle. So the person who casts the circle will have to remain in the boss room. The ideal candidate would be someone durable, but can’t fill one of the main roles in the plan. So neither a backstabber, healer or blocker.” “I can do it.” A young man says. “I have a pretty durable front liner build, but I have the teleportation circle spells. I’d like to help, but I don’t see my build being that useful here.” Collin nods, “That sounds great.” He then continues, “We know the boss bowls over people, but we don’t know precisely how it is doing so. If it’s impact, then we’ll need a character with the skills or passives that can resist impact. If it’s a skill effect however, then we’ll need someone who can block or parry the attack. Blocking would be ideal, since that involves taking no damage whatsoever, but if blocking doesn’t turn out to be viable, we may rely on parries instead. In short, the first thing we need to do is set up a series of tests so we can figure out exactly what we need to do. Since I may not be close to the boss, Ardine will be organizing that part of the plan.” He motions to her. Ardine nods, “That is correct. First, Brandon is going to try and block it with his lightning shield. If that works then we’ll try to hold it in place by using lightning tanks. In the likely case that doesn’t work, we’ll start going through people with tower shields. If you are a blocker, then it would be best for you to use the shield two handed, even if you have the skill to hold it in one hand with a weapon. We’ll want the extra damage and impact resistance. We’ll go down the line based on who is closest to it at the time, until we find someone who can block it. If none of the tower shielders can block it, then we’ll move on to people who can parry. “I should point out that, though I will try to do this in an organized fashion, if the boss comes close to you or at you and you have a shield or can parry it? Make the attempt. Knowing you are capable of stopping the boss is good information to have, and in any case, we want to avoid as much unnecessary damage as possible.” She motions to Collin, who continues, “After that, we’ll know whether or not we can stop it. If we can’t, then we’ll have to retreat and try something else. If we can, however, then this is the part where all of you come in. You’ll need to keep it at bay at least, preferably contained, while we figure out what tank and healer combination we need to prevent it from moving while still keeping our tank alive. This is the place where the plan is most likely to go wrong. Both reaching the next step and keeping everyone alive. “Once that’s done, Asa and Jerome, and anyone else who feels they can blindside and escape, should power themselves up as much as possible. But the escape part is crucial. Both Asa and Jerome are capable of dealing large amounts of damage and escaping. The boss takes almost no damage from non blindsides, meaning short of taunt skills and aggro maneuvering spells, we won’t be able to easily get the aggro off you if it survives. “Our goal is to defeat it in a quick series of blindsides. If it survives that, it’ll hopefully be low enough that we won’t have to do much more damage. If not, then we’ll probably abandon the run, but we definitely need to be careful. There are a lot of unknowns, but that can’t be helped. Just remember that retreat is an option. Even if the run doesn’t end, if you feel you are in too much danger, retreat. If we lose the ability to complete the run as a result? So be it.” He pauses for a moment, “Are there any questions?” No one speaks up. “Then let’s get ready for the fight of our lives.”
  9. Nightlit

    Start Raiding

    HP and MP are at least partially attrition mechanics, and so the way regen works varies inside and outside of instances. Inside dungeon instances, passive regen halts within safe zones, so you can't "safely" regen your HP or MP. Now, in theory they could teleport people out and get their HP/MP back that way? But when a player exits an instance, all skill or spell effects from that player immediately end, including teleportation circles, so in practice that would be a logistical nightmare. That's why the A team needed a furnishing to create permanent teleportation between their rooms. Using spells would not only be temporary, but also require at least one of them to already be in both rooms, and both of them to have the spells in question. You'll actually see this in practice during the boss fight, which takes place in its own instance distinct from the Temple instance. That said? MP healing items do exist and they are being restocked before the boss, so they are almost certainly (though realistically considering their circumstances) being overly cautious.
  10. Nightlit

    Start Raiding

    Asa is shocked at the turnout. A hundred or so people stand in the large safe zone outside of the Temple. It’s not just combatants either. Theo and Ben are there, as are a number of players who don’t have the combat ability, but who can heal and buff to help set up staging areas in the various safe zones. More than ten percent of the total server population has shown up to collaborate on this one raid. As far as Asa knows, that’s never happened before. Admittedly the server is small, and there had been far larger temple raids before, but this isn’t the same. Lives are on the line this time and still this many people came. The day started well. Collin gave a speech which earned cheers from the crowd and then they spent a good amount of time planning. When that settled down, everyone split up into their various guilds to get ready. “Is our equipment prepared?” Ardine asks. Wake nods, “I’m ready.” Brandon nods as well, “I made sure I was set up last night, so I’ve just been rechecking.” Asa sighs, “My setup hasn’t changed. Nothing about today requires it to.” Ardine look at him, “We’re counting on your ability.” Asa nods, “I know.” A familiar voice catches Asa’s attention, “Don’t think about it too hard. This is nothing.” Asa turns to Luke, “Yeah. I guess this isn’t that hard.” Ardine nods, “Difficulty is not the issue. We all know you are capable of doing this. Execution, however, is. Anyone can make mistakes.” Luke thins his eyes at her, “Stressing him out will only make that more likely.” Ardine surprises Luke by responding with a grin, “I am aware. That comment was more for you. Don’t forget, you’re important too.” Luke blinks, “But I’m not part of the plan.” Ardine shakes her head, “Nonsense! You are every bit as important as Asa.” This time Luke raises an eyebrow, “I thought I was Collin’s bodyguard?” Ardine nods, “You are. But please remember that Collin is not a master of fundamental game play the way the rest of the top players are. If it decides to go after him, or if the plan fails, you may be his only hope of survival.” Luke shakes his head, “What about the other people who need protecting?” Ardine shakes her head, “That is the other reason we need you where you are. True, Collin will be standing behind you the entire time, but it also creates a place for people to retreat to. That is where we intend to put the teleportation circle between the safe zone and the boss room. You and Jacklyn are the only people who are skilled enough to definitely be able to keep it at bay, and Jacklyn’s new build simply doesn’t have the longevity yours does.” She doesn’t mention that if it has regular impact, keeping it at bay might be impossible. “Why didn’t you just say so?” Luke asks. Ardine blinks, “I suppose it just didn’t occur to us you didn’t know.” Luke shakes his head, “You shouldn’t keep people in the dark of their role in the plan. That’s a bad idea.” Ardine nods, “You’re right, of course. Like I said, we weren’t intentionally keeping you uninformed. I’ll endeavor to be more thorough in making sure everyone gets all the information they need in the future.” Luke smiles, “It’s hard to believe you were Bonehead Throkdar.” Ardine laughs, “This is exactly why I was! Just because I’m intelligent doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes want to mindlessly yell and smash goblins into the ground.” Luke nods, “I understand.” Kwame walks over, “So, how’s it hangin’?” He walks over to Asa and gives him a once over, “He’s pretty cute, for a short white guy.” Asa glares at him over dramatically, “Thanks.” Luke rolls his eyes, “Maybe get to know someone before you start poking fun at them?” Kwame looks down, properly chastised, “Sorry. I didn’t mean nothin’.” Wake steps forward, “Didn’t mean nothing?” Kwame looks up at him, “Uh...” Asa shakes his head, “Stop it guys. It really doesn’t bother me anymore.” Kwame grins, “Coolness!” Luke steps forward, “So, Collin thought that we should go together. Since we’re crucial to the team. He also thinks we should go in the middle of the group, so we can’t be caught off guard.” Ardine nods, “That’s sensible. Though there’s little chance we’ll die before the boss.” Kwame shakes his head, “Don’t assume that. They changed the temple up.” Ardine nods, “I know. We’ve done a few practice runs of the dungeon. It was nothing we couldn’t handle.” Luke grins, “Kwame, you’re looking at two of the best players in the game, and two upcoming greats. It’ll take a lot for them to go down.” Brandon grins up at him, “You really think I’m an upcoming great?” Luke nods, “Absolutely.” Brandon grins happily in response. Luke then turns to Wake, “And you’ve become really adaptive.” Asa grins, “You should listen to him.” Ardine shakes her head, “Sometimes I wonder what I should do.” She turns to them, “I have been concentrating so much on the guild that I haven’t really thought about myself much. I filled up my wheel with stats for this raid, but I do think I need to improve my build in other ways. If this new boss is any indication, just being taller is not going to be enough.” Luke nods, “You’re probably right. I hadn’t really thought about my build much. I’ve also mostly had stats rather than skills on my wheel.” Asa thinks for a moment, “That’s a good idea, but right now I think we should make a marching order.” Ardine nods, “That is a prudent course of action.” She turns to Luke, “I think you and Kwame should take up the rear.” Luke shakes his head, “Our job is to protect you.” Ardine glares at him, “With all due respect, we don’t need your protection. We’ve done this dungeon before just the four of us and had little trouble with it. And if we have to choose between you being at full and me being at full for the boss, well, frankly, your HP are more important. My build is not going to be of much use there. You, on the other hand, may be crucial for the fight.” Kwame shakes his head, “So what? We don’t get to be part of the action?” Asa sighs, “Kwame, action? This is serious you know.” Kwame smiles at him, “I get it. But we still gotta have fun with it. Otherwise, why are we even doin’ it? Wake looks at him, “We should have fun with it, but we shouldn’t be reckless.” He smirks at him, “Besides, we’re going to be in the middle of the raid formation. We’re probably not going to get a lot of action anyway.” Kwame frowns, “Really?” Ardine nods, “We’ll be front and center on the boss. And the boss is where the real action is. The mobs are different than they used to be, but they still aren’t that dangerous.” Asa turns to Luke, “Luke, the rear is where we’re the most vulnerable.” Luke nods, “You’re right. I guess I’m just… used to being in front.” Brandon grins at them, “Front is where the enemies are. And there’s no reason to assume that every encounter will spawn ahead of us in the dungeon.” Ardine nods, “Exactly. Brandon and I can take the vanguard, while you take the rear. That way there is almost no chance of Asa or Wake being vulnerable.” Luke thinks for a moment, “So you guys fight together, and Kwame and I fight together? That does make sense.” Kwame nods, “Huh. Yeah. That’s a good plan.” Collin walks over to them, “You guys ready?” “We seem to be.” Ardine says. Luke nods, “Yeah. We’re ready.” “So if all goes well, you guys won’t see much combat, if any, but don’t worry if you do. Brandon and Theo are going to be warped to the final safe zone where they’ll restock us for the boss.” Collin says. “Aren’t they vulnerable out here?” Luke asks. Collin shakes his head, “A regiment of people, including Tyrone and Jacklyn, are going to be out here protecting them. This entire area is a safe zone, so it’s unlikely they’ll be in danger anyway, but we aren’t leaving them alone.” Asa nods, “Whose gonna set up the teleportation circle at the final way point?” “Someone who won’t be joining us in the actual fight at all. That way, we don’t risk the teleportation circle being broken by them dying.” Collin says. “Then whose casting the one in the boss room?” Asa adds. “Me.” Kwame says, “Right?” Collin nods, “Yes. That was the plan. There are a few others who can do it if you can’t for some reason.” “He’ll be able to.” Luke says. Ardine nods, “We’ve run the dungeon before. And Kwame’s snuck his way through it multiple times. We’ll be fine.” Collin shakes his head, “Don’t be overconfident.” Ardine nods, “Of course. But we shouldn’t be underconfident either.” Collin sighs, “Right.” Wake walks over to him, “Are you okay?” Collin looks at him, “I’m fine.” Wake puts an arm around him, “Are you sure? Because we can’t do this without you.” Collin looks down, “Can’t you? I mean… I already made the plan. You don’t really need me to execute it do you?” Wake shakes his head, “We need you Collin. You give us hope.” Collin sighs, “I feel so alone.” Wake pulls Collin into a hug, “You give us hope. That means you aren’t alone. We all look to you.” Collin leans into the larger man, “I’m so lonely.” Wake holds him. Luke steps forward, “Collin.” Collin looks at Luke, “You too?” Luke shakes his head, “I’m here for you. I know I’m not the most social person. Or the nicest. But I just want you to know. I want you to draw strength from me.” Collin blinks, “What do you mean?” Luke smiles at him, “You give everyone so much strength, just by being here. I want you to know that you can draw strength from me. The way I draw strength from you.” Asa nods, “You don’t have to be lonely. You just have to let yourself be vulnerable.” Collin blinks and looks up at Wake, “You think?” Wake holds him, “Everyone is vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be human.” Collin blinks again, “I guess I never thought about it like that before.” Collin takes some time to collect himself, “Thank you.” He says and then steps away from Wake. He walks over towards his guild mates. “His arms feel good don’t they?” Lloyd says, wearing a knowing smile. Collin raises an eyebrow, “And here I thought you were straight?” Lloyd rolls his eyes, “Wake’s like a big brother to everybody. Even people older than him.” Collin laughs, “I guess you’re right.” Tracy scoffs, clearly amused, “The A team is so lovey dovey.” Collin turns to her, “There’s nothing wrong with that.” Tracy laughs, “Are you kidding me? That was a compliment. They are so much better at cheering people up than we are.” Gabriel nods, “That’s why we kinda just let them cheer you up.” Collin smirks, “Ah. So it’s not that you don’t want to support me. It’s that you are incompetent at it.” Gabriel looks sheepish, while Tracy laughs. “Yep!” She says. Lloyd shakes his head, “We can’t give you what you really want right now Col. They can.” “What do you think I want?” Collin asks. Lloyd looks at him, “Acceptance.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “Why would you not be able to give me that?” Lloyd puts a hand on his shoulder, “Because you’ve never questioned our loyalty. You never had to do anything to get it.” He turns to them, “But them. They’re loyalty isn’t unwavering. You earned their trust.” Collin thinks on that, “I suppose I did.” Gabriel sighs, “What about me?” Lloyd shakes his head, “You’re a kid. And frankly, Brandon’s more mature than you are.” Gabriel looks down, “I’m not very mature.” Tracy smiles at him, “Nothing wrong with that. Brandon is giving up a lot growing up as fast as he is.” Collin nods, “Its true. Not that I blame him, nor is he making a mistake.” Collin lowers himself so he’s face to face with Gabriel, “But you aren’t either. You are just being affected differently than him, that’s all.” Collin stands up, “Sometimes I feel like I’d fit in with them more than I do here.” Tracy snorts, “You’re too selfish.” Collin raises and eyebrow, “Selfish?” Lloyd nods, “She has a point. You take everything on. Look at them. Asa and Ardine could easily carry their team, but they don’t even try. Do you think you could do that?” Collin ponders this, “Huh… I guess you’re right.” “What about us?” Gabriel asks. “Collin’s always carried our team. He’s better at the game than Tracy or me.” Lloyd says simply. Tracy nods, “Yep! But that’ll change.” “That’ll change?” Gabriel asks. Tracy nods, “Because I’m not gonna die here! And neither is Lloyd!” Collin steps forward, “We’re all aiming to live.” He looks around at the people gathered, “Every one of us.” “But some of us will die.” A man says from a few feet away, “Don’t delude yourselves.” Lloyd nods, “Yeah.” Collin sighs, “Maybe. But we should still aim to protect everybody. Just because people might die, doesn’t mean we should write them off.” The man shakes his head, “Just don’t write yourself off trying to save them.” Luke walks over to them, “Maybe I’ll just kill you now and get it over with.” There’s a dark expression on his face. The man’s eyes widen, “What?” “Whether or not people will die isn’t really the point.” Luke says, “You’ve already decided to write people off. So, here is what I have to say. If you sacrifice someone else to save yourself. I’ll kill you.” Luke looks around the area. “You hear that! If any of you sacrifice someone else to keep yourself alive, I’ll consider that a PK and answer accordingly!” The entire area goes silent before Jacklyn steps forward. “Luke.” She says, “That’s a bit harsh.” Luke turns to the man, “We get everybody out, or we don’t go in.” The man thins his eyes, “What you expect is impossible!” Jacklyn turns to him, “So what should we do then? Prioritize based on merit?” He harrumphs, “We can’t afford to be idealistic.” “Stop it!” Brandon’s voice rips through the tension in the air. Everyone turns to him. He turns to the man, “We don’t have to do this. The raid. I’m doing this because I want to. Why are you doing this?” The man sighs, “What does that have to do with anything?” Brandon shakes his head, “Are you expecting to survive this?” He harrumphs again, “Of course.” “Why?” Brandon asks. The man raises an eyebrow, “My build doesn’t require me to...” Luke is behind him in an instant, with a sword to his neck, “Wrong answer. If you are not willing to put yourself in harm’s way, then leave now.” “That’s not what I mean! My build isn’t durable, nor am I good in close combat. I’m really not even useful if I’m in danger.” The man screams out. Brandon reaches up, takes Luke’s sword and moves it away, before pushing them apart. “You’re afraid.” The man looks at him, “You aren’t?” Brandon nods, “We’re all scared.” Jerome walks up to him, “What’s your name?” The man looks at him, “Sean...” Jerome puts himself between Luke and Sean, “Being prepared for the worst… being ready for what is likely to happen isn’t wrong Sean. But that doesn’t mean it will. I think you’re right. Realistically, people will die. But if we go in with a mind set of letting them die, they surely will.” Brandon nods, “Yeah, maybe all of us living is a pipe dream. Like wishing for a unicorn. But don’t forget, unicorns exist in game, so I say we grab that unicorn! I say we’re all coming back!” He turns to everyone else, “We may still die. But we aren’t dead yet!” Jerome turns to Sean, “Don’t put yourself at risk fruitlessly. That’s not what Luke is asking you to do. But if someone is about to die, and you can save them? That’s worth a little risk. We’re all gonna have to do that.” Sean shakes his head, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re a top player.” He turns to Luke, “So are you!” Brandon steps forward, “I’m not. And neither are most of the people here. And I’m not here to just stand back and let them do all the work. No way.” He turns to Luke, “But you have no right to make threats like that!” He steps forward, “You of all people should not be making threats like that!” Luke looks down at him, and then sighs, “You’re right.” Kwame shakes his head, “Look dudes. We’re all fools. Every last one of us. We’re here because we wanna be. Because we’re living this fucking life now, we’re gonna live it. And maybe we die. If we do, we’ll have asked for it.” He yells, “So anyone who thinks this is fucking moronic should leave! Because unless you are a fucking idiot, you’ll hesitate and die, or get someone else killed!” He grins again, “Because you’re absolutely right! This is fucking moronic! Thing is? We all know it.” Collin can’t help it, he breaks down laughing, “Kwame’s right. This is pretty dumb.” Ardine steps forward, “I won’t argue with that, but the foolishness of the endeavor aside, I do think there are a number of good reasons we’re doing what we’re doing.” Wake turns to Sean, “I think what everyone is trying to say is, do what you feel is right. And no one should think less of you if you decide that this isn’t it.” Sean looks up at Wake, “Really. Because I know some of you will look down on me! Call me a coward.” Wake smirks, “Maybe they will. But what’s wrong with cowardice? Glory is a fools game. So is pride. Cowardice keeps us alert and alive. I’m afraid. I’ll freely admit that. And I’m not moving forward because I feel courage. I’m moving forward because I trust the other people here with my life. Anyone who doesn’t, shouldn’t be here. And I will not think any less of anyone who leaves.” People look around, and then a few walk away, but most stay, including Sean. “I… guess I do want to be here.” He says. Collin turns to Luke, “Luke, take care that you don’t become a monster.” Luke looks down, but Asa steps forward, “Luke knows what’ll happen to him if he goes down that path.” Luke turns to Asa, “You… you’ll check me?” Asa shakes his head, “No. You will check yourself.” Sean turns to him, “You trust him to check himself after what he said?” Asa nods, “He’s a protector. He wouldn’t have killed you anyway. He was merely trying to make a point, the only way he knows how: decisively.” Luke sighs, “I… really should stop making idle threats.” Jerome walks over to him, “Luke. Let’s get ready to go.” Luke nods at him, “Yeah.” Asa can’t tell exactly what goes between them, but they definitely share a haunted look. He’s surprised that he’s envious. It doesn’t make any sense. The look is not pleasant. It’s a shared trauma. And yet, that Luke and Jerome share something he doesn’t bothers him. Collin’s voice gets his attention away from his thoughts, “Okay. So everyone should go back to their groups and do final checks on their stuff before we go.” The group separates leaving the A Team alone. Asa takes Luke aside, “I… how are things?” Luke shakes his head, “I dunno.” Asa looks down, “So… you and Jerome.” Luke smirks at him, “Me and Jerome? Get your head out of the gutter man.” Asa shakes his head, “That’s not what I mean. You two just… had a… moment?” Luke sighs, “It was… well… the night we hunted PKers… it was… traumatic.” Asa sighs, “Oh… I guess that makes sense.” Luke laughs, “Don’t be envious of that. You would not have wanted to be there. Trust me.” Asa nods, “I know.” He looks up at the A team, “It’s just… how different are we now?” Luke shrugs, “We were always different weren’t we?” Asa ponders this, “I guess you’re right.” Luke’s smile widens to a grin, “I’m just glad we’re still friends.” Asa smiles, “Yeah. We are aren’t we?” Luke and Asa walk over to their companions. “Do we need to do a shop run?” Asa asks. Brandon shakes his head, “I don’t think so. But! Did you all pull on the gatcha today?” Luke thinks for a moment, “I think so.” Ardine nods, “I did.” Asa ponders this, “It’s funny how that’s become like this important daily ritual.” “So you did it?” Wake asks. Asa nods, “Yep.” “Should I go report to Collin that we’re ready?” Brandon asks. “I’ll do it.” Luke says. Ardine looks at Asa conspiratorially, “He’s overly helpful isn’t he?” Asa laughs, “That’s Luke for you. When it comes down to it, he puts himself last.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “You know, I think you may be right. Normally I’d think that he was ultimately doing it for his own self satisfaction, but he’s actually gaining very little. If anything, the weight on him is grating his psyche.” Asa looks down, “Yeah. He’s always taken care of me, even when I didn’t need it.” Ardine meets Asa’s gaze evenly, “And did you do the same for him?” Asa thinks for a moment, “He wouldn’t let me.” Ardine nods, “And I suppose you weren’t like you are now. You didn’t have the heart to force the issue.” Asa nods, “Exactly.” Wake walks over, “I worry about him.” Brandon shakes his head, “He’ll come around. He loves Asa too much.” Wake and Asa look at Brandon, “What do you mean?” Brandon looks at him, “I don’t mean it like, romantically or anything.” He thinks for a moment, “Though it might be. But he just… perks up whenever he looks at you, if only a little.” Luke returns interrupting their conversation, “Collin says he thinks everyone’ll be ready to go in a half hour or so.” Ardine nods, “Hmm… that gives us some time. I think I’m going to go get some extra healing potions just in case.” Asa nods, “I’ll ask Collin if he needs anything.” “That’s sensible.” Ardine responds. Brandon looks up at Wake, “I think we should go practice coordination.” Wake nods, “That sounds good.” Asa walks over to Collin as the group splits up to take care of anything else, “Ardine is going to get some supplies. Do you need anything?” Collin shakes his head, “Nope.” Asa goes and tells Ardine and then sits down to wait for the raid to start. A while later, Collin walks over to Asa, “Can you get the rest of your guild back? We’re almost ready to start.” Asa nods and it only takes a few more minutes for the A team to convene. When that’s done, Collin addresses the crowd, “I know many of you have done test runs of the Temple, sans boss, so there shouldn’t be a lot of surprises. Still, our goal isn’t just to get through, it’s to get through with as many resources as possible. For that reason, we are starting by sending in an advance team to clear out the initial room spawns. The Highlanders, PhalanxPhantoms and MuckRack guilds will be that team. They will be annexing and activating safe zones and setting up teleportation circles so that we can bring in our non-combatants. We aren’t going to risk our advance team getting pincered by respawns, which is why a second wave, consisting of the A team and the Indecisive ones will be following them. The rest of the combatants, save the group of you whose job is to safeguard the non-combatants waiting out here, will take up the rear. Your job is to mop things up.” He looks over the crowd, “Are there any questions?” No one responds, “Good. After that, we’ll set up a teleportation circle between the final safe zone and this one, and use it to move in the non combatants, who will recharge us for the boss fight. The people who are part of the plan for the boss already know what they are doing, but I will still go over the plan once we are at the final safe zone.” Theo steps forward, “I would like to say something.” Everyone stops and looks at him, “I know it’s been said, but I thought it might work better coming from me. See, I was once worried about how everyone locked in here would see me. I was worried my lack of skill would get me in trouble. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to protect Ben. But the worst thing was, I was worried I wasn’t good enough. I thought I had to prove myself.” He looks at the group, “You guys taught me that I didn’t have to prove anything. I want to say, if you are here to prove something, stay out here with us. Prove that you are smart and humble and willing to stick it out for the long run. Prove that, rather than jumping in, you’ll take the time to get good enough that you don’t have to.” He smiles, “And if you want to help, there’s plenty to do out here.” Collin grins, “Theo’s absolutely right. Don’t think that our support is less important than our combatants. We’ll need them as much as we’ll need the top players.” This time a small number of players do leave their respective groups and join the non combatants. After a moment of reorganization, Collin steps up again. “So now we’re ready!” The Advance Squad The beginning part of the temple is a series of interconnected rooms, starting from a large lit foyer. While there aren’t any initial spawns, the room is not a safe zone, so enemies can be led there and respawns can occur. There are three exits to the room, two stairways leading to two exits above one doorway. Of course, they all know this is misleading, since they all ultimately end up in the same place,. You’d only need to back track if you wanted to search everything yourself. “We’ll take the bottom!” Kaja yells, “Unless you want it?” The MuckRack members shake their heads and take left. The PhalanxPhantoms go right without any fuss. The central doorway leads to a hallway with four side rooms. Despite the fact that each side room has a door, the entire area is one room as far as enemy spawns are concerned. Two elite goblin knights stand in the center of the room, a gleam in their shields indicating active defensive stances. Zuri and Kaja rush forward and start trading blows with the two knights, causing them to leave their defensive stances to attack. Rika, not wanting to waste her MP, shoots them with standard arrows. “These things have too many hit points!” Kaja complains after a moment as she throws Zuri a heal. Zuri responds by continuing to slash through the goblin in front of her with her sword, her armor allowing her to not even bother with evasion. “Incoming!” Gail yells as a bomb flies over their heads and an explosion covers their field of vision. When the animation clears and they can see again, the goblins are gone. Zuri sighs, “No good drops.” “You guys are taking a lot of damage.” Rika says, “Should we have a more dedicated healer?” Kaja shrugs, “I’ve always been enough before.” Rika nods, “If you say so.” Gail tilts her head to the side, “Why the sudden seriousness?” “This is pretty important, isn’t it?” She smiles, “It’s fun, but serious.” Rika starts walking towards one of the side rooms. “These can have treasure right?” “Probably.” Kaja says. Gail grins, “Only one way to find out!” The four of them nod as they start to search the first room. The Rear Squad Stephan does final checks before he turns to the rest of the rear squad. Jerome aside, the rear squad consists mostly of younger people who are fairly new to the game but still want to help with the raid. Though there are a few older people, including Mitchell, that guy in his sixties that Stephan met in town. “So! You guys all ready?” Mitchell yells out to them. Stephan turns to Jerome, “I am.” He spins the giant shield around. At first he wasn’t sure whether he’d like it, but now he’s loving it. Jerome nods, “You Armon?” Armon nods, “I think so. Are you nervous?” Jerome shakes his head, “Not really. I should be more nervous than I am honestly.” Stephan grins at him, “You don’t have to be nervous. We’re gonna be with a bunch of other people.” Then his face hardens, “Those mooks won’t know what hit them!” It doesn’t take long for everyone to be ready, and soon the rear guard is entering the foyer of the temple. The first encounter happens immediately, as some elite goblins have spawned and are wandering around the area. Stephan points to one. He types into the combat comm. [ Rhymes Even: We’ll take left. ] He moves in that direction. Armon and his wolf follow behind him. Jerome has disappeared into the shadows, though Stephan can see him on his mini map sneaking around the edge of the room. The four goblin knights they are approaching turn to face them at the same time, but rather than attacking they take defensive stances. Normally, Stephan would just go and trade blows with them until they went down, but he wants to practice conserving resources for the boss fight and Jerome is moving around behind them. “What should I do?” Armon asks. Stephan turns back to him, happy that his shield creates a concealment area directly behind him, “Maybe engage them so they can’t pincer me? You and your wolf can engage different ones.” Armon nods, “So… only if they approach right? If they just stand there…?” Stephan nods, “Then we let Jerome do it. I want to practice smart play. Save our stuff for the boss.” Armon nods again, “Right. That makes sense.” The Goblins don’t seem to be doing anything but waiting, so the two of them slowly approach the nearest one. When he gets inside the Goblin’s attack range, it immediately take a swipe, but the shield reduces the damage entirely. Stephan isn’t entirely surprised. He hasn’t taken any damage from non boss enemies in a long time. But the temple raid is supposedly a difficulty spike, so he couldn’t be sure it would still work here. He’s glad to see it does. That’s when the Goblin appears to charge itself up. But before it can attack Jerome darts out from the wall and blindsides it, defeating it instantly. The other three goblins turn to him, but Armon and his wolf jump out and pincer one of them while Jerome darts behind Stephan who engages the next one. Just like the first one, its attack bounced off his shield doing no damage. It charges itself up and Stephan notices the super power icon, indicating its increased it’s attack power by 120%, which will definitely hurt him, so he steps forward and uses Nose Crusher with his tower shield. He grins when the goblin is stunned. Jerome darts out while it can’t move and blindsides it, also defeating it in a single attack. Armon and his wolf have taken out theirs, though they didn’t fare quite as well as Stephan did. The four of them easily dispatch the last goblin. “You okay?” Stephan asks. Armon nods, “Just cost my wolf some MP. Got plenty more where that came from though.” Jerome nods, “Just be careful. We need to conserve some stuff for the boss fight.” Stephan and Armon both nod. By this point the other enemies in the room have been cleared out by the rest of the rear team and they approach the stairway. “Ardine says they went left.” Jerome says. He then turns to the other teams, “Do you mind if we follow?” No one complains. “We’re coming too.” Mitchell says. The other members of his guild nod. Nina walks over to them, “We’ll take the right.” Stephan nods, “Good luck.” Jerome steps forward, “Let’s go.” The A team The top of the stairs led to a room with goblins that the A team, Luke and Kwame stopped effortlessly. They found a treasure, but it had nothing of consequence. There was only one exit, then another nearly identical room, and another exit. “So, this is the last room before the start of the second part isn’t it?” Luke asks. Ardine nods, “Yes. The first area is large, but you can avoid most of it. The lower central path is actually the longest one, since it has a bit more to explore. The two stairwells miss quite a bit of the treasure, but are much shorter.” “But since we’re not the advance team, we’re not getting most of the treasure anyway.” Luke concludes. Ardine nods, “Except the treasures dropped by mobs.” “But this is the easy part. The second half of the temple is where we gotta step up our game.” Brandon says. Luke looks around, “Maybe we should discuss our plans?” Wake casts Sanctuary, “There. Now we can talk more safely.” Ardine nods, “Thank you.” She turns to Luke, “We shouldn’t take too long, but that seems reasonable.” Kwame spawns a chair and sits down, “So like. The second half is pill bugs and spiders mostly.” Ardine nods, “Yes. The pill bugs can be frustrating, since they have high damage resistance when they are rolled up, but you can unroll them with impact. Most spells unroll them as well.” Luke nods, “Right. I remember. Maybe Brandon and Wake should take the lead?” Ardine thinks for a moment, “That does seems sensible. Though we do want to conserve Brandon’s MP.” “It might be best for us to just travel in Brandon’s barrier. It should protect us from poison, and poison is gonna be a way bigger resource hog than the enemies’ attack DPS.” Asa suggests. Luke turns to Brandon, “Are you okay with that? It’s putting a lot on your shoulders.” Brandon shrugs, “It’s fine. The enemies aren’t really a threat to me. But you would all be in close quarters. Five people can fit in the shield, but only barely.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “Maybe I should take the lead? I can get us past combat right? That’s better.” Ardine nods, “That’s not a bad idea, but don’t get too careless. The last thing we need is you getting yourself in trouble.” Kwame nods, “I won’t.” He turns to Luke, “You’re okay with this?” Luke nods, “I trust you. Besides, the goal is to avoid fighting.” “So, the plan is we all huddle together around Brandon, while Kwame tries to scout a path for us.” He turns to Asa, “You should scout with him. The two of you should be able to handle anything.” Asa nods, “Got it.” He thinks for a moment, “We’ve been here for a bit. We should go before the rear team catches up.” Everyone else nods. When they enter the final room, they find a super elite goblin knight has spawned. They can see it from the top of the stairs, but it doesn’t look like it can see them. “Should we fight it?” Brandon asks. Luke looks over at Ardine and Asa, “Ardine, Asa, we should fight it.” Ardine nods, “Hmm… that seems like a sensible plan.” She turns to Brandon, Kwame and Wake. “You should be ready to heal one of us if we need it, but otherwise you should probably stay back.” “Good luck.” Wake says. Luke and Ardine nod at each other and then run down the stairs while Asa simply flash steps down below, where the curvature of the stairs gives him cover from the creature. Rather than simply standing there, it immediately swings it’s ax and releases a shockwave at Ardine and Luke. Ardine steps back while Luke parries the shockwave, causing it to disperse. Ardine follows this up by charging forward and swinging her ax, releasing a shockwave of her own at a range that makes both her ax and the shockwave hit the goblin. Before the goblin can return the favor Luke steps forward and parries the swing. He then swings his swordbreaker but equips a sword, then equips the swordbreaker again to parry the goblin for a second time. While this is going on Ardine stays right behind Luke, sticking to her ideal range where her ax shockwaves both connect with their target. After a moment the remaining 70% or so of it’s life gauge disappears instantly as Asa uses flash attack to attack its blindside mid flash step, capping the chain and dealing more than damage to kill it from full HP. “Not bad.” Ardine says, with a smile. Luke nods, “These things die to parries.” Of course, the other three are far less blasé about the fight, “You parried a shockwave!?” Brandon exclaims as he runs up to them from the stairs. Luke nods, “It’s a physical attack with a hit box, so it’s just as parryable as any other projectile.” Kwame whistles, “That’s still crazy! The timing for that has to be stupid. Especially with a knife.” Ardine smiles, “It is quite difficult yes.” Wake shakes his head, “And the way you kept it at your optimum distance so you could keep hitting it twice with each of your attacks. That’s really hard to do.” Ardine nods, “I can show you sometime if you like. The key is paying attention to your radar.” Wake smiles, “And were you trying to build a chain?” Ardine grins at him, “Right again!” Brandon’s eyes widen in realization, “So that Asa could one shot it with a chain cap!” Ardine looks over at Asa, “It might not have been necessary. But with a chain I knew he could kill it with a regular attack, allowing him to conserve his cooldown skills for more difficult battles.” “I wonder what it dropped?” Kwame asks. Luke shrugs, “Nothing spectacular.” Asa nods, “Yeah, it was a bit unfortunate. It dropped a bow with Distant Shot. Probably great for someone, but nothing we can use right now.” “Man! That’s like… almost cool, except usually kind of worthless.” Kwame says. Ardine sighs and rolls her eyes, “We would get a primarily PvP weapon. But who knows, someone might want it. And if nothing else, it’s still good for safe farming.” Once Wake is done healing them up, they look forward. “Are we ready to go to the more difficult section?” Asa asks. Everyone else nods and they step through the exit stairwell to the second part of the temple.
  11. Nightlit

    Raid Starting

    It's just the in game name for the newbie zone "bunny rabbit" wildlife equivalent. It's named for "bunny" and "nip" as in "to bite something". They look like large white bunnies, and are quite cute when outside of combat, but get an evil (but still intended to be adorable) expression while fighting. They are one of the best newbie pets with broadly applicable skills and a wide variety of build paths, intended to be easily usable by anyone who wants to use a pet and viable for all content.
  12. Nightlit


    I don't have an official timeline for the story, since the date doesn't really matter, but the technology would indicate it must takes place decently into the future. Mitchell would be, in that case, in the generation that started playing video games during the NES era while he was a kid, and thus has been a gamer for more or less his entire life. But don't take that as an official note of the time period of the story, just an example of why a person his age might still be playing games. That is a good guess. We may never know! (Obviously I do, but... perks of being the author!)
  13. He is a real player, and he is 60-ish, but you're right, most people his age do not play games like this. But there are a few that do, and he's one of them. There are a few other people, including at least one who is older than him, on the server but they aren't relevant to this particular narrative.
  14. Nightlit

    Raid Starting

    A large group of players sits in the same room as the party was held the previous day. Theo and Ben sit with the Indecisive ones, the A team, Luke, Kwame and Ricky on the stage. Most of the other top players, including Jerome and Jacklyn, stand around the edge of the stage while others sit in various places around the room. Collin addresses the room, “So, I think we all know why we’re here, but just to make sure, the purpose of this meeting is to talk strategy for the upcoming Temple raid. Now, I can lead our strategy, if that’s what everyone wants, but I only want to do that if everyone truly thinks I’m the best man for the job.” There’s some murmuring in the audience, before Asa steps forward, “From what I know, you are one of the best theorycrafters and strategists in the game, let alone on the server; and, I’ve been on a Temple raid you planned in the past. It went really well.” Ardine nods, “I have been as well. You have my support.” She then turns to the audience, “But this is not a contest, and we don’t need a single strategist. In fact, we need the best minds up here, so if you think you are that? Please, step forward. Now is not the time for humility.” Her expression grows stern, “Our goal is to craft a plan that will allow us to tackle the Temple boss without a single death. This is a feat that is difficult in the best of circumstances.” Collin nods, “Yes. I want this to succeed. I want us all to survive. I will make the best plan I can, but I also want to make sure that if someone else can make a better plan, or improve on one I start, that that’s what happens.” He looks down, “I don’t want this to be about my, or anyone else’, pride.” Jacklyn steps forward, “The same goes for me, and I think the rest of the top players. We are the most skilled people on the server, but I don’t want that to continue being the case. We have the skill now, so we’ll use it. But if one of you gets better than me? That’s great!” Luke nods, “Jacklyn and I are going to go over the basics of spiral mastery with anyone who wants to start.” He turns to Asa, “I was hoping you’d help?” Asa nods, “Of course. Just give me a place and time and I’ll be there.” Collin nods, “Let’s not rush this. We don’t really have a time limit on doing the raid, but once we start, that’s it. So let’s do this right.” A series of nods and other assertions of agreement cover the room. He then turns to Kwame and Ricky, “Kwame and Ricky have seen the boss in action. So what are we up against?” Ricky starts, “Kwame and I decided to do some additional recon, since we didn’t get nearly enough on the first pass. The good news is, though this isn’t that surprising, you can still watch the boss fight from the final safe room, and the boss room is not teleport blocked, so we can escape if things go badly. “The boss itself is a large shelled beast. Kind of like a huge pill bug. It’s got a pretty small area of aggression, and isn’t very mobile, provided you don’t provoke it. Once it’s been attacked or closed on though, it starts to move around a lot, though from the initial runs we saw, its AI script is pretty simple. It tends to go after the closest target unless something else intentionally pulls its aggro. “As for what it does. It spends the majority of its time rolling around, bowling over people to deal damage. Now, this wouldn’t be the worst thing, except that we took a scan, and found that it has 90% reduction to physical and magical damage. It does have a visible opening in the back of its shell that’s mechanically indicated as a blindside, and we assume that the damage reduction doesn’t apply there. It makes some degree of sense, especially since the boss would be difficult to blindside.” Everyone looks at Asa, “So. It looks like our damage dealer is decided for us.” Collin says, “What do you say?” Asa nods, “I guess so.” He turns to them, “It sounds like the timing to blindside it will be extremely tight.” Jerome shakes his head, “You think Asa’s the right one?” Asa looks at Jerome, “Hmm… I guess the question is this. What’s going to be the bigger issue, approaching it or having its blind spot available to attack.” Jerome raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” “Well, if the boss is easy to approach and you can hide from it, it might be better for you to be our attacker. But that means you have to be able to hide from it, which you admittedly probably can, but also that its blindside is actually available to you, which if what they said is true, it might not be.” Asa walks over the Jerome, “We’re the two best blindsiders on the server right now.” He turns to everyone else, “Right?” No one responds. Jerome shakes his head, “No, we mean it. Are we the best blindsiders on the server? Because if there’s someone better than either of us, now would be a good time to reveal your hidden talents.” A girl raises her hand, “Definitely you two. No one else even comes close.” Asa turns back to Jerome, “But you have to admit, when it comes to mobility, that’s my specialty.” A man stands up, “Well… shouldn’t we just plan for both of you to do it. Or well… whoever can pull it off?” Collin nods, “That’s a fair point. As long as you’re both there, we can have two versions of the plan.” He turns to Jerome, “But it isn’t that I didn’t consider you Jerome. The room is large and has no cover. If we’re talking blindsiding, especially something that can move around a lot and potentially keep its blindside hidden while doing so? That’s really more Asa than you.” He puts a hand on Jerome’s shoulder, “I just don’t want you to think I overlooked you.” Jerome shakes his head, “This ain’t about pride. It never was. I just wanted to make sure we were thinking everything through. You’re probably right,” He looks down at Asa, “This probably is an Asa moment. But if I see my chance.” Collin nods, “We should definitely prepare for that possibility.” Asa turns to Jerome, “We should work together. I’d be able to maneuver you into a position you couldn’t get to yourself. And if you can’t one shot it, I’ll be more likely to be able to rescue you before you get killed than you’d be able to escape on your own.” Jerome nods, “That sounds like a plan.” Luke shakes his head, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We don’t have a plan yet.” He looks at Asa, “We don’t even have a complete team yet.” He thinks for a moment, “I’d like to take part… but if this thing really charges around, don’t we want a dedicated tower shield tank rather than a parry tank DPS mix?” A guy stands up, “I can do that.” Another guy also stands up, “Me to.” Stephan stands up, “I do that… but.” He looks at Luke, “I’d feel a lot better if Luke was there with us.” Luke nods, “I’ll definitely be there. I’m just not sure how helpful I’ll be.” Collin nods, “That’s good. But there’s another issue at hand here. We are hoping for a one hit KO. But in the likely event that we can’t get one, we’re gonna need someone who can snag aggro, and I mean fast. Because one thing Asa and Jerome share is being made of paper.” Asa shakes his head, “That’s not entirely true. Remember my roulette skill?” Collin thinks for a moment, “...wait… wasn’t it…” His eyes widen, “An auto revive?” Asa nods, “And my guild and I tested it. It does reset my aggro.” Jerome looks down, “It’s looking more and more like I should sit this one out.” Luke shakes his head, “We might need you. Consider the failure to one hit KO scenario? If you strike first then fail to kill it, it will most likely have to turn around to attack you. If Asa is right there with you, he can attack it right after you, and if those two attacks don’t kill it, he should still be able to escape, draw it towards a group of tanks, and then either lose the aggro to the tanks, or have his auto revive kill his aggro for him.” Ben steps forward, “Um… aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves?” He turns to Kwame, “Is there anything else we need to know? Like, it rolls around. But what exactly does that mean?” Kwame thinks for a moment, “It’s like… it rolls up into a ball. And then smack, bang, boom! It’s bowling over you like a bowling ball aiming for a ten seven split! It knocks you all around and then it does it again!” Ricky sighs, “Basically, it rolls into a ball and charges. It has a huge amount of knock back, enough that I’m pretty sure it can knock anyone down.” Luke thinks for a moment, “Is the knock back impact?” Ricky raises an eyebrow, “What?” Luke looks at him, “Do you know how impact works in this game?” Ricky shakes his head, “Not the details no.” Luke nods, “Impact is the force caused by an attack. Impact is determined by a number of factors, like weapon type, swing angle, weapon skill and a bunch of under the hood calculations, but basically, impact is the standard knock back from an attack.” Ricky raises an eyebrow, “Yes… but why would you ask that?” “Because, whether or not an enemy like this’ attacks are impact is largely arbitrary. Since its weapon is unique to it, they can give it all the impact they want. But, there are some enemies whose impact is actually a special affect, like a throw, linked to their attack. In that case, no amount of skill can prevent a person from being knocked back, but a parry or full damage block will negate it, like they negate the secondary effects of any attack.” Luke explains. Collin nods, “That is a good point. Luke, could you describe parries to us? I’m sure plenty of people don’t know the details, and you probably know some finer points that theorycrafters like me wouldn’t be aware of.” Luke nods, “There’s not much to them really. Parries reduce damage by based on the weapon and parry ranks and they negate the secondary effects of what you parry, regardless of skill. Sometimes this will lead to hilarious moments, like you can parry a weapon swing to negate a shockwave even after the shockwave has been fired. Or, if you parry certain teleport strikes, you’ll negate the teleport, so knowing when to parry can be important. A huge example is the samurai yetis in Snow Veil Valley. Their attacks come out fast, shoot shockwaves and deal a lot of damage, but they hold their attack pose for quite a long time after they swing, and that’s technically still part of the attack. So you can wait until the shockwave passes, then swoop in from the side and parry the sword to negate the shock wave after it safely passes you but before it reaches anyone else.” Asa nods, “And there’s more to it too. The yeti has the ability to damage enemies when it sheathes its weapon. But that actually has nothing to do with the sheathing animation. It’s a delayed secondary effect of the attack that just normally occurs at the same time. Parrying the attack prevents that from happening too.” Jacklyn steps up, “The other thing to remember is that parries work on hit boxes, not weapon areas. Depending on the weapon they are using, you may be able to score a parry without even coming in contact with it. Sometimes you can score a parry just by swinging wildly into their attack range. I don’t really recommend that, but if you are caught off-guard and aren’t good at timing, it can work in a pinch since you don’t need parry ranks to reduce damage.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “Hmm… that must be because you can parry virtually any attack, and not every attack uses a weapon’s standard weapon area.” Jacklyn nods, “Yep. It’s mostly significant in PvP against weapon swapping spiral masters, but there are a few times when it matters in PvE. This boss might be one of them. It’s charging attack must have a pretty unique set of hit parameters. Parrying it might be extremely difficult, incredibly easy, or even inconsistent.” Collin turns to her, “Inconsistent?” Luke nods, “Yeah. Because angle makes a big difference, especially when there is movement involved in an attack, the hit box you have to hit to parry it might change even from frame to frame.” Collin shakes his head, “Which means you and Jacklyn are the only ones who we can reasonably expect to be able to parry it.” “Yeah.” Luke responds, then turns to her, “But, you respecced to a less tanky build right?” Jacklyn nods, “Yeah. The ice chain build.” She grins at Collin, “Which I’m loving by the way!” She turns back to Luke, “But, you’re right. I doubt I could parry it safely on my own for any length of time.” Collin turns to the crowd, “Any one else here who can parry?” People look around for a moment, but no one speaks up. Luke sighs, “I’m sure I can parry it if it’s possible to parry, but it’ll still bowl over me if it’s using normal impact.” He turns to Ricky and Kwame again, “Is there anything else you can tell us?” Ricky shakes his head, “Unfortunately no. Even when they fought it, it’s AI pattern was extremely simple.” Kwame nods, “Yep. Roll and crush. Roll and crush. That’s all it did.” Ricky thinks for a moment, “It has a beak like mouth when it’s not curled up into a ball, so it may be able to bite, we never saw it.” Kwame nods, “Yep. Nadda.” Collin sighs, “So that leaves us with precious little to work with.” He thinks for a moment, “I think we need a united front here. We can’t plan for multiple groups. We need to be together on this.” There is murmuring from the audience. Eventually a girl stands up, “I’m sorry but… you seem tired.” Collin blinks, “I seem tired?” Lloyd nods, “I’ve been telling you Collin. You’ve been overworking yourself.” A boy stands up, “You’ve been great.” He turns to everyone, “Hasn’t he been great?” The girl who stood up before nods, “You’ve really been there for us, even when we weren’t being very supportive.” One of the men who was very vocal during the first meeting stands up, “Yeah. I apologize. You’ve done so much for us.” He looks at the people on stage, “All of you have.” Collin shakes his head, “No apologies necessary. We all were in a bad spot, but we’ve all been in here for over a month now, and I think we’ve all grown, both as people and as a community.” The murmuring in the crowd sounds positive now rather than uncertain. A moment later Asa steps forward, “It sounds to me like everyone wants to help out. Is there anyone who isn’t in a guild yet? Because I think you should either find people like you and form a guild, or see if you can find a guild to join.” He looks at his guildmates, “I think it’s helped me a lot.” Luke nods, “Some of you probably don’t want to be part of a guild, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be part of the community, or that you should go it alone.” He motions towards Kwame, “I know I am known for doing things myself. I’m not doing that. I’m a free agent. I’ll help anyone in need.” Kwame nods, “Me too.” Collin smiles, “And that is something we need right now. If we’re going to beat this thing, we’re going to need people who work together really well. Real teams.” He turns to Brandon, “But I think Brandon can explain it better than I can.” Brandon nods, “I’ll try. I guess… it’s like this. Guilds are groups of people working together for a common cause. Well, our raid group needs to be a group of guilds working together for a common cause. Just like you can’t only worry about yourself when you’re in a guild, you can’t just worry about your own guildmates while in a raid group. We all gotta help everyone, cause we want everyone to survive.” Brandon takes a deep breath, “But we want teams that work well together too, which is why we want guilds, so that everyone has people they can count on.” Collin smiles down at Brandon, “Exactly.” Wake puts an arm around Brandon’s shoulder, “Take Brandon and I. When we first met, he was scared of me, and I was scared of that too. He really helped me get out into the community. And now,” He smirks at the audience, “I think people know me for me now.” Wake drops his arm from around Brandon, “We also fight well well together. I trust him to protect me and I know he trusts me to heal him. Together we manage our team’s aggro really well, and that wouldn’t be possible without a lot of practice.” Brandon nods, “And I know I’m better at tanking because of it. Not just when teamed up with Wake, but when teamed up with anybody else.” Asa grins, “It’s not just them. Even the top players can improve. I’ve gotten a lot better at coordinating my attacks with others now.” He looks at Luke, “The truth is, though Luke and I partied together, we more or less fought on our own. Not that we ignored each other, we just didn’t have much reason to coordinate. We were both skilled, both fairly self sufficient, and if one of us died, the other could usually finish up whatever was left.” He turns back to the audience, “But that also limited what we could do. We had little reason to improve our teamwork. That might be why we both became top players, because we put all our time into individual growth. But this game demands teamwork. The hardest content cannot be done solo. And, if I compare it to the content I played before, the content in the game we’re in right now is more difficult. But we have risen to the challenge, and I think guilds are a large part of that.” Luke nods, “Asa’s right. I may not be part of a guild, but I’ve been fighting alongside various people, helping out anyone who needs it; and, I’m sorry to say, I was arrogant before. All of us were arrogant before.” He shakes his head, “Not being able to die. Not wanting to watch others suffer. Dealing with harder content. It’s changed my perspective on a lot of things. “I was great, just as all the top players were. But if I were to compare my skills now to my skills a month ago? Now I blow myself out of the water.” He grins, “And I’m sure that’s true for everyone. I know I’ve been impressed with everyone.” Collin steps forward, “Well well. Here I thought I’d have to give a speech about how awesome we are, but looks like they beat me to it.” He smiles at the audience, “I want to make sure that everyone here really wants to do the Temple raid. That you aren’t just here because we are. You have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all us.” He takes a deep breath, “This is probably foolhardy. Despite our best efforts, people have died since we started. And I’m sure more people will if we continue.” He looks at the players on the stage, “We’re doing this because we want to.” He turns back to the audience, “And there are good reasons to. But there are also plenty of good reasons to hole up and wait. And if that’s what you want to do. If going out there scares you, that’s perfectly fine. “Now is not the time for machismo or pride. We need people out there who both want to be there and are ready to be there. People who don’t have something to prove.” He looks down, “For a while that wasn’t me. It wasn’t any of the people on this stage.” He looks up. “We all continued playing when we could have been safe because we felt we had something to prove. But this has become about more than that for us. It’s about living our lives.” Guy stands up, “I… think I want to live a life. I want to go.” A bunch of other people in the audience nod in response to him. Ben stands up, “We’ve been really proactive about gathering supplies. We have a number of weapons already made, as well as a decent supply of crystallized orbs. We’ve also got a large back stock of spiritual energy, much of it courtesy of Jerome and Jacklyn, who spent a large amount of time grinding. We can use this to create any orbs you might need. Remember, we’re all in this together. We may not be fighting, but we’re here to help you.” Collin steps forward and puts an arm around Ben’s shoulder, “You’re wrong. You are fighting with us Ben. Perhaps in the most important way anyone is.” Luke nods, “Don’t discount what you do for us.” Ben smiles, “I won’t.” Lloyd steps forward, “So, about this strategy we’re making?” Collin nods, “Yes, let’s get back to that.” It’s a few hours later when the meeting comes to a close. They don’t have a real strategy yet, but they discussed everything they know about the boss and then some and decided that they needed to take some time to think before reconvening. The A team and the Indecisive ones find themselves alone again. “Are you thinking of a plan?” Asa asks Collin. Collin nods, “I’m starting to. You’ll be important to it. Maybe essential.” Asa nods, “I know.” Ardine steps forward, “It is a bit odd though. The boss seems… perhaps a bit one note?” Brandon looks at her, “What do you mean?” Ardine looks down, “I mean… look at the Goblin King? It was multi faceted. There were fighter goblins for melee, spellcasters to keep people from grouping together too much, archers to keep you on your toes. This boss just… charges around?” Collin turns to her, “I have a theory about that. I think this may be test content. After all, in theory we could have done a raid during the six hours of time, we just didn’t.” Ardine raises an eyebrow at him, “So you think that this may be them testing out content before they tweak it for the main game?” Collin nods, “Or don’t tweak it. It might not even be being used where they intend to put it. It is rather one note for a raid boss, as you said. But it might make an interesting dungeon boss.” Tracy glares, “Can we not talk about the thing we just spent hours talking about?” Ardine laughs, “Okay! Okay!” She thinks for a moment, “So, did you actually make the pet build?” Tracy perks up, “Yes! And it’s really cool!” The A team turns to her. “Oh?” Brandon asks. Tracy nods, “You have a lot more control than I thought! At least once you have the skills. You can move it around by using the mini map or the radar. You can order it to attack by pointing at an enemy, but you can also give it more substantial orders using the spiral menus.” “Don’t they have an AI script?” Wake asks. Tracy grins, “Yes! That’s one of the things you gain from skill! At first the pet has a very basic AI script you can’t edit. But as you gain skill, you unlock its slots and learn new skills and AI patterns!” “I assume when you point attack, you are changing the target of its AI pattern?” Asa muses. Tracy nods, “Yes. At least its attack pattern. You see, the Bunnip has a support pattern too. It can do all sorts of healing and stuff.” “It can heal? I thought Bunnips were a DPS pet?” Brandon asks. Tracy nods, “They are. But they also have some support abilities.” “We think that, since the Bunnip is a relatively early, but powerful, animal, they made it a crutch pet.” Collin says, “But, as far as I can tell, it never really gets bad. I’m sure it gets outclassed by pets more dedicated to one specific role, but I could say the same thing about any build.” Tracy grins again, “But the best part is pointing at something and watching my cute bunnip rip if to shreds!” Asa laughs, “That sounds amusing.” Lloyd laughs, “It’s pretty rad. Also makes grinding so much easier.” Collin nods, “I think anyone who is going to be primarily grinding should look into a pet build. A well planned pet AI script can fight most mobs easily on its own. We’ve even seen it beat an elite by itself. And the pet revival mechanics work just fine, so they are safer too.” Ardine raises an eyebrow, “But…?” Collin nods, “Yeah. There is a but. A pet cannot be stronger than a player, even if you put all your ranks into it. In order to maximize it’s effectiveness, you have to fight alongside it. It is safer, and totally viable, but I’m not convinced it’s better than the builds we already have.” Tracy laughs and starts playing with her bunnip, “They actually have awesome mini games too! That can get you soul energy!” Asa walks over to her, “So, it looks like you found your calling?” Tracy nods, “I’ve never had more fun playing this game! I should have done this ages ago.” Brandon grins, “I know what you mean. I started the lightning tank build because our team needed a tank and I’m better at juggling MP than dodging or parrying. But now I just love it!” Tracy grins back, “I’ve seen you. You’d never guess you just started with it a few weeks ago.” “She’s right. Keep this up and you’ll be considered a top player.” Collin says, then he puts a hand on Brandon’s shoulder, “Especially if you become a spiral master.” Brandon nods, “I’m on my way there too!” Lloyd ruffles Brandon’s hair, “Oh? Well, don’t get cocky.” Brandon shakes him off and laughs, “I can’t get cocky with Wake around.” Wake walks over to them, “What do you mean by that?” Brandon smiles, “You’re always working so hard. You’re good, like, really good, but you keep at it. You always think you can be better. It reminds me that there’s always something I can learn too.” Wake smirks sheepishly, “Oh.” Asa nods, “I’m glad you’re humble, but you should give yourself some credit.” He walks over to Wake, climbs up into his arms and hugs him, “You’ve improved immensely since we got here.” Wake grimaces, “Yeah.” Ardine sighs, “I’m glad everyone’s happy.” “Thinking about the raid?” Collin asks. Ardine nods, “I know we’re going to do it anyway. None of us are the types to just sit around in a safe zone, waiting for the increasingly less probable chance that we’ll be let out, but I still wonder if it’s not the wrong choice. I know we’ll get this planned. We have the best players on the server. Everyone is rearing to go. But what we’re asking for is… I’m not sure it’s ever been done.” “What do you mean?” Brandon asks. Asa and Wake look at each other, their happy expressions replaced with forlorn ones of understanding, “An entirely deathless, single run, Temple raid.” Asa says. Brandon looks down, “But it’s not impossible is it?” Collin shakes his head, “I imagine it’s possible. But… that’s not the same thing as plausible or likely.” He turns to face them, “But, like you said Ardine, we’re doing this anyway. And maybe you’re right, maybe this is wrong. Maybe people will die. But that’s why we have to do our best to prevent that from happening.” Asa hops to the ground, “Collin? Let’s go find Jerome and make that plan.” “Yes, let’s.” Ardine says. The rest of the group closes around them. “You aren’t leaving me out of this.” Brandon says. Wake nods, “More heard are better right? This isn’t too many people?” Tracy shakes her head, “No it isn’t. We all know Ardine and Collin are the best strategists here. But that doesn’t mean they won’t miss something.” Lloyd nods, “Yes. Let’s do this.” That Night Asa and Wake lay in bed together. “I guess we’re really doing this.” Asa says. Wake nods, “We are.” Asa hugs Wake, “I just… I dunno. I’m scared.” Wake sighs, “We’re all scared.” Asa rolls on top of him, “I… know we’ve never done this before. But I… if I…” Wake looks Asa in the eyes, “What is it?” “I just… I… want to touch you. Before I die. You know...” Asa says sheepishly. Wake looks away sheepishly, “I can’t… you know.” “I know… neither can I… I don’t even know why I really want to do this. It’s just…” He sighs, “We’ve never done it before.” Wake opens his menu and unequips his clothing and Asa finds himself on top of his naked chest. Asa does the same and soon they are naked on the bed together. “Nothing huh?” Asa asks. “It does feel good. Your chest. But, no. Not what you want.” Wake responds. Asa looks down at Wake’s penis, “Man, you’re big even soft.” Wake nods, “Yeah.” Asa picks it up and drops it, watching it plop down. He then does it again. He keeps doing it and laughs. “Man. There’s something oddly satisfying about it! It’s so much heavier than mine.” Wake pushes Asa on his back and does the same to him, but there is no plop. It just kind of slowly falls back into place, “I guess I can’t really do the same to you.” Asa looks down, “Does that bother you?” Wake shrugs, “Not really. I’m just glad you can get some enjoyment out of being naked with me.” He rolls on top of Asa, “I may not have any sexual feelings for you right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything.” Asa grins, “It’s weird, isn’t it? I remember the feelings. And I know I should feel them. I’m certain if we could feel them, I’d be all over you right now. But… they just aren’t there.” Wake grimaces, “I know. At first it was bad, but now it’s just… I guess I’ve gotten used to it. I can still be happy being with you.” Asa nods, “Yeah.” Wake leans down, “I know it won’t matter… but I want to kiss you again once more before well...” Asa sighs, “Yeah. Because it’s possible we might not come back from this.” Wake kisses Asa lightly on the lips. A chaste kiss is all that interests them in their current state. “It might not be tomorrow that we do the raid.” Asa says. Wake smirks, “Then we’ll keep doing this until it is right?” Asa pushes Wake over and then rolls on top of him. “Hey!” Wake says, surprised. Asa grins, “Did you forget I’m a lot stronger than you?” Wake grimaces, “I guess strength matters more than size here, doesn’t it?” He then picks Asa up and holds him in the air, “Except maybe it’s that none of that matters because we’re digital people in a digital world. Digital people in a digital world that won’t let us have digital sex.” Asa pokes Wake’s nose, “Now isn’t that a thought? What would digital sex even look like?” Wake snickers, “I hope it’s not like the cooking mini game!” That causes both of them to burst out laughing, “Oh God! Can you imagine?” Wake shakes his head, “I don’t want to jinx it. It could still be implemented you know.” Asa shrugs, “That would be the day. I think people would still do it though. If it feels good, it feels good right?” Wake shrugs back, “Probably.” Asa pokes Wake’s nose again, “You gonna put me down?” Wake pulls Asa into a hug, “I am.” He rolls over on top of him, “So I can hold you. Because it’s not just remembered feelings for me. Arousal might not be implemented, but care definitely is.” Asa sighs, “I hope I didn’t give you the impression that I don’t have any feelings for you...” Wake snickers, “I know you do. You just find it difficult to express yourself sometimes.” Asa laughs, “I do? Don’t you mean I overly express myself exactly?” Wake shakes his head, “Sometimes I think you do that because you are trying to figure out what you are trying to say as you say it.” Asa blinks, “I… guess you’re right.” Wake grimaces, “I find it endearing.” He gives Asa a small kiss on the nose, “And I’m learning to understand Asa speak.” He kisses Asa on the forehead, “What you don’t say is just as important as what you do.” Asa smiles, “What do you mean?” “You are really exact in what you say. But if you can’t be exact, you don’t say it at all.” He smirks, “But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Asa’s smile widens, “You are the most empathetic person I’ve ever met.” Wake looks away sheepishly, “You think?” Asa looks down, “Though that could just be because I haven’t met many empathetic people.” “I think you’re pretty empathetic. You just have difficulty expressing it.” Wake says. Asa looks him in the eyes again, “You think so?” Wake nods, “I think that’s part of why Luke gravitated towards you. Because he’s not very good at expressing his emotions. I get the feeling he isn’t even aware of all of them.” Asa thinks for a moment, “You may be right. I could always read him. I used to think it was just because of how close we were… but I can’t remember a time I couldn’t read him.” “You could read me too.” Wake says. Asa tilts his head to the side, “What makes you say that?” “You were never really scared of me. Intimidated by my features, but you got over it too fast for it to be real.” Wake says. Asa smiles, “Yeah. I dunno if that’d been the case if you were straight. Not that I’d dislike you, just...” Wake nods, “You’d have been wary of me. I understand. It’s hard to know how people will react to finding out you’re gay.” Asa raises an eyebrow at him, “Yeah. But I wonder if you can understand what it would be like for me?” Wake looks down at him, “Because you’re small and I’m large and intimidating?” Asa nods, “I doubt most people would pick a fight with you.” Wake nods, “That’s true, but that doesn’t mean people don’t react badly. I’ve had my share of rejection.” Asa sighs, “It’s hard.” Wake grimaces, “Maybe it was out there, but if one good thing came out of being stuck in here, it’s that we’ve got a community where everyone knows we’re a couple and no one cares.” Asa laughs, “That’s true isn’t it?” He looks up at the ceiling, “It’s like Collin says. As long as we’re here, we get to decide what kind of community we want to be.” Wake sighs, “It’s too bad we had to cull a bunch of people to get here.” Asa nods, “It’s strange isn’t it? We didn’t kill those people because we wanted to be rid of them, but that was the end result. And… I wonder if the community isn’t better for it in the long run?” He sighs, “I’m not suggesting we should have done that if we had another solution, but you can’t argue with the results.” Wake nods, “Ethics and results rarely meet end to end. Often, they are mutually exclusive.” “Ethics or morals?” Asa asks. Wake shrugs, “I’d say that’s true of both ethics and morals.” Asa nods again, “Yeah.” Meanwhile Ardine stares at the long notation she and Collin just spent hours creating, “This plan is full of holes.” She says with a sigh. Collin nods, “I know.” “We’re assuming too many things.” She adds. Collin sighs, “What else can we do?” Ardine shakes her head, “I don’t know.” She looks over the notation once more, “What do we do if both Asa and Jerome hits and it survives? Or if it has a threshold limiter?” Collin looks down, “My hope is that it won’t have more than one.” Ardine grumbles in response, “It’s a good plan. I just wish we had more to go on.” Collin nods, “I agree. What do you think the others will say?” Ardine shrugs, “What can they say? They don’t have anymore knowledge of this boss than we do, and we heard their opinions. It isn’t as if we devised this plan entirely by ourselves.” Collin nods again, “That’s true.” Ardine stands up, “Shall we call it a night?” Collin raises an eyebrow, “You act as if we can get tired.” Ardine raises an eyebrow in response, “Mental fatigue does not require one to be physically tired.” Collin does a yawn emote, “I almost wish it did make me tired.” Ardine laughs, “I know what you mean. I’ve slept a few times just for the sake of it. It’s not the same of course, but it’s the only thing we’ve got.” Collin grins, “So, you go sleep. I’ll condense the plan into a presentable form, and then we can hold a meeting about it tomorrow.” Ardine nods, “Agreed.”
  15. Nightlit


    Asa leaps over the crocogater’s bite and lands on its back before stabbing down into its blindside. The beast disappears dropping him to his feet on the ground below. “Do we really want to fight the boss again?” He asks as they head to a nearby safe zone. Collin shrugs, “It wouldn’t be much of a challenge.” Lloyd sighs, “It wouldn’t be any fun either.” Tracy rolls her eyes, “This isn’t very fun anymore anyway. I don’t understand those people who can grind forever in these games. Don’t they have a life?” Gabriel shrugs. “That’s a mean thing to say.” Tracy turns to him, “I’m sorry, I guess?” Gabriel grumbles in response. Wake shakes his head, “I vote no on the boss. We’re getting antsy.” Tracy grumbles, “I’m way past antsy!” Brandon turns to her, “Is there anything you could do to make it more fun?” Tracy raises her eyebrow at him, “Is having fun really the point?” Brandon nods, “If this is our lives now, then shouldn’t we try to live them?” Lloyd rolls his eyes, “Kid, if we want to get out of here we can’t think like that.” Wake steps up to him, “Guys, guys! This isn’t a race!” Collin steps forward, “Well, we shouldn’t fight the boss like this, so I guess that’s that.” Asa nods, “We got all the drops we needed at least.” Brandon walks over to Tracy again, “I’m serious, is there any build that you want to try? You have Collin, the best theorycrafter in the game, in your guild. You have every reason to find a good build you actually want to play.” Tracy looks at him, “You didn’t do that did you?” Brandon thinks for a moment, “I suppose not, but I’m enjoying lightning tanking. I’m sure there’s gotta be something you could do that’ll help your team.” Tracy thinks for a moment, “Well, I have always wanted to do a pet build. But who am I kidding. Pet builds aren’t very good, and what we need are good builds.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “Really? You never said anything. If I’d know that I’d have been working on one for you. I’ve always thought the pet rules were probably underrated. I’ve wanted to see if I could find a good pet build but never had the interest to play it myself.” Tracy turns to him, “I didn’t want you guys teasing me. You see, I wanted a bunnip as a pet...” “Bunnips are sick. Why would we tease you about that?” Gabriel says. “I dunno! You tease me about everything else!” Tracy yells back. Gabriel sticks his tongue out at her in response, causing her to somehow both scowl and grin back at him. Collin steps in, “Brandon’s right Tracy, we should find you a build you want to use. It’s not just a matter of fun factor. You will more quickly and effectively master a build you actually like.” Ardine nods, “I agree one hundred percent with that assessment. But, if we’re done here, I’d like to say that our guilds work pretty well together. We have a bit of a damage skew, but that’s very workable.” Lloyd thinks for a moment, “Collin, you do plenty of damage. If we’re respeccing, I’d try that heal tanking build you’ve been working on.” “Having two healers can be really good.” Gabriel adds. Brandon steps forward, “And most pet builds are DPS right?” Collin thinks for a moment, “Sounds like we’re gonna need to sit down and plan stuff out a bit more.” Gabriel sighs, “I’m sorry.” Tracy turns to him, “For what?” Gabriel shakes his head then looks down sheepishly, “Being a brat. I keep trying to be better.” Lloyd raises his eyebrow, “Better?” Gabriel looks down, “I keep watching Brandon. He’s like, so much more mature than I am.” Brandon smiles, “Really? I keep thinking I’m just a kid.” Tracy is about to respond when she notices Collin has walked over to the corner of the swamp clearing, “Hey Collin, are you okay?” Collin sighs, “Sorry guys. I’m okay.” Tracy walks over to him, “No, you’re not. We’re your friends Collin. Let us help you when we can.” Lloyd nods, “Don’t worry about us. You’re around people who get it. You got enough to worry about without repressing your stress around people who can see it anyway.” Ardine nods, “It’s true. We all see how much pressure you put yourself under. I understand why you don’t want to scare the majority of players, but we aren’t the majority of players.” Collin smiles sheepishly, “Thank you. I mean it.” Asa shakes his head, “So, has anyone figured out what we’re going to do about the tier problem?” It was found out that the fate wheel is currently capped at its second tier, meaning that only sixty-three of the three hundred thirty three orb slots are available, considerably limiting the maximum power anyone can acquire. Ardine shakes her head, “It isn’t that unexpected, given the situation.” Collin nods, “It was probably done to prevent us from grinding until we’re so powerful that content isn’t a threat. Defeating the first temple raid with sixty three orbs on each person should be feasible, so hopefully it’s not a hard cap.” “What will we do if it is?” Lloyd asks. Collin sighs, “Be stuck unable to complete later content, but that’s unlikely. If they wanted us dead they’d have killed us already. Even if they wanted to kill us via the in game mechanics, there are plenty of ways they could have done that. Whoever is doing this has gone to great lengths to ensure that we have to face the challenges of the game head on, and fairly. I think they’d continue this trend.” Ardine nods, “I agree. At no point did I think the entire fate wheel would be capped where it is. Unless they don’t intend for additional content to exist, but if that’s the case, then we’ll still be far more potent than we’d need to be to handle the content available.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Don’t we need some kind of plan though? Getting as powerful as we can and making sure everyone is equipped is great, but wouldn’t that be the design teams expectation? We know the boss defeated three waves of pretty good players already.” Asa nods, “We will, but first things first, we need to get everyone ready. Until then, we can’t know what tools we’ll have to plan with. And you have to remember that they were considerably less powerful, less equipped and less prepared then we are now.” Collin nods, “Exactly. We’re not gonna get overconfident. Were gonna gather intel and make a plan, I assure you, but we can’t use the initial runs as our guidepost.” Ardine shakes her head, “It’s unfortunate really. If they were more together, we’d have three runs worth of potential data. But not only were they not together enough to record anything, they were so untogether that we can’t even gleam something useful from their failures themselves.” Collin shakes his head, “Yeah. We shouldn’t assume that we can’t handle the boss because they couldn’t, but we also can’t assume we can without immense preparation.” Wake nods, “So basically, we just have to proceed as if the runs didn’t happen?” Asa shakes his head, “No, but we shouldn’t speculate about what might or might not happen. We should talk to Kwame and Ricky again about what they saw, and plan things out accordingly. Until then, we should get everyone as ready as they can be.” Brandon nods, “So, maybe we should find other guilds?” Asa thinks for a moment, “You mean, see who’s in them and their make up and fighting style and stuff?” “Yeah.” Brandon responds. “That’s not a bad idea.” Collin says. Asa nods, “Yeah.” Wake thinks for a moment, “We can’t think like that.” Everyone turns to him. “What do you mean?” Asa asks. “That kind of thinking is what got the others killed right? Didn’t they break into three smaller teams over a silly difference of opinion?” Wake asks. Collin nods, “That’s true, but each guild is a team. Part of the reason we made them is so people can fight in teams they are comfortable with.” Wake shakes his head, “But we can’t do that. Not for the raids. People need to be able to fight alongside people they aren’t comfortable with. And we need to think like one big team, not a bunch of little ones.” Ardine nods, “Wake’s right. While I agree we need guilds, and teams, and that fighting alongside people you trust is good, the Temple raids are a different story. We must have a united front, and we can’t do that if we’re more worried about our guilds than each other.” Brandon shakes his head, “That’s not right either.” He turns to Wake, “Wake,” he then turns to Ardine, “Ardine. We need to find a balance between being a cohesive whole and being smaller teams. Because we don’t just need to win, we need to conquer. We need to win losing nobody. That means each and every one of us has to be at our best. We need to make sure whatever anyone needs to do that is what happens.” Gabriel shakes his head, “See? This is what I mean. That was awesome!” Brandon blushes, “Gabe, can I call you that?” Gabriel shrugs in response, “You’re hard ass and assertive and strong. Maybe that’s the same as being bratty, I dunno, but they can be good qualities.” Gabriel raises an eyebrow, “Really?” Brandon nods, “Yeah.” Collin smiles at him, “Especially in a situation like this. Just remember that the rest of us are in the same boat. Maybe you could direct your anger at people a bit less and more at the situation?” Gabriel looks down sheepishly, “Yeah. Okay. I’ll try.” Collin throws an arm over his shoulder, “That’s the spirit!” Brandon turns to Asa and Ardine, “So, this talk of builds has me wondering. Should we rethink our builds? I know we kind of talked about this already, but it’s been some time and well…” Asa thinks for a moment, “Do you think we should?” Brandon sighs, “What? I… don’t know. It just… I thought we should at least consider it.” Wake smirks and puts an arm around him, “You’re right.” Ardine nods, “Absolutely! But I’d like to hear your opinion.” Brandon sighs again, “But… I just… it just...” Ardine lowers herself to meet Brandon face to face, “Brandon, you are probably thinking in extremes. I imagine you are thinking we probably don’t need to make any major changes to our make up, and that’s probably true. Together we have a healer and two off healers. A tank and an off tank, and two different DPSers. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider how we can improve our builds to synergize more, or to be more independent, since we’re thinking about a raid boss, and those are both things that we should discuss whether we make any major build changes or not.” Brandon smiles up at her, “I’m glad.” Asa shakes his head, “Brandon, you shouldn’t worry about what we think. If you have something to say, say it. We trust you.” He turns to Ardine and Wake, “Right?” Ardine nods, “Absolutely.” Wake nods as well, “Yep.” They are about to say more when they are interrupted by another crocogater emerging from the swamp at the edge of the clearing. They make short work of it before deciding to teleport back to town. When they reach Ben and Theo’s shop, they find the standard people waiting around for the next giveaway. Ben thanks them for their haul and they are about to leave when Asa sees Shirley in a group of younger players. “Hey.” He says to her. She turns to him with a wide smile, “Hi Asa!” He rubs her head. He’d learned that her brother used to do that and it makes her happy. “So, how are things holding up?” He turns to the rest of them, “Is this your guild?” A smallish boy with extremely short hair whose been scowling every time Asa has seen him responds, “You didn’t tell us you knew BunnyAce!” Shirley grins at him, “You didn’t ask Nina.” Asa raises an eyebrow at him, “Nina?” The boy scowls again, “Don’t tell him that!” Asa tilts his head to the side, “What should I call you?” The boy looks at him, “Does it really matter?” Asa shrugs, “Only if it matters to you.” The boy looks down, “I… I want to be called Nina, but… I...” Asa can tell if he could cry, he probably would be. Then it occurs to him, maybe he’s been using the wrong pronoun in his head, “Are you trans?” The kid looks at him, “How did you know?” Asa smiles, “Well, I’m gay. And with a thousand people, it stands to reason that there could be at least one person who is trans.” She looks down, “But look at me! Now I’ll always be a boy!” Asa frowns. He isn’t sure what to say, “I…” Shirley shakes her head vehemently, “That doesn’t matter! You want to go shopping for purses! And you love cute things! You’re a girl!” Asa can’t help but smile at her. Shirley may be childish, but sometimes simplicity has it’s benefits. “I think she’s right. Or, you could look at this another way.” Nina looks at him, “What do you mean?” “All of us have been negatively impacted by this in one way or another. But we can choose to lament what we can’t change, or work with what we have.” Asa says. “I couldn’t put it better.” Collin says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, but I overheard your conversation, and I think Asa’s right.” Nina turns to him, “Who are you?” Collin smiles down at her, “I’m GoldenrodBoy, but now I go by Collin.” Nina sighs, “And you don’t understand!” Collin nods, “You’re right, I don’t understand. But I can imagine. Like Asa said, there’s nothing we can do about certain aspects of our situation. Our gender is assigned to us by the game, and that affects how we are allowed to present ourselves. But I’m sure there are male clothing options that you can use, in the right combination, to present your true female gender. I know there’s a kilt. If you recolor it, let’s say, purple it might work as a dress. Anyone can wear a flower in their hair, and the grass vest could complete a tropical motif.” Nina looks down, “That still sucks.” Collin sighs, “I’m sorry if I’m being insensitive. I’m just trying to help.” She turns to her guild mates, “That’s why I’m here. They all accept me.” Asa smiles, and decides to go along with the obvious subject change, “That’s one of the reasons I’m being open about my sexuality. And so is Collin. By being open about who we are, we can hopefully help others be more comfortable and understanding.” They all look at him, “Open about your sexuality?” Asa laughs, “Like I said, I’m gay.” He motions to Collin. “Collin’s bi.” He thinks for a moment, “Maybe I should change my screen name to like, GayAce or something?” Collin nods, “That’s right! One good thing is we get to be as open minded as we want! As long as we’re here, we’re the community. We get to decide how we treat people.” Shirley nods a bunch, “Yeah!” Asa turns to the other people there, two boys, “Hello. I didn’t mean to exclude you.” They both look nervous so Asa waits to give them time. “BunnyAce? You?” One of them says eventually. Asa raises an eyebrow, “Yes?” The boy continues, “But… you’re so small.” Asa can’t help it, he bursts out laughing, “Yeah. My old avatar was overcompensating wasn’t it?” The boy’s face scrunches in confusion, “What?” Asa grins, “I guess I used to worry more about how big I was. But, after being here, it doesn’t seem that important anymore.” The boy’s face continues to scrunch and Asa wonders if he was this naive when he was thirteen, “What’s your name?” The boy looks up at him, “Uh… I’m not supposed to tell people that online.” Asa smiles, “Sure. Then what should I call you?” “Uh… Just… Guy is fine.” He says sheepishly. “Okay, Guy it is.” Asa says. Collin thinks for a moment, “If I might interject. Maybe Guy is a bit too inspecific? We can’t call every man we don’t know the name of Guy.” The boy looks down, “Uh.” Asa shakes his head, “Really. It’s okay. Guy can be your nickname until you’re comfortable enough to tell us your real name.” Collin sighs, “Sorry.” Asa turns to the other kid, “Hey. So, how are you doing?” He looks down, “I’m trying to figure out what to do.” Asa tilts his head to the side, “What do you mean?” “I used to PK. My brother and I were in a PK guild.” He sighs, “He was culled. I… I’m trying to figure out what I should do.” Asa sighs, “I’m sorry.” The boy draws a knife and looks at his reflection in the blade, “Tall&Zxy killed him.” Asa freezes at that. A moment later the boy continues, “I understand why.” He looks up as Asa, “But I don’t want to be your friend.” Asa looks down at him for a moment then hardens himself. “That’s fine. But we can’t have anyone PKing. There’s too much at stake.” The boy glares up at him, “And who are you to decide that?” Asa thins his eyes, “I didn’t decide it. Just think long and hard about what you really want.” Shirley steps in, “Stop it! He’s not gonna kill anybody!” The boy’s eyes widen and he turns to her. “If you did I’d never forgive you! None of us would! So you can’t!” The boy looks down at his reflection in his knife again, “Don’t talk to me again.” Asa nods and turns away. Collin puts a hand on Asa’s shoulder. “Come on.” He says as he motions towards the exit. Asa follows Collin outside, stopping only momentarily to tell their guildmates that they are going to have a private conversation. They then go to Collin’s room, which is surprisingly sparse all things considered. The last time he was here it was full of furniture for the meeting. Now all there is is a table some chairs and a couch. “It was inevitable.” Collin says. Asa raises an eyebrow, “It?” Collin nods, “We culled people because we couldn’t see another option, but we can’t expect that everyone would be happy with it.” Asa sighs, “Yeah. I kind of see it as the lesser of two evils.” Collin nods, “That’s the impression I get from almost everybody. No one was happy about it. Which is kind of astonishing. I’d have expected there to be at least a few self righteous assholes who think they got what they deserve.” Asa shakes his head, “If there are, they’re being quiet about it.” Collin sits down on a couch, “So, how are you?” Asa sits next to him, “Me? This is more about Luke than me.” “Maybe so, but you got the brunt of it.” Collin says. Asa sighs, “I wonder what Luke would say?” Collin nods, “I wonder that too. On the one hand, he was one of the most serious about stopping PKing. On the other hand, he’s really protective of everyone on the server.” Asa nods, “It’s true.” “But Luke’s not here. He doesn’t even know about this. So, Asa, how does it make you feel?” Collin pushes. Asa’s face grows dark, “If I’m really honest with myself? I feel like he got what he deserved.” “Why do you think that?” Collin asks curiously. Asa looks down, “I’ve never approved of PKing. Sure, there PvP events where you can die, and that’s fine, but just PKing for the sake of it is a jerk move that interferes with other people’s enjoyment of the game. And sure, if this were a normal game we could just set our PK options to off, but here we can’t.” Collin nods, “I understand.” He looks at Asa, “But Asa, there’s more to it than that. You’re really angry. I don’t think it’s just the PKing.” “I wish I could tell you what I’m really angry at. I could name a lot of things, but all of them strike me as being like the PK thing, a place I’m directing anger, rather than something I’m angry at.” Asa says. “You keep telling me to stop putting things on my shoulders. Maybe you should stop trying to be so positive. It’s okay to be angry. We all have good reason to be angry.” Collin says. Asa stands up, “But I can’t afford to be angry. Not like this. I’m too skilled. It would be too easy for me to give in to the temptation. To act on these feelings.” That alarm's Collin slightly, “What temptation? You told me you were angry, you didn’t mention temptation.” Asa turns away from him, “I don’t even know. That’s what scares me. I could lash out for nothing! And if I did, I’d almost certainly destroy what I was aiming at.” He turns around, “The truth is, in terms of PKing, I’d be one of the most dangerous people on the server. There’d be no one I couldn’t kill if I set my mind to it. Even the best players. Even you, Luke, Jacklyn. No one would be safe.” Collin nods, “That’s why you have to let it out. You can’t keep bottling it up. Talk to your guild mates. Talk to me. Heck, I’m sure Luke would talk to you about this. He’s probably got similar worries.” Asa looks down, “Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.” Collin smiles, “The truth is, nothing has happened. You haven’t gone crazy and killed someone. There’s nothing to be sorry about.” Asa smiles up at him, “Then thank you.” Collin smiles down at him, “We all should be thanking you.” Asa nods, “I think that’s a good idea. Maybe we should come together in thanks. Like… have a sort of new thanksgiving. Where we come together as a community and give thanks, not to a higher power or to destiny or anything like that, but to each other.” Collin grins, “That’s a great idea. We should get Theo to make food. Ben tells me he can make basic foods at five star every time.” Asa grins back, “And it’s a much better reason to approach guilds than planning for a Temple raid.” “Indeed.” Collin responds, and then they return to the shop. When they get back, the rest of their guildmates approach them, all wearing various expressions of concern. “What happened?” Ardine asks. Asa looks over at the guild full of younger players and indicates the boy, who is still holding the knife, “He got angry at me.” Tracy raises an eyebrow, “Brent?” Asa turns to her, “You know his name?” Tracy nods, “I know a lot of the younger player’s names.” Ardine nods, “Yes, I remember him as well. He’s a quiet one.” Asa shakes his head, “That might not be true.” Ardine raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” Asa sighs, “Luke culled his brother, and he knows who I am.” He looks over at Brent, “I think he knows why it happened, but he’s understandably angry.” He turns back to them, “If you’re worried about him going down his brother’s road? It think it would have happened by now.” Collin nods, “I agree with Asa. I don’t think he’ll follow in his brother’s footsteps so long as he has support. We just need to make sure that support always exists.” He looks over the entire room, “For everybody.” Asa nods, “Which is why we had an idea.” He turns to Wake, “Come with me.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “Me? Why me?” Asa smiles, “Because if anyone in our guild needs good PR it’s you.” Asa hugs him, “We all know you are one of the sweetest guys ever, but I think it’s time everyone learned that.” Wake sighs, “But...” Collin steps forward, “If I may?” Asa nods, “It’s not just for you. Now that things are dying down, people are starting to settle in.” He glances at Nina, “You are in a unique position to help everyone start to judge people not by how they look, but rather, who they are.” Wake tilts his head to the side, “I am?” Collin nods, “You are.” Asa grins up at him, “And besides, I know this’ll be right up your alley.” That causes Wake to raise an eyebrow again as the three of them walk over to Theo. Theo grins up at them as they approach, “So, what do you guys want?” Asa and Collin smile down at him. While they know Theo’s uncomfortable with a few of the older players, he’s been fine with all the members of their guilds for some time, even Wake. “We had an idea we wanted to run by you.” Theo nods, “Oh?” Collin’s smile extends to a grin, “We had the idea that we’d have a large thanksgiving feast. Not in the name of the classic holiday, but rather our own thanksgiving, where we give thanks to each other for surviving this and being supportive.” Wake grimaces, “Really? Can I organize it?” Theo grins, “You wanted me to make the food right?” Asa nods, “Do you two mind being responsible?” Wake and Theo look at each other, both clearly happy. “Nope!” They say together. As Wake and Theo start giddily planning, Asa and Collin walk over to their guildmates, who have grouped together again. “You two look happy.” Brandon says. Ardine nods, “Indeed. It’s good to see.” She smirks, “So what are you scheming?” Collin shakes his head, “Are we that obvious?” Tracy rolls her eyes, “Collin, you’ve been more pessimistic than me lately.” Collin snickers, “I guess I have been.” Ardine steps forward, “So? Do you intend to keep us guessing?” Asa shakes his head, “We decided to organize a group celebration and dinner. So that we as a community can give thanks to everyone.” Brandon grins, “That is a good idea!” Ardine nods, “It is. So, what can we do?” Collin smiles, “Theo and Wake are handling the details of the actual event. We should go out and drum up interest.” Lloyd steps forward, “It shouldn’t be mandatory. If people don’t want to come that should be okay.” Everyone nods in response. Asa, Ardine and Brandon wave to the Indecisive ones as they head towards the residential area. “I wonder if anyone has bought a house?” Brandon asks. Ardine nods, “Most likely. It’s possible to grind enough soul energy to buy a house in a week or so if you spend enough time, even fighting the earliest enemies. There are plenty of players who wouldn’t be good enough to risk dungeons or raids if death is permanent. They’d have little to do but grind the beginner field monsters for soul energy.” Asa nods, “And we’ve been in here for over a month.” “We can’t dwell on that now.” Ardine says, then she waves. “There we go! Hi Mitchell!” The A team approaches Mitchell, a man in his late sixties who they’d partied with on a few dungeon runs. “Hello. To what do I owe the honors?” He asks. Brandon smiles at him, “There’s gonna be a celebration! We’re spreading the word.” He smiles, “Thank you! I’ll spread the word along.” As Asa looks around, he realizes that there are a large number of players he doesn’t know, “It’s strange, normally a thousand people on the same server is nothing. But somehow, with us trapped here, it seems like a lot.” Brandon looks at him, “What do you mean?” “I’m not sure. I’ve never been the most social gamer, and now I realize I don’t know anybody. Even the other top players, like Collin. I knew of them and have played with some of them on Temple raids or when Luke wasn’t around, but I really only got to know them after being trapped here.” He sighs, “When I look around, I realize there are a lot of players who spend all their time in town. It’s like there’s a whole other community here that those of us who are out fighting aren’t really a part of.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “You know, that’s probably true.” Brandon looks at them, “Maybe this thanksgiving thing we’re doing will unite us?” Asa smiles, “I hope so.” “But perhaps there’s more to it than that.” Ardine says. Brandon and Asa turn to her. “What do you mean?” Brandon asks. Ardine looks around, “We have talked about being a community, but perhaps we need to think about that more. So far, this dinner aside, all our steps have been in service of effectively completing game content. Maybe that’s not enough?” Asa follows her gaze with his own, “Maybe not.” “But what is?” Brandon asks. Ardine shakes her head, “I wish I knew.” Asa looks at the sky, “It’ll be getting dark soon.” Ardine nods, “Yeah. We can discuss this later. For now, let’s see who we can find?” Brandon and Asa nod and they spend the rest of the afternoon combing the residential area. Meanwhile Collin and his guild are about to head out when Lloyd’s dark hand appears on his shoulder. He turns to him, “What’s up?” Lloyd motions towards the lodge, “I wanted to talk to you in private.” Collin turns to look for Tracy and Gabriel, but they aren’t around, “What’s going on?” Lloyd turns and starts to walk, “Tracy and Gabriel are going to keep searching for people.” “Then they know about this?” Collin asks. “Tracy knows I want to talk, not about what. I don’t know if Gabriel knows.” He shrugs, “It’s not that I wanted Tracy to miss the conversation, but I didn’t want Gabriel to feel left out.” Collin nods, “Sometimes I forget that you aren’t coldhearted, just callous at times.” Lloyd looks down, “It’s something I’m working on.” Collin grins as his friend, “I’m glad.” They don’t say much else until they are in Lloyd’s room. “Look man, you need to stop.” Lloyd says sternly. Collin’s eyes widen, “Stop what?” Lloyd walks over to a couch, “You need to stop trying to be the leader. Stop trying to support everyone else. It’s killing you man.” Collin’s eyes thin, “You can’t be serious. You want me to abandon everyone?” Lloyd turns to face him, his dark eyes challenging, “That’s what you’re doing right now.” Collin is incredulous, “What are you talking about?” Lloyd shakes his head, “Look, we’re gonna go out soon and have the fight of our lives. The Temple raid is gonna be something else. You gotta have your head in the game, not up in the clouds.” “That’s why I need to take this seriously!” Collin yells. Lloyd yells back, “No! You need to be at your best! You are never at your best when you get like this.” He stands up and walks over to him, “We need the you that spends all his time spinning plans, and we don’t have that right now. I bet you haven’t given the boss two thoughts.” Collin sighs, “With everything that’s been going on I haven’t had a chance to.” “So let other people handle that and do what you do best.” Lloyd steps forward, “No one else will tell you this, but I will. Asa, Ardine, Jacklyn, Luke, Jerome... they’ll execute the plan you make flawlessly, but it’ll be your plan. They are counting on you to make that plan as much as you are counting on them to execute it. We are all counting on you Collin. If your head is too far up your ass then we’re all dead!” Collin looks down, “But how can I think about that right now?” Lloyd puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “You gotta remember why you play. You gotta remember what you like to do. You don’t strategize because you want to win, you strategize because you love it!” He smiles at him, “You gotta find a way to love the game again. You gotta find that part of you that grins when you have the perfect realization. Who revels in the perfect plan. That’s not just the Collin everyone likes, it’s the Collin we need, now more than ever.” Collin sighs, “That’s a lot to put on me.” Lloyd shakes his head, “It’s the one thing we need from you. All this other stuff you are trying to be responsible for, there are loads of people who can do that. But this?" He squeezes Collin’s shoulder, "Unless someone has been epically holding out on us, you are the only one on the server who can do this.” Collin looks at him, “Lloyd… I...” Lloyd pulls Collin into a hug, “We’re here for you. We need you to be here for us. Not this guy you are pretending to be. You.” Collin takes a deep breath, “I’m envious, you know?” Lloyd blinks at him, “Envious?” Collin looks down, “Of all the players who can do all this crazy stuff.” Lloyd laughs, “Oh, of course you are. We all are. But think about it. You are so good at what you do that everyone considers you a top player, even though you can’t do all those things. We don’t need another Jacklyn, Asa or Luke. We already have them. We need Collin the GoldenrodBoy. The guy who bitch slaps the physics of the game.” Collin can’t help but smile at that, “You already said that.” Lloyd grins at him, “And I’ll keep saying that until you get your head out of your ass.” Collin shakes his head, but he’s still smiling, “You said that already too.” Lloyd tilts his head to the side, “So, are you finally gonna do it?” Collin ponders this, “I’m gonna need more information.” Lloyd nods, “Then let’s go find Ricky and Kwame and get it.” Collin stands up, “Let’s do more than that. Let’s hold a strategy meeting after the dinner.” Lloyd frowns, “You’re doing it again.” Collin shakes his head, “No, this time I’m really not. I’m not gonna do this one alone.” He puts a hand on Lloyd’s shoulder, “And I don’t care that people don’t consider you a top player. I need you and Tracy there.” Lloyd grins, “Tracy isn’t gonna be happy about that.” Collin rolls his eyes with a shrug, “When is Tracy ever happy with us?” Lloyd laughs, “I dunno.” Collin turns towards the door, “But I think I can make her happy. See, I may not have thought about the boss, but I have been putting together that pet build she was looking for.” Lloyd raises an eyebrow, “So we need to help her catch a bunnip.” Collin nods, “I’m sure the A team would be happy to help.” “You really like those guys don’t you?” Lloyd asks. Collin smiles, “I wasn’t expecting too. Everything I heard about Luke told me he was a loner who only cares about himself and Asa wasn’t much better. And Ardine was a… well… the name she picked for the character she played was spot on.” Lloyd shakes his head, “Well, we weren’t exactly the cornerstones of niceness or intellect either.” Collin grins at him, “Yeah. I guess the situation has shown us who people really are. Not the guy they play on the internet.” Lloyd raises an eyebrow, “Shouldn’t there be more assholes then?” Collin sighs, “Who knows. Let’s not think about that.” Lloyd nods, “Yeah.” Meanwhile Wake and Theo are in the back part of the lodge setting up tables. “How did you find this place?” Wake asks. Theo grins, “It’s not accessible to everybody. It requires a certain amount of non combat skills to access.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “Isn’t that a bit odd? That there’d be a community room that you can’t access without the right skills?” Theo nods, “It is. I also don’t think it was here before. The door just appeared. Maybe you can’t see it without the proper skills, but I dunno about that.” Wake shakes his head, “Well, at least it’s here. Trying to find an editable place large enough for everyone would be tricky otherwise.” Theo puts a table down, “That’s gotta be why this exists.” Wake nods in response. “How are things going?” Jacklyn asks as she enters the room with two young men Wake hasn’t seen before. Wake grins, “It’s going great.” Jacklyn sighs when one of the guys step’s back, “Oh come on Keith.” She turns to Wake, “Sorry about that. He’s kind of a… no he’s not kind of. He just is a scardy cat.” Wake sighs, “I’m used to it.” “Well stop! Have a backbone!” She says. He looks down, “That just makes people more scared of me.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “If being in here has taught me anything, it’s that we gotta rethink how we look at things. You are one of the nicest people I know. So when people get scared of you, don’t back down. Just be nice. Courage doesn’t have to mean conflict ya know.” Wake looks at her, “It’s not easy.” Jacklyn nods, “Never said it was.” Keith steps forward, “Um… I’m… not really scared of him. I’m just… I’m just...” “He’s just scared.” The other guy says. Jacklyn motions towards him, “This is Tom.” Tom nods, “Howdy.” “So, Wake. Keith is gonna be healing and I wanted you to mentor him.” She says. “Huh? Me?” Wake asks, a bit surprised. Jacklyn nods, “There isn’t a better man for the job.” Wake raises an eyebrow at her, “But I know I’m not the best healer in the game.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “Best is a relative thing. You team up with Brandon right?” Wake nods, “Then you have experience with the lightning tank build.” She turns to Tom, “See, he’s doing the lightning tank build. And I thought, ‘Hey, Brandon and Wake have been a rocking team using that build’ so here we are.” Keith nods, “We want to be able to help with the raid! I know it’ll require everyone to be at their best. And...” Theo steps forward, “No sweat. The A team will definitely help you.” He looks up at Wake, “Right?” Wake nods, “Of course. I was just wondering if there might be a better person for the job. But I guess Brandon and I do have more experience with that particular build combination than most.” Jacklyn shrugs, “No one else on the server seems to be using it anyway. And that’s all that matters.” She then grins, “I knew you’d be the guys to ask!” Theo sighs, “Uh… it would be great if you guys could help set up tables. I need to start cooking, but it’s been a lot of work just the two of us.” Jacklyn grins, “Of course!” She walks up to Theo, “You also need some more backbone. You and Ben are two of the most important people on the server. At least as important as the top players, if not more. It’s nice that you’re being polite, but if you need help, just PM the friend list. You’ll get loads of people.” She puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “You’ve done way better than anyone could have guessed. Maybe at first we looked at you as kids. No one whose anyone does now.” Theo looks down, “I am a kid though.” Wake looks down at him, “That’s fine though. You can be a kid and have everyone’s respect.” Jacklyn nods, “Yep! You should listen to this guy. He’s pretty awesome.” She turns to Tom and Keith, “So what’s the verdict? Gonna help out or not?” Keith looks down, “I was gonna go grind… but...” Jacklyn shakes her head, “Then go grind! Like I said, we can easily get loads of people.” Tom nods, “I’d help too, but I think Keith and I should...” Theo nods, “I agree with Jacklyn. Don’t help if you don’t want to, especially if you have something else to do. I won’t let anyone be guilt tripped into helping me. Not today. Today is about feeling good!” Jacklyn grins, “See? That’s the confidence I’m talking about! That’s the Theo we all love.” Keith and Tom wave and leave while Jacklyn starts helping Wake set up the tables. Some Time Later Asa’s eyes widen as they enter the large meeting area. It’s not unlike a combination gym/auditorium one might find at a high school: a large flat relatively plain rectangular room with a much more ornate stage. The edges of the stage curve up into a very slight point at the top center and the curtains are somewhere between magenta and a dark crimson. “Wow! I didn’t know this room was here!” Asa says. Brandon, on the other hand, is scrunching up his face, “There’s an entry for it in the help menu. Apparently you need some amount of cooking skill in order to see the door normally, but after it’s been set up you can make it public.” Asa grins, “Oh? That’s a cool feature.” Brandon is scrutinizing his menu, “It is, but I don’t remember it.” Asa raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” Brandon thins his eyes, “I spent a lot of time scouring the help menu when we first got here, remember?” Asa nods, “I do. Are you saying it wasn’t there before?” Brandon nods, “Yeah, I don’t think it was.” Asa ponders this, “It doesn’t make sense that they’d have something like this and then add it to the help menu later. I’d think it would either be in the help menu the entire time or remain secret.” “Doesn’t that mean it was added since we started?” Brandon asks. Asa looks down, “That’s a really bad sign. They wouldn’t be adding content if they had any intention of taking us out of here.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “That also doesn’t make much sense. Why would they add content? We aren’t paying for this anymore, are we?” Asa shakes his head, “I don’t think so. Luke and I didn’t even buy our tickets through WorkArcs. We got them through Amazon.” Brandon shakes his head, “Then why would they add content? Wouldn’t that cost them money?” “I don’t think that’s an issue. It must be costing them loads of money to keep us all in here. Like Ardine said, they have to give us nutrients and water. They have to move our bodies around in order to avoid atrophy and necrosis. If they hadn’t been doing those things a lot more of us would have died by now.” Asa says. Brandon sighs, “I can’t believe that doesn’t scare me anymore.” Asa nods, “It’s true. I guess we just got used to it.” Wake walks up to them, wearing his signature smirk, “Frowning is not allowed!” He says in a jovial tone, “If you want to keep frowning I’ll have to pick you both up and throw you on stage!” His smirk extends to a grimace, “This room has karaoke.” Asa laughs, “I’d do karaoke!” “What’s karaoke?” Brandon asks. Wake looks at him, “You might know it as char-ee-oh-kee.” Asa nods, “Karaoke is the original Japanese pronunciation.” Brandon scrunches up his face, “You want us to sing in front of everybody?” Wake smirks, “That or smile.” Brandon shakes his head and laughs, “I’ll just smile thank you.” Asa looks around, “You guys really did a good job.” Wake’s smirk extends to a grimace, “Thanks!” He hugs Asa close, “I’m glad.” Theo steps forward, “Hey. Guys...” He seems a little uncomfortable. “You okay?” Brandon asks. Theo looks down, “Hey… you guys are like… together right?” Asa raises an eyebrow, “I assume you mean a couple?” Theo nods. Asa turns to Wake, “So… I don’t think we ever really defined what we are. Are we a couple?” Wake nods, “I’d say so.” Asa turns to Theo, “You seem uncomfortable.” Theo’s eyes widen, “I’m totally cool with that! I… just...” He looks down, “How do you do it?” “Do what?” Asa asks. Theo looks at Wake, “How can you be so comfortable with it.” Wake looks at him, “With being gay?” Theo sighs, “Yeah. Isn’t it… like… weird?” Asa blinks for a moment, “I mean… technically? If by weird you mean abnormal, then yes.” Theo raises an eyebrow again, “You say that like it’s nothing.” Asa looks at him, “It’s not nothing, but I don’t think its a big deal either. Being left handed is also abnormal, but I’ve never let that bother me. And sure, being gay is probably a bigger deal than being left handed, but not because it’s abnormal.” “Then why is it a big deal?” Theo asks. Wake sits down on the bench of a table nearby, “Because people can make anything a big deal if they try hard enough. But that was out there. In here, being gay isn’t a big deal. At least, no one’s made a deal of it to us.” “Wake… when did you know your sexuality?” Theo asks timidly. Wake shakes his head, “That’s not really how it works for most people I think. It’s not a question of knowing your sexuality, it’s a question of accepting it. I had friends who accepted their sexuality who were aware of it as long as they can remember, even as young as five or six years old. While other’s I know were in heavy denial until they were in their later teens, even early twenties.” Asa nods, “That seems right to me too. I know I didn’t always know I was gay, but now that I do, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.” Theo looks up at them, “I… think… I...” He looks at Brandon nervously. Brandon smiles at him, “I can go if you want, but you should know. I’ll always be on your side.” He sighs, “I… No. I know I’m gay.” Brandon smiles reassuringly at him in response. Asa smiles at him, “I had a feeling. You weren’t being that subtle.” Wake smirks, “You wanted us to know, didn’t you?” “Maybe because I know you guys are together. I know you guys would understand.” Theo looks down, “I don’t think most people would.” “You’d be surprised.” Asa says, “At the very least, like Wake said, no one seems to be making a big deal of it here.” Theo smiles at him, “So, I guess I picked the right place to come out?” Wake nods, “The right place to come out is the place you choose to. I know that sounds corny, and I know at your age what everyone else thinks seems to be the end of the world, but really, what’s important is what you feel.” Asa nods, “One thing you learn growing up is that you can’t control what other people think. And you shouldn’t base your self esteem on what they think either. Some people will be jerks regardless of what you do, while others will tell you what you want to hear, even when that’s a bold faced lie.” Wake chuckles, “It’s true. It’s especially true at your age and in early high school, but it never really stops.” Theo raises an eyebrow, “Are you saying that’s bad?” Asa shrugs, “That’s subjective, but I’d say it’s not necessarily bad. It just has the potential to be.” Wake shakes his head, “Don’t worry about it.” Brandon gets a message from Ardine. [ Bonehead Throkdar: Are you ready in there? ] “How close are we to letting people in?” He asks. Wake looks around, “I think we can let people in right now.” He turns to Theo, “Don’t you think?” Theo nods, “I think so. I’ll go do a final check. Could you guys start inviting people?” Asa smiles, “Sure.” As people start milling in, Asa can’t help but be happy at the smiles on their faces when they see the room. “I have to congratulate them. Theo and Wake did a marvelous job.” Ardine says. Brandon grins, “Didn’t they?” Asa turns to his guild mates, “Let’s go find the Indecisive ones and sit down, shall we?” Ardine nods, “I must say, I am quite surprised. They are much more personable than they used to be.” Brandon laughs, “I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing.” Ardine laughs, “No doubt.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” Ardine nods, “Well, I wasn’t referring to you when I said that. I can’t imagine you being anything other than a perfect gentleman. But Asa and I… well… I was playing a meat for brains Barbarian and Asa spend most of his time with Luke, who is not the most sociable person.” “But he’s a good person.” Wake says, “He’s proven that at least.” Ardine nods, “That he has.” “There they are!” Brandon says, “Shall we go?” When they reach the table where the Indecisive ones are sitting, they find Luke and Kwame sitting with them. “Hi.” Asa says to Luke. Luke smiles sheepishly, “Hi.” Asa sits down across the table from Luke, “I’m glad you came.” Luke nods, “I couldn’t miss this. I… needed it.” Asa smiles at him, “I’m glad you realize that.” Wake grimaces at them, “Well, I’ll let you two get acquainted. I should go play host.” The rest of the evening goes smoothly, filled with happy faces, bad singing and general merriment. It’s a far cry from the divided community they were those weeks ago, and Asa can’t help but wonder what will happen to them. He hopes for more happy times like this. He isn’t given much time to ponder his worries though, his guild mates make sure of that. And so do the Indecisive ones. It’s clear people have needed a party like this for along time, because it continues well into the night. Perhaps for the first time since this began, everyone is happy.
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